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!
Blog Designed by : NW Designs