May 31, 2015

They don't make 'em like they used to

What?  Try the power switch.  No?  Jiggle the handle.  Again?  Why?  Already?  No.  (tears)  But we just fixed it?  Where's that guy's number?  What now?  (moan)  How much?  How soon can someone come out?  When?  Again?  Really?  AGAIN?

A few years ago, these are the phrases that I began to utter more often than I care to admit.  Coach and I were able to communicate about our appliances through a series of grunts, eye rolls, and two word angry spurts.  I typically like to go for a humorous angle in my blog.  I'll try.  No promises.

I looked for the hidden camera.  Couldn't find it.  I suppose if there was a hidden camera it would have malfunctioned anyway . . . along with the rest of the house.  We can't even blame the kids.  Years ago, at our old house Laddie and Eddie admitted that they experimented with teddy grahams in the microwave.  There was a charred mark that scarred the warm up plate, but fortunately no real damage.

Hard to remember the sequence of failings.  It's epic though.  My folks gifted us with a top of the line dishwasher for Christmas one year.  The one they insisted on replacing still worked.  (key word here:  work).  If you could move past the loud noise and the crappy quality of the clean up job, the washer that came with the house was an average machine.  Exactly 13 months after the new gift was installed, the new dishwasher died.  The repair guy fixed the part that was giving us the problem.  That's when he realized that the whole board was out.  New part needed.  Not on the truck.  Next shipment in a week.  Once it was in, then they'd let me know when they could get back out.  I'm paying for all of this of course because the warranty expired after 12 months.  Never mind the inconvenience of no dishwasher for our big family.  I called and spoke to someone at corporate.  (When I say 'speak' I mean ranted).  I shared my experience with every higher up who would listen.  Finally, a suit agreed to pay for the repairs.  Awesome.  I was instructed that if anything else happened not to call them back.  When the dishwasher died mid cycle about 11 months later, I called a general appliance repair man.  He suggested that we run the hot water when we turned the dishwasher on.  The way I understood it, the board could burn out after working too hard to heat up the water.  Approximately six months later I found myself digging out his number again.  AGAIN!  Did I mention:  top of the line.  My parents felt ill about their investment.  The big wad of dough they blew on this gift was starting to cost us money left and right.  A few weeks after the last repair, the smelly, standing water greeted me in the morning like a slap in the face.  Seemed like the dirty dishes were sad too.  There was no charge this time.  I either don't remember what the diagnosis was, or I just stopped listening.

Back when the old clunker dishwasher was still a fixture in the kitchen, our mounted over the cook top microwave's handle melted off.  Who would have thought that boiling a pot of water would cause the microwave handle to break off?  No problem.  I dug through the house papers and discovered the home warranty.  Bingo.  The guy came out.  Too bad some yo-yo mounted the microwave an insufficient distance from the stove top.  They wouldn't cover it.  Where there is a will, there is a way.  For the next two years, we kept a butter knife stationed on the counter next to the stove top.  The knife placed in the slot at just the right angle led to the pop of the microwave door.  Like magic.  Each visitor, babysitter, and friend that shared a meal with us or served a meal to the kids was briefed on how to open the microwave.  Eventually the second nature butter knife maneuver ceased to work.

We did our homework.  Shopped around.  Chose a top model of the best brand.  We even went the convection route.  I was crazy happy to be able to cook in the oven and the microwave simultaneously.  I called my mom after my first batch of cookies came out great.  Using the oven and the micro/convection, my double batch of cookies was done in no time.  Less than two years later in March, my cookie baking became a hassle.  The convection refused to heat up.  I opened the door and discovered wilting balls of dough staring back at me.  Uncooked.  Not part of the plan.  Expired warranty, of course.  The manufacturer's repair man came out and fixed the wire that was overheating.  Costly.  Two and a half weeks later, I was relying on the microwave to cook some more cookies and it failed to heat up again.  I convinced myself that it was a fluke.  I turned it off and attempted to heat it up again.  The next fix-it guy came out and showed me the mistake that the first fix-it guy had made.  He failed to expose enough of the wire when he reconnected it.  Something along those lines.  Just my luck.  No charge, just the inconvenience of having no functioning microwave for a few weeks - AGAIN.  It was increasingly difficult to schedule my new friends (aka repairmen) to come out to the house because I was working, but I managed to perfect the process again in October when the microwave went on strike again.  Seriously, I may be creative but I couldn't make this up.  This time the fix-it guy admitted that it needed a major part.  It was going to take additional manpower just to take the thing apart and rebuild it.  Trust me, I suggested just replacing the lemon with a microwave that would heat up consistently.  We endured another few weeks without a microwave while we waited for the part and the additional bodies needed to reinvent it.  Thank goodness the fridge kept clicking away, because we had leftovers galore.  My reheating abilities were limited, so the fridge reached maximum capacity.

Eventually the crew slaved away at constructing a refurbished micro right before our eyes.  I pretended not to hear the older gentlemen suggest they they should have just saved everyone the time and hassle and install a new unit.  A few times immediately following the reinstall, the microwave wouldn't heat food up at the touch of a button.  I panicked but mid-fit I realized that a good wiggle of the handle would get things fired up in no time.  Wiggling a handle sure beat having a butter knife permanently positioned on the counter top.  Oh yeah, when the unit was rebuilt the popcorn button ceased working.  I chose to let it go and program the 2 minutes on the machine to pop this popular after school snack.

Imagine my surprise when I came home the other day and heard Laddie utter the unthinkable.  Unimaginable.  "Oh yeah, did you know the microwave isn't working again?"  Sure enough.  No power.  No clock, no lights, no fan.  Nothing.  Dead.  Good thing I griped enough after the incident in the fall to get the company to agree to a new one year warranty.  I called this morning before work to schedule my next repair.  The automated voice alerted me that due to inclement weather, they would be closed today.  Why not?  Makes sense.

In the meantime, the day after Coach's birthday (November 16th) the plumber came out to replace our garbage disposal.  We dealt with the slow leak dribbling into the cabinet below it for a few weeks before I stopped denying that there was a real problem.  While the plumber was here I told him about the washing machine.  I described how I had recently lost the intense power struggle that I had been in with this appliance since late August.  It was refusing to spin the clothes despite my willingness to stand guard and gradually remove piles of dripping clothes except for a few carefully placed items so as not to overwhelm - begging it not to send me the dreaded 'unbalanced load' message after a painfully random number of spins.  The repair guy I initially contacted suggested another company would be better suited for this job.  They came out and ordered the part.  Been here, done this.  I knew the routine.  How soon can I clean my clothes without an extended spin cycle ritual  and dance?  The message he left on the answering machine after he came out to install the part (yes, I finally just started handing out the code to the garage willy nilly rather than try to find time to meet a fix-it guy at the house) needed to be replayed about six times before I completely comprehended.  I think I even called him to verify what I feared most.  "Yes lady, you just need to get yourself a new machine."  Noooooo!!!!

Once I accepted the news that my treasured washing machine was no longer going to be the most cherished member of our appliance family, I leaped into action.  I ran up to the appliance outlet store, where I shared with the salesman that my failing machine was 'fairly new'.  OK, so I was in shock.  An 8 year old machine is not considered 'fairly new' by industry standards.  Eight years ago at our first house, my washer and dryer had clonked out a few days after one another like an old married couple who can't bear to live without the other.  This all happened just days after Reggie was born.  It seemed like just yesterday that I had bolted to Sears directly after nursing my 72 hour old infant.  I recall fearing that the baby was home screaming while I was debating which machine to purchase.  I ended up going with one labeled 'canyon capacity'.  If ever anyone needed 'canyon capacity', it was me.  Besides, doesn't everyone have a mom or an aunt or an elderly neighbor who likes to brag about how her machine stood by her for 40 years?  Why can't that be my reality?  Anyway, I had a new machine bought, delivered, and dragged up the stairs in less then two hours.   This was no small feat considering the place didn't deliver on Sat. nights.  My sales guy new a guy.  I told him I would pay the $75 fee if he could get to the store and haul this thing into my house before my husband and I had to have our kids at religious education class that night at 5:00.  He made it happen.  Fourteen laundry loads later, I felt caught up.  On laundry, anyway.

Thank goodness the dryer didn't bite it along with the washer this time.  I live in fear of which appliance will be next, because they sure as hell don't make 'em like they used to! 

My match making mom

My Mom is forever the matchmaker.  I assume it has something to do with her Irish ancestry.  Before she could grasp how the high school dating scene of the '80's differed from her high school experience of sock hops and soda shops, she innocently encouraged me to call a boy and ask him to the Turn-a-bout dance.  This vote of confidence was all the encouragement I  needed.  For a brief minute, I believed in myself.  I felt self assured and thought Mom was right, any guy would be lucky to attend a dance with me.  I neglected to do the homework necessary before asking a guy out.  I failed to inquire, if this kid had a date to the dance.  He was cute, well liked, a year older than me, and was known as one of the nicest guys in school.  We had recently led a retreat at our high school together so unlike most of the male population at my high school, I had spoken to him.  I remember it so vividly.  Standing in my parent's room (before the cordless phone or cell phone was introduced privacy was hard to come by) I paced until I got the courage to call him.  After I stumbled around realizing what I had rehearsed sounded lame, he explained that he had already been asked to the dance.  Ugghhh!!!  What was I thinking?  This super nice guy was most likely one of the first snatched from the pool of available dates.  Fortunately, he was a class act and the news of my out-of-my-league invitation didn't spread around the school.  Awkward. 

Years later in the summer of 1993, I invited a few girls that my brother and I befriended while studying in Ireland my junior year in college to stay with us.  My folks had agreed to allow them to offer them shelter at our house in the suburbs of Chicago and work summer jobs.  I had just graduated from college, and they spent the summer working as waitresses at the golf course where my brothers caddied.  It was very 'caddy shack-esque'.  Under my father's supervision, they also worked to earn their drivers' licenses, since it was easier to do this in the States than in their native Ireland.  (There is a hilarious story as a result of this project, but it is worthy of it's own post - I will most likely title it 'ode to . . . crash course').  I spent the summer looking for a job and hanging out with the 'Irish girls', as they were called by my family members.  My Mom heard they were coming and lost no time in claiming that one of them would most likely be interested in the cute boy down the street who was a high school friend of my brother's.  "Oh, I bet they'll  just love the boy down the street.  He's Irish and so cute." 

One of the first weekends they were in town, my parents threw a pig roast graduation party for me.  After the party, many of us walked down to the local drinking establishment to continue the celebration.  This 'boy next door' aka BND had moved out of state in 1989 with his family when I was starting college, and he was begrudgingly beginning his senior year of high school.  My parents had offered to let him stay with them, so that he could finish out his senior year with his friends.  Mr. and Mrs. BND were stricter than my folks, so it came as no surprise when they turned down the offer.  His family rented out their house down the street, since they knew in advance that their stay in New York would only be temporary.  At any rate, I hadn't seen BND since the summer of '89 when I departed for college.  Although his family moved back to town just before my senior year was starting, we hadn't crossed baths until my graduation party in June of 1993. 

It was a great pig roast.  The weather was perfect, the keg refreshingly cold, and the pig delicious.  A number of my college friends turned up just for the occasion.  I recall that one of them was loaded into the trunk of his friend's car for the return trip seeing as he had been 'over served.'  The sober driver assured me that they would let him out after a few blocks, but it made for a dramatic exit.  My brothers and sisters, and a few other local friends continued the celebration into the night at the nearby bar.  I sat next to BND at a cocktail table, and chatted about his time in New York.  We compared college experiences.  He had just completed his junior year at a college in the Midwest.  Hours felt like minutes as we laughed, joked, and became reacquainted; although to be honest, we were never overly acquainted in the first place.  Although we were in the same car pool, I was forced to gracefully flip over the back seat of the station wagon in my plaid Catholic school skirt in order to land in the 'way back.'  Conversation was limited to grunted greetings as we all played it cool and quiet in the wood paneled wagon.   BND was around the house now and then to hang out with my brothers.  We would exchange the occasional smart ass remark, but that was about it.  Anyway, we hit the dance floor, drank our fill, and eventually stumbled home with the rest of my siblings, and of course  . . . the Irish girls.

The next morning I awoke with an odd feeling that I couldn't shake.  It only took a minute for it to register.  Why had I not thought of this last night?   I should have been more careful.  I should have covered my bases.  I bolted from my bed - maybe I didn't bolt, not because the situation didn't require a good bolt, but because I was feeling a bit burdened by my drinking from the night before.  At any rate, I raced downstairs as fast as I was able.  The Irish girls slept in the guest bedroom on the first floor.  I arrived a moment too late.  My mom was questioning the girls as to which of them found BND cute.  I stepped silently into the room behind my mom.  I tried hand gestures, waving wildly at the girls who were still sleepy propped up on elbows in the antique double bed that they shared.  I was signaling them not to reveal too much information to my mom.  She would assume too much.  BND and I were just catching up, weren't we?  Anyway, I couldn't have her jumping to conclusions.  They were amused at my attempt to silence them, but they spilled the beans nonetheless in their Irish brogues.  "Ah, but we couldn't get a word in edge wise Mrs., sure Ernie spoke to him all night long!"  With this, my mom spun on her heel, hand raised to her cheek, chin dropped open, "Oh, really?!  I always thought you liked BND!" declared the matchmaker I call my mother. 

The rest is history.  I played down the evening as an opportunity to become reacquainted with an old neighbor, all the time wondering myself if there was really something more happening.  My stomach did flips to think about it.  What if he wasn't interested?  Was I interested?  How would I know?  Would the next time we saw each other be awkward?  I spent the next few weeks urging my brother to invite BND to every touristy outing I concocted for the Irish girls.  "Would BND want to attend a Sox game with us?"  "We are heading to a bar, do you want to call BND?"  Finally my brother told me to call him myself.  Each time we were out, BND and I ended up sitting near one another, talking, laughing, forgetting we were with a group.  Eventually I accused him of being lame, since he was refusing to go to the St. Pat's block party with the Irish girls.  I was, after all, just trying to show them a good time.  He finally looked at me squarely and quipped, "Maybe I just want to go out with you and not always with the Irish girls and everybody else."  I was speechless, a state that I rarely find myself in.  What else could I do, I challenged him - "You aren't going to ask me out". 

If I recall correctly, I asked him out on our first date.  My brothers were taking the Irish girls somewhere, and I called up BND.   He agreed to pick me up and we would go out.  Funny to think that back then thee wasn't much of a plan.  Now that I am a mom when Coach and I go out, there is always a specific plan, a number to leave, a destination, a time we will return.  Back then, it was a discussion that unfolded while my date and I drove along.  That night of our first date, I got ready and told my Mom I was going out with friends.  I lurked in the family room, and lunged quietly for the door when I heard his car in the driveway and called out a quick, "See you later."  There would be no coming to the door and speaking to my folks.  I jumped in the car, and told him to hurry up and go . . . but we were too late.  My Mom was at the screen door hollering, "Have a good time BND!"  I knew she was proud of this maneuver, and probably smiled to herself in the kitchen for an hour after I left.  My next disappointment happened when I turned around and discovered a boy in the back seat.  Joey, BND's next door neighbor and a fellow graduate from my high school class, perched in the back seat like a dog eager to be taken to the forest preserve for a walk.  How cozy.  BND explained later that Joey had invited himself along.  We met up with BND's sister when she was done waitressing, and we went to a karaoke bar.  Later, BND's sister drove Joey home.  That left BND and I to drive home without a chaperone.  She practically had to paint Joey a picture as she steered him to her car.  That boy was never much for picking up on subtle clues.

At any rate, that is how it all began.  On August 10, 1996 I married BND - now Coach, but always the boy next door!

Is Breaking Up Hard To Do?

On my lengthy drive to work Monday morning, the radio personalities were polling listeners about the top 5 worst things that a friend could say to you after a bad break up.  The most common taboo lines included things like:  'I didn't like him anyway, You can do better, He'll be back, Best thing that could have ever happened to you, and We should have a girls night out.'  Although it's been a while since I've been through a break up, things are constantly breaking in my world.  I ask the kids regularly, 'Who broke this?'  Honest answers are hard to come by, but I ask anyway.  I just referenced the adage 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it', last week.  I was referring to our dishwasher that was replaced about 5 years ago by my folks as a gift . . . despite the fact that the older washer was still functioning.  Loud and ugly, but functioning.  The new, fancy, costly dishwasher had lemon-like qualities and broke down constantly.  Bummer.  Last week's break down sent me over the edge, and I raced out and replaced it.  No actual 'break up' experience of late though. 

As I approached my exit off the expressway for work, my stomach lurched a little.  I reminded myself that if this was the end of the line for this job, it wouldn't really bother me.  This mind set did the trick for me.  I relaxed, and so did my stomach.  For several months the hiccups in my part time job were hard to overlook.  I work at a Catholic School as an Advancement Director.  Aspects of the job included marketing, PR, and running an Annual Fund.  I was encountering enough red tape to re-coat several fire engines, making it difficult to accomplish much of anything.  No approval to get the baby bibs screen printed with my cute catch phrase meant I was unable to distribute these gifts to newly baptized babies in hopes of building future enrollment.  My goal to pole current school parents in order to gather testimonials for marketing materials was refused.  My attempt to run another annual fund was not given consideration.  The vibe was annoying, and I had basically decided that I wouldn't return after the much needed summer break.  A long commute was hardly worth driving if at the other end the work was unsatisfying and unappreciated.  The red flags flapped so hard I practically had to duck to avoid being hit in the face.

One of my responsibilities included posting school activities on the school Facebook page.  After I hosted a mom and tot play date on the school's playground one morning, I uploaded the photos to the computer and prepared to post them.  Facebook flashed a message alerting me to the fact that the password for my log-in had been changed last week.  Seriously.  I visited with the principal and asked him if he was interested in me returning next year.  He delivered some bull story about how he'd have to examine his budget once the  teachers confirmed that they were returning or not.  This information has already been communicated to him.  Contracts have been signed.  His lengthy response concluded with:  'At this time no, but that could change.'  He shared that the 8th grade teacher would be assigned to social media and marketing next school year.  This explained why I literally bumped into the dynamic Skipper and Gilligan duo at my off site, monthly marketing meeting last week where they expressed excitement across the table from each other in loud whispers over the marketing concepts being introduced.  (Skipper = over weight principal, and Gilligan = the gangly, 24 year old, male 8th grade teacher).  His closing remark referenced how busy I was and that I had to deal with sick kids at home from time to time.  Oops.  Was he really so clueless that he didn't realize these comments are unlawful?  While I had no problem with the school 'going in a different direction' or making budget cuts, I struggled with the ill treatment I received after dedicating three years to the position. Besides the sneaky Facebook password change, I realized that they had unlinked the twitter account to the Facebook page thus crippling my PR posting on Twitter.  Were they worried I would post something inappropriate on either site?  Being treated as a hostile employee who had been caught defacing school property was a bit unnecessary and bazaar.

Three years ago when I started in this position, I never dreamt that I would stick it out for this long.  Not including my two and a half years as a dedicated high school employee at Burger King, every job I've held has been classified as a newly created position.  Translation:  we aren't sure what this job will entail, but we need a warm body and we will figure it out as we go.  When the description fails to match up with the actual responsibilities, I search for a better fit.  Coach was serious when he asked me if three years (with summers off) was the longest I ever worked anywhere.  Currently my substitute teaching gig pays almost the same as my advancement job minus the commute and the red tape.  It also allows me the flexibility to choose my work schedule on a day to day basis, which is obviously great for dealing with sick kids. 

It dawned on me as I drove home that the break up comments mentioned on the radio that morning were equally relevant in a job termination scenario.

'We should have a girls night out'  I'm never opposed to a girls' night out, but I'm also not down-in-the-dumps enough to require a night of rehashing the negative aspects of the job with girlfriends.  Coach and I did take the kids out to dinner that night.  We had a gift card/coupon that was nearing it's expiration.  I also hadn't devised a gluten free dinner menu since my Celiac disease diagnosis.  (I admit to eating the same crock pot pork recipe for about 10 days.  Certainly pushing the envelope on 'fresh').  I hadn't revealed the job loss situation to the younger kids, but there must have been some conversing about it on the way home from the restaurant.  Mini yelled from the back of the 12 seater van, "Mommy, did you really get FIRED today?"  I chose the 'eliminated position' term when I clarified whatever the older boys had been sharing with her.

'He'll be back.'  The Skipper eluded to a possible need for my services in the future with his 'that could change' comment.  Although I am very confident after the way my final days were handled that that would never happen, my hope is that he loses my number.

'I didn't like him anyway'  Any boss that admits that teachers are upset when a newspaper edits a story and jumbles up the facts, isn't worth liking in the first place.  In January I submitted an article to the newspaper about a few of our teachers who were either nominated or recognized with an award.  The newspaper printed the story with major errors after an attempt to edit it.  The teacher who was nominated appeared to have won, while the winning teacher was simply nominated.  When I arrived at work, the Skipper admitted to me in a less than gentle way that the teachers were upset.  Of course if he had bothered to read the article that I shared with him prior to sending it off to the paper, he would have been able to diffuse the situation by assuring the teachers that it was not my mistake, but the paper's. 

'Best thing that could have ever happened to you'  I've been wishing for more time to write.  I hope to focus more on my blog now that I have a few extra days to dedicate to it . . . if my kids can stop getting sick all of the time.  Wink, wink, nudge.  

'You can do better'  I do believe that given the right set of circumstances a lucky employee would be fortunate to have me.  At this point I will wait for that employer to come along, but I refuse to pound the pavement in search of the perfect boss.  Fingers crossed that the blog builds to a regular gig, because I have sworn off newly-created-positions.

After my recent 'break up' experience, I found breaking up not so hard to do!

May 29, 2015

Celiac Disease, Life Adjustments, and Baby Bird Offerings

A few months ago I landed in the emergency room as a result of some reflux or gurd issues.  Unpleasant.  The doctor suggested that I schedule an endoscopy in order to investigate.  We suspected that the procedure would show that I had a condition that my brother has called EOE.  No big deal.  Prilosec a day.  Problem solved.  I was still groggy when the doctor sat on the edge of my bed and explained that he discovered that I had celiac disease. Everything felt fuzzy.  Could I have misunderstood?  After he left, I flipped through the paperwork he provided with my floppy, sleepy hands.  I squinted and tried to focus.  Turns out I was in no condition to grasp the impact of the disease let alone disprove the doctor's findings. 

I knew that celic meant no gluten.  Silly ass celiac.  It's only been a week since my diagnosis, but I have learned so much.  Most importantly . . .  I've discovered that I love gluten.  I feel like having t-shirts made.  'Nothing beats wheat!' 'Eat wheat - I would if I could!'  Also, gluten, as fate would have it, is in everything.  Or at least anything that matters.  Cake, cookies, bread, cereal.  Food for sweetening life, celebrating special occasions, or sharing with friends.  Food with taste. 

Lifestyle adjustments include refraining from popping a bite of dinner into my mouth as I prepare forbidden plates of pasta for the kids.  A true challenge when serving dinner hungry.  I anticipate other inconveniences as my new eating habits take shape.  Oodles of time dedicated to visiting specialized grocery stores is hard to fathom when spare minutes are tough to come by in our busy life.  Our dinner hour typically involves lots of running in different directions, so I can't imagine how I will prepare main stream meals for the family while I dream up restricted variations from my personal gluten free menu. 

Life has been too busy to update my routine to incorporate these changes this week.  As a result I've been dealing with hunger.  Regularly.  Being hungry alters my typically delightful disposition.  Apparently depression, mood swings, and anxiety are a few of the symptoms of celiac disease.  I admit to being in a fairly bad mood for 10 years, but I always attributed my ill temper to being an outnumbered mother whose husband works long hours.  Ironically, my grumpy state is expected to improve now that gluten has been removed from my diet.  I have my doubts.  It seems more likely that my mood will plummet along with my blood sugar.  Seriously, deny me of dessert and expect my mood to improve?  I've heard that there are alternatives and delicious bakeries dedicated solely to the gluten free dessert market.  The samples I've encountered thus far have reminded me of the plastic foods restaurants use to imitate the real thing on their dessert cart displays. Thankfully, I can still handle dairy, so I've coped with dry GF cake by burying it in ice cream (not a cookies and cream variety, of course).

Unfortunately, I am not blessed with will power when it comes to yummy food.  Munching between meals and snacking on cookies or cereal from time to time ultimately led to my dedication to working out.  I love eating.  I don't love working out, but I ramped up my exercise routine a few years ago so that I could enjoy all food freely.  PCD (pre-celiac-disease) I poured myself a bowl of my favorite cereal whenever I needed a healthy snack between meals or after dinner.  I found crunching a tasty bowl of Quaker Oat Squares limited my temptation to finish off a half eaten package of cookies. Because my quick go-to replacement for Oat Squares has yet to be discovered, when hunger hits I can frequently be found wandering the kitchen aimlessly.  I try to avoid eye contact with my treasured Oat Squares box.  Knowing my addiction to my favorite cereal, Fozzy offered me these unique yet comforting words, 'Don't worry Friend, if you are on your death bed I will baby bird you.'  I knew instantly what she meant.  And to think, I worried my sense of humor had died along with my gluten eating days?  Fozzy has basically vowed to regurgitate Oat Squares for me if I am unable to chew my own food.  So if someday my gluten free condition is secondary to a different issue that threatens my life, Fozzy has assured me that she will rush in and provide me with a final taste of my delicious Oat Squares.  Another t-shirt popped to mind.  An image of two birds.  'My friend would baby bird me, would yours?'

Gluten free food products are much more common now than they were years ago.  My friend, who was diagnosed with celiac disease 20 years ago, assures me things are easier now than they were back in the day.  Recently there have been new products developed and entire grocery stores dedicated to gluten free diets.  While I am grateful for the introduction of new gluten free food options, I assume the increase in gluten free is directly related to the increase in people choosing to avoid wheat, barley, and rye. There are multitudes of people who now choose to eat gluten free.  Key word here:  choose.  I don't get it.  When I hear people remark that they choose to eat gluten free because it makes them feel better, I inform them that eating an entire fluffy, beautifully frosted sheet cake would make me feel better.  But without a medical diagnosis, I wouldn't choose to limit my diet to gluten free food.  I would choose to eat.  Anything. 

May 24, 2015

Craving Consistency

There are commercials about parents who make ridiculous choices for their first born baby until baby number two arrives.  Enter baby #2 and the parent picks up the pacifier off the ground licks the dirt off of it and sticks it back into baby #2's mouth.  The viewer can only assume that the parent is proving her allegiance to the ten second rule.  Selling diapers is the point of the ad.  They target parents who make pricey choices until they wise up and decide to purchase diapers that function great at a fraction of the cost for their growing (and seemingly germ resistant) family.

Consistency.  I crave it.  As a middle child, I dealt with fewer photos in the family album, a first born son younger sibling who walked on water, hand me downs that begged to be worn by a short person vs. storky me, and a constant attempt to fit in.  While it's good to have goals, I can definitely see a shift in my parenting style over the years.  I fear inconsistency seeping in where I least expect it.

1.  My patience is shot.  Laddie rarely, if ever, saw me blow a gasket back in the day.  Curly on the other hand predicts when I'm about to lose it, and like any good storm tracker she attempts to put some distance between us when things get dicey.

While peace and order may prove difficult to achieve in any big family, add two teenagers to the already chaotic mix and wait for it . . .  before long you will observe fireworks as the new norm.  As if the deplorable living conditions that exist in the teenage bedroom weren't sufficient to make a parent nuts, their interest in needling the younger siblings and mouthing off to whatever parent is within ear shot is mind boggling.  Keeping busy with sports, school, and sibling harassment equates to little time to pull their weight with household chores.  As the busiest person in the family, who constantly cleans up after the slobs we are raising, the teens' refusal to act as contributing members of the family in terms of putting ANYTHING away or wiping down ANY SURFACE leaves me in a ticked off state a good deal of the time.  Believe it or not I am not a neat freak who requires Good Housekeeping standards 24/7.  I have a high tolerance for chaos and clutter (I feel this is a prerequisite to having 6 plus kids), but I have my limits. 

2.  I never imagined I would swear like a sailor within ear shot of my children.  Well, shit happens.  I suppose #1 and #2 go hand in hand.  The more I take on, the more the kids are involved in, the more hours Coach works in the evening, the less the kids listen to me, and the more moving parts to my very hectic schedule, the greater chance I'm going to cuss loud enough for the gang to stare wide eyed at me.  They have adjusted to it and now they barley flinch but tend to scold me.

I recall a few four-letter words leaking out under my breath back when I was constructing an awesome Halloween costume for Laddie back in 2003.  The morning after Halloween, Coach woke up with the kids while I caught up on sleep lost during the creative process.  When I finally staggered downstairs, Coach informed me that 5 year old Laddie had instructed him earlier that morning to 'put on the damn TV.'  I pointed out to Coach that perhaps there was a really great cartoon on that Lad didn't want to miss.

My foul language has progressed into a tactic I utilize to get the children's attention.  Not listening the first time?  Ignoring me?  Enter a little "*@&%!*@&!" and suddenly I have their undivided, disturbed attention. Because of this development, I could hardly punish Curly recently for an incident that occurred when I wasn't home.  Coach and I were running kids in a few different directions, and we were gone for a little over an hour.  Laddie was home napping in his cave of a room surrounded by piles of clean laundry after a weekend sporting event out of state.  When I raced out the door, Curly and Tetonka were watching a rated G movie on TV.  Since most channels are kept on parental lock, having the TV on is a novelty in our house.  I expected the two kids to remain poised in front of the television most of the time we were gone.  Apparently Tetonka helped himself to an individually wrapped Hostess item that is restricted to packing lunch boxes for school.  He thwarted Curly's attempt to call me to tattle on him.  (I do ask the kids to stay away from prepackaged food items that are easy to throw in lunches, but I hardly have the time and energy to police such regulations.  Curly still follows rules to a tee, and has yet to accept the 'freedom to eat anything not nailed down' act that has secretly been passed by the older gang in our house).

Curly did eventually phone me while hiding in her room.  When I answered her call, I feared the worst.  She was hysterical.  She admitted to calling Tetonka a name, and he promptly banished her to her room.  She feared major repercussions when I got home.  I assured her we would straighten it out when I arrived home in a few minutes.  At home, she leaned her red, blotchy face towards my ear and whispered the name she had called her food-focused, rule-breaking brother.  'ASS'  This pot was not about to call my little, curly kettle black, especially when she was clearly hard enough on herself.  I reminded her that she really isn't supposed to use bad words, but I also pointed out that it sounded to me like Tetonka was acting like an ass.  I guess in a way I was congratulating her for proper bad word usage.  How does that saying go?  If the shoe fits . . .  

3.  Traveling with tots and meeting guidelines.  We weren't allowed to leave the hospital with any of the babies until our car seat met the nurse's inspection.  The straps needed to be so tight that I worried that the little bugger wouldn't be able to breathe.  It never occurred to me that these newborns were accustomed to tight places after being cooped up in my gut when they were bursting at the seems.  Tetonka was my largest delivery.  He weighed in at 10 lbs 3 oz.

Coach and I used the locking clips on the seat belt straps to ensure that the straps didn't move in case of an accident.  Our babies were always rear facing.  We used caution when switching to other cars, always being sure the kids seats were properly installed.  I remember how uneasy it made me when my sister in law explained that her infant screamed in the car until they switched his seat around.  She opted to drive with him front facing when he was a tiny infant.  Red flags everywhere.  Booster seats were introduced when Laddie was ready to graduate from a car seat.  We moved that booster back and forth from grandparents' cars to our car and lugged it on airplanes.  No one would accuse us off not following the rules.

I don't know when I stopped attending to who was in what seat, and what the law called for.  I believe our lackadaisical attitude began around the purchase of the great white (our retired, 12-seat airport shuttle).  Reggie began riding in a booster around that time, and a few short years later Curly graduated from her 5 point harness car seat to a booster as well.  The boosters were available, but the way the doors of the car were structured, I no longer climbed back to see who was sitting where.  We dusted off the 5 point harness seats for long drives to Yellowstone and the like, but otherwise the three kid rows of seats became an unbridled free-for-all.  Kids frequently flopped over seats and switched rows at stoplights.

One day my friend Miranda offered to take a few of my kids to the park.  My youngest four ran from the house towards her car full of excitement for an adventure with friends.  They were only going a few blocks but you would have thought that they had been released from a life sentence of brussel sprouts and sorting laundry.  When they returned, Miranda, who owns and operates a day care in the city and is accustomed to meeting codes, shared a conversation she had with Reggie.  Reggie had shrugged off her attempt to buckle him into a booster.  He assured her that this was not necessary as he rode around in his mom's car without a booster seat the majority of the time.  Miranda relayed the story to me thru her chuckles.  I knew she was simultaneously calculating my numerous moving violations.  I admitted that Reg was right.  I no longer had any idea who was riding on a booster and who wasn't.  I described the countless times I saw feet kicking as little bodies launched themselves over seats to relocate to a more desirable location while I sat at a stop light.

4.  I still remember the first time I left young kids unsupervised in my home.  I drove Eddie to baseball practice about 4 blocks from home while the other kids sat at the kitchen table.  Laddie was about nine years old.  Practice interfered with dinner, Coach worked late, and I couldn't fathom loading kids into the car while their warm food cooled.  Although my heart raced the entire 5 minutes I was gone, no harm was done.  No one choked on dinner.  No authorities were called.  I still refused to make a habit of darting out for even a few minutes. 

Coach and I have moved into the relaxed lifestyle where lining up a babysitter is no longer paramount to a night out.  Our safety net of built in babysitters has backfired occasionally.  As Laddie and Eddie become busier with sports, school, and friends, we have found ourselves fumbling without coverage when our teenager makes plans on a night when we won't be home.  We handle the situation by quickly agreeing that the next youngest kid can handle the duty of being in charge.  Thoughts like 'we won't be far', 'it's almost bedtime', 'we can just throw on a movie', and 'things might run smoother without the older kids around anyway', typically carry us through these last minute predicaments. 

Last summer, Coach and I drove to the north side to drop Curly at an Irish dancing class.  We made dinner reservations near the dance studio to celebrate our anniversary.  This seemed to make the most sense for the dance class pick up.  Mini's broken toe meant she couldn't dance, and she was attending a birthday party sleep over.  Laddie was out with friends.  Eddie would be home from soccer practice shortly, so we left Tetonka and Reggie home alone for what we thought would be a few minutes.  It wasn't until we were almost to the north side when I remembered that Eddie would be going directly from soccer to a summer festival with friends.  I called Tetonka to alert him that his position had been upgraded to first in command of he and Reggie.  He served the two of them dinner from the crock pot and popped in multiple movies until Reggie's bedtime.  We wouldn't be home soon, and we weren't just down the street.  Fortunately, the night went off without a hitch thanks to cell phones and our new willingness to leave our kids home without enough adult supervision.

5.  Being called out.   There is no denying it.  Laddie and Curly are experiencing different childhoods despite my best efforts to be consistent.  Laddie enjoyed a regular, rotating play date schedule as a tyke.  His friend's mom would often stay and chat with me while we kept our babies entertained.  Curly's play dates were significantly less frequent and typically hinged on whether or not her siblings' friends had younger siblings her age.  She has spent much of her early years at older siblings' sporting events, Irish dancing competitions, or in a car (either buckled in a car seat or rolling around in the big van).  Her siblings are either picking on her or smothering her with an abundance of affection.  Laddie was never picked on at home.  He was the king of the castle and our world revolved around him for years.

Laddie took the bus from our first house to his Catholic school.  He was dropped off at our door.  I waited outside for the bus for the first few days of school when the weather cooperated.  After that, he let himself in the unlocked front door where he was immediately hushed because of napping babies.  Eventually the bus stop moved up the street, through a vacant lot, and into the neighborhood behind us.  Laddie and Eddie were in 4th and 1st grades.  They walked to and from the bus together.  Our first house was surrounded by original owners.  All elderly.  There were no other kids walking to the bus.  If the boys didn't walk back to my house several minutes after they left in the morning, then I gathered that they had been picked up on time. 

In our current house, the junior high is three blocks away.  The older kids walk to school weather and schedule permitting.  The younger kids attend school in a building about six minutes away.  The first few years after we switched from Catholic school to public school, we drove to the little kid building because the bus service was so expensive in this district.  This year I decided to sign Reggie and Curly up for the bus.  Mini had moved on to the walkable school, so the bus cost would be a bit more manageable.  I now can't imagine life without the bus.  Reg and Curly cross the culdesac to the next driveway from ours to catch the bus.  Sleepyhead Curly often runs to the stop still wiping the sleep from her eyes and the last bits of toothpaste from her lips. 

I stood outside on the neighbor's driveway for the first week of school.  I waved as they got on the bus in the morning with their fresh school supplies, and I waited for the bus to drop them off after school.  We chatted about their day for the one minute walk to our driveway.  Eventually I reverted back to my old-school ways.  In the morning when they race out the door for the bus, I am busy packing lunches, cleaning up the kitchen, and hustling teens out of the shower.  After school I am either inside the house folding laundry, starting dinner, or unloading groceries, and happily greet them as they walk in the door.  These two know the code to the garage door and at times they let themselves in if they beat me home from the store or my part time job.

Our current house is not in an elderly-only zone.  There are two or three moms and dads who are bus stop junkies.  They wait with their kids at the stop in the morning, and they congregate there after school until the bus pulls up.  These kids are old enough and close enough to the stop to not have an issue getting home unaccompanied.  Curly has recently called me out on the fact that I am never at the bus stop waiting for her after school.  Reggie agreed that my bus stop strike was a poor showing.  It's hard to explain to them that these other parents have families half the size of ours.  In addition, they probably employ cleaning ladies.  Their abundant time and my lack thereof are inconsequential to my 3rd and 1st graders.  While not hanging out at the bus stop is actually consistent with the way Laddie grew up, these over-achiever parents are making me look like an uninterested mom who just quit parenting the last few of my brood.

Despite my abandon-the-bus-stop or die trying mindset, my guilt over other inconsistencies from Laddie down to Curly will probably force me to make an extra effort to greet the kids at the stop after school. 

May 17, 2015

Finding Work

It's hard to know what to do now.  I chose a career path while in college.  What did I know then?  Although I initially thought I would become a teacher, I was steered away from that sensible path by my mentor.  My mentor, a woman who had a bunch of kids, was someone I babysat for very regularly.  In fact, it almost makes sense that her guidance steered me in my college studies since she probably paid for the majority of it.  Her advise was not to become a teacher because it would prove too difficult to meet a future mate.  I listened, and went with business.  My dad strongly urged me to go into nursing.  I reminded him on more than one occasion (yes, he is persistent) that I pass out from the sight of blood - certainly an occupational hazard if I was going to pass out each time a patient needed a procedure.  I ended up concentrating on marketing.  While some people can turn a marketing degree into a fine career, I ended up working in several newly created positions without much of a career path.  My jobs typically focused on a customer service theme.  I banked, I interviewed folks to sell life insurance, and I acted as a liaison between the manufacturing and art departments and the customer at a baseball hat manufacturer.  Eventually, I abandoned the corporate world and the grunt work that I performed so well.  Coach and I were newly weds and he was a full time student.  I ditched my long commute and miniscule pay to be employed as a nanny before my first baby arrived.  After Laddie's arrival, I took 14 years off.  And when I say 'off', I really mean 'ON'.  

If a future employer was introduced to me as a woman whose prior employer had been impressed that I was willing to work while sleep deprived, went above and beyond the call, never took a personal day, refused to take 'no' as an answer, planned ahead, never asked for a pay increase, and tackled projects head on, how could I not be hired?  It wasn't until I dedicated years to beginning (a job no where near complete!) to raise my six children that I realized just how I excelled at problem solving while being quick on my feet.  Add to that my ability to be hard working, innovative, organized, creative, resourceful, and loud.  Unfortunately, no resume can relate just how all of those essential traits assisted me during my years at home with the kids.  Staying home with my brood was more like 'real' work than anything I had ever done before.  Could I really impress a future boss with my refusal to rest until all dirty dishes found a spot in the dishwasher?  Knowing where all dirty or clean items of clothing hide out in the home so that I can locate them in a moment's notice must count for something, right?  Scheduling, tracking, and juggling all activities and events for all eight family members is a skill not even the most organized individual can master. 

So 14 years after Laddie was born, I dove back into the work force . . . in none other than a newly created position.  Almost three years ago, my resume (overflowing with many school related volunteer tasks) landed me a part time marketing and advancement job at a private school 20 miles from home.  Additionally, I substitute teach in a school district close to my house.  I wish that I had a teaching certificate . . . of course.  How could I have known at age 18 that my instincts were dead on?  Such an impressionable age.  At this point, as Coach and I prepare to send our oldest to college next year, spending additional funds to return to the classroom to earn another degree is unrealistic.  Not to mention, teaching jobs are tough to come by.  Three years, two principals, and a long commute have led me to reflect on other 'work from home' possibilities I considered over the years.  If one of these ideas doesn't pan out, then I might be tempted to pad my resume with some of those impressive, real-life skills learned during my on the job training-for-anything as a mother of six.

Over the years, I've attempted to parlay one of my 'hidden' talents (and I'm not referring to cramming additional plates into the dishwasher) into a stay at home career.  So far my dream to act as an entrepreneur and solve some of our cash flow issues hasn't taken flight.  Not for lack of trying.  For a few years, I created custom cards for birth announcements, showers, change of address, etc.  While I managed to connect with a few customers, the sudden ease of ordering custom cards online interfered with the longevity of my little business. 

I offered baked goods for sale a few years back.  I printed out business cards for 'Ernie's Dough' and handed them out at my kids' sporting events with delicious sample cookies.  The occasional order was not sufficient to consider it a viable business.  In order to really sell homemade treats, I would need access to a commercial kitchen and I would need to invest in a pricey insurance policy.  Besides, I wasn't confident that my baked goods would maintain the fresh taste I produced if my eventual (and guaranteed!) success included shipping out of state.

My artistic abilities remain an untrained skill that I would love to incorporate into a lucrative profession, but I'm not sure how to utilize art into a 'work-from-home' business.  At our first house, I drew stencils of nursery rhyme scenes and created stencils from my sketches.  When I was expecting Eddie, I used the stencils to decorate the border of the baby's room with colorful images of childhood classics like 'Humpty Dumpty'.  The result was awesome!  Despite sleep deprivation and piles of laundry, I spent hours sketching my newborn's face a few weeks or a few months after delivery.  These penciled portraits added a unique touch to the front of each baptismal invitation that I sent out.  In all honesty, I don't know that my limited artistic ability would measure up to that of a trained artist with a wider range of skills.  For example, if I was hired to stencil a baby room, I doubt the potential customer would be comfortable with me living in their home for months just to complete the project. 

Writing.  Perhaps it is my Irish heritage that aids me in crafting a good story.  As a middle child, I believe that relating funny anecdotes earned me the attention that I so desired as a kid.  Between my 'story-for-everything' mentality and my sense of humor, I believe that writing is the talent I need to cultivate - thus my blog!  If nothing else it will act as a release for my pent up frustrations from parenting, family, and life in general.  When an unreal moment morphs into a hilarious account in my written version, I find balance, satisfaction, and accomplishment.  (Of course if I had thought to record and publish some of my outrageous stories from my babysitting days, then my version of the 'Nanny Diaries' would have been made into a movie and life would be void of frustrations, career fulfillment issues, and cash flow problems, right?).  Now, if I can just figure out how to make an income from my blog.

May 3, 2015

Smelly Bunny Lady

I have allergies.  The kids know this.  Individuals who suggest hypoallergenic pets in the presence of my animal loving brood receive the hairy eye ball look from me.  The kids still talk about what pets they would prefer, if their lives were perfect and they had a different mother.  It's good to have dreams.

A few days ago, Mini piped up with her wish to have a bunny as a pet.  When I reminded her of the foul smell, she admitted that she wouldn't be able to tolerate the odor.  She still thinks bunnies are cute.  Fair enough. 

We encountered evidence of the rancid smell that accompanies housing bunnies a few years ago.  I decided to save money and prove a point all at once by making Mini a new Irish dancing dress.  Our dancing teachers at the time suggested that we invest in one of the used dresses that they had available.  Mini tried on a few.  The cost was staggering.  Just a year before I had purchased a used dress for Mini at a competition.  The teachers were furious, because they had shown me dresses that they felt suited my dancer.  While Mini may have been happy with one of their selections, my bank account would have struggled to recover.  I felt these dresses were grossly overpriced, and I realized that I had very little hope of getting much resale money out of them when Mini outgrew them.  They threatened to refuse to let Mini dance because I purchased a dress without their approval.  I was shocked.  None of this controlled dress sales was detailed in writing anywhere. 

A year later, the rules changed in our region for dancing dresses.  No more bling for girls under 10 years old.  Translation:  Mini needed another new dress.  She couldn't wear the used dress that I bought for her because the dress was decorated with bling.   Of course the dancing teachers (who I now recognized expected dancers to purchase dresses from their jacked-up-price-supply-closet) informed me that I couldn't make a dress.  That was all the fuel I needed to feed my fire.  I made my own pattern, shopped for fabric, and chose Celtic designs for the embroidery.  Without an embroidery machine, I realized I would have to hire someone to do the embroidery portion for me.  I searched on line for an embroidery shop near my house.  I discovered a woman named Laura in my town who embroidered for people out of her home.  She agreed to meet with me to review the project.

I stopped by her house on my way home from Irish dancing practice.  I carried a laundry basket with various fabrics, dress sketches, and Celtic design print outs.  While we waited for her to answer the door, I reminded the four youngest kids that I needed to talk to this woman and I expected their best behavior.  I apologized to Laura for bringing the kids along, but she waved us in with a big smile.  She told us to follow her and then she remarked that the kids could check out the bunnies while we talked.

We barely made it a few steps before it felt like we hit a wall.  When I say 'hit', I mean it felt like a serious slap in the face.  It was offensive.  The kids were ahead of me.  My hands were supporting the laundry basket.  As they spun around and looked at me with pinched expressions and wrinkled up faces, I was helpless.  I couldn't motion to them with my hands not to mention the inescapable odor and Laura was within ear shot.  Curly was about 3.  She held her nose and moaned loudly.  She called over the laundry basket to me, 'What's that smell?'  I hoped that Laura's hearing was failing her.  It was obvious that her olfactory senses were no longer functioning.  Who could live this way?

Laura opened a baby safety gate and led us into the downstairs of her split level home.  Bunnies darted beneath the furniture as we approached.  The kids squealed with delight.  Laura's workshop was just beyond the laundry room that housed several enormous cages.  Straw littered the laundry room floor that was separated from the rest of the lower level with another baby gate.  The kids giggled and delighted in touching these unique pets while I explained to Laura what I needed done for the dress.  I tried to maintain my composure.  I struggled not to hold my breath, gag, or display any facial twitching.  In the end, Laura agreed to work on the embroidery for a fraction of what I was willing to spend.  My promise that they could return someday to see the rabbits again was key in easing the gang towards the door and away from the six rabbits.  Six of them.  These people live with six, free-range, enormous rabbits.  I suspected a hidden camera.  Who was playing such an elaborate joke on me? 

Tetonka asked a zillion questions in the front hall.  I sensed fresh air on the other side of the front door.  Oxygen.  If a skunk had sprayed my car while we were inside, it would have been a welcome fragrance.  I begged Tetonka to save a few questions for our next visit.  At last the crisp night air embraced us as we moved away from the house.  We dissolved into fits of laughter once we were backing out of the driveway.  On the ride home, the kids babbled endlessly about the six rabbits.  Of course this excitement ensued only after we all expressed our utter shock that the woman and her husband were able to live that way.  "Do you think they know that it smells that bad?" Mini asked.  I can't imagine how this couple could invite other people into their home without first apologizing for the mind boggling stench.  Even if they are accustomed to the odor, do they not notice it as they reenter the space after spending some time in non-bunny infested air? 

I dragged Eddie and Laddie back with me when I returned to pick up the swatches of fabric that Laura was working on.  They couldn't be denied the experience.  I was grateful that in the end Laura and I had decided it would be best for her to create patches that I could then attach to the dress.  Otherwise how would I have removed the bunny smell from the dress if it spent any time in the house?  The kids frequently ask, 'Where are we going now?' when they jump in the car after soccer games and dancing practice and I don't head towards home.  It became easiest to explain my next errand by simply stating: 'I have to stop at the smelly-bunny-lady-house.'  Enough said. 

The following summer, I purchased several new beach towels.  Since the Shenanigan kids habitually lose beach towels, I brought the stack over to the smell bunny lady and asked her to embroider our last name on the towels.  To my breathing satisfaction, I learned that she had a drop off/pick up bin on her front porch.  I didn't need to enter the bunny zoo.  I washed the smelly towels before we brought them to the pool.  Obviously.