Sunday, December 30, 2007

Cheers to you!

Loyal readers, please accept my apologies for not blogging for so many days (though LAP picked up some of my slack. Thank you, LAP). The truth is that I was so busy enjoying the holidays with family that I didn't have enough time and energy to write. The hubby, bubby, and I were on an eight-day tour of Midwestern love. We started in Chicago; traveled to Terre Haute, IN (home of the Honey Creek Mall and federal death row); drove from Terre Haute to Salem, IL (birthplace of William Jennings Bryan); headed back to Terre Haute; then traveled to Fairfield, OH (City of Opportunity, NTB); and finally made our way back to the Windy City just in time to sit in a little bit of Bears traffic on Lake Shore Drive. Holiday road trips can be tough (at least if you are forced to travel with an "inefficient packer" like me, just ask my husband about all the fun he had loading the car and then driving it with zero visibility), but I would not have traded a moment with the family and friends with whom we celebrated the holidays. What's more, it was an absolute joy to see the bubby enjoying his grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The bub still has no idea why he received presents, but he mightily enjoyed opening them. The coming weeks are sure to bring reports of the fun he is having with some of his loot.

Since this is a season of gift-giving and blessing counting, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of you who take the time to check and read this blog. I started it on a whim (credit for its name goes to my youngest brother, The Intern) and it has proven to be a richly satisfying and rewarding endeavor. Though a lifelong lover of words, I have always thought of myself as a reader more than a writer, probably because reading has almost always been pure pleasure for me whereas I often find writing frustrating and time intensive. As most of you know, I have been in graduate school since 2001 and have written hundreds and hundreds of pages of the mostly frustrating and time intensive variety since then.* Starting the blog has been an opportunity for me to have fun with writing and my voice. Blogging has also changed my outlook on daily life, especially the challenges of motherhood. Though always a glass-half-full-type person, I now find myself, more than ever, looking for the humor and the joy in the world and people around me. With the name, "Not to Brag," I had planned to use the blog to report on accomplishments that might be worth bragging (or not) about. I never imagined I would be shouting my love for Lean Cuisine pizzas from the rooftop, reporting on the bub's bowel movements, or finding a forum to vent my long-held frustration with male attitudes toward fashion. That's the best thing about life though: those moments when our lives exceed our own imagined versions of them. Hands down, the best thing about starting a blog has been the feedback I have received from those who read it. To all of you who leave comments, send me emails, or pass on your compliments via my mom, I thank you. I feel closer and more connected to friends and family than ever, NTB.

I am thrilled to report that two of my dear friends (both of whom are far better writers than I) have started blogs--check out the links to Beyond Pickles and It's A Small World After All to your left. I love seeing life through their eyes and am delighted whenever new posts are on offer. Maybe starting a blog is something you might be thinking about for 2008 . . . I would love to read it. I'm planning a New Year's Resolution post for Tuesday. Until then, thanks again to all of you for reading. I hope you enjoyed a wonderful holiday season and I wish for you, in 2008 and always, more health, happiness, fun, humor, and joy than you even imagined . . . and plenty to (not) brag about!

*Academic writing does have its satisfactions and shining moments, I will admit, but they are hard won.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Head for the Arches

I know you are probably in MEP withdrawal (I am). She’s been traveling to visit family over the holidays with “limited access to email” (a favorite line in the out of office responses I’ve received for work.) So, here I am as a temporarily fill-in until she has a chance to post again. I’ve decided to write about one of my favorite things: McDonalds.

I love it. Really I do. I will go ahead and give my disclaimer that yes, I know it’s bad for me. I know there are healthier fast food alternatives, but that doesn't keep me from choosing my cheeseburger with no pickle and onion, french fries, and diet coke time and time again. I do try to limit the fast food intake of my children, but as MEP herself has pointed out, she doesn’t want the bub to be denied such things as fast food or else he will be a nerd who overindulges to the point of looking ridiculous once he is exposed. Makes sense to me. (I look forward to the day that Apple Martin is photographed biting into a quarter pounder as Gwyneth has said she’d get her kids McDonalds “over my dead body.” Yes, Apple, there are snacks other than hummus.)

As far as citing specifically what I enjoy about McDonalds, I’ll list my top 3 things:

1. French fries: When the batch is made properly, they are hands down the best fries around. Consistency can sometimes be a problem, but the gamble is worth it.

2. Fountain soda: For some reason, the pop at McDonalds tastes better than it does anywhere else. I can’t explain it, but hopefully some of you know what I am talking about. A former coworker told me something about refrigerated trucks…I don’t know or care why it is (I lack intellectual curiosity in that way) but my diet coke just tastes better when it comes from the McDonalds tap.

3. Soft serve: Cones, sundaes, and (gasp) McFlurries. The first two are tasty and a great bang for your buck. The last is a lovely addition to the menu. I will say though that I’ve had to send mine back before (much to the embarrassment of my husband) because a half-full butterfinger McFlurry just doesn’t cut it when you wanted a whole one. (side note: I was nice about it and so were they)

Really, though, I believe my love for McDonalds runs much deeper than the offerings themselves. Many happy childhood memories include McDonalds. For instance, some families went to Bob Evans, Perkins, maybe even home for a nice post-church breakfast, but not us. You could find us in the back corner booth of McDonalds every Sunday. We lingered and chatted for a while after 9:30 mass, then moseyed over to McDonalds just before 11am. With this strategic timing, those wanting breakfast could still order it, but lunch (always my choice) was just minutes away. I knew we had been there a lot when “Grandma” (as her name tag read) once recited my order to me as soon as I stepped up to the counter. It was a simple little tradition to look forward to and, as my mom has since pointed out, it made Sunday morning more relaxing for my parents.

How many people can say that their first date was at McDonalds? Or, how many people would admit that? Ours was by accident (if it wasn’t an accident I don’t want to know that). My now husband and I were on our way to a sporting event and it started raining once we got off the exit. We ducked into McDonalds to have lunch and let it pass over. By the time we were done, the rain had stopped. (It should be noted that said date ended up lasting 11 hours and thus he was forced to purchase another meal plus some snacks for me.)

Even at ages 1 and 3, my daughters have their own McDonalds memories in the making. I was driving in the car with them last week (trying to get the younger one to sleep…don’t judge - it was a rough day) when J. asked if she could get a little cone from McDonalds, like the kind Papa gets her after dance class. I asked her to explain further and she said that after her weekly dance class that Grammy takes her to, Papa meets them at McDonalds and always gets she and N. a little cone after lunch. I can completely picture this scenario with my dad at the counter asking for "a couple of those little cones".

Were Oakbrook, IL not such a far commute from Cincinnati, OH, I’d be working at corporate right now. I’d love to analyze what part of the country eats the most Big Macs, learn the procurement process for the Happy Meal toys, find out just who out there actually enjoyed the McRib, and “not brag” to fellow employees that the owner of the McDonalds just a couple miles away from me invented the Filet O Fish. As I don’t plan on moving anytime (no worries, mom), I will just rely on the insider knowledge gained back in the 1st grade when our field trip involved taking a tour of the Fairfield, OH McDonalds on the VERY WEEK THAT I WAS LINE LEADER. I couldn’t have planned it any better.

In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy McDonalds and the memories it seems to provide until my waistline comes up with a new plan. For now though, I’m lovin’ it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Everyone telling you be of good cheer . . .

This is the most wonderful time of the year. I truly believe that. However, it can also be the busiest and most stressful. All fall, I've been eagerly awaiting the holidays season, certain that the bub would be so much more excited and delighted than he was last year. And, he has been. He loves watching Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, pointing to pictures and figures of Santa and saying "ho ho," derailing the train that runs around the base of our tree, kissing his Big Bird and Cookie Monster ornaments good night, and playing in the snow. I anticipate a lot of smiles to come, but I find myself, this year more than ever, feeling an intensified sense of hope/pressure to maximize the holiday experience. Isn't it my job to help the bub start making Christmas memories?

Newly-Made Holiday Memory #1
So the holiday plan for today was simple: go downtown to see dad's new office and then have a nice holiday lunch as a family. I gave it my all. I got the bub all suited up in his gray flannel pants, his turtleneck, and his choo choo holiday sweater vest. He not only agreed to wear the double-breasted little British boy wool coat my mom bought him but also wore the matching, velvet trimmed hat that went with it. I left in plenty of time but then found that the garage in my hubby's office building was full. I am not that familiar with the Chicago Loop (the business-type area downtown where the hubby works). Tedious story made short(ish), I had to drive around for thirty minutes to find another garage, frustrated by one way streets, aggressive pedestrians, and my own lack of geographical prowess. I call my hubby twice--illegally because I have again "misplaced" my hands free--to get some recommendations (not to bitch though, I'd never do that) and he doesn't pick up. But we make it.

After a small tussle solved by a pack of fruit snacks, the bub is secure in the stroller and we're heading to the office. As we head to the 28th floor, the bub drops two fruit snacks, the last two. I pick them up and have every intention of handing them back to him, but I want to wait until we're out of the elevator and out of sight of the guy who was in it with us. I'm not sure why I cared what this stranger thought about my "two second rule," but I did. Unfortunately, the bub did not know my game and started crying for the snacks. The hubby meets us outside the elevator doors and finds the bub transitioning into a mini-meltdown. The bub pulls himself together though and then parades through the office. We're not there long, but the bub manages to throw about a hundred business cards around daddy's office and nab a rice krispie treat from the office pantry.

Due to the parking delay, my dream of a sit-down lunch in a restaurant with cozy ambiance and some holiday decor was not destined to come true. We tried three places with no luck and settled for the most expedient option. That's right, I got the bub all dressed up and paid $19 to park for a holiday lunch at McDonalds. NTB. Granted, he does love the food, he dug the Strawberry Shortcake figurine that came in his happy meal, the price was quite reasonable, and we managed to nab a table near the Christmas tree. You've got to love a tree decorated with McDonalds gift cards and chained to the wall (would someone really steal a four foot Christmas tree from McDonalds?). Can you believe I forgot to take a picture?

Newly-Made Holiday Memory #2
Last Friday afternoon got particularly long. In the interest of passing the time and trying to be a supermom, I found a sugar cookie recipe and discovered that I had the necessary ingredients. The bub and I made the dough and a nice mess, and then I realized the dough had to chill. So, it chilled and when Saturday afternoon got long, the bub "helped" me cut out the cookies. I baked several dozen cookies cut from miniature holiday cookie cutters and even made some icing. And then, I put the cookies in a plastic container and placed them on top of the microwave. They have remained there un-iced ever since. So tonight, the hubby says, "Are you going to ice these?" I answer honestly, "No." "Why not?" he queries. "Well, have you tasted one. They're not good. They're salty." That's right, too salty. Not too hard or too soft but too salty. The hubby samples a few and then says, "You know what these taste like . . . those Tostitoes with lime chips." Enough said. NTB.

Monday, December 17, 2007

God Bless Richard Nixon

Obviously, enjoying food with family and friends is a treasured holiday ritual, especially for a girl like me who has always loved to eat and who has a tendency to develop food obsessions (the fluffernutter, Burger King ciniminis, cheese weavers, and Lean Cuisine pizzas, just to name a few). Thanks to my mother-in-law, I developed a new food obsession a few years back. My husband's family affectionately dubs this delicacy "green stuff," but its official name is Watergate Salad. I would eat and enjoy it even if it were called "snot." I am writing this post to make sure my mother-in-law keeps it on the menu this holiday!

There about a gizzilion recipes for Watergate Salad, but the one I dream about includes these key ingredients: instant pistachio pudding mix, mini marshmallows, cool whip, canned crushed pineapple with its juices, chopped pecans (if I have them), and shredded coconut (optional, but I tend to opt for it for flavor and texture). I'm sure I had green stuff at sometime in my childhood, perhaps at a family reunion, but it clearly hadn't left an impression on me. When I was re-introduced it again a few years ago, it was a revelation. I just love it.

As I neared the end of my pregnancy with the bubby, my Watergate Salad obsession intensified. In December of that year, we hosted my husband's nephew, niece, and her boyfriend for a holiday dinner. Even though my husband is not fond of green stuff and even though he was fairly sure his niece and nephew were not huge fans, I made it anyway. Then, I systematically polished off the leftovers over the course of three days. Because I could not travel for the holidays due to my pregnancy, my husband's family came to us for Christmas a couple of weeks later. In the spirit of tradition, I had to make some more green stuff. Then, I had to eat those leftovers too. When my parents came to stay with us a week later in anticipation of the bub's January due date, my mom went to the Jewel for me several times as we tried to get prepared for the bub's arrival. I have a distinct memory of asking her to secure the ingredients for yet another batch of green stuff. The bub was born (right on time on his due date, NTB) before I had finished my container of Watergate Salad. When my husband left the hospital to shower and take a short nap, I made sure he brought some green stuff back with him to the hospital. I polished off the container in one sitting as he and my mom looked on in semi-horror. "That was supposed to be two servings," I remember him protesting. But I heard green stuff promotes lactation! If only.

So last night I made some green stuff. I just started thinking about it and the holidays and I just couldn't wait. The bub helped me stir and was pretty generous with the marshmallows he added. It's not my best batch ever, but it's difficult to really mess up so I am still enjoying it. Then, I thought I'd so some research about how Watergate Salad got its name. My husband and I speculated and agreed that it must have been served at the Watergate Hotel, but apparently that was not the case at all. Kraft (the inventors of instant pistachio pudding) came up with the recipe that they called Pistachio Delight and take no credit for the name Watergate Salad. There were apparently several cookbooks with Watergate in the title, but they don't include the recipe either. The name was once traced to a Chicago Tribune food writer, but that lead was a dead end as well. So, in short, it's a mystery.

Over the course of my research, I did find two delicious tidbits concerning Watergate Salad that I couldn't help but share. The first contained this explanation linking Watergate the Scandal with Watergate the Salad: "Today some might think the reason for the name of this recipe is that someone had to resign. Not resign as in 'I give up the Presidency.' It's more like someone said 'Oh, okay, I'll eat this whole bowl if I have to!' This recipe became popular during the Watergate Scandal of the 70's and it's easy to say it's because it was full of fruit, marshmallows, and nuts. After some research into some of the history, sure enough there's some good reasons for how this recipe came to earn its moniker." As the kind of person apt to resign myself to eat a whole bowl of something, I was charmed by this explanation.

The second explanation came in response to a question about why a salad and a cake (yes, there's also Watergate Cake with Coverup Icing, but I haven't gone there yet). The answerer responded that her mom "said the name stuck because the salad was full of marshmallows, bananas and nuts and covered up with fluff - just like the Nixon administration. Everyone took it to parties and everyone was talking about the scandal. It just happened." I am trying to picture a bunch of adults in the 70's digging into bowls of Pistachio Delight while discussing politics, and it's amusing. Why, I wonder, isn't there a Lewinsky Salad or appetizer or something? Perhaps there is, but I'm just not invited to the kind of parties where it is served. NTB?

Here's wishing you all your favorite foods this holiday season. I'm off now to enjoy a little Watergate Salad before bed. NTB.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

I'll wash my hair with snow . . .

So we've had our second big snow of the year, and though there is a lot of white stuff, it all seems pretty manageable. We are extremely thankful for our garage, NTB, as it means we don't have to scrape our windows nor search for parking amidst snow drifts and cars whose owners have decided to just stay put. I am likewise thankful that my husband considers it part of his patriarchal duty to shovel snow. Yesterday, he even got the bub suited up to help him out.

As do all little kids, the bub looks pretty darn cute in his snow suit. He can barely walk and when he falls down, he can't hoist himself up. He has little boots that light up when he stomps the snow. He really gets into stomping snow. The highlight of his outfit yesterday was his gloves. I couldn't locate his mittens so I improvised with a pair of mine. He was walking around with two cream-colored udders attached to his arms. Due to the glove situation, the bub and his dad were unable to get a snowman built but they did throw snowballs. I got to enjoy it all from inside the warm house, occasionally going to the window and knocking until I got a wave.

The most amusing thing is the report bub made when he returned, rosy-cheeked, from his time outside. It was concise: "Dad sha poo." Sha poo is apparently his version of shovel. When my hubby headed outside this morning to shovel once more, the bub narrated from inside: "Dad sha poo. Dad sha poo." Each time he says it, I conjure a fleeting but real image of my husband outside actually shoveling poop, and it cracks me up.

I hope all of you are well and that if you have snow, it is more beautiful than dangerous. I also hope that none of you actually has to shovel poo.

The bub outside during the season's first snow.

Help! Help! (Note that his mittens were still locatable earlier this month.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Movies for Wrapping Presents . . .

Back in the days when DVR did not exist and one was reduced to flipping channels if she wanted a little entertainment, I watched a lot of movies. Not new or rented movies but VHS favorites in my personal collection. Back in those days, I also did a lot of puttering, "wasting" hours on decopaging, scrapbooking, and organizing things in binders (actually, I still compulsively organize things in binders). I turned on my favorite movies as I puttered and usually listened to them more than I watched them. Truth be told, I had the movies on for company more than anything else. You could probably guess the titles of some of these film companions, but I won't make you: Four Weddings and a Funeral, You've Got Mail, Notting Hill, The Cutting Edge, The Breakfast Club . . . you get the picture.

There is also a list of movies that I consider ideal for providing companionship if you want to spend a cozy afternoon or evening wrapping Christmas presents. Since I fear that my own days of endless free time in which to putter and wrap are over for the next few years, I am passing the list along in case anyone has some free time, some tape, some paper, and some gifts (snacks too).

So here it is. MEP's List of Movies for Wrapping Presents (in no particular order):

1. While You Were Sleeping:
The always-under-appreciated Bill Pullman is so darn adorable in this film, and Sandra Bullock is charming as well. Plus, you've got to love her landlord and his thick Chicago accent ("Hey, I know karate" and his use of the term "underwears"). I watched this movie for years before I moved to Chicago, and I am even fonder of it now that I live in the Windy City.

2. When Harry Met Sally: Obviously, this is not a Christmas movie, but there is a Christmas sequence, complete tree dragging and Billy Crystal leaving a funny/pathetic message for Meg Ryan

3. About A Boy:
Also not a Christmas movie, strictly speaking. However, Hugh Grant's character has a deceased alcoholic father who penned a holiday song ("Santa's Super Sleigh). I never cease to be warmed by the final holiday scene of family-of-choice togetherness. No man is an island indeed. Or so says John Bon Jovi.

4. Bridget Jones's Diary: The movie starts and ends with Christmas. Colin Firth in a reindeer jumper. Colin Firth in a suit. Colin Firth making blue soup. Colin Firth as successful barrister. Colin Firth walking in the snow. Etc.

5. Anne of Green Gables & Anne of Avonlea: My love for all things Anne-with-an-E definitely deserves its own post. And, to be clear, these films (and the books that inspired them) are not to be enjoyed only at Christmas. Ten years ago, I lent my copy of Anne of Avonlea to the girls I babysat for. I never got it back and for years afterward, I would remember that they had the movie and feel sick to my stomach and kind of resentful (it seemed petty though, to go down the street and ask for it back when I was like 25 and they were still in grade school). My husband pulled out the best Valentine's gift ever a few years back and gave me both films on DVD, plus a third new movie that features Anne and her family during WWI. Anyway, these movies are great for wrapping presents, rainy days, and feel-sorry-for-one's-self days.

So, did I spend this evening wrapping presents and cozily watching movies? No. I ate dinner, wrote this blog post, watched my husband fix the umpteenth train derailment beneath the Christmas tree, and worked on my Christmas cards. However, my husband is going out for a guys holiday steak dinner tomorrow evening, and I can smell the scotch tape already. NTB.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

I think I can, I think I can

Over Thanksgiving we took the bub to see the model trains in downtown Cincinnati. He fell in love. He kept jumping up and down saying "Choo choo" and "Wow." He went through the line at least four times and only ate one of the proffered cookies (a sure sign that he was taken by the trains). Ever since, the hubby has been talking about getting the bub a train to go around the bottom of the Christmas tree. We found one yesterday at Toys 'R Us and decided that for $31 it was worth bringing home.

With the bubby's close supervision and "help," the hubby managed to get the train up and running before naptime yesterday. The result: complete delight and excitement. "Choo choo" was the most-used word in our household this weekend. By last night, the bub had figured out how to turn the train on by himself. Best news of all, he does not seem to tire of the train. Sure, he occupies himself with other favorite activities like coloring, begging for "teets" ("treats"--unfortunate pronunciation, I know), emptying his bin of Mega Blocks, requesting "show show," practicing his tackles with dad (a new phenomenon that deserves its own post), and trying to open and play with my laptop . . . but, he continues to come back to the train.

Of course, I love to see the bub so excited. I'm thrilled that he is enjoying the train so much. I never imagined I would complain if one particular toy commanded so much of his attention. Certainly, I have spent many a dollar at Toys 'R Us and Target hoping for just such an occurrence.

But here I am complaining. When the train is going--and anytime the bub is awake and anywhere on the first floor it is going--it sounds like Grand Central Station around here. That little sucker is loud. So loud that one cannot watch a television program unless the volume is past level 25 (I usually watch tv with the volume at 7). So loud that phone conversations are a challenge. So loud that I can barely hear myself think. My cousin and I spent two years living in an apartment directly in front of the El tracks. This little train seems louder than that.

We have figured out, however, a sure way to get the bub back into the living room if he has wondered into the kitchen or back room. We just turn off the train. Sonar ears reports to the tree within seconds to turn it back on. We also have discovered that the train can be an excellent bribery item. When the bub balked at eating his dinner this evening, his daddy disconnected the track from the power source. We stood firm on our "no choo choo until you eat" initiative, and it worked. Sure, we had to tee up an episode of Barney as well, but the kid ate and ate well.

So tomorrow is another day, and I'm sure there are plenty more passengers to get from A to B and more coal to be delivered. I'm sure there are more smiles to be witnessed and more "choo choos" by which to be tickled. Perhaps the phenomenon will wear off soon or perhaps we'll never be so glad to take down a Christmas tree. I guess I'll just try to enjoy the ride. NTB.

Above is the bub enjoying the trains in downtown Cincinnati, just like his mama did when she was a little girl.

The bub and his dada admire their handiwork.

Clearly, this train is nothing to brag about. But, the bub does love it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Odds and Odds

Here are some recently-witnessed oddities:

1. The Celery Stalker: When at the Jewel purchasing the ingredients for the Split Pea Soup, I needed some celery. I had a hard time getting to it because another shopper (female, late sixties, burgundy coat) was standing in front of the celery. But not just standing . . . she had opened a package of celery and was ripping pieces of it off. I didn't watch closely but I assume she was discarding the grubby ends and whatnot. The question is not what she was discarding, but why she was doing so. Last I knew, celery was sold by the package not by the pound (but is it legitimate to remove parts of produce sold by weight that you do not like so as to save money? I have my doubts). Perhaps had I stuck around longer I would have witnessed her taking her chosen stalks/pieces of stalks and repackaging them. I should have just asked her. In the future, I will inquire when I witness such oddities.

2. The Internet Surfers: Despite having a blog, I am really not all that tech savvy. With the help of my husband (a Computer Applications and Finance major, NTB), I was able to install a stat counter here on NTB. Every once in a while (okay, every day), I like to check to see how many hits NTB gets. The stat counter has a cool feature wherein you can see how someone arrived at your blog. Most of my readers type to get here. Pretty straightforward. Every once in a while though, I can see evidence of an internet search that brought a new reader to NTB, however briefly. Thanks to my recent post about the awesomeness of candy cane pens, I have probably had twenty people visit my blog who used search terms like "candy cane pen" and "candy cane peppermint ink." I did have one visitor whose search term, "candy cane escort," was perhaps seeking something entirely different. Who is this Candy Cane and where might she escort you? Not to a study lounge or final exam is my guess. My commentary on Daisy Fuentes bedding has also made me a good match for a surprising number of people seeking more information about "daisy bedding" and "Daisy Fuentes bedding." Who knew? You might also recall my post about Sandra Lee and the conversation it inspired between me and my pal and fellow blogger Actchy. I doubt though that witty repartee about Food Network personalities was what one visitor was seeking. His (I'm assuming a he) search terms, cut and pasted in the interest of accuracy, were: 20pictures&hl=en&start=10&sa=N
That is funny.

3. The Check Writer: This last one is not so much an oddity as a pet peeve. I was shopping on Black Friday with my mom, sisters, and sister-in-law. We were in the Macy's shoe department. Very busy. Very crowded. Long lines. A young woman goes to pay for her shoes and writes a check. I don't get that. I write checks for some of my bills, but I never write a check in a store. Why? Because it's a pain, what with trying to remember the date, fish out your driver's license, and write the correct amount. I can see wanting to pay directly from one's checking account instead of say, charging something on a credit card, but isn't that the beauty of the debit card? I realize I should be more sympathetic and that there may be people who don't qualify for a debit card. But then again, I don't see a real difference between authorization to write checks and authorization to use a debit card . . . except that a debit card takes a fraction of the time. This may be another situation in which I am just being unreasonable. I'm big enough to admit that. NTB.

Have you witnessed any oddities lately? Do brag about them by leaving a comment.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Kitchen Confidential

Loyal readers know of my recent attempts to become a better maker of soup with the help of my friends Rachael and Sandy and the many magazines to which I subscribe. I thought I was over the soup phase and indeed had planned to move on to something new, like a category of meat, but I'm just not in the mood to enter a pork phase just yet. So, if you can stand it, I have two more soup adventures to break down, a kitchen triumph to celebrate, new food products alert, and some culinary television updates. Here goes:

"Baked" Potato Soup* from Southern Living: I have long been a fan of potato soup and after a cold, snowy, and wet weekend in Chicago, this "Baked" Potato Soup sounded perfect. Better still, it was a slow cooker recipe so it required very little hands on preparation (except for the peeling and cutting of the potatoes). The only wrinkle was that the recipe called for Chicken Broth with Roasted Garlic, which the Jewel did not have (obviously, Kroger would have). In the spirit of my friend E's improvisational cooking, I used regular chicken broth and added a can of Cream of Mushroom Soup with Roasted Garlic. All in all, I thought the soup was a great success. I couldn't find the recipe I used online, but here's another to try. If you're desperate for the one I used and you know me, email me and I'll pass it along.

Split Pea Soup from Cooking Light: My hubby is in New York doing more work so tonight was the perfect night to make a soup he would hate (or at least refuse to try). I followed the directions fairly closely, but this soup was not a total success. The flavor was fine, but my celery did not get tender and thus my soup had a crunch factor I was not expecting. Not a total failure though.

Kitchen Triumph: The credit for the triumph goes to the hubby not me. A few days before Thanksgiving, I bought an industrial package of sliced mushrooms and used about a third of them. The day we were leaving town for the holiday, I had the foresight to throw them in a freezer bag and then into the freezer. I congratulated myself on not just leaving them in the fridge to rot. We returned home from Thanksgiving to find a strange new phenomenon: our ice-maker was no longer making ice. Why? Because I had thrown the bag of mushrooms a bit too close to the ice maker and a corner section of the bag had become ensnared in the ice apparatus. I guess I don't need to say that the hubby was not pleased. Each time he went to the freezer to get some ice, the sighing would ensue. One might have thought I purposefully threw the bag of mushrooms into the ice-maker. A few days ago, talk of having to defrost the entire fridge and freezer to extricate the bag began. I was silently panicking because such an event would push the aggravated sighing quotient over the roof and would also be a real pain in the ass to execute. In desperation, I suggested my hubby take a knife to the mushroom bag. NTB, but it worked. I woke up this morning to a full ice basket.

Wildtree Products: A friend invited me to a Wildtree Tasting party this Sunday. I seldom get invited to such parties (Pampered Chef, Southern Living At Home, Party Lite, etc.) but I actually like them. I don't feel pressured to buy anything (though I usually do) and I love chances to hang out with other women and eat food. I was the first to leave on Sunday not because I was not having fun but because I feared I might single handedly polish off the beer bread and dill dip (just some of the items on offer) if I did not remove myself from the situation. Who knows what will happen when my own beer bread and dill dip mixes arrive.

Culinary Television Update #1:
One of Emeril's shows has finally been canceled. I have nothing against the guy, but if I turn on the Food Network and see his show, I immediately change channels. I'm just not into the "bams" and the "kickin' it up a notch." His food never looks like something I would make.

Culinary Television Update #2:
There is going to be a Top Chef holiday special on Bravo on December 6th. Can't wait to see Padma again, just hoping she is not dressed as an elf or something.

Apologies for a semi-tedious blog. Hopefully I'll be back to my witty (NTB) self soon.

*I'm not sure why the quotation marks, except that the potatoes aren't actually baked.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bubdate: Moi Peese

After a tough run of it lately--teething and an ear infection at the same time--the bub is finally back to his happy, energetic, smiling self. Here are some bubdates for those of you wondering what the bub is up to these days:

New words of note:
The bub has been narrating his expulsions of late. A month or so ago, Grandma caught him peeing in the tub (a regular occurrence) and shouted, "Bub, you're peeing!" Something about the word "pee" seems to delight him, and he now regularly exclaims "pee" whenever he pees. He has also learned "poop." And though I can smell a bub poop from a room away, I appreciate that he now reports to me immediately after the deed is done. Currently I am trying to muster the energy to use these new vocabulary developments as building blocks for potty training. One challenge, however, is that he knows we will respond to "poop" and often proclaims "poop, poop" when he is supposed to be settling in for a nap or a night's sleep. Often I will give a sniff and say "no poop" and then he will just smile with a sort of, mind the pun, shit-eating grin.

Bub has also learned to say "more," which he pronounces "moi"--not in the French way but instead like "boy" with an "m" in front. It's pretty darn endearing, NTB. Plus, when "moi" is combined with a "peese," the bub gets almost anything he wants. He learned "peese" on our Thanksgiving car ride when I was doling out Nilla Wafers.

The bub can also say "show." I store his shows on top of the mantle, one of the few surfaces in our home that he has no strategy for reaching (yet). He stands before the fireplace and says, "Show. show." Depending on my mood, my level of tiredness, and his television time so far that day, I decide whether or not to grant a "show." Now, if he can figure out "Show peese," who knows . . .

New battle grounds: I've written about the battle of the chair before. In terms of the kitchen chairs, this battle has become a less and less frequent occurrence. One of his new favorite things to do is to use his puzzle stool or his book bin (emptied and flipped over, of course) to reach our combo DVD/VCR. I stand pretty firm when he starts messing with the DVD portion because he has already broken one DVD player (months and months ago before we got a taller entertainment console). However, the VCR does not work with our television so I am not too vigilant when I see him opening it up and inserting treasures. Some favorites include: the remote control for our ipod speaker dock thing, the plastic credit card that came with his toy cash register, my ipod (the dock is right next to the DVD/VCR), and his own boogers (he has lots of hiding places for those though, NTB). All of these items are easily removed, except maybe the boogers.

Just this evening, we had a fairly fierce battle over a chap stick. I made the mistake of impulsively reaching for a tube of chap stick when I grabbed the bub's diaper rash cream (stored on the other surface he can't yet reach). After some whining, I gave in and allowed the bub to apply some chap stick. He did so, and I tried to take it back. I've learned from experience that the longer he has a chap stick, the more likely he is to begin nibbling it. I took it away, and he cried and cried and cried, throwing himself on the floor. Then, he pulled himself together and started trying to drag one of our dining room chairs (heavy, Mission-style chairs that might hurt him if knocked over) to reach the shelf where I put the chap stick. I was afraid to introduce the battle of the chairs to a new room so I gave in and gave him the chap stick. Turns out, he was done applying it and just wanted to hold it. Fine. He held it and carried it upstairs at bedtime. I took it away, he cried, and then he recovered when I began reading How Does a Dinosaur Say Good Night.

New inappropriate habits:
As alluded to above, the bub now picks his nose. He does so often, with relish, and with absolutely no sense of shame. Also as alluded to above, the bub says "poop" fairly frequently.

That's all I got.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Home is where you wear your sweatpants . . .

We've all heard this fact bandied about: Americans gain an average of seven pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year's. The bubby, hubby, and I spent the Thanksgiving holiday at my parents. While there, I did my best to turn an oft-quoted statistic into a reality. It was not difficult, what with the Thanksgiving feast my mom prepared and my parents' willingness to indulge my cravings for Cincinnati favorites while I am at home.

Here is just sample of what I consumed over the course of five days:

Papa John's: I've said it before. I love the Papa and miss him when I'm away.
Gold Star: I'm more a Skyline girl, but Gold Star is closer. Regular three way with coney (add mustard but no onion). The meal deal was not complete without a Dr. Pepper.
Frisch's: Swiss Miss, onion rings, and a cup of vegetable soup. A Diet Vanilla Coke with the best crushed ice ever (one on Friday, another on Saturday). Big Boy, how I love thee.
LaRosas: Papa is not my one and only.
Funnel Cake: My brother-in-law waited in line for one at the Cincinnati Zoo's Festival of Lights. I did my part to help him out with it.
Hot Pretzel: My mom made some Friday night as we watched football. My dad tracked more down at the zoo on Saturday.
Graeter's: I savored some Black Raspberry Chip ice cream while I was at my parents. Now that I am almost three hundred miles away, I am fiercely craving the Toffee Chip I left behind in the freezer.
"Hammies": The term the hubby and I coined for sandwiches of leftover holiday ham served on mini Hawaiian rolls. Hammies kept me going Sunday mid-morning.
Assorted Baked Goods not related to Thanksgiving: banana bread, pumpkin bars with cream cheese icing

Thanksgiving Feast: two kinds of stuffing, turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes with cinnamon streusel topping, rolls, cinnamon bread, broccoli casserole, cornbread casserole, green beans, cranberry/raspberry jello, layered jello, and assorted pies and desserts (see below)

My mom was an obsessive pie maker this year. Note the detail on the top of her pumpkin pie.

Taking the pie crust leaves to the next level with her apple pie.

A coconut pie complete with blinding meringue (PITA gets credited with an assist on this one).

"Wait! Some people don't like pie? I better make cookies in the shape of turkeys," the matriarch decides. My sister-in-law prepares to fill her shoes by preparing miniature pumpkin cakes complete with marzipan leaves.

What did I contribute to the holiday meal? A sunny disposition. A great attitude. Charm and wit. A true desire to join the Clean Plate Club. And most of all . . . most of all, a grateful heart. I am so thankful for my family and all the food and fun we share together.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Can you tell me how to get . . .

There is a Holy Trinity of children's television programming in our home: Barney, Teletubbies (affectionately shortened to "Tubbies"), and Sesame Street. I'm not going to argue that this Trinity represents the very best of what is out there for toddlers, but these three PBS shows are working for us. Each show deserves its own post and today the honor goes to, drumroll please, Sesame Street.

I think Sesame Street was an integral part of childhood for most kids in my generation. Beyond cartoons, there were fewer children's programs than there are today. There were fewer characters being aggressively marketed to preschoolers and kindergarten kids (did someone say Disney Princesses?). Plus, Sesame Street has always had the distinct advantage of being perceived as offering entertainment and education. Thanks to Sesame Street, I know, for example, that "agua" means water in Spanish. I remember coming home from morning kindergarten, eating Spaghettios, and then watching Sesame Street. My youngest sister fondly remembers bonus days when she was allowed to eat lunch while watching Sesame Street. My favorite Sesame Street segment were the video clips that featured real people doing things. Two particular ones remain with me: a segment in which a tree stump is sawed and then fashioned into a wooden stool and a segment in which fruit is cut and put into a giant fruit salad. I remember being mesmerized. I also recall a Claymation sort of segment in which members of a farmer-type family run outside and dance in the rain (after a drought, I guess?). My husband was more a character guy. He loved Big Bird as a little boy and a Big Bird ornament, now more than two decades old, graces our Christmas tree each year. Our bub is asleep upstairs right now with his soft Big Bird doll under his arm.

I won't go so far as to argue that Sesame Street is worth viewing even if one does not have a toddler, but it holds more appeal to adults than one might think. There are timely sketches in which Sesame Street characters spoof on today's celebrity culture. A skit featuring The Grump mocks the Donald. The letter "I" is featured in a singing competition with three judges, one of whom comes across as vapidly encouraging, called "The American I." Just this morning, the bub and I watched a segment called "Desperate Houseplants." This is funny stuff. There are also cool guest stars ranging from Tina Fey to Joe Torre. Sure, there are many episodes in which Elmo gets more than his fair share of screen time, but, honestly, Elmo is pretty darn lovable. Even better, Elmo loves you. (NTB, but we actually have a doll with eyes that light up red hearts that sings about how much Elmo loves you.)

Yes, the show has changed over the years. Dork that I am, I found myself researching the history of Sesame Street earlier this evening. Despite the changes, the show still has a lot of the heart, cleverness, and spirit it always has. The show's longevity and success is perhaps due in part to the fact that it still features many of the same characters. Besides the puppets, Maria, Bob, Susan, Gordon, and Luis are still around. They've had children who are now series regulars. There's something about the fact that people who were acting in Sesame Street when I was watching it are still at it. I like to imagine that they love what they do and genuinely enjoy the community they've built on Sesame Street. I just saw most of the gang performing in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and they seemed to be having fun.

My Sesame Street nostalgia, always close to the surface, has bubbled over these past few days. On an early morning trip to Staples to buy a new printer cartridge, the bub spotted "Bird. Bird" on a holiday DVD display. Impulse shopper and spendthrift that I am, I picked up Christmas Eve on Sesame Street with the thought that it might offer some relief from Barney's trip to the fair on our ride to Cincinnati for Thanksgiving. The bub LOVES it. Big Bird ice stakes. Kermit the Frog interviews little kids. The Sesame Street gang sings a song about "true blue miracles" in the subway. Bob, Linda, and the kids do sign language along with a song about keeping Christmas with you all through the year. Best of all? This Christmas special was made in 1978! The outfits are dated. Maria looks about twenty years-old. The color and video quality are poor. But bub knows no better. He is watching and enjoying a Christmas special that I likely watched at sometime in my childhood. I don't know why the idea tickles me so but it does.

Here's hoping that the bub has a childhood full of great memories and that his children will have a chance to enjoy Sesame Street someday too. Here's also hoping that I can get the song about "true blue miracles" out of my head at some point. Until then, I'll just believe in them. NTB.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Were I not so weary, I would blog about . . .

1. The way the bub has taken to putting on my tennis shoes and walking around, as if in snow shoes, looking quite pleased with himself.

2. My negative experience at Costco on Friday wherein most of the items I purchased (and there were many items, I think the total was $220 or so) were packed into one giant box. I needed an escort to the door because the huge box was in a separate cart from the one I started the visit in, the one that contained the bub. When I complained to my escort that I couldn't lift that box into my car much less carry it into the house, she had the gall to reply, "It's just my job to get you to the door." Was I infuriated? Did I call and speak with a manager when I arrived home (after hauling in a sixty pound box, of course)? You bet.

3. The fact that I will not be watching Celebrity Apprentice come January when it becomes NBC's attempt at Must See TV to replace 30 Rock and The Office, nor should you . . . if we don't watch the Donald, NBC and the other studios might be more motivated to make a deal that will end the writer's strike and bring back The Office. I would choose Michael Scott over Donald Trump for my boss any day.

4. The fact that I made a modified version of pigs-in-a-blanket for the bub's dinner this evening. I was inspired by my sister LAP and my recent trip to Costco (see #2) where I inexplicably purchased a four-pack of crescent rolls. He responded by digging through the crescent roll and the melted cheese to pick out the pieces of hot dog I had cut up and put inside. Clearly, he was not impressed. My husband, who just arrived home after a late night at the office, ate the remaining pigs-in-a-blanket and commented, "Did you really make these? They taste so gourmet." At least I impressed one member of this household. NTB.

5. The reason I am so weary: I finally finished tweaking my third chapter and sent it off to my dissertation director. NTB!!!!!!!! I'm more than halfway there!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sniffing the season.

I like walking outside this time of year. It's not yet so cold that I am miserable.* It's merely invigorating. The air has that winter, snow-on-the-horizon, Christmas-is-coming scent that I love. So, when my husband needed to head to the office for a few hours this morning, I decided the bub and I would go outside and get invigorated. I was wary of the park because it rained yesterday. I wasn't sure I was up for bub and a sandbox full of mud and wet sand. (When he got home, the hubby was a prince and took the bub to the park and let him play in that sand box). I decided the bub and I would walk to Walgreens, which is maybe a mile and a half away. What did I need and/or want from Walgreens? A candy cane pen.

Surely you've seen candy cane pens. They are pens in the shape of very skinny candy canes, predominantly red with thin white stripes. For years, these pens were a constant in our St. Nick's stockings (my mom put together awesome St. Nick's stockings, NTB). I have distinct and wonderful memories of using the candy cane pens during finals time in college. I marveled at how smoothly the candy cane pen wrote. I enjoyed being able to hook the pen behind my ear--it is a cane, after all--when it took my fancy. Most of all, I loved the smell of the candy cane pen's peppermint- scented ink. Loved it to the point of picking up pages of notes I had taken and sniffing them with gusto. Loved it to the point where I would find specks of blue ink near my nostrils.

I probably received my last candy cane pen sometime during college, but that candy cane was literally the gift that kept on giving. Over the next four years or so, that candy cane pen would turn up from time to time. I used it once to edit a paper I wrote on The Merchant of Venice and Othello for a master's class, a paper that I wrote around Thanksgiving time. Several times, I serendipitously happened upon the candy cane pen when I had a stack of student essays or projects to grade. When you're reading your sixth personal narrative about moving to Mason or about how someone's best friend has "always been there for" her, peppermint-scented ink can really be a solace.

Looking back, I'm not sure how I made it through my first few years of graduate school in Chicago. How did I crank out those 25-page final papers without a candy cane pen? How did I get into that special finals-will-end and Christmas-will-come mood without one? I'm telling you there's nothing like a candy cane pen for helping you craft a thesis statement. Nothing like a candy cane pen to remind you of the joys, food, and free time ahead once the damn papers are finished.

The bub and I made it to Walgreens feeling invigorated. I scavenged the holiday aisle until I found the display. There they were: candy cane pens at 3/$1.00. In my excitement, I purchased six. Just hours ago, I took one out to make a Target list. The words "baby wash," "trash bags," "printer paper," and "dollar-aisle holiday books and cutlery" appeared in black ink. But candy cane pens are supposed to write in blue ink. And, though I distinctly remember the display touting "peppermint-scented ink," I haven't had a whiff yet. And candy cane pens are supposed to smell wonderful. Apparently these pens have changed in the last ten years or so. I am still holding out hope that the candy cane pen of my fond memory is out there, and I ask you readers to scour the drug and novelty stores in your area for a candy cane pen that writes in blue ink and smells like heaven. Until then, I will muddle through with the six inferior pens I have. I'm even going to try to simulate a sort of finals-time experience as a way to trick myself into making more progress on my dissertation. At least my nose will stay clean in the process. NTB.

*NTB, but I just purchased a new North Face puff coat (with a coupon, NTB) so I don't plan to be miserably cold anytime soon.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Do so, do so, read Richard Russo.

Last weekend, I watched the movie Nobody's Fool. It's an older film, 1993 I think, and has a good cast that includes Paul Newman, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith, Jessica Tandy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and the nice doctor from Nip/Tuck. Watching this film was a momentous occasion because it was a Blockbuster Online (like Netflix) selection that had sat unwatched on our mantle for at least seven weeks. To be fair, Flags of Our Fathers--the hubby's selection--kept it company on the mantle and is as yet unwatched. I enjoyed the film a great deal because I felt like it did justice to the novel that inspired it. Sure, the film didn't capture all the nuances, delights, and character details of the novel, but it did not violate the novel's integrity either. My husband stopped watching halfway through, noting that the film was more character than plot driven. An astute observation actually and one of the reasons I love, love, love the novels of Richard Russo: his characters are wonderful.

Richard Russo's characters are wonderful--wonderful, that is, in their imperfection, vulnerability, and occasional selfishness and then wonderful in their moments of kindness, generosity, and humor. In short, they are so very human. Richard Russo makes it impossible to write any of them off, even the worst of them. You feel like you know these people. You care what happens to them. You delight in the unexpected but meaningful connections and bonds they form. You marvel at how right Russo gets them. He is so observant and so compassionate. He creates people like you and me. People just doing the best they can.

Most of his novels are set in small, depressed, industrial (or formerly industrial) towns in upstate New York. Typically, Russo gives readers glimpses into the lives of characters on various sides of the tracks in these towns. His endings are not out and out happy, but they are satisfying.

I recently finished Russo's most recent novel, Bridge of Sighs. It lacked some of the humor present in his other novels, but I absolutely loved it. Here is a passage that is particularly fine: "The line of gray along the horizon is brighter now, and with the coming light I feel a certainty: that there is, despite our wild imaginings, only one life. . . . The one life we're left with is sufficient to fill and refill our imperfect hearts with joy, and then to shatter them. And it never, ever lets up. Blame love." (463). It's the filling and refilling more than the shattering that gets me.

As so often happens when I try to write or talk about books that I love, I fail to do them justice. So I'll just stop here and recommend Richard Russo if you're in need of reading material. Empire Falls, Nobody's Fool, Straight Man, The Risk Pool . . . I love and have read them all.* NTB. Taste in books is subjective, and some of you may not love Richard Russo's novels as I do, but I'd say they're more than worth a try.

*There are actually a couple of others: Mohawk, the only one I have not read, and The Whore's Child, a book of short stories.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

I will survive.

First off, my apologies for being such a poor poster this week. The hubby was out of town for two nights, and parenting the bub solo, even for a couple of days, can be exhausting. In addition, I'm currently facing a self-imposed but still panic-inducing dissertation deadline. Writing my third chapter has almost killed me, but fortunately my draft is now only a few tweaks away from being on my advisor's plate instead of my own. Once this third chapter is finally "done" (or done enough to be read by someone besides me), I will be past the halfway point (there are five chapters total). NTB. I am writing and publishing the following mantra because I've read enough self-help books, watched enough Oprah episodes, and taken enough writing workshops to know that when one writes something down, it is more likely to happen: I will graduate in 2008. NTB. You're all invited to the party.

For now though, I'll take a break from exploring female friendship and democracy in nineteenth-century America to write from the toddler's perspective. Here's the bub's official and updated guide for toddlers wishing to drive their parents crazy. Read it aloud to the toddlers in your life at your own risk.

1. Think outside the gym. If your mom takes you to gymnastics class, don't be satisfied with a gym full of kids and equipment. Don't even be satisfied with exiting the gym to visit the drinking fountain. See what else your local park district building has to offer. Hover in the doorway of a janitor's closet where bottles of bleach and other dangerous solutions are easily accessible. Head into the bathroom--men's or women's, your mom will be forced to follow you into either--and demand "wash, wash." Better yet, go to the dirty fountain in the lobby. Lean over it and say, "Fish. Fish." For good measure, stick your hands into the murky water that gives off a smell that makes your mom want to check your diaper.

2. Recognize that small appliances can be toys. Does your mom have a small vacuum that she uses for quick jobs? Does she ever mistakenly leave said vacuum out after sweeping up a pile of crushed goldfish crackers? Here's what to do. Take the vacuum and drag it around. Then, develop an up-and-down motion with it. You'll find that as you bring the vacuum down with a little force, all the crumbs and such inside of it will start to litter your floor. Better yet? Do this the day after the cleaning lady has visited. Even moms whose cleaning standards are fairly low (like the bub's) can really get frustrated with that kind of debris.

3. Be a problem-solver. Do you enjoy playing with your mom's makeup and hair products? Does the idea of a pump full of lotion seem like heaven? One thing you can do is pull out the bottom drawer of your mom's dresser. Then, climb on top of her t-shirts and voila, you can access all of her perfume, makeup, hairspray, and that awesome lotion pump! When you get bored with that, head into the bathroom. Find a Dove soap multi-pack. Proceed to open each box of soap. Your mom will enjoy finding unwrapped bars of soap around the house.

4. Don't let the battle of the chair end.
Keep pushing the chair around when you need to investigate a "no touch" item in the kitchen. So what if the chair leaves scrapes on the hardwood.

5. Turn up the heat. Actually, turn it off. You heard me. The next time you're in the laundry room with your mom (if your laundry room is a hole in the basement that also houses your furnace), explore what you can while she's transferring clothes from the washer to the dryer. While she's occupied, flip the little light switch on the side of the heater. Your mom won't realize you've turned off the heat (again) until she starts shivering while watching The Biggest Loser.

If you really want to drive your mom or dad crazy, do all of these things in one 24 hour period when he/she is already tired and a bit stressed out. When the bub and I say his prayers at night, I say, "Thank you God for my bubby and all his good qualities. He's curious, lively, persistent, problem-solving. . . " The list goes on, NTB, but you get the point.

Monday, November 12, 2007

I want to sing . . .

We recently purchased a raffle ticket to help support the renovation of a playground near our house. The fundraising goal is $250,000 which strikes me as very high (it is not a large playground), but I guess I have no idea how to price industrial playground equipment and whatnot. I hope they raise the money because this little park is nice and close. I also hope that in renovating it, they maintain its current status as "the park that requires the least vigilance because there is next to nothing a toddler could do there to injure himself." Many of the other parks, though much grander and more full of play structures, have various drop-offs and climbing things that make a trip to the park like spotting a high school cheerleader near the top of an illegal pyramid (no, I wasn't a cheerleader).

Back to my point though. The prize I won in the raffle was a gift card for, get this, 5 song downloads on itunes! You heard me: 5 songs, an absolute embarrassment of riches. I also won a Chicago Park District pencil. NTB.

So here's your task. Suggest a song or two for me to download. It doesn't need to be recent or trendy (though it certainly can be), it just has to be the kind of song that will make me want to sing. Thanks in advance.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Retail Beat: Yo! Go see Trader Joe!

I didn't intend to be back on the retail beat so soon, but the bub and I went to Trader Joe's on Friday, and I feel compelled to share. Longtime readers may recall that several months ago, I bragged about Trader Joe's tomato-less corn salsa. I bought a new supply on Friday and enjoyed it on a salad for lunch yesterday. I also love Trader Joe's Organic Morello Cherry fruit spread. Butter, the spread, and a hunk of French bread . . . absolutely delightful. NTB.

This past Friday, I found several new TJ items worthy of delight. If you live near a Trader Joe's, you may want to check out the following:

Pumpkin Spice Cake

This bundt-like cake (maybe 6 inches in diameter) retails for $4.99. They were passing out samples in the store (quite generous ones, actually). I managed to enjoy one bite before the bub made a play for it and then polished the cake off. Spendthrift and impulse shopper that I am, I threw one in the cart. Once at home, I spent the rest of the afternoon cutting off "slivers" of the cake and comforting myself with the notion that pumpkin is healthy and that it was more like I was eating bread than an actual dessert. Late in the day, I thought to flip over the container and check the nutritionals, only to find I had likely consumed 6 of the cake's 8 servings, each of which contained 190 calories. NTB. Those of you who feel confident in your ability to limit yourself to one serving (or even two or three) should definitely take this cake home.

Butternut Squash
Obviously, butternut squash is not unique to Trader Joe's. You may recall my recent use of butternut squash in a chili recipe. Peeling the squash was not too bad--thanks to my trusty Cutco peeler--but cutting it was an ordeal. That stuff is hard, and I feared losing a finger as I forced my knife through it. But at Trader Joe's . . . you can buy butternut squash already peeled and cubed!! I can't remember how much it cost, but I'd say 'tis worth it if your knife skills aren't especially strong. I used my squash cubes tonight in a recipe I learned at a cooking class. It was roasted and then served in a pasta dish that also involved garlic, spinach, zucchini, panko bread crumbs, and goat cheese. Even the hubby liked the end product. NTB.

Trader Joe's Spicy Cider
I love me some cider, yes I do. A few times last week, I found myself thinking about cider and, on at least two occasions, I almost purchased apple juice at the Jewel with the thought that I would somehow mull it with cinnamon sticks or whatnot. I am glad I did not bother because there's no way I could top the nirvana that is Trader Joe's Spicy Cider. Its description is right on: "fresh whole ripe Apple juice with a hint of concentrated Lemon juice, spices and citrus." I've been enjoying it hot and cold. Best news of all is that you can get 64 ounces for something like $2.49 (or maybe $2.79). I may simulate a grade-school Halloween party for me and the bub this week, where we'll drink this cider and eat cake donuts. Who knows?

Trader Joe's Handmade 100% Dried Fruit Bar

Like his mom and dad, the bub enjoys his snacks. His favorites are pretty typical for a toddler--goldfish crackers, graham crackers, some fresh fruit, granola bites, and the occasional package of fruit snacks (mostly employed when bribing is necessary, as when, for example, the bub does not want to get into his car seat or his stroller or to leave the park or to sit in the pew at church). As we went through TJ's on Friday, I noticed these fruit bars and, in lieu of the fruit snacks I had on reserve in my purse, opened and offered him one. (I tried to pay for it at the register and the checker told me not to sweat it, nice huh?). The bub loved that thing, and I felt pleased and even a tad self-righteous about the fact that it was 100% fruit. And handmade no less? Damn am I a great mom. NTB. Anyway, the bub enjoyed it so thoroughly that I threw several more in the cart--apricot, raspberry, boysenberry . . . premium fruits no less! Each package costs 45 cents and contains 2-3 strips of fruit. He enjoyed two strips at church today and I ate the third strip (only slightly covered with lint and such from my purse) at my hair appointment. Good stuff.

Finally, I want to mention that Trader Joe's gives out balloons to kiddies at the register. Yet another reason to shop there . . . and no, I am not being paid to write such a glowing review of my recent trip to Trader Joe's. I'm just trying to share news of these worthy finds. Is there a Trader Joe's near you? Any favorites?

Thursday, November 8, 2007


I'm not ashamed to admit that I take a perhaps inordinate joy in getting the mail each day and always have. If the bub and I are headed home around lunchtime, I often pause and think, "Oh, bet the mail will be there when we arrive." Then, a nice little sense of anticipation builds. If I'm upstairs working on my dissertation and I look at the clock and see that it's after 10:30 a.m.--yes, my mail arrives early most days!--I head downstairs for the mail (and a snack).

Growing up, my siblings and I competed to get the mail and, more importantly, to sort it. Even now, as an adult when I'm back at my parents' house, I sometimes have the urge to yell "I get to sort it!" when my mom comes upstairs with a stack of mail.

Because I work at home, it is very seldom that I don't have first dibs at the mail. My husband knows the rules now. He is allowed to get the mail, but he is not allowed to give me any clues about what's in the stack. Early on in our marriage, he would thoughtlessly flip through the mail and pronounce, "Nothing good today. Just junk." Even if there's "just junk" in the pile, I want to discover that for myself. I feel robbed when I don't get to go through each item with the hopeful expectation that a piece of good mail is in there: an invitation, thank you note, card, baby announcement, new magazine, or media mail package ordered from the Amazon Marketplace. Most days I am disappointed with the mail, but these letdowns don't keep me from eagerly going to the mail box day after day.

Yesterday was a crap mail day. Every item was a piece of junk: a bill for Chicago magazine, an American Express rewards pamphlet (the 500th of the year), some ads printed on paper as thick as Scott toilet tissue, something from AT&T, and so on and so forth. As I pawed through this stinking pile, I felt a sense of déjà vu. Such mail days have happened before . . . maybe even once last week and the week before that and the week before that. Is it possible that the United States Postal Service has one day a week where no "real" much less "good" mail gets delivered? Instead of researching this on Wikipedia or the USPS website, I'm going to conduct my own experiment and informal survey. Readers, start paying attention and tracking your mail as I plan to do. Is crap mail infiltrating your mailbox one day a week? Crap mail may just be a problem in my zip code, but what if it's a regional or even a national phenomenon? I'm going to get to the bottom of this pile of crap. NTB.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Retail Beat: All Around Town

Here are some recent purchases with which I am quite pleased.

Item: 10 pound bag of Perdue Chicken breasts

Source: Costco
Retail Price: can't recall, but not prohibitive

What is so wonderful about this particular bag of chicken breasts is the fact that they are, as the package promises, "Select Size Filets" for "fast and even cooking." I don't know about you, but I hate working with raw chicken. I hate cutting off the little bloody pieces and any random skin that remains. I hate fearing that my kitchen is becoming a hotbed of salmonella as I wrestle with the raw chicken. There is also something that makes me slightly sick about a big, fat chicken breast. These select size filets are perfect. Not only are the thin, but it seems that someone at Perdue has already done the dirty work with all the icky bits I don't like handling. I defrosted them overnight, added a marinade, and put them on my grill pan. Voila!

Item: Smart Ones Signature Sundae in Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
Source: Jewel, but I imagine any "regular grocery store" would have them
Retail Price: purchased on sale, 6/$9.96

Sound familiar? It's an hour after dinner and you're craving just a little something sweet. Sure, per every women's magazine article I have ever read, I should have an apple with a teaspoon of natural peanut butter or a small piece of dark chocolate, but I want a real treat. This sundae is perfect: ice cream, fudge sauce (but not too much, which makes me happy), and little chunks of cookie dough. Innovative chef that I am, I enhance mine with cool whip. NTB. I'm telling you, it hits the spot every time and, even with the addition of cool whip, it's less than two hundred calories. The sundaes come two in a package. You rip the plastic film off the top, microwave for 5 seconds, add cool whip (optional), and enjoy. I will be enjoying one myself after I finish this post . . . I have to eat something while watching The Biggest Loser.

Item: Mossimo tissue weight t-shirts
Source: Target
Retail Price: $12.99 - $14.99

I just enjoy these shirts. They are soft and forgiving. They come in solids and prints. Two pieces of advice: you do need to wear a tanker underneath and they do run a bit big. Again, I cannot stress enough that they are very soft.

Item: Quack Quack knit hat*

Source: Uncle Dan's Outdoor Store
Retail Price: I'd prefer not to say, but obviously it's worth it given how cute the bub looks in it! NTB.

*not an official product name

Monday, November 5, 2007

Falling Back . . . Toddler Style

Falling back is a different and potentially desperate event when you have a toddler. The question is not, "How will I spend today's bonus hour? Sleeping? Reading a novel? Reorganizing my closet?" but rather: "Will I be teeing up a Sesame Street episode at 5:30 this morning?" You see, young ones like the bub understand biological clocks, not alarm clocks. We have had many a conversation with the bub during which we plead with him, "But, honey, it's still 4:45 in the morning. Night-night time. Night-night time. Please, please, we beg of you. Back to bed. Night-night." For many months now, we have enjoyed a 6:30 wake-up time, which we consider a luxury as the bub's current sleep pattern was preceded by a long and consistent stretch of wake-ups in the 5:00 hour. In the mornings leading up to Sunday's fall back, we actually had a couple of days where he slept until 7:13 and 7:21, respectively. (A 7:15-ish wake-up is the equivalent of sleeping in until noon at our house.) So anyway, with the recent sleep-ins, we were hopeful about the morning of falling back. We put the bub to bed slightly later on Saturday evening (not too much later because that tends to backfire on us). The bub babbled a bit at 5:04. We held our breaths, ignored him, and, what do you know, we were rewarded with a 6:38 wake-up time--which would have been 7:38 just the day before: an absolute miracle!. I have to say that a glorious day ensued. The sun was shining, and it was actually a long (in a good way) and relaxing Sunday. NTB.

Of course, the bub woke up this morning at 4:30. The hubby threw him in bed with us, and he went back to sleep in his favorite spot, with his head right smack in the middle of my pillow. I sleep a little less soundly when I'm sideways with roughly five inches to work with, and I made the grievous error of getting up to visit the bathroom at 5:30 a.m. The bub stirred and was up. Was it falling back or my bladder that was to blame? We can't know for sure.

What I do know is that the 4:30 - 7:30 p.m. interval is about to get a whole lot darker and longer. I worked until 5:00 p.m. today. After saying goodbye to our sitter, the bub and I played with his plastic food in the basement during the time it took to do a load of laundry with all his footy pajamas. Having transferred his clothes to the dryer, we headed up stairs to battle over the kitchen chair, an ongoing tussle these days. The bub likes to move a breakfast table chair so that he can climb on the counter to investigate the spice cabinet, play with the dirty sponges in the sink, shake pepper on the counter, grab apples off the island and take random bites of them while demanding "wash, wash," and, new today, attempt to adjust the thermostat. I try to sit in the chair so he cannot move it. Typically, when the chair is finally returned to the breakfast table, one of us is in or near tears. In addition to basement time and the battle of the chair, we read books, colored, ate dinner, and did the nightly bath routine (no code brown this evening, NTB). Even with tonight's prolonged conflict over the post-bath routine in which the bub gets lotioned, diapered, and dressed--he preferred this evening to run naked in circles around a large diaper box until he got so dizzy that he would fall and laugh in delight--even with all of these activities, when the bub was fed, clean, and dressed for bed, I looked at the clock and realized that it was only 6:35! It's going to be a long winter, luckily the bub will be here to light up our dark nights . . . and our dark mornings.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

So I lied.

A month or so ago, I proudly announced my decision to take on no new television programs. I even declared that I was dumping Desperate Housewives. So I lied. Encouraged by a friend and then subconsciously influenced by the many Chicago trains with its advertisements plastered to the sides, I decided to tune in for Dirty Sexy Money. One really good thing about the show is that the hubby and I watch it together. Outside of The Office, 30 Rock, and our HBO favorites--Entourage and Big Love--there are very few shows that we both enjoy. As I have said many times, two televisions can contribute to a happy marriage. We don't argue about what to watch, we simply split up when need be. Dirty Sexy Money is a show about Nick George, an idealistic young lawyer whose father used to work for the wealthiest family in New York. His father dies in a plane crash, and Nick then reluctantly agrees to take his job. Many of the early episodes revolve around his frustration with babysitting the filthy rich, cleaning up their various messes and attending to their sometimes-petty needs. As the show's title promises, limits are pushed. There's a minister who tries to pass off his illegitimate child as a Swedish orphan and a senate candidate in love with a trannie who makes, to be honest, an oddly captivating woman. The first couple of weeks, I felt okay about Dirty, Sexy Money but not overwhelmed. This week's episode, however, introduced a new layer of mystery and complexity to the show, and I have to say I'm now officially intrigued.

The other new show I have taken on, thanks to an Entertainment Weekly endorsement, is the CW's Aliens in America. This is a half-hour sitcom about Justin Tolchuck, a nerdy high school kid who tries to fly under the radar screen. I think it is set in Minnesota or maybe Wisconsin (the actress who plays the mom lays the accent on pretty thick, but I don't mind). Mrs. Tolchuck makes it her full-time job to try to improve Justin's popularity and social life. In a recent episode, she retooled his wardrobe based on what she heard kids in Orange County were wearing. Too tired to fight her, Justin dons a pair of skinny jeans for school--it's priceless. Anyway, swayed by brochures featuring strapping Nordic exchange students, Justin's mom agrees that they will take in a foreign student, falsely believing that an exchange student will help her son win more friends. Instead of a gorgeous, blond god, the family gets Raja, a Pakistani boy. The friendship that develops between Justin and Raja is genuinely heartwarming, and the glimpses of high school life, though sometimes painful, ring true. The writing is quite good. And, now that I think of it, this is also a show that the hubby and I are watching together. As an added bonus, Scott Patterson, who played Luke on Gilmore Girls, plays Papa Tolchuck. Sure, I wish he were still pouring coffee for Lorelai and Rory, but it's still good to see him.

The Desperate Housewives situation is not as desperate as it sounds. Despite my professed decision to bid Teri Hatcher and the girls goodbye, I have continued DVR-ing the episodes. I have not watched them and, unless the impending writer's strike drives me to it, I am not planning to. NTB. Sure, I haven't found the will or courage to delete them, but nobody's perfect. In case anyone is wondering, I feel really strong about my decision to not watch the new season of Beauty and the Geek. NTB.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

So I'm not a pet lover

I can’t help it. I’m just not. Perhaps it is because my family never had any pets growing up other than two goldfish from a church festival. When one died, my mom flushed them both down the toilet, claiming the surviving one would have died of loneliness anyway. At age 10 you just go with it. Also, there was a very scary dog that lived near my grade school bus stop, and though none of us was ever attacked, I was intimated with every vicious bark. Eventually, my sister and I just switched bus stops.

Aside from the fish flushing, I have never been involved in any cruelty to animals. Well, once in grade school, I did drop a friend’s rabbit … it started to nibble my hand and I just freaked. No damage done. I don’t hate animals, I just have never really warmed to any in particular. I get the connection that people to do make with them. I understand that dogs, for instance, can be wonderful companions and truly become part of a family. While I understand and appreciate that bond, I have never personally experienced it. From my perspective as a non-pet owner, they appear to be a lot of work with the shedding, potty training (I struggle enough training humans), financial requirements, and other responsibilities you take on if you take your role as a pet owner seriously.

The bottom line, though, is that I am simply not comfortable around animals. They know it too. I firmly believe that dogs sense my fear. They seem to linger around me, even when there are other new faces, as if they know I’m the one who needs to be won over. I have tried not to pass these fears and anxieties on to my children, but one lick to the face from an overly friendly black lab has turned my 3 year old against the creatures. There is still hope for the younger one.

I understand that it is not cool or popular to not like pets and try to keep my feelings to myself. Last night though, I accidentally expressed my feelings on dogs to my neighborhood. Here’s the scene: A pre-Halloween bash on the driveway of a neighbor’s house. There are roughly 30 kids in costume as well as the accompanying parents. There’s a buffet table set up with delicacies such as hot dogs and chips. My husband was feeding our younger daughter, and I was taking my little Cinderella through the line. The homeowner’s dog kept darting under the food table, nearly taking out my little princess. We played through. (I sometimes get nervous taking items to a potluck, so I was busy reveling in the fact that the dish of mac and cheese I brought had been scraped clean, NTB.) Meanwhile, the dog blazed past again. Fortunately, I reacted quickly enough so that my Cinderella’s plate of food didn’t fly everywhere. OK, so I am thinking it would be nice for this large black furry dog (that’s the best description I can give as I have no idea what kind of dog it was) to go inside, but I will be a trooper. The dog goes over to a table and starts to eat some food off an abandoned plate. The plate’s owner comes to retrieve it, prompting the homeowner/dogowner to direct the dog away from the table. It’s my experience that dogs are about as cooperative as toddlers in these situations…he may go away for now, but rest assured he will return.

The tables are all taken so we set up shop at a chair. The dog immediately comes over to try to eat off our plates. I put the plate up on a high ledge as both children are now hovered around me. I cut the hotdog into pieces and put it in a separate bowl for Cinderella while I guard the main plate. The princess is happily eating, but makes the mistake of turning to talk to her dad, leaving an opening for the black beast to dart in, and consume the bowl of hotdogs. He knocks Cinderella out of the way in the process, sending her into hysterics.

At this point, I stand up and proclaim that WE DON’T LIKE DOGS AT THE R’S HOUSE. I am not a loud person, but apparently this was said with enough passion that I found many eyes staring at me. I tried to recover with WELL, IT’S JUST THAT WE AREN’T COMFORTABLE WITH THEM. The damage had been done. The homeowner came over, removed the dog, stating she didn’t want to upset Cinderella. I don’t think she was being sarcastic when she said that, but I honestly don’t know her well enough to know. I turned to my husband to ask if that was too much. He offered no comfort, simply saying, “yes.” I turned to clean up the scene of the crime and said to another neighbor that I thought my outburst might have been too much. She immediately responded, “Not at all. I loved it. I’m with you.” Had I just caused a great divide? Those for and those against canines on the loose? Her husband also subtly expressed his support.

So, I tried to be breezy the rest of the night. I engaged in conversation with a circle of three dogowners and didn’t feel any hatred. Perhaps they understood where I was coming from. I get that people are really close to their dogs. Dogs become part of the family, let’s even go so far as to say they become like children. Well, the truth is, you don’t let your child run wild and eat off other people’s plates so you shouldn’t let your dog do that either. Granted, had the subject in question actually been a child I certainly wouldn’t have proclaimed that WE DON’T LIKE KIDS AT THE R’S HOUSE, but hopefully you can see where I am going with this.

Dog etiquette should be in place at a party, especially one with kids, right? Or, is this just my issue?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Sabrina and Mark -- You will be missed.

I've made no secret of my passion for Dancing with the Stars. I cannot express how devastated I was this evening to see Sabrina the Cheetah Girl and her partner Mark Ballas voted off. I personally accept partial responsibility for not actually voting. I guess I can't trust the rest of America to do anything.

Sabrina was a great dancer, really fun to watch. She also seemed like a pretty good role model to me. It's refreshing to see a confident, beautiful, talented, healthy young woman who doesn't seem to think it's necessary to hover around 100 pounds. This was Mark's first season on DWTS, and he seems like a good guy, a talented dancer, a sensitive coach and teacher, and a fantastic choreographer. My sisters, mom, and I are comforting ourselves with the hope that Sabrina and Mark have fallen in love. There seems to be some evidence supporting that theory.

So now, who I will be rooting toward to the finals? Not Jane Seymour. I can tell you that much. The real question is whether I can continue watching at all.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Meet me in the spooky aisle.

There are a few MEP-driven conversation topics that are unpopular with the hubby: my suspicion that I have adult-onset allergies, the 1893 World's Fair, real estate prices in Greater Cincinnati versus those in Chicago, and my absolute conviction that Kroger is the greatest grocery store ever. Great prices. Lots of variety. Double and even Super-Double coupons. Excellent Kroger-brand products (nice cold Big K red pop after a soccer game, anyone?), especially in the Private Selection line. There was even a time when my passion for Kroger cake was so intense that I vowed to one day order my wedding cake from Kroger. When the time came, I did not, but perhaps I deserve some credit for talking up their bakery all those years.

When I first moved to Chicago in 2001, I frequently bitched about my grocery store choices. I lived near a Dominicks but was never quite satisfied with it. My roommate/cousin had worked at a Jewel in high school (and had a soft spot for the store), but it was farther away and my few trips there never seemed to offer much cause for celebration. Indeed, there was one ugly incident when I tussled with an assistant manager at the service desk over the difference between Jewel brand frozen pizza and Jewel Chef's Kitchen brand frozen pizza. My thought was that if they were all strewn about in the same area of the freezer and had the exact same dimensions and packaging give or take the phrase "Chef's Kitchen," then they ought to all ring up with the same sale price. She thought otherwise.

I have come to realize that part of what fueled my disappointment with Jewel and Dominicks was my unrealistic expectation that smaller, more compact urban stores could compare to large, clean, airy suburban ones. Perhaps the Jewel locations in the suburbs are every bit as lovely as my personal flagship Kroger in Fairfield, OH. I haven't done the research.

Though it is small and decidedly un-airy, I have warmed to my Jewel quite a bit the past few years. There is one within walking distance of our house, and most weeks the bub and I are there three or four times a week. Conservative estimate. I know where most things are, NTB. I've almost mastered the Jewel sales cycles. I find the people who work there--many longtime employees at my Jewel--to be consistently friendly, helpful, and efficient. I appreciate its cozy size. Sure, after a trip home to the Nati, I may indulge in a little Jewel-bashing, but only a little. It's my grocery store now. Like my cousin, I have a soft spot for it. Dominicks still sucks.

But this time of year there is one glaring difference between Jewel and Kroger, a difference that would have been an absolute deal-breaker were I still eight years old. The Jewel does not have a spooky aisle. Nothing even close. Just an end cap with some Halloween candy on it. I don't know if Kroger still does, but when I was a little girl, our Kroger had a spooky aisle in the month leading up to Halloween. It was awesome. The aisle was lined with some kind of dark gauze or something so that the whole thing was dark. There was just enough light for shoppers to glimpse a mighty large selection of Halloween candy, the plastic pumpkin candy buckets, the cheap and thin costumes hanging there, and the face paint and other junk used to accentuate these costumes. I think they played scary music too. I'm not sure why, but it was so exciting to be in Kroger when the spooky aisle was up. If my mom needed to run down to Kroger for milk or whatnot, we begged to go with her. Once in the store, the child's refrain was predictable: "Meet me in the spooky aisle."

The question is whether spooky aisles still exist. What's your grocery of choice? Is there a spooky aisle or anything close? Do you have your own childhood memories of a spooky aisle? Doesn't the bub deserve a spooky aisle? I'm thinking yes.
Blog Designed by : NW Designs