Friday, December 30, 2005

At Random

With the cold weather settling in, it gets harder and harder to get the kids outside for fresh air and exercise. So, I'm thinking of clearing out the garage and whipping them into shape with medicine ball training.

Yeah, yeah. Crazy talk, I know.

I'll never get the garage cleared out.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Rush is Over

So I'm looking at the old picture that runs on this site of the kids and me, and I'm thinking Cara's grown about a foot since then, Ryan must have grown at least an inch or two since then, and I look pretty tired. I probably look more tired since that picture was taken, but really, it has to come down. There should just be a yellow smiley face there in our place. Or a picture of King Kong, screaming. That actually would be pretty apropos.

I was also reading some posts from last year, and they seem funnier than anything I posted this year. And I'm thinking, do incidents with the kids seem funnier after a certain amount of time has passed? Or am I just getting bitter, and the humor just isn't coming through at all anymore?

Speaking of being humorlesss: next year, Santa is wrapping up the TV remote in a big colorful ribbon. And THAT'S IT as far as presents are concerned! Because, officially, it's Day 2 of the Christmas break and I've given the ol' "Turn the TV off!" shout out about 30 times already. I'm reduced to having their FRIENDS over to break up the TV viewing.

Legos? Too complicated. Zero Gravity vehicle? Needs more charging and emptier walls (I guess. I think the North Pole is going to be getting that item back tomorrow). Chicken Limbo? We've done it twice. Time to pack it up, apparently. Hot Wheels? Never work like they do on TV. Harry Potter Scene It? Cara needs someone who knows about Harry Potter to play it with her, and that counts out her immediate famly. Simpsons' Clue? It's for "Ages 8 and Up," so she won't play it with Ryan, and I'm still trying to dig out from under, so I'm out. Therefore, TV is the obvious first choice for entertainment.

They got a lot of gift cards this year for Christmas. Which had Ryan begging to go to the mall this morning before breakfast.

Ryan: "What! I have a Build-a-Bear card! You don't have to spend your money!"

Is it pathetic or good training, the fact that he knows I'm not dropping any more cash for stuffed animals?

Ryan: "And I have a Toys R Us card! I can get more stuff there."


Yesterday, in an effort to get away from the implosion that was our house, we went to the Museum of Natural History to catch the Darwin exhibit. Ryan made sure we brought the American Express gift card my brother Joe and his wife Jen gave him. The exhibit mentioned how Darwin was really into studying bugs and other small creatures as a young boy. What Ry got out of that was, he should BUY a $30 "Critter Cage" in the gift shop, which was really the only reason he agreed to go to the museum in the first place.

Me: "Ryan, you have cages like this at home."

Ry: "It's MY gift card. I should be able to buy what I want."

Me: "Ryan, there are no bugs to even catch this time of year."

Ryan: "But it's my credit card."

Me: "It's a gift card. And when the money runs out because you've wasted it on things you already own, that's it. You're not getting more money."

He pushed for a $5 bug trap thing. Which he can't use until spring because the tundra is currently frozen. I told him he'd have to try and not lose it before the ground thaws in three months.

Ryan: "Fine. Done. I'll tape it to my bed if I have to."

It's a warped theory of evolution at work.

--Catherine Schetting Salfino

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Things are heatin' up

So, there was, like, 50,000 things to do before Christmas, give or take a thing or two. Mentally, the engine was on overdrive, the heart palpitations had set in and then, boom, Cara got sick with a raging fever. It's like racing down the highway late for work and then stopping dead in a sea of red brake lights. There's nothing that can be done in either case.

Cara tapped my shoulder to wake me up last Thursday before dawn. I opened my eyes with a scowl on my face, fully expecting Ryan to be the culprit, when I saw Cara standing there. It turned out, she had a fever so high, she felt nauseous. I was so grateful that she wasn't heaving on me or the carpet, I was actually nice. For me. In reality, and unlike Ryan, Cara never wakes me up unless she's really sick. The last time she woke me up during the night, which was about a year ago, she had mono. So...I try to be decent to her when she comes in to get me. 'Cause that's the kind of mom I am.

(Notice: neither of the kids goes to wake up Mike. That's just a non-starter.)

Luckily, Cara's pretty easy to deal with when she's sick. She just watches TV. And this time around, she didn't even eat for two days (I HAVE to get this illness come January, after all the "holiday fesitivites", a.k.a., reasons to eat cookies for breakfast, are over.)

So Cara missed school on Thursday and Friday, but I picked up her school work Friday afternoon so she could do it over the weekend. On Saturday afternoon, when I was going a little crazier--washing all the sheets and towels of sick germs, going through a year's worth of photos of Cara and Ryan to find one that wasn't just plain idiotic for the Christmas card, hitting a couple of stores on the "LAST SATURDAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS" as all the papers touted it, even though it WASN'T the last Saturday before Christmas--Cara handed me a notice from her bookbag. "Attention Parents: We'll be having a cookie swap in our classroom. Please have your child bring in a batch of their favorite cookies and a copy of the recipe Monday."

Now, I had planned to make Christmas cookies. We always do. It's just that this year, I was thinking of putting it off -- until after Christmas or something. "Don't be sad, guys. We can make President's Day cookies."

But with this notice staring me in the face, I realized Sunday was going to be a do-or-hit-the-bakery situation. I wasn't a thrillin'.

But, to take a breather from all the mayhem, I kept my plans to get together Saturday night with high school friends, who this time included Stephanie and Pat. In remembering some of our good ol' days, I recalled one holiday party where Pat's mom made really awesome treats. At the time I was like, "These are great! How did you make these?" And his mom was like, "It's chocolate chip cookie bars. Instead of making drop cookies, you just spread the batter out in a pan. It's faster." Pat is one of four boys, and I'm one of five kids, but for some reason, my mom never made these pan cookies. She'd just as soon grab a box of Entenmenn's. Maybe that's why I was like, "What is this foreign cookie bar you speak of?"

Nevertheless, I never made chocolate chip cookie bars. Everyone was always cool with the regular cookies.

So come Sunday, Ryan and I got the cookie party started. We made gingerbread cookies for him. Then we made a batch of chocolate chip cookies -- for Cara's class. I'd make the "family chocolate chip cookies" later.

By late afternoon, Ryan got an invite to a buddy's house. And Cara's friend Alex asked her to go shopping. I, meanwhile, was left decorating the chocolate chip cookies. By the time I was done, I was thinking, no way am I making a whole new batch. You could say I wasn't really into it any more. In fact, I decided the finished cookies were for us, not Cara's class. In further fact, I was ready to buy a package of Oreos for Cara's class with a recipe that read: "Drive to grocery store. Buy cookies. Rip open. Happy Holidays." But it occurred to me that that could be perceived as a peevish downer.

Plus I had butter, eggs and chocolate chips staring me in the face. And that's when it hit me--stand back-- "Hey, cookie bars! They're faster!" I'm telling you, it's a steel trap, that mind of mine. Lightning quick,too. ... It's frightening, really.

...It's The Best Time Of The Year

After I got the cookie bars in the oven, I went to pick Ryan up from Andrew's house, and his mom--my friend Cindy--gave me a Dunkin' Donuts Box o' Joe she had leftover from a family brunch that morning. Not being a coffee drinker, she couldn't use it. But she knew where to turn.

I brought the joe home and set it on the kitchen counter until I could find room for it in the refrigerator. Mike, meanwhile, thought he'd try to straighten up the place.

Mike: "What is this 'Box o' Joe?' Can I throw this out?"

Me: "Are you crazy?! That's coffee!!"

Mike: "In a box?"

Me: "Cindy had a brunch and this was leftover."

Mike: "But why is it in a box?"

See, that's a question that shouldn't even be asked. HOW LONG has Dunkin' Donuts had Boxes o' Joe? C'mon!

Anyway, we got the kids to bed. I decorated Cara's cookies, printed out the recipe, cut the cookie bars up and put them in Ziploc bags. Then I moved on to doing Christmas cards. (And Mike wondered why I'd want a Box o' Joe.) Around 1 a.m., I'm heading upstairs when I hear Ryan making a noise that sounded remarkably like a crying frog. I went in and felt his head. A fever was starting. Of course.

Well, at least my list of 50,000 was about three items lighter.

--Catherine Schetting Salfino

Monday, December 12, 2005

Christmas All Over--Again!

There's nothing like a three-day weekend with the kids to make you want to erect an igloo for them to live in for the rest of the winter.

We had a major snowfall on Friday. Which meant--every parent's heart-stopping nightmare--a snowday. My kids, in typical form, woke up at 6:30 in the morning Friday all bright-eyed and bushy tailed. Even though on most days I can't get Cara to come out of her bear-like hybernation without first doing a series of jumping jacks on her head.

Luckily, my friend Sharon, a teacher whose district also closed for the day, called early to invite both Cara and Ryan over to play with her two girls. I got them ready, then started the endless process of shoveling. When I finished, I headed over to Sharon's. She was giving them lunch and saying how they'd just come in from playing in the snow. I, for one, was shocked, seeing as how my kids only seem drawn to snow so they can see who can get ready, run out the door and get back in the fastest.

Meanwhile at Sharon's, as soon as they were done eating they headed back out again. Weird.

Sharon was like, "They're all outside! What should we do?!"

Instead of putting our feet up and eating bon-bons, like usual, we decided to put up her Christmas tree. Which was fun, actually. Because all the kids were outside. Nobody was stepping on something breakable or pulling out 50,000 ornaments while we were trying to string the lights. It was fun.

When the kids came in and saw the tree, Cara and Ryan launched into their annual Christmas tree medley. It goes a little something like this: "When can we put our tree?" "Can we put up our tree today?" "How come their tree is up and our's isn't?" And everybody's favorite: "They're so lucky--they have their tree up and we don't."

So, Saturday morning, after Mike and Cara left for her morning activities, Ryan was ready to break into the medley again when I stopped him cold with: "Okay, we'll do the tree after breakfast."

He was a little shocked. A little confused. I had agreed to something and I hadn't even had my coffee yet.

Now, for those of you who believe you need a real (read: it used to be a living thing) tree for it to be a real Christmas tree, you may want to stop reading. Because we have a looks-like-real, could-pass-as-real-if-you-light-a-pine-scented-candle, fine-whatever-it's-not-real tree. Between my seasonal allergies and Mike's being allergic to tree hauling, we've gone with an unreal tree for years.

Ryan and I put the thing together and I got the lights on before a buddy of his called and asked him over. I wanted to go shopping anyway, so we stopped the decorating process. I told Ry we would take out the other decorations and put the ornaments on the tree "later." Later turned out to be Sunday, because Mike and I went to a party at my friend Melissa's house Saturday night. We had a new sitter coming and wanted to clean up so she wouldn't realize how we actually live. The tree was lit, a few decorations were deftly placed in the dining and living rooms. The empty bins were moved to the garage. The furniture was polished, the floor was vacuumed. Assorted crap was put back in Cara's room. It almost didn't look like our house at Christmas.

So, Sunday, I get the rest of the bins of ornaments. I was busy trying to coordinate extension cords with surge protectors with tree lights and the light-up village--all so I can just flick a light switch and have everything light up at once. I'm under the tree, behind the chair, in back of the sofa--pretty much not paying attention. I THOUGHT Cara and Ryan were just putting their ornaments on the tree. They each have their own big box of ornaments they've been given over the years.

When finally crawled out from under the entry table, having made long work of that fun little project, I realized SOMEBODY had torn out EVERY ornament from EVERY bin along with EVERY piece of tissue paper, bubble wrap, and cardboard divider. Crystal ornaments sat precariously atop piles of lids. Boxes that I had put away in the bins were back out and scattered all over the floor. Three musical decorations were bleating at the same time, drowning out the iPod's Christmas selections that were now relegated to beyond background music.

Me: "What in hell....?!?"

Cara and Ryan's finger-pointing began, the place looked like a tornado blew through. I was ready to blow a gasket. And that's when I thought, "Now this...THIS is Christmas."

--Catherine Schetting Salfino

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Beauty of the First Snowfall

There was snow when the kids got up Sunday morning. The kind of snow Mike and I like -- which is, barely any snow. But snow's snow, and Ryan and Cara were determined to play in it. So, starting at about 7:30 a.m., Ryan turned into Broken Record Ryan: "I wanna go in the snow (skip) I wanna go in the snow (skip) I wanna go in the snow..."

After an hour of this, and a couple cups of coffee, I told them I would embark on the one-hour search for the boots, gloves, coats, etc. Why did I not have it all at the ready? Leave me alone.

A week prior, we were in Florida. So I spent the week getting us back to our normal routine (if you can call living in hellish chaos a routine). Enter the one-inch of snow to throw the whole routine off.

We had been using our fall coats up until Sunday. With the snow I was now required to go in the basement to get Cara's winter coat, the attic for Ryan's coat (it was a hand-me-down, so it was still in the hand-me-down bin, OKAY?!?), the basement for the gloves and scarves, back to the attic to search for Cara's boots, which I had forgotten I gave away during the summer because she outgrew them, back down to the basement to see if she'd fit in my boots (which she didn't because her 10-year-old feet are bigger than mine), back up to Ryan's room to look for a pair of boots for him, and then back to the basement to keep looking for his boots, which were in a drawer with scarves--that's how little HIS boots are.

Mike was on the sofa with the Sunday chat shows on TV and the laptop on his lap. He was not engaged in this mayhem, nor was he being asked to assist. Yet, this is what we got:

Mike: "WHAT are you doing??"

Me: "They want to go in the snow."

Mike: "Are you crazy? What snow? There's one inch of snow. And they'll be in it for one minute before they want to come back inside."

Me: "They're CHILDREN, and children like to play in snow. It's not like they're asking YOU to go out with them, so REE-LAX!"

Mike: "This is stupid."

After I thanked him for weighing in, I got Cara and Ryan out of the house. Cara wore her fashion Skechers boots from last year. They have a heel about two inches high, which is great for snow play. Ryan, meanwhile, resembled the little brother from "A Christmas Story." I was surprised he could move at all, I had him so covered up. But he suffers from miserable eczema with the cold and, trust me, I suffer with it too when he wakes me up at 3 a.m. whisper-whining, "I'm itchy. I'm itcheee."

I got them out, started to clean up the breakfast dishes, and Ryan started pounding on the door. I opened the door, letting a gust of cold air into the house. "We need the buttons for our snowman's eyes and a carrot for the nose!"

He had dug out some buttons from my "sewing box," which is really just storage for all those extra buttons that come attached to new clothes. But now said buttons were nowhere in sight. I checked the main floor, the basement, the kitchen. I opened the window and was like, "Ryan, what did you do with the buttons?" He says nonchalantly, "Oh, they're up in my room. I left them there when I got dressed." Thanks, son.

I get the buttons, and a Grimway baby carrot, which I knew would work just fine because they lose interest in projects like snowman making pretty fast--this wasn't going to be any Frosty replica. I opened the door, letting in another gust of cold air, and told him to go play for a while. Two minutes later, Ryan's pounding on the door again. I opened the door, the gust barged its way in. "Cara isn't doing the buttons right!"

Oh, God. I did the mental countdown before I heard Mike again.

Mike: "What did I tell you? A waste. They're never happy!"

At that, Cara came marching up to the door, trying to explain her reason for arguing with Ry. Then Mike yelled out, still from the sofa in the basement, "You'll both be in your rooms cleaning for the afternoon! Get along!"

The prospect of cleaning their rooms all afternoon scared them straight. I got back to cleaning the kitchen.

Two minutes later, more pounding on the door.

Mike: "WHAT is going ON!?"

I opened the door. At this point, it was making no difference in the interior temperature of the house.

Ryan: "Can we have hot cocoa?"

Me: "Ry, I wouldn't come to this door again for a while if I were you...."

Mike: "That's IT! In the house! To your rooms!"

Ryan: "Aaaaah!"

He ran to the backyard. Not to be heard from again -- for a good 12 minutes.

Sleigh bells ring, are ya lis-nin'?

--Catherine Schetting Salfino

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Disney Quest


Well, we did it. The Holy Grail of parentdom. That's right. We hit Disney World. Orlando. Stayed at the Nickelodeon Hotel. Drove a minivan with a DVD player. And played nothing but Looney Toons DVDs, too. Oh, we did the kid thing all right.

Now I want my BMW 325i.

Because I deserve it. And I saw a really nice one in Palm Beach, which is where we went after Orlando to visit Mike's dad. And, quite frankly, considering the breadth of luxury vehicles cruising around that town (Bentleys in assorted colors, Jags on every block--convertible or not, your choice--your basic Rolls Royces) I think a four-door Beemer is pretty low-key of me. And, can I just say, there's nothing like checking out Bentleys and Rolls' while driving a Pontiac minivan with two kids who are trying to spit on each other. Class-saaay.

But, back to Orlando. We checked into the Nick Hotel at about 1:30 in the morning. Because we chose to fly out of Newark at 8:30 at night, landing us in the land of Mickey around 11 p.m. Then we went to the Alamo counter for about an hour to get our minivan. Good thing I pre-registered online for the van.

Mike, aka Mellow Yellow, was ready to jump the counter and either punch the computer keys or punch the clerk, I'm not sure which. Anything to make it go faster. Then I remembered a key pearl of wisdom my mother once told me after spending a couple of months in the Sunshine State--don't try to make them move faster in Florida; they'll only get ticked off and shift into reverse. I think I witnessed just that.

Ryan napped on the plane, so he was revved when we got on the minivan. He wanted us to dig out a DVD from our luggage, so he could get in some quality Bugs Bunny time in the 20 minute ride to the hotel. Cara, of course, didn't nap. Not even a disco nap. Yet she was wired. She'd waited for this trip for years. See, she was the one who begged for a baby brother or sister when she was 3. She got us to agree to it when she was 4. Ryan was born when she was 5. And we told her she wasn't seeing Disney until he was potty trained, was done with naps and didn't need a stroller. Well, at least he's potty trained....


We spent the first day in Orlando at the Nick Hotel. The kids were LOVING IT. Two resort-style pools (bars at each one for the grown-ups). One had two-story tube slides that lead right into the pool, jacuzzis, rope-pulls that dumped water on the kids heads. The other had a beach-style wade-in area that led to a huge pool and a huge slide/spray/climbing apparatus. After a couple hours of playing, Ryan took a snooze. His demand.

That night, we went to Downtown Disney where we had one of the three good meals we ate in Orlando. We were there for five days. I don't know what the deal is with Disney, but they really need to outsource to better food services. Their coffee: Nescafe. I thought that went out of business circa 1972. Seriously. I hadn't tasted coffee that bad since I made a cup of Folger's instant and mistakenly used only half the required amount. Talk about awful. And this is what Disney was selling. I swear, Starbucks should mount a takeover. I mean, if there's a time when parents need a high-octane cup o' joe, it's at friggin' Disney. Let's get real, people!

So, the first good meal was at Fulton Crab at Downtown Disney. The second good meal was at the Palio restaurant at the Swan resort, which we walked to on another night from the Disney Boardwalk. And the last good food we had was at the Epcot World Showcase places--a Morrocan sandwich, real coffee, German hotdog. Unfortunately, we had wasted our appetites on the cafeteria type garbage they sell at the Electric Umbrella food place in Epcot's main area. The only food worse than that was the gruel served up at Disney MGM Studio's fake drive-in restaurant. Barf-o-rama. Anyone who reads this column knows my hatred of all things chain (except my beloved Starbucks), but TGI Fridays could move in at Disney and there would be a lot of happier campers. We, the Salfinos, wouldn't be ecstatic, necessarily....but happier.


But, leave it to us to go to Disney and care about food. Let's talk rides.

Splash Mountain: Awesome. Cara and Mike sat in the front seat and got completely and totally drenched. We're talking squeezing-water-out-of-the-shirts wet. Mike's-shorts-were-still-wet-when-we-left-the-park-hours-later wet. I bought Cara a T-shirt and sweatpants. (Note: Do NOT put wet clothes in a Disney bag, leave the bag with the other souvenirs for remainder of the vacation, and then open bag upon returning home. I'm surprised those clothes didn't crawl home on their own.)

Thunder Mountain: Awesome. Ryan screamed "Yeah, baby!" the whole time.

Pirates of the Carribean: Eh. A ride.

Alladin's Magic Carpet: Jokingly short.

Space Mountain: I screamed so much I couldn't scream anymore. Super awesome. Since Ryan was too short to ride, he stayed to the side with me while Mike and Cara went for a ride. Then, when they got off, Cara got right back on with me. Space Mountain back-to-back. Insane.

Jungle Cruise: Fun. The guide had a bunch of good, corny jokes.

Haunted Mansion: Scary for Ryan, cool for the rest of us.

Buzz Lightyear: Surprisingly fun. Really.

Stitch: Suuuuuuucked.

The other parks:


I didn't do Mission: Mars because Ryan was too short and the whole "Warning: this ride could just about kill you" kind of scared me off. When Mike and Cara came out, she looked shaky and Mike looked like he was going to upchuck a woodchuck chuck.

Soarin' Over California: Super fun. But this was me before we went on it, "We've been to California. We've flown in a plane over California. Why should we bother with this ride?" And then I loved it. Typical.

Test Track: When you see you're going 65 mph with no roof over your head and no brakes, it's pretty wild. Totally dug it. But the guy next to me was a real wuss. (Not Mike this time; some other guy.)

Disney MGM:

Indiana Jones: Okay, I have heard that making a movie can be pretty boring; it's just people sitting around the set all day waiting for something to happen. SO WHY RE-CREATE THE EXPERIENCE?!?

Now the real deals:

Rockin' Rollercoaster starring Aerosmith. TOH-HO-HO-TALLY ROCKS OUT! Again, Ryan was too short so Cara did it back to back with Mike and then with me. She wasn't doing too well after that. But the ride is awesome.

And finally, the Tower of Terror. Cara was too freaked to do that one two times in a row. So Mike and Cara went, and then I went on my own while they stayed with Ry. I got so freaked I grabbed the arm of the woman next to me! Nothing like it! Feeling like you're in a falling elevator and SEEING THE OUTSIDE OF THE BUILDING AS YOU'RE FALLING. It rocked.

Now, I'll admit: I haven't been on anything scarier than the Big Bird rollercoaster at Sesame Park in years. So maybe I'm a sucker. But the rides were fun. And I figured what could happen? Disney wouldn't let a ride go sailing off the tracks so they could get a billion dollar lawsuit slapped against them. Right?

Still sound like a sucker, huh?

--Catherine Schetting Salfino


Friday, November 11, 2005

Random Thoughts

--Did you ever think you'd have to explain to a kid that a case of tissues should not be used as a step stool? True, a tissue box originates from wood, but it's now just flimsy cardboard that will be crushed when stepped on. And re-forming the tissue box shape in the middle of an allergy attack just so I can get the pop-up Kleenex to work properly just doesn't seem right.

--Did you ever think it would be necessary to get a flashlight, mash your head to the floor and look under every radiator cover in the house to find a) a lost library book or b) a Leapster video game? Which is what I found myself doing twice in one week. With a 50% recovery rate. I'm ready to check the deli drawer of the refrigerator for Cara's book....

--Catherine Schetting Salfino

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

It's Hamster Time! (Don't Touch That!)

Can I just say that a hamster never really struck me as much of a pet, nevermind a pet that could be spoiled!

Yet, somehow, our hamster is just that. How, you ask, can a hamster be spoiled? Well, I respond, just go to any pet superstore and check out the hamster offerings. And then imagine my son in that same aisle, pulling one thing off the shelf after another, in an attempt to get something for Cara's little Luv-bee, the hamster. A hamster that is virtually ignored by Cara, and adored by Ryan. Hence the three hamster wheels, the hamster tunnel/climber, the yogurt chip treats, the berry-flavored treat, the "burger" vegetable treats. I could go on, but I'm scaring myself.

We were heading out to go to a park Sunday, when Ryan pointed out that Luv-bee needed a new hamster ball, which, if you've never seen one, is a plastic ball with air vents that you put the hamster in so it can roll around your house. If you just let the hamster run without the safety of the ball,
a) you could step on it;
b) it could burrow into the back of your sofa and set up camp for a year or so, living happily on the popcorn remnants left by the bereft children who are too woeful to care where the popcorn falls (or they're too busy watching Jimmy Neutron to care...whichever.)

Little Luv-bee (whose name and spelling were bestowed by Cara) needed a new ball because the first one got a crack in it from someone (Cara) trying to tighten the lid by turning it the wrong way. The righty-tighty rule is lost on some people.

Anyway, we go to NJ Pets, and in Hamster Area Number One, which is loaded with hamster houses, hamster bedding, hamster hay, and hamsters, Ryan and Cara came up with the idea of buying Luv-bee a new playground replete with tunnels, climbing contraptions, and an attached Extreme Wheel. For $70.

"It's cheaper to let her run loose in the bathroom with the door shut. Forget it," I said. "Let's just get the ball and get out of here so we can go to the park."

Now, mind you, it was 3:30 when we got there. We had stopped at a couple of open houses in town, just to see what we either couldn't afford or what we wouldn't buy if our lives depended on it. That killed some time.

So there we were in NJ Pets petting people's dogs, looking at the ferrets, arguing the merits of luxe hamster playgrounds, when I realized the clouds were getting that pinkish gold getting-ready-for-the-sun-to-set look. We didn't have time for any more fooling around.

Before I could leave with the new ball, Ryan bolted for Hamster Area Number Two. Here, is where the 10 brands of yogurt chips, 15 brands of berry treats, assorted vegetable treats, hollowed limbs, huts, wood chew toys, brushes, sand baths, bed cushioning and more was available for the pampered hampster. In fact, that's the name of the new store we're opening. We'll be reaching a neglected consumer that requires a higher level of service.

After, as usual, saying no to the 32 or so items Ryan and Cara tried to get me to buy, including a new goldfish, which has nothing to do with hamsters but what the heck?, we finally got to the check out line. Where Ryan got bummed when I wouldn't let him get a doggie key chain, and Cara hopefully held up a Scottish Terrier doormat, which I was desperately trying not to emulate.

Finally, we busted loose and headed to the park, one we'd never been to before but had heard good things about. It's a cool place with lots of wood climbing equipment, swings, a bouncing rubber bridge, a wooden plank bridge, a tire climber, a tire tunnel.

"Luv-bee would love it here!" Ryan yelled.

Don't even tempt me....

--Catherine Schetting Salfino

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Screaming Meemies

I've said it before and I'll say it again, Halloween is a season, a major holiday -- and it isn't getting its due respect.

People take off for both Thanksgiving and the day after. Same with Christmas. Who's taking off for Halloween and the day after? I think it's time parents nationwide come together and demand a national day of rest after exhausting ourselves in the name of a big sugar quest.

Ryan's seasonal Halloween parties kicked off last Thursday with a party at his kindergroup, which is separate from his kindergarten. Then, Friday, he had a nighttime Halloween dance at his regular school.

Cara: HE'S going to a dance at night? No fair! They're all midgets at his school! Why does he get a dance at all, and we get nothing?!

These were all valid points, that, as usual, I didn't have counterpoints or answers to. Ryan's school is for kids in kindergarten through third grade. The fourth through eighth graders on our side of town go to Cara's school. What can I say--Ryan's school PTA is more inspired? They're still energetic? Their spirit hasn't been drained yet? I don't know.

But they threw a kick-butt party replete with a deejay, an Elvis impersonator, snacks, games, hand tattoos, goody bags. Afterward, Ryan said, with a good amount of exhaustion in his voice, "I had a blast." Soon to be followed by, "I'm hot. I want my costume off." No matter that we were in the middle of the sidewalk. I told him he had to be a Storm Trooper until we got home. "I'm a Clone Trooper. And I'm thirsty, too. Can we stop for a water bottle?" We live four minutes from his school. Come on!

Cara meanwhile went with Mike and his cousin Dave to the Chiller Theater expo. Even though she's a huge Harry Potter fan, I thought this event would be too creepy for her. Think biker bar meets gore fest, and that's what I remember of the people that attended the show when I went about a dozen years ago. She was into it, though. She got some vintage creepy comic books and cookies that looked like severed fingers, so she stopped begrudging Ryan his dance party.

The next day we went to my brother Joe's Halloween party. He and his wife Jen rented a moonbounce and a cotton candy machine for the kids, none of whom went barf-o-rama after that combo, either. Cara wore her Corpse Bride costume to the party, and changed in and out of it into jeans every time she wanted to go on the moonbounce. She didn't want to rip the costume -- even though it's a dress that's purposely shredded on the bottom. The party was also educational because one of my nephews broke down the difference between Clone Trooper and Storm Trooper, and some other trooper that is just like a Storm Trooper but is blue. Hey, at least I stopped calling Ryan a Storm Trooper. After about 6 1/2 hours, we decided to roll out while the costumes were still intact.

On Sunday, we went to the New York Botanical Garden with my friend Barbara and her daughter Alex for its Haunted Halloween Walk. It was more fantastical than scary, with creatures dancing among the trees to the sounds of a flute or ancient drums. The kids got to wear their costumes again, too, so they dug it. It was all very arty, which wasn't lost on Ryan.

Ry (about half-way through the walk): I'm thirsty. And I want chips.

At the end of the walk, the Garden had set up snack tents. Barbara offered to buy Ryan a water bottle and chips. He accepted the water bottle, but the chips weren't the kind he's used to getting in the Garden Cafe. He wasn't about to eat Baked Lays! He wanted Miss Vickie's gourmet chips! Like Mike, who will drive 10 miles for a good bagel, and 20 miles for good pizza rather than eat "some crap," Ryan held out for the real deal.

Of course, that meant we had to hear him talk about the chips while on line for the shuttle, while ON the shuttle, while walking back from the Children's Garden. I think Barbara wanted to bean him with a fantastical club.

Monday -- Halloween Day -- was a blur. (Read the following like the coke-fueled, pre-bust scene in "Goodfellas.") Ryan wore his costume to school because he had a class party first thing in the morning. As one of the class moms, I got to make goody bags that morning for 16 kids, and then attend the party at 10 to hand out the food and drinks. After class, we drove home to begin carving pumpkins. Forty-five minutes later, I had to pick up Cara--so she could change into her costume. Both kids had Halloween parades. I made them lunch and then we went to Cara's shindig. Twenty-five minutes later, we bolted for Ryan's school parade, then home to continue carving pumpkins. After Cara came home, the real Halloween fun kicked in. Cara, Ryan, his buddy Andrew and I went with Alex, Barbara and a bunch of their friends to trick-or-treat. Then Ryan's friend James joined us. After three blocks, the group split up. A few blocks later, Cara was ready for me to drive her back to Alex. Ryan and Andrew continued on with James and his dad. Meanwhile, I phoned Barbara to get her twenty, dropped Cara off, and then got Ryan and Andrew who by then were at James' house. We emptied Ryan's and Andrew's 10-pound goody bags so they could carry on with empty bags. I put Andrew's candy and the boys in the car, tracked down Alex, Barbara and Cara, and got them in the car. Then we all trick-or-treated down Andrew's street, which has 30 houses that were all candy jackpots. Andrew and Alex were wiped out, but Cara and Ryan's "never say die" attitude was contagious. If there was a doorbell to be rung, they were ringin' it. The kids had about 17 pounds of candy each. (Being good conscientious parents, Mike and I will make sure we eat most of Cara and Ryan's.)

Finally, we dropped Andrew off at his house, Barbara & Alex back at their's, and convened at my friend Annie's, where a pizza & beer party was in full swing. Thank God. It was 7 o'clock. I'd had no lunch, and a fun-size M&Ms wasn't cutting it. Despite tight parking, I found a space directly in front of Annie's house. Why? Because I knew what was coming and was determined to head it off.

Cara: Can we trick-or-treat our way home?

Like I said, a national day of recovery must be mandated....

--Catherine Schetting Salfino

Monday, October 24, 2005

With presents like these....

When Cara was really little, Mike started an insane tradition of buying her a present whenever she got sick. I thought it was a waste of money, considering the amount of junk she had, but he perservered. "She deserves it," he'd say, and go buy her a coloring book and new crayons, or a $5 Kelly doll. These days, she's hardly ever sick, and when she is, she's old enough that she's not asking for anything; she's just grateful to be consuming massive quantities of non-educational TV.

I told Mike the present gimmick should have been dropped when Cara was old enough to not care about getting something, and Ryan was too young to realize the practice ever took place. "But he deserves something, too," Mike would say. So, here we are these days with Ryan--who goes for the jugular.

Ryan was sick last Thursday and Friday with a mysterioso fever that led to nothing. But I still couldn't send him to school. Or to a friend's house. By 10 a.m. Thursday, he was pressing the present button, incessantly.

Ryan: Since I'm home sick, can you get me a present?

Me: Maybe I'll go to Rite-Aid later, okay?

Ryan: No. Go to Toys R Us. They have a big white robot there that's...

Me: That robot is $100! You're not getting a hundred-dollar toy because you have a fever!

Ryan: Well, then go to KB Toys. They have a plane with a remote that really flies...

Me: That plane is $100!

Ryan: Well, I'm sick.

Me: You're crazy.

It's funny how Mike started the tradition, but I ended up carrying it out. Not this time, though. By late afternoon, Mike had to go out anyway, so he said he'd pick something out for Ryan. I'm thinking Spiderman bath bubbles, or a twirling lollipop--something I can throw away when it's gone.

Mike came home with SpongeBob Gooze.

What is Gooze? It's only the one item I've said NO to about 4,000 times. In all its forms. At all its retail venues. There is to be no Gooze in the house. The kids actually had ALMOST stopped asking for it. Sometimes they'd hold up a package, wordlessly plead with a pathetic look on their faces, and I'd just say, "Don't even try." And they'd knowingly put it back. That's how anti-Gooze I am.

Because, Gooze is pretty much what it sounds like--an oozing, gooey mess. That feels wet when you touch it (which every parent must, because every kid seems to think it's funny to get it all over the place).

When Mike walked in with the Gooze, I was like, "What are you nuts? That's going back!"

He's like, "Why, what is it?"

Cara and Ryan ran over, took one look and yelled, "It's Gooze!!!"

Within seconds, the package was ripped open and the Gooze was being manipulated. The idea was to put the Gooze in the rubber SpongeBob and then squeeze him. It would feel funny. It would look funny. Well, that only lasted so long. After dinner, Ryan wanted the Gooze out. It got on his pajamas. I had to pick it off. He stretched it wide so it looked like something disgusting coming out of his nose. I got grossed out and went into the kitchen.

That's when he thought it would be really fun to wrap the fake booger around his head and neck, and down the front of his pajamas. He was laughing when he found me. The laughter was to be short-lived.

"Oh, dear God, you didn't put this in your HAIR!?!?"

You see, the Gooze really can only be peeled off something smooth, Which most people don't let their kids play with. Even I don't. When it gets in the hair, well, that's when it becomes a mom project. WHICH IS WHY GOOZE IS NOT ALLOWED IN OUR HOUSE!!

I did my best to get it all out. But it's like trying to get all the oil drops out of water, using your fingers. I told Ryan we'd get it out with a shower. Which Mike ended up giving him, by the way.

The next day, Ryan woke up and his hair was sticking up on top. "Hey sleepy head," I said, and ruffled his hair. Only to feel DRIED Gooze! The scissors did the trick. And the Gooze is back in SpongeBob, where it will remain--until it mysteriously slipslides its way into the garbage can.

--Catherine Schetting Salfino

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Costume Required

Last Sunday was supposed to be dedicated to buying Halloween costumes for Cara and Ryan.

Up to this point, Cara had gone through much mind-changing and many ideas, including being Elton John.

Me: Cara, no one will know who you are. Besides you wear glasses. You can't just put big Elton John glasses over your own--that will look idiotic, even for Halloween. And I'm not buying NEW lenses for Elton John frames.

We have to cover many debate points to win an argument with Cara.

She also thought she'd be The Costume Store. She could have just pulled out pieces from all of her past costumes and gone with that. But she actually wanted to go to a costume store and start buying new things, like a clown nose, a vampire cape, a weird wig, etc. About $100 later, she would have just looked like a wreck, so that idea was scrapped.

Finally, she decided to be the Corpse Bride, from the Tim Burton movie. She went online and found out that an actual costume exists for this. Groovy.

Meanwhile, Ryan has decided to be a storm trooper from Star Wars. Which is interesting considering he's never seen even one minute of any Star Wars movie. I think it's the influence of one of his buddies, who, at age 4, sat through the last Lucas film, gore and all. He thought it was cool, told Ryan all about it, and now Ryan is in.

Before we went out Sunday, Mike and I decided Cara's fall boots--a pair of black Sketchers from two years ago--needed to be trashed. She'd done everything a kid could do in them--wore them around cities on both coasts, trod through muddy orchards while apple picking, played school yard dodge ball in them despite the big heels. They were finished. I told Cara I'd get her a new pair of boots first and then we'd hit Party City for the costumes on the way back. Ryan didn't mind going to the mall first, because he knows all malls have either a pet store or toy store--maybe even both--and he's guaranteed entertaiment at one of them.

Now, I shop more like a man. In shopping surveys that I've read, men really only shop when they have something specific they need to buy. Once they buy that one thing, they leave. Most women, on the other hand, like to shop for fun. That's not me. I only go to the mall when I have something in particular I need. Like Cara's boots. So, I only wanted to go to stores that had boots. Cara and Ryan thought I'd lost my mind.

Cara: You don't go to the MALL and just go to one kind of store.

Ryan: Yeah! And you said I could go to the toy store, the pet store, Build-a-Bear.

Me: They don't have Build-a-Bear at this mall.

Cara: They have Pawsenclaws. It's the same thing.

Ryan: Yeah! And I want to go there!

It's so rare that the two of them ever agree on anything, I could feel my heart warming and my mind giving in.

Cara: And I want to go to Claire's. And The Icing. And Bath & Body Works.

Me: Do the words "Halloween costumes" ring a bell? We won't have time to go though every store at the mall AND get your costumes. Party City closes early on Sundays.

Ryan: They have a costume store here. We'll go to that one.

I don't know how he knew that, but you can't argue with logic. The next thing I knew, they were trying to drag me into a video game store.

After visiting Pawsnenclaws, GapKids, a costume store that didn't have either of the costumes they wanted, the pet store (Cara: Mom, can't we get a cocker spaniel puppy TODAY?), Spencer Gifts (a place I hadn't been in about 20 years, and so forgot it was completely inappropriate for a 10-year-old. "What's this?," Cara asked as she reached for a joke package of "dwarf condoms.") and something like 20 shoe places, Cara got a pair of boots she liked. She and Ryan were both thirsty and I needed a java jolt. I told them we'd go to the food court for a break.

But first, Cara saw Claire's. Which is a haven for trendy hair things, jewelry, cutesy key rings, sequin belts, feathered pens. You know--a girly girl store. Ryan marched right in.

His actual target: the candy shelf. I was like, no way. He'd already had a handful of candy from a machine in Pawsenclaws and I was about to take them for a snack in the food court. No matter. While Cara was perusing the clip-on earrings and flavored Chap Sticks, Ryan was desperately holding up Nerds Ropes, Pez dispensers, Paint Brush lollipops and who-knows-what else. For the first time that day, I stood firm.

As we left and headed for the food court, Cara was happy with the new clip-on earrings she bought with $5.50 in assorted change from her room, and Ryan was crying and calling me a mean meanie. I'm like, "I'm about to buy you a drink and a snack you two can share (because at this point, it was almost dinnertime!). Then we're leaving. TO BUY YOU A COSTUME! How is that mean?!"

We got our snacks and drinks. PS--never does Starbucks taste so good as after a few hours with kids at a crowded mall. We got out of there, and drove straight into a long line of traffic. I said, "This is worse than Christmas traffic. What's the deal?" That's when we saw the flooded roadway up ahead. That we had to drive through to leave. It took half an hour to get out of the mall. Which meant, no time for Party City.

...And what was the point of this shopping trip?

--Catherine Schetting Salfino

Monday, September 26, 2005

Did You Ever See an Apple, Wearing a Bapple?

Okay, we did the annual apple picking trip Sunday. Last year (and it seems like only yesterday) we ended up at a find-the-apple apple orchard. There were no pony rides, no hay rides, no entertainment.

This year, we went for the gusto. We went to a major league orchard in New York state, as opposed to New York City, which of course has LOADS of apple orchards, but who wants to fight the traffic, y'know? So we went to a place in Warwick, NY. It has all the accoutrements, or should I say trappings, of a major league apple orchard--the ponies, the pumpkins, the "general store," the country singers. And of course, a 4,000-acre apple orchard.

I was thirsty when we left the house so I had a bottle of water on the way up. Then, in lieu of lunch, I had a Slim-Fast shake. On the way up to Warwick, we stopped and picked up Cara's friend Rita, and continued on. The water was working its way through my system. Then, we hit a little Renaissance Faire traffic. Which of course meant we ended up following a pickup truck whose license plate spelled ABNORMAL and had a skull hitch cover with eyes that lit up in red whenever the driver braked. Of course.

Before too long, (tell that to my bladder, which was now feeling the effects of the water and a shake), we pulled into the orchard. Only, I didn't realize that a) it was a 4,000-acre orchard, and b) there were multiple ways to get in the place. I just followed the line of cars. Just blindly followed the line of cars. Bad move. Especially when you need a restroom FIRST.

This orchard is different from any others we've been to. In fact, it's really the ONLY place in the tri-state area I've been where an SUV could actually come in handy. You drive your car through the orchard and park in whatever -- I don't know what it's called in an orchard -- a lane, an aisle -- that you want. Sadly, the car in front of us looked to be a '79 Datsun, and immediately bottomed out and then spun out on the gravel dirt drive. It churned up a dust storm Kansas would've been proud of.

Yeah, that's one thing about orchards, they're not paved. And when a rest room is needed, you can really FEEL the unpavedness of it all. Especially when the orchard just keeps GOING and GOING. About five minutes into it, Cara announced the strong possibility that she was going to barf. Ryan started yelling, "Open the windows, open the windows," and Rita told Cara to stick her head out just in case. After--seriously--20 minutes, we got to the other end of the orchard and that holy grail of a restroom.

The restroom was conveniently located in the entertainment area. Ryan wanted a pony ride. But first, there was the ol' timey singers to pass by. The singers were calling all kids to come up front for an apple version of hot potato. I said to Ry, "That kid up there looks like Donald (a boy he went to pre-K with)." The kid turned around and, sure enough, it WAS Donald. Up there in the country orchard. Ready to play hot apple. So Ry joins him and they're having a blast while I chat with Donald's mom. Within a couple of minutes, Cara and Rita ask when we're going to start picking apples. I'm like, "We came to this place for all the other stuff it has: the pony rides, the entertainment."

Cara: "You call this entertainment?!"

Rita: "It's what I call boredom."

And they're 10. That's why 16-year-olds are dropped off at the mall.

I told them they could go to the first row of apple trees where I could see them, but let Ryan continue with the apple fun. He and Donald got caught with the hot apple, and were ready for the pony ride, which was $5. That's right, FIVE DOLLARS. In the country. Where costs are lower than in Manhattan. But those country folk see our cars a' comin', and they squint their eyes and say, "City folk. Let's git 'em."

And WE'RE NOT EVEN LIVING IN A CITY. But people in areas like Warwick, NY or Sussex County, NJ consider anyone from outside their immediate proximity to be city folk, a.k.a., suckers.

So, I get Ryan a ticket, because this is going to be his FIRST EVER pony ride. Donald goes right before him. We moms have our cameras ready. And then the ride ends. In ONE go round the ring. Donald's mom asked, "It's one time around, because they only went around one time." "Yep. Once around," the country guy said. Donald's mom and I looked at each other like, "Holy @!!

I would have put up a fuss or gone back to the ticket window to get my money back, but Ryan was already trying to get over to Rita and Cara. Who had spent the last 20 minutes picking TWO apples.

The orchard kind of runs up a big hill, a very big hill, and the restrooms, general store, etc., are at the bottom of this hill. So, we start up the hill, with the kids picking as they're going. We pass people who had coolers, blankets, lawn chairs spread out around their cars. I heard the distinct clink of beer bottles. People were playing frisbee and soccer among the trees. We didn't know you're supposed to park your car and pick in the area around your vehicle. Nooo, not us. We were keepin' it real.

At one point, Rita's foot went into a ditch and she stood up with burrs all over her sweat pants. Cara went over to help clean her off, and she went down, twisting her ankle in the process. Which is a habit of hers at this point--see previous entries. Of course, Ryan had to help her, and he went down, too. All of them, covered in burrs, hobbling, and our bags were only half-filled.

Rita was a real sport and insisted on carrying her bag of apples. Ryan had long-since given me his, and Cara now was in too much pain to deal with hers. I told them to just keep picking to the end of the row, and then we'd head back downhill to the car. Well, by the end of the row, all three of them literally had their thumbs out in an effort to hitch a ride to the bottom from passing drivers. The people smiled like, "How cute. How funny." Which only made the three of them more frustrated. Rita decided enough was enough with carrying her apples, and gave me her bag. I condensed Ryan's and Cara's into one full bag, and we dodged cars, teenager apple fights and mysterious holes in the ground, and made it back to the car.

After buying our two bags of apples (paying roughly what you'd pay for dinner at a family restaurant), we were out of there. Only to pass a humble country crafter who was selling dolls in homemade outfits (you could almost hear her saying, "Come and get it, suckers!") Luckily 10-year-old girls aren't into dolls with crocheted gowns. We passed the woman and her dolls, only to hit traffic. Which Brownie the Bear, of the local fire department, took advantage of--by standing in the middle of the street hitting up the city folk for donations.

As we drove through, I told the crew, "You know, Dad and I looked at houses up here years ago."

Ryan: "Too bad you didn't get one. They have big yards."

Cara: "And we'd have a big house, too."

Rita: "And you could take advantage of all the city folk."

Yeeee ha.

--Catherine Schetting Salfino

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Feelin' mighty low

This past Sunday was probably the most low-key football Sunday ever. Probably because I was feeling pretty low -- with a stomach virus. Welcome to back-to-school time. When whatever germ is rolling around the classroom will be coming to your home soon.

Man! I spent Saturday in bed, feeling pretty much like who-did-it-and-ran. And the one thing about being too sick to move is, you end up watching commercials because you just can't be bothered changing the channel. One commercial started to stand out. It was for an insurance company, and I must have seen it five times--two guys on a roof with a rope tying them together. The one guy apparently needs to repair the siding, I'm guessing, and he's going to rappel down the side of the house while the weight of the other guy keeps him from plunging to the ground. He jumps, they both go flying off the roof, and one guy does a swan dive into a tree.

By the third time I saw it, I was thinking, "The one guy really looks like he's going into the tree." On the fourth viewing, I'm waiting to see him go into the tree again, thinking, "Is he REALLY going into the tree, or is he going behind it?" On the fifth viewing, I'm thinking, "Did they use dummies or CGI to make it look like the guy really went into the tree? Because it REALLY looks like he went into the tree."

And this is what happens when you're sick to your stomach. Your head aches, your back aches. Of course your stomach aches. The fever kicks in and then -- you get crazy thoughts going in your head about the making of insurance company commercials.

Normally, I never even watch TV before 9 p.m. And what I DO watch is TiVo'd, so I skip the commercials. Therefore, I submit the following theorem: A stomach virus was planted in our school district by the New York ad industry in a dastardly plot to get everyone so sick all they can do is mindlessly watch TV, and NOT change channels. (But seriously, it looked like a REAL GUY flying into a tree.)

So, Sunday afternoon, I was feeling a bit better, and I decided to take Cara to the high school track -- so SHE could run and get in shape for soccer. Nothing like pushing somebody else to exercise. I felt like a head coach. She gave me three laps and announced that it was too hot (is 86 degrees too hot -- when you're a kid!) and too muggy (I kind of thought it was residual illness that was making my breathing labored) to go any further. I told her to walk a lap to bring down her heart rate safely. She circled the team bench and crabbed, "Let's go!" Which led to my big lecture about health, exercise, and cooling down properly. To which she replied, "Turn up the air conditioning!"

Ryan, meanwhile had been at a buddy's house. I called the friend's house to say Cara would be coming over to walk him back home. The dad said he was about to take them all to a park to play soccer--and Cara was welcome. "I'll go!," she says. Enthusiastically! Huh!? She runs to their house but was back in five minutes, with Ryan.

"It's too gross out there to play soccer," he crabs.

"Can you believe him!? He doesn't want to play. You're crazy," Cara says to him, and takes off.

Cut to me, slackjawed, "...And I thought the insurance company musings were crazy."

...Week two...done!

--Catherine Schetting Salfino

Friday, September 16, 2005

Back In The Saddle Again

Well, you know NFL football season is upon us because I'm looking for fun things to do with the kids while the games are played for about 67 consecutive hours every weekend.

But, most interestingly -- as I found out this week -- the NFL and DirecTV offer a special package where viewers can watch a whole game in 20 minutes. It's just the plays--no color commentary, no sideline reactions, no huddles, NO COMMERCIALS. And the game boils down to 20 minutes. TWENTY MINUTES!!

Only men could dream up a way of turning a 20-minute game into a three-hour odyssey that somehow becomes a national pasttime involving enormous beer consumption, which leads to an endless barrage of beer commercials featuring lusty, scantily clad size-4 models who will run their fingers over the heads of leering jerks, pathetic dorks and bald, fat men in checkered shirts IF they're downing the right suds. Ah, but ain't that America?

Meanwhile, I spent Sunday doing that all-American thing with the kids--attending a food festival. In this case, an Italian food festival in Hoboken, NJ. ...In Frank Sinatra Park, baby.

I mistakenly parked farther away from the park than was necessary, so we ended up cutting through Stevens Institute of Technology, which, VERY surprisingly, has a really beautiful campus with fantastic views of Manhattan and the surrounding towns. I mean, you're walking through an urban neighborhood, and then you're surrounded by rolling green hills, Adirondack chairs, ivy-covered buildings. So we were strolling, and Cara and I were talking when Ryan, who pretty much keeps a running commentary going, became more insistent with whatever he was saying until we finally tuned in to hear him saying, "LOOK, a GROUNDHOG, a GROUNDHOG!" Sure enough, a chubby little groundhog was snuffling around not five feet from us. A groundhog lives in Hoboken. And he wasn't like a country groundhog, scampering off as soon as we came near. He was a city animal. We looked at him, he looked at us. He ran his paw over his head and said, "Yo, how YOU doin'?" Okay, that part I made up. But he DID hock a loogie and light up a Marlboro.

Anyway, we found the park, which is situated right next to the Hudson. What a setting. Sinatra would have loved it--the Hudson River at your feet, Manhattan in the background, sailboats gliding back and forth--and the smell of sausage & peppers and zeppoles in the air. Of course, Ryan got edgy with his food choice and went with pizza. Cara got a proscuitto and mozzarella sandwich --which is a great choice when you have braces--from the Michael's Salumeria stand. We know the owner so he also gave the kids free gelato. Ryan said he was too full to eat the gelato, so he let me have it. Until two seconds later, when he realized what he'd done, yelled that he was still hungry and took the whole thing back.

We watched grape stomping, listened to music, and the kids played some arcade games. Ryan could not BELIEVE he didn't win a prize at either of the games he played. I tried to explain the phrase, "That's how they get ya," but that only made it worse.

Since we'd been festivaling for a few hours at that point, I decided to pull the plug on the day. I got some "butterfly fries," french fries that look like long ribbons, for the walk back to the car. As we noshed on fries, Ryan scared me by almost getting hit by a driver who ignored the police barricades and drove at regular speed among about 100 pedestrians. We noshed some more, and then Ryan made a wild dash for an eight-inch opening in the railing that keeps kids like him out of the Hudson. We walked and noshed some more, and then Cara twisted her ankle on the edge of the sidewalk. Feeling nauseous from the combo of fries, near misses and whining, I chucked the fries and decided to settle my stomach with some Starbucks. Which, of course, didn't work because that stuff could chew through steel cables.

Man, I can't wait for next Sunday!

Catherine Schetting Salfino

Friday, March 04, 2005

The Gates of Hell

Well, we saw "The Gates." And, man, was it ever a day of fun and folly.

The fun was when the power steering "just went" on the Volvo. That was fun. Especially since it happened as soon as we turned onto Manhattan's West Side Highway. Luckily, it was before we saw "The Gates." So, it was about 9:15 a.m. on a Sunday in the city. When car dealerships are closed and mechanics are indisposed. Those aspects really added to the fun.

Why, you say, did you try again to see "The Gates?" Because, I reply, I want my husband to slowly lose his sanity, and making two attempts at seeing this "art installation" seemed the perfect, and quickest, way to pull this off.

Two weeks prior, you may remember, when we tried the first time to see "The Gates," we couldn't get a parking space for love or money. Mike was annoyed at spending an hour-and-a-half trying to find a space that wasn't going to be found, but relieved that he didn't have to admit to anyone, including himself, that he lowered his cultural standards and went to the Christo/Jeanne Claude exhibit.

He was stupified when I told him two weeks later that I was going to take the kids in to the city to see "The Gates." (And doesn't it seem that much more important when I put quote marks around it?) All he could muster up was, "WHY???"

But, rather than see his two deprived children hop on a public transit bus with me, rather than have me do the driving myself so he could stay home and relax in front of the tube, he decided to come with us. And that's why the power steering "just went." To really drive it home with him that seeing "The Gates" was not just stupid, but insane.

We decided to leave early--to get parking this time, as we were going on the last day of the exhibit. We got bagels on the way in. I had coffee in one hand, bagel in the other. And Mike says, "The steering just went." Yet, the car was still moving and he was changing lanes without crashing into the Intrepid. It took a couple more tries before he figured out how to explain that the POWER steering just went.

Now, for those of you who think that if your power steering goes out, it's just like having manual or non-power steering, you're wrong. It's like steering a one-ton boat that's half-submerged in drying cement. Unless the car is moving--then it's only like steering through mud. So. There's a lesson for ya.

After finding out that "Roadside Assistance" would only come tow the car, and not bring power steering fluid, Mike dropped me, Cara and Ryan off at Central Park, and said he'd go home. An hour or so later, he calls my cell to tell me he found a Mobil station on 51st that put in power steering fluid and SECURED THE ROD THAT HOLDS IN THE POWER STEERING FLUID, which was something the "mechanic" forgot to do when we had the car serviced last time.

So, Mike got to "enjoy" the saffron fabric billowing in the breeze after all. It was such fun. Such folly. Thank bloody God it's over.

--Catherine Schetting Salfino

Thursday, February 24, 2005

All American Dad

So, Mike and I are watching "American Chopper," a really fun show--if you like big burly guys swearing their brains out while creating incredible custom motorcycles--and Mike sees a similarity between himself and the dad on the show.

I'm like, "Yeeaaahhh. Hello!"

I'm writing a story today--for my paying job--and Mike is yelling at Ryan, bellowing God-knows-what from other parts of the house, crabbing LOUDLY about the mess the kids left in the basement. Meanwhile, I'm supposed to create a really good lead that's acceptable to me and two other editors. Mike IS the guy from American Chopper.

Last Friday the kids had off from school. Two of my friends are single working moms, so I had their girls come over, too, while they worked at their jobs, which are NOT at home with a loud-mouthed, swearing husband. Four kids, nine hours to kill. Mike made himself scarce. "I want to subtract the number of kids in this house, not add, Cath. How many times do I have to tell you?"

Since I said I might take the kids to the movies, my friend B. gave me a $25 movie card, even though she only has one child. It was exhorbitant, I refused it, she refused to let me refuse it--you know how it goes. So I took the kids to the movies.
I thought something like the zebra cartoon, "Racing Stripes." But that was out of the theaters. So I thought "Winn-Dixie," a movie based on a sweet children's book. Cara: "I'm seeing that with my class on Thursday."

All of them: "We want to see 'Son of the Mask!'"

I was like, "No way. Forget it. There's no Jim Carrey, not that I liked the first 'Mask.' But this has talking babies AND talking dogs. No. It's not happening."

Them: "We want to see 'Son of the Mask!'"

So, guess what we saw? And guess who laughed her ass off? I never saw the "Jamie Kennedy Experiment," so I didn't know who this guy was. But, very funny. Particularly the part when his wife is leaving for a business trip and he is desperately, quietly telling her as she's getting into the airport cab, "Take the baby. Please. Take the baby. Just....take the baby."

That was legitimate.

One thing we never got around to doing was see "The Gates" in Central Park. We tried, but couldn't get parking. We've NEVER not gotten parking in the city. We've parked for the Thanksgiving Day parade, Christmas week. We even accidentally drove right into the Gay Pride parade and got a street space. But, not for "The Gates."

We tried parking at garages, looked down many, many, many, many, many streets. After an hour and a half, of which Mike did nothing but tell me how a: "The Gates" look like a construction zone; b: he couldn't believe it cost $21 million for orange sheets; c: he didn't know who was crazier--the people who thought "The Gates" were art or us, for looking so long for a space to go see "The Gates," we finally came home.

It was nuts. We coulda, shoulda, woulda taken the ferry and had a shuttle ride to the park. But who knew half the world would come out for this? Now, "The Gates" exhibit is ending on Sunday, and surprise, surprise, Mike won't have anything to do with trying --again-- to see it. But, when I think about it, I can't really picture the American Chopper dad enjoying "The Gates" either.

--Catherine Schetting Salfino

Monday, January 24, 2005

Sick of it all

Being snowed in for a couple of days in nearly two feet of snow made me take stock this weekend. I looked around, at what I had; at my kids, and all they have. And I realized something -- they have just too much crap. And, so sadly, I can't TiVo it away....

The problem is, we are coming off a week of severe stomach virus. Couple that with 21 inches of snow, and you have a "Shining" moment waiting to happen. We were trapped with the virus, then snow, then in a wreckage of our own making. Movie voiceover guy: "It was the stuff that HELL was made of...."

Cara was crazy sick for three days. She couldn't do anything but watch TV. Couldn't eat, couldn't move. Couldn't change her socks or brush her hair, either. She was in heaven. This meant no picking up after herself. But, when you consider that she was knocked out sick, this should not have been an issue. Surrre....

She was hit with the virus last Tuesday. I came home from a meeting Wednesday evening sick as a dog. When I came out of my stupor on Friday, I realized the house looked like something seen only in tornado aftermath footage.

Cut to the weekend. Ryan gets sick 5 a.m. Saturday morning. But he can't accept that. He has to keep pulling out toys, digging for gloves and hats in a plea for snow action--even though he'd get a raging fever whenever the Motrin wore off.

By Sunday, I'd had it with the TV being on. Cara was no longer sick and after a couple of hours in the snow, wanted to return to the comforting glow of "Even Stevens" and "Lizzie McGuire." On the other hand, Ryan, still sick, refused to lay down and take his illness like a man--"SpongeBob's not on."

So I told them we'd play with Play-Doh and the ol' Lite Brite. But first, I'd have to find the little plastic light pieces. This led to a sobering reminder that we have an Easy Bake oven that was used once, more Hasbro and Milton Bradley games than we WANT to play with (because "no fair" is shouted more often than "I connected four!"), enough Hot Wheels and Match Box cars to circle our town twice. About 49,000 crayons and markers. A jillion coloring books, activity books, and just plain BOOKS. Yet, not enough Lite Brite lights (Mike thinks they're out in the garage--see previous blogs about Mike's organizing efforts).

So, I made an agreement with the big guy (actually, it was just a stipulation of marriage)--the next person to give Cara or Ryan ANYthing before their birthdays this spring has to put $100 into savings. We need to punish ourselves. It's the only way to stop the insanity. You can't keep up with the stuff if it just keeps coming in.

Which led me to the realization that all housekeeping should be as easy as TiVo housekeeping. With TiVo, when the recorded shows pile up, you scroll through, decide if you want to keep or delete them, press a button--badabing, badaboom, done. I feel like "Bewitched." No tapes or DVDs to organize. No piles of stuff to move around.

I need TiVo cleaning for every room in my house. It could pop up a list of stuff in Cara's room: I could scroll through and click what to keep, what to delete, what to put in the closet, a drawer. Click, click, done.

Why, oh, why is this not available?? TiVo, WHY DO YOU TAUNT ME?!?

--Catherine Schetting Salfino

Monday, January 10, 2005

The case of the missing gift cards

A year or so ago, a friend from high school told me how annoying it was when his older girl, who was 9 or 10 at the time, would roll her eyes and/or back talk. I, in a rare Mary Poppins moment, told him that "That's just girls. It's what we women do." Cut to yesterday. When my brain was actually undergoing a mental meteor shower after Cara rolled her eyes and started with the snarky comments for the billionth time in one weekend. Did Mary Poppins ever threaten to wash any kids' mouths out using a foaming soap dispenser?

Mike --the ole' softy-- told me to put the dispenser down. Foaming soap is not the answer. He said he'd give me a Sunday morning to myself while he took the kids to the mall. Sounded good.

Cut to 20 minutes later. He couldn't find the Gap gift cards he'd had in his hands two days prior. Gift cards from MY family. One of which my own mother had lost before she even gave it. And told us the story of how she had to have the original gift cards cancelled so she could re-order new ones. THIS was one of the cards Mike couldn't find. I think retailers rely on this kind of insanity to boost their earnings.

Instead of a quiet morning to myself, we spent the next half-hour searching for the cards together. Mike's coats, Mike's bill box. Mike's dresser drawers. My wallet, my purse, my bill box. My dresser drawers. Why anything of mine was dragged into the search, I don't know. Because I never touched the cards. When Mike was going to take Ryan to the store last week, he had the cards on his person. But after they were on the road, they decided not to go. Yesterday, Mike kept saying he remembered taking them out of his coat and setting them down when he came home that day. How helpful.

Since I was foaming at the mouth at that point, and soap had nothing to do with it, he decided to take the kids and get the hell out of the house before they all ended up with teeth marks.

I should have put my feet up, clicked on the Fine Living channel and stopped the search. Coulda, shoulda, woulda--didn't. I went through everything again. I looked under beds. In the kids rooms. Stupid places like MY car. Meanwhile, Mike kept calling me every half-hour to report that (first call): he was still mentally retracing his steps; (second call): I should look on the entertainment center in the basement; (third call): who remembers what he was calling about because by then I had a whole new blob of aggravation to report:

While searching for the missing gift cards in the travesty that is Cara's room, which is a scary and depressing undertaking, I realized that the purse she was looking for earlier was probably thrown out. A week or so earlier, Cara had gone shopping with a friend. The purse she brought had a--don't say it--gift card in it. She brought the purse home in a giant shopping bag, removed her purchases, and--I believe--left the purse in the shopping bag to get tossed into the garbage can. So, unless the purse is somehow hidden the the murk of her closet or under her bed, it--and the gift card that had $10 left on it--is probably gone.

All too soon, Mike came home with the kids. I popped two Advils, made the kids lunch and prepared to take Cara and Ryan to Cara's indoor soccer game. Mike went to hunker down on the computer. Suddenly, he bounds up the stairs and slaps down the two missing gift cards.

"They were behind the computer screen. All you had to do was lift the screen up and they were there on the desk."

All I had to do?? All I had to do!? What the @!%? I'm seeing meteor showers again...


Friday, January 07, 2005

Happy New Year!

I'm back in action. That's right. The holidays are over, I've completed the decorating, drinking, baking, eating of fattening things, shopping, drinking, wrapping, eating of more fattening things, visiting, stressing, drinking, hosting, drinking and...for some reason, I don't remember where I was going with this.

But the big Holiday 2004 season is done. Now, on to the Big Letdown of 2005. For the kids, this began New Year's Day. We had some friends over on New Year's Eve--my two single-mom friends (well, one is in the middle of deciding if she's going to be single or not--why this is such a wrenching decision, I just don't get!) and their kids.

Ryan took a nap from about 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., and was able to stay up past midnight. Cara, working on her natural kid energy, was up until 1 a.m. For fun, she and her friends created holiday "poppers" that exploded with metallic confetti when the ends were pulled at midnight by everyone. It was a great thrill, very festive, and I'm still finding sequins around the house. Mike and I were up 'til 2 doing a clean-up.

Ryan, being a kid of great intelligence, decided that since he went to bed at 1 a.m., it would be a good idea to wake up at 6:45 a.m. He taps me, I open my eyes, and he starts doing this "Walk Like An Egyptian" thing in my face. I hissed at him to go back to bed, where he remained for another hour. Cut to later the same day, he naps for three hours....Me, I'm on the coffee Rx.

By 4 p.m., both kids were looking for playdates. I was looking for a quiet place to hide. Finding none, I decided to take everyone to Home Depot. Happy New Year, everybody! The moaning and groaning that ensued should make me remember that, the next time I want some "me time," I should tell Cara and Ryan I'm going to everyone's favorite do-it-yourself warehouse.

Of course, we only go there for things like big pieces of plexiglass. That's right. Santa brought a 500-piece puzzle that was set up on the coffee table in the living room for about five days. Because it takes more than five days for me to do a 500-piece puzzle. Santa forgot that kids aren't going to really invest a lot of time in a puzzle when there's a perfectly good SpongeBob video game calling their name.

So, the half-completed puzzle had to be moved before the New Year's gathering. On his own, without telling me either what he was up to of that he might need some help, Mike flattened a box from a Hot Wheels race track set and proceeded to try to slide the puzzle on by himself. The unfortunate result led to him calling for my help. I looked at two days of puzzling down the drain, and proceeded to slide what was still together onto the floppy Hot Wheels board. At which point, Mike got an itch on his face and just let go of the left side of the cardboard.

Me: "Do you need a brain transplant?! I could have left the puzzle out during the party and it wouldn't be as wrecked as it is now!"

Mike: "What? I had an itch!"

Hence, the plexiglass shopping trip. So that a half-finished puzzle can be moved out of sight without actually destroying most of it. And, perhaps--and I'm getting misty-eyed just thinking about it, we'll have started a new family tradition--"Happy New Year! Let's go to Home Depot!"