Thursday, September 18, 2014

Case of the Mid-Term Crazies

I was in week six of an eight week semester in college when our house succumbed to fire three years ago. Like the Little Engine That Could, I kept moving on the track determined to succeed. I took extensions on the two courses I was in because I was just sure that when the fog cleared and I'd had some sleep, the memories of what I'd learned in those courses would return. I enrolled in the next semester because I was sure I could handle it. Nothing was stopping me. I thought I could do all things.

I was wrong. Very, very wrong. By November I was crying all the time. I couldn't remember anything I had learned in those two courses. I refer to them as "those two courses" because to this day, I don't remember what they were. I was several weeks behind on the courses I was currently enrolled in. I was constantly begging for "just a little more time" to complete an assignment. I was also learning a new job and spending every free moment shopping for replacement clothes and household items, meeting with insurance adjusters, fire restoration crews, and trying to make our temporary rental house a home. I was exhausted and I was a mess.

The tears finally got the best of me. I realized I wasn't having an isolated tantrum, I was having a breakdown. I knew that I needed to stop and take care of myself so I could take care of my family. I dropped out of college, with two Fs. It felt fabulous at the time. I was free of all of that workload. The weight was off my shoulders and I could set about healing and helping my family heal. I was free to run about in the fall air and spend time with the kids. It was awesome.

...for about a year.

By the next fall I was getting anxious and moody. I wanted my house put back together. I wanted to move back home. I wanted my life back. I wanted to go back to school. I missed the reading. I missed the lectures. I missed the class discussions. I missed knowing that I was learning and growing, moving forward.

Fast forward...

Three years later, I finally got to go back. The house is pretty much complete. The family is as healed as we'll ever be. The insurance case...well, it's still ongoing, but it is what it is. It was time. I signed the student loans in blood and agreed to be bound to Stafford loan payments until death do us part. I dusted off my backpack and bought new books. I. Could. Not. Wait.

That was five short weeks ago, which brings us to today.

I spent 17 hours yesterday slumped over my laptop. I'm still wearing the same clothes, and hooboy! They are some purty clothes. I'm wearing my husband's olive green t-shirt, old gray sweatpants, bright green fuzzy socks, and purple reading glasses. I've completed the look with wild, unstyled hair, no makeup, and dark circles under both eyes. I've consumed a steady diet of peanuts, chocolate-covered raisins and iced tea. I cannot recall simple words, but I can recite to you the top expenditures of my 130-page city budget and relate them to the class text.

I am a certifiable mess. And I wanted this.  

I want to go outside and walk in the September air. I want to watch the leaves turn. I want to have dinner with my family and sit on the living room floor with my kids. I want to sleep. And I will...

In three weeks when the semester ends.

And then, I will have six more credits checked off my degree audit and I will feel like I rule the world and I will want to do it all again.

Because I'm batshit crazy like that.      

Monday, August 25, 2014

Remember That One Time?

The Boy: Remember how you told me I was going to Monterey that one time?

Me: No. How?

The Boy: With the glass bottle? Remember?

Me: (blank stare)

The Boy: We were at the corner restaurant having dinner, and I took my little sister to the bathroom or something, and when I came back to the table the waitress brought me a message in a bottle. It said "pack your bags, you're flying to Monterey for the youth leadership conference!"

Me: I did that?

The Boy: Yeah! You don't remember?

Me: Huh. Dang. You've got a really cool mom!

I think I need a new memory stick installed. I've run out of space or something.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Sweet 12th Birthday

Here it is, our 69th birthday party. Rough Stuff loves candy. She magically acquires a steady stream of suckers. So it was no surprise when I asked her what her party theme would be this year and she replied "candy!"

We started by making fake candy. Lots, and lots of fake candy. We used foam pool noodles, paper plates, toilet paper tubes, pretty much anything remotely candy shaped and disposable. We covered our collection in tissue paper and then with cellophane. A roll of cellophane cost us $9.99. This may have been one of the most cash-friendly parties we've ever planned.

I painstakingly covered bouncy balls with cellophane to put in the party favor bags and then the Big Guy insisted that middle school-aged children would try to eat them so they became additional decor. I might be harboring some resentment. Those suckers, er, um...gumballs, took a long time to wrap.

I failed to take a single photo of our fake-candy decorated home because I was exhausted and that's how I roll. You'll just have to settle for this bad photo of the table. 

My lovely daughter, Fish assembled this cute little lollipop tree. 

My beautiful girl, Tuna created these adorable lollipop cookies.

And I, rolled ham and cheese and pimento cheese pinwheels.

That's teamwork. I'm tellin' ya...if you're hosting a birthday party, you really need to have a couple of teenagers on hand. I have a few I can loan out. Just holler. 

I  created this candy-themed bingo game and then my two lovely bingo callers, Tuna and Fish, donned fake mustaches and took this game to a level I had never dreamed possible. They put on a 20-minute comedy show that had everyone laughing. The game was crafted in a simple table in a Word document and laminated for good measure- the bingo markers were Reese's Pieces. The prizes were all candy-themed but non-edible- Laffy Taffy-flavored lip gloss, candy-themed puzzles, etc.

Before the kids left the table, we gave everyone a miniature Hershey's bar and the kids raced to see who could unwrap and eat their candy bar first- using only their mouths with both hands clasped behind their backs. I'm quite sure I enjoyed watching that game more than any of them enjoyed playing it.  

We also played a relay game in which players took turns sucking a Skittle onto a straw and then running across the room to drop it in a bucket before it fell off the straw. Amazingly, no one hyperventilated or had an asthma attack. There were plenty of laughs and a few defective Skittles that couldn't be sucked to the straws. (That's their story and they're sticking to it.)   

We made party favors with...what else? Candy! (And a toothbrush for good measure.) Rough Stuff learned to make a candy shape on her Rainbow Loom and we tied one to each toothbrush. I absolutely love that all of the kids are old enough to help plan and create things for the birthday parties. With 69 of them under our belt, they've had some experience, yo.

No birthday party is complete without cake. This was definitely one of my favorite cakes. What kid wouldn't love a cake with giant lollipops plopped on top? A kid whose mother accidentally loaded it with relighting candles. True story. 

It was an accident, I swear. I found these adorable little lollipop-shaped candles and they were $3.99 for 4 candles. I was not spending 12 bucks for candles, so I bought one package and filled in the rest with color coordinated striped candles at 99 cents a package. Yup. Go me. I did not read the package. I swear I did not. I am terrified of fire. I would never intentionally buy a candle you cannot blow out. The actual suckers were melting by the time we had extinguished the cake.  

But that Rough Stuff? Well...she's a forgiving girl. (I might have placated her with candy.) 


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

It Happens (To Us)

Heads up: there is a graphic photo at the end of this post

The past seven days have been absolutely ridiculous. I mean, even for our herd. We're talking high level ridiculousness. It started when Rough Stuff gave us a scare with a very appendicitis-like belly pain that landed us in the ER until 3 am. The friendly, if overzealous, doctors gave her a dose of Fentanyl for pain and some Zofran for nausea and sent us on our way. She tied her head and glasses to the ceiling of the mini-van with a headband via the clothing hook (don't ask me, I was baffled), bit her sister 3 times, and asked for a donut a total of 3,075 times between the hospital and home. It was highly entertaining and incredibly exhausting. I will remember to ask for lower levels of pain medication should she ever need it again.

I opted for several hours of sleep and decided I would start work around noon, but that was not to be. I woke at noon and found a chilling message on my phone. My dad had been admitted to the hospital and was moving to the ICU. I packed my bags for the five-hour drive to the hospital. I spent one night in the ICU and then went to a friend's house to get some sleep. I woke to a series of cell phone messages.

It seems that Rough Stuff's pain had returned and she was not eating which surely must signal some level of crisis because she does not turn away food. Reference the donut incident above. The Big Guy had taken her back to the hospital and she was getting a full work up to rule out appendicitis and pancreatitis.

-Heads up: this is a totally anticlimactic tale- 

On the way to the hospital, the truck broke down and just coasted into the parking garage. Grand total on that unexpected repair: $1,200. Ouch. I was afraid Rough Stuff would be admitted because she'd been in the ER for hours and they'd run so many, many tests. I wanted to come home and be in that hospital, with her, instead of the one I was in. But...the storm clouds cut loose and the severe storm warnings rolled and it didn't make sense to drive in that kind of mess so I stayed. She was discharged late that night with absolutely no clue as to what was causing the pain or appetite loss. See? No dramatic ending.
Heads up: that graphic photo is coming. It may or may not contain bones.

So, I stayed at the hospital another night with my dad. That night was the worst hospital experience I've ever had. There was 1 tech assigned to 20 patients so you can imagine the level of care that entailed. I learned to change bed sheets that night, but I'm not sure I ever mastered hospital corners. One lovely tech gave me instruction on how to change the trash bags and set the trash out as I stood by speechless. When she explained later how to wash a bedpan, I found my voice and what I had to say was not very pleasant. I may refer to myself as Limitless Lisa, but that is an outright lie.Well, it's more of a hope really. Like a battle cry. Anyway, I have my limits.

The next night I drove home because my little Rough Stuff had turned 12 and we had a birthday party to prepare for. I'll post pics soon. It was lovely. I spent most of it in a fog. Turns out I'm not so good at switching my days and nights around. I'm blaming it on age.

Anyhoo, crappy week. High level of ridiculousness. Yada, yada.

And then this happened...

Owl pellet, up close and way too personal

An owl yakked on my deck. I mean, why not? It was so symbolic really. This whole week just kind of vomited on us. Every undigested thing just sort of spewed into existence. I am so seriously disgusted by this mess. 

So, it's time to just wash this whole mess away. All of it. It's a new week. It's time for fresh challenges. And a clean deck. 

Grossed out? I warned you. My kids think owl upchuck is beyond awesome. Perspective I tell ya.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Sneak Attack

My beloved daughter, Tuna is plagued by a bully. This bully, Gravity, has been picking on her since she first started walking. Gravity just can't let her be, always planning a sneak attack and dropping her to the ground without mercy or compassion. I try not to laugh. I mean, no one wants to encourage a bully...but sometimes I'm just overcome with laughter in spite of myself.

Sunday was one such time. We were shopping in the local party store and we had stopped to drool over all of the candy-themed trinkets we could use at Rough Stuff's upcoming birthday party. Tuna, Fish, and I were just standing at the end of an aisle looking up and down the display, when apropos of nothing, Tuna made a surprised face and just crashed to the ground. One minute she was standing beside us, and the next she was tumbling toward the carpet.

She collapsed suddenly to her knees and lurched forward sending her face perilously close to the rough carpet. Fortunately, her upper half is er...well developed...and acts as a system of dual airbags to cushion her many Gravity attacks. With mock airbags employed, she rocked back and missed hitting much more than her chin on the floor but the carpet did do a number on the airbag system and her knees.

I was as shocked as she was that Gravity had stalked her into this store and assaulted her without warning. I wanted with every fiber of my being to get hold of this Gravity and give it a good what-for, but for all my good intentions, I was completely immobilized by my own sudden need to pee. I stood completely still, legs crossed, tears forming in my eyes, overcome by hysterical laughter. Fish just looked on, completely dumbfounded. She had no idea what had happened.

Tuna got up, put on a smile, and gracefully recovered. I suspect she wanted to run after Gravity and give her a good smackdown as well, but her shoe was untied. Maybe next time.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Remembering Pa

The smell of burlap and old wood drifts into my memories every 4th of July. I've been afraid of fireworks for as long as I can remember but still, the 4th of July is a day of fond memories for me. I've wrestled with this irony for some time now and I think I've finally settled on what it is that draws me back to warm chunks of nostalgia every year. I've finally put my finger on it. It was Pa.

My grandfather, who only went by Pa in our home, was not fond of holidays. He mocked us on Christmas, barely leaving his room and he teased us about Easter and baskets of candy. He did seem to enjoy Halloween, as long as everyone who ventured upon his front porch was shorter than a yardstick. He was known to retrieve his shotgun to run off late-knocking teenagers. I don't remember him being a part of any of our holiday celebrations, with the exception of the 4th of July.

Early in the afternoon on the 4th, he would venture out to the old shed and carry back the burlap gunny sacks. The scent of that dusty burlap is seared forever in my memory. He would gather the ice cream makers, a sledgehammer, and a few old wash tubs. We were making ice cream! This was an every year tradition and I got to help.

He would pull milk cartons of frozen water from the big deep freeze, put them in the gunny sacks, and bust them up with the sledgehammer. Sometimes he let me help, but I was usually doing it wrong. Now, to fully appreciate this ice, you have to understand something about my Pa. The man never spent a dime he didn't have to. He had dimes- that wasn't the issue. But he was not about to give them away. We were not about to go down to the corner filling station and buy ice. You don't pay for frozen water! That would be silly. You make it yourself. There were always milk carton-shaped blocks of ice in the freezer and when you needed ice chips, you got out the sledgehammer.

While we created ice chunks in the backyard, my Grandma Nonnie made up the ice cream mix. We had two flavors every year when I was young- chocolate and vanilla. I would get to walk to the grocery store with Nonnie and pick out the Junket ice cream mixes every year. There wasn't really much picking out to it- we had chocolate, and vanilla- but it was always a fun thing to do. Nonnie would make up the two mixtures and then the fun really began.

There were two ice cream makers. One was electric. I can still hear the motor churning through the ice. The other was an old hand-crank outfit. Pa would add the ice cream barrels and layer in the ice chips and rock salt and then the chore was delegated to my sister and I. We would sit on top of the ice cream maker, crank between our knees and start churning for what seemed in my young mind, hours and hours. When one got tired, the other took over, but my sister, Kimmie always had to finish the job when the mixture got to solid for me to crank.

Nonnie always let me have a little bowl as she scooped the soft-set ice cream into old tupperware containers to firm up in the freezer. When I was a teenager, we took to making a strawberry recipe in an electric mixer as we continued the tradition, but the fake vanilla taste of that Junket package ice cream holds a place in my heart. I would lick the lid clean, until I ran onto a chunk of rock salt and ran sputtering to wash my mouth out with a sip of Coke.

Once the ice cream was made, the grill came out. My next job was to help Pa shuck the corn. We always had fresh corn and if I was lucky, I got to find a worm in one of the ears I shucked! I had to hurry though, because Pa was a lot faster at it and he would find all of the corn worms before I did. This makes me giggle today. I would be somewhat mortified if I found a worm in my corn now. I have also come to realize that something has changed- we no longer find worms in the corn husks and I'm sure that is because the pesticide levels have increased, but that is another story.

Pa would light the grill while I went inside and watched through the back door. (I've always  been afraid of fire!) We would have burgers and hot dogs with corn on the cob, and then I would dance around the house for hours anxiously awaiting fireworks and homemade ice cream.

Fireworks consisted of several novelty fireworks- tanks, camelias, smoke bombs, glow worms, and such- nothing that went 'pop' and nothing too big. My hometown had some sort of ban on fireworks and the police were fairly serious about issuing tickets and fines, but that didn't stop Pa. He would venture out into the street, far enough behind the house to make it difficult to detect which house the illegal fun belonged to, light the firework, and then hustle back up to the door to watch. After a few we would go inside and wait for a police cruiser to drive by, then he was back at it again.

At the end of the night, he would retrieve from his stash, a cherry bomb. These were not legal anywhere, I'm sure. They would blow a hole in the dirt and remove a two-foot ring of grass from the earth. He would tell me the same story every year about going fishing and throwing one of these in the lake "to blow the fish right out of the water so you can just scoop 'em up." He would promise to take me fishing some time, but he never got around to it.

The 4th of July was never a favorite holiday for me, but it was the one holiday that I spent most of the day with my Pa. I think the memories that flood my senses every year- the corn worms, the smell of old burlap, the sight of a glow worm burning on the concrete porch- those memories remind me of time spent with Pa.

Our 4th of July traditions are different. We haven't made homemade ice cream in years now and we usually don't pull out the grill on this day. Instead, we'll pack a picnic dinner with Mason jar desserts and go watch a professional fireworks display. But all day, I'll smell burlap and think of ice cream and smile.  


Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Letter to the Pyros

Dear Fireworks Lovers Everywhere,

We need to have a little talk. A come-to-Jesus meetin' if you will. See, I have a little problem with your choice method of celebration. As Independence Day draws near, and you all begin celebrating our independence as a nation by blowing things up, I am overcome with a familiar feeling; FEAR. Yep, fear. I am all out flippin' terrified of the 4th of July. There. I said it. is no surprise to anyone who knows me well. I have an irrational fear of fire. Well, duh, you say. No. No, no. I had an irrational fear of fire before the crock pot burned my house down. I've always had it. Let me give you a little background to help you understand.

When I was a wee one, I liked fireworks as long as they didn't make any noise and they weren't anywhere close to me. That pretty much limited the 4th of July celebration to sparklers (way over there, stuck in the ground please), glow snakes, smoke bombs, and those pretty spinning flower things that would chase my grandpa down the street when he lit them. Anything else made me very uneasy.

When I was a teenager, I witnessed my first bottle rocket war and that experience was pretty much like watching an actual war battle with tanks and explosives in my mind. I was mortified. I had hives. I cried. It was horrendous. I am possibly scarred for life from that incident.

Then I got married and met my husband's family and Oh. Dear. Lord. I tolerated their celebrations for a few years, but then we had children and I all but had a nervous breakdown trying to protect the fruit of my loins from the macabre fire-filled chaos they enjoyed. The Big Guy soon consented to making the 4th of July a private, just-us-and-the-kids celebration. It was that, or admit me to a mental health facility on the 5th of July.  

Over the years, I've come to realize that there is no end to the stupidity displayed in amateur patriotic celebrations. No end, people. Couple that realization with the pain of rebuilding our home and lives after a fire and my fear has multiplied a bajillionth.

I HATE FIREWORKS. The big ones in professional shows are pretty and all, but really...I would be just fine if I never ever saw another firework. If they all disappeared from this blessed earth, it would hurt my feelers not at all. Alas, they don't let me make the laws so you're all safe, you fire-loving maniacs, you.

With that said, I might be able to survive this holiday with my sanity still intact if y'all could just observe some basic safety precautions.

I like my home and I want to keep it, so keep your fireworks to yourselves, please. I also value my skin. It is pasty white and somewhat transparent, but it is mine and I'm attached to it. I would greatly appreciate it if you could just keep all sparky searing-hot things away from it. Oh, and my eyes? Yeah...I need those too. So, if you could just refrain from launching flaming missiles my way, that would be fabulous. And please stop setting them off in the street when I'm driving through because my car runs on gasoline, which is flammable, thank you very much. It would also be incredibly respectful of you to limit your 4th of July celebration to some reasonable period of time that is actually near the 4th of July, and for the love of all things sacred, stop setting them off by midnight.

I'm glad we could have this little talk. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll just be in my little happy place, securely tucked away from flying fire, celebrating our nation's independence with food, the way I choose to celebrate everything.

Happy fire-wielding blowing-things-up-day to you!