Sunday, September 27, 2009

The End of an Era

Cheddars is scheduled to close today and then reopen sometime soon as a new, non-franchise restaurant. I don't remember exactly when Cheddars opened, but I can remember going there often in high school, so at least 20 years ago. The restaurant was rebuilt following a major fire and kept drawing crowds. I fell in and out of love with their food over the years, but one thing remained constant- the Cookie Monster. The fresh, warm, giant chocolate chip cookie smothered in ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream and a cherry on top. I hope the new, non-franchise place will keep the Cookie Monster on their menu!

But just in case... Gene and I took the kids for one last Cheddars meal. The two of us shared a mushroom swiss burger and then all four of us shared a Double Cookie Monster. It was huge and we managed to finish every bite. The Final Cheddars Experience would have been much more enjoyable had we not had about 100 fruit flies hovering over our table, but the food was good anyway. Goodbye Cheddars, I'll miss you!

Following Cheddars, we all headed to Glen Oak Park for Return to Hogwarts. I've been wanting to go for years, but have never made it. I figured the kids were old enough despite the fact they've never read the Harry Potter books or even seen the movies. It. Was. Cool. And the guy selling tickets recognized me as a Park District employee so we all got in free :) Anyway, we went for an elevator ride through the Ministry of Magic, attended a Wizengamot session with Amycus Carrow on trial, were sorted into Hogwarts houses, toured Azkaban prison where Dementors put their scaly fingers on my neck, watched potions demonstrations and had an astronomy lesson where the kids made constellation hats. There was tons of activity, with actors dressed as HP characters mingling around the crowds. They did some dueling demonstrations. There were tents with owls and snakes. The library had a tent where you could take your O.W.L.s or N.E.W.T.s and they scored them. I would have liked to do that but thought the kids were a bit young. There were several merchant tents selling food, wands, candy, etc. There was even one that sold purple pygmy puffs.

We stayed about 2 1/2 hours and had a great time. My favorite part was the sorting. You actually sat on a stool with the hat on and the hat talked to you. Gene and I were both sorted into Slytherin, Logan into Gryffindor and Kaylin into Hufflepuff. Great fun! The kids loved the potions demonstrations. Several chemistry teachers/professors were doing all kinds of cool experiments. Kaylin got to whack a leaf that been dipped into liquid nitrogen on the table and shatter it into a million pieces. It was awesome. We didn't stay for the movie, but I'd like to do that when the kids are a little older. Overall, it was an amazing event. I think any kid would have fun as well as any Harry Potter fan with or without kids.

Friday, September 25, 2009

What a week! It was a good one, but I'm glad it's my weekend. Even if I do have to work a few hours tonight for an after-hours event...

Monday was the Jack Hanna fundraiser at the zoo. Jack first did a meet and greet "wine and cheese" event in the zoo's Lodge. I mostly stood outside and talked to people about the lions, zebras and rhinos. It was interesting because I considered the early event to be an exclusive party with our upper-class donors and their friends. Tickets were pricey and let's just say I would never have paid for the privilege of meeting Jack Hanna in this setting. One of the people I talked to was single and worked at a local pharmacy. She was excitedly clutching her freshly autographed copy of Jack Hanna's book and was eager for the "insider information" I was providing about the lions. She couldn't wait to go to work in the morning and tell "the girls" all the stuff she learned about the lions. I like to imagine "the girls" as a couple of 19-year-olds forced to listen to a week's worth of zoo and Jack Hanna stories while they're stocking the make-up aisle, silently pleading for five o'clock and their respite from the Crazy Cat Woman :) But seriously, she was so much fun to talk to and really seemed pleased with the value of her $125 ticket.

At 6:30, Jack Hanna did an animal show at the Glen Oak Park amphitheater. It was hilarious and entertaining. He brought out a young cheetah, a clouded leopard cub and a snow leopard cub. Yeah, the cats are my favorite, but he had many other great animals including a penguin, a tiny miniature horse, a sloth that was walked around the audience hanging off a large branch and many, many others. The show lasted nearly two hours and I didn't stop laughing the entire time. I really wished Gene and the kids could have come! Anyway, there were a lot of people and it was a fun and successful event.

Wednesday was Gene's birthday. He wanted a steak dinner so we went to the place (Longhorn?) by the new mall. The kids were really excited because usually the nicest restaurant we take them is Applebee's. (Yeah, I won't even pretend the chain steakhouse is "nice" but for us it's about as high-class as it gets :) Anyway, Gene got his steak that he proclaimed excellent, I got delicious parmesan encrusted chicken breasts with a fantastic sweet potato side (I just don't like steak) and the kids... Kaylin got Kraft macaroni and cheese and Logan got grilled cheese. Wow guys, way to branch out! Kaylin claimed the Kraft macaroni and cheese was even better than the Kraft macaroni and cheese at Applebee's and Logan thought his grilled cheese was the best ever. Everyone left full and happy.

We then went to that place, it starts with a "g"... Ack! I'm suffering from Bob Kaiser Syndrome and can't think of the name of anything. Gordman's! That's it! Gene wanted some new shirts for fall/winter and the kids both needed winter coats. We found all of the above! Gene's original plan included Cold Stone for ice cream but we were all way too full. It was a fun night.

I'm ready for a weekend free from homework. We have nothing planned, but I hope to take Kaylin to the Park District's Return to Hogwarts event Saturday night. Otherwise, I hope to relax and rest my feet.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Same Pumpkin Festival, different year

I'm thinking and thinking and trying to remember if I've ever missed a Pumpkin Festival in my entire life. I'm pretty sure I haven't. Every year Gene sucks it up and accompanies me to a long evening of waiting in lines, eating pumpkin food and gathering free junk from the merchant's tent. We look at the decorated pumpkins and the giant pumpkins. Some years we look at the pumpkin displays in the shop windows. The kids go on rides and play one "can't lose" game to win a prize. This year Logan opted to play balloon darts and threw about 8 darts before he finally popped a balloon and won a tiny plush football. Kaylin won a tiny plush penguin with her lucky duck. The kids got pumpkin ice cream and pumpkin cookies. I had a pumpkin chili dog that (ahem) didn't agree with me.

This year Gene skipped the festival. He had to work late. My dad picked the kids up from school and got them to the festival right at opening. By the time I arrived, they only had a few ride tickets left and I watched them go on the Ferris wheel with Andy and then on the bumper cars. On to the food line, dinner and the Budweiser Clydesdales. The Clydesdales were pretty cool, but there were about 7 million gnats flying around while we waited for them to pass. My mom was right in front of me and it was pretty gross to see them crawling around in her hair. Sorry, Mom. They were too tiny and too numerous to remove. I'm sure they were all over my hair as well, but I couldn't see them :) We left around 7:30 and rushed home for showers and homework. And then homework the next morning and plenty of grumbling about being tired.

Is it worth it? I always wonder... But then the next year nostalgia consumes me and I do whatever it takes to go back. Back to the crowds, the lines, the bugs and the mediocre food I don't even really like. I usually don't really have fun and even wonder how much fun the kids actually have. They much prefer the HOI Fair with unlimited ride wristbands, many more rides and much shorter lines. We don't always go to the State Fair, but that's even better. I guess we'll keep going to the Pumpkin Festival until the kids beg me to stay home and I finally decide to not go by myself. Oh. Gene didn't miss it one bit and was thrilled to have the house to himself for the evening and watch his baseball game.

I went to the parade today for the first time in years. I've worked the past four years and haven't been able to get the day off. Last year I asked off 7 or 8 months in advance but requested the wrong Saturday. I was disappointed, but it turned out to be awful and rainy that day and I ended up going to Nashville to visit a friend the next weekend which was far more fun. It was great to watch my kids, nieces and nephew and cousins' kids scramble for candy and clap for the bands. It was really great to go back to Grandma's for her traditional BBQ lunch. That's definitely one of my favorite meals of the year. Mmmm, custard pie with peaches for dessert. Enough said.

Quick Simon story. Kaylin was sitting on the floor eating a Pixie Stick (those paper straws filled with sugar candy.) Simon. Freaked. Out. He was sooooo excited. His eyes got big, his tail twitched, he ran over and started climbing up Kaylin's chest trying to get to the candy. Kaylin wasn't paying attention and the massive cat knocked her backward into a laughing heap. She sat back up, gave Simon a pat and affectionately said "Oh Simon, you're such a dork! You fit in here perfectly." Yeah, I think Simon's here to stay. And I think he'll even be happy about it :)

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Little Things

Yesterday was a really good day at work. I accomplished many of the minor tasks I've been trying to get to all week (or for weeks.) I witnessed a very successful hog introduction. We put the mama and baby hogs in the yard together with dad and auntie for the first time and they all got along great. It was fun to see the half-grown piglets climbing all over dad and watch them follow him everywhere. It was cute to see the entire group moving around together all day or sleeping in a giant hog heap. The adult hogs were very happy to be back together and the piglets just made everything even better.

I had a funny incident while I was cleaning the porcupines. The three porcupines were inside yesterday while George the giant tortoise was outside in their shared yard. (The porcupines try to poke poor old George so if he's outside, they stay in- and vice-versa.) Anyway, the porcupines have a shift area at the back of their stall where they stay while I'm cleaning. I don't get poked, they don't escape into the keeper hallway. Everybody's safe and separated by a metal mesh wall. We can see each other, but I'd have to get stupidly close to get poked :) I was hosing in the main stall when I noticed a chunk of carrot in the shift area. I started hosing the carrot, attempting to wash it into the stall. (It's a large enough area I was nowhere near hosing the porcupines.) I was concentrating on that carrot and not paying much attention to the animals. Suddenly, I realized Spike was backing his quills into the stream of water. They fluff up all their quills and do this bouncy little backward "dance" into whatever they're trying to attack. (I assume if it was a REAL threat the dance wouldn't be quite so cute and bouncy, but I've fortunately never seen them THAT upset.) Anyway, Spike was repeatedly poking that water. The look of victory in his eyes when I moved the hose was priceless. Funny stuff!

Tiger and Simon's relationship continues to evolve. Until last night, Simon has been allowing Tiger to completely dominate him. Tiger is considerably smaller so that's been fun to watch. Simon finally started fighting back. They still aren't wounding each other, but they have hilarious wrestling sessions where Tiger knocks Simon onto his back and Simon yowls and screams. Now Simon flips his massive body back onto Tiger and flattens him on the floor. All Tiger can do is try to bite his way out while Simon screams. Hopefully Tiger won't be smothered by Simon's flabby folds. The cats are fantastic entertainment. Way better than tv! They play and wrestle nonstop.

And finally, my stupid, stupid injury. I get so many minor injuries at work I often don't notice them. I'll find a gigantic bruise on my thigh and have no idea what I did to myself. I'm too busy working. At home, I tend to notice. Last night as I was getting out of the shower I brought my elbow down on the small shelf at the back of the tub surround. It's plastic and has a little give so I was surprised at the searing pain. I ignored it and started drying myself when I noticed I was dripping blood. The mirror was all steamed up and my cut was on a place on my elbow impossible to see. I apparently brought my elbow down onto my razor! I had to call Gene into the bathroom to apply a band-aid because I couldn't see where the cut was and didn't want to bleed all over. What are the odds? Eh, with me, probably pretty good.

Monday, September 7, 2009


Simon's been with us a week now and is quickly settling in. He appears to be comfortable in the entire house and has been approaching the kids and even showing himself to the neighbor kids. He loves to play with the laser pointer. He likes to play fetch with ponytail holders, but he hasn't done that with me yet. He also hasn't joined me in the shower, though he does like to sit on the toilet tank while I'm using the toilet. Creepy!

Both Simon and Tiger are friendly cats who need lots of attention. The hope in bringing them together is that they will bond and be buddies and entertain each other. So far, they have the entertaining each other part down. Simon has a black tail with a white tip that never stops twitching. Tiger finds Simon's tail irresistable and attacks it over and over which makes Simon twitch his tail even more and Tiger attack even more. It's a seemingly neverending cycle. Simon is a huge, fat cat. He is literally about twice Tiger's size, but Tiger still takes him down. So far, Tiger is the dominant kitty.

While they haven't exactly bonded yet, they're not quite enemies. They hiss and fight and attack one another, but so far, no blood. I've seen my share of cat fight wounds at the vet's office. Tiger and Simon are mostly just playing. It cracks me up that big old Simon allows weenie kitten Tiger to dominate him. It appears to be working out :)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Back to School Night

Last night, following a 10 1/2 hour workday during which I sat down only long enough to eat lunch, I attended the annual back to school night at the kids' school. I had just enough time to eat and shower before rushing off to the event. I was tired and grumpy and not really in the mood for information about Strive for Five and We are Kellar! and the Fall Fundraiser and How I Can Help and Joining Hands With My Neighbors and Singing the School Song. I'm kidding about the last one, but I was in a fairly foul mood before even leaving the gym to go to the kids' classrooms. They conveniently had two 15 minute sessions. I decided to visit Logan's classroom first because it is close to the gym and I didn't have to climb any stairs.

I walked into his room and found his desk. I then found out I had to go to the library where all four 1st grade teachers gave a perky joint presentation on how 1st grade would be run this year. I found out that Logan will have homework Monday through Thursday nights. This is in addition to nightly reading aloud that I will have to record in his homework folder. None of the four teachers could contain herself to her allotted time so the first session ran over by five minutes and I had to book it up to Kaylin's room. Kaylin's teacher has an EXTENSIVE behavior program that involves "cash" deposits and withdrawals in a checking and savings account. Kaylin will also have nightly homework and will need her student planner signed nightly. Logan needs money for Weekly Reader and Kaylin needs money for Time Kids. I got a large packet of parent information from both teachers and my head exploded. I was told by five different teachers how I need to drill and hover and be involved in every moment of my child's homework life. No. Absolutely not. I take my kids to educational places and read to them and teach them all kinds of things. Their homework is theirs. I already did it.

I hate school. I hate homework. But most of all, I hate forced parental involvement in school. Why is my kid's effort grade dependant on whether or not I sign their folder/planner? This is ridiculous! Logan will come home and immediately sit and finish his homework, clean out his folder, make sure we sign it and put it back into his backpack. He also gets up early on his own and gets completely dressed to his shoes and gets his own breakfast and is ready long before we have to walk out the door. That is how Logan is. Kaylin, on the other hand, has to be nagged to do Every. Little. Thing. Every. Single. Day. There is no improvement. Ever. She is punished when she forgets to bring her homework or planner. We are consistent. We make lists of things she needs to accomplish before (whatever.) None of it works. She is still a dinglebrain and needs to be reminded to put on her pants. And her socks. And her shoes. And to go get her backpack when we're pulling out of the driveway. The one I set next to the door and reminded her twice to grab. Every day. That is how Kaylin is. And then she leaves the door to the house hanging open and has to be told to go close it.

Logan can handle homework because he is all about The System and Playing by the Rules. Kaylin wants to do other things. She needs every minute of unstructured time away from school to play imagination games and draw and make up stories. She loves to read and spends a lot of time with science and non-fiction books about the way things work. She wants to run and play outside and boss the neighbor kids. Homework is completely useless to her. It's nearly impossible for me to force her to waste her valuable free time doing boring things like writing spelling words five times apiece or infuriating her teachers by writing vocabulary sentences that don't CONFORM to the NORMAL sentences expected of her.

Kaylin learns so much more on her own doing her own thing than she could ever learn from boring, repetetive homework. I completely refuse to squash Kaylin's creativity by nagging and drilling and forcing her to spend huge amounts of time on things she hates. I used to think homeschoolers were nutjobs. I now wish I had the patience and organizational skills to pull my kids out of school and teach them at home!