Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mechanical Reconciliation

Here is a photo of the very item that has been giving our family so much grief.

This is a Subaru transmission.

My car broke down today. AGAIN.

Well, I'm being dramatic. It didn't actually break down. Not like last Friday night. Let's review the timeline, shall we?

May 30: Subaru dropped off at our mechanic after being offered a ridiculous amount for it and the Camry at a car dealership. The mechanic suggests we do a complete overhaul of the transmission and put in a new engine to extend the life of the car, as there is a pretty strong assumption that there is engine damage due to transmission damage. They can get us a great deal on a new engine.

We decide to sell the Camry in order to do the extensive repairs on the Subaru which is a better car for our family.

We sell the Camry on Craig's list within 3 hours for a price which will cover the bulk of the Subaru repairs.

8 weeks go by: During that time our mechanic purchases the wrong engine to replace in our Subaru. I don't need to retell this tale. We decide against getting a new engine and pray that once they go in to fix the head gaskets, our fears that the engine is damaged will actually be relieved. They are. The engine looks fine.

July 23: We get the car back. It runs great.

July 25: Car breaks down in Lombard. Transmission completely fails.

July 28: Car returned to our mechanic. We are told that "hoses" which run from the transmission to whatever were never replaced (as normally they last until 200,000 miles) and they will replace them. For free.

July 31: Pick up car. It's running terribly. Shifting in and out of gear. They assume that it's low on transmission fluid. Nope. Now the thought is that the initial hoses which blew on the 25th ended up doing damage to the entire trans. Um, gentlemen, did you NOT drive the car around before telling us it was ready? One only needed to hit the gas to experience the clunky shift.

So, this lead me back to the garage today. I walked stoically into their shop while attempting to keep the emotion out of my delivery as I announced, "I'm Joline Atkins. Owner of THE green Subaru." The guys tried to joke with me, "You can't seem to stay away from this place." I could only respond with, "Listen. I'm trying to be polite here and I'm not up for jokes."

What transpired was a conversation that drained all the color from my face.

The transmission is once again on the fritz.

When we brought it back Monday, it was due to their not finishing the trans job as completely as necessary. And today? Well, apparently, due to not finishing the job correctly the first time means that the trans may have gone. The trans they just overhauled. Don't I sound like I know what I'm talking about by using the abbreviated "trans"? Anyway, their mistake, could have cost us the entire trans overhaul that was completed last week.

I made sure, in my best void of emotion robotic voice, to stress that any new repairs would be on their dime, as per their warranty. They offered me their courtesty car.

"Ma'am the fuel light is on. It's pretty low on gas."

I literally just stared him down with my best Tilda Swinton White Witch impersonation. Icey. It was effective. As the next thing I heard was, "Um, let me run up the street and get that filled up for you."

Yep, that's right. Either fill the car with gas or I'll turn you to stone. Sorry Aslan. I'm on the edge here.

And then, it dawned on me. Over the past few weeks, several different guys at the shop had referred to their "trans guys". Which made me realize that they are not the ones actually doing the work on the transmission. They fixed the head gaskets in our engine, and a few other items, but not the trans. For this, they contract out.

So, is my beef with them?

Nope. For in all honesty, they have always done great work.

My beef is with the shop that overhauled the transmission. Their "trans guys".

Later on, George had a great talk with the owner of the shop, and actually started to make amends upon understanding they he is just as frustrated with his "trans guys" as we are. And when George suggested that he actually refund our credit card for all the transmission work done thus far, at least until we actually have the car back in our possession and agree that it is actually working, he found that fair and credited our card. George spoke honestly and directly, even calling out the owner for not offering an apology.

He apologized. Took responsibility. Refunded our card. Gave us their car to take the Michigan.

Perhaps, THIS is true reconciliation. Radically making amends in situations which raise ones blood to the boiling point.

We could shred their name. And truly, I've not said one positive thing about our mechanic in the past few weeks. And yet, we've never had issue with them until the trans job . . . which, we now learn, was done by another garage. Our mechanic is standing by their warranty. Even though it was the transmission shop that screwed up.

I do believe that our mechanic is attempting to do the honorable thing. After all, it was their suggestion that we fix the transmission in the first place, rather than getting a new car, which would ultimately save us money. And truly, could one even get a reliable used small SUV, with low mileage, for under 5 grand?


So, we now have the mechanic's car for our vacation. The kids can't stand this car. They prefer being able to sit higher and see out the windows. I explained over and over through clenched jaw and gritted teeth that having the car is a blessing.

The evening ended with Pita Inn, smooches from the kids, movie night (College Road Trip), ice cream, lot's of family lovin', and timed drills on how to take apart and put together a transmission.

It's a skill that I pray we never have need to actually perform, and yet one should always be prepared.

Finishing First

Harper finished her first season on a softball team by playing Aunt Liz's position: First Base.

After a few incidents of leaving the field when she missed a ball while playing other positions, the coaches did so right by my little lady, by placing her on First Base for the last game of the season. Their goal this entire season was to develop Harper's self confidence. Always encouraging, always there to give a high five or whisper words of motivation, these parents/coaches knew that showing Harper she could handle First Base was the way to end this all important season.

We had previous discussions with Harper about good sportsmanship, not abandoning one's team, overcoming obstacles (ah, what a common theme as of late), and trying her best after the game where she flew off the field in a rage upon missing catches at Third Base, so ending the season on First Base was a huge accomplishment.

Harper would now like to try tennis.


It's humbling when a Mom realizes that she can learn a thing or two from her daughter.


"Mom, we are so proud of you" is the sign that I came home to find on the dining room mirror after my trip to Dallas. It's still hanging there.


I'm proud of you too girl!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Lighten Up, Already!

Okay, apparently, my recent posts have communicated that I am constantly in a pattern of entertaining deep and heavy thoughts.

Lots of rantings about poor customer service. (Do you blame me?)

Introspective musings about failure, fatigue, dreams, goals, career changes, my husband getting hit on at a neighborhood block party . . . oh, wait. I didn't actually write about that incident. Oops. Just walk away and forget you ever read that. Move along. Nothing to see here.

So, to put all of you at ease, let me proclaim in this post that I'm doing fine. I like to write. I like to write honestly about the events in my life that leave an impact on who I am and who I desire to be. All is good. Writing is free life coaching. I simply take comfort in working out my "stuff" via writing.

Lest you wonder whether I've waded too deeply into writing therapy, let me share that I also took comfort last night when Zane reported that our neighborhood is safe from jugglers.

You know. Jugglers. Those bad people who break into homes and steal personal belongings from unsuspecting victims.

Yes, jugglers. Good to know that we're fighting back against them with the help of the Skokie Police Department. (Wiping forehead in relief.)

Zane went on to share that he had seen a flyer depicting a juggler in a circle with a line through it while on a walk with Daddy, Harper, and Scout last evening. These flyers were being distributed throughout the neighborhood.

Our little corner of the world will be a safer one as we rally together keeping a watchful eye out for those evil jugglers who hide behind a ruse of tossing scarves, balls, pins, and flaming objects into the air as part of their plan to take us for all we've got.

Circus freaks.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Super Modeling

Today we had a lazy morning at home before Harper, Zane, and I trekked over to the pool for a swim. Upon arriving there, we were disappointed to learn that the pool would be closing at noon, and not reopening until 1:00. Not wanting to come back at 1:00, as that would completely screw up Zane's 2:00 nap, which is oh so necessary, I had to tell the kids that the pool was a no-go.

I expected the weeping and wailing that followed, but I also realized that this was the perfect opportunity to show them that the fortitude and perseverance that they witnessed from their parents during Friday night's adventure was not just a fluke, but rather an attitude that we plan on modeling more frequently when the road swerves in an unexpected direction.

"Hey, I know you are upset. But we can either weep and sob and call it a day. Or, we can figure out something else. Which do you choose?"

"Starbuck's" was Zane's answer. That's just scary.

Harper chose the beach.

We don't have beach tags, nor was I going to pay for the three of us to sit on the beach for 2 hours. However, I was determined to track down beach tags and began calling everyone I know.

Bingo. Thanks to the Holt's we spent 2 hours playing on the beach.

We covered Harper from the waist down in sand, turning her into a mermaid. She preferred to be called a sea creature, as mermaids are just way too close to princesses. That is, if you take the Disney interpretation of mermaids. On the other hand, Peter Pan (not the Disney version - blech) shows them in a much darker light. Regardless of which version of a mermaid is the truth, Harper was a sea creature - not a mermaid.

We made our way out to the sandbar and Harper worked really hard at swimming back to shore.

Zane even ventured out. Which basically means he let me put him down in order to "be brave" in the water.

We all sat and let the current wash over us.

We left completely covered in sand. Happy. And yet, oh, the sand. And this is why I can't stand the beach. I'm of the belief that telling a kid to go rinse off the sand in the water, only to then have them walk back up the beach to the car, thus gathering more sand, is completely ridiculous. There is just no way to leave a beach without sand clinging to every inch of a child's body - or in every crevice. So, I just had them climb into our mechanic's courtesy car, which unfortunately I just don't think I'll have the time to vacuum out tomorrow before I return it, sand and all. Upon getting home, we rinsed off via the garden hose and then Zane was out like a light. Harper completed some workbook pages (I know, what a FUN summer mom I am), and then I gave her some TV time for completing all her chores and then some. Without any back chat.

Alot of parenting success is in the modeling. Unfortunately, my clay doesn't always take on the persona of one who sees the bright side while being throw a curve ball. Which is interesting because lately, I just can't handle being around negativity. I crave positive conversations, responses, affirmations, and outlooks. I find myself drawn to those who can spin a cynical situation into a celebration. I'm still a realist. And yet I desire to take a more affirming approach to life's glitches and thus, model a more faithful spirit to my children.

Harper exclaimed Friday night to be a "great night". Even in the midst of confusion, frustration, and anxiety. Which she did indeed see us experiencing. And conquering.

And although on a much smaller scale, I think we pulled out another good one today!

When we approach a difficult situation with the understanding that our responses will either create positive memories or a negative ones for the children we are nurturing and preparing for life, the idea of modeling faith skyrockets in importance.

I may not be a super model, but I can be super at modeling.

I can.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Decisions, Decisions?

This is me.

Well, this was me until I announced to a table of 10 people on my 39th birthday that I would choose not to approach 40 in fear.

It's not that I'm scared about the age 40, as I don't even feel 30, so my fear is not an aging thing. And come on. Let's face it. I have great skin. ;)

The fear that I own is a fear that I've had all my life, boxed up in the basement of my "house".

It's the fear of truly "going for it". The fear of really committing to a goal, attacking that goal, and fighting for that goal. Why? Because of the risk of failing at that goal. Yep. I said it. The very cliche "fear of failure" excuse.

In college, I decided not to go for a theater degree due to this fear.

After college I never really sought a job in video production due to this fear.

The one thing I didn't approach fearfully was marriage to George, and ironically enough, he is the one who is constantly encouraging me not to make decisions based upon fear. Go figure.

I defininitely have that "fear of failure" obstacle hanging out in my yard.

And yet, there is another.

Part of my not pursuing a full-time career in coaching or casting is due to being overwhelmed by this fear and thus being left without the energy to completely engage all my efforts into securing a role in that world. Well, that, and the fact when I think back to all the shows I've directed and classes that I've taught, and children that I've coached, I am overcome with a feeling of exhaustion.

I spent years teaching children and directing theater. I directed and choreographed my first musical at Trinity without knowing what I was doing, being so filled with anxiety and the desire to do an incredible job that I even found myself sleepwalking through the process. Just ask George, who watched me walk into doors and would find me choreographing in the dead of night. I gave those productions my all, while awake and asleep (in fact several bits of choreography literally came from dreams). Interestingly enough, however, these years of directing, were all before I had children, and thus a time in my life when I could throw every fiber into the job. Now, when I think about doing that again, I just feel tuckered out. And, yes, scared that I could never muster it up again.

So, now there are two obstacles invading my property: fear of failure and fatigue.

Now, I'm at another crossroad. I've already conquered the writing fear by pursuing the current part-time writing gig that I have. I feel completely unqualified for the position, but I am learning the ropes as I go.

And this past weekend, Mary Kay stared me right in the face. (Well not Mary Kay in a literal sense. That would be darn right creepy). Now, I'm not one to get all caught up in the excitement and enthusiasm that seeps out of every pore of the Mary Kay world. It's a positive world, that's for sure. But, make no mistake, I'm not in a "pink bubble", nor do I drink "pink kool-aid". I can not be swayed to manufacture emotions in order to be a part of the moment. I'm not much of a follower in that regard. Hmmm . . . Harper and I are seeming more and more alike these days.

I was able to attend Seminar with a very clear head. My goal? To see a bigger picture of the company and to figure out, on my own, without influence from those who seem to know what my goals should be and want to communicate them to me, why I have been shrugging off the idea of becoming a Sales Director. All weekend I was asked, "So, what's your next goal?" to which I would answer, "Team Leader". Which was quickly countered with, "How about becoming a Director?" or "Next year I'd loved to see you here in the Director suit." However, I didn't want anyone to tell me their goals for me. Like Dorothy, (yep, that's an "Oz" reference), who figured it out in the end, I too needed to find my goal, on my own, and claim it for my own. Anything else and the goal wouldn't truly be mine, but rather just an expectation, developed and fashioned by someone else, to which I would feel an obligation to live up to.

And yes, I did come to the conclusion that I would like to be a Sales Director. I came to realize that I am my worst obstacle . . . for no one in my life has ever fed me the idea that I would fail and this feeling of fatigue is a fairly new development over the past few years, and quite frankly, irritating. Nope, both of these obstacles have been taking up residence in my brain for far too long and are utterly useless to me. G'bye.

I was trying figure out last night, after a Color 101 Thank You party that I hosted for consultants and their guests, why I feel compelled to fight for moving up in this company and not with the acting coaching or casting.

The answer came to me in a flash. Or, as George would put it, a "blinding flash of the obvious". I feel pretty strongly that my days on stage are done. I don't say that mournfully. I just mean that if, (and that's a heavy if), I go back to performing, it will definitely be later in life when the kids are older, as right now, in our current phase of life, the time commitment for such a life is counter to what I want for our family. I want to be here. I want to be present. I don't always do a great job on the home front and I lose my patience, and I don't clean the place everyday and I'm addicted to blogging, but I'm here. All day, and after school through dinnertime. For the first time in a few years, I am home for dinner. I may not cook dinner and I may drive everyone in this house completely crazy, but I'm home. And I want to be home. To many, this may sound like a cop out; to give up on a talent and skill that is deeply embedded in the structural make up of who I am. But . . . as I realized last night, I am not giving up that talent and skill. A Ha!

Last night, I stood in front of a room full of women, some customers, some consultants, and realized that I am using those same talents that I perfected for the stage. Public Speaking, Motivation, Communication, Humor, Listening, Timing, Entertainment. I stand up in front of women every week presenting Mary Kay. I use a script (my flipchart) which I very skillfully use as a tool while interjecting my own improvisation through the presentation. I'm committed to the product, so I'm not merely selling, but rather sharing my enthusiasm. I have to be engaging, or the "audience" will tune out, etc. What do I want? Well, I'd love for everyone to purchase! But, I've also found that some women are interested in becoming consultant's themselves, which leads to my being able to help educate, motivate, and celebrate other women!

For years, I've been teaching these skills to youngin's, without having the opportunity to use them for myself! These are the very skills that my soul longs to use everyday! Mary Kay has afforded me the ability to "perform", albeit not a character, but, well, hopefully you get it.

Mary Kay's theme for 2009 is THINK big, WORK smart, SHINE on. Or, THINK, WORK, SHINE, 2009. Catchy.

I accept.

I can either decide not to decide to move onward and upward, thus remaining stuck and stagnant in my fear of failure and fatigue, or I can take a step forward, while using the talents and skills that I have worked to perfect as an actress, only now, as a Sales Director with Mary Kay.

So, I have decided to Think like a Director. I will Work in order to become one. And I will Shine at the end of the Mary Kay year when I've become one.

Geez, just writing it makes me fearful and fatigued.


"A person who decides not to decide, has already decided."

Alpha One Taxi: When You Absolutely, Positively, Have To Be There In 25 Minutes

Thanks to our mechanic!

Thanks for holding on to our car for 9 whopping weeks in order to overhaul the transmission and replace our engine. Thanks for then realizing that you hadn't ordered the correct engine for our car. And thanks for making us sweat while removing our engine to repair the head gaskets as we waited anxiously to find out if the engine was even damaged. Thanks for the news that the engine was fine and for keeping the car for yet another weekend so that you could "drive it Saturday to make sure all was well". Thanks.

Thanks for being the main reason that we came so close to missing Justin's first and only Illinois concert date on Corbin Bleu's tour due to OUR CAR BREAKING DOWN IN LOMBARD.

It was God who made sure that we didn't lose ALL THE TRANSMISSION FLUID while on busy 294 and whatever exit we took that was full of construction, toll booths, and traffic. Our true and non-sarcastic thanks and praise go only to the Lord, who must have pushed our car past all that heavy traffic to the entrance of a Popeye's Chicken before I smelled the problem, felt the problem, and then experienced fuming anger as I realized that the car wasn't moving another inch.

George pushed the car into a parking space. Hood up. Transmission fluid everywhere. Transmission fluid seeping out of the car.

My heart broke. Broke. I heard myself whimper, "Is it over?"

George replied with a confident, "No!"

I exited the car and immediately called Justin, who I couldn't reach, (duh), as he was prepping to go on stage in 45 minutes.

We tried to hold it together for the kids. We called people to pray. We tried to keep the goal in mind: getting to the concert. I spotted a Midas Muffler and told George to run there as I thought they would have a listing for Taxi's.

Alpha One Taxi and Livery Inc. (630-549-3009), whose advertisement states, "We are there when you need us", came our rescue as I shared with Andreas, the owner and our driver, why getting to the Dupage County Fair by 7:00 was of the utmost importance. He hauled like any good taxi driver, even going through store parking lots when the traffic was backed up due to a freight train that decided to push my boiling point. He charged my cell phone for me during the ride, which I promptly forgot in his van. He drove BACK to our parked car after the concert to give us the cell phone AND called a towing company which he knew took AAA and credit cards.

Only AAA had already scheduled a towing company which took credit cards. Or so we thought. Surprise! While AAA insured us the company took credit, this was not the case, and thus, the tow truck driver had to take George to the ATM before dropping off the car. Elvis of Esco's Towing was really great. Guatemalan and a Christian. So George and he had a great discussion about coffee, Jesus, and Justin on the ride home. Elvis now wants me to coach his kids. Oh, Elvis. How about some Mary Kay instead?

So, thanks to our mechanic for a great night!

Yes, I got to see Justin. He was fantastic. Sure, we had to lug our car seats into the venue, barely had a moment to take it all in, missed talking to Justin at the "meet and greet" afterwards because we were figuring out the next leg of our trip, (with Justin's Dad, Avi, leading the way in rounding up New Trier kids to get us wherever we needed to go) and, thus, I didn't even see Justin standing 10 feet away from me signing t-shirts and cd's, but we were there.

We were there with his family, all his friends, and new fan's. Thank God that all of Glencoe, and almost every kid I'd ever coached was is attendance, as we needed them at that moment, just as they've needed me over the years. Marcie, Justin's mom, loaded us up with a t-shirt and 4 CD's. Another Mom bought the kids glow necklaces. The McDonough's drove us back to the car and then took me and the kids home. I even met the Artistic Director of Writer's Theater in Glencoe who gave me his card and told me to call him for tickets to A Lion in Winter, which just happens to be one of George's favorite plays.

But the best part was when I opened Justin's CD to read the liner notes:

Joline, 13 years! I can't begin to express what you mean to me, and I wouldn't be who I am on stage or off without your years of direction.

And then, the floodgates opened. Every emotion I'd been holding in throughout the evening burst open. It was then that I realized that while I had physically attended the concert, a piece of me had missed it.

We spoke around midnight. I could hear excitement and fun in the background. The gist went something like this.

"Joline! Where were you! I didn't see you!"

"You didn't get my message, did you? You were brilliant!"

I told him what had happened.

"Are you ok? Did Harper and Zane like it? Oh no, my cell phone is dying. I'll call you tomorrow."

"Ok. Have fun!"

That's ok if he doesn't. He sounded like he was having an incredible time. It was just good to talk to him and insure him that I was indeed there. I wouldn't have missed it. I couldn't have missed it. I will relish in the fact that while my brain was tied up in the events of the evening, I was still in attendance, row H, watching 13 years of coaching sing and dance across a stage in front of adoring fans.

$22 cab fare and a well deserved $10 tip. $3.00 pretzel. $3.00 corndog. $4.00 for root beers. $6.00 for ice cream. $10.00 Corbin Blue "dogtag" necklace for Harper. $3.00 tip (and a Justin Stein CD) to Andreas for returning with my phone. $70 tow.

Seeing Justin in his ultimate element.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Well, If Your Pastor Suggests It . . .

This caption is a bit misleading. We tried something a little different tonight, which, in the future, could actually entice the kids to hit the hay with a bit less of a struggle. I wouldn't necessarily call it stupid, as the idea was actually shared with us by our Pastor who also used this trick with his kids when they were younger. And I certainly wouldn't call him stupid.

Ok, now that we've gotten that out of the way . . . the part where I announce that I don't think my Pastor is stupid . . . we can get on with it.

Tonight, we implemented PAJAMA RIDE!

What is it you ask? Ha! That was the same thing the kids were yelling through their giggles as we rushed them into the car, shoeless and in their pajamas, after startling them out of their bedrooms at 9:30 tonight while making a New Year's racket with wooden spoons on stainless steel saucepans as we joyfully hooted and hollered, "Wake up! It's PAJAMA RIDE time. Everyone out of bed! Get in the car! WHOOOOO!"

Zane popped up in his crib, beaming, as George entered his room, "Daddy! You are waking me up? What are we doing?"

Harper flew open her door and just stared at us with those huge eyes of hers while her mouth hung open in disbelief.

After all the enthusiasm of rushing them down the stairs and outside to the car, we had to pause while the genius that I returned inside to locate the car key . . . but after this little stumble, all went smoothly.

Come on, it was our first time. We're still working out the kinks.

They laughed through their questions as to where we were going, and why we were out so late, and what PAJAMA RIDE was. We just kept yelling, "It's PAJAMA TIME! WHOOOOOOO!"

And then we pulled up to McDonald's, ordered them vanilla shakes and small fries, and became the best parents on the planet for at least 30 minutes.

Harper responded with her usual, "This is crazy! You two are crazy heads! This is awesome!"

Zane just kept saying that he wanted to always have PAJAMA RIDE time, which seems about right as the kid would live in pajamas if he could. Seriously, pajamas are his very favorite choice of clothing. Today alone he wore three different pairs.

Upon returning home, Harper and I sat on her bed, sharing fries, while taking turns asking each other secret questions. The particulars of those questions and answers will remain between me and my girl. Sorry.

As I tucked her in, we kissed and hugged and then she threw herself into my lap. Actually threw herself into my lap for a bear hug. She then asked when we would have our next PAJAMA RIDE.

"Harps, you will never know. It could happen in 10 minutes for all you know. But, you'll never know if you don't go to bed. That's the key to unlocking the surprise."

D*&^! I AM GOOD!

So, thanks, Pastor Dave. And feel free to send more stupid parenting tricks our way. For if a PAJAMA RIDE falls into the category of a stupid parenting trick, then I say, "Stupid is as stupid does."

I'm with you, Dave.

Oh, and you should know that we also like what you teach us about Jesus.

And that most certainly isn't stupid. In fact, I happen to think that Jesus had a really fun time on the PAJAMA RIDE. Although it wasn't His first. He's been on these before, with your family.

We'll be honored to carry on the tradition.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Creatures of the Deep

Giant Squid by Zane
Mommy's Title . . . Very Yummy Calamari

Ideal Mornings

Yeah, no, this isn't me.

But, the photo feels like me. At least it feels like the me of the last two days. It's the me I wish to see. Without the hunching over, as I still have knot's in my back from sitting at the computer with horrible posture, and stressing over my schedule for the Fall. Read on.

I've had two ideal mornings. The ideal I have in mind for myself. The ideal which includes waking up and getting everyone where they need to be and then returning home to sit and write for the PR gig, while enjoying a non-rushed cup of coffee, and then using the remainder of the morning to make the Mary Kay phone calls and follow ups that I need to in order to continue building my business.

Tuesday found me writing a release and then booking appointments.

Wednesday found me writing a release and then booking appointments.

Tomorrow will find me . . .


I'm struggling with it. I'm praying about it. I'm sensing the need to do some readjusting for my Fall schedule, which at this point only allows me one morning a week without somewhere to be. Monday morning: bible study (non-negotiable), Tuesday morning: Zane day (no school), Wednesday morning: teaching all morning and 2 afternoon's a month, Thursday morning: Zane day (no school), Friday morning: mine.

I'm nervous. Zane is at the point of beginning to fight and drop the afternoon nap. And although I insist that he stay in his bed for at least an hour and a half, even if he doesn't sleep, the distraction of him calling me over and over is not conducive for work. I need open mornings.

I don't have open mornings.

Correction. I have one open morning.

I'm struggling for the ideal work environment. The environment which marries the writing and Mary Kay. God knows I wrote enough about that dream over the last few months. I won't even link you to those posts. If you've been reading, you know what I'm talking about.

So, I pray. I pray for God's leading.

His ideal.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


It's July 16th.

On July 1, I lost it and banned the kids from television.

On July 2, I was worried that I'd completely lost my mind. I knew I had made the right call, but I was plenty nervous about holding my ground. I called my parents to tell them of the ban, as they were on their way here for 5 days. They were completely supportive. We were so busy during their visit that we didn't need the television.

It's now July 16th and I couldn't be more pleased with the decision.

It took two weeks of reprogramming, but Harper and Zane are now hitting their chores without complaining. Sure, there is a bit of a whine, but it hardly resembles the former tantrums that erupted when Harper, specifically, was asked to straighten her room. In fact, yesterday, when I asked her to clean her room, she disappeared. Upon checking up on her, I found hanging in her clean bedroom.

"Um, Harper, don't you think you are forgetting something", I teased.

"Mom. I put my clothes in the hamper and straightened my books and bed."

"Yes, but your forgot to complain about it."

She cracked a giggle, but I think she was secretly irritated with my humor.

Oh, and did I mentioned that Zane hasn't asked for television even once? Not once.

Harper is a different story, but we've made an agreement that she can earn television for special movie nights or 30 minutes of Hannah Montana or That's So Raven, (which, I, um, love), here and there.

So, proudly, I announce, that since July 1, Harper and Zane have only watched one episode of Hannah, one of Raven, and earned "The Wizard of Oz". And this was a sacrifice on Harper's part as she wanted to watch "Jump In", (she's in a boxing phase), but chose to go with Zane's choice since I had a client upstairs and he was so very loudly expressing his disappointment over the possibility of watching Corbin Bleu again. (Let's just mention right here, that the kids may get the opportunity to meet him next week when Justin opens for him in concert!) Compare this to the 1.5 hrs they used to watch daily, and we're all celebrating this accomplishment and are definitely reaping the benefits.

For example, Zane built the most awesome structures tonight with his blocks while Harper read us a chapter of a Magic Treehouse book. In the middle of the chapter she stopped and screamed, "Oh! This is just so exciting!" Zane, listened as he built robots and, get this, the Stone Table from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, which he then cleverly "split" when "As-a-lan" (as he pronounces the lion) rose from the dead.

All of this came after a visit to the pool, which we were able to take in before the thunderstorm hit. Harper met up with Maya, Zane with Maya's brother Alex, me with their mom, who I really enjoy, and George with the kids. He's amazing. He deserves a post. Very soon.

We've been more active. The kids have taken to having more responsibility, even going above and beyond their lists at times, for which I reward with precious parking meter money. And most importantly, their responses to us have been so much more positive.

We'll keep it up. We'll save the television for family movie nights, or when Justin finally makes his debut on the Disney Channel. But until then, I'll continue my fascinating conversations with Zane about what gifts Father Christmas brought Peter, Susan, and Lucy and why Edmund didn't receive one, and will attempt to keep my little softball throwing, rugby playin', tennis ball hittin', gymnastic tumblin', swimmer, well fed through all her summer activities.

And sure, I'll also hop on the couch and laugh with her during That's So Raven. After all, if we just run this joint like Jamestown, "If you don't contribute, you don't get television", we should be solid.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Oh Where, Oh Where, Has Customer Service Gone?

So very reminiscent of my experience at Barnes & Noble a few weeks back, I had yet another head boggling return conundrum at TJ Maxx today. Add that to the customer service debacle with Noodles & Company and our mechanic, which I'll explain further in just a minute, and one has to wonder, "Oh where, oh where, has Customer Service gone."

Perhaps my fuming frustration with Barnes & Noble and TJ Maxx, specifically, has surfaced due to the fact that I run a Mary Kay small business backed by a 100% full satisfaction guarantee issued by Corporate, and thus agree take back any product for which the customer isn't pleased, whether used or not. The item ends up getting pitched, as I certainly can not resell it. However, Mary Kay supports this return policy by sending me a replacement of the product. Free of charge. My response to a customer who is not pleased with her product, is to get her the product that she desires or return her money. No questions asked. It's "How can I help you" all the way. Nine times out of ten, the customer is so pleased not to be questioned and glared at, as I've experience from behind a counter, that they decide to do an exchange, rather than a return.

Imagine my surprise when I couldn't return my book at Barnes & Noble . . . which, thankfully, led me to the wonderful world of Borders . . . thus ending that chapter in my retail literary world with "happily ever after". Not so when I brazenly attempted to return a nightgown at TJ Maxx. With a receipt. And tags. Unattached. Unattached tags. The source of conflict.

"I'm not taking this back. You removed the tags."

"But, I have the tags right here."

"Sorry. It's the law. We can't take back lingerie with the tags removed. Health Code issue. We can't resell the item."

"Oh. I didn't know that was a law."

"Well, I know there's a law."

Ok, call me old fashioned, or whatever, but the garment was completely clean, obviously unworn, and was literally just missing an attached tag.

"I'm sorry, I didn't know there was a law. Is this posted in your lingerie section or on your return policy?"

Staring contest. I won!

"I'll return it for you this time, but I'm just going to have to throw it away." Flings item behind her on the shelf.

"Thank you."


"You may know this law because you work in retail, but it would help if a sign were posted, or if those purchasing lingerie were told this at the time of purchase."


"I really appreciate this."


Clearly, she was done with me.

Well, you know me. I called TJ Maxx Corporate. There is no LAW. Ok, yes, I can meet them on the health concerns of refusing to take back undergarments with tags removed as clearly they can not be resold. I'm not disputing the policy. I'm not ignorant. I realize that there are those out there in our great nation who purchase items, wear them once or twice with tags hidden, and then return them. I'm even guilty of purchasing items for auditions, keeping the tag's on them, and then returning them after the audition . . . although I've never done this with, say, a thong. Let's just be clear here. I do understand.

But why not post the policy in the store? Or on the receipt?

Just like in Barnes & Noble, this woman was a snoot. Her tone was harsh, accusatory, and downright condescending. She couldn't be bothered with me, so she just stopped talking to me. So, while I understand that TJ Maxx has a policy about lingerie returns, albeit, a loose, non-posted policy, her approach with me did not reflect any desire to service the customer. She was just pissed at me.

By the way, I looked up the return policy for the store, and here is what I found. No mention of untagged items. Anywhere.

Noodles & Company
Our family loves Noodles & Company, but we will never again visit their location at Old Orchard Mall. Food all over non-carpet swept floors. Tables gone un-bussed for at least 30 minutes (including tables outside). Blank stares from the staff when I asked for the manager as we were surrounded by filthy tables . . . and we were one of only two families in the joint at the time. It was gross. The outer appearance made me wonder what was going on in the kitchen. We stayed, as Harper's teacher was already on her way to meet us, but we'll forgo this location in the future. The manager wouldn't even come out to speak to us.

Corporate is sending me coupons. They heard me.

Our Mechanic
The saga of our automobile repairs continues. Wrap your brain around this. When a mechanic offers to replace your engine, and orders the engine, only to realize that he ordered the WRONG engine, and then says he can get you the right engine, although with 20,000 more miles on it than the first engine, for, and get this, $500 more, although he'll meet you half way since the wrong engine was ordered in the first place, do you really think we should have to pay more? For an older engine? For the fact that the mechanic ordered the WRONG one? Where is the sense in this?

And don't even get me started on Humana.

Adding Energy to Injury

"Mommy, I want an injury bar."

Energy bar.

"Oh. Injury bar."

En-er-geeeee bar, Zane.

"In-jer-eeeee bar."

Ok, that's fine. Whatever, Zane. Who are you? Have you joined the nutrition police? And are you, the boy who refuses all food, really in a position to judge what your deal 'ole mom eats? Your deal 'ole mom, who resorts to downing energy bars during lunch, rather than preparing a well balanced lunch, because she is too busy trying to prepare a lunch that you will actually eat?

I've offered you yogurt. Cereal. English Muffins. Bacon. Eggs. That's breakfast. I've put together plates of turkey. String Cheese. Carrots. Grapes. How about an apple or a banana. No? We make smoothies and freeze them. You liked them last week! Daddy makes this great tortilla dish. You refuse. And you have the gall to accuse my bars of causing injury? At least I'm eating. Something.

Really, son. If Mommy wants to rip open an energy bar, you should remain quiet. Sure, they are not the most nutritious choice, but they certainly aren't "injury bars". At the very least, they afford me a bit more energy to wander miles around the kitchen hunting for something that you will consume with gladness.

Like, perhaps, an energy bar.


Don't knock it until you try it, little man. There could very well be one on your plate tomorrow, as I'm out of ideas.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Rules of the Road

I won't presume to know what it must be like for cyclists to maneuver along roads filled with driver's that seem unaware and ignorant of their presence. I have heard the stories of bike collisions with automobiles, and I openly admit that they have tainted my desire to pedal up, and this fear has probably trickled down to my children, as I've not been too quick to get them comfortable on their bikes either. And with gas prices as they are, when I mentioned to George that he could ride his bike to work, I was met with, "Are you kidding me?" a reaction based on the lack of respect that we've witnessed driver's having towards those who make their way around Evanston on two wheels (or 4 if your count the Burley on the back).

So, before I continue this post (as you know darn well there is a "however" or an "and yet" coming straight at you . . . but you do have the choice to swerve away from this post if you must), let me admit that as a driver of one of those cars, I too haven't always been the most patient of our cycling friends.

And yet . . . (ha, there it is . . . I warned you), there is a completely other side of the relationship between cyclist and driver that must be addressed.

And that, my friends, is the relationship between the driver and the idiot cyclist.

Yes, idiot.

I was the victim of a little cycling road rage today. Funny thing is . . . I was following the rules of the road and my dear friend with the mouth and no helmet, was, well, not. It was a showdown of "Rules of the Road" vs. "Who Rules the Road." And clearly, he thought he did, and thus he slung his expletive right into the open windows of my car to make sure I knew how he felt.

You see, ahem, sir, when two moving vehicles are traveling down a very narrow road, say, going East, and you are traveling on your bike towards those moving vehicles, say, going West, and there are parked cars along your path ON YOUR SIDE OF THE ROAD, impeding your route, it is generally accepted that one should wait until the moving vehicles (who, while in transit, have already reached the parked cars and are in the process of passing them) have actually cleared those parked cars, RATHER THAN MAKING THE ATTEMPT TO SQUEEZE YOU, AND YOUR BIKE, BETWEEN A MOVING VEHICLE AND THE PARKED CARS WHILE YELLING "THANKS, B&*^%!"

You're welcome.

He just didn't want to stop. And yet, had I stopped, he would have still had to maneuver in between me and the parked cars, as there was nowhere for me to pull over to the right. So, common sense would say, "Oh, there are two moving vehicles coming straight towards me, and my path is impeded by a parked car. I'll just wait for them to pass and then I'll move about on my merry way. La, la la."

Nope. Instead, let me just spit some foul language, and endanger my safety by refusing to yield.

Your choice.

It's situations like this one that infuriate me.

And not only did I experience this bozo today, but yet another cyclist who while actually waiting behind a line of cars at a stoplight, began to yell, "Let's go, people!" the second the light turned green. Yeah, hi, first of all, they can't hear you as their windows are up to keep in the A.C, and secondly, if you need to travel more quickly, perhaps you should think of driving. Or get a Vespa.

Wait, I'm not done. Then there was the kid on a bike who didn't slow down or stop at the corner, instead choosing to fly into the intersection that I was approaching. And the family of four biking down the road; the children in helmets, and the parents without. Hello? Mom? Dad? You're not much help to those children of yours with a head injury.

And this is why I get upset.

I'm all for biking. I'm all for saving energy and fuel. We are now a one car family for goodness sake. We get the reasoning behind having less cars on the road. We're "in". And yet, if biking is going to really make an environmental comeback, the rules of the road are going to need to be enforced, for, (and yes, I'm saying it), all accidents between bikes and cars are not always the fault of the one driving the car.

So, while I will stay off the bike lanes that have been placed in various places around Evanston, and will look both ways, and treat you, the cyclist, as I would any other moving vehicle, I expect the same from you. You need to stop at intersections, as I do. You need to follow the rules of the road, as I do. You need to curb your road rage, as I do . . . when my children are present.

We're going to have to work together and watch out for each other. As there will most likely be more of you on our city streets as our gas prices soar to $5.00/gallon, and yet, those of us with cars aren't going anywhere.

So, watch yourself, the road, and other drivers.

And get a helmet while you're at it.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Ban the TV and Bring Out the Weapons

So, right on the heels of the recent television ban, I purchased some wooden play swords at a second hand store for $1.50. Harper and Zane have used every other stick in the house for swordplay, and thus, I thought it would be fun for them to have some actual pretend swords for creative play.

Don't be so quick to assume that this post is headed towards detailing a nasty parry and lunge accident. No so. Not so.

I watched with fascination as Harper set up two "thrones" in the backyard. She then ordered Zane, who was not King, to come and sit beside her. Harper, the Queen, then shared with him how he could become King. The tactics included using the new sword to overthrow the current King.

Act 2 opened with Zane being King to Harper's Queen, although I must have missed the actual overthrowing part. Whatever. He was now King and the conversation took an interesting turn towards the question of their heir.

Well, now, this posed quite the predicament for a King and Queen who are also brother and sister. The conversation went something, although not exactly, like this.

"Zane, we must have an heir!"


"Zane, this is not a time for silence, we must have an heir. But, you are my brother, so we can not have one."


"So, we must ADOPT!"


"Yes, we must adopt an heir. But first we will have to get past security!"


"Zane, it it time to take on the knights!"

Both of them run off, towards our neighbor's yard (who I'm pretty positive wouldn't find this type of play at all amusing) with swords raised, yelling, "AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!"

Later in the day the dog chewed up one of the swords pretty badly. Sir George saved the day with his power sander and some silver paint, Zane walked around the backyard with his sword sticking out of his pants, pointed side up (nice, son), and Harper morphed into some type of medieval warrior chick complete with intricate swordography and footwork.

For $1.50, I'm pleased.

The TV has remained off except for a viewing of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe as a reward for completing chores for the week.

And as a means of learning new battle tactics for future successful invasions and uprisings.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


I lost it tonight.

Big time.

You know, I'm not a perfect parent. Such a thing doesn't exist. And yet, I do have some brilliant parenting moments. A few. I'm doing all right. For the most part.

For the most part doesn't include tonight.

I am exhausted. Yeah, I know, all parents are, so stop my whining. I'm "on" with them all day, and by the evening, I really need for them to be obeying, complying, and, oh, I don't know, express a tad bit of thankfulness for what I've run around doing for them all day. Ugh, this is sounding so cliche.

And then there was tonight. "Mommy freaks out all over those precious heads of theirs" night. "Harper and Zane can't squeeze one ounce of obedience out of those precious heads of theirs" night. "The children cry those precious heads of theirs to sleep" night.

Oh, are you thinking, "My goodness, how cruel?"

Remove the log cabin from your eye my friend.

Tonight I took away the TV. Not for an hour. Not until chores are done. Not for a day. Or a week. Indefinitely. I have such a difficult time reigning the kids back in after zoning out in front of the tube, (it's so very sad that we still have a tube and not some fancy shmancy flat, high def, whatchamacallit) that I finally decided that enough was enough. The DVD's are packed up, the TV off limits to anyone in the house who is not contributing to household chores.

It's not as if I give my kids huge chores. Harper is to bring her dirty clothes to the hamper each day and straighten her room (not even her desk, mind you, which is a nightmare - that would be cruel). Zane is to pick up his toys, and bring his plate and cup to the sink after eating.

What type of response have I been receiving to these?


"I'm too tired."

"Not that pajama shirt!" (Yes, this fits, as part of the exhaustion of the evening was not having the preferred pair of pajama's available for Zane who is destined to become one of those old guys who walks around in lounge wear.)

"I can't do it!"

Well, you know what guys? I can't do it all either. My children are old enough to have responsibilities. Even Zane. While wearing pajama's.

So, after the screaming (me), the crying (them), the lecturing (me), the calling out for Daddy (them - although I also called George out of a meeting, as it was that bad), and the growling through clenched teeth (me), the children (them), God bless 'em, fell asleep, and when George got home we worked on revamping the chore charts.

We don't give allowance, by the way. Especially not for the chores that, frankly, should just be done during the day. Now, if Harper or Zane, would like to go the extra mile and fold all the laundry, replace light bulbs, and scrub the bathroom, then I think a little kick back is in order. However, we don't believe in giving allowance for "daily" chores.

I must say that yelling, "You are both driving me crazy!" through their closed bedroom doors, does seem to knock the energy right out of an insomniac. Zane and Harper were asleep within 15 minutes. Who needs lavender essential oil when you've got lungs that can shut your children up in a pinch.

I scared my kids to sleep.

Such a proud moment. Do they make ribbons for that?

Gee, Thanks Borders!

I bought two new books today.

"Eats, Shoots, & Leaves" and "Camp Rock" (the junior novel - riveting).

"What? You actually purchased books?! Why, you don't do that!"


I do when I have credit . . . from returning my Barnes & Noble copy of "Public Relations for Dummies"!

Yeppers. Borders took the book back without hesitation, and, I might add, incredible customer service, a run to the back of the store to get my exchange (Eats, Shoots & Leaves), a suggestion that I may want to pick up Lynne Truss's latest book, a smile, and actions completely worthy of my decision to refrain from ever giving my hard earned book buying money to Barnes & Noble in the future.

Seriously, I'm sold.

It was just so easy.

There were no questions. I didn't even need to explain. And I didn't feel like an idiot, as I did in B & N while being given the once over when I shared I had lost my receipt. Yeah, I bought it at YOUR store. Dorks.

Borders just took the book and handed me a gift card in exchange.

And what do you know? I turned around and immediately spent that gift card.

At Border's.

Gee, thanks!