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!