Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Sabrina and Mark -- You will be missed.

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

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

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

Monday, October 29, 2007

Meet me in the spooky aisle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Soup and Sandy

After four days away, I'm back in town, back with my bub, and back to my NTB beat. An account of where I've been will appear sometime this week so please stay tuned. Until then, operation soup is moving forward. On Tuesday evening, I made Beef and Butternut Squash Chili from Southern Living. The results were pleasant but not inspiring. I was hoping the butternut squash would provide a delightful flavor surprise, but the chili just tasted like, well, chili. Good chili, but not great chili. The article accompanying the recipe suggests that the power foods in the soup might help one fight the flu. Healthy chili at least.

About a two weeks ago, I made Pumpkin and Pear Soup with Maple Cream. The results were positive. The bub's babysitter sampled it and offered this feedback: "Good. Very good. Yummy." I liked it as well, though it was a bit lacking. The maple cream was just maple-flavored sour cream served on top, and I think I needed more fat spread throughout the soup. This recipe came from Sandra Lee. That's right, Sandra Lee of the Food Network's Semi-Homemade Cooking.

I almost did not write the soup up because I know my dear friend, loyal reader, and insightful commenter Actchy abhors Sandra Lee (especially in those episodes during which Ms. Lee calls herself "Aunt Sandy" and cooks for her nieces and nephews). Of course, Actchy is not alone in her disdain for Sandra Lee. Another friend of mine detests her as well, citing the repeated use of the word "tablescape" (if it's a word) as one of Sandra's great offenses.

I can totally see why and how Sandra Lee is an easy target for haters. There are her ultra-buoyant breasts and then her proclivity for wearing tops with plunging necklines. There is her blonde, blonde hair. There's the fact that her kitchen set is redecorated for every single show, NTB. There are those tablescapes and the fact that the time and money spent preparing them certainly compensates for any time saved in the kitchen by cooking semi-homemade. I get all this. I can totally see how and why she can grate on one's nerves. I am not a regular Semi-Homemade viewer myself, but when I do catch it, I find myself annoyed by the repeated references to the "regular grocery store" (though I do appreciate the fact that most of her ingredients can be found there). I find myself wondering what the point of making your own Chinese bao buns is if one of the steps is filling them with barbecued pork purchased at the mall food court (this really occurred on one episode). I also do not buy into the implied suggestion of the show that one of the goals of cooking is to trick your friends and family into thinking you've made more of an effort than you have.

And yet, I feel strangely, perhaps inexplicably, protective of Sandra Lee. Within reason (with the barbecue pork buns being a prime example of the unreasonable), I see no problem with recipes that save time by using spice packets, frozen vegetables, and some canned goods. I won't pretend that the results are as healthy and flavorful as more homemade efforts. Depending on the time and resources I have available though, sometimes good enough is good enough. I can definitely see that Aunt Sandy can be annoying and over-the-top, but I think she's creative and also think that for emerging or uncertain cooks, she is accessible (if one leaves out the tablescapes and the daily kitchen redecorating). She's not the girl-next-door Rachael Ray, but I feel more comfortable with her than with the Barefoot Contessa (who is no doubt the superior chef and likely a warm, genuine person . . . but her shows always leave me feeling like the unworldly Midwesterner who wouldn't really fit in at her casual Hamptons dinner parties). Plus, as I have told Actchy several times, Sandra Lee has faced a lot of challenges in her life. Her parents were wrecks. She practically raised her siblings (how she learned to cook and etc.). I felt protective of her even before I knew about her background though. I guess I can't for sure say why. Sandra Lee has an autobiography coming out that details her early days. And no, I'm not going to buy and read it. I am not, despite this post, obsessed with Sandra Lee. I am not the president or even a member of her fan club. I probably have not seen her show in months. I do, however, like her and generally wish her well. I do want to protect her but from whom or what I do not know. Sorry Actchy.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

It was a good fight...but the step won.

About a year ago I moved to upstate New York. Since then, I have been attempting to make some new friends. Many of you may think, what is the big deal about that? How hard could that be? Well it is harder than you may think. After several months of repeating self-affirmations like "boy PITA you are really fun and smart." I have made a few friends. One of my friends enjoys working out together. I am all for that, seeing that I am usually not that motivated to go by myself, this is ideal for me. We surveyed the classes and discussed which ones we would be interested in. Now, please keep in mind, I am trying to keep these new friendships going, so I happily agreed when she stated she would like to attend "Power Step." The thing about it is that I hate Step, I hate the Stepper, I hate all parts of this workout. But, since I had chose Power Pump the other day, I thought I should compromise.....
So I show up to class that fateful day and meet our instructor, Angel. You are all probably thinking, I bet Angel is really nice. With a name like Angel, how could you not be? In my opinion, Angel stinks. She demands that we put three risers on each side (that is a lot, if you are not familiar with step), let me note that Angel put no risers under her step. Secondly, she jumps into the routine, knowing she had new people in the class. Also, the moves in step class all have names - v-step, a-step, charleston, charleston-ski, etc... I knew no terms nor the moves for that matter. Much of the class was spent standing watching others until I could master the moves. I tried to keep moving as best I could, but Angel instead of doing the moves with us, would circle around and clap and scream as "encouragement." I was finally feeling a little settled, when we did a tricky move - and l-step into a football shuffle back and forth over the step. Well I go up for my l-step, clear it no problem, but as I hopped over the step for the football shuffle, my foot got caught and I went down. Boy did I take a digger. I sat there for a moment as everyone stared at me, trying to laugh it off, but I kind of wanted to cry because it kind of hurt. Nonetheless, I got up. Angel just kept going, she said - oh did you turn your ankle? I shook my head no as i cursed her mentally for being such an idiot and for choosing such a difficult move for a novice. Lucky for me, this incident happened right before the cool-down. I put my six risers away and walked away...
I have gone back (re: I need friends), but one slight improvement - Angel has been reassigned to cardio kickboxing and stroller fit. NTB, but I will show her an l-step.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Clear the steps, damn it.

TB or NTB. I fear my recent posts have bordered on the former. Just to keep things real, I will share a brief bub-related incident from earlier this evening. The bub and I spent the hour before dinner hanging out in our carpeted basement. We did some laundry. I folded the clothes. He threw them around. I loaded the dryer. He closed the dryer door six or seven times in the process. We read the books I purchased at our parish's toddler garage sale this weekend. "We" played with the cords that (used to) connect the VCR to the television. We picked up the phone and shot the breeze with Grammy.

As I headed up the stairs to start preparing bubby's dinner, I assumed he was right behind me. Because he sometimes takes his time climbing the steps, I went on in to the kitchen and got to work. I didn't hear much, but falsely assumed that all was well and that he had merely paused, as he often does, at the landing where his stroller is parked to try to fasten and unfasten its buckles.

I don't know how you use your stairs, but in addition to using mine for the obvious, I also use them as temporary holding zones. Items that need to travel either upstairs or downstairs wait on the steps until I pause to take them to their homes. My mom employed a similar system when I was growing up. She placed clean and folded laundry in stacks on our back stairs. When you headed up to your room, you were supposed to take your stack with you (and, of course, put it away). For being good kids, my siblings and I were horrible with the laundry stacks. Mostly, we stepped around them. I have distinct memories of heading downstairs in the morning before school and grabbing one item--a pair of socks or a clean bra, for example--and then heading upstairs and leaving another two feet of MEP laundry behind. My mom certainly deserves your sympathy for having to put up with ingrates like myself. Funny thing is, my stair-clearing efforts have not improved much even now that I have my own home and family. On the landing right outside my bedroom sits my opened and semi-unpacked suitcase (now serving as remote drawer) from last weekend and the pile of stuff I tossed out of it from its previous use a month prior. A variety of laundry baskets, piles of clothes, and empty shopping bags wait on the landing as well. The area could easily be mistaken for a Goodwill donation center. But, if not for this large landing, my steps would be in even worse shape. A dirty but folded pair of jeans and a pillow sham have been sitting on my steps heading upstairs for ten days. A 145 ounce container of laundry detergent had been sitting on the steps leading to the basement since this morning, when I purchased it from Target.

That's right, the detergent had been there. It had been there until the bub moved it. As I was happily getting his dinner together, I noted with pleasure that the bub seemed to have found a way to keep himself occupied. Seconds later, I heard his familiar, "Mom. Mom." I turned the corner and saw that my freakishly strong bub had lifted the laundry detergent up two stairs so that it was in our back room. He had also figured out how to open the bottle. What's more, he had poured it (thankfully, not all 145 ounces of it) all over the floor. A puddle at least a foot and a half in diameter greeted me. On his clothes alone, the bub had poured enough for an entire load. The smell of spring rain filled the air. The bub looked up at me with a huge smile as if to say, "Look what I did mom. NTB."

Thanks to all the code browns, my emergency reaction skills are fairly sharp. NTB. I removed the bub's detergent-soaked clothes. (He helped me out by then removing his diaper.) I wet a wad of paper towels and got to work rinsing off his hands and feet (yes, of course he had been stepping in the puddle). I placed him on the carpet and bid him not to move. I returned to the scene with more paper towels and began mopping up the puddle. The bub wanted in on the action. He grabbed some paper towels, got down on his knees, and started spreading the soap around. I then had to pause and re-rinse his newly-soaped hands and feet. Keep in mind, he has no diaper on. Luckily for me, he kept himself entertained by riding his bouncing zebra bareback (and bare-butt) while I finished the clean-up.* We visited the sink for one final rinse. I wrestled him into a diaper and, wearing only said diaper, he ate his dinner like a champ.

The first thing I did after I put him to bed tonight? Carried that bottle of detergent downstairs to the laundry room. NTB. What's on your steps?

*Note to bub's friends and their moms--the zebra has been sanitized.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

At least our fans are cute . . .

Several years ago, the hubby and I traveled to lovely Jacksonville, Florida to watch the Irish play NC State. It began raining buckets on New Year's Eve just as we were heading out to dinner with our friends. The next day, the Irish lost the game. The highlight of the weekend was our scoring a prime table at Hooters and then not relinquishing it for the six hours following the game. NTB. At one point, a member of our party left to use the facilities. When she returned, she was disgruntled. In the bathroom, an NC State fan had seen her ND sportswear and remarked, "At least y'all have a really great band." My guess is that the woman merely intended to be friendly. When the exchange was related, however, we assumed that the NC state fan was patronizing us. And we--with our prime table, bottomless wing basket, and eleven national championships--did not need her pity.

Clearly, the Irish are struggling this year. I will continue cheering for them. I will continue supporting the players and Coach Weis. I will continue optimistically believing that we have a fighting chance each weekend. Things will get better. They always do. Until then, I submit, in a non-patronizing way, this photo as my personal highlight of the football season.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Eau de Outside

Today's weather was perfect, sometimes sunny and sometimes not, with an ideal moderate temperature and an awesome breeze. NTB, but my bub was nearly perfect today too. We had gymnastics this morning and, come circle time, he reported to the center of the gym and sat right down, no coaxing necessary. He did his stretches. He clapped along to the songs. He touched his knees and toes as directed. Sure, he would periodically hover right over the instructor's boom box, but he did so without adjusting the volume, turning it off, or falling into it. When the time came for actual gymnastics, he did the bearwalk for three whole feet. It was a pleasure. For once in a large group setting involving me and the bub, I did not break a sweat.

After a respectable nap, we met my cousin at the park. The good behavior continued. There were several attractive ride-on toys that did not belong to him at the park and, of course, he really wanted to ride on them. This past Sunday at our neighborhood's "alley party," the bub faced a similar situation and, much to the chagrin of me and the hubby, dealt with it by hitting another toddler in the face in an attempt to take the driver's seat. (We apologized profusely and then headed inside in shame). But today, the bub showed no signs of violence. He was able to content himself with pushing a little girl's car-thing as she drove and, later on, to have his attention diverted to both a wagon and a Hippo. Blessed are the peacemakers. NTB.

Arriving home from our walk back from the park, I noticed a familiar scent while taking the bub out of his stroller. I sniffed a couple of times before I placed the scent. He smelled like the outside. When I was an adolescent, there were few crimes that got to me more than that of sporting eau de outside. Often at family dinners, I would look with disgust at my younger-but-not-youngest brother (who turned 29 today, by the way) and protest, "You smell like the outside." He earned that scent by being a good old fashioned kid--riding his bike and playing endless games of baseball, football, basketball, soccer, H-O-R-S-E, and etc. with the kids in the neighborhood. Sure, I sometimes played outside, but I didn't have that much spare time, what with the Babysitters Club novels I needed to read, the Kate and Allie reruns I needed to watch, the imaginary students I needed to teach in my basement classroom, and, as I got older, the junior high history tests I needed to give myself ulcers over. Perhaps that outside smell was just especially repugnant (ninth grade vocab. word) to me because I had not been outside myself.

So anyway, we got home today and I realized that my bubby smelled like the outside. I guess I don't need to tell you that I didn't mind one bit. It was a great day to be his mom. It was a great day to be outside. And, at the risk of getting too sentimental, I'll say that it was also a great day to be alive. NTB.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Soup's still on

I recently discussed my decision to temporarily confine my culinary aspirations to the realm of soup. Motivated by my success with Rachael's Indian Summer Turkey Chili, I decided to attempt another seasonal soup: Pumpkin Orange Soup With Parmesan Toasts. I enjoy pumpkin as an ingredient (except in pumpkin pie) and I like oranges. I did not, however, like the soup. The recipe came from one of Ann Byrne's cookbooks, The Dinner Doctor. I'm not blaming her. The recipe was easy to fall and likely has potential, but I made one major mistake. I decided that the Parmesan Toasts were not necessary and thus eliminated several things I really enjoy in a meal: fat in the form of cheese, carbs, and texture. The flavor of the soup was fine, but it was too smooth for me. I like chunks and such. I should not have let my inexplicable resistance to recipes requiring the broiler prevent me from making the parmesan toasts. I would give you the hubby's reaction, but believe me, if he had actually tried the soup, his response would be unprintable.

This morning, I stepped back into the ring with Chicken Mulligatawny soup from Eating Well magazine. This recipe is one I noticed months ago and have wanted to try ever since. I just liked the sound of chicken, rice, granny smith apples, onions, and coconut milk together in one bowl. I liked the sound of this soup so much that I took the time, with the bub in tow no less, to figure out where coconut milk* is found (in the Hispanic ethnic aisle with the Goya products) and to attempt to find hot Madras curry powder (was unsuccessful and just used regular curry powder, probably for the best as I don't like things too spicy). I was never able to find the ground coriander the recipe called for. Perhaps it is not sold already-ground? I found some un-ground coriander and did my best to "grind" it by placing it in a ziploc and pounding on it with my mallet. Bubby helped and, fortunately, both of our fingers are still intact. I will be honest and admit that I did not toast almonds for a garnish as instructed (though I did purchase said almonds) because as with recipes involving the broiler and, until recently, the food processor, I avoid those that require toasting nuts (NTB?) due to the the horrors I tasted after burning a batch a few years back. Anyway, the end result was favorable. I enjoyed the flavors and am especially tickled by having Granny Smith apples in a soup. I would have preferred the broth to be a bit thicker, but that could have been my error. If I had it to make over, I would do it without the bub as my sous chef. By the time the soup was ready, the floor was covered with Goldfish crackers (awesome crunch with every step) and two bananas had been mangled with a toy knife at bub's work station. More than anything, I am just proud that I finally tried a recipe from Eating Well, as the magazine's recipes almost always appeal to me but almost always intimidate me as well. So, I did it and it was good. NTB.

*Recipe actually called for "lite" coconut milk, no idea where that might be secured.

Take that social calendar

My husband and I have found that since we no longer work with people our age—nor do we live in a neighborhood where the majority of dwellers are at the Pampers-purchasing stage of life, nor do many of our close friends live within a quick 15 minute drive—we need to become more proactive with our social lives.

NTB, but we were pretty proud of ourselves this weekend. Eat your heart out, but our weekend was action packed. Although no one event is likely to draw the envy of any reader, this volume of activity is rare for us these days:

Friday morning: Got a jump start on the weekend by heading with my two little girls to the aquarium. They were angels. They held my hands as we walked through and didn’t even throw a tantrum when I denied them a purchase in the gift shop.

Friday evening: Family trip to the pumpkin patch complete with obligatory festive fall photo shoot.

Saturday morning: Trick or treating at the zoo in full Halloween attire. As a special bonus, there was a ten-minute period where both kids stayed seated in the double stroller at the same time.

Saturday evening: Babysitter for kids, nice dinner out and then party at a neighbor’s house. As noted above, most neighbors are in different life stages, case in point, this was a 25th anniversary/50th birthday party…we’re 20 years behind on both. It was an enjoyable evening except for the fact that people kept hugging me, saying they were surprised to see me since my father had just died. WHAT? Although I knew my father was safely vacationing in Arizona, it was very unnerving. We were able to confirm that the telephone message gone awry had indicated that the 92-year-old father of my next door neighbor is actually the one who passed away.

Sunday afternoon: I attended a baby shower for a former co-worker/current friend. Although I am not big into games such as “try to putt the golf ball into a sippy cup” or baby-themed pictionary, it was a nice little outing.

Sunday evening: Family gathering at a relative’s house in celebration of my husband’s great aunt turning 87. Party started at 3, dinner at 4:30, we were last to leave at 7:30. Case in point that we are truly party animals who should be invited to more events.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Here and now . . . really?

This anecdote is inspired from the fact that I will be at the airport tomorrow, and it will be brief because I have packing to do. Now, although I do not sit on the airport floor with my boarding group in order to nab a "great seat," I do board at my earliest opportunity. I like to get settled, arrange my in-flight reading material in the pocket in front of me, and find a space in the overhead for my wadded-up jacket. If I've purchased a snack at the gate, I like to get it staged and ready to savor. I also like to sit in judgment of those who place their rollies sideways in the overhead bin and the men who try to claim an entire bin for their suit jackets. I enjoy watching the flight attendants expertly rearranging items and clacking the bins shut.

Inspired by yesterday's code brown post, I would like to share a little story. About six or seven years ago, I was taking a flight from Cincinnati to Chicago to see the hubby (before he was the hubby). I boarded early--probably 25 minutes before the door was going to close--for all the reasons listed above. In fact, only one person boarded ahead of me. Here is what he did: He raced directly to the lavatory in the back of the plane. From my typically crappy-status-middle-toward-the-back seat, I could hear and, soon after, smell the intestinal distress transpiring in that lavatory. Five minutes later, he exited without a trace of embarrassment and took his seat. As the plane filled, every other passenger could smell it and boy did it linger. I was trying to make cringy-faced expressions and eye contact to indicate, "Wasn't me." NTB. Earlier, when the action was still audible, a flight attendant and I had exchanged a single, horrified glance. Six or seven years later, I remember this incident. What I'm still trying to work out is why, with plenty of time to spare, this man chose to do his business in the airplane lavatory and not in the gate area where he could have chosen a larger stall with better ventilation and a potentially smaller and more transient audience. Yes, I know sometimes these things can catch you off guard, but the way he hustled to the back of the plane, it was as if he had been waiting to use that lavatory.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Code Brown

Being the bub's mom was a tough job yesterday. As loyal readers are aware, he is now "sleeping" in a toddler bed. The transition has not been easy, but it has also been better than we expected . . . until yesterday. Yesterday when it was time for the bub to nap, he wasn't interested. I offered a few more books, tried to feign sleep on the floor beside him, and was even allowed to rock him for a few minutes (a rare treat, NTB, as usually only daddy and his grandmas are allowed rocking privileges). When nothing worked, I was reduced to leaving him to his own devices to whine, run around, and cry until he fell asleep. Last week, he threw me for a loop by busting through the gate that pens him in his room during these whining sessions. I figured out how to get the gate in there more securely. True, he could not push the gate down. What he could do and did do yesterday was scale the gate and hoist one chubby leg on top of it. If I had not been monitoring the situation from my office, adjacent to his room, he would surely have found a way to get the other leg over and then fallen and injured himself. I stopped him just in time. Again, NTB. He eventually fell asleep yesterday, but his nap was short. It wasn't (entirely) the bub's fault, but I was tired and cranky the remainder of the afternoon and early evening.

And so, it was a special surprise that when in the home stretch--that last forty minutes before daddy gets home--just when I was about to get my bub out of the bathtub . . . just five minutes before he would have been my clean, moisturized, hair-brushed angel in Elmo pajamas . . . just then, I noticed we were in a code brown situation. What's a code brown? It's just like Caddy Day at Bushwood, except with actual doody in the bathwater, not just a Baby Ruth in the swimming pool. Thesse days, we have maybe 2 code browns a month, but there was a time last spring when we averaged 4-5 code browns each week and thus developed a procedure:

1. Supervising parent calls out from bathroom: "We've got a code brown."
2. Bub is removed from the tub, wiped, toweled off, and diapered.
3. Large, obvious hunks are removed and placed into toilet. (Note use of passive tense here to detract attention from the fact that some agent, usually me, has to handle those hunks.)
4. I sanitize the bath toys and rubber bathmat by throwing them into the washing machine or, minus the bath mat, the dishwasher.
5. I scrub and sanitize the bottom of the tub.

The fact that we have the procedure down does not make it any less annoying. An added bonus is that I typically forget about the previous evening's code brown until it is bathtime the next night. Only once the bub is undressed and I go to run the water do I remember that the bath mat and all the toys are in the basement laundry room.

My mom made the excellent suggestion that we purchase a potty seat so that code brown moments might become opportunities to get a head start on potty training. And true, there have been rare occasions when we have caught a code brown in the making and transferred the bub to the potty seat, which is nice. The problem is the presence of the potty seat has also been the impetus for an elaborate pre-bath routine in which the bub sits on the potty, pulls off pieces of toilet paper, and flushes. This can take up to five minutes, which may not sound like a long time but is a long time, especially when you are squatting in front of a toddler who cannot quite balance himself on the potty seat. Then, the bub likes to wash his hands. I appreciate his interest in hygiene, I really do, but the hand-washing also gets old as he needs to be held up in front of the sink for its entirety. He would wash his hands (or at least, turn the water on and off) all night if someone let him.

Point being, the code brown was the chocolate icing on the stale cake that was yesterday's long day. Nap time today was no better than yesterday and I still have bath duty to do tonight. At least I've already retrieved the sanitized toys and bath mat. We're ready to go. NTB.

Monday, October 8, 2007

. . . and I feel fine.

Once in a while on Thursdays past, my US Weekly would fail to show up. If it did not arrive by Saturday, I would secretly suspect someone in the mail distribution center of "borrowing" it. The fact that I did not receive the TomKat wedding issue until the following Tuesday: not a coincidence.

For the past two Thursdays, US Weekly has not appeared in my mailbox. I guess that's what happens when you ignore all six of the renewal notices/bills that they send. That's my new m.o. for managing my magazine subscription addiction. I ignore all renewal notices and bills and then wait and see what happens. In the case of Real Simple, I realized that, though I enjoyed features on the perfect white blouse and the best drugstore mascaras, I could live without the magazine. When Entertainment Weekly stopped coming and I subsequently missed the fall television preview issue, I was not fine. I renewed promptly and, because the gods were smiling upon me, my first issue after the hiatus was the collector's edition issue of The Office (to give you an idea of my passion for The Office, I am planning to frame and mat the four covers of the special edition . . . for the basement, not the living room).

I always imagined I would miss US Weekly almost immediately, despite having my already-documented reservations about being a subscriber. However, the lapse of my subscription could not have come at a better time. What have I missed so far? The Heidi Montag "Plastic Surgery Revenge" issue. And then: the style issue, featuring a cover of Lauren Conrad and the other two girls from The Hills. And I subscribed long enough to know what else I missed inside: so and so from a band I've never heard of was at Hyde (?) and so was Paris Hilton, Nicole Ritchie is eating now that she is pregnant, three D-list celebrities wore the same dress, Eva Longoria went to Whole Foods, Brangelina and brood stayed at a hotel somewhere, Britney is still struggling, Jessica Simpson bought three t-shirts for $400 at Kitson and Ken Paves was with her, Jennifer Aniston does pilates and likes the zone diet, and on and on and on.

I'm certainly not judging anyone who remains an US Weekly subscriber. It's given me a lot of pleasure over the years. I'm sure one of these weeks, I'll see it in the checkout line and be unable to not throw it my cart. And, if it's sitting in a waiting room and so am I, you better believe I'll be reading it. But, for now, it will not longer show up in my mailbox on Thursdays. When conversations about pop culture take place, I will be less prepared than usual. I likely won't know who Justin is dating at all times. Though I'm rooting for Nick and Vanessa, I'll have to trust they can make it without me. I may just forget about Eva Longeria altogether.
Ditto Hayley Duff. Surprisingly, I feel fine. NTB.

And, if you mostly don't know who the hell I am talking about, you should feel damn fine.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Not sure what I learned about Toronto

I was out of the country this week, NTB. Passport required and everything. OK, well, I just went to Canada. My husband had a convention to go to in Toronto so I tagged along. I’ve never been there so this seemed a good opportunity to see the largest city in Canada and squeeze in a side trip to Niagara Falls. We went with my husband’s coworker and the coworker’s wife (aka my husband’s uncle and aunt). They are extremely organized people which meant that they took care of every little detail for the trip. My preparations involved organizing everything on the homefront since we’d be leaving the girls with their grandparents for a few days, but I researched nothing about the hotels, restaurants, shopping, or the city itself. So, once in Toronto, I wasn’t really sure what sort of culture I should be soaking up. In need of some entertainment while the boys were at the convention, my husband’s aunt and I decided to be hard core tourists and take a double-decker trolley ride to get an initial feel for the city and then decide where to go from there.

Other than a woman visiting from Memphis, it seemed we were the only ones interested in learning about the city through this means. It was an intimate tour of three so the guide just sat by us, rattling off “facts” as we drove around town. I’m the sort of person who doesn’t enjoy lengthy explanations, but I do enjoy hearing little tidbits that I can commit to memory. The problem I had with this tour is that I found myself questioning most of the information coming out of the guide’s mouth. The University of Toronto has about 60 thousand students. Ok, sounds about right. That snooty bar down there is owned by Corey Mandell, Howie’s brother. OK, the type of factoid an US Weekly subscriber enjoys…no reason to question it. The CN Tower is one of the seven modern wonders of the world. Yep, heard that on my tour of the CN Tower yesterday. No problem with any of those items. However, here is a sampling of the tidbits I had a harder time swallowing:

1. The library on the University of Toronto campus is sinking because the architects did not consider the weight of the books when building the library. Hmmm, I always thought of architects as pretty sharp people. I know books are heavy (those who have moved my sister and her own personal library of books will vouch for this), but so heavy that they are really causing this peacock-shaped library to sink? Then, the guide adds that an alternative plan being considered is to simply eliminate all books from the library and make it a digital library. That sounds more like a database than a library. Seems extreme and not like something that would sit well with reading purists. Anyway, a quick trip to snopes.com quickly confirmed that this is incorrect information he was spewing. Great to know that the tour guides are keeping urban legends alive.
2. Canadians make great beer, but it doesn’t always taste as good as it should because Canadians aren’t good at keeping the pipes the beer flows through clean, nor do they properly wash out the glasses so that all the soap residue is off of them. There is one bar in the Distillery District that knows how to do those things so I go there once or twice a year, even though it’s a cheesy bar, just to get a great tasting beer. Just one bar in the city knows how to rinse the soap out of the glasses, huh? Amazing that your taste buds were able to track it down.
3. The Royal Bank Plaza to your left has 24 carat gold in the windows. The only problem is, gold reflects light and therefore the neighboring buildings have complained that it’s driving up their A/C bills in the summer. There’s a lawsuit in the works. OK, so I was skeptical about the 24 carat gold part, but apparently that is true. Couldn’t find out anything about a lawsuit for the reflection though . . .
4. This street over here is where all the prostitutes hung out until about 10 years ago when it became a Yellow Pages business. There would be limos lined up on the street whenever diplomats were in town. Not even sure where to go with this one.
5. The Toronto Maple Leafs are a legendary hockey team. Quite possibly the best ever. Blah blah blah. We love hockey. We’re better than the Montreal Canadians. We haven’t been great lately, but we’re like the Red Sox of hockey, only before the Sox won a couple years ago. I get it. You love hockey. However, it sounds like you had a good run in the 1960’s, but I wasn’t even born when you won your last Stanley Cup in 1967, so please don’t make me listen to anymore.

So, I have now been to Toronto. Thanks to my questionable tour leader, I’m not sure what to make of the place. Actually, he didn’t even say “eh” so maybe he wasn’t even Canadian.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Rachael and I made chili, and it was "pretty darn good."

One of my initial thoughts in starting this blog and entitling it "Not to Brag" was to use it as an impetus to accomplish things that I could then not brag about. You'll note if you check my profile that one of my hobbies/interests is thinking about projects I want to accomplish. That's no lie. I don't have enough time right now to devote time to all the projects I would like to--buying new curtains for upstairs, learning how to thread my sewing machine and subsequently sewing something, making my own greeting cards, cleaning out my pantry, finishing my dissertation, and etc. (Actually, I am making steady progress on the dissertation, thanks for asking). And though there isn't time for all of my projects--just a few are named above--I do truly enjoy thinking about when I might have the chance to work on them and how it will feel to complete them.

Anyway, one of the major "projects" on my list is becoming a better cook. You'll note in my profile that eating, thinking, and talking about food are also hobbies of mine. I have many, many cookbooks and love paging through them and considering new recipes. I also have a ridiculous recipe binder that I won't go into now because it is so unwieldy and my dedication to maintaining it so obsessive that the binder deserves its own post.

I narrowed my culinary goal for this fall to something more manageable: becoming a better cook of soup. (I almost wrote "cooker of soup," but I am not a Dutch oven, nor am I a crock pot). So, I thought a new feature of NTB could be accounts of my attempts to make soup.

Rachael Ray and I made Indian Summer Turkey Chili** this evening, the "perfect" dish for a nice October Day when it is above 90 degrees outside. It came from my copy of Rachael Ray's 30-Minute Get Real Meals. This cookbook might predate Rachael's "stoup" stage; indeed, the title of the chapter is "That's Souper!"

Now, before continuing with my account of the souper soup, I want to pause and clarify something: I do not count myself among the Rachael Ray haters. Sure, the constant mention of EVOO can grate, as can her habit of saying "real" when she means "really." There's something about the way she says "cumin," usually in conjunction with the adjectives "nice" and "smoky" that also gets to me. And sure, her recipes may take longer than thirty minutes if you don't remember to wash and prep all your produce right when you get home from the store or if you don't happen to have ziploc bags full of fresh herbs in your fridge. However, I find her honest, engaging, and very creative. I'm not a gourmet chef or hard-core foodie so I don't object to the fact that Rachael uses canned tomatoes in her recipes or whatever other culinary sins she might commit. She does not pretend to be a classically trained chef. I watched her Chefography on the Food Network and was impressed. This woman has worked her ass off and still seems fairly down-to-earth, even though she is friends with Oprah and everything.

Okay, that being said, here's the verdict on her Indian Summer Turkey Chili. It was very easy to make and probably took about forty minutes. I think an at-home cook who did not have a helper like the bub might be able to finish in 30 minutes. In terms of exotic ingredients, there really weren't any. I did not have Montreal Steak seasoning, but I don't begrudge the $2.23 I spent obtaining it. I'm also not sure that the barbecue sauce I used was "smoky," but it didn't seem to matter. The hubby pronounced the chili "pretty good" and then later upgraded it to "pretty darn good." NTB. He said he would eat it again and even suggested it was the best red chili I have ever made (he is more a fan of my white chicken chili). I enjoyed the flavors of the chili, but the heat was a little much for me. The two tablespoons of hot sauce went farther than I anticipated. If I made it again, I would use half the hot sauce and let my husband add more to his bowl. And, I think I would make it again, if only I didn't have so many other soups to stir. NTB.

** The Indian Summer Turkey chili recipe I linked to above is slightly different than the one in the cookbook. All the ingredients are the same, but the recipe I used called for half the amount of ground turkey, half the amount of corn, and double the amount of tomato sauce. I tested the recipe using half a Coor's Light (my husband didn't want to "waste" a Budweiser for cooking) and Sweet Baby Ray's sauce. I used one green and one yellow pepper.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Oh no, another post about books . . .

After yesterday's blog about Judith Viorst, I asked my husband what he thought. He thought it was "fine," and then followed up with, "To be honest, sometimes, when the post is not about the bub, I just skim it. I don't like the literary ones that much." Obviously, I was overwhelmed by the support and encouragement. I like to know that my daily thoughts and experiences are worth attending to only insofar as they relate to my efforts to take care of his son.

Okay, I just paused right now to ask if he minded being cited in the blog, and he gave me another quote, "Are you writing a new one apologizing for yesterday's lame post that no one wanted to comment on?" Hands off, ladies, he's mine! NTB.

Okay, I just paused once more to ask him if wanted a preview of what I have written so far before I posted it, and he went on the record as saying he wanted to be "surprised."

Now to the real point of this post. I have a literary favor to ask. Many of you know that I have done some tutoring over the past few years. My favorite and longtime student is preparing to go to college next Fall. She is doing high school via distance learning, and I have been, for most intents and purposes, her English teacher for (almost) her entire high school career. The distance learning curriculum she has is good, but now that we have reached senior year, we want to kick things up a notch and fill in the gaps, anything she might have missed out on reading by not attending "regular" school. In terms of typical high school reading lists, we've missed out on Lord of the Flies, Of Mice and Men, Huckleberry Finn, The Scarlet Letter, The Great Gatsby, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

And now, the favor . . . If you could take a minute to leave a comment below or to email me, here's what I want to know: Any comments on the titles listed above (no spoilers please)? Did you have a favorite book you were assigned to read during high school? Is there anything you did not read in high school and then got to college and wished you had? (For me, it was The Odyssey.) Or, putting notions of the canon aside, are there any other books you would recommend for my student? Thanks in advance for your insights.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

All kinds of days . . .

I was flipping through one of 15 or so magazines I subscribe to (or somehow receive in the mail--honestly, I don't know from whence some of them come), and I happened upon an essay entitled, "To Grandmother's House We Go." It was billed as a piece about a woman whose son, daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren would be moving in for 90 days while their home was renovated. I was pondering whether or not to read on when I saw the author's name: Judith Viorst. Of course, I would read on! Judith Viorst wrote a book I truly loved as a little girl. Do you remember it? Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible No Good, Very Bad Day. As its lengthy and straightforward title--which I prided myself on memorizing--promises, the book tells the story of Alexander's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. His day is full of the type of crap that can tick you off when you're young, the little indignities that put a damper on your day. Your mom packs you the wrong lunch. You don't get the seat you want in the car. You face a surprise trip to the dentist after school. It always struck me as pretty honest, a narrative depiction of the same maxim you hear often enough growing up: "Life's not always fair." Plus, it's the kind of book that eight year-olds and their parents can both find funny. I look forward to sharing it with the bub one day.

So anyway, I start reading Viorst's piece in the magazine, and what do you know, she's writing about her adult son Alexander and his family. And honestly, I felt tickled that this boy who once had that terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day is all grown up with a wife and kids. It was like a surprise sequel or extra episode, the "rest of the story" I was so glad to happen upon. It's not that I'd been worried about Alexander all these years, but again, I was tickled to find out that he got over that terrible, horrible, no good very bad day. I read on about the joys of grandparenting, the challenges of having family "guests" for 90 days, and Viorst's eloquent description of how proud she is of the parents Alexander and his wife are. It was a nice piece, funny and honest and at the end, there was a final bonus: "Excerpted from Alexander and the Wonderful, Marvelous, Excellent, Terrific Ninety Days, by Judith Viorst, to be published by Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Copyright 2007 by Judith Viorst."

I hope that thirty years from now, I will still have stories to tell about my bub. I hope that in the interim, we will continue to appreciate the good days and the challenging ones and the humorous ones and the exhausting ones and the fun ones. Something tells me that I will and that we will. NTB.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Just a bowl of soup . . . that's all I ask.

The bub reached a milestone while we were at Grammy and Papa's house. As I was out doing some errands, my mom was cooking and my dad was working. The bub was upstairs napping. All of sudden, my mom hears some commotion, and surprise! it's the bub heading down the stairs. The sound of his feet on the stairs confirmed that the event my husband and I had feared for months--ever since he climbed out of his crib in June (and no, it can't be lowered any more, thanks for asking)-- had finally come to pass: the bub climbed out of his pack 'n play. And while we were proud of his flexibility and fearlessness, we were afraid of what would be next. We were fine for the rest of our visit at Grammy and Papa's. He slept one night in their crib (which he can't yet escape) and an additional night in the pack 'n play during which he chose to stay put. When he awoke the next morning, I rushed in to try to keep him from climbing out again, only to practically trip on him as he rushed downstairs to start playing.

When we arrived home on Sunday, I put the hubby in charge of bubby's bedtime. The bub settled in for a long night's rest in the pack 'n play, no problem. But last night, it was my turn. Here's a brief timeline of the evening:

7:00 -- Mommy and bubby head upstairs to get an early start on the bedtime routine. We spend twenty minutes reading books, saying prayers, and giving kisses. I leave him in the pack 'n play with a "night night."

7:20 -- Bubs climbs out of the pack 'n play the first time. I put him back in and lie down on the floor next to it. I stay for about fifteen minutes, and try to remain positive. I say to myself, "I'm getting a mini nap now, so I can stay up past my 10:30 bedtime. This is nice." I count silently from 1-100 multiple times to keep myself from really falling asleep. He seems to be asleep, so I begin creeping out of the room (I think of myself as a cheetah when I do this, but I don't actually know if cheetahs are quiet and stealthy or not).

7:22 -- The bub climbs out of the pack 'n play again. I follow him downstairs where he does the unheard of and voluntarily lies on the couch in diaper-changing position. I think to myself, "Oh, he must have a poopy diaper. Good thing I'm finding that out now. No wonder he doesn't want to sleep. Though, hmm, I didn't think I smelled anything." I had not smelled anything because there was nothing there. I changed his bone dry diaper because I am wasteful like that.

7:30 or so -- We head back upstairs. I spend another 15 minutes lying on the floor next to the the pack 'n play. I am pretty sure that he is asleep and I am REALLY HUNGRY so I try to make like a cheetah and sneak away. The bub seems settled in the p 'n p this time. I head downstairs and heat up some vegetable soup. I turn on the TV and start my DVR recording of DWTS. Tom Bergeron has not even said "LIIVVEE!" yet, and I hear the bub running above me. Before my soup is even cool enough to sample, the bub is heading downstairs toward me.

7:50 -- New plan put into place. I will use tactic I've seen on Supernanny. Each time bub climbs out of p'n p, I will put him back in. The first time I give him a kiss and a "night night." After that, I am supposed to just say nothing and put him back in bed. After five or so rounds, I determine the bub is enjoying this game. I realize I should stick with this tactic longer, but remember, I am HUNGRY.

8:00 -- New plan: tough love. I clear the glider out of the room, cover the outlets (everything else semi-dangerous is already out of there), and place a baby gate in front of the open door. I place a blanket on the floor. If the bub climbs out of the p 'n p again, he will just have to figure something out. He can sleep on the floor or on his toddler bed (purchased about a month ago because we knew its day was near).

8:00 - 8:20 -- I sit on my bed and eat my vegetable soup while listening to the bub whine and cry. He has exited the p 'n p once more and is standing at the gate, trying to determine how to scale it. I try not to feel sorry for myself that I am eating soup on my bed while my bub cries. I try not to feel pissed at my husband, who is eating steak at a work dinner.

8:22 -- I start to worry that the bub will try to climb pack into the p 'n p and will hurt himself in the process. I enter his room, and he grabs my hand and leads me to the p 'n p. I say, "Okay, honey, you want to sleep in your baby bed? Okay? But you have to stay in it, okay?" I kid myself that now he will appreciate the p 'n p, stay in it, and allow me to have a second bowl of soup and watch DWTS.

8:30 -- Bub climbs pack out of the p 'n p. I explain to him that mommy is really HUNGRY. I don't mention DWTS because he's not familiar with the program.

8:35 -- It's time. I take the p 'n p apart. I show the bub his choices: the toddler bed and the floor. I kiss him night night for the eightieth time that evening. I leave.

Long story short. He cries. He whines. I go into his room a few more times and pat his back while he lies on the toddler bed. He spends many minutes at the gate, pleading for an exit. "Mom. Mom. Mom." Eventually, he falls asleep at around 9:00. I eat more soup. I am nice to my husband when he arrives home from his dinner. He has promised to take bedtime tonight. This afternoon, I reassembled the pack 'n play for his nap, experienced a shortened (five minute) version of last night's events, and then disassembled the p 'n p for good. He was asleep in his toddler bed within ten minutes. NTB. We'll see if the worst is behind us or not. Here's hoping.
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