Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Thought for Christmas

If God really didn't want Adam and Eve to eat the fruit, he would have packaged it in a hard plastic shell and wired it to the tree. And maybe included a door for batteries that you have to use a screwdriver to open. And then given them three or four kids who all want their fruit opened first. By the time Eve finally got her own fruit opened, she'd be too pooped to eat it.

Seriously, do I have to come up with all the good ideas?

Merry Christmas! Here are a few pictures to make your morning happy - your house can't be as messy as mine!

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Grinch Lives Here

I like Christmas as much as the next Christian, but I am thisclose to stamping my foot, crossing my arms, and declaring this a No Christmas Zone.

It's not even Christmas that has my hackles rising, it's not the busyness or the visitors or the stress of decorating or the obligatory neighbor gifts or even the rampant commercialism of an important religious holiday. No, my biggest beef with Christmas is toys.

I hate toys. To look at toys from the point of view of a rational adult, it's difficult to see why we buy toys in the first place. For the most part, toys provide merely temporary happiness. They are something that gets played with for a few days after Christmas, until the batteries die or the novelty wears off, and then the toy gets deposited in a box of similarly discarded toys, to be pulled out when searching for that lost dart from the Nerf gun or something.

When toys do get played with, anything with more than one piece ends up distributed between every room in our house. Today, there are Magnetix in the family room, craft room, and the basement and markers in the dining room and living room. That's in addition to the pile of dvd's that Zack took out and piled on the dining room table, the books that have been pulled off the shelf, the coats/shoes/backpacks that were deposited in the entry and the living room, and the Santa hat that has no home, and floats from place to place in the house. I fight the encroaching toys by putting them in nicely organized boxes and storing the boxes in the basement, bringing up a few boxes at a time so as to keep the mess to a minimum and rotating the boxes to ensure maximum play time. It doesn't usually work, but I try real hard.

I'd love to do some kind of statistical analysis of the true cost of toys. I picture an equation that looks something like this:

Number of times a toy was asked for X Dollar amount spent on toy = Expected Joy From Toy, or Minimum Joy Units

One Joy Unit for each time the toy was played with during the Christmas break
One Joy Unit for each time the kid mentions that toy when asked "What did you get for Christmas?"
One Joy Unit for each time the toy is coveted by a sibling and a fight breaks out over who gets to play with it.
Two Joy Units for each time the toy was played with during the month of January.
Three Joy Units for each time the toy was played with every month after January.
Five Joy Units for having to change the batteries due to actual use, not just leaving the thing on.
Five Joy Units if the toy was played with on their birthday (when theoretically they would have newer, better stuff to play with)

Minus Five Joy Units for not being sad if the toy breaks
Minus Five Joy Units if, after a week, the kid cannot remember the last time he saw the toy.
Minus Ten Joy Units if the kid attempts to sell or give away the toy.

Now, let's analyze a couple of presents from last year. Brad asked for a Rubik's cube about 5 times, and it cost $10, so I expect that toy to garner at least 50 Joy Units. He played with it a grand total of one time, on Christmas day or thereabouts, and then it sat on his dresser until the summer when he attempted to sell it for a dollar. So by my calculations, that toy which should have gotten us about 50 Joy Units, ended up with -9 Joy Units. Yes, it actually caused us Negative Joy, or in other words, Actual Pain. I got 9 Pain Units from buying him that toy.

Noah, on the other hand, got his Star Wars Lightsaber game, which he never asked for but cost roughly $30, so I'll give that a Minimum Joy Unit expectancy of 30. That toy was played with many times a day during Christmas break, garnering let's say 10 Joy Units. Every time it was played with, a sibling demanded a turn, causing many, many fights, for another 10 Joy Units. It was played with probably every day in January, for approximately 60 Units, and although play tapered off after he beat Darth Vader, it has enjoyed a renaissance of late, and I'd say the game has been used about 100 times this year, for 300 Units. We've changed the battery at least three times, for an additional 15 Joy Units. So this toy, which I had only expected to give us about 30 Units of Joy, has instead produced a whopping 395 Joy Units and counting.

The problem with Christmas is that more toys go the Rubik's cube way than the lightsaber game way. I worry that this year, we'll go so far into the Pain Unit hole that we might never recover. The kids have done a ton of asking for things, but I just can't forsee the eventual Joy earned from each item ever equaling the Minimum Joy threshold. And Noah is really starting to worry me, because he asked for every single BYU item available on their website, plus various baseball paraphernalia. But in the last week or two he has switched back to his Star Wars fascination, which means that all of the stuff we bought a month ago is already starting to garner Pain Units.

Last summer I asked the boys if I could just not buy them toys, but instead give them money. Noah was completely two thumbs up with that idea, whereas Brad was on the fence - could I give him some toys and some money? But no one wants to wake up on Christmas morning, open a box of dollar bills, and then go on about their day without even being able to go to Wal-Mart and spend it like it's going out of style. So we're back to buying toys this year, and I'm doing it with a Grinch-y heart. Maybe someone can give me a "Get Out of Pain Free" card in my stocking this year. I think I'm going to need it.

Seeing is Believing

I wouldn't have believed this if I didn't see it with my own eyes. My first thought was to check outside to see if there were pigs flying across the sky, or check the weather report to find the temperature down in Hades.

I made something fancy for dinner. And my kids ate it.

I'll wait a minute until your hearts start again, I know this comes as quite a shock.

Ryan's parents were going to come up for a visit a week or two ago, and I bought a pork tenderloin so that I could try out a new recipe on them, for Glazed Pork Tenderloin with Grilled Pineapple. Yum! But they didn't end up coming, and so the pork sat in my fridge while the pineapple went bad, because it seemed stupid to cook this meal for just us and the kids. But it was just going to go to waste if I didn't cook it, so one afternoon I whipped up the glaze, spread it on the pork, and popped it under the broiler.

Naturally, as with everything I attempt to broil, I burned it. I don't know why it's called a broiler - a burner is a more appropriate word choice. I guess "burner" is already in use in another part of the stove, a place where I rarely burn things. So the glaze is completely black and charred enough that it lifts off in chunks. But the middle of the loin is still pretty pink, due to the fact that my brand-new, just used once for Thanksgiving, digital meat thermometer is now broken because it can't handle the heat from the broiler. So I overcooked the outside of the pork and the thermometer, but upon cutting into it, I haven't cooked the inside enough.

Ryan came home at this point, when I'm about 30 seconds away from chucking the whole thing in the trash and getting out a box of cereal for dinner, but he claims it smells good. I was only making this for two people to eat, trying to keep my expectations realistic, so if he was still game, I thought I'd keep plugging away at it. I sliced that bad boy up and laid each slice on the broiler pan, then put it back in the oven to try to, at the very least, heat up the E. coli bacteria that we were going to have as a side dish to our possibly undercooked pork.

When they were nice and toasty (and the pork looked less pink) Noah and Zack were both hanging out in the kitchen. So just to humor ourselves, we told them that dinner was ready and they sat down. I put out plates with a piece of pork on each one. I had some steamed veggies that were in a bowl also on the table. We sat down and Ryan and I each took a kid's plate to cut their food for them.

And then they ate it.

All of it.

Noah was even excited by the bowl of steamed broccoli on the table. No one complained about the crust being black. As far as I know, they didn't even take the burned parts off, just ate the whole thing.

This is such a stunning development that I barely know what to think about it. Do I could this as a fluke? Is this just a precursor of good things to come? Should I expect this kind of behavior more often? Is this a reaction to us trying to be more laid back and less uptight about mealtimes? Or do they just like pork?

My guess is, the planets aligned for this one meal and I shouldn't expect this again. Most likely, if I cooked this again they would completely reject it. But it does make me see what is possible for the future: someday, my kids are going to sit down and eat dinner like grown-ups! We'll have scintillating conversation as we explore the pros and cons of universal health care or conservatives' reactions to Romney's JFK speech. I'll ask them if they've read any good books lately, and we can discuss them.

I'm going to look back fondly at this dinner as a nice, one-time thing. Right now, Zacky and his friend Jonathan are eating lunch while wearing snow hats pulled down over their faces. Brad and Noah both think it is perfectly acceptable to crawl under the table instead of walking around it to go get a drink. Later that night, we found Zack playing our Star Wars lightsaber game with a piece of pork shoved in his cheek, like a chipmunk. And fish sticks are still received with cheers and accolades. But they know to thank me for dinner, which they do every night, even when they choose to make themselves a sandwich instead. I just didn't believe I'd ever see the day.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Cost of Children

I keep a running tally of all the money my four children cost. Not in terms of necessities - I think food, clothing, shelter, christmas presents, haircuts are all part of the deal. I'm not even recording the $93 per visit to the psychologist, I think money to keep me sane as a parent doesn't count. This list is all of the other expenses, the money that I feel especially ripped off when I have to shell it out. The money I'm going to request as a refund when they make it big from the college education that I paid for.

I wasn't going to share this list originally. Brad is sensitive to embarrassing information about him, even though I think when he's an adult he will find all these stories amusing. But Zack added to his list today in a major way, and I'm so ticked off that I have no mercy. Here is the list, in part.

All The Kids Jointly -
60 Pairs of Gloves - somehow, every winter all of the gloves are gone, causing me to buy new ones by the bushel.

A New CD drive - from when I was using the computer, hit the button to eject a disk, the tray slid out, and he stepped on it.
A New Hairdryer - from when he dropped mine in the toilet, causing me to throw it away because even after it dried I was too afraid to plug it in. The warning is on there for a reason, you know.
A New Coat - for the coat he lost at school. I hope there's some poor kid who is warm now because of him.

A Paint Job for the Minivan - from the time he decided to drive his Hot Wheel car around all four sides of our 2 week old minivan, leaving one loooonnng scratch. Nothing like breaking in a new car.
A Wall Repair - for the time that he whacked the wall with his elbow, leaving a funny elbow-shaped dent.
A Laptop Charger - For the time (two weeks ago) that he dropped the laptop on the floor and instead of moving it, left it there so that he (or someone) would then step on the laptop charger and break it.

A New "Cars" DVD, "Curious George" DVD, "Nephi's Courage" DVD - for stepping on, sitting on, or otherwise destroying them.
A New 200 GB Harddrive - This is the one that happened today. For knocking it off the table when I was about to transfer all of my photos onto a computer. When I picked it up, it was making a clop-clop noise instead of the gentle hum that I've come to associate with photograph security. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that all of my photos and scrapbook files are on other computers around the house.

To be fair, I suppose that this would put me in the position of expecting a bill from ˆmyˆmother for all of the things I broke when I was a kid, for instance, the Dixie cup holder that I ripped off the bathroom wall when I used it to hoist myself onto the counter. Or the lid to the ceramic soup tureen that she had specifically just told me not to play with. Or the star on top of the Christmas tree that I broke. Or her favorite knife that I knocked off the dock at Lake Anna. Although, maybe the fact that I still feel guilty about this stuff twenty years later is enough payment. I know it would be for me - I'll be sure to tell my kids that.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Eagle Has Landed!

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for... pictures of our completed kitchen!!

To refresh your memory, we'll start with a before picture. Here's the old kitchen:

Here's a during picture:

And now the after picture:

That photo's a little funky because I did a panorama stitched in photoshop. here's another.

And how about a tour of the family's favorite parts of the new kitchen? Here's the pull-out spice rack:

The pull-out trash can is the thing I was the most surprised by how useful it ended up being:

We had outlets put inside some cabinets, and now our microwave is behind the pantry doors:

Tip-out trays under the sink:

And quite possibly the ugliest angle of our new kitchen, this corner is on the end of the pantry next to the garage door, and is already the catch-all spot. We've got an outlet in the upper cabinet for cell-phone chargers and our calendar is hanging inside the door. It's kind of an eyesore already, but it's an improvement because this stuff used to collect on the counter, like a giant mountain of bills and junk.

I've loved the sink in its new location - I was worried, but I shouldn't have been. I have tons of uninterrupted counter space, which actually stays relatively clean while I cook because I dump stuff right into the trash can next to me. And the boys love the dropped bar - they eat there, do homework there, fight there - it's perfect for them. I wish I had gotten pull-out shelves in the pantry - I didn't think I'd need them since the pantry's only 18" deep, but now that I'm using it, it sure would be nice. I might still see if I can't order them separately. Also, something that would have been nice was a pot-filler, which is basically a skinny faucet that extends out over your stove to fill pots with water. Completely frivolous, but now that my sink is so far from my stove, it would have been nice.

I'd write more but I'm holding a fussy baby. Incidentaaly, if anyone knows where the one-handed typing tournament is being held this year, let me know. It's a ridiculous skill to have, but when you spend as much time typing with a baby sitting on your lap as I do, you'd want to capitalize on it too. Unfortunately, it seems like the weird-typing thing is using your thumbs to text, so my skill is about as cool as my Connect Four or Whack-a-Mole prowess is.

If you are local, come check out my kitchen!!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Kids Will Be Kids

The kids have been supplying a veritable maelstrom of anecdotes that are just begging to be shared, so without further ado, here they are, in no particular order.

1. Noah crank called 911 from a neighbor's house who had very generously invited our family over for dinner. We found out when their 5 year old daughter came upstairs, crying and terrified that the police were going to come. We assumed that Noah had just been pretending that he was calling 911, until the phone rang and it was the police, asking us to please teach our kids that 911 was for emergencies only. I was ready to unleash the furies of hell on Noah, but I found him downstairs sobbing. This family's kids tend to take rules very seriously, a theory that my kids have written off as not worth their time, so the 5 year old had told Noah that she was never going to play with him again because he called 911. This was so upsetting to Noah that I decided that peer pressure was probably the best learning tool that could be employed in this case. I doubt he will ever call 911 again, even if I'm bleeding to death on the kitchen floor.

2. Zack is rather exuberant when he is, shall we say, in his birthday suit. I had just gotten Darcey out of the tub and she was laying on a towel on the floor when I was refilling the water for Zack. He was bouncing all around the bathroom, and had stopped just above Darcey's head, when he decided to pantomime one of his newly discovered potty-related talents. "Look, Mom! I'm peeing!" I was then forced to say one of those sentences that you never dream would have to come out of your mouth: "Don't pee on your sister!" Fortunately for all involved, there was no actual pee, he was only pretending.

3. For Noah's homework yesterday, he was making "long i" words - he needed to write about 20 of them, and after the first 6 or so he was stumped, so I gave him some clues to help him think of words, like 'the car has a flat what?' Tire! He had gotten mike, mile, tile, and file, and I was trying to get him to say "smile" so I started singing the song from Annie:

Me: You're never fully dressed without a ...
Noah: Hat?

Brad and I fell over laughing, but I decided that he needed more, and with Brad as my backup singer, we sang:

Me: Who cares what they're wearing on Main Street or Saville Row - it's what you wear from ear to ear
Brad: Ear to Ear!
Me: And not from head to toe that ma-ha-ha-tters. So Senator, so janitor, so long for a while! Remember, you're never fully dressed, though you may wear your best, you're never fully dressed with out a ...
Noah: Shirt?

Apparently he hasn't watched Annie enough. Zack could have gotten that one, no problem. And he doesn't even know what a long i word is.

4. Zack continues his bathroom related humor with this funny anecdote. His friend Jonathan was over to play and I left them watching a video while I went upstairs to feed Darcey. I swear on my life that they had been almost comatose in front of the television, and I was only gone maybe 10 minutes. Which means that when I found them naked in the bathroom, dancing around with toilet paper shredded on the floor and the shower door covered in brown marker, you know they must have concocted this plan a while ago and were just waiting for the right moment of weakness on my part to implement it. I handed each of them their pants and underwear and sent them to separate bathrooms to use the potty. When they came back, I handed each of them a Lysol wipe and had them start cleaning, which they did with just as much enthusiasm as the previous Bacchanalian debauchery.

5. This is a continuation of the previous incident, but is so egregious as to warrant a separate entry. Later that afternoon, Zack announced that he had marker on his bottom. I don't know how many times I have told my children not to draw on themselves, which must be such a confusing message because I keep dragging them back to the Sharpie-wielding employees at Costco. Curse them. So I peeked at the aforementioned body part, and found that it was completely marker-free. I told him there was no marker on his bottom and he said, now brace yourself for this, that yes, he did draw on his bottom with brown marker but did it real deep. I decided that this was one piece of artwork that was better left unseen.

6. Darcey seems to think that there are not enough bodily fluids going on in my life, so has decided to add hers to the mixture. About two weeks ago, she had some kind of stomach bug that caused her to throw up for roughly 24 hours. One time I was holding her and had just picked her up so that she was facing me when she puked all over my neck/chest area with enough force that the spray from it went all over my face. My mouth was open at the time. Then today we were walking down the stairs when she magically timed her spit up so that it landed on the floor one split second before my foot stepped right in it. There is no dignity in motherhood.

7. There have been all manner of workmen in the house over the last month, and watching them build and fix and construct things has given Ryan the idea that he can do it, too. Which is great, I'd love for him to be one of those handy guys that can fix stuff, because I tend to be the one to have to call a plumber when there's no water coming out of the faucet, only to be told that the washer needs to be changed and he'll do it for $35 each. But if history has any bearing on future performance, this not be the last that Ryan fixing things gets mentioned in the blog. He claims that the workmen left a bottle of testosterone on the counter. I hope we didn't have to pay extra for that.

8. We got a phone call from Noah's teacher last week, letting us know that he had been caught giving kids the finger during class. Yes, THAT finger. His teacher was very kind about it, because she knew he was a well-behaved kid - she had even nominated him for an Ace Award two months in a row for his good behavior. Apparently what went down was this: A bunch of kids were sitting around and another kid stuck up his middle finger, which must have gotten some kind of reaction because Noah decided it was a good idea to do it, too. Then a third boy, the son of the PTA president and a stake high councilman, one of those families that just seems so perfect that you know their worst day includes when they can only have family scripture study for half an hour before it devolves into a group tickle-fight and they tell each other how much they love each other over homemade dessert (yes, I'm jealous, can you tell?) anyhow, that boy tells Noah that it isn't right to stick up your middle finger, but Noah is not swayed by this argument and keeps doing it, until the teacher sees them and stops it. I explained to Noah that the middle finger is the same as saying a swear word, a bad one, and so he wants to know what the bad word is. Now he's got me, because I want to tell him the truth, I want him to know, but at the same time I really don't trust him not to say it. So I told him that at 6, he's a little too young to know what the swear words are, but that in a year or two I'll tell him. Maybe not my finest parenting moment, but I was trying to avoid the future teacher phone call, the one where she tells me Noah's been saying the F-word and telling everyone that his mom taught it to him. Self-preservation, I think.

So that's all of them, for now. Life provides a person with a never-ending series of events that make you want to scream and pull your hair out, unless you can somehow see the humor in it. Brad doesn't have as many of these stories anymore because any story that has the potential to be funny (i.e. making him say words like "blue" right after he had some cavities filled and his whole face is numb) end up being embarrassing to him and end with him sulking for several hours before he finally tells me I hurt his feelings. Plus also there's that moratorium on embarrassing Brad stories in my blog, per his request. I'll just leave him out of this for now. But don't worry, I'm keeping my eyes open for more incidents from all of the kids. After all, the only way I'll stay sane is if I laugh.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Still Waiting...

It just keeps getting worse. The counter guy was here to get final measurements, and as he was leaving he mentioned that it would take 7-10 business days to get the countertop here. So we're back to hoping the whole thing will be done before Thanksgiving, a thought that we had laughed off when the cabinets were delivered so quickly. Adding insult to injury, the electrician won't come until the garbage disposal is ready to be wired, which naturally is after the plumber comes to hook up the sink, which is after the counters are in. And it's 10:30 a.m. and the cabinet guy hasn't shown up yet to keep installing the cabinets. I'm tempting fate to try to get him here sooner - I pulled out a half gallon of mint chocolate chip from the freezer and am eating out of the container with a spoon, because surely fate would want someone to walk in on me doing that. The only other thing that would guarantee him to show up would be for me to actually leave, but since Darcey is sleeping, I can't do that. I'll have to shoot for embarrassment.

(Naturally, the ice cream ploy didn't work. The only person who walked in on me was Zack, who instantly announced that he, too, wanted ice cream, but not that ice cream, he wants orange ice cream and he wants it NOW! The ice cream container went back into the freezer but at least I've got a little bit of sugar in me to deal with his orange ice cream-induced tantrum.)

So what was going to be an if not effortless remodel, at least a fairly uncomplicated one, is turning out to be an incredibly long drawn out procedure. One contractor that I had contacted early in the process (the one that told me to order cabinets first, and then have him come over for a quote, only to be told that the cabinets would be done too soon and he couldn't fit me in his schedule) told me to take the estimated cost of the remodel, and add 10%, because you never can forsee all of the expenses that might pop up.

We haven't had too many unexpected expenses - after pretty much doubling our budget in the very beginning because we had an unrealistic number in mind, we've stayed right on track with our spending. I think the only cost that I'm regretting is the under-cabinet lights. I had rushed out to buy them the day the electrician was first here, buying them from a lighting specialty store who only has one model in stock and they are apparently made out of platinum and encrusted with precious gems, and the light comes from lightning bugs and is powered by electric eels. That kind of light doesn't come cheap. As it turns out, they are still sitting in the box waiting for the final installation, so I could have taken my time and found a better deal. But hey, I like lightning bugs, so it's all good.

No, the thing that was surprising was the length of time it is taking to get it all done. The way it was explained to us by Jerry, the salesman at Lowe's, was that the cabinets would be delivered and Dean, the install guy, would be there within a day or two to get them installed. Then the countertop guy would come out to measure, and the counters would be installed a week later. The big rush was in the beginning, to get the ceiling ripped out and the walls repaired and the electrical ready before the cabinets were delivered. Well, we hit that goal, and then sat on our hands for a week waiting for the cabinet install. Now it turns out that the counters will be another week or two of waiting.

In response to my original post bemoaning the extended delays involved in this project, my dad said, "You know, this wouldn't have happened to Betty." Betty is my grandmother, and she is one of the coolest ladies ever. Despite being (mumble mumble) years old, she has the energy and vitality of a substantially younger woman. She's the one I bought my first car from - a 1982 Chevy Camaro. I bought a sportscar from my grandma. And boy, does she have things together. My dad's right - my grandma would never have let this happen. And as Ryan asked me yesterday, when I was contemplating the fact that the knobs we ordered have been delayed by a week, "What Would Betty Do?"

In pondering this, I stumbled upon this interesting theory - I think the reason the cabinet guy is not as responsive to my schedule is that I am not his customer. Lowe's is his customer, or his employer, and they are the ones he has a relationship with, not me. For example, Dave, the contractor who did my ceiling, bought brand-new molding to go around the door to the garage, instead of using the old, slightly beat up molding. Richard, the electrician, put an additional phone jack in the family room when I mentioned that I could use one there, since it wouldn't be too much work with the walls already open. But Dean, the cabinet guy, said that he couldn't put a piece of wood under the pantry where the sub-flooring shows because Lowe's is particular about what he can and can't do.

Not that Dean's work is subpar. He is meticulous and precise with his installation. He is doing a great job of making sure everything is done well and looks good. But there's a different work ethic between him and the other guys, who work for themselves. Dean takes an hour lunch every day, and I walked outside and saw him taking a break in the afternoon on Friday. There's nothing wrong with that at all, it's just the difference between being self-employed and being an employee. If he's the employee, I'm not the employer, and that is making all the difference.

It would have been nice to know that in the beginning, but I think this is one of those lessons that you learn as you get older, which could possibly be why Grandma Betty knows so much now. Maybe when she was doing her first remodel a while ago she made the same mistakes, too. It's nice to think that wisdom like that doesn't come fully formed, that just because I'm without it currently doesn't mean I can't get there one day.

So it's looking like at least two more weeks before the kitchen is done, with the sink being among the final elements. It's a bummer, but it should start getting easier soon. In a day or two the cabinets will be finished, so at least we can reclaim the laundry baskets that currently hold our food, which would also free up our kitchen table. Either I can start bringing our dishes over to the neighbors to wash them or we can pull out the hose and hose down our pots and pans every night. And maybe I can crank up the still and start brewing some moonshine too. At least it will take the edge off.

Saturday, November 3, 2007


Fall. My favorite time of year. I love the crisp air, the golden leaves, the pumpkins full of candy. There's almost nothing not to like about fall. This year we've had a minimum of crisp air, the temperature's been around 60ish, which is just crisp enough, any more and it would actually be crunchy. We've had an abundance of candy due to the fact that Noah decided to sell us all of his remaining Halloween candy - 3 pounds worth - for a dollar a pound. And we've had an overabundance of golden leaves.

Cleaning up leaves is just about the only yard work that I actually enjoy doing. Is it because I want to commune with nature? Not likely. Is it the innate American spirit that sees wild land and feels the need to bring it into submission and claim it as my own? I doubt it. I think the real reason I enjoy leaf duty is that it is one of the few things I can do during the day that has clearly visible results. Most of my day is changing diapers, breaking up fights, helping with homework, none of which has a paper trail or a nice to-do list that can be checked off. The yard starts as a thick sheet of yellow leaves, but as I work, I can see progress as the grass is once again uncovered. Somehow I don't take the same satisfaction when I reclaim the carpet from underneath a layer of toys.

Since our yard is on the larger side, a standard rake doesn't cut the mustard. I use a leaf blower-sucker-mulcher combo to gather the leaves and crush them into tiny bits. The mulcher looks like an elephant trunk with a handle, strap, and bag to catch the leaf bits, which inevitably has a hole in it so that leaf bits spray out the back almost as fast as I can suck whole leaves in the front.

The mulcher has a hard time with sticks, but it handles Cheerios pretty well, as I learned today. Lest you think that we've hatched some plot to finally get out from under General Mills' thumb by planting our very own Cheerio tree, let me clear it up. The real reason I was sucking up cheerios with a leaf mulcher is much more embarrassing.

The kitchen remodel that we are currently undergoing has left us without a useable kitchen for nearly three weeks, and the thing I've found the hardest to live without is a sink. We've eaten a lot of fast food, microwave food, and cold cereal, but the problem with cereal is that I don't want to throw a half-eaten bowl into the trash can, milk and all. So in true trailer trash fashion, I open the back door and toss our breakfast remnants into the yard. I can only imagine what the neighbors who share our backyard fence must think. We barely know them, and the longest conversation I ever had with the wife was one day in church, she sat down in front of me, turned around and said, "I know what your kids do when you're not looking." Then she turned back around and left me to dangle in the wind of parental self-doubt and internal torment. It's been three years since that happened, and it still makes me crazy.

The one thing I hate about fall is the time change. For the love of Pete, why on earth is this necessary? I'm not one to be too paranoid, but I can't help but think that this is the government's way to screw with us. I'd lead an uprising of bleary-eyed parents, if only I wasn't so freakin' tired.

Sadly, this is the time change that most people look forward to - "falling back" usually means that you get an extra hour on Saturday night to stay up late and party. But for my family, the pain hits in the morning, as 6:00 a.m. risers get up at 5:00 and it takes easily a week to get back on track. Not that the previous track was all that terrific. Darcey, my five month old daughter, sleeps through the night with no effort at all. Zack, the three year old, gets up several times a night lately with various complaints. In fact, last night was so bad that he actually went up to his room and fell asleep at 10:45 this morning! Maybe this is the way to win in Iraq - change the clocks so that the insurgents' children wake them up so early that they want to kill somebody, but they just don't have the strength.

I'm trying, despite my tiredness, to enjoy these last few days of moderately nice weather, being able to be outside or have the door open, enjoying the season. Fall doesn't last long here, and before you know it, winter's here in all of it's bleak misery. All I do all winter is look forward to spring, my second favorite season, where instead of leaves falling it's new growth blooming, like the pansies I planted last week that should be the first things to come up in March or April-ish. In the meantime I'll start researching that Cheerio tree idea - that wasn't half bad!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Poop and Butts

WARNING: I am about to say the word "poop" about 50 times. Which means that if Zack could read, he'd be giggling like crazy the entire time. He loves the word "poop." Also, he loves "butt." If someone says "poopy butt" he goes into hysterics. Isn't it great to be a three year old boy?

Zack has had what we kindly refer to as "poopy problems," which an adult would politely call "constipation." I have been potty training him seriously for about two months, although this is actually the second attempt. It has taken him so amazingly long to be potty trained that I fear for his educational future. Seriously, this isn't as hard as, say, algebra, and if he can't master Bowel Movements 101, how in the world is he ever going to get that advanced degree in engineering? Wearing a diaper, that's how.

His potty habits go something like this:

1) Eat in great quantities.
2) Don't poop.
3) For a real long time.
4) Stop eating anything at all.
5) Wait several days, not eating or pooping. Whining quite a bit, though.
6) Poop! Anywhere that's convenient. Frequently in underwear, while sitting on the couch, which fortunately has removeable covers. The couch, not the underwear.
7) Eat like a 300 pound guy about to be kicked out of the all-you-can-eat buffet.
8) Repeat.

We hit #6 on the list yesterday, amazingly enough he even made it to the toilet which means that the rest of the family was ready to break out the non-alcoholic sparkling cider, because we could still sit on the couch. But it also explains why I was awake at 4:45 this morning starting this entry - he was hungry. And since it was too early to hit Chuck-a-Rama, I had to haul my tired butt down to the pseudo-kitchen to find him something to eat.

He ate a roll and an apple, and I was in pretty good spirits considering how early it was. The clock on my dvd player said 3:45, because it apparently is smarter than all of Congress put together and knew that Daylight Savings Time was supposed to end today. But it being so early, I knew that it was very likely that Zack would go back to bed and even possibly sleep in a little.

"Very likely" is not the same as "actually happened," though, and I was back up at 5:50 to tell Noah and Zack to stop screaming. Even though it was screaming from happiness and not pain, it was roughly the sound of a semi in need of a brake job. A semi full of pigs and squeaky hinges. And fingernails on chalkboards. I don't know where that delivery is headed, but that semi can just keep on truckin', as far as I'm concerned.

Despite the rough beginnings, the day didn't turn out too badly. Ryan and Darcey are both sick, so they stayed home from church, and Ryan and I alternated napping the rest of the day because neither of us had the stamina to be the on-call parent the whole day.

By this evening, the eating had pretty much worn off, and it looks like we are headed for a no-pooping spell. But even if the poop doesn't materialize anytime soon, that won't keep us from talking about it. And butts. Zack was looking at a "Where's Waldo" type of book that features a toy person named "Seymour" I made the mistake of telling Brad that his last name was "Butts." Brad found that slightly amusing but for Zack it was like I was Bill Cosby doing the giving birth skit for the first time - he could barely breathe he was laughing so hard! That led to a round of butt-related things he kept pointing out in his book - "Look! A Butt-Camel!" "Look! A Butt-Ball!" "Look! A Butt-Butt!" Now he's rolling around on the couch, gasping for air and shrieking "A Butt-Butt! A Butt-Butt!"

Maybe the advanced engineering degree is more out of reach than I thought.

Friday, October 26, 2007

So Close, And Yet So Far

Our cabinets were delivered yesterday, hooray! The installer won't be here for a week, not hooray!

Today is Day 10 of no kitchen whatsoever, and all things considered, I think we're all handling things really well. The house is absolute chaos, and I feel like I'm constantly stepping on or over things, but the people in the house are on a fairly even keel, and that is the more important factor. I spent several days agonizing over the paint color for the walls in the kitchen before going with the original color we had agreed on, which is the way things always tend to work with me.

The color is beautiful, by the way. It's a shade of brown that is the exact color of hot chocolate with a little bit of melted whipped cream in it. I'm still not convinced that it complements the cabinets as well as it could, but Ryan's convinced, and it is perfect against the countertop we picked out. (At least, if the paint swatch and the 3 square inch sample of counter are reliable samples.)

When the boxes of cabinets were delivered yesterday, Ryan immediately tore into them and sure enough, they are beautiful too. All of the days of worrying and regretting and hoping that I didn't make a $10,000 mistake were, as usual, a complete waste of time, because it looks like it's all going to be fantastic, and I can't wait to see it all put together!

But as it turns out, I have to wait to see it all put together. It seems as though Lowe's scheduled the installer for the standard four weeks from the date of purchase that it normally takes for these cabinets to be delivered. And despite the fact that I told Jerry, the kitchen designer, that the delivery date was so soon, the word didn't get to the installation people. When I finally got ahold of Dean, the installer, he sounded surprised that my cabinets had been delivered already, even though I had talked to the scheduler two days before. Naturally, he had two kitchens lined up before mine, and had us scheduled for November 1-3.

I asked if there was any way to get it done sooner, since we were ready for him, and he said he'd call the other jobs and see if there were any delays in their orders that could affect their scheduling. He called me back this morning to say that after he looked at his schedule and made some phone calls, he could get to our job on November 1. Love that he made it sound like he did all sorts of work to get us in this early, instead of saying "I did a whole bunch of stuff yesterday and ended up not being able to make a lick of difference in your scheduling!" At least I would have given him points for honesty. This, and some other things he's said, make me question his sincerity, I feel like he's trying to spin the whole situation to make him not look like he dropped the ball in not scheduling us sooner. Which of course makes me more suspicious.

We do have one faint, distant glimmer of hope - Dave, the guy who's been doing the work on the kitchen to get it ready, said he'd look at his schedule and see if he could fit us in sooner and do the install himself. I like him, he's completely reliable (so far) and the work he's done has been top notch, but the chances that he would have an extra three days immediately available are slim to none. So we are pretty much resigned to waiting a week in limbo before we make any more progress on the kitchen.

Since we have so much downtime, we are going to try to make the kitchen area more productive. I need to paint one more coat on the ceiling, and then we'll be putting the stove back in place. Also, the fridge can go back - both of those can be moved again next week when we are ready to actually do something in that room. I'm going to put our old long folding table in the room also, so that we've got somewhere to prepare food to a certain extent. It will also help clear off the dining room table and give us a little more order.

So if anyone wants to see the new cabinets, come hang out with us in the garage. It may not be the most comfortable place to be, but I'm guessing we've currently got the fanciest darn garage in the neighborhood. And we'll keep that title for a week!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Entertainment Tonight

One of the best parts about the fall is not that the kids are back in school, or that the leaves are turning colors and the air is crisp and we can wear sweaters and jeans again (although all of those things are good), it's that there's finally something to watch on tv again.

Yes, I enjoy watching television. While I'm admitting embarrassing characteristics, I might as well mention that I also think McDonald's food tastes pretty good, and that Wal-Mart products are usually good enough for me. I'm sorry if I'm letting some of you down with my decidedly non-sophisticated tastes, but it is what it is. I download the shows from the internet, so that I can watch them on my ipod, which must redeem me a little - if I'm not sophisticated, at least I'm technologically current.

So it's nice to have something interesting to watch again, after the drivel of summer tv ("Fat March," anyone?) we can move on to the drivel of fall tv ("The Bachelor," anyone?). And I thought, if anyone cares, I'd list some of the things I'm watching this season.

Some returning favorites:
The Office
House (I'm also watching the old seasons on DVD)
Beauty and the Geek

And some new shows:
Pushing Daisies - a quirky show about a guy with the power to bring people back from the dead for one minute, lots of quick, snappy dialogue which makes Ryan really irritated because no one talks like that in real life

Reaper - another quirky show about a guy whose parents sold his soul to the devil, who comes to collect on his 21st birthday by turning him into a bounty hunter for souls that have escaped from hell. I love the devil's character the best, I ought to ponder what his character means in a spiritual sense, but the show is too fun to take seriously.

Chuck - a show aiming for quirkiness but missing, this one is about a guy who gets government secrets downloaded into his brain, making him valuable to agents from both the NSA and the CIA, who also work with a woman from the DEA, some representatives from the NEA and the AARP, and their cronies down at the IHOP. Oh, and they attend Acronymaholics Anonymous, which they have to call by it's full name. Okay, so I'm exaggerating a little, but the show is not that captivating as a spy show. I was able to watch Alias when Sydney, her mom, her boss, her boyfriend, and her best friend all died and then were magically not dead at different parts of the series, and the most Chuck can throw at us is some trust issues. Boring and uninspired, I'm only still watching because, well, like I explained earlier, I have low standards.

Samantha Who? - Last week was the first episode of this show, which stars Christina Applegate as an amnesiac who finds out she used to be a real jerk but wants to be nice. I've liked Christina Applegate ever since she showed off her acting chops in "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead." Boy, there's a movie I haven't thought about in, oh, 16 years - I ought to rent it.

Kitchen Nightmares - I've only watched a couple episodes of this, when I can handle the almost constant bleeping of swear words. In fact, I think the audio track for that show is actually one long bleep, which they unbleep for the 16 or so real words that aren't swearing. I doubt I'll watch that one anymore.

As a family we've been watching baseball the last week or two, and that is fun. The boys have taken to baseball this year like no other. Brad seems mature enough to understand what's going on and can concentrate on the game for a while, but Noah's interest is dubious. He has a tendency to fixate on one thing - Spiderman, Star Wars, Harry Potter - and go nuts for six months or a year, and then abandon it for something new. A costume has always been a necessary component of his obsessions, and baseball is no different - the boys are going to be baseball players for Halloween so Ryan bought them baseball pants, which Noah had to be told that he could not wear to school as regular pants. So we'll see if this is a lasting hobby or if by next year he's found a new item to obsess over.

Speaking of Noah, he can be such a tender and loving kid, so gentle when he's not hitting his brothers. The other day, he was playing with Darcey, making her smile and laugh, and after a few minutes he says, "Dad? Is it okay to marry your sister?" He can be so sweet. Brad is very hands-on with Darcey, constantly asking to hold her, while Noah kind of hangs back, but it's clear he adores his sister. Zack likes her too, but I still feel the need to remind him not to step on her when she's laying on a blanket on the floor.

Well, I've kind of derailed myself from the topic of watching stuff on tv, so I don't have some catchy way to wrap the whole thing up. So maybe I'll throw in the fact that Darcey rolled from her back to her tummy for the first time yesterday (which is the harder direction) so it's just a matter of time before she's rolling all over the house, then crawling and walking, and from there it's just moments away from telling me how embarrassing I am and could I drop her off a block away from the school so no one sees us together. Oh, how time flies when you're watching tv.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

In The Thick of Things

Our kitchen remodel is firmly underway, and there's really no backing out now. Something happened with the first swing of the sledgehammer that took away all of my nervousness about this project - I think the anxiety that comes with the anticipation is worse than dealing with the construction itself.

Not that there isn't a lot to deal with during construction. We spent three days with no ceiling in the kitchen, which was open to the attic over the garage and therefore stinkin' cold. Then the ceiling and new thermostat were installed, but somehow the pilot light in the furnace went out, so we had another night of freezing. There is a panel of switches in the living room that have shocked Brad and me both, making it so that none of us really want to turn off the lights anymore. Some of the lights and outlets in the basement don't work. And the entire house is in a general state of upheaval - the stove spent a day in the hallway blocking the stairs, the piano is diagonally across the living room, and we spend so much time in the family room that it is a constant mess.

There are some good things, though. The boys' basement bedroom is missing a ceiling so they trade off sleeping in the craft room, which they love. They also think they've died and gone to heaven because we eat every meal in the family room, with the tv on. We are finally the family they've always wanted us to be. The best, though, is that I haven't had to cook dinner all week, and that is awesome. It could be 4:45 and I'm sitting on the couch, reading a book, and when I think about dinner there is no stress at all - it's just a matter of do we want Arby's or Subway tonight? So we are spending an obscene amount of money and time renovating the kitchen top to bottom, when really all we needed to do to make me happy was rip out the old one and eat out every night for the rest of our lives. I wonder if we would have saved money that way...

I thought you might be interested in some pictures. Here's the "before" picture, and true to before pictures in magazines, we went out of our way to make the kitchen look as bad as possible. We staged the kitchen with piles of crap and boxes and garbage, you wouldn't believe how much effort went into making the old kitchen look bad.

If you believe that I actually spent time making the kitchen look messy, I've got a sub-prime mortgage to sell you.

And here is the "during" picture. The ceiling was raised, the pantry removed, and the plumbing moved so that the sink will be on the end of the counter, instead of under the window. We had recessed lighting and a ceiling fan installed, or at least they are ready to be installed, and outlets inside the new pantry, which I'm so excited about. The electrician was also able to install an additional phone jack in the family room since the walls and floor were open already, which is just so cool.

Ryan asked the kids if they were tired of eating out yet, did they miss mom's cooking yet? "No!" was their answer, which I'm not taking personally, but as much as I don't miss cooking dinner, I do miss having a sink, or the ability to cook when I want to. We were invited to eat dinner on Sunday at a friend's house, but Zack started throwing up like crazy, so it looks like we'll be home. (They are good friends - they'll be delivering us some dinner anyhow!)

So the schedule for the rest of the work looks like this: Monday the guys come back to do more drywall stuff, mud and texture, but not until the plumber comes back to remove some pipes that were uncovered when the cabinets were removed. When the walls are ready, we paint. The new cabinets will be delivered somewhere around the 25th, hopefully installed immediately thereafter, and then another week before the countertop and sink come in. Two more weeks, or so. If anyone has any fast food coupons, send them our way!

Friday, October 12, 2007

T Minus 3 Days and Counting

Terror and sick to my stomach - those are the feelings I had as soon as I hung up the phone with the contractor after I told him that we'd go with him, and he said he'd be here on Monday to start taking apart the kitchen. Oh yeah, I'm following the Stages of Spending to a tee.

The terror was not as bad, although longer lasting, than the feeling I had when I lost Zack at Albertson's last year when he was two, and when I told the cashier that he was lost she *paged him* and then suggested I look outside because he may have run into the parking lot. That was more terrifying but also temporary.

The sick to my stomach feeling was about the same as the time (yesterday) when I was watching two of my friend's kids all day until her husband came home from work, only to find one of the two I was in charge of sitting on his own front lawn two blocks away from my house on a busy street, chatting up strangers and wondering where the babysitter was. In my defense, the child in question had been playing at another neighbor's house and was told to "go home" at dinner time, and so she did. I had no idea that she had left their house or that she wouldn't have come here to be picked up by her dad. Come to think of it, maybe that sick to my stomach feeling upon realizing what had happened was actually worse than the picking-a-contractor feeling, because I'm still feeling sick about it.

The frustration was not as bad as this morning when Zack was given his choice of a red, yellow, green, or blue straw, decided he wanted orange and laid on the kitchen floor screaming because I couldn't magically produce an orange straw, telling me that I'm rude and that I made him cry. And then insisting that I pour the juice into a different cup. And then not drinking a single sip but walking downstairs. Oh wait, the contractor didn't make me feel frustrated at all, that's a feeling almost completely reserved for the kids.

So on Wednesday I had two different contractors come out and give me bids on the kitchen remodel. We needed someone to tear out the dropped ceiling, move the plumbing so the sink can be in a different location, and do a pile of electrical stuff like new canned lights and a ceiling fan and outlets in some of the cabinets, in addition to tearing out all of the old kitchen and getting it prepped for the new one.

The biggest hangup to getting this done is that the cabinets, which most people would assume take about 4-6 weeks to deliver (they are modular, not custom, which would have been 10 weeks) are actually going to be delivered in about 3 weeks from the day we bought them. So when I called around to have people come in for bids, I had two people practically laugh at me, several turn me down without a second thought because they were too busy, and finally had two people call me back and say a job they had scheduled either fell through or was postponed so they ended up with some free time. I felt so lucky to actually have two to choose from, that they could have charged whatever they wanted, knowing that I had no one else to choose from.

The first guy to come out, Bernie, had been recommended by a neighbor who had used him to finish their basement. He was recommened with the caveat that he had been the most expensive bid, but they had felt the most comfortable with him. He was very professional and cautious about the kitchen plans, almost as if he was afraid of promising too much or guaranteeing that there wouldn't be any problems. Bernie had an electrician come out also and bid out his part also.

The second guy was Dave who works with his adult son Justin. They were much more laid back and casual, Justin playing with Zacky who just ate up the attention. Dave had this "It's no big deal" kind of attitude, in a good way - where Bernie would look at moving the plumbing or the light switches and sound like "Yeah, we can do it, but it won't be easy," Dave sounded more like "Yeah, all we have to do is this and this and we can do it." Maybe that doesn't translate very well into print, but Dave made me feel like I wasn't coming up with all sorts of ridiculous requests that are going to require a surgical team to carry out.

In addition to his "we can handle anything" attitude, he also had one huge advantage over Bernie - he's the only one who caught the mistake on our plans. Here's Life Lesson #1 - just because someone does something for a living, don't assume that they always do it right. As Dave discovered, when Jerry from Lowe's came out to measure our kitchen for the cabinets, he accidentally transposed two numbers in the length of our pantry wall, giving us 132" instead of the actual 123". So we've ordered cabinets to take up that whole space, which means that either we keep the too-big cabinets and they will crowd the garage door opening, or we send the cabinets back and get new ones, losing 12" of cabinet space.

We decided to go with the bigger cabinets and hope that neither of us gains so much weight that we can no longer squeeze through the door. If we get a counter-depth refrigerator we'll essentially regain the space, but this gets added to my list of things that I hope I don't regret once it's all done.

The clincher for my contractor decision was cost. Dave estimated the cost to be roughly $1400 for the deconstruction, drywall, prepping for the new cabinets, and insulation. The electrician would bill me separately, which would save me money because if he billed me for the electrician, he'd tack on 10%. At least he's up front about it. Also, the plumber would charge me $55 per hour for labor, and he estimated the job to take a day or maybe a day and a half. He said that the plumber he works with is a journeyman at BYU, which I think means he's still learning? But also that he was terrific and I wouldn't find a better price anywhere. Bernie, on the other hand, gave me a price of $1800 for the electrician, $300 for the plumber, and $4500 for the drywall, ceiling, etc. So even if the cost of the electrician and plumber are the same for both jobs, we're looking at $3,500 versus $6,600. I almost had to go with Dave just for that reason.

So I called Dave yesterday, Thursday, and told him that we'd like to have him do the remodel of the kitchen. I asked him if he had a contract (I've watched too much People's Court not to have a contract) and he said that he'd put one together and send it over with his crew on Monday, when they would start tearing out the upper cabinets, ceiling, and pantry. As soon as I hung up, the terror and the sick feeling started.

What if I picked the wrong guy? What if Dave is so cheap because he does a crappy job, or cuts corners? What if he turns out to be unreliable? What if (gasp) I get what I paid for??!?

So I'm a little panicky, but we're in too far to turn back now, and to be honest, I don't want to turn back. I just want the assurance that everything is going to turn out okay. Deep breaths, Emily, deep breaths. Think calming thoughts. Picture the kitchen when it's finished and how happy you'll be. Relax, everything will be okay. I think I've given birth too many times, I'm going into childbirth mode! Hmmm...the kitchen will be more expensive than a hospital birth, but take longer. I think time will tell which will be more painful.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Some Long Days

I came downstairs fully intending to write a blog entry full of righteous indignation and frustration, but when I opened my laptop, the screen had a message saying "You are now running on reserve battery power." I realized that that simple statement summed up all of my emotions - I am running on reserve power right now.

We watched General Conference together this weekend, and while I enjoyed the talks, the ones I could hear over the noise of four children, it is a stinking lot of work to keep the kids corralled inside the house for two days straight. Sunday is typically the hardest day of the week, just because there are no distractions, no escapes, no family to visit, and General Conference weekend ends up feeling like two Sundays in a row.

(For those of you who might not be familiar with General Conference, it is a twice-a-year event where the leaders of our church hold a television broadcast of talks by a variety of different people. It is held in 5 two-hour sessions over a Saturday and Sunday. Four of those sessions we can watch from home, the fifth is shown at the church for men only. Women get their own special session the week before.)

I asked Brad which talk he remembered that meant something to him, and he mentioned the talk by Sister Beck, who gave the requisite "mothers are so awesome and important so don't screw this up!" talk. I must be in a good place mentally because it didn't cause the guilt-and-panic tsunami that I normally experience during such a talk. Anyhow, I asked Brad why he liked it and he said, "Because she was telling you that you needed to kick it up a notch!" I laughed out of surprise because I certainly didn't expect to hear such a frank evaluation of my performance as a mother from my ten year old.

About 10 minutes later, I was asking Noah and Zack if I could make them a sandwich for lunch when Brad called out, "You can make me a sandwich!" I told him, "I was actually only making this offer to kids who can't make their own sandwiches." To which Brad replied, "Yeah, well, I'm lazy and you need to kick it up a notch, remember?" When he attempted to use the line a third time today, I decided that that was enough. But it was moderately funny at the start.

The kids and I did crafts while we watched, Ryan helped them build things out of blocks, and both of us tried to just keep them entertained and reasonably quiet. The nice thing was that for the vast majority of the time, it seemed like the kids actually enjoyed being together and hanging out as a family. Even if all the talks were about stock market prices and the history of watch-making in Albania (they aren't) it would have been worth it to sit in that room together, enjoying each other's company. At one point, Brad and Noah went in the backyard and invented their own two-man version of baseball, which they played for about two hours.

The downside is that it is a long, long weekend. By the end, Ryan and I both were ready for a break from the kids, for a little while at least. But while Ryan gets to go off to work on Monday morning ("has to" is how he sees it) I was still here with the kids, not kicking anything up any notches. I held it together all day, though, and was feeling pretty good about myself. One of us needed to take the boys to pick out their Family Home Evening treats, and since neither of us wanted to go, I volunteered. After all, Zack and Darcey were already asleep, I'd do this one thing, then I'd be home by 8:30 with the rest of the evening to myself.

At 8:30, right when we walked back in the door, I hear Darcey crying, and that just about did me in. I had held it together for just about as long as I could, and I needed a break in the worst way. I wanted to bang my head against a wall, I was so frustrated. I picked her up and she quieted down, but when I attempted to change her diaper she started screaming bloody murder and everything was making me mad, from the fact that I was losing any hope of free time to the fact that I didn't have anywhere to sit and feed her in any of the rooms that contain a television. Petty, I realize, but I was trying to salvage some modicum of relaxation.

I thundered back up to her room where my recliner is still located, and nursed her there in the semi-darkness. You know what's amazing? How you can't be frustrated when you are looking at a sleeping baby lying in your arms. It's just impossible - the feeling of contentment and peace that she radiates just overwhelms all the anger and resentment and your heart melts. Well, mine does, anyway. I tried to just pay attention to that - to ignore the plans that I had, the things I wanted to do tonight, and focus on the one thing that I can't put off til later - look at my 4 month old daughter. I noticed how soft her cheeks are, how she grips a fistful of my t-shirt in her tiny hands, how she has so little hair that there's no way she'd pass as a girl if I wasn't dressing her head to toe in pink. How she lays across my stomach, the weight of her. Her nearly invisible eyelashes.

Did I pay attention to all of this when the boys were babies? Yes, but not with this amount of concentration. I was younger then, more immature and I didn't realize the pain that accompanies the passage of time. The way that the eternally long days pass in a blink and before you know it, that perfect, perfect baby that you love with every molecule that makes you up is telling you that you need to kick it up a notch. It's too late to get back those days with Brad, or Noah, or Zack, but now I can focus on the funny things they say, the way Zack tries to sneak one more bedtime story in before he goes to sleep and won't eat the swedish fish that he is given for using the potty, how Noah adores dressing up in costumes and when we wouldn't let him wear his new baseball pants to school today, he wore white shorts with red socks pulled up to his knees. That isn't going to happen when he's 14, I would bet. The way Brad beat me at Battleship with his technique of crowding all of his ships into one corner, and then Noah beat Ryan with the same tactic. The way the two of them pore over the pages of the Partyland Costume Catalog. Zack's 1,000-watt smile.

These days still seem long to me. And I frequently think that I might not get through parenting young children with my sanity intact. But I'm making an effort to focus on those fleeting moments of perfection, instead of just the frustration and the selfish desires to just go in a room by myself and shut the door. I'm thinking that, a long time from now, when I'm looking back on these days with some measure of fondness, the frustrating things of childhood might seem just as fleeting as the good things. Good thing parents come with rechargeable batteries.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Stages of Spending

Well, apparently my laptop didn’t appreciate the recent poem I wrote, because on Friday the screen stopped working altogether. So I’ve sent it back to MacDocs and told them not to give it back until it has learned its lesson. Giving it some tough love, you know. It has to be done sometimes.

In the meantime, Ryan brought home from work his old computer, which has been relegated to basically the status of gigantic external hard drive. Gigantic space-wise, not storage amount, though. The computer is probably five years old, which makes it almost ready for Antiques Roadshow. It works great, though, if any computer which still needs a cord to connect it to the internet can be considered great. For now it is going to sit on my desk in the craft room and be used for writing and hopefully doing digital scrapbooking. I brought the router upstairs so I could plug this bad boy in. Can’t be without the internet, after all, it might hamper my productivity. Ha ha.

There’s an old saying that goes “The only sure things in life are death and spending too much money on something.” That’s just a paraphrase, of course, but it couldn’t be more true. Ryan and I are gearing up to spend an obscene amount of money in the next few weeks, and Ryan, in his observational wisdom, is watching me go through what he calls my “Stages of Spending.” These would be similar in concept to the Stages of Grief and while there have been books and studies written about the Stages of Grief, I think I am blazing new ground with this theory. If anyone wants to use my theory in their dissertation, just let me know.

When we bought our house in January 2004, it had a recently finished basement, all updated bathrooms, and new hardwood and tile floor in the whole house. It was beautifully done, but the only room that hadn’t been touched was the kitchen. It was an eyesore. The cabinets had been restained, basically just some stain slopped over the existing stain. The hinges were even stained, which I learned when I attempted to take the cabinet doors off to repaint them. The countertops were covered in a layer of grunge, making the entire counter a slightly darker shade than it would normally be. I learned this when I took a Magic Eraser to the counter and large swathes of the real color appeared. But not even Magic could clean the entire counter, which is just such a gross concept I can barely think about it.

So we knew going in that we wanted to remodel the kitchen, but we chose to use all of our money as a down payment instead doing it right away. Now that we’ve lived with the crappy kitchen for 3 years and 9 months, we’re done, we can’t take another minute of it.

The nice thing about waiting so long to remodel the kitchen is that we know what we want, what we like and don’t like and how we think we can make the best use of our limited space. The bad thing is that everything we want is so incredibly expensive I can barely function.

Let me take you through my Stages of Spending.

The first stage is Excitement and Research. We decided that at the beginning of the school year, we’d start looking into new kitchens. It had come down to remodeling the kitchen or buying a second car, and Ryan wanted the kitchen badly enough that he swore he’d walk to and from work all winter and not make me pick him up if we could do the kitchen instead of the car. So I looked at magazines and remodeling websites. I let my brain start dreaming of the most incredible things, like an island with a built-in sink, a microwave drawer instead of a traditional microwave that takes up counter space, pop-up shelves for my KitchenAid mixer and my food processor, a variety of specialized cabinets and sliding shelves and organizers. Built-in spice organizer. Pull-down cookbook holder. A desk in the kitchen. Fancy cabinets with glass doors and lighting for china. A wall oven, or better yet, a double wall oven. A special place for all of my cookbooks and also my laptop. A place for everything and everything in it’s place. I wanted nothing left on the counters. We were starting from scratch, and I could have anything I wanted. Ryan left all functionality-related decisions to me, while appearance was his domain. It was a heady, thrilling time.

It lasted about a week. Then I moved into Stage Two – Reality.

The Reality of the situation is that we have a relatively small kitchen, and the majority of what I wanted just wouldn’t fit. Yes, I could have the pop-up shelf for my mixer, but it would take up an entire cabinet, and since I only have three base cabinets, I can’t sacrifice the space. The spice rack I was imagining pretty much doesn’t exist. We don’t have room for a shrine to my cookbooks or laptop, no matter how much I love either thing. A desk would just be a huge pile of papers and junk. A thousand, million reasons that things wouldn’t work – but mostly, there just was not enough space for it all. It’s quite deflating.

Incidentally, about every six weeks I decide that we need to go on a vacation, and I’ll happen across a deal on the internet that strikes my fancy. I’ll get all excited, start thinking about dates, looking up plane ticket prices and try to figure out what to do with the kids (bring them? Ditch them?) And then I get to Stage Two, and that’s where it all ends. My vacation fantasies never survive the Reality of Stage Two.

Reality really hit for us as we started talking to kitchen designers at a few different places. We went to a custom cabinet place which taught us about the different kinds of wood, quality of drawers, and the difference between custom and modular cabinets. We went back to the Research phase and tweaked our plans, came up with our list of absolutely must-haves, and went to a second place, called Kitchens Direct, which specialized in modular cabinets. This was an interesting foray into Reality, because the guy we talked to there tried to talk us out of everything we wanted. Fancy glass-fronted cabinets? A useless waste of money. Moving the sink so I’d have more uninterrupted counterspace? Water’s going to get everywhere. Higher-end drawers that hold 120 lbs. (or roughly one pre-schooler) and dovetail joints? Completely unnecessary, the cheap ones work just fine. We want solid surface countertops – the custom guy had tried to upsell us to quartz, this guy said “Have you seen the new laminates?” I was so irritated that I wanted to just walk right out of there. No one wants to be upsold by a pushy salesperson, but I certainly didn’t want to be downsold by some idiot who assumes that we can’t afford anything nice and if he’s going to make a sale he needs to get the bottom line as low as possible. Or whatever he was thinking. I’ve never experienced anything like it at all.

Back to Research one more time, and went to Lowe’s. Here’s where we struck gold. There is a display kitchen in their showroom that Ryan and I both looked at and instantly fell in love with. That was the one, it was perfect, and we both loved it. We made an appointment to talk to Jerry, a kitchen designer, who spent a few minutes telling us about the different companies Lowe’s offers, telling us which brands are more or less expensive, which offer more or fewer options for customization, which have faster delivery dates.

Reality was good to us this time. Jerry listened to everything we wanted and made no judgments. We asked him a million questions and he was knowledgeable and gave advice without making us feel stupid or like we had poor taste. When we’d throw an idea at him, he’d work it into the plans, and when we’d say, Nah, forget it, it was no big deal to him.

This is such a big project that the lines between the stages are kind of nebulous, but we are moving from Reality to Stage Three, Decision. We know what we want, we’ve gone back to Jerry a second time to refine the details, add some things and take some out, and he’s coming over Monday morning to take final measurements and then I think we’ll be ready to place the order.

Which means that I have hit Stage Four, and hit it hard – Stage Four, Terror. Some decisions, like buying our minivan, were expensive but cut-and-dry. Every minivan costs $25,000ish, it was just a matter of picking the one we wanted. There was no terror involved. But this is huge. The decisions we’re making we’ll have to live with for 20 years or more. What if we spend all this money, and I hate it? What if the color of the cabinets looks horrible with the color of the floor? Or the countertop? What if I have too many drawers, and too few cabinets? Or vice versa? What if moving the sink was a bad idea after all? I haven’t bought anything yet, and I’ve got pre-buyer’s remorse.

Terror is a painful stage. It is the Stage that comes when I’ve made the decision but have time to wait and ponder and dwell before the actual purchase is delivered. When there is no time after the decision, I skip Terror and move directly to regret. I regret not getting the automatic closing doors on our van, even though it would have increased the price to the tune of $5,000. Every time I have to walk around the van to close a door for a kid I wish I had made a different choice. Or when I’m slamming the rear hatch with one hand that is also holding a gallon of milk (and a baby or six grocery bags or both in the other). I can even summon up regret for small purchases, like the blouse I impulse bought at the Gap on Saturday night, which I couldn’t bring myself to wear because I decided it was just too expensive.

I’ve got a long way to go before I’ll reach Stage Five, Acceptance. Hopefully, I will love my kitchen and not start coming up with a list of “What I’d do differently next time” too soon after it’s done. (Like I did with my wedding dress, yikes. No “next time” there!) I’m still trying to make some decisions that will make the whole thing easier to swallow, like yesterday’s realization that I don’t need to spend money on roll out shelves in my pantry – it’s only 16 inches deep! And we’re going to look at a sample kitchen at Home Depot that had a darker crown molding than the color of the cabinets, to remind myself that it will look good.

I may not be able to turn this into my Dream Kitchen, after all, I’m limited by the amount of space available in this floor plan. But there’s a very good chance that this will be the best kitchen possible, and that is something to be really excited about. Maybe I can just live in Excitement and somehow avoid Reality. That would make this a Dream Kitchen.

Or maybe just a Dream.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Foray Into Poetry

Well, my laptop spent a week in the shop and I just got it back, hence the lack of posts lately. The desktop computer downstairs is miserable to use - the keys are really stiff so you have to bang on the space bar and the table it sits on is too high so my wrists end up with slash marks across them from the edge of the desk, as if the computer is saying "Here's where to cut when you can't take it anymore."

So I used all of my pent up angst and, in the way of all true artistes, channeled it into that ultimate form of angst expression, a poem. It's a little story of true love, loss, and finding peace through the pain. Here goes.

Ode To My Laptop

Oh to see my laptop, shiny and white
Lying forlornly on the table.
I knew you'd work for me if you could,
If only you were able.

Your board had lost it's logic,
Your memory'd gone bad.
Your adapter gave no power,
Your keyboard looks so sad.

And so with dragging feet
And a very heavy heart,
It was clearly inevitable
That you and I must part.

But not forever, No!
Although it seemed that way.
You were only gone a week
Give or take a day.

I spent my days with the desktop machine
Sitting on a cold metal folding chair,
Wishing for your speedy return
And the comfy couch we'd share.

Yes, you and I, in the living room
On a squishy sofa where
The kids would join us after school
And do their homework there.

The questions they asked, of history
And science and equations,
I could google on your screen
With little hesitation.

Finally the day had come
And my heart began to sing
When I heard it was Cameron from MacDocs
Who caused the phone to ring!

I brought you home and fired you up
To download my email,
Then left you on the table
When I heard the baby's wail.

But alas! What were you doing
When next I came downstairs?
Showing "Whose Line" on YouTube
And my family's laughs to share!

What happened while we were apart
Oh laptop, my fickle friend,
That caused our once-exclusive
Relationship to end?

Your logic was restored,
Your adapter is now powered.
Your keyboard is once more intact -
But your memory is still soured.

One day I'll buy more RAM, it's true
But it will never be the same.
My husband watches videos with you
And the boys play their computer games.

So I'll find my way to the cold metal chair
And hear the laughter from the couch above.
Dear laptop, though you're no longer mine alone,
I'll remember our time together with love.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

A Picture's Worth A Thousand ... Dollars

I made a spur of the moment decision today, the kind of decision that can only be made that way because any forethought would cause me to shrink back in horror. I took the kids for portraits again.

Yes, I know what you are thinking. Didn't you just do those? Wasn't there a blog entry bemoaning how much work taking kids for professional pictures is? (If there wasn't, there should have been.) Didn't your brother Tim just barely recover from the last time?

Well, that all might be true. But as it turns out, I think pictures of my kids might be one of the few things we can spend money on right now and in 20 years not think of it as money wasted. And the kids are so darn cute that I almost can't help myself. Plus, Darcey has so many cute clothes that I feel like I need to document them, she wears them for such a short amount of time. The final straw was a new portrait studio that just opened nearby which was just begging to be tried. (Their introductory offer was so cheap that it did seem like begging. It was almost embarrassing.)

The place everyone around here goes for kids photos is Kiddie Kandids in the University Mall. The have the corner on the market, and you know that with the sheer volume of children in this valley, it's a large market. Usually they draw you in with a ultra-cheap or free portrait, with the purchase of so many other portraits that ends up being around $75ish. And then you can't leave without buying the CD with all of the photos that you couldn't afford on it. The last time I went in was for Darcey's newborn pictures. and I got something like 8ish sheets and the CD for something around $100. I know my lack of specificity is going to seriously undermine my forthcoming allegation that this new place is a better deal, but lets just go with this, shall we?

Portrait Impressions is in the Riverwoods shopping center, and the offer they've been touting was the typical $9.99 for a 10x13, two 8x10's, 4 5x7's, and a pile of wallets. While Ryan and I were out today looking at kitchen cabinets, I swung in there and made an appointment for 4:30 this afternoon. That's when the spending began.

Let's count the total cost of the $9.99 photos.

First I went to Gymboree and got Darcey a cute olive-green dress, and a denim jumper. Total cost: $34.91, plus some serious guilt because I'm not used to spending so much money on clothes.

Next I went home and checked the kids closets for shirts that might match the new olive green dress. They don't have anything, so we went to Target to get a new shirt for each boy. Brad and Noah are so excited by all of the choices that they beg me for more clothes, and end up with three shirts a piece. Zack doesn't care, so he just gets the one. Darcey gets a cream top to go under the new jumper. They were starting to lose it at this point so I didn't get a chance to look for a cute headband to match the cute new clothes, so we'll just have to live with the cute old ones which, while cute, are starting to get a little hackneyed. How often can a girl wear the same headband, after all? The boys had been bribed to be good through the Target trip, with the promise of their choice of a pack of baseball cards or a piece of candy that wouldn't stain or turn their mouth a color. Brad got the baseball cards, Noah waffled for a while before deciding on Sour Spray, and Zack chose Swedish Fish. Total cost, after using the remaining $2.26 on two old gift cards from Tim: $78.11.

Then on to Portrait Impressions. The thing that makes them different from Kiddie Kandids is that they take an astounding 40-60 pictures! This is amazing because Kiddie Kandids only takes 6 or 8, I can't remember which. But we are talking 10 times that amount. I got there early to feed Darcey and get everyone dressed. When our time came, we filed into the room, and here's a cool thing - we not only got a camera person, but there was a second person to make the kids laugh, help with props, etc.

The picture taking seemed like it would never end, which is great for a mother who wants options, but not so great for a bunch of kids who get bored pretty quick. We got four different backgrounds and every conceivable combination of kids. I think they might have grabbed a kid from the room next to us, just to give us more variety. The boys wore two different outfits, Darcey wore three (although I think I brought 5 to choose from, just in case). And even though while I watched my older boys with their fake, trying-to-smile smiles and thought that there was no way these were ever going to turn out, they did.

In the end, I had 101 photos to choose from. Now here's where the racket starts, and what I thought people would like to know about Portrait Impressions. They sit you down in front of the giant plasma computer screen and start going through the pictures. First they do it in groups of three, asking you to choose which one or ones you like best. So that narrowed my selection down to a mere 39 photos. And the employee says totally seriously, "Your portrait collection of 39 poses will be $698 and comes with a free CD and four free 10x13's." I can barely type that without laughing. So, okay, they've got to try or else they wouldn't be good business people, but come on, who buys the first thing they offer?

I tell her that that is too much for me, and so now we go back and go through them a second time, this time winnowing out the duplicate poses. I get down to 24 pictures, and $400. I tell her, "This may not be the right thing to say, but I'm willing to spend about a hundred bucks on this, how many poses is that?" This might be a new company, but they must have trained her well, because without pausing she says that the most popular portrait collection is 12 poses for $198, plus you still get all the free stuff.

Now, I can definitely hold my own with pushy salespeople. I know what I want to spend, and I'm not going to get talked into doubling my budget. But you have to have a heart of steel to not feel guilty as you go through the pictures over and over, as the salesperson crows about how beautiful your children are, and you have to tell her, no, in fact, I'm not buying that picture. Over and over I felt like I was taking these gorgeous photos and throwing them in the trash. I somehow could not remind myself that I was buying the cd, I was going to get all of these photos anyhow.

I did it, though, I pulled together that backbone of mine and the two of us trashed one picture after another and whittled it down to 7 poses. I was trying to pick the last one to toss (aiming for $100 still and 6 would have done it) when Darcey, who was sitting on my lap, pooped so violently that I ended up with a lapful of poop. And that kind of made my decision for me - we'll take all 7. I grabbed a blanket and wrapped her bottom half in it to contain the dripping mess while the salesperson rung me up. Then Darcey and I waddled off to the bathroom to change her diaper. It is just slightly ironic that the one blowout diaper that doesn't get a drop on her clothing happens to be the only time I had four other outfits to put her in. Amazing how that happens.

While we're in the bathroom, I realized that each pose comes with three sheets, an 8x10, two 5x7s, and 8 wallets. With 7 poses, that was so stinking many wallet size photos that I'd have one to give to every resident of Malaysia, which I'm sure they would have been thrilled by. So I asked the salesperson to give us an extra sheet of 5x7's instead of the wallets, which she was happy to do.

Total cost for the pictures, a total of 31 sheets of 8 poses plus the CD: $135

Finally, we had time to kill (about 15 minutes) until the pictures were ready to be picked up, so we headed across the parking lot to Tomasso's Italian Ice. Noah got a lime ice, Brad and Zack both got soft serve cones. Total cost: $5.31

So we left the house to start this trip at 3:00 and got home at 7:00. The kids got ice cream for dinner and frozen pancakes at home for dessert. But they were fairly well behaved the entire time, and I got a ton of great pictures out of it. I wasn't crazy about the company's sales tactics, but they are such geniuses to make me go through the photos again and again because I loved them more each time, so I can't begrudge them their sales genius. Now that I know the system, I'll go back ready to mentally choose the one (or 4, or 6) photos that I have to have, and not worry about the rest. But I will go back, because I love having these pictures to look back on, because in the picture you can't see that Zacky had, five minutes previous, been pointing a lego gun at everyone in the waiting room. It's like looking at them when they are sleeping - when they are so perfect looking, you can't help but forgive them of anything they've ever done, and just think of them as angels.

Cost of $9.99 pictures: $253.33
Pictures of my perfect children: Priceless

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Family Round-Up

Zacky's language skills are so adorable right now - he can speak in complete sentences and express thoughts that pop into his head, but he does it in such a ridiculously cute way. For example, instead of "pumpkin" he says "fumpkin" or "funkin." Then when we were singing "Where is Thumbkin?" he was singing "Where is Fumpkin?" He drew this picture of a face which is about the technical level of where my art skills end, and he's only three. He loves to sing and will sing various songs from "Annie." He was calling my name "Momm-eee" over and over and then started singing "Dumb dog, why are you following me?" He also loves to say "She had to go bathroom." Maybe all of this is stuff you need to hear, but man is it cute.

We are still fighting to keep that potty train on track, and we seem to be actually getting somewhere, but it's slow going. We ran out of Starbursts, which were his original potty treat, and when I was renting some videos on Saturday night I grabbed a box of gummy worms as his new potty treat. Well, that seems to have made all the difference. He loves the gummy worms, and refers to them as Potty Worms, and when he is given one he will carry it around in his hand for at least half an hour before eating it. It's almost like we've given him a replaceable, edible pet. Yesterday I was nursing Darcey and he had his potty worm crawl up and down my leg. He took one to bed with him the other night. He carries them in his pockets. And then, after a while, I'll ask him where his worm is, and he'll open his mouth and point to it. I'm sure there's a metaphor for life in this, but it escapes me at the moment.

Darcey is sleeping anywhere from 12-15 hours a night straight through. If the only way to get a baby this good was to go through 3 months of hellish nausea, it's a fair tradeoff, I just wish I had known the results back then, it would have made life a lot more bearable. As it was, I was laying in bed trying not to die and thinking "I could go through all of this and end up with a screaming, colicky baby!" I'm glad that's not the case.

Noah won an award at school yesterday, for being a "Team Player." Now, when I win awards, which isn't often in my profession, they don't hand out awards for "Didn't Kill My Children Today" or "Least Greasy Meatloaf" or "Picked The Quickest Line At The Grocery Store," but like I was saying, if I did win awards, I think I might be prone to brag about it a little bit. Or at least mention it to people, possibly even remembering what it was that got me the award in the first place. But no, Noah hands me this certificate and shows me a journal and a pencil he was given. Then it was up to me to try to draw out of him the details of what the heck actually happened. I felt a little like a detective interrogating a criminal, piecing together clues and making inferences from the small bits of information the guilty person drops accidentally. But in this case, he got an award! Why should I have to divine the truth from a bunch of cryptic clues for a good thing? I think he's been more forthcoming when he's actually been guilty of something bad, although those details are more likely to be lies.

Anyhow, here's what the conversation looked like, roughly.

Noah: Here. (hands me a certificate)
Me: (reading the award) Ace Award given to Noah Simmons for being a good friend, following the rules, or being a team player. So which of these things did you do?
Noah: I don't know.
Me: Who gave this to you? Your teacher?
Noah: The principal.
Me: The principal? Did they call your name over the announcements?
Noah: It was at an assembly.
Me: There was an assembly with the whole school there, and the principal called your name to give you this award?
Noah: Yeah.
Me: Wow, that's great! Did you get to go up on the stage?
Noah: Yeah. And they took our picture and it's going to be in the newspaper.
Me: You're going to be in the newspaper? That's great! So, what did you do to get the award?
Noah: I don't know.

It continued on in that vein for awhile, and I never did figure out what exactly he did. He's a great kid at school, both he and Brad are incredibly well behaved and good students. I got some more details when Brad's friend Parker came over, he was the one who finally explained that all of the teachers nominated some kids from their classes that had been caught doing something good and so it was quite a few kids who won the award. He said that the kindergarten classes gave awards to like a million kids and they were for stupid things, like sitting still, and there was someone in 5th grade who similarly did something really minor. Brad replied that just the other day he lent his pencil to a kid next to him that didn't have one and he didn't get an award for it. I told them that sometimes they give awards like this to kids who have a hard time obeying the rules to encourage them to do better. To which Brad said, "So it's like an insult and a compliment at the same time? So Noah is really a bad kid?" Arrrgh. That wasn't my point.

I've been renting the tv show "House, M.D." which I like because it is not so gory a medical drama as E.R. and mostly the people live. I love the obnoxious sarcastic remarks that House makes to people - I wish I could come up with such intelligent barbs, but I'm not that quick on my feet plus I also want people to like me at the end of the day. I have to say, though, the show is fairly predictable - he has to get the diagnosis wrong at least twice, whatever treatment he gives them has to bring the patient to the very edge of death, and then inevitably when he finds out the crucial piece of information that was not mentioned in the patient history he comes up with the exact right diagnosis which is always some incredibly rare disease, like Potty Worm or something. No one is allowed to leave the hospital without a couple of MRI's and a lumbar puncture, which apparently they haven't found a suitable anesthetic for because the person is always in a lot of pain. But it gives me something to watch in the middle of the night when ... oh yeah, I forgot, I haven't been nursing the baby in the middle of the night. So I guess it gives me something to watch during the day when I'm nursing the baby.

I was lamenting yesterday that the season only had 12 episodes, since I've rented all three discs and they have 4 episodes each on them. Then I went from the last episode on disc 2 to the first on disc three and there's all of a sudden a new character on, and all this conflict that made me think I was missing something. I went online to verify the number of episodes in the season, sure enough, there were supposed to be 22 episodes on the three discs. Then I realized - they were on the other side of the dvd. What kind of moron company would expect its moron consumers to intuitively know that if I put the dvd in upside down I'll find twice as much content? I had ripped the episodes onto my computer so I could watch them on my ipod, so I hadn't put the disc in to watch like a normal person would, or I would have recognized that the numbering was all wrong. Fortunately, I hadn't returned the final two discs, so I ended up with 18 out of 22 episodes which is good enough for me, but man did I feel stupid.

Brad has finally started reading Harry Potter on his own, which he has been threatening to do for over a year. All it took was some good, old-fashioned peer pressure. Apparently all of his friends read Harry Potter at school during their reading time, and so he grabbed the Order of the Phoenix which we've been working on forever, and now he's almost done with it. That's so awesome. He said he can't wait to get to the end of the 7th book to find out what happens. I'm not holding my breath that this is some kind of reading turning point for him, I don't think he's going to magically overcome his many years of reading non-interest and become a mini-me. All of the kids have so many of Ryan's tendencies (i.e. loving to draw in particular) that it makes me all glowy inside to think that maybe a kid might have a little bit of me in them too.

The Owlz made it to the playoffs, and had the first game in the South division playoff on Saturday. They won the division, and now they are playing the North Division champs for all the marbles on Wednesday. We weren't able to go to the game on Saturday because Noah and Brad were both complaining of an upset stomach, so we gave our tickets to Josh's family across the street. They came back with, drumroll please, OWLZ DRAWSTRING BACKPACKS FOR OUR KIDS!! Yes, you heard it here first folks, we live in the best neighborhood on the entire planet. I'm guessing the crowds were light that evening, so Mike just went up to someone and said that his neighbors couldn't go and could he have some extra backpacks. They gave him enough for my kids and also two for the Carters, who would have been to the game also except they were in the process of digging giant 8 foot holes in their front yard in order to fix the main water pipe which had burst on Thursday, flooding their basement. Zack and Noah took their backpacks with all of the stuff they are allowed to bring to church on Sunday. Brad asked if I thought the backpack would fit his math book and Harry Potter book to take to school (not a chance). Zack carried his blankie and binky in it. It is just as big a hit as I had anticipated, and they are in heaven.

So we get one last live baseball game of the season this week, and that's great. I think it's interesting that they make such a big deal over a championship when the total number of teams competing is 8. Yeah, it's great to be better than everybody, but calling themselves "Pioneer League Champions" makes it sound slightly more impressive than maybe it is. It's like naming myself "Best Cook in the Cul-de-sac" - sure maybe I'm the best cook, but there's only 7 other people in the running. (And I'm not, by the way. I saw this apple pie that Jen, Josh's mom, made last year, it was so gorgeous it could have come straight off the cover of a Martha Stewart cookbook. Holy cow. I can call myself the best cook in the family, I think it's safe to say that I'm better than the other 5 people in my house.) Ryan said that maybe it doesn't sound too impressive (back to the Owlz, I mean) but it does show how the Angels, the Owlz parent organization, have a good scouting system and the coach can take a new team every year and turn them into the best out of the 7 other teams. That does mean something. We are all excited to see Tad Brewer or Jay Brossman or Gordy Gronkowski make it to the big leagues someday, they are my kids' favorites.

Well, that's about all. We are on our way to a new normal in our house. Life gets pretty turned upside down when you add a new family member, and then with visitors and travel and the rest of the kids and whatnot piled on top of it all, it was a longer adjustment than with other kids. But life is settling fairly well. Fortunately Darcey is an absolute angel. She really is everything you could ask for, except maybe she could use a little hair. I could dress her as a boy and pass her off as Zack with no problem. Ryan got it right when he took Zack's baby picture and drew a bow on it, that's exactly what she looks like. Hey, maybe that's what we should dress her up as for Halloween - Zack!

Oh, one other thing. I have been keeping a copy of my blog entries in a word doc, and the other day I noticed a counter at the bottom that said the total number of words in my doc was over 10,000 words. Whew, that sure makes me long-winded, doesn't it? Well, it just gets worse - I actually read it wrong and the total word count is over 100,000. That's right, including this entry I'm up to like 108,000 words, and 196 pages. Now that's something to be proud of. Do they hand out a "Most Long Winded Blog" award? In my acceptance speech, I'd have to thank all my readers (I might be up to about 10 now! and that's including some people that aren't related and therefore obligated to read it!). You like me, you really like me!