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Simple, Really? A Gingerbread 'Masterpiece'

I was really inspired by Jamie Weitl's guest post last month about how she was creating an experience-based Advent Calendar to make sure she spent the season making memories with her three young chlidren.

So I did the same. Well, almost. OK. Sorta.

I didn't make those darling red-and-green circle tags like Jamie did. I just scrawled dates and ideas on scrap paper I tore up into rectangles. Some of our "experiences" were pretty basic, like printing out free Christmas coloring pages and then coloring them together. After my daughter and her friends took apart the Advent Calendar I was using for the paper scraps -- and one of the "drawers" went missing for several days -- I just piled the rest of the pieces on my desk. And some days our plans changed last minute: We never did make it to any of the holiday-themed library storytimes in Batavia or Aurora that sounded like such fun.

It is truly amazing how closely this resembles the photo on the box.But I made sure my 3-year-old daughter and I did something holiday-themed each day. That definitely eased my anxiety about Christmas getting away from me, as it has in years past, especially before I became a mom.

On Tuesday night, our holiday-themed something was to make a gingerbread house. 

Don't worry: I didn't bake one from scratch. Ours was just a kit from Williams-Sonoma, purchased mostly because it promised a "building tray for foolproof construction." It also claimed everything my "young builder" would need to "create a masterpiece" and said she would have a "blast" customizing her creation with decorations including "festive red-and-white peppermint pinwheels" and shredded coconut "snow." Hmmm. The peppermints looked pretty standard to me.

The gingerbread house was indeed easy to put together, especially with my husband present to point out that I was about to place the roof into the slot for the side wall.

But I couldn't help getting frustrated that the icing didn't come out in those darling little scallop puffs like on the cover of the box. My "wreath" looked nothing like the photo, and how on earth was I supposed to outline the windows with any precision using an icing bag with a hole cut in it? And when my daughter wasn't trying to sneak the "whimsical" decorations into her mouth, I found myself telling her: "No! Not there!" or "Those candy beads are supposed to be the snowman's buttons -- not the roof's shingles!" 

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Remembering Where I Was on Sept. 11, 2001

Where were you on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001?

I was in the concourse level of Rockefeller Center in New York City, taking money from an ATM machine. I have an ATM receipt with a time of 8:46 a.m. – the exact time the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. I then went and bought a coffee and a muffin. I still struggle with the idea that all over the country, similar mundane tasks were being performed at the same time our world was changing.

I was working as a journalist for The Associated Press then. Unaware of what had just happened in Lower Manhattan, I took the elevator upstairs for my 9 a.m. editing shift in 50 Rock, about 4 miles north of the World Trade Center. Minutes after I arrived, the second plane hit the South Tower and it became clear this was no accident.

Photo by iStock photo.My bosses sent me down a floor to the New York City bureau, which was in desperate need of reporters. I did nothing brave or even noteworthy that day. I just sat at a desk, answered phones, monitored TV reports and took dictation from reporters in the field. I had plenty of friends who worked downtown. I convinced myself that since none of them actually worked inside the Trade Center, they were all OK. Thank goodness that turned out to be true.

I remember talking repeatedly to a reporter who was at a hospital or triage center that expected to receive some of the expected hundreds of injured workers from the WTC and nearby. Very few injured arrived.

When I wasn’t taking notes from other reporters, I was in charge of updating our stories on the status of public transit and commuter trains. I remember at the time thinking it seemed like such a silly story to worry about in the wake of what was happening in Lower Manhattan. But of course residents were desperate to get home to their loved ones, and in a city like Manhattan, you usually do that by bus, train or subway.

Soon after it was clear that it was a terrorist attack, I called my mother in central Illinois. She was an hour behind and still sleeping, so I left a message on her answering machine. I don’t know my exact words, but it was something like, “Mom. When you wake up, you’re going to see that something terrible has happened in New York City. I just want you to know that I’m OK and I'm safe and likely staying in the AP office. But I’m going to be very busy today and I probably won’t get to call you again. I love you.”

I’m surprised I was able to leave such an authoritative message, but the mood in the newsroom while somber, was full of adrenaline. There was no room for crying to your mom.

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The Housekeeping Diaries: My Car, the Rolling Junk Drawer

Last week, our guest columnist She’sWrite wrote about how her Jeep SUV is a “mobile home,” in which she serves meals, nurses her baby, changes diapers, taken conference calls and edited stories. She also said that she tries to clean it out once a week, to keep the stray receipts, crumbs, etc. from taking over.

I don't want the interior of my car to look like this, but it does.That made me start thinking about my own car. And how I really needed to clean it up. In fact, if She’sWrite’s SUV is a mobile home, my car is more like a rolling junk drawer.

I’ve written previously about how I have an issue with being overprepared. How that has led me to carryingridiculously huge bags around for much of my adult life. Well, I’m sure you’re not surprised that tendency has trickled down to my car, as well, especially now that I have a preschooler along most of the time.

The upside to this, of course, is that I am hardly ever caught without a spare outfit when my daughter gets her clothes a. dirty b. wet c. both. If she’s bored in a restaurant, I can usually run to the car and return with toys, books or games to keep her busy. And if she takes her nap in the car, I always have pen, paper and sometimes even a magazine to occupy myself.

Still, there is just way too much stuff in my car. I took it to the car wash Sunday night and here is a nearly complete list of what I found inside the cabin and the trunk:

  • Dress shoes from a wedding I was in three weeks ago
  • 2 pairs of socks (one hers, one mine, good for indoor play places)
  • Daughter’s crocs (too big for her currently) and her brown shoes (she’s outgrowing them even as I write)
  • Three sippy cups, all empty, thankfully
  • Numerous coloring books
  • Nine children’s books

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Simple, Really? Let's Take Some Simple Steps to Drive Safer

I have a favor to ask of you. It’s an easy one. Really.

Please don’t text and drive.

Most of you are probably saying some version of “No, duh, Tara” in your head.

Yep. Don't do this. Photo by iStockphoto.But I feel like I notice more drivers texting at the wheel all the time – and it’s not just stereotypical 17-year-old girls.

I’d say I notice someone texting nearly every day I’m in the car. Usually it’s a driver with her or his head hunched furtively down while at a stop light or a long wait to turn out of a parking lot.

But probably once a week I see someone texting in a truly egregious manner.

Earlier this spring, it was a 40-something woman I could tell was texting behind me at a stoplight on busy Route 38 in West Chicago.  Soon enough, she was speeding past me in the other lane, texting all the way!

A couple weeks after that, a woman who resembled my elderly high school English teacher stopped about 10 car lengths before the light on Third Street in downtown Geneva to either text or dial on her cell phone. I was waiting to back out of a parking spot, and eventually did just that – since she didn’t seem to be interested in moving her car – and of course only then did she notice the huge space and laid on the horn at me. Because obviously I was the one not paying attention.

But the worst case I’ve seen, so far at least, was on Interstate 88. When a 20-something woman passed me in the other lane, I could see as plain as day that she had arms extended through her wheel so she could steer with her elbows while holding her cell phone above the wheel so she could text. Sigh. I don’t know why I didn’t think to call 911.

When it comes to driving, I’ve always been on the safe, cautious side. But of course that tendency only got stronger once I was carrying my precious cargo in a carseat in the back.

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The Housekeeping Diaries: Onwards and Upwards!

Well, it’s finally time to provide an update on how my trial of a new “housekeeping system” went. The short answer? No so good.

Photo by iStock photo.For my very first system, I decided to try focusing on one room a day. Clean the living rom on Monday, my daughter’s bedroom on Tuesday, etc.

I can see how this approach could work for lots of families. It allows you to break cleaning into smaller, manageable chunks. If one week is particularly crazy and you don’t get to truly clean the dining room one week, you know you can attack it with vengeance the following week.

But I just never got comfortable with this approach, for several reasons.

  • My house is small. So if I’m going to pull out the vacuum cleaner, I’m going to vacuum the carpets in the living and dining rooms, and likely the floors in the kitchen and back room, too. Same for dusting. If I get out the dusting rags, I might as well do the entire first floor.
  • I’m not big on daily routines. Neither is my husband. This can be a good thing: Our schedules aren’t rigid, so we’re often up for last-minute fun and outings, and we can often help out a family member or friend in need quickly, too. But it’s bad when it comes to fitting in regular exercise, meal planning or making time for daily housework.
  • I don’t like cleaning. I mean, I’m happy when I have a clean house. It makes me feel good to have items checked off my list. However, I don’t particularly enjoy cleaning, like I suspect some good people do. So knowing I was supposed to be truly cleaning the house every single day -- not just picking stuff up -- weighed on me. Heavily.

I will let you know a few things I did excel at during the same time I was struggling with the one room a day approach. I got better at hanging up my clothes every night. Well, not every night. But most nights. I made our beds many (not all) mornings. And I decided that by the time I went to bed each night, the kitchen sink would be empty, the recyclables all rinsed and in the bin, the dishwasher would be running and the counters scrubbed nice and clean – ready to be decimated the next morning!

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