Monday, February 28, 2011

A New Start, Slightly Delayed

I've noticed lately that I have some really bad habits. Here's a little sample of how an average day for me goes.

Get up while it's dark and moan, "I am soooooo tired." Get ready and get the people in my care ready, skip breakfast because I'm not really that hungry but make a huge mug of strong black tea with milk and sugar, head out the door to work/school. Come home mid-morning, starving, but because I don't eat breakfast, grab a handful of chocolate-covered raisins or gummy worms or both. Pick up Elaine from school, grabbing a spoonful of Nutella on the way out the door. One of my friends says this is the mom's equivalent of a little sanity nip of whiskey during the day. Come home and fix Elaine lunch and cobble something together for myself--yogurt? chips and dip? spoonfuls of peanut butter and jelly? whatever and another mug of black tea with milk and sugar. The afternoon looks pretty much the same, then eat something kind of normal for dinner (which I am starving for at that point).

Consequently, I am exhausted all the time and grouchy. I'm always saying things like, "I wish I was one of our cats," because then I could look like this:

Or this:
I didn't used to be this way. I was a healthy eater. It may shock you to learn that I've never been athletic, but I did love to work out. I worked out 5-6 days a week for years. I worked out daily through both pregnancies, including a 45-minute workout the morning Elaine was born. Actually, the last time I worked out was that morning Elaine was born, so if you're doing the math, that is slightly over five years ago.

Not working out makes your healthy eating habits slip, which makes you lethargic and tired and not want to work out. So when I went to my doctor in January, who always thought I was awesome for being Pregnant Workout Mom, told me I need to pick up the pace again because I will feel so much better.

I thought about what works for me and my life. I have friends who belong to gyms and go to personal trainers and all that, but that has never worked for me. I'm a home workout person. I also don't like fancy equipment or anything that makes me motivate myself. I am, at heart, a slacker in this area, so I want somebody else motivating me.

I started looking into different workout DVDs: Zumba (too uncoordinated for that), Hip-Hop Abs (ditto, and I would feel stupid--I secretly like some hip-hop, but have you ever met anyone as UNhip-hop as me?), and various other options I discarded as too hard, too easy, too cringe-worthy.

Lots of people swear by Jillian Michaels and The Shred, but she scares me. I'm not going to pay someone to be mean to me, I can get that for free at the post office or DMV. So, I went back to the first person I ever worked out with, the person I credit for the good habits I used to have but have discarded:

Now I know Denise gets a lot of flak for being too cheerleaderish and perky and whatnot, but I love her. Instead of yelling at you and berating you, she gently lifts the Cadbury egg from your hand while replacing it with an avocado and telling you how wonderful you are. She also has lots of great meal ideas and plans and general healthy living advice. Also? She's in her 50s. LOOK AT HER.

I planned to start my new workout and eating habits last week when for the first time in a couple years, I got so sick. Just laid out flat. I described it to a friend like this in an email:

"The first night I was sick, Darren was gone late at his office and I picked up the girls from school practically in delirium. I said, 'Mommy's sick; you're on your own' when we got home. So, Lucy was such a good girl and watched PBS Kids until practically bedtime and got herself a snack and took her own shower and put her pajamas on, and Elaine was EVER SO WICKED.

She took down the scissors (forbidden) and cut up paper into confetti and scattered it everywhere and pulled out everything and put on her boots and stomped all over the house singing "I may never march in the infantry..." (by the way? my major symptom at that point was migraine and nausea. Every sound, even the tiniest, was torture. I could have probably heard a mouse tinkling on cotton, so a 42-lb child in boots singing loudly...oh, the humanity. But I was powerless to do anything!) Then she ate an entire box, our only box I might add, of Tagalongs (chocolate peanut butter patties). The whole box. Didn't miss a one. And didn't even get sick as her punishment, the little sniper.

Finally Darren called because he was going to take his Indian colleagues out to dinner (his office is about 1 hour 45 minutes from here), and I just started to sob, "helpmeI'mdyingIwantmymama" so he came right home like the good man he is. He found a disastrous house, one good girl in her bed, and one extremely naughty little girl curled up next to me in my bed, snoring. "

So that basically took care of last week. We'll forget about that. THIS week is the new start. I'm beginning by eating healthier, more energy-inducing foods. Here's a sampling: (breakfast) half a cup of oatmeal with skim milk and a sprinkle of brown sugar. (lunch) (I got this one from Denise) Two cooked egg whites with salsa, avocado, and a slice of whole grain toast. (snack) a quarter cup of raw almonds. (supper--what we're trying tonight) Baked fish, rice, sugar snap peas. Amazingly, I am not starving throughout the day. Since I've been sick, I've wanted to sleep a lot, but I'm sure I'll notice more energy soon.

I'm starting to work out 3-4 days a week and will hopefully work back up to my 5-6. I also hope to add a couple more workouts in so I can vary things.

One thing I'm not giving up so far is the big mugs of strong black tea with the milk and sugar. My mom started giving me that at about 18 months old and now I'm 40-something so for you math whizzes, that's kind of a long time. I don't think I'm going to break that habit. But I am cutting back on a lot of the other sugar I keep shoveling in my pie hole.

There's the plan. Hold me to it! And let me know if you have any great energy-increasing tips. Or have favorite workout routines. Or know any good hip-hop songs.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Museum & Martin

Last week was an annual event at the girls' school called Night at the Museum. Elaine's class did not take part in this because they have an event called Razzmatazz, which is science-based. That was a couple of weeks ago. Night at the Museum is science, social studies, and art projects combined. Each grade is assigned a different theme.

Darren was trying to make it back from his office to attend so the girls and I went ahead without him. We arrived two minutes after the start and had to park three blocks away. It's kind of a big deal. Elaine wasn't feeling well, so I just brought her in her pajamas (and bedhead if you're wondering why she looks a little rough in these pictures).

The theme for second grade this year was China. This is the first year that Mandarin is being taught at school. The students begin Spanish in pre-school and now Mandarin Chinese and Latin in first grade. They continue all three languages until high school at which point they become electives.

Here's Luce and Hathead outside the second grade corridor (oh, and Lucy is wearing the Chinese hat she made and the second grade t-shirt that says "China" in calligraphy:
Here is Lucy's classroom. There are three second grade rooms, and they each did different things about China. Lucy's class focused on things invented by the Chinese.

Here is their tea display:

This is their counting display; Lucy did 14 cups of tea:

They made paper! Also, outside the classroom, they did the Chinese flag out of their homemade paper, but unfortunately I didn't get a picture of that.

This was my favorite exhibit. Lucy told us how when Chinese emperors died, their palace guards were buried alive with them. (Nice.) However, Emperor Chin took pity on his soldiers and had substitutes made of terracotta that were buried with him. The class made this terracotta soldier display (they each made a soldier):
Here is their tangram display:

And here is their display of various Chinese inventions.

After visiting all the second grade rooms, we visited first grade, who did ants, bees, and spiders; kindergarten, who did sharks, whales, and dolphins; third grade, who did a wax museum of historical figures--each child dressed as a different character, and when you pressed a button on his or her hand, would give you some facts about that person. Fourth grade did space, and fifth grade did the Civil War, complete with handmade paddle boats that raced each other on a recreated Mississippi River.

All the kids (and teachers!) worked so hard on their various exhibits. It was a great night.

On Friday, Lucy came home with Martin the Moose. Again. Remember Martin the Moose? I thought we had seen the last of him, but apparently not.

We had no trips anywhere planned, so I foresaw a mundane weekend at our house for him. Then I remembered we were going to a wedding on Saturday. Martin could go as our guest. Lucy was excited about this idea until we actually got to the church.

"I'm too embarrassed to carry Martin in to the wedding," she whispered.

"I'll carry him," offered Elaine, but by the time we got in the doors, she decided she was too embarrassed, too. They tried to pass him off to me, but I'm not carrying a stuffed moose as an accessory. Dad, good sport that he is, got Martin.

He also got the camera after the ceremony and set about getting Martin's photo ops.

Here is Martin with the bride and groom (who were extremely good sports to pose with the stupid moose).

Here is Martin at the punch bowl:

And Martin with the cake. At this point, the girls AND I were mortified, so we walked away and pretended we didn't know Darren. Or the moose. But of course we're grateful to him for getting these shots we were too embarrassed to get for ourselves.

So, that was our week/weekend. And congrats to Jon and Michele. We wish you many happy years together!

Monday, February 14, 2011

My Funny Valentines

We are not just having Valentines Day, we have had an extended Valentines weekend. Actually, I'm not that into this Hallmark holiday, and when Darren asked me a couple of weeks ago what I wanted for Valentines Day, I said, "Nothing. I really don't need anything; it's no big deal. Just make sure you never forget my birthday though, dawg." (He never has.)

But with little kids, V-Day is a huge ol' deal as I remember all too well, and the first event was last Thursday, Lucy's Brownie troupe had a Mother/Daughter Valentine tea party. I don't have pictures of it, but it was so sweet. They had set up tables and made placecards with their pictures on them and served us tea or lemonade, grapes, cupcakes, and Girl Scout cookies. Then the Brownies sang, "Skinny-ma-rink-a-dinky-dink" (you know what song I'm talking about) to their moms or grandmas. After that, they gave us hand massages with lotion and back massages. Hello, that needs to be a feature at all future tea parties.

Then on Friday night was the first ever Dad-Daughter Valentine Dance for grades 1 through 5.

Dad and daughter. I wish you could see Darren's second grade pictures. He and Lucy could be fraternal twins.

Here is Dad with both his girls. Elaine and I planned to go out that night so she could have something nice to do, too. I let her pick--she said she wanted to go to Perkins for chicken noodle soup, then come home and make Valentines together, then put on our pajamas and watch "That Darn Cat" in my bed. I even conceded to playing her Kindermusik CD in the car on the way to the restaurant. It's so precious to hear her sing along, but after a few hundred times of "Hammer and Saw" or "Peanut Butter and Jelly," I want to remove my eardrums with one of those serrated grapefruit spoons.

Darren and Lucy went to India House for dinner (her pick) and then to the dance, which she said later was the most wonderful ball she'd ever been to. Also, she and Daddy did the Chicken Dance, of which unfortunately, I have no pictures.

Saturday was the day we'd been waiting for for ages. Every year my dad takes all of us out for lunch on Valentine's Day, and we exchange cards. We went to Wildwood in Geneva, and then we went to a performance of what, if you've read this blog for any length of time, you know is our family obsession--Riverdance. Here is an account of when we went previously.

Though I still did not have gum this time around, Rome did so everyone was set before the show even started. Elaine sat on my lap (and bounced and tapped her feet) through the whole thing, but at one point she whispered to me, "I dropped my gum." Oddly enough, I saw her chewing it again later on, but I didn't research into that too much.

Sunday we spent all afternoon, cutting and pasting and coloring, because the girls decided they wanted to make all their Valentines this year instead of buying them. Kill me. But we did it and finished about 45 homemade cards.

This morning, Lucy woke up extra early for the big day and because she couldn't wait to give me what she'd made for me.

Elaine had made me a Valentine at Cubbies last week, and she showed me right away but then ordered, "Now, you forget you ever saw that so I can give it to you again on Valentines Day." I promised to forget, and she hid it. I don't have a picture of it because in fact, while I was writing this post, she produced it from where she'd stashed it--one of the cat's beds. I also dropped by her school party this morning. Yes, she insisted on wearing her tutu to school today.

Then, when I got home from teaching this morning, this is what I found. Even though I told him I didn't need or want anything, after almost 20 years he's still a smooth operator.

Last of all, I heard this song on the radio this morning, which I think is the ultimate Valentine anyone could ever give. I got tears in my eyes just listening to it. At about the 2:18 mark is where it really gets cooking.
Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Sixty-Eight Rooms

Every year for Christmas, our girls get a liberal supply of books. They're usually eclipsed by the dolls and toys and clothes for the initial opening time, but when the long, cold winter marches on and the other gifts are forgotten, the books come to life.

This year I gave Lucy a recently published book called The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone. I swear to you, I had the idea for this book myself years ago, but apparently Marianne Malone stopped blogging and got off facebook and actually wrote the thing.

It caught my eye on my amazon recommendations because it's a children's fantasy that takes place in the Thorne Rooms. If you're from Chicago, you know the Rooms. They're miniature recreations of rooms from varying historical periods, housed in the basement of the Art Institute of Chicago. I could write a lot about them, but I'll just shorten it to say: they are Made of Awesome. You can see them online here, but it is nothing to seeing them in person.

The Sixty-Eight Rooms is about two sixth-graders named Jack and Ruthie who discover a magic key that allows them to shrink down to five inches so they can get in the Rooms and investigate. Not only can they check out the contents, when they are in a room they are actually transported back to that time in history as well. In the book, they travel to the 1500s, the time of Christina of Denmark; the 1600s in Massachusetts during the Salem Witch Trials; and the 1700s in Paris, right before the French Revolution.

The book tips its hat to E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, which, I think pretty much anyone around my age regards as The Precious from childhood, but it's not derivative. Besides the storylines going on in the Rooms, Jack and Ruthie have mysteries they're trying to solve in real life, which eventually become intertwined with their miniature adventures.

The only quibble I have with the book might not even be a problem for a lot of readers. But to me, a lot of time was spent on the logistics--where did the magic originate, but moreso how to enter the museum, how to access the rooms, whether or not the historic figures could see the rooms, etc. Now to me, I grew up on L.M. Boston fantasies or better yet, E.B. White's work. As in, meet the Little family. They have two sons: one is a boy and one is a mouse. Now let's get on with the story. But I am almost always willing to suspend any disbelief, and also, I would believe anything Mr. E.B. White told me.

However, what is one man's floor is another man's ceiling. If you've got a kid who constantly interrupts your reading to ask, "Wait a minute. Now how did they get from here to..." then all of the explanation in The Sixty-Eight Rooms is perfect. Actually, one of my kids IS like that, so there you go.

I thought just Lucy would be interested in this story, since it's billed for ages 8 and up. But I was surprised that Elaine entered in just as much and would beg to hear more every night. There is one part where Jack and Ruthie have to fight off a cockroach, and both girls wanted to look at the picture. When I showed them the two 5-inch children battling the enormous roach, they both started squealing and pulled the covers over their head. But the next day, Elaine kept picking up the book and turning back to see the picture of "that big bug." I am also planning a special trip with our friends Jamie and MaryBeth (they're reading the book, too) to show Lucy the rooms, but as soon as Elaine heard about it she was all in. She will not be left behind.

One night while reading, she interrupted me to ask, "Mama? When we go to visit those Rooms, are we going to be our regular size? Or are we going to get small like Jack and Ruthie?"

After we finished the book, I told them both something really important to me. When you read or hear or see something that touches you or you especially enjoy, if possible, write a letter to the author or creator of it and tell them. They were totally on board with that and couldn't wait to write to Ms. Marianne Malone. We checked her site, and the way to contact her was right there.

First I asked them to tell me their favorite parts.

Here is Lucy's answer: "Ohhhhh. I loved when they read Christina's book and when they met Sophie in Paris and also Thomas and I loved the descriptions of the rooms and that canopy bed and the part about the bento box and going into the Japanese room."

Here is Elaine's answer: "I liked that big bug."

So, here is the letter that they sent:

Dear Ms. Malone,

We just finished reading your book with our mom. We loved it! Our favorite parts were when you described what the rooms looked like and when Jack and Ruthie met Sophie and Monsieur Lesueur in Paris. We also liked when they had to fight the cockroach!

Our mom grew up near Chicago and has been to the Thorne Rooms lots and lots of times. She always wondered if they might have some magic. She is going to take us there soon, so we can see all the things we read about.

Are you going to write any more adventures in the rooms? Will someone find the note in the bento box? We hope so!

Your friends,
Lucy (7)
Elaine (5)

The next day, Ms. Marianne Malone wrote back! They were so excited. Here is her answer:

Dear Lucy and Elaine,

Thank you so much for your email! I love hearing from people who have read my book and enjoyed it. Your favorite parts are some of my favorites, too! Tell your mother that I have met many grown ups who have fond memories of seeing the Thorne Rooms when they were young, and still love them today. I know I do!

There will be a sequel to The Sixty-Eight Rooms and it will be published about a year from now, so you will have to be patient. But it is all about Ruthie and Jack having more adventures in the Rooms. I hope you will enjoy the next one as much as the first.

Have a great time when you go to see the Rooms. The Art Institute is a wonderful museum

Marianne Malone

Is that cool or what? Lucy took the letter to school yesterday, and her teacher had her read it to the class and tell about the book.

Whether you have kids or not, The Sixty-Eight Rooms is a fun read. And if you live anywhere within driving distance of the Thorne Rooms, you should certainly check them out. You never know what might happen!

Saturday, February 05, 2011

I Can't Take It Anymore!

Back in late November, I changed my desktop wallpaper to a snowy picture of Salisbury Cathedral. It was so lovely and festive and in-the-bleak-midwinter with bare, black branches silouhetted against it. I am totally over it now.

Last night I started doing what I do every single beginning-of-February: started looking at gardening websites. Never mind that I am the worst, most inept gardener in the world. Every year, I promise that this is going to be my year.

I take comfort in my friend's mom--she has the most lovely garden imaginable with a gazebo, and she has her friends over and serves them tea and trifle there.

"That's my ambition," I tell my friend. "To serve tea and trifle in my garden gazebo."

And then she tells me that her mom's garden has only looked this way since she and her brother grew up--when they were kids, there was a mound of dirt in the backyard with a stick in it.

There is hope for me! I have several dreams, including the tea-and-trifle-in-the-gazebo. One is an English walled garden, a courtyard one, like they have at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. My other dream, since I've been a little girl, is having a Japanese garden, one that is almost fulfilled by living down the road from the third-highest rated Japanese garden in the country.

Someday, I vow, my yard will be more than weeds and dirt with sticks in it.

In the meantime, I changed my desktop to this:

Ahhhh. Much better. And here are some more for your viewing pleasure.

Sigh. Spring, come quickly! I think I'll go watch Enchanted April.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Classics in a Minute

OK, if you are like me, right about now you're tired of being stuck indoors and need a new site to look at. Was everyone in the world on facebook and Webkinz yesterday? Webkinz took forever to load, and if one more person posted a picture of their snowy backyard on FB, my laptop was going to blow.

Well, I read a number of book sites when I can, but for the first time yesterday I stumbled across Book-A-Minute Classics. Oh man, funny, funny stuff. You've got to check it out--whether you love the classics or hate them. It's just what it sounds like, summarizing the classics in a minute or less. Of course I first had to look up books I hate. Here are a couple:

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway:

An old man catches a fish that's too big for his boat. The fish gets eaten by sharks. Then he goes home and DIES.



Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Ishmael: Call me Ishmael.

Captain Ahab: Crew, we will seek the white whale and kill it, because I am insane.

Crew: Alas, your destructive obsession will be our undoing.

(They almost find the white whale. Then they almost find the white whale. Then they find it.)

Captain Ahab: I stab at thee. I stab at thee.

(Everybody dies except Ishmael, although this is no surprise, because it was foreshadowed CONTINUALLY from the BEGINNING.)



The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Holden Caulfield: Angst angst angst swear curse swear crazy crazy angst swear curse, society sucks, and I'm a stupid jerk.


I'll just give you one more because you need to check it out for yourself (there are lots of books on there). This is definitely not a book I hate, it's a book I love and am struck by its brilliance every time I read it, but I fell down laughing reading its synopsis.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Gatsby: Daisy, I made all this money for you because I love you.

Daisy: I cannot reciprocate because I represent the American Dream.

Gatsby: Now I must die because I also represent the American Dream.

(Gatsby DIES.)

Nick: I hate New Yorkers.


Check it out!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

For a Long Winter's Evening

Darren told me the other day that he heard or read on the news that TV viewing is way up now, which seems like kind of a "duh" item to me. We just survived the blizzard of 2011 this week, and yes, what helps us through the long, dark, cold evenings when we have no desire to go out is TV. Not just any TV though, because neither one of us can deal with sitcoms or reality shows and have only limited tolerance for the endless crime/police/forensics shows on. We are story junkies. Give us a good story, and we'll watch for hours.

I've long been a proponent for Masterpiece Theatre, since that's what my parents watched when I was little. MT is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, so, in the interest of that, and if you're looking for something to get hooked on and while away a winter evening, I thought I'd post some of my favorites over the years.

One caveat: Masterpiece Theatre has always been an adult show, and it's coming from the UK where they don't have the FCC guidelines we do here. I've noticed any number of complaints from amazon reviewers about how they couldn't show some of these to their kids or grandkids or whatever. For years, MT didn't even start until 9 p.m. I wasn't ever allowed to watch the show with my parents until I got to fifth grade because a) it was past my bedtime and b) most of the programs were too mature for children. The reason I got to watch in fifth grade was because that was the first time the BBC did Pride & Prejudice. I'm really picky about what my kids watch, and I'm picky about what I watch as well.

So, with each show, I'll try to give some sort of rating as well, and we'll all leave things up to the dictates of our own conscience. Here we go!
Downton Abbey just finished this past Sunday, but all the eps are available on the Masterpiece Theatre site to view until February 22nd. I absolutely loved this, and apparently it had a record 11.8 million viewers in the UK, so it's already in production for both a second season and a Christmas special. Watch out, it's addictive. I would say that young teens and up could watch this. There are two brief scenes I wouldn't want my little kids to see, and other than that I think they'd be kind of bored.

This is my favorite piece of television of all time. All TIME. It is completely family-friendly and suitable for anyone, but I think it will be a couple of years before my kids will be interested in this one. It's everything rolled into one: fantastic storylines (multiple), drama, hilarity, valor, it's got it all. Get the Kleenex before you watch.

This series is based on the books by John Galsworthy. Darren and I spent one winter a couple years ago glued to this every night. I think Irene is miscast, but other than that, it's wonderful. Part II is below. I would probably rate this PG-13.
This is another family-friendly one, based on the novel by Elizabeth Gaskell. I watched this a number of times with my mom, and we loved it.

I know it's cliche to love this, but really. It's the definitive version. My girls adore this and actually bring it along on long car trips to watch. You've probably seen it, but if you haven't, you've got to.
There have been so many movie versions of Jane Eyre (and I've seen them all), but in my opinion, this is by far, by FAR, the best. Ruth Wilson is a wonderful Jane, and Toby Stephens (son of Maggie Smith) is the perfect Mr. Rochester. I'd rate this PG.
This is a classic. I thought the first episode or two were a little slow, but after that I was hooked in for the remainder of the 15 hours. If you are at all interested in British-Indian history, this is the series for you...but honestly, it's a fascinating story even if you're not. I think I would rate it PG-13, due to violence and some mature themes.
Darren and I just watched the House of Cards trilogy last fall. It's an inside look at a dastardly British prime minister in the 1980s. Mesmerizing, but I would say adults only for this one.

"The Last Enemy" is a look at future, but not too distant future, Britain--when all citizens must have an identity chip and there are surveillance cameras wherever you go. This is a good thriller, and I'd rate it PG (I think? Hopefully there's not some scene I'm forgetting. Maybe...PG-12 just to be safe.) I bet some junior high or high school kid will have to do a paper on government involvement or Big Brother or something, and this would be some good (and fun) research material for them.

This is one of my favorite minis of all time. It's the story of two seemingly unrelated murders, corruption in Whitehall, and journalistic integrity. It's interesting to see how much the newspaper business has changed just since 2002-2003 when this was made, but the story still stands up. It's one of those when you plan to just watch one episode from 9 to 10, then you find yourself still watching at 2 a.m. It's the mini-series that the American/Russell Crowe movie from a few years ago was based on, and I don't know how they could have crammed these six hours into two, so I never bothered to watch that. Bill Nighy won a BAFTA for this, and his performance alone is worth watching, but everyone is great. I would say, kind of unfortunately, this one's for adults only.

Lastly, these are series that are in my personal queue to see. I hear this is the definitive version:

And this is a story of the pre-WWI years as told through the eyes of Johnny, the son of Queen Mary and George V, who was kept hidden away because of his epilepsy seizures and other idiosyncratic behavior.

I've actually got more if you're still reading this and have already seen all these, but I figure this should be enough for now. What are some of your favorites?