Monday, December 24, 2007

Blowing in the Wind

We've had some really windy weather here, gusts of 60 miles per hour yesterday. I choose to believe that all the bad has been blown from our house and we're ushering in a new time of goodness and light.

My Buddy's ear is just fine, although still bleeding. We went to a specialist and they couldn't diagnose the problem without a CAT scan. His bones and eardrum are intact, but there is a blob of skin and blood right over his eardrum, making it difficult to see the extent of the damage even with a microscope. His hearing is "perfect" according to the audiologist and he had lots of gunk sucked out of the ear as well. It took two hours, but my relief took longer than that to sink in. Antibiotic drops, less active until the bleeding stops, no water in the ear.

And now we move on to Christmas. We passed the solstice with strange weather, dense fog as the heavy snow pack melted in 50 degree weather, then rain, then freezing winds blowing roofs off houses and dropping trees on cars. Mother Nature showing her stuff. We are hanging our clothes to dry in the basement while we consider our options. We will wait until January to make a decision on the retainer. And we will never, never again buy O'Soy yogurt it contains milk and caused the Little Man to be completely inflamed within an hour of eating it. I failed a parenting test by not reading the package.

I finished my gift sacks yesterday, wrapped all the presents, gathered table gifts and other last minute necessities and we are officially done. All that's left is to pick up the beef tenderloin and other groceries for Christmas dinner. We'll hang the stockings by the fire with care and hope that Santa listened well to the wishes of the kids. It will indeed be strange to have Santa visit us in this house and not to celebrate with extended family, but it will be nice too. We need a little peace and quiet after the past week.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


I'm not particularly superstitious. And usually my glass is half full. But lately I'm beginning to wonder about how the planets are aligned and how it is affecting our daily life. There is definitely a bad energy swirling around my family lately. Aside from my oldest child's freak ear injury, my youngest falling through the ice, the strange appearance of food in the child center of the gym, here are some other dark spots:

  • After the freak accident resulting in Buddy's ear injury, we somehow forgot his retainer at our friends' house. We were not exactly focused on teeth when the cause of concern was the ear. She found it, but we put off making the trip to retrieve it as no one wanted to sit in the car for an hour and a half. We didn't have a good, distracting movie. Now it is lost again. Probably thrown out or hidden by a toddler in a special toddler place. It was new.
  • Mark and I decided to get ourselves a Happy Light for Christmas, as we both seem to suffer mood swings with our latitude's lack of sunlight in the winter. Somehow I added two to my Amazon cart and did not discover the error until it had already entered the shipping system. They both arrived yesterday.
  • Our dryer is no longer drying. The hose is not clogged, the drum still spins but it does not heat. It's 15 years old. Planned obsolescence.
  • I seem to have triggered by father's obsessive worry about weather and travel when I called to tell my parents about the big guy's ear injury. My father has called me maybe 5 times in my life, he is very phone-adverse. He's been worse since his hearing got bad in his 70s and Parkinson's has affected his speech. He called yesterday to tell me that they would have ice on Sunday and I should cancel my plan to come out to see my siblings. Two days and 60 miles away, as if I wouldn't have access to the same information.
  • Mark is on duty through Boxing Day. That was the day we were to go out and celebrate Christmas with my family, we won't even be able to see his family until January sometime. The ear specialist only had one appointment to see the bleeding ear at 4 p.m on Boxing Day. My parents live an hour away, we will miss almost the whole day with aunts, uncles and cousins we haven't seen in a year.

    Now, all of this is easily fixed. We'll get a new retainer after the New Year once our FSA is re-filled. We'll use some of the money we were intending to pay down our debt with to buy a new dryer. I'll ship back the redundant Happy Light. My Dad would have started worrying about weather and travel anyway with his far flung off-spring traveling from New York, California and New Mexico to see them. And maybe, just maybe, the nurse practitioner today will say that we don't need to come on Boxing Day to see the doctor, that the ear is healing, that the hearing loss will return and that we should have a Merry Christmas.

    But it does seem like our house needs an air and light change, we need to alter the energy field or something.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Even More Kid Dangers

Buddy has no eardrum.

The doctor's words were "There is no membrane. It's just gone." Not a good sign, really. We had a lot of hope upon first inspection when she saw just a "flap of debris." But after clearing out all the blood and wax, the debris turned out to be the membrane that blocks the outer ear from the middle ear.

So, we are on a path we haven't walked down before. Other paths haven't seemed this hard, maybe because have a good understanding of food allergies and asthma. We've been in the ER for croup, asthma attacks and anaphylaxis. Oh, and for the usual accidental overdose, fractures and sprains. Ear trauma is uncharted territory for us. And so close to the brain.

After the Little Man fell through thin ice, he caught an unrelated bug that involved vomiting, fever and diarrhea. Through a miracle of goodwill and timing, a friend was able to pick my Girl Scout up for the Christmas party and take my oldest along for boys club. I happily sent them off at 8:30 a.m. and worried only about my still sleeping little guy who was sick. There was a fleeting worry about sending Buddy out with only Christmas party supplies, one epipen for the two of them, three huge frozen pizzas, gifts for their secret sisters and brothers and bags in case they got car sick. Mostly I was worried that I had not included snow pants for boys club and Buddy would get all wet. Then the Little Man woke with the runs and I spent time cleaning him up, doing normal mom things in the aftermath of a mess.

The little man and I had one quiet hour together working at the sewing machine, making gift bags in lieu of disposable wrapping paper for Christmas. He ate breakfast, chattered incessantly about Santa and presents and where his siblings were. I sewed around and despite of him.

Then the phone rang. My wonderful friend Kim of and was in a panic on the phone. I have a strange, calm response to other people's panic. I could hear my oldest screaming in the background, so my response was doubled. Thankfully doubled. A bag of sticks carved and groomed into wands had been brought to the boys club Christmas party. One of them had been shoved so forcefully into Buddy's ear as to be broken in half. Screaming his head off in shock and pain, he wouldn't let anyone peer in beyond his bloody hair.

Now, I know my children and this one has a very low tolerance for pain. My other two are more like me in that regard. My oldest takes after one of my siblings. So, it was difficult for another mom to judge the extent of his pain, but I made my way out the door. Unfortunately, we live 50 minutes away on a good day with good traffic. Unfairly, I called Mark from the car and asked him to Google sticks and ears. I called my friends every ten minutes or so and for the first 40, my big boy was still screaming. I hit every train and light on the way, making it almost an hour trip. He was calm, but in pain, when I got there and looked in to see that the blood was coming from deep inside the ear canal. Not gushing, but a slow, steady drip.

Girl Scouts being almost over and having the location of an ER and an Urgent Care facility, I set to making a decision. We waited for Little Missy and then for the one epipen among us to be returned after she forgot it at Girl Scouts. I left the house with a not-quite potty trained child with diarrhea and not a single diaper on me. Friends supplied those. Friends returned the epipen. Mark helped me decide to call our regular doctor first. We hit the road.

Our regular doctor couldn't fit us in until 5:30, more than 4 hours after we got home. She squeezed us in between appointments, probably cutting into her dinner. I put a diaper to Buddy's ear to collect the blood, set him up with Harry Potter, tended to the flu ridden little Man and asked my girl for more help than is fair to an 8 year old. She read to him, played games online, brought her big brother drinks and took care to keep me calm in the midst of chaos.

Dr. Wu saw us in the waiting room and was visibly relieved over which boy was in trouble. She shooed us into an empty room and peered in. She scraped out the blood, looked with her scope and thought it was OK, just a flap of debris that needed to be flushed out so she could get a better look. She ran out to take acupuncture needles from someone, asked her nurse to prepare an irrigation solution and got tied up for an hour. I called home and set the wheels in motion to tell everyone there was no damage to the ear drum. We were moved to a room across the hall. My boy read his Harry Potter and I worked on a mitten, because my first response to stress is to start a new project.

When the doctor returned to irrigate, she took the hair clip out of her own hair to pull back my rock star boy's hair and get to work. The more she irrigated, the more gunk came out. Buddy peered into the tub. I sat down with nausea. The she got to some more serious looking and said "The membrane is gone. It's just gone." The light she had seen before was just reflecting off all the blood. He has nothing protecting his ear from the outer world. He can still hear, which confounds me, but it is muffled by the blood now. We need to keep it clean and dry, he need to be inactive to stop the bleeding so the membrane can heal itself.

I've taped gauze over his ear. I've purchased waterproof tape and plugs that cover the ear canal without going into it for protection during a shower. He is grateful for his hair covering the gauze. I'm terrified of his hair carrying bacteria and infecting the ear. He's on the dreaded antibiotic to protect against a infection leading to hearing loss, and a huge dose of probiotics to protect against his usual response to antibiotics, getting every cold and minor illness for the next month. It's been a good two years since he's been on an antibiotic.

But how does one keep a 9 year old from being active? He's read probably 200 pages of the LAST Harry Potter book today. Only 80 left. I re-dressed his ear this morning and by this evening, it was soaked in blood. Another inactive day tomorrow. I'll need to run out and get more movies. He didn't want to watch TV all day today.

He has no hearing loss yet. The membrane can't heal until it stops bleeding. I'm hoping for the best. I'm hoping our string of bad luck will end now. And I'm hoping not to end up with an irrational fear of sticks much like my irrational fear of the ice. This week has done nothing but justify my irrational fears. What this week has done is restore my faith in humanity. Without friends and family working together, I don't know where I'd be.

Monday, December 17, 2007

More kid dangers

We woke to light snow on Saturday morning, but not more than an inch. It was a scheduled work day at the forest preserve where we volunteer. We took two cars because not everyone was up at the same time. It was such a beautiful morning, cold and it had the feel of impending snow. I got there with the sleepy-head boys a few hours into the work and six or seven brush piles had been lit. My daughter already had several sparks land on her coat, revealing the fluffy insides of outerwear.

We've been to several burns now and enjoy it every time. There is something really magical about a burn in the snow, how hot the fire gets and the crackling sound of the logs and brush. The kids breakfasted on marshmallows and had a good time. Then they wandered off through the wetland area and played nicely while the adults chatted by the fire.

I put Mark in charge of monitoring the kids around the ice. It's one of my areas of unreasonable fear, mostly borne from personal experience. Growing up we had access to a fantastic sledding hill on a neighbor's property. We had a large toboggan to seat all four of us and sometimes my father. The hill was treacherous with a dip in the middle, woods on either side and random trees throughout the tracks we made. At the bottom of the hill was a little pond the neighbors maintained as a skating pond. It was great winter fun. Several times, however, we sledded or tobogganed right into not-quite frozen pond. I have painful memories of going home cold and wet, dangerously cold and wet. Dangerously crying in the cold and wet. I remember how hard it is to keep your hands and feet warm months after dunking them in freezing water on a freezing day.

So, I didn't want to ruin the kids fun if it indeed was not a dangerous situation. And I didn't want to know too much about the ice. Mark checked and asked them to move to another location, which they did. Half an hour later the little man was crying in pain and the older two were saying "We didn't know that was ice." So much for homeschooling, right? More likely they were trying to cover up their guilt over the little guy's predicament. Mark brought him to the fire as we assessed the situation. His little boots were filled with water, his mittens completely soaked even after I wrung them out. I removed his soaked socks, Mark held him closer to the fire to warm a bit. Then we put my coat on him - upside down with his legs through the sleeves at the suggestion of another volunteer and took him to the car. Not a graceful exit, but a necessary one.

In the meantime, because you can't have just one tragic, frightening event happen while being a parent of three kids, my oldest snuggled up to another fire and managed to melt the seat of his snow pants. He didn't burn them, we don't think. He claims to have not sat in the fire, but we weren't really paying attention to him with a potentially hypothermic almost four year old in our arms.

Once we got to the car - and we walked fast through the woods, we wrapped him in another warm layer of a beach blanket and I got him home within five or ten minutes. Now he was wet and sandy and miserable, but not crying any more. I marveled over his resilience.

He's OK, but his boots did not dry enough by the next day to go sledding after we received our new six inch layer of snow. And when we've been outside his hands and feet have been cold. I'm making him new mittens from old wool sweaters I've felted. As long as we have a supply of dry mittens to exchange for the wet snowy ones, we should be OK. And Buddy now has the most colorful butt in snow pant land! I covered most of it in patches, but had to resort to duct tape when it wasn't enough. Little Missy turned her coat the other way out, but I saved a white patch to cut out snowflake designs to patch her coat.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

How to be an advocate

Today, as most days, I went to my health club, Lifetime Fitness nearby in Burr Ridge. Actually, it's about 15 minutes away, there are a couple health clubs closer to me. I thought long and hard about which health club to join, my primary concern was my children. I needed a place that would grow with them, so a kids' place with only preschool toys was out. And I needed a place that would be safe for them.

The staff at Lifetime really seemed to understand food allergies. Every staff member is trained, they said. And we haven't had a problem for four years. We avoid party type activities where food is involved. But for camps and classes, they ask about allergies and specifically buy food that fits every child's parameters. Food is not allowed anywhere in the building except the party rooms and the cafe. Parents have always snuck food onto the pool deck (indoors and out) and into the locker room (yuck), but ever since the little man has been old enough to understand his allergies, I haven't been too concerned.

Today I only had the older two with me. They happily ran off into the Child Center, the staff said the play tubes and basketball court would be open in 15 minutes. I came back two hours later to find Little Missy in tears and unable to talk. My oldest told me that they had been keeping themselves alone in the back because the staff had been eating from a jar of nuts. My kids were literally standing there, crying, holding their hands in fists at their sides, afraid to do anything. My daughter had been suspicious of what the workers were eating and had gone up to read the label. She got as far as Mixed Nuts before running in terror. I got their shoes and escorted them out, asking one of the workers about the incident. She told me how sorry she was, but that it was their dinner. I tried to ascertain her level of understanding concerning food allergies and anaphylactic shock, but couldn't really see straight because of my anger and fear.

I intended to speak with the manager on the way out, my girl was still crying, however. Luckily, I saw the general manager, not the manager on duty, in one of the rooms and demanded to see him. After several deep breaths, I managed to convey my concern over the food in the child center without too much, too much. I pointed to my children way down the hall and said they they were two of my three highly allergic children and the reason they were crying was because the people I was paying to take care of them were putting them in danger. The general manager agreed there should be no food in the child center, that the staff is supposed to eat their meals in the break room and that he understood my concern. He promised to take care of the situation right then and have the child center manager call me tomorrow. We'll see.

Parents of food allergic children are often seen as fanatical. We don't want to eat your food, people! It is precisely the people who think we are crazy that we have to be fanatical about. From family members who can't be bothered to get out the reading glasses for the label, from friends who can never remember which food exactly can kill your child, to the disbelieving acquaintance who thinks just a little bit won't hurt. I've had other moms ask me how I can protect their child's right to have a peanut butter sandwich when my kid is near, heard grumblings on field trips or open gyms about how difficult it is to cut up cheese instead of making a PB&J, had people say "Oh, does that mean no Snickers?" I've had people in all seriousness tell me that my children will never be able to avoid peanuts and tree nuts for the rest of their lives. What do these people believe the alternative to be? I know what it is and it's not something I'm prepared for.

The last time my oldest reacted to peanut butter it was after he ran into a room, around a table with an open faced peanut butter sandwich on it, and out again. He was in the room for less than a minute and his entire face swelled up. Imagine if he had been in the room for longer. Imagine if he had eaten it. Yes, I protect my kids from this. I ask people to wash their hands after eating nuts, and have had people believe this to be rude or silly. Even a doctor! Which just goes to show you that those who should have the knowledge don't always use it.

But today my kids couldn't speak up for themselves, couldn't ask these people in a position of authority over them to page me, to get them to a safe place. The staff they have trusted for four years to keep them safe was now threatening them. They are only 8 and 9 years old and they were being put in a horrible position. I'm just grateful they did see what the staff was eating. What if they hadn't known? What if then the staffer had high-fived them on the basketball court and then they had rubbed their eyes or put their fingers in their mouths? What if they had been babies needing to be picked up? No, it probably wouldn't have killed them the way that ingesting peanuts would, but they would have needed medical intervention. The epipen was up front at the check-in, but would they have known to use it? Or how to use it?

So, I can't sleep because I can't keep my kids safe. If I had the space, I'd buy a treadmill and some weights and give up my steam room. If I had the money, I'd hire a babysitter in the afternoons. But I don't. And that doesn't leave me good options if Lifetime can't make me feel confident in their training and policies. Food allergies are a disability and are covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act. There are handicapped parking spots out front, they must make accommodations for my kids' allergies. The problem is that all the policies and training in the world are only as good as those implementing it. There has been a lot of staff turnover in the child center over the past six months. Even if the law protects us, I have to have a comfort level with the protection.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


There's a great, short video on the Internet that I'd like to share. I received it in an email from a yahoo group I'm on for home schooling Roots&Shoots leaders. I started watching it to make sure it was something my kids would want or need to see, and was riveted. It will take 2o minutes to watch and much thinking time afterwards. Find it at

I thought I was pretty good about not buying things, about donating unused things, buying used whenever possible, not creating so much waste. After watching the video, I realized just how wrong I am. We just bought a new computer monitor, for example. And new socks for the girls in the house. Individual chip bags, juice pouches for car lunches, small yogurts and new LED Christmas lights. Yikes. The video puts the whole consuming society a natural resource perspective.

Then I started gathering up headless toys, plastic things for a snow globe project. It's fun to put army guys or spare cootie legs in a snow globe. Expect the unexpected. I went through toy bins I had just been through a couple of months ago when I donated a huge bag to Goodwill. We have so much surplus, it astounded me. We made some good snow globes from some of this surplus, used jars from the basement and from other people's kitchens, and glitter left over from another project. It was a recycling kind of project, but we can't litter the world with snow globes!

Even those of us who think about these things have a long way to go. My kids had no idea about planned obsolescence, I'm glad they have a little understanding of it now. I hope it stays with them.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Get out there

If anyone were to ask me for my best homeschooling advice, it would be to get out there. Get out in the woods, in a field, meadow or prairie, a bog, down by a creek or on the lakefront. Get out of the house, away from noise, away from structured time, play structures, classes, activities, and mind sets of what should be or needs to be done. Lather, rinse, repeat. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Don't let weather, time constraints, to-do lists, team sports or reluctant participants stop you from getting out on a regular basis. Put it on the calendar, a no excuses date with the outside world, the natural environment. Or do what I did and form a scheduled activity, thereby committing myself other families to get out there. Your children will thank you - although maybe not out loud. You will thank you.

It's amazing what a little open space can do for you and for your children. Today we had 14 children aged 4 to 14 out in the woods, burning a brush pile we had made earlier in the year at a forest preserve. Don't get me wrong, in real life these are iPod-wearing, nintendo-playing, dvd-watching children. They all have the benefit of being homeschooled, so they are used to being in mixed company. They also have the ability to get together a couple of Fridays a month to get out there and enjoy themselves.

They worked together sawing logs, lopping off branches, tending the fire. They packed snow around logs that were too thick to burn in the time allotted. They roasted hot dogs and marshmallows. Then they sauntered off to play in the snow. The had a snowball fight, made snow forts and a snow men. Left to their own devices, with no input and no direction, they climbed fallen branches, made snow forts out of brush, followed deer and rabbit tracks and had a great time together.

It's so easy for us to stay home to "get work done." Or to fill our schedules with all the wonderful activities and classes our Chicago homeschooling community provides. But what our kids really need is to reconnect with the natural environment, with their own imaginations and creativity, with themselves and with each other. This morning, getting my three out of the house and into the cold was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. After all, getting out means four snow pants, 8 boots, 8 gloves or mittens (matching not necessary), 4 hats, 4 coats and someone who has to pee as soon as all this is put on. But I had a date, written on my calendar, with 9 other children, 3 great moms and 2 wonderful and accommodating volunteer stewards of the Forest Preserve, so off we went. And then it turned out to be the only thing I wanted to do today.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Snow Dance

When we got to the sledding hill yesterday, we were greeted by a sign that read "No Sledding." It had a lengthy explanation of the dangers of the terrain, the fact that trees and fences were in the way and that someone could get hurt.

Our town is pretty flat, so we have to drive to a neighboring town's park for what suffices as a hill. It's not really much of a hill, but it works. And it's worked for years. Everyone comes here to sled.

So, we ignored the sign. There was already another family sledding and we decided to believe the sign indicated another section of this small slope, which indeed had fencing and many evenly spaced trees. It was damp and cold, with lake effect snow falling and swirling around. Cloudy and sunny at times, a perfect sledding day. The snow was not packed down when we got there, but we worked at it enough that by the time we left and other families arrived, the hill was a good sled.

The other moms looked askance at us, one ventured to ask if we had school today. I told her we homeschool and this was recess. She laughed and left it alone. Really, they should have been pleased that my 85 pound kid was packing down the snow for them! After a while, a village worker came and tinkered with the sign. I got that creepy feeling you get when choosing to violate a rule. He spent a long time on the sign, but never approached us and then drove off. As we were leaving, we read the sign again and it had been changed to "Sled at Your Own Risk." We had another discussion about the sign, about unenforceable rules and how grown ups can sometimes change their minds.

Later in the day, after a trip to the library for story time and to reload our reading materials, the entire family turned out for Parent Observation Day at the little guy's dance class. We had forgotten about Parent Observation Day for my oldest boy's class the day before and can't make it to my daughter's tonight, so we came out in force for this one. While he was clearly distracted by the parents in the room, and especially his parents, sister and brother, my youngest child show his love of dance, of his teacher and the whole world in his movements. You can see him below in the mirror.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Snowy Day

It snowed nicely last night. The weather information all day had been full of the impending snow, so it felt good for it to finally arrive. It started just as I dashed out of the house to take my oldest boy to his dance class. When I got home, Mark had arrived, so he sent my daughter out to come with me for a haircut. By the time we got to Fantastic Sam's, it was snowing in earnest. And me in my crocs.

We ran a bunch of errands and Little Missy listened to the book Everything on a Waffle on her mp3 player while I had my Chinese tuina (I think it means torture) massage on my ankle. Then we picked up the dancer, had dinner and the kids played in the snow until 9 o'clock. The first real snow of the season is always special. They were the only kids playing in it on the block.

Here's what I'm grateful for in this snow:
  • The timing. It started snowing on Tuesday night, not Monday night. Or, worse, Tuesday morning when we have to leave really early on our hour long trek into the city for Girl Scouts.
  • Accurate weather predictions. My kids are tired of threatened storms that never come. My father obsesses about the weather while it is predicted, during the storm and the immediate aftermath. Accurate predictions, in a way, justify his worry.
  • Our neighbor found a plow guy. And they didn't come until after Mark was already up! We share a driveway and don't have much space to put the snow. It's an extravagance, but easier on our backs. And it was a nice surprise this morning.
  • Homeschooling. I am so happy my kids don't have to trudge down to school, hurrying not to be late and not enjoying the delight of the first snow. As soon as the Little Man is up and breakfasted, we plan to head to the sledding hill for some fun.

We have a nice three or four inch coating and are supposed to get a bit more in lake effect this morning. It's warm enough to be good sledding snow, I sure hope so.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Holiday Shopping

There are many, many reasons why I try not to shop in stores over the holiday season. I hate crowds, hate standing in lines, hate the parking lot wars. I'm also very susceptible to merchandising and marketing ploys, so I suddenly believe I need yet another gift for someone. Ever since we swore off credit of any kind, I've been able to control this temptation a bit better.

Another thing that has helped has been stopping the flood of catalogues that rush to our door every day. I signed up with Green Dimes ( and now have many days when there is only one thing in my mailbox. It's helped lighten our recycling bins considerably, but it's also helped me to curtail my consumerism. I can't want something that I don't know exists.

This year I have another reason not to shop in brick and mortar stores. My children. The Sunday before Thanksgiving, I went to Kohl's with my girl. She loves to shop. I needed a table cloth to match an existing table cloth for our Thanksgiving dinner's extended table. They had one on sale. There is always a sale at Kohl's. The store near us is huge. Huge on Costco proportions, but jam packed with stuff. It's like a WalMart with carpeting. Racks and racks of stuff, the aisles crowded with lane blockers and displays beckoning us to buy things not on our list.

We found the table cloth easily, discussed the merits of matching or coordinating napkins and selected the coordinating ones. (Matching ones get camouflaged in the table cloth, according to my daughter.) After that we took a quick look to see if they had a pudding basin and then were heading out. But my attention was diverted by picture frames on sale and beckoning, so we took a detour into that section.

And then she was gone. One minute we were chatting about presents for Daddy for Christmas and the next minute she was simply gone. I wasn't worried at first, just left the frames and went to the Christmas ornaments she had been admiring. Not there. I went back to the table cloths and the non-existent pudding basin. Not there. I have a pretty good bellow that I use to call the kids in at night, so I used that. Nothing. Louder. Nothing. Louder and more desperate. Nothing.

I stopped a passing worker, who informed me that she had to be in shoes. I said I had lost my child and she continued on to shoes. A shopper told me to go to customer service, which was thankfully nearby. I did and they paged a Code something for lost kids. Panic had now completely set in to me. Maybe 5 or 10 minutes had passed. Even in a huge store like this one, that is long enough for someone to convince her to go out into the parking lot with him. What were my last words to this precious girl? What if I never see her again? What do I do next? By the time it took for the 7 foot tall store employee who's job it is to find lost kids came sauntering up, my mind had made the fliers, called the police and media outlets, garnered the support and action of my entire community of friends to find my child.

The slow walking giant asked me what she was wearing, I told him not only that, but what she had for breakfast. I told him exactly what she looks like, what was in the shopping cart she was pushing and what her voice sounds like. I told him she's eight years old, but short like a younger child. I just jabbered on an on while we were looking, telling him about combing her long hair, the birthmark on her belly, her love of everything animals. After what seemed like an eternity and was probably only two minutes, he found her. She was swallowed between round racks and wall racks of women's clothing. She couldn't see over the top and got lost in the maze of the floor configuration that forces a shopper to look at ever single item on display.

My little Missy was mad. And crying. But mostly mad. First she was mad because I had lost her and then she was mad that she couldn't figure out where the registers were because she couldn't see anything but clothes and couldn't figure out how to get out of her maze. And then she was mad because I was hugging and kissing her and telling her how sorry I was for losing her. I think she was more embarrassed than mad at that point, although we had a private spot there between the racks packed so close that a body has trouble getting through.

I vowed then and there to stay out of all stores except for necessities until January. And not to take the kids. My guard with the older two was down now that they are older, I need to work on that. We walked to the checkout together and I bought her some fuzzy socks from an end cap display at the checkout, thereby proving my point all over again about store shopping.

Monday, November 26, 2007

My email is on fire!

I haven't posted in a while because I've been struggling with a bad outlook. Seriously, my email has been completely crazy for almost a week. Wednesday it downloaded all my messages since December 2005. I painfully deleted them as they downloaded - 13,000 came in while we had dinner one night - and hoped that would be the end of it.

I didn't check email on Thursday because of Thanksgiving - too much cooking and eating and wonderful hanging out with family and friends. No time for email, and honestly I was a little afraid of what Outlook had in store for me.

Friday I checked my email just once in the morning, not much happening, not many messages, all was good. We had a horrible Friday bearing witness as our last and longest lived cat died. She was a wonderful, furry beast. Mark and I drove all the way to Houston to retrieve her from behind my friend's refrigerator where she was hiding from Julia's two cats after being abandoned by someone in the apartment building. Chamie and I had a great time until Mark and I moved in together and she met my two cats. They lived together for many years but never liked each other. We lost our first cat at 16 about four years ago, our second at almost 17 just two years ago and now Chamie at nearly 18 years old. With our allergies, it's the end of an era in our lives. There is no way I can live with a cat again, not with my asthma. And neither can my kids. And it was incredibly sad, still is sad.

So, I didn't manage to check email again until Saturday afternoon. All the messages from February 2006 on started tumbling in again. Now, I'm a believer in the delete key and even empty my delete file regularly. Although why one has to delete things twice is really beyond me. It turns out that we need to delete three times. Mark advised me to delete the messages from the server. I went to yahoo mail and painstakingly deleted my almost 30,000 messages 200 messages at a time. What a pain! There are whole areas of the last two years of my life I'd prefer not to relive again and again.

I tried not to panic this morning as Outlook gave me all my messages from November 2007 all over again. It's an improvement.

Monday, November 19, 2007

We be jammin'

We had a great time on Saturday at a drumming workshop. The kids got to pick out their drums, sand them, paint them, tie dye the drum heads, attach the heads (with a little help) and then play in a drum circle. It was put on by Stan the drum man at We heard about it through CHAFT - the Chicago Area Homeschool Field Trip Group and Illinois HOUSE.

It was an all ages workshop on a very relaxed schedule, which was a good learning experience for my two impatient ones. They could have spent a lot more time painting their drums, but wanted to move right on to drumming the drums. The end up products are beautiful. The whole group of kids sounded great in the drum circle, they even got the parents dancing!

Stan is a very funny guy. When he helped the kids with the drum heads, he put ear protection and eye protection on them. They held onto the drum while he used the staple gun. He, of course, had no protection! Then, as we were leaving Stan cautioned the parents not to leave the drums in the car on a hot day as the heads would crack. Yikes! Would someone really consider the drums to be a car toy?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sandhill Cranes

Our Roots&Shoots group went to see the Sandhill cranes at the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife area near Medaryville, Indiana. The best time to see the cranes is either at dawn or dusk. It being a two hour drive, we chose dust. This is the time they come flying in from their day of eating to gather as a community. It was truly amazing to see - and to hear. According to the official crane counters, there were a minimum of 11,842 cranes there that day. Ground fog hindered an accurate count.

These are not small birds, they can grow to about 5 feet tall. I was disappointed they were gathering so far from the observation tower, but can't blame them for wanting distance from all the gawkers. There were also about 20 deer milling about - perhaps they have learned they can't be shot near the cranes? Best of all was to see was the lone whooping crane, standing so white against the grey background of the Sandhills.

It was a really cold day, especially for such low physical activity as watching the beautiful birds. We did see some of them dance, heard a lot of their amazing call and saw them flying directly over our heads. It was hard to capture with a digital camera's time delay, but we managed some good pictures. And this shaky video has the best example of the sound. As we were getting ready to leave, a great crowd of the cranes suddenly decided to fly off to the marsh. I wish I hadn't already packed up my camera at that point, the sound was startling and joyous.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bitter Sweet

This is bittersweet. It's a vine that goes pretty much unnoticed until the fall, when the orange and red colors just grab you and make you want to bring them home. As children, my mother has us keep an eye out for it on our walks to the slough each weekend. We'd then clip it, or if we were lucky we'd have to climb a tree to clip it so she could use it to "jolly" the house. I've been looking for it this fall, my memory of it jolted by my parent's health decline, but hadn't found it until we were walking home from the beach at their place last weekend. I clipped it on our way home and jollied my own house it it.

On our walk this weekend, at the edge of Bull Frog Lake in the forest preserves closer to my childhood home, I spotted this on the edge of the path. It just jumped out at me, memory and reality all at once.

Our weekend hike was in mostly mundane surroundings. We chose a popular mountain biking and expert cross country skiing path - not a highly recommended route with a 3 1/2 year old, but no one got hurt. We did come across a huge maple that had come down recently and witnessed the bug damage in the core. And we climbed some wonderful hills, which explains it's attraction to the mountain bikers. But it was the lake itself that most enchanted the kids - the rest of the woods was smothered by buck thorn. A narrow foot path took them right to the cattails, which they picked and opened to see the seeds.

And then, just as suddenly as it came upon us, the one day weekend was gone. Mark got to spend an hour with the kids this morning before heading back to the plant. Bitter sweet.

Friday, November 9, 2007

I'm not surviving

This is one of three, only three, pictures in our camera from November. We are a family that documents every other breathing minute of our lives. We have had three pictures in nine days. It's a good one, though, isn't it?

This is our second week of the outage. I know in my brain it's a good thing for the nuclear power industry to shut down the plants every year and fix the problems they've accumulated. But it's a really bad thing for me and my family. During the year, I always feel like Mark is paged in the middle of the night when a toilet needs plunging - "Who is Gary and why is he in my bedroom?" is one of my more infamous five a.m. questions.

What happened to my house? Where did Flylady fly off to? What about my routines, my schedule, my full house dusting on Mondays to control allergies? And where, exactly, is my laundry? I have a fabulous three section, wheeled laundry sorter in the basement - an extravagance made reality by a gift certificate from my brother to The Container Store for my birthday last year. It's hard to believe that a laundry sorter will change your life, but this one did. Until last week. Mark is so exhausted from his 12 hour schedule, the fifty mile each way commute, his psycho , demanding, also sleep deprived (depraved?) boss, that he doesn't carry down the laundry daily. The laundry sorter's industrial strength Velcro and aluminum frame collapsed from the burden of too many whites, colors and darks. It's really a metaphor for the entire household, this shinny new collapsed thing.

I skipped the gym today - let's not mention the many, many reasons this was a bad idea - in order to vacuum up an entire third rabbit from my kitchen and dining room floors. Roomba has been going most nights - the kids want their allowance - but without the regular vacuum, the rabbit hair gets tucked into every nook and cranny that he can't get to. Honestly, the hair I sucked up could have made something fabulous for someone who knows how to spin. I also vacuumed up the main stairs, quite an accomplishment as the rest of my family seems to be waiting for a stair vacuuming robot to be invented. In doing so, I managed to miss the doorbell ringing and a new-to-homeschooling Mom living mere blocks from me dropping off a check for a field trip.

But it's not just the house, that's only the part that affects me the most. The Little Man said to me today "Daddy-o is my new friend. He's my Daddy." The older two are enjoying their father giving them spelling, grammar, handwriting, math and reading each morning, but they miss him dearly at night. Our dinner routine has vanished. And two nights in a row our nine year old has slept on the floor of our room out of loneliness for his father. Most of the rest of the time the kids are all at each other's throats. I need a mute button.

I'm not surviving. The kids aren't surviving, unless you thing a touch of Lord of the Flies is a good thing. But mostly, Mark isn't surviving. He's getting more total hours of sleep than before, but his biorhythms are all off and he's got those puffy under eye things that cosmetic counter girls lunge after. Maybe he should head to Nordstrom's tomorrow???

Monday, November 5, 2007

Our New Library

The new LaGrange library opened quietly over the weekend. A big opening celebration is planned for this coming weekend, but we couldn't wait to check out our new space.

We've been six long weeks without a library, seven weeks without being able to request anything on line. Our library card allows us to check out material from any library in the suburban library system and local libraries were very helpful during the closure. But I've felt like we've been homeschooling with one hand tied behind my back because my late night catalogue hunting and requesting was cut off. As soon as I could get back into the system I requested a Mandarin Chinese instruction for kids DVD, a Bill Cosby CD, books on ancient Africa, sandhill cranes, drawing, papermaking and wetlands. Those are our current interests.

Our old library was an uninviting architectural nightmare. The staff has always been fantastic and helpful, the materials have been good and the system has always allowed me to get almost anything I've even needed. If the suburban system we belong to doesn't have an item, the librarians are more than willing to search elsewhere for it. But we didn't spend much time in the old building, it wasn't a place to hang out. When the community passed a referendum for a new building, our library temporarily relocated to an old warehouse building bigger and slightly more inviting than the old space.

This new library is truly a wonder. The children's section practically defines the word inviting. The picture books are low to the ground and shelved with the covers facing out instead of the spines hiding their wonder. There is a large reading area and a specially crafted reading tree - a hollowed out burr oak sculpture with floor pillows where kids snuggle in for a good read. The children's program room is large, inviting with a child sized door and an taller person's door, beautiful panoramic mural and child sized chairs.

We spent a good hour or so there on Saturday, learned the new self check out system, briefly went upstairs and had a great time. Many more hours will be spent in this charming place in the years to come, I'm sure.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Boys on a Log

We had another great outing with my Roots&Shoots group yesterday. The forest preserve was so far off the beaten path that four moms stayed with me, which turned out to be a great help. We got completely lost on our first attempt into Spears Woods. I had thought there was only one trail head, but there were two. The first was narrow and petered out in the leaves after a few short minutes. The second was a wide berth for horses, mountain bikers and cross country skiers. Once we found that one, we were on our way.

My oldest ran on ahead to show the kids a log we had discovered across a ravine. They all clambered across that one, safely only about four feet off the ground. Then the looked around and saw one about 10 feet off the ground. The kids who trusted their balance went across, the others knew their limits.

We hiked into a meadow along a narrow side path that was not marked on my little map. The scenery was absolutely beautiful, the path had endless curiosities for the kids, who ran far ahead of my with the Little Man on my shoulders. Once they were all out of my line of sight, I got a bit nervous and left my guy examining a pile of horse droppings with "Ka-wen" as he calls her and caught up to the rest of the group engaged in an argument about which way to go. We all examined the path and decided on a route that felt right.

After enjoying the sight of a frantically slithering garter snake, we happened across the slough we had set out to explore earlier. Here the kids played with algae, mud and other vegetation, got really dirty and had lots of fun. When I tried to tear them away from this fun, one actually said "Not now, we're having the time of our lives!"

How can you argue with that?

Friday, November 2, 2007

We survived

We made it through Halloween. After much whining on my part, we are still standing. Here is the rabbit costume, completed. It stopped shedding after I put some fray stop on the seams inside. The other two costumes obviously didn't require much effort on my part. The skeleton, funny ghost mask guy went trick or treating with friends (and their dads pulling a cart of adult beverages), causing me just a little anxiety.

Now, I have this second picture to prove that I am the biggest whiner ever! The kid in the black coat? My friend Karen actually sewed that costume! It's a fully lined, button up the whole front, pleated back coat that billowed dramatically in the wind. Fabulous. He's some character from The Matrix, I've never seen it. And there I was complaining about a silly six pieces I had to sew together.

My Thomas the Tank Engine had the worst trouble with Halloween. After going to two houses with his sister and coming home to eat his candy, he was told he couldn't have it. They were Milk Duds and Snickers. Danger, Will Robinson! My carefully placed organic lollipops were rejected. We went to another house, M&Ms this time and again he was offered the lollipop. He collapsed in a heap with the realization that the entire evening was going to be this way. After removing his costume and demanding to be carried, I dug through the basement to find the stroller we never use anymore. He rode in that as I took the Rabbit ("I'm NOT a bunny!") and her Spiderman and Batman friends for a couple blocks of loot gathering. The Rabbit gets it, she kept passing the dangerous stuff to her friends.

When the Skeleton came home, two thirds of his bucket were placed in our candy bowl to go back out the door. He gets it too, it's the advantage of age. Thomas the Tank Engine eventually tried his Starburst and Skittles, but didn't like any of them. He really enjoyed passing out our little toys at first, but when he saw the candy we were re-gifting, he was upset all over again.

My organic lollipops are still being rejected.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I Hate Halloween!

Halloween is my least favorite holiday of the year, followed closely by Easter and then Christmas. I have nothing against the holiday itself, it's the trick or treating that I hate. And the candy in the Easter baskets. Christmas is easier to manage.

My children have life threatening food allergies. Peanuts, tree nuts and all legumes and the big culprits. My oldest has reacted from simply being in a small room where a peanut butter sandwich had been left out. And he's wound up in the ER after I made gluten free muffins for my youngest. Garbanzo/fava bean flour was the culprit.

Now, you may think it easy to avoid peanut butter kinds of candy. And it is, especially when they are hermetically sealed in their own packages. We simply recycle the Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, the Snickers, etc. But many candies are made in facilities with peanut/tree nut candies, and they have to be crossed off the list as well. Jelly Bellies, for instance. Nestle's chocolate chips used to be safe, now they aren't. M&Ms, even the plain kind, are not safe. It's easier to list the candies that are safe: sweet tarts, dum dums, double bubble.

Tootsie rolls are safe for two of my kids, but not the youngest. With him I have to avoid wheat, dairy, eggs and many other things. Yesterday we had a costume party with our friends and he ate a lot of corn syrup items. In the evening they went to another friends house and the little man threw up all over himself. He had several more vomiting bouts before the night was over, but seems fine today. I'm guessing it was too much corn syrup. I read the labels of everything he ate and there was no egg, dairy or wheat. No nuts, peanuts or other legumes. He's only recently been able to tolerate processed corn like tortillas.

I went to the gym this morning and have had lot of energy for pumpkin carving this afternoon. I hope my energy level remains high enough for the night of vigilance ahead. My oldest two will trick or treat with friends for the first time this year. Mark is on second shift and someone has to stay home to hand out the toys - we don't hand out candy. Plus, the little guy still gets frightening by skeletons and such, so he'll want to stay close to me. It should work fine, my oldest two don't eat anything without a label and know how to inspect the labels. And I've told them no to touch anyone's hands in case they have eaten a peanut butter item. But I have to steel myself for the disappointment when half of their loot gets tossed into our bin to hand out.

It will all be over tomorrow. We had fun carving the pumpkins today. And they will have fun in their costumes. And I'll let out my breath when we are all safe at home tonight.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Two Hike Weekend

It was a two hike weekend. Every year it seems we try to cram in as many hikes and bike rides a possible in before the snow falls. This year we'll just have to suck it up and go out on hikes in the snow and ice.

On Saturday Mark took the kids to a favorite haunt - The Little Red Schoolhouse - while I stayed home to work on the bunny costume. Unfortunately, many of the trails were closed for maintenance, so they didn't get to say hi to the snapping turtle, but did lose themselves to autumn in the woods.

Sunday we again turned to the Palos Forest Preserves and literally got lost (we like to say disoriented) when we turned onto an unmarked trail that simply died about a half hour in. The bickering of the morning vanished as we walked the trail. When the little guy wasn't on one of our shoulders, he busied himself dispersing seeds and slowing down the rest of the family. The older two ran on ahead to explore on their own, or even - gasp! - together. You just can't be as loud with each other in an open meadow or nice wood. Or maybe it's that you can be loud, but it doesn't have the same impact. Then again, it could be that their loudness doesn't bother me as much when we are out in the middle of nowhere.

My parents used to take us all on a hike to the slough near our house each weekend after lunch. They probably did it for the same reasons. Yesterday I kept looking for the bittersweet my mother made us climb to collect. She would keep it in rustic vases while it dried beautifully. I'll have to ask her about it when we see her next weekend, I couldn't find any in the woods.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


We found this guy on a walking path yesterday.

Mark is about to embark on a horrible, strenuous work schedule. He'll be working second shift 12 hour days, six days a week right though Halloween and, probably, Thanksgiving. We will see him in the mornings and he will be increasingly exhausted as time goes on. It can't be helped, but we dread this time each year. It's a strain on him and on the family.

He wanted to take the full day off yesterday, his last work day before the outage schedule begins, but he was scheduled for a meeting he couldn't get out of. Then we decided to meet for lunch and go to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. It's hard to be spontaneous as a family when our schedule is so full - our homeschooled children are so well socialized we had to pull back this year!

Midewin is a work in progress. It was first prairie and occupied by Native Americans, then it was farmland after the Blackhawk War in the 1830s. During World War II, the land was appropriated by the government for an ammunition plant and storage facility. They built huge cement bunkers, filled them with arms and planted grass over them to conceal them from spy planes. In 1996 the land was acquired by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest Service. The army cleaned up after years of TNT manufacturing and the prairie is slowly being restored. It's a huge area - over 19,000 acres - and a huge project. Only a small portion is open to the public.

We hiked along what seemed to be a old property dividing line, judging by the row of osage orange trees. The kids really liked the oranges, calling them brains. The Little Man objected strongly to calling them oranges because they are green. The place was literally hopping with crickets and ladybugs. Buddy spotted the praying mantis on the path before we all almost tramped over it.

It's good to let our hair down and do things on the spur of the moment every once in a while!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Anti-Procrastination Day

Here's my oldest making paper at our workshop this week. Paper making, knitting my square and my blanket, dreaming up new projects - these are all things I've been doing instead of what I should be doing.

Flylady has designated Wednesdays as anti-procrastination day. If you don't know about Flylady, check out the website at She has changed my life by giving me routines to keep my house from becoming a disaster zone. It falls into disaster mode regularly, but is fairly easy to recover from.

Once or twice I've worked my Wednesdays as anti-procrastination days and today is one of them. Our open enrollment for medical, dental and prescription coverage ends tonight at midnight. I still had HOURS to procrastinate, but decided to jump on it as soon as the coffee kicked in this morning. We have 10 months of medical bills accumulated that I had not submitted because I was worried they would be denied for preexisting conditions. Rather than pick up the phone, I've been worrying about it and not doing anything. We needed to decide today if we want to continue with the PPO, which may not have covered our out-of-network Chinese doctor or go back to the HMO, which definitely didn't cover her, but offered cheaper prescriptions.

It took a 25 minute phone call the answer all my questions, during which time I had to referee a few arguments between the older two kids. They can go all day without needing me for anything, unless I pick up the phone. The good news is that we will have coverage, the bad news is that I need to gather all our bits of paper and submit them.

And the even better news is that I picked up the phone, got over my inertia and my procrastination. I've put an anti-procrastination sticker on the calendar for each Wednesday for the rest of the year. We'll see if it helps.

Why do I procrastinate? And not finish anything? I'm highly distract-able, like Little Missy. She can go upstairs to brush her teeth and come down 20 minutes later without having done it. That's because on her way up she sang herself a song about an elephant, went into her room to find a stuffed one and a plastic one. The she made a pile of hay out of kleenex for them to eat. Then she found a book about elephants on her shelf, read it and the one next to it about ballerinas, took a twirl in the upstairs hallway and noticed the pigs hadn't been fed yet. So really she only came downstairs to feed the pigs and gave me a blank stare when I asked about her teeth.

She has a lifetime of stickers and reminders ahead of her too.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Finishing Projects

Here's my square. It's going to be part of an afghan our library knitting group is making for a member who is recovering from surgery in the hospital. It will be more square after blocking, but I think they are all going to be blocked together.

Now I'm on a bender to finish projects, because I like the idea of squares so much, I want to knit quilts for my kids beds out of strips of fabric. A different knitting pattern for each square, maybe. My basement is full of old clothes too worn to donate. Knitted fabrics do well for knitted projects, woven fabrics I save for weaving. I have so many plans! The log cabin blanket for our bed I've been working on for a couple of months and stashed in a cleaning frenzy one day. I'm going to weave a stair runner out of the old jeans I'm saving in the basement. I had visions of knitting myself a poncho, but that may take a back burner to the other projects. I also want to sew myself a skirt or two from Mark's old pants.

I need to sew the bunny costume. Little Missy went to Girl Scouts today with the help of my village of friends. My oldest has a cold/fever/cough thing I don't want to share and the youngest is just fine. Today may be my sewing and getting little bits of fuzz all over the house day. In the meantime, I'm working on paper making frames to make gift tags for our Christmas presents.

It's really hard for me to finish one project before starting the next. There are just so many plans in my head, I guess. And I get bored with the finishing of one while contemplating another. When I first met Mark, I never finished anything. I'm getting better as time goes on.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

What was I thinking?

This is what my living room floor looks like. To a lesser extent, the whole downstairs floor looks like this. Little white bits of synthetic fur everywhere. The stairs are carpeted, so it's blended in better there.

"This is going to be messy," the woman who cut the fabric said. But my girl was with me and she had just changed her mind about her Halloween costume. She wants to be a rabbit. A white rabbit, like our own Cooper and Fiona. So, we got the ears and tail, the fabric and the pattern. Really all I need to make is the jumpsuit and mittens. Shouldn't be too hard. But why can't they want to be easy things for Halloween? My oldest was a moose when he was four.

I started cutting it out on Sunday, but life has gotten in the way and we haven't cut out the rest. And now I need to clean it up to get ready for our family reunion weekend. And it's all over the house. The fur clogs poor roomba, so we need to use the other vacuum. The problem is it sticks to your feet, socks, pants and flies in the air until it has left a fine coating on just about everything. Just like the real rabbit fur!

I'll post a picture when it's done, should be cute. And the house will recover. I really should finish one creative project first, but never do. We started at paper making class with a homeschooling mom artist - check out her website at So, now I have card making stuff out too. And a friend called last night to say we library group knitters are making an afghan for a knitter in the hospital. Now I have some knitting out too. But I'm not, of course, working on the blanket I'm knitting out of cloth strips that really needs to be done before it gets too cold. Aside from that, I've had a rug on my loom that hasn't been worked on in a year and a toy wombat on needles somewhere in my knitting stash in the basement.

I guess I have creative clutter.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day on the Environment

As a family, we try to be good environmental stewards. It's often not easy to do so. Take food as an example. We try to buy locally produced food, organic when possible. I read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle this spring and got Mark to read most of it too. So, when the farmer's markets opened up in June, I was all over it. We had already been getting our raw milk and organic meat from a farmer in Wisconsin, so we added fruits and vegetables to the mix. I have a mongo food dehydrator, and we were buying locally grown things to preserve for the winter as well as to eat.

The kids and I had great fun going to local markets. We went a couple times a week. After all, why should our pet rabbits have lettuce from California when we could get some grown right here in Illinois? Do the rabbits and guinea pigs really need to have a carbon footprint as well? We still had to buy Elliott's gluten, egg, dairy, nut free food at Wild Oats or Amazon, but other than that we were doing it local. We have been shareholders at Angelic Organics for nearly ten years now, so this wasn't a huge leap for us.

And then we hit a budget crisis. Our food bill for the month of July was over $1500. For a family of five! One of whom eats less than a bird. We couldn't sustain our family spending so much on food, no matter how much better we felt about our impact on the world. We've managed to bring our food budget down to $800 a month, which is still high but probably reasonable given our allergy challenges. (Try buying a loaf of bread without corn syrup!)

So, we've focused our efforts to help the environment on labor. We volunteer with the Cook County Forest Preserve District at a preserve near our house. I've written about it before. It's a wonderful, exhilarating experience for the family to get out there and do what needs to be done. Until recently there was a moratorium on work being preformed in these preserves because a local, vocal group of citizens did not like their preserves without buck thorn. The CCFPD stopped all work - all clearing of invasive species, all prescribed burning, all work that can restore and preserve wooded and open areas to their original glory.

A wood without buck thorn is a thing of beauty. I believe many people have never seen dappled sunlight on the forest floor through the trees. They have never seen native wildflowers and grasses growing on the forest floor - and some, when they do see it, think they are weeds and should be poisoned! This local, vocal group is calling for action again to stop the restoration of our Chicago Wilderness.

Native plants have a whole host of useful properties. When our natural areas are properly maintained, when the damage our species has caused to them is reversed, such as through the removal of buck thorn and the safe prescribed burns - birds, butterflies and helpful insects return. Imagine a life with less mosquitoes! I can tell you first hand, if you plant native in your landscaping, you will get less water in your basement and back yard.

I may not be willing to spend money we don't have on food we can't afford, but I am willing to get out there an help. Go out, walk in a preserve with a corps of volunteers and see what they have been doing. Breathe the air, smell the place, touch the ground - yes, you can do that now that the invasive brush is gone. Then let the forest preserve district know you appreciate efforts of the volunteers. 800-870-3666. Email your aldermen. And go to the website and see where you can volunteer.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Mountains and Mountains of Things

My only connection with the local public elementary school is their consignment used clothing sale. It happens twice a year, fall/winter and spring/summer clothing. I always volunteer to work so that I can go to the pre-sale where it isn't as crowded.

This year we didn't need much. Pants for Buddy who seems to grow a quarter inch an hour, shirts for Little Missy who has a spilling problem and a winter coat for the Little Man who has been the same 28 pounds for the past 18 months. He's a teensy bit taller and a lot skinnier, so he wears a belt.

For my $111 dollars, I lugged home: 1 coat, snow pants and hat set, 13 shirts and sweaters, 11 pairs of pants, 2 sweater/pants outfits, 3 leotards and 4 pairs of PJ's. Three items still had their tags on and were never worn. I could have bought so much more! As I sorted through the items I pulled off the racks, I put back at least half as many items as I purchased. The entire gym was filled with clothes on racks, each labeled by size and gender. Racks and racks of coats, Halloween costumes and clothes. My girl wont wear dresses, but there were lots of really dressy things hanging in her size.

It's all more than a little gross, this excess. How many clothes do we need, really? I do laundry almost every day and the kids have their favorite, usually not matching, things to wear. Do people out there buy their kids' clothes new? The only thing I buy new regularly is shoes, socks and footie PJs at Christmas.

I'm going to work wrap up for the sale today. This is where we gather the clothes by seller for those sellers who want their unsold clothes back, instead of donating them to a charity. It's a fast paced job, but the amount of clothes that doesn't get sold is almost as astounding as the amount that does. The sheer volume of unworn and unneeded clothing is overwhelming. Everyone has clothes in their closet that they don't wear, but seeing all the excess in one place is depressing.

As I pulled the items off hangers and took the safety pinned tags off, my three cherubs glanced up from their computer game and shouted things like "Wow!" and "Awesome!" as I called their names to show them their new clothes. They are well trained to show appreciation. I hope they can learn the value of not living a life of excess.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Math again!

Sometimes when we're stuck inside it's good to look at pictures from a time when we were outside. It helps with the cabin fever. Here's the little man desperately hanging on to acorns in his pocket

We haven't been stuck inside for long. Yesterday our colds were starting, today they are full blown in some of us and creeping up in others. The poor little guy's face has erupted in eczema, his nose is running and he's generally miserable. Everyone else is just sneezing. And now the temperature has finally turned and we are in sweaters.

So, it looks like another day will pass when we wont to go see the new baby wombat at the Brookfield Zoo. And we've been inside reading, writing and developing our newly found love of multiplication at It really is a great program. It doesn't have you doing more and more of the same problems, but automatically moves you along as you master it. They are still worksheets, but it has a game like feel to it. No graphics, just math. My two are responding to it very well.

I remember Dorothy Werner saying that the third time a child is taught the same thing in school, he starts to forget that knowledge. That's what the math programs we have tried in the past have been like. OK, you know 6x7? Let's ask you that a zillion more times because we don't believe you! No wonder kids learn to hate math.

Anyway, we also are reading Through the Looking Glass, which is fun and learning about the Chinese zodiac. I'm not sure what else is in the cards today, we'll see what happens. Little Missy has her dance class and we may just snuggle in with a movie for tonight.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Roomba has lost his voice!

This is where the little guy hides while Roomba is working nearby.

Roomba is the hardest working member of our household. He's that little round robotic vacuum cleaner. He vacuums the kitchen each morning and the dining room and living room each evening. Most days he does one other room too. The only thing we have to do is pick up the stuff on the floor, particularly cords and slipcovers hanging too far over the edge and start him up. He goes right under the couches, tables and chairs, picking up an incredible amount of dirt each day. We set him off when we go up to bed at night and sometimes when we leave the house in the morning. He doesn't need company, doesn't need constant reminding to do his job.

I'm not sure why Roomba is male, but he is in this house. When he starts up, he makes a little three or five note song to indicate he's got the message and wants to get to work. If he chews up a cord, large lego piece, coins or has a mile of hair wrapped around one of his brushes, he gets stuck and signals it with a lower, less cheerful two tone call. The best thing is that when he's done and made it back to his charger, he sends out a six note cheer - one of the happiest sounds! There is a whole series of beeping sounds he makes to indicate a problem and solution.

Now he makes no sound and it's very sad. Probably through over use, his voice was weakening over the last few months and is now completely gone. I really miss his satisfying cheer. And I miss deciphering his beeps to know what is wrong with him when we find him not moving somewhere in the house. Worst of all is when he's stuck under a piece of furniture - he used to emit beeps every few minutes to make it easier to locate him. Now we have to go on a Roomba hunt.

I hope there is an easy fix, a quick replacement voice box for Roomba. That's going to require some googling, I'm sure. And some time. When I lose my voice I write notes to the kids and get their attention better than when I can speak. Maybe that's what it's like for Roomba now.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

So, How's it Going?

The oldest came down stairs this morning, his arms laden with light sabers, saying he couldn't find the blue one.

Me: We don't have Girl Scouts today, honey.
Him: Why not?
Me: Because they went camping over the weekend.
Him: Yeah, but they came back!

Our schedule has changed dramatically this year. Mondays we have an afternoon playgroup. Tuesdays are still Girl Scout days and my boys play with the siblings of the leader's scouts. Thursdays we have Writer's Workshop and Fridays we have Roots&Shoots. Then we have dance classes locally three nights a week. Aside from that, we are working at home.

This is the first year we've required things like spelling, grammar, handwriting, literature, history, and kept track of the time they spend on their work. They've always done reading and math and have always had a love for science. We did science and math classes through our homeschool group last year. We have actual structure to our days. The kids do seem to like being on task, but they complain about how long things take. We are usually done by noon or early afternoon. We've also been making a field trip every other week to museums.

They still have plenty of time and opportunity to explore their own interests, which speaks to the unschooler in me. Before we went to bed last night, PBS cued up a program about Christopher Columbus - we didn't make it through the whole program before falling asleep. But I remembered that Little Missy wanted to do a BrainPop ( about Columbus and asked her about it. She said "Oh, I did Solar Energy instead!" and worked her eyebrows up and down to show her excitement.

The kids have had input into their spelling, math, grammar, history and literature programs so it's not imposed on them. They like the sense of accomplishment and the lack of busy work.

What they have a hard time understanding is how their schooled friends can be gone all day and come home with more work to do. Why didn't they just do all their work at school? I can't explain homework either.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Great Finds

Our Little Missy went on a weekend camping trip with her Girl Scouts troop and had a wonderful time. While she was gone, Mark and I cleaned her room. We had her permission, she was excited about the prospect. When she and I try to clean together, we lose patience with each other. Her room was beyond capacity with stuff and it was physically impossible for her to clean it. She was very frustrated. I was very frustrated.

She left Friday morning, but I procrastinated until Sunday to get started, which is why Mark had to get in on the act. The poor girl has the smallest bedroom and the collecting abilities of both her parents. She agreed I could toss broken toys, pieces to something we don't know where the rest is, and things she was not likely to play with again. I also sorted out all the old pajamas, t-shirts and leotards that no longer fit. She has three neat clothes bins now.

Little Missy has two rolling drawers under her bed for toys. When we ordered these, I briefly had the fantasy of storing extra linens in them, but she filled them with stuffed animals as soon as they were put together. I felt a great sense of accomplishment when I made it through those drawers! Then Mark pulled them out into the hallway and we peered under the rest of the bed. Disaster. We had to rake it all out and go through piles on the floor.

Here is a list of some of the more interesting items we found:
  • Five socks, stuffed with items and tied in a knot at the top. One of those was stuffed with another sock and filled with broken toothpicks. Others had toys or Kleenex.
  • A wooden shish-ka-bob skewer with a bead on the end, plunged into her wall.
  • An extensive, scattered collection of rocks, shells, bits of cement and asphalt.
  • A dehydrated orange segment that had not been in the kitchen dehydrator.
  • Kleenex. Little bits of Kleenex made into dolls, Kleenex wrapped around her little animals as toga-like clothing, Kleenex in Lego pieces, in her dollhouse as covers or people, Kleenex everywhere.

When we were done, we rehung the canopy in front of the bookshelf and arranged the Build-A-Bears inside it. This will not only provide a play space for these favorite toys, it neatly camouflages the overflowing bookshelf we have to tackle on her next camping trip. Our little girl was thrilled with her new room, didn't glance twice at the HUGE black garbage bag waiting to be put on the curb and slept peacefully after a busy weekend.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Prairie Sweat

We had such a great day yesterday, I just can't stop thinking about it!

We've been taking our Roots&Shoots group on work days at the Theodore Stone Forest Preserve in Cook County. It's a magical place with three distinct prairies, a savanna and the most remarkable volunteer stewards you could ever hope for. Trust me, I've heard panic in the voice of volunteer coordinators when I've explained my desire to bring out a group of homeschooled boys on Friday afternoons. Granted, a lot of stewards probably have full time jobs as well and can't make Friday afternoons, but the thought of a group of boys could be enough to scare some off!

First, let me explain that it was nearly 90 degrees in the hot sun on the prairie - in October! The kids and parents gathered seeds from the prairie plants, each picking one individual species. I failed miserably in my efforts to collect nodding pink onion (for which Chicago was named), but mainly because I had 28 pounds of the little man on my shoulders. While we were doing this, I had one of the boys explain in great, eloquent detail, all about dragon flies, damsel flies, crickets, grasshoppers and katydids. Other kids just lost themselves in the task, some worked in pairs.

Having worked up a good sweat, we went back into the woods where we had previously cleared a lot of buck thorn and brush. There we separated the seeds from the hulls, if needed, and mixed them all together. With all the clearing, the sunlight will come though and allow them to germinate and grow. Have you ever seen a group of homeschoolers being told to line up? It's pretty funny, they just aren't used to it. We spread out in a line and spread the seeds more or less evenly in our clearing.

After that, we got the saws and loppers out to do some more clearing. We had some children joining us for the first time and their faces just lit up at the prospect of using real tools to do real work! And work they did. We emerged about 45 minutes later, drenched in sweat and exhausted.

This is what it's all about for me. To get these kids out in the wilderness, let them explore while providing a real service to the community, seeing them get in touch with their natural environment. You can't really hear the traffic noise back there, it's all earth, flora and fauna. It is often a real pain in the neck for the parents to get their children to the preserve. Yesterday's effort required tremendous coordination, driving, and kid swapping as most of our girls are off on a Girl Scouts camping trip. But for those who are able to make that effort, they are truly rewarded with children who have benefited from the experience. In Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv describes an eighth intelligence of "nature smart" in his heroic effort to encourage parents to get their children out of the house.

The stewards have invited our little group to pilot a Chicago Wilderness program as part of the No Child Left Inside initiative. Each child was given a nice passbook and will collect stamps from the participating forest preserve once they record their observations and activities. Our children responded well to this, I hope we can eventually visit all five preserves and perform work days there. Most of those will be even farther from our homes.

Here's a website for everyone to go to and find out when your family can participate in a work day near your home if you live in the Chicago area. If you don't, try googling for volunteer opportunities in your area. Get out there, get sweaty, enjoy!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


I offer this as Exhibit A to all those who say "Isn't it about time to cut his hair?" I mean, just look at that hair! Freshly washed and combed, little boingy curls that will surely vanish once the scissors are put to use.

My brother threatened to buy me scissors for Christmas when I saw him last. I know I have an issue with my kid's hair, and am OK with that. My boys are continually being mistaken for girls. Once when my older two were two and three a grandmotherly type at the grocery store said "What beautiful girls you have!" Buddy responded by standing up in the cart and announcing "Yes, but I have a (insert male specific body part here)!"

Maybe because my own hair is pitifully straight and thin, I relish my kids hair. I had a mother at park once ask me how long I had been with my children, she thought I was a nanny. It's so other-worldly to me, this whole curl thing. I've finally learned that curls are dry and need constant moisture to be combed. We go through a lot of leave in conditioner.

Little Missy once had her hair cut into a nice, cute little bob. And she lost all her curls for a time in the process. We had such trouble combing the poor child's hair that it felt almost abusive. And she looked like a little street urchin most of the time with her tangles. We had gone on vacation and rather than ruin our mornings with combings, I french braided her hair, left it in the whole week and cut her braids off when we got home. She hated it, grew it out and has had it long ever since. Her curls came back, just at the bottom few inches, once it got longer.

I'm pretending to let them make their own hair decisions. Just ask the little guy if he wants a hair cut, he'll say no, loudly.