Friday, November 27, 2009

How Much do I Hate Black Friday?

I hate everything about Black Friday.  I would rather pay more than get up at 4:00 a.m. to stand in line -- in a crowd -- to fight for some item.  And, since you know how frugal I am, you know how much I must hate Black Friday.

I also dislike the phrase "Black Friday."  It's so overused now that I cannot stand to hear it.

What are we doing on Black Friday?  We're going to put up our Christmas tree and decorations.  We'll hang out at home most of the day.  In the late afternoon, we might visit a neighboring suburb's Christmas Walk.

Of course, I'm done with my Christmas shopping, so I'm not feeling any shopping stress at all.  I hope your Black Friday is as relaxing and enjoyable as ours.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Things I am Thankful For Include...

My wonderful, patient, smart husband.
Our daughters, who truly are miracles.
Our comfortable, cozy home where great memories are made.
Our friends and family, who make life enjoyable and crazy.

I wish you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with too much food and football.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

And Just Like That...

The girls were watching the Wonder Pets recently when I realized that they had outgrown the show.  I knew it was a bit young for them, but they always liked when the animals started singing like opera stars.  They loved to mimic the songs throughout the day.  I always laughed when they started singing like opera stars to ask if they could have a snack or go outside.

Part of the reason they still watched the Wonder Pets was that I'm not really well-informed about children's television.  They watch so little of it that I'm not sure what the next set of age-appropriate show are or when they air.  Instead, I have a few favorites they will watch, with the Wonder Pets being on the list.

They were watching this particular episode when the brunette twin turned to her sister and said, "Why doesn't Tuck just open the bag?  That's where the baby bird is hiding."

And just like that I realized they had outgrown the Wonder Pets.  They still imitated the singing during the show and laughed when the critters did something silly.  Yet, it was clear they weren't challenged by the story and were a bit bored some of the time.  Of course, they were so thrilled that I let them watch TV that they didn't complain. 

For me it was a little sad to realize they were moving on from the sweet, simple shows.  The older shows will be more in line with their age and intellect, but they won't be as charming.  It's one more sign that my babies are officially big girls now.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Hundred Dresses

A friend and I took our girls to see The Hundred Dresses, a world-premier performance by the wonderful Chicago Children's Theatre. This production is based on a children's book of the same name originally released in 1944.



The story revolves around a new girl who doesn't quite fit in with the rest of her second grade class. Her dress isn't quite right. She has a funny accent and a strange name. The popular girl in the class bullies her and the others go along, wanting to fit in with the popular girl. I cannot stop thinking about the story and how relevant it is today.

It is hard to believe the story was written in 1944. You can find the same dynamic in classrooms across the country every day. Children who are different for some reason become the target of those who want to make themselves feel cool. The popular kids marginalize those who are different to keep their place in the social structure. It's hard to believe that, despite all the anti-bullying rhetoric and programs, nothing has changed since 1944.


In the story, Wanda's father moves them to a big city where she won't be the only one with an accent or a strange name. In real life, those kids who are bullied take different routes. Some of them move, as the family realizes the bullying won't stop as long as the child is in the same school or community. Some of them turn those experiences into anger, which drives them to success in adulthood. Have you ever listened to interviews with people who achieve success in some field? They often talk about how they were the shy kid in school and had no friends or how they were unpopular because they were different. Others take a darker path.

A few months ago, a student at a wealthy, high-achieving local high school committed suicide. Yes, the article does admit that he had other problems, but the one thing I couldn't get over was how long he was bullied. From elementary school through high school, this poor young man endured unimaginable bullying. His parents worked with the school and tried to save their son. Yet, in the end, he chose to end his life. Of course, after he died, students and others came out to promise they wouldn't let it happen to another child.

It's always that way, isn't it? After something terrible happens to a child, the community comes out to say it won't happen again -- that this will be the last time a child is bullied, feels like an outside or is left on the sidelines. The community swears it will come together to make sure everyone is part of the "in crowd."

We know that's not true, even as we hope it will be. We know there will always be kids on the outside, who don't quit fit in with whatever is cool or popular at that moment. We also know that we don't want our children to grow up to be on either side of it. We don't want them to be bullied, and we don't want them to be the bullies.

The real question, though, is does a middle ground exist? And, if it does, how do we make sure our children are there?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Let me dial the phone for you

The other day the girls were a little tired.  They were still adjusting to the time change and I could tell they were a bit edgy.  I sent them upstairs to play as I thought this would help.  I was wrong.

The blond twin started crying and screaming at her sister almost as soon as she set foot in their bedroom.  I couldn't figure out the problem at first because I had a hard time understanding her through the tears.  It turned out she and her sister were fighting about a boot for one of their dolls.  

I took all the boots away and told them to crawl into bed until they calmed down.  I told them they couldn't get the boots back until they calmed down and behaved.  Yes, I'm wicked.  I know.

The blond twin started crying even louder, saying that she was going to tell Daddy.  This is her new favorite threat.  Whenever she gets mad at me, she yells, "I'm going to tell Daddy."  Usually I just ignore her.  On this day, I decided enough was enough.  I said, "Please, let me dial the phone for you, then you can tell Daddy all about it."

She looked stunned for a minute, then walked up to the phone and talked to Daddy.  She didn't feel better after talking to Daddy because he told her to quit fighting with her sister.  Then she walked out of the room.

I started laughing when I tried to explain to my husband what was going on.  I tried to laugh quietly so they don't hear me.  After all, I had to go in there and be the disciplinarian.  I finally just hung up on him because he was making me laugh even more. 

When I went back into the room, I said, "Do you feel better now that you've talked to Daddy?" 

The blond twin said, "No.  He said we had to stop fighting."

I said, "Funny, that's what I said too."

The blond twin replied, "I don't want to talk about it.  Come on Sissy.  Let's play."

We'll have to see if she still thinks the "I'm calling Daddy" option is a good idea.  All I know is my husband might get another call or two until she finally understands that calling Daddy is not a threat.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gee, Why Didn't We Think of That?

I was at the allergist's office completing my new patient intake.  The doctor asked about all kinds of things, including my sleep habits. She said, "Do you sleep well?  Do you feel rested when you wake up?" 

What did I say?  Well, because I'm not so bright, responded with an honest, "No.  I don't always sleep well."

In an instant I regretted those words.  She started going down the path of "I think you have sleep apnea."  I cut her off by saying, "One of our girls has night terrors.  She is often up at night screaming, so some nights are better than others.  When we do have a night when she's up some or all of the night it takes a few nights before I feel like I am caught up with my sleep."

She talked about night terrors for a few minutes and then she said, "And, be sure not to let her watch anything scary right before she goes to bed."

I stared at her for a minute as she explained why showing a scary movie right before bed to a child with night terrors was a bad idea.  I thought about sarcastically saying, "Golly  gee.  Why didn't we think of that?  You sure are smart."  Instead, I just smiled and nodded. 

Sometimes the thoughts in my head are best left there.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Another Great Gift Deal

Here's another great personalized gift deal.  Expressionery.com is offering 40% off everything on its site, along with free shipping.  This includes clearance items.

At checkout, you need to put the code "holiday09" to redeem the discount. 

This offer is good until January 31, 2010.  Now you have extra time to make a list of gifts for next year and get everything ordered in advance.

Yes, I did order some stationery.  No, I don't have a financial interest.  It's just another good deal I have to share. 

Times might be tight, but that doesn't mean you cannot give great gifts.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

How Schools Stifle Creativity

This is a news story that every parent and teacher should read. Sir Ken Robinson, Ph.D., is described as an expert in creativity, innovation and human resources.  While I don't know the details about his credentials for all those areas, I think he is dead on regarding his assessment of what is wrong with our schools today.  In the CNN story "How Schools Stifle Creativity" he talks about how standardized testing is the opposite of creative teaching.  He talks about how we're all born with natural creativity and our institutions, such as schools, stifle this creativity.

What is most interesting to me is that his experience is world-wide and he sees the same things happening in schools around the world.  He sees schools teaching to the bottom rather than lifting up the top.  He notes that the problems of today and tomorrow will require immense creativity and talent, and that we're not developing the future leaders who can solve these problems.

We have all seen it in our public and private schools.  Classes are geared towards getting good test results.  This goes on even through high school and college.  Anything not "focused" is considered a waste of time.  You want to take an art class just for something different to do?  You want to take European history because you think it is intersting?  Wasteful.  You should be learning more about the things that will get you into a good college and/or job. 

People seem to forget that most of the time, the answer to a problem starts with someone sitting around saying, "What if we did X?"  In medicine, it's called basic research.  This means that researchers test different theories just for the sake of seeing what happens.  It's not focused and driven towards finding a cure for a specific disease or condition.  It's all about the "what if" questions.

In our test-driven world, it's not considered productive to wonder "what if" unless there is a specific point to the answer.  You can apply this to different age groups.  What if I spend another hour each day working on her letters?  Will this make her a better reader?  What if I spend another hour each day working on math?  Will that improve his ACT score?  What if I take this advanced business course?  Will this help me land my dream job?

Why does the "what if" question always have to be so focused?  How about we try to change the conversation so the preschool parent says, "What if she spends some time in nature looking at different plants and animals?"  Or if the high school student says, "What if I spend a few hours volunteering at the local library?"  Or the college student says, "What if I take the art history course just because I've always been interested in the topic?"  These are simple ways to improve creativity in our children and young adults.  They take nothing but our understanding that this kind of "slack time" is actually very important to a child's future happiness and success.  

All we need to do is give them permission to be children and explore their (often fleeting) interests.  Unfortunately, that's a very big leap from the way most people view education these days.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Too Much Sleep?

This story just made me laugh.  Like any parent has to worry about the negative health effects of getting too much sleep! 

We struggle just to get an average of seven to eight hours of sleep a night.  It doesn't sound like it should be that hard because our girls are in bed and asleep most nights between 7:30 and 8:00 p.m.  Still, we really have to work to get a decent amount of sleep. 

At this point, I don't know if I could sleep 12 hours any more.  It does sound good though. 

Is too much sleep making you tired?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Am I The Prettiest Girl?

Daddy learned a hard lesson last night. The girls were tired and a bit under the weather.  They were getting ready for bed.  I was in the bathroom brushing teeth and he was in the bedroom helping them put on pajamas and brushing their hair. 

He was talking to the blond twin when she started crying, loudly. By the time she ran from her bedroom to the bathroom, she could hardly even speak. She was wailing and shaking. It took a bit, but I finally realized what happened.

The blond twin, who adores her father, asked him if she was pretty. Somehow the question of whether or not she was prettier than his sisters entered the conversation. What my husband didn't realize is that when your daughter asks if she's pretty, the only answer is "the prettiest girl in town." I don't care if you are standing next to a supermodel. When your daughter asks if she's pretty, the answer is always that in your eyes she's prettier than anyone else.


It's not that he has to lie to her. What he's saying is he thinks his daughters are the prettiest girls in the world. Isn't that what every little girl wants to hear?


In our case -- since we have twin daughters -- we qualify that a bit to keep the peace. I always tell the blond twin that she's the prettiest blond girl, and I tell the brunette twin that she's the prettiest brown-haired girl around. One thing about having two girls is you need to make sure it's always even.

In Daddy's case, he learned the correct answer the hard way. The blond twin -- a child who hangs on Daddy's every word, who insists that her paper napkin matches Daddy's at every meal, a child lovingly called the drama queen -- is not the child who should receive a politically correct answer. When she asked if she was prettier than his sisters, he replied something to the effect of "you are all pretty." While this is the nice, correct, won't start a fight in the family answer, it is not the answer a little girl needs to her from her Daddy. What she needs to hear is "You are the prettiest little girl."


I shot him a look and loudly said, "Baby, Daddy didn't mean you aren't pretty. What he means is that all of you are pretty, but you're his girl. Of course he thinks you are pretty."


She wasn't convinced. She stood in the bathroom in full drama queen mode --crying, shaking, and hyperventilating. Nothing he said made her feel better.


Daddy started back-pedaling. He started telling her that she was the prettiest little girl, but she wasn’t convinced. At one point he was clearly annoyed that he had to keep telling her than she was his pretty, blond-haired girl. He had that edge in his voice like, "aren't we done yet."


I had to keep myself from laughing at him. He wasn't quite sure what went wrong, but it clearly went wrong. I just looked at him and said, "No more golf for you buddy. You're going to have to save that money to pay for therapy when she grows up."


I'm not sure he was amused, but I am sure he knows the right answer to the question now. Somehow I think his sisters will understand if he tells the girls they are the prettiest girls he knows.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Great Bargain Gift

I was browsing through the zillions of catalogues that have been showing up daily in the mailbox when I found the best Christmas deal. (Somehow I still get a zillion catalogues, even though I’m always taking myself off the mailing lists and I’m on the Direct Marketing Association’s do not contact list.)

Garnet Hill has a shopper bag for only $10. The great part is they will monogram the solid color bags for free. It's an adorable bag that comes in numerous colors and patterns. The bag looks great and costs a little. What’s not to like?

Yes, I ordered some for Christmas presents. I had to call the 800 number as the web site was not coding the free monogramming correctly.  The nice customer service representative handled my order quickly and apologized for the web site error.  It was easy. 

No, I don't have a financial interest in Garnet Hill. It's a catalogue I like to see so I can see how the "other half" lives. Even if my bank account suddenly overflowed with extra funds, I doubt I could bring myself to spend $300 on a cashmere sweater. It's just not in my DNA.


What is in my DNA is the desire to share a great deal when I find one. Now, go, shop, and be frugal.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Reading Test

We read books to the girls every day. We always let the girls pick out the books they want to hear. Today I discovered the downside of their growing ability to read.


When some of the stories are a little long or I do not feel like reading everything, I've been know to -- well -- let's say I shorten the stories a bit. I might skip a sentence here or there. In drastic cases I've been known to skip entire paragraphs.


Those days are long gone now. I was reading a story to fill some time before we had to go to the bus. I knew the story was too long, but I didn't want to fight about it. I just opened the book and started reading.

About half-way through the story, I skipped a paragraph and moved on. The brunette twin busted me. She said, "Mom, that's not what it says. You forgot to read this paragraph." She then proceeded to read the paragraph I skipped.

Sigh….

I know they can both read, but I didn’t put it all together until that moment. Now when I read a story, they are reading with me. They know what the words on the page say, so they are following where I am on the page.


I should have put this together. The other day the phone rang and I put a book down. When I picked it back up, I said, “Now, where was I?” The blond twin looked at the book and said, “Here Mom. The last thing you read was….” She was right. She knew exactly where I stopped reading. Of course I should have, but I didn’t put it all together at that moment.


The good part about them being able to read is I can now say, “Why don’t you read your sister a book? I want to hear you practice reading.” The downside of them reading is one of my favorite parenting tricks is gone. Oh well, at least they still ask us to read to them once in a while…even if it is starting to feel like a reading test these days.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Bad for Daddy

My husband is really good about giving me time to get out of the house. He recognizes that it’s not easy to work from home and have the girls at home with me all day. It’s a lot of togetherness. Sometimes it is really good, like when they do something cute. Other times it’s just a long day, like when they are overtired or not feeling well or just being naughty. So, he encourages me to get out of the house with friends or for work.


I have a confession to make. It makes me feel a bit guilty to say it out loud, but here it goes. I'm rather amused when I come home from having fun to find out that the girls were bad for my husband. It’s not that I want them to be bad for Daddy, but it does entertain me to find out they have been bad. There, I said it.

Here's the thing -- they adore Daddy. Really. All day they talk about Daddy. There a bit of hero worship going on in our house. And, I encourage it. I really do want them to adore their father as much as I do.

It's just that some days the girls drive me crazy. Some days they are just tired or whiney or crabby or whatever. When he comes home, I'm not always sure he understands why whatever they were doing was driving me crazy. I realize he understands it because he listens to me explain it, describe it, complain about it, and otherwise talk about it over and over again.  Yet, there is something different about having to survive it.

What I really like is the knowledge that he lives through it once in a while too. I like the common parenting bond it creates when I come home to find that they do the things that drive me crazy to Daddy too.

After all, I don't want him to miss out on all the fun just because he goes into the office each day.

Monday, November 2, 2009

TARP Funds Everywhere

Okay, you know how everyone is talking about how they don't know where their TARP money is?  I found it on every major road in my area.  In the past two months, road construction projects sprang up everywhere.

And, by everywhere I do mean EVERY SINGLE MAJOR ROAD.  There isn't a way to get around this area without seeing a TARP sign.  I should probably expand that from beyond my suburban area to say the entire Chicago metro area.  Friends from the far west to the north are commenting about the sudden road construction.  Everyone notes the TARP signs.  Yes, now we know where our money is going. 

Just to sound like a complete ingrate, it's driving me crazy.  I realize the roads need to be fixed.  I realize I've been complaining about some of these roads for years.  What I don't understand is why they all need to be fixed at the same time. 

Seriously.  Driving in this area is a mess.  Even my favorite back roads are under construction. 

There is no way to get from here to there without a road construction project slowing down the trip.  Of course, when all the projects are done, I'll be glad my tax money went for these projects.  It's just the process that drives me crazy.