The Thanksgiving when the dogs almost burned down the house

Our Thanksgiving dinner was a culinary experience beyond all expectation. My sister played hostess this year, and her meal absolutely lived up to the standards set by my mom during the holidays of our childhood. The turkey was juicy and tender. The stuffing, made with mom’s now family-famous recipe, was perfect in its savory goodness. We, the guests, brought sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberries, dinner rolls and other sides to complement the main dishes my sister had prepared.

For dessert, my sister-in-law made her family-favorite pumpkin chiffon pie. I made the traditional pumpkin pies. (And word has it, they were good!) Even after indulging in more food in one sitting than any of us commonly eats, we each found room for a plate of something sweet, some with an extra dollop of whipped cream on top. None of us exercised any restraint on this one day of the year when any sense of responsible eating tends to go out the window.

I had picked up my parents earlier in the day and escorted them to the holiday dinner, and by this point, they were growing tired and ready to go back home again. My family did a bit of vehicle-juggling. Hubby Jack, who had arrived in his truck after working earlier in the day, accompanied me in my car for the ride back to my parents’ house so as to assist in getting Mom and Dad safely back into their home. Ryker drove his dad’s truck back to our home, while Jaeger and Chesney went in Jaeger’s truck.

Jack and I had successfully returned my parents to the comfort of their living room and got them settled in for the evening. We were just heading back to our own house when my cell phone rang. I could see it was Ryker calling and answered it using the bluetooth option so that both Jack and I could both hear.

“What’s up?” I asked Ryker.

“I just walked in the door at home and there were two burners burning on the stove. They’ve been on for a while because it’s like a thousand degrees in the kitchen!”

Instant panic set in as I realized how bad this might have turned out had my parents not wanted to go home after dinner as soon as they did, and had Ryker not arrived home in time to shut off those burners before serious damage occurred to our home. My mind raced in the seconds following the news and I wracked my brain trying to figure out how I had possibly left the gas stove on while we were away. And then I remembered. I hadn’t used the stove-top at all that day … only the oven. How had two burners been lit and left burning for who-knows how long???

Ryker went on to say that the knife block, which sits next to the stove, was hot, as was the microwave that is positioned on the wall above the stove.

“And there was a Ziploc bag on the floor with teeth marks in it,” he finished.

Ziploc bag? Teeth marks? It only took a moment for me to remember packing up dinner rolls to bring to my sister’s house that day. I had made too many and decided to leave a half-dozen of them home. I had zipped them into a storage bag which I had tucked into a back corner of the kitchen counter, near the stove. My kids love those fresh baked rolls and I knew they’d get eaten in days after Thanksgiving.

That’s when it dawned on me. An empty storage bag with teeth marks had dogs written all over it. Someone had been counter-surfing and helped their canine selves to my fresh-baked dinner rolls! Lucy has never done such a thing, so I strongly suspected Jaeger’s dog, Dacotah as the culprit. Besides, she is taller than Lucy and more likely to reach food on the counter if she were to have jumped up there.

Jack and I arrived home just moments behind Jaeger and Chesney. As we all spilled into the foyer, I looked up the stairs to see Ryker in the kitchen doorway, holding the empty teeth-marked bag. Jaeger was sternly addressing the dogs, asking, “What did you do? What did you do?

The dogs appeared appropriately sheepish and hung their heads as Jaeger scolded them. I made my way upstairs and confirmed what Ryker had told me, that the upper level of the house was decidedly warmer than the furnace would normally make it on a snowy, cold day such as this one. At Ryker’s urging, I held my palm above the stove grates and confirmed they were really hot, as was the knife block, and the microwave above. Those burners had been burning for some time while we were away. This could have been so bad! Our house could have caught on fire. Our beloved fur-babies … I can’t even think about it!

In all the times Dacotah has spent time with us, nothing like this has ever happened. How could we have known to take extra precautions in leaving the two dogs alone for a few hours?

My panic gave way to gratefulness that our circumstances had fallen together in such a way that we were able to come home in time to avert any real disaster. It’s amazing to me now that it even happened. The knobs for the stove burners are somewhat child-proof. You have to push one in and turn it before the ignitor kicks in and lights the flame. Dacotah’s paws must have landed just right in order to turn two burners on. And she’s lucky she didn’t light her own fur on fire!

After all of our heart rates had returned to normal and we’d had a chance to catch our breath, Jaeger agreed it was probably Dacotah who was to blame, (although there’s little doubt that Lucy participated in the glutton-fest that surely followed the thievery of the dinner rolls.) Dacotah had likely learned the counter-surfing tactic a couple of weekends ago while Jaeger’s buddy was dog-sitting her in his own home. The buddy has a roommate with a poorly trained dog who is known to steal food within reach. Dacotah likely picked up a new trick during her brief stay. And in the days following our near miss, she proved her guilt when several times we caught her trailing her snout along the edge of our kitchen counters.

We had to leave the dogs alone again last night when we all went out for dinner and then to our bowling league. We were all set to block the dogs into the lower level of the house when Jack came up with a much simpler plan. He called me to the kitchen and showed me. He’d pulled all of the burners off of the stove. And yes, all food had been properly put away, well out of the reach of tempted dogs.

Guilty Dogs B

Sorry-not-sorry!

I am still breathing a huge sigh of relief!

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Thankful in all circumstances

It’s Saturday morning of the long Thanksgiving weekend. I have a lot for which to be thankful, even if I sometimes have to stop and remind myself of that fact.

I’ve realized that it’s true what they say. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. When I look back on my life to this point, I can see that my perspective has always been one of thinking there was always more time. Mistakes could be made right in time. Relationships might be mended in the coming year. Things will be better when … I’ll be happy as soon as … We’ll do this after …

I suppose it’s a realization that comes with age, but I’m quickly learning that now is the only time we have. If I want to be happy, content and at peace, now is the time. I can’t wait for a point when I might have more money. None of it depends on whether I have the right car, or the perfect house. It can’t hinge on everyone being everything I expect them to be to me. This world is messy. We have to figure out how to be happy in spite of it.

Life took a turn over the past few months. It began when my dad broke his hip in early September. Since then, there’s been a growing realization that my parents’ time here with us grows more limited by the day. For the past few years, there’s been a gradual role reversal during which my siblings and I have begun to take care of our parents’ needs more than they take care of ours. In the time since my dad’s fall, I’ve worried and cried more than any other time in my life. Our family has struggled more than ever before.  Some relationships have pulled closer together. Some have broken apart irreparably. Every day I wonder how many, or how few, more days either of my parents will stay with us.

This Thanksgiving, I reminded myself to be grateful even for those things that didn’t quite meet my expectations. Jaeger came home from Fargo, and Chesney came home from school in Mankato to join the rest of us at home. I had all three of my kids with me at one time, if only for a little while. Chesney arrived home Wednesday afternoon, but had to go back right away on Thursday night. Her job in retail required her to work on Black Friday. I really wished she could stay home for the long weekend. She makes me laugh and lightens the mood no matter what’s going on. But having her for an overnight was better than not having her home at all. It was wonderful to feel the sunshine of her presence in the household, even if it was just for a short time. I’m just happy she goes to school within reasonable driving distance.

Jack had to work on Thanksgiving Day. I can’t even count the number of holidays his job has kept him away from the kids and me and the rest of the family on special days. I used to feel a lot of bitterness about it. It was a lot of years before I thought to be grateful that he was willing to make that sacrifice for us, because it meant he was taking care of his family. How much would we have gone without if it weren’t for all of the years he dedicated himself to a job that kept us fed and clothed? I was grateful that he could join us a little late, and get himself a plate of food while it was still relatively fresh and hot.

The kids and I picked up my parents and brought them with us to my sister’s home on Thanksgiving day. It had been snowing all morning, and there was a small accumulation of snow and ice outside. Jaeger and Ryker walked beside my dad as he went to my car, each holding him by an arm, ready to catch him should he slip and begin to fall. They then did the same for my mom. Dad’s walker was tossed in the back of Jaeger’s truck so Dad would have it  at my sister’s if he needed it.

Thanksgiving was different than in years past. One brother and his family were noticeably absent. And Mom and Dad appeared worn out before we’d even left their house. As we all gathered at my sister’s home, we did our best to keep the mood celebratory. But the awareness that Mom and Dad are gradually slipping away from us was never far from my thoughts. I kept an eye on them throughout the day and they seemed tired, sad … We’re moving them out of their town house into an assisted living apartment in the next two weeks, and they’ve reluctantly accepted those circumstances. But they are saddened at the loss of their independence. Every day is a trial for them, a struggle to just get through simple routines like dressing and eating. My dad fights the reality of his circumstances until his body proves to him once again that he can’t win.

Not long after dinner and dessert were over, I asked Mom how they were feeling and she said they were ready to go home as soon as I was willing to take them. Dad was sound asleep in another chair, oblivious to the chaos of holiday laughter and conversation. It used to be that he’d spend holidays wrapped up in conversations with his sons about fishing, vacations, or the best tasting beers. Or he’d sit and lovingly tease his grandkids. Now the grandkids have grown too big for that kind of teasing, and he’s too tired to play along.

There’s a bible verse I stumbled upon a while ago that I think about often.

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances …

It seemed like good advice before such serious issues began to permeate our lives. But I’m trying to remember this verse, every day. It’s not easy. Still, I’m striving to find joy in all that I can. If I don’t, I think sometimes I might just lay down and cry.

So this weekend, I’m grateful … that my parents are surviving another day, that I had some time with all of my kids. Jaeger is here through Sunday with his dog, Dacotah. And Ryker has even stayed home more than he usually does. The Christmas tree is lit and decorated, and the sun is shining today. Also? The dogs didn’t burn down the house while we were gone on Thanksgiving Day, despite their best efforts. But that’s a story for another time.

Thanksgiving 2015