Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ghosts of Birthdays Past and Present

Happy Halloween everyone! So, for the two to three people who are reading this blog and don't personally know me, thanks, first of all, and second of all, today is also my birthday. When I was growing up I loved having my birthday on Halloween. As a kid, you're guaranteed to hang out with your friends and get a lot of candy.  What's not to like? When I was in college, there were always tons of parties and I definitely worked the birthday angle to my advantage and scored some free drinks.  Having a Halloween birthday when you're an adult with small-ish children is a totally different ball of wax.  Now I spend my birthday getting costumes together for the kids and doling out candy.

This year, Mom had sweetly offered to take me shopping, but the Baby was still nursing a cold, so I wasn't counting on that happening.  In fact, I'd say that I set my expectations pretty low this year.  When I was cleaning up from breakfast this morning, though, I had this birthday surprise:

Can you see her in there?  Someone hid our Russian nesting doll inside the pumpkin. She was peering out of the nose like she was in the gulag. Then when the Baby and I released her from her pumpkin prison she wouldn't totally close.  That's because this was inside the last doll:

We're still not sure who set up the little surprise. I suspect the Boy, but the Baby's money is on Audrey the Moose. I don't think I've mentioned Audrey before, but she is a major player in our household. Whenever some kind of mischief or mess is revealed, the Baby insists that it is Audrey. She lives in our neighbor's car and has telescoping antlers. Audrey has a way with the paintbrush that is surprising for a hoofed (hooved?) animal. Remember our fabric paint project from the other week? Well, old Audrey got into the paint a couple of days ago and made quite a mess. She also left a paint handprint that was just about the size of the Baby's hand. Hmmmm.

In any case, we chuckled about the dolls for a little bit, but then we found an even bigger surprise when we opened the front door:

My sweet friends had rigged up a ghost right outside the front door as a birthday treat. Underneath that sheet is a life-sized cardboard Batgirl. Batgirl has clearly been working out with Jackie Warner. Get a load of that v-taper:

Batgirl-ghost remains up to greet the trick-or-treaters. Her sheet keeps slipping off, which makes her fit in perfectly with our other deteriorating decorations.

The Baby's nose was running, but I thought she could make a go of it at school. I tried to talk her into it by mentioning that everyone would be wearing costumes and she totally freaked out and refused to go, so that was that and I had a companion for the day.

Around mid-day, Mom came by with this random assortment of balloons:

Yes, that's a Sesame Street balloon. I'm not sure if it might have been a political message? Mom is very obsessed with the election.  Since the Baby wasn't that sick, Mom took us to lunch at Taqueria del Sol. If you've never been to Taqueria, you totally have to go. They put something in the food that is positively addictive. We got really lucky because the K was able to join us.

Right before we left for lunch, Dad called from the hurricane zone. They still don't have power and the stores and restaurants are all still closed. The thing about Dad is that he basically subsists on cappuccino, so he's had a rough couple of days. I think that the DTs have set in. He borrowed a french press from my step-brother and his wife, but he didn't know how to use it. So he called to wish me a happy birthday and to get a french press tutorial (never mind that he actually lives next door to my step-brother and probably could have gotten directions that way). I gave him the 411 (does that exist anymore?) on the french press and let him get off the phone so he wouldn't waste his minutes.

After we got back from lunch, I opened Dad's gift (which arrived about a month ago) and, in keeping with the randomness of the day, it was, well, random. Here are some pictures:

The first picture is of a really old blanket with patriotic symbols. The second item is an Amish birth record that is entirely in German. I feel like I'm describing lots in an auction. Clearly these are about as far from a generic gift card as you can get. In my *ahem* youth, I probably would have been annoyed by this and wished for a J. Crew sweater, but I've grown to appreciate these unique gifts. I put the blanket over a chair in our study. I use the term "study" loosely because it's really a room with all the things that don't go in any of the other rooms. Y'all know what I mean? Don't pretend that you don't have a room like that in your house. We should come up with a name for that room.

So, as far as birthdays go, this birthday rated pretty high for me. I loved all the quirky little things that happened - the babushka in the pumpkin, the Batgirl ghost, the Sesame Street balloon, Dad's call about the french press, and my unique gifts. I loved my lunch and wasn't even upset to lose my day of shopping because the Baby's cold/masklophobia. It was really nice to just stay at home and do nothing. Our schedule has been so crazed, that I felt like I got a chance to breathe for just a second. Best of all, tomorrow I get to take down the Halloween decorations! Happy Halloween everyone!

P.S. I added a gadget so you can sign up to get blog posts by email. Let me know if it still doesn't work and I'll try to troubleshoot it. Seeing as my computer skills are on par with my photography, it may take a while to work out all the kinks. Thanks for your patience!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween Fatigue!

So, before I start trying to cheer everyone up, because, let's face it, today totally sucked for a lot of people, I'm going to repeat something that Sister shared on Facebook.  It's from one of New Jersey's greatest ambassadors, Bruce Springsteen:

Everything dies baby that's a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty,
and meet me tonight in Atlantic City.
My thoughts and prayers are with so many of my friends and family who live in the areas hit by Hurricane Sandy.

Okay, are you all so ready for Halloween tomorrow?  I am, and I tell you why.  We can finally be finished with the do-a-fall-thing-everyday-insanity that I began on October 1st.  Confession time: the last two days it's been really windy in the ATL and my fall-themed thing has been to keep fixing our Halloween decorations when they blow away.  This brings up another reason that Halloween can't come fast enough: all of our decorations are all falling down, ripping, and rotting.  I'll show you what we've got going on here:

Clearly, I need to call an exterminator for our spider problem.  I already had to toss a pumpkin (the Baby's "favorite" naturally) because it was turning black and slimy.  I realize that black and slimy is pretty on-target for the holiday, but even I have cleanliness standards.  You see that orange banner above the door?  Here's a better picture of it:

So, the K is 6 foot 3 and he basically garrotes himself when he walks into the porch.  Garroting is also pretty spot-on for the holiday, but it's not very hospitable as a general matter. I keep shoving sticks in the mortar between the bricks and tacking the flags up that way, but they keep blowing down.  Does anyone have a suggestion for me that doesn't involve the words "masonry bit?" See the Baby in the window?  She was home with a cold today.  More on that later.  I should have prettied up the porch a little before I took the picture, but it was cold and windy today and it was all I could do to run out, snap my crappy pictures, and run back into the house.

Next up outside is the source of all those spider webs:

This guy got blown off his web shortly after the picture and is now lying eight-legs-up on our porch.  I've officially given up on him until the wind dies down or November 1st rolls around, which ever comes first.

Inside, we have another infestation, rats (and possibly some possums):

These are from Martha Stewart's decorations line and I got them at Michael's. The kids keep moving them, which is why the two on the bottom are doing burpees or downward dog or something. Look at that big guy on the bottom step. Doesn't that one have to be a possum?    
Rats are just the most vile creatures.  I thought everyone felt the same way until a message came across one of my listservs.  A woman posted that she found an injured rat and she wanted to contact an animal rescue group to help rehabilitate the little fellow.  Shut the front door!  Seriously?! I'm sorry, someone feeding a rat with an eyedropper so that he can one day return to scavenging garbage and spreading the plague seems like a wasted effort at best.

We also have bats:

which keep curling up and falling off the mirrors.  They're from Martha, as well.  My cleaning people are incredibly patient with the props, although they practically chortled when I reminded them that the next time they come, all the decorations will be down.

So there you go, my scary Halloween decor.  I want it all gone, folks.  I'm ready for Thanksgiving because it means no nylon spider webs blowing across the front yard and no more pumpkin banner strangling my house guests.

Remember how I told you that the Baby was home from school with a cold?  So, since she wasn't really sick, she was up to all sorts of shenanigans. For instance, while I was working on the computer she kept coming up to me and poking me in the back.  It felt kind of nice, to be honest, so she did it for like five minutes before it occurred to me to look at what she was actually doing. When I turned and looked at the back of my t-shirt, I saw this:

This is when I wish I were a better photographer.  But, can you see it?  The Baby was stamping all over the back of my shirt.  Here's a close up:

If I don't miss my guess, that's an airplane, two speed limit signs, an ice cream sundae, some hearts, and an Easter egg.  Sigh.  I hope that Melissa & Doug aren't fooling when they say the ink is washable. Although, I suppose it's a good excuse to get some new workout clothes now that this one smells like sweat and negligent parenting. Happy Halloween everyone!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Live and Let Live

Since so many of you are riding out Hallowcane (that's halloween and hurricane) Sandy, I bet you missed the really big news of the weekend.  Levi Johnston (of Sarah Palin and Playgirl fame) married his other baby mama (i.e. not Bristol Palin) and Us Magazine covered it in what had to be the saddest article about a wedding that I have ever read.  The author, Allison Corneau's distain for the subject matter of her piece is truly palpable.  It's as if she picked out the most outstandingly insane features of Levi's wedding to Sunny Oglesby just to create a subtext of imminent disaster.  Rather than focus on Sunny's dress, which actually looks nice in the picture, she mentions the groom's attire which is described as "a Hugo Boss red label tuxedo, accessorized with a camouflage vest and bow tie."  Do you think Levi thought if he wore camouflage Sunny might not find him?  Can you find Levi in this picture?

We are also treated to this stunning visual, "Johnston is said to have sweated profusely during the event."  That is just a sad, sad sentence.  Taken out of context you might think "the event" referred to a hockey game or even a particularly vigorous muskox hunt.  But, no, it's his wedding.  Sunny, please don't clip this article and put it in your wedding scrapbook.  

And there's more: "The nuptials took a light-hearted turn when the groom fumbled his vows and elicited chuckles from guests in attendance. 'To have and to hold, whatever you say.' Inside Edition reports Johnston as saying." By the way, I have a feeling the entire Us article was "researched" by watching the wedding coverage on Inside Edition.

The happy couple's one month old daughter, Breeze Beretta (named after the Italian firearms manufacturer, we are helpfully informed) was present at the wedding.  However, Tripp, Levi's son with Bristol wasn't there because Levi told Bristol he wanted "custody" of Tripp, but didn't tell her why.  Bristol said, 'nope' or the Alaskan equivalent which probably involves shooting a wolf from a helicopter and dropping it on Levi's head.

So, here is my question: what does it mean that I find the Us article to be highly entertaining (because, honestly that wedding sounds like...a lot) on the one hand and really sad on the other? You see, my guess is that Levi and Sunny thought that they'd let Inside Edition cover their wedding and it would be super cool and they'd get some nice pictures.  Instead, Us Weekly gets ahold of the video and cherry picks the absolute worst, most dooming elements of the entire thing to write about. The article easily could have been about how amazing Sunny looks since she had a baby like six weeks ago, but instead it's Levi's sweaty camo tux.  The wedding clearly had some tragicomedy elements, but the Us article does seem unnecessarily mean.

Do you think that this speaks to a larger issue (not to get all thinky and preachy)?  Maybe this shows how city folk and country folk just don't understand each other.  I imagine that the quirky weddings in the New York Times Vows column can sound just as weird to someone from rural Alaska (why are these people so old?  why aren't they named after the weather?) as Levi and Sunny's wedding seems to us and Us.  Is this what people mean when they say that the United States is divided?  Is it the Levi Johnstons and Sunny Oglesbys versus the Miranda Kimballs and James Swaffields (I just honestly picked those names out of the NYT Sunday weddings)?  Just something to ponder as we head into the election next week.  Also, I didn't bake anything today or rearrange any furniture.  Keep safe Sister, Cappy, Dad, Ellen, and all my friends and other family up and down the east coast.    


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Baseball Cookies and Ghost Cupcakes!

Have you ever had one of those days when you think, I need to leave the room because I will lose it on someone I love because I'm just so sick and tired of doing.  Today was one of those days.  I feel silly even complaining about anything because I know my friends and family in the northeast are about to get hit by hurricane snow and are fighting for loaves of stale pumpernickel raisin bread at the Stop n' Shop.  Meanwhile, I'm down in the Peach State complaining about baking and going to parties.  Some nerve I have!

As always, I was the architect of my own demise.  Today was the Boy's last regular season baseball game (his team is the Tigers) and I decided I had to make cookies that looked like baseballs.  This is the inspiration:

Of course, while mine bore a passing resemblance to the above, they looked like this:

I ran out of red gel frosting, but had a bucketload of black, so I improvised and hoped that someone would have a red dye allergy and would be secretly grateful for the black ones.  I made one with the stitching until I decided that it was too time-consuming.  Here is a picture of the one good one:

Like how I put it on the baseball glove napkin?  Mad photography skills, right?  Hey, I know that it would have been cuter if I'd done them all like that with the stitching, but it was 9:30 and the kids were all faint with hunger, so I decided to feed them instead of getting all OCD over the cookies.  Totally the right decision, because when I unpacked them after the game, the icing stuck to the waxed paper and they all ended up looking like some bizarre Rorschach icing test.  I didn't snap any pictures because they were so pathetic.  Plus it was cold and windy and I was busy chasing the cute napkins that were all blowing around the ballpark.

My other baking project of the day (oh yes, there was another) was ghost cupcakes for our neighborhood Halloween block party.  I've made these the last few years and they're a big hit with the kids.  Here's the "recipe":

Ghost Cupcakes

Bake and frost 24 cupcakes of your choice
For the Ghost Decorations:
2 packages Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies or 1 package Nutter Butter cookies
2 cups white chocolate chips
1 tube black gel icing

Pour 1 cup of white chocolate chips into a microwave-save bowl and cook for 1 minute.  Take out and stir until smooth.
Using a knife, spread the melted white chocolate on the front and back cookie, coating about three-fourths.  Let the chocolate cool on a piece of waxed paper.  See picture:

When the chocolate has completely cooled, go back and make ghost faces on the cookies with the gel frosting.  I didn't take any pictures of how to draw the faces because I have total confidence that if you see the picture of the final product and you are over age two, you can handle it:

Easy peasy, right?  That's the Girl in the background looking glum because she couldn't find her new glow-in-the-dark vampire teeth that she desperately needed for her leopard costume.  Yeah, me neither.  Luckily, I found them in the middle of the family room floor.  She happily popped them back into her mouth without even washing them.  Sigh.  Builds immunity, right?

In between the baking projects the Baby and I hit Whole Foods and I even let her get one of those kid-sized carts so she could ram it into my heels help me do the shopping.  The Girl attended a wild Halloween party and we shivered our way through the Boy's baseball game and the Baby's soccer game. The K was a sport and raced out to Office Depot to pick up some DVDs that I promised to get for the Girl's teacher.  I'm doing my first sitting down of the entire day and I'm so happy.

Alrighty, last little story before I sign off for the evening.  Yesterday, the Boy and I had the following conversation:
Me: What do you think of those new stools in the living room.
Boy: (Aggressively tries to lick area between his upper lip and nose)
Me: Um, what are you doing?
Boy: Trying to lick my eyeballs like a gecko.

Sometimes I feel like I'm busy trying to make things *perfect* (as if such a place exists) because I'm so particular and want things to be just so.  Meanwhile, the Boy just wants to lick his eyeballs, the Girl just wants her damn teeth, and the Baby just wants to ram my heels with the shopping cart.  So, when I take that step back and realize that all this craziness and stress is me trying to reach some unattainable goal and that it doesn't make our family better or happier to do all these things, I feel better.  I'll still make the cookies and the cupcakes and be the room mom and overextend myself, but these aren't the things that make happy memories for my children.  It's when we do these things together and have fun doing it that really matters.  Wow, how deep!  Clearly I need to go to bed!  Good luck stormy north easterners!  I'm thinking about you!    


Saturday, October 27, 2012

People Plan and God Laughs

Our super-busy Saturday ended up being not-as-busy because the Baby conked out after her second party, so the Boy, the Baby, and I are home chilling while the K and the Girl are at party number three of the day.  Having three kids means that I've gotten used to having plans upended. But, I'm especially bummed to miss this party because I was looking forward to drinking a beer and chatting it up with some grownups. The K works late a lot, so I spend the majority of my time talking to people under the age of nine. The Girl, the Boy, and the Baby keep me in stitches with their wacky theories, and they never give me their unsolicited opinion about the presidential election, but sometimes you just want more profanity in your conversations.  (Speaking of which, the other night, the Boy said, "I'm going to say the f-word!"  Before I could stop him, he shouted, "Frosted Flakes!")


The other thing I was looking forward to is that the K's band The Midlife Crisis The Happy Enchiladas will be performing at the party.  Yes, the K has a string trio.  The K and D both play guitar and J (who is a chick) plays the banjo and is their charismatic lead singer.  They have a playlist of about six songs and are available for bar mitzvahs, weddings, and baby showers.  Book them now!

The hostess of the party that I'm missing is my friend, Beth.  She and her husband have thrown a Halloween party for the last few years, but this year's is a little different.  The invitation read, "Join Us for a Good Evening, Because Life Can be Scary..."  This is a fitting theme because in January Beth was diagnosed with breast cancer and she's spent the majority of this year going through treatment.  Throughout was what a really difficult time, Beth impressed me by continuing to be Beth.  When she was going through chemo we went to a concert together at Variety Playhouse and she rocked her headscarf and if she was feeling lousy, sure didn't show it.  She's got a kind of wicked sense of humor (I mean this in the best way) which has, I'm sure, served her well during treatment.

I'm trying to keep things light here on the blog (name of the blog, notwithstanding), but I do think it's important to recognize that October is breast cancer awareness month.

Beth has allowed me to share one of her Caring Bridge journal entries from this summer when she was starting chemo.  The happy news is that Beth is all finished with chemo and completed radiation this month.  She still has a couple of hurdles before she can put the whole cancer thing behind her, but hopefully the theme of next year's Halloween party will be "Life is Good."  Enjoy Beth's writing!

My dear friends,
I am so sorry that I have not updated my journal for an entire month.  I have meant to at every milestone on this "journey" - hate that term for this, I prefer to call it "twisted path", emphathis on "twisted."  But see as a busy mother, and most of you completely understand where I am coming from, there is always something else to do.  I kind of took a break from this and fell back into the wonderful world of grocery shopping, house cleaning, cooking dinner, etc., those tasks that we often loath as they are so short-lived, and you have to start all over again all too soon.  But I found myself really liking these dull everyday activities as they seem so safe and predictibly endless, but not really that bad when compared to these big, scary things that spring up out of nowhere and take our lives in directions we never expected them to go.  I was trying to hide from cancer for a bit, but it kept finding me.  I found it exhausting.  I would come up with all these great new topics to explore and then at the end of the day, which is long, I would sit down to journal and my head would hit the keyboard before I got very far at all.  And as you might have guessed, I love to write.  I was a devoted fan of "Sex and the City" and I have always wanted to be Carrie Bradshaw.  How cool to write about something you have experienced firsthand and use colorful language to really bring it to life.  I want to do that.  Not just deliver the facts, but capture the feelings of being turned upside down and finding out where that takes you.  It's often not pretty, but it sure is clarifying.  It reminds us what is most important.  And this kind of writing takes time.  And creating time for just oneself is something that women are really bad at doing.  We are too busy taking care of everyone else first.  I am trying to learn to take care of me first, (or close to first - get real).  Cancer is teaching me that, among other things.  And I want to share these lessons with my friends.
So, in the midst of my everyday activities, the doctor's visits and often painful decisions continued, and the clock was ticking on the worst deadline ever and this thing at the top of my "to do list" - "Decide whether to do chemo" was just too huge, too major of a life decision.  I just could not do it.  I found myself frozen in fear.  And when I am afraid, I hide.  But then I got ahold of myself, with help from a very dear friend, I called for help and advice which led me to getting a second opinion from a different doctor.  That was the best thing I could do. Suddenly everything became perfectly clear. The "gray area" I ended up in due to a test on the genetic makeup of my tumor, called my "Oncotype Recurrent Score", was really not as gray as I thought it was, according to the 2nd opinion.  And any lymph node involvement typically involves chemotherapy.  That is our current "standard of care".  This is why the clinincal trial.  We are still not sure if those with fairly low scores really need chemo.  But the doctor I saw thought it best for me to have chemo, so that was my answer.  I made my decision.  So, no trial, go straight for the hard stuff.  Shaken, not stirred, like a martini in a James Bond film.
Today was my first course of chemo.  I will have 4 total, 3 weeks apart, so my summer will be filled with all this - May 17, June 7, June 28 and July 19.  Then I am done with chemo.  Radiation?  Still not sure.  I will deal with that later.  Hopefully not, but I need to see another doctor.  sigh.  Another doctor.  Just can't do that quite yet.
It's been a rough week, filled with lots of stress and anxiety and what I like to call "break through" crying, where you try to keep your chin up and talk to people and then you are fighting back tears because you just can't let yourself cry right now or you might never step into that room, the infusion room where the chemo drugs are administered.  So, this morning when I was sitting in the waiting room outside the dreaded infusion room, one of the chemo nurses came up to me and said that it would be just a few minutes.  I said, "You can take all the time you like, darlin'.  He came over to me and put a hand on my shoulder, and said, "Sounds like you really don't want to be here."  And I said, "Nope."  Then he said in his best party host voice, "Welcome to Camp Chemo".
...and my first day at camp wasn't so bad after all!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Beware of Pumpkins Bearing Gifts

So after yesterday's post which I actually researched (if you can call it that), I decided to take it easy today with a random assortment of things.  First, okay, I think that the pumpkin planter is stalking me.  Look what I saw yesterday:

They want $49.99 for that bad boy and frankly, it looks better in the picture than it did in real life (there is a first time for everything).  No kidding, it was kind of wilted and drooping.  Now, they didn't have to resort to cellophane the way I did, so I give them credit for that.  But, I came up with a reasonably good facsimile for about $10.00 worth of supplies that I bought from Whole Paycheck.  The markup on this has to be ridiculous.

I did end up picking up a few things, even though the price on the pumpkin planter probably should have warned me off.  Since I seem to be turning random things into planters, I bought two little orchids to put in an old brass (maybe?) bowl that belonged to Grandmother. (That's really what we called her.  Isn't that warm and fuzzy?)  Grandmother was not a baking cookies, cuddling of grandchildren kind of lady.  She had a townhouse in northern Virginia that was filled with all sorts of things that she collected on her travels.  No kidding, when I browse those curated sales on One King's Lane and Joss & Main I see dozens of items that could have been in her house.  She was just one of those people with an amazing design sense without even really trying.

So, I have one of her bowls:

Sorry, the composition on this picture sucks.  But it's a cool bowl, right?  Because I have a medical condition that compels me to keep dead plants, I also had this:

I'm seeking help for this problem, I promise.  So, this orchid died maybe a month ago and I've had the carcass sitting around in the basement.  The only reason it made it to the basement is that the cleaning people picked the wilted blossoms off the stem which succeeded in embarrassing me enough to take it out of the dining room and hide it.  The benefit of my condition is that I had a pot full of orchid dirt and wood chips that I could use for my project.  So, those are the two orchids that I purchased.  I tried to get something that I thought would fit, but we all know how that goes, so things were touch and go until I actually put them in the bowl.

This is an interesting thing.  When I got rid of the dead orchid, I dumped the dirt into the bowl.  It turns out that styrofoam peanuts comprise a pretty big part of the soil.  I guess that's for drainage?  I tried to get them on the bottom, under the dirt, but they seemed to keep wriggling out to the top.  Eventually, I tossed about half of them so that I could get the rest under the dirt.

Then, the moment of truth.  I put the orchids in the bowl and they fit perfectly!  Yay!  So, I'm one for three for spatial (not spacial, thanks Dad) problems in the last week.

The pants weren't necessarily very securely in the bowl, so I took a few of those river rocks that you can buy at Michael's and tried to kind of barricade them into the middle of the bowl.  Then, I also had some of those sheets of moss that you get at Michael's and I put that on top of the dirt, wood chips, and rocks just to neaten it up a bit.  (Clearly, I'm not a hand model, either!)

It looked to good that we took a walk outside for a little photo session which lasted until I couldn't figure out how to not cast my shadow over the plant while taking the picture.  We just got the deck washed, sealed, and stained which is, apparently, something that responsible homeowners do every couple of years.

So, pretty successful and about a 3 on the difficultly scale, which is my sweet spot.  I think Grandmother would be pretty proud.  She might even shake my hand.

I also wanted to share two random pictures that I snapped today when I was getting my haircut at Phipps Plaza.  Very fancy, I know.  It's the last holdover from my days as a high-powered lawyer.  Here we go:
Merry Christmas, y'all!  Oh, what's that you say?  It's not even Halloween?  Oh, my mistake.  I thought that because there are no less than three Christmas trees up at Phipps Plaza that the holiday season must be upon us.  Seriously, I get that they make beaucoup bucks with the whole Santa extravaganza at Phipps, but this is just beyond the pale.  It's mid-October.

Here is my second picture from the mall this morning:

It's a roughly six foot high horse that Arhaus sells to decorate your stable mansion.  There wasn't a price  on it, but some smaller rams of the same style were going for $1200 on sale, so I can only imagine.  I really do like a lot of the furniture at Arhaus, but unless this horse is filled with some Greeks who will jump out and cook me some baklava, I'm not really into this.

So, this weekend we have no less than five Halloween parties, two soccer games, and a baseball game. You know that whole sequence in Goodfellas when Ray Liotta is a nervous wreck because he's being trailed by a helicopter and he's running back and forth cooking sauce at his house and snorting cocaine and trying to get his drug deal done with his Pittsburgh connection?  I have a feeling that this weekend is going to be like that, minus the helicopter, cocaine, and sauce.  Hope your weekend is more restful!    

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Fun With Autocomplete

I think this post may be my homage to Andy Rooney.  I picture myself reading it while wearing a rumpled suit and behind a paper-strewn desk.  Y'all have been warned!  The other day I was sitting around trying to remember the dimensions of subway tile.  Instead of grabbing a ruler and walking upstairs to measure the subway tile in my bathroom, I did what any lazy American does, I Googled, "what size is subway tile?"  I actually only got as far as "What size is" and then I noticed that the Google autocomplete was suggesting that I might want to finish off my query with "Khloe Kardashian."  The most popular ending for "what size is" is Khloe Kardashian.  Kim was also on the autocomplete list, but further down under "what size is a queen bed" and "what size is Beyonce."

Of course, because I'm fascinated with this kind of thing, I started Googling the beginnings of all kinds of searches.  I started with, "how do you" and the first suggestion was "get pink eye."  Okay, I can see why that might pop up.  However, once you have pink eye and you've gone as far as Googling it, do you really care how you got it?  Mostly, I'd guess that you'd want to know how to get rid of it.  On that theory, I tried, "how do you get rid of" to see if pink eye was on the list and it wasn't! People want to know how to get rid of bed bugs, hickeys, hiccoughs, fleas, and styes, but I guess they're just going to wait out the pink eye and ponder how they got it in the first place.

Next, I just typed the words, "is the " in my search.  The first thing I got was, "is the Slenderman real?"  This led me to wonder who is the Slenderman, and should I care if he's real?  Some helpful citizens on Yahoo! Answers informed me that the Slenderman is a 11-12 foot man in a black suit with 2-6 arms who has been around for centuries, swiping children off of playgrounds and killing them.  He sounds incredibly conspicuous, so I'm not sure how he sneaks around looking the way he does. He reminds me of the Jersey Devil that my sorority sister in college sweetly told me about as we drove through the New Jersey Pine Barrens in the middle of the night on a pledge trip.  Or the Japanese Kappa that I learned about in the Mythical Creatures exhibition that was at Fernbank Museum a while back. As an aside, the Kappa is my favorite mythical creature of all time.  It lives in ponds and rivers and will try to pull children into the water and drown them. To appease the creature, the Japanese people throw cucumbers into the water because the only thing the Kappa likes to eat more than children is a nice cucumber.  Y'all that's so funny!  And, if it gets out of its river or pond and comes out on to the land it has to keep water in an indentation in it's skull to survive.  But, the Kappa's kryptonite, so to speak, is its compulsive politeness.  If you bow to the Kappa when it's on the land, it will be compelled to bow back and the water will spill out of its head-bowl and it will be frozen for all eternity!  Please read about the Kappa, you will be so happy that you did.  (I searched on Google Images and found the adorable crocheted Kappa below.  Isn't he cute?  You would never guess he eats babies.)

Getting back to the story, a lot of people seem to be interested in who is gay.  When you just type in "is" you get a whole list of folks who people suspect might be gay, but, funnily enough, it's not any of the people who everyone really suspect to be gay.  Like, for example, Daniel Tosh is on the list.  Have you ever wondered whether he is gay?  I don't really think about Daniel Tosh, but if I ever have, I've never wondered about his sexual orientation.  Also, I hate to mention it, but Willow Smith is on the list.  Okay, she's a kid and in my naive little world shouldn't be looking at boys or girls in that way yet.  I think Google could do something to get her off that list.  I don't care if she's gay and I suspect that people will still whip their hair regardless.

A really great discovery came when I typed in "how many..."  One of the possibilities was "how many of me?"  I was intrigued enough to go for it and found that it is a website that will tell you how many people in the United States share your name.  Now, y'all know my first name is pretty unusual and my last name?  Totally weird for this part of the world.  As I suspected, it told me that "there are one or fewer people" in the United States with my name.  It never occurred to me that there might not even be one of me, but now I may be on the verge of an existential crisis.

Then, there are just the odd things.  When you type in "are" one of the suggestions is "are grits gluten free?" I have several friends who eat gluten free because they have a true sensitivity to gluten and wheat. I'm guessing that the popularity of the question stems from those people who are just into the fad aspect of giving up gluten because they think they'll lose weight and eat healthier.  If that's the case, my advice is to avoid grits, as well.  The only way grits are good is if they are cooked with about a gallon of butter and a cup of salt.  Any health benefit you may derive from avoiding gluten will be erased with one spoonful of grits. I promise.  Also, grits are corn and thus, gluten free.

Also in the odd category is when you type in "how can I" you get "how can I keep from singing?"  I thought that I would be led into a discussion of ear worms (those songs that you hear and can't get out of your head, "Call Me Maybe" springs to mind).  Instead, there's a real song called, "How Can I Keep from Singing?"  Who knew?  I guess I would have known, had I been listening to "A Prairie Home Companion" in September 2007 when Martin Sheen made his singing debut, belting out "How Can I Keep from Singing?"  Don't y'all just love Wikipedia?

People are interested in "why is the sky blue" slightly more than  "why is Jwoww getting sued?"  Clearly we have our priorities straight with that query.  "Why are" flamingos pink? barns red? and people so stupid?  I think I can safely answer that people are so stupid because we spend too much time Googling whether Frank Ocean is gay and whether mermaids are real when we should be doing something productive.  Hmmmm.  I guess that's a little bit of the pot calling the kettle black, isn't it?  Y'all, I still don't know the size of subway tile.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Bananas and Pumpkins

Remember that cute pumpkin planter picture I posted the other day?  Well, the assistant teacher in the Girl's class had a birthday on Tuesday, and I had the planter in my mind so I picked up an extra pumpkin and some flowers at the store and Monday night set out to make a pumpkin planter.  I was at Whole Foods and they were trying mightily to get rid of their last pumpkins, so they were on sale and they also had fairly large pots of pansies for $4.99.  Everyone always bashes Whole Foods for being so expensive and I'm sure I could have found some flowers and a pumpkin for a bit cheaper elsewhere.  BUT, I would have had to drive around and go to different stores (wasting gas and creating greenhouse gases) and what if, after all my driving the prices weren't that much lower than at Whole Foods and then I've wasted my entire morning driving around on a fool's errand and I should have just bought the stuff at WF to begin with.  Y'all, I can talk myself into an impulse buy and justify it as helping the environment.

Along with photography, spacial relationships are not my strong point, but I did attempt to find a pumpkin that I thought would be big enough to contain the large pot of pansies.  I sat them next to each other, measured out the bases and was reasonably confident that it would work.  After dinner the children and I adjourned to the backyard and I got to my carving.  First, I will give myself credit.  I did a good job carving the top out of the pumpkin.  I found a bunch of mini screwdrivers and poked little holes all around the top of the pumpkin where I wanted to go back and cut.  Then I took one of our kitchen knives and managed to do a decent job cutting a hole in the top of the pumpkin.

Our neighbors, E and Em and their son, Sidekick H were all in the yard, too, providing moral support and helpful suggestions.  It was pretty evident that the circumference of the first hole was too small to accommodate the pansy pot.  So, I made another swipe around to make the hole bigger.  I managed to then jam the pot into the pumpkin, but about two inches of the top of the pot stuck out.  The Girl suggested that we take the pansies out of the pot, which would have worked, but also would have left the poor teacher with a deteriorating container full of dirt and flowers that she would have to deal with sooner rather than later.  Nothing like a gift that keeps on taking!

Em suggested that we tie some ribbon around the top of the pot to hide it and we went into our respective houses to scare up some ribbon.  While I was rooting around in our wrapping paper, I found some cellophane from years ago.  Necessity is the mother of invention, y'all!  After some tugging, I got the pansy pot out of the pumpkin, cut a big piece of cellophane and forced the pot back into the pumpkin.  Here is the finished product:

You can barely tell that the plant is stuffed into the pumpkin because all you notice is the insane amount of cellophane.  Well, if you can't do it exactly right, just distract everyone with cellophane, I always say.  Here's a picture of what a truly slipshod job I did on this:

Next time I do this I will not get a potted plant.  That is just asking for trouble.  Loose flowers would have worked much better, but the bouquets were more expensive than the pansy and pumpkin combined!  Perhaps she would have liked a bouquet better, but that's not the point.  Oh, maybe it is the point, but then I wouldn't have these pictures to demonstrate what NOT to do when doing this project.

Yesterday I mentioned banana bread and when you see this picture, you'll understand why:

Let me explain.  The baby was the snack leader last week at school and had seemed agreeable in principle to bringing bananas.  However, when the time came, she was all, "No bananas, Mommy!"  So, I was stuck with about 24 bananas.  I know!  I was able to get rid of, I mean donate, some to the Girls on the Run team as a post-run snack, but I was still left with about 14 bananas.  While I waited for them to ripen, I bought some disposable loaf pans at Publix.

Yesterday, the baby and I made three banana breads and I still have enough bananas to make three more today.  If you find a random loaf of banana bread in your mailbox, you'll know where it came from!

Here is the recipe for the best banana bread.  It's (fittingly) from The Best Recipe cookbook, which is by the Editors of Cooks Illustrated.

Banana Bread


2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups toasted walnuts, chopped coarse
3 very ripe, soft, darkly speckled large bananas, mashed well
1/4 cup plan yogurt (Greek yogurt works fine)
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1.  Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour the bottom only of a nonstick loaf pan that measures nine inches log, five inches across, and three inches deep; set aside.
2.  Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and walnuts together in a large bowl; set aside.
3.  Mix mashed bananas, yogurt, eggs, butter, and vanilla with wooden spoon in medium bowl.  Lightly fold banana mixture into dry ingredients with rubber spatula until just combined and batter looks thick and chunky.  Scrape batter into prepared loaf pan; bake until loaf is golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 55 minutes.  Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack.

So, the main thing I changed from the above recipe was that I didn't use the walnuts.  So many people are allergic to nuts (Mom included) that I just tend not to use them if it doesn't matter.  I've made it with and without nuts and it's good both ways.  The other thing that I changed is that the loaf pans I bought are smaller than the size stated in the recipe.  Since my main goal of this exercise was to rid myself of as many bananas as possible, I doubled the recipe and filled three of the smaller loaf pans and cooked them for about 50 minutes. It worked just fine.  

Banana bread (or this kind, anyway) freezes really well, so my original plan was to freeze it and give them as holiday gifts.  But, my wonky spacial sense was failing me again and after some consultation with the children and the K, I realized that we couldn't fit anything else in our freezer if we had six frozen banana breads in there, so I decided we should give away this first batch.  Today each of the kids trotted off to school with a banana bread for his or her teacher.  

Yesterday was exercise, today food!  That's the way it works around here, folks, I'm trying to mix things up a little bit.  Let me know if you try the recipe.  Have a great day!


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Work it Out

When I read lifestyle and home blogs, I often wonder whether, between caring for their five to seven perfectly groomed children, homeschooling, developing new slow-cooker recipes, and building desks out of some barrels and a couple of 2x4s these overachievers find time to exercise.  It's really none of my business and is totally irrelevant to the content of their blogs, but that's where my mind goes.  I can't help it.

Just in case there is anyone out there like me, I thought I'd let you know that I exercise.  I have always exercised, but over the years I've made a big change in how I exercise.  In the beginning, I went to the gym in college, bounced up and down on the Stairmaster for 30 minutes and felt like I had prospectively worked off those beers I was planning to consume that evening.  I never really got any stronger, increased my endurance, or saw much of a change in my body.  (I suppose my diet of bagels and beer could have also had something to do with it!)  My workout routines pretty much stayed like this, going through the motions, but never really doing anything difficult.  I was able to keep doing this because I was never overweight, so I figured if I looked fine and fit into my clothes, who really cared whether my muscles were more flab than firm?

Well, apparently the one thing I wasn't fooling with my skinny-fat self was my pancreas.  After suffering from gestational diabetes during my pregnancies with the Girl and with the Boy I decided that something really had to change.  I took a step back and thought about the exercises that I liked doing.  I liked the eliptical machine because it was easy.  I liked the recumbant bike because it was easy.  I liked walking because it was easy.  The clouds lifted, the birds began to sing and I had was my epiphany: exercise doesn't work if it's easy.  It works when it's hard.  I think that's an image from Disney, do you think they'll come after me?

So, the good news is that once I had my "aha" moment, I have spent less time exercising, but have had better results.  I know!  I have a series of DVDs that I use at home, so I don't even leave the house!  I know!  I don't even belong to a gym!  I know!  And, best yet, I didn't have diabetes when I was pregnant with the Baby, so my pancreas is on board with this, too!

Okay, so here is what I do: I get up between 6:00 am and 6:15 everyday during the week.  Sunday's mock 5K aside, I usually do not exercise on the weekend.  I get my work out done so I can have the precious time when the kids are at school to myself.  Here are the videos (y'all I am old school, I promise I do not have a VHS anymore), *ahem* the DVDs (slightly less old school) that I use:

  • Personal Training with Jackie - This works every muscle group in 40 minutes and it's really 40 minutes.  You get to hear about the "V-taper" that Jackie uses for her "celebrity clients" to get them "red-carpet ready."  These are recurring themes in Jackie's DVDs, as well as her sly insults to the at-home viewer. ("If I'm tired, then you must be dying!")  She also has some problems counting that drive the K crazy when he watches her.  I don't mind, that's just our Jackie.  Easter Egg - Watch for when Jackie forgets her weights for the squat.
  • One-on-One Training with Jackie - This is the DVD she did in conjunction with her old t.v. show that was on Bravo and there's a mortifying preview of it in the beginning of the DVD that I suggest you skip unless you want to be scarred for life.  This has separate workouts for upper body, lower body, and abs.  I will usually do abs plus either upper or lower body because I don't have time to do all three together.  This is the best abs workout ever.  Seriously, the best.  Bonuses - she uses her trainers from her actual gym and they're miked.  They try their best to embarrass her (during the lower body portion, crazy Ranessa (!) is rolling around on an exercise ball in the background while poor Augustina is stuck doing squats with Jackie).  Easter Egg - Do y'all think Ranessa's abs are sprayed on?
  • Extreme Timesaver Training - This is Jackie's one foray into cardio.  You're doing "compound movements" that "drive your body straight into the cardio zone" so you're allegedly getting cardio and weight training in one work out.  I don't know about all that, but it is hard and my arms feel like they're going to fall off when I finish.  She's got some new victims here, ridiculously ripped Madison (from the horrible Butt Bible series) and Jericho (!!) who does her job too well and shows up Jackie by switching the angle on a bicep move when Jackie has forgotten.  Easter Egg - How many times can Jackie tell that focus mitts story, y'all?  It's not even funny the first time.
  • 30 Day Fast Start - Jackie is at her best personally in this DVD.  She doesn't seem as nervous and her banter is less forced.  As for the substance of the workout, she's got this pyramid thing going, so you're doing 55 reps of each exercise.  She's got it divided in half, so you can do upper body or lower body and abs, or both.  I do both because it's still only about 40 minutes.  Madison is back and Jericho got replaced for being too good by bland Becky who helps Jackie count.  Easter Egg - Do y'all think Becky is faking being tired?  She's a professional exerciser!  She shouldn't be that tired!
  • Banish Fat Boost Metabolism - This is one of my two real cardio work outs.  This is Jillian is in her prime before she became a shrill, harpy, caricature of herself.  Easter Egg - Do you think Seleena is really trying?  I think she's phoning it in a lot.
  • No More Trouble Zones - This is Jillian's weight training workout and I give it about an 8.  It's longer than Jackie's and isn't as difficult, IMO.  I take it back, the second abs circuit is difficult, but the others aren't so tough.  I just feel like it might be too long for what you get out of it.  Easter Egg - I think that Seleena and Kristen really could do Jillian's job, which is why they're out after these two DVDs.
  • Ripped in 30 - This is the more difficult version of 30 Day Fast Start.  She's got four weeks with exercises of (supposedly) increasing difficulty.  It's cardio, weights, and abs together.  I think week three is harder than week four, so I do week three.  I haven't duck-walked on the floor since I was probably three years old and let me tell you that it's considerably harder to do when you are over 3 feet tall.  Jillian has fallen into her habit of screaming at everyone and acting like a crazy person in an attempt to get you to keep exercising when you feel like both puking and punching her in the face at the same time.  She's got poor old Besheera who shows up in a bunch of her later DVDs and Shelly who is really good at exercising and was probably a cheerleader.  Easter Egg - Beeshera is just no good at some of these exercises.  Why does Jillian keep her around?  Girl can't do those twisting jumps to save her life.
  • Extreme Shed & Shred - I bought this on sale at Target and did half of it (shed or shred, I can't remember) once.  Beeshera is back with some other chick and Jillian's run out of tricks, so she has you doing these weird Brazilian martial arts moves that make you look like you're Kung Fu Panda.  I'd skip this one.  I'm not even linking it. 
  • Yoga Meltdown - Jillian Michaels should not do yoga.  She is too bossy and not at all zen-like.  Beeshera is back and in her element.  She's way better at doing all the yoga poses than she is at doing jumping lunges.  Both Beeshera and Jillian should recognize their limitations.  Jillian should stay away from the yoga and B should avoid ballistic movements.  A one and done named Maddie is helping out Beeshera and showing the easy moves.  You get a decent workout, but you miss out on the spiritual aspect of the practice.  Easter Egg - If you watch closely Jillian cheats on some of the poses.
  • Breathless Body - I know it sounds like porn, but it's a really good, difficult cardio workout.  There are eight different exercises (with an easy, medium, and hard version of each one) and you do each exercise eight times for 20-second intervals.  Got it?  Yeah, me either.  She calls them "tabata" drills.  When she says it, it sounds like "ciabatta," which reminds me of bread and I'm slightly disappointed that none of the drills involve eating bread.  But, I digress.  Amy has her two helpers, Aimee and Sara who are very capable and game to be tortured for the 45 minutes.  Negatives are that the warm up and cool down are pretty lame and the editing is really obviously bad (and I don't usually notice things like that).  Easter Egg - watch Amy's ponytail fly out of her bun during the first exercise and miraculously get tucked back in when they switch camera angles.
  • Power Fusion - So I was looking for something low-key to replace Jillian Michael's Yoga because I grew weary of her nagging.  Everyone on Amazon was all, "Ellen, get Ellen."  My first thought was that perhaps Ellen Degeneres was doing yoga, which might be entertaining, if not a little weird.  But no, this is Ellen Barrett who looks amazingly like the mom of one of the Boy's baseball friends.  I'm still on the fence about this workout.  I didn't feel like I really did that much, but she's very calm and gives directions well and is easy to follow.  It was a pleasant experience to work out with her and her ladies.  (Honestly, she has like a posse of other exercising women behind her, so I can't begin to remember all their names.)  They were all sweating profusely after they were done, so perhaps I need to crank up the heat before doing this DVD.  The K would love that (I'm totally joking).  Easter Egg(s) - One of Ellen's lady's needs a sports bra.
I try to do two cardio routines during the week and three weight training routines.  This week my plan is:
Monday - Jackie's Timesaver Training
Tuesday - Amy's Breathless Body 
Wednesday - Jackie's 30 Day Fast Start
Thursday - Jillian's Ripped in 30 
Friday - Ellen's Power Fusion

I'll switch it all around next week and if anyone cares or comments, or is interested, let me know and I'll post my schedule.  I appreciate anyone who made it though this navel-gazing manifesto.  I promise more pictures and less text next time, including a pumpkin project that was nearly an epic fail and banana bread.  Happy Tuesday!