Saturday, January 27, 2007

Be careful what you wish for

After moaning about the dullness of a routine life, we took a little walk on the wild side last week. We had us a plumbing problem. A big one. Snaking the pipes wasn't going to do it this time. Instead, it was jackhammer time.

"Looks like they might have to take up part of the kitchen floor," SO told me after the first plumber visited on Monday.

"They are not tearing up my ceramic tile!"

"Or they might have to go through the library floor."

"Not the wood floors! I'll lug the clothes to a laundramat for the rest of my life before I let that happen."

"Be reasonable," said SO. "We can't use the dishwasher or the kitchen sink. There's a hole in the pipe. It's all got to be replaced."

Shuddering, we put our heads together and called in the big guns. Time to network through family.

I know I've spent a lot of time whining about the dysfunctional vein that runs through our clans, but when the chips are down, nobody pulls together faster than us hillbillies. It's one thing for me to make fun of my own, but then again, I've earned that right. Regardless of past issues, I started making some calls and found a plumber related to my sister's second husband. We didn't want any kind of discount, SO reassured him. We just wanted someone we could trust.

"Hell, you're family," he said, and by Thursday his crew was on the scene, tearing up the back patio and ripping the dishwasher out of its cozy nook. When I got home from work that evening, I surveyed the damage in shock. There was a 4-foot deep hole and an enormous pile of dirt,, clay and concrete just outside the back door. Mud tracks traced the path of the plumber. The dishwasher was jammed in the corner, looking rather like the assassinated corpse of Julius Caesar abandoned by his murderous senators (okay, that's a stretch, but we're still watching Rome, and that's the first comparison that came to mind). Another deep hole was excavated from beneath the floor where the dishwasher had been, tunneling under the sink and to the outside. From there, chaos spread through the entire house. Everything was out of order. SO was in a panic, the boys were down to a couple pairs of boxers and stained vacation t-shirts, Bella looked like she was only a bark away from a nervous breakdown. It was time for me to take charge.

At least, it was time for me to think I could take charge. I took a vacation day and started putting the house back in order, working from the room furthest from the problem. I am always soothed my cleaning; it's not something I particularly look forward to doing, but when I'm in the middle of it, I tend to fall into a Zen-like meditation. By lunch time, I'd gotten things the way I wanted and the plumbers were breaking for lunch.

"Should be able to run all that laundry by 3 o'clock or so," said Mike, former motorcycle racer and all-around nice guy. He had a tendency to groan loudly when bending or maneuvering heavy pipe into place, which really freaked me out at first.

"Motorcycle accident," SO whispered when I voiced my concern. "Major nerve damage. Took a year to recover."

"Good God!" Surely plumbing wasn't the most comfortable job for Mike to be doing. But, other than the loud groaning, he had no complaints.

Since I'd tidied up all I could, I had a little time to watch a documentary that had been languishing near the TV for a couple of weeks. I even walked up with LegoGuy to get Sport from school. It was a beautiful day and we took Bella. In the midst of all the chaos, I found myself having a pretty good time.

The pipe was replaced, The plumbers cleaned everything up as well as they could, and promised to be back on Monday to reinstall the dishwasher and put the shelves under the sink back together. I spent all day Saturday doing laundry, and things are pretty much back to normal. I even got to go to a poetry reading to hear one of my friends read her work.

After this crazy week, I'm looking forward to routine.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

DVR Wars

Sunday evening in the AQ household

In the heat of battle, SO clutches the DVR remote, frantically trying to cancel a recording in order to tape another episode of Rome. "What do you mean, we can't tape two shows and watch another one at the same time?" His voice rises in frustration and LegoGuy curls into a fetal position on the couch, rocking back and forth.

The DVR Wars continue. Ever since we got digital cable video, the boys and their father have been engaged in a battle to see who can record the most TV shows. At first, SO was in the lead, but LegoGuy was a close second, programming the box to catch each and every television documentary featuring a WWII aircraft. Sport, not to be outdone, feverishly studied the TV Guide channel, plugging in the NFL games and late night EPL classics. As for me, all I asked for was The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, 30 Rock, and SNL. Soon, the amount of space available on the DVR hovered near 18%. What to do about this dilemma?

"Dad, you're going to have to cancel out that Patriots game," LegoGuy volunteers, removing his thumb from his mouth in an attempt to solve the problem.

"This is bloody ridiculous!" SO thunders, marching off to inform Sport (who is showering) that he won't be able to watch the game later. He tries to use his calm voice, but Sport nearly jumps out of his skin anyway. He is promised a chance to watch the EPL review show before bed, and things start to settle down.

"I just lost four pounds from all the stress," LegoGuy says when the crisis was over.

Through it all, I huddled at the computer keyboard, finally inspired to start another blog entry. I've been stuck for awhile, trying to come up with something that might be mildly amusing. For the most part, life at the AQ household is pretty routine: kids get up, kids get dressed, I go to work, they go to school, SO pays the bills and keeps the pantry stocked, kids get home, I get home ... yada yada yada ... showers, bedtime. I think I will go mad with all the repetition. All the child rearing books I've read talk about how kids need structure. It makes them feel safe. Still, one week bleeds into another in a mind-numbing parade of sameness.

The ice storm broke us out of our routine, but there's only so much one can write about the weather. I thought we might be covered with a foot of snow this weekend. Thankfully, the weathermen were wrong, and we had rain instead. So when I heard the uproar over DVR issues, I perked up and started grinning.

I know we aren't the only family who struggle with DVR programming addiction. My friend, The Collatress, got so excited when hers was installed that she immediately programmed 100 hours of TV taping during the first week alone. This became a problem when her husband wanted access. Negotiations ensued, and some shows were carefully deleted. I have a feeling they are still dealing with space availability.

I haven't been able to watch all the Daily Shows/Colbert Reports I taped last week. SO keeps eyeballing them, hoping to zap them out of the queue and free up some more space. I planned to watch them while we were snowed in on Saturday, but, as I said, we got rain instead. I also got distracted by cobwebs and ended up spending my weekend cleaning the kitchen from floor to ceiling. So, my shows wait in limbo to be viewed.

Unless they've been deleted.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Wind chilly

SO just called from the airport to let me know he might have to pull an all-nighter. Although every flight has been cancelled, they still need bodies to man the rental car counters. Some employees haven't been able to traverse the icy roadways, so my hubby may be the lucky recipient of overtime.

Meanwhile, I sit at home listening to my sons compete in a belching contest.

Local weathermen worked themselves into a fever pitch on Thursday, warning all of us to gird up our loins in preparation for the coming storm. At work, JuniorCat made fun of the histrionics: "For the love of God, people, are you listening to me? Did you top off your gas tank? Do you have enough supplies? Extra candles? Blankets? A chainsaw? Generator? Have you scoped out your chubbiest neighbor? By all means, invite him over to wait out the storm. When this thing hits, those few extra pounds could mean the difference between life and death for you and your family!"

I've been through worse storms. So far the ice has been limited to sleet. There's been no wanton destruction of trees and powerlines. The streets are icy, but the boys and I ventured out yesterday to buy some milk and eat lunch. We didn't even slide until they begged me to throw on the brakes as we pulled onto our street.

I don't want anyone to get hurt, but I confess I enjoy it when nature flexes her muscles on occasion. One of the coolest things I've ever experienced in Oklahoma was when a freak wind shear, or gustnado, hit the city and tore down a pitiful amount of trees. When it hit, the wind was so loud that I ran in and got LegoGuy out of his toddler bed.

"Sounded like a freight train!"

We sat in a rocking chair in the middle of the house, as far away from windows as possible. It was frightening and incredibly cool at the same time. Our entire neighborhood was shut down by fallen trees. The city collected all the branches and piled them in a nearby park. There were so many, they resorted to burning them rather than grinding them up into mulch.

We also had a brutal icestorm when Sport was tiny. It tore down powerlines and plunged our house into darkness. If you've never experienced it, there's a moment just before branches are shorn from the trunk of a tree when an enormous KE-RACK! splits the silence. Poor Sport was traumatized by the sound. He'd run to us with his hands over his ears.

In comparison, this storm has been really mild. Where's the toppling trees, cars skidding all over the road, cable lines being rent asunder, neighors cannibalizing each other? We haven't even had to light a candle.

It is cold, though. Watching the weather channel, Sport commented, "Look at that wind chilly -- 18 degrees!" He meant the wind chill factor. It was hilarious. But not as funny as the burp he ripped out only moments later. Not to be outdone, LegoGuy matched it with one of his own.

After this weekend, I may have a greater appreciation for a champion belch.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Do they have a 12-step program for this?

I'm not like the average junkie. I can go for months without touching the stuff, watching others indulge while I sit immune. At first, I couldn't get enough of it. I was buying every month, spending long hours at my kitchen table, glassy-eyed and shaky. Eventually, I plateaued and was able to wean myself. Little by little, I got it all under control.

But every so often, I get the itch.

This weekend, I let the genie out of the bottle. I gathered my scrapbooking paraphernalia and newly-printed Christmas pictures and went on an all-out bender. I felt a little like CraftyMinx must when she gets a new shipment of yarn.

I haven't worked on my scrapbooks for awhile. Truthfully, my kids are out of the "cutie-pie" phase. LegoGuy is all arms, legs, and feet. His babyface doesn't match his gangly body. He looks a bit like a painting by Gauguin -- the perspective is all wrong. Sport's baby teeth are gradually being replaced by adult teeth. They're too big for his mouth. Right now, he looks like a refugee from the Appalachia highlands, especially after he's spent a couple hours playing soccer.

I've been lax taking pictures of late, but at Christmas I grudgingly got out the digital camera and starting snapping. For some reason, we fell way behind in our usual traditions -- we never put up the outside lights, didn't go visit Santa, didn't drive around looking at decorated homes and yards, and watched only a few of our favorite seasonal movies. Perhaps the fact that my mother has now sunk into a deep depression had a lot to do with my general ennui regarding the holidays. Still, I took some pictures when we went to visit friends, went to a cookie-decorating party, and spent Christmas Day with SO's family. I ended up with some pretty neat shots. As I looked through the bundle of photographs, I decided to work on a layout that was vastly different from the last 3 years of pictures in our Christmas album.

As I do before beginning any project, I headed downstairs to the library and picked up a stack of Creating Keepsakes magazines. I browsed through a couple before finding a layout I liked: not too fancy, nothing I couldn't do in less than a weekend. Later, I looked through my scrapbook papers and found a few I could use to set the mood. Then, I came up with a theme and selected a few photos that I wanted to highlight. The rest were trimmed down into smaller vignettes.

Then, my favorite part. Starting the first layout. I'm always excited to see how the first page turns out. If it's good, then I know I have a sure thing, and I'm off and running. If it's not so good, I have to spend more time working it out. Luckily, this time it worked on the first try. Before I knew it, I'd spent three hours hunched over the kitchen table. My hands were shaking from exhaustion and my breathing was shallow. My neck and back were aching. I knew I should stop and get to bed, but there was always just one more thing I wanted to get to before I could put it down.

"Mom, do you know..."

"Can't you see I'm busy?" I hissed. "I'm creating over here!"

The poor child slunk away, emotionally shattered that I hadn't answered one of his daily 257 questions. I, however, was distracted enough from my addiction to get up and go to bed.

"Hello, my name is AQ, and I'm a scrapaholic."

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The thing in the basement

The thing in the basement enjoys the dark. It spends most of the time sleeping, but wakes once in a while to see the figure of a man outlined against a rectangle of light. Clutching a pipe, the man heaves it over his head, standing like Thor among the giants.

"What have you done now, you sonovabitch?"

We are engaged in a battle of wills with an ancient boiler. As our Korean War-era building continues its lumbering march toward an Usher-esque ending, the thing in the basement exerts a malevolent power. Weekly, our Maintenance Man (MM) ambles in with a new set of challenges. Oddly enough, he's usually cheerful.

"Job security," he whistles as he struggles to cool the library below us while simultaneously re-routing the arctic blast in the offices above to an empty room.

"Interesting," he notes, removing tennis shoe laces, a partial toupee, and the head of a doll from the plumbing pipes.

"Freaky," he observes, rewiring the computer terminal that somehow was locked into the power grid downstairs. MM is amiable enough when it comes to handling these minor peculiarities, white mustache gleaming with the perspiration of his efforts, but the boiler is starting to drive him mad.

Last week it burned out a heat coil. Apparently, this particular heating system is so outdated, replacement parts are no longer available. Each time this thing malfunctions, pieces have to be special ordered and hand crafted by the cranky artisans of an unnamed company operating out of a garage in some unspecified location. Weeks go by without any word. We're afraid to ask MM when the part will arrive because he doesn't have an answer and his usually pleasant face will darken to a bright vermillion, mustache bristling like a gray caterpillar.

Meanwhile, we wait. If it's the middle of summer, temperatures inside the building can soar into the high 90s. Fans are plugged in, washcloths dampened and placed around necks, glasses of ice water quickly consumed, sweat stains ruin cotton shirts, tempers flair, friendships are damaged and later repaired.

If it's the middle of winter, like our latest incident, temps can hover around the low to mid 50s. Several layers of clothing are worn, hats and glovelets appear, hot chocolate is made and carefully sipped, the break room is abandoned for warmer environs, sniffles and coughs develop, conversation ceases and is replaced by shivering.

Long ago, we were told that personal heaters were not allowed. However, there's been a certain lack of leadership in the office over the last couple of years, and one woman dared to bring her heat fan to work. When the boiler broke, we watched with envy as she pulled out her fan and plugged it in, flooding the small space around her desk with heat.

Today there was an outright rebellion. With an outside temp of 25 and an indoor one of 50, the grunts had had enough. Several of us made surreptitious trips to a nearby Target, returning with heat fans. Plugging them in, we had a few luxurious moments of warmth.

Then, the circuits blew.

Defeated, we returned the heaters to their boxes. Below us, I could swear I heard the boiler give a triumphant guffaw.