Friday, November 29, 2013

Christmas decorating made easy

We're traditionalists when it comes to our Christmas decorating. Everything goes up the day after Thanksgiving. It comes down before the girls go back to school after Winter Break. Today we spent the afternoon putting up our Christmas decorations.

If there is such a thing as a sweet spot when it comes to Christmas decorating, I think we're pretty close. This year our girls took control of the process. While Daddy was putting together our tree, the girls started going through other boxes.

We have a few places we always place decorations. The girls quickly decided how they wanted to organize the decorations this year. All the snowmen were going to one place. The Santas were going into the family room. Other decorations were going upstairs.

They moved from place to place discussing each decoration. Watching them open each box was delightful for me. I know what is in each box, but I'm still delighted to open them every year. Our girls had the same reaction.

When it came time to decorate the tree they decided that their "twin" ornaments needed to hang together. Every year Grammie buys them an ornament. You can trace their interests by the ornaments. We  have ballet slippers, a piano, a mermaid and more. We have pictures of them at different ages. The girls wouldn't hang their twin ornament until each sister had hers in hand.

After working for two hours, the girls were done. They just ran out of energy to do anything else. We had a couple of boxes left that Daddy and I handled. We rearranged a few displays so there was a little space between the decorations. We cleaned up a bit and then sat down to enjoy our Christmas decorations.

It was fun to watch them work. They weren't able to put everything where they wanted so they still needed our help. There were a few panic attacks which were quickly resolved. (Where's my stocking? Why can't I find all four?)

In the past Christmas decorating has been an all day process. It was really something we did in small spurts as we took care of the girls. As the girls became more independent the decorating became ore fun. Now, with four people fully participating in the process, Christmas decorating is a quick process. And, it's still a lot of fun.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Oh please where can I find sleeves?

This was originally posted on The Chicago Moms

What is going on with all the sleeveless holiday dresses? I recently spent hours and hours and hours trying to find Christmas dresses for our ten-year-old twin daughters. Everything I saw looked like something they’d wear to a summer pool party rather than something appropriate for a Chicago Christmas.

Perhaps designers and retail managers don’t realize this, but Christmas in Chicago is cold. It might be 40 degrees, and if the temperature goes that high we’ll consider it a warm day. More likely it will be freezing or below, which is pretty normal for December Chicago weather.

What ever happened to sleeves on winter dresses? I had a hard time even finding a dress with anything more than tiny, cap sleeves. Who wears stuff like this in the cold weather? I hate to break it to all the clothing designers, but if you design something like that thinking we’re all going to show off our finely sculpted arms, you’re wrong. No matter what our arms look like, we’re adding a sweater or wrap to your perfectly designed frock. We are nothing if not practical in Chicago. We’re not going to be cold just to maintain the integrity of your design.

Of course, that might be the plan all along. Maybe all the sleeveless dresses are simply a ploy to get us to purchase more sweaters and wraps. If that’s the case, then please put the sweaters and wraps near the holiday dresses on the retail store floor. Don’t make me go from floor to floor looking for what I need. For online retailers, please give me a way to look at sweaters and wraps side by side with the sleeveless dresses.

The easier you make it for me to find what I need, the more likely I’ll purchase all of it at your store. I really don’t like to shop. I do it because I need something. The words, “I’m going to the mall to see what’s new” have never come out of my mouth.

I’m not saying there isn’t any place to wear sleeveless holiday dresses. My cousins in Florida adore them. My cousins in Texas wear them every year. It’s those of us in cold weather cities who want sleeves. Our girls will look adorable for Christmas in their dress and sweater. With a little luck the dresses will still fit them when it’s appropriate to wear sleeveless dresses in Chicago. So, if you see a woman walking downtown with two little girls in Christmas dresses in July, just smile, ok? The patterns might be out of season, but the design will finally be in season.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Laying down the law

I'm chaperoning the girls' field trip today. As she was getting ready the blond twin decided to make sure I knew the rules for chaperoning.

According to the blond twin, I'm not allowed to talk to their teacher, the other parents or the students and
  • Embarrass them by telling stories about when they were little.
  • Embarrass them by telling stories about their lessons.
  • Embarrass them by talking about how they are good at anything -- golf, piano, horseback riding.
  • Embarrass them by holding their hands.
  • Embarrass them by kissing them.
Basically I'm not allowed to do anything embarrassing, which might mean I'm not allowed to do anything. I told the blond twin that I'd try not to embarrass her, but I wasn't making any promises since the list of things she finds embarrassing is so long.

Ah, the tween years. The good thing is the list of embarrassing things I'm not allowed to do will level off during their teen years when they realize they can make requests, but I'm still going to do whatever I want.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Let them eat cake

For my birthday the girls made both a cake and cupcakes. We already had a blueberry pie and brownies that we made last weekend. Our kitchen looked like a sweet shop.

We got up early this morning to take Daddy to the train. Our routine is to run through Dunkin Donuts to get Daddy coffee and treat the girls to donuts for breakfast. It's a reward for them getting up, dressed and into the car in a reasonable timeframe.

This morning the girls just didn't move quickly. Daddy missed his target train. We set our sights on the next train. We made it out of the house in time to get Daddy to the train. We didn't have enough time to drive through Dunkin' Donuts.

As we were driving I said, "You girls can have cake when we get home. How's that for a fun, birthday breakfast?" Daddy said, "Cake for breakfast?"

I laughed as I said, "Yeah, because donuts are so much more nutritious than cake." He smiled and got out of the car.

When we arrived at home I cut some cake, added a banana to the plate, poured a glass of milk and called it breakfast.

Hey, it's not the breakfast of champions, but for my birthday I can have whatever I want, right?

Monday, November 18, 2013

I wish you perfect health

This was originally posted on The Chicago Moms

The Affordable Care Act exchanges are open now. Whenever I read the comments on social media or news sites related to the Affordable Care Act, I’m stunned at the number of people in perfect health. These people are certain they will never need to find insurance under the Affordable Care Act because they already have insurance. They are certain that those people without insurance are deadbeats who want the government to take care of them. For those of you who are certain that you will always have your existing company or union sponsored healthcare plan:

I hope you never develop a pre-existing condition that makes you uninsurable for the rest of your life, which is exactly what happened to a college friend who was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis at the age of 25 years old. She had to quit her job with a small architecture firm and take a job with a large company just to have her pre-existing condition covered.

I hope that when you find yourself diagnosed with diabetes and without health insurance your Daddy will use a back door maneuver to get you a lifetime seat in the US House of Representatives so you will always have health insurance, just as my U.S. Representative’s father did.

I hope your insurance policy always provides access to screening procedures that could save your life, such as mammograms, pap smears and colonoscopies.

I hope that you never find yourself starting a new business at 50 years of age as my Father did because his union job no longer existed. He quickly found out that health insurance was (and still is) unaffordable for most small business people.

I hope that when your children grow up and get a job they immediately have top-of-the-line health insurance so they don’t need to stay on your policy for a few more years.

Mostly I hope that your perfect health continues until you die peacefully in your sleep. This way you will never know whether or not you might ever have needed the health insurance now available under the Affordable Care Act.

Friday, November 15, 2013

When will In the Ghetto just be another song?

This was originally posted on The Chicago Moms

I was driving when an Elvis Presley song came on the radio. I had heard the song many, many times growing up as my parents were big Elvis fans. This time, alone in my car, I really listened to In the Ghetto. In case you don’t remember the lyrics, here’s how it starts

As the snow flies
On a cold and gray Chicago mornin’
A poor little baby child is bornIn the ghetto
And his mama cries
Cause if there’s one thing that she don’t need
It’s another hungry mouth to feed
In the ghetto
Later in the song, this happens:
Then one night in desperation
A young man breaks away
He buys a gun, steals a car,
Tries to run, but he don’t get far
And his mama cries
As a crowd gathers ’round an angry young man
Face down on the street with a gun in his hand
In the ghetto

In the Ghetto” was first released in 1969. Nearly 45 years ago Chicago was still the place people thought about when they thought about poverty and violence. It’s incredible sad that back in 1969 when Mac Davis sat down to write a song about generations caught in a cycle of poverty and violence, Chicago was the place that came to mind.

The violence in the 1969 song almost seems quaint. A young man steals a car and is killed trying to escape his life. In the 2013 version there would be more gang involvement and retaliation. The end result is the same, though. A young man with a gun ends up dead in the street.

Here’s how Wikipedia explains the song, “It is a narrative of generational poverty: a boy is born to a mother who already has more children than she can feed in the ghetto of Chicago. The boy grows up hungry, steals and fights, purchases a gun and steals a car, attempts to run, but is shot and killed just as another child is born. The song implies that the newborn will meet the same fate, continuing the cycle of poverty and violence. The feeling of an inescapable circle is created by the structure of the song, with its simple, stark phrasing; by the repetition of the phrase “in the ghetto” as the close of every fourth line; and finally by the repetition of the first verse’s “and his mama cries” just before the beginning and as the close of the last verse.”

Sadly the inescapable circle of poverty and violence continues with more rage in 2013. Despite numerous government programs and private attempts, some Chicago neighborhoods still struggle with daily gun violence. Some kids grow up thinking that joining a gang and carrying a gun is the only way to succeed. Too many mothers continue to cry.

When will In the Ghetto be a quaint oldie rather than an anthem for another Chicago generation? It’s a question people have been asking for decades. The real question is: Are we the generation to create the change necessary so that today’s babies don’t grow up to be the angry young man in the song?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A tankless task

There's one thing I know will never happen again in this house. I will not take a shower after the girls' have finished their showers. I did that once. The water was cold. It wasn't a nice, relaxing shower as much as it was a race to get out as quickly as possible.

Of all the things on our home improvement list, a tankless water heater is gaining importance. We have friends with tankless water heaters who rave about how wonderful it is that everyone can shower and no one ends up with cold water. One friend talks about how she can run the dishwasher, put in a load of laundry and still shower with hot water.

I didn't care about a tankless water heater until I stood in the cold water. I realize the number of showers will only increase as the girls get older. It will be years before we can realistically reduce our hot water use so it's time to take action if we want to continue to take warm showers. My recent cold water shower wasn't so much fun that I want to repeat it again.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Life as a contact sport

We were online looking for Christmas dresses when I asked the blond twin to try on a dress from her closet. I wavered between two sizes before asking her to try on a dress. She has a couple different sizes in her closet so I knew it was an easy way to figure out the correct size. It was a simple request really. I wanted her to go upstairs, try on a dress, come downstairs and show me how it fit.

A few minutes after she went upstairs I heard thumping, banging and stomping. Then she yelled, "You hurt me." A few minutes later she came downstairs wearing the dress with tears in her eyes and a cut lip. She said she hurt herself messing around with her sister. I said I didn't want to hear about it because trying on a dress shouldn't be a contact sport. She was mad, but I was tired and didn't want to hear this current saga. For some reason with the blond twin, life is a contact sport.

I hear "I'm hurt" from her multiple times a day. Sometimes it's a little thing like running into a wall while she's talking and walking. Sometimes it's something big like cutting her lip while wrestling with her twin or playing with Holly. She always wants to tell me every detail of how it happened. I don't know how to tell her that I don't want to hear every detail. I usually hear the commotion and know how it's going to end. At this point I just want her to understand that not everything she does needs to end with her yelling, "Ouch."

When I tried to explain to her that she needs to be more careful, the blond twin replied, "You know you have a klutzy daughter." It's not that she's klutzy. It's more that she and her twin turn everything into a play date. Putting away the laundry becomes a game of toss the clothes. Taking Holly outside to go to the bathroom is a game of hide and seek in the bushes. Bringing the garbage downstairs is a foot race. It never ends.

What the blond twin doesn't seem to realize is she is three or four inches shorter than her twin now. A couple of years ago this wasn't the case. Now when they wrestle the brunette twin has a definite advantage. When they have a foot race, pretending to be hockey players, odds are good the brunette twin is going to take down her sister when she checks her into the wall. There's a never-ending list of ways the blond twin can get hurt.

I realize they will outgrow this. In a couple of years these will just be funny stories we talk about at holiday dinners. Until then I'll just continue to sigh when the blond twin says she's hurt and she'll continue to respond that she's just a klutz.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Angels among us

We arrived at church today with enough time to wander the foyer signing up for events and chatting with others before the service started. The girls hugged our church school leader and stood in front of a bulletin board debating the merits of different items needed to fill stockings for the homeless.

When we walked into the church the girls' faces fell. Our priest was in front of the church all by himself. Usually he had two young acolytes and at least one adult to assist him with the service. Today he was all by himself. I just sighed. If we had walked into church immediately upon arrival the girls could have been acolytes.

The blond twin looked at me and said, "We need to help father Nicholas. We can't leave him there all alone." The brunette twin said, "Let's go."

The problem was the easy way to get back where the garments are kept was to go up to the front of the church and walk in front of everyone. The outside door was locked, but we knew who had the key. She handed us her keys and a few minutes later the girls were dressed and sneaking up to the acolytes' seats in front of the church.

Father Nicholas smiled when he saw them. Before his sermon he called out the girls and thanked them for coming to help him. He said seeing them walk up the side aisle to the front -- fully vested as he noted -- was like watching angels among us.

We always tell the girls that they have the ability to help people by doing something small. Today they made a difference in our priest's day just by stepping up to do something they had done dozens of times before. It didn't take any money or effort on their part. They simply saw something they wanted to change and they took action.

We couldn't have been more proud.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Star Spangled Blah

You know how parents talk about how miserable it is to listen to their children when they are practicing their instruments? I haven't had that experience until now. Before this set of songs, the girls would make slow and steady progress on their songs. They didn't always sound great, but you could hear them improve each time they practiced. Now the blond twin is struggling with the Star Spangled Banner. There is just one section she just cannot get right.

It is driving me crazy. With the other songs they learned I didn't always know how the final product was supposed to sound. I just went with the flow until they mastered the notes. The Star Spangled Banner, though, is a different animal. I know exactly how that is supposed to sound.

I'm finding it hard to be a patient, supportive parent. I've become impatient with her inability to get these few notes correct. Every time she plays I hear the words in my head until she gets near the end when the notes don't match what I expect to hear. I've heard the Start Spangled Banner so often that no matter where she starts playing the song the words just flow in my head.

We're close, so close in fact that I know she'll get it right soon. The problem is she really has to get every note right. There's no way I'm going to let her stop practicing it until it's perfect. Yet every time she hits the wrong note my brain flips a bit.

This is one song I'll be happy to finish. Even though by finish I mean get it right because I know she'll continue to play the song. I just want to get to a point where her notes match what's going on in my head so I don't wince whenever she hits a wrong note.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Rodeo girls

A couple of months ago we were at Gordyville, a Central IL destination for horse shows, flea markets and animal auctions. We were there for a flea market. I like to search there for interesting garden ornaments. While there Aunt Debbie mentioned that Gordyville hosts rodeos. The girls were hooked.

We made plans to go to the rodeo. Part of the plan was for the girls to spend the night with Aunt Debbie and Uncle Len. At the time we were going to go down, spend the night in hotel and let the girls spend the night with Aunt Debbie and Uncle Len. As soon as we started planning the blond twin wanted to clarify the arrangements. She said, "You're not coming with are you? I mean it's ok if you come with, but we're going with Aunt Debbie and Uncle Len alone right? You aren't coming with us are you?"

I just laughed. I promised her that even if we were in the same area we wouldn't interfere with their time with Aunt Debbie and Uncle Len. My recent surgery changed our plans, which was fine with the girls. Daddy took the girls to meet Aunt Debbie for the drop-off.

Today we received a phone call from the girls early to set-up the drop-off time. We knew they would have fun, but we had no idea how much fun until we picked up the phone. The blond twin yelled, "The rodeo was AWESOME." She proceeded to tell us all the details she could remember as quickly as possible -- barrel riders, bull riders, steer wrestling, a rodeo clown, lasso competitions. There was probably more, but it was hard to keep them straight. The brunette twin came on the phone and told us all her favorite parts. At some point the blond twin said, "You're on speaker phone by the way."

We just laughed. They were just bubbling with excitement. Aunt Debbie suggested meeting at Noon, but one of the girls said, "Can't we stay until 1:00 p.m.? We don't want to go home."

Daddy picked up the girls about 1:00 p.m. We knew they'd be tired, but Daddy said the girls were asleep in the car before he made it to the expressway. By the time they came home they were refreshed and ready to talk.

At dinner we had them take turns telling stories. The things they found interesting made us laugh. They did impressions of the pre-rodeo announcements. They talked about how the rider slid off the horse on to the steer for the steer roping. They talk about the rodeo clown distracting the animals. They repeated stories the announcer said about dating the rodeo cowboys. They discussed their favorite outfits. They explained the heights, colors and personalities of their favorite horses. They talked so much and so quickly that we had to limit them to one story before they let the other one talk.  We were getting confused about the details, but it was clear that they had a great time.

They loved the rodeo. They loved spending the night with Aunt Debbie and Uncle Len. We love listening to them tell the stories. We always tell them that they should have special times just with their aunts and uncles. Given how much they loved the rodeo, I'd say it might be one of their favorite events to date. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Halloween chaos

We invited several other girls to come trick or treating with our girls. We had a plan and we're ready to go, but it rained all day. Right before the scheduled meeting time there was a flurry of phone calls. We decided to stick with the plan, adding umbrellas and rain boots to the mix.

The girls hung out for a bit before heading out. The rain slowed to a drizzle when the girls decided it was time to go. There was a pack of brightly colored rain coats on giggly girls on our front porch when Daddy put Holly on a leash. A minute later the whole pack was out knocking on doors.

The rain stopped and started and stopped and started. The girls kept trick or treating. When they decided they needed to warm up and dry off they all came back to our house. Within minutes it was a mess of costume parts, dripping rain coats, drying rain boots and giggling girls.

It was chaos and it was great. The girls sat at the dining room table trading Halloween treats. A bit later they ate pizza and talked about class. They laughed and argued and ate. They ran to the door to hand out treats whenever our doorbell rang.

Later the blond twin and Erin went out for a second round of trick or treating. The brunette twin, Ayanna and JaHee decided to stay home and play. They ran upstairs and disappeared into the girls' room.

Yesterday I received two emails telling me how much fun the girls had on Halloween. Both moms said their girls couldn't stop talking about it. Our girls said it was the best Halloween ever.

This might be a new Halloween tradition at our house. It was chaos, and everyone had fun. It might be the best way to spend Halloween.

Cancer claims Uncle Larry

Our girls were very young when Uncle Larry was first diagnosed with cancer. I'm not sure they remember a time when he wasn't sick.

Actually, he had been living under a bad prognosis for so long that it seemed like his cancer was more of a chronic condition than a life-threatening illness.

Recently Uncle Larry decided to end his battle. His medical team did all they could, but couldn't control his cancer any more. Uncle Larry went into hospice to make his final days manageable.

Today he lost his battle. His life ended on his terms, which is all you could hope for once the medical options ran out. Rest in peace Uncle Larry. You fought a good battle and now it's time to rest in peace.