Monday, November 30, 2009

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sniff, Sniff (Congestion, not Crying)

I got Nathan's cough/cold, and haven't remembered to replenish my cold medicine supply since the debacle two weeks ago when I couldn't buy cold medicine in the city on a Sunday. So I rummaged through my medicine cabinet and found some children's Dimetapp that expired in August. Took it anyway, and boy was it delicious! Why can't adult cold medicine be so yummy and grape-y?

Life has settled down a bit since the rush of Thanksgiving meal-prep and holiday decorating have ended. And as stressed out as I claim to be about the holidays, the truth is that no-gift pacts and name-draws have led to me only having to purchase 5 gifts this year. Just to give you a reference frame, my all-time worst Christmas (gift-wise) saw a list with 40 people to buy for.

So the truth is, I'm kind of bored right now. We have a whole list of holiday activities in the coming weeks: a singer at the library Wednesday, the local tree-lighting Friday, the other local tree-lighting Saturday, and this super awesome cookie fest/living nativity put on by a nearby church Sunday. But Thanksgiving weekend, everything kind of gets canceled. A lot of people are out of town or traveling, so those of us who stay put have nothing to do.

Therefore, I have been reading a lot. Just moments ago I finished Such a Pretty Fat. As I said in a previous post, it's a memoir of this woman's attempts at weight loss. The author/subject of the story is kind of a bitch, but it was still a funny story. I could totally relate to her frustration with the idiots at Weight Watchers meetings.

I still have Superfreakonomics on deck, but I just can't read it right now. Maybe the stuffiness in my head is getting in the way of my concentration, but a book about statistics, even interesting ones, is just not doing it for me. And reading that light-hearted, humorous memoir was fun, but now I need a good story, something I can get totally lost in. Because the weather sucks and it's time to start reading more.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Last Christmas

My mind is buzzing with thoughts of Christmas cards and holiday travel and shopping, and I just don't want to write about any of it today. So instead I'm posting this video of Nathan playing with his Christmas train window decals. Look how much snow we had!


Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving ---> Christmas


My first solo attempt at hosting Thanksgiving got off to a rocky start. Nathan woke up at 1:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning coughing really hard. I let him sleep in my bed, which ended up being a mistake because he coughed so hard he threw up. Oh well, it got me to finally change my sheets.

After going back to sleep for 6 hours, I awoke to find that my maple/brown sugar/ginger/soy sauce turkey brine had partially leaked out of the bringing bag and all over the refrigerator. Do you know how sticky that stuff is? Oh, and child threw up again, this time in several places on my carpet, because he was practicing the walk-and-vomit method. At that point I was slightly freaking out, but the crisis was averted when I Shop Vac-ed the brine out of the bottom of the refrigerator and used up all my Resolve on the carpet. And at least this incident got me to clean out my refrigerator.

By 2:00 I was back on track, and with the bird in the oven in a self-basting bag and the stuffing in the Crock Pot, I was able to take a brief holiday nap. I awoke at 3:30, straightened my hair, put on my purple eye shadow, and resumed meal prep. Our guests arrived at 4:30, and the dinner was on the table by 5:30. Everything tasted like it should and got compliments. My personal favorite was the sweet potato casserole, which I always say I would eat constantly if I found out I had 3 months to live (alongside jello/pretzel salad). The two toddlers ate one combined bite of turkey between them and then went back to playing.

We all saved room for our 3 pies. I thought the apple one came out too sour, but the pumpkin was awesome. Our friends have a special whipped cream gun that I asked them to bring, so that contributed to the fun. I didn't try the pecan one, but it's Bill's favorite and he was pleased with it. Nathan ate some festive holiday Dora fruit snacks for dessert, while his friend had a bowl of ice cream.

Needless to say, I was not on Weight Watchers yesterday. Or today with all the leftovers. Tomorrow, though, I am resuming my gym workouts and dieting, which means I better eat the rest of the pie and sweet potatoes tonight!

This morning we hauled out the red and green bins from the garage to began Christmas decorating. Much as I hate all the Christmas stuff before Thanksgiving, there's just something in my brain that clicks over to Christmas mode the day after Thanksgiving. So we all had a cozy morning listening to Christmas CDs and decorating the house. Well, except for Leia, for whom Christmas means breaking out this annual torture:

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Thankful Post

I couldn't let Thanksgiving pass without doing a post about the things I'm thankful for, right? I'm gonna start with the big things, the things that are cliches but cliches for a reason, and then list a bunch of smaller silly stuff.

The Big Things
I'm thankful for my family. Sometimes I get down on my husband or worry that we don't have a perfect marriage, but the reality is that nobody does, and if at the end of the day you can say you're still happy being married to that person, that's pretty good. And I definitely can say that. I appreciate that my husband is willing to adapt and change and laugh at his own faults. I appreciate that he is a good father and a genuinely hard-working, honest, ethical person. He is very smart and has a lot of wacky interests, too.

I'm thankful to have a happy, smart, healthy child. Nathan is the light of my life, and he continues to delight and amaze Bill and me every single day.

Plus I'm thankful for my friendly, lovable kitty.

I'm thankful to have good relationships with my extended family, including all four of my parents and step-parents, and my siblings and in-laws. So many people have strained relationships with their families, so I consider myself lucky to have a mostly drama-free family.

I'm thankful that we are financially stable at a time when others are not. I'm thankful for my wonderful house, which I love, and for my larger home of Chicagoland.

I'm thankful for my health, which includes physical as well as mental health. Last year at this time I was not enjoying good mental health, and I am thankful that this year I have made a tremendous improvement in that area.

I'm thankful for my wonderful friends, both near and far, who are the kindest, most helpful, supportive people in the world.

The Smaller Stuff
I'm thankful that I have lost 30 pounds on Weight Watchers.

I'm thankful that in this day and age you can buy lots of low-fat foods or 100-calorie packs, which makes dieting easier than in the days when you had to mostly eat liver and cabbage.

I'm thankful for the gym, which has challenging classes and a good daycare.

I'm thankful for the many classes, programs, and activities available to my toddler.

I'm thankful there are so many parks in the town where I live.

I'm thankful for the library and for books in general.

I'm thankful for the Internet, online shopping, and blogs.

I'm thankful for television.

I'm thankful for flowers.

I'm thankful for my organizational skills.

I'm thankful for antidepressants.

I'm thankful for really cute shoes, jewelry, pedicures, and other material ways I can reward myself without food.

I'm thankful for my super-comfortable bed.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

AHHHHHHHHHHHH!

It's the time of year when I'm supposed to be counting my blessings, but instead I find myself stressed out over petty stuff.

My parents left yesterday, and I feel oddly sad and lonely. Usually when houseguests leave, I'm able to say goodbye to them and then just step right back into my regular life. But my mom and stepdad were so helpful and fun to have around, and now I'm back to being alone and doing everything around the house myself. And also, I think it's a hard week to bounce back because we can't get back into our regular routine due to the holiday. All our activities are cancelled, and also I have this one day to turn around and prepare to cook my first Thanksgiving dinner.

I only have one other family coming over for Thanksgiving, so in total there are four adults, two extremely picky toddlers, and a non-eating infant. The baby is only 2 weeks old, so the whole thing is going to be extremely low-key and casual. Still, I'm freaking out! It seems like it's about the same amount of work whether you're having 4 guests or 20, and plus I have worked myself into a frenzy wherein I believe that a failed Thanksgiving dinner is a fate worse than death.

Last night I sat down and, in true Shannon fashion, began by writing the name of each Thanksgiving dish on an index card. Then for each item, I researched online and elsewhere, and made a list of all the ingredients needed, going through my pantry to see which items I already had. Except what if I check off "brown sugar" for the yam casserole but then also need a bunch of it for the pumpkin pies, and I run out? Having to go back to the store on Thanksgiving day, that is a fate worse than death.

Anyway, I got worn out halfway through making the index cards, and abandoned them and went to bed. That's right, I got tired just making the grocery list. So today I have to finish the list, shop for all this stuff, make the brine for the turkey, get it marinating, and make the pies. And clean the house, pick up dry cleaning, and do my Weight Watchers weigh-in. Luckily I am taking Nathan to daycare today.

And what happens after Thanksgiving? Christmas. Friday we're getting out the decorations. Oh, and I don't have tickets to go to California yet. I can't get husband pinned down on the dates for the trip.

And there's the shopping. The wrapping. The stupid hot stores with eight million people you want to kill. (And yes, I will do some online shopping, but sometimes you just need to go to a store for inspiration.)

These are all the stupidest problems ever. I am so lucky to even be in a position where I can complain about these things. And tomorrow, on Thanksgiving day, I promise to do a post where I write about all the things I am truly thankful for.

But I'll tell you one thing today, I'm thankful for coffee.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Is November over yet?

It seemed like writing a blog post every day in November would be easy. I mean, it's not like I'm doing National Novel Writing Month. NaBloPoMo was supposed to be the easier, jokey option.

But you know what? Having to write a post every single day is becoming a real drag. It's not like enough interesting things happen to me in a given day to actually warrant daily updates.

I know, I'll talk about pies. For Thanksgiving I am serving 3 pies, even though I only have 4 adults and 2 children coming (plus a teeny-tiny baby, but I don't serve what he likes). But everybody likes a different kind of pie, and plus the pie overkill fits in with my general "cook so we'll have leftovers" theme. So, the pies we are having are going to be pumpkin, apple, and pecan. I'm making the crust from scratch. The pumpkin one will be made with a real pumpkin. The apple one will be from the America's Test Kitchen cookbook, which states that you must pre-cook the apple filling because filling a pie with raw apples will lead to the horror known as Air Pockets in Your Pie Crust. So, with pre-cooking the filling, the apple one is very labor-intensive.

I'm buying the pecan one from our local bakery. I don't do any kind of cooking that requires sticky, sugary, candy-type stuff. This is because one time I attempted to make caramel apples while Seabiscuit was on HBO, and I got distracted by the movie and burnt the caramel inside my beautiful new saucepan. Then I remade the recipe and the caramel was still hard as a rock. So I don't dabble in anything that gets all sticky. Plus I don't like pecan pie, so why make it?

Somebody, please, leave me an inspirational comment so I know people are reading!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sunday Shopping Spree

Yesterday we went downtown with my mom and stepdad. Originally the plan was for all of us to head to Navy Pier for the Chicago Toy and Game Fair. Bill is a huge board game freak, and he was excited about the fair.

I, however, was not. It was a $10 per person admission, and all I really wanted to do was go shopping downtown with my mom. So, my mom and I sent Nathan to the fair with Bill and my stepdad, while we shopped for 4 whole hours downtown.

Now, last week I bought these boots while I was shopping with my friend Amy, who is a shoe fiend and useful for helping you pick out shoes. Somehow I felt that in order to justify the purchase of the boots, I should buy some outfits to go with them (thus spending more money). So I bought a black skirt and red cardigan combo as my "special holiday outfit" (as though I actually have an occasion to wear it). And then I actually bought a pair of those skinny tapered-leg jeans that everybody is wearing tucked into boots. And, as far as I know, hell had not frozen over. I will say that tapered-leg jeans have come a long way since the 80's. They look better without that high pleated waist they had in the 80's, and plus we have now been able to incorporate stretchy technology into tapered-leg jeans. So, I'm going to try and pull the skinny jeans look off, even though I am not remotely skinny.

Oh, and I bought an argyle cardigan and some completely unnecessary pajamas. I felt I deserved many material rewards after my stellar Weight Watchers self-discipline in the past couple of days.

Before heading home we stopped at the Nordstrom shoe department. Let me just say that the Nordstrom shoe department has never let me down. Of course I avoid the Jimmy Choos and Manolos, and anything else in that price point, but I do think you can get a quality shoe at Nordstrom if you are willing to pay slightly-higher-than-Payless prices. So I bought yet another pair of boots there. Because hey, I live in Chicago and winter is coming up, and, as my mom said, I'll need some warm boots with good traction when I'm running across the grocery store parking lot.

Maybe it would be cheaper to reward myself with food. Damn, Weight Watchers is expensive.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y

I have to make this quick. It's 7:30 in the morning and I'm off for another day of fun with my parents. It's great having them around to help with Nathan and other household chores. Plus they think every obnoxious thing Nathan does is funny and cute, which actually helps me reframe my frustrations about him into something more positive.

So, a recap of yesterday:

I started with my usual Saturday torture of back-to-back classes at the gym. First I did Power Hour (aerobics), which I like, and then Strong (weight-lifting), which I hate. The awful teacher was back at Strong after a six-week hiatus. This woman makes it her mission in life to criticize me, I swear. But she only comes every other week, and I do think she's a good fitness instructor, so I guess I just suck it up.

After working out we drove into Indiana to go to Tyler's Tender, which is a train-themed restaurant. They have a little train the kids can ride on, as well as a small model train that brings you your food, and a model train display that kids can operate by pressing buttons. It's pretty much Nathan's idea of heaven.

Two awesome things happened at Tyler's Tender. One, I didn't eat a single French fry. And two, I booked Nathan's birthday party there. I was so proud of myself. The woman said that I was the first person to reserve a party date for February. Look how together I am!

After Tyler's Tender, a very significant development happened. I drove by a roadside stand (this being Indiana) that had pie pumpkins, and went and purchased two for a dollar! So now my Thanksgiving pies will be made from real pumpkins!

We went home and took Nathan to the park, because we are still enjoying unprecedented November warmth. In Chicago, we are all very cynical about the weather, so we wonder what weather-related wrath we are going to be dealt in the future as payback for this mild autumn.

At that point Nathan, having been at the gym daycare, a fun train restaurant, and the park (any one of which I usually use to wear him out), became unbearably tired. He was at the point where not one thing he did or said was rational. (And his baseline, well-rested level of rationality is not exactly all that high, being a two-year-old and all.) Somehow the four adults were able to work collectively to shove him into bed, simultaneously getting our own dinner on the table. I made turkey chili in the Crock Pot, plus cornbread and whipped butternut squash.

And we all drank wine and played Trivial Pursuit, at which my parents kicked our asses, and that was my day.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

UGH!

Yesterday evening I picked up my parents from the airport. Our tradition is to call in an order for Giordano's pizza before I pick them up, and then pick up the pizza at the Giordano's near the airport. Giordano's is a Chicago-style pizza place. The pizza is deep-dish with gobs and gobs of cheese.

Based on my recent Weight Watchers failure, and on the fact that this weekend will likely involve a lot of difficult eating situations, I opted to instead have a Lean Cuisine frozen pizza while everybody else noshed on this delicious deep dish. It was a truly difficult situation for me, especially after having to smell that pizza during the 45-minute drive home from the airport.

That dinner really brought me down. It was seriously like, is this how it has to be for me to lose weight? And the thing is, I know that what I was doing tonight was opting to use my food points elsewhere. In other words, picking my poison. So, it's not like I have to eat like that all the time, it's just that I can't eat everything I want to eat, either.

At least I had enough points for a light beer with dinner.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Blog post: check!

As I mentioned yesterday, I am reading the book Superfreakonomics. I haven't gotten past the introduction yet, not because I don't like it but because I'm doing this stupid NaBloPoMo and blogging takes up a lot of my reading time. Anyway, in the introduction, the authors state that in their first book, Freakonomics, they said that there was no unifying theme among all the random research studies they cited. They go on to say that they later discovered that the book had a unifying theme, that being that people respond to incentives. But anyway, this post has no unifying theme. It's just some updates.

First of all, my most recent Netflix movie was My Sister's Keeper. I really liked the book. The movie was disappointingly different. I will not give any spoilers here for the movie or the book, but let me just say that the book has a shocking plot twist at the end and the movie just completely left that out.

Oh, and in addition to Superfreakonomics, I am also reading this book called Such a Pretty Fat, which is a woman's memoir of her time on a diet. Her basic point is that we always hear all these inspirational weight-loss stories, but what we don't hear is how painfully difficult it is to actually be on a diet. So she decides to chronicle that in her book.

Which brings me, yet again, to Weight Watchers. I was up 0.2 pounds this week. At first I was not disappointed. I didn't have the best eating week, but I had a great exercise week, and I was proud of that because historically exercise has been a greater challenge for me than cutting back on food. But later I got frustrated because I really need to just shape up and eat better, and damn, it's hard. Oh, and there's a major eating holiday next week.

Onto happier subjects. My mom and stepdad arrive for a visit today. Although getting ready for guests is very stressful, what with the cleaning and grocery-shopping and washing of extra linens, it's fun once they get here. I like to do touristy things, and having out-of-town guests gives me an excuse to do that.

My mom and stepdad are actually going home before Thanksgiving, because they want to spend the holiday with my mom's elderly parents. So they're leaving Tuesday, and then I just have Wednesday to make a turn-around and prepare for my first solo Thanksgiving ever. Gasp! But that's a story for another blog post.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Midday at the Oasis

As winter approaches, I am on the lookout for indoor play areas for Nathan. It has become apparent that he cannot go through a morning without some type of scenery change and/or opportunity to burn off energy. Well, he can, but then he uses all his pent-up energy to empty out the contents of my cabinets and use whatever he finds in there to make trouble. So, you know, it's better if we get out of the house.

However, not all forms of indoor entertainment will do. As I mentioned in a previous post, I do not want to be in the business of driving all over Chicagoland several times a week. I want somewhere local. I also do not want to deal with any major hassles in the form of crowds, difficult parking situations, or major entry fees. I'm just naturally more tired in the winter, and I don't need anything else to make me more tired.

One indoor play opportunity that seems promising but consistently lets me down is the McDonald's playland. Our local McDonald's has a giant playland, which is actually so big that it's not age-appropriate for Nathan or, I'd say, any child under 4 (possibly 5). It consists of a big structure of tubes, and you move to the next level by climbing up little platforms. Nathan isn't big enough to climb each platform. Neither is his little friend Noah, who is 3 1/2 and quite tall for his age. So I end up having to go inside that hot, smelly, claustrophobic structure and lift Nathan and any other needy child up to the next platform. The whole thing is filled with parents lifting small, sniveling children up on these platforms. As I said, it doesn't even have to be your own child. I've lifted stranger children, and other parents have lifted Nathan. Meanwhile, I'm trying to peer through the cloudy plastic window of the play structure to make sure nobody has stolen my purse from the table.

Both McDonald's in our area seem to have these giant structures. I had pretty much given up on McDonald's as a possible winter destination.

Until I discovered the Chicago Southland Lincoln Oasis.

For those not from the area, an oasis is basically a fancy rest stop built on a freeway overpass. We have a few of them in the Chicagoland area. Here's a picture of our oasis during the daytime:

And here's a picture at night:


So, yesterday I discovered that the oasis has a much smaller indoor McDonald's playland. I took Nathan and his afore-mentioned friend Noah there for lunch, because Noah is hanging out with us a little bit this week while his mom rests after having a baby.

First of all, the oasis is really great because it has more than just McDonald's, and the playground is not actually in the McDonald's. I was able to eat a Weight Watchers-friendly Subway sandwich while the kids got their McNuggets. (They also have Auntie Anne's, Starbucks, and Panda Express.) Then we finished eating and the kids played in the playground, while I went across the way a few feet and got myself a gingerbread latte at Starbucks. I drank my coffee, they stayed put in the playground, and I was even able to read a little bit of my book (Superfreakonomics).

And doesn't this look like a pleasant place to hang out?


I guess it's kind of lame to hang out at a rest stop. I mean, it's meant to be a place to go on the way to somewhere else, not an actual destination. And I'm sure there's a metaphor for life somewhere in there if you feel like thinking hard enough.

In fact, the biggest problem with the oasis is that when you leave, you have to get back on the freeway going the same direction as you were when you entered the oasis. It's kind of hard to turn around and go back home.

But the little bit you have to go out of your way is worth it. I am seriously giddy about my new winter entertainment find. So if anybody wants to hang out with me this winter, join me for a latte in the middle of the freeway!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It's Random Photo Day!

I wanted to post a photo today, in the great blog tradition of Wordless Wednesday. Now, you and I both know I can't possibly be wordless, so this will be a photo with words.

The trouble is, I didn't know what photo to pick. So I went to random.org and had them pick a random date from 2009, with the idea that I would post a photo taken on or near that date.

They picked July 28.

The closest I had were photos from July 30, which was the day that my brother Brian was ordained a priest in the Anglican Church.

I picked this photo where he was lying on the floor, because it was dramatic and because it doesn't show too many faces of people who didn't agree to have their photos on the Internet.


Here you go:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

This is Leia


I am writing about Leia today because I recently decided that she is the sweetest member of our family. I mean, sure, I love my husband. And I have an all-consuming, unconditional love for Nathan, the kind of love reserved for parents and their children. I don't love the cat in a way that is all like the love I have for these two human beings.

But, human beings are complicated and moody. Every single day is our house is filled with ups and downs. Husband or I get frustrated and snap at each other. Nathan is on an emotional roller coaster all day long. Human relationships are so complex and multi-faceted and affected by a myriad of external forces.

Cats, however, are simple. Which is not to say they are all nice. Many cats are either very rude or very shy, or both. They are what my husband calls "run-away kitties," because they run away when you try to approach them.

But Leia is not a run-away kitty. She just loves people and will keep coming back to seek their affection, even when they have wronged her. (You can probably guess which member of my household tortures the cat the most.)

Of course, what Leia loves most is food. She weighs about 17 pounds, although I am happy to report that this is after a 1-pound loss resulting from an alleged diet the vet had me put her on. I say "alleged" because the vet wanted me to feed her 2 tablespoons of food a day, and there was no way in hell I was going to deal with an angry, starving cat all day when I already have so many other food challenges in my family (husband picky, child refuses to eat, me on Weight Watchers). But somehow I cut back enough on her food that she lost a whole 5% of her weight.

Being with my kitty is a simple pleasure that makes me so, so happy every single day. She never turns down a good neck scratching (me scratching her neck, that is, not the other way around). Her purr calms me. She is my super-special girl, and I love having her in my family.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Trivial Pursuit, But a Fun One

Yesterday a team of us from Chicagonista
participated in a trivia bowl sponsored by the Asian American Journalists Association. We were competing against teams consisting of actual journalists from actual journalistic outfits like the Chicago Tribune and Fox News Chicago. And it was at the famous Chicago institution, Harry Caray's restaurant, which is always a fun place.

Since it was Sunday, the train schedule was very limited. I had to get on a train at noon, even though the event didn't start until 2:00. That left me with an hour to kill downtown, which is an awesome thing when you don't have a two-year-old with you. Mostly I just spent my hour eating a lunch I had packed myself (go, go Weight Watchers ... and note that I completely blew it later) and then walking in search of a CVS or Walgreen's to buy gum and cold medicine.

Side note, germs are so scary now. Normally I wouldn't think twice about going about my daily life while having a cold, but now I was all paranoid about being around other people with my germs. But the team was counting on me so that they would have enough people to compete, so I showed up anyway.

So, I found a CVS and pulled the stupid card off their shelf that indicated that I wanted to purchase cold medicine. As I'm sure you know, you can't just up and get your own OTC cold medicine off the shelf now, because you could be stockpiling Sudafed for use in your meth lab. Anyway, so I brought my card up to the register, and the cashier said that nobody had access to the cold medicine on the weekends because it was locked behind the pharmacy, which was closed. So I bought my gum and left the store in a huff.

But onto the trivia event! The food was awesome, and I ate too much of it. At least I didn't have any calories in the form of alcoholic beverages, because the cold was making me not want to drink. Anyway, so team Chicagonista wasn't a super competitor, but we had fun. There were 5 categories: Chicago/Illinois, Sports, In the News, Pop Culture, and the Picture Round. Since I didn't grow up in Chicago, I was no help in the Chicago/Illinois category. Surprisingly, I was able to answer two questions in Sports because they were about Harry Caray himself, whose Wikipedia page I had studied in anticipation of the event. In the News was just a total disaster, because they asked questions like, "Name the 7 Republicans running for Illinois Governor." Right. I did awesome in Pop Culture (embarrassingly). And then that picture category was just torture. You were supposed to look at a picture of a famous person and identify him/her. It was hard.

So, the Chicagonistas came in 4th to last, out of approximately 20 teams. The winner was the team from the Tribune, who unseated 3-time champions The Chicago Sun-Times. The thing that kind of sucked was, the prize for the last-place team was a case of Top Ramen ("to remind you to better use your noodles next year"), which would have at least been something. And it was actually better than the prize for the winners, which was just a little plaque with a silver fortune cookie (spray painted) glued to it.

But I love trivia. Trivial Pursuit is my favorite board game. I also like Jeopardy (fun fact: I tried out for the teen tournament when I was a teenager), but it comes on at 3:30 here, so I never watch it. (I have tried recording it, but it's just one of those shows where the episodes get all backed up.) I wish there was a trivia league near my house. Most of the trivia contests take place in bars, which I don't get to all that often anymore. So if anybody wants to start the South Suburban Chicago Trivia League with me, let me know.

I had to take the super slow Sunday train home from trivia. At one point the conductor announced, "We're just going to make all the flag stops so that people don't have to bother requesting them." But, time alone on a train is pretty awesome when you don't have a kid with you. I was able to finish up Jennifer Weiner's Best Friends Forever, which I would rate with an astounding "Meh." Good enough to finish, and reading it was an enjoyable experience, but the story was kind of dumb. I think it would have been better if I read it over the summer, because it was one of those totally light beach reads.

The boys picked me up at 5:30 from the train. Dinner was all ready in the Crock Pot, because I'm a Happy Homemaker like that. Dinner was all wrapped up and the boy was in bed at 7:30. Another successful day.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Last Week in Review

Last week I made it to six out of my seven regular gym classes (the exception being the Saturday weight-lifting class, which I had to miss for a dentist appointment). I also swam 2,000 yards on three separate occasions. I put all the laundry away, all week long. I made a time flow-chart every single day, which kept me productive and also a little bit stressed. And my friend had a baby. Here's the breakdown, in more detail:

Sunday 11/8:
There was a special Sunday family swim at my gym, so I took Nathan. I figured I might as well get in a workout myself, so I did my swimming and then ate a brought-from-home lunch with Nathan on the couches at the gym before swimming. The highlight (or, rather, lowlight) of that trip was that I had to shower in front of Nathan after swimming, and he mistook general dripping for me peeing in the shower, which he loudly announced to the other gym patrons.

Monday 11/9:
I went to my local mall, but I already discussed that. And I made it to a very torturous weight-lifting class at the gym.

Tuesday 11/10:
Quickie playdate at the park, followed by swim and the hardest yoga class ever. I vowed to try every single thing at yoga that day, rather than just say I can't do that and remain in extended child's pose. You know what I totally suck at? Side plank. And twisted balancing half-moon. Anyway, Tuesday night we went to a party sponsored by Microsoft XBox. Surprisingly, I was the one who had the connections to get us in, through the blog Chicagonista. We played various forms of Rock Band and ate such appetizers as cheesecake pops on a stick. Then Bill wanted to go eat at The Walnut Room, which is the restaurant inside the former Marshall Field's flagship store, which is now Macy's. It was really beautiful with their big Christmas tree, but my butternut squash ravioli was only so-so. And Bill ordered a yule log cake for dessert, which was also so-so.

Wednesday 11/11:
As I stated earlier, this was our story hour day at the library. Then I went to the new drop-in hours at my Weight Watchers, where I had lost a pound, in spite of the cheesecake lollipops. I'm up to 28.4 pounds lost, and I better as hell get to 30 this week. Anyway, later that day I went to my hardest class at the gym, went home, ate dinner, got Nathan in bed, and had just settled in to watch Glee when my friend Sarah called and asked if I could come over and sit with her sleeping three-year-old because she was in labor and needed to go to the hospital. (A little backstory here, Sarah's doctor had predicted this child would come fast. Her husband works downtown and her sister lives an hour away, so I was on call to provide childcare and/or hospital transport in the event that nobody else could arrive on time. I was actually a little bit nervous about this, because I was afraid I would be out of the area when called on to perform.) So, thankfully, my only part in the baby's delivery was to sit in the house with the sleeping three-year-old for an hour until the sister came over and took over for me. And Sarah had baby Luke after only two hours of labor, and he was ten pounds! And no epidural!

Thursday 11/12:
Nathan goes to his old daycare on Thursdays, and I always attempt to build in some relaxation for myself while he's there. It never happens. I'm always scrambling around to take advantage of my no-kid time to get errands and chores done. So that pretty much sums up Thursdays. Oh, and I go to aquacize in the evenings.

Friday 11/13:
What a lucky Friday the 13th, because I got to go to another mall! I met my former co-worker and current friend Amy, whose adorable 11-month-old just learned to walk, at a mall in Lombard (45 minutes away). They had a really cool playground in that mall that had a treehouse theme, as well as a little ride-on train. Plus we ate at the Claim Jumper, a gold rush-themed restaurant with ridiculously huge portions, which until this week I did not know existed outside of California. And we had some white sangria there. After lunch we went to Von Maur, where shoe fiend Amy helped me pick out some new boots. That night we met giant baby Luke and brought his family some mac 'n cheese (no, not the Kraft kind).

Saturday 11/14:
I went to Power Hour at the gym, which I am really starting to get the hang of. It's one of those aerobics classes where you have to learn a sequence of steps, but it's not all dancey like Zumba. And, as I said, I got to skip weight-lifting so I could go to the dentist. Full confession, I kind of like the dentist now that I have a kid. I get to lie down for half an hour, and they have TVs there, so I always watch The Food Network. I didn't have any cavities this time, so that was good, too! Following the dentist I took Nathan to the park, to take advantage of what might be the last nice park day until winter. Then I took a big fat nap because I'm getting a cold. And we all drove to Indiana to eat at Joe's Crab Shack. This was my first time there, and I'm in love! They have a playground for the kids, and it's totally noisy in there so Nathan's yelling wasn't really a problem. I ordered one of their steam pots with corn, crab, and shrimp. It was surprisingly Weight Watchers-friendly, and I liked that there weren't any totally junky add-ons like the crazy cheddar biscuits they have at Red Lobster.

And that was my week.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Remember when I said I liked going to the gym?

As you'll probably recall because you are a faithful reader of this blog, a few weeks ago I decided to take a hiatus from swimming to try some new stuff at the gym. Then I realized that while all this other exercise was helping me lose weight, build muscle, and feel energized, it was not helping to calm my anxiety the way swimming does. So I needed to find a way to add back swimming into my workout routine, while still keeping my 7 other classes each week.

I vowed to wake up early Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to get in a swim each morning. Monday and Wednesday I would have additional classes in the evenings, and Friday I would have a class at 8:30 a.m. (after swimming). Well, let me tell you, nothing makes you feel like more of a failure than promising to do early-morning workouts. I had planned to get up at 5:30 a.m., but Monday and Wednesday I woke up in the middle of the night and turned off my alarm. Then I beat myself up for not getting up to swim, even though I was still doing some serious workouts in the evenings on those days. But this is because no matter what I do, no matter what I accomplish, I will still be hard on myself. It's a real problem. But it's a little too heavy of a topic for a weekend blog post.

I did manage to cram in swim workouts on Sunday (no classes) and on Tuesday before yoga. Then, I'm happy to report, I got up early Friday and swam because I had to be at the gym at 8:30 for Zumba anyway. So I found 3 days a week to swim, in addition to my classes, and I think that's sufficient. I have cut down on my yardage for swimming (from 3,000 yards down to 2,000), mostly due to time constraints.

I feel like I live at the gym.

Now, let's talk about Zumba. It pains me to say this, but I don't think I like it. I do like the morning Zumba better than the evening one, because it's mostly old people and housewives, so the fact that I suck is not glaringly obvious. However, I just feel so stupid and awkward in that class. And it's hard to get the moves, and the teacher can't really stop to explain them all because she's trying to keep up a brisk workout pace. I want to like it so badly, because everybody else loves it, but it's just not working. And I kind of feel like part of the problem is that I'm not sure I'm getting a good workout out of it, since I can't really get the moves right. I can at least appreciate a class that is hard, even if I don't necessarily like it. But with Zumba I feel like I can neither love nor appreciate it. The teacher is yelling stuff like, "Isolate your ab muscles here!" or, "Really swing the hips!" and I can't get any of it. I'm thinking my time might be put to better use if I just swam a few more yards during Zumba.

And another thing: Why is it that I can feel my muscles, but I still look like a big fat-ass?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Questioning Myself

I couldn't think of anything to write about, so I looked online for blog prompts. I thought most of them were dumb, so I decided to make up my own question and answer it. I went with this old standard:

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?


Truth be told, I'm not much of a traveler. I am a big homebody, and I get easily flustered in unknown places. I'm fairly comfortable if I can speak the language, so I guess maybe my dream trip would be a tour around the United States and Canada.

I actually have never been to Canada. So I think I'd take one of those nice tour buses that takes you all around and makes sure you see the most important stuff. And gets you into the nicest hotels and pre-arranges your meals at the nicest restaurants. But then I would also like my tour bus to give me some relaxation time in the more scenic areas (read: NOT Missouri).

Of course, seeing all of the U.S. and Canada would require several trips, and that wasn't really part of the hypothetical. So if I had to pick, I'd pick Maine. I'd pick Maine because my dad has been to most states, and he says Maine is his favorite. And who doesn't enjoy a good lobster?

Now I will talk about places I have been. I have had one significant international travel experience. It was when my grandma took me to Italy on a two-week tour. It was a dream come true for her, having never been to the country that her father emigrated from. The trip was lovely, we saw it all ... and we fought like a mo-fo about halfway through. Grandma was kind of difficult on the trip. Oh, and one of the people in the tour group died. Right in front of us.

But I guess I'm still grateful for that time with my grandma. She has since passed away, and if nothing else, I really got to know her on that trip.

Most of the rest of my travel experiences involve going to the same places over and over. My mom and stepdad were big on taking us to this camp in the mountains, which had no TV, phones, or computers ... pretty much your idea of hell when you're a teenager. (Well, I guess not the computer part. Computers weren't that big when I was a teenager. But note that nowadays my parents go to the same place and bring a DVD player and a projector. Plus they have laptops because the place now has Wi-Fi.)

My dad and stepmom purchased a house in a beachside community and took us there on vacation some weekends. They live there now. Anyway, my point is, we took good trips, but we went the same places over and over again. And I have never been to the Grand Canyon or Mt. Rushmore or any of those tourist places.

And that is the answer to my question. Sort of.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Noisiest Hour in the Library

We have finished our fall session of Tot Time story hour at the library. It was only six weeks long, which was a good thing because that story hour was kind of stressful.

Now, you all know that I love the library. I love it for novels and cookbooks for me, as well as DVDs, puzzles, and books for Nathan. I love that it's the easiest free indoor entertainment in town. And I love all the free programs they have there.

And I do appreciate that they have a story hour for 2-year-olds. However, do you know what it's like when you cram 15 2-year-olds in a room and try to get them to sit quietly and hear a story? It doesn't work. The main problem seems to be that kids don't understand that the book isn't just for them, so various children try to come right up to the librarian and shove their heads in the book, preventing other kids from being able to see. Which, of course, then results in the kids who can't see getting all restless and upset. I honestly don't know how that librarian could stand to conduct that story hour, but maybe that's why the session was only six weeks long. Not once did she ever have the undivided attention of every kid in there.

Now, I will say that my child could sit quietly and pay attention to the story most of the time. However, my child's weakness is that he doesn't really care to scoot closer on the rug (as the librarian invites them to), nor does he want to participate in any songs. (At Tot Time there is a song between each story.)

But anyway, I am thinking of asking if he can be in the 3-5 year-old story hour in January, since he will be just 6 weeks shy of 3 anyway. However, I hate to be that mom, who assumes her not-even-three-year-old is advanced and mature enough to hack it in the class that goes all the way up to age five. I actually don't think he's super advanced or mature. It's just that clearly his strength is being able to sit still, so I should play to that strength and not put him in a story hour that's going to distract him.

Oh and also, the 3-5 story hour is one where I can just drop him off and sit in the library by myself. (However, don't let the term "story hour" fool you into thinking I might get a whole quiet hour to myself in the library. It's really more like "story 20 minutes, followed by a craft you're supposed to assist your child with.")

Anyway, just to prove that I don't think my kid is a super genius, let me tell you what I've been freaking out about lately. So, each of the Tot Time story hours focused on a pre-reading skill, which you were supposed to then practice at home during the following week. The skills were things like developing new vocabulary and predicting what would happen next in a story. All the "homework" assignments went well, except for the one where Nathan was supposed to learn letters of the alphabet. For some reason, he just can't get a single letter through his head. And all the other kids can do it, and I have even gone so far as to start freaking out that maybe he has a learning disability.

Umm, yeah. He is two. It is not necessary for him to know the entire alphabet. (He can say the alphabet, he just has no interest in learning individual letters.) And it is especially stupid of me to be comparing him to other kids, which you should never do. Plus, I'm sure the alphabet is like one of those skills where I figure he's just never going to get it, and then one day he just does.

And maybe I need to stop obsessing over stupid stuff and get more hobbies or something.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Time Flow Chart

I have this post up at Chicago Moms Blog today. It's about the problem I've been having lately with getting places on time. Basically, I concluded that my problem is that I'm not building in enough time in my plans to accommodate unforeseen toddler antics when we're getting ready to go somewhere. Like, here's an example of my typical line of erroneous thinking:

Okay, so music class starts at 10:15. It takes us 5 minutes to get there, and 3 minutes to walk from the car, so we'll get ready to leave at 10:00 and we'll be fine.

Well, first of all, according to my mom, it always takes at least ten minutes to get anywhere, even to your neighbor's house. But the main problem isn't the drive time, it's the getting-out-the-door time. See, my problem is that I incorrectly assume that the time we get ready to leave the house and the time we pull out of the driveway are the same time. And maybe when you go places without a toddler, those two times are roughly the same, save for in the winter when you need to put on a lot of extra articles of clothing. (But even in the winter, the average adult can put on a coat, hat, gloves, and scarf in about 1-2 minutes.)

But let's use the afore-mentioned music class to provide an example of how getting out the door with a toddler actually breaks down:

10:00: Tell child it's time to leave.
10:00-10:05: Child has tantrum because he doesn't want to go to enriching music class that you paid $54 for, he would rather stay and play with his plastic toys and/or watch the same DVD he's seen 100 times.
10:05-10:10: Getting shoes/outwear on yourself and child, and gathering up belongings.
10:10-10:15: Walking from house to car, which in a two-year-old's world is not a straight, 20-foot path, but rather a circuitous path consisting of several stalling-related side destinations.
10:15-10:17: Getting in carseat
10:17-10:22: Driving
10:22-10:25: Walking extremely short distance at toddler pace from car to room where music class is held.

And note that we are now 10 minutes late for a 45-minute class that costs me $9 per session. Which means, doing the math, we've lost out on $2 worth of class time.

It's not so much the money that frustrates me, because I will have spent that money regardless of whether we're at the class or not. But I just find being late to be really stressful. I am embarrassed. And, in the case of my classes at the gym, I always miss the warm-up, which I think is problematic from a physiological standpoint, but also means I lose 10 minutes of Weight Watchers points-earning time.

And since the stress of lateness is something that can totally be avoided, I decided this week to try the new tactic of the Time Flow Chart. I borrow this term/concept from my dad and stepmom, who are extremely organized and never late to anything. The Time Flow Chart is not so much an actual flow chart with boxes and arrows and stuff (although I guess you could make one like that if, say, one event hinged on whether or not another event happened first). Anyway, my Time Flow Chart is more like a combination of a to-do list and a schedule. So, it would look like this:

7:30: Wake up
7:30-8:00: General Internet surfing
8:00: Get in shower
8:30-9:45: Breakfast, get Nathan ready, fold laundry, pack lunches, make grocery list
9:45: Start getting ready to leave for music class
10:00: Drive to music class
10:15-11:00: Music class
11:00-12:00: grocery shopping

And on and on and on. You get the point. I have broken down each little thing we need to do into several steps, so as to acknowledge that we need prep time for each activity.

My first 4 days Time Flow Charts have gone well. I have definitely eliminated some of the stress of being late.

However, I think writing down every single thing you're going to do and when you're going to do it kind of adds a little stress, too.

First of all, one of the reasons I usually don't make to-do lists is that I think that the act of writing down everything you have to do tends to make you think up more stuff to do than you actually have to get done. You know, like, "While I'm at it, I might as well knock out a few loads of laundry, too."

Second, there's the stress that can be caused by getting off-schedule, which is something I am trying to avoid. Right now my husband's car is broken, which means I have to drop him off and pick him up from the train station. He does not come and go on a fixed schedule, so now I'm adding in the unknowns of his transportation into my perfectly-created, well-planned schedule. (I guess this would be the time to break out the true flow chart-style Time Flow Chart, where subsequent events would flow based on the time that I had to pick up/drop off Husband, but honestly I don't want to think as hard as you would have to in order to make a flow chart like that.) So, I have to try really hard to just let it go when I get off schedule, and to realize that my plans on paper might be too ambitious and unrealistic. Some things get crossed off the schedule because they didn't get done. Or I draw arrows to move an activity from one time to another.

The flip-side is that by knowing everything I have to do in a day, I can sometimes actually get certain activities done earlier than planned. And I have eliminated the stress that comes from those "Oh crap! I forgot I was supposed to _______!" moments.

Oh and by the way, I do build in time for naps and other leisure activities, which is either really healthy or really pathetic (the pathetic part coming from having to write those things down on a to-do list).

I think things are less stressful in terms of Nathan's shenanigans. I'm not freaking out when he throws a tantrum, because I know I have allowed enough time for that. And my calmness actually calms him down, so we aren't just two big balls of stress who feed off each other.

Anyway, so the Time Flow Chart is kind of a mixed bag. But I think for now I'm going to stick with it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Malled

I love a good mall. Not all malls are good malls. In fact, most malls today kind of suck, having fallen on hard times and now consisting of only undesirable stores. But when you find a good mall ... oh, yeah.

My mall-going started young. My parents used to take me to our local mall, the Santa Anita Fashion Park (now Westfield or Simon or one of those), where I would play in the playground. The playground consisted of animals that were, get this, made of wood. And you climbed on them. The elephant's trunk was also a slide of sorts.

At the mall there was a department store called Buffum's. The cool thing about Buffum's was that it had a tiny little toilet in the bathroom, just for kids. (Like all department stores, Buffum's is now a Macy's.)

As a youth, my favorite stores in the mall were The Expanding Wall (sort of like Hot Topic) and the Hello Kitty store. They were right across from my favorite mall restaurant, La Petite Boulangerie. Ooh, and that mall had a Magic Pan crepe place, which reminds me of a Seinfeld reference ...

Of course, I loved the mall as a young teenager. Honestly, I have no idea why, because it's not like I had a lot of money to spend there. But the mall had a bookstore where I could buy Baby-Sitters Club books, and a music store where I could buy single tapes, and those two stores plus food and candy were enough to make me happy. I don't know what today's teenagers are buying at the mall, because most of the stores these days seem out of their price range. But then, doesn't it seem like today's teenagers somehow have more spending money than we did? And also, doesn't it seem like the mall is not a popular hangout for teenagers anymore?

When I got older and I could drive, I drove to the mall. And my mall obsession continued into adulthood. When I was a single person who had ample time to myself, I would usually go to the mall and do some shopping. I just loved the way the mall was a total experience, with the shopping and the crowds and all the food options.

Now that I'm toting a toddler around, the mall is a different kind of experience, but still a really great one. Now, for the locals reading this, I am referring to the Orland Square mall, not the crap-tastic Lincoln Mall.

I made a trip to the Orland Square mall yesterday. That mall has a playground that is sponsored by the local hospital and, as such, has a medical theme. Kids slide down giant band-aids and climb ambulances, all heavily-padded, of course. Kind of a far cry from the wooden mall animals of my youth. In addition to the playground, the mall has a merry-go-round and a Thomas train you can ride. Plus there are little add-on activities like taking your picture in a photo booth or going to the Lego store. The food court is kind of crappy, but there's a Taco Bell, which makes the average kid happy, and a Baskin-Robbins for dessert. Occasionally you even get to do a little shopping for yourself.

I get giddy just thinking about the mall. It's just such a perfect place for indoor entertainment that it might be the best thing about winter.

But, and there's always a but, I have recently become very frustrated by the growing trend of cart people in the mall. By this I mean people pedaling various wares from carts in the middle of the mall. These poor people must work solely on commission, because they are barking at every single person who comes by. And they argue with you if you say "no thanks" to their offers. Today I had the following exchange with an annoying lady selling straightening irons:

Her: Can I show you my straightening irons?
Me: Oh, no thank you.
Her: Do you straighten your hair?
Me: No.
Her: Why not?
Me: Well, it takes too long, and I have him [gesturing at Nathan].
Her: Our irons don't take long. Why don't you try one?

If you're wondering why I hadn't walked away at that point, it was because I was digging in my purse for a coupon. (The coupon got me a free "panty" at Victoria's Secret. First of all, the word panty is stupid. Second, when I picked out said undergarment, Nathan was sitting in the stroller demanding that he see the one I selected. "Let me see your underwear!" he repeatedly yelled. Yeah.)

So anyway, on my way out of the mall I passed by that straightening iron lady again, and she said, "Hey, Mommy, let me give you my card!" Look, lady, calling me "Mommy" is not earning you any business. Am I your mother? No. Do I want my sole identity to be as "Mommy" to the entire world? No.

Oh, and another guy was selling these weird fake cigarettes that taste and feel like cigarettes, but can be smoked indoors. And then he acted all confused when I told him I didn't smoke. I recently heard that only 20% of people nationwide are smokers. Why is it so shocking to this man when I say I don't smoke?

But, aggressive peddlers aside, yesterday was a good day at the mall. I had coupons for a free pair of underwear and a free $12 body wash from Bath and Body Works. (My favorite scent is Midnight Pomegranate, which I use to make showering at the gym more pleasant.) Plus Nathan and I stuffed a turkey at Build-a-Bear, and I found a $5 off coupon on the counter there, too! So our turkey was only $5! Nathan named him Hogan, after Hogan's Heroes, which my husband watches on a continuous loop on DVD. (In case you haven't heard of this show, it's about these American soldiers who are imprisoned in a German POW camp during WWII. And it's a comedy. Because nothing says hilarious like Nazis.)

Getting back to my day at the mall, I bought myself some purple eye shadow at Sephora. I have always wanted to wear purple eye shadow, but I didn't think I could pull it off with brown eyes. But I think the shade I got is okay. It's a little bit more fun than my normal style of makeup, but I figure it's not like I do anything during the day that requires me to look serious. So tomorrow, I'll be the mom at Tot Time story hour with the fun purple eye shadow!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Dear Sesame Workshop (FKA Children's Television Workshop),

I want to congratulate you on Sesame Street's 40th anniversary! I especially enjoyed the collection of Google logos featuring the Sesame Street characters.

I watched a lot of Sesame Street as a child. My parents took us to see Sesame Street Live. I was so traumatized by the death of Mr. Hooper that I refused to go into my brother's room because there was a newspaper photo of Mr. Hooper in there.

Now that I am a parent, I love Sesame Street. Like all toddlers, my son has Elmo fever, and he gets almost unreasonably excited in the presence of anything featuring Elmo. And I, of course, will shell out money for anything Elmo-related, just to make my son happy.

Each year I dutifully pay $75 to my local PBS station, figuring that if my son watches an average of 1 hour a day of PBS Kids, 5 days a week, the cost of one hour of PBS is roughly 29 cents for me. That is a really good babysitting rate, and I do use TV as a babysitter. How could I take a shower or write blog posts if not for TV?

So, Sesame Street ... love you, love you, love you!

But ... there's just one thing. Is there any way that Elmo could stop referring to himself in the third person? I realize he is designed to be about 3 or 4 years old, and, as such, does not have a master command of grammar and syntax. However, as far as I know, most 3- and 4-year-olds are capable of using the pronoun "I". So maybe Elmo could try it. It would really be a lot less annoying.

I hate to nitpick. Again, I have had many years of enjoyment from your show, both as a child and as a parent. I hope you will be on for many more years.

Happy anniversary!

Sincerely,
Shannon

Sunday, November 8, 2009

General Update

My biggest accomplishment last week was that I made it to all 7 of my classes at the gym! Oh sure, I was late to most of them (the exception being the two that start right after another class/workout activity), but better late than never, right? Actually, I really hate being late, and sometimes I consider just skipping the class altogether. But the whole lateness issue is the topic of a post I have brewing for Chicago Moms Blog, and I've been so delinquent on there that they might be kicking me out soon, so I should just shut up and keep my intellectual property to myself now.

I feel pretty good after my week of working out. Let me tell you, though, I am the remedial student in every single class at my gym. (Well, except for aquacize, where I'm fairly competent, but in there I have my own special designation as the one who splashes everybody and once smacked the instructor upside the head during "butterfly arms.") Anyway, in all the other classes I am the one hanging around in the back of class, just trying to do enough of the workout to not get noticed. I mean, I work hard and all, it's just that when I get tired, I never quite get the moves right. Or I'm like three steps behind everybody (reminding me of my days in the high school marching band).

Oh and you, Stupid Teacher's Pet up at the front of the class, you can just suck it with your stupid extra jumps and your ugly headband.

Moving on.

I was in a real funk at the beginning of the week. I think it was related to post-Halloween exhaustion (not so much literal tiredness as just mental exhaustion), as well as Nathan's general post-Halloween crabbiness. So, Monday and Tuesday we mostly hung out at home, with the exception of my gym classes, of course. I just felt off. I wasn't motivated to do my usual chores, or to take Nathan anywhere. I was feeling so unproductive, and I had to start asking myself the series of self-assuring questions I pull out when I'm down on myself: Is anybody in the family starving? Is anybody forced to wear dirty clothes? Have we fallen behind on any of our bills? Thankfully, the answer to all these questions was no.

Still, on Wednesday I felt like I needed to get my groove back. I was sort of foundering on Weight Watchers, as well, and the combination of being holed up in the house and not living up to my usual standards of organization (eating-wise or otherwise) was getting to me. Fortunately Wednesday we had library story hour. I love, love, love the library. It's pretty much our only free, local, indoor entertainment, so I'm going to have to start loving the library even more as winter approaches. Anyway, not too much of note happened at the library, except that Nathan missed most of his story hour due to a tantrum, and I checked out a big cookbook called America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book.

Yes, I know, I'm a glutton for punishment. Why on earth would anybody who was trying to get back into serious Weight Watchering check out a baking cookbook? I don't know, actually. The pages were just so pretty and glossy and full of the promise of expertly-tested recipes for baked goods.

But I ended up losing 1.2 pounds on Weight Watchers at my weigh-in on Thursday, and that got me all motivated again to not eat baked goods. So on Friday, when my friend Sarah came over and we made the cookbook's Blue Ribbon Apple Pie, I actually gave both our pies away without having a single bite. (The rule I have established for myself is that I can only bake single-entity items such as cakes or pies. If I baked cookies, I would have to taste one or two to make sure they were okay. But with pies, you can't really give them away with a sliver taken out, so that gives me a layer of Weight Watchers protection.)

Also on Friday I went out downtown with my friend. So totally necessary. I dropped out of Weight Watchers for the evening and had the best meal at the Weber Grill. They have these pretzel rolls with cheddar cheese spread ... ohhh, I could make a meal just out of those. Then I had the barbecue chicken, which is good, but only a vehicle to get the garlic mashed potatoes as a side dish. Oh, and we had a big pitcher of sangria. And, in an ironic twist, we had apple pie for dessert.

Yesterday nothing at all of significance happened. Oh wait! I did get about a month's worth of laundry finally put away. (It was folded, just not put away. I just don't see the point of putting away laundry.) But anyway, that was a big accomplishment for me!

Oh and also, Husband and I played Rock Band and SingStar, and I kicked his ass at all singing-based activity. Which is funny, because I'm not a good singer. And plus the cat chose to sit with me, so I had two victories that night.

And now Nathan is watching Wonder Pets and I only have ten more minutes left on my daily schedule designated for "general goofing around," so I should sign off.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Hobby Discussion Day 6: Blogging

I like to write a lot. I always have. I consider writing to be one of my only talents in life, and if you think I lack talent when it comes to writing, keep it to yourself. Bitch.

Here's the problem: I do not have the right personality to be a professional writer. On paper, writing professionally sounds like kind of a glamorous life, the kind of life where you could sit on your enclosed sun porch with your laptop, a fat sleeping cat, and a cup of tea while you write the day away. But I do not have an enclosed sun porch, and that's why professional writing doesn't suit me.

Actually, professional writing doesn't suit me because I don't handle rejection well. I am very thin-skinned and take everything personally. I tried to pitch stories to a few magazines once, and got either rejected or ignored, and I just gave up on my writing career then and there. And yeah, yeah, I know, J.K. Rowling got rejected 75 times before she found a publisher for Harry Potter, and that automatically means that all people who get rejected are destined to eventually become mega-millionaire literary superstars.

Anyway. I do not like rejection. So I'm keeping writing as a hobby. I probably wouldn't enjoy it that much if I did it professionally anyway, because it's all fun and games until something becomes your job.

And thankfully, in this day and age, any amateur writer can publish his or her own blog ... for free! Plus maybe some literary agent will just be tooling around the World Wide Web one day and stumble upon your blog, love it, and offer you a huge book deal! Especially when you've admitted that you're thin-skinned and probably an editor's worst nightmare!

The thing is, as much as I joke about them, blogs serve a useful purpose. I think ... and here is where I state something that everybody already knows ... but I think that the ability for real-life people to talk about their real lives has provided a major source of support for the rest of us real-life people. Hence, the mom blog industry. Ten years ago, I don't think there were a lot of opportunities for actual moms to vent about their actual lives, which means that there were a lot of other moms out there thinking they were the only people who had the particular problems that they did. And yes, pre-blogs you would probably vent to your friends, but I think it takes the anonymity of the Internet to truly open up about your feelings.

But since reading and writing blogs has sort of become a form of no-cost therapy, I also think that sometimes blogging is not so much a hobby for me as it is a medically-necessary cathartic experience. I don't usually find blogging to be an escape, so much as it is an outlet. Which also means that blogging can make you get bogged down in your own petty problems. Therefore, I need to keep the amount of time I spend writing and reading blogs in reason. (Also I could invent a new term: blogged down.)

Which does not mean anybody should stop reading my blog! I need the 6 readers I can get! (Yes, I did add one more hypothetical reader since the last time I made that same self-deprecating remark.) And thank you for joining me on my 6-day discussion of my hobbies. I will talk to you again tomorrow, when I'll have a whole new topic to write about.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Hobby Discussion Day 5: Flower Arrangement

I'm going to make this quick. I have two pies in the oven, and when they are done baking I'm going to take a brief nap.

I like to arrange flowers. I'm not sure how this hobby came about. I think it was because I realized that I actually liked to cut and manipulate grocery store bouquets. In contrast, one time I brought my friend a bouquet and she just took it out of the plastic and threw it in a vase. The look of it bugged me. So I decided I must have strong feelings when it came to the aesthetics of flowers.

Now, when I lived in L.A., there was a wholesale flower market where any old person off the street could go and get discount flowers. Here in Chicago, the flower markets are only open to professionals, so regular people are forced to buy flowers at the grocery store or Costco. Not only are these flowers more expensive, they are also usually arranged for you. And you can't easily buy fillers or greenery.

Let me say that I do have an in at one flower market that is about half an hour away. This is because I attended a one-day seminar at a flower design school, and that school has a special deal with that particular market, wherein students can shop there. I have never tried it, though, mostly due to the distance, but also due to my fear that my flower school connections won't work and I won't get past the flower market bouncers.

So, I do what I can with grocery store and Costco flowers. I do enjoy arranging flowers tremendously, and, just to toot my own horn a little, the lady at the flower school said I had a very good sense of balance when it comes to arrangements. (Let me tell you what I suck at, though: cutting flowers with a floral knife. I actually had to get a bandaid while I was at flower school. And since the pumpkin-carving incident I'm kind of off knives, so I just cut with the inferior scissors.)

Here are a few pictures of my creations.

This first picture is from a random day in the winter that was so blah that I needed to add some color to it. I guess I liked the bright sunniness of lemons, so I made this lemon cake and some yellow arrangements to go with it. I liked how I used lemons in the vase (aka pitcher) for the big arrangement.


This is me with my flower school classmates, displaying our cascading bridal bouquets.


This is Leia wearing one of my flower school creations, which was technically a flower girl bracelet:


This is another bouquet I made at flower school:


And this is my latest creation, the pumpkin bouquets!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Hobby Discussion Day 4: Television

I figured I couldn't really discuss reading without also discussing its slightly less wholesome counterpart, television.

I have always loved television. When I was a kid, adults were always telling us that television rots your brain, and that made me feel guilty. (I think, in retrospect, I was probably an overly-conscientious child. What a waste of the carefree years of my life.) Anyway, nowadays, it feels like TV has experienced a bit of a resurgence, and that watching TV is considered a worthwhile way to pass the time again. (Not that anybody ever actually gave up on watching TV; there have been hit TV shows in every era. I'm just saying that now, TV is cool again, because somehow the consensus is that television's quality has improved.)

Everyone who knows me knows that my favorite show of all-time is Seinfeld. I could watch every episode of Seinfeld one hundred times and still not get sick of it. I can find parallels between Seinfeld and everyday life, even 11 years after the show went off the air.

Another fun fact about me: My favorite show when I was a teenager was Murphy Brown. And I'm sad because they almost never air reruns of that show, nor do they have DVDs beyond the first season. I guess that Dan Quayle lobby is pretty powerful.

Let's move on to current TV shows. (Not to be confused with Current TV, as invented by Al Gore. How many former VP mentions can I get in one blog post? Walter Mondale, Spiro Agnew, Hubert Humphrey!) Anyway, I have to admit that TV and I are on slightly bad terms now. I used to love, love, LOVE both Grey's Anatomy and The Office. Now I'm totally bored with both. I'm not at the point where I have canceled my DVR recordings of either show, but I am at the point where I usually just delete them without watching.

Nowadays on Thursday nights, I watch 30 Rock (because I have a girl crush on Tina Fey, and kind of want to be her) and Community. My husband and I both like those shows, which is rare because we don't have too many overlapping TV interests. Wednesdays I watch Glee (or, as I call it, Ally McBeal with teenagers), although I am going to get disgusted soon if they don't clear up the pregnancy storylines with both Quinn/Finn and Will/Stupid-ass Wife.

The only other piece of episodic television I tune into is Mad Men, which is wrapping up its season this week and won't come back on again for like another !@#$% year.

So, to sum up, I don't have that many shows left. But I still end up watching a lot of random TV, stuff like The Daily Show and pointless crap on cable like I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant. Actually, pretty much anything with a title relating to some crazy medical malody will grab me, such as My Giant Legs, Half Man-Half Tree, and 650-lb Virgin.

Lately, however, I think I have been spending my nights reading more and more. It's not because I'm becoming one of those annoying smug people who thinks she is above watching television. I think it's because reading is quieter. After a long day with my loud toddler son and his loud toddler cohorts, sometimes I need a little silence.

If you're sick of my discussions about my hobbies, I am only going for to go for two more days with this theme. Tomorrow I will discuss flower arrangement, and Saturday I will discuss blogging.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hobby Discussion Day 3: Baking

Now, don't go assuming I'm actually a good baker. I can follow a recipe with about a 75% success rate, but it's not like I'm inventing all kinds of baked goods of my own or decorating all kinds of adorable sugar creations. But I do like to bake.

I like to bake because it distracts me from all of my other petty problems. I can't tell you how many times I have been mired in a bout of depression or anxiety, subsequently decided to bake something, and then realized a short while into measuring flour and sugar that I'm surprisingly calm. I think just the feel of flour and sugar is calming. (Also baking bread is good for anxiety. You know, because of the kneading. The waiting to rise part is not good for anxiety, though.)

And you have to measure stuff out precisely when you bake, which not only contributes to the distraction, but also appeals to my anal side. I am not one of those people who can make recipes with "a pinch of this and a dollop of that." I need to measure things out. I mean, I'm not level-off-the-measuring-cup-with-a-knife precise, but I like to measure things out. (And it's kind of a necessity to measure on Weight Watchers. I think at the end of the day, every single measuring cup and spoon I own is in the dishwasher.) I don't like to improvise. And with baking, you have to follow the recipe to a T.

I like how baking makes me feel all warm and gooey and nourishing. Everybody is happy when there are baked goods! And the house smells pretty good, which is something that even a Weight Watcher can enjoy.

Here's the problem: baking leads to eating. What person on Weight Watchers would be stupid enough to actually create baked goods in her very own home? And even though I really try to give my baked goods away to my local friends, I often feel obligated to at least have a taste of them to make sure they are edible.

I know, I could still get the benefits of baking if I made some low-fat, Weight Watchers-friendly recipes. Now, I don't about fellow WWs is, but in my opinion the portion size of most WW baked goods is too small to be actually worth the points value. Like, this one tiny muffin is 3 points?!

Anyway, I think the positives of baking far outweigh the negatives. And until my local friends tell me to stop, I'm going to keep baking and giving away my creations.

Now I am going to post some photos of things I have baked, arranged in a very haphazard manner, because I spent a long time trying to fix them and it just stressed me out.



Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Hobby Discussion Day 2: Reading

I'm proud to say that I have read more books in 2009 than in any other year. At first I thought my leisure reading time might take a hit when I quit my job and no longer had 90 minutes of train-commuting time to read, but in actuality I have much more of a desire to read for pleasure now that I'm not reading math books all day.

Here are some books I have read lately:

Well, since we last spoke, I finished Middlesex. Overall a good story, but for me I'm not sure it was the life-changing, eye-opening, amazingly-described-in-superlatives book that other people said it was. And I had a problem with the author's high-falutant vocabulary, some of which I didn't understand. And I like to think I have an average vocabulary.

But I liked Middlesex enough to see it through to the end, which is more than I can say for my next reading endeavor, Outlander. I wanted to like it. It's about time travel, which I like in non-geeky contexts. (To give you a reference frame here, Back to the Future would be a non-geeky time travel movie. Doctor Who would be a geekier version of the time-travel genre.) But I only got to page 25 of Outlander and realized I was not looking forward to reading it each night. And since it was a library book anyway, I just up and quit reading it.

Next I picked up the fluffiest, lightest chick-lit book you could ever imagine, Nora Roberts' Vision in White. It's the first in a 4-part series about these four women who live together in a big house and run a wedding-planning business that hosts weddings in the same house. Think of the female camaraderie of Sex in the City, with a lot of pretty, fun wedding details thrown in. Oh, and there's the romance with Mr. Perfect, complete with gratuitous sex details. Since this was a book about weddings, I can't help but use wedding-related metaphors to describe its fluffiness. Think of the fluffiest tulle dress and frothy cake frosting, and you have this book. Which is not to say I didn't like it. A book this light is good sometimes. Sometimes you don't want to think too hard, or be too saddened by what you're reading. This book was perfect to fill the completely frivolous niche. I have the second book in the series, Bed of Roses, which I think I will save for the next time I'm craving something light. It focuses specifically on the character who is the florist in the wedding business, so it taps into one of my other interests as well. It just might be perfect for one of those crappy winter days when you need some color in your life.

So, next the library came through with my requested copy of Jennifer Weiner's summer hit, Best Friends Forever. What I like about Jennifer Weiner books is that they're sort of a happy medium between completely unsubstantive chick-lit and serious, tragic novels. There's enough to make you think in there, but they're still pretty quick reads. But I'm only on like the third chapter, so I can't provide a review yet.

I believe after this I will read Superfreakonomics, the new follow-up to Freakonomics, which I loved. (Side note, one of the reasons I loved it is that I e-mailed the author at the University of Chicago and asked him to autograph a book for my uncle, who was an economics professor. The author wrote back immediately and said sure, come by anytime. I sent my husband because he worked at the U of C at the time.) Anyway, it looks like Superfreakonomics has gotten some kind of crummy reviews on Amazon, so perhaps I will be disappointed. I'll let you know.

After that foray into statistics (albeit pop-culture-related, way-more-interesting-than-anything-you-studied-in-college statistics), I'm thinking of going back to historical fiction. Anyone have any recs?