Me: "Who has the best seat in the house, me or daddy?"

Adam: "Well, Daddy's is nice, but yours is best. Your's is squishier."

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Inquisition

Nano-bot, as she has come to be called, decided to converse for the first time today.

"Blagoboh dah blop bop, Na?!" she queried pointing to Jonah, who was hustling out the door, van keys in hand.

"He's going to get his toy out of the van." I smiled, amused that I could totally tell what she meant, even though her only semi-intelligable word was "Na", her name for Jonah as of yesterday.

"Why?" she asked in an adorably high pitched voice.

Oh boy, here we go.

"Because he left his toy out there."


"Because he was being lazy.  He didn't want to pick up his toy when I told him to,"  I replied, giving far too much detail, knowing she didn't really understand.

"Whyyyy?" She earnestly inquired, adding a little lilt at the end in very Tessa-esque tones.

"That's a good question.  I really don't know why."

"Oh."  She stated flatly, and turned and walked away.

I am pretty sure that she was actually saying, Wow, I'm very disappointed in him. I just want you to know I'm never going to act like that.

She gets me.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Feelin' Hot, Hot... HOT! (the rest of the story)

(To read the beginning of this story, please scroll down to the previous post)

On Saturday morning Guy was already out of bed and dressed when I got home from an early meeting.  Guy, thankfully, has a one day turn-around on illness, and was a full 80% improved, leaving only 20% zombie.  I began boiling water to wash the dishes, which were pretty backed up.  With flu in the house, cold water wasn't going to cut it.  I kept the pots and kettles going so that the little kids could all get baths.  I wasn't sure the heater installation would go off without a hitch, and I did not want to smell my kids all through church the next day.  I know in the wild that's how mothers identify their young. Ew. Just ew.

Oh, ...Eleven.

That's the answer to how many  pots and kettles it took for a jumbo batch of dirty dishes and 4 dirty kids.  Wow, this story has a lot of math in it.  I told everyone we would do pioneer style baths, and that the nicest child would get the first bath. The naughtiest would get the dirt-soup last bath. Apparently, says they, they believe they all tied for first in this niceness event.

As Guy and Don worked away at the water heater, I decided to finally fix the soap tray in the dishwasher.  The dishes had been coming out dirty lately.  Guy came in and told me that he noted the spray arm wasn't turning.  I decided to start there because it seemed like a simple fix to unplug the spray arm.  Only very soon it was obvious the spray arm was fine.  Don poked his head in and within moments diagnosed the problem.  The pump was dead.  Oh.  Yay.

I shut the dish washer and put my tools away.

Guy and Don yanked the old water heater out of the closet.

The kitchen sink began abruptly leaking a steady stream.   I turned on the kitchen sink and like a TV sitcom, water began shooting out of a pipe in the water heater closet all over the floor.  Also like the sitcom, I kept forgetting and turning it on again and again.  Oopsies.

They finally got the new water heater in.

As they filled it up there was a tremendous swooshing and splattering sound.  Don began gasping and laughing as he battled the water spraying from the last open pipe, like a scene in a B movie.  He was soaked to his waist in frigid water, but he had done it!  The metal monster was installed.  Finally.

As I tidied up the kitchen, the menfolk began putting away tools and such.  I was amazed that only a short time later, perhaps 15 minutes, there was warm water coming out of the faucet!  "Waaahooo! There is warm water already!" I exclaimed.  It felt so good to know we had hot water again.  That feeling lasted about 45 glorious little seconds.

I carried a bowl of soup for Don to the microwave.  I stuck it in, pressed start, and heard a pop as I watched the digital display go blank.  I pushed random buttons in disbelief, pushing start over and over like the button of a slow elevator.  Nothing.

It was dead.

Add it to the list. Guy walked out into the garage last week and as he flipped on the light, the 8 foot florescent bulb burned out in a glorious, firey display complete with sparks and orange flames.  The lawn mower died. The fridge is making a clunking sound. 

What's a little ol' dead microwave?  Pshaw! Das' nuthin. 
It has been a week since we got hot water again.  I really appreciate it, the way I appreciate warm socks in winter and ice in summer, and, in a house full of puberty, deodorant.  Hot water is such a comfort.  I told Don today that it is almost like the water is better somehow, more special than before.  Like when you think you're about to drink a glassfull from the tap and it turns out to be Sprite.

We are washing dishes by hand now, because while a dishwasher is nice, it is not a need.  Call it life-skills training for my kidlets.  Ellie said "We NEED a new dishwasher!"  Guy said, "No we don't!  We have five."

Also, my glassware is quite sparkly now.  Move over Jet Dry, make room for the spot removing power of a teen with a scrubbie.

The kids are missing the microwave for their burritos.  I have accidentally put something in and idly pushed a button before remembering we are stove people now. 

 The garage still has one bulb left, so we are good till that one goes.  Besides, who needs to see in a garage?  My kids just open the door and toss stuff in, anyway.  It would be like lighting the inside of a garbage can to them. 

But none of those things are real needs.

In fact, all this has made me ponder on how cushy life in our remote-controlled, hands-free, automatic-windowed world truly is.  I find myself thinking more about our many comforts, and I want to become more aware of other little luxuries I have been taking for granted, hopefully before I need to lose them to realize what blessings they are.

Now for one hot, mosquito-free shower. I'm livin' large. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Feelin' Hot, Hot... Not

In Costa Rica, as a missionary I lived in 5 different places, each with it's own special ....idiosyncrasies.  My first area had no real ceiling and no front or back doors, just creepy, spider-filled rafters over our heads and iron gates between us and the outside world.  Chickens happily stepped through the bars to come in and peck grains of rice I scattered at my feet while I ate my breakfast.  In my second place, there was no way to cook, so I used a hotplate on my bed to scramble eggs which thankfully, I was able to buy two at a time from the little corner market, since we also lacked a fridge.  My third home had an open concept; walls that only went about 8 feet high like tall bathroom stalls opening to the rafters and roof above, which the bats very much appreciated as they made their way across the rafters to our room (okay, it was one bat, but it was the size of a chihuahua. And anyway, hello!  It was a BAT!).  My fourth little place was the most exiting; tarantulas in the yard, poisonous dart frogs to lull you to sleep at night, and cockroaches in the fridge.  It even boasted, a first for me since arriving in the country, a tiny water heating system; an electrical device that was attached to the shower head that instantly heated the mountain water from icy to faintly chilly-warm.  It came with the added thrill of a mild electrical current that ran through the metal shower knobs, giving a tingle that ran up to your elbows every time you turned them, and if you were lucky, a little shock as well.  When I got to my last area, I was awestruck by something I had not experienced since leaving the United States; a hot shower.  Though by then I had long outgrown my wasteful American habit of turning the water on and leaving it on till I was all done.  No, no, in Costa Rica you get wet twice - once to soap up and once to rinse off. The time between is a frenzied lather and scrub, and a hasty shave.  That's okay though, the showers were a favorite hang out for mosquitoes, so you never wanted to loiter too long exposed to the elements.  The only thing worse than a mosquito bite is a mosquito bite in a place you can't scratch in public.

I have, since that time, held a certain reverence for hot showers. It is something that, as Americans, we come to expect and even claim to need.  How many times have you said it in your life; I need a hot shower?  So it was rather a shock when Guy announced two weeks ago that the water heater wasn't working.  We could tinker with it and get it to turn on long enough to heat a tank full, but soon it would be out again.  We called Patrick, our trusted plumber, who upon completing his exam of the unit declared the worst; it was pointless to repair it.  How did he put it?  It would be like "throwing good money after bad" to invest $400 in a 24 year old water heater.  He offered his remedy, which came with a $1200 price tag, where he would install a heater that he purchased through his regular supplier, including his labor and extra parts.  But because we have sent a lot of business his way, he made a second suggestion; we could find a water heater on our own and just pay him for the install. The price was coming down, but still topped $800.  I told him I would talk to Guy.  Patrick said he would try to check around for a price on the bad part, if he could even get it anymore, to just repair the old thing, but he was very busy with jobs.  It may be a few days.

Do you know what? I have become spoiled in a hot-waterly way!  It turns out that dishes really should be washed in hot water.  Diapers too.  It's also nice on a chilly Sacramento morning to NOT step your pale parts into a stream of ice water.  I mean, unless that's your thing.

My dad is 3 hours away, too far to come to the rescue, so I did the only thing I could think of; I called Dan.  He was out in his yard, probably building a gazebo or laying cement or something.  He's like that.  He said he'd be by after the daylight faded and he couldn't see to work anymore.  I love a man who measures time by the setting sun.  I asked him to stay for dinner.

Dan came just after dark, still in his work clothes, and surveyed the damage.  He said most of the job was self-doable (I'm working on my own dictionary, can you tell?) but there would be some welding that he wouldn't be able to pull off.  It looked like a professional would be required afterall.  We called Steph's contractor dad, Don, and asked him to price it for us.  Maybe we would get a lower bid.  Don just laughed in his cheery way and said, "I'll be by Saturday morning with my truck," refusing our offer of payment.  He would take Guy and help him choose the best model for the money, and "pop it in" (even though I don't believe in reincarnation, in my next life I want to be a plumber or an electrician.  Nobody ever has an art emergency.  "Help! Help! I am in dire need of a still life!"  Yah.  Doesn't happen.).  

The next day was Friday.  One more day before the joys of a hot shower would be mine again.  Guy woke me to get the big boys off to school.  "I called for a sub," he said in a miserable voice.  

"Uh-oh," I worried.

To understand what those five words meant, you need to know that at the end of each school year Guy usually still has all his sick days.  When I was hospitalized last year, he had enough sick days built up to take off two months if needed.

Guy doesn't call for a sub.

He slept that day till 4PM, ate a little soup, and then slept some more.  In twenty years of marriage I have never seen Guy so sick.  He got up for a few hours that evening before he fell into bed exhausted that night.  "I have to be well by tomorrow.  Don is coming," he croaked.

"We have been without hot water for 5 days.  We can get by a few more" I said in my most confident-wifey, go-back-to-bed voice.

 In the mean time I got a call from Dan.  He was at the big hardware store pricing water heaters for us (yup, that's Dan.  I challenge anyone even half his age to keep up with him).  He had all the specs.  Of course he did.

While Guy slept, I took a crash course in Mechanical Hydro-Thermal Financing.   It turns out there is an income based program where qualifying homeowners can get a free water heater.  We made $80 too much to qualify -  $80 per year.  That's $1.53 too much income per week, or in my world, about 3 rolls of toilet paper.  So we decided to go for the rebate the gas company offered for qualifying energy-efficient water heaters.  The Energy Factor (EF) needed to be above 0.67.  The water heater we could afford had an EF of 0.62.  That's 0.05 too low, in case you were slow on the math, or the energetic equivalent of one flap of a butterfly wing.  So we stepped up the price scale to a unit that, with the rebate, put it in a tolerable, if not slightly steep, price range.  Mockingly, that particular heater was one half of one tiny inch too big to fit through the doorway to the water heater space.

I began to feel a little picked on.

The nice thing about having had a big change-your-life crisis, as anyone who has had one will attest, is that it leaves daily reminders to chill the heck out.  Things may get bad, but honestly, we are talking about first world problems here.  We have food, we have shelter, we have love and health.  What's a little cold water?  Onward and upward!

(here is where I write "to be continued". 
 Guy puzzled that anyone could write so much
 about a water heater. 
 I told him to go soak his head.)

  To be continued!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Not Hawaii

Two years ago we started saving.  Looking ahead to our 20th anniversary, we wanted to save up for the Hawaii trip that we have hoped for and talked about for almost two decades.

Then Natalie came.  You know the rest... well, most of it.

Besides having spent away our little nest egg during "The Era of the Blood Clots" on things like gas for two round trips a day to Roseville for two weeks and sometimes-daily doctor visits, fast-food and compression stockings, there was the new reality; on our 20th anniversary, we would have a nursing toddler.  My idea of a picture-postcard anniversary didn't include an interloper in a onesie, I promise you.  In perfect irony, we had actually housed a couple unexpectedly only days before as they made their way to their new dream home... Hawaii.

For Christmas this year our sweet friend, Joyce, gifted us a night's stay "somewhere" to use on our anniversary, so I found a little B&B in Loomis, only about 40 minutes from home.  I felt oh-so-sexy, dahling, as I packed diapers, wipes and cheerios.  Ooo-la-la.  We did stop at Dianda's Italian bakery for cannoli before leaving town, which, ever since our anniversary in New York, will always put me in a lovey-dovey mood, poopy diapers not withstanding.

Natalie was a dream all day as we headed out into the crisp December air, window shopping while grazing on Christmas leftovers from a cooler in the van.  The night before we left she began running a mild fever, of course, and though she was sick the whole time we were gone, she didn't complain a bit.  In fact, she slept much of the day away in her stroller.

Yeah.  It seemed pretty awesome at the time.  You know what is better than having a toddler on board during a romantic weekend getaway?  Having a sick and very awake toddler.  Kind of like having the Channel 5 News team in your room, or a very curious squirrel.  In our quest for alone time, and yet needing to balance that with keeping her safe in a strange place with uncovered power outlets, we set up my phone to Netflix, and, I confess with my head hung in shame, we turned on Barney.  I know.  I'm not proud.  It was a weak parenting moment.  I will make up for it later with some Baby Einstein or something.

Guy and I left her where we could see her from the door, and turned on the jaccuzi tub in the next room.  Our little chaperon made sure to drop by for frequent inspections to make sure that the show stayed strictly G-rated.  Barney did his share, metaphorically wedging himself firmly between Guy and I via his nasally serenading (sing with me now; "I love you, you love me..."). Oh. So. Romantic.  We managed to laugh as Natalie did her rounds, a stern expression on her face that read, "All right boys and girls, keep your hands where I can see them."  It's certainly wasn't palm trees and white sand beaches.

The next morning we sat in the quaint dining room of the old Victorian (quaint as in doilies and vintage china, not as in pealing paint and pigeons in the attic).  The only other folks staying there that day were a friendly couple about our ages.  Their's was a second marriage, their kids all grown and gone.  Again, the irony was not lost on me.  The wife was a pediatrician, and as we chatted we told them a little about our experience getting Natalie here.  We shared that the doctors had never been able to explain why my blood titers had been rising (indicating that my body was building antibodies that would attack Natalie's red blood cells), only to have her born completely unharmed, her blood type identical to mine and thus having protected her.  With the same blood types, why had my titers been rising?

"Oh, I can tell you what happened there," she said, sharing with us that, as she has been looking for the cause of childhood rheumatoid arthritis, the understanding of prenatal blood issues was right up her alley.  "When a woman is pregnant, along with the exchange of oxygen and nutrients, a certain number of the mother's and the baby's cells cross the placental barrier."  She explained that those cells stay alive, and though the immune systems of the mom and babe keep them suppressed, that during subsequent pregnancies the mother's immune response is suppressed to allow the new baby to safely grow.  Those cells from her other children then do what cells do best; multiply.  In our case, Jonah's cells were increasing and my antibody response was rising to battle the increase of positive-typed blood cells.  "So every child carries the living cells of their mother in them for the rest of their lives, and every mother carries the living cells of every child they have ever carried.  Their children are literally with them forever."

It was a beautiful living metaphor, and the final puzzle piece, the last unanswered question in my heart to explain why everything had gone the way it had with my pregnancy with Natalie.  Well, maybe not the last, as I still may never know why I clot so easily, and if it was really blood clots that killed the four babies we lost, but I still was filled with a wave of comfort and clarity.  I sat with Natalie on my lap as she ate the last of my oatmeal and nibbled my toast crusts, the sunlit room showing off the strawberry color in her fuzzy bedhead.  What a little miracle.

There was also a little thrill in knowing that, in fact, each of my children are in alive in me... all ten of them; those that are with us and those that are not.  I know God knows and loves His children when he places that perfect person in our path to give us a little something.  To me, the evidence of God's love is in the gifts he gives us that we don't need, or in our mortal frailty could ever deserve, and have never even asked for.

Guy and I wandered the neighboring Old Town Auburn that day with that sweet baby girl, our interloper, our chaperon.  Bundled against the chill 50+ degree air with frigid gusts of wind, we laughed as we passed a sign that sat in the front window of a touristy-clothing-store - the type of store where men with round bellies can find white linen pants and palm tree patterned shirts to wear golfing in some far-off tropical destination. "Maui - 78 Degrees, Sunny", it bragged.  Yah, yah.  I know.  Hawaii is great.  Thanks for the reminder.

As we headed home that evening, we decided to stop for dinner.  Feeling super frugal-proud, I looked up the restaurant I had given Guy a Groupon for as an anniversary gift.  Upon checking the menu online, I learned that the Groupon wasn't the great deal I thought it would be because the entrees were about $20 a piece, and it was still a few days from payday.

"Ooo, L&L is on the way home," Guy suggested, reminding me of the little take out joint with great Kalua Pig.  I don't know if it was a subconscious choice that stuck with our theme of NOT being in Hawaii, but it didn't occur to us that we were eating Hawaiian food until we were seated on the orange vinyl seats, our styrofoam plates piled high with rice, BBQ and Chicken Katsu.  Guy told me how he would stop here on his way to or from the hospital when he would come see me.  He had even brought me some one night.  We sat with the comfy glow that comes when you count your blessings. 

"There dear," Guy said, pointing his white plastic fork at the poster on the wall of the tropical sunset beach scene framed with palm trees, "You can look at it and pretend you're in Hawaii."

"I'm good," I smiled.

To my Sweetie, thank you for being you.  Thank you for all you do for us. The next twenty years is going to rock.  I love you. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015


(Oh!   I did NOT intend to have this post-continuation take place in an entirely different year!  How mean of me.  Also, the OCD part of me definitely hates the loose end I left for myself.  Let's fix that right now...)

(Preface: I feel a certain amount of shame as I purge this post from my dark closet corners, right there next to the late thank you cards and my hoard of chopsticks and cookie cutters. I know this is a first world problem. I know that in the grand scheme, this is a ridiculous situation. I get how lame it all is. If you want to throw rocks at me, I'll supply them.)

Last year I gave Guy a book called A Christ Centered Christmas by Emily Freeman.  My darling husband, who has only read recipe books and  Harry Potter since finishing a bazillion college classes, not only read the book, but took up the challenge offered by Freeman to change the way we celebrate.  After overhearing his comment to his sister, my shame was complete.  "Let's do it," I said,"let's do Christmas the way you want to."

First, beginning 7 weeks before Christmas, we focused a Family Night each week on one figure traditionally represented in the nativity.  We began with Mary, who reminds us to ponder the birth of Christ in our hearts.  Each week, with the unveiling of a new figure in our nativity set, we learned new lessons; service, giving thanks, testifying of Christ's divinity.  On the week that focused on the Wise Men, we learned about the nature of the three gifts they brought to the Christ child.  Gold, a joyful gift that would have been given to a king, myrrh, a needful gift, used in cleaning and burial, and frankincense, a meaningful gift, an incense used in the temple.

The challenge for Guy and I was this; to give only three gifts to each child; one needful, one joyful, and one meaningful.  (Now if you are one of those awesome people who always understood the less-is-more concept of gifting, you will forgive my materialism and small mindedness. Trust me, I'm plenty ashamed. Three gifts is, I understand, A LOT. )

This new guideline didn't preclude any one gift we had ever given in the past.  It just meant that each gift should have real intention; a meaning beyond "I think so-and-so would like this".  It took a great shift in my thinking to undertake this change.  In the past, I thought about so many things that each kid needed and liked, and when I would find them at a good price, I was eager to provide.  I think if I had to distill my prior gifting philosophy, it would have been: "see how much I can get for as little money as possible". Part of that came from knowing we could not afford big fancy gifts, so, like an emotional eater, I tried to fill the void with quantity.  A cheap-gift smoke-screen. It was not intentional, and I only gained an understanding of my off-centered thinking in the past few weeks. Hi, my name is Laine, and I'm a twisted gifter.

With the new parameters, I would have to choose just one thing each child needed, just one they would have fun with, and just one that held some meaning to them.

The shopping looked very different this year.  Because of my memory problems and my fruitful ovaries, I had a spread sheet listing each kids' name, and columns representing the different gift types.   Guy and I spent a great deal of time talking before we even got into the car to begin our shopping.  We discussed the various needs and talents of the children.  We learned quickly that "meaningful" was often "joyful" too.  We also found it was sometimes hard to choose a needful gift out of the many needs of a fast-growing child.  It was hard to pass up the many little gifts that were cute, but totally unnecessary; gimcracks, I have learned they are called.  

We learned a few other things along the way, like that it's very easy to come up with a needful gift, but sometimes very hard to know that you have chosen something truly meaningful, and that there is not much that a one-year-old needs that doesn't fit in a C cup.

The gifts were a surprise in some cases.  Tessa's meaningful gift turned out to be sheets.  They had horses all over them, and she adored them (as we knew she would).  Ethan's was a soldering iron and a few small tools to help him with his computer building.  Adam's was a real risk.  Each day when Adam comes home from school I look at his left hand to see what new artwork he has done when he's gotten bored after finishing his class work.  Some days he has embellished his arm with gears and pulleys, other days with muscles and tendons.  I had the idea of getting him a new skateboard deck that was blank, and some paint pens so that he could create his own image.  I was worried, but I hadn't needed to be.  He was thrilled and has been carefully planning his design since then.

Meaningful. How rewarding to give a truly meaningful gift. It filled my heart. I think I'm definitely in recovery.

There was another surprise.  In our preparations, we talked to the kids about choosing meaningful gifts for each other as well.  We had them decide what they would get before we left to go shopping, and I took each kid out one-on-one to make their purchases.  They started paying more attention to each other's likes, and on Christmas morning they were far more excited about what they were giving than what they might receive.  I was proud of the way my kids focused on each other, on strengths and talents, and on individual personality traits.  There was much hugging.  It was awesome.

When all was said and done, the depth of enjoyment over each carefully selected gift replaced that awful guilt I typically have on Christmas morning over my usual over-indulgence, and eliminated the feeling of gift inadequacy.  The concern over making sure that the kids had been treated equally evaporated, because there is no way of comparing horse sheets to a soldering iron, and no need to try.