Thursday, November 24, 2011

How Not to Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner

How Not to Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner
The "chef" at Thanksgiving. See how easy?
Here are some easy steps to follow to guarantee your Thanksgiving dinner will raise your blood pressure and lower everyone else's expectations for next year:

1) Don’t make sure the turkey has defrosted the day before Thanksgiving (today!!). This will ensure that cool, refreshing iced-turkey taste your family will grow to love.

2) Leave the giblets, kidneys and heart and all that other gross nasty stuff inside the turkey when you put it in the oven. This is a nice touch when your judgmental mother-in-law is in the room distracting you with her judgmentalness while you’re so kindly trying to feed her hypocritical ass. Ask husband to distract said mother-in-law, diverting her attention to the bonfire he started down the street on the corner, so you can remove giblets, kidneys, heart and all that other gross nasty stuff before the plastic bag they’re in starts to melt, setting off smoke detectors.

3) Make giblet gravy with actual giblets.

4) When you remove canned cranberries from the can, slide it out onto a plate so it retains its perfect canned shape. This takes patience and years of practice (Secret Hint: puncturing the bottom of the can will help eliminate the vacuum allowing cranberries to slide out easily!) Whatever you do, don’t get a can of whole cranberries and stir them up and put them in a fancy bowl so people think you flew to a Massachusetts bog to hand pick them, then spent days simmering them over low heat using grandma’s secret cranberry sauce recipe, or anything like that. (Secret Hint: Ocean Spray!)

5) Every year, for fourteen years, panic when the turkey is taking too long to cook and you think you won’t be eating dinner until midnight.

6) Every year, for fourteen years, panic when the turkey’s temperature rapidly starts to rise in the last half-hour of cooking and your mashed potatoes are still raw, rock solid lumps.

7) Don’t let the turkey “rest” before carving. You’re tired, you’re hungry, you’ve been working all day and it’s the turkey that needs a rest? Forgetaboutit. Cut it up right away. This will guarantee nice, dry and possibly mealy-tasting breast meat.

8) When you finally sit down and start eating, just dig in. Don’t go around the table and make everybody say one thing (or more!) that they’re thankful for. This will make absolutely sure that the true meaning of Thanksgiving—Food, Football—is not lost on anyone!

A City Mom would like to wish everyone an absolutely wonderful and Happy Thanksgiving! And one thing you can be thankful for this year? You’re not eating at my house.

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Lockerless Schools? Not in Chicago.

According to this article in the USA Today, USA Today: Lockerless Schools?, many schools are transitioning to lockerless because of the influx of ebooks and ereaders. While this trend bodes well for the backs and shoulders of our kids, I was saddened to hear the news. The schools cite cost savings and the fact there are less tardies and less opportunity to hide a weapon. But like the passing of vinyl, Bozo Circus and Dixie cups, it's just one more thing from my childhood that's going away.

I don't know how many people have fond memories of their school lockers, especially kids like David Peoples, who quite routinely got stuffed into one. There was the one time I was walking down a deserted junior high hallway, only to be startled to see a locker door open, from the inside, and watch Scotty Griffin walk out. "I just wanted to see if I would fit," was all he offered as explanation, but we shared a pretty good laugh that, without lockers, we otherwise wouldn't have.

For a short period, I harbored a secret crush on Tom Stringfellow, whose locker was always right next to mine, until he fell in love with Debbie Blaha and I turned my affections elsewhere. Today, with all the social media and the onset of texting as the primary means of teenaged communication, I think the social aspect of lockers may be missed. Being thrown, albeit alphabetically, next to kids from every different facet of the social sphere, you know, if a sphere had facets, was unique to the locker assignment. Where else would brains or the popular kids routinely be placed next to geeks or next to jocks or next to stoners?

But it occurs to me CPS will probably not be able to do away with the school locker until they find a way to do with another tardy-causing, costly annoyance: The Chicago Winter. (Most of the schools mentioned in the USA Today story were in more temperate climates.) A case in point: My son once forgot his coat on a chair in his high school cafeteria, only to remember it seconds later. He quickly ran back for it, but it was gone faster than you could say Columbia Crest, which doesn't make any sense because Columbia Crest makes Chardonnay, Mom, so where is your head at? Ahem. The new winter coat disappeared faster than you can say "Columbia Sportswear."

So, unless they expect our kids to wear their coats and gloves and scarves around all day along with their ebooks and ereaders and elunches (!?), I can take solace in knowing at least one less artifact from my childhood, the school locker, will disappear from my childrens’. I only wish I could have said the same thing about the resurgence of those bell-bottomed jeans.

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O'Hare World's Buzziest Airport: Sweet Beginnings aviation apiary raises bees and hope

O'Hare World's Buzziest Airport: Sweet Beginnings aviation apiary raises bees and hope
This article in Food Safety News: Food Safety News: When honey isn't honey  came out just last week and personally, I find what it says about the quality of our honey supply startling, especially when you consider most people turn to honey as a healthier alternative to white sugar. But have no fear! A City Mom is here. And I'm going to tell you about a unique alternative to that questionable honey that comes out of that little bear's head and the local company that produces it: Sweet Beginnings.

In this difficult economy, it’s tough enough to find a job. Now imagine if you have “ex-convict” on your resume. Five years ago, the non-profit North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN) founded Sweet Beginnings, a wholly owned (for profit) subsidiary designed to create jobs for formerly incarcerated individual and others with significant barriers to employment. Today, Sweet Beginnings, makers of Beeline products, employs seven to ten transitional employees and two semi-permanent Team Leaders at any given time.

This is no ordinary jobs program. You see, Sweet Beginnings runs apiaries. That’s right, beehives. And raising bees is not the only unusual thing about them. These beehives are located at the airport, the only airport apiaries in the country. So, does this make O’Hare the world’s buzziest airport, too? (sorry) I hereby officially declare, Yes, it does.

Holly Blackwell, General Manager of Sweet Beginnings, says they have three apiary sites in Chicago. Their first was in North Lawndale. A second, for education and honey purposes, was built at Wright College. The apiary at O'Hare came about, she says, when they were approached by several parties from the Chicago Department of Aviation, who had an interest in "urban" beekeeping, sustainability and in NLEN's social mission to create jobs. "We found the intersection of environmental consciousness, a way to expand our beekeeping capacities, strong partnerships with a world-class organization, and the potential for more jobs creation to be exceptionally compelling," Blackwell says, adding that although O'Hare is the first US airport to host an apiary, Germany has led the way in the practice, using the bee colonies onsite to test for air quality.

At Sweet Beginnings, employees learn to take care of the bees and harvest the honey, which is then either sold as is, or used in its all-natural line of skincare products called Beeline. The Beeline products include body creams, lotions and balms and body washes. They’re all made at their North Lawndale location on the city's west side and then packaged and shipped or delivered throughout Chicagoland and around the country. They've even placed orders as far away as Australia! Could Beeline Honey eventually replace vegemite!?! (Having tried vegemite, I personally think it should.)

Every potential Sweet Beginnings employees must first participate in the NLEN's U-Turn Permitted program , where they learn and sharpen skills they'll need to find, keep and perhaps even use to successfully leave a job. The U-Turn Permitted participants take a one-month workforce readiness class and prospective employees of Sweet Beginnings are taken from this pool for interviews.

One Sweet Beginnings employee said of the program, "I gained a lot of different experiences and gained knowledge of something I thought I would never be doing, but I know I will be able to take this experience and use (it) in other jobs and life. It's a great start for me to get back on my feet and begin working again and take a positive step forward towards my future. My family is very proud of me for getting this job, so thank you."

You can find Beeline products in fine shops, at the Peninsula Hotel, Whole Foods and, of course, at O’Hare airport. There’s some buzz (sorry) that Beeline is looking to possibly open another apiary at Midway Airport. I would even go so far as to suggest Northerly Island, so at least something would be flying at the site that was formerly Meigs Field.

The incidents of reoffending for ex-convicts is 65% nationally and 55% in Illinois, yet the rate of recidivism for employees of Sweet Beginnings is less than four percent. And as far as statistics for success go, that’s sweet.

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Lucky 1111

Lucky 1111
11:11 11/11/11
1111 has been my lucky number for years [A City Mom 1/11/11 ] and so I feel compelled to post today at 11:11.  Unfortunately, due to some pretty poor planning on my part, I will not be celebrating 11:11 11/11/11 holding hands with other robe-clad individuals in a field, but in a dentist's chair.
I will still consider 1111 my lucky number if tomorrow I can report, "No cavities."

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Psychoanalyzing Cats

Psychoanalyzing Cats
He's thinking "I like the window," or "I hate the window," or "Knock it off with that stupid baby-talk voice, you're killing me."
Last weekend I introduced myself to someone I knew only from a photo, but whom I sort of work with, (it's complicated) and when I did, I not only got the stink eye, but the cold shoulder as well. I mean ouch, right? I tried not to stew on it, but you know me; I did. Later when I told the husband about the whole thing, he responded with his canned answer to all situations similar: "You're psychoanalyzing cats."

I love this household saying of ours. Psychoanalyzing cats. And it did get me off my own case. If you have pets, you surely know what we mean by it. You’re doing it when you sit there trying to figure out what on earth is going on inside your cat's head when for some reason he decides to poop right next to the litter box and this behavior lasts for a week and it makes no difference whether the litter box is clean or dirty or if it's late at night or early in the morning or if there's a full moon in the sky. And then, just as suddenly as it started, the behavior stops. So you think, "Oh, he must have been mad about something" and it never occurs to you that it probably isn't healthy to be anthropomorphizing your pets and perhaps you're the one in need of psychoanalysis.

But my point, finally, is that you will never know what, if anything, is actually going through your cat's head and so the exercise of kitty psychoanalysis is pointless. Moot. A waste of time. Much like trying to figure out why someone you sort of work with, who publicly appears to be all outgoing and friendly, gave you the hairy eyeball when you introduced yourself.

But it doesn’t stop me from doing it all the time, reading motivation into things people say or do to me: “Maybe Susie doesn’t like me anymore!” “Maybe he’s mad at me.”  “Maybe she disapproves of how I handled that.” Whatever. It’s ridiculous. Because, as with cats, you’ll never truly know what people are thinking, if anything. That is unless you ask them point blank. But I would consider this to be risky behavior in some social situations, because then you might find out the actual truth of what they think of you. I know! This is why I stick with random conjecture, projecting my fears and prejudices on others by imagining their personal behavior motivations. Even though I’m probably way off and not anywhere near the truth. It might just be better to be blissfully ignorant, I think. Better, and much more fun anyway, to be psychoanalyzing cats.

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Are Chicago Public School teachers overdeveloped?

Today begins a three week stretch in which my sons will go to school for only three days a week. This week, Veteran’s Day is Friday the 11th but the school added a “Professional Development Day” on Thursday. The first three-day week. Next week report card pick-up is on Thursday and traditionally on report card pick-up day there’s no school for the students. Fine. But they added yet another “Development Day” next Friday. The second three-day week. In a row. The following week is the Thanksgiving holiday, so I suppose that’s excused. But still. Three three-day weeks in a row? It prompted one of my sons to ask at dinner last week, “I worry our teachers will be overdeveloped!”

I don’t know where he gets it.

Adding ninety-minutes to the school day seems like an awful lot and as I stated previously I’m on the fence about it. What’s a card-carrying union member CPS parent to think? Although, I’m starting to lean in a new direction. What if instead of adding time to the school day, my kids just spent more days in school? It would mean they wouldn’t have to travel to and from school in the dark quite as often. They would have more time at home for homework or other extra-curricular activities. And it would have the added benefit of not having so many overdeveloped teachers, which , I don't know, kinda sounds like something there should be medication for.

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Take "do a barrel roll" out for a spin

I’ve never particularly enjoyed doing aerobatics and therefore Google’s latest easter egg “do a barrel roll” didn’t hold a whole lot of interest for me. But still. I kinda wanted to see it. At least once. (Go to Google’s home page Google Home Page and type in “do a barrel roll.” The whole page flips around.) Watching that page rotate gave me horrible flashbacks to every time in my flying career that I’d ever been exposed to aerobatics.

But it did make me laugh out loud. Which is more than I can say for the spins I was forced to do as a flight student. In order to become a Certified Flight Instructor, which I needed to become in order to gain flight time, I had to learn spins. Spins. Not barrel rolls. Not split S’s or loops. Just spins. I hated spins. In order for the Beechcraft Sport I flew to do a spin, the fuel tanks could only be filled halfway as opposed to the full tanks we usually left with. When I would come in from my preflight inspection, after having noticed the half empty (yes, pessimistically half empty) tanks I would be three shades paler than when I’d left.

My instructor, one of the best pilots I’ve ever known, forced me to do spins over and over. And over. It was like he scared the fear of them out of me. In order for me to become certified as an instructor I had to do two solo spins, one to the left and one to the right. While the temptation when flying solo was to just say I’d done them, I did do them. Only once. One to the left and one to the right.

Eventually as an instructor, I had to start teaching spins to my students. Most of them seemed to enjoy rapidly spinning downward toward the earth at an unnatural angle in an airplane. I know! But what perhaps made me the proudest, was when a few other instructors began asking me to take their students up for the lesson on spins. Because they didn’t want to. Because they hated spins. And I did take their students up and I taught them to spin.

While they will never be one of my favorite things in terms of actually doing them in an airplane, spins are one of my favorite things in terms of doing something that I was afraid of and mastering it. The little flip my stomach did when I watched Google’s home page turn upside down reminded me of all that, something I hadn’t thought about in years, and so thanks Google, for your latest easter egg, which made this former spin-a-phobe smile.

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Don't be a pumpkin bumpkin! Keep them out of the landfill

Don't be a pumpkin bumpkin! Keep them out of the landfill
I stumbled upon a way to keep our carved pumpkins out of the landfill quite accidentally about five years ago. Not having enough time to bag them up, I just put them in the backyard garden. Then never got around to it. Thanks to the squirrels and a Chicago winter, they decomposed quite nicely. By the time spring flower planting time came around, the only trace of pumpkin remaining was the stem.

The pumpkins left in sunny spots decomposed more quickly. And they added some nice color until they, well, until they didn't.

Or, you could try what we did one year. Just ignore the giant pumpkin on the front porch in hopes that someone (Santa?) would carve it up and take it away. While it may be worth a few laughs, from personal experience with the gag reflex induced in disposing of said pumpkin, I cannot recommend this approach.

Hope everyone had a great Halloween!

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On Halloween: Five things that scared me as a kid and the adult fears they morphed into.

In honor of Halloween, I’ve gone back and opened up those scary childhood closets, looked under the bed to remind myself of all the things that used to make me afraid. And, as an added benefit (no charge) we’ll see how those childhood fears have morphed into the things that now scare me as a grown-up.

1) Childhood Fear:Vampires
I was terrified of vampires as a kid. I watched a scary vampire movie and afterwards, had to sleep on my back for a year, afraid to give any vampires lurking nearby the temptation of too much exposure to my sleeping neck.
 Adult Fear: Upper Management
The way these guys unapologetically seem to relish sucking the life-blood out of companies and taking pay and benefits away from employees all in the name of profitability and responsibility to shareholders, then paying themselves big giant bonuses is terrifying. It’s even scarier when they drive their companies to the brink and then get big government bailouts. At my tax-payer expense. Yikes!

2) Childhood Fear: The open closet door at night
Even if it were open just a half-inch, my parents had to close it before I could sleep. I don’t know what I was afraid would come out of there, although those 1970’s fashions were pretty scary.
Adult Fear: The lack of transparency in our government
We really can’t see behind those closed doors. Until all politicians actually do start wearing NASCAR style patches from their campaign contributors on the outside of their suits, and until mayoral task forces designed to uncover abuses are free to delve into past abuses, then I see the closet door as firmly closed. Which begs the question, if it were open, what would come out of there? Boo!

3) Childhood Fear: Clowns
Whoever thought covering up a grown man’s face in white grease paint and sticking on a bright red nose would delight children was an ass clown. Which brings us to
Adult Fear: Ass Clowns
You work with them. They drive the streets (usually with a cellphone at their ear). They’re at the ballpark, on the El or at the grocery store, talking loudly about subjects they know little or nothing about, calling attention to themselves in any way they can. Shiver.

4) Childhood Fear: Lassie
There were episodes of Lassie I found so frightening it would bring me to tears and have my mom threatening to never let me watch the show again. That Timmy sure got himself in lots of trouble doing stupid things.
Adult Fear: Sara Palin
Someone so dumb should never, ever have gotten so close to the Presidency of our country. Her ignorance not only demonstrates what’s wrong with our country’s education system but also our political system: pretty people get votes when they spew the right catch phrases. Eek!

5) Childhood Fear: Flying Monkeys
I was incapable of watching the Wizard of Oz’s flying monkey scene without hiding under the couch. Now it seems unreasonable to me to be afraid of creatures I knew didn’t actually exist. Still, how could I know I would meet so many similar beings in my future career with the airlines? (see #3, Adult Fear, above)
Adult Fear: Interest Bearing Savings Accounts
Once again, I’m afraid of something that doesn’t actually exist. The Fed depressed interest rates to zero or almost zero, allowing big banks like Goldman Sachs to recapitalize on the backs of anyone with a regular old savings account, like retirees or people with kids going to college soon. (And just for the record, I want to say here that Goldman Sachs, the Federal Reserve Bank, quantitative easing and credit default swaps all scare me too.) Break into cold sweat now!

Happy Halloween!

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Please Make a Note of it

Please Make a Note of it
When I was getting ready to leave town on my flight earlier this week, I suddenly remembered I'd forgotten to sign my daughter up for basketball. It seems there's always at least one "mouse that gets away," which is how I refer to a detail or errand or to-do item that needed to be accomplished before I left, but didn't. (At least this time, the mouse wasn't a big one. [Hungarian Home Alone] )

The basketball sign-up detail came to me right as I was dialing my husband, to tell him a quick good bye before we took off. So why not just pass the baton, and ask him to sign her up? Because that would be silly. He was in his car driving home and I knew between traffic and his KunstlerCast, by the time he got home, he would have forgotten as well. I thought about calling home and leaving myself a message, but all three of the kids were home and I was running out of time before I had to turn my phone off and didn't have time to talk to all of them again. (Because I can't talk to just one of them; it's not fair and balanced.) I didn't have time to boot up my iPad and send myself an email and I don't have a smart phone. I probably could have texted myself a reminder note, but at the speed at which I'm capable of texting it would have been faster to just go to the Park District and sign her up right then. I thought about calling my cell phone and leaving myself a message, which is when it occurred to me:

Write it on paper.

Why this thought occurred to me last, the woman whose calendar is still a large paper one hanging on the refrigerator [THE Cubs Calendar], I have no idea. It's just one more example of how electronic we're all becoming, that the idea of writing a quick note to myself and sticking it in my purse was almost the mouse that got away this time.

I know I’ll manage to get my daughter signed up this morning, so no harm no foul (and no basketball pun intended.) And if I ever come up with an actual point for this post, I'll grab a pen and paper, and be sure to make a note of it.

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This is why we hate the 1%

The Golden Opulence Sundae. A New York Restaurant, Serendipity 3, sells this $1000 dessert, cited in the Guiness Book of World Records as the world's most expensive dessert.  $1000 Sundae at Serendipity 3, New York Sure it contains only the finest ingredients: the highest grade of vanilla and chocolate, edible gold leaf, a crystal goblet you can keep. But still. $1000 for dessert. During what could be the worst recession this country has ever seen. Seriously?

One of my dear Facebook friends is responsible for calling my attention to this dessert, denying me the opportunity to happily go to my grave never knowing it existed. He posted on his wall he's going there tonight, with a few friends and he'll be picking up the tab for all of them. $10,000 in total.

Granted, this Facebook friend is Jason Bateman, and he isn't actually my dear friend. I'd just heard he'd friend anyone on Facebook so I sent a request and he accepted. And now I'm repaying his kindness to the little people by taking him down. I'll admit, I'm star struck. The idea I could be "friends," albeit a virtual one, with an actual movie star! And the list of friends he says is accompanying him tonight doesn't disappoint-Paul Rudd, James Franco, Ryan Reynolds, Bradley Cooper.

All the comments on his wall post were mostly supportive of his  excursion into culinary decadence, saying things like, Enjoy yourself and Everyone deserves to indulge, which lead me to believe that most of his FB friends are as idiotically starstruck as I was, afraid to take him down for being ridiculous, for eating the emperor's new dessert or something. Although there were a few comments on how many shoes that money could buy for poor people, or how many families it would feed.

At first, I tried not to judge him for it. I thought, sure, he's rich. He's earned it. It's a Hollywood thing. (Think how everyone would have hated on them if they were Wall Street Bankers instead of famous actors!) I tried to understand, putting it in context of my own life. Should I not go out to a nice restaurant with my husband when it's cheaper to go to Denny's? Should the world forgo luxury cars, have everyone start driving Kia's? We spent thousands of dollars to fix our dog's torn ACL (yes, her football career is over) while millions of people in this country can't afford healthcare for themselves. So, aren't I being two-faced? Aren't I being too judgmental? Maybe he gives thousands and thousands to charity. Maybe they all do.

I think I'd like the idea of this sundae a little better if they donated part of the proceeds to a food bank or something, but it doesn't mention anywhere (that I could see, anyway) on Serendipity 3's website that this is the case; although it does say that 10% of the Cookies and Scream Sundae's proceeds will go to WCS  Serendipity 3 Cookies and Scream Sundae.

If someone offered to buy me a $1000 ice cream sundae, would I turn it down? As the husband can attest, probably only after I had, Just a little taste. Regardless, I keep coming back to the same conclusion about the Golden Opulence Sundae, no matter how hard I try to justify it. It's just wrong.

And I'm sorry Jason, you seem like a nice guy, but eating gold? Really?  I suppose my bewilderment serves me right for thinking I could be "friends" with a rich movie star. But wait. I have an idea.
Maybe he could buy Golden Opulence Sundaes for all his Facebook friends! You know, like teacher said, bring enough for everybody. Share. No? Am I unfriended now?

I guess if some folks have enough money to go out and eat gold, who am I to criticize? But it reminds me a little of when Marie Antoinette supposedly said, "Let them eat cake, then," completely oblivious to the French people's struggle to put bread in their mouths. That was right before the French Revolution. I'm not trying to foment revolution here, but with our country's increasingly disparate gap in earnings, it seems the folks who are rich enough to go out to a restaurant to eat gold should at least have the courtesy not to brag about it during a recession.

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Transcendent Mom(?): We don't need technology to achieve Enlightenment, but maybe it couldn't hurt.

My sons forced us to watch the documentary, "Transcendent Man," [] about Ray Kurzweil, the inventor and futurist, which made we wonder; How can I get a job as a futurist? Do you have to be any good at it? I mean, just look at all those neon ESP signs in our storefronts. Somehow those "futurists" manage to pay their rent, no?
Okay, what the movie really made me wonder is if Ray Kurzweil is a spiritual man, because his ideas on technology's influence on the future and what it means for mankind, manage to sync-up astonishingly with most New Age thought. And I suppose I'm dating myself here, because apparently we don't call it New Age anymore, we call it Body Mind Spirit. (New Age is old hat!?)

The movie explains Kurzweil's belief that, at the rate technology is advancing in terms of robotics, genetic engineering and nanotechnology, humans will soon merge with machines, (Terminator, anyone?) creating a Utopian (critics say possibly dystopian--don't worry, I had to look it up, too) society in which death could be eliminated. It talks about the concept of Technological Singularity [ singularity] where humans, through advances in technology, become super-intelligent and will "transcend" biological mortality.

Hmmm. I'm no scientist but I am a New Ag--, uh, Body Mind Spirit kind of gal. All this talk of "super-intelligence," regardless if it involves machines or not, sounds an awful lot like what some would call Enlightenment to me. The fact that with it, we would defeat death--ditto. Isn't that the promise of every religion on the planet?

I'm a big fan of the Akashic Records and have been working with them for the past ten years. I learned about them from my mentor and friend, Linda Howe. To quote from her Center for Akashic Studies website:
The Akashic Records are a universal filing system which record every occurring thought, word, and action: a collection of mystical knowledge stored in the etheric levels. The vibrational records of each individual soul and its journey are contained here, making it a profound spiritual resource for consciousness development and expanded spiritual awareness. The Records have been recognized as a reservoir of useful insight, guidance, wisdom and healing information from the past, present and future.
Say whatever you want about my New Age woo-hoo beliefs, I know from personal experience, the Akashic Records are real. But being in and using the Akashic Records also sounds eerily familiar to Kurzweil's vision for super-human intelligence, because when you're in the Records, you do sort of transcend in a way, and the more you work in the Records, the more knowledge you can get from them.

Stay with me.

Have you ever been thinking about someone you haven't thought of in a while, only to have them call or email you? Of course you have. A hundred and fifty-years ago, no one would have believed we'd be able to pick up a phone and call someone across the country. Now, we do it wirelessly. When I think hard enough, my mother will call and vice versa. I know! Now you're wondering what could be the particular advantage of this? (Only kidding, Mom.) If Kurzweil is correct, in the future, will we even need phones or will we just communicate telepathically?

Here's my point: I think technology is merely catching up to what the human body, mind and spirit is capable of, if only we'd believe it.

And I love that scientists are using the term Technological Singularity. Technological or not, its concept of Oneness is echoed everywhere in the spiritual world. We are all one. But if it's going to take nanotechnology, robotics and genetic engineering to have the scientists believing what all of us Body Mind Spirit folks already know, I suppose that's okay, too.

It's like the story about the blind men with their hands on different parts of the elephant. The movie Transcendent Man is just one more sign that as a species we are edging ever closer to seeing the whole "elephant" or truth.

All right, A City Mom is done waxing philosophical for today. Now, I'm going to go get my Tarot cards, and practice for my new career as a futurist.

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Topeka honors National Domestic Violence Awareness month with irony

As regular readers of A City Mom know, she feels it's her civic duty to point out irony wherever and whenever she finds it, and today, during National Domestic Violence Awareness month, she came across this: Cash Strapped Topeka Stops Prosecuting Domestic Violence
Purple is the color to display to call attention to National Domestic Violence Awareness month. It's also the color of a bruise. It begs the question: will the only purple seen in Topeka be the bruises on the victims whose offenders have gone free?

C'mon Topeka, just about every city in the country is cash-strapped and looking for ways to save money. But this? It should make every Topeka citizen see red.

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Bad blog going around

A friend of mine, we'll call him "Jim," recently sent me the following direct message on Twitter: "Bad blog going around about you, heard or seen it yet?  airtar(dot)ru."  Jim's a pretty media savvy kind of guy and I'm a totally paranoid kind of gal, so naturally I clicked on the link. The site was shut down and immediately I realized my mistake was two-fold: Jim had been hacked and I was an idiot.
Though I have to admire the cleverness of the hackers, or phishers, as I later found out they were after doing a Twitter search. It makes me wonder how many people out there are like me, willing to believe someone wrote a bad blog about them. Maybe it's because I'm a blogger and all, I thought a reader might have taken issue with me or something I said and instead of sending me an email or just writing a hateful comment on my site, they wrote an entire hateful blog. This bad blog idea appeals to my vanity, the fact I would actually believe someone would spend the time to write an entire blog about me, bad or otherwise.

I quickly sent Jim an email, asking if he'd been hacked. He called me back just as quickly, perhaps more interested in my husband's technical expertise than commiserating. "Change your password," was Jeff's sage advice. It was mine, too, you know, just for the record.

Searching on Twitter I discovered a lot of chatter about the bad blog hack and a lot of people saying idiots like me who are stupid enough to click on such links deserve to be hacked. Maybe we do. Yet after all this, do I dare admit I'm relieved nobody wrote anything bad about me, an exposé, true or false, about skeletons in my closet or maybe even just that time I had one too many margarita's back in college? Of course I admit it. I even wrote a bad blog about it.

Thank you for reading A City Mom! Follow me on Twitter @acitymom and/or Like me on Facebook here.

Comment Phishing: why bloggers should feel better about Internet trolls

There's a group of us Chicago Now bloggers who participate in an online forum where we talk to each other about all things blogging. A lot of the time it's technical issues, or sometimes how our softball team did (really well until NPR trounced them in the finals) or our latest get-together. (A City Mom has never once been spotted dancing on the bar, most likely because I've never been able to attend; they wisely have conspired to hold them when I am out of town.) Lately however, the conversation has turned to blog comments. You know, the really mean kind made by Internet trolls.
For A City Mom (117 Facebook Likes) to listen to other bloggers (175,000 Facebook Likes, ahem.) complain about the one or two mean comments they received in their latest comment thread, which go on for miles btw (my all-time comment record is like 20), is a little like listening to the king complain he has too many subjects, or hearing the queen complain she has too many servants.

But lest you think I am heartless and only jealous of these other insanely popular bloggers, we shall get to my point, finally. Comment Phishing. And the fact that, unbeknownst to me, I was harboring two comment phishermen in my basement.

My sons first mentioned the term comment phishing to me and I don't know if they coined it or just heard it somewhere. I did know what phishing was and I immediately inferred what comment phishing is. Kyle helped: "Oh, you just know exactly who you're going to bait with each type of comment you post."

"Wait a minute," I thought. "I have trolls in my basement?"

My sons surf the net, sure. They're really smart and insightful. Great. They read CNN and other news websites and apparently, as I came to find out, enjoyed leaving comments. But not insightful, intelligent comments. No. They went comment phishing.

"If you write a really conservative comment, you know you're going to snag some irate liberal who'll rant at you. And if you phrase a liberal comment just the right way, you get all the conservatives down your throat."

Apparently, this is great fun for them. Or, at least it was until I put a stop to it. "You guys, us writers read those comments and we take them seriously! It's mean to anonymously take people down just for spite."

In the five-year history of A City Mom, I can count on one hand the mean or hateful comments I've received. Actually, I can practically count on one hand all the comments I've received. Yet, I feel fortunate for this: the first part, not the latter. Still, it doesn't take away the sting of having someone viciously attack me personally or my opinion or my humor. No, the only thing that was able to do that is--and this is what I want to share with all my fellow bloggers, with their high-class-too-many-commenter-problems, because I genuinely want them to never, ever again fret over any anonymous Internet troll's hate--is the fact that the angry commenter could be, and probably is, nothing more than a comment phisherman, a thirteen-year-old boy in his mother's basement.

Thank you for reading A City Mom! Follow me on Twitter @acitymom and/or Like me on Facebook here.

Got Twins?

Got Twins?
My life is overrun with twins, so I found this article from Live Science fascinating. Seeing Double: Eight Fascinating facts about twins

How does one's life become overrun with multiples, you ask? When you marry an identical twin, whose mother was an identical twin and then you have identical twins. When you're father is a twin. When your mother had twin aunts. When your best friend from grade school has identical twins. Do you begin to understand why our third child is adopted?

As I already knew, the article says they still don't know what causes identical twinning and they swear it's not genetic. I'm fond of telling all my twins they're simply freaks of nature. I don't know if as a mom, as per the article, I'm any taller than average, or stronger, and although I swear at times my children are taking more years off my life than all the cigarettes I smoked in college, Live Science says by having twins, I'll live longer.

It's hard to say how nice my sons were to each other in utero, in terms of their "other directed actions" vs. "self-directed" ones. Let's just say, judging from all the kicking, there should be no doubt Taekwondo is their sport. As for dogs being able to tell identical twins apart, don't mention that to our nine-year old Lab. When I ask her to go wake up Ethan, she brings me a shoe.

Yeah, there's a certain caché to having twins, especially the more rare identical ones. It is cool. And while they've never played any tricks on me, so far as I know, it's fun to hear the stories of the tricks, intentional or otherwise, with which others have been victimized. (Like the time Kyle was home sick and Ethan got yelled at for cutting a class, by a teacher who didn't know Kyle was a twin. She was so convinced she was talking to Kyle, Ethan had to show her his school ID!)

So, I guess I don't care if I live any longer because of all my twins. I know I'm living funner! And maybe it's only that, that has me walking a little taller.

Thank you for reading A City Mom! Follow me on Twitter @acitymom and/or Like me on Facebook here.

Here's where to pack your "lunch notes"

Here's where to pack your "lunch notes"
As if mothers need anything more to do. Or one more thing to add to the list of things to make us feel inadequate. Wall Street Journal--To Pack an A-Plus Lunchbox

I mean, FFS. Did you read the article? You have to. Go ahead and read it now. I'll wait.

I know! Love notes every day? Gift-wrapped sandwiches? Are they out of their freakin' minds? Am I the only one who thinks this is ridiculous? Back when I made my kids' lunches every day, most of the time I was just happy I actually remembered to make them, then happy to remember to have my kids take it with them to school. Now, because of some over-the-top, type-A parents, we're all expected to compose daily lunch haikus? (Although, full disclosure, I did write down cute notes on those bananas that one time.)

And to make it worse, it's not enough to jot down an "I love you" or a "Remember: chew, chew, chew, swallow" on a Post-It or any old piece of scratch paper you have lying around. No! How embarrassing for your child! They will feel unloved and be mocked by their peers if their love note isn't written on Pottery freakin' Barn or Disney stationery.

What is the matter with you people? Yes it's a nice idea. Sure, it's cute. Hey, like I said, even I've been known to write on the occasional banana. But you've made it into a godamned contest! Lunch is hard enough for kids--worrying about where to sit and who to sit with and should you trade your Oreos for Fritos and actually eat that apple that's in there? Now you people need to complicate lunch further by upping the ante? My child is more loved than your child because I have too much free time in the morning (and apparently at other times, too, because you actually shopped for special stationary to write your lunch notes on!)

Tomorrow, I will pack a note for my childrens' lunches. Here's what it will say:

Dear  Fill in your own damn name here,

I've failed you. Outside of that one smiley face I etched on those bananas that one day in the third grade, I've been remiss in the lunch notes department. I'm afraid I've shown what a horrible, distant and icy mother I truly am. You must feel terribly inadequate and unloved and are probably suffering from low self-esteem. Surely, you must have endured the smug grins of other, more-loved, students who tore the Sally Foster from their ham and swiss to reveal an endearing note inside, one that said something along the lines of, "Connor. You are so much better than everyone else."

I'm sorry. I will try to do better. Here is a special lunch haiku I wrote specially for today. I hope it will make up for all those lost years.
I am loser Mom
No notes, only healthy food
Be glad I am sane
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My sons dress like gangstas, and it's my bad

My sons are wearing gangsta jeans. And it's my fault. Not because I didn't hold them enough when they were babies or screwed-up their potty training or anything. It was a shopping error, a miscalculation that led to a wardrobe malfunction to the Nth degree.
But this year, I played it smart, or so I thought. A couple of weeks before school started, I brought them to the store with me to get jeans. This was opposed to the usual trial and error system of buying a pair or two, taking them home and seeing if they fit, then going back to the store and either repeating the process or buying ten more pairs. I did this because, as we all know and as my friend and guest blogger, Rick Kaempfer, so eloquently states, "Taking a boy to a clothing store is the equivalent of poking him in the eye with a sharp stick."

At the store, they tried on every single pair of jeans. And they fit. Levi's 505, 32W 34L. In fact, on one son more so than on the other (no names here, please), the 32W was a bit snug and I contemplated going a size up, but finally decided against it, going home with 14 pairs of 32W 34L Levis jeans. Cha-ching.

What was the one egregious oversight in my planning, when I for once, finally, had planned ahead?


Practice started three weeks before school, about the time we bought the jeans. They ran, and still run, every day. For miles. Following a comparatively sedentary summer, after six weeks of Cross-Country my sons' jeans were hanging off their hips. Their boxers were showing.

"Oh my God," I thought. "They're gangstas."

And while I know the only weapon I might find in one of their baggy pants pockets would be a number two pencil or stale granola bar wrapper, I still worry at the message these jeans send, because my sons walk the city streets and take public transportation; I don't want any real gangstas messing with them.

Kyle begged me to go back to the store, to get new pants. From the other room my husband heard the "Cha-ching" of this solution and came into the kitchen with his own. "We call them belts."

"You really do want us to get beat up."

Usually my sons grow out of jeans by growing taller. In the past few years, I've been to the store for longer jeans so frequently they know me at Kohl's now.

"Back for the 30-Longs Mrs. Strickland?"

"Back for the 32-Longs Mrs. Strickland?"

Repeat every three months.

Going back to the store for smaller jeans? They might take away my Kohl's super-savings coupons!
I'm hoping this gangsta jeans issue will go away in the way it should; my sons will grow into their new jeans. In the meantime, I've come up with my own solution, to help the situation along. "Just eat more," I said.

I know, Honey.  Cha-ching.

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The Tooth Hurts: dental surgery teaches A City Mom the truth about herself

Friday afternoon I had a tooth pulled. And a gum graft. And a dental implant. And it hurt. A lot. It's still hurting today. But that's not my point. Closer to my point is the fact that when I made it home, I still wanted to take care of everybody else. It snuck up on me, this need to nurture. I had to force myself not to. And that, finally, is my point. For one entire day, I battled against taking care of anyone but myself.

Even though my dentist shot me up with Novacaine right before I left his office, traffic was horrible and by the time I made it through the front door I was in agony, dreaming only of painkillers and my bed. On Thursday, I'd even warned my daughter and sitter this would be the case. Yet, when I walked in my house, I felt the need to divert to the kitchen, to say "Hi" and "It went well" and "I'll be okay." To comfort them.

But I knew if I did, then I would end up hearing all their troubles and their complaints about their day and well, f%$# that. After I'd crawled into bed with my head throbbing, I thought, "I should call my mom." I knew she was worried about me and wanted to know how it went and– And there I was again. Trying to take care of the emotional needs of someone else.

For the next twenty-four hours I fought the urges of motherhood. I fought against asking what my kids had for dinner (As suspected, my daughter "forgot" to eat dinner on Friday, she says. Although I'm certain she probably filled-up with plenty of junk trolling the cupboards.) I fought against asking if they'd brushed their teeth or took a shower or had a lot of homework over the weekend. I'm a little surprised that no one thought to offer me food. I figure if I ever get really sick, I'll end up one of those neglect cases you read about in the paper, covered in bedsores and weighing in at 70 pounds or something.

I did come downstairs for a drink of Emergen-C on Saturday morning. I left my glass on the counter with every other glass and dish that had been left there since Friday afternoon. I struggled with leaving it there, too. But I forced myself to not clean up my glass, or anything else, for that matter.

I've never considered myself to be a terribly great caring-nurturer. It took a dental implant and two days of Vicodin for me to notice how much time I really do spend taking care of other people. I fill my days worrying about everyone else's needs being met and until now, I couldn't even see it; I couldn't even believe it about myself. Because my mother's guilt makes me believe that no matter what I do, I'm still not doing enough. Or doing it well enough. And I was astonished at how hard I had to fight to concentrate on taking care of only myself for 24 hours.

Soon, hopefully by tomorrow, I'll be back on my game: cooking, cleaning up, running errands, worrying, fussing, and asking all my motherly reminder questions, but tomorrow it will be different. Tomorrow, I will notice my caring-nurturer ways. Tomorrow, I will believe it about myself.

Thank you for reading A City Mom! Follow me on Twitter @acitymom and/or Like me on Facebook here.

Dog Finds Happines at Found

Dog finds happiness at Found!
When you look at Magnum, the 150-pound bulldog mix pictured here, it’s hard to imagine anyone raising a hand against him; actually, it’s hard for me to imagine anyone abusing any dog, much less being dim enough to pick on one that’s their own size. Unfortunately, Magnum was regularly “beaten to a pulp” during the first year of his life, when he was puppy, according to Alicia Boemi, Executive Director of Found.

Fortunately for Magnum, he did find Found, a no-kill animal shelter located on Chicago’s northwest side. Found started as an unintentional offshoot of Stay, the dog hotel co-located at the northwest side location. People would sometimes abandon their dogs outside of Stay, and its proprietor, Michael Heltzer, began to take them in, letting them swim in Stay’s pool and socialize with the other dogs. Found became an official non-profit organization two-years ago. What makes Found so different from other shelters is not only its no-kill policy, but its animal rehabilitation program, or “re-homing” as they like to call it.

Found takes animals from Chicago’s Animal Care and Control almost exclusively. They choose the animals they take-in based on Found’s available space, funding, and the amount of dogs with certain behavioral issues they already have on the property. Each dog brought in is given a thorough evaluation, fifteen pages worth of steps, at the end of which, the handler really knows the dog and they’ve begun to establish a foundation and develop a relationship.

Before he was rescued, Magnum was severely and repeatedly beaten. A kind soul, a man named Cody, took him in, but couldn’t keep him due to financial restraints (Just imagine how much a 150-pound bulldog mix eats!) and other issues, which is when he was turned over to Found.

A fundraiser for Magnum is in the works and you can donate to Magnum’s cause, or any of the other worthy animals currently sheltered there, at The organization can always use volunteers (you must be at least 18 years of age, fill out a volunteer application, sign a waiver and take a training course). Learn all about how to volunteer at Found, here!

You can also help by coming to Day of the Dog (because every dog should have its day!) on October 16th. A fall festival for dogs, cats and their families, Day of the Dog raises money for Found Chicago. The fest will be held at Found, 4100 N. Rockwell, 11 a.m – 4 p.m. $5 suggested donation to enter.

Boemi says Magnum is not available for adoption and it’s unknown when he will be. He likes to run on the treadmill (Really!) and his trainers are working with him to build his confidence, introducing him to other dogs to socialize him. They’re also trying to expose him to as many things he may never have been exposed to (fireplugs?!) before. Boemi says the “re-homing” process can take anywhere from a month, to a year, to five years. She says for Magnum, it’s all about getting him over all the fear his early abuse induced. I’ll try to keep you posted on his progress.

Whether you volunteer, attend Day of the Dog or simply make a donation, know your kind action(s?!) will go a long way toward helping Magnum, and all the other animals at Found, experience something they may never have been exposed to before: happiness.

Thank you for reading A City Mom! Follow me on Twitter @acitymom and/or Like me on Facebook here.

Call of (Jury) Duty 2

My husband has jury duty today and he's looking forward to it. I know! He says he likes the opportunity to just sit and read while waiting to be called. He doesn't have to talk to anyone. There won't be any meetings. He told me with a straight face he might even be able to get some work done.

He's always getting called for jury duty. I'd say it happens at least once a year. He puts on a good show, getting all huffity about How come he always gets called to do his civic duty and no one else does?  By no one else, he means me. I've never been called. Ever. And I vote. More than he does, if you must know. And don't they base the pool for juries on people who are registered to vote?

Not that I wouldn't welcome the opportunity. I'd get to stay home from work. No travelling. No jet lag. If I could bring my laptop, I might even get some writing done. You know, I'm beginning to see why he likes it.

In all the times he's been called, he's only been empanelled once. On a murder case. I remember it because we'd just received a photo of our future daughter, but at the time it was only a photo of our potential future daughter and I couldn't get hold of him all day. I thought we'd lose her and some other Bridge of Hope family would snap her up. As fate would have it, she was meant to be ours.

That one murder trial empanelment brought fears of a long drawn out trial and sequestration, but my husband needn't have worried. It lasted less than one day. The defendant's mother came to court in support of her son. But he pled guilty, struck a plea bargain or something – (Hey, if you want real legalese, check out Chicago's Real Law Blog. I'm just someone's mom.) – and the trial was over.

This is strong testimony to the power of motherhood everywhere, even among murderous gang-bangers. The judge explained to the soon-to-be-free jury, the bad guy didn't want his mother to hear in open court, all the details of all the horrible things he'd done. "This happens all the time," the judge said.

I find that absolutely amazing. His mom's presence in court ended the trial. Although it kind of begs the question: if she were mom enough to instill that kind of embarrassment at doing a crime into her son, shouldn't she have had the power to not raise him to be a murderer in the first place?

Uh-oh. Just got a call from my husband. He's been empanelled again. This time it's a civil case, so I'm guessing the chances of someone's mom showing up and putting an end to it are slim. He says the trial will last for almost two weeks, but at least he'll be done at four-thirty every day. Say, just think of all the work he'll get done.

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Farewell to All My Children

Farewell to All My Children
No, I'm not throwing all my kids out on the street. Of course I'm talking about the soap opera that goes off the air today. Well, off the air as we know it. Sure, All My Children will be picked up by some cable channel, and will start where ABC left off. But it won't have Susan Lucci and, c'mon. No Erica Kane? Sorry, no AMC in my book.
We used to watch AMC all the time back in college. When it came on at noon, the student union would fill up, because we all had to know, Who is the crazy person in Adam Chandler's attic? The student population was so addicted, a DJ at the radio station I worked for at the time used to do All My Children updates every weekday evening.

I stayed with the soap intermittently throughout my adult life, watching it mostly when my kids were little, then getting updates from my babysitter as they grew older. I can say in all seriousness that eventually, all my children are what ended up keeping me from All My Children.
Sometimes I'd catch a glimpse of the show at the salon where I get my nails done [Melancholy? You're soaking in it.], utterly astonished at how creepily all the actors were aging, and by that I mean, like TV news anchors: skin stretched taut with too much make-up and faces rendered nearly expressionless by botox, which of course meant, as far as the acting went, little or no difference whatsoever.

ABC said AMC and One Life to Live (which at one point I started following, too, because when you have twin babies sometimes you just can't make it to the TV to turn it off) were too expensive to justify anymore and is replacing them with a cooking show and some other show that sounded so interesting I've already forgotten what it was about in the three minutes it's been since I Googled it.

It's the end of an era. Another reminder that the only constant is change. I suppose I'm part of the reason the show's getting cancelled, representative of the population that just doesn't watch anymore, because after all, who does want to see Erica get married for a twelfth time? I was thinking about tuning in today, for old time's sake, but my daughter's home from school and I need to get to the grocery store and...Maybe I'll just call up that babysitter, or my DJ friend, and get an update. Or, maybe not. Life with all my children is soap opera enough.

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The 24-Hour No Complaining Challenge

Go ahead, try it. I dare you. Try to go twenty-four hours without complaining. I am incapable. I've tried several times. And I don't consider myself a real, true complainer (you know the type). Although regular readers of my blog may beg to differ, seeing as how I can sometimes rant on for upwards of five hundred words. However, being a whiner is not the way I would, or want to, define myself.

We're raising our kids to not be complainers. Whining is not tolerated in our house. And we put-up with very little drama. This is not just because it's all so annoying. (But it is mostly because it's all so annoying.) It's about the power of attraction. Complaining is a form of attention-getting for all the negative things in your life. And who wants to attract more negatives into their lives?

It doesn't sound very hard, does it? Just stop complaining. Yet the dictionary defines the verb "complain" as:
1. to express dissatisfaction, pain, uneasiness, censure, resentment, or grief; find fault.
2. to tell of one's pains, ailments, etc.: to complain of a backache.
3. to make a formal accusation.

By this definition, it would mean most of us would have to cease all conversation completely. Just listen, the next time you're having a conversation. As a fiction writer, I know stories aren't interesting unless they involve conflict, and complaining is a form of describing conflict, I suppose, but maybe we should come up with a better way to make our stories interesting (colorful, fictitious names for the characters perhaps?).

As any good new age woo-hoo knows, the first step in fixing a problem is recognizing you have one and I began to notice how much complaining I was actually doing. I'd find myself dumping all the negative experiences I'd had during the day on my poor husband night after night. I don't know if it was even conscious or not, this need for me to vent as a way to release all the negativity, but recently it occurred to me: Maybe I am a complainer. Not wanting to attract any more negativity into my life, I decided it might be a good idea for me to stop complaining about stuff. (A great idea, says the husband.)

It didn't sound too hard. Until I tried it. When I was paying attention, I realized so much of what I said could be construed as a complaint. I found myself hacking my watch to restart my 24-hour-no-complaining-clock every fifteen-minutes. Finally, I just gave up, vowing simply to try to do better.

Of course I'm disappointed in my inability to stop completely, but I suppose I shouldn't complain about it.

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dear Sons, Your carpeting is showing

Dear Sons,

Welcome home. As soon as you’re finished eating (are you ever, really, finished eating?) you need to march right upstairs to your room. I mean, honestly. Have you seen it? The way you left it this morning? There appears to be some carpeting showing in the far corner, over by the window. I know!

I suggest you get up there right this minute and throw some laundry over it immediately before anyone sees what color it is, forever ruining your outstanding reputation for slovenliness.

Thank you.

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How to Become Fabulously Successful and Lose Ten Pounds in Only Nine Days

Has anybody heard of a book or program like this? Because I need one. Stat. My (gulp) thirty-year high school reunion is coming up. I know it shouldn't be about impressing other people; it should be about getting back in touch with old friends, finding out what they're up to and reliving fond memories. I know! And doesn't that explain why everyone pulls up in a rented Mercedes Benz?

It’s true I shouldn't compete and overall, I do feel like I've been mostly successful. But it's during occasions like these I find myself getting defensive, realizing that even though I'm half-way through my life, by my own definition, I'm not where I'd wanted to be.

Inevitably I'll have to explain to someone why I'm still a co-pilot and that yes, I do land the plane and no they can't just land themselves. I'll have to explain why my second novel hasn't been published yet and accept the condolences that my first one wasn't on the New York Times bestseller list. And I will listen patiently while someone tells me how my airline lost their luggage back in 1989.

And while I can brag about my successful 22-year marriage and my three beautiful children and my nice house in the city, in my mind it would feel oh so much better if I could say I'm a wide-body captain (and not a wide-bodied captain) with several best-selling novels under her belt, a belt that's wrapped around a waist that's ten-pounds thinner.

At the ten-year reunion, no one had changed much. The assholes were still assholes and the cool crowd was still too cool to talk to me. By the 20-year, everyone had seemed to get-over themselves and it was really fun. I'm hoping this go round, everyone will be even more over themselves and like me, will just want to reconnect with old friends, find out what they're up to and relive old times. Because I'm not going to rent a Mercedes Benz and I'm not going to be able to lost ten-pounds by next Saturday. But I may just elect to suck my stomach in, and not exhale for three- hours.

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The Best is Yet to Come: a post 9/11 sign from Frank Sinatra

Whenever our family moves, it’s tradition that the first song we play once our stereo is set up has some significance. For example, when my husband and I bought our first house, the song we played was, “Little Pink Houses” by John Mellencamp. This is because it was pink. And I suppose I can’t drop this without an explanatory digression. We’d only seen the house once. At night. In our defense, when we drove by the next morning and realized it was pink not tan, we lowered the offering price five-percent. So yes, we bought a little house with pink asphalt siding. Gorgeous.

When we moved into the home we live in now, our first song was, “My Kind of Town (Chicago is)” because buying this house meant we’d made the decision to stay in the city and raise our children here. Moving day was September 7, 2001. The airline pilot and IT guy who worked for a Wall Street bank, stretching fiscally to buy their dream house. What could go wrong?

As Frank Sinatra crooned and my husband and I danced in the living room, our four year-old sons watched. It was a few days after 9/11. A time when I’d been spending most of my waking hours unpacking, all the while wondering if I should just be putting everything back in the boxes because surely, in light of recent events, we’d never be able to stay here. So when we danced our first dance to our first song, I started crying. Because it wasn’t supposed to be like this.

My husband tried to comfort me, saying that at the very least, we could always look back fondly on that one year we lived in a really cool old house. He got the laugh he wanted, but it wasn’t until Frank Sinatra spoke to me that I felt hope. I’m a pretty superstitious person and I love my signs. As we danced and talked, Frank started singing the next song on the CD and miraculously through my tears and our conversation, I heard him:

“Still it’s a real good bet, the best is yet to come.” 

“Oh my God, listen!”

“I’m gonna teach you to fly. We’ve only tasted the wine. We’re gonna drain the cup dry.” Because after all, who doesn’t like a good drinking song when they’re upset?

Yet I knew in my heart this was my sign from the Universe that everything was going to be okay.

“You think you've seen the sun, but you ain't seen it shine.” I kept my job. My husband kept his.

“Wait ‘til you see that sunshine day. You ain’t seen nothing yet.” My novel was published. We adopted a daughter.

“You think you’ve flown before, but baby, you ain’t left the ground.” Ten years later, we’re still living in a really cool old house.

9/11 changed everything for everyone. The last ten years maybe have not been the best they could have been, but they were still very good years. (The CD we’d played was “Sinatra Reprise,” the subtitle of which is “The Very Good Years,” a sign I should have noticed in the first place.) And I know, because Frank told me so, The Best is yet to Come.

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9/11 Ten Years Later: an airline pilot's mostly unremarkable story

Whenever I thought about what to write for the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, the only thing that kept coming to mind was that admonishment from The Onion that asked ballad singers to exercise restraint. I know I should chime in, being an airline pilot-blogger and all, but it just seems so, I don’t know, unrestrained.

Even though the attacks involved my airline, and airplanes I had flown, I didn’t know anyone who was killed. I wasn’t at work; I was at home. Considering it was the worst day of my entire life, my experience of it is rather unremarkable. I wrote a little about it back when Osama Bin Laden was killed this past May. [Bin Laden is Dead: A City Mom May 2, 2011]  It was the first time I’d ever done so. I couldn’t bring myself to write about it before that, aside from a few glancing mentions, in a way that I suppose is not dissimilar to how my father never talked about World War II until recently.

Early on the morning of 9/11/2001, I looked out my kitchen window at that surreally gorgeous blue sky and said out loud “Today will be a better day.”  That was the last time I’ve ever said that. My son had just been diagnosed with a hernia that required immediate surgery. Four days earlier we’d moved into our new house. The work being done on it still wasn’t finished and everything was covered in tarps and plaster and dust. The movers had broken a leg off of the most expensive piece of furniture we owned: my antique mahogany dining room table. I’d poked myself, drawing blood, on a TV antenna during the move. The same TV antenna the most HIV-positive looking mover had just poked himself on, drawing blood, and was going to start the HIV testing procedure that afternoon.
Needless to say, my day didn’t get better.

After the crashes, broken tables and minor surgical procedures seemed, well, minor. Everyone I knew called to check on me. I kept my kids home from school. I’ve never been happier to see my husband, who worked at the Board of Trade downtown at the time, walk through our front door. I wish I had a better story for you, but I don’t.

Perhaps more interesting than 9/11 itself, is what came afterward. It’s in the ways it changed my life so profoundly. It was going back to work on the 19th, not wanting to go. Afraid. Were the terrorists still out there? As I shut the gate and looked up at my house, where my husband and young sons were still sleeping, I wondered in all seriousness if I would see them again. I’d written a note, just in case. To tell them how much I loved them and that I had to go. Because if I didn’t, then they’d already won. At work I saw a terminal empty of passengers and filled with flags and patriotic music. And one anonymous passenger who told me, “Bring it back.” Words I’ve never forgotten.

I have to ask permission to go to the bathroom now when I’m at work. Some of my friends carry guns. My salary was cut nearly in half and I lost my pension. I can’t listen to the national anthem at a Cubs game, or anywhere else for that matter, without having my eyes well up with tears. After our retaliatory war in Iraq started, we were treated so poorly in Europe—by people who would have been speaking German if it hadn’t been for men like my father and millions like him who’d died—that we began to say we were from Canada.

Ten years later, it’s better, but life will never be the same. Everyone was affected by the events of 9/11, which is why my story doesn’t stand out. It’s no different than anyone else’s. Unless someone you loved was killed. Unless you were there. Maybe this similarity is what binds us, why we tell our stories with such lack of restraint. We try to make sense of the event by talking and writing about it. To quote from some famous writer or teacher whose name I can’t remember, We are the sum of our stories. And 9/11 is a big one. So hang a flag tomorrow and let’s all tell our stories, so we can show the world how we brought it back.


     United Airlines Flight 175
     American Airlines Flight 77
     United Airlines Flight 93
     American Airlines Flight 11

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What Do Women Want?

Come and find out at the "What Women Want" Expo!!  I am their "Headline Guest" (I know, right?) and will be there selling and signing copies of my novel, Wish Club and possibly my second novel, Down at the Golden Coin, too.

This very PINK Women’s Expo is all about Chocolate (!!), Pampering, Inspiration and Shopping. SO, COME AND BE PAMPERED, INSPIRED...and SHOP, TOO!

It's all happening WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 28th 2011 - 10:00am-3:00pm

Portion of the proceeds benefit American Cancer Society.
More info:
Click  here for the Application to have a booth at this event.

WHERE:       Holiday Inn & Suites,150 S. Gary Avenue, Carol Stream
RSVP:         (630) 665-3325
ADMISSION:   $5 or $4 for Seniors

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Illinois Public High School Students don’t do as well in college as they did high school

This is the insightful information gleaned from what I assume would be an expensive and taxpayer funded study of how high school seniors perform during their freshman year at college. I think they should have just called the study, “Duh.”

The Chicago Tribune reported on the new information, only recently made available to the public, last week.  Public H.S. grads struggle at college  Fortunately for you, ACityMom stumbled on the article yesterday, because no one in her house had managed to clean off the coffee table since August.  At first I was worried, Are my kids not being prepared well for college? But wasn’t that the point of the article: to instill fear? Of course it was.  Yet, as I read more closely, it occurred to me that this “phenomenon” isn’t a phenomenon at all. It’s normal.

The article stated that average GPA’s fell from high school levels during a student's freshman year in college, stating colleges liked to see an average GPA of 3.0 or higher that first year. Gee, do you think this is because college is harder? Do you think this is because colleges are selective? Do you think this could be because even though you were a shining star in high school, you are now surrounded by all the shining stars from all the other high schools? Of course it is.

And how about all the distractions that freshman year? The newness. The freedom. The beer. And let's not forget all the members of the opposite sex. Combine all this, and not necessarily in that order, and it looks like a recipe for failure, never mind lower grades. My two lowest college GPAs (identical at 3.75) occurred during the first semester of my freshman year and the final semester of my senior year. THIS IS NOT NEWS, PEOPLE.  I asked my husband, one of the most intelligent people I know (with perhaps the exception of one glaring marital error) about his high school GPA vs. his college GPA.  It had gone down, too.

Okay, so my husband and I do not a formal scientific study make, but if I had to guess this is the standard. A better expensive taxpayer-funded study would tell us how many of our high school grads go on to successfully complete college, once they get the hang of it, and really, isn’t getting the hang of it what freshman year is all about? According to the Tribune, “Educators say GPAs often improve following freshman year” and  “The disconnect between high school and college performance isn’t unique to Illinois, ‘It’s a national issue,’” according to April Hansen, director of postsecondary services at the ACT company.

Like I said. They should have called the study, “Duh.” Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go clean off the rest of my coffee table.

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When your life's a rollercoaster, who needs an amusement park?

It’s tradition in our family to take the kids to Six Flags the day before school starts. Tradition because, you know, we did it that one time three years ago. Personally, I would rather chew on broken glass than be dragged through an amusement park, but my daughter was begging to go. In fact, she’d been begging from the minute she found out what an amusement park is. She’s a twelve-year old girl who’d never been on a rollercoaster. It’s like we owed it to her.

First off, I have to say I was pretty shocked at the prices. $59.99 per person. Fortunately for us, my husband’s employer provided us with half-off passes. It’s like Six Flags was on sale! Since we were fresh out of broken glass, and I just can't pass up a sale, off we went.

I don’t like rides. Wait, that’s not strong enough. I. Hate. Rides. I did go on the teacups, yesterday. (That’s right. I said, “the teacups.”) And the bumper cars, but that was it. I’m a total ride wimp. The last time we were there, I went on some awful Cajun Crab ride thing. Worst two minutes of my entire adult life. And don’t even get me started on rollercoasters. My kids asked me why I hate rides so much. I honestly don’t know. I told them that “unexpected moderate CAT on the North Atlantic Tracks is all the ride I need,” which seemed to satisfy them in the way only fancily worded obfuscation can.

I spent a lot of time sitting on benches waiting for them while they went on their rides. And to think I used to say the airport was the best place to people watch. This place was almost worth the price of admission just for the spectacle. And I'm sorry, but no woman over the age of fifty should be wearing bright red hot-pants and cowboy boots. Ever.

Toward the end of the day, my daughter had had enough. Apparently her idea of a rollercoaster and the actual experience of one were very different. She liked them enough, but not so much that she wanted to go on every single one. Thank goodness. I mean, I see folks in line for rides like Vertical Velocity and I have to wonder, What’s wrong with you people?  For a little girl with thrill-seeking tendencies, it’s good to know we found something that scared her.

This new tradition of ours will probably be expected to continue next year, which is fine by me. We all had a great time and it was good to do something fun together as a family, one last fling before school started today, which is when I get my reward: a house full of silence. Next year on the last day before school starts, if you hear screaming from Gurnee, you can bet it won't be me on a rollercoaster, but merely my reaction to an increase in the admission fee at the door, or maybe another pair of bright red hot-pants on a woman dangerously close to my age.

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Sunday, September 04, 2011

A Two-Step Command Epic Fail

In order to get into preschool, my sons were required to follow a two step command. At the age of fourteen now, I want to know what the hell happened.

Yesterday, I asked Kyle, “Hey, you going downstairs?”


“Can you bring this down and put it on the coffee table? Thanks.”  And I handed him a red Netflix envelope. A two-step command, not any more complex than, “Pick up the blue truck and put it in the toybox next to the wall.”

Yet, less than twenty minutes later, I went downstairs to find the very same Netflix envelope not only on the floor, but on the floor under his desk with one leg of his chair resting on top of it.

That’s right, Netflix. We’re those people.

I mean, how is this possible? How did we become those people? How does a bright red envelope not only end up on the floor, but on the floor with a desk chair paperweight on top of it? Did Kyle think the envelope might try to escape? Fly away? Unionize the cats? (The movie was Norma Rae.)

I really don’t want to know what goes through the mind of a fourteen year-old boy, because I’m afraid it has way too much to do with fourteen year-old girls, although I do wish I could bottle that loping, unhurriedness with which they do everything. It’s as though they live their lives on the inside of a lava lamp. Perhaps that’s the trouble. It took him so long to get down to the basement he forgot his two-step command.

Fortunately, the DVD wasn’t damaged, but still, I’m wondering with some trepidation: Do colleges require two-step commands?

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What's a card-carrying union member CPS parent supposed to think?

As both a CPS parent and card-carrying union member, I'm torn. I think my daughter should have a longer school day, and a real recess. But I also don't think teachers should be asked to work hours that are 29% more for a two-percent increase in pay. What's a card-carrying union member CPS parent supposed to think?

Before my daughter first started at her school, I was on the phone with the office gathering information. (For those of you who aren't regulars here, my adopted daughter just joined us two-and-half years ago.) I asked questions like, "She'll be starting mid-year, do I need to register her?"  "Is there a dress code?"  "What time does school start?"

"And school gets out at one-forty-five," said the cheerful voice on the other end of the line.

Of course, she was cheerful about it, but I began frantically beating my palm against the receiver of my phone. "I'm sorry," I said. "I think we must have a bad connection, because I swear you just said school gets out at one-forty-five?"

"That's right."

Golly. I'm no expert, but do you think five hours and forty-five minutes of actual classroom time (Wait! Take out twenty minutes for lunch!) might be a contributing factor in the abysmal percentage of high school seniors (7.9%) ready for college? For the low test scores? I don’t know when this short school day began. I doubt it was always this way and if I had to guess, it probably was the solution to somebody else’s budget shortfall.

The school day should be longer. It should include recess.

And yet, think what you want about unions, but it’s wrong for workers to always have to bear the brunt of mismanagement. Teachers work hard at one of the most important jobs there is: teaching our children. I do not begrudge them one nickel of their pay and benefits.

As an airline employee I know all too well that when it comes to the economy, we’re always on the leading edge of the downturn and trailing edge of the recovery. I took a nearly fifty-percent pay cut six years ago and have yet to recoup any of it. (Don’t worry! Management’s been getting nice bonuses!) The teachers union knows what every union member knows, once you give a concession, you’ll have to fight tooth and nail to get it back, if you ever do.

My property taxes are going up and I’m not pleased about that either. Times are tough. We all have to make sacrifices. Let’s hope they all can find an agreeable solution soon, so I don't have to make up my mind what to think, so that in this case the thing that’s sacrificed isn’t the CPS children.

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How Do I Tell Anne Tyler She Sucks?

I’m afraid I did a bad thing. I passed off some of Anne Tyler's writing as my own. But I was curious and figured, what the heck? Everybody else is doing it. I hear plagiarism is really trendy these days. Okay, seriously now, here’s how it happened:

Recently, I took a writing class to give my fiction a bump. I’d never taken a writing class before, and had heard good stuff about this one. I knew for sure I’d learn some things and hopefully get inspired, so I gave it a shot. The teacher started out by railing against all the other writing courses and books and methods out there. He said he hated how they all taught that their way was the only way. Then guess what? Get ready for some literary irony here: he taught that his way was the only way. I know, right? He did pull me aside after the second class, when he’d had a chance to read some of my work. He knew right off I wasn’t a beginner, which was nice, but after the initial love-in, he proceeded to eviscerate every scrap of writing I turned in.

Now lest you think I’m overly sensitive to writing critique, I want to defend myself.  I’ve been getting critique for many years and have developed a business-like approach. If it helps the story, I take it. If it doesn’t, then I don’t. Obviously every writer wants to be told how great their work is, that their words sing from the page. My philosophy on critique is, if it hurts, then it’s probably true. In other words, if the critique stings, then it must mean on some level, you agree with it. I’ve been telling this to my kids for years; the only way someone’s words can hurt you (and I believe words can hurt waaay more than sticks and stones) is if you believe them.

His critique of my writing didn’t hurt my feelings the way true criticism usually does, when I know I need to go back in and make the changes. Although he did make some valid points, most of it flat out didn’t make a whole lot of sense, and a lot of it centered on how I wasn’t following his formulaic method for writing fiction.

I pulled out copies of all my favorite novels, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Breathing Lessons, I Know This Much is True. I mean, Irving, Tyler, Lamb—these guys are the best. My idols. Surely they must be following his secret formula for literary success? It was then I got an idea. One of my wonderful, awful ideas. I copied word for word eight random pages from Anne Tyler’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Breathing Lessons, and handed it in. (Full disclosure: since he already knew my writing style, I changed the formatting of hers. She writes big, long paragraphs. I don’t. So I broke her paragraphs down. I also changed the character names and said it was “a few pages from another novel.”)

Yeah, I know. It was a bitchy thing to do. But I learned more from that exercise than the whole rest of the class. Copying her words, it felt like I was channeling her style, so different from mine and then simultaneously, weirdly, not so very different underneath it at all. I learned there’s no precise formula for writing a great story. Sure there are rules and guidelines and I suppose you have to know the rules before you can break them, but every great story is as individual as the writers that wrote them. And when Teacher eviscerated Pulitzer Prize winning Anne in the same way he had me, I felt vindicated. If in his eyes I'm such a terrible fiction writer, at least I'm in very good company.

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