Thursday, December 9, 2010

Writers' group

One good thing that is coming out of NaNoWriMo this year (there are many) is that a group of friends from my moms group have decided to start a regular, once a month, writers' group. We are all interested in keeping going, either with the story we wrote during November or with other projects, and want to use the motivation of regular meetings to do so. Having feedback and deadlines will definitely motivate me!

We're all busy moms, writing in our spare time. There are four of us now, but we'd like other moms to join us. Hopefully keeping the momentum up will give me an edge for next year's NaNo. I'd really like to 'win' sometime! And maybe I'll try my hand at Script Frenzy in April. I know the perfect place to submit a script.  Plus I need to work on our 10-minute script, hopefully expanding it into a full one-act play.

My first assignment, to complete before our January 11th inaugural meeting, is to complete a rough draft of my NaNo story. I'm close to the end, so I think that's doable. Maybe by this time next year I'll have something ready to publish (probably self-published) and we'll know what to give for Christmas presents.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Monsters on the moon

Wil has a wonderfully inventive imagination at times. (Other times he is very rigid, like getting upset when Sam colors a banana purple.) He has told us several times that monsters live on the moon; the other night he saw the telescope, which isn't set up at the moment, and got excited about looking at the monsters on the moon. I ran to grab the digital recorder to capture the moment.


Wil: Yeah, the monsters live on moon up in sky. So you're gonna need get the telescope so I can look at the moon very far away in the sky.

Me: How did the monsters get on the moon?

Wil: They found spaceships then flew up to the moon.

Me: What do they do up there?

Wil: They were trying find food.

Me: They were trying to find food? What kind of food?

Wil: They were trying find.... berries!

Me: Berries on the moon, wow. Are there lots of berries on the moon?

Wil: Yeah, but (can't understand what he said) on the moon. But you're gonna need get telescope for me and look at the moon.

Me: We'll have to have Daddy make the telescope work and then we can look at the moon. Do you like looking at the moon?

Wil: Yeah.

Me: Tell me more about the monsters on the moon.

Wil: Well, they were trying to find a roof, but there wasn't a roof. They need go inside the moon and see if there was a roof. But we just have roof, but not the moon. (Sam made noise... ) scary.

Me: It's scary? It's scary on the moon?

Wil: Yeah, because we might see monsters. (I think that's what he said. Sam was making a lot of noise.)

Me: Is anyone else up on the moon?

Wil: No, just the monsters.

Me: Just the monsters? Do the monsters ever leave the moon or do they just like to live there?

Wil: They like to live there.

Me: So if you see a monster do you tell them they need to go home to the moon?

Wil: Yeah... But he won't because he might get me and take me away and fly up to the moon.

Me: I don't think they're going to take you up to the moon.

Wil: But they might see me and take me up to the moon.

Then he got distracted, although he remembered to ask about the telescope again. I might just have to try my hand at a children's story. And I would love ideas for assuaging his worry about monsters taking him to the moon.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Contemplations on Black Friday

Yesterday I tweeted this:

What kind of society do we live in when retail stores are open today & we can't allow people to enjoy the holiday so we can shop at 3am?

Apparently I struck a chord based on the responses on Facebook. People seem to fall into one of two categories: those who are out shopping for deals today and those who are staying as far from the stores as possible.

The reasons behind that tweet were many, so I would like to share a few of the thoughts leading to it.

Thanksgiving is a national holiday. We are supposed to give thanks for all our blessings. It is a time for family. Yet while most of the nation had the day off, there were retail stores open, trying to get a jump on Black Friday profits. I can somewhat excuse grocery and drug stores and gas stations. But Walmart and KMart and the like really had no reason to be open except plain greed. Their employees didn't get to enjoy a holiday, but you can bet the corporate offices were closed. Are we so lost in our need to own things that we can't allow people the opportunity to spend a holiday with their loved ones? Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday. Everyone in the nation can celebrate it.

It seems as soon as the turkey is eaten, minds turn to the deals many stores offer the following day. But what of the employees who have to work? I know some, and when a store is opening at 3 a.m., you can bet they had to go to bed early. Sure puts a damper on spending time with family when you plan to go to sleep as soon as dinner is over. And that is if those workers even got to spend time with family, considering their abbreviated holiday!

And about stores opening at 3 a.m., why???!? Why can't they wait until their regular shopping hours? Because they want to open before their competition to get as much money as possible. Surely the holiday would be more enjoyable for everyone if the sales started at 9 a.m. Better rested shoppers and employees might even make for a more pleasant experience.

And to top all that corporate and personal greed off, this was posted just a few days ago.

Next year, let's start a movement and commit to NOT go to any stores on Black Friday, at least not until normal business hours, even if it means missing a great deal. Because do we really need that whatever enough to sell our souls for it? Anyone want to join in a quiet protest?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

On this rainy, dreary Thanksgiving morning, I thought I would sit down and mention some of the things I am thankful for. 

First and foremost, I am thankful for my family. As much as they can drive me crazy, we have two beautiful boys who can be absolutely charming and cute. I have a wonderful husband who encourages me to pursue my passions. Neither of us is perfect, but I think we are pretty perfect together. We have great parents who are actually friends. No worrying here if someone will feel slighted. (How great is it that my mother-in-law invites my parents to Thanksgiving so we can all be together?) 

I'm so grateful that we are all more or less healthy. Yes, Sam has officially been diagnosed with asthma as of yesterday, but that is something minor in the grand scheme of things. He has only had symptoms when his lungs have already been taxed by a cold. 

I'm very thankful that Chris has a steady job and we haven't been overly effected by the recent financial problems. We can pay our bills each month, we have a roof over our heads, and we've only had to make minor adjustments in our budget.

I'm happy the tornado sirens at 5 o'clock this morning heralded a severe storm and any tornados missed us. 

We have many, many wonderful friends, and we are all very thankful to have each and every one. 

I'm thankful that the boys are growing up and gaining independence. Having one out of diapers and one working on potty training is amazing, especially after years of diapers. Being able to sleep a little longer in the morning because they can get up and play quietly is priceless.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Here's the story....

A number of years ago, as part of a secret Santa game at work, I decided what I really wanted was a housekeeper. I've finally come a big step closer: we have hired a cleaning service to come once a month to deep clean the house. I just need to keep it up in between.

Now, that seems like such a simple thing, but when your official job description is 'homemaker', there's a bit (or a lot) of guilt. After all, isn't that what I should be doing while I'm home with the kids all day? Except it isn't that easy. Between breaking up fights, keeping the boys entertained, and trying to clean without them getting into dangerous chemicals or breaking the vacuum, the house is never all clean on the same day. And a lot gets skipped, put off for another day....

Luckily, Chris is very supportive and was all for hiring help. Especially because we found a service that it very affordable (some cleaning services are way too expensive!) But it's still hard... until I realized that Carol Brady, that paragon of tv-mom-dom, had a full-time housekeeper with 6 school age kids old enough to help out. Seriously, if Mrs. Brady needed or just plain wanted help, I can too.

I hate cleaning. Yes, this is a splurge, but worth it to me. I can pursue things that make me happy like writing. Part of what spurred me to finally make the call was participating in NaNoWriMo. It's slow and I won't be done in the 30 days, but I'm enjoying trying to tell a story. I'd like to do more things like that.

Today was the first time they came to clean. It took 2 professionals nearly 3 hours (6 work hours) to clean the house completely. Seriously, if it took that long for them to thoroughly clean, how can I do it with 2 kids clinging to me, needing attention? I've already scheduled a date for next month. They did a great job. The mopped floors and the sparkling kitchen are totally worth it.

So, in a nutshell:

1) It's ok to hire a cleaning service. Mrs. Brady had a housekeeper.
2) It takes a lot of time for pros to do it. We can forgive ourselves for not having time.
3) Husbands: this is a great Christmas gift. Cleaning companies give free quotes. Merry Maids is expensive. Other companies are affordable.
4) You can have a cleaning company do as much or as little as you want. I have a thorough deep clean, but know several people who just have someone in to do the kitchen and bathrooms.
5) I love my new cleaning service!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Just say so

So here is the update:

A representative from HAND called back and apologized for the misunderstanding. Apparently all the slots filled up before I called in to join the program, but instead of just telling me that, the person I talked to tried to see if we qualified for another program. And didn't explain that, leading me to believe we were in the Beat the Meter Blitz.

I have had time to calm down to write that statement without being too rude. Here's my take:

A lot of the problem, actually all the problem, could have been avoided if they had just told me up front that all the slots were taken. They could even offer to see if we qualified for the other program, but I already knew we didn't and even mentioned that to the person I talked to originally. I would have liked to hear the words "we should have told you upfront all the slots were filled." Period.

I can't change things now. We're not going to get a free energy assessment. It was already too late by the time I finally got through around 9 o'clock since they filled all the slots by about 8:30 on the day I called according to what I was told today. Please just admit that. It's that simple.

I'll give a free clue to anyone wondering how NOT to anger customers. Don't lead people to believe you will give them something when you can't.

The problem of being middle class

The big problem of being middle class, as far as I can see, is that you earn too much to qualify for assistance but not enough to really make headway.

I just did a little research on the definition of middle class and it's pretty complicated. Part of the problem is that a high income in one area is barely scraping by in another. But I think J. D. Foster has a pretty good way of defining income class: the top 20% are rich, the bottom 20% are poor and the middle 60% are middle class, which is household incomes of around $25000-$100000. Yep, that pretty much include just about everyone I know.

What started all this? Last week I called the City of Bloomington Housing and Neighborhood Development Department (HAND) because they, in association with other organizations, were offering free home energy assessments as part of a Beat the Meter Blitz. Since I called so early, I assumed I had a place in the program.

Until today when I received a call from South Central Community Action Program to see if we qualified for their free program (we don't) because a question the person who took my information asked was misleading. Fine, we make too much so I needed to call HAND and try to get back on their list. But their list is full.

Now, I left a message with the person coordinating the program because I am NOT HAPPY about this. The reason we are apparently falling through the cracks, unless I get a phone call later today with positive news, is because I was asked what our monthly income was.

I told the woman I wasn't sure, but she had me guesstimate. So I guessed and told her that was approximately our TAKE HOME PAY. There is a big difference between net and gross income and I could have told her our annual gross income was too high. Actually, I did tell her we make too much to qualify for a free assessment and that was why I was so happy about this opportunity.

So now, because of a poorly worded question, it looks like we are getting screwed out of something we should have been able to get based on my applying in time.

Thanks, city worker. Want to pay for the $300+ assessment we're apparently not going to get for free? I thought not. I certainly don't have a spare $300.

I will update if we manage to squeak into the program, but right now it looks doubtful.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I want to be a paperback writer

With my apologies to the Beatles for using their song in the title.

I decided to try my hand at NaNoWriMo this year. It's only the second day and the going is slow, but I'd like to use this as motivation to try to pull a story from my head and put it on paper. Or computer, as the case may be.

It may wind up being utter crap, but at least I'm giving it a try. The piece I'm working on is a fantasy. I don't have a title yet, and I'm not sure exactly where the story is going, but it's fun and terrible and everything in between to try.

I hope I make the 50000 word goal and get my nifty certificate. But if not, at least I'll have something.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Stretch time

Chris and I have really decided to lose weight and get in better shape. My plan for this year fell through: I was going to work out while both boys were in school, but since Sam is not going to school, I needed to find an alternative. I'd still like to go to the gym, but that will take planning and coordination to find someone to watch the boys.

On to plan B. We started using an app on our iPhones to keep track of calories and help us pay attention to what we are eating. The app is LoseIt! and I really like that you enter what you eat and exercise you do. It's a tool to raise awareness - I can eat anything, but it shows me how much of my daily calorie budget I've used (a budget set by my weight loss goals). And it really reinforces that if I want to eat more, I need to exercise more. Yep, the key to weight loss isn't some fancy diet; it's consuming fewer calories than you expend.

I also downloaded a couple of apps to help me exercise. I found 2 yoga ones. While I haven't used them much (I just downloaded them yesterday), they have some nice workouts that I can do. And I found a 5-minute ab workout and the Sprint GPS app for when I walk. I haven't tried the ab workout, but 5 minutes sounds about right. I started using the GPS app today; it uses GPS to track how far and fast I walk.

I'm really motivated to make this work. Especially after doing part of a yoga routine today. I made it through about 30 minutes and realized how not limber I am. It has been a number of years since I did yoga regularly and it shows.

Friday, September 17, 2010

TV saga

As anyone following me on Twitter or Facebook knows, we have had issues upgrading our tv service.

It started several weeks ago when Comcast informed us of their 'digital migration' - a fancy way of saying they will no longer have analog service and we had to get a digital tuner.

For several years, we have talked about trying AT&T's U-Verse service. We had tried once before, in January 2009, but were too far for the signal. A lot has changed since then and the signal supposedly goes further now, so we decided to use this as our impetus to switch.

Last Friday the installation tech came out around 10 am to hook us up... and found all sorts of errors on the line. He called for a service tech to come check the lines; they cleaned up a lot of problems, but still not a clean enough signal. So, many hours later (almost 7 pm), and after rewiring from the pole to the house, we were left with the promise that another service ticket had been placed and hopefully we could reschedule an installation soon. Chris got on Twitter and tracked down someone at AT&T who promised to look into it.

Tuesday I received a call from AT&T tier two support asking if we had been updated on the situation. We hadn't. Turns out someone had come out Sunday and determined that we are just too far so our order was canceled. I'm not sure if it was Chris's tweets, but I guess I should be happy someone called to let us know. And we got a new telephone line that isn't in between the cable and electric (you have to see our outside wires to understand that). And they fixed some problems on the lines that will hopefully mean our phone doesn't go out every time we have a lot of rain.

Thus, the trek to Comcast's office on Henderson Thursday morning to pick up a digital tuner. (We have thought about switching to satellite, but there are a lot of trees around us. Plus, we have heard about a lot of problems during lousy weather. So, we'll stick with cable for now.) Picking up the tuner was easy. The problems started when Chris hooked it up.

Around 5:30 pm, after getting home, Chris hooked up the tuner. Remembering that the woman at Comcast mentioned having to call to activate it, something which was NOT in the less-than-satisfactory directions, I called the 800 number. The automated message mentioned it might take up to 45 minutes to completely download the program guide.

Flash forward to 7:30, after eating dinner and playing. The boys like to watch a show before bed; it helps wind them down. Still no tv. No channels, no channel guide, the remote did nothing. So I called to report trouble and got another signal sent with the same caution about taking up to 45 minutes.

8:30. The boys are now in bed. The tv is still not working. Chris unplugged and re-plugged the unit. He did some digging in the basement and changed the wiring so it doesn't go through the vcr... and found a very old trap in the house on the cable line, which he removed. While he did that, I called technical support. The first call got dropped. I called back and got forwarded to a 'specialist'. As he was asking about how things were wired (understandable to need to know if it was a simple wiring issue - I passed that to Chris since he understands all of that better than I do), it suddenly started working.

I'm not sure if it was Chris's fiddling with the wiring or if one of the activation or reboot signals finally made it through.

We thought all was well until this morning when we turned it on at 7:38.... to find only the last station watched available. And the program listing at the bottom of the screen didn't go away. And the time on it didn't change.

I'm sure you've guessed - yes, I called tech support again. While the very nice woman I spoke to walked me through trying to get the remote to do anything (it wouldn't even turn it off), it suddenly started working at 8:00. She had no idea why it did that.

Ah, I'm sure you think all was well, just as I did.... until I looked at the dvr function and realized it did not work. The message on the screen that it was unavailable was a pretty good clue.

So on to the second call to tech support this morning, where I talked to another very nice woman, who had, coincidentally, worked at the Bloomington office before. After much trying of this and that, she discovered that our box was mis-coded in their system as not being a dvr. Luckily she was able to correct that, after which she had me unplug the box to reboot it, then she sent a new activation signal.... and it worked.

At this point, all is well. I've taped one show to test the dvr and turned the box off and on with no problems. The full guide doesn't seem to show (it goes about 2 hours out and then falls off) but I hope that will correct itself. I'm tired of calling tech support..... and I really don't even want to contemplate changing services again any time soon!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Preschool update

I hadn't realized it had been so long since I last posted. A lot has happened since then.

Sam dropped out of preschool. It wasn't that he didn't like school; he just missed Mommy so much he was becoming a nervous wreck. That much stress for a 2 year old to go to school just wasn't worth it, especially since he didn't get better. During the 2 weeks he went, he got progressively more clinging and cried more at school to the point where the school called to send him home early.

He's only 2 and the only reason we signed him up for this year is because he seemed to want to go last year. I think it was more that he wanted to go to school with Wil; being in a room on his own was too much. So, we'll wait until next year.

Wil is on "probation" for having too many accidents at school. He does really well at home, telling us when he has to go, but when he is somewhere else, he tends to either get distracted or not feel comfortable enough. Luckily the school is working with us since I have no idea how to judge if he will not have accidents at school. Our current plan for a week or two (which will hopefully be as long as it takes) is for the school to call me to pick him up right away if he has an accident. We need to have immediate consequences because the threat of not being able to go to school wasn't cutting it. A similar tactic worked with putting toys in time out if he had an accident playing with them.

Wil really loves school and Sam even tells me that it is his school too. I'm hopeful that in the next year Sam will outgrow some of his clinging and be happy about school.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Time to speak up

I am by nature a peace maker and dislike confrontations. Time after time, I have run into people who felt compelled to proselytize and try to convert me to their way of thinking... and I've held my tongue and not argued back because I didn't want to offend them. A while back I decided that if they had no problem offending me, I should just speak my mind.

I still tend to not jump into political and religious debates because they tend to degrade into mindless vitriol and don't end up changing anyone's ideas. But the time to remain quiet has come to an end.

You would have to be living under a rock lately to not be aware of the controversy regarding the so-called 'Ground Zero mosque'. Before I begin, Keith Olbermann, someone I have never watched before, had some excellent comments on the issue which pretty much put the argument in perspective. Please take the time to click through and watch.

I am very disappointed in the number of people who object to putting a community center, which happens to have a hall for worship, in a neighborhood, at a location which was vacant, just because it is near 'Ground Zero' and is for Muslims. No, disappointed doesn't cover it. I am sickened.

First off, '2 blocks away' is misleading. It is not within sight of the 'hallowed ground' and is further from it than several other religious houses. It is actually about 4 blocks of walking away.

Second, along with all the American Christians killed when the World Trade Center was destroyed were many people from many other countries and many other faiths, including Muslims (both American and foreign). If this is sacred, hallowed ground for those killed, then all the religions represented should be able to have a faith center nearby.

To blame all of any one religion for the actions of a few is a terrible, bigoted reaction. Just as some Muslims are terrorists, so are some Christians. Need I point out that the KKK has Christian roots. Many people convicted of acts of terror claim to be following God's will in what they do, regardless of their religious preference. Christians have done a lot of bad things in the name of God.

One of the principles this nation was founded on is freedom of religion. The First Amendment to the Constitution states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This is not negotiable. And before anyone starts shouting about this being a Christian nation, please remember that the founding documents were written in such a way as to not favor one religion over another. Our Founding Fathers did that on purpose. They were really smart. Many were also not Christian as the Religious Right would have you believe. Some interesting reading is available on the topic (yes, from both perspectives). A lot of evidence exists that many were more in the line of Deists than subscribed to any particular religion.

I have a question for anyone who thinks 2 blocks is too close. What perimeter is acceptable? 5 blocks? Outside the city of New York? The borders of the US? Really, think about that question. If you really believe the borders of the US, please go find a Christian nation to live in and leave this one to those of us willing to tolerate others and truly exist within a democracy. By the way, part of the principle of democracy is for the government to protect the rights of minorities from the oppression of the majority.

I was raised in the Catholic church but I have increasingly run further and further away from any church because of the hypocrisy and bigotry often on display. In my observation, those who proclaim themselves 'good' at whatever religion they practice are often the worst. If you are truly a 'good Christian', please act as one. Turn the other cheek. Learn tolerance. Offer kindness to a stranger, even if they are of a different faith than you. Really read the words of Jesus. He was a pretty neat guy with a lot of good things to say. 

And while we are on the topic of religion, if the Jews should have the Holy Land and Israel back, then we should all be packing our bags and giving the entire western hemisphere back to the native peoples who lived here before Europeans 'discovered' it. I am not siding against Israel. I am just not choosing to blindly support her. If all lands that had ever been conquered were given back to the people who were there first, we'd have some big political problems on our hands. So that's not a good argument. That's the conundrum of that particular problem: both sides (Israel and Palestine) have some in both the good and bad columns.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Our luck with cats

Our luck with cats is mixed. We have always been lucky in finding very friendly cats. But health has been another issue.

I had had Omra for most of my life when we got married. I got her when I was about 10 or so. She had been abused before entering my life and was very particular. She didn't like most people but she picked Chris. Talk about fate. She had been on thyroid medication for a number of years, but shortly after we got married she went blind. Her eyes had big blood spots in them due to high blood pressure. Turns out she was in kidney failure. That fall, at the age of 18, we let her go.

Our second cat is Siofra. We got her as a kitten the fall before we got married. A co-worked brought her in to the office as part of a litter of kittens they were looking to find homes for. All the other kittens found homes, but no one wanted the black one. Siofra is the sweetest cat and is healthy.

Our first summer we adopted both Roarke and Ciaran. Roarke was the kitten of a stray cat that had her litter in one of Chris's co-worker's garage. Once again, the other cats found homes, but no one wanted the black one. Roarke is a prickly cat, but he loves to cuddle (on his own terms). And he's healthy, although fat.

Ciaran was a stray, about 4 months old, who had taken up residence under another of Chris's co-workers porch. She couldn't keep him so we adopted him. Ciaran is so friendly. He just wants to be loved. He knows he has a good thing and let's us know that often. He is also healthy.

A few years later, we adopted Pepper. We found her at PetSmart; she had come from the Martinsville shelter. She was a spunky cat, living up to her name. Roarke liked her; she challenged him. A short 3 years later, we found out she had feline leukemia. She had originally tested negative, but it was a false positive. She was only visibly sick for a few days before we got her to the vet... and she didn't come home.

Last fall, we adopted 2 adorable kittens. We found them at Petco, from the Brown County shelter. We named them Cole and Dinah. Cole is extremely friendly, sometimes aggressively so. He also seems to be very healthy at this point.

Dinah is another story. She is a very sweet but shy cat. And tiny, smaller even than Pepper, our 6 pound wonder. And the last week or so we had noticed she seemed a little bony. And yesterday she peed in the kitchen - it was clear something was wrong. So we took her to the vet today. The prognosis right now, which is probably correct but they are doing some tests to confirm for sure, is not good. She apparently has feline infectious peritonitis. There is no treatment; it is fatal. She will likely not be with us much longer.

We have had 7 cats. Three have come from shelters. Of those 3, 2 have had fatal illnesses. Given the prognosis and other factors, we won't be getting any new cats for a very long time. When we eventually do, I don't know if we will get a shelter cat. We really want to help and give a shelter cat a home, but our luck there has just not been good.

And to answer the inevitable questions:
Yes, all of our cats are and have been black.
No, they are not related (although it is possible Cole and Dinah are).
Omra came with her name.
Siofra is Gaelic meaning 'little elf'.
Ciaran is Gaelic meaning 'black'.
Roarke is named for one of the main characters in J.D. Robb's 'In Death' series, a tall, mysterious Irishman.
Pepper came with her name.
Cole is a play on words as he is coal black.
Dinah is named for Alice's cat in 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The other side of family

I heard yesterday that one of my uncles died. My dad called yesterday to tell me he had heard his brother died from someone who saw the obituary in the Chicago Tribune and recognized the name. We found out in a similar fashion last year that his father died. It's odd. I haven't seen or spoken to my dad's side of the family in 16 years for reasons I won't get into here. So when I hear news of one of them, it feels a little... peculiar.

Growing up, I never felt particularly close to my dad's parents. I think when we were younger, they were a little more involved. But seeing them 3 times a year seemed a 'command performance' where we were to be on our best behavior. And once the first (and only) grandson was born, I just felt more and more that we were after-thoughts. Always feeling second-best, never good enough, is demoralizing. 

I can't say I've thought too much about the fact that there are other people out there with whom I share DNA. I even forget sometimes. We have so little in common - at least that I remember. Maybe things are different now, but they have never tried to reconnect with me. And for those reasons I won't get into, I prefer not to initiate. 

Last night's bedtime musing was spurred by all this. Chris and I are both much closer to our mothers' sides of the family. But we are close to both sets of our parents. I don't see any sort of break happening so the boys will always grow up with four loving grandparents. It makes me happy that we get along with each other's parents and our parents get along so well with each other. It may be weird, but they do stuff together sometimes - without us. 

And that's a really nice way to blend our families. I think it's much healthier than the oft-heard tales of woe between one spouse and the other's parents or between the two sets of parents. I like that we often spend holidays with everyone together, even when we aren't hosting. Yes, it makes it easier not to have to figure out how to divide holidays, but it also makes for a really happy, joyful time for us and the boys.

Monday, August 9, 2010

GenCon 2010

Chris and I went to our first GenCon this past weekend. I don't know why we haven't gone before, but every year we say we need to and it just doesn't work out. Needless to say, we're already planning for next year!


The day started early with a drive to Urbana to leave the boys with Grandma and Grandpa for the weekend. From there, we headed to Indy and a great weekend!

We arrived at the convention at around 3:30, picked up our badges, and did a quick survey of the Exhibitor Hall before heading to our first seminar called "Independent Geek Film Industry." It was an informative hour and solidified that what we are doing with Starrynight Productions is on the right track.

After the seminar it was dinner time. We had a nice meal at Champp's in Circle Center Mall with the Cooks and one of their friends. Then we walked around a bit checking out the games going on all around the convention center. But it was 9 and we had an hour drive home, so we called it a night. We drove back and forth each day to save money on hotels and be able to feed the cats.


Friday morning was an early morning. We got up at 6:30 (we were too excited to sleep) and got up to Indy around 10 after a brief stop at Chris's work to pick up a package.... which we couldn't because the office which was supposed to be open at 8 wasn't at 8:15.

We headed straight to the Westin Hotel where Wil Wheaton was speaking at 11. Good thing we got there so early. We were in the 7th row to one side when they finally seated us. The talk, "I'm Wil Wheaton, and I'm a Gamer," was everything we could have hoped. I am so glad we were able to be there.

Next we headed straight to the Exhibitor Hall and waited in line 2 hours to meet Wil Wheaton and get autographs. And yes, we each gave him a die for his collection. I picked a D6. Chris gave him the D12 from his original set. He was really nice and signed a dvd for a very pregnant friend who couldn't stand in line that long. And he really got into the 3D picture Chris took.

Then it was off to the Westin for a seminar called "Independent Filmmaking: Preproduction" which also reinforced that Starrynight is doing a lot of things right.

And back to the Exhibitor Hall to spend another 2 hours in line waiting for autographs from several cast members from "The Guild" - Felicia Day, Sandeep Parikh, Jeff Lewis and Robin Thorsen. Once again, they were all very nice and were really excited about the 3D pictures.

Shortly after the Exhibitor Hall closed at 6, we headed home. We were very tired and wanted to save our energy for Saturday.


Saturday we didn't have anything scheduled until 2, so we took it easy and arrived later. We slept in a bit, met Chris's dad for lunch, then headed to the convention center.

Our 2 o'clock event was a game of Red Dragon Inn with one of the creators. It was an 11 person game!!! We play tested with some of the new characters that will be released some time this fall when RDI 3 comes out. If you have never played RDI, I highly recommend you do. It is a lot of fun.

We were able to watch much of the costume parade at 3 since it went right past the table we were playing at. There were a lot of really great costumes. While we didn't dress up this year, we are already thinking about costumes for next year!

We were scheduled to watch "All's Weird That Ends Weird" at 5 but decided our time could be better spent on the Exhibitor Hall floor since we hadn't really had a chance to explore much. Most of our time there had been spent in autograph lines. We met up with Amanda and walked together a bit. We picked up a few things - a set of dice for me (Chris is so proud I now have my first set of dice and don't have to use one of his spare bags), Cthulu Dice game, 2 t-shirts (a cylon toaster and Sheldon's friendship algorithm from Big Bang Theory - I didn't see rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spock or I would have gotten that), our official GenCon dice set, and the first pieces of our costumes for next year. We're planning to go steampunk.

I am really drawn to steampunk. There is a lot of appeal in the mix of Victorian sensibility and steam-powered technology. Really, the steampunk laptop says it all.

But to get back on track, when the Exhibitor Hall closed at 6, we got a quick bite to eat in the convention center then headed to the Westin to wait in line for the "Adventures of 'The Guild'" panel. It was around 6:30 when we got in line for the 8 o'clock panel, but the line was already snaking around the 2nd floor. Luckily, they started seating early and we were in the 5th row! The session was mostly questions from the audience. It was really fun to hear the answers and find out how they started, how they cast the show, the shoestring budget the first year, etc.

By 9 when the panel was done, so were we. While gaming went on all night and there was more Sunday, that was the end of our GenCon experience. We slept in a bit Sunday morning then drove to Rockville to pick up the boys from my parents.

If you have red-cyan 3D glasses, click through some of the links to the pictures Chris took. They are in his Facebook album. He hasn't made 2D copies yet, but maybe....

Already looking forward to next year, August 4-7.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

AT&T redeems itself some

We have had a lot of problems with our phone and/or internet service through AT&T lately. Our phone was dead last week from at least Monday when I noticed it until Friday evening. A week or so before our internet kept going out.

Calling and dealing with technical support has been an exercise in frustration. The biggest problem was that some of the techs sounded like they weren't sure what the error messages I was getting meant (they may have, but their voices didn't reflect that). And they all managed to implicitly or explicitly indicate that problem was on my end, with my equipment - and every time it was a problem on their end!

I did talk to someone in customer service mid-week last week who was very helpful. She was able to explain things well, gave us a credit for our internet outage (the phone outage apparently is supposed to have an automatic credit on our next bill) and most importantly sounded like she knew what she was talking about.

So I googled for an email address for someone to write and complain to. The person whose email I found was not the correct person, but she actually forwarded my message on. I received an email message in return asking for contact information and our location so the right regional executive office could contact me.

Friday evening I received a call from the Texas Executive Office while the technician was actually here. And I actually just got another call (Tuesday) from the Executive Office (the number was Indy) to make sure our phone was working and we weren't having additional problems.

All in all, while it was very frustrating dealing with repair/tech support, I appreciate that when I complained  it was taken seriously and someone called me.

Oh, and one of the things the customer service rep mentioned is that one reason they are really pushing U-verse in our area is that it is a lot more reliable. She suggested that as a way to reduce some of the problems since it runs on new fiber optic cables. It would cost a little more per month, but we are seriously thinking about it. We had tried a year and a half ago but the signal didn't reach us. They have done a lot of upgrading since then and we should be able to get it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A hard lesson

Wil is learning a hard lesson today. Hopefully Sam will learn some too.

The boys have not been behaving well recently, running off, disobeying, not listening, etc. Today Wil earned his 3rd train for potty training. So off we went to the book store to pick up Percy.

They did a very nice job playing... until I told them it was time to go. Then they both ran off in opposite directions. Once I corralled them and got them to the register, Wil politely put Percy on the counter and Sam ran off again. And of course when I went to get Sam, Wil decided it was a good idea to run off as well.

This is typical of what they have been like lately. It's worse when we are trying to get in the car and one of them darts off, usually Sam, into a parking lot. I just don't have enough hands to always hold both of theirs, and they take advantage of those few seconds while I fumble for keys, open a door, whatever.

So the hard lesson: we walked out of the store without Percy and Wil has to earn him again. I am also taking away a toy of Sam's although I haven't decided which one yet. It needs to be one with impact.

I feel bad that Wil cried on the way home and is now mad at me, but I'm mad at both of them. This is not acceptable behavior and it needs to stop. If this is how I get their attention, then that's the way it has to be.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

What we hold dear

I've been thinking about the nature of family recently.

My mom's family was always close when I was growing up. We saw all the cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents at least once a month. It helped that there were so many of us grandkids with birthdays, but even when we stopped celebrating those, there were holidays and just times to get together at the grandparents' house. We all lived within a short distance of each other, so it was easy.

Chris's family has always been spread out all over the country, often not all on the same continent. Seeing everyone was, and still is, a rare occasion. With plane travel usually required to visit, it took planning, effort, time and money to gather.

What I find interesting is that my family rarely gets together now other than for weddings while Chris's was all for a family reunion, which we had in June. There are a lot of reasons. My grandparents are gone; Chris's are still around to unify the family as a unit. His family is used to being spread out and sees the rare occasion to get as many as possible together as a major event. My family is spread out now, but I think we're not used to having to put so much effort into getting together. Since we spent so much time together, it just doesn't seem as important to gather.

I'm sure there are lots of other reasons, but it's kind of sad to me that we need a big celebration to find the time and money to want to be together. And I know it can be a lot of money for those coming from far away and many of us just don't have a lot of extra. I admit Chris and I don't make as much effort to get up to Chicago to see the relatives there. Chris is actually the one who pushes sometimes when I shrug something off as 'just family' by reminding me (I know! Really, I know!) that family is important and we need to make the effort for family.

We choose our friends, but we don't usually get to choose our relatives. And that's not a bad thing. Having that tie that is so hard to break adds grounding. It adds responsibility but shouldn't be a burden. It means having people in your life that are there, no matter what, and you can't get rid of them easily. Family is part of belonging, even when you don't fit in. We're lucky we have families that are good-natured, caring, easy to get along with, and fun. We are extremely lucky that we like each other's family and that our families get along so well together.

I hope we can keep up the momentum of Downs Family Reunions every 5 years or so. More often would be nice in theory, but I think that might be the limit of practicality. I'd love to start a Caponi Family Reunion every 5 years or so as well. It's been 2 years since the last family wedding, so be prepared, Caponis, for a get together in a few years!

While it's great we keep up via Facebook, we need to see each other from time to time. The newest generation needs to get to know all of us and each other. I want my boys to know their extended family.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Potty training: baby steps

I apologize to all who are offended, but this is a major part of our lives right now. You know the subject from the title, so read no further if you don't want to know. :)

We're slowly making progress with potty training. Wil is doing reasonably well if we leave him pantsless. He even earned Gordon, one of the "Thomas and Friends" trains, earlier in the week. We have had some accidents, and he feels bad about those. For example, the other day, he pooped on the playroom floor. When he finally peed in the potty later, he really needed to hear "yay!" - and mine wasn't enough. I think after the setback, positive reinforcement was very important.

The biggest step is that he sometimes tells me now that "the pee is coming!" and we get him on the potty and he pees right away. This is HUGE! Now if only he could recognize that feeling every time.... We do have false alarms, where he thinks he needs to pee, but he doesn't. But I am so happy that we have reached this step and it is only the beginning of July. At the rate we were going, I was afraid Sam would start school and Wil would have to stay home. I'm feeling more confident that he will get it by mid-August.

After a few more days of him telling me when he has to go, I think I will try putting underpants on him. We've tried off and on in the past, but he forgets and goes just like in a diaper. When he has pull-ups on, he will even tell me that he doesn't have to sit on the potty because he can go in the diaper, so we really need to get him in underpants, telling me he needs to go. For now, he's in pull-ups when we go out, because he's not ready for the next step yet.

I know a lot of kids learn in 3 days with a method where you watch them like a hawk. We've had so many backfires in the past and Wil has been so resistant that I am not even going to try that. What we're doing is working for him.

For anyone keeping score, to start, he got 1 sticker to pee, 2 to poop. We had daily prizes ($1 bin buys) and at 25 stickers he earned a train. It took over a month to get to 25. Now that he's getting it, we have added an additional sticker if he tells us he has to go and does, so he could earn a total of 4 at a time (which he just did!) and when he gets to 30 stickers he will get another train. Since this one is going much faster (he's at 17/30) than last time, we will probably change the metric or bump up to 50 stickers for the next one, but we can't change the rules mid-play so he'll probably have his next train in a week or so at this rate.

I know it is bribery, but it is making him interested and he is even starting to admit that it feels better to poop in the potty than to sit in a dirty diaper. Considering we were calling the grandparents every time he used the potty in the beginning and are up to updates every few days (other than when he really wants reinforcement), I hope that in a few more trains we can really stretch it out or he will forget altogether. Although he really wants trains and likes the idea of earning them. He has a whole list he wants to get: Thomas, James, Percy, Annie & Clarabel, the Express, Lady, Toby, Emily, Diesel 10, Henry, Edward.....

Saturday, June 19, 2010

January 5, 1994

After 16 years (that long already??!?), I still remember that date. Why is that date important to me? It is the date I quite drinking Mountain Dew.

My first trimester of college I started drinking Mountain Dew for the caffeine kick. I hate coffee, so I turned to soda. I guess Coke just wasn't enough, because I don't really like Mountain Dew either, but I was drinking it.

The turning point came when I returned from Christmas break. At breakfast on January 5, 1994, I noticed that I had 3 glasses of Mountain Dew on my tray - and I didn't even like it! Why? Because I thought I needed the caffeine to get through the day.

I stopped cold turkey. I switched to juice with my breakfast. I do drink the occasional Coke, but I don't crave it, usually. I admit I have days when I'm exhausted and really need the caffeine, but I feel much better not having to depend on a chemical to get me through the day. The first couple of days were rough until my body learned to fuel itself. Yes, your body does have to adjust to not having caffeine if you've been drinking it regularly.

The reason for this reminiscence is that Chris is trying to cut himself off from Coke. He's been depending on it too much and wants to stop drinking it every day. So today he is trying to go cold turkey. Hopefully he will stick with it. I think in a few days he'll feel better, but it will probably be rough for a few days.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Potty training: a psychology experiment

I really think potty training is a psychology experiment. Each child has something different that makes them tick and discovering what works and what doesn't is frustrating in the extreme.

We're trying to potty train Wil this summer. He will be in the 3 year old class at school next year, which means he has to be potty trained by mid-August. We have tried potty training a few times before without success, so we're taking it easy this time and hoping it will stick.

We've watched videos, including the much-lauded Elmo potty video. While enjoyable, that didn't do the trick. We have potty books. He loves the pee book, but hasn't connected it to himself.

We've tried having him sit every hour. Nope, he has the control to hold it until he's off. We even tried dribbling warm water on him while he was sitting. Didn't work.

We have sticker charts with a reward for filling the chart in. That sort of works, as he tells me he gets a treat for filling the chart in, but I don't think it is concrete enough.

I think he is so used to going in a diaper, he doesn't feel comfortable going without one. So, we're trying leaving him commando until he goes. Right now, I am aiming for once a day. Once we have that down, we will try for more, but I don't want to push too hard and fail again. Between realizing that he would hold it until he had a diaper or underpants on, and his asking for a diaper, I think I might be on the right track.

We are also offering small prizes each time he goes because waiting for a big one was too long. He'll still get a big prize when he fills the chart, but he needs more positive reinforcement right now. I took him to the friends of the library book store to pick out his first prize, a 50¢ book, and picked up a few more for the next few days. Today I picked up a couple of inexpensive books at Barnes & Noble (they were buy 2, get the 3rd free) for when he fills a row on his chart. I can also get some small gifts at the dollar store or the dollar bin at Target. I'm hoping to drop the daily prize once he gets to a big prize and just have him get a reward for filling a chart in the next few weeks.

He definitely feels proud when he goes in the potty. He has told his grandmas and some neighbors that he peed in the potty. Having people he looks up to get excited helps him get excited.

One of the breakthroughs came the other evening when he told me Buzz Lightyear wears big boy underpants because he uses the potty. Maybe as we get closer to school, that will finally make an impression and motivate him.

So our experiment is continuing as we find the keys to making Wil want to use the potty. I am really looking forward to getting both boys out of diapers. I am over changing them, plus they are expensive. Our budget would definitely improve without spending $100/month on diapers and wipes.

If anyone has any other suggestions, I am willing to try them. Once Wil is well on his way, I am going to work on Sam. I was going to try both at the same time, but really needed to concentrate on Wil. I don't think Sam is quite ready, although he's motivated and interested, so waiting a few months with him is ok. He's not even 2 yet!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Family reunion

This weekend was the Downs' Family Reunion. We all met at Oma & Opa's house in Evansville, IN for a weekend of food, fun and more food. We all had a really great time despite the boys having slight colds. Sam was very cranky, but still had fun.

We arrived Friday evening and enjoyed pizza and lasagna, Debi's peanut butter cake and Aunt Linda's lemon cookies with Oma & Opa, Chris's parents Jon & Debi, Uncle Jerry & Aunt Linda, cousin Jeremy & Katie & Claire, Uncle Nelson & Aunt Bonnie, cousin Brian & his girlfriend Courtney. The boys enjoyed meeting their second cousin Claire who is 4. Highlights included Sam playing with Brian's feet, everyone enthralled watching "Up" (many for the first time), Wil and Claire putting a puzzle together and CVS truck PEZ dispensers for the kids. Finally it was off to the hotel to sleep.

Saturday started early after a miserable night sleeping. Lesson: the boys both move too much in their sleep to share a bed. Also, sound carries a lot and people were down in the pool area talking all night. We enjoyed our free buffet breakfast at the hotel before once again heading to Oma & Opa's house. Cousin Valerie & her boyfriend R.C. had arrived early in the morning and my parents were expected around lunch time.

We brought our badminton set so Valerie, Aunt Bonnie and I introduced Courtney to the game with a friendly volley.... when we could keep the birdie going! It was hot so that didn't last too long before we all tired. Lunch was a picnic of ham and turkey sandwiches, chips, and some cold pizza. My parents brought their bocci set, which was a very popular game with almost everyone there playing at least one round. (Badminton did get played more later as it clouded up a bit.) Oma & Opa's dear friend and 'adopted' daughter Ahn & her fiance also came over for the afternoon and evening.

As the afternoon became sweltering, most of us went to the hotel to swim in the indoor pool for an hour or so, while the others relaxed as well. The pool was very fun and made an impression on Sam. He was talking about swimming in the hotel pool on the way home. Claire followed Chris around in the water quite a bit, which he enjoyed. R.C. almost fell in a very comic AFV fashion on the slippery deck while hopping over a channel. Wil and Sam blew some bubbles in the 'big' pool, but the boys spent much of their time in the 9" deep kiddie pool with Grandma Barb.

After swimming, we all went back to Oma & Opa's for a cookout. We had brats, burgers, hot dogs, Oma's potato salad, Uncle Nelson's baked beans, fruit salad, spinach & strawberry salad, Caponi Macaroni, Uncle Nelson's cheesecakes (raspberry and toasted almond), and mis-named 'Better Than Sex' cake (hey - it's not even chocolate!)

Unfortunately, Opa pulled a muscle in his back while helping to take Uncle Nelson's canopy tent down and Sam ran into things and bumped his head several times throughout the day, but we were othewise injury-free. The kids asked to watch "Cars"but the boys were getting cranky and losing interest part way through, so Grandma Barb & Grandpa Tom, who were also tired, took them back to the hotel to go to sleep while everyone else watched the movie. Saturday night was much better since Grandma Debi requested a crib for Sam. With the boys in their own beds, they slept through the night.

Sunday morning was again an early one (darn time change!) We had a light breakfast at the hotel's free buffet again before heading back to Oma & Opa's where brunch would be served ay 11. As we were leaving the hotel, Debi mentioned that she loved the hotel's shampoo and asked if we had used ours or if she could have it. Since she raved about it, we asked Jeremy, Brian and Courtney, who we ran into as we were loading the car and checking out, to bring her a bottle if they had one they didn't need. I thought it would be a fun thing to have everyone offer her one, plus it was a nice thank you for all her hard work putting this together.

While waiting for everyone to arrive back at Oma & Opa's house, Chris & I asked Opa to tell some family stories while we, and by we I mean Chris, video taped it. Jon, who is experienced at this sort of interview from his work with Ray Bradbury, stepped in to ask questions and elicited a lot of really great information. Oma joined in at the end with a few of her own stories, as well. We learned a lot of family history, especially since Jon knew what questions to ask. We'd really love to capture more. (There were plenty of family stories told by everyone all weekend. Too bad we couldn't capture all of them.)

Brunch, since I've shared all the other meals, included ham & cheese biscuits, bacon, potato breakfast casserole, and sticky buns. After eating one last meal with the family, it was time to divvy up the leftovers and head home.

We had a wonderful time and only regret that more of the family wasn't able to come and that there wasn't more time to spend with everyone. We missed cousin Julie & Ashley, cousin John Spencer, Uncle Wes, cousin Alex and cousin Caroline. Julie is performing as a backup singer on Brooks & Dunn's farewell tour - check it out if they come to a city near you - and had shows all weekend. I really enjoyed finally meeting Jeremy, Katie and Claire. And, with family spread all over the States (all on the same continent for once!), we don't get to see the Ohio or Florida Downs nearly as often as we'd like.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

On the importance of babysitters

Yesterday, my friend Anne and I were talking about the importance of having time away from our kids. This is a conversation that comes up from time to time amongst moms. There are some who seem to think wanting to be away from your kids is a terrible thing and means you aren't dedicated to being a parent. But I, and almost every parent I know, disagrees. And here are a few of the reasons why.

As a parent, my job is to foster self-reliance and eventual independence in my children. These are lessons they need to learn or they will never be able to go out on their own. If they have no idea how to survive in the world without me there, how will they be able to attend college? And get a job? And maybe get married, have their own kids?

Big life skill lessons are something that are good to start early. As toddlers and preschoolers, a few hours without mom and dad starts teaching them that they are independent beings and they are capable of playing and doing other things without me. Oh what a help that is at home! Once they begin to learn that lesson, they can play by themselves for a bit while I cook dinner or clean house. And I don't have multiple interruptions! If you just wait until they go to school, it will be much harder. The whole point is to establish 'normal' as 'mom and dad can go to a movie and they will still come home.'

It is also very important for mom to get away and develop her own interests. This isn't mean or selfish. To really truly teach your children to find their passions, you need to show them that you have some. Seeing mom and dad as people may not sink in when they are young, but they will be learning that lesson despite themselves. They will see what you are passionate about and maybe be interested in the same thing. Or not, but at least they see that having a hobby, something that interests you, is a good thing.

And here's a biggie: parents need to go out on dates, have time to develop their relationship as spouses. Yes, the kids go to bed and we have a couple of hours before we join the land of slumber. But that isn't the same. We're still parents, catching up on housework or just decompressing while the little ones fall asleep. A frightening number of marriages end in divorce after the kids leave the house because the parents realize they don't really know each other any more, they have nothing in common except the kids. Why does this happen? I think it's because they forget that the most important relationship they have is with each other. Yes, I am a mom. But the caretaking phase of that will only last another dozen or so years and in 16 more they will leave the nest. But I am and will still be a wife. And that's a good thing. That's what I signed on for 7 years ago.

In college, I did an experiment in a biology class that kind of relates. I had two plants. One had its basic needs met (sunlight, water). The other plant was pampered with extra nutrients, etc. Plant 1 did ok while plant 2 thrived under all that extra care..... until the experiment was over and they both got basic care. Plant 1 showed its mettle then. It had learned to help itself. While it wasn't as big as the other, it was slow and steady and reliable. Plant 2 withered under the lack of pampering. It hadn't developed the systems needed to take care of itself and support all the extra growth on its own.

While the analogy isn't perfect, think of all the young adults you know who have had everything handed to them, with mom and dad always coming to the rescue. Then they go to college and can't cope. They still need mom and dad to call the professor and explain why they didn't finish their homework. Or they fail because mom and dad finally cut those apron strings and don't help. Then think of all the other young adults who learned self-reliance. Those are the leaders who get stuff done and thrive on their own. They have the groundwork to support themselves.

So, here's the bottom line: take time out from your kids. It is healthier for you, for them, and for your marriage. It's ok to send them to preschool so you have a few hours on your own. It's wonderful for them to spend a weekend at grandma and grandpa's house (and what a way to develop that relationship!). Find a babysitter or a neighbor or a friend or join a babysitting co-op and have a mom's night out and a date night. Those are important and don't mean you don't love your kids. They mean you do love them and are doing your best for them.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Garden pictures

I took some pictures of the vegetables and herbs we are growing.

Here is the box Chris made last year. This year it has parsley, rosemary, basil, thyme, cucumbers, oregano and beans (seeds, on the end):

Next is a pot of spinach plants:

My tomatoes (roma and grape):

Fennel that re-seeds itself every year:

Chives that we've grown by the front steps for several years:

Thyme that we've been encouraging as a ground cover near the front steps:

And..... our first apples on the tree we planted last year! There are only 2, but I didn't expect to get any this soon.

I'm really encouraged by the apples. I hope the plants I planted today do well and we get a nice harvest.

A garden grows... again

I finally bought plants and started our garden today. I like to wait until May to avoid the last frost. This year we've had so much rain and other commitments it took me a while to get things planted.

I planted beans, cucumbers, basil, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and oregano in the planter box plus grape tomatoes, roma tomatoes, and spinach in pots. I don't have any pictures, but there isn't much to see at the moment. I haven't tried spinach before and it's been years since I've planted beans and cucumbers, so we will see how things fair. I also have fennel, chives and more thyme growing in various parts of the yard, but those come back every year.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Tonight is Wil's preschool end of year program. His class is singing one song. The play will be done by the pre-K class, which will also be 'graduating'.

Both grandmas and one grandpa will be coming to see the program (and have dinner) tonight. Unfortunately, Grandpa Tom has to work tonight. To some people, my mom driving 3 hours and my in-laws driving down from Indy to hear a grandson sing one song might be peculiar. But it will mean something to Wil that his grandparents were there. He doesn't really get that it's a long way for them to come. But he's excited they'll be there.

These are the moments that build the memories that last a lifetime. I remember my grandparents coming to concerts and shows. Granted, it was easy for my grandparents, living 20 minutes away.

I'm glad our kids have grandparents who are a big part of their lives. They love going to grandma and grandpa's house for the weekend (doesn't matter which, they love going to both sets.)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

I just want to be me

I love my kids. But sometimes I feel stuck because of them.

When there are outside things I want to do, I have to find someone to watch them. It's great if Chris will be home, but with his crazy schedule that doesn't always work. And sometimes we want to get out together. It's wonderful that the grandparents are always willing and eager to take them for a weekend and give us a break, but that doesn't help during the week or when they just can't. So there are babysitters. And babysitters are expensive and have lives of their own.

When all those options pan out, guess who gets to stay home? Yep, Mommy.

Most of the time, we can work something out. But there are times when I can't do something I enjoy. Is it any wonder moms can sometimes feel trapped? I'm much more than just a mom and need to do things for myself.

When does Mommy end and Meagan start? In those moments when I can be a bit of who I was before I had kids - the person I still am when I'm not focused on that other person (Mommy).

I don't think I'm alone in feeling that need to connect with the non-mommy person inside. I need to read, and go out occasionally, and talk to grown ups, and learn new things for the heck of it or my brain and spirit atrophy. And spirit is important for a parent to have. I can't inspire my boys if I can't be inspired myself. It's rather like the instructions on an airplane: put on your own oxygen mask before helping others - because you can't help anyone until you can help yourself.

There are a few things I really try to do: I try to attend book club each month. I read like crazy, in whatever spare moments I can. I do the crossword and Sudoku puzzles every day. I like to go to Moms Night Out when I can. I enjoy planning with Starrynight Productions (and am bummed that I will likely miss the script reading in a few weeks.) I wish I could have joined the Bike and Pedestrian Safety Commission, but Chris's class has been on Monday nights, the night the commission meets, for the last couple of semesters.

I know it will get better as the boys get older. Next fall, both boys will be in preschool 2 days a week, so I will have 5 hours, twice a week, to do something for myself. In a few years they will both be in school every day (and it will be my turn to get a Master's degree.) It has already helped that we have found a couple of reliable babysitters. It'll be wonderful in the fall after Chris's mom retires since she will be more available for weekends (we will really try not to take advantage!).

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Little readers

We're very happy that the boys seem to love reading as much as we do. They love to 'read' on their own or ask us to read to them. And they definitely have favorite books. It probably helps that they see us read all the time. Books are very important to both of us.

Wil loves:
Sam loves: 
I know they have lots more. I highly recommend picking up some of Karen Beaumont's books. They are extremely entertaining. "Doggone Dogs" is hysterical (and teaches counting). Another of hers that we have and enjoy is "I Like Myself". It has a message that we all could learn from. I'd really like to pick up more of her work. Eric Carle, of course, is excellent. Along with getting more of his books, I want to visit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA. 

Some of our favorite authors that we are introducing the boys to include Dr. Seuss, Mercer Mayer, Richard Scarry, Jean and Laurent de Brunhoff (Babar), Corduroy by Don Freeman. 

What are your favorite children's books/authors? 

Monday, April 19, 2010


After deciding that spending $1000 on a really cool play set at Sam's Club was just not in the budget, Chris decided to build a swing set for the boys. They really love to swing.

And then a few days later our neighbor offered us their old play set since their son wasn't using it anymore. Chris is still putting it back together (he didn't finish last night after recruiting a few neighbors to hop it over the fence.) But the boys already love it and we were able to pass the frame he built on to another neighbor. We did keep the swings, which were brand new and were actually the expensive part of the project.

We have great neighbors here.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Homeward Bound

I've decided to participate in the Bloomington Homeward Bound 5K walk next Sunday. I've wanted to do a walk for a while and this seems like a good one to start with.

1) There is no minimum donation to enter. So if I raise $20, I can still do it. Some walks want a minimum.
2) They are family friendly. Some of the walks don't seem to encourage moms with kids in strollers.
3) All the money stays local and goes to local agencies that help the homeless.
4) We've been concentrating our limited funds for charitable donations to local food banks and homeless shelters for the last few years. While it's great to cure diseases, that doesn't do much good if someone doesn't have enough to eat or a place to sleep.

So, if anyone would like to donate to my team, or join my team, I would appreciate it. If not, that's cool.

Some helpful links: Team Eller donation page and Homeward Bound Bloomington.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

No difference

No difference by Shel Silverstein
Small as a peanut
Big as a giant,
We're all the same size
When we turn off the light.
Red black or orange,
Yellow or white
We all look the same
When we turn off the light.
So maybe the way
To make everything right
Is for God to just reach out
And turn off the light!

A few things have conspired to put race/ethnicity in my mind. I guess my thoughts here apply to a lot of differences that people use to separate groups into 'them' and 'us'. Does it really matter what the 'other' is?

I recently read The Help by Kathryn Stockett for book club. A major theme of the novel is race relations. It takes place in Jackson, MS, in the early '60's. At the discussion, one mom brought up the idea from a book she'd been reading that we all need to talk to our kids, as young as 3 and 4 year olds, about race. Another mom, who happens to be African American, talked about how she actually did that with her older daughter, which helped with schoolyard confrontations. A third mom mentioned that she doesn't even think of herself as Asian unless someone points it out to her. And yet another mom who works at a school for children with learning disabilities pointed out that they really strive to not define the children by their difference: they have dyslexia, they aren't dyslexic. Interesting distinction.

Last night I watched an interesting movie, Dancing in September, which follows a fledgling show at a fledgling network. There is a lot more to the story, but the show is about black characters, written and produced by a black woman, at a network that is trying to appease activists because of backlash about the lack of representation for African American actors on tv. It's a really good movie and I recommend it if you want to see a little of what happens to shows we love. Because the show starts as a really good, heartfelt show and slowly becomes that cliche of dumb black characters through suggestions from the network. Because it's all about ratings and keeping advertisers happy.

One of the things that irritates me about a lot of 'ethnic' shows in the last decade or so is that the characters are all caricatures. It doesn't seem to matter if the show centers around a black family or a Latino family, they all seem to have to be dumb. (That's actually even true about comedies centering around white families.) Why do people watch that crap? And why can't we have more shows where the characters just happen to be black/Latino/Asian or whatever? Seriously, the reason The Cosby Show was so good and popular was because the Huxtables could have been any family. They just happened to also be black. It was funny. It was heart-warming. That's what I miss about family comedies.

There is some hope with dramas. At least characters are allowed to be real, normal, and not stupid. I admit I don't watch much tv these days. Between getting the boys in bed and the late schedule, I find too many shows start to feel like a chore. The only serial series we watch regularly are Castle and The Big Bang Theory. Mythbusters, Dirty Jobs and Man Vs. Food are other shows we watch, but it's ok if we miss an episode. So there may be some quality shows out there that I just don't know about (and please feel free to leave suggestions in the comments.)

But back to the topic. First, what is the difference between race and ethnicity? Because I think race is a loaded word used purposely to highlight something that is really a matter of ethnicity. Here's an interesting chart that points out one of the major issues for me: race is defined by governments, not science. And my background is science. The government in the US defines race by skin color, but not all skin colors.

Wouldn't it be nice if we didn't define people by their ancestry? Or by their difference from us? Can we get to a point where someone is a person who happens to be (fill in the blank)? I know it's idealized, but maybe if we all try to change how we talk, we'll change how we think. And if we can't change how we think, maybe at least our kids will think in that idealized way. And maybe one day people will be so mixed (multi-ethnic or multi-racial is a growing demographic as it is), it won't be an issue.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Walk a mile - or two or three

I've been trying to walk a lot lately. It's a form of exercise I can do with the boys (put them in the stroller or wagon and go), plus I hate running and 'working out'. And adding exercise is good for me because it improves my health plus it has the added benefit of possibly losing a little weight or at least toning and slimming so my clothes fit better. I'm not very good at dieting - and that only works on half the issue anyway. Plus, I like food.

I push it when I can, trying to make my walks actually work even if I'm going slow. Thursday I walked to Petco to pick up cat litter. It's about 1.5 miles from home and I was pulling about 50 pounds of toddler in the wagon. Add the 40 pounds of litter on the walk home and the sore muscles are understandable.

Here's the thing: after that walk, I put on a bra and realized it was way too loose. I know that walk alone didn't do it, but it was gratifying to realize that I'm losing some of the fat around my ribcage. (For the record, I lost the girth not the cup size.) I also have dropped 1/2 pound. If this keeps up, I'm well on my way to hopefully having more energy and being healthier.

I'm tired of being tired and I really don't want to have to take daily medication any sooner than I need to, so losing a little weight and trying to be fit is a good way to get there. I should be able to walk 3 or 4 miles easily. I want to get to where my hips, knees and/or back don't hurt at the end of the day.

Aging is inevitable, but I can do it in a better way. I can minimize the damage and hopefully one day become a crusty old broad full of spirit rather than fade away. Yes, there is much more I could do. I could eat better (I'm trying, but I will never be a vegetarian or be able to give up pizza and chocolate.) We try to control portion size so we can eat what we want, just in moderation. I try to eat a lot of fiber (raisin bran is a great source and the boys love it too.) I try to be somewhat aware without being completely paranoid.

I want to LIVE, not just endure. And enjoying a good meal is part of that. So is feeling good and being able to do rather than just watch.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Did I mention I'm addicted to reading?

So here's an update on my earlier list of books to read.


Currently reading: 

On the stack:
On my reading list: