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

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


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.