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Friday, August 31, 2007

Big Ass Lawn Mower

When we bought our big house on five acres in the country, we also bought a lot of lawn. The woods we own are at the back of our property, and from the perspective of wishing for less grass, the woods don't take up enough of the acreage. However, from the perspective of all the bugs that still manage to make their way up from the woods to the house, I don't wish the woods to be any closer. Any more bugs would really send me to the ledge. I see those creepy walking stick bugs on at least a weekly basis. I think I've heard they are "good" bugs as they eat the "bad" bugs. I have a hard time convincing myself there are any "good" bugs. Frankly, any bug that is as long as my foot and that I can see on the ground at basement level from the windows on the top level, is beyond creepy. But I digress.

As I was saying, we have a lot of grass. This could be a good thing. In the world of real estate I've heard terms such as a "usable yard." What we have is definitely "usable." We're currently discussing getting a set of soccer goals and putting in a sand volleyball pit. I thought maybe we could even put in a go-kart track and mini-golf course and charge admission. We joked about buying our own milk cow. Have you noticed the price of milk these days? A little livestock grazing would even eliminate some of the mowing. However I think I'd rather mow than deal with cow pies in the yard. After all, we only recently escaped the Wooly Mammoth poop piles.

So we did the only reasonable thing when we moved in, and we bought what you could refer to as a "big ass lawn mower." It was money well spent. Our closest neighbor has some sort of rinky dink lawn tractor. He spends an entire day out there. Literally. We see him out there at 10:00 am, and at 2:00 pm he's still at it. It's become a game to peek out the window and exclaim incredulously, "He's still out there!" A couple hours later we look again and then argue about whether or not he took a break during the past four hours or if it is really taking him that long to mow his field of a yard. We then make bets on how much longer it's going to take him.

I had never driven a "big ass lawn mower" before. I watched Husband speeding around the lawn one day, and it looked kinda fun, so one afternoon I convinced him to let me have a try. He struggled to mask a dubious and very afraid look (he's not real comfortable with how I drive a car, so this letting his wife drive the brand new "big ass lawn mower" thing really challenged him). Then, in a moment of resignation, he gave me a quick lesson on how to start the thing, how to adjust the throttle and engage the blade, how to go forward, and how to turn...well sort of on the turn thing. I hopped on the beast and revved her up. I jerked to the right, then to the left, then to the right, and went the length of about an acre and a half that way--the family mobile doesn't have this "zero turn" feature, so it felt a little touchy in my hands. I finally figured out how to go in a relatively straight line, but I hadn't figured out how to go straight at a moderately controlled paced. In spite of creating a very wobbly line at a very fast pace, I was feeling very macho--if women can feel that way. Husband stood at the sidelines with the wee ones watching me. Even with an acre of lawn between us, he looked nervous. I got all big in the head and on one of my passes I began making muscle man poses. The thing is, when you take your hand off one of the steering bars, it's like dropping one oar in the water. I managed to recover pretty quickly, and just in time to realize that Husband had not told me how to stop, and then I hit one of the puny trees in the front yard. It's not like I hit it head on though. I saw it coming, and I actually thought I was doing a find job mowing along one side of it, considering that I hadn't yet figured out how to slow down. And that's when I crashed into the thing with the grass chute. I forgot how far the shoot sticks out. I couldn't slow down, and I couldn't stop, but I was sure I was going to at least clear the thing. Later, Husband firmly reminded me that you are supposed to mow a nice neat ring around the tress on the side of the mower that doesn't support the grass chute. This, he reminded me, was one of the neat features of this whole "zero turn" concept.

That was actually several weeks ago. So far, the tree hasn't died as Husband expected it to. There was also no damage to the mower. I've been on the mower a couple times since, and I've discovered that I can go forward, diagonal, and backwards in a straight line. Heck, I could probably even go sideways in a straight line. I've learned that I can adjust and control how fast I go forward. I've learned how to back up, and I've even learned how to spin around in a hot shot "zero turn" move and mow neatly around the trees. In fact, I can now make muscle man poses without driving into trees. But every time I get on that "big ass lawn mower," I just can't stop the playing of scenes in my head from that old Pauly Shore movie, "Son in Law." The whole "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" tune plays in my head, and in spite of reminding myself that I spent the first 14 years of my life on the farm, I can't stop feeling city-girl awkward about living in the country.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Small Town Living

The thing about small towns is, well...they're small! By the time we bought our home plus five acres, we had already decided that it was going to be impossible to have the benefits of county space with city convenience (does that sound like a real estate ad, or what?). So we left our already smallish "city" and headed to the country. Now the closest town is a couple miles away and has a staggering population of 1,000.

I'm no stranger to small towns. I grew up in a town of about 350 people. All those small town jokes you've heard? They're TRUE! For example, if you dialed a "wrong number," you really would know who you inadvertently reached and you would jaw with them for a few minutes before hanging up. There may be some positive aspects of small town living, but for the most part, it's really not my thing. While there's something warm and friendly about truly being known, I generally prefer to be more anonymous. It's more private that way.

We met our "neighbors" quickly when we moved here. We even call them by name already. We lived in our last house for seven years, and the only people we knew by name on our entire street were any of the kids under age six that played with our daughter, and the lady who moved in across the street from us last winter, because it turned out I attended high school with her nearly two decades before. Truth is, the "city" we recently moved from was also pretty smallish, so it's interesting that in spite of being packed in like sardines in our subdivision, we still did not know our neighbors' names. I guess that's the difference between living in a community of 15,000 people and living in a community of 1,000 people.

Within a week of living here, I met my mail carrier. He called me by name before we had even formally met. It seemed a little strange at first, but then I reasoned that of course he already knows my name, he brings me my mail, after all. Still, I felt a little invaded. Over time, whether he means to or not, he will see what comes to me in the mail and what I send out in the mail, and he will learn a lot more about me than just my name. He introduced himself to me as, "Mike." I actually know my mail carrier by name, for cryin' out loud! I never knew the name of the person who carried my mail for the past seven years! But it gets better, when I took my kids into "town" a week or two later to play at the city park (that's a story for another day), I saw a truck with a mail delivery sign on it, and sure enough, it was Mike! I shook my head to try to rid it of that odd de-ja-vu feeling. I was already doing the "small town thing!" I was seeing people I recognized around town, and I was unwittingly taking note of what they were doing. If anyone asked me what Mike the Mail Carrier was doing at 10:30 am on July 21st, I would be able to tell them. I really didn't like this feeling.

A week or so later I took my first trip to the post office. As I pulled into a parking spot in front of the tiny building, someone did a double take before going on about his business. I could hear his thoughts, "You're not from around these parts, are ya?" Inside the post office, I knew immediately this was a one person show (well, not technically; this man wasn't Mike, and Mike was nowhere to be seen--though I did see Mike sorting the mail on my next visit to the post office). I knew the man at the counter was the postmaster and that I would receive direct service from him every time I went there. I predict that after two or three visits, he would begin calling me by name, and I him. I also predict that every day that mail is delivered, I will either say or think something along the lines of, "I wonder if Mike came with the mail yet?" I will wave at people on the streets whether I really know them or not...and sooner or later I will know them. I'll know random facts about people around town, such as which day they go to the local grocer to buy their milk, who mails their packages at 11:00 am on Wednesdays, and what kind of cars the townspeople drive. Even if I don't intend to know these facts, soon enough I will know them. I will try to stay anonymous to a point, but I know people will start to know random stuff about me. For example, today was my second trip to the post office. Even though I sometimes go to the post office in our old town because it's en route to other errands I have to do, I will still return every so often to the local one. And the postmaster (who I will be on a first name basis with by the end of my next visit), will know what type of package I mailed and who I mailed it to. He will know that I sent a rather heavy 11 x 12 envelope today to Aetna Behavioral Health. He won't know (yet) that I am mailing contracts to become a network mental health provider with numerous health insurance companies, but after he sees enough envelopes go out to various health insurance companies, he will begin to wonder what I'm up to. One day he will be sitting at the local bar (I'm pretty sure there is one), and somehow my name will come up and he'll speculate over a beer with his buddy what it is that I'm mailing out in these heavy envelopes.

This is how small town life is. This is how gossip starts. This is why I prefer larger cities where I can experience the irony of being more invisible in spite of coming into regular contact with thousands more people at any given time. the drawback of small town living.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Memorable Moment

While working on a scrapbook project today ...

Daughter: "I think this is a little 'invanced' for me!"

Me: "What do you think 'advanced' means?"

Daughter: "Well, I don't really know yet."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bicycling Down Memory Lane

It really stinks when the overnight lows are hotter than I prefer my daytime highs to be. And while not an intentional pun, it works in its most literal sense. After all, sweat does stink. This is why I want to move to a northern section of Alaska and share a mountain lake with a moose.

Due to the hot weather these days, the kids are not getting their requisite amount of sunshine and outdoor play. Since Son is practically still bald and as fair skinned and blond as one can be, I also worry about the top of his head getting sunburned. Fortunately, he likes to wear a hat. I got the kids out in the morning yesterday to play, but the thermometer already read 91 degrees, so it was not much of a break. An hour and a half later we all stumbled back into the house, hot and sweat drenched, to plop in front of a video in the air conditioning with a popsicle. The thermometer eventually read 107 yesterday, but I think the actual temperature didn't rise above 103. As if that is good news.

Daughter is getting pretty good at her two-wheeled bike (plus training wheels). I can walk with her at a pretty good clip while she rides her bike as long as Son is satisfied racing her in the stroller. When he decides he has to walk too, the dynamic gets frustrating. Daughter wants a more reasonable speed and wants me to match that speed, while Son screams because he wants to dawdle along and examine every rock, bug, weed, and spot in the road. As I was helping Daughter with her bike the other day, I had flashbacks of the moment that I first rode my two-wheeled bike sans training wheels.

I don't remember much about having training wheels, but I know I did. I had a pink bike with a banana seat with multicolored flowers all over it. It was a Huffy. I don't know how old I was the day I first rode without the training wheels, but I remember clearly the moment it happened. I was riding around the circle driveway in front of my grandparents' farm house. The training wheels had come off that day, and Grandpa was running along behind me, holding my bike upright as I pedaled, and he was coaching me to go faster and then for a couple moments I didn't hear him, but I was sailing along on my bike enjoying the breeze blowing in my hair. When I finally looked back, there was Grandpa about 100 yards behind me, beaming and clapping for me. I was doing it all by myself! I'll never forget the pride in Grandpa's face and the bib overalls he wore that day, as he did everyday. I don't remember any other details about that particular day nearly 30 years ago, but that moment is etched in my mind forever. Grandpa went to Heaven over 6 years ago, and this memory is among my fondest of him.

It is with mixed emotions that I watch my own daughter enter into a phase of her life that one fateful day will culminate into the first time she rides a two-wheeled bicycle without training wheels. Regardless of who is running behind her on that day, I know that when she pushes forward all by herself, her Great Grandpa will be beaming and cheering her on, just as he did for me that day so long ago.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Drama Queen and Hot Head

The thing is, I've got a daughter who epitomizes the term "Drama Queen." For example, Daughter is still attached to a "woobie" she's had since before she was a year of age. It is her beloved "Taggie Book." She will be going along in life appearing content one second and the next second she will be a puddle of tears, crumpled on the floor sobbing because she just realized Taggie Book wasn't at her side, and where oh where is he? Today she pulled this stunt, and I was tired. I was really just. so. very. tired. She had been doing the drama thing frequently all morning long, and then just before noon she crumpled into her dramatic mess because she just didn't know where Taggie Book was. I sat across the room looking onto her and thinking about just how tired I was feeling. I was silent as I observed the show. There were tears. There was sobbing so hard that all I could make out were the words "Taggie Book!" every few sentences. There was stumbling to her knees. There was a very red face. I watched. I yawned. I considered making some popcorn to munch while I watched, but I didn't because I was very. very. tired.

Daughter repeats this type of drama frequently in a variety of circumstances. If I walk into another room in the house (after informing her where I am going, mind you), a second later she will run through the house sobbing loudly and uncontrollably because she can't find me. She misplaces any random object she just had her hands on, and she goes from content to hysterical in a split second. Today, for example, she was using her tape dispenser to help create one of her artistic masterpieces. She was sitting in the middle of her bedroom floor working diligently at this when suddenly, out of the random blue, she began wailing that she couldn't find her tape dispenser, and in between tears she demanded that I needed to head up the search party and it must happen NOW or else the world was really and truly going to end! I was in the middle of taking care of a smelly diaper (compliments of Son). I had bigger worries than Daughter's tape dispenser (which I knew could be found just where she left it a nanosecond ago). I was trying to get a dirty diaper off the octopus that is my son, who wouldn't stop squirming and kicking, and I was concentrating really hard so as not to find his heel in the poop mess or to find the dirty diaper flung across the room and onto the light tan carpet. Of course, the tape dispenser was eventually found right in the middle of the room where she was sitting when it mysteriously "disappeared."

Oh, and remember the dramatic display just before noon...the one where Daughter couldn't find Taggie Book? The one where I sat back and watched and felt more tired by the second? I finally (wearily) informed Daughter that Taggie Book was, in fact, tucked tightly under her left arm during the entire dramatic display.

Did I mention that I'm tired?

And Son...well the issue with him is that he has a temper like you wouldn't believe. He has very strong opinions about what he wants. When his opinions do not control reality, the sky falls in. It really does. The other day he wanted a balloon out of the cupboard. He wanted to chew on it in its deflated state. I felt strongly that this was not a wise or prudent activity for a 19 month old, and so I did the wise and prudent thing: I said "No!" He blew his top. Really. I was looking for the remains of his head on the ceiling. He screamed and stamped his chubby little feet and sobbed and banged his head on the floor, and in between all this chanted "Bloon! Bloon!" for forty five minutes. Yes. Forty. Five. Minutes. I tried to redirect him. I tried empathy. I tried holding him to comfort him. I tried being firm. I tried ignoring him. Ultimately I ended up locking myself in my bedroom so I could accept a work related telephone call. Of course, as soon as I put myself on the other side of the door, Daughter began doing her thing, and so I ultimately found myself locked in my closet, which is in the master bathroom, which is in the master bedroom. Finally, when I had three doors between me and Hot Head and Drama Queen, I could hear myself think. I seriously considered just staying there for the rest of the day. And it was only 9:00 am.

The real offensive part of this whole deal is that I recognize these personality quirks in my children in a way that I really wish I didn't. I know too well that they didn't get these qualities by random good luck. I know too well that they didn't inherit them from Dear Husband. Nope. They both got the best of ME! Actually, I can't take FULL credit. It's in the gene pool on my side of the family, after all. God Himself, deserves all the credit. But why, oh why, did they EACH have to inherit one of the two most troublesome personality quirks that I could possibly pass down to them? And why, oh why, do they each have to display them in TANDEM so frequently? And why, oh why, couldn't at least ONE of them have inherited Husband's much more laid-back come-what-may approach to the world?

I'm tired.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Where Does Four Years Go?

It was a big weekend for us. My oldest baby turned four years old on Saturday, and I really can't figure out how that happened. It hasn't been that long that she has even existed in this world, and now she is 38 pounds of piss and vinegar that keeps everything going in a constant buzz. Great Uncle Ron and Great Aunt Pat came to help celebrate. We like to party the whole weekend when they come, so we started out with Daughter's first fishing trip. She's been asking to go fishing for a long time, so we had this all planned out as a surprise. When she unwrapped her new Princess fishing pole, she didn't believe that it was a real working fishing pole and that we were going fishing.

Here's her big catch! She caught three of them (with a little help from Great Uncle Ron) and Great Aunt Pat caught the fourth one. I was too busy taking pictures and filming video to dip a line myself, though I've been known to catch the biggest fish on many a fishing trip.

Daughter and Son got a new "jumpin' bean" house, which is expected to hold up much better than the last one. Fortunately it fits about right in the new basement playroom as we are entering the dog days of summer with heat that is too unbearable for outside play. Son isn't too sure about the bounce house yet, but I'm certain he will be interested in it before long.

Since Daughter wanted a Princess cake this year and wanted me to make it, I tried my hand at something I found online (ha! note the computer in the background that explained to me how to do this).

I have to post a picture of the finished product even though you can tell by looking at me that I worked all afternoon Friday baking the cakes and all day Saturday frosting and decorating the "masterpiece." It was the hottest day of the year and any makeup I started the day out with was long left behind in a pile of sweat. I couldn't crop myself out of the picture without cropping out Daughter as well. The cake was finished for roughly 3.5 hours before it was de-constructed for eating.

Somehow we didn't get any pictures of Daughter's new bicycle. I guess we were too busy running the video camera. I'm sure someone else got some pics that they will share with us, but none to post today.

Thanks to Great Uncle Ron and Great Aunt Pat for helping make the event a big hit for Daughter!

So that's what's been preoccupying me the past several days. Since then I've just been wandering around in a stupor wondering how my first born could possibly be four years old now.