Sunday, August 29, 2010

O Canada

This morning after church, we somehow ended up in a caravan of several cars headed for Eggstyle, a new restaurant in Oldsmar that serves, well, eggs . . . and things made of eggs like waffles, crepes and pancakes. Filled with faith that God would not let all 17 of us die of salmonella poisoning at once (we had just been to church, after all), we marched in there with 8 children and 9 adults.

Immediately upon opening up the menu we noticed a couple of odd things . . . first, Shelya pointed out to us that there were no pancakes on the kids' menu. Or waffles. Only french toast, eggs, and crepes. I don't know about your kids, but when eating at a restaurant that serves breakfast, my kids go for the pancakes, especially if they are shaped like Mickey Mouse. Also, the prices seemed a little high to me. Though, I did not realize until after ordering my $3.25 cafe au lait that plain coffee or tea comes with the meal at no extra charge. But when you step outside the ordering box and order orange juice, for example, it'll cost you $4.00 a glass.

And when we ordered drinks, the kids' drinks came in short bar glasses with no lids. It was a good thing they neglected to even bring half of the kids' drinks out at all, because with no lids, there was huge potential for spillage. It could have been a disaster. At one point, Flamingo Joe was siphoning chocolate milk with a straw out of the bar glasses and into empty creamer containers for the kids to drink -- if the dang cups had lids, Flamingo Joe would not be tempted to misbehave in this way.

There were 5 moms of young children at our table and when we weren't grabbing tipping glasses out of our kids' hands, we were puzzling over Eggstyle's strange approach to family dining. I've been in bar and grill type places that didn't really have kids' cups, but the wait staff would usually bring a "to go" styrofoam cup with lid and straw to the table for the kids. After we'd finished eating, Shelya hopped up and found the manager and started making conversation. She asked why the kids' drinks didn't have lids and the answer was: "We're a Canadian chain of restaurants, and in Canada, they don't have kids' cups in restaurants." The manager's answer certainly begs an obvious question . . . why? Why aren't there kids' cups in Canadian restaurants? Are kids not allowed in Canadian restaurants? Are Canadian children born with much better manual dexerity and therefore never spill? Are Canadian parents so germaphobic that they always bring their kids' cups from home, so the restaurants don't bother providing them?

I don't understand.

Regardless, our children were really pretty well-behaved at the restaurant until the very end when we were waiting for our checks and they started getting restless. I told Joe I'd take the kids outside while he paid the check. Although I really meant my two kids, I somehow ended up outside with five kids because I'm like the Pied Piper that way and they all started following me -- which was fine, because freeze tag is always more fun with six people. So the kids and I played for about 5 minutes in a small courtyard type area right outside the front door of the restaurant until the rest of our party started trickling out.

When Brian and Shelya came out, they corralled their kids and I was saying something to little Kate, and not watching the others, when Brian spoke up from behind me, "Hey -- what's your kid doing?" I looked over to where Mace was standing absolutely still on the pavement by the bushes, but in clear view of the restaurant, with his pants down around his ankles, and saw a stream of pee flowing (and flowing, and flowing) into the bushes. I ran over and stood between him and the restaurant, hoping that no one actually saw him except for the three or four people who happened to be walking past him and into the restaurant at the time. When he was finished (there was no point in stopping him -- he's only three, it's not like he can be commanded to stop mid-stream) I yanked his pants up and tried to explain why our yard is different from right outside a restaurant. I could tell by the blank look on his face that he was not grasping the concept. Flamingo Joe pulled up in the car at about that time and I yelled, "YOUR son just dropped his pants and peed right there by the bushes!!" Joe said, "Well it's not my fault, I told him he could only do that when he was outside the city limits!"

I bet those well-behaved, non-spilling Canadian children never pee in front of restaurants.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Yay for Democracy!

Mace started Pre-K 3 today. I drove him to school in the pouring rain (even though I could have waited fifteen minutes or so and the downpour might have let up a smidge), because you only get 3 hours of preschool. By the time you drop off your pre-schooler, wait in the 1/2 mile long line to turn left out of the parking lot and get home, you've already burned 1/2 an hour of your precious time without the pre-schooler. You have to leave the house 15 to 20 minutes before preschool ends for the day to get there in time for pick-up and not be charged for leaving your kid past pick-up time. So that means, tops, you've got like 2 hours 15 minutes to file motions and object to claims before you have to get back in the car and drive back down to pick the preschooler up. That being said . . . I was not waiting for the rain to let up before dropping him off.

When I dropped him off a few minutes after 9:00, only two of his eleven classmates had arrived. Apparently, the other 9 were waiting out the rain.

And not to bore you with it . . . but let's talk a little about the rain. As of this morning, Tampa has had 6.76 inches of rain this month. Forecasters were expecting another inch of rain today, so now we're up to 7.76 inches of rain. That's a lot of water. Most of it is standing in our driveway and creating a most excellent mud bogging adventure for people who are brave enough to drive down our way:

After I dropped Mace off at preschool, which also happened to be a polling place today, I remembered that I needed to vote. So I called Grandma and asked her if she wanted me to come back by the house and pick her up so she could go with me to vote -- I was worried her little Volkswagon Bug wouldn't make it out of the driveway if she tried to go by herself later in the day. She said yes, so I swung by, slid down the drive, picked her up and we headed out to vote. We got to the library and the nice senior citizen behind the desk in the absolutely deserted room designated for voting took a look at Grandma's drivers license and said, "You don't vote here." I said, "Yes, we do -- we've been voting here for the past four years!" He said, "You may have voted early here for the past four years, but your actual polling place is at that tiny little Baptist Church you attended for the past year but that you quite recently stopped attending, and were, quite frankly, hoping to only reflect on in quiet moments when pondering the ways in which the Holy Spirit works, and not actually have to physically visit again for quite some time." He knew an awful lot about me for being a poll worker.

So we left this polling place, where we could park on pavement, immediately adjacent to a covered walkway, safely arriving, dry and happy, to vote . . .

. . . and drove to the church where we held Coffeehouses all last summer and had to park 100 feet from the door in a foot of water because the senior citizen guarding the door waited for me to park five feet from him (and the door), get out of the car, pull on my raincoat, lock the doors and walk up the steps before informing me that I could not park within 100 feet of the polling place. Could he not have motioned to me to roll down my window while the car was still running and inform me of this as soon as I pulled up? Of course he could. Between Risse Brothers, the polls, and a few other places that will remain nameless, I am encountering way way way too many passive-aggressive senior adults these past few weeks and would prefer that they just take the aggressive-aggressive approach with me from now on -- or even better, the passive-passive approach. It was probably not worth the trouble for me to vote in the 3 races in which I actually voted. We arrived home wet and irritated for having made the effort at all -- and yet, I do still prefer democracy and really would walk to the polling place if I had to.

I think democracy should be preserved so that urchins like this one can grow up in a free society and decide for themselves whether or not they feel like wearing underwear:

I'll just let you ponder on your own whether you believe democracy was at work under that shirt.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Great Train Expo

While Flamingo Joe was working under the circus tent in our front yard yesterday, I took the boys to The Great Train Expo at the fairgrounds. Mace takes after his Pop Pop and is a huge train fan. I think Casey came with us so he could avoid helping his Dad clean out the insides of the water filtration tanks in the pouring rain.

It was a pretty good train show. It was set up in one of the exhibit halls at the state fairgrounds and there were probably four or five large model train exhibits like the one above, running three or four trains each, in one half of the hall. The other half of the hall was filled with train stuff that train people buy -- miniature-sized people, houses, trees, train engines, and train cars, for example, and a bucketload of Thomas the Tank Engine merchandise.

The boys loved the model train exhibits:

That one above was set up on the floor and had five or six tracks all running at once. Every half hour or so, the operators would switch out the trains with new ones, so we spent fifteen minutes at a time, four different times, sitting/laying on the floor by this exhibit.

The boys also got to push each other around a boy-sized train track on carts:

Casey was almost too big for the cart and Mace was almost too small, but I think with some minor modifications to the carts this would be a great addition to the circus setting up in our front yard.

Casey couldn't wait to try the human-powered train and we hung around the show a little longer than I really wanted to so we would be there for the next designated time for the little exhibit to open again. Casey got in line and when it was his turn to sit on the stationary bike, the guy running the exhibit gave Casey some instructions and then asked him if he could ride a bike. Casey just stared at him -- he knew he couldn't really ride a bike, but you could see him wondering why it was relevant when the bike at the exhibit was stationary. I could tell he was struggling with the disciplinary consequences of lying to the man and the waste of energy it would take to explain that no he couldn't really ride a bike, but he could certainly wing it on this one. So I jumped in and saved him and said, "He can do it." I think sometimes you just have to rescue your kids from these delicate moral dilemmas and set an example for them. See son, that is how you avoid lying -- you just don't answer the question that's actually posed to you.

I'm thinking this is yet another great ride for the circus setting up in our front yard. It's not just a ride . . . it's educational -- the bicycle generates the power to move the train. Someone else would have to stand by the ride and fully explain it to people, though, because that's all I've got. I was an English major. You really can't expect me to contemporize on scientific subjects.

One of the exhibits actually had ravines built into the sides of the exhibit so that the train would chug across the top on a trestle while you look into the ravine and see another entire scene:

This one was labeled "Deliverance":

See that little dude with the banjo sitting on the edge of the porch? (Not my favorite movie, by the way). I rode a bus to junior high school with that guy.

Eventually, we ended up over in the vendor area and I spent half an hour saying things like:

"Don't touch that 1953 Lionel Steam Engine that costs $950."

"I'm sorry, we're not buying Thomas, Gordon or Percy today."

"No, we don't need 1/4 inch tall people."

"Good gracious, this is an expensive hobby!!"

Casey, after hearing me say "no" for the umpteenth time, finally said, "Why aren't we buying anything?" So I told him there was no money in the budget for miscellaneous toy train expenditures (that's how Casey and I talk to each other -- like college students trying to impress their sociology professor with really big vocabularies). Casey said, "Oh no, not the budget again!" I said, "Yes, honey, the budget again. There is no Total Money Makeover envelope labeled 'miscellaneous toy train expenditures'." Casey crossed his arms, glared at me, and said, "Can we stop using the envelopes as a reference?"

So I told him that as soon as we started the circus in our front yard, he could charge all his friends $4 apiece to ride the train carts and start his own envelope system. I imagine that his envelopes, instead of being labeled "Groceries," "Restaurant" or "Haircuts", would be labeled "Wii Games," "LEGOs," "DS Games," "Pokemon Cards" and "Lucky Charms."

Of course, the "Lucky Charms" envelope would actually just be a duplicate of the one I already have in my system, but you can never really have enough Lucky Charms money.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

First Day of Second Grade and Other Matters of Eternal Significance

Today was the first day of second grade for Casey and everything's new: new teacher, new pencils, new Bible, new haircut, new erasers. That's why living your life on a school schedule is so great -- there's a beginning in August/September when you get to buy all new supplies and there's a definite ending in May/June when you can throw all the used-up stuff away (and some of the more bizarre art projects). Once you're grown, you don't have regular beginnings and endings, so time can sometimes just drag on or fly by, depending on your employment situation and how much laundry is piled up by the washer. And before you know it, you have a house full of irrelevant paper, pens with no ink, and computer printers for which Best Buy no longer even sells ink.

I had a good friend once in graduate school who'd had a hysterectomy a year or two before entering grad school. She told me that time slowed down after her operation because she no longer had her cycle to measure out her life with. I think about that exactly once a month when I'm wishing I no longer had a cycle to measure out my life with.

So here is the obligatory first day of second grade photo:

Because Casey (he's the one on the left, by the way) went back to school today, that means yesterday was the annual "Day of Torture." The annual Day of Torture typically includes getting a haircut, trying to find the missing items on our school supply list (this year it was 4 x 6 blank index cards; last year it was red checking pencils), and a visit to Risse Brothers Uniform Store.

For those of you who have not accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior, your eternity will be spent in Risse Brothers Uniform Store, where you will eternally ask for sizes and colors in mandatory uniform items that are not in stock (an extremely rude salesclerk will eternally tell you). The extremely rude salesclerk will stare at you disdainfully while standing amongst her woefully (and, I am convinced, purposefully) understocked shelves, in such a way that suggests perhaps she looks down on you for not thinking to shop for said mandatory uniform items earlier in the afterlife. Then when you ask her when the items will be in, she will sneer at you, shrug, and say, "What do you care? You're here for eternity" and walk away.

Trust me when I tell you, there is no better time than today to trust Jesus.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Birthday Parties, Layovers, and a Postscript

I have a few weeks' worth of catching up to do here, I know. The problem is that I can only recall the details of events that are 10 days old are less. I blame aging. And children. Also laundry. And don't forget the heat. So we'll start with Flamingo Joe's and Dez' combined birthday party, held 10 days ago, here at Casa Flamingo.

I knew ahead of time it was going to be boiling hot, so I made an executive decision to hold the party indoors instead of out as we usually do. We already know how to do outside parties: clean up outside, set the wooden tables up, move all the chairs and the grill wherever the hub of the party will be, and hook up the outdoor speakers. There's a routine to outdoor party preparation that wipes Flamingo Joe completely out because he's in charge of the outside preparation and I'm in charge of the little bit of inside cleaning that gets accomplished and making sure we've got food under control (though Elsie pretty much handles arranging pickles, tomatoes, cheese slices, etc. prettily on trays -- that's her spiritual gift).

When I sprang it on FJ that I'd decided to have the party indoors, he looked at me askance (love that word) and shrugged. The main floor of our house is chopped up into smallish spaces, so I know he was trying to figure out how we were going to fit 30 people in here comfortably. It was simply a matter of moving tables and other things out of the way and cramming more chairs in. But because the party was indoors, it did eliminate some of the work FJ had to do to get ready . . . which is only right, given that it was his birthday. He cleaned off the porch and mowed the lawn (taking the obligatory 2 hours to change the belt or something on the mower when it broke halfway through). But he did not have to move chairs around outside or mess with the grill at all.

Here's the thing about indoor parties -- if people are hanging around inside your house instead of outside your house for 3 to 4 hours, they are more likely to notice the windows covered in wee-sized handprints, the cobwebs in the ceiling corners, and the pile of papers sitting off to the side of a desk stuck in a corner, not to mention the six week old sippy cup with solidified chocolate milk on the floor under that same desk. So I had to clean all that, plus a few other things that never get cleaned in my house unless there's an indoor party, such as this:

And this:

And this:

And no, that wall did not get painted before the party. It's been sitting there unpainted for over two years -- why would I paint a wall that I eventually hope to tear down at some point in the next 10 years after we get through our Dave Ramsey Total Money Makeover? 'Twould be wasted effort, 'twouldn't it? Let's not be wasting effort that could be spent creating Allocated Spending Charts.

But I digress. We had a wonderful time at the party -- Dez opened her gifts:

Flamingo Joe opened his:

. . . with Ben's help. Heidi's son Ben loves cars -- to the point of being able to identify make and model of most cars driving down the road. After meeting you the first time and learning what kind of car you drive, he will always remember your car. And heaven forbid you drive something different the next time you see him because he will ask you where your Ford Expedition or Toyota Corolla or Kia Sephia is until he has gotten a satisfactory explanation out of you. Joe calls him a "Car Savant". All of Joe's gifts were cars -- we wanted him to get as many sports cars as possible before embarking on his mid-life crisis years. So Ben helped him unwrap and identify every single one. Joe loved it -- I think he's going to try to sneak over to Heidi's one night and switch one of our kids for Ben. Don't tell Heidi. Or our kids.

The party ended as all parties should: with raucous singing of praise and worship music. It's extremely difficult to structure a party so that it naturally flows from appetizers to raucous singing of praise and worship music -- so you really do have to be prepared to bully people into bringing their guitars and making them play. Or bullying people who didn't bring their guitars into playing the guitars of the people who did. Which is of course what we did -- and it is always handy to invite people to your party who, when asked if they have a capo, can pull one out of their front pocket. It also helps if you serve adult beverages and arrange a pretty sunset.

So the rest of the week following the party was pretty nice because my house was so clean -- no guilt, you know. Then early on Thursday morning I took a flight by myself to Memphis by way of Atlanta to help with some family things going on up there. It was a quick trip and I was supposed to be home by Friday night at 8:30. But because of bad weather pretty much everywhere in the southeast my flight leaving Memphis left an hour or so late and I missed my connection in Atlanta and had to sit there until 11:50. That gave me three to four hours to kill in the airport, during which time I talked to six total strangers, cried through the last chapter of The Shack, bought a new book that I realized one chapter in I'd already read, stood in the middle of the concourse and cried with my mother on the phone, ate dinner, and changed clothes in the airport bathroom just to have something else to do. I am not a good airplane traveler because, you know, I'm not flying the plane. But on that last leg of the journey, as I was waiting to (finally) board the plane, I looked over at the pilot, who happened to be standing next to me, also waiting to get on the plane, and realized it was a friend of ours from a church small group we'd been part of several years ago. I was practically giddy when I realized he was flying us home -- I knew that if he crashed the plane and we died, at least Joe and the pilot's wife (who would of course be drawn together in their grief after the crash) could get married and my kids would have a good mom. He and I chatted for several minutes before he got on the plane and before he walked away, he pulled out a piece of paper and wrote down all their phone numbers so we could all get together again sometime.

It totally looked like I had picked up the pilot -- my six new friends were insanely jealous.

{a postscript -- but first, a warning -- if you do NOT want to read about dead rats, stop reading now; if you DO want to read about dead rats, please continue: When I finally got home Friday night, I stepped through the front door and said, "I smell dead rat." Joe drooped and said, "Yes, I think we have another one." Before I left for Memphis, I started smelling dead rat and Flamingo Joe and Howell, our mechanic friend (who was here fixing the Expedition -- YAY!) had found that first one, which was really the second one, because the first one I almost stepped on down by the trash cans under the house. So those cute little mice I thought that we had scampering around under our house were actually nasty, hinge-headed, filthy rats. Flamingo Joe had put out poison over the weekend of the party and the rats started crawling into the space between the ceiling of our "basement" and the floor of our main floor and dying. It's been a gory week for Joe, who keeps pulling insulation from the ceiling and dodging dead rats as they come falling out. My office still smells like dead rat. My poor assistant, Lesa, is traumatized from having to work in such conditions. I'm sure she only stays for the glamorous perks of the job -- she gets to park under the tree outside and I bring her a Coke from upstairs whenever I remember to get one for her from the fridge. My hope is that the Great Rat Infestation of 2010 is subsiding now and that you don't think less of us at Casa Flamingo for it.}