Saturday, June 28, 2008

I Believe an Update on the Playset is in Order

As you can see, the finished playset is small and inconspicuous. Also, that it does not take up the entire back yard. Much.

Best of all, it makes any future landscaping efforts completely pointless since anything I am tempted to plant is bound to go entirely unnoticed.

Case in point. See the Norwegian Spruce between the ladder and the bottom of the slide? You didn't even notice it until I pointed it out, did you?

That is our Christmas tree from last year and they said a live tree would not survive the transplant shock if I tried to plant it outdoors after the holidays were over. But you see I have proven them wrong. Experts Schmexperts, she says gleefully.

Speaking of Christmas 2007, we had to put our tree in our entry way (an area we can barricade off) so that Peyton wouldn't discover and consequently destroy any of our 14 ornaments.

Like this one. It was originally a Valentine's Day gift from my friend, Jacob, that he gave me back when I was single. I have since repurposed it into a Christmas ornament so as not to make my husband jealous. Which brings me to say, does Jacob not have the nicest penmanship in the world? For a guy, that is?

What we were talking about again? Oh yes. My feeble attempts to landscape my backyard.

I mean, the playset.

The kids like it.

Some of them more than others.

Peyton has even conquered her fear of the mighty and unpredictable swing.

Friday, June 27, 2008

An Open Letter to the Electrical Engineer of the Toyota Sienna

Dear Toyota Motor Corporation,

Prior to owning your 2006 Toyota Sienna LE, we owned a 2003 Honda Pilot EX which I adored. We purchased the Pilot just days before Child #1 was born in early 2003. It was my very first new car and I fully expected to drive it into the ground. I would still be happily driving it today, but we realized right before we had Child #3 in the summer of 2006, that not only was the back seat of the Pilot only suitable for elves, but that Child #1 (then age 3) was already taller than most elves. This is not to say that he minded sitting in the "trunk" with his knees folded up around his ears. He actually liked it. What he didn't like was getting hit in the face with his sippy cup or snack when I would try to toss it back to him from the front seat where I was supposed to be concentrating on driving. (Ahem)

Practicality necessitated that we trade in our rockin' SUV for a vehicle that could hold three car seats across the middle row. Close to the driver. So she wouldn't have to hurl things at her passengers. And I will say that it was enticing that the center seat in the middle row of the Sienna slid forward a bit so that the three wee passengers couldn't throw things at each other as well. That, I will readily admit, was a moment of TMC Design Genius, and was the sole reason we purchased your Sienna rather than a full-size SUV. Well, that and the fact that my husband has a pecuilar mini-van fetish and Jeff knew he had to seize his moment or lose it forever. In my enormous and exhausted state, I didn't have the energy to fight for my right to drive a more image enhancing vehicle. By then I was just trying not to waddle.

This brings me to the reason for this letter. Call me crazy, but I think it is incumbent upon an automobile to START when called upon to do so. Especially when said automobile is being driven by the mother of three small children who simply must be able to escape the confines of the house each day in order to keep them all from going stark raving mad. And if that mother is me and I have just carried two backpacks, and one diaperbag, and three sippy cups, and one water bottle out to the car - after having dressed three children, brushed three sets of teeth, taken two children to the bathroom, changed the diaper on one, buckled two sets of sandals, loaded all three of them into the mini-van, and securely fastened them into their car seats...I'm going to need said automobile to start IMMEDIATELY.

For about a year and a half, your Sienna performed as promised. It started right up when I turned the key. But as of late there have been many mornings that your product has let me down. So many mornings that on the eve of my husband's last overseas business trip, I insisted that he buy me a AAA membership just in case the car didn't start while he was gone. Which under normal circumstances would be considered a wise, thoughtful investment intended to protect precious cargo. In this case, however, it was purchased for a vehicle that is STILL UNDER WARRANTY. I would consider it a total cash loss except that I've actually had to use it. And I will say, that there is nothing like getting your car jumped right in the comfort of your own home. Unless, of course, your children are climbing the walls and you had to wait 90 minutes for the AAA "battery specialist" to show up only to be told that your battery levels are so low that you'll need to either drive around or idle your engine for a minimum of 10-hours in order for the battery to charge back up to reliable levels.

I'm no expert, but when I'm told it's going to take 9 hours and 45 minutes longer than the usual 15 minutes of idling to recover the battery, I suspect I have a bigger problem than merely leaving my lights on or door ajar or something.

To say this predicament has caused dissention between Freshour and Freshour would be an understatement. Jeff is convinced that it is something that I am doing that is causing the battery to drain. Our local Toyota dealership backs him up. And since he thinks he can identify what that something is, it goes without saying that he also thinks that I should change my behavior in order to solve the problem.

I say, Not. So. Fast.

As a mom, I consider myself a typical user of the Toyota product we own. Which means if I am having a specific, consistent problem with my mini-van, it stands to reason that a multitude of other soccer moms out there are as well. My reliable friend, Google, and hundreds of web pages full of complaints back me up.

The problem we are having is this. On the LE, there is an automatic sliding door on the right hand side of the car. If this door is left open for even a very short amount of time, it completely drains the battery.

So why not just close the sliding door? Three very good reasons:

1. When the door is left open and your 5-year old needs to go out to the garage to retrieve something he left in the van (cup, books, toys, shoes, socks, Buzz Lightyear costume, etc.), he can do it by himself. When the van door is closed, I either have to hunt down the key in order to open the door from inside the house, or I have to go out to the garage with him. I can only go out to the garage so many times in one day to retrieve the junk treasures of childhood before I start to growl.

2. I have been known to pre-load the car in the morning so when it’s time to leave the house I can focus on getting all the kids into the car without incident. Rather than make multiple trips out to the car, I often carry it all in one load. If the sliding door is already open, it is a simple matter to load it all in. But if the sliding door is closed, then I have to put all or some of the bags down, open the door, pick the stuff back up, and load it in. Worse, if the door is closed and LOCKED, then I have to lug all the stuff back in, put it down, find the key, unlock and open the door, pick all the stuff back up, carry it all back out to the car, and then load it in. You see my pain here? If you park your mini-van in the garage, it is just completely inefficient to close the sliding door.

3. Similar situation when coming home. It already takes multiple trips to get everyone and their stuff into the house. I rarely have an empty hand with which to close the sliding door, and I’m not making a third or fourth trip out to the garage just to close the darn thing.

Sadly, it's not just "misuse" of the sliding door that drains the battery. So do leaving the interior light(s) on, or idling for more than 10 minutes with your radio on. Fortunately, Moms are rarely at risk of having their children play with the overhead lights, or needing to sit in line at a car pool somewhere while they wait for summer camp to dismiss.

Oh, wait.

As a frustrated people group, I speak for us all when I say that we would like an electrical redesign. We would also like you to recall all of your minivans and outfit them with not just a new battery, but a new battery with more power than the current 9V that you equipped the car with. A battery that will stand up to normal mom-use. And if you don't want to do that, I'm going to be forced to organize a bloggy picket in protest. Or worse, trade it back in for another Honda product.

Waiting expectantly for your response,

Member of the Dead Battery Club (I believe you've heard of us.)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Nothing Says Summer Like a Peach Mojito

Say Hello to Mammaw.

Mammaw turned 93 on May 29th. She celebrated this milestone in an assisted living facility where she was recuperating. Recuperating from her brief stay in hospice care where she decided one thing she was not going to do was die of boredom. A few weeks ago, she moved back home to Haywood Estates Retirement Community where she is shunning her walker for a cane and whipping the other gray hairs at Mexican Train. This upcoming week, I fully expect her to take up salsa dancing. Or to start umpiring for the Braves.

Last summer, back when Mammaw was only 92, she spent hours peeling and slicing fresh South Carolina peaches for us to freeze.

(As an aside, you know how Georgia's nickname is the Peach State? South Carolina, whose nickname refers to a tree I could not identify if my life depended on it, actually produces far more peaches than does Georgia. They produce so many, in fact, that they are second in production only to...drum roll, please...California. So basically this post is for my limited Carolina and California readership who will be buying fresh peaches for $0.25/lb. all summer. Georgia, of course, would say that their peaches are higher quality which is how they ended up with their nickname in the first place, but in this recipe, even a peach from Colorado grown in a hydroponic greenhouse would taste terrific. And with that, I conclude this 5th grade social studies lesson.)

At the end of Mammaw's peachy marathon, we probably had 6 or 7 bags of frozen peaches in our freezer - which I fully intended to use on pancakes, make pies out of, etc.. Except that I kind of forgot that they were in there until I came across a recipe for Peach Mojitos in the June 2008 issue of Cooking Light.

It was about two weekends ago, and Jeff and I were in one of 20 planes sitting out on the runway in Chicago waiting for the wind to die down so we could take off. Wind that so rocked the plane even when parked that I was heavily dreading the moment when someone sitting comfortably up in the control tower decided United Flight 190 to Grand Rapids should chance it. Adding to my fear was our cowboy of a pilot who kept telling us in an eager, hopeful voice that he really thought we should be allowed to take off since our flight wasn't that long.

Really? Duration of flight comes into play when you still have to fly OVER A WALL OF WATER to get to your final destination? To say I found this logic to be somewhat unnerving would be an understatement. Especially since we had been nearly blown off the runway flying into Chicago several hours earlier.

So when I happened upon this picture the only thing I could think was:

Where is the bartender already?

It's a joke, people.

I know they call them flight attendants now. But for a moment, I did wish we were sitting up in first class rather than in the tail of the airplane, because the seats are bigger up there and I would have climbed directly into Jeff's lap and curled up into fetal position. Instead, I had to resort to squeezing the life out of his hand as if I were a starving python while trying to mentally conjure up the contents of my freezer, desperately hoping it held even one small bag of frozen peaches. Preferably one without freezer burn.

When it comes to air travel, I am not exactly a pillar of strength. Which is strange because when I was 17-years old, I actually spent three days learning to fly (yawn), followed by three more days of piloting a little turboprop (indescribably awesome) all over Kenya with 7 other slightly geeky kids. Geeky only because there were cooler things we could have done with our week, such as: climb Mt. Kilimanjaro or Mt Kenya, track game, learn to scuba dive, study Asian cultures in Mombasa, visit the island of Lamu, or ride 800 miles on a piki. Jeff went on Piki Safari with his Yahama 500 which, seriously, was not any safer. At one point he attempted to jump over a dirt mound using a sand ramp and ended up flying 15+ feet over the handlebars of his bike.

The experience itself was called Interim and was designed to be an opportunity for juniors and seniors to dabble and explore outside the realm of our usual academic classroom setting. And lest you think I'm exaggerating, I just dug out my old photo albums and took pictures of the notes I took during "flight school" for you.
Here, for example, is a picture of the Ascent procedure. As you can see from the detailed diagram I drew in "training", it appears to be a very complex process. Also, that I seem pretty excited about the Cruise! part of the ride. Probably because Top Gun had come out the year before and, well, Pete and Melanie Mitchell did have a certain ring to it. Top Gun may have been the reason I picked Aviation Interim over snorkling down at the beach. I simply do not recall.

Equally complicated, were the directions for Descent. It is obvious to see that when landing, it's important to fly in a rectangular shape as opposed to flying in an oval shape when you are taking off. Also, to try to hit the runway. Which never looked like that since all of the runways we used were comprised of grass and dirt. And we usually had to buzz them first in an effort to clear the grazing wildlife/cattle. At the bottom of the page you'll note I wrote Downwind and underlined it three times. This is information the pilot who flew us into Chicago could have used.

Here I am either trying to take off or land. One thing we know for sure, scrapbooking has never been my forte. My photojournalistic creativity even as far back as 1989 can be summarized with the words, "Me in Plane".

Lastly, here is a picture of my refueling the plane with what looks to be a pasta pot. That is disturbing. As are my turquoise socks, peg legged jeans, enormous teal shirt, permed hair, and the fact that my future husband thought I was attractive.

Needless to say, while dabbling there were plenty of opportunities for death being that the two planes flown were piloted by kids using diagrams like mine and a couple of MAF instructors who had a thing for zero gravity drops. At no point while we were in the air was it ever smooth sailing. We lived for the thrill of turbulence and the next hot air current that would cause the plane to buck a little. I loved it. I did not fear unusual weather patterns. I did not have to meditate on summery adult beverages when the plane lifted a little in a warm air current. I used to be a real Maverick when it came to flying. Which is what makes my current aerophobia all the more perplexing.

As Jeff and I deplaned in Michigan, the pilot cheerfully remarked that people pay for that kind of ride at Carowinds. I contemplated kicking him in the shins but decided against it as that would have slowed my race into the terminal and onto solid ground. Fortunately, the trip back to Charlotte was much smoother. Best of all, look what I found in our freezer when we got home.

Don't anyone tell Mammaw we didn't use them in a pie.