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.