Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I've said it before, but starting Not to Brag . . . was a great decision, ntb. I delight in sharing glimpses of the personalities and happenings in my little corner of the world. Blogging truly has changed the way I view the joys and frustrations of daily life. Now that my dissertation is finished (except for the busywork of formatting), my Little Bit is going to bed before 7:00 p.m., and the holidays are winding down, I am excited to post more regularly.

Thanks to all loyal readers and sometime visitors of NTB. I think I would keep writing and posting even if there were no readers, but the fact that there are some means so much to me. I treasure comments left on the site or shared with me in person. My husband thinks I am an internet addict (quite an accusation from a man who rarely goes 30 minutes without checking his Blackberry) and I admit to spending my fair share of free time on the computer, but I think that both blogging and facebooking strengthen my ties to friends old and new . . . time well spent, in my opinion.

With welcoming our Little Bit and finishing my dissertation, 2008 has been a banner and busy year. I'm surprised to realize, at its end, that here at Casa MEP we not only survived, but thrived, ntb.

It's the last morning of 2008. I had a Lean Cuisine pizza for breakfast (on sale now 4/$9--yippee!). The hubby just voluntarily took Bubby to work with him and my Little Bit is upstairs napping in his crib (knock on wood, but it seems he is finally starting to settle in to a regular morning nap routine, NTB!!!!!!!!). There is laundry to be folded, holiday thank you notes to write, and the same toys I put away last night freshly-strewn all over the floor. I still have closets to un-clutter, a tree to take down, and bills to get online and pay. But right this moment, I feel really, really grateful for my life, exactly as it is. I don't know how long this morning's sense of peace and satisfaction will last, but I think this year has taught me that I cannot wait until all of my ducks are in a row to feel happy. Just try to live and appreciate the moments as they come. Savor the really good ones and during the tough, frustrating, and annoying ones, tell yourself that nothing lasts forever.

Thanks for continuing to allow me to share the little moments of my life with you. Here are a couple of moments from this holiday season . . .

The Bub with mommy and daddy after his holiday concert at school. If only I had filmed his performance of "Jingle Bells" and "The Chubby Little Snowman" . . . I thought I had, but apparently I do not know how to take video on my digital camera.

Little Bit happily wore his holiday hat, an item Bub (at LB's age) would have ripped off within seconds.

One of the many "failed" attempts to stage a matching holiday pajama photo. One little elf was already in bed and the others were a bit too wired to cooperate.

Three days after Christmas, LAP and company welcomed their third beautiful little girl. Here is a photo of proud big sister Fancy and the new arrival.

See you all next year! Thanks for reading.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Not just Schweaty* this Christmas.

The promised holiday pajama post is not going to happen this season. I need access to my scanner (in our office, a room that doubles at Little Bit's bedroom) and to my parents' photo albums (er, um, boxes of unsorted pictures) to do it justice. I also need about five extra hours added to each day. This short window between Thanksgiving and Christmas has almost done me in.

But now, it's Friday evening. There are wrapped presents under our tree, a miracle in itself considering I was unable to make a single trip to the mall this holiday season. There are guests in our basement and clean sheets on their beds/futons. There's an egg casserole prepped and waiting to be baked for tomorrow's breakfast. There is the promise of festive family fun starting tomorrow. (NTB on all counts.)

And, of course, there are snow-covered turds** chilling in the fridge. Yes, that's right. I've started a new holiday tradition of gathering my sons around the kitchen island to make a fresh batch of snow-covered turds.

On Monday night, I had dinner with my dear friend The Principal. We ate at Flat Top Grill (two bowls each, with the special bread each time, NTB). On the table was an advertisement for Flat Top gift certificates and on the reverse side was a recipe. I don't know why the recipe was there, I only know that it called out to me. Here it is, exactly as written on the back of the gift certificate ad:

Allison's Oreo Ball Recipe
- 1 (1 lb, 2 oz) package Oreo cookies
- 1 (8 oz) package cream cheese
- 1 package white almond bark or white chocolate

Line baking or cookie sheet with wax paper and set aside.

In a food processor or blender, crush all Oreo cookies into fine crumbs. Add cream cheese and process until thoroughly mixed. Using your hands, roll into walnut-sized balls. Place on lined baking sheet and refrigerate for 30 to 45 minutes to harden.

To melt chocolate, use a double boiler or microwave.

Remove chilled Oreo Balls from refrigerator. Dip each ball into chocolate using toothpick. Place on wax paper when complete.

Get creative and use a fork to drizzle a chocolate design over the Oreo Balls once chocolate hardens.

Even though I don't know who this Allison is and whether I can trust her and despite the fact there was nothing about her recipe that screamed "holiday" or "child-friendly project," I decided that the boys and I were going to make these Oreo Balls and it was going to be fun and Christmas-y. Damn it.

So, was it fun? I will say that it was not "not fun." Little Bit was established in his high chair where he could watch the proceedings and chew on the strap of the high chair. I had Bub standing on a chair and gave him the important job of breaking the Oreos in half. He broke two cookies and ate one before losing interest. I soldiered on feeding Oreos into my food processor, which, NTB, I finally know how to use. It was a bit tricky to add the cream cheese, but I worked out a divided batch system and got everything blended.

It was time to form the balls. The Bub and I washed our hands again and got to it. When I read Allison's recipe, I imagined the consistency of the Oreo Ball matter would be similar to that of chocolate chip cookie dough. Not so. Imagine instead trying to roll a thick-ish brownie batter into balls. It ain't easy and it ain't pretty. Bub was tossing the Oreo matter onto the cookie sheet and claiming, "It's raining." Once he began licking his fingers, I fired him as sous chef and sent him to wash his hands one more time. I did the best I could forming balls, but they were looking like such crap, literally, and Little Bit was sick of sitting there so I half-assed it (another pun, NTB?) and shoved them in the fridge without a lot of hope. As the photo below shows, my balls looked like turds and "schweaty" ones at that.

Despite the pathetic look of these balls, I decided to see the project through. During the forty minutes when both boys were both asleep, I spent five precious minutes melting my almond bark and dipping the balls. Because my balls were so large and awkward (that's what she said!?), the dipping was not easy and the toothpicks kept breaking. Again, in the spirit of Christmas, I soldiered on. The end result: snow-covered turds.

The snow for the turds could have been better distributed, but due to my increasing doubts about my product, I only melted half the package of almond bark.

But guess what? The snow-covered turds are delicious, absolutely delicious. Of course, how can you go wrong with Oreo cookies and cream cheese covered in almond bark? Speaking of almond bark, I had never heard of it before, but I have to say, it melts like a dream in the microwave.

Now, if these Oreo Balls were an intended contribution to a holiday party or cookie swap, I would consider them a colossal failure insofar as they looked like crap. But as a holiday treat to be shared with family inside my own home, total success!

When (not if) I attempt them again, I think I will chill the Oreo matter before forming smaller balls. I think the chilled matter would be much easier to work with and frankly I'm peeved with Allison for not suggesting that. I will go ahead and melt all of the almond bark as well so as to get more snow on those turds. I will also take pride in the holiday dimensions of this treat: snow and meconium.

Any holiday treats you would recommend? Please share in the comments. Also, if you love to look at recipes, please see the comments of this post from Jen Lancaster's blog. I only had time to glance at all the recipes, but I thought I glimpsed some Oreo Balls in the mix there as well.

As Sandra Lee might say, "This holiday season, keep it simple. Keep it sensational. Keep it schweaty and always keep it semi-homemade."

*Have also seen it spelled "Schweddy" but could not get an official verdict.
**Is it "turd" or "terd"? I've never been sure.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Need a little Christmas?

Some people I know have felt their holiday spirit to be lacking a bit this year. Here's my cure for the holiday blues . . .

Stay tuned for a post I have in the works that examines my obsession with dressing my boys in matching outfits and a related post on the grand old tradition of matching holiday pajamas.

If you're hungry for more holiday NTB, check out these holiday-themed posts from last year:

The one about getting Bub all dressed up to meet Daddy downtown at work and have a delightful holiday lunch . . . at McDonalds.

The one about that damn train around our Christmas tree.

The one about which movies I like to watch while wrapping presents.

The one about my love for candy cane pens -- by the way, this year's candy cane pens at Walgreens are the worst ever.

I hope you all are finding moments of joy and calm in these busy days.

If any of you have a matching holiday pajama photo you would like posted on NTB, please email it to me at mep at nottobrag dot net.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Book Bonanza!

Some things I've read over the past few months that I think are worth mentioning:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
". . . Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers." I'm not claiming to be a perfect reader, but I am so glad this book found its way to me as I simply adored reading it. Drawn in by its title and by a blurb about it in Entertainment Weekly, I bought this book on Amazon on a whim one day. A couple of weeks later, I saw a family friend at a baby shower who told me she had just read the book and thought of me. She just had a feeling a would like it. Indeed, I read it a few weeks later and loved it. The story is told in letters (I'll give a prize to the first reader who can name the adjective for that--leave a comment) and its protagonist is a writer. The novel's authors are clearly book-lovers. Before reading this book, I really had no idea where Guernsey was nor did I know that it was occupied by the Nazi army during WWII. If you've read any of my other book posts, you know I love books in which unlikely characters forge a sustaining sense of community and friendship. I will forever remember this novel as the first one I read post-dissertation (i.e., without one nagging thought about whether I ought to be doing something schoolwork-related instead).

Helping Me Help Myself: One Skeptic, Ten Self-Help Gurus, and a Year on the Brink of the Comfort Zone by Beth Lisick
Beth Lisick spends a year devoting herself to self-help, trying out a different guru/approach almost every month. She goes on a Sweatin' to the Oldies cruise with Richard Simmons, practices the 1-2-3 Magic approach to parenting, contacts an organizational expert, attends a Mars and Venus seminar, and etc. What I love is that Lisick could have taken a really sarcastic approach that assumes that all self-help gurus are slicksters peddling empty promises and that all self-help seekers are naive, misguided, or flighty. Instead, she manages to be open-minded and level-headed and, I believe, honors the good intentions of so many who seek to improve and change their own lives or to help others do so. Her writing is extremely witty and thoughtful throughout, and her conclusions at the end were truly moving and inspiring to me.

Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan
This is a very short novel, told from the perspective of a Red Lobster manager on the last day his location of the chain will be open. As a former employee of the Olive Garden (in the same restaurant family as the Lobster), I was reminded of some of the inner workings of the food service industry while reading. As a human being (and a softie), I was delighted by the many moments of kindness, understanding, and humanity that occur over the course of this last night at the Lobster. Lovely book.

Stuff White People Like: A Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions by Christian Lander
I listened to this book on my ipod and was really amused. Lander isn't really using "white people" as a racial category here. The book is a list and description of the stuff "white people" (who do not have to be white) like. On some of the stuff, I was thinking, "Busted!": eating outside, Apple (computer) products, New Balance shoes, David Sedaris, graduate school. Some of the other items "white people" like made me wonder if the ultra-observant Lander actually lives in my neighborhood: expensive strollers, Whole Foods, farmers' markets, and NPR, for example. Lander's book started as a blog. If you check out his blog, try to read several posts to get a feel for it. I found my understanding of "white people" grew (as did the humor in it all) as I was exposed to more and more items on the list. If you or people you know are the kind of "white people" Lander describes, you will likely have a good laugh, often at your own expense.

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
I also listened to Loving Frank on my ipod. It's a novelized account of the love affair between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney, who left their families to be together. This book would be great for a book club selection as there is so much to talk about: Wright's personality and aesthetic, women's roles, love and marriage, motherhood versus fatherhood, architecture, and on and on. All I knew when I pressed play was that Frank Lloyd Wright was an architect and that this book was about an affair. When listening to a downloaded audiobook, I do not have access to the book's back cover description so I totally missed the key fact that the book (as did their actual affair) culminates in a tragedy. I don't want to be a spoiler so I won't say what that tragedy is. Let's just say if you are listening to this story on your ipod in the middle of the night while nursing your baby and totally unprepared for certain types of events to be narrated, you will be mighty shook up. You might even have to go downstairs and play on the internet for a while to try to recover before you can go back to sleep. But then, instead of mindlessly cruising facebook, you might find yourself searching out websites about Frank and Mamah and the tragedy, further unsettling yourself. All said though, I am glad I listened to Horan's novel, despite being ill-prepared for what I heard.

Below are some books that I have been meaning to mention over the past few months. I don't have the energy to describe them and can't guarantee that you will enjoy them (not that I can guarantee that you will enjoy those featured above either), but I figure I will list and helpfully categorize them for you. If any of the titles or categories appeals to you and you want to know more about the book in question, just leave a comment or send me an email! Here goes . . .

Books in which unmarried young adults have sexual relations in their parents' homes:
Film Club: A Memoir by David Gilmour
Of Men and Their Mothers by Mameve Medwed
Slam by Nick Hornby
I Love You, Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle

Books that made me feel uneasy about young womanhood in America:
All We Ever Wanted Was Everything by Janelle Brown (also fits in category above)
Girls in Trucks by Katie Crouch

Books featuring characters who are English professors:
Lady of the Snakes by Rachel Pastan
Barefoot by Elin Hilderbrand
The Bronte Project: A Novel of Passion, Desire, and Good PR by Jennifer Vandever
The Professors' Wives Club by Joanne Rendell

Happy Reading!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Retail Beat: Not PSG, but SSG -- take it from me!

First off, I want to be clear that today's edition of Retail Beat has nothing to do with the holidays. The products featured would make fairly disappointing stocking stuffers as far as I'm concerned. Not one of these products was purchased on Black Friday or Cyber Monday. These are just some things I have discovered/re-discovered and wanted to share with you.

Product: J.R. Watkins Natural Home Care All Purpose Cleaner in the Aloe and Green Tea scent
Source: Target
Price: It's been awhile, but I'm thinking $3-4.

My college friends and I used to assign "code names" to guys we knew or wanted to know. One such person of interest was dubbed "PSG" by my dear friend and fellow blogger Actchy. "PSG" stands for "probably smells good." PSG probably did smell good, but I don't think any of us ever got close enough to make a good judgment. This cleaner, my friends, is SSG, as in SURELY SMELLS GREAT! I love, love, love the scent of it, and it seems to be a more-than-adequate cleaner as well (though, as I've admitted before, my standards are low in this area). If the promise of a smellsation does not draw you in, I will also add that this cleaner is supposedly all natural, that its label boasts (a bit pretentiously perhaps) "Conscience-Clearing Power" and urges you to "Free Yourself," and that its bottle is quite attractively retro. I also purchased the same brand of window cleaner in a Lavender scent. It is fine, but not the nirvana of the aloe and green tea variety.

Product: Johnson's No More Tangles Detangling Spray
Source: most retail establishments that sell hair products
Price: Again, can't recall, but I'm thinking $2.99

When my Bub goes out into the world, I like him to look freshly-scrubbed. Though he is always cute, NTB, he is even cuter when his hair does not lie flat on his forehead. I prefer it a bit feathered, if you will. I used to employ a little spray bottle filled with water to help me style his hair in the morning. That worked fine enough, but this spray works even better. I spray it on wet hair after bath and on dry hair before school. Just a little heavier than water, the spray helps me to deal with really challenging cases of bedhead. The main attraction, however, is that this detangling spray is another SSG item! I want to bury my nose in the Bub's hair because it smells so great, and I am sure his teachers want to do the same (not really, but I figure they may notice how good he smells!).

Product: Marshmallow Fluff
Source: any grocery store
Price: usually $1.29 at the Jewel

I've been a fan of Marshmallow Fluff for years. Near the end of my pregnancy with Little Bit, I rediscovered my love for the fluffernutter (peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwich) and have continued eating them these past five months since he's arrived. It's a great snack for ravenous nursing moms because it contains protein, is easy to make, and can be eaten with one hand. I enjoy my fluffernutters with a nice cold glass of skim milk. Awesome. I am currently rocking Skippy's natural peanut butter, but I'm sure your own peanut butter of choice would do nicely. My only recommendation is that you buy the jar with the red lid (as pictured) as opposed to the one with the blue lid that claims to be "jet-puffed." The red lid kind is just better. Also, make sure the bread you are using is as fresh and soft as is possible, which leads me to . . .

Product: Healthy Life bread
Source: the Jewel and, I assume most other grocery stores
Price: usually $2.50, sometimes $2.00

I have been a fan of Healthy Life bread for years. It is whole grain bread with a good amount of fiber per slice. It's not as soft as the Wonder you may remember from childhood, but it is soft for healthy bread and also only 35-40 calories per slice. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a hearty, dense, textured piece of bread as much as the next girl . . . but not for a fluffernutter. Plus, I find that many other whole grain breads are also high in calories. I prefer not to spend 150-300 calories on bread alone if I am making a sandwich. I also use this bread for the Bub's grilled cheese sandwiches.

That's it for this edition of Retail Beat. As always, I turn to you, readers. What smells and tastes good to you these days?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

As a feather? Not quite yet.

When I started this blog in July of 2007, I knew next-to-nothing about blogs, but I had started reading a few and feeling excited about the prospect of doing some non-academic writing. My brother Boo (The Intern) was living with us that summer and helped me come up with the name. "Not to brag . . ." is a phrase in frequent use amongst our family members and close friends, and when he suggested it, I knew it was the perfect name.*

Having chosen the name "Not to brag . . ." I started envisioning the blog. I imagined I would write about my daily triumphs and foibles. I imagined posting a "before" picture of one of my messy, cluttered, claustrophobia-inducing closets (or shelves or basically any flat surface in my home) and then an "after" picture of an orderly, peaceful, organized space. I thought I could post about my culinary endeavors and success stories. I thought I would teach myself how to thread and use my sewing machine and use the blog to show off the pillows I have been wanting to sew for years now, oh and that t-shirt quilt I have been intending to craft out of the two plastic bins of my husband's and my old t-shirts. I thought I would challenge myself to open up my craft cupboard (yes, I have one) and start using the materials inside, wowing you all with my hand-made greeting cards, ribbon belts, and use of scrapbook materials (though I threw in the towel on scrapbooking years ago, I still have all the funky scissors, patterned papers and crap). I also thought I could read one of the several unread books on my shelf--the titles that have moved with me to four different homes and still not been read. I thought I could visit museums, attend lectures, try new restaurants, and in general use the blog as a way to make the most of living in Chicago. In short, I thought the blog would be a great motivator for me to start doing some of the things--big and small--that I had always been meaning to do.

I also thought, back in July of 2007, that when and IF I finally finished my dissertation, it would be the ultimate occasion for a NTB. It sounds kind of silly, but that thought really delighted and encouraged me even though the finish line seemed far, far away. Wouldn't it be funny, I mused, if I posted on a Tuesday about how I color-coded my underwear drawer, NTB, or took all of my loose change to the bank, NTB, and then casually mentioned in my next post that week that I had earned a Ph.D., NTB.

I always imagined that as soon as I finished, I would be at the computer, crafting this post: the ultimate NTB. But here I am, five days after successfully defending, NTB, my four hundred page dissertation, NTB, trying to express how I feel and feeling a little stumped. Yes, I am proud of myself. Yes, I am relieved. I have been enrolled in school in some part of every single calendar year since 1978. Every single calendar year! And now, I am finished.** I thought I would feel light as a feather, but I feel a wee bit numb. I think it is still sinking in. I have more to say about how and why I feel so weird, but I have some sorting to do first.

One thing I feel for sure is grateful. I am grateful for my parents who are amazing pep talkers, cheerleaders, mind-readers, hands-on helpers, and models of generosity, kindness, and positive thinking. I am grateful for my husband who did not let me drop out of graduate school when the stress of my Ph.D. exams had me lying on the floor and crying, claiming that I wanted to quit because I was probably going to fail my exams. My hubby has encouraged me even though this academic endeavor kept us living a thousand miles apart for two years; strained our household finances (and I quote from earlier this year before Bub started (pre) preschool, "I guess I never thought we would be paying your tuition and the Bub's at the same time."), made parenting two young boys even more challenging, and made me difficult to live with at times. The chair of the English department congratulated me after the defense last Friday and then turned to my husband and wisely congratulated him as well.

Without turning into an Academy Award winner, I also am grateful for my beautiful, healthy, joyful boys; my awesome, hilarious siblings; my helpful and kind in-laws, my hard-working and patient professors; and all my friends (who encouraged me even though I fear my examination of female friendship in nineteenth-century America has made me kind of a shitty friend in twenty-first-century America, especially these past few months).

This post is not quite what I wanted to say, but I felt like I had to say something about the dissertation before I could start posting regularly about other things, which I plan to do. Please stay tuned because I am also grateful for all of you. Thank you for enduring the bragging, the rambling, and all those really lame posts about making soup. Thank you for your comments, which mean so much to me and which have brightened more of my days than you might think. Thank you for making me feel heard.

*The nuances of when and how to incorporate a NTB in conversation deserves its own post, and I believe LAP is the one most suited to write it.

**Finished except for re-formatting my dissertation, but that is more busywork than "thinking" work.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Talk Amongst Yourselves

I started crafting a Retail Beat post earlier this evening, but with a major dissertation milestone approaching on Friday, I just cannot concentrate on a blog post. Here are some things I am thinking about, that you may be thinking about as well . . .

My growing conviction that I am addicted to the internet, but in a positive way. I think blogging, facebook, and email enhance the quality of my life.

The new season of Top Chef . . . I'm excited and, as guided by the editors or my own patriotism, already annoyed by the European chefs.

I have considered a personal boycott of Target for the sake of my own self-respect and pocketbook, but I have decided that it is unrealistic in that Target is the most convenient place for me to buy some needed household items (for example, a humidifier shaped like an elephant and a portable heater, both purchased this week). However, I do think I can stop "Targeting," which is a new word I have coined to describe my habit of buying things I do not need in a temporary burst of heady, hopeful optimism that these things will improve my life/children/waistline/appearance/household, etc. I need to refine the definition, but that's a start. Just to be clear, I don't think "Targeting" only happens at Target. I do a bit of "Targeting" at CVS as well.

What I can do with the huge bag of potatoes I purchased at Costco. I'm thinking some kind of potato soup, but I want to make it in my crock pot . . . I also saw a recipe for crock pot German Potato Salad that may be worth a try.

The jeans I just purchased with my 30% off friends and family coupons . . . are they "mom jeans"? I didn't think so when I tried them on, bought them, and ripped the tags off, but now, I am worried. I know my hubby will give me an honest answer so I haven't asked him to weigh in yet.

Speaking of "weighing in," how might I drop the rest of this baby weight? I suspect eating less and exercising are options that I need to investigate.

Why do so many of these thinking points have to do with things I have purchased? Is that all I think about? Am I a mere consumer? Actually, you don't need to discuss that. The answer is "no," but that's all I have the clarity of mind to write about right now, that is unless you want four hundred or so pages about female friendship and democracy.

Okay, that's all I got. Discuss amongst yourselves.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Little Bit about Our Little Bit

Our Little Bit is four and a half months old now, and here is what we know about him. He smiles often, melting our hearts. He laughs out loud, filling us with joy. He slobbers a lot or, as the Bub would say, "a lot, a lot." He is a cuddle bug who until recently (as in, four nights ago when the hubby finally moved the crib out of the danger zone of Bub's room so Little Bit could start sleeping in it) did his best sleeping in bed between mommy and daddy. Whether he is wide awake and curious or ready to be soothed to sleep, Little Bit likes to be held facing outward. Little Bit loves bath time, especially when mommy lets him slurp on his wash cloth a little. Not to brag, but he loves his mommy (daddy too, of course) and will light up when he hears my voice or sees my face. His fingernails grow at the speed of light, and I am sad to report that, despite my clipping efforts, he pretty much always has some scratches on his face (and I, thanks to his affection, have scratches on my neck). He loves to grab my hair and hold on tight. He is not overly fond of bottles, but will take one in a pinch if the bottle-giver is willing to be patient and persistent. He very rarely cries in an inconsolable fashion. In general, he seems happy and content, far less restless than his older brother was at the same age. Little Bit will almost always fall asleep in his infant seat if you take him on a strategically-timed car ride or stroller walk. He adores his big brother and looks at him with pure admiration and enthusiasm, as if to say, "Whatever you say or do buddy, I'm with you." He laughs and smiles when the Bub gives him any kind of attention at all.

In short, Little Bit is so, so sweet.

Of course, there's still much we don't know about our Little Bit. There are the long-term unknowns--his passions, talents, dreams, goals--that my husband and I will delight in discovering and nurturing. There are near-term unknowns as well. For one, nights are still a crap shoot around here. We had a good stretch a couple of months ago wherein he woke up only once per night. That's no longer the case, and I am often feeding him two and even three times a night these days. Though he naps far better than the Bub ever did in his first few months, his naps are not yet long, regular, or taken in his crib. Other questions are still unanswered: Will his eyes remain bright blue like daddy's or turn hazel like mommy's and big brother Bub's? At what point will he begin sleeping through the night and taking regular naps? Will he be an early crawler yet late walker like his big brother? Will he like rice cereal when it's time or make a big mess of it? How long will he be nursing? Will he eat Gerber baby food lasagna as frequently and enthusiastically as his big brother did? Will he jump out of his crib before we are prepared for it (also like his brother)? Will he too become a master of the code brown? Will he one day resent us for comparing him to his big brother all the time?

These unknowns are less scary this time around. I don't find myself scouring parenting websites, consulting sleep books, and interrogating other moms as I did last time. It's not that I have all the answers, far from it. Rather, I think that I understand, more than I did with the Bub, that everything is a process and that what works for one child and his mom may not be right for another pair. When the Bub was an infant, I found myself frustrated when I did not know the answers and spent far too much time feeling like an inadequate, incompetent fraud of a mom. This time, I know to be patient with Little Bit and with myself. Everything will be okay, and the most important things are already okay and are even pretty wonderful, especially when I just let myself enjoy the journey. Whatever mistakes are made, I know that Little Bit will always know that his dad and I love him "a lot, a lot."

Little Bit's preferred "get to sleep" hold. Daddy (aka The Sandman) excels at this one.

Did I mention how sweet Little Bit is? NTB, but how can you doubt his sweetness when looking at this photo?

Bub loves to jump up and down so Little Bit loves to jump up and down (with Daddy's help).

And now, let me share a few lines from the Supertramp song I've been singing to myself since I heard it on the radio last week:
"Give a little bit / Give a little bit of your love to me / Give a little bit / I'll give a little bit of my love to you / There's so much that we need to share / So send a smile and show you care / I'll give a little bit / I'll give a little bit of my life for you . . ."

And of course, for my Little Bit, I want to replace "little bit" with "a lot, a lot."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ta Na . . .

I'm back . . . almost. I still have several dissertation and graduation deadlines in my future, but I met the most important one last week. As always seems to be the case with me, the exhilaration of finishing does not quite match the anxiety of preparing. I tend to focus on the next task instead of feeling relieved about the most recently completed one. Still, I am proud and pleased and looking forward to really having something to celebrate soon!

In the meantime, I thought I would share a few funny things my Bub is doing and saying.*

"That for me?" "You buy that for me?" "You make that for me?" -- Whether it is a box of kleenex, a new bottle of ketchup, a tube of Desitin, or a pan of brownies, the Bub seems endlessly delighted with the prospect that these items came into our home just for him.

"After nap, Barney coming over to play." "Pick up Caillou at Burger Ting [sic]." -- The Bub has imaginary friends now, many inspired by television characters. Considering my own past with Dandy and Shusha, I am thrilled by this development and play along as best I can.

"I want dog mine own." -- Bub told me this after he got to pet the dog of one of his classmates. I never in my whole life thought I would be a dog owner. I just didn't. But, my Bub loves dogs. Over the weekend, we visited Navy Pier and happened upon a pet-adoption event. Bub chose the ugliest, scrawniest, most pathetic looking dog in the place (seriously, the dog weighed like seven pounds and had huge clumps of lusterless gray hair missing) and gave him lots of love and attention. Though we are not ready to welcome a dog (and, I'll be honest, especially not the dog from the adoption fair) into our home, what with all the other poop we have to clean up, I now know it will happen one day. Bub's 7th Birthday, his Daddy hopes. I'll keep you posted.

"Peeze" and "Tank you." -- He's been saying these things for a while now, but they never fail to warm my heart.

"I made a lot of poop. I need a lot a lot of lemonems. Daddy lemonems." Though my attitude about the whole thing has relaxed significantly since it became apparent that he does not need to be totally potty-trained for his pre-preschool program, the Bub has caught steam lately. Just this evening, he pooped on the potty right before his bath. Loyal NTB readers know what a big deal it is for me to be able to discuss poop and bathtime together in a positive fashion. I purchased some M & M Premiums as a little birthday treat for the hubby (33 last Monday), and the Bub seems especially motivated by them as potty prizes (I haven't sampled them myself because they are mint, and I don't enjoy mint-flavored stuff -- these M & M's are beautiful though, little works of art and I'm not kidding).

"Ta na . . . " -- Said often with a huge smiles in situations where one might normally say "Ta da."

"I love my treasure chest." -- Bub found the "treasure chest" in the basement yesterday. I was mighty skeptical when my husband carried it upstairs for him, but after establishing a "treasure stays on the table"-rule, it has been great. He happily stacked, organized, and knocked over his "treasures" for a good part of today. The fact that the chest can be slammed shut and that it comes with a key for locking and unlocking (or pretending to do so) is an added bonus.

Here is the "treasure chest" . . .

Ta na!!!

Even as I write this, I regret the million cute things he has said and done over the past few months, NTB, that I have been too busy to record for posterity. Stay tuned.

What's the cutest/funniest thing a toddler in your life has said recently? Please share in a comment.

*A post devoted to my Little Bit is coming soon. I want there to be photos with it, and I am behind on my uploading. Let me just say that he is so happy and sweet that I almost forget that I still wake to feed him at least twice a night!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

RSVP: Enya or Salt N' Pepa? Classic Dilemma.

I am thrilled to present another fabulous guest post, courtesy of my dear friend Actchy. Back in 1994, a young woman from Jersey headed to the Midwest for college and ended up living down the hall from me. My friends and I (sophomores) and hers (freshmen) hit it off and have been "letting the dawgs out" ever since. Actchy and I have shared many laughs in many locations--from our dorm's study lounge (a funnier place than you'd think) to the arcade at the Santa Monica Pier where we showed the assembled crowd what was what on the Dance, Dance Revolution Machine. She authors her own blog, where you can read an account of a dentist visit that will have you crying with laughter or a story of singing that will make you smile and fill you with joy. Actchy is a writer, a foodie, an environmentalist, a musical theater geek, and an awesome friend. Enjoy her post . . .

I am expecting a baby. This baby, gender unknown, is due to arrive on Christmas Day. As I don’t have any other children, I’m not entirely sure what to expect in the delivery room. I’m not exactly scared, per se, but I have been thinking of ways to approach labor, of coping mechanisms, if you will.

You might suggest that the best way to cope would be to plan on a nice healthy dose of pain medication. You might be right. But I’m up in the air as to whether to have an epidural, or whether to go it alone. I’ve heard good and bad sides of both approaches. My sister, who is so woozy with respect to all things medical that she won’t let her husband watch “E.R.”, despised the after-effects of the epidural she had with her first child. She went natural for her second two. Other friends, including, I believe, NTB’s own MEP, found the epidural to be the best comfort-providing invention since they came up with the brassiere.

So I figure that I’ll play “wait and see.” Which probably means that I will, in fact, have an epidural.*

Irrespective of this, one thing I have decided will be helpful during labor is an Ipod stocked with appropriate childbirth music.

Now, as I have mentioned once or twice over at Beyond Pickles I don’t have particularly terrific taste in music However, I freaking love music. I will listen to and allow my mood to be shaped by just about anything: from classical music to classical rock, I’m all over the map. You can ask my husband. He is eternally bemoaning how annoying it is that we share an Itunes library:

“Seriously? You downloaded the live version of Sonny and Cher singing ‘I got you, Babe’… purposely?”

For the most part, I try to limit my listening to Barbara Streisand’s “The Broadway Album” to times when my husband is not at home. It’s only fair. Especially since there are some artists we like equally (read: Springsteen, Dave Matthews, Coldplay.) However, if there is one time when I get carte blanche to listen to whatever the hell I deem appropriate, it’s while I’m in labor.


Of course right.

And that’s where I’d like to appeal to the general readership of Not To Brag… Did you listen to music while you or your partner was in labor? What did you find helpful? Even if you have never given birth, are there certain songs you find inspirational? Ones that egg you on for another mile when you go running?

I really would love to know.

I’m not exactly sure what I’m looking for, so really, all suggestions are welcome. I know that in college, when a roommate would leave for an exam, we’d often play “The River” by Garth Brooks.** Inspirational, yes. But to me, this seems a little too slow for purposes of childbirth.

Who knows? My sister ended up listening to Enya, and that’s nothing if not slow. Actually, for the record, she continually asked her husband to turn the volume up on the Enya, for she “couldn’t hear it.” My poor brother-in-law, who is actually legitimately hard of hearing, ended up with ringing in his ears for two days, and had to apologize to the entire floor for the super-loud New Age dance party going down in Room 213. (Again, no pain meds…methinks the contractions took over her senses.)

When I jog on the treadmill, something I haven’t done for, oh, half a year now, I must admit that I am inspired by “Gonna Fly Now,” i.e., Rocky’s theme. (What do you want from me; I grew up just outside Philly.) However, I think if that were playing while I was in the throws of a contraction, it might be a little too…appropriate. Especially during the parts when there are actual words to the song: “Trying hard now…it’s so hard now…” I do sort of want to avoid the maudlin, if at all possible.

I’ve also always loved “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves,” by Aretha Franklin and the Eurythmics. It’s very powerful, and this sort of up-with-women message seems appropriate for the task at hand. Kind of Red Tent-ish, even. However, I don’t necessarily want my husband to feel…unnecessary. Or excluded. I mean, clearly I didn’t get myself into this condition by myself.

At this point, the only songs I know for sure I’m going to include on the playlist are the Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” and “Defying Gravity” from Wicked. Both are just so thrilling, but seem to allow me to concentrate when I’m listening to them.

Right. So, I won’t go through every song on earth; you catch my drift.

I hope you will help.

And really: no suggestions for “Push It.” We are above that kind of pun, no?

*Indeed, when I awoke in the middle of the night last week by a vicious charley horse, my first thought was, “Well, clearly I can’t handle natural child birth, for this leg cramp is about my threshold for pain tolerance.” Um, okay. Actually my first thought was, “WHAT THE @#*% IS WRONG WITH MY CALF? Followed by the aforementioned.

**Yes, I like country music. I can’t help it. I have to admit, when I arrived at my undergraduate university, fresh from New Jersey, I was astounded to find out that there were people my age who actually listened to country music. Back home, the country station was all the way the hell down at the far end of the dial at 92.5, clearly reserved for Pineys But in South Bend, there were, like, multiple country radio stations – and I went to parties where everybody sang along to country songs. Anyway, by the time I graduated, I was a fan. What can you do?

Thanks, Actchy! You never have to apologize for listening to country music at NTB! So, how about it, readers? Any suggestions for Actchy and her husband as they prepare to enter the delivery room and the world of parenthood?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

RSVP: Nonsense? That's Nonsense!

As the dissertation deadline draws closer, I am honored that so many NTB readers have answered my call for guest posters. Today's author even wrote his own introduction: "Well, MEP, I bet you didn’t expect this! This is DRPHIL38 who used to be the original DRPHIL but was preempted by a certain TV personality who now has a copyright on this name and therefore prohibits me from using it. For NTB readers, I am MEP’s father-in-law and proud of it. (NTB) Why wouldn’t I be, since she has produced the two most perfect grandsons I could ever want. (NTB) Here are a few ramblings that you might want to consider, forget, or just plain ignore." I am thrilled that DRPHIL38 was willing to post and want to add that that other Dr. Phil has nothing on him. DRPHIL38 is an excellent crossword puzzler, fisherman (won a fishing tournament this past weekend and $68 too, NTB), Mr. Fix It (who willingly takes on projects for me that his son either lacks time for or interest in), and father/father-in-law/grandpa. NTB. He titled this post "Here is some nonsense," but I disagreed! See above.

An amazing invention was the thermos bottle. Consider the fact that you put in something hot and it comes out hot; you put in something cold and it comes out cold. The question is: How does it know?

Is 12:00 at night really the beginning of the day or is it the end of the day. Since each hour has 60 minutes and each minute has 60 seconds it would seem that 11:59 still leaves a minute to go and that minute ends with 12:00 being the end of the day. Now if that is true, when does the next day begin? Since each minute requires 60 seconds, if we start after 12:00 the first minute will be short by a nano second at least. Can it be possible that the beginning and the end are the same?

Math can be confusing and not always tell the truth. Consider this: Three men checked into a hotel and the room was $30. So each one paid $10 and went to the room. After they had left the clerk discovered he had put them in the $25 room. So, he called the bellhop and gave him five one dollar bills and told him to go give it back to the men and to divide it evenly among them. The bellhop tried but could not make 5 divide by 3 and come out even, so to make it easy, he put two dollars in his pocket and gave each man back a dollar. Now here is the confusing part of this story. The room cost each man $9 and 3 times $9 is $27; the bellhop has $2 in his pocket. $27 plus $2 = $29. Where is the missing $1?

Directions, North, South, East and West: It is pretty easy to determine where North and South begin. At the North Pole and South Pole, right? In fact at the true North Pole and South Pole there is only one direction. At the North Pole it is South, and at the South Pole it is North. Think about it, since the earth is round it has to be that way, doesn’t it? So where do East and West begin? If I stand and look North, east is always on my right; West on my left. This is true if I am in China or in Europe. I really don’t know where East or West begins. I bet it’s like the beginning or ending of the day discussed above, elusive.

Well, MEP, if you publish this it may seriously damage your readership, so I leave it up to you.


I'm confident that DRPHIL38 has not seriously damaged my readership and thankful for his post! Currently, my brain is a bit too worn out to offer any answers to his elusive questions. Plus, math has lied to me quite a bit over the years. If you have any answers or insights, leave them in a comment. Or, share your own brainteaser!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Life with a craft machine or two

LAP is back. I apologize for not picking up more of Dr. MEP’s slack as she forges ahead with the last few revisions on her dissertation. I haven’t been inspired to write about anything in particular, but, as MEP reminded me in the guest post invitation, these topics don’t have to be mind blowing. On that note, let me share with you how I spent my afternoon…(this was actually my Tuesday afternoon, just waiting my turn in the guest post lineup)

We returned from preschool and our morning errands (read: meeting my mom and grandmother for lunch then hanging out at my grandma’s nursing home) around 2pm. It was a no nap kind of day around here so I knew I had a full afternoon with both of my girls. As expected, Fancy (age 4) requested that we fill this time with crafts. She stripped to all but her underwear. It had been picture day at school so I requested that she change into play clothes before painting, but she couldn’t be bothered with replacement attire when I had already agreed to a craft session. Swiper (age 2 ½) was on board for some crafting too. She’s not the self-proclaimed “craft machine” that her older sister is, but she more than dabbles. So, for those of you who wonder “What do you do all day when you are at home?” let me try to summarize for you how the hours of 2pm-6pm were spent today:

2pm: Fancy and Swiper paint flower pots
2:30pm: Fancy uses the leftover paint on a mini-pumpkin we had at the house. Meanwhile, Swiper is cutting looseleaf into as many small pieces as possible, looking up on occasion to proclaim “I love crafting.”
2:45: A demand for more crafts. I draw upon a ghost display I’ve just seen at my grandma’s nursing home. I sift through our basket of dum-dum’s* and pick out all the reject flavors. We proceed to make ghosts using dum-dums, tissues, markers, and string. These little guys are currently hanging from the light fixture above my kitchen table. We also make a few for some preschool classmates.
3:30: Swiper sits out a round of crafts to go play computer games while Fancy makes a card to give her preschool teacher. I’d describe the craft as mixed mediums: stamping, stickers, crayons, colored pencils. I get roped into making a card for her teacher as well because, after all, I am the helper tomorrow. We decide to sign it “LAP” instead of “Mom.” I will feel so cool handing it over to the teacher tomorrow, but I know better than to think Fancy will forget.
4:00: Swiper joins back in the crafting fun and starts to make a card for her preschool teacher but gives it to me instead, NTB.
4:15: Fancy fills a plastic cup with water proclaiming she is ready to use her watercolor paints now. She makes four cards to give to different kids in her class and churns out some abstract pieces as well. She also convinces Swiper to let her paint Swiper’s mini-pumpkin. Swiper is back to cutting and has no problem granting this request.
4:40: Swiper is starting to get into Fancy’s projects so I distract her with an offer to help me with dinner. She accepts but the offer is strong enough to pull Fancy away from the craft table (aka the kitchen table). Somehow, we end up making chocolate chip cookies, from scratch. Love of baking is a close second to love of crafts around here.
5:10: Dough in fridge, dinner is served in the patches of table space I have cleared. (FYI – BB is out of town and I am hoping the early dinner will help facilitate my plans for early bedtimes.)
5:35: Dinner is over. Fancy returns to watercolors, this time using stencils. Swiper helps me scoop the cookie dough onto the baking sheets.
6:00: It’s a slow process with Swiper as my helper. She helps scoop two of the three trays with me (“I’m really good at this mom.”), but ultimately abandons her duties to do one more round of cutting with the safety scissors. Unfortunately, she chooses to cut some stickers instead of plain paper this time, which angers and frustrates Fancy. The breakdowns begin. So, four solid hours later, we call it quits with the crafting. I’m able to motivate them to migrate upstairs for a bath, without even having to use the dum dum’s…

(bought in bulk at Sams as they are my go-to item for bribery…”get dressed and you can have a sucker”, “sit still for your diaper change and I will let you pick a sucker”, “no sucker until you eat four more green beans”…that’s not the kind of stuff that gets published in Parents magazine)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

RSVP/Book Beat: Small World, Small (?) Books

Today's guest post comes from E . . . who is one of my dearest friends. E . . . and I taught high school English in the same hallway for four years. A wonderful writer, poet, and reader, E . . . is the person whose taste in books and authors I most trust and with whom I love to discuss the literary world. E . . . is also a mentor of mine in motherhood and is doing a beautiful job raising her children O. and N. In addition to reading, writing, and mothering, E . . . enjoys improvisational cooking, surfing the internet, and watching many of the same television programs I enjoy. Visit her blog It's A Small World After All!

As you may or may not know (regular readers of mine may already be sick of hearing) we were recently without power for a week. While my television addiction was not cured by this cold turkey interruption, my reading habit got a chance to flourish.

Reading by candlelight sounds a lot more romantic than it really is. By the end of a day "camping" I was already exhausted. The prospect of another dark night interrupted by frightened and discombobulated children, followed by a morning without decent coffee made the eye strain seem not quite worth it.

I did, however, read several short books, and parts of a longer collection. Each has something to recommend it, but collectively, they are good choices if you're feeling bored or tired, or simply need something you can fit in around your tv habit. I'm not proud. Maybe when I don't get awoken at three a.m. more nights than not I can attempt Tolstoy. Until then, here are some short possibilities:

Good Dog. Stay. by Anna Quindlen
This one is supremely short. Not only is it under 100 pages, there are also pictures of dogs on every other page. Seems a bit like a publisher's money making pitch, but really, I would probably read Quindlen's grocery list if she published it. This is in the vein of other heart tugging, living-with-a-dog stories. I liked Dog Years by Mark Doty a lot better, but this one conveys the same ideas. Dogs change us, we're better for them, they connect us to our best selves. Good stuff.

What Now? by Ann Patchett
Another sort of "I wrote this thing, do you think it could be a book" book, one destined to be on the little table of gift ideas for graduation at Barnes and Noble. I really liked it anyway, the kind of book I was looking for ten years or so ago when I knew my life needed a change, but had no idea how to go about it. I don't think Patchett knows either, but she does make a case for recognizing the gifts of the stage of life you are currently in, whether it's where you envisioned yourself or not. She also plugs for finding your passion, but ultimately recognizes that it is the people, more than the experiences, that matter.

Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates
I don't think I can actually recommend this one, as I ended up with a sort of sick feeling from reading this one. But it's the kind you might want to read through if you're interested in being in touch with political history and its reinventions. If you haven't heard of it, it's the story of an unnamed senator and a car accident involving a young admirer who drowns. Sound familiar? I guess it's supposed to. Sound in poor taste? Seemed so to me. But mostly, I just didn't like the circular nature of it, covering the same ground over and over. The character insight into the female protagonist was interesting, but it felt better suited to a short story to me than this novella.

I Was Told There Would Be Cake by Sloane Crosley
If you've read David Sedaris and haven't really found anyone else to meet your humor needs in between his books, I'll propose this one for your consideration. Crosley is very funny, and if you grew up anytime in the 80's or 90's you'll get her references. She's brutal at times in her honesty, as in the essay about being a bridesmaid in the wedding of a friend she has not really seen since junior high. Her observations are spot on and hilarious, such as her description of constructing the bride's rehearsal hat out of ribbons at the bridal shower, and an elderly toothless aunt at the same shower gumming a white chocolate bride on a stick. I also enjoyed essays devoted to her embarassment about her unintentional collection of plastic ponies and to a move across town that required use of same locksmith twice in one day.

The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart edited by Robert Bly, James Hillman, and Michael Meade
While this does not really qualify as a "small" book, it is one that can be dipped into at your leisure, and I feel an obligation to make a plug for poetry whenever I can. It was originally published under the subtitle "poetry for men" but I'm glad that was dropped, because there is much to recommend here for both sexes. It would be a great introductory volume of poetry, with many of my favorite poems old and new together in one book. I've also made new discoveries along the way as I've sampled the sections. Follow the link to one I particularly enjoyed: Galway Kinnel's "After Making Love, We Hear Footsteps." Or to this old favorite: Ezra Pound’s “The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter”
Both have a bit of romance to them, enough to, dare I say, read by candlelight.
By the way, thank you to MEP for giving me this one as a birthday gift. What a treasure to have to mark my thirty-fifth year.

Thanks to E . . . for this post! As always, I ask: What are you reading (even if not by candlelight)?

Monday, October 6, 2008

RSVP: Let's Gossip, Girl!

I am excited to report that quite a few readers have answered my call for guest posters! I have decided to call the guest post feature "RSVP." Cute, huh? Today's guest post comes from A-The-Writer-Not-The-Tennis-Player. A and I were on the tennis team together in high school (a surprisingly competitive and successful team, considering that our get-fired-up song was "Brown-Eyed Girl"?!). A is an awesome tennis player and the sort of positive, fun person who is always enjoyable to be around. A is recently married and lives in Florida. Having noted that many NTB authors and readers seem to love television, she sent me this post on Gossip Girl. It's a helpful overview of the show and characters for those of you, like me, who have not yet developed this particular addiction . . .

Let's talk addiction. I used to smoke way back when. Long story and I can't be sure why I ever made that decision but either way, I was an addict. Alcohol: I am certainly not an addict, but I do thoroughly enjoy a glass of full bodied red wine. Gossip Girl: I know, I know...what a silly addiction but I am not ashamed to admit it. I love Gossip Girl. I love the teen angst. All I have to say is that I thank God that my high school (Go Rams!) was nothing like this. But seriously, are there high schools out there like the one in the Upper East Side? Sex. Drugs. Theft. Hot, well-dressed students. Affairs with married women.

Blair with her "queen" status, constantly looking for any attention she can get from her mother, Serena, her off again-on again friends. Her mother is a clothing designer and her ex is Nate. She is constantly trying to manipulate situations so she seems like the golden one.

Serena is supposedly the protagonist in this drama. She is beautiful and popular and up until the most recent episode, seemed to be morally set. She is evolving as the show progresses. The boy she loves is from "the other side of the tracks." She does have a shady past considering the drugs and alcohol and the sleeping with Nate who was dating her best friend, Blair.

Dan aka "lonely boy" is just trying to find himself and the writer inside him. I can understand that. I'm not going to lie, I have a little cougar like crush on him - in a very harmless, married way. I do relate to his character which is probably why I like him. His has a girl best friend, Vanessa. She is infatuated with Nate.

Chuck is the bad boy. He wants to be known as that but it is just a facade for a boy who had a lonely childhood. He's bored and like to keep himself busy with the things only money can buy. Give me a break though, high school student drinking scotch? I do enjoy his bantering/love triangle with Blair.

Nate is the "pretty boy" who deep down is a good guy. His dad is corrupt and he feels the need to take care of his family. He did have an affair with the married dutchess. My prediction is that he and Jenny will end up together at some point. Don't keep Vanessa out of his web of love interests though.

Jenny is Dan's little sister. Fashion inclined, she wants to belong. She wants to be an upper east-sider but doesn't like all of the games that go with it. Looks like Jenny and Blair who started off as enemies may turn into allies this season. She is the girl with the conscience who continues to defy her father over and over again.

Rufus is the father that keeps on being defied. He doesn't have the mother of their children around so he is just trying to do what's best. He is stuck in the atmosphere of high society but is still considered "poor." He has a very interesting past with Lily.

Lily is Serena's mother. She and Rufus used to date way back when. They feel in love but love couldn't survive their social differences. She just married Chuck's father which makes them step siblings.

Vanessa is Dan's best friend. She is the urban version of Serena. She and Dan are just friends but they seem to understand each other on another level. She cares for Nate but got blackmailed into not pursuing their relationship.

So those are the main characters. Doesn't it seem like they are all related somehow? I just figured out why I enjoy this show. Even though my high school and even college experience come nowhere close to the dramatics of this, I can definitely identify with a lot of the characters. I think a lot of people can. You usually know someone who wants to outshine the rest, especially when you are young. Hopefully most of us have that one true friend who understands us on a different level. I know I do and he happens to be of the opposite sex. Bottom line is that this show may not be so far fetched.

I just hope that if/when I have children and they attend high school, it is nothing like this. As a parent, I don't know how I wouldn't go off the deep end. Guess I won't be moving to the Upper East side anytime soon. I just don't think I'd fit in.

So that is my addiction. I'm so addicted that I write a blog about it. On the good side, it does give me something to look forward to after a long Monday at work. And apparently it gives me something else to write about. Gotta love the CW.

Thanks A-The-Writer-Not-The-Tennis-Player! So, what about you? Do you watch Gossip Girl? Any thoughts on the show and/or its resemblance to your own high school experience? What are you watching this Fall? It's all old favorites for me, though I have decided to give the Chef Jeff Project (Food Network) and The Starter Wife (USA) a try, plus, God forgive me, The Real Housewives of Atlanta (Bravo).

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Be my guest . . .

I'm going to level with you friends and readers. Posts on NTB have been sparse of late and the situation is not going to improve in the very near future. The good news is that the light at the end of the tunnel that is my dissertation is starting to burn very bright! My readers' copies are due in a few weeks, and my dissertation defense is scheduled for November 21st. Once the readers' copies are out, I look forward to posting more regularly, exercising, cooking meals for my family, cleaning my house, dealing with the clutter, and just breathing more easily in general.

In the meantime, I don't want you to stop visiting Not to brag . . . Instead, I would like to invite you (yes, you!) to consider contributing a guest post. If you already have a blog, a guest post at NTB would be an opportunity to draw attention and drive traffic to your blog (after all, NTB has hundreds of readers or, at least, a hundred readers). If you are thinking of starting a blog, posting on NTB would be a good way to get your feet wet. Even if you have no desire to blog, I guarantee the experience of having your words "out there" in the world will feel really awesome, especially when people read and comment upon them.

You may be thinking, "But I don't have anything to write about?" Please. You've read my posts. Poop in the bathtub. Trips to Trader Joe's. Soup. Everyday stuff is great. Share an anecdote about your kid/s. Tell us about what your family likes to eat for dinner. Share a recipe or two. Brag on yourself. Give one of NTB's regular features a try by writing your own Book Beat or Retail Beat column. Though this column is not as regular as I intended it to be, consider a Field Trip post. I also welcome posts about television: What are you watching this fall? Any insights on reality television shows? Is the new 90210 worth watching? What snacks do you eat while watching The Biggest Loser? The only real guideline is that the post not be mean-spirited or political.

If you think you're interested, please let me know in a comment or by email (mep at nottobrag dot net). You can send the post in an attachment, and I will even proofread it for you.

Pretty please. Thanks.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Speaking of ballroom . . .

It's early into tonight's episode of DWTS (new readers, that's Dancing with the Stars), and I just wanted to share a few thoughts about the new season based on last night's premiere.

The comedian Jeffrey Ross is not a smooth dancer, but I hope he stays around. He had the single funniest line ever uttered on an episode of DWTS. I've watched every season and loved almost every corny moment of it so I should know. After hearing the judges' comments, which included, not surprisingly, a reference to ballroom dancing, Ross quipped: "Speaking of ballroom, these pants are really tight." My husband and I cracked up.

Cloris Leachman is a hoot. The confusion. The comedy. The cleavage. The cussing. Of course, I was primed to enjoy her presence on the show based on some television viewing I did yesterday afternoon. With the rare opportunity to nurse Little Bit while watching the programming of my choice (i.e., NOT Caillou), I was disappointed to find the DVR cupboard bare and thus made do with some red carpet coverage of Sunday's Emmy Awards on the TV Guide Channel. DWTS alums Lisa Rinna and Joey Fatone interviewed Leachman, who had no idea that they were former contestants. She was a bit foggy throughout the interview, then suddenly reveals that at rehearsal in the ballroom for blocking purposes, she peed her pants. She went on to give more details. Lisa Rinna, bless her heart, stayed very professional and suggested perhaps a "pair of Depends." I have a soft spot for people who admit to peeing their pants. Most people who know me know how I personally delight in confessing about how I peed my own pants in the only 5K race I ever ran. It happened in 1998, and I'm still talking about it.

Okay, back to DWTS. Julianne is as cute as ever. Warren Sapp is adorable on the dance floor. Brooke Burke had a baby six months ago -- holy shit! The song selections seem to be improving. Samantha Harris's interviewing skills do not. I like the new girl partnered with Lance Bass. I finally know what people have been talking about with Kim Kardashian's booty and find myself liking her more than I anticipated (unlike LAP, I do not watch Keeping up with the Kardashians, NTB). Tom Bergeron continues to be the ultimate host -- quick, witty, lovable. The scores seemed a bit low, but by last night's standards, Susan Lucci and her teeny, tiny legs did not deserve three 6's.

Okay, now I have to turn my attention to tonight's episode. Any thoughts on the new season? Please comment.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Book Beat: Does this book make my butt look fat?

I've been planning to post a big old book beat that covers a lot of the reading I've done this summer (and it's more than you might imagine for a mother of a newborn, NTB, but mostly because of my audiobook addiction and my ability to read while nursing). I don't think I'm up for the task so I will just give you this post, inspired by my viewing of Biggest Loser Families and composed in my head during the two plus hours it just took to get Little Bit to settle down for a good night's sleep.

Loyal readers know that I love to eat, shop for, talk about, and think about food. I also like to read about food. So, here they are . . . MEP's recent reads that involve eating or (not) eating:

The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted: And Other Small Acts of Liberation by Elizabeth Berg
I love Elizabeth Berg and believe we could be friends were we ever to meet (and we could meet, as she does live in Chicago or maybe Oak Park). Her books are comfortable and pleasurable events for me. Many of the short stories in this collection feature women on and off diets. A couple of the stories make explicit references to Weight Watchers, which I enjoyed as I have counted points from time to time (though never attended meetings). Here are two passages from two different stories that I enjoyed:

Here's one:
“All the way to Panera, Laura has told herself not to get the bread as a side, get the apple. But when she gets there, she goes right ahead and gets the bread.”

I love this one because I tell myself the same thing before I go to Panera. Get the soup and salad pick two, but don't eat the bread. Don't eat the bread. But then I always get the bread, spread butter on the bread, and eat the bread. And, because Panera serves Pepsi products, I wash it all down with a Dr. Pepper.

Here's another:
“Skinny people look at fat people with disgust and have visions of them stretched out on fuchsia-colored silk sofas snarfing down Cool Ranch Doritos and Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey, but it isn’t like that.”

I just love any literary reference to "Cool Ranch Doritos."

Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir by Jennette Fulda
I am somewhat addicted to weight loss stories and found this one to be especially thoughtful as well as humorous. Fulda's weight loss is inspiring but her commentary on society and obesity is really insightful and not exactly what I expected to read (in a good way). Also, great title. Plus, Fulda's memoir started as a blog, which is pretty cool.

Through Thick and Thin by Alison Pace
This is a novel about two sisters and their efforts to work through some issues, lose some weight, and restore their relationship. I really enjoyed this novel, a breezy read but not one that lacks substance. I especially appreciated Pace's pop culture references, which I found right on and totally delightful. For example, one of Pace's main characters names her dog DB Sweeney after the lead actor in The Cutting Edge. I love that movie and love that she included that detail. Also, this novel makes me want to get a dog and try yoga. Wow.

Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper by Diablo Cody
Diablo Cody is famous now for writing the screenplay for Juno and for her Entertainment Weekly column. Candy Girl is her memoir of a year spent working as a stripper--for the challenge, for the personal satisfaction, as a social experiment, likely for writing fodder, and also for cash. I learned more about stripping and the sex industry than I ever knew I wanted to know and some things I'd prefer not to know. Cody is witty and has an eye for detail. I returned the book to the library before I could copy down one of my favorite passages, but basically it involved her description of gyrating in front of a man wearing a manwich-stained flannel shirt. See, manwich. Another book about food.

Okay, that's all for now. I need to be rested for when Little Bit needs to eat next.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

I knew we were soul mates, Eric Ripert.

A free, luxury-living magazine now comes with the weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal. This magazine is called WSJ. I flipped through it quickly, poised to toss it, but then noticed a page featuring Eric Ripert. Ripert is the chef of Manhattan's Le Bernadin. (No, I have not eaten there.) More relevant to my experience and interests, Ripert is an honored guest judge on my beloved Top Chef. Ripert is handsome. His French accent is soft and melodious. Unlike some other guest judges, he seems like a kind individual instead of an egomaniac. I don't know all that much about him, but I like what I do know.

The piece in WSJ features Eric Ripert sharing "his olfactory inspirations''--his thoughts on the smells and more of all kinds of items--from olive oil to windshield soap to raw tobacco. Two of the olfactory inspirations have convinced me that Ripert and I would truly understand one another.

Ripert notes the scent of basil as one that brings him back to his childhood on the French Riviera. He can even smell the different between American basil and basil from the Antibes. The scent of basil does not bring me back to my childhood in Fairfield, Ohio, and I admit I cannot distinguish various regional nuances of basil. I do love the smell and taste of basil as was, for a good portion of my pregnancy with Little Bit, obsessed with that particular herb.

Even more monumental than Ripert's mention of basil is his eloquence with regard to my all-time favorite beverage:

"I drink four Diet Cokes a day. It's rounder, fuller and richer than Diet Pepsi. I even like the smell of it. Diet Pepsi is a more citrusy flavor but it has a slight metallic taste. Regular Coke has too much sugar; I would go crazy."

Talk about true and beautiful words. To his words I would only add, "I even like the way I feel when I glimpse a chilled can of Diet Coke in my fridge." A talented chef with access to the world's finest ingredients who chooses to drink four Diet Cokes a day is a man I would love to meet. And, as we have so much in common, perhaps he'd be honored to meet me as well. NTB.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Visit it. Resist it. Admit it. Listen to it.

Another potluck post for your reading enjoyment . . .

Visit it: The Public Library! I do love books as physical objects, but I am really beginning to be overwhelmed by the number of books I own (don’t tell my husband). There are certain authors and titles that I feel the need to own, and I don’t see that changing. There are other books I really want to read but probably don’t need to own. In the past, I have often purchased these books anyway because the chances of finding them at my branch of the library were slim. Not now. The Chicago Public Library has finally gotten its act together online. I am enjoying the fact that I can finally renew books online. Even more than that, I am enjoying the ability to request books online. I place a book on hold, select the branch where I want to pick it up, and wait for the call that it’s available. Pretty sweet. Mostly, I request newly-published novels, but I am also into getting cookbooks from the library. I would not have wanted to buy Katie Lee Joel’s cookbook, for example, but I am curious to see her recipes and determine if she has more personality (i.e., any at all) than she managed to show on her ill-fated season as the host of Top Chef Season One.

Resist it: Target’s Archer Farms Whole Wheat Macaroni and Cheese. You’re familiar with Target, right? That big store where the customer service is indifferent at best and items are frequently out of stock and where you go on a weekly basis to spend way more money than you intended? Yes, I am familiar. Anyway, Archer Farms is one of Target’s brands. The packaging of Archer Farms products is attractive and the flavor combinations tempting. Recently, I noticed that Archer Farms makes like a dozen different kinds of whole wheat macaroni and cheese. Excited, I tossed a Buffalo Macaroni and Cheese, a Porcini Mushroom one, and a Savory Swiss. With Little Bit still so little and needing to nurse a lot and whatnot, meal times are all about convenience here. I thought these specialty mac and cheeses would be a tasty addition to the recent dinner rotation around here of Lean Cuisine pizzas, lunchmeat sandwiches, and Trader Joe’s prepared foods. So far, the results have not been that great. I generally have no problem with whole wheat pasta products, but this macaroni is chalky. More than that though, the flavor combinations disappoint; to quote the hubby: “They look good. They sound like they are going to be good but they’re just not there . . . they’re just a little bit off.” Added to that, you make one (smallish) box of this mac and cheese and if you eat the entire thing, it’s 900 calories. I admit I haven’t checked the calorie count on the Kraft or Annie’s boxes, but 900 seems very high, especially for an item that is being marketed as pseudo-healthy with the whole wheat pasta and all.

Admit it: I am a grocery store addict. I go too often. I buy too much stuff. I spend too much money. My pantry, freezer, and refrigerator are full. Strangely though, I usually feel ill-prepared to put together a meal. I need to start planning ahead, using my “reserves” before everything expires, and getting a grip on my grocery habit. I could say much more on this topic, but I’ve heard admitting you have a problem is the first step.

Listen to it: Julianne Hough’s self-titled CD. I purchased this CD at Circuit City the same day I scored my Wii Fit. It’s been in our car for a couple of months now, and I am loving it. First, I adore Julianne on my beloved Dancing with the Stars. She is a great dancer and teacher and so stinking cute. Second, I think she has a beautiful voice (as beautiful as her hair). Third, I spent years of my life as a huge country music fan and it is nice to be listening to country again. When I drive and listen to this CD, I am reminded of a younger and more carefree version of MEP who drove and sang along to country songs in a carseat-free sedan, sometimes on winding roads and on hills as opposed to on city streets lined up on a grid. I am thrilled with my life as it is now, but I do like to be reminded of the earlier versions of MEP. My favorite track is “My Hallelujah Song.” I genuinely find it inspirational. Some of the other tracks I enjoy because the lyrics are so country it’s ridiculous. Here are two of my favorite lyrical moments on the album:

From “Jimmy Ray McGee”:
Jimmy Ray McGee asked me to the senior prom
But I went on another boy's arm
Heard he made someone else a mom

From “Hello”:
So you met him at Shoney's and he gave you his card
And you said you'd go out Friday night
Well, he's a total stranger but he's tall and he's cute
Girl, am I getting this right?
Now didn't we cover all this ground last week?
When the last loser left you alone
Now here we are havin' the same conversation
And I'm wonderin' if there's anybody home

I’ve never eaten at a Shoney’s much less met a man there. NTB or my loss? I think they have a sundae bar at Shoney's so you decide.

Okay, that’s all I got for this Labor Day weekend. Please share your own visit it, resist it, admit it, listen to it list in a comment. Bloggers, consider your own post on the topic!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

At home with his gnome

I had a meeting with my dissertation director on Tuesday afternoon, and my aunt very kindly agreed to babysit Bub and Little Bit (Baby Boy's new blog handle and around-the-house nickname for now) while I was gone. She not only showed up early but arrived with gifts. An adorable onesie, a romper, and these super soft little footsie things called "flipper slippers" for Little Bit. For the Bub, she brought a gnome.

This gnome is pretty impressive, NTB. When you squeeze his toe, you can record a message. Then, you press his chest to hear it played back to you in a gnome voice. My aunt and cousin initially set it up to say, "Bubby is cool." He seemed to like that. He and I played around with the gnome later in the day and tested out some other messages: "Bubby is a great big brother." "Mommy and Daddy love Bubby so much." "Bubby is amazing" ("amazing" is one of his favorite words).

His favorite message continues to be "Mommy and Daddy love Bubby so much." There must just be something about being reminded of your parents love by elfin creature with a squeaky voice. Anyway, the other night before bed, I re-recorded that message for him and he kept pressing the gnome's chest over and over to hear about how loved he was. What cracked me up though, was his response. The gnome would say his piece, and the Bub would smile and say, "Tank you hon." Just really cute. NTB.

To my aunt, giver of the gnome, I say: "Tank you hon."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Me So Corny

Starting around 1995 or so, midway through my college career, I pretty much stopped eating popcorn, except at the movies.* I stopped eating popcorn not because I stopped liking how it tasted but because I became repelled by how it smelled. Hot, fresh buttered popcorn smells quite delicious. However, burnt microwave popcorn smells horrible. Horrible. Plus, the smell of burnt microwave popcorn lingers and seeps into your hair and clothing (in the same way that the smell inside a Subway restaurant does--how did Jared go all those years with that Subway stank?). There was a microwave in one of the common rooms of my college dorm, and it was frequently used for microwave popcorn. I'm telling you, spend ten minutes in there after a fresh batch had just been popped, burnt or not, and you ought to take a shower if at all possible.

Now I admit I am extremely smell-sensitive. My husband actually gets angry/frustrated with me when I complain about particular scents because they either do not bother him at all, strike him as "not that bad," or are not strong enough for him to detect period. I can't help it though. My smeller is my smeller so I avoid eating at Subway and run like the wind if I smell Bath and Body Works Cherry Blossom lotion.

Loyal NTB readers know I am no purist when it comes to food and no stranger to convenience foods. I am sure if I knew how to pop popcorn the old fashioned way (I do not and fear I would burn my arm with hot oil if I tried and burnt flesh would have to smell worse than burnt microwave popcorn) or owned an air popper, I would have started eating popcorn again a lot sooner. With microwave popcorn as my main option, I had just cut it out of my life. Until recently . . .

For whatever reason, I am now so corny. I am eating popcorn like it is my job. I have learned that if you read the directions on the microwave popcorn package and actually listen for and time the pops toward the end, you can avoid burning it. I have also discovered this whole new world of microwave popcorn. There are, for example, these Orville Redenbacher Naturals. The bags are small (perfect for one, in my opinion) and come in cool flavors like "Buttery Garlic" (more buttery than garlic-y) and "Buttery Salt & Cracked Pepper" (very tasty, lots of pepper). Orville also makes a nice microwavable Kettle Corn that is low in fat.

Speaking of Kettle Corn, how did I never know how stinking fantastic it is? Sweet and salty. Salty and sweet. Just like me. Of late, my corny self is constantly craving Kettle Corn. Instead of popping it, I have been buying it in bags. I started out with the kind in the red bag made in Popcorn, IN (apparently such a place really exists). They sell it as CVS, which means I have an average of five chances per week to re-stock it as the Bub and I don't often go two days without visiting CVS. Then, I bought a bag of Kettle Corn at Trader Joe's, and I think I'm in love. The TJ's brand is a tad saltier and the kernels are much bigger. The greatest thing of all is that while Kettle Corn is not a health food, it is not all that bad for you. Say, for example, you polish off an entire (non single-serving) bag over the course of the day . . . it's nothing to be proud of but it's really only an extra 500 calories or so, which leaves you better off than if you ate a whole bag of chips.

I also really love caramel corn, and I am fortunate to live very, very close to the main location of Nuts on Clark which sells some awesome caramel corn. Kind of like me and Dunkin' Donuts though, I can't really go there. I don't trust myself to enjoy caramel corn or donuts except on special occasions. I could easily develop a daily donut or caramel corn habit, and I have to guard against such food obsessions as I have enough already (see this and this for proof).

And speaking of corny, PITA hooked me up with my own copy of one of my family's favorite films: The Parent Trap starring Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills. I could go on all day about how much I love the original Parent Trap. I found Hayley Mills' hair as Sharon to be beautiful and her hair as Susan to be dreadful (what a crime that Sharon's had to be cut). I never cease to be amused by the scene when Sharon and her camp friends cut the back of Susan's dress at the dance and you see her granny pants. I love when the twins sabotage their father's engagement on the camping trip. Obviously, I love the "Let's get together" musical number. If you haven't seen it, you should. I pray that the Bub, Baby Boy, and whomever else comes along humor me in a few years when I try to get them to enjoy this movie. The best thing about the DVD PITA bought me is that it also includes The Parent Trap II, also starring Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills, which was a Disney Sunday Night Movie when I was growing up. We taped it and watched it quite frequently as well. Good stuff.

So me so corny, but what about you? Any food obsessions to share or corny movies to recommend?

*I love how many theaters now have the butter-your-own popcorn machine. As Sandra Lee says whilst piping store-bought icing out of a ziploc bag, "Be generous."
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