Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thank you for the music.

Initial reflections on my top Michael Jackson memories.

1. March 1984: I turned nine and hosted my first slumber party. My dad was out of town, but he made a scavenger hunt for me. My friends and I followed the clues from room to room in my house on Parliament Ct. and ended up in his office where I unwrapped a Thriller tape. I remember being, well, thrilled. My friends and I listened to it over and over. Apparently Thriller was released in December of 1982, which makes receiving the album in March of 1984 seem a little less thrilling. However, the trusty scholars at Wikipedia report that Thriller was topping the charts for eighty consecutive weeks. So there. My dad and I were still cool.

2. Spring 1989: My grade school had a week called "Everybody Counts" every year. At each grade level, you learned about various disabilities and handicaps and the importance of being kind, respectful, and sensitive. Seventh and eighth graders (only girls participated, but I assume boys were welcome?) could choose to give up some of their recess time over many weeks to learn to sign the lyrics to a song. Then, at the Everybody Counts all-school mass, you signed that song in front of the whole school after Communion. In seventh grade, it was "Lean on Me." In eighth grade, it was Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror." I have to say that the words of that song do still resonate with me. "That's why I'm starting with me . . ." I can still sign parts of both songs to this day, and boy would I love to see a videotape of the performance if such a thing existed.

3. 1993-1997: I can't remember how it started, but my college friends and I did a really stupid thing when we heard "Billie Jean." When Michael would sing, "She's just a girl that thinks that I am the one. The kid is not my son," we would then say, not sing, "That child is not my responsibility" in kind of a serious tone. Then, eventually, it morphed into, "This chair is not my responsibility." I don't know why, and I''m not even beginning to claim that we were funny, but I've been hearing "This chair is not my responsibility" in my head for a few hours now and it makes me smile.

What about you? Any Michael Jackson memories?

Monday, June 22, 2009

More Than a Little Bit Joyful!

There's a post in the works, celebrating Little Bit and his first year. For now I will just note that today our happy, smiling baby turns one, and we are so thankful for the joy he brings us every single day.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Mama, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys.

When I was a high school English teacher, I often socialized with other teachers and their significant others. Contrary to the suspicions of teenagers everywhere, English teachers do not sit around correcting grammar for kicks. But we do sometimes talk about books and when the subject of reading came up, the husband of my friend/colleague (next-door classroom neighbor) had one contribution to the conversation: "Have you ever read Lonesome Dove?" Each time he mentioned the novel, his wife would sigh or roll her eyes or flat out say, "No one wants to hear about Lonesome Dove."

It's not that I would not have wanted to hear about Lonesome Dove. It's more like nothing I heard about it would have made me think I would like it. When I heard the title, I always conjured images of Texas, dust, and tired horses. When, a couple of years ago, my friend Actchy read and enjoyed Lonesome Dove, I decided to use one of my credits to obtain the audio download for my ipod. But I didn't seriously consider listening to it. I still didn't think I'd like it. Texas, dust, tired horses. Urgh.

A few weeks ago, I was pretty much out of audiobooks for my ipod and decided to give Lonesome Dove a try. The first thirty minutes of listening are all about how it's really hot, dusty, and boring in Texas. I did not know if I could handle thirty-six more hours of dust, heat, and tired horses.

Well, I LOVED Lonesome Dove. I laughed. I cried. I marveled at Larry McMurtry's masterful weaving together of so many narrative threads. Each plot line was my favorite one while I was listening to it, with the exception of a few sections that made me so stinking anxious I could barely listen.

"I don't feel good about those Suggs boys," I would tell my husband, who had already read the book. "Are they as bad as I think they are?" Or, "How much do you love Deets? I really love Deets." "Is something going to happen to Newt? Just tell me because I'm going to stop listening right now if that's the case." "Blue Duck is just so evil. I feel sick just thinking about him." "Weren't you so intrigued by Po Campo?" He had to kindly remind me that he read the book in 1996, not last week.*

Reading Lonesome Dove, I learned about a time and place in history that I've never really thought about: the post-Civil War West. I feel foolish admitting this, but I never thought about "how the West was won." Had no idea what Texas Rangers were (not a baseball team?). I had never really thought about what cowboys did besides wear hats and ride horses. Had never paused to think about what a cattle drive was. Never really thought about how important it would be to have a good horse or why one would want to steal horses.

And you know how, if you visit some place like Gatlingburg, TN, you can dress up in those old clothes and get your picture taken. On two occasions, I have dressed for such pictures, choosing to wear one of the satin/lacy type dresses which, thanks to Lonesome Dove, I now realize were reminiscent of those worn by the whores who worked in the saloons.

More than anything, I can't get over how much courage or folly it would take to travel miles and miles into unknown, lonely terrain. I especially can't get over mothers sending their young sons on a cattle drive from Texas to Montana.

Lonesome Dove is a long journey but the hours spent in the company of McMurtry's characters are so worth the trip.

Other recent reads that I heartily endorse are as follows.
I'm Down by Mishna Wolff -- hilarious and thought-provoking coming-of-age memoir about a white girl whose father more or less thinks he is black and raises her and her sister in a poor, black neighborhood

I'm Sorry You Feel That Way: The Astonishing But True Story of a Daughter, Sister, Slut, Wife, Mother, and Friend to Man & Dog by Diana Joseph -- if the title doesn't sell you on this memoir, there's not much I can offer, except to say it is honest, well-written, and completely engaging

Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz -- novel about a Princeton admissions officer coming to terms with her own past and the pressures of making decisions about the futures of so many applicants. I really loved this book.

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl -- I can't believe I have not read Ruth Reichl before, but this memoir of her years as the New York Times restaurant critic was fantastic. I will be seeking out her two previous memoirs ASAP. I hope to post on this one in more detail in the future, but I wanted to mention it now in case Top Chef Masters isn't tiding you food fanatics over until the new season begins.

As always, I want to know what you are reading? And, what's your "Lonesome Dove"?

*Inspired by my constant commentary on Lonesome Dove, hubby DVRd and has been watching the miniseries. I've only caught snippets, but I have to say that realizing that D.B. Sweeney of Cutting Edge fame plays top hand Dish Boggett really made my evening.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bub's Got Game(s)

Bub is developing an interest in boxed games like Candyland, Hi Ho Cheerio, Memory, Cootie, and a Thomas the Train game. His attention span and respect for the rules of play are still, ahem, developing, but he seems to enjoy himself. Plus, he is great, NTB, about cleaning up all the little pieces so Little Bit won't try to eat them. I play such games with Bub while Little Bit naps in the morning. Hubby plays with Bub before bed most nights.

With lots of rain and temperatures in the mid-fifties most of last week, we've had more indoor time this summer than anticipated and thus, more indoor games. NTB, but Bub has been thinking out of the box on some of most recent "games."

Here are some of Bub's favorites games with materials and instructions given from his perspective . . .

Mailing Letters
Materials Needed: candy, envelopes, stickers, crayons

1. Mention every five minutes that you want to go to the candy store.
2. Once your mom has given in or found some candy somewhere, ask her to dump it on the table.
3. Get to work filling envelopes with one or two pieces of candy in each.
4. Work with mom to put a sticker on the front of the envelope for a stamp. Remind her that you do not want any Winnie-the-Pooh stickers with Piglet on them because "the pig is sad."
5. Delegate as much as you can, as in, "You write my name on the envelope, Mom." She will probably make you trace your name.
6. Place envelopes in your own mailbox.
7. Start asking your mom when you can check the mail because you think you have some letters.
8. When she relents, open all the letters, even the ones you said were for Daddy. 9. Eat the candy inside.
10. Return to step 1.

Poker Chips
Materials needed: poker chips and caddy, Spray N' Wash (suppose Windex or non-aerosol hair spray would work in a pinch)

1. Dump all the poker chips out of the poker chip caddy and on to the basement floor.
2. While your mom is changing the laundry, spray as many chips as you can with Spray N' Wash.
3. Find a piece of dirty laundry from the pile and use it to start drying the chips.
4. Put the chips in the caddy as you dry them, reserving the black and white ones. Don't forget to scold your baby brother for trying to put away chips that have not been "washed and dried" yet and for not keeping black and white ones out of the caddy.
5. Tell your mom the black and white chips are for "making snowmen."
6. Take an extra pile of black and white chips and hide it in the guest room.
7. Once you have about 15 chips dried and back in the caddy, leave the rest on the floor so that you can skip step 1 when you are ready to play again.

Unnamed Game A
Materials: matchbox cars, silo from Fisher Price farm, tennis ball

1. Fill silo full of matchbox cars, leaving some room at the top.
2. Place tennis ball in top of the silo.
3. Empty silo and repeat.

Unnamed Game B
Materials: bin of baby and toddler shoes, toy hammer

1. Empty shoes on to the floor. Do it right in the doorway between the kitchen and family room so that no one can miss the fact that you are playing.
2. Use hammer to beat the shoes repeatedly.

Making Sand

Materials: sandbox with plentiful sand toys, neighbors

1. Stand on the deck and peer over the fence until you get the neighbors' attention.
2. Invite them over. (Your mom will not mind because she prefers inviting them over to having you invite yourself to their yard or stare over the fence with longing. Plus, she likes the neighbors.)
3. Make sure all the toys you own are out of the garage and strewn about the yard.
4. Once all the toys are out, ignore them and lure all the kids into the sandbox.
5. Remove your shoes and socks, no matter what the temperature.
6. Once there are five kids (ages 11 months-8 years) in the sandbox (3-4 feet in diameter), work together to create an elaborate system for filling, straining, dumping, and moving sand. This is called "making sand."
7. Make sure to get as much sand out of the box and into the yard as you can.
8. Throw a fit when it's time for dinner and no more sand can be made.
9. Ask the neighbors if they want to "make sand" every other time you see them.

What games do the kids in your life play? Please share in the comments.

Also, please don't forget to send in your recipes for the NTB Dips and Sips Summer Recipe Drive! For the price of one recipe, you will receive many! Pretty please.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Over the river and through the woods . . .

I was fortunate enough to grow up less than ten minutes away from all of my living grandparents. When I visited my dad's parents, my grandma would give us dishes of vanilla ice cream and then get out all of her sprinkles (maybe eight different varieties, including the little silver ball ones) and let us have at it. I fondly remember stirring the ice cream until I had a sort of sprinkle soup. My grandma and grandpa also had a highboy in their living room and in its top drawer, there were at least fifty coasters in various styles and colors. I don't remember what I did with the coasters, but it's thirty years later, and I'm still picturing them. One of my favorite activities was exploring the basement which was full (packed to the gills) of stuff of all kinds. I've always been a stuff magnet, and it was a joy to nose around. I also remember playing with my aunt's old Barbie dolls and the special chest that housed their clothes. Now that I'm writing that, I wonder if her daughters did the same thing years later. Under a storage chest in their bedroom, my grandparents had a stack of Sunday "funny papers" being saved to wrap presents. I remember spending an afternoon reading months and months worth of Cathy comics.

I also have special memories of visiting my mom's mom's house. I remember sitting on her astroturf-covered front porch, blowing bubbles and eating popsicles. I remember walking to King Kwik to buy fun dip and other treats. I remember playing Hi Ho Cheerio. I also remember the clothes line in the back yard and the birdbath. There was also easy access to Brach's pick-a-mix candy in my Grandma's television room. Finally, like all my cousins, I have fond memories of drinking cold water from her rolling pin (it was plastic, filled with water, and stored in the fridge). As I write this, I'm also remembering the corner cabinet with the drawer for playing cards, the specialty display shelf that housed her thimble collection, and opening the oven to fill a little brown bowl full of the snack mix stored inside a roasting pan. I also associate The Little Red Hen with my Grandma H--better to be industrious than lazy, you know.

At both houses, I also recall drinking pop--cool stuff like Orange Crush and Red Cream Soda--from glass bottles stored in hot, old-smelling garages.

Right now, our boys are not lucky enough to grow up near their grandparents. Though that means that they and their grandparents miss out on spending as much time together as everyone would like, it also means that visits to and from grandparents are all the more special.

Recently we visited grandparents two weekends in a row. It's fun to see Bub forming his own special traditions and routines for these visits.

At Grandma and Grandpa's, Bub enjoys making coffee in the morning with Grandma, investigating the "treasure box" to see what's been added, helping clean the table, eating and sharing chocolate chip cookies, and playing with daddy and Aunt Shell's Fisher Price Little People Farm and Hospital.

At Grammy and Pop's, Bub likes conning Pop into taking him to go buy munchkins, helping Grammy water the plants and flowers (with way more access to the hose than he gets at home), playing with the old toys of his mom and aunts and uncles and a "few" new ones that Grammy has picked up, and spinning tunes on a Sponge Bob boom box that Grammy bought at Big Lots.

Grandma and Grandpa live in a country subdivision in Indiana with a park and ponds. With Grandpa and Daddy's help, Bub caught his first fish (actually, his first four fish, NTB) last visit.

Grammy and Pop live near "downtown" Fairfield, OH, but as when visiting Indiana, the boys see more trees and grass than they do at home. From the screened in porch, Bub and Little Bit saw five deer (all together) in the yard of my parents' neighbors. These same deer eat my mom's roses, which kind of stinks, but Bub thought it was pretty neat to see them so close.

Many farms are passed on the routes to both sets of grandparents, and Bub likes to note silos and tractors as we pass. He has even, NTB, become adept at identifying tractors by brand based on the tractor's color. He continues to ask if there are purple or pink tractors. Anyone?

When visiting Ohio, Bub also loves doing absolutely anything that involves his beloved cousins who are lucky enough to live about twenty minutes from Grammy and Pop.

Cousins Fancy, Swiper, and Bub dressed in Pop's t-shirts after taking a bath in Grammy and Pop's tub. I have no explanation for their decision to eat fruit snacks out of orange cups and place those cups on their heads as I took the picture.

Cousins Wookie and Little Bit conked out at Kings Island.

Any memories to share from visits with your grandparents? Please share.

REMINDER: Fancy Hummus, Vodka Slush, Frijole-Mole . . . The recipes are starting to roll in for the NTB Dips and Sips Summer Recipe Drive. Please consider participating!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Dips and Sips Summer Recipe Drive

Despite the frigid spring temperatures in Chicago this week, I remain confident that summer weather will soon arrive. In honor of the season of fun, sun, and over-indulging with friends, I am pleased to announce the inaugural NTB Dips and Sips Summer Recipe Drive.

That's right, not a recipe contest but a recipe drive -- an effort to gather a bunch of people's best recipes that fit into the broad categories of "dips" (dips, salsas, spreads, easy appetizers, cracker/chip/pita/cut veggie-friendly foods) and "sips" (cocktails, mocktails, sangrias, punches, and the like).

Here's how it works . . .
1. Think of a recipe that you really enjoy!

2. Share the recipe with me and other NTB readers:
* Include any helpful hints, ingredient notes, serving suggestions, or variations you have to offer.

* Offer a brief blurb about the history of the recipe -- who gave it to you or if you, NTB, created it yourself, what was your inspiration? Special occasions the recipe suits? Past feedback from guests who sampled it? Why you enjoy making, eating, or sharing it? Just give us some little something to get excited about the recipe.

* List your name, a made-up name, or your blog handle. If you have a blog and want other NTB readers to know about it, give me the url and I will include it with your recipe.

3. By June 20th (DEADLINE EXTENDED to 6/28), email the recipe to mep at nottobrag dot net . Please also leave a comment saying that you are participating.

Each contributor will receive an official NTB Dips and Sips Summer Recipe Drive cookbooklet in your email inbox.* For free!

Throughout the summer, I will be testing out the Dips and Sips Recipes and blogging about it. I love having friends over to enjoy food and drink and plan to use the Dips and Sips Recipe Drive as extra motivation to plan some casual get togethers.

Please forward this post on to friends and other blog readers. My goal is to gather at least 50 recipes! Special requests for any cocktail recipes that include champagne. Thanks to a recent graduation, NTB, I have some around here.

It's going to be a great summer!

*I will not use your email address for anything but emailing you the cookbook file.
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