Monday, June 28, 2010

"Sis Was Slow"

Wednesday was our last day to play in Florida.

I stayed home to blog, and Kelly joined the sisters on their last beach run.  We'd planned to go see Toy Story 3 in the afternoon, but everyone was so tired that after a late lunch Carolyn suggested we instead watch Mamma Mia, the sing-a-long version.

Inspired idea!  Kelly eagerly set it up and we all settled in.

We're all singers and knew some or most of the songs.  It was great fun and got me to thinking...Greece is looking very enticing.

Back to reality. 

We'd made reservations for the birthday dinner at  PJ's Seagrille in Boca Grande.  Dinner was fabulous.  We took a break to present the brithday woman with her gift commemorating this milestone birthday--a lovely James Avery hammered ring made up of five loops of silver--representing the five of us gathered to celebrate:  Carolyn's three sisters, her mom, and her daughter.

Alex, Martha's son, had written a card assuring Carolyn she didn't look a day over 42.  We all got real mushy.

A round of coffee and desserts, a short walk on the beach in the moonlight, and home to bed.

Then next morning it was time to face the music.  We said bye to Caitie and Carolyn (and the red Volvo convertible!), who had an early flight (minus the Volvo, alas).  We hit the road at 9:00, got to the airport, turned in the rental car, backtracked home through Atlanta, found my car in the parking lot at San Antonio, dropped off Janny and Martha, and Kelly and I headed back for the Ranch.

I popped in a CD of Selena and was going over the high points of the vacation in my mind.  I'd been so impressed with Kelly.  After getting settled in at the vacation house, she'd pretty much dropped all her insistence on what some folks call "the grooves."  Dinner at 9:00?  No problem.  Lunch at 11:00 or 1:00?  Same.

However, about a third of the way home from the airport she started talking about Yolanda Saldivar, the woman who murdered  Selena .   My heart sank.  We have these conversations frequently.  Kelly knows Saldivar is in prison and will be there for many more years.

We review the facts: Saldivar can't get out, she's no threat to anybody, Selena's parents will miss their daughter forever but they have other children and grandchildren,  Selena's sister and brother are still musicians, etc.

Through Manor and Elgin, Kelly continued to talk about Saldivar, despite my attempts to change the subject.  Finally I asked, "Kelly, do you think Selena would want us to spend all our time thinking and worrying about that awful woman, or do you think she would want us to enjoy the beautiful music she left behind?"

"The music," she replied.

"Yes!" I said.  "Let's listen to Selena and sing along."

A few miles down the road another Selena question began to surface and I cut it off with the sign for "Stop it!"  I was exhausted and could not keep this up.

It took me a few hours, but just before bedtime I realized that Kelly's "grooves" had started to reassert themselves, doubtless in reaction to her growing anxiety about returning home.  I realized that I, too, had been bracing against the return to work, colleagues, friends, expectations, and all the frustrations thereof.

I had emailed Jerry after the first day on vacation that after several hours on the beach, a nap by the pool, and a nice dinner at home with wine, I  felt like warm liquid oozing from room to room.  For a perpetually up-tight person like me, that's as good as it gets. (I tried an "at-home" vacation a few months ago but it was a total bust.  You literally have to "vacate" the premises to get the real thing.)

Home is good, too, but Kelly and I also work here.  Our neighbors are our colleagues, our friends-- and in some cases-- our bosses.  The Ranch may look like paradise to outsiders, but we're a true community, with all that implies.  We're real life, warts and all.

On vacation I'd seen a different, more "normal" side to my daughter than I've ever been privileged to experience before.  The change was so marked it made me wonder: What things happen here at the Ranch that interfere with its expression in our everyday life? 

On the trip I'd taken a copy of a chapter from the book Mental Retardation in the 21st Century, Michael L. Wehmeyer and James R. Patton, eds., Pro-Ed, Austin, TX 78757 (2000).  The chapter is "Social Constructions of Mental Retardation: Impersonal Histories and the Hope for Personal Futures" by J. David Smith. 

Everybody's idea of a beach read!  Actually, I saved it for the flight back.

Smith speaks eloquently about how people with IDDs, while recognized as different, used to have their place in society.  This is true.  One of Jerry's 11 aunts and uncles on his mom's side was Catherine, called "Sis" by the family.

"Sis was slow," Jerry's mom would say.  "Couldn't make it past third grade.  But we always knew she was slow."

But Sis had milked, and picked cotton, and cooked, and married, and raised children and eventually earned the rank of sainthood in the family as she proved herself an able and willing caregiver for members at the end of their lives.

Alas, not much need for milkers and cotton pickers these days.  That was a simpler time and place.  As far as the other things Sis accomplished, would she even be allowed to try today?  Or would she have a label slapped on her by age 3 and an army of social workers, case managers, program directors, and special ed teachers directing her life from that moment on?

Who depends on whom?  I wonder.

We've built a beautiful place here at the Ranch.  Our residents and campers give every evidence of loving it.  Our first criterion for residency has always been: "The prospective resident must actively desire to live at the Ranch and able to demonstrate that desire."  We consistently get rave reviews on our facilities and our programs.  We even get total strangers calling up to compliment us on our Ranchers--their appearance, their manners, their joie de vivre.

The Ranch is supposed to be that simpler time and place.  But is it?  What do the Ranchers really feel?  Deep down, do they know how tight is the grip we maintain on the steering wheel of their lives? 

I suspect they do.

Smith closes his article with this observation:

"...the time is overdue for a fundamental questioning of the concepts, terms, and practices associated with mental retardation.  The millions of people with the myriad of developmental disabilities that have been subsumed under this term deserve this questioning of the manner in which they are being regarded and treated.  A disassembling of the aggregation that mental retardation is may enhance our vision of what it should be."

In simple English, I think he's telling me: "Take away all the labels, the specialists, the therapies, the compliance, the documentation, the endless palavering, YOUR hopes, YOUR dreams, YOUR expectations, YOUR investment in Down Home Ranch.  Put away your notions as a professional, as a parent.  And look at your daughter.  Look at this human being as the person God made her to be, and listen to her very, very, very carefully."

When I started this blog, I had to swallow a big lump in my throat before I could expose my daughter's life in the way I do, but  I decided that more good could come of it than harm. 

I owe it to her in return to pry open my own eyes and perhaps see truths I'd rather not see.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"One More Day of Freedom"

Tuesday June 22

Yesterday we had another beautiful day at the beach.

This time we brought umbrellas, mats, and folding chairs.  Kelly swam in a heavy T shirt to protect her from the relentless sun.  Despite frequent slatherings of high SPF sun screen, our skin tones are varying from lobster red to deepening tan.  By vacation's end we will--intentionally or not--all provide ample evidence of a week's vacation in Florida.

"I don't want to leave this vacation!" Kelly said at one point.

Then last night we decided to go to a movie.  Get Him to the Greek.  Ugh!

All we'd read was that it was funny.  There were a few funny bits, but the raunch far outweighed the merits (I'm being generous here using the plural, because the sole merit we agreed on was that we liked Russell Brand quite a lot.)

For reasons unknown we individually and collectively hung in til the end, despite the huge cringe-factor. Afterwards we all agreed that we would have been happy to walk out had one of us headed for the exit.  We still don't know why we didn't.

How to describe?  Juvenile--what's funny about vomit and feces?  Not much.  The "F" word?  Never was funny and the shock value wore out about 1969.  The focus on sex...please!  If it were that disgusting, meaningless, and degrading the species would have died out millenia ago.

This thing got great reviews from people I expect better of.  Big question of the evening: what does it take to earn an "X" rating these days?  If this didn't warrant it, what does?  Oh well, de gustibus non est disputatum. Tomorrow we're going to see Toy Story 3 to get the nasty taste out of our minds.

(All the above is to warn folks what they're in for should they go to that movie.  You may thank me now or later.)

Today we drove down to Sanibel Island, which is built up from the deposits of eons of currents dumping shells.  The sand is like talcum powder, the beach made up of shells.

After lunch at The Hungry Heron, we did a little souvenir shopping and headed for the beach.

Standing in the water, you can find all kinds of living mollusks by just wiggling your toes down into the sand.

We were enchanted when the pelicans began cruising in close to us and diving for fish.  Carolyn, Caitlin and I went further out into the water to check them out.  Caitlin said off handedly, "We wish things were more dolphiny!  We want dolphins to come and play with us!"

"Yeah, I'm sure if you saw a fin cutting through the water you'd hang around to see what it was," I said.

Not a minute later, a large, grey body arced through a nearby breaking wave.  We were in about 3' of water.  Our eyes bugged, we grabbed one another, and headed for shore as fast as we could go, which wasn't very.  (Caitie moved a bit quicker than Carolyn and I, however, because as she later reported, she'd felt a distinct bump shortly before our sighting.)

Once closer in we warned a family with young children and all retreated toward the water's edge.  We saw the critter breach a few times more.

We figured that, shark or dolphin, it had been attracted by the fish and the feeding pelicans and hugged the shore from that point on.  Whatever, it was an exciting finale to our day on Sanibel.

Once back at the house, we googled Sanibel beach and sharks and learned that indeed sharks abound off the popular beaches and that one should never 1) go into the water after 5:00 PM or before 9:00 AM 2) hang out near feeding pelicans.  Also, given the fact that we'd only seen one, it most surely was a shark and not a dolphin, who prefer to swim and hunt in groups.

The guide books cheerfully note that our chances of mayhem while driving in Florida traffic are billions of times greater than can be expected cavorting amidst the local marine life, but our story's just going to get better by the telling...

Other advice warned us against staying on the beach with nearby thunderheads, which we also foolishly did until I pointed out to Carolyn that they looked very like the clouds that excite the storm-chasers we watch on TV.  To appease me, we took down our umbrellas and headed for home.

Once showered and changed, we headed for the local Pig and Whistle English Pub for dinner and a pint.  Kelly didn't crank once about eating dinner at 9 in the evening, a true mark of her growing sophistication.  Turns out that the area we're staying in is a favorite for British nationals, and the pub does a brisk business despite having gotten its start in the pit of the recession.

On the way to the pub we stopped neighborhood traffic to gawk in true tourist fashion at 'gators lounging in the nearby waterway.

After way too much food we left the pub and Kelly said, "One more day of freedom!"

We made it back to the house with no further wildlife encounters.  The night was beautiful, half the sky pulsing with lightning, and the other  clear and starlit.

One last phone call to Sterling, and Kelly was ready for bed.

Wednesday, June 23

Today the girls headed for the beach and I stayed behind.  I was sure Kelly would stay behind with me and spend the day watching DVDs and having precious alone time, but this girl is in for everything that's happening.  I am impressed!

But I am happy tucked away in our lovely vacation home, letting my sunburn heal (didn't know that with a long-sleeved, buttoned-up shirt you can still turn into a crispy critter).

Tomorrow, back to real life.

"One more day of freedom," as Kelly says.

Monday, June 21, 2010

This Ain't No Beach!

Packing to leave for Florida with Kelly to celebrate oldest sister Carolyn's 50th, I wondered what to do about the blog while I was gone.

Halfway through the packing I knew--write about traveling with a young adult with Down syndrome on a trip that was sure to present ample challenges to her love of routine and likely to wander far outside her comfort zone on a regular basis!

Most of Kelly's forays out into the world are on behalf of and cater to Kelly and or Kelly and her buddies.  But this one's first and foremost about stepping up to the plate as an equal member of a group of four dynamic sisters, plus Mom and niece Caitlin.

Dad talked Kelly up beforehand to emphasize that she was traveling on her own ticket, spending money she had worked hard to earn, and that she would be expected to cover her own expenses.  He even suggested she plan to take the group out to lunch while in Florida.

Mom took her to the bank to get her $200 in cash.

Saturday morning Kelly, sister Janis, Martha and I drove to San Antonio and to catch a flight to Ft. Myers, FL, where we would meet Caitlin and Carolyn, coming in from Kansas.

Kelly sat with the sisters and as we debarked in Atlanta was expressing confusion about the fact that the clocks showed the time to be an hour later than her watch said.  I tried to explain about time zones, but soon learned the real problem was Kelly's watch, which she wanted me to change, which I could not do and would not attempt.  Fortunately Martha was not about to attempt to change hers either and both sisters agreed to just add an hour onto the time for the next few days.

En route to Ft. Myers Kelly and I sat together.  The jet was very loud and fast during takeoff, and she huddled down beside me and held on tight.  We talked about how she'd never liked this part of flying.  "I don't like it," she said, and I tried to comfort her.

Unfortunately, the ride was bumpy all the way, and she was unable to concentrate on her DVD movie, but she put on her brave face and made it.

We got off the plane at 8:30, grabbed our bags and began looking for the rental car agency.  By now Kelly was tired, and losing patience fast.

"Where is it?!" she demanded as we trudged down the sidewalks toward an unknown destination in the dark.  "I don't like this!"

"We don't know where it is," I said, "but the signs point this way so we'll just keep walking."

Kelly still cannot grasp that there are things I do not know, and cannot control.  She became cranky and petulant.  "But I don't LIKE it," she said plaintively.

Soon we found the bus stop where a shuttle would take us to the agency.  We got there and had to wait while Martha negotiated the rental.

Once in the car, Kelly was delighted.  "I like this car!" she said.  "I want one like it for my wedding, and Bryan (Carolyn's husband) can drive Sterling and me away."

I laughed and asked what other plans she had for her wedding and she said, "The Aggie band will play for the reception."  I was delighted by the image of ranks of uniformed Aggies blowing trumpets and beating giant drums for a Catholic wedding reception, but simply noted that the Aggie Band might not be up for it and I was sure we could find something suitable that she'd like.

As luck would have it, our adventure was just getting started.

We pulled out of the airport about 9:30.  Carolyn and Caitlin were already ensconced in the house and reported that everything was flat, dark, and seemingly uninhabited, and the road signs were not easy to find.

We decided to stop in a Wal-Mart to buy provisions for the next morning's breakfast, and Kelly objected loudly.  "We don't go to Wal-Mart at night," she fumed.

Patience was wearing thin.  "Tonight we do," I said.

We put some wine in the basket and Kelly asked, "Can I drink wine?"

"If you want to," I replied.  "You're an adult, now."

Back in the car we reviewed all the Ranchers at the Ranch and she was not agreed that all could drink wine, even though they were over 21.

Driving down the dark corridors of palm trees, she suddenly said, "I was scared on the plane.  I am afraid to die."

I took her hand.

"Do you think about that a lot?" I asked.

"Yes, I do, and so does Sterling.  We are afraid to die.  I don't know where I will be."

"Where were you before you were born, sweetie?"

"I don't know," she shrugged.

"Does it make you afraid not to know where you were before you were born?"


"Well, God was with you then, and God is with you now, and God will be with you when you die, but that's not going to happen for a long, long time." I said.

I'm sad to know she is burdened by these fears, but glad we'd had a chance to talking about it.  Even happier to know tha she and Sterling talk about them, happy she has someone to make plans with and help figure out the world.

Finally we make it to the house and Carolyn and Caitlin run out to greet us.  Kelly gets out, looks around the neat neighborhood and says, "This ain't no beach!"

I laugh and we go inside.  She is well pleased with the house, a little less so with having to share a room and bath with Mom (how boring!) but it's the best solution so she accepts it.  Soon I hear her in there talking to herself, relieved at being able to do her evening routine in the careful steps to which she is accustomed.

This morning Kelly woke up happy and wanted pancakes for breakfast.

"Well, you make them if you want them," I said.  I helped her get started but she took it from there, standing at the stove, created an admirable pile of tasty if odd-shaped pancakes.  Everyone helped themselves and she was justly proud of her accomplishment.

After breakfast we made ready for our day at the beach.   Carolyn had a trick up her sleeve and could hardly wait to show it off.  She'd rented a red Volvo hard top convertible and could hardly wait to spring it on Kelly.  She, Caitie and Kelly got in the Volvo, and Martha, Janny and I in the Jetta.

After exiting the garage, Carolyn pushed the button to take the top down the top.  Kelly was startled and then delighted as the top began disconnecting and folding down in to its back compartment. "This is MY kind of car!" she crowed.

The beach was stunningly beautiful.  She spent hours chatting with the sisters, bobbing in the surf.  Despite copious applications of sun screen, she got burned, and we had to buy some Solarcaine to take out the sting.

As for me, I floated in the green waters and contemplated 50 years of motherhood.  For the first time, I saw my daughters--all my daughters--for the competent, loving, secure women they are,  almost undone by the feeling of gratitude that came over me.  Gone was the sense that one had been left behind.

I felt the web of love that is our family.  Yes, Kelly will always need them.  But they will always need Kelly, too. 

Thursday, June 17, 2010

But There's Nothing There!

That's what the people in charge of the MARC Center in Rockdale reported in 1995 after a scouting expedition to Down Home Ranch as we prepared for the first ever Ranch Camp.

The Marc Center is an activity center/workshop for adults with intellectual disabilities.  We became acquainted with them through board members and volunteers in Rockdale, who encouraged them to think about sending their people to camp.

I have to admit: the physical plant at that time was unimpressive at best:  one very small trailer, one ancient falling-down barn. 

To complicate things, it was raining cats and dogs the day they came, so everyone had to crowd into our postage-stamp living room as Jerry spun his dream of acres of greenhouses, riding facilities, swimming pools, homes, retreat facilities, chapels, ponds, gardens, and cabins.

But, at the time, like I said: one very small trailer, one ancient falling-down barn.

But...we had a plan.

The Taylor National Guard post had offered cots and tents.  Port-o-potties could be rented. We would extend the porch roof out over the front lawn and eat on picnic tables.

Miss Gay (consummate home-schooler and scrounger) and I began scrounging and planning activities.  We lined up volunteers.  We arranged for fishing at a neighbor's pond.  We planned to take the campers swimming every afternoon in Taylor at the municipal pool in Murphy Park.

And after that summer Miss Gay and I could have gone on to careers as recruiting officers for the military.  Every hunk of young flesh that walked by became fair game to be pressed into service as a counselor.

Undoubtedly against their better judgment, the MARC people signed up to come, along with a group from Houston.

Finally the big day arrived, and with it campers and their hopeful, frightened parents and other caregivers.

We had no idea what we were doing, and I'm sure it showed. 

But our faith in ourselves was vindicated.  We created camp together.  Many of the MARC Center campers have returned year after year, making new memories and friends as they renew old ones.

One of our favorites, Jerry Throckmorton, died several years ago.  The town of Rockdale turned inside out to honor him, from the high school teams he supported, to the neighbors whose trash he hauled out on trash day, to the people he worked with in various jobs around town.  As for us, we'll never forget him standing in front of the mobile home, looking philosophical, and saying, "Yep, you've got a pretty nice little camp here."

We established a permanent scholarship in Jerry's name to help others share an experience he loved.

The facilities are a lot more impressive these days, but that experience is pretty much the same.  If it weren't, Ranch Camp would not keep growing from year to year, from a total of 23  the first year to  about 450 this year. Pretty much everyone who comes once, comes back, and new ones come every year.

We all agreed after that first session that we'd never had so much fun or worked so hard in our entire lives.


Monday, June 14, 2010

"Go now!"

Session 1 of Camp is over and I went to closing Saturday morning.

I didn’t know as many of the camper families in this session—which was for teens and young adults—as I usually do. Most of the campers Miss Gay and I worked with the first 12 years of camp are now attending the adult camps.

But it’s fun to meet the parents and hear the stories of what they did the previous week. It's not unusual to hear that  Ranch Camp marks the first time ever their child has stayed overnight away from the family.

I remember when I took daughter Kelly to Camp Allen for the first time prior to her attending with all her buddies from our little church in Taylor. I wanted her to see where she would stay, show her where she’d eat, swim, do crafts—anything to help ensure a success for her first big adventure. She was eight that summer, but physically and functionally more on the level of a five-year-old, so there was reason for concern!

As we approached the commons area of the camp area her group would use Kelly scampered ahead of me and was halfway up the stairs before I could call out to her, “Hold on a minute, baby girl!”

At which she stopped in her tracks, whipped around, glared at me, hand on hip, and said firmly, “Not a baby! Just a girl!”

Properly chastised, I allowed her to explore her new surroundings without interference from me.

A week later, Jerry loaded the car with all the requisite items for a week away from Mom and Dad and headed back to Camp Allen. Kelly’s cabin was nestled high in the tall pines, up a flight of open wood stairs, which she took two at a time to the top and quickly laid claim to her bunk.

As I helped Kelly make up her bed and stow away her gear, Jerry cased the area for a place to hide out and spy throughout the coming week (his new plan, or so he claimed.) By this time I was comfortable that our girl would do fine at camp, but he had yet to be convinced.

Kelly, however, sat on her bunk with her little legs dangling down and brushed her hand toward us. “Go now,” she said firmly, pointing toward the door.

We imposed kisses on her freckled little cheeks, and instructions upon the counselors, and dragged things out as long as we could before heading for the car.

I had looked forward to my week off from mom duties, but instead found myself disoriented and missing my little sprite something awful. Jerry felt the same. We morosely ate supper and wondered aloud how things were going.

The following Saturday we were up at dawn and at Camp Allen before the campers had even finished breakfast. Kelly was mildly interested in us, but much more so in her friends and counselors. She sang the camp songs with gusto and fervently hugged “Mother Lacy,” the Episcopal priest who served as chaplain for that session, before consenting to get in the car and come home.

Once home she fell quickly back into her routine, but we saw big changes in our girl. She had lived life for a whole week without Mom and Dad overseeing every aspect of it. She’d made friends and scared the lifeguards by jumping right into the deepest part of the pool before they’d had a chance to assess her swim skills.

She’d let her counselor comb out her long hair without protest, done her crafts as best she could, and handled her grooming about as well as the other girls in her cabin seemed to have done.

It was her first glimpse of the possibilities of life outside the home, and she loved it.

At Ranch Camp closing on Saturday, I overheard campers telling their parents, "I want to come back again next week, Mom.  I don't want to go home!"

Charlie informed me that he planned to graduate next June, and then would be here to live full time.  I took Charlie and his mom and dad on a short tour of the Village.  Alan showed them around the interior of Barnabas House. 

This is the sad part of Ranch Camp.  So many want to live at the Ranch, but so few ever will.

But it's something to think about.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Ring of Truth

Sundays at the Ranch are generally quiet. Everyone goes to church, comes home, has lunch.

Sometimes in the afternoon we take a swim, or work out a little bit, or just hang around the house doing whatever.

As for me—I’m supposed to be writing a book about how Down Home Ranch got started. Somehow that’s not happening. Things get to popping up here and there and the time set aside for writing the book gets filled up with other stuff on a regular basis.

So, what the heck. Sundays I won’t blog about the Ranch. Instead I’ll write about how the Ranch got started, and we’ll see where it winds up.

So here goes.

Down Home Ranch began, of course, with a big surprise.

Jerry and I were living in Austin with two of our three girls. Carolyn, the oldest, was just finishing up a Master’s degree in voice at the University of Colorado/Boulder. Martha, the middle, was halfway through her BA at the University of Texas/Austin. Janny, the baby, was just beginning Anderson High.

We lived in northeast Austin in a rambling ranch house built in the 50s on about a third of an acre. We loved our house, which was filled with plants and light, and we loved being only 15 minutes from our jobs, the University, and pretty much anywhere else we wanted to go.

Jerry was working on his dissertation to complete his Ph.D. in Educational Administration at UT, and had a part-time job working with an outfit that placed and cared for decorative plants in commercial buildings.

I was teaching Spanish at Austin Community College and working part-time for a software company. I had completed all my course requirements for the Ph.D. in Latin American Studies at UT, and was taking some time off to consider other options before either continuing on or pursuing a different direction.

Friends were always stopping by for dinner or to play a little music. We had a big garden in the back yard and even kept chickens for eggs and amusement. Martha and I sang with the Austin Civic Chorus and both of us attended Friends Meeting (Quakers) on Sundays, where Martha took care of the little kids during Meeting for Worship. Janny generally spent the night with a friend on Saturday nights, and Jerry preferred puttering in the garden to any organized Sunday morning activities.

That year, 1983-84, I was serving as Recording Clerk of Friends Yearly Meeting. (Our local meeting was called “Monthly Meeting”, and “Yearly Meeting” took in a four-state area that met once a year around Easter for a retreat and to transact any business that needed taking care of.)

In early February of ’84, I was due to fly to Houston for a planning meeting for our upcoming Yearly Meeting, leaving around 2:00 PM in the afternoon.

I’d stayed home from work to straighten up the house and get ready for the trip. The airport was only five minutes away, and arriving half an hour before the flight would still get you on the plane in plenty of time in those days.

I was going from room to room, packing my bag and thinking about this and that, but a nagging little issue kept calling me to attention.

I was 41, and generally felt terrific since I’d stopped smoking four years before, but for the past ten days or so I’d been feeling light-headed with just a tinge of nausea that came and went throughout the day.

It was a familiar feeling from days long past, but I really didn’t think there was any chance of that. However, unlike the old days, there was a new, easy way to find out.

So I hopped in the car and drove the few blocks to the nearest pharmacy, bought a pregnancy detection kit, came back home, performed the necessary steps and set the contraption up in direct sunlight on the windowsill as directed. A positive result would be announced by a ring forming in the bottom of the tube within the first 45 minutes. No ring, no pregnancy.

As I finished getting ready for my trip, I peeked at the little tube nesting in its holder on the sill every ten minutes or so.

Each time I checked I relaxed a little more.

At 40 minutes, still nothing—big relief!

I loaded my bag in the car and went back in to leave Jerry a note on the kitchen before I left. Suddenly I remembered the gizmo in the bedroom and went back to toss it.

I went to pick it up and there, perfectly formed, appeared a distinct, dark ring in the bottom of the tube.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Campers Are Here!

The campers are here! The cars came rolling in starting around 3:30 Sunday afternoon. Our staff and friends saddled up to greet the families and entertain them while waiting for the gates to open wide and the wild rumpus begin!

Week 1 is for teenagers and very young adults. It was great fun to see friends who haven’t seen each other in a year fall into each other’s arms.

Despite some rainy days, the fun continues unabated. Every camp director worth his or her salt knows a zillion ways to keep campers entertained indoors, and Denise and her formidable crew of counselors are no exception. Skits, karaoke, line dancing, crafts, games, sharing tables—not to mention mealtimes—are all popular pastimes.

Today, though cloudy, is basically dry, and campers had fun working with the mini horses and donkeys--the ones with four legs, not the stick ones in the dining room used for Western skits!

Tomorrow, incredibly, is their last full day. I say incredibly because camp did not flow so quickly when Miss Gay and I were the ones running it day after day. In fact, we always told the staff to expect Monday to last approximately 72 hours, after which things would move briskly by. Nurse Linda confirmed that yes, Monday was a long one.

Tomorrow evening Ranchers will join campers for the Dance. Oh, how everyone loves the Dance! If you’re ever in the neighborhood drop by. We guarantee you’ll have a great time.

One reason is, you’re required to!

We tolerate NO wallflowers among the staff. Everyone must dance, and everyone discovers that even if they didn’t feel like dancing, glory be—they’re having a great time and now you do.

And when’s the last time you danced to our all-time favorite: Y-M-C-A?

Only nine weeks to go, and lots more tales to tell.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Rancher Camp

Tuesday and today the Ranchers have been training the incoming counseling staff for Ranch Camp.  They do this by being "Campers" for two days, and they take their job very seriously. 

We do, too, even paying them their regular wage to do it.

Everything happens that will happen at regular camp in order to give the camp staff the experience.  Of course, our guys are such old hands at this (almost all began their relationship with Down Home Ranch as campers) it's really easier than getting a brand new--and much larger--group of unknowns each Sunday afternoon, but a rehearsal's a rehearsal, and every bit of experience helps.

First there's check-in--lice check (eeew!), medications turned in, ID bracelet put on.

Then there's all that gear to stow away somewhere, bunks to be picked out and made up, too.

Best of all is the chance to make some new friends.

After everyone's settled in and getting to know one another, it's time to go swimming, do crafts, have dinner and and watch the skits the counselors have been working on all week.

It's fun, but that's not to say some folks don't miss their regular bed and in-room TVs!

Up in the morning, it's time to go fishing.  The stories are good, as usual, and they weren't all about the ones that got away, either!

Later in the morning, there was the nature walk.  Most campers agreed it was a lot like working in Gardens--hot, sticky, and buggy.

In fact, when ask what kinds of wonders were seen on the nature walk, most everybody answered, "Ants."

Sure enough, Michael (below) brought back ants and their project for the day, a deceased caterpillar.

We talk a lot about hydration in the Texas summer heat, and many Ranchers now have "camel packs" strapped to their back. 

Here Sterling gives Kelly a sip of water from his.

Chris takes the stage during the pre-lunch break, giving his famous rendition from the Lion King.

While the Ranchers have been masquerading as campers, direct-care staff has been attending two-days of intensive training.

Tonight after supper, everyone will go home, have a shower in their own bathroom, and settle into their comfy rooms for the night.

Tomorrow, they're off to Morgan's Wonderland for the day, accompanied by students from the Texas State University Department of Recreational Therapy.

Friday, it's back to normal, picking the last of the berries, cleaning up after the horses, and cleaning the buildings to get ready for the real Ranch Camp.