Friday, February 05, 2016

henry's hut

A few weeks ago, Henry came home with a 2nd grade assignment, that he needed to "construct a house of materials found from nature."  We kept his instructional piece of paper on our desk and looked at it ... at least several times.


We discussed how we'd take a fun family outing and collect various materials found from nature, and leisurely build this house.  Oh yes, we had plans. But as life often happens, time goes WHOOSH and the assignment was suddenly due the next day.

And so it is, I was tasked with figuring out what and how to build this house from nature.  Henry was appointed the job of developing a plan for how he wanted his house constructed, and then - along with his incredibly helpful brother - collected materials from the back yard.  Soon it was his bedtime, so I was left alone to put the pieces together.  I pulled out the glue gun and built a frame. Then I started to affix the sides and roof.  In the end, this is what his house looked like:


I thatched together a ladder, and affixed an "H" from pine needles to depict that this was Henry's Hut.  Because Charlie was out of town on a trip, I was sending him pictures and lamenting that anyone who knows anything would know that if this was up to a second grader to construct - completely on their own - it would be a pile of sticks or rocks.


Ruh-roh ... I did it again.


I sent my sister, Marylou, a text message with a picture of the house and she wrote me back and said, "Wow! He did a great job!!!"  And I wrote her back and said, "He?!"

The day it was due, I drove Henry to school because I didn't want to risk how it would transport on the bus.  And when I abashedly stopped in to his class later that evening during Open House to see the other "Nature Houses" that had been constructed by his class, I quickly realized I shouldn't have been so concerned.


Yep. It's amazing how talented these second graders are!


Over-achiever's unite ...


... In the form of a perfectly constructed bean house!

Monday, February 01, 2016

next stop, eagle

My tweet from earlier tonight:

 18 minutes ago18 minutes ago
 His last meeting as a Cub Scout. I'm preparing myself emotionally for the bridge, next month. Where does time go?!
Embedded image permalink

7 minutes agoHis last meeting as a Cub Scout. I'm preparing myself emotionally for the bridge, next month. Where do

Indeed. Where does time go?


Sunday, January 31, 2016


Tooth Fairy ... we're gonna need you back here, again.


Now, hopefully, his teeth will start growing in soon.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

paging the tooth fairy

Unlike his previous teeth, thankfully, I'm not responsible for this tooth falling out...


I love the look of excitement in his eyes ... losing teeth can be such a thrilling experience!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

disaster diverted

While William hasn't bridged from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts yet, he has selected the Boy Scout troop he wants to join ... and last weekend, they invited him on an overnight camping trip.

The forecast called for days in the 50's, nights in the 30's, and rain.  Not what any of us, Charlie especially, would consider "ideal" camping conditions ... but he's a great Dad so he and William set off camping, while the other three kids and I made plans for a cozy weekend amidst soccer games.

Charlie and William pulled out at 6:00 PM and by 8:00 PM, I'd fed the kids dinner and we were gearing up to watch a movie on Netflix.  While the movie was queueing, I decided to start a fire.


One thing I should mention is that unlike Virginia, where we had a wood burning fireplace, our fireplace in Texas is gas, which is a much easier, and much cleaner than wood (no ash or soot).

We know gas fireplaces. We had one in San Diego. But the gas fireplace at our Texas house is different.  Notice the bookshelf on the right side of the fireplace?


That bookcase was constructed by the previous owners and the access to the valve has been cut in to the wood.


The previous owners built the wall unit AROUND the access valve.


The problem, that I noticed the very first time I tried to ignite the fire, is that in order to turn on the gas, you need to reach your hand INSIDE a small hole that was cut in to the casing and access the key which is approximately 3-inches from the surface.


From Day 1, I haven't liked this configuration because if you drop the key inside the casing, there's no way to get it back out.   I've had it in mind to fix this awkward setup, but haven't done it yet. 


And yes - yes - of course it happens on Friday night, when I'm home alone with the kids, I crank on the gas line and the key falls inside the wall. So there I am with the gas ON and what I should have done is immediately ignited the gas.

But my mind was reeling with, "I DROPPED THE *%#! KEY, MUST HAVE CONTROL OF GAS..." so I ran in to the bedroom, desperately looking for another key in our bedroom fireplace. By the time I got back to the living room, the gas had been on for more than 30 seconds, and I didn't want to ignite the gas because of the accumulation, there would likely be a fire ball.  So I instead stuck the key in to the dark casing and tried to turn the gas off.

Lefty Lucy ... Righty Tighty.


I figured we'd skip a fire, the accumulated gas would dissipate, and all would be well.  We watched our movie, and went to bed.  Everything is secure ... so I think.

Saturday morning, we wake up and scramble out the door at 8:00 AM to Henry's soccer game.  I think I smell gas when I go outside, but am not entirely sure.  When we come home at 10:30 AM, so the girls can get ready for their soccer game at 11:30, I notice that there are two fire trucks parked in front of our house, and at least five firemen are walking up and down our street with monitors.

They're popping sewer lids and checking air levels.

The definite smell of gas hits me when I walk past our side yard and in to the garage, but I think it's probably off gas from our next door neighbor igniting his hot tub.  The thought flashed through my mind to have the firemen come check out our yard, but my anxiety to get to the soccer game on time, won out.

We return from the soccer game, and when we pull in to the driveway, the smell of gas hits me, again. This time it's stronger. Much more concentrated - along the side of the house.  "That's odd!" I think, as I sent Charlie a text message. "There's a strong smell of gas, not sure where it's coming from. Might be our outdoor kitchen? Fire pit? Perhaps its the neighbors?"

The kids and I take down our Christmas tree - cleanup the house - and each time I walk to our side yard to throw out trash, I'm taken aback by that smell of gas.  I'm curious, but I'm not overly alarmed, as I walk around the perimeter of our house, checking the various gas connections and can't seem to find anything out of the ordinary.

Saturday night, we watch another movie, and go to bed.

Sunday morning, I get up and take Louie for a walk.  Coming back to the house, I still smell gas and for whatever asinine reason, I'm not alarmed.  I'd like to blame my lack of concern on my recent brain surgery and obvious diminished competency.

Within a few hours, Charlie comes back home and when he goes to the backyard and pops up the saturated tents to air out, he is downright alarmed at the smell of gas.   He immediately calls the Gas Company and reports a potential leak. Within 15 minutes, we have a technician at our front door and he walks the perimeter with a gas monitor and confirms that there are hits all around the house.  He then instructs us to turn off all the gas coming in to the house.

I'm in the kitchen cleaning up from breakfast and Charlie comes in saying, "Jen, you need to turn off ALL the gas in the house."  I reassured him, "Everything IS off."

The technician is talking to Charlie from outside, and my husband yells in to the kitchen, "He says the gas meter is spinning...."  The technician then comes in to the house with his gas monitor and walks through the kitchen.  He walks over to the fireplace and opening the glass doors, yells, "THIS IS IT! TURN OFF THE GAS!!" 

Charlie fumbled his hand in to the wall unit, through the little hole, and cranked down on the key.  Then both he and the technician turned around and stared at me with bug eyes.

They both began rapid firing me with questions, "When did you say you turned that on?  Do you realize it was opened to HIGH? Which way did you turn it, when you thought you were turning it off?"  The technician looked at us and said, "This could have been very bad.  This could have been a real tragedy...." His voice trails off, as Charlie looks and me and his eyes are filling with tears.

I'd been in the kitchen, with a soapy pot in my hand, feeling very indignant.  "I turned it off!! I know that I totally turned it off! It must be broken....!"

The technician left, and as I contemplated what had happened, I barked, "That damn fireplace!  Whoever built it where you can't access the key properly ... what the hell were they thinking?"


The gas to our fireplace, had been on high, for more than FORTY HOURS, un-ignited.   If not for the draft which caused the warm air from our house to be pulled in and up through the chimney, and accumulate on the side of the house (where I smelled it), the gas would have come in to the house, displaced all oxygen, and we would have all asphyxiated; particularly if it happened at night when we were sleeping and didn't notice the odor.  Or, there might have been a catastrophic explosion ... like this one had someone ignited something like a cigarette along the side yard.

My Promise to the Universe is that I am going to rip out the entire bookcase and have a new ignition valve designed.  OR, I'm going to concrete in the entire fireplace.


By Sunday evening, a dark cloud was upon me.  On some subconscious level, I knew there was a problem as early as Saturday morning, because I had considered calling over the firemen to investigate.  My neighbor would later tell me that another fire truck came by on Saturday afternoon, and the Sheriff's car was outside of our house on Sunday morning.  By the time I went to bed, I was physically sick with the what ifs of what could have happened to me and my three children.  Monday morning, I could hardly move from the grief and sadness at the thought of 4/6 in our family being wiped out because of MY negligence.  Me and these three ...



This weekend, I am feeling better and confident that YES, we will be redesigning the fireplace.  We will be cutting out a more appropriate access point for the gas valve, and exploring a remote control system.   Charlie asked me how I didn't know that I'd turned it wide open, instead of off.   Didn't I hear the gentle, whooooosh of the gas?   Answer, no, because I'm still partially deaf following my surgery, especially low range sounds.  Didn't I remember "Righty Tighty, Lefty Lucy?" Answer, yes, of course I know that.  But I have no answer what happened Friday night except, I was flustered and tried to get it off as quickly as I could. So when we do the redesign, we will clearly add a label that reads, "OFF" with an arrow pointing to the right.


So many times in life, things happen where our life, or safety, might be compromised and we may not even realize it.  This wasn't one of those times.  This is up there as the scariest WHAT-IF moments of my entire life.  I think it's hit me so hard because I've been raised in a safety culture where ALL accidents are preventable.  And this could have been prevented, or curtailed, at so many points:
  • Had I fixed the valve sooner, the valve that I knew was a problem, I wouldn't have lost the key inside the wall, that put me in a mild panic and caused a mad dash for me to run and find another key.
  • Had I ignited the fire, anyway, I would have known it was on, and I would have properly turned the gas off before we went to bed.  It was the NOT igniting it, that got me in trouble.  
  • Had I summoned the firemen to come investigate on Saturday, they likely would have found the source.  It was like God whispering in my ear to have them come over ... and I ignored it.
  • Had I been more alarmed (why wasn't I alarmed?!) at the smell of gas on Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, Saturday evening, or any point on Sunday - I would have called the emergency response line at the Gas Department and figured it out sooner.
Isn't this life?  Things happen, so we must learn from our "near losses" and we must remain diligent. Most of all, we must listen to that little voice whispering in our ear.   Adding to my own personal list of what I "Should Have Done..." I really Should Have bought a Power Ball ticket last week when the jackpot was at astronomical proportions.

With the amazing luck I've had, I'd probably now be a billionaire.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

learning moments abound

Ever since we've been parents, Charlie and I have vacillated on having someone come in to help clean our house. For a while, we had a service come through twice a month, and then once a week. They'd mop and vacuum, scrub counters, dust, and change linens.


But I always found that I spent so much time getting ready for this housecleaning service, if I wanted to get the most out of their visit.  It wasn't like I could just let the SWAT team of maids loose and expect it would be done to my satisfaction.  I had to put things away where I wanted them to go, or run the risk that those things, including toys and important papers, would be stacked and placed in some random location.  To me, that's the hardest part ... putting things away.  Once everything is where it's supposed to go, the mopping and vacuuming and dusting is easy.

While the cost of having a service wasn't totally cost prohibitive, I felt like it was a waste of money because within a day, the house was a wreck.

What is it with boys and bathrooms?

Kids and muddy soccer cleats?

Lego parts?

The unending laundry?

Then it dawned on me.  We have six very abled bodies that live here.  So more recently, we're of the mindset that our children are old enough to clean up after themselves and help contribute to the running of a house.  A few months ago, I spent 30 minutes teaching the kids how I like to clean a bathroom, and then set them loose with small gloves, cans of Comet, a broom, mop, and toilet brush. I figure this solves two issues:

1) It teaches them the importance of cleaning up after themselves, and how to do it.  When they move out in to the world one day, it's unlikely they'll have a maid following them.

2) It helps us to stay focused during the week on the task of keeping things tidy because they'll ultimately be responsible for dealing with it.

Because this has been a particularly busy week and we haven't stayed on top of things so well, today, the kids helped do several loads of laundry. They also vacuumed their rooms.  With all the hands on deck, we were able to get the house picked up in less than two hours.  Of course they're still learning and their efforts aren't totally flawless. For example, today they learned that you don't YANK the vacuum cord plugged in upstairs, when you're standing downstairs.


On the upside, tomorrow, we get to learn how to replace an electric plug!

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

winning in the game of life

We love a good family game night.


So every night during the children's winter vacation, we played games.  We played card games like Crazy 8's and Crazy Bridge, and board games like Clue, Scattergories, Sorry, and RISK.  One night, we divided in to teams and played Monopoly.  We played Monopoly a lot when we lived in Virginia ... usually when the kids had a snow day and we'd be camped inside near the fire.  Back then, the kids would substitute the official Monopoly tokens for their own tokens because a Killer Whale is much more intimidating than an old shoe.


But back then, the games didn't last very long because the kids lacked a critical component called "Strategy" and would wind up trading every dollar they have, plus their railroads and Park Place, for a monopoly on something like Mediterranean and Baltic Avenues.


Last week, we divided up so that William and Henry were one team, Charlie and Elizabeth were another, and Carolyn and I were the third.  Sadly, the rolls weren't going in the latter teams' favor and we kept landing on Community Chest and/or Chance, which would send us directly to jail, levy a tax, or require a medical co-pay.


Meanwhile, the Gods of Favor were smiling on William and Henry.


When they weren't rolling dice that would take them to an unowned property, that they would quickly purchase, they were landing on Free Parking and taking all the money that our teams had to keep paying in fines and expenses.


Within an hour, they had a monopoly on Pacific, North Carolina and Pennsylvania Avenues and were building houses.


And then hotels.   


I've watched and read too many Jane Austen works to the children because William would say in his best attempt at an British accent, "Where shall I construct my next hotel?  Pray tell, would it vex you greatly if I put one ... HERE?!"


Eventually, we'd get out of jail and within two rolls, would unavoidably land on the brothers' property.  The universe was totally conspiring against us and our little white dice.  Still, we laughed and had so much fun - because these moments are totally life and such a perfect example of how things can so often go.

"Seriously, what is wrong with these dice?? ARE THEY BROKEN?!" 


Once William and Henry had constructed "Brother Row" Charlie and Elizabeth never made a full lap around the board.  Since Charlie had been the banker, his parting gift to me upon his bankruptcy, was to unethically slip us $5K in hopes that we'd have a fighting chance.


Even with the embezzlement, it didn't matter.


What is meant to be, will be.

Note: I did wind up telling William and Henry the truth about how that stack of $500's suddenly showed up in our pile.  While it seemed like a hilarious idea at the time, I let the kids know it was really wrong and we need to be honest and lead by example.  Sometimes what might seem like a funny or good idea, turns out to be a really bad idea and you can quickly get in over your head.

And if there's one thing we know for sure, it's that we'd never want for greed or the quest for control, to overtake us such that we'd put money or possessions over people.  

While it was so easy to take ... integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking.  Whether in a board game - or life - every so often, you aren't going to get the rolls that you want and there isn't much to do about it, except laugh and know when to surrender gracefully.   Everyone agreed its best to have "growth opportunities" with family because with a sincere apology, those that genuinely love us - despite our shortcomings - tend to be the most forgiving.

Me being forgiven. Again.  


Speaking of family and genuine love, this photo ...


Reminds me so much of this one, when Charlie played Monopoly with Tommy and Diana, who were only 12 and 11 at the time...


You know what they say about apples and trees.