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!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

My Good-Deal Goggles

We went as a family to the penultimate Orem Owlz game, unless they make the playoffs, but there is no fancy word for 5th game before the last. It was drawstring backpack night, and you know when there’s a Orem Owlz giveaway that good we had to be there. I’m still really regretting missing water bottle night. So we decided to get there an hour early, when the gates open, in hopes of being one of the first 750 fans.

We did not tell the kids about the backpacks. Which, as it turns out, was a stroke of PURE PARENTING GENIUS because, naturally, there were no backpacks to be had. It wasn’t that we fell prey to the greedy Utah Valley cheapskate syndrome that causes vast hordes of people who otherwise don’t care about baseball to show up, collect their free stuff, and then leave, not even staying for the game. On the contrary, we fell prey to the less than professional management that typifies minor league baseball.

Let’s recap some of the more frustrating trinket nights:

2005 - baseball caps – they didn’t get shipped in time, and we had to go back the next day and show our ticket stubs to pick them up.

2006 – t-shirts – these were supposed to be for kids 12 and under and even though we showed up an hour early, there were literally hundreds of people there before us. We saw plenty of older teenagers being handed the shirts, lots of people getting the shirts and leaving, so that the people in front of us ended up being the last ones given t-shirts. Fortunately, that year they saved some trinkets for season ticket holders, so Brad and Noah were able to get the shirts (size 14-16) but the other, what, 8 kids we brought for Brad’s birthday party were out of luck.

2007 - the great backpack disappointment

To be completely fair, though, these are minor annoyances compared to how much fun we have at the games (especially when we employ our PURE PARENTING GENIUS! Is it too late to change the name of my blog? I really like that one.) Plus, we regularly come home with a freezer’s worth of bread, which has got to more than make up for the backpacks and the t-shirts.

Since we were there so early, I took Zacky to the playground (with Ryan and Darcey) while the older boys went down to the dugout to ask the players to autograph their baseballs. They were so happy to get the autographs that they didn’t even realize that the Owlz pencils they were handed as we walked in were a shabby substitute for a potentially cool backpack. They thought the pencils were a bonus! Oh to be young and easily impressed!

I have to say that this was one of the most exciting games I’ve seen. Unlike my dad, who somehow can sleep through Pirates of the Caribbean but thinks a pitching duel is the height of entertainment, I prefer sports with a lot of stuff going on. There was intrigue, suspense, action, anger, and more than a little violence, and all of that in the first two innings. It was the bottom of the second and the Chukars were ahead, one to nothing. Our first batter, Julio Perez, gets up and the very first pitch smacks him right in the helmet! I didn’t see this, because I mistakenly took four children with me, and so I was distracted, but when the entire stadium gasped as one, I looked up to see poor Julio laying face down in the dirt! (My mom-like thought, “He’s getting his white pants dirty!”) He took off his helmet and chucked it at the pitchers mound, and I got the sense that if he wasn’t such a manly man, he’d be crying. Maybe he was, we’ve got good seats but not that good. He lay there for a couple of minutes, and then slowly he got up and the crowd burst into applause. It made me wonder, if he hadn’t gotten up, if he’d been carted away on a stretcher like that other Owlz player earlier this year, would they still clap? Would they clap more for the guy who can stand up and shake it off, or for the guy who might have actually put his life in jeopardy for the game?

Anyhow, Julio went to first, then Gordy Gronkowski, my kids’ favorite player, got up and got a single. Then a bunch of other stuff happened which I don’t know about (because I was in line for a couple of frozen lemonades for Brad and myself and a churro for Zack, which he refused to eat about one millisecond after we sat down and only wanted my lemonade, so Brad got a lemonade and a churro, Zack got a lemonade, and I got nothing. The upshot was that Zack spent the next 30 minutes working on the lemonade, so he was quite happy.) When I got back to my seat, four runs had scored, and wouldn’t you know it, here comes Julio Perez back for a second go at it. We went through the entire lineup in one inning. Unfortunately, Julio didn’t do so well the second time, struck out pretty quickly, and I had to feel guilty for thinking maybe he should just throw himself in front of another one, we’d get another run.

The other piece of violence was less entertaining, for our family at least, although I think the people sitting around us got an eyeful. This was before the game started and we were sitting in our seats. Zack had demanded something, in that lovely pushy way he does when he hasn’t had a nap and it’s already his bedtime, and when I didn’t give it to him he gave me the standard “I hate you, mom!” That rankles somewhat but I’m trying for the ignore-it-and-they’ll-stop theory that everyone recommends but doesn’t seem to work in practical applications (it certainly didn’t work when Paul Lichtinger made fun of my glasses and various other things every day on the school bus home for three years of middle school and then on into high school until he finally got some of his bully friends to take him every day.) Zack then escalated the incident, he cocked back his fist and attempted to hit me, which would have been cause enough for my instant rage, except that I was holding Darcey at the time and he hit her right in the face.

No matter how horrified you are right now, trust me, I was more horrified. Really, way, way more horrified than you could ever be. Darcey starts crying and I say to Ryan (nice and loud, of course, because I get loud when I get upset) “He hit the baby!” Well, naturally everyone around on both sides turns to stare at us because there was nothing going on on the field yet, and even if there were, it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting as this white trash family whose three year old is beating up the baby. Ryan takes him and kind of drags him over to Ryan’s seat so he could talk to him. I’m on the verge of hysterical now and I say (again, with more decibels than was necessary) “Ryan, get mad at him! He hit the baby!” Because all I could see was that Ryan was not currently beating the crap out of that kid and I was so mad at Zack that I could barely contain myself. What Ryan could see was that I was not on the verge of hysterical, but actually full-fledged hysterical, and that there were probably a hundred people (no joke) staring at us, waiting to see whether the boy had learned this behavior from his father and if they would get to witness DCFS taking the children away from us and giving them to good parents.

The upshot of it all, if there could be an upshot of any of that, was that Ryan did not embarrass our family further, as I would have done, and after about 15 minutes of sitting quietly Zack, of his own accord, said “Sorry, Darcey.” Do 3 year olds have a conscience? Is it too early to expect him to understand the gravity of the situation? I’m thinking he does understand – he loves his baby sister, all of the boys just adore her. But that had better never happen again. Yikes.

In the days since I started writing this blog entry, Ryan took the older boys to the final game, which was called on account of rain with the Owlz ahead, clinching a spot in the play-offs. The boys came home with collapsible Angels laundry hampers which they thought were the coolest things ever, and I’m peeking through my Good-Deal Goggles at possibly getting the backpacks at the play-off game on Saturday. Plus, Ryan talked to Julie, the woman who plays the sound effects and animations on the Jumbotron during the game, and she is definitely going to work with him for one more year at least, so we’ve got our season tickets for next year in the bag! There’s nothing better than a cool summer evening at the ballpark, preferably with lots of action on the field, none in the stands, and a pile of free stuff at our feet. See you next season, Owlz!