Life in the way of life…

Fall Break is a wonderful invention, one of the things that the school community has embraced as much as anything I’ve seen in six years.

In East Tennessee, late October is unquestionably one of the most beautiful times of the year.  I genuinely enjoy all seasons — skiing in the Winter, dogwoods in the Spring, swimming and boating in the Summer… but Fall, glorious Fall, brings an explosion of color and weather that’s just perfect.

I enjoy camping for Fall Break.  The crisp mornings and evenings are perfect for a campfire; the blue-sky afternoons are perfect for hiking or biking in the mountains and foothills.

This year, the Oak Ridge Youth Symphony scheduled their first concert on Halloween.  It’s a neat theme, with spooky music and musicians in costume, but it’s on the final Saturday of Fall Break.  Okay.  So, we cut the trip short by a couple of days.

Then, I find out that the Pro-2-Serve Math Contest at UT is scheduled for the Tuesday in the middle of Fall Break.  Gamma is competing and I’ve agreed to chaperone, so we’re stuck with going somewhere not too far away.  Gatlinburg maybe.  Big South Fork is probably too far (though an incredibly beautiful place, where we went last year).  If we’re somewhere not too far from Knoxville, we could just meet the group at UT, then return to camping.

Now, I find out that HWTFM has a Charter Commission meeting on Monday.  So, our only real free time is Saturday-Sunday, or Wednesday-Friday.

I already know that once a child leaves for college, family vacations are fewer and far between.  Breaks don’t line up, and other obligations get in the way.  This year is my last with Gamma at home, and I really want to enjoy the few breaks from school that we get.

Not.  Enough.  Time.

Last Day

Alpha just reminded us that today is her last day of living at home.

Tomorrow (before dawn) I’m putting her on a plane for California, where she’ll spend a couple of months in a math research internship; upon her return in August, she’ll go straight to her apartment in Knoxville.  She’ll miss her first couple of days of classes, but she’s already communicated with the professors, so it’s okay.

With a lease going through the end of next July, she’ll move from that apartment to wherever she’s going to grad school.  We don’t yet know where that will be, but seemingly, it won’t be UT.

She’s already planning on finishing her PhD, so grad school will be a few years.

For whatever reason, I guess I’ve been focused on her being in California for two months, and it never dawned on me that these last 6 weeks or so were the last she would be living at home.

It’s a strange feeling, at least for me.

Delta, on the other hand, has designs on her sister’s larger bedroom, as soon as all the belongings are moved into the apartment in August.

Cinnamon Chili

Some days, things just don’t go quite as expected.

Yesterday was supposed to be one of those pretty good days where the schedule was mostly clear — the ORYSO parent meeting, then a quiet afternoon at home getting ready for the week to come.

After church, we stopped at Home Depot to buy some grape vines, but instead came home with a new lawnmower.  Kind of an interesting twist, but our old one is pretty much a goner, and they had a great sale.

Then, midway through the day, we got a call from friends in Michigan that they were passing through, and wanted to stop in and see us for a bit.  This spurred pure panic, as our house was in no condition for company.  Delta and I cleaned like fiends (Gamma was still at ORYSO practice) for an hour or so until they arrived, but there was much that couldn’t be corrected on short notice.

Like needing a new kitchen floor, or new carpets throughout the house.  Or even the assortment of stuff that has accumulated on the kitchen table, that doesn’t seem to have a good place to go.

After the visit, I settled in to make the pot of chili as planned, given the cold and blustery day.  As I ate my bowl (atop crumbled cornbread) it seemed a little odd somehow, but it wasn’t until Delta and HWTFM insisted that it tasted like cinnamon that I checked for what might have gone wrong.

The spice jar in the space where I keep cumin looked like cumin… but the label said "cinnamon."  The jar of cumin — an identical jar — was sitting on my cutting board, as I’d failed to put it away properly at some point.

It won’t win any prizes, but I doctored up the leftovers sufficiently to cover the hint of cinnamon.  A little celery salt probably would have done the trick, but I’m out.

Cinnamon chili — when nothing is quite as expected.

Recall Fiasco

Several years ago, I replaced my old, decrepit, avocado-green dishwasher (GE, I think) with a Bosch.  I’ve been very happy with it — the stainless steel tub doesn’t stain or stink; it cleans the dishes spotlessly, without a lot of pre-scrubbing.

When teenagers are in charge of dishwashing, one needs a somewhat forgiving appliance.   Loading and unloading the dishwasher (one chore for Gamma, one for Delta) seems like an appropriate exchange for my feeding them on a daily basis.  I probably should make them take out the trash and mow the lawn too, but I’m sort of a softie like that. 

A couple of weeks ago,  we got a recall notice — something about a control panel that can overheat and pose a fire hazard.  The letter, of course, recommended in the strongest terms that we cease using the appliance until the repair was completed; I consented to only run the dishwasher when I was at home and awake, as a sort of compromise.

After all, it worked beautifully, and I do keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.  Just in case.

So last Wednesday (concurrent with a viola lesson in the living room, trying to work, and numerous phone calls), this guy shows up from Sears to replace the offending part, shipped directly to me from Bosch.  The planned half-hour fix seemed to take an hour and a half, but he did finish up in time for us to make our evening dinner at church (with me leaving early for a school board meeting).

On Thursday, we had a lot going on — supper was sort of a snack-as-you-go thing.  Friday night, Alpha came home from UT specifically so that we could take her to dinner at Magic Wok, so there were no supper dishes.  On Saturday I did actually cook for everyone (and collect what seemed like a month’s worth of glasses, spoons and bowls from Gamma’s sickroom), so I fired up the Bosch with it’s newly-repaired controller.

At the end of the cycle, the dishes weren’t clean.  The dog does a better job.

I ran it a second time, paying closer attention: it’s broken.   Really broken.  Like, no soap is ever released to the wash cycle, the "time remaining" display doesn’t come on at all through the whole cycle, and it doesn’t dry the dishes at all.

My formerly-perfect dishwasher is really broken, thanks to the goober that Sears sent out to "fix" it.

Naturally, I’ve called and scheduled a do-over, and requested that they send someone other than the guy who broke it to start with.  At this point, the best they can do is Wednesday… even though they broke it.  I’m not happy.

I love the dishwasher, but have lost confidence in Sears’ repair service at this point.  They broke an appliance that wasn’t broken to begin with.

I lived with a broken HVAC system for nearly a year; that’s not so bad.  Utility bills tend to get attractively cheap when you’re not bothering with expensive luxuries like whole-house heating and cooling.  But what I can’t live without are my washer, refrigerator, and dishwasher, and hot water heaters.

Clothes dryer and sewing machine run a close second, but I can survive without them (briefly) if necessary.

I can’t believe that the Sears dude broke a working dishwasher — especially given his obsessive attention to detial in ensuring that he had everything he needed (dual signatures, maintenance authorization number, etc.) to get paid for the job.

Here’s hoping they send someone competent next time.

Flu Season

The Tennessean reports today that the flu season "has been unusually light this year," with only "21 laboratory-confirmed cases" thus far.

My first question is, whose laboratory are they counting? 

I took Gamma to her pediatrician on Thursday, because she woke up quite sick with flu-like symptoms.  The scary one though, was her pitiful complaint of how much it hurt to cough.  Gamma doesn’t complain much, and really has to be made to stay home from school even when she really is too sick to go.

The doctor ran two tests: one for flu, and another for a bacterial infection that has been causing walking pneumonia in a lot of kids locally.  Both came back positive, but we got her on Tamiflu (to shorten the flu) and antibiotics (for the bacterial infection, whose name I can’t remember) in time to shut both down in a relatively short time.  Thankfully, she’s all better now and back to school today.

So, does the Tennessee Health Department only count cases that are analyzed in their own laboratory, or do they collect information from the many doctors around the state who do run lab tests to make a definite diagnosis? 

It seems really hard for me to believe that there were only 12 confirmed cases last year, and I’m afraid that such a benign-sounding number could lull some busy parents into letting their children "tough it out," sending sick kids on to school.  That’s not fair to the sick ones, nor to their teachers and classmates.

Flu season may be running late, but it’s here. 

Justice for all?

I’ve been following the murder trial of Eric McLean (the "love triangle murder" where Eric shot his wife’s teenage lover), and have thought to myself how hard it would be to be on that jury.

There are volumes of news articles here (scroll down to the "McLean Files" blue box on the left, under the picture), but basically, the facts boil down to this:  West High School student teacher Erin McLean, age 29, was engaged in an affair with one of her students.  The pair flaunted the affair, tormented husband Eric McLean with degrading remarks and threats to take his children.

Eric McLean took a rifle from his father’s house, planning to commit suicide, two weeks before the shooting.  At one point, Eric McLean walked in on the pair having sex in his own house… but he didn’t kill anyone, even as the purloined rifle sat in the laundry room. 

Days later, as Erin McLean was retrieving her belongings to leave with Sean Powell, her teenage lover, Eric McLean went to Powell’s car with the rifle to scare him away.  Powell told McLean, "in two weeks, your kids will be calling me ‘Daddy’."  McLean says that Powell grabbed for the rifle, then he jerked it back and the rifle went off — shooting Powell in the face.

There’s a lot more, but it’s all covered by the media already.  WBIR has extensive coverage in addition to the News Sentinel.

To me, it seems like justifiable homicide (although I’m not sure there is such a thing in real life).  At worst, I could vote for voluntary manslaughter, but would recommend a suspended sentence and probation, along with mandatory counseling.

The one who really needs to be on trial here is Erin McLean — for statutory rape, abuse by an authority figure, spousal abuse, and generally being the worst kind of human being. 

WBIR is carrying video of the trial live online; watching Eric McLean testify yesterday, I can only conclude that he shot the wrong culprit.  Though Powell was no innocent victim, he’s not the one who intentionally pushed Scott McLean beyond the boundaries of grief and humiliation.  It was Erin.

Eric McLean’s only flaw was that he faithfully, desperately loved a woman who didn’t deserve the time of day.

I can only hope that the jury sees it thus.

Sweet Sixteen

Sweet Gamma turns sixteen today… in Berlin.

I’ve thought about her throughout the day, but it just occurred to me a few minutes ago that in almost 20 years of mothering four children, this is the first time that I’ve not had one at home to hug on her birthday.

Sixteen years ago today, I awoke in a puddle.  HWTFM, in one of his classic moments, asked if I’d wet the bed.  I told him I didn’t think so, whereupon he asked if HE’d wet the bed.  Since I was the one in the puddle, I told him I thought we were going to have a birthday party, and no one had wet the bed.  At least not in the sense he was thinking of.

He went on to work, as I suspected at that point we still had hours to spare.  Gamma was the only child born on a day other than Sunday.  After packing the few items I would need for a trip to the hospital, I decided to walk — in the air-conditioned comfort of West Town Mall, being closest to Parkwest, where I was scheduled to deliver.  I called my doctor’s office to let them know that my water had broken, and that I’d be in sometime that day… sometime when I got good and ready, that is.

I took the older two (almost two and almost four years old at that point)  to my mother’s house, and headed to the mall.  At Victoria’s Secret, I bought a new summer-weight robe for my brief stay at Parkwest, met a couple of friends, and walked around until labor pains were stopping me in my tracks every few yards.   I called HWTFM to let him know I was headed to the hospital, hopped in my little car, and zipped on over to the doc’s office.

My regular ob-gyn wasn’t on call that day, so I got his partner.  The girls in the office braced me for the fact that he was upset, having been trying to track me down all day.  Evidently, once the bag of waters has broken, they don’t want you to do anything except go to the hospital and lie there.  (Who, me?)

That should have been an indicator for me to have them call my regular doc, but I won the battle of wills that day.  Without anesthesia.

Not a great deal later, Gamma made her appearance in this world at 6 lb, 11 oz.  My smallest baby.  As was our custom, HWTFM went over to Grady’s and picked up some real supper for me, including their famous chocolate bar cake.  She was beautiful, quiet, snuggly, and perfectly healthy.

It was an excellent day.  And I’m sure that today is an excellent day — surrounded by friends, on what may be the grandest adventure of her life so far.  I miss her terribly, but as you can see from the beach picture she sent last week, she’s happy.

Today, she is also old enough to legally drink beer in Germany.   When she comes home in a few weeks, we’ll hightail it to the driver’s license office to get her ticket to ride.  Funny thing, that we allow sixteen year olds to drive but wait until 21 to drink, and in Germany, they can drink at 16 but can’t drive until 21.  At least there’s still the same 5-year separation of the two, which is probably most important.

Happy Birthday, sweet Gamma!

The Car Curse

I think a poltergeist has taken up residence in our vehicles. Seriously.

We — hubby and Beta, that is — made an unwise purchase of a too-used Honda Prelude several weeks ago. The kid who sold it to them said it needed the clutch adjusted, but when the adjustment failed, a reliable mechanic diagnosed the real problem: first gear is gone. And, it needs a couple of electronic sensors that total about $600, even from a junkyard. The total repair estimate was $2000 — 25% more than she paid for the car.

The kid who sold it to them won’t take her phone calls, so we’re stuck with it. Caveat emptor.

Beta worked a few more paychecks, diligently saving about $150/week, and she started looking around for another car. She found another on Craigslist, an older BMW, that had a good motor, good brakes, and a solid clutch. We bought it, but stopped at a mechanic on the way home to see about fixing the oil leak. Ack — $1,300 estimate on the oil leak, which the shop estimated at about a quart per day. Much worse than first thought. Fortunately, this guy was a good bit more ethical, and agreed to take the car back, since we’d had it less than an hour.

Unfortunately, he’d already spent $200 of the purchase price, paying off his cell phone bill. I agreed to let it slide until he sold the car again (he’s a college student).

So, we’re being a good bit pickier about used cars.

Meanwhile, Alpha has arrived home, and has taken up driving the Suburban to work. Last Friday, she pulled over and called home when she noticed the smell of burning rubber, caused when the air conditioning compressor froze up and the serpentine belt was rubbing. So, off to the shop it went. Monday evening as Alpha and Hubby were bringing it home, his truck died along the way.

It’s a 2002, with only 64k miles on it. So yesterday, it went to the shop. It ended up being something really weird, like the front brakes locked up, and the engine sensed too much load, and died whenever he let the clutch out. Or something like that.

So, the last car standing was my mustang. Today I stopped at Advance Auto Parts for Beta to drop off a job application (she’s looking for a second job for the summer); when I tried to leave, nothing. No tick, no sputter, no map lights, no little bell that dings when the door is open.

Ok, it still had the original Ford battery. Six or seven years is a long time. And, I was at an auto parts store, where the nicest young man was kind enough to take out my old battery and install a new one.

Still, what are the odds of three perfectly good, working vehicles all going haywire within five days’ time? All during a time when both Alpha and Beta are looking to buy vehicles, and I’m having to run them all over the place.
* * *
After looking high and low (mostly low, it seems), test driving junkers, and dealing with the whole gamut of car salesmen (from decent to slimy), Beta has decided that she’d rather spend her $1500 to get the Explorer fixed, and Alpha decided that Beta’s Prelude looks better than the stuff she’s finding on Craigslist for the same price or more. So, Beta’s going to get the Explorer fixed, and Alpha’s going to get the Prelude fixed, trading her futon and feather comforters to Beta in exchange.

And, I think, there’s some scheme about Alpha helping Beta get to take over her job in three weeks, when Alpha leaves for her summer research internship at UGA.

I’m beyond caring at this point. I just want the junk cars out of my driveway, and I’m tired of taxiing everyone around. So, if I’m a little cranky, there’s a reasonable explanation.

Anyone up for an automotive exorcism?

Monday Morning Blues

The good: I finished the prom dress.

The bad: it seems that my sewing machine is finished, too.

I just had it in for a tune-up about three weeks ago and everything was working peachy, but as is predictable, the high-tech gadgetry failed. In this case, the touch screen… just stopped responding to my touch.

No, it’s not the calluses on my fingertips (I tried using my pinky, which doesn’t suffer the familiar seamstress’ scarring).

I’m thankful that it waited until all that remained to finish the dress was the hemming — all done by hand — but I haven’t yet finished the cute little matching evening purse, for which I most definitely need my sewing machine.

Prom Hint: do NOT send your daughter with the safe, reliable little black evening purse. There will be at least 150 others just like it, and more than one couple has been sidelined when the purses got mixed up in coat check, leaving someone stranded at the prom with no car keys or cell phone (the other having left earlier in a limo or a date’s vehicle).

The Ugly: new touch screens are expensive. Having a certified technician install it is more expensive. However, it’s still much better than the cost of replacing the whole machine… and I’ve demonstrated over the seven or eight years that I’ve owned it, that this machine pays for itself.

The agony is waiting the ten days or so to have an hour’s work completed; it’s spring now, and time for new clothes for everyone. But like everyone else, I have to wait in line, and there isn’t an excess of sewing machine mechanics around here.

I guess I’ll get it back about a week a couple of days before the prom, but also just about the time that we’re expecting the bids back on contracting bus service. That’s another subject entirely, but an important one that will take some time and consideration.

A Loss for Education

Tennessee will suffer a significant loss on Feb. 1, when Commissioner of Education Lana Seivers leaves that post to take a job in Mississippi.

Word on the street is that Deputy Commissioner Tim Webb is her likely replacement.

Working through the first five years of No Child Left Behind and other challenges, Commissioner Seivers has guided our state through steady improvements — in accountability, in funding, in a variety of ways.

Lana served previously as the Superintendent of Clinton City Schools, and at one point, was Principal of Oak Ridge’s Linden Elementary.  She has been open and accessible to those of us who approached her about improving education, and she will be missed.