Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009

This past year was truly great. It wasn't great because of any major life-changing events, it was great because of the lack thereof. As I look back on the past decade, as so many people are doing this time of year, I realize that some huge life change happened to me almost every single year during the 2000s. In 2000 I was a college senior in Southern California, and 10 years later I'm a wife, mother, and homeowner living all the way across the country. And I've had two different careers, three if you count stay-at-home-motherhood.

So, like most people my age, I have experienced a lot of changes in the past decade. But none of those changes happened in 2009. It was just a nice, calm, stable year. And I'm a girl who loves stability almost to the point of boredom, so 2009 was my year.

I also feel that in 2009 ... Well, I can't think of any nicer way to say it than that 2009 was the year I got my shit together. I felt like I was floundering ever since Nathan was born, both in terms of actual, legitimate depression and the more run-of-the-mill "my life is over" syndrome that comes after having your first child. But this past year, I feel like we got into a better groove. A lot of it was getting to be a stay-at-home mom, which I had a brief lead-in to in 2008 but got to do for the entirety of 2009. I can't believe staying home has been such a good fit for me, because I would never have predicted that. But it has just been great for my marriage, my parenting, and my overall mental/physical health.

Speaking of which, I am proud to say that I went to the gym more times in 2009 than in any other year of my life. That count may even include middle school, when "gym" was a required class. Anyway, I finally discovered that I need exercise to manage my depression, and then after joining Weight Watchers mid-year I needed exercise even more. And speaking of Weight Watchers, I managed to stay on it for almost the entire second half of 2009. That is my longest WW run ever, and I'm still going. (Of course, I could argue that I'm only going to be on it for so long because I let myself become a huge fat-ass this time around, but I'm staying positive for this post.)

I credit my gym success partially to the fact that they have a daycare, which means it provides a nice indoor change of scenery for Nathan and a break for me. Between my gym classes and Nathan's activities, our days and weeks had a really nice rhythm to them. Nathan did several sessions of toddler music class at the park district, plus library story hour, a monthly nature class, and swimming lessons. In addition to my gym activities, I took a cooking class on pizza, attended a one-day floral arrangement lesson, did aquacize in the summer, and briefly attempted ice skating lessons.

Some fun places our family attended in 2009 were: The Museum of Science and Industry, Brookfield Zoo, Bourbonnais Exploration Station, Frankfort Children's Museum, Kohl Children's Museum, Art Institute, Millennium Park, Lake Katherine, the Midwest Gaming Classic in Wisconsin, the Morton Arboretum, Shedd Aquarium, the Children's Museum of Oak Lawn, family reunion in Ohio, Key Lime Cove Waterpark Hotel, Rainforest Cafe, Lamb's Farm, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Hawaii, Day Out with Thomas, Cubs game, County Line Orchard, Bengston's Pumpkin Fest, Winter WonderFest at Navy Pier, and various California-based activities.

Plus we were regulars at the park, the mall, the JCC, the pool, and the splash pad.

I will end with a 2009 personal "best of."

Best book: Well first, let me say I read more books in 2009 than I have in any other year in recent memory. In February I read the Twilight saga, and while that was just a massive addiction, it was also almost troubling how those books took over my life. But I do credit Twilight for reminding me that it's okay to blow off the rest of my life for reading sometimes. Another series of books I liked was the Hunger Games series. But my absolute favorite book I read in 2009 was The Help.

Best new TV show: Community, because Joel McHale is hot.

Best movie: This one was hard for me. I couldn't even remember what movies I saw, so I looked back on my Netflix history. And when I looked at it, I couldn't pick a favorite. Not because I liked so many, but because I was sort of lukewarm on so many. But here are some movies on that list that I liked: He's Just Not That Into You, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, The Secret Life of Bees, Sunshine Cleaning, and Julie & Julia. I also want to give a shout-out to Ponyo, which was Nathan's first movie in the theater and was super cute, plus also starred my girl crush Tina Fey as one of the voices.

Best moment: Falling asleep the first night in Hawaii, a $15 mai tai coursing through my bloodstream, listening to the waves crash with my sleeping child curled up next to me.

Best accomplishment: Going to the gym every single day in March.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Trip, Part 2

Blogger tells me that I last posted on Dec. 23, so here's what happened after that ...

On the 24th we went to Cost Plus (a.k.a. World Market) so Bill could buy his contribution to the "stocking bags" we do with my mom's family. Each individual person (not each family) is supposed to contribute a stocking stuffer. I do the same thing every year: a bag containing an Illinois lottery ticket, a Target gift card ($5, and this year I used the new Target "gift coins"), some candies, and some other random item (this year it was hand sanitizer). In total, I spent about $8.50 per bag, which became a significant expense after 13 bags. Anyway, at Cost Plus World Market, Bill purchased jars of chocolate spread from Holland for his contribution, which cost $4 each. So, our family was in for about $12.50 per bag, which becomes a significant detail later, I promise.

After that we went to In-N-Out Burger, for Nathan's first visit there. Then we went to Costco, where I got a free cookbook with recipes made from stuff you get at Costco. So that was cool.

Sometime later it was Christmas Eve, and we had the traditional tamales with Bill's family. Oh, the cheese tamales my mother-in-law got ... oh, I think back on them with such love. They had sour cream or some kind of creamy sauce inside them. Anyway, following dinner we did the name draw gift exchange. As I have previously mentioned, this was our first year doing name draw with that family. Although I was previously in favor of it, I'm not sure it totally worked out. It felt sad not to be buying for Bill's parents and siblings. I feel like in an effort to curtail gift-giving to more distant relatives (aunts, uncles, cousins, cousins' various significant others), we gave up giving to our actual close relatives. I think maybe if I were in charge, we would just ban gift-giving to all but immediate family next year. A solution was proposed to instead have everybody go on an outing together (a.k.a. "the experience gift") next year, but I think people will complain that they are spending way more money on the outing than they would on some random gifts from T.J. Maxx.

Anyway, we slept over at Bill's parents' Christmas Eve, and in the morning we did stockings and kids' gifts and ate breakfast. Bill's parents did an excellent job giving Nathan gifts that were easy to carry back.

Then we drove to my mom's house around noon Christmas day, where I got to work making brownies for my traditional brownie sundae dessert, and I folded the napkins like I always do. (This year's fold: the slightly boring silverware pocket fold.) Then I got Nathan down for a 3-hour nap, which was my best Christmas gift of all! And during the nap I sat around drinking champagne and eating appetizers with my relatives. Then we ate Christmas dinner and got to the opening of the stocking bags. Remember before when I mentioned that my family spent $12.50 on each bag? Well, some people interpreted a $50 Target gift card for each person as a stocking stuffer. So we felt all kinds of guilt.

Nathan cleaned up, getting all kinds of instruments (like, seriously, both an acoustic guitar and an electric one), vehicles, and play-dough things. Then we ate the brownie sundaes and we all crashed.

December 26 is my grandparents' anniversary. They have been married 67 years. Isn't that awesome? So we always go out to breakfast with the whole family to celebrate the anniversary. And that was the most interesting thing that happened Dec. 26.

On the 27th we went to the Richard M. Nixon Library and Birthplace, which was having a giant model train display for the holidays. As my mom said, they had something for everyone. Bill enjoyed all the Nixon stuff, Nathan enjoyed the trains (featuring a Thomas section), I enjoyed the rose gardens, and my mom enjoyed the tour of Nixon's childhood home. I don't know what my stepdad liked best, because he pretty much likes everything. Then we had dinner with Bill's parents because they live near there.

Then we went to my mom's, and Bill and I got into a big argument concerning how to get all the gifts back home to Chicago. In the end, we agreed to borrow a big duffel bag from my parents and check it, so we had a total of 4 huge suitcases for the 3 of us.

The next day was the flight home, which I have to say went extremely well considering how much stuff we had. And Bill and I agreed not to argue. Plus they have a Pinkberry yogurt in the airport now, so I enjoyed a plain tart yogurt with strawberries and mochi topping (which, yes, cost a whopping $6, so it's good that it was a one-shot deal). Anyway, Nathan slept on the plane and we got all our luggage at baggage claim, then somehow got it all to the parking lot and drove home. Total time spent on ground and air transport that day: 11 hours (9 if you don't consider the two hours lost to the time change).

So now I'm home and faced with the overwhelming number of tasks that pile up when you return from a trip. I am one of those people who wants to get everything done, right away, and I just have to tell myself that things will get back to normal slowly. Each belonging that I unpack and put away is one less belonging in the suitcases.

And tomorrow is New Year's Eve. I really have no idea why New Year's Eve is even a holiday. Like, why can't we just wake up New Year's Day and have it be a new year? Why must we feel the need to do something meaningful to count down to the new year? Now, let me say that I have never been the type who wants to go out an attend some wild drunken gathering for New Year's. But I still feel this pressure to have some kind of special gathering, even though we are still recovering from all the special gatherings of Christmas. And I feel sad because none of my friends are available to come over for dinner this year for New Year's. Then it occurs to me that I am really lame for not realizing that the most important people in my life are always available to have dinner with me. So our family is going to get take-out and watch TV, or maybe play board games (though it's hard when you only have 3 players and one of them is a toddler).

Tomorrow I will do a standard year-in-review sort of post, so tune back in.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

On such a winter's day

I'm sitting here in the high desert of California, looking out on the early morning sun as it peaks over snow-tinged hills.

Yes, there is snow in parts of California. Anyway, I'm up at my in-laws' new desert house, which is Leg 2 of my holiday travels. And what a long, strange journey it has already been.

Bill wanted to stay home and grade some of his finals before coming out to California (side note: he did not accomplish this goal), so Nathan and I headed out by ourselves last Thursday. As flights with Nathan go, this one went really, really well. We had the window and middle seats, and the woman sitting in the aisle seat was a little old lady who colored with Nathan for an hour and a half. Unfortunately the man in front of us was kind of a jerkwad. See, Nathan likes to climb down and sit down where your feet go. I let him as long at the seat belt sign is off, because I figure he's so tucked in down there he can't possibly go flying anywhere. So as he got up to reposition himself back in the seat, he jostled the seat in front of us, which the seat's occupant interpreted as kicking. He turned around and said, "Why don't you put him in the middle seat, because there's nobody sitting in front of it, and he can kick all he wants." He had a nasty tone he was unsuccessfully trying to hide. But whatever, because being in the middle seat put Nathan next to the old lady who enjoyed coloring, and she said he was very well-behaved.

My dad and stepmom picked us up at the airport. We went to Chipotle for dinner. I decided my vacation from Weight Watchers would begin then, and I got the chicken burrito. The one that comes in the tortilla, not the burrito bowl. Anyway, then when we got home, my dad had a flier entitled "Ten Foods You Should Never Eat," and guess what was on there? That's right, the Chipotle chicken burrito.

Ahh, but that was just the beginning of the poor eating choices.

Friday was Dad's House Christmas, because everybody else had plans on the actual Christmas with other branches of the family. (Side note, I have decided that Dad's House Christmas would be a good name for a band.) We all went to an Italian restaurant, which is a key staple of Dad's House Christmas, though the actual restaurant varies from year to year (or sometimes it's take-out). The restaurant was good and bad. Good because I had some kind of white pizza, and then we got this salted caramel budina (pudding) for dessert. I occasionally refer to the foodgasm, and this pudding was definitely foodgasmic. The bad thing about the restaurant is that restaurants are where things usually come to a head regarding my dad and stepmom's unrealistic expectations for Nathan's behavior. If he isn't sitting with his hands folded on the table, they say his behavior is inappropriate for a restaurant, and yell at him using the voice they use to yell at their dogs. In my opinion, if he is quiet and not bothering anybody else in the restaurant, and not performing any kind of eggregious breach of etiquette (e.g. standing on the table), that is successful restaurant behavior for a two-year-old. But the parents view things differently, and I was getting all kinds of insulted about how they viewed my parenting, and ... yay, fun lunch. But there was that pudding.

Repeating the mantra They mean well over and over in my head, I was able to rally and get into a better mood for the gift-opening back at my parents' house. Let me note here that Nathan is at a stage that makes gift-opening both adorable and totally obnoxious. To him, the pleasure is in the opening, and he will just incessantly tear open any box he sees. Then when all his gifts are opened, he gets upset that there is nothing else to open, despite the dazzling array of new toys that were underneath all that wrapping paper. Based on the behavior of my niece and nephews, I predict that this phase will last for approximately 10 more years.

Anyway, Nathan got some cool toys, his favorite being an airplane with a toy power drill to take it apart, and my favorite being his kid's digital camera. And guess what Bill and I got?! An Amazon Kindle! You know what you can do with an Amazon Kindle? You can have any book you want in an instant, for $10! I'm a little bit worried that this will severely diminish my library career, but we'll still patronize the library for children's books and cookbooks.

This is a picture taken with Nathan's new camera. As you can see, it's not going to win anybody any photo contests, but what do you want for a toddler's camera?



After all the festivities, my brother and sister-in-law went home and my dad and stepmom went over to their neighbors' for a party. This is when all the trouble started. My stepmom came home and passed out on the floor. This basically led to a train of events that went as follows: stepmom in hospital for tests --> brother, SIL, Nathan, and I had to go be the family reps at my stepmom's family party Saturday night -->blah, blah, blah family drama about how dad/stepmom sometimes keep us in the dark about serious medical situations -->stepmom stays in hospital all day Sunday but Dad takes Nathan and me to the beach/pier and out for a crepe breakfast -->stepmom gets out of hospital Monday in time for them to drive me to my in-laws' for Leg 2 of the trip (diagnosis: she shouldn't drink).

And while on the pier, we saw Santa. We got a free photo with him, but it may not have been worth it because Santa promised he would bring Nathan a toy that I had not purchased for him. At that point it was December 20, so I went and ordered that gift online, to be sent with $17 express shipping. I guess maybe I didn't have to do that. He could have just gone without the gift. But he had been asking for this particular gift for awhile, and I had just hoped it would be a birthday gift for him instead because it's a little bit large to haul back to Illinois. But then Santa promised he would bring it (this particular Santa having apparently flunked out of Santa 101, wherein you learn that you just promise a child that you will try to bring him a specific gift). So, bottom line, Nathan will be receiving the Cars Dinoco helicopter from Santa at my mom's house Christmas morning.

Here's our picture with Santa:

So, now I'm up in the desert with my in-laws. Bill flew in yesterday, which is nice because now I'm not on solo Nathan duty. Also there isn't much to do in the desert, so all you do is sit around, watch movies, surf the Internet, eat, and drink. It is awesome. I have eaten approximately 10,000 cookies since arriving.

We still have Christmas Eve and Christmas morning here, then we're heading into Leg 3 at my mom's house from Christmas day through the 28th. So, more updates to come ...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

15-Minute Update

(15 minutes is how long I have to type this, not how long it will take to read it!)

So, I have taken a blogging break since that whole NaBloPoMo thing, which means I haven't written since Monday. Which means there are all kinds of mundane life events for me to update you on!

Hmm ... Well, Monday was our once-a-month nature class at the forest preserve. The day's topic was: Squirrels. At one point the teacher took out a squirrel pelt for the kids to pet ... complete with teeth. Which reminded me of the time at our old house, when I saw a half bone/half skin dead squirrel that had impaled itself on a tree branch. It also had those creepy fangs. Anyway, the only significant development that happened after that was that we got home after the class and before I got Nathan to wash his disgusting squirrel hands, he stuck his hand in my bag of Good 'N Plenty. So, that was the end of that candy for me. Apparently having somebody infect your candy with dead squirrel germs is a very effective dieting strategy.

Tuesday I had plans to go swimming and then do yoga, but I flaked on the swimming. And I beat myself up something horrible over it, which is so dumb because I shouldn't set unattainable goals and then feel bad when I inevitably fail to achieve them. Oh well, at least I had the self-esteem-boosting yoga to make me feel better. ("Tell yourself you did a great job today, because you did, taking time for yourself.") Oh yoga, it kicks the crap out of you in such a pleasant, nurturing environment.

Wednesday I was in a very down-on-myself mood. The day started with one of my least favorite places, Nathan's pediatrician's, where we had gone to get his going-on-six-weeks face rash checked out. It's not that I don't like the doctor. I just don't like sitting in the waiting room trying to entertain a two-year-old for an hour, just for a 5-minute visit with the doctor. Following that, we went to the library, which has gotten a really cool new dollhouse. And then we went to the bakery, where I drowned my sorrows in two pieces of cake, because, hey, they come free with your lunch. Next my friend Sarah wanted to go to this pottery-painting place so her son could make some Christmas gifts, except we had already exhausted the pottery-painting angle last year. But I went along because I figured she might need help with her toddler and newborn. Nathan painted a random knick-knack snowman. Nathan + paint = HOLY CRAP. I could not handle it. And for some reason I talked myself into thinking Sarah was mad at me, then went home and felt bad about myself for the rest of the day. And things did not improve with my evening gym class with the instructor who talks into her microphone in a high-pitched voice for THE ENTIRE 60-MINUTE CLASS.

Thursday things improved. I picked up Noah (Sarah's 3-year-old) and took both boys to this new bouncy place in the mall. This, by the way, is the mall I don't really like because all the stores suck, but it's becoming quite the little miniature amusement park for toddlers. The playground there is good, and they have those cars that you put quarters in, plus the new bouncy place, and right now there's a big animatronic Santa display. And the best thing happened there: I cured Noah of his bouncy castle-phobia. Sarah said she was indebted to me, and I decided she probably wasn't mad at me after all. And then Thursday night I flaked on the gym and stayed home and overate dry Cheerios and Good 'N Plenty (the replacement pack I bought at Target when I was there Wednesday to get Nathan's rash medicine), which is the lamest way to indulge ever.

Friday I again flaked on the gym, but took Nathan to the JCC and ran around there for awhile. (Random note: Although I am not Jewish, I have recently discovered that the JCC has a wonderful indoor play area.) Then Nathan refused to take a nap, for like the third time this week, and I think he might be giving up his nap and sleep in general. And then last night was the local Christmas tree-lighting/Santa visit/general merriment, so I decided to unclench and get in the holiday spirit.

And now it's Saturday, and I went to the gym for the first time in three days, and did my two Saturday classes, and the best thing happened! The instructor who normally makes it her mission in life to pick on me actually said, "Perfect form, Shannon!" But then she added, "See, all that correcting paid off." Umm, no, actually I perfected my squatting form through the more constructive criticism of other instructors. But whatever. And tonight we're going to holiday thing at the zoo, and my 15 minutes are up.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sniff, Sniff (Congestion, not Crying)

I got Nathan's cough/cold, and haven't remembered to replenish my cold medicine supply since the debacle two weeks ago when I couldn't buy cold medicine in the city on a Sunday. So I rummaged through my medicine cabinet and found some children's Dimetapp that expired in August. Took it anyway, and boy was it delicious! Why can't adult cold medicine be so yummy and grape-y?

Life has settled down a bit since the rush of Thanksgiving meal-prep and holiday decorating have ended. And as stressed out as I claim to be about the holidays, the truth is that no-gift pacts and name-draws have led to me only having to purchase 5 gifts this year. Just to give you a reference frame, my all-time worst Christmas (gift-wise) saw a list with 40 people to buy for.

So the truth is, I'm kind of bored right now. We have a whole list of holiday activities in the coming weeks: a singer at the library Wednesday, the local tree-lighting Friday, the other local tree-lighting Saturday, and this super awesome cookie fest/living nativity put on by a nearby church Sunday. But Thanksgiving weekend, everything kind of gets canceled. A lot of people are out of town or traveling, so those of us who stay put have nothing to do.

Therefore, I have been reading a lot. Just moments ago I finished Such a Pretty Fat. As I said in a previous post, it's a memoir of this woman's attempts at weight loss. The author/subject of the story is kind of a bitch, but it was still a funny story. I could totally relate to her frustration with the idiots at Weight Watchers meetings.

I still have Superfreakonomics on deck, but I just can't read it right now. Maybe the stuffiness in my head is getting in the way of my concentration, but a book about statistics, even interesting ones, is just not doing it for me. And reading that light-hearted, humorous memoir was fun, but now I need a good story, something I can get totally lost in. Because the weather sucks and it's time to start reading more.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Last Christmas

My mind is buzzing with thoughts of Christmas cards and holiday travel and shopping, and I just don't want to write about any of it today. So instead I'm posting this video of Nathan playing with his Christmas train window decals. Look how much snow we had!


Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving ---> Christmas


My first solo attempt at hosting Thanksgiving got off to a rocky start. Nathan woke up at 1:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning coughing really hard. I let him sleep in my bed, which ended up being a mistake because he coughed so hard he threw up. Oh well, it got me to finally change my sheets.

After going back to sleep for 6 hours, I awoke to find that my maple/brown sugar/ginger/soy sauce turkey brine had partially leaked out of the bringing bag and all over the refrigerator. Do you know how sticky that stuff is? Oh, and child threw up again, this time in several places on my carpet, because he was practicing the walk-and-vomit method. At that point I was slightly freaking out, but the crisis was averted when I Shop Vac-ed the brine out of the bottom of the refrigerator and used up all my Resolve on the carpet. And at least this incident got me to clean out my refrigerator.

By 2:00 I was back on track, and with the bird in the oven in a self-basting bag and the stuffing in the Crock Pot, I was able to take a brief holiday nap. I awoke at 3:30, straightened my hair, put on my purple eye shadow, and resumed meal prep. Our guests arrived at 4:30, and the dinner was on the table by 5:30. Everything tasted like it should and got compliments. My personal favorite was the sweet potato casserole, which I always say I would eat constantly if I found out I had 3 months to live (alongside jello/pretzel salad). The two toddlers ate one combined bite of turkey between them and then went back to playing.

We all saved room for our 3 pies. I thought the apple one came out too sour, but the pumpkin was awesome. Our friends have a special whipped cream gun that I asked them to bring, so that contributed to the fun. I didn't try the pecan one, but it's Bill's favorite and he was pleased with it. Nathan ate some festive holiday Dora fruit snacks for dessert, while his friend had a bowl of ice cream.

Needless to say, I was not on Weight Watchers yesterday. Or today with all the leftovers. Tomorrow, though, I am resuming my gym workouts and dieting, which means I better eat the rest of the pie and sweet potatoes tonight!

This morning we hauled out the red and green bins from the garage to began Christmas decorating. Much as I hate all the Christmas stuff before Thanksgiving, there's just something in my brain that clicks over to Christmas mode the day after Thanksgiving. So we all had a cozy morning listening to Christmas CDs and decorating the house. Well, except for Leia, for whom Christmas means breaking out this annual torture:

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Thankful Post

I couldn't let Thanksgiving pass without doing a post about the things I'm thankful for, right? I'm gonna start with the big things, the things that are cliches but cliches for a reason, and then list a bunch of smaller silly stuff.

The Big Things
I'm thankful for my family. Sometimes I get down on my husband or worry that we don't have a perfect marriage, but the reality is that nobody does, and if at the end of the day you can say you're still happy being married to that person, that's pretty good. And I definitely can say that. I appreciate that my husband is willing to adapt and change and laugh at his own faults. I appreciate that he is a good father and a genuinely hard-working, honest, ethical person. He is very smart and has a lot of wacky interests, too.

I'm thankful to have a happy, smart, healthy child. Nathan is the light of my life, and he continues to delight and amaze Bill and me every single day.

Plus I'm thankful for my friendly, lovable kitty.

I'm thankful to have good relationships with my extended family, including all four of my parents and step-parents, and my siblings and in-laws. So many people have strained relationships with their families, so I consider myself lucky to have a mostly drama-free family.

I'm thankful that we are financially stable at a time when others are not. I'm thankful for my wonderful house, which I love, and for my larger home of Chicagoland.

I'm thankful for my health, which includes physical as well as mental health. Last year at this time I was not enjoying good mental health, and I am thankful that this year I have made a tremendous improvement in that area.

I'm thankful for my wonderful friends, both near and far, who are the kindest, most helpful, supportive people in the world.

The Smaller Stuff
I'm thankful that I have lost 30 pounds on Weight Watchers.

I'm thankful that in this day and age you can buy lots of low-fat foods or 100-calorie packs, which makes dieting easier than in the days when you had to mostly eat liver and cabbage.

I'm thankful for the gym, which has challenging classes and a good daycare.

I'm thankful for the many classes, programs, and activities available to my toddler.

I'm thankful there are so many parks in the town where I live.

I'm thankful for the library and for books in general.

I'm thankful for the Internet, online shopping, and blogs.

I'm thankful for television.

I'm thankful for flowers.

I'm thankful for my organizational skills.

I'm thankful for antidepressants.

I'm thankful for really cute shoes, jewelry, pedicures, and other material ways I can reward myself without food.

I'm thankful for my super-comfortable bed.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

AHHHHHHHHHHHH!

It's the time of year when I'm supposed to be counting my blessings, but instead I find myself stressed out over petty stuff.

My parents left yesterday, and I feel oddly sad and lonely. Usually when houseguests leave, I'm able to say goodbye to them and then just step right back into my regular life. But my mom and stepdad were so helpful and fun to have around, and now I'm back to being alone and doing everything around the house myself. And also, I think it's a hard week to bounce back because we can't get back into our regular routine due to the holiday. All our activities are cancelled, and also I have this one day to turn around and prepare to cook my first Thanksgiving dinner.

I only have one other family coming over for Thanksgiving, so in total there are four adults, two extremely picky toddlers, and a non-eating infant. The baby is only 2 weeks old, so the whole thing is going to be extremely low-key and casual. Still, I'm freaking out! It seems like it's about the same amount of work whether you're having 4 guests or 20, and plus I have worked myself into a frenzy wherein I believe that a failed Thanksgiving dinner is a fate worse than death.

Last night I sat down and, in true Shannon fashion, began by writing the name of each Thanksgiving dish on an index card. Then for each item, I researched online and elsewhere, and made a list of all the ingredients needed, going through my pantry to see which items I already had. Except what if I check off "brown sugar" for the yam casserole but then also need a bunch of it for the pumpkin pies, and I run out? Having to go back to the store on Thanksgiving day, that is a fate worse than death.

Anyway, I got worn out halfway through making the index cards, and abandoned them and went to bed. That's right, I got tired just making the grocery list. So today I have to finish the list, shop for all this stuff, make the brine for the turkey, get it marinating, and make the pies. And clean the house, pick up dry cleaning, and do my Weight Watchers weigh-in. Luckily I am taking Nathan to daycare today.

And what happens after Thanksgiving? Christmas. Friday we're getting out the decorations. Oh, and I don't have tickets to go to California yet. I can't get husband pinned down on the dates for the trip.

And there's the shopping. The wrapping. The stupid hot stores with eight million people you want to kill. (And yes, I will do some online shopping, but sometimes you just need to go to a store for inspiration.)

These are all the stupidest problems ever. I am so lucky to even be in a position where I can complain about these things. And tomorrow, on Thanksgiving day, I promise to do a post where I write about all the things I am truly thankful for.

But I'll tell you one thing today, I'm thankful for coffee.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Is November over yet?

It seemed like writing a blog post every day in November would be easy. I mean, it's not like I'm doing National Novel Writing Month. NaBloPoMo was supposed to be the easier, jokey option.

But you know what? Having to write a post every single day is becoming a real drag. It's not like enough interesting things happen to me in a given day to actually warrant daily updates.

I know, I'll talk about pies. For Thanksgiving I am serving 3 pies, even though I only have 4 adults and 2 children coming (plus a teeny-tiny baby, but I don't serve what he likes). But everybody likes a different kind of pie, and plus the pie overkill fits in with my general "cook so we'll have leftovers" theme. So, the pies we are having are going to be pumpkin, apple, and pecan. I'm making the crust from scratch. The pumpkin one will be made with a real pumpkin. The apple one will be from the America's Test Kitchen cookbook, which states that you must pre-cook the apple filling because filling a pie with raw apples will lead to the horror known as Air Pockets in Your Pie Crust. So, with pre-cooking the filling, the apple one is very labor-intensive.

I'm buying the pecan one from our local bakery. I don't do any kind of cooking that requires sticky, sugary, candy-type stuff. This is because one time I attempted to make caramel apples while Seabiscuit was on HBO, and I got distracted by the movie and burnt the caramel inside my beautiful new saucepan. Then I remade the recipe and the caramel was still hard as a rock. So I don't dabble in anything that gets all sticky. Plus I don't like pecan pie, so why make it?

Somebody, please, leave me an inspirational comment so I know people are reading!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sunday Shopping Spree

Yesterday we went downtown with my mom and stepdad. Originally the plan was for all of us to head to Navy Pier for the Chicago Toy and Game Fair. Bill is a huge board game freak, and he was excited about the fair.

I, however, was not. It was a $10 per person admission, and all I really wanted to do was go shopping downtown with my mom. So, my mom and I sent Nathan to the fair with Bill and my stepdad, while we shopped for 4 whole hours downtown.

Now, last week I bought these boots while I was shopping with my friend Amy, who is a shoe fiend and useful for helping you pick out shoes. Somehow I felt that in order to justify the purchase of the boots, I should buy some outfits to go with them (thus spending more money). So I bought a black skirt and red cardigan combo as my "special holiday outfit" (as though I actually have an occasion to wear it). And then I actually bought a pair of those skinny tapered-leg jeans that everybody is wearing tucked into boots. And, as far as I know, hell had not frozen over. I will say that tapered-leg jeans have come a long way since the 80's. They look better without that high pleated waist they had in the 80's, and plus we have now been able to incorporate stretchy technology into tapered-leg jeans. So, I'm going to try and pull the skinny jeans look off, even though I am not remotely skinny.

Oh, and I bought an argyle cardigan and some completely unnecessary pajamas. I felt I deserved many material rewards after my stellar Weight Watchers self-discipline in the past couple of days.

Before heading home we stopped at the Nordstrom shoe department. Let me just say that the Nordstrom shoe department has never let me down. Of course I avoid the Jimmy Choos and Manolos, and anything else in that price point, but I do think you can get a quality shoe at Nordstrom if you are willing to pay slightly-higher-than-Payless prices. So I bought yet another pair of boots there. Because hey, I live in Chicago and winter is coming up, and, as my mom said, I'll need some warm boots with good traction when I'm running across the grocery store parking lot.

Maybe it would be cheaper to reward myself with food. Damn, Weight Watchers is expensive.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y

I have to make this quick. It's 7:30 in the morning and I'm off for another day of fun with my parents. It's great having them around to help with Nathan and other household chores. Plus they think every obnoxious thing Nathan does is funny and cute, which actually helps me reframe my frustrations about him into something more positive.

So, a recap of yesterday:

I started with my usual Saturday torture of back-to-back classes at the gym. First I did Power Hour (aerobics), which I like, and then Strong (weight-lifting), which I hate. The awful teacher was back at Strong after a six-week hiatus. This woman makes it her mission in life to criticize me, I swear. But she only comes every other week, and I do think she's a good fitness instructor, so I guess I just suck it up.

After working out we drove into Indiana to go to Tyler's Tender, which is a train-themed restaurant. They have a little train the kids can ride on, as well as a small model train that brings you your food, and a model train display that kids can operate by pressing buttons. It's pretty much Nathan's idea of heaven.

Two awesome things happened at Tyler's Tender. One, I didn't eat a single French fry. And two, I booked Nathan's birthday party there. I was so proud of myself. The woman said that I was the first person to reserve a party date for February. Look how together I am!

After Tyler's Tender, a very significant development happened. I drove by a roadside stand (this being Indiana) that had pie pumpkins, and went and purchased two for a dollar! So now my Thanksgiving pies will be made from real pumpkins!

We went home and took Nathan to the park, because we are still enjoying unprecedented November warmth. In Chicago, we are all very cynical about the weather, so we wonder what weather-related wrath we are going to be dealt in the future as payback for this mild autumn.

At that point Nathan, having been at the gym daycare, a fun train restaurant, and the park (any one of which I usually use to wear him out), became unbearably tired. He was at the point where not one thing he did or said was rational. (And his baseline, well-rested level of rationality is not exactly all that high, being a two-year-old and all.) Somehow the four adults were able to work collectively to shove him into bed, simultaneously getting our own dinner on the table. I made turkey chili in the Crock Pot, plus cornbread and whipped butternut squash.

And we all drank wine and played Trivial Pursuit, at which my parents kicked our asses, and that was my day.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

UGH!

Yesterday evening I picked up my parents from the airport. Our tradition is to call in an order for Giordano's pizza before I pick them up, and then pick up the pizza at the Giordano's near the airport. Giordano's is a Chicago-style pizza place. The pizza is deep-dish with gobs and gobs of cheese.

Based on my recent Weight Watchers failure, and on the fact that this weekend will likely involve a lot of difficult eating situations, I opted to instead have a Lean Cuisine frozen pizza while everybody else noshed on this delicious deep dish. It was a truly difficult situation for me, especially after having to smell that pizza during the 45-minute drive home from the airport.

That dinner really brought me down. It was seriously like, is this how it has to be for me to lose weight? And the thing is, I know that what I was doing tonight was opting to use my food points elsewhere. In other words, picking my poison. So, it's not like I have to eat like that all the time, it's just that I can't eat everything I want to eat, either.

At least I had enough points for a light beer with dinner.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Blog post: check!

As I mentioned yesterday, I am reading the book Superfreakonomics. I haven't gotten past the introduction yet, not because I don't like it but because I'm doing this stupid NaBloPoMo and blogging takes up a lot of my reading time. Anyway, in the introduction, the authors state that in their first book, Freakonomics, they said that there was no unifying theme among all the random research studies they cited. They go on to say that they later discovered that the book had a unifying theme, that being that people respond to incentives. But anyway, this post has no unifying theme. It's just some updates.

First of all, my most recent Netflix movie was My Sister's Keeper. I really liked the book. The movie was disappointingly different. I will not give any spoilers here for the movie or the book, but let me just say that the book has a shocking plot twist at the end and the movie just completely left that out.

Oh, and in addition to Superfreakonomics, I am also reading this book called Such a Pretty Fat, which is a woman's memoir of her time on a diet. Her basic point is that we always hear all these inspirational weight-loss stories, but what we don't hear is how painfully difficult it is to actually be on a diet. So she decides to chronicle that in her book.

Which brings me, yet again, to Weight Watchers. I was up 0.2 pounds this week. At first I was not disappointed. I didn't have the best eating week, but I had a great exercise week, and I was proud of that because historically exercise has been a greater challenge for me than cutting back on food. But later I got frustrated because I really need to just shape up and eat better, and damn, it's hard. Oh, and there's a major eating holiday next week.

Onto happier subjects. My mom and stepdad arrive for a visit today. Although getting ready for guests is very stressful, what with the cleaning and grocery-shopping and washing of extra linens, it's fun once they get here. I like to do touristy things, and having out-of-town guests gives me an excuse to do that.

My mom and stepdad are actually going home before Thanksgiving, because they want to spend the holiday with my mom's elderly parents. So they're leaving Tuesday, and then I just have Wednesday to make a turn-around and prepare for my first solo Thanksgiving ever. Gasp! But that's a story for another blog post.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Midday at the Oasis

As winter approaches, I am on the lookout for indoor play areas for Nathan. It has become apparent that he cannot go through a morning without some type of scenery change and/or opportunity to burn off energy. Well, he can, but then he uses all his pent-up energy to empty out the contents of my cabinets and use whatever he finds in there to make trouble. So, you know, it's better if we get out of the house.

However, not all forms of indoor entertainment will do. As I mentioned in a previous post, I do not want to be in the business of driving all over Chicagoland several times a week. I want somewhere local. I also do not want to deal with any major hassles in the form of crowds, difficult parking situations, or major entry fees. I'm just naturally more tired in the winter, and I don't need anything else to make me more tired.

One indoor play opportunity that seems promising but consistently lets me down is the McDonald's playland. Our local McDonald's has a giant playland, which is actually so big that it's not age-appropriate for Nathan or, I'd say, any child under 4 (possibly 5). It consists of a big structure of tubes, and you move to the next level by climbing up little platforms. Nathan isn't big enough to climb each platform. Neither is his little friend Noah, who is 3 1/2 and quite tall for his age. So I end up having to go inside that hot, smelly, claustrophobic structure and lift Nathan and any other needy child up to the next platform. The whole thing is filled with parents lifting small, sniveling children up on these platforms. As I said, it doesn't even have to be your own child. I've lifted stranger children, and other parents have lifted Nathan. Meanwhile, I'm trying to peer through the cloudy plastic window of the play structure to make sure nobody has stolen my purse from the table.

Both McDonald's in our area seem to have these giant structures. I had pretty much given up on McDonald's as a possible winter destination.

Until I discovered the Chicago Southland Lincoln Oasis.

For those not from the area, an oasis is basically a fancy rest stop built on a freeway overpass. We have a few of them in the Chicagoland area. Here's a picture of our oasis during the daytime:

And here's a picture at night:


So, yesterday I discovered that the oasis has a much smaller indoor McDonald's playland. I took Nathan and his afore-mentioned friend Noah there for lunch, because Noah is hanging out with us a little bit this week while his mom rests after having a baby.

First of all, the oasis is really great because it has more than just McDonald's, and the playground is not actually in the McDonald's. I was able to eat a Weight Watchers-friendly Subway sandwich while the kids got their McNuggets. (They also have Auntie Anne's, Starbucks, and Panda Express.) Then we finished eating and the kids played in the playground, while I went across the way a few feet and got myself a gingerbread latte at Starbucks. I drank my coffee, they stayed put in the playground, and I was even able to read a little bit of my book (Superfreakonomics).

And doesn't this look like a pleasant place to hang out?


I guess it's kind of lame to hang out at a rest stop. I mean, it's meant to be a place to go on the way to somewhere else, not an actual destination. And I'm sure there's a metaphor for life somewhere in there if you feel like thinking hard enough.

In fact, the biggest problem with the oasis is that when you leave, you have to get back on the freeway going the same direction as you were when you entered the oasis. It's kind of hard to turn around and go back home.

But the little bit you have to go out of your way is worth it. I am seriously giddy about my new winter entertainment find. So if anybody wants to hang out with me this winter, join me for a latte in the middle of the freeway!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It's Random Photo Day!

I wanted to post a photo today, in the great blog tradition of Wordless Wednesday. Now, you and I both know I can't possibly be wordless, so this will be a photo with words.

The trouble is, I didn't know what photo to pick. So I went to random.org and had them pick a random date from 2009, with the idea that I would post a photo taken on or near that date.

They picked July 28.

The closest I had were photos from July 30, which was the day that my brother Brian was ordained a priest in the Anglican Church.

I picked this photo where he was lying on the floor, because it was dramatic and because it doesn't show too many faces of people who didn't agree to have their photos on the Internet.


Here you go:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

This is Leia


I am writing about Leia today because I recently decided that she is the sweetest member of our family. I mean, sure, I love my husband. And I have an all-consuming, unconditional love for Nathan, the kind of love reserved for parents and their children. I don't love the cat in a way that is all like the love I have for these two human beings.

But, human beings are complicated and moody. Every single day is our house is filled with ups and downs. Husband or I get frustrated and snap at each other. Nathan is on an emotional roller coaster all day long. Human relationships are so complex and multi-faceted and affected by a myriad of external forces.

Cats, however, are simple. Which is not to say they are all nice. Many cats are either very rude or very shy, or both. They are what my husband calls "run-away kitties," because they run away when you try to approach them.

But Leia is not a run-away kitty. She just loves people and will keep coming back to seek their affection, even when they have wronged her. (You can probably guess which member of my household tortures the cat the most.)

Of course, what Leia loves most is food. She weighs about 17 pounds, although I am happy to report that this is after a 1-pound loss resulting from an alleged diet the vet had me put her on. I say "alleged" because the vet wanted me to feed her 2 tablespoons of food a day, and there was no way in hell I was going to deal with an angry, starving cat all day when I already have so many other food challenges in my family (husband picky, child refuses to eat, me on Weight Watchers). But somehow I cut back enough on her food that she lost a whole 5% of her weight.

Being with my kitty is a simple pleasure that makes me so, so happy every single day. She never turns down a good neck scratching (me scratching her neck, that is, not the other way around). Her purr calms me. She is my super-special girl, and I love having her in my family.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Trivial Pursuit, But a Fun One

Yesterday a team of us from Chicagonista
participated in a trivia bowl sponsored by the Asian American Journalists Association. We were competing against teams consisting of actual journalists from actual journalistic outfits like the Chicago Tribune and Fox News Chicago. And it was at the famous Chicago institution, Harry Caray's restaurant, which is always a fun place.

Since it was Sunday, the train schedule was very limited. I had to get on a train at noon, even though the event didn't start until 2:00. That left me with an hour to kill downtown, which is an awesome thing when you don't have a two-year-old with you. Mostly I just spent my hour eating a lunch I had packed myself (go, go Weight Watchers ... and note that I completely blew it later) and then walking in search of a CVS or Walgreen's to buy gum and cold medicine.

Side note, germs are so scary now. Normally I wouldn't think twice about going about my daily life while having a cold, but now I was all paranoid about being around other people with my germs. But the team was counting on me so that they would have enough people to compete, so I showed up anyway.

So, I found a CVS and pulled the stupid card off their shelf that indicated that I wanted to purchase cold medicine. As I'm sure you know, you can't just up and get your own OTC cold medicine off the shelf now, because you could be stockpiling Sudafed for use in your meth lab. Anyway, so I brought my card up to the register, and the cashier said that nobody had access to the cold medicine on the weekends because it was locked behind the pharmacy, which was closed. So I bought my gum and left the store in a huff.

But onto the trivia event! The food was awesome, and I ate too much of it. At least I didn't have any calories in the form of alcoholic beverages, because the cold was making me not want to drink. Anyway, so team Chicagonista wasn't a super competitor, but we had fun. There were 5 categories: Chicago/Illinois, Sports, In the News, Pop Culture, and the Picture Round. Since I didn't grow up in Chicago, I was no help in the Chicago/Illinois category. Surprisingly, I was able to answer two questions in Sports because they were about Harry Caray himself, whose Wikipedia page I had studied in anticipation of the event. In the News was just a total disaster, because they asked questions like, "Name the 7 Republicans running for Illinois Governor." Right. I did awesome in Pop Culture (embarrassingly). And then that picture category was just torture. You were supposed to look at a picture of a famous person and identify him/her. It was hard.

So, the Chicagonistas came in 4th to last, out of approximately 20 teams. The winner was the team from the Tribune, who unseated 3-time champions The Chicago Sun-Times. The thing that kind of sucked was, the prize for the last-place team was a case of Top Ramen ("to remind you to better use your noodles next year"), which would have at least been something. And it was actually better than the prize for the winners, which was just a little plaque with a silver fortune cookie (spray painted) glued to it.

But I love trivia. Trivial Pursuit is my favorite board game. I also like Jeopardy (fun fact: I tried out for the teen tournament when I was a teenager), but it comes on at 3:30 here, so I never watch it. (I have tried recording it, but it's just one of those shows where the episodes get all backed up.) I wish there was a trivia league near my house. Most of the trivia contests take place in bars, which I don't get to all that often anymore. So if anybody wants to start the South Suburban Chicago Trivia League with me, let me know.

I had to take the super slow Sunday train home from trivia. At one point the conductor announced, "We're just going to make all the flag stops so that people don't have to bother requesting them." But, time alone on a train is pretty awesome when you don't have a kid with you. I was able to finish up Jennifer Weiner's Best Friends Forever, which I would rate with an astounding "Meh." Good enough to finish, and reading it was an enjoyable experience, but the story was kind of dumb. I think it would have been better if I read it over the summer, because it was one of those totally light beach reads.

The boys picked me up at 5:30 from the train. Dinner was all ready in the Crock Pot, because I'm a Happy Homemaker like that. Dinner was all wrapped up and the boy was in bed at 7:30. Another successful day.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Last Week in Review

Last week I made it to six out of my seven regular gym classes (the exception being the Saturday weight-lifting class, which I had to miss for a dentist appointment). I also swam 2,000 yards on three separate occasions. I put all the laundry away, all week long. I made a time flow-chart every single day, which kept me productive and also a little bit stressed. And my friend had a baby. Here's the breakdown, in more detail:

Sunday 11/8:
There was a special Sunday family swim at my gym, so I took Nathan. I figured I might as well get in a workout myself, so I did my swimming and then ate a brought-from-home lunch with Nathan on the couches at the gym before swimming. The highlight (or, rather, lowlight) of that trip was that I had to shower in front of Nathan after swimming, and he mistook general dripping for me peeing in the shower, which he loudly announced to the other gym patrons.

Monday 11/9:
I went to my local mall, but I already discussed that. And I made it to a very torturous weight-lifting class at the gym.

Tuesday 11/10:
Quickie playdate at the park, followed by swim and the hardest yoga class ever. I vowed to try every single thing at yoga that day, rather than just say I can't do that and remain in extended child's pose. You know what I totally suck at? Side plank. And twisted balancing half-moon. Anyway, Tuesday night we went to a party sponsored by Microsoft XBox. Surprisingly, I was the one who had the connections to get us in, through the blog Chicagonista. We played various forms of Rock Band and ate such appetizers as cheesecake pops on a stick. Then Bill wanted to go eat at The Walnut Room, which is the restaurant inside the former Marshall Field's flagship store, which is now Macy's. It was really beautiful with their big Christmas tree, but my butternut squash ravioli was only so-so. And Bill ordered a yule log cake for dessert, which was also so-so.

Wednesday 11/11:
As I stated earlier, this was our story hour day at the library. Then I went to the new drop-in hours at my Weight Watchers, where I had lost a pound, in spite of the cheesecake lollipops. I'm up to 28.4 pounds lost, and I better as hell get to 30 this week. Anyway, later that day I went to my hardest class at the gym, went home, ate dinner, got Nathan in bed, and had just settled in to watch Glee when my friend Sarah called and asked if I could come over and sit with her sleeping three-year-old because she was in labor and needed to go to the hospital. (A little backstory here, Sarah's doctor had predicted this child would come fast. Her husband works downtown and her sister lives an hour away, so I was on call to provide childcare and/or hospital transport in the event that nobody else could arrive on time. I was actually a little bit nervous about this, because I was afraid I would be out of the area when called on to perform.) So, thankfully, my only part in the baby's delivery was to sit in the house with the sleeping three-year-old for an hour until the sister came over and took over for me. And Sarah had baby Luke after only two hours of labor, and he was ten pounds! And no epidural!

Thursday 11/12:
Nathan goes to his old daycare on Thursdays, and I always attempt to build in some relaxation for myself while he's there. It never happens. I'm always scrambling around to take advantage of my no-kid time to get errands and chores done. So that pretty much sums up Thursdays. Oh, and I go to aquacize in the evenings.

Friday 11/13:
What a lucky Friday the 13th, because I got to go to another mall! I met my former co-worker and current friend Amy, whose adorable 11-month-old just learned to walk, at a mall in Lombard (45 minutes away). They had a really cool playground in that mall that had a treehouse theme, as well as a little ride-on train. Plus we ate at the Claim Jumper, a gold rush-themed restaurant with ridiculously huge portions, which until this week I did not know existed outside of California. And we had some white sangria there. After lunch we went to Von Maur, where shoe fiend Amy helped me pick out some new boots. That night we met giant baby Luke and brought his family some mac 'n cheese (no, not the Kraft kind).

Saturday 11/14:
I went to Power Hour at the gym, which I am really starting to get the hang of. It's one of those aerobics classes where you have to learn a sequence of steps, but it's not all dancey like Zumba. And, as I said, I got to skip weight-lifting so I could go to the dentist. Full confession, I kind of like the dentist now that I have a kid. I get to lie down for half an hour, and they have TVs there, so I always watch The Food Network. I didn't have any cavities this time, so that was good, too! Following the dentist I took Nathan to the park, to take advantage of what might be the last nice park day until winter. Then I took a big fat nap because I'm getting a cold. And we all drove to Indiana to eat at Joe's Crab Shack. This was my first time there, and I'm in love! They have a playground for the kids, and it's totally noisy in there so Nathan's yelling wasn't really a problem. I ordered one of their steam pots with corn, crab, and shrimp. It was surprisingly Weight Watchers-friendly, and I liked that there weren't any totally junky add-ons like the crazy cheddar biscuits they have at Red Lobster.

And that was my week.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Remember when I said I liked going to the gym?

As you'll probably recall because you are a faithful reader of this blog, a few weeks ago I decided to take a hiatus from swimming to try some new stuff at the gym. Then I realized that while all this other exercise was helping me lose weight, build muscle, and feel energized, it was not helping to calm my anxiety the way swimming does. So I needed to find a way to add back swimming into my workout routine, while still keeping my 7 other classes each week.

I vowed to wake up early Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to get in a swim each morning. Monday and Wednesday I would have additional classes in the evenings, and Friday I would have a class at 8:30 a.m. (after swimming). Well, let me tell you, nothing makes you feel like more of a failure than promising to do early-morning workouts. I had planned to get up at 5:30 a.m., but Monday and Wednesday I woke up in the middle of the night and turned off my alarm. Then I beat myself up for not getting up to swim, even though I was still doing some serious workouts in the evenings on those days. But this is because no matter what I do, no matter what I accomplish, I will still be hard on myself. It's a real problem. But it's a little too heavy of a topic for a weekend blog post.

I did manage to cram in swim workouts on Sunday (no classes) and on Tuesday before yoga. Then, I'm happy to report, I got up early Friday and swam because I had to be at the gym at 8:30 for Zumba anyway. So I found 3 days a week to swim, in addition to my classes, and I think that's sufficient. I have cut down on my yardage for swimming (from 3,000 yards down to 2,000), mostly due to time constraints.

I feel like I live at the gym.

Now, let's talk about Zumba. It pains me to say this, but I don't think I like it. I do like the morning Zumba better than the evening one, because it's mostly old people and housewives, so the fact that I suck is not glaringly obvious. However, I just feel so stupid and awkward in that class. And it's hard to get the moves, and the teacher can't really stop to explain them all because she's trying to keep up a brisk workout pace. I want to like it so badly, because everybody else loves it, but it's just not working. And I kind of feel like part of the problem is that I'm not sure I'm getting a good workout out of it, since I can't really get the moves right. I can at least appreciate a class that is hard, even if I don't necessarily like it. But with Zumba I feel like I can neither love nor appreciate it. The teacher is yelling stuff like, "Isolate your ab muscles here!" or, "Really swing the hips!" and I can't get any of it. I'm thinking my time might be put to better use if I just swam a few more yards during Zumba.

And another thing: Why is it that I can feel my muscles, but I still look like a big fat-ass?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Questioning Myself

I couldn't think of anything to write about, so I looked online for blog prompts. I thought most of them were dumb, so I decided to make up my own question and answer it. I went with this old standard:

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?


Truth be told, I'm not much of a traveler. I am a big homebody, and I get easily flustered in unknown places. I'm fairly comfortable if I can speak the language, so I guess maybe my dream trip would be a tour around the United States and Canada.

I actually have never been to Canada. So I think I'd take one of those nice tour buses that takes you all around and makes sure you see the most important stuff. And gets you into the nicest hotels and pre-arranges your meals at the nicest restaurants. But then I would also like my tour bus to give me some relaxation time in the more scenic areas (read: NOT Missouri).

Of course, seeing all of the U.S. and Canada would require several trips, and that wasn't really part of the hypothetical. So if I had to pick, I'd pick Maine. I'd pick Maine because my dad has been to most states, and he says Maine is his favorite. And who doesn't enjoy a good lobster?

Now I will talk about places I have been. I have had one significant international travel experience. It was when my grandma took me to Italy on a two-week tour. It was a dream come true for her, having never been to the country that her father emigrated from. The trip was lovely, we saw it all ... and we fought like a mo-fo about halfway through. Grandma was kind of difficult on the trip. Oh, and one of the people in the tour group died. Right in front of us.

But I guess I'm still grateful for that time with my grandma. She has since passed away, and if nothing else, I really got to know her on that trip.

Most of the rest of my travel experiences involve going to the same places over and over. My mom and stepdad were big on taking us to this camp in the mountains, which had no TV, phones, or computers ... pretty much your idea of hell when you're a teenager. (Well, I guess not the computer part. Computers weren't that big when I was a teenager. But note that nowadays my parents go to the same place and bring a DVD player and a projector. Plus they have laptops because the place now has Wi-Fi.)

My dad and stepmom purchased a house in a beachside community and took us there on vacation some weekends. They live there now. Anyway, my point is, we took good trips, but we went the same places over and over again. And I have never been to the Grand Canyon or Mt. Rushmore or any of those tourist places.

And that is the answer to my question. Sort of.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Noisiest Hour in the Library

We have finished our fall session of Tot Time story hour at the library. It was only six weeks long, which was a good thing because that story hour was kind of stressful.

Now, you all know that I love the library. I love it for novels and cookbooks for me, as well as DVDs, puzzles, and books for Nathan. I love that it's the easiest free indoor entertainment in town. And I love all the free programs they have there.

And I do appreciate that they have a story hour for 2-year-olds. However, do you know what it's like when you cram 15 2-year-olds in a room and try to get them to sit quietly and hear a story? It doesn't work. The main problem seems to be that kids don't understand that the book isn't just for them, so various children try to come right up to the librarian and shove their heads in the book, preventing other kids from being able to see. Which, of course, then results in the kids who can't see getting all restless and upset. I honestly don't know how that librarian could stand to conduct that story hour, but maybe that's why the session was only six weeks long. Not once did she ever have the undivided attention of every kid in there.

Now, I will say that my child could sit quietly and pay attention to the story most of the time. However, my child's weakness is that he doesn't really care to scoot closer on the rug (as the librarian invites them to), nor does he want to participate in any songs. (At Tot Time there is a song between each story.)

But anyway, I am thinking of asking if he can be in the 3-5 year-old story hour in January, since he will be just 6 weeks shy of 3 anyway. However, I hate to be that mom, who assumes her not-even-three-year-old is advanced and mature enough to hack it in the class that goes all the way up to age five. I actually don't think he's super advanced or mature. It's just that clearly his strength is being able to sit still, so I should play to that strength and not put him in a story hour that's going to distract him.

Oh and also, the 3-5 story hour is one where I can just drop him off and sit in the library by myself. (However, don't let the term "story hour" fool you into thinking I might get a whole quiet hour to myself in the library. It's really more like "story 20 minutes, followed by a craft you're supposed to assist your child with.")

Anyway, just to prove that I don't think my kid is a super genius, let me tell you what I've been freaking out about lately. So, each of the Tot Time story hours focused on a pre-reading skill, which you were supposed to then practice at home during the following week. The skills were things like developing new vocabulary and predicting what would happen next in a story. All the "homework" assignments went well, except for the one where Nathan was supposed to learn letters of the alphabet. For some reason, he just can't get a single letter through his head. And all the other kids can do it, and I have even gone so far as to start freaking out that maybe he has a learning disability.

Umm, yeah. He is two. It is not necessary for him to know the entire alphabet. (He can say the alphabet, he just has no interest in learning individual letters.) And it is especially stupid of me to be comparing him to other kids, which you should never do. Plus, I'm sure the alphabet is like one of those skills where I figure he's just never going to get it, and then one day he just does.

And maybe I need to stop obsessing over stupid stuff and get more hobbies or something.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Time Flow Chart

I have this post up at Chicago Moms Blog today. It's about the problem I've been having lately with getting places on time. Basically, I concluded that my problem is that I'm not building in enough time in my plans to accommodate unforeseen toddler antics when we're getting ready to go somewhere. Like, here's an example of my typical line of erroneous thinking:

Okay, so music class starts at 10:15. It takes us 5 minutes to get there, and 3 minutes to walk from the car, so we'll get ready to leave at 10:00 and we'll be fine.

Well, first of all, according to my mom, it always takes at least ten minutes to get anywhere, even to your neighbor's house. But the main problem isn't the drive time, it's the getting-out-the-door time. See, my problem is that I incorrectly assume that the time we get ready to leave the house and the time we pull out of the driveway are the same time. And maybe when you go places without a toddler, those two times are roughly the same, save for in the winter when you need to put on a lot of extra articles of clothing. (But even in the winter, the average adult can put on a coat, hat, gloves, and scarf in about 1-2 minutes.)

But let's use the afore-mentioned music class to provide an example of how getting out the door with a toddler actually breaks down:

10:00: Tell child it's time to leave.
10:00-10:05: Child has tantrum because he doesn't want to go to enriching music class that you paid $54 for, he would rather stay and play with his plastic toys and/or watch the same DVD he's seen 100 times.
10:05-10:10: Getting shoes/outwear on yourself and child, and gathering up belongings.
10:10-10:15: Walking from house to car, which in a two-year-old's world is not a straight, 20-foot path, but rather a circuitous path consisting of several stalling-related side destinations.
10:15-10:17: Getting in carseat
10:17-10:22: Driving
10:22-10:25: Walking extremely short distance at toddler pace from car to room where music class is held.

And note that we are now 10 minutes late for a 45-minute class that costs me $9 per session. Which means, doing the math, we've lost out on $2 worth of class time.

It's not so much the money that frustrates me, because I will have spent that money regardless of whether we're at the class or not. But I just find being late to be really stressful. I am embarrassed. And, in the case of my classes at the gym, I always miss the warm-up, which I think is problematic from a physiological standpoint, but also means I lose 10 minutes of Weight Watchers points-earning time.

And since the stress of lateness is something that can totally be avoided, I decided this week to try the new tactic of the Time Flow Chart. I borrow this term/concept from my dad and stepmom, who are extremely organized and never late to anything. The Time Flow Chart is not so much an actual flow chart with boxes and arrows and stuff (although I guess you could make one like that if, say, one event hinged on whether or not another event happened first). Anyway, my Time Flow Chart is more like a combination of a to-do list and a schedule. So, it would look like this:

7:30: Wake up
7:30-8:00: General Internet surfing
8:00: Get in shower
8:30-9:45: Breakfast, get Nathan ready, fold laundry, pack lunches, make grocery list
9:45: Start getting ready to leave for music class
10:00: Drive to music class
10:15-11:00: Music class
11:00-12:00: grocery shopping

And on and on and on. You get the point. I have broken down each little thing we need to do into several steps, so as to acknowledge that we need prep time for each activity.

My first 4 days Time Flow Charts have gone well. I have definitely eliminated some of the stress of being late.

However, I think writing down every single thing you're going to do and when you're going to do it kind of adds a little stress, too.

First of all, one of the reasons I usually don't make to-do lists is that I think that the act of writing down everything you have to do tends to make you think up more stuff to do than you actually have to get done. You know, like, "While I'm at it, I might as well knock out a few loads of laundry, too."

Second, there's the stress that can be caused by getting off-schedule, which is something I am trying to avoid. Right now my husband's car is broken, which means I have to drop him off and pick him up from the train station. He does not come and go on a fixed schedule, so now I'm adding in the unknowns of his transportation into my perfectly-created, well-planned schedule. (I guess this would be the time to break out the true flow chart-style Time Flow Chart, where subsequent events would flow based on the time that I had to pick up/drop off Husband, but honestly I don't want to think as hard as you would have to in order to make a flow chart like that.) So, I have to try really hard to just let it go when I get off schedule, and to realize that my plans on paper might be too ambitious and unrealistic. Some things get crossed off the schedule because they didn't get done. Or I draw arrows to move an activity from one time to another.

The flip-side is that by knowing everything I have to do in a day, I can sometimes actually get certain activities done earlier than planned. And I have eliminated the stress that comes from those "Oh crap! I forgot I was supposed to _______!" moments.

Oh and by the way, I do build in time for naps and other leisure activities, which is either really healthy or really pathetic (the pathetic part coming from having to write those things down on a to-do list).

I think things are less stressful in terms of Nathan's shenanigans. I'm not freaking out when he throws a tantrum, because I know I have allowed enough time for that. And my calmness actually calms him down, so we aren't just two big balls of stress who feed off each other.

Anyway, so the Time Flow Chart is kind of a mixed bag. But I think for now I'm going to stick with it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Malled

I love a good mall. Not all malls are good malls. In fact, most malls today kind of suck, having fallen on hard times and now consisting of only undesirable stores. But when you find a good mall ... oh, yeah.

My mall-going started young. My parents used to take me to our local mall, the Santa Anita Fashion Park (now Westfield or Simon or one of those), where I would play in the playground. The playground consisted of animals that were, get this, made of wood. And you climbed on them. The elephant's trunk was also a slide of sorts.

At the mall there was a department store called Buffum's. The cool thing about Buffum's was that it had a tiny little toilet in the bathroom, just for kids. (Like all department stores, Buffum's is now a Macy's.)

As a youth, my favorite stores in the mall were The Expanding Wall (sort of like Hot Topic) and the Hello Kitty store. They were right across from my favorite mall restaurant, La Petite Boulangerie. Ooh, and that mall had a Magic Pan crepe place, which reminds me of a Seinfeld reference ...

Of course, I loved the mall as a young teenager. Honestly, I have no idea why, because it's not like I had a lot of money to spend there. But the mall had a bookstore where I could buy Baby-Sitters Club books, and a music store where I could buy single tapes, and those two stores plus food and candy were enough to make me happy. I don't know what today's teenagers are buying at the mall, because most of the stores these days seem out of their price range. But then, doesn't it seem like today's teenagers somehow have more spending money than we did? And also, doesn't it seem like the mall is not a popular hangout for teenagers anymore?

When I got older and I could drive, I drove to the mall. And my mall obsession continued into adulthood. When I was a single person who had ample time to myself, I would usually go to the mall and do some shopping. I just loved the way the mall was a total experience, with the shopping and the crowds and all the food options.

Now that I'm toting a toddler around, the mall is a different kind of experience, but still a really great one. Now, for the locals reading this, I am referring to the Orland Square mall, not the crap-tastic Lincoln Mall.

I made a trip to the Orland Square mall yesterday. That mall has a playground that is sponsored by the local hospital and, as such, has a medical theme. Kids slide down giant band-aids and climb ambulances, all heavily-padded, of course. Kind of a far cry from the wooden mall animals of my youth. In addition to the playground, the mall has a merry-go-round and a Thomas train you can ride. Plus there are little add-on activities like taking your picture in a photo booth or going to the Lego store. The food court is kind of crappy, but there's a Taco Bell, which makes the average kid happy, and a Baskin-Robbins for dessert. Occasionally you even get to do a little shopping for yourself.

I get giddy just thinking about the mall. It's just such a perfect place for indoor entertainment that it might be the best thing about winter.

But, and there's always a but, I have recently become very frustrated by the growing trend of cart people in the mall. By this I mean people pedaling various wares from carts in the middle of the mall. These poor people must work solely on commission, because they are barking at every single person who comes by. And they argue with you if you say "no thanks" to their offers. Today I had the following exchange with an annoying lady selling straightening irons:

Her: Can I show you my straightening irons?
Me: Oh, no thank you.
Her: Do you straighten your hair?
Me: No.
Her: Why not?
Me: Well, it takes too long, and I have him [gesturing at Nathan].
Her: Our irons don't take long. Why don't you try one?

If you're wondering why I hadn't walked away at that point, it was because I was digging in my purse for a coupon. (The coupon got me a free "panty" at Victoria's Secret. First of all, the word panty is stupid. Second, when I picked out said undergarment, Nathan was sitting in the stroller demanding that he see the one I selected. "Let me see your underwear!" he repeatedly yelled. Yeah.)

So anyway, on my way out of the mall I passed by that straightening iron lady again, and she said, "Hey, Mommy, let me give you my card!" Look, lady, calling me "Mommy" is not earning you any business. Am I your mother? No. Do I want my sole identity to be as "Mommy" to the entire world? No.

Oh, and another guy was selling these weird fake cigarettes that taste and feel like cigarettes, but can be smoked indoors. And then he acted all confused when I told him I didn't smoke. I recently heard that only 20% of people nationwide are smokers. Why is it so shocking to this man when I say I don't smoke?

But, aggressive peddlers aside, yesterday was a good day at the mall. I had coupons for a free pair of underwear and a free $12 body wash from Bath and Body Works. (My favorite scent is Midnight Pomegranate, which I use to make showering at the gym more pleasant.) Plus Nathan and I stuffed a turkey at Build-a-Bear, and I found a $5 off coupon on the counter there, too! So our turkey was only $5! Nathan named him Hogan, after Hogan's Heroes, which my husband watches on a continuous loop on DVD. (In case you haven't heard of this show, it's about these American soldiers who are imprisoned in a German POW camp during WWII. And it's a comedy. Because nothing says hilarious like Nazis.)

Getting back to my day at the mall, I bought myself some purple eye shadow at Sephora. I have always wanted to wear purple eye shadow, but I didn't think I could pull it off with brown eyes. But I think the shade I got is okay. It's a little bit more fun than my normal style of makeup, but I figure it's not like I do anything during the day that requires me to look serious. So tomorrow, I'll be the mom at Tot Time story hour with the fun purple eye shadow!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Dear Sesame Workshop (FKA Children's Television Workshop),

I want to congratulate you on Sesame Street's 40th anniversary! I especially enjoyed the collection of Google logos featuring the Sesame Street characters.

I watched a lot of Sesame Street as a child. My parents took us to see Sesame Street Live. I was so traumatized by the death of Mr. Hooper that I refused to go into my brother's room because there was a newspaper photo of Mr. Hooper in there.

Now that I am a parent, I love Sesame Street. Like all toddlers, my son has Elmo fever, and he gets almost unreasonably excited in the presence of anything featuring Elmo. And I, of course, will shell out money for anything Elmo-related, just to make my son happy.

Each year I dutifully pay $75 to my local PBS station, figuring that if my son watches an average of 1 hour a day of PBS Kids, 5 days a week, the cost of one hour of PBS is roughly 29 cents for me. That is a really good babysitting rate, and I do use TV as a babysitter. How could I take a shower or write blog posts if not for TV?

So, Sesame Street ... love you, love you, love you!

But ... there's just one thing. Is there any way that Elmo could stop referring to himself in the third person? I realize he is designed to be about 3 or 4 years old, and, as such, does not have a master command of grammar and syntax. However, as far as I know, most 3- and 4-year-olds are capable of using the pronoun "I". So maybe Elmo could try it. It would really be a lot less annoying.

I hate to nitpick. Again, I have had many years of enjoyment from your show, both as a child and as a parent. I hope you will be on for many more years.

Happy anniversary!

Sincerely,
Shannon

Sunday, November 8, 2009

General Update

My biggest accomplishment last week was that I made it to all 7 of my classes at the gym! Oh sure, I was late to most of them (the exception being the two that start right after another class/workout activity), but better late than never, right? Actually, I really hate being late, and sometimes I consider just skipping the class altogether. But the whole lateness issue is the topic of a post I have brewing for Chicago Moms Blog, and I've been so delinquent on there that they might be kicking me out soon, so I should just shut up and keep my intellectual property to myself now.

I feel pretty good after my week of working out. Let me tell you, though, I am the remedial student in every single class at my gym. (Well, except for aquacize, where I'm fairly competent, but in there I have my own special designation as the one who splashes everybody and once smacked the instructor upside the head during "butterfly arms.") Anyway, in all the other classes I am the one hanging around in the back of class, just trying to do enough of the workout to not get noticed. I mean, I work hard and all, it's just that when I get tired, I never quite get the moves right. Or I'm like three steps behind everybody (reminding me of my days in the high school marching band).

Oh and you, Stupid Teacher's Pet up at the front of the class, you can just suck it with your stupid extra jumps and your ugly headband.

Moving on.

I was in a real funk at the beginning of the week. I think it was related to post-Halloween exhaustion (not so much literal tiredness as just mental exhaustion), as well as Nathan's general post-Halloween crabbiness. So, Monday and Tuesday we mostly hung out at home, with the exception of my gym classes, of course. I just felt off. I wasn't motivated to do my usual chores, or to take Nathan anywhere. I was feeling so unproductive, and I had to start asking myself the series of self-assuring questions I pull out when I'm down on myself: Is anybody in the family starving? Is anybody forced to wear dirty clothes? Have we fallen behind on any of our bills? Thankfully, the answer to all these questions was no.

Still, on Wednesday I felt like I needed to get my groove back. I was sort of foundering on Weight Watchers, as well, and the combination of being holed up in the house and not living up to my usual standards of organization (eating-wise or otherwise) was getting to me. Fortunately Wednesday we had library story hour. I love, love, love the library. It's pretty much our only free, local, indoor entertainment, so I'm going to have to start loving the library even more as winter approaches. Anyway, not too much of note happened at the library, except that Nathan missed most of his story hour due to a tantrum, and I checked out a big cookbook called America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book.

Yes, I know, I'm a glutton for punishment. Why on earth would anybody who was trying to get back into serious Weight Watchering check out a baking cookbook? I don't know, actually. The pages were just so pretty and glossy and full of the promise of expertly-tested recipes for baked goods.

But I ended up losing 1.2 pounds on Weight Watchers at my weigh-in on Thursday, and that got me all motivated again to not eat baked goods. So on Friday, when my friend Sarah came over and we made the cookbook's Blue Ribbon Apple Pie, I actually gave both our pies away without having a single bite. (The rule I have established for myself is that I can only bake single-entity items such as cakes or pies. If I baked cookies, I would have to taste one or two to make sure they were okay. But with pies, you can't really give them away with a sliver taken out, so that gives me a layer of Weight Watchers protection.)

Also on Friday I went out downtown with my friend. So totally necessary. I dropped out of Weight Watchers for the evening and had the best meal at the Weber Grill. They have these pretzel rolls with cheddar cheese spread ... ohhh, I could make a meal just out of those. Then I had the barbecue chicken, which is good, but only a vehicle to get the garlic mashed potatoes as a side dish. Oh, and we had a big pitcher of sangria. And, in an ironic twist, we had apple pie for dessert.

Yesterday nothing at all of significance happened. Oh wait! I did get about a month's worth of laundry finally put away. (It was folded, just not put away. I just don't see the point of putting away laundry.) But anyway, that was a big accomplishment for me!

Oh and also, Husband and I played Rock Band and SingStar, and I kicked his ass at all singing-based activity. Which is funny, because I'm not a good singer. And plus the cat chose to sit with me, so I had two victories that night.

And now Nathan is watching Wonder Pets and I only have ten more minutes left on my daily schedule designated for "general goofing around," so I should sign off.