Over the (Hawk) Hill

Last Thursday I had some kind of unholy, unprecedented strain of PMS.  All five of the kids were ganging up on me by playing a rousing game of Who Can Get On Mommy’s Very Last Nerve?  So when Sheepdog came home from work and (uncharacteristically) asked, “What’s for dinner and when’ll it be ready?” before even saying hello, I felt totally justified in telling him that I wanted “to hit (him) very hard in the face with a(n effing) shovel.”  Obviously, I needed a break.  The very next morning I hopped on a plane to Philadelphia.  We were all very pleased that I got away for a bit.


When I was a senior in high school I did what almost everyone else was doing and I applied to get into college.  Three colleges, to be exact.  I was smart, involved and had yet to experience any hard slaps-in-the-face from life.  I was Miss Absecon 1987 and Holy Spirit’s homecoming queen, for goodness’ sake.  So I was in utter disbelief and completely devastated when I received thin envelopes from all three schools telling me no, no and wait.  It was April of my senior year and all I could say when asked where I was going in the fall was, “I honestly don’t know.”

I remember going in to see my school guidance counselor in a daze and asking what I was supposed to do at that point.  He mentioned a small school on City Line Avenue in Philadelphia called St. Joseph’s University.  I had not heard of it before, but my grades and SAT scores were on track to allow me admittance there.  I do not recall the administrative details that followed, but I do know that my parents moved me into a college dorm up on Hawk Hill as that summer drew to an end.

But even with my very own spot in the SJU Class of 1992, it turns out that I still was not sure of where I was going.  I spent the next two years floundering.  I went to parties and bars, but not many classes.  I changed my major and therefore my schedule countless times.  I made stupid and sometimes dangerous choices.  I got my heart broken more than once.  Looking back on my freshman and sophomore years at St. Joe’s, I recall a general sense of sadness and isolation, which was made even worse by my belief that I was surrounded by so many people who all seemed to be having the time of their lives.

My parents saw that I was not happy and they finally convinced me to come back home (a fate worse than death at the time!).  I would work and take classes at a local college in order to bring up my GPA.  Then I could reapply to another school or schools, and eventually earn a degree.  That is how I ended up at West Virginia University as a transfer student in the Fall of 1990.  I met Sheepdog there after just a few weeks.

Short Aside… Yes, WVU was a giant party school back then (and still officially is, according to Princeton Review), but I had thankfully gotten most of it out of my system by the time I moved to Morgantown.  Note that I said most, not all.  Now that’s a true story.

After years of ruminating (and some good, old-fashioned therapy), I look back on my first years of higher education with a smile.  It was the time when I walked on to the varsity cheerleading squad for the basketball team and I got to cheer on national television and travel all over the East Coast to other schools in the Atlantic 10.  It was when I learned that accounting was definitely not my thing, but english and eventually journalism were.  It was when I learned how I didn’t want to be treated by boys, and therefore what I did eventually want from a partner in life.  Most importantly, it was the time when I learned what I did and did not like about myself.  It was where I learned that having a rhinestone crown placed on your head doesn’t mean jack, so I needed to buckle down and start working for what I wanted.  It was where I made friends for life, because college years can be so intense that bonds are forged deeper and stronger than during any other experience.

This past weekend I traveled back to City Line Avenue for Hawktoberfest 2012 and to celebrate the passage of 20 years since the Class of 1992 had been handed their sheepskins.  Originally I booked my plane ticket and hotel room because it was an excuse to spend time with friends who now live scattered all over and I rarely get to see (save for the occasional wedding or funeral or milestone birthday celebration in the Dominican Republic), but it turned out to be so much more than that for me.

I saw people who I hadn’t seen in decades.  I listened to the stories of how their lives had played out, as well as their plans for the future.  I heard the classic tales again, but I also listened to new ones that I never knew about.  One girlfriend teased, saying that I was quite the social butterfly… talking to absolutely everyone, but that was the best part of the experience for me.  We went out to dinner and shared so many memories and bottles of wine.  We played softball on the incredible new field.  We posed for pictures in front of our old dorms.  We tailgated (I know, I know… how do you tailgate without a football team?) and gossiped and laughed.  I laughed until I was hoarse.  It was very, very good.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. This was taken just before 2AM on 54th Street.

On Sunday, we roused our sad, over the hill selves out of bed with lots and lots of coffee.  After we checked out of the hotel, a few of us who had later flights walked around the campus.  It is so much bigger now, with all of the new buildings and dorms and fields, but it is still the same in so many ways.  It was awkward but comfortable at the same time.  I had to catch my breath several times as I walked through the old Fieldhouse (now Hagan Arena) and down past Finnesy Field.  I actually had tears in my eyes as I went from Lafarge to the Chapel and the old Newmann Hall and then crossed the foot bridge to McShane.  They fell silently down my cheeks as I walked down the tree-lined Lapsley Lane to the most magnificent view of Barbelin Tower.

What’s magis? It’s a Jesuit principle that underlies everything we do at Saint Joseph’s University. It inspires us to think a little broader, dig a little deeper, and work a little harder. More simply put, magis calls us to live greater.

The tears were few but they were powerful and cathartic.  I felt such peace and comfort in knowing that St. Joe’s was the first of many steps in bringing me to where I am in my life today.  It defined me, both good and bad.  And it feels so awesome to own that.

I left Hawk Hill feeling light and happy, albeit a little old.  I left with renewed friendships and some new Facebook friends.  I left with a memory card full of photographs.  But mostly I left with a palpable gratitude for the life I have now and the people who are in it.  It never ceases to amaze me how life twists and turns, takes us up and down the hills and sometimes even mountains, and lands us where we are right at this moment.

Sometimes we just need to be reminded.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Say It! Say It! Say It!

I have said this before, but it bears repeating…

Sometimes I just can’t control my own ornery.

I try (some days I try harder than others) to act civilized and “normal,” but there are times when I just let it all hang out simply because it feels good.  Plus, it makes me feel closer to (Ma) Kettle.  That’s my mom’s mom who died from cancer two years ago.  She was the Queen of Letting Your Freak Run Around Unchecked and Unfiltered.  Admittedly, she could be totally embarrassing in public but that woman was fun and funny as hell.  And I sure do miss her.

“If you don’t like it, you can go shit in your hat!”

Anyway, I was at my home away from home the grocery store last week stocking up on items I buy in bulk that don’t fit in the cart during regular orders (10 or so cases of flavored seltzer water, a mega-pack of toilet paper and paper towels, 2-for-1 bottles of vitamins, multiple giant bottles of wine… essentials for the apocalypse).  I packed my cart to the brim and I headed to the checkout.  Being the frequent flyer that I am at this store (back in college a dive bar called Cavanaugh’s was my Cheers, now-a-days the ghetto Kroger is where everybody knows my name… sigh), someone scrambled to open a lane just for me.

I actually did not recognize the clerk who was giving me the red carpet treatment.  He was definitely new.  But he ran his lane with mad skill and had me through in a jiffy.  As I was whipping out my credit card and preparing to swipe it he told me to hold up, as his register was spitting stuff out like it was a married Jewish girl.

“Ooooh!  You got a lot of coupons today,” said the newbie.

“Oh yeah?  Anything I can use right now?”  I asked, unimpressed unless there was.

He examined the paper strip with feigned intensity.  “Mmmmm… I don’t really know you (as he looks back at all the wine and TP) but you seem like you would probably buy Lunchables.  And you’re a girl, so you can definitely use this last one for… you know.”

Insulted by his insinuation yet intrigued by his phrasing, I push back.  “I know what?”

I look at the coupon that I now presume is covered in anthrax because this guy won’t even touch it with his bare hands.  It is a coupon for tampons.  Harmless, little cotton tampons.  And just the thought of them is freaking this guy out.  My ornery is just begging to come out and play.

“Tampons,”  I say boldly.  “Can’t you even say the word?  Tampons, tampons, tampons.”  My voice is getting louder.  Several nearby heads turn in the direction of our lane.  “It is 2012.  You are a grown-ass man.  You have got to be kidding me,” I whisper-yell.

“Shhhhhhhhhhh!  You don’t have to say it!” he whisper-whispers back at me as his face turns the color of a baboon’s butt.  “Stop saying that word!”

I figure that I have embarrassed him just enough to retaliate for the pre-packaged-kids’-lunch-box-product comment, but I insist on adding one more thing.  “So you’re single, right?  (He glares back at me but I see from his reaction that I am correct)  Well, you will never get a real, live girlfriend if you can’t even say the word ‘tampon’ out loud.  So here’s your homework for today… when you get done your shift you’re gonna get in your car and drive home.  I want you to say the word ‘tampon’ over and over and over for the entire trip.  Tampon, tampon, tampon, tampon.  It will be good for you.”

I then go out into the parking lot and unload my cart full of goodies.  During my own car ride home I proceed to chant not only “tampon, tampon, tampon” but also “penis, penis, penis” and “vagina, vagina, vagina” for good measure.  I like to keep my reflexes sharp, you know.

When I got home I unloaded the car and went upstairs to take a shower before I started making dinner.  Ironically enough, it was then that I realized that Aunt Flo had come for her annoying monthly visit.  And guess what was missing from my bathroom cabinet?

I wish this post was in color so I could end it with a big red period.  More than that, I wish I had used that stupid coupon.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Opening the Floodgates

The summer before Kid E turned two years old I started to worry.  He did not talk very much at all.  And with all of the very vocal people already in this house he seemed to get lost in the shuffle.  Often his siblings would just answer for him or bring him toys until they brought what he wanted.  When I looked into it some more I realized that he was way behind in his speech development, so as each day passed I began to fret more and more that there was something wrong with him.  Speech was definitely not his go-to form of communication.  He would much rather point and grunt at the things he wanted.  He also did this sing-songy gibberish thing with lots of inflection.  It was kind of cool and sounded pretty, but I still knew that something about my baby was way off.

Fortunately, my sisters told me that Georgia has a program called “Babies Can’t Wait,” which facilitates testing and early intervention for children under age three who are exhibiting developmental delays.  I contacted the Fulton County coordinator for Babies Can’t Wait and was able to get Kid E scheduled for testing shortly after his second birthday.  The test results confirmed that his expressive communication skills (how he interacted with others) were horribly low (4th percentile), but his auditory comprehension skills (what he understood) were above average.  The therapist classified him with a severe expressive language disorder, but she also said in her report that he showed favorable chances for improved communicative functioning through speech therapy two times a week.  His file was submitted for processing.  So we waited.

By mid-October I hadn’t heard back from anyone, so I called again.  I was told we were on a list.  Apparently the babies CAN and WILL wait.  Fortunately for Kid E, we had the means to take him to private speech therapy, so I set about the task of applying for a spot in several local, highly recommended therapy programs.  You would think I was applying for a conceal and carry permit with the amount of paperwork that was involved in signing a kid up for speech therapy.  And they asked me all kinds of crazy questions too.

Have any shocks or unusual stress during pregnancy?  Um, yes.  I was shocked that I was pregnant.  AGAIN.
What was the child’s birth weight?  Did I mention he was my 5th baby?  I do not remember what he weighed.  I would check his baby book, but I never got around to doing one.  I’ll guess about 7-ish pounds.
Apgar scores?  1 minute _____  5 minutes _____  You’re kidding, right?  I don’t even remember how much the kid weighed.
Age when child: Began babbling _____ First word spoken (what was it?) _____ Using two-word phrases (age they started) _____ Feeds self with fingers _____ Feeds self with spoon _____ Feeds self with fork _____ Drinks from open cup _____ Rolled over _____ Sat without assistance _____ Crawled _____ Walked _____ Jumped with two feet _____ Toilet trained _____ Ride a tricycle/ bicycle _____  OK, So now we have successfully established that I am a horrible mother who did not keep track of most or any of these milestones and my son will probably grow up hating me and needing more therapy because of it.  Thanks.
What typically calms/ soothes your child?  Thumb sucking.  And even though you didn’t ask, what soothes me after a long day of not being able to communicate effectively with this child is a big bottle of wine.  Please allow him to come to your facility for speech therapy.  Pretty please.  I am begging.

So we were accepted and soon we started going in for therapy twice a week.  I would sit in the waiting room and the therapist would take Kid E back to some magical place where they performed voodoo rituals or some other magical wizardry of the speech therapy variety, because Kid E began to talk almost immediately.  And talk and talk and talk.  It was like the floodgates had been opened.  His therapist was so good at what she did and he responded so well to her treatments that they kicked us out after the New Year.  Fast forward to present day and the kid does not ever shut up.  And I am incredibly grateful, forevermore.

Floodgates at the Lake Sinclair Dam in Milledgeville, Georgia

I definitely pay more attention to his developmental milestones now.  I even paid attention when I had a parent/ teacher conference for his preschool at the mid-year mark.  When it was over I reported to Sheepdog what we discussed.  I read to him from the evaluation.

Kid E “is sweet and agreeable and able to grasp new concepts, especially mathematical ones.  He shows less confidence outside on the playground, but he also shows a determination to master new skills, like climbing.  He is positive and willing to try new things.  At this time he seems more comfortable speaking to adults than his peers.”

I told Sheepdog that I had laughed out loud during the conference about that last comment because I thought it was a good thing.  What?  Most little kids are annoying when you talk to them.  I also mentioned that the teacher said in passing that Kid E still has trouble saying words that start with an “s,” followed by a consonant.  It is apparently fairly common for four-year-olds, but given his history of previous speech issues, I have decided to keep a close eye (ear) on him in this regard.

I have started playing a little game in the car while we drive to and from school.  It is a guessing game.  One person thinks of a word and gives some clues about it and the other person has to guess that word.  Kid E loves playing games in the car so he was all for it.  But I fear that he has already figured out that this game is a form of speech therapy, as I always use “s”-followed-by-a-consonant words when it is my turn.

Me:  “I have a word.  It is one of your favorite dinners.  It has long, stringy noodles and it is covered in tomato sauce and sometimes you eat it with meatballs.”

Kid E:  He sighs at me.  “Pasghetti.”

Me:  “That’s right, but you said it backwards.  Repeat after me.  First say ‘spaghetti,’  then say, ‘sssss.’  ‘Paghetti.’  ‘Sssss.’  ‘Paghetti.’  ‘Spaghetti!’  That’s right!  Excellent!”

Me:  “OK, I am thinking of another word.  It means ‘to knock over or to topple, especially something liquid or slippery… like a drink or the beans.'”

Kid E:  Nothing.  He has already caught on to my speech therapy trick, and he wants nothing to do with it.

Me:  “Let’s forget about the beans.  What is it called when you tip over your drink at dinnertime and it goes all over the table?  That is a big…”

Kid E:  Deliberately, he looks at me in the rear-view mirror and answers with all of the clarity and articulation he can muster, “Flood.”

Game over.  That kid is wicked smart.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Time for Snack Monsters

First order of business…  how many of you were compelled to check my spelling of “prerogative” from yesterday’s post?  Apparently, I have been working on the false belief that it was spelled p-e-r-o-g-a-t-i-v-e for many, many years.  I looked it up in no less than five places and I still didn’t feel comfortable spelling it with an “r” up front.  I honestly thought it was some kind of universal joke, like when the idiot masses say, “lemme axe you a question” or “irregardless.”  But with both the ex- Mr. Whitney Houston and Britney Spears (who remade the song) spelling it the way of the former on iTunes, I finally decided to accept “prerogative” as gospel.


I don’t want to jinx anything by saying so, but I think that we are all adjusting nicely to the new schedule.  By this time last year, Kid C had already been sent home sick from school and was battling a nasty virus, which I think went on to crush me and Kid E as well.  Kid D had decided he did not want to go to kindergarten and had thrown a tantrum to end all tantrums by the front office of the school (hello and nice to meet you, school principal!).  And Kids A and B were already crushed by an early onslaught of homework doled out by teachers who seemed to have some kind of anger management issues.  This year, even with Sheepdog traveling for work since Monday, we are chugging along nicely.

But don’t worry.  I am not getting all full of myself because this is just The Wiz version of the fall schedule (where we just Ease on Down the Road).  The real thing starts in a couple of weeks when we have to figure out how to drive to all of the sports and activities (practices and games), all of which are very likely to be scheduled on the same day.  And Sheepdog will continue to go out of town for his job (have you noticed the increase in food-borne illness outbreaks lately?  Holy E. coli-tainted cow!).

But I am not complaining.  Having a full schedule means that we have healthy kids who are active and involved and are getting exercise and all of the good things that come from being part of a team.  And my husband has a good, steady job.  And those are all very, very good things for which I give thanks every day.

In the interim, while we still have the time for it, I have decided to spoil the kids with their favorite after-school snacks.  They’re made with apples, grapes, raisins, peanut butter and Nutella.  I don’t think I have ever seen my kids get so excited over food as they do when I make these things.  The 50’s stay-at-home-mom/ housewife part of me gets gooey with pride.  But then probably I’ll snap back to regular me and make them eat cereal for dinner while I drink some wine.  We don’t need these kids getting spoiled or anything.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

I Suck at Coupons

Coupons drive me crazy.  I love them because they are FREE MONEY!  They are the bane of my existence because I feel like I am burning the free money if I don’t use them.  One in particular has been weighing on me for weeks now.  It was for twenty dollars off of a two hundred-dollar order at my regular grocery store.

Now, with seven people in our house you would think that I could rack up a two hundred-dollar order without even trying.  Sure thing, especially if I build some storage shelves and stockpile, Extreme Couponer-style.  But I don’t buy stuff I don’t need.  And I don’t buy things just because they are on sale.  Plus, I have been trying to be extra frugal in my shopping when I can because – I don’t know if you’ve heard – there is a recession going on, and a third driver/ third car/ third gas tank and insurance costs are less than a year away for us, and college tuition is only three years away, and Good Lord these kids always seem to need new shoes.

… but back to my $20 off $200 coupon.  I didn’t use it.  Sob.

When it first came in the mail we were just about to leave on an extended trip.  So we were trying to eat the things that were already in the house and clear out the pantry.  “Waste not, want not” and such.  That trip ended up being almost a month.  When we returned I was planning to go to the grocery store for a big stock-up trip, but I was pouty because I wasn’t living at the beach anymore so I kept putting it off.  And we kept eating stale oyster crackers and almost expired soup.  And it was so flipping hot outside that I was not inspired to do anything.

Eventually I could not serve/ eat another packet of oatmeal or bag of frozen vegetables, so I went to the store.  There are two of the exact same chain grocery stores near my house.  They are about the same distance away in opposite directions.  One is really fancy and one is, um… not so much.  I always go to the Not So Much one because it is rarely crowded and they have basically the same things, so what if they get the hand-me-down rusty carts.  They know me and let me do my thing at the Not So Much (like bagging my own groceries – which is a form of packing, so I’m really good at it – it drives me insane when the idiots crush my groceries).  At the Fancy one they have kids with “Bagger” on their name tags (imprinted, not just written in Sharpie!), so you’d better not try filling your own bags at that one.

You just know that boy doesn't put the milk on top of the bread. You Go, Danny!

For some reason I chose to go to the Fancy store on this trip (probably delusion from all of the heat, but whatever).  They seem to have more of a produce selection and I was in the market for lots of fresh stuff.  I filled my cart with meat and chicken and fruits and vegetables and bread and eggs and cheese and milk and yogurt.  Wheat bread, cake mix, Coca-Cola, shaving cream (Sorry, that last stuff wasn’t on my real list – it was from a commercial from when I was a kid and I will never be able to recite a grocery list without adding them at the end for the rest of my life.  Excellent marketing job because I can still recite it when I often can’t even remember my own kids’ names – my guess is that it was an ad for Coke.  It’s a shame that stuff is poison and I just won’t buy it.).

So I go up to the checkout with a full cart and my Very Special Customer coupon.  Until that moment I had forgotten that they are so fast to check you out at Fancy – someone was even pulling stuff out of my cart and putting it on the belt while the checkout girl was scanning at lightning speed and the Bagging Team (seriously, there were TWO kids bagging my groceries!) was like Matrix-fast.  I was blown away so much that they disoriented me.  I was even a little dizzy when the cashier gave me my total and it was… $192.  Wait!  Nooooooooooooooooooo!  I can’t use my coupon unless the total is at least two hundred dollars.

I should have picked up another ginormous pack of toilet paper or some more lunchmeat.  I should have gotten more cereal.  Maybe I could just go grab something else right now.  But, no!  The Fancy store will not tolerate hold-ups in their lines.  They move you right along, almost forcefully so.  And there were at least three people in line behind me.  I guess I could have been, but I didn’t want to be “That Shopper.”  So I paid the bill and I left.  With my coupon still in hand.  Sigh.

I was kicking myself as I loaded the groceries into my car.  I continued all the way home.  And it has been on my mind ever since.

I should have planned better.  I should have bought one more this or a couple more of that.  If only they counted big bottles of wine towards the total.

That coupon has since expired.  I mourned it much more than I should have.  Because soon another one will come in the mail and I will start the whole process over again.  Damn coupons.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Tales from the Trip – Part Two

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep. - Robert Frost (this many miles, to be exact)

Three a.m. announced itself with a crappy song on the alarm clock radio.  I did not get nearly enough sleep and I had none of the “I’m going on a family trip today!” excitement that fueled me through the drive there.  But Sister B was due to arrive that afternoon with her three kids in tow and we would be even more hard up for decent sleeping arrangements if we stayed.  So I reluctantly got out of bed, made myself some coffee, and woke up some kids (best part of the day so far… just a small payback for all of the times they have done it to me).  Kid E woke up crying.  I don’t know if he was still going from the night before or if he was starting fresh, but he was working up a mighty fine fit.  What do I do about that?  Let’s all strap ourselves in to a confined space for about fourteen hours.  But first I shall spill about half of my freshly brewed coffee on my seat.  Awesome.

What is nice about the trip in this direction is that we are on the highways pretty quickly, so the kids would be melodically lulled back to sleep.  What is decidedly not nice are the number of toll booths on those same highways that are preceded by those things in the road that sound like machine gun fire when you drive over them so that if you are by chance sleeping while driving, you will indeed wake up just before you pull up to/ crash into the toll collector’s booth.  And so will everyone else in your vehicle.  Super cool.

I have my iPod in one ear while I drive and I had loaded some excellent new music before the trip up, so I was verily entertained even whilst everyone else was sleeping (/being woken up/ falling back to sleep again).  Traffic was pretty light and the weather was remarkably clear given the hideous storm just hours prior.  We even made it to the other side of Washington, D.C. by about 7:45 a.m., where we stopped for some breakfast, refueling and a leg stretch.  I noticed a party at a long table behind ours that seemed like it had a lot of kids.  There were car seats everywhere.  After watching them while we waited (forever) for our food to come, I realized that there were actually more adults than there were kids… about one mom and dad for every 1.5 babies.  And when I got a true head count I also became aware that there was only one more kid in their party than in mine.  So I realized that I have a lot of kids.  Then I think we contracted a mild case of E. coli from the food because we have all had shooting stomach pains ever since.  Fantastic.

Back on the road we continued to roll along nicely, but with eight hours still ahead of us it seemed like the never-ending road trip.  Certainly the antics from the peanut gallery would help us pass the time…

Every single time there was a noise on the highway or from the vehicle Kid D said, “That was probably a bike falling off.  You should check.  No, really Mom – I think a bike just fell off of our car.  I heard it.”

One time during a period of relative quiet on I-85 just south of Richmond, I began to pass an oil truck.  About mid-way through there was a BANG! that made me presume that someone in the backseat was setting off fireworks.  After first asking if anyone in our car had been shot, I quickly assessed the windshields.  None were cracked, so I can only assume that it was a piece of debris or a rock that shot against our undercarriage.  Holy Crap!  Now I’m definitely awake.

Kid E was in no mood to travel.  He made it clear in the driveway prior to takeoff when he started crying something about how his pillow was “broken” and such.  His lines of the day (meaning he said them no less than a bajillion times) were, “I want to go home.”  I responded with, “That’s what I’m doing, Big Man, driving us home.”  He would then reply, “No!  I want to be home NOW!”  Don’t we all?  “Here, have a roll of Smarties.”  He was clearly buzzing high on sugar by the time we got home.

“I’m hungry,”  “I’m thirsty,” “I want to watch a different movie,” and “I’m bored,” “Where are we?” and “How much further?” were frequent fan favorites of the day.  We also had a couple of the predictable “I have to pee!” and “I have to poop!” emergencies, so we got to see more rest stops on this go around.  Rest stops have gotten a bad reputation lately with the whole foot tapping thing and the sexual predator hangout stereotype, so I had forgotten how clean they usually are.  I was pleasantly reminded each and every time we had to swing into one.  They also have a lot of pretty landscaping now too, which was also nice.

Speaking of rest stop predators, maybe they were keeping all of the police officers busy because I did not see any of either of them.  Well, that’s not totally true, as I did see a few state police cars in North Carolina, but only in the northbound lanes.  I wonder what determines where the police lie in wait to hassle people who just want to get where they are going keep the roads safe from dangerous speeders.  I’d like to know the answer to that so I can avoid those routes whenever possible.

This is how we roll (at the Equator)

Our last stop for refueling was in South Carolina at about 3:30 in the afternoon.  When I stepped out of the car I was assaulted with a chest-crushing heat.  The whole time I was filling the tank (“Jersey Girls don’t pump gas!”) I struggled just to breathe.  Welcome back to Summer in the South.  And so begins two more months of never leaving my house during the day, else I will be soaked through to my underpants in sweat within sixty seconds.  Super Sexy!

Finally, around 5 o’clock we pulled into our driveway.  Yeah!  We were finally home.  It was still an unholy kind of hot outside, but the truck needed to be unloaded so I could pull it into the garage.  As I wrestled the bikes, disassembled the bike rack, climbed atop the truck to empty and detach the cargo bag, pulled everything out of the inside of our vehicle and piled it all in our driveway (I didn’t have five kids for nothing… they were going to carry all of this crap into the house for me), I realized that it was only by a Road Trip miracle (or undetectable extension charm) that all of these things fit inside.

So while the chickens were putting stuff away, I got a nice, cold shower.  Sheepdog was still on the West Coast riding in the Tour of the California Alps Death Ride 2011 (and yes, just based on the name alone I confirmed that his life insurance policy was up to date prior to letting him ride in that race) and we had been gone for close to four weeks, so our cupboards were bare.  I quickly ran out for some necessary groceries and Mexi-food for dinner.  By the time I finally sat down I was too tired to even open a bottle of wine.  Now that’s tired.

… but I would have gotten right back into the car the very next day just to go back to the beach.  Sigh.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Look Out! I’m Packing

No, not a gun, which – let’s face it – should in fact scare the bejesus out of everyone who knows me.  There are certainly some days that I could be the poster child for road rage.  I wouldn’t shoot people, mind you, but I would sure as a Swiss watch shoot some tires that belong to the idiots, the texters and the people who can’t be bothered to thank me with a simple wave.  What has happened to manners on the road, people?  No, I am actually packing up to go back home to Atlanta.  But you should still be a little scared of me right now.

Much more apropos that this picture represent peace than that stupid Mercedes sign inside of a circle

You see, I am a Master Packer.  If there were a class in packing, I would have slept through every one then just showed up for the final gotten an A plus.  I would have a Ph.D. in Stowage.  Opportunus Plures res in vegrandis tractus.  I can pack so much into such little space that I often amaze myself.  And I don’t even need those SpaceBag things (while I must admit that they are quite amazing).  My mind just sees a big game of Tetris and I can turn things and flip them and make them fit into other things and then into whatever space I’m working with.  Or I’ll just throw it out/ not bring it with me.

But talent like this does not come without a price.  In the hours leading up to a Big Pack I can become distracted and sullen and moody.  My mind is working so hard to plan and calculate the puzzle that will soon lie before me that I have no time for common social mores, like feeding my hungry children (“Am I wearing a sign that says, ‘Carl’s Slave?'”) or not growling at people just because they have the nerve to speak to me.

I am busy doing laundry, finding duffel bags (they pack much better than inflexible suitcases), tracking lost items, planning for eventualities and random possibilities (do you think Mary Poppins’ bag got packed all by itself?), and re-assembling bike and roof racks.  And then I have to check the DVR to see if the season premiere of Flipping Out recorded yet (priorities!).  I love me some Jeff Lewis.  He always makes me feel better because at least I’m not as crazy as he is.  Plus, it was fantastically funny when he taught that 3-year-old girl to say her favorite drink was chardonnay.  Then I have to pack.  Dun dun dun.

Fortunately for those directly involved in the process, today is cloudy and not at all a good beach day.  Before this weather actually presented itself I had some crazy scheme planned that involved a final day on the beach followed by last-minute loads and loads of laundry and cleaning (and subsequent drying!) of beach gear prior to a late night packing session.  Right, because there is nothing less stressful than a Big Pack on a deadline. (guess what… I got that from my daddy too – heh, heh).

So today will be mildly taxing, but soon enough we will be on the road again.  I am hoping for a drive day that is free of incidents, whining (by me or the kids) and speeding tickets.  A girl can dream, can’t she?  And when we finally get back to Georgia I will open a big bottle of wine.  I am beginning to notice a trend here.

Wish me luck for tomorrow… (I really mean it, because that drive is going to be L-O-N-G)

Thirteen Hour Car Trips Will Almost Always Lead to Drinking

Our vacation this summer is going to be spent at my mom and dad’s house in Somers Point, New Jersey.  They live in a marina in a not totally kid-friendly house that is close to the beach.  It is an all-around awesome place, except for the lack of kid-friendliness and the fact that they only have three bedrooms and not enough beds to house the seven people in our family without blowing up some extra sleeping arrangements.  Fortunately, for space reasons, my parents are in Mexico for the first two weeks of our visit.  For the last few days of our trip, we will all cram into the house, go to the beach, celebrate the 4th, eat and drink together and basically remind one another why it is good for children move out of their parents’ house when they grow up and have families of their own.


On Wednesday morning at 1 a.m. Kid E wandered into my bedroom and climbed into my bed.  About an hour later he informed me that I could take him back to his bed because he was no longer comfortable.  About an hour after that my alarm went off, signifying the incredibly early start of our very long travel day.

“Let’s get this party started,” I mumbled, 98% sarcastic, as I dragged myself out of the warm bed and put on my clothes and pulled my hair up into a ponytail.

By 3:45 a.m. I was easing out of my Georgia driveway with Kids A – E fully seat belted inside, an insane amount of beach gear zipped into a gigantic Thule bag on the roof, and too many bikes racked onto the back.  I may have looked like Jed Clampett, but I felt like The Bandit, (North) East bound and down, hopeful that I could avoid the Smokeys as I hauled ass along the I-85 and I-95 corridors.

As far as long car trips go, this one was really good.  We stopped just north of NASCAR’s Mecca (Charlotte) for some breakfast, but that was our only break other than one pit stop for gas (the kind that makes the car run) and one “I have to poop right now!” false alarm from Kid E when we were just 60 miles from our destination.  So, it was really two gas pit stops (LOL: fart joke).  The traffic was fairly light, road construction was minimal, and the Po-Po must have had a Beef and Beer Fundraiser somewhere else, as they were not occupying many of their standard access road hiding spots along the highways.

We pulled into our destination just after 5 p.m., very ready to stretch our legs and eat some dinner.  Luckily, my mom is awesome and she left two trays of lasagna and two pies for us to eat.  I stuck dinner in the oven, enlisted Kids A, B, and C to carry our gear in and unpack, disassembled the bike rack, and detached it from the trailer hitch.  Then I proceeded to sit on a beach chair and do nothing while the older four kids rode their bikes, RipSticks and scooters around the gloriously flat and virtually car-less street out front, all while Kid E squirted everyone with water guns.

Mommy's BFF

I said another silent prayer of thanks for our safe arrival, the minimal in-flight fighting and “Are we there yet?” queries, and for the ability to put the pedal to the metal and make it here in just over thirteen hours.

Then I did some quick math in my head, figuring that I had basically been up since the middle of the night.  I realized that one of my kids is a new swimmer and another can’t swim at all and we are staying in a house that is surrounded by water.  The kids had car trip fever and they had now begun fighting and trying to run each other over with their bikes.  Sheepdog is not due to arrive for another whole week.  How am I gonna do this all by myself?

So I opened a bottle of wine and proceeded to drink the whole thing.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Having a Lot of Kids Will Almost Always Lead to Drinking

This past weekend we were heavy two cosmonauts (temporarily).  Sister C and her husband traveled to Jekyll Island for a wedding and her oldest two kids stayed with us.  My nephew is seven and my niece just turned five.  They are good and get along well with my kids.  So we threw them into the pot and told them to hold on tight for a bumpy ride.  Seven kids over three days was gonna be FUN!

Friday was Day One.  I was getting my hair cut and colored (I have the Catch-22 of giant Jersey Girl hair that grows super fast, yet started turning grey when I was only 25 years old) because my sparkles (what I call the evil grey hair when it shines next to my naturally dark hair) were lighting up like a Christmas tree.  My appointment was early, so I just asked Kid B (Kid A sleeps like the Teenage Undead until noon if you let her) to watch them all until I got back.  Sheepdog had made the mistake of deciding to work from home that morning without checking our schedule first, so he got roped in on the babysitting gig too.  Actually, the Wii ended up babysitting three of them, as the boys played video games until their eyeballs were just about to pop out of their heads.  The girls went upstairs and dragged out the $17,000 worth of American Girl Doll equipment, clothes and furniture that we have in a closet and played until their little fingers were bleeding from working those tiny buttons.  I gave them spaghetti and meatballs for dinner and ice cream cake for dessert, then they were off to bed!  Everybody was happy.

Saturday was Day Two.  We had a 1st Birthday Party to attend for my youngest niece later in the afternoon, but it was sunny and hot in the morning so we decided to get everybody dressed and ready for a day at the pool first.  Nine sandwiches, drinks, snacks, towels, bathing suits and eighteen flip-flops (well 17, as Kid E still has the boot on his left foot), and an assembly line of sunscreen later, we headed off to the neighborhood pool for some cooling off.  I was Mama Duck with my seven little ducklings marching behind me along the side of the road.  As we walked I heard the dreaded rumble of thunder off in the distance.  Crap.  We decided we could eat lunch at the pool while we waited the required 20 minutes before being able to go back in the water after thunder and we pressed on.  No sooner did we get to the pool than another boom of thunder rocked our ears.  Double crap.  The skies still looked blue and the clouds were not menacing, so everybody just ate lunch and we hung out for our second penalty.  As it goes, just seconds prior to the end of the waiting period, yet another thunderbolt crashed somewhere far away.  Despite our insistence that it was just a neighbor bringing in his trash cans, the lifeguard went all hard-core and shut us down again.  Third strike and all, we gathered our things and headed back to the house, never having even dipped a single big toe into the cool pool.

After our complete bust of a pool day the kids all complained that they were hot and sweaty and sticky from sunscreen and they all wanted soapy showers before the party.  Sheepdog was adamantly opposed and suggested we just hose them off in the backyard.  But I conceded to their request, mostly because they went straight into pj’s the night before.  By the end we depleted the hot water supply from our not one, but TWO hot water heaters, but everyone was clean, cool and dressed for the party.

Now the party for my other niece was in Kennesaw, which is forty-five minutes away no matter how you cut it.  The big monster truck that I drive all of the kids around in only fits seven (especially with all of the car seats), so we had to formulate a plan on how to get there.  We had the option to take two cars, but after much discussion we opted to take the truck and just put two people in the waaaay back, using body and boyfriend pillows for back support.  Sheepdog and I both grew up in the 70’s and have ridden seat belt-less on the hump in the back seat or in the empty bed of a pickup truck.  Hell, the “infant car seats” from when we were babies were basically laundry baskets that got put on the front seat next to the driver.  And we’re both fine, so we decided to Old School it.

I am considering this for my next car, as they say they were able to fit 13 people into it.

One dumb ass decision by Sheepdog and me, a driver who fell asleep at his wheel and two busted up cars later, we were getting a fire truck escort over to the right shoulder on GA-400S.  Our girls riding in the back saw that the driver was nodding off and called to Sheepdog to PLEASE GET OUT OF THIS LANE RIGHT NOW, DADDY.  He told them that it was fine, yet turned on his blinker and attempted to move over in the bumper-to-bumper traffic.  As the girls continued to let him know that they were frightened and he (and I) countered for them to calm down and that no one would really drive while asleep, but we were moving over nonethele… KABOOM!  He rear-ended us.  Fortunately we were going under 15 miles per hour and not even one person was hurt (the guy’s car is a different story – he lost his entire front end).  Oh there was some screaming at first from the jolt of the impact, but the kids really were troopers.

You really can’t even imagine how bad the sleeping driver felt when he learned that he just crashed into a car filled with seven little kids on their way to their cousin’s birthday party.  Why not just run over some nuns and orphans while you’re at it?  But, like I said, everyone was just fine and we went on to the party and had a great time celebrating and visiting with even more aunts, uncles and cousins.

So Sunday comes afterwards.  Day Three was a hot and sunny once again, so we decided to just go balls to the wall and attempt the pool one more time.  Suits, check.  Gear, check.  Food, check.  Sunscreen, check.  You know the drill by now.  Mama duck and baby ducks.  And on this day there was no thunder.  As a matter of fact, it was a fantastic day at the pool all around.  The kids had fun, swam like fish, and Sheepdog and I managed to keep an eye on everybody and we even got to spend some time hanging out together.  By the time we gathered out things almost four hours later we had four or five more kids who came back to the house along with us, everybody a little sunburned and everybody a little worn out.  It was a great end to a (mostly) fun weekend.

After Sister C came to gather her chickens and take them back home, and Kid A took off to go to dinner and the movies with her friends, and Kids B and C were invited to sleep over at their friend’s house, I made a simple dinner of burgers and dogs for Sheepdog, Kid D, Kid E and myself.  As I was standing at the grill I said a prayer of thanks that we were all safe, and I made a promise that no one was ever riding without proper seat belt restraints under my watch again.  And then I came back in the house and opened a giant bottle of wine and I proceeded to drink most of it.  Because having a lot of kids will almost always lead to drinking.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…