Thursday, January 29, 2009

Adventures in Appliance Repair

Have I mentioned before that I am married to an appliance repair man? No?

Hi. My name is Jeff. I try to fix our appliances after my wife has called the real appliance repair man and we've been thoroughly fleeced.

See, we've been having some issues with our Whirlpool Super Capacity 465 Oven. An oven that was originally purchased for $600 back in 2001, giving it a current depreciated value of $36. Try to remember that important dollar figure as we progress further into this story of appliance woe.

A few months ago, I tried to use the self-cleaning cycle. Normally, the oven automatically locks and then cranks itself up to highs previously unknown so it can burn off the grime encased within that I have ignored for the past year. But this time I got an error message that looked like this:

Anyone want to try to decipher the secret message from the stove? No?

Anyone want to come over to my house and clean the control panel? Please?

How about the wall behind the stove? Would anyone like to volunteer to clean that? I'll bake you a smoky cake.

Well, neither did we. So, predictably, we just let it all go...until we realized this was happening.
That would be the vinyl fronts peeling right off of the cabinet drawers due to heat escaping from the oven we haven't had fixed. I believe in HGTV circles this happenstance would be more commonly known as deferred maintenance. But I like to call it, 3 kids, 2 jobs, and the yard needed to be mown last week. (Mown? Is that a word, or have I been living in the south too long?)

Naturally, when we realized all of our high-end cabinetry was going to be slowly cremated, we raced to do something about our troubled oven...which is why I was able to take the above picture for you just tonight. Right.

What we actually did was to wait until the oven was so coated with baked on crud, that we could not turn it on without smoke billowing out of it, thereby causing the smoke alarm - which is connected to our house alarm - to wail for hours on end. Case in point. It wasn't enough that it went off for 45 minutes while we were trying to host a lovely dinner party this weekend, I tempted the forces of Hades again on Tuesday night when I tried to bake enchiladas. Dinner that night was delicious, but earsplittingly loud. Louder than the kids even.

Fortunately, after the second night, my live-in lover threw in the towel and we decided to call an official repair guy. He was supposed to come between 8:00am-12:00pm this morning. Naturally, he showed up at 3:00pm.
15 minutes and $141 later, the oven still wasn't working. However, I did learn that for another $278, he might be able to fix it. That is when I bid him adieu.
Jeff came home later that evening, and believe you me when I say he was DELIGHTED that I had shelled out $141 for an oven that still wasn't working. And that is precisely when he decided he was going to fix it himself. Because nothing, no nothing, will get a man all hot and bothered like having spent $141 on a $36 appliance, unless it is the possibility of having to spend $278 more. (Somebody give me an Amen.)

And, so, this is what commenced.

First he did some electrical surveying back here. It was gross. I felt sorry for him. Not sorry enough to climb back there myself simply because squeezing into tight spaces with a screwdriver isn't part of my Less of Me weight loss plan for 2009. Maybe in 2010.

Then he unscrewed some important bits in the front of the unit.

And then he totally mooned me.

And while I would love more than anything to show you that picture, I cannot. Because I have to sleep with that same moon tonight. Also, I was laughing so hard that it's not really in focus.

Anyway, after Jeff had retrieved his pants, he determined that we needed part #32 (See it there in the middle of the page?) and he ordered it. From California. So in about 10 days I'll be able to use my oven again. Isn't that exciting? And the biggest victory of all is that we'll have only spent about 5 times what the oven is actually worth.

Assuming he ordered the right part.

(To be continued...)

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Weekend in Review

You know how I've recently pledged to be the most intrusive neighbor on the block? Well. On Friday night around 9:00pm, I heard a lot of shouting across the street. There weren't any police cars parked outside, but I knew there had been dire trouble recently that resulted in a restraining order against the head of household. So when I saw him running down the block followed by a couple of their older kids, I knew the situation was breaking down over there. It was freezing outside, so I got in my car thinking maybe I could pick up some of the runners. I came upon their 10-year old first. He was panicked and calling out a name that sounded suspiciously similar to the name of their 4-year old...who, incidently, frequently leaves the house on his own - mostly to come over to our house, but his mom rarely knows when he has left. I immediately thought perhaps the 4-year old had escaped, but upon further inquiry I found that it was actually the 10-year old's dog that flown the coop.

It's an important dog. He was given to the 10-year old to help him through the implosion of his family. What we can learn from this is that there are some wounds that not even a pet can heal.

At that point, the 10-year old had no interest in getting into my warm car, so I drove on to see who else I could find. Around the corner, I came upon their 15-year old daughter. She was wearing a tee-shirt, capris, and no shoes in the near freezing weather and had been outside for 20 minutes. My warm car was vastly more appealing to her. She got in and told me they were having some problems at home. Really? I didn't know.

The two of us drove around the neighborhood for a while and then headed back to where the 10-year old, now sobbing, had been joined in the hunt by one of his older brother's basketball buddies. Now I had three kids in my warm car. The four of us drove around for 15-20 more minutes before we finally came across the older brother who had chased the dog over to the the local elementary school, through several other subdivisions, and finally back into our neighborhood where he had sort of cornered him. Between the four kids, they managed to catch and load him into their Dad's car (he had been trying to follow his oldest son as he chased on foot).

This is the story as I understand it. Two weeks ago, the Dad pushed the Mom over the stair railing in their garage where she fell onto the cement floor below. Whether this was intentional or not is still being debated. She blacked out, and he ran knowing she would call the cops. In the fall, she miscarried (as it turns out, the story CAN get worse), and from there decided she probably needed a restraining order if she was going to survive. She was supposed to stay in their home, but their furnace broke down quickly thereafter, so she took their three youngest children and went to live with her mom until it could be replaced. In the meantime, their two older children were growing weary of living at their grandmother's house with their dad, and he decided (despite the lack of heat) that if she wasn't going to be in the house, the three of them were moving back home. So they secured a couple of space heaters and did just that. The furnace guys were supposed to tell the displaced mom when the furnace was fixed, but when that call failed to come through and things started to go south with her temporary accommodations, she decided to come home and check on the progress. She called the officer assigned to her case to let her know that she was changing locations and returning home...only to discover the squatters camped out in their own house. The kids were livid because she hadn't called first to tell them that she was coming home so they could get out of the house (yet she didn't even know they were there), he was mad because he thought she had called the cops to report him before giving him a chance to get out of the house (also not so), and in the hub-bub the back door was left open and the dog took off. Naturally, what followed was an all out family war about who was responsible for letting the dog get away. It kind of defies logic, doesn't it?

Getting back to the 4 kids, the dog, and the Dad. I had been talking to him outside while we watched the kids and knew that he expected the older kids and possibly the 10-year old to go back with him to his mom's house for the night. However, as soon as the kids got the dog in his car, they all came racing back to my car. Curious, yes? They were adamant about not wanting to go back home where their mom was (she had been drinking), and they clearly didn't want to go back with their dad to their grandmother's house. So, literally, I kid you not, they decided their best option for the night was to sleep over at the Freshours.

We ended up taking the unrelated 16-year old friend back to his house for the night, as well as the 10-year old. His mom needed him and I understood that. If I was in a crisis, the first thing I would do is to gather my little lambs close to my heart. But the older two spent the night and went home late the next morning. Today is the formal separation and custody hearing. Both of the older kids say they want to stay with their dad, but when push comes to shove, they would rather spend the night at our house than go home with him. How desperate for peace do you have to be to opt to sleep at a home you have never set foot in rather than to go home with either of your parents? The situation just makes my heart so very heavy.

Jeff and I are comfortable with the fact that we may never know who is or isn't right over at their house. Ultimately, for us it just doesn't matter. It only matters that their family recognizes our home as a place of refuge and that we attempt to ooze grace all over all of them regardless of who is or isn't at fault. The approach seems to be working. He called late Saturday night to thank us for taking in his kids and then called back moments after that to ask where we go to church and if he and his older son could follow us up there on Sunday. I had a hard time containing my incredulity and giddiness on the phone simply because I felt such a moment of triumph in which God still managed to shine through all of Jeff's and my sloppy, misguided attempt to genuinely love our neighbors. They didn't end up going, but we feel like the door is open for us to follow up on it. We're calling it a weekend win.

Then, on Sunday evening, we had a celebration dinner with our African Children's Project board. A celebration that might have gone a little better had not the lasagna run over in the oven causing our fire alarm to go off repeatedly for 30 minutes straight. Fortunately, we were among friends...friends with children that when combined with ours were almost noisier than the alarm.

Why the celebration you ask?

On December 30, 2008, the IRS approved our 501(c)(3) application - meaning our little NPO has been recognized as a public charity with full tax-exempt status!

Which means, Lord willing, someday soon this exact spot...

will be forever changed by the presence of this children's home...

and this 4-year old named Anna (along with a bunch of other kids) will finally be able to start living the life God intended her to live.

The thought kind of rocks my world.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

When Snow Eclipses Politics

We live on the east side of the cul-de-sac...which is great when it's icy because our driveway melts first. It's not so great, however, when it snows. Try not to laugh at our definition of snow, Michigan readers.

Griffin laying on the neighbor's driveway trying to make a snow angel. Thanks neighbors for letting us use your driveway. We're sorry we gloat a little when our driveway melts before yours does after ice storms.

See Griffin's icy art there to the left? He's very proud of his work.

Fortunately, yet another neighbor had enough snow on their hill to use our sliders.

Hey neighbors, where were you all this morning when we were so shamelessly trespassing on your properties?

Even the Dad got into it. It just so happens that his butt is about the same size as the boys'. Big surprise.

Not exactly a fashion statement on the princess. Her mom wasn't expecting any extreme weather this season and failed to adequately prepare for it.

Carter getting ready to nail a someone with his snowball.
He got him.

Griffin with his everpresent snowplow. If we were smart, we'd invest in Tonka. There's little chance their stock is falling.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Today, Griffin made the front page of the Charlotte Observer. More importantly, he was the first person in our family to discover this.

Maybe with his brother at the helm, Carter won't be in the Principal's office as much this year.

(And yes, that is our Christmas tree still up behind him. But without ornaments and lights, so hey! Progress!)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Little Less of Me: Find Your Motivation

In an effort to compete with every women's magazine published in January, I hereby bring you A Little Less of Me Tip #2: Find Your Motivation.

Late last year, far later than she should have started pondering her involvement, someone in my high school graduating class of 1989 decided she would attempt to plan a 20-year class reunion. The impending event is scheduled to take place in July of this year which gives me a whopping 6 months to turn my saggy, lumpy, average mom body back into this world class athlete of yesteryear.

Y'all let me know if you want to see my letter sometime. I'm pretty sure my excellence in high school sports is why I was institutionalized accepted into college.

Worse, the idiot party planner decided it would be just brilliant if she scheduled the event to take place in the dead of, of all possible locations in the 48 contiguous United States, the beach. Presuming the terror of having to face all of one's old classmates in a bathing suit for an entire weekend is not enough to make you put down the nutella already, it's wise to employ some sort of backup motivation.

I have this. Suffice it to say, avoiding the natural state at Chez Freshour is no longer an option.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Little Less of Me: Retraining Pavlov's Dog

I'm a terrible dieter. The first and foremost reason being that I really, really love food. And I'm not that particular. I love all of it. Except yams. And cornbread casserole. I have to be pretty desperate to eat those two things. Or under a lot of pressure to keep up appearances. That's very important here in the south. You don't get your heart blessed if you don't shovel in the cornbread casserole.


Last summer my sister got married and I managed to lose a staggering 10-15 lbs. before I poured myself into the spearmint green bridesmaid dress that, incidentally, I picked out. Surprisingly, it wasn't really that difficult. I simply stopped getting pregnant and breastfeeding (See you later male readers...I flatter myself to think you made it this far.) and slowly realized I wasn't ravenous anymore. That whole bit about breastfeeding causing the pounds to just melt away? If it was true, I'd be a size 2. Instead, I'm more like a 2 with a 1 in front of it. Not really. But I am closer to that second number than I am the first.

Needless to say, because of my unparalleled weight loss success last year, I decided I was uniquely qualified to bring the blog world all of my weight loss tips this year. Because I'm a giver, that's why.

Without further ado, here is A Little Less of Me Tip #1:

Find something highly caloric that you really, really like, and swap it out for something that you LOVE.

Jeff and I both adore ice cream. What you see above are the unopened containers currently stored in our gargantuan freezer in our garage. We have two additional opened containers of product in our smaller inside freezer bringing our total ice cream inventory to 8 (or 4 if you are only counting the Cookies 'n Cream). For several years a while we were eating hefty bowls of it at least 3-4 nights a week after we put the kids to bed. This because we felt like we needed a BIG reward for just making it through the day. Mine was frequently smothered in hot fudge with a massive scoop of dry roasted peanuts on top. I needed more than a reward, I needed Publishers Clearing House knocking on my front door. But I would settle for smooth, creamy, crunchy, sweet, salty, cold, warm, sticky, delectable yum.

Indulge often enough and you eventually develop a Pavlovian response when the clock strikes eight each night. I never bothered to calculate the caloric load - possibly because I was concerned that my calculator wouldn't go that high. Or that then I might actually have to ADMIT how much I was inhaling and I can't honestly think of a bigger buzz kill. But I did know deep, way down deep, that I probably needed to find something that I could savor at night that would effectively suffocate my highly conditioned craving for the ambrosial ice cream triptych...assuming I didn't want to spend the rest of my life wearing maternity garb disguised as real clothes.

I tried drinking coffee, I tried drinking tea.

And then I tried drinking this. Bingo. All it takes is a sip (of the red, always the red) and I can watch Jeff wolf down the Cookies 'n Cream without even a hint of a hankerin'. And that, my friends, is proof that you really can eat the foods you love and still lose weight. Not only that, I'm sleeping better! Though that could possibly be attributed to the fact that the kids are all sleeping through the night now.

Unfortunately, the forsaken ice cream inventory does not live alone. As far as bacon and butter are concerned, the dog is still drooling.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

It's Like Riding a Bike

When Carter turned 4, we bought him a bike from the renowned bicycle expert, Toys-r-us. There was a whopping total of three different bikes on the rack that we thought would fit him and, naturally, we bought him the flashiest one. At the time it seemed of paramount importance that our firstborn not only conquer this preschooler rite of passage well ahead of his peers, but that he looked fly doing it. There was simply no way a Dora the Explorer, or a Thomas and Friends bike was going to fit that bill. Coincidentally, a few months earlier we had traded in my beloved Honda Pilot for our current minivan. I would be remiss if I didn't admit that there is a distinct possibility someone in our family was trying to offset that very uncool decision by buying a hot orange bicycle for their 4-year old.

The sweet bike we brought home that day was a tricked out Mongoose BMX, and with the training wheels attached it weighed about 400 lbs. We thought that was a good thing since it would give him more stability. What we failed to take into the equation was that Carter only weighed a total of 32 lbs., which meant there was not enough of him to provide the necessary torque to efficiently pedal the bike. Idiots that we are, we figured he would eventually grow into it and encouraged him to keep trying to ride it anyway.

Three months after we gave him the bike, Carter participated in the annual YMCA Preschool Bike-a-thon in the 4-year old division. Here he is going about 1 mph on a completely flat surface. See the kid behind him? His much smarter parents had sprung for the 12" Thomas and Friends bike. A year later he was whizzing around this same track WITHOUT TRAINING WHEELS.

Meanwhile, Carter (now 5) was still just barely puttering along. He is tolerating my camera only because he is at a complete standstill and is dependent upon me to get him moving again. This was back in April of 2008 - a date that is important only because on Friday (a mere 8 months later), I decided the problem perhaps was not with Carter's lack of biking ability at all, but maybe because his parents had bought him a sucky starter bike.

So yesterday afternoon, Carter and I drove down to Trek where I proceeded to have him professionally fitted for a bicycle his size. Then, after listening to an exceptional savvy sales pitch, I plunked down an exorbitant amount of money for yet another brand new starter bike for my precious firstborn. Let's just say I felt the purchase price was appropriate penance for the suffering we put him through with the first bad bike. Then we went home, told his dad all about it and watched him have a heart attack. All in all, it was an eventful day and it was only 4:00pm.

Fortunately, while I was making dinner, Carter was busy proving to his father that the problem really was with the old BMX bike all along. As you can see here, we're proponents of the ridiculously effective no-training-wheels method. Also working in our favor for the first time EVER is the fact that we live on a very steep hill.

In about an hour and a half, he had mastered balance, could glide on his own for quite a distance, and was confident in using the hand brake. Not only that, he was happy. It's an emotion we've never associated with biking before.

We knew when he could successfully round the corner of the cul-de-sac (this morning) that it was time to put on the pedals. His coach helped him with that this afternoon. About 10-15 minutes later, the guy was racing the kid on the chopper.

I am pleased to report that Carter has officially beaten the battle of the bike.