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.