Saturday, August 30, 2008

Great tees on sale at Threadless

Threadless is having a back-to-school sale and has lots of great tees marked down to $9 and $12. I found some fun designs and picked up a couple for Two, since I like to dress him stylishly. He'll soon be sporting The Embroidaries and Homework Evidence (the latter cracks me up). Always a snappy dresser, my boy.

I was tempted to get a few others but restrained myself. My kids have lots of clothes. It's a weakness on my part.

Why Big Girl insists her brother is still "little"

Potty Training? Going rather slowly with Two, actually.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Funny from my mother...

My mom sent this one to me:

One day a florist goes to a barber for a haircut. After the cut he asked about his bill and the barber replies, 'I cannot accept money from you. I'm doing community service this week.' The florist was pleased and left the shop. When the barber goes to open his shop the next morning there is a 'thank you' card and a dozen roses waiting for him at his door.

Later, a cop comes in for a haircut, and when he tries to pay his bill, the barber again replies, 'I cannot accept money from you. I'm doing community service this week.' The cop is happy and leaves the shop. The next morning when the barber goes to open up there is a 'thank you' card and a dozen donuts waiting for him at his door.

Later that day, a college professor comes in for a haircut, and when he tries to pay his bill, the barber again replies, 'I cannot accept money from you. I'm doing community service this week.' The professor is very happy and leaves the shop. The next morning when the barber opens his shop, there is a 'thank you' card and a dozen different books, such as 'How to Improve Your Business' and 'Becoming More Successful.'

Then, a Congressman comes in for a haircut, and when he goes to pay his bill the barber again replies, 'I cannot accept money from you. I'm doing community service this week.' The Congressman is very happy and leaves the shop. The next morning when the barber goes to open up, there are a dozen Congressmen lined up waiting for a free haircut.

And that, my friends, illustrates the fundamental difference between the citizens of our country and the members of our Congress. Vote carefully this year.

Book o' the week, better late than never

Yes, I know yesterday was Thursday. Big Girl has a pretty good handle on the days of the week now, so we talk about what day it is and what activities are scheduled for that day every morning. And today? Friday. Yesterday I should have posted a book post, but things got crazy. To make up for it, I'll post about multiple books!

If you are a big nerd like me, you may be quite fond of the Fox television series Bones. Hubs mocks me sometimes for my love of Bones (two-hour season premiere Wednesday at 8:00 Eastern!), and yet I still keep watching. I don't take crap from a guy who watches each episode of Top Gear multiple times, because he falls asleep and misses parts, and yet pronounces it an excellent and captivating show. Seriously. The man doesn't even have a well-developed appreciation of Jane Austen adaptations. But I digress.

Bones is based upon Kathy Reichs' Temperance Brennan character, although in all of the novels I've read so far, Temperance is older than she is in the series. The first of Reichs' novels that I read was Bones to Ashes. I picked it up just before my carpal tunnel surgery, so I would have something to read while I was in pre-op, to keep my mind off of the procedure. This is actually the tenth novel in the series, so it's not an ideal starting point, but I think it's quite possible to enjoy these novels out of order. Reichs provides sufficient context so that you aren't confused, without being too heavy-handed about it.

I enjoy Reichs' writing style - she has a dry wit, and she's technical and precise in her writing without being inaccessible to anyone who's not highly versed in the vocabulary of forensic anthropology. The novels are, at heart, mysteries, and yet the perspective - tracking behind a forensic anthropologist who is a well-developed and nuanced character - is somewhat refreshing. Reichs writes out of her own experiences and thus seems to me to offer a rather authentic viewpoint. Brennan uncovers some evidence and does some investigating, but she doesn't typically move beyond what one would expect from someone in her professional capacity. She has the knowledge of someone who has helped (and that's the key word) law enforcement for many years, and yet she is very much a scientist.

The humor of Reichs' writing is different from that of the tv series Bones. On the show, Bones herself sometimes becomes the butt of the joke due to her lack of certain knowledge. The idea is that she doesn't get certain jokes or pop culture references or allusions because she's too wrapped up in the scientific realm to pay attention to the "real world." Reichs' novels, however, don't seem to go for those easy laughs. The Tempe Brennan of her novels is emotionally awkward at times, and yet she also has more dimension and depth than the show sometimes attributes to her. They are, fundamentally, two different characters. The tv writers give their character a different background and different circumstances, and the influences that have shaped the Tempe of the novels are quite different. I didn't expect this when I picked up the novel, but it's not surprising and for the purposes of the novels, Reichs' choices work better.

Since reading Bones to Ashes before and after surgery, I've read several more Temperance Brennan novels. Monday Mourning was the last one I read, and before that, Fatal Voyage and Grave Secrets. I've picked up a copy of Bare Bones to read next. If you enjoy mysteries or crime stories, I encourage you to check out the series, and let me know if you enjoy it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

How is it

that I never manage to finish all of the items on my to do list? By the time I finish one, two more new ones have been added to the end?

Has this phenomenon been studied? Can it be treated? Is there a cure?

And why is it that I remember the lyrics to annoying songs but forget to do important tasks, like send a file to someone who has volunteered to help me with a project?

I think I need to clone myself. One of the clones can write my dissertation for me. I promise to feed her and buy her nice-smelling shampoos and lotions, if only she will do it for me. Another clone can clean the house - she'll be pampered and showered with appreciation, too. And when I'm not placating the clones who are busy doing things I don't want to do, I'll be able to do all the things I do now, with less guilt!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

More Tuesday Recipes - heh, heh

With the way this week is going, I decided I should add a slight variation on the recipes. So, here are recipes for some of my favorite "adult beverages."


Buttery Nipple
2 parts Butterscotch Schnapps
1 part Irish Cream

Blow Job
Equal parts Irish cream and coffee liquer
Top with whipped cream

Mixed Drinks

Green Dinosaur
2 oz vodka
2 oz gin
2 oz rum
2 oz Midori
2 oz triple sec
2 oz sweet and sour mix
2 oz 7-Up® soda

Whiskey Sour

2 oz blended whiskey
juice of 1/2 lemons
1/2 tsp powdered sugar
1 cherry (on top)
1/2 slice lemon (on top)

Dental Hygeine Lad strikes again

Now he collects his sister's toothbrush while he's getting his own. He strolls out into the den, waving around her purple Dora toothbrush while brushing with his, until she freaks out and squeals, "He's got my toothbrush," at which point she dissolves into a woeful meltdown puddle while I collect the toothbrush, wash it off, put it back in the toothbrush holder, and tell him not to mess with other people's toothbrushes. At least he just carries it around. Could be worse.

He really is a bit obsessed. He brushes his teeth at least five or six times a day. Plus he washes his hands regularly, since that's an excellent opportunity for him to splash water all over the bathroom counter...

Honey-Apple Cake Recipe

This delicious recipe is from an old edition of Southern Living. I picked up a jar of local honey at the Downtown Market on Saturday, and I've been eager to try it in a few recipes since then. I must restrain myself from eating too much!

1 cup chopped pecans
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
3 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups chopped apples

Grease and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan; sprinkle bottom of pan with 1/4 cup pecans. Set aside. Beat sugar, oil, and honey at medium speed with an electric mixer until well blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended. Combine flour and next 4 ingredients. Gradually add to sugar mixture, beating at low speed just until blended. Stir in vanilla, remaining 3/4 cup pecans, and apple. Spoon over pecans in pan. Bake at 350° for 55 to 60 minutes.

After the cake has cooled for a few minutes, take it out of the pan and top it with some of this delicious honey sauce:

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup milk

Bring all ingredients to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly; boil, stirring constantly, 2 minutes.

You won't need all of the honey sauce for the cake, so you can save some to warm and serve over ice cream. ;)

Sunday, August 24, 2008 giving away Obama/Biden stickers

If you would like a free Obama/Biden sticker, you can request one here. Since this is my blog, I won't feel compelled to give equal time to the "white haired dude" who's also running for president. ;)


Take two slices of fresh, soft bread. Spread crunchy peanut butter on one slice and Nutella on the other slice. Slice up a banana and put it on one coated slice. Put the other slice on top and cut in half. Consume with a tall, cold glass of milk.

Kid-Friendly Music That Adults Can Stand

I have discovered something miraculous: music that my kids *and* my husband enjoy. Hubs is extremely picky, and professes strong dislike for many of the kids' CDs that I actually enjoy (and I'm rather selective myself). But after I dragged him with us to a wonderful concert at our church last weekend, he actually requested one of these CDs to play on his laptop while he was hanging out with the kids (I was enjoying a lovely bit of solitary reading time while this happened).

Roger Day came to perform at our church, and since I was Roger's contact at the church, I dragged Hubs along and persuaded him to pitch in with set-up and break-down for the event. So Hubs chatted with Roger before and after, and he was there to see how much our kids and all of the others who attended loved the show. And Hubs will now listen, willingly and without complaints, to Roger Day CDs.

One of the things I like best about this music is the silly-factor. The lyrics aren't preachy or pedantic; they just encourage kids to move around and sing along and act silly. Two of my favorites are "It's a No-No to Kiss a Rhino!" from Ready to Fly and "Roly Poly" from Dream Big! You can hear samples from all three of his CDs on his website, and he also has the lyrics posted there as PDF files.

Roger also wrote some of the music for the Vacation Bible School curriculum that we used last summer, and those songs translate the fun quality into a more Christian-focused message (he has written songs for a number of the Cokesbury curricula in recent years, so if your kids have been to a VBS that used Cokesbury materials, they may have heard some of his songs - Big Girl is still singing some of the Beach Party songs from this summer). These VBS songs are great, but I really think his genius shines in his own CDs.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Yellow squash

The kids and I went to the local downtown market this morning, and I picked up all kinds of goodness. Some delicious bread, a lovely hand-dyed silk pillow for Big Girl's room (from Julie Belle Designs), a jar of fresh honey, a bar of handmade baby soap (fragrance free for my sensitive skin), and some lovely crook-neck yellow squash. I was tempted by some of the lovely handmade clothing from seworiginal, made by a local woman who also sells on etsy, but I decided I had done enough damage. Big Girl has enough pretty pillowcase dresses to take her through the end of the warm season, and by next spring she may be taller.

I really love yellow squash. Growing up, I typically encountered it in my aunt's traditional squash casserole, which is delicious, but I rarely make it that way myself. I often cut it in thin slices, coat it in olive oil and some spices, and roast it in the oven, or steam-cook it with butter and spices in foil packets on the grill. I love both of those versions, but they don't always get the kid seal of approval, so when I want to get more into the kids' tummies, I bake it as follows:

Wash squash well and slice in half lengthwise. Place in glass casserole dish, cut side up, and sprinkle with desired spices (I usually use some salt, pepper, and oregano, but sometimes I mix it up). Top with breadcrumbs, a pat of butter (optional), and shredded or thinly sliced cheese (generally cheddar since it's a kid favorite). Bake at 325 degrees for about half an hour - the time really depends on how large the squash are. This is a very easy and quick way to prepare baked squash, and the bread crumbs and cheese make it very popular with the kids. It's got the nice browned top that I love from my aunt's traditional squash casserole, but it's a bit healthier, too.

Someday I'll grow my own squash, and then I'll can or freeze some of it so we can enjoy it through the winter. Until then, I'll eat as much as I can while it's fresh in season, and look forward to its return all winter long.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Dental Hygeine Lad

Two is obsessed with his toothbrush. He carries it around the house and brushes on his teeth. At present, he's bouncing on the ride-on zebra toy while brushing. He also clutches the toddler toothpaste tube in his hand and pretends to squeeze more toothpaste onto the brush periodically. Fortunately he can't get the top off the tube. The dentist is going to love him...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

My three favorite Boynton books...

...because I can't pick just one. I love reading Sandra Boynton books with my kids. I love the rhymes, the funny pictures, and the way that the books lend themselves so easily to song (and yes, we have the CDs too). My sentimental favorite is Snuggle Puppy (Boynton on Board), a delightful sweet tale that makes me think of nice comforting hugs with my kids. When they're getting sleepy, and just want to curl up in my lap and listen to a story - there are few times more precious to me than those moments of closeness, connection, and love.

For fun times, I love to read Barnyard Dance! (Boynton on Board) - and yes, I do a passable job of calling it out like a square dance when needed. Two is particularly fond of this one, as it includes his beloved cows and other animals; we have multiple well-loved copies, naturally.

And last, but not least, Belly Button Book (Boynton on Board) - the fun and fascinating source of the oft-mentioned beebo. The tiny hippo in this book refers to his belly button as a beebo, and the term has not only stuck, but has been adopted with glee by Big Girl and Two. Have I mentioned how ticklish they are? Just the threat of someone getting their beebos sends them into laughing fits. Two will also gladly pull up his shirt and point if you ask him where his beebo is. Anywhere, anytime.

Honorable Mention to:Birthday Monsters! (Boynton on Board), Doggies (Boynton Board Books (Simon & Schuster)), and Bob: And 6 More Christmas Stories, the latter being a holiday favorite for the kids and their grandfather.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

White Chili recipe

This is one of several recipes that my college roommate shared with me recently. She's a big fan of the crock pot, particularly since it means a nice, hot meal at the end of a long workday. And this one sounds delicious!

White Chili

(This is really good, but requires a lot of chopping. We usually prepare everything the night before and combine the ingredients in the morning. We also cheat and use an alligator chopper rather than cutting by hand.)

3 15-oz. cans great northern, pinto and/or cannelloni beans, drained

2½ cups cooked chicken, chopped (we use boneless skinless breasts and just boil them)

1 cup chopped onion

1½ cups chopped red and/or yellow pepper

2 jalapenos, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp. ground cumin

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. dried oregano, crushed

3½ cups chicken broth

shredded cheddar or Monterrey Jack cheese (optional)

Combine beans, chicken, onion, peppers, jalapenos, garlic, cumin, salt and oregano. Stir in broth. Cook on low for 8-10 hours or high for 4-5 hours. Ladle into bowls; top with cheese if desired.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

New plan...

I've been a bit disorganized and lackadaisical in my approach to blogging, and so I've decided to develop a plan, a schedule, as it were (I had a professor in college who used to say "as it were" all the time and it cracked me up). So, I'm going to incorporate a couple of regularly scheduled features into my blogging, in addition to my random stream-of-consciousness posts. Once a week, generally on Tuesdays, I'm going to start posting a recipe. And on Thursdays, I'll post about a book, either one I've read/am reading/want to read, or one that I like for the younger set. Since things are getting increaingly hectic IRL, and I'm trying to impose a little more order to that chaos, I'll bring a little more order to this place too. Feedback welcomed!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Do you read Fussy?

Several weeks ago I noticed an unfamiliar listing on Peas in My Hair's blogroll: FussyPants. I clicked, and now I'm hooked. And not just because I won last week's Name that Inappropriate Photo game! If you aren't already reading Fussy, try her! Just don't forget me. ;)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


I have a bit of a lol addiction. I'm a big fan of lolcats, and I have a serious weakness for snarky celebrity lols. So can you imagine my delight when I discovered Pundit Kitchen? Oh, this is good. Very good.

Of locks and doors

This morning was the first morning of school for Big Girl and Two. I got up early to allow plenty of time for breakfast, bathing, and dressing. But then I walked into Big Girl's room and grabbed the knob to open her closet door. Wouldn't turn. Locked. And in my mind, a conversation Hubs and I had a couple of weeks ago flashed though my mind...

Hubs: Did you realize that knob on her closet locks on the inside? That's kind of silly. She could lock herself inside!
Me: Yeah, I wonder why they put the locking knob on a closet?
Hubs: It's strange. I need to change out that knob for one that doesn't lock.

Meanwhile, back in the present, I found something to extend my reach so I could get down the little pokey thing from its perch atop the doorframe to Two's room. The pokey thing is a long-stemmed metal question mark; the stem can be inserted in the tiny hole in the center of the doorknob, and theoretically if you poke in the right spot, you can unlock the door. I don't know its real name - I just call it the pokey thing.

I got the pokey thing and began working on the closet doorknob. I fiddled. I tinkered. I wheedled. I poked. No luck. Still locked. I jiggled and wiggled the knob. Tight. I messed around with the knob for several frustrating minutes while Big Girl sat on her bed, looking contrite, and Two bounced on the bed while I was too busy to stop him. Eventually, I wiggled and bounced the thing too much, and the knob fell off in my hand. I poked at the mechanism in the gaping hole before me, to see if I could hit the spot to trigger the lock's release, and the knob on the inside of the closet fell off. Greaaaaat.

So I fished out Hubs' toolbox from its spot in the bottom of the linen closet (not my idea of a good home for a toolbox, but I was overruled). I got out a hammer and a flat screwdriver and began removing the pins. With much sweating, prying, pulling, and cursing beneath my breath, I got the door down. It took a long time - the hinge at the top didn't want to give and may be a bit warped. But I finally got the door down. Two had been banned to his room during the process for chanting "Mommy! Mommy!" and driving me a bit batty. Big Girl continued to look contrite and she repeated her mantra, "I wanna be a good girl." I finally got inside the closet, got her some clothes, and we got out the door. All on the first day of school. I hope tomorrow is easier. Hubs has volunteered to put the door back on its hinges and put in a non-locking door knob this evening.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tales from church and other musings

Two walks into the church office with me, and I stop to speak with the Director of Christian Education. Two's getting a bit antsy, so I turn to him and try to engage him:

Me: Two, can you say hi to Mrs. DCE?
Two, loudly: COW POOP!
Mrs. DCE: Did he just say what I thought he said?
Two: Cow poop, cow poop, cow poop. Cow! Poop!
Me: Yes. His grandfather would be so proud - he taught Two to say that.

Fortunately Mrs. DCE has known me for most of my life and knows my family well. She knows of Two's obsession with all things cow-related. And she thought it was pretty darn funny.

And then, a few days later, on Sunday no less:

I was leading a group of little kids, ages 3-7 or so, in a discussion. We were talking about how God can heal you, and I asked each child to share a story about a time when s/he was hurt, and then tell us what or who made them feel better. As we went around the circle, kids shares stories of skinned knees, bike wrecks, scraped elbows, and other wounds which were typically cleaned up by a parent. A band-aid, a kiss, and sometimes a small treat made the injured party feel better. Then we got to Big Girl.

Me: Big Girl, would you like to tell us a story about a time when you were hurt?

Big Girl: Sure! Once upon a time, an alligator bit me, and then-

Me: An alligator? You're making this up, aren't you, Big Girl?

BG: Yep!

Me: What about a real story? Instead of a pretend story, can you think of a real story to tell us?

BG: Ummmm...

At this point, I stepped in and prompted her to recount details of a fall off her trike in the grass at my parents' house, and the group moved on. Here are the key details to take from this story:

Big Girl is obsessed with alligators now and mentions them several times per day. As a consequence of her phobia/fascination with them, we have implemented a strict no-alligator policy at our home. My mother has enacted a similar rule at her house. So Big Girl needn't worry - we won't allow alligators to come in to our houses.

Big Girl loves to make up stories, usually wildly imaginative ones. Her toys often have extended conversations and enact complex dramas under her guidance. I think she may have an imaginary friend or two, but I'm not sure.

Big Girl doesn't always distinguish between reality and imagination, and doesn't really understand why we need to be so strict about that all of the time. And I love that about her. That's why, when she and I picked out a book to start reading chapter-by-chapter at bedtime, I chose Anne of Green Gables, whose wild imagination makes me think of my own girl.

Monday, August 11, 2008


I feel increasingly scattered, as though I have created numerous little electronic horcruxes and scattered them all over the Internet. I have numerous e-mail addresses, each for a different purpose. I have profiles on so many sites that I cannot remember them all, for networking, socializing, buying things, selling things, commenting on news, commenting on gossip, commenting on books or movies... which leads to that strange sense of disconnect when I realize that I have lost track of some portion of myself. Now, where exactly did I leave that little piece of me? And what's the user name? The password? Nope, wrong password. What was the challenge question again? Oh - I wonder if I abbreviated that. Nope - denied! I hope I don't fail too many times in my attempted logins and lock myself out of this account...

I signed up for Facebook recently, after a friend told me that many of the cool kids I couldn't find on MySpace were over on Facebook. So now I'm divided - because I want to keep up with people in both places. And LinkedIn, let's not forget that. I can tie some things together and create some connections between these bits of myself (I can display GoodReads stuff on Facebook and here, for example), but not all (and whether I would want it all tied together is another question - do I really want people who remember me from elementary school to read my blog? I'm not sure). I have to try to remember to bookmark different sites so I don't forget them, only to find, after a period of months, that someone tried to reach me there weeks ago without a response from me (have I mentioned how susceptible I can be to guilt?).

I could rant at length on other topics - it has been one of those days - but I would rather have a beer.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Glimpse of peace

After a long, trying day at home with the kids, I was rather frazzled and anxious. Two is in the midst of a particularly frustrating phase that involves challenging - nay, ignoring my authority. And Big Girl insists that she doesn't need naps anymore and yet becomes completely intolerable, short-fused, and whiny when I am unable to get her to take one. Hubs arrived home to find his daughter in time out and his son receiving a lecture on the wisdom of keeping one's hands out of a dirty diaper. Blech.

Starbucks had some sort of special today, whereby you received a stamp on your receipt for a purchase during the morning, which entitled you to buy a grande cold beverage in the afternoon for only $2. Hubs handed over his receipt and a few small bills and told me to go out and have a break. Sometimes he's a saint.

In a brief, relaxing respite, I acquired a grande mocha frappuccino with whipped cream on top (so indulgent), then visited the library to check out a couple of new books, and finally visited the grocery store. At my final stop, I found two fantastic deals that thrilled me, in a way that just confirmed to me that I am a big nerd who loves to find bargains: whole chickens, reduced as they neared their sell-by dates, which Hubs will smoke this weekend, plus some delicious Bertolli frozen meals on clearance. Sadly, the store probably won't carry that particular variety in the future, but for now, we have a nice stash of chicken with linguine and zucchini in a tomato sauce in the freezer, and several chickens and a couple of beef pot roasts as well. After I pick up my cheap Kellogg's cereal at Walgreens this week, I'll have a good stash for breakfast, too. Hubs is pleased with the meat stockpile. I just need some fresh fruits and vegetables for the kids and me, since we aren't as invested in the carnivore lifestyle that Hubs enjoys. I was only gone for about an hour, but it was fabulous.

And now for something completely different

See more Paris Hilton videos at Funny or Die

I wondered if she would ask...

Big Girl and I were in my bathroom on Monday morning. I was brushing her hair, and Two was over by the window, watching the dogs play in the back yard. Two named both of the dogs, and Big Girl was quiet for a moment. Then she asked, "Mommy? Where's Rusty?"

She hasn't mentioned Rusty in several months. Rusty was our Brittany, adopted shortly after Hubs and I got married, and he passed away last summer. Big Girl has mentioned Rusty, less frequently with the passing months, but has never asked so directly about him since he died.

I froze for a moment. I didn't know how to explain it to her, because she hadn't really understood death when Rusty died last year, or when my grandfather passed away a few months ago. I had managed to skirt the topic so far, but she wanted an answer. Sooo...

"Rusty went to heaven to live with God. God knew he was a really good dog, and he needed a good dog to help him and keep him company in heaven. So he called for Rusty to come there with him."

I know that's not exactly the way a minister might explain it. I know the idea of animals in heaven isn't exactly in line with Scripture. But Rusty? If any dog would make the cut and get to heaven, he would. This just felt right when I said it, so I went with it.

Big Girl thought for a minute, and then she looked sad, ever so briefly, and burst into tears. I felt wretched when she started crying. I picked her up and she just sobbed, "I miss Rusty." When I told her that I miss him too, the crying just got louder. I had a hard time not crying myself, but I forced myself not to - she gets really upset by the sight of me crying. I managed to soothe her, and she stopped crying and I changed the subject.

She spend most of the day at my parents' house while I was working. Rusty apparently came up several times in conversation. I had told my parents what I told her, so they stuck to my story. Apparently Big Girl asked my mom if God might send Rusty back to her, if he finished with his work in heaven.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Background checks

I've been doing a lot of reading today on background checks and related topics, as part of a project for work, and in a stroke of good timing, the New York Times has an interesting essay that discusses, which allows you to run checks for free (although it doesn't claim to be error-free or comprehensive).

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Error message

If you're trying to view my blog using Internet Explorer and you're receiving an error message just when the page seems to be finished loading - you're not alone. I'm trying to figure out what's triggering it. Page is loading fine in Firefox.

Fascinating article on trolls

The New York Times Magazine has a great piece on trolls. "The Trolls Among Us" features interviews with a few trolls, offering some insight into their motivations and actions. I found this suggestion particularly interesting: "The willingness of trolling 'victims' to be hurt by words, he argued, makes them complicit, and trolling will end as soon as we all get over it." It's an interesting read. You may need to register in order to access the article, if you're not already signed up with


It's late, and I'm doing some thinking. I've been thinking today about all of the plans I make, plans that ofte n don't materialize. I know that this is a common issue with me. I dream big, but my reality is frequently on a smaller scale. I would really like to get my house in order, so that I have the space and mental capacity to attempt some interesting project that have tempted me for months or even years. Today I attempted my first tutu, using forest green and silver tulle. The tutu is lovely, but a bit too big for Big Girl. Making it was fun, and I would like to make more, but I need to get my act together and organize my living space in order to effectively attempt this. I know that I could make some very interesting bows, tutus, and other projects, given the physical space and time to do so. I already have a lot of craft supplies, thanks to some bargain shopping and a bit of stockpiling, so I only need the space at this point. If I'm fortunate, I can convince Hubs to help me this weekend in a campaign to bring order to my office. I have a table in there that would be perfect for crafts and other fun projects, if only I could get to it...

Friday, August 1, 2008

Book Review: The Book Thief

I picked up a copy of The Book Thief at the library earlier this week. It's been on my to-read list at GoodReads for a while, after I spotted it on a friend's list and read the description. What attracted me most to the novel was the narratorial premise: Death tells this story. I was really curious to see how Zusak would handle this. So when I walked into the library, the book was on a table displayed with other nominees for the Georgia Peach Book Award (Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1) won the award this year).

At first I wasn't fully engaged in the book. I confess that I initially hesitated, when I determined that the book was set in Nazi Germany. I didn't want to get wrapped up in a book that would just leave me weeping at the end, and I didn't want to read something that just rehashed a lot of concepts I had seen earlier about living through war. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl is all well and good, but I didn't want to read a postmodern retelling of the same kind of story. Fortunately The Book Thief stands on its own, both in terms of its plot and its interaction with the wartime setting.

The heroine and namesake of the novel is a young girl who, early in the book, is sent to live with a foster family on the outskirts of Munich prior to the outbreak of World War II. I'm vehemently opposed to spoilers, so I'll try not to give away too much. The novel is interesting in the way that books figure so centrally into identity formation. The title character, Liesel, grows up in that she develops her own identity out of learning to read, and then her sense of purpose comes from the books she possesses and subsequently her creation of her own text, her own story, which is the basis of Death's narration. Death doesn't hang around spying on Liesel the whole time, although he is, as is lamentably expected in war, around frequently to collect souls.

At first I didn't understand how having Death as the narrator actually added anything to the novel. It seemed quirky, even like a gimmick, because Zusak didn't fully explore the ramifications of that choice until later in the novel. Death has an interesting style, very postmodern with bits from other texts pieced together into his own observations and excerpts from Liesel's life story. But his observations about color, and the ways in which he tries to focus on the scene instead of the individuals mourning a death, offer an effective indirect commentary. The ways in which he tries to focus on something other than the metaphorical elephant in the room - for him, the actual death and its impact on others, and for the Germans, the deplorable treatment of Jews and the atrocities committed against anyone who opposed Hitler - work nicely to communicate the outrage without coming across as didactic or pedantic.

The thread of the novel that appealed most to me, that got me hooked and fully engaged, was the shift from book consumption to book creation. When Liesel and another character, a young Jewish man named Max who hides in the basement, begin creating their own texts and expressing their own experiences and moreover sharing these texts with each other, it's not unbelievably poetic or elegant. The way in which Zusak depicts these tellings seems believably honest. And also? Liesel's foster father, who is a true father to her, is just fabulous. I wanted to know him, or someone like him, or to think that I could be like him. To step out of a life of ordinariness, unobtrustiveness, and do something great, commit to believing in the humanity of all people, despite the danger - I wish and hope that I have that kind of courage and beauty within myself.

So in the end, The Book Thief made me cry. But it was a good kind of cry, and let's just say the conclusion is satisfying. Despite the award, this isn't just a teen book. I read an article recently (I'll have to track it down and link to it here) about the ways in which the lines between youg adult and adult fiction are breaking down for the better, and The Book Thief is a good example of this. It took me a while to feel connected with this novel, but I am quite glad that I held on and kept reading. It was worth it.

Food! (the gumbo recipe)

Dinner on Tuesday night was quite yummy. We've been eating the leftovers for the last two nights, and it's still delicious! I made this up and tinkered with it to get the desired taste:
Mild Italian sausage, cut into large pieces (I used a package with five links -
ground sausage would work just as well)
Boneless chicken breasts, cut into large pieces (about 1 lb - to save money, cooked
and deboned meat or darker cuts would work well)
Two cans of chicken broth
One large sweet onion, chopped
Ten lovely cherry tomatoes from Big Girl's garden
Two bags of frozen gumbo mix vegetables
One cup rice
Three cups (guesstimate?) water
Half a bottle of beer (I used a dark brown ale)
Salt to taste

I browned the sausage and chicken together and then added the chopped onion, and cooked that on medium heat until the onion started to get slightly caramelized. Then I added the cans of chicken broth and the cherry tomatoes. I let this simmer uncovered for a while (30 minutes?), and during this time I also poured in half a bottle of homebrewed beer. Then I added the frozen vegetables and some water, so that everything would be covered nicely. This simmered for about 30 minutes more, and then I added the rice, a bit of salt, and more water. I covered the pot at this point and played with the kids for a while. When the rice looked done, I served up a few dishes and we tried it out.

The first night, it was good, but the second night it was even better, as the flavors had time to meld together a little more by then. I think next time I'll make some cornbread muffins to go with it. I also plan to use sweet Italian sausage instead of mild on my next attempt, since the spices of the mild sausage overpowered the undertones from the beer.


We had a nice rain yesterday, and a serious thunderstorm today, complete with a downpour of rain that flooded some yards in the neighborhood, so the flowers are looking nicely revived now. I'll take pictures in the morning. Big Girl is quite relieved - she was worried about her pink impatiens in the tiny pots.

I put a number of the tiny tomatoes in the large pot of chicken-sausage-vegetable gumbo-soup-type stuff I cooked on Tuesday. It was delicious - I know I owe pictures and a recipe for that. I actually have some other fun photos that I need to put up here as well.

Two is feeling somewhat better, but is still feverish and cranky from his raw throat. He started feeling sick overnight on Tuesday, and the doctor saw him Wednesday and pronounced it viral. Poor guy hasn't had much of an appetite because his throat is so raw and blistered. I wish I could do more to help him.