Sunday, December 19, 2010

Babysitting Blues

  Of the skills that I possess, coordination and scheduling are not my strongest. I'm an idea man, not a detail person.
  So when I set up a 'happy hour' at our house for my neighbors and their kids, then had a bright last-minute idea to hire a babysitter to watch the kids, I didn't realize I was setting myself up for disaster.

  Happy Hour was great. Some disorganization, but overall a success. The problem was with the sitter.
  Not that there was a problem with her job performance, specifically, but in the communication for compensating her.
  Originally, I figured that she would work from 5:30 until 8 or 9, the typical time for kids to go to bed. 10 at the latest. I offered her $5 flat rate per kid, expecting up to 12 kids, or $60. Her usual rate for us is $10 per hour.
  After helping to finish a couple bottles of wine, my judgment was not as strong as it usually would be and some kids were up later than usual and suddenly it was 11. I figured I would give her an extra $20 for the extra time, making $80.
  The next day I sent her a text message thanking her and hoping that the extra $20 was a reasonable addition to agreed upon rate. It wasn't.
  She thought that the rate was $5 per hour per kid, which could have added up to around $300. When I handed her $80, she was more than disappointed (I could practically feel her shaking with anger and tears through the response text message.) When I read that she was expecting to make $300, I was shocked.
  Here's what went wrong. The job was set up via text message. Once she agreed, or at least said that she was available for the job, I should have called her to create a plan. First of all, we would have found that the rate was not acceptable to her right away and could have negotiated a fair price. Second, we could have gone over what was expected.
  Our contentions: she did not sit for every child who showed up. There were two or three kids around one year old who were with their parents the whole time, not under her supervision. She should not be compensated for that. Next, not all of the kids were there at the same time. They arrived and left at widely varying times. Based on when the kids under her supervision came and left, if her rate was $5 per kid per hour, it would have added up to $175. To respond to her point that she watched the kids so that we could have adult time, it was not as if the babysitter handled the kids 100% once under her care. The parents fed the kids, dealt with the occasional problem, and I changed Toodles's diaper and put her to bed when it was time.
  Expecting one sitter to handle 12 kids ages 2 - 9 years old (or even the 8 that was the max at once) would be unreasonable, another reason why getting the full rate would not be what I consider equitable compensation. When we pay her $10 per hour, or $5 per child, we leave the house and she has 100% responsibility for them. If we had left her with all of the kids, then such compensation would have been warranted. In this case, her responsibility was supervising the kids who were in the basement, most of which involved watching Toy Story 2.
  To circle back, all of this would have been avoided if I had called her and discussed, to some detail, about what she should expect her responsibilities to be. She would have known that there would be a great deal of parent involvement. Other problems would have been avoided if I would have dismissed her at 10 or earlier. Finally, having her so late, I probably should have given her more like $100.
  So she's feeling taken and embarrassed that she misread my compensation offer (which read, "flat rate of $5 per kid") and I'm feeling bad that she's so upset and that I probably shorted her.
  While I wouldn't say that she's the world's most amazing babysitter, doing balloon animals and art projects, in the couple of times that we've used her, she's punctual and the kids are comfortable with her. Frankly, for $10 per hour (a low rate around here,) that's as much as we should expect. As one of the parents at the party pointed out today, for $300 we could have hired a professional kid party person, like a musician, balloon artist, or the like. (And she also said that, for $300, she would have gladly undertaken the responsibility.)
  So I'm going to talk to her tomorrow and see if I can't make the situation better by offering her another $40 to make $120 for the night. The plan is to help her see the gross exaggeration of her math, but not make it her fault. I will also help her understand the difference in expectations when she's getting her full rate ($5 per kid per hour) versus a rate in this type of circumstance. And finally I'll make the suggestion that we have voice confirmation (i.e. a phone conversation) of any job set up via text or email.
  Ugh. And I thought my hangover sucked.

Monday, November 22, 2010

An 'A' in Play

After Wife fell asleep tonight, I went downstairs to find JD and Toodles' toys strewn around the living room. Upon a closer look (after grumbling to myself about the mess) I realized that JD had two or three stations of organized play.

The dinosaurs were set up among the fake trees and boulders. Some guys (a.k.a. action figures) were set up in and around the action figure house (a.k.a. doll house.) There were several matchbox cars parked around the house.

When I saw all of this, I thought to myself, he's getting it.He's thinking about scenes and making up fantasy worlds. While he doesn't always answer my questions the way I would like or relate these fantasies verbally, times like these remind me that he expresses himself in his own way and to a degree that is on par with any other child. On top of that, he has had a verbal explosion in the last couple of weeks.

JD is also taking pictures. After over a month of handling the compact digital we seldom use since picking up a DSLR, I am confident that he will not break it. Not only that, he's actually developing an eye. Here are some examples of his work. (He took every one of these pictures on his own without anyone directing him.) Fun to see the world through his eyes. And one of the blessings of digital is that he can take literally hundreds of pictures at virtually no expense.

Give Presence with your Presents

When thinking about what to get the kids, yours or those of others, keep something in mind. Kids don't remember who got them a particular toy, they remember the people that play with them.

When you give a kid a toy, get on the floor and help them open the box, set it up, and play with it. That's how you'll show your love. That's how a relationship will blossom. When you see the child next time, he or she will remember you as the one who made the funny voice with the doll, but might not remember it was you who gave the present.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

I hate ironing

I do. There is something really . . . demeaning about it. To me, there are three cleaning jobs that define domesticity: scrubbing floors, cleaning toilets, and ironing.

But I do it anyway. Why? My wife is an attorney, so she wears suits and office attire every day. Dry cleaning, even at the $2.49 places, gets pricey. I just finished ironing 4 pairs of slacks.  There are four cardigans hanging up (thank goodness she's allergic to wool!). That's $20 per week, or $80 per month. I just bought myself 8 hours of babysitting!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

What to do when the kids go to school Part 2

A while back I posted about wondering what occupation to pursue when the kids are both in school.

Just to recap, my kids are 3 years old and 11 months old, respectively. I've got some time to pursue any particular profession. I do believe, however, that the downfall of many of my peers is waiting until the kids are school-ready to start considering their next move.

And there is no shame in their procrastination. The move back into the work force cannot be an easy one. While we homemakers have a tough job, we are used to a certain pace of life, a certain schedule. In short, we know what's expected of us. Instead, we will have to shower and groom daily to make ourselves publicly presentable. We will be at a job from which we can be fired while trying to be promoted. (Are you saying to my article, but you could start your own business! Sure, because that would be so much easier!)

Right now, I am longing for an outside job. A place where adult conversation can be had, where I won't have to respond to tears several times per day. No diapers to change, no bottles to make, no naps to time, no cartoons to watch. I can listen to the news or any music in the car. I can joke with the guys. When I leave the house, I have to pack things only for myself, instead of bottle, toys, bib, crayons, change of clothes, snacks . . .

So what is it that I've decided to do?

Investing. No, not day trading. Investing in the style of Warren Buffett. After reading The Warren Buffett Way by Robert G. Hagstrom and The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham, I have concluded that day trading is crazy. It is a sports book. That's my opinion, anyway.

Investing is doing company research, finding companies with promising futures and capable, ethical management and employees. It is reading statements and calling the company and its affiliates. It is being active after purchasing the shares. Buying shares, of course, is just the beginning of the relationship, not the means to an end in which you hope for skyrocketing profits. It is the beginning of your ownership stake in the company.

And I have found that I enjoy doing this. Just today, I researched a company that makes potato chips in Birmingham, AL. I called a wonderful woman named Patty and we talked for 10 or 15 minutes, during which time we talked about the company's growth, history, and distribution. I was giddy while writing a report about the conversation, debriefing and noting future questions to ask. It was like the feeling I got when I told my buddy that Wife was the woman I would someday marry - only two months after starting to date. It felt right, like a perfect match. I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

Of course, I'm probably not going to feel so good after getting my butt handed to me a few times on a few investments, but everyone feels like that after a hard day's work.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Up To My Elbows In Piss and Shit

Sorry for the foul language. I usually keep it G or PG, but I've lost my voice already, so why not my language rating?

I had this post titled a couple of weeks ago when I first started to potty train JD. Here's what happened the day the title was originally formed, followed by Monday's events.

Upon JD's 3rd birthday in January, Wife and I finally decided that he wasn't the kid who would potty train himself, at least not any time soon. Time to start pushing a little bit. A couple of weeks of encouragement and putting him on the toilet, I decided it was time for a weekend potty boot camp.

We did a week-long countdown to 'no more diapers' and made a special trip to Target to buy big-boy underpants. The sofa was lined with garbage bags.

The weekend came and went and JD was no closer to being potty trained than before, except that he was more comfortable sitting on the toilet and I was doing even more laundry than usual. I continued the boot camp into the week and the week after that.

Two related problems. First, JD won't tell me when it is time to go #1 or #2. I have to anticipate, which means going to the bathroom every 30-60 minutes. Second, and most importantly, JD doesn't care if he's sitting in his filth. Diaper or underwear, he will sit in it for as long as it takes me to recognize there is a problem.

By the way, do you have any idea how much harder it is to clean up a poop that was made in underpants as opposed to a diaper?

So on this particular day, JD pooped in his underpants. I took his stuff off cleaned it out, and then threw it in the laundry. Then Toodles needed a diaper, so I changed her. But I hadn't re-pantsed JD. While I was changing Toodles, I suddenly heard water pouring on the carpet. Only it wasn't water. And Toodles had pooped but her tush was red, so I let her air out. So I got up, put her diaper in the Dekor, got some towels for the piss on the carpet, and came back to the living room.

Toodles wasn't finished. She had pooped again. And rolled in it. Yikes.

Fast forward to Monday, two days ago. JD was no closer to being potty trained than before. While he is fairly dry most of the day and pees on the toilet when I put him on, he will not poop on the toilet, nor will he tell me when it is time to do either.

So everything was going great. We were going to the Museum of Science and Industry with our neighbors. I was on the ball: lunch was packed, clothes were ready; all of this before both the kids were awake. After breakfast with JD and Toodles, I brought JD to the bathroom, took off his overnight diaper, and put him on the toilet. He didn't need to pee. Must have just gone, I thought, letting him go to the living room without pants. I was going to clean up breakfast, then get them dressed.

It couldn't have been more than three minutes when JD came to see me and said, "Daddy, poop on the potty?" I was so excited! He finally told me he had to go! Then I looked at his leg and saw poop. Uh, oh. So I put him on the toilet, hoping he had only let a little out but went to find the rest. I turned the corner in the living room by the stairs and saw Toodles. She was playing on the stairs. She was playing in JD's poop that was smeared all down the bottom four stairs. Did I mention that we have wall-to-wall carpeting?

I didn't know what to do, but picked her up, took her to the bathroom, got her undressed, and into the bathtub. But she had been so covered that poop got all over the bathroom floor (tile.) At that point I started yelling. He asked me to get off the toilet and then I yelled at him. "No poop on the carpet! Poop on the potty!" Over and over. Screaming. Toodles normally ignores my yelling, but the combination of my yelling and being put into the bath at an odd time of day (normally night baths) had her crying.

I ran into the kitchen and wanted to break something. I knew that breaking something would just compound the problem. I didn't want to swear aloud, though I just wanted to scream, "F*&! F*&!" Instead, I threw a tantrum. Imagine a 6'5", 32-year-old man, jumping up and down, screaming, and stomping his feet. I'm sure it was a funny sight. Then I went back and saw the carnage that was my living room. It stank. More screaming at JD.

Of course, I know that it was partially my fault, not having put a diaper on him. It's not like he hasn't done that before - go pee on the toilet, deny having to poop, then poop in his diaper less than five minutes later. That's the definition of insanity - doing the same thing hoping for different results. I was screaming from insanity.

After telling my neighbor what happened, that we couldn't go to the museum, she took pity on me and offered to take JD to the park with her kids while I cleaned. Toodles went down for her morning nap. JD went to the neighbor's house. I got on my hands and knees and cleaned up shit.

As punishment for my screaming fit, I lost my voice. It is the first time in my life that I've ever lost my voice and it sucks. I sound like Peter Brady going through puberty.

The good news is, the neighbors also have a carpet cleaner, so I borrowed that and everything looks as good as new, maybe better. It certainly smells better. JD, however, is no closer to pooping on the toilet than before. He is not compacting his poop, which could have been a consequence. As with all other milestones, encourage and wait. It will happen when he's good and ready, not by pushing too hard. Just like a good poop.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

You going to eat that?

Do you eat or serve prepared foods? Foods like Pillsbury Grands!, Bisquick or YoKids? Have you read the labels?

I subscribe to a few couponing websites. There are really good deals out there, but most often these deals are for prepared foods. Corporations like General Mills, Kellogg's, ConAgra, and others frequently run special promotions where consumers can reap big savings on foods sold by these companies. Sounds like a great deal? Better read the fine print.

The fine print, in this case, is the ingredient list and nutritional information. The amount of trans fat, sugar, processed sugar, sodium, food coloring, and preservatives added to many of these foods makes me ill. They are added for one reason - profit.

Companies are out for profit. These ingredients are cheaper than 'real' ingredients, make the food more shelf stable, look better, and appear healthier.


I firmly believe it is the consumer's obligation to buy foods with healthy ingredients. If people stop buying foods made with junk materials, the demand curve will shift and corporate profits will suffer, creating a need to change the quality of the supply of foods on the shelves.

Food manufacturers use preservatives to create shelf-stable foods. In other words, to keep food from going bad. Duh. My contention on these and all other synthetics: is the human body capable of processing and flushing these chemicals? What happens to these substances when they go through our body? I believe they can be carcinogenic or cause other long-term health problems.

The use of preservatives, emulsifiers, and food coloring contribute to a food's appearance. First of all, foods don't look very appealing if they are moldy. Have you ever purchased bread from a local breadmaker? It gets moldy in a couple of days. Some grocery store bread, however, is good for up to three weeks. With every benefit comes a consequence. Fresh bread has a short shelf life. How about hot dog buns? They never seem to go bad.

Peanut butter uses emulsifying ingredients to keep from separating. Have you ever owned real peanut butter? After sitting on the shelf, the liquids and solids separate. It only needs to be stirred, but people see the separation and wonder if the food is spoiled. Cottage cheese and yogurt act like that.

Food coloring makes packaged food appear fresh and bright, therefore appealing. Making pickle relish more green or the bright colors in many breakfast cereals are just two examples of the uses of food coloring.

Sugar, brown sugar, honey, and molasses are used to sweeten foods. Fat (butter or oil) is used for taste and creaminess. Salt is used to help bring out the flavors of other ingredients and to react with ingredients in baking. Names for salt include table salt, iodized salt, sodium chloride (table salt), sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), and baking powder (a combination of baking soda and cornstarch.) Different combinations of these ingredients make a food sweet or savory. By loading food up with all three, signals are sent to the brain, giving a WOW! factor. Have you ever tried to eat just one doughnut or chocolate chip cookie? It's almost impossible, and that's not an accident. Food scientists know that adding the right levels of these ingredients will make customers come back for more.

Foods high in sugar, fat, and sodium are bad enough. But when synthetics and highly processed substitutes take the place of raw ingredients, what is the body to do?

The use of ultra-refined sugars like high fructose corn syrup take the food further away from raw materials. Refining and processing is bad. The closer to the natural product, the better. The same goes for bleached and enriched flour. Why use enriched flour? To make the food appear to be more nutritious than it is. Rather than supplementing one's diet with whole fruit and vegetables, enrichment boosts the vitamin content of nutritionally void food materials. Who cares about fruit and vegetables when you can just eat a loaf of bread and get the same vitamins, right? What most people don't know is that the absorption of added vitamins is not as strong from supplements and we miss out on the unpublished benefits supplied by whole foods.

Sodium (salt), sugar, and fat are used to create taste. It is a fact that humans (all animals, to be exact) love these components. Companies know that and not only use them for taste, but use them to create food addiction. This is not a fact, but my opinion supported by studies (see Nutrition Action Healthletter). Many foods use these combinations to get you to love their food and come back for more, no matter what the nutritional effects.

I read Nutrition Action Healthletter for their informative articles on health and nutrition. Where we disagree is their constant argument for government regulation. That's crap. There's enough regulation that gives consumers the information on food labels needed to make educated decisions about the foods they purchase. Ingredients, carlories, fat, sodium, sugars, fiber, protein, essential vitamins are all on the label of every packaged food.

By choosing to eat processed foods, however, people may as well start smoking. I believe these foods are as harmful and addictive or even more so. Similar to the long-term effects of smoking, people aren't affected immediately, but over a long period of time. Prepackaged foods are made to seduce the buyer into thinking they are healthy or taste great, when they are only manufactured and packaged to appear so. Sound familiar to smoking litigation? Adding addictive substances. Packaging for greater appeal. Creating "light" cigarettes that are just as harmful as their full-flavored counterparts.

And you think food manufacturers wouldn't do that?

Fortunately, many of these manufacturers are waking up to the harmfulness of their products. Soup manufacturers are lowering the average sodium content. Bread and cracker makers are using less high fructose corn syrup. These changes are a good start. Please read labels and make informed decisions about your diet. You'll feel better, live a healthier life, and maybe look better, though I'm lost in that regard.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Weather is the Best Medicine

Living Chicago is amazing, but we have to suffer through some tough weather to get to the amazing parts.

While I will always contend that there is plenty to do so long as one dons appropriate clothing, nothing beats good weather in Chicago.

Today, by recent standards, was terrific weather. By 9:30am, the temperature had reached 40. We decided to go to the newly renovated park 3 blocks away.

If you're in a southern state, it is likely that you're surprised to hear about people going to a park in 40-degree weather. When the average temperature has been around 20 for the last three months, a 20-degree swing seems like a heat wave. Have you ever been in 80-degree weather all day, just to go out at night when it's 60, donning a sweater? Same thing.

JD and Toodles had lots of fun. JD went down the slides, around the field, and on the swings. Toodles got some of her first swinging and sliding in, too, though she slept through much of the fun. It was a great way to spend an hour-and-a-half.

I'm always leery about being outside during the first week or more of good weather after it's been freezing for so long. I strongly believe we are susceptible to the organisms laying dormant all winter.

In general, germs don't scare me. Squishy, muddy soil and sunshine are good for growth of green stuff and bad stuff.

But just like any other viral season, taking care of one's self and continuing to dress appropriately (not changing into shorts and t-shirts when it hits 50) will keep us in good shape.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sick Blues

Laying in bed for a couple of days watching Band of Brothers On Demand on HBO sounds like heaven on Earth.

That is, unless it comes at the price of strep throat.

I woke up around 5:30am Sunday morning with a terribly sore throat and feeling as though I'd played in a triple-overtime hockey game the night before that featured several fights in which I was one of the men with his gloves on the ice. Toodles and JD woke up at 6:30, so I get them breakfast and played in the living room. Not feeling well, I took my temperature. 98.9. Nothing remarkable.

It was Wife's day to sleep in, so she woke up at 8:30 or 9:00.

After informing her that I was terribly tired, I went back upstairs and fell asleep for three hours. Then I felt a fever had come on. 101.5. Back to bed. 3:00 rolled around. 103.5. Time for Tylenol and to make arrangements for help on Monday. It was unlikely I would be able to watch the kids.

Mother-in-Law took the 9-2:30 shift, while JK took the afternoon shift till Wife came home.

In the mean time, I went down to see Dr. Stewart at Northwestern Internists. He's my man. Spots on my throat. Took cultures for influenza and strep. Influenza negative. Strep positive. Amoxicillin. Plenty of fluids and food if my throat could take it. Tylenol. Rest.

Back to bed. With a bowl of matzo ball soup and a side of challah bread from The Bagel on Broadway. That was awesome of JK to pick up.

Being sick sucks. I still feel run down at the end of the day, but each day has been better. I am no longer contagious. Should be back to 100% within a week. Till then, wish me well and my kids to be patient, sweet, and quiet.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Handmade and Homemade

As you may have gathered from some previous posts, I am an amateur chef. Today, I made Belgian Waffles! Thanks to LB for the electric waffle iron!

They were so good that I continue to think about them, but then try to remember the amount of butter that goes into them. Moderation is the key!

The point of this post is to remind everyone how good it feels to make things yourself. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't. That's part of trying.

But, personally, I feel that the times when the things work out far makes me feel better than how frustrated I get when things don't work out.

Have you found that things don't work out when you try, so you've stopped trying?

Let me ask you this: how often do you try? For instance, in cooking, I have found that making a new recipe, especially those that require an extensive ingredient list and several steps can be tough to get just right the first time. If I wait, say, 4 - 6 weeks to try again, remembering the mistakes I made will likely repeat. But if I try again in a couple of days or the next week (maybe even make some notes about the experience) then I find that I'm not only more successful, but that it gets easier every time. For instance, I can now make Tyler's Ultimate Chicken Enchiladas without looking at the recipe.

So remember, keep trying, don't give up. You'll not only do nice things for others, but the feeling of fulfillment and creation brings great joy to your day.


 I have to give myself some props for pulling this one off.

Wife had never been to Las Vegas. We've been talking about going since we've been together, but it wasn't a top priority. Our plan was to go when she got her promotion at work, but what little extra money came from that went toward other priorities.

That was a hard blow in a way; the expectation of a reward for hard work getting pulled out from under her. She never complained, but we all know what it's like to have our expectations thwarted.

Finally, it seemed that, if I could get a good deal on the flight and hotel, we could go. So I started searching between Christmas and the New Year for packages in February or March, as her birthday is March 18. I didn't realize that I'd found a great deal, but thought that the prices were at their normal levels. Because of holiday shopping, I had to wait till the credit card cycle renewed at the beginning of January.

I wanted this to be a surprise for Wife, so she didn't know about my research. She mentioned going a few times and I kept telling her, "We just can't afford it right now. Maybe in the fall."

In the mean time, I arranged for my in-laws to take the kids for a weekend in February. That problem was solved. So I checked back over my searches in January, but the prices had gone up over 50%! Yikes! By this time, most of my family knew that I was planning this, so they would give me a heads-up if they heard about some fare specials. Still, I finally told my in-laws that unless something dramatic happened, the trip would have to be postponed.

But I kept checking and finally found the deal. 2 nights at the Bellagio and non-stop flights out of O'Hare on American Airlines. Friday February 12th through Sunday the 14th.

The trip was set. Now to do the impossible: keep it quiet while getting the peripheral preparations in order.

For instance, I couldn't have Wife get on a conference call at 4pm. Secretary informed Wife's superiors what the deal was and, if possible, to avoid conflicts at that time.

I also couldn't have Wife come home early. Occasionally, she'll pack up some reading or editing she can do as easily at home as at work and come home at say, 3pm. That would make a mess of things. I called her friends to arrange a pretend happy hour. That would ensure she would plan on staying at work until 5pm.

Everything was going so smoothly. I was getting very excited.

Then Friday morning came early with text messages from my brother at 5am. His wife was in labor. I couldn't believe it. Of all the selfish things a person could do to ruin my surprise, this certainly topped the list!

I was beside myself. On one hand, I was so excited and happy for my brother and desperately wanted to be at the hospital for them. On the other hand, I had a grocery list of things to do to get ready for this trip. And there was the question, do we still go on the trip? I had purchased trip cancellation insurance in case the kids got sick or other obstruction to my travel plans. This scenario was in the back of my mind, but she wasn't due until 2/17, the following week. I mean really, who has their first baby a week early? That never happens!

But it was happening. Wife went to work, as usual, around 6am. I was up-and-Adam and had lots to do. But instead of being focused and knowing exactly what I wanted to do and when, I was scattered. Are we going or aren't we? When do I drop the surprise on Wife? Do I keep the plans intact? What about the baby? What if they have the baby? What do I do with the kids?

Just to get the kids to the In-Laws, I had to pack their clothes and pack their food. Staying for two days brings its own intricacies. I didn't want In-Laws to have to buy a bunch of stuff they don't normally eat, so I offered to bring all of their food. My plan was to portion it all out so that they had enough for their meals and some just-in-case food (like, if we stayed an extra day or two :). I didn't do that early so Wife wouldn't be clued in that something was up. In hindsight, I could have easily packed their clothes and non-perishable food and hidden them, but I thought I would have all day Friday to do all of this.

I told wife that In-Laws offered to take the kids overnight so that we could stay at the hospital as long as it took. She responded, "Oh, great! Hey, why don't you pick me up from the office on your way back? Then we can go to the hospital together." My, what a great idea.

Instead of having all morning to pack the kids' things, then all afternoon to pack for Wife and myself, I panicked, thinking that I had to do everything before I left at 9:30am. Of course, there was laundry to do and the kids were sleeping so I couldn't go into their room. So they did wake up and had to be fed and clothed. The TV babysitter took over from there.

Then JD pooped in his underwear which leaked out to the carpet and then stepped on it. Toodles needed attention. I didn't know if I was going to cry or throw up.

Then I did the sensible thing. I decided to drop the surprise early. A weight was lifted from my shoulders. I threw JD and Toodles' things into bags, dumped everything in the car, then drove like heck to In-Laws where I had to give thorough explanation about their clothes and food and schedule. Then downtown where I picked up Wife. Finally, I told her there was laundry that absolutely had to be changed over.

We arrived home where she found the itinerary on the counter.

What's this? We're going to Vegas?!?

She was terribly excited. Then she started asking questions.

Who knew about this?
She found out about the fake plans that night and throughout the weekend. Coworker friends. Family. It was a lot of fun watching her discover how deep the river ran.

The best part about telling her early was that she packed her own things. I was having some anxiety about that.

We packed, went to the hospital and waited. At 3:45, a baby girl came into the world. We got the be the first ones to hold her so that we could get to the airport. She was wonderful and beautiful and looked just like her mother's side of the family. Then we said good-bye and drove to O'Hare.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Toodles the Destroyer

She crawls, pulls herself up, and cruises. That is all a baby needs to destroy the house.

And there's nothing I can do about it.

Not that I don't want to encourage her independence and curiosity. Far from it. I let her get up, fall down, bang her head, pull down books and pictures and tear apart magazines. I'm Libertarian in my parenting.

Seriously, I let Toodles do all of those things. The problem is, time is not on my side. With JD potty training (slowly) and Toodles taking forever at the dining table, attempts to keep a respectable house are futile.

Her eating takes forever. I am grateful for her appetite. Something has to sustain her remarkable growth chart (95% height, 75% weight at her 9 month checkup.) Tonight at dinner, she took down 1/4 cup of brown rice, 1 tablespoon each of black beans, peas, and broccoli and 3 chicken nuggets. Other days she'll eat a cup or more of soup and a half slice of wheat bread. Meals take 30-60 minutes.

Oh, and she isn't feeding herself.  Not at all. I think she ate some string cheese today when we were at the Museum of Science and Industry (new members! - Thanks LB.) I pulled about a quarter of the stick in string-style and gave it to her. After attending to JD, I looked back to find that it was gone down to her fist. Otherwise, no Cheerios, no bread, no bananas, no blueberries, no corn, no peas. Nothing goes from her hands to her mouth.

Well, just not food. Cars, blocks, balls, books, magazines, remote controls, cell phones, cordless house phones, cookware, cooking utensils and any other inanimate non-food item finds its way into her two-toothed mouth.

On a normal day, Toodles wakes at 7, JD at 7:30am. She'll take down a bottle, play, then we'll have breakfast all together. That takes us to 8 or 8:15. Then I have to clean up breakfast. Unload the dishwasher from last night, dirty dishes into the dishwasher, clean the high chair, sweep the floor, wipe off the coutertops, put the milk and any other perishables back into the refrigerator. That's around 15 minutes. By now, Toodles has dumped out her small bowl of kitchen toys, played with them, and has moved down the hall to the living room where JD has managed to turn on CNBC or NHL on the Fly. She begins playing with some alphabet blocks, then pulls out some action figures, then decides that the books on the shelf are in entirely the wrong order and must be pulled down, two at a time. The magazines on the coffee table are far too old and the only way to get me to throw them out is to dismember them and drool on them, making them illegible. She'll finally make her way to the basket housing the changing materials and take out several diapers in an obvious attempt to show that one is badly needed, not that the scent couldn't be traced down the hall. But if I don't put JD on the potty, then he'll either soil himself or the living room carpet. And he certainly can't be left alone on the toilet, so I spend 10 minutes in there reading to him. Toodles may or may not stay with us, but by this time there is little more damage she can do elsewhere. By this time, it is either time for her nap or time for a shower. Not to mention routine things like garbage, laundry, dry cleaning, packing the diaper bag for whatever outing, making the grocery list and coordinating that with coupons, taking out something to defrost for dinner . . .

Nine-and-a-half months. Just wait till she can walk and decides to negotiate the 30 stairs that separate the 2nd floor from the basement. I don't think the gates will stop this one. I can see it now: JD and Toodles escaping to the 2nd floor and dropping things from the balcony on to my unsuspecting head.

Then again, I was folding laundry this afternoon and what did she do but crawl up and on me with a big smile and sit in my lap playing with a pair of mommy's socks.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

P.S. Don't Fly With Kids

They were good. Well, as good as one can expect from a 3-year-old and an 8-month-old. Only about an hour each of real whining and sleep each way.

Hey, some people have much worse circumstances. I'm not complaining.

But don't fly with kids. Seriously, it sucks.

Not that you have a choice, mind you. Excuse me, not that I have a choice. Wife hates road trips. She gets car sick easily and can't do anything except to stare straight ahead and listen to top-40 music (from the 80s to present.) I love road trips. My philosophy is that if I can drive there within 8 hours, I'm driving. F the airport and the airplane. Wife wins.

As I mentioned in Trippin Out, Wife's maternal Grandmother (last surviving grandparent between us) lives in Ft Lauderdale, FL. According to Google Maps, it would be around 1400 miles and 22 hours of driving. I figure I could do it in 2 days, maybe 3. Wife would have no part of that and it would probably suck with 2 little one like we have. If they were 10 and 8 or even 6 and 4, I could handle that. But a baby screaming for an hour on an airplane would probably seem like Mozart compared to 6 or more hours of screaming in the car. I digress.

From parking the car, pulling the car seats (I'm too cheap to rent car seats there), getting through security (having to put the stroller through the x-ray machine, then they test the water in the baby's bottles for vapors), and waiting to board, it can be a real challenge.

Oh, then doing it all over again when you get off the plane.

Then doing it all again when you return home.

But I love my family (yes, I call my wife's family my family). I love Grandma Syl. We had an amazing time. Perhaps I'll write about the actual vacation soon.

But I'm having some family issues that I'll probably share soon.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Trippin' Out

To Florida we will go . . .

Ft Lauderdale, Florida, that is. Wife's Grandmother is turning 96 this year. (How cliche, a Grandmother in Florida. Yes, we're Jewish. What's cliche in Yiddish?) Wife's parents will be married 45 years this month. Or next month. Yikes, I don't know their anniversary date. Well, it's the years that count, not the date, right?

We're going not only with Wife's Parents, but with her older sister, Tante, and younger sister 'Susie'. Susie and her husband (I don't have a name for him yet) have two kids, JR, a 5-year-old girl and Pee-Wee, a 14-month-old boy. We are renting a house on North Atlantic Boulevard, literally across the street from the Atlantic Ocean. Thursday - Tuesday. Totally psyched.

You know what I'd forgotten about? How much it costs to travel. Forget the airfare. Let me see if I can list the things I've purchased for this trip: sunscreen, bathing suits, UV shirts, shorts, sun dress, magazines, snacks, headphones, luggage (including a Diego carry-on with wheels for JD - it was immensely cute seeing him pull it all excited through Target), and DVDs. I think I racked up enough for another plane ticket. And we haven't gotten there yet.

Not available in Chicago at Target in January are swim diapers. At least not the Target on Elston Ave. I mean, what if I still belonged to East Bank and was taking Toodles and JD for swim lessons? I'm sure they'll be available in Florida. I miss East Bank but not the $285 + everything per month it cost to 'belong'.

Like I was saying, we've rented a house. Comparably priced to getting hotel rooms, if not cheaper, and we'll save big money on groceries instead of eating out every meal. Well, that is if I'm not cooking every meal. And the likelihood is that I'll be cooking. Let's be honest - if you've got a gourmet in the house, why not? And I'm the Kitchen Nazi as my buddy Smooch called me when we lived at 3823 N Clark. I can't stand watching other people cook. They don't have proper technique and . . . I could go on. So if someone else is cooking, I have to go far far away or I'll be really annoying and over their shoulder and giving unsolicited advice. Maybe I'll just grab a beer and sit out by the pool.

I'll let you know what happened and post some pictures of my wicked hot bod. Or maybe just the kids doing sill stuff.

Oh, Wife and I have a question: is the intensity of the February Ft Lauderdale sun comparable to June or July Chicago sun, more intense, or less intense? Thanks!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Another Giveaway!

My friend, Couponing for 4, has another giveaway! Win a Glee Season 1 soundtrack.

In case you're new here, Couponing is a great way to save money by using coupons, advertising, and patience (as well as a lot of astute shoppers) to get the best deals on everything from groceries to household items to over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. Couponing for 4 claims to have saved and made over $10,000 between coupon deals, sweepstakes winnings, and focus groups.

Getting a Head Start

For months, I've aspired to get up as early as my wife, or at least get up as she's leaving. With the latter, I'm going to work when she's going to work. Let's not forget: when a homemaker wakes up, he or she is at work and doesn't get off work until bedtime. And is on call overnight. But I digress.

For the last couple of days, I have been getting up extra early. What are the advantages?

Wife wakes up around 5am. Or at least gets up from bed. (Sometimes she's up in the middle of the night thinking about work, other times she doesn't wake up until she's had 'her coffee'.) She's out the door by 5:30 or 5:45. That's when she wakes me up.

I have a hard time waking up, but I am a morning person. Doesn't that seem contradictory? But it's true; once I'm up, I'm up with full energy. Coffee is not one of my staples, but an occasional luxury. But waking up, getting up; very difficult.

So I get up anytime between 6 and 7.

Back to the advantages of getting up early. My kids wake up anytime between 7 and 8, but usually after 7:30. Here are my goals for that time:
-unload the dishwasher / wipe down the kitchen (if it wasn't done the night before)
-load the washing machine
-plan & defrost dinner
-coordinate my shopping list
-make a schedule for the day
-online work: check email, blog, pay bills, audit credit cards and bank accounts
-make a bottle for Toodles, cut up fruit for the day for her

I could easily go on and on, but those are the most common things I try to accomplish. Certainly not all of them!

So on the days I get up at 6, I get a lot done. 7, not so much.

I have to develop the fear. I believe that's what gets people like Wife up in the morning. They fear staying asleep. They fear missing work, forgetting a project, being late. I don't have that unless I'm going on a trip. Then it's just fun. Maybe that's what I need to do - plan something fun first thing. I'll try that.

I'll make a deal with myself. If I wake up by 6am, I get to play a game of NHL 10 or golf. If not, then I don't. But then again, if I miss that deadline, then I'll just say F-it and keep sleeping because I missed my opportunity. Hmmm... gonna have to think about this one.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

3rd Birthday!

We've kept him alive.

That's what I joked when JD turned 1. Then 2. We've made it.

We have been struck neither by life-threatening illness nor by mortal injury. He's had fevers and his feet burned. He's accumulated scrapes, bumps, and bruises. He's driven me to the point of insanity and forgetting my sense of right-and-wrong.

But we've worked through it all.

JD is 3!

When he and Toodles woke up, I went in and asked, "What do you want to eat?" to which he replied, "Doughnuts." "Well, I don't have doughnuts, but how about pancakes?" "Doughnuts and pancakes!" Sigh.

So I changed Toodles, then JD and I took a shower because I couldn't remember the last time he took one; 45 minutes later, we were out the door.

To Jewel for the doughnut (Dunkin' is just a bit closer, but doughnuts at Jewel are only $0.59.

Then we walked to Sam & George's Restaurant and had pancakes and bacon, his favorite breakfast. We are regulars there, so they know us. When he was done, they gave him a little ice cream sundae with a candle and sang "Happy Birthday."

Now my babysitter is here and I should be writing this during nap instead of wasting valuable babysitting time!

Monday, January 11, 2010

What to do when the kids go to school...

Thinking about what I'm going to do, professionally, when the kids are both in school full-time has been on my mind for a while.

For a long time, I've wondered what I could do to bring in an extra $1000 per month to the house. I figured that, even if I was a fast-food manager, I could make around $40k per year, working 40-50 hours per week. So couldn't I make $12k per year working from home, putting in 15-20 hours per week?

But the reality is that employers want some structure to their workforce and I can't provide that. As a homemaker, what are the hours that I could put into a job?

I figure I could put in at least 1-2 hours per day in the afternoon while the kids are napping. I could get up early and put in another hour before they wake up. I could put in an hour after they go to bed. So, conservatively, that's 12-15 hours before infringing on my weekend time.

What I've learned about being a work-from-home professional is that you have to have some entrepreneurial drive. For us homemakers, that probably means a home-based business.

What about consulting? I don't have enough professional experience to be much of a consultant. I'm an expert EA Sports NHL series video game player. I've got a BA in Creative Writing with a minor in Business Administration. I've got some Spanish. My most developed non-video-game-related hobby is cooking. But I have no interest in cooking in a restaurant.

Since graduating, I've waited tables, have been a line cook, tire and wheel sales, and managed the garage at an auto service center.

But I've also done a couple of other things that have interested me. One is investing. The other is business writing.

Part of my homemaking duties is to watch the money. For our IRA & 401k accounts, we have a professional financial adviser. He is great. But I'm not the kind of person who will just hand over money and let things happen. I've educated myself on investing terminology and strategy so that I can understand why he's making certain moves.

Since then, though, I've started making some investments. Some went well, some tanked. What I have learned, though, is that I love researching companies. (It was when I didn't do the research that I got my butt handed to me.) So I'd like to learn more about investing and finance. Not only to invest for myself, but perhaps to help others do so.

Occasionally, my brother sends me letter for editing. Sometimes they deal with the hockey team he coaches, other times they are for business. I have found the I like business writing. Sales and marketing have always been interests of mine, but have not pursued them with focus. I enjoy learning about the business and the project for which it is intended. To properly write something like that, you have to do what attorneys call 'discovery'. You have to learn about the company, not just about project. It's interesting and fun.

Since I have a degree in writing, a writing career would require less training. Both writing and finance would require a great deal of entrepreneurial drive. I would be able to start writing sooner. Finance has a greater potential for income.

I'll let you know if I decide on one or the other.

Kid Updates

Toodles is 8 months and JD will be 3 tomorrow!

Wow, how time goes crazy when you're not looking.

Toodles is a great joy to us. At 8 months, her favorite things are finger walking, playing with action figures and blocks, and eating real food. I don't recall whether I blogged about this, but at about 10 weeks or so, she was creeping, as much as 10 or 12 feet at a time. I think that stopped when she got too big to push herself easily. Or it became boring for her. She is doing it again, moving to get toys she wants or to face her mother, brother, or me.

At the table, she went from pureed baby food to finger food in less than six weeks. As soon as I started giving her Cheerios she was hooked. Back to pureed carrots, squash, and peaches. No way! So I've had to change my routine to having various veggies and fruits ready to go. This becomes challenging in two ways. First, having the things on hand while keeping a variety. Second, the time it takes to prepare. I went from pre-packaged food to having to cut everything, every time. Green beans, grapes, banana, avocado, nectarine, blueberries, carrots, zucchini . . . But in the end, when I'm putting a piece of food up to her mouth and she attacks my fingers gums first, well it's all worth it!

JD is a typical 3-year-old. He loves attention and misbehaves when it doesn't come his way. He knows his ABC's, single digits, and his way around the keyboard. We used Fisher-Price's website to help teach him the alphabet. This morning, I asked him to find each animal, from Alligator to Zebra, and he got the letter on either the first or second try. I've learned that counting to 10 every time there's a countdown is bad. Now, he only knows to count to ten. When I'm being extra-conscious, I will count to 7 or to 13 or any other variation. The next step will be to count to 100 by tens.

JD continues to love playing hockey, but his sports repertoire includes soccer, bowling, golf, and baseball. When I take the time to figure out posting video, I'll show you. He's a big boy, too - when asked what size clothes to buy him for his birthday, I'm telling people 5T shirts and 4T pants. Crazy! He sill loves playing peek-a-boo, though in more sophisticated and high-energy ways. Some of those include the beginnings of hide-and-seek, while others are more like meteors colliding. He also loves when I throw him in the air (we get about 2 - 3 feet of separation, much to my wife's dismay) and wrestling.

When we take the time to read and write, he's made his first intelligible drawing and, for a while, was obsessed with drawing people riding skateboards. I don't understand why, but he would always tell Wife or me, "Draw Mommy riding skateboard. Draw Uncle Matt riding skateboard," etc. He would try, too. Markers over crayons, unfortunately, is the preference. He loves reading, though we have inadvertently made it a bedtime thing, not an anytime thing. He's memorized about 15 books, including Dino Hockey by Lisa Wheeler and Barry Gott, Too Many Toys by David Shannon, Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss, Thump, Quack, Moo, Click, Clack Moo, and Giggle Giggle Quack by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin.

The kids are great and give me great, big headaches. Well, I don't get headaches, but if I did, they would be great big ones! But when they wake up and are talking to each other (JD talks, Toodles coos) it's so sweet, I forget about the nagging, the crying, and the messes and can only think of hugs, kisses, and laughter.