Tuesday, December 22, 2009

She should have made a list, but there's no time to check it twice.

I've had a bunch of holiday-themed posts swimming around in my head but no time to blog. In substitute, I offer this bloated list of half-baked holiday musings.

1. I want to read more Christmas letters . . . obnoxious or not.
I love receiving holiday cards, feeling the love and seeing the smiles of friends and family from around the country. I love sending cards as well or, rather, love having sent them. The actual process of finding a photo, rounding up the addresses, and feeling guilty for not writing nice personal notes in each card (and thus worrying that all the time, energy, and expense is partially a waste if I don't even make/have time to make each card meaningful) all wear me out. I was thinking that one solution would be to enclose a letter. Sure, it would not be personal to each recipient, but it would be a way to share some highlights of the past year. Of all our cards received thus far, only TWO have contained letters. My theory? Rolling one's eyes at obnoxious, braggy Christmas letters is so common now that families are afraid to send a letter, lest they be judged obnoxious and braggy. Even if some letters could use a few "not to brag's" thrown in here and there, I would still be delighted to read holiday letters from friends and family. So, next year, you write one and so will I. Just my 44 cents.

2. I need a go-to holiday baked good or treat for next year and the year after and etc.
Last year's schweaty oreo balls looked like poop (literally) but tasted amazing. This year, I tried making red velvet cake balls. They don't look good and they taste like nothing special -- wet cake covered in white chocolate? I'm not blaming the source of the recipe because I attempted the cake balls this afternoon when I was running on empty and had no patience to try to make them look nice. I'm not interested in baking up a storm during the holidays, but I would like to have a couple of go-to items that I could share with others without shame or apology. Any suggestions?

First attempt was dipping the cake balls in white chocolate as instructed.
Then, I gave up and just topped them with the chocolate. Are you drooling?

3. If you need a last minute gift for a little kid, go to CVS.
Bub is obsessed with snow globes, and I got the cutest snow globe in the CVS photo department. It was $5.99 and has a plastic dome not a glass one (good news for a household in which a glass snow globe recently shattered, resulting in much mess and many tears). Plus, you can personalize it with your own photos. I know Bub will love his!

4. I suspect my baby loves ham.
Why else would I be drooling over the grocery store ads featuring spiral-sliced ham? Just looks so good to me right now. I have refrained from buying one since I we won't be home for Christmas or hosting anything, but I'm thinking a New Year's ham here at Casa MEP might have to happen.

5. The holidays are exhausting me, and they haven't even started yet.
I do not think that we go overboard in terms of what we buy or even the number of people with whom we exchange gifts, but I still find selecting and wrapping to be overwhelming. I'm not hosting a damn thing this holiday season and am not expected to make significant food contributions any place that I'm going, but I have fretted over my measly contributions. We don't need to be fancily dressed anywhere we're going either, but I feel weary just thinking about packing for myself and the boys tomorrow morning. There's so much to do and remember during the holidays, and most of it falls on moms. These last two weeks when I've stayed up until midnight almost every night trying to get stuff done, I have also been wondering how my mom managed (and still manages) to shop for her five kids (and now their spouses and children) and husband and relatives plus host holiday meals and bake and remember to do kind things for others and etc.. I know once the car is packed and we hit the road, I'll feel full of excitement but until then I will be checking the list I haven't even bothered to write out. When you see your mom this holiday season, hug her really tightly and thank her for years of making it all happen.

6. "Baby It's Cold Outside" is my new favorite Christmas song.

7. I want to share some pictures of my kids so you can fully appreciate the cuteness of them and their holiday apparel. NTB.

8. Bub found my camera this morning and took about thirty pictures while I was otherwise engaged. Most of the photos were of Ricky Gervais singing a lullaby to Elmo on the television, but he did get the shot below which captures an extremely rare moment of tidiness and calm Casa MEP.
I feel like this post is a little bah humbug, which is not what I intended. At this time of year, I am especially thankful for our healthy, happy children; for the friends whose smiles fill our mailbox; and for our loving families. We will be seeing various groups of relatives from my family and hubby's over the next week or so, and I have to say that I am genuinely looking forward to each and every gathering.

I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Something happened on the way to his workshop . . .

Meet Santa. He's been adorning our home for the past six or so holiday seasons. Santa was a gift, and I've always enjoyed having him around. I like how Santa is sporting his casual flannels and patched-knee pants and how he has taken a few moments for himself to do some sledding before heading back to the workshop for more of that holiday grind.

Though I do love my Santa, I admit I don't worry about him much in the off-season. As with the rest of my holiday decorations (except the most fragile ornaments--they get some special care), I just wrap a leftover plastic grocery bag around him and toss him into one of the green and red bins.

I guess last year I must have done an especially crappy job wrapping Santa up. The only thing I can figure is that he must have rubbed up against another painted holiday knick knack.

Unfortunately, the end result is truly a sinister knick knack paddy WHACK.

Look more closely at the fresh snow at Santa's feet? Do you see what I see? The snow is flecked with bright red blood . . . blood that was not there when I opened Santa six years ago.

Sure, I can cleverly move Santa's sled about in an effort to camouflage the crime scene, but at a certain point, Bub is going to notice.

What am I going to say when he asks why Santa is tracking blood through the snow. Ruldolph had a bloody nose? Dancer's in heat? One of the elves wasn't getting it done? Mrs. Claus got lippy?

I don't have any answers, but I do know that the more I look at the blood at Santa's feet, the more reluctant I am to wrap presents tonight as planned. Seems doing Santa's work can be dangerous.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Greetings from . . .

Yes, NTB does have a new look! Thanks for noticing! I have been wanting a new look pretty much since I started my blog, but I've never been able to pull it off on my own. I met Nap Warden, an awesome blogger and blog designer/illustrator, this past summer at the BlogHer Conference and knew that when I was ready to get some professional help, she would be the one who could help me.

A few months ago, I decided that I wanted NTB's new look to be like that of a vintage postcard.

I thought the postcard would help welcome readers into MEP's little corner of the world. The images inside of the letters of NOT TO BRAG represent different aspects of my life and my blog: books/reading, parenting young children, watching television, Ohio (I heart you), city-living in Chicago, ND and the Irish, Diet Coke and snacks (to represent passion for food and eating), teaching/academia, and my ongoing attempt to use this blog to help me figure things out (thus, the question marks). I can't claim a visit to Not to brag. . . will be the best trip you ever take, but I can think of worse places to spend two minutes of your day!

I still have some work to do on my end to put the icing on the cake of this makeover--first and foremost providing content for the links up top under the header. Stay tuned for those changes. Once I consider it all "done," I'm going to be writing a post encouraging you to spread the word about NTB.

Now I'm thinking about cake and icing.

Also, as a public service, I want to let you know that art.com has a wide selection of vintage prints like the postcard seen above. I have ordered several vintage prints and had them framed and matted. On a wall in our living room, we have "Greetings from" prints from Cincinnati,* Decatur (hubby's hometown), Chicago, and Notre Dame. These prints are a fun way to personalize your home decor. This past spring, I bought some of these historic reading prints with my parents' graduation gift to me. If you're looking for reasonably priced artwork, totally check out the vintage stuff at art.com (and no, I'm not being paid to pimp that site. No one pays me to pimp anything).

And, of course, if you know or are a blogger, consider a blog redesign as a gift. You can check out all the cool stuff Nap Warden has done right here and also here on my friend E. . .'s blog with its brand new header.

After a brag-worthy November of posts, I realize I've dropped off a bit lately. Now that my students' grades are finally turned in and my Christmas preparations are mostly in check, I will be making more time for blogging in the coming weeks. So again, please stay tuned.

*I want to clarify that I am not technically from Cincinnati but from Fairfield, OH (City of Opportunity). I would be mighty proud to represent Fairfield on my walls, but the city is too young to have its own vintage postcard from back in the day. There is a vintage print of "Greetings from Hamilton, OH" but that one is not available on art.com. If you want a Hamilton print, you can check here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Very Interesting

Crush? Girlfriend? Just a friend? I can't say for sure, but there's one little girl whose name Bub mentions every day when I ask how was school and who* did he play with. Let's call her "Cutie." Cutie always gets mentioned with a smile.

The other day, Bub explained how he and Cutie decorated the Christmas tree in Santa's Workshop (this month's creative play area).

Here's how the mother/son recap went today:

"Who did you play with at school today?"

"Cutie. Her tells me what to do in Santa's Workshop."

"Um, okay. You know you don't have to do everything she tell you to though."

"Yes, I do."

"Because you like Cutie? She is your friend?"

"I love her a lot."

Okay then. Bossy little thing better not break his heart.

*I think it's "whom" here but please.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Where everybody knows your name . . .

I've lived in Chicago for over eight years now, including six years in my current neighborhood. What I could not get over for the first few years I lived here was how rarely I ran into anyone I knew around town. It's a little thing, but any time I went to the grocery store or a bar or the library or a restaurant, I saw another person I knew (like to greet and talk to) maybe one in twenty outings. Maybe.

I did (and do) have some friends and family living in Chicago, lest you think I wandered the streets alone and lonely and holed up in my apartment in those dark, pre-DVR days. But, I don't know, it felt kind of sad to be to be so anonymous in so many places.

Now that Bub is almost four and we've lived in our house for almost five years, I am more likely to run into people I know. I've met other moms at kiddie classes and parks. I have a network of friends and acquaintances from Bub's school (which is part of our parish), and we still have friends from undergrad, graduate schools, and former jobs that we happen upon or get together with, as well as friends of friends we've gotten to know over the years. Again, we're not lonely and alone, and I am thankful for that.

But, but, well . . . I still would like to feel more connected.

On Sunday evening, hubby and I attended a very lovely holiday party at the home of our behind-the-alley neighbors. Great food. We enjoyed being out of our house, of course, and chatting with familiar and unfamiliar party guests.

The host of the party offered us a quick tour of their place. In their lower level, they had two young women watching their son and other kids (ours were at home) who had come to the party with their parents. One of the babysitters looked so familiar to me, and it took me a second to place her. I confirmed her name with our host and then approached her. She recognized me right away and greeted me with a warm and enthusiastic hug. How did we know each other, asked the host.

The truth is that we do not know each other that well, but we are connected. We took turns offering our common ties:

I explained that she graduated from high school with my brother.

She explained that her mom was my eighth grade teacher. I piped in to add that my class was her mom's first class.

She reminded me that she worked for six years for a man who is one of my dad's best friends. The same place where my cousins worked for so many years, I clarify to my husband.

We had already freaked out my neighbor a little bit, but really we had only scratched the surface.

I could have added that her uncle was my dad's best man and is my youngest sister's godfather.

It turns out that the other babysitter went to college with another person we know in common -- daughter of my grade school principal, teammate of my sister, grade school and high school classmate of my brother, former girlfriend of the brother of one of my closest high school friends.

So many connections and, again, it's not like I know this young woman very well. It's not like we've had hundreds of conversations or even more than a handful of interactions, if that. But I was so, so happy to see her and to experience for that moment, the feeling of being connected (in a non corporate-networking way).

I guess if I still lived in the area where I grew up (which I would be happy to do, by the way), these layers of connections and multiple, twisting ties would not be such a big deal to me. I would probably take them for granted or even get annoyed that everyone knew my business and history.

But I think I'm missing out a bit.

I know that my husband and I will work hard to become part of the community where we raise our kids. I hope that our children will build and experience a sense of history and connection with friends, neighbors, classmates, teammates, fellow parishioners, and the like.

I have to say though that I mourn the fact that, as our life is now, it is not likely that our kids will ever have the layers of connections and ties that exist when you live in the same area where your parents grew up, graduate from the same high school as your parents and other relatives, and on and on.

We have a good life here, and I look forward to all the stages still to come with school and sports and everything that comes with grade school and high school age children. I wish my family and oldest friends were right down the street, but they're not. I am thankful, however, for the people we know now and who we will know . . . those who do and will constitute our community and sense of connection.

I will continue to treasure the unexpected moments of recognition and connection that come my way.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Have yourself a sweet and salty little holiday . . .

Bub wouldn't settle down to sleep on Thursday night until he secured a promise from me that we could "cover pretzels with icing and sprinkles" the next day after school. Understanding that he meant white chocolate (not icing) I agreed . . . not because I personally love chocolate covered pretzels, of course, but because I am such a hands-on, festive, fun holiday mom. NTB.

Let me walk you step by step through our holiday snack creation.

1. First, secure some pretzels. I used the Rold Gold Holiday Shapes pretzels (not quite the whole bag).

2. Next, spread the pretzels on a sheet of wax paper, like so . . .

3. Enjoy your child's excitement and anticipation.

4. Then, get everything else out. You will need a package of white almond bark (just white chocolate or something like it as far as I can tell--does not seem to include almonds so have no idea about the name). You will also need "extras" like red and green sprinkles and Heath brickle bits. You may need to tell your preschooler, "Honey, you can't sprinkle the pretzels until the chocolate is on them." Maybe even more than once.

5. Okay, melt half of your almond bark in the microwave. I used my small Pampered Chef steamer (without the lid) and it worked like a charm because it has a lip for pouring and a handle. This is the vessel of which I speak . . .

6. Pour melted almond bark on top of about half of the pretzels. Then, tell your child to go crazy with the sprinkles. Distribute the brickle bits generously. They are not attractive, but boy are they tasty.

7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 with remaining almond bark and pretzels.

8. Let the pretzel concoction cool and harden. Be prepared to say, "Just a few more minutes" for the next twenty minutes as your child asks when the pretzels will be ready.

9. Start cleaning up. There may be some (thousands of?) sprinkles on the floor and table.

10. Admire your final product. Attractive enough for gifting? Not really. Perfect for snacking? Absolutely. The perfect sweet and salty snack that pairs well with a variety of beverages, including water, Diet Coke, and cold milk. Break a piece off and indulge . . . in moderation, of course.

Is it just me or do many of the things I concoct look like vomit?

What are your recommendations for sweet and salty snacks? For kid-friendly cooking projects?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Surfaces & Surfacing

My students give final presentations next week, after which I will calculate their semester grades, turn them in, and wait for my final check to arrive on December 15th. It's been a busy semester, but ultimately a good one. More on that in a later post.

I've never claimed to keep the tidiest, most pristine house on the block, but things have gotten even worse around here. Don't call Hoarders. Don't be concerned for my children's health and safety. My house is clean enough, but it is NOT tidy or organized.

Because we have two climbers (moving chairs, perching on the arms of couches and chairs, standing on tables, etc.) around here, I am constantly looking for new places to keep items out of their reach: important pieces of mail, spare change, an industrial hole puncher, student papers, jewelry, grooming products, chapstick, puzzles and games with many pieces/parts . . . basically anything they find and begin to use in a manner that is potentially harmful to themselves, the item, or my sanity. The attempt to keep items out of the boys' reach coupled with my too-much-crap-too-little-organization issues have resulted in many of the flat surfaces of our home becoming ridiculously cluttered. Exhibits A, B, and C:

Excuse the poor quality of the photos. I used the laptop web cam and the lighting was not good.

Parts of our living/family/dining room (it's all one room) look like a storage closet, not a home. I'm embarrassed and posting pictures in the hopes that sharing my shame will motivate me to address these surfaces once I surface from this semester of teaching.

Don't judge my husband for the cluttered surfaces you see. Or my mom. Or his mom. And don't judge me either. If your surfaces look the same or worse, know that you are not alone. If yours are tidy and dusted, just enjoy that smug feeling of having your act all together, NTB, unlike that darn MEP who thinks she's so great.

I hope to post some "after" pictures soon.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Not the Viagra Demographic . . . NTB!

Even though it's December now, I feel guilty about not posting every day. But don't get excited about the subject matter of today's post.

Today's post is directed to anyone who has any knowledge of Blogger (for non-bloggers, Blogger is Google's blog framework -- it's free and easy to use so go start your own blog right now!). Here's my technical question: Is it possible to close or cut off comments on a particular post? I have some sort of foreign spam machine feeding comments into a post I wrote over a year ago. All the comments are part gibberish, part foreign language, and part crazy-link. Most of them mention Viagra or Cialis in some form. I guess the comments aren't hurting anyone because I doubt anyone is looking back on the post, but I just sort of hate having them on my site and hate the thrill of seeing a new comment email in my inbox only to find that it's another anonymous, spam comment on the "Be My Guest" post from October 2008. I used to go back and delete them, but I can't keep up. It's just annoying. I'd like to close comments on that post if someone can tell me how. Though I wonder if they'll start popping up on another post instead.

I will mention that the "Be My Guest" post was written when I was desperately trying to finish my dissertation last Fall. I recruited guest posters for NTB and got some great results. That invitation still stands. If you ever want the thrill of publishing something for tens of readers or want to test-out blogging in a friendly environment, you are welcome to be a guest writer on NTB. Just email me at mep at nottobrag dot net if you're interested.

Okay, that's all folks!

Monday, November 30, 2009

NoMo NaBloPoMo

Today's the last day of November, the official end date of National Blog Posting Month (the cleverly abbreviated NaBloPoMo). I have to say that I'm pretty proud that I managed to post every day in November, NTB. It's been a positive experience for me . . .

1. Daily posting makes me more aware of what I'm doing and thinking and learning over the course of each day.

2. Daily posting takes the "pressure off." In general, NTB is not a high pressure operation for me, but when I haven't made time to post in a week or so, I feel like whatever I do finally post needs to be "really good." Then I procrastinate posting even more because no topic I think of seems good enough. It's been liberating to post every day insofar as I feel like whatever I post does not have to be particularly special. I'd like to think that some of the November posts have turned out to be entertaining anyway, at least as much as some of my once-a-week posts.

3. Daily posting is a good outlet and good writing practice (not that I'm practicing for anything).

In terms of the downsides of daily posting . . .

1. Daily posting leads to DVR back-up. I'm not complaining, just stating a fact. I guess this one is less a downside and more a point of interest.

2. Daily posting also means less novel reading. I'm complaining a little.

3. Daily posting has started to make me feel like I am no longer just the casual mommyblogger and am instead the "look at me, look at my cute kids, look at my life, here's every little thing I'm thinking, aren't I so fascinating?" blogger. The fact that I have a blog to begin with probably means I am sort of that person to begin with, though I hope not obnoxiously so.

I've said it before but what I love most about NTB is the chance blogging gives me to make connections with friends, family, and "strangers." When something I write resonates with other moms or makes people laugh or touches them somehow, it is so satisfying.

I can't promise to post every day for another month, but I will do my best to post more often. Please keep reading! Thanks for taking this November journey with me.

And, if I can ask, what kind of posts do you want to read more of at NTB? Books? Recipes? Helpful tips? Mommy stories? Feminist rants? Sermons? Please share in the comments.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Comfy, Cozy, and Me

Do any of you share my holiday fantasy? It's the one where your tree is all decorated and lit, the kids are in bed, the cards sent, the gifts selected, and the house totally clean . . . and you are on the couch in a semi-dark room enjoying the Christmas lights on the tree, reading the perfect book for the moment, and enjoying a hot beverage and maybe a cookie or two.

I have a few things to check off my list before that fantasy can be fully realized (though, in theory, I guess I could take a few moments to relax with a book and a hot beverage any evening), but I already know what I'm planning to read and drink in this year's version of the cozy evening at home holiday fantasy.

I stopped in Borders on my way to the parking garage after work about a month ago and saw some books by Maud Hart Lovelace on display. Lovelace wrote a Betsy-Tacy series that follows a little girl (and her friend) growing up in a small town. The books were published starting in 1940 and are set earlier than that (late 1800s, I think). If you read the reviews, everyone gushes about how they LOVED these books growing up and how the books remind them of the Anne of Green Gables series and the Little House on the Prairie series. I have no idea how I never heard of these books until a month ago. Anyway, I told myself that if I found out I was having a daughter, I would read the Betsy-Tacy series so that I could share it with my daughter someday, along with my beloved Anne of Green Gables books and Farmer Boy (my very favorite of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books). I haven't started the books yet, but I am so excited to get lost in Betsy's world and in a seemingly more innocent and simple time and place.

As for my beverage, I've been thinking lately of the orange spiced tea that I drank growing up. There are many recipes out there, but my mom usually mixed Tang, instant tea, and some Aspen Mulling cider spices. You combine all the stuff in a jar and then add a few spoonfuls to hot water whenever you're ready to relax with a hot beverage. I love it.

What are your holiday fantasies? Or, if you're interested in mine, tell me what book and hot beverage you're picturing?

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Here are some highlights from our Thanksgiving in Ohio . . .

Highlight #1: Cousins and Being "Clumsy"
When visiting Ohio, Bub has a blast playing with his two oldest girl cousins, Fancy and Swiper. They go, go, go and, for the most part, play and entertain themselves with little need for adult intervention. However, they are so busy playing that they also go, go, go . . . if you know what I mean. There were three episodes of "I peed in my pants" on Thanksgiving alone, with one more by Bub the following day. After the second time Bub soaked his pants on Thanksgiving, he said, "It's okay, I'm just a little clumsy today." The next day, he offered a similar explanation, "I'm still a little clumsy." Clumsy, yes. But cute as well.

Highlight #2: Zoo, Zoo, Zoo
The last time we visited the Lincoln Park Zoo, the polar bear was not swimming. I imagine he was being groomed or treated somewhere, but Bub decided that the polar bear had gone "to Grammy's zoo." We decided to visit the Cincinnati Zoo earlier this evening to check for that polar bear and enjoy the mild weather and the Festival of Lights. We were not the only Cincinnatians who had that idea. The zoo was mighty crowded, but it was still a great night to be out. We saw a sleeping polar bear and lots of beautiful lights.

At the zoo, MEP & Co. also made our first attempt of the season to get a holiday-card worthy photo:

LAP & Co. fared a bit better:

Highlight #3: It's Like HGTV!
My parents recently remodeled their kitchen, living room, and dining room. The results are amazing. Every time I look at the kitchen, I cannot believe how beautiful it is. Plus, the layout is now far more practical, and there's more storage. The only downside is that the new kitchen floor has turned my mom into a Swiffer junkie (six-eight times a day, easily). I'm afraid the crappy photos I take wouldn't do it justice so I have just decided to share one small highlight of the remodel: the fridge now has a freezer drawer with a separate pull-out rack inside, which my mom has given my dad the okay to use for storing the beer mugs he likes to keep chilled for his Bud Lights. Cheers!

Highlight #4: You've Got to Represent
Hubby noted tonight at the zoo that he felt a little awkward being one of the few individuals there not wearing any Cincinnati Bengal, University of Cincinnati Bearcat, or local high school sportswear. That's an exaggeration, of course, but people in Cincinnati do love their sports teams (GO MUSKIES!!!!!!). Note, for example, the lovely light display of my parents' neighbors.

Highlight #5: 3.75%
I had a lot of fun with the ladies on Black Friday and completed a lot of my holiday shopping to boot. I don't get many chances to shop when I'm home in Chicago. Plus, the sales tax in Chicago is now 10.25%, which is ridiculous. When reviewing the holiday purchases with hubby, I made sure to emphasize the tax savings.

So, there you have them, just a few Ohi(o)lights! Lots of fun and laughter this trip. Lots of food. Lots of family time. Lots of fun.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Pink Friday

NTB, but the grand total for everything you see here was around $120 (and that includes two coats). Sure, Sweet P won't fit into the cutest of this stuff until this time next year, but I just had to have my moment to finally enjoy checking out the larger, cuter, pinker section of the store. You know? Do you think I'm excited?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Feeling Full

Full of mashed potatoes (some heavenly recipe that involves sour cream), mashed sweet potatoes, corn, corn casserole, broccoli, ham, green beans, stuffing, cranberry/raspberry jello, and Graeter's ice cream. I didn't have room for rolls, pie, or even turkey. I'll look forward to the leftovers.

I'm also full of thanks for all the good things in my life, family and friends being at the tippy top of the list.

I'm full of joy that I have a healthy baby girl growing inside of me right now.

I'm full of relief every time I remember that graduate school is over, that the black cloud of my dissertation no longer hovers above me.

I'm especially thankful for all who read this blog regularly or stop by and visit from time to time. I love writing these posts and find so much joy each time a reader leaves a comment or takes the time to send me an email or a facebook message or wall post to let me know that you enjoy NTB. I'm thankful for all my "closet" readers as well.

Here's hoping that all of you feel full of all good things on this Thanksgiving day.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Six of One, Half Dozen of the Other

We spent a lot of time in the car today -- two different trips of around four hours or so each. I am pleased that we are (for now) past the stage where a baby is crying hysterically in the backseat and I have to endanger my life by climbing into the backseat, cramming myself between the car seats, and then trying to appease a cranky little one.

Even though the boys are pretty good in the car these days--give or take some screaming contests and the fact that Little Bit pooped twice in ninety minutes during our second trip of the day--I still think it's hard work to be the mommy passenger on these road trips. I sit shotgun but barely have enough room for my feet and legs with the food/snack bag, wipes, stray diapers, McDonalds bag, half-full water bottles, purse, and selection of DVDs. Then, just when I get myself semi-comfortably settled, someone needs a snack, a drink, a kleenex, for mommy to "press play," for mommy to change from Up to Chipmunks Christmas in the DVD player, or for mommy to get out her ipod so we can listen to "Boom Boom Pow." It's tough, right?

I used to feel jealous of hubby in the driver's seat and think, "I'm making myself nauseous turning around to help these kids" and all he has to do is drive. But today I was thinking about how driving sucks too. It's one thing to drive when you're alone in the car, listening to your tunes (or audiobooks). That kind of driving is kind of relaxing, as is chatting with other passengers (hubby and I do get some chatting time on family road trips, which is nice). But it's really no fun driving in the rain, negotiating traffic, fielding "how much longer, Daddy" queries, and so on, with the sound of Tom and Jerry's Christmas or screaming contests in the background.

So, it's a toss up as to who has it easier/harder when traveling with kids. What do you think?

I think that however long the road or challenging the trip, it's worth it when family is waiting to welcome you at your final destination. We'd travel any distance to see the loved ones we saw at the ends of both journeys today.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Soft Core Food Porn

Crockpot 365 remains my preferred food porn right now, but here are some more food-related blogs that you may want to check out:

Diptacular 2009 -- Another blogger celebrated the start of fall by sharing dip recipes and inviting other bloggers to do the same. Follow this link to see her recipes and a whole list of links to other dip recipes. I had some fun checking out the different recipes and blogs.

Bakerella -- I was introduced to this site by another blogger (and friend) who tempted me with talk of the red velvet cake balls. The recipe sounds easy and delicious, similar to the schweaty oreo balls I attempted last December. Also, if you visit Bakerella, be sure to check out the unbelievable Sesame Street cake pops she made.

I'm not tied into the food blog world, though I would love to know more. If you know of any great food blogs or recipe sites, please share in the comments!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Meppie Homemaker

Oops -- I wrote this last night, but apparently forgot to actually publish it! I was wondering why no one left any comments. If the NaBloPoMo police are checking, I really did write it on Monday!

Do you remember a few months ago when I bragged about my new cutlery-sorting system and then just days later blew your mind with the butter wrapper trick for rice krispie treats? (I know I keep mentioning it, but I'm really proud). And how about earlier this month when I listed all those great, helpful tips that I should be following but am not?

I just feel that I have so much to give. (You know I'm joking, right?)

Anyway, I have a new household hint. I can't take full credit it for this tip, but I think it's worth sharing.

Does someone at your house eat grilled cheese sandwiches? I have two little someones who really enjoy grilled cheese. Because of my hubby's schedule, I prepare a separate dinner for my little guys at least five nights a week. After a long day of playing, singing, cleaning up messes as new ones are being created, reading books, and responding to Little Bit's pleas for "ju ju ju ju ju" (short for "juice" but really just a request for something to drink) . . . anyway, with all the stuff that fills a mom's day, sometimes just making a grilled cheese sandwich seems like a lot of work. Judge me harshly if you wish, but that's the truth for me.

You can also judge me harshly, if you wish, for revealing that I am not always vigilant about keeping track of what perishable food items I have on hand so as to use them before they spoil. Common things that I sometimes have to toss include containers of grape tomatoes, eggs, black bananas, and partial loaves of bread.

Today's tip from Meppie Homemaker promotes convenience and decreases waste.

Are you ready?

Years ago, when I had my dream job working the grill at the snack bar of my neighborhood pool, I regularly prepared grilled cheese sandwiches. To butter the bread and get out the cheese would have been very difficult in our tight quarters and during the busy lunch rush so the procedure was to butter one side each of two slices of bread and then put two slices of cheese in between. Then, all of these "sandwiches" went in a special freezer-tight Tupperware container and into the big old freezer. When someone order a grilled cheese, you opened the container, popped one of those frozen babies out, and threw it on the grill.

Tonight, I noticed that we had some bread that we certainly won't finish before leaving town for Thanksgiving and that definitely won't be good when we get home. So, I buttered eight slices, unwrapped my Kraft singles (my cheese of choice for grilled cheese sandwiches), and put them in a couple of freezer bags. I did put wax paper between each sandwich, but I doubt that step was necessary. I'll let you know how my system worked, the next time the boys ask for grilled cheese.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Good Bye and God Bless

Bub, Little Bit, and Hubby visited Grandma and Grandpa in Terre Haute this weekend while I drove on to southern Indiana for a weekend with my girlfriends. Bub helped Grandpa clean his boat and learned to play "Go Fish." Little Bit made messes and skipped naps, but managed to be angelic at the nursing home with his daddy and Grandma when they went to visit his Great Grandma. As ever, I am thankful that our boys have two sets of loving and involved grandparents and delight in seeing how excited they get to visit with all of them.

I know my husband and I both have great memories of time spent with our grandparents and are thrilled to see the joys of the grandparent/grandchild relationship from a new perspective. Earlier this summer, I wrote a little post sharing some memories of time spent with my grandparents and celebrating all the ways that my boys are now making memories with their grandparents.

On Saturday, hubby had a chance to visit with his maternal Grandma. I know he is so glad to have had that chance. This afternoon, she passed away peacefully.

I have only ever heard my husband call her "Grandma," but he told me just now that when he was little, he and his sister always called her "Ma."

So, with hubby's permission, I want to share some of his memories of Ma or "Grandma Koi-skee"--to quote Bub's valiant attempt at pronouncing her tricky Polish last name . . .

As ever, so many happy memories are linked with food. Hubby remembers that his Grandma made the best chicken and noodles. He also loved her cheese cake, as did his Grandpa. She made excellent oyster dressing and hubby was chuckling telling me how it took his own mother years to figure out how to make it on her own since his Grandma had never really used a recipe for it, just knew what to do. The first Thanksgiving I spent with hubby's family, his parents were in charge and hosting the gathering in the community center of his grandparents' senior living apartment. I remember that my mother-in-law was doing the dressing, but that Grandma "Koi-skee" was adding her own touches (suspecting there wasn't enough fresh sage) when her daughter was attending to other tasks to the point where my mother-in-law had lost all track of what had gone in. The dressing turned out great and was the first oyster dressing I had ever eaten. My mother-in-law has also told me about what light, flaky, and delicious pie crust her mom could make. Food is love.

My hubby also remembers his Grandma trying to scrub him clean. Apparently, she was not always gentle with her wash cloth and always worked especially hard on a "dirty spot" on her grandson's face that is actually just a discoloration. Scrub as she might, she could never wipe it off!

Grandma "Koi-skee" could play piano by ear with absolutely no formal training. She had a sharp wit which hubby remembers as often being exercised at his Grandpa's expense. Although my husband does not know how often or for whom his Grandma voted, he does remember her giving his Grandpa hell for voting for Jimmy Carter. She had red hair and, at moments, the fiery streak said to come with it. She also had a green thumb--a huge vegetable garden and many plants and flowers.

I am thankful that I had a few years of knowing my husband's Grandma before a series of strokes made it difficult to connect with her. I am also thankful that Bub and Little Bit visited their Great Grandma on several occasions and were able to elicit some smiles. I can clearly picture her reaching out to tickle Little Bit's baby foot.

When I arrived in Terre Haute to pick up my family, Bub told me, "Grandma Koi-skee died." Earlier this evening, he explained to us that she was "in heaven with God and the cats and dogs." He also worked diligently on what he called a "complication" which was for Grandma Koi-skee and because "he loves God a lot." We have no idea what he meant by a "complication" and could not get to the bottom of it even with lots of questions, but he was concentrating really hard as he wrote with marker on a receipt that he taped up to the fridge with stickers. I'm sure that somewhere she fully understands and appreciates his earnest efforts.

I asked my husband what qualities of his Grandma's he hopes to have inherited, and he said her good sense of humor, strong work ethic, and the way she was loving and modest. Sounds like a wonderful legacy to me. Here's to ninety-four years well lived and well loved.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Good Day.

Food. Friends. Laughter. Fun. I'm enjoying a weekend with my oldest friends in the world. Life is good.

The photo is of my new ornaments from a holiday exchange.

Back to real blogging tomorrow.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

So many reasons to smile . . .

So many reasons to smile . . . such as:

* seeing the light at the end of the semester tunnel -- I will survive and possibly thrive!

* getting out of town this weekend to see my oldest friends in the world -- can't wait!

* Thanksgiving with my parents and (all but one of) my siblings next week and Black Friday shopping the day after -- have not been "home" in months and have not seen my parents for more than fifteen minutes since September.

* finding out tomorrow if we can call "the baby in mommy's belly" a sister or a brother

* the holiday season ahead -- feeling more excited than stressed this year!

And last, but certainly not least . . .

* the smiles on these little guys!!!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hot Vomit on a Chip--Absolutely Delicious.

That title is a little much. I'm sorry, but I can't bring myself to delete it.

Earlier in this month of endless posts, I told you about my new food porn: a blog devoted to crock pot recipes. Ever since I started checking around in the archives (multiple times a day), I have not been able to stop thinking about one recipe in particular.

Cream Cheese, Sausage, and Rotel Dip.

The name doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, and it's certainly not ever going to feature as a subtitle under a styled-for-the-camera Top Chef entree, but still, I had to try this dip.

I have long been a fan of a similar dip involving Velveeta, something spicy and tomato-ey (salsa, I always guessed, but possibly is Rotel), and ground meat (always assumed it was ground beef, but could be sausage). When I taught high school, one of my teacher pals always brought this creation to parties and at-school food events. I never made the dip myself, but have fond memories of it that stretch back to the late nineties.

Anyway, I thought the Cream Cheese, Sausage, and Rotel Dip would be similar and possibly better, especially since Stephanie at Crock Pot 365 calls it "mommy crack." Talk about a name that rolls off the tongue.

When the boys and I went to the grocery on Monday, I purchased some 10/$10 blocks of lite cream cheese (can never have too much on hand, especially with the holidays approaching), a can of Rotel tomatoes with green chilies (chose the mild ones, as I am a spice wimp), and a tube of Bob Evans pork sausage (the smell of it reminds me of home).

Then, I said to myself, "If Mommy Crack is really such a hit at parties, you should plan to serve it sometime, MEP." Then, I reflected, "It would be really irresponsible to try it for the first time when you're having guests. A test run is advised. And, since hubby is out of town on Wednesday night, what an ideal time to try the dip. You can call it dinner."

Tuesdays are very busy for me so I told myself all day yesterday, "You will survive. Tomorrow's Wednesday. Once you get the boys settled tomorrow night, you've got a date with a bag of tortilla chips and a mini crock of dip."

Friends, I just indulged and the dip . . . the dip is delicious. My version turned out a bit watery, but I suspect I did not drain the can of Rotel as well as I could have. The overall appearance of the dip is a bit "hot vomit on a chip," but the flavor was divine.

And, let's face it, if your friends aren't the kind of people you can serve "hot vomit on a chip" to, then they are not really good friends.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Music to my (admittedly uncool) ears . . .

I'm not a cool music person, and I know it. I use my ipod primarily for listening to audiobooks and spend my car time listening either to children's music (if boys are with me) or audiobooks (with ipod hook up thing). It's a shame really because I do love music. Every time I turn music on or hear music when I'm out, my spirits and mood lift. I like to sing along.

I really have no idea why I don't make more room for music in my life.

I do have an idea that my taste in music is not cool. Not even close. To prove this point I will describe the most recent albums added to my music library.*

Britney: The Singles Collection -- Though the CD does not include my personal Britney fave, "Lucky," I am also a major fan of "Oops! . . . I Did It Again" and even more so of "Toxic." Plus, I feel like this CD is a little piece of history, not necessarily a significant piece of history, but a piece of history.

Glee: The Music, Volume 1 -- Love the show. Love the song choices. Could listen to Rachel (Lea Michele) sing her half of the "Don't Stop Believin'" duet all day long. I have never heard some one make the word "Detroit" sound better. Really excited for the second volume.

New Moon: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack -- Since my beloved Entertainment Weekly has mentioned the awesomeness of this soundtrack multiple times, I decided to order it to expand my music knowledge and potentially up my cool factor (yes, I realize it is uncool to buy a CD because you hear it has cool, edgy music). I only recognize two artists on the back--Death Cab for Cutie and The Killers--so that may be an indication that the album really is cool . . . or at least cooler than I am (not that that takes much). I haven't listened to the soundtrack yet, but I'm going to have some alone time in the car this weekend and am planning to test it out on the open road.

I Dreamed A Dream by Susan Boyle -- I don't know what this purchase says about me, but I CANNOT wait for this CD to arrive in my mailbox. The YouTube video can still bring me to tears. I continue to root for Susan.

I don't know what these new acquisitions say about me, my music taste, and my overall coolness.

For anyone seeking a more definitive assessment of my music cool factor, I will share this piece of information: on my ipod's alphabetized list of albums, the first one listed is Air Supply-Greatest Hits.

I'm all out of love for now, folks. Please tell me what you're listening to these days.

*I rarely spend money on music--usually just 99 cents here and there on itunes--but felt I "deserved" a few treats since I am teaching this semester.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Poor, pathetic MEP

30 posts in 30 days.

Many papers to grade and only so many hours to grade them.

Instead of an actual post, I give you a glimpse of poor, pathetic, pale, wrinkled MEP with her frustrating flip-up-on-one-side-only-growing-out hair pinned in a clip with slight puff a la Hope on Days in the early nineties.

Tomorrow will be better. Possibly worse for a little bit, but eventually better.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Clean out the chimney or, um, oops, the DVR--Santa Claus is coming to town!

Do you remember being a little kid back in the days before DVR and Tivo and even possibly before the days of the VCR? Or, do you associate taping something on the VCR with a lot of anxiety, uncertainty, and turmoil, particularly when your parents had minimal tech savvy? Do you remember back when if you wanted to watch a particular show, you had to look it up in the TV Guide (or, at least, the newsprint version that came free with the newspaper--that's what we used) and then had to be physically in front of your television at the exact time when the show was scheduled?

Do you also remember when except for Sesame Street and the other public television options and the tons of kind-of crappy-low-educational-value cartoons, there was not really all that much children's programming?*

You do remember. Great, so you remember what a big deal it was to have a "Christmas Special" to look forward to watching during the evenings of the holiday season. I have such great memories of eating special snacks and having pizza picnics in front of Christmas specials . . . those semi-familiar-yet-oh-so-special shows that built up your excitement for the upcoming holiday and just seemed like such a treat.

My mom would try to track when all of the specials would be on so that we could enjoy them. Great memories.

Last year, we managed to DVR a few holiday shows and Bub took a fancy to Cranberry Christmas, Garfield's Christmas (humor way above his head, but he seemed intrigued by the fat cat), the Peanuts ones, and Polar Express (though not in its entirety).

I pulled out an ABC Family 25 Days of Christmas guide from a magazine and am planning to record a few special shows to enjoy during the upcoming season.** You can find that schedule right here. You're welcome.

I also found a list of holiday specials on multiple channels, not just ABC Family. That list is right here. If your fantasies include your couch, pajamas, wine, cookies, present-wrapping, and Lifetime or Hallmark original holiday movies, this list will help you realize those fantasies.

That's all I have to offer for now, but I have to ask: do you have a favorite "Christmas special"? I think mine is Christmas Eve on Sesame Street.

*I understand that the fact that there is so much children's programming today is not necessarily a great thing, but this post is not about that.

**Not all the shows on the list are holiday ones, but a lot are family/kid movies. I am excited to record Cars, The Incredibles, and Polar Express on our DVR. I'm tempted by Willy Wonka. Bub is not ready for the movie yet, but I think he would get a big kick out of seeing the inside of the candy factory with the chocolate lake, etc. I'll wait though.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Much too young to feel this damn old?

Late this afternoon, we decided to take a family trip to Toys 'R Us to get a birthday gift for a party Bub's attending tomorrow. Getting everyone out of the house seemed a better option than continuing to pull Little Bit off the table (climbing up on chairs and then onto the table is his new favorite thing) where he grabs hubby's Blackberry, which necessitates taking that away, which leads to tears and whining. Bub was busying himself throwing socks around the room (from the sock bin that he climbed up on top of the couch to retrieve from on top of the cabinet where I used to be able to put things I didn't want him to access).

On our way to the toy megastore, we were stopped at the end of our street waiting to make a right turn. There's a bar at the end of the street, which just has the coziest vibe. There are little lamps on each table, old-fashioned decor that is not lame, and a little courtyard in back. Very inviting. As we waited to make the turn, I looked with longing at the twenty-somethings inside. The front door of the bar was open to let in the unseasonably warm November air. The kids inside were talking and laughing and drinking. Probably some of them were watching football. I like to imagine that some might have been playing board games (that bar has them for patrons to play). Whatever the case, most are years away from pulling toddlers off tables and ducking to avoid being pelted by socks.

To be clear, I do not want to be a twenty-something again. Not. At. All. I feel tired just thinking about it and know that those years are not as carefree as they might appear.

So I absolutely do not want to be 23 or 24 or even 26 again, but I would enjoy having more moments when I could just relax and hang out with friends in the middle of an afternoon without having to think about naptimes or babysitters or what time the kids would be getting up the next morning. More time to relax. More opportunities to laugh with friends who know me really well. Maybe a beer (not now, in my pregnant state, of course) and some boneless buffalo wings to add to the pleasure of the afternoon.

Fast forward to a couple hours later. Little Bit was in bed and Bub jammied up. I ordered some Chinese food for our dinner and decided to take advantage of the great weather and walk to pick it up. I walked down Clark St. past Wrigley Field. Twentysomethings dressed in college logo sportswear spilled out from bar after bar. Kids were crowded outside smoking and making calls on their cell phones. Most of the bars looked hot, crowded, and sweaty inside. Tables were littered with empty bottles. Big screens everywhere were lit up with football games. Plenty of visibly intoxicated youth. People were catching cabs, and I wondered how many of the twentysomethings getting inside them were headed home to change out of their OSU sweatshirts and into their "going out" clothes and then keep drinking elsewhere. I can't even imagine.

I enjoyed the walk and the awesome weather, but I would not trade places with any of the people I passed along the way. Unlike the scene we passed on the way to Toys 'R Us that made me feel a temporary sense of longing, the people and places I passed walking to get our dinner just made me feel good about where I am now . . . ready to get home, dig into that Chinese food, and clean up the socks and toys littered all over the floor.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Snot the right way.

It's a privilege to watch one's children grow up, exciting to see them figure out how to do things on their own. Hubby and I have both marveled recently at how Little Bit already knows to pop the top off of his sandwich cookie* so as to maximize his icing intake as he enjoys the treat. No one taught him to do that. We did teach him how to kiss us good night, wave good night, and dance when he hears music. Or, at least we're taking credit.

Bub's at an age where we're constantly surprised by what he knows or has figured out on his own. He can quote from movies, as when earlier this evening Little Bit kept messing up Bub's puzzle and Bub said, "This is useless." Where did he hear that? Simon. Simon who? Simon from Alvin and the Chipmunks, a favorite movie but also one Bub has not seen in at least a month. Always interesting to see what he's picked up or remembered. Of course, we've taught him things too: his last name, his ABC's (with reinforcement from the Leap Frog Letter Factory video), the "Our Father."

Again, it's a privilege to watch kids grow up, to see how and what they learn from us and on their own.

But here's one thing Bub has not learned and that we cannot manage to teach him no matter how many demos we have done and how many tissues wasted: how to blow his nose.

When he gets congested, his instinct is to suck all the snot back in, not blow it out. I think that's part of the reason that he's been wet coughing for a month. Wouldn't you if there were a pile of snot inside of you?

"No, blow it out," we say.
"Like this," we say, as we blow our own noses.
"Put your hand under Daddy's nose. Feel how the air is coming out. Can you do that?"
"Watch mommy. Watch mommy blow her nose."

He watches and smiles then grabs a fresh tissue, holds it to his nose, and sucks in more snot.

Is nose-blowing instinctual or learned?

I don't know. I just know that we need some help here. The primary goal is, of course, to teach Bub how to blow his nose. In the meantime though, I'd also be interested in solutions for helping him to clean out, so to speak. Our babysitter keeps telling me, "Warm salt water. Try warm salt water." The idea appeals to me, but the logistics baffle me. I have no idea how to go about pouring warm salt water up Bub's nose in a way that might effectively trigger some, ahem, drainage. To begin with, how would I get him to stay still?

Anyway, those of you whose kids know how to blow their noses (NTB!!!), please help.

*Trader Joe's Maple Leaf cookies are a MAJOR treat around here. They are vanilla sandwich cookies in the shape of a leaf with a maple-flavored creme filling. The boys love them.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

For my next trick (or treat) . . .

. . . I will do the bare minimum to fulfill my 30 blog posts in 30 days by including some cute pictures (NTB) of my kids on Halloween with just a little bit of commentary.

Bub was an elephant for Halloween and really loved wearing his costume. I love that he is still young and sweet and innocent enough to want to be an elephant instead of, say, a Power Ranger.
Little Bit was, um, a . . . a sea monster? an alien? There were two choices left on the rack at Children's Place and I chose the cuter of the two. I think he pulls it (whatever "it" is) off nicely, NTB. I could not resist including this photo of Little Bit the Pumpkin all dolled up for Bub's preschool party. One of the other moms said, "Oh, he'll hate you later for that one." For what? He's stinking adorable. NTB. My little goblins were not all that scary, but luckily we had our moldy, rotten, squirrel-eaten pumpkins to frighten off any little devils. Who would smash a pumpkin that's clearly hosting a whole spectrum of bacteria? Our pumpkins were dubbed "Mask" (or maybe "Masque"?) and "Manor" (perhaps "Manner"?) by Bub, in case you were wondering. And, of course, the grand old tradition of the dump and sort. They learn so young! I did my part to get in the Halloween spirit by eating every mini Butterfinger I could find and anything else that looked tempting, just trying to keep Bub from having too much candy.

What's your favorite Halloween candy?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Little Critter Fan Club . . . You In?

Several months ago, I posted about Mem Fox's Reading Magic, a book about the importance of reading to your children. In the post, I listed some of the most-loved children's books at our house and received a lot of great comments with the beloved titles in other families. You can check out that post right here.

Our list of favorites is always changing, but a new primetime player in the reading rotation around here is Mercer Mayer. Mayer writes and illustrates the Little Critter books. After a trip to my parents' house where Bub wanted to read Mayer's Just Shopping with Mom over and over, I decided we should check out some more Little Critter books from the library. We brought two home and read and reread those suckers until both of us had them almost memorized. I was so charmed by the stories and wrapped up in Bub's enthusiasm that I purchased two Little Critter collections at Amazon.

Just a Little Critter Collection was published to celebrate thirty years of Little Critter. I had to smile because the first Little Critter book was published in 1975, the year I was born. I actually don't remember reading them when I was little, but I am so thrilled to be sharing them with Bub and Little Bit now. Anyway, the collection includes seven different "books" in one volume for $9.99. Bub's favorites are I Was So Mad, All by Myself, and When I Get Bigger. Just a Mess and Just Go to Bed resonate with me!

I also ordered the Little Critter Storybook Collection, which includes seven "books" for $11.99. Little Critter is a little older in these stories (in school, having projects, etc.), but Bub is still into the stories. Bub's favorite in this collection is Bye-Bye, Mom and Dad where Little Critter and his sister stay with their grandparents for the weekend and do every fun thing you can imagine, including going bowling and to the movies (which seems to be a highlight for Bub). Bub also loves how Little Critter makes lunch for everybody: "When we got home, I made a special lunch for everyone--peanut butter and pickle sandwiches . . . with potato chips, marshmallows, and chocolate syrup on top. Grandma and Grandpa said it was the best lunch they ever had." As is always the case in Mayer's books, the fun and charm come in the way the text and the illustrations tell two different stories. The stories are always told from Little Critter's perspective, but you can get a sense of just how "tasty" those sandwiches are by looking at the illustrations. It's really fun when Bub picks up on some of the differences, as in: "Little Critter is not helping. He's making a mess." One more bonus is that there are really little critters--a mouse and, in later books, a spider too--hiding in each scene. If you want to stretch out the reading experience, you can pause to find them as you go.

My personal favorite Little Critter book is Just So Thankful (unfortunately, not in either collection). A new critter moves to town and has "everything"--the scooter Little Critter wants, a pool, a big house, servants, tons of sugar cereal, a cell phone, and a limo to bring him to school. When Little Critter invites the new kid over for a day of getting muddy with his dog, playing checkers with his little sister, helping set the table, and a cookout with the whole family, including Grandma and Grandpa, his friend has the best day ever and Little Critter realizes how much he has to be thankful for. I cried the first time I read it aloud. Sure, the early pregnancy hormones factored into the tears, but still, there's a great message and story there.

Check out Little Critter at the library if you get a chance and, if there are any toddlers or preschoolers on your holiday list, consider one of the collections as a gift.* Paperbacks of individual titles are usual $3.99.

One of my status updates on facebook a few months back was about Little Critter books and lots of people chimed in to name their favorites. So, do you have a favorite Little Critter title? What are some other favorite kiddie reads at your house? Please share in the comments.

*No one is paying me to write this post, just to be clear. I just really love Mercer Mayer books.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Assuming they're more nice than naughty . . .

Tuesday is my LONG day so this post will be short. I'm just starting to think about the holidays and have started receiving requests for the boys' Christmas lists.

The dilemma is that we need to prepare this house for sale which will involve a MONUMENTAL de-cluttering effort. I imagine that in addition to getting rid of stuff, we may also have to put some of the boys' stuff into storage. If people want to give my children gifts, I am thrilled and want the boys to enjoy a few new things. However, I do not want to bring a lot of big stuff into the house, nor any games/toys that involve multiple pieces (legos, blocks, crafts). I do want there to be some key items around that can keep them occupied while other stuff (like train table, for example) is in storage.

Some ideas I've thought of so far include:

* DVDs -- Bub is starting to be able to watch and actually comprehend movies, and it is fun to talk to him about what happened and see what he remembers/understands. I'm thinking of UP, Cars (erased our DVR copy on accident), Monsters vs. Aliens . . . but I don't want the boys to be watching movies the entire time the house is on the market!

* Photo Albums/Books -- My sister LAP made Bub a Kodak Gallery mini book a few years back, and he still loves flipping through it and naming all the family members featured on its pages, ditto with a book/album that Grandma put together for him. I designed a book at Kodak Gallery called "Best Buddies" that features Bub and Little Bit together that I hope they will both enjoy now and in the future. I could put together some other book/photo collections: updated family book, cousin-themed one, our neighborhood, our house, favorite things, etc. They might get a kick out having books that are about their life!

* Books in general -- They take up less space than other stuff, and we can definitely give our current library a weeding-out to create space for new books.

That's all I have so far. I have been wondering about the Leapster that's for four year-olds and older . . . Do any of you have kids with Leapsters? Do they like them? Use them? Any particular games? Are they worth it?

And, although these items are not small, they would be easy to put in the garage during a showing and may provide hours of indoor fun . . . have any of you seen/owned those little Plasma Cars (look like small scooter things that supposedly steer in some cool way)? The reviews on Amazon and Costco.com are really, really positive. I'm just wondering if plasma cars are worth exploring.

At the end of the day, my boys are little and do not have a lot of expectations for the holidays. The festivities, travel, people, and wrapping paper will likely be the highlights for them. I know that. But I do want to give them a few gifts and want to be able to give good ideas to relatives who have requested them.

So, do you have any good ideas for me?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Crock Pot Porn

First of all, don't invite me over unless you really want me to show up. I don't get out as much as I would like so I tend to accept all invitations, assuming child care can be worked out. All I'm looking for out of any social outing is some decent conversation and decent food, though great food and conversation are even better.

Warning: If you are serving some sort of warm dip accompanied by sturdy chips or crackers, I may sit right next to your crock pot and never leave, except to get more to drink. I will leave your gathering with very warm, happy memories. I will tell my mom and sisters all about what I ate at your house. Like I said, I don't get out as much as I would like.

I found a new blog the other day called Crock Pot 365. I have been visiting it on and off for two days, just randomly clicking on categories, recipes, and success stories.

Crock Pot 365 is my new food porn, in part because of the attention given to some warm dips that sound just heavenly (if not healthy).

The current recipes fueling my food fantasies include:

Sundried Tomato Dip

Brie with Warm Apricot Topping

Sausage, Cream Cheese, and Rotel Dip (aka "mommy crack")

Little Dipper Cranberry Orange Dip

Super Duper Garlic Dip (note description of her crock pot almost licked clean after the gathering)

And, it's not a warm dip, but I admit to being mighty intrigued by the Crock Pot Buffalo Chicken Lasagna.

I could go on and on, but I'm too hungry and I still have to grade twenty papers, clean up the kitchen, and hide the laundry that needs to be stain-treated from the cleaning lady. Don't ask.

I do want to point out that many of these dips also involve cream cheese, another staple in my food fantasies and memories.

Where do you find your food porn?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

I love the theaters where you can butter your own popcorn.

Entertainment Weekly's Holiday Movie Preview edition arrived here yesterday, and this morning's Chicago Tribune had a winter movie preview section as well.

What must it be like to live a life where you actually need to plan and strategize for what movies (plural) you are going to see in the upcoming months?!

I can name every movie I have seen in the theater since 2005.

2005, pregnant with Bub: Walk the Line

2006, about to have Bub any minute: Casanova

2007 (I think): The Pursuit of Happyness [sic]

2008, pregnant with Little Bit: Juno

2009: The Proposal

It's possible I may be forgetting one or two films, but I sincerely doubt it. Hubby and I don't go to the movies because it just doesn't seem like the ideal use of paid babysitter time. We'd rather eat well, talk to each other, and/or hang out with friends. I could arrange to go to the movies during the week after hubby gets home, but that would require advanced planning and energy and effort. I could volunteer to take Bub to his first movie, except hubby wants to take him too so it's a stalemate there unless we arrange child care for Little Bit ( who is definitely not ready for the movies).

The point is that it will be a holiday miracle if I see even one movie in the next couple of months.

In case opportunity knocks, here are the movies I'd be interested in pairing with my extra large bucket of self-buttered popcorn and a large Diet Coke:

It's Complicated with Alec Baldwin and Meryl Streep -- most likely candidate because it is a comedy. I go to the movies so rarely that I tend to want the experience to be a fun escape. Also, I really enjoy Alec Baldwin even though he is probably an asshole in real life.

Did You Hear About the Morgans? with Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant -- Scratch what I said above. This movie about a married couple in a witness protection program would be number one on my list. I will forgive Hugh anything.

The Blind Side with Sandra Bullock -- I haven't read The Blind Side, but hubby enjoyed the book. It's not often that hubby and I are willing to see the same movie so this is a good candidate as well. Plus, I like Sandra Bullock and am fond of heartwarming stories.

A Single Man with Colin Firth -- Colin Firth. Enough said.

Youth in Revolt with Michael Cera. Michael Cera. Enough said.

I know that seeing The Road with Viggo Mortensen would be powerful, and I feel drawn to/obligated to see Precious (Oprah factor, Mariah Carey with mustache, Mo'Nique in dramatic role), but I don't know if I can get through that kind of gut-wrenching stuff right now. Though, I have to say that Owen Gleiberman's review of Precious in EW does make want to try to see the film. Gleiberman writes, "Sometimes, a movie has to take you down--and I mean down, really far--to lift you up. Precious is that kind of movie." Then, at the end of the review, he writes, "It's a potent and moving experience, because by the end you feel you've witnessed nothing less than the birth of a soul." My soul could probably use that kind of movie-watching experience.

At the theater around the corner from us, people were lined up to see Antichrist, but I will not be joining that line. It's just not for me.

I would see New Moon as I enjoyed the Twilight movie and think that Taylor Lautner is cute, but I'm happy to wait for the DVD too.

If Bub were old enough, I would take him to see Jim Carrey in Disney's A Christmas Carol, but it sounds like it's a teense scary.

If we do take Bub to the movies this holiday season, I can see us ending up at either The Princess and the Frog (with his cousins) or Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (he's seen the first one many times and loves it except when Alvin says stupid: "Mommy, that not nice to say 'stupid.'").

So, what's on your holiday movie season wish list? What are the chances you will actually see a movie in the theaters?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

I've earned my personal pan pizza. Go forth and Book-It.

One of items lost when our hard drive bit the dust a week or so ago was the document where I had been recording the titles of the books I've read in 2009. I've been working on recreating the list this evening and decided that today's NaBloPoMo (see graphic to right) would be a list of my favorite reads so far this year. You can click on each title to link to the original NTB post written about each book.

In no particular order, here are some of my favorite reads this year:

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Commencement by J.Courtney Sullivan

This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Plus, there's one more title that I loved but never posted about: Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym. This novel tells the story of four co-workers (not friends) who work in mindless office jobs as they transition into retirement. At moments, the novel is amusing as Pym so perfectly captures the eccentricities and habits of retirees. At other moments, the novel is truly heartbreaking in its portrayal of loneliness and disconnection.

You know what's coming, tell me please what you've been reading and enjoying this year . . .
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