The Rockwood Files: Microwave obituary

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

The Rockwood family microwave, affectionately called “Mike,” died suddenly in the home on August 6, 2015 while attempting to reheat day-old pizza. It was 10 years old.

popcorn microwaveThe microwave is survived by two adult roommates, three children and a matching dishwasher, stove, oven and refrigerator. It also leaves behind two bags of frozen chicken nuggets, several cans of soup and a pantry full of microwave popcorn.

Born into the family during the Great Kitchen Remodel of 2005, the microwave served admirably during its decade-long life, heating everything from baby food to bacon. Its kitchen timer ticked steadily through years’ worth of mandatory 20-minute piano practices, while the family’s mother listened from the next room.

“How much longer does the microwave say I have to practice, Mom?”

“Twelve more minutes. Now keep playing.”

The microwave witnessed many family milestones – baby’s first bite of solid food, first steps, birthday meals, Christmas cookie baking, and weekly Sunday lunches lovingly prepared by the family’s Memaw, who always knew just how to push the microwave’s buttons.

As the kids grew, it was “Mike” that taught them the valuable lesson every child must learn the hard way at one time or another: Never put aluminum foil in the microwave. (The children will never forget the shower of sparks they saw that day.)

The family has been dealing with the shock of this loss for many days now. It’s even worse than the Ravioli Explosion of 2009 which left the microwave looking like a crime scene. The mother and most loyal user of the microwave has been stunned by its sudden departure.

“I just didn’t realize how much we needed it until it was gone,” she said. “We haven’t been able to eat microwave popcorn since the day it happened. We just can’t do it.”

The microwave was a devoted appliance and avid re-heater, known for its accessibility and easy-going personality. It wasn’t like most microwaves that slowly rotate their trays. This one defied cultural norms with its side-to-side “gliding tray,” an innovation the family had never seen when they brought it home 10 years ago.

When the family’s children learned to cook, it was the microwave they leaned on most in their time of hunger. Jack, the middle child and most enthusiastic cook in the household, was recently overheard saying, “I keep going to the microwave to put something in there, and then I remember. It’s gone.”

Even the family cat has been lost since the appliance’s passing because the microwave’s over-the-range nightlight has gone dark, leaving the fat feline to eat her Fancy Feast cat food in a pitch-black kitchen.

The family has survived by relying on old-school methods of food preparation, like boiling hot dogs on the stove. The kids said it was “weird and takes too long,” proof that their grief is still palpable. Good old “Mike” will be deeply missed.

The family said the best way to celebrate the microwave’s life and service is to welcome a new appliance into the home and continue the tradition of heating, timing and night-light shining. So it is with great joy that they announce the birth of a new microwave that arrived on August 17th, measuring 2.1 cubic feet, named Maytag or “May” for short. May’s sing-song chime which signals that the food is heated has brought happiness back into the kitchen.

Even so, the family will never forget “Mike” and the many times it heated up leftover lasagna. They hope the machine has found its rest and that its signature “gliding tray” might still be floating side-to-side in a much better place.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Back to school, back to reality

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

By the time this column prints, the Rockwood children will be back at school. Summer’s slower pace will end and we’ll shift into a different gear as we hit the back-to-school freeway. Crisp new backpacks are lined up on hooks by the door, and the No. 2 pencils have freshly sharpened points and perfectly pink erasers.

Most parents are either thrilled about the kids going back to school or sad to see them go, but I find myself stuck somewhere in the middle. I love watching the kids enjoy an unstructured summer – the leisurely afternoon board games, swimming with friends, movie marathons and playing outside until 9 o’clock on some nights.

But as a work-from-home mom, I’ve seen my work days go from being predictably productive to completely chaotic. I’ve spent the past 10 weeks schlepping my laptop around with me so I could squeeze in a few extra minutes of writing time while waiting for a dance camp or a swim team practice to end.

One day while waiting and working in yet another parking lot, a man came up to my tinted driver’s side window and knocked on the glass. I was deep in thought and seven paragraphs into a new essay when the knock jolted me back into the moment. Startled, I lowered the window a few inches and peered out at him.

“Oh, I wasn’t sure anybody was in there,” he said. “I thought someone had accidentally left their engine running.”

“Nope. I’m just in here working,” I said, gesturing toward the laptop propped open between me and the steering wheel.

free wifi“Oh, okay,” he said, looking slightly confused. He walked away mostly likely wondering what kind of weirdo has a mobile office in the middle of a dance studio parking lot. But this summer I’ve learned exactly which parking lots have free Wi-Fi access, and I know how to park so the hot sun doesn’t shine on my computer screen. If I slide the car’s center console forward as far as it will go, I can fit my mousepad and wireless mouse on it in a position that you could almost call comfortable, in a pinch.

Deadlines don’t care if your son has to be driven to basketball camp or if you’ve got to pick your daughter up from Vacation Bible School. They don’t care about summer or snow cones or slowing down, so I’ve learned to work when and where I can.

The start of the new school year will give me back a block of uninterrupted work time during the day while the kids are away, and I’ll spend less time washing the unending loads of beach towels used during countless trips to the pool. Summer’s free-wheeling unpredictability will give way to the school year’s schedule. “It’ll be good,” I reassure myself. “Time to get back to normal.”

But part of me knows that every time I snap the annual back-to-school photo, I’m one year closer to the day our kids will pack up their stuff and go off to college. They won’t need me to pick them up from basketball practice. And no one will climb into the car in her ballet leotard and ask if we can get ice cream on the way home. The house will be still and quiet and empty, and what if that just kills me?

So yes, the start of a new school year is good and necessary and, in many ways, a welcome change. But the thought of seeing them leave for college during an August in the not-so-distant future, leaves me wishing that summer would last just a little while longer.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Slightly Tilted: Why I Hate the First Day of School

Why I hate first day school Jen AdairBy Jen Adair, Blogger at Slightly Tilted, Entreprenuer, Homeschool Mom to two fab kiddos

Ok. I admit it.

I hate the first day of school.

“You homeschool, Jen. Why would you hate the first day of school?” you ask.

Well, dear reader, I’m glad you asked because I’m about to tell you.

The first day of school makes me a jealous monster who questions her whole life existence and everything I feel, believe, and know to be true for my family. It also makes me feel old because all the people I grew up with are now parents of kids that are in school. It reaffirms the fact that I am no longer…young. Carefree. Wrinkle-less. Mortgage-less. Cellulite-less.

back-to-schoolIn short, I become a sobbing mess that no one wants to be around. Aren’t you glad you asked?

It’s humbling to admit that I’m jealous of those who are child-free during most of the week. I’m jealous of the guilt-free time you have to yourself, whether at work or at home. I’m jealous because you get to drop them off, know they are getting a good education, and get to see their friends. I’m jealous because no one is questioning your choice every day.

Yep. Jealous, I say.

YES, I know homeschooling is “a choice you made, Jen. You can always send them, you know.” YES, I know. Thank you for reminding me. I like to homeschool. I really do. BUT, that doesn’t stop me from being jealous that one day of the year.

Because that one day is the day that makes me question all the other days.

That one day, when everyone has all their school supplies in new backpacks and have their pictures made by happy parents who are about to be “FREE, I tell you, FREE!” makes me want to crawl back under the covers and hibernate with a bottle of wine with my bedroom door locked. That one day, when the parent doesn’t have to find an activity for their children or yell at them to put away their iPad or make them all the meals and do all the stuff and be their everything all day long…is tough for jealous people like me.

But, I’ll get over it.

I know it’s just the day. The first day of school. It’s the same struggle all of us face; wanting to be with your child but desperately wanting to be away, too. The struggle is real and not just for some parents – I’m pretty sure ALL parents, whether you want to admit it or not.

Don’t get me wrong – I love my kids. I’m quite certain you do, too. I just don’t always enjoy spending most of my waking moments with them. Yes, it’s hard to send them off to school. (Katelynn went to kindergarten and I cried my eyes out that first day.) The first day is emotional – it means that they’re old enough to be away from you and start kindergarten (sob!), or old enough to be in a grade where there are dances (gulp!), or it may be the last time you send them off to school at all (sob! gulp! ugly cry!).

But at the same time….happy dance! They are there, and you are…wherever they aren’t for a while. That’s also a blessing, right? Am I alone here, or do you feel the same?

So, when you see me on the first day of school and you are kid-free and happy and all glowy and I’m snippy and cranky and have mascara lines down my face, please remember: I’m really so very happy for you.

But we can’t be friends today. We can be friends again tomorrow.

jen adair3Hey. I’m Jen Adair. I’m an entrepreneur. Homeschool mom. CEO of organized chaos. Ok – it’s really not all that organized. Some days are great, some are not, some days I feel invincible, some days I can barely get out of bed. BUT…it’s my life and I’m living it. Browse my collection of random thoughts, humor (well, I think I’m funny!), images, links, whatever…at my blog Slightly Tilted. Sharing is caring, people! :)

The Rockwood Files: Sparking joy

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

The only thing worse than the end of a vacation is coming home to a messy house. That’s why I consistently frustrate Tom and the kids each year when I refuse to leave for vacation without all of us pitching in to straighten up the house first.

They barely tolerate it as I whip around from room to room in a last-minute frenzy, giving each person a different chore so that, once the trip is over, we can come home to peaceful, clean surfaces instead of a disaster that makes us want to race back to the hotel room we just left.

I insist on this pre-vacation ritual mostly because I love coming home. No matter how fun the vacation or how pretty the hotel was, my inner homebody loves the day when we come back to our own space. And now – five days and seven loads of laundry later – we’re home again and I, for one, was happy to see an empty sink when we got here.

life changing magic of tidying upWhile we were away, I sat by the pool and finished reading a book that shed some light on why homebodies like me have this need to straighten things up. I don’t normally read self-help books on vacation but this one had been getting so much buzz in the media that I had to see what all the fuss was about. It’s titled “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” by Marie Kondo.

A No. 1 New York Times bestseller, the book has a four and a half star rating on Amazon with more than four thousand reviews posted and more than two million copies sold. Those kinds of numbers wouldn’t be so remarkable if we were talking about a juicy novel. But a book about cleaning up the house? I had to find out what was causing so many people to turn pages about something as mundane as folding socks.

Now that I’ve finished the book, I’ve got a theory about why this topic has become so popular. Our homes – and by extension our lives – are stuffed full. Too full. And we’re suffocating under the weight. This simple little book about “tidying up” is actually more about “lightening up.” By helping people figure out what to keep and what to get rid of, she helps us shed some of the stress we feel along with much of the clutter.

The author’s main tip for helping people decide what to keep or not to keep is to pick an item up (not just look at it) and ask yourself if it “sparks joy.” If it does, you decide where to keep it. If it doesn’t, away it goes. She also has specific guidelines on the methods and order in which you should tackle this massive one-time-only decluttering project.

I haven’t put all of the book’s advice into practice yet, and to be honest, some of it is a little extreme. The author treats things as if they’re people and tells a story about how horrified she is to see balled up socks rolling around in a drawer. She thinks socks deserve time to “rest” and they can’t do that if they’re balled up in lumps. (To that I say, “Calm down. They’re socks, not tortured kittens.”)

I do, however, plan to use many of the lessons learned in this book, especially when it comes to letting go of things we tell ourselves we should hang on to “just in case.” Because whether we’re coming back from vacation or just another day at the office, we all want the blessing of a home that “sparks joy.”

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: I don’t mean to brag, but…

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

My mom taught me not to brag, but I’ll make an exception this one time. Because after my last few trips to the grocery store, I’ve decided I am the best of the best when it comes to the following three special skills:

1. Picking the wrong cart.

I have an almost magnetic pull to bad shopping carts. Because I have such a long history of picking the wrong cart, I size up my options before I pick one, grocery-carthopeful that maybe this time I’ll get a good one.

I check the wheels to make sure there’s not a gigantic wad of gum stuck there. Then I check inside the cart to make sure it’s not harboring any suspicious-looking tissues. (Choosing a cart with a crumpled up tissue inside it is the grocery store equivalent of rolling around in a big pile of bubonic plague. You just don’t do it.) Without heavy rubber gloves and a gun to my head, there’s no way I’m touching a stranger’s crumpled up tissue.

About a dozen steps inside the store, I realize my cart has mechanical issues. I hear a strange “thwump” sound at regular intervals that only speeds up when I do. Or I’ll notice the cart pulls hard to the left, no matter where I steer it. If shopping carts were cars, I’m the lady driving around a rusted-out 1982 Chevette with cheap tires and alignment problems.

2. Picking the wrong line.

When it becomes obvious my cart is a clunker, I don’t trade it for a different one because, odds are, I’m going to pick another lemon anyway. So I tell myself I’m not going to be there long anyway (an obvious self-delusion). Eventually I “thump-thwump-thwump” my way to the front of the store and pick the absolute worst check-out line.

Do I want to be in the slowest line? Of course not. I do what we all do – cruise past each line, scoping it out to see how many people are waiting, how much stuff they have in their carts, and how speedy the check-out clerk appears to be. I take all these factors into consideration before picking a lane. Then about five minutes after making a lane commitment, I realize I’ve chosen a line that moves at about the same speed as toxic sludge.

I consider bailing out and starting over, certain there must be a faster line out there somewhere. But then I hesitate, afraid that if I give up now, I might get stuck in an even slower line, and then I will have done all this waiting for nothing. So I stand there and wait while the person in front of me divides her items into three separate orders or pulls out a shoebox full of coupons or pays with a temporary check that requires multiple forms of I.D., a blood test and approval from four different managers.

3. Picking the wrong item.

After wrangling the wrong cart and waiting in the wrong line, I’m always relieved when it’s finally my turn to check-out – except when the check-out clerk holds up an item and says those infamous three little words: “There’s no barcode.”

“Do you remember how much this was?” she asks. Then I’m faced with a dilemma: Do I tell the truth, that I really don’t remember exactly how much it was? Or do I make up an approximate price and hope she doesn’t put me on a Wal-Mart “watch list” for getting it wrong.

I default to honesty and tell her I’m not sure, which results in her turning on her lane flashers and asking for a time-consuming price check – which makes the other people in line want to throw their produce at me or run over me with their superior shopping carts.

What can I do? I give them my best “I’m sorry” eyes and try to take solace in these unusual bragging rights: Of all the shoppers in all the stores in all the world, nobody does it as badly as me.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography