Friday, August 31, 2007

Vocab Woman

Who’s this? Who in the hell is this? As a special treat for back-to-school week at NTB, let me introduce you to Vocab Woman. As most high schools seem to, the high school where I taught had a spirit week during which students and teachers who had spirit (and I’ve always had spirit, how ‘bout you?) dressed up as each day’s theme demanded. This is me as Vocab Woman on superhero day.

The picture is blurry, I know, but you can probably make out the VW crest on my shirt. My wand is made from a yellow kitchen sponge. My socks have red hearts on them, since I “heart” vocabulary. My acrylic nails are painted a nice maroon red (this is not related to my Vocab Woman identity, but worth noting as having my nails filled every two weeks was something I did religiously while I was a high school teacher, one of the many reasons I did not save even a quarter during those years). My tights are emblazoned with various ninth grade vocabulary words: debris, unbridled, apex, alien, pliant, plethora, erratic, pauper, relinquish, hoodwink (my all-time favorite), and many more. My headband reads “Present Power.”

Present Power? As I always liked to say, inspired by Cousin Eddie in Christmas Vacation, “A good vocabulary is the gift that keeps on giving.” At the beginning of each school year at McHS*, I would take the vocabulary workbooks for each class period of students and wrap them up as presents (one large present per class period, I am not so big of a loser that I individually wrapped 87 or so vocabulary workbooks). During the first week of school, I would choose one student to unwrap the present while saying a few words about how improving one’s vocabulary also positively influences one’s writing, reading comprehension, preparedness for college admissions tests, and overall sense of and/or appearance of intelligence. My students were ninth graders who, while not particularly excited by the contents of the unwrapped box, tended to be amused and charitable enough to make it worth doing. Whenever it was time for vocabulary throughout the year, I would say with enthusiasm, “Open your presents.” They thought I was being a dork, and I knew for sure that I was so there was a nice synergy there. They would open their presents and, NTB, end up enjoying vocabulary time. It was only a small piece of our curriculum, but I think I did the best I could with it. Students would proudly share stories with the class of hearing or reading a ninth grade vocab. word in the real world. Sometimes they brought in proof, and we had a bulletin board devoted to textual evidence that these were words they might encounter outside of their workbooks or room 126.

My last year of teaching at McHS, I recall being really peeved when I heard that an eighth grade Language Arts teacher at McMS had decided to use my idea and wrap his vocabulary books too. I never got a chance to confront him on that, but I still get mad whenever I think of it. What, was he going to dress as Vocab Man for Halloween too?

Anyway, I came across the picture and it reminded me of the years when I did a job that, though it could be awfully frustrating and time intensive, had its own unique rewards and satisfactions. I liked finding ways to engage my students, to be creative, and to share my enthusiasm for literature . . . and vocabulary. I hope that when my former students, most of whom should be out of college by now, hear a ninth grade vocabulary word, they think of me, Vocab Woman, and/or their presents. I hear ninth grade vocabulary words all the time. When I do, I smile and look around excitedly, then realize there is no one around to share my joy. From time to time though, my husband will say something like, “Spurious. That’s a ninth grade vocab. word, right?” It is, indeed.

Including pictures in posts is a skill learned in honor of back-to-school week (and as these pictures are not in the proper order, clearly I am still learning). I have included another one, taken during spirit week the same year as the Vocab Woman photo. As the photograph makes evident, it was 80’s day. Here are some of the English teachers mocking the very decade in which they spent their formative years. If you look on the floor to the left, you can see that one of my friends even had a boom box blasting. NTB.

*McMansion High School

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Hot for hot lunch.

Since this is back-to-school week at NTB and I’ve just had a power lunch of soft pretzel and Lean Cuisine pizza (yes, they are finally back on sale), I thought I’d share some thoughts on school lunch. This piece is not a commentary on how school lunches are the reason that so many young people are overweight. Nor is it about how ketchup supposedly counts as a vegetable for the purposes of federal or state health requirements for school lunches. If these issues interest you, watch Super Size Me, the documentary about the guy who ate nothing but McDonalds for thirty days (or maybe longer, I can’t remember). The documentary has an interesting segment on school lunch.

This post is about what I liked to eat for lunch when I was a schoolgirl. As a grade schooler, my lunch options were limited. My school only sold milk and orange drink, no hot lunch. I wish I could say that I packed my own lunch as soon as I was able, but my mom packed it for me. The standard in my house included a sandwich, a salty, a sweet, and a piece of fruit. I don’t remember much about sandwiches, except that I was into butter and jelly sandwiches for awhile. The salty would be either potato chips, pretzels, or Doritoes (often in the individual mini bags that are so cute. NTB). The sweet could be a Little Debbie (the swiss cake roll and the starcrunch were my favorites, or maybe those little white cakes with white filling, white icing and chocolate stripes). My mom is also a good baker, so the sweet was sometimes a homemade item. I don’t remember much about the fruit as it was often placed directly into the donation box for the One Way Farm. (The One Way Farm was a home for runaways and other troubled children and one of the nuns at our school had students donate food they did not eat to the box. Nothing half-eaten, of course, but unopened packages of snacks, pieces of fruit, or even untouched but still wrapped sandwiches were to be donated. You can imagine that those runaways were more inundated with fruit and sandwiches than with Fritos or fruit roll-ups). By the time my youngest brother needed a packed lunch, the health standards in our home had relaxed quite a bit. My mom was understandably tired after having packed thousands of lunches already. Do you remember the bright orange crackers filled with peanut butter in individually wrapped six-packs? This item fulfilled the sandwich requirement.

Endless days of brown-bagged lunches could get old, no matter how much love was packed with them or how cute of a note my mom left inside. There were bright, or perhaps I should say hot, spots though. It was standard practice at my school that if it was your birthday (or that of one of your siblings), your mom or dad would drop off a hot lunch for you. You’d line up with your class to enter the cafeteria, you would bypass the milk lady, and then there, on a ledge adjacent to the milk cooler, you would find a McDonald’s bag with your name on it and a fountain pop standing right next to it . . . or maybe a Pizza Hut personal pan pizza or a bag from Arby’s or Burger King. Other students would smell your fries and look at them longingly or look forlornly at your pop as they sipped their lukewarm milk. Surprisingly, I do not remember many requests to share my fries or my drink on those special days. There must have been a tacit understanding between students that if you don’t ask me to share my McDonalds, I won’t ask you. The good news is that hot lunch was not something that was only allowed to happen on one’s birthday. So, if the morning was chaotic at our house or if I “forgot” my lunch, there was a good chance it might be replaced with a cheeseburger and fries. NTB.

My high school did offer hot lunch, and after I figured out the system (race into line directly from your pre-lunch class, do not stop at locker, and do not get in the “senior cut” line), I was a loyal customer. My younger siblings all went to the same high school as I did, but they probably could count on two hands the total number of days they bought lunch in four years. I guess they were not as charmed as I was by the pork fritter sandwich. It was like a chicken patty but made of pork and kind of flat and thin and irregularly shaped along the edges, delicious with ketchup. They did not take advantage of the fact that mashed potatoes with gravy were available every day for a mere 30 or 40 cents per scoop. They did not share my passion for the institutional school pizza--the kind cut into large rectangular pieces and topped with the thinnest shreds of sausage (cheese only on Fridays in Lent). There was also a salad bar. At the salad bar you could make a salad (though there was an odd rule noting that only “two proteins” were allowed), buy a hot pretzel brushed with butter (heavenly), or a hostess pie (the perfect ending to a healthy lunch of salad). I would eat there tomorrow if I had the opportunity.

My love for the college dining hall deserves a post in its entirety. My school lunches during my years as high school teacher are memorable only because of the awesome colleagues and friends with whom I ate. So, I think that’s all I have to say about school lunches and surely it is more than you wanted to read about. Were you a buyer or a packer? Any school lunch memories to share? I’d love your comments.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bouquets of freshly-sharpened pencils . . .*

It’s back-to-school season, and I know it’s pretty much a cliché now to talk about one’s love for school supplies, but indulge me for just a bit.

As a little girl who loved school, I perhaps loved choosing my school supplies even more. I loved entering a discount store like biggs, Meier, or K-Mart and seeing the stacks and stacks of clean, crisp notebooks and packages of filler paper. I painstakingly chose my folders for each subject. The best folders would go for the best subjects—Reading and Language Arts—and the worst folder would go for the worst subject, which was and is, of course, science. I silently cursed teachers who asked for plain folders and assigned a color for each subject (though I would not have dreamed of buying a pink folder for Math if, say, red were requested). I would carefully select my pencils—ones adorned with rainbows and balloons, swirly-painted designs, or metallic accents—and then worry that these fancier pencils were not actually no. 2 as the teacher’s list had specified. My mom was patient and generous in the back-to-school shopping trips, never forcing me to re-use a pencil bag from the previous year or to start the year with half-used pencils or crayons from the previous school year (not that re-use is not a good idea, but she understood how much pleasure I experienced in selecting new stuff for a new school year).

As I got older, I always struggled with my school’s barring of Trapper Keepers. They were not allowed, and it made me want one all the more. They came with cool designs on the outside, and you could choose special Trapper folders for the inside. The Trapper was not just an object but also a symbol of order and organization of the sort that appealed to a rule-follower like myself (though, again, I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to tell me which folders to choose for inside my Trapper, had I actually possessed a Trapper). My husband and I were discussing school supplies this morning, and he actually used the phrase “the whole Trapper controversy.” Apparently, at his school, Trappers were banned but then the ban was later lifted. We speculated as to why Trappers were ever banned. He suspects it was the noise of the opening and shutting or perhaps the size of the Trapper Keeper in proportion to the size of a student desk. My guess is that at my school, Trappers may have been banned as potential status symbols. After all, this is the same school where your uniform shirts could not have any logos on them. Thus, when my mom found a good deal on Gloria Vanderbilt white oxfords at K-Mart and then washed and ironed them before the new school year (rendering them un-returnable), she was dismayed when I was sent home with a note saying that the shirts were banned because of the swan insignia sewn into them. I can understand though how the other kids would have been jealous. “That’s right, I’m wearing a Gloria Vanderbilt shirt. From K-Mart. NTB.” They became the shirts I only wore under a uniform-approved sweater. God help me if I got too warm and was tempted to take the sweater off.

One item that was always included on my grade school back-to-school list was a box of tissues. This box of tissues was your contribution to your class’s defense against snot, sniffles, and sneezes. Most teachers stacked all the boxes on top of a cabinet or on a shelf and then pulled one down as needed to be the community box. I selected my box of tissues with care, preferring the traditional, long rectangular box to the jauntier upright one. I tried to choose a pattern that made me happy, and over the course of the school day, I would often scan the stack of tissue boxes, looking for mine, wondering when its turn would come to be the community box. Would others notice how cute it was? Would we go through this box more quickly because I had done such a good job selecting it? Did my teacher notice that I had chosen the name-brand Kleenex? NTB. Some kids’ parents wrote their names on the boxes. Was Beth M. sorry that her mother had chosen an ugly brown box and that Beth M. had to claim it since her name was scrawled on it in black, permanent marker?

Since I am still a student, I can conjure up excuses now and again to experience a little bit of the old school supply bliss by making a quick trip to Staples. But, without a list and without the excitement of a new school year, classroom, and teacher, it’s not the same. I look forward to taking the bubby to get his school supplies some day, and hope I can refrain from trying to choose his folders, pencils, and tissue box for him. And, if the rules allow them and if they still make them, I’ll even buy him a Trapper. NTB.

*the title comes from You've Got Mail and is meant to conjure the happy feelings conjured by school supplies, Fall, and fresh starts.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Brown is the new yellow.

Last night was a big night. Parent Orientation at Preschool. Ohhhh. Actually, it all went well and my daughter’s teacher for next year seems absolutely delightful. Everything you’d imagine a preschool teacher to be, except I don’t peg her for a holiday sweater wearer (not a bad thing.) So, here’s my one concern (other than being kicked out for excessive potty accidents) as we approach the first day of school…

There is a color-coded system used for the 12 kids in her class. Each child is given a laminated picture of a puppy to pin to his/her bag. You hang your coat on the rack next to the puppy of your color, place your bag on the floor next to that color, etc. Classic sort of concept…I have no issues with the system.

Here’s my problem. I have a daughter who is OBSESSED with colors, particularly her favorite one: yellow. You might argue it’s an odd choice for a 3 year-old girl. I probably wouldn’t disagree with you there, but it is what it is. If I had to wager how many times a day she reiterates that yellow is her favorite color, I would say three. But, three times a day for the past six months means that yellow is a very important part of her life. She has yellow crocs, yellow clothes, yellow popsicles. Yesterday at the store she picked out a yellow bag for preschool and a yellow balloon from the same store.

When asked what color different items around the house are, my one year-old daughter says “yellow.” She of course is only accurate when she points to the bananas and then essentially everything else belonging to my older daughter. While I don’t believe it’s uncommon for a one year-old to incorrectly identify everything as being the same color, I have to think “yellow” isn’t the most common color guess. Is her consistent answer of “yellow” a coincidence, or is she a victim of her surroundings? We’ll never really know.

The thing is, even though yellow is my older daughter’s favorite color, we could work with just about any colored puppy we were issued. After all, she can tell you the favorite color of nearly everyone she has encountered for the past 6 months. About three or four times a week, she’ll say “let’s talk about my birthday party.” This involves, among other things, recalling together what color everyone wore to her birthday party back in May when guests were asked to arrive wearing their favorite colors. If we got a pink puppy, we’d celebrate the fact that it is the favorite color of Grammy, Aunt Jen, and Aunt Mol-Mol. We’d rejoice in blue knowing that it is mommy and daddy’s favorite color. The Intern even has us covered should we receive an orange puppy. We have most all our bases covered. Most, I said….

But brown. Her puppy is brown. What do you do with brown? How do I talk up brown? How do I get her excited about a color that not one person has listed as a favorite during her extensive polling? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking to be issued a new puppy. I am very aware that she will suffer greater disappointments in her life than this so she might as well start with the hard knocks now. Am I being dramatic? Well, yes. However, this situation is going to call for some creative parenting. “You got brown, just like daddy’s hair! You got brown, just like mommy’s Diet Coke! You got brown, just like that dirt that helps the flowers grow! You got brown, just like our grass! You got brown, just like chocolate chips!” Oh yeah, brown is going to be the new yellow before I’m done with it.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

I wish I had evidence.

My mom was in town this week, and I thought her visit offered an ideal opportunity to take the bub to have his picture taken. We went out and found him two really cute outfits to wear. We took him to get his hair cut (NTB, but he was an angel during the haircut. He sat in the yellow car kid's haircut chair very calmly. Never mind that he insisted on holding in his lap the toy vacuum he had been playing with in the waiting area. Never mind that he did not give up the vacuum during the entire haircut, and that when the stylist tried to trade him for a tow truck, that tow truck went flying. Never mind that he refused to wear a cape and thus looked like a gerbil by the end of the cut. Still, he was an angel).

During the two days of Grammy's visit that led up to photo day, we kept asking the bub to "smile." He would respond by offering a really toothy, big smile and scrunching up his eyes. Not the expression I was hoping for for the photos, but still really adorable and, I thought, a good sign that he would respond to direction during the photo shoot.

The morning of the photo session things were still looking good. He fell asleep on the way there, and I thought, "Oh good, a little twenty-minute snoozer and he'll be fresh for the photos." In the waiting area, he played, in the words of Grammy, "just like a big boy at nursery school." Even as we witnessed some poor behavior by some bigger girls at the lego table (alas, young Chloe even received a public spanking for throwing legos), the bub was a prince.

But when it came time for the photo shoot, the bub was not having it. The problem was not just that he would not smile but that he would not stay still. Not at all. The photographer tried prop after prop in a valiant but ultimately futile attempt to get the bub to stop and smile. Does the bub want to play ball? Nope. Sand buckets, a faux piece of boardwalk, and a beach backdrop? Not what I was imagining for the photo, but I was going to roll with it if the bub was game. No luck. What a about a little rocking chair to sit on? No thanks. A miniature blue, leather recliner? Don't think so. How about a Radio Flyer ride-on car? Seemed promising at first but was really only good for about 90 total seconds of photography. Two large teddy bears that the bub was asked to kiss? He did offer some kisses, but I was not able to move out of the frame quickly enough for them to be captured. Not that a photo of the bub kissing two carnival prize-sized bears was what I had been hoping for either.

Now, there were places in the studio that may have worked for a photo, places the bub was especially and consistently enthusiastic about visiting. These places were, in order of preference: the lego table in the waiting room (my mom asked if we could move it into the photo area but the photographer thought she was joking), the water fountain, and the toilet (would have been his favorite play area if I had not closed the door after his first visit).

After twenty minutes and two finished packets of fruit snacks, the photographer, her assistant, my mom, and I were out of ideas and physically spent. I didn't check the condition of the photographers, but I will vouch that my mom and I had both pitted out our shirts, a side effect of the energy expended picking bubby up and wrestling him back to the next prop.

After we waved our white flags, Grammy followed the bub back to the Lego table, where he played happily. Felicitously, a chastened Chloe, back from lunch to pick up her family's photos, rejoined him at the lego table with no further violent incidents. The photographer and I sat down at the big screen to evaluate the 15 shots she was able to snap (just to give you an idea, we looked at maybe 50 or 60 images that the last time the Bub had his photo taken). What to choose? The photo of the bub straddling the Radio Flyer backwards with a look of defiance on his face? The one where he is lifting the Radio Flyer (not that light, by the way) and is poised to throw it while wearing a red face and a look that I would characterize as intense/constipated? The one that captures the bub actually smiling at the two carnival prize-sized bears but that also captures the fruit snacks littering the floor and doubling as pellets of bear poop? The one where he is standing against a plain white background crying and really pissed off?

I had shown up prepared to purchase quite a few photos. I tried to make the most of my options . . . maybe the bear pellet photo because he was smiling . . . maybe the throwing-the-car or riding-it-backwards photo to capture the day. I tried to talk myself into leaving with some evidence of the time and energy that had gone into this visit. But the photographer talked me out of it, encouraging me to cut my losses and reschedule. I am thankful for her good sense and the incredible patience she showed throughout the session. If my mom had not been with me, there would have been an emotional breakdown on my part for certain. The rub is that the bub is, NTB, pretty stinking cute and generally happy and full of smiles. So, in a couple of weeks we'll try again to capture at least a couple of those smiles on professional photo paper. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I'd walk to the end of the earth with George Guidall.

1997 was a big year for me. I graduated from college, moved into my first big girl apartment, and started my first teaching job. Thanks to the Busken Bakery less than a 100 yards from said apartment, it was a "big" year for me in other ways as well. But anyway, 1997 was also the year I discovered audiobooks, and my life has been much richer ever since. To celebrate ten years of this passion, I dedicate this post to audiobooks. Why and how much do I love audiobooks, let me count the ways . . .

Audiobooks are a wonderful chance to "read" more books.

I know some people who want to get technical about listening to books and to discuss whether or not listening to audiobooks is "really reading." Frankly, this discussion gets on my nerves and strikes me as beside the point. For me, the point is to enjoy stories of all kinds. The listener still has to make sense of what he or she is hearing, follow the threads of the narrative, and make connections just as one does when reading a book in print. Now, these tasks are sometimes made easier by the fact that the audiobook's narrator is offering a certain interpretation in his/her performance, but I usually find these interpretations in accord with the spirit of the text. Audiobooks allow me to experience more good literature. I am always consuming several books at once: a book in print, an audiobook, and the various books that are part of my academic project. (Just to clarify, I do not mean simultaneously consuming, as in I listen to an audiobook while I sit on the couch and read another book. I'm a good reader, NTB, but not that good). Audiobooks are a wonderful chance to "read" in situations when you can't normally read, such as while driving a car.

A good narrator makes listening to an audiobook an absolute pleasure.
I have been listening to audiobooks long enough now to have favorite narrators. Flo Gibson reading Pride and Prejudice is divine. The low-key, but compelling narration of Shelly Frasier is another favorite. Though at times she verges on overdoing it, many of my most awesome audiobook experiences have been listening to books narrated by Barbara Rosenblat. I enjoy Richard Easton, Simon Preble, and the fantastic Ron McLarty. And, as the title of this post suggests, I would walk to the end of the earth if I had a supply of audiobooks narrated by George Guidall to keep me company. His reading of Jonathan Frantzen's The Corrections is sublime. Now, a poor narrator can ruin a listening experience, but I typically find that I can adjust to most narrators if I give them a chance. For those new to audiobooks, beware of audiobooks read by celebrities and/or authors. Sometimes they are wonderful, but oftentimes not so much. Professional audiobook narrators (and such people do exist) are the best. With very few exceptions, I am very happy with the narrators who read for Recorded Books, Inc.

If not for audiobooks, I might never clean.
My house is cleaner when I am listening to a compelling audiobook. Unloading the dishwasher, wiping down the bub's booster chair, folding laundry, tidying the piles of stuff everywhere . . . all these tasks are made more pleasurable when an audiobook keeps me company as I do them. The only task that I cannot do while listening to audiobooks is vacuuming.

If not for audiobooks, I might never exercise.
For me, my monthly subscription to is a far better value than any gym membership I could purchase. My main form of exercise is walking, and I am always willing to walk longer if I'm listening to a good book.

Audiobooks reintroduced me to the library.
Audiobooks are expensive to buy, and though I happily purchase books, I have never been interested in purchasing audiobooks as physical artifacts. In my post-college years in Cincinnati and Chicago, I learned to re-love the library as a source of audiobooks. Walking to the library is a pleasure, and in my first two years in Chicago, I probably explored at least ten different branches of the public library in search of a greater variety of audiobooks.

Audiobooks are less cumbersome than they used to be.
When I first started listening to audiobooks, they were called books on tape. I would walk around with a walkman on and then have extra batteries and the next tape in a ziploc baggie in my pocket. When I got into the car, I would bring the tapes with me. When the libraries started shelving books on cd, I temporarily tried listening to audiobooks on my discman. I found it frustrating because the discs often skipped as I walked and the discman was too big for a pocket. For a while, I would wear a hoodie with a pouch in front and store my discman there, but I got tired of feeling like a kangaroo. I went back to the walkman, which I proudly sported until the fall of 2003. At that time, I got my first ipod and discovered* A monthly subscription to runs me about $21 a month and includes two audiobooks a month. I download these audiobooks onto my ipod, and I am ready to go. Once you download an audiobook, it remains in your online "audible" library and your itunes so that you can re-read it anytime. I think you can also share it with other listeners in your household (my husband is not interested, however). I look forward to choosing my audiobooks each month and make a game of trying to get the maximum amount of listening time for my book credits. I also have a complicated thought process about which books to listen to and which I would prefer to read in print. Generally, I try only to listen to unabridged audiobooks, but many books come in abridged versions as well, in case any of you would prefer a shorter listen. I also want to point out that some large public library systems allow cardholders to download audiobooks for free. The Chicago Public Library offers this service, but it is not available for ipod users yet. I think you need a PC as well, and we are a Mac household so I have not been able to take advantage.

Audiobooks are a great way to widen your reading tastes and take risks.
I have listened to many books that I might never have read on my own. For example, March by Geraldine Brooks was a beautiful novel, which tells the story of Mr. March, father of the famous Little Women, as he serves as a chaplain in the Civil War. I can't explain why, but March is not a novel I would have jumped to read in print and yet I am so thankful to have experienced it. The same can be said for Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin, now one of my favorite novels. I also listen to mysteries and thrillers, but I never read them in print.

Audiobooks are a totally new (or perhaps an ancient) way of experiencing a great story.
I associate times and places in my life with audiobooks. When my husband and I were first married, I explored our new neighborhood during walks while listening to Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons and David Sedaris's Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. I walked down Lincoln Avenue with tears streaming down my face as I listened to the ending of Audrey Niffenager's The Time Traveler's Wife, set in Chicago. I unpacked and cleaned our first home while listening to Marian Keyes's The Other Side of the Story (actually not a great story, but okay). I got the bub's nursery ready while listening to Jennifer Haigh's Mrs. Kimble. After a long winter of new motherhood, I took my first steps outside for sanity and exercise while listening to The Wonder Spot by Melissa Bank. I painted our bathroom with the company of Gregory Maguire's Wicked (and no, I still have not seen the musical). I could go on and on. I'll just say reiterate that I love audiobooks and feel fairly confident in my ability to give customized recommendations if anyone is interested. NTB.

It's been a good ten years and I look forward to many more hours of listening pleasure. I've got to go now. The kitchen is a mess, and Freddy and Frederika by Mark Helprin is waiting for me.

If you have a memorable audiobook experience, please share it in the comments!

*NTB, but our car also allows me to hook up my ipod for easy listening while driving.

Lean Cuisine Pizza Update

Thanks to all of you who have been in touch to show support as I wait for Lean Cuisine pizzas to go back on sale. The bad news is that none of my three local stores has them on sale according to Sunday's ads and the Jewel ad that starts Thursday is a no-go a well. The good news is that I did go to Target this morning where I purchased eight pizzas to tide me over.* I am disappointed to report that the pizzas were $2.89 each when usually they are $2.59. I smell a conspiracy.

*I am proud to report that while I did not leave Target with only the LC pizzas, I purchased mostly needed items like baby wipes and paper towels and did a fine job of avoiding the cartload of random crap that I usually purchase. NTB.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

I Scream for Lean Cuisine!

I have not enjoyed a Lean Cuisine pizza for going on ten days now, and it has been tough. Quite tough. Lean Cuisine pizzas are the center of my culinary universe during the week and sometimes on the weekend as well. When they are in stock in my home (NTB, but I have a chest freezer in the pantry), I eat one for breakfast each morning. When I know there is a Lean Cuisine Margherita pizza waiting for me in the freezer, I hop out of bed a little more quickly and start the day with a sense of comfort, ease, and optimism. When the pizzas are stocked, I revel in their abundance (I will buy twenty or more at a time, which often results in my giving testimony about them to the cashier who checks me out) and will eat the LC pizzas for breakfast and for lunch, maybe for a snack as well. There have been only a few three-pizza days, but a two-pizza or one-pizza day is definitely more common than a no-pizza day . . . until now. Now it's been ten days in the desert with no end in sight.

I know what some of you may be wondering, "What's the appeal? Why not just have a bowl of cereal for breakfast? Couldn't you buy another brand of frozen pizza?"

First off, if I ate a bowl of cereal of breakfast, I would be eating the leather of my couch 25 minutes later. Just doesn't fill me up, at all. I have tried other brands, and they don't do it for me.

The appeal is first and foremost the taste. I honestly find them very tasty. My favorite is the margherita pizza, followed by the spinach and mushroom pizza. Sometimes I change things up and buy a couple of BBQ chicken pizzas, roasted chicken garlic pizzas*, gourmet mushroom pizzas, or roasted vegetable pizzas. LC also makes a four cheese, a supreme, and a pepperoni, but I don't have the same passion for them (though, right this minute, I would accept one of these third tier varieties happily).

I also love the texture. You may not be aware that LC utilizes some special crisping technology. When you microwave your pizza on top of the silver tray lining the box it gets a crispy bottom (you can control the crisp by adjusting the cook time). I had stayed away from microwave pizzas for years because, unaware of the crisping technology, I assumed they would taste like reheated pizza (which is not terrible, but also not what my dreams are made of). Truly, it is an ideal blend of softness and crunch.

I also love the beautiful pairing of a LC pizza and a Diet Coke (my breakfast beverage of choice). In fact, if I had LC pizzas in the freezer but not DC, I would not bother to eat the pizza. For me, LC and DC are a package deal.

In addition, I am both fond and in need of the portion control built into the LC pizza. Most of the varieties I enjoy are less than 350 calories. I am not a calorie counter, per se, but I have always struggled with eating beyond my hunger level. I'm going to snack no matter what size my breakfast or lunch is. With the LC pizza, I can at least control my damage at meal times. I cut that pizza into eight small pizzas and it really feels like a complete meal.

But now, my freezer is bare (well, bare of LC pizzas) and my DC's are in search of a perfect partner. I'm scraping by during breakfast, making mini pizzas on English muffins or pita bread, but I can't do it for much longer. Why, you may be wondering, don't you just go buy some more LC pizzas if you love them so much? Well, they're not on sale. Not on sale at the Jewel. Not on sale at Strack and VanTil. Not on sale at Dominicks. I reached a new low this morning when I checked the Dominicks sale circular online because I don't get it in my mailbox. With a habit like mine, I can't justify paying $3.66 per pizza. Instead, I will wait until they are 4/10 or, in the rarest of sale cycles, 5/10. I do have the option of going to Target, where they are typically $2.59, but I won't save any money walking through the doors of Target. So, I'm going to sit here and hold on tight until the new sale cycles begin on Sunday. Maybe I will learn and grow through my sojourn in the desert of no-Lean-Cuisine-pizzas or maybe I will just feel hungry and eat much more than I need to try to fill the void left by the LC pizzas. Probably the latter.

*roasted garlic pizzas are not a good breakfast food

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

It's festival season...

Yes, when you live in an area densely populated with Catholics, summer means you can start gearing up for church festivals. As best I can recall it, here is my personal festival evolution:

Phase 1: a grade schooler who spent 85% of her time at the candy booth, trying to win whole boxes of jolly ranchers, sugar daddy’s, or the always popular jumbo bag of PAL bubble gum. A creature of habit, I always placed my quarter on the 10/20/30 trio as my uncle’s neighbor spun the wheel. I continued this routine until I had secured enough candy to participate in the neighborhood candy poker game throughout the summer. This consisted of 5 or so tweens sitting around my friend’s bumper pool/poker table using candy as the kitty for 5 card draw. We had our own system of weighting the candy (ex: 5 PAL bubble gums = 1 stick jolly rancher.) We reeked of coolness.

Phase 2 in the festival evolution: In the high school days, festival attendance was merely a social event. I don’t recall playing any games during those visits, but I do recall spending time figuring out which short shorts to wear before attending.

Phase 3: It seems I should have a collegiate themed phase 3 in here, but I don’t have any special memories of that time. Many might say that the phase marked an important turning point in that they could officially enter the beer gardens and experience the festival the way so many church going folk do. However, I tried to avoid this, knowing that I would inevitably run into someone who wanted to make a big deal of the fact that I was drinking a beer because that wasn’t so much my image in high school.

After several years of only minimal festival attendance, I now find myself in a 4th phase.

At the start of summer, I turned to my husband and said “we’re about to kick off festival season.” Although we aren’t quite as intense about it as Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson are about wedding season, we did verbally map out some of the festivals we could make it to this year. You see, in phase 4, church festivals provide an opportunity for an “outing.” Yes, nothing more than a reason to get out of the house and go to a place that welcomes our children with wide open arms. The duck pond, the sucker pull, and of course those rides…the kids delight and we might even run into a few people to talk to along the way. We just hit our 4th festival of the summer over the weekend. It was a bit steamy out, but overall, it made for a nice little Sunday. We’ll be closing the summer circuit with our home parish’s festival in a couple weeks.

Looking back, there have been some highs and lows from the first four festivals of the summer:
Festival #1: An all around low. Jumped the gun a bit and arrived before it started on Friday night. I suspected this may happen, but my husband assured me it would be open. Not the case. I played through my agitation and tried really hard to find watching the local meteorologist broadcast from the bungee wire even remotely as entertaining as all the people gathered around him seem to think it was. The heat and temptation of set up booths with no workers was ultimately too much for the young kiddies to handle so we headed out for a creamy whip instead of waiting until start time.
Festival #2: My husband’s childhood parish. This was during prime potty training time and thus my daughter and I took 3 trips to the port-o-lets which was a real treat. Overall, though, it was a pleasant night.
Festival #3: Attended with our neighbors and their two kids. Memorable moments include the bus ride from the remote parking lot to the site of the festivities…my older daughter felt pretty cool sitting next to her friend on the school bus. The funnel cake tasted especially good that night.
Festival #4: My childhood parish. Noticed my uncle's neighbor still working the candy booth, though the prizes were paltry compared to what they used to give out. (Part of the junk food crackdown I suppose.) My younger daughter rode a ride for the first time. She sat next to my older daughter who gave a report every lap that “she like it mom, she like it.” Pretty darn cute, NTB.

Monday, August 13, 2007

There's this carpet. Outstanding carpet. Nice, tight weave.

"There's this carpet. Outstanding carpet. Nice, tight weave." These are the immortal words of Marva (played by Tisha Campbell), one of the stars of the short-lived but well-loved (at least by my family) television movie and then series of 1986-88 entitled Rags to Riches. Simply rewriting these words cannot capture the beauty and hilarity of their delivery. The words themselves cannot capture Marva's genuine enthusiasm for the material comforts available to her in the home of frozen food tycoon Nick Foley--who has adopted her and her friends from an orphanage in a public relations ploy. Marva loves it all, even the carpet. You know where this is headed and, if you don't, you have not watched enough television. Nick never meant for the girls to be a permanent fixture in his life. He never meant to get close to them. He never meant to become a father. And Nick never imagined how often they would break into sing, cleverly rewriting the lyrics to 50s and 60s hits. But he became a father, and they all sang their hearts out. My family taped several episodes of this show, and they were watched almost as often as the original Parent Trap (which means, very often).

But I digress because what I mean to say is that there's this carpet and it's new and it's in my basement. The story of this carpet is more riches to rags than rags to riches.

The short version of the carpet saga is that Chicago experienced a brief period of hurricane-level rains one day in June. Several roads and underpasses flooded, and most basements in my neighborhood filled with various levels of water. In our case, we got just enough water to ruin our basement carpet and cover our bathroom floor. The water was sewer backup, but before you go picturing and smelling the worst, it was what was called "sanitary sewage." We cleaned up, we sanitized, we bought new carpet.

The long version is not particularly exciting, but I feel compelled to record it for posterity. I will attempt to sub-divide my ramblings so as to stay somewhat focused.

1. The day of the sewer backup was a comedy of errors.
As if it was not enough that the sewer backed up in my basement, I was informed of the situation by my youngest brother as he writhed in pain on my family room couch. Two summers ago, a large tree fell on Boo's ankle and pretty much crushed it. He has a high tolerance for pain. Thus, when I called my mom to talk through his symptoms, she felt that if he was in that much pain, we ought to go the hospital in case it was appendicitis.

Now, there was no way I was going to bring the bub to the emergency room with us. I called my husband and asked him to come home early and he was on his way. Then, my friend happens to call (I've never asked why she was calling), and I conscript her into watching the bubby until the hubby gets home.

Due to the flooding, both are delayed in traffic. When my friend arrives, she exits my garage only to slide into a huge mud slick. She enters the house covered in mud all along one side of her body. She has scraped herself and is bleeding as well. "I'm fine. Just go," she says. "All I need is some clothes and some band-aids." I hand over the clothes, but know for a fact that we have no band-aids.

My brother did not have appendicitis, though it took us a good six hours at the hospital to confirm this. Silver lining: we did not have to spend that time shop-vaccing.

2. Our basement carpet could not have been ruined at a worse time.
This summer we had two twenty-one year old boys living with us . . . in our basement. They spent the bulk of the summer trying to avoid the carpet tacks that still lined the perimeter after the carpet was removed and trying to relax on a painted cement floor with obvious dried carpet glue everywhere. They also had the privilege of participating in the carpet removal and sanitizing process (which involved gloves, face masks, and a disinfectant that was a lot stronger than we all bargained for). Silver lining: we now own a large amount of a disinfectant that is strong enough to kill HIV.

3. This new carpet selection process only reaffirmed my decision to NEVER SHOP AT HOME DEPOT again.
I don't know if I could get sued for slander, so I will not go into detail. I will just say that back in April, I vowed to never shop at Home Depot again. I called and canceled my credit card, contacted customer service, and complained to anyone who would listen about the crappy experience I had trying to buy a ceiling fan. Should I as a consumer have to search out someone in an orange vest and then beg him/her to help me spend my money? I violated my own boycott by returning to Home Depot for the carpet because of a previous unobjectionable carpet-buying episode there. I won't rehash the details because my blood is already boiling as I write this. A convergence of inaccurate information, miscommunication, bureaucracy, and rudeness led me to cancel my Home Depot carpet order. I was promised a return on my $35 measuring fee as well, but that did not happen and I am just trying to get over it. Clearly, I'm over it. Silver lining: I now know for a fact that I will never shop at Home Depot again and that knowledge gives me a sense of peace.

4. It took a long time to get new carpet.
Mostly because of point 3. It took a while for me to recover from the HD affair and to re-enter the world of the home services industry. As we waited, our basement dwellers continued to suffer. My bubby could not spend time in the basement for fear he would need a tetanus shot after stepping on a carpet tack and/or that he would fall and crack his head on the hard concrete floor. Silver lining: we decided that since this was all such a time sink, we'd go ahead and re-carpet the steps leading down to the basement at the same time. They look especially awesome!

5. New carpet is not free (thus, the reason this is a riches to rags with the appearance of riches story).
Flood insurance does not cover sewer backup, though I don't think we have flood insurance. Apparently, you can buy sewer backup insurance. From whom? From the city, the same city tasked with making sure the sewers don't back up. Silver lining: this whole experience has influenced me to be a more frugal spender so I'm more ready for surprises like this one. (Okay, I'm fibbing).

But anyway, the carpet is here. It smells like new house. It makes me happy. "There's this carpet. Outstanding carpet. Nice, tight weave." NTB. Silver lining: I promise to never mention it again.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Let's hear it for the boy . . .

Footloose was on television last night. My husband and I watched about twenty minutes of it while eating dinner, enough to remind me of why I have viewed the film in its entirety possibly seventy or so times. Footloose is truly a classic. Not only does it star the center of the six degree universe, it also highlights SJP way before her Sex and the City days (and she's cute as anything in Footloose, sassy too), John Lithgow, and Dianne Wiest.

The soundtrack at Footloose is fantastic as well. It's so good that one of my high school friends stole a copy of it from a nine-year old he was babysitting (or, more likely, from that kid's parents) a good eight years after the movie came out. And do you recall "Almost Paradise"? We chose that song for one of our homecoming or prom themes and this was around 1992 or 1993--another testament to the staying power of a film that came out in 1984. Imagine my complete delight when "Holding Out for a Hero" was one of the songs featured in the college aerobics class I took (for fitness not credit) in 1996. And don't try to tell me that you don't start picturing those shoes in your head when your hear "Footloose." And the list goes on and on . . . "The Girl Gets Around." "Dancing in the Sheets." "Hurts so Good." "Never." "I'm Free." Don't try to tell me you're too cool for Kenny Loggins. I'm not too cool for Kenny Loggins. NTB.

And how about the cool names of the film's characters? Shaw, Rusty, Ariel (way before Little Mermaid), and Ren. My mom liked the name Ren so much that I tried to impress her by changing my Cabbage Patch doll's middle name to Ren, quite a tribute.

I think the issues and conflicts at the heart of Footloose still resonate today, especially the generational conflicts and the difficulties parents and teenagers can have in communicating. Maybe it's because the movie lacks the bright colors and obnoxious edge of the late-90's teen movies, but Footloose seems peopled by characters who are just very human, which is why it is much more than teen movie. I'm not sure if kids today have seen Footloose or not, but they should. In a day when fundamentalisms of all kinds abound, there's something to be said for exploring the gap between good intentions and suffocation, between protecting your children and preparing them, and between the letter of the Word and its spirit. Though it fails, Ren's use of the Bible at the town's "official meetin'" remains a lesson in exegesis and rhetoric (probably a stretch, but I still like the scene, cheese and all).

Now, finally, we come to the real reason why I love Footloose. Christopher Penn as Willard. Willard is the country boy with the heart of gold. He is the guy who diplomatically says of Ariel, "I think she's been kissed a lot." He doesn't know what to make of big-city Ren but is willing to go along for the ride. It doesn't get any better than the montage of Willard learning to dance as Denience Williams sings "Let's Hear It for the Boy." I especially love it when he stomps his boots so hard that his house shakes and when he practices his moves with Ren's twelve-year-old cousin. Sure, he promises Rusty he won't fight on prom night, but a guy like Willard will do what he's go to do. Given the choice between Kevin Bacon and Christopher Penn, I'd pick Willard any day. Christopher Penn is no longer with us and in recent years, he was not looking too good. I continued to love him though, for the Willard inside of him. Let's hear it for that boy.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Meet you at the pool . . . in five hours or so.

Yesterday was a steamy one, and it looks like today will be the same. I don't typically watch the Weather Channel or visit, but my professional meteorological opinion is that the humidity is something like 100%. [Side note: I had a high school English teacher who told the class that she always wanted to be a meteorologist but she wasn't "smart enough" so she decided to become an English teacher instead. I don't know the requirements for meteorology and certainly mean no offense to those in the profession, but I've always thought that was an inappropriate comment.] On days like today, I would prefer to stay in the air-conditioning. The problem is that the weather seems to have little impact on my bubby, who gets tired of playing inside. Yes, we have options for outside-the-house activities for such days. We can go to our local park and play in the fountains, but given the bub's penchant for heading into the sandbox after the fountain play, this is a messy endeavor (not to mention that he often throws a complete fit when it's time to leave). We can go to other parks with better water stuff. We can go to the beach. We can to a museum. Truth be told, many of these activities require energy that I don't always have. Plus, because the bub loves to run around and explore everything, most of these activities are more enjoyable with another adult to help me coral him as needed.

The long and short of it is that the only place I want to go is the pool. So just go to the pool, you may be thinking. Problem is, the pool is in Fairfield, OH. It's nothing special, nothing exclusive, just a neighborhood swim club. I spent almost everyday of my childhood summers at the pool. We arrived early and stayed most of the day. Many of my friends from school were there, and we spent the day creating elaborate synchronized swimming routines, playing games of sharks and minnows, jumping off the "high dive," and sometimes playing paddle ball or shuffleboard. The fun was only interrupted by an announcement that I still have memorized, "It's 2:00 and it's now time for a pool break. Everyone under 18, get out of the water." Pool break lasted about twenty minutes, a frustratingly slow twenty minutes for a kid ready to get back in the water (and all the more frustrating because there were typically only five or so adults in the pool--one of whom used the pool break to press his private parts against some odd spots, but that is another, and unbloggable, story). When pool break was almost over, kids would line up around the edge of the pool and wait for the lifeguard's whistle to blow. During pool break you could not even put your toe in the water. Plenty of kids would tempt the lifeguards by pretending to enter the water (not me, I have always been a goody goody). The tricksters who "accidentally" fell in before pool break ended were punished by being forced to sit on top of a wooden block in the grass behind the back row of chairs.

Perhaps the best thing about the pool was the snack bar--fountain Coca Cola products with crushed ice, chilled candy bars, burgers, fries, grilled cheese, slush puppies, hot pretzels, and a variety of candy that cost under ten cents (laffy taffy, tootsie rolls, jolly rancher sticks, etc.). I am hungry just thinking about it. When I was a teenager, I lived out my childhood fantasy by working in that snack bar. For $2.75 an hour, I had the privilege of working the grill and fryer (did wonders for my acne), making the slush puppies, and, when the "manager" was not on duty, actually using the cash register to ring up customers. NTB. I also ate for half price, a bonus that more than made up for the sub-minimum wage I was paid (still not sure how that was permissible by law to pay below the minimum wage, especially since taxes and etc. were still taken out of those checks). It still delights me to think about how all sandwiches in the snack bar were served with pickles and chips. When taking orders, I was instructed to always confirm, "Pickles and chips?" It's lunch time in Chicago, and I would love me a cheeseburger with pickles and chips.

I even remember the bathrooms at the pool and the disgusting feeling of stepping on wet toilet paper (I don't recall wearing flip flops). I remember the full-length mirror near the door where I always felt I looked tanner and thinner than I did in natural light. I remember that after a long day of swimming, we often washed our hair in the pool showers (still in bathing suits, of course) before heading home. I remember a few really awesome days, when we stayed so long that we ordered pizza to eat for dinner at the pool.

Clearly, I am in major nostalgia mode, sitting here convincing myself that the bub and I would have no end of fun chilling in the baby pool, enjoying lunch with pickles and chips, and heading home just in time for an afternoon nap. I picture myself interacting with friends while he splashes nearby, confident that he will neither drown nor escape the fenced confines of the baby pool. I imagine that my mom's days at the pool were fairly relaxing for her, even though she was there with five kids. I'll have to confirm that with her, but I think they actually were.

So anyway, what I want to do today is go to the pool. Meet me there in five hours.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Sugar Bites?

My parents are visiting us. We decided to go to NYC for a bit. We planned to go to the Yankees game and hang out for a bit. We left bright and early yesterday morning to go to the catch the train in Poughkeepsie. (kind of fun to say, NTB). Enroute to Poughkeepsie, we went to Dunkin' Donuts. Now some of you may think, boy that is really exciting. But my mom and I were less than thrilled, as neither of drink coffee and we both wanted to resist the temptation of having a delicious donut. Not only that, but they dont even offer soda. Well, I will correct it by saying they do - but it is Pepsi products, and does that really count anyway? So as my husband pulls up to the window, my dad proclaims he would like some "sugar bites" to accompany his coffee. So my mom and I look at each other in the back thinking - what are sugar bites? Was he referring to the Dunkin' Donut munchin? Not wanting to disagree with his new father-in-law, my husband orders 12 sugar bites. The drive-thru worker than comes back with, we dont have "sugar bites" , only then does my husband reply with "we will have 12 munchins" So they end up having 6 glazed and 6 powdered sugar - closest they had to the "sugar bite" my dad had initially desired. Both my mom and I were offered a munchin, I accepted, my mom did not. So we make it to Poughkeepsie, just in time to load the 8:33 train to the city.

So my mom and I loaded the train hungry, but you know we aren't complainers so we just went and took one for the team and sat down quietly. The ride itself was uneventful, except for the man sitting directly in front of my mom that was leering. I was going in and out of sleep and sure enough each time I woke up, we made eye contact - kind of uncomfortable. We make it into Grand Central Station and begin walking to the Courtyard Marriott. I was feeling weak, but again I am not a complainer so I just kept walking, pretty much starving by now. We dropped our bags and to my delight my mom was pushing for a food stop immediately. So we did secure some food, and sure enough I was feeling footlose and fancy-free. We headed to the game, I was thinking to myself all of the wonderful snacks that were in store for me at the game. I was trying to pace myself and not peak to early with my snacks. So I was pleased when I made it to the top of the second before heading to the concession. My mom and I ordered a soft pretzel and a soda each. The girl goes to retrieve the pretzels, I make eye contact with her and she is shaking her head, they are cold - do we will still want them. I couldn't believe it was happening. But...we see her then fishing through every pretzels until she happily brings back hot pretzels for us. We can both tell she is very pleased herself, so we take the pretzels. But as you may have figured, these pretzels were cold. We still gave it a valiant effort, but all and all a huge disappointment. After the initial disappointment, I didn't revisit the concession.

So today, we wake up, and of course I am hungry. I like to eat promptly after I wake up. I know my mom feels the same. I will mention that my dad and husband didn't seem to have a sense of urgency about breakfast. We walked awhile, and then we made a move. I had some delicious pancakes and felt somewhat satisfied. My mom and I discussed that we should definitely secure a soda and a snack for the return trip. On the way to the station, we got a McDonald's soda and also got some pretzel goldfish. When on the train, we split the bag, so we both could have some. I happily shared them with my husband and my mom shared with my dad. I will mention that later, that when my dad was eating more than my mom was comfortable with, she "offered' to put them in her purse for later. We reach Poughkeepsie. My dad mentions he has to use the restroom, so I casually plant the seed that I saw Burger King on the way there, so maybe we could stop there. Obviously, I was hungry again and ready for my next meal. I knew mom was right there with me. Then it was if the world crashed down before me, when my husband pulled into a gas station. Not only do I not like using the restroom facilities at this sort of place, but I knew food was not in the cards either. So with our heads a little low, we walked in and used the restroom. At this time, I would like to mention that the gas station had a Dunkin' Donuts inside. Coincidence, I think not. It wasn't until we were traveling, that we realized from the back that those two were again eating "sugar bites." Only this time, we didn't get an offer. I will pretty much say that is when the wheels started to come off. We are no complainers, but we let it rip. We discussed how we are on a regular eating schedule, and how we have been off of it for two days now....instead of feeling bad, they seem to delight in our starvation - completely making light of the situation. In the end, we did get an early dinner at Outback, but I am still feeling weak from two days of almost starvation. Sugar bites? I mean really.

Friday, August 3, 2007

The library is not Blockbuster

We are leaving for vacation tomorrow. So, in preparation for the roughly 9 hour car drive with the girls, we made a trip to the library today to stock up on some DVDs for the road. Yes, we have not one, but two DVD players for the car. This is the first time we will attempt to run both at once. It quite possibly could be a little annoying having two different shows playing at once, but it beats the alternative of potentially listening to “I can’t see/hear the screen” or “I don’t want to watch this show.” I imagine I will spend a great deal of time adjusting screens, volumes, discs, etc yet it still seems worth it. With two DVD players going, it is highly unlikely that we will be listening to any music in the car as that would just be too much. In its absence, I will likely amuse myself by forcing my husband to answer questions such as “if you could only eat three foods for the rest of your life, what would you choose?” or “who was your favorite 90210 character and please explain your choice” or “who’s the hottest Jessica (Alba, Biel, or Simpson)?” If he won’t humor me with answers, I’ll start playing dirty with questions like “who’s hotter, Rosie or Roseanne?” just to get his attention.

Ahhh, but we return to the library. You may have been unaware that the library offered free movie rentals. My mother-in-law alerted me to this a few years ago, but I only started using the service when I found myself in need of children’s movies and was not willing to make a large capital investment in Barney or Dora as those phases certainly can’t last forever? Now that my DVR is filled with an embarrassingly large number of “shows” as my girls call them, I haven’t used the library’s movie service as of late. Unfortunately, I can’t take my DVR on the road.

So, at the library, I overheard some “regulars” in the video section talking about a 5 video limit. Figuring I had about 18 hours of roadtime in my future, I opted to checkout the maximum (in a nod to MEP’s posting that addressed ethics in the card store, I will clarify that there were plenty of movies to go around.) Here I am, ready to check out, a prepared customer with my library card in hand. I cheerfully hand it over while balancing a 26-pound baby on my hip. The librarian gave me what I took to be a look of disgust. Was she trying to tell me that I am a reflection of a society headed south since I went to the library and checked out NO books? Did she recognize us as the people who attended her preschool story time session a few weeks back who arrived 2 minutes late and left 2 minutes (and one pack of fruit snacks) later after my older daughter assessed the situation and realized there was neither a hand stamp nor a craft associated with this story hour? Could she pull my account and see that I am not an avid reader? It was a look that seemed to want to communicate something more than “I’m not having a very good day.” Her annoyance elevated when I questioned the renewal policy on the 7-day rentals. “You can renew once,” she said coldly. This was an important matter to clarify as the accountant in me had already decided to abandon ship if the answer was no, as I quickly estimated the late fees would total $40 by the time I was able to return them.

Of course I value reading. Of course I think books are a better choice over movies. Books just aren’t always the practical choice. In the end, I didn’t try to defend my position as a mother trying to promote a literate society, one Bearenstein Bear book at a time. Clearly, she had already assessed me. I get it. I really do. The library is not Blockbuster. But, once a year, it is for me.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Diaper Days

Swim diapers are not a marketing scam, which is what I always kind of suspected they were (though I dutifully purchased them several months ago before my bub's first trip to Florida). I was out of swim diapers yesterday and decided it would do my bubby no harm to wear a regular diaper to the beach. I was correct that he was not harmed, unless he knew at his young age to be embarrassed that he was wearing a diaper that had expanded to seven or eight times its size. It was busting out of his swim trunks, and I think he was actually having trouble walking because the bubble butt diaper was throwing off his balance. I relayed this fact to my sister later in the day, and she told me I was lucky because a regular diaper that gets fully saturated can actually explode or something.

The explosion came later that evening. I put the bub to bed with minimal resistance. Then, fifteen minutes or so later, my husband and I hear some whining via our monitors. I am all for riding it out, but my husband decides to go check on him. Next thing I know, I am being paged through the monitor. My immediate concern was that the bub had figured out how to climb out of his pack n' play (he is sleeping in the pack n' play because he has figured out how to climb out of his crib--because he is our first child, we were dumb and purchased a non-traditional crib that cannot accommodate a crib tent, though crib tents sound scary, eh?). I walked upstairs expecting to see him running around his room, full of pride. Instead, I found him sitting in the pack n' play surrounded by flecks of snow. "Why did you put him down for the night with a wipe?" my husband asks. I had not, nor do I ever, put down my bub with a wipe. Instead, he had removed his pajama pants (quite a feat because they were a rather tight-ish, Sprockets-like pair), removed his diaper, ripped up the innner-filling of the diaper, and tossed it everywhere. Instead of seeming proud of himself, he just seemed confused. I was surprised at how much stuff there was to be ripped out of a diaper, but not as surprised as I would have been had I not seen earlier in the day how much liquid can truly be absorbed by all that stuff. Now I know. NTB.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

I think I might be unreasonable.

I'm out of parking passes, and they are important. On nights when the Cubs are in town, my brother/lodger's car (actually, my parents' car) will be ticketed and towed if this pass is not in place by 5:00 p.m. In order to secure these passes, I need proof of address, a license*, and five bucks. The bubby and I drove over to the bank this morning to get some cash to get this whole process started. So my bank has three drive-thru lanes. [I would like to state, for the record, however, that my bubby and I walk to the bank whenever possible. Today, walking made no sense due to excessive heat and the location of the alderman's office where the parking passes were to be obtained.] The drive-up ATM machine is about six or seven feet behind the first drive-thru lane (the one that is an actual window and not the tube thing). Now, my personal policy is always to use the second or third drive-thru lane. I do this because I know from experience that when a car is using the first drive-thru lane, then no one can use the drive-up ATM at the same time. You can't get close enough to insert your ATM card if a car is using the window in the first lane. To me, it is logical to keep the first lane free for that very reason. This morning, sure enough, I tried to pull up to the ATM but could not because the window was in use. I found myself getting angry and self-righteous, wondering why the woman ahead of me did not have the common courtesy to adopt my "second-or-third-lane-only" policy. Isn't it obvious that using the first lane inconveniences others? Then, twenty seconds after I pulled behind her, she was finished and driving away. Okay then, I thought to myself, what was I going to do with those twenty seconds? Am I in any particular hurry? The answers today and most days are "nothing" and "no." I have, on occasion, however, waited several minutes for a first lane transaction to finish. Even then though, it is very possible that most first lane drive-thru customers have no idea that the lane blocks the ATM and/or that many of them are afraid of using the tubes in the second or third lane. This is an epiphany, but I think I might be unreasonable. Best to try and chill out on these hot days.

*because of a ticket received three weeks ago, I am currently without a license due to some strange Illinois policy . . . I paid for the ticket the next day but alas, still no license. It is a very proud moment when I get to use my ticket as a form of ID. Also, I was not speeding, but turned right on red when a sign I did not see warned me not to do so.
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