The One Where I Probably Violate Some Unknown Copyright Law

I want to dedicate this video blog entry to my friends Christine & John, who have listened to more than a few cover songs with me back in the day, before I moved away to be with Brian. At the dueling piano bar this past weekend, the band played it nearly instantly after I sent the request up there. I thought my friends might enjoy the stroll down memory lane, and the rest of you might love a trip back to the 1980's, when the music had layers and the lyrics didn't and nobody seemed to mind a bit. Apologies for the dim lighting (in a bar) and the less than stellar quality of the sound (recorded on my phone), but hopefully you get the idea. I miss you guys, and I hope your new hometown has a stellar cover band, too.


No, it wasn't a dream.

Last weekend my in-laws came to town and said, "Get out of here! Scram!"

I am not sure if they were talking to me or the cat, but I raced into the bedroom and opened a random dresser drawer. Think fast, Jennie: where are the suitcases? Upstairs. Too far away. What do I need to wear? Hmm. Who cares? I tossed the first layer of clothes in the drawer into a little plastic shopping bag that was on the bed. I ran to the kitchen, yelled something about milk in the freezer, grabbed my purse, and sped away in the little red convertible.

As I got to the stop sign, I saw Brian in my sideview mirror. He was running behind the car, waving his wallet. Reluctantly, I pulled over and picked him up.

That night we had an adult dinner at a quiet restaurant, with wine and candles and excellent food that did not need ketchup. Or sippy cups. We checked in at the hotel, propped open our eyelids with scotch tape and headed to a bar for a beer. And then came back to the room to enjoy the deep, uninterrupted sleep of parents who refuse to call home and check on anyone.

The next day we had a wonderful lunch at a Mexican place with margaritas, where not a single grain of Spanish rice landed on the floor. Afterwards we strolled around the mall and sat in the massage chairs at Brookstone, where we enjoyed the entire 5-minute demo without hiding the massage chair remote control. We even played with the new iPhone at the overly crowded Apple store, where we didn't pull a screaming child away from banging on the laptop keyboards at the kids' table.

Later, we saw a newly released movie in a real theater - not a pay per view or Redbox rental ("Knight & Day" - go see it, it's hilarious and very well done). We didn't have to share concessions with someone who can eat her weight in popcorn, and we didn't need to take a bathroom break every 10 minutes.

That evening, our outdoor tourism plans were foiled by a sudden thunderstorm, but we did manage to pass several hours with a bartender who kept plying us with special concoctions involving a large array of homemade flavored vodkas. This was not as disappointing as it sounds, although Brian does not recommend the habanero vodka, unless you are attempting to win a very large bet. I vowed to return another day, when I would once again not be counted on to nurse a young infant.

We headed down the street and happened upon a dueling piano bar that looked promising, so we handed over the cover charge to enter a place that did not have a giant inflatable slide or a singing robotic rat. Turned out to be the best entertainment we'd seen in ages. And folks, we have 3 little girls who must be quite entertaining, since we haven't been on a date in 6 months, but two pianos, one drumset and a bass guitar later, we had seen an entire evening of sheer FUN. We got back to the hotel after 1 a.m. and crashed.

The next morning, we spent far too much on breakfast from the hotel buffet, and headed home. The girls were clearly excited to see us. Helen spent the morning dancing around in the $4 tourist shop cowboy hat we purchased for her. Alice promptly glued herself to my lap for the next two hours. Nana swore up and down that Jane was a good baby while we were gone.

I'm working on medals for the in-laws. Do you think it should mention "bravery in the line of fire" or "valor beyond the call of duty" - or both?


The End of an Era

While I was pregnant with Alice, I toured a new daycare center. This was after nearly 3 years of childcare provided by a decent center right around the corner from our home. You can't beat that kind of convenience with a stick. So, looking farther away was harder, and mentally a bit of a block for me, but having two kids, affordability was the biggest factor in making a change. I also knew that every 3 months, Helen got a new teacher. With that kind of turnover, it was hard to get any rapport built up, and I was beginning to worry about her reaching a crucial point in her development and learning with a revolving door of instructors. She's a sharp kid but I didn't want her to suffer with all the short-timers.

The teacher I met on the tour of the new place was very reassuring. She had previously worked at the center where Helen was, and she knew what I was worried about with their staffing issues. She assured me that turnover was very low. She herself had been at the center for 4 years. Helen's class was taught by the owner. Alice would have teachers who had each been working there for a minimum of 2 years. That was excellent news to me.

October 1 will mark 2 years of attending this daycare. Helen now has some very near and dear friends in her class, and she loves each one of her teachers. Alice turns into a bright ray of sunshine in her classroom. You can tell she truly enjoys herself. I love how the teachers hug her. Jane is smiling every time I leave her in the morning and is being cuddled whenever I show up. I have landed in a great daycare and I wouldn't leave them anywhere else for the world.

Except, sometimes, it's time to go.

I was not prepared for this scene. I knew that it was coming for a couple of weeks, and I had been working hard to get the house clean for a visit from her PeePaw, and get a potluck dish made and delivered, and managed the logistics of getting a family to arrive on time and neatly dressed - so essentially, I'd been focusing very closely on the trees and suddenly the forest appeared on stage. Seeing her walk out in that outfit, it was a very startling moment for me. She keeps telling me she's 5 now, but dang if she didn't just grow up right there in that cap & gown. Plus, she was so cute up there with her friends.

I'm just a little bit sad that the daycare doesn't run an elementary school, too.


My New Precioussssss

I'm not an early adapter of technology. My mother works at a large retail computer store, my father buys everything that comes out of that large retail computer store, and my sister has 2 masters degrees in education technology. I, on the other hand, am convinced that disgruntled leprechauns live inside my computer. Also, I put my fingers in my ears and go "LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU" when Brian starts talking about the new iPad.

So, for my birthday, something that was long overdue - Brian took me shopping for a new cellphone. I had a Motorola Razr for 4 years. It was a wonderful Mother's Day present, and all it did was make calls. I thought that's all I needed. But 4 years later, once you start referring to your cellphone as Old Unreliable, it's time to upgrade. At the store I pulled it out my pocket and the kid/salesguy saw it and snickered. No, seriously, people. He SNICKERED. At ME. ON MY BIRTHDAY. I was ready to box his ears and call him Sonny. But I refrained.

After a lot of shopping and a lot of questions and a lot of test-driving, enter my new phone: an HTC MyTouch from T-Mobile. I love this phone. It's a Google phone which is very straightforward and simple. I can take minute-long videos and upload them to YouTube which means, keep an eye for more kid video than you can stand. I can send pictures via text message to everyone except Brian (don't ask, he doesn't know why, either). I can listen to music. I can slide my finger around to the letters instead of tapping them out. It's called Swyping, and I love it. I spent about 10 minutes doing a tutorial, and I was off to the races.

After getting mocked by the whippersnapper in T-Mobile, it felt good to have this new hip phone and live somewhere near a cutting edge in technology. Even if it's just a bedroom suburb of the cutting edge, it feels good. I loaded up on a data plan and a text plan and hit the road.

Brian picked up the kids from daycare that afternoon. He stopped at the store with them to pick out cards and cake and a balloon. Let me tell you what really deflates a good birthday high. It's when your kid hits the door, all excited, and gives you this:


The One Where She Turns 5

Those of you who have known me for many years understand my fear and trepidation surrounding children's birthday parties. Specifically, the ones at some gigantic indoor play zone where I sort of know the kid from daycare but have never met the parents, and our kids are way too young to just drop off. So instead, we stand around trying not to stare at each other, making awkward small talk about how precious our kids are, asking variations of "What's your name again?" and feverishly hoping that our kid isn't the most hyper one in the room.

I knew that this year would be a touch & go year for Helen in terms of birthday parties. If you have checked this blog faithfully, you will know that Helen's parties have consisted of some cupcakes on the big day, and not much else. And for all those years when she couldn't really talk, it worked just fine. Then came the talking years, but I was still a bit ahead of her on the reasoning skills, so we kept parties at bay.

Then came this year. About a month ago, one of her friends turned 5, and had a big party at a giant indoor play place. It was a Friday evening, and the invitation said "Siblings invited" and they served pizza, so I caved in and dragged all 3 kids out. I figured it would wear them out and we could sleep in on Saturday. And I did get to chat with a couple of very nice moms, but it still felt awkward as hell. The party girl's mom, however, breezed in and handled it all so graciously. This party was for her 3rd kid, and she still whizzed around like Martha Stewart. She made sure we all had food and snacks. She sweet talked Alice and chatted with Helen. She even helped me haul one very reluctant-to-leave child back to the car. I'm telling you, that's SO NOT ME.

Later that weekend, Helen told me that she was thinking of having her party at the same place. Proceed directly to CRINGE. Folks, these parties start at around $200, and that's not including pizza and cake and ice cream. That's just, "Yes, you can rent out space here," and "Don't forget to bring the goody bags." Plus, sending the invitations and deciding who to invite, and all of our family is out of town, and the few who do live close would be on vacation, and ending up hosting all these daycare parents I don't know, it was just like NO. I CAN'T DO IT. DON'T MAKE ME DO IT.

So then I had a conversation with Helen about how we weren't going to have a party at the Giant Indoor Play Place. I told her that we could have some cupcakes and presents at home, and she said, "You mean, a family party?" And I said yes, that's right. Fortunately, she didn't have her nose pinched and head held up high while she said it, but you could tell she was a little disappointed. Especially when she muttered darkly, "And next year, I'm having a party with friends." So next year, after kindergarten is over, we can invite a friend or two over to swim at the neighborhood pool, and grill some burgers and hot dogs and have some cake. But this year, one last time, it would be just us.

Years ago, Brian & I talked about our vision of the perfect birthday party, and we thought out loud, wouldn't it be fun to rent the stuff but not invite everyone - just have it for her to play around in. Like, booking the giant indoor play place for just your family. Or calling up the inflatable rental store and setting it up in the backyard for the kids. Book the petting zoo to come visit. We could skip the looney tunes clown and the not-so-funny magician. But you get the idea. That idea stuck in my head for the longest time - 4 years, to be exact - and so last month I started calling around to find out prices for renting the giant bouncy castle.

YIKES. Varies from $100-$175 for anywhere from 4-8 hours. That includes setup and takedown, but still. A lot steeper than I pictured. You can buy them, but quality varies, and prices can go up dramatically for ones that will endure a 5-year old's bouncing.

So I found the guy that would rent it for $100, and I was in discussion with Brian about what to do. I just happened to mention it to a co-worker who was taking the day off for his son's birthday party, and he said, "Oh, I have one." I was like, HUH? You own a giant bouncy castle? Turns out, yes, he does. He has 3 boys and sometimes on the weekend, they'll put it up in the backyard and let the kids go nuts. It's good to wear them out and they sleep like angels. And this co-worker said, Hey, you can borrow it. Folks, that is pure awesomeness. Besides, the money saved and all that, no worries about if it rains, the rental period is ruined, rescheduling the party, etc. We could put it up when we needed to and take it down on our schedule.

So, her birthday was on a Friday. I told her that we would have our family party on Saturday, with cupcakes and presents, and that we could make the cupcakes together that afternoon. But I didn't let on there was anything more to it. Brian went out mid-morning to mow the lawn, and then he set up the bouncy castle. Once I got the high sign from him, I told her there was a surprise for her birthday in the yard, and I led her outside with "eyes closed, Helen, close 'em tight!" I got a picture of her when she saw it for the first time:

Then she & Alice went to town bouncing in it. Sliding on the slide, running around, climbing in, bouncing and sliding to their heart's content. Helen told me over and over it was the BEST. BIRTHDAY. EVER. Honestly, that was all I needed to hear. Family party, schamily party. She got a bouncy castle to play in. Game over, Giant Indoor Play Place!

It was about 97 degrees outside, though, so they got hot, quick. I went inside to watch from the windows, and take care of Jane. About 45 minutes later, Alice came bounding in, hair plastered to her head and red from head to toe. She sucked down a cup of ice water and headed right back outside.

Shortly after that, I got them to come in for a little lunch, and then put both of them down for a nap. They slept for FOUR HOURS. Suffice it to say, the cupcakes were ready when she got up.

We are looking into buying one of these things. My co-worker said he had found a company that was going out of business, and they typically sold these to the rental companies. My co-worker picked up this one for a steal, and he said it paid for itself after they used it at 2 birthday parties. Seriously, with 3 kids, this is a must-have. Brian was amazed at how easy it was to set up and take down. It came with its own high powered fan, and it inflated in about a minute and came down in about 2 minutes. It fit in a tiny duffel bag. Didn't even ruin the grass at all. Really! Have you bought one yet? Go, go, go!

One of our neighbors came by later in the afternoon, totally jealous and wanting to bounce. But it was only rated for ages 10 & under. I will have to look into buying one that's more adult-sized. Maybe we can make back some of the money by selling time in the bouncer to the neighbors. Hmm, a possible revenue stream on weekends. This has all kinds of possibilities!

Happy Birthday, Helen. Now that you're 5, your birthday parties are going to start earning their keep.



Last month Brian picked up Helen from daycare and headed southeast of town to one of those Pick Your Own farms. He and I had looked at possible places to go the day before what ended up being the big flood weekend. That flood sort of put everything on hold for a while. So when he texted me this picture in the middle of my workday, I got excited.

When I got home that night, I realized I had to do something with over 10 pounds of perfectly ripe strawberries. Fast.

We ate a bunch of them that evening. Most of the berries you buy at the grocery store are red on the outside and white on the inside and taste vaguely berry-ish. Sometimes there is an exceptional period of about a week or two where you break down and buy a pint or a quart and they turn out fantastic, but you dare not press your luck any longer.

Not these berries. These berries were red on the inside, juicy and DELICIOUS.

One summer when I came home from college, I visited a farm near campus and brought my mom a couple of pounds of fresh strawberries. She made a pie with them that was amazing. So, naturally, I decided that's what I had to do with these berries.

The next night, after the kids went to bed, I got to work making my own pie. Rolled out the crust, found a recipe online, and WOW. It was fabulous! I didn't even bother with making a whipped cream topping, but that would have made it even better.

We snacked on the rest of the berries that week. Truly a delightful way to start off the summer. Prices were reasonable, around $2 a pound (not counting the gas for the trip out of town). Most farms will have some pre-picked for a little bit more, if you don't want to do it yourself. The way the heat index has been the past 2 weeks, I wouldn't blame anyone for skipping that step.

Blueberries are in season now, and so are blackberries. I might need to send those two off for my next cobbler ingredients.


It's Just Lunch

While we visited my parents last month, my sister asked us to come see her at school. She teaches a 5th grade class down the street and we decided to have lunch with her. So I packed up the girls and prepared for my meal in an elementary school cafeteria since, let's see, minus 11, carry the 1 - oh good god. Moving on ...

Helen was excited to see a real school, since she's in a tiny daycare now. She will be starting kindergarten in August, and she has asked me a million questions about it. Every day it's something different: what they will do in kindergarten, if her friends will be in her class, what they will do after kindergarten, how long will they be in class, if they get naps, or snacks, or playdough - everything. That kind of curiousity is exciting to watch develop, and I haven't seen her the least bit anxious about it.

Anyway, we arrived at the school for lunch. I had told her that her Aunt M is a teacher, and we would be eating lunch with her class. But I didn't tell her that the cafeteria would have about 200 kids in it. She walked in and looked around and just stood next to me, not saying anything.

So we went through the lunch line. Folks, it was corn dog day. They had cooked carrots and a blueberry dessert to go with it. These are all things my children will eat, so the lunch line was a total success in my book. We got food for Alice and Helen, and headed for the tables.

I had one of those mommy moments where I realized that Helen is growing up. I'm used to thinking of her as an older kid since there are 2 babies at home, but she's like an older baby because I still do so much for her. School age is a big leap. This cafeteria scene will become a daily occurence for her quite soon. She'll have to make choices without her teachers doing it for her. No one will constantly remind her to eat all of her lunch so she won't be hungry later. I kept asking her what she thought, and she was really quiet, just taking it all in. Helen is *never* quiet. So this was interesting to watch. It made me wonder how long it will take her to reach a comfort zone in her own school. Maybe it's good that we practiced this ahead of time, so she has an idea of what to expect.

My sister asked her if she wanted to take her tray to the dishwasher, and she was totally up for it. So they headed to the window. Later, Helen took Alice's tray all by herself. As I watched her walk away from me carrying that tray, I did my darndest not to tear up.

After lunch we headed back with my sister's class to their room. My sister asked Helen to be the line leader, which was a huge deal to Helen. All students are supposed to walk quietly through the halls on what they call "Third Street." The square floor tiles make a neat pattern, and they are supposed to walk on the third tile away from the wall. If I had to guess why, after watching a class head back to their room, the third tile is just far enough away to keep kids from getting the walls dirty, bumping up against doors, tearing up bulletin boards, or disturbing other classes. It also means as they travel through the halls, another class can approach from the other direction and everyone stays in line and in order. Helen spent the entire trip back to my sister's classroom with her head down, totally focused on keeping her feet on Third Street. She took her duty very seriously and never wavered once. A few times we had to tell her to "look up, go this way" as they needed to make a left turn. But she did a great job. We saw the classroom, watched the kids get their stuff ready for the next lesson, and then headed back to the car. She saw so much that day, including a boatload of kids several years older than her, and she still hasn't expressed an ounce of anxiety about going to kindergarten. So that's a good thing.

This week I chatted with another daycare mom whose daughter will go to Helen's school. She said that the first day, they have an event for the kindergarten parents called the "Boo Hoo Breakfast." It's meant to lessen the separation anxiety, by letting us remain at the school a little longer, but it gets us out of the classroom so the kids can get started with their day. I thought the name was hilarious. Even funnier is that first day is a half-day. So I drop her off starting at 8:00, have breakfast at 8:30, and school ends 3 hours later. That means I still have to figure out lunch & daycare for her that first week. Ugh!

(By the way, if anyone wants it, I found a recipe on a school district's website for that square pizza that we used to have for school lunches. Remember how excited you were to find out it was pizza day? That giant rectangle with the shredded sausage and hardly a hint of tomato sauce, underneath a layer of barely melted cheese, and that chewy pizza dough? Ah, the things we used to love. Now, if I can just figure out how to dial down the portion sizes from "serves 300.")

Bring on the Baby Pictures!

When you arrive at daycare to pick up your kids, and one of them looks like this:

... if you wake that baby up, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.


Waterloo no more

My grandmother made fabulous orange bread. Whenever we visited her, she usually took a loaf from the freezer to thaw, and we'd toast it for breakfast and add lots of butter. It was always a great treat to have a homemade slice of her bread.

Sometime after I graduated from college, I called and asked her for the recipe. We were having a potluck breakfast at work for Christmas the next month, and I thought it would be good to bring her bread to share with everyone. I carefully wrote down all the steps on two cards. Step one was for the candied orange peel that got chopped up and mixed into the bread dough. Step two was making the bread dough.

The next month, I had my plan. I would plow through step one after work, and then handle step two early in the morning before going to work, so the loaf would still be warm as it was served to my co-workers. That night, before I went to bed, I carefully saved the sugared peel in a ziploc on the counter. The next morning, I got out my recipe card for the bread dough, and noticed one of the ingredients was a cup of the sugar water that cooked the orange peel. I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. I had poured that sugar water & candied orange peel into a colander the night before, so all of that water went down the drain. I said a few choice words before shoving the recipe cards back in the box and heading for the shower. I stopped on the way to work and bought a big coffee cake from the grocery store. A few days later, my grandmother called me to find out how it went and we both had a good laugh over what a gigantic idiot I was.

A few years later, I dug the recipe cards out to make it and SCREWED UP AGAIN. People, it's like I totally forgot what happened the first time, and I went to strain the water from the orange peel and dumped it all into the colander and then sucked in my breath like one of those horror films as I watched the water go down the drain. I hung my head and took the colander over to the trash can and dumped the peel in the garbage. I mean, I just cannot be trusted to get this right. TWICE.

So at this point, this recipe is like my Waterloo. I love the memories of eating it, and I love thought that I *could* make it, since I have it in my recipe box. It seems like it should be easy enough, and yet TWICE I couldn't get it done. Which for me is like a giant mental stumbling block to ever trying to make it again.

So while I was on maternity leave, I decided to get past it. Dang it, I wanted some orange bread! This time I took out both recipe cards, and gave myself a stern lecture before I even put a pot of water on the stove. "Jennie," I said out loud, "you cannot mess this up. Your grandmother worked hard to give you orange bread on each visit. She trusted you with the recipe, and she is counting on you to get it right. You have tossed out that water twice now. Can you remember to save it this time? CAN YOU FINISH THE DAMN RECIPE ALREADY?"

And this time, I made the orange bread. And it was awesome. Oh, how I loved it. I made two more loaves while we were at my parents' house, and I shared them with my sister and mother, and I fed it to my girls. It's good stuff, people. But more than that, I'm finally past that obstacle. There's a lot of things that mentally hold us back from getting things done, and I finally charged right over one of them. Hoo-rah.

I know Grandma is up there somewhere smiling and totally thrilled that I got through it for once, but I just wish I could call her to tell her how good it was.



While we visited my parents, my mother decided to take her grandchildren to ride the big carousel at the mall. This required picking up my sister's oldest son at daycare, taking Helen and hauling strollers for 3 babies (2 of mine, plus my sister's youngest one). Helen was beyond excited to see her cousin M. I figured they would be all about riding the carousel, while Alice would be clinging for dear life and crying the whole time.

We decided to do this event on a day that Neena already would be at the daycare to celebrate Mother's Day with a special lunch. It would mean no nap for my girls, which can be an issue for Alice, but Helen would be fine. I crossed my fingers that they would sleep in the car on the way to the mall and that would be enough.

No such luck. The car nap never materialized, but Alice seemed to be in good spirits. And it turned out Alice liked the carousel best of all. She rode it like a champ with her Neena holding on tight to her the whole time. Helen & M. rode their chosen animals and had a blast. I stayed with the 2 strollers and snapped pictures.

We had some extra tokens, so we went a second time. This was our mistake. That's when I learned why my other nephew, slightly older than Alice, got to stay at daycare that day. Apparently that age group is somewhat fixated on doing whatever the heck they want, repeatedly, which I already knew. But when a carousel is involved, they lose all sense of reason.

After ride #2, Neena took one of the infants to the restroom to change a very stinky diaper, while I watched 4 kids by myself in the food court. Alice decided she was going to make a break for it and head to the carousel. Um, I don't think so, kid. I tried distracting her and showing her stuff at the kiosk next to our table and singing songs but it just wasn't working. So I held her while trying to stay close to an infant sound asleep in the stroller, while two 5-year olds sat at the table and giggled. Alice screamed and screamed and then screamed some more. Other mall patrons tried not to stare at me. Neena came back and instead of checking out some of the kid-related stores in the mall as we had previously planned, we headed for the exit.

And that's when Alice lost her tiny mind. She pulled my hair, she hit me on the face, and she tried to squirm away. Rather than putting her down and letting her run free and hoping maybe she'd make it back to the house on her own one day, I carried her out of the mall like a football under one arm. I didn't make eye contact with anyone as we walked, but my mother said that several people smiled at us. I'm sure you've all smiled that way at parents trapped in that moment, in public with a toddler who wants absolutely nothing to do with you - and I know it's a smug sense of pleasure that you're not the one carrying a screaming kid. Mom says she was proud of me for not giving in, but all I could picture was the video from the security cameras posted on YouTube. Heck, that fear probably saves a lot of kids' rear ends these days. So I kept moving to the door. That was a very long walk, with the screaming and the squirming, and every time I tried to turn her back upright she grabbed a fistful of hair. So back down she went.

Finally we got to the car. I buckled her in the car seat, expending 2500 calories in the process. And on the way out of the garage, she finally stopped sobbing. Shortly after that, she fell fast asleep. When we got home, I put her down for a true nap and she awoke a brand-new kid.

I, on the other hand, am a more experienced mother who now knows better than to let her near that carousel for the next 3 years. My sister apparently learned this lesson the hard way, too. This kind of wisdom comes at a steep price, folks, and I'm giving it to you all at a good discount: the football hold is definitely the way to go.



Flood weekend, after the rain had fallen for 2 full days, and the power had been out for 8 hours:

Brian: You know what I've learned this weekend? Marriages thrive on love, patience, and electricity.

Jennie: (through gritted teeth) Yep.

When I was about 8 or 9 years old, a huge ice storm knocked out our power for nearly a week. There was an initial panic to get back to the house in worsening weather in the middle of a school day,as road conditions quickly deteriorated. But as soon as we got home, and knew we'd be out of school, I remember being excited and happy. We had a camp stove that ran on sterno. We had a woodburning fireplace. We had winter coats and mittens and hats. We played outside as much as we could on giant sheets of thick ice. We hung blankets up to block off the rest of the house and keep all the heat in the living room. We slept in sleeping bags in front of the fireplace at night. I don't remember any worries about the refrigerator or whether there was enough food to eat. I don't remember whether we had lots of candles or flashlights. I don't remember anyone worrying about firewood running out. It's all kind of hazy in my mind, except for images of drying mittens on the hearth, and one speedy trip down a long icy hill, riding one of those orange plastic saucers.

Outside the ice storm had snapped tree branches, which then fell on power lines. I think it was a record number of trees down for that storm. We lived on the top of a mountain surrounded by trees, and it was a long windy trek to get to us. And during that week, I think each and every neighbor visited the guy across the street who worked for the power company and asked him to pull some strings. But the tree clearing crew had to come with the power crew to make it all happen.

I'm sure my parents had moments when their nerves were frayed from all that togetherness. Somehow they kept it from showing. Families weren't quite as addicted to video games and TV back then, but having to live in one room for a week with 2 girls who were quickly getting bored still must have been hard. I remember playing board games and card games to pass the time. I must have read some books, too. I don't remember having an especially early bedtime, nor sitting around a bunch of candles at night, but the sun sets around 6 pm in the winter. Maybe we did all just go to bed.

What I discovered during the flood weekend last month is that our family is not prepared for a long-term power outage. In the days when I was single, I had a ton of candles, and an apartment with a gas stove. I kept a ton of snack food on hand, and my fridge just kept cokes and beer and limes chilled.

Now, I'm down to 2 candles on the mantle, plus a pack of birthday candles in the kitchen. We have an electric stove, and a fridge full of staples and leftovers and not nearly enough beer. There is a gas grill outside, but in the driving rain, that's impossible to use. We have a gas water heater that works without power, and we have a gas fireplace that can get noticeably warm in the winter. But that's useless in the summer.

So, I panicked. Power was out and roads were blocked and houses were underwater. My cell phone didn't work. The nearby grocery store was almost flooded. There were suddenly a lot of strange people walking up and down our street to check out the flooding on either side of us. It was hot outside, and getting warmer inside. The milk was getting low, and I had no way to chill more, even if I could buy it. I don't know how to cook mac & cheese on a grill. Without food, I get cranky. Brian gets even crankier. In the summer, the sun sets around 8 pm, so I wouldn't have to worry about candles and flashlights as much, but we tried Trivial Pursuit after dinner, and Alice kept moving our game pieces to new spots on the board. We did get a game of Twister going though, and that killed about 20 minutes. I also learned my thigh muscles don't stretch any more. So, kind of a bust on the board games.

Without power, Brian can't watch sports on TV or play video games. There is no internet to surf. Without cell service, there are no calls to chat with friends. So he was getting restless. He had a book, but with 3 girls bouncing off the walls inside because it's raining outside, it's hard to read. And both of us getting increasingly worried about the rain and when it might stop and when we might have power again - we felt very disconnected from the world. And it's difficult in 2010 to be disconnected. It was like we were both going through withdrawal: edgy, panicky, nervous, and unsettled. We were well aware that we were completely unaware of what was happening all around us. I think being able to focus and handle everything would have been easier if I could have at least made a proper dinner.

I realize part of the fun of a power outage for a kid is the adventure of doing the same things in a brand-new way. Seeing it from the parents' point of view this time around, it was not nearly as fun. I lasted less than 24 hours before I bailed and left town. I packed up the kids that Monday morning, and spent 8 hours trying to get to my parents' house, which is normally about 4 hours away. Brian cleared everything out of the fridge and left to stay with his brother, and came back to check on the house. Power was back by Tuesday night, but internet took a week. Cell phone service was spotty for a while.

I bought some more candles when I got back to town. And I'm pricing a good camp stove. Brian mentioned looking into a generator that will run the TV and the router. So, we have different priorities. But both end at the same point - being able to create more fun memories for our family the next time we lose power.

PS - Priority one on the next power outage is to loot Marble Slab Creamery. I didn't even think of it until I got out of town, and I won't make that mistake again. And they can thank me later when they don't have to clean up all that melted Double Dark Chocolate in their freezers.



Five years ago this month, we closed on our first home. Brian & I had diligently searched the suburbs for a good deal on a place with a garage. That was Brian's priority, anyway. You do enough car work in your life, you understand that a garage is where you store tools. Not a kitchen table.

My priority was having a couple of extra bedrooms. I knew we'd need one for the baby and I wanted a guest room, so bedrooms were on my list. Also, being in a good school zone. Resale value would be important down the road, and having a good school nearby is always one of the best ways to sell your home quickly.

We had a realtor that Brian had met through work, and about twice a week we'd hop in his car and drive around to look at homes in the neighborhood. Sometimes I drove around looking for the signs in the yard at night after work. Eventually, after getting our hopes up and figuring out exactly what wouldn't work, we found a few houses that we liked. After a lot of hashing and rehashing and teeth gnashing, along with investigating recent comps, we made our first offer on one house that we loved. It was nerve-wracking since the backyard was fantastic, but behind their fence was a giant cleared area where they were about to build a dozen new homes. Did we want all that construction behind us? What if those new houses didn't sell? We thought this all factored into making a lower offer than their asking price. The next day we could hear them laughing at us from our apartment across town. We thought they were crazy for not taking it and sticking to their ridiculously higher number. But we discovered quickly that the market was a lot higher for our neighborhood than even our realtor expected. And suddenly that spring, houses landed on the market and sold in less than a week. So the realtor started emailing me every day with the brand-new listings and prepared us for the possibility of paying asking price.

Ah, to be back in the good old economy of 2005! Positively crazy, giddy days, weren't they?

With only a couple of months to go before my due date, a house was listed with the right square footage at the right price. I remember it was a Thursday when I got the email. We made an appointment that evening to look at it, which was kind of special and rushed because they were having an open house on Sunday. We checked it out and liked it, and while sitting in the living room petting their giant orange tabby cat, we discussed next moves. We came back for the open house without our realtor that weekend. By that evening, we were mentally ready to make an offer and make it ours. After some quick haggling over the carpet allowance, and sadly crossing off the orange tabby cat from the written contract, our offer was accepted.

Fast forward almost 5 years. A rainy weekend was forecast for the area, and possible strong storms with tornadoes were likely. We spent Saturday miserable, stuck inside with 3 kids and a hard rain falling outside in buckets. Sunday morning the lights flickered a lot and then went out around 9 am. Without power, our router didn't work, so we had no internet. We had no television. Cell service was spotty, even if I stood in the middle of the living room and held my arms out and chanted prayers to the rain gods. I barely got one bar that day, and about 99% of the calls I attempted to make didn't go through. The rain never let up all day, and fell especially hard after lunch for 2 hours straight. Finally about 4 pm the sun came out, and helicopters started buzzing overhead. About every 20 minutes one passed over our house. Without any power or news or cell phone or internet all day, the helicopters were my first sign that something might be seriously wrong with our town.

Brian went out to take pictures.

All of this water was sitting about 6 houses away from ours. This is a large ravine next to our neighborhood pool, which is behind the playground. About 4 houses sit off to the left, out of the frame. We know one of the couples that live in the house closest to the pool, and they got water inside their home.

This is across the street from the playground/pool area. Same kind of ravine. You can see the water is at their back door.

Folks, that is a 4-foot high fence underwater, and that fence surrounds a phone box. That box sits about 100 yards away from our home, as the crow flies, in a large ditch. The house to the left had about 2 feet of water in it. The ground rises up to the main road off to the right. You can see in the background where water covered the main road. Traffic was moving very slowly through the water. There are houses across the road that were also flooded by that water.

Head on up the hill toward the west, and as you top the hill, you see a giant valley spread out on your left with a shopping center. That is my favorite Publix, as well as the home of a Marble Slab Creamery shop that makes ice cream I crave hourly. Head left down the hill past the shopping center and parking lot, where there was more water flooding a major 2-lane highway. About 6 miles down that highway to the east is where Helen & Alice go to daycare. Water covered the highway at that intersection, at least 4 feet deep, so driving further down that road was not an option.

Head back from the shopping center toward our house, past that phone box underwater, and about half a mile east down an incline, you will find a large flat field on either side of the road. To the left is a large neighborhood with hundreds of houses. To the right is a driving range, as well as a small par-3 golf course. On the other side of the golf course is the Harpeth River. I do not have any pictures of that area because the road was blocked off.

The Harpeth River normally runs between 2 and 3 feet deep through our part of town. It crested at over 27 feet that weekend. The previous 2-day rain record for the city was almost 7 inches, set over 30 years ago. It rained over 13 inches on Saturday and Sunday. Officials are calling it a 500-year flood, or possibly a 1000-year flood. The Harpeth River overflowed its banks and flooded the golf course and two neighborhoods east of us. There are hundreds of houses in those neighborhoods. Our neighborhood sits on a ridge to the west, slightly above theirs. All of that water was right there next to us. There are people who lost their lives trying to escape the water, and others who are still rebuilding their homes today. But we sat on a ridge, so our home escaped the rising water.

We made offers on two other houses that also escaped the water (both were further up the ridge) but it was all a matter of timing. We certainly looked at several houses during our search 5 years ago, that ended up under water last month. We could have waited and made an offer on a cheaper house in another neighborhood, or closer to the pool. We could be dealing with ripping out drywall and insulation and throwing out furniture and killing mold spores and not enough FEMA money to fix it all. But we're not. We have a house that stayed high and dry with an enormous amount of water headed our way. We are really, really fortunate.