Wednesday, December 31, 2008


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you all next year! Thanks for reading.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Not just Schweaty* this Christmas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To melt chocolate, use a double boiler or microwave.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Need a little Christmas?

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

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

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

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

The one about that damn train around our Christmas tree.

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Book Bonanza!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Reading!

Monday, December 1, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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