Friday, August 31, 2012

It's What Makes My Man Tick

On Sunday I awoke to find a note in the kitchen from Steve explaining that he'd gone out to walk in the woods. He said he was scouting for turkey, but I think he was just in need of some breathing room.  While others reduce stress by hopping on a treadmill or meeting up with friends at a noisy club, Steve prefers solitude among the trees.  He grew up in a small town an hour outside Pittsburgh, called Scio (pronounced Sigh-O) Ohio where opening day for deer season is treated as a holiday and trapping provides supplemental income for many families.

After reading his note I craned my neck towards the front door and sighed when I noticed his new athletic shoes missing.  Dang it!  Why didn't he choose to wear one of his grubby pair instead? With his size 13, quadruple E width Fred Flintstone feet, finding shoes is never easy or cheap!  I said a little prayer that he walks where it's dry.

About 9:30 a.m. I received a call from him telling me he was on his way back home.

While eyeing more than three bottles of insect repellent in our linen closet I asked, "Did you by chance put on any bug spray?"

"No,  I forgot," he admitted.

"Seriously, what am I going to do with you?" I asked.

"Just love me is all," he replied.

"I love you, but not the bugs and ticks I'm certain have hitched a ride on your pant leg," I retorted.

Naturally, when Steve arrived home he showed me that his slacks had seed ticks all over them.  I made him undress in the basement and had him bag up his clothes before coming upstairs to shower. Though part of our wedding ceremony was in Hawaiian, I'm pretty sure our vows did not include "with ticks or without".  While wearing only a pair of boxers, he passed me on his way to the bathroom and slyly asked, "Wanna check me for ticks?  Or, I could check you?"

I believe what they say is true -- You can take the man out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the man...especially when he consistently forgets to wear insect repellent!

Brad Paisley performing his song, "Ticks"

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Blue Day

I was just 24 years old when we met.  I was single and had my own apartment in St. Louis' historic Dogtown area and wasn't so sure I wanted to share my one bedroom with anyone else. I'd left the Caribbean ship life with Carnival Cruise Lines the year before and was still adjusting to "The Office" life at the corporate headquarters of Charter Communications. However, my mom thought it was a good idea and after months of nagging, I finally conceded.

It was a crisp Saturday morning in November and I admit, I was a little nervous about the set-up.  When we arrived, mom and I were greeted by a team of specialists who grilled me about the step I was taking and put me through an intense interview.  Although I did not have any previous experience, I assured them that I would take the job seriously and was ready to becoming a cat owner.

As I peered through the cages, my eyes immediately zoned in on a cream tabby, who acted as if he were king of the joint.  He was sprawled out in the middle of the enclosure with his eyes half closed as an entourage of feline attendants primped and cleaned him.

"He's the one!" I pointed as I called my mom over.

While I filled out papers, the folks from the adoption center seemed a little bit worried that "Sunny" whom I later renamed Bailey, would be the only feline in my home.  Well, as it turned out, my new roomie did not do well living alone during the day time hours when I was at work.  Within a week I was calling the Cat Network to inquire whether they had another cat that would be a good match for mine.  The woman on the other line happily informed me that indeed they did...and he was Bailey's brother.  Apparently, the two boys had been found in a dumpster at just 3 or 4 days old.  They were flea and worm-ridden and in really bad shape.  A foster mom dropper-fed the scrawny two and took care of them until they were four months old.  I was eager to reunite the boys and that evening drove 45 minutes to St. Charles with Bailey in tow.  The foster mom let us in and the moment I opened Bailey's cage, Sunshine ran up to his brother and it was a Simba and Nala-like reunion with the two of them rolling and falling down over each other.

"Yep, I'll take him," I said.

I renamed "Sunshine" Tigger because he was an orange tabby and a little jumpy.  He bounded around the house like he had springs in his tail.

Over the next few months, my sleep was often interrupted because the two of them liked to begin their games of chase at 2 a.m. and their favorite spot to play was in the middle of my bed.  When I shared my woes of sleep deprivation with a vet, he only chuckled and said, "Cats are nocturnal and you have two!  They'll settle down eventually, but kittens have a lot of energy."  I tried phoning them at home several times a day in hopes that the telephone ringing would rouse them from their daytime cat napping and turn them into better night time sleepers.  No dice.

Each evening they greeted me at the door ready to be fed.  However, one night I returned home later than usual and the boys uncharacteristically did not welcome me at the door.  Instead, they lay dozing on the futon, seemingly content.  It wasn't until I turned on the light that I spied two, empty packets of cat food.  The pawtners-in-crime had somehow figured out how to get into the kitchen pantry and had climbed several shelves to reach the booty I thought I had stored so well.

The boys proved to be more dog-like than I would have thought possible.  While Tigger liked to play fetch with milk rings, Bailey would beg on command.  He was happy to raise up on his hind legs and wave his front paws over his head to earn a prize of a milk-dunked Cheerio. Both responded to my whistle and whether indoors or out, would come out of any hiding place to find me.

In the early years, the two kept me from freezing during the winter months of living in that decrepit apartment.  At bedtime, I'd whistle and the two would immediately jump on the bed and get into their respective places.  Tigger would head to the bottom of the bed and spend the night curled behind my legs while Bailey preferred to act as a furry hat atop my head.

They were inseparable.  During the day, my little bookends preferred to sleep among my thick bed of daylillies or worked in tandem to catch birds and rabbits.  Each night they crammed together to rest in a single laundry basket.

Three years ago we lost Bailey (also known as Heavy B because he tipped the scales at 18 lbs.) when a hawk attacked him in our own backyard.  It was a shock for all of us, especially Tigger.

Today, I had to say good-bye to Tigger, and it was so stinking tough.  He has been a constant in my life for 16 years...a furry companion who silently sat with me when I cried over a break-up or worried how I'd make rent.  He and Bailey were my "test babies" before Steve and brought home our own two from the hospital.  Tonight the house seems too quiet.  I already miss Tigger's extensive vocabulary of yowls and whines that only I seemed to be able to understand.

Rest in Peace Tiggie Wiggie.

Two weeks after I got them.

Bookend Buddies
August 27, 2012

A life lesson I wish they didn't have to learn.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Musings from Natalie #12

Natalie: "Do you know what my favorite part about church is?"
Me: "What?"
Natalie: "The snacks!...I guess I'm just a food person."

Me: "I've got an idea.  Why don't we go to Laumier Sculpture Park tomorrow."
Natalie: "No!  I hate looking at sculptures.  Every time when we go someplace that has sculptures, there are always naked people.  That's just disgusting!  I mean really?  Who wants to see naked butts! Gross!"

Thursday, August 23, 2012

I'd Rather Talk About Sex

A couple weeks ago I attended a visitation for my friend's father.  Upon returning home from the funeral parlor Noah told me, "Mom, if it get's dangerous I'll just be sure not to leave home without my lightsaber.  And, if I die I'll come back as a Jedi ghost and I'll have my lightsaber with me and I'll never die."

Death is not an easy subject for kids to grasp, but it's 100 times tougher for kids on the Autism spectrum.  While I want Noah to understand the permanence of death, in that moment, I held my tongue and discovered I'd rather talk to him about sex than mortality.

I was about Noah's age the first time I experienced the death of a loved one.  I lost my paternal grandparents in a span of six weeks.  And, although that was 30 years ago, tears still stream freely down my cheeks as I recall that time.  Grandma was just 67 years old and died after spending more than a month in I.C.U due to injuries she incurred from being hit by a car.  I still remember the night of the accident.  I didn't cry because that would have meant I'd given up on ever seeing her again.  Instead, upon learning she'd been hurt, I went to my room and got on my knees and began praying...though it was more like begging.  I pleaded for God to let her be OK.  I would do whatever He asked of me.  I would be good. I promised.  I may have even suggested that I'd be willing to become a nun if he would just allow her to live.

While my parents visited her regularly, I did not, as I was told children were not allowed in the I.C.U.  The next time I would see her would be in a casket. She passed away on January 31, 10th birthday.  I'd never seen a dead person before.  I looked at her sleeping face and concentrated hard on her waxy figure.  Struggling with the reality of the situation, my eyes began playing tricks on me.  I rushed up to my mom and whispered, "I think I just saw her chest move."

I was so sure there had been a mistake.  My mom looked into my worried face and gently explained that I only thought I saw her move because my grief was so great.  I wasn't convinced and went back to check on her again.  Months later, I shared how angry I was at not being able to see her in the hospital.  I believed that if I'd been given the chance to talk to her, that she would have fought harder.

During the time grandma was in the hospital, grandpa stayed with us. While grandma was boisterous and chatty and knew no strangers, grandpa was quiet, gentle and put a lot of thought into his words before he spoke.  He taught me to play checkers and how to make cracker and cheese towers.  He was also diabetic and had poor eye sight, balance and circulation.  But, his health, never stopped him from traveling the country with grandma via Bi-State.  That is, until her accident.  The longer she remained in the hospital, the less interested grandpa became in games and in consuming my creations of saltines and salami with Philly cream cheese.  I watched as my mother began tending to his leg sores more frequently.  Bathing his bruised, discolored feet in Epsom salts soon became a daily routine.

We had to wait a week to bury grandma because Mother Nature had recently dumped three and a half feet of snow onto an already frozen surface.   The day of her funeral I sat in a folding chair, shivering under a red and black plaid, fleece blanket with my parents and siblings next to me. The words of the clergyman were far away and hollow-sounding to my ears.  He didn't know grandma personally and to this day I can't recall a single word from his generic benediction. That afternoon at home, dad and grandpa began arguing.  It was a sight I'd never witnessed before.  What happened next, would forever be branded into my long term memory.  Dad had had enough talk and simply lifted his father in his arms and carried him to our family car.  Grandpa wept like a child and begged his son to let him stay while I obediently followed dad outside and numbly opened the passenger door for him.  After they left, mom explained that grandpa was very sick and needed to be in the hospital. His feet were dying.

At first, the doctors only removed a few toes, but within a couple of weeks, grandpa lost part of his leg.  We also learned that he had cancer.  Every Sunday my parents would take us to visit him.  My  sister and I spent most of our time in the rec room drawing pictures to cover up the sterile walls of grandpa's room.  Each time we returned, he seemed smaller and less connected to the here and now.  Mom explained that he was on heavy painkillers.  However, when we visited him on March 14th, he was alert and even joked with us.  For the first time in weeks, I felt hopeful that he would be back home with us very soon.  But, when I waggled my finger at grandpa for snatching a few shamrock-shaped cookies mom had brought for us to snack on, I heard, "Andrea, he can have a few.  It won't hurt him," said Mom.  Her permissive words didn't sit well with me and hinted at something grim to come. Grandpa died a few days later.  Though his death certificate states cancer as the cause of death, I believe he actually died from a broken heart.

Today, I am the same age my only-child dad was when he buried both of his parents.  I can't even begin to fathom the grief, he was left to shoulder. I struggle with how to explain death to my children in a way that is real, but also hopeful and provides comfort rather than an increase in anxiety and nightmares.  Also, who am I to tell Noah lightsabers aren't allowed in heaven.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Lost & Found

Saturday started out like most, Steve leaving for work at the crack of dawn and me left to wrangle the kids.  Though I'm grateful he has a, jobs to support us, sometimes I wonder if we'll ever get off this hamster wheel.  Rather than let the Cracker Jack Box-walls of our home close in on us, I decided to beat the blues by taking advantage of the milder temperatures and free admission Saturday at  "the beautiful gardens" as Natalie calls it...more commonly known as the Missouri Botanical Gardens.

Once inside the kids made a beeline for one of their favorite attractions, the Climatron.  The ball-like structure is home to thousands of tropical plants and features a learning center with plenty of things to touch and explore.  The theme at the center is always changing.  Currently it ties into the Chinese Lantern exhibit spread throughout the gardens.  Kids have the opportunity to dress in kimonos and prepare and serve stir-fry dishes in a pretend kitchen and restaurant complete with traditional serving ware, low tables and floor cushions.

Kimono Kid
Stir-fry Silliness
I invited the McCulla gang to join us.  I knew my hairdressing friend, Eraka would be working and that her hubby would need a way to keep their energetic, pint-sized posse entertained.  Not only that, but my kids would have more fun and "last longer" if they had friends with them.  Also, having Ryan with me is rather advantageous.  Not only does he provide an opportunity for adult conversation, but between the two of us, we can cover much more ground and keep better tabs on the kids at the Doris I. Schnuck Children's Garden.  Most importantly, since Ryan is nearly 7 feet tall, he can spot the kids more readily than anyone I know.

When we arrived I picked a central location and told the kids that if they should get lost, to head directly for this area.  Trouble is, kids never think they are lost. On the other hand, I made more trips to the "lost area" than I would have thought possible in one day, only to find myself alone among the trees.

At the end of our 4 hour, power play date, I found that if you are going to get's best to do it with friends.

Natalie and Ava cook up creations at
the General Store.

Noah uncovers fossils in the cave.
Alivia, Ross and Noah cross the ropewalk.
Madame Butterfly plays at
Pollination Garden.
Noah and Ross explore locks and dams.
Natalie and Alivia serve up lunch. 
The Treehouse

"Squirrel and Flower" puppet show.
Noah gives Alivia lessons in steering the steamboat.

The Get-along Gang

Sunday, August 19, 2012

I Know What You Mean #4

Natalie now has almost a week of kindergarten under her belt. And, although she is still excited about learning, she is frustrated by the process of writing her thoughts down on paper.  Yesterday she asked me to help her spell out the words for a note she was planning to send, but after painstakingly transcribing three words, she huffed, "This is so retiring!"

Hmmm...if that's what they mean by retiring.  I may work til I'm 102.

I think she may have meant that handwriting is tiring.  I couldn't agree more!

Dear God:

Thank you for computers and keyboards.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Musings from Natalie #11

Natalie: "Taking care of hamsters is such hard work.  I can't possibly feed all of them at the same time." (said while playing her Princess Zhu Zhu Pets video game)
Me: "Hmm...just think how hard it would be if they were real, live pets."
Natalie: "Yeah, do you know the worst thing about taking care of kids?"
Me: "What?"
Natalie: "The whining!"

Natalie: "Mom!  Look at those kids wearing costumes!" (pointing to a group exiting karate class)
Me: "Those aren't costumes.  They are wearing their uniform for karate class."
Natalie: "Oooh! Can I take karate class?"
Me: "I can look into it if you think you'd like it."
Natalie: "Oh yes!  Do you think you could get me a pink belt to wear with the uniform?"

Me: "It's time for you to get a shower."
Natalie: "But I only played outside for a little bit."
Steve: "Well, maybe you just need to take a little shower."
Natalie: "Daddy, you're pushing it."

Natalie: "What's a budget?"
Me: "It's figuring out how much you have to spend your money on."
Natalie: "How 'bout we figure out how to spend our money on a vacation."

"When I'm a Mom I'm going to have two girls.  I'll name one Candy and the other one Sparkle," shared Natalie.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

2nd Day Back to School Blues

I don't understand why parents get so worked up over the "First Day of School".  The first day is a piece of's the second day that can bite ya in the butt.

The morning of the first day both my kids were excited and had no problem getting dressed and ready for school.  They even let me take pictures of them together.  And, Noah walked into his classroom on his own while Natalie allowed me to show her where her room was located.

Upon reaching Natalie's room we discovered that there had been a bit of a mix-up in the office and some kids slated for P.M. kindergarten had shown up for the A.M. class, therefore, Natalie's first day of class included her and three boys.  She knew two of the three kids and was unfazed with being the only girl.  As I kissed her good-bye and turned to leave I heard her telling her teacher, "Do you have a project for me because I like projects."

(Good Luck, Mr. Rowe.  I know you have 40 years under your belt, but I think they broke the mold with this one.)

I met some girlfriends for a "boo-hoo you-who" lunch, but discovered I had no tears to shed.  I know entering elementary school is a big milestone, but for me it seemed like no big deal. Since Natalie is in a half day kindergarten program, my routine with her is not much different from the one we had while she attended preschool.  I still get to take morning walks with her and she remains my lunch buddy each day.

At the afternoon pick-up I found Natalie first.  She happily collided into my outstretched arms and then announced, "Kindergarten is AMAZING.  It was buckets of fun...100 million buckets of fun.  Mr. Rowe is very nice and his classroom is great!  We had drawing and computer time and P.E. and we learned about shapes and then we got to draw different shapes!"

On the other hand, when I caught up with Noah, the only thing he shared about his day was, "I don't have homework today, but Miss Whiteley says I'll have some tomorrow."

When I spoke to Noah's teacher she said he had a great day and did really well.  I wasn't surprised that he'd had a good first day...because I knew what was coming.  A kid like Noah who craves routines and sameness is a fragile vessel.  He is used to "holding it together" for a little while.  I knew from experience that by evening, all his bottled up anxiety would be ready to blow like Mt. St. Helen's.  By bedtime, Noah had already had several meltdowns and crying jags.  While I tucked him in he shared, "I just don't want things to change. I miss 2nd grade and Mrs. Raymond."

"I know you do, but Miss Whiteley is a very nice teacher.  You are going to love being in her class and she told me that she is very happy to have you as one of her students," I explained.

He responded by allowing all of his pent up worries to come tumbling out.  He was upset that the order of his classes was different from last year and he worried that he wouldn't have any friends to play with at recess.  Finally, he agonized over the kind of homework he would be bringing home the next day.  Somehow, I got him settled down enough that he eventually drifted off to sleep.

Unfortunately, sleep did little to reduce his anxiety for tackling the second day of school.  And, when he's anxious, he will go out of his way to pick a fight with me...even when I agree with him.  For instance, after he'd finished his breakfast he spied the jar of Nutella on the counter and said he would like to have some.  I told him I would be happy to pack him a peanut-butter Nutella sandwich in his lunch, to which he argued, "But I can't because Miss Whiteley said we need to eat healthy things and motsella is not healthy."

"Noah, Nutella is just fine in small amounts.  You can have some," I replied.
"No, I can't!" he insisted.
"Noah, who am I?" I asked
"My mom," he replied.
"Ok, and I'm telling you that it's ok for you to have Nutella," I said.
"But, it's's not healthy," he belabored.
(Blashemy! I thought)
"Well, sometimes you eat potato chips.  Are those healthy?" I challenged.
(Pow! Potato Chips! I knew that was hitting him below the belt.)

He had no comeback and silently conceded. One to go.

Natalie and I spent the morning walking to the park and collecting rocks and acorns.  We had lunch together and soon it was time for her to head to school.  I was ready...kindergarten really is no big deal.  That is, until she told me that she knew where her classroom was now and wanted me to just drop her off in front of the school.

"What?..drop you off?" I don't know that I'm ready for that," I shared.
"Well, I am," she insisted.
"Ok," I agreed.

As we pulled into the school circle drive, my heart sank as I realized kindergarten may not be the easiest pill to swallow.  However, when I brought the car to a stop, Natalie announced, "Actually Mr. Rowe doesn't allow his students to be alone.  So, you are going to have to come in and drop me off inside."

"Ok!" I cheered.
Phew, I made it.  Now, if I can just get through the 3rd day...

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Tooth Fairy Ache

As a Mom I'm used to juggling many hats...from short order cook, gardener and maid to taxi driver and occasionally, pest exterminator.  But, last night my timing was off and I forgot to put on my tooth fairy crown.  This morning I awakened to, "Mahh-mee look," said Natalie, as she held out her special tooth fairy box to me which still contained her precious pearl she had so excitedly placed in it the night before.

"Why didn't she come?" she asked while her big blue eyes searched mine for an answer.

My heart sunk.

Dang it.  I forgot...again.

I admit it.  Of all the hats I wear, I seem to misplace this one with incredible frequency.  As a result, I've paid the price both with my wallet and in coming up with creative excuses for why the tooth fairy is often untimely with her deliveries.

So, while the kids got dressed and ready for church, I set "Operation Tooth Fairy Do Over" in motion. I found a nice crunchy, maple leaf on our lawn and went to work crafting a message from the forgetful little sprite.  When it was time to leave, I sent the kids out first and then I dashed back into the house to set the stage.

"Dear Natalie I'm sorry I'm late!  Got lost.  Then, my wings got caught in a spider web."   
Three down...only 17 more to go!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Trifextra Writing Challenge - Wk. 28

The following piece is written in response to Trifecta's weekend writing challenge.  In 33 words (no more, no less) write about three different uses for one object.

Death By Chocolate Cake

The moist, decadent dessert lies cooling on the counter. 
A nutty, caramelized sugar confection nestled between layers of fudgy cake with just a splash of java.
A peace offering
A diet destroyer

Musings from Natalie #10

Natalie: "Mom, can I have another brownie?"
Me: "No, you've had enough."
Natalie: "'ll be famous."

Natalie: "If I didn't have a brover then I could play the Wii ALL DAY."
Me: "But, there are things you'd miss out on if you didn't have a brother."
Natalie: "Yeah, like I wouldn't have anyone to argue with."

"Which is sweeter?  Me or chocolate?" she asked.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Deep Thoughts From Noah #2

Natalie: "Why don't you like lettuce Noah?"
Noah: "Because they are just weeds."

"No, I didn't say anything and I said nothing," said Noah.

"I like everything...except the stuff I don't like," shared Noah.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Left Out in the Cold

For the past six days I've not only been under the weather...I've been over, around and dragged through it.  During this time a frog has taken up residence in my throat with no plans to leave and Kleenex has been holding my nose hostage for far too long.  Though sleep has been elusive for me, I'm thankful my family's slumber has not been affected by my foghorn blows. 

However, I’m concerned that while I’ve been functioning in a head-cold daze, my kids have been betraying me by growing faster than should be allowed.  For instance, today my cell phone rang, but the call wasn’t for me.  The chipmunk-pitched female on the other line was interested in talking to Noah. 

(Huh? What’d I miss?  I must be in some sort of Twilight Zone.)

Numbly I called to Noah to tell him he had a phone call.

(But, he NEVER gets phone calls…much less from a girl.)

“Noah, it’s Alayna,” I said.

“Alayna? Oh, ok,” he responded nonchalantly.  Then he turned on his heel and closed his bedroom door while he spoke into the phone, “Hey Alayna.  How are you doing?”

I was floored.  What? No mention of Star Wars or launching into a monologue about how he just earned General Grievous while playing Star Wars The Complete Saga on the Wii?  Who is this kid?

As I held completely still with my ear bent toward the door I heard, “Yeah, so yesterday I went to Evan’s birthday party…you know, Evan from school?”  

My eyes began to well up and I bit down on the inside of my cheek for fear I’d start sobbing and therefore betray my location. 

“So, are you ready for school?  I just got these cool new shoes!” he shared.

(Hmmm…you mean the ones that started a meltdown in Kohl’s because they didn’t light up and weren’t in your favorite color?)

While I continued to eavesdrop on my 9 year old casanova, I heard, “So, tell Tatiana I said hi, too."

Later, when I shared Noah’s phone call with my mom, I told her how I couldn’t believe how appropriate and different he sounded with her.  My mom just laughed and said, “That’s because he’s not in love with you.”

What?!  He’s 9.  He doesn’t get to be in love with anything but bacon and his mother’s homemade banana chocolate chip muffins..

“That kid is going to be just fine.  He will find his way,” my mom continued.

Yeah, but what about me?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Musings from Natalie #9

Natalie's friend invited her to Yucandu (pronounced You-Can-Do), an arts & crafts studio, offering paint, mosaic and collage projects.  Here's the wooden coat rack she embellished...complete with a feather on top.  I think it belongs at the eccentric Venice Cafe on Pestalozzi Street.

"Hey, Mom!  My Phinneas and Ferb band-aid matches my outfit," cheered Natalie.

"Mom, can I be treated like a queen?," inquired Natalie.

Natalie: "Mom, why are her cheeks so wrinkly?"
Me: "Because she is very old."
Natalie: "Mom, can you talk to God and tell him not to make wrinkly cheeks?"
(Hmmm...I don't think there is a woman alive who hasn't offered up that prayer already.)

"Look, Mom!  I'm Saturn!" exclaimed Natalie