Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Tahoe Challenge

Uchoose: The V or the SUV?
I’m not a soccer mom or a hockey mom. I am, however, a swim, football, wrestling, lacrosse, dance, gymnastics, and cheer mom with four busy children and all their gear. I spend a great many hours in my vehicle and put a lot of miles on my car every day after school shuttling them around Austin to their many practices and appointments. My Honda minivan known affectionately as ‘the yucky van’ is so grotesque that it shocks even the car wash attendants. The license plate begins BW4K (Beware 4 Kids) but should read DNR (Do not resuscitate) It has almost 300,000 kilometers (manufactured in Canada now in Texas), no headrests, duct tape where the passenger door handle used to be, and a permanent layer of grunge that no amount of shampooing or vacuuming will ever remove. I think it may be time for a new vehicle.

Since it takes me a three phase focus group to even choose a paint color for my living room walls, I’m agonizing over this major decision that will impact me, the kids, and the family finances for years to come. Certainly it is not a decision to make lightly and I’ve been contemplating my options. As a breeder with four children, at least my car choices are significantly smaller than had I been like most of my friends (sane) and stopped with two children. The big question for me now is this: Do I stay with the van or move up to the SUV?

I thought I had safely settled this question in my mind years ago. The van is the only way to go. Drives like a car with ample cargo space and gets decent gas mileage. Those sliding doors with small children to hoist up in baby buckets also made this a no-brainer. Ok, so my husband driving it equals in his mind me asking him to hold my purse but he got over it. I also realized that, while not as hip as driving a sleek SUV, the days when men were checking me out were long gone before I even started needing to stow a double stroller. My mom, who started driving a minivan years before me, is convinced I just need a newer version of what I currently have. I agreed with her until I met the Tahoe.

I’ve seen this vehicle around my hood for years now and even my best friend Holly had one. “Ahhh” she recalls fondly remembering the smooth ride and high profile of her Tahoe, “I loved it. What a ride.” When the opportunity presented itself for me to preview the 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe and leave the yucky van garaged for a week, I jumped at the chance.
I’ve never flown a plane but sitting behind the wheel of the 2012 Chevrolet 2WD LTZ must be like sitting in a cockpit. Before the minivan, I had an Isuzu Trooper and I forgot how much I loved being able to sit higher over the road and other cars. This one came equipped with the Sun & Entertainment Package, a must-have if you spend as much time as we do travelling all over south Texas and my older kids have now reached that age of ‘away’ swim meets and wrestling tournaments. Poor Sabrina and Caroline, getting dragged along to more of their siblings’ events but the DVD system with cordless headphones is one sure way to take the edge off the complaining. My husband especially loved the Rear Vision Camera System. He is a terrible backer. You can read about his trouble in this area at the wonderful blog “The Mama Bird Diaries” by Kelcey Kintner.

Mom and Dad flew in for the week while we were caring for the Tahoe and they were mighty pleased to be spared any time in the van which now has the added feature of Lily’s white dog hair all over the upholstery thanks to her monthly trips to the dog groomer. Mom and I hit the San Marcos outlet stores while the kids were in school and even Mom had to admit as we were jetting down IH35 quietly in the smooth and commanding drive that the ride was much quieter than her Odyssey. The highway noises were just not discernible and you feel like you are gliding over the roadway.

The satellite radio was also a big hit with my kids whose taste in music is all over the map and I especially liked the truly amazing OnStar feature. While I pride myself on being uber-prepared for most of life’s emergencies, there have been several occasions where roadside maladies have faced me when I had children in the car. There are not many more dreaded things than being stranded on a busy highway with four kids on a hot summer day and waiting an interminable amount of time to try to reach a friend to come rescue us. The OnStar Advisors are just a blue button push away and having that peace of mind is a real selling point. The advisor I spoke with was cheerful and very helpful in helping me locate my requested destination. Well, all but one actually but that wasn’t the fault of the advisor. They cannot tell which Starbucks locations have a drive-thru due to the limitations on the database. I do think that is a feature many moms like me might be interested in (note to the corporates at Starbucks).

I loved driving the Tahoe and frankly didn’t have any trouble parking it in the extra-small Austin parking lot spaces as I thought I might. In fact, it turned just as nimbly as my minivan and was a super comfortable drive. My only issue was with the cargo area because just the loot that I bring home from the grocery store makes the capacity a constraint. My solution to this of course is to upscale to the Chevrolet Suburban which is next on my list to try.

We said our farewells to the Tahoe and my kids have still not forgiven me for forcing them back in the grunge mobile. We are heading down to South Padre in June, a six-hour drive and after luxuriating in the soft leather seats of the Tahoe, we must might have to pull the trigger on a new vehicle before then. I have a pretty good idea which one I’ll be choosing now. I just need to go sell some more Pink Pockets to be able to afford the new car payments.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Spring Fashion Help. Please apply soonest!

I hate shopping for clothes. Hate it. Never liked it. Even when I had disposable income before children to spend on things for ME like entertainment or the cute Ann Taylor pantsuit. Now there’s no money, no time, and my body shape has begun to succumb to the ‘pear shape’ way way way before it’s time despite my every effort at fitness and diet, thanks to menopause brought on by breast cancer diagnosed at age 39. That however, is a long and boring story which I will save for a later date. No one wants to ruin a perfectly good rant by bringing up cancer.

Now not only do I have to shop for me, there’s four children in the mix. My husband is on his own, sadly, because fashion is not his thing. He has many other gifts. He showed up to our eldest daughter’s swim practice on a Friday night wearing plaid shorts, checkered vans, and a ‘I’m a swim Dad t-shirt’. The criticism by the other fathers was merciless. While it pains me, I can at least put together an outfit that is not an example of ‘What not to Wear’. See my son’s ‘fancy outfit’ handpicked by his fashionable 10-year-old self below.

I just blew out my favorite pair of Tori Burch knock-off flip flops purchased on e-Bay from somewhere in China and now I’m down to a sad pair of Levi’s that I used to reserve for my fat pants days, a few short sleeve cotton tees (I can only wear cotton due to the relentless hot flashes and high humidity days) and some sandals that scream ‘swimming pool white trash’. Now what?

When the advent of online shopping was upon us, it coincided roughly with my being **blessed** with my third and fourth children in less than fourteen short months. I reveled in the best of the free shipping and returns deals because I knew that to darken any retail establishment with my presence and that of my brood was to ruin anyone’s shopping experience for months to come. I used to frequent CWD (Children Wear’s Digest) before my now 13YO daughter figured out that she had an opinion that actually mattered. I could put together the cutest horsie sweater/skirt outfit and accessories that would bring the envy of all the moms in the hood. Now, she’s on her own.

I spent two hours at the mall last week agonizing over the purchase of some tights or hose for my daughter's upcoming flute competition. Two hours of my life I will never get back. Here’s how it all breaks down now in order of my loathsomeness of this necessary activity: shopping for swimsuits despite the invention of the ‘Miracle Suit’; shopping for jeans; shopping for shoes for my children. That’s it. I just can’t take any more recollections of bad mall and boutique horrors.

Now that every online vendor offers free shipping and I fully take advantage of Amazon Prime, I am yet still unable to fully appreciate the fact that I can order virtually any garment from any corner of the world at any time of the day or not. All because the wrath of the middle age spread and muffin-top curse has now descended on my middle aged booty. And it makes me just a little sad.

I am open to any and all suggestions on how to ease this angst. Even if I won the MegaMillions Jackpot and had an almost unending bucket of money, would that make things any better? Perhaps I would be able to afford a personal shopper and effectively outsource the outfitting of me and my children (and my husband). Dare to dream. Herein I wait anxiously for your response.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Reading the Classics

Overheard today as the girls are having their morning splash as I dry my hair:

"First we're going to cut her head off and then we are going to chop her up and then we are going to have her for dinner."


They are playing with one of their many mermaid barbies, up to their armpits in shaving cream and soap.

"Good heavens girls! What kind of game are you playing????"

"We're playing Little House on the Prairie!"

"They don't eat people in the stories we've been reading!"

"We don't have any animals for them to eat. Pa goes hunting and brings back food but since we don't have any animals in the bath, we'll have to make due."

I admire their ingenuity and problem solving skills but wonder if they are really paying attention as I read. Tonight, more stories from Easter Island.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

What's the Deal with the Drains?

How bad can they be really?

At risk of alienating myself from patients and care-givers looking to carefully plan post-surgery recuperative care, I must say that the following illustrates how I felt when I got home from the hospital after my bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction for Stage 2 invasive breastcancer in January 2009. I was only 39 and my four children were ages 10, 7, 3 and 2.

Obviously, this is a metaphor since I’ve never had such perfectly coiffed hair or pouty bee-stung lips. I also never gave birth to eight babies. What four I did birth was done in the most inefficient manner: one at a time. However, when I got home from the hospital with four Jackson-Pratt drains hanging off me with four children waiting to hang on me some more, I could certainly empathize with *Octomom* Nadya Suleman in some minute way. Of course, my four drains came out after two weeks leaving me with just four hangers-on and she has to keep her octuplets for eighteen years so I certainly think I came out ahead even if I lost the title and she got an acreage of donated diapers.

Perhaps I am being just a bit overdramatic with this comparison. I have been known to use a little hyperbole and exaggeration to make a point in some of the writing I have done over the years to describe my exploits at parenting four high-spirited children. "Surely, the drains cannot be as bad as all that" you may be thinking. I know that I felt similarly when I was forewarned about hot flashes.
I was in my care-free days as an early thirty-something, when two children seemed like a handful and cancer was not yet in my worst nightmares, my mother-in-law would complain profusely about those damned hot-flashes brought forth by the dreaded menopause. She would then in excruciating detail, define the numerous ways she was counteracting them. I tried to be sympathetic with a nod and exclamation “Oh how terrible” and would then subtly roll my eyes thinking, “Oh right! How bad can they be?” You know what? She’s ABSOLUTELY right! Hot flashes are the devil’s curse from Eve’s wiles for which all women now all pay. I know this to be true because I continue to have them day in and day out as a side effect of my anti-estrogen post-cancer pharmacological therapy and they just plain stink. It just goes to show you to not blow off everything your wise mother-in-law tells you.

So while my interpretation here about how it feels to have four clunky tubes and drains protruding from under one's armpits may seem a little over the top, it is true. I also know that most patients don’t have a real sense of how uncomfortable and cumbersome to manage the drains can be when they are first warned about the possibility that they will have them after surgery (if they are told at all.) It’s not that plastic and breast surgeons don’t care about patients after they leave the OR, I think that it because very few of them have personally experienced what it is like to have them. That old saying about walking a mile in another’s shoes is an old saying because of the truth it beholds. I know that my doctors, who I considered the best of the best, were focused first on the matter at hand; removing the cancer and rebuilding a new and improved me. They do care about comfort in recovery but until now, the defacto solution to secure the tubing and drains for most has been the ol' safety pin.
As I prepared for my big day under the knife, my plastic surgeon told me about the commercial availability of post-surgery garments. I was handed a brochure for some I might order but I balked; they were expensive and I just couldn’t bring myself to shell out more than $50 for what seemed to be an extravagant, one-time purchase when I was already buying several button-down shirts, post-surgery bras, and pajamas on top of what promised to be crushing medical expenses for some time to come.

As fortune would have it, right before my surgery, I was blessed to receive a hand-me-down camisole that secured in the front with velcro from an angel with the Pink Ribbon Cowgirls (www.bcrc.org), a support group for young women diagnosed with breast cancer. A volunteer had made it and donated it and this woman wore it after her mastectomy that she had just a few months earlier. I had no idea what was in store for me but she said “Trust me. You will want to have this. Bring it to the hospital so you can put your drains in the pocket. The hospital won’t have anything with pockets for your drains. They will have to use (groan) safety pins.” We were in a restaurant parking lot in NW Austin and I felt as if we were conducting some covert op. She was a complete stranger but our diagnosis in common brought me this life-altering garment that I now refer to as ‘the prototype’. It served as my inspiration for an affordable and easy-to- use pocket for patients to easily and instantly stick on the garments that they either already owned or had purchased for the days following a mastectomy or breast surgery. I know that the big comfort these small pockets provided saved my sanity in a world punctured by pain pills, wound dressings, useless limbs, and the prospect of chemo and imminent hair loss. I want everyone facing such an uphill climb to have an easy and affordable way to recover to face the next summit.

It’s no small thing to start a business after recovering from a cancer diagnosis and certainly not when you have a household of four busy children to manage and a husband who travels for work. I’m the chauffeur, cook, laundry slave, dog walker, cat-box-changer, and all-around-logistics guru despite having much of my brain cells compromised by chemo and early-onset menopause. What keeps me going on this entrepreneurial adventure most days is the common refrain from breast cancer survivors who, upon learning about Pink Pockets, exclaim “Wow! What a great idea! I wish I had them when I had my surgery. The drains are the worst!” I am also especially encouraged when a past customer purchases them for another loved-one facing the same diagnosis because they know that Pink Pockets will help in their recovery. That, to me, is the ultimate testimonial.

A cancer diagnosis can spin the trajectory of one’s life in a completely different direction and I have met an amazing number of women and men like me who have been motivated to serve in this ‘space’ in either a non-profit endeavor or various others-centered projects. It is really amazing the number of ways that one can find to give back or pay-it-forward and that has been one of the best parts of my life after cancer: seeing the ingenuity and selfless efforts put forth in the hope for a cure and better treatments. One wise woman I met who started an incredible non-profit remarked that Pink Pockets are a great invention. “You will never get rich with them” she predicted and she may be right but that isn’t thepoint. While I am humbled every day about what I don’t know about starting and running a business, what I do know is this: Pink Pockets have been shipped all across the US, Canada, UK, Australia, and Trinidad and have served in a teeny, tiny way to help someone at what might likely be the worst time of their life. Perspective is everything after a cancer diagnosis. It’s not a cure. It’s not a treatment. It’s just a pocket but sometimes it is the small comforts that can make the greatest difference.

Diane, Creator of Pink Pockets
"It isn't what you have in your pocket that matters but what you have in your heart." Author Unknown

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Dog Days of Summer

It seemed like a good idea at the time:

1. Getting a dog

2. Having shaving cream ‘summer fun daze’ on the trampoline

3. Allowing a raccoon carcass to bake in the back yard’s 100+ degree Texas heat as buzzard bait in a failed ‘Witness the Magnificent Food Chain!’ biology lesson for the kids

4. Leaving the dog in the back yard (see #3)

5. Starting a business

The dog thing, I can (kind of) explain.

We’ve always been cat people but Travis has been hounding me since he first saw the picture that ‘came with the frame’ of a little blonde boy and a giant golden lab smiling cheerfully in a Father’s Knows Best mirage of family bliss. He had been fantasizing about a Lassie relationship since he could walk and well, a breast cancer diagnosis can cause the ‘life is short’ mantra to be misapplied sometimes. Woefully so, I’m finding. Forget that now – when told on punishment of death or no screens for a week that he MUST walk the dog, we are met with the hostility and cold stare only a 10-year-old can muster.

Starting a business, on the other hand, with no time, no money, and absolutely no experience should have been the siren cry for my friends and family to wave the checkered flag saying “Whoa, lady, you have enough on your plate! Might want to rethink this!” Starting a business in this day and age is no small thing, whether it is an internet e-commerce startup or a mortar-and-bricks manufacturing enterprise or even a kiosk at the local mall, it really can only compare to raising a child. Thankless, back breaking work (especially in the early years of childhood) and endless worries in good health and poor. Why would anyone ever procreate or start a business, I now ask? My office and house is a disaster. As a mother of four and a new business owner, I am a walking cautionary tale.

“Gee, you really know how to make things hard on yourself.” These were the encouraging words of my twin sister, Denise, upon hearing the news that I was pregnant with my third child. Travis (#2) had gotten out of diapers only six months earlier. You should have heard what Denise said when I told her I was pregnant with Caroline (#4) when Sabrina (#3) was only 5 months old.
There’s something about the truth though, that gets under your skin. She’s right. I do this to myself over and over again. I must have been out of my freaking mind to think I could start and grow a business in the summer months when all four of my children were underfoot, bickering, and asking hounding me about their next meal (ramen noodles and bananas).

It seemed like a good idea at the time to capitalize on a breast cancer diagnosis with a new, innovative creation that would solve a problem that has been vexing mastectomy patients for years. Make lemonade out of lemons. I love every time I get a new order for my ‘Pink Pockets’ patient pockets to hold drains and the testimonials from my customers warm my heart. And it’s not just because I am making money because I am not. I am awash in an industry of competing non-profits who pay themselves first – donation money, whatever there is, goes to the ‘administration of the nonprofit first’ and what is left over, goes to beneficiaries of the charity. I actually recently had a person accuse me of 'profiteering on the misery of others' because I'm selling my invention rather than giving it away.

When you are a for-profit endeavor – you pay yourself LAST – until you can generate a profit or go out of business. Or lose your sanity, whichever comes first. I’m sorry to say that there are a few (not all) non-profits in this space that give tireless effort to cure breast cancer or other diseases a bad name. Beware the cancer carpetbaggers preying on the great generosity of the US citizen. They are the exception to the rule to be sure but they are still among us nonetheless.

I drive my 13-year-old daughter to and from swim team every day and I’m always encouraged as I make this hour round trip at all the small businesses I pass along the way. Storefronts and vehicles with small company names painted on the side. I point them out and am encouraged by the fortitude and hard work I know now has gone into the life’s blood of the people I don’t know that have scrimped and saved or loaned and risked to make and grow a business. It’s a really humbling experience to dive into the unknown and most days, what I am learning about sales tax remittance and SEO and product packaging makes me feel dumber rather than smarter, which is not a great confidence builder at my age.

When I’m feeling my lowest, though, I just recall a conversation I had with my husband a few years back. We were talking about me taking a new job and what resume-speak phrases I ought to avoid and what experiences to highlight when our daughter Sabrina, then 4, asked what we were discussing. I told her that I was thinking about taking a new job and she said to me “But Mom, you already have a job. You take care of us.” I just need to remember that whatever happens, being a mom really is my most important job and I’ll have it the rest of my life. Who knows where and how long my job as President and Founder of Surgical Drain Solutions, LLC will last but I’ll always be Mom-In-Chief (to quote First Lady Michelle) to Danielle, Travis, Sabrina, and Caroline. While I’ll never get paid for this work, the return on investment is too great to measure. And the dog? Well, I guess she can stay as long as she continues to earn her keep scaring away solicitors and ding-dong-ditchers. Her bark, like mine, is definitely worse than her bite.

Pink Pockets are THE Hands-free solution for mastectomy patients! Pink Pockets are mastectomy drain holders proven to help patients recover in comfort after surgery.

www.pink-pockets.com to order and for more information!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Holiday in Spider Country

I had a visitor in my shower this morning. I don’t have as much hair as I once did so my morning routine is much abbreviated and this morning I made the record for shampooing and rinsing. I didn’t even repeat. The Green Police would have awarded me a golden hemp star. I spy with my little eye a spider flying high.

We’re up here in Spider Country for our summer respite visiting the grand rents and cousins. Growing up, we not-so-affectionately dubbed this town ‘Coma and things have not changed much in the 20+ years since I’ve been gone. I’m ok with that now though because any time I get away from the laundry and chores of home rates high on my vacation reviews. Plus, the temperatures are 40 degrees cooler here. I actually get to wear jeans and a sweatshirt for a week in June, something we don’t usually get to experience until late October in Austin.

Texas is hands down the winner of ‘Places with the Nastiest Critters’. From scorpions to tarantulas to snakes, cicadas, centipedes and man-size cockroaches, I have encountered all of them at some point. I have learned to adapt to my environment – keep a big shoe handy and call your husband for the especially nasty chores like removing the dead rat from under the kitchen table at 2AM. Even Tom admitted “It was a big one.”

I still get a little squirmy though when it comes to the common brown house spider. We don’t have these down south, so when I visit Washington, I have to ready myself for the unexpected. Our family downstairs den has been christened ‘The Spider Room’ for all the arachnids that met their maker over the years at the hands of my courageous mother. Even my kids refer to it in this way although the furnishings and piles of crap under which you could find so many of these eight-legged horrors are long gone.

I have only in the wisdom of adulthood come to appreciate that these creatures are actually our friend. They keep the house clean of other smaller pests and they will keep their distance if I keep mine. They still creep me out. They hide in folds of draperies, small cracks in the baseboards, even in bedding. They do not bite but if you wake to find one staring down at you from the ceiling, you will lose ten years of your life guaranteed. They are thirsty creatures and come to places with water. I vividly recall making a late night trip to the bathroom to fill a drinking glass of water. A big fat one was crouched in the sink rousing me and the entire household with my screams of bloody murder. I even developed hives from this encounter.

“Big Baby!” I believe is the name I have earned for my reactions. My sister is even worse than me though. Even in our 40’s, we will still call our mother to come “Kill the Spider!” I am now the defender of the family against such harm – the problem is – the kids never find the nasties first. I do. It was me who discovered the six foot snake in the garage, the pervasive possum, the rats, and, of course, the numerous lizards – live and decapitated – over the years. Thank heavens my children are not the least bit uncomfortable handling these freeloader and giving them the broom – or the boot – out the door.

We’re headed to the Washington beaches for the remainder of our vacation and Fourth of July holiday (and Danielle’s 12th birthday) away from Spider Country. I hope I will sleep a bit better and deeper. I always keep a glass of water by my bed as I get very thirsty during the night. In the house I grew up in, you always had to put your fingers down into the glass before drinking because the spiders tend to crawl down inside looking for a free drink. This I learned the hard way.

May you and your family have a wonderful 4th of July celebration in the best country on this planet – even with our friend, the spider.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Marine Massacre - Part Deux.

I can't believe I killed the fish. Again. Ladies (and men - be forewarned), this is what happens when menopause hits.