Friday, January 23, 2015

Outsourcing the icky conversation

I heard the scream from across the parking lot as the girls came out of school. “Why did you do that to us?” I laughed, which might not have been the best reaction.
The girls and their friends spent several hours on a field trip that morning. It wasn’t a field trip they wanted to take. This was a trip to an area health education center.
When I was in school, we learned about topics like menstruation and conception at school during health class. The girls all went into one room and the boys crowded into another. If your parents didn’t give you all the details, the teachers did. It was a giggly, uncomfortable lesson.
The girls learned the same lessons by going to an area health education center. The classes piled into busses and headed to the center. The girls went into one room. The boys went across the hallway. They received the same lessons we did, but with better graphics and 3-D displays. The girls came home with samples and coupons – a modern take on an old lesson.
The girls and their friends said they didn’t want to talk about it because it was so “icky.” As we walked home one or another asked a question, with the other girls saying “eeewwwww.” They wanted to talk about it, but they didn’t want to admit they wanted to talk about it.
I was surprised at how much our girls didn’t want to go since they already had the information being discussed. I guess the discomfort with your changing body never changes, even if the way the information is being shared does.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Let me in

As excited as Holly gets when we leave for a walk, she's just as excited to go back home. When she knows that the girls or Daddy are in the house, she starts pulling towards our house about two houses away.

Sometimes when we get to our driveway, I'll drop Holly's leash and tell her to go home. She races to the front door and sits until I get there to let her in. Her tail wags with excitement the entire time.

If I don't get there quickly enough she starts to get impatient. One day I decided to bring the garbage cans up from the street. Another day I stopped to pick up some sticks in the driveway. Some days I just don't get to the door quickly enough.

Whatever the case, Holly becomes really impatient. I know she's tired of waiting when she starts to yelp. It's the same sound she makes when the girls don't leave room for her in their beds. If I don't move quickly enough she escalates.

Today she was barking at me like I was trying to break into the house. She was so frustrated that I was taking so long moving the garbage cans. She stood up and moved inches from the front door. She barked and barked and barked and barked until the front door opened.

The girls had friends over this afternoon since they didn't have any school. Holly knew all the girls were in the house and she was outside. She wasn't going to wait for me to get her into the house. She was going to take care of it herself, so she was bouncing when Erin opened the front door. Holly's tail went back and forth so quickly it was a blur. Erin brought Holly into the house and took off Holly's leash. By the time I came into the house, Holly was happily playing ball with Erin. Holly might just be a dog, but she knows what she wants and how to get it.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A one finger salute during a cookie rally

The Girl Scouts had their big cookie kick-off yesterday at the Allstate Arena. The Chicago Wolves hosted the event, which featured an afternoon of Girl Scout events in the concourse, a pep rally and the Chicago Wolves hockey game.

The girls ran a booth to help Daisies (think adorable first graders in blue vests) learn to count money. The Daisies threw some large inflatable "dice" to figure out how many cookies their customers were purchasing and to figure out how much money the customer had to pay. Our girls helped the Daisies figure out what the change would be.

During the slow times the girls participated in the Junior Girl Scout activities. One station was a nail polishing booth where the girls painted their nails the color of the cookie boxes.

We were sitting in the pep rally, which was located in arena, waiting for the next speaker when the brunette twin stood up to show me her nails. She pointed her middle finger in the air and said, "Can you believe my nail polish is peeling already?" I just stared. If you weren't listening, you'd be correct in thinking my darling Girl Scout was giving me the finger.

I told her to put her middle finger down and show me her nails a different way. She said, "It's okay Mom. I'm not swearing. I'm showing you my thumb too." We had a lengthy discussion about why it wasn't okay just because she was also showing me her thumb. She laughed at the idea that anyone thought she was using a bad gesture. I laughed when I thought about what the other adults around us must have thought.

Today I told several people at church and everyone laughed, including our priest. If nothing else, it does make for a great story, for both our family and the others who witnessed the one finger salute.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

It's a tankless job

When you own a home there is always a list of projects. Our list has "must do" and "want to do" projects ranging from new siding to new carpeting on the stairs. Recently we've been talking about how to solve a growing household problem, which created a "must do" project that is quickly moving up the list.

The girls are taking longer and longer showers. The blond twin will stay in the shower until the water runs cold. This means the brunette twin cannot shower for at least an hour as it takes about that long for the hot water heater to recharge. When they are showering on a leisurely weekend, this is fine. Most of the time, though, the hot water shortage creates problems.

Now we schedule showers like public transportation schedules trains. Daddy showers first since he's the quickest. I can shower after him since he'll leave hot water. We wait at least 1/2 hour before the brunette twin showers. Her hair takes so long to air dry that it would really be best if she showered first. Of course, she has recently started sleeping later in the morning, so we try to let her sleep. The blond twin showers last as her hair dries much more quickly than her sister's.

It's a logistical exercise that changes with every circumstance. After horseback riding the brunette twin showers while the blond twin eats dinner. We tell the brunette twin that she's to get in, clean up, rinse and get out. No lingering is allowed. The good news is she leaves just enough hot water for the blond twin to do the same thing. Even if she decides to linger until all the hot water is gone, there isn't that much hot water to start.

We've started alternating their showers. They tend to shower on alternating days unless something, like horseback riding or swimming, necessitates showering on the same day.

This is why the tankless water heater has moved up on the project list. We've been talking about it for a while. We've been researching it, talking to people who own tankless water heaters and saving our pennies. The tankless water heater has been high up on the list and down near the bottom -- sometimes in the same conversation. It is becoming increasingly clear that two soon-to-be-teenagers means it needs to move up the list again.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Secrets of the laundry

When Mom first broke her arm whoever was at her house did a laundry load. We just tried to take care of whatever we could when we were there. Once in a while I took her laundry home and just did it with ours.

I wasn’t surprised when Mom said she found a pair of black sweatpants she didn’t recognize in her drawers. I just threw her laundry in with whatever we needed to wash. Given that Mom and the girls wear about the same size, it was not surprising that I sent something from our house to hers.
Daddy found the pants in a bag Mom sent back to us. I explained what happened and told him that if I had really looked at the sweatpants I would have known the pants couldn’t have been Mom’s. These black pants were too long to be Mom’s.
The brunette twin grabbed the pants and shrieked when she saw them. She said, “Where did you find my riding pants?” I let out a sigh.
The brunette twin has been looking for her horseback riding pants for weeks now. Given her penchant for messy drawers, we just thought her pants were scrunched in a corner somewhere. We made her look for them several times without success.
She was so happy to have her horseback riding pants back that she didn’t state the obvious. She didn’t lose the pants. I sent them to Grammie, who didn’t realize they were in her drawer. The brunette twin has a reason to gloat, but she’s so happy to have her horseback riding pants back that it hasn’t occurred to her yet.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The glory days in Hawkeytown

One of my first jobs out of college was at Hyatt Regency Chicago. We used to run an event called The World's Largest Office Party. We raised money for a The Neediest Kids Fund, a charity championed by WGN-AM radio. The World's Largest Office Party had dozens of "bars" where celebrity barkeepers poured beverages for guests. Everyone who was anyone was there from radio personalities to sports figures to politicians. It was a huge event that raised thousands of dollars every year.

My favorite booth was the Blackhawks Standbys. This featured the Chicago Blackhawks Alumni Association with all the players we grew up following from Keith Magnuson to Bobby Hull to Cliff Korroll to Stan Mikita. For a hockey fan like me, this was heaven.

My Dad loved my World's Largest Office Party stories. He knew all the players, their styles and game stories. I tried, but I couldn't get him to come down to an event. It wasn't his thing, even if all his hockey heroes were there.

One night we were sitting at a Chicago Blackhawks game. It was between periods so we were watching some on-ice entertainment and talking about the game. Suddenly I heard Keith Magnuson say "I told you it was Shari." I turned around to see a couple of the Blackhawks Standbys settling into the seats behind us. I stood and started talking to them about this and that. I introduced my Dad, who was stunned into silence. The players told Dad how much fun they had working with me on different projects. They talked about the team and the game and the 1960's glory days. Dad was in heaven.

We were sitting at dinner recently when we started talking about what time the Blackhawks game started that evening. I looked at the brunette twin and said, "You know, it's only recently that you can watch hockey on TV." We talked about how hard it was to follow the Blackhawks back when games weren't televised. We talked about how you had to listen to games on the radio and read about them in the newspapers. We talked about how, at one point, the team had so few fans that the Blackhawks paid a local radio station to carry the games. I told them the story about Grampa meeting the players at a game.

The girls couldn't believe any of it was true. The Blackhawks weren't on TV? You had to listen to the games on the radio? Fans didn't flock to the players when they came to visit us? The players just walked down by themselves without security?

I told them that when the Blackhawks won the 2010 Stanley Cup, my first thought was that they won one during my Dad's lifetime. He was sick at that point. We knew things weren't going to get better for him. When they won another in 2013, someone wrote a column about how these are the glory days for Chicago hockey fans. They nicknames Chicago "Hawkeytown." I'm so glad the girls have been able to build great memories so far of watching the 2010 Stanley Cup victory with Grampa, celebrating the 2013 victory with Grammie and all the smaller moments in between. Of course I hope the Hawkeytown glory days last for a while longer, but if not, at least I know they have a lot of stories to tell when they have their own children.

Monday, January 5, 2015

DonorsChoose teaches our daughters about giving

This was originally published on The Chicago Moms.

When our girls receive their allowances, we have them break the money into four categories:  spend, save, donate, invest.  Recently we’ve been discussing where to donate their money. They’ve been struggle with where to donate their small amount of hard-earned money. There are a lot of local, worthy causes. What’s missing for them is the idea that their few dollars will have a direct impact on others. The idea that their dollars can help others seems so abstract to them.

One day I was listening to WBBM-AM news when the Osgood File came on.  I always like to hear the Osgood File as Charles Osgood does the kind of interesting feature stories you don’t hear often enough. For this report, Osgood talked about, interviewing the founder, a public school teacher named Charles Best. According to the website, “Charles Best, a history teacher at a Bronx high school, is spending his own money on school supplies. So are his colleagues. He sketches out a website where teachers can post classroom project requests–and where anyone with $5 can be a philanthropist. His colleagues post 10 projects, but Charles doesn’t know many donors, so he anonymously funds those projects himself. His colleagues think that the website actually works, and rumor spreads.”’s big break came when Oprah Winfrey called the group “a revolutionary charity.” The website notes that “Fifteen seconds later, our site crashes under the strain of all the traffic. When our site comes back up, viewers donate $250,000 to classroom projects.”

As soon as I heard his story, I knew would be a good site for our girls to explore. What’s great about is that you do exactly what the name says. Teachers from across the country submit specific projects they hope to have funded. You can read about the project and how it will help the target students. It’s completely free for teachers to submit projects, which are vetted to ensure that donors are giving to legitimate projects.

Each project has a specific monetary goal. You get real-time updates about how much is needed to fund the project. Some projects need as little as $5 to be fully-funded. Others are part of a “half-off” donor match. For these projects corporate donors and foundations match half of the total cost.
Our girls love the site. They spend a long time clicking through different projects and taking notes. They search by topic and state. They think they want to donate their money to projects in Illinois, but they keep finding interesting projects in other places. They are deciding which projects to support, although right now they are leaning towards finishing off a few. With the money they have, they can send $4 here and $10 there to give several classrooms their projects. They like that they can see how their money will help other children. They really like that they can make a big difference with a small donation.

One of the things I like about the site is it gives our daughters a glimpse of what other schools have to do to give their students the education our girls already receive. I always tell our girls that they attend a good school. Now I don’t need to tell them. They click through the projects and seem to be in shock. Students need books for the library? Some classrooms don’t have computers? These kids don’t have math flashcards? They see that the things they take for granted would be gifts to other students. For us, that’s a really good lesson for them to learn while they decide where to donate this holiday season and beyond.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A New Year's Eve tradition spanning generations

A few years ago Mom called to say that she was available to watch the girls if we wanted to go out on New Year's Eve. She said she'd like to hang out with the girls and ring in the new year. Since then it has become a tradition for the girls to spend New Year's Eve with Grammie. They have a whole routine they've established.

The girls arrive with enough stuff to spend a weekend. They bring sleeping bags, stuffed animals, multiple clothing changes and games. They eat pizza, settle in to watch TV and snack all night. They watch New Year's Rocking Eve to watch the ball drop in Times Square and celebrate the new year with hugs and kisses

It's sweet and important for all of them. Mom likes to spend time with the girls, making memories with them and giving her stories to tell. The girls feel like grown-ups at a New Year's Eve celebration, doing things they couldn't do at home like staying up late and eating in the living room. They look forward to spending New Year's Eve with Grammie every year.

Both Grammie and the girls benefit from their New Year's Eve party. For as long as it lasts it's a sweet and important tradition.