Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Happiness Project

I was reading Real Simple the other day when I found an article about The Happiness Project. This is a personal project started by the article's author, Gretchen Rubin. In the end, she'll publish a book about it.

The concept is so simple. Here's how she describes it at the top of her blog: "I'm working on a book, THE HAPPINESS PROJECT--a memoir about the year I spent test-driving every principle, tip, theory, and scientific study I could find, whether from Aristotle or St. Therese or Martin Seligman or Oprah. THE HAPPINESS PROJECT will gather these rules for living and report on what works and what doesn’t. On this daily blog, I recount some of my adventures and insights as I grapple with the challenge of being happier. THE HAPPINESS PROJECT will hit the shelves in late 2009 (HarperCollins)."

What she's really trying to do is figure out what makes her happy. I subscribe to the monthly newsletter because it gives me the inspiration I need to take a look at my own happiness project. We all know what makes us happy, but sometimes it's hard to remember between work, family and friends. I'm not saying that those things don't make us happy, but sometimes there are other things that increase the happiness quota.

For me it's being in our garden watching the butterflies and hummingbirds or walking some place interesting. I think my happiness project overflowed on our last vacation when we found a stunning little piece of Lake Michigan near a lighthouse in Racine, WI. For the time we were all there, everything was perfect.

There's a moment in the morning when the girls first wake up that makes me happy each time I see it. The girls run to each other and hug like they have been apart for days. They are so happy to see each other and the joy is real. I love seeing how much they care about each other.

I know things won't always be perfect, but I do like the idea of having a personal happiness project. Especially in times like these when the news is scary and the future uncertain, it's always a good idea to remember what makes you happy and find time for it.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Come Here Often?

We started visiting new churches this weekend. We found a religion we want to explore, and there are two churches in the area. I knew it would be different to leave a familiar church, but it was nice to find out that it wasn't that different after all.

I have to admit that getting ready for church I felt like I was going on a date. Will they like us? Will we like them? Will it be comfortable? Am I wearing the right thing? Will there be other children? (Okay, I didn't think about that when I was dating, but now I'm married with children.)

This church was charming. It's set in a wooded area, with lots of trees on the property. The people were very nice. The service was quite like what we were used to in the Catholic Church. It's a very small chapel, which is probably the thing that made me the most uneasy. In our old church, you could get lost in your thoughts. In this church, you can easily make eye contact with the presidor.

I was nervous at first because there were not many children in the pews. We later discovered there was a "children's chapel" service going on at the same time as the main service. The church tries to bring the day's worship down to a level that preschool through second grade children will understand. There were children in this group about the same age as our girls, which was nice to see. We'd like a church where our girls can grow up and make memories.

One thing about the Catholic Church is mass is about 60 minutes and you go home. This church had a children's church school and adult coffee hour after services. All told, we figure if we both attend services and coffee hour, it would be a 2.5 hour commitment each Sunday.

All in all we decided it was a nice, family-oriented church. Will it be our church? I don't think we know yet. There is another church of the same denomination nearby. We'll visit that church soon.

In the meantime, it's comforting to know that we have options we like. It's always nice to know there is someplace warm and welcoming waiting.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

An Exemplary Life

I don't have time for Hollywood hero worship, but I always admired Paul Newman and his passing makes me sad. It's not the movies or the pasta sauce. It's the way he talked about his wife and family. You could tell it was wonderful and hard, just the way real marriages are. You could tell they laughed and struggled and fought and loved, just like those of us outside Hollywood.

It couldn't have been easy, but they made it work. Whether you're in Hollywood or not, marriage is not always easy. The difference is sometimes two people are completely dedicated to making it work -- like Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward -- two people who lived quiet lives raising their children and recently celebrated their 50th anniversary.

There's a great line in this tribute article about how he lived "an exemplary life." Isn't that what we all hope for ourselves and our children?

http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1845133,00.html

Friday, September 26, 2008

Hunting Hannas

I love the Hanna Andersson dresses. If you haven't seen them, they are girly, adorable, well-made dresses that last and last and last. I have a friend whose daughter has several "Hannas," which have been passed down from her cousins. She's the third girl to wear them, and the dresses look like new.

While I love Hannas, I cannot think about paying retail for them. These are beautiful, investment dresses that get passed from sister to sister to cousin and beyond. Our twin daughters are about the same size, so I might get two seasons from them.

One day I'm paging through the latest Hanna Andersson catalogue when I start thinking I should check eBay to see if there are any there. Wow! There were dozens of dresses, skirts, tops, pants, etc. in many different sizes. I started bidding on dresses and won quite a few. So far, seven have already arrived at our house. (Yes, I know seven sounds like a lot, but remember we have twin girls, so the number gets divided by two.) The dresses cost about 20% of what I would have paid if I bought them from the catalogue. It's an 80% savings if I do the math correctly.

The dresses are considered "gently used." Each dress has been beautiful. I've been pleasantly surprised by the quality and beauty of each dress. I've never ventured to eBay before, so this was a big leap. Given the way the girls grow, I'll keep buying Hannas on eBay as long as possible. Next maybe I'll try to do something about upgrading my own wardrobe!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Wacky Beauty Tips

When you're a Mom you don't spend a lot of time thinking about your beauty routine. It's not like you wake up one day and say, "I think I'll wait three months to get my hair cut and stop plucking my eyebrows." It's a bit more subtle than that.

Right after the babies were born, I realized if I couldn't make my hair look okay just by towel drying it, the style couldn't stay. My idea of being "dressed" included wearing earrings and lip gloss. Simplicity became the key factor in anything I'd describe as my beauty routine.

I love reading about the exotic scrubs, wraps and creams available. The reality is that unless I can buy it some place I'm already going (like Target) it's probably not joining my beauty routine. This article made me laugh and think. I especially love the new use for diaper rash creme. I hope this inspires you to try something new!

http://shopping.yahoo.com/articles/yshoppingarticles/130/wacky-beauty-tips-that-work

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

High Maintenance Laundry

What's wrong with these laundry instruction tags?

  • Hand wash only, lay flat to dry, warm iron if necessary
  • Turn inside out to wash, wash on gentle cycle, tumble dry on low, warm iron if needed
  • Dry clean only
Figured it out? These tags are on the girls' clothing. Yes, our girls now have clothes that need their own washing instructions. I'm not sure how we ended up here. I know I've never purchased anything with special washing instructions for them. I doubt the relatives purposely did it. I'm sure they thought the girls would look cute in an outfit and bought it.

In all the years I've been buying presents, I'm sure I did it too. It never occurred to me to look at the laundry instructions for a 3T dress. I never thought to see if a coat was dry clean only.

You can believe that I look at the tags now. I don't care how cute it is. If we cannot just throw it in the wash machine and dryer, it doesn't come to our house. We don't have time for high maintenance laundry.

And the dry clean only dress? It came out of the wash machine just fine.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Bathroom Love

I love handicap stalls. Before children, I would NEVER even think about using one. I always assumed I was committing some kind of social faux pas. When the girls were born, I quickly realized the only way we were all going to fit into a public bathroom was to use the handicap stall.

Think about what a typical public bathroom stall looks like. You can barely turn around to lock the door, let along bring anyone else with you. When the girls were small, I had them and the diaper bag with me. Only handicap stalls are big enough to include me and the twin stroller. Only handicap stalls are big enough for me and two potty-training girls. With a handicap stall, there is enough space for me, the girls and our stuff.

The funny thing is no matter where we go, I always find other Moms with their young ones in the handicap stall. It's not like we don't know the real reason those stalls exist. I admit to feeling a bit guilty whenever I use one. I always hope that no one with a disability will need to use the bathroom while one of the girls is using the toilet and singing her favorite song. It's not like I can hurry up the process.

I'm sure I speak for many Moms when I say that the logistics of taking twins to the bathroom wasn't something I thought much about before they were born. Now, I'm happy to share one of the Mom-world's favorite secrets.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Dinner Rules

Overheard at our house...

Brunette twin to dinner guest: "We have some rules for the dinner table."

Dinner guest: "Oh, what are they?"

Brunette twin: "We don't talk about peeing or pooping. No fart talk or burps."

Dinner guest laughing hard: "I'll try to remember these rules. Thanks for letting me know."

Brunette twin: "You're welcome. I didn't want you to get in trouble."

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Kids shows that make us crazy

Okay, I admit this article made me laugh.

http://www.momtourage.com/escape/Article/0,,djxj46sh,00.html

I agree with their issues about some of the shows, and in our house we have issues with a few other shows. My husband hates anything on the Disney Channel. It's not that the shows are bad, but the ads are out of control. I think they run more advertising per show than any other network.

The girls don't watch much TV, but I've started limiting them even more now that they are in school. They have friends with older siblings who watch shows I think are just way too mature for five-year-olds. If the girls had older siblings, I suppose they would be exposed to those shows too. Since we're not in that position, I try to keep all the shows age-appropriate.

Right now my favorite shows are Super Why!, Word World, Sid the Science Kid, and Wonder Pets. These four always pass the test. Some of the others, while considered kid-friendly, just grate on me, so they are never "on." Of course soon the girls will be able to read more, so I won't be able to say, "Oh, there's nothing on now."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Thank you Forbes!

Forbes Magazine just named Chicago, IL as America's most stressful city. While I'll admit it can be stressful to live here, it's hard to believe it's more stressful here than New York City or Los Angeles. Both those cities made the list, which is no surprise.

There were a few surprises on the list -- at least I found them surprising. Salt Lake City? Cleveland? Providence, RI? I've travelled a lot and I don't know that I would have put those cities on my list. Forbes did, though, so there must be something about living in those places that is stressful

For all its stress, I don't know that I'd want to live any where else. Visit other cities? Absolutely. It's always nice to come home -- even if home is the most stressful city in America.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Love Thy Neighbor

It rained last weekend in Chicago. By rain, I mean three days of relentless rain that caused every river, stream, pond, lake, backyard pond to overflow. It went on and on and on. For much of the rain, we can thank Hurricane Ike for sharing the pain.

Sunday morning our power went out. My husband raced to the hardware store to rent a generator. The girls and I ran downstairs with a flashlight to move everything off the basement floor. While we were down there, a small stream of water started flowing from the sump pump to the floor drain. The blond twin started crying. The brunette twin started asking questions in an shaky voice. I kept lifting things off the floor and willing my husband to bring home a generator. (I know most people would have been praying for a generator, but I just believed that God was a bit busy with more important things.)

Finally, the floor was as empty as I could get it. Our twin daughters were crying and afraid. We all went upstairs and sat outside on the front porch until Daddy came home. The girls kept asking questions about the power outage and the water coming into the basement.

When my husband came home with a generator, we were thrilled. The girls were still crying because they didn't understand what was going on. We tried to calm them as we rushed to get the sump pump working. A few minutes later, all was well with the sump pump and our girls.

A few minutes after our generator started rumbling, a neighbor came by to ask where we found the generator. It turned out that his wouldn't work and he was calling around to find one. I said, "This thing is supposed to run everything in our house, so you can just get an extension cord and use our generator to run your sump pump." He was so grateful that his basement wouldn't flood. He ran home and a few minutes later all was well.

We had planned to go out for a bit Sunday afternoon. My husband was going to stay home to watch the generator when we decided to ask the neighbor if he would do it. Our neighbor promised to watch the generator. A little while later, in the relentless rain, we headed out. We had a fun few hours away from the dark house. We ate lunch and did a few things before returning home. As soon as he opened the car door, my husband said, "It's too quiet. The generator is not running."

I looked at the generator and said, "The neighbor's extension cord is missing. He must have power."

My husband ran into the house to see if there was water in the basement. He came out to report that we had at least 4 inches of water covering the entire basement -- to say that we were not happy was a gigantic understatement. We restarted the generator.


A few minutes later the neighbor came by. It turned out that power came back on while we were gone. The neighbor figured that if he had power, so did we. In one sense he was correct. We did have power. The problem was we were not home to move the sump pump from generator power to our standard electrical outlets. When he turned off the generator, he also turned off our sump pump. As soon as he realized his error, he started apologizing. I told him I really needed to get back down in the basement and he left.

We spent the rest of Sunday afternoon sanitizing our basement and throwing out the rug, some furniture, etc. It was a long, long afternoon. It was one of those moments when I was completely grateful to have twins. The girls entertained each other for the afternoon. Once they decided we were not in grave danger in the flooded basement, they played together in their room.

While we were really angry on Sunday, we also remembered that we have really wonderful neighbors who felt really, really bad about the flooding. I know someday we'll laugh about this. It won't be this week or next week, but some day.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Parenting Blog Award

What a happy Monday! Onteenstoday named Two Times The Fun one of the best Mom blogs for 2009. Thank you to everyone who makes this blogging community so interesting and enjoyable.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Wash and Wear

We needed new curtains for a room we're remodeling in our house. While I admit I read the design publications and often dream about those rooms, there is only one thing I require in my curtains. They must be machine wash and dry.

I have a friend who recent put up new curtains and then complain when her children put their grubby hands on them. She had to either take them down and go without for a family party or leave them with the hand prints quite visible. I know she called for sympathy, but I said, "Why did you buy dry clean only curtains? You know better than that."

It's not that I don't love beautiful furnishings and accessories. It's just the practical side of me wouldn't dream of buying dry clean only curtains right now. Our girls are too young. I don't want to be the Mom who is constantly yelling to stay away from the curtains because I don't want the hassle and expense of cleaning them. Everything in our house is wash and wear.

When the curtains are dirty, we wash them. We put them back up and move on. I realize we're missing some of the design element available with fancier curtains, but life's too short to spend it worrying about whether or not the kids are going to get the curtains dirty.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Blond Forever

Overheard at our house...

Brunette Twin: "Daddy, how did you get grey hair?"

Daddy: "You two gave it to me."

Blond Twin: "No Daddy. I don't want you to be grey. I want you to be blond like me. Blond forever."

Brunette Twin: "We didn't give Mommy grey hair."

Mommy: "Women don't have grey hair honey. I'll explain it when you are older."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Twins Separated by Years

Just in case you thought only the U.S. schools had really stupid rules regarding placing twins in school, here's a story that nearly tops the Seattle Public School situation:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/2714210/Twins-face-different-academic-years.html

Yes, the U.K. school district involved wants to put twins in different academic years because they were born on two different dates that happen to straddle the school deadline. Maybe they need a
twins law in the UK too?

What makes these stories so frustrating is the way children are treated according to stringent rules. There is no accommodation for special circumstances that might require someone -- anyone -- to look at the rule and say, "Maybe we should take a look at this case." Twins in different schools? The Seattle Public School District said, "It's the luck of the draw." Twins in different school years? The UK school said, "The deadlines cannot be altered. It's the rule."

These stories also completely ignore the long-term effects these cold, by-the-rules decisions might have on the twins. Study after study confirms the importance of the twin bond. Many studies have shown that premie twins kept in the same incubator improve more rapidly than those separated. The twin bond is something no one except a twin can understand. Maybe it is because it is so foreign to the rest of the world that it is completely removed from the decision-making equation.

The people most likely to understand their children are also left out of the equation. The parents of these children were not consulted. They were simply told what the rules say and expected to obey the rules. In both the Seattle and U.K. situations, these children are lucky enough to have activist parents. Neither set of parents just blindly accepted the school district decree. Both sets of parents decided to fight the stupidity.

Why should they have to fight, though? Rules are important, and so is common sense. If there is ever a case that cries out for a bit of common sense, this might be it. The problem is no one is rewarded for common sense. Employees are rewarded for following the rules and doing what they are told. No one sits in an annual review and is told, "Good job for figuring out that this rule needed a review." They are rewarded for making life easy for the boss.

Happily, as parents, we're not graded by the school districts. We can, and must, fight for what is right for our children. As long as schools continue to blindly treat all children like faceless numbers, parents will need to be the ones to step up and point out when the school district is wrong. Even if the school district doesn't like the feedback, perhaps it will force those involved to try to improve the system for the next family that is told their twins must attend two different school grades.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Go Go Illinois!

Congratulations to my alma mater the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign!

PC Magazine just named the school America's Top Wired College.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Twins Separated by Schools Update

Here's a stupid ending to a stupid story. For whatever reason, the Seattle Public Schools, which in a moment of completely stupidity separated twins by SCHOOL, couldn't place them in the same school. Even after the parents spent months and months working with the school district, they couldn't reach a resolution.

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2008161877_twins06m0.html

Go ahead and try this with any other group of students. I dare you. Any school district which tries to separate students because they are blond or speak French or left handed would be sued for discrimination. For whatever reason, it is still acceptable to treat twins this way.

And people tell me we don't need a twins law.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Play by Play Announcer in Training

"Mom, there's a woman walking a baby in a blue stroller. She stopped in front of our house in our driveway because a car was coming by. We had black strollers when we were little, right? Did you stop in driveways when cars came by? Why would you stop in a driveway? It's not like the car is going to hit the baby. Did you just see the big black doggie? I wonder if that was Barney or Kramer? I think he was chasing a bird. Did you see what kind of bird it was? I think Kramer has white fur on his chest and I didn't see any white fur, so it must have been Barney. Sissy, do you like this song or do you want me to change it? If I push this button, I'll change the song. Mom, look at those pretty yellow flowers. We don't have any yellow flowers in our garden any more. They all bloomed already."

This was the narrative from our house down the street. And, by down the street, I mean three houses away from ours. Last night during dinner, my husband looked at the brunette twin and said, "Don't you ever stop talking. You're going to be a play by play announcer some day."

She doesn't really know what that is, but it fits her perfectly. She talks all the time. It's not just random, although it might seem that way. She observes and comments on everything going on around us. Sometimes she ties the current event back to something that happened years ago. She remembers things in perfect detail, often more than we do. She'll talk about something and we, her supposedly observant parents, often have to piece the puzzle together so we understand the conversation.

Sometimes people walk into our house and comment that it's really quiet. If it is quiet, that is only because the brunette twin is not in the room.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

What have you done with our Mom?

Right now the girls are using their crayons and markers to draw on the playroom walls. No, that's not a typo. We're having the room completely redone next week. Our contractor is going to pull out the drywall, so I figured why not have some fun?

When I first asked them if they wanted to draw on the walls, they both stared at me. We discussed the rules -- only color on the playroom walls, crayons only, etc. Then I put the crayons on the floor. Neither one of them touched the crayons. They looked at each other as if to say, "Who is this crazy woman and what have you done with our Mom?"

Finally, I took a crayon and drew a big butterfly in the middle of the wall. If I do say so myself, it is probably the most amazing butterfly drawing ever. A few seconds later, they were drawing and giggling.

When we were little my Dad let us draw on the drywall before he put up the paneling in our bedrooms. I remember how fun it was, even if I no longer remember what I drew. I hope some day when we talk about the time they drew on the walls, they will smile and remember how much fun they had growing up in our home.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Steal This Idea

We took the girls to the Little Mermaid Sing Along last weekend at the Music Box Theater. (Yes, my husband does get the Most Wonderful Dad Award for sitting through it.) It was fun for them, and as we're watching the movie, I realized I could steal the idea.

First, you invite a bunch of preschool or slightly older children to dress in costume. Even though the Disney princess movies are really for girls, there are always boy costume options.

Second, you gather the props. For the Little Mermaid, we were given a bag with
  • a light-up glow stick to use to conduct whenever Sebastian conducted
  • a small bottle of bubbles to blow when Ariel is in the bathtub
  • a small clicker to click whenever Sebastian walks around
  • a temporary tattoo of a fish
  • a small popper with tiny streamers (like one you might use on New Year's Eve) to open when Ariel and Eric are married
Third you go over the interactive rules. When the songs start, everyone sings. When the evil eels or Ursula come on screen, everyone hisses.

It's that easy. You could probably do it for all kinds of kids movies. It just takes a DVD, TV, and some imagination. If you come up with a good idea, please share it with us. We're all looking for fun, creative and inexpensive ways to keep our children busy.