A Not-So-Cynical Look At The 2009 Holiday Season

Posted in holidays on December 29th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I was thinking about our family’s 2009 holiday season, now come and almost gone already, and I was envisioning words to describe this wonderful season, despite the fact that this year ours was peppered with unpleasant familial dramatics.  But about a week ago, I made what was a conscious decision to pull myself up from the depths of despair I had fallen into after losing a beloved family member just one week before Christmas.  So, in my good humor, I chose 24 of the best words to describe my holiday season, each beginning with a different letter of the alphabet.  Here goes…

Avatar – Saw it and actually liked it, despite my typical sci-fi reluctance.  But I liked Avatar so much that I’m really hoping the timing and budget work out so that I can see it again in 3D at a more technologically savvy theater.

Big Family Christmas – We traveled to Illinois on Christmas Day and got to take part in a huge gathering of my husband’s large extended family.  His 92-year-old grandmother, who speaks with a thick east-coast Connecticut accent (and who smoked 3 packs of cigarettes a day from age 16 until age 70!) told many of her infamous stories that had everyone in stitches!  After hearing one of Monie’s stories, I could have used the words Blue Boob for B, but I will spare you those details…  😉

Christ Was Born – We went to a beautiful church service on Christmas Eve to celebrate and reflect upon the entire purpose of the Christmas holiday.

De…  There are two words that come to mind for this letter based upon certain recent events in my life, but I’m not going to go there; this is to be “A Not-So-Cynical Look…” blog post.  So here, D will stand for Dumbledore, since I’m almost halfway through my first Harry Potter book and lovin’ it!

Elf – My favorite holiday movie, and we actually had time to watch it this year!  It, unlike a few other favorite Christmas experiences, did not lose any magic this year.  I still felt that warm and fuzzy “Christmas Magic” feeling after I watched this movie – I’d pull it out more often, but it’s not the same unless it’s Christmas! 
“I love smiling; smiling’s my favorite!!”  – Buddy The Elf

Friends – We are so blessed to have such wonderful friends, and I can’t thank them enough for the things they did and just for being there during this bittersweet time.

Grandparents –  We were able to visit 3 of our grandparents this holiday season!  Even being in our 30’s, we have 3 surviving grandparents among my husband and I –  we were blessed to be able to spend time with all of them this year!

Homemade spaghetti – Best.  Christmas.  Gift.  EVER!!  My mother-in-law sent us home 4 huge frozen batches of her out-of-this-world spaghetti sauce!  AND a large bag of grated Asiago cheese.  AND…  something I’ll save for another letter…

Ice – Drove through plenty of it to reach IL and get back to Ohio on Christmas day.  Luckily, traffic was light and travel for us was smooth and safe.  The kids were good as gold and slept for the majority of both drives.

Jill – Screwed us over again!  This little story begins with Walmart.  Since this is “A Not-So-Cynical Look…”, I won’t go off about Walmart, but I will simply state the facts:  the pump in our windshield wiper cleaner fluid dispenser stopped working after the last time we got an oil change at Walmart.  We didn’t really need it until Christmas night, when we were driving past the city of Chicago, and apparently smog + snow = some sort of disgusting pollution paste.  So visibility is limited, and we still don’t know exactly what happened since we’ve driven this route dozens of times, but basically the express lanes on I-90 seemed to suddenly dissolve into city streets.  So now it’s 10:30 on Christmas night, and we’re wandering around in the city.  We can’t see out the back of the car since there’s tons of Christmas presents, and we can’t see out of the front of the car because of the pollution paste.  This is where Jill comes in – and she directs us straight back to I-90.  Only problem is, our van can’t just jump guardrails; we needed an entrance ramp, and Jill was only directing us to streets that crossed over the expressway and didn’t actually intersect with it.  So we crossed bridge after bridge, and we criss-crossed I-90 until one of those streets had an entrance ramp.  Then Jill freaked out and tried to get us off of the expressway again, but she got her power button pressed – we knew our way from there.

Kalachkies – I have a fun memory of a Christmas years ago when my forgetful Polish grandmother was sitting in her wheelchair, instructing my equally Polish uncle and myself how to make kalachkies, a usually delicious Polish cookie.  The end results were inedible and referred to as “hockey pucks”.  This year at Christmas, my husband’s cousin made homemade kalachkies – real ones, no hockey pucks, and they were delicious!  Thanks Lilly!

Late night drive – One night, we took the kids out in the car in their pajamas with some snacks, and we drove through the snowy countryside to a town  about 30 minutes away for a drive-thru lighted display that’s just wonderful.  Late night drive could also refer to my husband’s and my peaceful drive home (after the unscheduled tour of the city) while the kids were asleep all the way from Illinois to Ohio – nice.

Mashed Potatoes – My mother-in-law is a great cook!  I guess it’s been  awhile since the last time I had her mashed potatoes, because I  didn’t remember how they tasted.  But I told her the truth after Christmas dinner – they were the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever had!

Noodles – My mother-in-law’s spaghetti sauce also came with EIGHT pounds of whole wheat gourmet organic pasta!  I love whole wheat pasta – it actually tastes better, and you don’t get the pasta-stomachache / horrible stuffed feeling that can accompany pasta over-indulgence.

Onions – One of my favorite holiday dishes is creamed onions, and it was a nice surprise to see this dish on the Christmas buffet.  Fortunately for me, my husband can replicate the taste of his mother’s creamed onions –  yum!

P.A.S. – Pompous Ass Syndrome – my poor brother-in-law is a victim.  Enough Said.

Quiet – With 4 kids and Christmas celebrations spread out over 2 weeks, there really wasn’t much of this.

Revenge – My brother and sister-in-law gifted our kids 3 little gumball machines.  Cute, but not when you realize how many gumballs needed to be pried out of our candy-obsessed toddler’s little hands, for one thing.  Who would give little kids gumball machine gifts?  Wait, isn’t that what we got her 3 kids last year?!?  I’m all for re-gifting; I really think it’s a smart thing to do.  But maybe next year I’ll choose our Christmas gifts more carefully…

Snow – It’s been snowing on and off for a week and a half here in Ohio.  The Chicago area was unexpectedly blanketed with about a foot of snow on Saturday – thank goodness we left for Ohio on Friday night!

Turkey – We ate it and it was good.

U-Turn – see “J” – Jill the GPS.  Besides the time we were lost in Chicago, Jill caused us to make at least one other U-turn on this trip.

Vile – Odor in Gary Indiana – I don’t care what the Music Man had to say – Gary Indiana STINKS!  Literally!!!

Weather  – I was worried about it all week, but thankfully, it didn’t impede our journey in the slightest.

X-changing gifts –  Ok, that’s too generic?  What else could X stand for, the rating of Monie’s Blue Boob story?  We x-changed gifts many gifts, and that’s all I’m going to say.

Yellow Puppy – When our friends heard about our family’s heartbreak, they gifted us a gigantic (stuffed) dog.  This cute puppy’s headband wouldn’t even fit on my head, and she wears a sweater that could probably fit me – or at least all 4 of my kids in it together…  so cute and so thoughtful, and the kids LOVE her!

Zoo lights – With everything that was going on during this December, I’m so thankful that we were able to make it to  one of our favorite Christmas destinations this year –   the Toledo Zoo for their Lights Before Christmas displays.  Beautiful lights in a peaceful atmosphere, and if you get there early enough, you can see some zoo animals, which is probably my favorite thing to do in the whole world!

Hope you had a Merry Christmas, and best wishes for a great New Year!!!

Furry Babies Sucks!!!

Posted in animals, Pets, Travel on July 2nd, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

We began our trip to Chicago last Saturday, and the 3-state, 4-kid, mini-van trip went pretty smoothly.  At some point, we achieved the quadruple-kid-pass-out which is never anything short of a great thing!

We arrived at our hotel in Naperville, Illinois on Saturday afternoon, and we decided to take the girls swimming in the outdoor pool which was really refreshing on an 80°+ day.  It’s been a long time since I’ve been swimming outdoors, and it was nice of my mom to meet us there for a swim instead of us driving the girls to her house for their week of fun with Grandma.  After the girls left with her, we wanted to meet with a friend, but we were staying in the west ‘burbs rather than the north ‘burbs this time.  Both parties had just endured long car rides, so we settled on a halfway point – a mall in the west ‘burbs.  Not really knowing what to plan on doing, we ended up finding such a great parking space at the mall that we just ended up going in to bumble.  And it was fun!  Partly because I haven’t been in a real mall for years, so it was really interesting to see the different techniques that have evolved to try and entice shoppers to buy and visit…  But I also enjoyed my mall visit because of the company we were keeping; it was nice to chat and catch up.  And as you might have read in derek’s blog, we happened upon a glow-in-the-dark indoor mini-golf course that was less than a week old!  It had 56 holes, but I don’t think I could ever play that much mini-golf at once, so we stuck with the traditional 18 holes.  I guess I should add in that I won the round and also had a lucky day with two holes-in-1 😉  And I must comment on how good the baby was – he just sat in the shopping cart and watched the glow-in-the-dark golf balls throughout ALL 18 holes!  There were these small contraptions sprinkled throughout the golfing space – you put your ball in, and it rolls around and comes out glowing brighter – those were fun!  And it was fun to see the mall again.  It wasn’t the same mall I hung out in all the time as a teenager, but I had still been to this one a lot growing up, and it was neat to see how much (or how little, compared to most things in the area) it had changed over the past decade and a half.  That reminds me, speaking of change…  when we arrived in Chicago, err Naperville on Saturday, we took the Naperville Road exit off of I-88 which is an area with which I am used to be very familiar.  Back in the day (did I really just say that?), I would commute through that same intersection to work and back every single day, yuck…  but apparently they’ve completely re-done the entire area in the past few years because the intersection was unrecognizable.  I mean, they added new roads and everything – it was the most bizarre feeling, it felt like I had gotten dropped into the middle of the twilight zone.  We exited I-88, and all of a sudden, we were on Freedom Drive.  Where now?  Freedom Drive?  I had literally never heard of Freedom Drive, they created the street from scratch and plopped it down into this area where I worked and played so many years ago.  As much as I thought I knew where we were going, Jill the GPS was actually quite helpful during this twilight zone adventure, and she got us to our hotel, even though I knew where it was –  WAS being the key word here.  But back to the mall…  we bumbled around some more after getting some pretzel dogs (yummier in Chicagoland, of course, what isn’t?) at the food court.  I heard some lady talking on a cell phone about the “puppy store”, and sure enough, we happened across it.  I’m an animal lover, so I love to see and visit with animals, but I think a side effect of my tenderness toward animals is my loathing of pet stores.  And the pet store in the Stratford Mall in Bloomingdale Illinois is just about the worst I’ve ever seen.  It’s no secret that many of the major chains of pet stores get their “wares” from puppy mills; ie dog breeding facilities with cramped quarters, little food, and animal abuse.  The huge chain famous for bad press, Petland, just closed a bunch of stores, which I believe is a good thing for dogs and dog lovers everywhere.  I strongly believe that people should adopt animals, namely dogs and cats, from humane societies and other animal shelters.  There are so  many homeless pets, so how can it be justified to buy a puppy who is bred for selling when there are so many others bred accidentally who are also looking for love?  I strongly support spay/neuter programs as well, fyi…
So anyway, the new pet store at the mall is called “Furry Babies”.  Their website calls it an “upscale puppy boutique, not just a pet store”, but I call it disgusting.  The puppies were in cribs, for goodness sakes, and along the walls they had a large variety of dog clothes for sale, no doubt at prices that I wouldn’t pay to clothe my human kids.  We inquired about one particular puppy, who was cute but looked to be slightly cross-eyed.  We found out that she was a “designer dog” –  they pretend like they meant to mix two breeds together (in this case a golden retriever and a poodle, thus giving us a “Goldendoodle”), but where I come from (the reality land of logic), we would call it a “mutt”.  And mutts tend to be better with kids, live longer, and are cheaper than purebreds – at least they were until  a few years ago.  Now mutts are these “designer dogs” and they cost a lot of money – in the case of the furry baby Goldendoodle – a cool $1600.  I cannot denounce this place loud enough!  I  also don’t want to spend a ton of time going off about animal welfare nor lose readers by getting political.  This just happens to be an issue I feel strongly about, and I plead that if you are in the market for a family pet, you consider adopting your animal companion from a shelter and also realize that you are entering into  a life-long committment!  That being said, Furry Babies sucks, but the good news is that I can’t see them lasting that long.  Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the employees wear mock scrubs, in order to imitate delivery room nurses, I guess, which  to me is even more sickening.  But there I  go again…  get me going and I will never stop…  so if you want to read more, here is a link to the forums about Furry Babies on the bestfriends.org website, which is an awesome organization – the country’s largest animal sanctuary for homeless pets of all kinds!  I hope to visit them someday in Utah, but until I get over my fear of flying I will just persue their website and I  suggest you do the same…

Now that I’m actually leaving the homeless pet tangent behind…  we left the mall at a decent hour since we wanted a good night’s sleep to rest up for the Cubs / Sox game the following day – the entire reason  we were in town to begin with.  Poor us – that did not happen!  We got back to the hotel (which was pretty crappy for a Naperville Hampton Inn – see my Small Separate Side Post), and the baby decided he was going to go nuts and stay up until midnight.  Then the little booger awoke at 6 the next morning, and he crawled around and caused mischief like dipping my drying bathing suit into the toilet, thanks for THAT.  My husband was nice enough to take him in the bath for awhile and do other various quiet activities with him in the small room so that I could get a little more sleep, and then we all went down  to breakfast – my poor husband was a zombie.  I decided for us (he could not make decisions at that point) that he would go back up to the room while I drove our son over to my mom’s for the day while we went to the Cubs game.  We did that, and it took me about an hour to get all the way out to Aurora (not much traffic on a Sunday morning, but SOOO many stoplights!) and back.  I thought we had plenty of time, but if you read my “A Patch of Blue In A  Sea Of Black And White” post, you’ll see why I  should  have stepped on the gas a little…

A Patch Of Blue In A Sea Of Black And White

Posted in Sports, Travel on June 29th, 2009 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

We took a fun little excursion to Chicago this past weekend and had a few adventures!  More about those later (if I get to them – my time to blog has dwindled A LOT lately!).  What I want to write about now is the Chicago Cubs game.  Let me begin by escorting the elephant from the room – the Cubs got creamed by the White Sox yesterday.  There, I said it.  And I’m just stating fact, unfortunately.  We were lucky enough to have tickets (happy birthday to me from Hubby – THANK YOU!!!!!) for Sunday’s game – the final game of a 3 game series between the cross-town MLB rivals the Cubs and the White Sox.  This game was to be the “rubber match” – with both teams tied at 1 win apiece for this series, Sunday’s outcome would decide the series winner.  But the Cubs lost.  Miserably.  It was almost like they didn’t show up to play baseball – which is something I and probably at least a few other Cubs fans lovingly yelled from the stands.  We got to watch Carlos Zambrano, the Cubs famously hot-headed starting pitcher, take the mound – and consequently lose his control and get booed off the field.  And let me say it wasn’t just Sox fans who were booing Zambrano.  But I think it was awesome that he was the starting pitcher the day we got to go watch the game live, and he was really fun to watch.  It was frustrating to see the empty bullpen across right field though – it seemed empty forever.  My husband and I really thought Lou Pinnella should have made the call  to the bullpen a little bit sooner and at  least get someone throwing balls down there – Zambrano does not recover his game often once he loses it.   We were both watching for Lou’s call, and finally Zambrano made his trademark nasty move – the guy gets so angry that he beans someone.  He throws a 90ish mph baseball AT the batter!  So then he stalks off the field, gives the fans a one-finger salute (I don’t think it was THAT finger), and goes into the locker room to pout by himself.  He didn’t throw down any water coolers on  the way this time as he’s also been known to do, but I can’t say that I wouldn’t have liked to see that.  As lucky as we were to get to see Big Z pitch, he didn’t do very well and we were happy to see him go.

But alas, Zambrano was not the only problem yesterday since the Cubs’ bats haven’t produced much of anything for weeks, and our game day was no exception.  Thus we witnessed a shut-out on the Cubs.

But that’s enough of that.  It ‘s amazing how much fun we had despite the worst possible scenario for the game!  I LOVE live baseball, and MLB almost doesn’t compare to the smaller AAA and AA  leagues.  Those are fun too, but comparing those atmospheres is really like comparing apples and oranges.  It was kind of toasty in the sun, and my knees got burnt to a crisp; I’m dealing with that today.  For those of you who want to know the outrageous robbery they’re getting away with in MLB stadiums across the country, at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, it costs $23 to park, $6.75 for a 20 oz. beer, $4 for a bottle of pop or water (let me guess – they took out all the public drinking fountains, I sure didn’t see any), and $4.75 for a hot dog.  If you can keep yourself hydrated  during the game, you can save yourself $6 on 2 bottles of water by buying one before and one after the game from the street vendors – they  sell them for $1, which isn’t bad at all in that heat!  Originally I had planned to eat all day at the stadium, but I just wasn’t hungry in the heat.  There’s nothing like sitting there at a baseball game and cracking peanuts, but I actually passed on those too.  I certainly didn’t want to leave my seat much, and by the time the peanut vendor arrived, we no longer felt like sitting there calmly cracking peanuts while the Cubs played like you-know-what and gave the game away.  That reminds me – we had GREAT seats, upper-level, 3rd base side, right about even with the pitcher.  We had a bird’s-eye view of Zambrano’s animal-like pacing and stomping rituals on the mound.  I guess that’s enough about the game – interesting how we were ALMOST late…

Sox park (its real name is a tongue and finger-typing twister) is situated on I-90, one of Chicago’s expressways.  I was anxious to try Jill the GPS’s skills in a city environment since she had so failed us in Pittsburgh, but more so in the outskirts,  we weren’t really in downtown Pittsburgh.  Jill did fine in the big city of Chicago, but when we got off the expressway, it was chaos – and it wasn’t like Jill was programmed to guide us through the Sox’s bizarre parking system; red coupons, green coupons, etc.  We THOUGHT we had left in plenty of time for the game and might even see some batting practice, but we hit some traffic on the way down (did I mention this was also a weekend for the Taste of Chicago?!?  Oops – bad planning on our part; we couldn’t believe it.  The Taste draws millions!).  Anyway, when we arrived on the south side, we were confused about where to go for cash ($23!) parking.  There were people directing traffic (don’t know if they were cops or city workers or Sox park workers, but I might find out so I can file a complaint!), so we asked one of the ladies how to get to cash parking.  She said, “I’m going to let you make a U-Turn (we were heading east, toward the stadium), and you make the u-turn and go to 33rd street.  So we made the U-turn and headed west when we began to get a not-so-comfortable feeling.  Remember, we had seen the stadium, and we were now heading away from it, out of the city.  And usually numbered streets in cities are parallel to  each other.  So if we were looking for 33rd, most likely we should see 31st, 32nd, or 34th streets first – but we weren’t.  So we turned around, and an hour later, when we finally figured out where to  be, we had passed the “helpful” traffic person again and confirmed our suspicions:  she had tried to take us out of the city on purpose.  In fact, when we passed Ms. Directions again, there was a Sox parking pay lot one block in front of her.  I like to think the  best of people, but here it’s obvious that earlier, she had us make the U-turn rather than turn around so we wouldn’t be able to see that she was taking us the wrong way.  Rude isn’t even the word for that.  As most locals know, Sox park is not known for being nestled in safe neighborhoods – Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs, is known as the “Friendly Confines” – NOT Sox Park.  We were fine, the area didn’t get too bad, my husband just got really upset that we might be late for the game.  Indeed, when we did finally find our lot, there was a big line and we sat in it for a long time.   I can’t help but wonder if maybe Ms. Helpful had noticed the color of our shirts – Cubbie blue- which isn’t exactly welcome on the south side of Chicago.  And those Cubbie blue shirts we wore (which ironically said “Cubs win!”, sheesh) were probably responsible for other rude behaviors directed our way.  For instance, my husband got bumped a little harder than regular crowd jostling, and some of his popcorn spilled.  Sox fans nearby jeered, and there were also the people who would walk by us up the stairs on the way to their seats (we were seated on an aisle) and feel  inclined to say “Cubs suck”.  Yesterday they may have had a point.

The people directly  around us were friendly enough, a mix of Chicago fans, both north and south, Cubs and Sox.  Some people wore a Sox hat and a Cubs shirt, while there were families of people dressed for both teams, an interesting mix.  As I looked around the stadium, I saw mostly white shirts (the black shirts were hard to see) in the sea of people, although the sea was dotted with many patches of Cubbie blue, much like the blue patch the two of us created.  As rude as a select few Sox fans were though, I suppose they can’t be all bad…  on the way  in to the stadium, it was extremely windy and we both got our Cubs hats blown right off our heads – maybe it was a sign of things to  come…  But anyway, it was Sox fans who helped up retrieve the runaway hats.

Overall, a great day for some baseball; definitely something I hope to do  again.  Except next time, I think we’ll park far away and take the train to the stadium and forget trying to park in the city.  We hit traffic on the way out too, and an hour after the game had ended, I turned around and I could still see Sox park which was STILL within walking distance!  TOO MUCH TRAFFIC!