Monday, May 31, 2010

Sunrise, Sunset

                                                                               Photo by Debi Stone: Deb's Creative Images

 Yesterday was my baby’s third birthday. I suppose that officially classifies her as toddler now, although since she’s my last, I’ll always consider her the baby. Which she’ll hate me for at some point no doubt.

I always kind of balk when people talk about enjoying every minute of the tiny years because "they grow up so fast." I can tell you that there are times when each day feels like a damned eternity.

But the adage is right. It does go by fast. If I close my eyes I can remember being pregnant with her (without the cervical pressure of course), remember bringing her home from the hospital, remember her big, blue eyes, and pillow cheeks. I also can remember all the stress, the fear, and worry that accompanied my pregnancy.

We had just relocated back to the East Coast and had moved into our house in August of 2006. My husband was in Texas on a business trip and I was home with our 7 and 5 year olds. I couldn’t even tell you what made me think to take a pregnancy test…I may have been late—but more likely I was moody, miserable (even more so than normal if you can imagine that) and looking for a reason why I might be irrational. Even I know when I’ve maxed my limits.

I’m not one of those women who planned all her pregnancies with the lunar calendar, kindergarten entrance dates, and how old they’d be on their soccer team, in mind. My life seemed to mimic the pre-birth control era, where my responses to the news of each pregnancy was, “Oh Shit!” “Are You Kidding?” and “What??” respectively. The good news is that by the second and third kid I was no longer swearing, and the last time I didn’t cry. I’d say overall things improved.

But I came across a journal entry I wrote right after I found out I was going to have our youngest daughter. Three years ago, pre-baby, this is what I wrote (on the computer of course).

October 9, 2006

 I am without words and yet words are flying through my brain; jammed, cluttered trying to all get out the same door and finding themselves stuck. I should have known that as soon as I had my life planned out and finally going in the direction that I WANTED, that life would throw me another little curve ball and I would again be reminded that it is, in fact,
Not about me.
Terrified. Excited. Ashamed to be excited, actually. Mostly terrified. I don’t really feel all that confident about the job I’m doing with the two I have, let alone add a third to the mix. And what of my neurosis? What about the mood swings, the depression and the anger… all of that could come back now, again.

Looking around, I’ll have to baby proof everything once more. All those cute picture frames and magazines I left low will have to be put in a box for the attic—for years—and I’m back to scrubbing food off the walls and out of hair and cleaning puke and diapers. Up all night again, no sleep, you know how bad I am with no sleep, no sleep for a long, long, time.

And all my worries are back. The What If’s are already popping into my head, as if they knew they would be needed soon. Apparently they don’t go away, they just lie dormant in your head until you’re vulnerable again. Now I’m fighting them off with the bat of reason, of age, of experience, but those What If’s are formidable. No amount of logic will rid me of their grip.

How difficult it is for me to understand that the perfect life I live in my head, is not the perfect life I am meant to lead. The life in my head always works out so well. It always has a good ending, a sunny day, a fresh ripe crop of sweet raspberries, a published story in the end. That utopia is filled with cookie dough steam, creative crafts at the table, a constant pleasant smile for my children, a patient response to life’s complexities. The life I am meant to lead sometimes feels like the antithesis to this perfection. It’s messy and difficult. It’s filled with exasperation and exhaustion. There always seems to be a hill to climb, and just when I reach the apex and think my climb is over, there is another fucking hill looming before me. Bowels, allergies, rashes, stomach aches and I-don’t-knows seem to fill most of my days.

I just got to where I wanted to be. Where I thought I would stay. Where I thought God wanted me. Where I thought my dreams finally merged with my reality.
Did they? I’m here again…a place I didn’t think I’d be. Truth is, I don’t really know how to feel about it. I only know that at no time, did this outcome play out in my head.

Three years later, I appreciate this perspective for the fear it revealed, the honesty I felt at being scared I was going to mess up yet another kid. And how’s it been so far? You ask. Did any of those fears come true?

Well, yes and no. I did not experience the same depression, mood wings, and general life-hatred with baby #3. This was perhaps my largest fear of all, and it turns out that I handled things this time around rather well, but it’s better not to ask my other two kids or husband, just in case they disagree with me. My other two children were older this go-round, I was only needing to take care of one baby, and though I didn’t have any of my family here for support, I did have a great network of friends from when we lived in Massachusetts previously. And while I may still be screwing up my kids (and giving many therapists job security), after 11 years of watching other people with their kids, I’m not any worse than many parents I see around me. I’m not perfect, but I’m not on the CPS call list, so I figure mediocre is a good place to be.

I did go through the phase of cleaning up puke, changing the heinous diapers, and honestly, I’m still cleaning food off the walls and scraping it up from the floors, but I think that’s mostly my other children and my husband. That’s simply a life sentence.

But there are a few things I can tell you with absolute certainty—with the clarity that comes from hindsight.

She’s perfect in every way, even if she throws a mean tantrum.
She makes me laugh everyday, especially when she pouts or tilts her head when she wants something.
Like all my other children, she came along at exactly the right time. Even if it wasn’t the right time in my head.

She’s the best gift I never knew I always wanted.
Happy third birthday baby girl.

And thank you Lord, for all my three perfect presents.

Even when they make me need that wine you're so famous for.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

I'm Tired and This is What You're Getting

Happy Memorial Day! I've been to church, the grocery store, two barbeques, had one Dark and Stormy and one beer, three plates of food, another plate of dessert, and I'm tired. Now you know how my kids feel when I'm exhausted: neglected. Ignored. Starved for attention. I'll tell you what I tell them, "Suck it up. Tomorrow will be a brand new day." One kid is sleeping, one kid is playing video games, and one kid is still down the street at the neighbors house with my husband. I probably need to call down there to make sure mosquitoes haven't carried her off. Or that she hasn't gotten eaten by a fisher cat (because I saw one in our backyard the other morning, so I know they're out there.) But I'm tired and I don't have the energy to make sure she's not being chewed up by various insects or mammals.  I don't have a blog planned, and I just spent over 30 minutes on You Tube looking for a funny clip to share with you, but didn't find anything worth posting here. I thought about reposting another blog, but I've done that a couple times this month and I don't want to do it again. Tomorrow is that last day of the blogathon so I can't give up now, so this is the blog I'm posting for tonight. I'm going to bed now. Did I mention I'm tired?

But here's a shout out to all the people in our military and all the people who served out Country at some point: Thank You. Thank you a million times for all you do and have done for our country.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

It’s Van-Tastic

Today I started my morning off with a list of things I’d like to accomplish. I then proceeded to walk outside and start cleaning out my van which wasn’t even on the list. The catalyst for my decision was the fact that my van had started to smell like rotten milk. I’m past the stage of hidden baby bottles, but I am not past the stage of the Go-Gurt. My children cannot get into the van without grabbing one in their pre-trip ritual: go to the bathroom, grab your shoes, get a yogurt. Thank the heavens that Yoplait invented little tubes of dairy product, just perfect for busy families on the go. But now my vehicle is littered with (mostly) eaten yogurt casings. And the tiny little tip the kids rip off while opening the tube. In fact, I put this heinous chore off as long as I can and for good reason. If my family was stranded in New York City, in temperatures of 110 degrees, and a cab pulled up with an interior that looked and smelled like my van, I'd shove the kids out of the way, slam the door, and say, "No thanks, we'll walk." But since it's crap from children I know, while still gross, it's oddly acceptable even for my germ-a-phobic nature. But my van smelled. I could ignore it no longer.

I’m sure all of you have seen the You Tube clip, “Mom My Ride,” but if you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t seen it, you really need to watch it. I wish like hell I had been the one who thought of putting this together, but alas, I wasn’t. However, it is pretty much exactly what my van looks like and was what I was dealing with this morning when I decided to actually clean my vehicle.

Step One: Crap Removal

This is what I unloaded from the van today, although it was much worse a few days ago, when trying to find one of my children, I had to remove some trash from the floor. So while my trash bag is not nearly as full as it should have been, I did remove enough items to require four trips to the house to carry things in. While taking this photo I thought it would be a neat idea to put together some “I SPY Van Crap” fun.

I spy a bucket and a spool of thread,
I spy a hat for wearing on your head.
I spy a water bottle, phthalate free,
I spy an orange cup and pink pony.

I spy a rain slicker and bag of clothes,
I spy tissues for a snotty nose.
I spy sunglasses and a foil pan,
I spy some socks and a stained hot pad.

I spy a canning jar and a striped sun hat,
I spy two baseballs that you’d hit with a bat,
I spy a table cloth white and green,
I spy a bag of trash just for me!

Perhaps I’ll sell this photo to the I Spy book people. Maybe I could make a buck or two. (I also took a picture of the contents of my purse which I emptied out the other day as well. I’ll be doing another post on purse crap, with more I SPY fun to come.)

Step 2: Department of the Interior

Once the crap is removed, it’s off to grab the vacuum with the super suction. I admit that I didn’t do a stellar job with the floors; I just vacuumed over the floor pads without removing them. Upon first glance at this photo you might think that I have some groovy, retro tie-dyed carpeting in there, but alas, it’s fabulously stained from coffee spillage, sodas that leaked after the waxy bottom of the cup disintegrated, and other assorted liquids one might carry in the van. I don’t kill myself trying to suck up every last rock and crumble because I live with stains like these, and really, the bitty grit on the floors makes the stains less noticeable. I do however vacuum all the seats, especially the ones in the back where the kids inhale snacks and assorted sundries by first smashing them on their face, and then eating the crunchy bits. The seat around my daughter’s buckle is pretty malleable, considering that I had to dismantle it some years back to clean up a quart of chunky vomit.
I’m not even going to say it outloud because you know it’ll jinx me, but since then we haven’t needed to perform that particular service again. I understand this is just a matter of time.

Step 3: Put Van Back Together, While Admiring It’s Beauty

If cleaning out and vacuuming the vehicle wasn’t enough of a time suck, you then have to actually put away all the garbage you shoveled out of it. I had a pile for the laundry, a pile for the kitchen, a pile for the garbage, and yes, there is still a foil pan with a few remaining stragglers sitting on the driveway. I put back the driver’s side floor mat, admiring the cool hole that has worn through the bottom, but it does make a cool new way to play peek-a-boo with your three year old.

And lastly, the favorite part of my van has to be the passenger side mirror:

You too could be a proud owner of a carpet-soiled, rotten milk smelling van with a broken side mirror. The only thing you’ll need to do, is back out of your garage early in the morning (before your cup of coffee) while looking through the rearview mirror to make sure you’re not actually running over your children, and wait for the CRACK! CRUNCH! that is to ensue. For while we have a two car garage, it is obviously designed for two Tato Nano’s  and not for a Dodge minivan and Toyota hybrid. When the cars are parked in the garage together, I have to climb into my van through the passenger door and into the driver’s seat. This is not a reflection of my growing arse, but simply a statement about how large our garage is. (Although those wood-working tools along the side may be taking up a bit of room as well.) The interesting thing to note about my side mirror, is the entire apparatus popped off and is too broken to work again unless we purchase an entirely new side mirror part, so my handy man-y simply popped in the mirror just so it doesn’t look as tacky. This mirror is no longer able to be controlled with the little buttons on my dash, nor does it even reflect anything, because it’s so loosely popped in there, that it vibrates so much that the images are just a blur: like trying to watch a movie while someone is fast forwarding it. But whatever makes him feel less like a white-trash van owner. I’m happy to own up to it.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, with a little hard work, a bachelors in education and a masters degree in English, you too could own a vehicle just like mine. If you need any tips on how to get the fab smells like vomit and rotted dairy products out of your vehicle, give me call. If you’re needing information on how to disassemble the vans seats to clean up excrement, body fluids, or to find a lost limb or missing child, I’m here to help you. If you’d like to post information on the state of your own vehicle and attach pictures for us to commiserate together, I’d love you forever. It’s my calling to turn my misfortunes into learning experiences that help others. No need to thank me.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Recipes for your Memorial Day Weekend

Yesterday was National Hamburger Day, and oddly enough we had hamburgers, although I had forgotten about it until I looked at my blogging calendar today. Many of you will still be out grilling various animals this weekend, it being Memorial Day and all, so I figured I’d pass along the link to the recipes for my grass-fed beef burgers and my fabulous potato salad. (That sounded a bit more conceited than I intended…oh well.) If you can't find fresh grass fed beef  (Costco even carries some I think), you can use conventional just as well. You might not need to add in the olive oil though, since conventional beef has more fat than grass-fed. Whatever you do, do not use dry herbs in place of the fresh. Treat yourself right, and splurge on ones that are actually still green.

 I came up with these dishes last year when I cooked a locavore meal for my bookclub-and wrote an essay about it, which you can find (along with the recipes) in the spring edition of Edible South Shore. (pg. 15 & 16)

They didn’t have room to print my deviled egg recipe, but in the event you need an appetizer or side dish for your Memorial Day extravaganza, the recipe for those is below. If you aren’t a big fan of deviled eggs (I wasn’t until I started making my own) then you need to try these. No nasty pickle relish. No disgusting Miracle Whip. And very few ingredients. Mediocre effort, but magnificent taste! I've been craving these for weeks, and last night I made a batch, which I finished off today for lunch. My kids even eat them for breakfast. Rock on.

Rachel's Deviled Eggs
1 dozen hard boiled farm fresh eggs
½ cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons mustard
½ teaspoon seasoning salt
½ teaspoon curry
1 teaspoon fresh dill, minced (or more to taste)
1 dash hot pepper sauce (or more to taste)
freshly chopped chives for garnish

  1. Peel the eggs and slice each in half lengthwise. Remove all yolks from eggs and place in a separate bowl.
  2. Mash the yolks with a fork or pastry blender until they are a fine consistency and no large chunks remain.
  3. Add mayonnaise, mustard, seasonings, herbs, and pepper sauce to the egg yolks. Mix thoroughly until well incorporated. Salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Scoop yolk mixture into quart size zip-lock bag, remove air and seal tight. Cut off one corner of the bag.
  5. Pipe filling into egg white halves.
  6. Sprinkle chopped fresh chives over eggs before serving.
  7. Refrigerate until serving.

Makes 24 deviled eggs.

Happy belated National Hamburger Day and happy Memorial Day weekend! 

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Shreds of Sanity

In about three weeks the kids and I leave to head back to Arizona for a month-long vacation. And while it seems like it's a long time away still, my to-do list is written and there is a mound of growing debris that I am gathering in my bedroom that needs to get shlepped to Arizona with us. Which made me remember this blog; one of my first postings back in December of 2007. The kids and I have made the trip many times since then and I can tell you that not much changes. Maybe they aren't as loud now that they are older, but there is still fighting. So, I'm going to go back to tackling the to-do list, while you entertain yourself at my expense. Enjoy.

Anyone who has ever traveled with children—especially on an airplane—knows what a harrowing and exhausting experience it can be. Even when your children are fairly well behaved. In fact, I think I’d rather get paper cuts underneath all my fingernails than to take my five and seven-year-old on a cross country trip again. They have been traveling on planes since they were very small, so I figured I was getting seasoned enough to know how to do it right. I always try to come armed with paraphernalia to keep an entire troop of children happily entertained for hours, but somehow 10 minutes into the flight the floor beneath our seats is littered with food wrappers, crayon shavings, shoes, a few socks, empty Capri sun packages and the children are, well, bored.

I have flown enough to know that the key to surviving an airplane trip with your children—at any time really, but especially when you are sans husband—is to keep the carry-on mess to a minimum. Each child has their own backpack, which contains: their music players, gameboys, crayons, coloring book, plain notebook, a pen and pencil, perhaps two small travel games or a deck of cards, a bag of their own personal snacks, a small pillow, and their “pet” stuffed animal. Theoretically, individual bags will alleviate the fighting, bickering and general upheaval that is typical of siblings, especially when those siblings are crammed together in airplane seats sized for your basic Oz Munchkin. I say theoretically because my children can always find something to fight about. “Your arm is on MY part of the arm rest… SO?…SO get it off it’s been there the whole time and I’m uncomfortable and it’s my turn to use the armrest…FINE have the armrest I didn’t want it anyway…THUNK…OWWW! MOM he pulled my pillow out from under my head…I’m going to rest now and I NEED a pillow…I was USING that pillow…SO?…SO it’s not fair…Well you CAN’T use the pillow AND the armrest at the SAME TIME…

It’s at this point I stand up and ask if anyone would like to switch seats with me, an LDS mom perhaps, who is used to dealing with 8 or 9 kids at the same time, which would make my two seem like a vacation, but alas, there are no takers. Quite a lot of people are whispering to each other however, which I don’t think is a good sign.

I sit down and wedge myself in the seat between them hoping my presence will make a difference. However, by the time our flight arrived in Boston—12 hours after leaving Phoenix—I was spent. My husband met us with a shiny smile and open arms, while all I could do was hold back the sob that wanted to escape. You’d think that the drive home at 10:45 at night would put the kids into some type of sleep, or at least quiet respite, but of course the adrenaline was still coursing through the veins, and the yelling and fighting, wrestling, singing, guffawing laughter and all around vocal upheaval was still alive and well. My husband said, “You’re quiet tonite. Are you tired?”

I’m sorry. Did he just ask me if I was tired?
Seriously. Is that what he just said?

I stared ahead and bit my tongue. Any sound that would have come from my mouth would have been a total verbal freak out and I was trying to stay pleasant. I hadn’t seen him in two weeks after all.
But tired? TIRED?? Tired doesn’t even begin to touch the depth to where my fatigue had fallen. Lower than smashed gum on the sidewalk, I tell you. But tired as I was, truth be told, I just wanted them to shut up. I had been the only adult to shield the barrage of questions and comments that shot from their gun-fire mouths since 10:00 a.m. And every one of those questions and comments was preceded with, “Can I ask you a question” or “Mom, I have something to tell you.” By the time those wheels touched down on my Bean Town black top, I was neck deep in words, question marks, complaints, exclamations; just sitting there drowning in black, bold letters and onomatopoeias. They were sucking the very life out of me to the point where all my answers were, “I don’t know.”
“When are we landing?”
“I don’t know.”
“Will Dad be there to pick us up?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why is the green light on above the bathroom signal?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do we do if only two masks come down from the top?”
“I don’t know.”
“Mom, do you love me?”
“I don’t know.”

I just wanted them to shut up. Shut up shut up shut up. I needed the ride home to be peaceful and quiet for five minutes. Tired? Yeah, I was tired. Tired of noise emanating from their messy squishy faces. By the time we were finally home and the children were in bed my ears were aching, the cartilage throbbing to the memory of their constant cacophonous clatter.

Now after writing this, tell me again why we take this trip every year, adding a baby to the mix? I know it's only six hours of my life and the good news is that no one knows me. I probably won't see any of those people again. I've tried to be proactive and have packed enough crap to keep them entertained for hours, and we've also got the DS's and the mini video player. A little bit of Benadryl, and we should be all set.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Easy Dinner for Hot Day

Today just might break a record here in MA for the high temperature; I overheard some people in the toy store mention that it was 97 degrees outside. When temperatures hit the 90's here on the East Coast, people go running for stores and shops, try fervently to install their window air conditioner units, and if they happen to be lucky and have central air conditioning, they crank that sucker down to 60. East Coast natives handle the heat about as well as Arizonans handle cold; and by cold I mean anything below 60 degrees. While my children were complaining about their skin melting off and could I please turn up the air in the van higher, I kindly reminded them that in three short weeks we'd be heading off to Arizona, so they'd better suck it up. At least there are pools in Arizona they reminded me. Well, okay.

I actually invented this dinner when we lived in AZ, and it was so hot so often that no one wanted to eat, and I sure as heck didn't want to cook a hot meal. I affectionately refer to it as Cold Plate, and it has now become almost a weekly staple in my house.

The basic idea for this is that you serve a bunch of cold foods; fresh fruits and veggies, lunch meat rolls, sliced cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, and any leftovers you may have in the house that you need to get rid of. Diced chicken breast, pasta salad, green salad, etc. are all perfect Cold Plate ingredients. I also try to make it as colorful as possible (at one time actually arranging the food by color to replicate a rainbow, with cottage cheese clouds) which just makes it even more fun to eat. The benefits to Cold Plate are many:

1. You don't have to cook anything and can get dinner on the table in about 15 minutes.
2. Cold Plate is never the same twice, so people don't really get tired of it.
3. If you eat on paper plates there are also no dishes.
4. It's a good way to get your kids to try new fruits and veggies, especially if you serve stuff with a ranch, yogurt, or cream cheese dip.
5. There is almost never any whining when I tell the kids we are having Cold Plate for dinner. This in itself is enough reason for me to serve it at least three nights a week. No whining. Can you imagine?
6. It is versatile enough that even picky eaters can find something to munch on, although my kids don't have a lot of say because I "encourage" them to eat what I put on the plate.

This dinner is great for summer, allowing you to take advantage of warm weather by spending more time at the pool, beach, or playing outside with the kids. Or, in the case of my family, watch more TV. Bon apetite!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Vacuuming the Lawn

 When it comes to being a mother, I’ve noted my mediocre status, but the truth of it is that I’m really mediocre across the board, which includes my status as wife.

When my husband married me, I think he had little idea of how deep my feministic tendencies ran, and I sometimes believe he’s spent the last 11 years of our marriage continually being blown away by all the things that I don’t or won’t do. It’s not because I can’t do them, just because I don’t want to do them. Or if you start expecting me to do something. Woe to the person who expects me to perform a duty simply because it’s viewed as women’s work. One thing I do not do is iron his clothes. On occasion (to be nice) I will press a shirt or pair of slacks, but 90% of the time, his wardrobe is up to him. I buy his clothes. I wash and dry his clothes. I fold and put away his clothes. He can iron them.

Another thing I did not do (up until three weeks ago) was mow the lawn. My feminism may run deep, but it also runs along my well-worn mental paths, namely, that women do not a) mow the lawn b) take out the trash c) fix anything that flushes or has a drain clogged with hairy debris. Those are men’s jobs. In addition to being mediocre, I understand this makes me a slight hypocrite. I’m okay with that.

The idea of females mowing the lawn wasn’t even on the radar until we moved back East, where plenty of women can lay witness to pushing a mower, their hair pulled up in a pony-bun. Back in Arizona, women do not mow the lawn. Heck, most men don’t mow the lawn, preferring to hire a landscaping crew who may or may not have correct documentation, and I can tell you not many people care, as long as they aren’t the ones cutting their grass in 110-degree weather. The exception to this is my brother-in-law who not only mows his lawn, but frequently enough that my nephew’s favorite toys are kid sized “mow-ahs and trim-ahs.” (The accent giving testimony to his four-year-old-age, not any East Coast dialects). He’s even been known to use empty wrapping paper tubes, the vacuum hose, and other long objects to pretend he’s mowing and trimming things in the house. (My nephew, not my brother-in-law.)

Another reason people don’t mow in Arizona, is that most front and back yard areas have gone the way of xeriscaping, in order to save precious water in the land of desert drought. If grass does make an appearance, it’s usually a pubic-sized patch of green surrounded by thighs of flesh toned rocks, just so you can claim you have a “lawn,” which could easily be maintained with a good sharp beard trimmer. No large lawn mowers necessary.

My husband will not admit this, but there is a little part of him that coveted those  mower-pushing women, if only for the idea of how much time it would free up for him to do other items on my list. Three or four weeks ago, the to-do list was long and in my usual Controlling Woman state, I was eager to have the items crossed off. I offered to mow the lawn for the first time.

I realize now what a mistake this was, and am reminded of the time I was five and my mother asked me with bubbly excitement, “Do you want to help me do the dishes!?” in her sing-songy voice. What? Is my mother inviting me to do the dishes with her? Finally?
“Yes, Yes!” I cried with glee. “I bet I can do them all by myself!”

Well, you know the rest of the story. That one brief moment of virgin excitement has been followed by a lifetime of mundane dish washing, all because I thought I was being invited to do something cool. After about  twice, you realize what an idiot you were and the next time someone asks you if you want to learn how to do something else (cook scrambled eggs, run the washer, hem some pants) it’s best to say no thanks and get the hell out of there.

My husband was outside while I mowed the lawn for the first time which I was grateful for, namely because I am slightly afraid of the lawn mower. This may stem from the fact that as a kid I wasn’t allowed to be outside while my father mowed the lawn in case he hit a rock, and that rock went smashing into my head, took out my shins, or worse yet, sucked up one of my appendages. Mowers are scary business, don’t you realize, and I never understood why things like these never happened to my father, but apparently it was an adult thing. I could play outside when he  finished.

You can imagine my apprehension then, at finally using a Husqvarna 6.5 horsepower bright orange mower, that could in theory, eat me. Or send rocks flying at my dry, hairy legs, or chew my hand off. But I sucked it up in true I-am-woman-hear-me-roar-fashion and mowed the entire lawn, which is no small feat. How hard could it be really? If I can push a vacuum (however infrequently) surely I can push a mower. They can’t be that different.

My husband said I did a fabulous job. What’s he going to say? That I missed a spot? Because he knows, just like my mother knew when I was five, that when you want people to add some skill to their repertoire that invariably benefits you, you do not criticize on the first go-round. Or the fifth. You do not point out where they f’ed up the lawn, the spots they missed, or the ridiculous mow patterns in the grass. You pat that person on the back, give them a big hug and kiss, and say, “Damn the yard looks great!”

Today I mowed the lawn for the second time by myself, my husband being at work. The grass was really long, and since he started a new job yesterday, I’m trying to make his week as easy for him as I can. I actually had to pull-start it by myself this time, which is another thing to check off my list of “man jobs that I can perform.” It’s clear I’m still an amateur grass mower, because I haven’t figured out an efficient route around our yard. I start off at the outside, mowing along the border, figuring I’ll loop the whole thing, but then our trees and bushes get in the way, and I start cutting down the middle. In inevitably this leaves me walking back and forth in a two foot square once I get to the middle of the section, which is difficult since I’m pushing a mower twice that size. So I figure that I’ll try to use the mower like a vacuum, pushing it back and forth to get the last few long grass hairs. Or to get under the bushes and around trees. Or to mow beneath the slide and ladder on the playset.

I have come to realize that mowing is like vacuuming only when you look at it from a pushing perspective; a lawn mower doesn’t pull back very easily, (unlike the vacuum) and even less easily when you keep forgetting to ungrip the forward moving wheels. I’m sure my neighbors looked out the window at me today and had a hearty laugh. “Look honey, there’s Rachel. Trying to vacuum the grass again. She’s such an idiot.” And though I finished mowing the front and back lawn in two hours, when I looked at my handiwork from the porch and front window, the yard leaves a little to be desired. Many homeowners on our street mow their lawn in pretty diagonal stripes, reminiscent of ball fields and golf courses. But one side of my lawn looks like the Mother Ship landed; concentric circles leading to nowhere, and the other side reflects curvy lines and stripes, looking like I chased a rabid animal across the lawn. I also avoided the close edges of all the mulch beds and didn’t even go near the rock path in the backyard because I’m scared of the blades cutting out or braking altogether. Just last week my husband bent the mower blade after running over a rock from the path…and while it’s only a $20 fix, the cost to counsel me from the resulting post traumatic stress just wouldn’t be worth it.

My husband came home from work tonight with a big grin on his face, muttering thanks and words like “Mom’s the best.” Honestly, heat notwithstanding today, I didn't really mind mowing the lawn. I’d rather do that than clean toilets, pick up the house, or wash laundry. (Which is evidenced by how my house looks today.) Just as long as my husband doesn’t start expecting it. He needs to have a few things to do around here just so he feels needed and useful. But if he ever asks me in a sing-songy voice if I want to help him change the oil, just in case, you know, the oil needs to be changed and he’s out of town, I’m going to say no thanks, and get the hell out of there. Changing the oil is a man’s job.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Today is another blogathon theme day. We're all posting Haiku's; namely because they are short, relatively easy to write, and many of us bloggers are feeling the stress of blogging every day. We've crossed the halfway mark though; only 7 more days to go! I can't believe it.

I tried to write a few Haiku that were relevant to my day or to this past week. I also am a strong believer in taking literary license when necessary; omitting a syllable when I need a word to fit. Makes writing Haiku that much easier!

The light at the end
Of the tunnel is fin’ly
Not a speeding train

My seeds are planted
The waiting has just begun
Hoping for new life

Two sick kids at home
Today I am a servant
To their every want

Uncharted paths are
Intimidating for most
Breathe and enjoy them

Life is so precious
At the beginning or end
Savor each moment

For times I fail to
Express enough gratitude
Thank you for ev’ry thing

I'd love to read your Haiku! In fact, I'd love to read your Haiku comments so much, I wrote a Haiku about it:

Bloggers love to read
Comments from their reading fans
Buck up and leave one!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

If They Build It, You Will Clean

Just a disclaimer here; this blog originally was posted on Parenting by Trial and Error during the blogathon Guest Posting Day, but I don't know how many of you tuned into it there. So, I'm reposting it here on the East Coast for those who may have missed it. That, and it's 9:33 p.m. and I don't have another post ready. If you've already read it, you could always use your time wisely and grab some know what to do with them.

I’m always in awe of parents who have the patience of Job—ones who have the ability to not only provide discipline in a calm, loving manner, but who also let their children get creative and crafty in their home on a regular basis without complaining about it.

I’m the first to admit I occasionally judge other parents, but many times I’m comparing myself to them: how good they are at A, B, C, or how they let their kids slide down the stairs on the couch cushions because it’s good, clean, indoor fun. When all I’d be thinking is, “Hey! That’s going to ruin my couch cushions!”

My children’s latest in-home craze is to build forts. Forts and kids go together like a runny nose and cold and flu season. When I was a child, building forts was one of my own favorite past times, and I have fond memories of playing in them on rainy days, peeking out from the sheet ceiling to watch the lightning. In this technological age you can even find directions on how to build a fort on the web, for kids who’d rather Google it than experiment by trial and error.

My children like to gather every unattached blanket and bed sheet in the house and proceed to create a fort that spans the entire downstairs living room. I remain upstairs silently grateful that the kids have been kept busy for at least an hour without fighting or needing a snack, but I’m fully aware that this brief moment in my day will have consequences and is simply the calm before the storm.

The cherubs then appear upstairs to beckon, “Come see the fort mom!” with excitement in their eyes, anticipating my enthusiastic response to their budding architectural skills. I wander downstairs with them, hand in hand, and look at the creation that’s given me a few quiet moments of respite.

It is times like these when my brain splits in two and I become the Sybil of myself, which is to say that there is the good mom response (GM) and there is the controlling woman response (CW), and I need a few seconds to make sure the correct persona is the only one speaking aloud.

GM: “Wow!” I exclaim. “What a huge fort! You could fit about 35 kids in that thing.”
CW: Seriously? I can’t even see the other side of the room! Are those the sheets from my bed? I just made that bed!

GM: “Boy howdy you kids are creative, using the craft wire to poke holes in the edges of the blankets so you could string it up to the drapery panels. I never would have thought of that! I can see you also used every book in the house to secure the edges of the sheets to the book shelves. And every Yankee Candle too. Just be careful that those don’t fall off and hurt your heads.”
CW: For the love of all that is good,, they punctured my blankets with wire? And seriously? They SERIOUSLY used every book in the house as sheet weights? Wait’ll those books  fall on their heads, then they’ll learn.”

I restrain that controlling woman so only good mom speaks aloud, which inspires even more glee from the children who then ask, “Can we eat lunch in the fort? And watch a movie? Please please please please please?”

GM: “Why of course you can! That sounds like such fun! How ‘bout I make a picnic and bring it down here and you all can play in the fort while you wait? After lunch you can watch a movie, how’s that sound?”
CW: Fabulous. Now I’m going to have to vacuum bread crumbs and wipe peanut butter smudge off the carpet after they eat in there. And no doubt some kid is going to spill their drink. And they’re going to want popcorn with that movie. Ugh.

But I make lunch. And they joyfully eat it in the fort. Five minutes later, their lunch inhaled, they scurry upstairs to announce, “We’re going to go play next door. ‘K mom?”

GM: “You kids need to go clean up downstairs before you leave. Make sure you fold everything back up and put away all the books.”
CW: And that room better look just like it did before you started.

They pick up, rush out the door in a Tazmanian whirlwind and I wait for the dust to settle momentarily. That eerie silence pierces my ears a few seconds. I relish this brief moment before I head downstairs to find what I know I’m going to find.

The blankets, “folded” in lumpy piles, that wouldn’t fit back into the closest even I used those vacuum suction bags. The furniture, misplaced and moved in various parts of the room. My books, still stacked in piles on the shelves that held up the sheets. Books on the floor—along with packing tape, scissors, and bits of wire from previously held blanket corners. Lunch plates. Bread crust. At least there is no popcorn.

The whole thing is enough to give me a migraine. At moments such as these I really admire those parents who embrace this mess as part of childhood, pleased that their children were able to form fond memories of their youth; when they ate lunch in the tent-city sized fort downstairs. I wish I were more like them. I give myself a mental pat on the back for allowing only Good Mom to speak, although now that the children are gone, Controlling Woman is back and has a headache. I’m trying to channel the patience of Job, but it’s difficult. Perhaps I should build it back up and watch a movie. 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Peaks and Potholes: Being 40 with a Sexual Catch-22

I recently celebrated my 40th birthday. I was not worried about turning the big 4-0 as I have never really been that concerned about my age. Through the years I have not been overly anxious about my changing face (what are a few wrinkles?), my sagging skin (so I am not as firm as I used to be), my grey hair (that’s what a salon is for), or my post baby body (which is a whole other blog all together). I am young at heart, still love to have fun and I basically feel like I am in my twenties. I can manage the slight aches (that is what Motrin is for) and the rising blood pressure (fine, I will exercise more), and the increase in doctors appointments for myself (seriously, a mammogram EVERY year?). Overall I am thinking this aging thing is not so bad.

I have been married to Ted for almost 12 years (which is probably encouraging my rising blood pressure). We have 4 children, 8 pets, 2 full time jobs and a house that is never clean enough. We have our struggles and certainly our bad moments, but we are lucky to be a couple who truly like and enjoy each other’s company. Don’t get me wrong, there are many days I would happily throw him off the roof, but still, he is my favorite person on earth. Among this crazy life we have traversed the ups and downs of an intimate relationship, but generally our life between the sheets has been satisfying for both of us, every time (a little shout out of appreciation there to my darling husband for all his efforts). I was cruising happily along through the years (okay, mostly happy), with my husband, my family, my friends, and my house. Unfortunately my hormones had other plans, big plans, just for me. 

As I approached and have now reached my 4th decade of life I have finally hit my sexual peak. What used to take my body half an hour to achieve between the sheets is easily achieved in mere minutes (if that) and is generally more intense and pleasurable. I even have a full appreciation for that elusive myth of “multiple” achievements at one time (maybe there is a GOD). I have heard it before: men peak in their early 20’s and for women it’s a bit later. For me it was the second trimester of each of my pregnancies (thank you hormones!) and around 38 1/2 years old. Finally, something to REALLY appreciate as I age. 

Everything was bumping along smoothly until my hormones drove me straight into a pothole in October of 2009, when I actually hit the big 4-0. Literally in a weekend I changed from being a sex goddess of happiness (my husband is rolling his eyes now, but I can dream) to a raving bitch on a roller coaster of moodiness, cramping and all out grouchiness. The hormones of my 40-year old body are strikingly similar to my pregnancy hormones, and I cringe just remembering any one of the many incidents during those combined 40 months of fun. On top of my delightful personality change, my body (of which I have been oh so proud) began to betray me as well. My cycle changed and the period I have been able to set my watch by for over 25 years is suddenly all out of whack. The PMS and need for feminine hygiene products lasts 3-4 weeks at a time. No more of the simple five day period, oh no, now it is more like there are only 5 days in a month without it!!! The general result of this is that I am hiding Tampax in every spot imaginable and running to the bathroom like a 15-year old girl. Because my hormones are so out of control, I am in a constant state of PMS. Not just your run of the mill, might-be-a-bit-moody-for-a-day-or-two, but all out psycho-bitch PMS. Oh, excellent! 

While I am a lunatic, I am able to control the rollercoaster of my quickly shifting moods at work, with my friends, and (mostly) with the children. The only person with whom I let my crazy flag fly is my husband. It just so happens he is also the only person I am intimate with. (And he with me, right? Right!) My husband is the type of guy for whom being intimate  is not just about his body, but also about his head. He is always most enthusiastic when we are emotionally connected. He finds romance coupled with intimacy very erotic.  I don’t disagree with this. I am happy to feel the power of our love rush through my head, but currently I’m much more interested in scratching the itch. “Yes, I know I have bitched at you all weekend. Now shut up and take your clothes off!”

This irony of my responsive body and its inevitable hormonal betrayal, reminds me of when I had given birth to our first baby. A couple of days had gone by and my milk had come in. My chest was huge. I mean, I had porn star, rock hard, gorgeously enormous boobs. However, they were too tender to touch and the nipples were not quite what they used to be due to the cracking and bleeding, and  my husband learned it is a cruel, cruel world. Well, here we are again. Suddenly my body is very responsive to his every touch and I would be happy to engage in an afternoon delight every day (seriously honey, 3 of them are at school and the baby is asleep…we have at least a half an hour!). However, I am so crabby he is in fear of getting too close as he is not 100% sure that I’m not part black widow. As a result, he does not want to be intimate with me, which pisses me off, makes me even more crabby (if you can believe it), which in turn makes him  want to be intimate with me even less. And the cycle continues.  

I understand how difficult I can be to live with, truly I do. I work really hard to control it and remain calm, even pleasant. I have learned that my husband does not find it sexy when I eat cookie dough for dinner. If I avoid cleaning the house and all of my daily motherly responsibilities so I can beat another level of Wii: Super Mario Brothers or watch a four-hour marathon of Grey’s Anatomy, Ted does not see this as attractive or cute. He does not find it a turn on to come home and discover that my Facebook status reads something like, “I am unfit for human company,” (as it did recently). I don’t really see why that should diminish his desire to have lots of fun,  fast sex with me. I mean, orgasms feel really good, it would be worth it!

My mother tells me she experienced peri-menopause  from age 40 to 50, and it appears my system is acting suspiciously as hers did. I have not yet mentioned that to Ted though, as our marriage barely survived the four pregnancies. By my calculations, 10 years of this would be 120 months of these rogue hormones, and I am pretty sure my husband may commit a felony to ensure he’d be incarcerated for the next decade. 

Fortunately, at this point in our life together I am not pregnant. I can take medicine or maybe ask for an endometrial ablation (that’s right, I would prefer to sear the crap out of my uterine lining with boiling hot water than continue on this hormonal marathon). I am done with my uterus and I would be quite happy to have it stop all its shedding. The words barren, dried out, and empty have never sounded so good and they cheer me slightly as I dream about returning to my sexual peak of 38 1/2 and the cheery, dynamic housewife that I was—leaving this cranky, miserable bitch behind.

Friday, May 21, 2010

My Head or Theirs: Somebody's is About Ready to Roll

We all know how difficult it is to live with other people. If you are a mother, or are married, you understand that there is only so much you can do to pick up, clean, and establish organizational protocol when the people you live with refuse to acknowledge the systems that are set in place. And since being a family member is not an elected, appointed, or salaried position, there is not much recourse available to us in curbing other's behavior. There are days I'd really like to doc my kid's paycheck, but they don't get one. Not even an allowance. Plenty of hours in my lifetime have been devoted to asking my husband (yet again) to please do, well... whatever it is at the time that is bugging me. Nagging is not working with any of them. Yelling is even less effective. So I figured I'd vent publicly a little; hoping that some of you out there will reach a hand out to me, commiserate about our pet peeves, and help me by sharing about the things in your own home that remain unchanged, because no one bothers to listen to you.

So, hop on the tram with me today ladies and gentlemen. Keep all arms and legs inside the moving vehicle at all times. Fasten your helmet, and let's go.

Stop #1: The Toilet Paper Roll
As we slow to a halt, please look over to the left of the picture, noticing the brand new roll of toilet paper ladies and gentlemen. Now look over towards your right where you can see the empty roll of toilet paper visibly displayed on the tile wall.  The new location for our family's butt tissue is now on the back of the toilet, on the floor near the toilet, or on the sink beside the toilet, but never, ever on the toilet paper roll holder where it belongs. In fact, the empty cardboard tube has been there for approximately three weeks. We have gone through 5 rolls of toilet paper since this last one ran out, and no one seems capable of squishing in the spring action rod to remove the old one. I'm thinking of hot gluing on some gems and sequins and simply calling it a bathroom decoration. Or perhaps I could hang a small hand towel there. But that too would probably end up on the floor. 

Stop #2: The Laundry With a Mind of it's Own
My husband may be upset with me for this stop folks, but as he doesn't read my blog too frequently, if you don't tell him, I won't either. Please observe the big-ass yellow laundry hamper rising stately above the laundry on the floor. I'll admit my husband did not play basketball as a youth, but he did play baseball, leading me to believe he is capable of throwing something in a certain direction and having it land where he would desire. It is fact that we have had this laundry basket since we have been married and that it originally had a lid. In the first few years of our marriage his dirty clothes would find themselves piled on top of the laundry basket, but never actually inside it. To make things easier for my husband (because I am incredibly accommodating), I removed the lid which now lives with the dust and lint balls on the closet floor. Regardless of my efforts, his clothes seem to end up on the floor next to the laundry, but again, never inside the laundry hamper, leading me to believe that the laundry is crawling out of it on it's own accord.

Stop #3: The Empty Food Boxes Left for Posterity
I'm pretty sure I know who the culprits are for this tricky act. Yes, the very same kids that eat these delicious, non-organic, full of sugar, snacks seem to have no problem telling me we are out of a particular food item, but do have a problem throwing the empty boxes away. I have one pantry. It is very small. Space matters. In fact, as a lesson I think I'm going to remove all the food from all the packages, so it just looks like we have things to eat. Then when they complain we are out of something, I'll simply reply, "No, I'm pretty sure I saw the box in the cupboard. Look again." 

Stop #4: The Lonely Amish Pegs
Look carefully ladies and gentlemen or you might miss this one. If you'll look at the top of the picture you'll notice a row of very nicely painted Amish peg wall hooks. You might be focusing on how cool that checkerboard stencil is, or how craftily the decorator made it look worn by sanding the edges and giving it a coat of stain. Do not be fooled! It too serves a purpose! If you look at the bottom of the photo, what do you find? Yes Yes!! Two jackets and a book bag in desperate need of some hooks! How ever will we solve this issue? Could it be, that the owner of this house, (the one with female anatomy) personally hung this set of hooks in this specific place, so as to combat her family's propensity to pile crap at the bottom of the stairs after they return home from school, on the weekends, and all days ending in 'y' ? Are you aware, tram riders, that this woman was also chided by her husband for hanging these hooks because clearly, "no one uses them"? Sigh. I've got it on good authority that after she hung these pegs, she gave the in-service to the family (and neighbor kids) who all (still) blatantly disregard the family operations manual. A manager can only take so much insubordination before someone gets the boot.

Stop #5: Toothpaste Nastiness

Tighten your seatbelts for this one folks. It's the best stop of the bunch. This lovely picture (exposure issues notwithstanding), is what the Lady of the household deals with every evening when she tries to keep her pearly whites, pearly white. I have tried every type of toothpaste top imaginable. Screw on lids stop screwing on about day two of tube use, the lid falls onto the floor repeatedly, and eventually is lost all together, allowing the toothpaste to crust it's way around the hole eventually clogging altogether. The flip top lids are no better (as evidenced above) and the most beautiful part of this pic is the little black hair that's stuck to the ice blue nastiness. I find myself wiping these tubes clean more often than I wipe my three year old, which is pretty often. I have also attempted to use the toothpaste with the lid that is also the base for standing, but you can imagine how that ends up. All I have to say, is that if you come visit, you need to bring your own. Either that or bring some floss, because there is hair in ours, and your going to need it.

I hope everyone enjoyed your trip through my world. If you live in similar circumstances, I'd love to hear about it. You can even post pics to the East Coast Musings Fan Page on Facebook if you're so inclined. I'd love to know I'm not the only family manager who has to deal with these kinds of people.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cut and Color 101

This past Sunday night I got a phone call. An unfamiliar male voice was on the other end.
“Hello, Rachel? How ya doin?”  he asked.
“Fine thanks, and who is this?” I replied, thinking it’s some telemarketer or professional fundraising service. They seem to call here a lot.
“It’s Donnie, and I don’t know if you’d be interested at all, but tomorrow I’m taking a cut and color class and have a 2:00 and a 4:00 opening, and I know it’s last minute, but I thought I’d call and see if you’d be interested."

It takes me a second as the gears start churning and chunking into place: Donnie is the guy who cuts my hair, he has an opening at 2 and 4, and he wants to know if I want to come for a cut and color class? In the few seconds of silence as I try and process everything he just told me he says:

“The cut would be $15, and the color would be about $25 for a full highlight.”

Well that changes everything. Sign me up, like yesterday.

It’s short notice, I have no child care lined up, and since he moved salons last fall I’m not sure where he’s even located. But how could I refuse a price like that? That’s like your garage calling up to say, “Hey, would you like to bring in your car tomorrow at 8 a.m.? We’ll rotate your tires, change your oil, and detail your car for $20 bucks. Interested?”  You might have a very important meeting at 8:00, which you’ll reschedule because the opportunity to save a few bucks trumps any joint merger you may be discussing with potential clients. And seeing as how I cut my hair about as often as I get an oil change, I jumped at the chance to do it and save money at the same time. Bonus.

I tell him I’d be more than happy to take the 2:00 appointment and gather a few details from Donnie; where he’s now located, how long the whole process will take, but honestly I don’t ask too many questions. I’m going to score a haircut and a highlight for around $50 bucks and I don’t want him to realize he’s made a mistake.

After I hang up, I head to the computer to Google the address and get a glimpse of the new salon he is now at. Zona Hair Salons has two locations; one in Hingham Square and one in Norwell, which is about 30 minutes from my house. The education page of the site shows two young girls with very trendy styles, one sporting chunks of bright fushia hair. I’m not completely worried, but now I’m thinking that maybe the catch to the fabulous price is that he’s practicing with colors like azure and lipstick red. Worst case scenario, I’ll let the azure stripes grow out. For $25 bucks you can make me look like Cyndi Lauper.

Since it’s now kinda late on Sunday night, I’m forced to find child care Monday morning, farming out my kids to various neighbors so no family feels overwhelmed. At one point I just leave a message for my oldest daughter’s friend, saying something like, “Hi! It’s me. Just wanting to see if my daughter can play over at your house for a couple hours after she gets off the bus. Thanks!” She’s over there everyday anyway, so I didn’t think it would be a problem, only later that night (after I’m already at the salon) I find out that it’s the mother’s birthday and they are having a cake. Oops. I shake it off because she’ll have another birthday next year. I may never get the chance to get these services performed again for such a screaming price.

Turns out Mondays are training days at Zona, when stylists “can work on guests they bring into the salons, under the watchful eyes of Aveda educators,” (from their website) which is why the price he quoted me was so ridiculously low. Almost all women know the real cost for services such as these, and we’re willing to pay them for the time it buys us in looking and feeling younger. Or sexy. Or up-to-date. Or to cover up the grey.

 The salon is very nice, has a posh waiting/reception area, and after a few second Donnie comes downstairs to greet me. The floors are shiny wood, the walls lined with Aveda products, and it smells like shampoo and mint. We start discussing my hair, what I’m thinking about doing, and I confirm with him that I do not have to get blue or red highlights. This class is just to help train him in the “Aveda Way,” using their products. There is an instructor there who comes over, introduces himself to me, and starts discussing with Donnie how he should proceed.

There are now two grown men playing with my hair, lifting it up, letting it fall, using lingo like highlights, lowlights, cool tones, warm tones, and caramel, while they tousle my hair, identify how fine it is and at this point, I’m totally in heaven. I would have paid $50 bucks just for these guys to play with my hair and I’m fighting off the urge to close my eyes and fall into a peaceful sleep. Memories of third grade are coming back to me, when I used to beg a little girl with long braided pigtails to play with my hair during movies. I couldn’t tell you what those movies were about, but I can tell you that I nodded off during each one because having someone play with my hair is just about the best feeling in the entire world. Clearly at this young age I was oblivious to the lice concept. Thank you Jesus.

A few hours later, my foils taken out, my hair cut and blown dry, Donnie’s teacher comes over to inspect the work. He smiles and nods, plays with the hair some more, seemingly pleased with Donnie’s handiwork and my “caramel highlights.” I was excited that my hair was cut, didn’t have blond streaks (or blue for that matter), and I got to read two gossip magazines while someone played with my hair for three hours. I’m ridiculously easy to please. Here's the results:

Thanks to Donnie, I now have a slightly new look. I also don’t have to schedule my once annual haircut while I’m back visiting in Arizona, which opens up another day—perhaps to get a facial. All I can say is that I'm happy to take a last minute appointment again. As long as it's scheduled for Monday.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Ants Go Marching Ten by Ten

There are actually lots of ants milling around, but they are way faster than my cruddy point-and-shoot-camera. 
If you look closely, you can see their horrendously ugly black bodies.

I have ants in my garden this year. It’s not particularly surprising news I understand, but what is surprising is how many there seem to be. Half of an entire planting bed remains empty because the little black menaces have taken over the entire thing. Like over the winter the suckers have been rebuilding ant sized replicas of  Native American cliff dwellings; little tiny holes poking out the side of a cliff, the ants scurrying around the levels of buildings, making corn meal, drying meat, or chipping rocks to make spear heads.  
 Doesn't this look freakishly similar to the holes in my garden wall, if you use your imagination and have a drink or two? It's Bandelier Monument in New Mexico.

Besides my many neuroses regarding germs, I have a volatile hatred for tiny crawling insects that nest. One or two ants is no problem, but thousands of swarming ants carrying egg sacks, food, and milling about just under the surface of the dirt making it look like my garden bed is breathing, is another thing entirely. Same with worms. One worm, I can handle. 50 worms swarming on a rotten apple is enough to make me vomit. And I just got the willies writing that sentence just imagining the worms. Chiggars. Termites. Lice. Don’t even get me going on lice. Now my head is itching. Dis. Gust. Ting.

After all the research I’ve done about ants in the garden, they seem to pose no real threat. I’ve been assured that they won’t eat my food, that their purpose is to harvest and clean up dead debris, aerate the soil, and to basically leave them alone, unless there is a major infestation. Too many ants become a problem because they start to “farm aphids” (who knew ants were so sustainably minded?). They start collecting aphids and protecting the plants the aphids live on because they like to eat the “honeydew,” which is a fancy name for “slimy residue left by aphid buts” and not the refreshing melon you are accustomed to eating with your scones in the morning. (Which is what I first thought “honeydew” was referring to and I couldn’t figure out why people would give these suckers honeydew. My bad.)

But I do have a serious ant problem, if nothing more than I’m sickened by looking at all the holes in the ground and on the side of the planting bed, and I can’t imagine growing food there, mainly because then I’ll have to weed and tend to that area, and like I said, the whole mess is making me nauseous.

The good news is there are organic methods to try and curb ants, especially when they get too unruly and start throwing spit wads at you when you walk by. It’s rumored that they hate cucumber peel and chili powder. I gave it a try and laid a cucumber peel wall in between ant city and my marigolds and tomatoes. I also dumped an entire bottle of Badia red chili powder on all the ant openings, hoping the suckers microscopic intestinal tract would feel the repercussions of the red chili in the morning and die of dehydration from diarrhea. At least that’s what seems to happen in our house when we eat too much red chili. Not the dying part of course.

I went and checked on my organic methods the following day, only to find that not only were the ants alive and well, they were dancing to "La Bamba," drinking margaritas, and had erected a teeny, tiny, sign out of garden debris that said, “Thanks for the enchilada sauce!” Apparently Mexican ants have taken up residence, no doubt immigrants from Arizona. And here I thought they were Anasazi in heritage.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do about these guys, unless I pull up a lawn chair, grab my sombrero, and join them. I think I’ll try the boiling water trick next, which is to pour the scalding liquid into the holes which burns them? Boils them alive? I’m not sure how they die, but knowing my luck they’ll use the hot water to make some albondigas soup.

For now, that section of the garden bed is empty. But the ants know I’m out to end them. Let’s hope they don’t take their vengeance out on my tomatoes. They would after all, have to walk over my dried up cucumber peel wall. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Germophobe Confessions

Greetings to all you East Coast Musings readers from the Muddy Midwest.

I had to chuckle at Rachel’s post on germs, mainly because I could have written it myself. I adore finding fellow germophobes, partly because true g-phobes seem to be somewhat of a rare breed and mostly because no one else in the world can commiserate about the disgustingness that goes along with kids quite like a g-phobe parent.

Suffice it to say, I was tickled (and sickened) to read about Rachel’s kids and the Port-A-Potty while berry picking. It seems that kids of g-phobes really outdo themselves when it comes to indulging in germ-infested areas. I found myself totally cringing as I read, imagining what I would do had I been in her shoes (shudder).

Antibacterial wipes and gel are staples in my purse and mini-van. My kids and I never drive away from a store without cleaning our hands with a wipe. I adore the fact that most stores now offer wipes for the cart handles (one of the grossest surfaces on earth, in my opinion) just inside the door. So I get a few strange looks; I really don’t care. It’s so much better than touching feces, mucous and other nasty substances.

My kids are older now, so they have pretty much learned to maneuver through life (around me, anyhow) without getting too disgusting. However, the one area we can’t seem to stop butting heads on is money, one of the most germ-riddled items in the universe. My boys, ages 6 and 7, think it one of life’s divine pleasures to dump out and then count their many coins, especially right before bed.

Now I realize that kids don’t get the whole germ thing. I was a kid once, and a typically gross one at that. Most days, I had a dried crust of snot running up my sleeve from wiping my nose on it. I hated baths, only washed my hands when forced and had absolutely no qualms about touching public door handles/toilets/animals and then my own face.


However, I come from a long, proud line of germophobes. Rumor has it that my maternal grandmother refused to kiss my grandfather when they were first married until he rinsed his mouth with Listerine. My paternal grandmother would re-wash socks that fell on the floor in the transition between washer and dryer, until my father, then a child, pointed out that the socks would be on the floor momentarily anyhow. My father insisted that we rinse all dishes thoroughly before washing them because he couldn’t stand the thought of the clean dishes being washed in water with food floating around in it, a habit that has long stuck with me.

My hope is that my children, too, will someday be much more aware of germs than they currently are. Perhaps not quite to the extent of awareness that I possess, but at least so that they’re past the stage of petting the dog, horse and cat and then blissfully eating the snack I sent out without washing up, or dumping their filthy money all over my clean dining room table without a second thought.

And when their own kids produce some of the same unsavory behavior that their parents did (sucking on money; exchanging pacifiers with a complete stranger baby; putting their hands in their mouths after collapsing on the department store bathroom floor), I will laugh as I hand out antibacterial wipes.

Sarah E. Ludwig is a mom of four and a freelance writer based in South Dakota. She blogs most weekdays at Parenting By Trial and Error, has an article coming out in the June issue of Parenting: School Years, writes children’s books that haven’t yet seen the light of day, enjoys infrequent moments of solitude, and plans to hammer out that parenting book proposal by the end of 2010.