I Always Feel Like... Somebody's Watching Me!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Peace Out 2009!

It's the time of year where I catch myself saying, "What... the... heck? Where has the year gone?" Yes, it's cliche to say that time is flying by; and that it's getting worse as I get older. But perhaps it's time to be cliche. Because time IS going faster. See? It's already the end of 2009.

Personally, 2009 has been pretty good to me. We've had some rough homeowner repairs and some slow/almost stagnant times at work. I went a few vacations and my kids are growing up happily and healthy. That's really all I should be asking for - but in my entitled, American existence - I want everything!

Since I only started the blog half-way through the year, I thought I'd give a quick breakdown of the year. Not that I think the world has missed out on hearing what happened in my life from January to June, but that I have the most terrible memory. If I don't write (type) it down now, I really will be asking myself, "What did I do last year?" and not have any idea.


- Dishwasher installed. Life-changing.
- Ayla gets stomach flu for the first time. And gives it to me. We learn the important warning signs of her cry, then cough, then... well, you know. The important thing to note is that she made it into a garbage can almost every time.
- Water pipes freeze and then explode. It's a good thing we are night owls, we would have never heard the rushing water at 3 am and would have had a flooded basement along with a busted shower.
- Gregory and I travel to L.A. for his job interview for the ATC position. The funny thing is he was offered the job. Yep, still waiting for a start date!


- Ayla's half birthday on the 14th. (Oh yeah, and Valentine's Day.)
- Gregory has surgery to remove his tonsils and fix a deviated septum. I sit through the surgery SO afraid that something bad is going to happen. Little did I know that two blood vessels would burst in his throat and he would return to the hospital two more times.
- Steeler's win their 6th Superbowl. We did not attempt to attend the victory parade.


- Gregory continues to recover from surgery.
- Subsequently, I re-watch almost the entire season of Six Feet Under.
- Mary Poppins is the new favorite movie in the household.
- A double stroller is purchased and we have newfound freedom to walk to the park. Life-changing.


- A visit to Holden Beach, and a stop at Monticello on the return drive. I use a Marriott gift certificate earned from my previous job - making me feel like a super grown-up, if only for a few minutes.
- Easter and Ayla's discovery of Peep's.
- Jackson makes use of his old-man walker and speeds through the house. But will NOT walk on his own.


- Jackson's 1st birthday.
- Gregory's 29th birthday.
- I obsess over the planting and layout of the herb & vegetable garden. I spend several weekends ripping up a new part of the yard.
- Stanley Cup play-offs and Gregory does his part by growing a goatee.


- And the penguins win the Stanley Cup. That's right.
- The new shower is installed and tiled. (We're catching up to the blog now). Life-changing.
- Jackson climbs UP the steps, but still does not walk.

And that's half the year, more tomorrow!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Aww, poor Tiger

Except not.

I can't believe the news coverage over Tiger Woods. Yes, another supposed upstanding man has cheated on his wife. Shocking. Yes, he is losing tons of sponsorship money. (But we all know that won't last long - he'll be back in good favor in just a few months.) But now we have to talk about how his celebrity friends are worried about HIM. They are actually devoting time to hear his "friends" talk about how concerned they are for him. HIM! Not his wife, not his children, HIM!!!!

I watch a lot of CNN at work - or at least I watch it with the sound turned off. We keep one tv tuned to ESPN, which is entertaining for about 30 minutes before the same stories are recycled. I like to keep updated on world news while I roll silverware.

Most news channels have their faults, no one is completely unbiased and the media frenzy often focuses on over-hyped, pointless stories. But this one absolutely takes the cake. CNN was showing clips from some useless, late night sports talk show where Spike Lee was talking about his concern for Tiger. "He's shutting us out! How is he?"

Out of any aspect of this story - I couldn't care less how Tiger Woods feels right now. If he's ashamed and embarassed and going into hiding, great! That should be the natural reaction after being exposed as a total asshole. Why are we always surprised when a sports superstar turns out to be a horny, selfish, weak... well, jerk? Just because a man is amazing at any given sport doesn't make him morally superior. Tiger Woods thought he could get away with it and got busted. He jeopardized everything. But then we have to hear his buddies sympathizing for him? It's bad enough that people watch this kind of crap the first time around (on aforementioned lame sports talk show), but then on CNN if they missed it! Uggghhh, it makes me sick.

The problem is that a lot of men out there are going to agree with what they're seeing on tv. I have already heard several people say, "Well, it's just what happens. He's tempted ALL of the time. It was bound to happen." Really? So you're saying it's okay. A successful man can only last so long before becoming so arrogant. WOW. If it was just fine for him to do it in the first place, I'm sure this same Tiger-adoring fan club will turn the corner now (along with CNN) and start feeling bad for the guy.

I mean, how can he be expected to remain faithful in this world? It's obviously someone else's fault. How could his family hold it against him? Please.

Monday, December 14, 2009

It's true what they say...

If you send any kid a present in a big box... they are going to play with the present for about .3 seconds and then go for the box.

For days.

My brother sent their Christmas presents (which I didn't let them open, of course) and a wooden stove that my Dad had made for me when I was little. They played with stove for a few minutes and then unloaded ALL of the shipping paper and made themselves comfortable in the box.

We cut out a few windows, and it's the obvious choice for watching tv or reading books. While they were busy with that - I was enjoying the stove! Even though I spend a lot of my time playing "real" kitchen, there is nothing like a pretend kitchen or stove.

But enough about stoves, it's a far second from THE BOX!

Breaking out...

I think Ayla was trying to look at me and the camera at the same time, the cross-eyed crazy!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Introducing... Walter!

It's been four days and we haven't returned him to the shelter... so it looks like we have a new member of the family!

Meet Walter the beagle!

It took a few unsuccessful trips to Animal Friends and The Humane Society before finding a dog that fit all of our criteria: the right size, calm demeanor, friendly and not a murderer of cats.

But on Thursday, we met Walter, aka "Droopy" at the Humane Society and brought him home. It must be a very weird adjustment for him, because his first days were rough. Peeing on the floor every time Gregory turned his back, barking at the cats (who are justifiably taunting him) and whining in his cage at night.

He was just neutured a few days ago, hence his awesome cone. We don't even know what he will look like without it! The estimation is that he is 5 months old and was given up by a person who was "moving and couldn't keep the dog". On a side note, I've always thought that was a weird reason.

It's going to take us a few episodes of the Dog Whisperer and our obedience classes at the Humane Society to get it right - but I think he's improving. He spends a lot of his time staring at our two kids, probably thinking, "What the hell am I doing here...".

Ayla came up with his name because of these hilarious books we read called Walter the Farting Dog. We thought of the name Giant Eagle (or Giant Beagle if you want to go that route), Boy Foofa (from Yo! Gabba Gabba) and Sweetums (my favorite big furry Muppet). But Walter it is.

Jackson likes the puppy, but since he's a bit of a wimp sometimes - he doesn't really appreciate the rowdy play yet. They had a tug of war battle tonight over Jackson's bunny slippers.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Read the Fine Print

If you look closely, there are advertisements, slogans, nutritional advice, recipes, directions and games printed all over the house. On our food and body products, that is. I don't pay much attention to most of them. But doesn't everyone read the cereal box at breakfast? There's something mind-numbing and soothing about reading the vitamin and mineral content, and now that we have more kid varieties - there's usually a maze with some cartoon boy racing through with his skateboard. Breakfast, around here at least, is not ripe with conversation, so the box gets a lot of attention.

But companies pay a lot of "branding" money to fill up every possible spot on their packaging. If you bought that box of barley for a one-time recipe and don't know what to do with the rest, I guarantee there is a recipe on the box. The Catch-22 is that the recipe usually calls for more than you have left...off to the store to buy another barley I don't know what to do with!

It's every once in awhile that I catch something ridiculous. Either the manufacturer paid too little or too much for the writing on the side of the bottle.

Too little money:

Mouthwash, "Rinse or gargle after meals and before social engagements." Straight out of a 1950's etiquette video! If you're reading the mouthwash label actually looking for directions - I think there's a problem.

Too much money:

Paul Mitchell Hair Serum, "Spend more time living and less time styling! Super Skinny Complex helps smooth hair fast with reduced dry time." Yay! More time for living! Is that why I spent the extra $10 on this product? A longer life?

Another place I always find myself staring at the packaging is in the shower. The shelf is eye-level, whatever, I don't know why. I love how every brand recommends using their products for every step along the way. Use this shampoo with our conditioner, styling products, deodorant, toothpaste, razors and socks! It's the only way it will work.

Pantene is good at stating the obvious. "Pantene Pro-V Full & Thick Shampoo. You have: thin hair. You want: Thick, full and strong-looking hair." Glad that's cleared up.

And other products hype themselves up to be way more than they really are. Kiss my Face Shaving cream, "Hope you love our shave! There's never a dull moment with this moisturizing formula! Try all of our other soothing scents to expand your shaving experience!" That's right, never a dull moment while you are scraping the hair away from your body with a razor. Now I'll pay attention...

It's fascinating if you notice the fine print telling us how, when and where to use the products we've purchased. Stay tuned for the kitchen fine print post!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Two Thumbs Up for Children's Movies

I remember reading a list about "must-have" children's movies to invest in when I was pregnant with Ayla. I had, ummm, all of them. And I didn't consider owning these movies just in case I was babysitting. I loved them truly for my own viewing pleasure. Now it is just an added bonus that Ayla & Jackson sing along to my favorite movies of all time.

All of the critic's choices are different now, with the addition of more Disney films (and Pixar). I can't remember exactly what was on that list several years ago, but I'm certainly willing to add new titles to my children's movie library.

Here is my personal Top 10:

1. The Dark Crystal - there is absolutely nothing like it, not even Labyrinth. I appreciated the fantastical storyline when I was four years old, and now that I own it on DVD (instead of the recorded from tv, scratchy VHS tape) I marvel at all of the details.

2. Annie - I watched it for 48 hours straight once. Again, this movie is just getting better with time. Ms. Hannigan is drunk almost the entire movie, which completely went over my head as a kid. ("Why is she stirring a clear liquid called gin in the bathtub?") I literally forced this movie upon Ayla. It is pure joy to hear her sing along to "Tomorrow".

3. Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory - Another VHS favorite, it instilled my love for Gene Wilder. My friend Jenn always did a perfect imitation of Veruca Salt's bratty song. We have an angry debate in our house every once in awhile about the "scary" factor of the Oompa Loompas. Strangely enough, tiny orange men don't scare me at all.

4. The Muppets Take Manhattan - It's hard to choose a favorite in the Muppet Category, but this one has some of the funniest human characters. When Joan Rivers is throwing powder on her face with Miss Piggy, I can't contain myself. It was while watching this movie that I discovered my life's dream of meeting a Muppet. (And I would totally act as if they were real - wait, they ARE real.)

5. The Secret of Nimh - Old-school animation, but I loved the song that played during the closing credits (the two crows flying in the air with their string - you know what I'm talking about!)

6. Star Wars - ALL of them. I watched these with my brother and used to pretend I was Princess Leia climbing up the basement stairs. And Luke Skywalker was hot.

7. The Lion King - I may have been in junior high at the time, but I was obsessed with this movie. I saw it maybe five times in the theater, bought the trading cards AND action figures at Burger King, and even had the commemorative plates. It was the first time that a Disney movie showed a dead parent, so unfortunately, some critics say this movie is traumatizing for kids.

8. Wall-E - this movie is profound. There is no leftist, political agenda behind this movie. We do consume and throw away so much garbage that we are ruining the planet. (Regardless of what you think about global warming, you have to admit we buy too much plastic shit). We do rely on robots to take care of us. Someday we will probably live in space. But it's still a hopeful outlook on the whole situation - I always cry when they return to earth. And Ayla is screaming, "They're coming back to earth! They're coming back to earth!!!"

9. The Muppet Christmas Carol - yes, I was in junior high with this movie too. But it's hilarious. And I can watch Christmas movies, year round.

10. Back to The Future - Michael J. Fox is synonymous with growing up in the 80's. TBS still shows the reruns every weekend for a reason.

Of course I've left out a lot, I still love The Little Mermaid, E.T., Sleeping Beauty, Charlie Brown and many others. But these are the movies I watched over and over during childhood (minus Wall-E, unless you consider parenthood my second chance at childhood) - and would gladly do the same today.

Feel free to comment or add to the list!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

If anything can motivate me to clean the house...

... it would be watching the show Hoarders. It is on A&E, which is turning into the reality channel that showcases all of the nightmare scenarios. You can either watch Intervention (about drug or alcohol addiction) or Paranormal State (about ghost/demon hunting) or this new show about hoarding.

Hoarding: a bona fide mental disorder in which a person cannot, or isn't willing, to throw away any item - regardless of worth or condition. This isn't just like having cluttered closets or a few outdated items in the fridge. This is dead cats buried under garbage in your living room and buying a second home to house all of your crap. And crap it is - empty shampoo bottles, rotting pumpkins, newspapers from 1988, every razor you've ever owned.

This show is crazy! Well, the people are certainly crazy. And I say that in a nice way - but most of them did know that there was a mental problem. When you've lost custody of your children because you can't throw anything away and your house is infested with mice, you know you're not exactly right.

I was expecting to feel some sort of sympathy for these people - but for most of them, this is a symptom of an uncompromising or nasty personality. One man's wife fell down the stairs (tripping over piles of magazines) and broke her arm. You would think he might clean up after that? No. He was unwilling to get rid, or move, anything. An old lady was blaming her daughter for her unlivable conditions - a daughter that hadn't lived with her in decades! I am NOT a fan of mothers who blame their children for how miserable their lives have turned out.

But how does the hoarding get so out of control? Like the show Clean Sweep, most messes are contained to certain areas, like an unused room. It takes a catalyst to finally tackle those moving boxes that haven't been touched in 5 years. We don't clean out the junk drawer in the kitchen until it can't be closed anymore. I have old report cards and college textbooks in boxes. Is that minor hoarding or just a part of having a busy life?

After seeing all of the junk, mold and mouse feces on tv- I went on an OCD cleaning spree yesterday. I wiped down the refrigerator shelves and scrubbed the bath toys with bleach and a toothbrush. Several broken toys were thrown in the garbage. My next mission is the kitchen junk drawer and my craft supplies (those borderline on crazy, I admit).

My advice to anyone whose ever lacked the motivation to clean up? Watch Hoarders. You'll be knee-deep in Lysol before you know it.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

They're called Personal Problems for a reason

What do you think is good policy for discussing personal problems at work? Do you wait a few weeks before you start revealing info about your family? Is it considered unprofessional to show pictures of your kids to people the first time you meet? Is it ever okay to share it with actual customers?

I might be more reserved than most with sharing personal problems - it's not that I want to be secretive, it's more that I'm worried that other people just might not care. It takes me awhile to really open up with people, especially co-workers, because I hate to mix drama with my work life. Okay, I hate to mix drama with anything. But especially in the place I make my money. But recently, I have met so many people that are totally willing to divulge their worst moments and scary family secrets with not only me, but my (and their) bosses.

I'm not talking about, "Gee, this economy is really tough and I'm just looking to make extra money to catch up on bills." That's honest - that's a good motivator to come to work. I'm talking about, "I need this job because I'm in the middle of a raging custody battle and my first kid is a result of roofies."

That's weird, right?

I once interviewed a woman at an upscale hotel to work in the room service department. She was friendly and cute and I was about to offer her the job. Then she blew it by asking if we checked her credit for employment. (We didn't). She then started ranting about, "My damn ex-husband. He maxed out all of my credit cards and that bastard ruined my credit!" This went on for 10 minutes. First of all, I didn't even mention a credit check. Second, keep it to yourself! Tell a friend, not your interviewer!

Is this just the restaurant industry? Or does anyone have to share an office with a person who talks loudly during personal calls so everyone can hear (and subsequently ask about) all of their problems? I've had co-workers cry to tables about their debts, as if that would increase the tip. I've known other co-workers to tell elaborate sexual stories about cheating on their spouses. It's so uncomfortable for everyone.

Yes, people do these things. And no one has a perfect life. I'm not saying we should work side-by-side and act like robots. I like to vent every now and then about how tired I am or a little family drama. I've cried at work over frustration (with the job itself and life in general) and cried with other people over their own. But could we just ease into it a little? Wait until you know that I'm actually interested. Wait until you can trust me with the story of a miscarriage or divorce. I'll listen and I'll probably be a better friend to you.

The sad thing is, where the hell does this kind of behavior start? Do they not have anyone else to share it with? Or are they just looking for attention and sympathy? I know several people who so strongly identify with their problems - it's ALL they can talk about. They'll tell anyone within 5 minutes the time line of the last decade. "First, this happened to me and then this tragedy struck.. and voila! That's why I'm a disaster!" But I think even those people know to keep their mouths shut when starting a new job. Do your problems make you look competent and motivated?

Am I being mean? I don't judge anyone for their actual problems. God knows I wouldn't like to be judged by my own family's mistakes. But it's the way they're dealing with it - blabbing about it all day long at work. Restaurant not does equal therapist office. If anyone out there agrees with me, what's the worst thing you've ever heard from a coworker?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Another season in the garden

It seems that last weekend was probably my final opportunity to finish up all of my planting projects for the year. As soon as spring allows, I start mentally preparing the vegetable, fruit and herb layout of our small garden. And as I get the okay from Gregory to tear up yet another portion of our yard, I am outside pulling out grass and salivating over new broccoli seedlings or tulip bulbs. I treat these plants like children - and while they are rooting, I stand defensively guarding them from my real children as they play. I love being outside in the dirt, digging and seeing the instant gratification when every morning, all my little green friends have grown - even if it's just one new leaf. So I'm sad as the cold finally sets in, that I'll have to wait until spring to plant, and then pick, fresh foods from my backyard.

We've lived in this house for three summers now. Our home improvements are well-timed with the seasons. In winter, we focus on painting or building shelves or moving our couches yet again to find the best arrangement. During the warmer parts of the year (and I can't say spring or summer because Pittsburgh is so ridiculously unpredictable), we abandon the inside and focus on the ongoing outdoor beautification project.

The first summer was my first experience with my own garden - I totally overcrowded the space, had vegetables nearly strangling each other for sunshine, but I felt so damn proud the first time I spotted a zucchini! I also transplanted some hostas and my favorite lily-of-the-valley from my mother's house.
We also planted a tree for Ayla - shortly after her first birthday. I was relieved in spring when it bloomed and we knew it had survived the winter!
A mystery garden helper, who could it be?

The second year I got a little bit smarter and sprouted seeds indoors before planting outside. However, I certainly over-planted again. No one needs more than one or two zucchini plants. I obsessed over painting the lower brick (see above picture for it's previous ugliness) wall a more appealing blue. I hovered over the garden 8 months pregnant- trying to get everything planted before Jackson was born. I did a pretty good job, especially since the little boy waited until the day before his due date to arrive. His frequent newborn naps were also helpful in giving me time to weed and harvest!

I would post pictures of the garden with Ayla - but she's butt-naked in all of them!

And this past year, I finally started to benefit from the perennial growth of rosemary, chives, parsley, tomatoes, strawberries, clematis, etc. We added a hydrangea in the front yard and many, many bulbs that we'll hopefully see next year. (Thanks to Gregory for tackling that project with both children running around). I learned to put birdwire over the strawberries - and we finally got to eat some of them. Every time I had found a berry last year, I would turn it over to find it half-eaten.

I planted new herbs in the garden (duh, plant them in the ground so they grow back instead of in pots every year!) - it took me three years to figure that one out. Erin hooked me up with her ridiculous supply of mint from her yard. And our friend Amy was always dropping off excess plants from her job - thank you!!! We now have a handsome fir ornamenting the corner of the herb garden and many, many pretty plants that I can't remember the names of!

In May, when it looks like I've properly spaced...

And in July, when it's so obvious that I have not...

And finally, I had grand plans to plant another tree in honor of Jackson's first birthday... but that never happened. Gregory set up trellises (is that the plural?) along our neighbor's ugly fence to hide their ugly house, and planted grapevines. We ate just a handful this year, but I've decided that we'll dedicate the vines to Jackson instead of a tree.

Until next year, it's inside gardening projects for me.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Potty Training and the F Bomb

Would you ever place those two completely random events together? Well, Ayla would! Both happened today. We've been trying to get Ayla to use the potty at night instead of diapers. She's been trained during the day for over a year, and it was time to conquer the other half of the day. The first couple of weeks were wet and stinky. We did A LOT of laundry. But she's been gradually improving and I'm hopeful to say we've done it! It has been four nights and counting that she hasn't wet at all.

We bought a light switch extension for the bathroom, which makes it easy for her to independently use the bathroom at night. I highly recommend them for all over the house!

But, with maturity, comes the use of the F bomb! I have no one to blame but myself - there comes a time during the day (usually at 9 pm when I'm trying to clean up) that frustration gets the best of me. I don't know why I haven't learned my lesson yet: the house will not be in order and my kids will definitely not stop finding new ways to get in trouble. Duh. But I can't help hoping and therefore do a little swearing myself when I get overwhelmed. And for everyone judging me for being a bad parent, well, keep it to yourself. There are bigger issues to worry about.

Ayla definitely used it in the right context. We were having a Mom says no, Ayla says yes battle. I wanted her to eat lunch after coming back from the grocery store. She wanted gum. I started to ignore her as I was putting things away in the refrigerator when she said,

"Mom, give me my f*&^ing gum."

I'm laughing as I write this, but I know it really isn't funny. At least outside of our house. It's rude and disrespectful (but so is kicking, and she does that too!). I got down on my knees, looked her in the face and said it wasn't a nice word. I'm guessing that I didn't solve the problem, but I had to address it, right? The harder part will be learning to censor myself better.

So every day is a little step forward: in good and bad ways. Ayla doesn't need diapers anymore AND she thoroughly understands language enough to get her point across about gum! It's the same with Jackson. The more he communicates, the more insight into his grouchy side. He'll greet us with a cute, "Hiiiiiiii!!!!" and wave, but also try to bite and scowl when he doesn't get his way. He's great at getting up and down the stairs; he's also great at slipping and bumping his head.

And this brings me back to balance. Not all new developments are going to be cute and cuddly. But this is a part of their developing selves. They grow and learn, often with mistakes, and that's the most frustrating part as a parent. You want to keep them safe from hurt, but you also don't want the kids who can't handle anything on their own.

If Ayla can stay dry all night - I guess I can accept that she's going to know about the F* bomb.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

1990 Telephone vs. 2009 Telephone

Our bedtime story tonight was The Berenstain Bears and the Slumber Party. I remember reading this book, among the other forty BB classics we owned, when I was young. But reading Stan & Jan Berenstain in 2009 has revealed some really dated technology. This particular book was written in 1990, not too ancient, but on the first page, it reads:

"One of the most interesting things about a telephone is that when it rings you don't know who's calling until you answer it."

Oh yeah? Ayla and Jackson will, in fact, never know that feeling. Caller ID isn't the new, updated technology I experienced in junior high, it's always right there on the cellphone. The most interesting thing about answering the phone is not answering it when someone dreaded calls. (I have to say though, readers, that if I've ever missed your call, don't assume that I ignored it. I'm just really bad at being near my phone and answering it). We don't even have a land line in our house, so my kids are weirded out when they do hear a normal phone ring.

Also, there's a part in the story when Too-Tall Grizzly (Ayla calls him the "idiot man") crashes the party and he brings his "boom box". Awesome.

But my point: it's so crazy to read my childhood books again and realize how much has changed. I am really going to turn into one of those old ladies telling tall tales about when I was young, we didn't even know who was on the phone! Gasp!?!

I have to admit, though, that I'd be pretty freaked out if I didn't have caller ID anymore. I am not exactly a fan of talking on the phone at all. It makes me nervous. I say stupid things, stutter, get flustered - it's completely ridiculous.

And this is why: I had a traumatizing phone experience right around 1990. My father lived in Florida for approximately a year when I was in the elementary school. He would call on the phone every night, and sometimes pretend to be someone else. "Hi! Pizza Roma - I'm waiting outside with your pizza!" Stuff like that. I came to expect that every time a grown man called the house, it was my Dad joking around. And then one night, probably after reading my Berenstain Bear books, the plumber called. He wanted to talk to my mom and I kept insisting, "Dad! I know it's you!" He said, "No, I'm really not..." And the conversation continued in circles until he finally hung up on me. I was mortified and that feeling still sticks with me today.

So thank you, Caller ID, for appeasing my phone anxiety. Forget text messages, picture messages, blue-tooth, whatever- I'm still really pleased with the basics.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Oh yeah, Halloween

How could I be lagging on a Halloween post? In five minutes, it will be 10 days into November - so I better get to it before the next holiday is already past.

In Leetsdale & Sewickley, the night of Trick or Treating has always fallen on the Thursday before the actual 31st. We are NOT free to roam the streets on the weekend. I personally never cared - it means that the holiday can be spread out and celebrated over several events. Halloween parties are always on the weekend regardless, so why not get to trick-or-treating on a weeknight?

This is the first year that Ayla has conceptualized T&T and looked forward to it. Both she and Jackson's first Halloween's were an opportunity for us to parade them around as extra cute babies: as a pumpkin and M&M. Last year, Ayla didn't understand where all of this candy was supposed to go - so a lot of it was handed back to the people that gave it to her. But this year, she was involved in choosing her "character" and talking about candy for the week leading up to the event.

Ayla chose to be Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz after seeing a ready-made costume in Target. Since that option was $30, we splurged for the red sequin shoes and I picked up a blue/white checkered fabric from Jo-Ann Fabrics. White shirt, pigtails, red shoes, home-made checkered apron - that sounds pretty good. Oh wait, don't forget Jackson as the Cowardly Lion sidekick.

We had a great night walking up and down our street, while Jackson lounged in the stroller. We just wheeled him up to the baskets of candy and if he could reach, he got a piece. Ayla fully embraced saying, "Trick or Treat" and properly said thank you (after a parental reminder). My friend Merrin brought her son Donovan over to join us - so it was fun watching him waddle around in a Nemo costume.

My mother and Matthew helped hand out candy at our house so we could all walk together. Which brings me to discuss a few etiquette practice of Halloween. This is truly one of the most social holidays - everyone in any given neighborhood is subject to trick-or-treating. There are a few unspoken social rules. First of all, find out when trick or treat occurs and either be prepared with candy or turn off your porch lights and stay inside. My neighbor across the street - for two years in a row - has not been home for the Thursday evening festivities. (And she's lived here for a long time, so she has to know). However, she leaves her porch light on and we spend the night watching kids hike up the steep steps in front of her house, knock on the door and stand there bewildered. It's a waste of everyone's time. Secondly, I think it's fair to say that if you partake in the candy-taking, you should partake in the candy-giving. One other neighbor walked the entire neighborhood with her kids but didn't leave a single piece of candy at her house, not even when she was there. But she's blatantly unfriendly most of the time anyways....

I love Halloween and I love this time of year. Hopefully, my kids will feel the same way. You always end up with an awesome stash of candy, could it get any better?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Only 5 years with Waffle

I feel like a really bad pet owner.

Take Waffle to the vet when he isn't feeling good - check.
Get Waffle medicine to cure infection - check.
Feed Waffle, get fresh water, give him a heating pad - check.

But we still lost Waffle today. I came downstairs into the basement to check on the poor guy, and he was lying there a little too stiffly. And in vain hope that he was just sleeping soundly, I got closer and pet our kitty. Nope, he was cold. I always seem to be in this position with pets; although I've only had one other animal die - finding two out of two dead animals is a bad track record.

He's been sick for about a week with an infection - a bladder infection that got too serious. The problem with boy kitties is that they have disproportionately small urethras (i.e. penises). If there is any kind of irritation, it can easily get blocked or infected. The warning signs are peeing often in strange places - which someone had been doing in our house, but with four cats it was hard to find the culprit. But we had finally caught Waffle in the act, and last week he retreated behind the couch and wouldn't move for an entire day.

He had both a shot of steroids AND antibiotics at the vet and Gregory had been feeding him his pills. He was eating, drinking and somewhat controlling his pee. He was meowing in his cage yesterday for the first time - like he was finally getting bored. A sign of improvement! But we should have known better. His father had the same problem and needed a drastic sex-changing operation to fix the blockage. Mr. (now Mrs.) Chin made a full recovery.

Gregory was stuck with the awful job of finding a final resting place for our fat, loveable, always hungry kitty. We picked a corner of the yard with enough room to plant flowers for him in the spring. The hole was dug, and Waffle was placed inside on a bed of leaves. We all stood in the backyard watching the dirt fill the hole and seeing that orange and white fur for the last time.

Of course, Ayla had tons of questions and we tried to be as honest as possible. Just like when Mr. Hooper died on Sesame Street, we didn't say anything about sleep or resting or floating away to heaven - we said that Waffle had died. (Reference the Michael Jackson post, we've discussed this before). It's going to take awhile for this to sink in because at bedtime tonight, Ayla was looking out the window at the backyard and asking, "Why can't I see Waffle? Why is he in the dirt?" Heart-breaking.

Waffle was one of our four amazing, and admittedly frustrating, cats. Gregory and I watched him being born on July 5th, 2004 - just a few weeks before our wedding. Waffle's mom, Orangina, and his father, Mr/Mrs Chin had been rescued by Rachel when she lived in Syracuse. Waffle's mother was then tragically hit by a car and Waffle came to live with us when he was big enough to leave his siblings.

When he was a kitten, he would jump enthusiastically at any toy we put in front of him, without paying attention to surrounding objects. He would crash into walls or doors or furniture. Once, Gregory, Matthew and I were watching tv and Waffle started to look at the light-changing switches that hang from a ceiling fan. He started to do that kitty head-circle watch and all of sudden, he jumped straight up into the air to try to catch the chains. Of course, he hadn't thought out the descent and came crashing down onto the coffee table - spilling all of our drinks.

He moved with us from our smallest apartment, into a bigger apartment and finally, our first house. He also grew with each move - becoming our largest cat with a swinging stomach that almost hit the floor. We had to ration food or Waffle would just eat and eat until he threw up somewhere. And ever since that decision, Waffle would sit on our bed and stare at Gregory every morning until we got up to feed him. But every once in awhile, our fat kitty would find a catnip mouse and want to play - he still had a little energy to run around.

And now Waffle will always rest at this house. We only had 5 years with our sweet cat. He loved people and would show almost inappropriate affection when any person came into our house. I'm sorry I didn't help you more, we'll always love you. Ayla and I said a prayer for Waffle tonight, and at the end she said, "I'll share my little fuzzy with Waffle." And that means a lot.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

It Pays to Complain

That's my life motto, at least when it comes to contacting customer service departments....

It has happened now and again that I've been dissatisfied with some of my favorite products. If we find a toothpaste or cheese or cracker that we love - we habitually buy it, as I'm sure this is the case with most of you. We love our Tom's of Maine toothpaste and haven't used conventional brands for quite awhile (the synthetic stuff really tastes harsh once you've gone the "natural" route). I buy a lot of Full Circle organic products because they are relatively inexpensive in that particular market. However, 1 out of 10 times, something goes wrong. And that's when it pays to get on the computer and send an email complaint.

Here are a few examples of the great responses I've gotten in the past couple of years.

1. Babybel Cheese: it's a luxury item for us at the grocery store. I usually have to rush past that part of the dairy section so Ayla doesn't hunt it down and start yelling, "I want circle cheese!" It's delicious, but a little pricey. Each little wheel of cheese is encased in a wax cover, which makes this a very exciting snack in our household. But once I opened my Babybel cheese in tasty anticipation, only to find it was moldy and rotten inside. Really gross. A quick email was sent to their complaint department and lo! and behold, some coupons were sent for a free replacement and $1.00 off for future purchases. Needless to say, we're still enjoying Babybel cheese... a lot.

2. Tribe Hummus: this time the product was moldy within one day of opening the package. They responded with coupons, which was the most that I expected. Only this company sent me a t-shirt too! It says something like, "This ain't your momma's dip." This happened maybe 3 years ago and I'm still using the leftover coupons.

3. Full Circle Raspberry Spread: same problem, moldy almost immediately. I know it's an organic product without preservatives - but I buy enough organic to know this is not normal. When I'm paying double for a product, I would like it to last more than a few days. Especially with jelly... I don't know anyone who goes through jelly that fast. I sent an email, but didn't get a response until a month later when coupons showed up in the mail. I received multiple $2 free of any Full Circle product. Sweet! Although I'm not risking it with that jelly again.

4. Wendy's: this time Gregory suffered to get us some coupons. One night at the drive-thru, he was literally verbally assaulted by the staff when he drove around the building. They were all sitting outside taking a smoke break (classy!) and yelled, "F--- you!" when he pulled into the drive-thru lane. This was at least an hour before closing time. An email was sent and a few weeks later, our coupons for free items arrived. I chose to use a different Wendy's to redeem my free salad - at least 5 hours before closing time. :)

5. Tom's of Maine Toothpaste: Ayla, with her infinite ability to hurt herself, cut her little hands on the aluminum packaging while trying to brush her teeth "all by herself". We spend typically about $5 for each tube of toothpaste because it's all-natural and free of scary chemicals. The problem with this packaging is that it almost always breaks or obviously develops sharp edges. But Ayla loves her mango toothpaste! Plus their gingermint flavor is my favorite.

Their website is the best - useful FAQ's and information about ingredients. The aluminum packaging is necessary because of the natural oils AND it is completely recyclable. Tom's promptly sent us a new kid's toothpaste and a toothpaste roller. I remember using this growing up, but had completely forgotten about it. I have to say, problem solved!

I'm not a complainer by nature, but when it comes to my money spent and especially when I am a very loyal customer - it really pays to contact customer service. I'm always impressed that companies still respond. And every time they've sent coupons, in my mind, all is forgiven. It may only be two dollars lost here and there, but the principle is that I like these products and don't really want to change.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rachel's Baby Shower

It's been almost two weeks, but I'm finally posting pictures of Rachel's baby shower. She is due on December 24th (Merry Christmas everyone!) I haven't been to many showers, other than my own, in the past couple of years. It was a relaxing afternoon, eating, playing games and catching up in the midst of celebrating Rachel's impending arrival.

The incredible cake - it may be hard to believe, but I think it tasted better than it looked.

Genevieve is awestruck by the fondant flowers.

Dana did such an awesome job coordinating games and working that glue gun to make a hat out of the ribbons! Go, Dana, go! We also played some hilarious games - if you notice the strange necklaces everyone is wearing in their pictures, the goal was to not say the word "baby" or you had to eat one of your peach rings on a string. It was surprisingly difficult. We would be quick to point out someone else's slip-up, but not even realize when we had slipped ourselves. Matthew was good at causing everyone else to mess up, asking, "What is that present for? What kind of blanket is that gift?"

Oh yeah!

This is Eve and Anna during the baby food taste test. I coordinated the game specifically to NOT have to participate. Gross. I'm pretty sure this is a picture of Anna trying Chicken & Gravy!!!

I know it's only the beginning of the process, but it's really exciting to think about another baby coming into the family. All I know is that she is a girl AND will be sporting some of the new cloth diapers we got for her. It is so strange remembering my own baby showers and not yet knowing the person inside of me. I'm sure Rachel is feeling the same type of anticipation!

The Brutal Logic of Toddlers

Ayla (in the middle of a tantrum): I don't like anything! I don't love anything!
Gregory: You love me, don't you?
Ayla: No!
Gregory: 'sad face' :(
Ayla: When Momma comes home, SHE can love you.

Ouch! Such brutal logic. We weren't expecting this much sass for at least another decade. I think Ayla had picked up a few drama-queen techniques when her 5 year old cousin Laine visited this summer. All little girls can be sweet one moment and brutal the next, and Laine fits the category. 99% of the time she is kind, patient and loving... until a bad mood strikes. When children/animals attack!

For example, one morning when Laine was annoyed with us she really hit us hard by criticizing our clothes. "Your dress is disgusting! Your clothes are ugly!" She went through every person in the room and told us how "gross" we looked. It was obvious that she really meant it. I knew my clothes were gross, so I didn't care- but if I had been another 5 year old at that moment, I probably would have been traumatized.

The problem is that when Ayla speaks the truth about something, it isn't always meant to be hurtful, it just comes out that way. But because we often spend so much of our energy trying NOT to offend other people, we have forgotten how to explain differences and be sensitive to it. People's appearance is a big deal to Ayla right now. Walking in Target, she says, "That lady is big!" Okay, so she was bigger, overweight, whatever. But oh my god, people certainly don't want to hear or talk about it - unless you're sitting in a Jenny Craig office. While I'm not embarrassed (I won't be until she knows better), I just have to be honest right there on the spot. I hope I don't send any ladies into a depression when I calmly explain, "Yes, that lady was bigger, but everyone comes in all shapes and sizes!" And Ayla still continues...

Usually the victim of scrutiny is understanding and can laugh at the situation. The other night, my cousin Austin was visiting us for dinner. He's, well, bald. For most men in my family, it's expected - they all saw it coming. My father was completely bald before graduating college. But he accepted it. No hairpieces, nothing. Bald at twenty. He left what hair he had (around the sides) and I always thought it looked nice. Austin has also let "the bald" work to his advantage - he just shaves off whatever hair still decides to grow and goes for the streamlined effect. Maybe for better fuel economy?

While he was trying to enjoy his steak, Ayla asks, "Why don't you have any hair?" And to add insult to injury, her logic continues, "But Momma has hair, I have hair, Dadda has hair, even Jackson has hair!"

We can't argue with her. She's right. But it is brutal logic.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Questions of the Week

I know the book Waiter Rant has already published some of the most unbelievably ridiculous stories to be told about working in the restaurant industry, but sometimes customers can still surprise me! The author Steve Dublanica started his work on an anonymous blog and soon had enough stories (and enough followers) to put together a book.

What he writes is SO on point, and easily categorizes all customers into specific categories. Some people are egomaniacs who dine in restaurants to abuse the staff and build up their own broken egos. Some are people who tip in compliments - as in, they think the more that they say thank you, the less money they have to leave at the end of the meal. Oh! if my bills could be paid with nice words. However, my favorite statement is "If you can't afford to tip your server, you can't afford to eat out." These should be lessons passed on to our children along with simple please and thank you.

I don't encounter many non-tippers at my restaurant. It's too small-town and friendly for that to happen often. Not to say it doesn't happen - especially if we are busy. Someone might take the signed credit card slip with them or assume their friend put the tip on their portion of the bill.

I do, however, encounter a lot of dumb questions. Yes, dumb - to describe it any other way would be dishonest. Here are two winners from this week:

- A man looks at his menu, scans all of the items and asks, "Do any of these have tortillas?"

1. We're talking about a Mexican restaurant.
2. All of the menu descriptions clearly say "choice of flour or corn tortillas". (And while I'm on the topic - I can't count how many people have asked, DUH, What's the difference?)

- A woman, without looking at the menu, asks, "Which of your lunch items are hot in temperature?"

1. You mean, as in "cooked"? Restaurants cook food. Welcome to the world.
2. I clearly explained that all of the meat or seafood was grilled, along with the other ingredients - EXCEPT for salads. Just to clarify.

When I hang out with my friends who have spent time (like prison) in the restaurant industry, these stories can go on for hours. From fast food to high-end hotel bars, customers can still be pretty obtuse. Does anyone out there have a good "dumb" question they've heard while serving?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

They Might Be Giants (so SSSHHHH!!!)

We went to a They Might Be Giants concert last night at Mr. Small's in Millvale. I haven't been to a concert in possibly 4 or 5 years (if you don't count the ABBA cover band we saw at the Benedum). Mr. Small's is a really cool space, a church converted to a theater, among other things like recording studios.

I like going to shows like this because it's not a "see and be seen" kind of atmosphere. Women wear jeans and t-shirts, not BCBG miniskirts. Everyone is there either because they're really into the musicians or are willing to check them out for $25. Because I am quickly approaching thirty and don't often indulge in cool social events, I sometimes feel self conscious. I hate looking around a bar, concert, whatever and realizing that I'm (oh no!) way older than most of the people there. This was not the case last night.

They Might Be Giants have been a very popular, but under the radar kind of band since the 8o's. The band was playing most songs from their 1990 album Flood. If we put this on a time line, we're going to get a lot of people who were either in high school or college when this came out. This put us, along with our friends Thaddeus and Emily, lower than most on the age spectrum. Many of the heads blocking my view of the stage were balding. I looked over at one point and saw a woman sending a text that said:

"Thanks for babysitting. Is everyone asleep? Do you know how to work the tv?"

I was practically texting the same thing! I was so excited to be in a venue filled with parents thrilled to be out on a Friday night, just like me! Okay, that wasn't everyone - but at least there were more than 5 of us.

We had found our spot in the crowd WAY in the back, near the bar. We were all listening to the music, but also talking. Yeah, talking, which turned out to be quite offensive to some couples standing near us. I probably would have never known if I hadn't had to walk by them to get to the bathroom. They were the kind of people who get themselves so worked up paying attention to other people, but can't seem to go somewhere else or simply ignore whatever is bothering them. Emily and I were walking towards the bathroom when I heard someone say to her,

"When you get back, can you stop talking? All we hear is talking. We paid to be here."

Just take a moment to absorb that statement. ALL WE HEAR IS TALKING. Oh, you don't hear the BAND playing their loud instruments plugged into amplifiers or singing into these amazing machines called microphones? AND they paid to be there. I didn't realize there was an option to get in without paying.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am pretty incapable of hiding my facial expressions. I looked at these people like they were telling me what size underwear they had on. As in, I couldn't care less what you saying right now and is this really happening? You're upset that someone is talking at a concert. I can often hold my tongue, but I'm sure my face had already said it all. We made it clear that we, in fact, wouldn't stop talking upon our return and I ended it with my ever sarcastic, "You'll be fine."

I want to instate a rule that they are NO rules when it comes to talking at concerts. Especially when we aren't sitting in assigned seats and when they aren't any seats to begin with! Nothing was stopping these losers from walking away if we were ruining their night. But people like that love their own misery and can't help themselves from huffing and puffing and saying passive-aggressive things out loud but never directly at another person.

Upon our return from the bathroom, not only did we continue talking, but the talking included a lot of dramatic "SSHHHHH!" at each other and making fun of them. Sure, it was immature but they still couldn't just walk away. We had a prime spot right next to the bar, so we sure as hell weren't going anywhere. One of their choice comments was, "You picked the wrong person to f&*k with, I'm gonna put you through a wall." I laughed. And Gregory noticed that the meathead who said it was sucking down a Smirnoff Ice. How's that for intimidating? Incredulous would be the best word to describe my feelings for those sad, sad people.

I still had a great time, and did listen to the music that I, ahem, paid for.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Once was lost, but now is found

I'm not referring to my soul - that would be quite a lengthy post. I'm talking about the rebirth of my favorite necklace.

Let's just start this story with the understatement that I am not good with jewelry. I lose it; especially if it has any value. My jewelry box (which lies under the bed untouched for 6 months at a time) is filled with one earring of every variety. I can't be lucky enough to lose both, it's always one.

I think jewelry is beautiful, but only on other people. I have a hard time wearing anything bigger than stud earrings, it looks, well... cluttered. I have to make a conscious effort to wear bracelets or change necklaces or more than one ring. I think to myself, "Alexis, you're a grown woman and you never wear any of this stuff. Just put it on and walk out the door. Don't double check it in the mirror. If there's ever a time to wear diamonds or pearls or gemstones - it would be this wedding, ballet, opera, etc." I make it half-way through whatever event I'm attending before the excess jewelry is at the bottom of my purse.

With my track record, I had thought it couldn't get any lower than losing my engagement ring. Let me be more specific: my grandmother's one-of-a-kind miracle mount diamond engagement ring. I lasted about two years before somehow losing the diamond while still wearing the band. I looked down at work one day and it was GONE. In a retail store. Somewhere between the cash register and the storeroom. It was so hopeless, it could only look for a few minutes before making a teary phone call to Gregory. We never found it - in our apartment, the car, the store, anywhere. I now wear a very similar ring that was purchased in the antique section of Thomas Jewelers. It has remained intact for 4 years and counting!

But, while the engagement ring has survived my bling ineptitude - my favorite necklace recently was lost. Gregory had given it to me before we got married, as a celebration of our "1 year" engagement anniversary. It's the perfect necklace for me, a tiny curved piece of silver with delicate diamonds. For it's size, it has always drawn a lot of attention - people always complimented it. It is also the only necklace Gregory has ever gotten for me. Can you blame him? Giving me gifts of silver or gold is a risky endeavour.

It's my fault for taking it off in the first place. I wanted to clean it. I wanted to protect it from Jackson's prying fingers. But I left it on a shelf in the bathroom in July and never saw it again - until a few days ago.

And I certainly can't take any credit for finding it. I had hidden the fact that I couldn't find the necklace at first. It took me about a week to ask Gregory if he'd seen it back in July, hoping that he had and was trying to teach me a necklace-keeping lesson. I was too saddened to really think it was gone. Can't I be trusted with anything? Do I really have to lose jewelry ALL of the time?

This week Gregory began cleaning out his summer shirts and replacing them with winter clothes. At the very very very bottom of his drawer was my necklace. Underneath piles of t-shirts, all the way across the house from the bathroom. How it got there is a complete mystery. It can't be blamed on cats or babies - which most everything usually can be. If there is a ghost moving my stuff like in the Sixth Sense, I'm fine with it - because at least it can be found, if only a few months later.

Now that I have the necklace back, I'm realizing how much I missed it. I missed its' sentimental value. I felt disappointed in myself for losing yet another beautiful piece of jewelry. Thank goodness I have a husband who rotates his summer/winter wear. We might not have uncovered the necklace until we moved from this house. And I just might have given up on jewelry altogether.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Get your groove on

Yesterday was one of those Sundays. It's our only full day off together without work and I always scheme master plans for accomplishing chores, making little day trips and preparing a tasting dinner from one of my many unused cookbooks. The plan yesterday was to take Ayla & Jackson to pick out pumpkins at Soergel's Orchard.

Last year was a relatively successful visit. The weather was beautiful, everyone enjoyed picking out pumpkins and enjoying the fresh fall air. We managed to balance babies and pumpkins on the tractor ride and Ayla enjoyed some local, delicious apples.

This year, however, with our children one year wiser and more strong-willed, was not as relaxing. I brought the camera, but forgot the battery. Ayla whined when we got to the pumpkin patch because all she wanted to do was ride the tractor. I paid $2 for her to jump in one of those inflatable bouncy tents and all she did was stand in the middle covering her eyes. Neither child could be put down, therefore making it difficult to carry our pumpkins. Jackson was REALLY not into visiting the farm animals. With small children, I'm discovering that most activities are a sport in coercion and negotiation - a mental task that can exhaust me in minutes. Gregory talked me down from my own temper tantrum right in the middle of the pumpkin vines.

The fun continued when we got home. More whining and crying. Jackson is going through a mommy-hold me all of the time-phase. I can't explain how difficult it is to transfer clothes from the washer to the dryer while holding a 26 pound baby in your arms. Everyone was grumpy and hungry.

Then I had to go over to my mother's house to do more chores.

Then I went to the grocery store. I filled my cart, got everything on the list - and then realized I had left my wallet at home.

I was desperately counting down the minutes to bath time and just hoping we could make the transitions to bed without any more meltdowns. I was sitting in the living room with Jackson, stacking blocks, when Gregory joined Ayla down in the basement and starting playing his drum set. Ayla had been banging away and I didn't care anymore how dirty she was getting. But as soon as the banging turned into a rhythmic beat, the mood changed. Jackson perked up, looked around and started bouncing. He stood up and almost ran to the basement door. I could almost hear him thinking, "MUSIC. MUST DANCE." We went downstairs to watch Daddy play the drums and Ayla danced with us on the dusty floor.

With all of the things we had been trying all day: begging, time out, pleading and buying of candy - all it took was a little music therapy. The mood had shifted. Everyone got their groove on and therefore everyone was happier. Go 'head, girl, go 'head get down.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

You know you're a mom when....

You know you are really a mom when you have to put going to the bathroom on a list. Seriously. It has to fall somewhere between the daily activities and two toddlers are certainly not understanding of someone else's bodily functions. Can't go until Ayla's used her potty in the living room. Can't go with half of the dishwasher emptied. Can't go while Jackson is having an epic head-pounding temper tantrum. Somewhere between almost needing a diaper myself and don't make me laugh!, I get to number #28 on the to the list and I get a moment to myself. Well, not exactly to myself - there's usually an audience because I can't get the door locked in time. The good point is that Ayla is very supportive. She uses the same appreciative tone that we used when she first started using the potty, "Good job, good job for going wee wee!"

You know you are the mom of a toddler when you have to look up answers to her WHY questions on Wikipedia. The response "because" just isn't cutting it anymore.

You know you are a mom of two toddlers when folding laundry is a self-defense sport. I probably started the fun, but my kids love to throw around clean laundry. Throw it down the stairs, throw it in big piles, bury siblings, knock it off the bed... which is cute for about 10 seconds. Then I become the mean task-master who actually has to sort and get these clothes into drawers.

You know you are a mom, when at the end of the day, you feel proud of the small accomplishments. Ayla and Jackson both brushed their teeth AND I got a good picture of it. One email was returned. I made dinner AND cleaned it up. We hugged, we read books and the cloth diapers were washed.

When I become overly frantic with tasks and projects and the frustration of another day being completely consumed with what exactly; I mentally remind myself that this is exactly what I should be doing. Perpetual messes aren't so terrible and my two little people couldn't care less about them. They are just fighting for a portion of the time I have to give. Like very aggressive cats. But it's all about balance and expectations. Is the house messy? Check. Am I exhausted? Check. Is the DVR almost full because we can't keep up with it? Oh check. When I measure my life in those terms - I'd much rather be lacking in my prime time tv (because you can just rent the whole season when it comes out on DVD!) than lacking in time with my family. They're only this little (and needy) for such a short time.

Seeing this kind of sibling love could turn any bad day around.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Checkin' out at the library

I've recently rediscovered my love for the library. After college and all of it's required reading, it took some time to adjust to reading for enjoyment again. Some people love to hang out at Barnes & Noble, where I do admit the magazine section is amazing, but I'd rather be at the library. First of all, it's free. B&N inspires you to want to buy things (naturally) and I almost always regret a book purchase. Fiction, that is. I've re-read a fiction novel maybe once or twice in my life - the Harry Potter books and some O.Henry stories. But to buy another book that will sit on my shelf for the next twenty years at home without knowing I really like it, it's just not appealing to me. The library lets me "commit" to a book that I've heard Oprah recommend and then hopefully get it back out of my house in time for the due date. And again, this is free.

I always loved checking out the local libraries wherever I have lived. Denver, Cleveland and Carnegie all had beautiful and unique buildings. But I've been back to my original library stomping (or should I say stepping quietly) grounds in Sewickley. My very first library card was issued in Sewickley - in which I distinctly remember bringing a piece of mail with my name on it in order to get it from the strict children's librarian. I participated in the summer reading programs every year and dropped my slips into the assorted raffles, hoping to win an ice cream cone at Baskin Robbins for finishing Little House on the Prairie. This is another nerd alert, but it was always something I looked forward to in the summer. I would research elementary school projects with my friends and spend way too much change in the photocopy machine. The library still has the same solid wooden tables and chairs - where we would look at Teen magazines and procrastinate doing the 6th grade country report.

But now, my time is divided between the adult fiction and the newly expanded children's library. It is beautiful. An entirely separate wing devoted to puzzles, audio books, computers and of course, picture books for kids. I quickly have to choose my own books and rush up the stairs to appease Ayla. I acknowledge that she is more interested in the Duplo blocks and fire-truck puzzles than picking out her books. But I'd accompany her there just to be surrounded by the books and muffled sounds of the library. I love the plastic covering on every book and especially seeing the old handwriting from when the librarians had to manually record each lender.

Every visit, we pick out a few items to take home - If You Give a Moose A Muffin, Madeline or Fix It (a story about a little bear who no longer wants to watch tv, but wants to read instead). We also indulge in a video. We thoroughly enjoyed the 1980's Raffi concert and Elmo teaching us Spanish. But occasionally, I do pick something ridiculous. Yesterday, I was searching for anything with baby sign language but settled on a special dance video instead. It's, um, weird. It shows only the dancers feet moving along to nursery rhymes. But instead of singing these nursery rhymes, it is a woman attempting def jam poetry style. Ayla and Jackson were enthralled - but the horrified look on Gregory's face said it all.

Maybe I'll be traditional and stick to checking out the books at the library. It is what they do best.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Chicago - Hosting the Abells, not the Olympics

Sorry, Chicago. I thought our visit last weekend would have secured your bid for the Olympics! I did everything I could to help out.

Last weekend, we took a road trip (we are gluttons for punishment, right?) to Chicago to visit my first college roommate Sara, her husband Shane (who often hung out in that dorm room) and their beautiful daughter Evie. It was a visit that was loooong overdue. The last time we saw each other was when they lived in Philadelphia in 2005 - all before the life-changing experience of having children. It was becoming shameful that I hadn't met their baby, quickly growing into a little girl, when we are only a day's drive apart.

On Friday morning, we packed the car and the kids, stopping only a few times along the turnpike. It has become a habit to take our fast-food lunches outside and "picnic" in the grass. Whatever grass is available. Sometimes we have squeezed in between shrubbery on an island in the middle of a parking lot. But it feels so good to feel a breeze, however warm, and let everyone stretch if only for a few minutes.

Our drive was as non-eventful as possible. Despite the $25 in tolls! (I remember driving through Chicago when I was in college and painfully broke. Every toll-booth and sign indicating another $3 to pay was agony. Why is that, Chicago?) Ayla did have a meltdown over my offering a hard-boiled egg that was missing a piece, but luckily, Gregory can appease those kinds of problems with movies on his cell phone.

Upon arrival in Hyde Park, we got to see Sara & Shane's condo. I always love to visit homes that are unique - anything but your cookie-cutter, post 1980's modernly built home with white walls and zero personality. They live in a renovated building, in a growing neighborhood. My favorite kind of neighborhood, like Leetsdale. For example, they have long walls and extraordinary long windows (which Sara explained were a challenge to get curtains), but at least it's interesting.

Ayla had been anxiously awaiting meeting Evie. Even though they are a year apart (and when you're little, that can be such a big difference), they were instant friends. I do have to say that we were all won over when Evie was willing to share her amazing play room. A slide, blocks, musical instruments, a kitchen set, puzzles, fake food (my personal favorite). As f0r my poor boy Jackson - he's so happy to meet anyone. But Evie took her cue from Ayla, the occasionally gentle older sister, and they promptly ignored him for the rest of the weekend. They only noticed him when he came close to whatever toy they were enjoying and then screamed for him to get away. Such is the life of a 16 month old.

The beauty of visiting friends with children is that they understand exactly how much can be accomplished (or not accomplished) in a day. We weren't expecting to hit the hot tourist spots and check off items on a list. It was relaxing to hang out, catch up on all the details of the last four years and let our kids nap or play.

We saw the local farmers market and the community garden. We enjoyed great meals cooked by Shane. We listened to an outdoor concert at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival - where the kids cared more about sharing popsicles than the cool Caribbean jazz music.

For the more touristy options, we took a train ride downtown (good job, double stroller!) for a "hipster" breakfast at Yolk and to visit Shedd's aquarium.

On Sunday night, we were invited over to my cousins' (and his incredible girlfriends') condo for an amazing dinner. God Bless them for inviting everyone into their trendy, adult space and risking the damage of three toddlers. While Khaylen was slaving over home-made macaroni and cheese, pork loin, salad and peach pie, I caught Ayla jumping on their bed and Jackson pulling medicine out of the bathroom cabinet. (I think Evie was perfectly behaved, of course, while watching the Abell destruction crew. What more entertainment could she need?) I apologize profusely for the spit and handprint damage inflicted on the sliding mirror closet doors. That's just too irresistable, as these pictures show.

It was a great weekend trip, catching up with some very important people in my life. Thank you, Shane and Sara, for hosting us. And thank you, Austin and Khaylen, for rushing back from Cleveland to see us if only for a few hours. And your neighborhood smelled like chocolate chip cookies - the smell alone could entice me to come back to that city!

I understand that South America deserves a chance for the Olympics, but I still see your beauty, Chicago. (Especially when I don't visit during the winter months!)