Thursday, March 31, 2011

If One Is Compelled To Niceness, Is She Really Nice?

Today I got a compliment on my route sheet: "Thank you for your good service." No tip. Just a compliment. That's nice... but I prefer tips, if I am being honest and that seems to be the only way I know how to be, so there it is.

The thing is that I am COMPELLED to give good service. When someone requests their paper on their porch, it makes me want to throw it through their window. Seriously. But I don't, and when they send me notes (and tips) at Christmas time telling me how much they appreciate it and that they are 80 years old and that I am the best paper person that ever walked the planet and that they named a star after me... well, it's all worth it.

But there are those who just EXPECT great service. Can you believe that? Nervy. They just want their paper delivered to their table along with their Starbucks JUST BECAUSE. Like it's my JOB or something. Too bad those people have windows made of steel... or something.

Actually the woman who took the time to call in a compliment (Bless her! Seriously.) left a $10 tip in an envelope stuck to her door around Christmastime. Then she called to make sure I had found it. During that conversation, she told me that she appreciated my efforts to get her paper on her steps.

The woman also mentioned that she just had heart surgery, so her husband (who had some other ailment) was the one who collected the paper each morning. She even went so far as to TELL me that she didn't expect me to get out of my car, that she just appreciated my throwing it as far as I could. (You see where this is going, don't you?) She obviously knew who she was dealing with: Guilt Complex Superstar. So Ella, I mean--I have been getting her paper to her front door ever since.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

One Word: C-H-A-R-A-C-T-E-R

In February of 2009 we were on our way to a small town in the middle of Utah. It was 8:00 p.m. and dark. I signaled to take the town's exit when I saw lights flashing in my rearview mirror. Oh, bother. I pulled over. The officer approached (on the passenger side), and I surrendered my driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance. He went through the formalities of asking me how fast I thought I was going and then telling me how fast I was going--10 miles more than I THOUGHT I had been going. Apparently, our speedometer needed a lube job. As he glanced at the registration, he said, "This is a '96? Hmm--it looks a lot newer than that."

It sounded like an accusation, and I was unclear how best to present my defense. So I just shrugged and offered a sheepish smile. I would have been interested to hear his arguments, considering the facts as I saw them: 1) It was dark, 2) We were packed in there like preserves with barely enough air space to exhale, and 3) Upon closer inspection--in daylight--he could have easily ascertained that the van was at least 13 years old. Maybe more.

We drive a 1996 Dodge Grand Caravan, and frankly, we pride ourselves in that fact. Or at least we did until the passenger side window went down (automatically) three days ago and gives no indication of ever wanting to go up again. While our van, admittedly, falls short of being a luxury mobile, it does serve many worthwhile purposes--like developing the character of every passenger humble (or desperate) enough to embark, for instance.

We entered the proud class of minivan drivers on September 30, 2002, two weeks after our third child was born. To date, that minivan is the only vehicle that my husband and I have purchased in our nearly 13 years of marriage. We also drive the 1995 Toyota Camry that I purchased before we even met. So 4 1/2 years and three children later, we made our first joint vehicle purchase.

When we bought the van it was in perfect working condition. No bells and whistles (i.e. CD player, DVD player, custom hubcaps or steering wheel cover). It was just a reliable way to get us from here to there and back again. Well, it DOES have power locks and windows... sort of, but I am unclear if those qualify as bells or whistles since my six-year old speaks covetously--seriously, in a state of true wonder--of cars that actually have "HANDLES that you can turn to roll down the windows!" Amazing.

But back to building character... Within 18 months of our purchase, I had a slight run in with a metal rod that was sticking out of a truck as I tried to maneuver around it. All it did was dent the front passenger-side door enough to make it impossible to roll down the window... until three days ago when it spontaneously descended, that is. Living with it up seemed less character building than living with it down.

Next the rubber seal on the same door came detached. If I didn't position it just right when I shut the door, it hung through the seam of the door. Having my limitations (believe it or not), I eventually convinced my husband to find a way to "just glue the stupid thing in place." He did and it worked swimmingly.

Our tape deck apparently qualifies our van for Vintage status, considering that one of the kindergartners in my carpool asked, "What is that!?" like it was a foreign contraption that she ought to be wary of. I gave her a little history lesson and then promptly texted her mom to be sure she asked, "What did you learn in carpool today?" when her daughter walked in the door.

The glove compartment (did anyone else call these "jockey boxes" growing up?) was a casualty of leaving a three-year old to find his own way out of the van one day. He must have misunderstood and heard "bum compartment" or something and they are not built to hold three-year olds... at least ours isn't. It's still in place and it still holds its contents, but if you don't hold it open its contents will end up all over the floor.

While we can boast power windows--well, window anyway--and power locks, the rear passenger door handle has given way to the yanking of little hands when it was still locked. Consequently, it can no longer be locked with the touch of a button. Now it must be MANUALLY unlocked. The truly unique quality--and this is where the CHARACTER comes in--is that when we reach a speed in excess of 15 mph, that door locks automatically with a sound effect not unlike that of a machine gun. While we have grown accustomed to this sound, first-time travelers always request an explanation. Apparently, they are not accustomed to hearing a round of open fire as they drive exit the neighborhood. I guess that's a good thing.

Our van was made to seat seven passengers. In our four-is-the-new-six society, that suits most families very comfortably. However, in our we-didn't-get-the-memo-about-four-being-the-new-six family, it doesn't quite work. Prior to the birth of our sixth child, we found ourselves in a quandary. Were we ready to part with our Dodge Caravan? After 7 1/2 years, it was practically part of the family besides being the source of so much character.

We searched online and in the papers for a new van-just to see what was available, but nothing promised anywhere near the character of the van we already had. (Well, except my sister's red 29-passenger van, but it wasn't for sale.) So, we did the unthinkable--we PRAYED. The next thing I knew, I was searching the internet to see if a three-seat bench could replace the middle two-seat bench in our van. Pay dirt. We managed to find a three-seat bench for $100 at a salvage yard--and it was even relatively clean.

You can probably imagine the relief on our children's faces when we informed them we wouldn't have to part ways with our van just yet... yes, I'm sure they were sighs of RELIEF.

In case you are wondering whether or not I got a ticket on that dark night in the center of the state... I am uncertain whether it was the stellar condition of our van or the fact that we were packed in it like preserves--or the officer's desire to flirt with me over my husband who was seated next to me (tears of laughter here), but I did get off with a warning. Miraculously, I didn't even have to cry. Character, I'm telling you.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mr. Wind

"Mr. Wind is a mischief; Mr. Wind is an gnome. He blows my hat, he blows my coat 'til I wish he'd go ho-ome..."

Those are words from a song I learned growing up. Believe me, you would appreciate them more if you could hear me sing them (wink, wink). This morning I pulled out of my driveway at 4:40. Then I pulled out again at 5:40, and my papers still weren't delivered. But they WERE folded.

The wind is a menace, and I suspect that before the world was when we were all choosing sides, the wind chose the DARK SIDE. Sad, but true. I just google searched "purpose of the wind." The first official source explained what causes wind but failed to list any real purpose for it. I already know what CAUSES it... Satan! Below the seemingly official response, someone had listed the following possibilities:

1. It dissipates bad odors.

2. It takes odors of animals to the animals that need to feed on them, so they know where their prey is and can eat and survive.

3. It spreads seeds to propagate plants.

4. It soothes us and calms us when it's gentle.

5. It cools us when the sun is warm.

Good to know that it might actually have a Purpose (or five) besides just annoying a paper girl who is just minding her own business. I must, however, take issue with #4. If it soothes and calms, it is NOT wind. It is a breeze, and breezes fall in another classification entirely. Breezes can make 105 degree weather bearable. Wind does nothing of the sort.

This annoyance resulted in transforming what is normally about a 65-minute task into a 95-minute CHORE. Oh, bother. Mr. Wind IS a mischief. Of course, with Mr. Rain threatening to rendezvous with Mr. Wind, I also had to bag all the papers which contributed to my delay. Then, not surprisingly, Mr. Rain never showed up--can you blame him? Who wants to hang around an old blowhard anyway?

On the bright side (and there is always a bright side), the delay did score me a $20 tip. The generous woman who leaves $20 tips on her door has been sleeping in the past couple of months. (I know this because I see her at the gym and we talk.) This morning she was up by the time I came around, and taped to her door was an envelope complete with a "Thank You!" and a smiley face and a $20 bill.

Even Satan couldn't spoil my morning entirely.

Friday, March 18, 2011

My Name Is Rebecca and I Set Goals...

It is March 18th. I just ate my first pretzel M&M since January 31st. It was delicious... and brown. Then I ate an orange one, and I am still savoring it... Oh, I just ate a red one. They are as yummy as I remember them. I am about to pop a blue one in my mouth. There it goes. Oh, yum. Now green. How did I give those little beauties up for 46 days? It just goes to show that I am the epitome of self control. Well, sure I could have gone 47 days, but what would have been the point? I mean, what am I trying to prove anyway?

On March 10 I actually broke down and ate candy. Chocolate covered cinnamon bears. I was sending 40 of them to my friend in honor of her 40th birthday, and I wanted to make sure they tasted, well, fresh. You know me--always willing to take a hit for the team. It was delicious... and fresh. Consequently I have managed to consume an entire bag of them since then.

All candy is not really a temptation to me, believe it or not. I tend to be very selective. For example, I say "pass" to hard tack candy and cheap chocolates. No problem. Most candy bars will grow stale in my cupboard--unless I think of a good reason to share them with my children. Frozen miniature Reese's peanut butter cups are a delicacy, but the thought of eating a Reese's peanut butter cup shaped like an egg sort of grosses me out. Not sure why--I think the chocolate-to-peanut-butter ratio is a little off.

So I conquered February's goal and practically attained Warrior status by sticking it out NINE extra days. March's goal to do my own paper route every single day is coming along nicely as well... except that I am tired. Very tired. I am starting to believe that mothers of six were never intended to rise at 4:30 every morning... and neither was anybody else, for that matter.

My husband quit offering to get up and deliver my newspapers after our friends spilled the beans about my goal. They had been reading my blog; he had not. He still WANTS to do me a favor, but now that he knows about my goal, he also knows that offering is a moot point. Besides, it just adds to the torture of putting my feet on the floor every morning, because then I lay there and am reminded of what I stupid goal I set this month. On the other hand, every morning it proves a little triumph as well. "I am Warrior--hear me ROAR!" Or something like that.

Now it is March 31st. I have done my paper route every day. All by myself. (Except for the time it was raining outside and I was behind schedule and I took the papers back to my garage and my dear husband came out to help me fold them... except for that.) For 31 days. Can you believe it? So I can sleep in tomorrow, right? Not quite. Would you believe one of my associates (I'm sure that's what they are called) asked my husband to substitute his paper route for SEVEN days. Starting yesterday. How is he supposed to do my route and somebody else's too? I guess I know what it means to do my own work. Sigh.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Stops & Starts

Each morning I go to the "dock" to pick up my newspapers. Each stack of papers has what is called a route sheet on top of it, identifying the route number. (Would it surprise you that I am Route #001--as in NUMBER ONE?) Next to the route number is the number of papers that I will be delivering that day. Today is was 122. Below that are the stops and starts for the day (vacations, terminated subscriptions, vacation restarts, etc.). I make a mental note of the changes and then implement them as I deliver the papers.

Today I had two stops and one start. One of the stops came with the following message to the carrier (that's me): PLEASE DO NOT DEL PPR UNTIL SATURDAY MARCH 19TH. CUSTOMER WILL NOT BE ABLE TO PICK PPR UP. THANKS FOR YOUR HELP.

Well, that was specific, wasn't it? After all, that is the definition of a Stop. I don't deliver the paper because the customer will not be home to read it. It struck me as funny.

Another notice I sometimes get is called a Vac Pak--that means I am to SAVE all of the newspapers between that day and the day the person returns from their shinanigans--er, I mean vacation. I secretly wonder (well, not so secretly anymore) if these people are packrats that have hoarded EVERY issue of The Spectrum since 1963. (That is when they began publication--I just looked it up, because I DON'T have every issue since then.)

As an added bonus, I saw six deer on the street while delivering papers. As I drove toward them, they ran onto a lot. When I got to where I thought they had run into someone's backyard, they were all huddled in the back of an empty lot. I shined my lights on them and counted them, then they went down the slope on the backside of the lot.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Supers

I have an idea for a new comic book series. The civilians in our tale are tall, witless humans who are under the mistaken impression that they control the world. The Super Villains and Super Heroes are little people who run around creating havoc or making peace depending on which side of the villain/hero coin they happen to land that day (read: side of the bed they exited that morning).

The list of potential Super Villains is surprisingly long compared to that of the potential Super Heroes, if that gives you any indication of how my day has gone. The list of Super Villains might include the following:

1. The Exaspirator - constantly putting the tall, witless humans in a speechless stupor
2. The Instigator- ever seeking to stir things up
3. The Thrasher - prone to tantrums
4. The No-No-Nator - "Mary, Mary Quite Contrary"
5. The Humiliator - this identity can be adopted by any Super Villain when in public
6. The Sassinator - never at a loss for words
7. The "I-Do-It-Myself"-or - generally strikes when time is of the essence but occasionally doubles as a Super Hero
8. The Evaporator - "Now you see her, now you don't"
9. The Stinker - this Super Villain's favorite uniform is the one he was wearing yesterday... and the day before that... and the day before that (while most Super Villains and Super Heroes APPEAR to wear the same outfit daily, they actually have an entire closet full of the same costume)
10. The Screecher - needs no introduction

Now for our Super Heroes:

1. The Harminator - often at odds with the Instigator
2. The Incinator - generally eats any food placed in front of him
3. The Paginator - a voracious reader who fills out reading logs as a mere formality
4. The Shadow - makes for pleasant company and always willing to lend a helping hand
5. The Snickler - can bring comic relief to a tense situation with a ready smile or a contagious giggle
6. The Clincher - freely hugs others at request and often heals wounds on contact
7. The Deliberator - prone to think before he acts, is valued for his intelligence

As for the tall, witless civilians (TWC)--they are likely to remain as such since the Super Heroes and Super Villains have the advantage of changing roles at the drop of a hat. Consequently, the TWC continue their struggle to weed out the villainy while allowing heroism to thrive. May the Force be with them!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Message In a Bottle--er, I Mean Diaper

When my son who is now six years old was a baby, I was changing his diaper when I discovered a barcode. Face up. In his diaper. I immediately called my husband to inform him that there was no turning back. Now that he had lost his barcode, we would have no chance of sending our baby back. Good thing he was a keeper.

Yesterday as my 10-month old sat in our great room, I looked at her and noticed she was sort of gagging. She obviously had something in her mouth that she was having a hard time manipulating. By the time I picked her up, the culprit had disappeared... down her throat. I guessed it was probably a piece of paper, or possibly a rubberband, due to the ease with which it seemed to go down.

"I wonder what it was--I guess we'll find out tomorrow," I said to my husband who I had called over to do a fingersweep (definitely HIS department).

Well, the message came through today in all its mustardy yellow glory. My baby pooped it out. It was neither a rubberband nor a regular piece of paper. No, it was actually a sticker with a brief four-word message.

Now one has to wonder about a message that has to be delivered through such means. Messages can be delivered through a myriad of vehicles, i.e. messages in a bottle, clouds of smoke across the sky, postcards in the mail (perhaps you've heard of those), fortune cookies, etc. We all place different weight on messages depending on our desire to embrace their messages. For example, if a fortune cookie were to read, "You will take a long walk off a short pier," I would likely take it with a grain of salt--and quickly discard it. On the other hand, if the fortune cookie predicted wealth and happiness, I would save it and use it for a bookmark for many years to come.

But messages in my baby's diaper? The question I have is: Are those messages intended for me or for my baby? Probably for me, since my baby can't read yet and The Powers That Be could predict with near-perfect accuracy that I would be the one changing the diaper.

So what was the message in the diaper? I know you are dying to know, but more than that you are probably wondering whether it came out, face up, and ready to read OR if I have to fish around in the yellow mustard to decipher it. Well, I will leave the latter of those inquiries to your imagination. The message, on the other hand, I will gladly share. Because, who knows--maybe the message was also intended for YOU via my baby's mouth, her digestive system, her cute little bum, and my rambling blog. One never knows. That being said, the message in the diaper read...

(Drumroll, please.)


Yeah, Baby!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

If "Cooking Is Love Made Visible," Then I Need To Step It Up A Notch

Last night I attended a recipe swap. The nice thing about a recipe swap is that you can swap recipes and still retain all that you just gave away. Plus, none of what you acquire will need to be dusted! Keeping what you give away proved rather an epiphany for my daughter. When I told her that I was going to a recipe swap, her face fell and she exclaimed, "No... No! You can't give away all your recipes." Now I wish I would have quickly inquired as to which recipes she would be sorry to lose.

Cooking isn't really my thing. While I enjoy creating something delicious for my family to enjoy, I really do not like putting forth the effort only to be met with complaints. Just putting dinner of any sort on the table is a big enough sacrifice/investment for me that it should only be met with praise, accolades, and an occasional standing ovation. Nothing less.

At the beginning of February several women were invited to keep track of their meals for the whole month. Then we would meet at the end and share our lists as well as two recipes from that list. Easy enough. I started my list. Then after about five entries it got buried behind everything else that was posted on my refrigerator.

By the way, can I just say that women who have refrigerators that look more like bulletin boards in a grocery store than refrigerators are kindred spirits in my book. I post recipes, grocery lists, artwork, invitations, announcements, and everything else on my refrigerator door. In case you are wondering--yes, I have curiously strong magnets. And stainless steel doors? Well, I have a conspiracy theory about them as well as their inventor.

But that is beside the point. The point? Which is...? Oh, yes--the recipe swap. I suppose it would more accurately be called a recipe SHARE, since we don't exactly swap in the full sense of the word... for those who might want to get technical. And I seem to want to, don't I?

Anyway, we started with introductions. I got to go first. "I'm Rebecca." That's it--that's all I said. Then we went around the room and everyone shared their first name and ONLY their first name. Are you impressed? I was quite the trendsetter. I could have said, "I am Rebecca. I hate to cook. I have six children who get cranky if they don't eat, so I consider it a necessary evil. I think this loathing developed in seventh grade with an ornery home-ec teacher, but it might have also stemmed from growing up with a mother who wanted me to learn how to cook but wasn't sure how to teach me (because I was a little ornery, too)..." I could have gone on and on with an introduction, but I refrained and everyone else followed suit. Sometimes less is more. (I would do well to remember that more frequently than I do.)

Next we played a game. As we went around the circle of 17-20 women, each person was to share one item from their list. If you had the same item on your list, you were to announce that and then cross the item off your list. A few items from my "list" (which was actually the pages from my weekly planning notebook where my family shoots out ideas of things they might like to eat for dinner that week): BLTs, chicken noodle soup, spaghetti, sloppy joes, chicken pasta salad, raspberry chipotle chicken, and deli sandwiches. Pretty straightforward and plain jane. Like I said, I am just lucky to get food on the table. [The raspberry chipotle is a marinade from Costco that my neighbor introduced me to--"we" grill the chicken and then eat it on a salad.]

My list had to be the most ordinary of all the lists there. I couldn't believe how adventurous some of these women were--at home in their kitchens! One woman and her husband decided to eat vegetarian five days a week. I think that is highly admirable... not to mention healthy. I just hope my family never gets wind of what is happening in kitchens all over my neighborhood (i.e. COOKING) because when they do my cover will be blown. They might accuse me of "just getting by," and worse... they might be right.


Our alarm went off at the usual time this morning: 4:26. I immediately went into denial... along with the rest of me. I was so tired. My whole body wanted to disappear into the mattress and never surface. I inwardly begged Rob to say those magical words that would release me to return to that state of blissful slumber: Do-you-want-me-to- do-the-paper-route? Nine simple but beautiful words. True poetry. A pause... A very long pause. My body tensed, not knowing if the words would be forthcoming. Hoping but not daring to hope. Maybe the long pause was just for dramatic emphasis. My body begged for relief... pleeeease?

Finally. FINALLY! The silence was broken. The words were spoken. All nine of them.

"Do you want me to do the paper route?" Poetry, yes.

I paused. Inner turmoil. My shoulder dwellers (who should have been sleeping, I might add) were amazingly alert and attentive for 4:26 in the morning. (Does that even count as morning!?) They insisted on battling this one out. Sigh.

Angel: Just get up. The car is in the shop. You don't want your husband to have to deliver the papers in the VAN--it's a big pain. Plus, in 10 minutes you will be glad you're awake and moving. Besides, didn't you set a secret goal to deliver the papers EVERY day this month? Didn't you? It's only the 2nd day of the month. Now get up. Get up!

Devil: He offered--I heard him! All nine words. Tell him "yes" and roll over. If he didn't want to do it, he wouldn't have offered. This might be your last chance to sleep in. Ever.

It's a wonder I listened to the angel. She is so darn pushy, but I succumbed. She must have been the loudest.

"No, I'm all right," I said (yawned) not very convincingly. Then suddenly my feet were on the floor and I was feeling my way into the bathroom. Even as I stood in the bathroom preparing to don my "uniform" of navy capris, a T-shirt, a sweatshirt, and sneakers I couldn't figure out why I was up. I was SO tired that every right-minded part of me should have said "Yes! Yes, please. Oh, that would mean so much to me!" Apparently, those parts of me were still asleep.

And this morning it took at least 20 minutes for me to be glad I was up. Take that, ANGEL!