November 30, 2015

appliance graveyard

The clock on our current microwave stopped displaying the digital time over a week before it finally zapped it's last plate.  Initially I thought the kids messed with the panel and accidentally erased the time.  I reprogrammed it.  More than once.  Speaking of time, is there a worse time to lose a microwave/convection than just before hosting 27 for Thanksgiving?  Despite my background with appliances that sputter out just as the one year warranty expires, I still didn't suspect that the hub of energy in our kitchen was going to bid us farewell last week. Certainly not days before I prepared to utilize it for my food preparations.  I'm either dumb, or too trusting.  Never trust an appliance.  Lesson learned.  If I agree that I've finally learned this lesson, am I still dumb?  (That's a rhetorical question).

This top of the line micro we'll call 'Lemon' was added to our kitchen about four short years ago.  Replacing the original built in, above-the-oven microwave was a no brainer.  (Well, our house was built in 1985, so it wasn't the true original, just the appliance that came with the house 7 years ago - so original to us).  After living in the house for less than a year the handle of 'Original' microwave melted.  The home warranty company wasted my time by coming out to explain to me that they wouldn't be replacing the unit because it was installed improperly.  They claimed there was insufficient space between the cabinet the micro was screwed into and the oven.  I would have preferred that they inform me over the phone that there was very little chance that they would fix anything.  Warranty or not.  I assume that this 'improperly installed' loophole was built into their contract, so that they wouldn't actually be expected to make a repair.  For the next 18 months we dealt with 'Original's' misshapen, melted handle.  Eventually the entire handle fell off creating a handle-less, sleek look.  We felt very cutting edge.  Maybe that was just because for the next few years we kept a butter knife positioned on the edge of the counter top.  Every sitter and guest who arrived at our house encountered a brief tutorial on how to utilize the knife to pop open the door of our microwave.  Grabbing the knife prior to heating anything up became second nature, and when 'Original' was eventually replaced I continued to reach for the butter knife out of habit.

Old habits die hard, and 'Original' died ugly.  Handle-less.  Eventually even our 'ole familiar, oh-looks-like-you-forgot-to-put-some-of-your-cutlery-away knife failed to connect with the hidden release buried inside 'Original's' door.  The door opening process was beginning to take so long that the food was room temperature by the time we freed it from the 'hot' box.  When we had finally accepted that probing around inside the door with the butter knife would no longer produce the desired 'open sesame' effect, we discussed our options.  It took some convincing to get Coach to agree to upgrade to a unit that also functioned as a convection oven.  Cooking a dish in the oven while the microwave cooked a side dish promised endless culinary options.  In the end, I think it was his taste buds that caused him to cave.  So Coach and I set out on a date night slash microwave shopping expedition.  On our way to a local Italian place, we selected a GE Profile micro/convection, now referred to un-affectionately as 'Lemon'.

Initially, I was thrilled with our purchase.  It was costly, but I could produce twice as many cookies utilizing the convection function alongside my regular oven.  Main dishes no longer cooled on the stove top wrapped in an unsightly beach towel to conserve heat while waiting for a side dish to cook.  My luck ran out on 'Lemon' in less than a year, which seems to be the average time I can get an appliance to function properly.  (Have you read about my dishwasher disaster?  Ugh, it pains me to think about it).  We spent the next few years repairing it regularly.  At one point a small army of repairman arrived and after a few trips to Home Depot for small parts and additional specialized screws, they rebuilt my newer appliance in my own kitchen.  Somehow I felt like 'Lemon' should have been priced to sell, labeled as a handy-man's special, or donated to science.  The manufacturer would not agree that we had been stuck with a lemon.  The company did agree to give us an extended one year warranty after 'Lemon' was rebuilt.  Exactly a year after the date that the extended warranty expired, 'Lemon' faded.  At first it was the failing clock.  Then I had to really jiggle the handle in order to get it to start cooking.  Finally the power only buzzed when the door was open.  Not many heating type tasks could be performed with the door open.  Once it was closed, the power fizzed out.  No amount of sweet talking or loud cussing would jolt 'Lemon' into function mode.  It was over.

The repairman I have on speed dial encouraged me over the phone to move on.  I wasted no time shopping on line and visiting a few local stores before I selected a new model.  While we waited for the delivery date, the leftovers piled up in the fridge and I prepared my morning oatmeal on the stove top.  The delivery guys arrived and measured from the bottom of the cabinet to the top of the counter and shook their heads.  Apparently the warranty would be void if they installed this appliance in a space less than 30 inches.  Our space measured 29 3/4 inches.  Seriously?  The guy insisted that this quarter inch could have caused 'Lemon' to break down consistently.

Over the past two and a half weeks I've polled a variety of handy men, builders, and appliance gurus with no solutions.  We've become very creative in how we heat up our leftovers.  Crockpots working as hotplates.  Tinfoil packets crowded into the oven for over an hour.  In a pinch, food placed under the broiler heats up with an added crusty texture.  Finally last night our plumber devised a plan that will raise the bottom of the cabinet enough to please the appliance gods.  On Saturday he will return to perform surgery on our cabinet.

In the meantime, the repairman for the new Bosch dishwasher that joined the family in mid May returned for his third visit.  I purchased the Bosch to replace 'Dirty' our Christmas gift dishwasher from my folks a few years ago that only cleaned dishes for a few short months at a time before calling it quits and demanding countless repair jobs.  The Bosch has required a new heating element and electrical board . . . since May.  Still not guaranteed to complete an entire cycle, I called the Sears guy back to see what the issue could be.  After tinkering with it for some time, he called the home office.  The door latch had been recalled.  So relieved to have an answer, because I was starting to feel crazy . . . crazier.  I wondered aloud to Coach if perhaps a new kitchen might lift the appliance graveyard curse we can't break out of.  Fingers crossed.

November 27, 2015

Officer Friendly

I'm a slow reader, a quick study, and a late bloomer.  These labels don't cause me a fraction of the trouble that my tendency to drive above the speed limit does.  Over the years, I've been nabbed for speeding now and then.  As a college student I applied for supervision knowing my upcoming study abroad plans left little chance that I would be detected by domestic radar.  Bullet dodged.  A few years back with a car packed with kids, I managed to sob my way out of tickets left and right.  I assume that driving a car brimming with sweet, staring faces helped my cause.  After sharing with Officer Friendly how one unruly kid's behavior had disrupted my ability to transport the clan to an activity, he typically took pity on me.  In about 12 months time, I was pulled over 6 times.  Eventually, yellow warning pages littered the floor of the car. 

One morning an 8th grade Laddie requested that I drive him to school early for a review session.  Recognizing that I could not clone myself and knowing that adding an additional driving route to our morning was recipe for disaster, I created a rule to protect my sanity for this newly occurring situation.  Any kid who needed an abnormal a.m. departure time must assist me in some way with the morning routine before getting in the car.  After packing some lunches, I hollered to Laddie over my shoulder to help his little sisters with their breakfast while I darted off to get dressed.  After all, how could I spend time driving one kid to school while the remaining younger kids' morning was stalled?  An extra set of hands dedicated to prepping kids for the day proved necessary to keep some momentum going before I stepped out to haul a kid somewhere early.  Moments later the girls whined up the stairs because Lad had refused to pour milk on their cereal.  Too much to juggle and too many prior Laddie-responsibility-refusals led to the pressure of the morning erupting inside of me.  I grabbed Laddie and pinned him to the kitchen floor.  I slapped at his shoulder and screamed in his face.  Not my proudest mommy-of-the-year moment.  Knowing that his academic situation would benefit from a review session, I chose to growl at him to get in the car while I added milk to the girls' bowls.  Looking back I wish I had calmly refused to transport him.  Let him deal with his crappy grades and his teacher's wrath.  Rookie-parent of a teenager move.  Forever the early riser, Reg appeared fed, dressed, and ready for the day.  I corralled him to the car in order to remove one of the 'moving parts' from the home-alone scenario. 

I expressed myself loudly for the first few miles of our trek to school.  Then I noticed the lights.  How long had they been there?  Being pulled over driving the great white, I struggled to find an adequate spot on the shoulder for my big rig.  I shared a few more choice words with Laddie before the officer approached.  When the cop questioned my speed, I broke down.  I explained how my teenager in the back seat had interfered with the morning's progress.  I briefly described my 'flying solo' morning, my big brood, and Laddie's nonsense. By refusing to encourage a stay-on-task-breakfast, he had derailed the morning.  I even pointed out that I left four kids under 11 at home under-supervised to drive Laddie to a review session.  These kids were now in jeopardy of arriving tardy to school.  Wouldn't be the first time.

Not only did I skate out of a possible ticket, but the officer took up my cause and drove home the point with Laddie.  He leaned close to my open window and pointed at Lad in the back seat.  'Is this the teenager?' he asked.  Then he began to bellow his disapproval.  He demanded that this 8th grader clean up his act and help out his busy mother.  He hesitated to ask me if Laddie was able to hear him.  Recognizing that my left ear drum was suffering from his booming volume, I assured him that his message was being heard.  Laddie continued to stare straight ahead and appear frozen.  Eventually the cop explained to us that he didn't want to hear that these issues were continuing.  He instructed me to have a good day and strolled back to his vehicle.  Perched on the bench seat next to Laddie, 5 yr. old Reggie's mouth hung open and his eyes bulged.  Laddie muttered that he should have told the officer about the child-abuse-like beating he had received that morning.  That was the most fulfilling pull-over I've ever encountered.

Unfortunately in addition to being a slow reader, a quick study, and a late bloomer, I'm also apparently a slow learner.  My warnings have since evolved into citations.  Laddie's willingness to pitch in at home issues have persisted, so I suppose he takes after his mother in the slow learning department. 

November 10, 2015

counting to six

Each time we added another baby to the family there was an adjustment period.  Someone needed more attention.  Laundry piled higher than I ever thought possible.  Logistics of herding little people in the grocery store or other solo parent trips where I was grossly outnumbered proved dodgy the first few times around.  I even wondered about the school's expectations of my homework involvement.  I hoped my lack of time checking their work wouldn't impair my kids academic success long term.

After Curly arrived there was a new skill I needed to focus on.  It seems silly, but at the time I remember chuckling to myself . . . counting to six was a challenge.  Accounting for six little heads was somehow a huge leap from five.  The targets were always moving.  I often held two in my arms, not just one.  It was easy to forget to assign numbers to the small bodies I held in my grasp.  The first time I realized how different it was to keep tabs on all six was when we were at a children's museum just after Christmas 2007.  I believe I ventured there with the crew by myself.  Not sure what prompted that little bit of insanity.  Perhaps our membership was about to expire.  Curly was born December 19th, so maybe we just had cabin fever.  Being at a children's museum with so many other small fries and tying to track those that belonged to me was maddening.

That eye opening trip occurred almost eight years ago.  I've adjusted to the fact that there are now 6 bodies that belong in my field of vision, or at the very least registered in my mental radar.  Nowadays our gang attends birthday parties, friends' houses, high school sports, jobs, band practices, and Irish dancing classes to name a few.  I typically have a pretty good handle on where everyone is supposed to be.

A few weeks ago, I planned to head downtown for the afternoon.  A college friend was coming in town for a destination bachelorette party and I was meeting part of the group for lunch.  At this point, I think it goes without saying that I don't get out much.  I intended to work my butt off in two back to back exercise classes, shower at home, choose something hip to wear, and drive downtown.  I woke up and decided to investigate hopping on the train.  This option would allow me unlimited wine consumption (seriously I'm maxed out after two glasses, so I wasn't anticipating anything wild but always good to be able to kick back).  Before I could fully exam this new possibility, I needed to survive the morning.  Coach was already at work.  

Reggie and Curly raced off to the bus and barely made it.  This drill is accomplished with the help of a special skill my children have adapted.  They are able to run short distances with their shoes untied.  Occasionally homework is clutched to their chest, backpack is unzipped and wide open, and a coat is tucked under their arm.  At times Curly is still spitting toothpaste on the driveway.  I am trained in quick-Curly-prep.  Translation:  I can wake this child up at 7:21 and have her fed, dressed, and out the door by 7:35.  It isn't pretty, but my success rate is improving.  I enforce a no return policy, which means she isn't allowed to return up the stairs once she has descended.  Her teeth are brushed in the downstairs bathroom and her clothes are placed on her chair before I go to bed.  If there is an idle high schooler nearby, I delegate a duty or two to him.  'Throw me her shoes, shove her lunch box in her backpack.'  Of course I have extremely cooperative teens, so this is no trouble at all.  Without fail, Reggie calls over his shoulder on his jog to the bus stop that he might starve to death based on the provisions I have placed in his lunch.  Unless I have already closed the garage door, I offer my canned response, 'Then pack your own damn lunch.'  Growth spurts in 9 year old boys can be ugly.

After a bit of extremely repetitive morning combat with the high school guys, which included the standard:  'wipe that up, put the milk away, why haven't you made your lunch yet, get off your phone, you should've left already, I'll take your keys and you can take the bus tomorrow,'  I pulled up the train schedule on line in the study and placed a call to Coach's clinic.  Coach's office manager, Rebbecca, assured me it would be no big deal for her to drop me at the nearby train station after my workout.  I asked her if she thought she should check with her horrible boss.  We chuckled.

So my little downtown excursion was shaping up to be less stressful and more relaxing, which is right up my frazzled alley.   A trip downtown with no traffic, no one way streets, and no parking garage searches.  I heard Mini and her best friend, Lily, call out a good bye as I returned to the kitchen from the study.  Lily gets dropped at our house most mornings so her mom can get to work, and the girls walk to school together.  The high schoolers and the bus riders are usually gone by the time Lily arrives, but there was a morning last month when the teenagers had a scheduled late start.  Lily witnessed a brother-brawl at our kitchen table when Laddie accused Eddie of wearing his shirt.  If she was a bit groggy that morning, the unavoidable energy of our house woke her up.  I called after the girls to have a good day, and took a moment to finish my breakfast.  That's when I counted.  Two on the bus, two driving to high school, one walker to junior high.  No one went early to band.  Uh oh.  Someone was missing.

Tetanka was sound asleep.  School starts at 8:45 and it was 8:25.  Oops.  I flew up the stairs and stood on the bottom bunk so I could shake him awake in the top bunk.  It occurred to me at this point that I would need to choose a hip outfit (not always the easiest of tasks for me) and pack a bag to shower at the health club before my train.  Yikes.  I tried to get T started on breakfast.  He wouldn't agree to any of the quick options I offered.  Instead he stood rubbing his eyes and asking me what kind of mother forgets she has a kid sleeping?  I assumed it was a rhetorical question.  This mom was planning out her fun afternoon and lost focus (or at the very least lost count) of the kids.  Sue me. 

I side stepped the adult size Gumby and Pokey costumes that are housed in my master closet, gathered up an armful of wardrobe possibilities, stuffed them into two bags, selected 5 pairs of shoes, and threw my hair products into a side pocket.  I yelled down to T to get into the car and dug around for a different purse and gluten free munchies in case the lunch menu was too limiting.  Tetanka's face was a map of creases outlining his recent sleep.  I barely slowed down near his school as I begged him to jump out.  I refused to sacrifice my workout class for my last minute transportation changes, or for a 12 year old who insists on ignoring bedtime parameters.

Thankfully a friend was available in the locker room to help me select an outfit after my classes.  I chatted a bit longer than intended.  Shock.  Fearing I would miss my train, I jogged to Coach's attached office and called Rebbecca.  'Meet me in the parking lot.'  We got to the station with a few minutes to spare.  Note to self 'Tell Coach to give Rebbecca a raise.'  I did nothing on the train downtown.  Nothing.  So freeing.  The rest of the afternoon was refreshing and enjoyable.  My friend, her sister, and her sister in law.  Great conversation and lots of laughs.  Of course there was delicious wine too.  I enjoyed a few glasses.  But who was counting?  For once, not me.