Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Walgreen's to Offer Free Health Care Services

In our neighborhood, there is a Walgreen's on every corner -- literally. You almost cannot believe how many are situated in such a small area.

I just read a story about Walgreen's that might help some people who recently lost their health insurance.


Walgreen's health clinics are offering free services to those who are unemployed. There are, of course, restrictions, but it's a generous offer from a company usually seen as a big, heartless corporation.

If you know anyone who can benefit, please pass along the story. In these crazy times, helping each other is the best thing we can do.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Are Our Schools Failing?

Schools are the HOT topic among my friends and acquantances. It turns out that whether you are in a top performing Chicago-area school (public or private) or a middle-of-the-road school, EVERYONE is worried about whether or not their children are getting a good education. It turns out that Jack Cafferty of CNN thinks we should be worried.


We all have different reasons for thinking our schools are failing our children. Some parents worry about the lack of art and music. After all, test scores are not based upon a child's ability to draw a beautiful sunset. No Child Left Behind doesn't reward schools where children are learning to play an instrument.

Other parents worry about the social aspects of school. I have a friend who was called into the principal's office because her daughter's teacher didn't like something the girl wrote in her journal. G is in fifth grade and she wrote that she hated the mean girls because they were calling her names every day on the bus and in the halls. G ended up being sent to counseling for her anger, while the mean girls who taunted her daily received no punishment. My friend tried to explain that all this did was teach G to lie in her journal, but the principal explained that clearly G had the issue. This is one of the top-rated school districts in Illinois.

I tend to think of the in-class time the girls spend as only 1/2 of their education. For them to grow up to be well-rounded, productive adults, I think it's our job to provide the other 1/2 of their education. Whether this is through trips to hear concerts or lessons in what is acceptable behavior in our family, it all adds up.

We won't know if we're successful in our efforts for quite some time. Until then, we'll keep doing what we think is best for their overall education and take some comfort in the fact that we're all in this together.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Favorite Children's Toy

Nikki at Slow Down Gym Shoe tagged me for a meme about a favorite children's toy. She wrote about Wikki Sticks, which are soooo fun. We first discovered those at Grand Luxe Cafe in downtown Chicago where they give out small packets of Wikki Sticks to keep the kids entertained until the food arrives.

In our house, the favorite toy is something so old I actually played with it as a kid. The girls LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Lincoln Logs. They will construct and deconstruct houses for hours.

I have to admit that I had doubts when my husband bought them Lincoln Logs for Christmas two years ago. Once the girls figured out all the things they could do the with Lincoln Logs, they were hooked. They will build entire villages, bring down some dolls, and play for hours.

My only complaint is that we need more of the long logs. I cannot seem to find a place to buy just parts of the set. We have lots of the small, connector type logs, but always seem to run out of the big ones. If I could find a few more long or medium logs, the girls would really be able to go crazy.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Match Set

I'm not sure I can even explain how much I dislike when people dress their twins alike. We have friends with twins who always dress them alike. If one gets dirty, both get their outfits changed. I know it's their choice, just as it is our choice not to do the "matchy-matchy" outfits.

I have managed to drill this into everyone who might buy clothes for the girls. We often end up with the same outfits in different colors, and I'm okay with that. It's pretty cute and the girls still maintain their own identities. Everyone is happy.

Imagine my shock when the GIRLS decided to start dressing alike. Recently they started creating matching outfits. One day is was blue shirts with their denim skirts. Another day it was peach shirts with their heart leggings. I asked them why they decided to dress alike and they said, "We're twins and twins dress alike."

I nearly fell over. I don't discourage them from dressing alike because it makes them happy. I don't tell them exactly what to wear most days. Usually I just give them some direction like "it's cold, wear long sleeves and pants or you need to wear a dress and leggings." Other than that, it's often a free-for-all. They have gone to school in some truly unique outfits. I figure this is the only time they can get away with wearing these things. If they were ten, people would think they were fashion-challenged. Now people just look at them and smile.

While everything I've read about twins dressing alike reports that the children hated when their parents made them dress alike. For now, our girls seem to love dressing alike because it is their idea. I don't know how long the matching syndrome will last, but they are having fun with it. Me, I just grin and bear it because they are so cute it's hard to dislike them in anything they wear.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Finding Balance

Saturday was a wonderful afternoon. The girls and I spent time with friends at the Chicago History Museum. There is a great exhibit called "Chic Chicago." The dresses were fabulous, as were the stories. One of the dresses from 1861 cost more than $10,000 and required multiple trips to Paris for fittings. Can you imagine how much effort that was back in 1861? A train from Chicago to the Atlantic, followed by a ship ride across the ocean? Yikes!

The girls were great while we were with our friends -- cute, polite, adorable. After they left, I took the girls for a short walk before we drove home. This is when the real fun started. The blond twin whined the whole time. "I want to go home to see my Daddy." "My feet hurt." "How far are we going to walk?" After a quick stop at the bathroom, we were on the way home.

On the way home, just as we hit a place where this wasn't an option, the girls started whining, "I have to go to the bathroom." It started as a slow whine, but it escalated to a loud, high-pitched whine with each girl feeding off the other. An hour later we arrived home. I was so angry at that point that I could hardly look at either girl. I kicked off my shoes and yelled at them. It was not my finest hour as a mother. All I really wanted was to go away somewhere for some peace and quiet.

Monday I got my wish in a round about way. It's Spring Break and the girls spent the morning at a play date. I picked them up from one play date and took them to the library for a program. Another friend's Mom offered to watch them at the library so I could go home and work. (Yes, we have very, very nice friends.)

After I picked up the girls from the library, I had to leave to teach class. In the end, I spent about 1 hour with them all day. I have to say that I didn't like it much. I missed the girls terribly.

I know I sound a bit bratty. Really, I do know I sound like I don't know what I want. First I complain that I need some space and when I had some, I missed the girls. I think it's part of the effort to find some balance, isn't it. We all need to be together, but we all need some space. For me, though, I need some together time and some space in the same day. Too much in either direction puts it all off balance.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

I'm Her

No matter what book we read these days, we cannot get to the story until we establish who is which character. Every person/animal in every book needs to be divided between the girls.

Sometimes it is easy. The blond twin claims all the blond characters. The brunette twin claims all the dark-haired characters. Some times it's a bit more hazy. Any character with red hair is open for negotiation. Boys belong to both twins, but not always based upon hair color.

Some days the people in a book are divided based upon clothing colors. Pink goes to the blond twin; purple goes to the brunette twin. Blue? Red? Yellow? All other colors become fair game. The twin with the fewest characters can pick up a few others depending upon how who has more in her stable.

When it comes to animals, it's a free-for-all. The girls fight over who is the elephant or dog or whatever.

This process adds a few extra minutes to each book -- and often a lot of frustration for us. This is especially true in a book where new characters are introduced in the middle of the story. As soon as a new character shows up, we need to go through the whole process again.

It used to be cute, but now it's just annoying. We once thought it was creative, but now we just say, "Do you want me to read this book now?" While we're rolling our eyes and mediating disputes, the girls are busy trying to decide if the blond twin is more like an orange giraffe or blue turtle.

Sometimes we try to move the process along by assigning characters to the girls. It doesn't work as well as we'd like it to.

I'm sure some child development professional would explain how this process is helping them learn to negotiate or perhaps that person would help us understand how the girls see themselves in the different characteristics each person/animal shows. I'd like to think there is some good that comes from the process, but right now I'm too busy trying to figure out why the brunette twin wants to be the bear in the book "Mud is Cake."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Twins and More

Recently I learned that a story I wrote was going to be published in the new Chicken Soup for the Soul: Twins and More book. It has been great fun to see my name in print and know that lots and lots of people will be reading the story.

One great side effect of having the story published has been the publicity surrounding it. I love this article from today's Chicago Tribune -- not just because I'm quoted, but because it's probably the only time my name will be in a story with Jennifer Lopez and Angelina Jolie. I think our book editor, Susan Heim, would agree.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

I Need a New Map

I need to thank the NCAA for helping me realize my current United States map is wrong. Last Sunday, when the NCAA brackets were announced, I realized I have been confused about where certain states are located.

As the brackets were being announced, I was excited that the University of Illinois was in the South Region. Since we're in the Midwest, this meant that all the games were going to start early and end early -- a bonus for someone like me who cannot stay up late anymore. I mean I used to be able to stay up late, but then the girls came along and started getting up at 6:15 a.m. every morning. Now, I'm nearly asleep on the couch by 9:00 p.m.

Anyway, as the brackets were being revealed, the announcer said, "The University of Illinois will play Thursday in Portland, Oregon." Now, we have been to Portland. It is a beautiful city in a beautiful state. We had a lovely visit.

Somehow, though, I always thought Portland, Oregon was in the Pacific Northwest part of the United States. I never realized it was in the South. Thankfully, the NCAA cleared it up for me. After all, if your team is playing in the South Region, this means the games are in the South, correct?

I'm glad we cleared this up before the girls started learning geography. After all, we cannot have them thinking that Oregon is out west when the NCAA clearly believes it is in the southern part of our country.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Loads of Hope from a T-Shirt

I was watching CNN last night and Anderson Cooper was in Louisiana where way too many people are still living in FEMA trailers years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region. I was shocked to find out how many people are still trying to put their lives back together, so naturally when the Tide's Loads of Hope Website came to my attention, I was interested.

This is an interesting program that started in response to a basic need of Hurricane Katrina survivors: clean clothing. In November 2005, the Tide Loads of Hope Truck went to Camp Hope in Louisiana and cleaned more than 10,000 loads of laundry FOR FREE.

Think about it. If you lose everything but the clothes you are wearing, how do you clean those clothes? It's not like they had (or in some cases still have) running water, soap and laundry equipment.

Even today, Tide partners with Feeding America to travel to disaster affected neighborhoods to help people regain some basic dignity. Clean clothes might not sound exciting, but in a disaster, think about how much better you would feel with a good meal and clean clothes.

Of course, this is leading up to a request for help. Tide sells cool, vintage-looking T-shirts to help support the program. Click on this link to see the shirt and order your favorite.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Fewer Fake Ingredients = Better Food

Our girls live a pretty organic, vegetarian lifestyle. In large part, this comes from my experiences trying to conceive them. In an early conversation with our reproductive endocrinologist, he talked about how there is so much stuff in food -- hormones, steroids, antibiotics, etc. -- that interfere with our natural bodily processes. He suggested we remove as much of the artificial stuff as possible.

He mentioned the studies looking at the connections between early puberty in girls who drink/eat a lot of dairy products and artificial growth hormones in milk. He also talked about other possible health issues related to the hormones in meat. It made sense to me and decreasing hormones from our food was an easy step to make.

One of the big changes we made was to switch to milk products without any artificial growth hormones. I read every label to make sure the milk was as clean as possible. It wasn't always organic as several brands have been way ahead of the curve on this issue.

Today's USA Today story gives me hope that hormone free milk is moving towards becoming the norm, not a speciality item. Let's face it -- the companies are not doing this because it is the right thing to do, but because it makes for good public relations. They are receiving complaints from consumers and reacting to keep their customers happy.

No matter what the reason, I hope this is the start of a trend towards cleaner food. I know this will have long-term benefits for me, but I mostly hope it helps the girls live longer, healthier lives.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Cooking Lessons

The girls are quite the little chefs. They like to put on their cooking aprons -- color coded to each girls' favorite color, of course -- and help Mommy make dinner or bake treats. While we were working on a batch of pineapple carrot muffins this afternoon, I realized they are not only learning a valuable survival skills, but some valuable lessons as we created our culinary delights.

Here are some of the important lessons I've been able to teach the girls while we cook together.

  • Always make sure you have all the ingredients before you start cooking.
  • If plan A fails, borrow missing ingredients from neighbors. Repay their kindness with a sample of what you are baking.
  • Make sure the mixer blades are in the bowl before turning on the hand mixer.
  • Never wear good clothes to cook, just in case the hand mixer blades are not in the bowl.
  • Cracked egg shells are very difficult to remove from batter.
  • Twice as much butter doesn't make the cookies richer. It just screws up the recipe.
  • The same goes for twice as much sugar.
  • When in doubt, blame the children for the funky taste.
  • Always measure twice as many chocolate chips as the recipe calls for so the helpers can munch.
  • Any vegetable buried in a muffin with cinnamon is immediately better.
  • Butter and brown sugar mixed together is an amazing treat. One taste per child or else you mess up the recipe.
  • Ground flax seed goes in everything.
  • Muffins will not bake unless you put them in the oven.
  • Nothing will cook unless you turn on the oven/burners/crock pot

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Power of Mommies

Our girls are too young to know who Chris Brown is or why his appearance on the Nickelodeon 2009 Kids' Choice Awards is causing such an outrage. Yet, I just signed the petition to remove Chris Brown from the show and as a potential award winner.

Since it reached the news in the last few days, the story has made its way through the vast and powerful Mommy network via blogs and email notes. If you aren't familiar with the details of the campaign, here is a story from E! Online Entertainment.

I decided to get involved in the petition when I heard a quote from a Viacom executive who said something to the effect of "it's not our decision. The children get to decide whether or not Chris should win the award." It's not an exact quote, but you get the point. As soon as I heard that, I went out on the web to find the petition.

I don't see any way that an (alleged) abuser should be held up as a role model and example for our children. Yes, I know he's known for his clean lyrics and family-friendly songs. This is why he was nominated. Once he was shown to be an abusive boyfriend (Really, do we have to continue to say alleged since it's all in the public now?) who beat and choked his girlfriend, then it's up to the adults to use a little common sense and say, "Hey, maybe he's not such a good role model."

One of our job as adults -- whether you have children or not -- is to protect children and either help them make good decisions or make the decisions for them. If Nickelodeon cannot figure out why it's wrong to leave Chris Brown up for the award, then it's our job as adults to explain it to them.

A big THANK YOU goes to Twittermoms, who spearheaded this campaign. I just saw a scroll at the bottom of CNN saying that Chris Brown has pulled out of the awards show, but that doesn't mean our work is done. Nickelodeon needs to understand that we're still watching to see if they pull him as a potential award nominee. If you haven't signed the petition yet, please do. It's not too late to voice your opinion.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Good Guy of the Day

I just read that Jay Leno is performing a free show for unemployed people in Detroit, Michigan. In these days of doom, gloom and more bad news, I think it's important to remember there are some good stories out there. It's just hard to find them some times.

Here's the full story


Monday, March 9, 2009

Next Year It's the Bus

I hate the preschool pick-up line. I am just not hard-wired to do this day in and day out. It's not the actual dropping off and picking up that I despise. Frankly, it's the other Moms (and yes, they are usually Moms) in the line.

It's not brain surgery. You follow the cones set-up in the school parking lot. When it's your turn, you let your children out of the car and walk them to the door. If you are picking up the darlings, you go to the door, buckle them in and drive away. How hard can this be? Well, apparently, it's too complicated for some self-absorbed Moms.

Here is what happens during a standard week:
  • Moms drive around the cones to get a better place in line. Ummm, great except now you are behind someone who still has children in the car, so you have to wait anyway.
  • Moms drive across the parking lot rather than exit through the designated location. Um, great except now the other Moms cannot get into the parking lot because you are trying to go out the entrance and you are blocking it so no one can get in.
  • Moms honk because you are not getting your kids back in the car quick enough. Okay, this mostly happens at pick-up time, but it's still obnoxious.
  • Moms drive around the parked cars to get to the front of the line -- never mind that they drive in the lane where the parents are walking with their children. They are in a HURRY.
  • Moms park their vehicles and decide to have a parent/teacher conference at the door. These Moms don't care that they are blocking the driveway for everyone else. There is something on their minds, so that takes precedence.
  • Moms have private conversations on their cell phones that we all get to listen to was we wait. Then they glare at the teachers who tell them they will not accept/release the children until they are off the phone.

I've talked to friends in school districts across the Chicago area and it's the same everywhere. I don't know if it's just another sign of the general rudeness taking over our society or if it's just that we suddenly think the world revolves around us.

The worst part is we see these parents at school functions and have to be polite to them. Most of the time I want to say something like, "Do you really think you're so important that you cannot wait for the rest of us to move?" I don't, although I do like to point out the idiots to my husband so we both get a quick laugh.

I deal with it in my own passive-aggressive way. I try to be the last Mom to drop-off and pick-up. I love this because I don't have to worry about the other, crazy Moms who honk because I cannot get my two in or out of the mini-van as quickly as they can move their one child. This means we're nearly late a lot, which I don't like.

Soon we have to decide what we're doing about next year's school transportation. Right now one girl REALLY wants to take the bus and the other waivers. We're not there yet, but I'm really working to convince her that taking the bus is a good idea.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Public Schools Rock

When we were looking for a house -- long before the girls were born -- I was big into making sure we lived in a good public school district. Some people think competitive private schools give their children an advantage in life. I've had people scoff at the idea of sending their children to the public schools -- and these people live in good school districts. They feel like private schools provide a better foundation.

Me? I think either you have it or you don't. I scored well on the college and graduate school entrance exams coming out of a middle-of-the-road high school. I went to two respected public universities -- the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Illinois at Chicago. I've been invited to the White House for a women's health forum, published in highly-respected academic journals and quoted in major daily newspapers. Not bad for a lowly public school student.

Here's a study (from my alma mater, I might add) that backs up the theory that private schools aren't always better. U of I researchers found that public school students do better than private school students on standardized math tests. There are a lot of reasons for it, but the bottom line is private schools are not always better than public schools.

Suze Orman was recently on Oprah talking about how crazy it is that parents will mortgage their futures to send their children to private colleges. She said something to the effect of "I worked three jobs and went to the University of Illinois in Urbana. I received a great education. And now I'm much richer than my friends who went to private schools."

I realize that people have a choice in where to send their students and that's fine. In the end, though, I think in the end it all comes down to the student. Either you have the passion, motivation and desire to succeed (however you define success) or you don't. No amount of private school tuition can teach you to be successful. What I hope we do is help the girls find their passion in life so they are motivated to succeed because to me that's the most important measure of success.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

We're Back to Cutting all the Food

When the girls were first starting to eat "real" food, we spent a lot of time before and during each meal making sure the girls' food was cut small enough for them to eat. As time went on, they were able to eat larger chunks without us worrying about them choking. Now that they are five, we'll give them a quarter of an apple to eat, rather than the little bite-sized pieces we would have fed them when they were two-years-old.

Suddenly, we're headed back to the days when they need their food cut up into little pieces. The brunette twin is waiting -- quite impatiently -- for both her top front teeth to fall out. She simply cannot bite anything with those wobbly teeth. The blond twin tells us her two bottom teeth are loose, so she complains about the pain when she tries to bite food.

It took us a while to realize what was going on. It's not like we don't eat with them every day. It's just that it's been a long, long time since either me or my husband were five-years-old and losing our teeth. We forgot how hard it is to bit into anything when your teeth are moving.

Next time you are ready to eat something, take a moment and try to bite a sandwich using only your side teeth. This is how we figured out that the brunette twin was having a hard time. She kept trying to bite food using only the teeth to the left or right of her front teeth. I was staring at her trying to figure out what she was doing. Finally, I asked her. I know, how basic. If you want to know the answer you have to ask the question. She explained that her she couldn't bite anything because her front teeth moved too much.

Now before we sit down to dinner, my husband and I spend some time cutting all their food into little bites. As I did it last night, I was having flashbacks to the days when we'd worry about whether or not the bites were small enough that the girls could eat without choking. I don't know how long this will last, but I have to admit it brings back fond memories.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Definitely Not an Oldie

I like the oldies station in Chicago. The songs are mostly from the beginning of rock 'n roll, say the 1950s and 1960s. The lyrics are pretty G-rated so I don't have to worry about the girls listening and those songs are singable. Pick any of the "girl group" songs and you can sing the words and do silly dances all you want. The Motown songs are great for that too.

When we were children, my parents always had the radio on. Our house was filled with music all the time. Many of the oldies bring back happy memories of my childhood. The current song has me reconsidering what I consider an oldies song.

Right now the oldies station is playing an Eddie Money song. My first thought was, "That is not an oldies song. I used to dance to that song in college."

Someone at the oldies station is definitely confused. Eddie Money is not an oldies artist. If he is, that means I'm old. While I feel old some days -- like when I am up all night with a sick child -- I am definitely not old. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

It Only Seems Like a Kid's Show

Sometimes adult entertainment masquerades as a children's show. A girlfriend and I took our children to see "Schoolhouse Rock" yesterday. It wasn't until we were about half-way through the Schoolhouse Rock performance that I realized it was the ultimate grown-up show pretending to be a children's show. During the performance, audience participation was encouraged. Do you know who was singing? The parents, of course.

If you are not familiar with Schoolhouse Rock, it was a series of educational cartoons which aired in between the Saturday morning cartoons. Each one is a minute or two long. The heyday of the series was in the 1970's. There were four basic categories: America Rock, Grammar Rock, Science Rock, Multiplication Rock.

It would be hard to underestimate how many hundreds of thousands of students passed the high school U.S. Constitution test by singing the Preamble Song. Seriously, ask anyone all the words to the Preamble. If they are the right age, they'll start singing the Schoolhouse Rock song. When we all took the test at my high school, you could hear everyone humming it. We'd all stop writing when there was a pause in the song.

The same thing happened at this show. As soon as the cast started singing the Preamble Song, all the parents started laughing and singing. It was an unspoken joke between all of us.

Our girls love Schoolhouse Rock because Mommy loves it. The three of us sang all the songs. Since the show featured the "best of" we all heard songs we loved. The highlight for me was the last song. The cast sang "Mr. Morton," which is my favorite song. Yes, I'm a geek. I have a favorite Schoolhouse Rock song.

So, there we all sat with our children. If you looked into the theater, we were enjoying an educational production with our children. To the parents, though, we were reliving a fun memory from our childhood.