Freaky Family

January Blahg

By Lise Marinelli

Craig

My husband – back in the day. His favorite number (guess) comes from two Cleveland (Calves and Browns) draft picks in the ‘70’s.

Today I feel like complaining.  You might be wondering how this day is any different and, actually . . . it’s not.  Even my complaint is recycled, but it’s a fan favorite and one that never grows old.  At least for me.

Before I get started, I must preface my grievance with a simple statement that, in fact, I like one of the two subjects I am about to criticize.  You might even go so far as to say I love my husband – he is an extremely affable chap.  The other, *sports, is a horse of a different Cinderella story.  Maybe it’s because I live with three males and grew up as a coach’s daughter, but I find my tolerance level for locker room talk has waned. *The term “sports” includes, but is not limited to: sport’s teams, sporting events, sporting arenas, players of sports, commentators of sports, spectators of sports, TV and radio shows regarding the aforementioned, etc.

When I put sports and my husband, Craig, together, I get a headache a mile long.  We have left weddings early (our own) in order to watch a basketball playoff game.  I labored my third birth in front of a hospital TV watching a baseball game (for kicks, I just asked my husband what game: Red Sox at Yankee Stadium, October 14, 1999 – Sox lost). He has a photographic memory when it comes to stats and for some reason he thinks I am as interested in how many touchdown passes that Peyton Manning threw in a single NFL season as he is.  I’m not. (55 BTW)

His bucket-list is comprised solely of having “his” Cleveland team win some big title, playoff games he wants to attend, players he would like to shoot a round of golf with and historical plays, that if granted the power, he would change.  When I once questioned him about a 1985 boxing match he was re-watching on ESPN Classic, mentioning that he already knew the outcome, he replied proudly, “Even better, I was there.”

When I first met Craig and declared that I didn’t watch much TV, he claimed the same. It wasn’t until our first holiday together when I received a new color TV and cable, that I found this not to be the case. He fessed up and shared that there had been more than one Sunday when his day started at 7:30 am and lasted until midnight watching pre, post and who-gives-a-rat’s foot, ball related programs.

Even though I am not a big fan of any game (though I play a mean game of PIG), I know how much these games mean to my husband.  And now, how much they mean to me – the biggest bonus of having two boys with a fanatic is (say it with me, ladies) my free time. This year’s birthday gift to Craig was a weekend in front of the TV watching football playoffs.  Between lunching with girlfriends, shopping with my daughter and a bedroom TV all to myself, it was his best birthday ever,

Dad

My dad, Larry, and step-mom, Janet, in December.

Some say I married my father, a star athlete in high school, college and even the minor leagues, who, at 77, still ref’s high school basketball. There is no sport he is not proficient at and excels at most  – from golf to tennis and everything in between. But more importantly, he set an example of being a good-sport to his children, as well as the many young athletes he picked up and dusted off along the way.

I will admit to enjoying a great ball game every now and then – that kind of excitement invokes the nostalgia from a time long-gone.  As a child, I remember falling asleep to the unmistakable radio voice of the Detroit Tigers, Ernie Harwell, as he called the game. And from my dad, as he coached the Tigers in the dark, from our living room couch.

 

                 

Bear with me, folks . . .

By Lise Marinelli

I am a lover not a fighter.  Even though I don’t always love what I don’t always fight. To explain myself, I am referring to fighting a bear.  I do not love bears and I do not want to fight them – much to my mother’s chagrin.

There is a story behind this rambling mess and it begins this past summer in the small, idyllic lakeshore town of Frankfort, Michigan.  My mother and step-father, Pete, have retired there and a summer visit is a must, though my sisters and I like to double up as it is easier to do battle with my mother when it’s two against one.

One of the highlights of Frankfort, besides the Dairy Freeze, is biking along a beautiful path that runs inland from Lake Michigan and my sisters and I are no strangers to this pleasurable ride. But choosing between my parent’s only two bikes is a lose-lose situation.  For this particular ride, I won the throw-down and chose the men’s ten-speed from 1979 with a seat so high so that my feet left the peddle every time the wheel turned.  First gear was the only gear in my sister Becky’s bike and to watch her peddle ferociously like a mad circus clown was definitely the gift that kept on giving.  But neither handicap was a showstopper – see, in my family, we consider it a personal challenge to overcome the most inane and ridiculous obstacles.  To break down and buy new bikes would be admitting defeat.  Some call it stubborn; we call it winning, just like Charlie.

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Idyllic Frankfort, Michigan – where, apparently, only the good die young.

So, we’re halfway through the ride, enjoying the incredible scenery and, because I am a multi-tasker, I was talking on the phone.  I did notice a couple approaching us riding extremely close together and it was only after my sister said, “Holy shiznet,” that I realized that the close-knit twosome looming ahead was actually a large black bear.

We cautiously slowed our bikes and Becky and I stared at the impressive beast, trying to put the surreal scene in perspective.  He was on all fours, maybe 250 lbs, and stood in the middle of the bike path about 20 yards out. Now, I wasn’t sure how fast bears can run, but I had a feeling it was faster than I could peddle and certainly faster than Becky could. The gravity of the situation swept over me – I knew it could go either way and I am not ashamed to say I was scared shiznetless.

“Becky,” I whispered, never taking my eyes off the bear, “turn back.”  I didn’t have to tell her twice – she whipped that clown bike around like a professional from the X Games and took off like a slow bat outta hell.

I, on the other hand, couldn’t get my feet on the peddles. I fumbled and stumbled and dropped my phone.  Because of the high bar across the bike, I couldn’t easily lean over and when I tried, the large bike fell to a 45 degree slant. I knew if I didn’t get my shiznet together soon I might soon be dead.  Or at least playing dead.

bear 2

This guy can run up to 30 mph. The good news is he has no endurance! The bad news is I don’t either.

I took a deep breath, got up and turned the bike around, jumped on as elegantly as a middle-aged woman can and rode off, never looking back.  Becky was 10 yards ahead, but as she heard me huffing and puffing to catch up turned her head around and called out, “Did you get a picture?”

I, unfortunately, did not.  Oddly enough, it had occurred to me, but in my haste to make a speedy exit, the time to snap a photo escaped me. As I was later explaining this to my mother, she announced, “Well, you could have easily done it.  Black bears are a dime a dozen around here. They’re very friendly, more of a pest actually. If you want them to  move, you just shoo them away.”  And then, like a cheerleader at a pep rally, she clapped her hands out in front of her and chanted, “Shoo, Suey. Shoo, shoo.”

Becky and I looked at each other with that familiar “okay, she’s nuts” face.  “First of all, Mother,” I began, “We don’t know if was it was a ‘he.’  It could have been an angry female protecting her cubs. Secondly, why would I want to poke a bear? It’s not like I need to prove to him how tough I am.  I admit it – a bear is tougher. In a fight he would definitely win.”

“And isn’t ‘Suey’ a pig?’ my sister added.

“You girls are making a mountain out of a mole hill. Make a little noise,” she clicked her teeth as one might do to call a cat, “they just run off. They’re scared of people, you know.”

“He didn’t look scared to me,” Becky offered, then added, “Have you ever seen a bear?”

“A thousand times.”

“Really, Mom? When?” I asked.

“I don’t remember, but I know I have.” She looked around for my step-father and then screamed, “PETE! PETE! When was the last time we saw a bear?”

“Never saw a bear, Claudia,” Pete answered from somewhere in the house.

“Well, he’s wrong.  I know we have. Hmm . . . unless I’m thinking of a bobcat.” She adjusted her glasses. “All I’m saying is you had nothing to worry about. They’re harmless.”

Not two weeks later my mother, the fearless seventy-two-year old bear hunter, sent an article about a young girl that had been mauled by a black bear, 50 miles from where Becky and I were riding.  Thank goodness the teenager was okay – apparently you can fight a bear and win.

 

Better late than pregnant

 

For those who have not experienced the thrill of a vasectomy a frozen bag of peas are a great comfort.  And you don't eat them.

For those of you who have not experienced the thrill of a vasectomy, a frozen bag of peas is a great comfort. And you don’t eat them.

As awesome as it might seem, expecting another baby, my fifth, at age 52, does not excite me.  In so many ways it does not excite me.  And, I know for a fact, it would not excite my husband, as we purchased and used that bag of frozen peas a number of years ago.

But in the haste of getting my last blog published (it was 2 years late), I mistakenly gave folks the impression we were anticipating another hellion. I, of course, did not realize this, until my ears exploded as people quietly discussed my state of mind behind my back, then called my parents to share their disbelief. Now, I blame them not. I, too, would question anyone’s sanity who thought getting pregnant in the throes of middle-age would be fun.

It’s not that I don’t care much for children. I like other people’s just fine – it’s mine I have an issue with. They’re a lot of work. Maybe I’m just tired – I’m going into my 33rd year of motherhood and have another six years before the last one heads out to college, the army, or prison. At that time I will have had children in my house for almost forty years.

But once again, I digress.  Let’s see . . . tired, crazy, old . . . oh yeah, my parents. So, after my blog faux pas, I get an email from my mother that says, “Ha, ha ha!!!”  Then she sends a shout out on social media that I am going to be the oldest woman alive to give birth, which is totally not true.

pregnant

Rajo Devi is the oldest woman on record to give birth – she was 70. Now that’s just plain fun!

Then my dad called. “Honey,” he said nervously clearing his throat. “I just had dinner with Aunt Carol and,” he cleared his throat again, “well, this is a little delicate, but we think you’re just plain idiotic and a raving lunatic to have another baby. But we’ll support you, no matter what,” he added. “Just not financially,” he whispered.

I tried to explain to both of my parents that my blog about having a December baby is a subtle way to let people know that my new book (Merry Birthday plug) is now published and available on Amazon and at Barnes&Noble.com (Merry Birthday plug).

“Well, that’s just silly,” my mother snorted. “Why don’t you just come out and say it?”

“Social media doesn’t work that way – you need to establish relationships.” I told her. But trying to explain today’s marketing technology to the elderly (Ha ha ha) is never easy. “It’s like asking someone you just met to be your husband.”

“It worked for me,” my mother said, before covering the mouthpiece and screaming, “PETE! THE TOILET’S PLUGGED AGAIN!”

She has a point.  And she has been known to think she’s always right, so here goes.

My new book, Merry Birthday (Windy City Publishers, 2013) is now for sale.  It’s a children’s picture book about a young boy who has a late December birthday and is frustrated when his special day gets lost in the holiday shuffle. It has great pictures and is lots of fun to read.  I think you should buy it, because, not only will you enjoy it, but it will make me feel good about myself and I have notoriously low self-esteem. It’s really a win – win for everyone.

Not so Merry Birthday

Having a baby around the holidays – what was I thinking? Obviously, I wasn’t.  Either with the planning or the execution, but there’s no walking that cat backwards.  I’m stuck with a late December kid.  On top of that, I have a husband with an early January birthday.

Craig and baby Sam.  My Merry Birthday boys!

Craig and baby Sam (circa 2000). My Merry Birthday boys!

It’s not hard to hear that collective groan – I realize I’m not alone.  Because I’m good at math, I know that approximately 1/12 of the population has a birthday that falls somewhere near Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, New Year’s Eve or one of the other 28 “winter festivals” (seriously – check Wikipedia). Everyone knows someone who has a holiday birthday.

But like many of you resourceful folks, I have a found a few ways around the extra work these birthdays bring.  Thoughts to share:

A little scary but kids like this kind of stuff.

A little scary but kids like this kind of stuff.

January birthdays are a great way to recycle unwanted holiday gifts.  Don’t care much for the moose-shaped oven mitt from your crazy sister-in-law?  Fill it with candy and give it to your kid.  How about that dashboard Jesus that was all-the-rage a couple years ago?  Pass it on to your pastor/priest/rabbi as a reminder that someone else had a birthday at Christmastime. 

Work the “combo gift” angle. Get the 8-pack of batteries and tell your daughter you upgraded from the 4-pack and it’s for both her birthday and Christmas. Same idea for your mother, buy the broom and dustpan – killing two turtle doves with one stone.

Old holiday cards work great for new birthday cards.  Just scratch out the “Peace” before . . . on Earth and replace it with “You are.”

This looks like a regular fat-old bird to me.  I don't get the "turtle" part.

This looks like a regular fat-old bird to me. I don’t get the “turtle” part.

If worse comes to worser, you can always claim that, in the midst of the holiday craze, you simply forgot the birthday and will celebrate in the near future when things settle down and you can catch your breath.  Usually the birthday girl/guy feels guilty accepting a promise from such a busy person.  Besides, it seems rude to remind someone they owe you a gift.

Now, I must mention in the vein of fairness and because my husband can be a crybaby, that there is another option.  You could possibly go out of your way to make the holiday/birthday person feel special.  Don’t re-gift.  Don’t use holiday paper instead of birthday paper.  Spend the extra $3.00 for a birthday card and make a concerted effort to make the day about the birthday and not the holiday. This does take some time and planning but as someone very close to me reminded me in a whiny voice, these are the people you love.

As with many decisions, it’s not always clear what the right choice is.  If you’re not sure how to handle this somewhat delicate issue, I feel it’s perfectly acceptable to flip a coin or roll the dice.  And if push comes to shove, you can always say Merry Birthday and call it a day.

 Lise Marinelli – author of Merry Birthday (Windy City Publishers, 2013)

 

Why some animals eat their young

I’ve been accused of many things in my life.  Like not knowing (what I consider) my ”asset” from a hole in the ground.  Or being a pain in the asset.   Or having my head stuck up in that same asset.  But one thing I have never been accused of having is a small asset.

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Good, clean living, my friends.

I come from a long line of “healthy” women and men.  Not particularly large – just . . . healthy.  We enjoy growing food, cooking food and eating food.  There are a few select deviants, but generally speaking, the members in my family are of a sturdy pioneer stock, ready to march across a mountain if a good meal is involved.

I didn’t see this coming

As luck would have it, one of the deviants happens to be a direct descendant of mine, my 10-year old son, Sam. He started out as one of us – he was a healthy 7 ½ pounds at birth and, at six-months he tipped the scales at 25 lbs.  But by his 2nd birthday, I could see that he was unusual, that he wasn’t progressing in the “normal way.”  I, like many parents who sense a peculiarity in their child’s behaviors, was afraid to admit my baby was different.

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Here's my little butterball!

For example, Sam had an odd habit of putting his fork down when he was full.  I have witnessed this behavior in others, but never in one so close to me.  No matter how much I tempted him with extra helpings, he seemed content with a reasonable portion.  More times than not, Sam was persona non grata in the “clean plate club.”

Another red flag – Sam ate his meat and vegetables first.  Often times, the breads and the potatoes were left on the plate with Sam’s complaints that he was “too full to finish.”  Not only were they left on the plate, but there were actually times when Sam asked for a second helping of meat before he finished his au grats or garlic bread. 

 The “Talk”

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It's a tough road, best of luck. gang.

In addition, Sam has a lot of energy.  He can jump high, run fast and is one of those kids who can vault himself into a convertible with little or no effort.  Lately, he has taken to working out and is convinced that I need to do the same.  He came into my room last night as I was engrossed in The Biggest Loser and asked if he could speak to me about something serious.

“Of course, honey,” I said.  I set my bowl of ice cream down, put the TV on mute and sat up. I do feel it’s important to give the impression that you are listening to your child.

“I thought it would be good if you started an exercise program.”  Sam coughed nervously and produced a clip board from behind his back.  “I wrote down some things like sit ups and leg lifts that you can do and I can help you.”

Sam, with his little washboard tummy, looked so cute standing there that I just wanted to eat him up.    “That is so sweet, Sam.  I would love to work out with you.”  I glanced at my program on the tube – they were nearing the weigh-in.  “Can we start in the morning?”

“Sure, how about 8:00?”

“I’ll be ready, I promise,” I replied as I turned the volume back up.  “Now be a good boy and go get mommy a soda to wash down her ice cream?”

As he was leaving, I couldn’t help but think how lucky I was to have such a thoughtful child.  I felt differently though when at 8:00 the next morning, as I was reading the paper and enjoying a carmel latte and double-chocolate biscotti, he showed up with that ridiculous clip board.

Not Sam's first choice . . . very strange indeed.

Not Sam's first choice . . . very strange indeed.

“Are you ready?” he asked.

“Are you serious?” I replied. 

“You said you would.  I have a whole program for you, 1000 sit-ups, 500 push-ups and some basic cardio.”  He looked pretty determined. “You promised.”

“But, I didn’t pinky promise,” I countered.  This was a sure fire way to get out of the standard promise contract.

Sam looked so disappointed that a tinge of guilt set in and I began to reevaluate my pinky promise response.  Would it really kill me to do 1000 sit-ups?  After all, he was making the effort, the least I could do was try, right?  I knew Dr. Phil would think it was the right thing to do.

No pain, no gain

Lise Body builder - Copy

It's amazing what a few sit-ups and some basic cardio can do.

So, I did and we made it thru 82 sit-ups and 19 girl push-ups – not so bad for the first day. He made me sign-off on the workout and we agreed (not promised) to implement a workout program in the near future.  My schedule has been such that I have not had the opportunity to start the plan, but I can honestly say that it is on my list of things to do.

The whole Sam thing, with the eating and the exercise, did come to a head and I know there comes a time when a parent is forced to face facts and confront the situation.   Inevitably, this leads to discussions between husband and wife and inevitably, secrets come out. 

It was during one of these sessions that Craig, my husband, admitted to me that he too had been a thin child with a lot of energy.  Nothing could have surprised me more.  I had always assumed he was like me and my family as I have seen him eat a large deep-dish pizza in a matter of minutes and then work his way through a super-sized tin-roof sundae with never so much as a stomach ache or chronic diarrhea.

The good news is that we have worked through our issues.  We have accepted Sam for who he is and I have forgiven my husband for his deception and all in all, we are on the path to recovery.  We just need to remember to stop along the way to enjoy a little chocolate now and then.

Catching the Crazy Train

The Essential Ozzy Osbourne album cover

 

 

 

 

This is Ozzy - not my grandfather!

I’m on vacation (again!).  This is a posting of one of my favorite blogs.

My maternal grandfather was a thief.  And he was proud of it.  He boasted, to anyone would listen, of all that he had pilfered from the navy during World War II. 

After his death, we found a large sextant still in its original packaging, a silver sugar and creamer set from the Officer’s Club, a pair of binoculars, and a life raft from a ship that he wasn’t even on.  He had no compunction of stealing the paper from his neighbor and it was not unusual for my grandmother to have to supply a new one to the angry fellow next door.

Although he married my grandmother, a well-to-do only child, he was extremely tightfisted and shopped at the local Salvation Army, stuffing all he could into a brown bag for 25 cents.  I remember as a child, him offering to spring for my own 25 cent shopping bag, and how excited I was to pick out whatever I wanted. 

He had closets of old clothes, none of which really fit but he knew exactly what was there.  He didn’t mind stealing, but he was extremely angry if he thought anyone was stealing from him.  We were always were grilled as we left the house after a visit, sometimes even emptying out our pockets to prove we were “clean.”

“the Old Man”

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the "Old Man" at age 87

Anyone who knew him called him “the Old Man,” and he had a reputation of being belligerent, cunning and lithe.  At eighty-five years of age, we witnessed him riding across the yard on a unicycle.  When he was a mere eighty, he set himself up a small sled he had made from a bucket on a skateboard and took it down their steep driveway.  To this day, my husband tells the story of “the Old Man” jumping up on a counter to change a ceiling light bulb with more dexterity than a twelve-year old.  He had the nimble physique of a monkey and I can only imagine what he was like as a young man.

He held grudges, even with children, as though there was a secret covenant to try to trick him or put one over on him.  He once accused my, then, fourteen year-old son of stealing a moth-eaten fedora from him and until the day he died he referred to Marcus as sneaky.  If he took a dislike to you, he had neither the manners nor the inclination to hide his feelings.

He treated his only daughter terribly and told her to her face that he wished she had been born a boy.  He took to calling her “Myque” (Mike), a nickname that stuck, and it wasn’t until I was a teen, I realized my mother’s name was really Claudia.

He was a devout atheist and a staunch democrat and considered anyone who dared to disagree with him an idiot.  He also had an eye for a pretty girl and there was more than once that I heard my grandmother complaining of his many girlfriends that would phone the house.  And he always took the call.

Frank and beans, anyone?

The first time my husband met “the Old Man” was during a holiday dinner at my mothers.  My grandfather showed up in the middle of winter in loose nylon running shorts from the seventies (the really short kind), penny loafers, and a tattered sleeveless gray wool vest.  He pulled a bar stool up to the table and sat higher than the rest of us, leaning over to eat.  He chose not to wear underwear that day and shared his own pride and joy with anyone who had the courage to look. 

He startled everyone by announcing in a loud angry voice “Who the hell took my goddamned fork?”  He repeated it again until someone offered to get him a new one.  Needless to say, my husband was speechless and I had to assure him that the family secret was that I was adopted.

He was a very odd man and I didn’t like him very much – he scared me.  He died when he was eight-nine, his skin stretched so thin you could see the numerous tumors that filled his stomach. My grandfather dictated that he wanted to be cremated and requested no funeral or memorial service.  So there was no closure in any way, for anyone.  He just disappeared.

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Children of the Corn

Little Max and Sam are a bit of a challenge.  Now, I know boys will be boys, but our sweet angels have been known to push the envelope and our biggest challenge is to figure out which household items can be easily converted to weapons.

I’m not talking obvious – sure knives and scissors are considered dangerous by some.  But it’s the every-day candle or can of soup that can throw a parent off.   Did you realize that a dismantled Lego, when thrown with the right velocity and at the perfect angle, can take out a tooth?  Who knew?

Who’s the Boss?

But Craig and I are responsible parents and after a long debate with Max, and to his bitter disappointment, we have decided firearms are off-limits, though the jury’s still out on explosives.  I’m not saying that giving a shot-gun to an angry nine year-old with a vendetta is a bad choice, it’s just our choice.
 
Besides, who needs weapons when good old-fashioned hand-to-hand combat can be just as effective?  And the bonus is it can be done anywhere.   My little guys love to fight at parties, at weddings, on the bus (a favorite), at concerts and movies – really, in just about any public venue you can think of (I think it’s the excitement of having a captive audience).   Why, just the other day I broke up an all-out brawl in the meat department at Costco.  And I only became involved when the manager had the nerve to ask us to leave.

Just another day. . .

Just another day. . .

The best thing about the physical abusive Max and Sam inflict on each other is the colorful language that accompanies the beatings.  For an eight and nine year-old, I’ll admit that  they  have a fairly sophisticated vocabulary. 

Though it’s kind of funny, and I don’t know how  they  got it mixed up, but  both my boys are under the  impression that  the phrase is “damn-god” not the other way around (as in “I’m going to knock his damn-god head off”).  How cute is that?

Now Max is my strategic planner.  Even when he was two, he knew exactly when to push his just-walking one year-old brother down the steps.  He picked on Sam brutally until we showed Sam how effective biting can be.  That seemed to even the playing board a bit.

It’s hard to squelch Sam’s fierce determination to retaliate after an unfair business practice by his brother.  I’m totally astonished at how long he can sit-in-wait for the perfect opportunity to kick Max in the groin.  I have seen him hold out for days before he finds just the right moment.  You have to admit it’s a virtue, that kind of patience.

Weapons training for children – are they ever too young?

Sam is considered by some, an expert in managing the staff, or spear as we sometimes refer to it.  Our “Sweetie-peetie-pumpkin-pie-Sammer” (my pet name!) is becoming so adept at handling this unique weapon, I’m thinking he could be a contender for the javelin in the 2016 Olympics.  Last week I found him working diligently to remove the handle base from my house broom.
 
“There!” he cried as he stood and began twirling.  That five-foot broom handle was turning so fast it was making my head spin.
 
“Light the ends on fire,” he shouted.

“That seems awfully dangerous,” I yelled back through the wind tunnel.  “Can’t we just tape some knives on the end?”

“I want the fire!” he screamed, tossing the stick high into the air.  It landed on the roof, between the rake and Craig’s new putter.

Breakin' the law, breakin' the law

Breakin' the law, breakin' the law

We try not to get involved as we have been advised by the “kid whisperer” that it’s best if children learn to negotiate and solve their own problems without the aid of an adult.  This strategy does tend to throw people off as it can appear that the parent is ignoring the children’s bickering.  This was definitely the case last summer when my good friend, Stacie, came to visit and we took the boys to the beach.

All was going well until Max looked at Sam and smiled.  Apparently it was the “ha ha” smile and Sam wasn’t having any.  I paid no attention to the threats of drowning or even the slaps that turned to punches.  I turned a blind eye to the handfuls of sand that blew our way and only when a rock almost hit Stacie, did I step in and advise her to move her chair.
 
Of course, I explained our strategy and the theory behind it.

“How’s that working out for you?” she asked, in somewhat of a snotty tone (I thought).  But she doesn’t have children so she hasn’t a clue as to what she’s talking about.

Good help is hard to find

It has been difficult to hold on to sitters.  There has been more than one teenager that has gone home in tears and never returned.  We’re lucky that our current adult sitter, Maria, is an admitted masochist and enjoys the “suffering” the boys impose on her.  Though, she was a teensy upset when they locked her in the basement for an hour when they were just three and four.  Of course, now it’s a favorite story and almost always gets a laugh at social gatherings.  And, Maria’s eye tick has finally disappeared so it’s a win- win for everyone.

I know what you’re thinking and believe me, I feel the same way. . . it’s pretty obvious that the boys get their temperament from my husband and his side of the family.  He has admitted as much to me in our family therapy sessions.  Craig grew up the oldest of three boys, all two years apart, and there was more than one wall in their house that took an undeserved punch.
  
But those were the days when children didn’t feel comfortable expressing themselves in front of the adults that could spank them.  We don’t believe in corporal punishment (before nine in the morning), so we are forced to be much more creative.  Bribing and begging almost always seem to do the trick.

Click the picture to watch a short vidio of my talented children

Click the picture to watch a short video of my talented children

Tanner and Me (he’s no Marley)

“Mom. . . Tanner pooped in the laundry room.”  Max shook me gently as I opened my eyes and squinted at the clock.  Six am.  “It’s diarrhea,” he added. 

Isn't our wittle Tanner just the sweetest wittle baby!

Isn't our wittle Tanner just the sweetest wittle baby!

I looked over at Craig who was holding his hand over his mouth and gagging.  I shook my head in disgust and  wondered how he would feel if I told him Tanner used his toilet as a water dish.  Some things are better left unsaid.

We weren’t looking to get a dog.  Craig and I had decided long ago we were not “dog” people (we weren’t even sure we were “children” people).  So you can imagine my confusion when three years ago, an unknown man called and told me he’d received a message from me about adopting his dog.
 
“I didn’t leave you a message.” I explained.

“Someone named Gracie emailed me that she was interested in adopting a dog.” 

“She did, did she.  Hold for a moment, please.”  I put my hand over the phone and screamed in that crazed-mother voice that  Kate Gosselin  would appreciate.  “Gracie!  Get down here!”

Why some animals eat their young

My daughter had always wanted a pet and apparently the thirteen year-old cat she’d had for two months didn’t count.  Come to find out, behind my back my only girl had been emailing shelters all over the Chicago area just to “ask” about the dogs available for adoption.
 
“If you don’t take him we’ll have to put him down,” the very bad man threatened. He had shown up at our house, Tanner by his side.  “We’re moving to Europe tomorrow and he can’t come.”

I thought the circumstances somewhat suspect, but that red flag got lost in the desperate cries to save him and the whispers that good mothers do allow their children pets.  I was also going through a vulnerable phase in my life (the “Protein Diet”) and by instinct, my children found the crack in my armor and exploited my weakness.

Chow? Shepherd? Mutt???

Tanner was an interesting looking dog.  He had the face and upper body of a Shepherd, and the tail, tongue and coat of a Chow.  He was colored as his name suggested, and his owner must have warned him of his future because he sat there obediently as though he knew of the consequences if he didn’t.
  
I questioned him up and down about Tanner’s manners, his temperament, and his ability to use an outside bathroom. I was assured by the man-that-told-many-lies, that Tanner was a model citizen, was perfectly potty-trained, and got along well with anyone – man or animal.  Against my better judgment I gave into offspring pressure and Tanner came to live with us.

Our three boys!

Our three boys!

Tanner started out on good terms.  He stayed near the house, came when called and did his business in the business section of our yard.  But soon his instincts crept back in and the craziness of a Chow combined with the protectiveness of a Shepherd made for an unpredictable mix. 

He was not, I repeat not, friendly with other dogs.  As a matter of fact he was diagnosed dog-aggressive by our vet after he jumped through our electric fence, attacked one of our neighbor’s Shelties (requiring stitches in the dog’s paw that cost us a couple hundred dollars) and jumped back through the fence taking the shock for the second time.  My neighbor has just recently started speaking to me.

The vet recommended that we either put Tanner down or get the dog therapy.   (I forgot to mention, Tanner also bit a hole in one of my mother’s dogs’ head, chased and almost bit a play-date as well as biting my nephew’s leg.  Oh, he also got into a number of fights with any dogs he met while on his walks, chased cars as they drove by and stood in our door and growled fiercely at anyone who dared ring the doorbell)

But by this time, my husband was having a love affair with the dog.  He would call and in a baby voice ask me how our little pumpkin was or if Tanner had had his morning poop.  When he came home from work, he’d brush by me as I stood there mouth puckered, calling out “Tanner” and rolling on the floor and wrestling with the dog that he initially did not want.

Maybe he still has issues with his parents?

We decided to spend the $450 for an hour with the “behaviorist” as we just couldn’t bear the thought of a death-row dog.  This is what we got for our money.

“How do you verbally respond when Tanner misbehaves?” The doctor held his clipboard, pen in hand.

“We usually say something along the lines of ‘Tanner, no, no, no.  Bad doggie.’” Craig spoke up in his baby-voice.

The doctor raised his eyes at us as he scribbled furiously.  “Do you ever hit him?”

“What?” Craig whispered, horrified.
 
The doctor shrugged.  “I’m just asking.”

I couldn’t hold back.  “I know it’s wrong and we shouldn’t compare him to other dogs, but last week after he chased the Fed-Ex man, I told him, in a very stern voice, that he was no Bo Obama, and I was sure that Bo didn’t act that way.”  There I’d said it!

The doctor couldn’t write fast enough.  “What was the situation when he attacked the Sheltie.”

I started to explain before Craig cut me off.  “Those dogs are stuck-up.  The prance by Tanner every day and they tease him.  They’re like ‘Our dog dodo doesn’t stink’.  When they bark it sounds like ‘ha ha ha ha’.”  I looked over at Tanner, sitting nicely beside the vet and I swore he winked at me.

“I think I see the problem,” the vet answered as he put the clipboard down.  His recommendation was eight hours of behavior modification, every day.  We could put Tanner on medication and work with him but there were no guarantees.  As a matter of fact, he told us, it may be too difficult to teach an old dog new tricks and we couldn’t, in good conscious, give him to anyone.  Most shelters did not take aggressive dogs and we may be better off, well you can guess what he told us he would do.

We left in a bit of a huff, wondering why no one saw our dog in the same light we did.  We would just have to keep him, literally, on a short leash.  Now, when someone comes to the door, I ask them if they are afraid of dogs that bite.  If they answer affirmatively, I put Tanner in another room.
 
He is getting older, we guess he may be around ten, and his bark has lost some of the vicious gusto it used to have, but he is our dog and we love him.  We’ve been lucky to avoid a lawsuit so far, but we do we have an attorney in the family so in case of an incident, we got that goin’ for us.  Which is nice.

Let’s Make a Deal

‘Tis the season and either you do or you don’t.  I, of course, do.  My husband does not.  To garage sale or not to garage sale, that is the question.
 
I come from a long line of sturdy salers (no pun intended) and we take our craft seriously.  Any of you in this exclusive club know exactly what I mean.  Timing, appearance, and even tone, play crucial roles in negotiations and can mean the difference between going home empty-handed or with a car full of treasures.

It dosen’t get any better than this

This past Saturday was a red-letter day for our household.   First, my daughter had borrowed my minivan to move her school furniture and I was fortunate to have her car, a 1995 Toyota Corolla.  Second, my husband was working and third, Max and Sam had saved a few bucks and were pumped and ready to roll. The stars had aligned and our antennas were up and searching for the universal neon signs that would guide us to our destiny.

My boys and I can spend hours searching for bargains and I have taught them well. Not to brag, but for children still under ten, they can spot a “good” sale from the slow drive-by.  “Baby stuff, furniture, large dish table,” Max, my nine-year-old, might comment.  “Keep it moving.”

Max and our haul!

Notice the FREE toboggan (his head is fine), the pink skates (I told the boys all professional players start out with these-it was good luck) and the fancy wheelchair and walker!

Many of the life lessons that I have taught my children come from the experiences I have had with the “sellers” that I have met along my journey.  Example, they know how to play the “I’m only a kid” hand in the way that gives the biggest bang for their buck.  They understand the “long face” and how that can mess with an adult’s decision.  Most important, they have seen the power of a “walk-away” and the critical timing involved with the “over-the-shoulder last chance glance”.

You have to know when to hold ‘em

As I mentioned, Saturday we hit the motherload.  It started slow but picked up after we discovered the free (yes, FREE) toboggan from 1965.  It took us a sale or two to get into the groove, but by noon we could do no wrong.  A harried mom in a stained sweatshirt, a damaged beater for a car, kids wearing Crocs that are two sizes too small, blue frosting still on their mouths from the last garage/bake sale . . . we were working it.

“How much for the hockey stick?” Sam, my eight-year-old, asked his first mark that morning.

“Five bucks.”

“It’s a lefty; I’ll give you a dollar.”  Sam reached into his Spiderman wallet and pulled out one of the carefully folded bills and waved it slowly in front of the man’s face.  The “hard-cold-cash” ploy worked and the seller took it.

 “Will you take 25 cents for this?”  Max held up the electric bug zapper shaped like a tennis racquet to the woman at our next stop.

“I paid ten bucks for it,” she said as if insulted.

Max shrugged his shoulders and slowly set the zapper down.  The woman knew that she either had to take the hit or keep the zapper.  “Fifty cents,” she countered.

“Sold,” Max replied cheerfully.

And know when to fold ‘em

This shrewd bargaining is all because of the practice and the training they have received.  Our special time is not only good mommy/me time, but it’s also an opportunity to teach them the value of money and the psychology of the deal.

“Now boys, watch, listen and learn.” I whispered to my little students.  I picked up a stack of used DVD’s, each marked six dollars.  “This seems a bit high,” I mentioned to the woman running the show.  “They sell new ones at Blockbuster for five.

“Well those are my neighbors and that’s what they’re priced at.”

Now this kind of logic is the perfect segue into a life lesson for the children. I waited until we returned to the car and squeezed in, carefully avoiding the pogo stick and the stilts.
 
“This sale is going to end soon and that poor inexperienced woman will still have her DVD’s.  No one will buy them for six dollars.  Not even five or four.  See, we don’t even know they work and you can buy new ones for not much more.”

“What’s a fair price,” my little bargainers asked.

“Well, DVD’s can be rented for a dollar at the red box at Walgreens and how many times can you realistically watch the same one.”  I thought about it.  “I’d offer a dollar for one, five for the whole lot.”

“Hmm,” they replied, and I could tell they took my advice seriously.  Not only was I proud, but I realized these are the times that warm a mother’s heart.
 

Our "special" vehicle

Our "special" vehicle

I can’t help myself but I need to share some of the items we purchased that day.  I guess part of the joy that comes, alongside the value, is being able to let others know that you now own something they don’t.  My best buy came at the end of the day as the sellers were closing up.
 
We were packed into the car, lifejackets and books piled on laps, and the joy from earlier had turned to ugliness.  There had been an out-and-out fistfight over the pogo stick and the woman at the last house had been unwilling to bargain over the four-foot tall armored Knight.  No one was happy.

I left the boys in the car and walked up the drive.  I found a bunch of books for my dad (no big deal) but when I spied the new wheelchair in the corner, I just couldn’t help myself.  I asked how much.

“I was asking fifty,” she told me, “but I’ll take twenty-five.”

I have no need for a wheelchair and I don’t know of anyone who is presently sick, but I hesitated.  Twenty-five bucks was a pretty good deal.

The hesitation did it.

“Okay, ten.  Give me ten dollars and I’ll throw in the walker.  I just want to get rid of it.”  I glanced over and sitting against the wall was a shiny new walker.  It even had the split tennis balls already attached to the front legs.  I couldn’t believe my luck!  Ten bucks for a new wheelchair and a walker!  I accepted and we shook hands to seal the deal.
 
Sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time.  My parents would be so proud.

By the way . . .

My mother exaggerates more than anyone else in the whole world.  This is not just my opinion – ask anyone who knows her and they will attest to this.  It is impossible for her to state just the plain facts and it is one trait, I’m happy to say, that I was fortunate enough not to inherit.
 
I don’t hold this against her.  Years of shock therapy and a minor lobal proctonomy have taught me that this is her way of communicating.  I just needed to learn how to divide down to the lowest common denominator.  It sounds technical but it simply means that one needs to take what she says and divide by the first number out of her mouth then add one. 

Let’s do the Math

Example:  If she mentioned that she got over a million calls regarding the neutering of Bob, her cat, then you would take one million and divide it by the first number she mentioned (one million) and add one.  Since I am an accountant, I will quickly do the math for you and come up with the correct number of. . . 2.  My mother received approximately two calls concerning the removal of Bob’s testicles.

Now, being overly critical of her, I would venture to guess that this was a gross exaggeration and she really received only one.  Probably the vet calling to make sure Bob had moved his bowels.
 
Pete, my step-father, already had a vast understanding of my mother’s affliction long before we did and is proficient in this language.  He is also kind enough to translate her verbiage when numbers aren’t involved, but an accurate assessment of a situation is needed.  Case in point: when she called me to tell me that their car blew up and Pete and the four dogs barely escaped with their lives, the call went something like this.

pete-and-claudia

Pete and Claudia at The Funeral Home Directors of Michigan's Annual "Welcome to Spring" Dinner and Dance Extravaganza

 

Claudia:        This was the most horrific thing that has ever happened to us.  He’s lucky to be        alive – I could be planning five funerals right now.  I don’t how Pete sensed that something bad was going to happen, but he did.  It was like he had a sixth sense about it.  The phone has been ringing off the hook, everyone has called… it almost made the local news.  It’s been crazy around.

 

Me:             Can you put Pete on the phone?

Claudia:    Let me see if he’s up for taking calls.  Pete! (screaming on the other end)

Pete:           Hello?

Me:             What happened?  How are you?

Pete:           I’m fine.  My toe hurts a bit. 

Me:             From the truck fire?

Pete:           I accidently kicked the leg of the sofa.

Me:             No, I mean how are you holding up after the fire, you know, barely escaping  with your life and all.

Pete:          Oh, that.  I saw a bit of smoke coming from under the hood, so I stopped and pulled  over.  The engine had over-heated and the paper boy gave me and Buddy a lift home.
 
Me:            You’re alright?

Pete:         Except for the toe.

Mental illness does run in my family so you can certainly understand how we have learned not to call her out on these stories.  I did this once when I was young and foolish, and the treatment and medication required to repair the damage was so extensive that it cost close to a million dollars.  I kid you not.

Pete's car over-heating

Pete's truck over-heating