Thursday, April 28, 2011

Ten Lessons Learned on Vacation

The top 10 lessons learned on our recent family trip to Chicago, told in my long-winded, rambling style.
1. Sometimes it is worth it to just suck it up and buy the family membership. These times include when it is cold, rainy and the line to get into Shedd Aquarium is so long that the volunteers have to continuously re-route it to keep it off of The Field Museum’s walkways, because it would seem that there’s no love lost between those two establishments. Yes, pay the extra $35 (it’s tax-deductible after all) and wait for 45 minutes in the rain rather than 2 hours.

2. The time for teaching your kid a life-lesson is not on an insanely windy April day when you’ll be sitting in the top row at Wrigley Field, in the shade. That, “Fine, don’t wear your sweatshirt if you think you know best,” will end up costing you $49 for a Cubs blanket because you don’t want your kid to die of hypothermia. It might even cost you $132 for two new sweatshirts if you aren’t careful.
3. A bottle of Visine and a toothbrush will cost you $10 at the corner 7-Eleven. This is closely related to “don’t forget the goggles because hotel pool water is brutal on the eyes.”
4. An empty bar and grille presents the perfect opportunity for teaching your kids proper billiards etiquette.
5. Yes, in fact, they can get more people on that elevator. Just when you think it’s full, they’ll ask you to place backpacks and purses on the floor between your feet and step back. And, no, Mr. Claustrophobic Tourist, the next elevator to the top of the Willis Tower isn’t going to be any less crowded. At least you are only packed in like sardines for just over a minute as you fly to the top of the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.
6. Never, ever underestimate the gall of 20-somethings under the influence. Really, I enjoyed watching you and your girlfriend stand there and soulfully grope each other for 10 minutes (even when you couldn’t quite focus on one-another’s eyes.) But I would have rather watched the game. So, when J asked you to sit down and you got all huffy about it, I wasn’t amused. Nor was I amused when you and your buddies started smoking pot. But hey, you were super-cool.
7. Easter Sunday is a great day for visiting the Field Museum. No lines. Good Friday is not such a good time for visiting Shedd Aquarium. See lesson #1.
8. It never hurts to triple check games times. As of Thursday night, it was a 1:05 game. Double-checked Saturday morning at 11:15: Oh, now game time is 12:05? Holy crap! Good thing the subway was just a couple of blocks away.
9. It’s everyone’s birthday at the Rainforest CafĂ©! We were there for an hour, and I would guess that there were at least 8 “birthdays” during that time, when the servers came out with the fiery volcano cake (which is not free, by the way.)
10. Remember what appeals to your kids if you are going to drag them all over the place: Man-eating lions? YES! Ancient American civilizations and the fossil record, not so much.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Have I lost my mind? Short answer: Yes.

Or is the universe aligning against me (with me?) I don't know. I can't decide.

Keebles will be nine years old on Monday. (sniff, sniff) Last Saturday night, J and I were folding laundry, plotting the events of the upcoming week, when out of the blue, he says to me, "What if we let Keebles pick out a kitten for her birthday?"

Hold the press. Let's backtrack. J doesn't dislike the cats, but he doesn't really like them either. He puts up with them because he loves me. And I love the cats. And I had pretty much decided that we would be a one-cat family, because I love J and I don't want him to feel like his feelings don't count. Clear as mud?

Back to folding: I looked at J kind of funny and thought perhaps he was being controlled by aliens. And then I thought about how busy we are. So I said, "No. Besides, I don't even know anyone who has kittens right now." End of story.

I took my kids up to my mom and dad's the next day. We went over to get a tour of the "Taj Garage" that my dad is helping his neighbor build. As we were admiring the garage-that-is-bigger-than-my-house, my dad's neighbor says, "Have you seen the kittens?"

I stopped dead in my tracks. And I remembered what I said to J about not knowing anyone who had kittens. And I had to wonder if this was divine intervention.

Long story short: we are now getting a kitten. He'll be coming home in about 10 days. Keebles has named him "Chester" for the cat in the Bunnicula books. She has been researching how to take care of a kitten. She is thrilled. And I am so proud of KJ because I know he wanted to pick one out too, but to his credit, there was no whining. Einstein is his cat anyway, but that's a story for another day.

So, we will shortly be back to two cats. And it feels good. Thanks, J, for being such a good sport.

Tell me this isn't the face of sheer joy.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011


This child, my first-born, eleven years old, lover of sports, speaker of a million words, maker of random noises, is going to be the death of me. I adore him. He is a good boy. He is smart. He has fantastic manners. He is kind-hearted. He is goofy and makes me laugh. He is also competitive. I won't say where that came from. It certainly wasn't from his mother. (Ahem.) Yesterday, we were out in my mom and dad's backyard, playing catch. Now, I'll be honest with you: until a couple of years ago, playing catch was not exactly fun. It consisted of me tossing the ball to KJ and praying that it didn't hit him in the face. And then he would chase it down then throw it back to (nowhere near) me. Lather, rinse, repeat. As he has gotten older, catch has actually become fun. We are able to both throw the ball and catch it. It's a miracle. This year, KJ is playing travel ball for the first time. So, we've ramped up the competitiveness just a bit. Let's go back to the bakyard, where mother and son are enjoying a nice game of catch. I finally feel confident enough in KJ's ability to catch the ball that I don't need to throw nicely with him. So, after we warmed up, I started throwing a little harder. I let loose with one and his eyes got all big and he said, "Mom, I didn't know you could throw the ball hard." What's a mom to do? I started throwing a little harder yet and he kept making these faces at me like he was absolutely amazed. I'll admit, it made me smile. I love the fact that my throwing ability impressed an 11-year-old boy. What more can a mom ask for than to amaze her kids? We kept throwing and it didn't take long for me to get a little wild. KJ thought I was doing it on purpose: throwing risers and curveballs. He kept asking me how I did it. I don't have a clue. I just grab the ball and throw and it does wacky stuff (just ask my sister, who played first base to my shortstop for several years.) But I kept throwing because I was impressing my kid. And that made me happy. And I woke up this morning with a seriously stiff shoulder. All in the name of winning the adulation of my eleven-year-old son. Yes, it was worth it.
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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

TMI: Don't say I didn't warn you.

Stop reading now if you don't want to read about the perils of being a woman in her mid (late?) 30's.
Warning #2. My name is Shannon and I am a chronic over-sharer. Be grateful this post contains NO photo documentation.
Sigh. Woke up this morning to an abso-smurf-ly gorgeous day. Blue skies, perfect spring temperatures, the sun smiling down on me. Not going into work today. What more could a girl ask for? Then I remembered: today was the dreaded annual exam day. Now, I don't dread this like I dread going to the dentist; I just really don't look forward to it. It is not my idea of fun, but I get it: This is part of taking care of me, so I can grin and bare it. (I purposely misspelled bear/bare. Get it?)
Part of the tragedy of the dreaded annual exam is that my doctor is an attractive man. He's not my type, but I can look at him and say, "Yes, he is a good-looking guy." For some reason, it makes the exam a little more cringe-worthy.
So, I get there today, take a deep breath, give myself a little pep talk and head in. I get weighed and then go into the room and answer some questions for the nurse. Then I put on that gorgeous hospital gown ("Opening in the back, please.") and cover up with the paper "blanket." And I wait. And wait, all the while thinking about how I am going to distract myself and get through it.
My doctor comes in and asks the standard questions. I complain about getting old. He asks what I mean, and I tell him that J and I have talked about how it's harder to recover now, meaning in terms of exercise. My doctor thinks that I am talking about a long night of drinking and explains to me how to modify my diet in order to not feel so hung over. I am sure this has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the last two times I ran into him, we were in a bar.
We finish with the small talk and he gets the nurse for the fun part. (Sarcasm font.) The first part of the exam goes off without a hitch, but then it's time to put the feet up in stirrups. I get the heels in the stirrups and then scoot my bottom down to the edge of the table when it hits me: Cramp.
I start babbling, "Cramp, cramp, cramp," and my doctor and the nurse start massaging my calf. But it's not in my calf, it's in my hamstring, and the thought of them massaging my hamstring is just too much to bear. I decide to hop down off of the table to stretch it, and then the other hamstring cramps up too. They are all worried about me falling off the table, and all I want to do is hop down, bend over and touch my freaking toes and stretch those babies out.
And then I remember that there's nothing covering my rear end. So, I hobble past them, over by the closed door, turn my back to the door and bend over and stick my bare butt out in the open and stretch. And it was heaven, except for the awkwardness of my bare arse sticking out.
At no point during this episode did I make eye contact. And that's how I managed to not die of embarrassment.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Mourning my cat, the sequel

I've now had to put two cats to sleep in the last 5 months. If you know me well, you know that underneath my smart-alecky, nothing-bothers-me exterior, I am the biggest sucker you've ever seen for an animal. I cried reading the dust jacket for Marley and Me. I was nearly inconsolable when I read Charlotte's Web as a fourth-grader. The Secret of Nimh almost put me over the edge. I read the first four pages of the Black Stallion and put that crap back on the shelf. Old Yeller? Won't touch it with a ten-foot pole. So, when I found out a month ago, that Newton had renal cancer, I was pretty upset. And then this past weekend, when a sore on his paw broke open and started oozing, I knew the end was near. None of that made it any easier to make the decision to put him to sleep. My brain understands that it was the right decision. His quality of life was poor. But my heart still hurts. So, if you want to keep reading, here are some of my favorite memories of Newton.


When we first got Newton, he had already been named "Murphy." Another family had adopted him, but for some reason got rid of him, all before he was 10-weeks old. We didn't like the name "Murphy" and wanted to stick with the science theme. We debated naming him "Copernicus" and "Neutron" before settling on Newton. We were pretty sure that he had been stuck out in the garage because he had a black grease spot on his one leg. After a bath (boy, that was fun) we realized that spot was just a black patch of fur. For his entire life, people thought he had some sort of dirt on him.
Not long after we adopted him, he ended up with a cold. And it wasn't just the sniffles. Newton never did anything small. He had a full-blown, boogers-and-snot head cold. He'd sneeze and sneeze and sneeze and then a projectile of boogers would fly across the room. We found crusty boogers on everything. I finally took him for some antibiotics when I woke up one morning coated in kitty boogers. Endearing, huh?


Newton grew into a monster-sized cat. And poor Galileo, who had lived a peaceful existence for an entire year, now had to share his humans and his house. Newton liked Leo. Leo tolerated Newton.


Newton didn't realize he was a cat. He didn't do the normal cat things. He wanted to be around people. If you came to the door, he came to check you out. He especially enjoyed visitors with fake fingernals. (He had a serious case of elevator butt around those with good fingernails.) If you ignored him, he would seek you out. And at 19 pounds, he was hard to ignore. When I would try to take photos of him, he never stayed put. He always walked over and investigated the camera. I got to the point to where I would have to sneak pictures. As soon as he saw me, he came over looking for some love.

Also, he would shed like a fiend, so if you ignored him, you'd end up with a leg full of soft white fur. And he hated kitty treats. What cat hates kitty treats? He just turned his nose up. He was too good for that. He loved to be brushed, but he would only tolerate it for so long. When he'd had enough he would eat the brush.


There are two things that I am going to miss terribly: The first is our afternoon naps. When the kids were babies, I would put them down for a nap and then I would go take one myself. Newton was always waiting for me in my bed. My kids are now 11 and almost 9, yet he never forgot that tradition. I would come home from school and lay down on the couch, and it would take about 30 seconds for him to come find me and plant himself in the middle of my chest. I got to the point to where I napped better with that 19-pound weight one me.

The second thing that I am going to miss is the noise. He was the noisiest damn cat I ever met. He talked back to me. And he purred like a dump truck. His whole body vibrated when he purred. It used to make J absolutely insane. We'd go to bed at night, and a couple of minutes later, the entire bed would shake when he launched that massive body up on the bed. Then he would try to sneak up by my head to sleep. The problem was that he completely lacked a silent mode. It felt like the whole room shook from his purring. And then he'd throw in these random noises that sounded not-of-this-earth. And J would shove him off of the bed. And Newton would wait for J to fall asleep and then crawl right back up by my head. Over the years, I got used to the noise.
Rest in Peace, Newt Patoot. It's going to be a quiet night.
My overly-affectionate cat