Friday, July 29, 2011

Backseat Driver

Someday the brunette twin is going to start driving and I cannot wait.  While most parents dread the day their children drive, I'm looking forward to it.

I'm going to be a total backseat driver.  I figure it's only appropriate given that she's such a backseat driver now.

Here is my favorite exchange from the past few days:

Mom, how fast are you going?  The speed limit signs says 40.  I don't think your speedometer is on 40.

No, I'm going 42.

You have to go exactly 40 or else you are speeding.

It would be nice, but it is really hard to drive at the exact speed.  Sometimes you're a couple of miles over.  Sometimes you're a couple of miles under.  As long as you are not too fast, it's okay.

Well, I hope there isn't a police car around so you don't get a ticket.

She spends her time noticing -- and commenting on -- what everyone in every car around us is doing.  This person is on the phone.  That's bad isn't it?  This person is driving with only one hand on the wheel.  That's bad isn't it?  This person didn't use a turn signal when he turned.  That's bad isn't it?

Oh yeah, all these things will come back to haunt her when she starts driving.  Until then I'll just keep filling my mental filing cabinet with all her favorite sayings.  I want to make sure to repeat them from the back seat when she starts driving.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Just Say Yes

There has been so much going on lately that it has been hard to really relax.  I think we're doing a good job of keeping the girls' world as normal as possible, but it must be started to wear on us.  At least once a day, the brunette twin asks me, "Are you sad?  You look sad."  I always say I'm just tired, but it doesn't really convince her.

We are tired, of course, but we are also sad.  Knowing how much sadness the girls have already experienced, continue to experience, and will experience soon, it makes me double my efforts to give them as normal a summer as possible.

They are the benefits of this mentality.  Lately I say yes to a lot of stuff I wouldn't normally agree to just because I want them to have some happy memories.  You want to have ice cream for snack after having brownies with lunch?  Yes, you can.  You want to go to a concert to see your friends when it's 90+ degrees at 7:00 p.m.?  Of course we'll go if your friends are going.  The blond twin wanted blond streaks, so we bought her Sun In.  The brunette twin wanted a a big purse like her friend Morgan.  I found one on resale for $2.  Of course she carries the purse everywhere now.

You want to stay up late and play Wii?  Well, maybe not because they're still waking up about 7:00 a.m., no matter how late they go to bed.  Hey, even I have standards.  If they start sleeping later, we'll add that to the "of course" chorus.

Today they had chocolate chip pancakes with whipped cream for breakfast.  We went to lunch with some Florida relatives.  After lunch my aunt said, "Dessert anyone?"  Of course they had dessert. 

I realize some parents would be screaming about how I should be teaching them they cannot have whatever they want and setting boundaries.  I realize it might seem like I'm spoiling them to make up for all the tears that fell, continue to fall and will fall.  Just last week we were driving to piano lessons when we passed a cemetery.  The brunette twin started crying saying, "I miss Aunt 'Lene.  I don't want her to be dead."

So, yes.  I'm spoiling them whenever we have the chance.  For me this summer is about pain and sorrow.  For them I want to find a better balance of silly stuff like chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast and chocolate cake for lunch so their 2011 summer memories are not all about tears and sadness.

Monday, July 25, 2011

For the Love of Shade

When we bought our house, there was a house across the street with lots of old, mature trees.  We didn't have any trees in our front yard, but we had lots of afternoon shade from the trees across the street.  Plus, we worked all day, so we weren't home until later in the day. 

Flash forward a few years and I'm working from home.  Suddenly I realize how much the burning, hot afternoon sun bakes our house in the summer.  Still, we have the trees across the street to provide some shade. Then the couple across the street sold their little house on the double-lot.  The contractor took down the house and removed most of the trees.  His plan was to divide the lot into two and build two houses.  Of course, he didn't get it started before the economy crashed.  The lots are still empty.

We planted a couple of trees in the front yard, which have provided some shade.  This last heatwave convinced us that we need at least one more tree in the front yard to provide strategic shade to our house.  No matter how hard our air conditioner worked, the temperature in our bedroom as always uncomfortable.  We slept in 90+ temperatures several nights in a row.

Obviously there are other issues, like perhaps a broken attic fan, but some shade on our windows would help a lot.  If we have less sunshine baking our windows, it has to be cooler inside, right?

If we had it to do over again, we'd plant a couple of trees in the front yard as soon as we moved into our house.  We didn't but we're catching up now.  We're about to plant our third tree in the front yard.  It's going to look a little crowded until the trees start to grow and separate a bit.  Once they get taller and provide some canopy shade, then we'll start to reap the benefits of our mini-forest.  It will take a while, but we know shade is coming.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Cool Fun at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater

We recently had an opportunity to review Pinocchio at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.  The short review is that we really enjoyed it.  For the full story, visit

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Princess Magic is Gone

It happened so quickly that I almost didn't realize what was going on.  The brunette twin said, "Mom, Julianna said that Pocahontas is a real person and she died a long time ago."  Since Juliana was at our house about a week ago, she must have been thinking about this for a while before she decided to ask.

We talked how how Pocahontas was a real person before she became a Disney princess.  They were interested in whether or not the Disney story was close to the real story.

Then it happened.

The brunette twin said, "So, are the other princess real stories too?  Or are they made up?"

I answered, "The other princesses are real people, but their stories are not true in the same way that Poccahontis' story is true." 

They both got it without another question.  The blond twin said, "Well, we cannot tell the little kids that the princesses aren't real.  It will make them cry."  The brunette twin agreed.  They both declared that they outgrew princesses anyway so it doesn't matter to them.

Just like that, princesses aren't real.  They moved themselves to the side of the older kids who keep secrets to prevent the little kids from being sad.

I was both proud and sad.  My babies are growing up to be lovely, thoughtful girls.  They didn't get upset that princesses aren't real.  They just worried about the little girls who might still believe in princesses. 

Still, I'm a little sad that princesses are out of the picture.  The world is so simple when fairy dust can sure most problems and princesses live happily ever after.  What comes next won't be nearly as sweet and simple for any of us. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Let the Sun Shine

The blond twin is obsessed with being blond.  Recently I suggested that her hair was really more of a light brown than a true blond.  A few days later a friend noticed that the blond twin's hair was getting darker.  The blond twin defended her blondness both times.

She keeps saying, "I'm blond just like my Daddy."  Of course, Daddy isn't really blond anymore, but that's a different topic.  She won't accept anything other than being blond like Daddy.

Recently she had a chance to admire her cousin's really blond hair.  While Alyssa paid for her blond streaks, she did offer this to the blond twin, "You know, there's something called Sun In that my friends use to make their hair blonder."  Alyssa, her friend and the blond twin had a lengthy discussion about how Sun In works and where to buy it.

From that moment on, the blond twin has talked about Sun In.  Last Sunday I broke down and bought it for her.

Yes, I know I should be telling her that she's beautiful even if she's not blond.  I know I should not be encouraging her to buy in to the idea that she needs to do something to her hair to be beautiful.  Still, I stepped up to the counter and bought a bottle for each girl.

While the brunette twin doesn't want to be blond, she does like the idea of having highlights.  They have a friend whose mom is a beautician.  This girl shows up with all kinds of crazy colors in her hair.  For Halloween she had orange streaks near her face.  One day she came to Daisies with pink streaks framing her face.  It's cute because she's so young.  If the brunette twin wants red highlights, I am okay with it.

Of course, I also told them that if they want to have pink or purple streaks they can.  The rule is they have to have normal color hair by the time they start looking for a job.  I made it clear I'm not okay with a head of pink hair, but a streak or two is fine with me.  It's probably something I should have cleared with Daddy first, but I didn't think about it.  While he doesn't care much about their hair, he might have an opinion on pink or blue streaks.  Now we'll never know since Mommy already gave the okay.

I figure that eventually they will lose the ability to wear pink streaks or spend summers in the sun so that their hair develops highlights.  If this is their idea of fun, so be it.  They should enjoy it while they can. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Just One Clutter Free Zone

If I had one wish for our house it would be to have one completely clutter free zone.  The closest we come to my wish is our bedroom.  Unfortunately, I'm not spending a lot of leisure time in our bedroom to enjoy the clutterless state.

Instead I spend my days trying to clear surfaces.  I don't know when the papers and crayons multiply, but overnight they seem to triple or quadruple.  I haven't figure out yet how books reproduce, but they seem to do so in our house.

My husband and I are constantly nagging the girls to clear off the buffet, remove the junk from the breakfast bar or pick-up the shoes near the door.  We have a rule that they cannot take out a new toy or game until the last one is put away. 

I am constantly cleaning closets and taking bags of stuff to our local charity resale shop.  I try to keep up with all the stuff they've outgrown -- clothes toys, shoes, coats, games, books, etc.  Still, we cannot seem to get a grip on the clutter.

Once in a while I walk into the kitchen and can see all the surfaces.  It immediately makes me wonder how it happened.  What special force of nature brought together the fates so that the kitchen counters are all clean?  Then I realize all the junk was just moved to other rooms and we start all over again with the clutter busting.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Past the Point of Being Believable

I read an article in which the producers of the Good Wife discussed recent political scandals.  They were talking about how so many times you couldn't sell the story in Hollywood because the decision makers would say, "It was a good story until XYZ happened."  Their point was that real life is crazier than anything writers dream up.

It's kind of how I feel about our world right now.  There is so much going on that we are well past the point of being believable.  My father is still in hospice care, and he's stable for the moment.  My brother is trying to rebuild his family after his wife's sudden death.  Now my mother might need surgery for her gallbladder.  It turns out she has a large gallstone, infection and fluid around her gallbladder. 

Swirling around are other issues such as my brother's father-in-law is in kidney failure.  He had a transplant more than a decade ago.  It is failing now and he's too sick to be considered for a transplant.  As I told him the other day, "I'm not minimizing what you're going through because it's horrible, but think about your mother-in-law.  Within two months she lost her mother and daughter.  Now her husband is failing and the doctor's aren't even pretending he'll get better.  She's having a really, really bad year."  He just shook his head.  It's past the point of being believable on both sides of his extended family.

In some ways, we're just muddling through.  Everything gets done.  The girls are having a fun summer, although Aunt 'Lene weighs on their minds.  They randomly throw out questions that we answer as matter-of-factly as we can.  They are playing, swimming and having fun with friends.  It's what a summer should be for them, although there are times it's hard for us to make it happen for them.

If anyone would have said at the beginning of summer that my father would be the least of our worries, I wouldn't have believed him/her. Now that we're past the point of being believable, we're just numb to any more craziness. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


The girls have been taking golf lessons for a couple of summers now.  Many of my girlfriends told me they wished they played golf because so many business activities revolve around golf.  I wanted them to play because it's one of the few sports you can play for life.  (Really, how many high school volleyball players are still playing at 45?)  They were interested because Daddy plays and one of their cousins attends college on a golf scholarship.

Last year the instructor said, "You know, the brunette twin has a really good swing.  If she keeps practicing, she could be pretty good."  I said, "Really?  That's good to know."  What I was thinking was, "Of course she has a good swing.  There are seven kids in your class and I'm paying for two of them."  Okay, I know that sounds a little cynical, but I know nothing about golf.

This year we moved to a new golf course for lessons.  This one is closer and the lessons are a at more convenient time.  The first day, the golf instructor watched the brunette twin and said, "I could put that girl on the cover of Golf Digest with that beautiful swing."  I said, "Really?  That's great."  What I was thinking was, "Ooops previous golf instructor.  I'm sorry I didn't believe you."

Since then the brunette twin has basked in the attention her golf swing brings.  A couple of weeks ago she was at the driving range when a golf tournament was about to start.  She hit some beautiful balls.  They flew off the tee, arched and fell far away from her.  Several of the men commented loudly enough for us to hear.  One man said, "You think she'll hit the ball off the tee for me?"

She came over to me and whispered, "I'm going to hit some really far and impress the grown-ups."  Then she went back to the tee and whacked a few.  I have to admit they were pretty good shots.

The blond twin does not like all the attention her sister is getting.  It's harder for her to hit the ball -- mostly because she's not really paying attention.  We spend a lot of time explaining to the blond twin that she needs to focus on what she's doing.  Golf is no exception.  She hits some really nice shots here and there.  Her putting is better than her shots from the tee. 

While piano is the blond twin's thing, the brunette twin seems to have some natural golf ability.  Still, just as I told the brunette twin she cannot quit because her sister finds piano easier, we've had to talk to the blond twin about continuing golf lessons.  She decided that she likes golf and will continue to play because some day she wants to golf with Daddy.

Ah, yes.  The Daddy factor came into play her for both them and me.  You see, my ulterior motive is that some day all three of them will golf the afternoon away together, leaving me in a quiet house.

It might be a dream, but it's my dream and I'm sticking with it.  Just like I'm hoping the brunette twin likes golf enough to stick with it until she gets a golf scholarship for college.  It worked for her cousin, why can't it work for her?  After all, a Mom can dream, can't she?

Monday, July 11, 2011

No Thanks, We Had Power Yesterday

Just last night my husband and I were talking about the next house plans.  The only thing on my list (after the patio is done) is a whole house generator.  We lose power all the time and it drives me crazy.  It might be for just an hour or two, but it's pretty regular.  Since I work from home, not having power is a huge problem. 

My husband thought we should put the generator on the back burner and get new front doors instead.  The ones we have are wood, old and in bad shape.  In the winter we get frost build-up on the bottom of the doors and the doors rattle in the wind.  They might be original to the house, and that's not a good thing.  I argued for the whole house generator and then we were too tired to talk about it anymore.

This morning we had a storm rumble through about 8:00 a.m.  It didn't seem that bad, but we lost power anyway.  It turns out it was much worse than I thought.  Nearly 850,000 people in the Chicago metro area are without power.

By the time I realized we weren't getting the power back quickly, it was too late to rent a generator.  The girls and I ran into the basement, lifted everything we could off the floor and waited.  The rain stopped before our basement flooded, which was a big relief.

The girls and I toughed out the heat until Jayne came by to take them to the pool.  The dog and I survived the afternoon, but it wasn't pretty.

I was starting to worry about the food in the fridge/freezer when a friend said we could borrow their generator.  She said, "It's little, but it works."  She was right.  It is little.  There are only two outlets, but it does work. 

Now the fridge/freezer is plugged in.  For the moment, I'm catching up on work (really, I am).  We might not have power for a couple of days, but I don't care anymore.  Cooler air is moving in and we have a generator.  It's not perfect, but it will do for now.

Oh, and the whole house generator just moved to the top of the project list.  We lucked out this time, but we recognize we might not get so lucky next time.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Time to Get in Tune

The girls practice on an old piano we inherited from my Grandmother.  Before it found a home in our place, the piano spent some time in the neighbor's living room on loan.  Our girls were too young for it and their daughter wanted to take lessons.  It all worked out.

When we go the piano back, our neighbor said, "You know, we never did get it tuned up.  Amanda decided to change instruments almost as soon as she started piano lessons."

The girls have been practicing for months on a piano so out of tune you can really only use one octave.  For their songs to date, that's been enough.

Recently, the blond twin started playing a song that requires her to move up and down three octaves.  What song, you ask?  Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.  It turns out this simple children's song is actually pretty complicated to play.

Now we have to get the piano tuned up.  Given that the piano hasn't been tuned up in at least 20 years, I'm guessing it will be a lengthy, expensive process.  We have a couple of keys that don't even work.

The good news is the first tuning should be the worst -- after that it's all about maintenance and keeping the piano clean.  At least that's what I've been told and I choose to believe it, even if it's not true.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

You Can't Quit

The girls have been taking piano lessons since the beginning of the year.  At first both girls learned at about the same pace.  They shared songs and learned the music notes together.  Then, the blond twin began to pull away.  A few lessons ago, their piano teacher looked at me and said, "She gets it."

Since then the blond twin has been speeding past her sister.  She plays with joy and bounces to the songs.  She reads the music and teaches herself new songs to surprise their teacher.  Sometimes she teaches her sister the songs.  She just gets it.

The brunette twin is moving along at the pace you'd expect a first-time, seven-year-old to learn.  She's learning at a good pace.  She's learning new notes.  She's perfecting songs.  She's just not doing it as quickly as her twin.

It upsets her to keep a song for a week longer than her twin.  She cried one day when she thought she played a song perfectly and her piano teacher corrected something.  She takes being at the same level as her sister very seriously.  It ruins her day every time she leaves lessons without getting a new song.

One day she said to me, "I don't want to take piano lessons any more."  I said, "Not an option.  Just because your sister is moving along more quickly doesn't mean you're going to quit.  You're going to keep playing until you get really good at it.  Then you can decide whether or not to quit."

Despite the fact that she complains about lessons, she glows when she's with the teacher. She likes to learn new songs and delights in her sister's success. She said she's enjoying the lessons.

Now, if she was really, really bad at piano, we might have let her quit.  Some people just don't have any musical talent.  This is not her problem.  She's a good piano player, but it eats at her that it all comes so much easier for her twin. 

The real problem is the precedent it sets if we let her quit.  There are going to be a lot of things that one of them will do better than the other.  This doesn't mean the one who has to work harder gets to quit just because it takes more effort.  They both need to learn that being good at something takes a lot of practice and effort. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Scrabble Flash Competition in Progress

The girls received a Scrabble Flash game for Christmas.  We recently opened it and cannot stop playing it now.  There are only five tiles, so it's a good level for the girls.  It's a lot of fun as the girls can spell a lot of works that are three, four or five letters.

Usually we play one parent and one child teams.  The blond twin has been on the last two winning teams, so she's sure she's the lucky charm.  At the end of tonight's game, she said, "I want to be with Sissy next time so she'll win."

It's a sweet thought, but it presents several problems.  What if the two of them don't win the game?  The girls will feel badly and we'll feel like we took advantage of them.  After all, shouldn't two adults be able to beat two 7-year-olds at Scrabble Flash?

The harder problem is what happens if they do win.  Do we really want to put ourselves in a position to be beaten at Scrabble Flash by our children? 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

That's art?

Overheard at the Morton Arboretum...

Brunette twin:  "Mom, what's that?"

Mom:  "It's part of the art exhibit."

Brunette twin:  "Really, it doesn't look like art.  It's ugly."

Mom:  "Art isn't just a pretty painting.  Sometimes it's just meant to make you think."

Brunette twin:  "Okay. I'm thinking it's ugly."