Monday, September 19, 2016

Meet Me in St Louis, Louis

The kid and I just got back from a long weekend in St. Louis. It was our first visit to the city.  We journeyed there (8-hour drive) to spend time with my sister and her family. They drove up from Oklahoma for a dirt bike race. My brother-in-law and my nephews compete in such things.

The kid and I left town on Thursday evening. I wanted to leave earlier but had to wait for her to be done with show choir rehearsal. Other than stopping for a quick dinner at Noodles and to get some gas in the middle of nowhere, we basically drove straight through.  We arrived at our hotel room at about 10:15 and quickly tucked ourselves in for the night. Well, not before fighting over the TV for a bit, because you know how I love watching tween shows over and over.

On Friday morning, we got up and made plans to drive into the city (we were about an hour and half away from St. Louis). The kid had breakfast at the hotel, but I was holding out for something better. It was pouring rain when we hit the road. We were supposed to meet my sister and her family for breakfast but she sent me a text to say they were running late. So, I quickly formulated a Plan B. I found a spot called SweetArt that features vegan/vegetarian food. I had a dish called Banh Mi. I need to start cooking with sriracha, I think. It was so good. We also got some desserts to go. I bought cupcakes for my sister and my kid, and I picked up a fudge brownie for myself. I ate that brownie later that day and it seriously made all of my dreams come true. I see that they actually ship the damn things and I am seriously considering it. I have gotten pretty good at certain vegan cookies but brownies? Not so much.

We still had time to kill after breakfast, so we decided to visit the Gateway Arch. I hadn't planned to visit it but hey, when in Rome and all. I won't even tell you how long I drove around just trying to get close to the bleeping thing. There was construction everywhere. I finally pulled into a pre-pay parking lot and asked the nice toothless man to take pity on me. He collected my cash and then told me how to get tickets for the arch, which direction to walk, etc (it was about a 15-minute walk, which was totally acceptable to me at that point).

I have to admit that I knew very little about the arch other than 1) it exists and 2) it's in St. Louis. I didn't even know you could go up in the thing until my friend Kathy mentioned it the day before. I wondered how an elevator would work with the whole curve thing (maybe it's like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the elevator can just go in any direction?) I quickly realized that there was a more practical answer: trams. There are something like 16 trams (small pods seating five people each) that take visitors up and down the legs of the arch. Don't go if you are claustrophobic. Just trust me on this one.

We took photos at the top and then went right back down. We got some fun shots, despite the rain. Now we can say that we went to St. Louis and indeed we saw the arch. It's kind of funny to me that people have bothered to leave bad Google reviews about the arch. "Oh, John from Cleveland does not approve of the arch. Better tear it down ASAP."

After leaving the arch, we made the trek back to our car and then headed over to the City Museum. We heard this was a good place to let kids get their ya-ya's out. We were supposed to meet my sister and her family there. They were still running a little bit late and had some parking challenges but they joined us at around 2:00. Can I just tell you how happy I was to see my wee baby sister? I love my sisters beyond measure and jump at any chance to see them. After hugs were exchanged (I was slightly hesitant to hug my brother-in-law because he is just getting over the chicken pox  . . . which is no joking matter in adults - he ended up in the emergency room last week), the four kids ran off to explore.  I'm not sure how to describe the City Museum except to say that it's like a children's museum but much wilder. There are a gazillion things to climb in, over, and around.

Once the kids were all sweaty and at least two of them were bleeding, we decided to head out.  We had made plans to stay at the same hotel in Festus, which is just south of the city. My sister and I had fun talking about our upcoming stay in Festus, Misery. After getting checked in, we headed back out into the rain for dinner at a nearby restaurant. My sister and I were able to get some pasta with vegetables (in a marinara sauce) and the kids all ordered meals that they barely ate. I was glad to see I'm not the only person throwing away money on kids' meals at restaurants.

After dinner, we all went swimming (except my brother-in-law, because of his cooties and all). It was great to see my kid having so much fun with her cousins. We all live so far apart that these get-togethers are very few and far between. Later, we hung out in our hotel room for a bit and had some snacks while the kids took turns shoving each other off the bed.

On Saturday morning, we headed down to Park Hills.  The races were scheduled for the next day at St. Joe's State Park. I offered to take one of my nephews in my car while my sister and her family drove their truck down. Also, they had to make a stop so I opted to drive down separately vs. following them. Big mistake. It turned out that despite what the event flyer had stated, the event was not being held at the main park. It was being held at an area called The Mines which, as far as I could tell, is fully imaginary. I couldn't seem to find it on Google, on my Garmin GPS, or on Apple maps. I got so lost.  I was frustrated beyond belief. I actually started to think it might just be easiest to adopt my nephew and simply head back home.

I found it eventually, though. I'm still not even sure how. Lots of people were arriving for the race(s) and were setting up to camp overnight. My kid and I were just hanging out for the day, though. We had to leave the next morning to drive back home. I had to be at a mandatory choir meeting at 4:00 p.m. on Sunday so I knew I had no choice but to get up early and just get it done.

We had a fun afternoon at the race site. The kids dug in the dirt. It was nice to spend more time with my sister. I learned a tiny bit about dirt bike racing. My brother-in-law and the boys were not competing this time around. It was their first national race so he just signed up to work as a volunteer instead. The kids started fighting at one point so I took one of my nephews for a walk around the grounds. We decided to see how many different state license plates we could find. A surprising number of people traveled pretty darned far for this thing: Georgia, Florida, California, Virginia, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Oklahoma.

Finally, at about 6:00, I knew we'd better head out so that we could check into our hotel room and get ready for the long drive the next day. I was sorry to say good-bye to my sister, though. I miss her already. I did sneak in one more "big city" meal before checking into the hotel. We ate at a hip place called Tree House. It was so hip, in fact, that I had to hold the votive from the table up to the menu so that I could read it. You know you're getting old when a dimly-lit restaurant and microscopic print combine to do you in. Anyway, I squinted at the menu long enough to select wild mushroom ravioli, which was excellent. I didn't even try to read the wine menu - I just asked for a glass of Malbec.

After an unventful evening at the hotel, we hit the road early Sunday morning. The drive home was uneventful. I listened to the first season of Serial to occupy my brain. I made it to that meeting at 4:01, so . . . yay me.

Here are some photos from the trip:

Yes, I took a photo of a quote I saw inside a bathroom.

I miss you, brownies. XOXO







The same face on two different people.



Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Closure

Last Saturday, my family and I attended a fundraiser for Boxer Rescue. It was the 16th annual Boxer Bash, and I had worked at the first 15. My friend Vicki and I first dreamed up the event back in 2001 (she founded the rescue and then the two of us got it up and running more formally). A Boxer Rescue organization in a neighboring state hosted a similar event, so we took their idea and put our own spin on it. It was our first big fundraiser. Over the years, the event has grown considerably, sometimes generating as much as $20,000 in revenue.

I left the organization last year after 15 years of service. I have to admit that it was a painful time for me. I felt that I had to move on (for lots of reasons) but at the same time, I truly felt lost. The organization had been a part of my life for a very long time. I loved helping dogs. I loved hanging out with my Boxer-loving friends. I loved feeling like I was making a difference for animals in need.

Within any volunteer organization, you'll generally find some challenges when it comes to large groups of volunteers working together. When passionate people come together, it's not always smooth sailing. Some volunteers need lots of recognition and some would be embarrassed by the attention. Some volunteers have the time/inclination to do a lot for the organization and others just have a little time to spare. I always tried to make sure we were appreciative of all volunteers and their efforts. Conflicts arose from time to time, of course. Sometimes I was in the middle of such conflicts, sometimes not. We were all pretty good at "agreeing to disagree" in those times. I know that I'm not always a dream to work with.

Sometime last year, I began to see that there was some writing on the wall that I hadn't noticed before. I felt that I was being given some pretty clear signals my involvement was no longer needed. At the time, I was truly devastated. I don't know if my self-esteem has ever been lower. Thinking back on it now, I am reminded of that song with the line "nobody likes me, everybody hates me, guess I'll go eat worms."  I'm sure I was just feeling sorry for myself.

In the months after my departure, I was contacted by several of the volunteers. To my surprise, many said that they had enjoyed working with me and would miss my involvement with the rescue. I cried over a lot of those emails. I was just so touched to have people reaching out to me like that.

Ultimately, I came to realize that while a few people may have wanted me to go away, not everyone shared that sentiment. And honestly, maybe it was time for a change anyway. When I get comfortable, I don't leave. I was at my last job for 13 1/2 years and would probably still be there if I hadn't been part of an acquisition 6 1/2 years ago. Sometimes change has to be forced on me, and it's very hard at the time it's happening, but I can usually get some perspective on it later on.

I have found other things to do with my time, of course. I've taken on a board position at my church. I've done some volunteer work for a German Shepherd rescue.  I learned a lot about fundraising and fostering during my years with the Boxers and I still wanted to share it with an organization . . . if they would have me. I've been friends with the lady who runs the German Shepherd Rescue since before I was even involved with Boxer Rescue. So, she lets me help out with the Facebook page and foster from time to time.

As much as I do love German Shepherds, I am still a Boxer girl at heart. As the fall fundraiser for Boxer Rescue rolled around, I was pretty excited about attending as a regular ol' dog lover. I still want to support the rescue. I still want to be a cheerleader from the bleachers. Our family made plans to attend with Grover (Gretchen is too dog-aggressive to take to such events).  Our main goal was to have Grover run the lure course and wear his ass out.

Saturday turned out to be a rainy day. Fortunately, it dried up in the afternoon and they did end up setting up the lure course outside. I was ecstatic. We had driven two hours to wear out our puppy and were determined to do so! While waiting for the lure course to be set up, I bid on silent auction items, bought raffle tickets, and bought some tee shirts (there is a new theme and a new tee shirt every year). I did manage to win a door prize and a gift basket in the auction (bidding was pretty hot and heavy on some of that stuff). There was a painting in the raffle that I really wanted. A friend of mine won it, so now I just have to show up at her house unexpectedly and wait for her to leave me unattended for a few moments.

When the lure course opened for business, Grover was first in line. We got back in line several more times throughout the afternoon. He ran his little brains out.  We let him keep running, chasing the lure (AKA "plastic bag from the grocery store") until his tongue hung out of his mouth. Mission accomplished!  You see, our sweet puppy wakes up at 3 or 4 a.m. if not exercised thoroughly. Tired puppies sleep through the night.

Anyway, it was a great day. I was nervous about going but I'm glad I did. It was great to see the volunteers. I got lots of hugs and felt warmly received. One of the volunteers said, "You helped a lot of dogs, Claudia." I feel really good about that.

Me and my boyfriend Benny (if there was ever a dog I wish I could have adopted myself, it was him.)

Grover getting his ya-ya's out.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Unauthorized OJ

The new school year is going about as well as you'd expect . . . assuming that you were expecting mornings replete with screams of "LEAVE ME ALONE!" and evenings filled with "I know it's only the fourth day of school but yes, I forgot my math book."  (And then, "LEAVE ME ALONE! YOU NEVER LISTEN TO ME!") It can only get better, right?  Middle school starts a lot earlier than elementary school, and I knew it was going to be a rocky transition. However, she doesn't really have a choice. It's not like I have the luxury of quitting my job and home-schooling her. She's gotta suck it up.

There are some bright spots, though. I think the kid is learning to be more independent.  She takes a bus to/from school.  However, if she stays late for an after-school activity, she has to catch a city bus. She did that last week for the first time so now we've cleared that hurdle. I'm not really sure how much independence to require from her at this age. I'm fairly certain that if I didn't remind her to take a shower periodically, she'd simply stop showering.

On the second day of school, my little songbird auditioned for her middle school's show choir. We were on pins and needles for several days but when the list was posted, her name was on it! We had heard about good singers not getting in (in prior years), so we were nervous. I was so proud of her when she made it, though. Rehearsals started immediately - and boy, are they frequent. In looking at the schedule, she will need to be at rehearsals several days a week (after school) for the next few months. Fortunately, the city choir (of which she is also a member) rehearses on Sunday evenings so they shouldn't conflict. So yeah, she will be singing. A lot. And her dad and I will be driving her around. A lot.  I can't begin to tell you how glad I am that she doesn't play sports. She indicated an interest in running cross country, but I just felt like it would be too much. We may revisit the idea when the track and field season kicks off in the spring. She's actually a very fast runner. I haven't been able to beat her since she was two or so. And even then it was just by a hair.

The other challenge we've faced is with her lunch money. I guess she either forgot that I can see what she buys with her lunch card or she just thought I wouldn't look. But yeah, I looked.  It turns out that someone sure likes orange juice and ice cream. I don't know if drinking a regular ol' Capri-Sun is just not cool now that she's in middle school? The agreement we have is that she will buy lunch a couple days a week and bring lunch from home on the other days. According to the usage report, she buys lunch just about every day and also sips a daily orange juice (to the tune of $1.25 every day).  So, she blew through $21.25 in just a handful of days. Needless to say, I won't be replenishing her lunch fund right away.

If she keeps this up, I'm going to buy her a Dora the Explorer lunch box and make her take that to school. 



Sunday, September 4, 2016

Parenting: Funnier Than You'd Think

If you're a parent, have you ever had one of those moments when you think, "Wow, I am kicking ass at this parenting thing!"? Granted, such moments are few and far between, but I had one earlier.

My daughter and I have had a rough couple of days. She went to a sleepover Friday night. Her dad was scheduled to pick her up Saturday morning. He told her repeatedly that he would pick her up at 11. However, he could not remember the exact address.  He called her, texted her, and even attempted to Facetime with her. I tried those things, too. She was not answering. He drove over to pick her up and could not find the house. He gave up and came home. Meanwhile, she persisted in not responding to any of our attempts to reach her. Finally, I logged into her iCloud account and used the "find my phone" feature to send a ping to her phone (which apparently works even if the phone is set to vibrate). She heard it and called. By that time, her dad and I were livid. She said she "didn't know" we were trying to reach her.  I should add that the number one rule, when she received the phone, was that she had to respond to us if we tried to contact her.

She lost access to all electronics for the weekend.

There are so many days when I feel like, "Crap, this is not the kind of mom I wanted to be." We are different. I nag and cajole. I am neat, she is messy. I'm an early riser, she's a night owl. I like to get shit done and she, um, doesn't. She leaves her shit everywhere and then when the puppy starts chewing on said shit, she acts all exasperated. I hear myself saying, "If you'd picked it up like I told you . . . "  Lately it seems like we are clashing at every turn.

This is not to say that she doesn't have other characteristics of which I'm immensely proud. I can listen to my kid sing all day and all night. I never get tired of hearing her sing. I love how she makes friends left and right. I love a million things about her.

I particularly love that she has a great sense of humor. I feel like I want to take at least partial credit for it. I appreciate a good sense of humor almost more than anything else.

Earlier this evening, she was taking a bath. Her hair is always a project and sometimes she calls me into the bathroom to help get a comb through those unruly curls. She is also in this weird stage where she cares very much about her appearance but, as far as I can tell, that fact is in no way tied to hygiene. She doesn't usually take a shower until her dad and I have basically shamed her into it. So, earlier this afternoon, I found myself kneeling next to the tub, working a comb through the jungle (which had not been washed in several days). "Hang on a second," I said. "I have to evict the family of small rodents that's been living in there."

"C'mon out, you guys!" I whispered in a goofy voice. 

She reached back around her neck, poked her index finger through her hair, and wiggled the end of her finger. In a squeaky voice she said, "We're not going anywhere!"

I have not laughed that hard in weeks.

So yeah, I might be turning a messy marvin out into the world but hey, she can sing and she's funny. So, there's that.




Thursday, September 1, 2016

Middle School

Miss Rolls-Out-of-Bed-at-Noon got up at 5:30 this morning.  She's starting a whole new adventure in middle school, and has to catch a bus before 7. We went to the school's open house on Tuesday and walked the full route she'll need to take from class to class. I confess I am a little worried about her time management skills - she has just three minutes to get from class to class, some of which are fairly far apart. It's an exciting time, though. She's anxious to meet new friends, track down old ones, and join some activities.

My main question is: when, exactly, will my little peanut grow into her backpack?



Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Family Togetherness. So. Much. Togetherness.

We're back from 8 nights in the woods. Once again, my generous friend let us use his cabin. After going up there for 16 years, it has begun to feel almost like a second home to us. We just love it so much. I would be tempted to live "up north" permanently if not for the outrageous winters and lack of employment opportunities.

Once we arrived in the area, we quickly learned that some awful storms swept through in July, washing out many of the roads. So, that was one little snag with our trip - it was harder to get around. Most of the time, on this annual trip, we just sit around the cabin or hang out by the lake, so it wasn't the end of the world. I did make an attempt to be somewhat active during this vacation. We arrived on Friday night. I got up Saturday morning and hit the farmers' market and a yoga class. The drive "into town" used to take 25 minutes and now took closer to an hour, but we needed some supplies so I was bound to make the journey regardless.  On Sunday, I hit the nearby state park for some hiking. I went by myself since I knew we'd go as a family later in the week. According to my fitbit, that hike was the equivalent of 37 flights of stairs. To be honest, I was pretty impressed with myself because I was still fairly sick at that point. I stupidly brought along only two Kleenex for the hike. I quickly reduced them to something too horrible to describe. Anyway, it was a beautiful hike and I had a great time.

We did the same hike as a family on Friday. It took a lot longer that time because some people have to touch everything. On Tuesday, it was warm enough to go swimming, so I was able to get in a nice long swim in the lake.

So, there you have it. My faint attempts at being active. I did take Grover for a nice, long walk one day.  I earned my 10,000 steps and about 10,000 mosquito bites on that auspicious occasion.

Other than the aforementioned attempts at being active, we mostly just hung out. We played Jenga and Word on the Street. We did a lot of reading.  We ate a lot.  The mister and I gave our livers a little work-out, too.

It was fun seeing Grover exploring a new place. I kept thinking of Giddy and how I knew last summer was his last trip to the cabin.  I wondered what Grover must have thought after we settled in with all of our stuff. "Oh, I guess we live here now?" He didn't express any interest in swimming in the lake. I wasn't really surprised - most Boxers are not big swimmers. He just barked at the lily pads and called it a day.

Here are a few photos from the trip:





Friday, August 19, 2016

Fair Fair, Everything Will be Alright

I've been sick for about a week and a half now. So far, my family members haven't caught whatever I have but if they do, I will be sure to extend to them every bit as much helpfulness as they've shared with me during my illness. It never fails to amaze me how someone could watch me horking up a lung and drowning in my own mucus and still say, "Sooooo, what's for dinner?" 

Having the plague didn't keep me from going to the state fair and then the county fair, though. No sirree! Summer's not over yet!  We went to the state fair last Saturday.  We seem to do the same stuff at the fair every year, but it's still fun. I'm not sure if my husband truly enjoys it though. Crowds make him really uncomfortable. I mean, of course the state fair is crowded because, um, the whole state is invited. Maybe just the kid and I should go next year.

After so many years of attending, we have the parking situation down to a science. If we get there early, we can park in a nearby neighborhood at no charge. We grabbed a spot on the street and started walking in the direction of the fairgrounds. A woman was selling parking spaces in the alley behind her house.  "I hope you brought rain jackets," she said to us. She pointed at some clouds off in the distance. "We're gonna get nailed."  What was her point, exactly?  Did she want us to turn around and drive two hours back home? Was she annoyed that we'd parked for free instead of paying to park on her property?

"Okay, thank you," I responded, and gave her a weak smile. I'd already checked the weather forecast and the chance of rain was exceedingly low.

She turned to the man standing next to her, "Thank you?" Why would she say that?"

We kept walking. I said it to be polite because I don't like small talk and just wanted it to end.

We entered the fairgrounds and worked out a vague game plan as far as where to head first.  I did some shopping at the big vendor expo and then worked on finding some food. Eating at the state fair is always a challenge. I ended up getting some falafel (and was pretty darned happy to get my hands on that when you consider the other choices at the fair). We also let the kid ride some rides. I rode one of them with her, but rides at the state fair are pricey so we didn't want to get too crazy.

By mid-afternoon, it was hot and we decided we'd reached Maximum Fair. As we walked back to our car, I was really tempted to say something to the "we're gonna get nailed" lady, who was still trying to get hapless fair-goers to park in her yard. You know, something like "I can't help but notice that it never rained," but decided against it.

We went to our hotel and hung out for a while. At first I thought the hotel had made a mistake and gave us a room with only one bed.  Then I noticed that the room was more like a two-bedroom dealio. There was a separate kids' room with bunk beds - and, most importantly, its own TV. The kid was thrilled and so were we.  We didn't have to suffer through tween shows!

The next morning, we went to a local restaurant that has vegan stuff on the menu. I had pancakes that made all of my dreams come true. It's the little things, you know.

So, that was our first fair of the week.  The second came on Thursday, when I took the kid to the county fair after work (her dad had to work that evening).  The county fair is small but it's a good deal - admission includes parking and all of the rides. I rode the ferris wheel with her, but I was not down with the other rides.  Fortunately, a co-worker happened to be there and agreed to ride a couple of rides with her.  There was one ride that only admitted riders in pairs. This co-worker is also our HR person and does payroll. I was a tiny bit worried that I wouldn't see my next paycheck after she got done spinning on the Tilt-a-Whirl with my child.

We needed to get home and pack for our upcoming vacation, but her highness wanted to play a game first.  The midway games always scare me because I'm not great with math and I get nervous that I'll accidentally sign over my 401K or something.  I mean, they hand you a "free" ball or dart and the next thing you know, you owe them nine million dollars because you didn't pay close enough attention to the schpiel.

Sure enough, my kid soon had a "free" dart in her hand.  She shot the dart and connected with the wall as required.  (This wasn't the balloon one - it was just a wall with targets on it.)  The dude told me that she could have three darts for $5.00. Okay, I handed over a ten and waited for my change, which took an excruciatingly long time. A shot three darts and hit the wall all three times.  She qualified for a very small sock monkey, which seemed fine.  Then he handed me a dart and told me I could have a freebie, too. He said if I hit three, she could get the next size up. My kid seemed excited, so I didn't want to let her down. From what I could gather from the fast-talking huckster, I was going to need to hand over another five dollars.

I need to pause for a moment here and advise you that I do not know how to shoot darts. We have an electronic dartboard in our basement so it's not like I don't have an opportunity to learn - if I wanted to. My husband was even in a dart league for a while (yes, this is a thing).  See, where I grew up (in the 'burbs of DC), if you went out to drink, there wasn't an obligation to pursue other hobbies at the same time. Where I live now, people aren't content just to sit around and have a couple of drinks. They feel compelled to shoot darts or to shake dice with the bartender.  My husband has tried to teach me how to throw a dart properly.  These exchanges usually start with him saying, "YOU DON'T HAVE TO COCK YOUR WHOLE ARM, CLAUDIA" and end with me threatening bodily harm. You don't even want to know what happens when I attempt to throw a frisbee.

So, back to the fair.  I held the dart in my hand, cocked my whole arm back, and promptly flung the dart into a box of stuffed animals at the base of the wall. That's right, I didn't even hit the wall.  Undeterred, the dude told me that that one didn't count and handed me another dart. Miraculously, I hit the wall three times with three darts in a row. He handed me a fourth dart and told me that if I got this one, we could move up to the large prize for just $15.00.  I told him we were done and handed him the other five I'd received as change earlier.  I could see that I'd let him down by not throwing that extra dart, but I am sure he managed to extract it from the next passerby.  My daughter selected her prize: a small emoji pillow.  So, there you have it.  Ten bucks for a fifty-cent toy.

Later that evening, Grover tried to chew that cheap-ass toy and the kid just about lost her mind over it.  If he wants a carnival toy, he's going to have to save up and shoot those darts on his own. This ain't no free ride.