Friday, December 30, 2005


It's Friday and the kids have been home all week. They are running out of productive ways to amuse themselves. Why can't they see that perhaps jumping on the trampoline with rocks is not such a good idea? And that carrying sheets of plywood across the lawn when there are 50mph gusts of wind is also not a good alternative?

So today it's errand day. The idea being to finish up some long delayed errands and to keep the kids out of trouble. Delayed because when the kids are home, I tend to put off errands, and after a week-and-a-half without school, there are lots of errands to do.

It starts out badly at the library. At our small local branch the kids are running around, chasing each other, giggling incessantly. A little talk to them about how to amuse themselves without disturbing other patrons goes unheeded. I want to leave immediately, but I came here to get something for me, and I want to get it. I tell them we will abandon the trip to the Lego store (part of a Christmas present and how I got them to clean the house and leave the house in the first place) if they can't control themselves. They can't control themselves.

As I am getting gas I tell them how disappointed I am in their behavior at the library. Okay, so we talk about it and come up with this deal: we will do another errand, their chance to redeem themselves. If they can listen to me and follow directions on the next errand, we will go to the Lego store. If not, no go.

It's about a 20-minute drive, so I get in the car after the gas and ask if everyone is buckled in. They assure me this is true. I have put a couple of new Bill Harley CDs in the car. I ask which one they want to listen to first. Kadin says, "mine!" Rees says, "mine!" Okay, another tack. One is stories, one is songs, I ask them if they want to listen to stories or songs. "Songs" says Kadin, "stories" says Rees. I figure that gives me license to choose since Kadin's is stories and Rees's is songs. I say "I am putting on Kadin's, it's stories." Nobody can protest that. Phew!

On the highway, Kadin says, "Look Rees, look!" and as he points to something he stands up and turns around in his seat. "Hey! Kadin! You're not buckled in!" Usually he is very good about this. Problem is, he can't do it himself. As I am looking for a place to pull over I say, "Kadin, hand me the buckle, here, Rees, please buckle it." Kadin screams, "No! I want Mama to do it!" "I can't, I'm driving," I reply. He has become the boss of the world in the worst way lately. His view of what is important can only be categorized as ridiculous. I find a place to pull over and he finally lets Rees buckle him in. Sheesh!

Then it is a trip to a certain DIY store to buy a dryer vent. No, not fun, but they have the Lego store to look forward to. I am ready to cancel the whole endeavor, but this is their chance.

Only problem is, I can't find the DIY store. It is right there, bigger than life, on the right side of the road, with a huge sign in front of it, but danged if I can figure out how to get there. It's at an intersection of three major highways and I blow it a couple of times, taking at least a extra 30-minute detour of circling round and round with no exit in sight and one wrong move after another. I feel I am being sorely tested. Luckily the kids are riveted by the new Bill Harley CD with tales of swamp monsters and the pirate Dirty Joe. The songs and stories have this really funny way of seeing the world from both the child's and the adult's perspective, so it's giving me some respite as well. Finally, after driving about 50 endless, pointless miles, we get to the parking lot.

Will the kids let me pick a dryer vent? Sure, but they have to fiddle with and fondle just about everything in sight so concentration is at a minimum and who knew there would be so many perplexing options? I just want a dryer vent. I sure hope I get the right thing. I measured and everything, but... oh well, guess I can always return it if I get the wrong one, but the thought of coming back fills me with dread…

Then I need the bathroom and one graciously appears near us at the back of the store. Rees goes into the men's, Kadin refuses all options. I need to go, so I look at Kadin and say, "I am going in here, you are welcome to join me." "Never!" he replies, his stock reply these days. No sooner am I in a stall than I hear an ear-piercing shriek of "Mama! Where are you?" I hear the woman who was washing her hands at the sink as I came in go out to investigate. "It's okay, your mom's in there," she says. Kadin refuses all help continuing to pitifully and convincingly wail, "I want my mom!" "I pinched my finger!" "I want my mommy!" Another woman in the stall next to me goes out to help. He keeps up the "I want my mom!" line. I know he is a little bit hurt and a lot angry and even more stubborn. He will not come to me, I cannot go to him, he will not calm down for these other women. I quickly finish and tend to his minor wound. Scornful eyes look at me from everywhere. Heads wag. Sigh.

We pick up some teak oil for the deck furniture and head to the checkout. This is when the one good thing of the day happens. The woman asks me how much the dryer vent is. I say I don't remember (I don't but it was somewhere around $15) and she says not to worry about it and only charges me for the teak oil. Wow! That saves me an errand to return it at least!

Things are looking up, it is time for the Lego store. We find the mall and park at the door closest to the store. We find the store and this kids happily fill the boxes they got for Christmas. Then the snag. Kadin takes a long time, debating this, debating that, wishing he had this, wishing he had that. Finally his box is full and then overfull. I tell him he has to put some back. He refuses. I take some out of his overfull box and put some of them in Rees' underfull box. He is incensed and starts wailing. I try to explain to him that I am trying to help him (knowing it will all end up in the same place, but how to convince a 4 year old?). He continues to make a scene. I tell him we can walk away right there if he wants to. I take four big pieces out of his box, now it works. I tell him his choice is to have the box as it is or leave without it. He is livid. Finally, I manage to get the box put in a bag, return the four big pieces, and distract him to play with the Legos at the play table.

Now it is lunchtime. We can go to the food court. I am hungry. Rees is hungry. Kadin wants to stay at the play table. "When will you be ready to leave?" I ask. "When I am finished with this," is the reply. That sounds reasonable. "Finish up and we'll go," I say, hoping for once for a graceful transition. It takes a while, but finally he is ready and we go to eat. We are in line at the Burger King and Kadin says, "I want McDonalds." I tell him there is no McDonalds. He starts crying again. This boy is lucky to be at Burger King, I tell you!

Lunch is reasonably uneventful, but the food court has taken us to the opposite end of the mall from the car. Kadin is moving like molasses. He is in his own world, playing a game, walking in a certain pattern on the colored bricks on the floor. Rees and I try to walk slowly, but Kadin is making no attempt to stay with us. It is agony. Slowly, slowly we make progress. I have my eye on the door near the car. We are finally almost there, just a few yards to go. "I have to go to the bathroom," Kadin announces. If only he'd used the one at the DIY store!

Okay, find a bathroom. Luckily there is one not too far from the door, but it is down one of those long corridors. I tell Kadin to follow me. He is again lost in his own world. I gently take his hand and guide him reluctantly to the bathroom. He goes, I go, Rees goes, and we all move off down the corridor again to the desired doors. This time we make it. Just outside the door, Rees says, "Where's the Lego bag?" The Lego bag! The bathroom! I left it in the bathroom! I turn around and sprint back to the bathroom. Rees is hot on my heels. Kadin is moving so slowly I figure I will be there and back before he has moved an inch. .

In moments I am at the bathroom and just coming out is a nice older woman with a Lego bag. Panting, I eye it, she says, "Did you leave this in the stall?" Yes, thanks! I take it and run back with Rees to where we last saw Kadin. Predictably, he has now disappeared. I can't believe it, or maybe I can. How far could he have gotten?

Rees and I re-enter the mall and I call Kadin's name in a loud, clear voice. A woman nearby asks if he was wearing blue pants and a striped shirt. Yes! He ran down that way, she points. We pursue, find him, and then make the agonizing trek back to the car. The car! Hooray!

I know that I should follow my instincts, drive directly home and take a nap while the boys play with their new Legos, but no, I am a glutton for punishment and determined to finish up the one last errand of the day, a simple exchange at another store at a different mall. It can't get any worse.

It doesn't. But at the last mall there is the final incident of who pushed which button to open which door and how one or the other of the boys won't come in or go out or has to do it again. It's all a horrible blur. We soldier on and are back at the car and on the way home at last.

More of Bill Harley on the CD player. This time it is a great story about the skunk family and the middle child who refuses to set the table. Her older brother demands it of her. She argues back in a singsong voice, "You're not the boss of me. You're not the boss of me. You might be the boss of you, but you're not the boss of me." This angers her brother who calls in the mother who is similarly incensed, then her father, then the chief of police, and the judge (each with charming extra details thrown in), but her argument remains the same throughout and she refuses to set the table singing her self-righteous little song. Finally she is taken before the stinky skunk King who says, "Oh, she won’t set the table? Well…” Then he turns to the child and says, “Will you please set the table?" And she says, "Yes, since you asked so nicely, I'd be happy to." And all is well in the skunk world. Amazing how a change of perspective can do that.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Sincere melancholy

Just so you know, "Party in a bare tree" is a suitably melancholy lyric for Kadin. For him such sentiments are not negative things. He seems quite in tune with and accepting of life's bittersweet offerings. To the tune of "Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree" Kadin has come up with these lyrics, sung with genuine awe and love (Rex is a cat):

Oh Rexy-poo oh Rexy-poo
Dee dee di dee di dee dee
Oh Rexy-poo oh Rexy-poo
Dee dee di dee di dee dee

The cats are come to bite and scratch
You'll never know their tears are sad

Oh Rexy-poo oh Rexy-poo
Dee dee di dee di dee dee

And a party in a bare tree

The kids have picked up on our twelve day theme and the "Twelve Days of…" (insert Christmas, Solstice, whatever!) song is very popular around here. Kadin's version goes:

On the fifth day of Christmas/Solstice my jewler gave to me:
Five golden rings
Four calling birds
Three French friends
Two turtle gloves
And a party in a bare tree

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Twelve days of...

There is so much controversy over this time of year. In addition to the overwhelming consumer-oriented frenzy, there is also the "Christmas" vs. "Holiday" tree debates, the boycott of Target because they won't put the word "Christmas" on their signs, the (understandable) resentment of people who don't celebrate Christmas in any form, etc. You are forced to "pick a side," and even in not choosing you are by default making a statement. Sigh.

Whether you like it or not, the fact remains, there IS a lot of energy around at this time of year. Is it up to each of us to find what works for ourselves and our families because it is impossible to ignore the whole thing or be passive. That alone takes energy!

I really do enjoy the idea of a celebration of light at this darkest time of year. I love the lighted trees and the candles. I also like the idea of bringing in the evergreens to remind us of spring. They smell fantastic! And that deep red color on berries and clothes is just so perfectly warming in winter. The darkness, the end of the year, invites a time for calm introspection.

For the past few years our family has been doing its own sort of ceremony starting on the darkest day (the 21st) and going for twelve days, through the 1st of January. This includes both the natural cycles of the sun and the not-so-natural but now ingrained holiday/vacation season.

Each night, for twelve nights, we light a candle, sing a song, and focus on a theme for the day. This works great for us, but I don't know what to call it.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Brotherly insults

The boys have this new game where one of them will angrily shout the name of the other. “Kadin!” Rees will say harshly. When Kadin looks up, Rees will quickly change tack and say in a gentle, goofy voice, “You’re silly.” Kadin will laugh, enjoy the adrenaline rush, and they’ll do it all over again. Sometimes the response is “nice shoes” or some other such silly non-sequitor. Why is this fun? Is it the tension and release that they like?

Needless to say, I don’t enjoy this game so much. Bad feng shui.

They have another, similarly passive aggressive type game where they take turns reciting dialog from movies. It is usually sort of sarcastic, harsh, but funny dialog. One dialog, said in a irritated, reluctant tone, goes:
"Thank you!"
"You're welcome!"
"Don't mention it!"
"I won't!"
"Bye to you!"
"Same to you!"
We have heard that about 586 times.

Another example is the JibJab version of "This Land is Your Land" where Bush and Kerry exchange insults. The boys loved reenacting that.

Is it some sort of sibling thing? Oh joy!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Pearl's close encounter

We keep the cats in the bedroom during the day when the workers are here. The cats are just too curious to have around construction. Not that it is to so great when the workers leave, either.

The workers took the sheet rock off a wall with a furnace vent in it. It has been really cold and the house is not insulated (insulation by Christmas is the goal!). The cats found that it was nice and warm down under the floor in the vent. The furnace is going most of the time and I shudder to think what our bill will be this month…

Yesterday I hadn't seen Pearl for a little while. Then I could hear some distant meowing. I looked around for her a bit, with no luck. The meowing didn't stop, so I looked in the furnace closet where it sounded like it was coming from. She wasn't in there either. Where could she be? Finally, incredulous, not knowing where else to look, I opened the cover to the furnace filter and she crawled out. She had apparently crawled down one of the air returns into the furnace.

I thought I'd better check to make sure the furnace was okay. When I looked at the thermostat, it was blank. Nothing. Nada. Great, she had broken our new furnace! I checked the circuit breaker and that was okay. I opened up the furnace panel to see if she'd jiggled any wires loose. Everything looked attached.

From what I could see, it looked like it worked like this: the return air vents, where she likely was exploring, attach to the shaft in the ceiling/floor. It is a straight drop down about 12ft to the filter area. The air would then pass through the filter and into a big drum with a fan or turbine that would then push the air back up into furnace, warm it, and push it up into the house.

Pearl was in the turbine area. I shudder to think what would happen if she was exploring in there and it turned on and started spinning fast with lots of force. Would she have been chopped up or cooked? What a tragic mess that would have been.

I called the contractor to see if he had any suggestions for easy things I could try to get the furnace going again. His suggestion was to reset the furnace by turning the electricity off and then on again. This proved successful and we had both a cat and functioning furnace in a matter of moments.

Thinking about it some more, I think Pearl probably did go in the turbine and then the furnace did go on. At that point, some safety system set in because there was a large heavy object on the turbine. The furnace shut off to avoid burning itself out.

We heard Pearl, found her, and let her out. Phew! Glad to have a cat and to also know the safety system in the furnace worked.

I put in a new filter (she pretty badly dented the first), and made the return air vents too narrow for cats to fit through. Pearl seemed a little upset by the whole thing, though, so I don't think she'd venture down there again. Curiosity and cats and all that.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Lighting design

It is now coming down to decision time on much of the house. For the first time in our lives we are able to decide what we want and where we want it. For years we have been mastering the creative art of making do, but now we have a choice and we must decide. Its a new and interesting concept. A skill we have not cultivated. The electricians are coming so we need to know where we want light and what we want it to look like. If only we really knew what we wanted and what it would look like!

The design of lighting has been an interesting lesson is a couple of ways. First, there is the design, and then there is the dealing with the electricians.

The architect designed most of the rooms with symmetrically laid out recessed can lights in grids on the ceilings. I am fine with recessed can lights and the symmetrical grid thing seemed sensible. Until the electricians came. Turns out they couldn't exactly put things symmetrically because of the way the roof is shaped, where the rafters are, where the heating ducts go, etc. The electricians are like, "we can't do this, we can't do this..." Arghhh!

After the invention day we went over to a friend's house for dinner. She had added on a room last summer and had the same architect. I wanted to see how her lighting was. It turned out to be different, but neat. Instead of symmetrical grids of lights, she had more functional clusters of lights in the ceiling: over the kitchen counters where you would stand, in the corners of the room where there were easy chairs. It looked nice, organic, and functional.

And then there are the electricians. With most of the workers who have been to the house, I have felt like they had my interest at heart. If something was difficult, but better, they would be willing to do it. The electricians were different. They were more pushy. "It would be a whole lot easier for us if you'd put the switches on this's not going to work this way, if I were you I'd..." Blah, blah, blah. It was getting annoying. I didn’t want to intentionally make their lives difficult but it isn’t their house! The worst was the “if I were you” part because it was patently clear that their taste was very different from mine. How to say, “Yuk! What a terrible idea!” in a tactful way?

After debriefing about it with everyone from the carpenters to the contractor and friends, I felt much more able to make decisions and tell the electricians what I wanted. Friend Adrienne gave me the best response when they gave me the "this won't work" news. The correct response, my new mantra, is: "What are the options?"

And, if I had to do it again, I'd forego symmetry in favor of functional constellations. Works, looks cool, and if something doesn't fit exactly as drawn, you have more options in the end.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Invention day

We went to the Design Expo at CU where undergraduates in the industrial design program show off their projects. I thought it would be fun to see clever designs and I was even thinking I might be interested in getting a degree in the program.

The expo was crowded and a bit disappointing. I was mostly struck by just how YOUNG the students were. There were all these fresh-faced mop tops. And that made me feel old. There may have been some really interesting things in the mix, but it was hard to see because of the crowds and because the presentation by the students left something to be desired. But what did I expect? Did I mention they are young?

The most interesting exhibits—at least to the kids, which is where my attention was diverted—seemed to be the permanent exhibits in the engineering building. The building was kind of like a children's museum with perpetual motion pendulums, tectonic movement sand tables, square wheels, rhythmic patterns made from squirting water, and so on. Parts of the building have been left exposed and there are signs explaining construction techniques. We'll have to go back another time when it is less crowded to explore these at leisure. Greg also says there is a cafe with good coffee in the building. Sounds like a pleasant future outing.

The most amazing thing I saw was not an invention by the students, but something the students used to make their inventions. As one woman explained it to me, they have a three-dimensional printer. Yes, a printer that produces 3-D. She said you design a three-dimensional shape on a CAD program on the computer screen and then you "print" it out. The printer lays down layers of plastic and can make any shape you specify. I asked if you could make anything: fountains, sculptures, etc. She said yes, as long as it was smaller than about 18 inches. The idea is like a dream come true. You can envision and object then just print it out. Can't wait until that is old hat!