Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Swimming Success

So my daughter started taking swim lessons last week. I’ve deemed them a success thus far based on the following two criteria: 1) there has been no crying and 2) there have been no “accidents” in the pool…at least none of the obvious, attention-getting, clear the pool kind of accidents that I feared from my newly (mostly) potty trained little girl.

However, there was a time in my life where it took far more than lack of tears and strong bowels to deem a trip to the YMCA a success. You see, once upon a time, when it came to swimming, I was good. Yes, I am testing the spirit of NTB from the get go in making such a bold statement. You’d be hard pressed to get me to utter those three words about any other sport I was a part of, but there was a time when I ruled the waters.

Let me put this in perspective in clarifying that I swam competitively from age 6 to 13. Maybe I can claim greatness without feeling boastful since I’m talking about a time that seems eons ago, and, let’s face it, who cares how fast a 10 year old can swim a lap? Maybe it’s because I can recall so clearly the frigid water during those early summer morning practices, or the daily practices during Christmas break where I’d have to leave a slumber party before the donuts were even served to get to practice. (This due to my obsessiveness, not the result of overbearing parents.) Because of those sacrifices I feel entitled to speak freely of any success. Well, whether it’s true or not, I remember being good.

So, a week of sitting poolside, smelling that familiar chlorine aroma inspired me to suit up over the weekend. I donned my signature red cap and of course secured my goggles. I’ve noticed that not many swimmers use the goggles from my heyday…Speedos with black foam around the edge. Plastic has replaced the foam. No thank you…how do you know they are suctioned on there? I had a broken blood vessel high on my cheekbone during my formative swimming years and beyond, self-diagnosed as being from excessive pressure when making sure my goggles were on tight enough. I wasn’t about to abandon ship as I made my grand re-entry into the water to swim laps for the first time in years.

What came next surprised me. I got in the water and for the first time in my life, I looked to the other end and thought, “wow, that looks really far.” Did I really make it to the other end in 18.89 seconds as a 6 year old? (My longest standing record…lasted about 5 years…does that mean my swimming career peaked at age 6? Perhaps.) Alas, I started swimming and clich├ęd as it sounds, it was like riding a bike. I will admit that during parts of my 50-minute session, I had the sensation that I was swimming in an infinity pool…you mean I am not to other side yet? I will also admit that my prowess in butterfly has certain fallen by the wayside. I only did two laps of it (but certainly not two laps in a row.) So, am I still good…maybe not. However, I took solace knowing that I don’t think I was bad enough to give the young lifeguard any material for mocking.

It was a successful enough trip that, yes, I plan to go again.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Intern

I was exhausted this Monday. NTB, but we had a big weekend around here. Friday night was my cooking class. Saturday was action packed: up early with the Bubby, big trip to the carpet store, taking the bubby to our neighborhood festival (he was so cute enjoying the airwalk maze and a strawberry/banana smoothie), and then . . . the White Sox game to celebrate our friend's finally being finished with medical school, residency, and fellowship. My husband even stayed out after the game to get a few more beers. Sunday was golf for him, the neighborhood festival for me and the bubby (pineapple smoothie this time), and then a barbecue in the suburbs. Now, even though this was a "big" weekend for us, the latest I was out all weekend was 10:30 and my husband was home by midnight. Certainly not a wild a weekend by any account, but we were kind of pleased with ourselves for packing so much social interaction into one weekend (since we often spend weekend nights scanning pay-per-view options and wishing we had managed our Blockbuster online queue better).

There are two twenty one year old boys living in our basement this summer: a brother and a nephew. They have big weekends (and sometimes weeknights) all the time. They scout out beer specials*, go see bands, attend "afterparties," eat hot dogs and cheese fries in the early morning hours, and sleep very late the next day. Case in point, my brother began his day on Saturday around 1:30 p.m. On Sunday, he did not surface until about 2:30 or so.

"So, what did you do last night?" I asked him as he lowered himself on to the couch. He started the night with some college friends who were in town. At some point (he can't say when for sure, but definitely after midnight), they headed to a bar in Lincoln Park where my brother then sees some friends of me and my husband (he has only met them a couple of time at most; one of them was at the Sox game with us earlier and for beers with my husband). My brother then proceeds to hang out with them for several more hours and other bars (but again, he's fuzzy on the details). Our friends took to calling my brother "the intern" and then treating him like an intern. For example, if they saw an attractive young woman, the intern was tasked with getting her name and number. My brother apparently took to using lines like, "Hey, I'm just the intern. I hope you can help me out. I really don't want to get fired." Apparently, complete strangers were chanting "intern, intern, intern" when he walked past. The intern shared a taxi home with one of our friends. It was already light out when he got home.

This is probably a story that is funnier if the intern is actually telling it and if you know the people with whom he was out. Nevertheless, it put our notion of a big weekend in perspective.

*when the boys first talked about bars with beer specials, my husband started speaking with authority about various bars and their nightly specials, which was hilarious because he was using information that was like five years old!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Retail Beat: Trader Joe's

The bubby and I walked to Trader Joe's the other day. It was mighty hot and humid as we proceeded, but we made it. While inside, we stocked up on some of our Trader Joe's usuals: individually wrapped portions of stuffed salmon, bagged lettuce (far fewer "gooky" pieces than inside the bags sold at the Jewel and cheaper too), some cherry jam, and some chai tea. Some new items caught my eye, and I thought I'd give a little report/review on them.

1. Trader Joe's Corn and Chile Tomato-Less Salsa -- I want to give this product a hearty endorsement. The 13.75 ounce jar reads "A sweet combination of corn, red peppers, onion and a touch of heat." Truly, it's delightful stuff. I have been slicing avocados, salting them a teense, and then putting a couple of spoonfuls of this salsa on top. Quite yummy. I think it would also be quite good inside of some fish tacos or just eaten with chips. If you don't like spicy foods, don't let the chiles scare you off. It is not spicy at all!

2. Trader Joe's Pomegranate Cranberry Bran Muffins -- I'm not sure I'm going to recommend these little muffins, sold in a six pack. To be fair to Trader Joe's though, I'm not sure anyone would expect a smallish muffin that packs 13 grams of fiber (that's a lot) to taste great. However, if you need or enjoy fiber, this isn't too bad of a way to get it. Mostly now, I am just using them as vehicles for butter.

That's all I got. Happy Sunday to all.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Potluck World

NTB, but I am also a Taste of Home subscriber, courtesy of my mom. This magazine featuring "timeless recipes from trusted home cooks" brings me no end of joy. The recipes and photographs are appealing, but the things that delight me about the magazine are a bit more intangible. The italicized blurbs that introduce most recipes conjure a world or kind of life that I am not yet living. The blurbs promise that your family will love the dish, your friends will beg for the recipe, your church group will ask for seconds, or, quite often, that the dish will be a "hit" at the next potluck you attend. The most recent issue includes a small feature on "Potluck Pointers," one of which, from Susan in North Dakota, is: "Whenever I'm asked to bring a punch to a potluck, I pack all of the ingredients I need in a cooler and assemble the drink there." Perhaps because I live in the city and not the suburbs (yet, but don't worry I will be there with bells on soon enough) or perhaps because my bubby is not even two yet, I am not invited to any potlucks or, if I am, they are not called potlucks. But I want to be. I want to experience a world where Susan's tip might be helpful to me. From where I stand now, I cannot fathom a situation where I am invited somewhere and asked to bring punch. I just can't. I hope it happens.

Next weekend, a friend and I are hosting "Wives Night Out" (though husbands and children are invited too). We've asked everyone to bring something to share, so I guess it is a sort of potluck, but not quite the same. We took a cooking class together last night and plan to debut some of our new recipes. I'll let you know if the pizettes, the shrimp stuffed with goat cheese and sundried tomato and wrapped in proscuitto, and the salmon salsa on pita chips are a hit or not. Until then, I'll flip through my Taste of Home and think about life in a potluck world and give thanks for the good food and good friends in my life.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Oh, that's how you lose weight.

I am an Us Weekly subscriber. Several years ago, my sister-in-law bought it for me for Christmas, and I was delighted. It is truly the gift that keeps on giving all year. Every Thursday (or sometimes Friday or Saturday), I find a surprise in my mailbox. Though I have mixed feelings about Us Weekly and my need for it, I have renewed the subscription twice. A couple of times a year, I have a conversation with myself, asking: Shouldn't I turn my back on celebrity culture of this sort? Am I somehow encouraging Paris, Lindsay, Nicole, Britney, and the gang by reading about them each week? Can I tolerate one more story about Brangelina (I have have no interest in them, though I'm not bitter toward them like several members of my family)? Do I really believe I'll discover the "truth" about what Katie Holmes is thinking in the pages of this magazine? Would I want my preteen daughter (I don't have one yet) to see me reading Us? On the flip side, I rationalize: Practically speaking, Us does not take long to read (30 minutes tops); most weeks the magazine gets passsed along to my husband, friends, sister-in-law, or babysitter; and if I gave in to temptation at the checkout line and purchased one at news stand price a couple of times a month, I would spend more money than I do as a subscriber. I further rationalize that I am a strong woman and a critical reader. I'm not looking to Us for fashion tips, much less moral guidance or role models. In fact, it's more likely I read the magazine so I can feel superior to the size 0's I read about there (not that this is a good thing for me to do).

The issue that arrived yesterday features Jason Priestly (yes, he's still alive) and his wife and their new daughter (very beautiful and tiny baby, by the way). I enjoyed the feature on their new family and their discussion of parenthood. The piece I object to is an Us Exclusive entitled "The Hills' Bikini Makeovers" which asks: "Can you ever be too sexy? MTV's leading ladies . . . tell Us how they toned up in just four months." I am by no means opposed to reality television, but I never watched Laguna Beach and I don't watch its spin-off, The Hills, either. Indeed, I am only aware of L.C., Heidi, and company because I read Us Weekly. Until this feature, I had never heard of Whitney Port, one of the young women whose bikini makeover is featured. The one paragraph devoted to her mentions that she is 5-foot-10. Okay, so am I. It mentions that she gained 25 pounds in college. Okay, so did I. Currently, she weighs 115 pounds. Okay, that's crazy. 5-foot-10 inches and 115 pounds? If those numbers are true, that's patently ridiculous and cannot be healthy. Of course, I am not a medical professional or a nutritionist; however, as a fellow 5-foot-10 incher, I have to state that her college weight (140 pounds or so) is far less than any goal weight I have ever set for myself or achieved in recent years. What's her secret, beyond working with a trainer and "going on walks and long bike rides"? Us writes: "Her only eating rules are to try to stay away from carbs, sugar, and fried food" (emphasis mine). Wait! Those are the only rules? Got it. Thanks Us.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Bag of Loot.

A card shop in my neighborhood is closing (nothing to be too sad about, they're simply merging with another shop, owned by the same guy, and less than half a mile away). Three weeks ago, I went into the store and found several bargains, items priced 50% off: doggie-themed party invitations for my bubby's second birthday (right around the corner in January), a small shiny change purse with "Pisces" written in gems and beads, notecards, a book on wedding showers for my mom (who enjoys planning showers). All in all, a good trip.

Yesterday, I stopped by again and, what do you know, they were offering a special opportunity. They were giving out good-sized gift bags, and customers could get as much as they could fit inside for $20. I looked around the store. No one else was filling a gift bag. I asked the cashier if the deal was for real, "because I could fit a lot of stuff in one of these bags." She assured me I could, and I mobilized. I gave my bubby a bag of graham crackers and started filling: notecards, holiday cards, invitations, gift tags, a baby shower book for my mom, an Elvis address book, and individual cards of all kinds--birthday, bon voyage, congratulations, engagement, new baby, anniversary . . . I could go on. Now, don't imagine it looked like Supermarket Sweep. I was trying to play it cool, trying to make it seem as if I weren't going to end up with $200 worth of cards and other merchandise in my bag. I was also following some strange honor code I formulated as I went. For example, say there were four of the same adorable new baby card, I would only put two of them in my bag. Perhaps I was acting out of guilt or out of some strange sense of fairness or respect for fellow/future looters. In one heady moment, I secured a copy (the last one) of a book entitled Prom Night. It features prom pictures from years past, and I've admired it from a distance for months but had never been able to justify its purchase before (careless spender though I am). I guiltily took my full bag (to be honest, it could have been stuffed with more, but I already felt so ashamed) and paid my $21.86.

Later, when my husband arrived home, I took out all the loot and tried to show it off. He is not a great audience for this kind of thing, with his penchant for asking questions like, "Are you really going to use all of those cards?" As if the use or disuse of the cards is the point. I looked over each of the individual cards, trying to get him to share in my exuberance that some of these cards had original retail prices as high as $6.00. I had almost won him over when I got to a stack of four anniversary cards. I had taken four, against my code, because there were many of this particular card still available. I think at the time, I was thinking, "Yes, I really should be better about remembering people's anniversaries. Now, I'll be ready." I put them in my bag with good intentions but, apparently, without reading them. I looked at the card that I had four copies of, and this it what is said: "Happy Anniversary. Instead of having sex tonight, let's make love." It happens to be my anniversary today. Guess I'm all set. NTB.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I threw it away.

It was a carrot cake "loaf" with cream cheese frosting (almost one inch thick on top), purchased on a whim at the grocery store. I ate it whenever I remembered it was there in the refrigerator, waiting for me. Yes, I did share one piece with my husband. But mostly, I ate it myself, even when I was not hungry. There was one piece left when I opened the fridge this morning to grab a Diet Coke. It was a pretty good sized piece, but I threw it away all the same. NTB.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Contact Me

Have something (nice) to tell me or a question for me? Leave a comment or send an email. I'd love to hear from you!

I can be reached at: mep at nottobrag dot net **

I'm on Twitter, but I almost never tweet. Still not quite sure what's going on there. However, if you follow me, I'll follow you back! My Twitter handle is @nottobrag

**Why aren't you supposed to write out your actual email address? I don't know, but no one else does it so I won't either.

Favorite Things

Updates in RED, September 2013

Some of my favorite things . . .

Favorite Stadium Snack: hot pretzels (light on the salt, with yellow mustard)

Favorite Pop: Diet Coke (Diet Pepsi is not "okay" and Diet Rite not even worth talking about). I am also fond of regular Dr. Pepper. Yes, it's called "pop."  I find myself saying "soda" sometimes.  It's embarrassing.

Favorite Competitive Reality Programs: Top Chef and The Biggest Loser  I no longer watch competitive reality programs, NTB.  I need to be all-in to really enjoy them, and I don't have that kind of time.

Favorite Piece of Punctuation: the semi-colon

Favorite Fast Food French Fries: Burger King (a good batch of these fries is better than a good batch of McDonalds fries, and BK seems more consistent in fry quality to me).  I don't know what I was smoking here.  McDonald's fries are superior.  Side note, the Wendy's sea salt fries are crap.

Favorite Don Pablos Location: Rookwood Pavilion in Norwood, OH.  Is this even still open?  I don't know.  I will forever refer to it as "The World's Greatest Don Pablos."

Favorite Sport to Watch: My answer are team specific. I enjoy watching Notre Dame play college football and basketball and the Xavier Musketeers play college basketball.  I also watch ND basketball.  Let's be honest though, I don't have the attention span to sit on the couch and watch an entire game of any sport.

Favorite Era of Liturgical Music: 1980's Glory and Praise and guitars era.

Favorite Lean Cuisine Pizza: Spinach and Mushroom. I used to love the Margherita one, but they have changed the recipe and it now tastes like a Healthy Choice piece of crap.

Favorite Cowboy Novel: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (probably the only cowboy novel I've read, but still . . .)

Favorite Brand of Conversation Hearts: Last year I would have said Sweethearts brand ("the official candy of love"), but I suspect the company has changed the recipe as of this year. The colors are now garish and the flavors offensive. My vote goes to Brachs . . . a little too soft, but the flavor is good.

Favorite Grocery Store Chain: Kroger. The absence of Kroger in Chicagoland is a real bummer to me. Kroger is still number one, but Jewel has grown on me.  The stores aren't that attractive and the selective is not awesome, but the people who work there are really friendly and seem loyal to the company.  Now that a fancier chain has opened in my suburb, I still find myself shopping (comfort?  pity?) at Jewel.

Favorite Premium Ice Cream: Graeter's Toffee Chip and Graeter's Black Raspberry Chip

Favorite Ice Cream Available in Your Grocer's Freezer: Edy's Special Edition Girl Scout Cookie Samoa Ice Cream.  Graeter's is now available in my grocer's freezer, NTB!  When I'm not willing to pay for premium, I usually choose something from the Edy's Slow-Churned collection.

Favorite Place to Stop on The Road: Cracker Barrel, though my hubby is almost never willing to stop there and is a bit of a buzzkill about allowing for browsing time in the general store area (i.e., "We don't need any of this crap.")  There was an incident called "The Christmas Miracle of 2010" when my hubby stopped at CB on the way to St. Louis without being asked/begged.  He has also stopped a few times since, but honestly, he gets so pissy about the general store that it almost ruins the experience.

I plan to keep adding to this list, so please check back . . . If you have a "favorite" category for me to weigh in on, please list it in the comments! And, of course, please share your favorites in any category . . . I love comments!

Worth the Trip

In no particular order, here are some of my favorite, NTB, posts here at Not to brag . . . Enjoy!

Code Brown

Who is MEP?

Updates in RED, September 2013

Hi, I'm MEP. Not to brag . . . is my blog, and I am so glad you've stopped by. I started this blog in July of 2007 when my oldest son was around 18 months old and I still had three chapters of a dissertation left to write. I wasn't sure I'd ever finish writing and graduate so I started blogging in part because I yearned to finish writing something. Crafting a short(ish) blog post was the perfect way to get a nice feeling of completion and satisfaction without having to do much research or include end notes. The fact that people started reading the blog and leaving comments made the experience even sweeter. Blogging has made me feel more connected to friends, family, and strangers than I ever imagined. Almost three years later, I love having this outlet to share what I'm thinking, feeling, reading, eating, and trying to do with my life.  By some combination of divine intervention and hard work, I defended my dissertation in November of 2008 and graduated in May of 2009.  Six years after starting this blog, I mostly neglect it.  My life is far less lonely these days than it was when I was a new mom in a big city, NTB.  I don't need virtual connections as much as I once did (though I treasure the friends I have made through blogging).  

I live in Chicago (near Wrigley Field) with Hubby and our two sons Bub (4 years) and Little Bit (19 months). We are so excited to welcome our daughter Sweet P in April. Check out some family pictures below.  We've been living the good life in the 'burbs for two years now.  We're a party of five these days.
We looked this perfect, NTB, and matchy-matchy for about five minutes this past August.  
My hair is now mostly grey and highlighted blond in an attempt to disguise that.  My hair is also long.  What's more, my second son is now five and can walk.  My daughter exists. 

Ah, that's more like us. NTB.  I still make this face.

I'm a SAHM right now. I taught a few classes last semester and see more part-time teaching in my future. For now though, my boys keep me busy but still allow me to nurture my passions, such as reading and eating. I also enjoy watching television. I don't get out nearly enough, but I do love hanging out with friends whenever I can. One day I plan to start working out.  Reading more than ever.  Unfortunately, eating more than ever too.  Watching far less television than I once did -- have eliminated all competitive reality programs.  I go out plenty, NTB.  I play tennis twice a week, but that's about it in the "working out" category.

I'm a Midwestern girl through and through, and my favorite states are (in order): Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana.

What else? I'm the oldest of five kids. I can appreciate a clean house, but have to fight my own slobbish tendencies to keep ours looking just okay on a daily basis. I am simultaneously intrigued and repelled by baby monkeys (the small kind the wrap around human fingers). I love Diet Coke. I don't blog about politics. I go to bed later than I should. Running shoes are my footwear of choice (but I do not run). I am very skilled at programming our DVR.  I still heart DC.  I still stay up late.  I change up my footwear more than I used to.

I try not to take myself too seriously. Some days I succeed.

You'll see the abbreviation NTB throughout some of my posts.
NTB = Not to brag . . .

I consider NTB a frame of mind, a lifestyle even. You can use it in a sarcastic tone, as in, "I gained a record 12 pounds at my last ob gyn visit, NTB." Or, you can use it just to keep things a little more real if you're going to brag on your kids and whatnot, as in, "My two year old can read me the newspaper in Spanish and wipe his own butt, NTB." NTB helps you keep it real.

I like to imagine that NTB is about trying to negotiate life's ups and downs with humor and a semblance of grace, reasonableness, and positivity.  I still strive to bring all of these qualities to my daily life, but as my kids get older and my life less anonymous, I am less comfortable sharing the more personal aspects of our life.  

I think that's enough about me and this blog. Please visit again because I'm really, really glad you're here. Like all bloggers, I love, love, love comments, but I'd rather have you stop by and not comment than stop stopping by because you feel guilty not commenting . . . if that makes sense.  Visit often, but there's not much new content on offer!

Anyway, enjoy!

Peace out,

P.S. -- My sisters LAP and PITA are infrequent but valued contributors here at NTB as well. They are both way better writers than they think they are and in real life they are both way funnier than I am.  They are still funnier than I am.  Maybe they are the future of NTB.  I'll get back to you on that.
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