Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Nursing the Nurse

Sorry for the delay in today's posting, I just returned from a grueling 24 hour mission tending to my post-surgical mom (cataracts) at her condo.  My duties entailed:

  • Putting a couple eye drops in every 4-6 hours
  • Taking a nap
  • Catching up on a month worth of People Magazines
  • Not doing a lick of laundry

My sister-in-law and I are already fighting over who gets to "take care" of her next month when she has the other eye done.  Given her history of complications due to anesthesia, I'm praying the doctors insist on a 48-hour monitoring period.  I might have to buy some Enquirers then.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Why God Didn't Put Me in Charge of the Israelites


I fear every year I choose to keep my kids in the Chicago Public School system instead of enrolling them at a local Catholic school, I am that much closer to neighborhood excommunication.

But let's be honest.  You've read my blog.  Do you really think I'm capable of spending thousands of dollars a year when I've got free access to the best public schools in the city (bus transportation notwithstanding)?  I'm a couponer. I look for online discount codes before advancing to the checkout screen. I shop at Goodwill for chrissakes.

So where does that leave me?  I still consider myself a Catholic.  My kids have been baptized.  What's next?

The answer is complex.  I grew up calling the alternative "CCD."  My kids call it "God school."  Based on the correspondence from the church (because Lord knows we don't attend frequently enough to hear this stuff at mass), I believe it's now called "Religious Education Program" or REP.  Last year,  we were registered parishioners of St. Barnabas, who scheduled their CCD Religious Education for Sundays at 8:15 AM.

I'll say it again in case you missed it:

8:15 AM.  On a Sunday.

The only day of the week we were able to sleep in was now taken over by waking up and sending the kids off to color pictures of Mary.  I know about Jesus' 40 days in the desert.  I know about Moses' 40 years in the desert.  But I'm tired, I don't like sand, and I think a 7:30 am wake-up call on a Sunday is just plain mean. 


Somewhere over coffee or cocktails, I learned about St. Cajetan's CCD Religious Education Program.  Tuesday nights.  Joe could drop them off on his way to bowling!  I could sleep in on Sundays!  It was time to pack up my own Israelites and kiss Egypt, or rather St. Barnabas, farewell.  We were heading to St. Cajetan's!  Everyone grab a camel!

Remember the fireman at Joe's house who used to be a pilot who now builds tricked-out wheelchairs for relay races?  Well his wife is going to be Danny's CCD Religious Education teacher!  It was a sign!  Or perhaps just a clear indication that this neighborhood overlaps just way too much to be normal.

I was so over the moon over our new church's CCD Religious Education schedule, I promptly loaded up the cooler and lawn chairs and headed to parish picnic this past Saturday:

Why wouldn't there be a fire truck at a parish picnic?  I'm fairly certain Jesus was part Irish...and His descendants probably work as firemen in Englewood.
Joey wanted nothing to do with the fire truck.  We may have to schedule a "re-programming."

I feel a little guilty about leaving a perfectly good parish because I need more sleep.  I wonder if this is some sort of test to measure my faith.  I have tried to rationalize our move by pointing out to people that my parents were married at St. Cajetan's and this is sort of a return home.  Nobody is buying it.

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me (Revelations 3:20). 

Yes, I did pay some attention during CCD Religious Education. Hopefully St. Cajetan's will answer the door when I stop by to pay our fees.  My boys are going to need a lot of spiritual guidance.  And as this blog demonstrates, I might as well start hitting confession.  Daily.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Not-So-Magic School Bus

When Daniel started kindergarten, I signed him up for the school bus and assumed everything would be fine.  After all, I never experienced a single childhood accident or safety issue in 13 years of suburban bus riding. Why was everyone in my Chicago neighborhood so uptight about their kids riding a big happy yellow bus? What could possibly go wrong?

I used to sit in front and get all my homework done.  

By mid-year, the bus already had an accident with the kids on board and I received daily safety reports from Daniel:

"We hit a car parked on the side of the street."

"We ran over the sidewalk."

"The bus driver said 'sh*t' ten times."

"The bus driver screamed at us to 'shut up.'"

"We knocked over a garbage can today."

We went through a series of about 6 different bus drivers over the year, which was never explained to parents.  Yet given Illinois' recent "oops, we accidentally hired sex offenders to babysit low-income kids" scandal, I tend to assume the worst. After Daniel showed me his drawing of a school bus running over some bloodied children, I finally pulled the plug.  No more bus.  Bring on the car pool. It seemed like an obvious choice.  I mean how bad could it be having a few extra kids in the car? 

My minivan would ultimately end up with its seats ripped apart at the seams ($100 to be re-sewn together by the Honda dealership), goo stuck permanently to the carpet, and wrappers stuffed in every corner imaginable. The bus alternative once again started looking better and better.

With 3 kids in 3 different schools this year, I revisited the option. Joey was thrilled at the prospect of riding the big yellow bus. He sleeps with his extensive school bus collection nightly.

Yet after only 5 days (with 3 late pick-ups), the driver failed to show entirely. I waited and waited and waited. Finally, I called the transport company and was told that our bus had been in an accident. Another accident. I know this is Chicago and traffic can be a bear, but it's DAY FLIPPIN' 5!

So now I'm torn.  Do I spend the next 2 years maintaining a frantic pace of stuffing my kids in coats and boots, shoving them in the minivan, and repeatedly loading and unloading them for 3 different start and end times? And let's not even get started on gas prices. After I did the math on gas, I calculated that it would be cheaper to just send them all to Catholic school.

My quandary reminds me of one I faced when Joey was an infant. In the entire history of the world, I can pretty much guarantee I had one of the top 5 bad babies. He screamed all day, every day. I never drank coffee before Joey, but after going 6 weeks with only 20 minutes of combined sleep, I guzzled the stuff.

During that time, the only way I could get my insomniac son to shut his eyes and be quiet was by disobeying the whole anti-SIDS campaign. I can finally admit the truth now: I let my newborn sleep on his stomach and lied about it to the pediatrician. When it came down to brass tacks, I figured I was either going to: (A) lose it and abandon my child or (B) get some sleep by putting Joey on his stomach and risk his succumbing to SIDS. For the sake of sanity and our household's overall well-being, I gambled and let him sleep each night on his tummy. Joey thankfully didn't die and I ultimately never required a psychiatric hold. 

Similarly, I have opted to put my sanity above certain auto-related risk factors this year. Danny and Joey will be riding the big yellow school bus and will undoubtedly be involved in several un-reported accidents. If anyone finds a scrape mark on a peculiarly-high area of their car, feel free to call Chicago Public Schools' Bureau of Student Transportation. Tell them I sent you. That'll get their attention.

The number of decisions we are forced to make as parents that can significantly impact our kids' lives is endless. It leaves me numb. When I can't even process whether to use plain or chunky peanut butter, I once again find my inner Scarlett O'Hara and announce to the family in my best faux-southern accent, "I can't think about this now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about this tomorrow." I then slam down the peanut butter and go in search of a People Magazine.

Which leaves my husband wondering about that psychiatric hold option again.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Why I Can't Always Write a Decent Blog

Because I don't get enough sleep, I occasionally try to write the blog first thing in the morning instead of my usual midnight hour of solitude and madness.

This doesn't always work out too well.

A video clip to explain:

Sometimes it's good to have inspiration close by.  Sometimes not so much.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Day at the Beach?

For anyone considering heading to the beach this weekend, I thought I'd share one of our family's newest and most enjoyable summer water games.

All you need to play are some inflatable rings, a cooperative three-year-old, and some aim. 

The sport is very similar to ring toss but with the added uncertainty of choppy waves and an unpredictable target.  The key is to not make your three-year-old cry = game over. 


Daniel was the undisputed champ - we think he may have had an inside track.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Running with Hoses

Today my prayers go out to the Chicago firemen injured in last night's southside blaze (see Chicago Tribune story).  The families and friends of these firemen are also in my thoughts as I can't imagine a more terrifying phone call to receive about someone you love. 

Ironically, the planned topic for today's blog was: Silly things firemen dream up when they go too long without an emergency.  I debated whether or not to proceed with this post.  Yet I felt that there was no better time to show how goofy and real these guys are. 

There are people in the "established" media who will always paint firemen and policemen in broad strokes: they are either heroes or villains.  Any time there is the slightest bit of scandal, they're all lumped together as bad apples.  Whenever one of them is injured or killed, suddenly all firemen and policemen walk on water and perform daily miracles.  In all actuality, they are normal guys with normal flaws who like normal things.  It just so happens that in-between planning wheelchair relay races, they may get called to run into a fire or perform CPR on blue people.  After that, they come home and get yelled at by their wives for leaving their underwear on the bathroom floor.  Again.  I mean, the basket is right there.

With no wives or girlfriends around to check them at the firehouse, the fellas recently hatched a plan to race aerodynamically-engineered wheelchairs at their yearly softball tournament.  They called up the competition and set the ground rules.  It was not a project meant to offend anyone, but rather an exercise in making something go super-duper fast.  If they were still little boys, they would build Go-Karts.  But most firemen are just way too big to fit into Go-Karts.  So wheelchairs were the next best thing.

Some images from the big race:

When I got a look at the competition, I figured Joe's house was doomed.

Our chair looked a tad amateurish in comparison.

They're off!

My husband: relay-race hero or firehouse scapegoat?
While I initially viewed our chair as a dismal failure in comparison to the tricked-out competition, I should have known better.  Have I mentioned that Joe's firehouse includes a former pilot who makes MacGyver look like a hack?  Nothing like bringing your own ringer to the race.  'Round and 'round they went and the Little Chair that Could provided a sound victory.

I have since heard rumblings that next year's race may include pogo sticks and a unicycle.  I'll be sure to bring the camera.  And extra bandages.

Thank you, guys.  For everything. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Updating The Parenting Playbook

I will not lie and tell you that I have mastered parenting. Nor will I attempt to take credit for my insane and extremely questionable approach to child-rearing. That award goes directly to my own parents: strict, God-fearing, law-abiding folk who thought nothing of shaming their children publicly when a course-correction was in order. I thought I was safe from worrying about how they would embarrass me once I left for college at 18.  But it all persisted each and every Sunday when my roommates pressed the "play" button on our answering machine:

Hello, Marianne? This is the Lord. I did not see you in mass this morning and I was wondering when you were planning on attending next. How will I recognize you at the pearly gates if you never bother showing your face in church? Oh, and drink some orange juice and tea. The flu is going around.

By the end of the year, my roommates were used to it and barely looked up as they advised, "Jesus called again. He wants to know when you're going to be done with finals.  Oh, and eat some vegetables."

While I may have stolen the majority of my material from my parents' colorful playbook, I have adjusted it somewhat for my own household needs (tickets to heaven anyone?). Despite this, I still remain open to suggestions. And every once in a while, I come across an idea from another parent that strikes me as pure genius.

One of my recent disciplinary tactics was taken directly from the blog Cheaper than Therapy. The mom over there incorporates a 5-minute "time-out" where combatants are required to hold hands during periods of civil unrest. This was right up my alley so I instantly hijacked it and put it to good use. I found it hard to contain my laughter as I watched the supremely righteous expressions my children displayed during the implementation phase. Little boys forced into a loving gesture at the height of their indignation - it was a sight to behold:

I'm guessing by Jack's expression that Joey was probably the instigator.

"How little contact can we make without mom getting mad?"
Once again, I felt lucky that there are mothers out there who are willing to share their tricks of the trade with sisters in need.  Without the endless tips, suggestions, and stories of overcoming adversity, I fear I may have succumbed to despair and a real Betty Ford-like drinking problem.  God rest her soul.

So to mothers who share: thank you.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Vegas Episode 8: The Finale

Atheist-Friend was right.  Vegas can be a little repetitive.  We gambled at felt tables.  We drank at the pool.  We ate.  Rinse & repeat.

For those looking for gambling stories, the theme was similar.  We were up.  We were down.  Up. Down.  Nothing terribly surprising, though Joe did keep his Gamblers-Anonymous wife from blowing the college fund.  All credit, debit, and banking information was stripped from my person before entry into a casino was allowed.  Smart man, that Joe.

The sights of Vegas are always interesting.  Some samples:

Their shirts read: "What Mothers & Daughters Do in Vegas, Stays in Vegas."  Joe's response?  "Like what you do in Vegas with your mom is secret-worthy."  He's such a joykill sometimes.

Elvis on The Strip.

I took this one for my kids.
Our final hours in Vegas were somewhat bittersweet.  We paid homage to the now-defunct Westward Ho hotel ("The Ho") - the scene of many sorted and sundry tales of Joe's youth.  He snapped some pictures of the new construction (currently halted) on top of what was once the diviest of the dive hotels in Vegas:

Oh what "The Ho" could have told me if only its walls could talk.  And if it still actually had walls.
I could tell Joe was a little down after our visit, so I figured I needed to add a little "sweet" to his "bitter."  Off to The Cupcakery

At $3 a cupcake, I'd like to say they weren't worth it.  But SO worth it.
As a preventative measure given our outbound flight debacle and Joe's need to be at the firehouse first thing in the morning, dozens of phone calls were made to ensure firehouse coverage.  We wondered where we might end up for the ride home.  Sioux City?  Denver?  Minneapolis?  What kind of adventures would our return flight bring?

We flew directly home without a sip of beer or a single American Airlines agent being nasty to us.  We picked up a pair of fuzzy pink dice for our sitter, some trinkets for the kids, and a Fantasy Football magazine.  Very anti-climatic kinds of stuff.

Thank you for enduring The Vegas Chronicles, and I promise to return tomorrow with some regularly scheduled mom-based programming. 

You've been a good sport. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Vegas Episode 7: So Close, Yet So Very Far

Being the #1 Donny Osmond Fan in the entire Chicago-Metro area, you would think I would have made sure Donny was going to be in town for our Vegas trip.

You would be mistaken. 

Just as I got the understudy during my first attempt to see Donny in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, I left Vegas without ever catching a glimpse of my favorite Mormon apart from this promotional poster I spied at The Flamingo Hotel:

Marie, by the way, looks fabulous.  Dancing with the Stars did her good.
Devastated, I was forced to go with Plan B: Jersey Boys

Without providing an elaborate history of my musical theatre obsession and number of shows I've attended, let's just say I feel pretty confident in my semi-professional assessment of Jersey Boys.  It was fun. Great fun.  It's the perfect show to see when you're in Vegas.  Even if you've lost all your money and misplaced your rental car, you're going to leave Jersey Boys in a good mood.  It's inevitable.

I got orchestra seats for the same price as the nosebleeds - online coupons are the way to go.
While I loved the show and will be taking my mom to the Chicago production for her birthday in April, I can't lie: I felt a little robbed.  Donny was the dream, Jersey Boys was the reality. 

But then again, I think my husband once dreamed of marrying a normal girl who didn't drag him to musicals and schedule vacation flights for 7 am.   

Reality can be good, too.   

Up Next: Things You Just Don't See in Chicago

Monday, August 22, 2011

Vegas Episode 6: And Now We Eat

On the evening before we departed for Las Vegas, my list of things to do could circle the globe.  I had bullet points. And sub-bullet points. And sub-sub bullet points. I dug up our life insurance policies, social security statements, and power of attorney papers. Pediatricians were notified. Copies of insurance cards and birth certificates were made. Hotel and air information was confirmed. I could go on for hours.

Joe's list was significantly shorter:

  • Look up restaurants highlighted on the Food Network
  • Set alarm clock

For as much as I thought my contributions were more valuable, Joe's restaurant selection ultimately made our trip. Actually, it was one restaurant in particular that we kept going to over and over: House of Hash a Go Go. 

Our first waiter Edmund set the tone. Edmund was very relaxed and patient with my husband who can agonize over a menu for hours. Joe likes to monitor various food orders as they come out of the kitchen. He then carefully watches people's reaction as they eat. He quizzes waiters on his options and insists on detailed reviews regarding taste and texture. Joe sometimes even looks to me for input, but my advice is usually disregarded (I'm a notorious bad orderer. If there's one horrible thing on the menu, I'll find it).

Edmund the waiter played along and continued to smile:

St. Edmund - a man with great patience and endless coffee.
We finally opted to split the choice highlighted on Man vs. Food - Andy's Sage Fried Chicken:

The food: reasonably priced and a single entree can feed a family in Somalia for a month.
When our order came out of the kitchen, Joe smiled.  Again.  For like the 5th time during our vacation - a personal best  Our entree, on the other hand, was a force to be reckoned with:

I have no idea why I can't lose the baby weight.
The first bite sent me directly to heaven.  There were mashed potatoes and fried chicken and eggs and fairy dust all mixed together.  As Joe's eyes rolled to the back of his head in a moment of utter food ecstasy, he commented:

It's like each bite is just exploding with chicken-y goodness.

I think they should add that quote to their menu.

Anyway, Edmund continued to deliver on his best-waiter performance and brought me a free drink when I mentioned House of Hash a Go Go was going to make the blog.  One of our friends indicated  she was going to use the "I got a blog" technique to get free drinks for the rest of the week.
Honestly, why can't I get rid of these saddle bags?
We eventually rolled ourselves out of the restaurant and encouraged a manager to open one of these joints on the southside of Chicago.  We'd be the first in line. 

Two additional visits would ensure I would not be wearing my skinny clothes for the rest of the trip (disclaimer: "skinny" for me is not a size 0, but rather the lower end of plus-size clothing).  I dove directly into the fat pile and ate like a queen.

Seriously, why won't these last 15 pounds come off?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Some Pig

If I never help plan another block party again, it will be too soon.  To be fair, my awesome co-chair did most of the worrying throughout the morning (as storms pummeled Chicago and threatened to cancel our long-anticipated event).  I did the only thing I could think of to help:  I sent over a pina colada to calm her nerves.  With extra cherries.

Sure enough, the sun finally appeared and the horrible rainy morning quickly became just a distant memory.

Unfortunately, my plans for a pig roast did not turn out quite as well.  With the beast laid out for all the world to see, I wound up inadvertently traumatizing a whole army of small children.  The purpose of the pig roast was to accentuate our Hawaiian Luau theme.  Instead, I just accentuated how gross dead animals can be sometimes.

One little girl passed out.  Another vegan kid left.  My Joey spent much of the day insisting, "I not eating that dead piggie."  It was a disaster.

I saw bacon.  The kids saw Wilbur.
The one bright spot in the day came from Daniel. I was told by several witnesses that Daniel went up to our caterer and asked if he could have the pig's teeth. Upon questioning, Daniel revealed:

I just want to see what happens if I leave them for the tooth fairy.

That's right. My son was looking to pull a fast one on a fairy.  Place a few imposter teeth under his pillow and pick up a few extra bucks for baseball cards and gum.

Part of me was mortified, and part of me was very proud.  Either way, I needed a laugh after looking down the belly of the beast and realizing I do not have what it takes to be Block Party Czar. 

And pigs everywhere can now breathe a sigh of relief.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Block Party Czar vs. Tom Skilling

In writing another blog about Vegas, I started to feel a little self-conscious when Atheist-Friend pointed out:

What do you say about Vegas?  'I sat at a table with felt on it,' followed by, 'And then I sat at another table with felt on it.'  

Oh that Atheist-Friend.  She can be funny sometimes.  We'll return to Vegas blogs on Monday.  I've got a bigger issue right now.

I'm a complete wreck over our block party.  Tom Skilling, Chicago Meteorologist, has been insisting all week that it's going to rain.  It can't rain!  I have people coming!  I found little toothpick umbrellas!  I even bought a jumbo inflatable palm tree cooler and tikis! Our theme is Hawaiian Luau and a guy is coming over at the crack of dawn with a big dead pig that he's going to plop on a spit and spin around for half a day.

Remember my "I'm not going overboard on this block party" credo?  Yeah.  That went out the window once my manic kicked in. 

Take note of the Pina Colada mix.  My Vegas drink lives on, courtesy of  CVS Extra-Bucks.  Who knew they sold alcohol at CVS?  I was just there to buy nail polish.
Alright, blogosphere.  Let's cross our fingers and hope Tom Skilling doesn't rain on my parade.  My ridiculous, over-the-top, Hurricane and Mai-Tai themed parade.

If it does, you can find me curled up in a fetal position inside my Jumbo Inflatable Palm Tree stabbing it with hundreds of little drink umbrellas.

When I saw the palm tree was 6 feet tall like me, I felt a certain kinship.  Plus, it was on sale.
I think I'm going to cry.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Vegas Episode 5: We Arrive!

When I woke up in Chicago that morning, we were supposed to leave for a direct flight to Las Vegas.   I never could have imagined that Joe and I would be drinking beer in Tulsa or eating barbecue in Dallas before day's end.  At some point between when we were told our airplane was broken and when an overhead compartment door clocked me on the head, this whole adventure became very very funny. 

We toasted our bad luck in Dallas before our final flight, and I asked Joe to look on the bright side:  we actually got three vacation destinations for the price of one.  My inner bargain hunter was satisfied.  There are people who live their entire lives without ever visiting Oklahoma.  We had already come out ahead as far as I was concerned.  The universe was certainly smiling on us that day.  Or laughing its damn fool head at us.  Either way, it was a story.  And in life, it's good to have a story.

Joe was sticking with beer while I upgraded to Diet Coke & rum which would explain the Excedrin Migraine on our Vegas drugstore list

As we touched down in Las Vegas, I was a little sad that our odyssey had come to an end.  It was the most time Joe and I had spent alone (and awake) together in a long time.  I had forgotten how funny my husband can be sometimes.  He had forgotten how much I like to sing songs at inappropriate moments.  We remembered how much fun the other person was when cocktails and an absence of children coincided.  It really was a honeymoon of sorts, no matter how late in the game it was or how much older and softer we had become.

It still counted. 

Up Next: Yada Yada Yada and Awesome Vegas FOOD

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Vegas Episode 4: 'Who Shot J.R.' Should Be a Drinking Game

Greetings loyal readers!  Can you believe we're already on Episode 4 of our Vegas trip and we still haven't arrived on The Strip? Or even in Nevada? What was it that Miley Cyrus lip synced:

Ain't about how fast I get there
Ain't about what's waiting on the other side
It's the cliiiiiimb

I find my knowledge of  Miley Cyrus a tad disconcerting. It really devalues my cool factor.  And you know how cool I am, beloved blog reader: the Broadway-musical-loving geek who thinks Journey is the greatest rock band ever.  Alongside Donny & Marie of course.

Well it's a good thing that it "ain't about how fast I get there," because it took forever to just reach Dallas, the second leg of our American Airlines, Isabel-inspired tour of the continental United States.  Thank goodness our Australian flight attendant kept us mellow with a series of complimentary alcoholic beverages.  She snuck them to us repeatedly, but each time pressed her finger against her lips as if to say "tell anyone about this, and I sic the kangaroos on you."

Thoroughly blitzed, Joe got the munchies the second we landed, so it was off to find grub.  I really can't be held accountable for the endless Sue-Ellen and Miss Ellie jokes I made along the way.  Once again Joe was just happy I wasn't singing because I couldn't remember the Dallas theme song. 

It smelled good when we walked by.

It looked good when it arrived.
But it  I supposed airport barbecue will never pass muster when compared to say The Salt Lick which is like heaven on a plate.  Railhead Airport Barbecue turned out to be a tad more fatty and chewy than anticipated, but the sauce was pretty good.  All in all though, we won't be doing an encore.

Still, they sold Mike's Hard Lemonade so it wasn't a total waste.  Off to the gift shop!

Go Longhorns!  UT has one of the cheapest in-state medical schools in the country.  Not that I haven't already looked into it extensively for Daniel.  No pressure, kid. 

After a quick tram ride and a glimpse of downtown Dallas, we were once again in search of an airport bar:
Joe just kept getting happier and happier as the day progressed.

Joe: "Hey kids, look!  It's Big Ben...and Parliament!"
I've got to wrap up the blog for today as we just got back from a Sox game and I've got to be up early to give the kids baths before school, so more later. 

Up Next: A Drink to Dallas and Hello Vegas???

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Vegas Episode 3: Where the Wind Comes Sweeping Down the Plains and Joe Tries to Shush Me

Thanks in large part to Isabel (the only person in the entire multi-trillion dollar airline industry capable of getting us on a flight to Vegas this century),  Joe and I found ourselves on a plane to Tulsa Monday morning.  Where we'd fly to Dallas. And somehow end up in Vegas. Theoretically.

Luckily, I had enough Enquirer, People, and Star magazines to see me around the world 7 times over.  If anyone is interested in the real reason behind the J-Lo Divorce or dramatic Leann Rimes weight loss, I'm your gal - a true embarrassment to English majors everywhere.  You'd think I'd be catching up on new canonized works?  Sha. Not when there is a Hudson's News at the airport. Plus, all of these publications clearly embrace the universal themes characteristic of great literature: love, lust, betrayal and suffering. And the bonus is they also have celebrity cellulite pictures and super easy crossword puzzles!

Joe kept rolling his eyes and declining whenever I offered him a magazine, but he never stopped reading over my shoulder.  Annoying.

Before I could even say "Penny Marshall has a brain tumor?" we had landed. Off to the nearest airport bar!  Joe got grumpy when I wouldn't stop singing Oklahoma! musical tunes as we pulled our luggage through the terminal.  I mean, how could you not? I made a couple of Grapes of Wrath references while I was at it, but I wasn't 100% sure if I was remembering the story correctly. Were they from Oklahoma?  Or was it Iowa?  Idaho? Joe humored me at this point, simply relieved I wasn't singing anymore.

For reference of Joe's mood yesterday, see previous page's photo. It pretty much sums up how he looked when we took off. Yet after one very expensive beer at the airport bar, Joe transformed:

Who is this smiling man and where's my real husband?

Not to be outdone, I ordered my own drink and had to take the picture myself as Joe kept telling me I was acting like a Japanese tourist. I took it as a compliment:

I think our bar bill for 2 drinks with tip was in the neighborhood of $27.00.  And no, I don't have Ectrodactyly (lobster claw syndrome)'s just a weird angle of my hand.

Going on a few hours sleep, no food, and a couple of big beers, Joe and I decided to explore Tulsa.  The part of Tulsa that didn't require us to re-enter airport security that is.  What we found was amazing. The people that worked at the airport were really really nice. Nobody swore. Nobody pushed. Nobody seemed angry. We started discussing retiring there. We talked to people about real estate. We even visited the gift shop:

Very moderately priced t-shirts in Tulsa.  The guy working the register smiled, which only confused us.
In a few short hours, we had fallen in love with Tulsa. We didn't want to leave, except Joe was starting to get hungry and wanted to head to Dallas for some Texas barbecue.  We bid farewell and agreed that no matter what happened over the course of the next few hours and days...

We'll always have Tulsa.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Vegas Episode 2: How Joe Helped Sanjeev Go Southside

So when we left off on yesterday' blog, our traveling duo was at the mercy of American Airlines trying to re-book a flight to Vegas due to an apparent broken plane.  As I used my cell phone to call American, I encouraged Joe to call Expedia directly to see if they could do anything. 

On my end, I got a woman who told me we could either take a 9 PM flight out that night or try first thing the next morning.  She was testy and completely unsympathetic to the fact that this was our 7-years-late honeymoon and I had arranged a party for Joe's 40th birthday celebration in Vegas that night.  She simply reiterated, "I can get you on the 9 pm, ma'am...there's nothing I can do about a broken plane (said with an inferred tone of  "sheesh" and "you're a dummy"). 

Joe's response?

"So we got up at 3:30 am for a flight that leaves tomorrow morning?  F*$ck that." 

Joe: One Man, Two Jobs, Three Kids and a Seriously Flawed Wife. No wonder he swears.

(For the record, my dad gets a big kick out of an agitated Joe.  It's like free entertainment.  Every time another contact or agent gave us bad news, my dad would look at Joe expectantly for an amped-up, profanity-laced reaction.  He would laugh merrily and pat Joe on the back as if to say "good one, son, good one").

Joe talked with an Expedia agent named Sanjeev who tried heroically to get us an earlier flight.  We threw out a litany of different departure options.  We could leave from Milwaukee, Gary, Bloomington, or Chicago-Midway.  At last, Sanjeev came back to us after talking with American Airlines.

Sanjeev: I got veddy good news, meester Joe.  We send you from Indianapolis to Las Vegas?  Vat good, no?

Joe:  Indianapolis?  I said Gary, not Indianapolis!  It's not even the same letter!

Sanjeev: So sorry, meester Joe.  I do tell vem Gary, I no understand how vey got Indianapolis.  You right...not veddy good.  I be back....

After several hours (yes hours) of Joe dealing with Sanjeev who was dealing with American, Joe hit his limit.

Joe: Sanjeev?

Sanjeev: Yes, meester Joe?

Joe:  Tell American Airlines to go f&*ck themselves and that this is their f*#ckin' problem and they need to fix it so we get to Vegas this afternoon.  Do you understand?

Sanjeev: Yes, meester Joe.

And with that, Sanjeev was off the line for several minutes.  When he returned:

Sanjeev: Meester, Joe?

Joe: Yes, Sanjeev.

Sanjeev: I tell vee manager at American Airlines to...ah....f&*ck themselves...and....ah....fix the f*$ckin' problem you say...ah....get f*#cked like you tell me (the word f&*ck was said extremely tentatively, as though Sanjeev had never actually used the word before that very day).

Joe:  And what did they say?

Sanjeev:  Oh, meester Joe.  Vey hung up on me.  I tink I made vem veddy veddy angry.

Somewhere during our phone battles, we decided to drive to O'Hare and face-off with the American Airlines reps there.  As we approached the counter, I had no doubt in my mind that security would be called and we'd suffer a life-time ban on American Airlines.  The first counter person booked us on a flight that was delayed which wouldn't allow us time for our connection.  We were given various reasons for an inability to secure a timely flight, yet they all contradicted each other: weather, security breaches, maintenance, a butterfly flapped its wings in China...

Within a few hours, we were standing in the mile-long line for the third time that morning.   As I tried sizing up the different agents, I prayed we wouldn't get Isabel on the end.  She was a tiny little thing with gray hair and glasses perched on the end of her nose.  She didn't seem particularly impressive or powerful.  I was being irrational and extremely ageist, but the universe would soon teach me a lesson about making these kinds of assumptions ever again.

Isabel was assigned to us.  She didn't ask a lot of questions.  She seemed to recognize that a 9 pm flight out that night was not going to be warmly received.  She typed furiously.  She took note of Joe's "I'm going to rip someone's throat out" face.  Smoke came out of her keyboard.  Phone calls were made.  And within 10 minutes, she was able to do what Sanjeev, the managers at American Airlines, and all the rest of them couldn't do:  she got us a flight that landed at 4:30 pm in Vegas.

We'd have to fly through Tulsa and Dallas, but at that point, we were actually getting away.  Away.  Away from the kids.  Away from the laundry.  Even if we got stuck in Tulsa for a day, we'd be a-way.
And that is how Isabel saved the day.  And somewhere over at Expedia, Sanjeev is probably dropping the F-bomb like nobody's business and secretly praying that crazy Chicago southsider "Meester Joe" never ever calls him again.

Up next: Why airports have bars. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Vegas Episode 1: Getting There (or Not?)

Perhaps I should have consulted my husband when I booked our 7 AM outbound flight to Vegas. When I finally did let him know (as he was setting the alarm clock), I got that look:

Joe:  You're serious?  You booked us on a 7 am flight?  For our vacation??

Marianne:  We haven't gone anywhere together alone in forever. I want to cram as much Vegas fun as we can in 4 days.  I even made breakfast reservations for that restaurant you saw on Man vs. Food.

Joe: (unimpressed):  You could have just made reservations for lunch and let me sleep in a bit.

Marianne:  It'll be fine.  You can sleep on the plane.

Those words would come back to haunt me.

And with that, Joe went to bed and I spent the next 4 hours getting the house in order for the sitter, preparing papers that begin with "in the event of our demise," and scouring the house for my favorite flip-flops (eventually discovered next to Jack's bed in an apparent attempt to ensure his mommy wouldn't really leave him).

We now pull up at my dad's townhouse at the crack of 4:45 am.  My siblings and I affectionately refer to my father as "Taxi-Dad" because he spends much of his retired life driving his ungrateful children to airports and assorted other destinations.   He loves planes and we really should spring for some flying lessons, except we are all fairly certain he'll just end up trying to fly under a bridge.  Crazy senior citizen, you see.

We are about to walk out of my dad's house when the phone rings with a 800 number on the caller ID.  My father mutters something about rotten telemarketers and my husband encourages him to tell the apparent sales caller to "get f*%cked for calling at 5 AM."

The Enemy
Inside of me, a little worried voice remembers I gave American Airlines my dad's number as a back-up.  That voice starts to cringe.

An automated message comes on as my dad picks up.  My internal interpretation of the actual recorded message:

Greeting from American Airlines, the airline that has one of the worst on-time records in the business.  You are a dimwit for booking with us when you could have used Southwest and been ensured a timely arrival.  But no.  Now you're screwed. 

Our plane is broken (code for: our pilot just didn't show?).  And if you think we're going to fix it or send you a new one, you're even dumber than we thought.  Good luck waiting on hold for the next hour for another plane that's probably as poorly-maintained as the last one.  We hate our passengers, we hate our jobs, and more importantly, we hate you.  Have a nice day.

With that call, the real adventure begins.

Tune in tomorrow for how Joe teaches Sanjeev the nice Indian fellow from Expedia to stand up to  American Airlines...Chicago-style.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Vegas: Cast of Characters

In order to provide a background for our Las Vegas trip last week, I feel it is important to first dedicate a blog to our main characters. Joe and I both invited some friends and family to come along with us, and only a few brave couples responded. They include:

Brain Tumor Girl & Cerebral Spinal Fluid Man

Brain Tumor Girl was diagnosed as such shortly after the birth of her first child.  All things turned out okay and she is now the proud mother of two terrific sons.  Her husband, Cerebral Spinal Fluid Man (CSFM), was diagnosed with a leaky brain last year which manifested itself through a runny nose chronically misdiagnosed as "allergies." Now if you think I'm being a tad insensitive about all this, I'd like to point out that they laughingly agreed to their blog monikers (that is after several pina colodas they did). One married couple with two serious brain anomalies?  I'd be calling Erin Brockovich if I were them.

Brain Tumor Girl gamely played along when I asked her to pose looking "brain-tumory."
We tried to coax Cerebral Spinal Fluid Man to fake leaking his brain into the ice bucket, but my camera's batteries started to fade, so I had to act quickly.

Milwaukee Friend & Chandler

Many loyal readers are already familiar with Milwaukee friend who introduced me to the concept of there being no bad experiences, just wasted story opportunities.  Her husband is some kind of technology manager who talks a language I don't quite understand. We're going to call him Chandler because nobody really seems to know for sure what he does for a living.  They are two very fun people with a couple of young sons. They eat sushi and think that Joe is a real-life version of a "Da Bears" superfan from Saturday Night Live.  

Milwaukee Friend: There's something slightly Mary Tyler Moore about this pic.

Chandler on the Strip

Sister Mary & Lemonade John

Mary is Joe's only sister in a family of 7 kids.  Growing up with six brothers, she is a rare kind of no-nonsense and low-drama girlfriend. The perfect woman. Which leads us to Lemonade John (who built the boys their lemonade stand this summer). Lemonade John is a coin collector who understands a woman's need for chocolate as it relates to the tides (I'm trying to be innocuous here). The perfect man. Why these two perfect people can't throw me another wedding to attend is beyond me. I mean, really? They were in Vegas. Elvis chapel, anyone?

For some odd reason, Mary wouldn't email me a pic, so I improvised.

Boston Bob & Anti-Swimwear Annie

Boston Bob used to go to school with Milwaukee Friend and we all traveled around Europe together some years back.  His wife, an annoying size 6 after just having a baby, refuses to wear swimsuits in public due to post-baby body issues.  I'll be sure to send her the blog about the wonders of the swim dress another day.  They have an adorable son, easy-going personalities, and apparently scorpions since they've moved to Arizona.

Once again, no photo.  Thank goodness I'm virtually Picasso.
As you can see, it was certainly a fun bunch that would be greeting us upon arrival in Vegas for dinner that night.  That is if we actually made it in time with our 7:00 AM flight out of Chicago.

So did we make it?  Did we miss our flight? Did we end up on Amtrak?

The answer to those exciting questions and more up next on tomorrow's edition of Las Vegas: the Mini-Blog-Series.

To Be Continued....

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Winner by a Nose!

As the upcoming Vegas blogs are still percolating thanks in part to the brain-diminishing power of pina coladas, I figure now is as good a time as any to announce the winner of the best crying baby photo and free DVD!

Thank you to all the wonderful moms out there who submitted photos.  Picking a winner was hard, so naturally I outsourced the task to my mom.  The poor woman agonized over her decision.  She didn't want to make the only other 6 people who read her daughter's blog mad.  She may well have gone to confession when she was done. 

So in the end, it came down to a runny nose.  She also found the beet red face just a tiny bit more miserable than the other adorable unhappy baby photos sent in.  My mom is a retired nurse who raised 4 kids:  a true master at appreciating a baby on the brink. 

Without further adieu, congrats to Matthew! 

One toddler.  One train.  One serious nap needed.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Joe & Mar's Excellent Adventure

I'm ready to fess up.  Joe and I went on vacation. It was a multi-occasioned event to commemorate the following:
  • Our 7-years-late honeymoon
  • Joe's 40th birthday
  • My 29th birthday (give or take a decade)
Perhaps Joe's drugstore list created upon arrival can shed some light on our destination:

I'm too tired to re-take the picture without my thumb in the way, but that last item is "Excedrin Migraine."

I told Joe to add tweezers when we checked into our room and I peered into one of those mirrors where you can inspect the colonies of dirt living in your pores.  I noticed my eyebrows were growing together and required immediate handling, hence the tweezers:

Seriously, why make a person feel this bad about themselves on purpose?
That's right.  We went to Vegas.  Well, not directly.  We actually flew to Tulsa and Dallas on the way to Vegas.  Naturally.  I've got so much new blog material, I don't know where to begin.

Give me until tomorrow to decide. 

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.  Unless your wife has a blog.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Chicago Labor Negotiations

Play for Maeve today! 

The house is a disaster. The family is coming over. And I've got about 7 mega-piles of laundry to put away....

Do I panic?


Do I cancel?


Do I cry?

Of course not.

I simply call....

Dirt Busters!

The hourly rate for my somewhat illegal workers?  25 cents/hour.  Some people would say I'm taking jobs away from legal workers who need to support their families.  Hogwash.  Why even have kids if you can't put 'em to work?  It is the American way (during the 1920's-1940's at least, then we got soft).

For anyone thinking I don't allot my kids a single moment's fun between music lessons and scrubbing toilets, I've got photographic evidence to the contrary:

Look at those smiling faces.
That's right.  I took them to the toy department at Sears.  I know, I know.  I'm probably spoiling them a bit.

But it's not like we bought anything.

Gotta go.  Daniel is unloading the dishwasher and I need to supervise or my bowls will end up next to the pots and pans.  Sheesh.  They don't make 7-year-olds like they used to. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Where Moms Go When the Savior Moves Out

Per my earlier posting on the lack of Virgin Mary statues in Beverly, I have good news to report. 

Mary has been found.

I had assumed that Mary was simply out of vogue and not considered front-lawn-worthy anymore - replaced by lawn gnomes and stolen sprinklers.  There was a certain loss in being unable to share the childhood road trip game of "find the Virgin" with my own kids.

Yet the truth revealed itself after a visit to my mom's.

Mary had simply moved to the 'burbs. 

Praying in front of aging 100-year old bungalows in Chicago must have proved too much for our blessed Mother.  She needed something simpler.  Something smaller.  Less to maintain.  Mary did what thousands of Beverly moms have done through the years - she got herself a nice townhouse away from city living.

And that's where I spotted her.  Coming home from my mom's condo in Orland Park, I caught a glimpse of her peeking out from behind a water meter.  I did a screeching u-turn and whipped out my camera to photograph this rare relic of devout Catholicism.  The kids perked up.

Why are we going this way, mommy?  I thought we were going home?

I then told them we were on a mission from God.  Whoever could find the most Virgin Mary statues would win a ticket to heaven (more on that recent good-behavior-inducing incentive another time). 

It was like shooting fish in a barrel.  They were everywhere.  The ultimate Virgin Motherload.  My kids would scream and point each time they spied another statue. 

Just like old times.

I found most of these in the same cul-de-sac:

On a day where I wasn't sure what I would be blogging about, God provided me a source of humor, blog continuity, and faith.  It can't be coincidence.

Some people think that divine inspiration is limited to just the Miltons of the world.  Men with great command of language and thought.  I disagree.  Isn't the greater miracle in providing a little "hello" to His more incompetent children?  Like simple-minded mom bloggers living on the southside of Chicago who drink Mike's Hard Lemonade and swear? 

Just a thought.