Friday, December 12, 2008

Lousy Lice — CMB Post

Originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog post.

When I was a kid, before the F word stunted my vocabulary, we used far more descriptive language to express our feelings. For example, if the ball went over the fence during a kickball game and it was your turn to retrieve it, you would mutter "Dirty, rotten, stinkin', lousy fence." Those four words, in that order, seemed to cover all the negative bases. It wasn't until this weekend that I connected "lousy" with "louse" and then "lice."

This will teach me to be a good Samaritan. I took care of an ailing friend's two boys on Saturday, one of whom ended up spending the night. Sunday afternoon, I got the call. "Don't scream," she said, "but K (not his real initial) has lice. Don't use the chemical stuff. We read on the Internet to use a combination of petroleum jelly and tea tree oil." I did not scream, but dutifully stopped at the drugstore to pick up the necessary supplies, all the while thinking: "Dirty, rotten, stinkin', lousy, f-ing lice."

My two youngest boys share a room and both had played closely with our infested guest during his overnight stay. While I did not spy any of the creepy critters when I searched the boys' skulls, I thought we should go ahead and treat them just in case. So, I mixed up a batch of the glop and slopped it onto their heads, rubbing it right down into their scalps. The crabby 11-year-old complained every minute, while his 10-year-old brother embraced the situation with humor, fashioning his goo-laden locks into his first-ever Mohawk. Then began the four-hour wait.

In the meantime, I stripped the beds, washed the linens and mattress covers in hot water with the extra rinse cycle on, and sprayed down the pillows and mattresses. Just before bedtime, I put one of the guys in the tub to wash out the gunk. Or so I thought. It turns out that it's not so easy to wash out petroleum jelly. I knew it wasn't water soluble, but my friends had assured me that a couple of wash-rinse-repeat cycles with a clarifying shampoo and a final rinse with white vinegar would do the trick. Not so much.

I washed that boy's head seven times and marinated him in vinegar. It didn't even make a dent. Next I did a quick Web search for remedies to remove petroleum jelly from hair. I had just gotten to the part where it read "… if that doesn't work, try corn starch" when the phone rang.

"Um, have you been able to get the jelly out of their hair?" asked my friend sheepishly. NO. "Don't try the cornstarch," he said, "it just makes a bigger mess. I think it would have been better to use mayonnaise. Let us know if you find anything that works."

What did work, at least modestly, was to go over their hair with a fine-tooth comb (ah, now you know from whence that saying came). We combed and combed and combed. "My hair is falling off," yelled the complainer. "It feels kind of good," said the sport.

I checked the Web one more time. "If that doesn't work, try using a blow dryer and then blotting the hair gently with a towel." The complainer was done, so we just covered his pillow with a towel and sent him to bed. But the sport and I thought the blow dryer method was worth a shot. Armed with a couple of towels and my 1875-watt turbo hair-straightening big gun, I set to work trying to melt the goo out of his hair.

"Mom," he said, trying to get my attention over the roar of the blower. "Mom! I think the oil is starting to boil my head! Hot, hot, hot!" Poor boy. Now we were done. "I think we should just get a pet monkey so he can groom us and eat the lice," he suggested. I'm seriously considering it.

My friend called back one last time. "How are you doing?" she asked. "We're done," I said. "Did you get it out?" she asked. "No, we're just done." In the background, I could hear her poor ailing husband: "Does she hate us?" No, I don't hate them.

Unless I get lice.

When not hanging out here on Chicago Moms Blog, Susan tries to figure things out at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog.

Photo credit: "I Say, Damn Boy, You Eat Up With The Lice !!" by bamakve via flickr.com.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Why I Love Digital Cameras


There are two kinds of people in the world: those who get things right the first time and those of us who need a few do overs. Our 2008 holiday photo took 23 do overs, but who's counting.

This year, in an effort to save both money and dollars, I'm sending out fewer cards the old fashioned way and trying my hand at a little modern holiday fun. When you click on the video below, you will have a pretty good idea of why I believe the digital camera was invented by someone with a large family after years of trying to get the perfect holiday shot.

We've been doing this holiday photo gig for nearly two decades now, and when I think of the time, film, paper, chemicals, money and sanity expended on most of those pictures, it's a little nauseating. Getting one good shot of one child is a relatively painless process, but each time you add a child into the photographic mix, the potential for disaster increases exponentially. It's clear that in our family everyone needs at least one second chance (with the exception of and apologies to the girl, who you will see is smiling prettily in each and every shot).

Best wishes to all of you and enjoy the show. Then click here and tell me your photo horror stories.



Music: "Dreidel" by Erran Baron Cohen from the CD "Songs in the Key of Hanukkah".

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Time for New Traditions — CMB Post

Originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

I admit it — I'm a sucker for tradition, and when it comes to holiday traditions, the more the merrier. It all started when I was a little girl. Until I was 13, I was blessed to have four living great-grand parents. Our holidays in the Detroit area were a mad relay of staccato car trips that hiccoughed us from the east side to the west side and back again, visiting relatives who pulled quarters from our ears and fed us horrible cookies.

I loved it and could never understand why my mother was always a nervous wreck. Now I know too well the stress of trying to keep sugar-doped children clean in dress-up clothes, cook and schlep food all over kingdom come, and find gifts for people I barely know. No wonder her favorite holiday memory was the year we went to Jamaica.

As my generation grew up and spread out across the country, our traditions changed. The 60-mile radius of my childhood seems like a luxury in the face of two-day car journeys, long train trips and expensive plane fares. We don't all always make it. When we do, we are holed up together for days on end, which brings its own delights and stresses. Our family has become more complicated, as well, blending and extending in many directions — but we've adapted pretty well, adding new people, new celebrations and new traditions to the mix.

Adding on has been adding up, however, and the travel alone costs a fortune. More people mean more gifts, more food — just more. The entire family is guilty of overly generous gift giving, but these days everyone is feeling the pinch. Over the past couple of years, we have tried to create a few new traditions to make the holiday experience a little less taxing (both financially and physically) without losing any of the joy.

Last year, for example, my parents came up with the idea of putting each couple in charge of one meal: planning it, buying it, preparing it and cleaning up after it. Even my three boys took on a dinner (spaghetti, jarred sauce, frozen garlic bread and a simple salad). It was great and a new tradition was born. Here are a few more ideas — some we've tried successfully, some that will be new this year:
  • I've cut way back on the number of holiday cards I'm sending this year (good for the planet as well as the wallet), opting instead to create a little e-video card. I'll have to get back to you on the results of this experiment.
  • It's not the cost that counts. My boys have a blast at the dollar store. Last year, my dad got a lifetime supply of toothpicks and couldn't be happier. He's even taken to giving dollar store hints: "Gee, I could really use a new fly swatter this year."
  • I'm encouraging creativity. Last year, my daughter made some great calendars using family photos that were a big hit. Our oldest son's girlfriend knits up a storm every year, creating beautiful, warm, personal gifts that we all treasure.
I think our favorite family tradition is the story behind the gift: who got the best buy, where one of us found that little shop with the crazy owner, and how someone snagged the most amazing freebie. Even lost luggage stories are fun when we're all together. Last year, lost luggage resulted in stringing out the gift giving for days.

Given our passion for storytelling, I've decided to inflict introduce something new this year. I fully expect the family to hate me for this, but we're going to try creating a progressive story (sometimes called an add-on or round robin story). The idea is that some poor sucker lucky raconteur (i.e., my brother) will be chosen to start a thrilling holiday tale, writing a paragraph or so before sending it on (don't you just love email?). Each family member will add a new paragraph, and we'll have a big story fest when we all gather later in the month. Wish me luck.

It takes time to develop and absorb new traditions. Change is hard. I thought the toughest part of a scaled-down holiday would be explaining it to the children, but it's not. The hardest part is accepting it myself. This year — and probably for a number of years to come — we can't have it all, buy it all, give it all or do it all. But we can still have fun, as long as we're together.

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. When not tinkering with tradition, Susan can be found tinkering at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog.

Graphic credit: Blessed by Billy Alexander.

New Traditions on CMB

Check out my new post on the Chicago Moms Blog about developing new holiday traditions in these tough economic times. It's part of another topic day, where everyone in the group is posting on the same topic. 

Share your traditions, new and old, by clicking here

Graphic credit: Blessed by Billy Alexander.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Question of Recession — CMB Post

Originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

News agencies around the world reported Monday that the U.S. economy is officially in recession. Actually, they reported that the National Bureau of Economic Research finally admitted that we've been in recession since December 2007. Duh. Why on earth it took a year to reach this dazzling conclusion is beyond me.

When I say "we've" been in recession for a year, I mean the country at large. My personal "we" — our family — has been in a downward-spiraling recession for years. As small business owners, we've been slammed with everything you've been reading about in the news: outrageous healthcare premiums, ever-climbing energy costs (and all that implies), and a contracting credit market that feels more like a noose than a belt tightening.

Rumor has it that I've used up my complaining quotient, so I'm not complaining — really I'm not. Like everyone else, I'm just trying to figure things out. If we and other families have felt under the financial gun for years, what does "official" recession mean for our immediate and long-term futures?

Here's what I know:

It took a long time to get our family and our country into this financial mess and it's going to take a long time to get us out of it — one step at a time.

We're going to have to make some tough decisions — decisions we no doubt should have made sooner.

Some things are my fault and some things aren't. Woulda, could, shoulda. Who cares? The real question is: now what?

It is not my responsibility to spend our country out of recession. If my incredibly short American memory serves, that's one of the things that got us into this mess in the first place.

Every year we say we are going to watch our spending over the holidays. This year I mean it — it's going to be lean.

I want better for my kids — not better as in more, but better in terms of making better decisions, paying better attention, being better stewards.

Here's what I don't know:

I don't know how to be concerned, vigilant and proactive without worrying myself into a coma.

I don't know how to turn off the worry so I can sleep at night, so I can make good decisions and take productive steps during the day.

I don't know how to teach my children to be grateful for what we have, while understanding what we can't have.

I don't know how to keep them informed and teach them financial responsibility and independence without transferring the weight of my stress and worry onto their slender shoulders.

I don't know how to make them feel safe and confident about the future, while keeping them grounded in the reality of the present.

I know I'm lucky. I'm healthy, educated and able-bodied. I have a strong support system. And I have hope, if not confidence, that the new administration will ask these and other important questions so we can begin to find the answers together.

When Susan isn't feeling queasy about credit card debt, she can be found worrying about other topics at Two Kinds of People and marketing the family business at The Animal Store Blog.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Chrismahanukwanzakah

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who celebrate Christmas and those who don't.

We celebrate both. I grew up with Christmas, my husband grew up with Hanukkah. We celebrate Christmas with my family and Hanukkah with my husband's. In our home, we stick to Hanukkah, except in years like this one, when everyone will gather at our house from around the country and we'll decorate across the board. My children aren't the slightest bit confused. Why should they be? In this difficult world, we welcome any and all celebrations.

I learned this lesson years ago from our dear friends Millie and Milt. They always say there are plenty of tears and trouble in life, so you should celebrate whenever you can. Party till you drop, that's their philosophy. Perhaps that's why they are still kicking up their heels when most people their age have planted their posteriors. 

A few years ago, my daughter fell in love with the made up word "Chrismahanukwanzakah". She loves saying it and uses it often to describe any December-related revelry. Maybe it's all the syllables that she loves. Or maybe it's the "K" sounds, as Neil Simon's character Willy explains in The Sunshine Boys:

"Words with 'k' in them are funny … Cupcake is funny. Tomato is not funny. Cookie is funny. Cucumber is funny. Car keys. Cleveland … Cleveland is funny. Maryland is not funny."

But I digress.

Chrismahanukwanzakah is a commercial holiday — literally. It was invented by Virgin Mobile as part of a holiday ad campaign. But, aren't most holidays pretty commercial these days? My girl thinks it's the best holiday ever, and not just because it's a great word. The whole notion of a crazy, mixed up holiday seems to fit our crazy, mixed up family. And it seems we're not alone. According to ABC News, in 2004 Chrismahanukwanzakah beat out Seinfeld's 1997 "Festivus for the Rest of Us." One made up holiday invented by an ad agency trumps another made up holiday invented by a guy writing a show about nothing. Do I hear a carol in there somewhere?

Seinfeld's "Festivus for the Rest of Us"

And speaking of carols, let's face it, Christmas music is just so much more festive than … well, any other holiday music. And there's so much of it. Oh, sure, we have Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah and I Have a Little Dreidel — maybe a few others, but nothing to compare with the multitudes of Christmas carols. It's interesting to note that many of the most famous Christmas carols have been written by Jews, who cashed in on a little commercial Christmas success for themselves:


That cross-over tradition lives on in my friend Billy Kaplan. "Perhaps your family is like mine," he says, "celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas. So, this year you will be lighting five candles on the menorah, then sitting down to a nice Christmas Eve dinner." Always in a dilemma over which kind of Holiday music to play, Billy and his daughter Hannah (Billy and the Kidders) solved the problem by writing and recording "Dradle 'Round the Tree", their CD with music for either (or both) holidays; check it out on their Website

So, no matter which winter holidays you celebrate, sing something merry this year and rejoice with gusto — and a happy, merry Chrismahanukwanzakah to you. Click here to leave your holiday wishes.

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Photo credit: Xmas Image (6) by bosela.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Children and Religious Diversity — CMB Post

Originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

We are a very liberal household. We chose our community in part because it is diverse — racially, ethnically, socioeconomically and, presumably, politically. Many residents who have the financial ability to live almost anywhere frequently cite our city's diversity as a major draw.

Yet few of us are naive enough to believe that we have achieved true integration of these diverse populations. There is still a pronounced achievement gap in most of our schools. There are neighborhoods that are considered "better" or "safer" than others. Children who play together in preschool and elementary school drift apart in middle school and high school — often along racial lines. Still, we try. At least our children know that not everyone looks alike or comes from the same background.

In our home, we talk a lot about tolerating differences, even within our family. My children are so different that I sometimes think they aren't even members of the same species. But we strive for acceptance (except when it comes to college football, as we are devout Michigan fans). So imagine my surprise when my middle boy came home in second grade and asked if it was OK that he was friends with someone who didn't believe in God.

I was stunned by the question. We are Jewish and our children attend religious school, but we are not particularly observant and have certainly never implied that we had a corner on the religious market. In fact, within our own extended family we have plenty of believers of different faiths, as well as our fair share of nonbelievers.

"Of course, you can still be friends," I assured him, and we had a wonderful discussion about how freedom of religion also includes the freedom not to believe. The First Amendment suddenly made perfect sense to this logical child and he moved on to being intolerant of his brother touching his stuff. I patted myself on the back for another parenting job well done.

So imagine my surprise when, a few years later, my youngest child encountered an even more disturbing form of religious intolerance at school — in third grade! A big playground brouhaha arose when ugly words were hurled at a child who said that his family did not believe in God. Parents and social workers were called in, and the school conducted a "Cool Tool" lesson in the classrooms about tolerance. I was proud of the school for addressing the issue directly, and yet something still did not sit right. I was particularly struck by the fact that both these instances of intolerance were directed at children and families who did not believe in God. Differing religious beliefs did not raise an eyebrow, but non belief seemed to be a huge issue.

One of the things I like about Judaism is that the religion itself encourages questions, debates, even arguments (at least within the Reform community). There is a constant quest for knowledge and understanding. We made the conscious choice to bring our children up within this religious setting because most of the people I knew who were raised without any religious affiliation grew up to believe in nothing. We felt it was important to give our children some background that they could learn about, rebel against, embrace or reject — but come to their decisions from a place of interest, knowledge and questioning.

I worry now, however, that by providing specific religious instruction, even in a tolerant congregation, we may inadvertently be teaching them that our beliefs are somehow "right", which almost by definition implies that different believers must somehow be "wrong." I hope this is not true. I hope these examples of intolerance will lead to more discussions, more growth and more tolerance. I hope my children continue to question — us, their religious teachers, their friends and their community — and I hope they do it in the spirit of achieving true diversity.

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. When Susan isn't pondering the big questions of religion and politics, she can be found writing at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog.

Photo courtesy of Jeanne Levy via flickr.com; the chalk art was done by Liza White and Kary Taylor at the Forest Grove Chalk Festival.

Diversity in America

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who ignore our differences and those who embrace them. 

Today, on the Moms Blog Group, bloggers from all over the country are tackling the topic of diversity head on. It's a conversation long overdue. Click here for my post on Children and Religious Diversity. Then spend some time reading the other posts on the topic by clicking on the listings on the left side bar. 

Please share your comments by clicking here.

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Photo courtesy of Jeanne Levy via flickr.com; the chalk art was done by Liza White and Kary Taylor at the Forest Grove Chalk Festival.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Golden Birthday — CMB Post

Originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.


"They look like space aliens," said my 12-year-old stepson. And they did. Born at 24 and 3/7ths weeks gestation, my twins spent five months on the neonatal intensive care unit, with tubes and wires attached to every part of their little bodies. The ventilators huffed and the monitors blinked and bleated day and night. Nurses shaved their plum-sized heads in a quest to find viable IV sites, and their little toes glowed red from the pulse oximeter that measured their blood oxygen levels, just the way ET's finger glowed.

On their birth day, my son weighed in at 1 lb. 8.5 oz. and my daughter was 1 lb. 10 oz. They were not the earliest preemies ever born, nor the smallest — world records I'm happy we do not hold. Chances are they won't make it through the night, we were told. Chances are they will be blind. Chances are they will be deaf or profoundly hearing impaired. Chances are they will have cerebral palsy, severe learning disabilities, asthma, allergies and chronic lung problems. Chances are they will have to be hospitalized on a regular basis.

But chances were with us and this week we celebrate their "golden" or "star" birthday, when they turn 17 on the 17th, in perfect health as juniors in high school. It was a long haul. They spent nearly a year on oxygen and reached every milestone months (in some cases years) after their peers, but they did reach them. In honor of their birthday, I would like to share 17 of the many gifts they have given to me:

1. Good things come in small packages. These babies were literally gifts, their conception the result of a fertility treatment called gamete intrafallopian transfer (or GIFT).

2. Live in the moment. Until I was hospitalized 11 days before their birth, I wished my life away, always hungry for the next thing: growing up, going away to college, moving to a new city, getting married, buying a house, getting pregnant. Because we didn't know what the next minute would bring as we tried to stave off their premature birth, I saw for the first time the value of living in the now.

3. Be grateful for the simple things. Breathing is beautiful and not to be taken for granted. So is peeing, which I learned as we prayed for my baby boy to urinate as proof that his kidneys were not shutting down.

4. Never wake a sleeping baby (thanks mom). When my daughter came home on March 10th, nearly five months after she was born, she weighed four pounds. I was told she would act like a newborn, waking every two hours to eat. She didn't. That first night home, I watched her sleep. When she didn't wake at the two-hour mark, I put a mirror by her mouth to make sure she was still breathing, even though she was on oxygen and electronic monitors. I stared at her for two and a half more hours before she finally woke. She was tired; people had been poking and prodding her for months. From that night on, she slept six hours at a stretch, just like a real baby.

5. Everyone is different. These twins who shared so much were completely different right from the start. I learned that comparing them to each other or anyone else was pointless. I also learned to stop comparing myself to others.

6. We all learn at our own pace. The best piece of advice I got when they were born was to ditch my copy of the baby bible What to Expect the First Year. Everything that happened that year was unexpected. Everything that has happened since has been unexpected. As long as we are making progress, it's all good.

7. Boys and girls are different. It's not nurture, it's nature. I did not have the time or energy to give these boy/girl twins different toys or different kinds of attention. Girls mature faster, boys are noisier and more physical. Are these generalizations? Sure, but they're generally true.

8. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. My son has struggled mightily in many ways, but you would never know it to meet him. He has a short-term memory deficit, which makes learning by rote very difficult, as well as finding things, like your homework or your socks. On the other hand, each day is a brand new adventure, and he never suffers from emotional hangovers. We could all use a little more of that.

9. You are what you think you are. My son was diagnosed as small for gestational age for most of his life. Until he was 14 and had been on growth hormone for four years, he never even reached the lowest percentile on the growth charts. He was always the smallest kid in the class, but when you asked him how big he was compared to his classmates, he would say "Oh, about in the middle."

10. Trust yourself. We have had the benefit of hundreds of talented, dedicated professionals who have helped bring these children to where they are today. But I am their mom, and I know them better than anyone. To become an effective advocate for them, I had to learn to trust myself.

11. Ask for help. As the saying goes, it takes a village. A neighbor of mine took me to a Mothers of Multiples support group meeting even before the babies came home from the hospital. Those women saved my life. I also found therapists when we needed them, as well as a great pediatrician, not to mention all the times I leaned on my parents, other family and friends.

12. This too shall pass — and faster than you think. When they were little, it seemed that we'd be mired in diapers forever; we weren't. My son was finally potty trained at four and a half. It seemed like they would never talk; they did — at four. The problem with "this too shall pass" is that it applies to the sweet times, as well as the sour ones, so pay attention or you might miss something good.

13. Read aloud together. They are 17 and we still read together — not every night, but often enough. I have loved this time together (except the Go, Dog. Go! phase).

14. Never give up. These tiny, frail, vulnerable babies (fetuses, really) are the strongest people I have ever met. They survived more challenges in their first year of life than most of us do in a lifetime: ventilators, lung damage, jaundice, retinopathy of prematurity, heart surgery, and invasive infections, just to name a few. They fought hard to be here.

15. Don't listen to the naysayers. I can't tell you how many people told us it would have been better if they had never been born. I was terrified at first, sad that I had not carried them to term and that their lives were going to be harder (at least in the beginning) than it should have been. But we are so lucky they were born at a time and in a place where they had a real chance to survive and, given that chance, they have thrived.

16. Celebrate. Many loving, well-meaning people had no idea how to react when they were born. We received no gifts or cards or flowers until they came home. People were afraid they were going to die. My mother handled most of the phone calls, conveying to everyone that we were celebrating. Whether they lived 90 hours or 90 years, this was the only life they would ever have. We're still celebrating.

17. It goes by fast. These children were babies for a long time, much longer than most, and yet here we are, on the edge of 17, that dividing line between childhood and adulthood. How did this happen? I swear I was paying attention.

So, my babies, Happy Birthday! And thank you.

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. When Susan is not sobbing over baby pictures, she can be found writing at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog.

You've Come a Long Way, Babies!


There are two kinds of people in the world: those who come in the easy way, full term and healthy; and those who struggle with prematurity. 

In honor of Prematurity Awareness month and to celebrate my preemie twins' 17th birthday, I have a new post on Chicago Moms Blog

If you know anyone who currently has babies on the neonatal intensive care unit, you might also want to check out another Chicago Moms Blog post called NICU 101 for Families and Friends.

To all of you who cared for them and us during those long and stressful months and in the years since, happy Ike and Molly's birthday! We're still celebrating.

Leave your birthday wishes or tell your preemie story by clicking here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

And the Winner Is …


There are two kinds of people in the world: those who enter contests and those who don't. 

My grandmother was absolutely positive that she was going to win the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes. No one knows how many magazines she bought over the years, but I believe her Reader's Digest subscription will continue in perpetuity. Each year, during Prize Week, she would get her hair done and dress up every day, refusing to leave the house because she was convinced that Ed McMahon and the Prize Patrol would knock on her door any minute with a giant cardboard check. We teased her about it gently, rolled our eyes behind her back, and secretly hoped she would win. She never did and I, personally, will never forgive Ed McMahon for disappointing her.

Some people are born lucky. In our family, the winner is my youngest boy. In fact, he is so successful at raffles that we now only enter his name. Most recently, at the annual elementary school fall fundraiser, in addition to the chocolate covered pretzels he won at the cake walk, his name was pulled during the raffle, winning a really cool felt pumpkin bucket full of gummy candies that we handed out for Halloween.

I'm not a big risk taker, so most of the contests available to me (gambling, the lottery) don't appeal. Oh, we all have our price, and mine is $100 million. On the rare occasion when our state Lotto jackpot reaches that high-water mark, I buy a ticket. Just one, as I'm only willing to flush one buck down the toilet at a time. So far, I am not a winner.

My fellow writer, Cindy Fey, recently entered a writing contest. That is so ambitious and productive. I'm more of a fill-out-the-form-and-drop-it-in-the-box kind of contestant. Just this weekend, at the grand opening of a new L.L. Bean store at our local mall, I filled out a form to win a $1000 family kayak package. I have no idea what I would do with it if I actually won this contest, as no one in my family has ever been kayaking, but hey, sometimes you have to take a chance.

A few years ago, I saw the Julianne Moore movie, The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio. It was based on a book by Terry Ryan about how her mother, Evelyn, "raised 10 kids on 25 words or less" by entering jingle contests during the 1950s and '60s. Evelyn won more than 200 contests, with prizes ranging from food and watches to European trips and sports cars. 

My brain is cluttered with advertising jingles, frequently blocking out important information like my children's names. I've tried repeatedly to delete these maddening little snippets from my hard drive with no success. I still know how to spell bologna; I still know where Bandaids stick; and I still know what kind of kids eat Armour Hotdogs

Despite the number of cells my brain has devoted to jingles, I was intrigued by Evelyn Ryan's story. I love that she used her talent to help her family at a time when her options were limited. In addition to her talent, Evelyn learned to jump through all the quirky hoops required of these kinds of contests. It must have been a full-time job. As a life-long direction follower, I appreciate her tenacity and attention to detail. Watching the movie, I became nostalgic for a time I don't remember where these kinds of contests were commonplace. 

So, a few weeks ago I was inspired by Evelyn to enter an online giveaway through a blog called Tippy Toes and Tantrums. The idea was to win holiday cards offered by Tiny Prints by writing a holiday greeting. Guess what? I won! Here's my greeting:

A little merry, a little glow
A little love and mistletoe.
The gift of thanks, the gift of cheer
With peace and joy throughout the year.

Clearly the moral of this story is that I should stop trying to write the next Nobel Prize winning novel, the next Newbery Medal winning children's book, and the next Pulitzer Prize winning editorial, and stick to writing schmaltzy greeting card copy. 

What's your winning story? Tell me about it by clicking here.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I Voted! — CMB Post

Originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

And when I say "I" voted, I mean we voted: me, my husband and my two youngest (ages 10 and 12) were up at 6:20 a.m. and at our polling place by 7:06. The boys were so excited, and I was gratified to see a line. In all the years I've been voting at this same spot, there has never been a line. In fact, the last time I voted there it was early evening and I was the 76th voter for the day. This morning, at 7:06 a.m., I was already voter #103.

The political discourse surrounding this election has also encouraged me — at least the discourse in our household. My children have raised many important questions on vital issues, including: What is the difference between an opponent and an enemy? Can we solve the energy crisis and protect/cleanup the environment? Why haven't we ever elected a woman or an African American or a Jewish American to be President or Vice President? Can I push the buttons on the touch screen?

It's been a long haul. I strongly believe political campaigns and wedding engagements should be limited to no more than a year. But, it's finally here, and maybe even my political junkie brother will sleep better at night. The one thing I want to remind my children about on this historic day is that the election is not the end: it's a new beginning.

This an original Chicago Moms Blog post. When not standing in line at her local polling place, Susan can be found blogging at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog.

You Know Who You Are


There are two kinds of people in the world: those who vote and those who don't.

I voted. Did you?

Read about my voting experience on my new post at Chicago Moms Blog. You'll recognize it — I used the same scan of my "I Voted" sticker.

Let me know about your voting experience in this historic year by clicking here.

Post Script: OBAMA WINS!

10:57 p.m. President Elect Obama is about to address the crowd in Grant Park. Wow!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Halloween — It's All in the Theme — CMB Post

Originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.


"Are you still working on those stupid costumes?" This is the chorus that rings in my ears each year throughout October. Members of this cantankerous choir include my parents, my husband, most of my friends and virtually every other parent at my kids' schools — in other words, everyone except my children.

I realize that, to outsiders, our tradition may seem a bit OCD. So I spend 200 hours a year sewing Halloween costumes for four kids, at least two of whom are now really too old for trick or treating. So what if I'm up till dawn in the days counting down to the 31st, trying to put the finishing touches on Broadway-worthy costumes that will only be worn for a few hours. When the witching hour finally arrives, our theme will shine. (Do you doubt? Click here for pictures.)

It all started 16 Halloweens ago. My premie twins, born the November before, were finally out of the woods after a harrowing year of near-death experiences, five months on the NICU and 11 months on oxygen. Halloween '92 was the first holiday in their nearly year-old lives that we were actually going to celebrate.

These lucky babies were barely sitting up and not remotely ready to party, but my husband had just bought his pet store and our theme was clear. The tiny boy became a frog and the little girl transformed into a little bunny. We held the store's grand opening over the holiday weekend and the cutest animals in the shop smiled at our new customers from the depths of the Pack 'n Play.

Boy/girl twins lend themselves pretty easily to themed costumes; we did Raggedy Ann and Andy, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and a couple of clowns. But then came one baby brother followed closely by another and the theme got complicated. The Wizard of Oz worked well, even though Dorothy towered over her Tinman twin, and when my middle guy first saw his costume, he sobbed because he was afraid of it. We assured him that this was a perfectly appropriate response for the Cowardly Lion. The little guy, just barely toddling, couldn't have been a cuter Scarecrow.

One year, the world's tallest Tinkerbell reigned over Peter Pan, Captain Hook and Tick Tock, the alligator who swallowed Hook's hand. But once we had exhausted all the obvious themes featuring three boys and a girl, we had to get creative.

By now, the kids were fully vested in the theme and had their own ideas. One year, we did candy: a Hershey's Kiss, a chocolate bar, a red M&M (or would that be just one M?) and a Tootsie Roll. They were game pieces one year, and objects of the universe another. Sometimes the theme was stretched pretty thin, like our "nautical" year (Captain Jack Sparrow, the Pirate Queen, a Navy admiral and a scuba diver). Last year, they were royalty — Julius Caesar, Anne Boleyn (complete with bloody neck), a shiny knight and young King Arthur.

So here we are, mere days before Halloween and I'm further behind than ever. It's not entirely my fault, since it's harder and harder to achieve consensus. For example, my daughter has a new obsession and insisted that she wanted to be a forensic anthropologist for Halloween. OK, you figure out how to make that costume — and where's the theme?

After much obnoxiously loud arguing spirited debate, my youngest came up with a "Halloween" theme, where everyone would represent one of the iconic Halloween symbols. He claimed the girl could have her forensic wish and still comply with the theme if we made her a skeleton and labeled the bones (she actually bought that!). The genius with the big idea is going to be a spider. ("Not a cute spider, mom, a scary spider.") The oldest boy is going to be a Charlie Brown ghost — you know, a sheet with 27 eyeholes cut out — and carry a pillowcase that says "I got a rock." And the middle guy will be a mummy.

My daughter recently pointed out to one naysayer that our days of themed Halloweens are numbered; the twins will be seniors next year and that will be that. So, the answer to that perennial question for this penultimate Halloween is, yes, I'm still working on those stupid costumes. And loving every minute.

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. When Susan isn't busy sewing her fingers to the bone, she can be found typing them to the bone at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Can You Guess Our Theme?

There are two kinds of people in the world: normal, regular people who take Halloween in stride, and crazy, obsessed people who spend way too much time and money on the whole thing. 

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that my family (at least the kids and I) fall into the latter category. An in-depth exploration of how the idea of a Halloween "theme" first took root in our household is posted on the Chicago Moms Blog, so check it out. You can also see our very first Halloween theme on display at The Animal Store blog, where we are celebrating the 16th anniversary of our grand opening. 

In the meantime, see if you can spot the theme from our past Halloween exploits. I'd love to hear how you celebrate. Leave a comment here


This theme is pretty obvious, 
but can you guess which two are twins?

Star, sun, moon and (believe it or not) Saturn.
Get it?

World's tallest Tinkerbell and her boys.

Who are they this time?

This is a bit of a stretch, but you can get it.
Come on, what do Captain Jack, the Pirate Queen
a Navy admiral and a scuba diver have in common?

Stumble It!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Not Quite Published, Not Quite Famous



There are two kinds of people in the world: those who have been in The New York Times and those who haven't. 

In the last 30 days, the pages of the venerable Times, which has been reporting the news in this country daily since 1851, of course covered both Barack Obama and John McCain in this historic 2008 Presidential campaign, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson as he wades through the muck of the current financial crisis, and the loss of Hollywood great Paul Newman. Regular readers have also been treated to the musings of the gifted Dick Cavett in his NY Times blog called Talk Show; would have seen 30 references to, quotes from and clips of Jon Stewart of the Daily Show; and would have found, disturbingly, 10 mentions of 15-year-old Miley Cyrus.

But discerning readers, those who pore over every word of what may arguably be the most famous newspaper in the world, may have seen another name, one that has never graced those pages before — mine. No, they didn't publish one of my blog posts. No, it wasn't a review of my yet to be published first novel. No, I didn't get my first major newspaper byline. It was a quote, and a relatively boring quote at that, about the election.

It all started several weeks ago, when I got a call to participate in a "nation-wide poll." I've lost my patience for people who invade my home via the telephone, but something about the pitch intrigued me and I stayed on the line. It turns out that I was one of 1,133 people polled by New York Times/CBS News Polls about the election. I spent about 45 minutes on the first call, and another 15 or 20 minutes on a separate follow-up call a couple of days later. Two articles resulted from that poll: the important one (i.e., the one that has my quote in paragraph 15 and which, ironically, is on the MSNBC Website, not the CBS News or NYT Websites) entitled Link to Bush still hurting McCain, poll finds; and the other one, McCain Seen as Less Likely to Bring Change, Poll Finds.


It was a fascinating process, listening to the questions and how they were posed. Some of the questions were open-ended, like "Regardless of how you intend to vote, what do you like most about Sarah Palin?" I said I thought she was good at reading a teleprompter. In looking over the poll results, my answer must have fallen into the "other" category. 

Other questions, in fact most questions, were multiple choice and, in several cases, I didn't like any of the answers. For example:  "If elected, Barack Obama would be 47 years old when he assumes office. Do you think his being 47 years old might make him too inexperienced to do the work the presidency requires, or do you think his age helps him have the fresh new ideas to do a good job as president?" The McCain version asked whether being 72 "would make it too difficult for him to do the work the presidency requires" or whether "his age helps him have the experience and wisdom to do a good job as president." 

In both cases, I answered that the chronological age of these candidates was the least of my worries and that I didn't want to choose either answer, which put me among the four percent in the DK (don't know) category for these two questions. I do know, I just thought those were stupid choices.

Now, if they had asked something like "Given the two people the candidates picked as running mates, who would you be most afraid of dying in office, McCain or Obama?" — that is a question I could answer. Unfortunately, it was not one of the questions.

The follow up interview gave me a little more wiggle room to answer questions directly, rather than just picking A, B or C. I tried to be honest and not sound like an idiot. Both interviewers asked if they could use my name, age and hometown, and I agreed. I think if you are going to give an opinion, you should be willing to stand by it and be identified. One of them asked if I would be willing to be interviewed on camera. This is where I had to draw the line. Rumor has it that the camera adds 10 pounds, and I just can't afford that right now. 

At the end of the second conversation, the interviewer asked me, off the record, what kind of work I do. I said that I was a writer. "Ah, that explains it," she said. Explains what? Why I was so snarky and opinionated? Why my answers took off like runaway trains? What, woman, what? I waited uneasily for her to continue. "You are very articulate," she said. "Most people just ramble on and and on and talk in circles. You made your point clearly and moved on." Those editorial comments, unfortunately, did not make it into the article. But at least they spelled my name right.

Have an opinion you would like to share? I'm polling your comments here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

For Sale: Mama Guilt — CMB Post

Originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

I recognize that in this bear market, it might be prudent to hold onto my portfolio and ride out the storm, but I'm desperate: I need to dump about 10,000 shares of Mama Guilt ASAP.

It all started about three weeks ago when my youngest boy caught a cold, which devolved into the inevitable lingering cough. I'm a sinus infection girl, myself, but the lingering cough is our family Achilles' heel, and the one thing my four children share without fighting over it. That first week, he missed about a day and a half of school, a session of Hebrew school and one soccer practice.

Then he rallied, although not completely (cough, cough), and I sent him back to school. I'm pretty lenient about sick days, because I loathe when people send their infectious children back to school before they are ready. But, frankly, if I kept my kids home every time they coughed, they would grow up illiterate.

On and off over the next 10 days, he would look a little tired and pasty, so I'd give him a steamy bath, some over-the-counter elixirs and an early bedtime, and by the next morning, he would be up and ready, if not raring to go.

Then the weekend rolled around, with soccer practice on Saturday and a game on Sunday in the pouring rain. (OK, it was a heavy drizzle, not a downpour, but from a spectator's point of view, it was miserable. The boys actually seemed to enjoy it.) Throughout the game, huddling under my broken umbrella and cursing the entire soccer program, I made my first acquisition of Mama Guilt stock for the fall season as I began to feel uneasy about allowing him to play. This is ridiculous, I thought. He's had a cold for two weeks. He's going to catch pneumonia.

Mama Guilt, Round 2: Relax, I argued with myself. He's not a baby anymore; you've got to stop hovering. A little water never hurt anyone.

Mama Guilt, Round 3: The next day, I couldn't even wake him up to go to school. He slept until 10:30 a.m. and spent the day hanging out, but didn't really seem sick (except for the aforementioned lingering cough).

Mama Guilt, Round 4: Tuesday morning, I again argued with myself — send him to school, or keep him home again. This is ridiculous, I thought. School's barely been in session a month and he's already missed nearly a week. So, off he went. Not three hours later, the phone rang and I just knew it was the school health clerk. I brought him home and he promptly fell asleep for three hours, waking with a fever of 102°.

Mama Guilt, Round 5: "Bring him right in," they said when I called the pediatrician. She listened to his chest, frowning; she listened to his cough, frowning; she tested his blood oxygen level, frowning. "He's really junky," she said. "We're going to treat him for bacterial pneumonia. He'll either feel a lot better in two days or you'll have to bring him back." And even though she assured me that I was not a loser mother, that I had done exactly what I should have done, it was too late — my portfolio runneth over with Mama Guilt.

The good news is that he's responding well to the meds and I find I'm ready to divest myself of Mama Guilt, so if you know anyone in the market, I'm selling — cheap!

When Susan isn't busy wallowing in guilt here at Chicago Mom's Blog, she can be found wallowing on her own blogs, Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog.

For Sale: Mama Guilt

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who feel guilty about everything and those who don't. For many of us, guilt was a part of childhood. My mother was great at administering guilt in just the right dose (but I'll save that discussion for another post). 

Once you have crossed the line into parenthood, however, guilt is here to stay. Read about my latest bout of Mama Guilt on my new post at Chicago Moms Blog. Feel free to leave a comment there or here.

Photo credit: Image 313291 by Aaron Murphy.