Sunday, September 30, 2007

Culture for sale at Fashion Bug -- $10 off

The bub and I drove back to Chicago this afternoon and because he napped like a champ for the first part of the trip (and because Barney's trip to the fair was enjoyed at a reasonable volume for the remainder), I was able to finish listening to The Flamenco Academy by Sarah Bird. A friend introduced me to Sarah Bird's writing a few years back, and I have now read five of her novels. My favorite of them is the one my friend first recommended to me, The Yokota Officers Club, but I would rank The Flamenco Academy right up there. I am too tired right now to write a summary or review that would do the novel justice, but if you enjoy novels that feature obsessions, transformations, intense female friendships, questions of legacy and history, and a real sense of place, you would likely enjoy this one. In addition to the fact that I found the story (and the stories within the story) compelling and Bird's writing beautiful, I also learned about things I had never even thought about before: the Spanish Civil War, Gitano (Gypsy) culture, the history of New Mexico, and Flamenco dancing.

Such knowledge gained through reading can be dangerous and/or obnoxious. After reading Devil in the White City, for example, I spent months starting sentences with, "Well, you know at the 1893 World's Fair . . ." -- until my husband finally read the book himself and then banned further discussions of the World's Fair. I have twice read Horse Heaven by Jane Smiley and fancy myself a bit of a horse racing expert (despite the fact that I have attended exactly one horse race, and that one years before reading the novel). Obviously, reading a whole host of novels set in Manhattan (Admissions, The Nanny Diaries, The Ivy Chronicles, just to name a few) makes me sure that I know how the very rich in NYC live and parent, just as I am an expert on London life thanks to Helen Fielding and Nick Hornby, Ireland because of Maeve Binchy, and etc. Point is, I am aware that reading novels (or in the case of Devil in the White City, nonfiction that reads like a novel) can be instructive but cannot replace the experience of, say, actually owning or training a thoroughbred.

So while I probably now know more about flamenco dancing and Gitano culture than the average American, I will remind myself to not speak with too much authority on either subject should the opportunity arise. Such an opportunity did arise this evening while I flipped through my new Entertainment Weekly and saw a Fashion Bug ad, complete with coupon. So let me just speak with authority for a moment: Based on my limited knowledge of Gitano culture, I am quite certain that the fact that Fashion Bug is introducing a new line called "Gitano" is somehow wrong and offensive. The symbol next to the large print GITANO suggests that the Bug has also copyrighted the name. Even better. That's right, to capture the spirit of your years in exile and the pain your people endured during the Spanish Civil War, the Holocaust, and beyond, we have designed a new line of acrylic and rayon sportswear available in sizes 6-32. I'm no expert, but I think I'm right on this one. NTB.

Feel free to ignore the last paragraph, but don't ignore Sarah Bird!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Papa don't preach, but he makes a damn fine pizza.

The bubby and I took our show on the road yesterday. We're spending the next few days in Greater Cincinnati. Following in his mother's footsteps, the bub has been messing up my parents' house with the same "tornado-like" (my dad's quote) ability I have possessed for over three decades. When we're not making messes, we're hanging out with the bub's cousins (big trip to the zoo tomorrow), spreading sunshine at my grandma's nursing home, charming Grammy and Papa, and eating snacks (since calories consumed when you're out of town do not really count).

Speaking of calories not counting, we ordered pizza for dinner tonight. Yes, I do eat varieties of pizza outside of the Lean Cuisine family! Actually, I am never not in the mood for pizza. Yes, I am fortunate to live in Chicago, a town full of great pizza. Over the past six years, I have grown quite fond of D'Agostinos Chicago style and of Pat's thin crust. But I have to tell you that sometimes I just want the pizza that metropolitan Chicago cannot provide: Papa John's. I don't know if it's the quality of the pizza or a matter of nostalgia since I have many fond memories of eating Papa John's in college--probably a combination. Anyway, I was completely delighted to enjoy Papa John's pizza tonight, complete with breadsticks dipped in marinara and cheese sauce (warning: cheese sauce is only available by special request). So good. And now, the bub is asleep after a long, happy day. My belly is full with Papa John's, and the hour of The Office that I have been waiting for since May is about to start. Life is really good. NTB.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Chicago 2016 . . . Here we come!

I've got the bub all booked up for the fall semester. As the weather gets chillier, we'll be needing indoor places to go, preferably places that don't involve shopping carts and do involve people interested in interacting with us. The bub's first gymnastics class was this morning. It's a park district class, and the good news is that we can walk there. Best news of all, we have friends in the class. As an added bonus, it is dirt cheap. $30 takes us from now all the way into December. The instruction is pretty much what you would expect for the price, and that is fine by me. Not that I want to project my own insecurities or limits on the bub, but I never really even mastered the cartwheel as a girl (and always was completely in awe of the girls who could do handsprings). I've never asked my husband about his abilities as a gymnast, but I have my suspicions. Point is, the bub may not be born to be a gymnast. Of course, I could be wrong.

If the bub is born to be a gymnast, he is not revealing his inclinations just yet. Here is how we spent our 45-minute gymnastics class:

Setting: Standard Gymnasium
Conditions: Uncomfortably warm, no ventilation that I am aware of
Crowd: There are roughly 35 children, varying in age from 18 - 36 months; one or two adults with each child; and about 8 infant sibling tag-alongs.

Phase 1: Open Gymnastics
During the first 25 minutes of class, the kids are supposed to enjoy--with the assistance of their parents and caregivers--the various gymnastics stations set up in the gym. The bub did a bit of trampoline jumping (45 seconds or so, maybe three different times). The bub walked the high balance beam with my help a couple of times (2 minutes total). The bub crawled down one of the tumbling mats (30 seconds). The stations that most interested the bub were not part of the gymnastics class. We did a circuit that involved moving the partition blocking the gym entrance, exiting the gym, and visiting a water fountain with a child-sized step stool in front of it (at least 4 trips, 2 minutes each). Now, I am giving the times per activity not to "not brag" about the bub's speed but instead to try to convey how very long 25 minutes can be. The rest of the open gymnastics time was spent pulling the bub off the stage, where he was trying to move the partitions hiding the toys used for another class, one creatively entitled "playgroup."

Phase 2: Circle Time and Singing
For parents who have toddlers who enjoy sitting on their laps, I imagine that circle time is quite enjoyable. For me, it is an opportunity to get some exercise and test the strength of my deodorant. Today was not too bad though. The bub only left the gym one time. He entered the middle of the circle a couple of times. He clapped a bit. He sat on my lap for 30 seconds in a row.

Phase 3: Tumbling Activity
At the beginning of class, we were given a syllabus for the semester.* Today's concept was log rolls. The teacher asks the 35 toddlers to line up in two lines. She will demonstrate the log roll and then each toddler will take a turn rolling down one of two mats. When it is our turn, the bub drops to the mat. I follow the lead of the parents ahead of me and start rolling him down the mat. We make it through 2 rotations, or maybe just 1.5, but then lose momentum due to a backlog of other loggers. The bub is off the mat--Timber!--and ready to change things up and straddle the low balance beam.

I see that the syllabus for next week covers "Log Rolls & Bear Walk." Hopefully we can catch up at home in the interim. I imagine you cannot go to the Olympics if you cannot log roll. I do know that if water fountain operation becomes an Olympic event, we are bringing home the gold. NTB.

*No, they didn't really use the terms "syllabus" or "semester."

Monday, September 24, 2007

DWTS: Good to the last drop

The fact that Dancing With the Stars (hereafter referred to as DWTS) is going to be on for three consecutive nights each week for the early part of its season has made it official: I will not be taking on any new television shows this Fall. That’s right, you heard me. I’m going to enjoy the television commitments I already have which are, in order of importance: The Office , DWTS, 30 Rock, Ugly Betty, and The Biggest Loser. I am pretty sure I will be dropping Desperate Housewives and, due to a DVR scheduling conflict, have already made the tough decision to give Beauty and the Geek the ax. I will add Project Runway when it begins again and hope that October Road returns at some point.

But this post is about DWTS and the many reasons, in no particular order, that I love it. People who have not “gotten into” DWTS have often expressed to me the concern that it would be uncomfortable or embarrassing to watch “celebrities” try to dance. While there are always a few semi-painful performances in the early weeks, for the most part, the dancing gets pretty good, pretty quickly. Others worry that the show is too corny. Hell yes, it’s corny, and that’s part of the charm. I’ve heard people say they’re not interested because the people on the show aren’t famous enough. Again, that’s part of the appeal. While it would be entertaining to watch Brad Pitt learn to foxtrot or Hilary Clinton take on the cha cha, it’s never going to happen. DWTS chooses C and D list—sometimes lower and sometimes higher grade--celebrities who have a lot to gain without too much to lose. Every season, I think I’m not excited about the new crop of celebrities, but I grow to love them all. Take tonight’s premiere, for example, when I found myself charmed by Marie Osmond and really excited to see more dancing from Sabrina the Cheetah Girls. Cheetah Girls is on the farthest fringe of my pop culture radar screen (even beyond the outpost where I try to banish references to High School Musical and The Hills) and yet I cannot wait to see Sabrina dance again. The US Weekly subscriber in me is rooting for Mel B to rock DWTS as some sort of f-u to Eddie Murphy. And, will the Beckhams show up to watch her? And, speaking of British people, does Jane Seymour really live in that castle where DWTS interviewed her? There’s still so much to see and learn. . . I’ll be tuning in tomorrow night to find out who Albert Reed is. He seems pretty hot to me.

I know some people who watch DWTS on DVR, fast forwarding through everything but the performances. Not me, though I DVR the show, I watch every second. NTB. I hum along to the theme music. I watch the celebrities and their partners line up and dance in place to its beat at the show’s opening. I enjoy the video excepts of the celebrities and their partners during practice and the corny outings they stage later in the season. I eagerly scan the audience to see what other “celebrities” are in attendance (Look, it’s Suzanne Whang from House Hunters! Lance Bass, here again! And Alfonso too!) I love how ABC unabashedly uses DWTS to pimp its other shows. I love the music, the costumes, and the spray tan. I enjoy the judges, two of whom have excellent accents and none of whom appears drunk or stoned at any time. I watch the post-dance interviews and look in the background to observe how the other dancers are interacting in the waiting room. I look forward to watching the contestants befriend one another (they honestly seem to get along and it’s fun to watch). I enjoy the professional dance performances on the night of the results show. After watching four seasons of the show, I enjoy the professional dancers in general and have my favorites among them, namely Maksim (so hot and the most charming smile) and Julianne (so stinking cute). The only things I have ever fast-forwarded through are some of the musical guest performances on results show night.

DWTS truly has it all. There’s laughter. Tom Bergeron is hilarious, seriously very witty. And, as an added bonus, season two DWTS champion Drew Lachey is temporarily replacing Samantha Harris as co-host while she (and those bionic arms of hers) are on maternity leave. There are tears. I cried when Jerry Springer talked about dancing with his daughter at her wedding. I well up when favorites get sent home late in the season and all the celebrities and professional dancers hug them as the credits roll. There’s great dancing. Plus, I am not ashamed to admit it, there’s an inspiration factor. Most of the celebrities take the competition really seriously and work their asses off to learn a new skill. That takes guts, and it’s cool to watch the transformations that happen. It’s also nice to see people who are not too cool or too jaded to admit that their performances and scores matter to them.

DWTS is the show that motivated my mom to finally stop spending her evenings flipping through magazines while my dad catnapped his way through hours of sporting events on ESPN and WGN. As a result, he now watches DWTS and has developed an uncanny ability to predict the judges’ scores with alarming consistency and accuracy. Wonders never cease.

Honestly, I’ve only scratched the surface of my thoughts on DWTS. If there are any fans out there, please offer a comment with your early thoughts on the new season. Or, share a favorite moment of yours from a past season. And the rest of you, it’s not too late to catch the DWTS fever. Tune in Tuesday night to see if Mark Cuban can dance.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Who had four eyes and stole my heart?

This guy! This cutie is my husband, circa 1983. The glasses are real, and not long after receiving them, he began wearing hard contact lenses and continued wearing hard contacts for over twenty years. Over the decades, my husband has also worn many pairs of glasses. When the bubby cried as an infant, and it was hubby's turn to get out of bed, he always had to pause and reach for his glasses before he could investigate and comfort. For over four years now, I have watched him squint at the alarm every morning and then reach over to fumble for his glasses. I once lost five hours of my life over two consecutive weekend accompanying him to a vision superstore to get fitted for and pick up a new prescription.

I, on the other hand, have been blessed with perfect vision. NTB. As a young girl, I yearned for glasses and I mean yearned. I begged four-eyed classmates to lend me their specs to try on. I admired myself in the mirror while wearing them, not believing how much cuter and smarter I appeared in glasses. Goody goody though I was, I even went so far as to purposefully flub the eye screening in the nurse's office, thus necessitating a visit to the real eye doctor. Alas, I was too afraid to lie at the real eye doctor's office, and my mom was absolutely not happy to have spent $50--quite a bit of dough in 1982--to round out the experience. By the time I was in junior high, fake fashion glasses were an accessory I could have picked up at Claire's at the mall. However, I didn't want to pose. No, in my mind, glasses were only for those "lucky" enough to need them.

If my calculations are correct, I've known my husband through three different pairs of glasses. I did not know him when he was the adorable kid in this picture who showed up to school each day in these glasses. I did not know him as a young grade schooler who was brave and competent enough to put in hard contact lenses all by himself. I did not know him for all the many, many years he had to remember to pack his glasses, keep track of his contacts in those little plastic cases, and let his mom know (and later remember on his own) when he was running low on contact lens solution. I did not know him for all those years, but I am certainly lucky to have a husband who has been so responsible and so darn cute for so long.

The most-used word in our household Thursday evening was "amazing." That afternoon, my husband got Lasik surgery. Five minutes after the surgery, he was positive and hopeful. Five hours later, he was amazed. Friday morning, he did not have to reach for his glasses. Contact lenses are a part of his past not his present or future. Since having his surgery, he has seen the alarm clark with perfect clarity. He has seen me and our friends smiling and laughing while tailgating. He has seen Notre Dame score two touchdowns (hey, we'll take it, progress is progress). He has read documents for work. He has read the Wendy's drive-thru menu. He has seen the bub smile and laugh. He has seen the bub learn to clap his hands, stomp his feet, and shout "hooray" (or just "ray" as the bub prefers) as the song demands. He has seen the bub poop in the bath tub. Life is good, and he can see it all so clearly. NTB.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The next great idea

Everyone wants to come up an innovative new idea, right? I used to actively think about what I could invent that would allow me to earn millions, retire, and not feel guilty about it, knowing that I earned all that money myself. I wanted to invent something I tentatively called the lotion sponge (clearly it would need a more clever name before going to market.) I’m not sure how to describe it except to say that it would have been a contraption that allowed you to lotionize without getting your hands all lotiony. (I do believe I just made up two new words in that sentence.) I hate getting lotion on the palms of my hands because if you touch your hair or face then they in turn feel greasy…just a slippery slope and not worth it for moisturized hands I decided. Anyway, I once drew a prototype of the lotion sponge while at work. The summer intern at my public accounting firm told me he worked on an invention in high school but just before he finalized everything, Sony came out with something similar. I was skeptical of his claim, maybe because I didn’t even really understand what the product was. However, since I was having a hard time keeping him busy, I challenged him to put his patent research skills to work and check out the lotion sponge. He found that apparently someone already had a patent on something similar. He encouraged me to follow up, declaring that some people just stake their claim to lots of ideas with no intention of following through, but I let it go. Good review for that young lad though as he was quite the team player in so enthusiastically playing along.

I moved on from the invention idea quite some time ago (at least the active pursuit part of it), but a recent Oprah episode reminded me that I might not want to hop off the wagon completely. Among the “millionaire mothers” she featured on a recent episode was someone who started decorating her daughters’ crocs and ultimately came up with the “jibbitz” that you can find inserted in the holes of crocs across the country. She sold her business of 40 employees, a modest warehouse, and a website to crocs for a cool $20 million. Not bad.

I’ve heard that if you really want to invent something new, you should just stop and take note every time you say to yourself, “There has to be an easier way to do this.” I’ve been doing that lately, but here are the kinds of ideas I generate. All of these things would make my life a little more delightful. I don’t believe I could generate a single dollar from these ideas, but I’d still like my recommendations to be heard:

Drive Thru Ear Infection Line: I took my daughter to the doctor yesterday for what turned out to be her fourth ear infection. Both ears infected this time, NTB. I hate going to the doctor for potential ear infections because my rate of success in guessing that diagnosis is about 50% correct. Although I don’t wish illness upon her, I feel like an idiot when I’ve taken her in only to get a diagnosis of “teething” or “just a cold.” So, a simple line where I could just pull up, have a doctor or nurse check out my daughter’s ears, pay a nominal fee, and drive away…that would be just super.

DVR (TiVo): My passion for the DVR is abundant. It is a life-changing invention, and I am completely serious about that. However, I’d like a few upgrades. The laundry list of shows I have stored can be overwhelming. To assist in finding a specific show more easily, I want to be able to create folders to store “Dora” episodes in one place “Movies” in another “Old Episodes” in another (shows I loved so much that I simply can’t part with them such as the Grey’s Anatomy Prom episode.) Also, I would like to be able to drag the timer at the bottom of the screen to the portion of the show I’d like to view rather than having to use the fast forward button. Maybe this is possible in an upgraded version?

So, if anyone can pull some strings to make those things happen for me, that would be super. Really, really super. I can’t pay you $20 million though.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Hit me with another lesson.

The bub and I hit two different parks this morning. We happened upon the second park at the same time as two classes of preschoolers were enjoying their recess time. The bub really loves being around older kids and thus delighted in chasing after the big kids. I delighted in the stimulating conversations I was able to have with some of the schoolchildren. Here is a sample of a conversation that really tickled me.

A girl who is going to be five in December (I know because she told me) asks me, "Do you want to see something?" You bet I do. She hangs from a bar and kicks her legs. Not Cirque de Soleil but I heap the praise on.

"I'm in preschool," she boasts.

"You are? Wow. What do you learn in preschool?"

She pauses to consider and then replies, "Not to hit."

This is not the answer I was expecting. I decide to dig a little deeper. "What else do you learn at preschool?"

She looks at her friend for ideas. The friend has nothing to offer. She then comes up with another detail. "We sleep. No talking during sleep time."

Now the former teacher in me is concerned. Surely learning not to hit and not to talk during nap time cannot be the highlights of preschool. "What else do you do at preschool?"

She considers carefully and then reports, "There are toys there." Okay, better. She ponders again and adds, "We read books."

I am now smiling like a maniac and looking to build on this insight. "Do you learn your letters?"

She nods yes to that and then proceeds to affirm that they also learn colors and how to count. She then offers this important fact, "That gray-haired lady over there is not really my teacher. My teacher is at a meeting." She, of course, points to the gray-haired lady who is roughly three feet away.

Soon enough, she is bored of me and heads toward the slide with the bub on her tail.

"Not to hit." That cracked me up.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Well, I wouldn't dive off a clif(f) for one.

Loyal readers may recall a recent encounter I had at the Jewel, wherein a well-intentioned young man recommended I try his favorite breakfast: a Clif bar and a banana. This morning I did just that.

I admit to feeling a little sad while getting ready this morning when I remembered that there was no Lean Cuisine pizza in my immediate future. (Though, I actually did not even have a pizza for lunch. I wonder if something is wrong with me.)

I will now compare and contrast the Clif bar and the Lean Cuisine pizza as breakfast items.

LC pizzas are $2.00 each on sale. The Clif bars I purchased on sale yesterday were $1.00 each.

LC pizzas come in many varieties as my first post on the subject attests. Clif bars also appear to come in many varieties. The shelves of Clif bars had been ravaged (probably because of the sale price) when I happened upon them yesterday morning, but I managed to secure a Peanut Toffee Buzz, a Carrot Cake, a Black Chery Almond, and an Oatmeal Raisin Walnut.

Nutritional Information:

The Clif bar has fewer calories than the Lean Cuisine pizza, but not by all that many. The Clif bar also has slightly less fat. I was surprised to see that the Clif bar only contained slightly more fiber. Some of you may recall that the young chap at the Jewel was concerned about the sodium content of the LC pizzas. The Clif bar has 200 mg of sodium and the LC pizza around 540 mg of sodium. The rest of the nutritional information in small print on the Clif bar suggests that there may be more vitamins and other good stuff in the bar than in the pizza. The Clif bar also boasts of being "made with organic oats & soybeans."

I was fond of the Clif bar packaging, but it doesn't make my heart race like that of the LC pizza. However, if like Pavlov's dog, I began eating a Clif bar every morning while doing pleasurable tasks like checking email and drinking Diet Coke, that might change. My husband, who also participated in the Clif bar breakfast experiment, found the packaging "too crunchy" for his taste. He clarified, "as in political 'crunchy.'"

I sampled the Peanut Toffee Buzz. I was delighted to see that something like icing was swirled on top. I liked that it was dense and had texture. The bar tasted better than most energy bars I have had, but I was not in love. It still seemed to have a little bit of that energy-bar aftertaste that I do not enjoy. I ate with a Diet Coke, and the beverage helped a lot.

I sent my husband to work with the Carrot Cake bar and a banana. When I called for his feedback around noon, he claimed he found the bar "better than expected." He was "not overwhelmed" by it, but he did enjoy it.

Nutrition for Sustained Energy:
The Clif bar's packaging promises "nutrition for sustained energy," and I will admit that I still felt pretty good when the bub's Gymboree class ended at 10:00 am. I'm not sure I'd be ready to repel down the side of a clif(f), but I did not feel hungry.

My husband suspects he has slightly more energy and was slightly less hungry later in the morning than when he eats his usual breakfast. (For him, the usual is a standard cereal bar not a Lean Cuisine pizza). He was quick to point out, however, that his additional sense of satisfaction might have been due to the banana eaten in addition to the bar.

My husband's summary: "All in all a pretty positive experience." I did not get the vibe, however, that I should keep Clif bars stocked for him though.

The Clif bar and banana breakfast was acceptable/good, but I don't think it is one that will get me excited to get out of bed in the morning. Thanks to this experiment, however, I may start trying to expand my breakfast rotation to include more than frozen pizza.

What do you eat for breakfast? Any suggestions? Your breakfast of choice may be featured in a future NTB post. How's that for an incentive to leave a comment?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Daisy, a pretty flower but . . .

Today I received a new-style Kohl's catalog in the mail advertising the semiannual home sale. Okay, I appreciate a sale as much as the next consumer so I'll give it a look-see. I see that Rachael Ray has her own cookware. Not tempted by that but admit to being intrigued by the Rachael Ray Cutlery by Furi. Something about the "Froggy Mezzaluna" knife entices me, but intrigued though I am, the sale price of $39.99 won't be worth it if I cut my finger off. Now the Kitchen-Aid mixer page. I check out the new colors. Was I wrong to choose cobalt four years ago? I pause to consider if tangerine or the turquoise might have been better choices. I think I'm at peace with the cobalt. A panini press? Again, I am enticed but fearful it would just be the disappointment of the George Foreman grill all over again (and, just for the record, I hate the George Foreman grill, not George Foreman, just his grill). Oh, a rug doctor? Our white carpet could really use some steam cleaning. But $699.99? Not in the mood. Quickly breezing past several pages featuring shower curtains, rugs, towels, and the candles and crap page. Plain white down comforters. I'm bored. Stacks of sheets "artfully" arranged on an old church pew (quite atypical of Kohl's ad styling). Nope. Bedding? I pause. I am a real sucker for beautiful comforters and duvet covers. I would be buying new bedding every six months if not for the fact that the person with whom I share my bed would really frown on that. Plus, the fact that he is happy with (or rather, not objecting to) the patterned duvet cover we currently have (plus all the matching pillows, NTB) is a near-miracle because his preference would be a plain, navy bedspread.

Okay, so back to the bedding. I notice that Daisy Fuentes now has bedding collections at Kohl's. I read: "Created exclusively for Kohl's by international trend-setter Daisy Fuentes, this home collection is infused with the energy of Miami and the elegance of Old Hollywood. Get ready to indulge your senses!" The Daisy Fuentes bedding is fine. A bit too shiny and lacy for my taste, but fine. What has me puzzled is the phrase "international trend-setter." Really? I pause to consider the omnipresence of Daisy Fuentes. She has a clothing and now a bedding line at Kohl's. I think she sometimes hosts pageant shows with Mario Lopez. I remember her a few years back on the Winsor Pilates infomercials. I have passed lighted airport billboards informing me that Daisy Fuentes is taking folic acid. I am also recalling that she used to host America's Funniest Home Videos (or a similar show). Am I missing something? What is the starting point? Why is Daisy Fuentes "famous" to begin with? Understand I am not objecting to her. She's attractive. She has a lovely accent. Her hair inspires envy. But why is she a go-to host/spokesperson/celebrity designer. What am I missing?

Also, I am still thinking about the panini press. Do I need one? Any feedback would be appreciated.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A real prize.

Yesterday the hubby, bubby, and I ventured into the near suburbs to secure a new sportcoat for my husband and new extra-wide shoes for the bub's ever-growing feet. It was a successful outing and, NTB, the only thing I purchased was a $1 bargain cookbook. Anyway, as we drove home, we ended up behind a tan truck for quite a while. Three magnetic ribbons were affixed to the back of the truck. Was the driver trying to support our troops? Was he interested in supporting breast cancer research? No and no. His three ribbons read, respectively, "Support roadhead," "Support sluts," and "Support hookers." Then, to top it all off, he had a miniature Confederate flag hanging from his rear view mirror with some Mardi Gras beads. The driver also had a passenger in the car, and I was quite relieved when I established that the passenger was male. The idea that any woman would be willing to ride in that truck with those messages adhered to the back (not to mention the Confederate flag up front) was almost more than I could bear.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

No means no . . . and yes.

The bub is not a big talker. Well, correction, he talks a lot but much of what he says is incomprehensible. He has roughly a dozen or so words that he pronounces (somewhat) clearly and uses (somewhat) correctly in context.

What does the doggy say? “Woof woof.” What does the duck say? “Quack. Quack.” We are coming along with cat, pig, and cow noises. All in good time. He is also fairly consistent with “mama” and “dada.” He also says “mom,” which is reserved for more urgent situations and roughly translates into something like “Gimme, gimme. Help me now. Pay attention to the bub.” Over the past month or so, he has latched on to “uh-oh.” Chicken tenders end up on the floor? “Uh-oh.” Never mind that he threw them there. No more fruit snacks? Empty juice box? “Uh-oh.” Goldfish crackers crushed into the rug? “Uh-oh.” The “uh-oh” is usually accompanied by an adorable gesture wherein he puts both hands up, palms up, in that universal gesture that indicates “What happened? Don’t look at me.”

Though the bub’s vocabulary is less than expansive, he does have some charming ways of letting us know what he wants and needs. He does not hesitate to grab someone’s hand and lead him/her straight to the coloring table or the basement door. For reasons I cannot explain, he is still a fan of Gerber baby food peas. If he is hungry, he lets us know by walking to the drawer where they are stored and bringing them over. When he wants to watch Barney (and yes, he loves Barney, a phenomenon that deserves its own post), he grabs the remote and starts stomping his foot. NTB, but he has his own dance that he does during the opening credits of Barney that is pretty darn adorable. Jiggling on the bathroom door means “I want to go play in the toilet and/or wash my hands for twenty minutes while mom holds me up to the sink.”

As a nice bonus, he seems to understand what we want as well. If we hand him a dirty diaper (rolled up, of course) and say, “Throw the diaper in the garbage,” he does it with a smile. If we say, “It’s time to brush your teeth,” he reports to the spot where his toothbruth is stored. If we say, “Time for night night,” he accepts his sippy cup of milk and heads to the child gate by the stairs.

Do we wish the bub could say more? Sure, but I would not say we are worried. We talk to him. We read to him. Yes, he watches television, but not so much that we could be accused of being neglectful parents. Everyone says, “He’s a boy. It takes boys longer to talk.” I don’t know if that’s true or not. Apparently though, the bub’s dad said little else but “rup,” “nope,” and “juice” for the first two years of his life. He's turned out just fine.

Yesterday I got a taste of just how our life will change as the bub’s vocabulary expands. As I wrestled the bub into clothes and a clean diaper in preparation for a trip to the park, I said, “Let’s put your shoes on.” And what did I hear . . . “No.” Not angry, not defiant, but quite clear. I temporarily gave up on the shoes and said, “Let’s go downstairs.” The response once again . . . “No.”

Today, the bub said almost nothing but “no.” Can daddy have his blackberry back? “No.” Come here so mommy can change your diaper. “No.” No more flushing. “No.” There were also “no’s” that left us scratching our heads. Do you want yogurt? “No.” Do you want more ketchup? “No.” And, as a test case, Do you want to watch Barney? “No.”

So now, “no” means “no,” but “no” apparently also means “yes.”


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Live in the light

Before my Aunt Patty had children of her own, I have a memory of spending an afternoon in her kitchen. I don't know if she had offered/agreed to babysit or if perhaps she had invited us over for the express purpose of helping my sister and me bake Valentine's Day cookies for our mom and dad. What I remember is making a mess and being allowed to be generous with the red hots when decorating the cookies. Fast forward a few years and Patty has children of her own. In the locker room at the YMCA one evening when both of our families were there for swim lessons or swim practice or something, I took it upon myself to curl and style the hair of her oldest daughter, then about five or six. Yes, her hair looked pretty good when I was finished but at a price. Still a novice at hair-curling, I burned my cousin's forehead with the curling iron and not just a little bit. Though my aunt could have scolded me or made me feel even worse about what I had done, I have no memories of her doing so. She was the kind of person who understood good intentions and the everyday reality that people make mistakes. I have many other wonderful memories of my Aunt Patty. The rock hard vegetable pizza she made and then gleefully served on the beach in Destin is now legendary. I still laugh thinking about the memorable game of Trivial Pursuit one Christmas when her answer for every question was the hilarious "Lard Ass Jeans." My favorite photograph ever taken of my sister LAP was snapped by my Aunt Patty. It features my sister as a toddler, digging in the dirt while wearing sunglasses and only remnants--tights and an undershirt--of her Easter finery. I remember my aunt as kind, supportive, loyal, generous, humble, and, when she was feeling good, so much fun.

Five years ago in July, my aunt died of depression. Family members and friends gathered this weekend to celebrate her life. We gathered to laugh, drink, and eat. To catch up and share stories. We also gathered to affirm the importance of learning and educating others about depression and suicide. Her son Dan organized the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's Out of the Darkness Community Walk for Columbus, OH. Though the weather was wet, the event was a huge success. Over $32,000 was raised as of Sunday morning, with more donations expected to trickle in throughout the fall. NTB, but our team, Team Patty, raised over $13,000, earning us a spot among the top teams nationwide. Second place, actually. NTB.

The guest speaker following Sunday's walk stressed the value of the good we do for other people and the gift of time--how important it is to treasure and enjoy the time spent with those we love and how much it means to give of one's time to help and support others. Depression is disease that many people have difficulty understanding, especially if it has not touched their own lives or families. If you would like to learn more about depression and suicide, take a few minutes to get started by reading these facts provided by the AFSP. If you would like to give of your time by participating in an Out of the Darkness walk in your community, look here for a schedule of walks this fall. I would like to send out special thanks to all of the wonderful people in my life who were so generous in supporting this important cause when I asked. I was overwhelmed by your donations and your good wishes.

I have included a few photos of Sunday's event. It was an ugly, rainy day in Columbus, but I am proud to say that Team Patty, clad in orange sherbet, was shining bright. NTB.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

I got an A . . .

I spent this weekend in Columbus, OH. No, I absolutely did not travel to Columbus to watch the Buckeyes play the University of Akron. I was in Columbus to gather with my family and support a great cause. A fuller of account of my visit and its purpose is coming soon to NTB.

My aunt and I flew back to Chicago early this evening via Southwest Airlines. Ever since my husband and I got married and finally began living in the same city after four years of a commuter relationship, I do not fly all that often. Now, with the bub around, I probably take fewer than a dozen flights a year. I generally don't participate in conversations about airlines miles, status, or upgrades (since I have never bothered to change my miles accounts to my married name, I have not earned a single mile since 2003, not that I had any airline "status" then either). In my mind, the better the food options in the concourse, the better the airport. In my limited recent experience, I have positive feelings about Southwest. The flights seem reasonably priced even if one is booking last minute, and things tend to run on time. The fact that Southwest does not assign seats but rather boarding groups does not really bother me either. My aunt and I printed our boarding passes yesterday evening and both were assigned A's. NTB.

So anyway, I'm no travel expert, but I am little confused. We arrive at the airport early because our ride to the airport needed to hit the road and head to Cincinnati. We have at least an hour and a half to read magazines and wait to board. No problem. I look at the labeled lines for groups A, B, and C. What do I see? Passengers already forming lines according to boarding groups for a flight that will not be boarding for over an hour. Now, I understand that some seats are better than others. I prefer an aisle seat if I can nab one. I like to be as far away from the lavatory as possible (due to the smell and the hovering that sometimes occurs when there is a line). And sure, I would rather be closer to the front of the plane than the back. I guess that I cannot imagine being so worried about getting an undesirable seat that I would be willing to sit on dirty, airport carpet for over an hour in order to improve my seating options. Now, I understand that being in group A, I did have the luxury of knowing that I would have the best third of the seats from which to choose. Indeed, without getting into line A until it was time to board, my aunt and I managed to nab seats in a two-seat exit row. I was pleased. She got the window she desired and I my aisle seat with no one in the middle. NTB. But even if I was in group B, I think I would feel fairly positive about my chances of getting an acceptable seat. And, if I was in group C, I certainly would not sit on dirty carpet for an hour (or even for twenty minutes) to have first dibs on the, so to speak, best of the worst. Plus, I need to point out that this was a 44-minute flight we were taking. Some passengers sat on the carpet longer than they sat in their seats.

Now, like I said, I don't fly all that often anymore. Perhaps I am over-simplifying the issue or judging too quickly. Perhaps Southwest oversells the flights and that my same attitude paired with a C boarding card would have left me without a seat at all. Maybe the C stragglers have to arm wrestle for the one middle seat that is left. I don't know, but I do know that I am not going to camp out for a seat on a flight for which I have purchased a ticket.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Cliff Bar and a Banana

Last night, I went to the Jewel to stock up on the Lean Cuisine pizzas I have already written too much about. I bought about twenty-five of them, in addition to some Hot/Lean Pockets for my husband and a couple of Tombstones. Basically, except for my bub's yogurt, everything in my cart was frozen. I am not apologizing for this nutritional imbalance because the sole purpose of this trip was to stock up on the pizzas before they go off sale on Sunday.

I'm waiting in line when this nice young man gets in line behind me. He is a cute kid with a nice smile, likely fresh out of college. He is wearing a t-shirt that says "Ireland," and I am disposed to like him. Glancing at the towers of white and orange boxes on the conveyor, he tactfully observes, "That's a lot of Lean Cuisines." I decide on explanation in favor of testimony: "I'm stocking up before they go off sale. " I then add weakly, "I really like them. I have a freezer." Now, this is a sweet kid. He says, "No worries. I do the same thing when Clif bars are on sale." I glance at his groceries and see exactly one Clif Bar, two 12-packs of beer, and a bottle of wine. Wanting to turn the attention away from my pizzas, I make an obvious inference, "Looks like you have a more exciting night ahead of you than I do." He reveals that he is hosting a Nintendo Wii tournament at his apartment that he just found out about. I am sad to report that in his sweetness and deference, he started this explanation by asking, "Have you ever heard of the Nintendo Wii?" How old do I look?

Soon enough though, the kid is back to the pizzas, asking, "Just how big is this freezer of yours?" Just to be clear, I want to affirm that I really like this kid. He is not flirting with me, just being friendly. I reply, "It's a big chest freezer, probably like the one your parents have." NTB. He then asks, "What about the sodium in those things?" I explain that sure the sodium is a bit high but that I really appreciate the portion control. I briefly consider directing him to my blog to read all about it. He is clearly still confused about the pizza situation so I helpfully add, "I eat them for breakfast every morning." Confusion morphs into concern, and he becomes quite earnest, "I eat a Clif Bar and a banana every morning. It's an awesome breakfast. You should try it." I am ashamed to admit my response to his advice. I say, "How do you think that would go with a Diet Coke?" Now he just looks sad, maybe even disappointed in me. I am sorry about this because he is, like I have repeatedly said, a sweet kid. I start to ramble a bit, "Don't worry, I eat real food too. Like salads and avocados." What I should have said was, "Thanks for the suggestion. I bet that breakfast would give me more energy and be better for me than a Lean Cuisine pizza would."

As I loaded the bags of frozen food into my cart, I wished him luck in his tournament. He hoped I would enjoy all my Lean Cuisines. We parted amicably. I left feeling happy about today's youth and have even decided I will try his breakfast of champions one day and give you all a little report about it.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Success Story

Because this week's postings covered the challenges of professional photography when children are involved as well as my lifelong struggle to choose clothes to wear, this photo seems worth sharing. A professional photographer came to our house to take this photo, and for a photo that had to capture five children (all of whom, I might add, were eager to be at Surf Cincinnati for our neighborhood pool's once-a-summer outing at the waterpark, complete with discounted admission), I think it is fairly successful. I am sharing it as well because although this may be hard to believe, it captures a rare occasion on which I was completely satisfied with the outfit I was wearing. NTB. The paint-splattered terry-cloth top I am wearing belonged to my mom, and I was so excited that she allowed me to wear it for the photo. I remember wanting to wear it to Surf Cincinnati as well, but believe that request was denied. I look at the photo now and think what a shame it was that all that hair sprayed and feathered perfection (note also the artful spike in my oldest brother's hair) would soon be destroyed by the waterslides and the wave pool. This photo is also making me smile today because I see in my little brother Boo (aka The Intern) something that reminds me of my bub--not only the cute smile but the friendly, open, sweet disposition. I feel so fortunate to have had and to still have so many reasons to smile. NTB.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Khakis and a golf shirt?

NTB, but I am going out tonight. My husband and I are attending an event with some of his colleagues and their wives. The event is being held at a bar (not a lounge or a club) in my neighborhood--a comfortable, unpretentious place that offers a delicious hot pretzel appetizer on its menu in addition to other excellent bar food. I am not intimidated by the venue nor by the prospect of meeting some of my hubby's new colleagues and their wives. Indeed, I look forward to meeting them and and anticipate liking them very much. I look forward to entrusting the bub's evening bathtime and bedtime routines to our trusted babysitter. I look forward to being delighted by whatever is offered to me on a tray, hot pretzel or not. I look forward to enjoying a cold beverage or two of the alcoholic variety.

As ever when these sorts of occasions arise (i.e., any social occasion that is not a football game, barbecue, or wedding), I do not look forward to getting dressed. My husband and I have the same series of frustrating exchanges before many social outings. I ask days in advance if there is a dress code, and he says he will look into it. He warns me that he will be frustrated if I get worked up about choosing an outfit, cautions me to try to figure it out before the day before in order to avoid any sort of panic situation in which I become unreasonable about something we both know is no big deal. He knows me pretty well. This morning's exchange was fairly typical. "What should I wear tonight?" I query. He replies (after sighing), "I don't know. Just wear the female equivalent of what I'm wearing." He is wearing tan dress pants and a button-down shirt. He then adds the phrase I have been dreading, "It's probably business casual."

There are several reasons why his advice is not as helpful as it should or could be. First, I have always struggled with choosing my clothes. I suspect that wearing a school uniform for so many years has, instead of making me indifferent to fashion trends and personal appearance, made me over-emphasize the importance of selecting my clothes. Much as I looked forward to them, out-of-uniform days always threw me for a loop in grade school and high school, often inducing a panic and necessitating a late-evening trip to the mall or, when times were really desperate, the Fashion Bug store in the strip center five minutes away. My mom was as patient and understanding as she could be during such shopping trips. Even now, I think I have responded to the daily challenge of choosing my own outfits by adopting my own uniform. Instead of the plaid skirt and white shirt of my youth, most days I now don some version of a t-shirt (long or short-sleeved as the season demands) and jeans, capris, or some other casual bottom. When some version of my uniform is not appropriate, I struggle.

The second complicating factor is my firm belief that there is no female equivalent to dress pants and a button down, nor is there a female answer to another of my husband's fashion tips, "I'll be wearing khakis and a golf shirt." My intention here is not to criticize my husband or his fashion tips. He has nice clothes. He is always dressed appropriately. I think I am envious of the fact that men have a defacto uniform that women do not. When was the last time you attended an event (that was not a golf tournament) where the majority of women there were wearing khakis and golf shirts?

The final and perhaps most complicating factor is the entire category of business casual. I understand more or less what the category includes (though having never worked in a "business job" I am never quite sure). I understand that for women who work in jobs that have a business casual dress code, there may be a sort of female equivalent of dress pants and a button down. Unfortunately for me, the work I do requires nothing more than t-shirts (though I choose nice ones), casual bottoms, and flip flops/tennis shoes. At one time I had something close to a business casual wardrobe, but now it doesn't seem to make sense for me to go out and purchase blouses and twin sets if my livelihood does not require them. If I am going to choose items to wear out, I want my choices to be motivated by aesthetics not practicality. I also do not want to be, as my friend B described it, a sort of "impostor." I don't want to pretend I just came from work that required business casual attire if I did not.

I feel pretty good about what I am wearing tonight. It involves dress pants and a shirt that, though I wouldn't necessarily wear it to the office, is attractive without being too much of anything (not too feminine, too revealing, or too much like something one would wear to a bachelorette party). I understand that the event tonight is not about me. I understand that likely no one will be really looking at me. I understand that no one will notice (much less care) what I am wearing . . . unless I choose really poorly. I am proud to report that after this morning's exchange with my husband, I vowed not to make choosing an outfit a big deal. Yes, I bought a new shirt, but there was no panic involved. There was, however, a sale. NTB.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Bubdate: No Photo & No Limp

Bubdate #1: No Photo
Loyal readers are aware that my mom and I recently took the bub to an appointment with a professional photographer. When recounting the failure that was this photo shoot, I promised an update concerning his rescheduled appointment. This past Sunday morning was the occasion for take two of the photo shoot. As he did during the previous appointment, the bub showed far more interest in the lego table, drinking fountain, and toilet than he did in any of the props offered to him. My husband and I asked again if we might move the lego table into the studio for the session. Again, the photographer dismissed the suggestion (I think she thought we were joking). Instead, she had an epiphany. Why not place a black blanket over the lego table and tell the bub, "The lego table was tired. It had to take a nap." The other families in the studio, whose children had been happily playing with the lego table as their parents perused dozens of digital images of successful photo shoots, seemed delighted at the news that the one item in the studio that was occupying their children was now napping. Things only improved when the bub got territorial about the water fountain (to which he turned his full attention after the photographer put the lego table down for its nap) and took to screaming at another young girl who tried to get a drink and, I am ashamed to admit, even pushed her. The net result of the first visit was about 15 images to at least take a look at. The net result of this visit was zero. The photographer was unable to snap a single photo. Fortunately, my husband and I read the writing on the wall less than ten minutes into the session, made our apologies, and cleared out of there. Upon exiting the studio, we, along with the bub's visiting grandparents, were treated to a fit of colossal proportions. The bub was screaming, refusing to ride in the stroller, twisting out of our embraces, and generally making the kind of scene that causes passer-byers to think, "Wow, those parents must be horrible. What are they doing to that child?" I know this is what they were thinking because that is what I used to think. Now that I have a child, I know better. I know that most tantrums are fairly illogical (and luckily in the case of the bubs, infrequent). This knowledge does not make it any easier to deal with a tantrum as it is happening. The morning was salvaged thanks to an associate at a store called Hot Mama, who noted the trouble and came outside to give the bub a balloon. The juice box from my big mom purse helped as well. The new plan for professional photographs is to see if I can hire my cousin the photojournalist (an awesome photographer, NTB) to capture the bub in his natural environment. I hope she is willing to do so after reading this account.

Bubdate #2: No Limp
Yesterday morning, my husband and his mom noticed the bub limping a bit. I observed the bub walking, running, and climbing throughout the day and saw no such limp. Then, in the early evening, the limp returned. By bedtime, he was refusing to put weight on his left leg. This morning, he took to crawling instead of walking. After breakfast he started walking again with a slight limp. Obviously very concerned, I called the doctor's office as soon as it opened and we were there by 9:30 a.m. What happened at the doctor's office? The bub ran in circles around the office with nary a limp in sight. He climbed up and down on the chair in the examination room multiple times. He put all his weight on his left foot as he strained to reach the door knob and escape the room. The doctor found nothing to be concerned about. He has no fever and exhibits absolutely no signs of the infection I read about on the internet that I thought may be causing the limp. In other words, he is now fine. I am only out the $20 co-pay. I will keep watching to see if the limp returns, of course.
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