Monday, July 25, 2011

Parting is Sweet Sorrow

Today we’re getting rid of the Easy Bake Cotton Candy Maker. I know! It’s a big day. I suppose it would be an even bigger day if we decided to get rid of the pasta maker, too, but we do manage to pull that contraption out about once every three years (the amount of time it takes me to forget what a pain in the ass it is to clean it) to make fresh pasta.

I bought the Cotton Candy Maker at Costco about eight years ago. I was there with the boys shortly before Christmas and when Kyle saw it, he decided right then and there he could not live without it. When I told him I would not get it for him, but that he could ask Santa for it, it led to the only full-blown, all-out, in-store tantrum I remember any of my kids ever having.

Up and down the aisles of Costco, I was the mom with the screaming, wailing, tantrumming child who wanted his cotton candy maker and wanted it NOW. I would not relent. And neither would he. I got snide looks, sympathetic looks, all sorts of looks, but I was not swayed. It took about twenty minutes, but Kyle eventually calmed down. It took me about four hours and a martini.

Afterward, however, I had a wonderful idea: I would buy Kyle the Easy Bake Cotton Candy maker for Christmas! It would be a lesson in delayed gratification! He will also have learned that a tantrum will not get you what you want, when you want it. Oh, what a parenting coup!

Flash forward to Christmas morning. I was so excited to see the joy on little Kyle’s face when he unwrapped the cotton candy maker. He tore at the paper. I envisioned rays of sun bursting through clouds. Angelic voices singing.

“What’s this?” He sounded almost disgusted.

“It’s the Easy Bake Cotton Candy Maker!” I said.

Blank stare.

“The one from Costco! The one you said you wanted. The one you lov—“ my voice trails off here as Kyle throws the gadget off to the side and tears into another unopened box. Probably one with clothes in it, just to twist the knife.

We did use it a couple of times. I seem to remember it required dumping a five-pound bag of “Special Cotton Candy” (read: expensive) sugar into the bowl, listening to that annoying motor whine for, like, a day and a half and then turning the hand crank to collect the teaspoon of cotton candy it had generated. Parting with it will not be difficult, or at least not as difficult as parting with that dumb pasta maker.

The Easy Bake Cotton Candy maker was a good lesson. It taught us that our desire for and fascination with things can sometimes be as ephemeral as, well, cotton candy.

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A City Mom Drives Readers to Suicide (Prevention!)

As a ChicagoNow blogger, I receive a lot of press releases from public relations people trying to promote their causes. I ignore most of them, am amused by some of them, but the one I received earlier this week gave me pause: Why do they think readers of A City Mom need to know about suicide prevention?

Okay, I know. My bad. I shouldn’t make fun of such a serious topic. Not even by pretending to be paranoid. Or even just slightly neurotic (and please, will the Society for Slight Neuroses not put me on their mailing list.)

The amusing PR emails came from a woman who seemed very nice, albeit cloyingly persistent, who kept trying to get me to go to a new mom and kids coffee shop so I could blog about it. If only she read my blog. Then she would have known how much I would have given anything for their little cafĂ© to have existed ten years ago. That was back when I would pay money to leave my kids with a sitter, so I could escape the chaos of my house and go to a coffee house, where I’d hoped to get some work done, only to find the coffee shop was just a budget version of Gymboree.

Her emails were more annoying than those moms at Starbucks who let little Finn and Emily run wild, while they talked loudly about how they'd invented motherhood. I finally got tired of the coffee shop lady's pestering emails and actually wrote her back. I told her I thought I would go to her coffee shop, that my fourteen year-old, six-foot tall sons would enjoy playing on the floor with all the other kids while my twelve year-old daughter did the barista’s hair. I never heard from her again.

And lest you reach for the phone to dial the suicide prevention hotline while waiting for me to get to my point, I found the press release from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention especially compelling.  Compelling enough to write about, you know, after I made my few requisite jibes. (Hey, if they read acitymom...)

It said that in the Unites States a person dies by suicide every fifteen minutes.  34,000 people a year.  As a member of a family that’s been touched by suicide, I know it's a serious topic that few are comfortable talking about and their message bears repeating. Here's a link to the home page for the Illinois Chapter of the AFSP. AFSP Greater Chicago/Illinois Chapter

The AFSP also  organizes Out of the Darkness community walks, and there’s going to be one in Chicago September 24th. Here’s the link: Out of the Darkness Community Walk Chicago
They’re trying to raise $365,000. So, if you can’t walk, you can always  make a donation. Just, um, don’t kill yourself. (sorry)

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The Future of Aviation at Stake

It seems once again the fate of my alma mater, The University of Illinois Institute of Aviation, is up in the air  (sorry).  [Daily Illini: Board of Trustees to Consider Institute of Aviation Closure Thursday.]  This is nothing new. When I attended school there, oh, (or do I say Gaaa!) twenty-five years ago, they were considering closing the Institute back then. The intellectual muckety-mucks higher up at the University have always considered learning to fly to be a trade as opposed to an academic persuasion. In this respect, they’d probably get along pretty well with airline management when it comes to deciding to pay us what we’re worth. Regardless, I wonder if this is truly how all of them feel when they, and their children, set foot on a 400,000 pound jet to go for a ride.
It’s no secret Air Traffic Controller errors are on the rise. Wonder why that is? In April I wrote the following letter to Senator Durbin. It sums up my take on both of these issues and why I think they’re related.

Dear Senator Durbin,
I would like to applaud your call for an investigation into the controller errors at O'Hare! [Durbin urges probe of O'Hare controller errors ] I would also like to ask for any help you can give in trying to prevent the University of Illinois from closing the Institute of Aviation, and I believe these two issues are similar.
The caliber of people in controller training now has changed. Here's a link to the government's ATC website [] The way I read it, you can graduate high school, work at McDonald's for three years and then have the experience necessary to train with ATC. A four-year degree is no longer required. Is this the quality of people we want to entrust our lives with? I believe there's no mere coincidence between this standard and the increase in controller errors.
Since I was a student at The University of Illinois Institute of Aviation, the University has frowned upon the Institute, seeing it as a "trade school," as though it is somehow beneath them. And yet they love the Agriculture School. Isn't farming a trade as well? Although I imagine they know better where their bread is buttered in our agricultural state.
In thirty years of flying, every pilot I have flown with who has trained at the University of Illinois has been excellent. To a person. Every one. It didn't matter if they graduated years before or years after me, I knew when I climbed into a cockpit with an Institute grad, I would find a sharp, intelligent and superior pilot.
There are other flight schools out there, but the advantage of schools associated with a great University like the University of Illinois is in the caliber of the people it attracts and who can gain admission. If the University should choose to close the Institute of Aviation it will be to the detriment of the future of the flying profession. Where you train does make a difference. While flying a jet may or may not be a trade, it takes quite a bit of intelligence and skill. I would hate to see the standards slip in this sector in the same way it appears to be trending for ATC.
The closing of the University of Illinois Institute of Aviation and the trend it portends is something all future airline passengers have a stake in. Their safety, their very lives, depend on it.
Kim Strickland

To back up my point, earlier this month, the Tribune ran this story, [Chicago Tribune: controller washouts], which states,
"They've (new controllers) been coming in hot and heavy for four years and we haven't had a completely successful one go all the way yet to full-performance level," said James Hall, a controller who is the union representative at the Terminal Radar Approach Control center, or TRACON, in Elgin.
The track record has been that about half of the experienced controllers who transferred to the TRACON and 80 percent of the new hires fail during initial training, officials said.
I suppose controllers and pilots don’t need a college education to do what we do. Because, after all, how much education do I need to be an expert on aerodynamics, hydraulics, electronics, pneumatics, meteorology, or to know how many transmissometers I have to have operational in order to shoot a CAT IIIA approach? See, it’s all so simple. Anybody can do it. And if aviation education trends keep heading the way they are, anyone will.
Safe travels, y’all.

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The University of Illinois Institute of Aviation is hosting an informational picket outside the Board of Trustees meeting this Thursday July 21 at 7:00 a.m., UIC Student Center West, Chicago Rooms B and C, 828 South Wolcott Avenue, Chicago

My letter to Senator Durbin was edited slightly for length.

Got Your E-Reader Yet?

Konrath on Borders/Publishing

Urban Corn Detasselling

Every summer around this time, in the middle of my kids' I'm bored doldrums, my husband trots out the story of how, When I was your age, I was outside in ninety-degree heat, standing on a tractor moving through central Illinois corn fields detasselling corn for ten hours a day. This, of course, causes said children to rightfully roll their eyes and exchange the Oh brother look the way my generation did when our parents told us they had to walk barefoot to school in the snow. Uphill. Both ways.

In his defense, when my husband tells his corn detasselling story, he's being facetious. It's become a favorite part of one of our frequent dinnertime amusements. If someone complains about something, anything, we try to outdo them with an "Oh yeah? Well you were lucky. I had to..." by filling in the blank with whatever worse misery our imagination can come up with. For example, if I complained traffic was terrible, someone would be obliged to tell me I was lucky to have a car. Good times, right?

This week, my husband managed to outdo his own corn detasselling biopic. After he'd once again told the heartwarming tale of his pastoral childhood's Midwestern work ethic, one of the boys smugly replied he'd be happy to detassel corn all summer long if only there were a way to do it in Chicago.

Considering the guy next door to us in the old neighborhood got so fed up with the weeds in his backyard he removed all his grass and planted corn, my son should be more careful what he says. That and the fact we have eight stalks of corn (popcorn!) growing in our backyard garden. This is probably what gave Jeff the idea for a job even more miserable than his childhood's: Urban Corn Detasseller.

Oh yeah? You we lucky. I was an Urban Corn Detasseller I had to go door to door looking for corn just so I could detassel it!

We immediately latched on to the idea as the story our kids could trot out to their own someday.

Oh sure corn detasselling is hard. But try being an Urban Corn Detasseller. We didn't get to ride on a nice tractor through fields where the corn already was. We had to hunt down the corn, too.

For the rest of this summer at least, the next time a child complains about having nothing to do, they're going right out to the backyard to detassel those eight ears of corn. Then maybe back to the old neighborhood for more of the same. Who knows, we might even send them door to door. There could be a great urban need for corn detassellers and we've only just discovered it. Of course they'll have to do it barefoot. Walking up hill both ways. If only we could provide some July snow.

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A Zamboni Run

Our family has been known to go on family runs. All five of us barreling (Can you call it barreling if it happens slowly?) down the sidewalk. Four of us jogging, our daughter on her bike. Don’t call DCFS. We all like running. I’ve been at it for over twenty years now. Our boys run track and cross-country at their school. My husband used to run marathons. And my daughter begs to come along on her bike, which affords us the opportunity to all go together. See? Not as heinous as it sounds. But perhaps not nearly as heinous as we look. And, as you can imagine, we get a lot of looks.

Last weekend on Sunday, you know, the day it was really, really hot, things were not going well for our heroes. Tanya scraped the back of her foot turning around on her bike and was grumpy and emotional the whole way back. I thought I felt the evil grip of plantar fasciitis biting at my right heel again. My husband, feeling especially spry, kept sprinting ahead in the most annoying manner.

After pausing for about the third time to address the hostage situation my daughter had us in (The miniscule scrape on her heel wouldn’t allow her to wear her shoes. She simply must walk.), my son Kyle commented on our particularly miserable outing, “These Zamboni runs just never go well.”

I just about doubled-over laughing. We all did. I mean, “Zamboni Run?” I could not have picked a better way to describe it. It’s exactly what we were. This huge God-awful Zamboni family scraping our way slowly down the street. If only there’d been ice on a day as hot as last Sunday.

After our belly laugh, my husband patiently had Tanya take off her shoe, flatten its heel and then wear it like a clog. Voila. She could ride. My heel calmed down once I got warmed up. And best of all, my husband stopped pacing the pack in an outrageously speedy manner.

We all made it home and drank Gatorade on the front porch like we were part of a TV commercial. My heel was fine. Tanya’s heel felt fine and she even stopped acting so sullen. We all felt good. I just wish I could say the same thing for the dog. It was just too hot, so we hadn’t taken her with us. Talk about sullen. My favorite canine running partner was mad at us for the rest of the day.

But honestly, five people, one bike and a dog? I can’t think of a metaphor to exceed “Zamboni,” and lest you call the Humane Society, I don’t want to find one.

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Do-gooder Graffiti Artist Redux

My Do-Gooder graffiti artist struck again. This time, he (or she?) really struck me. I mean, as regular readers of acitymom know, I’m a sucker for irony. And this time, my do-gooder topped himself (maybe even me!) He wrote, “Nothing is Permanent” on the wall of a cemetery. I think he even wrote in chalk. Thoughtful. You know, for a guy prone to defacing property. Regardless, when I drove down Irving Park Road on Friday and saw it on the side of the Graceland Cemetery, I had to pull over immediately to snap this photo. I knew it wouldn’t last forever.

Folk and Roots Fest Weirdo Watch

Whenever you go to one of Chicago’s many festivals, like the Folk and Roots Festival we attended Saturday, you have to expect to encounter a few weirdoes, myself included. However this time, the weirdoes came in counterintuitive packages.

Saturday was a perfect day weather-wise for hanging out and listening to great music. The large crowd reflected that. Our newly CTA savvy boys met us there around dinnertime (food always being motivational if you’re a fourteen year-old boy.) after attending a friend's block party. As I see it, it’s never too early for them to learn another important life skill: finding people at a large festival, especially when they don’t have a big tie-dyed flag.

Shortly after they arrived, a huge bare-chested man in dreadlocks came by our blanket selling handmade bracelets. I must admit I was tempted, even though I know a beaded hemp ankle bracelet is the kind of thing I’d only wear for fifteen minutes at a street festival.

I told him, “No, thank you. They are beautiful, though.” And I smiled and made eye contact with him. I could tell from the body language in our little group, they thought I was nuts for potentially encouraging this guy. But the response he gave me! It’s like I gave him a bar of gold. He was so damned grateful. He said most people, “treat me like I’m an alien. But it’s beautiful people, nice people like you that make it all worthwhile.” He actually made me feel good for telling him "No."

A while later he was dancing with his beer and I heard another woman, pointing to him when she walked by, say, “And then there’s always that guy. You know, the weirdo with his shirt off dancing.”

Later, when the last band was playing, a pretty Asian woman in a large straw hat walked up to my friend. We’ll call him “Bill.” She had her hand out as if to shake his and was all enthusiastic to see him so, for a moment, I thought they knew each other. Soon it became clear he didn’t. What happened next is where it gets strange. Bill was standing next to my husband when she came up in between them. I was standing next to Jeff, with Bill’s wife was on the other side of me. She began stroking Bill’s hair and giving me and Bill’s wife a look like, What are you gonna do about it?

I told her I thought it was time she left. And she said, “I no go bye-bye. You go bye-bye. You ugly. You ugly, you go bye-bye,” smiling at me all the while. I told her I was going to walk over to the tent behind us and get security. She didn’t budge. So I walked over to the tent behind us, turning around a couple of times. She was watching me, but still she didn’t move.

A very nice Folk and Roots staff lady quickly followed me back with a walkie-talkie, calling for security after I told her what was going on, that a strange and probably drunk woman was harassing us and wouldn’t leave, even after we’d asked her to.

When we got back, I took my place next to my husband and waved at the little straw hat woman, saying, “Now you go bye-bye” as the staff lady approached. They had words, and it took a while, but the straw-hatted interloper eventually followed her away. I don’t know what happened next, but the last we saw of the tiny straw-hatted lady was her breaking into a run for the gate with the staff woman chasing her.

This is a lesson in using your intuition, I told my kids. The threatening looking weirdo was just that guy, having fun at a street fest and trying to make some cash to buy beer. The non-threatening looking little woman was actually a great threat that needed to be run off by security. I told them they should try to listen to that inner voice when they hear it, the way I had. Because ugliness, like beauty, often comes in unlikely packages.

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This Summer, CTA means "Children Travelling Autonomously"

The words Independence Day carry a new meaning in our house this year. You see, my sons have discovered the CTA. Of course they’ve been using public transportation their entire urban lives, but now it’s different. Before, we used to go with them. And when we took them places on the El or the bus, I’m certain they never paid any attention to where we were or how we got there or how to get back home. It’s like when you’re a passenger in someone else’s car. Unless the driver specifically asks you to navigate (or you’re my mother), you just trust they’ll get you there.

Since they’re starting high school next year and a CTA bus will be the school bus, over the course of the last year or so we’ve forced them to pay attention to the public transportation process. I mean, these are the same two kids that used to get lost crossing the street to fetch a stray ball. Last spring, my husband took it upon himself to get them to a friend’s house across town via the El and a bus, telling them the next time they’d be expected to do it on their own.

The boys have never looked back. Now that they’ve realized the freedom and possibilities public transportation has opened up for them, they are all over it. This summer has been filled with get-togethers (can’t call them playdates anymore) with their friends all over town. They’ve even gone to pick-up a few pals whose parents couldn’t drive them over and who hadn’t received clearance for independent CTA travel yet. In fact, when going to meet some friends at the movies the first week of summer, they were mortified when our sitter offered to drive them. “No! We can get there!”

This is yet another reason we chose city life. Sure, they’ll learn to drive. But they won’t need to. And they may be especially motivated not to when they learn the car they’ll be sharing is going to look an awful lot like the beat-up ’99 Camry parked in the garage. Even if we fix the busted-out headlight, I doubt it will ever scream, “chick magnet.”

In the mean time, their newfound independence is especially fantastic for me, in that I no longer have to plan to pick them up and drop them off all over town. All I have to worry about is getting my daughter back and forth to the places she needs to be. In other words, their independence means more independence for me.

It's both fantastic and bittersweet.

I love that my boys are now CTA savvy Children Traveling Autonomously. But I miss having them around. Today they're on their way to school for a meeting then off to a friend's and with my daughter at camp, our house is weirdly quiet for a summer afternoon. Despite some mild concern when the boys headed out for the bus stop and Kyle turned left and Ethan turned right, I suppose I should just suck it up and relax, be happy and enjoy the quiet. And for those of you who'd give me a token (remember CTA tokens, eh?) for my thoughts, understand that independence has to be a part of the process if you're doing it right.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Human Pincushion Learns to Just Say "No"

The nurse had the syringe stuck in the inside of my arm and was rooting around, trying to find one of my veins, which, in her defense, I’ve been told are small. This hurt. (the rooting around, not the insult to the size of my veins.) And so I said, “Okay, we’re done.” She did one last little futile root as if she hadn’t really heard me, but then she pulled the needle out.

It’s taken me a lot of years to get to this point: being able to tell a nurse unable to draw blood from me to knock it off. I used to be so deferential and accommodating, returning from routine blood tests, like the one I had yesterday, looking like a member of the Confederate Army.

I’m not a big weenie about it either, as some of you might be suspecting. I mean, I don’t particularly care for the sight of blood, especially my own, but I know it only hurts for the split-second when the needle pierces the skin. Unless of course they start rooting. This change—going from being an accommodating pincushion to being the patient with no more patience—happened sometime after my sons were born. My high-risk pregnancy had me in for blood tests so often, I began to resent the abuse. The kiss-of-blood-drawing-death, in my book, was when after several nurses had tried and failed, they’d call the doctor in. Great. The guy who hasn’t drawn blood in twenty years. One day I finally asked them all to stop and to give me a prescription to go to a hospital for the blood draw. When I got there, the Phlebotomist asked me in horror, “Who did this to you?”

He told me my veins are indeed small, and they’re deep, but they’re there. My favorite part was when he said it’s not my fault when people can’t find them. (I’ve had nurses tell me my veins roll around, plotting, hiding from them. I’ve had them accuse me of being dehydrated. Me. The self-proclaimed Queen of Hydration!) Even though my arm looked like a bruised-up game of Twister, that guy somehow found a vein and nailed it. Virtually painlessly. First try.

I’d love to have some nurses comment, tell me what gives. I try to give them all the benefit of the doubt, but yesterday I knew I was in trouble when she gave me a glass of water, got out a hot pack and started looking at the veins on the back of my hand.

‘No. We’re not trying there,” I said.

She called in a supervisor to draw my blood. Great, I thought. But unlike a stereotypical supervisor, this guy was good. He got a vein first try. “You can’t look for the vein, you have to feel it,” he said.

Coming from me, the someone who feels it every time, I told him he was my hero for the day. And today, looking at the blue bruise on my arm where the first nurse was and the small dot where he drew blood, I'm pretty proud of my ability to just say, "No."

The Impromptu Social Life: How not to be psycho-hostess

Recently I've fallen in love with last minute. Gone ape for impromptu.
Something about an "I'm so happy this worked out" social life, really
makes me happy.

In so many ways, it's just easier. When I have lunches and dinners and
get-together on the calendar, of course I look forward to them, but dare
I say it here (my friends have been known to read acitymom!) sometimes I
resent them, too. Those social obligations on my calendar get in the
way of my writing, or my workout schedule or errands and appointments I
can no longer oblige.

Last minute get-togethers feel easier to me. This must be because inviting someone over for dinner that very same day takes the pressure off. How can anyone expect my house to be totally straightened, much less spotless? How can anyone expect the food to be fantastic (or even home cooked!), much less perfect. It forces me to not be Psycho-Hostess during the preparation stage. You know, when you start cleaning the bathroom sink with a toothbrush, Q-tips and rubbing alcohol as if you were detailing a car instead of keeping your eye on the big picture, like just making sure everyone picks up their dirty underwear off the floor. Impromptu peels me off my own chase-perfection-while-entertaining case. I don't worry about matching napkin rings, just whether I have enough white wine chilling in the fridge.

And I love when I get a last minute invite, too. "Are you free for coffee, right now?" It's so cool when it works out. It makes me feel fun and spontaneous again. Younger, like a college student. My friends and I have talked about this phenomenon. With everyone so scheduled, we all feel better about not adding one more thing, even though fostering and maintaining friendships is a pretty important thing.

I just hope my kids don't read this one. More often than not, I say No to their last minute requests for sleepovers and playdates. (And to a request at 11:40 last night, I kid you not, to fill out a survey for English class.) Apparently I'm not so enamored with impromptu as it applies to my children. It's not very fair, I know, that I should deny them their spontaneity while I foster mine. But their lives are already way more spontaneous than ours are and I believe it's up to me to stomp that right out of them.

Oh, just kidding. What do you think? Am I being an over-scheduled Impromptu Ogre? Maybe we can get together and talk about this double standard of mine. Give me a call and we'll get something on the calendar. Last minute, of course.

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Unethical Cat Pees on Profesional Book

Pee book.jpg
So my husband is considering taking the CFA course to become, well, a
CFA, because after all, who wouldn't want a few more letters following
their name? (CFA stands for Chartered Financial Analyst.) But being a
pretty smart financial analyst already, he decided instead of jumping
right in and signing up for the expensive course, he would buy some used
course books on Amazon, to see what he'd be in for.

He had no idea what he was in for.

When he ordered the books, the seller , we'll call him "DoofusT25,"  said they were in good condition. However, when they arrived, one book had water damage. Jeff called me in to the office to take a look.
"I'd say it's in fair condition, not good," I told him. "I mean, you can still use it. And it was only like a hundred dollars instead of a couple thousand. Right?" And then, for some reason, I decided to smell the book. Oh, I know that smell. Cat pee.

This guy mailed a book to my husband that his cat (or maybe it wasn't his cat, but someone's cat) peed on. Here is the title of the book, "Ethical and Professional Standards and Quantitative Methods CFA Curriculum."  Oh, how thick the irony! Acitymom could not pass this one up. Do you think the books were for sale because DoofusT25 didn't pass the course?

Pee book side view.jpg
When Jeff wrote Doofus and said the book was damaged, with cat pee, he replied with one sentence, "It's water." Well. Doing her good due dilligence, it would be remiss of acitymom to not warn off anyone thinking of moving to Tarzana, California! The water there smells suspiciously like cat pee!
The sellers name, will of course be forthcoming, if he does not make this right.  Because, you know, then I would be pissed.

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The Cubs Calendar

If it isn't on The Kitchen Calendar, then it isn't happening in my

I say this often and for better or worse, my family knows it's
true. If they don't tell me, and then sometimes stand there to
physically watch me write it down on THE calendar on the fridge, the
chances of "it" actually coming to pass are slim to none. And it doesn't
matter what "it" is: a track team celebration pizza party, their best
friend's birthday party, a school concert or their graduation ceremony.
If it's not on THE calendar, then chances are, it will get lost in the
detritus of my mental home-life-work juggling act, never to be heard
from or about again.

ryan theriot1.jpg
So what surprises me these days, is what has been showing up on our calendar. We have a 2011 Cubs season calendar, featuring some of our favorite Cubs players, like Mike Fontenot (February) and Ryan Theriot (March).  I know!  I guess you have to figure they're forced to prepare these calendars way ahead of time, but still. They traded Theriot a year ago in July and they traded Fontenot last August!  I'm surprised the kids haven't picked up on this thin thread of irony: if our hallowed calendar says Carlos Silva is going to be pitching this August, then why the heck can't we go to the track team pizza party today?

I've often thought it would be magnificent if someone were to write, Spa day for Mom, on some random Tuesday. And then, as if by magic, when that Tuesday rolled around I'd be picked up by a limo at nine a.m. and swept away for a day of pampering. However, around here, I know it's more likely for someone to write, Bring old dead batteries to Walgreens for recycling.  Sigh.

The  2011 Cubs Season Calendar on the fridge happens to feature Marlon Byrd for July. Who knows? A gal can dream. Maybe he'll come off the DL in time for me to watch him through my cucumber eye pads during my day at the spa.

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The Ionic Litterbox: Better than it was before?

The electronic litter box we have for our cats has a clock on it. (Looks like I'm sticking with the scatological cat theme for this week!) [Unethical cat pees on professional book] The manufacturer of the litter box, LitterMaid, says it's so we can set the timer for the litter box, so we can put it "to sleep."  Personally, I'm a bit relieved the clock isn't there for the cats to know when it's time to use it. And this is not because I'm afraid of cats telling time or being on a strict schedule but mostly because the light
has flashed 12:00, like our old VCR used to, ever since we bought it back in April.

We've been using electronic litter boxes for years and have had very good luck with them. The first one we ever owned lasted at least ten years. The one immediately following only made it about six months, and now this new one, this LitterMaid Elite Basic LME 5500 has been giving us no end of trouble. (We opted out of the Elite Mega, because we're not litterbox snobs or anything, even though the Elite Mega is a much cooler name, which kind of implies it should have rocket boosters or something. Although our basic old 5500 did come with the Kitty Kabana! )

The trouble is not just the clock. The thing keeps getting jammed. Earlier this week it stopped working altogether, so I called customer service. The guy was very helpful. He told me I needed to take apart my LitterMaid Elite Basic LME 5500 to find the reset switch, which I needed to turn on and off ten times. So I found myself on the floor, up to my elbows in litter box, trying to find this tiny little switch that is cleverly hidden out of sight underneath the right side rail track. The solution did work, but still. The whole purpose of an electronic litterbox is to not have to touch it too much. Even with its Ionic Air Cleaner (really), I just don't want to be that close to it.

And another thing. Who thought it was a good idea for a litterbox to go to sleep? I would have liked to have sat in on that meeting.

"How can we make our electronic litterboxes more green, more environmentally friendly?" 

"I know! We'll let them go to sleep!"

The idea is so bad, I'm sure that guy is Vice President of the company by now. And considering cats are nocturnal, determining when a good time for their bathroom to sleep could be quite a conundrum.
I mean, personally, I don't ever want a bathroom that goes to sleep. I guess the folks over at LitterMaid are just trying to make their products better than they were before. Better, Faster Stronger. Ionic. But I don't think my cats should get a cabana before I do.

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D'oh. Duff Beer for Dad

What on earth do you get the man in your life for Father's day? It seems to me it gets harder and harder each year. I mean, how many ties should one man own? But this year, oh yes, this year, I outdid myself. For my dear husband, nothing less than an actual, real, existing bottle of Duff Beer.

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For those of you who aren't familiar, Duff is the beer preferred by esteemed father Homer Simpson. If you look it up on Wikipedia, the very first line says Duff is a "fictional brand of beer." [Wiki/Duff Beer]

Being a huge fan of fiction myself, I was quite excited when I was able to purchase said fictional beer during my recent trip to Germany.

This fictional beer is (not?!?) made by the Eschweger Klosterbrauerei, a brewery in Hessen, Germany and from what I was told by my friends who were with me, extremely hard to come by. I was unfamiliar with Duff Beer until the day I bought it, but when they explained it was Homer's favorite, I knew it was just the kind of fun, kitschy gift my beer connoisseur of a husband would love. They told me it even had the same label as the beer on the show.

Unfortunately, the store only sold it by the bottle and in hindsight, I should have bought my husband more than one. I'm reminded of the time I purchased his birthday present while in Amsterdam (It's a pilot-time-management thing. Not an I'm-a-snob-who-only-shops-in-Europe thing.) I got him some beer, cigars and a couple of dress shirts. When I told one of my friends, he said, "If you got him beer and cigars, what'd you need to buy him shirts for?" (To go with all those Father's Day ties?)

Of course, a solitary Duff Beer is not all I bought for him. I mean, one lonely twelve-ounce beer would be a little on the stingy side, so he'll be getting a few other presents as well. Because what man wouldn't love a pair of women size eight running shoes? Oh, just kidding, of course. (I got him a couple pair of his own personal running shorts and a singlet. Shh.)

Maybe he'll go for a Father's Day run and we can surprise him with an ice cold bottle of beer when he gets back. After all, the Duff should go hand in hand with his fitness program, not having any calories or carbs to worry about, it being fictional and all. D'oh.

Happy Father's Day!

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