Friday, December 27, 2013

2014: The Year of the Books

Confession: we only made it about half way through the year before "Resolutions 2013" fell by the wayside, big time.  Apparently, I'm on trend with how my recent spate of resolution-ing has gone; I don't think that I've yet succeeded from start to finish.  Resolutions are a fairly recent tradition in my life and generally only concern me.  And reading.  As I think back over the last 3 or 4 years, reading has been numero uno on my to-do list almost every time.  Including this year!

I'm on the ball this year--at least with one thing.  I'm such a flustered chicken about many a thing  in my day-to-day living that I'm going to throw this out there almost a week early and just let it sink in a little.  As everyone is on tenterhooks as they read this, I'll suspend the suspense and let you all in on my resolution pact for 2014:

Read 12 books off of this list.  My mental math tells me that this breaks down to 1 book per month.  (I'm proving why my New Year's Resolutions never involve math; I'm obviously very gifted in this area.)

I came upon this list randomly a few days ago and thought that the idea for it is intriguing though the criteria used to judge the "most famous" books is sketchy at best.  And to that end, I would feel slighted if I lived in/felt emotionally invested in West Virginia (Shiloh???) and Washington state.  So here's my rules in this exploratory venture.

1.  I can't read any book again that I have already read and count it in my 12 books.  That's cheating.  I've already read 20 of them at any given time in my life, so those are off limits.  Yes, I count Shiloh as one of those that I've already read.  No, I don't count Twilight.  Nor will I ever.  EVER.

2.  I won't read Twilight.

3.  There's a lot of horror-ish books on that list.  That's not really my style, so I'm basically leaving those for others to enjoy for me.

That's about it.  My list includes 12 random books that I haven't read and have likely not heard of.  And I didn't research any of these before choosing them, so I really might end up with a horror or sci-fi albatross.  My selection process is what you might call titular selection.  And that's a real word.
January--The Saint of Lost Things by Christopher Castellani
February--To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway (don't be so shocked...I haven't read everything that he's ever written)
March--Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (again, it just never showed up on my syllabi)
April--A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean
May--Drown by Junot Diaz
June--The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace
July--The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
August--The Laramie Project by Moises Kaufman (I have some preconceived ideas about this one; we'll see how they compare.)
September--Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
October--Housekeeping by Marilynn Robinson
November--Paradise by Toni Morrison (I'm pretty sure that I've checked this out from the library once before but never read it.)
December--A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks (I figure December with all it's busyness deserves an easy read...some book candy.)

Sometimes, I also need to work in a reading of The Prestige because of a book exchange idea that happened over the holidays.  I haven't seen the movie, nor will I in all likelihood.   

In other book news, I smashed my left ring finger in the book drop box at the library yesterday when I was unloading a whole stack of toddler books while wearing gloves, the knit kind (the slippery, no-grip kind).  It turns out that really hurts.  Really, really badly.  Why that thing has a spring with that much force to keep the little slot shut (keeping raccoons out?) is beyond my comprehension.  It also turns out that my 4-year old thinks that I am laughing when really I am crying big, fat, salty tears of pain. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Oh, what a difference 1 year will make

Christmas program 2013 demonstrates one very important thing about my child: she is not going to be the most introverted kid forever.  Despite conditions that would otherwise have sent her into a tailspin merely 1 year ago, she sang, performed, and stood still unflinchingly while sandwiched between two classmates. 
We had seats way at the back of the sanctuary, so it's pretty amazing that we even got this shot, but this is as good as it gets.  Mine is in the middle with the striped sweater.  And look!  She's performing the hand motions for the super cute Christmas song!  By the end of the program, the cutie in green had really crammed in on her space, but it didn't seem to faze her much.  That, my friends, is progress.  It's also why we really wanted her to experience pre-school cause social skills have not always been easy with this one.  She's the apple; I admit to being the tree on this one.

Just for a point of comparison, this was exactly 1 year ago.  Notice the shading of the eyes in the classic feline move--if I can't see you, then you can't see me. 

Busy, stressful day for the little one. The best stress relief is, of course, dragging an assortment of sleeping bag, blankets, clothes hamper, pillow, and stuffed animals out to the living room in order to make a nest on top of the vent.  This is, by the way, normal for her, other than the falling asleep part.  Is it just my kid that does this?  Makes a nest for herself on top of floor vents?  I like her imagination; I think we'll keep her.  At least a little longer.  Plus, she whispered "I love you" to me while eating lunch with some friends after the program today.  Unprompted.  To me--the one to whom she regularly tells is second fiddle to Daddy because "You use a cup to rinse my hair in the bathtub and Daddy doesn't."  It must have been because I slipped her half of a breadstick. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Hot chocolate, Advent & squirrels: a holiday hodgepodge

Don't I just sound like a jolly elf?  I feel fairly jolly, not because it's Christmas-y time, but because Meijer finally put the Starbucks salted caramel hot chocolate on sale, and I just enjoyed my first cup from the batch.  Granted, I only "saved" something like $.48, but I was stubbornly waiting it out for that crack stuff to go on sale, and by jingles, it did.  It also added to one of my largest single-day grocery bills to date.  Sign of the times--I didn't even flinch.  Ah well, what is money anyway when there is a perfect little box of salted caramel hot chocolate mix waiting for me at the bottom of that bag of groceries?  Retirement...saltaed caramel hot chocolate???  It's a toss-up.

Well, it's been all Advent-y up in this house.  We haven't done...anything...special for Advent before, other than the occasional Advent service when schedules have permitted.  But this year, I felt like doing something since the resident 4-year old is down on the whole Christmas story now, and it just seemed like a good time.  But I'm not really that excited about buying a cheap chocolate deal and going that route.  Instead, I rather came up with my own hyrbid, and pats on my back, it's been going pretty well.  I ended up buying a box of 40 blank cards on sale, and they're glittery, so there's the sweetness factor for my girl, who likes a little sparkle in her life in a brief nod to girly stuff.  Then, I came up with a list of 25 activities/treats and assigned each card to a different thing.  This was calculated according to the foreseeable schedule as well as it wouldn't work well to have "Take Daddy on a Christmas date!" on a night that I was teaching.  Finally, I cut red & green strips out of construction paper and wrote a different Christmas/winter joke on each one.  Admittedly, they often have to be explained to her, but she loves 'em.  She has become a big fan of the comics in the paper, so this is right in her happy zone.  Every day, we add to the paper chain on the Christmas tree as part of the Advent-y-ness, and, the girls get a special treat.  Today: make paper snowflakes.  We did this last year with much good times, and this is my kind of crafty craft that I enjoy: little prep, no special equipment, not very time consuming, and still sweet & cute.  As one last acknowledgment of the 4-year-old-ness, each day's card is hidden by "the Christmas mouse," which is basically how I'm dodging saying that it's from Santa.  She knows it's me, and she's willing to play along with it.  Not that she needs it, but it's been even more incentive to get up at 6 am on the nose to come scout out the day's Advent card. 

Now comes the part about squirrels.  This is an special shout-out to the J-Dug-dog, who has completely ruined my concept of the furry rodents.  I cannot divorce my mind of the connection between "Jessica" and "squirrels."  It is now impossible.  Because of this, I think of you often, which is to say every time I see a squirrel.  But it's not all about Jessica here.  Oh, no.  This is a shake of the finger to Jimmy our backyard squirrel (I'm convinced we only have one, hence why I'm fairly confident in my naming.).  He is a wiley coot who occasionally comes to scavenge the bird food offerings.  Judging by his girth, I'd say that he knows all of the sweet spots.  The little brown beastie even chose to bury a nut in our backyard, as I watched him.  That was amusing.  Merely a few days later, he devoured THREE of our homemade bird food ornaments (Advent activity!) that I had just put out the night before.  These were the size of big Christmas cookies, as we used cookie cutters to make them all cute and whatnot.  And, each one was just about an inch thick, so that's a good amount of bird food right there in each one.  And he pillaged them all.  In about 15 minutes, they were gone, the little devil.  Since we only have one squirrely friend, I wasn't too terribly upset.  But I still wanted to shake my curmudgeony fist at him and chase away the whippersnapper.  I might just go and dig up his precious little nut if he keeps up this kind of bullying behavior.  Does the Christmas spirit extend to squirrels?  Yeah.  Yeah, it does.  Enjoy your birdseed offerings, Jimmy.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Bed Bug

We have a little girl who just updated to a bigger girl bed.  Ergo, we also have a little girl's room that just lost a significant amount of floor space.  This house is bursting at the seams.  Ergh.  And here's a shout out to a sweet friend of mine/ours from college who quilted the quilt that's on her bed by hand, inspired by the children's book If You're Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow.

Guess who...

She's not excited or anything.

And with any photo shoot with this child, we get the "serious" pictures out of the way first before we devolve to the absolutely necessary round of silly (how 'bout 'dem striped leggings?)...


...and I don't know what.  Yoga?

Sometimes, the super sweet memory foam mattress just isn't as comfortable as the floor.  I guess.  And then this happens.

In other news, the girl's ears continue to be a series of less-than-fun-times.  The latest issue was fixing her right ear, which didn't heal after the tubes fell out.  Anesthesia round #2 went off without a hitch, and she came home with a couple of stitches in her earlobe, a fixed eardrum, and Daddy's sweet faux-scrubs.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Lifelong learners, even where you might not expect them

There's some coolness with being an adjunct.  Para ejemplo, I don't have anything to grade right now.  If I was in a public school, I'd be swamped with 6 classes of daily work.  Tambien, I can fairly dictate my schedule, which means no babysitting necessary.  Tambien tambien, I don't have to hold hands with my students quite so tightly as jobs past.  It's okay, and I understand the need to do so.  But there's also a point when a student just has to do some work.  Dig me?

But I'm also here to state that as an adjunct-io, that's also one of the worst things.  I want to hold some hands, but once class is dismissed, those warm bodies in the seats just disappear.  There's not as much ability to communicate outside of the classroom doors, and that can be wildly frustrating when students go AWOL once November shows up on the top of the calendar. 

There are a couple of things that are incomprehensible to me.  First, why do students not drop a class if they have no intent to come?  I have students still on my rosters whom I haven't seen since week's week 14.  Second, why do students disappear 2/3 of the way through the semester?  Really.  Why? 

But for the 10 students who defy expectations, there are 10 who meet it in fine form.  These are the lifelong learners who are bound and determined to not only pass the class, but to pass it with much success.  (Granted, these are also the ones who sometimes quibble over minutia.)  And, these students are so much fun to work with. 

I didn't really have much familiarity with the phrase "lifelong learner" until I got to college, at which time I saw in action from dozens of committed, purposeful individuals the inspiring quality of what it means to believe in learning as a way of life.  Why else would my classes be widely populated with individuals who are at least 40 years old?  How very, very cool it is to hear their stories, to hear the variety of motivations that lead these adults into my classroom.  And keep in mind, my classes are ones that are gen-eds, and no one (l-i-t-e-r-a-l-l-y) cares two rips about what I am teaching.  They come in because it is required of them, sure.  But, they come in because they care about the process of learning, about making the quality of their life better, about changing their life in whatever way they need to do so. 

That's enough to keep me going, to keep me hashing out the ins and outs of comma rules and topic sentences.  Sure, it gets a little old repeating "A thesis has to be debatable..." two hundred times (a class), but you know, so what?  It's nothing compared with the life adventures of many a student who endures me for three hours a week. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

carrots, carrots, everywhere

The first part of this story is mundane enough: I went grocery shopping.  Who's not besides them in rabid jealousy by that statement?  I know that I'm on the edge of my chair just waiting to read what I'm going to write next.  (I got the mail today!  I started the dishwasher earlier!  I need to go fold towels now!  Riveting, right?)

Yet in my grocery shopping excursion, I happened upon something that I had never seen before: a 14-pound bag of organic carrots.  And I wasn't wandering the aisles of a mega-warehouse-extravaganza-supermarket.  No, no...just the regular old grocery store about a mile down the road (which  has turned into a 3 mile detour after tornado season in these parts of the world). 

I made it through my normal route before remembering that I forgot onions, so I hurried my way back to the produce section.  My standard grocery store sometimes has reduced produce tucked into a little nook by the pomegranate-y type juices.  Nine visits out of ten, I don't really pay much attention to it as, you know, produce has a pretty quick expiration date.  But once in a while, I'll find something pretty snifty like 5 peppers for $1.28 (um, freezer!).  This time...jackpot. 

Fourteen pounds of organic carrots. 

This has led to my recent allrecipes search for all things carrot.  Soup?  Muffins?  Cake?  Yes, please.  There will be feasting on all things carrot and much rejoicing.  Anyone have a unique way to use copious amounts of carrots that you want to share?  Like a bunny, I'm all ears.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Book on tape jammin'

***I meant to publish this a few days ago but, apparently, I only saved it as a draft.***

This week, I finished teaching my 2nd 5-week course at a location that is 96 miles away per mapquest, which is more often than not my guide to the universe.  The first week was okay driving the 1 hour and 45 minute each way route, which turned into about 3 hours and 30 minutes of my favorite CDs from years past.  (On a recent-ish trip to visit a friend, which is about 2 hours each way, it was all Dave Matthews, all the time.  Even for me, that was about my limit.)  After that first trip, I was already starting to feel a little dready, like "Ugh, this hours upon hours of CDs is going to get a little bit old after a while."  It's not that I don't enjoy some good alone-by-myself-in-the-car-jamming upon occasion, but I just wasn't feeling it for 9 more weeks.

Enter the boy, who was all "Duh, books on tape..." with me but in a nice way.  I tell you, if I hadn't already married him...  Good ideas, sometimes, does that one have.  Hence, I booked it (I'm oh, so punny) to the library and got a couple of books on CD (book on tape...psshhh) and my wishful longing for a nice long roadtrip commenced.  I think that I could easily drive somewhere far, far, far away by myself with a few good books to join me for my traveling companion.  Once, seemingly forever ago, before children (just to emphasize my point about forever ago), the boy and I took a real, honest-to-goodness vacation whereupon he basically forced me to camp for a week in order to justify the gas as we were thinking a cross country journey seemed like a good plan when gas was well upwards of $3/gallon.  And he is almost anti-flying because he a) thinks it's too expensive and b) likes to drive.  Did I willingly join these foolish notions for better or for worse?  This proves beyond a doubt that he is just wrong sometimes/often/usually.  Suckered in by the notion of fresh crab and authentic lobster rolls, we loaded up the no-longer-with-us Accord and brought Harry Potter audibly along for the ride.  That was the only way that my sanity was not shredded by riding with Mr. Twitchy for hours on end in a small, over packed space (camping gear, you are bulky).  It was brilliant!  I distinctly remember idling into our camp site one rainy night after we ditched the cold, saturated tent in favor of Ratatouille for the mere price of $20.  Yep...vacation time, and we went to the movies.  Yet the point here is that were idling into our camp site.  Crawling.  Creeping.  Trying to listen to the end of a chapter right at the very tensest of Harry Potter moments.  It was soul satisfying.

You know what else suffuses my soul with warm fuzzies?  Listening to a book on CD, alone, for 3 1/2 hours once a week and then every other time I need to go somewhere by myself.  Believe me here when I say that I volunteered for every...possible...errand that allowed me to drive alone for these few weeks.  Case in point, one of us needed to drive to a city an hour away to pick up a dresser that I found on Craigslist for the toddler bean's room.  Round trip, that's 2 hours of quality book time.  Yes, please.  AND, I don't know if it's just me now noticing it, but this fall has been seriously gorgeous with the colors around here.  Let's put this all together: vividly beautiful colors, warm sunny afternoon, book on CD, no kids in car...B-L-I-S-S.

Granted, the book that I just finished this week wasn't the best one I've chosen and sometimes I think that I don't get as excited about the book depending on who is reading it, but overall, B-L-I-S-S.

(you know, bliss...)

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Turkey-less Thanksgiving 2013

First things first, I'm pretty stoked to be writing this tonight.  It's my first night off at home from teaching/homework in about 2 weeks; and, it's one of those spur of the moment nights off, so it's all the better.  Even better, I'm giddy to report that we're going to have a turkey-less Thanksgiving this year.  Heck yes, we are!

Thanksgiving has been pretty easy to schedule for the last several years with actual T-Day spent with  my side and then the weekend devoted to in-law hijinks (of which there are plenty).  My side is traditional to a turkey "T" with Thanksgiving prep and delivery, and that's always been lovely.  The in-laws prefer more of a hybrid vegetarian/omnivore approach, which is also lovely (and equally tasty, I do believe).  I do thoroughly enjoy a perfectly roasted turkey with perfectly lumpy mashed potatoes and perfectly gizzard-y gravy (fun word, that).  That's one of those perfect holiday bites to me.  But when you're working your way through multiple days of heavy food like that, it's enough to make even me spurn yet another dessert.  The "problem" with Thanksgiving is that it's all you have for about a week, seemingly, and then you don't get it for an entire year.  (Pumpkin Spice Lattes anyone?)  Granted, it's a delicious problem to have.

But change is in the air this year through a set of unrelated circumstances.  My side isn't getting together on Thanksgiving this year, not at my parents' that is.  We are congregating, and there will be delicious food, but it's going to be about a week and a half early and there won't be a de-feathered fowl in sight.  Check that--there might be chicken somewheres for my dad's benefit.  My parents are marking their 40th anniversary this year, which seems like something that should be celebrated.  And they're not the let's-invite-a-couple-of-hundred-people-to-an-open-house-no-gifts-please-reception-at-the-church style of a couple.  Which is cool.  But what do we do for them?  Obviously, we invite ourselves over to their house and basically get in their hair for the day.  We might even force them into some family pictures.  (We haven't told them this part yet; there might be glares, sighs, and any manner of you've-got-to-be-kidding-me looks.)  Somehow, by default of being the only daughter and about the most on top of this whole "let's get together and at least acknowledge the occasion" with-it-ness, I'm working on finding the food that will be celebratory-fancy yet diet-friendly for those so inclined.  There's only 13 of us when all is said and done, but there are enough kinks in the dietary needs that it's a bit of an issue at times.  Oh, and I'm the only one who doesn't live there.  Thank you internet for being my friend in this matter. 

What this all means is that we're celebrating Thanksgiving as it were on my parents' anniversary and forgoing the return get-together 11 days later.  I guess this is mostly for our benefit as we don't live in the same county as everyone else does, but you know, I would have packed the buggy and made the trip back anyways.  Either way, Thanksgiving is at our place this year.  Just us.  And you  know what we're not having?  Turkey, obviously (the title gave it away, didn't it?).  It's not that I am nervous about fixing a big bird, but does a family of four really need a turkey?  No.  Do I want to be drowning in leftover turkey?  No.  Do I love turkey so much that I want to cook an entire bird?  No.  Does the boy crave turkey on Thanksgiving proper?  No. 

Christmas 2012: just us at our own house.  There was no ham in sight.  No sweet potatoes.  Or pie.  In fact, I wager that there was nothing even remotely resembling a traditional Christmas spread other than rolls and hot chocolate.  There was, however, salmon (delicious) and crepes (double delicious).  Hands down, it was my favorite Christmas that we have ever had.  And this year's Thanksgiving is going to be more of the same.  Salmon for Thanksgiving?  Um, yes.  Let the feast preparationing start.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Routine maintenance

I have a coffee/beverage other than water routine.  I prefer my latte-ish coffee mug first thing in the morning.  Then, I will reach for my Starbucks "renew" mug in the afternoon when the girls are tucked away.  Should either of those be unfortunately languishing in the dirty stuff, then I have a nifty "Believe" mug that functions well as a stand-in.  And if I slip a bit of my apricot and vanilla white tea in there somewhere, then I reach for the sweetly simple white teacup and saucer (snobbish?) that I picked up on a whim once when I was at Goodwill, even though it only holds about 6 oz. and I'm very much a "Venti is the only way to go" kind of drinker.  It's not like it makes the drink taste any different to use a specific mug at a specific time, but different times dictate different mug selection.  Who's with me on this??  (I could write an entire post on pens and my idiosyncrasies there.  Perhaps, one day, when boredom dictates, I will.)

My point in this inanity is this: I'm all 'bout the routine.  And as of late, that's been thrown a bit off track, hence my pronounced silence.  Nearly every day, I have a minute to jump on here and scan what others have written that I follow, but that hasn't translated to having the time to do the writing myself.  Coming into this month, I knew that it would be draining and an exercise in patience and endurance.  I remember those specific times in college, probably about twice a semester, when I would be just bombarded for about 3 or 4 days until I could get a deadline or two out of the way.  And every time, I would always hyperventilate a little at the onset of the extra work piled on top of the normal heavy load.  Yet inevitably it always worked out and everything was completed.  Every time.  Regardless, I distinctly remember that breath-catching moment when you first realize that somehow everybody wants your effort and everything needs to be done virtually at the same time.  Everyone has those moments, so this isn't to say that any of this is new or unique.  Not at all.

Rather, this is to say that I knew this was coming at the end of September, and I knew that it would be a month of this rather than 3 or 4 days straight.  And I wanted to curl up somewhere by myself and sob helplessly.  Oh, I wanted that!  The thing about this month is that it didn't sneak up unexpectedly; oh, no...that would be almost a way out, "Whoa, I didn't know that it was going to be this bad!" kind of thing.  Nope.  I knew it was going to be bad.  A week ago, in the middle of this when I felt like I didn't really have an excess 15 minutes let alone a couple of days, we took the weekend to visit the boy's brother and his wife.  And it was truly a lovely, relaxing weekend.  Blessings are sneaky sometimes.  I'm pretty good at per-determining that I'm going to not enjoy myself when I allow the stresses to take over.  I struggle at enjoying the moment when the rest is overwhelming pressure to be everywhere, do everything, and take care of everyone. 

One thing I took away from the visit to the in-laws was a long conversation after the girls were in bed.  We sat around the kitchen table for something like 4 hours, just talking.  I woke up at 5 am that  morning in order to squeeze in an hour of homework before the day started in earnest.  And as we traveled to Illinois, which is an hour behind us, in essence, I was up since 4 am at the end of a week that saw me in this same scenario several times.  I was tired.  And as we sat there talking that night, I was trying to explain why it was that I was busy, and it came out to some effect like "I have 1 hour from 6 am-8 pm every day between the girls' schedules which I can pretty much ensure that I have some time to do homework.  And I teach 3 nights a week right now.  And I'm leading a "green team" at church, so I lost another night this week to meetings at church.  And I'm just busy.  I just don't have time." 

Yet the most marvelous thing happened once I said it.  What had previously felt soul crushing now felt, what, better?  Manageable?  Something.  It changed in my mind simply to say "Hey, I'm soul tired right now" to someone.  And I didn't have anyone try to help me with it, but they just listened.  It was exactly right.

Today, I'm enjoying the eye of the hurricane as my grading and homework are caught up (it literally happens about twice a semester, so it's something of a banner day) but the next round is coming in tomorrow and Wednesday.  Then Monday.  Then Tuesday again.  And October will limp away, dragging my nearly lifeless body along with it.  Good riddance, you brutal monster. 

Today, I appreciate the reprieve (even though I had to return Dan Brown's Inferno to the library yesterday, mid-read, and am rendered novel-less for the moment until I can snatch a copy of it again).  And I took time to drink some coffee ("renew" mug, of course since it's the afternoon), eat brownies unmolested, and write.  Simple pleasures are beautiful. 

I'm half-way dragging out the ending of this unexpectedly melancholy post because as soon as I hit "publish," I need to go wake up a feisty 4-year old who is very hit-and-miss when woken as far as whether she's amenable to being a member of humanity or whether she would rather just gnash her teeth and scream at me for minutes on end, like a mini gorgon (look it up).  I hope for the former today.  Bring on the Candy Land and afternoon snack time. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Luxury sweet

Another day, another meltdown in the lobby of the Renaissance Blackstone Hotel on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago.  Story of my life.  First world problems.  Whatever you want to call it, that was the brink I was leaning towards when calmer minds (shockingly, my own) prevailed. 

So, it's Monday.  The Monday following the Big Weekend.  The Big Weekend of my high school buddy's wedding.  My high school buddy's wedding in downtown Chicago.  Downtown Chicago is apparently Never Never Land according to Capital One.

Flag.  Roughing the Passer.  Technical foul.  Something.  Capital One--you had me worked up into the state of a whirling dervish for about 30 minutes there.  And it was NOT COOL, yo. 

Imagine the following scenario (hypothetical all the way, mind you...):  You get invited to this swanky wedding in downtown Chicago, which is 'bout 3 hours away driving.  You have two young sprouts and a limited amount of money to fritter away on things other than food and electricity, so you ponder the reservation for a couple of weeks.  Mind you, it's something that you really want to do; imagine having the luxury of spending time with adults and perhaps, maybe sleeping in, even if just a bit, and not having to laboriously cut up everyone else's meal before you get to your own cold grub (now that the hubs can cut up his own food, it's only two little ones to tend to, but still).  I mean, you really want to go.  You weigh your options ad naseum until finally you decide it's six of one, half dozen of another and go ahead and book the g'parents for a weekend of babysitting and book the luxury hotel for a one-night stay cause you don't have any extra kidneys to sell to afford a two-night stay. 

You are totally and completely stoked for a 30-hour respite from all things kid, even though you know you're going to be thinking about them a lot, talking about them a good amount, and counting down the time until you get to pick them up.  And, it's your first night away from the little one, so there's that element of insecurity in that (leave directions for just about every possibility, knowing that it's really not going to matter much anyways and she's a resilient little bit of child, so she'll be fine).  You take off for this little dream getaway, literally hoping that it's going to be a dream getaway as in dreaming...sleep...lots of it. 

You roll into the big city without a hitch, act the part of a casual tourist for a couple of hours until you can check-in at the hotel, send the boy to cart over a load of stuff from the car (which is parked in its own luxury suite of a parking spot at primo dollars so that in the words of the boy "it doesn't get stolen overnight"), and saunter up to the front desk trying to act as if this feels natural so that you don't look out of place, a modern day Dorothy in the Oz of a $$$$ hotel.  You carry the to-go coffee just to be on the safe side and look the part (and cause your afternoon lull has hit you full-force, and you were just about ready to curl up in the corner of some alley and try to slip a quick nap in before the busy night ahead of you; safely, you choose to caffeinate instead, which likewise gives you a serious case of jitters as you haven't eaten for a while).  You pull out the credit card, which has a credit limit the likes of which you could have used to purchase your used car a year ago, with another grand to spare.  In other words, you feel confident in throwing down this plastic to pay for your room. 

Your check-in goes just fine and you get your room keys (two, please).  Eighteenth floor--feels exotic.  You wander away from the desk with the lovely young woman with a definite and unidentifiable accent, and wait for the spouse/your personal valet to return to the lobby so that you can find your room and therefore the richy-rich lotion that's bound to be left for you in the bathroom.  Who doesn't love a sweet little bottle of luxe lotion?  Plus, you have food with you that you're waiting to eat (remember the jitters from the caffeine?), and it seems a little gauche to hunker down with it in the middle of the lobby.  So you wait on the boy, but the sweet, accent-laden desk attendant tracks you down instead and tells you that your credit card has pulled a fast one on you: denied.  Say, what?? 

What do you do?  You mentally freak out a bit that someone has hacked your account and now you're in a foreign city with not enough cash between you to cover one night in this hotel, let alone food & gas to get you home.  It was something of a debacle involving a wasted $3 ATM fee, virtually identical debit cards, and just enough time to scarf a sandwich and wedge into a formal dress before finding an elevator to take us to the ballroom. 

But no sooner had we sat down then another good friend from high school showed up, and the good times ensued.  It was about four hours of non-stop laughing, punctuated by delish Indian food, masks, and fast dancing to standard wedding fare. 

Stayin' Alive for sure.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Where is the happy medium?

If you're someone who has read my gender rants before, you might remember how we're pretty much anti-princess-ness.  We feel very strongly about how morally approach parenting two girls.  One of our big no-no-'aint-gonna-happens is us purposefully choosing princessy/overtly sexualized toys for our girls, basically anything that degrades females or presents females in such a way as to be weakened by that activity.  (I know that I've kindly discussed my thoughts about girls' clothing as well.  However, for today, we're just talking toys.)  Let's not misconstrue what I'm saying, though, and paint my words with too broad a brush.  Dress-up can be very feminized and princessy.  Are we against dress-up?  Oh goodness, no.  While dress up in Disney princess garb isn't so much for our kids, dress-up in extra bits of clothing, hats, scarves, and shoes most definitely is. 

I've been dwelling a bit lately on how we have crafted our kids' exposure to toys.  You know mamas...always something to worry about, right?  For once, however, I'm not worrying so much as just considering what's at stake here and what is going on.  Our toys are decidedly gender-neutral in general.  However, if they tend towards either end of the continuum, they swing more masculine.  And I'm wondering, have we made such the effort to not princess the heck out of our girls that we've left them with very little that is categorized as feminine?  There are a couple of baby dolls hanging around, sure, as well as a play kitchen and an odd Dora the Explorer purse/bag thing.  But of those 5 items, we only purchased one of them: 1 baby doll complete with a couple of diaper bag play things.  We're not going out of our way to feminize the girls, and this is evident in how they play inside and out. 

There's a little bit of pink, but our general rule of thumb is gender-neutral when given a choice with toys because specifically gendered toys are so overt that it becomes mostly off-putting for us.  Our oldest daughter doesn't wear skirts by choice and her favorite color is blue.  Granted, these choices can be relevant to any number of reasons (she does wear dresses), and her blue preference is a bright, aqua color. 

I don't it a big deal?  Are our girls exposed to a fair treatment of socially understood feminine perceptions?  Doesn't "gender neutral" still favor masculine norms?  It's the whole nature v. nurture thing that I'm chewing on a bit here.  I obviously need to go back to school and surround myself with all of the good things that community learning has to offer again.  Where is Psych 101: Gender and Social Norms when you need it? 

Friday, September 20, 2013

A dessert is a dessert is a dessert is a dessert

Can we take a moment to talk about how truly, magnificently jaded our society is about what is and (more importantly) is NOT healthy?  Just in the last few days, I keep coming across recipes or products that are touted as "a healthy snack" (always a snack, yet do we ever eat snack sized portions???) and they're still l-o-a-d-e-d with unhealthiness.  Like butter.  And sugar.  This is not to say that I'm looking to cast the first stone here.  Good gracious, no.  Sugar is my boo, and with no adult supervision in the house (I hardly count to supervise myself, right?) during the day, it's pretty much an anything goes kind of carnival when the kids aren't looking.  In fact, it's kind of a game.  How many chocolate chips can I sneak out of the noisy container with the kids on the other side of the half wall?  Will the girls notice if I discreetly snitch a cookie and eat it with my back turned to them the entire time?  For the record, I'm about 50-50.  And you know when times are desperate, the girls get a treat, cause the "rule" in our house is they get a treat when we get a treat.  Except that it's really more like they get a treat when I get caught having a treat.  But then there's naptime...

But I should get back to the what-in-the-world-are-you-thinking-calling-this-a-healthy-snack-alternative thread that I was actually trying to start, here.  I've been looking at loads of apple recipes lately since we came home with the aforementioned 1 1/2 bushels of apples (which, turns out, is around 200 per the size of our apples, which are pretty big this year).  One cannot be satisfied by applesauce alone, and we've been feasting on apple dessert after apple dessert after apple dessert for 1 1/2 weeks straight now.  I knew that I liked apples, but even I'm surprised that I haven't gotten tired of what amounts to some variation of the same flavor profile so much for the past 12 days.  Other than the obvious overload of apples needing to be used, why am I still cranking these yummies out with no break for something chocolate?  Because.  They're still all loaded with sugar and butter, of course.  And I'm not about to start proclaiming how apple crisp becomes a healthy snack alternative--you could even eat it for breakfast!!! like that's actually true.  It's so not.  When you must add some variation of a stick of butter or a full scoop of sugar to fulfill the demands of a recipe, it's not "a healthy alternative."  It's a dessert with benefits, but it's not healthy.  Never trust a fat cook, right?  Let's not be tricking ourselves into believing that if you stick a slice of fruit in it, it magically becomes not dessert.  If that were the case, I'd plunk one raspberry on every gigantic wedge of brownie that I find.  Just watch the pounds melt off!

Any my stink eye is also cast towards you, Nutella, and your devious advertising tactics.  Spreading chocolate on top of toast is suddenly a healthy breakfast option (that the whole family will love!!)?  Let's just sell it with a spoon attached and leave it at that, for who doesn't hoard the Nutella, hiding it from the probing eyes of the toddler set?  Unconditional love is a little bit bogus; it is conditional when adult-ed peanut butter is at stake.  (Obviously, I'm hyperbolizing (not a word--I'm just feeling snarky).  My own kid was just gladly handed a graham cracker spread with a bit of Nutella after she asked for one kindly.  I just happened to load up two for myself when she wasn't looking to notice the disparity of the amount of delicous she got in comparison to me.  Yet was this her healthy snack for the morning?  Absolutely not!  She ate an apple first.  She knows the rules.)  

Here's to healthy snacks everywhere.  May you not be tainted by the false advertising of those who wish they were you. 

(Did anyone catch my literary reference in the title of this post???  Anyone???  Someone???)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Calling the shots

It's a new school year.  Ergo, it's a whole new season of the creeping crud.  And the pre-schooler among us wasn't the first one to be felled by the nasty buggers this time around.  No, no.  That distinction fell to sweet'ums, who spent all of about 1 1/2 hours in a church nursery with a large handful of other kids while Mama attended a Bible study.  (By the bye...I think that I'm just about now getting the idea that there are things that I can do with my time during the day now that has not really been on my radar before.  I had this realization while driving the other day that never in my life had I ever thought of myself as someone who would be a stay-at-homer with the kids; I still don't.  But while I'm muddling my way through this temporary change of pace, I can do things.  During the day.  It's odd and even unsettling in the out-of-my-comfort-zone kind of way.  It's rather like finding yourself stuck in a strange city for a 2-night layover that you hadn't really planned on.  Once you wrap your mind around it, you start to enjoy it.  When you first find yourself in the situation, you're just fuzzily disoriented for a while.)  So the Sprout brought home the first grossness, which I don't even know what you would classify this one as--it's not much of a cold, just grossness.  She believes in share & share alike and so bequeathed me with her yuck.  I'm guessing that she went through the same stuff, so in hindsight, I should have been more willing to give her the non-stop cuddles that she wanted.  As I was sacked out on the couch last night, I was thinking about it and realized "Yeah, now I get why babies want cuddles when they don't feel well.  Cuddles sound good about right now."

As luck would have it, Sprout was scheduled for her 15-month (already?!?) well baby check-up, so we got a two-fer and a free check-up on her ears since these visits are covered 100% by insurance whereas the walk-up clinic is a twenty-spot.  She was also due for her next round of vaccines with this visit, and as she wasn't running a fever, we said "Bring 'em on!" 

Here's where I admit something that has long befuddled me.  Two things actually.  First: Why in the ever-living world do some parents avoid vaccines?  Second:  Why in the ever-living world does it bother some parents to see their child receive the vaccines?

First.  I've heard the arguments against the vaccines.  There's a slight smidge of arsenic in them (as there is in rice, drinking water, and any number of foods in our pantries).  They might contribute to the probability of Autism (a study which has long been disproved and there is no definite research confirming this so-called link).  We don't get it.  There's scads of proven data about how vaccines are beneficial.  And the argument that counters "When is the last time that you've come across anyone with _____?"  True.  It took vaccines to control that, didn't it? 

Second.  What's the problem with seeing your kid get a shot?  Do I need someone else to hold her down while she gets them?  No.  I'll do it.  Because it's not that big of a deal.  I've had shots a'plenty.  Yeah, they sting, but, well, that's it.  It's not excruciating pain.  They're good to go as soon as you pick them up.  The whole ordeal takes about 5 seconds if you have a doctor's office worth their salt who give the shots simultaneously (if there's more than one).  Those 2 fat tears that linger on their cheeks also occur with any number of things, like not being able to play in the garbage.  And I don't feel badly about causing tears in that situation either.  The only time I've ever felt badly about my kid getting a shot was when #1 had to receive one in her thigh for a persistent ear infection that wouldn't go away.  This last resort was one that required 3 people holding her down/giving her the shot, and was one that the medical staff warned me in advance would be "very painful for her."  But again, that one was over in a matter of a few hugs, even though it also had soul-wrenching screams.Vaccine shots, though...pshaw.  So not a big deal. 

And that is going to perhaps categorize me as unfeeling mom #1.  Or, it might be my way of saying "Life hurts, kid.  Get used to it now."  Let's save the anguish for those times when it's more relevant, eh?    

Thursday, September 12, 2013

No dyes for me, thank you. I prefer food.

Every so often, I get on a rampage against something new, and it becomes verboten in our house.  Actually, that's a bit harsh.  I want it to be verboten, but I also understand the sheer difficulty of banishing said item from our "TYPICAL AMERICAN HOUSEHOLD."  This is all to say that I'm more and more under the impression that we're not the TAH, in many a way.  Technology, vacations, free time adventures, food...we tend to jam to our own off-key-only-in-the-ears-of-society-at-large tune.  Rock on, my friend, if you do as well. 

Of late, I've started an outright war on artificial dyes in food.  The things like Red40 on the labels of pert near everything, it seems.  FACT: marshmallows have food dye in them.  Marshmallows.  Those white, puffy things.  What the ever living what???  Add that to the list of things I will very likely never buy again.  Fortunately, I enjoy making them from time to time; they're super cinchy just fairly messy.  And they are da-licious when they're homemade.  T-o-t-a-l-l-y worth the time and effort for a cheap, cheap, cheap little holiday gifty to stick in to someone's stocking or goody bag.  Another FACT: gum has food dyes in it as well.  And this disappoints me heartily, but so far so good.  Not a stick chewed since the label was perused. 

It's just everywhere.  And it has links to yucky stuff like ADHD.  While I'm not really concerned about this being a problem with any of us, I have a serious aversion developing towards artificial you name it.  It just all seems to be seriously no bueno to me.  We spend so much time and money on putting good, healthy stuff in our babies when they first start to eat (When is the last time that you ever heard of a 6-month old eating color changing Jell-o as their first "solid" food?  If the food, a term I use loosely in this circumstance, "magically" changes colors when you add innocuous water, there's some serious chemical ju-ju going on with that food-like product.), so why do we give up the good fight so easily and quickly as the little sprouts start to sprout?  I have lots of theories, which I'll drone on about another time.

This is all to share that I'm on something of a mission to avoid artificial food dyes in our food choices.  They're on my bad news radar, and gross junk like that infiltrating my otherwise seemingly benign food choices makes me gag not just a little but a lottle. 

In celebration of fall, a happier harvest year, and tiny tots now being able to walk and chew crunchy things, I found a somewhat local apple orchard that avoids blind spraying, called up my mum to join us, and piled the girls in the car to go apple picking.  It was glorious.  The apples are gigant-o this year, which is especially noticeable to me as I didn't get a single freshly picked apple all of last year due to a having a little newbie and the utterly horrid growing season that we went through between cold snaps and drought snaps.  And here are the happy pickers, who each mowed through as much as they wanted of 4+ apples.  Once we let them loose, there wasn't a moment from stop to finish when they each didn't have an apple in hand and jaws working.  In fact, little sprout often went double fisted.  Cause that's the way she rolls. 

 After we packed up the car and drove all the way to the orchard (this was a day trip with a picnic planned and some outdoor exploring at a nature center and park), I mean right as I parked the car, I realized that I forgot to bring shoes for the little one.  She, obviously, didn't care. Then, she picked up a new pair of kicks in what is now an affectionate memory (yeah, right) of the time I nearly walked out of Walmart without my wallet.  In front of my mom. 

Someone was having just some fun picking apples.  Just a "tiny touch," as #1 says.

I basically never dress the girls alike, except for this.  I found these AWESOME elephant leggings a while ago, and now they both fit in their respective sizes.  And I cannot resist the requisite "We dressed alike!" pose.  Little sprout is sporting a Discovery Toys stopwatch that I got for her big sisty, who loves all things DAD and therefore all things that DAD does, which means running.  So they literally go to cross country meets for fun.  And now, she times the runners, too.  Please do not report me to Child Services, though; I obviously was right beside the little one when she had this around her neck.  Good times.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Sister, Sister!

Often, we receive amusing comments about our girls.  Amusing in that perspective is everything.  Today, I'm referring to the inevitable comments in the same vein as "They're starting to look alike!"  Pardon?  I mean, starting...?! 

I get that you haven't been staring at each of their faces since birth.  Actually, since my oldest stares the floor more often than looking back at someone when they speak to her in public, you might not have really noticed what she looks like.  But still.  These munchkins are done cut from the same bolt of mini-me cloth.  With due regards to my mother-in-law who swears up and down that #1 is the spitting image of her son, I thoroughly disagree.  And I've looked at a myriad of pictures trying to find the clone-ness. 

Today, I'm going to play my new favorite game of "guess which child this is."  And, since the girls were born exactly 3 years and 16 days apart, their clothing matches up per-fect-o for comparison shots such as these.  In other words, you can't count on the season to be a giveaway if one was born in winter and the other in summer. It is a game we have played a few times when I put forth some effort to organize the mass of images.  And, it is a game that we have both lost upon occasion.  This is how we roll on Friday nights.  Sometimes Saturday nights as well.

For a frame of reference, the first shot is one that was taken within the last month with both #1 & #2 in it.  After that, see if you can figure it out.  Answers, like any game in a magazine, is at the bottom.

This one is a little tricky, I know, since it's smallish and #2 is wearing a hat.  But, this is literally the only picture that I have with both girls in it from the last month where each is smiling and/or looking at the camera.  


This post has taken me an inordinately long amount of time as I've been sifting through scads of pictures (good) and blogger isn't being very user friendly for me right now once I have them loaded (bad).  And, this very well may be one of the most boring posts that I've written.  If you found yourself questioning why I would throw up 20 random pictures of the girls, I don't know.  I just did cause I felt like it. 

Answers: 1.)#2  2.)#2  3.)#1  4.)#2  5.)#1  6.)#1  7.)#1  8.)#2  9.)#1  10.)#2  11.)#1  12.)#1  13.)#1  14.)#1  15.)#1  16.)#2  17.)#2  18.)#2  19.)#2  20.)#2   (I mentioned that blogger wasn't being very happy with me and all of these pictures, right?  As in, this isn't nearly as mixed up as I intended.  Blerg.)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

My little people

The days have been gorgeously sunny and warm, and we have been out and about with several impromptu field trips.  A year ago, I would not have even attempted to take day trips by myself with a 3-year and a 2-month old.  It just wouldn't have even entered my mind as a possibility.  Just a few days later (or so it seems, right?), we've been having some sweet girl time and tons of fun.  (I had an actual topic to write about flitting through my mind earlier today, but when the fingers hit the keyboard, I couldn't, for whatever reason, remember what it is.  Thus, enjoy the pictures instead!) 

 Who doesn't love to ride a cow carousel?

 This is completely indicative of both girls' personalities--over zealous & patiently suffering.

 We have several pictures of #1 with this same elephant fountain from years past.  

Just for reference, this picture is #1 from when we took her to the same zoo (both 14 months old) as the picture of #2 with the elephant fountain, taken about a week ago.  Sisters, no???

 Because she's a silly goofball, little bean occupied herself for at least 30 minutes putting blocks down her shirt and walking around with a belly fully of corners poking out.  GOOD times.

 I rather love this smile.  (coloring together with some mommy & me time)

I kid you not, this kid does this all of the time.  I finally got a picture of her balancing on her head. 
And, my big little one returned for her second year of pre-school.  Here's another example of how much we can change in just one year.  Oh.  My.  Word.  Is that my child, all confident and purposeful, heading into her new preschool room with her new teacher and her new classmates, none of which she is familiar with, which would have rendered her mute and clingy a few short months ago?  This time, I'm not bribing & there's no lovey in sight.  The backpack has been packed (and re-packed and re-packed and re-packed) in preparation for the big day: (in the words of my daughter) "PREEE-SCHEEEEEEWWWWWWUUUUUULLLLLLLLL!!!!!"  ("First, we'll have gym time, and then we'll have a snack, and then centers!")  In case you're wondering what is absolutely essential to pack when headed to the 4-year old class, the following is the list of items she toted to school, only to leave in her backpack, hanging on the hook.  But just in case, she took her "favorite" purple crayon (news to me that she has a favorite), her monkey water bottle ("that I got for my birthday!"), her sunglasses, a dot-to-dot book, and about 4 half-used notebooks of different shapes and sizes.  Prior to today, I put the solitary colored pencil away so that little sprout wouldn't chew on it as it was just sticking up & out of the pocket of the backpack.  Luckily, big one didn't notice the omission when she did the grand un-packing right before lunch. 
 first day of pre-school, 3-years old: nervous

first day of pre-school, 4-years old: confident
(This picture pretty much looks exactly like what it was: a rush job.  Them's the breaks sometimes.)

Next year: KINDERGARTEN.  But that's a whole 'nuther post.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

I'm a book mutt

Today, I was asked what kinds of books I read.  Every once in a while, I get this question in some form; it's pretty much a given in a job interview any more.  What do you like to read? also basically equals What have you read lately? as well as What are you reading right now?  I've been thinking about it a little bit tonight because I don't feel that I have a concrete answer to give, something definite by which to define my reading preferences.  And I decided that I'm essentially a book mutt (or a Heinz 57 reader, take your pick) who dabbles in a little of everything and effectively defies labels.  Rage against the pigeonholing machine!  I jest...I'm down for labels because they're ever so nice and tidy.  I'm just too all over the map for that, I guess.

Here's the skinny on my book life: I'm a decided philanderer, blatantly unable to commit to a monogamous relationship with any grouping for very long. 

Here's the embarrassing skinny on my book life: People think I read more than I do.  People (I'm nodding at you, Aunt Janet) think I'm an inveterate bookworm.  Yet in the ranking of my current hobbies, "reading" is probably about 3rd or maybe even an alarming 4th on my list.  One syllable reason: kids.  They're so malleable, you can blame 'em for everything.  (Thunder thighs?  Kids!  High blood pressure?  Kids!  Ugly stain on the front of your shirt?  Me Kids!)  However, in this case, it's really true.  I can bake and pick tomatoes while the girls are awake and engaging in their crazy, but I can't read.  It's delegated to a few stolen moments here and there, usually bookends on my day.  BY THE WAY, what in the world has happened to me?  Over the summer when little bean would politely ask for some mama love around, say, 5 AM, I started to just stay up and read after finishing my little 20-minute routine with her.  Big A knows that she can't get up "until there's a 6 on the left" (firm rule), so I started to create a few minutes for me, myself, and my cats in the morning (they can be pretty demanding for some mama love, too).  One cup of bitter, dark coffee (I've come to adore this stuff at this time of morning, and not just for the caffeine), a book, a favorite blanket, maybe some toast, a recliner, a purring way to start a morning.  And even when I find myself falling asleep tired, I'm still making some reading in bed part of my wind-down routine, and that's just super, too. 

Now I've typed and typed and still haven't really addressed the issue at stake.  I like a little bit of everything.  I've been drawn to non-fiction more and more recently, perhaps in the last couple of years especially.  I'm pretty much always down for some tame romance (Nicholas Sparks has a place in my to-read list upon occasion--you know what you're going to get every time).  I definitely still revel in the classics once in a while, but I have to be in the right frame of mind and I have to have the right "busyness" plateau in order to read these; if I only get to read for 10-15 minutes at a stretch, intermittently, then I know I'm doing myself a disservice in reading David Copperfield.  So to that extent, picking a book from this group is like choosing a special dessert--you don't do it every day and revel in it when you do.  (Reading as dessert?  What's in my Kool-aid?  Well, reading Edith Wharton is seductive.  French pastry seductive.  Perfectly brewed cup of tea in delicate, fine china seductive.  Her work is dessert.)  Perhaps it would be easier to say what I don't read, and really, if there's a catchy cover, I get sucked in with the best of 'em.  I don't read sci-fi--tried it once for the boy in high school and politely abstain.  I don't read horror--again, I'll pass.  I don't read Amish lit.--actually, this is one of the biggest growing markets in romance literature.  And...that's about it that I can think of.

This is a list of what I've read recently (since the beginning of the summer, or so) including the two audio-books that listened to in my teaching commutes.  I've been around the block a little in different genres, so it seems like a concise little snapshot here.
*Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
*Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kealing
*Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
*Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
*Confessions of a Shopaholic & Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella (which I also just checked out Wedding Night by Kinsella while at the library today...clearly, I have this new thing for her writing though I didn't even realize until right this minute that I have/will have gone through 3 of her books since June)
*The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
*Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach
*Maya's Notebook by Isabel Allende (gush, gush, gush)

A little pop lit, a little non-fiction, a little chick lit, a little YA (though I pretty heartily disagree that Out of the Easy should/would ever be classified as YA), a little bit of whatever.  I often choose what to read based on either recommendations from friends or else what has the sweet cover on the NEW bookshelf in the library.  It's fairly haphazard and sometimes accidental, like when I find myself stuck with nothing to read at 9:30 on a weekday and have to actually (gasp) raid my own bookshelf.  Unfortunately, my bookshelf is half populated with the boy's sci-fi blah and complete sets of textbooks (which for an English major = novels) from classes like Native American literature and Chaucer.  I've been known to pick up my Complete Works of Shakespeare and find a play that I hadn't read before in a pinch.  It's been a while, but I've done it.  AND ENJOYED IT.  There's a time and a place for everything, and I enjoy me some Bard once in a while.

According to (how's that for a professional source?), "chick lit" is "smart, fun fiction for and/or about women of all ages. Story lines often revolve around jobs, children, motherhood, romance, fame, living in the ‘big city’, friendship, dieting and much more, usually with a touch of humor thrown in. Many of these books are written from a first-person viewpoint, making them a bit more personal and realistic. The plots can range from being very light and fast-paced to being extraordinarily deep, thought-provoking and/or moving."

Finding a definition for "pop lit" proves to be a little more difficult (in that it's not in the first handful of hits when I threw it into a search engine).  Goodreads offers the "best"  definition in a manner of speaking in providing a list of some examples: The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo series, Memoirs of a Geisha, Angels & Demons, and Water for Elephants are all on that list.  While these are all well stories, I'm sure, I have no doubt that they will ever enter the ephemeral, illusive canon of literature...the "IT" crowd used on high school and college syllabi everywhere.  

And that, my friends (especially you, friend who asked me, if you've made it this far!), is the reading saga of a book mutt.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Audio Book Candy

This title kind of strikes me as a name for a band.  If I were in the band, there would be a bassoon featured prominently (hey, did you know that I used to moonlight as the 2nd chair bassoonist in the orchestra at my college?). 

I'm sacrificing achy wrists to write this tonight.  I feel that strongly about blogging.  (Tear.)  Not really.  Instead, I wanted to throw this down and get it out of my head, and I wanted to do something else for a few minutes other than the grading that I had been working on.  AND, I have Pandora on, and sometimes when I get groovy with that, I don't want to stop.  Imagine me grooving with achy wrists. 

I just completed my first 5-week session as an adjunct with a new university.  For this session, I've been driving about 2 hours each way, which is pretty ludicrous for a couple of reasons. 
***There's a satellite campus literally 2 miles from my house. 
***I told "them" during the interview process that I wouldn't drive farther than 45 minutes from my house. 
***the class runs from 6-10 at night, which puts me home a few ticks shy  of midnight and it requires the boy to rush home as soon as he can so that we can high five in the entryway as I leave immediately. 

But there were also some compelling reasons to agree to teach this course. 
***The boy wasn't back at school yet/didn't have students yet for the first 3 weeks of this course, which seemed easier somehow.
***The boy encouraged me to do it.  And, you know, I'm a sucker for him and his wheedling ways.
***I get compensated for mileage & meals.  This literally added an additional $300+ to what I am getting paid once you take what I am getting reimbursed for gas - the measly 20 gallons of gas it (Whoa...sorry...I lost my train of thought.  A good song came on & I started jamming.)  took for me to make the roundtrip 5 times.  Hybrids rock.  Like, a lot.  Irony: we actually bought this particular car with the mindset that the boy was going to begin his grad studies and was going to have to drive an hour each way because of program availability and that we were going to make the money back pretty quickly with that factored in.  We did the math.  Instead, it's always been my car since we bought it (again, we did the math and figured who drives the most...curses, mommy chauffeuring duties), and I'm the one who's using it to drive extensive amounts. 

Alllll of this is to say that I have been driving a lot lately.  And that has led me to explore the audio book section of the library, a place I only hit up once before, pre kids, when we did something as foolish as take a vacation.  Then, Harry Potter helped us cross the interminable Ohio/Pennsylvannia wilderness.  Now, I hit up a saucy little chic lit action, which literally took me 1 1/2 trips to complete.  It was shorter than I realized it would be.  And I'm glad that I listened to that one by myself.  It wouldn't have been a problem to watch it as a movie with the boy, but the descriptive passages can be much more direct than a visual passage and blush worthy.  Still it was quick and made the time FLY. 

My second foray into audio books this month is Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior.  I don't classify myself as a Kingsolver groupie, by any stretch of the imagination.  I have friends who are, and I don't share their zeal for The Poisonwood Bible among her other works.  Perhaps its because I'm listening to this and the voices are "alive" to me that way (the author's reading the text as well...interesting), but I'm digging this one.  I'm also on the last CD, so I'm going to have to find another book to pop in the old car's sound system.  But bless the boy for suggesting I do this cause it has literally taken the 3 1/2 hour drive (I said it was a touch under 2 hours...I'm not driving like a maniac) from something of a chore (think Indy around the end of the work day) to a calm luxury.

Imagine this: reading a book for more than 20 minutes at a time with no kids.  I don't say this about much, but I'll take this over chocolate basically always.   

Friday, August 23, 2013

Oh that I could wear big, dangly earrings

I apologize for the incessant keening last week that may have been loud enough to reach your ears.  It took all my free time to feel like I could achieve any dent in my amount of prep work & grading for whatever reason.  Actually, "whatever reason" is named Audrey, and she's a mighty screechy bugger right now.  What, it's not like a huge molar gouging its way through your soft, pink gums would hurt or anything.  Suck it up, my child.  (I brought this up in passing a week ago with my class, which consists of five women, three of whom are mothers.  The youngest & avowedly unmarried/not-a-mother one immediately asked if I was giving sweet child anything to help out.  And then I felt like something of an unfeeling heel.  I'm not.  I have reasons.)  I've also been working my way through up to 3 baseball games at a time given our amount of "field trip"of late.  We've been logging some miles, lemmetellaya. 

I attended the mandatory start of school faculty meeting at Ivy Tech a week ago (standard--everyone has to go), and I had an epiphany.  Sometimes, I find myself in such moments where I'm staring at someone, analyzing their style, trying to glean some pointers.  But I'm staring.  And I try to stop that.  So then I surreptitiously steal covert glimpses and doodle notes to myself instead, while paying attention, of course. 

I'm co-teaching a class this fall where half of my students are also enrolled in a lower level class as a companion class to help ensure success in mine.  These are the students whose skills did not test up to certain levels and benefit greatly from extra help, attention, and time.  I'm all for it, and my co-instructor is easy to work with.  She's about my age, maybe a couple of years older.  She also has crazy, curly hair.  Think stereotypical-English-instructor-who's-slightly-crazy-and-probably-eats-hummus-and-rides-bikes hair.  After talking with her a few times, I don't think that she would fit this label so readily, but her hair does.  It's pretty much the hair that I would absolutely choose for myself if a) I had a choice and b) I was white.  (True fact: If I was black, I would choose Halle Barry hair.  And I understand that this is at first glance a limiting confession insofar as life is not made of 2 options--black and white--but I haven't contemplated Latina hair or Asian hair or anything else, for that matter.  Just those two.)  I'm trying to find a picture on Google to match my mental picture, but despite using such search terms as "curly hair, Bohemian academic" and "curly hair, white hippie woman," I'm not coming up with a match. 

My favorite things about this hair is a) how it looks with a scarf (who doesn't want to snuggle with some soft fabric up around their neck; it's like a neck lovey for adults), b) how it looks with some chunky, academic glasses, and c) how it looks with huge, dangly earrings.  I adore huge, dangly earrings, but have never felt the confidence to wear them myself.  Wait!  They draw too much attention to my face!!  Instead, I stay with my safe studs and small, silver hoops.  Heaven forbid I wear something with color or something that hangs more than an inch past my earlobe.  I'm drooling over these.  I would feel fabulous in these.  (I would rather not own these though I suppose they do qualify in my Google search for "huge dangly earrings.")

I think that you have to have some some amount of moxy to not only wear huge, dangly earrings but to wear them with panache.  I don't think I have it yet.  Maybe when I turn 40.  Okay, decision made.  I will wear a pair of huge, dangly earrings on my 40th birthday.  Count on it.  In the meantime, I have a decade to find some gumption.  I'm also thinking of totally, completely cutting my hair off in the sometime soon-ish future (chanelling Michelle Williams here...the white woman's version of Halle Barry, I might add).  Perhaps?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Do I Dare and do I dare?

Twice in the past week, I have sucked up some gumption and talked to people in awkward situations on purpose and both times it has been magically okay.  These big girl shoes are feelin' fine right now.  Tonight's bit of bravery wasn't anything special, so I'll just forgo that one in order to talk about the one that was really cheeky.  (The next time someone asks me how I'm doing, I just might use that term.  I like it a lot.) 

This past Saturday, my #1 4-year old squeeze and I were erranding about town, and on the homeward bound part, I made an impromptu drive through a neighboring neighborhood (hardy har har--word play of sorts) to scope out the garage sales (don'tcha love 'em when they're all bunched together and it's not necessarily so conspicuous when you do a drive-by and then keep on keeping on if there's only 1 card table of clothes and a couple of gaudily framed pictures?).  This neighborhood happens to be one that we walk in a lot with the girls because of convenience as it's literally across the street from our own 'hood.  Well, there's a house in this neighborhood...

We've been alternately in & out by only the thinnest of measures of the housing market in this county for about 4 years now.  If you ask me, I've been scoping out the possibilities for our next house about 6 months after we moved into this one, which was 7 years ago now.  I've written about it before, but this little ranch was never supposed to be more than a temporary stop, 3 years or so...maybe 4 depending on my grad school & job prospects.  Do the math.  We've landed and landed hard, it appears.  However, a major part of our housing woes boils down simply to two things.  1.)  It is a little anxiety-inducing to contemplate the possibility of a fresh mortgage on our current, reduced income.  I'm merely stating that as a fact, not at all whining about what we make.  It is what it is and it's not like we didn't know what it would be when we made the choices that we did.  2.)  THERE AREN'T ANY HOUSES IN THIS DANG COUNTY THAT ARE ABLE TO MEET A FEW BASIC CRITERIA...LIKE NOT BEING JUNK IN OUR PRICE RANGE!  I am whining about that one, just a touch (for your perspective).  But like I mentioned, there's a house in the neighborhood just across the street...

But that house isn't for sale.  It never has been for sale in the 7 years that we have lived in our house.  That has not (unfortunately?) prevented me from house stalking it a little.  Did you know that you can look up property value/information on any piece of property that you want to?  You can (such a handy thing, the internet).  It reveals a wealth of information, like purchase dates, tax information, major improvements, lot size, names of owners, and more!  Taking the house stalking to the world wide web level, I have discovered some good information: the couple that owns the house has owned it for quite a while (read: they're elderly!), it's assessed value is in our 2 income price range should it be put on the market for that (read: cha-ching!), and it has 5 bedrooms (read: be still my beating heart!).  When I house stalk, I don't just walk slowly by the place, surreptitiously checking it out behind my sunglasses, which I absolutely do.  No, no.  I go nutsy cause this house has a lot of good things happening--location, bedrooms, lot size, and definitely location.

Back to the neighborhood garage sale thing and me cruising innocuously through with kid in tow.  THE COUPLE AT THIS HOUSE WAS HAVING A GARAGE SALE, TOO!  What would any normal person do?  Why, she (emphasis on normal, here) would slowly idle by once (and as her car is one of them there quiet cars that doesn't make a car sound when it's idling, it's really, REALLY stealthy snooping), scope out the rest of the neighborhood while she argues internally about whether or not she has the sheer guts to go cold call these lovely people about their house (admittedly, not really part of the garage sale) while also trying to answer enough of her lovely's questions so as not to arouse suspicions (children are unnervingly perceptive when you really just want to THINK!). 

And I/she did it--turned around and coasted to a stop in front of their driveway.  Child came with (for the sympathy factor?) and I/she approached this darling couple with something to the effect of "Hi!  This is a weird thing to say to you right now, but I really adore your house.  Really.  Here is my contact information; please call me if you ever decide to sell it!"  Twenty minutes and ONE COMPLETE HOUSE TOUR (!!!) later, I/she left with the little one and a huge, free, stuffed teddy bear. 

Then I had to talk to the boy and tell him what I had done.  Luckily, he's a sporty chap who finds my antics generally amusing.  Bless him.