It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year: ChiTAG!



Tomorrow will be our third time at the Chicago Toy & Game Fair.  Sadly, the blog I used to write for–Destined for Home–has recently gone AWOL, taking all of my posts with it, including my write-ups of the two previous years.  Suffice it to say though, my kids look forward to ChiTAG with as much anticipation, if not more, as they do Christmas morning.

Once, when I was about six or seven years old, my grandparents took me to Toys R Us and told me to pick out whatever I wanted for my birthday.  That was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.  So many choices!  I remember vividly agonizing over what I should get, finally choosing a barnyard animals stencil kit (this predated the video game age, keep in mind), and a babydoll called “Wake Up, Thumbelina.”

Now, my kids don’t get to go crazy, but they each come in with $20 and the directive to find things to put on their Christmas lists.  We will probably be there for at least 6 hours, and that last hour will be a flurry of running around trying to find that perfect $20 thing that they bypassed in search of something more perfect.  But we’ll come home, happy and exhausted, full of tales of “Did you see that?” and “I hope Santa brings me those!”

My favorite part is getting to meet the inventors.  Our first year, we met the creator of Perplexus, and last time, we met this young gentleman who invented BrickStix.  He’s a kid!  Nothing impresses kids more than other kids making it big . . . especially when he’s made it big tricking out Legos!

The BrickStix Boy

The BrickStix Boy


Can’t WAIT to see who we meet tomorrow!


Too Many Goodbyes

We’ve had it rough over the past several months.  My mother in law passed away in October, and then my own mother died two days after Christmas.  I’ve been so preoccupied with coping that I failed to notice another member of our family starting to decline . . . our poor little old kitty, Daisy.

One day I was doing laundry, and I heard what I thought was someone rocking back and forth on a creaky floorboard above me.  When I realized the sound was coming from the cat, all curled up asleep in her beanbag chair, I figured she was snoring and went to nudge her.  She woke up, but the sound didn’t stop because she wasn’t snoring, she was wheezing.  Then I took a closer look at her and noticed that she wasn’t very well groomed, which was unusual for her — her brother Wily is a bit of a slob, but Daisy had always been meticulous.

After this, I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t give her much thought over the next couple of days.  I was completely absorbed in the benefit we were planning and wasn’t home much.  Plus, our cats live primarily in the laundry room and I don’t see them out and about very often.  They are 16 and slowing down significantly.

Then the day after the benefit, my son mentioned that he had cleaned up several little piles of cat vomit that morning.  It happens, I told him.  We’ll keep an eye on them.  The next day, he found Daisy lying in a puddle of puke, and I knew something was truly wrong.  Cats don’t like to be that messy.  So I called the vet and made an appointment to bring her in.

When I picked my Daisy up to put her in the cat carrier and she didn’t fight me, I knew we were in trouble.  This one haaaated to leave the house, and I have the old battle scars to prove it.  Plus, she was super skinny, a bag of bones, not very encouraging.

The doctor took an x-ray and found a whole world of trouble on the inside.  In addition to some seriously arthritic elbows and vertebrae, she had a large mass in her chest behind her narrowed trachea/esophagus that explained her inability to keep down any food.  Typically an 11 pounder, she was now less that 6 lbs and essentially starving to death.  At her advanced age, surgery really wasn’t an option, and the vet recommended that we do the humane thing and put her down.

Having just lost two amazing women involuntarily, it was a little difficult to wrap my mind around volunteering to lose another family member.  But what else could we do?  Daisy was in a lot of pain, and starving to death was no way to go.

So I picked the kids up from school and brought them back to the vet.  The doctor was amazing with them.  She showed them the x-ray and explained everything, how Daisy was in pain, how she couldn’t be fixed, how the best thing for her would be for us to let her go.

Then we spent some time with her, petting and scratching, consoling and crying, saying goodbye.  When they were ready, I took the kids out to the waiting room and went back in to hold my first baby one last time.  She went very peacefully, never stopped looking into my eyes, and just simply stopped breathing.


Stray kittens who were camping out in the basement of an apartment building my dad owned, Daisy and Wily were only a few weeks old when he trapped them and brought them home to me.  Wily was a little lover, desperate and needy, my instant best friend, wanting to sleep on my neck and always purring like an outboard motor.  Daisy was skittish and wary, unapproachable and terrified, hissing at any sudden movement, and hiding from me for days at a time.


She came to love me, my little silent companion.  She came to love Tom, quiet just like her.  She begrudgingly accepted baby Charlie after a rocky start that involved a couple of spraying incidents (I didn’t even know females could DO that!).  She never had much regard for the other kids or anyone else who entered our home.  In fact, most people thought we only had one cat because she never came out unless the coast was clear.


But she’s been a constant presence for me.  And a constant companion for her brother, the Yin to his Yang.  I will always picture them curled up together in their beanbag chair, soft and sweet.  During the last week of her life, I noticed that Daisy had grown so much smaller than Wily that he almost enveloped her, curled tightly around her frail little body.  I think he knew something wasn’t right, and he wanted to protect her.

I’m so sorry she was hurting and it took so long for me to notice.  I’m so sorry my Wily doesn’t have his sister anymore, having never been apart from her for more than 24 hours since the day they were born.  I’m so sorry my children have had to face so much death so recently.  My heart feels like it will never stop breaking.

The Cult of Weight-Loss Quick Fixes

I went out to a vendor/craft fair with a friend today.  You know the scene:  giddy shoppers browsing table after table of direct sales merchandise like Tupperware, Mary Kay and Pampered Chef, hand-crafted jewelry and accessories, decadent goodies, skin care lines, weight-loss products . . .

Back up there a minute, weight-loss products?  That’s something I’ve never noticed at a craft fair.  Maybe I never paid attention before since I wasn’t interested, but now they seem to be coming out of the woodwork.  I counted four different companies, all repped by smiling women proudly displaying their before and after photo boards and touting the benefits of their particular regimens.  Here’s who was there:

ACE — Appetite Control & Energy

Plexus Slim

Shaklee Cinch

Visalus Body by Vi

I have no idea which works the best for whom, etc., etc.  But those girls sure did come at us with the hard sell, trying to evangelize us over to their own personal weight-loss saviors.  If this whole Herbalife thing works for me, I wonder if people will start to look at me like that, the crazy skinny (!) lady who wants us to drink her Kool Aid?

The biggest problem with taking the spiel from these reps as Gospel, is that not one of them spoke to us about the benefit of eating well and exercising while on their program.  I know it, and you know it, but I’d be willing to wager my next splurgy chocolate-binge that most of the people they sell on their programs will think they’ve found some magical solution to their weight problems.  These same dreamers will not get the desired results, and they’ll chalk up their failures to a product that doesn’t work, when what really doesn’t work is their mindset.

Now, I’m not throwing stones in my glass house.  I’ve never tried a weight-loss product of any kind before.  But I am also not kidding myself into thinking that drinking tea and a shake every day is going to be the miracle I need to shed pounds.  I have a lot of work to do on my own will and determination.

“Obese” No More With a Li’l Help from My “Pal”

Had my first weigh-in today for the Optimum Wellness fitness challenge, and found out that I lost five pounds in the first week!  Yay me!  I couldn’t wait to get home to the BMI calculator to see what that meant for my “status.”  I’m happy to report that my Body Mass Index fell to 29.4, which puts me back in the range of the merely “overweight,” rather than “obese.”  Whew!

It feels good to lose a little weight, but now I want it to happen faster!  When are my pants going to start feeling baggy?  When will I need to go bra shopping?  When will other people start to notice?  I know it’s not healthy to crash diet or take measures that result in rapid weight loss.  But a big payoff would be soooo much more inspiring!

And by the way, calorie counting is a drag, especially when I don’t actually know what I’m doing.  I complained about it on facebook, and received a flood of advice from friends who’ve been having some weight-loss success lately.  A common denominator among them seemed to be their use of  I checked it out and immediately created an account.

At myfitnesspal, users can set goals and then log everything they eat in a day, as well as how many calories they burned exercising, and the program calculates and tracks it all for you.  So I don’t need to write my food intake down here everyday anymore!  The cool thing is that most foods have already been entered by other users (right down to brand and portion size), so you just need to find the ones that match or are closest to what you ate, and there you have it.  If you can’t find what you’re looking for, you can enter it yourself, and myfitnesspal keeps all of your old entries handy so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every day.

After using the program for a few days, I find that I really appreciate the visual aspect.  Seeing how many calories I have left for the day so as not to exceed my goal really puts things in perspective.  For instance, do I really want to waste 300 big ones on four Samoas (the dang Girl Scout cookies have arrived!), when I can have an entire meal for the same?  Well, the answer is “yes,” of course I do, I love Samoas.  But when it comes down to it, I know that I’ll be starving again in an hour if I replace a protein-dense meal with those delicious empty calories.

Maybe someday I’ll be a little more carefree with my food again, but right now I need to keep my positive momentum going and put a bit more distance between me and “obese.”

My iPod Thinks It’s a Transistor Radio

Busy day, lots of running around, and one sick kid home from school.  He’s my oldest, so I was still free to run out for this and that.  But I didn’t want to leave him alone in his condition for any lengthy periods of time, so that means I skipped the gym.  And I didn’t mind at all.

Working out is sooooo boooooring.  Listening to music while you do it makes it less so.  The right beat can add a spring to your step the way the static hum of the treadmills can never do on its own.  And an interesting podcast can transport you and engage your mind way better than eavesdropping on the senior citizens clustered around the stationary bikes.  But I can’t listen to either of those because my iPod has decided to go retro.  It will not transmit through the ear buds or the speaker/charger where it typically resides.

My iPod

My iPod

Instead, it squawks at me, out loud, for everyone to hear.  Tinny, unpleasant, loud enough to hear, but definitely not to enjoy.  And certainly not for listening to at the gym, where even the televisions are muted and set to closed captioning.  My iPod has taken a ride in the Way-Back Machine and is now channeling its ancestors.

green transistor

Transistor Radio

So what does a girl without her tunes do to make the time fly by during her boring cardio?  I figured I’d read.  My last time there, I brought along the latest issue of Parenting: School Years.  Because my kids are older, we’ve aged out of regular Parenting Magazine.  Well, apparently the kids aren’t the only ones who’ve aged.

Because when I propped that magazine up on the shelf of the elliptical machine, there might as well have been no print on the pages at all.  As tiny as the type was,  factoring in the movement and bouncing, there was no WAY I could read it like that.  What’s next, a large-print version of Grandparenting: Your Children Are Grown So Why Are You Still Reading Parenting Magazines?

My next course of action was to stop using the arm-movement thingies, hold onto the machine with one hand, and grip the magazine inches from my nose with the other.  That unbalanced position left me with a twisted and aching back.  It was a little easier to pull off that maneuver on the treadmill, but still kind of difficult to read.

That didn’t stop me from trying it again though this evening, when I realized my first weigh-in for the Weight-Loss Challenge is tomorrow morning.  I dutifully headed over to put my time in and managed to read a few more pages.  Number One on my to-do list:  fix it or get a new iPod!

Dining Out Is Not for the Weak-Willed

Which is why I am completely amazed that I weathered it.  When my husband suggested we go out, I began lobbying for Applebee’s since they have the Weight Watchers and Under 550 Calories selections.  But Tom doesn’t care for chain restaurants, so we decided to go to a local Italian restaurant.  Being my first time dining out since I started the challenge, I went online looking for advice and decided my only course of action would be lean meat and steamed veggies.  So while everyone else enjoyed their pizza, I had a 9oz. steak and steamed broccoli.  Before I even started eating, I cut the steak in half to bring home for leftovers.

I’m not gonna lie–it kinda sucked.  Oh, the steak was fine, but the whole experience left me kind of flat.  Iced tea instead of beer; salad instead of creamy chicken dumpling soup; “no thank you” to the fluffy, flaky, man-fist sized dinner rolls.

And the platitudes from our overly-chatty waitress were more than I could bear.  When I asked her which salad dressing was healthiest, she decided to unleash an entire sermon on me about living it up while dining out.  “Oh, are you watching your weight?  You look fine, have the ranch.”  When I asked to substitute veggies for the potato, I got, “Come on, honey, when you go out to dinner, you should enjoy yourself.  You need to splurge once in a while.  Fine, but all we have is broccoli.”

Okay, lady, you know nothing about me.  For all you know, I could have diabetes, high cholesterol, and off-the-charts blood pressure.  For all you know, I might have a serious food allergy or intolerance.  For all you know, I may be a major food addict who only needs one little “splurge” to fall of the wagon entirely (ahem).  Do you get a commission for talking people into less healthy choices, or what?  I’m all for friendly waitresses, but I’m not about to get into a highly personal subject with you (and who ARE you, anyway?) when I’m trying to enjoy an evening with my family.

The irony is, she did all but pull up a chair and join us while she was monopolizing our attention, but when it came to service, we were largely neglected.  But I digress.

Some of the reason her comments rubbed me so wrongly is that I sort of agreed with her.  I adore going out to dinner.  My love of dining out is in direct inverse proportion to my dislike of cooking.  I enjoy eating dishes in restaurants that are beyond my home-cooking skills.  I can do plain, broiled meat and steamed vegetables, no problem.  When I go out, I want sauces and ingredients that I don’t have at home, prepared by someone other than me, in portions beyond what I can have when I’m sharing with five other people.  And something out of a deep-fryer always makes a nice complement.  But I guess that’s part of what got me into this mess, huh?  Changing my attitude is a work in progress.

Of Cakes and Cats

What does one eat at a pancake breakfast when she’s trying to be calorie conscious?  The answer:  nothing.  You might say that the smart weight-watcher should avoid pancake breakfasts altogether.  But this was a fundraiser for a worthy organization that happens to provide a great service to my kids and our community, so we kind of had to go.

The gentleman serving the pancakes tried to give me three.  I told him I only wanted two, but he insisted that they only came in threes and plopped them on my plate.  This same man gave Charlie FOUR plate-sized pancakes, and only two tiny ones to Natalie.  I think he profiled us.

The gentleman serving the breakfast sausages came at me with six of them in his tongs.  I told him I only wanted two.  More willing to compromise than his compadre, he gave me four.

Once we sat down, I gave one pancake to Tom and two sausages to my dad.  I used a teeny bit of butter to separate the pancakes, and instead of dousing them in syrup, I poured a tiny dollop on the plate and dipped sparingly.  I only ate about 2/3 of the stack, and I had coffee for the first time this week.

Went in for my peach/mango tea and mint chocolate chip protein shake and had them for lunch on my way to volleyball playoffs.  But then I came back to our Cub Scout Blue & Gold banquet, where I had two li’l pieces of cheese pizza and water.  Not sure that can be classified as a healthy snack.

I did pass up the mostaciolli, bread and so much cake I still can’t believe it.  You see, one of the highlights of our annual banquet is a cake contest.  This year’s theme was Outer Space.  Here’s our entry:


Cub Scout cake contest Cutest Cake winner: Nyan Cat.

Every kid there knew what this was, and Teddy ended up taking home a trophy for Cutest Cake.  I was at volleyball during its creation, so I had to look it up on youtube:  Nyan Cat.

Anyway, it was lemon cake, and we brought most of it home.  I have resisted, but I’m not sure how much longer I can hold out!

Look how pleased he is . . .


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