Sunday, January 27, 2008


A new baby causes a family to focus on a bunch of "firsts." First smile, first solid food, first tooth (which happened for Darcey this week), first steps. As kids get older, we have first days of school, first time driving, first dates. Firsts are easy to note, because they happen once and you can write it on the calendar and even have anniversaries for them.

I feel like we neglect the other end of the spectrum, the "lasts." Not in a sad, "last time I saw my spouse before he died in a fiery car crash" kind of last, but in every day things. Noah brought this to my attention last week when he said, "Mom, have you noticed that I haven't had to go to time out in a long time?" I hadn't noticed at all, as a matter of fact, which is a horrible thing. How many times did I consider moving his bed into the time-out room just to make it more convenient, given the fact that he was in there so often? And now that time out is a distant memory, I didn't even notice. When was the last time he was in there? Shouldn't that be cause for massive celebrating? It should, but because it's a last and not a first, it goes unremarked.

The problem is, it's just so hard to tell when something is going to be a last. When I left home at 18, my mom says she knew I wouldn't move back home, even though that was the plan. In some ways I'm glad I had moving to California as a temporary thing, with going home as the back-up plan so that the plunge didn't seem so dramatic. But on the other hand, I missed marking a lot of lasts. The last Christmas at home. The last Sunday afternoon grilled-cheese sandwiches made by my dad after church. The last evening I'd spend with my high school friends who, for the most part, I haven't kept in contact with.

So even though I may not have a date circled on the calendar, I want to start noting the lasts. I want to pay attention to the last time I have to use the "car cart" at the grocery store. The last $25 jumbo box of diapers I buy from Costco, and the last jar of baby food. The last time I make dinner that no one eats, preferring cold cereal instead. (I know, wishful thinking, as is this - the last time a child wakes me up in the middle of the night!)

I am hoping that today is the last time I wake up to the sound of glass breaking. Zack had poured himself a bowl of cereal in a glass bowl, and knocked it onto the floor, so within 10 seconds of waking up I was clearing shards off the floor and mopping up Froot Loops and milk. Not the kind of lazy Sunday morning I would have envisioned when I didn't have kids.

My guess is I have not dealt with my last blow-out diaper, the last potty-related accident, the last tantrum in a public place, the last time I have to stand outside a restaurant while a child screams. I am looking forward to the last time I have to wipe someone else's runny nose. Darcey has a cold and is draining so badly that if snot could grow crops, our cul-de-sac could be the new Fertile Crescent.

All of these lasts are milestones, just as much as the firsts. It's a sign that these kids are growing up. Most of the lasts are great - I can't tell you the last time I had to change wet sheets off the older two boys' beds, and I love that it's been so long. There's a bittersweet trade-off with every last - I realized yesterday that I've had the last time I can comfortably hold Brad's hand in a parking lot, but Ryan got to watch him and Noah as they went up the chairlift by themselves for the first time. I'll eventually trade the 2 a.m. "Mom, I threw up!" for the 2 a.m. phone calls that can never be good news.

But I'm okay with all of that. In fact, I'm grateful that I'm aware of the lasts, so I can appreciate them as they come, and as the stages of childhood pass that those lasts marked. So maybe like a mother who forgot to record her baby's firsts grabs a calendar and starts randomly putting in dates for first roll over and first word, I'll arbitrarily assign a date for Noah's last time out. That is something worth throwing a party over. (Now, can someone predict when I'll have bought the very last Star Wars item??)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Apple Doesn't Fall Far From The Tree

There are a lot of things I admire about my parents, and would like to emulate. My mother has the patience Mother Teresa, for example. My dad can fix anything, even stuff that wasn't broken before, and I love his gregarious personality. But instead of those traits, I got Mom's bad teeth, Dad's bad vision, and one more thing from Dad - a lousy sense of direction.

It was inevitable, I guess - the story goes that when Mom was in labor with me, there was construction and Dad ended up getting lost on the way to the hospital. As is typical of family stories, I don't think they were in any danger of having me on the side of the road, but it fed the stereotype of Dad as someone who was always getting lost.

In my family, we called them “shortcuts.” One memorable shortcut was on our way to Hersheypark in Pennsylvania that took an extra two hours. After that, anytime it seemed like Dad was lost, we would ask, “Did you take a shortcut?” Fortunately, he never seemed to have a problem being lost. He just laughed it off.

Well, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. When I got my driver’s license, all of a sudden those places that I had been driven to for years seemed like grand adventures. Would I get there? Would I make it home?

I would drive to the stake center 30 minutes away and it would take me an hour to get home. After high school graduation, I attended my very first Single Adult activity in Annapolis, about an hour from home. Once I recognized the looks I was getting as “Look, fresh meat!” I realized the difference between “Single Adult” and “Young Single Adult” (roughly twenty years at this place) and hightailed it out of there. But I didn’t get home for about three hours, after getting lost and ending up in one of the scarier parts of Baltimore.

When I drove from Maryland to California, I defied Mom’s predictions by only getting lost once, after leaving a Dairy Queen rest stop in Wyoming. My only options were towards “Laramie” or “Green River,” so naturally I picked the wrong one and headed east for half an hour before I could turn around. Happily, I was able to stop at the DQ again on the way back. Man, I love me them Blizzards!

Things were supposed to get easier when I moved to Utah. The whole numbered-streets, inspired-grid-system thing was going to be my navigational salvation. And it is, so long as the place you are looking for has a numbered address, the road is either north-south or east-west and not diagonal, and you can figure out which direction north, south, east, or west is.

For some reason, the church built the Mt, Timpanogos Temple way the heck out in the middle of nowhere, and I have the hardest time getting there. The directions I got the first time I went were kind of vague: Turn right on the street right before the Purple Turtle, then turn left at the "Manila 1890" sign, and there it is.

One time I missed the turn at the Manila sign and didn't realize that I was lost until I got to a booth at the entrance to the Uinta National Forest. Apparently, my stake forgot to ask an important question in the temple recommend interview: “Do you have an intimate knowledge of American Fork and surrounding environs?”

I found myself alone at the temple last night, and when I was leaving, I ended up taking a “shortcut” back to our home in Orem via… Alpine. Yes, Alpine. Not that it isn’t a lovely town, but I was as surprised to find it there as if I had just come across the city of Enoch.

I attempted to come up with reasons why I had gotten lost – The clouds were hiding the mountains, so I couldn’t tell which way was east! The road I was on didn’t have numbers! I swear I was going the right way, but I accidentally parked on the wrong side of the building! None of that sounded plausible, even to me, so I decided to do what Dad would have done. I laughed out loud, then turned up the radio, and headed home.

Not everyone is lucky enough to get the genes that make even a drive home from the temple a mini-adventure.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Attack of the Churro

Multi-tasking was not at its finest today, as I attempted to carry two churros and a carseat holding Darcey in from the car at the same time. It just didn't seem like a prudent use of my time to have to make a whole second trip just for two churros. I mean, two churros? I may not be Hanz and Franz, but certainly I can handle a baby and two churros!

Apparently, no I can't.

The problem was that Darcey's carseat handle was not in its full, upright position, so I was carrying her at an angle, trusting that the $1 per hour that the Chinese laborer was paid was a worthwhile incentive to do a good job at assembling the seat belt. I don't actually trust that, so I was holding the carseat handle with one hand, and the bottom of the seat with the other. If you are keeping score at home, that leaves exactly no hands for the churros, which weren't even for me. They were for Brad and Noah who were on their way home from school and when Brad found out that we had gotten churros at Costco without him, he'd get so far bent out of shape we could use him as a hanger. A surly hanger at that.

So the churros, which I had grabbed before realizing the precarious carseat situation, were being squeezed by the hand that was holding the handle. Darcey lay there in her seat, gazing up beatifically as a shower of cinnamon and suger dusted her face with every step. She's a trooper, she didn't even flinch. But with each jarring step, a little more shook loose, until tiny churro chunks were bonking her on the forehead. I'm watching the hail of churro come down on my baby, but I was only a few feet away from the counter, so I forged ahead.

On my last step, though, the churro broke in half and fell straight down, whacking Darcey right in the eye. I don't know if you've ever been churroed, but I can't imagine it feels good. (I've never been churroed myself, but I have been hamburgered, or more appropriately, my car has been hamburgered. I was visiting a friend at her apartment and when I came out, someone had taken a whole hamburger and smeared it across the side of my car. The bun was still sticking to the window, and there was ketchup everywhere. I will take being hamburgered over being churroed anyday.)

Darcey didn't cry until I took the churro away from her. I think she had been staring up at the churro, willing it to break and fall down so she could eat it. This girl will eat, or attempt to eat, anything. So the churro falling on her face was probably cause for great joy and celebration! Until I took it away, her horribly mean mother who never lets her have what she wants even though the boys all get churros.

Darcey cheered right up, though, when she realized that her face was covered in cinnamon and sugar. She licked her lips over and over, trying to lick up some of that deep fried goodness. Then I had to go and ruin that, too, by taking her out of her seat and brushing her off. I wouldn't have considered cinnamon or sugar, both normally dry ingredients, to be so sticky, but dust a 7 month old baby in it and watch out - you've got a substance that should be marketed to NASA to glue on those tiles they are always having trouble with.

And the stuff was everywhere. I mean everywhere. Babies are well known for their crevices and folds of skin that trap food and other debris, and this is no different. I lifted up her head, and there was a veritable storehouse of cinnamon all in her neck. I tipped her forward, and there was cinnamon sugar in her hair.

Which is all to say, if Darcey wasn't sweet before, she sure is now. She smells fantastic and probably tastes good, too, although we're just going to leave that untested. When I gave Brad the broken churro, he started to look disappointed that his was broken, until I told him that it had fallen onto Darcey's face, at which point it was deemed a better churro than Noah's whole one, because it had a story behind it.

In my family when we were kids, when a kid did something stupid, my parents would ask, "Is this the kid that we dropped on their head?" The question was never, "Is that the kid we dropped a churro on?" But what a great question that would be. And in our family, we have the answer.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Bringing Down the House

The rest of the house is jealous of the new kitchen, so they've created the Appliance Solidarity Movement and are staging a coup. They are sowing the seeds of discontent and getting more and more previously content pieces of equipment to join in their master plan. Already we've had several days of strikes, and the threats of more work stoppages are loud and frequent.

I could see the problem brewing way back when the remodel was going on. One day, every lightbulb in the basement blew out at the same time. We, naturally, assumed it was a problem with the wiring or some such, since they had been down in the basement fiddling with stuff that day. The boys' bedroom was without any lights for something like two weeks, frustrating their need to leave all the lights in their room on when they leave for school, just in case their toys are afraid of the dark. The electrician came back and screwed in a new lightbulb, which made me feel like the butt of a joke: How many Simmons' does it take to screw in a lightbulb? None - they're too stupid! They have to hire someone to do it! Okay, so not a joke you'll be telling around the water cooler anytime soon, but still.

The same electrian switched the doorbell chime to a new, non-paint covered one, and miraculously the doorbell itself stopped working right. He claims that the chime works fine, the button outside is probably fine, it's the thing that the electricity goes into that is probably broken. I can't remember what that part is called, but it doesn't really matter, because no one knows where it is in order to replace it. It could be sealed inside a wall, Cask of Amontillado style, just begging and weeping to be released and repaired, but we don't know. It will suffer for eternity, apparently, and we'll have to suffer with a doorbell that goes "click-dong" instead of the traditional and always preferred "ding-dong."

Maybe you are falling into the trap that I myself did, which is the idea that maybe the common denominator here is the electrician, who also gave us such gems as the ceiling fan that whacks into the cabinet door when opened, the off-center recessed light, and the garbage disposal that wasn't put on all the way, flooding the under sink cabinet and necessitating a call to the plumber because, again, we're too stupid to know that the problem was ultra simple to fix. I for one was all ready to blame the electrician for all of this, but the problems didn't stop when he left.

One morning I turned the water on to get in the shower, and it was stone cold. I checked a couple other faucets and they too had no hot water. I decided that lighting a pilot light was something that regular people did all the time, and surely I could do it too.

Turns out, I can't. This pilot light was sealed behind a glass door and was supposed to always stay lit, so there wasn't really a way to light it with a match. I learned this after about three hours of crouching on the floor of the furnace room, with my head jammed between the water heater and the broken soft water thingy the old owners so graciously left for us, trying to look into the window to see if the light was lit, or if there was a spark. The water heaters were only three years old, so I finally called the phone number of the installer who had left his sticker on them. It was not a reassuring phone call.

When he asked me what kind of water heaters he had installed for us, I told him, and he replied with "I was afraid you'd say that." Apparently, the heaters are pure crap, and we can either have him replace them with the latest model of pure crap for free, or we can upgrade to a supposedly crap-free brand for $500 each. (We have two.) Generously, he came out and jimmy-rigged a repair for us for free, but told us that it was probably a temporary fix and at some point we'll have to come up with a real solution.

The water heaters are right next to the furnace, and that's where the discontent spread next. On the morning after Christmas, we awoke to find the house a balmy 64 degrees - apparently, the layer of toys and wrapping paper were not sufficient insulation for the cold night, and clearly, something was wrong with the furnace. I went back to my hypothesis that a regular person can light a pilot light, therefore so can I. There's nothing like tenacity in the face of personal ignorance.

This time it took about two hours to figure out how to light the pilot, with about 15 minutes being spent attempting to take the front panel off just to access the burner thing. Since I didn't get any repair knowledge passed down to me either through genetics or education, I have to say thank goodness for the internet. I found some generic instructions and eventually an owner's manual for the furnace, but these are written by people who start with a basic understanding of how to build a furnace, and therefore don't deign to tell us novices all of the minutiae. If you had asked me before this whole debacle where one could find a thermocouple, I would have replied "On a space shuttle."

It took me probably 20 minutes of staring at the metal tubes and widgets before I finally decided to just light a match and stick it into the whole mess and hope for the best. It took me another 10 minutes to get up the courage to do it, though, and it wasn't until after I sent the kids upstair and got my soul right with God before I could actually light the match. Pictures of the mushroom cloud where our house once was kept flashing through my mind, along with what the neighbors would say about me: "Poor, stupid idiot. They found her body with a match stuck right into the open gas valve! It's a wonder she lived as long as she did, being that dumb." It wasn't until I decided that if I did blow the house up, I probably would die instantly and therefore it probably wouldn't hurt, that I finally lit the match.

I didn't light anything. So I lit another match. It blew out before I could even approach the thing. A third, a fourth, nothing. I started losing my fear of setting myself on fire, since apparently I couldn't set even flammable things on fire. I tried again, again, again, no dice. I thought about getting Zack down there to do it - if anybody could get soemthing to catch fire, a three year old could. And do it well. I got a piece of paper and lit that, but it wouldn't stay lit either. What the heck is wrong with me?? Finally, finally, on about the tenth match, I stuck it in at the right angle and with my head three inches from the ground, angled upwards, hair on the dusty gross floor, head wedged between the furnace and that cursed soft water thing, I could see a flame. I did it! I danced all around the house, cheering for myself - I am useful after all!! I congratulated myself and insisted that everyone in the family do too. After about 30 minutes, though, the house was still cold - turns out, I had forgotten to turn the thing back on. But that didn't dampen the exhilaration I felt at being able to fix something without spending $100 and getting withering looks from a repair man who charges so much as a way of saying "This repair is beneath me."

Turns out, lighting the pilot light didn't end our heating problems, because the darn thing keeps going out. Today was the fourth time, and once last week I had to light it at like 1 a.m. because everyone in the house was awake and freezing. So I'm a pilot lighting pro, but it's not going to prevent me from having to call a repair guy anyhow.

The coup has now spread to the plumbing, as our seemingly calm and patient toilets have all of a sudden decided that they aren't taking our crap anymore! This one we can pin right on Zack. Finally the boy is potty trained, but frankly the amount of toilet paper he stuffs into the toilet is ridiculous. There are days that I have to change the roll every day. I'm not one to judge whether a substantial amount of toilet paper is required - one of the beauties of potty trained kids is that I am no longer an expert on anyone's bowel movements other than my own. But unless there is some kind of gastointestinal bug going around, I just don't think an entire roll is ever needed.

The first clog, about two weeks ago, was pretty quickly plunged and the bathroom was saved. But the second one made me grateful for an almost endless supply of beach towels, because the amount of water that poured out of the toilet made me wonder where the levee was that broke. (FYI: 6 beach towels, one bath towel, and one bath mat is what it takes to soak up a tank full of water.) After plunging, using a plumber's snake, and a wire coat hanger didn't work, I finally broke down and called a plumber. I picked the one that said "$39.99 per clogged toilet" in the yellow pages, although I discovered that's only if there's more than one clogged toilet - our single toilet cost $80.

Now, a week later, we've got another clog, and it's just not coming out. I've got a layer of towels around the base of the toilet, just in case, and while I'm waiting for the plumber to come again, I'm trying to design a new product I call the Toilet Bib, which would be a plastic swimming pool-like thing that surrounds the base of the toilet to catch all the water overflow from potty-trained kids. It also would help keep the floor clean from boys who think that they can stand and pee even though THEY CAN'T.

There are other, little ways that the house is rising up against us. The DVD player, less than a year old, broke. One of the lights in the living room fixture doesn't work (yes, we changed the bulb, very funny). There is a fax machine noise when I answer the phone. I'm waiting for the ceiling fans to all turn on and fly the house off a cliff or something. Maybe the house will land somewhere exotic, that way even if the place is falling apart, it will be warmer than Utah!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Resolutions for 2007

No, that title is not a typo. I am a big fan of New Year's resolutions, except for one problem: I never accomplish the things that I set out to accomplish on January 1st. They all tend to be "Change my life radically and become a different person than I was on Dec. 31st" kinds of resolutions, which somewhere deep down I know sounds much easier than it really is. And to look at the positive side of things, I do accomplish many things that I never would have bothered to write down, but ought to be acknowledged. So this year, instead of trotting out my tired list of flaws disguised as a handy to-do list, I'm going to write the list I should have written last year.

1. Have a baby. Name her Darcey, and have her be the absolute, most angelic baby the world has ever seen. Dress her in the cutest clothes available, including a darling Santa dress that causes almost every single member of my ward to tell me how cute she is, including the mother of Darcey's rival for cutest baby in the ward (i.e. the only other baby in the ward).

2. Get passports and leave the country. Pick a really exotic place that no one can find on a map. Get a company to pay for the vast majority of the trip, and make sure the dollar has a great exchange rate, so I can chortle mightily at what a steal this is.

3. Start a blog. Write at least once a week. Find out that writing can be fun, and an interest I never knew I had. Realize that this is just one more way to get people to stroke my ego. Try not to be so self-centered.

4. Keep going to school. Slow and steady gets the degree, they always say. For the first time, drop a class because it looks like too much work (Meteorology) and instead take Business Law. Regret buying the book for Business Law - the class is just too easy.

5. Remodel the kitchen. Spend a ridiculous amount of money on it, but have it be worth every penny afterwards. Love the kitchen. Hug the pantry and rest my cheek on the countertop. Ponder whether money can, in fact, buy happiness.

6. Go to the gym with more regularity than ever before in my life. And when I take a month or two off, start going again without beating myself up over not doing it perfectly.

7. Make it to 2008. Survive with a majority of brain cells intact. Keep slogging away at life's daily challenges - don't give up. Find respite in friends, dates with Ryan, reality tv shows, and time to myself. Laugh at things that go wrong, look on the bright side as often as I can muster. Love my family.