Tuesday, December 30, 2014

And that's how we ended up painting on Christmas Eve

When Daddy woke up about 6:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve, I thought about trying to go back to sleep. We didn't have anything pressing on Christmas Eve until the afternoon. We did have one project we needed to finish, though, so I got out of bed just as he said, "So, are we going to go downstairs and finishing painting?" I said, "Yep. Let's just get it over with." By 6:15 a.m. we were downstairs with our coffee and tea in one hand and paint brushes in the other hand. It's not that we really wanted to paint the basement walls. It was really one of those things that happened because we knew what was going to be under Grammie's Christmas tree.

Grammie bought Mommy and Daddy an Xbox 360. We knew that the girls would want to put together the new system as soon as we brought it home. How does this connect with painting the basement? Well, the girls wanted to repaint their basement playroom to make it brighter. Our basement isn't finished, but we previously painted the concrete walls, sealed the basement floor and put down a rug remnant. They have all their Legos, Barbie's and other stuff down there. They set-up games and leave them for the next day.

The decision to paint came when I was talking to Uncle Dave. We decided to buy Grammie a new, really big, television for Christmas. She was having trouble seeing the bottom scroll on her current television She didn't want us to rearrange her family room so the television would be closer. The only other option was to buy her a new television. I told Uncle Dave that I'd like the old television for the basement. And, a project was born.

Once we knew a television and Xbox were coming to our house Christmas evening, we knew we needed to paint. Once all the new toys were in the house, there would be no way to stop the "when are we connecting the Xbox" questions without actually connecting the Xbox. We also knew that the basement needed a good cleaning if we wanted to make space so the girls could play Xbox.

So, for a couple of weekends we got rid of stuff. We took a car filled with stuff to Goodwill and put other stuff on Craigslist. We threw out broken toys, games with missing pieces and random items. We managed to create a lot of space.

We started painting the week before Christmas. I realized we could have put off the painting until after Christmas, but why? We didn't want to paint once the TV was down there. The space was pretty empty and ready to paint. We figured we might as well just get it done. The girls and I put on the first coat. Christmas Eve Daddy and I finished the project. The final coat did make a big difference. The space is bright and light now.

By 8:00 a.m. we were done. It wasn't how we usually spent Christmas Eve. Our normal Christmas Eve traditions involve delivering cookies to the neighbors, going to church, eating pizza on china and opening gifts. We won't add painting to the list, even though we were glad it was done when we woke up on December 26.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Christmas Eve mystery in the making

We were talking about what needed to be done today when Daddy looked at me and said, "Do you remember whose packages are wrapped in which paper?" I said, "Nope."

Since the girls have been old enough to read, we haven't put labels on their packages. We put all their packages into one wrapping paper so we know all those packages belong to one child. We put all the packages under the tree and it drives them crazy.

This year we used a couple of rolls to wrap their presents. It wasn't by choice. Daddy was wrapping when he ran out of paper. He used two different designs for each girl, never mixing so each girl's presents were easily identified. He told me which packages belonged to which girl. I admired his wrapping work as his packages are always so neatly wrapped.

Several weeks have gone by and now we're staring at the tree. Do the purple packages with diamonds belong to the blond twin and the purple packages with the circles belong to the brunette twin? Which girl gets the packages that have red paper with white circles?

In the end we decided not to worry about it. Once they start opening, we'll adjust as needed. It's not the same Christmas magic as before the big reveal, but it does add a touch of mystery to our Christmas anticipation. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Junior chefs in the making

A while back our girls informed me that they want to start cooking. It was a "we're 11 now so we want to learn to cook" statement. Since then we've let them help, calling them our sous chefs, when we cooked or baked.

The other day we talked about making risotto. The blond twin said, "I will make it." We talked about the steps, got out all the ingredients and started cooking. The blond twin did a pretty good job. She asked a lot of questions, paid attention to the details and kept the risotto cooking. I thought she'd get bored, but she didn't.

Her only real problem was what I'll call the "messy" factor. She stirred the risotto with all her might. Broth flew around the stove, often hitting the floor. At one point she turned to talk to me with the spoon in her hand. The risotto that was on her spoon managed to make it across the kitchen to the opposite wall. On the one hand, you can say our kitchen is not very big, so it didn't take a lot of effort to hit the opposite wall. On the other hand, it would have been better if she had put the spoon down before twirling around to talk to me.

In the end her risotto was very good. We learned that she likes a lot of garlic with her vegetables. We took some to Grammie, who gave it a rave review.

The brunette twin decided she was going to make dinner as well. She decided to make bar-b-que chicken and tater tots. She had been talking about tater tots for a while. She made a point of buying a bag when she went grocery shopping with Daddy last weekend.

We talked about the steps she needed to take before she started. The first step was to take the cast iron pans I store in the top oven out, put them on the stove top and let the oven warm to 400. I was in the basement when I started smelling smoke. I came upstairs to check on the brunette twin's progress when I hit a smoke cloud. The first thing we did was open some windows. We had to be just a few minutes from having the smoke detectors go off.

As soon as I walked into the kitchen, I knew why smoke filled our house. The brunette twin forgot to take the cast iron pans out of the top oven. The last thing I cooked in the cast iron pans was bacon, so it was warmed up and smoking. Once we cleared the smoke, the brunette twin finished making our tasty dinner.

Some day the girls will be very good cooks. They are interested in how ingredients go together and adventurous with their ideas. It's what keeps me going as I'm cleaning risotto off the wall or turning on fans to clear smoke. I remind myself that the learning process is messy, but the end result is delicious.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The big reveal

Last night at dinner the girls relentlessly sprayed us with questions about Santa. The brunette twin just kept asking questions in a rapid fire style. We couldn't even answer them because she was moving so quickly. She went on and on and on. The blond twin threw in her own questions whenever her sister gave her a chance. The questions made it clear the girls discussed their questions and possible answers before dinner.

This had been building for some time now. The brunette twin has been pushing us to tell them the truth about Santa. The girls attend a school that resembles the United Nations. Their non-Christian classmates were happy to tell them that Santa wasn't real. We avoided a direct answer because we didn't think the girls were ready. Tonight we answered their questions. Within a few minutes, it was clear the girls had questions, but they didn't like our answers.

It's not like we were going to let them go much longer without talking about Santa. Daddy and I just talked about this last night. I told him I would talk to the girls when we took down the Christmas decorations. We recognized how lucky we were to keep the magic alive this long.

The blond twin was heartbroken. She cried and cried as she sat at the table. I asked her if she wanted to sit on the couch and talk. She said she wanted to be alone at the table to talk. She didn't want to sit in my arms and talk. The blond twin went from topic to topic asking questions she didn't really want answered. Tears streamed down her face as she kept saying that she didn't want to believe it.

The brunette twin sat quietly. She knew, but didn't want to know. She said, "I wanted you to tell me I was wrong." She asked a few questions and then we talked about what comes next. Would we still make cookies? Would we still decorate? Would we still have a big Christmas morning celebration? She wanted to know how this grown-up knowledge might change our family traditions.

We explained to them that nothing changed for our family. They still needed to write letters to Santa if they wanted presents. They still had to make cookies to deliver to the neighbors. We would still decorate like we lived at the North Pole. They actually had a new Christmas responsibillity. They were Santa's elves. It was their responsibility to keep the Christmas magic alive for the younger kids.

I knew it was coming, but the whole thing felt like someone died. I thought I'd feel a sense of relief that we didn't have to avoid the questions any more. Instead it feels like their childhood is over and that makes me sad, especially during the happiest time of the year.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

You can move the Elf

We were driving home from seeing Mary Poppins when the brunette twin started asking about the Elf on the Shelf. We've had an elf for a couple of years now.

This year the girls saw it for sale at Target. They started asking about it, but I deflected the questions. I just didn't feel like dealing with it at that moment. Luckily the girls were easily distracted that day. At least I thought they were. The brunette twin just put away her questions for another time.

As we drove home, she explained that she knew the elf didn't really go back to the North Pole to report to Santa. She told me that she wouldn't tell the blond twin since her Sissy really enjoyed searching for the elf every day.

Now that she knows, the brunette twin is relentlessly focused on the elf. Every day she bounces down the stairs to ensure that the elf moved during the night. Whenever the elf forgets to find a new location, she is happy to remind me. She likes to tease me about the elf's location. She loves being in on the secret.

The other day she was just harassing me about the elf when I turned around and said, "You know, you could move the elf." She smiled and reminded me, "You know that's not true Mom. If a kid touches the elf, he loses his magic. Didn't you read the book?" Then she laughed and walked away.

She's in on the secret, but she's not going to be responsible for the elf. She's happy to leave that to me so she can remind me when I don't do my job. She has the best of both worlds as she keeps the secret for a few more days.



Monday, December 15, 2014

Someone needs to drive the car

My Mom broke her shoulder about six weeks ago. She was standing on her front porch talking to my brother Steve when she lost her balance. Luckily he was there to scoop her up and take her to the emergency room.

Since then it has been a blur. We've all pitched in to help Mom, who is really unable to do much for herself. You don't think about how many things you do each day that require two arms until you don't have one to use. When you add the medication to the mix, Mom was pretty much incapacitated for the first month.

I was talking to my brother Dave when I blurted out, "We need to start driving Mom's car." It wasn't the conversation topic, but it suddenly popped into my head and out of my mouth. I reminded Dave about last winter when we were in the midst of the polar vortex. We didn't want Mom driving on the snowy, icy streets so we drove her everywhere. This meant her car sat in the garage for months.

At one point she wanted to go somewhere and her car wouldn't start. Steve came out and changed her battery. It turns out that batteries die if you don't use them. Who knew? Certainly not me.

I remembered this while talking to Dave because we were going through a list of things we needed to remember to handle. Neither of us could remember the last time Mom's car left the garage. We talked to Steve and now someone drives the car every week or so.

Mom has a lovely, light blue Acura. It's about eight years old with not even 12,000 miles on the odometer. The inside is pristine. From the moment I got into it, I was nervous about somehow scuffing the interior or scratching the exterior.

I drove the car to take the girls to see the Wizard of Oz. We took it on the expressway for a solid 45 minutes each way. I swear that when I hit the accelerator I heard the car let out a sigh of relief. It was as if the car was saying, "Ah, that's what it feels like to hit the road again."

Friday, December 12, 2014

How old?

Overheard at Redmoon Theatre's Winter Pageant while the aerialists were twirling above our heads...

Mom:  "Those girls don't look old enough to be able to do that."

Brunette Twin:  "Right? They look about Sissy's age."

Mom: "How old do they look?"

Brunette Twin:  "About Sissy's age."

Mom:  "Baby, you're twins. If they are Sissy's age, they are your age too."

Brunette Twin:  "Oh, yeah. I guess you're right."

Friday, December 5, 2014

What's old is new again

The brunette twin mentioned that one of her teacher's went to the same high school I attended. He's considerably younger than me, so we didn't know each other then. She mentioned something about him wearing his high school jacket to show the kids. I said, "You can wear mine sometime. It's in the basement."

She lit up. She asked all about it. As soon as we were done with dinner, she wanted to see it. Of course, we started getting ready for school -- making lunches and checking homework. The jacket fell of the "must do" list.

This morning she made a beeline downstairs. She couldn't wait to find the jacket. She asked me about the jacket. I explained the zipper on the hood and why I received a varsity letter. The brunette twin asked a lot of questions about a simple jacket. She wore it to school, leaving the house with a huge smile.

We went to the Morton Arboretum tonight to see "Illumination" It was part art show, part light show and part garden walk. It was very interesting. The brunette twin wore my high school jacket. She was so happy to wear it.

I told her I'd get it dry cleaned if she was going to wear it very often. She gave me a strange look so I said that I'd wait until it was too cold for her to wear it. Even when I wore it there always came a time when winter required something longer and warmer. She smiled.

It's so cure to see her wear it. She's so happy to have it. As we walked out of Walgreen's tonight, she turned to me and said, "I just rock this coat, don't I Mom?" I smiled. It is certainly adorable on her. It's also fun to see my high school jacket on our daughter. I guess what's old is really new again -- at least for the brunette twin.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Yes you are going to be late

Getting the girls out the door in the morning is an Olympic sport. The brunette twin never wants to get out of bed. The blond twin takes at least 20 minutes to change into the clothes she picked out the night before. It's an exhausting way to start a day.

Earlier this semester I told them that they were now in charge of getting out the door. I wasn't going to yell at them to move faster, remind them of the time or move them along. They wanted to be more responsible and this was a good place to start. I told them I'd make sure they were up at the correct time; they had to take it from there. The experiment has gone pretty well. For the most part they move along with an occasional gentle nudge here and there.

This morning it all fell apart. The girls didn't get downstairs at their normal time. They were overtired and crabby for some reason I couldn't identify. They fought all through breakfast about nothing. They went upstairs to brush their teeth and hair. Twenty minutes later they came downstairs. As soon as she saw the clock, the blond twin started yelling at me. It was 8:10 a.m. We usually walked out the door about 8:00 a.m.

She said, "You didn't tell us what time it was. Now we're going to be late."

I said, "Yes, you are going to be late. Tomorrow maybe you'll watch the clock."

The girls begged me to drive them to school. I reminded them that we walk to school with Holly -- and she was expecting breakfast and a walk. Besides, it was a beautiful morning for a walk.

They were so mad at me. They started listing all the reasons their lateness was my fault. It started with "you're our Mom" and ended with "we're just little girls." They tried to walk really fast, but that's hard with you're walking with a dog who needs to relieve herself along the way.

Given how fast they were walking, I'm guessing they were just on time or barely late for school. I'd also guess that they will move more quickly tomorrow morning. I'm not sure they believed me when I told them I wasn't going to hustle them out of the house anymore -- until today.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pound what?

Overheard in our car...

Blond Twin:  "Your phone is ringing."

Mom:  "Yes, I hear it. If it's important they will leave a message. I'll check at the next stop light."

A few minutes later

Blond Twin:  "Your phone is beeping."

Mom:  "Yes, I hear it. I'll check messages when we get to Grammie's."

Blond Twin: "I'll do it."

The blond twin grabs the phone and starts scrolling through until she finds my mailbox.

Blond Twin: "Ok, it's asking for your password. What is it?"

Mom:  "Press XYZ and then hit the pound key."

Blond Twin: "What's the pound key?"

Mom:  "It's on the lower right side of the key pad. To the right of the zero."

Blond Twin: "Mom, that's not a pound sign, it's a hashtag."

Mom: "Baby, it was a pound sign before it became a hashtag."

Blond Twin: "No one calls it a pound sign anymore Mom."

Brunette Twin:  "Back in the old days it was a pound sign. Now we call it a hashtag, so you're both right."

Mom:  "Nope. I'm right because I'm driving the car. Now, press the pound sign and find out who called."

Blond Twin: "Ok, I'll press the hashtag and get the message."





Thursday, November 20, 2014

Calendar crunch

This is a crazy, busy week. I know I always think we're busy, but this week is particularly bad for some reason. We have the normal after-school commitments and something going on every, single night.

The brunette twin brought home a handout that said, "Congratulations. Your artwork has been selected to be on display at Barnes & Noble." She was so excited. Her sister's artwork has been displayed at the Stagg High School art show two years in a row. The brunette twin couldn't believe her artwork was chosen.

When I looked at the date, November 20, I reminded her that we already had plans. We were going to see The Grinch on stage. We had tickets for the musical for a couple of weeks already. The timing worked out so we couldn't see her artwork and make it to the musical on time.

She was so disappointed. She waited so long to finally be part of a student art show. Her friends were going to see her artwork and she wasn't going to be there. Tears welled up in her eyes as she took a deep breath and said, "At least I was chosen, right Mom?"

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tag you're injured

The school health aide called to say that the blond twin wanted to know if I could bring her some pain killers. It turned out the blond twin hurt her neck, but the school health aide didn't have much information about how it happened.

I drove up to give her some ibuprofen. We have long known that the school cannot give any medications without a doctor's prescription. Even over-the-counter medicines required a doctor's note or else the school was not able to  dispense anything. 

Today I arrived to find her crying, with a ice pack on her neck. The health aide told me the blond twin hurt herself in gym class. Through her tears, the blond twin told me that she was playing tag in gym class when she felt pain in her neck. Right after that she wasn't able to turn her head.

She came home, took some medicine and panicked for a while. She worried that she would never be able to move her neck again. She asked if she needed surgery. She wondered if she would be able to go horseback riding again. The blond twin rambled all these things through her tears.

The ibuprofen kicked in just in time for her to sleep for a while. I massaged her neck, with plenty of direction of course. The blond twin certainly wasn't going to let me massage her neck without making sure I was doing it properly. She was injured, but she was still trying to be in control.

By the time I went to get the brunette twin from school the blond twin had been sleeping for more than an hour. The blond twin was so happy to see her twin that she seemed to have forgotten about her sore neck. It didn't take long before she moved the wrong way and the pain came back.

We kept her full of ibuprofen until she went to bed. She slept with her dog at her feet and her favorite critter in her arms. As I watched her sleep, I kept thinking, "She hurt herself playing tag?"



Thursday, November 13, 2014

Stomach aches and tears

The brunette twin and I were walking home with Holly on Monday just laughing and chatting. We were about a block from home when we stopped. I grabbed my phone and dialed 911. We saw Kiki running loose. We knew we were in trouble.

Kiki belonged to a family who thought the proper way to handle a dog was to leave it outside all day and night on a short tie-up. Rain, snow, storms, bitter cold? Kiki was always outside. At least she was outside when she wasn't running away.

We had a history with Kiki. She bit Oreo, but she didn't draw blood so the police simply wrote a ticket. They didn't complete the required bite report because Oreo wasn't bleeding. I knew we were in trouble when Kiki started charging towards us.

Kiki jumped on Holly and started biting her. The brunette twin kicked Kiki while I yelled at the 911 operator. She was asking questions, but it was so loud. Kiki was attaching the brunette twin and Holly. I screamed at Kiki and kicked at the dog.

Poor Holly had no idea what was going on. She had never fought with another dog. She viewed all dogs as friendly. She thought all dogs just wanted to play. It wasn't until Kiki started biting her head that Holly decided enough was enough. At that moment, a neighbor started calling Kiki. He managed to get Kiki in the backyard as the police arrived.

I'd say the story had a happy ending because Holly had small injuries, but nothing serious. The brunette twin and I took Holly to the vet. The brunette twin and I were able to talk and cry a bit before we picked up the blond twin from her after-school activity.

The blond twin missed the attack. She was at an after-school program blissfully unaware that her twin and dog were being attacked. From the moment she heard about it, the blond twin started crying. She was shaking when she heard the brunette twin tell the story. The blond twin hugged her dog, cried and kept saying she was sorry. We told her that there wasn't anything she could have done to prevent it. She seemed to understand.   

For the past two nights, the blond twin hasn't slept. She wakes up with stomach aches, headaches and cramps. She spent her mornings complaining about how she felt sick. Tuesday was Veteran's Day so the girls were off school. Wednesday morning she cried at the dining room table because she felt so badly. We let her stay home from school.

Holly was her usual self for the most part. Her ear started bleeding Wednesday night. The blond twin wasn't as lucky. She hasn't been able to forgive herself for not taking care of her dog. The brunette twin also talked about how she should have protected Holly.

All I keep thinking about is how angry I am at the family who was supposed to be caring for Kiki. They weren't able to do their job and now we're left with the after effects.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Stay focused

We told the girls they had to clean their stuff before Christmas decorations went up. We have been really busy, so we haven't been very good about keeping up with our "one in, one out" rule. After a couple of hours going through drawers, cleaning closest and rearranging shelves, the girls called us to their room.

When we walked in we found a garbage bag ready to go out, a pile to be donated and lots of clean surfaces. We were admiring their work when I saw an untouched bin on the floor. I looked at it and hesitated.

The brunette twin saw me look at the bin. She said, "Mom, let's focus on the good stuff, ok?" At that moment she put her hand on my chin and turned my head back towards her amazingly clean dresser top. She proceeded to waive her hand over the dresser top as if to remind me about what a great job she did cleaning it.

When I tried to turn my head, she guided me back to her dresser. She said, "Mom, stay focused. The good stuff remember?"

Sunday, November 9, 2014

One two three five

The girls had their Fall Student Horse Show yesterday. Unlike the first horse show we attended, we were ready this time.

Two weeks ago we went to Goodwill to find some Western-style shirts. We stopped at JoAnn's Fabrics to by some glittery embellishments. I sewed the embellishments to the collars and cuffs. As we learned last time, Rhinestone Cowboy was more than a song. For these horse shows, even in-house, student shows, it was an expectation.

The girls went to bed early so they had plenty of sleep. They woke up early because they were so excited. We called about 8:45 a.m. to find out which group was showing. We were running tight on the schedule and wanted to make sure we had plenty of time. When the brunette twin hung up the phone, we decided I could make breakfast. If we had been running late, breakfast would have been cereal and milk.

By the time the girls got ready and out of the house, we were a little later than we planned. We weren't worried because we called to confirm the schedule. When we arrived at the check-in table, we discovered we almost missed their group. Their instructor originally told us they were going to compete in the beginner class. Even though they moved up to advanced beginner, she didn't think they had been in advanced beginner long enough to compete in that class.

When we arrived at the check-in table, we found out that the girls had been moved up to advanced beginner. When they were creating classes, they realized the beginners were really, really beginners. The girls were far better than those kids so it wasn't really fair to put them all in the same group. Luckily we arrived at the moment we did. We pinned the girls' numbers on their glittery shirts and they ran in back to get on their horses. Their class was up just after we arrived

They competed with smiles spreading from ear to ear. When the judges handed out ribbons for the first class, we waited for the girls to react. We pinned their numbers on so quickly that we didn't even pay attention. When the announcer called out numbers, we didn't know if those numbers belonged to our girls or not.

In the end the blond twin walked away with first place and fifth place ribbons. The brunette twin clutched second place and third place ribbons. They were thrilled that they rode so well against more experienced riders. We were happy that they were so excited.

They immediately started making plans for the next horse show -- shirts, hair styles, etc. Mommy & Daddy immediately made a mental note to get their earlier the next time. It was good that the girls didn't have time to get nervous about being moved up a class, but we don't want to cut it that close again.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

From cute to cannibalism


When the girls were little I started saying, “I'm going to eat you for lunch.” They’d laugh when I said, “What do you taste like?” If they were playing along, they’d say something I liked. If they didn’t want to play, they’d say, “Hot dogs.” I’d immediately let them off my lap. They’d laugh and run away to play.

The other night I said to the blond twin, “I’m hungry. I think I’m going to eat you for dinner. What do you taste like?” She looked at me, rolled her eyes and said, “That’s cannibalism. You can’t eat me for dinner.”

Just like that the game came to an end. It’s cute when your daughter says she tastes like a strawberry and you tickle her. It’s not cute when your daughter declares you’re a cannibal.

Friday, October 31, 2014

On second thought

I was putting up some Halloween decorations last night when I had a startling realization. As I stood at the end of our driveway staring at the white plastic ghosts and spider webs, it occurred to me that putting up caution tape on the trees probably wasn't the best idea.

We've put up caution tape for the past few years. When we had our patio put in, the contractor left a big roll of caution tape. We've used it every Halloween since then.

This year, though, I didn't take into account recent events. It was probably not a very good idea to put up caution tape in a neighborhood still recovering from the recent plane crash. No one came out with any comments, but I'm sure at least one of the neighbors is wonder what I was thinking -- and rightfully so.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Like daughter, like dog

Yesterday I came home from the store to a quiet house. Usually when I come back into the house, Holly waits by the door to greet me. It's as if she was left alone for hours, even if I just go to check the mail. Yesterday she wasn't anywhere on the first floor.

I saw some stuff that had been on my desk scattered on the family room floor. I knew why Holly wasn't greeting me.

I made soup for lunch. When I brought it to my desk, I put the bowl on a cork hot pad. I put the dishes in the dishwasher before heading to the store, but left the hot pad. I didn't have a reason for leaving it there. I just didn't move it before leaving. The last thing I did before I left was turn off the TV. This requires two remotes in our house. I was standing by my desk. I put the remotes on the hot pad and left.

Since Holly didn't offer a detailed explanation. my best guess was that she was sniffing around the hot pad, managed to pull it off the desk, dropped the remotes on the hardwood floor and ran upstairs after the noise from the remotes hitting the hardwood frightened her.

In fact, she stayed upstairs for about two hours. She didn't come down until I called her to go get the girls from school. Even then she came down slowly, with her ears back -- as if she was waiting to get into trouble.

When the girls were younger, the blond twin put herself on time out one day. We never did figure out why. She simply announced that she was bad and she was putting herself on time out. As we walked to school yesterday I thought about how funny that was, and how funny it was that Holly did the same thing when she misbehaved.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The crash that never ends

Every once in a while someone will ask if everything is quiet in the neighborhood now that the crash is cleaned up. I just sigh and say it might be out of the news, but in our neighborhood, the plane crash is still an active, living creature.

The plane pieces were all gone by the time we arrived home after a long weekend in Lexington KY. I kept passing the site looking for signs of the crash. Other than the candle/flower/ribbon memorial, you'd never know anything happened. Of course, I didn't realize then what was about to happen.

For days after the crash our block was busy with what I called "crash tourists." People kept driving around trying to figure out where the crash happened. We always knew which cars were crash tourists as they drove very slowly, like they were searching for what they saw on the news. Sometimes these people just wanted to see the site. Sometimes they got out of their cars like they were exploring something interesting. At some point the neighbor closest to the crash site put up "private property" signs around his yard. His house was the one everyone saw on the news, with the destroyed Cadillac SUV in the driveway. People started wandering the closest yards like they were on a sightseeing tour.

Every few days there was activity at the plane crash site. Mostly there were investigators doing their jobs. We never asked what they were doing. We knew they were there because police cars would position themselves at either end of the block. As soon as we saw a police car, we knew we had to go around the block.

One afternoon, about a week after the crash, Daddy and I were standing at the school pick-up corner with Holly. All of a sudden ambulances and other official vehicles drove down the block. A police vehicle positioned itself at the corner. The block was off-limits again. This time we had a sick feeling. If there were ambulances, it meant they were still looking for human remains.

Another day Daddy came back from walking Holly to report that there were officials doing a grid search at the site. He said there were a lot of official vehicles. I looked outside and saw a police car at the end of our block.

The next day we heard some strange noises from the crash site. Daddy walked down to find workers cutting down all the trees near the accident. The next day we saw that the house closest to the crash didn't have any landscaping. I learned later that workers in protective gear took every tree, bush and plant. Since materials from the plane and passengers were spread across a large area, everything was considered a biohazard.

We had a Mother/Daughter event at the girls' school the same morning that the landscaping was being removed. Daddy walked to the corner to ask the police to let Grammie come to our house. Everyone else had to show an identification card, but they just waved Grammie through. It probably helped that they could see her pull into our driveway from the corner.

We thought it was all done, but we then had more activity. A week after all the landscaping was removed, there was equipment working at the site again. This time they were removing all the grass and the top layer of soil. It turned out the grass was all considered a biohazard as well. The next day there were flatbed trucks with new sod ready to replace the missing grass.

I'm certainly not complaining about the work or the inconvenience. The plane crash was a terrible tragedy. It was just interesting to see what happened after the news stopped reporting about the incident. I can only hope for the sake of all those families near the crash site that the work is almost over. It's time for them to find some peace and quiet.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Lexington a great family destination

This was originally posted on The Chicago Moms.

We were looking for a place close enough to visit for a three-day weekend that seemed a world away from our suburban Chicago home. After clicking through a few ideas, we stumbled upon the Kentucky Horse Park. As soon as we found it, our horse-crazy daughters were begging us to take them.

Our research started with the Lexington Visitors Bureau website. While our girls would have spent three days at the Kentucky Horse Park, we wanted to sample more activities. As with all short trips, you have to make hard decisions about what to do and what gets put on the “future visit” list. Visit Lex helped us organize our trip into different activities on different days.

We started by creating three different day plans. One included historic homes and a downtown walking tour. A second one took us through the driving tour of small towns and horse farms. The third had us spending the day in the Kentucky Horse Park.

The weather was beautiful and sunny on our first day, so we decided to do the downtown walking tour. It was lovely and peaceful to walk downtown Lexington on a Sunday. We had a hard time finding a place to eat, until we stumbled upon Limestone Blue. What a find! The food was so good and the service so friendly that we didn’t want to leave.

We visited two historic homes during our stay. The first home we visited was the Hunt-Morgan House. Our girls studied the Civil War last year, so the stories about Confederate General John Hunt Morgan fascinated them. Our tour guide was informed and interesting. We also visited the Mary Todd Lincoln House. What was interesting about this historic home was that it really reshaped your vision of Mrs. Lincoln. When our girls learned about Mrs. Lincoln in school, their teacher focused mostly on her post-White House years. It was her childhood and education that really interested them.

We tried to go to Ashland, Henry Clay’s estate, but our timing wasn’t right. The funny thing was we probably learned as much about Henry Clay thorough other tours as we would have if we visited his estate. We saw Henry Clay’s law office during the walking tour. We heard stories about Mr. Clay at the Hunt-Morgan House and the Mary Todd Lincoln House. We read about him during our Transylvania University tour. Henry Clay had his hand in everything during the early days of Lexington.

Our driving tour was breathtaking. The rolling hills, white fences that stretched for miles, dry stone fences and fall colors combined for a relaxing tour. More than once I said to my husband, “I can understand the appeal of being here.” We were just a few miles outside of Lexington, but it was as if we had driven hundreds of miles. I could not think of an equivalent drive in the Chicago area. You’d have to drive for hours before you’d find that kind of beauty and serenity.

The dry stone fences fascinated me. Apparently, I’m not the only person who found them interesting. There was a display outside the Kentucky Horse Park explaining dry stone fences and the connection with Kentucky. There was something serene about the fences.

When we travel we visit the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives website to find quirky local places. The site came through again with a recommendation for the Parkette Drive-In. Our girls thought it was so much fun to have our food ordered via the old-fashioned, two-way speaker. It seemed like ordering food via a speaker would be old, considering that they grew up with the technology at businesses from pharmacies to restaurants. The whole atmosphere was a throw-back to a time when their parents were little kids, about their age.  We told stories about going to a place like the Parkette Drive-In with our parents. The food was good; the bonding was better.

The Kentucky Horse Park lived up to our girls’ horse dreams. The first thing we noticed was how beautiful it was as you scanned the grounds. It was pristine and picturesque from every angle. As soon as we entered, our girls put their carefully planned day into action. We managed to see nearly everything, and still took a horseback ride. The Horses of the World show was beautiful and interesting. We managed to learn a lot about different breeds in a short time. The Hall of Champions was in mourning as Cigar had recently died. The flowers outside his stall added depth to the show, which brought back memories for even the most casual horse-racing fan.

Our Kentucky Horse Park planning misstep was that we didn’t allow enough time to wander the International Museum of the Horse. We were able to see most of the exhibits, but there was more we wanted to see. The International Museum of the Horse is a highly interactive place with ways to keep everyone entertained in all galleries. Our girls sat in a tent listening to Arabian horse legends in the Al-Marah Arabian Horse Galleries. They watched as Mom and Dad told stories during the Calumet Farm: Five Decades of Champions exhibit – in part because they didn’t believe that we actually knew anything about horses. They thought they were the horse experts. When we went through The Legacy of the Horse, I kept pointing out how beautifully dressed people used to be at events like horse racing or horse shows. It was my not so subtle effort to reinforce the idea that flip flops were not always considered stylish foot ware. They started pointing out some of their favorite details to distract me.

From start to finish our Lexington experience was a delightful was to spend a long weekend for all of us. It took about 6 hours to go from Chicago to Lexington. It was a trip worth taking, and we’re planning our next Lexington visit already.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sorrow and gratitude

We were in Lexington KY when the call came. I heard the phone ring, but couldn't find the phone quickly enough to answer it. When I listened to the message, I immediately turned on my computer. Our neighbor called to say a small plane crashed on our block. He said our house was fine. In fact, somehow through whatever version of divine intervention you believe in, no homes were hit.

Now that we're home I'm very glad we were in Lexington when the plane crashed. Everyone from the neighborhood was at the crash site. The pictures were horrible. The stories were worse.

A fifth grade boy down the block talked about finding body parts on his front lawn. He said he saw plane parts everywhere. He closed by telling us that he was afraid to go to sleep and loud noises frightened him. He shuffled back and forth staring at his shoes. He said he didn't think he wanted to go to a haunted house this Halloween. It was heartbreaking.

Another neighbor was one of the first people at the crash site. He said it didn't look real. He likened it to a movie set. He walked through looking for survivors, but quickly realized no survivors would be found.

Other neighbors talked about the sounds as the plane passed over and the crash sounds. They looked grim when they talked about the days after when the neighborhood was blocked and you showed an ID to get past the police stationed at each end. It was all so overwhelming.

The strangest part was driving by the crash site for the first time. There were flowers and candles set-up as a memorial. There were some marks on the ground where the plane hit. Amazingly enough, there were no other signs of the crash. Somehow the plane went down without taking out even a street sign. I was told that a tree was hit, but I couldn't tell you where it was.

The neighbors who were here have a common story, which is gratitude. We are sorry that the three doctors in the plane died, but everyone is truly thankful that the plane didn't crash into a house.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Monday through Friday Nine to Five

When the girls started taking piano, Daddy said they could practice any time Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. In other words, they could only practice when he was at work. Now they are pretty good pianists so they can practice any time.

Since they joined the school band they are expected to practice those instruments every day as well. The girls are excited about having two instruments. They spent a lot of time yesterday talking about their new instruments and practicing. Of course, they've only had one lesson so the only thing they could practice was blowing into the mouthpiece.

I banished them upstairs into the spare bedroom/office. It wasn't that it bothered me, but Holly just hid when they started blowing out those high pitched sounds. It was an interesting reaction from Holly, who regularly howls when they play piano. She wasn't interested in howling with their wind instruments. They practiced upstairs while Holly stayed downstairs.

Daddy came home to find them bubbling about their instruments. They showed him all the parts and explained everything they learned. When the girls were getting ready for bed I said, "Remember the Monday through Friday 9 to 5 rule? I think now it's all practice, all the time." Daddy just smiled. It has been a standing joke in our house, but now it's done. With two instruments it will be all music practice all the time -- at least for this year. The brunette twin is already talking about dropping her flute to join choir next year. If that happens, then we'll get to hear her practice yet another new instrument next year when she works on her voice.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Pretty in paint

When I was in Girl Scouts, we received a badge book. We would flip the pages and decide which badges we wanted to earn. Now Girls Scouts go through journeys so they are assigned projects and badges. To complete a journey, the girls must complete a related community service project.

This was how we found ourselves in a shelter for women and children painting the common area today. The space was used for families to do their laundry, as well as for children to receiving tutoring or participate in activities. It was dark and cluttered and dirty and depressing.

We planned this for months. First we spent time talking about the families who lived in the shelter. We planned the space after considering the different ways the families used it. We looked at dozens of paint chips, talking about how different colors would look. We had an adventure buying materials at a local hardware store. We created lists so every family knew what to bring. We made a plan.  Today we executed the plan.

We discussed a division of duties with the shelter staff. There were only a couple of things we asked them to do. The big one was to get rid of excess stuff that accumulated there. People donated items to the shelter and what wasn't immediately needed ended up piled up in the basement. We had to clean out a lot of stuff before we could even start painting. Unless we removed some stuff we didn't have enough space to move the furniture to paint the walls.

The girls were natural painters. The parents alternately painted, trained and supervised. We were busy, but it was fun. Daddy and the blond twin painted a bathroom while the rest of the troop and the parents painted the walls.

The girls' cousin Zach came with us to help. He needed community service hours for high school. We needed his help to get everything moved, rearranged and painted. The girls all liked having Zach around. Zach went from being the youngest child in his family to being a big brother to five girls, even if just for a day.

It took longer than we hoped, but it was a job well done. The shelter staff came by to ooohh and aaaahhhh during and after the painting. We took photos to document their work transforming a drab, dirty space into a bright, pretty area with plenty of space for crafts and tutoring and relaxing. We were all covered in paint and tired, but it was a good kind of tired. Our girls were so happy with the project. They talked about how much fun they had and how happy they were to help the shelter families. They compared the amount of paint on their hands, clothes and hair.

We had hoped they'd internalize the experience and realize how much they have to give, not in terms of money, but in terms of their time and energy. They did finish their journey and earn their badges. I'm pretty sure they also learned that there is truly something satisfying about spending time helping others. It would be best lesson of the day.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

It’s time to stop complaining about Common Core

This was originally posted on The Chicago Moms

During our recent parent orientation, our daughters’ teachers explained that they would not have math books this year. The fifth grade students would receive math worksheets as the school decided to test Eureka Math. Apparently Eureka Math doesn’t come with a textbook. Now we get to spend our evenings doing online research so we can figure out how to help our daughters with this new math program.

It’s déjà vu for us. We spent last year trying to figure out Origo Math, a program with such terrible quality control that the fourth grade students spent a lot of time finding errors in the worksheets. Every math class became a game called “which problems are wrong today,” which annoyed the parents. It seemed to all of us that a company filled with mathematicians should have been able to create a program without so many basic errors. Origo Math didn’t donate the program. Our school district spent a lot of money on it. Last time I checked, no one was paying our fourth graders to correct Origo Math.
This year we’re subjected to another new math program. We have been told that Eureka Math aligns with Common Core standards better than Origo Math. In other words, last year the district used our children as test monkeys for a failed math program so this year we’re testing another math program on these same students. In the end, they have to unlearn Origo system and learn the Eureka Math system. We left the meetings frustrated and angry with the ongoing Common Core excuses.
It’s time for school districts to figure out how to implement Common Core. As a parent and taxpayer, I’m tired of hearing about how the school district is “trying” to find the best ways to implement Common Core. For years now our local school district newsletter has been heralding all the hard work being done to get ready for Common Core. They’ve outlined the arduous task in excruciating detail. Still, since Common Core has ruled our educational landscape, all we have heard is how our award-winning, high performing school district is “trying” to figure out what will best meet Common Core standards. Really? What have they been doing all these years?
This week our girls had substitutes two days in a row so their teachers could receive Common Core training. Our very expensive property taxes funded these meetings. As a parent and taxpayer, I’d like to understand what exactly is getting done in these meetings? At some point don’t they have to actually teach Common Core? Simply meeting and complaining about Common Core isn’t providing our students with an education.
I am not complaining about Common Core. I’ve read about it extensively. I’m pretty well-versed on the pros and cons. In the end, whether teachers like it or not, it is the new standard. At this point, I don’t understand why our school district, which had years to plan, can’t provide its core service – an education – to meet Common Core standards. From conversations I have with friends across our area, it’s a frustration parents in many school districts share.
Please don’t tell me how it has caused schools to reinvent themselves. In the corporate world we do this all the time. I look at Common Core as a new boss. In corporate America, new bosses show up all the time. You have to figure out the new boss’s priorities and adapt. We don’t get years to plan. We don’t have training meetings during our work days to analyze and complain about the new boss. We just have to figure out how to keep the new boss happy. If we translate this into Common Core language, it’s time for teachers to stop complaining about the new boss and just get onboard.  It’s time for school districts to figure out how to implement Common Core so that an entire generation doesn’t get left behind while they are planning. Illinois children deserve better than what they are getting.
Shari writes about life with her tween twin daughters at Two Times The Fun. Image courtesy of Free Images.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A drop of what?

Overheard at our house...

Mommy: There's blood on your neck. What did you do?

Blond Twin: I don't know. Where is it?

Mommy:  On your neck, right here.

Blond Twin: How did I get blood on my neck?

Mommy:  I don't know. Go wash your neck and let's see.

Blond Twin: Oh, it's not blood. It's pizza sauce.

Mommy looks at the Brunette Twin and sighs. Daddy laughs.

Mommy:  This is going on the blog.

Blond Twin:  I know.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

We're just tired

Sometimes at the end of the day the girls will look at Mommy and Daddy with some alarm and say, “Are you ok?” We nearly always respond, “We’re just tired.” They think we’re mad or sad or something else. The reality is that we’re just tired.

I blame the TV shows they watch. On the tween-friendly shows everyone is happy and smiling all the time. No one is every tired in a real, collapse on the couch to watch TV way. Even when they are sick they are perfectly dressed with full make-up. Oh, they might have a red nose to signal a cold, but the rest of them is picture perfect. No one ever puts on sweatpants and a big t-shirt because they just don’t feel like dressing any better on a day when they don’t have to leave the house. Females never put their hair in a pony tail just because they can't decide what to do with their hair. No one on TV is ever just tired.
Being tired is a universal parenting reaction at the end of the day, isn’t it? By the time we get the girls to and from school, activities and play dates; take care of the house, laundry, meals; do that thing that pays the bills (aka work); spend some time together; and connect with the outside world, we’re tired. I tell them it’s because their parents are old. I know that’s not really true, though, because I hear the same things from parents much younger than us.
It’s not really a complaint as much as I know it sounds like it is. It’s really just an acknowledgement that we live full, fun lives. Someday I know the girls will understand. I just hope Mommy and Daddy saying they are tired isn’t going to stick with them as our parenting mantra.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A kid like me

We took the girls to the Chicago Blackhawks Training Camp Festival last Monday. It’s a fun time with lots of activities and a scrimmage game. The girls get to sit in the stadium and experience the pre-game activities from singing the National Anthem to watching the videos that come on the scoreboard just before the players take the ice.

The festival used to be on Saturday so we’d go down for the afternoon. For the first training camp festival we took Mom and Dad to see the Stanley Cup. It’s now held on a Monday night, which means we race home from school, do homework, get in the car and drive to the United Center. Even though the girls had something to eat after school, they were hungry when we got into the United Center.

There were lengthy lines to get into the stadium. Even though there was a lot of stuff going on outside, we didn’t linger. We walked through to see everything and then got into a line. Everyone one in line wanted a Duncan Keith bobble head. We knew Daddy was already inside with our bobble head.

We got in and found four seats. The scrimmage has general admission seating meaning it’s first-come, first-serve for all seats. We ended up on the 300-level, just behind the American flag. The girls giggled during the national anthem because everyone looked like they were staring at us. The blond twin waved and a player waved back. She was thrilled.
We took turns going to get food so we always had someone in our seats. The brunette twin and I wandered the concourse for a bit looking for something she wanted to eat. The lines were really long. She kept moving to the next place to see if the lines were shorter. We ended up at a place selling turkey or beef sandwiches, salads and hummus. I thought she’d go for the hummus, but she wanted a turkey sandwich.
By the time we got up to order, the turkey sandwiches were gone. The brunette twin ordered a roast beef sandwich. We went to our seats and she started eating. She kept picking things off the sandwich to ask what they were. The sandwich had a relish with pickles, peppers and carrots diced into some mayonnaise. She devoured the sandwich. I took a bit and told her how tasty the sandwich was while she told me how much she liked it.
She went on and on about how much she liked the sandwich, saying, “Who would have thought a kid like me would like this so much?” I laughed because it was my thought exactly. The girl who won’t eat macaroni and cheese that doesn’t look like what she gets at home was sitting at the United Center devouring a roast beef sandwich with a pickle, pepper and carrot relish. And, she was loving it.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The big sleepover

The last 11th birthday bash was a sleepover. In the end we had eight girls, including our two. They arrived yesterday about 4:00 p.m. to a barking Holly. Within one-half hour we had a house full of girls, sleeping bags, shoes, gift bags and overnight bags. It was loud and chaotic. It was the perfect way to start a party.

All the girls wanted to play with Holly, but we made them wait until she calmed down a bit. Just like an overstimulated child is an unpredictable creature, an overstimulated dog is the same way. The girls drank punch, played games and settled into the party. Right after Daddy lit the grill, we put the piñata on the front tree. The girls lined up with the bat trying to break into the sweet pink flower dangling from a tree branch. The girls swung with intent, really smacking the poor piñata. As the candy started flying they all started running. By the time the piñata actually broke into two pieces I think most of the candy was already claimed.

After dinner we went to see Maleficent. The local community college shows movies outside during the summer. Most of the girls had already seen the movie at least once. They still wanted to go, probably for the free popcorn. The girls brought a soccer ball and played in spurts during the movie.

When we got home it was cake time. The cake was a masterpiece of sugar and chocolate. If you can picture it in your head, imagine a double-layer chocolate cake with Kit Kat bars on the sides and topped with M&Ms. The blond twin beamed as she picked out this masterpiece.

Holly calmed down nicely and was the main attraction. The girls kept stopping their activities to play with her. When they put out their sleeping bags, Holly plopped down in the middle, as if to claim her spot. We took Holly upstairs when we went to bed, but she wasn't happy about it. Throughout the night she let out a short yelp once in a while, as if to remind the girls that Holly was supposed to be sleeping with them. We kept her upstairs, though.

In the morning Holly ran downstairs to wake up the girls. Some girls were already awake. The rest woke up to Holly sniffing them and smacking them with her wagging tail. Several girls had to leave by 9:00 a.m., so it was a quick breakfast and out the door.

We couldn't have planned a more perfect ending to the girls' 11th birthday month. The girls all had fun, ate too much junk and didn't get enough sleep. Holly had all the attention she could ever want. It's quiet here now, but we have lots of pictures to remind us of the fun.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Eleven

When the girls woke up, Daddy and I sang Happy Birthday. The blond twin was so excited that Daddy sang to her that she catapulted herself into his arms. The brunette twin sat up in bed and smiled.

Their actual birthday was a bit quiet compared to the rest of their birthday month. So far to celebrate their 11th birthday, they have had five events.

*A bar-b-que with Aunt Linda and Jenny before Jenny went to law school
*Pizza with Aunt Mary, Uncle Terry, Mikki and Jim before the Arcola Broom Festival.
*Pizza with Brooke, Ally, Clark and Aunt Linda before heading to the One Direction Concert.
*A Space Golf family party with Uncle Steve, Aunt Reenie, Jake, Zack, Aunt Sue-Sue, Uncle Dave, Sami, Josh, Grammie, Mommy and Daddy. 

Today -- to celebrate their actual birthday -- we had dinner with Grammie, followed by an ice cream cake. We sang Happy Birthday to the girls and to Daddy. His birthday is soon, although it's usually overshadowed by their big day.

There is still one more event in their birthday month. This weekend they are having a slumber party with their girlfriends. It will be a fun ending to their 11th birthday month.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Connect the dots

Overheard at our house...

Mom:  Did you put your clothes away?

Brunette twin: What clothes?

Mom:  I did laundry today. I put the basket with the clean clothes upstairs. I thought I put it on your bed. Isn't it there?

Brunette twin:  Oh, yeah, it's there.

Mom:  Did you look at it? Didn't you recognize those clothes?

Brunette twin:  Those are mine?

Mom:  Yes. Otherwise why would I put it on your bed?

Brunette twin:  Oh, ok. I'll put them away later.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Almost independent

A few days ago I posted that the girls were going to walk home by themselves. This was a big step and I admit to being a bit anxious as I waited for them.

As they walked over the hill, I saw three girls together. A step back I saw Ayanna's Dad walking behind them. I laughed because I knew what happened before they told me. I thought about it for just a minute before realizing that I would have done the same thing.

Ayanna's Dad saw the girls walking home by themselves and thought I must have been running late. They told him they were walking home by themselves, but he decided to walk with them. It was a very kind gesture.

I told him that I would have done the same thing if I saw Ayanna by herself. I explained that the girls decided to walk home by themselves, even if the brunette twin wasn't quite sure. I thanked him for walking home with them.

The girls were happy to be home, even if they didn't walk alone. They decided to talk about trying it again for the next half-day. It seemed like enough of a victory to have just planned to walk home themselves.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Indoor Girl Scouts

We had a Girl Scout troop meeting yesterday to plan a community service project we're implementing in October. It was a lovely, cool day, so I organized the meeting on our patio.

We were a few minutes into the meeting when a bee came by. It wasn't angry or attacking. It was simply flying. Given the reaction, you would have thought an entire bee hive emptied on the table.

The blond twin swatted at it and shrieked. Julianna jumped from her chair and ran away from it. The brunette twin swatted at her head. Our girls went to preschool on a children's farm. They have spent days in a horse barn with all the bugs in those stalls. None of that bothered them. A single, small bee on our patio caused them to react like it was a bomb.  I told them to knock off the drama and pay attention.

A minute later Sarah started complaining that a mosquito bit her. She scratched her leg and scrunched her face. I gave up and moved the meeting inside.

Even if I woke up one day thinking tent camping was my favorite activity, there's no way this troop is designed for outdoor activities. Oh, we'll do outdoor activities, but we'll go knowing that there will be plenty of overreacting and complaining.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Splat

The blond twin spent some time Saturday morning trying to kill a mosquito. The bugs are so bad by us that we don't spend as much time outside as we'd like. It's a by-product of a wet summer that I'd like to return.

She tracked it in our kitchen for a while before squealing, "I got it!" I said, "Nice job." Daddy turned around to see her success and said, "Blondie, nice hit" before he sighed. The blond twin smashed the mosquito on the kitchen sheers. One panel had a smooshed mosquito right in the middle.

I just shook my head and thought, "Of course the blond twin smashed a mosquito across our white sheers. This is why everything in our house is machine washable." After that fleeting thought, I thanked her for killing the mosquito. A dead mosquito is a good mosquito in my world, even if it means the sheers get washed.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The big reveal

We arrived at Aunt Linda's with pop and pizza. We all chatted about random things while we waited for Brooke, Alex (aka Ally), Clark and Kayleigh to arrive. Aunt Linda made a nice vegetable salad and a peach/raspberry salad to go with the pizza. We started eating dinner before the others arrived.  I wanted to make sure the girls ate before they went to the concert. The girls chatted as they ate their pizza and salads.

When Brooke, Alex, Clark and Kayleigh arrive it was about 5:20 p.m. The girls finished eating, which was perfect because we were starting to run out of time -- even though they didn't know it yet. We were chatting about shopping when I asked Brooke if she had any plans. She said no. I handed her an envelop that said Merry Christmas. I handed the girls an envelop that said Happy Birthday. Both opened their envelopes.

Brooke and Alex were so excited. Both had huge smiles on their faces. Our girls just looked at the print-outs. Rather than the screams I expected, they looked confused. The blond twin said something about not knowing what was on the paper. Brooke read it to her. Both girls started to understand, but neither really got it yet. We chatted about some details and sped off with a flurry of hugs and kisses. We left Aunt Linda with a big mess of dishes and empty containers.

We drove to the concert, but traffic was a mess. About a mile from Soldier Field, the four girls and I got out of the car in the middle of Columbus Drive. We made our way over to the lakefront, leaving Daddy to get out of traffic and park the car.

As we walked over, the girls still weren't sure about the tickets. The blond twin asked if they really had seats. The brunette twin told me that it would be really mean if we were just walking Brooke and Alex to the concert and they didn't get to go too. I explained that they were really going. They smiled, but didn't commit to being excited.

I left them in front of the Field Museum. There was a stream of girls and their family/friends heading towards the concert. I walked back to meet Daddy at Buckingham Fountain. I couldn't stop smiling as I walked back. I hoped the girls started smiling when they realized they were actually going to the concert.

Daddy and I wandered the South Loop. We stopped by Chicago Summer Dance to watch people dancing to various country songs. People had picnics set-up; parents danced with children; couples danced together. We marveled that this free event took place right on Michigan Avenue. We walked through a couple of hotel lobbies just to see what was going on. We ended up at a trendy diner, just sitting outside having desert. The waiter said the place was filled with girls the past two nights. He couldn't believe that One Direction could sell out two 65,000 seat shows.

We were close enough that we could have heard the crowd roar when One Direction took the stage. We heard the roar at the end of the 5 Seconds of Summer opening act performance. We waited and waited, but never heard the roar. We decided to walk over to Soldier Field and see what was going on.

I knew there would be action near Soldier Field, but never imagined how crowded it would be. The Field Museum's north steps were the parent waiting room. Hundreds of people sat on the steps waiting for their children (ok, their daughters). We walked up the hill to find another parent staging area. As we found a spot on the grass, we heard the roar and then saw the fireworks. There were lots of fireworks throughout the show.

After a while we left the grassy hill and wandered down towards Lake Michigan. We saw hundreds of limousines staged for departure. We saw dozens of bike "cabs" waiting for the show to end. There were police officers trying to keep everything running smoothly. We wandered towards a souvenir stand and started talking to three women buying stuff. They said they just met that evening. Two were from West Virginia. One was from southern Indiana. They decided to hang out together while their girls were at the concert. They did a little lakefront sightseeing together.

We settled on the Field Museum steps for the last eight songs. We started seeing families with young girls coming out early. A woman behind us said, "There's no way our girls would leave early." I thought the same thing, but our girls were older than these little girls. We saw the fireworks signaling the show's end and started heading towards our meeting place.

Alex wore a dress she referred to as "construction cone orange." It was that bright and noticeable. We were just starting to move from the Field Museum steps when I saw her dress. I said, "There go the girls" and we were off. A block later we were all together. Alex laughed when I told her that I spotted her dress.

Our girls were wide-eyed. They had so many fun stories as we walked to the car. They kept saying thank you and telling us it was the best birthday present ever. They wore the t-shirts Grammie bought them. Brooke and Alex were smiling and chatting about the concert. They all had a great time.

We dropped off Brooke and Alex before heading home. The girls fell asleep in the car before we made it home at 1:00 a.m. We're sure to hear more stories tomorrow and for days to come.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Anatomy of a surprise

November 2013
An email arrives with an advance purchase code for a concert. I almost delete it until I read the group name. I double-check to make sure I'm reading it correctly. No matter how I look at it, the group is still One Direction. I put the information on my work calendar and block the 1/2 hour after tickets go on sale to make sure I don't have any meetings at that time.

December 2013
I log in to Ticketmaster and wait for the magic moment when I can try to buy One Direction tickets. I think about how crazy it is that I'm buying ticket for a concert taking place Labor Day 2014. My first ticket options come up. I refresh the screen thinking that there's no way I'll pay that much money to sit in the 400 level at Soldier Field. The second option isn't much better. I refresh again. Third time is the charm as I end up with four pretty good seats. I purchase the tickets, trying not to look at the total cost.

January 2014
I start to think about who will be #4. I figure I'm taking the girls and one other person. I talk to Aunt Mary about Maddie joining us. She lets me know that Uncle Terry (or Grampa as Maddie calls him) bought Maddie One Direction tickets for Christmas.

May 2014
I happen to log on to Facebook a few minutes after Brooke posts a picture with the caption "Wine Direction." I ask if she likes One Direction. She says she loves them. Unsure if she's sarcastic or not (sometimes I miss that in Facebook posts), I email Aunt Debbie who let me know she really does have One Direction posters in her room. I email Brooke about the tickets. The next day I email her again to let her know I have four tickets so if she wants to bring a friend, she can. A few days later we're set. The girls are going to see One Direction with Brooke and her friend.

August 2014
I wake up realizing that the concert is two weeks away and I haven't finalized plans with Brooke. After a bit of back and forth, we decide to meet at a pizza parlor near Aunt Linda's apartment. We decide to take the four girls to and from the concert.

Daddy starts asking the girls about One Dimension (as he calls them). They roll their eyes like he's some annoying boy at school. When we find out that 5 Seconds of Summer is the opening act, we ask them if they like the band. It turns out 5 Seconds of Summer sings a song the brunette twin can't stop singing. All is well.

After I check the tickets, we realize we cannot meet at the pizza parlor. The concert is earlier than I remembered. If there is a long wait at the pizza parlor, the girls will be late for the concert. We ask Aunt Linda if we can bring pizza to her house. She agrees to host everyone. It will be a quick visit as we're invading for an hour and then rushing off.

One week to go and I'm antsy every day. I can't believe we're so close to pulling off the surprise. We tell the girls we're meeting Brooke and Clark for pizza. I put a bag on the spare bed in the office. As I think of things I put them in the bag.

I call Grammie to see if she wants to buy the girls concert t-shirts for their birthdays. She likes the idea. The next day she shows up with birthday cards with the concert cash inside. Those immediately go into the bag.

I start watching the weather obsessively. It seems to rain every day lately. Of course there is rain in the Saturday forecast. I start looking for some disposable rain ponchos. We have had these things around the house for about a decade. Of course, now that I want them I can only find one. At 11:00 p.m., I leave Daddy a message asking if he knows where the rain ponchos are hiding. The next day he comes home from work to find the missing three rain ponchos. He puts them in the bag.

We wait until two days before the concert to print the tickets. I put them in two envelopes -- Happy Birthday for the girls and Merry Christmas for Brooke. I put those in the bag. The next day I print the tickets again and put them in my purse. Why print back-up tickets? In my head I envision the girls getting so excited when they open the envelop that they rip the tickets. I consider printing back-up tickets my way of getting a good night's sleep.

We see the concert on the news. The girls are fast asleep, but I make sure to check the newspaper before they wake up. There is not a story about the concert, so I leave it on the breakfast bar.

We're headed to Aunt Linda's with everything in the car. Now all we have to do is give them their tickets and get them to the show.

It's time to let the shrieking begin.