Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What is "shunting" and why does it sound sordid?

I apologize to you, my readers, that the posts of late at NTB have lacked both frequency and wit. I have no explanation except that I'm just not "feeling it" right now. (This seems a good time to mention that I have been overusing the phrases "I'm feeling it" and alternately, "I'm not feeling it" since my sister PITA's wedding back in July. Her photographer, who was awesome, narrated his artistic process throughout the day. He was often "feeling it," often inspired to say "bam," and often reduced to merely commenting "f---ing awesome." The day and the photos were f---ing awesome, NTB.) I think the winter weather has left me a little uninspired. Plus, my new year's resolution to buy less crap has kept me out of the stores as has the bub's new tendency to climb out of shopping carts despite being strapped in, resulting in limited new material for any "Retail Beat" posts and few opportunities to get into altercations with Target employees or random conversations with other shoppers.

I do want to share a few thoughts about a new and consistent presence in our household: Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends. Back in the fall my husband received a letter from Toys 'R Us, informing him that as male toddlers near the age of two, they become very interested in playing with trains. The letter included a Thomas the Tank Engine miniature train car and a coupon for additional savings on Thomas products at Toys 'R Us. This is ridiculous, I thought at the time. How manipulative! Do they think I'm just going to start shelling out hundreds of dollars for Thomas products just because Toys 'R Us told me (or rather, told my husband--did they figure dads are the real suckers and may have more cash?) my son should start liking them now. I was also kind of horrified to realize that they would conduct such a targeted marketing campaign to households containing almost two year-olds. But then, we visited an awesome train display and the bub fell in love. We then continued to indulge his obsession with choo choos. Now, thanks to a combination of our consumerism, Christmas, and bub's second birthday, we have no shortage of Thomas products: Thomas pajamas, Thomas sheets for the bub's toddler bed, a Thomas toothbrush, several Thomas storybooks, several Thomas DVDs, Thomas slippers, and about six miniature train cars of Thomas and friends.

I feel no shame about the new presence of Thomas and friends in our home. Many of the Thomas items were gifts. We have not invested in any of the "big ticket" Thomas items of the sort that inspire the horror stories I have heard of parents who have spent upwards of a thousand dollars buying Thomas crap. We're not there. We're not close. We're not even on that track. NTB.

Right now, Thomas and friends and really all things choo choo are giving the bub a lot of joy. For a couple of weeks, he took to taking three miniature train cars to bed with him at naps and nighttime. Let me tell you that it is pretty stinking adorable to hear the bub ask for "Percy" (pronounced something like Poowrcy) and "Toby." There is also a bus named Bertie. We don't have a Bertie car, but the bub speaks of him often--"Boowrty." The Thomas toothbrush has inspired a new dedication to oral hygiene, which is nice. He has several times fished his Thomas pajamas out of the dirty laundry pile and started stripping his clothes in order to put them on.

And, of course, the bub also loves to watch his Thomas DVDs and the episodes of the show that we DVR. The show seems harmless enough, if a little boring. I'm not sure what technology goes into it, but it appears to be just actual wooden trains and people that are just moved around and filmed. The human characters are especially wooden, as in made of wood and rather expressionless. One amusing thing is that the man in charge of all the trains (and seemingly the entire island of Sodor, where the show is set) is called Sir Topham Hat. Sir Topham Hat is short (shorter than Mrs. Hat, I've noted) and a bit plump. He wears a three-piece suit and a top hat and looks like the stereotype of the early twentieth-century industrialist or perhaps like the Monopoly guy. When Sir Topham Hat removes his hat, he is bald. Often when Sir Topham Hat is on screen, the bub calls out, "Da da Da da." Funny stuff.

Here is where I am a little hesitant. The plots of these shows seem remarkably similar. In just about every show, one of the engines makes a mistake or fails to follow Sir Topham Hat's instructions. The engines don't make mistakes just out of laziness though, nor do they blow off Sir Topham Hat in order to shoot craps in Tidmouth Sheds or overdose on coal or anything. The engines are usually careless when they are dissatisfied with the job they are given. For example, Percy is told to deliver coal, but he wants to deliver rides for the carnival like the other trains. So, he ditches the coal and travels around seeing if they other engines with more glamorous cargo (and schoolkids cheering as they pass with bumper cars and such) need any help. Then, all the trains run out of coal and Percy has to hustle to do his original job. The lesson is the same at the end of every show. No matter what engine is featured, he/she learns that what matters most of all is being useful. I would go so far as to say that usefulness is the highest value on the island of Sodor. I don't have anything against being useful, but something about the constant harping on it makes me uncomfortable and smacks of poor Boxer and the glue factory. At this point though, I don't think the bub is actually following the plot so I won't worry that he is being brainwashed.

My only other concern is one of vocabulary. There's a song about Thomas and his friends that is often sung on the show: "They're two, they're four, they're six, they're eight / Shunting trucks and hauling freight / Red and green and brown and blue / They're the really useful crew . . ." See title above.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Music Scene Queen

NTB, but I've got three different music-related experiences to relate.

1. Once: As part of my New Year's resolution to use what I have, including my Blockbuster online membership, I recently watched the film Once and completely loved it. Once is set in Dublin and features a Hoover (that's what they say instead of vacuum in the UK) repair guy who also sings, plays the guitar, and writes songs. While playing his music on the sidewalk, he meets a woman from Eastern Europe (I didn't catch which country) who loves his songs and is a piano player herself. The movie is a musical, but doesn't feel like one in the same way that, say, Dreamgirls does. The story is just lovely--people finding, supporting, encouraging, inspiring, and enjoying each other. The ending is not exactly Hollywood but it is right and satisfying in its own way. Most of all, I loved the songs featured in the movie. The lead actor and actress are both musician/songwriters. If you click the links above, you can read more about the film and hear some of the songs. One warning is that, as with many movies set in England and Ireland, it is not always possible (at least for me) to catch every word the characters are saying, even though they are speaking English. Don't worry though, this movie is less about what is said so much about what is sung and what is understood through song.

2. Altar Boyz: One of our friends organized an evening out to see Altar Boyz at the Drury Lane Theater in Water Tower Place. I said "yes" and secured a babysitter without even asking what Altar Boyz was about. I totally enjoyed the show. Altar Boyz tells the story of a Christian boy band on the last night of their "Raise the Praise" tour. The music was great, the boy band dance choreography was hilariously impressive, and the story was really funny without being offensive to organized religion. It was just a lot of fun and if you're going to be in Chicago (or live here), you should check it out. The show is only ninety minutes and unless you are so hard-core religious that you can't laugh at yourself, I think you'd enjoy it. The only moment I didn't get was when one of the boy band members (the band is made up of four Catholics and one Jewish guy) says not to use the word "evolve." Growing up Catholic, I don't remember being taught any sort of anti-evolution agenda. So now I'm curious, did the topic just not get addressed? I know for sure none of my teachers was offering up Creationism as part of science class. All of that is just a tangent though and the evolution comment was not an integral part of the show at all. Back to the main point, Altar Boyz was a lot of fun and you should see it!

3. Girl Talk: I'm so pumped up. I'm heading over to the Metro on Clark Street to see the Girl Talk show. It's going to be awesome. I love DJs who mix and sample a bunch of stuff. Night Ripper is so dope. I can hardly wait until 11:30 p.m. this evening when the show starts.

Gotcha! Obviously, I am not attending this show and would not even know about it if not for the fact that our nephew (half of Summer 2007's Team Basement and an integral player in the carpet debacle of '07) was not currently sitting in our basement with six of his friends from the University of Illinois, waiting to walk over the the show and then crash in our basement man cave afterwards. The hubby and I will look forward to hearing all about it tomorrow, and I have to say that after researching Girl Talk to write this post, I am officially intrigued. But really, an 11:30 start time?! I do admit to being jealous of the cheese fries they are planning to eat at Wrigleyville Dogs after the show. Perhaps I'll set my alarm and meet them.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

. . . and I'm not even Suri's mom.

My sister LAP and I were laughing on the phone today because we both saw the same (or similar, I couldn't recall exactly what show I had watched, The Soup? Best Week Ever?) clips of Katie/Kate Holmes' appearance on Good Morning America. The clips are hilarious because Mrs. Tom Cruise shows like zero emotion or enthusiasm, even when talking about her daughter Suri. One of the witty commentators on the show I was watching claimed it was like Katie was talking about some stranger's kid she met once. My sister caught a clip that basically involved Katie telling a really boring story about being able to hem her own pants in a bind. Another of the commentators was joking, "Wow, Katie Holmes really has a way with an anecdote." Not.

I might have pulled a Katie myself in my above attempt to describe the humor I found in watching others mock her a bit. But all of this Holmes talk is just to avoid the post I was tempted to write which basically would have been yet another boring account of a soup I made that was fine, good even, but nothing special. Was it the fact that I added an extra half a cup of chicken broth that it lacked a little something despite receiving a five-star writing on the website where I found it? Would the fact that I used turkey from a breast that had been in my freezer for a few months now (and thus fulfilled one of my New Year's resolutions to use what I have) have made the story any more interesting? The answers are likely no and no. If you're at all curious though, it was Fiesta Turkey Soup and if you clicked the link to find the recipe, you may be wondering if I made the Green Chile Biscuits . . . unfortunately, I did not. Clearly there is nothing to brag about here.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Book Beat: Three Titles

Here are some recent reads you may enjoy.

1. The Flawless Skin of Ugly People by Doug Crandell: This book is a fast but definitely not mindless read. There are some tough moments in the book, but ultimately it is a beautiful story that left me feeling hopeful. To quote Tom Perrotta's blurb on the cover, it is: "A strange, tender novel about love and shame and the multitude of ways in which people come to care for one another." I think it would be an ideal book club selection as it is an easy and quick read with plenty to discuss: spirituality, abuse, shame, secrets, love, marriage, acne, suburban anonymity, what defines a family, and much more.

2. Getting Rid of Matthew by Jane Fallon: This book is set in London, always a bonus for me. It has some amusing and witty moments and more to grapple with than its chick-lit-ish premise would suggest. It's the story of Helen who decides, once her lover finally leaves his wife for her, that she no longer wants him. Her attempts to get rid of Matthew while at the same time befriending his wife make for enjoyable reading. I listened to this on my ipod, but I don't think it's the kind of book that can only be enjoyed as an audiobook.

3. Housekeeping vs. the Dirt by Nick Hornby
: Nick Hornby writes (or wrote? I don't know for sure what the status is) a book review column for a magazine called The Believer. This book is a collection of these columns. I love Hornby's sense of humor and love to read about possible titles to add to my "want to read" list so this book was ideal for me. What I enjoyed most was Hornby's introduction. He does a great job of talking about books and reading habits in a way that is not at all elitist. He stresses that some people are so hung up on what they "should read," that they don't read, don't read enough, or don't read books they actually enjoy.

What are you reading?

Friday, January 18, 2008

O Rodeo, Rodeo, Wherefore art thou Rodeo?

In the spirit of LAP's tribute to the golden arches, I would like to pause and share some thoughts on another fine establishment. Around 1999-2000, I developed a Burger King habit. By habit, I don't mean that I began going to Burger King once a week. I mean that I began going through the Burger King drive-thru every morning on my way to work. Every single morning. On Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, I ordered a plain biscuit and a large Diet Coke. On Wednesdays (hump day) and Fridays (as a TGIF treat), I ordered cini-minis and a large Diet Coke. I would not allow myself to begin eating these breakfast treats until I arrived at school (a good twenty-five minutes before I needed to be there). I would then turn on only one set of my classroom lights and sit in the semi-darkness at my desk. I would check email (I had no at-home internet access back then) and enjoy my breakfast. Looking back, I can see that this was a sad little ritual. At the time though, it was so important to me. Some mornings, it was only the promise of Burger King that got me out of bed, as in: "If you get up now and skip the shower, MEP, you can still get to Burger King."

One bonus of my Burger King habit was the friendship I forged with Jackie, the early morning assistant manager who ran the drive-thru window. Jackie had to get to Burger King at something like 4:45 every morning. She, her husband (a truck driver who was never home), and her daughter were living with his parents while they saved up for a house. We ended up exchanging Christmas and birthday gifts. We did not have too much time to talk each morning, but I always appreciated her positive attitude so early in the morning. My first year in Chicago, Jackie ended up taking a job as a teacher's aide at the high school where I worked. Who knows how our friendship might have blossomed had I stayed there another year.

I am fortunate enough to live within walking distance of a Burger King now, though I haven't befriended any of its employees . . . perhaps because I thankfully no longer need Burger King on a daily basis. In fact, I'd wager I had cini-minis less than 5 times in all of 2007 and not once so far in 2008. I do have a new Burger King obsession though (probably a once, maybe twice, a week thing): The Rodeo Cheeseburger.
Most people are unfamiliar with the Rodeo and so I actually consider this post a public service. The Rodeo Cheeseburger is about the same size as a regular cheeseburger, but it is topped with cheese, barbecue sauce, and--drumroll please--three perfect Burger King onion rings. It's got flavor and crunch (thanks to the onion ring) in a compact and inexpensive--it's a value menu item--package. Tastes so good when it hits your lips. From time to time it disappears from the BK menu, and those times are tough. But it's there now, and I want it that way. NTB.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Bubdate: It's Potty Time

Wow, it's Thursday already and no post since Sunday. This week has really flown by. My mom is in town watching the bub so I have been working my tail off on my dissertation. It is so nice to have the company and the help, NTB. Just a couple of bubdates for you:

1. The bub has a new potty. It was a birthday present from me and the hubby (shady, I know). Since he's just two, I don't have any real immediate agenda when it comes to potty training. The current plan is just to see what happens. What's happening is that the bub is quite fond of the potty. NTB, but he has peed in the potty about six times (to much fanfare) and poo pooed twice (to much fanfare). He is nowhere near the point of being able to tell us when he needs to go, but if I strip him and seat him at the potty, he can usually deliver something. One interesting fact is that he so far likes to sit at his potty completely naked from the waist down, not even any socks. I may need to work on the socks part as it would be inconvenient and unsanitary to have him sans socks--a la Britney Spears*--once we reach the public bathroom stage (which I dread). The whole potty process gets a bit interrupted because the bub likes to stand up every 20-30 seconds or so to inspect the goods in the bowl. He also is over-fond of toilet paper, but who isn't? The potty's greatest feature in the bub's mind is that when its lid is down, it makes an ideal step stool, convenient for the endless hand-washing that he favors. The coolest feature that he does not know about is that it is a musical potty that is supposed to break into song when the goods hit the sensor. It does not seem to be working properly though, and I threw away the potty instruction manual, thinking, "I know how potties work." Ah well.

2. The bub has mastered the door doo-dads that we had on many of our doors to foil him. These baby-proofing items are intended to keep him from entering the bathroom, the pantry, the junk closet (where we store the "da-doh," that's play-doh for non-regular readers), and the steps to the basement. Obviously, this development presents a variety of challenges. Due to the bub's penchant for obsessive hand-washing, we have taken to locking the bathroom door from the inside and storing a key (courtesy of our home's former owners) above the door molding . . . nice feature when you're in a hurry.

3. The bub's switch to mustard as his condiment of choice was short-lived. That's what I get for (not) bragging about his new health-conscious ways. Now, he prefers a trio of condiments at every meal. It's become a routine. As his protein is cooking, he makes his request: "Ranch, mus, ketch." And I oblige. I dutifully squirt ranch dressing, ketchup, and mustard on his plate for all meals requiring dipping sauces (which is almost all of his meals). Last week, as he was eating dinner, I decided to make myself some tuna salad. It just sounded good. The photos below show how the bub occupied himself while I, a mere five feet away, busied myself with chopping celery and such.

Perhaps he felt his hair needed more conditioning?

Not to worry. I'll make sure he does not do the same with the goods in the potty. NTB.

*Really, it's not the time for Britney jokes. She is in serious trouble.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Chips and dips and dips and dips

Growing up, I loved traveling to "Joecago" (my name for Chicago, possibly inspired by the fact that it was my Uncle Joe's family who lived there) to see my cousins. I have great memories of visits to the beach in Wilmette, going to the Cubs game on batting helmet day (were you there LAP? no? sorry to bring it up), games of TONG, competitive puzzle doing, and marveling at how my cousins pronounced words like "barrette," "car," and "milk." I also have a distinct memory of my cousin preparing dip for chips. She took a container of sour cream and then added seemingly every spice in my aunt's cupboard along with something I now know to be Worcester sauce. I don't know if it was just having seen the dip being made or being slightly in awe of my older, cooler, wiser cousin, but I have fond memories of dipping chips into that dip.

I ate my share of chips and dips at home in Ohio too, but as my mom would not have looked kindly upon my raiding the spices to concoct something, I had to make do with store-bought French Onion dip. It was still darn good. NTB. Chips-and-dip was the kind of snack I might have indulged in after school while watching Kate and Allie reruns or on a weekend night watching the Miss Teen USA Pageant with friends. (Obviously, this was back when you did not need to be a size zero or two to compete in such pageants or enjoy them as an adolescent girl.)

I don't eat chips and dip much anymore, mostly because I don't allow myself to buy chips very often. I don't buy chips for the same reason I don't patronize one of three Dunkin Donuts that are located within two miles of my house: I just can't open that window, lacking moderation as I do. Can I see myself eating donuts three and four times a week if I were to begin? Yes, I can. Can I see myself polishing off a bag of chips fairly quickly. I always feared I would.

In preparation for the holidays, my mom spent some time on the internet searching for new recipes. She was not looking for a dip recipe for potato chips, but she happened upon and was tempted by one that came with a testimonial from a woman who brought it to her office party and then took home a container that was scraped clean. My mom was sold and when our family celebrated Christmas on December 26th, Baked Potato Dip was on offer. I couldn't get enough. I liked it so much I made it for the bub's birthday party. I liked it again. And, I am pleased to report that there are still chips in the house, but I have been enjoying them (and the dip) in moderation. NTB. Perhaps 2008 will really be my year. I recommend this dip recipe with two caveats. I did not use bacon bits but the Real Crumbled Bacon package that Hormel makes. Also, the dip is quite thick so you will need sturdy chips. Happy Dipping.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Cozy Tea Television

Starting this Sunday, January 13th, PBS's Masterpiece Theatre, now just called Masterpiece I believe, will be airing "The Complete Jane Austen" over the next couple of months. There will be films of all of her finished novels, plus a Jane Austen biopic. I may be wrong, but it looks as if all the productions are new with the exception of the Pride and Prejudice one (but really, how can one improve upon Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy?). I am really pumped up to fill my DVR with these films. They will be perfect winter companions! Consider tuning in.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

All these worlds of words: who knew?

As I think I've mentioned before, the hubby and I subscribe to Blockbuster online. This service is similar to Netflix. We pay a monthly fee and can have unlimited DVDs (two at a time) each month. Plus, with Blockbuster Online, we also get a certain amount of free rentals in the store each month (which, I might note, we have not once taken advantage of). This system sounds like a good idea, especially for a couple whose social life is not what it once was--what with the bub needing so much supervision and attention and all and babysitting being, if not prohibitively expensive, not cheap and kind of a pain to arrange. You would think we could turn over our two DVDs several times each month, especially lately with the writers' strike. But we do not, and the main reason is because my hubby and I have never agreed about what constitutes an enjoyable movie-watching experience. He wants to watch things like Live Free and Die Harder and Bourne Ultimatum and The Fast and the Furious. I want to watch chick flicks and independent films I read about in Entertainment Weekly. We end up alternating choices so that there is typically a MEP and a hubby selection on the mantle at all times. There are movies we can enjoy together--recent examples include Superbad and Knocked Up--but most of the time the movies don't get watched because we won't watch them together.

A few months ago when my mom was in town visiting and the hubby was at a work dinner, I took advantage of the situation to suggest that my mom and I watch Wordplay together. This documentary follows several competitive crossword players through various tournaments, including the national championship. Wordplay features lots of interviews with Will Shortz, the New York Times editor who is the god of the crossword, as well as celebrities, like Jon Stewart, who love crosswords. The film also gives some air time to some of the puzzle makers. I never stopped to think about the fact that creating crossword puzzles is someone's job and an art and a science. My mom and I ended up being completely delighted by Wordplay. We certainly weren't tempted to become crossword fanatics, but the film leaves you feeling really happy for people who have this passion and for the community of highly-competitive crossword puzzle people that exists. One scene shows a variety show in the evening of one of the crossword tournaments. Good, heartwarming stuff. I just really enjoyed Wordplay.

Inspired by this experience, I added Word Wars: Tiles and Tribulations on the Scrabble Circuit to my Blockbuster queue. This Sunday evening my parents were in town visiting and I suggested watching Word Wars together. The hubby was not enthusiastic (I have tried to get him to watch it with me for the past seven weeks or so), but he decided to be a good sport about it. My mom and I rehashed how much we had enjoyed Wordplay and were optimistic that my dad and hubby would be pleasantly surprised with Word Wars. Not so much. My dad checked out after 30 minutes or so, first by falling asleep and then by leaving the room. The hubby made it through the entire film, but I would not say he kept his disapproval/disdain to himself. Here's the thing. While Wordplay made me feel happy and almost inspired, Word Wars left me feeling fairly sad. The tagline for Word Wars is "This is not your grandmother's Scrabble." I'm fairly sure my grandmother never took a train cross country to a Scrabble tournament in San Diego nor made a side trip to Tijuana to visit a hooker. I'm fairly sure my grandmother, an excellent card player who could likely kick serious ass in Scrabble if she applied herself to it, would not endorse any individual's plan to try to make a living by playing in Scrabble tournaments and playing Scrabble for money with other jobless Scrabble fanatics. I know, I know. Who am I to judge? I guess I just felt more concerned about the role of Scrabble in the lives of three, if not all four, of the players featured. Imagining their lives without Scrabble is even more depressing though. As I was with Wordplay's puzzlers, I am in awe of the way that an individual can hone a skill like Scrabble-playing. In a way it's a testament to how much the human brain is actually capable of processing, and that's cool. But the Scrabble players themselves made me more sad than inspired at the end of the day.

With the writers' strike continuing and my New Year's resolution to use what I have, including the Blockbuster online membership, I'm going to need movie suggestions. What are yours?

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Lacking only a Lachey . . .

On Friday night, my mom, LAP, and I drove to the All State Arena in Rosemont, IL to enjoy the Dancing with the Stars tour (presented by Soft Scrub). I got the tickets for my mom for Christmas, and LAP drove to Chicago (and home the very next day) all in the name of the family love and DWTS fanaticism. Our seats were good, though I had hoped and was willing to shell out for better. I'm still trying to figure out how one can be on ticketmaster.com the very minute tickets go on sale and get shut out. I got through on the phone one minute later and scored seats in the last row (but in a good middle section). I ignored all the "Ticketmaster sucks" rumblings when they were in reference to Hannah Montana, but now it has hit home. Ticketmaster does suck.

On to the good stuff though. The tour is pretty stinking awesome. The level of dancing is really high, the live music rocks, and there is just the right amount of DWTS cheese (e.g., Joey Fatone comparing himself to Justin Timberlake by claiming that J.T. might have brought sexy back, but Joey Fat One is bringing "cha cha" and then "chunky" back. Joey also made fun of his own big butt, which was amusing). We were initially disappointed to realize Wayne Newton was on tour because watching him dance is a bit painful. We were delighted to discover that he actually only sings, not dances. Great news. Besides Joey Fatone and Wayne Newton, the other "celebrities" in the house were Monique Coleman, Joey Lawrence, and Sabrina Ryan (my girl Sabrina was on the floor with the pros for much of the night). We were mightily relieved that Marie Osmond was not on the slate for the Chicago show. Given the unreasonable and perhaps inexplicable affection and loyalty my sisters and I have for the Brothers Lachey, it was a blow that Drew was not at our show (for the record, he is tied up hosting Dance War.) My dream is to see a DWTS show in the 'Nati, where Drew dances, fellow DWTS alum Jerry Springer makes a special appearance, and Nick sings just one song. Oh, and Tom Bergeron hosts (not because of a Cincinnati tie, just because I adore him). We'll see what the tour schedule for this summer looks like.

And, of course, no account of the DWTS tour would be complete without mention of my favorite professional dancers. Cheryl, Karina, Kym, and Edyta were all there, as were Louis (who choreographs the whole show), Alec, Mark, and Derek. Kym and Derek are on the floor for practically every number, and they rock. The deliciously arrogant Maks was not there (he's not on the tour), nor was Julianne, the reigning two-time champion and cutest girl in the world (she is on the tour for selected dates only). Oh, I almost forgot Brian with the cute butt and large nostrils. He was there too. One dirty little secret about the DWTS tour is that there is also a group called the "company dancers" who are on the floor quite a bit. It's not that they're not good dancers, but they're not, you know, "stars" (even C and D list ones) or the dance pros we've come to love.

I think that's all there is left to report. Friends of ours are attending the Cincinnati show next week and sitting in seats at tables right next to the dance floor. They're going to have a blast and may even get a little Lachey. Good for them.

Monday, January 7, 2008


Finally those New Year's Resolutions.

But, first off, I have to note that today my bub turns two! As I often say to those who ask me how I'm enjoying motherhood, some individual days with the bub are quite long yet time in general flies. Strange phenomenon. The bub looks like such a big boy to me now and surprises us everyday with new words and new skills. One of my New Year's Resolutions is to be the best mom I can be and try to enjoy the moments with my bub since everyone tells me I am going to blink and he is going to be all grown up. In the same vein, I obviously want to be a good wife, daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, niece, and friend. I think I do pretty well in those roles now, NTB, but there is always room for improvement.

By this point in 2008, I've ready several pieces in my many magazines and in the newspaper about making New Year's Resolutions. The proffered insights and advice range: don't make resolutions, don't set yourself up to fail, make attainable resolutions, eat more fiber and whole grains, drink more water, use this chance to take stock of your goals and priorities, make 2008 the best year ever, and etc. The best resolution essay I came across was by Elizabeth Berg in this weekend's Chicago Tribune book section. Berg's resolution is simple: read one hour a day. Simple but meaningful. She admits it will not be easy to pull off, but her thought process in choosing this resolution and her reflections on the joys of reading made me wish her (and myself) much success in the endeavor.

2008 is going to be a busy year for me (more on that in a future post) so I am trying to make my resolutions that are focused and which will improve my quality of life. Should I eat better and exercise more? Sure, but these goals are low priority for 2008. Should I watch less television and read more books? Definitely, but I think the writer's strike and my increased academic workload are going to take are of this priority shift without me having to do much.

So, I'll tell you what I want, what I really, really want to resolve for 2008.

1. Finish my dissertation by June. Defend said dissertation sometime in the late summer or early fall. Graduate and earn the right to be called Dr. MEP (if I so choose) by the close of 2008. Honestly, this is the only resolution that counts. I am so ready to move to the next stage of my life, whatever it holds, and to close the graduate student chapter of my life. Please pray for me and/or offer to babysit the bub!

2. Clean house. I'm not talking about dusting and bleach and that kind of cleaning. I'm talking about ridding my house of about 50% of the crap that's inside. I am not at the levels of the hoarders who are featured on Oprah but I sympathize with them. I also know that hoarding can be a sort of disease and that it might be in my blood, God Bless my dearly departed Grandma P. I am a self-professed "crap magnet" and my shelves and closets and flat surfaces are full of junk that I don't need. Much of the junk in my house has either been purchased or saved with the best of intentions and a strange confidence in my own creativity and resourcefulness. I need to get real about what I have time to do and how I consistently choose to use the time I do have (snacking, watching tv, and reading novels--not making handmade cards or elaborate scrapbooks). Besides crafting supplies, knick-nacks, and piles of unread magazines, I also have clothes I don't wear and won't ever wear. I have books that I bought on sale or out of a sense of obligation or "should read" or misguided virtue. I've heard the organizing guru Peter Walsh talk about the "trash bag tango" where you fill two trash bags a day with stuff to throw away or give away. I can't say I can fill two bags everyday, but I need to start getting realistic about what I will actually use later. Note to my hubby who is hopefully encourage by this post: I will need your help hauling these bags to the trash or to the back of the car to be taken to the Salvation Army. The more you sigh and roll your eyes at the task, the less motivated I will be to continue getting rid of crap.

3. Buy less stuff. No matter my means or stage in life, I have always been a somewhat impulsive, thoughtless spender. Luckily, I have never had any major incidences of credit card debt or any real financial troubles. I feel very fortunate, but I have made poor choices and wasted a lot of money. I don't spend money on expensive clothes or purses. My closet is not full of $200 jeans or pairs of shoes that cost any more than $60 a piece (most of mine cost far less). I almost wish my spending habits were that clear-cut and that there was some tangible evidence of money spent. I fear instead that my money gets spent on random crap at Target and CVS, on eating out, and Amazon.com (which I actually don't feel that guilty about because I LOVE books and have learned finally to be realistic and buy only books I will actually read). I also spend inordinate amounts of money at the grocery store. I continue to buy more and more groceries even as my pantry and freezer are full. I can't say why, but I would like to walk into my pantry on two feet sometime soon. Which leads to . . .

4. Use what I have. I want to start using the pantry and freezer staples I already have. Hopefully this goal will inspire me to continue trying new recipes to use up already-purchased ingredients. I want to read the books I already have before buying more. I want to take advantage of my Blockbuster online membership so that I am not paying $15.99 a month for the privilege of holding onto to the same two movies for three months. I plan to use NTB as a means to report my progress in the area of using my stuff. Lucky you.

Okay, that's all I got. I have to get back to work now so I can fulfill goal #1. Do you have a New Year's Resolution? I'd love to hear it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Bubdate: What's New in 2008

Three quick bubdates:

1. For months and months now, the bub's condiment of choice has been ketchup. Every once and again, we change things up with a little ranch dressing, but mostly he has been a ketchup kid. Then, over the holidays, he was offered some mustard and now it's all about mustard. I have continued to put ketchup on his plate, not daring to believe he does not want it, but he goes for the mustard in generous amounts instead. Though surprised by this turn of events, I am also pleased. With far less sugar and fewer calories than ketchup, mustard seems the healthier choice, unless ketchup is actually a great source of lycopene. Healthy eating must be one of the bub's New Year's resolutions. Of course, we are not likely to make great progress in that area until he begins eating meals that don't require condiments and dipping sauces at all.

2. Related to the condiments but less auspicious is the bub's new skill: opening the refrigerator. Yesterday the hubby and I were sitting on the couch. He was watching football, and I was zoning out. We thought the bub was playing contentedly in the back room (though we both should have known better). Next thing we know he comes into the family room with one of his little toddler yogurt smoothies, saying "straw, straw." I was halfway to the straws when I paused to wonder how he had retrieved said smoothie. My fears were confirmed when, after he finished his smoothie, he opened the fridge and grabbed another one (no, I did not let him drink it). Today, I let him out of sight for a couple of minutes only to find him walking around the kitchen holding an egg. I managed to wrestle the egg away from him without cracking it, but he cried mightily and I spent a good portion of the next thirty minutes standing in front of the refrigerator. I suspect we have only scratched the surface of the full hell that the bub's fridge-opening skills might prove to be, if only because I don't think the bub consistently remembers that he has this new skill. I need to get to Target ASAP to purchase some sort of refrigerator baby-proof latch. My sister LAP suggested that such an item might end up keeping the whole family from mindless eating and unnecessary visits to the fridge. That bub, always looking out for mom and dad. NTB.

3. The bub now has play-doh (which he pronounces "da-doh"). So far it appears to be his favorite item from all his holiday and early birthday loot. I would estimate that he took me by the hand no less than twenty times today to escort me to the da-doh table. I'll let you imagine what the rug beneath said table already looks like.

I haven't forgotten those resolutions I promised. I'm still pondering.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Kickin' Ass in the Kitchen

I intended to post today about my 2008 resolutions, but frankly I am too tired to do them justice. After ten days of holiday-ing, today I crashed. Plus, I tend to agree with one of my favorite literary heroines, Bridget Jones, who believes one can't really be expected to start New Year's resolutions on January 1st.

One of my New Year's Resolutions is, of course, to eat in a healthier and more reasonable fashion in 2008. But in the spirit of Bridget Jones, I began the year by cooking up two delectable (but not necessarily healthy) dishes.

We spent New Year's Eve sharing dinner with friends at home. My contribution was a Seafood Lasagna from Cooking Light. I was nervous about making this dish for the first time for company, especially because I am neither practiced nor comfortable preparing seafood. I was pleased with the results, and others seem to enjoy it as well (or lied convincingly). NTB, but this recipe also involved making my own cheese sauce. The sauce began with flour, milk, and just a little bit of butter. I am only bragging because this is a new skill for me. I can't express how delighted I was when the milk mixture actually began to thicken as promised. Glorious.

Today I made a soup that I first sampled at a Christmas Eve gathering. My husband's extended family gathers for Christmas Eve at lunchtime. There are a great variety of soups, sandwiches, dips/snacks, and baked goods. All of my husband's aunts make soup for this event. This particular soup is called Nacho Potato Soup and came from the kitchen of his Aunt Kathy. It is not super-healthy, but it is easy to prepare and quite tasty. It involves a box of Au Gratin potatoes and when I looked at the box of potato chip-like things, I was apprehensive because it didn't look like there were very many potatoes. But then, they got all hydrated and puffed up and the soup was just grand. I think one could use less Velveeta than called for and still have a tasty, cheesy soup.

Okay, that's all I got. Early to bed for me so I can really start 2008 with a bang tomorrow.

Happy New Year!
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