Thursday, August 31, 2006

Family Portrait

Thanks to my friend Miss M. for the lovely family portrait! My talented little girlfriend drew this around her fifth birthday. (L to R: DH, me, Smartypants and Splinter-they do kinda look like twins, don't they?)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

My twins?

"We got this for our birthday," said Splinter, holding up a CD as the boys sorted through their computer games this morning.

Later over lunch, Smartypants relates a tale: "Remember when we were five years old and..."

I cut him off. "What are you talking about?! You guys are 25 months apart. You know that when you were five, he was three. You were not five year-olds at the same time."

Smartypants is a slight eight year-old, hanging out at the bottom of the growth charts, whereas Splinter holds his own around the 50% mark. For several years the boys have maintained a two inch and two pound difference. Strangers routinely ask if they are twins. I am tempted to roll my eyes and say they are 11 months apart, just to see the reaction.

They often get lumped together out of sheer convenience. If they can be, for example, in the same swim class at the same time, that's one less carpool for me. I sometimes wonder if we should make more efforts to separate them, but then I go back to the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" philosophy. They are pretty happy together (when they are not beating each other up).

Despite sometimes lapsing into twinspeak and eagerly sharing a bedroom, they are differentiating themselves over time. Last spring Splinter chose to play t-ball, while Smartypants stuck with soccer. This summer Splinter chose to start violin lessons, while Smartypants continues learning piano. The violin thing is interesting because it's probably the only area in which Splinter can outperform his older brother. (And even more interesting, the older brother is trying to convince us that Splinter should abandon violin for piano.)

Do you have any stories about being lumped together with your siblings? Have you been scarred for life or did the shared experiences strengthen your lifelong bonds?

Monday, August 28, 2006

A run of crazy dreams

My bizarre dreams continue. There is no clear theme running through them, no easily decoded metaphors, just odd bits like the one in which my boys were ages three and five and actor Jeremy Piven spent a summer as our "manny." It might sound odd that an actor would use his summer hiatus to take care of my kids, but he insisted after all the B.S. in Hollywood, struggling to meet the needs of my two preschoolers helped him "keep it real."

The only tenuous real-life connection is that Jeremy's mom belongs to my synagogue, so last year when I read one of my essays at Rosh Hashanah services, I imagined that he might be among the 600 or so folks in the audience.

Can you suggest a deeper meaning?

Saturday, August 26, 2006

New post up at Scrambled Cake

We took a trip to Eli's Cheesecake World in Chicago for a quick lunch and fabulous factory tour. Splinter says, "Out of three thumbs down, I give it seven forks!" Read the delicious details here.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Smoky Mountain Scenery

We saw about a million millipedes, three inchworms, four salamanders, a handful of wild turkeys, three does, one buck and no black bears.

And two taffy machines!

The Hike After the Bee in the Car Seat Incident

Ah, the lovely Laurel Falls, or, as we will forever call it, The Hike After Which Splinter Got His First Sting Because There Was A Bee In His Carseat.

Where's a Swim Suit when You Need One (or Four)?

Had we known about this swimmin' hole in advance we would have brought suits. I wouldn't have minded putting on my own personal wet t-shirt contest, but the remaining two hours I would have had to spend in my wet shorts would no doubt leave this hormonal gal with a yeast infection. And DH did not swim in his shorts because, um, what was your excuse DH?

Cool mountain waters or toxic, highly polluted stream? Given the odd, two-tone look of my legs, I'd say the latter.

Cliff Diving, Smoky Mountain Style

See Random Man. See RM dive.

See Kim hold her breath until RM surfaces and she knows the vacation was not ruined from watching some random stranger break his neck diving into a rocky river.

Vacation shots

Grotto Falls Trail off of the Roaring Fork Motor Trail.
My vote for best hike. Splinter's near constant and Smartypants' occasional complaining (I'm hungry. I'm tired. My legs hurt. When will it be over?) was the only bad part of hiking. Even Splinter was amused, at times, crossing rocky streams and trekking this rocky, root strewn 1.3 mile path which goes behind the waterfall.

Scenery Schmenery. Doesn't my butt look huge?

Everybody Loves Game Cube

Eight year-old Smartypants has been waiting for years to get a Game Cube. When he was only five I gave him a quarter to buy a superball from one of those candy/junk dispensers at a restaurant and he told me he was going to use the money for his video game savings instead.

So after years of saving birthday money and demonstrating responsibility, reasonable maturity and self-restraint (in terms of tantrums, not beating up his little brother, etc.) We bought a Game Cube. One important thing-before making the purchase, we created a written list of Rules for Game Cube Use. Rules include things like: homework, chores and instrument practice must be done before playing; parents will give five-minute warnings when playtime is up; when it is time to stop you must stop. Smartypants gets extremely intense about his gameplay and has a history of going through a nasty withdrawal when he gets "unplugged." The rules seem to be working well as we've had few tantrums.

Here are some reasons your family should get a video game system: (What? We are the only family you know who didn't already have one?!)

1. As the boys observed on our recent trip to the Smoky Mountains, games like Monkey Ball teach you not to slow down on curvy roads because if you don't, you will fall off and get killed, although in Monkey Ball you get more lives.

2. As noted in a recent USA Today article "We've known for a while that games can sharpen memory and improve hand-eye coordination, but they can also be used to teach problem-solving skills, increase our awareness of world issues, help with social phobias and can even treat those with serious illnesses," says Ben Sawyer, co-founder and director of the Games for Health Project, an organization that brings together medical professionals, researchers and gamemakers to explore new ways to improve health care practice and policy. "What we're realizing now is that gaming, as a medium, has become more than just entertainment."

3. The Chicago Tribune agrees. In last Sunday's Q section they had a blurb referring to a University of Miami study of a group of young boys in the August issue of the Harvard Health Letter. In the study they found that the gaming boys' blood pressure went up by 19% and their breathing rates rose 55%. The energy they expended playing video games was that equal to a 15 minute walk at 2 miles/hour. I've often seen Smartypants break into a sweat when playing computer/video. Now I know why. Of course, outdoor play is still recommended over video games, but given a choice between the games and simply watching TV, put down the bag of chips and grab that controller!

4. According to this piece in the Wall Street Journal affluent newbies are actually paying as much as $50 an hour for video game tutors. That's right. Hardworking professionals are hiring coaches so that they can blast their kids in games like Halo-2. It's only a matter of time before Smartypants will be able to pay his own tuition!

Monday, August 21, 2006

To my friends at Comp USA

I am so sorry to have bothered you when I came into your store this morning. The young women at the customer service desk were clearly annoyed when they had to stop their conversation to answer my petty question about hard drives.

And speaking of annoyed, I am sooo sorry that my sons made a ruckus over at the "specialized parts" desk ringing the little customer bell over and over and over again when no employee appeared in response.

Finally, I apologize to the young blond whose phone cord I accidentally knocked on the way out of the store. I realize this awkward situation was difficult to prevent as you were blocking my aisle in your attempt to get some crucial, perhaps life-saving, information to the customer on the other end of the line. What? Your were talking to your boyfriend? My bad!!!

When DH called your store later in the day he got that same awkward feeling I had in your store, only he was just on the phone. Isn't that weird? We don't even have a video phone, but it's like he could tell he was interrupting something really important when he called.

Again, so sorry to have bothered you. We'll try to keep our distance in the future; once I return the hard drive, that is.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Home Safe

We made it home around 1:00 this morning. The boys roused slightly as we delivered them to their beds, but were up bright and bushy tailed at 6:45 excitedly talking about when they could once again play the computer and video games they missed while we were away. M-0-m-m-y needs c-o-f-f-e-e.

I slept through most of the evening portion of our drive, but awakened with a start just blocks from home. I opened my eyes and got a glimpse of some tail lights and thought we were about to crash. Nothing big or important flashed through my mind, just a hysterical "Oh, shit!" I kinda freaked DH out. Maybe the mountain air affected me, but I had odd dreams throughout our vacation- like one in which Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor e-mailed me to suggest that he was possibly my father. I remember sorting through facts like that I resemble my brother and well as my father's mother and e-mailing Mr. Keillor back that I doubted he was my father, but perhaps he would like to check out my blog.

After a dreamy and dream-filled week in the Smoky Mountains everything sort of blurred together, but I can share some details of yesterday's drive from Gatlinburg.

On our way from Gatlinburg to the interstate, we stopped at the World's Largest Knife Shop and Craporium. They have knives for every occasion- whittling, fish gutting, deer skinning and maybe more nefarious acts. Like some of the cheesy Gatlinburg shops they also sell a variety of swords, all of which the boys coveted. However, the Gatlinburg shops also sold things like bongs and brass knuckles. The Craporium may have had knuckles too, but definitely no bongs. It's a family-friendly shop with an extensive housewares section (presumably for Mom) as well as a kids section with more than just play guns and cute stuffed animals (shooting targets?).

Neither boy left with the object of his desire- an amazingly shiny and affordable sword (starting around $10), but Smartypants did get a "beginner knife." He is going to use his pocket-knife for whittling, a hobby he is embracing as eagerly as the knife itself. In fact, inspired by the many and varied Smoky Mountain Artisans, he may open up shop. For $10 he will whittle the branch you provide into a pencil like pointed object, or at least scrape it free of bark.

On the way home, we got a whiff of Kentucky's Bourbon Trail arriving at our selected distillery just 10 minutes too late for the day's last tour. Still, we got some background on the bourbon-making process as well as a taste of the drink and, more importantly to a super-taster like me, a sample of bourbon candies.

Then we headed to southern Indiana, just minutes before the day's final tour of the Squire Boone Cavern. This cave (technically a cavern) has several impressive features- most notably an rushing underground waterfall.

From there, we headed to our only real meal of the day-- Quiznos (see a brief review at the CAKE). A few gas stations and many hours later, we arrived safely at home.

Now off to the store to fill the fridge-- after a quick a stop at the drive-through Starbucks.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

New Reviews Posted at Scrambled CAKE

We are official--the new (extremely low-cost) Scrambled CAKE business cards from just arrived!

Now that we've got business cards- I figured it was time to start fulfilling our mouth-watering mission. Check out The CAKE to read the new posts.

Finally, a Blue-Tooth we like and other pharmacy updates

First, I should make it clear that I am not nor do I intend to ever set up a meth lab. I'd hate to see someone take my comments out of context, especially since I went to a different local CVS (this one does not lock up their condoms, FYI) and bought some cough and cold medicine for Splinter, who is getting sick just in time for our 12-hour road trip. I started to get paranoid. Will my actions arouse the suspicion of some concerned bureaucrat? Hmm, he will think. Why is this woman buying cold medications all over Chicagoland? The bureaucrat will Google me and find the statement on my blog about spoiled plans for my lab and sic The Man on me.

Well, let me tell you about spoiled plans. We rerouted our trip due to the Indiana sniper. Who'da thunk?

And as far as getting busted...well, when Smartypants was a toddler we did the timeout thing, but he had some intense tantrums and did not take to well to the timeout (or any discipline for that matter). In a calm moment we explained to Smartypants that when he had his "alone time" for timeout, we would not come to him unless it was an emergency, like he was hurt (or timeout ended, of course). Sure enough, during his next alone time he started at yelling at top volumes: I'm bleeding! I can't breathe! (We fell for the bleeding thing once, maybe twice, just to be sure). Thankfully, our elderly neighbor, whose window is just feet from Smartypants' room, is hard of hearing. You know what they say about toddlerhood as a portent for adolescence? Be afraid. Be very afraid.

The Blue Tooth we like is Listerine's Agent Cool Blue Plaque-detecting Rinse (renamed by the boys). It's like those red tablets from our youth that stick to plaque to aid in better brushing. Splinter deems the bubble gum-flavored rinse "too spicy" while Smartypants finds it tolerable, but not pleasant. Still, he used it an extra time today in order to impress this evening's babysitter.

Between packing, road-tripping and ongoing computer woes I won't be posting much in the coming week or so, but definitely pop back in later this month.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

So much for my meth lab plans....

I ran to the local CVS pharmacy to pick up some Benadryl and had my first experience with the laws created to stem the abuse of such over-the-counter cold remedies. Benadryl and similar cold medicines have an ingredient that is key to creating the dangerous and addictive crystal meth. Where one would expect to find the product on the shelf, there instead was a little card I had to take to the pharmacist. But before she could even give me the product I had to hand over my driver's license and sign off on my purchase. Sheesh.

I also noticed that they had condoms under lock and key. Well, just the male condoms, not the "female condoms" because no one buys them anyway, so why bother? One of the main themes of The Girls who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade, is how difficult it was to obtain birth control in those times. According to the book it wasn't even legal for unmarried people to purchase birth control in the US prior to 1972.

As long as I was talking to the pharmacist, I asked her about the security measures. She said they locked up the condoms because they were getting stolen. Hmmm. I'll have to check around at other local pharmacies.

In one of my former lives I developed and ran an HIV/AIDS peer education program for teens. The agency I worked for also had a medical unit where teens (mostly girls and sometimes their partners) or just guys alone would come to get information and services related to sexuality issues. They could get related medical care (STD testing/treatment, birth control pills) and always, always counseling. Teens who used the service were not chastised or judged for their choices, but they were given accurate information and encouraged to make healthy decisions. I think we did good an important work.

The teen leaders in my HIV prevention program had to buy condoms as part of their training. For many of the teens this was quite an embarrassing homework assignment. But they did it and they knew they'd be capable of doing it again, whether it was for themselves or their friends.

As a 30 something year-old married woman, I'm not be keen on asking the pharmacist to unlock the case for me, so I can't imagine the average teen taking to the task anymore eagerly. The fewer barriers to condoms the better.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

New Essay in Chicago Parent and Scrambled CAKE

The August issue of Chicago Parent is out and it has my essay, Recipe for a Happy Meal. Look closely at the photo and see what's on our plates. (DH's witty idea.)

Speaking of food, we've started a new family-style blog, Scrambled CAKE. You can link to it from my profile on the right sidebar. The CAKE is dedicated to Eating Around Chicago with Kids. (EACK scrambled into CAKE, get it?) We'll fill you in on where to go and what to eat when you're cruising the metro area with ravenous young 'uns. Submissions are welcome. Just tell us (in 300 words) about a favorite restaurant or dining experience. Be sure to include the name and address of the joint and a typical meal cost (kid/adult). Oh yeah, and tell us a bit about you and your family while you're at it. And if you have any ideas for an adorable Scrambled CAKE logo, we'd love to see them.