Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Florida, Are You Prepared for a Hurricane?

Having lived down here in Florida for the past 10 years, I've come to learn that hurricane preparedness to a Floridian means something entirely different than what the rest of the world thinks. To a Floridian, preparing for a hurricane means stocking up on alcohol, ice to keep your alcohol cold, flashlights to illuminate the area when pouring your alcohol, batteries to put in the flashlights so you can illuminate the area for, again, pouring alcohol, and juiced-up portable cell phone chargers so you can call your friends and invite them over to partake in some 'hurricane party' alcohol.

I haven't quite attained that level of "Floridian-ness, thank God. This is basically all my knowledge about hurricanes:

The One In Which We Survive A Hurricane (And Being Trapped In A Bathroom With Clayton)

Preparing for a Hurricane

Getting Ready for a Hurricane

The REAL Danger of a Hurricane

The One In Which I Dye Everything But My Hair Blue

Now is a great time to take inventory and stock up on your supplies. I mean, you all remember The Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020, right? Stock up on supplies now before Jim Cantore makes an appearance. And it's the perfect time to do it because there's a sales tax holiday on all disaster preparedness supplies (other than alcohol) between Friday, May 28 and Sunday, June 6.

For full details on what's included in the tax holiday, check Floridarevenue.com/disasterprep

Monday, May 24, 2021

Could You be Unintentionally Harming Your Cats? (If You Have These Items in Your House, You Might Be)

This weekend, I learned something about cats and an item that is absolutely toxic to them. I feel the need to use this platform to warn other pet owners of this potentially fatal situation.

I spent over 7 hours at the emergency animal hospital this Saturday with my kitten, and as you can imagine, this was accompanied by a jaw-dropping bill.

When I woke up Saturday morning, my kitten (who ordinarily wakes me up by licking my nose) was nowhere to be seen. I walked out to the kitchen by myself, no kitten winding herself around my ankles, squeaking for food. I looked into the family where KitKat lay on the couch. She lazily stretched and hopped gracefully down to the floor. I flipped on the kitchen light and saw that her right eye was closed. Scooping her up, I nuzzled her soft little head and she looked up at me with her left eye. Her right eye only opened a crack and didn't look quite right. Her third eyelid was completely covering the part of her eye that was visible through her squinting lids.

At this point, I thought she was just sleepy and would open her eye more as she woke up. I filled her bowl with food; she sniffed it and walked back out to the family room. That's weird, I thought. She must be really tired. Usually she digs in when I feed her in the morning.

As the morning went on, KitKat continued to squint, keeping her right eye mostly closed. On inspection, I didn't see any debris or hair or anything in her eye that could be causing irritation. I was concerned, but as luck would have it, it was Saturday and her vet wasn't open. I called an after-hours emergency vet who told me I should bring her in if I was concerned. They also informed me there was a $95 fee to be seen.

I debated for a little while, asking myself what I would do if it was my kid whose eye was bothering them. I decided to take her in to be safe. After filling out the hospital's paperwork, I was told to wait with KitKat in my car. We waited for about an hour and a half, KitKat happily napping on my lap. I called the hospital to make sure they hadn't forgotten about us and asked if they thought we'd be seen soon. Apparently, 3 back-to-back emergencies had come in so we'd been bumped back a bit, which I understand. After 2 1/2 hours of waiting, I told them I had to leave to take my son to work. 

We went home, where I expected KitKat to run to her water bowl, assuming she was as thirsty as I was. She didn't eat or drink though. I thought she probably just didn't feel great because her eye was bothering her. Until Brooklyn mentioned, "That's the eye she had pollen on."

Oh right, I remembered. A couple days prior, KitKat had gotten into the vase of flowers Lexi had given me for Mother's Day. She had pollen on her face and her paw which I wiped off. 

I googled flowers poisonous to cats. Lo and behold, I learned that lilies especially are highly toxic to cats. Ingesting even a small amount of pollen, leaves, petals, or even the water in which they sit could be fatal. Guess what flowers were in my arrangement. Roses and lilies. That bright yellow powder that had been on her was from the lilies.

Freaking out that it wasn't just KitKat's eye, but that her kidneys were shutting down and that's why she wasn't eating or drinking, or being as playful as usual, I dropped Clay at work and then rushed back to the hospital with Brooklyn holding KitKat.

Long story short, after bloodwork to evaluate the state of KitKat's kidneys and liver, a shot of an anti-nausea medication, a stain of her eyeball to look for scratches, and medication for her eye, she was sent home with us. Thankfully, she didn't ingest any of the lilies when just a little bit of pollen on her face had caused such inflammation and irritation of her eye.

I was in tears, talking to the veterinarian, thinking that my ignorance could have killed my kitten. I didn't know. I didn't know that lilies were that toxic to cats. I had no idea. Since then I've been asking my fellow cat parents if they were aware. Only one of them knew. Only one out of a dozen or so people that I've spoken with this weekend. So I'm using this platform to bring awareness to the fact that there are actually several items that can be harmful, some fatally so, to your pets. Here are a few of the items that are especially harmful to cats.

1. Household Chemicals

Of course, things like bleach, detergent, insect/rodent bait, fertilizers, and such are toxic to anyone. Keep all such items out of kitty's reach (and all cat parents know a kitty's reach is far and wide!)

2. Human and Pet Medicine

Human medications like antidepressants, cold medicines, diet pills, and pain relievers are especially bad. Animal medicine is also harmful in the wrong dose, as is ingesting pet medicine that's for topical use. You should keep all medication out of kitty's reach.

3. Plants

Lilies, sago palms, aloe, mistletoe, azaleas, chrysanthemums, hyacinths, tulips, rhododendron, and marijuana are all toxic to cats. To be safe, don't keep them in your home or your garden if your cat is an outdoor cat.

4. Human food

Although some human food may be okay for kitty, there are many things that are seriously toxic. Some you may know like alcohol, caffeine, and chocolate. But also on this list of highly toxic substances are garlic, onions, chives, grapes, raisins, and the xylitol found in sugarless gum and candy.

This is not an exhaustive list. Talk to your cat's vet for more information.

If you suspect your pet has been poisoned, take samples of vomit, stool, and the suspected poison that was ingested.

Watch for symptoms of possible poisoning.

Know the number of your cat's vet, and the nearest 24-hour emergency facility.

ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, 888-426-4435

Don't delay. Fast action can save your kitty's life if they've ingested something toxic.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

The Things I Learn in Middle School

I work in a middle school and my students teach me things every day. I figured I'd share some of this precious knowledge with you.


Monday, May 3, 2021

Jello, my Favorite

Most of you know that Lexi has POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome.) Getting her diagnosis took several years, several doctors, several tests, and several misdiagnoses. So when I suspected Brooklyn of possibly having this, I cut straight to the chase and went to the cardiologist who diagnosed Lexi.

Recently Brooklyn has had episodes where her heart races for no apparent reason. She has gone to the school nurse a number of time in the past few weeks with a heart rate over 170. That in and of itself set of alarm bells, but it also got me thinking. When Brooklyn was doing cheer this past fall, she would come home from practice with a headache every day. She said she was totally out of breath and couldn't run around the campus without stopping several times. This girl has always been fit and athletic; she used to not only run around the football field, but she was usually one of the first girls to complete the circuit. Back when this was happening, I didn't think much of it. I told Brooklyn she was just out of shape after lying around, watching Netflix, and eating Nutella for months on end at the start of the pandemic. I mean, who wasn't out of condition this past fall, right? But given her racing heart issues, I began to wonder if there was more to her fatigue and breathlessness when she was in cheer.

And for many months now, Brooklyn will get up out of bed or off the couch, walk a few steps, then sit right back down because she's lightheaded. Again, I didn't think too much of it; I just told her to get up more slowly.

But with all these symptoms together, it was just a little too reminiscent of Lexi so I made an appointment with the pediatric cardiologist. Last week he did an EKG, an echocardiogram, and a chest x-ray. All were normal. Her heart looks fine which didn't surprise me since I think she has some dysautonomia thing going on. He's sending us a heart monitor for her to wear for 24 hours, and he ordered a bunch of bloodwork as well.

So I made an appointment at Quest for early this morning since Brooklyn needed to fast for one of the tests. One of the 24 tests he ordered confused the phlebotomist at Quest. Now, I get that maybe this isn't a common test, and maybe she hadn't encountered this one before. But the doctor had written out the instructions in simple, plain English. The patient was to lie down for 5 minutes, after which time her blood was to be drawn while she was still supine. Then the patient was to stand for 10 minutes, after which time her blood was to be drawn a second time for this particular test. Well, this completely stumped the woman at Quest. She made a phone call to someone who was apparently also clueless. She also said she couldn't draw the fasting test because the doctor had written something about having it taken at 8:00. (The doctor had told us it was fasting so we should go in the morning.) Our appointment was 8:45 and that was too long past 8:00 according to this woman so she wouldn't draw blood for that test either. She just stood there, looking at the papers again and again, dropping them on the floor, looking some more and saying repeatedly that they didn't know what to do. At this point, I just asked her to return all the doctor's orders so we could just go to the hospital to have it done. I was a little aggravated because I was expecting to get to work before school started, and now we'd have to go to the hospital and spend more time waiting.

Brooklyn and I left and went to the nearest hospital, registered and walked around the corner to the outpatient lab where a friendly nurse took us back to a room with a examining table. 

"Go ahead and lie down here. You need to lie here for 5 minutes before I draw your blood."

"Oh thank you! We went to Quest first, but they didn't seem to have a clue how to do this."

"Well, I'm just following the doctor's instructions. It's pretty simple."

After 5 minutes, she drew blood for that test and the other 20+ tests the doctor had ordered. Then she had Brooklyn stand up and walk out near the desk so she could keep an eye on her while we waited for the required 10 minutes before the second draw.

I stood next to Brooklyn, asking her now and then if she felt okay. She always answered, "Yeah, I'm fine! After a few minutes I relaxed because Brooklyn hadn't gotten dizzy and was feeling fine. About 7 minutes into her wait, she suddenly whispered, "I'm not doing so good." I moved closer to her so she could rest her head on me. And then everything happened at once. I could feel her going limp, I wrapped my arms around her. The nurse flew over to us. We gently lowered Brooklyn to the floor. Brooklyn made these loud snoring sounds as we settled her on the ground. I heard an announcement over the PA about a patient down in outpatient testing. Another person brought a cool washcloth that she placed on Brooklyn's head. Someone grabbed her feet and held her legs up to help blood flow back to her brain.

Brooklyn opened her eyes and looked so confused. A dozen people surrounded us by this time. 

"What happened? How did I get here?"

She didn't understand why she was on the floor surrounded by people. Someone gave her some orange juice and the nurse whose lap Brooklyn was in held the straw up to her lips.

They all jumped in SO quickly! It was honestly impressive. Brooklyn was still white as a sheet and her legs were shaking. Someone said that they needed to take her to the ER to check her out. A couple people placed a board under her and lifted her to the stretcher that had appeared next to us. In the ER, they checked her blood sugar, placed a blood pressure cuff and a pulse/oxygen monitor on her. Someone handed me more orange juice and a cup of Jello for her. Brooklyn said, "Jello, my favorite!" 

"Really? Jello is your favorite?"

"Mom, it's from Criminal Minds, remember? Reid likes Jello."

"Okay then."

Brooklyn's face was still pretty pale and she didn't look great, but she was quoting a favorite TV show so I figured she couldn't be that bad.

An ER doctor came in and tried to ascertain why Brooklyn passed out. He suggested low blood sugar from fasting which probably played a part in it. I informed him that she was under the care of a cardiologist who was testing to see if she has POTS or something else causing the elevated heart rate and the lightheadedness. I gave him the name of the cardiologist which apparently made him feel the need to tell us a story about his name. 

"My name is Negron. One time I had a patient and my name was on her hospital bracelet, only it cut off the last 'N' on the name. The woman was black. She was very offended that her bracelet said 'Negro' and accused us of profiling her. I had to explain that it was just my name." 

Okay then. So we hung out there for a while before Brooklyn was moved into a private room where she turned on TV and watched Friends reruns. Soon she was quoting Joey, "Custard good, jam good, meat good!"

Yep, she's definitely feeling more like herself.

The doctor returned and asked if she'd eaten anything.

"They brought her some orange juice and Jello."

"You call that food? That's not food. You need something else. Do you want some chocolate?"

He returned with a small piece of chocolate. "My wife gave me two of these this morning. I already ate one. You can have this one. It'll help."

When he left, Brooklyn said, "Thanks Professor Lupin," quoting Harry Potter. "I mean, I'm not going to pass up chocolate, but I don't think this is considered real food either." I hadn't eaten anything all day either and I had to agree with her.

They had Brooklyn stand up to see if she was dizzy. Her heart rate shot up about 40 beats per minute when she stood, so the nurse had her lie down again. I explained that the racing heart was nothing new, and in fact was the reason we were there to begin with. Finally, they discharged her later that afternoon and we were able to get some actual food.

Not exactly how I was planning on spending my day, but I was really thankful that Quest couldn't figure out how to draw her blood because I don't think they would've had the resources and wherewithal to handle a patient fainting. It was a good thing we had gone to the hospital.

Next up - a tilt table test for her. We'll see how that goes.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

How (Not to) Relax at the Beach

My friend Cindy and I love the beach and we take day trips to the ocean as often as we can. We both work at middle schools and this year has sucked the life out of us! Of the 10 years that I've worked at OCPS, this is by far the most stressful year I've had, with my year at the ghetto school a close second. I wake up in the middle of the night, thinking about my students. I wake up in the morning with a headache. I leave school in the afternoon and drive to the chiropractor who manipulates my spine into place after I've been sitting at my desk, tensed up all day while juggling in-person students with the students learning from home. But knowing that administration appreciates me makes it all worthwhile. 😑

So Cindy and I decided to take a day trip to the Gulf for a little relaxation and Vitamin Sea. Brooklyn was free today so she and I piled our tent and bag of beach things into the back of Cindy's vehicle. I grabbed the handle of the truck when Cindy called out, "Oh, the locks are broken. I'll open the door from the inside." Then she instructed me to reach around and unlock the back door for Brooklyn. "The locks are broken, but the truck drives like a dream!" Cindy asserted. In fact, her husband had checked the oil and filled the tires with air just the day before so the truck would be all set for us to go.

We traditionally stop at Starbucks before we begin our beach journeys. As Cindy placed the order, she debated between a grande and a venti coffee. Needing a good hit of caffeine, she opted for the venti, knowing that we'd be stopping halfway to the beach to find bathrooms anyway because neither Cindy nor I can make it all the way without stopping. I mean, Cindy carried a whole litter of kids at once with her triplets, in addition to one more. And I've given birth 6 times so basically we pee when we sneeze. Ingesting 20 ounces of coffee does not help in the bladder control department. 

About an hour into our trip, as Cindy and I were starting to think - we're going to have to find a bathroom soon, we came to halt on I-4 because well, it's I-4. I-4 is literally always at a standstill no matter what time of day, time of year, amount of construction, or kind of weather. As we slowed to a stop, the truck died. In the middle of I-4. I-4, the highway which has earned the title of The Most Deadly Interstate in the U.S. That I-4. Cindy was able to get it started and inch forward a bit before it died again. Putting on the hazards, she desperately tried to get the engine to start once more. The truck turned over and Cindy looked for an opening to move over to the shoulder. Thankfully, we were at an overpass with an exceptionally wide shoulder so Cindy was able to stop the truck far from the traffic lanes and in the shade of the road overhead.

Cindy called her husband, but he was busy helping a friend and didn't want to leave to come get us. I thought about calling Clayton to come pick us up, but he's never driven on I-4 and I didn't think it would be a good idea to send him on an hour-long trek on the interstate by himself.

Next, Cindy tried calling AAA, but she wasn't getting good reception on her cell phone. I told her to go to the AAA app because that could pinpoint our exact location for the tow truck since we weren't exactly sure where we were. Unfortunately, the app wouldn't load because again, she wasn't getting good service. I pulled up the app on my phone and went through the process of requesting service. As I was about to submit the request, Cindy said, "No wait, if you request service, it'll go against your membership, not mine. You only get so many requests a year." So I closed the app and put my phone on speaker, and while she spoke with the folks at AAA, I pulled up my Waze map to pinpoint our position.

Because of Covid, the tow company can't give us a ride, not that the three of us could've piled into the cab of the tow truck anyway. Cindy thought about calling an Uber, but Ubers don't pick people up along the side of the road. Sooo, we had a tow truck coming for the truck within the next hour or so, but we had no way to get home. And the tow truck wouldn't pick up the broken-down vehicle and leave us just standing there on the side of the road, so we needed to coordinate a ride home for us that would get there at the same time as the tow truck. 

As we were trying to figure out how we were going to get home, Brooklyn decides she can no longer "hold it." Cindy passed an empty Starbucks cup to Brooklyn and told her to climb over the seat into the back of the Expedition to pee in the cup. When she was done, Brooklyn held her grande salted caramel cream cold brew urine with an expression like Now what? We instructed her to dump it out the window while thoughts of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry needed to pee, but they were lost in a parking garage went though my head. "But officer, I could get Uromysitisis poisoning and die. That's why!...Do you think I enjoy living like this?...the shame, the humiliation...You know I have been issued a public urination pass by the city because of my condition. Unfortunately my little brother ran out of the house with it this morning." Cindy and I looked at each other, wondering who would be next, and knowing full well that neither of us would be able to hold it for another hour. And unlike my skinny little 15-year-old daughter, neither of us relished the thought of flipping our um, fluffy 50-year-old frames into the back of the vehicle to pee.

Cindy dialed her best friend because asking someone to get up and drive an hour down I-4 on a Saturday definitely falls into the - something you could only ask of a best friend of 40 years category. I listened to Cindy's end of the conversation. "I have a huge favor to ask! I'm stuck on the side of I-4 with my friend Dawn and her daughter. I need you to come get us please! We were going to the beach. What beach do you think? Anna Maria. It's not that far. But the truck broke down. It think it's a coil."

"But it drives like a dream," I interjected.

"Rick is helping a friend," Cindy continued the conversation. "I may have to kill him. We're on I-4, off to the shoulder. Somewhere in Lakeland. No, before that exit. You can't miss us; we're off to the side under an overpass. Okay, thank you!!!"

All set. A tow truck is coming in an hour, and Cindy's friend and her husband should get here in an hour. Perfect. Or well, not exactly perfect because perfect would be us relaxing on a beach, listening to the waves right now. But at least we were off to the side out of danger, we were in the shade thanks to the road overhead, and we had people coming to get us.

With that all set, we were able to relax a little. However, now that the plans were all made, we didn't have anything to occupy our minds and our thoughts turned back to needing to pee. Cindy grabbed a box of crackers to munch on. "If I eat these, maybe they'll soak up enough urine that I won't have to pee.

Brooklyn and I looked up from our phones, eyebrows raised. "Yes, that's how digestion works," I replied drily.

"I know that's not how digestion works, but I'm trying to fool my brain so I don't wet my pants!"

"Bet you're glad you got the venti now."

"At least we're all wearing bathing suits," Brooklyn piped up from the back seat.

"Right!" I agreed. "And if your friends take too long to get here, instead of finding us a bathroom, they can just pull over in front of someone's yard, and we can grab their garden hose and rinse off."

"Stop making me laugh!" Cindy begged.

"Roll up your window! Oh my God! Brooklyn lock your door! Lock the doors! Oh my God!"

Cindy is completely freaking out which in turn, is freaking us out. I roll up my window and see in the side mirror that a car has pulled up behind us. I'm thinking a good Samaritan is stopping to see if we need any help. Cindy is thinking an axe murderer is stopping to kill us. A man gets out of the car and walks a few feet, stopping at the front of his vehicle. He pours some water on his face, and scrubs it with his hands. Cindy was in full-on panic mode at this point. "I have my foot on the gas! If he comes closer, I'm driving!"

"I don't think he's even coming here. It's okay."

"His belt is undone!" Cindy yelled. "I'm ready to drive!"

The guy walked around and got back into his car without giving us a glance. He started driving, but not out toward the lanes of traffic; he drove up between us and wall. Cindy was ready to floor it while she formulated plans to acquire her concealed carry weapons permit, but the guy continued to drive forward before merging into traffic. He was completed oblivious to us.

Not too long afterwards, the towtruck driver called to let us know he would be there in about 10 minutes. A couple minutes later, Cindy's friends pulled up. We climbed out of the truck and stood there while waiting for the towtruck. 

"It smells like urine out here."

We looked around innocently. "Hmmm, that's weird."

We transferred our belongings to their car and hopped in. After thanking them profusely, we begged them to take the first exit and find a gas station so we could pee. They took the first exit and we drove along. And drove. And drove. But alas, there were no gas stations. No restaurants. No anything. So we wound our way back to the interstate. Signs indicated that there were gas stations, hotels, and restaurants at the next exit so we pulled off there. And drove. And drove. And drove.  There was nothing. Absolutely nothing. 

"Well, worst case scenario is that we head back to I-4 and go to the next exit," Cindy's friend said.

"No, worst case scenario is that Cindy and I have to pay you to get your car detailed in order to get the urine smell out."

We finally found a Sunoco and pulled in. 

"Um guys, do you see the bars on the windows and the gunshot hole in the glass?" I asked.

"Oh my gosh! I don't know if that's a bullet hole. It looks like someone took a baseball bat to the window."

"Is that really better??"

"No! Keep going! Find another bathroom!"

We found another gas station and ran inside (which really says something about how badly I needed to go because I didn't have on any makeup and I was wearing a bathing suit, and I never go out in public like that!)

We finally all made it home thanks to Cindy's friends. Cindy may be digging a shallow grave in her backyard for her husband who didn't come pick us up, but probably not since he'll be the one to fix the truck. And I learned some lessons for our little adventure.

Don't drink coffee (or really anything) on the way to the beach.

I need to talk Cindy out of obtaining a concealed carry permit.

Wear normal clothes and make-up when going to the beach. Just in case.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

How to Make Red Greek Easter Eggs for Tsougrisma

Tsougrisma is a traditional game played by Greeks on Orthodox Easter. The game is played by cracking red dyed eggs together. The eggs symbolize new life and the color red symbolizes Christ’s blood shed for us. Each person chooses an egg and holds it upright while another person lightly taps their egg against it. The person whose egg cracks then turns it around and uses the other end. When both ends are cracked, the player is out. We take turns going around the table, cracking the eggs with each other. The person with at least one end intact at the end wins and is said to have good luck throughout the year.

When I was young, I remember my mom teasing that she was going to sneak this red alabaster egg, a decoration in our dining room, into the game. And one year, when we were little kids, my sister won this game when we celebrated Easter at my Aunt Vasiliki's. I swear I remember her keeping the winning egg and saving it in her closet at home until her room began to stink and my mom found it there. She insists that never happened, but will admit to saving some chicken bones wrapped in paper towels for her stuffed dog, Blooper. I guess we’ll never know for sure (I’m right), but the point is that I have some fond memories from celebrating Greek Easter with my family. And I hope my own kids will look back one day and recall some fun memories from celebrating this little part of our heritage as well.

Traditionally, the eggs are dyed on Holy Thursday in preparation for Easter. Here's how to color the eggs used in this game and in tsoureki, a sweet bread that has a whole red egg baked into it. I color my eggs with yellow onion skins. You can use any commercial dye (Greek markets sell a red dye at Easter time) but I don't like using store-bought dyes because I feel they don't yield as deep and vibrant a color as the onion peels, plus they tend to bleed and stain your hands red while playing the game.

1.  Get 12 - 18 eggs. Make sure you have enough for every person plus a couple extras in case they crack while boiling. Let the eggs sit out until they're room temperature.

2.  Peel about 12 yellow onions. You might think that red onions, not yellow, would create a red dye, but I promise you, as unlikely as it seems, that yellow onions will dye your eggs a deep red. (Then look up recipes that use a lot of onion! Or you can dice and freeze all those peeled onions in ziplock bags to use at a later date.)

3.  Put the onion skins in a large pot along with 3 tablespoons of white vinegar and 8 cups of water.

4.  Boil the onion skins for 30 minutes, occasionally stirring to ensure the peels are fully submerged. Turn off the heat and let it sit for another 30 minutes to cool.

5.  Pour the cooled liquid through a colander and into another large pot. Discard the onion peels.

6.  Return the red liquid to the stove. Add your eggs and bring them to a boil. Let the eggs boil in the red liquid for 15 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the eggs soak up the dye for another 15 - 30 minutes, checking them occasionally until they reach the color you'd like.

7.  Remove the eggs from the liquid, dry them, and then rub them with a little olive oil.

8.  Now, have fun! Christos Anesti!


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

My Yaya - the Centenarian!

My Yaya (grandma in Greek) Lavonne, will turn 100 years old this April 28th. I cannot even imagine how much she has seen and experienced in her 100 years on this earth; how dramatically things have changed in that time. I feel like things have changed so much in my life and I've only been around half the amount of time!

My Yaya has: 
2 children
4 grandchildren
8 great-grandchildren
1 great-great-grandchild (and a step great-great-grandchild, and two more great-great-grandchildren on the way)

My fondest memories of my grandma are visiting her in South Whitley, Indiana where she lived when I was a kid. I remember playing on the big porch of the white house and roller skating on the sidewalks. My sister and I thought my grandparents had the coolest basement because the stairs that led to it were in the garage, and they had a pool table down there. When we were little kids, my sister and I liked to play what we dubbed "b ball" wherein we rolled the balls back and forth across the table to each other. B ball caused many a smashed finger! There was a storage room with a huge plastic Santa, and toys like Lincoln Logs, those little canisters that mooed when you turned them over, and Halsam Elgo American plastic bricks. I can still smell that basement when I think about it. 

When the fire siren went off at noon, we knew it was time for our grandpa to come home for lunch, and we'd watch for him to come walking down the street. And down that street there was a park where we loved to play. They had all that awesome old playground equipment like teeter totters, a huge metal slide that would burn a layer of skin off your thighs if you slid down in the summer, and a merry-go-round that would fling kids off with its centrifugal force, and it would cause others to throw up. Good times!

South Whitley, Indiana is known for its bed races. That's right, bed races. They race beds down the street. Now, that was a fun event that left an indelible impression! And when we visited, we went to the hardware store for ice cream! Ice cream in a hardware store! We're talking small-town-America.

One time, when it was storming and I was scared, I remember my grandma carrying me out to their big porch while soothing me and telling me that thunder and lightning were nothing to be scared of. We stayed out there watching the rain fall and listening to the crackle of thunder roll across the sky.

And even better than visiting them at the "white house" was visiting them at their cottage on the lake. My sister and I spent our days feeding ducks, swimming, and playing with these giant plastic fish. After playing in the sand at the water's edge, we had to check for, and salt the leeches that inevitably stuck to us. In the evening, we caught lightning bugs and kept them in mason jars with holes punched through the lids, as nightlights. I remember waking up from a dream once, and thinking all the lightning bugs had escaped and were flying around the room. 

On the fourth of July, there was a pancake breakfast on the lake. It was literally on the lake and we'd take the pontoon boat out, get some pancakes from the temporary floating restaurant and have breakfast while cruising around. We fished from the end of the pier with our grandpa, and begged for rides in the motorboat. We ate strawberries from their patch until we got sick, and we eagerly awaited, money from our grandparents in hand, for the ice cream truck to come singing down the lane. That was so exciting for us because we didn't have ice cream trucks at home. My sister and I put on shows for my grandparents who graciously endured them and applauded as if we were on Broadway.

We played with paper dolls, and the neighbor's dog SueSue. We gobbled up my grandma's homemade apple dumplings with ice cream in the evening. And we'll never forget the time a tornado came through. We all hunkered down in the bathroom as the sky turned green and it sounded like a freight train was barreling through the yard. My frightened little sister just kept thinking, What if someone actually has to go to the bathroom while we're in here?

And when my grandparents moved to Florida, we visited them in the winter and it was such a treat to wear shorts and swim and bask in the sunshine. We got sunburned every darn time we visited because, despite their warnings about reapplying sunscreen, we knew everything and didn't heed their advice. We rode their bikes around the park and sat on their screened-in lanai reading books while my parents and grandparents enjoyed their pre-dinner cocktail of whiskey and Coke. My grandma always got us pecan rolls for breakfast when we visited. To this day, I think of visiting them in Florida when I have pecan rolls. We went with them to Homosassa Springs, Weeki Wachee to see the mermaids, and Epcot when it first opened.

And now my grandma is turning 100!

I would love, love, love it if you would consider sending my grandma, Lavonne a card. Yes, I know most of you don't actually know her, but if any of you are so inclined, she would be absolutely tickled to receive a bunch of birthday cards, especially since we can't have a big birthday bash for her because of Covid. In fact, she can only have two visitors, and next week they may have to quarantine again because of a positive case where she lives. If that happens, she'll be celebrating her 100th birthday alone.

The past year has been tough on all of us, but I think it has been particularly difficult for those in nursing homes/assisted/independent living situations. The residents have been so isolated. In an effort to keep them safe from infection, most places didn't allow visitors for a very long time, dining rooms and common areas were closed, and in cold areas (my grandma lives in Chicagoland) they couldn't even go outside for a walk and some fresh air. 

My grandma has macular degeneration which has impaired her eyesight greatly. This woman who inspected gas masks during WWII, who knitted and crocheted blankets for all of us grandkids and great-grandkids, and who made handcrafted Christmas ornaments for everyone, every single year from 1980 until 2015 has a hard time seeing the numbers on a clock now, so even watching TV isn't the entertainment it once was. It has been a very long year for her.

If you'd be so kind as to send her a card (I mean, 100 years is quite an accomplishment, right?!) please send it in care of my mom so she can bring them/read them to my grandma who can't see well enough to read them herself anymore. I would love to see her wall decorated with a bunch of birthday cards!

Lavonne Verkade
c/o Diana Damalas
12694 Golf View Dr.
Huntley, IL 60142

And here, in honor of her 100th birthday, is a little slideshow I put together. It's a few minutes long so don't feel obligated, but please feel free to watch if you're so inclined. It took a lot of hours and help from my mom and sis to get these pictures in chronological order! And unfortunately, I don't have pictures of her with her son and his family, or with her nieces and nephews, or other relatives. But I had fun looking at all these old pictures anyway!

My Smilebox Creation


Saturday, April 3, 2021

I Don't Remember Growing Older; When Did They?

Brooklyn cleaned her room this weekend. I mean, she keeps it clean and organized on a daily basis thanks to her obsessive compulsive tendencies, but she decided she wanted to move her furniture around and clean out her closet. She carried load after load of old toys into the family room and deposited them at my feet. First there were dolls. Then came the doll stroller, followed by a big bag of play food and cooking paraphernalia. This was followed by an assortment of Play-Doh. She brought out bags of clothes she'd outgrown, boots, roller blades, and a magic set complete with collapsible top hat. 

And I've gotta tell ya, I teared up. I legitimately got tears in my eyes. I swear I could hear Topol and Norma Crane singing the haunting strains of Sunrise, Sunset as I watched my15-year-old daughter pile up armfuls of playthings from days gone by. 

"Is this the little girl I carried? Is this the little boy at play? I don't remember growing older. When did they?"

This child, who I swear just yesterday was making PlayDoh waffles for me is currently learning how to drive. An actual car! This baby, who would throw a fit if I didn't put her pink cowboy boots on her little feet the moment she woke up, is now in high school. My youngest child has traded Bubble Guppies for Criminal Minds, her stuffed tiger for a ukulele, The Wiggles for One Direction, and her princess dress-up clothes for a cheer uniform and an obscenely extensive collection of hoodies.

Each milestone my kids hit is somewhat bittersweet. I'm thankful they're growing, learning, and developing as they should. I celebrate their achievements at the same time I mourn those discarded little-kid things. But I think it's making me especially sad with Brooklyn because she's my youngest. For over 26 years I've had kids. And now I feel like I just have small adults. 

When I started blogging in 2007, I wasn't sure I'd survive being a stay-at-home mom to six little mess-makers. People told me back when I had 6 kids, aged 11 and under, "Enjoy this time because the days are long, but the years are short." I took their well-intentioned advice with a nod, while listening to the fighting, whining, and general chaos emanating from my spawn, and thought - You enjoy it, ya psycho! I'm running away from home!"

But I have to admit there's a lot that I miss about those days. I get weepy when I look through photo albums of my babies' first years of life. I remember the smell of their fragile little newborn heads.

I remember the days when they thought I was smart. I reminisce about the times when I'd tuck them into bed, read them a story, and snuggle with them. Nowadays, they tuck me in after I fall asleep on the couch. 

My friends tell me I have a selective memory. They're probably right. I may be looking at the situation through rose-colored glasses. So when I get a little too sentimental about those days of yore, I remind myself that, while I cherish those times, I do NOT want to revisit them.

If you, like me, sometimes find yourself wishing you could turn back time, here are a few reasons to be happy you're out of that stage of life!

*  Kids refusing to eat the nutritious meal you slaved over, opting instead to eat half a cup of ketchup, five marshmallows, and a crayon.

*  Two words – car seats.

*  Chuck E. Cheese 

*  The 2 ½ hours it takes to get ready to go anyplace and the 5 pound diaper bag you have to lug around.

*  What IS that smell in the car??

*  The kid who slumps to the floor in a heap while screaming and crying in the middle of the grocery store because you did something as diabolical as telling him he can’t have the box with the picture of the cute kitty because it’s cat food. And you don’t have a cat.

*  Caillou

*  Trying to figure out if they’re crying because they’re hungry, tired, cold, hot, wet, poopy, or because today is Tuesday.

*  Diaper blow-outs

*  Sharpie drawings on the walls

*  Accidentally washing a disposable diaper and finding that gel all over everything for weeks

*  Finding sippy cups of milk under the couch a week later

*  Attempting to reason with your child about why they cannot run into the street, stick that screwdriver in the electrical outlet, eat grass, play with the dog poop, and on and on and on and on and on . . .

*  Kids waking you up at 5:00 am on a Saturday. (Now you have to wake them up at 5:00 in the evening!)

*  Potty training

*  The whole "I do it myself" phase.

What do you not miss about those little kid years?

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

It's Official. I'm A Crazy Cat Lady.

The other day Savannah posted this to our family group chat with the caption - Mom

What? What are you talking about! That doesn't sound like me.

Who's Visiting My Blog Right Now?

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