Updated on Mondays to Help Start Your Week Off Right!
(and recipes updated whenever I get a chance)

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Day(s) I Built a Play Set; or, What Being an Army Wife Means to Me

As I've mentioned before, Husband is currently deployed.  But, in the grand scheme of deployments, this one is pretty minimal; in fact, it's not technically even going to be considered a deployment.  It won't reset his deployment clock, which means we run the (very slight) risk of Army turning around as soon as he gets home, sending him to another unit that needs a PA and deploying him for a full year-long deployment.  I seriously doubt that will happen, but it could.  The smartest approach to surviving Army life is to always at least be aware of what could happen.  We're expecting him to miss Sweet D's first birthday (but not by so much that we won't just postpone her party until he gets home) and another anniversary of ours, but if that's all he misses, we still have very little to complain about.

This is our first deployment with kids, so it's taken a bit more adjusting for me than the last one.  The first week was hard on me.  The second week was much easier.  By the third week, I began to realize that I could do this for a year, if I had to (which, thankfully, I don't - at least not this time).

Before he left, we bought a giant play set for the backyard, with the intention that we could get it built relatively quickly, and we'd have a fun and safe place where Ant could burn a lot of energy every day, without me being obligated to take both kids to the park (which is something I don't like doing alone, since I have to hold Sweet D the entire time, so if Ant gets stuck somewhere or slips, I can't just run up and help him with my arms full of baby).

We picked out an awesome one.  A slide, monkey bars, a rock wall, a rope ladder, climbing steps, swings, a tunnel, etc.  There were two different building kits to choose from: do-it-yourself, or ready-to-assemble.  We're not really that big on DitY type stuff, so we spent the money to get the ready-to-assemble kit.  Husband borrowed a friend's pick-up truck, loaded up all the pieces and brought it home.  We unloaded it all and moved all the pieces to the backyard, and Husband got working on it right away.  We figured we could get most of it built over the weekend, and maybe finish up the rest in the evenings after he got home.

How foolish we were.  Destroyed by our own hubris.

Ready-to-assemble simply means that most of the wood has already been cut to size.  Most.  Not all.  None of the wood had pre-drilled holes, but all of the wood required them.  Add to that more than several pieces of fairly warped wood, and we were looking at a lot more than two days' worth of play set building.  Combined with two small, usually screaming and impatient, children, I soon realized the likelihood of the play set ever being finished was dwindling.

Husband worked on it for several hours the first day.  Until all his drill bits were broken.  After a run to the hardware store, he got in a few more hours on Sunday, with meager results.  I'll admit at that point, knowing he was so close to deploying, I was feeling overcome with frustration and anger.  So much for our plan to have the play set finished.  Ever.

After coming home from work, Husband would go out and work on the play set for a couple hours each day.  It was coming along, slowly.  I helped when I had the chance, but for the most part, I just kept the kids from screaming at him so he could work.

Then he went to Ft. Sam Houston for training for a week, and I went to South Dakota for a "vacation."  We got home that weekend, and I decided we had to do as much as we could before he left.  We worked for about four hours on Sunday, again until all our drill bits broke and we had to stop.  On Monday, we found out he would for sure be deploying that weekend (Labor Day weekend), so he was determined not to spend his last days with us out in the blistering heat, working on the damned play set.  I resigned myself to not having the play set while he was gone.

Thursday morning he got a call that he'd be leaving that night at 1:30am.  I was a little frustrated that they'd taken away our last night together, but at least we finally had a time.  Four hours later, they called and moved it back 24 hours.

"That's it," I told him.  "We HAVE to do as much as we can to the play set."

So his last day here, we finished up everything we could.  The main structures were up, and the braces for the swing set.  It was a wooden frame, but at least I could hang the swings by myself.  It wasn't much, but it was better than nothing.

The morning after Husband left, both kids took a nap at the same time.  Determined to at least get the swings hung, I went out to work on the play set.  In less than two hours, I got the swings hung, the slide securely attached, the rope ladder up, and the rock wall parts in place.  Over the next couple of days, working on the few occasions the kids both napped at the same time, I managed to build the climbing stairs - which involved cutting the 2x8 boards with a manual saw.  I was so proud of myself, I became determined to do as much else as I could.

I've since attached the telescope (it doesn't actually work, but don't tell Ant that), and the tarp over the top, as well.  And I built the monkey bars (which also involved the manual saw, a lot of gigantic bolts, and a good amount of swearing).  The monkey bars are not yet attached, however, because they require two 10.5" holes to be dug where the legs will be secured in the ground, allowing the top to be level.  I struggled for an hour or so one afternoon with a post-hole digger, a shovel, and a pickaxe, and only made it about 6" in the rock-hard soil.

I had more than a few friends comment on how I should either wait or find a "man" who could dig the holes for me.  Surprisingly, I balked at the idea.  At first I didn't know how to explain it, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized, I have to do this myself.  As an Army wife and a mother to our little Army brats, I have to finish this play set, and without help.

"Why?" a friend asked.

"Because.  What if Patrick were killed?  I have to know I can build my kids a play set."

I know it sounds ridiculous, but that's the truth.  I have to prove to myself that I'm good enough, and capable enough, to be both their mother and their father.  I have to be able to bake them awesome Minion cakes, but I also have to be able to build them big play sets.  I have to be twice as patient with them while he's gone, and twice as loving, because I'm both parents right now.  When one of us would get fed up with them, the other takes over.  They deserve the patience and love of two parents.  Whether it's for a day, two months, or 12 months, it doesn't matter.  When one parent is away, the one who stays behind has to be good enough to be both.

The play set is just a microcosm of the reality - just the physical embodiment of my role as "dad," but if I can do it, by myself, then I'll feel confident that I can do anything else.  I can handle a two month, or a nine month, or a fifteen month deployment.  I can be strong enough, loving enough, patient enough to be what my kids deserve - and what civilian kids with both parents at home can take for granted.  If I can do this, I can truly be an Army wife.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Night I Invited a Strange Man to Stay Over

Alright, I feel like this post needs a disclaimer right off the bat.  For starters, yes, I realize this was not the smartest thing I've ever done.  If at all possible, please try to refrain from scolding me about something that's already happened (and that turned out well).  I promise I won't ever do anything like this again.  Or, at best, I'll try to be smarter about it (because I really shouldn't promise not to help people - what are you all, heartless monsters?  You don't want to help people in need?  I'm ashamed of all of you).

A few weeks ago, while I was mopping the front entryway to our house, the doorbell rang.  I opened it to see an exceptionally tall young man who explained that he was from Estonia (and was astounded that I knew where Estonia was... which doesn't say much for the other good folk he's encountered on his door-to-door sales experience here in "middle America...").  I tried my best to look frazzled in that "please just leave me alone" way, but he explained that he was selling educational books for children and asked if he could come in for a moment.

Since he clearly knew my personal kryptonite is educational books for children, I had no choice but to let him come in and fall victim to his sales scheme.

After talking briefly about Europe (he was excited to hear that I'd lived in Germany for several years on my own), he showed me the books, and Ant (who was supposed to be enjoying "quiet time" in his room, but, in true "quiet time" form was actually hiding behind the couch) immediately grabbed the books and started excitedly exclaiming about every single picture, shape, color, and letter in them.  Way to go, kid.  He basically painted me into a corner of obligatory parental guilt: I have to buy the books, or he'll probably turn retarded and will likely fail out of pre-school.

I offered the Estonian something to drink, and while I was getting him some juice, he asked what I do all day.  I'll re-mop the front entry way after you leave... I thought, but then I realized, I had the perfect display of "what I do all day" sitting in my fridge - my minion cake.  He was so impressed, he asked if I could take his picture with the cake and email it to him, exclaiming that his friends absolutely wouldn't believe that it was a homemade cake.  Ego boost - another point in his favor for buying the set of educational books.  He really was a good salesman.

He explained that I'd be receiving a postcard in the mail sometime in September with the date he'd personally return to deliver the books.  I wrote out a check for half the cost of the 6-book set, and sent him on his way.

Several weeks later, I received said postcard.  I waited around the entire morning on the date he was supposed to arrive, but he never showed up.  Fearing my gullible nature had led me into a scam (the check had already been cashed weeks ago), I began to do some research on the company he was working with.  Southwestern Advantage.  It would seem as if there is a good deal of negative attention toward them on the internet.  The more I read, the more sympathy I felt for the tall, friendly Estonian.  Was he being taken advantage of by this large, evidently evil corporation?  Did he have any money after all the out-of-pocket expenses he's expected to pay, or is he starving and miserable?  Has he been assaulted by strangers on his door-to-door adventures, only to find out the company refuses to involve itself in any of the salespeople's legal issues, to include violent assault?  Was he on the verge of suicide, driven to depression from the weeks of stress after working 80 hours every week for the entire summer - walking door-to-door in this exceptionally hot Kansas summer?  I have to do SOMETHING for him!  (Assuming he ever shows up.)

So, true to my nurturing, motherly nature, I baked cookies.

He didn't show up the day he was supposed to, and, instead of believing I'd been swindled, I grew increasingly concerned for his well-being.  I was convinced he'd run across some psychopath living in central Kansas who was probably holding him hostage somewhere in his basement and torturing him.  The poor, naive Estonian.  He wasn't raised in America, where we're taught everyone we don't know is a serial rapist/killer who just wants to kidnap us/our children.  There's no way he can survive in this cruel, violent world of central Kansas.

I was outside, working on the (never-ending) play set when the doorbell rang.  I ran to answer it, and there he was - the tall Estonian kid, not (visibly) harmed or being held captive, books in arm.  He apologized for being a day late and explained that his car had broken down yesterday (gesturing behind him at a very used 1992 piece of rusty metal), and he'd gotten behind in all his deliveries.

I invited him in so he could show me the books, and then I offered him cookies.  And juice.

And then I started to question him.  About the company, about his experiences.  I just wanted to make sure he was okay.

Like some of the voices out there on the internet regarding Southwestern Advantage, he simply said, "it's not for everyone."  He explained that yes, he has a lot of out-of-pocket expenses, and he works extremely strenuous hours, but he expected as much.  The people who feel used or abused by the company are the ones who don't do the research beforehand and expect the company to do things for them, like find them lodging in their assigned cities.  For instance, he was no longer staying with his host family (he was the only one in his group who hadn't finished his deliveries yet), so he didn't have anywhere to stay tonight.  He said he'd just start asking people as he dropped books off this afternoon.

I didn't win the "Good Samaritan Award" six years in a row at three different schools in elementary school for nothing.

"You can stay here, if you need a place to stay!"  I blurted out without really thinking it through.

He seemed about as surprised as I was.  "Are you sure?" he asked. "I only need a clean place on the floor to sleep... and maybe a shower, if that's okay."

Where has this poor guy been staying that he thinks those are acceptable conditions?!

"Oh no, I have an entire guest room downstairs - and a full bathroom."

"But I won't be getting back until late... like after 9pm.  Would that be okay with your kids and their bedtime?"

Sweet D doesn't usually go to sleep until 11, and that's past Ant's bedtime, so I didn't see a problem.  We agreed on it, exchanged phone numbers, and he told me there was a chance he'd finish all his deliveries early and not need a place to stay, but if he didn't, he'd be extremely grateful to me.  I sent him off with a bag of cookies and a big travel mug full of coffee, feeling good about myself for helping out someone in need.

I'd like to take a moment to interject here that, if he'd been an American, I more than likely wouldn't have even considered letting him stay here (especially with Husband being gone).  I just felt like I had a certain camaraderie with him, as a European, that I couldn't have with an American.  It reminded me of so many wonderful Germans I'd met, who would welcome anyone into their home and treat them just like family.  I've had some of the most amazing, welcoming, warm experiences in German households with people I barely knew - but I know if I ever end up back there, I could just ring their doorbell, and they'd welcome me back in like a long-lost cousin.  It's not something I've ever encountered in America; it's simply a different way of life, and I saw this as my opportunity to "pay it forward" for all the times other Europeans have done it for me.

Still riding the high of feeling like I've done a really good deed, I talked briefly to Husband online and told him (I'd seriously considered NOT telling him, because I knew his reaction wouldn't be favorable, but I figured he'd trust my judgement).  As expected, Husband wasn't thrilled with the idea.  I believe his exact words were "no."  After some mild convincing that I'm not, in fact, a complete idiot, and I might even be a decent judge of character, he relented and said, "fine, but I'm going to be worried sick until I talk to you tomorrow."  Understandable.

Then I texted my good friend Mouse, who happens to live in the same town as us (one of the main reasons I wanted to move here in the first place).  She, like Husband, flipped out.

Their reactions were starting to wear on me and convince me that maybe I wasn't the best judge of character after all.  And maybe I'd just agreed to something that was going to get me raped and all of us killed.

So my American-raised mind agreed to do something I never in a million years would have before considered.  I borrowed Mouse's gun.

I should probably tell you now how incredibly anti-gun I am.  I HATE them.  Even the thought of guns makes me feel queasy and my hands start sweating.  When I was growing up, we weren't even allowed to point finger guns at each other.  There's a chance I've tried to fire a BB gun once or twice, but I even hated that.  I can't stomach the thought of guns in my house, ESPECIALLY with small children also in my house.  Yes, I am aware that I'm married to a soldier, but he doesn't bring his guns home.  I'm not opposed to the idea of guns - I see them as necessary for many things in life.  I'm opposed to the idea of ME and guns.

She came over in late afternoon with this adorable little pink camo gun case and gave me a quick tutorial in how to load and fire the gun.  I couldn't bring myself to actually touch it, but I'm a relatively fast learner, so I got the basic gist of it.  She told me she felt much better with me having it, I know Husband felt better with me having it, and I have to admit, after the two of them riled me up into thinking I was going to be raped and killed, I felt better having it, too.

I put the gun on the armoire next to my bed.  Then I put my canister of dog mace in easy reach in the living room.  I was prepared.  The AmURican way.

Shortly after I got Ant to bed, the Estonian called to make sure it was still okay if he stayed the night.  As soon as I heard him on the phone, my fears (mostly) dissipated.  I'd gotten so nervous and wound up between Husband and Mouse's concerns, I'd forgotten that I'm not an idiot, and I CAN trust my own instincts.

Sweet D went to sleep just minutes before the Estonian arrived.  I showed him in and showed him the guest room.  He was extremely grateful and offered to sleep on the ground, so he wouldn't dirty the sheets.  I told him to quit being ridiculous and just sleep in the bed.  He was my guest, and I was going to treat him as such.

He said he'd have to leave around 6am (way before I'd prefer to be awake), so I showed him how to lock the door behind him, and asked if he had breakfast (he showed me this absurdly small breakfast bar).  So I took him to the kitchen, got a pot of coffee ready so he could brew fresh coffee, showed him where the poptarts and cereal are, and then asked if he'd eaten dinner.  He seemed almost apologetic and said no.  I made him a garlic pork sandwich on fresh homemade french bread.  Then I got him juice and chips.  While I was digging in the pantry for more food to throw at him, he remarked how much I reminded him of his mom.  What a fantastic compliment.

I've always been a motherly figure.  I was voted "most likely to have 15 kids" in my high school class.  My Fulbright friends used to joke about how they'd be high, and I'd be sober, making sure they all had their mittens on before we went outside in the cold.  I guess I'm just a very mother-hen type.

We talked for a bit about Europe and America and politics and his job, etc.  And I remarked about how I likely wouldn't have invited him to stay if he'd been American.  He seemed to think it over for a minute, and then he agreed - the whole situation was much more European to him, too.  He said he felt comfortable here, like he would have in a typical European home.  Not that Americans can't be hospitable or good hosts, but it's simply a different mindset for the majority of people.  After I shot down his ridiculous notion of changing the sheets on the bed when he got up in the morning, he thanked me for everything I'd done for him (which really wasn't much of anything), and told me that I shouldn't ever lose my European-trained sense of hospitality.  I whole-heartedly agree.

After sending him to bed, I cleaned up the kitchen and brought the dogs into my room (who, it turns out, are COMPLETELY worthless as guard dogs - they didn't even make a noise when he was up in the morning in the kitchen - but I was wide awake the whole time - and only a little nervous).  I didn't sleep very well, waking at every noise and running through my plan of how I'd grab and load the gun if he came anywhere near our rooms (it's hard to get over the ingrained fear - especially in such an unknown situation).

Of course, everything turned out fine.  The Estonian really did just need a place to stay (which I knew was a common problem for the Southwestern salespeople from all the reading I did on the internet about the company), and I'm glad I was able to provide that for him for a night.  It's the least I could do after all the wonderful people I've met during my travels who have done the same for me.

And a final disclaimer, if you believe anything untoward may have happened, then you truly don't know me.  I was far too mentally-consumed with the idea of "tonight being the very first time I may kill someone!" to even consider the notion of infidelity.

Oh, and Estonian - if you read this (I'm friends with him on facebook now!), please don't be offended that I armed myself against you.  I am an American, after all.  :)

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Day I Didn't Have a Blog Post

Okay, so that's been many days.  But today is another Monday without a post.  I don't really have an excuse, either.  Except for the whole Husband deploying and being stuck alone with the Monsters.  But that's not even a very legitimate excuse, since the Monsters have been doing surprisingly well.

Sweet D slept through the night last night.  For the first time ever.  10 straight hours.  The longest she'd ever slept before was 6 hours, and that only happened 2-3 times.  Usually, she sleeps one 4 hr stretch at night, and the rest is anywhere from 20 min - 2 hrs.  I, of course, didn't sleep all night, but instead woke up in a panic at 4am, realizing she hadn't gotten up yet, ran frantically in her room expecting to find her dead.  I'm hoping we've finally broken the over-tired cycle she's been in, and she'll maybe get on a more regular sleeping routine now.  Because that's one thing about babies - if they get too tired, they can't sleep.  What is wrong with you, babies?!  Sometimes I get so hungry, I feel like I'm going to throw up.  But I also have a penchant for throwing up.  I throw up more than any non-bulimic person I've ever encountered, so I'm not sure that's the same thing.

Ant has been handling the deployment fairly well.  He's an expert at distraction, which is evidently his coping method of choice.  Sometimes I try to talk to him about Daddy being gone, and he abruptly changes the topic to inform me of useful tidbits such as, "lids go on our cups so the chocolate milk doesn't spill."  While that IS true, it's not exactly relevant.

My dryer started making very loud noises a few months ago (but still works fine), and sometimes it makes a noise that sounds like the garage door opening.  Ant runs to the top of the stairs and yells out, "Daddy's home!!" but then when I tell him that, no, it was just the dryer, he doesn't seem to care.  He just shrugs it off and returns to whatever he was doing.  The only times he's really seemed to really be upset about Daddy being gone are times when he's already having a meltdown - then he just throws that in there to make me feel worse.

One time (thankfully only once, so far), he was on the floor throwing a fit about something else entirely, and I was about to put him in time out, when he yelled out, "Daddy can't ever come home!"  Oh jeez, how am I supposed to discipline you now?!  So I calmed him down and tried to read him his Daddy Book (a photo book I made for each of the kids with pictures of them and Husband and a little story about how Daddy has to sometimes go away for a long time to keep other soldiers healthy, etc), and then he kicked me, which made disciplining him much easier.

Another time he told me Daddy "went to Holland to get money for pizza."  As you can tell, he has a clear and mature understanding of what's happening.  He may have been trying to say "hospital," and just forgot the word, since Daddy sometimes works in a hospital.  And I do tell him that Daddy goes to work to earn money for us.  Money to buy delicious pizza.

As for myself, it turns out I'm a surprisingly capable person, and this is like a macrocosm of our normal lives: when Husband is at home during the day (weekends, etc), I become immobilized and usually don't even manage to shower, much less clean or do anything else with any semblance of productivity.  But when he goes to work (or to the store on weekends), I'm overcome with a sudden urge to do as many chores as possible while he's gone.  Now that he isn't coming home for a few months, my motivation has turned to larger things - cleaning out and organizing the garage, building an entire playset in the backyard (my neighbors have learned that I have a filthy mouth), and I'm slowly becoming obsessed with our weed-filled lawn.  I enjoy mowing and weed whacking it.  I'm excited for the weather to cool down a bit so I can rent an aerator and plant grass seed.  And hopefully some trees.  If we had a ton of money sitting around, I'd do all our landscaping plans myself.

I'm sorry this isn't funny.  Literally nothing humorous happened to me all week.  I'll try better this week, or at least try to get the motivation to tell another good story from my past.  I can't even come up with a short anecdote for you, because The Wiggles are singing loudly at me in the background (the only method I could come up with to keep Sweet D from smashing the keyboard, short of locking her away somewhere), and Anthony Wiggle is wearing some suggestive butterfly costume with tights, and I just can't concentrate.  I may have a crush on Anthony Wiggle.  There's a chance the kids don't even like this show, but I force them to watch it so I can get lost in his dreamy blue eyes.  Oh, I'll tally your bananas, Anthony.  Daylight come, indeed.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Day I Bought a Steam Vac (Today!)

Ant had been giving us signs that he was ready to start potty training for a while now. He's interested in the potty chairs, excited about "big boy underwear," and he's met all the other milestones the experts recommend (being able to stay dry for a certain amount of time, being able to undress himself, etc). So after Husband deployed (and Ant seemed to show no reaction to Daddy being gone), I decided it would be a good way to pass the time. And what an awesome "present" for Husband to come home to - one kid out of diapers without any work on his part!

We started yesterday. We read all our different books on using the potty, took a tour of the bathroom, including two potty chairs (one on loan to us that looks like a dinosaur!), his potty chart, rewards for going potty, toilet paper, the sink and soap, etc. We were set, and we were both very excited to get this show on the road.

How do you start potty training? The "experts" all say to let the kid run around without pants on. They're more aware of what's going on with their down-theres, then, and less likely to confuse underwear as just another form of diaper (which also means less laundry in the form of soiled underwear every time the kid forgets). I knew going in to this that we'd have some accidents, and they'd likely be on the carpet, so I was prepared. I've had two kids, we have two painfully stupid dogs and a cat; I'm certainly accustomed to messes on the carpet, couches, walls, and so on. I bought a brand new bottle of Resolve Pet Stain Remover just the other day.

The morning started out with me asking Ant every 2 minutes if he had to pee or poop and reminding him to run to the potty if he felt like he needed to go. I can't even begin to tell you how excited I was the first time he jumped up, ran to the bathroom, and happily exclaimed that he'd peed in the potty. I ran in to see for myself, and, sure enough, he had! Pee, right there, in the dinosaur potty. And some next to the dinosaur potty. ... And some on the rugs. But still! Pee in the potty!!

And he kept doing it, too! Pee, in the potty, at least 8 times yesterday.

But pooping was another thing entirely. I had a feeling it was going to be more difficult, but the peeing was just going so well. He was playing by himself with his Little People farm toy when I notice he stopped moving for a second... and was in a tell-tale squatting position... I jumped up to grab him, yelling (in my most helpful, polite-but-urgent, mommy voice), "Ant! Do you need to go to the potty to poop?!" Too late. Poop. On the carpet.

It's okay, not a big deal. It cleaned up easily (easier than the stupid dogs' poop ever is). We talked about how he didn't get a prize (skittles) for that one, because it was on the carpet, and not in the potty, where it's supposed to be. He was sad, but he understood. Just to show me how well he understood, he proceeded to pee in the potty (and get his skittles).

The rest of the day was uneventful (except for one pee incident, on a kitchen chair, because he was too involved with his play-doh to realize he had to pee - in spite of my asking every 2 minutes if he needed to go). More successful pottying, and even some (remarkably small) poops. Gross, I know, but this is the reality of having and raising children, people.

The day ended with a minor battle over how to proceed with nighttime potty training. I made the mistake of telling Ant he could come and get me if he needed to pee, and I'd help him take his diaper off. Being the crafty little kid he is, he realized this was the perfect excuse to stay up late - even if it was just staying up to sit on the potty. I let him sit there for 30 minutes (producing nothing) before I cracked and forced him to go to bed, telling him it was okay if he peed in his diaper.

He woke me up this morning, bright and early, excited to get back to potty training. It should probably be noted that he thinks a "potty train" is an actual train and something that will be his when he can use the potty correctly. He keeps asking for his potty train, which, to anyone who didn't know what he actually meant, would probably sound very progressive - toddler-led potty training: "I want my POTTY TRAIN!!" It isn't progressive; it's actually just greedy.

It would appear that he had peed immediately before waking me up, because his diaper was fully loaded, and he didn't need to pee for the first several hours we were awake, in spite of my incessant asking.

He was sitting on the couch with his blankets and a hammer-and-ball toy thing when my phone rang. Seeing a number that started with a bunch of 0's, I got super excited, because I knew it had to be Husband, calling from somewhere "over there." I hadn't talked to him since he left, so I was very eager to hear his voice and regale him with the events of our last few days, specifically our potty training successes thus far.

About two minutes into the annoyingly-voice-delayed call, Ant suddenly started screaming. I looked up just in time to see him jump up from where he was sitting on the couch, kick his legs and flail his arms about, and throw himself to the other side of the couch, before dropping to the floor, all while screaming like a lunatic. His toys and blankets got caught up in the action, also springing about on the couch, and Sweet D, standing in front of the couch where Ant had just been sitting, began to hit the couch and yell in excitement.

But then I noticed a little something else was involved in the flailing mix. It didn't register at first, because I'd never been witness to anything similar, mostly because I've never spent any remarkable amount of time in monkey houses at the zoo.

Shit. It was shit. I don't feel like I need to apologize for using that word in this scenario, because it's truly the only appropriate word to describe the reality. It was horrible, noxious, filthy, diarrhea shit. And it was all over my couch. Then all over Ant. And all over his blankets and toys. Oh God, no, the table. Stop moving, Ant, STOP MOVING! Now my pillows. And the carpet. JUST STOP, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP MOVING. IT'S SHIT; HE SHIT ON THE COUCH; OH MY GOD. And the rug. No... NO, SWEET D, NO!! ... And Sweet D.

I was frozen for what seemed like minutes, but was probably only a couple seconds. I yelled to Ant, "did you not know you were going to poop?!"

"Nooooooo!" He wailed. Looking at the diarrhea-poop, I'd guess that was probably true.


Oh yeah, I'm still on the phone to Husband, who is separated from the shit-living room by his security bubble of half the world and a 3-second phone delay. I started trying to explain to him what was happening when I saw Sweet D going for the kill - inches from a giant pile of shit, she had that crazy look in her eyes that only an eager 10-month old can get when she's about to grab something that she instinctively knows is off-limits.


Husband, ever the level-headed rational one suggests, "put Sweet D in the bathroom with Ant and deal with him first, then clean everything else up after he's calmed down."

Good plan. Baby to the bathroom. Oh God, the bathroom is also somehow covered in shit. Is more coming out, or is it just splatters of already-coated flailing limbs? HOW DO I EVEN BEGIN TO GET CONTROL OF THIS?!

Ant, sitting calmly on his dinosaur potty now, stands up and announces, "I peed in the potty! I get a special treat."


I start trying to wipe Ant off with toilet paper and realize it's just not going to cut it. "Let's go to your room and use some wipes. Oh no, what does Sweet D have? IT'S SHIT. SHE HAS SHIT ON HER HANDS. AND SHE'S PAINTING THE FLOOR WITH IT!! AHHHH, CHILDREN!!!"

After frantically cleaning Sweet D's hand, we proceeded to clean Ant up in his room (and getting more shit all over everything in there), and then back to the bathroom to have a family bath. I'll never feel clean again. Ant, in typical Ant fashion, starts throwing a fit. No sympathy, into the tub. Thankfully, Sweet D loves water, so she gladly gets in and gets clean. My kids have some sort of psychic ability with each other - if they're only minorly upset, they will, inevitably, always be minorly upset at the same time. They throw fits at the same time, wake up at night at the same time, get hurt at the same time, need attention at the same time. But if something is TRULY wrong (like shit-splosion all over the house, or accidentally biting their tongue in half), they have an awesome ability to take turns. I'm so thankful for that.

I get the kids cleaned, DIAPERED (both of them), and dressed, then head back out to clean up the shit-covered living room. Meanwhile, the phone system interrupts our call and informs Husband and me that we have 15 more seconds to talk. Great, I'm glad we got a chance to catch up...

I used half a bottle of Resolve on the couch, carpet, and rug, and half a container of disinfecting wipes on the table and toys. Blankets go into the washer, my hands get washed 18 times, and I sit down at my computer to get on Amazon and order a steam vac. I've been wanting one since we bought our house, and it seems now is the perfect time to stop putting it off. Because I'm NOT going to sit on that couch again until it's been semi-professionally cleaned.

In the meantime, I've decided it's not going to hurt anything if Ant doesn't potty train right now. He's not starting school any time soon, and I hate the idea of having to hunt down bathrooms every single time we go shopping or to the park, etc. Maybe another few months in diapers won't be a bad thing, and I'll be thankful to have the stress off of me. If Husband were going to be gone for a real, full-length deployment, I'd have no choice but to do it myself. But as it is, it seems like waiting 3 months and doing it during his Block Leave, so he can help, is a pretty freaking ingenious idea. After all, I've heard some stories about what a nightmare he was to potty train (whereas I potty trained myself at 18 months). It would seem as if there's some 26 year old karma waiting around to catch up with him.

The Day it Smelled Like Broccoli

I always hate writing stories about people who may realize the story is about them (unless they're in my family; then I think they have to just expect and accept it), but sometimes it's hard to pass up a really good anecdote. That being said, names have been changed to protect the (not so) innocent (and if the subject/culprit does ever stumble upon and read this and recognize that the story is about them, no hard feelings - like always, this is just my personal recollection of events; who knows how accurate it really is?)

The summer after my freshman year of high school, I went on one of those everything-has-been-arranged-for-you-including-your-meals group tours of German-speaking Europe. Overall, it was an awesome trip filled with visiting lots of amazing places that I had never heard of and thus did not recognize the significance of our visits to them until years later, at which point I grew frustrated with 15-year old me and my lack of historical knowledge and appreciation. And my drastically limited experience with cinematic artistry, specifically in the form of "The Sound of Music." Salzburg (and a tour of places from the movie) is not overly interesting when you are only vaguely aware that said movie exists. For that one I blame my parents, who never really let us watch any movies (my older brother had ONE nightmare from an episode of Scooby Doo when he was three - consequently, 99% of all television and movies were banned in our house, much to the chagrin of poor Husband, who is left facing the incredibly daunting up-hill battle of making me watch all the "classics" - Ghostbusters, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, among hundreds of others).

I don't know how these kinds of tours are arranged, but I suspect certain companies (specifically a German version of a fast food chain, called Wienerwald) are slipping money under the table to the tour organization in return for a huge commitment to eating at their restaurants. I think we ate Wienerwald for at least 75% of our meals during the 2.5 week tour. It was not especially good food, and in all the time I've lived in Germany since, I've yet to encounter another Wienerwald. Almost as if the pre-arranged tour was to an alternate German-speaking Europe universe in which all the McDonald's are replaced by Wienerwalds.

Regardless, we were not only contractually obligated to consume Wienerwald slop, we were only allowed to eat what they had pre-arranged to serve us. They claimed that, in order to have"that many meals" ready at one time (our group was about 15 people, total), they had to limit our options to "vegetarian" or "generic German meal," but, as defined in our contract, one had to choose whether or not they were vegetarian before embarking on the tour, so our numbers (1 vegetarian, 14 generic German) were sent to all the restaurants weeks in advance of our actually eating there. I suspect they began preparing the food that far in advance, as well. As I learned through my other experiences living in Germany, many Germans are not necessarily opposed to leaving food out for uncomfortably long periods of time, subjecting it to various contaminants we Americans tend to shy away from consuming.

One of our first stops on the tour was Berlin. Shortly after arriving in the city, we were shipped to a large youth hostel-style lodging facility. There we were divided into groups of three to share rooms. Fortunately, I was placed with one of my closest friends at the time (Kay) and another girl from our school. The rooms were minimalistic, though likely not as an attempt at art, and the bathroom was one of the strangest things I'd yet encountered in my life (if you've never been fortunate enough to have utilized a German toilet, you truly don't know what you're missing out on). Not only was the toilet a classic German "shit shelf" toilet, but the tank was high above it on the wall, made of wood, and had a long pull cord hanging from it to flush, which, when pulled, released a torrent of water (necessary to clean the shelf, most likely) that would literally spray the entire room if the lid weren't held down tightly.

After a few minutes exploring the room and the most bizarre bathroom I'd yet encountered in my short, sheltered, sanitized American childhood, we were off to eat our first meal at Wienerwald (whose mascot was a fat golden chicken, if I recall correctly. Most likely because of the abundance of free-range, obese chickens in the vast forests of Vienna. Everything about that statement is accurate.)

After we were seated around a long table, the wait staff gruffly brought out our pre-arranged meals (no need for a menu!). The third girl staying in our room (let's call her Sarah) informed our teacher that she had ordered the vegetarian meal, but the restaurant had evidently made a slight oversight. After a brief scuffle with the staff, a revolting mash of over-steamed, soggy vegetables in some weird yellow-ish sauce was dropped in front of the girl. The smell was powerful, which is not an attribute that readily goes with well-prepared food. But Sarah dove right in, pronouncing the food as "great." After fighting to cut off and choke down several bites of my own dry wienerschnitzel, the smell of the vegetarian dish became too much for me, and I forfeited any further attempt at eating. Sarah cleared her plate in record time, however.

Our teacher took us on a brief walk around the city following our meal, but since most of us were suffering from our first case of jet leg, she let us go back to the hostel with the warning that we should try our best to stay up until nighttime, in an attempt to adjust our internal clocks to German time. Off we went, to struggle through the next several hours of exhaustion.

Back in our room, Sarah asked if either of us had to use the bathroom. She said she wanted to shower and would be in there for a while. In retrospect, I feel she lied to us.

After about 20 minutes, a smell started to escape under the door of the bathroom and fill our small hostel room. It was a familiar, powerful smell. Kay and I exchanged looks and laughed. But after another 10 minutes, and it was no longer funny. The smell became all-invasive. It was one of those thick smells; the kind you can feel in the back of your throat.

Kay and I went over to the giant window in the room and attempted to figure it out. Like German toilets, if you've never encountered a German window, you don't know what you're missing. They have weird, detachable hinges on all sides, and, depending on the direction of the handle, you can change which hinges stay attached and which ones release, enabling the window to open at the top or the side. We managed to figure this out after minimal confusion, and swung the window open wide.

It was cold outside, as evenings in June in Berlin so often are (they are typically either way too cold or way too hot - and the lack of air conditioners in the majority of German buildings makes "too cold" the preferred option). The cold air fought a valiant battle with the smell and won. But the room was soon freezing cold.

After another 30 minutes in the bathroom, Sarah emerged (with the last of the smell), and remarked at how cold it was in the room. Kay and I, through chattering teeth and blue lips, explained that we were attempting to stay awake until bedtime, and the cold was helping us. We might have also implied we were warm. We hadn't thought through our excuses, but neither of us wanted to make Sarah feel bad about the horrific odor. With the smell finally dissipated, we closed the window and passed blissfully to sleep, giving in to the exhaustion of jet lag.

The next morning, we were herded onto our pre-arranged tour bus and shipped (literally, by ferry) to Potsdam for a pre-arranged tour of Sanssouci (the Hohenzollern's summer palaces) and Cecilienhof (the palace that hosted the Potsdam Conference after WWII). While walking through the gorgeous gardens and paths that lead around the Sanssouci complex, Kay and I found ourselves walking a few paces behind the majority of the group, including Sarah. We were admiring the lavish palaces when, out of nowhere, our noses were again affronted with the same mind-bogglingly offensive smell from the previous night. But this time, we weren't the only ones who noticed it.

Sarah turned around to us and absent-mindedly remarked, "hmm, that smells just like my broccoli from last night!!"

Also, for anyone interested, Wienerwald is slowly disappearing due to bankruptcy in the 80's, which would explain why I saw many more of them in 1998 than in 2004-6.