Why I Get Nothing Done

I made a list this morning of a bunch of things I need to do this week. Among them: reorganize the kitchen (cabinets, etc). I started messing around with stuff on my “pantry” cabinet shelf and noticed the front doors really needed to be wiped down. So I started wiping them down and noticed the floor was in need of sweeping. Sweeping the floor made me have to move a bunch of cereal boxes out of the way (I didn’t have a good storage solution for excess pantry items found on sale), which made me realize that my tall, square wire shelving thing from Target was simply inadequate for that space, and that I was sure I had a wider one around the house somewhere that would better suit the purpose. There were two in different locations that needed to be screwed together to meet my needs. To do this, though, meant taking all of them completely apart and starting over. When I was done, I had a tall rectangular unit for the kitchen and two short ones that I wasn’t sure what to do with. Remembering that our closet upstairs in the master bedroom is in serious need of help also, I took one of the short square shelves upstairs and proceeded to completely empty that closet. Doing this reminded me that I’ve been meaning to weed out clothes to freecycle. When I got the closet put back together, it made a sharp contrast to the rest of the room and so I proceeded to clean it all up including dusting under the bed. While doing this I found a bunch of hair stuff that belonged in the bathroom which led me to a trip in there where I noticed that somebody tied the sink fixtures together with yarn and, oh yeah, I still haven’t brushed my teeth yet today so I need to do that…

You get the picture.

It’s That Time of the Year Again

It's that time when I scramble to figure out what in the world we're going to do for our school "extras" this year. However, it seems the first week of August is just not the time to figure these things out – most places either want me to have contacted them by June, or they are not ready with their schedules until almost September. As if I would be ready by June or procrastinate as long as September!
I also wonder why so many people who offer these "extras" think that homeschoolers seeking these must just have excess cash to burn. My main area of interest right now is in finding art lessons. Most folks are happy to offer them – for about $14 per hour per child. I've got three kids I'd like to put in art lessons right now. That adds up to $42 per week. Ain't gonna happen.
We were able to find inexpensive ballet lessons at the public school down the street. The girls are still in St. Louis Children's Choirs and they were kind enough to extend another scholarship for us this year, though it wasn't as big as the one they gave us last year. On paper we look better this year because Craig now has a full-time job. I hope I'm not sounding like I'm complaining because I'm really glad he has a job, but we still can't pay $14 per hour per child for art lessons.
Maybe *I* ought to take art lessons and then I can come home and teach what I learned to my kids. Hmmm. That would be four for the price of one. I'm going to have to think about that some more…

A Tale of Three Pictures

After all the posting I did about Chicago, you’d think I’d be done by now. But I have one more story: how Amtrak derailed our return trip on Saturday.

Picture Number 1:

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This was our view of Chicago as we said good-bye from the last car of the train (which surprised us by leaving on time). Ever hopeful, we should have known better. We learned to dread the train sound system, because every time it came on we heard something like this:

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is the conductor. I apologize for the delay, but ________. We plan to be on our way shortly. Thanks for your patience.”

The various scenarios included (and I’m not making these up):

  • A broken track switch, causing us to have to stop while they attempted to fix it, then backed up to a previous track switch when it was determined they could not. Time lost: 1 hour.
  • An unidentifiable object (alien spacecraft? grain silo?) on the track, requiring removal before proceeding. Time lost: 30 minutes.
  • A “rail issue,” though no clear word was ever given as to what this was. Time lost: 30 minutes.
  • A possible train hijacking, complete with East Alton, IL, police and Union Pacific rail officers called to secure our train and conduct a thorough investigation. Time lost: 3 hours.

Picture Number 2:

IMG_3617.JPG

It’s not a good picture of the police cars, I know, but what else are you doing to do while waiting for 3 hours with no word from Amtrak as to what in the world is going on? You try to take a picture to post on your blog, of course. This was after making sure all the girls had shoes on and that my purse, camera, and computer were within easy arm’s reach in the event we had to make a speedy evacuation.

In my mind, I kept thinking, “It’s drug related. No, it can’t be drug related, if it were, they would be searching all the bags and there would be a drug dog on board. Not drugs. OH NO! IT MUST BE A BOMB! Wait, it can’t be a bomb. If we were in danger of being blown up, wouldn’t they have evacuated the train already? They would, wouldn’t they?” You know, calm, rational stuff like that.

Picture Number 3:

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My family at – can you see that clock? – 12:17 am. We just hadn’t had enough of Amtrak by this point, so decided to wait around the station for photo opportunities. While we did this, we took bets as to whether the 3 bags and 1 box that we checked made it back with us. Our bad train karma prevailed: half of our bags were either left in Chicago or headed on toward Little Rock. Nobody knows.

The important thing is that all the children made it back with us. Oh, and our train was not, in fact, hijacked after all. And we slept until 9 this morning. And all the dirty laundry from the week is taking a joyride on an Amtrak train somewhere in the Midwest. It’s all about the silver linings.

We’re officially two for two on bad Amtrak experiences. We’ll see if the lure of the low price will draw us back the next time we decide to go to Chicago. After last night, it’s not likely.

One Last Fling

American Girl Place

We happened to walk by the American Girl Place on our way to Subway. I’d already talked to the girls about how we weren’t going to go on this trip, but that I was saving it for a special one-on-one trip with each of them when they turn 10. They’ve been totally fine with this plan. We walked by, though, and just *had* to stop.

I said we could go in, but only for a few minutes and they were not to ask for anything. We walked in and their eyes became big as saucers – not because of the merchandise, but because of the amount of girls running around the store getting stuff. There were a lot of girls and a lot of shopping bags. Maddie looked at one thing and said, “Wow, this stuff is expensive.” Yes, my dear, I know. They didn’t want to stay. “Let’s get out of here,” they said. I willingly obliged. The window in front was more exciting than the chaos inside. We’ll go back when we can enjoy it – and preferably mid-week during the school year.

This Game’s Almost Over

I had two options for today: Lincoln Park Zoo or the beach. Last night, the girls voted for the beach; this morning, they all voted to just stay in the room and watch cartoons (they are really tired).

I think it was a good decision, as I was a bit overzealous in what I thought we could do this morning before having to check-out by 12:30. As it is, we’re relaxing. We’re going to take another quick walk down the street in a little bit to get them their little Chicago souvenirs, as well as a bag of Subway sandwiches to take on the train (did you know Amtrak sells hotdogs for $3.75 – they think they are major league baseball stadiums or something).

I don’t feel the need to do “that one last Chicago thing”. We’ve experienced it, it has been fun, and I’m pretty sure we will be back at some point in time. But I’m ready to go home and prepare to return to some sense of routine.

I think we all are.

In Which We Figure Out the Bus Thing

Today I woke up bound and determined to do the bus thing here in Chicago. I had a map; I had a hotel concierge; I could do this. I armed Maddie with a list of questions to ask regarding proper bus numbers and pick up locations and sent her down to find it all out for us while we got ready this morning.

She came back with answers. Answers I trusted. I will never do this again. To make a very long story shorter, we were sent to the wrong location to wait for bus #10 to the Museum of Science and Industry. I did not figure this out until 30 minutes passed, and then went to the correct location where we waited another 25 before I almost gave up altogether. This was when the bus arrived. We made it from there without incident.

Seasoned Bus Riders

The museum was a lot of fun and, interestingly enough, the farm exhibit was one of the highlights for us because it was about everything Grandpa Rog does or did (and stuff Craig used to do as well), and the girls were pretty fascinated with it, particularly the pig-birthing portion. They had a real John Deere tractor and a combine set in a “field of corn.” It looked like they were really harvesting corn on the combine. Chloe was totally excited to climb up inside it and push every single button she could find. Maddie was more like, “We can do this anytime we want to for real with Grandpa!” and moved on to the soybean and pig exhibits.

Nursing Piggies

There were many great things at this museum, including the Fairy Castle (a large “dollhouse” with exquisite miniatures), real chicks hatching out of eggs, and the Toy Maker 3000, where for $5 you could buy the privilege of watching a plastic toy top being assembled before your very eyes. We skipped the $5 part and watched other people’s toy tops being assembled before our very eyes. It was really pretty interesting, the whole assembly line production thing. I’m leaving a lot out, but that museum was really fun, too, especially since we were able to get in totally free with our St. Louis Science Center membership.

Fluffy Chicks

The bus ride home was easy. I must have looked like I thought it was, too, because a fellow tourist looked at me after we both sat down on the bus and said, “You look like you know Chicago well. Can I ask you a question?” I started laughing and said she was asking a very scary thing, but that I had a map and I wasn’t afraid to use it.

We got back to the hotel ten minutes before Craig did from his third day of conferencing, and we all headed off to grab some dinner together before taking advantage of the Art Institute of Chicago‘s free night tonight from 5-8. We didn’t mean to, but we actually walked all the way down there (about 1.5 miles), but then took a bus back, since I’m now an “expert” with Chicago public transportation (tongue firmly in cheek). We got off pretty close to our destination, found a cute city playground, and the girls played away.

And this concludes day four of our town mice in the big city adventure. We’re so very tired…and going to bed.

Thursday: Navy Pier

Yesterday we tackled Navy Pier. My plan was to do the Chicago Children’s Museum, which we could get into almost free with our Magic House membership, then eat our packed lunch on the Pier, play around on the beach, eat dinner at Joe’s Be-Bop Cafe (chosen for its live jazz), followed by a river boat tour of Chicago.

What actually happened, though, was this: we went to the museum, along with the entire day-camp population of Chicago (which, if you were wondering, is a LOT). It was so crowded in there we couldn’t move. I finally asked if they were always this crowded and if we could leave and come back. We were told that field trips come a lot, but that the afternoon tends to be better, so we took our chances and left. We walked toward the Ferris Wheel where we just took pictures standing next to it and not riding it, then had our lunch.

We did the boat tour next, followed by three pretty non-crowded hours at the children’s museum, where the girls had a ton of fun once they were able to walk in it. When their Free Family Night on Thursdays began at 5 and the place filled up to the brim again by 5:30, we headed down for dinner. I talked the girls into skipping the play time on the beach and we took the free trolley back as far as it would take us.

Here are the girls, touristing in front of the Ferris wheel:

Ferris Wheel

And a Chicago River view of the city:

Sears Tower

Of course, no boat trip is complete without a picture of these two first mates:

Aaarrrrgghhh, Matey!

Choosing just one picture to capture the children’s museum was tricky. The museum was fantastic and we could have stayed much longer (than three hours even!). I settled on the shadow shot:

Shadow Girls

Chicago is fun, but the hours we are keeping are not. They translate into some pretty significant relational issues in our family which we all have to compensate for, and we don’t all do a very grace-filled job with that. I’m really hoping my girls remember this trip as something enjoyable and fun, and not one in which we all drove each other totally nuts. The jury is still out on that one.

Fun with the Chicago Bean

To quickly recap: Tuesday night I didn’t have the best Chicago experience because I couldn’t get my card to work in the elevated train card reading machine. This was after the game in which there were a LOT of people waiting behind me to get through to the train. The people behind me weren’t excited by my train card machine ineptness and I became the picture of freaked-outness. When we got on the train Craig looked at me and said, “Are you going to be able to do this this week?” Honestly, I wondered, too.

Yesterday I surprised us both. The girls and I walked a little over a mile down to Millennium Park and stayed there for the bulk of the day. We saw everything Millennium Park has to offer, courtesy of this treasure map they give out that encourages you to go all over the park looking for clues to fill in the blanks and then turn in for a very coveted collection of plastic kazoos, tambourines, harmonicas, and other items designed to drive the good folks on Chicago subways completely insane.

We saw and did it all, including participating in craft making (Native Mexican Animal Masks) in the Family Fun Festival tent, followed by much hoola-hooping and jump roping. We saw all the artistic structures, played in the Crown Fountain (very, very cool), explored the Chicago Cultural Center, danced to the folk concert for kids, and of course took way too many pictures of ourselves in the bean (or, Cloud Gate, if you want us to be proper). Here’s a sampling:

The Girls in the Bean

The Girls in the Bean

Me in the Bean

Me in the Bean

Chicago in the Bean

Chicago in the Bean

We took a train most of the way home, and I’m happy to report that I managed that experience like a seasoned tourist, with no freaking out (though I probably did sound a little tight about making sure the girls stayed far enough away from the blue area on the floor that, if you cross, you fall into the subway flooring, so yes, I’m not completely relaxed about that one yet).

Later that night I took the girls to the 96th floor of the John Hancock building, where instead of paying to go to the very top, we got to go to the near-top and have very fancy desserts. (Thanks to Jennifer for this most excellent suggestion!) We dressed up for the occasion. All in all, we paid about as much for the dessert as we would have for the top floor, but the desserts convinced us we’d made the better decision. The girls enjoyed seeing the city from the top, but I think they enjoyed the dessert-eating more (they get that honestly). Craig got back in time to come over and meet us there, which was a huge highlight for all of us.

I’ve discovered that our super swanky hotel (paid for by the school – we are here for a purpose, after all), along with its living room, bedroom, two bathrooms, two television sets, and kitchen (we’re LOVING it!), isn’t used to having a stay-at-home-blogging-mama-type needing its wireless internet service in the evening. because from 4:00 through the end of the evening last night, I had no access. So I’m making up for it this morning.

I need to go now, because we still have much of the city to take pictures of explore today. We’ve got a ton of pictures up on our flickr site. Most of them have the privacy setting on them. If you want to be one of our flickr friends (and I know you), let me know and I’ll let you in the account. We do reserve this for actual friends. I think you will know if you qualify.

Off we go!

Sixty to Zero in Five Seconds

Wrigley Field

We’ve discovered the secret to an extremely easy bed-time routine:

Get your kids up at 6 in the morning by telling them you’re leaving to catch a train in an hour; then, don’t leave for three more hours. Once at the station, stay for an additional hour. Turn a five-hour train trip into a seven-hour one and don’t arrive at your destination until smack dab in the middle of rush hour (though really, isn’t Chicago more of a “rush day”?).

Check into your hotel, then turn right around and walk them half a mile to the elevated train which is jam-packed with other people all going to the game; make them stand for the entire ride. Walk them up to the top of the stadium and make them sit through the first 8 innings of the game; reverse process. By the time you finish the half mile walk back to the hotel, quickly dip them in the tub, and tuck them in, all you have to do is walk out of the room.

Presto. Instant sleeping children.

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I’m next.