Sunday, March 23, 2014

Road Trippin'

Or, What We Actually Did For Spring Break. We really know how to live it up 'round here.

When I announced that we were taking a road trip during spring break, the kids were super excited. When I admitted the destination was a meat locker about two hours away, they staged a revolt. The two vegetarians were mortified. The Big Guy and I were a bit excited- we were looking forward to having a freezer full of meat. The kids, not so much.

At any rate, we were taking a road trip and that was that.  Saturday morning (okay, afternoon) we ordered the young herd to pee, double checked that they all had jackets, and loaded the coolers into the minivan. We set the house alarm, said bye to the dog, and we were off!

We almost made it out of the neighborhood before we realized the Big Guy had no jacket. Home we went- turned off the house alarm, greeted the dog, grabbed the jacket, set the alarm, said bye to the dog, and we were off!

We stopped at the local pharmacy to buy motion sickness bands for Tuna (because she left hers on the other side of town) but they were sold out. A quick trip to the grocery store proved futile as well. At this point, we realized we had forgotten my iPod and it is not practical to make a two-hour road trip without the iPod, so home we went-  turned off the house alarm, greeted the dog, grabbed the iPod, set the alarm, said bye to the dog, and we were off!

We got on the highway, drove all of ten miles, and then stopped at another pharmacy to buy the elusive motion sickness bands. By this point, the kids were playing On the Road Again on an iPhone. This time, we were really off!

Two hours later, we arrived at the meat locker. It was a step back in time. They had an old school playground straight out of our childhood. The kids took off running. We shouted a few warnings about the dangers of merry-go-rounds and left them to spin at their own risk.

The vegetarians never entered the store, but Tuna and Rough Stuff bravely took a peek. Rough Stuff asked where the cows were and Tuna said the place was lame. This humored the butcher so he took them both on a quick tour of the freezer where they could see the hanging beef. Rough Stuff was appalled and has not eaten meat since. Tuna was awed and wanted to know where the head was. "In the dumpster, with the skin!" said the butcher. And out to the dumpster she went.

We loaded 128 pounds of home-grown, antibiotic and hormone-free beef into the coolers and we were on the road again. We explored a little vintage thrift store where Rough Stuff bought a cute little pair of vintage baby moccasins for her American Girl doll, Kaya. We stopped at Mennonite-owned grocery and stocked up on noodles and spices. Just before sundown we toured a state park that we vowed to visit again in the future. After a short stop for dinner, we were homeward bound.

All in all, not as terrible of a road trip as our little herd thought it would be. A vacation it was not, but it made for a fun day out of the house before returning to school this week.

It's all in the perspective, you see.

(Have a little faith, my dear children.)

(And for the love of all that is sacred, don't go looking in dumpsters behind meat lockers.)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Little Perspective

When I asked the kids what they wanted to do for spring break, they tossed out an answer that left me almost speechless.

"LA QUINTA! We want to stay at La Quinta!"

Uh, no. NO. Hell NO. 

But then I began to wonder why. So, I asked. 

Because they have waffles, they said. And hot chocolate! And biscuits! And a pool! 

I realized that they had a whole different perspective on this hotel thing than I did- and perspective is everything. 

We checked into a La Quinta hotel on September 22, 2011, in the wee hours of the morning for what would be a 13-day unplanned stay. Fire had ravaged our home and we needed immediate shelter for 2 adults, 5 children, and 2 dogs. (We also housed a rabbit, 2 frogs, a hermit crab, and a goldfish, but we didn't openly share that information upon check-in because we didn't think they would let the rabbit stay and we didn't know the smaller critters were even still alive at that point.)

We did not arrive at the hotel with luggage or vacation itinerary. We tumbled in looking like zombies; emotionally distraught, physically exhausted, reeking of house fire smoke, and covered in smeared soot. We were placed in three separate rooms- the boy in one room down the hall and the girls in another room even further down the hall with the Big Guy and I settled into a room with two separate too-small beds. This was not a vacation. 

The hotel staff were incredibly helpful and supportive and as soon as was possible they relocated us into two connecting rooms with a room for the Boy directly across the hall. In spite of all of their wonderful efforts, I did not, for obvious reasons, enjoy my stay. At first, I was incredibly thankful there was a free continental breakfast. We were incredibly short on cash and we had no idea how quickly we would get the emergency funds check from the insurance company. We had 7 mouths to feed 2-3 meals every day with no access to a kitchen. Breakfast already cooked at no additional cost was a huge bonus. No matter- by the end of the first week I just couldn't look at another plate of biscuits and gravy. 

I was also not overjoyed with keeping up with my herd in a hotel environment. Trying to get them from the car to the elevator and then to the hotel room, or vice versa, without disturbing 200 other guests was quite a chore. Getting a very toxic and sick dog into an elevator and all the way out of the hotel lobby to the small patch of grass beyond the parking lot was an anxiety-ridden mini-marathon for all involved. Sometimes we did not make it to the finish line.

I often teared up as we waited for cabs in the morning in the hotel dining area. The nice people around us would be discussing upcoming business meetings or the day's travel plans but we were just going about our normal day- getting the kids breakfast and sending them off to school. It was so very surreal. As I put my kids into cabs with school backpacks and waved them off, I knew that we appeared to be homeless- and we were. I cried every morning. Eventually the fear of sending our kids off with strangers became so overwhelming that we started driving them all to three different schools every day before we set about meeting with insurance agents and fire recovery specialists. 

In short- I could not wait to leave. The Big Guy could not wait to leave. Tuna and the  Boy could not wait to leave. Just 13 long and miserable days after we checked in, we loaded up the cars and said "see ya!" (We didn't really intend to make good on that.) 

The littles though- they had a whole different experience. 

We had taken a few vacations with a pull-behind travel trailer and we had camped in tents, but the younger kids had never stayed at a hotel before and the whole concept was super exciting. The hotel had a cook that adored my children. I think she just enjoyed having kids in the hotel every morning. She kept a steady supply of hard-boiled eggs and hot chocolate at the ready. My children worshiped her. They colored pictures for her that she proudly displayed in the kitchen. 

There were no chores to speak of. I did enforce a regular clean up each night and each child was required to tidy up and make sure their personal belongings made it back to their personal storage bucket every night. But really, when everything you own fits into a plastic bucket, there isn't a lot of cleaning up to do. The housekeeping staff swept their room everyday and took the trash out and the cook cleaned up the kitchen and dining area so I guess that did feel sort of like a vacation. 

The elevator provided great entertainment and every day there were new guests to introduce our giant dog to. There was a pool and a very gracious mother of one of my kids' friends (my memory of details from this time frame are so hazy I cannot remember who donated what) bought swimsuits for all of our kids so they could burn off some energy in the pool. 

And then there were the free clothes. Knowing we had nothing but the dirty clothes on our backs, I had put out a Facebook request for clothes with our children's sizes and wow- our friends and community came to the rescue in a way that I could not have even imagined. Every time we arrived back at the hotel there were bags and boxes of clothing waiting for us. Since the Boy was not sharing his room with anyone, it became the central donation sorting and storage area. The two oldest kids were not impressed at all with piles of donated things that they did not pick out, but for the three younger kids- it was like Christmas everyday. The long-standing rule of washing all clothes before wearing was out the window. "Just pick something out of the bags and get dressed!" 

For me and the Big Guy, and for the Boy and Tuna, this whole hotel stay was part of a very long nightmare. It is in the past, a memory, and we intend to keep it that way. I have stayed at hotels for travel and conferences since the fire and it definitely triggers bad memories for me. 

For Fish, Rough Stuff, and Little Bean, the hotel stay was awesome and exciting. FREE WAFFLES! Unlimited hot chocolate!! 

It's all in the perspective. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

How to Tile a Backsplash Without Fighting

Several times throughout the fourteen months we spent rebuilding our home, I mentioned to the Big Guy that we needed to discuss tile for the kitchen backsplash. We'd get to it, he said. We had plenty of time, he said. We'd probably just do it ourselves, he said. So, I ordered the kitchen cabinets (those were my domain) and told the cabinet maker that we'd be doing the tile ourselves, later.

When the cabinets arrived, the Big Guy was slightly pissed that they arrived without backsplashes and I ever so kindly (so not kindly) reminded him of all the things he'd said regarding the option of tiling the backsplash vs. ordering one from laminate. Let me just say, if your marriage can endure building a house, you've really got something to hang on to. If in doubt, just don't do it. Just don't.

I'm happy to say we've been married almost twenty-four years and we've survived building a house. True story.

Anyway...the cabinets arrived with no backsplash and were installed with a nice 1/4 inch gap between the cabinet and the wall that caught water from the sink and all manner of food particles. Gross. I had been carrying around three tiles (yes, three...just three) for almost two years. I picked them out at a furniture store early in the rebuilding process and I carried them around with my paint chips and matched them to absolutely everything we purchased for the house from furniture to dishes. So, of course, when we went back to buy them, they were gone. Extinct. No longer in production. Crapola.

Off to the local big box we went.

We found the perfect tile. The problem was, it came in two sizes. The Big Guy liked this big tile. 

And of course, I did not. I like this smaller, trendier, harder-to-install tile. 

So, we cleaned the counter. 

Did all this prep work. (I supervised.)

And then the Big Guy combined both our tile choices into this very cool pattern. I love him so much. (He might have growled a little bit.)

He convinced me to apply the grout with a decorating bag by applauding my mad cake decorating skills and I totally bought it. 

The Big Guy packed the grout in with a little floaty thingie and it was at this point that I began to panic. Surely we were not doing this right. This stuff was going to stain my tiles and it would never wash off. I was almost certain this would be a disaster. 

People who call tools little floatie thingies should not pass judgement on such projects. The Big Guy worked magic with the sponge and some water and my amazing backsplash emerged. 

How awesome is that? And we didn't have a single fight. (Because in the grand scheme of rebuilding your entire house, this was nothin'!) 



Sunday, March 2, 2014

Leprechaun Gold

As March roared in with snow, sleet, and below freezing temps, the young herd was blessed with a lazy day Sunday and no school for Monday. This opened  plenty of time for creative pursuits. I spent a few hours Sunday beating the bark off of a tree stump with an ax. Yes, you read that right. I've been saving three tree stumps from our summer tree removal adventure with plans to dry them, de-bark them, and make them into fabulous end tables. I was busy in the basement rec room chipping away bark while the girls were sitting at a table nearby creating  leprechaun traps inspired by Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

Let me just stop here and tip my proverbial hat to the sadist who inspired this whole leprechaun trap thing. I am thrilled by the concepts my little herd dreams up every year for their traps. No, not thrilled. Mortified maybe? I am actually quite surprised every year when the leprechaun actually drops by our house to visit the traps- he must be a glutton for punishment. Maybe he is in cahoots with the sadist. Previous years' traps have included nails, pins, and thumbtacks. This year, Little Bean was eyeing the ax I was working with. Eep! A word of warning to the leprechaun: They plan to kill you. Or at least maim you.

Somewhere throughout the evening, in a short break from my hammering and chopping, I overheard this conversation:

Rough Stuff: Oooh! That could be the little flusher for my toilet!

Little Bean: Your leprechaun house has a toilet?

Rough Stuff:  Yep!

Little Bean: (deadpan) You're cleaning that up.