Monday, August 31, 2009

Soda Out Your Nose

Matthew turned 13 this week. Now I have four teenagers in the house! This is why we have to buy 6 gallons of milk at Sam’s Club. The cashiers used to say, “Uh, do you make cheese or yogurt?” And we’d say, “Nope. We have teenagers.” (Although since Matt can’t digest casein, he doesn’t contribute to the 6 gallons.)

But enough about milk, Matt had a party this Saturday with a few friends. I asked him what he’d like to do with his friends beside eat chocolate torte (Matt can’t digest gluten either—so his “cake” is ultimate mix of chocolate, butter, sugar, and eggs.) But he didn’t want me to plan anything—they were going to play board games.

Just so you know, we are a family that lives on games. We have everything from Carcasonne to Settlers of Catan to Louis XIV to Bang!. But I bought a new game this summer that has become a major hit among the teens we know. It’s called Quelf. I actually bought it for Cal for his birthday, and we’ve played it as a family. Cal and I thought it was “okay,” but neither Luke, Ariel, Jacob, or Matthew can go to any friend’s house without bringing Quelf.

The object of the game, theoretically, is to win, although no one seems to care who wins. The real object is to laugh so hard soda spews out your nose. The source of the laughter? The bizarre, inane and embarrassing things your friends have to do. For example, Ariel got a card that insisted she had to find and wear a hat with a chin strap for the entire game—the only thing she could find was my Jane Austen chapeau. (Of course, it would have been funnier if one of the boys had had to wear it.) Then there was Matt who had to put five ice cubes in his pants and roll the die over and over until he got a five. Or there was Andrew who wasn’t allowed to use his arms for the entire game. And what about Luke? Every time someone rolled a four, he had to stand over them and act like a weeping willow and hum sad music. (He chose Darth Vader music—not my idea of sad music, but I guess if you’re Luke Skywalker…) And worst of all, David had to sing a love sonnet to…Luke. I could go on, but you get the idea. Yep, this is why they love it—humiliate yourself and your friends in five minutes or less. And we think Japanese game shows are weird…

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Grateful for the Noise

Do you ever have a moment where you think, “I am so unbelievably blessed”? I had one of those moments the other night. It wasn’t even that something special had happened. Just ordinary life, but it occurred to me how wonderful it was. I was watching the Yankees beat the Texas Rangers with Luke, Jacob, Matt, and Cal. (It was streaming on my computer.) Simultaneously, Ariel and I were watching Leonid Kogan (a violin virtuoso)—he did an amazing job with Tchaikovsky, Paganini, and Bizet’s Carmen (the Waxman version, which I had never heard before).

I could ooh and ahh at a double play or a perfect slider at the same time as I marveled over Kogan’s pizzicato and with equal fervor. I suppose it’s because a thing of beauty is a marvel whether it’s athletic or musical or written. But the real joy is in sharing these things together.

I realized how unusual this was the other day when Ariel came home from her Public Speaking class (required of all math majors—hmmm, wonder why…) In the midst of lecturing on the importance of communication, her professor mentioned how great it was for families to eat dinner together and discuss things. Then she asked for a show of hands of the students who did that with their families while they were growing up. Only Ariel raised her hand. At that point, the prof backpedalled and said that it was okay if that wasn’t most students’ experience. But, it was sad to consider what life would be like if we spent our meals alone or watching TV. I can’t imagine not hearing about what weird thing Luke discovered in bio lab—“I found a skin cell being attacked by a bacteria,” or Ariel dramatizing the antics of her accounting professor, or Jacob and Matt giving blow by blows of the latest Lego war, or Calvin making puns, which I’m destined to hear repeated by Matt and Jake for the next two hours.

So the next time everyone’s talking at once and the noise level has gone beyond cacophony, I’ll smile and remember how thankful I am. Of course, after that I might yell, “One at a time!”

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Feasting on My Flesh

As of yesterday...all the summer projects are done!! WooHoo!!

However, there is a downside. Jake and Matt stained the deck swing. Don’t get me wrong, the deck swing looks fantastic. But, they ended up with as much stain on themselves as on the swing. And the stain is oil-based so it doesn’t wash off. Big splotches of reddish brown decorate their legs and arms and even their faces. Both boys look like they’ve caught a skin disease—reverse leprosy or something like that. And Jezebel must have tried to help. The fur on her rear-end is red brown. Not very cute for a black Lab.

Cal tackled another summer project, painting the siding. Being an adult, he had less spills. Though for some reason the inside of his ears were Software Gray. I didn’t ask how that happened; I’m not sure I want to know.

As for me, I scrubbed and stained the two park benches. And since I’m an adult and wore gloves, I came out pretty clean. No weird blotches of any kind. Unless you count mosquito bites. Why is it that I can spray myself with Deep Woods Off—uber-high amounts of DEET—and the mosquitoes don’t care? They still bite. I am covered with swollen itchy patches. No, “bite” isn’t what they do to me…they feast upon my flesh. I must be the equivalent of lobster bisque for mosquitoes. (If lobster bisque doesn’t do it for you, you’re free to imagine steak or Veggie Burgers for my vegetarian friends.) So what’s a girl to do? Scratch, slather on more Benadryl and pray for an early freeze. I’m sure I can feel a chill on the breeze already…oops, that was the air conditioner.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Benefits All Around

We bought our house without even considering the advantages of living almost “down the street” from a major university. Okay, thankfully, we’re a little farther away (under five miles) or we’d have all the traffic and noise/hassles of frat houses. But, we’re close enough to enjoy the cost savings of “living at home.” I thought that would be the greatest advantage. I was wrong.

The biggest opportunity is a second college education. In the one week that Ariel has been in college, I have learned how to read a corporate accounting statement (corporate accounting), and I know why inflation is right around the corner (the Microeconomics professor gives excurses on macroeconomics). Other classes have been less helpful. For example, in Ariel’s public speaking class they played three truths and a lie (Ariel won—you go, girl! Though as a PK you have to wonder about her.) And there’s her rhetoric class, which is only meeting once this week because the prof is having individual meetings with the students.

Luke has been less forthcoming about his classes. I say, “How was bio/chem/econ/etc.?” Luke says, “Fine. It’s mostly review.” Then he shovels food into his mouth; the conversation is over.

I’m not the only one who benefits. Luke and Ariel never have to worry about quarters for the washers or who stole their load of clothes—they always have clean laundry. A college mother once confessed to me that her freshman son didn’t do laundry between August and November. (She did the washing during Thanksgiving vacation.) In horrified tones I asked, “What did he do about underwear?” She whispered, “He wore each one twice, right-side out and then inside out.” We both shuddered. “And after that?” I asked. “He bought more packages of underwear,” she answered. So getting by with a sane number of briefs, that’s more money saved living at home. Of course, the son could’ve washed them, but…

Besides laundry and food (Luke won’t eat anything that hasn’t been slaved over.), the other at-home benefit for Luke and Ariel is last minutes paper edits. Instead of going to the writing lab or handing it to a roommate whose writing skills are questionable, they can hand it to their mother who’s worked at a publishing company and done freelance writing and editing. Of course, they don’t get copyediting and I won’t write anything for them. Instead, I leave notes like “paragraph two is totally redundant—rewrite” or “your prof is not dumb—you’ve padded this essay for word count, get rid of all the adverbs.” Of course, I’ve been known to make the occasional grammar comment, especially “a comma goes before a ‘which’ unless it’s preceded by a preposition.” I ignore the rolled eyes—eventually, they’ll learn and repeat “a comma before ‘which’ unless it’s preceded by a preposition” to their own children.” And when they get eyeballs rolled at them, I’ll laugh.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Summer Projects

In summer if the heat and humidity don’t kill you, the house projects will. On our project list, the cheapest and most simple job seemed to be the master bathroom. All we needed to do was repair the ceiling and walls (the wallboard hadn’t been properly installed) and paint.

We broke out the spackle (aka “mud”), scrapers, sandpaper, sanding blocks, etc. Cal and I are expert mudders, having done this numerous times before—our houses always need a lot of TLC. However, after mudding, sanding, mudding, sanding, and mudding and sanding some more, Cal said, “This isn’t going to work.” It turns out that if some incompetent person installs wallboard without matching seams and using seam tape, you can’t fix it unless you rip out the old stuff and put up new wallboard. We definitely didn’t want to do that. (We’ve done that before.)

The only thing we could do was hang wallpaper—thanks to our mudding efforts, the walls were now smooth enough that vinyl wall should cover the flaws that were left. We drove to Sherwin Williams. The tough part was finding something that matched our white sink and toilet, gold and silver fixtures, and our tub. The tub is the sticking point. It’s an oval shape that looks like it should be one of those cool jetted tubs, except it’s not. I suspect it was a “sale tub” not only because it disappoints you with its lack-of-jettedness, but because it’s the color of rotted asparagus. Imagine filling a bucket with the leftovers of olive green, gray, and dollops of blue and brown—now you have the color. No manufacturer in his right mind would make this color. It’s the result of a computer-engineered color additive malfunction—hence “sale tub.”

At any rate, we found two wallpapers in the entire phalanx of wallpaper books that approximated the tub color (yet another proof that our tub’s color was an error—manufacturers engineer paint, wallpaper, and appliances to match or nobody would buy them).

We ordered the less heinous of the two wallpapers, which is actually attractive. Mr. Williams, or at least his Chattanooga representative, told us we could pick it up in a week give or take a few days. It ended up being a few months. The paper was backordered—and somehow they didn’t know that for several weeks.

Have you ever noticed that when something doesn’t go well at the beginning of a project, it doesn’t bode well for the rest? We should have paid attention to the omen. Finally, the paper arrived, and we started hanging it. About fifteen minutes into the project Cal said, “Now I remember why we said we’d never wallpaper again.” “Yep,” I agreed. The problem? Our wallpaper stretched (despite “booking” the paper to prevent “pulling”)—it’s hard to match seams that don’t match up. Even with the liberal use of a seam roller, our seams refused to seal properly, necessitating the purchase of seam adhesive. Plus, once the paper was wet, it refused to cut and tore in ragged edges, which meant we couldn’t trim the hung wallpaper even with the razor-edged wallpaper trimmer until it dried. (I ended up using my sewing rotary scissors the next day.)

We did finish the project. The only casualty was a light fixture—the bolt holding it to the wall slipped out of the channel locks, which slammed into the glass lamp shade. We had to buy two beautiful coffee-toned faux alabaster shades that are much nicer than the old ones.

After installing the new shades, we crossed “master bathroom” off our to-do list. Yay! Now that leaves only two more projects. Staining the swing, the deck, stairs and gazebo are done. The problem is that I need two days without rain or drizzle. And the primed siding needs to be painted. After those jobs, we should be done. Although there’s the basement, the rest of Ariel’s windows (which have peeling paint and dry rot), the carport, not to mention the boys’ bathroom and the kitchen. Ah, well, there’s always next summer.
Note the ugly bathtub color--though these photos don't do justice to the repugnance of it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Shakespeare Costumes

Oops. Here are the Shakespeare pictures that I promised to post before we went on vacation.
(I made the boys' costumes, but Ariel made her own.)
Luke as Leontes.

Ariel as Hermione.

Matt as the "Clown," in full makeup and beard.

Jacob as Polixenes.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Hoping for Failure

Luke and Ariel started classes Monday. They arrived 45 minutes early to allow themselves time to find a parking place. Yeah, right. The campus was a swarm of cars, kids, profs, and no empty parking spaces. Apparently, the university has two types of parking permits—reserved (i.e., very expensive, but you will have a parking spot though maybe not where you wanted) and general (which is an opportunity for the university to swindle unsuspecting freshman and their parents). I’ve never seen an empty general parking spot, of which there are very few. And, to my chagrin, the university sells as many general permits as there are people willing to buy. It has nothing to do with available spaces. One would think it was illegal to sell something that doesn’t actually exist, but the government’s been doing that for years.

What did Luke and Ariel do? They parked at a metered space, but the meter will only accept two hours worth of change—they had three hours worth of classes. Guess who drove down to plug the meter? Yep, good ole mom and dad (Mondays are his day off). When we got there, desperate students couldn’t even find metered spaces.

If that weren’t bad enough, the meter maids were out in full force ticketing all the poor kids who couldn’t get back to the meters and didn’t have parents who could plug them. It seems to me that the UTC parking services ought to be paying the fines, but they’re the ones giving out the tickets…

Of course, I’ve been reassured by several sources that the parking situation will radically improve in the next couple of weeks when kids stop attending classes and start dropping out. Hmmm. UTC is banking on irresponsibility and failure to solve their parking issues. Isn’t this a problem for anyone?

Public transportation is an option. But, I don’t relish getting my 17 year old daughter by herself on a bus at 9pm. Heck, I don’t want to be on a metro bus at 9pm. Eeeew!

In the meantime, I’m driving my precious freshmen back and forth to UTC. That definitely was not on my handout at Parents’ Orientation. In the meantime, I guess I’m supposed to hope that other people’s kids start failing quickly. That should give me some nights of sleepless angst.
Here's a picture of Luke and Ariel before they discovered the parking fiasco.

Monday, August 17, 2009

My Plan

I’m glad I went to college before the ubiquity of email. My daughter, who starts classes on Monday, got an email from one of her professors on Saturday. He sent the normal syllabus and class schedule, but he also included the first long reading assignment, which was due on the first day of class.

Gone are the halcyon days when you got to enjoy the last days before class started—rather like sipping the last of the summer wine. Instead, you get assigned the first two chapters of Corporate Accounting, a required classes for math majors since they need to learn how to manage the wealth they’ll acquire by majoring in something other than the humanities.

After reading the materials, Ariel came to me and tried to explain to me how to read a corporate accounting statement. I listened politely, but the truth is I don’t care. I hope and pray that I will never, ever have to read a corporate accounting statement. In fact, isn’t this why you send your children to college—so that they can learn to do things you can’t. Then you can mooch off their knowledge. That’s my plan.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

I Know What You're Thinking

The other morning I was hurrying to get laundry started, the dishwasher running, put on makeup, etc., because I had errands to run with Luke and Ariel. Matthew and Jacob were going to be home alone.

In the midst of mascara and fabric softener (not at the same time), Matthew asked, “Is Real Lemon the same as lemon juice squeezed from a lemon?” To which I replied, “Yes.” After all, the chemical makeup is the same, the difference is in freshness.

After I applied lipstick, I realized this wasn’t a cooking question. So I tracked Matt down. “Matt,” I said, “you are NOT making a wet cell battery while I’m gone.” Matt frowned. “Why not?” (Why do kids ask these questions?! Do they seriously not know?!) I answered, “Because I don’t want you to.”

Later Ariel said, “Mom, how did you know what Matt was planning to do? Did he have his science book out?” I shook my head. “I’ve been Matt’s mom for all of his nearly thirteen years—I know what he’s thinking most of the time. That’s what being a mom is all about—you know when your child is considering creating electricity, or other dangerous things.” If moms didn’t…the earth would be far less populated.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Narcissism Vs. World Domination

The other day I was reading a report by an Israeli psychologist claiming that President Obama was a narcissist. (Since the point of this is not politics, I’m not going to comment on whether or not he is—I’m not a psychologist and I don’t know the man. Nor will I speculate on what international issues might cause the Israelis to want to promulgate ideas of the president’s mental health. Is that enough disclaimers?) At any rate, I mentioned this fact to someone and found out that there’s a whole field of psychology devoted to presidents. And, I was told, that it’s classified under “Abnormal Psychology.”

Now this is curious to me. I wanted to know “why.” The person looked at me oddly and said, “Well, why would anyone want to be president? The stress, the pressure, the responsibility, etc.”
I had to scratch my chin. As a child, I toyed with the idea of wanting to be president. The power was always a major enticement for me. Maybe this is why, when I took the Lord of the Rings personality test, I came out as Sauron. (For those of you who don’t know, he’s the really, really bad guy.) I was hoping to come out as Goldberry, my favorite character in the novels. Everyone else in my family came out perfectly: Cal was Faramir, Luke was Beregond, Ariel was Sam, Jacob was Tom Bombadil, and Matt was Gimli. Surely, I could do better. I retook the test, altering my answers slightly and hoped I’d come out as Goldberry, or at least Eowen. But no! This time I came out as “The Dwarves.” Yep, I was an entire race.

Maybe I can take over the world. One of my dear friends came out as the Witch King. Together the world is ours. Bwahahaha! Watch out, Obama, narcissism’s got nothing on the hunger to dominate Middle Earth.

Beware the Eye!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

New Photo

In case you're not a detail oriented person, look to your right--there's a new picture of me. Many thanks to Rebekah Duke, aspiring photographer!! She takes wonderful photos.

She took so many lovely pictures. Here are a couple of my favorites. One with me and my darlin' and one with me and my daughter.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Wife of Poseidon

The kids and I have always noticed how comfortable Calvin is in the water. And not just comfortable, but completely at home. For example, he’s been a certified lifeguard on and off for 30 years, he can swim for miles never breaking perfect form, and the waves seem to listen to him, carrying him in their froth to wherever he wants to be.

The kids and I decided that Cal must be either: Aqua man, Poseidon, or the last remaining survivor of Atlantis. But, it wasn’t until this vacation that we discovered the truth. Our photographer friend caught this picture of Calvin emerging from the surf at the summons of his wife and daughter.

If this isn’t Poseidon, then I don’t know my Greek gods. The fact that he wears Hawaiian swim trunks with hibiscuses printed on them confirms it—not to mention his plaid Bermuda shorts. (Check out Percy Jackson and the Olympians for the identifying descriptions that clinch it.)

Assuming that Cal is Poseidon, then our children are demi-gods. This means I can give them Odysseus-worthy epic quests (e.g., help your brother find his missing sock before we leave) and Herculean tasks (e.g., pack all these suitcases into the back of the van, making sure to leave enough room that we can see out the back through the rear-view mirror). Yep, I could get used to being the wife of Poseidon and having a horde of demi-gods as my minions.

(Thanks to Rebekah for all the vacation photos.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Tulip on Vacation

We’re on vacation this week in North Carolina. We’re staying in an antique cottage on an estuary off of the inland waterway. Just out the front door is a snowy egret nesting grounds, which is very cool because I love snowy egrets. Every evening near dusk the egrets fly in a roost in the trees of the estuary.

And you can sit on the edge of the water and watch the fish jumping and, though I’ve not seen them yet, dolphin frolic.

Yesterday, we went to the beach on the barrier islands of the Camp LeJeune Marine Corps. The water was tepid, the waves perfect, and the beach empty. I forgot how much I love salt water and waves.

This morning I saw a pilated woodpecker (for those who don’t know—it’s the Woody Woodpecker type with the bright red flat-top.) I love birds.

And we’re with dear, old friends.

The downside. Let’s just say that I’m not a Southern magnolia type of woman. My ancestry is more Northern European—I’m a tulip kind of woman. So my morning run has been a bit different in nearly 100% humidity with the sun beating down,even early in the morning. (Yes, yes, it’s nasty in Chattanooga too, but there I run on a treadmill in the air conditioning.) As you can imagine, tulips wilt quickly in Southern heat. But, I forced my legs to keep running—I keep telling myself, “You’re so much tougher than this. You’ve given birth to four children, you’ve raised an autistic child, and you’re a pastor’s wife. This is nothing.” I’m not sure I believe it, but it distracts me enough, which is the purpose. If I don’t notice the sweat and the stifling heave of my chest, then I’m good, besides I have to burn off those tacos I had for dinner last night.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Top Ten Reasons You Know You Have a Daughter in the House

1. Your dog has silver/purple/red toenails.

2. One of your bathrooms is never empty—how many times a day can you fix your hair?

3. You (mom/wife) have someone who always takes your side in an argument.

4. You hear the words, “You’re not wearing that, are you!?”

5. As opposed to piles of dirty clothes (boys), you have piles of clean clothes everywhere as outfits were discarded because they just weren’t working.

6. You have a second person in the house who believes that chocolate is a food group.

7. You have someone who will watch Pride & Prejudice/The Lake House/Sabrina with you for the 31st time.

8. Someone says, “Oh-my-gosh, look at that cute stuffed pig!”

9. She’ll buy the latest Gallagher girls book with her birthday money so you don’t have to wait for the library to get it. (Though you do have to wait for her to finish reading it before you can start, but she’ll read it in a day so it’s all good.)

10. Someone who knows that when you cry, you just want someone to give you a hug…even if you’re crying for no discernable reason. (Boys have a hard time with that last bit.)