Thursday, June 30, 2011

When in Rome, You Might Not Want to Bring Me

My boys love going through old photo albums and seeing themselves captured on film.  I have completely stocked about 20 albums full of pictures of their childhood thus far.  They can see themselves getting their first bath from Nana.  Or being burped by their father. Or getting swung around by their uncles.

Over the last 7 years, I appear in less than a dozen pictures out of thousands. Of course if you were to review the few I do appear in, three would show me in the hours after childbirth where my cheeks look like they're storing enough acorns for several long winters. I'm wearing no makeup and retaining an additional 6 pounds of fluids from my IV on top of the 50 pounds I packed on with each kid.

Today, Joey found a very old album with my vacation photos. Unfamiliar with seeing his mother in these books, Joey queried, "Who dat mommy?" As I walked over and recognized myself, I started laughing at these old pics that included some of my closest friends and traveling companions.

When I first met my friend Rada, she was already an extensive traveler. She was born in Russia, spoke multiple languages, and had seen much more of the world than I. Yet I dreaded whenever she returned from one of her exotic vacations. She would come to the lunch room at Aon armed with 15 rolls of scenery. There wasn't a single shot of her. In fact, there were no people whatsoever in any of her photographs. It was as though she was scoping out a locale for a movie shoot.

"Where are you?" I demanded, quickly flipping through the weighty stack.

"I was taking the pictures, so I'm obviously not in them," she responded matter-of-factly.

"Rada, what makes vacation photos interesting to people is seeing you in them. If I wanted to see a fantastic picture of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, I'd buy a postcard. But a picture of you next to the Leaning Tower of Pisa...that's something I haven't seen before."

"Go away, Marianne."

At Rada's send-off party (as she headed to Switzerland for her MBA program), she threw out the obligatory and non-binding "come visit me" invite to our large group of work friends.

Little did she know I take those half-hearted, just-trying-to-be-polite invites quite seriously. I wasn't going to let her blow another chance for incredible photo ops and allow her to return with 30 rolls of mountains and sheep. By God, she needed my help. Off to Switzerland I flew like Super-Girl but with in-flight snacks.

What I didn't anticipate was how jet lagged and slap-happy I'd be upon arrival. This was compounded by Rada's unrelenting push to drink and traipse across half of Europe. We were out the door by 8 am every morning and stumbling home shortly before sunrise. She kept insisting sleep was overrated. So when it came time to snapping those classy, timeless pictures I had envisioned...let's just say my judgement was somewhat impaired. For example:

Me (at the Pere Lachaise where Jim Morrison & Oscar Wilde are buried): Hey...(giggle)...Rada....I made you a sign...(giggle)....go stand next to that tombstone.  BWHAAA HAAAAA HAAAA

"I see dead people"
While in Greece, I opted to recreate the iconic image at Iwo Jima by having my friends do a faux-lifting of the Greek flag. Unfortunately, my little disposable camera couldn't quite zoom in like I had planned. But trust me when I say my companions performed admirably. I believe Rada is positioned quite heroically under an armpit.


And what's a vacation without the random Charlie's Angels recreation? This was also taken on the streets of Greece. Unfortunately, Rada looks like she's channeling Elmer Fudd instead of Farrah Fawcett with her stance. I mean when you're not even 5 feet tall, there's really no need to crouch. Just be vaiwy vaiwy quiet...


Our desire to further exploit our reputation as the ugly Americans came to a head (quite literally) at some random castle in France:


I could really go on with another 30 completely irreverent and cringe-worthy photos, but I believe I've already provided an accurate portrayl of my influence on my far more worldly pal. 

And this is why I shouldn't be allowed to have any friends.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Other Man

I'm carrying on a relationship with a married man.  He was introduced to me by my husband who got fed up with all my calls to the firehouse:

The washing machine is making that noise again.

When are you going to take the baby gate down off the wall?

Remember the garage siding that was cracked 2 years ago?  You said you'd handle it right away?  Well, it still isn't handled.

My husband's typical response:  "Well there's nothing I can do about it now.  I'm at work."

My husband's typical response when he got home:  "What?  You want me to fix that right now?  I just got home."

It was a maddening cycle of never knowing when Joe's "sweet spot" was for managing my honey-do list.

And then one day he appeared at my door.  Tall, strapping, blue-eyed Mark.  Carrying a tool box.  He was like an angel sent from heaven.*
Why don't guys ever smile for pictures?

"Um, Marianne?  My name is Mark.  I work with Joe at the firehouse and he said you needed some things done around the house?"

I quickly ran to the kitchen where I found my seven volume set of  things I needed fixed.  He went to work immediately.  He even smiled and engaged the kids while handling power tools.  Such an odd and unique experience.

"Do you...ah...do this for a lot of women?" I asked shyly, convinced that I was not the only frustrated housewife in his life.

"Actually, yes."

"Do the husbands...er...know?"

"Not all the time.  Sometimes I'm asked to park down the street to avoid suspicion."

"And the rest?"

"Well, some of the husbands like to watch.  I think they want to learn a thing or two."

"Does that make you nervous?  Having the husbands rate your performance and all?"

"Naw.  I'm used to it.  Plus, they're the ones paying for it."

I really began to put Mark on a pedestal.  He was the perfect man in my eyes.  Then I got a chance to meet his lovely wife at the holiday party.  I gushed about what a great guy Mark was.  So handy.  So on top of things.  He didn't even swear.  His wife's response?

"Oh, Marianne.  Come by my house sometime.  I'll show you MY list.  I don't think Mark has even changed a light bulb in 3 years."

Apparently, husbands are all the same. 

Still, every few months or so, Mark comes over and works magic around the house.  I almost didn't want to share him with the blogosphere because I'm a rather selfish person.  But if any desperate housewife has been waiting years for an outlet to be added or a shelf to be hung, Mark is your guy.  Drop me a line and I'll send you his number.  Reasonable and discrete. 

*For the record, Mark is a much better looking guy in real life.  I called Joe at work today to ask him to take a photo of Mark when there wasn't anything on fire.  When he sent this picture, I immediately called back:  What's this?  I want a nice, smiling picture of Mark.  Holding a tool maybe.  He looks like a serial killer.  Go get me another one.

You can pretty much imagine Joe's response.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The 1970's, Orange Carpet, and Letter People

The 1970's represent the dawn of my conscious memory.  Instead of entering a world of baby pastels and soft lighting, I arrived on the planet dab smack in the middle of the ugliest aesthetic period of the 20th century.  My parents owned a purple, red, and green couch. We had orange shag carpeting in every room with the matching orange curtains.

Everything was dark back then, and the only light allotted in each room usually came from some flickering stained glass lamp that I firmly blame for my mother's current cataracts. I mean, really? How did people see anything?  I was a kid with perfect vision and I was always bumping into stuff.  Even our dog was black and blended right into our inscrutable existence. We of course named her Smokey.

And to think my parents didn't even do drugs.

The wallpaper in our bathroom had naked cartoon people in all stages of undress.  I got caught once drawing clothes on them with my Crayola. My inner Puritan was evident even back then.

Sorry for getting cut out of the picture, sis, but this was a pre-digital era and Dad wasn't that good at centering.  Plus, it's the only photo I have that shows the glory of the orange carpet and curtains.

My favorite program was The Donny & Marie Show. The only time I was ever sent to my room as a young kid was when I morphed into a 4-year-old demon in need of an exorcism. I thrashed, cried, and even threw things.  The root cause of such an unwieldy display by an otherwise sedate child? I had somehow convinced myself that my parents were lying when they said Donny and Marie weren't on television that night. I was a junkie in need of her bad variety-show fix, and no amount of reason could calm me. Upstairs to my orange and purple prison went I.

I have another very strong memory from the 1970's that I'm not entirely sure my brain processed correctly:  Letter People.  I mean, what educator would have rubber stamped this motley crew of crass and horribly colored letters?  Mr. B with his "beautiful buttons." Or Mr. X who was "all mixed up." As my 1st grade teacher played the Jackson 5 on vinyl, she would introduce us to a new letter each week. We were also handed a red sticker to plop in the middle of our new letter friend. It felt a little dirty. Was this whole psychedelic introduction to the alphabet really how I fell in love with words and writing? Or was this a false memory brought on by the era's strange colors, peculiar smells, and second-hand-happy-smoke?

Somewhere deep down I feel that the 1970's impacted me more than I even know. In an age of hippies, roller derby, and KISS, I liked Donny & Marie. The nice Mormon kids appealed to me while the rest of the world and Letter People scared me to bits. In some way, I was a lot like Miss I ("Itchy Itch") who was just not comfortable in her own skin.


Yet despite it all, I chose orange for my blog. Shag orange.  What was I forgetting here that left such an indelible mark? The innocence of childhood? The early, happy years of my parents' marriage?  The window of time before I had my self-esteem crushed and I really believed nothing too bad could ever really happen?

What was it about the 1970's I'm missing?  They were gone so quickly.  Replaced by an era of shoulder pads and excess. Hurried off the stage before I could appreciate the nuances of their role.

Oh, Donny, I hardly knew ye.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Moms and How They Avoid Electric Shock Therapy

I was cleaning my bathroom the other day and as I wiped the ledge under the mirror, I once again spied the nasty ring my kids left by leaving a glass of water overnight:


Thankfully, I found the perfect way to cover this eyesore by digging up the pretty soaps my friend Susan makes and putting them in a candy dish I got from my Grandmother:


I once again marveled at my friend's skill and talent in the soap-making department. Then I wondered how she found the time to do this with three young girls (including a set of twins).  It got me thinking.

I have another friend who plants a dizzying array of flowers, vegetables, herbs, and ferns season after season. She nurtures, waters, and tends to an army of potted perennials that leave my backyard looking like a wasteland in comparison. She even went so far as to create her own "fairy garden" this summer:


My friend works a stressful job, cares for her family, and yet finds the time to arrange little gnomes in a pot of vines alongside whatever those red flowers are.

We all know about Atheist-Friend who can bake better than most professionals out there. Just today I polished off the last of a batch of blueberry muffins that will surely find their way to my ass before I have to put on a bathing suit again:


Atheist-Friend cooks more than anyone I know.  And she gives most of it away.  Many people find her generosity impressive, but I have a theory she's just trying to keep the rest of us fat.

In writing of the talents of those around me, I can't go much further without recognizing my mom's own area of expertise.  My mom sews better than my 7th grade Home Economics teacher (who really should be fired as I still can't preheat an oven or sew a button on a shirt despite receiving a pity "A" in the class). My mom lovingly created these sparkly (and monogrammed!) Christmas stockings for my boys:


She also made me a beautiful Christmas tree skirt with little angels.  At the time she was working on it, Daniel was obsessed with dying and being forced to wear an angel's dress in heaven.  He asked if Nana would be able to make him some special angel pants in advance of his arrival (since Nana surely would enter heaven well ahead of him). Out of respect for Daniel's wardrobe concerns, the little angels on the skirt are all wearing pants:

 
When I looked at the collective skills and passions of my friends and family, I started to feel like a miserable failure.  I have none of the traditional mom abilities (cooking, sewing, gardening, crafting, creating).  My handwriting is horrible. I'm not that gracious. I curse like a sailor. And I forget everyone's name. How did I miss the boat on becoming a proper lady? Modern times be damned, I really wanted to be good at this stuff.  Yet no matter how much practice or instruction I were to receive now, I would never be able to iron as well as my husband. You'd think the guy had been in the army the way he can smooth pleats.

Regardless of gender roles and such, I began to wonder why my friends pursued such endeavors. They all lead extremely busy lives and I wasn't sure where they found the time. When I questioned several moms about their hobbies, it all seemed to boil down to one constant refrain:

It preserves my sanity.

These pursuits provided an escape of sorts.  A way to do something they enjoyed. Yet to alleviate the guilt most mothers feel over everything, other people (namely me) would also reap the benefits.  Pretty soap. Yummy muffins. Nifty decorations. It was a win-win.

It's funny how many of the hobbies of women seem to benefit those around them.  My husband golfs - not too much altruism going on there. He bowls.  Ditto on the altruism. Still, I struggled to find what I myself could do. What brings me fulfillment that I can pass off as some kind of humanitarian act? In between yelling at the kids about piano, doing laundry, and picking somebody up from wherever I'd left them last, I didn't have a lot of time on my hands.

Then it hit me.  I blog now. That's code for writing.  I love to write!  My handful of loyal readers seem to like my creative output.  Could it be?  I actually had a benevolent, mom-like hobby and didn't even know it?

A lady at last.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Extreme Couponing: Not with My Purse

Not visible: the mail, camera & Tic Tacs
As has been clearly established, I am a bit odd. Part of what makes me odd are the things that bring me great joy. Crazy joy. Mad joy even. Bargain shopping tops that list. The thrill of the hunt and finding that one killer deal.  It's all just so very exhilarating.

The recent success of TLC's show Extreme Couponing has provided me a sense of  camaraderie, proving that I am not the only person whose heart pounds out of her chest when there is a 75% off sale.  On a normal day, I am able to simultaneously drive a car, dish out baby wipes for sticky hands, talk on the phone, drink coffee, and spell words for the kids without missing a beat.

Yet when I'm shopping, I can barely process the spoken word. When friends call me on my cell, I have to fess up that I'm at a store and otherwise incapacitated.

I marvel at the women on Extreme Couponing.  They plan and plot their way to thousands of dollars worth of savings each week. I'll be honest. My own skill level cannot compare to these far superior shoppers. I recognize fully that there is one obvious impediment to reaching that pinacle of success: my purse. I try to put coupons in there, but my purse eats them. I can never find or remember coupons during checkout. Somewhere between Jack's soccer team assignment and my first aid kit lies a black hole that has a taste for coupons.

Despite my purse, I still capitalize on exceptional deals fairly regularly. So in the spirit of sharing, here is a brief offering of things you may be able to get on sale this weekend:

NyQuil Cough:  (Regular Price: $7 CVS' Clearance Price: $1.74)  I picked up these bottles at CVS on Thursday. I have a bronchial cough that lingers for half the year. This stuff is great and paying $1.74 a bottle made me so happy that I didn't even care when I picked up the kids at piano and Miss Laura said I wasn't working them hard enough.  G position was proving exceptionally tricky for Dan and Jack.  I giggled every time Miss Laura said "G position." I can be so immature sometimes.

Harry Potter DVD's:  (Regular Price $5 Five Below's Sale Price: $2.99).  Daniel has been really into the Harry Potter stuff lately and these movies will buy me some peace next week. I can pop them in after a long day of Chess Camp and Park District Camp, and it's like not even having a kid.  Don't get me wrong, I love the boy. Yet over-tired and over-camped Daniel has been no picnic.

Gatorade.  (Regular Price: ? Jewel's Sale Price ?)  I have no idea how much Joe actually spent on the mountains of Gatorade he hauled into the house yesterday.  But I do know we're fully stocked for the Apocalypse.  He was pretty animated (for Joe anyway) and told me he didn't even buy the things on his list because he wanted to have enough room in the car for all his Gatorade. I had to go out a half hour later to buy the milk I originally sent him out to grab.

Of course there was one purchase I made this weekend that was not a bargain. I paid full price. Without guilt or apology. Because every mom needs a little something just for her when the kids are upstairs watching Harry Potter:


For the record, the little umbrellas I got to serve up my Hurricanes were only $1 at Five Below. Cheers!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Excuses, Excuses

The reason I set the overly-optimistic goal of writing in this blog every day for one year  is to prove to myself I can stick with a task. Motherhood doesn't really count as the kids would find me if I tried to run. Yet after a long day, I've got nothing but excuses to offer. Perhaps they can serve in true content's stead just this once:


Excuse #1: I had to pick up the boys from Brother Rice Sports Camp. The counselors give the kids ice cream bars at the end of every day as they storm to their respective minivans.   Ice cream. Because nothing says good health and active living like a frozen dessert bar. The clean-up on this brilliant concept dreamed up by a bunch of men requires half a bag of baby wipes and the patience of someone who is not me.


Excuse #2:  I had to take the boys to their make-up piano lesson for that weekend we went to Milwaukee instead. Dragging tired, full-of-ice-cream boys to piano and trying to convince them that they'll thank me one day is very tiring. They keep asking me when they can quit and I tell them when they're 18. Unless they get a band scholarship, in which case all bets are off.

Excuse #3: I had to stop by Atheist-Friend's house to eat the last piece of coconut cake that nobody was willing to claim. I mean, really? To waste a perfectly good piece of coconut cake is sacrilege. Atheist-Friend would most certainly agree, but just not with that exact wording (being an atheist and all).

Excuse #4: I had to go up to Cork. With a $6/hour babysitter willing to watch the kids for a few hours and mommy in desperate need of a glass of  red, wouldn't you have gone too? We ran into a priest who told us some riotous funeral jokes, some area teachers we know, and the parents of one of the carpool kids I have been corrupting with the soundtrack of Rent all year.

In honor of my one Canadian reader (whoever you may be), I'd like to end today's blog with a quote from humorist and writer Stephen Leacock:

Writing is no trouble: you just jot down ideas as they occur to you. The jotting is simplicity itself - it is the occurring which is difficult.

Let's all raise a glass for some good occurrences today.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Joe, Get Your Axe

With Joe off work for a day, he got that twinkle in his eye which I immediately recognized.

No, not that twinkle.  Come on now, this is a family blog.

He wanted food.  The good stuff.  And once again, he suggested Cemitas Puebla (where Joey choked and had the Heimlich performed on him only weeks before).

I wasn't sure if this was such a good idea given our recent history.  I got out the Magic 8 Ball and posed the question:

Should we drive up north again for some fantastic carne asada?

The response:



Try Again Later?  Sounded like a yes to me.  We wouldn't be leaving for an hour.  That's "later," right?  Perfect.

Joe opted for an alternate route to get there as traffic was horrendous.  I wondered about Mayor Rahm's plan to crack down on "flash mobs" (these would be the beat-the-crap-out-of-you-while-taking-your-wallet variety of mob, not the fun "let's go dance Thriller at Union Station" flash mob who have had their legacy destroyed here in Chicago).  Our newly elected mayor is in for an uphill battle based on our car ride, and I felt horrible for the good law-abiding families who lived here under constant threat of violence.  I started counting how many times I saw gang signs flashed, weapons peaking out from jeans, and apparent drug exchanges during our afternoon escape.  I got to 32 before I got tired.  There was a good Journey song I wanted to sing along with instead.  Happy thoughts....happy thoughts.... 

My dad used to take us through these same neighborhoods when we were kids.  Much like Joe, my dad was always on the hunt for a great dive with phenomenal food.  Yet my dad was in law enforcement and could carry a gun.  What does Joe have?  A fireman's axe.  Isn't there something about not bringing an axe to a gun fight?

At long last, we arrived safely with Joey sleeping soundly through gunfire or possibly firecrackers (let's try to think positively, shall we?) and police sirens.  He is definitely his mother's son.  He wouldn't even wake up for this picture, which I had to take quickly before Joe realized what I was doing.  My husband's response?  You're a dork

Like I haven't heard that one before.

Notice the sign on the left "As Seen on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives." Some people view the show as pure entertainment.  Joe interprets it as a call to arms.

We once again enjoyed a wonderful lunch with great service.  For the drive home, I suggested that Joe take more of a mainstream route.  I only counted 12 potential felonies on our return.  Then there was an REO Speedwagon song on.

I applaud the recent efforts of the head of organized crime division of the Chicago police department, Nick Roti. As detailed in this Chicago Sun-Times article (http://www.suntimes.com/news/crime/6123366-418/police-unleash-war-on-maniac-latin-disciples-gang-arrest-120.html), a big operation was held this week to send a message to the thugs terrorizing the city.   If I've calculated this right, the sting was held shortly after our trip to Cemitas Pueblas (is that why the Magic 8 Ball warned me to Try Again Later?). It will be interesting to see if the same brazen activities will be witnessed during our next excursion (which will probably be in a week or so given Joe's newly acquired love of carne asada).

Keep your fingers crossed!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Quiet Little Neighborhood? Keep Driving.

Just when I thought that Monday's chainsaws and wood chippers couldn't be topped as far as neighborhood noise pollution, I was once again proven wrong.  I awoke Tuesday morning to what sounded like a jackhammer drilling through concrete. And wouldn't you know?   When I looked out my front door, there was a jackhammer drilling through concrete. 

Excuse my "flipped to the side" videography - I wasn't thinking too clearly while filming:

video

I'm not sure if this is part of a master plan to drive our family off the block or pure coincidence.  Perhaps our sprinkler-stealing tendencies have been discovered.  Perhaps the neighbors have heard us use the Lord's name in vain one time too many.  Or perhaps the large, thorny weeds that we have failed to demolish have irked the neighbors beyond repair.  In our defense, we did finally pull those suckers out and I've put enough Preen down on the landscaping to cover us the rest of the summer.

Now if I wake up tomorrow to the sound of a wrecking ball crashing through my garage, I am really going to be suspicious.

I suppose I should strive for some neighborly goodwill given our upcoming contributions to all the morning hullabaloo.  At long last, we will be pouring fresh new cement to compensate for the broken plates of concrete we've been passing off as a driveway since we've moved here.  Our very own jackhammers and bulldozers will be joining the block's home improvement soiree shortly.

Have I mentioned my next door neighbors lately?  You know, the ones I falsely considered to be sprinkler thieves until I was embarrassingly proven a first class nut job?  Well, they just put in a deck addition.  An addition.  To their deck.   I now suffer from deck envy every time I send the boys out on our back step all cramped together eating Freeze Pops.  Since the advent of the new driveway on one side of our house and the new deck addition on the other, the boys are starting to wonder if they chose their parents wisely. 

We couldn't find Joey for a couple minutes the other day while we were outside pulling weeds.   After a bit, I could hear him singing as he rode his tricycle up and down the neighbor's beautiful sealed concrete masterpiece.  When he saw me, he cried out with delight: This one is better mommy!  Can I take it to our house?

Another family sprinkler thief in the making.

Jack has also been clamouring to play basketball outside on our driveway.  With the pointy slabs of concrete liable to sever an artery at first stumble, I'd sooner he play with a nail gun.

Ah, summer.  When the sites and sounds of seasonal home improvements can only lead to a block party of injured feelings and inconvenienced neighbors.  Come to think of it, I haven't yet received any word about our block party this year. 

While our little street may not be the quietest, I guarantee that it is the odds-on favorite for best-maintained.  There is also no doubt that my family is the odds-on favorite for having the most leaves strewn across their lawn in November.

Yeah, I guess I shouldn't be holding my breath for that block party invite any time soon.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Rose by Any Other Name...Would Also Appear on the Frog Car

I'm not always sure how I feel when people come over to my house and laugh at something I hadn't realized was funny.  A prime example of this is the collection of knick-knacks my mother has given to me through the years that include my kids' names. I'm not much of knick-knack person, but when your mom gives you something like...I don't know...a trio of engraved gnomes... you tend to keep it.

My mom's desire to personalize all objects stems back to her own childhood.  Growing up with six children in a tiny two-bedroom home on Washtenaw, everything was communal.  Towels, beds, even undergarments knew many owners.  To have something with her name on it that belonged only to her....it must have been a wonderous concept.  So as a retired nurse on a fixed income, she sets about this earth looking for personalized pieces to give to her grandchildren.  If she finds things in threes, she quickly writes each of the boys names on them.  I have about 50 pesonalized Christmas ornaments my mom has delivered.  When friends come over around the holidays, they laugh at my tree: Wow...you must really like your kids.

I suppose now that it has been pointed out to me, I should find the humor in my Dan/Jack/Joe knick-knacks. But for me, it's always been a little sad as it represents my mom's own unfulfilled dreams as a child to have something exclusively hers. Perhaps I am meant to take a step back and stop insisting that everything is to be shared between my three boys.  To date, I have held joint birthday parties and insisted that if people were to bring gifts, they bring one present to be assigned to all.  Maybe I ought to start encouraging outright ownership and understand a child's desire to hold dear one special toy.  It would go against my nature as a mother, but important lessons sometimes come in the form of three silly green frogs.   

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Joe vs. Wood Chipper

Joe doesn't always see the humor in things.  Like yesterday morning for instance.

My husband limps in after working a 24 hour shift at the firehouse and tells me he doesn't have a call for his second job (a rarity).  Great!  Now he can get the boys packed up and out the door for their first day of Sports Camp! As he smears peanut butter across frozen bread (which is a great way to save money when there's a sale on bread - it freezes beautifully) and packs swimsuits, his mind arrives at a singular idea: he would like a nap. Today please.

For once, I see the guy's point.  He worked Father's Day and just about every other day this month.  His allergies have left his entire face a tad swollen and his eyes look bloodshot.  He can obviously use a break. So after camp drop-offs, a nap it is!

Just grab me a gallon of milk on your way back, eh, honey?

A half hour later, he is opening all the windows in our bedroom (the air-conditioning is still out). Joe sets the ceiling fan on high and tucks in for a good long slumber.

Right as his head hits the pillow, the earth shakes and this horribly loud screeching and thumping noise freezes everyone in their tracks. I look out the window. A huge truck is in our alley (right under our bedroom window) and a bunch of men with chainsaws are hacking off loose tree limbs and dropping them into a giant wood chipper.  I hear Joe shout something that only Joe can say with such unique aggravation and near homicidal rage:

YOU HAVE GOT TO BE F&*CKING KIDDING ME!

The truck remains directly under our window for hours. By the time it moves to the next house, I am starting to see the blog-potential of this turn of events and grab the camera:

video

As each new tree limb is cast into the giant chipper, Joey starts to cry. I also hear some dogs howling in the alley. It is like a symphony of cacophonies.  Joe's bedroom rantings begin to outplay the deafening chipper. To save Joey from learning too many questionable words at age 3, I opt for an emergency visit to Atheist-Friend's house.  Plus, she has coconut cake.

After a few hours, I pick up the boys at camp and head home.  My husband is whipping up some fantastic chicken in a mad hurry as we have our final stop: soccer practice!

When we arrive there, it takes 20 minutes to find the correct field. Once we do, we are handed the bad news: our volunteer soccer coach has quit and apparently moved to Florida...over the course of the last week. During all the confusion, someone spies Joe kicking the ball around with the boys. Before my husband can say "wood chipper," a whistle is thrown around his neck and he is christened AYSO soccer coach.

Joe of course tries to explain that he can't commit to any regular coaching given his wayward schedule. No worries! Just whenever you can make it, sir.  These guys are good. Had they only been outside our house a few hours earlier, they might have reconsidered such a rash appointment of a man so well-versed in the blasphemous arts.

So with no nap, watery eyes, and shaky wood-chipper nerves, Joe leads a bunch of 5-7 year olds through a series of drills and scrimmages.  You can't help but love a guy willing to spontaneously coach soccer wearing sandals and his Breast Cancer Walk shirt.

On the way home, Joe wonders if I could get the boys in bed so he could meet up with some of his cousins for the final innings of the Cubs-Sox game.

It is the least I could do.  Plus, I have a blog to write.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Boys of Summer Are Here

Hear that?

Listen.

No?

That's because my blow dryer is O-F-F (at least for the summer). Buzz cuts have been professionally administered all around, and I have 3 boys who now look like new army recruits.

Back in the days before I lost all sentimentality in favor of pragmatism, I would weep when the stylists would click on their buzzers and remove my babies' precious locks. Those sweet little curls of the toddler years were snatched away in nanoseconds. How cold and heartless it all seemed.

Not anymore. Now I merrily skip into Hair Cuttery and offer up one simple request:

Scalp 'em.


For the cost of $10 a head plus tip, I save hundreds of dollars on haircut costs over the next 4-5 months. Unshackled from having to dry, comb, and style hair for a trio of jumpy boys every morning allows me time to make coffee before piano, chess, violin, soccer, baseball, and mommy's analysis for mothers who over-schedule. We practically saunter out the door once hair becomes a non-issue. Why in the name of all that is holy don't I stick to this cut year-round? The sleep gained! The hours saved! The sanity preserved! Heck, I started to want a buzz cut, too! When I suggested this to my husband, he suggested a divorce. Good to know.


As the final dusting of each neck is performed by the stylists, I look at the mounds of castaway hair  on the floor of Hair Cuttery.  Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last!


Thank you Dan, Jack, and Joey for allowing me to strip you of your Samsonian strength this way. Thank you for not putting up a fight as mommy marches towards a liberated summer. Thank you for not being born girls and demanding french braids and twists (I would have had to outsource to more adept mothers).

Thank you, boys of summer, thank you.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day Thanks

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there with an accurate count of their children! 

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my own father who gave up the seminary as a young man in favor of procreation.  But for the grace of God go I. My dad as a priest?  Holy Moses.  The Church would have never been the same.

In the name of absolute consistency, my husband is spending yet another day at work.  Trudging along through a life of "got to make the donuts." He is at the firehouse today probably wondering how many people will be calling Chicago 911 emergency services for seasonal allergies. Seriously. The pollen count is going to be high - a busy day for sure. This makes me wonder why the appropriate use of 911 is not taught in the Chicago Public Schools. After all, I got my end-of-year paperwork from the Chicago Public Schools reminding me to feed and read to my kids this summer. There was also a list of activities in which I should consider my children to engage:
  • Jump rope
  • Visit your relatives
  • Sit under a tree
  • Ride your bike
  • Build a sand castle at the beach or park
I really appreciated the last one. What would we have done had we arrived at the beach without these instructions? All this sand?  Do we sweep it up?  How do we walk in it?  Where's that sheet? Ohhhhh - see here, we're supposed to build a sand castle. Thank you, thank you CPS. But look! I've got sand in my toes now.  Quick, call 911.

Happy Father's Day, Joe.  Thank you for continuing to make the donuts every day for your often unappreciative wife. I need to remember that many mothers walk this parenting road truly alone without the emotional, financial, or physical support you provide daily. There is nobody with whom to discuss whether a 103 degree fever warrants a 3 am trip to the ER. Nobody to put together the Christmas toys with directions that only electrical engineers can make sense of.  Nobody who can provide assurances on days when one feels like she is doing everything wrong and failing her children miserably. When a son hits his first ball out of the ballpark, who but a father will agree that the world has never known such talent? Who but a father can reassure a lovelorn daughter that he will always be the one man she can count on? I do not know how moms go this alone. They should be issued superhero capes on Father's Day to mark their amazing feat.

Thank you, Joe for making it all that much easier and allowing me to do the one full-time job I love whole-heartedly, despite my complaints to the contrary. We've got your new hammock here, all boxed up and ready for you to assemble. Once you have a day off that is.

Here's hoping for a great day to the many dads out there who take emergency and non-emergency calls from their families. I guess not being able to find the coupon for The Sports Authority could have waited until tomorrow.  Sorry about that, honey.

We love you!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Lenonad Here...Get Your Freshly Squeezed Lenonad!

Daniel's long-time dream of owning and operating his own lemonade establishment is about to come true.  My little entrepreneur has been searching for venture capitalists since he was four years old. His favorite game is to practice giving "change" to imaginary patrons.  He's even scoped out various locations for the greatest amount of foot traffic.  His mother has briefed him on overhead, pricing, and net profit.

He is ready.

Plus, his Uncle John has almost finished building the actual stand.  I'm not sure what to expect, but anything is going to be better than the computer box Daniel asked to use to construct his lemonade stand a few weeks ago.

My boy may have gotten his financial acumen from other people in the family, but he certainly inherited some of his mother's marketing savvy (as well as her spelling deficiencies):



With or without spelling errors, I found Dan's attempt charming. I  may even have it laminated this weekend.  I particularly enjoyed his decision to designate the birth order of each of the stand's proprietors:


For as much as Daniel can turn my hair grey with all his arguing, negotiating, and bargaining, he's got a certain drive that I really respect.  He acquired none of his mother's fatalistic tendencies, and instead sees the world in need of conquering.  For as often as I try to teach Daniel to "play it safe," he insists no obstacle can really stop him. Of course with an adult height predicted in the realm of 6'7" - 6'8," obstacles should know better than to get in Daniel's way.

Hats off  to the little boy who knows no limits.  And a little sympathy please for the poor mom who keeps trying to set them.

Friday, June 17, 2011

There Still Wasn't Any Lightening

This soccer league is going to kill me. I already missed Jack's violin recital to participate in the parent meeting for this most recent addition to my over-scheduled life.  My husband naturally attended the recital instead and got to hear all about Jack's ear and uncanny ability. The one chance I would have to enjoy the fruits of my labor (hours spent overseeing practice) defaulted to Joe. So while I'm at a meeting about water bottles and cleats,  Joe is heralded by the local school community as the great supporter of the arts. The man can't even tell you what a treble clef is. It just figures.

I probably should offer up some selfless notion that the boys' successes belong to them and not me. I call B.S. on that. This child-rearing thing is a lot of work, and if the kids end up as criminals, the mother always gets the blame. So if I am to be charged with their failures, then shouldn't I also be allocated some credit in their successes?   Noble mother complex?  I failed that course along with cooking and sewing. 

Then there was this past Sunday. As many of you have already read, I woke the kids to go paint field soccer lines at 8:15 am. When I arrived, nobody was there and I later discovered that the work had been completed the day before. That evening (when I finally read the requirements to play), I was forced to make an emergency visit to Dick's Sporting Goods to buy shin guards. I did have a $10 off coupon, so perhaps there is some sunshine in this story.

After weeks of preparation, discussion, and misfires, we reached game day in fever pitch. Let's just hope it wasn't due to another round of strep(t).

For 38 yrs., I thought your shins were part of your foot until I bought these shin guards. Biology was never my strong suit.
I looked out the window as game time drew near and watched wave after wave of rain storm rip through the area. No worries. The soccer league people assured the parents several times over that games would be played in rain or shine. Muddy fields were no impediment to the indomitable spirit of 5-7 year olds. If there was no lightening, all games were a go. I suited up the kids in their shiny new shin guards and off we headed to the Dan Ryan Woods.

For the second time in less than a week, I was the only person in the parking lot.  Actually, the parking lot was roped off and I was the only person in the little blacktop area right before the parking lot.  Why did this keep happening to me?  Why was I again feeling like the last kid picked during junior high dodge-ball selection? 

As I drove home in a fit cursing out soccer and all team sports for that matter, I got angrier and angrier:

They said if there was no lightening the kids would play.  Well, there was no lightening.  I didn't see any lightening?  Boys, did you see any lightening? No?  I'll show them lightening.  Just wait until they hear from thunderstorm Marianne.  Stupid stupid stupid soccer.  You kids aren't playing any more organized sports.  We're sticking to chess and your instruments.  Do you hear me?  This whole thing was probably Joe's idea.  Stupid idea.  Stupid stupid stupid...

Let's just say I'm not known for maintaining any semblance of reason while angry.
 
When we got home it was raining again and I could hear our alarm system going off.  I quickly stepped over a box at our front door to deactivate the alarm.  I spent 10 minutes trying to figure out why it wouldn't go off before I realized there was a message on it saying "SEEK COVER IMMEDIATELY....TORNADO WARNING IN EFFECT...."

Oops.  Maybe that's why they cancelled soccer?  Regardless. There still wasn't any lightening. 

If you think my indignity knows no bounds, you would be correct.
I'll gloss over the next hour or so of the children in hysterics and me trying turn off the alarm. Plus, our basement is gross.

After things settled down, I remembered that box I had stepped over on my way in earlier. I went outside to collect it, and thankfully it was dry and intact.

Do you remember that briefcase in the movie Pulp Fiction that glowed?  Everyone coveted it and was willing to kill people to get their hands on it.  Welcome to my gold-lit briefcase:


That's right. In the midst of cancelled soccer practices, tornado warnings, and blaring alarm systems, My Fairy Godmother (Aunt Susie) delivered a care package of coffee. And not just regular coffee, it was the good stuff.   Starbucks.   Along with their standard brews, there was also some of the new VIA instant coffee.  I use those when Joe has already loaded the kids in the car and thinks I'll be right out (which I will be as soon as my water boils).   

Once again I had hit my limit of stress and aggravation. Once again the universe (and Aunt Susie) provided comfort and aid.

Irrefutable evidence that there is a God as far as I'm concerned. If you want to stop by and discuss it over a cup of coffee,  I'm STOCKED.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

House Arrest in the Age of Supernanny

I did it again.  In a fit of anger and frustration, I handed down a punishment that neither the offender nor I found suitable: 2 weeks of house arrest.  With only a week left of school and a sports camp on the horizon for next week, I had just undermined my own parenting by acting too hastily.  Yet after replaying it in my mind, I don't think I was that far off base in blowing a gasket.  A transcript of the moments leading up to swift and severe justice:

As a family of five drives along in their powder blue minivan, a certain obsessive-compulsive 3-year-old drops his favorite toy car and starts wailing....

Marianne: Daniel, can you please hand Joey his car?

Daniel: GOD...why do I always have to do everything around here?  It's not fair.

And then a few minutes later...

Marianne:  Who wants a piece of candy?  I have mints & butterscotch.

Daniel:  I want chocolate.

Marianne:  I don't have chocolate.

Daniel:  Fine.  Then I don't want any.  You never buy what I like.  You're mean.

Marianne:  Did you finish your homework today?

Daniel (throwing himself dramatically back in his seat):  It is SO unfair that I get way more homework than Jack.  I shouldn't even have to do my homework.  I know all the answers anyway. It's, like, so easy.

The family stops to buy over-priced gas.

Marianne:  When we get home, everybody needs to practice their piano and violin.

Daniel:  I am not practicing.  You can just send me to bed.  Without dinner.  That's fine.  I don't even care.  I'm sick of oatmeal.

Marianne (blood pressure rising):  Daniel, can I say one thing without you arguing with me?

Daniel (laughing): You can say a million things and I'll argue with you. It's fun.

That did it.  I instantly found that shrill, high-pitched, fast-talking, yappy speech pattern that most moms and children recognize.  I banished him to 2 weeks of house arrest (no playdates, nobody coming over, no parties, etc.). My husband looked at me from the corner of his eye as if to ask are you sure you want to do this?  But I kept going. With flourish.

Danny started to put forth a flurry of objections, so I added a new caveat.  For every ten things he said that were disagreeable, I'd add another day to his sentence.  Well let's just say by the time we got to the next stop sign, his term was now 15 days.  My husband gave me another look, but this time it was along the lines of I am married to you? Forever? Doh!

As the dust settled, I cringed when I remembered I had committed Daniel already to two upcoming birthday parties.  If there's one thing that drives me crazy, it's people who don't RSVP to parties, or say they're coming and then don't.  Chuck E. Cheese is like $13/head. It adds up quickly.  I racked my brain for a solution.  Then I remembered all those nanny shows Joe and I used to watch when our children were very small (Nanny 911, Supernanny). They used to make us feel better because our kids were just so well-behaved (comparatively speaking).  Yet as the boys got older and their behavior sometimes resembled that of the "bad kids" on those shows, we somehow lost interest.

I recalled that Nanny Jo liked charts.  She was always making charts to reward behavior and the kids responded well to them.  Danny loved charts!  After all, he'd been making them from the time he was 3 to track how many times a week mommy made oatmeal for dinner.

Excitedly, I altered the terms of his imprisonment to encourage positive reactions instead of the amped-up, over-dramatic displays I'd been seeing lately.  Every time Daniel could respond to one of my requests with an unprompted "yes, mom," he'd get a star. For every ten stars, I would wipe one day off his sentence.  If he could achieve consecutive 10-star days, then he would be allowed to attend the birthday parties. If he started up with the arguments, I'd rip a star off.  Here's how we're doing so far:


Over the last several days, I have heard more "yes, moms" than I can remember hearing from Daniel in 7 years.  I suppose I can't fault his nature in wanting to argue every point. He is named after his grandfather who was an attorney who always won his battles.  Dan has the same desire to participate in verbal sparring.  I do not.  I would be deficient in my parenting by not teaching him to respect authority.  Plus, the kid is going to be bigger than me in like 2 years.  I must rein him in now.

So let's keep our fingers crossed that he cuts his sentence in half, or I will have just paid way too much for a camp that only Jack will be attending.  And we all know how much I hate wasting money.

Except on shoes.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Food Network Would Have Stopped Filming

Trying to keep order in a house of boys is no easy task. It is made worse by my husband's endless note-taking on various dining establishments he has seen on cable television that he wishes to try for himself. I have found receipts, gum wrappers, and napkins all over my house with the names of restaurants scribbled across them.

Once Joe retires, his dream in life is to drive around the entire country and eat at all the places highlighted on The Food Network.  Perhaps this is my punishment for never cooking the man a decent meal.  We had a talk once about his dream:

Me:  This is what you want to do after working 2 jobs for 20 plus years?  You want to drive around and eat?

Joe:  Yup.

Me:  We'll each weigh 600 pounds.  Have you thought of that?

Joe:  Yup.

Me:  And?

Joe:  We'll play golf between lunch and dinner.

I'm not sure what kind of aerobic, fat-burning golf Joe plays, but my style usually involves a cart and a cocktail.  Still, I had to give the man credit.  He had a vision and a plan. 

Since there are still quite a few years before Joe retires, I try to be the supportive wife by going with him in search of local restaurants featured on The Food Network.  On Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, a northside Mexican restaurant called Cemitas Puebla was highlighted.  Joe took special note of host Guy Fieri.  Because my husband watches these food shows so often, he insists he can tell the difference between Guy just faking an enthusiastic bite of local fare and when Guy really seems to find the food exceptional.  When he watched the Cemitas Puebla show, he told me that it was the happiest he'd ever seen Guy while eating food.  I took his word for it.

With the older boys at school one sunny afternoon, we packed up Joey and aimed our minivan north.  Upon arrival, the apparent manager greeted us warmly and explained the menu.  Our food was delivered quickly and I immediately began to value Joe's vision.  The food made my eyes water - it was just that good.  Yet before I had a chance to take a second bite, Joey started choking on his steak taco - the kind of choking where absolutely no air is getting through and a kid's eyes start bulging out of his head.

To provide some context to our reaction that day, my husband and I are very used to choking kids.  Danny had sensory issues which led him to choke on his food at least twice a week from ages 1-4.  We became very adept at the baby Heimlich maneuver and could do it with perfect precision every time (as shown by Danny still being alive).  We also knew not to beat on Danny's back when he was still passing air (partial choke vs. full choke) because kids will usually be able to work those kind out.  Waiters and waitresses became appalled by our disinterested reaction to a partial choke and would often start pounding Danny on the back.  Joe would become furious.  You're lodging it deeper.  You're lodging it DEEPER! The waitresses would cry and the waiters got far away from Joe.  Of course my husband would still leave a 20% tip and tell me that at least now they'll remember not to pat a partial-choke.  Lesson learned.

So back to our Mexican food.  To us, it was no big deal that Joey was choking on his taco.  But the poor manager looked stricken.  He ran over in a panic while Joe, still chewing his food, lifted little Joey and worked on the tilted position and hard, upward blows.  Then I held my hands out calmly to catch the culprit as it flew out.   Seeing what my plan was, the manager shoved my food basket at me...with the fantastic carne asada still inside.  I pushed it away and asked "Are you crazy? That stuff is awesome. I'm not wasting that."

And with that, Joey's chunk was dislodged into my waiting palms.  I headed to the bathroom to wash my hands as the manager stared after me shaking his head. 

The three of us continued our delightful lunch and even ordered a few more dishes to share with the boys for dinner that night. 

Although I can't be sure, I'm pretty sure the manager didn't say "come again" as we walked out.  It won't stop me from heading back up to Cemitas Puebla soon with my husband.  We have no shame when it comes to good grub.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

High Crimes and Misdemeanors

When I was a kid, some of my favorite memories involved running through our old yellow sprinkler. It whirled around like a wobbly drunkard and kids could never predict its erratic pattern. I loved it so much that when Joe and I bought our first real house together, it was given to me by my mother. Of course being one of the last of her kids to buy an actual house, I missed out on the lawn mower, snow blower, shovels, patio furniture, and lawn equipment that had already been given away. But somehow, an old yellow sprinkler made up for it all.

Fast forward to our first summer in the house. It was a hot one and I couldn't find my beloved grass waterer anywhere. Then I noticed my neighbor's sprinkler. Eureka. Same faded yellow color, same rust pattern. Yet how did it get over there? Did my neighbors pinch my favorite sprinkler? Did Danny toss it over the fence? Would I ever be able to look at my neighbors without suspicion and distrust?

When I shared my thoughts with Joe, he of course told me I was nuts and to go find something real to worry about.  Not a chance. This was my childhood we were talking about.

I hatched a plan to send Danny over to get it back. He was only 3 at the time, so I figured the cops wouldn't nab him. I'd plead ignorance. Danny willingly agreed to be my accomplice in misdemeanor theft. I would just have to wait patiently for the right moment when there was a limited audience to view our criminal activities.

Yet every time the antique sprinkler made an appearance on my neighbor's lawn, there were dozens of kids playing outside who could finger us. I continued to stew even when my husband showed up with several new sprinklers. Not only did he not understand the emblem of my youth, he paid full price and lost the receipt for the new sprinklers. Salt in the wounds if you ask me.

After months of barely acknowledging my next door neighbors, I finally got around to unpacking the last few boxes from our move. And wouldn't you know what was in the last package with other sentimental valuables like our wedding album and the kids' newborn hospital bracelets? Yellow sprinkler. I felt like the biggest loser on the planet.

Today I saw my sprinkler's twin again whirling away. I decided to snap a picture of the pair together. Notice the striking similarities. What were the odds of two couples living next door to each other having the exact same rusty yellow sprinkler from 1975? Astronomical.


I regret the time I spent thinking ill of my wonderful neighbors who are probably two of the kindest people you could meet. The husband even came over once when I arrived home one night with the kids and discovered the back door ajar. He went from room to room for me checking for the Boogie Man. The wife is wonderful to my boys and lends me eggs whenever I actually cook. I am so ashamed.

Of course, if anyone saw me turning off their water supply to snap pictures on their front lawn, I'm sure I'll have some explaining to do.

Aren't you glad I'm not your neighbor?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Falling in Puddles

There is nothing like a weekend morning when the kids sleep in. It's as though the universe is finally rewarding me for being a benign dictator.  Then the universe laughs at me and calls me fat. Why? Because these rare occurrences are almost always synced directly to the days where we have to be up and out early. After a grand time was had by all on Saturday night, the troops were done in and sleeping soundly at 8:15 am. Yet soccer lines had to be drawn at the Dan Ryan woods for the boys' summer program! Up up and away!

It took shaking, yelling, and physically dragging little boys out of bed to get them moving. Somebody may have even been promised a pony. I didn't bother brushing their teeth or combing their hair. We needed to be there at 8:30 am sharp. We ran out of the house in mismatched clothes with bedhead and a vague purpose. I had never painted soccer lines before. Were they like football lines? He's at the 40, the 30, the 20...he's...going.... all...the...way!  Do they even say stuff like that in soccer? Where was my husband on this morning? You remember Joe? The guy who actually played soccer in high school and might know a thing or two about these flippin' lines?  He was at work. Probably laughing at me. I raced down Western Avenue wishing aloud that I had time to stop at Starbucks. That was a mistake. The boys began clamouring for $20 Starbucks danish. Now I was really crabby.

We screeched into the parking lot with a jolting force. But when I opened the doors, all I heard were birds chirping away. I looked around for my fellow soccer artisans. We saw nada:


I looked again at the sheet I was given with required volunteer dates.  Perhaps I had gotten it wrong?  It wouldn't be that abnormal for me to mess up dates, but no. June 11 & 12 were clearly marked. So I tried to call the phone number listed for the league.  It was disconnected. I located some Chicago Park District workers who told me there was nothing on the calendar about lining the fields. Could I be experiencing late-onset schizophrenia? Wasn't I just talking to myself in the car and hearing Joe's laughter? Ooooh. Maybe they'd put me in one of those nice facilities where I could make paper flowers with really dull scissors and get lots of rest.

Instead of indulging my mental-illness fantasy, we decided to wait at the soccer fields to see if we were merely more prompt than others. Joey immediately fell in a huge puddle and started screaming. Once I got him calmed down, he agreed to be photographed:


That pretty much did it for us trying to wait around. I drove home feeling that it shouldn't be this easy to find material for the blog. While it's great for the mom who likes to write, it's not so wonderful for the mom who likes to sleep in every now and then.

(Follow-up: I received an email from the league later on Sunday that indicated work on the fields is mostly done on the Saturday with Sunday being held for anything incomplete.  Apparently, everything was done on Day 1. They apologized and advised that they will make this clearer to new parents going forward. I do not in fact have late-onset schizophrenia. No paper flowers for me.).

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Return of Hanukkah Coolie

There aren't too many places in the world that can throw a graduation party like the Southside of Chicago.  Sure, New York might offer swanky affairs at The Plaza and there are plenty of  honky hoe-downs in the Southwest, but Beverly celebrates with gusto. As a gaggle of neighborhood kids on the same block graduated from local schools, cousin Peg's street got together and decided to throw a block party style graduation.  There were bands, tents, basketball nets, and cuisine to die for (the Mexican food bar...mmmm).  A real barn burner.  Except there weren't any real barns.  Chicago has been a tad sensitive about those since 1871.  Mrs. O'Leary's cow and all.

As our minivan pulled down a street that was a few blocks from cousin Peg's house, my kids instantly went into overdrive.  They can smell a block party from 1,000 feet.  They know the freedom that is allocated at these events.  Their tightly-wound mother loosens the reins and a world of scooters, bikes, and bouncies opens up to them.  Joe and I didn't see the children for most of the party. 

There was one instance though when Joe had to reprimand some kids for throwing some pop and watching them explode.  For those who have never met Joe, I am finding his response rather hard to explain.  When Joe yells, there is a certain element in his voice, a certain cadence, that causes kids and grown-ups alike to wet themselves.  It's like getting yelled at by a father, a policeman, and an executioner all in one.

The kids immediately dispersed.  Probably to go find new pants.  Danny came running over and grabbed his father. Conspiratorially, he whispered into his Joe's ear:

"I warned them about you, Dad.  I warned them."

Which now brings us to a joyous moment of discovery.  As the temperature began to dip, people would come inside the house and go directly to a specially-designated drawer in the dining room.  And inside that drawer?  Beer coolies!  By the dozens!  It was like the mothership had landed in Peg's dining room.  Peg's husband, Steve, began to merrily dole them out:

Who needs Christmas?  I got Kwanzaa here.  Oooh...an Elvis one!  And what about Hanukkah?

Did he say Hanukkah? Before Steve could even identify the next coolie, I raced over and grabbed an exact replica of the extremely rare Hanukkah coolie.  It was all I could do to fight back tears of joy.  We had missed this one so.  Not that the others weren't loved, it was just that Hanukkah coolie was....how do you say....the chosen one?

I told Steve about my quest to replace our departed coolie and he told me to keep it.  I  promised he'd receive the reward posted on this blog of a case of beer.  It's the least I can do.

I left the party early with Joey to get Hanukkah coolie situated in his new home.  While I am certainly grateful for this near-perfect replacement, there's something slightly off with our Hanukkah coolie.  He's just a little cooler than the rest.  More distant.  It's like he knows he's our favorite.  What do you think?


Those would be kosher Cheerios he's enjoying.