Saturday, October 31, 2009

My plate is full (of Halloween goodness)

Not that daily blogging would ever be a breeze for me, but had there been a way for me to know one of my key employees would quit this month, I doubt I would have taken on the challenge of NaBloPoMo.  The hiring process and hours of training each week in addition to my regular workload complicated the whole ordeal.  Of course, I seem to lack the ability to monitor and limit my commitments anyway, so maybe having that advance perspective I wished for would not have affected my decision to commit to NaBloPoMo during a very busy October.

While I am pleased with the results of Blog-fest 2009, I am very glad it is nearly complete.  In addition to everything else going on this month, I decided a few weeks ago to plan a Trick or Treat party for our friends and their kids (tonight). And I had already committed to host a Halloween lunch gathering on the 30th (yesterday). So the last two days I have spent cooking, cleaning, decorating, doing dishes, and more cooking to prepare for two consecutive Halloween parties at my house.  Granted, my vision for a casual party tonight with a few friends escalated into a full-blown party with over 40 confirmed attending (I figured a lot more people would have other plans on Halloween).  I'm completely thrilled that so many people want to spend the festive evening with us, and I love throwing parties.  It's just a little bigger than I originally anticipated. Oh, and I'm leaving town on a business trip in 3 days, which means on top of everything I have to do all the usual pre-travel preparations, packing, and tying up of loose ends at home and work.  But the going away after it all is worth having a very full plate!

Mine wasn't the only full plate this Halloween. Check out the festive and spooky dishes I served to guests of my two Halloween parties this weekend:

Mummified pizza wrap

Coordinating mini-mummies

Pumpkin cheese ball

Halloween swamp dip with crispy bat wings

Cheesy ghosts

Crunchy bugs

Frozen gummy worms for ice water

Bet you didn't even know what a veritable Martha I am. I discovered a quandary tonight to keep in mind for future parties, however.  I chose 6:30 as the start time for this party specifically to avoid conflicting with family dinner times.  But guests were encouraged to each bring a Halloween-themed appetizer or dessert to share.  The result of these two provisions was three countertops loaded with platters, bowls, and plates of food, and lots of guests who just weren't that hungry.  So I begin to think that in the future, for a party where food will be plentiful, I should go ahead and schedule it earlier, so people will come hungry and eat more.  But that's a tough call, because by scheduling an hors d'oeuvres party earlier, I run the risk of people expecting a full meal and then running out of food with hungry guests.  Most of my friends escaped from my house before I could thrust leftovers upon them, so I was left with a ridiculous abundance of food. I feel terrible that I ended up throwing quite a bit away, because I don't have room for and won't be able to eat it all.  It's just impossible to predict these kinds of things I guess.  But it seems like everyone had a pretty good time, in spite of the mass chaos that 27 adults and 22 children can create in an enclosed space.

Hope you had a SUPER Halloween!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Flashback Friday: Fear is not a factor

On this Halloween-Eve edition of Flashback Friday, I'd like to tell you about one of my favorite past Halloween costumes.

A few years ago I entertained a short-lived obsession with the television show Fear Factor.  I watched all the syndicated episodes on TiVo, and loved every thrilling minute.  The adventure stunts are so creative and often involve meticulous execution of details. Fear Factor is most often recognized for making contestants eat coagulated blood balls or lie covered in African cave-dwelling spiders, but I always appreciated the extreme feats more than the grossies.  Inexplicably, I even had a little crush on the not-extremely-attractive host Joe Rogan.

But even more mind-boggling is the fact that I legitimately contemplated submitting an application to be a contestant on the show.  I actually printed out the paperwork from and began brainstorming ideas for my audition video before I realized that my well-developed fear of falling might give reason for pause.  There are certain types of stunts I think I would skillfully complete and even enjoy in an adrenaline-junkie sort of way.  But as much as I want to believe I would be tough enough to leap from the top of one speeding gas tanker to another, I wonder if any amount of safety harness and helmet could make me to do it.  I nearly freaked out at the top of the New York New York coaster in Vegas, so I really don't know what I was thinking.

Accepting that I would be unable to select cool stunts over truly terrifying ones was only part of the cause for my ultimate verdict against applying.  The other element of import was the realization that I didn't have "the look" for Fear Factor.  Not tan enough, not thin enough, boobs not big enough. I decided to remain content watching the bikini babes and muscle men perform stunts like these from behind the comfort of my remote control:

I was, however, able to live a little piece of my dream on Halloween that year when I chose to masquerade as a Fear Factor contestant. I dressed in the show's black and yellow motif (how lucky to find that sports bra at Goodwill!), attached spiders, mice, and snakes to my clothes and hair, and even printed the Fear Factor logo on my homemade pennant flags--just like the ones contestants often have to collect or transfer as part of various formidable challenges. To complete the look, I showed plenty of skin (like a true FF contestant), including inflatable chest-pieces for maximum accuracy.

I wore this getup to work out at my Curves club, which is where this indelicate photograph was taken.  Considering I would have probably been the one crying like a little girl and demanding to get off whatever contraption from which I was pathetically dangling, I'd venture to say that I had more fun dressing up as a Fear Factor contestant than I would have had actually being one.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dear Big Carl,

You are not a Big Mac.

Your commercials claiming to be a far superior version of the beloved Big Mac piqued my curiosity. After all, why is there an extra piece of bread in the middle of the Mac? So when I was in need of lunch and passed by Carl's Jr. this afternoon, I decided to put your assertions to the test. My taste test.

Here's the thing. You can't just copy the special sauce and compare yourself to a Big Mac. I get it. You have a lot more meat. Guess what? In my book it's actually better to minimize the amount of fast food beef I consume. All that cow was too much for me: the taste of greasy beef overpowered every bite.

And on a Big Mac, the finely shredded lettuce has a way of achieving unity with globs of Special Sauce in a way that is simply impossible for two ginormous pieces of thick, crunchy iceberg.

Mostly though, Big Carl, how can you even align yourself with the Big Mac when there is nary a pickle to be found between your measly two buns?

I regret to inform you that I will continue to satisfy my occasional Mac-related hankerings by hitting the McDonald's drive-thru. I'll pay the extra dollar because I will be able to finish more than half of the sandwich  (of course one full Big Mac is about equal in calories to just half of a Big Carl, so it's best all that beefiness grossed me out partway through). As an added benefit, McDonald's offers a huge variety of options to feed my daughter, many of them relatively healthy, compared to the chicken strips on your menu--which appeared to be the only item at least somewhat geared toward the younger palate and inferior dexterity of a child.

In closing, thank you for creating the opportunity to discover the true reason for Big Mac's bun number three.  That extra piece of plain bread in the middle of a double burger (inferior in total weight as it may be) serves to effectively mask the flavor of pre-formed beef patties (don't think that just because your patties have neat little bumpy edges I can't tell that they are shaped that way from a mold).  Because of that third bun, the Special Sauce, American cheese, and pickles really shine through.


Medium-sized Kristen

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Six fads frozen in time

Allow me to explain why my title is not redundant. Yes, a fad is generally defined as a short-lived craze, but consider that many trends experience a distinct spike in popularity followed by decline, but maintain a continued presence on a much smaller scale in popular culture or daily life, as applicable.  New technology in particular has a way of seeming faddish at first, but as its use becomes more prevalent, the object in question becomes commonplace.

The other day I drove by a man walking a black Scottish Terrier.  I don't see this breed around much for some reason, and the moment I saw it, my mind flashed immediately to the old sweatshirts that filled my closet (as well as those of my sister and mother) featuring two Scottie Dogs facing each other and usually some argyle or hearts to complete the look.  A vision of this dog brought me back to that distinct period of style, and was the inspiration for this post as I recalled various specific objects that enjoyed their 15 minutes of fame during my youth and then have scarce to be heard from since. Many fads come and go within a category, for example nobody wears Lee jeans anymore, but we still wear jeans.  And the really big Hollywood-style sunglasses will surely start to be uncool at some point, but I don't predict that sunglasses themselves will go out of fashion.  Some (but not all) of the items on my list are objects which have nearly ceased to exist since the end of their reign, and therefore create a very strong connection with their period of popularity. I'll tell you mine, and you tell me yours!

1) Puffy Paint Couture. If the dogs on the aforementioned sweatshirts weren't puffy-painted, then you'd better believe there were sweatshirts with ironed-on kitties and Christmas wreaths nearby that were.  Okay, I've seen puff paints used in crafts on occasion, but they aren't the fashion statement they once were.

2) Troll dolls. I had myself a hefty collection of these. I never really played with them, just owned them.

3) Slap bracelets. I remember coveting all varieties of these bracelets in precisely 5th grade. Shiny, fuzzy, tie-dyed, you name it.

4) MAGIC cards. I never actually played with these myself, I swear. I wouldn't be able to tell you the difference between the planes of Shadowmoor and Lorwyn (just looked that up on a website, ha ha).  But I do remember hordes of boys hovering around them at the cafeteria tables in junior high, followed by much smaller groups of late-blooming boys huddled around them at the cafeteria tables in high school.

5) Pogs. What were these things exactly? I just remember them being all the rage for a while. Apparently we kids were tricked into obsessing over cardboard discs with printed images. Some of them were sparkly though!


6) Scrunchies. The staple hair (and wrist) accessory of the mid-nineties. And then they simply disappeared without a trace.  Conspiracy? Perhaps.

So what nearly-forgotten objects hold the power to transport you to distinct memories of their era? 

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Goodwill treat, or trick?

Since last year was Madelyn's first walking Halloween, she needed a candy bucket. I sent my husband on the mission to find one for her at Goodwill in mid-October. I wanted a vintage-style plastic jack-o-lantern, like the kind I used as a kid. The one Gary purchased is much bigger than I had hoped for (since Madelyn was quite small), but he reported that there was not nearly the selection of plastic pumpkin candy buckets at Goodwill that I had confidently assured him there would be. So in light of that, this pumpkin was perfect.

Madelyn~October 2008~ready to get some candy
I'll have to explain her "costume" later this week
When I pulled out the Halloween decorations earlier this month, Madelyn discovered the jack-o-lantern bucket among them. My daughter is very fond of totes. She has a variety of purses, bags, baskets, buckets, and boxes that she will use for varying intervals to store and carry her "treasures." At any given time her preferred tote might contain a small stuffed animal, a set of alphabet flash cards, a ladybug ring, an acorn, or really anything small enough to fit inside that she deems of interest. It is adorable. So some days this month we've gone to a store or restaurant with a giant orange pumpkin in tow.
Last week I happened to notice the stickers on the bottom of our pumpkin bucket.

The sticker on the left is the label from the original store where this bucket was purchased (I think Target), before eventually being cast away to Goodwill, and then purchased by us. That price tag says $0.79. The Goodwill price tag on the right says $1.99. We are suckers.
Okay, so the buck and twenty cents more that we paid is not the issue here. $1.99 is a fair price for a classic jack-o-lantern bucket. I'm not complaining about the cost, but I find this comical. The original price is right there on the item, but the person at Goodwill labeling it didn't either consider setting the price to reflect the original new-item cost, or at least scrape off the sticker to avoid any potential customer agitation.
This scenario reminded me of my distaste for Goodwill. The fact is, they are by far the easiest place to donate unwanted goods. But most unwanted goods would serve a much better purpose being donated to a truly worthy cause such as a shelter or community outreach program. Whenever possible, I prefer to donate to these organizations, because I know that the items will be given for free to people genuinely in need.
Goodwill, on the other hand, accepts your castoffs at zero cost-of-goods, and re-sells them for a profit. Don't let that non-profit status fool you. While Goodwill Industries does utilize a large percentage of income to provide employment assistance and training, there are also a lot of people making a lot of money. Non-profits' income simply must be dispersed at the end of each fiscal year, and that isn't difficult to do. For example, after coming under the attorney general's scrutiny in 2005, the president of the Portland-area Goodwill chapter agreed to a 24% salary reduction from his 2004 earnings of $838,508.
All from those $5.99 shirts and $1.99 pumpkin buckets that Goodwill gets for free.
Everyone has a right to make money, and I am a proponent of the free market. I don't boycott Goodwill, but I think their non-profit status is a little hokey. Sometimes, like most people, I just need a quick way to get rid of some old stuff, and Goodwill has that figured out. Today, I went to Goodwill looking for a couple of items to create an acceptable Halloween "costume" for my Bah Humbug hubby to wear at our party this weekend. And I couldn't help but notice that amidst the piles and racks of junk, there were some really great "treasures" at excellent prices.
So Goodwill really has us in its grasp: they make donating SO easy, and--in spite of some pricing snafoos such as my pumpkin's 250% mark-up--sell decent stuff at reasonable prices if you can find what you're looking for. All that is required to shop there is PATIENCE and an impervious sense of smell (or a nose plug--it always smells so weird in there!)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Worlds of Fantasy

While I make no apologies for my objections to clothing and other paraphernalia branded with television and movie characters the likes of Dora, SpongeBob, and Tinkerbell, it would be deceitful for me not to admit that certain characters themselves I find endearing. A quick mental categorization between the charming and irritating indicates a strong personal preference toward those characters that influenced my own childhood and have remained popular because of a sort of "classic" status. That rule is not all-encompassing however. I really like the little Canadian boy named Caillou on PBS kids/Sprout who stars in what used to be practically the only TV show my daughter would watch. And just because I played with Barbies and Strawberry Shortcake as a child does not automatically make me a fan of their new singing and dancing DVD series'. So there are definitely exceptions.

When Disney reintroduced the concept of the animated feature film with The Little Mermaid in 1989, I was at the impressionable age of eight, and I still count this movie among my absolute favorites. In the years that followed, my parents' garage, when empty, became my undersea fantasyland. I would strap on rollerskates and circle the garage singing "Part of Your World." I felt as graceful as a mermaid, but probably looked as awkward as a lobster.

At one- to two-year intervals Disney released another amazing cartoon adventure, and for a while there it seemed that each one was better than the last. Then they reached Pocahontas, and well, they can't all be winners. For me, it was downhill from there, but perhaps that has more to do with my own growing up that paralleled the progression.

For the most part, I appreciate each of the classic Disney princess movies, but this whole Disney Princesses as an enterprise of its own turns me off. As Madelyn is old enough to choose what she likes and wants to obsess about, I'll work to keep my aversions under control and allow her an appropriate amount of freedom to identify with characters if she so chooses. But for now, we just steer clear of commercialized toys, books, and et cetera that would create a premature longing.

All this introduction culminates here: we went to see Disney on Ice~Worlds of Fantasy on Saturday. I was unsure of the extent to which Madelyn would enjoy it. First of all, the showing we could attend started at 7pm, nearly her bedtime. Also, due more to her short attention span than any self-righteous purpose, we haven't introduced Madelyn to Disney movies, so I knew she wouldn't recognize Ariel, Sebastian, Simba, and Scar. And lastly, while I am deeply fascinated and awestruck by the athletic art of figure skating, I was quite sure that Madelyn would not be able to appreciate the incredible skills demonstrated on the ice.

But Madelyn's newest favorite show (replacing Caillou) is Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Incidentally, I have mixed feelings about that show: the characters are the classic Disney mice, ducks, we all know and love, but the new-fangled digital animation bugs me. I know, I am weird. But at least I've set my crazy opinions aside in this case and let Madelyn watch this relatively innocuous and fairly educational show. I happen to find the theme song kind of cute, and I love that the fun "Hot Dog song" featured at the end of every episode is written and performed by They Might be Giants, a mainstream alternative rock band. But I digress. Because of this current fixation with Mickey and friends, we opted to take advantage for the opportunity for a fun family night out.

Madelyn fared well under the circumstances, but her mother, on the other hand, was enthralled. I LOVE watching ice dancing and fantasized about being a figure skater in my youth. I realize that I don't think I've ever seen skating like this in person, only on TV. So I was enthralled by the performances, and to make the deal even sweeter, two of the featured stories were from my two all-time favorite Disney movies: The Little Mermaid and The Lion King.

My interest began to wane along with Madelyn's toward the end, however, as I'm not very familiar with the new Tinkerbell movie. The skating was still interesting, but one drawback of the excellent seats Gary got us is that it was easy to see the faces of performers who looked bored or broke character when they passed each other and laughed. I know that performing the same routine night after night, month after month, can grow mundane. But seriously people, you get to travel the country dancing on ice skates. This is probably what you dreamed about as a child, so enjoy it! Most people's jobs are significantly less interesting than yours.

I am so glad that we went to this show. The skating was captivating and the flood of warm childhood memories welcome. Madelyn might not fully appreciate everything that she saw, but she was mostly entertained, and rotated between Mom, Dad, and Grandma's laps munching the Kettle Corn we snuck inside. Indisputably, her favorite parts were the little breaks when Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy graced the floor, and also when bubbles floated down from the ceiling. Enjoy a few photos, if you will.

Who knew mermaids could do the splits?

This is ME in my garage on rollerskates.

We did have really great seats, but some of these close-ups are courtesy of my amazing new camera.

The entire 'Little Mermaid' portion was the highlight for me.

Simba's a little washed out, but marvel at my shutter-click timing!

I nearly don't believe it myself, but Pumbaa appeared to be portrayed by one skater with his or her hands wearing skates in the front. It was the weirdest thing to watch and imagine trying to do.

As much as I love 'The Lion King,' the lions on their hind legs in bodysuits was a bit strange. I was able to look past it for the most part.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

If two Halfs make a whole...

This morning I finished my second Half Marathon run, which by my calculations means I've completed a marathon now, right? No? Okay fine. I'm still pretty proud of the accomplishment.

Actually, the only real motivation I have to ever run a marathon is some self-imposed "peer pressure" because I have so many friends who run them. I have explained before my opinion that running 26.2 miles in one stretch seems a popular form of masochism, although my involvement in and thoughts about running in general have improved somewhat since that post. Even so, I still can't yet fathom that when I crossed the finish line today overcome with grateful relief, I would only be halfway finished, and required to essentially start all over from the beginning and repeat what I just completed. I realize that you don't run a marathon without training longer distances than I have yet to add to my regimen. Finding the time to accomplish those long runs is another big roadblock for me. Running 20+miles requires up to and beyond 4 hours, and because of my husband's work schedule, there is not a morning that I could accomplish a long training run without starting at 3:00 or 3:30am. No thank you. The other option is to sacrifice a large portion of our already limited family time by training in the evening or after dark. Again, the promised agony of a marathon is not worth that sacrifice. My sense of satisfaction is just as gratifying working to improve my 13.1--at least for now.

After running the Helvetia Half in June, I didn't share anything about my experience on this blog. So I thought I would do a little compare-and-contrast. Technically, the Run Like Hell Half Marathon in downtown Portland today was my third Half Marathon, because I walked the Champoeg race in September 2008, when I was just a novice runner. If you missed my three favorite stories from that event, I hope you'll check them out because I still laugh when I recall them.

I had two objectives for today's Halloween-themed race: 1) Cross the finish line feeling strong, rather than shaking and crying as I did at Helvetia. 2) Improve upon my Helvetia finish time.

My biggest concern was that these goals appeared to be in direct competition with one another, their outcomes proportionately, inversely related. Allow me to elaborate.

I raced out of the gates at Helvetia, running the first four miles at an average pace of 9:21 per mile. That might not sound too impressive, but it's faster than my last 5k. My pace then slowed between 10- to 11-minutes for most of the next five miles, but in the middle of mile 10 I had to walk for long stretch uphill. I was really running out of gas, but ran the last 3.1 miles at 11:06 average pace. Each of the friends who I left in the dust at the starting line passed me, one by mighty one, as I struggled to make it to the finish line. I felt awful at the end--and literally shed tears of joy that it was finally over. It wasn't until later that I figured out I had actually achieved my sort-of goal of finishing in 2:15 (and 25 seconds, to be exact). I had assumed that my long walking stretch and slow pace toward the end had abandoned that possibility, but my earlier speed had made up the difference.

I did not want to recreate that scenario today, but believed that I would slow toward the end of 13 miles either way, and thus worried that without having a few fast miles under my belt in the beginning, I would never beat my time from the last Half. Objective #1 took first position in the end, however, and I made the conscious decision to listen to my body better and focus on a strong race, even if that meant I would be slower.

I was disappointed to learn today that I can't use my iPod's "lap" feature in conjunction with the Nike+ sensor (perhaps I should include that in my review of it), so I wasn't able to track my average pace each mile. It would be interesting to compare how those stats affected my overall times for both races. I do know that I completed my first two miles today at around 10:30 and 10:15 pace, compared with 9:03 and 9:11 in June. The drawback of having the ability to view my pace throughout the race is that I could berate myself for that discrepancy or worry about my anticipated overall time. But I focused on the knowledge that after a 4-mile gradual climb, I would be running down hill for most of the following 3 miles. I knew I would be able to make up a lot of time then if I could reserve the energy to do it.

And I was successful! I finished today in 2 hours 11 minutes, over 4 minutes better than my Helvetia time. In spite of (actually, because of) starting slow and maintaining a more even exertion, I was able to shave 21 seconds from my average mile pace.

Oh, and I was definitely relieved to reach the finish line--exhausted and in a little bit of pain--but I did feel strong and proud. And instead of being the last of my friends in the race to finish, today I was the first. Overall I am very pleased with the experience, especially because the promised rain did not start until we were driving home (after finally finding my car, as nobody in my group could recall exactly on which street it was parked; so embarrassing).

Helvetia was a very hilly course; many elevation changes covering scenic farm land in North Plains, OR. Run Like Hell had us running through Portland's Pearl District and then up a long, gradual climb to OHSU where we were treated to beautiful city views among crisp autumn foliage. The 3+ miles downhill after the climb were cause for celebration, and I strongly believe made all the difference in the world for my experience today.

Helvetia Finish Line -- June 13, 2009

Run Like Hell -- October 25, 2009
This is the best picture I have from today's race so far--why do all photos of me running look so awkward? I don't even appear to be running! The butterfly wings on my back are kind of hard to see, but along with the knee-high pink tie-dyed socks they constituted my "costume" for this event. Lots of folks were all-out dressed up, which provided excellent distraction along the course.

I realize that posts like these may not be of interest to anybody but me. But consider that my blog is in part a form of journal for me, and hopefully it will correctly seem more documentation than self-indulgence. Thanks for reading it in any case!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

From the mouths of babes...

A couple of days ago while getting dressed, my 2.75-year-old made an observation that made me laugh out loud.

As we prepared to slip on her underwear, Madelyn hesitated. Sitting on the floor, she bent over to look between her legs. It became obvious why when she suddenly passed a little gas.

My daughter looked at me with satisfaction and said, "I toot!" I calmly agreed with her assessment, and then she added with a big smile on her face, "A sneeze came out my bum!"

I couldn't contain my amusement.

She's one smart cookie!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Flashback Friday: Unhalloween costumes

Dressing up is fun. I have always loved a good costume party or themed dance event where dressing in character is encouraged. Of course, it is most fun if everybody has a good attitude and fully commits to the permitted silliness. The ironic component of that statement is that individuals who tend to refrain from childish costume fun seem to do so (at least in part) because of a fear of appearing foolish. Yet if everybody cast away his or her inhibitions about it, then nobody could feel foolish. Therefore, those who insist on attending dress-up functions deliberately or even smugly un-costumed create the only reason to feel self-conscious.

I happen to love Halloween because it is one of the few times in life when donning a costume is publicly acceptable. I'm just not shy about that kind of thing. Then once you're wearing a costume, what's the point of sitting around the house in it? Costume parties are okay, sure, but why not go out to dinner? Wear it to work or to the gym? People will stare at you. What is wrong with that? Most of the time those people who stare admire and envy your audacity and will often compliment your creative or cute or sexy costume.

During high school I had fewer reservations even than now. I was extensively involved in the performing arts departments then, a path which favors confidence and a healthy ego. My theatrical director even called me an exhibitionist once. But that's another story.

Franklin was one of my first boyfriends. He, too, was not one who could accurately be labeled 'shy.' The movie Men in Black was released in the summer of 1997, and it was a pretty big blockbuster that year. I still really like it. Franklin was a big kid: he was into superheroes and the dashboard of his car was completely covered with classic action figures and small vintage toys.

He arrived at my house dressed in a black suit. When he flipped open his MIB identification, I knew exactly what to do. A few minutes later I had raided my dad's closet and grabbed my sunglasses and we were ready to roll.

My well-prepared mother would never allow this special--if completely spontaneous--moment to go undocumented, and thus we have the proof of our alien-fighting escapade captured on film.

You might notice the date stamp, commonly included on these 35mm prints, which indicates that these photos were taken on September 2, 1997. Nearly two full months before Halloween, this outing had nothing to do with any costume-appropriate holiday. In fact, Googling the 1997 calendar tells me that September 2nd was even a Tuesday night. A school night.

I don't know what we did after taking these pictures. Certainly we got in Franklin's hot Chevy Corsica and went somewhere to draw attention to our eccentricity. An AM/PM seems to ring a bell in my memory and would be a reasonable assumption. I'm really not embarrassed by this admission of childish behavior at the ripe old age of 16. I imagine plenty of kids my age were either involved in far worse or bored out of their minds that Tuesday night. Whatever we did, and even if our shades weren't as cool as Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones' Ray-Bans, I assert with confidence that I looked dang good in my dad's suit.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The drawbacks of losing weight

Yes, you read the title correctly. And perhaps you think that aside from underweight individuals and eating disorders, there couldn't possibly be any drawbacks to weight loss: it improves cardiovascular health, decreases a person's risk for a myriad of deadly conditions and diseases, enhances physical appearance and self-confidence, and more.

It is a well-documented phenomenon that individuals who lose a significant amount of weight (often through surgical means) are faced with unexpected emotional and social side-effects, and struggle with a persisting poor self-image, even after body normalization.

Of course, I don't have personal experience with the psychosocial effects related to extreme weight reduction. For that I am tremendously grateful. But my most recent deliberate efforts to improve my body composition have been successful, with drawbacks.

After gaining 67 pounds growing a seven-pound fetus, I returned to my pre-pregnancy weight exactly 9.5 months after giving birth. I easily maintained that weight for five more months, until I stopped breastfeeding, at which time the pounds crept back on. When I noticed I had regained 12 pounds in a year, I got serious and lost it, but not serious enough to maintain the result. Sigh. It is hard work, and my heart goes out to those with much more weight to lose, who could easily become discouraged by the prospect.

This past July I reached my highest weight since losing the pregnancy pounds. I have been exercising seriously and consistently throughout all these fluctuations. I do strength training and cardio at Curves, I run several days a week, I had been walking my hilly neighborhood pushing a stroller, and more. Since working out 6 days a week wasn't doing it, I committed to a generic calorie-counting plan using an online food journal at I lost about 6 pounds in a couple of months, and then in September joined my Curves staff in my challenge to complete a cycle of the Curves Weight Management Plan. This program was not only much easier to follow, but more effective as well.

I have now lost a total of 16 pounds in less than three months and weigh a couple of pounds lighter than I did when I got my driver's license at the perky-bodied age of 16. But here is the first major disturbance: My body looks nothing like it did at 16. The scale might give me cause to celebrate a number I haven't seen since before puberty, but the mass of uncooked pizza dough hanging below my rib cage speaks to me otherwise. Sometimes I gather it all up into my hands and fantasize about just slicing it right off with a knife. Of course there are doctors who will do that without such a bloody mess all over my tile floor. And if I can ever get approval from my sweet, loving husband, I might just be wearing the paper gown under those bright lights.

Why can't I tell my body from where to burn the fat? Why does my body think that breasts are less of a necessity than a muffin top? I've always had an average-sized chest, nothing to write home about. While I was expecting, however, I got to enjoy a set of Double-D's for a few months. My hopes of keeping them were dashed, though, as they shrunk to A-cups by the time I was finished nursing. That was small enough, thank you very much, but as I've lost weight recently, I feel like I might need to buy myself a few Hannah Montana and High School Musical training bras! Seriously, it's getting ridiculous. Maybe during my next pregnancy we'll have a few special months with boobs once again. (Yes, I said "we'll," don't you think I'm not the only one who misses them?)

Speaking of pregnancy, that's the next issue. I often wonder why I am making these sacrifices to slim down now when it's only a matter of time before I put my body through that most traumatic of physical changes, including weight gain, again. I guess I've worked with too many women who retained just 10-15 pounds after each pregnancy, compounded until they were 40 pounds overweight. I figure it's easier to return to where you started than it is to lose more than you gain during pregnancy. Also, I'd prefer to be in peak condition when embarking on that journey again, as I believe my physical fitness and body composition affects the entire experience and outcome. Lastly, I don't know exactly when the time to expand our family will be right, and I don't want to suffer the discomforts of flabbiness until then.

Another drawback, which is kind of a catch-22, is the way my clothes fit now. I am physically disturbed when my clothes don't fit right. It is an indescribable sensation, like nails on a blackboard perhaps, and is one of my primary motivations for losing weight. I just can't stand my clothes being too tight or a shirt that is too short exposing the flab above my jeans. The discomfort also applies to sleeves or pants being too short, so it's not just about my fatness. It's also about my longness. Anyway, I still have the awkward flat tire and muffin top to cover around my middle, above where my jeans sit, but the jeans themselves are now looking sloppy and loose. I don't like the way they feel or look, but I'm not sure the next smaller size would quite fit yet. And I don't want a tighter waistband to accentuate the "curves" above it.

(That's not me. Her boobs are way bigger.)

I am moving on with determination to conquer "Phase 3" of the Curves plan, which involves a higher calorie diet alternating with lower calories in order to raise metabolism (which slows during any diet--that is why weight loss eventually plateaus) without regaining the weight lost. After Phase 3, I'll be mentally prepared to make the commitment again after taking the "break" from dieting, and my metabolism will be revved up and ready to burn more. I just hope that what fat remains in my chestal region will be mercifully spared, while that around my belly is finally sacrificed appropriately.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Toy swap

Moms Club is having a "toy swap" at our monthly meeting this Friday. I'm not really interested in giving away toys that Madelyn has outgrown because hopefully there will be another little infant/toddler in our family one day who can enjoy them later. Plus, high-quality items can actually make me money to buy new toys (or whatever) when I am ready to get rid of them. I guess I'm too selfish or too poor (both) to give away the good stuff.

I finally found a few minutes today to clean up the clutter that had been relentlessly building around my house, and since 82% of the misplaced items belonged in the toy cabinets, I decided I'd take a quick look and see if there were a few things we really didn't need anymore and wouldn't ever miss.

The truth is, we don't have a large number of toys. Most of them can fit into these two lovely cabinets in our family room.
I also put some of the larger items such as a set of large wooden blocks and the IKEA tunnel in the upper cabinet, where the flatscreen TV that we don't own would otherwise go. There is a play kitchen in the dining room, and in Madelyn's room we have a full bookcase (full of books) and way too many stuffed animals (all contained in a hanging organizer and baskets when not sharing Madelyn's bed or being toted in a purse). That's about it! So we don't have an overabundance of toys, and as you can see, I like to keep them organized.

So I didn't have much to select from, but I found a few items I was happy to clear out of the bins. I just hope I can sneak them onto the swap table without drawing attention to my connection with them, because I'm a little bit embarrassed about the lame selection.
Out of the handful of books I quickly grabbed, one's pages are detached from the hardcover binding, and another needs lift-the-flap repair. The rest are in less-than-stellar condition as well. The entire middle row of toys came from fast food meals with the grandparents. I happened upon the pink hippo on a Monday morning walk in a box marked "FREE" at the end of a driveway in my neighborhood and let Madelyn play with it in the stroller. Is a PEZ dispenser really considered a toy? Madelyn "borrowed" Spiderman from her cousin, and I noticed an identical one among my sister's items at the consignment sale, so I'm hoping she's cool with me donating it (I'll check first). The globe "stress ball" is a promotional item with some company logo on it we must have picked up at a fair or something.

Pretty pathetic, huh. Listen, Madelyn enjoyed each of these items for a short while, but I don't want them anymore. Maybe someone else's child will enjoy one for a time before they too decide to pass it along. And any toys that aren't chosen at the swap will be compiled into a box for kids to play with at the monthly meetings. So I imagine any contribution will be appreciated.

Of course, we were supposed to have a costume exchange at last month's meeting and only one person brought a costume, so maybe I'll luck out and the toy swap won't even happen. Then these silly toys can just be donated to charity where no one will know who shamefully brought them.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Will I ever learn?

That's what I fully expected my husband say to me after reading my confession in this post. Unfortunately, I didn't even have to wait that long, because Gary discovered the evidence of my most heinous of crimes yesterday, before I had a chance to explain or apologize. Both attempts at which would be futile against the fact that I was foolishly negligent. Again.

Yesterday Gary brought an important item I had forgotten to me at work on his way to pick up Madelyn from Grandma's house. When I approached him in the parking lot, he apologized for being late and said he would have arrived sooner except that he had to clean up some nasty piles of dog vomit on the carpet downstairs. He did not immediately suspect that I knew precisely the cause of this catastrophe, but my guilty expression led swiftly to that conclusion.

You see, earlier that morning I noticed a tiny piece of cellophane wrapper on the stairs. We don't just live in a house full of garbage, so I picked it up, and recognition immediately sunk in. The piece of wrapper belonged to a the package of Clif ShotBloks I had only partially consumed on my 11-mile run Sunday morning. I conjectured then that I had left the open package in a pocket of my CamelBak on the floor of my office all day Sunday.

Only one logical reason exists for the wee bit of wrapper to be on the stairs:

Kezia. (It rhymes with 'amnesia')

She might look innocent, but it's all a ruse. This girl is a dumpster-diver through and through. She'll find a plastic baggie with crumbs at the bottom of a trash can and take it out to her dog run to mutilate until every molecule of cracker has been consumed. It's not just food, either. She has an affinity for crinkly plastic things even without edibles inside. More than a few items of mine have been ruined or scarred by this dog's teeth. Thankfully nothing irreplaceable. Yet.

I was immediately angry that she had stolen away with my energy goos, which translates into being upset with myself for leaving them on the floor or forgetting to close my door, which is usually easier for me than remembering to put all Kezia-tempting items out of reach, or guessing which items those might be any given day.

My mind then starting racing toward other frightening possibilities. Would two-thirds of a product designed to give athletes several hours'worth of energy from a variety of sugar sources harm my little pup? And what about the other two unopened packages that I now remembered were located nearby--had Kezia discovered them too?

I reluctantly went to my office to investigate, a little worried about what I might find. The Camelbak pocket was unzipped and empty. The bag in which I was fairly sure I had left the other two varieties of energy chews now contained none. There was no evidence of foul play--only the missing commodities gave her away.
I have to admit I was at that moment more upset about the waste than I was concerned about Kezia's health. I didn't think it would kill her or anything, and my 'running candy' isn't cheap at $2.00 per package. If Kezia ate all the chews that I had just purchased in preparation for next week's half marathon, I considered it 6 bucks down the pooper. Literally. And I had been really excited to try this new kind I found:
I forced myself to go out into our dog run, which is really one giant toilet, and smells like it too. If I wanted to confirm my suspicions, I knew the proof would be there. I did not notice any unusual excrement; I supposed it would be gooey and some fabulous variation of Cran-Razz or Black Cherry in hue. But I did find shreds of uneaten evidence: lots of little pieces of wrapper without a trace of electrolyte-balancing gummies to be found.

As this was not the first of similar incidents caused by my carelessness, I knew to expect disapproval from Gary. I hoped that discovering the mess and cleaning it up myself might soften his irritation. But it wasn't hard to see that all the scraps I gathered were not equivalent to 3 full package wrappers in sum. And there was nothing left on the ground.
Which meant, of course, that portions of the wrappers had very likely been consumed by my mischievous husky.

I made a full report to Gary, and together we speculated that the indigestible plastic caused the vomiting, as what he found on the carpet was not red and gooey. I apologized profusely, and accepted my deserved lecture about leaving these things within reach of dogs and kids.

For curiosity's sake, I wish I could have seen Kezia in those first hours after consuming her Energy Gel Blasts and Shot Bloks. Did all that sugar affect her behavior? Was she ill shortly afterward? And also, did she share some with her similarly naughty brother Loki, or was he merely an innocent bystander?

Monday, October 19, 2009

I heart Pass it On

In the spring of 2006, I became involved with the Pass it On children's consignment sale as a vendor. At the time, my husband and I were thinking about starting our own family, but I didn't have a reason to buy any baby or kids' items at the sale. My jewelry booth was not getting much action, however, so I sat and read a funny book called The Girlfriend's Guide to Pregnancy, which I ended up purchasing and finishing at home (good for a laugh, but don't let it be the only book you read when expecting--it is mostly filled with complaints about pregnancy discomfort). What I didn't know then was that my little girl was already a cluster of rapidly dividing cells that day.

Since the first sale I participated in, I have been involved with the semi-annual Pass it On event in various vendor capacities promoting Curves and/or selling jewelry. I've seen the sale expand and improve, each time practically busting the seams of its venue. And obviously, I've been a loyal shopper beginning in the fall of 2006, when I waddled through the aisles a couple of months before giving birth.

I anticipate Pass it On for months, and even wait to buy things for Madelyn if the need isn't too urgent, because I know I'll be able to get fantastic deals on everything all in one place. The selection of gear, clothing, toys, and more is always good, especially as the sale has grown to over 60,000 items this past weekend.

I shopped at another consignment event in the past where each family had their own "booth" and you paid them directly for their items. This meant having to bring cash to pay for one or a few items at a time. Plus, it's common to visit sales like this looking for a specific item or type of item. So if I were looking for girls' clothes in size 18-24 months, or a certain brand of nursing pillow, it meant wandering every booth in search. At Pass it On, all items are organized by type and size. Each consignor has a number and the items are all tagged with prices and barcodes, so in the above scenario I could go directly to girls' 18-24 months clothing and select from every item available, then mosey over to the "feeding" area and see if that nursing pillow was available. Then I bring my IKEA shopping bag (usually filled to the brim) to the checkout line and pay for all the items with my Visa.

This season I mainly needed new clothes for Madelyn: more long-sleeves, new shoes and jammies, etc. Take a look at my sweet haul, for all of which I paid ONLY $87:

7 long-sleeved shirts
1 hoodie
1 heavy sweater
3 pairs pants
1 adorable skirt
2 pajama sets
1 rain coat
1 plush terry robe
1 ballet leotard and ballet slippers
2 pairs shoes
1 pair furry slippers
1 Adidas sling bag
Average price per item = $3.78
A few of these items were brand new with tags. Most of the others look like they were hardly worn or are in excellent condition. I get so excited, it's like Christmas--or maybe Halloween--bringing home my bag of goodies and setting it all out to show my husband. He's never quite as outwardly enthused as me, but I know he appreciates the bargains.
In the spring I was interested in buying a booster seat for our kitchen table, and a friend highly recommended the Cooshie Booster, which retails for $50. This was only a few days before Pass it On, so of course I checked there first, and wouldn't you know there was ONE Cooshie Booster for sale there, so I greedily snatched it up. Pricetag? FIVE dollars. It's definitely used (the previous owner had a propensity for stabbing the foam with his or her fork), but seriously, five bucks.
I also scored a set of Care Bear dominoes last time for Madelyn so she'll be less interested in interfering with the grown-ups' game of Mexican Train dominoes. A dollar. And a barely-used down sleeping bag from REI that will fit Madelyn until she's into double-digits for ten dollars.
That's just a sampling of the exciting finds in non-apparel I've made at Pass it On recently.
I have also consigned some of our gently used baby gear and clothing for the past two sales now. I'm not interested in selling at consignment stores because it is so much work for the possibility of making a small portion of the price of your items a few months down the road. For Pass it On, I enter all of my inventory through an online portal. I choose the category, size, and type a brief description. I name the price, and check boxes indicating whether I want the item discounted on the last day of the sale or not, and whether I want the item donated if it is not sold by the end or not. I like that you can make those distinctions for each individual item. Then I print the tags with barcodes, and use my fun little tagging gun I bought for $10 to attach them to my clean and pressed clothing and other items. I arrive at my chosen drop-off session and the items are inspected and accepted (usually a few things get rejected for being in the wrong season or because of a stain I didn't notice). Throughout the sale I can check what has sold online and see my earnings in real time. At the end of the sale I pick up the unsold items that I wanted returned, and there is even a "Dollar Dash" where each consignor can buy up to 20 items slated for donation at a buck each. That money is donated to the charity to help them buy larger items.
Consignors earn a minimum of 70% of your sales. By volunteering to work shifts at the sale, you can increase your commission, but I figure you have to sell over $1000 for the additional 10% earned for working 3 shifts to just equal minimum wage (which isn't actually "making" you any money if you consider what your time is worth). I actually think working at the sale would be a lot of fun, but the challenge of arranging for childcare and the substantial value I place on my time prevent me from bothering with it.
In summary, consigning is easy and fun with Pass it On. The sale is definitely worth checking out because there is a huge selection, the items are inspected for quality, and you're bound to find bargains on things you can use. There is a catch-22 here however: for the best selection you should arrive early (especially if looking for larger or more rare items like strollers or Cooshie Boosters), but you will pay the price by waiting in a very, very long checkout line. So plan the time you need to shop, plus up to an hour and a half to wait in line. My suggestion: bring a spouse or grandparent to get in line when you arrive. By the time you're done shopping, it will be time to check out! And also, if you can manage to go without your kids, it will be a much more pleasant experience.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

My excuse

When I make a serious commitment, I follow through. I don't plan to abandon NaBloPoMo, but instead of writing something interesting today, I will explain why I don't have time to write anything interesting today. And maybe that, in itself, will be interesting.

A few days ago I answered my phone to hear an adorable little German accent asking for Kristen. It was Anna, who attended my school and church during our junior year as an exchange student. She was calling from Salt Lake City, where she was visiting her former host family. Anna informed me that she would be in Portland a few days later, bringing another one of our close friends from the good old days too. It so happened that I didn't have anything too pressing on my radar today (excepting a number of items on my to-do list whose urgency was negotiable).

So I met Anna and Nalea at my old church and got to see many old friends there. Then we went down to Portland's Saturday Market and back to one of our former youth leaders' homes for a light lunch and lots of visiting with people I haven't seen in over a decade. Weird.

Shirley, Anna, Nalea, Kristen, Demitri, Madelyn, Sarah

Nalea and Kristen 1997

Anna and Kristen, the night before her return to Germany 1998

It is a strange phenomenon to attempt to sum up the last 10 years of one's life in a few sentences of small talk. What is worth discussing or appropriate to share? Which tiny aspects are representative of a comprehensive life? We've had the whole afternoon and evening together to catch up and get past just the small talk, which is really nice. Now Nalea and Anna are staying over at my house, so I'm going to finish my blackberry currant herbal tea while we visit a little more. It's rude to be on the computer with house guests, you know!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Come, follow me?

Nothing brightens my day like logging on to Blogger and noticing that I have a new Follower! It doesn't happen very often, but it gives me a thrill to know that someone out there enjoys reading my blog enough that they are not ashamed to admit it.

Is my self esteem dependent on your approval? Does my own perceived worth as a writer improve with the addition of each loyal reader? Will I live a more satisfied existence knowing that you appreciate the time and effort I put into this blog?

Well, yeah, basically.

So if you aren't a Follower yet, shame on you! Just kidding. But if you want to make my day as Laura did today, just give a little clicksie to the button called "Follow" over there on the left. I promise it won't bite. Pretty please?

(with a cherry on top)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Flashback Friday: Teens in Eugene

I had nearly forgotten about this odd trip until my friend Sarah and I reminisced about it a few weeks ago. Strange how entire events in my life can be buried into my memory without a reason to recall them. While looking through a box of photos today I found some pictures taken, apparently, on a disposable camera when Sarah and I took a road trip to Eugene, OR in April 1998.

This was toward the end of our Junior year in high school. My purpose in traveling to Eugene from my home in Beaverton was to attend the State Solo Vocal Competition being held at the University of Oregon. If there was some reason that one of my parents was unable to attend, I don't recall what it was. But somehow, my long-time chum Sarah accompanied me for the drive south and to stay overnight in a motel. It seems a bit strange now to consider sending your 16-year-old daughter and her 17-year-old friend 150 miles from home to spend the night at a creepy motel all alone. But do you want to guess what I thought of the idea at the time? Yep.

The drive to Eugene normally takes about 2.5 hours from where I lived at the time. But we got there in a little over an hour. I hope I had the sense to wait a while before making the "call me when you get there" call. It was no mystery to me how--I drove my Subaru Legacy wagon over 100 miles per hour most of the I-5 stretch. I remember telling Sarah how the car drives so smoothly you don't even notice how fast you are going. And also that on these long stretches of straight freeway, the speed limit is lame. I actually still believe that for the most part, but I now have the wretched experience of paying for speeding tickets to make me slow down. Here's the view from Sarah's seat heading to Eugene:
We were well-behaved girls, so our motel room provided the bulk of our entertainment for the trip. Who wouldn't be amused by these fancy white cubes serving as a coffee table?
And why bother centering artwork above the furniture? Balance is overrated.

The sad thing about this trip is that I came down with some kind of throat-ailment. It may have been laryngitis. So I drank a lot of water in my Simpsons jammies the night before the competition.
The next day I still sounded raspy when I spoke, but managed to sing my classical aria anyway. The adjudicators were impressed that I was able to pull it off decently in my condition, as was I. But it certainly was not as good as it could have or should have been had I been well. So I didn't place in the competition. Now that I've recalled this random scene from my glory days, I don't plan to forget it. Memories should be treasured more than any ribbon. Sarah, can you shed any more light on our escapades?


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