Sunday, November 30, 2008

Pumpkin recipes modified

I feel compelled to follow up on the recipes I posted last Sunday, in case anybody ever decides to make them. In doing so, I'll be posting a Thanksgiving-related topic for the fourth consecutive day. So I hope you have enjoyed this weekend's veritable cornucopia of Thanksgiving goodness.

First, the Cream of Spiced Pumpkin Soup. The recipe was a good jumping-off point to instruct me on how to create a creamy pumpkin soup base from scratch. But when I had finished adding the requisite ingredients from the recipe, the soup was very bland and boring. Somewhere along the line I have developed an ability to distinguish individual flavors within recipes, and I can imagine interesting taste and seasoning combinations, which makes cooking without recipes a lot of fun. But it also makes me very discerning of good flavors and textures in food: a "food snob" as Gary lovingly calls me.

Thanks to my excellent chefery skillz, I was able to add a lot more of this and a few dashes of that, and the pumpkin soup turned out SO delicious. Well, in my opinion anyway. It wasn't a huge hit on Thanksgiving, but I honestly didn't expect it to be. Amidst so many luxurious, calorific options, who who would salivate over soup? I started my meal off with a little plate of strawberry-poppyseed green salad and a bowl of my soup. It was perfect to have those mild flavors before diving in to the bold, heavier dishes. Then yesterday I ate some of my pumpkin soup along with Thanksgiving leftovers. It was at that time I realized that if anyone took a bite of the soup after eating either of the VERY rich and totally drool-worthy sweet potato dishes that were served, the soup didn't stand a chance. By itself, or with a nice crusty bread, the soup had a perfect, sweet flavor. But it was completely blown away by the maple-infused sweet potatoes and marshmallow-topped candied yams/apples dishes. Oh well, that just means I got to keep all the leftovers. Suckers!

I didn't measure anything, but here is my best recollection of what I added to the soup after following the original recipe (now I can look it back up if I ever want to try and duplicate it):
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 tsp curry powder
2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground allspice

...or something like that.

Next, the Pumpkin Cream Sandwich Cookies. I had to doctor these up as well, but that is primarily because I tried using my cooked fresh pumpkin instead of canned, as the recipe instructed. The cooked pumpkin was of a much thinner consistency, so I ended up with cake batter instead of cookie dough. My first batch of cookies were large and flat, not like the ones pictured. So I added more flour to thicken the dough. That basically worked, except that now they tasted too flour-y, so I added more pumpkin pie spice. The cookies ended up having a very soft, fluffy texture, kind of like a mini-cake rather than a typical cookie. So they didn't quite look like the photos, but tasted okay.

Once again, my salvaged pumpkin cookie sandwiches couldn't quite hold their own against the Costco pies and chocolate fudge cake. I was only surprised a little that they weren't more popular with the younger set. I know pumpkin spice isn't usually a kid-favorite, but I figured they might find amusement in the whole "cookie-sandwich" novelty. I even spotted one cookie with a bite missing placed audaciously back on the platter. It was probably (hopefully?) one of the forgivable children, but still.

We got together the following night with my brother's family that wasn't able to join us on Thanksgiving, and he really liked the cookies! Bryan would never pretend to like something to avoid hurting my feelings, especially something as gay as a pumpkin cream sandwich cookie. So I sent almost all of the leftovers home with him, feeling very proud that they went to an appreciative home.

Remind me that next Thanksgiving, I ought to just volunteer to bring the canned cranberry jelly.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A parenting victory

Being a parent is challenging. And I'm getting the idea that it only gets more complicated as children grow up, which won't make it any easier. Right now we're debating the merits of pacifier weaning and struggling to interpret and avoid UFO's (unidentified freak-outs). It's impossible to know if you are making the right decisions, because their results are usually not evident until it's too late to do something different. Sometimes we have to do things that we hope are in Madelyn's best interest even when they may not be the most pleasant or easiest choice.

I am so happy to report one of those triumphant moments in parenting where our persistence about what we believed was the right thing to do paid off.

Two days ago, at Thanksgiving dinner, Madelyn was in the midst of one of her all-too-common ornery moods. Due to the combination of a missed nap and a bad cold (and possibly a new tooth, but I feel like that is one of those things we parents are always blaming toddlers' bad moods on), Madelyn was cranky and uninterested in eating. We tried faithfully to feed her, to no avail. You just can't force kids to eat, you know. So we eventually gave up in the interest of our own desire to enjoy the incredible feast.

A little while later, the dessert buffet appeared on the scene. One by one, members of the family plunked down at the table with plates overflowing with apple pie, pumpkin pie, chocolate fudge cake with whipped cream, and pumpkin cream sandwich cookies. Of course the mountains of sugar caught Madelyn's attention. I've always wondered how this little one can identify and lock in on any food in the dessert or candy category, even when she's never seen or tasted the likes of it before. Can she smell sugar in any form?

We weren't about to let Madelyn dive in to dessert after having not more than a few licks of dinner. I put together a little plate of leftovers intending to help her eat a little bit so she could ultimately have the dessert she wanted. Understandably, she was even less interested in turkey and stuffing now that the sweets were out in full force. When my back was turned, someone (a very loving Grandma), had placed half a slice of cake on a little plate in front of Madelyn at the kids' table. I discovered it before she delved in, and explained to my parents that we really didn't want Madelyn to eat chocolate cake in place of any semblance of a healthy meal. My mother said (kind of to me, and kind of under her breath), "But taking away her cake isn't going to make her want to eat dinner." While that analysis might be correct, I believe that giving her the cake would not be right in spite of it. See how hard parenting is?

Soon we had a dessert prohibition-induced meltdown. At a loss for how to remedy this tricky situation, we tried to lay Madelyn down for her much-needed nap. Unfortunately, that doesn't usually work at my parent's house. When there is a house full of cousins and noise and now forbidden treats, she won't be tricked into closing her eyes in a dark room. A certain crying style indicates weak protest, but this nap attempt elevated her tantrum to full speed ahead.

By this time, most of the family had finished dessert. Gary and I canvassed the tables clearing evidence-containing plates. Madelyn was content playing Nerf football with Audrey and Grandpa, so we took advantage of the crest in her mood swing by offering a bite from the savory food spectrum. She still wasn't going for it. The three of us calmly sat down on the kitchen floor away from distractions, and got her to focus. I remembered that in the morning, Madelyn was really excited to get in the hot tub, but we explained that we were going to take a walk first and then we would get in the hot tub after we got home. Thinking maybe that experience would be fresh in her memory, I set to explaining:

"Do you want cake Madelyn?"
"You need to have some yummy dinner first, and then after you eat some dinner, you can have some cake! Just like this morning we went on a walk first and then we got in the hot tub after we went on a walk. We'll eat dinner first, and then have some cake after we eat dinner."

And she took a bite of mashed potatoes and gravy.

Then she ran away.

After a quick toss of the ball, she ran back to the plate and grabbed--of all things--a floret of broccoli. She devoured it on her way out of the kitchen, while her parents still sat dumbfounded on the floor. Not wanting to risk losing this momentum, I approached Madelyn with another piece of broccoli, but made her chase me to get it. She loved that game and within a couple of minutes had eaten all of the broccoli and almost all of the turkey and potatoes on her little melmac plate.

My heart was bursting with excitement and pride. Amidst some proverbial raised eyebrows, we were persistent with what we believed to be the best thing for Madelyn, and it worked. She ate a healthy dinner without force or coersion. I truly believe that she understood what we were saying. And she got to have a quarter of a piece of chocolate fudge cake. It would have been SO much easier to just let her eat dessert with the rest of the kids. But she probably wouldn't have eaten any dinner if we had. And instead of learning the natural progression of dessert as a treat after dinner, she may have learned that if she screams loud enough and refuses dinner long enough, she'll get exactly what she wants. I wanted to stand up and shout, "See?!? It worked! She ate her dinner because we didn't let her have cake!" But I remained calm and didn't gloat.

That's what the blog is for, right?

The little rascal: she is a good girl, and so smart!
We love her dearly.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Flashback Friday: In which I single-handedly ruin Thanksgiving

The ill-fated weapon of choice
It's important for children to contribute to household chores, help with meals, and the like. When I was a kid, a popular task for my parents to require of us was to peel the potatoes for dinner. I hated peeling potatoes! Or perhaps it is just that my childish self naturally preferred playing to working, and since the usual punishment involved wielding the peeler, I grew to loathe the job. Regardless, peeling potatoes is a tedious task. And for a family of seven, we aren't talking about 4 or 5 potatoes. I had to peel like 15 or 20 potatoes at a time. My family also liked having leftovers.

One particular Thanksgiving (by my best guess I was in eighth or ninth grade), my family was repsonsible for bringing the mashed potatoes to the big family dinner at my Grandparents house. For the extended family gathering, I imagine the peeling of at least one giant sack of potatoes was necessary. About this many:
I dutifully peeled and peeled and peeled those damned spuds while the rest of my family busied themselves with other tasks in preparation to head over to the big feast.

I finished shortly before it was time to be heading out the door. Being the responsible teen that I was, I intended to finish the job properly by cleaning up after myself. So I wiped down the counters, stuffed the peelings down the drain, rinsed the sink, and turned on the disposal.

Okay, so no one had ever told me that it isn't wise to put vegetable peelings down the disposal. And while the peelings from a few carrots or cucumbers probably won't cause much damage, the skins for potato quantities to feed the massive Alder clan wreaked havoc on our poor little In-Sink-Erator.

Uh-Oh. After a couple of whirls, the disposal came to a halt, but continued making a pathetic whining noise. If not simply to mock me, the sound left me with no suspicion that I had made a mistake.

My dad walked in to the kitchen while I was inelegantly scooping handfuls of scarred potato peels from the depths of the sink into the garbage can on the floor beside me. This was not a pleasant sight for him. He made it clear that he couldn't believe my foolish ignorance, which made me feel embarrassed, but also defensive. This is the kind of lesson you have to be taught or learn from experience. Up until this point in my life, the disposal had always existed as some sort of magical contraption with no limit to its destructive capabilities. To refrain from depositing several pounds worth of potato peelings in it is not simply innate knowledge. Common sense? Perhaps some will say so. But I was trying to help and all I can say is that I didn't know.

Thanksgiving dinner was to begin presently. My dad and I were elbow-deep in russet membranes. I was whisked off with the rest of the family to participate in the festivities at my Grandparents' house (only a few miles away) while my father valliantly remained to fix the horrible mess. That dinner was tainted with the taste of guilt and shame. Apparently my dad had a hell of a time unclogging the drain, and joined the Holiday celebration round about the time we were clearing dessert plates. I'm not even sure if it was fixed at that point, maybe we had to buy a new disposal.

I'm really sorry for ruining Thanksgiving that one time, Dad. I hope I've made up for it in other ways throughout the years and you've forgiven me.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving poop

For several days now, I have been undecided on what to write about today: Thanksgiving Day. If not for NaBloPoMo, I would have simply written nothing, and not given it so much as a second thought. However, I don't intend to fail now that I have come this far, so my brain has been on the hunt for a suitable topic all week.

One thing I was sure I did not want to write is an uninteresting directory of intangibles I am thankful for. It's not that I don't take the opportunity at Thanksgiving to reflect solemnly on such things, I just happen to think it would be a boring blog topic because the rest of you are probably feeling thankful for the same things. Not to mention, an unintended smugness often accompanies such public lists, which doesn't resonate with true gratitude, in my humble opinion. I make a concerted effort to be thankful all year long (some days it is easier than others!), so I don't want to cheese it up by making a bullet-point list containing the usual cliches.

So instead, enjoy reading about why this was the "crappiest" Thanksgiving ever.

Shortly after we commenced gorging ourselves on the Thanksgiving spread this afternoon, my brother-in-law Randy made a comment comparing the sizes of some of the grandchildren who are about the same age. The most striking anomaly is his son Kaden, being significantly taller than our niece Shelby, who is almost a year older. Then Randy said, "Madelyn seems to be holding her own against Jack, though," referring to his son who is just 6 weeks older than our Madelyn. "But Jack has definitely out-crapped her today!"

The apparent introduction of poo as an acceptable dinner topic prompted my brother and his wife to begin discussing their recent experience potty training their youngest son. Their graphic account of the difficulties helping him learn to go Number Two on the toilet certainly did not ruin Thanksgiving dinner, but it was just enough to make me slow down my gluttonous shoveling for a few queasy moments.

A couple of hours later, we finally got our under-the-weather and cranky daughter to eat some dinner. While they were playing with some of the other cousins, I heard Gary say to her, "See how much happier you are now that you've had some dinner and taken a poop?"

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The stool saga continues

This morning Madelyn "helped" me make some cookies. Part of that process included forging a few new dents in our kitchen cabinets, courtesy of pointy-square-stool. Anxious for the arrival of my new, sleek Kik Step stool, I decided to find the shipping confirmation email to see when I could expect the cabinet-carnage to cease.

I love, love, LOVE the way my gmail platform operates. When I received the original confirmation email from, I didn't even open it. I knew it was my order summary, so simply archived it, knowing it could be easily retrieved if the need to review it ever arose. So this morning, I found the email I was looking for in an instant. Only it wasn't an order confirmation as I had assumed.

The email contained an apology for the "unexpected error" that caused the item I ordered to be "incorrectly priced" at the time of my order. Poop!

So my ridiculously good deal on what appears to be the most amazing stool ever created was indeed too good to be true. So I searched online today to see if I could find one in a price range that I might consider. They are priced between $52.17 and $148.27 on every site I could find, many of which offer free shipping. On eBay there are some as low as $39.95, plus at least $10 shipping. I'm going to keep looking before I give in to paying that much for a step stool. Can't wait until one day when money isn't quite so tight around here and I can just get the things we need and want without all this drama.

So....the adventure continues. And for those of you who knew without a second glance that the stool from IKEA was for sitting, not standing, I just want to say: don't you think all furniture for small children ought to be safe enough to stand on, since they will inevitably do that anyway? There is probably a sticker on the box we missed that said, "varning: alder tre och uppe." Crazy Swedes and their delicate plastic furnitures. Yeah, and their meatballs aren't that great either.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hippo butts / Zoo redemption

We had a pleasant experience at the Oregon Zoo yesterday. I still think the attraction is generally over-priced, but since my friend Sarah invited us as complimentary guests on her zoo membership, the cost was not a factor. And we had a really nice time letting the kids walk around and indulging in some adult conversation.

Every exhibit we toured was populated with its appropriate animals, so there were no disappointing, empty habitats. We didn't visit every area in the zoo, but Sarah introduced me to some exhibits that I was not even aware existed! My favorite was "Lorikeet Landing" where you go into a small aviary where dozens of neon tropical birds will (sometimes) come right up and let you touch them. You can even feed them little cups of nectar (apparently you usually have to pay for these [!] but the bird-keeper gave Sarah one for free). I just thought it was neat to be among some animals instead of observing them from a distance. There is a larger aviary on the far side of the zoo where I have been many times before, but I rarely see any birds up close. They must be in there, however, because that is where this particular inside joke originated [this is for you, Jenn]: "Jennifah, Jennifah...Look! Buuuuuhds!"].

We also saw a gorgeous lepoard sitting on the ground right next to the glass in its home near the front of the zoo. But it was behind this little bamboo wall, which as we approached it looked like an "employees only" area to me. So apparently I've been missing this beautiful leopard all along. I think they should draw more attention to its awesome presence.

The real reason for this post, if I'm being completely honest, is to give me an excuse to post this spectacular photo:
Ah, hippo butts. A classic zoo encounter. You can see why I just couldn't decide on the more appropriate title for today's post. Thanks for the great (free) day at the zoo, Sarah and Demitri. We had fun!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Unfortunate effects of erroneous math

I hate to see local small businesses close their doors. But it's hard to be overly sympathetic when said business is built on a flawed concept or poor execution: inferior customer service, inaccessible location, highly specialized product offering, etc.

Recently, a new children's clothing resale shop opened right across the street from my Curves facility in our relatively small town. I think resale shops can be fun, because I like having new wardrobe options for my own personal dress-up doll (aka my daughter), but won't pay full price for clothes she won't be wearing very long. It's also great to have a way to recycle old clothes in exchange for new ones!

The first issue I had with this particular store opening, however, is that there is already a kids' resale shop in our small town. There used to be two, in fact, but one of them went out of business. Hm. I definitely encourage those with the skills and ambition for entrepreneurship to go for it, but a little market research would have offered a clue that a population around 20,000 can support only one kids' resale shop.

Shortly after they opened, I stopped in the new store to welcome the owner and do a little shopping. Since they had not been open very long, the limited selection was forgiveable. So a few days later, in a neighborly effort to support the cause, I brought in a bag full of clothes that I was ready to part with (I'm saving the cutest stuff in case we have another daughter before they are out of style). The owner loved everything and decided to buy all of my items except one little bib that had a stain. Cool. I said I would just take the value in trade, since I had found a couple of things on her racks that I liked.

Usually, resale stores will give you higher value in trade than they will in cash, since their cost of the clothes you take is less than the retail value. The owner had me sign a form explaining that she pays consignors 30% of the resale value of the clothing, either as a cash payment or trade-in value. She tells me she will give me $9.25 for my bag of clothes.

Bringing clothes to a resale shop is always a bit frustrating. I have found this when I've brought items over to Plato's Closet before too. You are never going get what you think your clothes are worth. But we go ahead and take what they will offer us because: a) These are items I don't want anymore, or else I wouldn't be here. b) The store doesn't care if they get my stuff or not, so there is no motivation for them to pay more or argue with me about it. c) If I took my clothes to Goodwill I would get nothing. d) I could sell them for more $ on eBay or craigslist, but it probably wouldn't be worth the extra effort. e) I am already here and don't want to have wasted my time.

In this particular instance, the clothes in the bag were rejects from what I had sold to a nicer resale shop anyway, so I didn't really think twice about accepting her nine dollars and twenty-five cents.

I brought the items I wanted up to the counter, paid the difference that I owed, and headed on my way. I didn't think it was fair for her to give me the same value on trade-in than she would have paid me in cash. But it wasn't until later when I whipped out my trusty calculator that I figured out exactly how ridiculous that is.

She paid me $9.25 for my bag of clothes. Her official documentation explains that she pays 30% of resale value, which means she will sell all of my items for $30.85. If she had paid me $9.25 cash, that would constitute her cost of goods, and she would make 70% profit. But I decided to trade for $9.25 worth of merchandise from her store. That merchandise would have also been purchased from someone like me, at 30% of resale value. Therefore, the clothing that I received in exchange for mine cost her only $2.75 (30% of $9.25). So she will sell my clothes for $30.85, and her cost was only $2.75 (or less if the prior customers chose trade value instead of cash, do you see?). That is about a 90% profit margin.

With that kind of crazy math, she ought to have been rolling in profit! Except that sometimes people figure out schemes like that and decide to shop elsewhere (oh, and also there was already a kids' resale shop 3 blocks away, remember?). The thing is, I imagine the owner never examined those figures, and was oblivious to the flawed math. Unfortunately, her business didn't last long enough for me to get around to writing her a (very nice) letter explaining the inequitable calculations.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Break away from drab Thanksgiving fare

This week we finally get to celebrate one of my favorite holidays: Thanksgiving. Why do I love it so much? First, because I am a fanatic about delicious food, and there are certain dishes that we, as a culture, typically reserve for consumption only at the Thanksgiving feast (cranberry sauce and candied yams, I'm looking at you). Also, Thanksgiving was one of the holidays that as a child we spent gathered with all my cousins and aunts and uncles. I have many pleasant memories of those holidays with our close family. Another reason I love Thanksgiving is that I love the opportunity to intentionally tune in to all of the bits and pieces of life that we should be so incredibly grateful for. Lastly, Thanksgiving officially marks the beginning of "The Holiday Season," and I love this whole time of year: the weather, the carols, the shopping, the family traditions, the's all great.

I know Thanksgiving isn't for a few more days, but I wanted to post the recipes I plan to contribute to our family's feast this week. Perhaps by getting them out there early, I might help someone struggling to decide what to make. There are some definite Thanksgiving standards that ought not be messed with: the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy are the staples that I wouldn't dream of altering. I do feel that the vegetable and dessert dishes offer some room for experimentation, however.

Personally, I'm not really interested in wasting precious stomach space on vegetables at Thanksgiving. But it's probably a good idea to have them available. I happen to have a giant pumpkin that we never got around to carving at Halloween, and found what looks to be a very delicious recipe for pumpkin soup. So my veggie dish isn't green, but fits the harvesty mood of Thanksgiving, and goes in its very own receptacle (a bowl) so no valuable plate real estate is wasted.

Cream of Spiced Pumpkin Soup
A variation of a recipe I found on
15 servings/55 minutes

1 onion
1 clove garlic
4 T butter
2 ¼ pounds pumpkin flesh, peeled and diced
¼ tsp sugar
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp curry powder
1 bay leaf
4 cups chicken broth
1 ¾ cups milk
¾ cup cream

(This is SOUP, so all ingredients may be adjusted to suit your tastes/preferences)

1. Saute onion and garlic in butter until soft
2. Add pumpkin, sugar, nutmeg, and curry
3. Add stock and bay leaf
4. Simmer for 30 minutes
5. Puree in blender with milk
6. Season to taste and stir in cream as desired

Now, Pumpkin pie is definitely a Thanksgiving standard, but have you ever been to a Holiday feast where 3 or 4 people each brought one? I don't hate pumpkin pie, but haven't been exposed to much variation on the end result. So an overabundance of one dessert in my mind equates to deficiency of other options. (There is no rule against having chocolate at Thanksgiving, you know!) It's really awkward when someone's whole pumpkin pie is left untouched. Usually the embarrassing store-bought one. I would do a chocoloate dessert, but I have been wanting to try this recipe, and with our smaller group this year, we shouldn't have the copious pumpkin pie dilemma. So I'm going to bring a fun twist on the pumpkin-dessert theme:

Pumpkin Cream Sandwiches
Clipped from my trial issue of Real Simple magazine last fall

3 T butter, room temperature
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (crap, I have to buy this!)
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup cream cheese
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar

HEAT oven to 375 degrees (I love it when recipes remind you to do this first, because I always forget)

BEAT the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar until smooth. Add the pumpkin, vanilla, and egg and beat until combined.

COMBINE hte flour, baking powder, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice, and salt in a medium bowl. Slowly add the flour mixture to the sugar and butter and beat on medium-ow speed until fully incorporated.

SPOON heaping tablespoons of the mixture 2 inches apart onto parchment- or foil-lined baking sheets. Bake until puffed and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes.

CLEAN the mixer, then, as the cookies bake, beat the cream cheese, heavy cream, and confectioner's sugar until smooth and spreadable.

SPREAD the flat side of half the cooled cookies with the cream mixture. Top with the remaining cookies.

If there is enough of my fresh pumpkin left from the soup, perhaps I'll try using it in the cookies instead of the canned stuff.

Mmmm. I don't know about you, but my tastebuds are ready for it to be Thursday. It's my first time making both of these recipes, so I hope they turn out okay. If not, I'll be the one bringing the embarrassing store-bought pie! (If the soup fails, I'm sure no one will miss it.)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Behind the scenes of An American Carol

As you can probably tell, every movie in my mini-reviews has been viewed on the small screen, at home (most are really old). Back at the beginning of October, Gary and I ventured out and watched a movie in the theatre.

The movie is called An American Carol. Ever heard of it? I haven't encountered many people who have, which is a shame. The film parodies anti-American liberal ideology, and although the slapstick, Three Stooges-esque comedy went far overboard for my taste, it managed to present a very poignant message throughout.

An American Carol ultimately promotes patriotism and gratitude. I believe the extent to which the director, David Zucker, used cartoonish contrivances hurt the viability of his film. But I suppose it is what his audience has come to expect, after series the likes of Airplane and Naked Gun.

Roll-the-eyes goofy humor aside, the message of the film resonated with me, and I found myself wishing everyone would watch movies like this instead of (or at least in addition to) ones like Farenheit 9/11. But apparently people aren't interested in movies that show them why America is still a great nation and why there is more to war than senseless death. The movie wasn't marketed well to begin with, and not surprisingly had a very poor box office showing.

Coincedentally, we went to see this movie on opening night. It is unusual for us to go to the movie theatre at all, but to do so on a weekend is even more rare. So we were disappointed to find a ticket line wrapping around the side of the building. I overheard an employee behind the glass explain to a customer through his little microphone, "our credit machines were down....And Beverly Hills Chihuahua opens tonight." Wow. It's no wonder the general public doesn't have much context in which to place a movie like Carol.

The gist of the plot: A cynical filmmaker with a marked resemblance to one Michael Moore initiates a crusade to abolish the 4th of July Holiday. Meanwhile, Afghani terrorists are finding it increasingly difficult to find good suicide bombers ("and all the good ones are gone"). After viewing his documentaries, they determine that "Michael Malone" hates America as much as they do, and hire him to direct their new recruitment film based on his superb ability to bend the truth. While Malone inadvertently facilitates the terrorists' plan to launch another attack on American soil, he is visited by three spirits who show him the true meaning of 4th of July (a la A Christmas Carol) by taking him through some not-too-ancient moments in World History.

Because this movie promoted such a rare, strong conservative viewpoint, I was very curious about its actors. It featured many big-name celebrities such as Kelsey Grammer, John Voigt, Leslie Nielsen, James Woods, and more. The Michael Moore-inspired character I thought was geniusly portrayed by Kevin Farley, younger brother of the late Chris Farley (one of my teenage crushes). Did these actors view their role as just another Hollywood paycheck? Did they understand the position of the film before agreeing to be in it? Did any get on board specifically to promote its message? If so, were any concerned about sacrificing their careers for the cause?

Enter Google: all-knowing power of the Universe. My searches unearthed some surprising and exciting revelations. There are still people out there who have a love of Country and understand the costs of Freedom in spite of the popular mentality.

The story that amused me most was when the director first met Kevin Farley. Zucker introduced the topic of the film with carefully-chosen words, hoping not to alienate him with the political message of the film. Likewise, Farley assumed that Zucker was a democrat ("like everyone else in Hollywood," he says), so responded with his own strategic vagueness before reading the script and enthusiastically accepting the part.

Farley describes the experience as "a dance familiar to conservative actors in Hollywood. Lots of actors have done it." Apparently Farley usually keeps mum about his political sway among actors, unless "they go off about the president. It just gets annoying."

The admirably articulate Kelsey Grammer is quoted in the same article for saying, "The accepted way to speak about America is in the voice that disrespects it. And the voice that's unacceptable is the one that loves America...How did we get here?"

What the actor playing General George S. Patton described is something that you already know really bothers me: the idea that patriotism is out of fashion, but professing plans to move to socialized countries (whose citizens in turn travel to the US for major medical care) earns a person great respect.

So how do you make a film set amidst the war on terror funny? After all, the subject of war is not particularly hilarious. But the humor that works is based on satirical truths. Anti-war rallies of today mirror-images with those circa 1940 (Oh yes, Germany should have been left to continue their peaceful ways without interference). A scene depicting Neville Chamberlain polishing Hitler's boots as they sign the Munich Agreement (reasoning with radical aggressives is futile). A clip of Rosie "O'Connell's" new documentary "The Truth About Radical Christians" featuring plane-hijacking priests and suicide-bomber nuns. (I won't dispute that religious extremists of any faith can cause trouble, but how often do their antics kill thousands of innocent people?)

One reviewer came down pretty harshly on An American Carol for its vulgar treatment of some delicate issues. While I agree that the movie relied too heavily on undignified slapstick, I don't support Mr. Orndorf's assessment that the film's intent was disingenuous. Specifically, he criticizes a scene depicting Malone and his guiding spirit overlooking Ground Zero because "9/11 isn't funny." Duh. The sobering moment at the base of New York's fallen towers is meant to remind us what we are fighting for. Is war the answer? David Zucker says, "It depends on the question."

I encourage you to rent this movie, if you can find it. Most of the movie reviews I browsed online assigned it adjectives such as "tasteless," "depressing," and "atrocious." I will reiterate that the farcical sight gags do go a bit far. But if you can suffer through a few fat-guy jokes and proverbial pies in the face, then maybe you'll appreciate the message of the film. I only wish it had been showcased a little better. At the very least, Kevin Farley's mannerisms bring back some tender memories of his beloved brother Chris.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Flashback Friday: Poor, defenseless lunchbox

I don't know why my dad was driving my sister and me to school this particular morning. Usually we rode the bus or were dropped off by mom, I can't recall which, but I know it was unusual for us to be riding with Dad. Mom must have been at her weekly day of work.

In preparation of another grueling day of first grade, I had eagerly gathered the requisite supplies into my backpack and placed it out by the car. The rest of the family wasn't ready to go, I guess, because I came back inside and sat at the dining room table to wait while they continued bustling around.

Alongside the No. 2's and Crayolas in my backpack was my favorite Sesame Street lunch box. It was one of those old-school metal ones, although at the time it was fairly "current-school," so I liked it for reasons unrelated to its vintage appeal. Plastic lunchboxes were available by circa 1987, so this one may have been a hand-me-down from an older sibling, which may very well be why it held certain sentimental significance.

The lunchbox looked at least something like this:Or it may have been this exact one. In my memory, there was more of a Big Bird emphasis, but of the few results from my image searches, this is the only one that resonates. I think it might be the prominent yellow scheme that fabricated a strong recollection of Big Bird, or perhaps he is just on the other side. In this image, the characters are all carrying the very lunchbox on which they are pictured, and that brain trip seems vaguely familiar.

At any rate, this lunch box was in my backpack, full of a wholesome lunch that my mom probably made before she went to work. Packing lunches really wasn't a "dad thing" at our house. My school lunches always contained miniature portions of food in baggies, like a few Doritos or half of a fun-size candy bar. The staple sandwich entree was often of a variety that provoked raised eyebrows, but I liked them just fine: Peanut Butter and Marshmallow Creme was a favorite, and sometimes plain butter with cinnamon and sugar. But mine was usually just half of a sandwich. I got a carton of Alpenrose milk with my pre-purchased milk ticket, since that can't really be portioned out into a baggie. To top it all off, my mother would frequently write a love note on my napkin, enough to brighten any school day.

Back to the one I was originally describing, my sister was now standing by me in the dining room, geared up for departure. Our dad walked in from the garage, carrying the backpack that I had so responsibly set out by the car. He had the kind of goofy grin on his face that says, the funniest thing just happened! Then he told us that the funniest thing had just happened, and produced from within the backpack my special Sesame Street lunch box. Except half of the rectangular hexahedron was now concave: smooshed flat as a pancake. Apparently my pre-commute organizational efforts included placing my backpack just behind the car, and my dad mysteriously backed the car out of the garage without me there to load up my belongings.

Opening the lunchbox revealed a flattened PB&J, which my dad found especially entertaining. At the time, I was confused by his ostensible amusement at what had just occurred. As an adult, I completely understand how silly the coincedence, and would surely have a hearty laugh at a half-smashed lunchbox today. But at age approximately-six, I was horrified at the Muppet carnage before me. Noticing my sister and father's cavalier attitude, however, I bit my quivering lower lip and feigned agreement through their piercing cackles. I really wanted to cry, but was too embarrassed.

While we transferred the salvaged lunch items into a paper sack, Dad cleverly suggested I take the crumpled piece of steel to class today for show and tell. You know, explain how funny it was that my own father ran over my precious lunchbox with a two-ton vehicle and then laughed in my face. Having so far gone along with the notion that it was all an hilarious farce, I didn't have the confidence not to acquiesce. What better way to heal my emotional wounds than to stand up in front of my unsympathetic peers and talk about it, right?

So off to Phil Lewis Elementary we went, with shattered self-respect concealed within my backpack. At last it came time for class members to show and tell about their treasures. One by one students stood up and proudly displayed their dog's collar, or the giant maple leaf they found in the backyard, or the crystal pendant their grandmother brought home from Austria. Or whatever. I don't remember what anybody showed or told. I remember sitting in my desk with a giant knot in my stomach, the telltate heart of a deceased lunchbox under my chair beating, "Show me! Show me!" But I could not effect the voluntary control needed to reach into my backpack and unveil it. I just couldn't find the humor in the situation, and although I tried, didn't see any way that I could lay my broken heart in front of my classmates without humiliation. So I graciously declined my turn.

I don't know if I ever got a newfangled plastic lunchbox, or if this incident marked the beginning of my brown-bag career. Why was such a silly accident so needlessly traumatic for me? I don't blame my father, because his reaction was not out of place. I've exaggerated it for the sake of good storytelling anyway. The situation was pretty comical, and by not showing my emotional distress, there's no way he could have known I was upset. Maybe if I buy the lunchbox pictured above on eBay, the scars will finally heal. (Just kidding, my life has not been adversely affected by this experience, I promise.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The most blessed tag

Thank you, thank you Bridget, for tagging me today. Like you, I don't prefer to take part in these cyber-games, but on day 20 of NaBloPoMo, it is a very welcome break. Today I don't have the mental clarity or the time to write the engaging post I had planned, because Madelyn has been very demanding, she won't take her nap, I have to go to work pretty soon, and I won't get home until late. So for rescuing me, you're my new b.f.f. Guess I won't have to say TTYN to you! (Nothing like a Paris Hilton reference to trash up my blog.)

On to the 'tag, you're it' excitement! Today's game is to post "the sixth picture in the sixth folder on my computer." With those vague instructions, I arrived at the featured photo by clicking through these six folders: My Computer--Winters' Documents--My Documents--My Pictures--2005 (the first folder in My Pictures)--Anaheim 05 (the first sub-folder under 2005). The sixth photo in this folder is:

A great picture I think! I was headed inside the Anaheim Convention center along with a thousand other women, and noticed this stunning piece of Accidental Modern Art. Such beautiful work deserves a title. My idea is "Where Starbuck's Goes to Die." I'm sure the creative minds out there can do better than that. Care to help?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Two true stories

If you are appalled by those childish people who laugh at repulsive, immature toilet humor, then you best stop reading now. Come back tomorrow for what is sure to be a much more intelligent discussion. And for those of you who thought I couldn't sink much lower after reading yesterday's confessions, I triumphantly bring you:

A Collection of Two Stories on the Topic of Human Flatulation
Other People's Farts are Funny

Disclaimer: I do not own these stories, nor did I acquire permission to tell them. They are both true, told to me by two different loved ones. The first story was probably shared with me in confidence, so I have omitted references that might provide clues to the subject's identity, just in case. The second story is told frequently during family gatherings (usually at my persistent request), so I didn't think anonymity was necessary. I have narrated both accounts in my own words, paraphrased from their original impartations. Enjoy!

Story One

I am fanatical about massages. I love receiving them, and am quite discerning of the therapists technique and bedside manner. During a well-executed massage, one's entire body should relax, and I have always wondered if it is common for clients to unwittingly pass gas during a massage (existential, I know). Then when it happens, how does the therapist a) keep from bursting into apologetic guffaws, and b) continue working with that proverbial elephant stinking up room. So when I had the opportunity to ask a massage therapist I know well, I did. Unfortunately, the question remains unanswered, because she couldn't recall that scenario ever transpiring, at least in an audibly or aromatically noticeable way. BUT, she did go on to regale me with a tale of the time she had to perform a full-body massage with a shart in her own panties.

In accordance with standard spa procedure, the massage therapist excused herself from the small, dark room to allow her next gentleman client to undress. After a few minutes, she approached the door again, but halted before opening it. As it is never good form to pass gas next to your relaxing client's downward facing nostrils, she decided to push out that little nagging toot that felt like it might want to make it's way out during the next 60 minutes. She immediately realized her grave miscalculation as her butt crack turned suddenly warm and moist. But the massage therapist had already allowed Mr. Client plenty of time to get comfortable, and she could not justify leaving him lying on her table in silence, staring at the floor throught his padded face donut any longer. So she took a deep, cleansing breath. And she entered the room to do what has to be the most uncomfortable massage of her entire career thus far.

The End.

Story Two

You know, some families form lasting bonds over poop and fart humor. Even when it is being used as a form of sibling torture, memories of laughter are created, and what's wrong with that? My brother-in-law Randy is the second-oldest of 7 children in his family. I had two older brothers, and I know it's in their genes to find cunning ways to irritate and disgust their little sisters. Mine would put nooses around my stuffed animals and suspend them from the twirling ceiling fan. Randy preferred to fart in as close proximity to his sisters as possible.

One afternoon, Randy emerged from his bedroom and looked down the hallway into the family room. He could see his younger sister's golden locks cascading over the arm of the couch. She was the perfect victim, because the back of the couch obstructed her view down the hall, so she'd have no time to escape. Randy worked up a good one, and like a panther stalking its prey, crept silently toward the back of the couch. At the perfect moment, he pounced, letting a big, juicy one riiiiiip, right on Sister's face!

"AAAAAAAAUUUGHHHH!" came the furious cry from beneath the weapon of mass defilement. Randy's stomach sunk. He didn't even have to look under his freshly detonated cheeks to know. His mother sprung erect on the couch, pushing her foul son to the floor. It wasn't difficult to interpret her anger: if the facial expression didn't give it away, the loud profanity did.

What kind of apology do you offer the woman who gave you life in this world after farting right on her head?

The End.

Post-Script: I wonder how many people suggested the word shart be added to the dictionary. At least it has a real definition.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Six utterly embarrassing confessions

1. I can count on one hand the number of books I have read cover-to-cover in the past 5 years. One of them was a baby name book.

2. I use the return address labels that come in the mail without donating to the charity that sends them.

3. I am a very careful re-gifter.

4. One time I followed some loathesome customers into the Stanford's parking lot and nonchalantly flipped them the bird. They called my manager, of course, and I convincingly denied their (true) allegations.

5. I have kissed at least 28 guys (that's how many I could remember, although I couldn't remember all of their names) and 2 girls.

6. I wet my pants until first grade. The doctor gave me medication because he said my bladder was small for my age. But the truth is, I just hated going to the bathroom.

Yikes. And unfortunately, there are more where these came from. Now that I feel like a pathetic wretch of person, won't you please assure me I'm not the only one with dark secrets? Go ahead, get one off your chest.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A triumph for the English Language

It's official. Some nerdy word people in the UK lobbied to have 'meh' included in Collins English Dictionary's 30th Anniversary edition, to be published next year. This particular neologism beat out hundreds of terms submitted by the public through the publishers' "Word of Mouth" campaign. Due to the "excitement" it received from lexicographers, meh was chosen over such gems as huggle, jargonaut, and frenemy.

The dictionary will define meh as "an interjection to suggest indifference or boredom - or as an adjective to say something is mediocre or a person is unimpressed."

The emotion of meh has always existed, but may have taken on slightly different intonations before it was so clearly spelled out on The Simpsons (Hungry Hungry Homer, 4 Mar 2001):

The show opens with a commercial for Blockoland, the park where everything is made of Blocko Brand(tm) Assembly Fun Blocks. Homer is hooked, despite the fact that even the park-goers in the commercial seem un-enthused.

Homer: Kids, how would you like to go to ... Blockoland!

Bart + Lisa: Meh.

Homer: But the TV gave me the impression that --

Bart: We said, "Meh!"

Lisa: M-e-h, meh.

Through the global use of email, text messaging, internet chat, and weblogs, a formal spelling of what would otherwise be a non-written sound is accepted (makes me think of the spelling of "tsk tsk," which when actually uttered doesn't sound like that). Clearly meh's popularity spread far outside the Simpsons' fan base: the phenomenon of language invention.

Of course, this isn't the first time a term coined on the Simpsons has earned its place as an official piece of our beloved language. It was in 2001 that "d'oh" was first published in the Oxford English Dictionary. Maybe that is why the Simpsons writers had Lisa spell out m-e-h that same year, hoping to make another impression on lexicography. This time it only took 8 years, compared to 11 for d'oh, so perhaps they were on to something.

But to me, meh can't be used as part of a sentence. It stands alone, as an answer to a question of one's preference or enthusiasm. So I'm personally not thrilled with the dictionary's choice of giving meh the power of an adjective. One of the reported examples that will be printed is, "The Canadian election was so meh." That just doesn't work for me. Especially with the preceding qualifier "so." It's an oxymoron. Nothing can be "so" meh, because by (now) definition, meh is apathetic, indifferent, and therefore can't be quantified.

So what will be popping up into our dictionary next (if they haven't already...I don't usually sit down and read the dictionary)? Perhaps some of the -shudder- txt abbreviations like lol and brb? Please, not in the dictionary. There is this place between formal and slang English in which we're all free to speak and type casually. But let's not deface the Holy Reference of our language with such atrocities. Let wiktionary have them! For that matter, I can't recall the last time I looked up a word in the physical dictionary with definitions printed on real-life paper pages. The hardback Webster's my grandmother gave me for high school graduation now gathers dust on a bookshelf (of course it's so out of date, it doesn't even include d'oh). Between online dictionaries, wikis, and research toolbars, do I even need an actual dictionary anymore? Meh.

Do you say it? What are some of your favorite words that have made their entrance through popular culture onto the universal language pallette ?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

In pursuit of the perfect step stool

We have this step stool in our kitchen which we purchased for our first home in 2002. It's just a basic square wooden stool, useful for obtaining the rice cooker from its home above the fridge, etc. Over the past few months, my daughter has grown increasingly interested in "helping" in the kitchen, or she is at least less irritated with us not giving her our undivided attention if she can see what we are doing up on the kitchen counter. We frequently tell Madelyn to "go get your stool so you can see." She promptly and happily complies, pushing her stool up against the cabinets to get a better vantage point on the cookie dough scooping or lettuce leaf chopping. The stool's protruding sharp corners then were being enthusiastically thrust against our lovely knotty cabinet doors. Tired of constantly trying to help Madelyn guide the stool carefully without causing damage, the need for a new, round stool is clear.

Damaged cabinet fronts and pointy-cornered stool

I had seen Demitri's little round stool from IKEA, and figured it would be as good as any, and probably very inexpensive, the primary appeal of items from IKEA in my book. I know a lot of people who love IKEA. My opinion is that it is fun because it is different, and they have some unique toys and gadgets that are moderately priced. Most of the furniture and decor doesn't suit my personal tastes, and I think my husband's commentary on the shopping experience is spot on: it feels as though you are being "herded" through the store. The winding lines through the cafeteria (to buy food that is thankfully priced low enough to match its quality), giant signs throughout directing you to services you should utilize and items you should purchase, and of course, the signature shopping maze complete with arrows to ensure you follow the path in its entirety. Okay, I'm being extra cynical; remember I did say that the novelty of the IKEA experience is part of the fun. But you have to agree that it would be nearly impossible to run in to this store and grab that one thing you needed without a cartload of other treasures--part of the genius of their design.

We made the pilgrimmage to our IKEA, now located by the Portland Airport (we used to have to drive to the one in Seattle, so this new location is practically in our neighborhood). We found the sought-after stool, as well as an awesome crawl-through tube (another idea we picked up from Demitri's house), and two gifts. A very productive trip, and Gary's prophecy that once inside IKEA I would find all sort of other items that we needed, failed to be fulfilled. I had previously assured him that I just don't like the stuff at IKEA that much.

At home, we eagerly assembled our new green plastic step stool. Gary brought Madelyn into the kitchen to try it out. She climbed up and watched him slice an apple. A few moments later, from where I was in the other room, I heard the unmistakable scraaaape and THUD and waaaaah indicating that the stool had toppled over and Madelyn had collapsed to the ground. I joined Gary consoling Madelyn, and we realized together that this particular stool was intended for sitting, not standing. When she shifts her weight near the edges of the round platform top, it falls over. The surface area where the correct center of gravity is maintained is too small for a counter helper. I hope we'll be out near IKEA sometime in the next 90 days so we can get our $9.99 back. The cost of gas to drive out there just to return it would cancel out the refund.

So back to the drawing board. I know has tons of goodies like this, so I headed there first. I hoped I might be lucky enough to find an acceptable option available in-store to avoid paying for shipping. My search for "step stool" yielded 184 results. One by one I eliminated: too big, too ugly, plastered with cartoon characters, corners even sharper than our old one, too expensive...

But the one that was too expensive is SO cool. It's called a Kik Step, and supposedly you can kick it around to where you need it, then when you step on top, the rolling casters retract and it secures for standing. Not only is the stool round, but the edges are wrapped in rubber bumpers. It is also a better height (taller) than the one we have. Too bad it is $69.99! That is one serious step stool, my friends. I continued to click through the list, noticing the Kik Step in a variety of different colors.
Then I noticed that one--the silvertone color--was on sale for $19.99. It says right there: List Price $69.99, you save $50.00! Now either I have overlooked something in the descriptions, or for some reason Target is selling one color for $50 less than all the others of the exact same model. And this color matches our stainless steel appliances.

So I bought it. Including shipping, it was just over $30, but I'm hoping it will be worth it. That is still nearly 60% off the original price without shipping.

The main concern I have with this stool is whether or not Madelyn's weight will activate its stabilizing feature, or if her 28-ish pounds will be desperately trying to climb on while it rolls freely around the kitchen. We'll find out soon enough whether our pursuit is complete or will be forced to resume.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

NaBloPoMo hump day

Man alive, I hope I don't get all sorts of the wrong kind of people reading my blog now that it features the words 'hump' and 'scantily-clad teens' in successive titles.

What this is really about is that I have reached the halfway mark of NaBloPoMo! I now feel committed enough to officially post the icon on my blog. Ta Da! There it is in all its glory. Perusing the "official" website, it seems like National Blog Posting Month may as well be any and every month. I might be incorrect, but it would appear that they (who "they" are, I do not know) run a contest every month for those who sign up and participate by posting for 30 or 31 consecutive days (February = slackers). So crushed is my image of bloggers the world over joining forces each November to front a united surge into daily blogging.


That's okay. I didn't get started to win any prizes (although I won't pretend to be so benevolent that I would turn one down if I happened to be that lucky).

I decided to give NaBloPoMo a try because I like blogging. But I operate each day based on a series of organized piles and to-do lists. Blogging doesn't usually make the list, and as a business owner and working mother, "free" time is hard to come by. I wanted to see if my competetive nature would be enticed by this challenge enough to pull it off. I was more than a little unsure that I would be able to do it, and although it's far from over, having posted for 15 days straight, I feel confident that I won't give up now. Even if it means sacrificing sleep and procrastinating more important projects, evidently.

An exciting benefit of this blogging blitz has been, for me, the sharpening of once-respectable skills, rusty from years of limited use. It's been fun to dust off the creative writing corner of my mind and reconnect some disassociated synapses. Day by day my thoughts flow into words a little more easily. Good news, since NaBloPoMo has been more time consuming than I had anticipated. That's what you get from an out-of-practice perfectionist.

Thanks for the recommendation, Bridget. I'm going to make you (and ME!) proud.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Flashback Friday: Scantily clad teens in distress

Last week I told you a story from Girls' Camp 1997. Today I'll be exposing a tale from another quintessential Mormon teen experience during the very same summer.

Between our sophomore and junior years of high school, my cousin Rachel and I took part in a program called Especially for Youth, or EFY. The session we attended was hosted at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. The premise is similar to Girls' Camp, chock-a-block full of spiritually uplifting activities and wholesome camaraderie, except EFY attendees typically reside in college dormitories instead of cabins or tents. The most fundamental difference between the two events is that while one would never consider attending Girls' Camp intending to meet cute boys, that is the primary motivation of a teen heading across state lines to EFY.

Possibly due to the logistics of flight schedules, or possibly because our parents couldn't wait any longer to be rid of us, Rachel and I arrived on campus a day early. For a couple of moderately rebellious nearly-16-year-olds, the freedom was exhilarating. The campus was deserted, as it was summer term. Our parental release forms stated that there would be "minimal supervision in the housing area" for early arrivers. Awesome. We hit the local convenience store to stock up on necessities such as Cheese-Whiz and Twizzlers, and decided that we also couldn't survive the week without a couple of ringing toy cell phones filled with gumballs. This was back before children had their own cell phones, so they undoubtedly held the mystique of novelty.

My embarrassing scrapbook says that we stayed up until 3 a.m. “decorating” our dorm room. Corresponding photos indicate that the decorations consisted of collages of our high school friends and ROXY magazine ads, a Simpsons poster, and copious hand-written signs Scotch-taped to the painted cinderblock walls. The signs are barely legible in the small photos, but I can make out the words “Top Ten” on several, presumably homage to David Letterman, and I speculate that the rest are Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey.

We opened our plastic phones and smacked away on the neon spheres of gum within. For some reason I felt that the sticker representing my phone’s buttons and screens was impeding my ability to fully enjoy it. This sticker was a stubborn one, so I attempted washing it off in the dorm room sink. The effort was minimally successful.

At some point in the wee hours of the morning, in what can only be explained as an attempt to increase our defiance quotient, we put on our bikinis. Our motivation for doing so is one piece of this memory tapestry that made no lasting imprint.

The teenage gaiety carried on: comparing photos of our boyfriends and discussing which swear words were cool and which were just going "too far.” Then all of a sudden, my imitation cell phone, previously drying peacefully near the sink, started ringing. And ringing. The tinny, electronic tune kept repeating over and over again. We jumped up and started pushing all the buttons, pleading with it to shut up. It soon became evident that there would be no stopping the foul beast. A couple of minutes passed, with the irritating song playing again and again. At last we couldn’t take it anymore.

Rachel snatched the miserable piece of black plastic from the carpet where it was last stomped upon, threw open our door, ran into the hall, and hurled it down the hall against the opposing cement wall. With a loud crack, the horrid, whiny refrain ceased, and brightly colored gumballs spewed in every direction. The candy-fiend in me instinctually sprung into action, sprawling across the floor to retrieve the errant bits of gum.

Suddenly, and at the very same instant, my cousin and I froze in the hallway. Turning toward our room we saw the heavy, automatically locking door slowly swinging shut, ready to seal our fate: having to wander the religious-school campus in bikinis, shoeless, searching for someone who could let us back inside. Powered by fear and adrenaline, I catapulted my half-naked body from its position scooping up cheap candy on the floor toward the quickly narrowing gap between the door and its critical latching point.

Like something out of an epic adventure movie, my hand slipped in and caught the door a mere fraction of a second before it would have been too late. Rachel and I slunk back inside our well-adorned quarters, laughing hysterically at our reckless situation. But the gravity of what nearly occurred quickly sank in. A couple of teens wandering BYU campus in the middle of the night wearing naught but bikinis would surely have warranted a very awkward phone call to our parents.

And just because it's fun to embarrass my friends on the internet:

Bridget, Julee, Kristen, and Rachel at EFY 1997

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cafe with childcare

I've seen a new restaurant concept cropping up around the area: casual sit-down dining that caters to families with small children. Specifically, restaurants which offer play areas: either a designated corner full of toys, or a separate play room with supervised childcare (usually for a fee). There may also be an extensive kids' menu, likely punctuated with healthy options.

Recently a friend passed along an offer from a local radio station where we could purchase $25 gift certificates to 'Me Too! Cafe for grownups, Playtime for kids,' for only $7.50. I'm not usually one to pass up a 70% off deal, so I ordered a couple, thinking it would be a good excuse to try the restaurant, which is not located very close to home.

We ventured to check the place out for Gary's birthday lunch. When we walked in, there were no other customers. The two ladies at the front greeted us pleasantly, and Gary cracked, "How long is the wait?" I think she didn't get it at first, because one woman replied, "There isn't any!" and then must have realized that he was joking, because she chuckled nervously and added, "Yeah, you guys missed the big rush!"

One wall was lined with a long booth-style bench to create half-booth/half-chair tables. The rest of the room was filled with square tables and chair groupings. If the place were crowded, I would personally have felt as though we were dining elbow-to-elbow with the rest of the guests in the room. Thankfully, we wouldn't have to deal with that awkwardness today.

We selected one of the hybrid booth/chair tables in the front corner, and began perusing the menu. The choices for kids were great. Lots of options, pretty healthy, and each meal came with several kid-friendly side dishes (applesauce, cheese stick, veggie sticks, and goldfish crackers). The wide array is great for us because Madelyn likes to nibble a little bit on lots of different tastes. We ordered her a PB and Apple sandwich, and she took several bites.

I had more trouble deciding on my entree because nothing on the menu really appealed to me. The options didn't sound unappetizing, per se, but nothing captivated my tastebuds' attention. For me, an indicator of a really great restaurant is a menu full of unique and interesting options that I wouldn't usually make at home. If I can't decide because so many options tempt me, that's a sure sign I'd return for another meal. But this menu was mainly salads and sandwiches--genres of food that I can definitely dig, but they don't excite me unless the flavors creatively transcend the landscape of my own kitchen.

We hadn't attempted the play area yet, but our server's cluelessness and the unprepared kitchen did nothing to improve my impression of the foodservice part of the deal. Gary asked for a taste of one of the soups. Our server returned to say that particular soup is not one they make from scratch, and so it's frozen. If he really wanted a taste, she said they would gladly bring it, but it sounded like they'd have to thaw and heat up the entire serving portion to do so. He then asked for a recommendation between two entrees, and was informed that they were out of one of them. So he ordered the other one, which prompted the server to go check to see if they had one of the ingredients. "I didn't work Saturday, so I'm not sure," she said. As a former foodserver, I'd say there is a more professional way to handle this back-and-forth with the kitchen without clueing the customers in to any faults. I finally decided on the enchiladas verde, which she also had to see if they could make. I realized later that is because I was ordering from the dinner area of the menu instead of lunch, but she didn't say anything about that, and the menu doesn't secify a time frame for dinner entrees. She said they could make the enchiladas, but without the rice side dish. Fine.

They bring the child's food out pretty quickly if you want them to, so they can finish first and go play while the parents eat. But Madelyn is a slow and distracted eater, so by the time she was finally finished and we got her cleaned up, we didn't have much of our own lunches left to finish. But we still wanted to see if she would like to play in the childcare area, hoping we could enjoy a few minutes of peace and quiet. I went inside the playroom with Madelyn, and helped her get comfortable. The "play partner" was very nice and started helping Madelyn do a puzzle. The instant I turned to leave, she started crying and running after me. We just don't get to do this very often. I tried a couple of times, to no avail, so Madelyn came back to the table with me. I said we would try again in a few minutes. Madelyn stood by our table while Gary and I ate and talked, and not a minute later she was wandering back to the play area where a huge block tower was being constructed. She didn't even glance back.

Gary and I looked at each other in amazement. She ran right in there and knocked over the blocks, stayed for a few seconds, then ran back out to us, laughing. Several times she ran back over, staying to play just a little bit longer each time. It was a neat experience to see how, given enough space and allowed to do it on her own terms, she was able to enjoy the experience of playing with a stranger in a strange place. But if I had left her alone at first, shutting the door behind me and ignoring her cries, she would have completely lost it. Not that they would have allowed me to leave her in there screaming, but the experience could have been traumatic for us all had we not just allowed her to figure it out on her own. She didn't need any coaxing or explaining once she felt ready, and it only took a couple of minutes.

Gary and I conversed more while Madelyn was sitting at the table eating than we did once we were doing the back-and-forth game with the play area. An older child, interested in toys no matter where or under what circumstances, may have afforded us more time to relax and dine on our own. Maybe if there had been other children in the playroom, Madelyn would have realized what it was all about more quickly. She just doesn't have enough experience playing with a babysitter to be so easily comfortable with it.

We want going out to dinner as a family to be a positive experience for all of us, and are committed to helping our child(ren) learn good table manners and cultivate the ability to sit at the table during meals. I know families who never go to restaurants with their kids, because they haven't nurtured that ability (hint: it begins at home). So far, we don't really mind dining out with Madelyn. Her antics add up to our own entertainment at the table, so it's more fun than stressful. Maybe during the next couple of years, especially if more children join our brood, we would appreciate a setting like this. Perhaps we'll try Grandma Leeth's, which seems to have a more exciting menu, because for me, the food would have to be a great deal better--higher quality and more interesting selection--to make the trip worthwhile.

Plus, I'd rather there not be stray goldfish crackers for my daughter to discover under another table and eat (which there were, and which she did).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Can't we ALL just get along?

I just got home from working a shift in one of my Curves clubs tonight. At one point, my dad arrived to check on a maintenance issue as well as talk business with me for a few minutes. His entrance prompted a query from a member which initiated this reflection.

If I'm being honest, I am slightly intimidated by the member who asked me. She is very tall, but her presence is bigger than her stature. Not terribly boisterous or energetic, she simply exudes an air of assertiveness that causes me to tiptoe carefully through our conversations. I have trouble reading her cues--often unsure if her comments are meant to be playfully sarcastic or passively caustic.

Sensing that this member is constantly judging me, I generally feel the need to be cautious of what I say around her. She suddenly asks, "Do you get along better with your mom or your dad?" I realize it could be an innocent question, but it is also characteristically prying coming from this particular woman.

After mentally screening the question for an ulterior motive, I consider it and finally answer, "I guess my mom, but I get along with both of my parents pretty well." I am sure that response was chalked up as another point supporting her false image of Kristen's idyllic, superficial life.

Our exchange ended there, but I continued to ponder the question, and the reasoning behind my reply. If forced to select between the two, I suppose I do get along slightly better with my mom. Why is that?

First of all, my mother's ability to "get along" could constitute a dictionary definition. She is the most kind and generous person that I personally know, and probably accommodating to a fault. So I'm not sure it would be humanly possible not to get along with my mom.

Next, I am probably more like my father where inter-personal characteristics are concerned. And these are often the areas where opposites attract. Put two people with a strong propensity toward leadership together and the waters won't always remain calm. But add to that scenario the fact that I am in the submissive "daughter" position, and the entire dynamic is precariously altered.

Lastly, I am a very emotional person. This is one quality which I inherited completely from my mother. I could be convinced that my dad doesn't even utilize his "right brain," if it weren't for his skills with a dry-erase pen and a whiteboard. : ) Okay, that's a slight exaggeration, but honestly, the man struggles to grasp the intricacies of the female psyche (what man doesn't?). So he rarely comprehends why I (or Mom or Sister) am grappling with an emotional issue when a purely logical solution is blatantly evident. Since my mother and I speak the same language, we communicate more easily and effectively.

But in spite of our similarities and differences, I love both of my parents in a very unique and precious way. I treasure our relationships for exactly what they are, unbound by expectations of perfection. It's not idyllic, and thankfully, so very far from superficial.

My Wedding Day ~ July 2005 you get along better with your mom or your dad?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The potty training predicament

I've been thinking a lot about the toilet lately. Specifically, whether or not it is time to guide my toddler toward commencing her lifetime relationship with it.

Is Madelyn ready? I think so. Are we, her parents, ready? About this I am not so sure.

I believe that Madelyn is physically and mentally ready to use the toilet. She communicates well, and understands a great deal more than she can say. She grasps the concept that we sit on the toilet and go potty. She says "potty" when mom or dad does it, and knows how to pull down her pants and take off her diaper. She has gone pee pee in the potty twice in total, by coincidence of good timing. Sometimes she says "pee" or "poop" when one is taking place in her diaper, so I know she is familiar with the sensation.

I have discovered a 3-day potty training method that I plan to utilize. Its principles are in line with my instinctual beliefs on the subject (we'll see how many of them remain when it's done), and it provides very clear instructions for getting the job done. I don't want to figure it out on my own, I want someone who knows what works to tell me what to do. The woman who created the method has personally potty trained 8 of her own children and helped parents train 3000 more. Her experience has lead her to believe that age 22 months is the perfect age to potty train. I think most parents would be surprised by that assertion. While I do believe that each child is unique, and some may not be ready, I believe Madelyn has the capacity to succeed at this age.

So it sounds like this is a no-brainer, right? If Madelyn is ready, and I have the proverbial "instruction manual," it's time to pick a date, right?

Not so fast. I've been contemplating how a child in underwear will change our lives!

The less-imposing dilemma is that the method I enthusiastically plan on implementing requires 3 days of 100% focus on Madelyn. Attached at the hip. No writing emails while she plays nearby. No phone calls. If I'm cooking dinner, then Daddy needs to be by her side. This commitment is necessary to facilitate bi-directional communication, and allow us to catch accidents as they are happening, every time.

The three days of total focus might be difficult. But I feel it will be manageable if I schedule it into my calendar well ahead of time, especially since Gary and I will work together and tag-team the responsibility. Also, it will be good for me as a mother to force elimination of daily distractions and spend every moment playing with and being with my daughter.

The bigger problem revolves around the future. One major principle of my preferred method is the concept of diaper-free potty training. Once you decide to start, all the diapers go away, for ever. The motive is to avoid sending the child mixed signals: it's okay to pee in your pants in bed or at Grandma's house, but not the rest of the time. It's best not to have a crutch to fall back on anyway. Keeping the diapers around would be like trying to quit smoking while keeping a pack in your glove compartment, just in case you really need one.

As it is, Madelyn gets her diaper changed several times per day, when it is convenient for me (except poop, which is handled immediately of course). She pees in her diaper at unknown times throughout the day--during story time, while I'm fixing lunch, while we are driving in the car. Once she is out of diapers, we have to stop what we are doing and run to the potty--even if we're in the grocery store or playing at the park. What if we're in the car and she has to go? I begin to feel as though potty training--and it's desired results--isn't very advantageous after all.

The most dear sacrifice I will be compelled to make is sleep interruption. If a diaper-free Madelyn wakes up in the middle of the night, one of us will have to leap out of bed and rush to her room to see if she needs to go to the bathroom. Currently, Madelyn may whimper for half a minute and fall back asleep without any assistance from a parent, probably after peeing in her diaper. Also, Madelyn is my alarm clock in the morning. If she had a "snooze" button, I'd be hitting it frequently, because I HATE getting up the morning, and it takes me some time to emerge from what always seems to be a very deep sleep and drag my butt out of bed to go get her. Sometimes she'll wake up and cry for a minute, and then either go back to sleep or play silently in her bed for a while. I take advantage of that time by catching a few more precious zzz's. Usually by the time I go in there, Madelyn's diaper is so full it looks like it was thrown into the pool. Sans diapers, I will be required to snap awake and scurry in to take her to the toilet, whether she (or I) is really ready to be up for the day or not. I realize that once she learns how to "hold it," this won't be as much of an issue, and I just need to be mentally prepared for a rough couple of weeks.

Insights? Advice?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Happy birthday, Husband

When I completed my cyber-tag, the most challenging part was deciding on only four things I like about my husband. In honor of Gary's 31st birthday today, I'm posting the rest of the list. (Obviously, it's not everything I like about him. I spared you the most sappy reasons and anything that might be considered "TMI")


  • He can be adorably goofy
  • He does 90% of the housework, does it thoroughly, and rarely tries to make me feel guilty about it
  • He loves to read to our daughter
  • He knows me better than anyone, and loves me in spite of it
  • He always lets me put my ice cold feet on him to get warm
  • He can spot a great candid photo opportunity (when we first met he hated being in pictures, and he’s come a long way)
  • He is surviving us being the “black sheep” in my family
  • He understands that education and knowledge are not similes
  • He is a good sport about doing things that mean a lot to me, even if not to him
  • He can say “I’m sorry”
  • He is a very good driver
  • He is a sci-fi geek—I’m glad we can maintain separate interests
  • He can plan epic romantic surprises
  • He helps me be a better person
  • He likes Chick Flicks (the good ones, anyway)
  • He appreciates the intrigue of nature
  • He chose to be compassionate, successful, and confident--overcoming the odds stacked against him
  • He makes me laugh every day
  • He loves going on outdoor adventures
  • He lets me sleep in on the weekends
  • He likes it when I play the piano, even if my skills are a bit rusty
  • He is an advocate of natural childbirth, and was perfectly supportive while our baby was born at home
  • He can unscrew the lid of any stuck jar (after I loosen it up)
  • He can whip out relevant Simpsons quotes almost as well as I
  • He thinks of everything we might need on an outing, and has it packed up before I’m even ready to go
  • He loves me in pigtails
  • He appreciates great poo and fart humor
  • He views parenting as an equal partnership
  • He takes care of his health and appearance
  • He is passionate about his beliefs while respecting those held by others
  • He read the Twilight series, which I have not, and I think that’s cute (I'll just watch the movies)
  • He loves good food at least as much as I do; there's less guilt when you binge with a buddy
  • He can engage in intelligent, interesting, and entertaining conversation—my favorite person to talk to!
  • He can’t wait to learn how to French braid Madelyn’s hair
  • He will post a comment for the very first time on this blog post (right Honey?)


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Do you know why I love Autumn?

Two words: Hot cocoa. You just can't drink it unless it's chilly outside. Also, I'm a big fan of crocheted scarves, wool hats, big fuzzy blankets, and all the cozy things that have been stashed away for months. We're also blessed with new seasons of The Office and The Simpsons, and to top it all off: the evergreens in my backyard appear to be engulfed in flames.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Six things I intend never to accomplish

Six common voluntary activities I'd be happy to live my entire life without doing:

In no particular order...

1. Spend 3 figures on a purse or article of clothing

2. Smoke a cigarette (or cigar, joint, pipe, whatever)

3. Eat cheese full of writhing maggots, even if it is a delicacy

4. Bungee jump

5. Watch a Michael Moore "documentary," abominations to the genre

6. Own a minivan

What won't make your "been there, done that" list?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Flashback Friday: Origins, also Cootie Ghetto

Back in August, shortly after I created this blog, I found myself wondering what the heck I was going to write about week after week. My life doesn't seem very interesting most days.

At the same time, I was finally getting around to turning the guest room where our Japanese exchange student had lived for ten months back into the all-purpose storage/craft/gift-wrapping room that it was meant to be. I lack the capacity to simply shove boxes onto shelves without first establishing some semblance of order within them and determining their best organizational groupage category. Sifting through boxes of old photos and memorabilia, it occurred to me that my past is freckled with plenty of entertaining stories that would make great blog entries. Specifically, I was chuckling about some memories from church Girls' Camp in my teen years. But it seemed so random to just start writing about instances having no current relavancy. The solution to this conundrum, of course, would be to initiate a recurring flashback feature...possibly repeating on a regular day of the week. But I did not consider myself disciplined enough to establish the expectation to write a certain element each week, so I filed the idea away in my brain for future reference.

The very next day, I came across Bridget's first installment of her now well-established "Flashback Friday." And guess what: her first flashback was a story from the same Girls' Camp about which I was reminiscing when I had the same idea. I felt like I was in that twilighty show about that zone.

That was ten weeks ago. Now, with the help of NaBloPoMo forcing me into writing submission, I'm jumping on the Flashback Friday bandwagon (don't worry, Bridget invited others to participate, so I'm not stealing her idea (which she stole from me)).

So does that story count as today's flashback? It probably could, but I'd better keep the Girls' Camp tradition alive and tell you a story about a little piece of Heaven called the Cootie Ghetto.

All of us 16-year-olds were preparing to attend our 5th year of Girls' Camp, which is the year where for some reason we are allowed to be counselors--in relative charge of half a dozen or so impressionable pre-teens. Counselors work in pairs, and Bridget and I were a great match since we didn't take the whole thing too seriously and--while maintaining respect for the solemn--liked to gently push the boundaries of some of the more laughable processes.

A few months before camp, a meeting is held to announce the theme for the year, around which all camp activities, decorations, and lessons will be designed. Past themes included Wide World of Sports, Noah's Ark, and Saturday Morning Cartoons. The theme for 1997 would be...(drumroll)...The Game of Life. Each set of counselors must select the name of a board game by which their cabin group will be known. In order to avoid any hair-pulling brawls over the decidedly "best" games, we were assigned numbers and made our selections from their list in chronological order. Bridget and I were something like number 17 out of 18. As all the good choices were plucked from our grasp, we started thinking outside the box. There was no way we were going to try to create cool decorations and nametags etc. from a game such as Pick up Sticks or Backgammon when our friends had Candyland and Operation. It would be an exercise in futility, not to mention ensure that our campers would spend all their time with another (cooler) group. So we scoffed at their list and chose our own game: Cooties. The camp leaders weren't too supportive of our idea, but I guess we presented an acceptable argument.

Fast forward to our arrival at Camp Namanu. Before the girls who would be under our care arrived, Bridget and I had 9 hours to make our preparations, which mainly consisted of plastering our cabin with Cootie-related paraphernalia. To get the origins of Cootie Ghetto straight, I will forfeit my dignity and allow you to read directly from the embarrassing scrapbook I made:
The Camp leaders took issue with our haven of trash, and implored that we remove it. I recall we eventually reached a compromise where we cleaned up the actual garbage but were allowed to leave the more decorative duct tape and ghetto sign. Sometimes you have to make your own fun.

"COOTIES, Angela, COOTIES." I know this joke originated during our pre-camp preparations, but how? Help me out if you can, ridget.

Did you know that by replacing the word "choose" with "chews" you can create a catchy handout for almost any occasion? True. Just add any soft candy-type item and you've got yourself a winner.

This one was accompanied by a stick of gum. Very clever. Also good: "Chews" the Right with Snickers bar. If you want to make your handout extra cute, draw dots on the ends of every letter. And there's really no reason to over-think the rules of "quotation" marks. If you feel they are necessary, just "go" for it!


Related Posts with Thumbnails