Summer Swimming

From the Farm:


 Published in the Casper Journal July 28, 2010

 Summer swimming lessons are highly overrated—at least if your child is under four years old.  Our older children learned to swim by default in Las Vegas.  We simply lived in the pool during those hot months, and soon they sprouted fins and were at home in the water.  However, since our sixth child still can’t swim, I decided to sign everyone up for city swimming lessons this summer.  Much to my delight, I found a session where all six levels were taught at the same time. 
‘How easy!’ I thought.  Forty minutes, six children, one pool.  This will be a breeze…  Little did I know that my preschooler had other plans.
            The first morning of swimming lessons, everyone was eager to begin.  We ate an early breakfast, dressed in swim suits, and loaded a huge bag of towels into the back of the van.  The children were all bursting with excitement as we drove to the pool.  Glancing at the car temperature, I caught my breath…69 degrees!  I was horrified!  In Las Vegas we wouldn’t have set even a toenail near a swimming pool with such cool outside temperatures.  Remembering the Vegas heat, I recalled one time when the summer weather dropped down to 105 and my friend “turned up” the heat in her pool so our poor children wouldn’t be cold!
            “Please let the Casper city pools be heated,” I prayed silently, hoping my children wouldn’t notice the slight chill in the air.
            We arrived at the pool to find it crowded with other excited children and parents.  Finding a spot on the pool deck, my crew unloaded their towels, took off their sandals, and began lathering up with sun screen.  Putting sun screen on six children is not an easy task, and soon everyone had oily hands, white faces, and greasy arms.  I’m sure the people around us were duly entertained.
            “Time to start!” shouted a lifeguard.  After a short safety lesson, he divided the children into ability groups.  “Advanced swimmers over there, beginners here, preschoolers to the left,” he called.  The children scattered to meet their teachers.  Contentedly I sat back on a pool chair. 
‘Ahhhhh,’ I thought.  ‘Forty minutes with nothing to do but watch my children swim.’  Some parents around me were already reading books and talking on their cell phones. 
Just then I heard a terrific scream.  Looking over to the preschool group, I was surprised to see my youngest son standing rigid at the edge of the pool!  I couldn’t imagine what was wrong. 
“Just put your toes in,” coaxed a nice, lady teacher. 
“I don’t want to get in the water!” he wailed.  I watched, perplexed.  Finally I walked over to the class. 
“You love swimming!” I reminded him. 
“I don’t want to go swimming,” he screamed. 
“You’ll be fine,” I reassured him, and with all the love I could muster, picked him up, and set him in the water next to his teacher. 
He clung to the side of the pool, screaming louder.  By now I knew that every eye of every parent was on us.  What to do?  Even though he was child number six, I’d never had such an encounter.  The other preschoolers were splashing around happily, kicking their feet and blowing bubbles as their teacher directed.  Finally, I extended my hand to him, holding it until he calmed down. 
‘So much for my quiet time,’ I thought.  It was a long forty minutes.
The next day I was sure would be better.  Smiling, he lathered up with sunscreen and sat through the first aid lesson.  Then it was time for class. 
“I don’t like swimming lessons!” he suddenly wailed as his teacher set him in the water.  Single-handedly, he pulled himself out of the pool and ran, dripping wet, over to me. 
“We’ll try again tomorrow,” I said.  But the next day wasn’t much better.  Nor the next, or the next.  On the last day of class, I finally convinced him to get into the water again. 
“Let’s take a trip to the middle of the pool!” said the teacher, gathering the preschoolers in a group and slowly swimming them into deeper water.  The further they went, the louder my son screamed.  Soon, all of the other classes stopped to watch my ballistic son.  Sitting on the deck, I tried to pretend I didn’t exist. 
“Did I actually pay money for this?”  I wondered.  When they finally came back to the edge of the pool, my son jumped out and came running to me. 
Wrapping him up in a warm towel, I held him on my lap. 
“You did it!” I smiled.  He stopped crying. 
“I went into the deep end!” His voice suddenly sounded victorious.  “I like swimming,” he smiled, and I breathed a sigh.  Maybe it was all worth it. Besides, there are more summers to come.  He held my hand as we left the pool.  “I want to take swimming lessons again!”

Summertime in Wyoming

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal July 21, 2010

It’s summertime—and I remember again why I live in Wyoming.  After too many months of winter, snow, cold and wind—daylight and warmth are finally here.
In the morning, the sun shines through my window and wakes me up, just past 5am.  I quickly open all of the windows and doors; I don’t want to miss a minute of the glorious warmth.  The smell of sage, dampened by the night rain, is fresh and invigorating. 
Our wild pheasant, nicknamed “Phil,” screeches as I walk outside.  He flutters to a safe distance across our field, and watches as I say good morning to the chickens. They squawk and peck as they jump down from their coop and begin their morning, eating bugs.  Nearing the garden, a bunny scampers out of my path.  He didn’t eat much, and I don’t mind having him there.   The lettuce, potatoes, and corn are green and growing, making a perfect picture on the dark earth. 
Down our hill, the North Platte River flows by.  Canadian geese honk on its banks, and I see a herd of deer in the meadow.  This river has seen history—pioneers along its banks—and now it’s mine to enjoy.
Summer doesn’t just bring out the animals, it brings out the people.  “Good morning,” calls my neighbor from the road as she passes during her walk.  Another neighbor strolls by with his dog, going to get the mail.  They stop and chat, and soon we are caught up on all of the neighborhood news.
By mid-morning, my children are outside as well.  They love the summer days.  “Be back in a while,” they call, and run up the hill to where they are tending the animals for a neighbor on vacation. 
In the afternoon, we go down to the pond.  The children paddle around in their little rafts and try to catch fish.  The younger ones build castles and moats on the sandy beach. 
“Look!  We caught a frog!”  My boys come up with a green frog in their bucket.  “Can we keep him?”  Their shorts are dripping with pond water, and their faces are brown with the sun.  Is this a scene out of Huck Finn?  No.  Just a summer day in Wyoming.
One weekend we travel to Yellowstone.  The ground there is sacred; I can feel it the minute we pass through the gate into the park.  Towering mountains, billions of trees, and meadows with blue streams…an indescribable treasure.  The hallowed hills work their magic on my family, and after a few nights in the crisp air, my children’s eyes are bright and their faces shining with summer.
On July 3rd, the neighborhood gathers for a “barn dance.”  Inside a large barn we eat a potluck dinner and sit on bales of hay, listening to a live band.  Flags flutter from the rafters and children and adults stamp and clap to the music. 
‘What could be better than a patriotic barn dance?’ I wonder.  Do communities like this really still exist? People from the big city would have to see it to believe it.
In the summer evenings we sit on our porch and chat with friends.  The sun stays up late, and so do my children.  They play capture the flag, hide and seek and tag until it’s too dark to see.  Even then, the air is warm, and it takes a while to herd them into the house.  When I finally climb into my bed it’s late.  With my window shade up, I can see thousands of stars.  Wow.  The only sound is the chirping crickets, the river, and a distant train. 
“We’re so lucky!” whispers my husband.  And I agree.  Yes, I’ll stay through another winter.  The long, cold days that eventually turn golden are worth it.  This is heaven.  Summertime in Wyoming.

Vegas Living Vs. Small Town Charm

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal July 14, 2010

Last year we moved our family from Las Vegas, Nevada to Casper, Wyoming.  When people hear that we came from Vegas, they often ask with a shocked look, “Where…exactly…in Las Vegas did you live?”  Smiling, I respond, “Have you heard of the Strip?  Our house was just down the street.”   Their shock generally turns to horror, and they continue, “You must have been soooo glad to get out of there!”
Well, yes.  We were glad to finally move out of the big city.  However, popular to contrary belief, there are good families, friendly neighborhoods, wonderful churches, and beautiful scenery in Las Vegas.  Some parts of Vegas we miss.  Other aspects we are glad to live without.  But, the real adventure has been moving to Casper.
We flew into the Natrona County Airport for my husband’s job interview.  “I wonder where we pick up our luggage,” my husband said, recalling the zoo of terminals at the Vegas airport.  After de-planing outside of the airport, we discovered that there was only ONE baggage claim.  While we waited, my husband took a moment to find a restroom.  “I’ll guard your bag,” I offered, still accustomed to Las Vegas living.  Despite my tension, however, the people around me (many wearing cowboy hats), were chatting easily, leaving their luggage to wander over to the drinking fountain or rental car counter, and connecting with old friends.  Soon the baggage track started, the few bags were sent out, and everyone left.  Just like that.  “Wow,” I breathed.  “That was easy.” 
We met our courtesy ride in the front of the airport.  As we road into town the driver called his buddy, “I’m taking outer drive because the traffic is terrible!” he said.  Traffic?  We raised our eyebrows.  What traffic?  Oh, that slow car in front of you is a nuisance?  We smiled.  Let us tell you about traffic.  Two hours sitting still on a blazing hot freeway turned parking lot, now that’s bad traffic.
A few weeks later we traveled to Casper with our children.  It was just dusk as we drove past Alcova.  Soon the sun was gone.  Suddenly, my daughter exclaimed from the back seat, “Look at all the stars!!!”  We turned our necks and peered at the night sky.  It was peppered with stars—dozens, hundreds, millions, billions.  After years of neon lights in Vegas, our children had never seen anything like it. 
The next few weeks were filled with additional small town surprises.  When we went to the library for the first time, a nice, grandmotherly librarian began stamping the due date (by hand!) on each book.  My children stared.  “Just as a courtesy,” she smiled.
Another day we saw a car left parked on the curb, with the engine running! 
Going to Walmart was also an experience. In Vegas, check-out lines always stretched for at least 30 minutes.  But when I went to the cash register in Casper, the sales associate smiled, greeted me in English, and apologized for any delay I might have experienced.  “This is our busy time,” she explained.  “This?  Busy?” I asked, looking around at the few customers.  “I’ll take it.”
“Look at the shopping carts,” my son whispered.  “No locks!”  The Vegas carts had magnetic wheel barriers which would click into place once a cart was at the edge of the parking lot.  “People must not push their groceries home, here,” he concluded.
The first day my children went to school here, they came home with glowing reports.  “The teachers all dress up!  They smile at the students!  There is a big, indoor gymnasium where we can play basketball (no indoor P.E. time in Vegas). School lunch is cooked right at the school!  Every student uses a computer!  We can bring library books home!”  The list went on and on…
The sounds are also different.  Las Vegas sirens were constantly screaming past our house—police, fire, ambulance—at all hours of the day and night.  When we finally heard a siren in Casper we all stopped and listened.  “Haven’t heard that sound in a while,” commented my daughter.  “Hey, no police helicopters either!” my son chimed in.  Nighttime spotlight searches were commonplace in our Vegas neighborhood.  After double-checking the locks on our doors, we learned to sleep soundly through neighborhood robberies and drug busts.  No, I’m NOT exaggerating.
And, everyone in Casper seems to know—or be related to—everyone else.  Rather than tell people our address, we often just explain who we purchased our home from.  “Oh, yes, I knew them for 20 years,” is the common reply. 
But the most pleasant surprise of this small, Wyoming town is the friendly people.  When we go to the store, people say “Hi”.  At the drycleaner, the owner greets us.  At the bank, we are known by name.  The secretary at the doctor’s office knows the whole family.  And, the line is usually short at the post office.
Yes, living in Casper and living in Las Vegas are two different experiences.  But for now, I’ll take Wyoming.

Good Ol' Summertime

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal July 7, 2010

It’s summer time!  And my house will never be clean again…at least, not until school starts on August 18th.  Muddy feet through the living room, wet swimsuits on the banister, and Legos…everywhere!  But, despite the chaos that will now engulf my life, I love the glory of summertime—lazy, relaxing, fun.
            I’m sure that no one was more excited for school to end than I was.  With four school-aged children, I’ve had my fill of helping with book reports, signing homework, listening to recitations, driving to early morning band practices and packing lunches.  I’m also tired of bedtimes (especially with the sun shining so late now), and waking children up in time to eat breakfast and catch the bus.  I’m ready for a break!  Sleeping in, eating meals off schedule, and just doing nothing.  That’s summer time to me. 
            At 11:30am on the last day of school, I picked up the kids and we sang and chatted all the way home, “No more pencils, no more books!” To celebrate, we decided to have a hot dog roast in our backyard.  The boys dug a fire pit near our garden.  My three year old watched in awe as his two, older, Boy Scout brothers arranged the wood, built the fire, and lit the match…  Or, should I say “matches?”  I think it took seven with the wind blowing. 
            My girls, already in their swimsuits and wet from the sprinklers, quickly gathered around the picnic table where we laid out hot dogs, buns, salad, beans and condiments.  Soon everyone was crouched around the little, smoldering fire, watching their hot dogs sizzle.  You can easily tell a child’s maturity level by their hot dog cooking skills.  When the youngest children’s hot dogs had touched the ash enough to dust them black, they declared their meat “cooked” and ran to put it on a bun.  My older children were more careful, turning their sticks until the dogs were sizzling and brown…now that’s a hot dog worth eating.  We rarely eat hot dogs at my house (something about nutritional value…), but when we cook them over the open fire, they are delicious enough to want two, or three, or four. 
            After everyone had eaten enough wieners to last a lifetime, we broke open the marshmallows, and soon the children were all back by the fire.  By now the smoldering wood had disintegrated into perfect coals.  Back and forth the kids ran, cooking marshmallows, pressing them between graham crackers with chocolate, eating every last bit with their sticky fingers, and then cooking another one.  The roasting seemed to go on and on and on (I want s’more!).  But soon their tummies were full and they went back to playing in the sprinklers and swinging on our rope swing.  The sky was blue, the sun was warm, and time was ours!!!
            The afternoon hours stretched lazily on.  Once everyone was duly sunburned and dirty, we put on our pajamas, popped popcorn, and spread out in the basement for a
movie night.  We didn’t watch the clock, we didn’t answer the phone.  We just sat and did NOTHING!  It was wonderful.  We went to bed way past bedtime.
When we woke up the next morning, the sun was high in the sky, and school would have been well into session on a school day.  But there was no school!!! Let me just repeat that:  NO MORE SCHOOL!  I’m sure that in 2 ½ months, we will all be ready for school again.  But for now, summer time is here.  Hooray!