Friday, June 29, 2007

Disclaimer...

I may not be able to post much in the next several days. I will be dealing with houseguests (Hi Mary and kids!), taking all 5 of our combined kids to a birthday party (happy 5th birthday, Noah!), going to an arts/craft fair (with no kids - imagine! And a huge thanks to our niece Andrea for babysitting), and just enjoying the next 5 days getting to be nothing other than Mom.

:)

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Ten years (part 2)

Writing the 2nd half of my ‘Ten Years’ topic is going to be hard for me. Mainly because it deals with an issue which I’ve been struggling with for over 6 years.

I Want To Be Home With My Kids

It’s something I never considered before Abby was born – I just knew that I would have to go back to work after my maternity leave and I never thought much about it. Until she was born and I realized that my life’s ambition, my career goal and the one thing I wanted more than any other was to be home with my baby girl every single day.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of obstacles to this goal. Bad financial decisions that Ron and I each made before we even met (remember my ever-growing credit card?) caused a lot of debt. And I have a degree – Ron does not. For most of our marriage, I have made twice what he’s made in salary. And our insurance has almost always been through my job – his employers have either not offered insurance at all, or have offered insurance that would be unaffordable, especially if we went down to one income. At the time Abby was born, our health insurance was FREE through my job. Yes, one bonus for government employment is usually very good benefits.

We’ve tried having Ron be the ‘at-home’ parent. Twice. First, when Abby was 4 months old and I couldn’t stand the thought of her in daycare (we weren’t thrilled with the one we’d found) and just wanted her home, even if it wasn’t with me. Then again after we moved here to the Grand Rapids area and Ron got a job with a friend of his where he worked part-time from home for the first several months. In both cases, he realized after a few months that he is not cut out to be at home. He doesn’t have the patience for it and he wasn’t happy. And therefore the girls weren't happy either.

When we had Hannah, I came very close to quitting my job and staying home to do in-home daycare. When I say close, I mean that I had applied for licensing and it was down to the last couple of months before her birth where I was 100% sure that I was going through with that plan. But, we both had doubts about the financial aspect – mainly the reliability of the income, as well as the insurance issues and I let Ron talk me into going back to work ‘temporarily’ after my maternity leave ended. Which turned into 3 years.

So when we got pregnant with Becca, my goal was to absolutely find a way to stay home. Ron was supportive – he knows how much I want to be home and he has never vetoed the idea, as long as it didn’t hurt us financially. I looked into the home daycare idea again because I liked the idea of having other kids around for my kids to play with and I like kids so I thought it would be fun. Ron still had major concerns (as did I) about the financial aspects of it but this time I was sure that everything was pointing me at this being the path that I was meant to take.

So, enter in 2006. It started off amazingly – Becca was born in January and was beautiful and wonderful. I had 3 months of maternity leave to look forward to and to finalize my plans. So I only had 5 weeks of disability pay (at 60% of my salary) – we’d make that stretch. And of course I would find the 3 full-time (or equivalent) kids that I needed to watch in order to keep us afloat.

Things we hadn’t considered:

1. In the current economy in Michigan, families are struggling and finding creative alternatives to full-time daycare whenever possible. Many families include someone who is out of work and therefore able to care for children.

2. Starting a new business like daycare, at only a couple of months postpartum and with 2 other small children at home as well is not always wise.

3. You can only cut so much and 1/3 of the income doesn’t go very far especially when you were struggling to begin with. Saving on our own daycare costs didn’t make enough of a difference.

4. It sucks to be without health insurance. Thankfully there are programs to cover the kids, but adults are much more expensive to cover – if you can even find one that will accept you.

2006 was the year of my bad choice. Yes, I can say that now. Leaving my secure, full-time, fairly high income, $20/month for health insurance for all of us job – as much as I struggled with work/home balance, as much as I hated how inflexible and less family-friendly the company was becoming, as much as I felt like they were subtly pushing me out the door – probably not the best choice as I look back on things. Yes, I am so glad to have had the extra time home with the girls, especially Becca. But in the long run, I don’t know if it was worth everything that we went through last year. Almost losing our house (we came closer than I even dare to think about). Completely trashing our credit because of late payments on everything, plus our bankruptcy (a whole other story there). The stress all of this took on our marriage and therefore our kids as well… I had more time home with the girls, but it wasn’t quality time. I was depressed, anxious, stressed out and exhausted. I did watch one child last summer – a baby less than a month older than Becca. So I had 2 babies to watch plus the two older girls who got almost no attention since the babies took up almost all of what energy I had. We did have some fun times, but the older girls were on their own playing a lot more than I had wanted – the arts and craft projects, fun field trips and everything else I thought I would do with my home daycare just never happened.

So I looked for a new job. As well as desperately looking for more kids to watch – anything to get us back on our feet. In July, I got an interview and then a job. A good job, although still making considerably less than I was before. But a job in a field related to my own and that I like much better. A job to save our house and our family. And so here I sit at work typing this (shhh!). Ten years. A lot of changes. My dream ‘job’ is still to be a stay-at-home mom. I am jealous of all of the support out there for at-home moms and the things I can never take my kids to. MOPS groups, playgroups, internet support groups, library story hours, daytime classes and lessons. ‘Working’ moms have a hard time meeting other moms because between work and keeping up with home chores, there’s just no time. I try – I belong to message boards where I can never make it to the playgroups and Mom’s Night Out events. The girls sing in church choir one evening a week. Abby played soccer for the past 2 years, on Saturdays and evenings. We’ve done evening swimming lessons. We’ve met parents through preschool. But almost every mom I know stays home, either full-time or part-time. And I so wish that I could.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

My (kids') summer vacation

So this is what my kids are up to so far this summer…

Abby is loving going to supervised playground – especially the swimming on Tuesdays and the field trips on Thursdays. Today they’re having an Easter Egg hunt in a local park. Easter Egg hunting in June – how fun! It’s something for her to look forward to every week, which helps her immensely. She’ll miss next week due to daycare vacation and the holiday but I think there will be enough going on at home that she won’t miss it as much.

Hannah – can I just say that we’ve gone almost 2 entire weeks now with only one wet accident!! The timer is working extremely well even though I haven’t been so good yet at giving her the MiraLax. And the only day that she had an accident was Sunday, when I wasn’t doing very well with setting the timer to go off every 2 hours. It’s working great at daycare (I hope I’m not jinxing anything by saying this) so far too and she hasn’t had an accident there since we started using it. Way to go, Hannah! And I’m very proud that she doesn’t seem to be jealous of the fun things that Abby gets to do at supervised playground – it helps that Brook does a project with them at daycare every day too.

Becca can put on her own sandals! This blows me away since she’s not even 18 months old yet. She’s also our first climber – I keep finding her on top of the kitchen table or standing on the chairs. She can climb onto the bottom (Hannah’s) bunk in the girls’ room and is just so darn proud of her little self. She’s even trying to put on her own clothes (and everyone else’s too) with some pretty hilarious results. I really need to get the camera out for some of those. She’s also getting a lot more verbal and using more recognizable words than her previous ‘grunt and point’ method. She’s growing up so fast…

So we’re making it through the summer so far. Even though they still have to get up at 6:30am every day for daycare instead of the lazy, sleep-in summer days I remember from growing up. Actually, that’s probably not such a bad thing since the fall will be much less of a shock than I usually had once I had to completely re-adjust my sleep schedule back to the early rising. And the girls are up early even on the weekends when they are able to sleep in – and Mommy and Daddy want to sleep in!

Only 2 months left until school begins.

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Ten years (part 1)

It's amazing how much changes in 10 years. And how odd that the two most stressful years of my life are separated by almost exactly 10 years. Am I a completely different person from who I was back then? Certainly. Am I a better person? I have no idea.

This really starts in 1996 when I gave up a job as an Administrative Assistant - a steady, somewhat high-income (I actually made more than most entry-level jobs in my own field), full-time job with benefits to follow my then-boyfriend to another city where he had gotten a job. Yes, my job wasn’t exactly in my field (I’d gone to school for urban planning and planning jobs were extremely hard to come by without a Master’s Degree at the time) or terribly challenging, (ok downright boring at times) but I liked the company and the people. And the chance was there to advance, even if in a field other than the one I’d gone to school for. I lived in Kalamazoo, where I’d lived for 6 years (in college and afterward) and really knew and liked the area. I had close friends there. But the lure of something new, in a new city, with someone I (thought I) loved, was too much to pass up. I moved to Midland with Shawn. I did find a new job - although making less than my previous job, it was at least a step closer to being in my field. I was a Planning Assistant for the transit authority in a nearby city. Not exactly City Planning, but planning nonetheless. And I liked this job too. I learned a lot about computer networking and programming and took classes at the local community college. I learned a very rudimentary GIS (I know – more about that at some point!) system for creating and maintaining bus routes. I made a couple of friends. But, I didn’t really like the area – I was homesick for the west side of Michigan. And the relationship with Shawn was rocky. Was this the best choice I could have made? Who knows – although I sometimes wonder where I’d be right now if I had stayed in Kalamazoo. Maybe somewhere better than I am now, but maybe worse too. And I wouldn’t have my kids – at least not the same ones I have now. And I can’t imagine not having Abby, Hannah or Becca.

1997 was a year of changes. First, Shawn got a better job in the Detroit area. After giving up one job I liked to follow him, I wasn’t willing to do so again, especially when the relationship wasn’t always great. We were engaged, but wedding plans had been put on hold a couple of times. So we compromised and moved to Davison, an area halfway between my job and his. This added a 45-minute commute (along with associated gas costs) to my life. I knew nobody in Davison and liked the area even less than I had Midland. At least once a month I drove the 3 hours to visit friends back near Kalamazoo.

Memorial Day weekend, 1997. Ten years ago (plus a few weeks). My two closest friends, Mary and Kristi, and I had gotten together at Mary’s house along with their husbands and Shawn. The guys were doing something upstairs – I can’t remember what. Us girls were in the basement playing a game. And plotting. After seeing how Shawn treated me (he was never violent with me, but he had a horrible temper which he took out on inanimate objects - he once punched a hole in our bedroom door during an argument - and he did talk down to me a lot. I have no doubt things would’ve escalated in time, which is what had my friends concerned), Mary and Kristi basically told me that I needed to leave him and they would do everything they could to help. Instead of feeling anger or irritation at their butting into my life, I just felt an incredible sense of relief. I wasn’t happy, but didn’t really know how to change things. Just that offer of help was enough to motivate me to make the changes that I knew (down deep inside) that I needed to make. This is one decision I really don’t regret at all.

Within a week, plans were made. I’d lined up an apartment in the city where I worked, and started sneaking boxes home and hiding them in the basement of our townhouse. By whatever chance or God’s grace, I had never signed the lease papers – I hadn’t been available when Shawn signed everything and after 5 months hadn’t made it in there to do so myself (I think I somehow knew I wasn’t going to be there long). So I had no obligation toward the lease. We had a joint checking account but after the bills for that month were paid, not much was left. So I simply took my latest check and opened an account for myself and took my name off of the joint account. Why all of this stealth and worry? I truly believed that once Shawn found out I was leaving, he would take out his anger and frustration – not necessarily on me, but on my stuff. So I was convinced that I had to move everything out before he found out. And that’s exactly what happened. Mary and her husband Dave came up the weekend after Memorial Day – the next Monday actually, so that Shawn would be gone at work (45 minutes away) all day. I’d rented a truck and we packed and loaded as quickly as the three of us could. I left Shawn with most of the furniture and pretty much just took what I’d brought into the relationship or had myself bought since. We packed things in garbage bags and whatever else we could find (I have hundreds of books, which were the hardest to deal with). And when we were ready to head out, I called Shawn at work and told him that I was moving out – had already moved out. He was upset and angry but I still don’t know if he would’ve reacted as badly as I thought if I’d told him beforehand.

It was a hard decision, really. I wrote a long letter to Shawn’s mom, explaining why I felt I had to leave and in the way that I did. I hoped that it would be a ‘wake up’ call to him that he had some changes that he needed to make in his life and that he really needed help to make them. I didn’t talk to him for a while after that but within a couple of months we were back in touch – as ‘friends’ only. Not really even friends – just friendly acquaintances really. And within a year after that we’d pretty much lost touch completely, which was ok. I haven’t talked to him in years now. I know he is doing well and living in Kalamazoo (of all places!) and I do wish him well.

1997 was a year of 5’s . Five months living with Shawn in Davison. Five months living by myself on the east side of the state. I looked at all kinds of options – graduate schools, other jobs in the state and elsewhere. I spent money and increased my credit card debt significantly since I really didn’t make enough money to cover all of my bills.

In October, I got a call out of the blue from Muskegon about a job that I’d applied for months previously and hadn’t gotten. They had another opening and wanted to interview me again. This time I got the job. Back on the west side of the state where I’d been happiest. Closer to my friends and my beloved Lake Michigan (I had missed the beaches and sunsets!). A new beginning, really. So in November, I packed yet again and moved for the 3rd time that year (boy was my credit card suffering!). Mary and Dave helped me yet again – something I’ve always been grateful for. This change put me on the path that led me ultimately to Ron, marriage and my girls. Ten years ago.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Dear Credit Union...

I promise I'll drop this and stop posting about it, but I just had to share this e-mail that I wrote to our credit union today at lunch, after a very unsatisfactory phone call with the manager of our local branch that ended with me in tears in my car and walking around work this afternoon with very red eyes and makeup that's been washed away. This will end it - I'm sure it won't affect anything, but it helped to write it and know that someone out there at the credit union will at least read it.

Hello.
I have talked with the manager of our branch and I know that you have helped us in the past and that you have no reason to now. And that your policy is to help once and that's it. I know that the error which was made, causing the snowball effect that took place in our checking account on Monday, was mine. I know all of these things. But I can only hope that you will help us anyway.

Yes, our account was overdrawn a lot in 2005/2006. We got ourselves into a horrible financial mess that took months to climb out of. In August of 2006, you helped us by waiving a lot of fees that had incurred when we hit rock bottom. We were behind on everything. We almost lost our house. In August, I found a full-time job, my husband changed jobs and we began to fix things. Since that time, we have been able to bring all of our bills current and to work out our mortgage issues with our company so that our mortgage loans are finally back in good standing. We are still struggling but have been trying to build up a small savings account as well as an account toward Christmas gifts for our 3 children this year. We have been trying to think ahead.

Last week, I made a mistake. Actually a couple of them. I forgot to record a check for $312.50. Therefore, when I went to pay our 2nd mortgage payment of $379, I mistakenly thought that we had more money than we did. It was my error - I should not have made that house payment. We may still have gone overdrawn (mistake #2) but it wouldn't have been at the scale of what happened this week. However, when both the check and the mortgage payment cleared, it started a snowball effect where every small debit card purchase that we made over the weekend (before we knew there was a problem) caused massive amounts of overdraft fees. At this time, our account is over $700 withdrawn.

My paycheck tomorrow will bring us back into the positive. However, this check was meant to pay our regular mortgage payment for July, with only a few dollars extra. Instead, it will have to go almost entirely to clean up my mess. Yes, my mess. I caused it, I know that I should fix it. But it isn't just affecting me. My father-in-law is lending us money for a few days to try and bring the account positive, but we have to pay him back on Friday. My husband is taking as many overtime hours as he can get in order to earn as much money as possible to cover the amount I cost us. My kids don't see their father enough as it is, and now will see him even less. Our daycare provider is being wonderful and letting us pay her late this week and next, but that affects her income and ability to pay her own bills on time. And the couple of hundred dollars that we've been able to save so far toward Christmas this year will be completely wiped out to help cover the fees. Our bills will get behind again and I have no idea how long it will take to get caught back up again. I screwed up. Badly. You have no reason to help us. I only can pray that you will anyway.

Thank you for listening,
Deb S.

Here's their response:

Your account has been reviewed and at this time, no additional fees will be refunded unless charged in error by the credit union. Please take advantage of our website at ** , Compu-phone (automated system) at **, and monthly statements to view and monitor past and current transaction activity. By reconciling the account frequently, you will avoid costly fees in the future.
Thank you,
Member Communication Center

I wrote them back the following and haven't heard anything since:

I do reconcile our account frequently using the on-line tools - usually every few days. I had done so on Friday the 22nd and went into the account to do so again on Tuesday the 25th since debit card charges from the weekend usually take a day or two to show up. I don't like the implication that we don't monitor our accounts - we do. It just wasn't enough this time. Everyone makes mistakes and I freely admit that this was mine. Apparently you do not care very much about your customers.

I am extremely disappointed - not so much that you won't help us, I pretty much expected that. But the lack of a personal response and the curt, unfriendly tone of your e-mail that implies that we don't know how to manage our money is very unnecessary. We manage our money just fine - we simply don't have much to begin with. For an organization that bills yourself as a place where "You Matter", I don't get any kind of feeling that we matter to you at all. I find that very sad.

And that's apparently the end of it. Now we figure out how to fix things.

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Three things

Ok, I’m not going to vent and whine anymore just yet. Even though our account is now more than $700 overdrawn and the credit union appears to be unwilling to work with us at all. Nope, I need to think positive and not dwell on the fact that all July 4th plans are now shot and Ron is going to be working as many overtime hours as he can to help us eventually out of this mess, which means even less time that the girls will see him. And I’m not going to beat myself up about the fact that this is ALL MY FAULT. Nope, I’m not. Honest.

Well, maybe just a little bit. But I am really trying to keep things in perspective and remain thankful for everything that we have. In the grand scheme of things, this is something we’ll look back at 10 years from now, and laugh at – I hope.

To distract myself, here’s my response to the MamaBlogga Group Writing Project. The question is, “Three things I want my kids to…” So here goes.

Three things I want my kids to… say to each other.

“Here, Hannah/Abby – you take the *insert name of toy here*, I’ll play with something else”. Now, wouldn’t this be a nice refreshing change from the “I had that first!” or “She took my *whatever toy they’re fighting about right now*!” that all of us parents are subjected to day after day? As a refreshing change or if you guys want to see Mommy’s jaw hit the floor – maybe just try it, even once? Who knows – you might even have fun with the toy that your sister doesn’t want to play with right now. I know that the yelling, pushing, grabbing, shoving, whining and tattling are all so enjoyable, and that the two of you get tired of spending all day and night with each other right now while school is out, but really, think about it. Please.

“I’m going to tell Mommy on you!” Yes, I know this is usually followed by hunting me down and reciting a litany of injustices that your sister has committed against you. But, maybe you could consider telling me that she shared her favorite toy with you, or that she drew a great picture. As a Mom, I hear every negative thing that you two do to and for each other, but I know that there are times when you have a lot of fun with each other too and I would love to hear more about some of them!

“I love you” Now I hear the two of you say this a lot. To me. And to Daddy. But I can’t remember the last time I heard either of you say it to the other. And you do love your sister. I know you do. You may not think so at times and I’m sure that as you get older there will be things that make you (and I) doubt that this is true, but it is. Believe me. You Uncle Donnie and I never said this to each other until we were grown and it was such an odd, awkward moment when we started saying it at the end of phone conversations. And it really shouldn’t be – it should be the easiest thing in the world to say. So start now. You won’t regret it later, I promise.

I know that the two (three actually – this all goes for Becca too) of you will always have conflicts and that you won’t get along every single moment. But just think – not everyone has a sister and you guys are so lucky to have 2 of them. I always wanted a sister when I was growing up and as much fun as Uncle Donnie could be, it wasn’t quite the same. You have a built-in confidante, playmate, and friend. Respect each other. Love each other. And for goodness sake, please stop arguing with each other over every little thing. My sanity just can’t take any more of it.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

I screwed up

We are so screwed. I don't know how I did it, but I forgot to record a check last week. Not just a check, our daycare check. Which means that we had $300 less than I thought we had. Which means that when I paid our home equity loan payment (that was higher than expected) it was with money that we didn't have. And every other little thing we bought was with money we didn't have. And the $200 of groceries I bought last night was with money we didn't have.

Our checking account is currently -$589. And I haven't even paid daycare for this week yet. And who knows how many debit charges are out there that haven't cleared yet - each with another $30 overdraft fee. We've got $300 in fees already just in the past 2 days.

I get paid on Thursday which should cover the negative balance, fees and daycare - but that money is supposed to pay our mortgage for July. Which we now can't pay. We just spent the past 6 months dragging ourselves out of the hole that we were in last year and now I put us right back into it. And it's all my own fault.
Excuse me -

I'm sitting here at work in tears - I can't even concentrate. I am so damn mad at myself! Now I have to call daycare and beg her to let us pay her several days late. And it's my own damn fault.

3:00 pm - update. We're now at -$662... I did call our credit union and beg them to take pity on us and see if they could reverse even some of the fees. Unfortunately our financial mess last year caused a few overdrafts that they kindly reversed then, so I'm told that the chances are slim that they can help us now. Sigh.

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Smile - you're on candid camera!

My project for the summer is to get all of our (many) camcorder tapes copied onto DVDs. Thanks to the DVD recorder that we bought the day after Thanksgiving a couple of years ago, this is a project that I can tackle myself at home. However, there is no ‘fast forward’ way to do this – you must let each tape run since only what actually plays on the screen will be recorded onto the DVD. On the flip side of that too, anything that plays on the screen will be recorded onto the DVD, as we’ve found out when recording television shows – you can’t bring up the programming guide over the screen like you can while something’s recording on the DVR unless you want the programming guide copied for all posterity on the DVD that you’re making.

So what this means is that I’ve spent 7 hours so far sitting and watching camcorder tapes. Seven hours – of Abby. Yes, apparently it’s true what they say about first children getting all of the glory and screen time. Wow, it really didn’t seem like so much time while we were recording these tapes 6 years ago! Seven hours. And that takes us only up until her first birthday. Video of Abby sleeping, sitting in the bouncy seat, in the exersaucer, holding a toy, shaking a toy, staring at a toy… You get the idea. Almost all of this video was taken in our house (well, townhouse for the first 6 months and then our first actual ‘house’ after that). It’s not even ‘Abby goes to the park’ or ‘Abby’s first trip to the store’. With the exception of about 5 minutes taken at my in-law’s old house, pretty much every moment is either Ron or I shooting video of Abby while talking to her, convincing her to smile at the camera, etc. There is some footage of both of us with Abby. There is also footage of first visitors after we brought her home from the hospital. But the bulk of it – is Abby. And yet, I can’t help but watch. Every little facial expression, every cry, laugh, burp (or urp) – I can’t believe how much I’ve forgotten, 6 years and 2 more kids later. I hadn’t realized how much Becca sounds like Abby did as a baby even though she doesn’t really look anything like her. SEVEN hours – and yet I can’t help but wish we had this much video of the other two girls’ first years. First children do get all of the glory and screen time. And subsequent children get to share the spotlight – when there’s time to actually pull the camera out and record. As I’m finding, after the other girls were born, the camera only came out for things like Christmas, birthdays or other major events. There’s so little recorded just of – them.

Lately when we pull the camcorder out, the two older girls tend to ham it up and get silly and extra loud. Gone are the ‘candid’ recordings of their everyday life – they think it’s fun to ‘act’ for the camera. Which is fun too but I know that in another 6 years I’m going to want to look back and see how they ‘really’ were. I’m glad I decided to tackle this project now because I think it’s going to change when and how we record things. I take so many still shots but lately video just hasn’t been a priority. It’s always such a pain to keep the camcorder battery charged, make sure there’s enough tape, and try to catch the specific moments we’re after. And yet, some of the best footage that I’ve been watching this week is when we just had let the camera roll and document our lives at the time. Most of these tapes had been recorded and then put away – not even watched until now. I’m hoping that by having them on DVD, we’ll pull them out more often and enjoy these recordings of our past. I can’t wait to sit down with the girls and watch together. Ron suggested that we make copies for the grandparents. Right. Like anyone else would want to sit through SEVEN hours of Abby’s first year. Maybe a ‘highlights’ reel is the way to go on that one… :)

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Trivial Pursuit, anyone?

So can you tell I’m having a slow day at work today since I’m here blogging… Anyway, I promised the story of how Ron proposed and I didn’t want to leave it hanging.

So, a few things to know first. Ron is very into trivia and (at least back before we had kids) liked buying and playing different versions of Trivial Pursuit. At the time he worked for Kinko’s (now FedEx Kinko’s). Also, the story of how we met involves two other couples – my close friend Kristi and her husband, Steve, and Ron’s friend Jean and her husband, Chris. Not to confuse anyone (although I’m sure I will – see if you can follow this…), but basically Kristi and Chris were friends before and while Chris was dating Jean. Kristi played the piano in Chris and Jean’s wedding. While I knew of Chris and had met him a couple of times (and Jean once), I really didn’t know him well. Ron was a friend of Jean’s and he was a groomsman in her and Chris’ wedding. Basically, everyone (but me) was at this wedding, the summer of 1998. A few months later, Chris and Jean got everyone who had been in their wedding back together for Jean’s birthday. Again, I wasn’t there, but apparently somehow it came up that Kristi had this single female friend and Jean mentioned Ron (who was at the other end of the table) who was also single. One thing led to another which led to them asking Ron if he would want to meet me. He said sure, but wanted Kristi to make sure it was ok with me first. The first I knew of any of this was when Kristi asked me out of the blue whether I was interested in meeting this guy who had been in Chris and Jean’s wedding and was a friend of Jean’s. I had gotten out of a messy relationship over a year before and hadn’t really dated since, so said sure. Kristi said she’d pass my e-mail address along to him. He then e-mailed me and we talked over e-mail and phone for a couple of weeks before we met in person, in October of 1998.

The night after our first date, Ron went home and told his dad (he lived with his parents at the time) that he’d met his future wife. It took me a few dates further before I was sure, but by December, we were looking at engagement rings and planning a future together. I picked out my ring (well the set – the diamond engagement ring with 2 small diamonds on one side and the band which had the 2 small diamonds for the other side of the larger one), and knew that Ron had purchased it (the lovely joys of credit!), but didn’t know when he was planning to propose. The only things I asked were that he wait until after Christmas so it wouldn’t seem quite so rushed to my family and I really didn’t want it to be a huge deal, more a quiet, private proposal. Well, even though he failed on both counts, I still ended up saying yes anyway. ;)

So, Ron had gotten the new (at the time anyway) version of Trivial Pursuit – I can’t remember specifically which right now. He was all excited to get together with our friends to play it, so we all planned a game night over at Kristi and Steve’s apartment, 2 days before Christmas. The 6 of us (the two couples mentioned earlier, plus Ron and I) started playing the game. I didn’t know this until later, but pretty much everything about this particular game of Trivial Pursuit was completely planned out and scripted, down to who went first and who pulled which trivia card from which box. I was the last person to read a question on the first turn. I forget which category the question was for, but it really didn’t matter. I got as far as reading, “At what time on December 23, 1998 did Ronald S. ask Deb H…” and I just remember thinking in my head, wow this version is really up to date! Then I realized that both Ron’s and my names were on the card so I looked up in confusion. At this point, Ron got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. After I said yes, and he put the ring on my finger, everyone else started laughing at the completely dumbstruck look I’d had on my face. We do have pictures somewhere – I believe my face was a bright, beet red. I’ll try to dig one up – or maybe not. :)

So I guess that Ron had hatched the plan and got the other 4 people to buy in. He dummied up the Trivial Pursuit card at work (Kinko’s remember – the center of the photocopying world) – hopefully I’m not violating any copyright things here, but the card was only used that one time and has resided in a box of wedding keepsakes ever since. I think Ron laminated it though. It looks exactly like a ‘real’ card from that version of the game, but the question for every category (since one thing they couldn’t predict is what color the person I would read the question to would land on) was some version of, “At what time on December 23, 1998, did Ronald S. ask Deb H. to marry him?” I think I wrote the answer down on the card somewhere later on – Ill have to see if I can find it. The 5 of them then planned out the game, down to who sat where and that everyone would answer incorrectly so that I would hit the right card in the box at the right time. Somehow I missed out completely on the tension in the room that night – they were all waiting to see if it worked out. It did – perfectly. I was completely clueless. And even though it wasn’t the quiet, after-Christmas proposal that I’d asked for, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So Ron does have a history of surprising me. Although, now that I think about it, other than that time and one surprise birthday party the following fall, he hasn’t really done a big major surprise since. I think I’m due a good one then! I’ll have to drop some more ring hints…

Oh, in case you’re wondering – the game of Trivial Pursuit never was finished. Nobody really had wanted to play an actual game anyway, so once the proposal excitement was over, we skipped the rest of it. We are still friends with the other 2 couples, even though Chris and Jean now live in Wisconsin – Kristi and Steve live about 10 minutes away from Ron and I, and we get together on a regular basis. All four of them were in our wedding in May of 2000 and we 3 couples now have 6 kids between us (our 3 girls, Kristi and Steve have 2 boys, and Chris and Jean have a daughter).

And yes, I have surprised him too on a couple of occasions, but that’ll have to wait for a future post since this one is getting rather long and I really should get some work done. :)

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How much are those pancakes?!

Becca has made up a new game. She’s only 17 months old and can only say a few words, but boy does this little girl get her point across. The game involves a lot of laughing, running, and growling. Yes – growling. She’s a pretty darn good growler (if there is such a word). See the rules of the game are simple. They involve the 1-year-old coming up to you and growling menacingly (ok, so it’s more cute than menacing but having a toddler come up to you and go ‘rrrrooooaaaarrr’ – you’ve just got to play along). Then it’s our turn to growl back at her while she giggles and runs away from us. Then we apparently are supposed to chase and tickle her, which involves more giggles and laughter. Then after we walk away, she’ll come back after us and start all over again.

Apparently this is a game that she plays quite often with a little two-year-old boy at daycare. In that case though, they growl at each other and then dissolve in giggles. This is one of the reasons why my daycare provider, Brook, does what she does for a living. She says that she’s not sure she could hang out with adults all day every day – she enjoys the kids way too much. We are very blessed with Brook. After struggling in the past to find good daycare, I know how hard it is to find someone who cares about your kids like they were her own and since I can’t be with them every day, I’m just glad that they’re safe, happy and loved.

Abby this morning announced that they were having a pancake breakfast at supervised playground this morning. Ok, well according to the calendar, there is no supervised playground on Fridays. Then, she adds that she needs money for this breakfast. Ok, well did they send anything home with you telling the parents this? Nope. Well, how much does this breakfast cost? Her answer – sixty dollars. Ok then, well if this breakfast really costs $60 then it must be some extremely incredible pancakes! Sorry, but Mommy doesn’t have $60 to give you, not even for the best pancakes in the entire world. So I asked Brook if she knew anything about it when we got to daycare, and apparently her 9-year-old had told her about it as well, but the required amount to bring is actually 50 cents. Ok – well that, I can afford! (Note to self to work on dollar values with Abby more) Brook is going to run over there first and talk to the people running the playground since it would be nice to know about these things ‘officially’ instead of our kids just coming home and begging for money. And why they’re doing something on Fridays when the calendar says no. So I’m waiting for a call or e-mail back with the scoop.

I forgot to wave to Hannah as I was pulling out of the driveway at daycare this morning. I hope she’s not too upset. Bad, bad mommy.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Lost and (so far not) found

This past January, I lost my wedding ring. I loved this ring, so that even when it didn’t fit on my ring finger anymore (ahem, those pesky baby pounds that just never came off darn it), I wore it on my pinky. Now keep in mind that I wore the ring on my pinky from the time I was pregnant with Hannah (who is now 4 ½) until I lost the ring. I was used to wearing it on that finger and was comfortable with it there.

January 15th was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and I had the day off. So, of course, I was all over town running errands. Becca and I went to pick up the girls’ photos at JC Penney (at the mall across town since the JCP at the mall close to us doesn’t have a portrait studio). We stopped at Party City to get party supplies for Becca’s 1st birthday party. I stopped and filled the van with gas. Then we met Ron, Abby and Hannah over in the Barnes & Noble at the other mall (Ron had taken the big girls to a movie at that mall), walking through the mall to get to B&N and back. Then we headed to McDonalds for dinner.

It was while I was walking into McDonalds that I noticed that my ring was gone. When (and where) it vanished, I still have no idea. I searched our van and around it in the McDonalds parking lot (as much as I could search through snow and slush). I went back later that night to Barnes & Noble and searched through the bathroom garbage dispenser where I’d tossed Becca’s dirty diaper that I’d changed there earlier (not the most fun I’ve ever had). I called every store I’d been at. Nothing. For the first week or two, I felt optimistic that the ring would turn up – either in our van or someone would turn it in and I’d get a phone call. Nothing. Then I thought well maybe it’s buried under snow somewhere so maybe once the snow melts in the spring, it might turn up. Nothing. And still, 5 months later – nothing. I’ve read the ‘Lost and Found’ ads every week, although I never placed my own since trying to describe where the ring might have been lost would’ve been way too difficult. I called the stores back after a couple of weeks just to make sure they still had my contact information. I searched through our van several times. I still have no idea where the ring came off, although I tend to believe that it must’ve been shortly before I noticed it was missing, because I think I would’ve noticed it earlier if it had fallen off earlier.

So as our anniversary approached last month, I started to drop hints to Ron about maybe replacing it. Not that I want a new ring – I want the ring that he put on my finger when he proposed (which is another great story that I’ll save for a future day) and that he added the band to on our wedding day. It wasn’t a huge diamond or a terribly glitzy ring – but it was mine and I loved it. And I miss it. Not to mention that walking around with 3 kids and a bare left hand is an odd feeling, at least to me.

We did go to the jewelry store on our anniversary and looked at rings. We have to use one particular store that we have an account at (which was opened when he bought the original ring over 8 years ago) since neither paying for a ring outright nor opening another credit account are feasible options right now. I have this problem where I don’t want just a plain, cheap band or something ‘less’ than what I had before. Something comparable would be nice – I don’t really need anything bigger/flashier. Unfortunately, my husband seems to have forgotten how much the original ring cost him and was facing some major sticker shock – although I’m not sure exactly what he was expecting to spend since the cost of the ring that I liked was not only comparable to the original, but quite a bargain I thought. However, he has a point that an extra $60 a month is an expense that we don’t need right now. Which is true, so I’ve let it go for the moment. I keep hoping that he’ll just surprise me with it (again, I’ll go into our proposal story sometime soon since you have to understand that I have reason to think that he might attempt a surprise of some sort). But – nothing. I really shouldn’t complain, I know. Not having a wedding ring is a pretty minor complaint as far as things go. Part of it is that I’m still angry with myself for losing my original ring in the first place. And hey – what girl doesn’t want a sparkly diamond, right? Even a small one. So now that I’ve vented here, I can continue to let it go and find other things to worry and stress over. And I promise I’ll share our proposal story soon – it’s a good one.

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Becca's turn

So I can’t resist sharing this Becca story from last night. Abby has been at KidsGames all week so I’m just putting Hannah and Becca to bed at the normal time. Last night while Hannah was brushing her teeth, Becca (who is 17 months old today!) climbed onto Hannah’s bed (which being the bottom bunk of the bunk bed, is low enough that she just figured out how to climb in it – and is very proud of herself for this new skill). When Hannah came in and got into bed, I reached toward her to give her the usual bedtime hugs and kisses. Becca leaned toward her as well and I said (jokingly, I thought), “hey, Becca wants to give you hugs and kisses too!”. Hannah said she just wanted hugs, so she leaned toward Becca and Becca looked right at her, said ‘night-night’, gave Hannah a big hug, then climbed down off Hannah’s bed and headed out of the room. Mission accomplished, I guess – usually I have to chase her out of the girls’ room at bedtime, so I thought this was rather cute. She is such a little mimic right now and thinks she can wants to do everything that her big sisters do. I think that she literally thinks that she is 6 years old because she just goes right in and tries to do everything Abby and Hannah do, as if it’s no big deal – and she gets awfully mad when I have to take her away from things (like bikes, scooters, etc.) that she is just not big enough for yet. It’s so funny to watch how her little mind seems to work.

Three days and counting - no wet accidents for Hannah! So far the timer's working great - every 2 hours it goes off and she goes potty with little prompting. I love that the timer's the 'bad guy' - she can't really argue back to it. :)

Abby is a nice bright pink all over right now - especially her cheeks. If I didn't know that she's not contagious, I'd keep her home from KidsGames, but there's really no point since we noticed the rash on Sunday so she hasn't been contagious since at least then, at least according to everything I've read on Fifth Disease. No signs of it yet in Hannah or Becca - I'm assuming they'll come down with it at some point though...

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Cute Hannah story and a busy week for Abby...

So, cute story from the other night. Yes, it’s potty-training related again (sort-of), but it’s a good one. Ron came home late almost every night last week so he didn’t get to see the girls before bedtime. Friday night Abby waited up for him (not by my choice – she just wouldn’t go to sleep) so he did get to see her briefly before sending her back to bed. He went in to kiss Hannah good night and her pajama pants were wet (she’d wet the bed two nights earlier in the week but has generally been dry lately otherwise). So he grabbed one of the few pull-ups that were left in her drawer and quickly changed her into it and just left her in the pajama top and pull-up. She was awake enough to ask to come and snuggle in our bed, so he brought her in bed with us for a while. I woke her up closer to morning and had her go back to her own bed.

When Abby and Hannah came in to wake me up on Saturday morning, the very first thing that Hannah said to me was, “Mommy, my pants fell off of me last night!”. Apparently she hadn’t quite been awake when Ron changed her and hadn’t noticed the lack of pants when she went back to her bed later on. When I explained that Daddy had changed her pants when he got home, I got a big “Ohhhhhh!” as if the world again made sense to her. I can imagine that it would be somewhat disconcerting to go to sleep with pajama pants on but then to wake up with no pants on!

Busy, busy week for Abby this week. Every evening this week she’s going to KidsGames, which is the community-wide vacation bible school program that our church is helping sponsor. She had a blast last night but since it runs until 9pm every night and her usual bedtime is 8pm, she’s going to be a tired munchkin by the end of the week, I’m sure. Also, the supervised playground program through our school district started yesterday so she goes to the elementary school across the street from our daycare from 9-12am and then again most days from 1-4pm. On Tuesday afternoons they bus the kids over to the middle school for swimming and on Thursday afternoons they have field trips. I’m not comfortable with every one of the field trips but she can go on some of them. Have I mentioned that this is FREE?! And our daycare provider is being very flexible and only charging us for the hours that Abby is actually at daycare. So some weeks she will cost us more than she did during the school year (since she was in kindergarten for only half-days), some weeks she’ll cost us the same and some weeks will actually be cheaper. Wow. August will be hard since the supervised playgrounds will be done and we’ll have to pay full price for her that month until school starts, but since she’ll be in 1st grade this fall and Hannah will be in Young 5’s (like pre-K) for half-days, our daycare bill will go down somewhat considerably then, so we’ll just have to manage for August. Abby will also be going crazy without the extra stimulation (she’s a child that needs to be constantly challenged, so she’s much happier when school is in session), but thankfully they do have activities every day at daycare and I will try to keep her as busy at home as I can too in the evenings. One more of the 50,000 reasons that I wish I didn’t have to work full-time…

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Potty talk

Yes, it’s the obligatory potty training post. Something every parent can relate to because we all have to go through it! I’m sure there are many stories out there – here is ours so far.

So our second daughter, Hannah, is 4 ½ years old. And at the rate at which she’s been potty training, she’ll probably be fully potty trained by, oh college maybe. Honestly it feels like that. Abby was very easy to potty train – she potty trained fairly late, not until just before her 3rd birthday, but once it happened, it happened fairly quickly or so it seemed. She was dry at night from the very beginning even and I don’t think she has ever wet the bed. At the time that we were training Abby, Hannah was about 18 months and she was really interested in that little potty chair too. I have pictures of our little toddler sitting on the potty chair and she even would go in it (both kinds!) if we sat her on it. We didn’t want to push her, but inwardly we were cheering and looking forward to the diaper-free days we saw before us not too far away. Or at least diaper-free until baby #3 came along anyway. After over a year of two kids in diapers, we were more than ready to save some of the cost and effort.

Yeah, um ok. Maybe we jinxed something there or I don’t know what. We started ‘officially’ potty training Hannah when she hit about 2 ½. It was summer, seemed like a good time, plus I was newly pregnant with baby #3 so we were figuring on at least a few diaper-free months. Hannah did great at first – even started being dry at night, so we thought we were done. Nope. After a few great weeks, she backslid completely and was back fully in pull-ups (we refused to go all the way back to diapers) by fall. We let it go and waited until her 3rd birthday in November then started again. So a year and a half later – we’re still working on it. I can’t say that she has ever been what I would consider ‘fully’ potty trained. She’ll go a couple of weeks with no accidents and we’ll breathe easier. Then she’ll go a couple of weeks with accidents every day. It was a big problem at preschool this past year. We’ve tried sticker charts, incentives, dis-incentives, everything we can think of other than outright punishing her for accidents (which Ron wants to do but I refuse since I don’t think it’s entirely her fault). I think it’s at least partly a control issue – Hannah is one of those children who only does things (like learning to walk) when she is darn good and ready and not before. It’s very hard to give a child an incentive (or dis-incentive) when she changes the things she cares about and thinks are important almost weekly. Candy, stickers, stuffed animals, toys, money – she could care less if she gets them or not. We have yet to find the ‘one thing’ that matters most to her. And believe me, we've tried.

I have to put in a plug here for Pediacast, a podcast that I started listening to a couple of months ago. Dr. Mike gives wonderful explanations of things that doctors just don’t have time to go into in the office. Thanks to his infamous ‘poop’ episodes, I came to realize that part of Hannah’s problem may be constipation. Something I’d never really considered before (even though I’ve struggled with it lifelong) because she does go on a regular basis. But, as I learned from Dr. Mike, you can still be constipated even if you go regularly, and constipation can be one reason for older children to be having wet accidents. And Hannah has been complaining of stomach aches for a while now too. So I made an appointment with our pediatrician and as of this morning we are trying a two-pronged approach. First of all – back to basics. We will have her sit on the potty every 2 hours (I’m going to find a timer or something this weekend so it’ll be easier to keep track of) with no incentives or dis-incentives for now. We also have a prescription for MiraLax, which hopefully will help the constipation issue – we’re going to try for a month or so and check back in when we go for Becca’s 18-month appointment at the end of July. At this point I’m hoping we have some luck or at this rate, Becca will be potty trained before Hannah is! Do I see diaper-free days ahead again? I’m not getting my hopes up this time, but we’ll see…

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Families

I was thinking today about families. My mom is coming to visit this weekend as she does every month or two and I look forward to her arrival for many reasons. My kids absolutely love the time that Grandma has to dedicate specifically to them, which then gives me a bit of a break. I myself like to spend time with her as well. And she generally takes us out to eat one night, so I look forward to an evening out at a restaurant – something we can’t always afford on our own. Ok, so that’s a bit of a selfish reason, but hey, I’m being honest here.

I’m very glad that my kids have the chance to know their grandparents – all 4 of their grandparents are still alive and well right now, and hopefully will remain so for some time. My own experience was much different as my mom’s parents were both deceased by the time I was born, and my dad’s parents were gone by the time I hit early elementary school. I only have a few memories of them and my younger brother doesn’t remember them at all. I’m glad that my kids will have the chance to create memories with and of their own grandparents since I never really had that chance.

Like many other families today, my own is somewhat blended as a result of divorces and remarriages. Even the question, “How many brothers and sisters do you have?” is getting harder and harder for many people to give a simple answer to. In my own case, I usually just state that I have one brother since going into the half and (previous) step siblings would require a lot more time and effort than I think most people are really interested in. Then again, they are (or were in some cases) a part of my family, and a part of my life in one form or another.

So, in honor of Father’s Day coming up, here’s my entire family description – since it’s based pretty much on my dad’s life. My dad’s first marriage produced two children – my half sister and brother. They were pretty much grown when their parents divorced and then my dad married my mom. My half-brother, Rick, lived with my parents for the first couple of years until he himself got married. My half-sister, Linda, was married soon after my parents were. I haven’t seen Linda or her family (she has two boys and I have no idea if either of them has any kids) since I was 16, which was 20 years ago. Rick has one son, Adam, who is married and himself has 2 boys. It must have been odd for my dad to be having children himself at the same time that his older children were – I am only about a year older than my oldest half-nephew and my younger brother has half-nephews who are older than he is. Adam’s two sons are around the same ages as my own kids. I have one younger brother, Donnie, who is my full brother. Our parents divorced when I was 20 and my dad re-married soon afterward. For 10 years, we had a stepmother, a stepsister and two stepbrothers. And 5 step-nieces. Donnie and I never really felt like part of that family – mainly because we were so old when our dad re-married, so that we never actually lived with our stepmom. And because stepfamilies can be fleeting – my dad and former stepmom divorced a few years ago and I haven’t seen or talked to any of my former step siblings since. At 78 years old, my dad is unlikely to marry again, but he does have a steady girlfriend, so I suppose you never know. My mom has never remarried.

So that’s the long version of my family. Confused yet? :) Hopefully my kids’ will never get so complicated – it’ll be hard enough to explain my own to them someday.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Fifth Disease and the not so littlest pet shop

I think I know what caused the rash! It seems to be the same thing that caused Ron’s body aches last week. Someone here at work thought my rash looks like Fifth Disease, which is uncommon in adults, but not unheard of. My symptoms seem to be classic of this disease – feeling ill with headache slight fever then a few days later breaking out into a (usually non-itchy) rash on face, extremities and torso. Joint pain is also associated with the disease in adults, so I think that I probably caught it from Ron who got the joint pain part, and if he had the rash at all, it probably just looked like sunburn, especially since he’s outside a lot during the day. We’ll have to wait and see now if any of the kids get it – there’s no treatment or way to prevent it since it’s just a virus like a cold. I’d never heard of it before. Apparently the rash can last up to a month, so I guess I’d better get used to being pink. At least it just looks like a mild sunburn, which is easily explained this time of year. Having a rash like this in January might cause a lot more comment.

The kids made a ‘pet store’ with all of their (many, many) stuffed animals last night in the living room. There was an area for stuffed dogs, stuffed cats, horses, monkeys, giraffes, fish, you get the idea. I was allowed to purchase a multicolored Care Bear for $10 of imaginary money and a stuffed unicorn for 2 imaginary dollars. I was originally told I could only purchase one animal at a time, but successfully pleaded my case that my stuffed animal ‘pet’ would need a friend so that it wouldn’t be too lonely. However, when a stuffed ‘Lumpy’ elephant wanted to join my menagerie, I was strictly told that I would have to return one of my previous purchases. Decisions, decisions! The ‘pet store’ was ultimately disrupted when someone let a 16-month-old toddler loose in the living room store and she decided that she wanted to play with and ‘adopt’ all of the pets that she could get her little hands on. This caused a serious rift between the business owners (my 6 and 4-year-olds) and said toddler, amid screams of “Becca’s ruining our store”, and “Hey, she didn’t pay for that!”. So the pet store had to close up shop and all stuffed pets were returned to whence they came, namely the older girls’ room. So ends their first foray into free enterprise. And I realized that my children have way, way too many stuffed animals.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Pink splotches

Hmmm, I woke up this morning covered in pink splotches. They don't itch, they don't seem to be spreading, they just... are. It's very interesting actually - I've spent way more time inspecting them today at work than I probably should be. And they're everywhere - arms, legs, stomach, back. If I weren't so freckled and splotchy in general, it would probably be a lot more noticeable on my face and arms - so far nobody's noticed to the extent of actually asking me if I'm ok. Or maybe they just think that this is a new look for me - who knows...

I did call the doctor, just in case this turns out to be some new type of plague or incredibly contagious in some fashion. I had gone into the doctor on Friday for what I thought was probably another of the myriad of sinus infections that I get - I'd felt tired and lethargic since Tuesday, had no appetite and a horrible headache. All of which usually signals a sinus infection although my sinuses didn't actually seem too bad this time. The doctor couldn't find much but (since I was pretty sure something was wrong) she did give me a prescription for an antibiotic, but suggested that I wait to fill it and see if I felt better over the weekend. I did feel better, so I never filled the prescription. So I explained all of that to the nurse today since I don't know if this mystery rash is related to how I was feeling last week or not. When they called back, I was told it was probably a reaction to the medication (apparently the fact that I didn't fill the prescription didn't get relayed) or something viral. They didn't think it would be any more contagious than a cold, which is good news for my co-workers and family, I guess. I'm supposed to keep an eye on it (hard not to do) and call them back if it gets worse or starts itching. Ok. So until then, or until it decides to go away, I guess I just get to be pink and splotchy all over!

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Friday, June 8, 2007

Bring Back Geography!

As I think I mentioned in an earlier post, I am a GIS Analyst. We’ll go into exactly what GIS is at a later date. But when skimming through an industry periodical today, I ran across the following article, entitled “Bring Back Geography”, written by Jerome E. Dobson in the Spring 2007 issue of ArcNews. Hmmm, I hadn’t actually ever thought about it before but apparently I majored in a subject that has been ‘purged’ from most American universities, especially in the Ivy League. The article makes some very good points about how geography as a discipline has been largely ignored, purged or reinvented under other names such as ‘Earth Science’ or ‘Place Studies’. Geography is really much more, as explained by Mr. Dobson,

Geography is more than you think. Geography is to space what history is to time. It is a spatial way of thinking, a science with distinctive methods and tools, a body of knowledge about places, and a set of information technologies that have been around for centuries. Geography is about understanding people and places and how real-world places function in a viscerally organic sense. It's about understanding spatial distributions and interpreting what they mean. It's about using technology to study, in the words of the late professor J. Rowland Illick, "why people do what they do where they do it." Geography is a dimensional science and humanity based on spatial logic in which locations, flows, and spatial associations are considered to be primary evidence of earth processes, both physical and cultural. Its hallmarks are spatial analysis, place-based research (e.g., regional studies, area studies, urban studies), and scientific integration.

The familiar litany also implies that geography is just for kids, something you learn in elementary school or high school if you're lucky, and use for the rest of your life without any need for new learning. Does geography really matter for grownups? Of course it does. Geographic knowledge, understanding, and skills matter, for instance, in formulating foreign policy, designing and using GIS, and just about everything else in society that involves locations, movements, and flows.

Wow. This really makes me think about a couple of things. First is that when I went through a period a few years ago of thinking to go back to school and study elementary education, I contacted the local public university here to see what I would need to do since I already have a Bachelor’s Degree. Well, apparently if your existing degree is in what’s considered to be a ‘teachable major’ then all you have to do is complete the certification process and ouila! Very simple. However, if your major is not considered ‘teachable’ then you basically have to start from scratch. Guess what’s not considered a teachable major? Yep, Geography. Hmmm, somehow that escaped me back when I was majoring in it and one of the options for specialization was ‘Teaching of Geography’. Now granted that it was an option to teach geography at the secondary (high school) level, but still.

The other thought I had when I read this article is actually related to something I was watching on tv last night. I haven’t seen much of the popular show, “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader”, but due to the lack of much other than re-runs on television right now, I had this show on last night. One of the questions given to the contestant (the grade level this question was aimed at escapes me right now) was something like “Which great lake does the state of Indiana border?”. Now given that I live in the “Great Lakes” state of Michigan (which also borders Indiana), to me this was a gimmee. But even so I was totally amazed when both the contestant as well as his 10-year-old ‘classmate’ got this question wrong, choosing Lake Erie instead of Lake Michigan. I can (somewhat) understand not being able to place the exact locations of some of the interior states (especially the ones all shaped like rectangles, which I have to admit I have trouble with as well sometimes) but the Great Lakes comprise some of the country’s most distinctive and (I would think) easy-to-recognize geographical area. Hmmm. “Bring Back Geography!”? I guess so.

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Thursday, June 7, 2007

Mom's weekend - relaxing? Maybe...

So my friend Mary had invited me a while back to a 'moms-only' weekend at her house the first weekend of June. Her hubby had agreed to take their kids camping for the weekend, leaving her home alone. I jumped at the chance and informed Ron that he would be responsible for our kids that weekend - either staying home with them or making childcare arrangements. Which, of course, he put off doing until a week beforehand, but that's not the subject of this post, so I'm not going to dwell on that. Or the 15-year-old niece he lined up to babysit all day Saturday for $50. Yes, she is very responsible, but it just makes me a bit nervous. I don't know how the weekend would've gone if we'd been able to have it at Mary's house as originally planned, but the weather gods did not shine down upon us and given the forecast was for rain, we agreed to meet in Kalamazoo and split the cost for a hotel for the night. Since I live near Grand Rapids and she lives near Coldwater, it's a good in-between spot and it also helps that we both went to college there (which is where we met) so we know the area pretty well. Believe me, that definitely helped during the weekend!

So I took off on Saturday and after a few stops (credit union, gas station, etc.) I was on my way. I actually got to K'zoo early (yes, I know such a rare occurrence for a busy mom - must've been my kid-free state...) and beat Mary to the hotel. Since it was nice out, I sat in my van with the driver's side door open and actually spent the next half hour on the phone with Mary as she drove there. When she arrived, we checked in (thankfully the hotel had a room ready since it was well before the regular check-in time - quick shout out to the Country Inn & Suites in Kalamazoo - it was a nice hotel at a decent cost) and unloaded our bags. We then moved a loft bed from my van to Mary's.

Ok, I'm not going to give a rundown of the whole weekend but the previous information is important in terms of what happened next. It started with the power sliding door on my van which suddenly stopped working while we were unloading and then moving the bed. So we took Mary's van during the afternoon to let mine sit for a while. We had a great lunch at Big Apple Bagel - the theme of the weekend was to do everything that we can't usually do with kids. So we sat at the 2-person tables with the 'tall' chairs (very nice for us vertically challenged folks!), that kind of thing. Had a nice, relaxing lunch then hit the stores. See the earlier 'pajama' post for more specifics on the shopping if you want but we had a good time shopping at our leisure. We did manage to get 'lost' at one point, trying to find an alternative route over the freeway due to road construction, but we saw some very nice neighborhoods that we had never seen before. Not to mention a couple of large homes for sale next door to each other that we decided that if we could afford, we'd just have to look at further. Since neither of us can afford to move though, we drove on.

Really the next piece of excitement came that night when we returned to the hotel and I went to put some shopping bags in my van. So at this point, not only the power door had stopped working but I noticed that the clicker thingy on my keychain wasn't unlocking the doors either. Hmmm. And the dome light was very, very dim when I opened the door. So I tried starting the van - nothing. Not a buzz, ding or beep, much less the engine turning over. Oops. Now I don't think that the half hour of sitting there with the door open earlier that day would've drained the battery that much. I do know that the tailgate didn't shut completely after we moved the bed over, but at that point, the power sliding door was already not working. But having that door ajar for the rest of the day probably just drained the last bit of energy from the battery completely.

So of course, it's now Saturday night, away from home - thankfully we did have one working vehicle and a working cell phone (Mary's, since mine was dead and the only charger I had with me was the car charger - yeah, not an option at this point). And my van was in the hotel parking lot rather than on the side of the road or something. So, we were not going to let this slight hiccup ruin our weekend fun. Which consisted of... lots of sleep. Yep, we're both sleep-deprived moms for whom the thought of an uninterrupted 8 hours - or more - was one of the main reasons for this whole escapade. When we finally awoke, breakfasted, scrapbooked for a while, then loaded up and checked out, we had a plan.

We popped the hood on my van and attempted to remove the battery so we could take it to an auto parts store and replace it. Um yeah. Until we realized that whoever designed the engine compartment of the 1998 Pontiac Transport did so with the idea to keep auto mechanics in business. The battery on my van is literally buried below several other parts of the engine and we did not feel at all equipped to attempt to remove it ourselves. Yes, we are pretty independent, smart women, but this one was beyond our capability. One passerby with a remote car jump starter (like this) tried to jump the van without success. After considering plans B, C, and D, I thought to call my car insurance company. Big plug here for the 24-hour Good Neighbor service from State Farm! I easily reached a real person who verified that we do have roadside assistance for this vehicle as part of our policy. So an hour later, after we had a very large tow truck come and jumpstart the van, it was running again. Phew! And it continued to run even after we shut it off (after driving it to the car parts store, just in case). So we went ahead with the rest of our day, which included more shopping (of course!), lunch, and a movie. Then, our moms-only weekend was over and it was time to head home.

In retrospect, I think we might've had more time to relax if we'd gone to Mary's, but not as much shopping and probably not a movie. So all in all I think the weekend was a success. And as for what caused my minivan battery to die in the first place? It's worked fine since, so I have no idea. Maybe I'll just have to not tempt fate and stay put at home for a while now.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Just for a simple pair of pajamas...


So after years of wearing maternity and nursing nightwear, I came to realize recently that I have absolutely no summer pajamas anymore. Ok, well none that fit anyway. That's a whole separate issue! So when my friend Mary and I were planning our big 'moms only' weekend get together last weekend, I said that the one thing that I wanted to find while shopping was a pair of comfy summer pj's. Shirt and shorts. You wouldn't think that this would be such a tall order.

First of all, unless you are a super-skinny model type, most of the styles of clothing today are out. Our first stop was Meijer and neither of the 2 racks of nightwear had anything close to what I was looking for. Then we headed to Target. Lots of options - if you are a super-skinny, model type. I couldn't believe the skimpy shorts and baby doll t-shirts that were pretty much everything they had. Ok, well so maybe 10 years ago I MIGHT have fit into something like that. Not after 3 kids however. I just wanted something comfortable.

We had better luck at Sears, thankfully. Finally a store that recognizes that women come in all shapes and sizes! They had a great 3-piece set of pajamas, complete with both shorts and pants, in a variety of sizes and colors (see photo for example). Very cute, very comfortable-looking. Without going into specifics of what size I was looking for (too depressing to think about), I was having trouble locating the correct size in a print that I liked. The ones I seemed to like the best came only in a sleeveless version, and I really wanted short sleeves. Ok, so I finally settled on a pair in pink, which did fit, but if they shrank at all then it would be close. After getting home on Sunday, I thought well maybe I'll just run up to the Sears here and see if they have a pair in the correct size. No big deal. When I got there, they had only one pair in my size, and I hated the colors. I did see one in a color that I liked, which was a size bigger than I needed. I unwrapped them and held them up and thought, ok well these will shrink, so maybe I can make them work. So I did the exchange and headed home to change into my new, comfy pj's.

I got home and put on the shirt, which was indeed tent-like on me. Then I put on the shorts - which barely fit. Hmmm. So I looked at the sizes on each of them. The shirt was the size which I had purchased (huge). The shorts were 2 sizes smaller (the size of the pair that I'd just returned). The pants were in between - the size that I actually needed. Three parts to the set and each one a different size. And it had been packaged just as if it had never been opened. I thought about it long and hard - I know, way too much stress over what to wear to sleep in. And since I had to run out to the other mall to pick up something else anyway.... I figured it couldn't hurt to look there and see if I could (finally) find something that would work. So today at lunch, i headed over there. And finally found, in the correct size (yes, I double-checked all 3 pieces), and in a nice blue color that I really like, a pair of pajamas. Now I just have to wait 9 hours or so to put them on. Hmmm, maybe I'll put them on when I get home and just wear them all evening. Yep, that's what I'll do. :)

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Tuesday, June 5, 2007

A little more background is probably in order...

So here I am at post #4 on this blog already and I haven't really explained much about me or who I am. So here goes...

Who am I? Well, I guess the short answer is a mom, a wife, a GIS Analyst, a sister, daughter and friend. I'm not going to give my life history here - first of all I'd bore everyone to death probably and second of all, it's really not necessary. Who knows if anyone else will ever read this, but if so, they will probably learn more about me just by reading over time. But, I suppose that I probably should give at least a few 'vital statistics'.

Born on November 6, 1970 (yes, that makes me 36 years old as of this writing), in Southfield, Michigan. I grew up in the same house until I moved away for college and my parents divorced soon afterward. I have an older half-sister and half-brother, and one younger brother. For about 10 years, I also had a step-sister, 2 step-brothers and 5 step-nieces, but my dad and his 3rd wife divorced several years ago. Both of my parents still live outside Detroit, while I live outside of Grand Rapids - on the western side of Michigan. Ron grew up here and his family is still in the area. Close to family, close to the beautiful beaches of Lake Michigan, this area is now home.

So here's a list of things about me that I answered for a post on a message board that I'm active on. It's as good of an introduction as anything and it doesn't require additional typing.

1. What is your full name ? Deborah
2. Where do you live/are you from ? I live in Grandville, but am from the Detroit area (Southfield).
3. What are your husband/SO/kid's names, ages ? Ron is 37, Abby is 6, Hannah is 4 and Becca is 16 months.
4. Are you a SAHM/WAHM/Work outside of the home ? What do you do ? I work full-time doing mapping (GIS).
6. What is/are you favorite TV show(s) ? Gilmore Girls, all of the CSI's, 7th Heaven, Psych, The Closer, American Idol, Heroes, and the New Adventures of Old Christine.
7. What type of music do you like ? mostly Alternative, some pop or Christian.
8. Who is/are your favorite actor(s)/actress(es) ? Don't really have a favorite.
9. What is your favorite color ? Green
10. What is your favorite food ? Pizza
11. What are your hobbies ? Crocheting, reading, walking, have been trying to get into scrapbooking more.
12. What is/are your favorite smilies ? These are the ones that I use the most:
13. If you could go anywhere for a vacation, where would it be and why ? Ireland, Wales, Scotland
14. If you had $500 to spend ONLY on yourself, what would you do with the money ? Hmmm, clothes, books, music, yarn, sewing lessons
15. What is your "dream job" ? Being a

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