Sunday, January 27, 2008

Better than a frontal lobotomy

Recently I ran across someone saying that their life hasn't been easy, but it has been interesting.

I could go with a little less interesting lately.

Our tenants moved out, leaving the utilities on shut-off and a huge water bill, not to mention unpaid rent. Not to mention no forwarding address, which they saw no reason to give us since they have no money to give us, either. Since they had not been paying the rent on time, but piecemeal thoughout the month, we traded one stress for another.

My mother is in a nursing home with dementia. I mean, of course, that my mom has the dementia. She has been in there for eighteen months, entering two months after we had my father in there for two years. We have gotten very little respite, as the "off months," when she was in assisted living, she was worrisome anyway, as she would go outside and refuse to go indoors at night, which meant I would have to drive over to her apartment and act horrified and embarrassed at the scene she was making so she would go indoors again. As a nightly event, this got old fast. Now mom is having "episodes," which could be strokes or transient ischemic attacks or seizures--we don't know. My sister and I went in and signed a "do not resuscitate--comfort care only" form, which essentially means "let her die." Despite my mother making her wishes clear to us in writing in her trust document, this was a hard choice, and of course we feel somewhat torn, as we have dealt with this stress with both of our parents so long that we are second guessing this decision and wondering how much of it is selfish and how much is according to my mother's own needs.

Kiki has been having issues in school, and I need to have her evaluated to find out what mental health issues she may have, as several of them run in the family. Of course, I called the Cleveland Clinic to set an appointment, and was told that, before I ever get an appointment, I would need to talk to the billing office, and they would call me back within two days. They didn't, so I called back. They gave me somebody's voicemail. Still nothing. The third time I called, telling the receptionist I needed a call back and wasn't getting one, she told me, "I'm not getting involved in that." And, guess what, gave me voicemail yet again. The fourth time I called and was given voicemail, I called my regular doctor's office, and they called themselves to find out that I already had an appointment, set without my input at a time which was not convenient for me.

Do you think someone could have called? How hard is it?

We got notice from the kids' school that the tuition for next year will be increased 25 percent. Ouch. This is after a 25 percent increase last year, too, one which we hardly could meet.

Rocky's report card came--he got, guess what, Fs. Many. And we paid 25 percent more for these than last year. It turns out, I kept asking about his assignment sheet, and he was rushing to do his homework at school, so he didn't present me with the sheet. His teacher stood over him while he filled it out and put it into his backpack, which obviously is the new location of the Bermuda Triangle, as assignment sheets vanish from the inner sanctum there. When he got home, he would tell me, "No homework." or "I only have this." Ha. So he was on blackout, which means he was like on moving grounding, spending his days with me and eating healthy boring food for each meal.

So today he and Nita stole some stale Cheetos which I keep in the car to use for training treats for the dogs. He put them in his pocket to eat later, which I discovered when I was automatically frisking him in church. I automatically frisk this kid often--some of you moms get that, I'm sure. I put him in his room for the rest of the day, and of course he has gotten out of bed and come out into the main part of the house for every possible eensy tiny excuse he could manufacture.

Finally, I lost it with him and am now drinking straight gin. Not a good sign. I used to drink straight gin when I was younger and stupider, but now I stick mostly to weak margaritas, but this seemed appropriate tonight.

Let's see what I'll be drinking tomorrow.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Enlarger

One of the hardest things for me is to shut off my enlarger. Some of you may be familiar with the enlarger, or you may have one yourself. This device comes on late at night when you are trying to go to sleep, or in my case, go back to sleep.

The enlarger operates on its own, taking my thoughts and running them through the machine, over and over again, taking small problems and making them apparently insurmountable. Eventually, getting any more rest is completely out of the question.

What really bothers me is that the only way to thwart the enlarger is to get out of bed, drink a glass of milk followed by a big glass of water and then to watch late night/early morning television for an hour or so. TV is so bad at this time that my brain obsesses about things like why young women would permit themselves to be videotaped for Girls Gone Wild or have a blind date accompanied by a video team, why would anyone want to watch this, why this stuff is allowed on television, and what this says about us as a society.

Eventually, I get tired enough to go back to bed, only to be wakened thirty minutes later because all those fluids have passed through my system.

It becomes a vicious cycle.

I have tried a variety of techniques to avert the enlarger, but none have been terribly effective. What I need is someone to come in and disconnect it entirely.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Cash back?

I have two chocolate labs and a lab mix.

The two purebred labs have a strong retrieve drive, and Penny expecially will play fetch for hours, dropping a slobber-soaked tennis ball into my hand for me to throw, repeating this until her legs are weak and shaking.

This morning, I was putting some cash into my wallet. I set the opened wallet down in the purse and put the purse on the table for a second. Of course, Murphy's Law being what it is, the purse spilled, and coins rolled all over the kitchen.

Penny pounced and gave chase to the money. I started telling her, "Leave it!" and "Mine!", thinking she would swallow the coins IF she could get them up. As I watched her with one eye while scrambling to scrape up the money, she delicately picked up dimes, brought them to me, dropped them into my purse, and raced off for more.

Last night the kids and I watched a PBS special about dogs; the premise of the special was that humans had selected traits that they wanted in dogs and bred selectively, creating all the types, sizes, and breeds of dogs we have today. I wonder which trait was the one which caused Penny to retrieve cash.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


My father was in the nursing home for nearly two years; my mother has been in the same facility for over a year. I have also had an aunt and an uncle in the same place.

With my father, I really didn't know the nursing staff. However, I was touched by how, when he was in his last days, each person who had cared for him waited until I left the room and came in to tell him goodbye. Food was quietly brought in to me so I didn't have to leave him. A few people came in to reminisce with me, and we cried and laughed about some of Dad's escapades, as Dad was challenging to care for. In Dad's obituary, we made it a point to thank the staff for the loving care which Dad received from each of them.

When Mom unexpectedly went in a couple months later, we were numb. She has become outspoken, and she too can be difficult. Many times, the families of the residents are critical of the staff instead of realizing how much they truly do care, and families sometimes even blame the staff for the death of a person who was not in good health to start with. I told the director of nursing the other day that the aides and nurses care for Mom in the literal sense, but most also truly have come to love her despite her outspokenness, and we are so blessed to have them. They do this with little or no expectation of reciprocal love--for these people it is a calling and not just a job. Plus, some of the staff quietly do things for the residents, like buy shampoo and lotion so the residents have nice things; they do this out of love and not because they expect recognition. What more could we ask for?

Consequently, I am so grateful for the thankless job these people do for my mom and for us. They have touched my family in many ways that they will never know.

Friday, January 18, 2008


We live in the same house where I grew up. It is in a rural area on a dead end street. From the kitchen table, I can look out and see all the way to the next ridge, and on a clear night we can see downtown Cleveland. A lot of the old farms have been sold and chopped up into housing developments, the people I went to school with scattered, the old familes no longer here. This area has become overrun with Home Depot, grocery stores, clothing shops, and two McDonalds restaurant. But I came back; or maybe I never really left.

All the years that I lived in other places, I would return and as soon as I began to climb the hills, I would know I was back where I belonged. It is not the house, but the area itself: the light, the trees, the ridge, maybe a combination of all these. I am here with plants which we can trace back to my grandmother, my grandfather's tools, huge trees which were saplings when my sister and I planted them, pets who we buried in the backyard, and the enclosed porch which my mother had built after scrupulously saving part of her paycheck for many years.

Now my kids wait at the same bus stop where I stood, they play in the same fields where I did, and they sleep in the bedrooms where my sister and I slept.

The neighbors are gradually dying off; new neighbors are moving in, and a new house was built on the street last year, the first in thirty plus years. However, we are here for the duration. I cannot imagine living anywhere else.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Laundress's Tale

My dryer, which was so old it was avocado colored, finally died this fall. The wires caught fire, and when I came in from outdoors and smelled the smoke, I blamed Rocky, who has an extensive history of fire setting. When he denied any involvement (what a blessing it is to be able to believe him finally), he and I went through the house to discover a smoke-filled basement. The wires on the dryer had ignited and burned and shorted out. I finally found the shut-off valve for the gas, and opened the windows.

Money was a little tight last fall, what with some unexpected repairs to the rental house, and I decided to forego buying a dryer until we were more solvent. When I was a kid in this house, we had a wringer washer and no dryer, so it wasn't too much of a shock. However, it was inconvenient. That meant that we hung all our clothes in the basement on the clothesline my father strung up nearly fifty years ago, and I didn't wash anything which was not totally necessary.

Last Friday, my new dryer arrived. I used it once yesterday, and I started drying clothes full-tilt this morning. I didn't realize how much I took the convenience of a dryer for granted--it was a shock to discover how much pleasure a dryer actually gave me. And the kids are delighted to no longer have crisp underwear.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Say what?

We are a multi-cultural family. EG is Mexican-American, Kiki is our bio child, and the two other munchkins are African-American.

EG is a music teacher, and he has been teaching Rocky guitar for a couple of years. Every time Rocky gets more hyper than normal, we say, "Go practice." Consequently, he has gotten quite skilled at his instrument.

Also, our kids are constantly being exposed to a variety of music, and Rocky's latest fascination is with Eddie Van Halen. Rocky got a CD player for Christmas, and he wore it to the hospital when he had surgery. Every person who asked, "What are you listening to?" was a bit dumfounded when the black kid said, "Van Halen."

I don't know if Rocky will ever listen to what his contempories listen to, and that is fine with me, as I feel that children should be exposed to the classics.


I have a 100 plus pound Labrador retriever named Penny.

She is a high-drive dog, full of energy and bounce, even for a Lab, and is my "wild child." We got her from the pound; the people who surrendered her said, "We didn't think she'd get so big, and boy is she hyper."

Isn't that the truth.

Penny is female but not feminine. She has taken on both of the "boys" at once and won, and she won't back down from any confrontation--I have to suave her into doing something or choose a valid motivation. We are taking agility classes, and she is fearless, racing across an eight inch wide board four feet off the ground, crashing onto a table which wobbles, and going full tilt into a tunnel while not knowing where the exit is. She is everything we want young female humans to be: brave, strong, and determined.

However, Penny has a "delicate system," which seems ludicrous in an animal this large. This most likely comes about because she will eat things first and ask questions later. Consequenly, she wakes us with what we have called "the midnight urka gurkas." And like she does so many other things, Penny does this with gusto, too.

Luckily, the vet recommended Pepcid AC for her malady; while it doesn't control everything completely, it helps her and us get some sleep.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Put the cash in the cup provided

This happened a couple of years ago.

I have two kids with attention deficit disorder—one is hyperactive and one isn’t. I had read that martial arts are a great activity for ADD kids, so I called around to find a class which would suit. I eventually chose a school at the local YWCA. The class is taught by a married couple, and the husband is an ex-Marine. When someone gets out of line, he will raise one eyebrow and lower the other and stare down at the offender from his seemingly great height. This look stops me short, and I have never been on the direct receiving end of it.

Rocky has given Sir many reasons to exercise his eyebrows. My son is highly competitive, so jogging around the room becomes a race for Rocky. While the other students remain grouped according to rank, Rocky will lap the upper ranks, apparently thinking he is the Bobby Rahal of the jogging world.

Then he gets the eyebrow and pushups.

Last week, I washed everyone’s tae kwon do uniforms and distributed them to their rightful owners. Rocky put his on the bed, eventually pushing it to the floor. The dog then obligingly trotted over the pants and top several times, leaving muddy streaks and footprints. On tae kwon do night, Rocky emerged from his room looking like he had been dragged behind a runaway horse. After shrieking for several minutes, I sent him to change into sweats and a tee shirt. That evening it was the eyebrow and pushups AND being sent to the end of the line for class.

However, Rocky gave Sir a real workout one evening. The Y has vending machines near the restrooms. One of the other moms heard someone come downstairs from tae kwon do class and peeked around the corner to see Rocky in the hall; he said he was on his way to the restrooms. Returning to her chair, she heard the vending machines operate. Since the uniforms worn in class do not have pockets, she dismissed Rocky as being the one to use the machines. However, this pattern continued for several evenings, so I asked Rocky about it. He denied everything, but then the girls reported to me that Rocky jingled in the crotch area when he was sparring in class. The truth came out—Rocky was using his athletic cup to transport funds.

When I told Sir about this latest fiasco, he was so dumfounded that he simply blinked. However, by the time he got to Rocky, the eyebrows were working overtime.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

OoooOOOOooo---Beware of the Roo-OOOM-ba

I have been giving serious consideration to one of those cute little robot vacuums. I would love to go to bed and wake up to a freshly vacuumed home. I would love even more to find that the floors were cleaned, dishes washed, laundry folded, and Tom Selleck was standing over me with a cup of freshly brewed Arabica.

If only.

Anyway, I have some hesitation about robot vacuums. First, we have three dogs who might decide that the vacuum was no longer something to be feared, but was some form of prey that must be destroyed. Two hundred dollars is a little steep to be paying for a dog toy. Next thing, they'll be wanting their own car.

Second, these dogs shed. A lot. I know only too well how never-ending it is to clean up their hair. Some days, we could knit a new dog with what we sweep up. I don’t know the work ethic held by these little robots, but I can imagine that the vacuum might become overwhelmed and simply shut down--heaven knows I have done the same thing at times. Or the cute little robot vacuum, feeling overwhelmed in its artificial intelligence way, most likely would escape one night and run away to a new home with more reasonable expectations. Again, I can relate.

Third, when I was a kid, I saw lots of those B horror films on late night television. Somehow, in the back of my mind, I envision the vacuum taking on a life of its own, veering off its programmed path and searching me out, latching onto my sleeping form…

Not an end I would have chosen. Maybe I’ll stay with the vacuum—other than sucking up a sock or two, it has never given me too much trouble, and the dogs are afraid of it. So far.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Please Click

I am a firm believer in adopting pets rather than buying them.

Both rabbits and all three dogs were rescues. All the dogs were pound puppies, and two were at the ends of their stays, on death row.

Yes, they have quirks. Penny is my wild child. Harry has separation issues. Will can't hit the litter box if the level of litter isn't exactly right. But don't we all have some issues?

If you are not able to rescue animals into your home, consider clicking on the link below and choosing the "Click Here to Give-It's Free" button. I have put this in my favorites, and when I have a minute (or even part of one), I hop onto the site.

It seems a small thing to do and will have such a big impact.

Penny says thanks.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Cheap, cheap.

I have been spending a lot of time lately looking for more ways to save money.

I will be in line at the supermarket and see a magazine which reads, "Save thousands this year."

Yahoo. I look in the magazine, and voila! I do every item on the list except the one which reads, "Shop for a lower credit card rate so you can pay off your balance sooner."

We don't have a balance.

I am not trying to sound sanctimonious here--we were raised by frugal people, and I love a good bargain. Okay, I am CHEAP. I get my hair cut at the beauty school, I cut coupons, and my family's wardrobe is from clearance and thrift stores. My kids bought each other presents from Salvation Army this year, and all of them got much more than what they would have normally been able to afford. However, we do spend our money, too. My kids go to private school, and I drive a nice car. My vet bills alone would support a small third world country.

One time, my sister called and said, "My mother-in-law's neighbor is moving, and they put a bunch of stuff in the trash. This woman threw away a bunch of clothes, and she is about the same size you are." I went over and got my entire summer wardrobe, plus a wrought iron patio table and chairs, minus the glass top. A few weeks later, I was driving home from somewhere, and I saw a glass table top in someone's tree lawn. Bingo.

Tonight is Garbage Eve in our neighborhood. I guess I could go shopping...

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Idiom and the Oddity

My mother operated under her own kind of logic. She was a remarkably astute woman when it came to people and their motivations. She could provide insight into many interpersonal situations which confused the rest of us.

However, it was in the verbal arena where she would become bogged down.

Some evenings, she would say, "Well, I guess I'll go to bed so I can get up." Now, translated, that meant, "I need to get to bed early so I can wake up easily." However, to my preteen mind, this stated the obvious so thoroughly it defied logic.

My sister gave me proof yesterday that she, too, has this quirk. She said, "I guess we'll find out, and then we'll know." Translated, that meant, "I am not worrying about this until I have more information."

One of my favorite memories is my sister and mother seated on the sofa, watching television. My mother asked, "Is that what's his name?"

My sister replied, "I don't think so."

And the truly scary part is that I knew who it was they were talking about.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


When we had our Great Dane, Bess, put down, Kiki grieved and grieved. I told her when she was ready she could have another pet.

A few weeks later, Kiki came to me and said, "I think I want a bunny." I told her that she needed to find out as much as she could about rabbit care, and then we would talk. She read on the Internet, spoke with several rabbit experts, and read numerous books. Then we e-mailed several rescue organizations, telling them that we had a noisy, controlled-chaos household with several Labs and several kids, that our pets were part of the family and went places with us, and we needed a rabbit who could handle it.

Only one organization contacted us back. The writer said, "I think we have the bunny for you."

We met Bob the Bunny in a pet supermarket. He was casually reclining on a table, watching the shoppers, no cage nearby. Kiki wanted a cuter bunny, perhaps one with a more bunny name than "Bob." But I arranged for another meeting, and Bob ended up coming home with us.

From the beginning, Bob demonstrated to be a bunny of great poise. We trained him to ride in a basket, capitalizing on the fact that rabbits feel safe in small spaces. For his first public appearance, he attended an Easter breakfast with over fifty preschoolers and hardly showed any stress at all. I, however, needed a nap.

Bob now visits the nursing home regularly. If he stays away too long, the residents and staff ask for him--it is not uncommon for me to pass by a room, only to be called back with a "Where's Bob?" Bob will sit for hours, being petted and massaged by a resident who talks about his or her childhood rabbits, only his bunny nose moving. The most agitated person can become remarkably calm after a few minutes with Bob, and he is a great tension breaker when young children are uncomfortable while visiting a relative. Sometimes, too, the director of nursing will call and ask for Bob to attend for a special event.

Consequently, I have become the rabbit's driver.

However, I don't mind, as I really don't know who gets more out of Bob's visits: the residents, the rabbit, or me.

No Place Like Home Depot for the Holidays

EG often tells the story of his father and the toilet on Easter Sunday. It seems that the toilet malfunctioned and was uncooperative during the removal process, so EG's dad ended up ripping it out of the floor and racing it through the house and out the front door to shotput it onto the lawn in exasperation.

And thus began a family holiday tradition--home repairs.

Like many family traditions, it started out small--our neighbor, Norma, would clog up her garbage disposal every major holiday by making deviled eggs, and either EG or I would run over and unclog her sink. Norma has since passed on, leaving us to celebrate on our own.

Then, the year before last on New Year's, the sump pump stopped working. Rocky came up from the basement and reported that there was standing water all over the floor. We spent a good part of the morning after installing a new pump.

Last year, though, we brought the tradition to a whole new level. We had been experiencing wet areas around the toilet, and we had been blaming Rocky, who is target challenged. On Christmas Eve, EG went to church to do music at Mass, and I went into the bathroom. I noticed that the supply line to the toilet had drops of water on it. Exasperated, I went to wipe off what I thought was Rocky's latest contribution, moving the line in the process. Suddenly, water jetted out of what turned out to be a cracked supply line, spraying the bathroom.

I called poor long-suffering Kiki to monitor the spray and went into the basement, turning a variety of shut-off valves until I hit the right one. I then locked Rocky in his room, threatened the girls, and ran to the hardware store in the next town. I bought a couple of supply lines, as I did not know which one was the correct size, got some hazy directions from a guy who seemed unimpressed with my plumbing knowledge, not to mention my grubby sweats and uncombed hair, went home, and installed the line. When EG got home, completely unaware of the excitement, I proudly showed him my handiwork. Flushed with victory (if you'll pardon the expression) I then continued, opening the tank and telling him that part of the problem was that the float in the tank needed to be adjusted. I pulled on the float, trying to adjust it, and it snapped off in my hand.

EG, who is normally volatile, to say the least, just stared at me, speechless.

I ran back to the store, got a package of toilet innards, and came home to install them. I couldn't get the water flow just right, so I called my friend Nora, who was home for the holidays. She brought her father over, and he talked EG through the process of adjusting the flow. When he left, he told me, "Don't touch anything else!"

No problem.

This year, it was the back doorknob which malfunctioned. The tradition continues.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Another Auld Lang Syne

This ten days of my vacation has shown me that I am not cut out to be a stay at home mom. My stomach is in total knots, and I am counting down the minutes until it is bedtime, starting generally right before breakfast. Of course, the holidays had something to do with the chaos we have experienced here, plus the kids’ routines being completely messed up, and of course we have the hormones experienced by the oldest of the three. To add to the mayhem, EG is taking some time off work, so he is here with us, too, and we all have colds.

Yesterday, I pulled everything out of the oven to preheat it for dinner. The two younger kids asked to go outside, only to discover the doorknob, which is not even two years old, was broken, and the door would not open. The youngest started to cry, complaining that we were keeping her prisoner and were so mean she could not go outside. Rocky snorked, and I told him to blow his nose and stay indoors, too.

EG removed the offending doorknob, fed the dogs, let them out and back in, and went to the hardware store. I mopped the floor of dirty dog footprints, and Dirty Harry promptly walked all over it, leaving a new set of prints. I chased him into the living room and remopped the floor, putting a towel down so I could start supper. Rocky snorked again, and I told him to blow his nose. I opened the oven to discover that EG had put the dog food container in the oven, most likely to keep it away from the dogs. The heat of the oven had melted the container onto the racks, and kibble and melted plastic had fallen all over the bottom of the oven. Harry walked back into the kitchen and tracked all over the clean floor again. I pulled the rack out of the stove, turned off the oven, and cleaned up the mess, chipping cooling plastic off the racks and bottom of the oven, opening the windows to vent the smoke, which Rocky, snorking, came in to report to me long after the fact. You could tell he was stuffy. “Blow your nose,” I told him. The youngest started complaining that she was hungry. I told her I was working on it. She started wailing that I was starving her to death. I unkindly suggested that she eat the dog food and cooked plastic I had flung into the sink. Meanwhile, Harry came back in to see if any of the baked dog chow had fallen onto the floor and hiked all over the clean tile once again. I told Kiki to tie him, shut the windows, preheated the oven, changed the mop water, double checked the dog’s whereabouts, glared evilly at Rocky and barked, “Blow your nose!” and mopped yet again, putting the supper in the now ready oven. Next thing I know, Harry is marching all over the clean floor one more time, giving me an offended look when I chased him with the wet mop and running around the room instead of out of it, making a worse mess than ever. “How can anything be so dumb?” I asked to no one in particular. “And BLOW YOUR NOSE!”

Wait a minute—I had asked Kiki to tie the dog. “Why did you untie that dog?” She looked up from her manicure kit, blinking owlishly. “I thought he’d be a good boy.” Obviously the nail polish had affected her thought process. Rocky wiped his nose on his hand. I glared. Youngest said, “I’m famished—you never let us eat.” This time, Rocky isn’t the one who blew. I was. When I opened my mouth, out came one of those voices which caused my jaw to tighten, my eyes to bug out, and my forehead to feel like someone was thwacking it with a tack hammer. I could have shattered glass.

Only twenty minutes had passed since we discovered the door wasn’t working right.

However, this morning, I read the article about the family who was returning home from a Christmas visit with relatives. Four children and the mother were killed. In the big scheme of things, our situation was merely a series of annoyances, not a earth-shattering disaster. Maybe, if I keep forcing myself into the perception, I can make it for the rest of the break.