This morning, we awoke to the sad news that our beloved guinea pig, Zap, had gone on to his eternal reward.  Okay, maybe “beloved” is an exaggeration.  “Our admired guinea pig?”  No, that’s a bit much too.  “Our usually-forgotten-and occasionally-held guinea pig, Zap.”  That sounds about right.  Maybe that’s what I’ll put on his little gravestone.

I don’t mean to be insensitive.  I really don’t.  The Goose is sad (a little), so I’m sad for her.  She and Mr. E are burying Zap now.  I chose not to attend the services.

I guess the reason for my lack of upset is because of how the last year has gone with these animals.  My kids liked them for about 2 months.  Then, the fighting began.  Common phrases around our house have been, “I fed them last time,” “It’s your turn to clean out the cage,” and the all-popular, “You have to give them water or they’ll just die of thirst.”  I have been wishing for them (the rodents, not the kids…okay, usually the rodents) to go away for quite a while now.  While I didn’t mean to wish death on the poor little creature, I did, in essence, get what I wished for.

I never bonded with these guinea pigs.  I know what you’re thinking; you can’t bond with rodents.  Well, actually you can.  We had two other guinea pigs several years ago. (I did this to myself not once, but twice…)  Their names were Lucy and Speedy.  For whatever reason, I liked them.  I used to talk to them and feed them every day.  I even practiced attachment parenting and carried them around in a sling sometimes. (I don’t want to talk about it.  I have gotten medical help since then.)  Lucy and Speedy brought me joy, and I loved their little noises.  That was when we lived in a 2000 square foot house, and their little noises were across the house.  Now that we are in a 900 square foot trailer and my kids are taking up twice as much space as they were then, this set of guinea pigs, Lucy II and Zap, have just taken up precious space.  They are loud and annoying, and, they fling poo; lots of poo.

I think that is part of the reason I never bonded with these two critters.  They take up my space, breathe my air, drown out the TV with their noises and defile my floor.  The other reason I haven’t felt all warm and fuzzy about these two is because of a few run-ins I’ve had with rodents since owning the first guinea pigs.

One encounter happened about 7 years ago when we were still living in our house.  Our pseudo-child, Jeanie, a teenager who we “adopted” as our own, was staying with us.  The kids had gone to bed, and Jeanie, Mr. E and I were in the family room watching TV.  Then, we heard something in the chimney.  It was a scratching sound, and it was definitely a mammal.  Mr. Everything, being brave as he is, said he would look and see what it was.  We tried to talk him out of it, but he said he had to get it out.  I said he could just let it die there, but he said then it would stink.  So, I agreed with Mr. E’s plan to look and see what it was.  Jeanie stood nearby, ready to run, and I stood behind her, holding her as a human shield. 

Mr. E opened the flue, and we heard something scurrying down the chimney toward the family room.  I squinted my eyes and held my breath as I waited to see what was about to run into my house.  I pictured a cat or a mountain lion with as much noise as this thing was making.  Out came a bushy tailed rat (also known as a squirrel).  Jeanie and I screamed and ran to my bedroom.  We closed and locked the door.  I’m not sure why we locked the door.  It just seemed like a good idea at the time. 

There was a lot of banging and movement in the family room, and then everything got quiet.  Mr. Everything finally calmly and quietly said, “Can someone please help me?”  I said no.  He said, “Seriously.  I need help.  He’s standing on the desk.  Can you bring me a towel?”  I asked what the towel was for, and he said he was going to catch the squirrel in the towel.  I said he wasn’t using one of my towels to catch a rodent.  He asked if I would rather let the squirrel go back to the Goose’s room and climb in bed with her.  I said I would get a towel. 

I handed Jeanie a towel and told her to take it to him.  She said she wasn’t going out there.  I talked her into opening the door and just handing it out.  I said, “You can close the door right back.  Be brave.”  So, Jeanie opened the door to hand the towel out to Mr. E.  As the door opened, I shoved her out and closed and locked the door as I said, “Every girl for herself.”  She didn’t find this nearly as funny as I did.

After much pounding on the door and begging me to open it, Jeanie finally gave up and accepted her fate as Mr. Everything’s assistant animal wrangler.  She did whisper through the door to me that she would never speak to me again.  I was too busy laughing to answer her.  Then, I heard Jeanie bravely say, “Okay.  Let’s get this thing outta here.”

I heard Mr. E devising a plan.  It involved a few flat cardboard boxes and an old mattress.  He said they were going to make a pathway to the front door and the squirrel would follow the path and run out.  After much moving of things, I heard him say, “Go,” and I heard Jeanie and Mr. E start stomping their feet to get the squirrel to run.

Now, I’m not sure what happened after that, but in my mind, Mr. Everything had a squirrel on his back, just like Clark W. Griswald in “Christmas Vacation.”  I don’t think it really happened that way, but doesn’t that sound funnier?

After several minutes of, “There he goes!” “Get him!” and, “Hurry up.  He’s over here!”  the room grew quiet.  I waited for about 10 minutes and decided to be brave and look out.  When I did, I found Mr. Everything and Jeanie on the couch, watching TV.  I asked if the rodent was gone, and they said he was.  I asked why they didn’t come get me, and Jeanie, with a smile on her face, looked at me and said, “Every girl for herself.”

Come back tomorrow, and I’ll tell you about my other run-ins.  -Al

PictureGoose working at Busch Gardens last year.
Today, the Goose had the opportunity to go to a fun program called “Biztown” put on by Junior Achievement.  This is an awesome learning opportunity for kids.  Typically, in school, kids in 5th grade are allowed to participate, but for the homeschoolers, they allow kids in 4th through 7th grade.  That means they can go more than one year if they want to, and they all want to because it’s so much fun.

Biztown starts with many lessons on how to work in a business.  This includes learning about payroll taxes and income and how to write checks and manage a checkbook.  The homeschoolers met for weeks ahead of time, preparing for the big day.  They had to go to a job interview, and then they were placed in the job that the coordinator thought was best suited for them. 

On the big day of Biztown, the kids have to get all dressed up, just like they are really going to work.  When they get to Biztown, they have to go to their place of occupation.  This year, the Goose was the city planner at the government center.  The town includes a bank, McDonald’s, a TV station and radio station, a newspaper (that publishes a paper with articles written by the participants), a hospital, Publix grocery store and more.  Each business has a storefront that looks like a real business.  The kids are given their jobs that they have to complete.  They get two paychecks during the day (not reality).  Their paychecks are reduced for income taxes (sad reality).  With their paychecks, they have to go to the bank and deposit them.  Then, they write checks in the various locations to buy merchandise and snacks.  Their lunch is free, which does not help to solidify the whole, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” theory.  Both of my kids have participated in this great program, and I they both learned so much.

When the Beetle went for the first time, he was the Supervisor of Elections.  His job was to encourage everyone to vote.  At the end of the day, he had to get up in front of the whole town and announce how many people had voted and what they voted for. (This little part of his job was wisely hidden from him until about 1 minute before he had to stand up and speak.  He did it because I wasn’t there.  Since I’ve never seen him speak in public, I’m sure he would have backed out if I had been watching.  I’m pretty sure speaking in public in front of me is against his religion.)

Most kids who attend Biztown come home with something.  They buy toys, shirts, hats and other goodies with the money they earned on their paychecks.  They have to put some in savings and save some to buy a snack and make a donation to the United Way.  Otherwise, they are free to spend it however they wish.

For the first year, the Beetle came home with nothing.  When I asked him what he did with his money, he said he did nothing with it.  I asked if him if he spent anything, and he said no.  When I asked him why not, he said it wasn’t fair.  I asked him what wasn’t fair, and he said it wasn’t fair that some kids got paid more than others.  He said he did not spend any money because it wasn’t fair that the CEO and CFO of each business got paid more than he did.  Let’s just call that “Welcome to the Rest of Your Life” Lesson (WTTRYL) #1.

For the Beetle’s second year, he worked in the TV station.  He was the camera operator.  However, he came home hopping-mad because he ended up doing all the jobs.  He said none of the other kids in his business stayed on task or did their jobs so he had to cover for them.  Let’s just call that WTTRYL Lesson #2.

This was the Goose’s second year of Biztown.  She had a great time but was annoyed by one girl in her business.  She said this child acted like she knew everything and would not listen to anyone else.  She said even when she was wrong, she insisted that she was right.  The Goose said it was frustrating working with someone who wouldn’t listen to others. This was WTTRYL #3. (And, I told the Goose that I was very familiar with being around someone who thought she was right all the time.  The Goose did not find humor in that, which was fine, because I wasn’t kidding.)

This year, the Goose said she worked all day but could not get her job done completely.  She said it was stressful, but that she realized she could only do what she could do.  I’m pretty sure that was a direct quote from me.  (It is what it is.)  We’ll just label that as WTTRYL #4.

I think it’s funny how tired my kids were when they came home after a day of work.  They “worked” for a total of 5 hours in the business, with 3 30-minute breaks.  It was a hard job, but someone had to do it.  I’m pretty sure after the hard day’s work, the Goose will be trying to get out of helping with dishes tonight because she is just too tired.

I love that my kids get to participate in activities like this.  I think there is so much more to be learned by doing than by being told.  Biztown puts real-life business into action to let kids learn what it is like to work in the real world.  They probably learned more from their lessons leading up to Biztown and from the day at Biztown that they will get from me all school year.  (Or at least more than they will admit that they learned from me, little button-pushers that they are….) 

If you want to learn more about Biztown, you can check out their website HERE.    -Al

The way I see it, there are two types of Girl Scout leaders.  There are various shades of each type, but there are definitely two types.

The first type is the gung-ho, “Let’s bake a cake in a tin-foil box,” kind of leaders.  These are the ones who look forward to camping and even camp in tents with bugs and everything.  They wouldn’t dream of using a crockpot or a microwave on a camping trip.  They use hot coals on top of Dutch cookers to prepare their camp-worthy meals from scratch.  They allow their girls to plan their meals and activities and everything they do.  These leaders follow every rule to the tee.  They fill out every form and every report, and they salute as they turn them into the head Girl Scout.  On the night of the leaders’ meeting, they show up an hour early, just in case.  The Boy Scouts have nothing on these ladies, because they are truly always prepared.

The second type is the “How did my daughter talk me into this?” kind of leaders.  That would be my category.

Now, let me first say that the Goose did not make me do this.  In fact, when I said I was going to be a leader, she said she did not want me to be one.  Talk about having hurt feelings…  Finally, after a month of asking her why, I finally got her to confess the reason.  She said she knew I had enough going on in life, and she did not want me to have to add more to my list.  Bless her little soul.  I should have listened.  Instead, I felt more compelled than ever to lead.  I had to prove to my little girl that her activities and interests mattered more to me than anything else I had going on.  Big mistake.  I have found leading a Girl Scout troop to be one of the most frustrating things I have ever done, and it’s not because of the girls (although they can be frustrating too).

The Girl Scouts have more rules and forms than any organization I have ever encountered.  Are you going to the grocery store as a troop?  “There’s a form for that.”  Going to McDonald’s?  “Sign here.”  Going to the zoo?  “Sign this form in triplicate and initial here, here and here.” 

There are dozens of trainings that we, as leaders, are supposed to go through.  These “trainings” consist of sitting there while a “Tin-foil box” leader reads to you.  I learned to read when I was 4 and can handle it just fine on my own.  Just give me the paper and consider me trained, thank you very much.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand why they have most of their rules and forms and trainings.  I get it.  I do.  Our society is very litigious, and the Girl Scouts have to protect themselves.  However, some of the rules just make me feel like they think all their leaders are morons.  Seriously.  I have managed to keep two children, a husband and a dog alive for several years.  I’m pretty sure I can handle a field trip to the local smoothie shop.  Luckily, my co-leader thinks pretty much the same way I do.  She works in the medical profession.  She saves lives all day, so I’m pretty sure she and I together can handle a gathering of 8 little girls.  So, while we are patient with most of the stupid red tape, many times, we operate on the theory of, “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.”  Actually, my favorite mottos pertaining to the scouts are, “If you don’t like it, fire me,” and “The letter is ‘V’ for volunteer.”  Sometimes, I think big non-profit organizations forget when they are creating all these forms and reports and requirements that participation by volunteers is optional.

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a little bit rebellious when it comes to stupidity.  I am a homeschooler, after all, and we are a rebellious people by nature.  I was never rebellious when I was little, but I’m pretty sure I’m making up for lost time.  I just don’t have time for silly forms and rules and trainings, and if you don’t like it, refer to my two favorite mottos.

While my co-leader and I avoid trouble most of the time, occasionally, our troop tattles on us for not doing things the Girl Scout Way.  They don’t mean to do this, but, in their innocence, they rat us out.  One time, we went camping. (In a cabin.  We don’t *do* tents.)  Our girls were participating in a ropes course, and the activity was being run by a few troop leaders who would fall into the “Tin-foil box” category.  My co-leader and I had planned the meals, bought the groceries and did the prep-work for the food, as usual.  We had Sloppy Joes cooking in the crockpot.  As the “Tin-foil box” leaders were talking to our girls, they asked what the girls had planned for our meals.  The girls proceeded to tell them that my co-leader and I made the plans!  And they weren’t quiet after that.  Oh, but no.  They then told them how we had gotten the dinner cooking that morning and how it was cooking in a crockpot.  (Say it isn’t so!)  If only I had been prepared to take a photo of the “Tin-foil box” leaders’ faces.  They were angry and scary.

My co-leader and I got to listen to a lecture about how important it was for our girls to plan the meals and cook them and how important it was for them to learn how to camp.  Needless to say, that night, the girls did the dishes and cleaned up.  We asked the girls if they had enjoyed the meals we had planned, and they said they had.  We told them if they planned to eat on the next camping trip to keep their mouths shut.  They thought we were kidding.

So, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be earning a “Leader of the Year” award.  However, I think I’ve done a good job of teaching my troop to be resourceful.  If you have the resources of a crockpot and a microwave, why not use them?  If you have electricity and walls and a roof available, why sleep in a tent?  This is survival in the real world.  If hotel reservations need to be made or a meal needs to be microwaved, our troop will be all set!       -Al

Now don’t take this the wrong way.  I’m not making fun of anyone.  I promise.  I know older people don’t always understand technology because they weren’t raised with technology.  I get that.  Just watching my kids with computers, tablets and cell phones convinces me daily of the generation gap in technology.  I consider myself fairly competent with computers until I watch my kids.  They can do things I have never even considered.  Many times, if I can’t figure out how to do something (like change the ringer on my phone), I just hand it to a child and say, “Here fix this.”  They always know how.

So, when I tell you about how one of my days went last week, don’t be offended.  If you are older than I am (or even younger) and don’t understand technology, don’t think I’m picking on you.  I’m not.  (And, Mama, I’m not picking on you either.)

Okay, now, having said that, let me tell you about a day I had recently.  It actually only took about 2 ½ hours, but it felt like a day. 

I walked into my parents’ house with no idea what I was getting myself into.  The Goose had told me that Grandmama said she had someone coming to work on a phone, but I didn’t know what that meant.  I thought I was just dropping the Goose off to hang out with Grandmama for a little while.  Grangraddy was out of town, so I thought it was a good way to entertain both mother and child.

When I walked in the door and heard the old man say, “Oh, good.  I’m glad you’re here,” I should have pretended not to speak English and turned and run.  Oh, but no.  I, being the good Samaritan that I am, looked to see what he needed help with.  I had no idea who this man was and certainly had no idea what I was walking into.

My mother has a hearing problem.  It has grown progressively worse through the years, and she has a hard time hearing us, especially on the phone.  She decided to have a caption phone installed.  This is an awesome invention, and I’m excited for her to have it.  I think she’ll find it very helpful.  On the day that I walked into her house, she was having it installed.  The man who installed it was this really nice, 70’s-plus man who said he knew what he was doing and really, really liked to talk about it.  He explained to the Goose and me that he worked on computers before I was even born (insert the Goose’s dinosaur comment here) and that the computers he worked on were big enough to fill a room.  The Goose later said to me that, perhaps, if that was the last computer he had worked on, it was time for him to find a new job.  (She is an insightful little girl.)

When I entered the scene, the man was looking for a phone jack in the family room to hook up the caption phone.  He needed a jack for the phone to work.  The Goose said, in all seriousness, “What’s a phone jack?”  She had no idea.  The man was busy leaning over couches and furniture looking for a jack when I told him there wasn’t a jack in the family room.  He had my mother looking too.  He tried to get the Goose to help, but she said she had no idea what he was looking for.  I told him again there wasn’t a jack.  He said there had to be one because there was a phone in there.  I told him the phone was wireless and there wasn’t a jack.  He said he knew that but there still had to be a jack.  I said there wasn’t a jack.  He continued looking for a jack.  I said there wasn’t a jack.  He said there had to be a jack and continued leaning over furniture and looking.  I remained silent.  Then, he said there wasn’t a jack so we would have to put the phone in the kitchen.

In the kitchen, he began asking my mother whether she used voicemail or an answering machine.  The conversation went something like this:

Old man: “Do you have voicemail?”
Mama: “Yes.”
Old man: “So you don’t use an answering machine?”
Mama: “Yes.  I use an answering machine.”
Old man: “So you don’t have voicemail?”
Mama: “Yes.  I have voicemail.”
Old man: “Do you have an answering machine or voicemail?”
Mama:  Blank stare.
Me: “She has an answering machine.”
Old man:  “Does she call a phone number to check messages?”
Me: “No.  That would be voicemail.  She has an answering machine.”
Old man: “So she checks an answering machine to get the messages.”
Me: “Yes.  That would be the meaning of an answering machine.”  (I wasn’t really sarcastic to him, but this is what it sounded like in my head.”

After the whole answering machine/voicemail drama, the man figured out that he could not put the phone in the kitchen because the answering machine was in the office.  The caption phone had to be near the answering machine to pick up the messages from it.  He said he wasn’t sure what to do.  I suggested putting the caption phone in the office and then said, “Oh, but that won’t work because there is only one jack and it is being used.”  The Goose said, “What’s a jack?”  (Not now, kid.)  The old man said that wasn’t a problem because he had a splitter for the jack.  Seriously???  After 30 minutes of searching for a jack and rearranging the kitchen counter to fit the phone, he told me he had a splitter for the jack?  At this point, I was ready to bang my head, and the phone wasn’t even plugged in yet.

The man began installing the phone.  Now, don’t be too impressed by that.  “Installing” the phone meant taking it out of the box, plugging it into the wall and plugging it into a jack.  (“What’s a jack?”)  When he said he had to set it up on the wireless internet, I had a sinking feeling that I was going to be there for a while.  He kept talking and talking and talking as he worked.  My poor mother couldn’t hear him well enough to know what he was saying, and she kept asking him to repeat himself.  He was just babbling anyway, so there was no point in repeating himself, but he did.  Much to my surmise, he did.  He made sound effects as he worked. 

Old man: “You just click this here and ‘vvvrrrppp,’ it works.”
Mama:  “What?”
Old man: “You just click this here and ‘vvrrrppp,’ it works.”
Mama: “Oh.”
Old man: “Now you do this and , “pfffffttt.”
Mama: “What?”

Old man: "Now you do this and, "pffffttt."
Mama: "Oh."

You get the point.  I thought I was going to lose my mind.

The old man finally had the phone plugged in and set up, but it would not connect to the internet.  He checked the phone and said it had a dial tone.  The Goose asked, “What’s a dial tone?”  The old man kept insisting that it had something to do with the wireless connection since it had a dial tone.  The Goose again said, “What’s a dial tone?”  He said maybe if he unplugged it from the jack and plugged it in again, that would help.  The Goose said, “What’s a jack?” 

I knew good and well that it wasn’t a problem with the wireless connection because it showed that it was connected.  He tried to say the wireless must be having problems and maybe it was the modem.  (What I wanted to say was, “Oh, yes.  Maybe it is the modem.  Do you have  floppy disc you can insert to fix that?”  I controlled myself. -  And for those of you who did not understand that last statement, the local community college offers computer classes.  You might want to consider it).  I told him that the system said there was a problem with the account, but he insisted that it was the connection.  I gave up discussing it and waited for him to draw his own conclusions.  Finally, he decided to call tech support.  (By the way, I think I’ve found the most dreadful job in the world….tech support for a phone company for old people.)

The tech guy answered, and the old man told him what was going on.  The tech guy said he needed to unplug the phone from the jack and from the power.  The Goose said, “What’s a jack?”  I told her to go away.  The old man would not listen and was talking over the tech guy, saying he had already unplugged the phone.  The tech guy said, “I know you have, but I need you to do it again.”  The old man proceeded to talk even louder and say he had already done it.  The tech guy calmly said, “As I was trying to say, you need to unplug the phone and let me reset the account.  Then, you can plug it back in.”  The conversation I just described sounds easy enough.  Actually, it went round and round about 5 more times before the old man listened.  Finally, he said, “Well, that’s what I thought.  There is something wrong with the account.”  (“Thud…thud…thud…”  That’s the sound of me, banging my head.)

By this point, I was ready to cry.  I really was not in a good mood when I got to my parents’ house, and this old man was not helping me any.  He got the system up and running and said, “Now.  I’ll teach you how to use it,” looking at me.  I told him I was sure I could figure it out.  He said he would just go through the book with me to teach me everything I needed to know.  I again said I was sure if I couldn’t figure it out, that my husband or my kids could teach us.  He said he just wanted to make sure I knew what I needed to be able to help my mother.  So, remembering those blogs about the fruit of the spirit that I have been writing, I decided to take my patience out for a test-drive.  And, let me tell you, I got my driver’s license in patience that day!

Two and a half hours after I first entered my parent’s house, the old man finished his very, very thorough explanation of everything I ever wanted to know about a caption phone but was afraid to ask.  He asked if my mother understood everything, and she just gave a blank stare.  He asked if she had any questions, and again, she stared straight ahead.  All I could think was, “No, Mama.  Please, please don’t ask anything.”  My mother finally snapped out of her coma and opened her mouth to ask something.  Quickly, I said, “I’m sure I can show you everything you need, and if I can’t, Mr. E can.”  Mama nodded compliantly.  Thank you, Mama.

The old man kept chatting as he packed up his stuff.  He finally left, and Mama, the Goose and I all breathed a collective sigh.  I’m pretty sure I even heard Nugget (the tiny Yorkie) breathe a little sigh.  I walked the old man out to his car and watched him pull away.  I’ve never been happier to see anyone leave in my entire life.  I went back inside and was just about to say how happy I was for him to be gone, when I looked up to see him at the screen door.  He had forgotten something.  Fifteen minutes and more talking later, he was on to spread his technological knowledge with some other poor, unsuspecting soul.  If I had known where he was headed, I could have called to warn them, but I figured, at this point, it was every man for himself.  I was just happy for him to be gone!  -Al

PictureThe Valentine's Extravaganza
When I was little, I loved Valentine’s Day best of all.  I’m not sure if it was because of the chocolate, the hearts or the bright colors.  I think it was a combination of all three.

I love bright colors, and I absolutely love mixed patterns.  If I could get away with it, I would wear hearts and stripes and polka dots in lots of bright colors.  I would be so beautiful in my wardrobe of many colors.

When I see a display in a store than includes many brightly colored, patterned items, I can’t pick just one.  For instance, I don’t own a Vera Bradley bag.  Now, most of the reason I don’t is because they are obscenely expensive.  However, if you told me I could pick out one for free, I wouldn’t be able to do it.  They are beautiful all together in the display in the Hallmark store.  When you remove one from the other patterns, it loses its magic.  The same is true of brightly colored dishes in the housewares department.  I don’t want to pick just one color!

Valentine’s Day decorations are kind of like the Vera Bradley display and the dishes.  There are mixed polka dots and hearts and stripes and colors.  I love purple and pink and red mixed.  They are beautiful together.

You can just imagine what the Goose’s closet looked like when she was little.  She had so many bright colors and cute patterns!  Best of all, I would mix the patterns.  I would buy striped pajamas and polka dot pajamas and let her wear the shirt of one pattern and the pants of another.  (Actually, I did that with the Beetle, too.  Maybe I shouldn’t tell him that.)  Then, the Goose started dressing herself, and the patterns really got mixed.  She purposely mismatched socks from the time she was two years old, much to my mother-in-law’s dismay.  (In fact, the Goose also purposely wore her shoes on the wrong feet for about a year.  We would take them off and fix them, and she would switch them back.  Talk about marching to the beat of her own drum…)

Back to Valentine’s Day.  The reason I’m talking about it now, a week after the big day, is because it was our homeschool group’s annual Valentine’s party today.  It was rained out last week, so love had to wait a week. 

When I was little, I loved the Valentine’s Day parties.  In fact, V-Day was THE highlight of my school year.  I loved the decorated, home-made boxes, and I loved the cute cards.  I really loved the candy.  (Some things never change.)

When I started homeschooling, the Valentine’s parties were the main things I worried about.  I’m not kidding.  I really, really wanted my kids to have their parties!  I didn’t care about the other school stuff they would be missing, but the parties were too cool to miss.  Then, I discovered a great homeschool group.

Now, not only do my kids have opportunities for “school” parties, they get to experience “school” parties to the max.  Instead of trading Valentines with 20 other kids in class, the Goose got to exchange Valentines with 100 other kids at the park.  Today, they lined the basketball court with their home made boxes.  Then, when the mother in charge said to go, they all began placing Valentine’s cards in everyone else’s box.  It was great, and the Goose came back with 100 Valentines from her closest friends and candy to go with it.  (Let’s discuss that whole, “homeschoolers aren’t well-socialized” thing, shall we?)

For her box this year, the Goose wanted to make a softball.  For weeks, she talked about making a softball.  Finally, when I had time to concentrate on it (2 days before the party), I asked what she had in mind.  She wanted to take a square box and cut the corners off to make a round box.  (Remind me to sign her up for a class on logic.)  After debating her for quite a while but not convincing her that it wouldn’t work, I made a trip to the local craft store and found an unpainted hat box.  The Goose gave it her own magical twist, and a softball was created.  It was very “Goose,” and it made the Valentine’s party extra special for me, I mean her.  

Judging by how the Beetle matured, I’m betting this was the last year for the Goose to want to stand on the basketball court and get Valentines.  All I know is, it was fun while it lasted.  I got to live vicariously through my kids for a few years, anyway.  Do you think anyone would notice if I made my own box and stood there with the kids next year?  I can’t help it.  I love Valentines.  I’ll add it to my list of illnesses.  -Al

*A warning to the boys:  You may or may not want to read this.  You may learn more than you want to know.  Consider yourself warned.

It’s a good thing I’m not still in school.  I would be labeled as ADHD, because I am highly distractible.  I’m not hyper, though, so I could drop the H and just be ADD.  Actually, I think my initials would be LIADD for Life Induced Attention Deficit Disorder.  I wasn’t always like this.  I used to be able to finish a full TV program without doing something else.  I could sit through church.  I could even sit through a movie without falling asleep.  I’m pretty sure that constantly working for the last umpteen years has trained me to be this way.

I try, I really do, to concentrate.  Especially in church and Bible class, I really want to be able to listen.  However, it’s not always easy.  Luckily, our preacher breaks lessons into smaller points, so if I don’t get the whole lesson, at least I get part of it. 

Part of the reason I can’t concentrate for a full sermon is because I always have to go to the bathroom.  I’m not just looking for excuses to get up and leave, honestly, but when you gotta go, you gotta go.  When I am sitting, I’m fidgety.  Maybe it’s from all those years of doing church aerobics while wrestling my kids to keep them on the pew.  Maybe it’s from lack of sleep.  Maybe I need vitamins.   I don’t know what it is, but it seems like the harder I try, the less I can focus.

Something I learned this morning is that it is hard to concentrate in church when you have bread in your bra.  I was sitting there, innocently trying to pay attention in church.  I was doing so well with focusing.  My goal is always to actually make it through church without letting my mind wander too many times.  I was doing so well, and then it happened.  It was time for the Lord’s Supper.  I made it through the prayer for the bread and even heard the prayer.  The trays were being passed.  It was my turn to take the bread.  I reached in and took it.  As I tried to put the tiny square in my mouth, it slipped out of my fingers and went right down into my shirt.  (Insert your own joke here about my big mouth.  My choice: “It’s hard to miss the Grand Canyon with a rock.”)

Mr. E and the Goose happened to be looking at me right when this happened.  The Goose just looked at me, unsure of what she had just seen.  Mr. E knew what had happened and immediately offered to get it out for me.  While that was an ever-so-generous offer, I declined.  The Mr. and I were fighting off laughter and the Goose asked, “What?  What happened?”  I couldn’t lean over to tell her, because I was afraid my bread would be lost forever.  Luckily, my bra was too tight, so it did not slip on through.  If I had leaned too far, though, all bets were off.

So, there I sat with bread in my bra.  My husband kept looking at my shirt.  I’m sure people wondered why he was staring at my chest.  The Goose was saying, “What?  What?”  That did not help my laughter.  The Beetle and his pseudo-cousin, Dillon, were totally oblivious to the whole thing.  (Thank goodness.  I’m pretty sure two teen boys would have been horrified to know that I was sitting there with bread in my bra.)

The bread part of the Lord’s Supper seemed to take an unusually long time while I was sitting there waiting.  Finally, it was time for the juice.  When the prayer started, I began to pray with them.  Then, I remembered that I was still sitting with bread in my shirt.  I quickly reached in, grabbed it and stuck it in my mouth right as the speaker said, “In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”  I really hoped that everyone around me had closed their eyes for the prayer.  If not, they got a show.

As I chewed the bread, the Goose looked and whispered, “What are you eating?”  By this point, she had figured out that I had dropped the bread in my shirt.  I said it was my bread, and she said, “Ew!  Gross!”  Apparently, my chest is a dirty, vile place, and I should have thrown the bread away.  Who knew? 

We got through the rest of the Lord’s Supper without further incident.  Luckily, I managed to drink the juice without dropping the little cup down my shirt.  That would have been a little harder to cover up.

Maybe next week, I should make a conscious effort not to pay attention, because it seems like every time I try to focus, something happens.  Maybe the opposite would be true.  It’s worth a try!  -Al 

I know you are dying to know what I got for Valentine’s Day.  My life is so interesting, in fact, that you probably have spent your day waiting for me to tell you.  (If that really is true, I’m sorry to disappoint you.  My life is really not that interesting.)

Back when Mr. Everything and I were dating, he used to bring me Valentine’s gifts.  He brought roses, stuffed animals, trinkets, jewelry and candy.  It was nice, and I appreciated it, although I must admit I’ve long-since gotten rid of most of the stuff he gave me.  No disrespect to him – I just didn’t have room for it.  When you live in 900 square feet with 3 other people who are almost as large as you are, you learn quickly to consolidate stuff.  If it serves no purpose, it’s got to go.  In fact, my kids know not to stand still in one place for too long, because I might get rid of them too.

The days of gifts are long-gone for the Mr. and me.  It’s not that we don’t love each other anymore.  In fact, we love each other more and more every year.  It’s just that somewhere along the way, we became broke.  Not broken.  Just broke.  Now, our public displays of affection consist of high-fiving each other when we manage to pay another month’s worth of bills.  And $5 left over?  That calls for a kiss!

Many years ago, when the broke days hit, we stopped buying each other gifts.  That has been true for birthdays, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and our anniversary.  We’ve been known to stand in the card store, pick out cards for each other, read the cards we picked up, say, “Aw, that’s sweet,” and put them back.  Why pay $4 for a card? (Do NOT get me started on that topic.  Why, oh, why are cards so expensive???  They are made of paper for goodness sakes!)  We usually go out to eat for special occasions, though it usually involves me writing a report afterward because we mystery shopped the location.  Other people seem to think it’s a big deal that we don’t give each other gifts, but we’re okay with it.  Honestly.  We have a really good relationship without the gifts.  Someday, when the kids are grown and gone (They will leave, right??), maybe we’ll do gifts again.

In the meantime, the gifts we give each other are the things we do for each other, and I’m pretty sure Mr. E has me beat there.  He’s a pretty good husband.  He puts up with a lot from me, and he (almost) never complains about it. 

He cooks breakfast for me just about every morning.  Otherwise, he knows I won’t take the time to eat, and I’ll end up with the shakes by 1:00.  He’s a good man, Charlie Brown.  The irony, though, is that today, on Valentine’s Day, he did not fix me breakfast.  Go figure.

While fixing me breakfast would have been sweet today, my greatest gift this Valentine’s Day was a new door for my Suburban.  It’s not that I’m thrilled to get a car part as a gift.  In fact, when we were dating, Mr. E told me over the phone one time that he had a surprise for me.  As I waited for him to pick me up for our date, I thought about all the things it could be.  Maybe it was that new bracelet I had been eyeing.  Maybe it was candy. (I’ll always accept chocolate.)  Maybe it was something wonderfully romantic.  Then, he got to my house to pick me up.  He had a part for my car.  The date did not go well that night.

I didn’t really care about getting a new door for the Suburban.  Mr. E said we couldn’t leave it because it would leak and cause problems in the vehicle.  Otherwise, I could have driven around with it taped for months and not cared.  Since he said it needed to be fixed, I knew it did.

The best gift to me was not the car part but the way he handled the whole situation.  Mr. Everything could have yelled at me.  (That probably wouldn’t have ended well for him, but he could have.)  He could have belittled me.  He could have told me how stupid I was for backing up without looking.  (This is something I have already told myself a bunch of times.)  He could have stressed out over the bills and how we were going to pay $400 that we couldn’t afford to fix the door that I broke. 

He did none of those things.  He gently said, “Okay, we’ll get it fixed.”  When I apologized profusely, he simply said, “It happens.”  He didn’t yell.  He didn’t accuse me.  He didn’t embarrass me.  Instead, he pointed out a similar mistake that he made in our truck not too long ago.  This is why I love that man.  His attitude and sweetness about the whole situation was a better gift to me than any roses or jewelry or candy could have been.  That’s why he is and will always be my one and only Valentine.    -Al

The follow up to my story is not pretty.  Literally.  This is what the back of my precious Suburban looks like now.

The original plan to temporarily fix the Suburban was that I was supposed to get a heavy duty piece of clear plastic and some black duct tape from Ace Hardware on my way home from the Beetle's baseball practice.  Unfortunately, as if the universe was working against me, Ace had closed ten minutes earlier than scheduled when we arrived there at 7:50 PM.  Mr. E said he would come up with something else, and I knew he would.

Soon after I posted my story last night about the attack of the tree, Mr. Everything called me outside.  He said he had fixed my window.  He could hardly say it while keeping a straight face.  I knew I was in trouble.

I walked to the back of the Suburban (and glared at the tree as I looked in its direction).  When I turned and looked at the window, I had to laugh.  Mr. E had taken a piece of wood-grain siding from a trailer and had duct taped it to the back door where the window once was.  It was beautiful, as you can imagine.  I thought he was serious about leaving it, so I just tried to look at the bright side.  Then, I realized there was no bright side, so I went back inside.

The Mr. was out there for a while and then called me back out.  He had taken silver air conditioning tape and created a make-shift cover for the window.  Somehow, he painted it black.  I don't know how, and I haven't asked.  However, when you get close to it, you can see black over-spray on the edge of the tape.  

It's not pretty, but I guess it's better than wood-paned siding.  (I really should have gotten a picture of that.)

I've jokingly considered adding a "donate now" button to my blog page so we can buy a new door for the Suburban.  Maybe some kind soul would take pity on us with our black-air -conditioning-tape-window and send a donation.  (Hey!  Why not!  I once heard of a college student who paid off her credit card debt by asking for donations on a blog.  Of course, she probably had prettier legs than I do, but still... It could work!)  I figure there are about 10 of you who actually read my blog.  So by my calculations, if everyone donates $40, I'll have a new door by next week!  You don't mind, do you?  Of course you don't.  Get out those checkbooks...I even take credit! :0)  -Al

I said I wasn’t going to write this.  I really didn’t want to tell you, but my family made me do it.  They said I only tell about the things they do and I don’t tell when I mess up.  So, here goes…

Today, I created instant air conditioning for our new (at least new to us) Suburban.  How, you may ask?  Well, it’s embarrassing, but in the name of journalistic integrity, I will tell you.  I backed into a tree.  No.  I’m not kidding.

So, here, let me answer the questions I know you are going to ask…
The tree definitely won.
No, the tree didn’t walk into my path.
No, the tree didn’t do anything to me.
No, I wasn’t feeling squirrely or nutty or any other tree pun you want to throw at me.

I was being stupid.  That’s it.  No excuses.

We live in the country.  Normally, backing up is not a big deal because there is nothing behind me.  I back up blindly all the time.  (Correction…I backed up blindly all the time.  I won’t do it again.  Lesson learned.)

Today, Mr. E had parked the Suburban near a mobile home on the property we live on.  I went to leave from there instead of from our area of the property.  Without even thinking, I backed up without looking.  That was a big mistake, like, probably a $400 mistake.

I think we handled it pretty well, overall.  I went inside and told the Mr. what I had done.  He came out, looked at it, made a growling noise only detectable to my sensitive eras and got started cleaning up the glass.  I had to go because the Beetle was going to be late for baseball practice.  If you’re on time, you’re late, you know.  (At least that’s what the Goose’s coach says.  We’ve decided that if you are really late, you’re just on time for the next day’s practice.)

So, Mr. E did the best he could to sweep the glass out of the back of the Suburban.  Then, I went to baseball practice.  What else was there to do?  We drove around with an open window.

It wasn’t just the window I broke.  Oh, no, my friend.  I don’t do things the average way, you know.  I bent the whole stupid door.  The entire door has to be replaced.  Ugh.  Luckily, my husband can fix everything, and he has already found a replacement door for $400.  He can install it, thank goodness.  It could have been worse.

Now, every time we open and close the back door, glass falls off.  It’s lovely.  The kids had fun putting their baseball/softball gear in the Suburban without opening the door.  They thought it was hilarious.  At least someone found humor.  Now, Mr. E is headed outside with duct tape and a trash bag.  I have a sneaking suspicion this isn’t going to end well.  -Al

Well, I have good news.  The free enterprise system is alive and well, and it is living in Plant City, Florida.

Today, Mr. Everything and I went on an adventure to the farmer’s market.  Our goal was to get cheap produce so we can start eating healthier.  (I’ll keep you posted on how that goes…)  What we found was complete bedlam! 

On Wednesdays, not only do they have the normal famer’s market of fruits and vegetables by the case, but they also had a flea market.  Let me just say that if you’ve never experienced a flea market in Plant City, Florida, then you haven’t lived.  It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced.

The place was a madhouse.  There were cars coming and going and driving and parking.  Sometimes, they were parking where we were driving.  It was great fun trying to get through.  I was glad I wasn’t driving.

We paid $2 for parking.  Thirty feet down further down, parking was free, and around the corner, it was $1.  There was no rhyme or reason to the parking situation, but Mr. E reasoned that it was worth $2 not to have to keep fighting the traffic.

We got out and went to look at the vegetables first.  What we found very quickly was that we were overwhelmed.  We also discovered that we needed to drive the car for that part, because the produce came in large, heavy boxes.  We decided to go to the flea market and get our $2’s worth for the parking spot.

Bravely, we ventured into the flea market area.  Let me just say, oh my word.  It was crazy!  There were many, many Mexican people, so it felt a little like being in a foreign country.  There was Mexican music playing.  I heard more Spanish than English.  I saw many Mexican flags on banners and clothing.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have nothing against Mexican people (or any people of other nationalities, for that matter).  I love the Mexican culture.  I love Mexican food, and I don’t even mind Mexican music. 

Although I pride myself in being familiar with the culture and food, I kept saying, “What are they eating?”  There were all kinds of weird foods available that I had never heard of.  There were weird noodle-looking things that looked like they were made of orange Styrofoam.   There were bowls of some kind of cut up fruit.  There were dried bean looking things.  There was a fruit that looked like a furry green butt.  (And, no, it wasn’t a peach.)

I was not bothered to find so many people speaking a different language.  In fact, I was fascinated.  It was like going on vacation without leaving home.  I enjoyed that aspect of the flea market.

What I didn’t enjoy quite so much was the stuff that was for sale.  For the most part, it was like arriving at the end of a really bad garage sale.  They had VCR tapes and VCRs.  I lost count of how many VCR tape rewinders I saw.  Then, there was the house paint.  There were buckets and buckets of used, leftover house paint in all shades.  I would have never thought about selling my leftover paint, but now I know.  I can get rich by cleaning out my garage.  Apparently, the stuff sells, because vendors throughout the market had partial buckets of paint.  Who knew?

If you want a statue of a saint or you would like a jacket with a saint on the back, I know where you can get it.  If you would like old clothes or old shoes or old hats, I have just the place.  And let me say that no one should ever be barefoot again.  There were enough socks for sale in that place to cloth a small country.  Where do they get all those socks?  How do they get all those socks?  Why do they get all those socks?

There were appliances and canned foods.  They had dishes and pots and pans.  There were pet supplies, and they even had birds.  Live birds.  Isn’t there a law against that?

What amazed me was that in the midst of the rubble, Mr. E found things to look at.  As I was quickly walking through with the goal of reaching the end of each aisle, he stopped and looked at everything.  A blanket with rusty old sockets?  "Oh, let's look."  Mexican hats and shirts?  "Let's check it out."  Pointy toed boots?  "Gotta see if they have my size."  (By the way, my biggest regret of the day was not getting a photo of those pointy toed boots.)  Mr. E actually found a good deal on a tool because he was patient enough to look.  I, on the other hand, was just trying to get out.

When we had finished walking through about half of the flea market, Mr. E looked at me and said, “You’re getting close to being over it, aren’t you?”  I sweetly told him no and said I had been over it by the end of the second aisle.  It was too much stuff!  That commercial kept going through my mind.  You know, the one for Space Bags?  It says, “Too much stuff, not enough space!”  I kept hearing that phrase over and over in my mind.  Strangely enough, I’m pretty sure Space Bags were the one thing I did not see for sale out there.  Maybe that's why they all had too much stuff, not enough space.      -Al