Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Good Stuff - September

Grown-up Good Stuff

Penzeys Spices - Self-description "unmatched quality, abundant variety, and love of everyone who cooks" nails Penzeys on the head. I think in our family Dave discovered this company first, then had Mom & Dad hit an Ohio store on a drive out west once. Quickly the whole family became fans, and our spice cupboards brim with yellow-labeled jars of goodness. Recently a store opened up in Falls Church, about 15 minutes from me, so we've gone over a few times. For every spice or mix there is a smelling jar, and it was all I could do to not stick my tongue in the Vanilla Sugar jar. So I got my own. Other new favorites: Garden Salad Seasoning and Rogan Josh. Their catalog doubles as a cookbook, chock full of recipes (which can also be gotten online). To order a catalog, dial the 800 number. Too bad it's not scratch n' sniff.

TNT new series - I guess The Closer has been around for a few seasons, but we just started watching. I was afraid Kyra Sedgwick's character Brenda Leigh Johnson's thick southern accent would be too much to listen to, but she (Kyra) is so darn good at what she does that after a few minutes I was so engrossed I could have said, "What accent?" Yes, it's a cop show like many others, but a refresh from CSI and L&O with a touch of comic relief and fantastically well-written characters. New season starts in January. Of course while we watched The Closer, we caught commercials for TNT's unlimited number of new series, two of which seem worth checking out when they premier in the winter. In Leverage, Timothy Hutton, who I've loved since Ordinary People, leads a team of thieves, hackers and grifters who act as modern-day Robin Hoods, taking revenge against those who use power and wealth to victimize others. Trust Me stars Tom Cavanagh (of Ed) and Eric McCormack (of Will & Grace), two fabulous fellas who can do comedy and drama in the same breath. Don't really know anything else about it, but I'll be tuning in in January just based on that.

Ross Dress for Less - Stores like Ross, Marshalls and TJ Maxx are admittedly not the most shopping-with-kids-friendly of stores due to the required rummage factor. You have to go through them slowly, meticulously, to find just the thing. Only a notch or two above thrift stores in this respect, it is a form of bargain roulette. But if you've got the time and inclination to score an amazing deal, you have a good chance of finding one. The other night I made an evening grocery run, and on a whim stopped by Ross on the way home - you know, just to see. An hour later I walked out with a new coat, skirt, pants and sweater, all at substantially low prices. But my favorite brag finds were a pair of $70 Kenneth Cole shoes for me at a scant $23, and a pair of adorable metallic green Stride Rite sneakers in Hazel's next size for $12.99 (retail $48.) Thank you, thank you.

Dave's Birthday Gifts - As many of you know, I'm a gifty person. Got it from my mom. I tend to get very excited about the gifts I'm giving, often more excited than the person is who gets them. The only problem is that I sometimes over think a gift and thereby miss the mark. Very discouraging. But I recover quickly. Dave's birthday was Saturday (to get to know Dave better, see last years' birthday crossword puzzle) and I had fun choosing his gifts this year. They were: a set of four Knorks (who doesn't need this?) and 10 Bad Dates with DeNiro: a Book of Alternative Movie Lists. Ed and I had a great time reading lists to each other before sending it off to Dave. Wonder what the top 10 Christopher Walken line deliveries are? How about 10 great performances by otherwise lame actors? I encourage Dave to share some of the lists on his blog once in awhile - great fun for movie lovers. And he could even make his own - how about the 10 movies that will put Michelle to sleep the fastest?

Kashi TLC Pumpkin Spice Flax bars - Yum. I'm always on the look for a new portable adult snack so I don't have to eat the kids' goldfish or fruit snacks when we're out. These caught my eye a few weeks ago and I deemed them worth a try. Yum. Did I say delicious? I love them. Can't find them at your store? You can order them online. They don't break the bank either - 3 Points for a 2-bar pack.

Kid Good Stuff

Fawn & Forest - I don't usually click on the ad's on Design Mom's sidebar. I already know they will lead me to heart wrenchingly charming but overpriced items I will want, so I save myself the trouble. Usually. But sometimes I click. I found too many things I liked on Fawn & Forest not to mention. I mean, I can mention them, right? That doesn't cost the arm and half leg I'm tempted to spend. A few favorites: Matryoshka doll graphic tee, transport baby quilt, elly nelly wall decals (but do you think I would EVER make up my mind?), this alphabet poster, and this cuckoo clock.

Bailey Goes Camping by Kevin Henkes - Super sweet story about Bailey the baby rabbit whose older brother and sister go off to camp. He's too little to go and becomes inconsolable after they leave, bemoaning all the fun things about camping that he is missing out on. Mom to the rescue! She and Dad recreate all the fun of camping right at home. Especially poignant for us because of our recent camping-at-home experience in Brooklyn after the movers came, including toasting marshmallows on the stove, which Bailey also does.

Apples, Apples by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld - Just a simple board book about apple picking, but with rhyming lines full of bear family fun I adore it and so do our girls.
"We run to see the orchard, up and down the rows of trees;
where treasures red and golden hide among the leaves."

It somehow communicates the apple-y feeling of fall so this is a good month to recommend it.

American Apparel shirts - I give full credit to Corey for getting me hooked on American Apparel baby clothes. She would buy tank tops and t-shirts and cutely embellish with cap sleeves, buttons or appliquees. Over the years I have bought AA t-shirts, onesies and pants and always loved them for good design, good fit, simplicity and outstanding color selection. Love the lap shoulders because my kids apparently have large head and there's nothing more infuriating than buying a shirt only for it not to fit over the head. With fall coming up and Ginger short on long sleeved shirts, I bought a couple from the cheapest Amazon merchant and added a little something from the scrap bag.

This month with preschool starting and our new dedication to holding Family Home Evening, the girls have been really into...

Sock Puppets....
and Stone Soup!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Disco Mom Goes All Financial On You (GAFOY)

Ed's a smart guy. He's also got a degree in finance, just finished three years with an investment bank on Wall Street, and owns a natural curiosity that spurns him to read and learn about things he's interested in: namely, elk hunting and finance. I'm no dummy either, but from an early age I've had an aversion to anything political, government or business related. Which, I see now, has put me at a mighty disadvantage to live and function in the world as an adult. With a big deal election coming up and the economy in an unprecedented state of chaos, I'm trying to catch up.

Two of my three siblings have expressed to me harsh distaste for political blogging (not that I could or would anyway), so, at the risk of making an idiot of myself, I go straight to finance.

Over the last three years my economic knowledge and understanding have increased through long discussions with Ed, so I have had a much better context for current events that I otherwise would. And with all that has been happening lately, and the addition of seeing Ed more often, our discussions have become longer and more frequent. Sometimes he emails me articles during the day and we discuss them at night. Sometimes I catch a financial blurb on public radio while running errands and - oh, rare but exciting joy of joys - get to tell him something he didn't know. Through our discussions I've gained a little confidence, enough to occasionally posit a thoughtful question or propose an idea or connection. (Of course they are usually things he has already thought of but he is very patient with me and gives me the praise I require for using my brain.)

So, no, I don't have any surprise economic analysis to share, and I wouldn't presume to be able to teach readers something new. The national and global economies are complex and I'm still learning. But I can share a few things that have been helpful to me.

There are three main parts to the current economic situation:

The Past,
or how we got here. This article from 1999 about Fannie Mae's acceptance of subprime loans gives a brief but haunting report and prediction. The author, Steven Holmes, has every right now to say, "I told you so." It suggests political pressures to get everyone the American dream of home ownership, whether they can afford it or not, as one of the causes. But this Seeking Alpha article, The Great Consumer Crash of 2009, has been the most helpful to me so far, in laying out in charts and brief numbered points how the hell it got so bad. And what's happening now as a result. My favorite quote, "Only when the tide goes out do you discover who's been swimming naked."
Americans have been allowed to live on too much credit, and that can't go on forever. Eventually you have to pay the piper.

The Present,
or what's happening now. Again, The Great Consumer Crash article does a good job explaining this, though it's just one man's take, and certainly too simple to include everything. But it's a good start. Ed says it's a more pessimistic view than many analysts are willing to admit yet, but I think more and more are coming to that side every day. No one wants to cause panic, but I'd like to know, expect, and plan for the worst, personally. Last night Ed and I sat in our living room and listened to an hour-long BBC radio broadcast debate, "World economy on the brink?" We felt like we were back in the olden days, sitting by the fire listening to radio programs to learn what's happening in the world. But despite jargon I had to have Ed explain later, like leverage, recapitalization and contra-cyclical, it was well done and helpful. Ken in Hong Kong was especially insightful if only the moderator wouldn't have interrupted him so much. At one point they were discussing "who's to blame" for how we got here, and I was surprised that all blame was laid on the government and the banks. Not a single panel member mentioned the individuals living grossly beyond their means to be at fault. I wonder if the economy can ever stabilize until people become responsible and accountable again for their own finances, and learn to live and save within their means.
Conclusion: It's bad. No one knows what will happen next, or exactly how many of the wheels in motion will play out. In the least, several waves of ripple effects are still expected.

The Future, or how we can recover. Of course the President's bailout plan is on the table. Ed did a good job explaining this to me in terms of the savings & loan scandals in the late 80's and early 90's, of which I was completely oblivious. It worked then, but the scale now is monstrously grander. Everyone has an opinion - again the BBC radio show addresses this - but the reality is that the situation is unprecedented. A bailout could work or not work. The economy could swing back or fall deeper. Whatever happens, America is facing a recovery phase, and we have already dropped out as the global economic power we once were - Asia is king now, though I don't know exactly what that means. I asked Ed what the chances are of falling into another Great Depression and he pointed out that there are things in place, like the FDIC, that are supposed to keep that from ever happening again. But they are being tested, and will be tested further, and we can only hope they will hold up. Unemployment is at about 6.1%; during the Depression it was 25%. But life back then was more rural, and people found ways to survive. With our current two-income, commuter workforce society, it's hard to say what will happen if more people continue to lose jobs, lose health insurance, and lose homes.

Howard Marks is chairman of Oaktree, a large money management firm. He frequently writes memos about financial things as he sees them to Oaktree employees and clients, and those memos often get forwarded and passed around Wall Street and financial people. His views are insightful and well-respected. His most recent memo, dated Wednesday, explains the bailout, and it's worth reading.
Conclusion: If we haven't already, start tightening the belt. Lose the consumer mentality, cut expenses, save some money. Live within our households' means. Rough seas ahead. Words like meltdown, panic, crisis, collapse and worst ever are being thrown around.

For members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, none of this should come as a surprise. Our leaders have been telling and warning us for years, in fact decades, to live providently. And not just for kicks, but for safety and security in an unpredictable world, the world in which we now live. Elder L. Tom Perry's 1995 talk, "If Ye Are Prepared Ye Shall Not Fear," and Elder Jospeh B. Wirthlin's 2004 talk, "Earthly Debts, Heavenly Debts" are just two examples of the constant counsel we have been given, and hopefully taken.

It's a fascinating, if confusing and scary, time to be taking home-based Econ 101. But, knowledge being power, I'm trying hard to understand as much as I can so as to be a responsible citizen and steward of my family.

Got comments? Please share - I'd love to learn from you.

Got questions? Call me. I'll give the phone to Ed.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Alchemist

Dude, I don't know.

I read The Alchemist because it showed up on two Top 5 lists of people I know when I polled my playgroup moms in New York for book recommendations. I'd never heard of it, but if two people loved it, it must be worthwhile. So I started it and it wasn't quite what I was expecting, but I continued. Kat told me she knows people who hate it and love it so let her know which I am. Being basically easy to please, I fully expected to love it.

But I just couldn't. Good heavens, I got more and more annoyed every time I read it. I have been known to not finish books when they're really bad - I'm such a slow reader I hate to waste too much time. But The Alchemist is so short I decided to stick it out no matter how amazingly lame it got. And it got pretty bad. I thought to blame it partially on the translation, but it wasn't just the language; it was the whole story and telling of it. Minimal character development. Maximal new agey spiritual quasi-philosphical conversations full of capitalized terms like Personal Legend, Soul of the World, Master Work, and Language of the World. Plus a couple of biblical references thrown in for good measure - Urim and Thummim and Melchezidek, and plenty of omens, universal forces, and voices. Oh, and don't forget "listen to your heart."

I read the words but much of the time I couldn't understand what in the world they were trying to get at, and worse, didn't care to. It's the story of a boy's journey to find his destiny, so it had plenty of potential to be touching, uplifting and adventurous, but it was too weird. I kept thinking a story told this way must be trying to be an analogy, and I suppose it was. It certainly supported some good, if cliche, life lessons, like "Life is a journey, not a destination" and "Your treasure is where your heart is." I even admit to being surprisingly pleased with the twist at the end, but only because at that point I was near hating the book.

I don't know, read it if you want to and enlighten me, but I can't recommend it.

And I'm not alone - out of 1,267 reviewers on Amazon, it received an average of 4 stars, and the rating shook out like this:
5 stars - 735

4 stars - 215
3 stars - 94
2 stars - 93
1 star - 130

Me, I'm near the bottom. This book receives a scant 2 disco balls from me, and I'm moving on to my next book without a moment's more reflection. It was definitely no Three Cups of Tea, which I read earlier this summer and which affected me so deeply I'm still trying to find the words to explain how wonderful it is.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

PR Dish - A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Screwed

The Challenge: Creating a look for each other inspired by different musical genres. What a FABULOUS challenge! The lineup:
  • Leanne designs a country look for Korto (super tough one)
  • Korto designs a punk look for Suede (probably the easiest, relatively)
  • Suede designs a rock n' roll look for Jerrell
  • Jerrell designs a pop look for Kenley
  • Kenley designs a hip hop look for Leanne (clueless!)
Tim says, "This will be the most unique show we've ever seen on the Runway."

The Winner: Korto

I don't disagree but Jerrell could just as easily have won:

The Loser: Suede

The Dish (written while watching):

  • Enough with the snarkiness to Tim, Kenley! And to Nina. I want to smack your face. But that aside, I'm pretty sure nothing you are doing is hip hop. Not that I could do any better, but I'm not pretending to know everything.
  • But in the end I did feel sorry for Kenley, having LL Cool J as the judge.
  • Michael called the designs "spotty."
  • "Jerrell looks like Jerrell."
  • Korto looks "like a woman going out to eat ribs."
  • I called it, Suede's out. Not that that was an amazing projection to get right, but still.
  • Ooh, announcement: Top Chef New York coming soon! Yummy...
  • OK folks, we're down to 4 - who's it gonna be? Korto, Jerrell for sure. Leanne or Kenley?

Next week: Drawing inspiration from nature. Everyone cries.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Girls' Night Out - Pride and Prejudice

I know I'm not alone in my girlish adoration of all things Jane Austen. (In case you were wondering, I am Marianne Dashwood of Sense and Sensibility - who are you?) I've read most of Jane's books (plus The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler) and seen many of the Hollywood movies (plus Becoming Jane, which I loved.) Only a few years ago was I made aware of the A&E versions, when my sister-in-law Michelle got Pride and Prejudice for Christmas. Dave and Michelle both raved about it, and I caught a glimpse of the darkly handsome Colin Firth on the cover. I got it on Netflix a few years ago and watched it in spurts while feeding Ginger; it was totally fabulous and I was so sorry when it was over.

I was reminded of its awesomeness when Michelle recently wrote about staying up until 4am to watch the whole thing. Really wish I lived in England and was there for that.

So you might guess how I felt when I was approached by Shanna and Genevieve, two new friends here, and asked, "Hey, Kari, do you like Pride and Prejudice?" Duh. "Yes!" Whatever the screening purpose of this question, I definitely want in on it. Turns out they were putting together a little girls' night out. Talk about being in the right place at the right time; I really needed this.

Saturday night we met at Shanna's house. The husbands and kids went to Genevieve's house for a BBQ, and we gathered in Shanna's basement with heaps and mounds of food and watched the entire 300 minute series nonstop. Shanna disappeared for a bit to put her baby to bed but I don't think we even took a bathroom break. Several women were invited but couldn't come for various reasons. Which was fine because it was more couch space and food for the rest of us.

Let me just mention that we all brought several dishes meant to feed a crowd - southwest salad, chips & artichoke dip, chicken penne alfredo, 2 bean salad, caramel corn, apples & caramel dip, and chocolate chip cookies. I was stuffed to the brim and blew my weekly weigh-in, but it was worth it.

Lydia was an idiot, Darcy was the most unreadable ever, there was something weird with Jane's face/neck shape, Wickham can kiss my butt, Mrs. Bennett was exhausting, Mr. Collins was perfectly creepy, Mr. Bennett most excellent at dropping the sarcastic lines, and Lizzie, dear Lizzie, always perfect in expression and reaction to all situations. She wins the best-usage-of-eyebrows award, and most beautiful smile.

A couple of my favorite moments/scenes, in no particular order:
  • Elizabeth firmly shutting down Lady Katherine and her objections to her alleged engagement to Darcy
  • Mr. Collins explaining why his staircase is just perfect for a clergyman like himself - neither too steep nor too shallow
  • Elizabeth & Darcy meeting by surprise on the Pemberly grounds
  • Darcy's cutely anxious expression as he rushes back out to see her after getting dressed
  • Darcy telling Caroline Elizabeth's eyes are the ones that have charmed him, not her own
  • The first, and second, Darcy proposal conversations
  • The conversation/banter-while-dancing
We had started about 5:30 so we ended about 10:45pm - not too bad for a Saturday night. Unless you get home and your husband still hasn't done the dishes like you thought he might and you have to do them yourself. Even so, it was wonderful. Genevieve is a get-things-done kind of chick (after my own heart) so she's already planning some kind of spa/pampering night in November, and I do hope we can do another movie night soon. Probably not so long, but a nice 2-hour chick flick - some of my favs are Chocolat, French Kiss, Moonstruck, Strictly Ballroom and Enchanted.

What would make a great girls' night out for you?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Cox with the Crowleys

Yesterday we drove out to Centreville for the Cox Farms Fall Festival - opening weekend! We'd heard about it from Dave & Michelle who used to go every fall so soon after we moved here I put it on our calendar. We were not disappointed. The weather was gorgeous and before us lay 90 acres of barns, hay bales, giant slides galore, live entertainment, animal pens, and more!

There were pony rides,

Lots of slides,

All-you-can-eat fresh apples and cider,

and unlimited hay rides (we only went once - they were totally long!)

We hooked up with the Crowleys there - Matt, Gabe and little Lottie.

The short version is that I have known Matt my whole life. Truly. When I was a baby Mom took me to his mom's baby shower; he was born about a month after me. We were in the same primary, Sunday school, and seminary classes, same elementary and high schools. Around age 15 we recognized a mutual superiority in each other, which we still enjoy, and became excellent friends. We have always kept in touch, but not seen each other for probably 4 years. Here's the oldest photo I know of, of us together, circa 1979 (snatched from Matt's Facebook page; can you name the song?)

And here we are now with our 1-yr-olds.
(Gabe was kind enough to have Lottie on my birthday, 10 days after Ginger was born. And I'm pretty sure "Charlotte" and "Kari" come from the same ancient root name so really they named her after me, too.
Is that love or what?)

What a rockin' day with the kids and wonderful old friends you don't have to play get-to-know-you with, just catch-up, which was great. On the way out we picked up our complimentary pumpkins and a 1/2 gallon of cider to go with our monster bag of kettle corn. I think the Crowleys got a pie - nice.
Thanks, Cox. Thanks, Crowleys! We won't let it go four years again.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

PR Dish - Time Capsule Transformation

The Challenge: A head-to-toe makeover for recent college graduates ready to enter the workforce (accompanied by their mothers with outdated tastes.)

The Winner (and my pick): Jerrell
The Loser (I agree): Joe
The Dish:
  • Joe went up in my estimation a few notches with his astute observation: "The mother-daughter dynamic is the eighth wonder of the world." Then he went down again when I saw the chain he wears. He's just a little stuck in the 80's.
  • I love how Leanne shut her client mom down on the animal prints. Absolutment non! (I write with my feet up on zebra print ottomans. Whatever, what am I trying to win?)
  • It was kind of fun hearing about everyone's first jobs.
  • Kenley's great mistake: "I never really change anything for Tim." Has she like never seen the last 4 seasons? And no, no, not a feather hairpiece on your client!
  • Korto's dress was too short; otherwise pretty cute.
  • Kenley's was NOT flattering on her client and made her look chubby where she's not. But at least she chose a good print for once. I enjoyed a secret satisfaction in seeing Kenley's face when Jerrell won.
  • I think Suede's butt only got saved by his client's rocking modeling skills. And how bad Joe's suit was.
  • Joe's out of his league at this point. I mean he did OK for awhile but he is out of touch and out of date.
  • Jerrell is my new favorite personality. I want Bravo to have a contest (that I win) with the prize that you get to be Jerrell's client, just so I can high-five him and have him call me "Girl!"
  • Korto is totally consistently contemporary, love her stuff.
Next Week: A "musical genre" challenge. LL Cool J guest judges. At least I know who that is for once. My guess is Suede is out next.

Oh Yes, They Did

Saturday we got a call from Seth Lucia, 2nd counselor in our ward's bishopric, and who we knew from Boulder as well. Would we mind coming to church a little early to meet with him? Sure, no problem.

Finally, I thought, we're getting callings. Two months of "vacation" from church responsibilities has been nice, but we're ready to have something to do. And the pressure's off because most of the hefty leadership callings have recently been filled. Will we get our dream callings? Ed's is nursery worker, mine is Enrichment committee. Or will we be blindsided by something unexpected like ward missionaries?

Saturday night we joked about it. Ed suggested if he wants to see us together, our calling will be together. But in a ward this large couples often share callings, like primary teachers. "Or nursery leaders," Ed said.

They wouldn't, you're thinking.

And that's your first mistake. It's ok, it was mine too.

They didn't, you say.

Oh yes, they did.

When Seth said it Ed broke into a huge grin; there were almost tears in his eyes he was so happy. My expression was probably somewhere between a cringe and a grimace. Seth noticed and asked if I was concerned about the isolation factor of serving in nursery. No, I answered. There are other opportunities to meet and be around people. It's more the being-around-so-many-little-kids factor, the exact reason Ed is excited. It's a new scene for him, just more of the same for me. But what surprised me even more than the calling itself was that as we sat with Seth and he asked if we would accept, I felt really good about it, excited even, and I heard myself say yes. The Spirit is a most mysterious power. And hey, at least it's not activities committee, which the nursery leaders we're replacing got!

So after sacrament meeting we went downstairs to nursery, and instead of dropping the girls off at the cabinet barrier, we entered with them. In retrospect we should have given them warning we were staying. We were just kind of in shock and hadn't thought to tell them we were their new teachers. As a result they were both confused and ridiculously weepy, clingy and whiney for the next 2 hours; the other nursery workers said they had never acted like that before.

Nursery is for 18 month to 3 year olds (they stay until the January after they turn 3). It lasts for almost 2 hours, while everyone else is in Sunday school and then Relief Society and Priesthood classes. Our ward has approximately 25 kids in nursery, and 8 adult workers (4 couples). We have three rooms at the end of a hallway to work with, and tons of toys. The first hour is spent on free play, with different stuff set up in each room like blocks, books, cars, coloring, playdough, etc. Then we clean up and divide the kids into 3 groups, one in each room. Every 10 minutes or so they rotate rooms - lesson, activity, snack. One couple is in charge of each room on a rotating basis, with the 4th couple getting a week off to attend the adult classes. That's the plan, anyway. The bishopric has assured us that if we need more help they will get it for us. A refreshing change from Bensonhurst! Ed assured them I will take them up on that, having been on the bishopric receiving end of things when I was primary president in New York.

I was immediately thinking, "How can I talk Katy into picking No Crying Nursery (blog) back up so I can mooch off her excellence even though she's not nursery leader anymore?" But then I learned there's a brand new nursery lesson manual called Behold Your Little Ones. Some of the lesson topics are the same, but more gospel oriented (no more "I am Thankful for Fish.") The lessons are also a little shorter, more user friendly and age appropriate, with the photographs and pictures right in the book instead of loose, and some new/updated lesson activities. Nice timing. Katy, you're off the hook.

Last night Ed and I were set apart, which is a blessing from someone in the bishopric in which you receive specific instructions/blessings/abilities pertinent to your calling. It was a remarkably spiritual experience that quelled any remaining reservations I was feeling.

In fact, there are only upsides, my setting apart blessing having addressed the perceived downside of getting burned out on kids. A few that Ed and I came up with are:

  • We get to serve together, something we've never gotten to do and may not get to do again for a long time. After the New York famine of barely seeing each other, even on Sunday because of callings or Ed's job, we get to be and work together, and even better, be together as a whole family.
  • Hello, there's snack.
  • It's a Sunday calling. That means no extra work during the week like meetings, activities, phone calls, etc. A little preparation in the way of lessons or activities, or occasionally finding a sub may be required, but it's not a big deal.
  • Suddenly the pressure's off to dress nicely for church. I mean, yeah, still dress up, but I'll be pulling the denim skirt back out, and Ed will be wearing trousers but not his nice suits.
  • Everyone shares the work. We will be in charge of the lesson every 4 weeks but even then there are two of us to do it. Everyone else in nursery is totally competent and willing to do their share.
  • There is something amazing about little kids - yes, there's some crying, some fighting, and developmental stuff like that. But they are super innocent and trusting, and remarkably spiritual as well. It's really an honor to spend the time with them and be trusted with their care and instruction.

So you see, Lindsay (our nursery leader in New York), what goes around comes around. We'll be on the floor and isolated from our new ward for the next year or so. I hope you have gotten out in the real world or will soon. It's a good place for us - one I didn't expect to be in or be happy about, but what do I know? I've never even made a jello salad.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Call for Recipes: Jello Salad

I have been asked very specifically to bring a jello salad to a potluck this weekend. Never made one before, though I've eaten many, both good and bad. Got a winner? PLEEEEEEASE post it in comments, I will be grateful for the time I don't have to go searching the internet, and to avoid the gamble of an untried recipe.

Grated carrots need not apply.

Monday, September 15, 2008

My Baby Loves Disco...Does Yours?

After we'd lived in Brooklyn a few months I was talking with some neighborhood moms about things to do with kids and one of them told me about Baby Loves Disco. It was white hot new at the time (2005) and right up my alley.
The concept:
one Saturday afternoon each month a real nightclub turns into a disco for munchkins, complete with a live DJ spinning 70's and 80's classics, healthy snacks, diaper changing stations, and fun dance gear like scarves, egg shakers and hula hoops.

From the website: "Started by professional dancer (and professional mom) Heather Murphy in Philadelphia, the idea was to create an alternative to the pre-packaged world of entertainment for young kids. 'We’re parents, we’re always looking for something new and different to do with the kids,' says Murphy whose lifestyle (like most of the baby disco parents) was changed when she gave birth to her 4 year old son Max. Make no mistake, this is NOT the Mickey Mouse club, and Barney is banned." Brooklyn was the second location to get its groove on, and from there it has spread like wildfire to 28 U.S. cities as well as Israel, Japan, Holland, Sweden, Poland and the U.K.

So I looked up the dates and put it on the calendar every month for two years and Ed was either working or there was some other conflict every time. Then Ginger was born and I gave up the hope of ever being a cool mom who did stuff like taking my kids to a disco dance party. Survival became the name of my game, and soon BLD fell off my radar.

So how do you think I felt when Beth Blenz-Clucas of Sugar Mountain PR, after reading my blog, contacted me to see if I would be interested in reviewing Baby Loves Disco in DC? Control, our radar is back on. I was over the moon and told her, "Put us on the list!" Of course after I'd committed, I learned Ed would be out of town at a conference, but no matter. I called our trusty babysitter Alicia, and while I could tell from her voice she thought I was crazy when I explained to her where we were going, she agreed to come with us.

So last Saturday the girls donned their dance skirts and we loaded into the car, Google directions in hand, and headed into the city, to the chants of "Dance Party! Dance Party!" I don't know DC well enough to know how scared I should have been in the NE neighborhood where the club (Rock and Roll Hotel) was located, so I tried not to think about it as we walked the 3 blocks from our parking space. The garbage, pigeons, and potholes made it feel like we were right back in Brooklyn, actually.

The place was rockin'. Imagine, if you will, a typical night club. Black walls, full bar with shelves of hard liquor, a stage at one end, a DJ cage and lots of flashing lights. (Kind of like the places in Georgetown I used to sneak into in high school.) Now add to that scene a roped off stroller parking area outside, a spread of juice boxes, goldfish and muffins on the bar, ceiling mounted bubble machines on a 10-minute timer, baskets of egg shakers and dancing scarves, mini tents and hula hoops on the stage, balloon animals taped up on the walls, and of course the ultimate necessity: a king-sized disco ball, and you've got Baby Loves Disco.
There were parents and kids of all shapes and sizes, and in addition to the DJ spinning classics such as Night Fever and YMCA not-too-loud-but-just-loud-enough, an MC (didn't catch his name) announcing dance competitions and the winners of freeze-dance (we tried, we honestly tried.)He also mentioned the VIP room upstairs, so we went to check it out. What we found was another bar and even more food - a tablecloth had been draped over the pool table, and there were fresh fruits and veggies, hummus and pita chips, more muffins and brownies, chips and salsa, and more juice boxes. We found a "quiet room" full of stuffed animals, couches and changing stations. There was a nail-painting corner, Greta Gonzalez was offering free face painting (I didn't want to wait in the line or deal with the mess), and a balloon master from BalloonTopia was making free balloon animals (Hazel got a frog but he didn't last long.) It was also more quiet and cool upstairs, a nice break from the disco inferno the downstairs had become once the morning nap crowd started showing up.But we'd come to dance so dance we did. Hazel was all about it, especially when the bubble machines came on. She's really got more of a gallop than a boogie but it's her thing. Ginger was a little overwhelmed by things and wanted to be held most of the time but she did get down and shake her squeezy buns for a few songs. Overall it was an awesome success, well worth the calculated nap manipulations I'd orchestrated for two days in preparation. Alicia even loved it.
Jealous? You should be. It's a great time, and probably even more fun to do with friends (I'm still working on getting those here.) It's in Brooklyn and Manhattan, Seattle and Portland, Chicago and Boulder. It's even in six cities in the UK for you expats, so get your rears over there and let's see the pictures. But if your town doesn't have it yet, don't despair. You can bring it there yourself (or better yet, get a friend to do it) - email Erica to get the ball rolling. (Utah could especially use it, and can you say...Culpeper?)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Carrot Delight

Per two requests, here is the carrot smoothie mentioned in last week's menu plan. I found it on this blog which seems to be a group of friends posting healthy recipes, but is not updated much. I might try a few other of their recipes, some look good. The carrot smoothie is pretty good - 3 servings of fruits/veggies and nothing extra, with only a slight texture. But the second time I made it I was distracted by kiddos and left out the banana. Yuck, don't do that. Here you go:

1 large orange (or 2 mandarin oranges)
1 banana
1/2 cup water
15 baby carrots
1/4 cup ice
supplement of choice (optional, and I choose Benefiber usually)

In a blender, blend the orange, water until smooth. Add banana and supplement (if using one) and blend thoroughly. Add carrots and ice last and blend on high until smooooooth. Don't skimp on the blending now, you want those carrots completely pulverized to liquid!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

PR Dish - Signs

The Challenge: Create an avant-garde look inspired by the astrological sign of one of your team members. Two designers will be eliminated.

The Catch:
The teams are not made up by pairing remaining contestants. Instead, each remaining contestant is paired with one of the eliminated contestants. Aagh! The whiners are all back!!! (Plus Emily and Jerry who I'm actually happy to see.) This is funny because I was just talking to Tona tonight about how she should start watching this season. She likes to jump in at about the middle when there are only the good designers left and not so many to keep track of. This way she gets the "best" of both worlds.

The Teams Who Deserved Each Other: Stella/Blayne, Terri/Keith

The Winner: Jerrell
Disco Mom's pick: Joe
The Losers: Blayne and Terri, imagine that!

The Dish:
  • Keith needs to keep all opinions to himself (because there is an overabundance of proof he has terrible taste and questionable skills) and just do what Terri says. Oops, sorry, Keith, was that not gentle enough? I forgot how fragile you are right now.
  • How is Kenley so confident with the 80's floral and plaid AGAIN? You must always, always listen to what Tim says, especially if he has doubts! It's as good as condemnation. Enough with the tulip skirts - I feel we have seen the extent of Kenley's range.
  • Korto and Leanne seem to be the only ones left with consistent creativity.
  • What. Was. Blayne. Thinking????! But of course I wonder that every episode. Is it an LA thing because I didn't usually get Jeffrey's stuff either.
  • I didn't totally get Jerrell's outfit but I was digging the skirt seriously - I would love to see a whole collection from him. Looks like he's on his way.
  • I liked how Joe's looked like molten lava when she walked, it really evoked fire and lava, which is what he was going for.
Seriously, is anyone watching Top Design? I've recorded it but not watched yet. Talk to me.

Next week: Helping re-invent college-aged women for entry into the working world. (Challenges with real-life clients are always full of stress and drama because regular people usually have bad taste and the designers are stuck between making something good and pleasing the client. Remember last season when Christian almost went home on the prom dress challenge? Or two years ago when Jeffrey almost bit it making a dress for Angela's mom? This should be a good one!)

Monday, September 08, 2008

First Day of School

Healthy breakfast - check.
New dress Hazel picked out all by herself at Target - check.
Old shoes and socks because the other moms told me the sand on the playground stains orange - check.
Teeth and hair brushed - check.
Cutest backpack ever, stocked with pull-ups, emergency change of clothes for her cubby, and her toy du jour, a blue winged horse - check.Me crying and not totally sure why - check.

It must be Hazel's first day of preschool!
It was an amazing feat for us but we did get out the door on time, snapped a few quick shots outside, and hustled on over to her school. You thought my Barcroft Community House was cute? Well check out:We seem unable to escape charming historical buildings around here, but we will suffer through.
Hazel has two teachers, Mrs. Peetz and Ms. Love, seen here at the open house last week.
Every day there are two teachers and a co-op parent. The preschool has a parents' organization and the secretary makes the co-op schedule, a job I'm glad I don't have. How often you aide depends on total enrollment, how many kids you have in the school, and how often they come (2, 3 or 5 days a week.) Hazel goes MWF so I will be in there about once every 6 weeks. At the open house I met another mom with a boy in Hazel's class and a little girl Ginger's age so we are just going to trade babysitting for our co-op days. The parents don't have to teach exactly, but help with things like set-up, clean-up, transitions, crowd control, bathroom trips, etc. Also you can bring a book from home to read to the class during circle time, and they often try to have you co-op on your kid's birthday. The enrollment in Hazel's class right now is 16 so it's a pretty nice ratio.

There's also a treasurer who mentioned on parent night a couple of fundraisers, including See's candy at Christmastime, so I expect you all to step up and place an order - you have been warned. Fundraisers fund field trips, special teachers (like music and science), and buy extra classroom supplies or equipment.

Here's the adorable playground with the hateful staining sand that will cramp my fashion plans for Hazels' school wardrobe:Ginger and I celebrated our new ratio by going to the public health office to have my TB test checked (had to get it to be able to co-op) and then grocery shopping. I was in an exuberantly good mood being able to shop with just one kid, and her strapped in the cart. I splurged on a special treat for all of us to share at lunch - strawberry milk - but which none of us liked and that's what I get for trying so hard. We brought the groceries home, put them away, took clothes to the cleaners, and went back to pick up Hazel. Three hours goes fast.

She was flushed, sweating, a little sandy and paint-stained, and looking so happy! She gave me a big hug and pulled me over to the drying rack to show me her painting. Then she informed me that she liked the crackers and raisins but "the cheese smelled like pee." Note to self: teach her other ways to describe things she doesn't like. Everyone informed me she had a great first day, made some friends, and did a good job taking turns. On the drive home I tried to ask open-ended questions to find out more about her day but it was almost impossible to get a straight answer, so I just have to go on what I know of the weekly theme ("Getting to Know Preschool") and the daily schedule (free time/activities, circle time, snack, play outside) and fill in the rest with my own imagination.

My big one-kid plans for Wednesday: get the car inspected and registered at the DMV - woohoo!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Making Something

Truly. I am not a deeply crafty person. My mom and sisters quilt and sew things like dresses and Halloween costumes. I know how to run a sewing machine. I've dabbled in knitting, beading, clip-making, even stained glass. But I lack the conviction and patience (I try not to think I lack the talent, though that may also be true) to excel in the creative arts.

Once in awhile the creative bug gets to me - "creative" as in to create something, not as in coming up with something original and clever. It's usually satisfied through baking - oh, what therapy those sweet aromas bring! But once in a very long while I want to make something else. It happened today. Maybe it was the cozy-day-at-home thing with Hanna pouring and whirling around outside. Maybe it's all the amazingly crafty blogs and Etsy shops I've visited lately. Just a little something simple, but unbelievably satisfying.

I pulled out the big bag of scraps unearthed from the back of Mom's sewing closet - adorable but small pieces of vintage and retro fabrics - and made two little drawstring bags for the girls' rock collection. My kids LOVE their rocks and sometimes play all day just clicking them together and putting them in and out of containers. Hazel pretends they are the eggs of her rubber lizards or whatever other animal is handy. Ginger never leaves the house without one in each hand. They're just simple colorful rocks bought at a beach souvenir shop, and recently replenished at the Natural History Museum gem shop. But they're all over the house and car with no assigned storage place, so I made these little bags:
Reverse side:
When Ginger woke up from her nap I gave them to her, full of rocks. She played all afternoon with them. Talk about satisfying.
Then, wow, how the creative bug feeds itself! In the same bag of fabric scraps was a smaller bag of buttons scored out of the depths of Mom's sewing drawers, mostly from the 60's and still in original packaging. I got one of Ginger's onesies and sewed a few on.
Not much, I know. Anyone could do it. But a sense of accomplishment and loving domesticity came over me and lingered for the rest of the day. It just felt good to make something.
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