Monday, December 29, 2008

Extreme Makeover: Basement Edition

My basement looked like a second hand shop and a Toys R Us had not one love child, but septuplet love children, all of whom got a nasty stomach virus and threw up.

The floor was covered with old toys and an eclectic variety of shoe sizes and styles, many of them singletons. The couches sported armrests four shades darker than the cushions. Dirty socks stood up in the corners and crawled down into the crotch of the loveseat. Legos and plastic Polly Pocket accessories decorated every surface. Tangled cords from an assortment of electronic game systems snaked around the legs of hand-me-down office furniture.

People had been known to venture into the basement and disappear for three days. Some would manage to claw their way out of the clutter like jungle adventurers just barely escaping from a pit of quicksand.

It was really becoming a liability issue.

My friend Dr. Paradigm Shift, a therapist who frequently shifts my paradigms, is also a card-carrying Neatie. She has such high-level organizing and de-cluttering skills that she could turn a Bolivian rain-forest into a PGA golf course in two days flat.

This dedicated warrior against the Evil Powers of Clutter selflessly volunteered to sacrifice an entire free day to attack the federal disaster zone known as my basement and turn it into a functional, habitable zone of leisure. When we walked downstairs, I could feel the basement laughing at me.

"Bwah-hah-hah," it was saying. "You will NEVER NEVER overcome my Powers of Messifying! I am the EMPEROR of CHAOS and DISARRAY!"

"Dr. Shift," I said. "Look at it. We're never going to get this done. Let's just go out for breakfast instead."

"It's not that bad," Dr. PS said seriously. "We can probably get this done before lunch." I just looked at her, because I had never known her to be so out of touch with reality. She's a therapist, for crying out loud.

"Dr. PS," I said gently, "I don't think you're really looking at it. There are about 12,000 different toys, games, puzzles and articles of clothing covering every available surface. You can't tell, but there's a ping-pong table over here"--I pointed to a four-foot high rectangle covered with cartons, board game boxes filled with everything but board game pieces, dress-up clothes and loose crayons and markers. "You're sweet and generous to want to help, but we're doomed! Let's just go shopping," I said.

"No, no, no," she insisted. "This isn't bad at all. Come on. Let's get the bins and get started." She grabbed a snow shovel and commenced filling a 60-gallon tub with Imaginext pirates. Meanwhile, I walked the perimeter, picking up one roller blade or elbow pad at a time and depositing it into the designated roller-blade-and-accessories-container. Dr. Shift and I had different styles of attacking the Wilderness of Massive Craploads of Crap. Apparently.

And then, before my very eyes, a miracle began to happen. Surfaces started to appear. Cleared spaces began materialize. It was like the basement was having an asthma attack, and then it sucked in on its inhaler, and started being able to breathe freely again.

In just under two hours, Dr. Paradigm Shift delivered an Extreme Makeover: Basement Edition. The ping-pong table appeared as the piles diminished; we folded it up and pushed it against the wall. The berber showed its woolly pile; the love seats invited us to enjoy their awning-striped comfort--free of puzzle-piece-pokeage and electronic-game-cord-trippage.

The toys and games were binned and shelved. The empty Sprite cans found the trash, while assorted crusty silverware and a two full loads of whites and lights were relocated to await their natural fate.

We had filled several bags with broken toys and junk, which we carried out to the garbage, and we had packed a dozen more boxes and bags with gently used toys and clothes. Dr. Shift went the extra mile for me, helping me pile everything into the minivan and drive it to the Salvation Army drop-off trailer.

Now, one month later, my extremely made-over basement remains cleared and habitable, a recreation mecca. It's a miracle on Moody Street.

Thanks, Dr. Shift. You are not only a shifter of paradigms, but you are a bringer of serenity through neatness.

99 Random Things

I hope to come up with something profound for my End of the Year post (I know my Green Room readers have high expectations), but for the moment I'm just going to borrow this list of 99 things from Elbee at Sew Little Time. Play along: bold what you've done in your comment, or on your blog (but don't forget to link back to The Green Room so I can check out your list!).

1. Started your own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii and danced on a lava cliff with the roar of the Pacific below.
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity (what is more than you can afford?)
7. Been to Disneyland/Disneyworld
8. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a praying mantis - I remember doing this as a child, but today I'd be too scared to try it. Those suckers look menacing.
10. Sang a solo as a child in the church choir
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child - not officially, but sometimes there are so many extra kids in my house for so long, that I might as well make it official.
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitchhiked
23. Taken a sick day when you weren't ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors--England, but not Holland or Germany
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant -It was McDonald's and it was a homeless guy outside, same as Elbee
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance with the siren wailing, no less, when M. Peevie was threatening to be born 15 weeks early.
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies--but I'm going to help M. Peevie starting next week! Leave a comment and let me know what kind and how many you want!
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason from the awesome and sweet Mr. Peevie
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi concentration camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book - this is on my to-do list
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had my picture in the newspaper - here's the proof
85. Kissed a stranger at midnight on New Year's Eve
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury - an experience that I totally loved.
91. Met someone famous - Oprah, Robert Ludlum, John R. W. Stott
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee

Play along!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Tiara of Awesomeness

I've been hanging out with the G.E.M.s (Great Edison Moms of kids in C. Peevie's class) since C. Peevie started kindergarten more than eight years ago. We came together with one thing in common: we all had a bright child in a small gifted public school.

Other than that, we were diverse in terms of our race, ethnicity, religion, income, education, zip code, marital status, age, number of kids, and occupation. We are black, white, Chinese, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Filipino, Christian, Jewish, non-religious, married, divorced, single, high-school-educated, college-educated, north-siders, south-siders, Sox fans, Cubs fans, 30-something, 40-something, 50-something, vegetarians, omnivores, teachers, writers, entrepreneurs, office workers, computer geeks, stay-at-home moms, nurses, and HR professionals with one kid, two kids, three kids, and more kids.

One mom, Professor Dred, was telling another how she got to know the group of moms over the years. "It took about three years before they realized that I'm just like them," said her insecure black self.

"No, Professor Dred," my know-it-all white self objected, "No way. I think you were always just another mom of an Edison kid to the rest of us."

"Oh, OK," she said, "Then maybe it took me three years to believe that you realized that I'm just like you." She went on to tell anecdotes about other Edison moms taking her daughter into their homes for an impromptu overnight stay because of inclement weather or personal circumstances; and I remembered that when I met her for the first time, she offered me a set of early readers for C. Peevie that her off-the-charts-smart daughter was long-since finished with.

We all love to laugh--oh, and we're all smart and good-looking, too. And some of us are crazy. One year K-Squared snagged a bunch of hot pink polyester bowling shirts at a flea market and brought them to our gathering. But how to decide who got one? The only fair way, we decided, was to have a Hot Pink Mama Contest. The only way to earn a shirt was to make whoopie in a Chicago Park District park. Not in the field house. Not in a car in the parking lot. In the park.

A shocking number of G.E.M.s have hot pink bowling shirts hanging in their closets. I am not at liberty to name names, because what happens in G.E.M.ville stays in G.E.M.ville.

We celebrate with an annual white elephant gift exchange: popular items this year included the Blagojevich affidavit (all 78 pages, which was handed around the room so that everyone could read her favorite quotes out loud), an out-dated-but-still-classic-looking desk globe, and a granite-weight crucifix candle the color of a toilet bowl stain.

No one tried to steal the crucifix candle--my own contribution to the gathering. I guess nobody in that group loves The Lord very much. Then again, perhaps they love him too much to love a really, really ugly wax representation of him.

One of our G.E.M.s, Madame Butterfly, brought a set of authentic lacquered Chinese chopsticks with a matching case, which all of us coveted. "Madame B.," I told her in a loud Archie Bunker voice, "You are apparently unclear on the concept of the American white elephant tradition. You are supposed to bring something lame from your house that you won't ever use--not a family heirloom!"

"Next time," Madame B. told me, "I'll bring a pair of used takeout chopsticks and a handful of dented beer caps." Now she's got it.

I am grateful for these G.E.M.s, grateful to be surrounded by women who bring hilarity, sensitivity, compassion, intelligence, kindness, and helpfulness into my life. Each one is a rare gem, and together, they are a tiara of pure awesomeness.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Jolly Cherub


My kids really, really want to believe in Santa.

Remember back in the spring, when M. Peevie confronted me about the whole Santa myth? She wanted it straight up, and I gave it to her. She was disappointed, but she dealt with it.

Recently her second-grade teacher asked me if she still believed in Santa. "I think so," I said. "She asked me straight up in April if Mr. Peevie and I pretended to be Santa, and I told her the truth." She asked me to ask her not to talk about it in front of the other kids, since many of them still pinned their Christmas hopes on the jolly cherub.

As it turns out, Mrs. MiPi needn't have worried. Apparently children have a belief mechanism that is able to withstand a full frontal rational assault; and in fact, their belief can be restored once lost, with sufficient peer pressure.

One day A. Peevie and M. Peevie were talking about Santa, and MP (age eight) had told AP (age 11) that she did not believe in Santa. "Why would M. Peevie say that, Mommy?" A. Peevie said with wonder and not a little derision in his voice. "Why would she say that Santa's not real?"

"I don't know, A.," I said. "Maybe that's what she believes."

"Do you believe in Santa?" he asked me. Here we go, I thought.

"What do you think, A?" I evaded. "Do you believe?"

"Yes, I do," he said emphatically. "I DO believe!" End of discussion. Unlike M. Peevie eight months earlier, A. Peevie chose not to notice that I did not answer his question directly.

And M. Peevie changed her mind: "I believe, too!" she said earnestly.

This afternoon, A. Peevie asked me, "Mom, are you and Daddy getting C. Peevie a DS for Christmas? Because I want to get him a game for it." I told him we weren't, and then he asked, "Well, do you think Santa will bring him one?"

We let the kids open one present tonight. M. Peevie's present was the only one marked "From Santa"--and A. Peevie wondered out loud how it could already be here. Again with the dissimulation: "I don't know, A.P. What do you think?" He managed to satisfy himself again: "Well, maybe he dropped a couple of presents off earlier tonight, but he's coming back with the rest."

Later, we were lying across my bed, tracking Santa's progress on the NORAD* Santa Tracker. I had recently been wrapping presents, including the ones the kids had just opened. The gold foil wrapping paper roll was lying on the bed, and A. Peevie grabbed it triumphantly and waved it around.

"Look!" he said. "This is the same paper that M. Peevie's gift was wrapped in! You are totally busted!"

"Yes," I said. "And?"

"And that means you must be Santa!" He chuckled to himself, and repeated, "Busted! Busted!" while we watched Santa's progress on the satellite tracker.

"Not necessarily, A. Peevie," said Mr. Peevie craftily. "They make thousands of rolls of wrapping paper exactly like that!"

"But this one's here, in our house!" A.P. said. "I'll bet you wrapped that present yourself."

And yet, and yet: he still wanted to believe.

The NORAD team posts videos of Santa sightings on the tracking map; we clicked on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil:
"After heading south to the south Atlantic Ocean, Santa has entered South America and is delivering presents throughout Brazil, the continent's largest country. Santa is just about halfway through his journey, and NORAD is keeping its satellites fixed on Rudolph's bright red nose. NORAD fighters will be taking off soon to escort Santa as he nears North America. For NORAD tracks Santa, I'm Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Roberto Garza."

"Mom, why does Santa need fighter jets to escort him to North America," A. Peevie asked sincerely. And as we watched more Santa sighting videos, the Santa close-ups were not particularly convincing: "Hey, that's not really Santa, is it?" he asked. A part of him still wanted to believe, but he was collecting a lot of conflicting information.

Does my bright, imaginative 11-year-old still believe in Santa? It appears that he's not quite ready to give it up--and that's just fine with me. This blog would be remiss if it did not cite the famous New York Sun editorial from 1897 entitled Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus:
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
(Click the link to read the whole editorial, plus some interesting background.)
*North American Aerospace Defense Command, the bi-national U.S./Canadian military organization responsible for the aerospace defense of North America. NORAD provides warning of impending missile and air attack, safeguards the air sovereignty of North America, and maintains airborne forces for defense against attack.
UPDATE, Dec. 27: Today A. Peevie reminded me of our conversation on Christmas Eve about the wrapping paper, and how he totally busted me. "What does that mean, A. Peevie?" I asked him. "What does that leave you thinking about Santa?"

"It means," he said slowly, "that I ALMOST gave up on him. But I didn't give up. I still believe."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bonding Over Farts. Yes, Farts.

My mom will not appreciate this post because she thinks the word "fart" is vulgar. I, on the other hand, think the word is indispensable. Especially in this story.

This morning Mr. Peevie and I were lying in bed cozily, talking about bodily functions.

"What time did you wake up?" I asked.

"Five-twenty," said the unfortunate Mr. Peevie. "I got up to go fart and pee."

"You actually got out of bed in order to go somewhere else to fart?" I asked. I was impressed with his sense of duty and consideration. I really hit the jackpot, marrying this dude. Little did I know.

"Well, since I had to pee anyway, I waited to fart until I got to the bathroom," said Captain Consideration.

"Nice," I said. "Thanks. Although, did you know that you frequently fart in your sleep?"

"I do?" said Mr. Peevie. "No, I was not aware of that."

"Well, it's true," I said. "I'll be sitting there watching TV, and you'll be farting away in your sleep."


"Do I fart in my sleep?" I asked?

"No," said the man I love, "you have way better manners when you're asleep than when you're awake."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Apocalypse Hilarity

We were driving, driving, driving. The dentist. The coumadin clinic. The pharmacy. The store. The kids were chattering and bickering and singing. And then we had a story moment, one of those perfect moments of bonding and hilarity that will live on in our family lore, being told and re-told, and the punch line will be repeated ad nauseum--except we will never get sick of it.

A. Peevie was telling a story about his friend BiF. Apparently BiF has been doing some serious thinking about eschatology, because he confidently told his fifth-grade pals that they didn't need to worry about the depletion of the ozone layer and global warming.

"I don't think the ozone layer will break before the apocalypse," he said optimistically. That's good news, right? I think? Except for that whole apocalypse thing. But then I was thinking, what does this little boy really know about end of the world? And why does he know about it? So I asked.

"A. Peevie," I asked, "What do you think BiF means by 'apocalypse'? Does he even know what it means?"

There was a pause, while A. Peevie thought this over. He's never one to answer quickly, unless it's a question about Pokemon. And suddenly the answer came from a different source.

"It's the end of the world as we know it," M. Peevie started singing, "It is the end of the world as we know it!"

C. Peevie and I looked at each other and roared. Then we joined in, at the top of our lungs, "IT'S THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT, AND I FEEL FINE!"

Where would my angelic eight-year-old learn this R.E.M. classic from the 80's? And where did she learn how to slip it so appropriately into a conversation about the apocalypse? One possible source is the movie Chicken Little (appropriately enough), which includes this song in its soundtrack.

But still: what perfect timing. The girl has a future in stand-up. Or something.

And now I can't get that song out of my head.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


It all started on Wednesday. I got a call from the school secretary telling me that A. Peevie was having trouble breathing. "I can't catch my breath, Mommy," he said when she put him on the phone. "It's hard for me to get air into my lungs." Well, that didn't sound good, so I called the doctor on the way to school, and she said to bring him in.

"I can tell even without the stethoscope that he's wheezing," she said. "It's bronchial spasms." Asthma. She prescribed an inhaler and a steroid to help clear him up, and we went on our way, with yet another diagnosis. This kid collects diagnoses like they're baseball cards.

The next day A. Peevie inhaled his albuterol at 8 a.m., and didn't need it again until more than 12 hours later. Then around 10 p.m. he started asking for another puff.

"You can't have your medicine again until midnight," I told him. I could tell he was tired, and I urged him to try to go to sleep.

"No, mom, I really need to take the medicine again," A. Peevie insisted. "It's hard for me to get a whole breath into my lungs." To demonstrate, he tipped his head down and dramatically sucked air, inflating himself upright like an air mattress. I wasn't convinced--not that I thought he was lying or exaggerating, but that perhaps his anxiety was making it worse than it really was.

"A.," I said, "I can't give you your medicine. We have to wait four hours. You have two hours to go. If you really need it sooner, I have to call the doctor first."

"Call the doctor," he instructed. "I need the medicine." Sheesh. Kids these days. A little airway constriction and they're all "Oh, call the doctor! I need medicine! I can't breathe!" Babies.

So I called the doctor, and she said we had to go to the ER. "I really don't think he's that bad off," I said, trying to talk her into a different course of treatment. "Can't I just give him another dose and see how he does?"

No, she said. If he really needs the inhaler again so soon after taking his last dose, then he needs to be checked out at the ER. A. Peevie burst into tears when he heard this news. He cried as he put his pants on, he cried as he hugged his daddy goodbye, like it was the last time he was going to see him.

"Do you want to just try to go to sleep, A.?" I said, making one last ditch effort to avoid a late-night trip to the hospital.

"No," he said, hiccupping--and now, with the crying, even I could tell his breathing was a bit more labored. "I need my medicine."

So Aidan packed his Gameboy DS and drawing materials into his briefcase (adorable!) and off we went to visit the ER docs at Lutheran General Hospital. Again. We've been there so often that I recognized the attending ER physician. He recognized us, too. "You've been here before, haven't you?" he asked when he saw us.

"Um, yeah," I said. "Nine or ten times."

We went through A. Peevie's complicated medical history with the resident, Dr. Dave, who looked like he was about 14 years old. I was impressed when he appeared to be familiar with the cardiac diagnoses and surgeries as I ticked them off. A. Peevie's medical history is complex and rare enough that often the interviewer asks for clarifications and definitions. Then they usually ask me if I'm in the medical field myself, because of the way I sling around the polysyllabic medical terminology. (I secretly love this--although I guess it's not a secret anymore.) I'm not, I say, but being A. Peevie's mom has certainly given me an education that I would not otherwise have had. Thanks, A.!

To make a long, anticlimactic story short, three hours, one chest X-ray, and lots of stethoscoping later, we headed home. No nebulizer treatment. No treatment at all. And the breathing? Miraculously improved.

Sometimes anticlimactic is the best way for a story to end.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Christmas Story

We decorated the Christmas tree Friday night, and set up about 50 Santas, tiny nativity scenes, candles, and assorted other holiday-themed decorations around our relatively tiny living room. It's cluttered and Christmasy, and looks especially sweet when the tree lights and candles twinkle in the dark.

I put a final sparkly ornament on the tree, and turned around. M. Peevie was bowed down on her knees in front of the tree in prayer, her head resting on her folded hands. I watched her for a moment, and then inquired, "Um, M. Peevie?"

"Yes, Mommy," she answered, her head still bowed.

"You're not actually worshipping the Christmas tree, are you?" I asked.

"No, of course not," she said. "The tree and the decorations make me think of Jesus being born. That's what I'm praying about."

Ahh. All-righty, then.

When we finished decorating, all the kids had different ideas about what we should do next.

"Let's all go downstairs and play Mario Party of Five!" said A. Peevie. "It would be a fun family thing for us to do together."

"I'm gonna go over and play at T-Dawg's house," said the teenager, anxious as always to zoom out the door.

"I know, I know!" said M. Peevie. "Let's sit around the tree and read verses about the Christmas story from the Bible!"

I thought it was a great idea, but everyone else just looked at her, wondering what planet she was from; and then they each reiterated their own preference. "I'm outta here," said C. Peevie, heading for the door.

"It would be more fun to play Mario Party," said A. Peevie, heading to the basement.

"FINE," M. Peevie said peevishly, "If you DON'T want to WORSHIP the LORD!"

That's my girl. If you can't teach 'em, shame 'em.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Resign, Already

Scandal and speculation continue to roil the Illinois political scene in the wake of Governor Blagojevich's arrest and the release of a 76-page affidavit detailing shocking charges of blatant corruption.

The last line of the 12-page Department of Justice press release announcing the arrest reminds us that "The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." Good luck finding 12 people in Illinois who can meet that requirement.

The top issue of concern for our state at this moment is the filling of the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama on November 16. Technically, the governor is still the governor, and still has the power to appoint someone to fill that seat. He would not try to pull that fast one, would he? I don't know; if he really is a sociopath like some people say, then he'd be able to rationalize anything.

Yesterday, Jesse Jackson Jr. adamantly denied any knowledge of Blagojevich's "pay to play" shenanigans. He wanted--and still wants--the Senate job, he says; but he didn't pursue it in an unethical way.

I can't find a transcript of Jackson's speech yesterday--but I think I heard him say that if Blago offered him the appointment even now, he would take it. I could be wrong. I hope I am--because no one, not even Mother Teresa, should accept an appointment from our disgraced governor at this point. Well, she wasn't an Illinois resident, and she's dead, but even if she were, and wasn't, she shouldn't. If you know what I mean.

(Make your voice heard about the next Illinois senator by voting in the poll to the right!)

"At the end of the day, the top priority for our office is to serve the people," the governor said yesterday. The best way for Governor Blago to serve the people of Illinois is to resign. He should fight the charges if he wants, and continue to maintain his innocence--but his resignation would allow our state to move forward. Even if we lived on the Planet Oh Yeah, Sure and he were innocent, he could not possibly argue that it is in the best interest of the State of Illinois for him to remain as governor with all of this scandal and suspicion swirling around him.

Here, I'll even write his resignation statement for him:
I am not a crook. I did not break the law. I did not compromise the integrity of the process of appointing a Senator. The charges are based on parts of conversations taken out of context. I am committed to the well-being and welfare of this great State, and I would never put self-interest ahead of the public good.

However, in order to allow our state government to function as effectively as possible in these economically challenging times, and in order to restore the people's confidence in the government and leadership of this state, I am stepping down from the office of governor. This is in no way an admission of guilt, but rather a clear indication that I am willing to set aside my own self-interest for the public good.
Yeah, I don't think it's going to happen, either.

Oh, and BTW, a lot of folks are getting hot about all the F-bombs the governor dropped in those taped conversations. That doesn't bother me. Sometimes you just gotta blow off some steam in the privacy of your own home, away from the kids, by tossing off a few "swears", as my kids call them. I totally get that.

But the content of those taped conversations? I'd say the governor has got a lot of 'splainin' to do.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Landfill, Part Two

In case you missed it, you can find Landfill, Part One here.

The next day, M. Peevie and I set to work cleaning up the landfill that had somehow accumulated in her loft bed. We got some empty bins from the basement, set up a trash can nearby, and started sorting and tossing. Mostly sorting, because every time I tried to toss something into the trash, M. Peevie would retrieve it and tell me why it had particular sentimental value to her.

"I have to keep these pages from the Target catalog, Mom," she told me seriously. "I need to show Daddy what I want for Christmas."

I tried to throw out a crumpled, blank piece of notebook paper, but M.P. objected. "Mom, I might need that for drawing," she said. Because we don't have 30 reams of notebook paper elsewhere in the house.

"How about this giant wad of toilet paper?" I asked her. "Can we throw this out?"

She looked at me and knit her eyebrows together in concern for my mortal soul. "That would be wasteful," she said. "I have it in my bed in case I need to blow my nose."

"A thousand times?" I wanted to ask, but instead I just set it aside for secret disposal later on. Used wrapping paper, bits of ribbon and string, a lipgloss with no lid, the stretchy strap from a pair of swim goggles, mittens, a plastic stadium seat cushion, marbles, and assorted office supplies all eventually reached their appropriate bin; and for some reason I kept thinking about homeless people and shopping carts.

While we cleaned and sorted, we talked. "So what's this all about, M. Peevie?" I asked her. "Why are you hoarding all this stuff in your bed?"

"I don't know," she said sadly, and then she added, "Well, I do know, but you didn't believe me when I told you." Um, ouch. Bad, bad mommy.

"Uh, yeah, about that," I said. "Tell me again why you like to keep tons of stuff in your bed, and this time I'll listen, and I promise I won't get mad."

"It's because I feel safer when I'm near my things," she said. "I don't feel safe when you're not with me." This time, instead of invalidating her feelings and rejecting her reasoning, I listened, and asked her a few questions. In the end, we agreed that she'd keep four or five stuffed animals in her bed, but that everything else would be put back into its place before bedtime.

That night when I went in to say goodnight, M. Peevie was sitting up in her loft like a princess, leaning against her blanket-covered lump of stuffed animals. "Hey, M.," I said, "I'm glad we had our little talk this morning. I'm glad we were able to figure out..." I paused because I noticed that the bed tumor seemed bigger than five stuffed animals, and also M. Peevie seemed to be suspiciously nonchalant as she struck a protective pose in front of it.

"M.P.," I said. "Is there something you want to tell me?"

Her eyes got all big and innocent--like that's not a total giveaway. "No, mom," she said.

"M., I'd like to see what animals you have under the blanket," I said firmly. She started to cry. I pulled back the blanket to find ANOTHER HUGE PILE OF CRAP. I am not even kidding. Apparently, I need to get the psychiatrist on speed dial.

The story hasn't ended yet. I did a slightly better job of parenting in that frustrating moment than I had the night before, and we talked as we dumped the landfill over the bed rails. "M. Peevie," I said, "I have to tell you: I have no idea what's going on here or how to help you. But we are going to keep on working on this until we figure it out. I promise that I'm not going to scream at you about it any more. Can you promise me that you'll try to do better at not piling crap in your bed?"

She agreed. Since then, every night she swears there's nothing in her bed that doesn't belong, and every night I check and find a pile of crap. The piles are getting smaller and smaller. Last night it was just a couple of books, some scraps of paper, a medieval princess toy, some pennies, and a few other miscellaneous items.

"Am I doing better, Mommy?" she asked me plaintively.

My amateur psychological analysis tells me that her fear and obsession are indications that she's not getting what she needs from me in terms of comfort and security. I might need some parenting help with this one, but for the moment, I'm going to try more listening and cuddling before bedtime.

Which totally sucks, because that is seriously going to cut into my TV watching and wine drinking time. Sigh. I can sacrifice David Boreanaz and the Prison Break guys for the sake of better parenting, I suppose--but this whole landfill-in-the-bed scenario better be resolved before January 11, 2009.

I'm just sayin'.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Apparently, my beautiful, brilliant, and talented daughter has inherited my genetic disposition toward slovenliness--and she has taken it to an all new level.

As a baby, this girl would not allow any toy, blanket, or even the tiniest stuffed animal in her bed. We'd put her down in her crib, and she'd toss everything out before laying down and promptly going to sleep. This need for a pristine sleep environment continued for years, even after she switched to a big girl loft bed. It was kind of endearing.

But lately, she started to keep a giant Pooh bear plus a couple of other smaller stuffed animals near her at night. She'd cover them up with a blanket, and sometimes she'd go to sleep on top of the lump. Gradually, a few more animals joined them, and the bed tumor grew. It became less endearing.

Meanwhile, I had been making a gradual attempt to organize and de-clutter the kids' bedrooms. I sorted through drawers, filling bags with too-small pants to give away or too-stretched out tops to toss in the trash. I picked up tiny Polly Pocket shoes and Zip-Locked™ them with Polly Pocket outfits and Polly Pocket purses. I filled up two bins with current-age-appropriate books, and packed up a bag full of If You Give A Mouse a Muffin-type books for Salvation Army. I was feeling good about M. Peevie's room: it was more neat and organized than it had been in months, and possibly years.

Then we had a set-back. I was alarmed to notice that the lump had metastacized to the point that there was only a sliver of bed available for M. Peevie to sleep on. The situation required drastic and immediate measures.

"M. Peevie," I said, getting out my stern voice and reaching for the blanket. "We have got to make this bed lump smaller, or pretty soon there won't even be room for you in your bed. What the heck is under here, anyway?"

"No, mom!" M. Peevie said with a tiny bit of hysteria in her voice, "Don't take away the blanket! I like having my things in bed with me. It helps me feel safe."

"It must be done, darling," I said grimly, and as M. Peevie screamed, "Nooooooo!", I pulled the blanket away from the HUGE PILE OF RANDOM CRAP that filled her bed. My jaw hit the floor in astonishment.

"M.P.," I hollered, "What is going on here?"

She started bawling. "I'm sorry!" she wailed. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry!"

I began to grab stuff and toss it onto the floor. It wasn't just stuffed animals and dolls under the blanket. It was like Pod and Homily and little Arrietty and all their cousins had moved in: scraps of notebook paper, markers, paper clips, torn-out pages from catalogs, a giant wad of (unused) toilet paper, doll clothes, Woody's cowboy hat, an entire collection of Junie B. Jones books, a three-foot long tree branch, socks, a jacket, and enough other random shit to fill two 30-gallon plastic bins.

"Stop crying!" I yelled, putting my excellent parenting skills to work. "Just get all this crap out of this bed RIGHT NOW!"

M. Peevie climbed up into the loft and started tossing things out one by one, still sobbing, her eyes getting redder and puffier by the second.

"Why did you put all this crap in your bed, M.?" I asked, in a Guantanamo kind of way. "What were you thinking?"

"It helps me feel safe," she said between sobs.

"No, it doesn't," I said harshly . "No way. That's not it. I'm so angry at you, M. P.! I spent hours cleaning and organizing your room, and now you've turned your bed into a giant dump!"

Again with the primo parenting skills. M. Peevie just cried harder, picked up a Chinese restaurant menu, and tossed it over the edge of the bed. I watched it flutter to the floor, and decided that I needed a parental time-out. Mr. Peevie took over and I took my angry, lame-parenting self out of there before I did more damage.

After about 30 minutes, I went back in. M. Peevie looked at me sadly from red, puffy eyes, and I gingerly stepped through the landfill that covered her carpet to stand next to her bed. "I'm sorry, Mommy," she said. "I'm sorry I'm so bad."

Geez. Shoot me through the heart, already.

"M. Peevie, you are not bad," I started. "I'm the one that behaved badly. I raised my voice and spoke very harshly to you. I'm very sorry." I told her that we'd take some time the next day to clean up the mess and to talk about the problem.

"We'll figure it out together," I told her. "We'll talk about it, and we'll clean up the mess and we'll figure out how to help you not do it again, OK?"

"OK, Mommy," she said. She held up her arms for a hug, and I gave thanks that this child, like most children, was so resilient and forgiving.

Tune in tomorrow for Landfill, Part Two.

Friday, November 28, 2008

In Which I Am Thankful and Also Make the World's Worst Mashed Potatoes

Happy Thanksgiving (belatedly)!

What are you thankful for today? I'm thankful...

...that I'm not a vegetarian.
...for pajamas.
...for a day when I don't have to wear a bra.
...for pumpkin pie.
...for Thanksgiving Day parades.
...for freedom.
...that Mr. Peevie has a job.
...for elastic-waist pants.
...for presents.
...for mental health professionals.
...for good story-tellers.
...for forgiveness.

In other news, I totally ruined the mashed potatoes this year. It's like they were cursed or something.

I had asked Mr. Peevie what he'd like to see on the Thanksgiving Day menu, and he made only one request: the hugest mountain of mashed potatoes ever seen by man. So the big day comes, and I start cooking. I pop my bird in the oven using this recipe. It turned out fabulous, BTW.

But the bird was done about an hour before I expected it to be done, and I was caught with my mashed potatoes down, so to speak. I quickly quartered a bunch of white new potatoes, skin on, and briefly debated with myself whether I had time to boil them on the stove.

The microwave won. Quick and simple, or so I thought. I pulled them out after three minutes, but they were still hard. Two more minutes later and they barely winced when I poked them with a fork. Three more minutes. By this time, I was thinking, I could have had them boiling away on the stove--but you know what they say about hindsight. It's for whiners.

Finally, they're ready to be mashed. Or so I thought. I dumped some sour cream on them and started squishing with my hand masher thingie--but they refused to submit. I can't get the right angle, I thought to myself, so I dumped them into a different bowl and tried again. This time, the bowl was too shallow and they squirted away when I pressed down with the masher.

The beaters! I'll try the electric portable beaters, I thought. When I started mixing, the electric blades started flinging potato chunks all over the kitchen. I got out still another bowl, and tried again. The beaters chased the tough little clods around the bowl without leaving a mark. These spuds were determined not to become mashed potatoes.

Maybe they're just not soft enough yet, I thought stubbornly. Back into the microwave they went, and I decided that I just wouldn't think about what microwaving would do to the sour cream that had already turned soupy on the hot, hard gobs of potato. Two minutes should do it, I estimated.

I pulled them out, and they seemed to be in a more cooperative mood. I went back to the hand masher and started pounding and hollering, "DIE, SUCKERS! MASH! MASH!"--but to no avail. They remained chunky and hard, but by now there was also a layer of paste that had formed in the bowl from all the attempted mashing.

C. Peevie strolled into the kitchen, and offered to give it a try. He pounded until his bicep was sore, and made a tiny bit of progress. I looked into the bowl and saw what looked like chunks of quartz sitting in a sticky pool of paper mache. I gave up.

I served those damn potatoes anyway, and they were just as horrible as they looked: pasty and gluey, with rock-hard chunks. My poor family. They were so sweet and kind to me--they said things like, "That's OK, Mom; they don't taste too bad. Remember that macaroni and cheese that you made on Monday? Now THAT was bad."

Even Mr. Peevie, who doesn't ask for much, was incredibly gracious. "It's OK, honey," he told me. "Everything else is really, really delicious." And it was. In fact, I think the mashed potatoes were so bad that they made everything else taste even better--so in a weird way, I'm thankful for ruined mashed potatoes.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Eleven, Part Deux

Darling A. Peevie,

So where was I? Oh, yeah: Standing next to your hospital bed, crying.

At 2 a.m. we sat down in a conference room with the chief of pediatric cardiology at Lutheran General Hospital, Dr. Ira DuBrow. We got a short but thorough course on complex cyanotic congenital heart defects (CHDs). I can't even remember your initial diagnosis--it's changed a half dozen times since then as the specialists got more information--but the first issue was a coarctation, or narrowing, of your aorta. It would need surgical repair as soon as you were stable.

I had tons of questions for Dr. DuBrow. I wanted to know why a level II ultrasound at 20+ weeks wouldn't have picked up on these issues. They only check for four heart chambers, he told us. They wouldn't have seen A. Peevie's issues unless they were trained and instructed to look for them.

And of course I needed to understand why this had happened to you. Was it something that I had done while pregnant? Was there an unknown genetic cause? Nope and nope. Turns out most of the time doctors
don't know why embryonic hearts develop structural defects--even though heart defects are the most common birth defect, affecting nearly ten percent of all newborns.

Your severe congestive heart failure triggered a systemic shut-down affecting most of your other major organs. You were in such bad shape, Dr. DuBrow told us much later, that they did not think they could save your life. The beeps and alarms kept the intensive care team busy while you struggled to stay alive, and Daddy and I watched helplessly.

I told God in no uncertain terms that I was very angry at him for allowing this to happen to you, and that I could not lose another child.
Caitlin was very much on our minds as we held your tiny fingers and watched your fluctuating oxygen saturation rate on the monitor.

We called both sets of grandparents the next day. "We" meaning "me." Daddy's emotions choked his words in his throat, and he could not speak. Grandmom and Grandpop M. cried and got on their knees to pray for you. Grandmom and Granddad B. drove all the way to Chicago from Florida to stand with us in your hospital room.

Finally, after four days, they stabilized you enough for the first surgery to repair the coarctation of the aorta. As they wheeled you out of the room and down the hall, surrounded by a dozen doctors and nurses, the four of us cried and held each other.

We met with the pediatric cardiology team, including the surgeon, to find out exactly what they'd be doing, and why. From that point forward, every time you faced another surgery or a new procedure, I asked three questions: What was the worst possible outcome? What was the best possible outcome? What was the expected outcome?

In an earlier report, Dr. DuBrow had written, "Because of the complexity of the abnormalities, the prognosis is guarded; however, I have reason to be cautiously optimistic that the baby can be brought through with reasonably good result."

Now, eleven years, three heart surgeries and dozens of procedures later, I watch you run, play, draw, read, imagine, climb, ride and generally experience a happy, healthy childhood--and I am grateful beyond words that you have been brought through with way better than reasonably good results.

Happy birthday, A. Peevie. I love you with a passion unfettered by reason.


Sunday, November 23, 2008


Darling boy,

You are eleven. Daddy and I are so in love with you, so enraptured with your unique you-ness, so crazy happy that we get to be your parents.

Also: sometimes you frustrate the shit out of us.

But mostly, we adore you; and we're grateful that you are here with us. When you were born, Daddy brought C. Peevie, age 2.5, to the hospital to meet his new baby brother. He ran into the room, totally ignored me, and commanded, "Baby A. Peevie! Me hold him!" He's been warm and nurturing to you ever since.


On day ten of your ex-utero existence, we noticed that you were too sleepy to nurse. Daddy and I went Christmas shopping, and when we stopped for lunch at a local Vietnamese restaurant, I tried again to wake you up to nurse you--but you would only latch on for a minute before falling back asleep.

By late afternoon, we were concerned. Ignorantly, we decided to wait until the next day to call the doctor if you were still abnormally lethargic--but then at 5 p.m. Daddy said, Let's just call the doctor to be safe.

He saved your life.

The doctor told me to pinch you to wake you up. You didn't respond. He said, pinch him again, HARD. I didn't want to hurt you, but he said, Pinch him HARD. So I did. You didn't even squeak.

"Bring him in to the ER right away," the ped said. My heart felt cold with fear.

At the ER, the in-take nurse said, "How long has he looked yellow?"

"Since birth," I said truthfully.

"Well, you should have brought him in sooner. He's very jaundiced," she said helpfully.

Fortunately, the rest of the ER staff was appropriate, kind, and professional. I do not know the name of the doctor who put his arm on my shoulder and told me as gently as he could that you were in very serious condition with and needed to be moved to a hospital with a Level IV trauma center--but I will never forget that he was as kind and gentle as he could be under the worst of circumstances.

By this time, your tiny chest was heaving, and you were struggling to breathe. The ER staff debated whether to intubate you right then and there, or to wait for the ambulance trauma team to do it. Meanwhile, Daddy called Roseanne, who was keeping C. Peevie for us.

"A. Peevie is very sick," he managed to choke out, before he burst into tears.

The first ambulance that came to pick you up was not equipped to handle a tiny infant in heart failure. There was a flurry of phone calls and conversations; we considered the possibility that you might die because of a failure to communicate. When the second ambulance came, at least 10 emergency transport personnel surrounded you as they rushed you out to the waiting vehicle.

I started to follow, but one nurse held me back. "You can't go in the ambulance," she told me; and I looked at her with despair. "There's no room," she explained gently. "Everyone in the ambulance has a job to do. Get in your car, go home and get your things, and meet us at the hospital."

Daddy and I just knew we'd never see you alive again, that you'd die in the ambulance on the way to the trauma center. We drove home in a daze, packed a few things, and called our pastor before heading up to the hospital.

The next time we saw you, tubes and wires stuck out all over your chest, arms and even out of your scalp. The intubation tube taped to your face kept you breathing in a regular rhythm; and for the first time since we brought you to the hospital, I started to cry.

I'll finish the story tomorrow; but let me just say for today that I'm glad you're still here, still growing, still being your own one-of-a-kind self. Happy birthday, darling boy.

Love, Mommy

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Wedding Gifts, 25 Years Later

Mr. Peevie and I still have items we received as wedding gifts in use in our household--nearly 25 years later.

The most useful and still-in-good-shape gifts are in regular use in our kitchen. A block of good knives and most of a 12-piece set of Revere pots and pans see frequent action (except for the one I burned to a crisp when I fell asleep while boiling eggs, and woke up to a house filled with smoke and the fire alarm screeching). Also, stainless flatware, a cute quiche plate, and a full set of 12 every-day place settings from my former tennis partner, Sandra Dee. (Sandra Dee, had a set of dishes for every season. She generously gave us her fall dishes, which we still use for all four seasons.)

Two brown casserole dishes still pull their weight in kitchen duty out of the original batch of, I'm guessing, four or five that we received. (Brown casserole dishes were all the rage 25 years ago, apparently.) One of them is missing a lid, however, so I guess technically, we've got 1.5 brown casserole dishes.

The most worn-out wedding gift that's still in the rotation is a raggedy kelly green bath towel. Why have we not re-purposed this worn-out rag that's practically transparent in places? And by "re-purposed" I mean tossed, burned, or buried? Because we're cheap, that's why!

Actually, we have re-purposed it, from bath duty to pool duty. But our closet is also filled with about 10 beach towels, and of course no one chooses to dry off with a threadbare towel from the days of yore when bath towels were barely bigger than washcloths.

That does it. I'm putting it into the rag bin for car washes and spill clean-ups.

One of the most hilarious and still-useful gifts that Mr. Peevie and I received when we married at the not-yet-ripe young ages of 22 and 23 was a drill-and-bit set. Mr. Peevie finally felt included when we opened this one, and has drilled many times since then.

Hee! "Drilled."

Oh, and I can't forget the three or four cookbooks we received--and especially My Favorite Recipes, where I've collected 25 years worth of recipes, like sangria, baked scallops, and Grandma Moore's homemade noodles. I really should just convert all these recipes to an electronic file somewhere--but that sounds like too much effort.

When I started this post I was pondering that mangy green towel, and wondering if we had very many wedding gifts still in use. Turns out there are at least a dozen! How about you? What's the longest time you've kept and used a wedding gift? Not doilies embroidered with your names and wedding date, but things you actually put to use?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Circus Problem

The Circus is coming to town.

At church we've been hearing sermon anecdotes about the pastor's tradition of taking his girls to see the circus every year; and we're being asked to make a donation to send refugee children to the circus.

I'm all in favor of family traditions, and I'm all in favor of giving refugee children an opportunity for an entertaining outing.

However. A few years ago my friend Q sensitized me to the animal cruelty issues that accompany circus acts that involve animals, to which I had been happily oblivious. So I am here today to use the Power of the Blog to educate you, dear readers (all six to eight of you) about the issue, so that you can make an informed choice about whether to support animal circuses in the future.

You might, like me, have the impression that anti-circus activists are card-carrying PETA members, extremists who throw paint on fur-wearing socialites and wear shoes made out of bamboo shoots. And perhaps some are.

But don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. Just because PETA has a reputation for extremism doesn't mean that they are wrong on every issue. To paraphrase Barry Goldwater, "Extremism in defense of the humane treatment of animals is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of the humane treatment of animals is no virtue."

PETA claims that Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus mis-characterizes its handling of animals in its marketing materials. Rather than training methods using touch, food, and praise, as they claim, Ringling apparently uses bullhooks and beatings to dominate and subdue circus elephants.

The USDA has frequently cited circuses for animal welfare violations. Here's a link to an FDA Inspection Report from a circus in Florida (not Ringling) that cites problems with veterinary treatment, animals with untreated lesions, and unacceptable caging. It's not an isolated situation.

The Humane Society of the United States "opposes the use of wild animals in circuses and other traveling acts because cruelty to animals is inherent in such displays" (italics mine). They bust the marketing myths about the care and welfare of circus animals in this article. Surprise! Wild animals do not do their tricks out of love for their trainers. Elephants don't balance on tiny chairs for their own enjoyment. They do it to avoid pain.

We don't have to answer here the philosophical questions raised by the Circus Problem (i.e., What is our responsibility to animals? What does the ethical treatment of animals look like in a humane, civilized society? What should animals be used for?), even though those are excellent questions. It's enough to assert and affirm that animals should not be treated with cruelty. That's the law.

It's also a stated principle of the American Veterinary Medical Association: "Animals should be cared for in ways that minimize fear, pain, stress, and suffering." (Read the other seven principles of animal welfare here.) Circuses just do not meet these criteria, especially the part about using "thoughtful consideration for [the animals'] species-typical biology and behavior." A bear riding a bike is definitely not species-typical behavior.

So before you take your kids to the circus, think about the messages you're giving them about how we should treat animals.

Sorry to spoil your fun. Blame it on Q.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

On Being Eight

I cannot believe it. Another whole entire year has gone by, and now I am eight years old. A lot has happened since I told you what it was like to be seven.

First of all, back then I was only in first grade, and now I am in second grade. Second grade is a little harder than first grade, but not much. My mom and my teacher, Mrs. MiPi, teamed up against me to make sure that second grade would be "challenging" for me. (Pretend I said that word "challenging" while making quotes in the air with my fingers.)

But guess what? It's still not even really that hard. I take a long time to do my homework so that my mom will think that I'm getting enough "challenge" (I did that finger quote in the air thing again), but I will tell you a secret: second grade is easy-peasy.

Today was my birthday, and my friend J0jo could not come to my birthday party, and I told my mom it was just not a birthday without Jojo. I cried and cried. And then my friend Juju got sick and she could not come either, and I was very extremely sad because how can you have any fun at a birthday party unless you have lots and lots of your best friends there, and now two whole friends could not be there.

You will be surprised to learn that I had fun anyway with my friend KK, my twin friends J1 and J2, and my extra friend Trixie. We painted ceramics at Paint-N-Party, which was fun even though it was not messy. (My motto is, the messier things are, the more fun they are.) I painted a beauteous picture frame and I'm going to put a picture of me and Jojo in it because I miss her. She moved away and goes to a different school now.

We all ate at a restaurant with a giant pretend elephant by the door. KK's mom Bella took a picture of all of us girls. She had a camera in her purse--but my mom did not even bring a camera to her own daughter's birthday party. Humph.

I had a corn dog and french fries, which I ate all of. My mom says I will eat anything, even a raw steak, but she is exaggerating, as usual. I do, however, like many kinds of food. I love to eat crouton salad, raw red peppers, and grilled asparagus; and I'm pretty sure I like every single fruit in the world. When I come home from school and I want a snack, my mom says to get some fruit, and I will eat a banana, an apple, a pear, and some grapes--and then I will ask for something else.

For my birthday my mom and dad gave me a pink DS, which is like a Gameboy, only better because it has two screens. I like to send messages to my brother A. Peevie, who also has a DS. I have only had the DS for about one day, and already my mom is telling me that I am playing too much DS. I can tell that this is going to be a problem for her.

My mom asked me what my goals for my life are now that I'm eight, and I told her my goals are to expand my vocabulary; become a better reader; and become better at art. Also, when I grow up I will plant trees and flowers to take the place of dead trees and flowers in public parks and gardens. I am very civic-minded, you know.

Anyway, I think I am going to enjoy being eight. I am happy most of the time because A. Peevie makes me laugh and he makes clubs with me. Also, C. Peevie wrestles with me, and my dad is funny. My mom is mean and horrible most of the time, but sometimes she is funny.

Oh, I'm just kidding around because I know she is reading this.

Now I have to go finish my "challenging" homework.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Meta-Poll Seeks Voters

By the way, don't forget to vote in my meta-poll in the sidebar.

The results of the last poll, which asked if Sarah Palin would help or hurt John McCain's chances: Voters were almost evenly divided, with 52 percent saying she'd help him and 48 percent predicting that she'd hurt him.

I think after a brief bump, she hurt him. If McCain had picked someone with more experience and more moderation, he would still have kept his more conservative supporters (who would not have voted for Obama even if he really did walk on water); and he would not have alienated the undecideds and others who found her to be, to put it kindly, not quite ready for prime-time.

Anyway, thanks for voting.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The "Yes We Can" Moment

Last night, my family and I and our friend The Professor ate salsa-baked goat cheese with pine nuts and watched the election returns. Talk about reality TV!

From the comfort of the living room we felt the energy from the mobs standing shoulder-to-shoulder in Soldier Field and Grant Park. Part of me wished I was there, seeing the faces and living the excitement and optimism. But my motto is "don't stand when you can sit," and my other motto is "Have a glass of wine!", so I definitely made the right choice by staying home.

As the electoral votes inched steadily toward the magic number--270--the talking heads got more anecdotal and less objective. Warner Saunders recalled seeing young Emmett Till in his open casket, his 1955 murder catalyzing the civil rights movement which opened the doors for Barack Obama's presidential bid. By the end of the evening, Allison Rosati was wiping away tears. I think Mr. Peevie was stoic, but The Professor and I were both a little verklempt.

Chicago celebs were on hand to participate in the history-making, and we snorted and ridiculed the reporter who actually said to Oprah something outrageous like, "This wouldn't have happened without you." I can't find a story about this anywhere on the web, but that was some seriously ridiculous Oprah-worship. She pooh-poohed him, and changed the subject.

(It turns out that a social scientist dude interviewed on NightLine tonight attempted to quantify the Oprah Effect. Oprah's endorsement, he concluded, added 1.15 million votes to Obama's tally, giving him the advantage over Clinton in the early primaries. That's just one guy's math--but who knows? Maybe I jumped the gun with my snort.)

As Obama was making his acceptance speech behind the walls of bullet-proof glass, I'm sure I wasn't the only one wondering: Can they protect him?

The most mysterious images of the evening were the signs held in the crowd in New York City reading, "Cassoulet" and "Cassoulet forever." Why were they holding up signs for soup? Yahoo Answers has a few ideas, but none have floated to the top as the definitive explanation.

The unhappiest outcome of this election is the increasingly bitter division between right and left. Even though John McCain gave the most gracious and eloquent concession speech I have ever heard, I wonder whether his supporters will join him in
offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.

It's going to be hard for many of them. My dad, for example, a one-issue voter who suggested to me that if Obama became president, it would be God's judgment on our country for the abortion holocaust. And my friend who told me she is feeling impending doom. I'm sure she's not alone.

I feel the opposite of impending doom. The celebrations that spontaneously erupted across the nation last night, the fact that Obama very nearly claimed a landslide, the emotions and tears of so many Americans--I am totally swept up in it all. I feel hope and optimism.

I cannot imagine what it would feel like to experience this election from inside a darker skin, from the perspective of people who have never seen a president who looked like them; who never expected to see a person of color become president in their lifetimes. I love that McCain acknowledged this hugely historical accomplishment: "This is an historic election, and I recognize the special significance it has for African-Americans and for the special pride that must be theirs tonight."

I do feel hope and optimism; but at the same time, I'm a realist. Obama is a politician, and by definition, a politician is a deal-maker, a compromiser. He can't make everyone happy. He's also human, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't walk on water--so he's going to make mistakes.

But we can be caught up in the "Yes We Can" moment, for a little while at least, can't we?

Yes, we can.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Inadvertent Prophecy

Mr. Peevie pointed out this unfortunate juxtaposition of politics and seasonal fun in our neighbor's yard.

Can you read the sign on the right, on the tombstone? It reads, "R.I.P." Right next to the John McCain sign.

Apparently Officer Friendly's seasonal decorations are tracking the most up-to-date polling data, which give Obama a 96.3 percent chance of winning tomorrow.

My seasonal decorations tell the story in a different way. Ain't it awesome? I carved it myself.

Friday, October 31, 2008

My Hero, by A. Peevie

My hero is my dad. He plays games with me and helps me with my homework. I like playing X-Box with him. He is kind and loving. He reads to me at night. We read a book series together called Alex Rider. It's very fun to read with him.

On Saturdays he either takes me out to breakfast or to lunch. Sometimes he makes coffee in the morning and sometimes he even takes me to Starbucks Coffee. Sometimes after dinner we sit at the table and we tell some good things about that day that happened to us.

The End.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Is Barack Obama a Socialist?

I know, I know. You're tired of my posts about politics. You're thinking, "Please! Get back to writing about giant flying ants and heroes and bodily functions." But please hang in there--the election is right around the corner. And I cannot leave these allegations of socialism unchallenged.

First of all, what is a socialist?

A socialist is a person who believes in "an economic and political theory advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of production and distribution of goods." (That's from Merriam Webster Online.)

Please, if you are among those who like to sling the "socialist" epithet around about Obama, could you send me a link to one statement that Obama has made advocating government ownership of production and distribution of goods?

McCain and Palin jumped on Obama's statement that "when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everyone," suggesting that this is a clear indication of his socialist tendencies. "Now is no time to experiment with socialism," Palin said. Is "spreading the wealth" a socialist concept?

They seem to be confusing socialism with progressive taxation, which, unless you're a flat-taxer, you support. This article busts several myths about progressive taxation, and makes a case for common wealth (taxes) serving the common good. It argues that government serves at least two functions, including protection (police, emergency services, public health, the military, etc.) and empowerment.
The wealthy have made greater use of the common good--they have been empowered by it in creating their wealth--and thus they have a greater moral obligation to sustain it.

John McCain has also criticized Obama's plan to expand the earned income tax credit. McCain has
said, "His plan gives away your tax dollars to those who don't pay taxes. That's not a tax cut; that's welfare." More recently, and with more hyperbole, McCain invented a brand new, bizarre tax-policy fiction: Obama's "tax plan would convert the IRS into a giant welfare agency, redistributing massive amounts of wealth at the direction of politicians in Washington." (Any time a politician uses the word "redistribution," it is code for "socialism.")

In fact, the earned income tax credit has been around for 30 years. In 1986, Ronald Reagan increased the earned income tax credit in order to boost take-home pay above poverty levels. When the credit is more than the amount of federal income taxes owed by an individual, that person receives a tax “refund.”

Ronald Reagan said of this legislation, “It's the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure to come out of Congress.”

Why would a guy like Warren Buffet support Obama if Obama were a socialist? He wouldn't. Would Bill Gates admire him? No.

If you want to understand what a real socialist sounds like, check out this statement of the Socialist Equality Party regarding the upcoming election.

So, no, Barack Obama is not a socialist--any more than any other politician who supports a government bailout of the financial industry, or buying bad mortgages from homeowners, or progressive taxation. Ahem.

I'm glad we've cleared that up.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Me and Turtle

Today my baby brother Turtle turns 46, and in his honor, I'd like to tell you a couple of stories about him.

Turtle and I did not get along when we were kids. I'd say to my mom, "I HATE him!" and she'd say, "Don't say hate." So I'd say, "Well, then I dislike him intensely!" and that was apparently OK, even though it makes no sense at all. I hated him because he had the ability to say exactly the right thing to infuriate me, and I had absolutely no ability to moderate the intensity of my emotional response to his relentless teasing.

We grew up on Lowell Road, which was paved to just past our house. Then one day the giant dump trucks came and dumped tons of paving rock on our street--and in a hot second, Turtle and I were both out there hurling rocks. Who could resist the temptation? Why else would they dump a bunch of rocks there, if they didn't want us to throw them?

It was all fun and games until I threw a rock and hit Turtle in the head. He started bleeding copiously and crying--but I cried harder. Even though I hated him sometimes, I didn't want to actually kill him.

I may have hated him at times, but we also had fun playing run-the-bases on the side of the house. We could play this game for hours, Turtle and his friends and me; we wore dusty brown tracks into the grass that my dad worked so hard to keep green and lush. He'd attack the dandelions one by one, and religiously follow his Scott's lawn care regimen--but by the time we were done pounding, running, and sliding, the earth would be showing through and the grass would be patchy.

We made up games like Just Barely Made It in the family room. Just Barely Made It involved climbing from one piece of furniture to another without touching the floor, which was a pit of hungry, snapping alligators. From the love seat, to the swivelling desk chair, to the ottoman, to the blue stuffed rocker, we'd imagine our way across the room like climbers facing a hundred-foot drop with the slightest mistake.

Sometimes we got into trouble together. When mom was sitting in the aforementioned big blue rocking chair, we'd sneak up behind it and tip the chair backwards until she was lying on her back with her feet waving in the air, screeching at us to put her back upright.

"You kids get back here right this instant!" she'd holler, and we come in all innocent-like.

"What's the matter, mom?" we'd ask innocently, not noticing that she was stuck like a turtle on its back.

"Get me back up before I break my neck," she'd say, and we'd oblige. Eventually.

Every Halloween, Turtle would collect massive amounts of candy. He'd hoard it in his room, selling it off piece by piece to the kids at school who ate theirs within a week. This was back in the day when kids could roam all over their suburban communities without their parents, ringing doorbells of total strangers with nary a scary thought. We used pillowcases for maximum-strength candy totage.

And the candybars, children, the candybars! They were full size--not the lame microscopic portions that we dole out today. Turtle would bring his Hershey bars to school after a couple of weeks, and sell them to his classmates at a huge mark-up. The Hershey Bar Index puts the cost of a full-size candy bar at 10 cents in 1970. My entrepreneurial brother would sell them on the playground for 50 cents or more. He even sold candy bars to the retarded kid for the silver dollars that the kid stole from his mother's pocketbook.

I'm happy to report that his sense of ethics and responsibility is no longer stunted, and he is one of the most trustworthy, ethical, and kind-hearted people that I know.

Happy Birthday, Turtle!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Barack Obama Wins McCain Endorsement

Speaking of Republicans endorsing Obama, Colin Powell spoke up with his endorsement yesterday. Do I need to remind you that Powell is a retired four-star general, the former secretary of state, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under both Republican and Democratic presidents, and the former national security advisor to Ronald Reagan? I didn't think so.

On the heels of the Big Fat Hairy Deal Colin Powell endorsement, the only endorsement that Obama lacks is McCain's.

Of course, some cynical and insane commentators (I'm not linking to them, but you know who's on this list) are suggesting that Powell is only endorsing Obama because he's black. I suspect that they, like my die-hard conservative family and friends, would not vote for Obama even if McCain did endorse him. (Am I right, Deedee?)

In fact, I think they'd still vote straight Republican ticket even if Jesus endorsed Obama. I'm just sayin'.

Friday, October 17, 2008

(In)Civility in Public Discourse

I have been an official Obama supporter since October 1, 2007. Some right-leaning friends still feel an urgent need to aggressively attempt to convert me from Obama to McCain. In the last month or two, their arguments have included the following:
  • Obama is evil. Obama is a socialist. Obama will raise taxes. Obama is a friend of terrorists. Obama will spend your tax dollars on abortions. Obama and the Democrats got us into this economic crisis. We don't really know who Obama is or what he stands for. Obama never talks specifically about what he would do as president.
  • Obama lacks experience. He's unqualified to be president. What has he accomplished? What has Joe Biden accomplished? Joe Biden is a liar. I don't trust Obama because of the people he associates with and the people who were his mentors. "Ayers" yada yada, "Wright" yada yada, "Rezko" yada yada.
  • He won't end the war in Iraq, he'll just move it Afghanistan. The war will never end. Read your Bible.
  • I don't like his wife. She's just an angry black woman. Obama is a Muslim. He'll get assassinated the first time he goes to a Middle East country because they consider him to be an infidel. How could he have gone to that church for 20 years? That shows bad judgment, or else he agrees with everything Wright said. Obama "had sex with his best friend and promotes kids to experiment." (I don't even know what this means.)
I read articles from across the political spectrum. I try to keep myself informed. I like talking about politics--but I don't like feeling attacked. Do you notice that many of the arguments above are discussion-stoppers? Are flat-out hysterical, or exaggerated, or twisted, or unprovable? They're not, for the most part, rational arguments in a point-counterpoint. They're not legitimate concerns of a fair-minded opponent.

What I want to know is, why can't we just disagree about this? I have asked this very question, and one friend replied, "We can agree to disagree. I'm just sending you the facts that Obama isn't." I asked her to stop.

Is it just me, or are people angrier about the election this year than they usually are? I have seen lots of anger from the right--both in person and in the media--but I realize that conservatives claim to see just as much or more anger coming from Democrats. (Some minimize the anger from the right as "a few over-the-line catcalls." Uh-huh.)

The Washington Post reported on the "pandemonium" that broke out in Prince George's County, Maryland when a local hotel put up a McCain/Palin sign. The conservative NewsBusters headlined this story as "Angry Democrats Threaten Boycott of Maryland Hotel With McCain Sign", and used phrases such as "angry," "enraged," "strong-arm tactic," and "vilification" to describe the response of the county's Obama-supporting residents--but if you read the Post story, you don't encounter any of those extreme expressions. In trying to vilify Obama supporters, NB instead discredited itself with hyperbole.

Whatever--it is nasty on both sides. Civility is a lost art. The best we can do is a thin--and I do mean skeletal--veneer of decorum at a public debate.

But wait: I love this measured opinion piece from the Washington Post coming out in support of Obama. There's nothing mean or disrespectful in it about McCain, and the analysis of Obama's qualifications is balanced and not exaggerated. I haven't checked--is there a similar piece taking the opposite position? I'll post the link in an update if you have one.

This is how the candidates should talk to one another, and about one another; this is how we should talk to one another: with fairness, integrity, and civility.

End of sermon.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day: Poverty Sucks

What do you know about poverty? What can one person do about it?

Take a look at this 2007 Report on Illinois Poverty from Heartland Alliance. More than 21 percent of Chicagoans live in poverty, and 12 percent of people in Illinois live in poverty. That's more than half a million people in Chicago alone, and more than a third of them are children. Most of these live in extreme poverty, meaning that their income is less than half the federal poverty income threshhold--which in 2007 was $20,650 for a family of four.

More than 50 percent of Chicago renter households pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing. Working families earning less than $50K spend an average of 55 percent of their annual budget on housing and transportation.

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless reports in this fact sheet that almost 74,000 people--men, women and children--were homeless in Chicago in 2006. More than 65,000 households are waiting for public housing to become available. Women and children are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population.

Poverty and low-income rates are growing in the Chicago metropolitan area. Things are getting worse, not better, for poor and low-income families.

What can you do about it?

If you're reading this blog, chances are, you're one of the lucky ones. Count your blessings, and give some away. Find a local organization to support. Give money. Give food. Volunteer your time. Teach your kids to care about people in need by setting an example for them.

Give a homeless person a few bucks without worrying about whether you're getting scammed, or whether he's going to buy booze or drugs with it. If you're headed downtown, buy an extra double cheeseburger meal, and give it away.

I know that my readers are among the most kind-hearted and generous on the planet. I'd love to hear about some of the ways that you've reached out to help another person in need. Maybe we can inspire one another to help even more.

UPDATE: I just stumbled on this article, which I think gives a personal, touching account of a person who spent a large chunk of his life serving poor people. It's eye-opening, especially for those of us who at times might be tempted to feel superior to someone who's behavior or choices we don't approve of. It's far better than anything that I could write, because it's intensely personal and also very thoroughly documented.