Monday, September 30, 2013

the 411 on the GPs

This past Christmas, Santa brought our children guinea pigs.


Apparently, it is too cold in the North Pole for guinea pigs to live there in December, so Santa actually brought the guinea pigs to our house approximately one week before Christmas, which he forced us to keep hidden in Charlie's office until Christmas Day. It was no easy task to keep guinea pigs hidden - considering they are squeaky little creatures and we have a dog who nearly blew the secret when he stood outside Charlie's office, whimpering and pawing at the floor every day for a week.

"Mom? What's wrong with Louie? Why's he barking like that? Is there a squirrel or something in Dad's office?" Me, "NO. Of course not! Oh my gosh, what was that? Did you just hear that sound? Could it be Rudolph / Frosty / Santa? Quick, let's go look and then let's leave the house and come back in three hours when it's your bedtime!!"


So these guinea pigs are actually Antillean long-haired guinea pigs. Which means that their hair will continue to grow and grow and grow.  We'd read about these guinea pigs and our children said they were the kind that they really, really wanted.


But as it turns out, Santa didn't know ANYTHING about guinea pigs, so when he went to the store to pick up the guinea pigs nearly a week before Christmas before all the guinea pigs were sold out, and the store had by some stroke of luck received a shipment of the rare Antillean guinea pigs, and they were normally $95/each, but were marked down to $35/each, Santa jumped at the incredible savings, without realizing that the adorable Antillean long-haired guinea pigs are approximately four times as much work as the regular short-haired variety and would one day, very soon, require us to give them monthly buzz cuts with clippers.


Granted, professional guinea pig people who raise these long-haired variety for show would probably never buzz cut their hair, but we're not professionals and since we can barely find the time to groom ourselves everyday, George and Barack don't stand a chance.


Nonetheless, these two long-haired guinea pig brothers have been so much fun and our whole family loves them. Their official names are George Washington and Barack Obama.  Although they also go by the names Oreo and Chocolate, Albert Einstein and James Brown, and Squeaky and Squeaker.



Not long ago, someone was asking whether or not they should get a guinea pig and there were an exorbitant number of people who said, "No! They are way too stinky!!" and I was offended, on behalf of the guinea pig population, because guinea pigs really aren't stinky provided you use the correct type of bedding and change it once a week.  For example, shaved pine bedding is the WRONG bedding.   It lacks any absorption potential and reeks within a day.

AGAIN .... THIS IS THE WRONG BEDDING. All of those statements about natural odor absorption and naturally fresh scent are HIGHLY misleading.


However, shredded paper bedding - albeit slightly more expensive - is highly absorbent, and virtually odorless.


Moreover, if you add a scoop of lavender bedding (with rose petals) guinea pigs are positively fragrant!


We keep all of their bedding, along with their food and supplies, organized in these containers which fit beneath their cage ...


And is easily hidden by a table cloth draped over the top.


Guinea pigs do not produce their own Vitamin C, so they need to eat foods that are rich in it. Our guineas eat their body weight in timothy grass every day ...


And they also eat all the bright colored kibble from their food supply which I equate to eating all of the "Charms" from a bowl of Lucky Charms. Their favorite food, though, are orange, yellow and red fresh bell peppers.  Whenever I make a "tsk tsk" sound and ask, "Whose hungry?!" the guineas will absolutely turn inside out.  They'll squeak and jump around their cage and it's a highlight of our day.

However, when we reach in to feed them or pet them, they'll usually run in the opposite direction, while still squeaking furiously.  And if I could translate that squeak, it would probably mean, "OH MY GOD HERE COMES THAT BIG HAND AGAIN QUICK HIDE I THINK IT IS TRYING TO KILL US." Our guinea pigs, will tolerate us, but have not yet warmed up to the point that they'll jump in to our arms and smother us with affection.


Fortunately, the kids aren't offended and help to clean out their cage every week...


And give them baths every couple of weeks.


Thank goodness the poop fest whenever they were removed from their cage ended.  This lasted, though, for the first couple months that we had them and it was so bad - the kids had to hold the guineas wrapped in a towel.


In addition to identifying that shredded paper bedding is the best; we've also determined that this type of water bottle is the best.  The other variety that came with the cage and had a ball bearing at the end, leaked water all over the cage and made the bedding (and our guinea pigs) soggy.


We also determined that it's important for the guineas to get out and have a change of scenery every so often. We had been putting them on this waterproof mat on the kitchen floor ...


But they'd poop all over it and it was so disgusting, I decided that if we were going to let them run around, we'd let them run around directly on the grass in the front yard.


Nowadays, we'll bring them outside whenever we're able to watch them, and will let them roam around the grass - nibbling as they go - and then pit them against each other in guinea pig races. Note, they have yet to actually race and will typically scamper in to our lap and fall asleep.


All this to say: YES. I'd definitely recommend a guinea pig for a family. Even if they aren't as lovable as a dog - they are adorable and squeaky and a very good addition for our brood.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

with one foot unknowingly on a banana peel

Henry came home with yet another letter from school this week.  In case you've lost count, we're now averaging about two per week since the start of the academic year.


This one was from his teacher and it read,
"Could you please talk with Henry about not bringing toys to school. This is the second time I have reminded Henry about leaving toys at home. He is having a hard time not playing with them during the day. Both times I have asked Henry to put the toys in his backpack but somehow they end up back in his pocket. He continues to play with them during instruction."
Funny enough, we actually pat him down before he leaves the house every day.  It's like he's going through a police search, as we tell him to spread 'em and put his hands in the air.  We'll then check his backpack, pockets, underwear - and any other garment or tote that he might attempt to hide a superhero or plastic dinosaur.  And yet, he still manages to elude us and smuggle these things in to school.  I'm not overreacting - I know it's kindergarten. But I can't help but feel that if I was able to spend more time in his classroom (um, make that any time) - I'd have a much better grip on his behavior and be able to help reinforce proper school manners. Like my friend who is home with her children and was able to write and illustrate a book for her son about etiquette in the classroom that she reads to him whenever she senses he needs it ... and she has that sixth sense because she volunteers in his class 15 hours per week.

Meanwhile,  I was out of work for a few days sick this week. The monster virus strain(s) that have been ambushing us for the past few months, has now gone after my lungs and the whole act of breathing is a lot more difficult than it should be. It turns out I have allergies, and asthma. Things I never had in San Diego, but Northern Virginia and it's ragweed will do that to you.  So on Thursday afternoon, after I ran around to different doctor offices and pharmacies to pick up my artillery of steroids and inhalers and prescription strength antihistamines, Charlie and I spent the rest of the evening playing tag team as we worked with the children on their homework, prepared dinner - cleaned up from dinner - and got everyone ready for bed.  I also talked with the kids about how things were going with their friends on the social scene and one of the children confides in me that someone showed them a picture at school that they thought was inappropriate. So they kept it.  In their backpack.  As you can see - this photo from National Geographic has passed through many a third graders' curious little hands...


As I was tucking them in, Elizabeth says to me, "Mom, I'm beginning to think that you're not going to be alive by the time I graduate from high school." Alarmed by her statement I wheezed, "Why would you say that?!" and she replied, "Because you keep getting sick, you've got wrinkles on your face, and your hair is turning very, very white."

For the record, it's called GROWING OLD GRACEFULLY and you children are definitely expediting that process what with letters being sent home from school every week;  growing up faster than I can blink and bringing home pictures of naked people from Asia that were hijacked out of the elementary school library's National Geographic magazine; and climbing trees to touch electric lines when you're not standing directly next to me holding my hand. But thank you for your words of affirmation.

Friday, September 27, 2013

next up, they'll be handing out bibles at the airport

One of the things that we've been doing, since our children have been in preschool, has been to send pictures and words of support for people who we know are going through a difficult time in life. People like my friend, Felipe.

We've dubbed our little project, "Operation Sunshine" and when we recruited our Girl Scouts to join in the love-fest, and began sending cards to people, whom we don't even know, our compassion muscles really began to flex.


This is one of the cards that our children made for my co-worker, Mark - an amazing man, who once ran the Boston Marathon in 2:35. He also is the owner of a very, very small dog. As you can see.


Mark just celebrated his 55th birthday in March; and in our company - 55 years old is a major milestone - because you are eligible to retire and receive your pension.  I've heard people say that when you turn 55, you can actually see and feel the golden handcuffs come flying off and dissipate in to thin air.  So my friend, Mark, a world-class runner, turns 55 years old and less than three months later, falls down while running on a Tuesday afternoon.  He'd been feeling poorly for a while, and was planning to go in for a doctor's appointment that coming Thursday, but when he fell down - he was taken to the hospital where they wound up doing an MRI and he was diagnosed with an inoperable, malignant, brain tumor.  They were able to remove 80% of the mass - which was the size of a peach - and he is responding very well to chemotherapy and radiation.  So well in fact, that he recently has returned to work full time.  But his situation certainly highlights the importance of living for the NOW and ENJOYING your life, because there are no guarantees that one day, once you retire ... you'll do all those things that you'd really want to do - but have been putting off.

This is one of the cards that we made for my co-worker, Tina - an amazing woman, who has been with her husband for 31 years .... since she was 14 years old.  


In my former role, I was the only woman in the group until Tina joined our team. As the mother of four children, she and I had a lot in common and we spent many a morning chatting it up about how to achieve the optimum work-life balance.  We both agree that the flexibility to work from home, at least two days a week, would be a huge improvement. Tina has a sister who is 11-months older than she is, and they are extremely close. Her sister, never had children, and never married. But she lived two-miles away from Tina and was a second mother to her sister's children; often picking them up at school when Tina was stuck in a meeting - or preparing dinner for her sister's family at least once a week.  One month ago, Tina was unable to reach her sister on a Saturday - and didn't think much of it, until the next day, when her sister's friends called and said that they were supposed to go boating together and she never showed up.  When Tina arrived at her sister's apartment - the light was on and her car was there, but she didn't answer the door.  Two long hours later - the fire truck arrived and entering through her sister's bedroom window, discovered that she had died of what would later be determined, a massive heart attack. She was only 46-years old.

This is a card that our children made for my co-worker, Pitu; an amazing man who lives in Germany and has a heart of gold.  This past March, Pitu suffered a massive stroke and there were many who feared he may not even survive.  We pulled together a care package for him that included get well cards, Chapstick, peanut M&Ms and the fabulous Q-20.


For the past six months, Pitu has been undergoing intensive rehabilitation and our family has prayed for him, every night.  Two weeks ago, I sent a note to Pitu's wife to ask how he was doing, and much to my surprise, last week - Pitu himself, responded.  It was such a lovely feeling to see that my friend, who is still a resident at the rehabilitation facility, was able to send an e-mail, himself!  I told the children about this and they, too, were overjoyed. So they promptly sat down and began to make him a new batch of cards.  One thing I should mention, is that my friend Pitu is Indian, and although I do not know for sure his religious beliefs - I would imagine he is Hindu or Buddhist.

So you might imagine my surprise - and then uproarious laughter - when I saw that our children had made him cards with such an intense Christian religious theme.


Like this one, where Elizabeth drew Mount Calvary.


When I told her that Pitu is Indian and his beliefs may be different, she colored all of the crosses in bright colors and said, "There. Those are Indian colors!"  

Sunday, September 22, 2013

oh, the things we worry about

Today, Henry came home from school with a note from the Lunch Lady.


It read,
"We have had several spills with Henry's yogurt (the organic tube variety) in the cafeteria this year.  He seems to squeeze hard and ends up covered in yogurt.  Would you please discuss how he can eat this more carefully.  If it would be better, he can bring a carton of yogurt and we'll help him open it. Thank you!" 
When I arrived home from work, Charlie - who was feeling unusually hypersensitive today - was really upset about this note.  He thought the Lunch Lady was trying to tell us that our son has some kind of developmental delay and can't eat properly. Which, yes, I'd agree to some extent because yogurt from a tube is definitely more challenging to eat than yogurt from a carton although I'm sure with TIME and PATIENCE Henry will master the art of yogurt eating from a tube.  Along with, you know, solving differential equations and balancing a checkbook.

Charlie continued, "Jen, I'm really worried about this.  I mean, when I was a kid, I never remember having a problem eating yogurt from a tube..." To which I replied, "Charlie, my Love. Lighten up. I don't think they even had tube yogurt, back in 1972, when you were in Kindergarten. And for that matter, when have you ever eaten yogurt from a tube?  I think it's only been marketed within the past 20 years; and not once during our marital history have I ever seen you eat yogurt that way. Refresh my memory, please..."

My husband considered this for a while, before he fired back, "Okay fine. I won't worry about our child's inability to eat yogurt from a tube, if you won't worry about all the crazy things you worry about." Yeah well ... no guarantees there.

(I'm just thankful that for the most part, we balance each other out.)

identify and treat the causes (tolle causam)

Last weekend we went apple picking.


It was great fun. We picked a lot of apples. Here are pictures of that event.


Now, on to other more pressing matters.

For the past several months ... I've lost track, but for sure since July, I've been sick. Sometimes, the kids are sick too, but they'll get over it in a couple days and I'll have it for a month. I'll come down with what seems like a cold, but it will plaster me.  I'll lose my voice, and my sinuses will kick in to overdrive, and my lungs get gunky, and I'll go through two boxes of Kleenex a week and sleep with my nebulizer by my bedside.


Honest to God, every other time I talk to my mother, I'm sick. And she'll ask, as soon as she hears my voice, "Oh my gosh, are you sick again?!" Then she'll ask me about how I'm sleeping and really, I'm not sleeping so well - but I keep blaming it on this whole aging process.


For as much rest as I know I should be getting each night, I'm finding it impossible to lay down and actually sleep for the requisite 8-hours.  I'll go to bed at a decent hour (for me, that's before midnight), but like clockwork, I'm awake by 4:00 every morning.  Then, I'll toss and turn for another two hours thinking how I should just get up and start my day - but instead, I think about things like where we'll be in a year, or two years, or five years and how will I feel about the mothering decisions I'm making today, in 10 years? Perhaps my inability to really feel settled is the impetus to these ailments!


Is tomorrow trash day?  Did anyone remember to bring out the trash?  

Maybe if I turn on this side. Or that side. Or flip over my pillow.

Then I'll wonder how is Charlie sleeping so soundly? He's older than me. Why isn't he awake? Charlie? Charlie?! Are you awake??


My mother also tells me I need to go see a Naturalist about why my immune system is so suppressed because there's obviously some underlying reason and we need to get this sorted out.


I actually went to see a Naturalist / Homeopath once, 9.5-years ago, when my nose would get this mysterious infection and one of my nostrils would erupt in a sore and hurt for days. I finally resorted to a homeopathic approach when my mother, who is a nurse by training and swears by natural healing, convinced me.


The homeopathic doctor's office was in an old victorian house. I remember there were hard wood floors, and worn area rugs, and comfortable chairs. There were also bright prints on the wall from India and China, and hot tea served to all visitors. The smell of healing oils hung in the air.


The doctor spent at least two hours asking me about my health history, which at the time included my nostril inflammation, struggles with infertility, before prescribing for me a little pill, made from the liver of a puff fish, that I'd place under my tongue three times a day.  I laughed to myself wondering what my pharmacist father and two pharmacist sisters would think of this goofy treatment.  The whole thing wound up costing me $600.00 out of pocket because it wasn't covered by insurance, and I thought it was a total racket so took a card and told them I'd call at some later time to schedule a follow-up visit.


After I finished my puff fish liver pills, I began to notice I never had another painful nostril episode again and maybe there was something to be said for homeopathic remedies. Oh, and then I got pregnant with triplets.  But then I was so busy with my three children that were born less than a year after my consultation, and my fourth child that came two and half years beyond that - I never did make that follow-up appointment.


Hmm. Perhaps I should look in to homeopathic doctors in the area before I blaze through my children's college fund on Claritin-D.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

the invisible victim

My best friend - whom I've known since childhood - is facing a very difficult time in life.


Her loved one was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's and each day is increasingly more challenging than the last.  While I thought taking care of premature newborn triplets was the most physically, emotionally and mentally exhausting experience possible - serving as the primary caretaker to someone with Alzheimer's is definitely in the same rapidly soul-depleting ballpark.


The all-consuming level of effort required to care for someone with this grueling disease is intense. My sweet friend cannot leave her husband alone for more than an hour at a time.  If she does, she runs the risk that he will venture out looking for her and get either hurt, or lost, or both.  On those rare instances she does go out, she leaves him notes about where she is - and what she's doing - and when she'll be back. But sadly, her brilliant man - who can still rattle off facts and figures from year's past - doesn't understand. He insists that he doesn't need a babysitter - and is offended whenever his wife calls for people to come stay with him, while she runs errands.


She usually cannot take him with her, either, because he gets confused and uneasy. He also gets tired and frequently needs to lay down and rest. And during the evening, when my friend should lay down and try to get some much needed rest herself, her husband will be up several times throughout the night - often for the entire night - asking her questions about where he placed his car keys, or wallet, and where is he and how long will he be here?  Is he going to be late for school?

Where are his parents?


My friend adores her husband and she tries so hard to be patient and kind.  But his questions continue and continue, throughout the night and in to the next day and all through the next day and in to the next and there is absolutely no reprieve for as far as she can see.  It's not surprising, then, that she feels herself getting frustrated and overwhelmed.  On the one hand, she knows that she is providing him the absolute best care that he could possibly receive.  But on the other hand, she knows that the price for this care comes at her own expense. Whenever I talk with her, she sounds completely worn out and sad, which breaks my heart.


Within the past few days, my friend has finally determined that she really needs help to take care of her husband and that help is beginning to take the form of an assisted living facility / nursing home.  But now, in addition to feeling exhausted, she is also conflicted and guilt-ridden with feelings that she's abandoning him. Even when, by all accounts to those around her, this is the most logical choice. Although, if she pursues the assisted-living facility option ... it could still be several months before he is admitted.


What worries me and keeps me up at night, is that caregivers are at an increased risk for illness and depression; especially if they do not receive the necessary support from family and friends.  I've done some research - but am really at a loss for what exactly the best support is that I can provide to my friend, especially since I no longer live directly next door.  If anyone has any advice or suggestions, I'd be forever grateful. And if not, please keep the victims of this disease and their caregivers in your heart.

They are facing an incredibly lonely battle, each and every day.

Monday, September 16, 2013

two weeks in

So this is the letter that Elizabeth's teacher sent home with her on Friday afternoon...


When I showed it to Henry, I said, "See, THESE are the kind of letters that I want to see coming home with you, too. Now tell me, did you have any trouble at school, today?"

He looked at me and very seriously said, "Well, the teacher did make me sit in the time out chair once." Then he scratched his head for a moment and clarified, "Um, you better make that twice." 

Yes indeed, children are unique. And I suspect with Henry, I'm in for a ride

While at church on Saturday night, the children were asked to draw a picture of a situation that caused them to be fearful that they overcame with courage. Elizabeth chose to recreate the scene she'd experienced at the gym, earlier in the week, when she confronted the bullies who were teasing her brother.  I love how she is standing in front of a tearfully forlorn William, blocking the balls that are being thrown at him, with a bubble above her head that reads, "What am I doing" followed by seven (7!) question marks - because this is clearly not at all where she expected to be.


I also love the Eskimo kiss she is giving a tearfully grateful William once her demonstration of great courage warded off her brother's tormentors. 


These children are so lucky to have one another .... and I'm so lucky to have them. 

Even if they are responsible for me being on a first name basis with the Principal.