Friday, February 25, 2011

Bubble Wrap Racing

We had some bubble wrap in the house this week and thought it would be fun to do bubble wrap racing.  Eli and Charlie had so much fun running back and forth over the bubbles and making them pop. Eli was very serious about lining the pieces up every couple of races since they would get shifted and twisted with each run back and forth (and I have no idea why he was making crazy dinosaur noises). There's a quick video below the images and you can hear Charlie's happy giggle as he follows Eli over the bubbles.

*I'm trying different things with my image uploading, so you may see some variations with upcoming posts. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Puddle Jumpers

Toward the end of last week, we enjoyed some warmer temps (hooray for 50s!) and the massive snow piles started to melt. This meant there were major puddles everywhere as the ground couldn't keep up with all of this moisture. Eli and Charlie had fun jumping in the puddles!

Charlie loves putting his hands in his pockets when it's a little chilly outside. I love these puddle jumpers. (Despite that they gave me their yucky colds and my head feels like it's going to explode...)

And did I mention our tub/bathroom sink are totally clogged? It's officially unintentional home improvement week at our house. First the boiler problems and now this. We initially tried to get a plumber to come out this weekend (this all started on Friday night when Ben tried using a snake to improve our slow-flowing tub drain... somehow it stopped draining completely and none of the conventional methods are working to fix the darn thing), but decided we would just wait until Monday because the emergency plumber fees were crazy expensive. $250 for the first half hour, anyone??? It's not that big of an emergency. We showered at my gym yesterday and at our nice neighbor's house on Sunday. I'm hoping I can actually shower in my own tub today and life can get back to normal.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Good, the Bad, and the Sweet

The Good:
Last weekend I had the chance to fly out to meet up with my friend Sarah and have a full-day mentorship with a photographer that we both really admire. It was a wonderful weekend and the time zipped by as we focused all weekend on photography. On Sunday, Sarah helped me hone my Photoshop skills and I showed her how to use Lightroom (which I love). It was a really fast trip and I flew back on Sunday night... but my flight was delayed two hours (I sat on the plane that whole time; it was delayed because a part on the plane was broken... I was so glad not to have my kids with me on this trip with all of the delays - I had been delayed on the way there too). For once weather in Chicago was actually decent and I was STILL delayed! 

The Bad:
A friend stayed at our house w/ our sleeping kids so Ben could come pick me up from the airport... when we got home, our house felt very hot inside. The thermostat was set to 67, but it was 75 degrees and the heat was blasting out of the radiators. We thought it was odd and turned the thermostat off, but we woke up at 3 a.m. to Charlie crying (because it was sooooo hot) and the temp upstairs was 84 degrees!! It was SO HOT. I don't think I can emphasize that enough :) We opened windows and tried to cool the house down and Ben ended up shutting the gas off completely. Neither one of us slept very well the rest of that night because it was so uncomfortably hot. 

On Monday morning, I called the Salvation Army to see what time they were picking up the items we had arranged to donate. Keep in mind that we originally had an appointment for the truck to come on Thursday, but the guy never showed. On Friday, I called and they said they don't do same-day pickups, so they would put me down for Monday. It had taken me a LONG time to haul all of our junk that we had been storing in the garage up to the front steps of our house (slipping and sliding down the alley, climbing over big piles of snow, back and forth multiple times). So we just left the junk out on our front porch. By Monday I was really embarrassed that this was the fifth day of our junk on the porch and was really ready to have it picked up.

But there was no record of us having a pickup for Monday.

I was TICKED. Of course they don't do same-day pickup (not sure why??), so the guy promised me that a truck would arrive on Tuesday, but it was yet another thing that wasn't going right. I was steaming up in our hot house and bugged that the truck wasn't coming when they said it would.

In the meantime, I also flew back to sick kids. Eli and Charlie had yucky colds and took turns crying and throwing fits allllll day long. Charlie is definitely two because he has refined his tantrums - they can last up to about 20 minutes, with him rolling around, kicking, screaming, etc. on the floor. He had about five tantrums that day. Eli was Mr. Emotional and was crying over any little thing. In the afternoon he kept saying his ear hurt, so I set up a doctor's appointment for the late afternoon to get both kids checked out.

When it was time to go, both kids were crying and moaning about not wanting to leave the house. I was  out of patience by that hour. Earlier, we had a heating guy come look at the boiler, and he charged us $140 for the visit and ultimately said he couldn't find what was wrong and it seemed to be working fine (but it was hard for him to see the problem since the gas had been off). So the heat was turned back on and we were hoping for the best. But it was like one thing after the other was NOT going well.

I finally got both kids out to the car and made it to the doctor's office. Charlie didn't have an ear infection and just seemed to have a viral thing going on. While the doctor checked Eli, Charlie threw another fit and was rolling around on the floor under the chairs, sliding them around and crying for no apparent reason. The doctor just smiled (he was one of the older guys in the practice and didn't seem to be phased by much) and continued to examine Eli, who did end up having an ear infection. 

Eli was very happy and sweet to the doctor, but then when we got out to the waiting room to get our coats and leave, he turned into a little monster again and was screaming at me, saying he wanted to zip his coat and I couldn't help him. Which is fine if he could do it, but it's hard for him. I offered to get it started and he went ballistic. Screaming in the waiting area. He refused to leave and after about 10 minutes of trying to convince him to come, I grabbed Charlie and started walking out. Which made Eli cry harder and he ran out following me, then tripped on the sidewalk outside and fell down. More tears from Eli and funny looks from everyone inside the waiting room that could see us out of the big glass windows. 

Once we got to the car, Eli was still in his crazy emotional mood and wasn't letting me buckle his seatbelt. He kicked and screamed and I was taking lots of deep breaths... :) So I opened up google chat on my phone and vented to Ben, who was still at work. I stood there for 20 minutes while Eli cried and tried to get the seatbelt buckled without much luck. I finally got him to let me do the buckle with him, and we drove home. 

You would think the fits were done, but no! We pulled into the garage and Eli started crying again because he didn't want to get out of the car. I almost ran down the alley screaming, but pulled myself together, called a friend and followed Charlie around outside while Eli sat in the car and cried and cried. He was so miserable that day.

Enough of that though :) I was more than ecstatic when Ben walked in the door that night. I think I can safely say that was the worst Valentine's Day I have ever had. Ben brought home my favorite chocolates on Friday and my gift to him was to pick up his iPhone last week (finally, Verizon!!). So we were low key that night and had takeout and vegged on the couch. I was pretty spent.

The Sweet:
The next morning, the heat was going full-blast again and having similar problems as Sunday night/Monday. I was roasting and called the heating company and thankfully they came back and realized the relay between the thermostat and the boiler was stuck, so they replaced that and didn't charge for labor since I had paid for no improvement the day before. That was a bright spot.

My Gram stopped by and hung out at our place for a little while that day, so here are some sweet pictures of her and Eli building a block village together (Charlie was napping). Love you Gram! Eli had lots of fun with you.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Dear Brynn at Comcast,

Thank you for listening to my concerns. Thank you for validating my feelings AND for saying you're going to do something to change the system.

Let me back up - 

We mainly use Comcast's OnDemand service for the kids' programming available anytime - Eli gets to choose two shows during his quiet time while Charlie's napping. He loves shows like Disney's Imagination Movers, Nick Jr.'s Umi Zoomi, Diego, Dora, Handy Manny, etc.

I love that we have a variety of kids shows easily accessible, whenever we want and we don't have to clog up the DVR in the process.

But I have become more and more frustrated with the violent or inappropriate advertising on the Comcast OnDemand screen when you scroll through to find the shows that you want.

I don't think it's okay for young kids to see the movie preview for Angelina Jolie's SALT. Or some other show or movie with intense scenes, shooting, fighting, cars exploding, etc. There is no way these ads would be shown on a kids' channel, and I kept wishing there was a way to have parental controls or some other method to avoid these ads when putting a show on for my child.

I became so fed up with the ads that I called Comcast's customer service line. Good old 1-800-COMCAST. (which is often a frustrating experience) At first I thought calling was totally unproductive--the customer service reps were ZERO help - basically said there was nothing they could do to change these ads. I spoke with a supervisor and it was the same old story. It was out of their hands.

But this WAS productive, because my blood started to boil. Don't tell me there is nothing you can do when I know this could be better...

I started doing some research. I called an advocacy group that speaks out against violence in the media, and the woman who answered the phone gave me the idea to file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission. So I did--I wanted this to be on record and in their files. But I wasn't convinced that this would lead to immediate results...I'm sure these agencies receive a variety of complaints and get bogged down. And who knows if they would investigate my complaints in the first place.

I wanted faster results. So I decided, why not try to contact Comcast's headquarters directly and see if I can track down the person or group who manages these ads??

I called Comcast at its Philadelphia office and told the operator who I was looking for. She transferred me to the voice mail of someone who deals with the advertising on Comcast. This person, the very nice Jenna, called me back the next day and said she wasn't directly over those ads, but was happy to give me the name/number of the person who was.

Enter Brynn. I left her a message late yesterday afternoon, and she promptly called me back today. We were on the phone for a good 20 minutes, discussing my frustrations with the movie ads and content when using OnDemand. She explained how the ads work--they are called "barker ads," produced by an entertainment company in Los Angeles that creates two 20-minute advertising loops--one for daytime, the other for nighttime (which starts at 9 p.m.) The ad loops are updated each week to keep the content fresh, and all daytime loop ads have been rated "suitable for all audiences."

Which, as a side note, I think is a TOTAL joke. Suitable for all audiences means no drug or alcohol use, no guns being pointed directly at a person but otherwise guns are okay...come on. I think that rating could be revamped too. 

Brynn was very understanding of my plight. She appreciated the feedback and said her team is going to start previewing the ads before they run for the week to make sure the content is suitable for young eyes. She gave me her email address so I can send her a quick note if I see an advertisement that is violent or inappropriate on there. Brynn said she would talk with the ad producers and communicate these concerns, and we should hopefully see changes in a few weeks when the next round of barker ads are up (they are produced about two weeks in advance).

Bravo to Brynn at Comcast for taking the time to listen, to care, and to commit to making changes. I really hope this makes a difference.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Northwestern v. Illinois (Men's Basketball)

On Saturday, we got last-minute tickets from friends to go see the Northwestern basketball game vs Illinois, which was going to be a big game. Eli was SO EXCITED about going to a "Go Cats" game. (Eli and Charlie still say, "Go Cats!" every time we drive past the stadium).
Did I mention there were free Northwestern t-shirts at each seat?? Eli and Ben were sporting their men's size large t-shirts with pride :)
Charlie lasted a lot longer than we expected, but he got pretty wiggly in the second half and was getting tired, so he and I walked home a little early so he could take a nap. But that walk home took a longgggg time. Charlie had way too much fun stomping in the snow.
Charlie snuck one of the Candyland guys into his hoodie pocket (before the game) and surprised me with it on our walk home. He was pretty funny with the blue guy...
Here he is giving the blue guy a high five :)
I kept running ahead, then stopping and taking pictures of Charlie - then he caught on and would take off running toward me laughing and excited to catch up.
Looking at these pictures makes me realize how much snow is really outside. There are these huge mounds of snow all over the place. We're supposed to have some really cold days this week (at least one of them going below zero once again, yuck). February is always the worst, longest month in Chicago - when we're all so sick of the cold weather, the gray skies, the snow, and every inconvenience of dealing with winter here. (Good thing summer and fall are so pretty!)
Our walk home took 30 minutes (Charlie was going at a very leisurely pace with his little legs), so by the time we were almost home, his nose was running, but he didn't care. He was so happy after the basketball game and a winter walk home. Love this boy!
Eli and Ben stayed until the very end of the game - Eli was so excited that Northwestern beat Illinois by one point. Thanks Mike and Saralyn for the tickets - Go Cats! :)