Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I got on the soapbox, but then I found myself speechless

Wednesdays are supposed to be my work days. My mom picks the boys up from school so I can be a writing machine. Sadly, I haven't had many writing gigs lately thanks to this economy and corporations' knee-jerk attempts at expense reduction. 

But today I actually have some work to do. So I was researching these communication articles I'm writing and happened upon this corporate communications blog with an entry called, "If you can't write...don't." 

My first thought was, "Wow, this guy writes a blog on corporate communications for fun?!" But, you know to each his own or whatever. My next thought was, "Amen!" (I don't know where all these religious references are coming from lately, sorry.) 

You see, my livelihood is essentially built on the idea that writing is a skill. So, if no one at your company knows how to write, then you better hire a writer. The problem is that a lot of people seem to think that writing is something anyone can do, so hiring a writer is often seen as a superfluous expense. I mean, can't the CEO's administrative assistant just write his speech for him? (No offense to admins, I just don't think writing is part of your job description). 

Here's the thing: Forming a sentence is not the same as writing. I think it's great that companies are requiring their employees to be able to form a sentence (standards!), but there's a little more to writing than stringing words together. At least, I hope there is. Otherwise, I've been way overthinking these speeches I've been working on. 

The moral of this story? Good writing makes a difference. Writers are important. Hire one today! 

(Preferably me, as I'm trying to avoid going back to a 9-5 job until my boys are in school full-time.) 

Monday, October 27, 2008


The heavens have opened up. I can hear the choir of angels and they are singing, “A job! He got a job!”

Yes, my friends, the teenager will soon be slinging sandwiches with the best of them. There is hope in the world.

Is it that our constant nagging finally paid off? Did he suddenly see the value in earning his own money? No, I broke down and told him we’d give him our 11-year-old second car if he would please, please just get a job. The truth is, we planned to give it to him eventually anyway, but rather than being a gift, it turned into more of a bribe.

Given our economic woes, it might seem pretty stupid to be giving away cars, so let me put it to you this way: If someone showed up at my door and asked me, “How much would you pay to have your teenager be independently mobile?” I have a feeling that the price I would name would be much higher than what our beat-up Honda is worth.

My husband and I have differing opinions on this car issue. He had to buy his first car. I didn’t. My dad had a penchant for automobiles, so he always had a spare to let me drive. I actually think I took better care of his cars than I would have my own because, due to some psychological mishap, I feared disappointing him by doing anything as egregious as not changing the oil every 3,000 miles.

Side note: When I was 17, I accidentally backed into an old woman’s Bonneville in a parking lot and ended up secretly paying for the more than $500 in damages myself to avoid having it reported to my dad’s insurance company. Yes, apparently I believed that my alcoholic, mostly-absent father did not make mistakes.

My husband and I do agree that the teenager has done nothing to deserve a car. Quite the opposite, really. My argument, however, is that we deserve for him to have a car. (And given the amount of time my husband spends out of town, I really mean ME – I deserve for him to have a car.) If it has the side effect of forcing him to find out what it’s like to earn his own money and pay for his own gas, insurance and car repairs, well, then I guess we can add “learning experience” under the pro’s column as well.

Irrational rationalizations? Probably. But raising a teenager is not all rational. Sometimes it’s just about preserving your own sanity.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Shut Up and Eat

I am aware that motherhood is a thankless job, so please don't think I'm being naive here, but on those nights when I actually bother to cook something other than a tomato-based pasta and/or meat dish...the nights when I cook something that I actually look forward to it too much to ask that my children (teenager included) just shut up and eat it? 

I guess I don't really care if you don't like butternut squash or cranberries or pineapple or whatever other key ingredient makes this particular dish different than what we usually's fine if you secretly discuss how much you hated this dinner when I'm not around...or if you pretend that it's Hamburger Helper...but please, just stick your fork in it and put it in your mouth...before I lose it.

I would take the silent chewing as thanks enough.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Come on Down!

Our worlds were rocked yesterday when we (finally) acquired The Price is Right game for Wii. That's right, we now have Plinko, Punch-A-Bunch and an assortment of other pricing games right at our fingertips.

I am a huge TPIR fan, although I can't honestly tell you how it definitely didn't come from my mother, so my best guess is that my childhood "daycare provider," Mrs. Allen, used to watch it. All she really did was watch TV and let us steal slices of Velveeta cheese out of her refrigerator. Somehow, among all the crap that woman watched (I remember a lot of Love Connection), Bob Barker struck a chord.

My boys, on the other hand, have never seen the show (Amazing, I know, but they don't show it on GSN and the kids are at school when it's on CBS), so I wasn't sure whether they'd like the game. Turns out the love for TPIR is genetic. 

Despite having no clue what things like oriental rugs or bedroom sets or even jars of jelly cost, the boys loved the game from the very first bid.  (And consequently, they can now tell you what a set of snowboards or a 2009 Toyota Corolla cost.) Their joy at having the winning bid on Contestants Row or spinning $1.00 in the Showcase Showdown rivals my joy at winning actual money on TPIR slots in Vegas. I'm pretty sure our neighbors can hear the squeals of joy emanating from our living room. 

Today, Owen came within $180 of guessing the actual retail price of his showcase (he had a little help from the audience), which of course means he was the first in our family to win BOTH showcases. I thought he might pass out. 

A proud moment for us all. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Thanks for the Memories

My husband has a friend who is a photographer. She does fabulous work

We had her out a week or so ago to do a family photo shoot with the fall colors. I had two motives: 1) To get a photo for our Xmas cards...something better than the usual "here's us in front of our Christmas tree using the self-timer function on our camera" photo.  2) To ensure that we had one last nice portrait of the entire family before the teenager becomes an adult and either flees or is know, whichever comes first

I'm kind of a freak about photos. I used to carry my camera everywhere -- even before I had kids. I like to document. I guess I figure that when I'm old and can't remember anything, I'll want to have nice photos to remind me of the good ol' days. (Believe me, with all boys, I have no illusions that they'll be wistfully paging through the photo albums with me.) 

I admit that sometimes I get so wrapped up in getting good photos that I sort of lose track of what's actually if having a good-looking photo cancels out the fact that things were crumbling around us just out of frame. (They're not, I'm just saying...) My family -- even the teenager -- understands that when I tell them it's time for a picture, it's much easier to simply comply. 

Anyway, back to the family portraits. We had a nice photo shoot on an exceptionally warm October day. We got the proofs today and they are beautiful...except that apparently I was so busy trying to primp and straighten the rest of my family that I failed to look at the camera in most cases. Actually, in many cases my eyes are I just decided to nap while my obedient family smiled on. I guess I need some of my own training. 

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The new staple in our diet

I was cursing Ann Hodgman last month for her falsely-advertised "Best Macaroni 'n' Cheese" -- the one my kids wouldn't even eat -- but I decided to give her another chance when I saw her recipe for Sweet Potato Biscuits in this month's Wondertime magazine. I'm a sucker for all things sweet potato.

First of all, let's take a moment to celebrate the fact that I made biscuits from scratch. It wasn't hard, but doesn't it sound hard? It sounded hard to me. But it wasn't! And I think the whole affair only took about 45 minutes (including baking). 

Okay, now we can celebrate the most important part: They were really good. So good that Owen, our little skeptic, the one who has to psych himself up to take a bite of anything new, ate FIVE of them. No, he didn't like the chili I served with them, but he couldn't get enough of the biscuits. As all of you out there with picky eaters know, this is quite a find. And sweet potatoes are good for you!

Highly recommended. This recipe gets 6 thumbs up over here. 

Friday, October 17, 2008

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens

By now you’ve all come to know (and love, no doubt) my obsession with Las Vegas. Back in August, I mentioned that my Vegas fever was on the rise again, even though I was just there in May. I also mentioned that I would be tagging along on my husband’s business trip to Vegas in October…

Well, that day would have been today. Sadly, airfares to Vegas are so insane that they cancel out the benefit of having a free place to stay. And since the trip was only a Friday through Sunday deal, it just wasn’t worth it.

So here I sit in my living room with two little boys fighting over the Wii, while my husband is on a plane to Sin City…one of my happiest places on earth. *Sigh*

To lift my spirits, I thought we could review a few of my favorite things about Las Vegas (your indulgence is appreciated):

Circus Circus
Shown here in its heyday, Circus Circus is a charming/sleazy remnant of old Vegas. Where else can you gamble while trapeze artists fly above you? But the main reason I love it, of course, is that it contains the site of one of my favorite scenes in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" (the book and movie): the Horse-a-Round Bar. In reality, the bar more closely resembles a prop in a high school play than a cultural landmark. And yet, I cannot contain my giddiness as I sip my Mai Thai in this spinning wonderland...unable to stop myself from muttering, "It's not ever going to stop."

The Slots
I've mentioned my love of The Price is Right many times. These remain my favorite slots, but they seem to be a dying breed (although I'm hoping the release of the Wii game might signal a revival). In order to properly feed my slot obsession, I've had to expand my love to include other game-based slot machines. Deal or No Deal is good. LIFE is good. Wheel of Fortune is acceptable. But when forced to choose a slot machine other than The Price is Right, my first choice is Monopoly. There are a lot of varieties of Monopoly slots, but the Big Event slots increase your chances of winning by giving you a bonus every time anyone in your bank of slots hits a bonus...I want to play right now.

Fine Dining
Two out of three of the best meals of my life were had in Las Vegas and I'm still holding out for the 16-course tasting menu at Joel Robuchon. Vegas knows how to make fine dining fun and exciting, but the most important part (to me) is that it's accessible (assuming you've got the cash). In a tourist town, you can't pull any 3-month waiting list nonsense. Here, anyone can call up and get a reservation -- and it's always been worth the hefty price tag.

Oh, Vegas, how I miss you. But even though I can't be with you this weekend, things are looking good for the beginning of husband has another work trip and some quickly-accruing airmiles with my name on them. I've never seen Vegas at Christmastime...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

One More?

I dreamt I was pregnant again last night. It’s one of those dreams that pop up every now and then – usually when my husband lays his impossibly heavy arm across my stomach during the night.

As is usually the case, the dream pregnancy was a total shock and I therefore spent most of the dream counting how many beers and birth control pills I’d ingested in the preceding month…this is all laughable, of course, since it took us almost a year to get pregnant when we were actually trying.

Every mother, whether her child was born minutes or years ago, gets asked whether she’ll have more children. It’s a question that seems so innocent, but has come to seem intrusive to me…the way that it suggests that getting pregnant is such an easy task, that choosing to bring another person into the world is such a simple decision.

As anyone who has asked me the question in the last few years knows, my answer is a definitive “no.” However, I answer with such decisiveness out of practice more than some sense of knowing that our family is complete.

Before we had twins, we had always talked about having three kids (for the record, my husband was lobbying for seven). But after going through preterm labor, having tiny babies who spent their first three months of life in the hospital, surviving the exhaustion of raising two toddlers, and finding out that one of our precious boys has autism…well, two started to seem like a pretty good number. Not to mention that my husband has since declared us “done.”

If any medical professional could tell me that another pregnancy would even most likely result in another set of twins, end in preterm delivery, and/or produce another child with autism, I think I would feel more content with the decision not to have any more kids. I wouldn’t knowingly walk into any of those situations again.

But the doctors can’t really tell me anything definitively (including whether spending 3 ½ weeks on hospitalized bedrest actually made any difference). They just don’t know.

This all leaves me with lots of really good reasons not to have any more kids. And yet…I can’t help it, there’s a piece of me that still thinks about it. And it’s not that my boys aren’t enough, it’s just a feeling that there still might be room for one more. Maybe. Someday.

But then I think about the risks, about going back to sleepless nights, about potty training...and I feel sure again. “Nope, no more.” And so it stands. But if there’s one thing that becoming a mom has taught me, it’s never say never. And so I won't...just "probably not."

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Hot Diggity Dog

It's a picture of Playhouse Disney Live. Yes, that's how we spent our Sunday afternoon. No, I wasn't trying to be artsy by using the color accent feature, I was trying to illustrate the merchandising insanity that I witnessed today. 

This picture really doesn't do it justice. I was trying to highlight the number of plastic Handy Manny hardhats that had been purchased along with a Handy Manny-branded bag of cotton candy for $10. But not only does the picture not properly illustrate the volume of hardhats being consumed, it's too crappy for you to be able to see that, in most cases, it was the mothers who ended up wearing the hardhats. I mean, I understand getting into the spirit and all, but let's try to retain just a tiny shred of dignity, ladies. 

For those who didn't spring for the hardhats (and for many who did), there was also the Handy Manny light-up spinners (super useful if your kid frequents raves), the Handy Manny popcorn box, the Little Einsteins light-up wand (which was like having a thousand tiny strobe lights blinking in the corner of your eye for the entire show), and the Little Einsteins Rocket mug (which came filled with a blue sno-cone-like substance). I'm sure there was more, but that's all that was being offered by the friendly vendors roaming the aisles of the arena. We avoided the mini-Disney store that had been erected in the lobby. Our kids are totally deprived.

Oh, were you wondering how the show was? Sorry, I almost forgot about that part...

Well, the boys had a great time. They sang and danced and didn't mind at all that they were essentially just watching a giant TV with some spastic people dancing in front of it. But I suspect that they would have had almost as good of a time just watching Playhouse Disney on TV for an hour.

My grown up opinion is that it was crap. I've taken my kids to see Sesame Street Live twice and while I didn't think either of those performances were stunning pieces of musical theater, at least they felt fun. This felt like an hour-long commercial. Like they lured us all there purely to sell us more stuff. Really, the tickets should have been free for how low the production value was. Disney surely still would have come out ahead on merchandise sales. 

The most disturbing thing, however, was the hoards of parents buying into it. Okay, I understand that when your child is 2 or 3, you get excited when they get excited and maybe you'd like to commemorate this event with a souvenir. But to see the empty looks on the faces of the moms and dads shelling out twenty-dollar bills right and left just so they could pile yet another thing onto their small children's laps...well, that's just depressing. 

I realize it was my own misguided attempt at family activity planning that led us here. I also realize that if we just canceled the cable -- maybe even threw out the TV -- my kids wouldn't even know who any of those characters were...I guess I just had some dumb idea that the people behind The Happiest Place on Earth might be able to pull off a decent 60-minute stage show. Maybe the saddest part is that they could, they just know they don't need to. 

Oh, Walt, if only you had been cryogenically frozen...then maybe there would be hope. 

Friday, October 10, 2008

Will Bingo for Plinko

This week has been game show-tastic. Not simply watching them, but also playing -- or wishing I could. 

First we had the premiere of Bingo America on GSN. Now, I probably never would have thought to watch this show...I mean, who wants to watch bingo on TV? But my kids were immediately intrigued (I think the producers might have overlooked the kindergarten demographic). Before I knew it, they were giddy with anticipation, actually measuring other events in relation to the premiere of this show. As in, "Our class is going on a field trip on October 9th! That's three days after the premiere of Bingo America!" (yes, it's weird)

So we watched. The boys loved it. It made a nice distraction while I cooked dinner. Then, on Wednesday, I realized you could actually play along at home for free and win money. This was particularly interesting to me since that same day I had found out about this...

Yes, that's right, my most favorite game show (and slot machine) is now a Wii game!!!! It's only $40, but not $40 I can justify at the moment in our fragile family budget, so I've gone hunting for other sources of income...

And so from now on, at 5:30 p.m. CST, you will find my boys and me watching Richard Karn and frantically marking off our bingo cards, all in the hopes of winning $50 ($250 on Wednesdays!). No wins yet, but we're not giving up.

I like to think this is a lesson that will serve them well later in life: When all else fails, gamble. 

I see many trips to Vegas in our future. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Windows of the Soul

I awoke at 5 this morning to a little face peering at me from the side of my bed. It was pitch black, but I could tell it was Owen. 

He scrambled up into bed with me (there's lots of room with my husband out of town), put is head on my chest and said, "I just love you," which is sweet, but is also what he usually says when he doesn't really have any reason for being out of bed. 

Turns out this time he did have a reason. He said he'd had a bad dream. I asked if he wanted to tell me about it. He didn't. Instead he curled up next to me and tried to go back to sleep. But a minute later, he changed his mind. 

"I guess I will tell you," he began. He proceeded to tell me that he dreamt he was on my mom's roof and he couldn't get down. He said I was down on the ground and he asked me how to get down, but he kept going the wrong way. 

He was exceptionally articulate (especially for the middle of the night) and got upset just telling me about it. 

I'd like to think that it isn't a metaphor...that it means nothing. But I immediately felt like he was baring a piece of his soul. That he feels afraid. That he feels separated. That he tries to do what we tell him, but he somehow gets it wrong. That he's telling me -- however subconsciously -- that he needs a ladder. 

Am I reading too much into it? Maybe, but that brain of his works in mysterious ways. If he is trying to tell me something, the least I can do is listen. 

Friday, October 3, 2008

Our Little Houdini

While sitting next to Owen during dinner the other night, I was horrified to notice that the inside of his ear was black with dirt.

"You have dirt in your ear!" I exclaimed. He smiled at me. "Have you been putting dirt in your ears?" I asked, totally kidding and positive I was just a negligent mother who had probably overlooked washing the insides of his ears for the past 5 years. 

"Yeah!" Owen beamed. "At grandma's! I put dirt in my ear! I was doing magic!"

And if his trick was that the dirt stayed in his ear, through showers and even swimming lessons, then he has a future in magic. 

Ramblings of a (temporarily) Single Parent

It's day 3 of my longest stretch of single-parenting in recent memory. I've got 4 more days to go, but I'm feeling good. Better than the last stretch, which is strange since there seem to be more forces working against me this time.

Our other car is in the shop. Our poor, 11-year-old Honda Civic has officially hit the point where the work that it needs done costs more than what the car is worth. So basically, we're having it fixed to the point where we can drive it home and then hoping to find some extra money somewhere to make it functional again. The biggest bummer about this is the financial kick-me-when-I'm-down aspect. Just as I think maybe, just maybe we'll scrounge up the money to pay our property taxes by the 15th, BAM, ridiculous car expenses. 

Aside from the money stress, being down a car doesn't matter much this time around since the teenager has successfully gotten himself banned from borrowing our car. It's probably actually better that the car isn't here, taunting us...because believe me, I want him to drive. Or, more accurately, I don't want to drive him. I've got enough to worry about without chauffeuring a licensed driver around. At least since it's still nice out, he can bike most places. When winter comes, it will be a whole new hell, I imagine. 

Other than all that, things seem alright. Maybe stressing over money has actually distracted me from dwelling on the overwhelmedness (I'm making that a word) single-parenting brings. But you know what the side effect of financial stress is? Travel planning. Without fail, when we get into tight money situations, my mind wanders off to planning some crazy trip that we can't afford. I (usually) don't book these trips, I just research them and lament the fact that we are not millionaires. I'm sure it's unhealthy, but it's better than binge drinking, right? 

I mean, can I help it if Leonard Cohen is only touring in Europe? I think flying to Paris to see the icon in concert is totally justifiable...what if he were to die before I ever got to see him? Carpe diem! Yes, this is how the rationalization goes...good thing we're not using our credit cards anymore.