Sunday, December 29, 2013

2014 Goals

I won't call them resolutions, cause people hardly ever keep their resolutions

Let me start by saying I'm feeling much better than I was this time last year.  Last year we were in dire straits financially.  This year we're much better off.  We have been paying off credit cards monthly, are poised to pay off our 401k loan in the first quarter of 2014, just refinanced our mortgage (which will save us $1000 a month), and recently received a nice windfall to finally have a substantial emergency fund.  Knowing all this was going to be happening, we had a very nice Christmas.  Everyone got what they wanted (and more).  While Christmas isn't all about the presents, it did feel good to be able to splurge without having to worry about how I was going to pay the bills.  Whatever is left in our account when payday kicks in tomorrow will go into savings as well.

So here are my goals
My plan this year is to use our checking account only for budgeted expenses. Any fun expenses come out of savings.  I have two accounts set up already.  One will be the emergency fund (equal to 2 months of all expenses to cover emergency house stuff or any other unforeseen circumstances.  That account will be replenished with each quarterly bonus check), and another for fun stuff - vacations/ classes for kids/ birthdays/ going out /clothes shopping / big decorating expenses.  Those are all the things that killed me in the past, budget wise.  So I am taking them out of the monthly budget and will deal with those expenses separately as they come up.  

To keep us in this good situation, I plan to keep up to date with our budget, by using mint.  I know I've said that in the past but always got so depressed as we were over budget every month.  Now that we have more wiggle room, I will make it work.  

Contribute quarterly to 529s

As I write this I am 3 miles shy of my goal for the year of running 400 miles.  I plan on hitting the treadmill for those last few tomorrow.  Next year, I am going for 500 and plan to average a race a month (various distances but I would like to do another half).  It's hard to find winter races in Chicago so I may supplement with some virtuals to keep me motivated, and double or triple up in the summer months.  

Come up with a new weekly project list.  I did this two years ago, and got a lot accomplished.  This past year I didn't do it, and it shows.  I've already come up with a long list, I just need to figure out what to do when.  When you break it up one week at a time, it's a lot more manageable.

Along with the weekly list, I plan on setting goals for the month.  This could be bigger projects (like redoing a whole room), mileage or anything season specific

Make a cleaning schedule and stick to it. I came up with one last month and it worked pretty well until Christmas shopping got in the way.  Breaking it down to certain rooms on certain days will make it doable. 

So that's the plan.  I know I can do it, and I want to - the keys to making anything a success.  I may not be blogging as much but that means I'm doing something more important for me and or my family.  

Christmas Wrapup

If you think I disappeared, I didn't.  I just got caught in real life - in a good way, no new family drama.  We were able to give our kids a good Christmas this year (not that they've ever thought they didn't get a good Christmas)

My husband was on call Christmas Eve so we had a regular dinner that night and our Christmas dinner on Christmas Day.  He got called in at 4am but luckily was home before the kids woke up so despite being tired he didn't miss any of the fun.

My daughters fell in love with my old dollhouse when we were visiting my parents and since it was impossible to bring it across the pond, I decided to build them one of their own.  They will have to share it, they won't each get their own.  It still has a bit of work to go, but after all my evenings and doing some stuff during the day, this is how it looked Christmas morning.  I had taken a big risk as I told Little Man I was working on it, so I'd be able to work on it when he was home from school but they weren't.  Amazingly not only did he never spill the beans, but he stopped Little Reader from going in to our storage room one day when she was looking for something, with a very vague, "there are probably presents in there and you don't want to ruin the surprise". 

The outside will have railings along the two porches and the inside will have dividers on each floor to break up the rooms.  I wanted to wait to place the dividers until we actually are ready to decorate.  I figure it'll be easier to wallpaper/carpet etc, that way.  

There is a miniature fair coming up here next weekend and I am planning on taking them to that to get some ideas for decorating and hopefully find a better family than I have found on line.  

Along with the house they got tons of Legos and my daughters got a bunch of American Girl stuff (including new dolls from Santa).  Little Man also got Legos and a bunch of Superhero stuff including a Bat Cave and a remote control car from Santa.  

My husband and I bought a new iMac to replace our antiquated PC, and a few other things for each other.  This was the first time my husband actually took time to write a list so I did my best to get him everything on it.

He surprised me with tickets to the Hawks game on the 27th where they destroyed the Avs 7-2.  Coincidentally it was Sharpy's birthday and he scored a goal at 12:27, another at 27 seconds into the second period and a third for a hat trick.  Quite a birthday if you ask me.  

Monday, December 16, 2013

Sweet Child of Mine

Last night as the kids were getting ready for bed, Little Hugger was checking to make sure her clock radio was set and GNR's Sweet Child of Mine was on.  Little Reader started singing along and said, " I don't know why, but I have always liked this song"
Me: Probably cause I used to sing it to you as a lullaby
Her: What?  It's not a lullaby.
Me:  Maybe not with the guitar and Axl Rose singing, but a cappella it can be
She looks at me like I'm crazy, so I start singing my slowed down version, and she agrees

She's got a smile that it seems to me
Reminds me of childhood memories
Where everything
Was as fresh as the bright blue sky
Now and then when I see her face
She takes me away to that
special place
And if I stared too long
I'd probably break down and cry

Sweet child o' mine
Sweet love of mine

She's got eyes of the bluest skies
As if they thought of rain
I hate to look into those eyes
And see an ounce of pain
Her hair reminds me
of a warm safe place
Where as a child I'd hide
And pray for the thunder
And the rain
To quietly pass me by

Sweet child o' mine
Sweet love of mine

Saturday, November 2, 2013

St Eugene Trot or Treat

St Eugene's 

I signed daughter and I for this race when the 5k class she wanted to do with the park district was cancelled due to low enrollment.  We picked this race because the timing worked well and this was the one she was supposed to run with the class.  

I have to admit our weekend training runs were a bit tough to schedule.  I know I can run 5k on an empty stomach and eat after but she likes a bigger breakfast.

We set out Saturday morning to the race, neither of us wore the race race shirt cause for some reason it stank - not the design I mean the actual aroma.  I don 't know if it was the fabric or the ink, but even after washing them they smelled nasty so they've been donated.

The course was through a neighborhood, a few people dressed up but not many (we didn't). Once again I let her set the running pace and I set the walking pace. I only had one pair of headphones but since this was a pretty casual race, I just turned my music on low without the headphones so she could hear it and the intervals on Endomondo.  We alternated 2 minutes of running with 1 minute of walking. She was usually eager to stop running at the end of each running interval, but never skipped a running interval and finished strong.  Final time 39:36

We hung out for a little bit getting bananas water and some candy.  There was free pizza and a few games but we skipped all that and headed home as we had a friend's birthday party to go to.  Just before we were about to leave for the party the doorbell rang - the mailman bringing the medals from the virtual race I had signed us up for (so she could get a medal for her first race).  I had hoped to give it to her at the finish line but it didn't arrive in time.  She was still excited to get it, and wants to do the local Turkey Trot with me on Thanksgiving morning.  I'm holding off signing up til after my 10 miler this weekend since my foot has been bothering me, but it seems to be getting better so I should be good to go. 

Swedish Apple Pie

Years ago, my then boyfriend now husband and I went apple picking. As usually happens, we ended up coming home with more apples than we could possibly eat.  A friend was well known in her family for an apple pie recipe she had learned years ago from a Girl Scouts cookbook her troop put together, so I asked her for it.  It's been a favorite of ours ever since.  Easy, yummy and a staple at our Thanksgiving and Christmas tables

5-6  Macintosh apples
2 sticks butter
1 egg
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350. Peel, core and cut apples into chunks.  Put into a 9x9 baking dish. 

  Sprinkle cinnamon sugar on top to cover

Combine egg, flour and sugar.  Melt the butter and add that to the sugar mixture.  

Pour on top of the apples to cover.  

Sprinkle with more cinnamon sugar. 

Bake for 35-45 minutes (until golden brown).  Serve with vanilla ice cream.  Since I often bring this to Thanksgiving dinner, I bake it about 35 minutes at home, and then bake for another 10 or so at the hosts' house.  

Friday, November 1, 2013

Tell the Wolves I'm Home

I saw this book many times over the summer and finally bought it.  It started off slowly but the fact that I was a 14 year old in Westchester in 1987 just like June kept me interested. I got all the pop culture references - Fiorucci, Reagan, WPLJ, Dennis Miller on Saturday Night Live (it wasn't SNL yet).

It's a coming of age novel but almost too much.  I read the summaries on the backs of books when I buy them, but after that I don't read it til after I have read the book.  When I started this book I thought. June was much younger than 14.  She seemed very immature to me - maybe 9 or 10.  

Back up a bit.  June and her older sister Greta are sitting for a portrait by their renowned artist uncle Finn.  Finn is June's godfather and they have a close relationship.  She enjoys going into the city for the sittings, Greta attends but can't wait to go home.   

Their parents are accountants and largely leave them on their own during tax season.  Another reviewer likened them to the Peanuts parents. Just background noise.  Although Mom's part becomes more important in the end. Mom had a tense relationship with her brother and that translates to her relationship with June, although they never talk about why there are problems, just get upset at each other. 

Finn dies of AIDS and June notices a man lingering on the side of the funeral.  Shortly after she receives a teapot in the mail (from the stranger aka Finn's lover Toby).  Despite Finn and Toby having a long committed relationship, June and Greta were never introduced to Finn as their mother did not approve of him.  

June reaches out to Toby as she feels no one else understands the pain she feels from Finn dying. They form a strong bond which is often misconstrued as an older man taking advantage of a much younger girl. 

There is a great deal of drama throughout the book (between Greta and June, between June and her parents, and between Toby and pretty much every one but June, and the usual high school drama of both June and Greta).

It's one of the first books in a while that I didn't really enjoy the parts but looking at the whole, it was a good read.  So I guess, if you give it a try you need to stick with it.  I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to others - I don't normally do stars but I guess if I did for this one, I'd give 3.5.  Better than average but not one I'd be recommending to everyone. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Paris by Edward Rutherfurd

An epic novel that did not disappoint.  The book spans multiple generations and jumps back and forth between them, but with a few common families and family relationships to tie it all together.  The characters include aristocrats, artists, department store owners and a brothel owner. It's hard to summarize a book that spans over 600 years, and has so many characters, but I did enjoy it.

Thomas & Luc Gascon.  Thomas was an ironworker who helped build the Eiffel Tower.  His brother Luc ran a bar and restaurant but was also part of the seedier sides of Paris.

Blanchards - Marc was a artist but despite his parents objections.  His parents own a department store in Paris that his sister Marie and her daughter Claire end up running.  He gets a girl pregnant but his parents quickly make "the problem" disappear

Frederic Ney is an affluent lawyer who also boards a number of widows in his spacious home. He has a staff of people who take care of them - Edith and her Aunt Adeline are the main ones.  

Roland de Cygne and Jacques Le Sourd a rivalry that has continued for generations, growing stronger with each year.

Louise - grows up in England but comes to Paris looking for her roots, and becomes quite well-known in certain circles.

World War I and II are large parts of the story naturally.  I know that Rutherfurd does his research and most of the historical parts are accurate, but there was one aspect to the story that I liked but I'm not sure if it's true.  When the Germans occupied France and Hitler first came to Paris he wanted to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower but couldn't - as the elevator cables had been cut to prevent him going up.

An enjoyable read which really made me feel I was in Paris and want to go back. It also made me want to give his book about New York another try.  

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Run/Walk for Hope for Multiple Sclerosis

I recently discovered virtual runs, and I have to say I love them.  Unlike a traditional race, you run/walk the virtual run at a time and place that is convenient for you and in many cases the distance is up to you as well.  So why do it?  The are fundraisers for various charities and you still earn a medal or other fun swag.  And they are much cheaper than a traditional race and without the hassle of packet pickup and race day traffic.  Also if you like to run but haven't found a traditional race that raises funds for a cause close to your heart this is a way you can do both.

There are a ton of virtuals advertised on Facebook and shortly after completing my half marathon I came across one to raise money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.  Not long after I registered the race director cancelled the race due to personal reasons.  I contacted her and offered to take over.  She had already designed the medal which I think looks really cool, and done a lot of the other leg work.  Her sister has successfully organized similar races and has been helping me.  Now I am just busy promoting it so we can raise lots of money to help find a cure for MS.

If you or a loved one have MS I would love for you to join us. If you are a runner and are looking to add more bling to your collection, please join us.

The Run/Walk for Hope for Multiple Sclerosis is a fundraising run/walk we are hosting to benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. A virtual run may be completed anytime and anywhere convenient for you. 5K, 10K, 13.1m, 26.2m or triathlon - the distance is up to you. No proof is required of completion, but feel free to post your photos and results to the Facebook page. Each participant will receive a finisher medal.

All medals will be mailed out in December. 

All proceeds from the Run/Walk for Hope will be donated to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. To register, click here

Please join the Facebook group in order to receive future updates

Thank you for supporting this virtual run for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Our Tree Cave

Yesterday I took the kids to the Morton Arboretum.  I love taking them here cause there is plenty of space for them to run around, and yes once in a while they even comment on the nature.

It was crowded since it was a school holiday so we couldn't park in the main lot, we we're directed to a different lot a bit down the main path.  Once we parked we decided to find a spot for our picnic. The kids found this tree which looked like a regular tree from a far, but when they got closer realized there was a tunnel entrance and branches with space to sit under it.  They were able to easily get in and out. There were even some spots where they could stand up straight.  

It was a little tougher for me, but once I got in I decided it was the perfect spot for our picnic.  We laid out our blanket and ate our lunches.  Whenever anyone came close by we kept quiet so they wouldn't learn about our secret spot.  We hung out for a while before heading out of our tree cave.  

We explored the surrounding area for a while before heading to the "Big Rock" which I have to say was much smaller than I had expected. Still the kids had fun sitting on top pretending they were on Pride Rock. Our final stop was one of their favorite climbing trees from our previous visit.

Monday, October 21, 2013

He's OK, the Car is Totaled

On Thursday Little Man and I were eating lunch when my husband called.  "I'm ok" he said "But I was in a car accident.  The car is totaled. I was making a left turn on the way to the hospital and I was hit by oncoming traffic.  I promise I was not texting or looking at my phone.  I think I've dislocated my pinky and may have broken a rib.  I'm waiting on xrays."  

At that point there was nothing to do but wait so I took Little Man to his soccer class and told him what had happened and that we may have to pick Daddy up at the hospital later.  After soccer, I talked to my husband again. Ribs just bruised not broken, but the pinky was broken and needed pins put in.  He'd already talked to a hand surgeon and just needed me to give him a ride over there.  

We dropped him off and then went to the impound lot to clear out the car.  This is what I found. 

What truly amazes me though is that as horrible as the front looks the interior of the car looked fine (aside from the deployed airbag).  Thank you BMW for building sturdy cars or this would have been a lot worse.  The car was nine years old so had been paid off for about 6 months, and we were planning on replacing it in the spring.  My husband already had his eye on another BMW.  He's been to the dealership to discuss the options with our sales rep, and we've rented a car for him in the meantime.  Now just waiting to hear what our insurance company will give us towards buying a new one. 

He took Friday off as he needed to get the cast removed and a brace made.  Ribs are still a bit sore so it hurts to lie down to sleep.  He did get some pain meds to help with that though. Today he is back at work, luckily a light day mostly office hours but he did have a couple of routine cases to do.  His hand feels fine but is still a bit swollen so he's hoping he can fit into the surgical gloves.  Luckily he doesn't usually wear the biggest size so hopefully a bigger one will work.  We'll see.  We have contacted our financial adviser in case we need to use some of the short term disability we've been paying for over the years.  Hopefully it won't come to that.      

Beautiful Ruins

I picked up this book a few times this summer, but never bought it.  Then a friend of mine mentioned on her blog that she had done the same thing and finally bought it and enjoyed it.  Based on her recommendation I finally committed.  It started off well enough but the second half and ending weren't good.

I read in the interview at the back of the book, that the author worked on the book on and off for 15 years and it shows.  It's very disjointed.  It starts with a dying American actress Dee Moray arriving in a town near Cinque Terre in the 60s. She was filming Cleopatra in Italy when she found out she was sick.    She comes to a family owned pensione - the Hotel Adequate View (the name is explained later)  Pasquale lives there with his mother and aunt (his father died in the war).  

Michael Deane is a producer in present day LA.  He worked on Cleopatra when he was younger.  After some success, Michael hasn't produced anything in a long time.  But on one of his "Wild Pitch Fridays" Claire Silver spends the day listening to pitches from anyone.  Shane Wheeler an aspiring screenwriter has flown in from Oregon to make his pitch.  

Pasquale comes in with one of Michael Deane's old business cards from the Cleopatra days looking for help to find Dee Moray.  Pasquale speaks no English but Shane just happens to be fluent in Italian.  

From there the book goes back and forth between Italy and the US.  Past and present.  While it's easy enough to follow, I feel like the characters and the original plot had great potential but then it just fell apart.  The last chapter especially felt rushed with quick summaries of what happened to everybody.  

If you want a book about Italy I'd recommend the Shoemakers Wife.  I don't have a recommendation for a Hollywood book.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Little Monkey Bizness

I took Little Man to Little Monkey Bizness for the first time a couple of weeks ago.  We had never been there before but found out about it in a coupon book he brought home from school.  It's a bit far from us, but he had fun.

There's a bounce house with a slide, a climbing structure with a rope swing, a Little Tikes climbing structure (which we pretended was a volcano), another play structure which could be part of an outdoor playground and some oversized Legos.  
He was easily entertained for two hours.  There is also a craft room but we didn't go in there.  We went on a weekday and there were at most three other kids at the times we were there.  Not sure hoe much more crowded it gets on weekends.  We brought our own sandwiches but bought drinks there. They have snack stuff too (the usual apple sauce, cheese sticks, yogurt) but I didn't see any real food.  

He wants to go back again but it'll probably be a little while before we do.  Little Reader is 9 and had outgrown most of these places. Little Hugger would probably enjoy it but it's rare I just have the two of them.  

Personally I prefer the Treehouse (which is probably a similar distance for us) but I would recommend Little Monkey Bizness and we will probably go back some day this winter when we get cabin fever.  

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

300 down, 100 to go

After finishing my half in September I knew I needed to set a new goal for myself.  Last year I totally slacked off once the weather for cold and basically stopped running or working out at all for 2 months, and then went to the gym very sporadically the next few months.  Even though getting back into it was easier than I would have thought come April, I am trying to force myself to keep lacing up through the end of the year.  So I've given myself a goal of 400 miles by the end of 2013.  With only 100 miles to go the distance isn't the hard part, it's forcing myself out there once it gets cold.  Even this morning I had a hard time leaving my nice warm house, and it was only 52 (but cloudy and windy).  But after about a mile, everything was fine and I ended up accomplishing my 7 mile goal for the day, and completing 300 miles so far.

I have already signed up for a virtual run - the Fit 4 Life Celebration of Life and Fitness so I'll get a medal as my reward.  It seems silly but yes bling does keep me going.  There are no specific requirements for the virtual and the medals ship in December so I figured it was a good fit. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Garden Patch Farms

This past weekend we took the kids apple picking.  There are so many different places around us we end up going to a different place every year.  This year we went to Garden Patch Farms in Homer Glen.  It's relatively close (took us under an hour to get there), small but good.  They have over 60 kinda of apples all of which were available to pick.  You pay $5 pp to go out to the orchard and they give you as many bags as you want to fill up.  Pay by the weight at the end $2/lb.  You can borrow a wagon to haul your stuff (or kids) in. Little Man liked having his sisters pull him around.  My husband tried to pull all the kids and the apples but that didn't really work.

 There are also vegetables to pick too but we stayed with the apples.  Unlike some of the bigger orchards the different varieties are mixed in different rows.  They have signs at the end of each row telling you what is in that row, but once you get in the row signs are hard to find.  So we picked based on color.

 After picking we headed back to the main area for lunch.  We brought our own and I'm glad we did as there isn't much available - chili and donuts was all I noticed.  They have cold water, juice boxes and of course apple cider available to purchase.

There is a bounce house - which had no line the whole time we were there.  There is a small barn with a few farm animals - chickens, goats, and a pig and a couple of shy barn cats.
We really enjoyed it and would go back again next year.  So many of the orchards feel like they have to add all these extra attractions to make it fun for kids, but our kids had a great time.  They had pumpkins for sale as well but I don't like to buy them too early in case they go bad before we can carve them.  They also have lots of prepicked veggies available to purchase

We'll be heading out to get pumpkins in a couple of weeks.  Last year we went to Didier Farms (which has all the carnival attractions).  The kids have asked to go back there again, which is fine.  Next year I hope we can go to a real pumpkin patch and get it off the vine.  It's been a while since we've done that but our October weekends are crazy this year. 

I've already made one batch of apple cinnamon muffins and am planning on making applesauce this afternoon.  This weekend I plan on making the first pie.

It was a fun day with the added bonus of not being far away.  The past two years we've missed apple picking because we couldn't find the time to head way to out to farm country.  Nice to find a good place relatively close.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Jealous of the 1%

As friends have noticed that my race lengths get longer and longer, sometimes they ask if I will ever run a marathon.  My answer has always been the usual, "No, I'm only half crazy".  

My husband is convinced I'll do it and says he would support me to do it.  Still so far my answer has been, no.  Then this past Saturday night I saw lots of friends (some people I know in the real world, some I just know through FRC), posting about getting ready for Chicago. I have to admit I was a little jealous. 

It was perfect weather for a marathon - clear temps in the high 50s low 60s.
I followed the progress of my friends online throughout the day.  One finished in about 5:20, another 4:20 and one at 3:53 (which means she qualifies for Boston!!).  Based on my current pace I would be around 4:40. Certainly respectable, but I think if I actually did cross train I could be faster.  I was even more jealous seeing their pictures post race with big medals and proud smiles.  

When I told my husband my friend qualified, he said, "you know you want to do it.  Wouldn't it be cool to run Boston? We'd all fly out to cheer you on".  We did live in Boston for a number of years, and did often go down to the finish.  I would never qualify but I did look up this years charities and the MS society is one.  Not sure what the minimum would be though.
I'm not committing to anything but I will admit that it's not something that seems so crazy anymore.  Would be cool to be part of the 1%.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Why I Love/Hate Rainbow Loom

Like many grade school kids my daughter have become obsessed with Rainbow Loom bracelets.  They made some at their recent Indian Princess campout and came home begging for looms of their own.

I like them because they let them be creative (unlike the silly bands of a few years ago), and are relatively inexpensive.  

Why I hate them is the drama they have created in my daughters' classrooms.  About 2 weeks ago Little Reader made a starburst bracelet (like the one on the right) for her friend.  The friend left it on her desk at school and the boy who sits next to her took it.  They asked for it back and he has refused (although admits that he has it). His response was, "What's the big deal, it's just a stupid rainbow loom?"  True.  It didn't cost much for the supplies and she makes them pretty quickly, but it's the principle of the thing.  If he wanted one, he could have asked and she probably would have gladly made him one.  But I think he likes the attention.  He probably has a crush on her or her friend and likes that he has now created a daily conversation - 4th grade boys aren't very good at flirting.

She doesn't want to be a tattle but she wants it back.  My husband told her to tell the boy that if he doesn't give back the bracelet that he stole she's going to tell the teacher. She did that yesterday.  Sure enough he gave it back today.  

Then last night when we were practicing with her how to have the conversation with the teacher, Little Hugger told us that a boy in her class had taken one of hers (when she left it on her bookshelf).  In this case we are friends with the parents so if he doesn't give it back I'll talk to them.  No need to involve the teacher.  

I told my daughters after we get these back to not take them off at school and if someone admires theirs, offer to make them one.  Hopefully it'll work.  

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Virtual Race

This morning I ran my first virtual race.  I had signed up for one so that I could get a medal for my half marathon, as they weren't originally planning on giving out medals.  So I found a race with a cool medal and for a charity I care about - Alzheimer's - and signed up.

Women Rock ended up letting people exchange their necklaces for medals which I did.  My medal for the virtual arrived yesterday and I felt like I had to earn it since I'd already gotten one for the half.  So this morning I set out for a 10k (my longest run since the half).  I started off slow but pretty soon realized I was on track for a PB.  I ended up finishing in 58:49.  My last 10k (an actual race I finished in 1:00:50.  

I went home put on my medal and stretched out.  I kept it on when I went to pick up my son.  I had put a jacket on over so no one knew it was there but me, but it still felt good, knowing what I had accomplished.  

There are tons of virtual runs available at varying distances.  I find most of them on Facebook and there are races for everyone.  Tons of different charities and themes.  A lot of theme are a bit too commercial for my tastes - Disney characters, Despicable Me, that kind of stuff.  I have no problem with getting a Disney medal if I run a Disney race, but for a virtual I like the ones that are more unique or have to do with the cause or season.  Either way there are definitely enough options to keep you motivated for a low cost.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Adding Insult to Injury

So, my parents are still in the hospital, and sometime within the last week their house was broken in to.  The alarm was not engaged and obviously no one had been coming or going for a while.  My sister is convinced that home health worker who was helping out my Dad before he was admitted is involved.  He just gave off a bad vibe and seemed to not so subtly be checking out everything when he was there.

They got most if not all of my Mom's jewelry (my sister says she hid some when she was there so hopefully, they didn't get it all), their laptop, stereo a Paustian lamp and two chairs (the chairs were Barcelona copies but I guess as my Mom said the thieves didn't know the difference).  They didn't find the silver and left a few other things behind, but I feel so bad.  They also have a ton of things from their travels some worth $, and some just sentimental.  My Mom is starting to go through the paperwork for the insurance company and will probably have to try and go to the house and see what else she can figure out is missing.

I hate to be this far away when all this is going down.  They have an alarm system, not sure why that wasn't on, but I'm not going to place blame on anyone for that.  I'm sure who ever left the house last feels guilty enough about that on their own.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Great America

We took our kids to Great America for the first time in August.  My husband loves roller coasters but we purposely waited to take them until they were big enough to go on some of the big rides.  Little Reader is officially tall enough for everything.  Little Hugger can go on some, and Little Man will go on some of the more adventurous little kid rides.  If your kids are close to the height minimums you can get them measured at the ticket counter and they get a wrist band proving their height so they don't need to be remeasured at each ride - saves a little time.  We didn't bother with any of the fast passes and don't think it would have been worth the money.

We got there shortly after the park opened and went on the Whizzer first.  It's a roller coaster tame enough for Little Man to go on, but fun enough that the rest of us enjoyed it too.  The drops weren't huge but it was fun.  He was a little scared in the beginning but asked to go on it a second time.

Little Reader went on X Flight with my husband while I waited with the younger ones.  It looks like a cool ride but the line was pretty long and even though Great America lets you do a kid swap (wait in line with your kids and then the parents take turns riding while the other waits with the kids) I wanted to save that for the rides I really wanted to go on - like Batman.

Little Hugger was very excited to go on the Demon - her first upside down roller coaster.  Little Reader had gone on it with my husband first and she went with us, sat in front and warned Little Hugger as to what was coming up.

We happened to bump into Little Reader's best friend when we went to lunch.  She had mentioned to her friend that we were going, and she had asked her parents if they could go to.  We stayed together for a little while but since her friend is a little shorter she wasn't tall enough to go on some of the same rides that our new coaster enthusiast wanted to go on.  Also I think she was a little scared to go on some of the bigger coasters.  She made a point of telling one of the park employees that she was too short to go on Vertical Velocity

I took Little Man and Little Hugger on the Little Dipper while Little Reader and my husband went on Vertical Velocity.  Then it was finally time for my favorite ride - Batman.  The line was long, but the kids were pretty good while waiting and Little Man was excited about seeing the batsuit at the end.  We did spend some time letting them run around at the play areas including the Hanna Barbera section.  There was really only one coaster that we didn't get to go on - Superman but we ran out of time.  The kids all agreed that they liked the rides better at Great America but Tivoli was a nicer park : )

Friday, October 4, 2013

Hallowe'en Hobgoblin

Halloween is probably my least favorite holiday due to all the scary/gory parts.  But one Halloween tradition that is very popular in our area is the Halloween Hobgoblin and I love it.  Every year we get "booed", and this year it actually happened on October 1st.  My daughters opened the front door to head out to school and found three little treat bags with the above sign attached.

They were super excited.  That afternoon we went to Target and got goodies for our own treat bags and they came up with a list of people to hobgoblin.  We bought vampire teeth, pumpkin erasers, Halloween tattoos and a bag of candy, and put together the bags.  Since Little Man's friends are not in our neighborhood, I sent an email to the parents of his friends letting them know that the identity of the "Hobgoblin" is supposed to be a secret, but I wanted at least them know who the mystery candy came so they'd feel comfortable letting their kids have it.

We drove from house to house dropping the treat bags in mailboxes or on the front steps with the kids name on them.  Sometimes they would ring the doorbell but mostly they just made the drop and then got back in the car as quick as possible in a fit of nervous giggles.  We were only caught once.  Little Hugger was dropping off at a friend's house when her friend's brother opened the front door and told her Little Hugger was there.  Little Hugger froze in the driveway - unsure of what to do.  I told her friend we were trying to surprise her, so close her eyes.  She went inside, Little Hugger dropped the bag on the steps and we drove away.

It's a fun little tradition, doesn't cost much , so if you think your kids would like it I encourage you to give it a try (you could always plant the first bag on your own doorstep to get it started).  Our sign is a little blurry after being recopied so many times so I encourage you to make your own, but feel free to use our words.  I would love to start an adult version with seasonal beers/wines other treats

Running The Bases

We took our kids to their first Cubs game in August.  They were playing the Dodgers and we got seats along the third base line.  The weather was perfect but unfortunately not a very exciting game - final score was 1-0 Dodgers won.  Even though the kids got a bit antsy we stayed until the end to run the bases.

They only do it for some games, and you need to get wrist bands for each kid and line up by a door that leads to right field at the end of the game.  They only give out about 1000 wristbands.  The wait in line took a while but once they start letting people through it goes REALLY quickly.  The ushers herd you through, and you go through the outfield towards first base.  The kids start running at first base and then go around to second, third and home.  Parents can go with younger kids so my husband went with Little Man, the other two went on their own.  

Unfortunately I didn't get a single picture of anyone because the ushers really rush everyone through. As the kids are running, the parents are sent back into the stands and then back down towards home plate to pick up their kids.  I understand that they want to get people out of the park so that they can clean up but it would have been better if they would let us have some more time to.

The kids still had fun doing it, and I would encourage other baseball fans to do it.  Just don't expect to get to take a leisurely stroll around the bases or get any cool shots of your kids coming home (unless maybe you have a relative stay in the stands and wait for the photo op.   If we do it again, that's what I would probably do.  

Thursday, October 3, 2013


The other day Little Man (who is 4) and I were walking to school and bumped into a neighbor.  She asked him if he knew how to spell "Go".  He just looked at her, then she asked if he could spell his name, and he did.  

Then she asked him to spell 'Mom".  He answered "M O M".  Then she asked him if he could spell it backwards, he looked at her for a minute.  

I said, "That seems a little tricky, but it's the same backwards and forwards"

He replied, "Oh yeah, it's a palindrome"  Neighbor's jaw dropped 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Women Rock Half Marathon

This past weekend I ran my first half marathon.  My goal was to run the whole thing, and do so in under 2:30.  I managed both!! I only walked through the water stops, and my official time was 2:21:50.  It was an absolutely perfect running day - sunny but cool.  Mid 50s at the start and mid 60s by the finish.  My sister came out to run it with me (although we didn't actually run together since she is faster than I am).

This was a new race in Chicago and a bit disorganized, but still fun.

1. Starting line was on sidewalks (they did not close off the street) which made for a very congested start.
2. Corrals unclear - we all assumed that they would be closing off the street so crowded up by an entrance near the barricades by the starting line - not lined up in the designated pace corrals
3. No PA announcements telling us what to do or where to line up at start
4. Even though the half marathoners were supposed to start 30 minutes before the 5k and 10k, no one really made that clear so everyone went at once
5.  The course was along the lakefront bike/running path, but it had not been closed off to other traffic.  In fact there was a Leukemia society Team in Training doing their final pre marathon long run also on the course.
6.  Bananas at the end were lousy.  The volunteers even apologized - apparently the bananas had been donated and in retrospect they figured the reason they were donated was because they weren't good.
7.  Congestion at quite a few parts due to the 3 distances/turnarounds

1. The course itself was beautiful - great scenery and views of the lakefront.  If it had been closed off, would have been perfect.
2. Finishers received a necklace at the finish line.  They allowed you to swap it out for a medal, that had originally been created for people who did the full 4 race team ortho series.  I was never planning on wearing the necklace, so the medal swap was great.
3.  Post race party included a glass of champagne - admittedly not the best champagne but a cute gimmick and we got to keep the glass
4. The congestion actually helped me keep on pace and make it so I was able to run the whole thing.
5. Very friendly volunteers receptive to feedback.  They were apologetic about the overlap with the Team in Training but apparently had not been informed that that would be happening
6.  Attention to the little details - like comp tampons in the port a potties at the start, announcing your name as you cross finish line

Would I do it again next year?  Probably, depending on the schedule.  After a quick stop at the post race party we went to lunch at Ed Debevics - kids choice, and then home.  My sister and I each took a shower and a nap before we headed out to dinner.  

Notes to self for what worked for me...
My playlist was perfect, started slow and built up.  Livin on A Prayer actually came on at 6.75 miles (Woah, we're half way there, woah, livin' on a prayer, Won't you take my hand and we'll make it, I swear)
One of my last songs was I Love this Town also by Bon Jovi.  At about 12.5, Jon and I had a little conversation...

You want it? You got it 
You ready? I'm on it 
Come on now, here we go agaiiinnnnnn...

That's why I love this town

Dinner the night before was grilled chicken with salad and quinoa (my sister's suggestion since I told her I didn't have a go-to prerace dinner yet).  I got hungry later and had a peanut butter sandwich and yogurt before going to bed.  Waffle with peanut butter and banana in the morning, and try to keep the water intake morning of to a minimum.  I did pop a couple of sports beans just before each water stop so I could wash them down with water.  

What not to do? Set up intervals on my phone.  I did it to help make sure I didn't bonk at mile 8 like the Fort 2 Base, but walking the water stations worked better.  I was afraid to try and switch programs mid run, but next time, I'll set it to keep me updated on my expected finish time. 

I was happily surprised that I was not sore the next morning, especially since I was after the Fort 2 Base.  I definitely want to do another one, not sure when though.  It's about to start getting colder here in Chicago, but I plan on doing a race a month to keep me going and hopefully can plan another half for early spring.  While I am very  happy with my time, I know with cross training I'll be able to do even better next time.   Another plus, we were running this as an MS fundraiser and managed to raise over $2200 for MS in our Mom's honor. Unfortunately she couldn't be there to cheer us on, but we made sure to post pics to Facebook so she could keep track of us and called her after the race.

I skipped my usual Monday morning run since my sister was leaving around lunch time, but was able to start running again Wednesday, a little sluggish and Endomondo was goofy, but it felt good..  The next few weeks I can take it a little easy as my next race is a 5k with my daughter - her 1st so I'll let her set the pace.  November I'll be back down to the lakefront for a 10 miler so I can't slack completely.  Not sure which race to do after that.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Crockpot Frikadeller

This is a mix of Mark Bittman's recipe for Frikadeller and a crockpot Swedish meatball recipe I found online. Growing up we ate frikadeller a lot and I always found them to be really dry, sorry Mom. I like these because of the rich sauce.

1-1/2 lb of ground meat - should be mix of pork and veal, but I can't bring myself to use veal, so I use pork and beef.
1/2 cup or less of plain bread crumbs
3/4 cup of cream
a pinch of ground cloves
pepper to taste

2 (10 oz) cans cream of mushroom condensed soup with roasted garlic
1/2 cup water
1 cup sour cream
2 Tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Combine all the meatball ingredients. I add the bread crumbs and cream a little at a time and mix as I go.

Make meatballs about golfball size or smaller, put in crockpot.  Mix the soup and water and pour over the meatballs.  Cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours.

In a small bowl, combine sour cream, flour and pepper and blend well.  about 30 moniutes before meatballs are done cooking, add a spoonful of the hot liquid from the crockpot and blend.  Add the sour cream mixture to crockpot, stir well, cover, and cook on low for 30 - 40 minutes until thickened and blended.  Serve over mashed potatoes (or hot cooked rice).

Monday, September 9, 2013

Sister by Rosamund Upton

This book was recommended to me by a friend whose opinion I usually agree with.  I wanted to like this book, and while I didn't hate it it fell short on a few key levels for me.  

Despite the premise being that a woman in NY is called back to London urgently to help find her missing sister, I felt the story took a while to get going.  

The story is mostly told as a series of interviews between Beatrice and Mr Wright who works for the police department.  

Tess was pregnant and expecting soon.  She was unmarried and the father didn't want to be involved with the baby.  Tess and Beatrice had a brother Leo who died of cystic fibrosis at a young age and they know they are both carriers.  Tess signs up for a in utero trial cure for CF.  

Not long after Beatrice arrives in London Tess' body is found and ruled a suicide.  Beatrice refuses to believe that Tess committed suicide, and continues to investigate Tess' death at her own peril. This was the part of the book I found interesting, but at first I didn't buy the ending.  I skimmed the book again the next day to see if there was some detail I missed and with fresh eyes it did seem more plausible, but still not satisfying.  

Next up Paris by Edward Rutherford.  I've read a few of his books and have thoroughly enjoyed some (Russka and London) and couldn't get through New York or The Princes of Ireland.  I'm hopeful about this one.  

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Trinity Six

This book had a lot going for it, but I was disappointed with the ending.  But I'll get to that.

The book starts off in London, 1992 with the death of Edward Crane.  He was 76 years old and died in a hospital. His obituary described him as a career diplomat.  On the surface nothing would seem strange abut a 76 year old man dying, but in time we learn that his death was not what it seemed.

Sam Gaddis is a professor at University College London in Russian History who gets involved in researching a ring of Soviet and British spies - the Trinity Six. He is tipped off by a journalist friend of his who dies after telling him about the story she is working on.  Sam is convinced she was killed to silence the story but has no proof.  He continues investigating on his own, drawing both the attention of MI6 and the FSB.  He wants to stop but is compelled by the story and hopes to score a big book deal with the completed story as he is heavily in debt.  

At times Sam's not sure who if anyone he can trust, although he continues to get information from multiple sources.  I enjoyed it until the very end.  While some reviewers were frustrated by Gaddis' mistakes I thought they made him more believable.  He is not a spy, he is an academic, of course he's going to make some mistakes and take some risks.  I feel like the ending wasn't very realistic, as all the loose ends are too neatly tied up in the end.  Not sure if Cumming is planning a sequel (this was published in 2011), which could make the ending make sense.  

Still I've missed the Cold War spy novels and this definitely is reminiscent of those. I also appreciated the similarities between the fictional President of Russia - Sergei Platov - and Vladimir Putin.  I would be willing to try another by this author, but first I think it's time I read one of John le Carre's since I never have.  

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Arlington Park Family Days

This past weekend we joined my women's group at Arlington Park for Family Days.  Most Sundays through the summer, they have a section of the picnic area set up with stuff for kids.  Pony rides (REALLY long line), petting zoo, bounce house, jugglers, face painting, etc.  There's a little under 30 minutes between each post time, so enough time to wander around in between.  The kids liked feeding the animals at the petting zoo (sheep, goats, llama, donkey) but skipped most of the other attractions.

We got there a bit before the first post time, so took some time to study the day's races while we ate the lunch we had brought with us.  We placed  few bets on each race.  The lowest is a $2 bet, and we each picked a horse for each race, then my husband added a couple of daily doubles and trifectas to make it more interesting.  All in all he and I each picked one winning horse (I picked Sancerre in the first - yes, because it's a kind of wine), he picked Guava Girl in the second cause he liked the sound of the name.  None of the combo bets worked out for us.  Little Hugger wanted 3 Cat Rules and Cat Bells in the 3rd and 4th races (because she loves cats).  The both came in second so no luck on those.  Still the kids had fun.  We watched the horses get saddled up and warmed up in the paddock.

We cheered for our horses as they made it towards the finish line 

And we got to see one of the starts up close when they moved the starting gates

We had to leave before the really big races because Little Reader had a birthday party to go to.  We had fun despite ending the day down (no big surprise given that we picked our horses based on names and not much else).  If we go again, I would probably arrive later in time for the bigger races, but the kids didn't know the difference.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Fort 2 Base

I signed up for this race for two reasons 1) it was the perfect distance in my training for my half and 2) I would finally earn a medal.  So far none of the races I've run have handed out finishers medals.  Tshirts are great and all but I wanted some bling.  It's a really nice medal too with a decent weight.

I'm glad I did it.  It was a great race.  There are two distances 3.5 miles or 11.5 miles.  The 3.5 is around the Great Lakes Naval Station.  The 11.5 is the true Fort to Base.  It starts at Fort Sheridan and finishes at Great Lakes Naval Station.  I did the 11.5 and got up before dawn to drive the (according to my GPS) 26.2 miles ;) to the parking area.  There were shuttle buses from there to take the runners to the start.  I got to the parking a little before 6am (last shuttle was to leave at 615).  There was only one portapotty at the lot, (which caused a few complaints) but I figured there would be more at the start so got on the bus.  There were about 15 portapottys and just under 1000 runners.  There were lines but nothing crazy.  

The starting line was a banner between two army trucks.  There were pacers for this race so I lined up near the one running my pace, but didn't end up running with them.  Overall, it was a nice but tight course.  The first two miles wind through the residential areas of Fort Sheridan so the usual two lane road.  Miles 3-8.5 are on mostly on the bike path which makes it a little tight but is actual great if you're in a group with your same pace.  People were good about staying to the right and passing on the left.  Also most of the bike path was shaded which was nice. There are a few parts where you come off the bike path to run through train station parking lots.

Water stations were run by servicemen and women as well as volunteers.  I think having the service members there was a nice touch.  

Just before mile marker 9 you run through the gates to the base - which for me meant trying to summon the strength for Heroes Hill.  There's a downhill section and then a road that runs along the water on the backside of the base.  At the end of the back side is the Hill.  It's not long, but it is steep.  I made it up 75% before I had to walk.  I think if I hadn't had a cold I would have made it.  I walked a bit but when I saw the banner and the photographer at the top of the hill, I started running again, and did my best to smile. There was a Navy guy at the bottom of the hill spraying people with water if they wanted and a few others cheering us on and giving high-fives.  After leveling off I did need to walk a bit more but managed to run the final straightaway where my husband and kids were cheering me on.  

My goal was to finish under two hours - official time 1:56:32.  Next year I will run the whole thing, and I will conquer Heroes Hill.

I saw some online complaints that there weren't enough servicepeople cheering us on, I disagree.  Water stations were manned by Army, Navy and Marines as well as other volunteers.  Once we got on base Navy people were everywhere, giving high-fives, misting us with water, and cheering us on on Heroes Hill.  

I also thought it was cool that they announced everyone's name as they cross the finish line.  Not sure how they managed that but another nice touch.  

After collecting my medal and other goodies we walked around the main area of the base a bit.  The kids had fun climbing on the deck guns and seeing the one of the old fighter jets.

If you look closely at the jet you'll see that the pilot was LCDR John McCain.  The plaque doesn't mention that but when we looked up the USS Oriskany that is the aircraft carrier he served on.

It was a fun day and I look forward to running this race again next year.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

I had seen this book at bookstores quite a bit and the cover intrigued me, but it was only after a friend recommended it, that I picked it up. It's a story of Bernadette Fox, an architect who moved with her husband to Seattle when he was offered a job with Microsoft.  They have a teenage daughter Bee.  Bernadette was a renowned architect despite only completely one project.  When they moved to Seattle she bought a rundown former girls school and was determined to live in it, while they renovated.  Beyond some work on the house she never designed anything again (and never got very far in renovating the house to her neighbors' dismay).

Bee attends a private school and Bernadette does not fit in with any of the other parents - she refers to the mothers as "gnats" She is agoraphobic and introverted at a school where parent involvement is strongly encouraged.  She farms out all of her mundane tasks to a virtual assistant in India as she can't get herself to do them herself.

As an incentive to Bee to get good grades, her parents tell her that she can have anything she wants if she gets all A's.  Bee succeeds and surprises her parents by asking for a trip to Antarctica (they had thought she would ask for a pony).  Bee's father, Elgin Branch, is game.  At first, Bernadette throws herself into researching the trip and acquiring everything they will need to bring but she gets increasingly distressed about the trip as it gets closer.  Elgin is so concerned about Bernadette's mental state he actually tries to have her committed.

The book is an epistolary novel which can be a little confusing at times as it jumps from character to character quite a bit and not just the three members of the Fox family but also, Soo-Lin - Elgin's admin, Audrey Griffin - the Foxes neighbor, and others.  I enjoyed it and while yes I definitely thought in the beginning that Bernadette was crazy (but extremely entertaining) I could definitely understand her side of the story once it all came out in the end.  She had moved to Seattle to support her husband's new job, but never felt happy there and needed to get away from all that to find peace.

Ironically, it seems to be somewhat similar to what my Mom is going through right now.  No she didn't have a breakdown and disappear, but after a successful hip repair surgery last week she was moved to a rehab facility this week to begin physical therapy.  When I called her the other day she was very positive and when I asked if she was bored and wanted me to send her anything, she said she had been busy, so no need.  I talked to my sister and she said the same thing, Mom is treating this like a retreat.  Dealing with my Dad the past couple of years has been hard on her, especially since she can't easily get around on her own like she used to if and when she wants a break.  She's a very independent person - like Bernadette, but not agoraphobic.  Now that she's finally in a completely different environment and knows that Dad's being taken care of, she can relax and focus on herself.  Different situation in many ways but still enough similarities.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Garfield Park Conservatory

Little Hugger went here with her camp this summer and was eager to take us all.  I had heard about it a few times through the years but had never been so we packed up some lunches and headed out.  I knew the Conservatory was in a not so great area but wasn't really sure what to expect.  Garfield Park is pretty big and at first we parked at the Fieldhouse.  Once I realized we were in the wrong place I checked the map on my phone and realized we were only half a mile from the Conservatory.  Given that it's a big park I figured we'd just walk.  Unfortunately my GPS wasn't cooperating real well and the streets that wind through the park aren't very clearly marked.  After a little wandering and coming across one guy half way through drinking a 40 at 1030 in the morning with a half empty fifth of whiskey by his feet and a couple of other unsavory characters, I took the kids back to the car and drove the half mile to the proper parking lot (which was in the opposite direction from where he had been heading).

The Conservatory is a huge greenhouse with multiple rooms as well as gardens.  Unfortunately one large room is currently closed as the glass roof was ruined in a hailstorm a few years ago and is being replaced.  Admission is free although there is a drop box for donations.  There is a small gift shop that sells snacks and drinks but picnicking is fine and there are a few tables inside and out for that purpose.

At the front desk they give the kids a "Backyard Bingo" card with pictures of things to look for around the Park, and stickers to mark their card.  Little Hugger was convinced that if you got bingo you'd get a prize at the gift shop, but I think that was just something her camp did, as I didn't see it publicized anywhere.

The first room you enter is the Palm House which is as warm and tropical as it sounds, lots of different kinds of palm trees as well as other tropical plants and flowers.  There are a few paths within each room so that you can really get up close to the plants.

Kids are encouraged to touch the plants (with the exception of the carnivorous ones and the cacti), and my kids had fun petting furry moss and soft leaves and flowers along the way.

 Notice the "googly" eyes someone put on this lobster claw plant

The aptly named "Fern Room"

the "Aroid House" including some Chiluly lilypads left from his exhibit some years go
On the back side of the building is terrace which has a path made of tumbled blue glass and pebbles.  Little Hugger LOVES collecting rocks and sea glass and had come home from her field trip with pockets full of the blue glass.  Little Man thought they were cool and picked up a few of his own.  We brought a few more home this time.

There's a large field behind the conservatory which Little Man had fun running back and forth on while my daughters looked at the pretty flowers.  There is a group of little hills that they rolled down over and over.

There is an area of the demonstration garden with smallish tree trunks and large pond fronds and other natural materials that the kids can use to build forts.  My kids spent a lot of time here.

We spent about four hours at the Conservatory wandering around the different rooms and playing outside. Definitely a worthwhile trip.  On the way back to 290 to get home (a straight shot down Pulaski) I got turned around a bit and had to go around a block to get back on track - through another not so great area.  Nothing happened and I never felt unsafe, but I would recommend staying on the main roads.