I know that someday you'll find better things.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Divorce



I’m not sure anyone knows the perfect thing to say when they hear news of an impending divorce. Statistically speaking, we have more opportunities than ever to practice responding in a socially acceptable and supportive way, but it is still hard to know the best way to proceed aloud.

When I got divorced, the comment I encountered most frequently was this:

“Really? That’s such a shame. So there’s no chance of staying together? Did you really try?”

The try part was usually delivered with the same tone of suspicion reserved for young children’s restroom visits.

But I wasn’t preparing for a long car trip, and I wasn’t readying myself to step into a snowsuit, so the accusatory intonation, no matter how mild, stung.

Marriages are over long before anyone files paperwork at the county courthouse.
Marriages end, I think, before most people even feel comfortable sharing the true nature of their situation with even the closest of family and friends.

It is so SO far past the try stage.

To a degree, the path of getting divorced is perhaps more challenging than staying in a dysfunctional marriage. Choosing an attorney, dividing assets, paperwork, making new living arrangements, packing—it’s pretty overwhelming. If kids factor into the equation, multiply that responsibility by a zillion.

Staying put in a loveless marriage?
Definitely easier.
Safer.
Sadder, though.

Staying seems easier.
Staying solves nothing.

If you want to get divorced, you have to be really brave. You have to summon strength you didn’t know you had. You have to make a permanent decision. You have to grow a tough exterior—quickly—to shield your heart from the “Did you really try?” questions that you’ll undoubtedly face.

Which is why, when I learn of impending divorces of close friends, I say this:
“I am so proud of you. I am so very proud of your awareness, and your courage, and your strength.”

And if the friend has kids, the celebration continues, for that friend has chosen to model happiness and hope for love. Isn’t that what we would want for our own kids, in their future? I would never, ever want our kids to feel socially compelled to remain in a loveless marriage.

And if the person is not a close friend, I say this:
“I’m sure this has been very stressful for you, and I hope things are more peaceful for you soon.”

And if I don’t know the person at all—a celebrity, maybe, or a politician—I say nothing out loud. Their private lives deserve the same respect that mine does.

But in my head and my heart, I’m thinking
I am so proud of you. I am so very proud of your awareness, and your courage, and your strength.
I’m sure this has been very stressful for you, and I hope things are more peaceful for you soon.

Good, Better, Best



“Have a better day,” the cashier said.

I contemplated that. 
Not a good day, like so many people bid us as we move through our daily existence.
Not the best day, either. That would be presumptuous—best is somewhat sacred.

Best not to spend that top-spot billing on a Tuesday that involved a trip to the supermarket, the gas station, and the post office.

A better day.
Better than what? Did I look like I wasn't having a good day? I wondered briefly if I should be offended, but I quickly dismissed the thought.
Better than it had been prior to this conversation?

What did she mean?

Maybe I was over-thinking this. Better is superior to good without the responsibility of best.

If this was her intention, I liked it.

I hope my day lived up to her request.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Dirty Dog Dilemmas



 “It’s all we can do to keep our kids alive,” Russ jokes-but-not-really, because he’s telling the truth.

Kids and pets are a lot of work, and because we already have so many kids, we made the choice to be a pet-free home. Every so often, the kids will beg for a pet, but we’ve had too many failed attempts in our personal pasts to go down that path again.

I had a pet during my first marriage. My then-husband had raised dogs for hunting and for shows when he was young, and he said he felt his life was incomplete without canine companionship.

“I don’t know, dogs need a lot of attention, and we’re never around,” I’d said.
He assured me we’d figure something out.

“I don’t know, dogs are pretty hairy. Wouldn’t it shed everywhere?” I persisted.
He assured me there were special breeds that didn’t shed.

“Really?”
“Yup. They’re called,” he paused.

Was it for dramatic effect, or was it to send up a silent prayer for forgiveness for the words that would soon leave his lips?

“…Labrador retrievers.”
“Gosh, I didn’t realize they didn’t shed. Well, in that case, okay I guess…”

And THAT is how a ten-week-old polar-cub-white pup named Stoli joined our family.

As it turns out, Labrador retrievers DO shed.
They shed A LOT.

Every day I would sweep that house—several times—cursing the heaps of fluff and marveling that the dang dog had any fur left on his little body.

“Oo-la-la Labrador retrievers are magical mammals that don’t shed,” I’d mimic, muttering just out of earshot of both man and beast.

Fed up, I finally put the dog outside in the backyard. It was a lovely backyard with tons of room to run around. We’d built him a house. He had a kiddie pool filled with water if he wanted to take a dip, and a big tree if he wanted to nap in the shade.

I checked on him periodically.
He seemed happy.
He was filthy!
The house, on the other hand, was spotless. It was great!

We developed a routine, we did.
On the days the man was home with the pup, the dog stayed in. Dirty house, clean dog.
On the days I was home with the pup, the dog was out. Clean house, dirty dog.

Now before any dog-loving pals disown me, you should understand that my reluctant attitude toward dogs is not my own fault. It’s the way I was raised—and years of behavioral conditioning can be difficult to reverse.

I wasn’t always opposed to dogs. In fact, I remember begging my parents for a dog.
My mother said no.
It seemed that the cleaning lady was deathly afraid of dogs.

“Would you rather have a clean house or a dog?”
“Dog.”
“Well, I want a clean house, and we can’t have both.” And my vote counts double, she did not add.

See?

So eventually, when my marriage ended, I got custody of the kid and he got custody of the dog, which we both felt was fair. This meant I could have Clean House all the time. In theory, anyway.

Our house isn’t spotless all the time, but we don’t have a dog fur problem, either.

My whole life, I’ve been told that nobody can have it all, and this has proven true in the case of Clean House, Dirty Dog.

I suppose you could make it work if you’re willing to spend all of your time cleaning up after the dog, in which case you’ll probably go crazy. I’m guessing that would have its own set of drawbacks.

Clean House, Dirty Dog is not an isolated phenomenon.
I’m finding this Stay-At-Home Mom adventure is following a similar course.

We wanted our kids to have nutritious home-packed lunches, home-cooked dinners, an opportunity to play and participate in activities after school, a clean and organized home, and an available parent when the school nurse inevitably calls, but we found that we didn’t have time when we were both teaching. Now that I’m home, we have all of the above, but with one income, we don’t have money for restaurant meals or pretty much anything beyond our basic needs.

The first month was exhilarating—the challenge was fresh, the coupons were plentiful, and the bank account was still robust.

The second month was a bit discouraging. I ran out of Clinique Sparkle Skin—the best exfoliator in the world—and I really, really had a hankering for Kenny’s Wood-fired Grill and those perfect little seared tenderloin morsels atop crisp rounds of crostini with dollops of béarnaise and a delightful demi-glace that you’d drink from a mug were it socially acceptable. I also discovered the downside of the Dollar Store—some things aren’t really a value, and some of the products aren’t even worth a dollar.

I was so frustrated about the things I wanted but couldn’t have that I wasn’t mindful or appreciative of the blessings I did have.

Yup, that second month was a doozy.

Here we are at the end of the third month, though, and things have leveled out. I’ve found a sense of balance, and with that, a sense of peace. Like the Dirty Dog Dilemma—and like almost everything in life—nobody can have it all. Choices must be made to support priorities.

Our family chose this path, and we knew it would come with sacrifices. If Clinique and Kenny’s were so important to me, I could have chosen a different path. It’s comical to picture myself saying to the kids, “Sorry, guys, but you’re going to have to go to afterschool care for the rest of the year—Mommy needs Sparkle Skin exfoliator.” When I allow myself to visualize that alter-universe, it helps focus the lens on my genuine priorities.

I know I’m not alone in my out-of-balance situation. I suspect that there are lots of people out there who are fighting a battle between what they want and what they have. There are probably dog-lovers out there who are frustrated by their fur-filled homes, but oh how empty their hearts would be if they were willing to part with their pups. For them, it’s better to find peace with the “extra décor”.

If you ever find yourself in the style of dilemma, my advice to you is this. Take a moment to reflect on what you do have and what you might lose if you pursued that other tempting possibility. Most people default to good choices, I think, and you are probably already surrounded by all kinds of wonderful things that might be sacrificed if you pursued other options. You’ve probably already made the hard decisions; it’s just a matter of acknowledging to yourself that you chose this path because it supports your values.

And if, during analysis, you discover that your path doesn’t support your values, remember that you always have the opportunity to change.

Ground Turkey



Ground turkey has come a long way. I remember when it was first invented—my mother (yes, the same woman who’d purchase Hebrew National brand hotdogs, reasoning that they were “safer” because they were blessed by a rabbi, and no, we’re not Jewish) tried to sneak it in to every beefy meal.

No matter how long she cooked it, it was always pink and squishy.

I don’t know how they are making it nowadays, nor do I want to, but I am ever so thankful for the improvements. I now sneak it into my family’s meals several times each week, and they don’t appear to notice at all.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Guilt

Imagine my surprise when Mia’s preschool teacher pulled me aside at pickup time to conference about some concerns. The words “conference” and “concerns” seemed so schooly and official—not really what I’d expected from a child care center, even if “Learning” was in its title.

“Is there something going on at home?” the teacher asked. I was immediately grateful for her gentle, quiet tone. I was also completely flummoxed by the question.

I’d been the teacher who’d asked that question before, usually when a student was having violent or emotional outbursts, or clawing at his or her paper with a pencil, making deep gashes in the notebook.

“Um,” I replied, still so puzzled by the question that I wasn’t even self-conscious about my inability to be articulate. “Uh… hmm…” I stalled. “Well. Ah, hmmm. I can’t really…um…think of anything,” I stammered. Jeez, this was becoming painful.

“You see, Mia has always had such a joyful spirit. She’s always brought such a happy energy and enthusiasm to our class.”

Where on earth was this going, I wondered.

“For the last three weeks or so, she hasn’t smiled. She hasn’t really wanted to play with the other kids, either. Have you noticed this at home, too?”

I had not noticed this at home.
I hadn’t noticed anything at home.
My ears filled with what could only be the sound of my soul shattering.

I was so stressed out from that situation at school—from trying to document accommodations and adapt lessons and create visual aids and reinforcements and research the best ways to reach “twice-identified” special ed gifted learners (while still meeting the needs of the other 80 kids) that I hadn’t interacted with the family in…

…at least three weeks. Probably more, to be completely honest.

The only time that I ever really saw them was at the dinner table, which I routinely had to excuse myself from due to spontaneously bursting into tears if my mind had wandered toward all the additional work that the evening would entail.

Until that point, I hadn’t really thought about how my stress was impacting the family. I knew it was hurting me—I was hardly eating or sleeping, and the gripping panic attacks were definitely taking their toll on my health—but I was so consumed by the situation that I didn’t even consider the ways it might be affecting my family.

This could not continue. I knew I had to make some serious changes as soon as possible.

I’ll always be grateful to that preschool teacher for giving me the wake-up call I so desperately needed. If she’d been the kind of person who only took action for the big things—violent or emotional outbursts, paper clawing—who knows how long and how far things might’ve spiraled out of control?

We are definitely on the road to recovery. The proof is in Mia’s smile as she skips out of kindergarten at the end of the school day. And because I’m a stay-at-home-mom now, I get to be right there to see and appreciate that joyful spirit that I’d previously only heard about.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Personal Dictionary

My phone has one, and maybe yours does, too. The phone adds and stores phrases that are frequently used by the owner to its basic dictionary.

In theory, this allows the phone to more efficiently auto-correct and auto-complete the user's messages.

In practice, it means a whole bunch of typos, gibberish, and peculiar phrases that eventually get automatically substituted at the least desirable times. I was mortified when I saw "playboy" listed, until I remembered Mia's recent independent google search for playdoh ideas-- a perfect example of auto-complete technology in action.

My personal dictionary paints an image of a neurotic hillbilly with a penchant for fine cheese.
What does yours say about you?

Here's an excerpt from the 'C' section. You can see the full list by clicking here.

Cadillac
Callanetics
Camelback
Camo
Carhartt
Caroling
Carousel
Carpooled
Cathartic
Caviar
Cetaphil
Cheerios
Chevre
Chevrolet
Chiquita
Christmafied
Christmassy
Chups
Cilantro
Clamcakes
Clinique
Clustermuck
Compacting
Composted
Congrats
Consign
Corvette
Coturnix

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Leaves



For the first time in as long as I can remember, the leaves are turning in Texas.

Some years, it seems like the fall leaves are still clinging to the trees even as spring arrives; the tender new sprouts have the responsibility of evicting last year’s residents before they can begin their own lives.

When I first moved here, I hadn’t realized how much I would miss leaf-peeping. I hadn’t thought about the leaves at all. August, September, and October passed—all hot—and eventually it was November, with the only real sign of winter’s approach being that the pool temperature had decreased to an unswimmable status.

One day I received a notice that I had a package waiting at the post office. A friend had mailed me a shoebox stuffed with fall foliage.

“So you can smell autumn,” his note read.

I kept that shoe box for years.

The leaves this year are spectacular—I should probably start gathering shoeboxes and addresses of distant friends. Twice while driving, I’ve pulled the car over to take pictures of the lovely trees. 

The leaves lining a particular section on Hedgcoxe were especially magnificent. They were saturated in an array of the very best crayon names: maize, raw umber, mahogany--and more!-- smokey topaz, tiger's eye, burnt sienna. Vermillion.

Last week, I piled the kids into the car after school and drove up and down the strip beneath that firey canopy. They rolled their eyes each time I hollered, “Here we go, guys! Get ready to look up!”

Back and forth we went, making illegal u-turns, until the kids finally asked if we could please head home to start homework.

Party poopers. Don’t they know how fleeting this beauty is?

My carpe diem spirit is maybe not as authentic as I’d have them believe, for this thought prowls at the edges of my mind:

I drove this route every day for the past five years and NEVER noticed these glorious flaming pillars. Are the leaves truly more colorful this year, or am I merely more mindful? Less stressed? Less preoccupied?

I told all of this to my husband; he’d driven that same road, too.
I asked if he’d noticed the leaves.

He hadn’t.

On Saturday we made a point to drive by, but the once-coppery leaves were now dull and shriveled. Many had already dropped. We’d missed it. Disappointment swelled inside of me. I’d wanted to share the magic with him.

Two days later on the way back from the library, I noticed a new grove of colorful trees—and later that week, the ones in our own yard morphed into personal sunsets, too.

I’m thankful that the leaves don’t turn at once, all on the same day. 
Mother Nature, perennial parent, is so good about giving us second chances to absorb the beauty and the wonder of the world around us.

How to Safely Crack an Egg

  1. Remove carton from refrigerator.
  2. Check date on carton. Pause to determine today’s date. If the expiration date is approaching and is less than one week from today, discard carton directly into outside trashbin, just to be safe, and then determine alternate recipe plan. If date is approaching but is more than one week from today, proceed to next step.
  3. Remove egg from carton. Examine closely for abnormalities. If it looks odd, discard it directly into the outside trashbin, just to be safe. If you determine it is a normal “good” egg, proceed to the next step.
  4. Crack the egg. This can be done by tapping it against the the edge of the countertop or the side of the bowl. Try to minimize the amount of goo that gets on your hands, the countertop, and/or the side of the bowl.
  5. Carefully—CAREFULLY—move toward the indoor trash or countertop compost bin, angling your wrists so that any stray goo lands on you and not the floor or counter.
  6. With your pinky, attempt to open the cabinet door (or pantry, or compost bin lid) and dispose of the shells with deep purpose and finality.
  7. Proceed to sink. Turn on water, apply handsoap. Scrub! Turn off water.
  8. Locate Clorox wipes.
  9. Wipe the counter (or side of bowl) used to crack the egg. Dispose of wipe.
  10. Use a new wipe to clean the pantry door handle and/or compost lid. Dispose of wipe.
  11. Use a new wipe to clean the soap dispenser and sink handle(s). Dispose of wipe.
  12. Use a new wipe to clean the box of Clorox wipes. Dispose of wipe.
  13. Consult recipe. Are additional eggs required? If so, repeat steps 3 through 12.

We don’t eat eggs very often—too dangerous.

The Magic Treehouse

Caleb: "Mia, if you liked the Magic Treehouse book about DaVinci, you should get the one about Mark Newton."
Russ:"Mark Twain?"
Me: "Isaac Newton?"
Caleb: "No! The one Grandma likes."
Hannah: "Chuck Norris?"
Caleb: "No-- the guy from Russia..."



Oh. Rasputin
Of course.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Highway Robbery

Among the many joys of living in the thriving metropolis of North Texas is our toll-road system. For the most part, the two main toll roads are state-of-the-art superhighways with speed limits of 70+ miles an hour with nary another vehicle in sight. If your timing is just right, it’s the equivalent of the Autobahn mixed with a closed-course car commercial. The reason it’s such a dreamy, lonely driving track is the hefty cost to use it. Picking up company at the airport? Nine dollars. Delivering out-of-town guests back to the airport? Nine again. Did I mention that the airport is only thirty minutes away?

This is truly highway robbery.

After procrastinating as long as I possibly could—mostly on principle, because I just can’t wrap my mind around paying those huge fees to a website that ends in .org-- I finally had to bite the bullet and get current on my account.

I tried to login to the webpage (stupid .org) but unfortunately, I guessed my password incorrectly one time too many.

Security question? Favorite song.
Crud.
What year did I establish this count? Was that during my rap phase?
Nevermind. Time to reset.

Creating a new password was a rare and special variety of hell:

Your new password must be 8-15 characters.
It must include a combination of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and at least one of the following symbols: @#$%*.

Oh, I’ll give you @#$%* all right.

The instructions continued.

For maximum security strength, consider using a phrase with personal and significant meaning.
Examples:
Drives@Noon4FuN
#1CoWbOysFan4eveR
100%2Cool4u
Note: please do not use the examples listed above. Doing so may compromise the security of your account.

Oh good grief.

Once THAT was done, I was prompted to make changes to my account.
Did I have any vehicles to add? Why yes, I do. Click, click. Enter. Submit.
Your new tolltag should arrive in 7-10 business days.

Perfect.

Did you need to update your account info?
Hmm. Let’s see.
Oh, schnitzel. Old address! Old last name!
My mind went bonkers imagining the trouble a scoundrel could cause using MY new tolltag.

I had no choice but to call the company.

Every time I’ve ever called the toll tag customer service line--which is twice, I think--the wait to speak to a representative exceeded forty minutes. This is where my procrastination was going to pay off, though, for today was a special day: Election Day. Surely the masses would be so busy waiting in line at the polls that they wouldn’t have time to trifle with the tolltag folks. THIS was going to be my reward for early voting, I was sure of it.

And it was.
I was only on hold for 21 minutes.
Victory!

Most people are probably not this enthusiastic about speaking with a customer service department. For the last decade, it seems like our society’s biggest gripe in customer service calls has been the strong accent of the representative. As so often happens with cultural-trends-cum-stereotypes, radio DJs snark about it and Saturday Night Live pokes fun, and eventually somebody (usually Will Ferrell or Adam Sandler) makes a movie about it. (Actually, this time, Josh Hamilton starred in the movie. The film Outsourced was a tender, touching little comedy with far more heart and compassion than its NBC spinoff series of the same name.)

My customer service representative spoke English without even a trace of an accent.
He had a deep, rich, beautiful voice.
I could barely understand a word he was saying.

Barry White’s voice is a full octave higher than this man’s. My phone could not sort out the sounds of the words, and huge chunks of his sentences blended together in a deep, fog-horn bellow. I wasn’t sure what to do. Accents and lisps can be blamed on technical difficulties (“I’m very sorry, my phone seems to be cutting out. Could you repeat that, please?”) but in this case, it didn’t matter how many times he repeated himself, this difficulty was going to continue.

I did the only thing I could do. I tried to use context clues and logic to respond to each request.
In short, I guessed.

“Could I have your hhhmmmppphhmmm-ber?”
“Sure. Is it somewhere here on the statement?”
“No, ma’am. Your hhhmmmppphhmmm-ber.”
“Whoops, sorry. It’s 214…”
“Ma’am, your driver’s hhhmmmppphhmmm-ber.”
“Oh, of course! My apologies. I just don’t know where my mind is today.”

It was a very long and awkward conversation. He was very patient and professional the entire time.

After our call ended, my thoughts of this mysterious baritone brother persisted.

Surely I can’t be the only one who had this type of encounter with him. Are there people out there who ask to speak to a different agent? Are there letter-writers who complain to his supervisor?

My prediction is that if there are other people like me out there (please let there be others!) who try to limp through the conversation graciously guessing, it must be very frustrating for this fellow. Can’t you picture the conversations in the breakroom?

“Man, what is up with the callers lately? It’s like they don’t know their phone number from their driver’s license number! And it took this one lady six tries to answer me when all I’d asked for was her name…”

And—this is probably not very nice—but for heaven’s sake, no wonder it takes so long on hold if each conversation follows the path that mine did.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Poop Worshippers



Bill, our mortgage lender guy, shared an unusual perspective about how future societies will view our culture. He did not claim to have developed this theory, and I can only hope that he heard about it from David Letterman or some other late-night television comedian and not a late-night conspiracy theorist like Art Bell.
 

“Think about it,” he’d said. “A thousand years from now, when the archeologists uncover evidence of our lifetime, they’re going to be so perplexed. The amount of documents they find—the paper evidence of our culture—will decrease starting around 2003, and maybe it will cease entirely by, say, 2020. But you know what they’ll find an abundance of? Poop. Baby diapers. Cat-litter. Bags of doggie doo from those folks kind enough to pick up after their pets. All of it perfectly preserved in layers of plastic bags. It might even look ceremonious to the archeologists of the future. They’re going to wonder why in the world we’d go to such lengths to save the stuff. They’ll probably try to determine if it was religious, but all the records will be gone. Just like the mummies…”

Russ and I turned to face each other, and our raised eyebrows had a conversation.
“Am I dreaming all this?” my eyebrows asked.
“Get a load of this nutcase!” his eyebrows replied.

“Wow. I never really thought about it that way before,” I said.
Thank God we don’t have pets, I thought. And why wasn’t I better about those cloth diapers? Goodness knows we’d purchased enough of them!

Back at home, I surveyed our documents. No records? Ha! Our home is bursting with documents that I just can’t seem to part with. Let the archeologists make our address an excavation site. They’ll be able to track the trend of water and electricity costs back to 1999, at least. They’ll find notebooks filled with grocery lists, sermon notes, and consignment-clothing descriptions for the Big Sale. They’ll find toll-tag statements and gas receipts and fortunes from the cookies at Pei Wei.

I don’t want to hang on to all these things, mind you, but now I feel that I must.
After all, I don’t want the archeologists of the future to think we were a bunch of poop worshippers.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Halloween Decorations




Russ brought lots of these into the marriage. Most of them are hideous. Many are also annoying, like the cottony spider-webbing that never dies. We find clumps of that horrid stuff throughout the yard long after Halloween.

How long? Try July.

There is one decoration that I’ve become particularly fond of, though. So fond, in fact, that when I boxed up all the decorations on November first promptly at 8 a.m., I deliberately left this one in the yard.

This magical decoration is a fake rock—fairly subtle, until you trigger the motion activated sensor and it roars to life. It emits a spooky, surprisingly loud, shockingly long echoey laugh straight out of a nightmare. It gets better! The rock also bears a light-up message: “GO BACK!!!” in big purple letters.

It is very annoying to anyone who uses the front door during the month of Halloween, which is mostly Hannah and sometimes Caleb when he goes out to get the mail.

My plan was just to startle Hannah a little bit, just for that one day after Halloween.

Something very mysterious happened that day.

The rock went off THREE times!

Each time, I raced to the window to see who was at our door, and each time, all I could see was the back of those door-to-door advertiser guys as they moved on to the next house. Here is the best part. None of them—not one!—left their stupid advertisements rubber-banded to the doorknob.

It’s as though they thought the rock’s message was just for them.
Or maybe they just got too freaked out.
Either way, I see this as a victory.

That rock is going to stay out there all year long.
Sorry, Hannah.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I know an old lady who swallowed a fly.

While I was preparing the lunches for the kids this morning, Mia began telling an elaborate story about a fly in the classroom.

"I know an old lady who swallowed a fly," I sang absent-mindedly.
"I don't know why she swallowed a fly. Perhaps,"

Oh crud. I couldn't finish that line. Not in Mia's presence. She'd worry about it all day. She'd bug us all night, unable to sleep because of the possibility of what might happen to a person who swallowed a fly.
Maybe I could finish it a different way. It could rhyme. She'd never know the difference.

"I don't know why she swallowed a fly," I repeated, stalling.
I wracked my brain. No matches.
"Perhaps..." I trailed off. Think, think, think!
"Perhaps she didn't know," Mia sang.

Yes, perhaps she didn't know she swallowed a fly. Brilliant.

Phew.
Crisis averted.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Unmedicated Mama: An Inconvenient Truth


The insurance company is up to its old tricks again. They are refusing to allow the refill of my medication because they feel that I don't need it. How did they get this opinion, exactly? Well, I conducted an experiment this summer to determine how well I could function without the medicine. I wanted to see if I could manage my attention challenges through discipline and diet, because let’s face it—filling that stupid prescription is pretty darn inconvenient. Since I missed a month of requesting a refill, they've concluded that the medication is unnecessary.
   
Obtaining the medicine is an intricate and lengthy process, and I contend that a person would only set out on this quest if the medicine was absolutely necessary.

Because of the nature of the medicine, there are never any refills available by dialing the pharmacy number. You have to physically obtain a paper prescription every time, and you have a very tiny window of time to accomplish this, because they are only allowed to issue the RX every thirty days. This means that you have to be very aware of when you’re running out, so that you can call the doctor and get a new script. I have yet to master this awareness. I usually realize I’ve run out as I’m placing the last tab in my mouth. This is a VERY big problem, because once I’ve run out, it’s incredibly challenging attention-wise to a.) remember to call the doctor, b) remember to pick up the script, and c) remember to get it filled.

YES. Leaving a message on the nurses’ line is challenging.

You have reached the nurses line at Dr. [Amazing]. If you are calling about a prescription refill, please leave your full name, date of birth, medicine and dosage, and a phone number where you can be reached. Have a good day!

BEEP.

Um, Hi Dr. [Amazing]. This is me. I’m out of medicine, so I need to request a refill. Okay, so… [Full name]… My birthday is April 18... Wait, should I say it in numbers? Four-eighteen-seventy-nine. That’s 1979. Sorry, of course you knew that’s what I meant. My phone number is [phone number] and the dosage is… [dosage] Wait, let me look at the bottle just to be sure. Yup, that’s what it was. Did I already say my phone number? It’s [phone number]. I’m so sorry for this rambling message. I ran out of the medicine two days ago. Or was it three? I’m so sorry. Thank you, Dr. [Amazing.] I’m so sorry. Have a good day!

As a consummate problem-solver, I’ve started to write down all the info on a post-it note before calling. Smart, right? Then why do I feel so stupid when Russ finds the sticky notes and asks why I’ve written down my name, birthday, and telephone number?

Once that step is out of the way, it’s time to go pick up the slip. My doctor is in North Dallas, and it takes about 25 minutes to get to her office. This alone is not a deal breaker. After all, the doctor lives in our area and commutes to her own office six days a week, while I only have to make the trek once a month. The trip down and then over to the pharmacy takes about an hour, sometimes more since by now it is now usually afternoon/evening rush hour.

At the pharmacy, it’s very difficult to wait for the prescription to be filled, because
1. It always takes much longer than they say it will, and
2. When you have a bunch of kids needing dinner and homework help, that trumps just about everything else.

So I drop it off with the plan of coming back to pick it up later in the evening. 
As if.

When I was working, there was a time gap between when I was required to be at work (8) and when the pharmacy opened (8:30). If I was already unmedicated, lunchtime and copious amounts of time after school were spent either inventing fabulous new ideas or obsessing over details and making very thorough lists to make sure I didn’t forget about anything important.

Sometimes it was a few days before I could pick it up.
Sometimes the pharmacy had to call me to remind me to pick it up.
That was sort of embarrassing.

That was our normal once-per-month best-case scenario procedure. It was even more complicated when there was a medicine shortage last year; we had to drive all over town trying to find a pharmacy that had the medicine in stock. (We eventually found one—a tiny, in-hospital one on the other side of town that was only open Monday through Thursday, 9am to 5pm.)

I wish I could put the insurance company in my pocket and take them on my monthly adventure before they go deciding what I do and do not need.

This is not the first time they’ve tried to interfere. When our employers first switched to their company, they refused to allow the prescription to be filled at a local pharmacy. They tried to force us into the mail-order program.

THAT was a rough phone call, too.

Representative: The company would prefer that you use the mail order program. You’ll like it. It’s easy and convenient, and it will save you money.

Me: How does it work?

Representative: Your doctor faxes us your prescription, you pay online, and we ship 90 days of your prescription right to your door.

Me: Wow, that does sound nice—right now, I have to go down to pick up the paper prescription of the Adderall—

Representative: Oh, Adderall? No, that one can’t be faxed. You’ll need to mail us the paper prescription. But once you do that, it will be easy and convenient.

Me: So I still need to drive down and pick it up, and now I have to mail it to you, which means addresses and stamps and envelopes and the post office—

Representative: You’ll also need to make sure that we receive it within five days of when it was issued.

Me: --and then you just... mail the medicine to me?

Representative: Right. They deliver it right to your home.

Me: Well, I guess if it would save two extra trips to the doctor...

Representative: Oh, your medicine doesn’t qualify for the 90 days. It would be 30. But it’s easy, and it’s convenient.

Me: Do they just put it in your mailbox? That doesn’t seem very safe.

Representative: No, you have to sign for it.

Me: What if I’m not here?

Representative: They take it to the distribution center in Richardson. There’s an afterhours pickup window for your convenience.

Me: This doesn’t sound very convenient at all. I don’t think I want to do this plan.

Representative: If you choose not to, your prescription cost could increase dramatically.

Me: I guess I’ll have to take my chances.

Shortly thereafter, I checked in to the cost of the medicine without insurance.
Three hundred some-odd dollars. Per month.

Wouldn’t YOU want to experiment with survival-sans-medicine?

Ultimately, my experiment was a colossal failure. I’m an utter disaster without the medicine.
So is the house (which often looked like a laundry piñata exploded.)
So is the bank account (because our home's inner-peace did not improve when I expanded our Buddha sculpture collection. Or ordered that ukelele, for that matter.)

And the truth is, I don’t mind the inconvenience of getting the medicine, because the benefits of my unmedicated creative spontaneity (like the recycled water bottle greenhouse project) don’t really outweigh the daily responsibilities (like preparing dinner).

So really, we’re all better off if I just stick to the medicine.
Now could somebody PLEASE convince the insurance company?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Quail Update



My mother, who has become a fan of the blog, asked me about the quail yesterday. I’ve become a bit defensive about the quail, so I almost wrote “confronted” instead of “asked” but looking back, it really was a benign inquiry.

“Now what’s this about the quail?” she’d asked. “What do you plan to do with these quail? Is it for the eggs? Quail eggs are awfully small. You'd need a lot of quail to do anything meaningful with those eggs.”

I confirmed that it was very much about the eggs. Confessing paranoia, I humbly explained that it might become a sustainable form of protein for the family in a post-apocalyptic world.

“Well, that makes sense, I guess. But then what would you feed to the quail?”

I had not thought about that. It was a good question, but it was easy to dismiss it since we were already on a topic that came from the category of irrational thoughts.

She seemed okay with my lack of response. Then she said—calmly, almost too calmly—“I’m just not sure you need to worry about how to feed your family in the event that something wipes out the economy and/or the food sources. If something takes those down, I think you’re pretty much dead right away. If, say, a nuclear bomb took out all your local grocery stores, it’s really unlikely that your house and yard would survive."

Good grief. I had NOT thought of that, either.

I always knew my mom was sensible, but morbid, too? This is too much! Yet there was something oddly reassuring about the whole exchange.

I guess the quail can wait.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Encyclopedia of Our New Life

Shortly after Russ and I returned from our honeymoon, we participated in the Plano Writing Leadership Academy. (We referred to it as "writing camp" to our kids and students.) We'd always heard great things about the program from our school friends, so we were eager to experience it for ourselves. I'm not sure what I'd expected, but I can tell you this was not it. For starters, the theme was non-fiction. Despite my enormous collection of self-help books, I'm not much of a fan of non-fiction. I was disappointed that we were going to spend the next few weeks of our lives reading and writing within the confines of that genre.

By the end of the experience, my attitude toward non-fiction had changed radically. I'd read two really great books (that I still refer to often, even two years later!) and I'd learned a ton of great strategies to develop and strengthen the reading and writing skills of my students.

I developed a gratitude for the theme I'd originally resented. Non-fiction was out of my comfort zone, and I would have cheerfully kept it that way indefinitely had I not been compelled to explore it in this workshop. It challenged me in a way that fiction might not have, and it opened my eyes to all kinds of possibilities.

One of the books we read was called Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. Amy Krouse Rosenthal, a quirky mom with a spunky writer's voice, organizes vignettes from her life into an alphabetical encyclopedia-style memoir. It is non-fiction, of course, and it was not awful. In fact, it was pretty entertaining. We then used this text as a model for creating our own "encyclopedias" from our personal life experiences. Again, not awful.

My original attempt at an encyclopedia is probably buried under the heaps of school stuff currently occupying the dining room. I'm sure I'll find it someday. In the meanwhile, I've compiled a list of topics pertaining to my new life. At first, I thought I'd wait to publish until each topic had its accompanying entry, but that could take a while. The New Me is okay with is trying to be okay with progress in lieu of perfection.


Encyclopedia of Our New Life: A Work in Progress



A
Alcohol- 
We are drinking less, and I suppose that’s a good thing. I don’t miss it that much, and I’m hoping that this drinking less will lead to weighing less sometime soon. Drinking more certainly led to weight gain this summer. 

It began innocently enough. When summer vacation arrived, our top priority was staining the fence in the backyard. The fence had never been treated, and even though it wasn’t that old, it looked awful—all weathered and gray and just generally yucky. The boards looked to be in solid physical condition, so rather than replacing the whole thing, we decided to clean and stain it. Ourselves. We had the time, right? Sure it might take some elbow grease, but we’re (relatively) young and energetic. Surely it would be cheaper than hiring a company.


So first we washed the fence with Oxiclean. By we, I mean Russ. The fence looked great. The rose bushes and other things impacted by the Oxiclean? Not so much. Next, something very unusual happened. It rained. Really. It rained on-and-off for several weeks. Great for the grass and greenery, great for the watershed, but it was a bit of a bummer for folks eager to stain the fence before the summer swelter set in.

Temperatures soared when the rain finally let up. We determined that the best plan was to wake up right at sunrise and try to accomplish as much as possible ahead of the triple-digit afternoons.

When you start working up a sweat at seven a.m., you get downright parched by eleven. Eleven is almost twelve, and if it is socially acceptable to have beer at twelve, then eleven is close enough.

The problem happened when we started waking up even earlier. And getting thirsty even earlier. Eleven became ten, and eventually nine-thirty, and in only a matter of days, we were slamming beers at eight a.m. Combine this behavior with the tendency to wear loose-fitting dresses in the summer (me, not Russ) and we are talking about a problem of significant proportions.

I keep hoping that cutting out the alcohol will help the finances AND help me to get back into pants before winter, but it’s been slow-going so far. The lack of progress could also be due to Russ’s rekindled romance with Walmart’s Oak Leaf cabernet. A not-too-disgusting compromise at $2.77 per bottle, it is cheaper than even a single glass of vino at a bar or restaurant. Of course, if you slam a bottle or two per night, the cost and calories do add up.

Algebra-
Is there a statute of limitations on college coursework? I’m reluctant to confess this in case it somehow nullifies my degrees.

I never passed College Algebra.

Oh, I took it plenty of times, but I never actually passed. When I think about all the money that was spent on this endeavor, I feel so guilty. I wish I’d been more respectful toward the situation. Had I been more focused, more determined, and more resourceful about exploring tutoring options, maybe I could have conquered it. Algebra was not a new problem for me, and there were times when I wished I’d been held more accountable earlier on. Like when I should have failed it in high school, for example.

These are the situations when failing a student really is the right course of action. I did not have the skills necessary to proceed. Maybe if I’d failed sooner, I could have either closed the skill gaps or developed an attack plan for the future coursework.

I’m not positive about this, but I think I’d taken algebra classes four times in college before the academic advisor decided to make a different interpretation of the course requirements.

“The student must take one math course beyond College Algebra,” she’d read from the catalogue. “Hmm. If we could waive the prerequisite of College Algebra, could you pass Statistics?”

Well, I could try. At that point, what were my alternatives? Would I never graduate? Did I even deserve to graduate?

Statistics turned out to be a successful experience, and what had once felt like an insurmountable problem melted into the distance and the transcripts.

While I’m grateful for problem solvers like that advisor, and for the mercy of the educational system, I still think about College Algebra. Why couldn’t I pass it? How much was genuine inability, and how much was the result of a discouraged heart?

Could I pass it now?

Passing college algebra is on my to-do list. (I also wanted to re-take the SATs to see if I’ve learned anything measurable since 1997, but I can let that go. Maybe.) I think I might try next spring. We have an amazing community college in our town, and Hannah is taking an algebra class in eighth grade right now, so she might be able to tutor me if I got stuck. With all the video tutorials and other resources now available on the internet, surely I could find support (or support groups, maybe?) if I really REALLY got stuck.

Anti-Pollyanna Game, The-
Remember that movie called Pollyanna, where the golden-curled ever-optimistic Hayley Mills heals the tiny town with her Glad Game? The object of the game is to soothe yourself through any of life’s disappointments by looking on the bright side and finding something to be glad about.

I have a game like that.

My game can prevent road rage, alleviate the agony of waiting in long lines at the grocery store, and even make peace with the crab grass on the lawn.

I should probably caution you that it is not very cheerful, though. In fact, Pollyanna would be mortified to be associated with my distorted version of her friendly little pastime.

Here is how my game works:

When something stressful or annoying happens, try to think of something truly terrible that will force you to extend your patience and compassion.

For example, if you get cut off in traffic, invent a tragic tale to justify the rude person’s behavior. He probably just received a call from the pet hospital that his dog was hit by a car, and now he is rushing to be by its side in its time of need.

Still irked? Compound the situation.

Maybe his dog AND his wife were both hit by the speeding car. Wouldn’t you be driving like a madman?! Oh, that poor, poor man. I certainly hope he gets there quickly and safely.

I’m realizing, as I type this, that the Anti-Pollyanna Game looks much more twisted in writing, but I’m telling you, it works! In fact, I’m playing the game right now.

Thank goodness my time-sensitive prescription in Dallas won’t be ready until after 2:30. It won’t goof up my afternoon/evening too much, considering that this minor time-setback will keep me off the road during what will surely be a fatal car wreck at that intersection. How could I possibly be annoyed about this situation when this delay will SAVE MY LIFE.

I’m thankful!
I’m relieved!
I’m the luckiest person in the world!
 
B
Bologna Hero-
There are foods that I cannot bring myself to purchase. Bologna is one of them. I’ve heard bologna referred to as mystery meat, but this moniker takes on new meaning in our home. Although I cannot muster the courage to purchase it, I cannot seem to refuse when Russ offers me a nibble of his sandwich. I’m almost embarrassed at how much I enjoy the taste. Twice I’ve even eaten an entire sandwich all by myself. Bologna (much like potato chips, beef jerky, and cocktail peanuts) enters our home when Russ shops unattended. I am not criticizing his self-discipline; I might be better about not purchasing junk food, but by golly, once it’s in the house, I’m the biggest culprit when it comes to consuming it. EXCEPT the bologna.

It must have been on one of those unattended adventures that Russ purchased the bologna. I have reason to believe it was early this past summer. He forgot about it, and I avoided it. The week before school began, I purchased several jars of peanut butter and several more jars of Polaner All-fruit preserves for the kids’ lunches. Two days into the school year, we received the nut butter ban notice. With a heavy heart, I checked the expiration date on the still-unopened bologna box. December 2012.
The following day, I held my breath and packed bologna sandwiches for everyone.

When the kids came home, they praised the sandwiches. Not just an isolated compliments, either. This was a full-on sandwich celebration, with many of the kind words being attributed to me for my role as the loving chef.

It was so bizarre. The sandwich chatter continued into the evening. Even when I wasn’t in the same room with them, keywords danced at the edge of my ears.
“Fantastic!”
“Best ever!”
“Wow!”

Mystery meat, indeed. I started to wonder if they were messing with me. I was not adjusting well to the stay-at-home life. Envy consumed me in those early days—I wanted to head off to school, too. I wanted to use the new pencils and notebooks, too. I felt lonely and left out. I felt worthless and unproductive. Was the bologna praise their way of boosting my esteem?

Bountiful Baskets
Budget


C
Cable Bill
Caleb
Cars
College
Compost-
I’ve never met anyone who is lukewarm when it comes to the act of composting. It seems like there are only two varieties—those who don’t, and those who do it with a passion bordering on obsessive. Thanks to my birthday Envirocycle, our family now falls into the latter category.

Consignment
Coupons
Crockpot

D
Depression-Era Habits
Divorce-
I’m not sure anyone knows the perfect thing to say when they hear news of an impending divorce. Statistically speaking, we have more opportunities than ever to practice responding in a socially acceptable and supportive way, but it is still hard to know the best way to proceed aloud.

When I got divorced, the comment I encountered most frequently was this:

“Really? That’s such a shame. So there’s no chance of staying together? Did you really try?”

The try part was usually delivered with the same tone of suspicion reserved for young children’s restroom visits.
But I wasn’t preparing for a long car trip, and I wasn’t readying myself to step into a snowsuit, so the accusatory intonation, no matter how mild, stung.

Marriages are over long before anyone files paperwork at the county courthouse.
Marriages end, I think, before most people even feel comfortable sharing the true nature of their situation with even the closest of family and friends.

It is so SO far past the try stage.

To a degree, the path of getting divorced is perhaps more challenging than staying in a dysfunctional marriage. Choosing an attorney, dividing assets, paperwork, making new living arrangements, packing—it’s pretty overwhelming. If kids factor into the equation, multiply that responsibility by a zillion.

Staying put in a loveless marriage?
Definitely easier.
Safer.
Sadder, though.

Staying seems easier.
Staying solves nothing.

If you want to get divorced, you have to be really brave. You have to summon strength you didn’t know you had. You have to make a permanent decision. You have to grow a tough exterior—quickly—to shield your heart from the “Did you really try?” questions that you’ll undoubtedly face.

Which is why, when I learn of impending divorces of close friends, I say this:
“I am so proud of you. I am so very proud of your awareness, and your courage, and your strength.”

And if the friend has kids, the celebration continues, for that friend has chosen to model happiness and hope for love. Isn’t that what we would want for our own kids, in their future? I would never, ever want our kids to feel socially compelled to remain in a loveless marriage.

And if the person is not a close friend, I say this:
“I’m sure this has been very stressful for you, and I hope things are more peaceful for you soon.”

And if I don’t know the person at all—a celebrity, maybe, or a politician—I say nothing out loud. Their private lives deserve the same respect that mine does.

But in my head and my heart, I’m thinking
I am so proud of you. I am so very proud of your awareness, and your courage, and your strength.
I’m sure this has been very stressful for you, and I hope things are more peaceful for you soon.

Documentaries-
I would very much like to create a documentary. Those of you who know me will be quick to point out the obvious problems with this plan: I am a.) a recovering perfectionist who is b.) painfully introverted and c.) has incredibly difficult time finishing… almost everything, I suppose.

But! There’s so much I’d like to know more about, and it seems like a documentary is the perfect excuse to start those dialogues. For example, there’s a guy who created a tiny little minute-long documentary called “Learn”. (I saw it on youtube and you can, too. Here’s the address: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xc0d510zTA4)

Think of all the strangers that he was able to approach in order to compile the footage to make this itty-bitty documentary. Since it was a documentary, it wasn’t creepy at all for him to be approaching those people and asking them to teach him how to do all those things.

Documentary Guy: “Hello, I’m making a documentary about learning new skills. Could you spare a few moments to teach me how to make tortillas (or origami shoes, or how to swallow fire, or whatever)?”

Normal Person: “Hello, I’m a normal person. I’m not creepy at all, but you will simply have to take my word on this. Could you spare a few moments to teach me how to make tortillas?

See the problem? I would very much like to learn how to make tortillas, origami shoes, and swallow fire, but without a documentary, it would just be weird.

Dollar Store
Dryer Lint

E
Electricity

Excuse Notes-
Never have I been so grateful that excuse notes are only required for a late delivery and NOT a late pickup, for here is how yesterday’s note would have read:

To Whom It May Concern,

Please excuse Mia’s mom’s tardiness during yesterday’s elementary school dismissal. You see, the postman delivered Lego Rock Band AND the new microphone for the Wii, and as a responsible parent, she simply had to test it out to make sure it was appropriate for the children.

After performing several Freddie Mercury songs, she realized that the entire family would benefit from an opportunity to celebrate Mercury’s heritage-- a celebration in the form of hummus. It was the culturally sensitive thing to do. So urgent was the need, so sincere was the desire to honor one of rock’s greatest icons, that Mia’s mom set aside the fact that she’s never made hummus before.

It seems she also set aside common sense, as she promptly forgot to make sure she had the necessary ingredients to make hummus. They had chick peas in the pantry. Wasn’t that all that really mattered?

Unfortunately, the family was out of tahini, which meant Mia’s mom needed to toast sesame seeds herself. Furthermore, the red peppers, which had been in the jar in the fridge since Christmas, had molded. At this point, the only option was to slice and roast fresh peppers. (On sale at Sprouts this week, 88 cents each!) This worked out well, since the oven was already preheating for the sesame seeds, anyway.

Since all of this transpired at 2:28 pm, it seems a bit unreasonable to expect that Mia’s mom could have arrived for the 2:45 dismissal time. Especially considering the atrocious parking situation during dismissal, don’t you think? Thank goodness traffic started to clear up around 2:48.

Please accept this note of apology and the reassurance that this tardiness will not happen again.


Anytime soon, at least.
 
Exit Paperwork

F
Fears
Flowbee-
My ex-husband’s mother, may she rest in peace, swore by the Flowbee for all her haircut needs. Not familiar with this as-seen-on-tv gadget, circa 1988? The Flowbee is a blade attachment for your vacuum cleaner so that you can cut your own hair without a mess. Vacuum too loud or scuzzy? You can even buy a small-but-powerful dustbuster-sized vacuum from the company. The idea is that the suction pulls your hair in, the blade trims it, and the remaining hair travels down the tube to the vacuum bag. Dot’s hair was fairly short and moderately stylish. You really wouldn’t have guessed that she was keeping her hair coiffed with a vacuum cleaner.

After the Great Hair Disaster of 2010, I thought I might just keep my hair short forever. It was far easier to get ready in the morning. Truly—it took me less time to get my two inches of hair ready for the day than it took Russ to shave his head, and it didn’t look completely horrible. 

The only real challenge was keeping my hair short. It never seemed to grow this quickly back when I’d wanted it to get longer.

Haircuts require two things: time and money. Neither were particularly plentiful in our household, so this posed quite the problem. To get a quick-but-moderately-priced haircut at a drop-in place like Great Clips or Pro Cuts often meant a long wait in advance, and to get a cheap haircut at the beauty school often meant a long time in the hair chair. Not to mention iffy results.

If I had a Flowbee, I could cut my own hair, any time of the day or night.
I could cut Caleb’s hair and save us even more time and money.
I could cut the girls’ hair, if they’d let me.
I could cut our dog’s hair for the summer.
If we had a dog, which we don’t. But if we did…

Because I'd mostly convinced Russ that it was a good idea, or maybe because I often take a little holiday from my impulse medicine during the first week of summer, we ordered a Flowbee. We also ordered the little vacuum, because what if our vacuum turned out to be too loud or too scuzzy?

Caleb was perhaps more anxious than I was for the Flowbee to arrive. This is probably because I’d promised to give him a Flow-hawk. Finally the Flowbee was delivered to our front door, and we eagerly unpacked it.

The little vacuum seemed rather tippy. We quickly discovered it was also LOUD. Like live-next-to-the-runway-of-an-airport (which I’ve done) kind of loud. This puts a bit of a damper on the “any time of the day or night” plan, because if you used this after, say, 10pm, there’s a very good chance it would wake the neighbors and maybe the dead.

We also realized that while it is very easy to use, and very safe, it doesn’t get Caleb’s hair quite as short as we’d like. He looks really good in a high-and-tight military-type cut, and the best we could do (with the plastic guards on) was a home-on-leave-from-the-military brush cut.

Would I recommend the Flowbee? Maybe.
If you have a good set of ear plugs, live in a fairly remote location, and are okay with a medium-length hairstyle, then this is the solution for you.
If that sounds like too much hassle, consider investing in a few hairpieces from Sam Moon (if you are female) or sporting a mullet.

Curious? Check out this guy’s tutorial on youtube. Although it is a bit tedious, I think you will be pretty impressed with his results at the end of the video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xdNgL-TOg4&list=LPzZBNmRSZbnk&index=3&feature=plcp



Flowers

Frantic-
Friday afternoon was spent frantically cleaning, for Russ had informed me that we were having company later that evening.

Don’t get me wrong—Anya and James are fun-loving non-judgmental friends, and we’ve shared some grand adventures through the years: dancing, hunting, and playing billiards.

Mostly in the living room, and mostly with the help of the Wii.

Tonight would surely follow suit, what with the arrival of the Lego Rock Band, the microphone, and guitars. Yes, plural.

There was no need for the frantic cleaning. The house wasn’t that messy, and they wouldn’t have commented anyway. They probably wouldn’t have even noticed. I sure don’t notice when I visit others’ homes.

No matter. Panic is my talent; frantic is my style.

I know I’m not alone in this. Millions of those internet memes have surfaced in the past year with some witty remark or another indicating that we all get more cleaning done in the ten minutes prior to the arrival of friends than we accomplish during the rest of the week. Or month. Or was it year?

Here is a pearl of wisdom that I encountered in my travels recently that I hope to someday embrace. I wish I could remember what the circumstances were—I’d love to give proper credit to this wise soul.

Long ago, I made the decision not to gussy up the house for company. That way, when they return to their own homes, they can look around and feel pleased that their home is not nearly the chaotic disaster that mine is. I like to think that I’m doing a public service. If I can boost someone else’s confidence AND keep my own stress level down, it’s a win-win situation.

G
Garden

Going Blind-
Amazing sights often top the list of powerful of experiences in life—glorious sunsets, majestic waterfalls, and the first long-awaited view of a newborn baby. I have those memories, too, and I’ll cherish them always, but near the pinnacle of my list of profound experiences is the day I lost my vision.


In theory, it should have been the best year of my career: I had reasonable class-sizes, motivated and compassionate students, two planning periods every day, and tons of new technology with which to experiment.

Yet by the end of every school day, I was absolutely ill. Head pounding, nauseated, and utterly exhausted, I could hardly remain upright throughout dinner, never mind helping with homework and housework.

Surely it was stress, but how? Things were better than they’d ever been!

One fine Thursday, while I was enjoying lunch with friends in a colleague’s classroom, something unexpected happened. I lost total vision in my left eye. All of it. Completely gone in an instant.

The situation seemed so surreal, I began to wonder if I was dreaming. So convinced was I that this was a dream that I did not mention this unusual development to any of my dining companions. How would I even bring it up? The students were due back in less than ten minutes. No sense in stirring up drama. Besides, I still had my right eye. Logic reassured me I could deal with it later.

Logic could not squelch my anxiety, and internal panic set in. Frantically I looked around the room, willing my left eye to see. That was when I noticed a banner that said ‘OCKS!’

OCKS?

Things were getting very sci-fi, very quickly.

There are my friends.
There are the tables.
There are the chairs.
There is the trash can.
There is the door.
There is the banner above the door that says OCKS.

I cleaned my area, excused myself, and returned to my own classroom, running my hand along the wall to steady my nerves. What was happening?

In the privacy of my own classroom, several very unofficial self-conducted experiments revealed that all was not well with my right eye, either. I could only see the right half of the words on the posters on the wall.

-O
-UR
-ST!

Looking down at the novel I’d hoped to read with the students that day, I knew there was no way I could convincingly translate the blurry Morse code of ink that covered each page. (More precisely, the right half of every page.)

Because they were verymotived and very compassionate students, my students cheerfully complied with my spontaneous change of plans for our lessons without question. I sensed skepticism when I asked a helper to take attendance for me, but nobody actually said anything, so no explanation was necessary.Thank goodness.

And then, less than an hour later, my vision returned.
I chalked the whole thing up to stress.


Wow, that stress sure can do weird things to a person.


Everything returned to normal.
Until it happened again.
And again.

I knew what had to be done, but things had not gone well at previous eye-doctor visits.

There was the time back in high school when my cousin Justin had driven me to an appointment during a snowstorm.

“The roads are gonna be awful! Would you just pick already? Those-ones-look-fine-hurry-up-let’s-go!”

They did notlook fine. They made my ears—normally my finest feature—poke out like a Disney character’s. Which I did not realize until after we’d already made the purchase, of course.

Then there was the time in college when I thought contacts would be the solution to the vision challenge AND the ears-poking-out problem. Maybe things have improved in the contact lens world since 1998, but these were no picnic. They were rigid and oddly-weighted to correct for astigmatism, and they were nearly impossible to remove. The first night I spent nearly two hours clawing at my eyes in an attempt to extricate them. During the extraction of the second one—the home stretch!—the lens flew out, shot across the bathroom, and landed directly in the toilet.

Was I going to fish for it, sanitize it, and put in my eye?
Never.


Desperation forced me to set aside those experiences and to set up an appointment.

“Well, what brings you in today?” Can cheery optometrists be trusted, I wondered.
“I think I might be going blind,” I whispered, worried that if I used my speaking voice, I’d burst into tears right there in front of him.

He checked my eyes while I explained the odd circumstances of late.

“Your vision is quite good," he announced, "I could write you a light prescription for glasses, if you’d like, but it might not be worth the hassle of keeping up with them.”

Wait. What?

He said he suspected that I was suffering from migraines, and he recommended that I visit my physician. Very common, lots of preventative medication available, blah-blah-blah.
I struggled to listen to everything he was saying, but it was hard because my brain just kept singing I’m not going blind! I’m not going crazy!

I’d always thought that migraines were headaches, but apparently they can manifest themselves in all kinds of ways—a sort of ‘total body experience’ for a percentage of the population. Sometimes people can have an early warnings of an impending migraine-- seeing wavy lines, odd glows, or even partial words are just some of the aura indicators that a migraine is imminent. Many things can trigger migraines, he told me. Foods, smells, lights…

Lights.

Like… new super-efficient fluorescent lighting, installed at my campus last summer? Clearly it was unofficial self-conducted mini-experiment time.

I wore sunglasses indoors at work the very next day. I may have looked weird, but I felt fantastic. By the end of that week, I felt ten years younger. It wasn’t long before I’d reclaimed my energy and health.

For the next two years, I wore sunglasses at work. The As Seen on TV HD Vision ones were my favorites because the lenses have a wonderful goldeny hue and the frames aren’t brain-squeezers. No one at work—staff nor students—ever gave me a hard time about my new accessory. My family, on the other hand, was very vocal with their opinions when I decided to get a few of those jazzy glasses-holding chains. I promised to never wear those in public—at least around them.

I never had another episode of blindness at work again. At Home Depot, twice. At Goodwill. At Kroger. At Ikea, even, but never again at work. You never know when an energy-efficient destination will sneak up on you. I’ve gotten in the habit of keeping sunglasses with me nearly all the time, just in case.

The modern world is a vicious place if you are sensitive to energy efficient lighting.

Sometimes I wonder if there are lots of other people out there with similar symptoms, wondering why on earth they feel so awful all the time. Are they secretly terrified that they are going blind? I predict that more of these cases will surface now that regulations are becoming stricter about energy consumption and efficiency.

In fact, I should probably buy stock in As Seen on TV HD Vision glasses.

Good, Better, Best-
“Have a better day,” the cashier said.

I contemplated that. 
Not a good day, like so many people bid us as we move through our daily existence.
Not the best day, either. That would be presumptuous—best is somewhat sacred.

Best not to spend that top-spot billing on a Tuesday that involved a trip to the supermarket, the gas station, and the post office.

A better day.
Better than what? Did I look like I wasn't having a good day? I wondered briefly if I should be offended, but I quickly dismissed the thought.
Better than it had been prior to this conversation?

What did she mean?

Maybe I was over-thinking this. Better is superior to good without the responsibility of best.

If this was her intention, I liked it.

I hope my day lived up to her request.

H
Hannah
Hoblitzelle Park

I
Interaction

J
Jan-
Jan told Russ, “I tried the Stay-At-Home-Mom thing once. I had all these projects I wanted to do. It was okay at first, but without the extra income, there was no money to be able to do the projects. I was looking for a teaching job by January.”

I know exactly what you meant, Jan.

Job Search
Jogging

K
Kenny’s Woodfire Grill
Kids’ Adjustment

L
Learning
Legoland
Lentils
Library

M
Marathon Kids

Married to a Millipede-
“Your sock situation is out of control,” I seethed. It sounded meaner than I’d meant, but I couldn’t help it; I was certain I’d be pairing socks in my dreams that night.

“You’re right. I’m so sorry,” he replied, forever sincere. “You must feel like you’re married to a millipede.”

My annoyance defrosted by leaps and bounds as I pondered this.

Married to a Millipede: A Collection of Memoirs by Courtney Sanders-Robinson

This has potential, I thought.

Suddenly, I was grateful for our sock farm.

IMAG0516-1.jpg
 
Meals
Meat Paradox-
If Russ and the kids suddenly went on a permanent vacation, I’d probably never eat meat again. This is not to say that I dislike meat. I enjoy meat quite a bit. Especially steak. And burgers with beef from Truth Hill Farms. Oh, and chicken flautas… yum!

I don’t like buying meat. I also don’t like preparing it.
I can do both of those tasks, and I can do it fairly well, but it grosses me out.

For the past few months, I’ve been trapped in a meat purgatory. I can purchase and prepare the meat, but then I can’t bring myself to eat it. Or, I can eat the meat, as long as someone else purchased and prepared it.

This summer in Maine, I picked apart a lobster like a pro. I inherited this keen ability from my mother, the planet's leading expert in lobster-picking. Restaurants could hire her. Restaurants should hire her. "Leave no limb unpicked" is her [unofficial, unspoken] golden rule. Someone should make a reality show about her. The world has never seen anything like it, trust me. I sat at that picnic table and picked until the pile of lobster threatened to topple right off the dish. My husband's expression said, "What the hell is your problem? I watched you scarf down a lobster roll yesterday in well under ten minutes." But I just couldn't do it. After helping to clean up from dinner, I re-heated a piece of leftover pizza and ate it when nobody was looking.

Now that I’m the primary cook at home, I’m still hungry by the end of most meals. I need to find a way to hypnotize myself out of this habit.

Back to the self-help section of the library, I guess.

Medicine
Meditation
Mia
Mom
Money

N
Neighbors

O
Office/Studio
One really good idea
Opah

P 
Payday-
Hannah and Caleb like when the weekend visitation schedule aligns with their bio-mom’s payday. On those weekends, they live large—restaurants for every meal, fun destinations like Dave and Busters, and sometimes even mini-shopping sprees. I’m not trying to make our kids seem superficial, because really, they are pretty level-headed--especially Hannah. What kids wouldn’t like that kind of weekend every now and again?

Hearing them speculate about if it was going to be a payday weekend prompted me to ask Hannah if she knew when our payday was. (Teachers here get paid once a month.) She sincerely had no idea. That made me feel really good about the choices we’re making and the example we are setting for the kids. I’m happy that we are comfortable with the same standard of living on payday as we are on the days just before payday.
 
Perfectionism
Pinterest
Plano
“Porch”
Projects

Q
“Quad C”
Quail-
Russ and I struck a deal. If he could get a whiskey still, I could get a few quail. It sounded like a reasonable compromise, except for the fact that my quail would benefit the whole family whereas his distillery would not.

According to my Big Book of Joy, quail are tidy, quiet little creatures that require very little space and minimal care. The book even said that those small mostly-plastic dog carriers are ideal quail huts. They are inexpensive and readily available; I’ve seen several on craigslist and at Goodwill.

With the general chaos of the start of the school year, I forgot about my quail plan for a while. There’s a new show on TV called Revolution that has reminded me, though, and now my quail need is back with a vengeance. 

It’s the only way I’ll be able to feed my family in the event of an apocalyptic power failure, but nobody around here seems to appreciate this.

Qwerty keyboard

R
Revolution (TV show)
Résumé
Rich-
Mia told us recently that the substitute really seemed to like her. She said she thought it was probably because we were rich. I choked on my milk. (It may have been wine. I’m not sure.)

Rich, us? I pondered this as I looked around our home. Every piece of furniture in the family room is from craigslist. Every article of clothing in the kids’ closets comes from consignment sales, consignment stores, or Goodwill. The stuff in their dressers—socks, underwear—are new, but all the play clothes are Goodwill hand-me-downs. Toys? Same origin, unless it was a gift from the grandparents. And if they only knew how many lentils and other legumes I sneak into their meals in order to make the meat go further, I might have a mutiny on my hands.

“Rich, us?” I finally said aloud. “What makes you think we are rich?

Her body language took on a “duh, Mom” demeanor.

“Mom. Really? We have tons of awesome clothes and cool toys and so much good food. Our house is like a castle! And you always say we have the best yard in all the land. We’re totally rich.”

When she said the part about the best yard in the land, I blushed. I do say that quite often. Our old yard was hardly bigger than a plastic kiddie pool, so this one does feel like a golf course. Okay, a mini golf course.  Still, I never imagined that my kid would start boasting about being rich!

I was mortified and heart-warmed all at once.

“Medium,” I told her. “We’re medium. You’re right—we really do have so much to be grateful for in our lives. And we do have the best yard in all the land. The important thing—the thing that really makes us special—is that we are happy with what we have. So in a way, medium feels like rich. But… please don’t tell people we’re rich. If you really need to tell them something, tell them we’re a happy medium.”

S
School lunches
Scottish Rite
Shower
Spelling Homework
Suitcases, two
Sunglasses

T
Time
Trade-off
TVP

U
Umbrellas

Utz- 
I remember Utz brand potato chips from New England, but you can’t find very many Utz products in Texas. Maybe that’s because Plano is the Frito Lay capital of the planet. When I was a kid, I thought the puny Killingly Frito Lay factory was the one and only, the big leagues, something to put the Quiet Corner on the map. If the breeze was blowing just right and the humidity was heavy enough, the smell of potato chips would waft our way, hovering over town with its greasy, salty goodness. Here the only evidence of Frito Lay that I’ve encountered is the sponsorship namesakes and the email extensions. Every so often, I’d have a student in my classes whose family had been transferred from the northeast, and we’d reminisce together about that special smell. 

So, Utz is something of a rarity.


I only seem to notice the brand around Halloween. Last year, I scored a huge pumpkin-shaped container of individually-packaged pretzels on clearance at World Market. The pretzels made great school snacks, but the container was the real reason I made the purchase. It is the perfect size to hold a full batch of homemade laundry detergent. We made the detergent (“Robinson Rag Soap” was Caleb’s suggestion) on New Year’s Day. Here it is, almost October, and we still have maybe a week’s worth left. That’s nine solid months for a family of six!

While grocery shopping the other day, I noticed that Utz had rolled out their Halloween line again. This time, the treat within was mini-cheeseballs. Same big pumpkin container. I bought two. Why in the world did I think I needed two more gigunda pumpkin containers?!  I’m sure I’ll figure something out, and when I do, I will let you know.

V
Vacations
Vinegar
Vitamins

W
Water

Window Payment-
Our home was in excellent condition when we purchased it. The previous owners had been meticulous about maintenance and general care. The house inspector said he’d seen houses half as old in much worse shape, and he was genuinely surprised and impressed at the age and condition. We were thrilled with this news. The only real issue was the windows. Roughly half of them had broken seals, which the inspector said could lead to serious energy loss.

Energy loss? That’s my weakness!

A few months later, a door-to-door salesman stopped by (those guys are Russ’s weakness) and we set up an appointment to learn more about these state-of-the-art, energy-conserving, easy-to-clean, miracle windows of the future. They’re twelve panels thick. They’re custom-fit. They reduce dust and allergens. They insulate so well that this one customer’s cat got confused when his “warm spot” was now as cool as the rest of the house…

We had to act fast to lock in the special rate.

We’d just finished paying off the Big Pig and Russ’s student loan. The salesman reminded us that eventually the windows would pay for themselves in electricity bill savings, so we signed up.

Yup, even though we are allergic to consumer debt, we signed up.

For the low, low price of $8,000, we had new windows installed in the kitchen and family room. Ten windows. That’s… $800 per window?! We reasoned we could pay $600/month across ten months and then just use a bit of tax refund or savings to knock out the remaining amount.

Stupid windows. I don’t even think it makes that much of a difference in our comfort level. We marveled at first, but looking back I wonder if that was maybe to soothe our own egos for having been such suckers. We will not be getting the other 12 windows replaced anytime soon. We’ve already started to put up the Gila film (love that stuff!) and honestly, it seems to do just as good of a job at controlling the temperature. If we have to put that sticky-clay-rope weather strip stuff on for the winter, so be it, because I am NOT going to get more new windows!

Wine (see Alcohol)
Working Out

X
Xerox
Xoxo

Y
Yelp

Z
Zero