Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Let's Talk About the Weather

I got all my leaves raked.  Or, okay, I didn't, but the trash service's free leaf pickup is over, so by default I'm done raking leaves.  Which means I have something to admit to you. 

Come closer.  I'm only going to whisper it. 

I kind of want it to snow.  

I know, I know, I know. 

That is like the worst thing you can ever admit in Chicagoland.  But I'm entitled to my feelings, and that's how I legitimately feel. 

Part of my desire for snow comes from a ridiculous misconception I hold about how there's a limited amount of crappy weather each season, and you might as well get it over with early so it's nice in the spring.  You know, like the winter that starts late is going to end late.  Like most people, I find a pretty dusting at Thanksgiving to be much less vile than the snow that's still coming down when professional baseball starts in April. 

In actuality, I'm sure the start time for winter weather has no bearing on the end time for winter weather.  And that's okay, because my wish for snow doesn't really stem exclusively from my misconceptions about weather anyway.

It's just that I legitimately like snow.  It's pretty. 

I remember the first snow after I moved here.  Do you think it will snow today? I remember asking somebody at my gym.  I sure hope so. 

You're crazy, she replied. 

And apparently I'm still crazy.  There's still enough Californian left in me that I get excited every time it snows.  Well, okay, maybe I'm not excited about those last little spring flurries.  By then I'm counting down to the opening of the pool. 

But now?  During the holiday season?  It just seems right that everything should be dusted in a little coating of snow. 

I like the way everything looks uniform and clean when the snow has fallen.  And can we all agree that a snowfall is peaceful? 

In conclusion, that is why I like snow.  No snow right now feels wrong, like we're neither here nor there.  And you know my feelings about neither here nor there. 

No doubt many people disagree with me here.  And if a big storm comes our way, those people will probably blame me for willing the snow to come (because I am just that powerful).  So, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go duck from flying objects being thrown at me.  Though, if I get my wish, those objects will be snowballs. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

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 They look comfortable, right? 

Well, guys, there's no messing around anymore.  The holiday season is here.  Time to find a way to cram all that shopping, wrapping, gift-exchanging, cooking, traveling, and eating into your already-packed life.  It's no wonder stress is often the first word that comes to mind when thinking about the holidays.

Still, I don't want to let all this stress turn me into a Scrooge.  That's why I try very hard to find small moments of joy during the holiday season.

This post is about those holiday comforts that make the season special.

First off, the best thing about Christmas is that everything is peppermint-flavored!  There's peppermint mocha, peppermint hot chocolate ... or, in the non-edible category, peppermint lotions.

And, since this is a post sponsored by a mattress company, let's not forget the many comforts of a warm, snuggly bed in the winter.  I mean, I love my bed year-round, but there's nothing better than snuggling into flannel sheets under a fuzzy blanket at the end of a cold day.

In that same vein, let's remember the bed's comfy cousins: slippers, soft blankets, fuzzy socks, and cozy fleece.  No more of that hot, humid summer with all the skin exposure and shaving and whatnot.  It's winter, let's bring on the fuzz! 

I should also mention that it's best to take a soothing bubble bath before slipping into all that fuzz, preferably a bubble bath with evergreen- or vanilla-scented candles. 

And while superficial creature comforts are all well and good, sometimes you need something to comfort your soul.  That's why this year I'm trying to take time out to sit and snuggle with Nathan in front of the Christmas tree.  The photo above was taken just after our inaugural snuggle session.  Like a peppermint mocha for my heart, I tell ya. 

So, this holiday season, don't let all the insanity make you Grinchy.  Seek out your own holiday comforts and savor them. 


Comfort is the perfect gift for everyone on your holiday gift list, so be sure to take advantage of Tempur-Pedic's Buy 2, get 1 free pillow offer! I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective.

Friday, November 25, 2011

What I Did The Day After Thanksgiving

1. Participated in my gym's Butterball Burner 5K with Katie and Trainer Jill.

2. Read part of a really good book called The Sisters.

3. Took a nap.

4. Ate leftovers.

5. Thought about taking out the Christmas decorations, but didn't. 

Thanksgiving Post 2 of 2: The Pictorial

This Thanksgiving I decided to just cook at home.  I have shied away from cooking at home for just my family in the past, because I have: one family member who likes only four Thanksgiving foods, one family member who likes nothing, one family member who only eats cat food, and me.  Not a very gratifying crowd to cook for.  And that one Thanksgiving where I stuffed the turkey with cat food did not go over well.

But I thought of how relaxing it would be to just stay home and not have to go anywhere.  And fortunately Katie came down on the train to eat with us.  She's not a picky eater at all, so I was able to justify making all the foods that nobody else in my family likes besides me.  (Read: stuffing/cranberry sauce/sweet potatoes/apple pie/salad.)

It turned out to be an awesome Thanksgiving.  I decided that since I wasn't cooking for a crowd, I would endeavor to do it all from scratch this year.  Normally I have the jelly cranberry sauce shaped like the can, and gravy from a jar, and I always purchase Bill's beloved pecan pie from the grocery store.  But this year I was like NO! I will do it myself.  I even made the bread for the stuffing.

(And now the whole from scratch bug is out of my system, so I can go back to laziness next year.)

Here's the obligatory picture of the table before the meal, featuring the Toy Story alien: 

The logistics:

Even though a turkey breast would have sufficed, it was cheaper to make a whole turkey.  I got the turkey for $6 with a coupon, and, because I'm frugal like this, I got a second coupon and got a second turkey to freeze for later.  I know, look at me!

I brined the turkey using this brine recipe.  I really liked it for its simplicity.  After the turkey brined overnight, I rinsed it and popped it into an oven bag.  And then, as Ron Popeil says, I just set it and forget it.  Four hours later, we had a turkey.

I went rogue and did the stuffing in the Crock Pot.  I didn't use a special Crock Pot stuffing recipe, I just put the regular stuffing in the Crock Pot.  Because I like to play fast and loose like that.

We also had: homemade rolls; cranberry sauce (pop, popped, popped by me in a pot the day before); mashed potatoes; homemade gravy that loosely resembled turkey-flavored pudding; the sweet potato casserole that I list as one of the foods I would eat exclusively if I found out I had a month to live; salad with gorgonzola and Craisins; and a compromise green bean recipe (compromise because I prefer the traditional green bean casserole and Bill prefers boring, plain steamed green beans). 

Here's another photo of the table, this time with candles lit and alien removed:

It was the first Thanksgiving meal prep where I didn't feel like the last 30 minutes before dinner were ridiculously stressful.  I felt calm.  Katie helped me peel the potatoes, both sweet and regular, while Bill watched a professional wrestling match from 1987 and Nathan set up my cat figurines to create a village called Cat Town, which is not pictured here:

And finally!  Time to eat!  Here's a blurry picture that proves that I always put my napkin in my lap before eating.  And also that I used cloth napkins:

Immediately Nathan found himself in a Thanksgiving time-out, not altogether different from his Easter time-out:

Upon returning to the table, he was appalled that we asked him to eat four green beans and four bites of turkey:

Yadda, yadda, yadda, eating, something something dishes, and then it was time for pie!

This year I made three pies, which I think is about right when you have three adults, plus a kid who decides he doesn't want to eat pie.

Now, as I said, Bill loves pecan pie.  Apparently the price of pecans has gone up this year, so the bag of pecans needed to make this pie cost me $13.  And that was with a coupon.  Add in two kinds of corn syrup and some other ingredients, and I think the pie cost me about $20 to make.  Recall that the turkey cost $6.  But I didn't think of not having Bill's favorite pie. And that is love, people. 

My favorite pie is apple, and I figured you have to have pumpkin, right?

Here are the pies:

Nathan preferred to play video games instead of eating pie:

Meanwhile, Leia ... did what she does every day:

And back at Pie Central:

Katie brought some sparkling peach dessert wine to go with the pies.  It tasted like those gummi peach ring candies, but in booze form.

Here's me all, "Hey look, I'm eating pie!"

And here's Katie all, "Hellz yeah, you are!"

Also, note how Bill had to drink his sparkling wine out of a margarita glass, because even though all signs point to the fact that we are grown-ass adults, we only have a total of 3 wine glasses, and out of those only two match, and one of them is cracked. 

But, in spite of our dire glassware situation, it proved to be a great Thanksgiving. 

Thanksgiving Post 1 of 2: The Philosophical

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  I like that it has the delicious food and family togetherness of Christmas, without the obligatory gift-exchanging. 

But I always find the week before Thanksgiving sort of sad. 

I think it started when I was in college.  See, I went to a public university in California, which as you know is a very large state.  Therefore, some people who went to my college came from places that were like 14 hours away, but were still in California.  Those people were always trying to maximize their Thanksgiving breaks by taking, like, a whole week off for Thanksgiving.  However, my family lived only two hours away, so I usually stayed at school until Wednesday afternoon and then went home. 

There was something that felt strange about that week before Thanksgiving.  Like, some people were gone, in on some party that I wasn't invited to.  The week felt neither here nor there.

These days, it seems about half the world considers the entire week of Thanksgiving a holiday, while the rest of the world proceeds as normal.  Some stuff is closed, but you're still trying to go on about the week as normal, and it just seems too quiet. 

This is all to say that on Wednesday, I was in sort of a weird place emotionally.  It didn't help that I was dealing with some sort of illness that's just one of those things where you feel crappy and off for one day, and then it disappears. 

But I had things to do!  I had to get the shopping done and the pies made and my eyebrows waxed and blah blah blah blah blabitty blah. 

The place where I get my eyebrows waxed is next to a Panera.  On my way out of the parking lot, I saw two young girls run up to each other from far away and engage in the most enthusiastic reunion hug.  It seemed these were two high school friends back from their first year away at their respective colleges. 

It was the sweetest thing.  And because I'm an overthinker, it turned into A Moment for me. 

I thought of all the stuff that reunion meant.  About rites of passage and coming home and a truly exciting time in a person's life.  I thought about how, throughout the course of college, the balance of your friends begins to shift from childhood friends to college friends, and about how the balance in your sense of home and identity shift too.  So much to figure out.  So many questions. 

And I thought about what a wonderful time college and early adulthood are, and how I wouldn't have wanted to skip those phases of life, but how mostly I'm just glad they're over.  Which is exactly the same thing I could say about all the subsequent phases, such as my first professional job, new parenthood, etc., etc., etc. 

That's when I knew what I was thankful for.  I'm thankful for being right here, in this moment, at this point of my life.  And all the cliches-for-a-reason go along with that: the thankfulness for family, shelter, adequate food, and health.  I'm thankful for being at a place where I am secure, and happy, and stable. 

Lately I have been focused more on the future than the present.  What should I do?  What will happen?  How will it work out if I do This? Or That? 

But really?  Things are right as they should be right now.  And I am thankful in the present. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

We Went to The Chicago Toy and Game Fair!

Prior to meeting Bill, I would have included board games on my list of hobbies.  I'd take a night at home playing board games over a loud, impersonal bar any day.

But on our second date, I told Bill I liked board games.  He was so excited.  He liked board games!

"So, what kind of games do you like?  Advanced Squad Leader?"

"What?" I asked, puzzled.

It turned out, I liked some simple little party games, but I didn't really like Board Games.  Board games, at least the kind Bill likes, are complicated and involve rule books contained in 3-ring binders.  They consume large amounts of time and physical space.  They are usually made in Europe in very small batches.

Bill downloads no fewer than 3 board game podcasts a week.  He's on multiple board game sites.  He has an entire bedroom full of board games. 

So, Bill likes board games.  And now Nathan likes board games.

Nathan also likes toys.

And I like getting stuff for free because I'm a blogger.

So, we went to the special free blogger event at the Chicago Toy and Game Fair Last weekend.

The pictures I took were with my cell phone, because you had to tweet them as part of a complicated Web 2.0 scavenger hunt that you had to complete in order to get your free swag bag at the end.

My first photo is Nathan with Lego Santa:

Speaking of Legos, I love how you get a kid in a room of brand-new, innovative toys, and he could spend the whole time playing with toys he already owns and plays with hours a day at home:

This next toy looks really cool, but I have no idea what it is, so I'm not doing a very good advertisement for it:

Look at the adorable Viva Topo! with kitties and mice in it:

You had to pick the coolest toy to photograph/tweet.  I picked the Air Swimmers shark.  I've seen this in catalogs and online, and I have vowed not to purchase it because of the cost, but damn if it isn't pretty cool floating through the air:

Aaand by far the nastiest game was this one about a dog pooping.  The object of the game was to collect the most poop.

Also, what exactly did this dog eat?

This is Nathan with Olly Oogleberry, a Chicago-based character who will appear in a new book next month.  The people behind Olly are being very nice and sending me a free copy of the book, so I though I'd pimp him up a little:

This next toy is called Q-Ba-Maze 2.0, and it's a variation on the old marble maze with the tubes.  What I like about it is that you also build a structure in addition to the marble maze, and you're guaranteed that the marble travels all the way down (as opposed to the old version where it might just plummet from the top to the ground). 

Also look how adorable Farrah's kids are in the background.  

Nathan spent a ridiculous amount of time on this game Contraptions, in which you build a structure for a ball to roll through. 

I hate to say it, but we could kind of DIY this with blocks we already have.

Over at a booth co-sponsored by ArtTerro and the Girl Scouts, you could make a bookmark out of fancy papers.  I actually really loved ArtTerro.  They make craft kits that include papers made in India out of recycled cloth, so they are eco-friendly.  I'm also really trying to get Nathan more art supplies this year, and I like the idea of something simple and creative.  Unfortunately I thought the kits were a little more girl-oriented, although a few are unisex.  

Play Foam is the newest weird substance on the market, and it was featured at multiple booths.  One booth gave me a free pod of it, and I love it.  It's super sticky and feels like a Rice Krispie Treat, but it doesn't actually make your hands sticky or stick to any surface.  Also, it never dries out.

As part of the scavenger hunt, you had to have somebody take your picture in front of an exhibitor logo.  Bill put a lot of thought into what company I should represent, and he picked Rio Grande Games:

Rio Grande games makes the Viva Topo! cat game shown above, as well as this game based on pie:

The game is called Piece of Cake, because according to the Rio Grande people, it's made in Germany, where pie is actually called cake.  Germany sounds very confusing.  

This next toy is called Doodle Roll, which I thought was a pretty cool toy consisting of a roll of paper and crayons.  It would be good for travel or to carry in your purse for those many, many kid entertainment emergencies you seem to encounter.  

Here's me in front of the Chicagonista booth, in the final picture of the scavenger hunt.  Chicagonista is a fun site that I used to write for, until I decided I wasn't cool and in-the-know enough to keep up. 

And, to conclude, a wholesome picture that reminds us that, whatever the fun new gadget on the market, kids still love playing with blocks:

Monday, November 21, 2011

WINNERS: Yankee Candle Prize Packages

Prize Package A

Prize Package A goes to:

None other than my friend Katie, to whom I can hand-deliver the candle on Thanksgiving!

Prize Package B

Prize Package B goes to:

Ashley!  Note that there were two Ashleys, so click the link.
Prize Package C

Prize Package C goes to:

Jen Werner!

Please send me your addresses at the email link in the sidebar.  Thanks to all who participated! 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Well, It's Come to This

Last night I actually made a separate dinner for each member of my family. 

Many criticisms can be generated from that sentence.

First of all, many people might criticize my parenting because I make Nathan a totally separate dinner most nights.  Most of those people are parents of kids who just happen to be more adventuresome eaters. 

Nathan used to be a more adventuresome eater.  He used to eat daal makani from Trader Joe's Indian Fare.  He used to like black beans.  He used to eat chicken in non-nugget form. 

I don't know what happened, but now we can't pinpoint one thing that the child will reliably eat.  One day he's devouring a peanut butter sandwich and downing a yogurt tube, and the next day he won't touch those items. 

People like to offer criticism and/or advice about how to get your kid to eat more.  You have to put a food in front of a kid 17 times [or 21 times or 37 times] before he's used to it!  Well, in our family we're often putting the same exact food in front of him several times, like if he doesn't eat his sandwich at lunch I'll just put it in a bag and give it to him for dinner, or for the next day's lunch.  (I usually stop at 3 outings for a particular food.)  You have to tell him the only other choice is starvation!  This kid is a limit-pusher, and honestly I think he might actually pick starvation.  Don't bribe!  Don't force anything!  Don't lie about what the food actually is!  Whatever. 

The fact of the matter is that even if we could nurture our child into having a more adventuresome palate, he still comes by pickiness genetically.  My husband is an incredibly picky eater.  Which makes it hard because I'm an incredibly sensitive cook. 

I myself have my food aversions as well, of course.  I don't like red meat, mayonnaise, or anything spicy. 

There's very little I can make that Bill and I can both eat, let alone all three of us.  And on several occasions I've made a dinner that gets tweaked in various ways for each eater, like a taco bar (Nathan just has a "cheesy roll-up," which he may or may not eat) or pasta with different kinds of sauce.  And of course we have separate meals when it's a leftover and/or "scrounge around for what you can find" night. 

But last night was the first night I actually prepared three separate entrees.  Although, since I'm in the education field, I prefer to think of it as individualized, differentiated dinner curricula. 

Many people might say, I would not put up with that!  Well, in the case of Nathan, who is still in his formative years, and who I have some responsibility to mold into a decent human, I probably do enable pickiness.  But I'm also convinced that everybody falls somewhere on the pickiness continuum naturally, and there's only so much sway a parent has over a child's palate. 

In the case of my husband, why would I want to prepare meal after meal that he doesn't like?  Especially because, as I said, I'm very sensitive about my cooking, and I get upset if he doesn't like what I make.  We have gotten to a point where he is perfectly willing to make his own dinner if he doesn't like what I'm making (and, just so you know, I don't like the one thing he knows how to make, either). 

I'm also kind of a control freak about the cleanliness of my kitchen, though, so I don't always like it when Bill gets home from work and makes a big old messy meal in my just-recently-cleaned kitchen. 

So I just decided to make separate entrees myself. 

(Also Nathan's wasn't really an entree.  When he's given free choice of his meal, as in when we aren't forcing him to at least have part of the main dinner entree, he knows he has to choose a protein and a fruit/vegetable.  So, he picked carrots and yogurt.  As in, not an entree.) 

It wasn't a big deal to make the other two entrees because I have two Crock Pots.  In Crock Pot #1 I made split pea soup for myself.  (Recipe here and photo/description here.)  I have decided I could eat split pea soup every single night.  (And, fun side story, I actually did bring split pea soup in a thermos every day for lunch in high school.  It's a wonder I wasn't more popular.)  Bill doesn't like this particular split pea soup recipe, which is vegetarian and contains the dreaded celery.

On the other hand, he loves red beans and rice, which I do not like because they are too spicy.  I found the recipe here and set it up in Crock Pot #2. 

Yes, it was twice as much work.  BUT!  Both Crock Pot meals were a huge hit, and we had the leftovers tonight.  Which means that while it was twice as much work last night, it also made twice as many meals.  (Plus I had some soup for lunch, and there are more beans in the freezer, so I guess it was more like 3 meals, but I'm just gonna say two because it was two dinners.

I'm not saying I'm going to make separate meals every night.  And I'm not saying I'm totally comfortable with my child's pickiness, nor my husband's for that matter.  But I'd certainly rather make food that everybody's going to like, and I include myself in everybody, of course.  I would not have been happy eating the beans and rice and consuming calories that I didn't even enjoy.  Plus, I like to think it's more economical to take one portion to eat and then freeze the rest for later, rather than have to scrape a bunch of food into the trash when people don't eat the stuff on their plates.  And hey, at least we actually sat down and ate together, even if we were eating different things.  That's what counts, right? 

Right Now

It's 6:35 and it just occurred to me that Nathan is not bathed, the dinner dishes are not in the dishwasher, and Laundry Load 1 of 2 is not folded.  (Laundry Load 2 of 2 is not even in the dryer.) 

And yet today I went to the gym and did 50 minutes of cardio, cleaned the kitchen like on my hands and knees and shit, planned out my whole Thanksgiving menu and went to the first of many stores, picked up the kitchen when it got messy again, started two loads of laundry, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. 

I'm annoyed with the everyday tasks of life.  I feel like my house is one step away from Hoarders. 

On the plus side, I got a whole bunch of new stickers for the grocery store game, and I made an Excel database of all the duplicates I have.  Send me an email if you want to trade stickers. 

Why I Haven't Blogged in Two Days

Because I'm a big fat lazy oaf. 

The fat assessment comes courtesy of Nathan, who told me the other day that I couldn't fit into his blanket fort because "you're too fat."  Now, before you go arguing that a tiny little kid's perspective is skewed, I should note that he called Bill thin. 

It was seriously one of the saddest moments of my life. 

I consoled myself by eating peanut butter straight out of the jar. 

The lazy label comes from not being able to stay up past 9:00 p.m.  It used to be that Nathan would fall asleep easily at 7:30 in his own bed, and I would just drop him off in his room, say goodnight, and have the whole evening to myself to read or watch TV.

Now, though, I've gotten in the habit of lying down with him until he falls asleep.  I let him pick whether he wants to fall asleep in my bed or his, and I'm secretly happy when he picks mine because the sheets are so soft and the mattress is so cushy. 

And I think, I will just lie here until Nathan falls asleep, and then I'm going to go do X, Y, and Z.  But then This bed is so warm!  And downstairs is so filled with laundry!  And then I figure I'll just go to sleep for the day. 

And that's why I haven't been blogging. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Some Stuff I've Watched on TV Recently

At this point in the world, I think my policy should be that if I don't have a show recorded on my DVR, it's probably not worth watching. 

I seldom follow this policy.  Instead I just turn on the TV and flip around to whatever looks the most watchable out of all the channels in my cable TV lineup.

That's how I got sucked into some crap TV Monday night.  

First I watched the second half of "Top 25 TV Infomercials" on the TV Guide Network.  I'm a sucker for countdown shows.  It's like you just have to stick with them until they get to Number One in the countdown, which inevitably follows a very long string of commercials.  Also the host of this particular countdown was John O'Hurley, who played J. Peterman on Seinfeld, so that sold me on the show right there. 

Now, first off, what qualifies as an "infomercial?"  Because a lot of the products were in the "As Seen on TV" genre, but weren't sold via a 30-minute infomercial, so I don't think they qualified.  And, as a side note, a lot of "As Seen on TV" products are readily available in stores now, so how does that separate them from every other product in the universe that is advertised on TV?

Deep questions, I tell you. 

Anyway, what was sad about the Infomercial Countdown was that I still remembered all the slogans from these ads.  Stop the Insanity!  Set It and Forget It!  Squeeze, Squeeze, Squeeze Your Way to Shapely Hips and Thighs! 

Item #1 on the countdown was The Clapper, which, again, did not have a full-length infomercial devoted to it. 

But can I say something about the Thigh Master?  Back in the mid-90s I used to work in a sporting goods store, and one day I actually fielded the following call:

Me: Thank you for calling Big 5 Sporting Goods, this is Shannon, how may I help you?
Guy on Phone: Yeah, so you know that show that used to be on, about the guy who lived with the two women in the apartment building?
Me: Three's Company?
Guy: Yeah.  So you know that product that the woman from that show advertises on TV, the one with the thighs?
Me: The Thigh Master?
Guy: Yes.  So anyway, I broke my wife's, and I was wondering if you sell them?

Now, at that point I am pretty sure the Thigh Master had been discontinued for safety reasons or something like that, so no, we did not sell them.

Anyway, when that scintillating piece of television was over, I watched Hoarders.  The first woman on the show had inherited a million dollars from some dead relative, and had spent almost all of it on crap she was hoarding.  The best part of the show was that she had about $30,000 worth of checks buried somewhere in the hoard.  At one point her brother asked her why she hadn't just deposited these large checks in the bank when she got them, and she said (get this), "I wanted to deposit them in the bank in another town.  This is a small town, and I don't want everybody up in my business."  I hope nobody in your small town was watching this program on national television, Lady. 

The other hoarder on the episode was so crazy that she blamed all the hoarding on her six children, and said that she hoped that DCFS would deem the home unfit and put the children in foster care "to teach them a lesson."  The husband was a firefighter who knew the house was completely unsafe, but kind of just put up with it.  Why?  Because he was a dimwit.  At one point he said, "I'm starting to think my wife may have some psychological problems." 

Tell me this show isn't scripted. 

After Hoarders I got sucked into some show called Monster In-Laws, which was so stupid that even I couldn't watch it. 

On Tuesday, as if to punish myself for Monday's crap TV-viewing, I forced myself to switch back and forth between Saving Private Ryan on AMC and a documentary about the Holocaust on The History Channel.  Both awful.  The worst part about the Holocaust one was that they had this one survivor from one of the death camps (which I guess were different from the regular concentration camps) who talked about how when you got in there, a Nazi guy politely said, "We're really sorry, but for sanitary reasons everybody has to take a shower," and then told them to leave their clothes in this one room, carefully labeled so they could get them later, and then the victims all cheered for the friendly soldier before going to the gas chamber and auuuggggggggghhhhhhh I just can't.  Horrible, horrible, horrible.  And then, to make it worse, some of the historians on the show shared some photos of the Nazis engaging in leisure activity on their off-time, like at after-work happy hours and whatnot. 

Wednesday I read a book instead of watching TV. 

Thursday is always the good TV night.  I watched my boyfriend Joel McHale on Community, and then Parks & Recreation.  Both are good, but I so miss 30 Rock.  It comes back on January 12, which is also my birthday, so I'm calling it Thirty-Four and 30 Rock!

That concludes this installment of What I Watched on TV This Week.  In my next installment, I get so fed up with the TV that I grab a baseball bat to smash it to shreds, but then get distracted by Top 50 Infomercial Product Hoarders, so I just curl up with my bat and watch it. 

Don't throw away those Ped Eggs!  There could be a horrible winter where we're all forced to walk barefoot in the snow, and then we're gonna need those Ped Eggs! 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

When You Care Enough to Send the Very Best

Yesterday when I bought myself the present, I embarrassingly bought myself a card to go with it.  Because I think all gifts should be accompanied by a card.  Otherwise how will you know who the gift is from? 

I hoped the cashier assumed that the card was to accompany another gift I was buying.  But really it was for me because I liked the quote on it:

This quote is So. Me. Right. Now.  I've actually kind of had recent thoughts along these very lines, though not stated quite so eloquently.  Thoughts like, the steps you take that scare you the most are the ones that are going to do you the most good. 

I have a life right now that is mostly easy and comfortable.  And it's even easier and more comfortable to just remain stagnant and keep the status quo. 

Except, this particular status quo is not what I really need.  I can feel it.  If I keep the status quo it will eventually hurt me.  I can't remain tight in a bud.  I have to bloom. 

In conclusion, let me note that the issues I'm vaguely alluding to here are of a professional nature.  I wanted to keep it vague so it would have a more universal appeal, but I also don't want everyone assuming I have plans to, like, up and leave my whole family and move to Paris or something. 

And so, here on the precipice of the dark, barren winter, I pledge to bloom. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Keep Calm

Due to my recent frugality, I haven't bought myself a present in awhile.  But today I was in a store, and I thought, It's time to buy myself a present.  

Here it is:

In case you can't tell, it's a necklace that says Keep Calm and Write On, with a picture of an old-fashioned typewriter. 

I'm generally not a huge fan of the "Keep Calm" posters, which are takeoffs on the British WWII poster that said Keep Calm and Carry On.

From what I've read, the poster was never actually displayed in England during the war.  It was created for use in case of a full-scale German invasion of England, which, umm, like hell anybody would keep calm.  Somebody discovered the poster in, like, the 90s or something, and ever since then it has become trendy as decor, whether in its original form or in some sort of variation.  I've seen Keep Calm and Go to Target (with the crown replaced by a bulls-eye), Keep Calm and Bake Cookies, and all manner of hobbies which one is supposed to keep calm and practice. 

The thing is, I don't really like the idea that a poster created in case of a horrific war-related event just becomes something cool for twenty-somethings to display on throw pillows in their living rooms.  Though I do like this variation:

My motto

But anyway, I bought the Keep Calm and Write On necklace.  Because two of the most important things I need to do are keep calm and write.  I mean, not that writing is as important as food, water, and shelter, but it is my favorite hobby.  And just this morning I was thinking, Why do I write this blog?  I don't care about making money off this blog or any other writing endeavor.

I do it because I love it.  I write because, cheesy as it sounds, that is what my soul needs.  

And because I'm wired so wackily that, sometimes, writing is the only way I can keep calm and carry on.  


One of my favorite mom blogs in the whole wide world is Ask Moxie, written by Magda Pecsenye.  Magda has the ability to pinpoint and articulate life's disappointments and frustrations, simultaneously acknowledging their magnitude and finding a way to make the best of them, all with a certain kind of non-cheesy pluck.  Nowhere is this ability better exemplified than with Magda's invented November holiday, Candletime.

Magda created Candletime as a way to make November meaningful in and of itself, not as the sort of "Christmas Phase I" that the retail industry likes to make it.  The Candletime celebration, as originally explained here on Ask Moxie, consists of dimming the lights and lighting candles (real or the electric kind) and taking a quiet moment to spend some time with loved ones over your beverage of choice before dinner.  On her new Babble blog last week, Magda credited Candletime as the only thing that got her through the disappointment of the extended hours of darkness when she was a full-time working single mom living in New York City.

There is power in candles.

To help you celebrate Candletime (or Christmas or the holiday season or whatever), I am giving away not one, not two, but three separate Yankee Candle prize packages!

Here they are:

 Packaged A includes three 3.7-oz candles in a cute box: Cherries on Snow, Christmas Rose, and Mountain Berry.

Package B is a cylindrical candle from Yankee's "Favorite Things" collection, an homage to The Sound of Music.  This one is Warm Woolen Mittens, which smells kind of like a really good laundry detergent.  Since it's the smallest package, candle-wise, I'm throwing in a $10 off Yankee Candle coupon and the adorable Yankee Candle flash drive. 

Package C is a large candle in the Balsam & Cedar scent, which is the scent that my husband burns in our home year-round.  If anything smells like Christmas, it's this candle.  And it's pictured here next to the adorable gift box it comes in.  

Here's how I'm going to work this.  You have until Friday, November 18 at 11:59 p.m. CST to enter.  To enter, leave a comment with an answer to this question:

What are you 3 favorite scents?  

On Saturday, November 19, I will have determine a separate number for the winner of each prize package, and the people who left those numbered comments will be the winners.  I will report the winners on this blog shortly thereafter and ask the winners to email me their mailing addresses.  

Good luck, and Happy Candletime!  

Monday, November 14, 2011

Reading, I Suck at It

The last book I finished reading was completed on Wednesday, October 5.  That's over a month ago.  The book was Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, and I read it as part of my librarian friend Carolyn's YA For Adults book club at the library. 

Next I got Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life With John F. Kennedy.  I wouldn't say I'm a Kennedy-ophile, but I am interested in 20th century American history, and especially how women lived in previous generations. 

Jackie's book was interesting, because it's a transcript of interviews she did right after JFK died, but which were sealed in a vault until recently.  So it's sort of like a time capsule, which is always kind of cool.  You hear her say things like, "You'll have to talk to Bobby about that," and you're like, Oh no, you don't know, Bobby gets shot too! 

But the book was also very tedious to read, because she would make these references to something, and there were footnotes to clarify what she was talking about, and it was so hard to not get bogged down in all those details.  I plugged away earnestly for the entire two weeks I had that book from the library, but I only finished about 2/3 of it.  But I think with nonfiction you can still count it as having read the whole book, even if you didn't, because you mostly got the gist of it.  And also, I did look at all the pictures. 

I probably should have read a novel after that to clear the palate, but another nonfiction came in from the library for me.  It was Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield.  Now, a book about fonts sounds horifically dull, but since it was on the New York Times Bestseller List, I figured fonts might be more intriguing than I previously thought.  And it was sort of interesting.  For example, I learned that in the days of movable type and the printing press, capital letters were used less frequently and were therefore kept in the less-convenient upper-case, hence the term uppercase.  Mind your p's and q's is also a phrase that comes from the printing press, because it was very easy to get confused between the blocks for p and q if you weren't careful.  I also learned that font aficionados hate it when they see a font in a movie that was invented after the historical period where the movie is supposed to take place, and that when Ikea changed the font of its signs it caused an Internet fontroversy. 

However, there is only so much you can care about fonts.  The author really tried to make the book interesting to a mainstream audience, but at a certain point it just becomes dull to talk about the unfinished lower bowl of lowercase g in some font or the other.  I only got through half the book before I took it back to the library, about a week before the due date. 

I did, however, reserve a library copy of a movie about fonts, the documentary Helvetica.  I figured I would employ comedian Jim Gaffigan's philosophy of "You know what I liked about the movie?  No reading!"  I figured Helvetica would be one of those movies that sounded so boring it just might be interesting.  But no, just boring.  Enough for my feigned interest in fonts. 

Meanwhile, another meeting of the library YA for Adults book club had passed, and I never read the book, Ten Miles Past Normal.  I still have the book, and I'm plugging away at it, but I just do not care.  

I have another book, The Four Ms. Bradwells by Meg Waite Clayton.  I read her other book, The Wednesday Sisters, and I really liked it.  This new one though?  So boring. 

I have another book called The Tea Rose that I got for my Kindle and started reading, but then all these library books came in for me and I had to put that one on hold.  And I have Flip for the next book club, but I haven't even looked at it yet. 

So many books, none of them finished.  Someone recommend a guaranteed winner so I can get out of this slump!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

My Particular Challenges, At This Particular Moment

Like a lot of new parents, when Nathan was born I was struck by how dependent the human newborn is.  Yeah, they can't control their own arms and they need another person to provide the most basic of human necessities, but what especially struck me was the fact that they needed somebody else to make them burp.  I don't know why the whole burping thing stood out to me, except that I guess I always sort of saw burping as an involuntary action, one that you should be able to make happen for yourself, even from birth. 

I'm getting a bit sidetracked here.  My point is, newborns are needy.  You accept this neediness, you hunker down, you get through it. 

What I'm having more trouble accepting, however, is that at 4 years and 8 months old, Nathan seems to have regressed to a level of newborn neediness. 

Now, of course I'm exaggerating.  The boy can walk and talk and feed himself (on the rare occasions that he actually eats).  But damn if he doesn't act as though he's lost every other life skill that he's acquired since birth. 

For example, I know the boy can dress himself.  I know because several times a day he likes to take off the normal, respectable outfit he's wearing and change into a costume or some mismatched pajamas he outgrew two years ago. 

But first thing in the morning, he acts like putting on clothes is the hardest thing on the planet. 

Let's get me dressed! he calls.  Or sometimes just, Get me dressed! 

I do try to insist on adding please, but I admit to giving in to his requests if he asks nicely.  For one thing, this is one of the many parenting mistakes I make for the sake of convenience: We usually have somewhere to be, and I don't have all day to sit there and wait for him to put on his clothes.

But as the day goes on, the requests just start to grate on me.  I want to watch a DVD!  More milk!  Come see this commercial for something I must have for Christmas!

Where I really fall apart is at the laziness.  I'm happy to give you a refill on the milk, but please go get your cup, I say.  Noooooooooo, I don't know where it is! he whines.  I tell him it's in the family room.  But it's daaaaaaaaaaaark in therrrrrrrre! he replies.  (Yes, the lights are turned off, but it is the middle of a sunny day, and the room has a window.)

He whines and whines until he either gets the cup or gets distracted by something else.

I think I try to stand firm, but maybe I'm doing it all wrong.  I generally assume I'm doing it all wrong.  Pre-Kid Judgmental Shannon probably would have professed that she would say, I'll give you milk if you get your cup, take it or leave it, and calmly walk away.  She would not get sucked into even one minute of a battle over who would retrieve a cup.  She definitely wouldn't offer to stand so she could see into the allegedly dark family room and ascertain that there was no imminent danger while the cup was retrieved.

I could go on and on about what I do, and what I don't do, and how I blame myself for all his behavioral shortcomings.  But my point is, I find myself struggling to get through the day with all his neediness. 

Augh, you have so many needs, I say several times a day, quoting Tina Fey's character in Date Night. 

I suspect part of our problem is that this past week was the first week where the weather was unreasonable for outside play.  Whether or not getting outside to run around helped his behavior, I don't know, but it certainly helped my mental health to be able to get out. 

And I know, this is just the beginning of the wretched six-month season of indoor play, and I'd better get some coping strategies really fast if I want to make it through. 

Another problem is just the sheer volume of hours I spend with him.  He no longer takes a nap, and he no longer needs as much sleep at night as he used to, but yet he's not old enough for regular school.  So he's up about 14 hours a day now, and even with outsourcing strategies like school, the babysitter, and the gym, we're still home together a lot.  Even with ample TV and computer time, there are still a lot of hours to fill. 

Yes, there are places we can go and things we can do.  But I'm also trying to save money and stay out of stores and other places that cost money.  The library is a nice, free indoor activity, but it doesn't burn off a lot of energy and it's kind of a once-a-week destination.  The mall playground is technically free, but I sort of feel an obligation to at least spend some money sometimes in the mall in exchange for their free playground.  Same with McDonald's: you can't play there if you don't buy something. 

We have memberships at the zoo and the Museum of Science and Industry, so those are technically free (MSI does charge a small parking fee), but those are big productions and we can't be jetting off to them all the time. 

Anyway, those are my current challenges.  *END RANT*

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pulling Her Weight

Bill and Leia have kind of a love/hate relationship.  On the one hand, he likes cats, and Leia is a cat, and so he likes her.  He knows she makes me happy, and he respects her for that. 

However, he has no tolerance for her excessive vomiting.  Not that anybody likes cat vomit on the carpet, but I think I do a better job than Bill of accepting that the vomit is just something we have to put up with in order to experience the awesomeness that is Leia. 

Also a few months ago, Leia got spooked in the middle of the night and ran across Bill's face, causing a dramatic-looking scratch under his eye. 

So, their relationship is sometimes strained. 

But all of the sudden Bill and Leia are totally BFFs, due to a recent occurrence stemming from what I'll call The Fruit Roll-Up Incident. 

See, this past weekend I bought a 40-pack of Fruit Roll-Ups using a coupon at Costco.  (I don't know why I mentioned the coupon, except that couponing is hotter than ever right now!) 

It turned out that Fruit Roll-Ups brought out Nathan's criminal side.  He wanted Fruit Roll-Ups so badly that he would lie and steal just to get them. 

So as to put a stop to this illicit activity, I put the big box of Fruit Roll-Ups way up high, above the kitchen cabinets.  Note that I have never, ever put food up there before. 

The next day, I went to get out two Fruit Roll-Ups, and one of them had a bunch of teeth marks and bites taken through the packaging. 

"Nathan, did you chew through the Fruit Roll-Up?" I asked.

"Umm, no, I don't think I did.  Maybe.  No, probably not.  I don't think so." 

(Note to all criminal types: Don't use a 4-year-old as your alibi.) 

It seemed unlikely that Nathan would have chewed through the packaging, though, seeing as he is perfectly capable of opening a Fruit Roll-Up.  All signs pointed to a rodent. 

Still, I ate another intact Fruit Roll-Up out of the package.

I regretted this food choice the next day when Bill inspected the box and found several Fruit Roll-Ups with teeth marks in them. 

(This would be a really great place for photographic evidence, but I was too busy recoiling in horror to get out the camera.) 

Later that day, Bill bought some traps. 

He noticed that Leia was really interested in the area under the sink, so he put the trap there. 

An hour later, he had caught a mouse. 

Now he's totally thrilled with Leia.  He's acting like he and Leia are some sort of mouse-trapping team.  He even sent me an email from work today, asking me to pet Leia for him. 

He says the rule is one mouse equals one vomit forgiveness. 


I forgot to post yesterday.  I'm just gonna write about some stuff that I did yesterday and call it good.

The most pressing task when I got up yesterday was to haul out three large items from my garage for trash pickup.  Wednesday is trash day, and I wanted to get rid of as much as possible from the garage before cleaning it out. 

Here were the three items: a broken TV, a large plastic toy that represents a roof-less house, and a broken trash compactor that weighed approximately 5,000 pounds (give or take) and contained a 6-month-old bag of garbage that we couldn't get out. 

I figured somebody would come and get the toy, so I didn't feel all that bad about throwing it out.  (Also it was a hand-me-down from the neighbors, and we were at least the third or fourth owners of it, so it wasn't in really great shape.) 

I thought maybe somebody might want the TV to try to repair or take the parts. 

But I didn't expect anybody to want that dang compactor, which was so heavy that I was sweating and almost injured trying to even get it out to the curb. 

So damn if I wasn't shocked when, not 30 minutes later, the compactor was the only item that had been scavenged.  And that's why I will never understand people. 

Next, Nathan's Monday/Wednesday babysitter came.  I had her take Nathan to the library.  He told her he didn't want to check out any books, so now we have no library books to read at bedtime.  Which is fine, we have plenty of books that we own, but sometimes I like to mix it up. 

I told the babysitter that she could taken Nathan to Dunkin' Donuts, so then when I got home he wasn't hungry for lunch. 

So I ate my delicious new egg salad made with Greek yogurt, as well as a bowl of the awesome shrimp dumpling soup I buy frozen at Costco.  Then we went on errands. 

We had to go to Joann, and at that point Nathan said he was hungry, so I took him to the McD's drive-thru.  I swore I wasn't going to have anything myself, but then I fell victim to the peppermint mocha. 

This was our first experience with the new Happy Meal that comes with a tiny fries and a bag of apple slices.  I kind of liked the idea of not having to wrestle with the "apples vs. fries?" question, as well as not having to specify the side dish we wanted.  (I know, I'm lazy.)  Plus, that teeny little fry container?  SO ADORABLE.  And I have to say, on this particular occasion, the side dish combo was a total win.  Nathan ate all the fries, plus the apples, and then asked me to cut up another large apple when he got home.  Normally he doesn't eat the side dish, no matter what it is, and now not only did he eat the whole thing, but it encouraged him to eat further healthful foods!  (Hire me as your spokes-blogger, McDonald's!)  Now, it could have just been a fluke.  Yeah, it was probably a fluke. 

Of course we had to stop off at Petco to look at the shelter kitties and the fish. At first I thought, wow, it must be fun to be a kid and get excited about something as simple as a pet supply store.  Except, then it occurred to me that I'm equally excited to look at kitties, and in fact I always stop in there when I'm doing some shopping at adjacent stores without Nathan. 

They had an orange kitty!  I've always wanted an orange kitty!

After the Petco/Joann adventure, we went over to Office Max.  See, I had caved awhile back and purchased Nathan a phonics workbook, and it's the kind where you can photocopy the pages and assemble them to make little books.  I told Nathan we could make copies, so I sat there and copied and used the paper cutter and the long-arm stapler, and it was really just an unpleasant flashback to my teaching years.  Then I told Nathan that the only thing we would be buying at Office Max for him would be a new set of markers to color the little books.  And that's when my bad parenting moment started. 

He wanted something else, of course.  I said no, we were only getting markers, and somehow the whole thing devolved into me putting the markers back and him yelling, I hate you!  Markers are stupid! 

Oh Lordy. 

After we got home and took the appropriate disciplinary/calming down actions, we passed the rest of the afternoon playing computer games and watching DVDs.  Oh, and he completely ignored the phonics books that I spent $2.59 and part of my sanity copying at Office Max.

For dinner I spent two hours simmering a new lentil soup recipe.  I was pretty sure it would be a total win.  First of all, I love recipes where the base is a $1 bag of dried things (beans, peas, lentils).  Second, it was cholesterol-free and low-fat, and it was the perfect day for soup yesterday. 

Bill didn't like it, though. 

Later, after Nathan's bedtime, I watched the first three hours of The Kennedys, which was a DVD I got at the library.  I had recently read the new Jacqueline Kennedy interview book, so I felt all smart understanding what was going on.  But I can see why the History Channel yanked it at the last minute.  JFK's womanizing tendencies are really played up, and the dad is portrayed as a bossy selfish jerk just out for his own power.  Also, Katie Holmes playing a wife who stays in an unhappy marriage just for the sake of her husband's career success?  Ironic. 

And that was yesterday. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Stuff in the Media: Mormon Mom Blogs

I am fascinated by Mormonism.  Now, let me make it clear that I am not now, nor have I ever been, nor do I ever want to be, a member of the Mormon church.  But growing up on the west coast, having a lot of Mormon classmates and teammates (swimming is big with white people, most Mormons are white, and there's some overlap in the Venn diagram there, I guess), I somehow learned enough about the religion that a co-worker once labeled me the "resident Mormon expert" at my old office.  (This co-worker had just returned from a convention in Salt Lake City, and she had some follow-up questions about Mormon culture.) 

And, addressing the elephant that exists in the virtual room I'm sharing with those readers who knew me back in the day, let me confess that I did, for a long period of time in college, have a Mormon boyfriend.  (It's okay, Bill knows.  He and I are okay with occasionally discussing relationships that ended long ago, long before we even met each other.)  So, very much Mormonism has been foisted upon me, and that's how I became the resident Mormon expert at my office.  Of course, I have also sought out additional information about the church, including reading Mormon mom blogs. 

But I casually observe Mormonism from a sociological and anthropological standpoint, not from an I'd really like to join this church standpoint.  It's an interesting religion because church culture permeates so many areas of its members' daily lives.  Which is probably a statement you can make about a lot of religions, but with Mormonism, I don't know, somehow it's different.  For one thing, Mormonism is a relatively new religion, so there aren't thousands of years of culture behind it like with, say, Judaism.  This newness makes Mormonism much less familiar to the rest of us, and all the more intriguing.

Also, with most religions, followers can pick and choose which practices they follow.  I mean, yes, all Catholics, for example, have the same basic core beliefs, but not all of them observe the practices regarding meat on Fridays, and not all of them go to mid-week Mass.  Some don't even go to church at all, but still consider themselves members of the religion.

But with Mormons, although there are a few who pick and choose their practices, for the most part it's in for a penny, in for a pound.  They all go to church and classes for three hours on Sunday.  They observe Family Home Evening.  They all wear the special undergarments.  They don't drink coffee or alcohol, and they don't watch R-rated movies.  And there seems to be very strong cultural pressure within the church to marry young, have babies young, and worry about everything else later.  Additionally, to the outside observer, at least, it seems like there is a lot of pressure for mothers to stay home with their children, rather than working outside the home.

So when you have this clearly-defined, separate cultural group, living right here among us, it's easy for us to be intrigued.  And people are intrigued by Mormons.  So much so that Newsweek recently declared this:

Between Mormon candidate Mitt Romney's success, less-successful Mormon candidate Jon Huntsman, and the hit Broadway musical The Book of Mormon, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is getting more publicity than ever.

Let me just say that I think the South Park episode that inspired The Book of Mormon musical has the right idea about Mormonism, in my opinion.  Yes, many aspects of Mormonism seem strange or even illogical to us outsiders.  But ultimately the religion has made many people happy, and its followers are kind and successful, so you can't knock it there.  (I can, however, knock it for its huge contributions to the Yes on Prop. 8 campaign in California, which sought to outlaw gay marriage.  I also don't like the fact that women are not equals in the church clergy, and that women in the church face so much cultural pressure to get married, have babies, and stay home.) 

All of this is a really long introduction to a discussion on an article that my friend Sarah recently brought to my attention, a Salon post called "Why I Can't Stop Reading Mormon Housewife Blogs."  Salon contributor Emily Matchar confesses that, although she is neither a Mormon nor a mom, she is addicted to reading Mormon mom blogs.

It's not that Matchar wants to be a Mormon; she just enjoys the vision of tranquil domestic life that Mormon mom blogs tend to paint.  The mom is always happy and fulfilled in her roles as a mother and wife.  She isn't all angsty about work-life balance like every other woman between the ages of 22 and 50.  She isn't freaking out about money.  She loves her husband more than life itself, they are all truly devoted to one another, and on the weekends they sit around making crafts out of homemade marshmallows. 

Of course, we could very easily have a conversation about how these Mormon mom blogs are all a load of bull.  Maybe these women are brainwashed, or afraid to tell the actual truth.  Maybe they're just making the best of things because, ultimately, they don't really have the freedom of choice that the rest of us have in regards to work and family.  Or maybe they're just happy in their roles as domestic goddesses because there's so much cultural support for them and their life decisions.  No matter what the case, it's hard to imagine that most of the rest of us non-Mormons could adapt the Mormon moms' sense of domestic tranquility to our own lives.  In some ways, we live in different worlds.

But I'm not here to debate whether or not these Mormon mom blogs are honest or realistic.  People like plenty of things that are pretty and happy and unrealistic.  Martha Stewart's whole empire is based on this principle.

And that, really, is my point: Has people's taste in mom blogs shifted to a preference for the perfect, happy domestic life?

When you think about mom blogs, and I mean truly the ones that get labeled as Mom Blogs, not just blogs written by moms trying to share family news and photos with faraway relatives and friends, you think about raw, honest confessions.  And, yes, sometimes this honesty means negativity.  The whole Mom Blog revolution was about mothers who, thanks to the anonymity of the Internet, could confess that they didn't always love motherhood and that they weren't always perfect at it.  And maybe these blogs were the cause of, or the effect of, or just a random coincidence with a whole shift in our expectations of motherhood, a shift to a new thinking that can basically be summed up as Wow, this really sucks sometimes.  

But now Matchar is suggesting a preference for the exact opposite, a mom blog that paints motherhood as idyllic.  And while the preferences of one Salon blogger, and of the people in her anecdotes, do not constitute a cultural revolution, I do think there is some evidence that people prefer a more positive approach to mom blogging.

As evidence, let's look at what is arguably the most popular Mom Blog on the Internet, The Pioneer Woman.  (Some may argue that Dooce is the most popular, but PW has two cookbooks, a memoir, and a movie deal where she'll be played by Reese Witherspoon. )  Pioneer Woman is chock full of beautiful food pictures, recipes, anecdotes about an ideal bucolic life, and adorable love stories.  Sure she's honest about her shortcomings, but she's also put up an image that mostly suggests perfection and happiness.  And people love her.

Even the more realistic, tell-it-like-it-is mom bloggers strive to not be too negative.  Every rant ends with a silver lining, every complaint is tinged with perspective.  Which is how it should be.  Nobody likes a Debbie Downer, and it's ridiculous to suggest that most of our petty first world problems are the worst thing that ever happened to anyone.  Most of us should be counting our blessings every single day, multiple times a day. 

Except, has the pendulum swung too far when we want our mom blogs to depict nothing less than glowingly perfect maternal bliss? 

I, personally, prefer blogs with a more realistic depiction of life.  Sure, I like Martha Stewart.  I read food blogs and occasionally a craft blog or two.  I expect that those blogs are going to be about fun, happy diversions and not about the serious issues in life.  I'm not gonna say, Wow, how come when you wrote about making those pine cone turkeys with your kids, you didn't question your worth to society as a stay-at-home mom?  I realize that food and craft and decorating blogs aren't about those deeper questions and concerns.  They're about sharing hobbies with others who have similar hobbies.

But if your blog purports to be about all aspects of your real life, I have a hard time when you only talk about the good things.  I tend to lose sight of the fact that your life involves struggles and shortcomings and mistakes that aren't depicted in your blog, and so I just constantly wonder why I can't be as perfect as you are.  And then I feel worse about myself.  Whereas I prefer blogs that are going to make me feel better about myself.

So, for now, I'd like to say that my own personal statement is that motherhood and domesticity, like any other occupation or relationship or station in life, is that it is often good but not always good.  It's okay if you're not always happy.  It's okay if you're not perfect.  Because I'm not.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Hot New Children's Toy: A Box of Garbage!

I have never been the type to save random odds and ends. I don't recall ever uttering the phrase We might find a use for that someday in reference to some item that is being considered for disposal. Honestly, when I hear somebody say that, I have trouble understanding where that person is coming from. Why would I want a bunch of garbage cluttering up my home?  Furthermore, I wouldn't ever remember I had that item anyway, so what's the point in saving it? 

But sometimes having a child changes you.  And although I always say that I haven't done anything in my parenting career that I swore I would never do, because my standards had been worn down to ridiculously low through my work as a teacher, I think I have finally found the area of parenting where I've gone back on my word.  I'm pretty sure I swore I would never save random garbage.  And yet, here I am, with a big box in my living room dedicated specifically to discarded items:

Two occurrences precipitated the establishment of the "Invention Box," as we're calling it:

1. Last week we went to the Dr. Seuss exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry, which is a great exhibit that I recommend, but of which I have no photographs because photography isn't allowed in the exhibit.  Anyway, in addition to a large collections of photos and other memorabilia, the exhibit has three toy areas set up for children.  Two of the tables have some type of plastic pieces that you can put together to construct various sculptures and creations (you know, sort of in the genre of Legos, Tinker Toys, or Kinex).  The third table had little laminated pictures that you could juxtapose to make various Seuss-like creations, sort of like those on this Seuss Army Knife seen here:

Now, I was pretty sure that no child ever would want to sit and play with a bunch of laminated pictures, but damn if Nathan didn't spend at least 15 minutes carefully constructing a "machine that does everything," including shooting out marshmallows.  The machine was powered by a person riding a bicycle, and there was a fan installed to cool the person off, but "not so close that it hits you in the head."  So, my first thought was that maybe I should go home and assemble my own set of laminated pictures, but something told me that this was one of those toys where enjoyment was context-specific.  At the museum, surrounded by colorful Dr. Seuss drawings, whimsical music, and tabletops with goofy characters on them, Nathan was in the right mood to play with laminated pictures.  At home, he'd probably cast my laminated pictures aside and ask to play with the iPad. 

But I did think that perhaps I could tap into the "random odds and ends as toys" idea at home.  Nathan does enjoy stacking up various kitchen items.  And he's forever asking me to fashion household items into various playthings, like when we made an action figure zip cord out of tape, a straw, and the drawstring for our vertical blinds.  

Then my idea for an odds and ends box was further supported when ...

2. My mom bought two pairs of boots last week while she was in town, and she said, "Shannon, do you need these shoe boxes for anything, or should I recycle them?"  I was about to say recycle, when Nathan piped in that he wanted them to put his toys in.  Now, although I'm not really a fan of having random shoe boxes of items in my living room, I told him he could keep the boxes until the next recycling day.  But then I saw him using the boxes, not for storage, but as a race car track, and that's when I said, "Hey, we should save garbage for Nathan to play with!"

So as to bring some semblance of organization into the project, we went to Target and bought a plastic box, which Nathan then named the Invention Box. 

Yesterday he immediately got to work making a rocket ship out of an oatmeal canister:

It's piloted by a small bear.

He said to me, "Don't wreck my spaceship, it's really special."  Obviously one has mixed feelings when one's child describes a creation made out of discarded containers as special.  I appreciate his creativity, but are his thousands of dollars worth of commercially-produced toys chopped liver?  

I have similarly mixed feelings about his decision to take the oatmeal spaceship to school for show and tell tomorrow.  On the one hand, I'm super excited that the Invention Box is such a hit.  On the other hand, I'm not sure I'm thrilled with the idea that the staff of Nathan's preschool will think we require him to play with garbage at home because he has no real toys. 

(But mostly I'm just glad he decided what to bring for show and tell, because often this is a very long, drawn-out decision-making process.)  

The next two inventions were a musical instrument made of taped-together plastic cups, and a jet pack that Bill helped make with a piece of cardboard and a 2-liter bottle.  Music!  Science! Look at all the cross-curricular learning going on here!  
The bottle got recycled into this invention, although Nathan doesn't know what it is:

Excellent use of my purple tie-dye duct tape, though. 

Also, pro photography tip: Remove all baskets of unfolded laundry from the background of your photos.

Here's a closer look at some of the random stuff I saved for the box, again featuring that laundry basket:

Now, although he did use that soda bottle twice, one thing I'm learning is that Nathan prefers fresh, new items in the box.  Which is no problem, because we have new trash every day!

The only trouble is, I'm putting way too many items in the box.  Every piece of garbage I find, minus the nasty or dangerous ones, seems like a great new addition to the box.  Yogurt shake containers!  Rags!  The plastic containers my favorite Costco shrimp soup comes in!  

This is like a complete 180 from the old Shannon.  So now I am not, in fact, the Same Old Shannon.  

But even if I do get out of control with the garbage-saving, it's pretty easy to cull the items in the Invention Box.  They are, after all, garbage--and a garbage-collection service visits our house every Wednesday!  And if I don't throw the stuff away, maybe I could appear on Hoarders.  No publicity is bad publicity, right? 

Also, for Christmas this year, Nathan is getting a milk carton.  If he's lucky.