Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Retail Beat: Cheap Thrills

Though I haven't been bragging about it much, I have, in the spirit of my 2008 resolutions, been practicing more economy and restraint. I haven't done anything crazy like stopped going to Target altogether, cut out bi-weekly trips to Einsteins for what bub calls "bagel muffy," or colored my own hair, but I have been making a conscious effort to spend less money.

That's why this edition of the Retail Beat focuses mostly on grocery store items with one "splurge." In no particular order, please enjoy some descriptions of recent purchases that have affordably afforded me pleasure.

Fudgesicle Chocolate Variety Pack (contains 18 fudgesicles)
Where? The Jewel or your own "regular grocery store"*
How much? $3.99 or maybe $4.99 (probably less when they're on sale)

Though I do not enjoy chocolate ice cream at all, I do enjoy fudgesicles. These 60 calorie treats (40 calories if you buy the artificially sweetened ones) are an ideal post-dinner treat. Finding the variety box was pretty exciting because it contains not only the original milk chocolate fudgesicle but also a dark chocolate fudgesicle and, drum roll please, a white chocolate fudgesicle that will knock your socks off. Now, the sad news is that, as far as I know, you cannot buy a box with only white chocolate fudgesicles in it. My recommendation would be to buy the variety box, hide the white ones for yourself, and fob the others off on your family members.

Cracked Pepper and Olive Oil Triscuits

Where? The Jewel or your own "regular grocery store"
How much? Can't recall, but I usually buy Triscuits on sale 2/$4 or 2/$5

Since around 1998 or so, I have been a huge fan of Triscuits. In the late nineties, I often enjoyed a delicacy I called "cheese weavers," which involves melting shredded cheddar cheese on top of Kroger brand "Triscuits" (called "Weavers"). I ate cheese weavers for lunch several times a week as a high school teacher and frequently snacked on them as well. These days, I prefer to eat my Triscuits with slices of cheese cut from the Jewel brand brick of sharp cheddar (unmelted). It is rare when there are not several boxes of unopened Triscuits in the pantry, just waiting to be enjoyed. I have not always been a fan of the specialty Triscuits. The rosemary ones were particularly offensive to me. But I have to say, the Cracked Pepper and Olive Oil ones are very tasty, even the bub has been enjoying them. I don't know, however, if his most recent Triscuit combination is quite so tasty as cheese weavers. Tonight, he used his Cracked Pepper and Olive Oil Triscuits to scoop up his strawberries. I didn't sample the combination myself, but it did not look good. However, he seemed to enjoy it and for all I know I may be raising Bravo's next Top Chef. NTB.

Colgate 360 toothbrush
Where? Target
How much? Can't recall, around the same as the other toothbrushes though

I am loving this toothbrush and, thanks to the bub's insistence that "mommy brush too" each time he brushes his teeth, I am using it approximately six times a day (when you combine my brushing schedule with the bub's--he has a strong desire for clean teeth, NTB). The brush has these awesome nubby things behind brush head and I feel like I am not only cleaning my teeth but the inside of my mouth as well. Why not?

Trader Joe's Artisan Bread Soft Pretzel Mini Loaf

Where? Trader Joe's
How much? 99 cents baby!!!!!

Loyal readers of NTB have surely noticed that soft pretzels are frequently praised around these parts. Soft pretzels are, in my mind, the main reason for attending any sporting event and a snack that I need to have on hand (well, in the freezer in a Super Pretzel box) at all times. My mom and LAP have regular and easy access to loaves of soft pretzel bread at Jungle Jim's and at Servati's Bakery. They cut the soft pretzels into pieces and serve them as appetizers with a mighty tasty cheese dip. Divine. Anyway, imagine my delight when Monday's trip to Trader Joe's revealed that they now sell mini soft pretzel loaves. I admit that the little loaves have more calories per each than I would have guessed (420), but I loved the one I purchased and can only pray that this item is a regular part of the Trader Joe's bakery stand. Fresh soft pretzel loaves available in five minutes by car (15 or 20 by foot) is more than I ever dreamed.

3-pack of tank tops by French Dressing
Where? Costco
How much? $11.99 for the pack

It seems I never have enough tank tops, which is an odd statement for someone who no longer willingly exposes her upper arms unless absolutely necessary (that's right, outside of the privacy of my own home, I very rarely wear tank tops as my primary top). Ever since the bub was born, I have been obsessively layering my clothes. Unless I have a tank top on underneath whatever t-shirt, sweater, or turtleneck I am wearing, I feel like something is missing. Why? No idea. I'm just going with it for now. I picked up this 3-pack of tank tops at Costco on a whim (because really, $4 per tanker is a pretty good price). I have been thrilled with the tanks. They are nice and long (long enough even to cover, more or less, the pregnant belly) and have stayed soft and have not shrunk. I chose the variety pack that included one white, one gray, and one black. I am pleased.

Okay, that's all I got, my less-than-thrilling cheap thrills! What's on your Retail Beat?

*"regular grocery store" is favorite phrase of the Semi-Homemade Sandra Lee

Monday, April 28, 2008

Suspect Am Green Goddess

My husband just asked what I was going to blog about, and when I answered "salads," he rolled his eyes. And yet I persist. After all, I started a salad project a couple of months ago in an attempt to beckon spring and have tried to see it through. With the drop in temperature and return of gray days in this week's forecast, it seemed a good idea to remind Mother Nature that I've been doing my part. I promised salads in exchange for spring, and I want to get paid in more of the excellent weather we enjoyed last week.

So, here goes, an account of my salad adventures: one failure, one acceptable plus product, and two successes.

The Failure: Celery Seed Dressing
Source: America's Lost Recipes: 121 Kitchen-Tested Heirloom Recipes Too Good to Forget

I checked this cookbook out of the library a few weeks back and though I was not tempted by too many of the heirloom recipes (many just too involved for my skill and interest level), I did enjoy reading the history of each recipe. This celery seed dressing was apparently a favorite at a restaurant called the Coin Room in Rike's Department Store in Dayton, OH. I have fond memories of taking the bus to downtown Hamilton, OH and then eating chicken salad at the Elder-Beerman Tea Room with my grandma. It made me feel grown up and fancy. My grandma's sister moved to Dayton as a young woman because her uncle found her a job there, and I think I was charmed by the idea that perhaps my Great Aunt Dot had at some time or another enjoyed some of this celery seed dressing at the Coin Room.

My celery seed dressing was horrible, and I mean horrible. One ingredient the recipe calls for is 2 tablespoons of grated yellow onion. When I tasted my dressing, I felt that I was basically eating onion juice. It was completely terrible. I opened the cookbook back up to see if I had missed some test kitchen tips about grating onions, and it was then that I realized that one of the key ingredients of the dressing is celery seed. It is, after all, called "celery seed dressing." I am now convinced that the horror that was my dressing resulted not from the recipe itself but from my own inability to read. More specifically, my failure to understand that celery seed means celery seed and not celery salt. Basically, I made celery salt dressing and guess what, it sucked. However, if you are interested in the Coin Room Celery Seed Dressing and are confident of your own ability to read, email me for the recipe (mep@nottobrag.net) and I will be happy to send it your way.

The Acceptable Plus Product: Old-Fashioned Macaroni Salad
Source: What Can I Bring? Cookbook by Anne Byrne

I've previously mentioned that every member of my family except me has a fairly strong aversion to mayonnaise. Thus, I did not grow up eating macaroni salad and on the few occasions when I have had the opportunity to sample it, have seldom done so (out of some strange combination of habit/loyalty). Anyway, I know that many people enjoy macaroni salad, and I have a pantry teeming with macaroni so I thought I'd give it a try. The recipe I used called for more vegetables than I expected (green pepper, carrots, celery, red onion), and I was pleased with how colorful the final product was. I also thought it tasted good and enjoyed it more knowing that it had been served straight from my fridge instead of sitting out for who knows how long. I think the hubby enjoyed it as well, but at the end of the day, I am rating it only an acceptable plus product because even though I do not hate mayonnaise, I don't relish (relish is an ingredient too) the idea of a salad recipe that requires two cups of mayonnaise. Even if it's light mayonnaise, which it was in my kitchen, that's just too much mayo for me to feel good about making and eating macaroni salad too often.

Success #1: Orzo Salad
Source: Giadia De Laurentis

Okay, first of all, how stinking cute is Giada? I might be a little bit in love with her. So, I made her Orzo Salad, and I felt it was awesome. I would readily bring it to a summer cookout or serve it in a situation when I might normally serve pasta salad. I thought it tasted really fresh and that it looked just lovely too. My only warning is that the salad calls for fresh basil and fresh mint; both ingredients are essential to the dish so I wouldn't leave them out. However, these are items I had to purposely go out and buy and which, while perhaps not prohibitively priced, are not cheap ($2.99 per each at the Jewel, but I just realized today, only $1.99 at Trader Joe's). I don't think the hubby loved the orzo salad, but as he hates tomatoes, a key ingredient, I figure that is his problem not the salad's.

Success #2: Basil Green Goddess Dressing
Source: Ina Garten aka The Barefoot Contessa

The comments section of this soup post clue you in to some of my previous thoughts about Ina, but I admit that lately I have been warming to her a bit (though there is still something about the Hamptons that just gets on my nerves, though I've never been). I saw Ina make this dressing on an episode where she was making a simple dinner for herself, a salad to eat while she worked away on one of her cookbooks. As I like basil, I wanted to give it a whirl. As with the orzo salad, you will have to make a special trip to the store unless you keep fresh basil and anchovy paste always in stock. The dressing involved many ingredients but could be made in the blender (I appreciate it when things do not require the food processor as I have to read the directions each time I use mine and live in fear of losing a digit). I served it to my in-laws and hubby with positive feedback from all (except hubby who, for reasons known only to himself, chose to dress his salad with some store-bought, though organic, red pepper thousand island dressing). My mother-in-law and I agreed that it is actually better the second day because the lemon flavor is a little more subdued then. I plan to make it again; after all, I have the anchovy paste now. NTB.

As a result of my successes I am now considering growing some basil right here in my own kitchen. If I do so, I will no longer suspect but actually know myself to be a green goddess. NTB.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

My mom is wild about…

Going along with the animal unit at J’s preschool, the kids recently made zookeepers (some of the forms were already cut out for them…a necessary step to ensure these two feet tall zookeepers would actually be discernible.) These works of art are hanging in the hallway outside her classroom. Because next week is “Mom’s Night,” each zookeeper is holding a sign that says “My mom is wild about ____.” Each 3 or 4 year old was of course asked to fill in that blank. Upon seeing these up on the wall, I immediately scanned the sea of construction paper, wondering what J said about me. “Hugging”…[insert sigh of relief]…that was sweet of her. Once I knew that, I could then peruse the other zookeeper signs to see what the other kids in her class said. Here is a sampling of what I saw:

My mom is wild about…..

Chicken salad
Rubbing my back
Cooking spaghetti
Having a drink
Wrestling with Daddy

You just can’t make that stuff up.

As a side note, no need to feel sad for the boy who responded “work.” His mom is not a workaholic who doesn’t pay attention to her son. She works a couple mornings a week (typically the days he is in school). Also, his twin sister gave the “wrestling with Daddy” response, so clearly the mom is not all work and no play?

For the record, if asked what my mom is wild about (aside from the obvious and p.c. “friends and family”), I would go with a Coke over some perfectly crushed ice. Feel free to share what your mom is wild about, or, if applicable, what your kids would say you are wild about.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Where Did You Come From...Where Did You Go..

Where did you come from Cotton-Eyed Joe? Each season, I look forward to this week - the group dance. This week, the dancers and professionals work together to create a dynamic routine where the whole group dances at once. They did a country number to Cotton-Eyed Joe. It wasn't my favorite group dance of all time...but I still thoroughly enjoyed it. I just like to see them slightly more relaxed without the pressure of being scored.
PITA'S Highlights/Comments for this Week:
1. Marissa seems to be picking up steam - I am not liking it. I don't find her dances entertaining and I think she receives higher marks than she deserves.
2. Mark and Kristi's jive was just wonderful - it ranks up there with some of my favorite dances of all time.
3. I felt slightly bad for Jason this week, I think that he is working hard and sometimes he isn't rewarded for it.
4. Shannon & Derek - an item or not? They are certainly sending some mixed signals. Regardless, I love them.
5. I love when the judges use words like raunchy. It really makes me laugh. Mario and Karina's performance was a little risque - but that is just like Karina.
6. Good-Bye to Marlee - She really did a great job and I appreciated the moment that her and Tom had at the end.
7. Lastly, before blogging I was speaking with my mom and she said she was checking a blog about DWTS and almost everyone was in favor of Marissa and Tony - and they were hating on Shannon and Derek. I certainly hope that is not the feeling nationwide.
Stay Tuned for next week's 100th Episode of DWTS.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Series of unfortunate events; or, It's a pity party and you're invited.

Monday morning: A woman in Chicago has a baby. I do not know this woman. A doctor (who I also do not know) in the practice where I go delivers said baby.

Monday afternoon: This doctor falls behind in her patient-seeing schedule.

Monday late afternoon: I see this doctor at 5:00 for a 3:15 appointment. Appointment lasts about five minutes. We establish that Bub 2.0's heartbeat is good. He is measuring just fine. I need to try not to pick up Bubby unless absolutely necessary. I need to eat bananas to stave off the extremely painful charley-horses that have recently plagued me. I have fortunately not repeated the immense weight gain registered at the last appointment (NTB). Mood check: I was pissy and frustrated in the waiting room (though very thankful that my mother-in-law was in town and at home with bubby because if it were my babysitter, I would have had to leave the office so that she could get home to pick up her own kids). I am in a fairly positive mood after seeing the doctor. She apologized for the wait and was really nice and had a good sense of humor. If she is the one on call when Bub 2.0 is ready to enter the world, I'm cool with it.

Monday early evening: Drive home and get stuck in some rush hour traffic on Lake Shore Drive. Mood check: Can't help but note to self that if I had been seen on time (or semi-on time), this traffic would not be a problem. However, the sun is out, and I can see lots of go getters walking, jogging, and biking along the lake. I feel happy for them.

Monday early evening, part 2: I exit at Irving Park and realize that there is a Cubs game this evening and that it is starting in about 40 minutes. Mood check: Slightly irritated. We bought a house knowing it was three blocks from Wrigley Field so we can't be surprised by the pain-in-the-ass factor of Cubs games, but for the record: We are officially over the Cubs. Over the Natty Light cans in our front yard left by drunken fans. Over the traffic. Over the drunk who kicked a spindle off our front porch after a recent game. Over the people who drive too fast down our street. Over the twentysomething young women who think that a jean skirt that barely passes one's underwear (though, likely they all wear thongs), a child-sized t-shirt, a cell phone glued to one's ear, and flip flops constitutes an outfit for watching sports.

Monday early evening, part 3: I am stopped at a stop light at Irving Park and Clark Street. Completely stopped. Mood check: Not too shabby. This Cubs traffic is not so bad tonight, and I am two minutes from home. Two minutes! Plus, I am enjoying listening to Pride and Prejudice on my ipod car dock thing.

Monday early evening, part 4: The car behind me (who I think had also been completely stopped) suddenly hits my car. There is a loud noise and a bit of a jolt. I pull over. So does the driver. Mood check: Disbelieving. You have got to be kidding me that this just happened.

Monday early evening, part 5: We get out of our cars and assess the damage. Her car is fine. Mine is not. The damage is not major, but it is enough that I want to file a proper police report and make sure that someone who is not me or my husband pays for the repairs (though, who we are kidding, we're on the hook for the deductible). Plus, I want everything done officially in case the baby or I have been hurt. As ever when I have been involved in little scrapes, I immediately imagine that my back and neck are permanently damaged. Because there is a Cubs game, the Traffic Management Authority people are all over us. One woman keeps getting in my face and saying, "I can see that you're pregnant. Do you need an ambulance m'am. I will call one. Just say the word, and I will call one." Her intensity is off-putting. The last thing I want after two hours at the doctor's office is to leave my car on the side of the road and hop in an ambulance. I tell her what I would like is for her to call the police so we can file a report. She says they usually don't come unless both cars are un-driveable. But, no worries, we can just exchange information and then "just go to the police station and file a report." This would be all well and good except that the Cubs game is going to start in 20 minutes and the police station is just down the street from Wrigley Field. I estimate a drive to the station would be a long and super-frustrating experience that might result in my purposely rear-ending another car out of rage. Two more traffic management people try to help, but there is nothing to be done. The woman and I exchange information. She is nice, but not a native English speaker so there is some confusion but I think we're all set. I tell her I will call her after I've filed the report (apparently we have 24 hours) and then she has to go and do her part of it. I don't want to give details, but I did have some moments where I was shrill and unreasonable with the traffic authority people. I might have said a few bad words. There were definitely tears. Mood check: Emotionally fragile. Really pissed off. Wishing again that I had never been held up at the doctor's office to begin with.

Monday early evening, part 6: Arrive home. Tell Bub and mother-in-law about accident. Page my doctor to see if she thinks I need to be checked to make sure the Bub 2.0 is okay. She says unless I am cramping or contracting I am probably fine. Mood check: Trying to pull myself together.

Monday early evening, part 7: Hubby assesses damage on car, pronounces it minimal, and does not seem to register my emotionally fragile state or the trauma I have experienced. Mood check: Whatever and you're welcome for still cooking dinner after all I've been through today.

Monday post-dinner: Hubby drives me to police station to file report. We circle station for 15 minutes. There is no parking because the station apparently provides none and due to the G.D. Cubs game, nothing else is available either. Hubby double parks, and I go inside. Report is filed and takes five minutes. Officer is disinterested in entire process, but lets me know that he hates Cubs fans. At this moment, though usually not a Cubs-hater per say, I am in such a foul mood that I commiserate with him. Mood check: At least I don't have to deal with report tomorrow. I will be eating ice cream on my couch in less than ten minutes. I'm going to be okay.

Monday post-police station: I finish report just as Cubs game has ended. Hubby and I are stuck in Cubs traffic on the way back home. Mood check: Weary but perhaps a bit amused.

Tuesday morning: Am sure that my back and neck are hurt (actually, I think it is just temporary soreness, but still, I don't need it). Fixing to call the driver of "striking vehicle" (lingo from police report). Look over police report to make sure indifferent officer who recorded my driver's license number did so correctly. Realize that I have been driving with an expired driver's license for almost six weeks. Have small moment of gratitude in which I am thankful that the officer did not pay attention. Mood check: Really low. Now, I have to renew my license and do it today. (Though again, thankful that my mother-in-law is in town as this is an errand that I would hate to bring the bub along to do).

Tuesday afternoon: I leave for the DMV. I have been there before. Due to the fact that I forget that Elston Avenue is a diagonal street and due to my emotionally fragile state and due to the fact that my husband (read personal GPS) is out of town and unavailable by phone, it takes me 80 minutes to get to DMV. Mood check: There are tears. Many tears. I am so frustrated with myself and with this situation.

Tuesday afternoon, part 2: Get new license with minimal fuss. Mood check: Relieved and hungry. Ready to get home and get to work on dissertation as that is what I planned to do while I have the extra babysitting help.

Tuesday afternoon, part 3: Can't work on dissertation right away because I have to wait for random fence guy to come and give estimate for fence that blew over last week. His "twenty minutes" is more like 40. Mood check: I am over this entire day.

Okay, I will end this saga now because it doesn't have any sort of climax or punch line. If you've suffered through this entire post, God Bless you. Obviously, I know I should focus on the positives which are that I never got busted for my expired license and, much more importantly, the accident did not harm me or the baby. Yes, I am grateful. But really, sometimes you just have to have yourself a little pity party.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Offer it up.

My dear friend B's mom has used the expression "offer it up" for years. Having a bad day? Canker sore bothering you? Nothing to wear to the school dance? Acne breakout? Lost your tennis match? Well, offer it up. I had never really heard the expression until I met B in high school, and I admit that it has always amused me. I do believe in prayer and try to share concerns and burdens as well as gratitude on a daily basis. Certainly, I'm in favor of making offerings of time, money, compassion, kindness, and etc. to others in need. I hope the hubby and I can instill the importance of such offerings to our children.

So far though . . . it appears we're not off to a great start. Attending mass with the bub is not always (or ever?) a spiritual experience.* I spend my time rooting through my purse for items that might amuse him: lip balm, small mirrors, Thomas the Tank Engine, cars, stickers, and crayons. I am also in charge of doling out the snacks--fruit snacks, suckers, Ludens cherry cough drops (they are non-medicinal), Goldfish, whatever I can scrape up. My husband has the more difficult duty. When bub climbs under the pew (sometimes under multiple pews) and then pops up to surprise another family, the hubby goes to retrieve him. The hubby is usually the one who runs interference as the bub attempts to "borrow" the items that the toddlers sitting in front of and behind us are playing with (you know, the kids whose parents are smarter and more prepared than we are). For whatever reason, I don't ever have the right stuff with me. Our church has an elevator in the back, and for a long time, my husband and I spent mass alternating who would take turns riding down to the church basement on the elevator. I'm talking seven or eight rides for the bub during one mass. We have made progress recently though, so much so that the bub now gets an elevator ride at the end of mass as a reward for "good" (defined loosely) behavior.

The past two weeks, my husband has given the bub a dollar bill to put into the collection basket.** Besides affirming the importance of offering it up, the idea is to get the bub all pumped up to put the money in the basket and to hope that with the anticipation and donation process, we will have gotten through approximately two minutes of mass in relative peace. Last week, the basket reached the bub and all smiles and eagerness, we encouraged him to put it into the basket. His response was to clutch the bill tightly and say (loudly): "No, I need it." There was no prying it out of his hands. This week, we tried again, with less success and an even more pathetic excuse: "No, I hold it." This morning's refusal was so articulate and loud that it garnered laughter from those sitting around us. So much for offering it up.

For the record though, both weeks he has put the dollar in the poor box on the way out of church. It could be a deliberate decision, perhaps he is wary of the institutional church and prefers to support Chicago's poor. I respect that. I suspect it is that the poor box has a crank that you can turn and then watch your money magically disappear (indeed, after a baptism a few months ago, the bub put lots of money in the poor box--all of our friends in attendance kept giving him more coins to toss in because it clearly made him so happy--but then got carried away, and sliced his finger when it got in the way of the crank . . . offering even his flesh to the poor, NTB). Anyway, we'll try again with the donation next week.

Until then, if anyone has any advice for keeping a toddler occupied in church, send it our way. I suspect though that we'll just have to offer it up until the bub is old enough for something like CCD or Sunday School.

*in the interest of disclosure, I should add that we don't make it to mass as a family every week
**our donation is via direct deposit--the dollar is symbolic not evidence of parsimony

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Don't Be Cruel...

By keeping Marissa around one more week! This week, much to my dismay, Priscilla was let go. It wasn't that I loved Priscilla so much, it was that I can't stand Marissa. Her time has come and gone. Additionally, Louis (Priscilla's partner) has always been one of my top three professionals on the show. His choreography is always challenging and top notch. A NTB reader emfagel and I were lamenting via text about the sensuality of Louis' dancing. Don't think we are creepy, but he really embraces the dance. Among other commentary was that Priscilla has "a pretty slamming body" for her age. If only she didn't have that botched plastic surgery.
Highlights/Comments for PITA this week:
1. Kristy and Mark - need me say more.
2. Harold Wheeler and the band stepping it up with the music - about time!
3. The judges continue to be nice to Marissa and I am not quite sure why.
4. The judges were a bit harsh with Shannon and Derek. LAP and NTB reader m were both dismayed. Don't get me wrong, I like them too, but I think she is more of a ballroom girl rather than a Latin girl.
5. I continue to dislike Karina - not quite sure, but is constantly close to the bottom of my professional dancer rankings.
6. Samantha...Samantha...Samantha....will her interviews ever be not awkward and uncomfortable to watch?
I guess that it is....really looking forward to a country-inspired group dance next week.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Big Boy in a Little Coat

The bub and I had a big day this past Friday. Park district class at 9:30, haircut at 10:45, and two year old birthday party at 4:00. Getting bub dressed took less time than usual so we were able to sneak in a quick trip to Target before class so as to secure a birthday present. The bub stayed in his cart like a prince (this is not always the case), and our trip through Target was pretty breezy. I filled my cart with the gift and other items, mostly "essentials" (you only buy "essentials" at Target, right?). On our way to the register, I happened past a display of spring jackets for little boys. The bub's current lightweight jacket is an adorable Columbia one, given to him by my aunt. I love the jacket, but sized at eighteen months, it has become quite snug. So, when I spotted a navy coat with kelly green lining and a price tag of $9.99, I thought, "Sold." I quickly scanned the hangers: one 24 month, one 3T, three 5T's. As ever, Target is out of something that I want: a 4T jacket. I decide, however, that with the price being so reasonable, I will go crazy and get the 3T and if it doesn't fit next spring, so be it. I throw it in the cart. I would say this entire decision-making process--from spotting jackets to tossing one jacket in cart--took less than thirty seconds. We even had time to stop at the Target Cafe on our way out, admittedly a bad habit. I know, I know, if I were a stronger mom, I would not indulge the bub's requests to "get snack" so readily. Ah well.

So, we go to class and the bub behaves pretty well. Then, we head to the haircut, where I am delighted with the bub's deportment. He sat in the airplane chair like a champ and for the second haircut in a row, consented to wearing the cape. Typically, when the bub gets his haircut, I hover and say things like, "Shorter but not too short. I still want him to look like a baby." It was only the last visit that I agreed to let the stylist use the clippers on his neck (it seems such a grown up thing to do). But the bub's hair has been ridiculous lately. Too much of it and, frankly, quite challenging to style, especially as the bub does not enjoy standing still for hair brushing. I asked the stylist to go shorter but still make it cute, and I was pleased with the result--even though it made my baby look like a real "big boy."
(Note the enhanced big-boy-ness in the post-haircut photos versus the top photo from three days prior).

Post-haircut, we've got about an hour to spare until lunchtime. The sun has been shining all day, but my car's temperature gage tells me it is now 71 degrees outside. Hot damn! We're heading to the park! I pull up to a park that is a bit shady. Though 71 degrees is quite warm, remember that Chicago's weather is fickle and that the winter has not yet definitively ended here. I am wary. I decide the bub does not need his winter coat, but I am hesitant to have him play sans coat. I remember the spring jacket in the Target bag. How serendipitous! I pull it out of the bag, rip the tag off, and put it on the bub. That's strange, the sleeves are really short and his shirt is longer than the coat by at least two inches. Their 3Ts must really run small. I am surprised because a lot of his 2T clothes still fit just fine. Hum, I guess growth spurts come fast. I am regretting that I didn't buy the 5T. I think, gee, my bub is really getting to be a big boy, what with the shorter haircut and the 3T jacket being too small. I don't think much more about it.

The bub plays, we go home, we eat nuggets, and we go outside to blow bubbles (purchased at Target and promised at the park as an incentive to getting the bub to leave the park: "Blow bubbles outside?" "Yes, after lunch."). By the time bubble time comes around, the sun has disappeared, the temperature has dropped ten degrees (at least), and the wind is blowing so hard that part of our fence has fallen over. Ideal bubble weather. I keep my promise though because that is the kind of mom I am. NTB. Then, Bub takes his nap, we change into his party clothes, and head to the party. The temperature has dropped another 15 degrees, and it's now raining. Winter coat goes back on.

That night, I recount the day to my hubby and mention my surprise that the bub's new coat was so small. The hubby says, "Yeah, I was wondering about that. I saw it on the back of the chair. Why did you buy size 12 months?" That's right, because I was so hasty in choosing the coat and ripping out its tag and so trusting that at Target, the size on the garment would match that on the hanger (really, I should know better), I purchased my "big boy" a baby coat. I guess Bub 2.0 is all set for next spring.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

That's what she said.

After five long months of reading novels, fruitlessly searching the DVR for quality stored programming that isn't there, and actually working religiously on my dissertation . . . my favorite shows are finally back with new episodes after the writers' strike. The Office and 30 Rock -- oh, I love you so!

Thursday nights are sacred to me, and finally that special Thursday-night feeling is back. Despite growing up as one of five children, I would not say that I ever lacked for attention or love from my parents. However, as one of five, you don't always get as much alone time with mom and dad as you might like. Sometime in later grade school or maybe around junior high, our family initiated a new tradition we called "my night to stay up." Each child (except The Intern, who was still under 5 at the time), had one evening when they got to stay up later than everyone else. This night involved more time with mom and dad, an extra snack, and extra television time. I looked forward to "my night to stay up" for years and not just because of the chance to watch 90210. Thursdays have been special to me ever since.

Obviously, Thursday has been a prime television night for years now, but beyond the quality programming traditionally featured, Thursday night has more to recommend itself. Thursday precedes Friday, which is typically an awesome day. In college, Thursday is a key going out night. You feel more daring on Thursday nights . . . who needs to get a good night's sleep--the weekend will be here soon and then you can catch up, right? Thursday night is the real reward for the drudgery of the work week.

I would say that between the end of Friends and The Office's move to Thursday nights, Thursdays lost their luster for me for a few years. My husband and I got into The Office midway through the second season (we bought season one ASAP to catch up) when the bub was an infant. We found the show hilarious, probably even more so because our social life was incredibly constricted at that time (not that it's booming now, but we're sort of used to the married-with-children lifestyle these days). My husband remains a fan of the show. For myself though, I think it's fair to say that The Office borders on an obsession.

I religiously check Office Tally, a website that tracks all the doings of the show's actors and writers, plus includes message boards (I rarely post though) and a spoiler section (I try not to peek). I have all of the seasons on DVD and savor the experience of watching the extras and bonus features that go with each episode. I think I care about Jim and Pam ("JAM" as office FANatics know them) more than I ever cared about Ross and Rachel (and believe me, back in 1996, I cared about Ross and Rachel).

I won't speculate too much about what it is about The Office that makes its fans so loyal because I'm sure other, more reflective persons have done that. I suspect that it's good writing and a certain accessibility and familiarity. A character like Dwight Schrute seems extreme, but anyone who has had a job--whether in a failing mid-market paper company or not--knows that truth, especially the kinds of truths you come to discover about your co-workers, is way stranger than fiction. I once worked a summer temp job answering phones for Macy's Credit Services. There were about twenty people in my "training class." Perhaps snobbishly, I hung out with the only other two temps who were also college students on summer vacation. One of my "friends at work" was an awkward sophomore from a local university. This was the summer of 1996, way before the American Pie movies came out, but I kid you not the great majority of our lunchtime conversation every day was devoted to all things marching band. She had endless stories of the "this one time at band camp" variety (minus that one story). I admired her passion; after all, being a member of the marching band at a major university requires a lot of talent and dedication. Then three weeks in, it was revealed that she was not in her college marching band. All of her stories were stories from high school marching band. Then, I just felt sad every day at lunch when she started in again. I remember lots more about her, including the fact that her dad's job was "international troubleshooter for the Always maxi pad." See what I mean about truth and fiction . . . you could not make a job like that up.

I fear I got off course there, but the point is that human beings are all strange beings, all of us, and we never know it better than when we have the opportunity to observe one another day in and day out, as in the workplace. And strange as we are, the ways in which we can irritate but also comfort, entertain, and understand each other are even stranger . . . and pretty cool. The Office shows all sides of human nature. It is funny and, at moments, touching. I love it.

The above photo features a little tribute to The Office (I'm still working on the hubby to actually hang it up in our living room), a collage made from these awesome stickers I ordered online from the artist elloh (seriously, check out her stuff, it's inspired by pop culture and really fun). Each sticker features a character from The Office, and they make me happy. Just like the show does.

Okay, I have go. The first new episode in five months is starting soon, and I'm ready to savor every witty line and awkward pause. It's a big night. That's what she said.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Another One Bites The Dust...

This week on DWTS boasted a new level of competition. Many of the pairings really stepped it up. This week the dancers performed either a pasa doble or a waltz. I have loved the paso ever since Drew and Cheryl performed one - "Thriller style."
These were my highlights/thoughts for the week:
1. The first tens were given, which was great....it did seem earlier than usual though.
2. Fantastic performances by Jason and Edyta, Kristi and Mark, and Derek and Shannon.
3. Adam entering his performance while riding a unicycle - I really almost peed my pants.
4. Marissa - still annoying and still around.
5. Not to be mean, but I am kind of over Marlee and Fabian her partner really gets on my nerves. I really didn't think her performance should have moved Carrie Anne to tears - I mean really.
6. I was saddened to see Derek sustain an injury, but delighted to see "the gentleman of the ballroom" Jonathon step in and help out.
7. I think there was a improvement in Kristi's hair style...last week she had some disturbing pieces of her hair matted to her face -not a fan.
8. Last but not least, I was really kind of sad to see Adam go....His skills were clearly not at the level of everyone elses, but he still made me laugh almost everytime he was on the floor. I even enjoyed his moment at the end, when he encouraged everyone to tackle their own "dancing with the stars." Touching really.

Until next week...

Monday, April 7, 2008

Ah, the indignity . . . some notes on maternity clothes.

I'll concede that maternity clothes are likely far more stylish and flattering than they were ten and especially twenty years ago. They are also easier to find. Target has maternity clothes. So does Kohls. Most malls have a Motherhood or Mimi Maternity store. Some GAP stores and Old Navy stores have maternity sections as well. If you are pregnant and have unlimited resources, you could even shop at boutiques and/or online to find designer maternity jeans from brands like Seven and the like (no, I have not done this). Depending on your time, resources, and motivation, you can get yourself looking, if not hot, at least presentable.

I think when carrying the bub, I was so happy and excited to be pregnant that I was willing to wear maternity clothes that I would never have considered donning had a comparable version been available in regular-person clothes. I also broke one of my cardinal rules and wore flood pants more often than I should have, simply because I didn't take the time and/or spend the money to secure maternity pants long enough for my 5'10" self. This time around, though equally happy to be pregnant, I have put the kibosh on floods and scoured the Gap (online and in stores) for tall pants with moderate success. For a while all was good. But now, though these pants have not shrunk, none of my maternity pants--in all the various panel styles, except maybe the fold over ones, of which I do not have any talls--have become extremely uncomfortable. I think I am doing better weight-wise this pregnancy than with the bub so it's not the case that I am just too big. It's more like Bub 2.0 is lower or something; basically all the maternity pants are digging into my lower abdomen something fierce right at the point where the panel meets the fabric of the pants. If I wear a pair of maternity pants for more than, say, two hours, I worry that I am cutting off the baby's circulation.

For a special event, I will don my maternity jeans or khakis (gives you an indication of how "special" the events are on my social calendar, NTB). Day to day though, my solution has been to start wearing the same three pairs of pants on a rotation. One is a pair of gray GAP sweatpants from 2004 that I can push below the big belly. The second is a pair of black Old Navy yoga pants (non-maternity) that happens to fit. (I tried to buy another pair of these same pants, but after checking five Old Navy stores in Ohio and Illinois, could not find them. Their tag labeled them as "new" yoga pants, whereas most stores seem to carry the "old" yoga pants which are too short and which show every line of my underwear--even in size XL). The third pair of pants is a a pair of Old Navy maternity yoga pants ordered online last week. As you can imagine, this wardrobe rotation system requires a certain vigilance with regard to laundry (especially considering some of the other, ahem, "challenges" of pregnancy). Not surprisingly, I woke up on Friday morning with no clean and comfortable pants to wear. So, I went to the bin on my landing where I store my old maternity clothes (the bub was due in January, Bub 2.0 is due in July--a lot of my maternity stuff is seasonally off for my girth). I hoped I might surprise myself by finding a forgotten pair of long and comfortable bottoms. What did I find? A "little" something I call "Big Teal."

Big Teal (it's actually aqua not teal, but that hardly improves anything) is a GAP maternity sweatsuit that I wore the hell out of last time around. It is comfortable. The pants are of generous length. The hoodie zips up and is quilted, NTB. I even have a coordinating long-sleeved t-shirt to wear beneath it. By a certain point in my pregnancy with the bub, I was wearing Big Teal every time it was clean (every two or three days--I had more time to devote to laundry pre-bub). I have a distinct memory of going out to dinner with two friends about a month before the bub was due and donning Big Teal. I'm a confused by that decision now--we were at a bar for dinner, not Wendy's: did I have nothing more appropriate? Because I did not lose all forty-five of the pounds I gained with the bub right away, I admit I also donned Big Teal for a couple (or maybe even four) months post partum (not to worry, I barely left the house). Anyway, Big Teal served me well, and I have a lot of affection and gratitude for Big Teal. But when I packed it away in a box labeled "maternity/fat clothes" sometime in the Spring of 2006, I kind of said to myself that I wouldn't be revisiting it next time I was pregnant. Big Teal had worn out its welcome.

But there I was this past Friday with no clean and comfortable pants to wear. So, I hesitated and then pulled on Big Teal. After all, if not chic and sophisticated for the urban pregnant lady, Big Teal is comfortable. Given that Friday started out super gray and dismal, I tried to imagine that dressed in Big Teal, I was lighting up the world around me, spreading cheer, beckoning spring (you all can thank me and Big Teal for the sunshine over the weekend). Perhaps from the over-wear last time around, Big Teal had stretched a bit. As I herded the bub into the park district for our Friday morning class, I caught a glance of myself in the building's window and realized that the pants had slipped, revealing my big white belly. I gave them a hoist, afraid a Vanity Fair photographer was nearby and eager to photograph me in all my pregnant glory. No worries there. I made it through the day with Big Teal, but, though physically comfortable, I wasn't feeling cool or cute. Not at all.

I'm wearing the Old Navy regular yoga pants as I write. The maternity yoga pants will be worn tomorrow. The gray pants, my third choice, are on deck for Wednesday. If the weather turns, I have some maternity capris that I know are comfortable (four pair, NTB). If not, I will likely be in Big Teal again on Thursday. Ah, the indignity. But I will survive. NTB.

This pose is called "teal steel" or "aqua steel" if you want to get technical.

What about you, any "favorite" maternity outfits you want to brag about? After all, this post only scratches the surface of the maternity wear conversation.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Vive La Gute!

PITA is traveling so I'm not sure she's going to be able to post about DWTS this week. So far, my passion for the show has not been at fever pitch this season, as it has been in the past. I'm just not so into it, and I can't really figure out why. I do like this season's celebrities, but I find myself only half-watching the performances and procrastinating about watching the episodes in my DVR, as if it's something I have to do instead of want to do. Then, tonight, I decided to skim the results show because, amazingly, I went all day without hearing what happened.

As I watched The Gute and Jonathan dance their "mango" at the show's start, I thought, "Ah, this is the kind of cheesy shit I live for" and warm feelings for DWTS began to swell up inside of me. So, you can imagine how I felt at the end of the show when I discovered that The Gute was going home this week. I'm kind of devastated. I didn't expect The Gute to win, but I was planning to enjoy his super-positivity for at least a few more weeks. I don't know if I have the heart to tune in next week or not. What about you?

Viva La Gute!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

I don't think the answer is "bachelorette party."

Months and months ago, I shared my frustration with finding the right clothes to wear on the rare occasions when my daily uniform of jeans/sweatpants, casual shirts, and running shoes is not appropriate. I also shared my intense frustration with my husband's sense that wardrobe decisions are simple and his refusal to accept that there is no female equivalent to "khakis and a golf shirt."

Now, in the same vein, I ask: What is the female equivalent to the bachelor party? My hubby spend last Thursday evening through Sunday in Las Vegas for a bachelor party. I was not, and have never been, at all concerned about my hubby's behavior on such trips. Unless I am sorely mistaken about him and his friends (most of whom are friends of mine as well), I think very few of their weekend activities fall in the category of what "stays in Vegas." My husband lost some money, but fortunately, I doubt his deficit will keep us from paying our mortgage this month. He probably spent way more than I do on a big grocery store trip for a steak dinner, but hey, the bub and I lived it up as well: a playdate with lunch out on Friday, Potbelly sandwiches for lunch on Saturday (with chips), Burger King for dinner, and a snack at the Target Cafe on Sunday morning, NTB. I know he watched basketball. So did bub and I. (The bub said "Go Muskies" all weekend but his luck ran out on Saturday.) I'm sure my husband drank his fair share of beer, wine, and "daddy juice" (i.e., scotch). Six months pregnant, I rediscovered root beer and indulged in a root beer float on Saturday evening. Again, NTB.

The bub was really quite good all weekend (with the exception of his giving some extra exuberant/aggressive hugs to the other kids at Gymboree class on Saturday morning), but even with good behavior, I was at my breaking point by Sunday. No matter how much you love your toddler, multiple days of uninterrupted time together can be difficult when there's no one to spell you for bathtime, bedtime, or my now most-dreaded activity, getting-dressed time. And yes, I was only able to take one shower from Friday to Sunday, but the bub didn't seem to mind. When my husband arrived home, he took over all bub-duty cheerfully, and I began to unwind. He also obligingly shared the events of the weekend. He was extra patient as I asked him to recount topics of conversation covered with each friend he talked with. I stopped short of asking him what he ate at each meal (surprising, because most work days, I request an account of his lunch), but I think he would have played along. After all, he gamely offered the plot summary of the airplane film, August Rush, though it was admittedly patchy since he only half-watched it without earphones. Still, he tried, and I was thankful.

I don't begrudge him the weekend away. I am glad that he got to spend time with good friends and to celebrate with our friend who will be married this summer. I don't really care that he ate far better than I did. I'm not angry about any money spent. What I envy is just the time away. Sleeping past 7:00 a.m. Enjoying meals at one's leisure and without having to prepare them. No chicken nuggets with multiple dipping sauce needs to negotiate. Conversation with friends. No Blue's Clues or Barney for 48 hours or so. Going to the bathroom alone. No car seat buckling. More time to read novels. You get the picture. It all sounds like heaven, and I know if I had the opportunity to spend the weekend away with friends, my husband would more than encourage me to be there.

I think I am just trying to figure out when and if that will ever happen. It's not that I lack friends (NTB), but honestly, I have rarely taken a trip with girlfriends since college ended. In my first years out of college, I took plenty of weekend trips (mostly to Chicago) to see girlfriends. And once, a high school friend and I flew to Mobile to see another of our friends. One other time, some girlfriends and I went to New York City (which ended up being a good trip as it was the first time I spent any time with my now-husband--this was way back in '99). I spent two wild weekends with colleagues at the National Council of Teachers of English conventions in Detroit and Nashville, respectively. In 2004 (pre-bub), I spent one night in Indianapolis with girlfriends for a 30th birthday celebration. I think that about sums it up. No wine-tasting tours with a group of women. No spa weekends. No trips to the Biltmore for me. No bonding ropes courses. Nothing. And now that I have the bub--love him though I do--I could use a girls' weekend more than ever.

But, here's the rub. Many of my friends also have children. Thus, you can begin trying to plan something, but then you start saying, "Well, so and so is pregnant and so and so is still breast-feeding, and so and so has three kids now and may not be able to find someone to look after them, and etc." Then, there's the thought of packing (see first paragraph) and the preparations necessary to leave one's child/ren. I am personally kicking myself that I didn't at least try to organize some kind of trip this past year when it would have been fairly easy to leave the bub with the hub. Now, with childbirth and more breastfeeding on the near horizon, I am feeling like a girls' weekend may be literally years away for me. I feel sad and cheated.

I think what I can do in the meantime is to be more proactive about getting together with friends for less-involved activities: dinners out, cooking classes, afternoon tea, or what-have-you. Once weekend trips are a logistical (and lactation-friendly) option again, I need to plan them.

My initial motivation in titling this post as I did was simply my certainty that I do not desire a weekend away that involves drinking out of a plastic penis straw or watching someone I love ask a stranger for his boxers for some sort of scavenger hunt. Now, I think the title has extra significance. I want it to be the case that women do not need an excuse or social custom--an upcoming wedding, a birthday, a shower, a gathering of English teachers (though all these kinds of events are well and good)--to get away and enjoy some good food, fun, relaxation, and conversation. My husband kept joking about his trip to Vegas in advance, saying he was going there for "an obligation." One of my friends pressed him, "A bachelor party?" "An obligation," he joked. Jokes aside, I think too many women (or at least myself and some others I know) don't really think they deserve good times that aren't socially sanctioned by something like obligation or custom. And that's crap. So, meet me in Napa in about five years. And, until then, let's pick a night and go out to dinner.
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