Monday, February 28, 2011

This year's project is underway

Every year we do one house project.  Some of the projects are planned, like when we redid our dining and living rooms.  Other projects, like retiling the master shower, happen because someone who owned the house before us did a crummy job.  We had to redo the master shower because the tile started falling off the walls.  Why you ask?  Well, a previous owner put the tile directly on drywall.  What, you've never heard of such a thing?  Neither had our contractor.  You know it's going to be bad when your contractor says, "I've never seen tile put up like this before."  Sometimes do it yourself isn't such a good idea, you know?

Anyway...

This year we're going to put in a new patio and add a roof.  It's called an outdoor room, except that it doesn't have any walls.  We have a picture of what we want to do, which makes it much easier to explain.  We thought about starting the project last year.  After all, how hard can it be to put down a slab of concrete and add a roof?

Of course, you know the answer is that is was a lot more complicated than we originally though.  First, we discovered we need to move some power lines.  Given the placement of trees in our yard, we decided it was easier to just bury the power lines.  Easier doesn't mean cost effective, though.  It's really expensive to bury power lines.  Plus it requires a construction permit, electrical box upgrade, air conditioner move, furnace upgrade and other activities. 

Basically we've spent seven months planning, saving, meeting with different contractors, buying stuff and waiting for winter to pass.  Finally we see some progress.  The electrical permit paperwork is being processed at city hall.  Today the electrical company is coming out to give us the 2011 estimate for burying the power lines. 

It's the first step in what will be at least a six-month project, but at least we're underway. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Let's Share Socks

I was in Target looking at socks for the girls when I realized something startling.  The brunette twin and I can share socks now. 

She hasn't worn the cute, little girl shoes in a while.  She wears a size 2 shoe (soon to be a size 3).  Her new socks said size 3 - 10.  I wear a size 8.5 shoe.  We could share socks.  It's not like it hasn't already happened. More than once I've asked her why she's wearing my socks.  She always says, "I like them."  I always thought she was just being cute.  I never realized that the socks actually fit her. 

The girls already like to use my purses for holidays.  I have a few cute, small purses that just sit in my closet now.  I used to take them when I went out, but these days my purse needs to be big enough to carry my stuff and theirs.  A typical visit to a store in the winter means all our gloves and hats end up in my purse.  We used to put them in our pockets, but we always ended up looking for one glove.  Now it all just ends up in my purse.

They also wear my earrings on a regular basis.  For some reason, their earrings never match their special ocassion outfits as well as mine do.  They also comment on my jewelry when I wear something special.  The blond twin asked how old she'd need to be to wear my pearls.  I said, "You can wear them on your wedding day and then give them right back."  She's angling to keep them, though. 

I see the path this is taking.  First, we're sharing socks, purses and earrings.  Next they are borrowing my shoes and necklaces.  I wonder how long it will be before I just start looking for my stuff in their room?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Surprise Party

The girls are attending a surprise birthday party this Saturday for their friend Sarah.  One of the moms of another girl attending said, "I don't know how my daughter will keep it a secret.  How are you going to keep the girls from telling Sarah?"

I said, "I'm not telling them until we're driving to Sarah's house."  She said, "Oh, I never thought of that."

Really?  These are seven-year-old girls.  Why would you tell them about a birthday party and then say, "It's a surprise.  Don't tell Sarah?" 

We're the adults.  It's just easier for us to keep the secret than it is for a bunch of seven-year-olds.  Maybe I'm wrong, but at least that's how it works in our house. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A New Interest in Piano Lessons

The girls are a few months into their piano lessons.  At the last lesson, their teacher said, "So, are they getting frustrated yet?  At this point most of my new students want to quit because they are frustrated at how long it takes to learn to play."

I said, "No."  The blond twin immediately jumped in and said, "Sissy is frustrated a lot."

Funny, I listen to them practice twice a day and I never picked up on that. 

A few hours later we went to the Justin Bieber movie "Never Say Never."  Near the end of the movie, he's in Madison Square Garden and he sits down to play piano.

The brunette twin was mesmerized.  She whispered, "I didn't know Justin played piano."

Of course, now she's driven to play piano.  She wants to play on stage in Madison Square Garden.  As Justin would say, "Never say never." 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

DNR = Do Not Read

A couple of weeks ago Dad moved from one hospital to another.  The new hospital is closer to home, which is a good thing for everyone. 

For the first time since Dad has been in the hospital, I looked at all his wristbands.  These days when you're in the hospital you're not even a name.  You're simply a bar code on a wristband.  Different health care workers come in and scan the bar code for different information.

Two of his wristbands say "DNR" in bold letters.  The first time I saw this, I gasped.  I knew Dad decided to sign the do not resuscitate (DNR) papers.  He made the choice when he learned that his COPD was progressively getting worse, which meant his quality of life would be decreasing. 

It hasn't been a secret.  One thing my parents have been really, really vocal about is their wishes.  After watching my maternal grandmother waste away with Alzheimer's, they have been clear and steady about their wishes, and the DNR decision falls right into it.It's one thing to know he decided to be DNR.  It's another to see it on your father's wristband. 

I think about this whenever I visit him.  I try not to look at his wristbands because I don't want to catch a glimpse of the letters DNR.  It's childish, I know.  I just want to pretend it's not an issue we have to face.  I just want to spend time with my Dad while I can -- without worrying about DNR issues. 

One day -- all too soon -- the DNR issue will become more important.  We're not pretending that he's really going to get better.  It's about the quality of a few days rather than the quantity of days.  The grown-up in me says it's all part of life.  The child in me wants to avoid it all.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Side by Side

The brunette twin is a finicky eater.  She's the kind of child who looks at mac-n-cheese and declares she doesn't like it because the noodles "look funny."  She can make any meal a nightmare simply because of one ingredient. 

Don't get me wrong.  She will eat whatever is put in front of her.  We don't run a short order cafe at mealtime in this house.  She makes it difficult, though.

Recently the blond twin set the table so that she sat right next to her twin.  I told her to move the chairs back to their normal places.  She countered with, "I'll make sure Sissy eats if she sits right next to me."

I happily took that deal.  I didn't think it would make a difference, but I went with her logic.  You know what?  The brunette twin has been better since she has been sitting next to her sister.  I don't know why it works and in all honesty I don't care.  If letting them sit side by side makes our meals more pleasant, I'm all for it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The End of the Christmas Season

In my mind, I tend to wrap-up the Christmas season when the last decorations are put away.  Well, today we can wrap-up Christmas 2010.

On our front porch we have several large planters.  Last November, I stuck a Christmas decoration in the dirt and stood back to admire it.  There's nothing fancy about the decoration, but I like it.  Santa's holding a sign that says, "Merry Christmas."  It's simple and cute.

The problem with my plan was that the dirt froze.  For weeks now the girls asked, "Mom are you ever going to take Santa out of the planter?"  Since it is located right by the front door, I heard this a lot.

This morning the dirt finally thawed enough that I could get the decoration out of the pot.  As of this moment, Christmas 2010 is finally done. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I Have to Take Care of the Dog

My husband is often frustrated with Oreo.  The dog is a handful sometimes and on some days he just seems to run our lives between walks and feeding times.  Oreo has one advantage I don't think my husband fully appreciated until recently.

Oreo gets my husband out of doing some of the things he doesn't want to do.  This weekend, he'll really appreciate the need to stay home and take care of the dog. 

I am taking the girls to see the Justin Bieber movie.  If we didn't have Oreo, Daddy would have to come up with a more elaborate excuse to skip the fun.  The girls would just expect Daddy to join us.  After all, who doesn't want to see Justin in 3-D?

Now it's easy.  Daddy will just say, "I have to stay home and take care of Oreo."  It will be rough, but Daddy will stay home from the movie, watch college basketball and wait for his girls to come home.  They will completely understand and appreciate his sacrifice. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Partners in Grime

The girls have an amazing ability to get dirty.  I mean really, really filthy dirty.  Even when you don't think they are doing anything to get so dirty, they end up filthy.

Usually they shower several times a week.  I try to do it early enough that their hair can air dry.  There's not much I enjoy less than trying to blow dry their hair.  I love how long and beautiful their hair is, as long as I don't have to blow dry it.  It becomes a bit of a logistical challenge some days as it takes the brunette twin's hair about three hours to dry completely. 

As if by magic, their school health aid gave me the best reason not to wash their hair as often -- for the ickiest of reasons.  Last fall a child in their class had lice.  The school did a good job of keeping all the parents informed.  They also checked each child for nits.  The girls didn't have nits, which was a relief. 

I called the school health aid to ask her how to prevent them from catching lice.  She said, "Lice really like clean hair.  If you put a little oil or conditioner in their hair after washing it that will help keep the lice away.  Also, don't wash their hair more than once a week.  Lice don't like dirty hair."

This is my new mission.  I have to keep the girls clean without washing their hair.  It's much easier than it sounds.  Not washing to their hair more than twice a week saves me several hours of work.  Without even realizing it, the school health aid gave me back some time.

Now I look at their grime in a whole new light.  Most of it washes away each night.  The hair, though, needs a bit of grime.  It's one of those crazy things I couldn't have imagined before becoming a parent.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Cold, Cold, Cold

Yesterday was brutally cold.  We woke up to a wind chill of -20 and a cold house.  

I spent most of Wednesday evening into Thursday morning freezing.  I was so cold.  I woke up in the middle of the night and layered clothes over my pajamas.  I turned up our heated mattress pad.  I still shivered.  I was certain I was getting sick.  What else could explain how cold I was? 

When the girls started complaining about how cold they were, I explained that it was dangerously cold outside.  They put their robes and slippers over their clothes and headed down to play. 

We came downstairs and I stared at the thermostat.  It blinked 65 degrees.  Until that moment, it never ocurred to me that our new furnace wasn't working.  While I tried to move it from "hold" to "run program" the temperature dropped to 63 degrees.  I turned on our family room fireplace and cranked the fan up as high as possible. 

When I talked to our furnace man, he said, "Is there ice on the exhaust pipes?"  I replied, "Huh?"

It turns out that our fancy, high-tech, expensive furnace has an automatic shut-off feature.  If anything blocks the exhaust pipes such as ice or snow, the furnace turns off to prevent the carbon monoxide from building up in the house.  He probably told us about it when he installed the furnace, but that was September.  I heard a lot about the fancy furnace back in September.

It's a great life-saving feature.  It's great to know that our new furnace can help keep us safe.  I just wish we had realized it before we were faced with falling indoor temperatures and a -20 wind howling around our house. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Valley Girls have Landed

***Originally posted to the Chicago Moms***

When I step outside, I’m in Chicago in February. It’s cold and snowy and, well, cold and snowy. It’s February in Chicago after all. Somehow when I come into my house, I’m suddenly in the Valley where California girls reign supreme and “like” is used every other word.

I’m not sure when, how or why, but somehow I’ve lost my darling first-graders and gained two full-blown Valley Girls. Every other word is “like” when they speak. It is worse when they come home from school. For some reason it’s the way to speak in their first grade class.

It drives my husband and me crazy. We spend all weekend deprogramming the girls. We point out every “like” with some subtle statement such as “How many times are you going to say “like” in this sentence?” We work hard not to use the word “like” if possible.

In fact, I go out of my way not to say like. If you ask me about something — say a food or book or song — I’ll say, “I’m enjoying it or It’s good.” I never “like” anything anymore.

As if “like” isn’t enough, suddenly they are playing dress-up with all their clothes and mine. They spend their time pretending to take photos on their play mobile phones and texting their friends. They fix their hair in different styles and discuss pretend boyfriends.

Sometimes I’m taken aback by how grown-up they sound. I wonder if they get it from their older cousins, put it all together from the books they read and shows they watch.

Even though it’s nice to think about spending time in the warm, sunny Valley at this time of the year, I’m always glad when they revert back to my adorable first-graders. I could use some time in the sun, but I’m not ready for them to really be old enough to qualify as Valley Girls just yet.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Day 22

We're starting another week with Dad in the hospital.  He has moved to a new room, the first with a roommate.

I don't know anything about the roommate, except that we call him "the moaner."  He's one of those people who moans all the time he's awake.  "What do you have to do to get some help around here?"  "Why am I still here?"  "Isn't anyone listening to me?"

Oh yeah.  We're listening.  How can we ignore you?  The whole time we visited with Dad last Saturday, this man moaned.  At dinner that night, I explained to the girls about Grampa's new roommate.  They thought it was hysterical.  They started talking like that with every sentence drawn out into a low, slow moan.  It was pretty funny.

Sunday they came to the hospital with me.  They were disappointed that the roommate wasn't moaning, but sleeping.  The girls told Grampa about school, piano lessons, ice skating, etc.  We had a nice visit with Dad until the moaner's family came in.

It turns out the moaner is nearly deaf -- or at least I assumed he was nearly deaf as his family spent the entire time yelling at him.  We left shortly after his family arrived.  It's impossible for us to visit when the people next to us were screaming.

Now, you'd think that the screaming and moaning would bother Dad, but it doesn't.  He simply turns off his hearing aids.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Moustache Watch 2011

Overheard at our house...

Mommy to Brunette Twin:  "Just look at your sister and Daddy.  Doesn't she look just like him.  It's amazing some times."

Brunette Twin:  "She doesn't have Daddy's moustache."

Mommy:  "When will she grow a moustache?"

Brunette Twin:  "Next Tuesday."

Let the moustache watch begin...

Friday, February 4, 2011

One Happy Dog

The creature most happy about all this snow is Oreo.  He is just uncontrollable when we walk him.  It's not that he's pulling on the leash any more than usual (he's better, but not great about that yet).  It's that he cannot figure out where to focus.

A big snow pile?  He has to climb it.  Chunks of snow?  His new toys.  A snow blower?  He has to stop and watch.  He's a happy, happy dog right now.

We had him on the tie-up while we shovelled Wednesday.  He ran from snow pile to snow pile just so excited.  He couldn't figure out where to go first.  The girls shovelled snow and threw it on his back.  He jumped around trying to bite the snow off his back.  His tail wagged the whole time. 

Yesterday we were walking when he dragged my arm nearly behind my back.  He found a huge chunk of snow that fell from a snow pile he was walking on.  He batted the snow chunk around for a few minutes like it was a tennis ball.  When he was tired of it, he just smashed it and started climbing the next snow pile.  It makes walks more entertaining, even if it means I have to really pay attention to what he is doing.

The best part is he's tired when he gets home.  I always wondered what it would take to wear out Oreo and now we know. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Just Another Snow Day

The snowstorm and blizzard now ranks as the third worst in Chicago history.  (A snowstorm and a blizzard are two different things by the way.)  The girls have another day off school.  I am thrilled. 

It's bitter cold now (-20 windchill).  Our streets are drivable, but only one car at a time.  There's ice on the streets.  Our bus stop is buried under a five foot snow drift.  Later today we're going to go over and try to dig out a space so we're not standing in the street while we wait for the school bus.

All-in-all I'd rather just stay home today.  A surprising number of parents complained that the school district called another snow day, but not me.  I'll take better-safe-than-sorry any day.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Blizzard 2011

When you live in Chicago long enough, you just ignore snow storm predictions.  Let's face it:  the weather forecasters are only right once in a while.  Oh, we get some snow here and there, but it rarely adds up to the big storm predicted.  And, when you're in Chicago, a big storm isn't five or six inches of snow.

Last night we got a big snow.  The amazing thing is that the storm came in within 30 minutes of when the forecasters predicted it.  About 3:00 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, I walked Oreo and headed towards the girls' bus stop.  I took him on a long walk because I wasn't sure the next time he'd get out again for more than a couple of minutes. 

The closer I got, the less I could see.  If I could see two blocks ahead of me that would be a lot.  The wind was already terrible.  I stood behind a big, old tree with a trunk so wide it protected me from the wind.  Still, by the time the bus arrived I had ice on my hood, ear muffs, scarf, gloves, etc.  We ran through the neighbors' yard to our house. 

The winds and snow were in full force by the time my husband called to say his train was running late.  I told him as long as he was warm and dry then it didn't matter how long it took him to come home.  I'd rather he was stuck on a train than in a car on the expressway.  His train had to go backwards on the track and switch tracks before he could get home.  It took 90 minutes more than expected, but he was home.

We spent the rest of the night listening to the winds howl.  We had a crazy mix of snow, wind, thunder and lightening.  Our lights flickered a few times and we made plans in case we lost power.  The irony is we're upgrading our electrical service soon and putting in a whole house generator.  Of course, it's not in yet, so every time the lights flicker I shiver. 

The girls' school cancelled classes before school ended Tuesday.  My husband's office called about 11:00 p.m. to close the office.  I guess they were just waiting to make sure it was really going to be as bad as predicted.  The good news is they did close the office.

We awoke to an erie calm.  We jumped out of bed and started layering to go shovel snow.  Once we bundled, we opened the garage door.  Our first instinct was laughter.  A crazy high drift blocked our garage door.  It opened, but there was just a wall of snow.  Last I heard we received about 20 inches of snow.

We made it outside and started shovelling.  We shovelled a couple of paths to the road, which surprisingly was already plowed.  Across the street a young man was snow blowing the neighbor's driveway.  When he was done, we paid him to finish our driveway.  It was the best money we've spent in a while.

The rest of the day we'll fill with activities to keep the girls busy.  They will work on their Valentine's Day cards, practice piano, do a little homework, play, play and  play.  If the wind dies down later today, we might take them sledding.  Until then, we'll stay safe and warm inside our house.  It seems like the best thing to do today.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Together Again

For months the girls talked about being in separate classes for second grade. They discussed all the possibilities and decided they wanted to be in their own classrooms next year.  I talked to their teacher, who supported whatever decision they made.  This was important to us since she saw them all day. 

I was all set to email their new principal with their request to be apart next year.  When we asked them one more time, the plan completely changed.  They started crying at the thought of being separated.  They started hanging on each other and pledging to never be apart. 

I found it all a bit odd since one thing their current teacher stressed was that they rarely even speak to each other in class.  They played with other kids, ate with other kids and worked with other kids.  It wasn't that she separated them.  They just naturally drifted to other kids.  Still, they wanted to be in the same class again.  They lobbied for more than a week before I emailed their new principal.

In the end we asked her to keep the girls together.  There were a lot of factors besides their behavior.  They will be moving to a new school next year.  I think the separation is coming soon, so I decided to volunteer to be their room mom next year.  Also, their current teacher stressed the importance of keeping them in the advanced classes.  It will be easier for us to track their classroom differentiation if they are in the same class.

We're comfortable with the decision to keep them together for second grade.  Now we don't have to worry about it again until we discuss third grade.