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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Where in the world?

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Where in the world did this weekend go? Where in the world did I spend all my time? I can't believe I logged in here tonight and saw that I haven't posted anything since Thursday night.

Dee update
Several of you in my local area offered to donate items to Dee and her girls. I stopped by the hotel on Friday morning to drop off some things I thought she could use. She wasn't in at the time, but she was still registered as a guest. I left the items with the hotel clerk, trusting that they would get to Dee. I can call tomorrow to see if she and the girls are still there. This hotel arrangement is only temporary, she told me. So I'm not sure how long she'll be there. If you still want to help, e-mail me at 4thfrog70 at gmail dot com. Or make your donation directly to a homeless shelter. In Indianapolis, Dayspring Center and Holy Family Shelter both offer temporary housing to homeless families.

I've been watching for Dee, Trinity and Jada as I drive along the road on which Charlie and I first encountered them. I haven't seen them and am praying that they are doing ok. I'm also feeling torn between finding them again and getting more deeply involved or stepping back, knowing I've done what I can and allowing the "system" do what it does.

"Shorts"
We took Charlie and six of his friends to pizza and then to see the movie "Shorts." First of all, let me say that my decision to NOT have seven 10-year-old boys in my house was a wise one. They were well-behaved, but they were still boys! Loud and boisterous and like Hoover vacuums when confronted with breadsticks, pizza and cake.

Second, I give the movie two thumbs up! "Shorts" is one kids movie that is great for grown-ups too. The villian is a little girl named "Helvetica Black." At one point, someone calls her "you...typeface!" in the same kind of voice one might yell "you...butthead!" As someone who spends a fair amount of time looking at graphic design elements, I thought the insult was hilarious. Other highlights included the staring contest and the hygiene nazi. I'm being deliberately vague because I really think you should see this movie.

Old friends
Saturday night we went to our church's annual parish celebration. I wasn't sure I wanted to go, but it came down to "go to the church fest or cook dinner." Pretty much a no brainer. We had such a good time visiting with people we haven't seen in a long time. My friend Julie was there with her baby Beverley. As Julie was holding Beverley, I notice some shiny, orangey wax in the baby's ear. So what did I do? Reach over and scoop it out with my pinky as if she were my own kid! Can you believe it?

A few minutes later, Julie was talking and gesturing with her hand when she hit my boob. We both chuckled and I said that's the great thing about people you've been friends with for years, you can pick their kids' ears and whack their boobs and nobody gets upset.

Extreme Home Makeover visit
This morning after church, we headed to my office to pick up my laptop. On the way there, we ended up in the general vicinity of the house that was built by the Extreme Home Makeover team last spring. The house is located in a pretty economically depressed and historically African-American area of the city. So here we are, a Casper-white family in a black SUV, driving through the streets of this neighborhood. As Mike was slowing down to look at the street signs, a guy on the sidewalk yelled out to us "Nope. You want the next street up!" Guess we weren't the first gawkers to come in search of the house.

Cleaning lady
After a summer hiatus (because I couldn't afford to pay the babysitter and the cleaning lady), Jane is back tomorrow! Right after I'm done with this blog entry, I'm going to write her a long apology for the state of the house. The kids' bedrooms are picked up, as are the bathrooms. But there are mountains of laundry to be done and clutter in places that I've been vowing to get to all summer long. I hope she doesn't quit. Or have a stroke.

Where did all that time go? I'm looking at the clock now -- it's officially Monday and I have at least four more things to check off my to do list before I go to bed. Where's the button I push to put the world on hold for a few days until I catch up?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Counting my blessings

Charlie had cross country practice tonight. But before I could take him to that, I had to take him to Walgreen's to get a sports physical at their "Take Care Clinic." I wasn't sure how long that would take, so we left home at 4:30pm, with the ultimate goal of arriving at cross country practice at 6pm.

On the way down a very busy thoroughfare, I noticed a young woman walking down the median, toting a baby on each hip. It was hot and I immediately thought about how dangerous it was for her to be out in the middle of the street with those babies. So I pulled into the turn lane next to her and asked if she was going very far.

"Well, I'm trying to get to McDonald's," she said. "The girls are hungry and I have some Arch cards."

Despite what my mother taught me about not picking up hitchhikers (she wasn't hitchhiking -- she was just walking, minding her own business when I butted in) and not talking to strangers, I offered her a ride.

"The McDonald's is a little ways down there still," I said. "Do you want a ride?"

She turned to one of the girls, who it turned out wasn't a baby, but a small toddler, probably 2-1/2 years old. "Trinity, do you want a ride?"

Trinity said yes, all the while keeping her pink paci in her mouth, bobbing her head and bouncing her curly blonde ponytail. So the three of them got in the car -- no point in worrying about car seats. This had to be way safer than the human game of Frogger she had been playing.

I wondered what Charlie had to be thinking. I introduced myself by my first name only. She did the same and then introduced me to the girls, Trinity & Jada. She asked if the McDonald's was close, saying she wasn't from around here.

"So, where were you walking from?" I asked.

That's when she told me that she was homeless. That she'd called all over to find a spot in a shelter, but that they were all full. One of the shelters had given her the number to a local homeless initiative program that checked her into a hotel up the road and gave her the Arch cards.

"Do you have a stroller," I asked, thinking about how often she'd have to walk around with child in each arm.

"I don't have anything," she said. "The lady is bringing us some clothes tomorrow."

By this time we were at McDonald's. I told her that Charlie's appointment would be about 30 minutes and if she wanted, I could come back to pick her up and take her back to the hotel. She said that would be great. So that's what we did.

She said she didn't know anything about this side of town, that she'd grown up on the south side.

"Do you have any family there?" I asked. Yes. She had several relatives, but none of them had room for her. Now, let me tell you, if my daughter, sister, niece or cousin had two babies and no place to live, I wouldn't think twice about letting them stay with me, even if some folks had to sleep on the floor. But I didn't say anything.

She went on and told me how the girls didn't have their blankies for comfort, that she'd left everything with their dad. She didn't come right out and say it, and despite my most desperate curiousity to know how someone ends up in this situation, I didn't ask -- but I got the sense that she had left an abusive relationship.

"But the hotel is pretty nice" she went on to say. "It's a one bedroom room and the girls sleep with me. And the homeless initiative is gonna get me hooked up a place to stay and with TANF and food stamps and then things will be so much better," she said with genuine hope in her voice.

Now, if I was facing welfare and food stamps, I think I'd feel ashamed. But when you're facing the alternative of literally nothing, I guess those things would look pretty rosy. Dee (her name as I came find out) was homeless, but not hopeless.

We got to the hotel and she thanked me for the ride. I took Charlie to practice -- we arrived a few minutes before six. Now I knew the reason I'd been compelled to leave so early; I think God knew we'd be taking a detour.

When I tucked the kids into bed tonight, we said a prayer for Dee, Trinity and Jada and for all those people who are wondering tonight where their next meal might come from, where they might sleep tomorrow. Please keep them in your prayers too.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sucks to be human sometimes

I've been wrestling with something for a week or two. And I hate that I'm bothered by it. But I am. I can look around and see plenty of other things to be upset about in the world, but no, I'm irritated by a 10-year-old's soccer team.

Charlie has been playing for the same soccer club since he was four. This is the third year he's played on the club (read: travel) team. There are actually two teams. They all practice together, but are split for games.

This year they have a new coach. What's new? So this coach came in, watched two practices and assigned the boys to teams -- the blue squad and the white squad. When the rosters came out, I was a little disappointed that Charlie wasn't on the blue squad with several of the boys he's played with in seasons past. But he seemed happy because some of his buddies are on the white team with him. And on paper, the teams looked pretty evenly split.

If things had been left at that -- here are the teams, blue and white, play ball! -- I would have been fine. But no. The coach had to go and say that the teams were actually A (blue) and B (white) teams.

This is where my mama bear came out. Wait a minute. MY kid is on the B team? Are you kidding me? How dare you say that MY son is not good enough for the A team! He is without a doubt better than some of those kids on the A team. And at least as good as some others.

I've tried to be rational with myself. Charlie does tend to drift around the field out of position (but not as bad as some kids). We didn't take advantage of any of the additional training offered last year (It's only 10-year-old soccer, for crying out loud. Aren't two practices a week enough?). Maybe he got put on the white team because we haven't paid the league fee in full yet?

I've tried to reason with myself. It's only 10-year-old soccer. Keep it in perspective. The training is the same. They all practice together, so they're getting the same instruction. Or are they? It's a closed practice, so parents don't get to watch. How can I be sure that all the attention isn't going to the A kids?

Being on the B team gives Charlie a chance to be a field leader, I've told myself. He's a starter, instead of the first sub in. He is not the only talented, hard-working kid on the white squad. There are several other boys who fit that description. Then as I watched the games last weekend and saw kids who obviously haven't played soccer long, who whiffed the most beautifully gift wrapped pass my kid could have put in front of them, I started worrying about the team playing to the least common denominator.

The coach said he may move the kids between the teams. Ok, when? I'm impatient for Charlie to have another chance to prove himself. Maybe we should look at other soccer clubs? But, I tell myself, we've stayed with this club so Charlie can play with his friends. At the end of the day, it's about fun, not wins and losses, not college scholarships.

When Charlie said something about wishing he was on the blue team, I didn't editorialize about the unfairness of the team placements. I simply told him to go to the coach and ask what he needed to do to earn a spot on the blue team. I've kept my comments to myself, not letting Charlie know how I feel. But let me tell you, Mike has gotten an earful.

Do you see the craziness in my head about this? I am the Sybil of the soccer field. I think my mama bear needs some Prozac.

I hate that I am feeling this way -- jealous and defensive. But I also know that I am a mom. It's my job to look out for my kids and to want the best for them. So maybe my reaction to this soccer situation is merely human? In that case, it sucks to be human sometimes.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Walking the talk?

So far tonight:

  1. I discovered that Charlie threw a bunch of clean and folded clothes in the dirty clothes hamper so he could be finished cleaning his room in time for a friend to come over and play and

  2. Annie remembered at 8pm that she had math homework and oh, yeah, left her math binder at school. The school that is attached to the church where we were for Mass this evening and where, had she given her homework any consideration before Sunday night, she could have picked up said binder so she could do the homework.
I am not impressed.

Didn't this happen on an episode of the Brady Bunch?

Today after we returned from Charlie's oh-so-early soccer game, we told the kids they needed to go clean their rooms. I headed to the kitchen to get tonight's dinner in the crockpot and Mike went upstairs to work on our bedroom.

About 30 minutes later, he came into the kitchen laughing. He said that he heard Annie tell the boys that they needed to have an emergency meeting in her room. When he peeked in the door, Annie was saying something about chores, while Charlie and Robbie were lying on the floor looking like they'd rather be anywhere else.

(Really must re-teach myself the lesson about the "to lie" as in recline verb. I'm sure I use it incorrectly all the time.)

We got a good chuckle out of that and went back to our tasks. Another 30 minutes went by and Mike came downstairs, laughing harder and carrying a big pad of art paper that was sticking out from under Annie's bed:

Sign - emergency meeting

My favorite part is "key word - responsible," followed closely by "impress parents."

I don't know about you, but I think Annie might be management material. Maybe Donald Trump is casting for "The Apprentice, Jr.?"

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Hey Stacy & Clinton!

We had a little "what not to wear" debate here this morning. I put on a pair of jeans that are too long by about 4-6 inches. Ordinarily, when I buy pants, I try to get them in petite (for the length, not the waist, obviously) or I buy capri pants and wear them like regular pants for me.

But I think I snagged this pair of pants from my friend Lisa at a garage sale, so I couldn't be to picky about the length. I'm sure I told myself I'd get them hemmed. And of course, I haven't. So I tried rolling the cuffs, but there was so much to roll, I looked like I was wearing denim donuts around my ankles.

I considered pegging the legs (remember that from high school?), but recalled Mike's threat of abandonment if I ever did that in public (again).

So Mike suggested going with one large, straight cuff on each leg.

full

"It's the style nowdays," he promised. He would know. He pays way more attention to fashion than I do. Not entirely convinced, I asked Annie her opinion.


She took one look at my ankles and was instantly mortified that I would even consider leaving the house like this:

cuffs

Which pretty much sealed the deal. I was definitely going to Charlie's soccer game with uber-cuffs on my jeans. What can I say? I like to see Annie squirm. And, now that I'm 39, what do I care what other people think of how I dress?

Except I do, or I wouldn't be writing about this here. So you guys be my Stacy and Clinton. (And if the real Stacy and Clinton from TLC's "What Not Wear" what to weigh in here, even better!)

What's your vote:

Totally hip and down with the fashion, you diva dresser you!

Or

Annie is right and by leaving the house in that get-up you totally ruined her social status for at least this school year, probably next.

Friday, August 21, 2009

You like me!



Just wanted to pop in before the day is over to say thanks everyone for such a terrific birthday!

From the birthday message Annie left on my car:

windshield wishes

to the Friday morning coffee with my friends Denise and Beth, to lunch and cookies from the gals at work, to not one -- but two -- birthday cakes when I got home, there is no denying that I'm loved.

One cake was from Mike and the other -- plus a bottle of Diet Coke! -- was from the lady we carpool with. How did she know? Here's the cake from Mike:

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He engineered the inclusion of the Diet Coke himself.

If that was all that my birthday included, it would have been an A+ day. But thanks to the proliferation of social media -- comments here on the blog, Facebook, Twitter, a Catholic moms board I belong to -- I had more birthday wishes than I could count.

Heck, even a couple of bill collectors called my house today. I'm sure they were calling to wish me all the best in the coming year, too!

To those of you who enjoyed some cake today, hope it was delish. And those of you who weren't so lucky, there's always next year (or tomorrow)! In the meantime, let me know when I can celebrate with you.

The year of living...

sanely? consciously? freely? appreciatively?

I haven't figured out what to call it yet, but today marks the beginning of my last year before I turn 40. I've been thinking about this for a while, about how I want to make this year "count" and how I want this to be my year of great change.

There is a lot of anticipation and hopefulness and weight that I've placed on this birthday -- and on the days that will fall between it and the big 4-0. Kind of like a New Year's Eve anticipation, where you look out on the year ahead with a hopefulness of the things the year will bring, the things that you will do differently or better or not at all.

I'm aware that I could be setting myself up for huge disappointment if the things I'm envisioning don't come to fruition. But all of what I am considering is within my own control, so if there is disappointment and regret, it will be no one's fault but my own.

Some of the things that are on my list to do (or not) this year are things you could probably guess. But I'm not going to say them here, because I am accountable to myself in this journey. I don't want to get all puffed up and make some sweeping declarations, then have to be concerned with disappointing other people if, at the end of the year, I don't measure up to what I said I would do.

So far, the year of living "whatever," has gotten off to a terrific start. On Wednesday night, my friend Ellen dropped by the house with a surprise for me. She remembered my birthday rant last year and had marked it on her calendar to make sure that didn't happen again. So she came bearing Diet Coke, chocolate cake and a birthday card and balloon.

Ellen bday delivery

Where would we be without our girlfriends? Ellen, you are a peach. Absolutely. Thanks so much! (And thanks for signing the contract by the front door that you won't tell anyone about the state of my house when you dropped by.)

And last night, I went to bed at 8:30pm and stayed in bed the whole night. That's pretty much unheard of. Just a little birthday gift to myself.

So here it is. My 39th birthday. Celebrate with me by having some cake wherever you are.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

2nd first day of kindergarten


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Today was Robbie's first day of his second year of kindergarten. When we told him in July that he'd be repeating kindergarten, he took it pretty well. But last night, when I was laying down with him at bedtime, we were talking about the first day of school, he said, "I really wish I was going to first grade."

Ouch. I know, he'll thank us for this someday.

Then on the way to his classroom this morning, he saw one of his little buddies from last year. "Are you in Miss F's class?" Robbie asked his friend. The little boy looked at him, perplexed and I worried that Robbie would be lonely for his old friends.

Once in the classroom, he found his locker, hung up his backpack, gave me a quick kiss and went to find a spot on the carpet. I watched as he circled the group of kids already sitting on the floor. He seemed to be looking for someone he knew. I could feel my cheeks getting hot and my eyes watering as I watched him seek a place to fit in.

"Please, God, let him make friends," I prayed.

Eyeing a couple of boys he does know, he walked toward the back of the group and squeezed in next to one of them. What I wanted to do at that point was go over, pick him up and ask for a "hug and a kiss and a big squeeze," which is kind of our thing.

But I knew it was time to go -- and to let go. To let him settle in to this familiar, yet new, classroom. To give him a chance to show the new kindergarteners the ropes and to build some confidence in the process.

So I turned to leave, choking back tears that I hadn't expected to be there and hoping this was the first day of a great year.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Proof I am WORKING from home

Because of the crazy kindergarten schedule -- they don't start until tomorrow -- I've been working from home the past two days.

I know you are thinking "working from home," making those little air quotes with your fingers. But really, I'm parked at the kitchen table (not on the couch), ignoring all of the housework begging to be done -- Back in a minute. Gotta stir the macaroni...

Anyway, I was telling you how I am being especially diligent about getting work done from home.

Robbie is in the basement, building legos with the babysitters -- Max & Ruby and Dora the Explorer. And I am here, writing about the impact of older workers on the state's labor force, and ignoring this:

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the mountain of laundry sitting on the couch, wrinkling more and more as the hours go by. See what a dedicated employee I am?!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Off on the right foot

New shoes

School starts here this week. I have one kid who was crazy excited to go back (Annie), one who was upset that he doesn't start until Wednesday (Robbie) and one who was in denial that summer is over (Charlie).

The first day was pretty uneventful, if you ignore the fact that Annie lost her class schedule before we got to school and Charlie couldn't find his scissors. I wasn't really bothered by either fact. I figure it's best to let the teachers know right up front what they're dealing with.

Robbie and I had a meeting with his teacher and her assistant in the afternoon. He walked in and announced "I want to have no hair!" Well, how's that for an intro? I guess he was still stuck on the fact that when he got his haircut yesterday, I wouldn't let him be bald. A #2 is short enough, thanks.

I filled out the classroom volunteer form.

"Can you help out in the classroom during the week?" Occasionally.

"Can you drive on field trips?" Depends on where your going. Being on my third kindergarten kid (and my fourth time through kindergarten), I know to say no to the Children's Museum and the zoo trips.

"Would you like be the room parent?" Abso-fricken-lutely not! Been sucked into that one on about five occasions and I am officially retired as a room parent.

I'll help on 100s Day, do vision screening, read books to the class and even do the occasional recess duty. But no way will I agree to being room parent again. Give that job to someone whose first child is in kindergarten.

When Robbie and I got home from our meeting at school, Annie couldn't wait to tell me about her day. How the teacher she was afraid of is really cool, but also unforgiving, as evidenced by her reaction to two kids who came to school late today. How the new schedule has her watching the clock so she can leave science early to get to an extended math class (I'm still not sure how that's going to work.) And how the new girl is actually someone she used to play soccer with.

Charlie -- remember, he's in denial -- didn't say anything about school. So after about an hour, I asked him, "So, Charlie, did anything special happen to you today?"

"Um, nope," he said.

"Nothing? Like, how about, was it the first day of school or anything?"

(Light bulb!) "Oh yeah!"

His report was short and sweet: Mr. L is funny.

When I asked who was in his class, he rattled off the names of about five girls, all of whom sit near him. I think I might be raising a ladies man.

I'll be interested to see what Robbie has to say about his second first day of kindergarten. Hopefully, a new classroom and a new teacher will make it exciting enough.

For me, if we can make it through the week with no one losing his (or her) lunchbox, that will be excitement enough.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Better than a BLINDY

Today is the third day of the Blog Indiana conference. I had to miss yesterday because of a 6-hour meeting at work (which should be totally illegal, by the way -- 6-hour meetings, not work). But I'm here today for a day of panel discussions, some of which interest me more than others.

At the end of the conference, they'll be announcing the winners of the BLINDY awards. You may remember that I am up for a BLINDY for "Best Family Blog." (Of course you remember, I told you all about it on The Best Day Ever post; you read the post then went right over to the BLINDY ballot and voted for me; and now you are waiting on pins and needles to see if The 4th Frog can pull off an underdog win.)

Now, I don't really have any expectation of winning. I'm just happy to be recognized with a nomination. I always thought those people who were up for Oscars, but who didn't win, were full of it when they chirped "it's an honor to be nominated." But maybe losers in Hollywood aren't so full of crap after all.

Anyway, last night at the back-to-school ice cream social, something happened to me that was way better than winning a BLINDY and I just had to share it with you.

There I was at the PTO table, trying to figure out how to slip away without having to sign up to chair the teacher luncheon, the Monster Mash, the school auction or anything else, when Janice came up to me and absolutely made my day.

I like Janice, which is pretty remarkable because she is cute and skinny and I tend to avoid those types. But Janice and I have worked on a couple of committees together and she's fun to be around.

I found out Janice reads my blog when one day last spring she came to me in the pick-up line after school and said, "I had my mammogram on Tuesday too!" After looking down to see if my breasts still looked like smashed chicken, I realized that she must have read about my mammogram experience on my blog.

Ok, back to last night. Janice rescued me from the PTO table and said, "Amy, I have to show you this. I had my husband put an icon for your blog on my iPhone. I even had to move some stuff to the second page to make room for it."

Are you FREAKING kidding me?! Janice iconized my blog on her iPhone?! Totally way better than a BLINDY!

(And Janice, if the PTO was able to suck you in last night, I will happily work on your committee.)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Progress

Last year I attended Blog Indiana and was prompted to write the confession that I was a technofraud. I'm happy to report that I've come a long way, baby, in just one short year.
  • Far from my reliance on AOL, I'm rockin' the gmail account -- I've even figured out how to create and use filters to better manage my e-mail

  • I have a Twitter account -- two, as a matter of fact (@4thfrog and @allthingsaging) -- and thanks to Tweetdeck, I use them and use them well. I even know how to unfollow and block tweeps I find repulsive or annoying.

  • When my birthday rolls around later this month, I WILL have a smart phone ($99 iPhone, thank you very much) so I can text, tweet and roll with the best of them
  • I can blog on two different platforms, Blogger and Wordpress (even though I don't love Wordpress)
Oh, there are things I need to work on. I still fumble around Flickr. I can use an RSS feed, even if I don't know exactly what I'm doing. And Mike still uploads songs to my iPod but I don't necessarily see that as a negative thing. It makes him feel needed (ok, maybe used) and me feel loved.

But all in all, I'd say I've made remarkable progress in my technological prowess over the past year. I wish I could say the same thing for the state of my house.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Going thru w/d

fat n happy

Wine and donuts. It's been that kind of day.

Omissions

So, you know I blog for the Indiana Insider blog, telling people all the great things there are to do in Indiana. I just finished a recap of a date night that Mike and I had a couple of weeks ago. We went to Conner Prairie for Symphony on the Prairie, which was wonderful as usual. We also went up in the new 1859 Balloon Voyage experience.

Now, let me be clear: EVERYTHING I wrote in the entry at Indiana Insider was truthful. However, because I try to maintain a professional presence over there, I may have left out a few pieces of truth in my recounting of our ascent in the giant, helium-filled balloon. So I thought I'd fill in the blanks here. Anything written in italics here is for your additional information. Skip down to #3 for the start of the truth-bearing.

----------------

A lot of what I talk about here on the Indiana Insider blog is great things for families to do in the Hoosier state. But every once in a while, my husband and I get away for a little grown-up time. Our last date (that didn’t involve going grocery shopping) was at Conner Prairie in Fishers (a northern suburb of Indianapolis) for a Marsh Symphony on the Prairie concert.

Marsh Symphony on the Prairie (from the Visit Indiana Flickr Stream)

Marsh Symphony on the Prairie (from the Visit Indiana Flickr Stream)

There are really three great things about Symphony on the Prairie:

1. The music: The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra has done an outstanding job of choosing a wide variety of musical genres to perform this summer. We attended the “Classical Mystery Tour” night, which had a Beatles-imitating band performing with the ISO. Some concerts are more classical symphony than others, but with a total of 13 weekends’ worth of performances, there is something for everyone.

2. The people watching: Someone recently described Symphony on the Prairie to me as “sophisticated tailgating” and it kind of is. You can rent tables and have dinner catered. Many people bring small, portable tables; ice buckets and long-stem wine glasses; candles (the cordless electric kind are nice) and chairs. Or you can go the simple route, which is what we chose. Picnic blanket, a small cooler with drinks and a few appetizers and a pizza we picked up on the way into the park. There’s no right or wrong way to “do” Symphony on the Prairie. But I enjoy looking around and seeing all the various approaches.

3. The 1859 Balloon Voyage: This is a new addition to Conner Prairie, as well as the symphony events. In addition to inviting me out to experience the symphony, Conner Prairie’s Angela Tuell arranged for Mike and me to go up in the 1859 Balloon Voyage. So before the concert began, I went to secure our flight time. I chose 8:30pm because I thought going up 350 feet into the air as the sun was setting would make for a romantic experience. Somehow I'd forgotten that I am really afraid of heights, as is Mike. Besides, I had a job to do. Ride the balloon, share the experience -- and I was gonna do it, by gum!

So after a few songs, Mike and I got up from our spot under the trees on the hill and headed over to the Balloon Voyage experience. We'd already polished off most of the pizza and sushi by then (a combination which would haunt me later that night).

We watched, admittedly a bit nervously, as a couple of groups made the ascent before us. But the “kid” working the ground confidently answered all of our questions, putting us at ease. (Turns out that “kid” is in charge of all the visitor experiences in the park!) Actually, I was pretty calm. This thing wasn't a roller coaster after all. We weren't going to be turned upside down and sideways going 50mph. Mike, however, agreed to go up in the balloon because of L-O-V-E. Isn't that nice?

When it was our turn, we walked right onto the balloon, making small talk with the people standing on either side of us. The balloon’s “basket” is actually kind of a donut shape with a hole in the center and can hold up to 20 people. Our pilot gave us a few tips, including that we would encounter a slight bump as we went up, and we were off.

I lasted about 50 feet. That’s when the sight of the ground disappearing beneath me started making me (want to scream "put me down!" "take me back!" and a few expletives that I won't repeat here because this is a (mostly) family blog) more than a little nervous. At about 75 feet, knowing we weren’t even halfway to the top, I did the best thing I could think of. I sat down on the ground. Actually, I think my knees kind of gave way underneath me, I sunk the floor and began practicing my lamaze breathing. No kidding.

So here is where I’d love to tell you that the rise to the top was exhilarating and the view was breathtaking. But in truth, my view was of the gray metal surrounding me as I sat on the floor of the balloon. I think they should paint a nice mural on the the interior of the basket walls so that if anyone else feels the urge to ride on their behind instead of their feet, they at least have something scenic to look at.

A very nice woman next to me kept encouraging me to look straight out, not down, but I wasn’t so sure. I thought she was completely nuts. Just to appease her, and again, because going up in this balloon was pretty much my job, I rose to my knees, poked my head up for about 15 seconds, said "oh cool!" and plopped right back down.

Somewhere around 150 or 200 feet is where Mike started to lose it. Only he didn't make it all the way to the floor. He just white knuckled the sides of the basket and bent over in an "oh my gosh, I might throw up" position. I think he kept saying to me "The air pressure is going to pop my hernia. I can feel it. I know it. My hernia is going to pop." (We have a flair for the dramatic in our house.)

Speaking of our house -- right about then, my phone rang. Knowing Annie was babysitting, I felt compelled to answer it. I'd barely gotten the word "hello" out of my mouth when she launched into...

"Mom! You said we could rent a movie on the TV, but I can't find the flicker. Do you know where it is?"

"Annie, I can't talk right now," I said kind of breathless. "I'm up in the balloon and I can't concentrate."

At which point I knew I was on speaker phone because Robbie started WAILING:

"Waaaaahhhh! I wanted to go up in the balloon. You said I could go up in the balloon! Waaaaahhhh! No fair!"

"Gotta go," I rushed. "Figure it out. Don't call again unless someone is bleeding or has bones sticking out." By this time, we were to the top:

However, once we made it all the way to the end of the tether — the full 350 feet — and we weren’t going any higher, I stood up and looked, though I was holding on so tightly, my hands were left with imprints of the side of the metal basket. Boy, am I glad I did. I think the lack of oxygen at 350 feet was an influence in making me stand up.

The sight below — 7,500 people on the lawn listening to the “Classical Mystery Tour” — and the sight out toward our home and to the Pyramids at 86th and Michigan were calm and beautiful. The sun was setting, the wind was calm and we could hear the distant strains of the orchestra.

I remained standing and gazing out for the entire descent back to level ground. Apparently 350 down isn’t as frightening to me as 350 feet up. When we reached the balloon platform again, I realized that I’d forgotten to take any pictures. Ok, true confession: I was too afraid to take any pictures. I had an irrational fear that I was going to drop the camera. Plus, there's no way I was getting any closer to the edge of the basket than I had to. This one is courtesy of Conner Prairie:

1859 Voyage Balloon glows against the night sky

1859 Voyage Balloon glows against the night sky

When we returned to our blanket, I laid back, listening to the symphony and watching as the illuminated balloon rose into the navy sky and gently returned over and over again. It was a truly serene moment, one that left me thinking I might go up again, this time brave enough to stay standing for the entire ride. Seriously, maybe it was the lamaze breathing, but it was kind of like labor. Once it was over, I looked back, saw how amazing it was and promptly forget the moments of agony and terror.

For more, non-terrifying information about Conner Prairie, check this out.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Step 1 to economic recovery

I realize that President Obama has not yet invited me to a position on his Cabinet. But I have come up with an award-winning idea for how to get this country on the road to economic recovery. And I being the good citizen that I am, I will share this idea right here instead of waiting for the call from the POTUS.

Step 1 to economic recovery in this country is to stop allowing people to spend their hard-earned dollars on ugly junk sold during the late night hours on QVC.

I mean, who really needs a Joan Rivers Flights of Fantasy Sparrow Keepsake Box for $52.86? Do you know how many groceries $52 could buy?

Now, I'll admit to having made purchases from QVC once in a blue moon. Stacy and Clinton from "What Not to Wear" would be mortified to know that I fancy the Quacker Factory line of clothing -- but only for holiday attire, which I realize does not make it any more forgiveable. (I do, however, consider Jeanne Bice's headband to be totally unforgiveable.)

And while I would love to sink my teeth into a Mrs. Prindable's apple, I would kill Mike if he actually spent $43.73 on something I could make in my own kitchen for a fraction of the cost. (Oh my gosh, I sound like my mother here!) And where do they get apples as big as your head, anyway?

I understand that QVC is probably a billion dollar industry all unto itself. People are employed on air -- did anyone of them think "I want to grow up and hawk purses and tchotchkes on television? -- behind the scenes in the production studio, on the phones, in the distribution centers, not to mention the people needed to manufacture all the items for sale.

But my fellow Americans, come on -- let's exercise some financial restraint and save our pennies for something more practical, more tasteful than Marie Osmond porcelain dolls and Black Hills Gold jewelry.

President Obama, if you think my idea is worth exploring, I'd be happy to come to the White House to discuss it further. I might even don some patriotic Quacker Factory attire for the occasion.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The best day ever



Aside from the day I got married and the days that my children were born, today just might be the BEST DAY EVER!

After an almost year-long search during that tested his emotional fortitude, my patience and at times the "for better or for worse" part of our marriage vows, Mike signed an offer for a new job this afternoon. He worked his tail off to get this offer. He starts in less than 2 weeks!

That would have been quite enough to earn the playing of the Spongebob "best day ever" song. But tonight, we came home from a party at my boss' house and I found out that I'm one of the five nominees for "Best Family Blog" to be given at the Blindy Awards at next week's Blog Indiana conference.

I'm not familiar with three of the blogs: 4tunate, MomAdvice.com, and dadsinc.org. I'll have to check them out.

But the fourth one is the blog to beat. Mooshinindy is written by Casey Mullins. She's a very funny and gifted writer and a fabulous photographer. She's a goddess in social networking spheres. If you don't believe me, note that she's also in the running for the Social Media Superstar Blindy.

So, the chances that I'll come out bearing the Blindy title of "Best Family Blog" are slim. (You can vote for me here.) But I'll worry about that next Saturday when the winners are announced. Today, Mike is the winner of a new job and I've been nominated along with some terrific Indiana blogs. It really might be the best day ever.

Ooops!

If you receive my blog entries via e-mail, you've probably gotten one titled "Too old for Facebook?" Ooops! That was supposed to publish on the blog I publish for work. If you didn't get it and it sounds interesting to, click the All Things Aging link in my blogroll to the right.

My 1:54 of fame (er, shame)

A few weeks ago, I filmed a spot for Angie's List about my broken dishwasher. My sister works in media relations there and asked me to help them out by telling my dishwasher story for a video news release. They sent it to news stations across the country to use for their "home" segments.

My sister Angie -- not THE Angie -- sent me the link today from a Birmingham, Alabama television station. Click here to see me live and in person. (Click on the video in the upper right hand corner of the page.) By the way, this is NOT my house. It's way too hip and clean to be my house. We filmed at the home of one the Angie's List PR people.

I watched it and immediately thought, "Oh my gawd! I look like a pumpkin!" I'm pretty sure this is going to be the video that will clinch my spot as a contestant on The Biggest Loser.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Overwhelmed

This was the status update I posted on my Facebook page yesterday:

The convergence of a zillion deadlines at work and the start of school for the kids just might push me over the edge.

I have three -- wait, four -- big projects at work that have drop dead August deadlines. The kids go back to school in less than two weeks.

I feel like there is so much we didn't do this summer and I am finding it hard to find a day to take off to do something fun so that when they sit down in their classrooms to write the inevitable "What I did on my summer vacation" essay, they'll say something more than "I did chores and watched television."

(To be fair to myself, they did swim a lot and we did a few, small "staycation" activities. But I'm having a moment, so just let me go with it, will ya?)

Ok. I realize that wallowing in a moment of whining and self-pity only goes so far.
Someone replied to my Facebook post: "Take a deep breath....or have a cocktail!"

Since it's only 7:45am and I have no champagne or OJ in the house, I'm going with the deep breath route and trying to count my blessings. So here's my list of 10 good things that, overwhelmed or not, make me smile:
  1. My nephew is being baptized on Sunday and we'll be together with all my siblings, their spouses and their children.
  2. Back-to-school means back to Friday morning "therapy" with girlfriends at Panera.
  3. I parked my car in the garage last night, which is significant because two days ago that wouldn't have been possible. But Mike busted his hump and cleaned it out.
  4. Next week, I'll be attending Blog Indiana and get to spend 2 whole days with other blog-lovin' nerds.
  5. McDonald's large drinks are still only $1.
  6. Dairy Queen chocolate dipped cones are less than $2.
  7. All these crazy deadlines mean that I have a job at a time when many do not.
  8. I got on the scale yesterday for the first time in a long time and I didn't weigh any more than I had previously. Again, a huge accomplishment, especially given #6 above.
  9. My cleaning lady will be back on August 31. We'd loaned her out for the summer to some friends b/c I couldn't afford to pay babysitters and Jane.
  10. Our good friend Mary came to visit last night. Her visits always leave me laughing.
Think I might need to print out this list and tape it up in a few strategic places, so when I'm wigging out of the next couple of weeks I can have some perspective. And if that doesn't work, I'll probably go with the cocktail.

Monday, August 3, 2009

What will you remember?

Annie and I were out buying school supplies and bras (that's a WHOLE 'nuther post!) last weekend. We stopped to grab a bite to eat and for some reason I asked her when she is 40 years old, what does she think she'll remember the most about certain people in her life.

Actually, the initial question was what will she remember about ME (I'm kind of self-centered like that). Here's what she said:

Me:

"I'll remember how you are always behind your laptop." (Ouch! Did she really just say that? How's that for a ringing endorsement for reduced screen time?)

"I'll remember that when there's no radio on in the car, you sing Catholic songs really loudly." (At least she didn't say "badly.")

"And I'll remember that you like to pop my zits and blackheads." (Did I really just type that out here in this very public space? Let me note that it's not that I enjoy this task, it's just that the OCD side of me is driven batty by the sight of blemishes on the faces of those I love. If you don't live in my house, don't worry, I won't attack your zits. And I don't even pop Annie's that often -- she's strong enough to fight me off.)

Certain that I didn't want to hear any more about what she'll remember about me, I asked about Mike.

"I'll remember that he teaches my brothers inappropriate things." (Perhaps its a matter of judgement whether teaching small boys to belch the alphabet is inappropriate?) "And that he 'tries' to dance to be cool and he knows a lot about computers and everything about Star Trek."

Between the two of us, raising three normal and well-adjusted kids is gonna be a crapshoot. Still, I was enjoying the conversation, so I went on. I didn't ask about her brothers because I didn't want her to say something she might regret one day. So I moved on to the grandparents.

Grandpa? "Oh, (insert giggle here) I will always remember his crazy, long curly eyebrows." (I was braced for the "he chases us with boogers" comment, but that would fit under inappropriate things above, I guess.

Grandma? "She is always SO busy. And she can fix a lot of stuff." (Tru dat. And fix them with nothing more than a paper clip and a rubber band on most occasions!)

What about Poppo and GoGo -- Mike's parents -- I wondered? What will you remember about them?

"I'll remember that Poppo really likes poetry and going for walks outside and being in the garden. And GoGo likes to have fun and take us places. And, oh yeah, for an old lady she sure cusses a lot."

Guess as a group, we bring a whole new meaning to the word "legacy."

What do you remember about your parents and grandparents.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Just like old times

Life is Good

I was just telling Mike on Friday night that I missed the days of our younger years where we would spend summer weekend evenings getting together with family friends. The parents would all sit around the back porch or deck (depending on whose house we were at) and talk while the kids ran around the yard or hung out in the house.

We had two groups of people we would spend time with in this way. A group of families from church and a group of neighbors. On those nights, no matter what was waiting for us in the stack of bills, the piles of laundry or on the to do list, it was very easy to say "Life is good."

Then, for a variety of reasons from people moving away to kids getting older and being involved in activities that required parents to play chauffeur, these weekend gatherings seemed to happen less and less. I'm not sure I noticed right away, but eventually I realized that I missed them.

Last night I got a wonderful dose of old times when our next door neighbors (the P's) invited us to come over for dinner with them and another family who used to live on our street (the T's). The T's are moving back to town after a 3-year stint in Las Vegas. They've recently bought a house in a different neighborhood, but one close enough that we can all get together for dinner again.

Just like old times, the grownups sat in the P's screened in porch and enjoyed Mr. P's great cooking and Mrs. P's mastery of the cooler. Mike resurrected his role as "mayor," a title Mrs. P long ago bestowed on him, and played to the crowd. And Mr. and Mrs. T went through the pros and cons of having her mother move close to (in with?) them.

And if you didn't believe me about what a mess our house is, Mr. P recounted a story that their daughter Megan told him recently. She was helping Annie pick up our family room when she grabbed a blanket to fold. When she lift the crumpled blanket from the floor, a piece of cold pizza fell out of it (remnants of a "pizza picnic" in front of a movie, no doubt)! Nice...

Anyway, after dinner the kids flipped around on the swingset and played baseball and cornhole and whack-a-friend-with-a-pool-noodle, eventually winding up inside watching the Disney Channel when it was too dark to be outside anymore. It was almost 10pm when we finally wandered back home and put our sweaty, dirty-with-the-outdoors kids to bed.

It was a great night. Good food, good friends, good life.