Thursday, January 28, 2010

But If You Try Sometimes

you just might get what you had been hoping for all along.

This past weekend I took my husband away for a night in Chicago. It's not something we've ever done before and (for economic reasons) we're not likely to do it again real soon. It started a few months ago when I spotted a really good rate at a hotel on Michigan Avenue. With a little planning, it turned into a great night on the town.

First off - the hotel. Can I tell you how convenient it was to have a room at a hotel right next door to the John Hancock building and within walking distance of theatres and shops and restaurants? I lost count of the number of times we went out to one place and then returned to the hotel for something and then headed back out again. It was that easy and honestly, that fun. Before dinner we went out to the theatre to pick up tickets (which weren't in yet, but oh well). Then we went back briefly to the hotel before wandering around the shops in Water Tower Place. Then it was off to dinner and a stop in at the hotel before going to the play (Icarus at Lookingglass Theatre - a very somber show, but well done by a very versatile and creative group).

My favorite part of our evening out was stopping at The Cheesecake Factory in the bottom floor of the Hancock building. Neither of us had been to The Cheesecake Factory before, anywhere. What an amazing place. With all the curved walls, copper moldings, and flower-shaped furnishings, it felt like we'd stepped into something from Alice in Wonderland. And yet it had a very cosmopolitan feel to it too. Perfect for dessert out during a night on the town.

Other items of note: our table at dinner had a tablecloth and china and wine glasses. Oh, and linen napkins. The bald waiter managed to be appropriately attentive and funny. The noise level in the dining area was suitably low (except for the older couple in the booth behind me, who were delightfully interesting in their choice of loud dinner conversation topics). And contrary to my usual tendency of choosing something bland and uninteresting off the menu (while AmusingDad gets the spicy dish), I selected a New Zealand seafood stew that absolutely did not disappoint. Then again, I think that the initial choice in restaurants had more to do with the quality of food than in the particular choice of dish itself. I'm guessing almost anything off the menu would have been superb.

So finally (FINALLY!) I got to have the night out I'd been wanting. I think AmusingDad enjoyed it too. Although earlier that day he'd been pining for a buck-fifty Polish sausage at Costco. His reaction to the steak at dinner was only lukewarm in comparison. But he assures me he could have gotten just as excited about the steak if it had been a buck-fifty.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sets My Teeth on Edge

It's only a small thing - the fact that every toothbrush we've gotten over the past 5 years hasn't fit into the toothbrush holder in my children's bathroom. But it's enough to set my teeth on edge. Why, oh why, can't the manufacturers cooperate on this? If the toothbrush makers are going to insist on making only wide, ergonomic handles for their brushes, then why can't the people producing the holders work on widening the openings?

Like I say, it's a small thing. But it makes a difference in our home. Now the kids' bathroom counter is constantly littered with toothbrushes, and consequently, sticky globs of toothpaste residue. Not to mention the extra sharing of germs that occurs due to the scattering of brushes.

In our bathroom we resolved the issue by jamming the handles into the holder. Our toothbrushes stand up extra tall and not so straight. In fact, they sorta lean. But they're off the counter.

Let this be a warning, dear shopper. If you're the in market for a new toothbrush holder, make sure it has extra wide openings for the new-fangled toothbrush handles out there. You might even want to take a whopper toothbrush with you, if you have one on hand. It's not always easy to tell if they'll fit just by looking.

Or maybe we should all just talk to our dentist and ask if he could (pretty please) go back to simple toothbrushes with slim handles.

Oh wait, what's this? My children went to the dentist this past week and they came back with...could it be?!...straight handled toothbrushes?!! Oh, happy day! (But I'm still getting the bigger slotted holder next time I have to buy one. You never know when the dentist is going to go all fancy on the toothbrushes again.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Life Can Be Rough

His eyes were rimmed red and he barely looked up as he spoke. I listened as another hot lunch mom asked the distressed fourth-grader to repeat what lunch he had ordered. The other students at the lunch table chatted and ate, moving clumsily in their bulky winter coats and snowpants. Beside them, the teary-eyed boy looked thin in his striped shirt and jeans. He burst into a fresh flow of tears as the other mom hurried off to find his missing lunch order.

"We'll get your lunch real quick," I said, stooping down to reassure the boy.

"It's not about my lunch!" he retorted. "I'm not crying about that. It''s everything!" And then he launched into a litany of missteps and injustices that had seemed to follow him that day, among them that he'd been sentenced to staying inside for recess. This explained his clothes, and more importantly, his tears.

I listened until he was done pouring out his story. "The day is already halfway through. It will get better," I promised.

He began crying again. "But it won't get better! After lunch I have math, and I hate math!"

He sat with his back to the table, his shoulders hunched in defeat. I gave him a small pat on the back and a few more words of reassurance, before moving on to continue helping to serve lunch.

A short while later I went to stand against the wall by the cafeteria door to eat my own lunch while chatting with another mom. I glanced over at the boy. He still sat with his back to the table. He wasn't smiling. But his pizza bagel and tears were gone. A few moments later the lunch monitors began directing the children to clean up. I threw out my napkin and went over to the boy.

"I hope your day does get better," I said to him, giving him another quick pat on the back.

He gave me a glance and a half smile and stood to join the line of children leaving the cafeteria.

Life can be rough, even when you're in fourth grade. I sure hope he goes home to a mom who gives him a big hug and a listening ear.

And when my kids get home, I'll be waiting to do the same.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Taking Matters Into Her Own Hands

Poor Uber-Princess. Seems her social life isn't what she's been hoping for. At school she enjoys hanging out with her friends and will often talk about plans to play later. Her homebody mom tries to accommodate this as best she can and generally arranges at least one playdate each week. But that's too slow for the Uber-Princess. Recently she's begun taking matters into her own hands.

Over Christmas break we called one school friend to invite her to play. There was no answer, so we left a message. We never heard back. I reassured her that the friend was probably away on vacation (she was) and we could set something up after school started again. The Uber-Princess, knowing the slowpoke her mom can be about these things, took care of things straight away on Monday morning. She wrote her phone number on the back of her friend's paper and urged the friend to have her mother call to set up that playdate.

A few days later the phone rang. The number had been passed on. We moms conferred and set up a playdate for next week. The Uber-Princess's actions set things in motion far faster than if she'd waited on the grownups to get their acts together.

She has also recently been talking about one boy in her class with whom she plays a lot in school. They have hit it off well and both agree that this warrants some after school play time as well. Each day she comes home and talks about this little boy and what they could play if he came over (to our mega-girly home). I've been thinking I'd chat with the boy's mom about it the next time I saw her. Which was today. Apparently the Uber-Princess beat me to it. The boy's mom volunteered with their class in the library yesterday and the Uber-Princess took the opportunity to approach the mom about the possibility of a playdate.

*Sigh.* I can barely imagine what the teen years will be like with this one. If she has her way it will probably be a string of endless social activity. The Uber-Princess is one that likes to keep her dance card full. Question is: can her mother keep up?

Monday, January 04, 2010

Can't Always Get What You Want

I keep thinking about an occasion over our Christmas break that I've been meaning to post about. So here it is (for what it's worth):

We had a great, low-key Christmas. Not a lot of running around and still plenty of good family time. The only thing I felt was missing for me was a break from cooking. It felt like, between holiday baking and fixing goodies, plus regular meal prep, that I was in the kitchen all the time. Even the couple hours I spent Christmas Eve (while my family watched a movie) putting together our Christmas brunch dishes in an effort to avoid the kitchen on Christmas Day didn't work. Sometime in the afternoon of Christmas Day my DH wandered in and saw me hunched over the stove.

"What are you cooking now?" he asked.

"Dessert." I wanted to make sure we had our traditional Grasshopper Pie. It's one of my favorites. It seemed worth the time in the kitchen on Christmas Day. And after all, I reasoned, there's always tomorrow for taking a break. In fact, I became so enamored with the idea of a night off from cooking I began to envision what it would be like. DH and the girls would take me out to dinner - somewhere nice with cloth linens on the tables and wine on the menu. Italian would be perfect. I held this image in my head that evening and through the next night when I found myself in the kitchen yet again, trying to use up our leftover ham bone.

The next afternoon I made my appeal. "Can we please go out for dinner tonight?" I asked.

The kids began jumping up and down, squealing with excitement. "Gyro King! Gyro King!" they shouted. This was followed by a long list of reasons why we should go there, including the fact that they had been wanting to go there for years. [Ahem]

Guess where we went for dinner? A little Greek joint with plain wood tables and a guy behind the counter running a buzzing blade down a suspended slab of lamb, with another guy cooking the cuts of meat over a huge sizzling metal cook top.

I took a spot at a table in the empty "restaurant" and sat back to wait for DH to carry over the trays with our meal. Snow whirled and swirled outside and occasionally the bell over the door rang as a carryout customer entered. We had the place to ourselves.

The meal? How to describe it...picture a large round wooden table with a family of five crowded around it on hard wooden chairs. Stacks of thin paper napkins and bottles of ketchup grace the center of the table. Posters of Greece line the otherwise bare walls. A cook on break sitting with his back against the swinging kitchen door talks on his cell phone.

LMH, Timid Daughter and I split two meals between us. This left me to eat my portion out of an emptied french fry carton, nary a plate (paper or other) in sight. At least I had a straw for drinking out of my can of soda. Onions oozed from my garlic-laden sandwich, grease dripping from the other end. Yes, this was my stupendous dinner out!

What made it all tolerable, laughable even, was how outrageously huge of a departure it was from the meal I had envisioned -- that and watching the Uber-Princess and her father study a collection of Chicago Cow photos while they waited for our meal, hand in hand, standing close together. It was family time. And it was memorable.

Of course I'm still waiting for that nice Italian dinner. And maybe dessert to go with it.