Monday, December 30, 2013

Gratitude for Modern Conveniences

Did I mention that our dishwasher sprung a leak on Christmas Eve?

It actually happened when we ran the dishwasher overnight on the 23rd. We ran it even though it wasn't full because it was 2 degrees and expected to get down to 12 below overnight (and it did, in case you were wondering). We've had the water line to the dishwasher freeze in previous cold spells, so we thought that by keeping water running as the temperature dropped that it would keep the line from freezing.

Instead it sprung a leak, resulting in water all through our basement.


This means I baked a coffee cake Christmas Eve, a pasta dish that evening and a nice dinner the following night, while hand-washing every single dish, spoon, fork, knife, serving dish, plate, cup and bowl that was dirtied. This means that we washed dishes approximately 4 to 5 times a day, for five days.

We were able to get a hold of a plumber who came to look at it the day after Christmas.  He determined that not only was a hose busted, but the dishwasher itself had a leak and an appliance repairperson would also need to be consulted.

We sure know how to break stuff.

We hosted a family dinner on Saturday while the dishwasher was only partially repaired, resulting in dirty dishes on every flat surface in the kitchen before clean-up began the following morning.

Re-routing the plumbing to and from the dishwasher so it can be INSIDE the exterior insulation (what a concept).
So I learned to appreciate my modern dishwasher, but also to appreciate clean dishes, because I have to say that our silverware and dishes never gleamed quite as well as they did while we were hand-washing.
One of many loads of dishes washed in a day.
And it also reminded me of this little story I read in Reader's Digest many moons ago.

A recent bride had just moved into a brand-new home with her husband.  She was incredibly excited to show her family the home with all its modern conveniences. One day the bride's grandmother visits, and the granddaughter happily takes her on a tour of the house, spending lots of time in the kitchen with its modern appliances.

The grandmother smiled as she surveyed the beautiful and modern kitchen and asked, "If you had only one of these modern conveniences and had to give up the rest, which would be the one item you would keep?"

The bride looked around the kitchen, at the dishwasher, the side-by-side refrigerator, the stovetop and oven, the warming drawer,  microwave and debates: Which one could she absolutely NOT live without? Finally she says, "The microwave. Because if nothing else worked, I could at least heat up some takeout."

"Interesting choice," the grandmother said, "I would've chosen the running water."

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Runaway Train of a Christmas Eve

Coffee cake, anyone?
We've built a few Christmas traditions for our family, based on carrying on old ones that I grew up with. One of those is having homemade coffee cake while opening gifts on Christmas morning. Another is having a baked pasta dish cook during Christmas Eve service, to be eaten upon the family's return from church. There's nothing like coming home from church, opening the door and having that good garlic-tomatoy smell waft out of the house. Aahhh!

For my family, this means that both dishes need to be prepared on Christmas Eve. My mom -- being the master organizer and planner that she is --  used to prepare them in advance and store them in the freezer until they were needed. Of course, that requires not only chunks of time not taken up by work, family and household chores, but also a nice-sized freezer in which to store the food, neither of which I have.

Christmas Eve morning started out with the highest of hopes and expectations to have everything done by the 4:30 church service. But this was soon derailed when we discovered at 8 o'clock in the morning that the pipe to our dishwasher has frozen. The appliances in our basement, located just under the dishwasher, looked like they had been rained upon, the floor trusses above were saturated and the floor was sopping wet. It was no longer leaking, but clearly had done so while the dishwasher had run overnight. A call was made to a plumber, with a promise of coming out to look at it...after the holiday. In the meantime, no running the dishwasher until we can determine the cause.

This means breakfast dishes had to be washed first, and THEN coffee cake started a bit later than initially scheduled, with dishes washed again while the cake was baking.

Coffee cake, or ugly cake?

Coffee cake! (See last year's post. And the year's before. Etc.)
In the meantime, I could feel a sniffle and occasional sneezing creeping up on me. Ignoring it, I told the girls we could go to the mall for lunch and possibly a visit with Santa, since we hadn't seen him yet this year and I was not up to making a lunch and washing those dishes as well.

But first... the eldest had to bathe and wash her hair which was long overdue for a washing.

They both put their new holiday dresses on and off we went to the mall. We lunched, and then got in line to see Santa. The line was relatively short; it didn't look like we were going to wait long. But this was a really good Santa, and he took his time with every child who came to him to tell him their wishes. There was a girl with a disability a few families ahead of us, and he took extra care in talking with her and her family. Seriously, how can you not love that?

Except that I was watching my watch as it crept toward 2:00, then past, then towards 3:00. And all the time I was standing in line I was feeling more and more run-down. I debated even going to the church service, but...really? Isn't that the whole point of Christmas, to hear the Christmas story and celebrate Christ's birth?

When it was finally our turn to see Santa we had been waiting an hour and a half. There goes my cooking time for dinner. is this going to work?

We arrived home at 3:20 and I shooed everyone out of the kitchen while I got to work, whipping up our traditional pasta dinner of stuffed pasta shells.

I learned that I can cook that dish in 45 minutes. Rock star. By 4:10 I was upstairs changing and we got the family out the door in 10 minutes.

All during the service my nose itched nonstop and dripped endlessly. My head was feeling heavier and heavier. This was now a full-blown cold and I felt like crap.

We arrived home and final preparations began for dinner. My blood boiled briefly when I heard "When's dinner? I'm hungry," from the child playing in the living room, the child who is perfectly capable of filling salad bowls and putting salad dressing out. She was promptly recruited for the job.

While hand-washing the meal's dishes after dinner, I informed my dearly beloved that there was no way I could do all the Christmas prep myself as I had previous years. Thankfully I had done most of the wrapping the weekend before, but there were still a few late gifts that needed to be wrapped, along with stockings to be stuffed and Santa gifts to be found from their hiding places and set under the tree. Of course, only I knew where the stocking gifts were hidden, which presents needed to be wrapped, and where the Santa gifts were hiding.

The two of us got it all done and went straight to bed. Thankfully I slept all the way through the night and was awoken at 6:30 by two excited little girls, which is relatively late for Christmas morning in our house.

It felt like it had been a runaway Christmas Eve, starting out slowly and calmly and eventually ending in a race against the clock and a cold.

I'm thinking that we may invest in a freezer so I can avoid this runaway train next year. Ah-choo.

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Journey Complete and a Celebration

About 18 months ago my sister began a journey to create opportunity for herself. She decided to go back to school to get her bachelor's degree in nursing. Sure, she already has a bachelor's degree, and she has enough schooling to be an RN. But to be truly mobile in her career, she needed the undergraduate degree to be in nursing, not psychology (her original undergrad degree). So back to school she went, for something like the third time in her adult life.

As usual, she rocked it. She would sigh over her A- on her test or project and wonder what she could have done to get an A+. (Yes, her expectations of herself are really that high.) She juggled work and studying and fitness and traveling to see family to earn this degree.

So when it came time to graduate, she asked if I would attend, along with our dad, who would be driving up from Arkansas. What a wonderful opportunity for the three of us to be together, a rarity considering the distance between us.
Look out, Chicago! The Floria's are in town.
My what a time we had.

I flew in to Chicago on a Friday afternoon to be greeted at arrivals by my sister and dad. We drove into the city, lunched at a Corner Bakery, and then, the Sears Tower. I mean the Willis Tower, but it will always be the Sears Tower to us. Kristi had last been to the top of it about 20 years earlier, and Dad had never been to it.

We had such a wonderful time walking around, looking down at all the buildings and eventually trying our courage by standing on "The Ledge," a glass-bottomed enclosure that literally hangs off of the edge of the 103rd floor. Kristi could barely take the picture while I clung to the building for some time before finally stepping out.

We drove through the city a bit and looked at all the holiday lights, then drove back to Valparaiso, Indiana, where Kristi lives. We relaxed for a while, then headed out to a restaurant for dinner.

Saturday morning she and I took in a Crossfit workout. Kristi's been doing Crossfit for several years now and raves about it. I've heard all about her Crossfit friends and got to meet them in person. We did a group workout, where we got together in groups of threes and had to complete these strangely acronymed exercises like "DU's" and "wall balls." It took our group 36 minutes to complete and we were drenched in sweat. By the end of it I had completed 450 single jump ropes, 100 wall balls (squatting down and throwing a 14 lb. medicine ball as high up against a wall as possible and then catching it and going back into a squat for the next toss), and 35 power snatches (lifting a weight bar from a squat position directly above my head in a single movement.)

Crazy as this sounds, that is my idea of fun. and Kristi was complimented on her form during the power snatches. Of course, she couldn't resist but ask the guy, "Did you just tell me I had a good snatch?"

I learned that "DUs" are "double unders" and that I cannot do them. (It's jumping up once and having a jump rope pass under your feet twice before your feet touch the ground again.)
Lunch at home and then shopping in downtown Valparaiso. Valpo is such a pretty town and was special to see in a fresh coating of snow that was still falling as we were out and about.

Dinner out again. Shocking. Food and the Floria's.

And then Sunday, the graduation ceremony.

The chapel from my seat in the last row.
Valparaiso University is a private Lutheran school and the graduation took place in the chapel. It's a beautiful building with soaring stained glass panels two stories tall. The graduation was regal, filled with pomp, tradition and ceremony. So wonderful.

I never made it to Kristi's first graduation from college -- I was a freshman at St. Cloud State and her graduation took place the weekend before my finals week. I can count on one hand the number of times I had been to Valparaiso, for as close as we sisters are and for as many times in a year I see Kristi. It was such a treat to spend time with her and Dad. When we're together we are laid back, happy as can be to just sit around and "gaboon," as my dad says. And, as only families can do when they get together, we feast.

Such memories were made. I am so proud of my sister and so happy that our dad and I could be there to celebrate.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Are We Really Still Doing This to Our Girls?

Somehow a co-worker of mine got put on the subscription list at work to both Boy's Life and Girl's Life. Perhaps they think that by giving the PR manager at a children's hospital a free subscription that the magazines will end up in our waiting rooms and reception areas.

She, of course, begs to differ, and I had to agree upon looking at the magazines. 

For the first thing, take a look at both magazine covers.

No really, these covers are indeed from this year.

The Boy's Life one? I don't feel I can comment too much on this one, I never was a boy and am not the parent of boys. But from the outside, it doesn't look too awful. About skiing, the perfect ski outing, the most dangerous job in showbiz, and "true stories of Scouts in action." All sounds wholesome although obviously slanted to the outdoors and an active lifestyle. Perhaps it should be re-named "Active Boy's Life."

But then we have this.
"Look Amazing!! Major outfit inspo inside" (We can't even be bothered to write the word "inspiration" in full?)

"Get Your Dream Hair"

"Steal Her Beauty Secrets: Shhh! Tips and tricks from gorgeous girls." (Because we all know what it's like to look at the gorgeous girls, hate them but want to be them, too. But we shouldn't know what that feels like, that's the problem.)

And the ultimate headline: "Quiz: Should You Date Him?"

Oh. My God.

I looked up this magazine's advertising stats -- age range of its subscribers are 12 to 17, median age is 15.  They have more than 2.1 magazines in circulation, of those 400,000 are paid subscribers. 

You mean there are actually 400,000 parents who paid to expose their girls to this crap? Haven't we moved beyond this yet?

I try to shield my kids from ridiculous stereotypes and unreal expectations. They may comment on a beautiful woman on a bulletin board, and I'll let them know that her body was probably photoshopped or her make-up airbrushed on.

They and their friends are currently mocking Miley Cyrus for her choices in wardrobe and actions. But then we'll have a conversation about bullying, and how it must feel to be Miley Cyrus and have everyone make a parody of her song "Wrecking Ball." (Poor Miley.)

I made the mistake of opening the magazine to see if the content was really as bad as the cover promised. 

It was.  

On the traditional "reader asks questions" page:

"I think I repel guys. I get top grades, am captain of my sports teams and do choir. My friends say guys are intimidated."

One editor writes: It's not that you're successful, it's how you carry that success. Downplay it. Put the spotlight on others, and point out special things about those around you.

The other editor's response is: "At the risk of being a little sexist, flirt. Smile. Laugh at his jokes." 

My response to that editor: You didn't risk being a little sexist, you ARE incredibly sexist for giving that advice to 15-year-olds.

So the message here is: Be smart, but not too smart. And if you are really smart and talented, don't be proud about it, be sure to shine the spotlight on others or rely on your good looks so you can get a guy.

Now imagine that readers take that advice, apply it to their high school education, their college education, and then eventually to their careers.

And we wonder why women are still not well represented in the C-suite of company management rosters.

We need to stop giving in to societal pressure that the value of women in our society is in their beauty and not in their talents. 

I wish I could make this crap stop. I don't know why it's still out there. No wait, I do know why: I looked up the statistics for this magazine on their advertising page. A full-page ad in this magazine costs $27,000, more for the back cover or inside flap. Guess who their #1 advertisers are? Yep, you got it, cosmetics companies. Hair products. Apparel retailers. 

So we may want to tell "Girl's Life" that we will never buy their crap, but unfortunately enough people are buying it that advertisers want to be there.

So I will target the advertisers. Skechers has a four-color back page ad, the most expensive ad of the publication. A product called "No!No! Skin" promises to zap away your zits on the inside back cover. "Series 31" jeans has full-page four-color ads.

I could write a little letter to these, but I think I'll be a little more public about it -- Ooo! Look! Skechers has a Facebook page....

Stay tuned...

Or better yet, want to join me?