Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Best and Worst of 2007

I wouldn't be a blogger if I didn't chime in on my picks and pans for the past year, would I? So here's some of my favorites in TV, movies, books, web, music, and some other stuff. Because I am, well, cranky, I will mention some things I wasn't so fond of. This is completely my opinion, so I would love to hear whether or not you agree with me. Chime in below, and happy 2008!


Best TV Series--Comedy:
Even though this one debuted in the 2006 TV season, I didn't start watching it until the calendar flipped to 2007. Though there have been individual episodes of other shows in 2007 that had me in stitches, this show most consistently makes me laugh out loud: 30 Rock. My favorite moment? This.

Best Single TV Episode--Comedy:
The first "We Were on Cops" episode of My Name is Earl. In case you didn't catch this last January, you should try to watch it online. (I can't find a link to last season's episodes, but I'm sure this one is our there...somewhere.) Even if you've never seen an episode of Earl. White-trash satire at its best.

Best TV Series--Drama:
It got a lot of hate last year, but the episodes that aired in 2007 (after that almost-dreadful start last fall) were sublime: Lost.

Best Single TV Episode--Drama:
Bet you think I'm gonna say the season finale of Lost. For many, that one episode redeemed the series. However, I saw the big twist coming; I knew we had fast-forwarded to the future, and while I think that episode is outstanding, I must confess that the one hour of dramatic TV that chilled me to the bone and almost made me wet my pants with fear was that other awesome episode of Lost, that Locke-vs-Ben showdown that featured a glimpse of the shadowy creature known as Jacob and that creepy "" It was the stuff nightmares are made of.

Biggest TV Disappointment:
Melinda Doolittle gets eliminated from American Idol, and Jordin Sparks take the crown. Boo.

Saddest Hour of TV:
Idol Gives Back. Impoverished children shown while power singers cover power ballads in the background. Cue the tears.

Funniest Moment of TV:
Charla's face plant while wearing a suit of armor on The Amazing Race. Shouldn't have been funny. But I still can't quit laughing.

Best Movie (That I Actually Saw In a Theater):
This one's a late entry; we just saw it Friday. Enchanted. Yes, I'm serious.

Biggest Theatrical Disappointment:
Spiderman 3. I love ya, Sam Raimi, but that movie was a hot mess.


Best Cover:
Disturbed's cover of that 80s classic, "Land of Confusion." Raw anger at its finest.

Favorite Song:

Notice I say "favorite" and not "best", mostly because I am a little embarrassed at my love for this song..."Before He Cheats" by Carrie Underwood. Yeah, yeah, I know.

Most Hated Song:

Anything by Nickelback...but for non-Nickelback songs, the worst for me this year was the ubiquitous "Lips of an Angel." Not a big fan of songs that glorify adultery. Especially telephone adultery while your "girl" is in the next room. Classy!

Best Album by A Talented Artist Who Will Probably Go the Way of Janis Joplin If She Doesn't Get Some Freakin' Help:

Back to Black by Amy Winehouse. Love love love this CD (though I found out the hard way that it's not suitable car listening when your kid's along for the ride.) Too bad she's taken a ride on the crazy train.

Favorite "Happy" Song:

This song just makes me happy when I hear it: "Fidelity" by Regina Spektor. I'm not ashamed to admit this one at all.

Favorite Book:

I'm a librarian. Favorite books are like my Lay's potato chips; I can't have just one. So I've got to break it up a little.

Favorite young adult book: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Favorite scene in a book: We've all read the last Harry Potter at this point, right? I'm not going to give anything away by talking about the end, right? Good. I wept like a kid when Harry decided to turn himself in to Voldemort, knowing he would die, but also knowing it had to happen...beautiful. That he lived anyway made it even more moving.

Favorite adult book: The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Bleak, but beautiful.

Favorite You Tube Video:
Click here for it, all you U.S. Americans.

Most disturbing, and yet I had to watch and pass it on, You Tube Video:
The Australian mouse plague.

Easiest Way to Waste Time Online:
My Space.

Favorite Meal:
The princess breakfast at Cinderella's Royal Table at Disney World. Not for the food, which was only so-so. For the magic.

Best Night Out, With No Throwing Up:
My fifteen-year high-school reunion. It was so good to see everyone and to go to an after-party where I finally got to drink a beer with the cool kids.

Best Night Out, With Throwing Up:
The Wines and Beers of the World tasting to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Even though I don't remember much after the Unibroue beer tables, and even though I did throw up into an old Chipotle cup in the car on the way home (while my almost-as-drunk friend kept asking, "Where did you get the cup?"), it was a really fun evening. And thanks to the throwing up in the car, I didn't feel too bad the next day. It was a win-win for everyone but my poor sober husband, who had to keep me from falling over into rich people, tell me to dump my puke cup out the window, and help me up the stairs and past my baby-sitting mother who had never quite seen me in that condition. Sorry, honey, but still worth it.

Worst Night Out, With or Without Regurgitation:
The Relay for Life where so many things went wrong. The only thing that went right was that we raised some money for the American Cancer Society. Which I guess is the most important part, but still.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

YEEE-haw! WOOOO-hoo!

And the prize for most annoying Christmas present goes to...the Munchkin Cheerleader doll!

If any of you moms of little girls see a cute little brown-haired cheerleader doll with a big, white "M" on her bright blue uniform, run. Don't let your daughter see it. And whatever you do, DO NOT BUY IT! Your life will never be the same.

Pressing either of her hands or feet or her stomach will send her into a cheer delivered in a pitch just a hair below the limit of human hearing. Oh, and the cheers! It's not just her voice, it's what she says. Here's my favorite cheer:

I stomp my feet
I boogie to the beat
I turn around
I touch the ground
I wiggle it
Just a little bit!

Oh, yes. She's just a tad naughty, isn't she? And there are more where that came from! And I've heard each cheer around 50 times since Christmas Eve night. Everytime she tells me she's gonna beat "the WHOOPsies out of you! The WHOOPsies out of you!" I die a little inside. Each eardrum-puncturing "YEEEhaw!" and "WOOOOhoo!" causes a little more of my sanity to seep out through my auditory canals.

The good news is we ran into one of my neighbors yesterday, and when she heard that we have this doll (apparently Munchkin is sweeping the nation) she assured me the batteries would die fairly soon. When her daughter's doll ran out of juice, she got forgotten about and has been hidden away until the next garage sale. So that some other poor sap will have to endure the cheers.

I should be happy that Ainsley got a toy that makes her happy. We all made our parents nuts with something; for me, it was a laughing box that I loved but that my mother hated. After days of me torturing the whole house with it, I pressed the laughing button and stuck it in my mom's face while she was on the phone and, in a moment of uncharacteristic rage, she jerked it out of my hand and threw it into the next room, shattering it into a dozen little pieces. I bring it up whenever I want her to feel guilty, but now that I am a mom, I completely see it. There's only so much of these things you can take, and I had been warned to keep it away while my mother was on the phone. Ainsley has been warned to keep the Munchkin at a distance (like Canada), but it's a pretty soft doll and I don't think pulling a Joan and giving it a toss if she gets out of line with it would have much effect. I'd have to do something more insidious, like cement shoes and a trip to the Roebling Bridge, but I've seen the "Talking Tina" Twilight Zone episode and know better than to try to kill talking dolls. I better just let things run their course.

And in the meantime, invest in ear plugs.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Force Will Be With Me. Always.

What a great Christmas.

For once, I made a Christmas brunch that my exceedingly picky family all enjoyed. (My sister said, and I quote, "This is the best Christmas meal we've ever had." Rock on with your beef tenderloin recipe, Paula Deen!) And I got, like, the coolest gift ever.

Remember when I blogged about what I wanted for Christmas and I mentioned the genuine replica Luke Skywalker lightsaber? Well, the hubby surprised me with one on Christmas morning. It makes the cool power-up and power-down noises you remember from the movie (which I will always call just simply Star Wars, because it was the first and the original, and A New Hope sounds like a soap opera, thank you very much, Mr. Lucas.) And when you swing it, the pitch changes. And when you hit something with it, you get the cool clashy-noise. It rocks.

As fond as I am of my full-sized saber, I must say that I was equally thrilled when I opened my exchange gift from Jason's family's party: a lightsaber keychain. So I can clip this adorable little version onto my belt loop and carry The Force around with me to help me find my car's keyhole and our mailbox lock in the dark. In the same package was also a stash of Cacao Reserve bars (with nibs!) You know what this means, don't you? The Family reads my blog. I had no idea. I was really touched by that. How awesome was that to get a gift that shows that people listen to what I have to say? But does that also mean I have to censor myself more? Nah. (I love you guys! Shout out to the E-Ville!)

There was some other good stuff from Jason, mostly some CDs that show what uncool taste I have in music (please tell me I'm not the only one who got all excited by the new Garth Brooks collection...anyone? Anyone?) But when I look back years from now on the Christmas of 2007, I will think of my two lightsabers and their awesomeness.

I hope you, too, got something you really wished for this year, something that made you giggle when you opened the box and something that made you feel like someone "gets" you.

If you got any cool gifts this year, holler back below.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

No More Mythbusting For That Kid

Ahh, the trauma we put our kids through.

Shots. Strep tests. Automatic flushing toilets. Mythbusters.

While we sat down to a leisurely late "we're on vacation and ain't got no stinkin' schedules" lunch, we were channel-flipping and came across an episode of one of our favorite ways to waste free time: Mythbusters.

You all know that show, right? The former special effects guys and their team take urban legends and tall tales and see if they really could have happened. The episode that got me hooked last year was the one where they put an ungodly amount of Pop Rocks and soda into a cow stomach to see if, in fact, eating and drinking those two things together will make your innards explode. 'Cause there was that urban legend that the cereal-loving tot from the Life commercials died that way. If I am channel-flipping on a Saturday afternoon, wanting to drowse some time away on the couch, that show's a surfing-stopper. You get sucked in, and they tend to play them in marathons, so you literally could spend hours watching two crazy guys blowing crap up.

Today's we watched with Ainsley, because that show's pretty tame. And the whole family was intrigued by the myth: exploding jaw breakers. Apparently, there have been two reports of kids getting severe burns after biting into large jawbreakers that got heated, either by sitting out all day in the hot Florida sun or from being microwaved. Consider yourselves warned: never, ever nuke your gobstoppers.

We thought it might be helpful for Ainsley to watch what happened as they proved the myth to be true, in case she ever wants to heat a jawbreaker (not sure why you would, but you never know; I tried to lick frost from the inside of our metal freezer when I was a kid, and lost a significant portion of my tongue hide, so who am I to guess what idiotic stunts Ainsley will try to pull?)

The guys made a big fake jaw that clenched with the same force as the average human jaw, Then they heated a ginormous jawbreaker. First, they cut into one after 3 minutes in the juicer and took a temperature reading; even though the outside of the candy was cool to the touch, the sugar deep inside in the innermost layer had melted and risen to a scorching 200+ degrees. Enough to burn you, and if you've ever made candy, you know the fun thing about melted sugar is that it sticks to your flesh like napalm.

They couldn't get the jaws to break the candy immediately, but on the third try, the jawbreaker burst and sent lava-like molten sugar everywhere. One of the crew members hadn't been wearing a mask, and some of the spray got her in the face and neck. Things got really intense and quiet as she hollered out and ran to cool herself off.

I'm not sure what finally sent Ainsley over the edge; she had done fine when they showed the burn scars on the girl's face who got hurt by biting into a sun-heated jawbreaker in Florida. But when the jawbreaker broke, and the assistant screamed, and Jason and I stopped talking to see this most interesting development, she put her face in her hands and got pale. Then she looked up at me, and said in a trembling voice, "I don't feel good."

Before I could ask her what was wrong, she herself was melting down like microwaved sugar. She started bawling and saying she felt like she was going to throw up. After some questioning, she 'fessed up; the horror of the exploding candy and the injured crew member got her.

It took some cold washcloths on the back of her neck and a lot of hugs (and a turned-off TV) to get her out of her plasma state.

I was a little blaffled that something like that could send her over the edge, but then I looked over at my husband, the man who had to sit with his head between his knees after getting light-headed during my first ultrasound, and realized she's just her father's daughter. Jason had to leave a college psychology class after watching a video of someone with a seizure disorder, and he doesn't do really well with needles and blood. (How he got through my bone marrow biopsy is a mystery and miracle to both of us.)We have kind of an understanding in our house that if someone gets injured and is presenting with blood or, heaven forbid, a dangling limb or a bone poking out, I am the first line of defense. Not that I'm iron-stomached all the time; when I had to learn to help my mom dress my dad's urostomy wound, I had to step out for a breather because my soul separated from my body a little bit under the hot hospital lights and I felt detached from all the action, which I've been told is how you feel right before you pass out. But I have dealt with a lot, and don't get too grossed out unless mucus is involved. If there's mucus, even I will start retching and won't be any help to anybody, in which case we're pretty much screwed.

So we learned a lot today. I learned that just because it's on the Discovery Channel does not mean it's appropriate family-lunch viewing. I learned that few things are more terrifying to skittish 5-year-olds than exploding candy. And, of course, I learned that heating jawbreakers is one of the most dangerous things you can do with candy. Who knew?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Pink Neon Star of Bethlehem

Ho, ho, ho, y'all! Santa's gonna be squeezing his fat, white ass down the chimney in a matter of hours. Is everybody ready? Everthing wrapped? Candy made, cookies baked, turkey thawed? No? Me neither. So how about we all drop those unimportant things for a minute and do what's really important: looking at tacky light displays.

I love driving around and looking at Christmas lights. And while I really like to see the tastefully done houses, a Griswold house is a helluva lot of fun, too. Which is why we hit Juniper Lane every year.

One suburb over, there is a street where every house (except for one; poor bastards probably had no idea what they were in for when they bought that house) decorates with multitudes of lights, plastic nativity scenes, inflatable snowglobes, and of course, the ubiquitous Santa-and-sled roof decorations. You can see the street from the highway; not only is each house illuminated, but the entire street is lined with arches covered in lights. Given their proxmity to the airport, I am really surprised they haven't had jets land there, thinking they've spotted a runway.

Since we moved into our house, we've made a drive-by of this street a little week-before-Christmas tradition. In the days leading up to Christmas, one of the residents goes beyond the call and stands out in the road dressed as Santa, passing out candy canes and collecting toys for charity. I'm telling you, they go all out.

Thursday night we did our pilgrimage. As always, the street was beautiful (in a tacky sort of way.) As always, Santa was out with his canes, talking to the kids through their car windows. One thing that was different was that several other families were outside, too, standing around little chimineas or portable fire pits for warmth, drinking beer and having a good old time. I guess if you have to live on a street where you are pressured to spend the entire month of November putting lights and expensive plastic crap on your homestead, and then have to deal with long lines of traffic, you might as well make it a party.

I must say I was impressed, and I am not easily impressed when it comes to light displays. That's because of Jason's stepdad, Steve, and The House That Neon Built.

Jason's stepdad was a neon artist, and throughout our courtship, their house was decorated every year with seasonal neon. Yes, neon. It started with a huge, pink star that covered the roof. That got quite a bit of attention; their house was on a major highway. Then every year Steve added a new technicolor neon fixture. There was a porch-sized wreath with a red bow. Then a Santa and Rudolph joined the star on the roof. Then a "Merry Christmas" banner on the yard. Then a pair of 4-foot-tall candles on each side of the stoop. Finally there were carolers in purple, yellow, and green. It was marvelous; the house was featured on the news most years, and traffic would slow and car horns honk (this was a very busy thoroughfare we're talking about.) It was Las Vegas meets the North Pole. When I needed a ride to his house, I would just tell the family member or friend in the driver's seat, "He lives in the house with the pink neon star," and they would know exactly which house that was. "Your boyfriend lives in THAT house?" And I proudly said yes.

Most of the neon has passed on now that Steve himself passed on. He died of a sudden heart attack 8 years ago today. And Jason's family doesn't live in the House of Neon anymore. So I have to get my outrageous light display fix in other ways now.

Like this house.

This will probably be my last post before Christmas. Hell, I've had this one on my screen for the better part of a day, working on it 5 minutes at a time between holiday tasks.

So, from the Cranky family, Merry Christmas. Of Happy Solstice. Or Season's Greetings. However you celebrate December 25th, I wish you a bright pink neon kind of day.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Special Message From the Librarian

Can someone hand me that soap box? Thanks!

Ahem. (You all ready for this?)

A staff member at my school, the school where I have worked as a librarian for seven years now, which had almost no young adult fiction and very low circulation statistics when I first started but now provides a large collection of age-appropriate books for its students, who have posted significantly higher reading scores on state tests, is presenting me with my first book challenge.

For those of you who don't work in library-land or who haven't ever had any reason to honor Banned Books Week, a book challenge is when someone has asked that a title be removed from a library's shelves. This person not only wishes to stop his/her child from reading a book, but wants to remove it from the collection so that no other student or parent can make a choice as to whether or not to read the book. In essence, a challenge is an attempt to censor a book from a school or library.

In a way, I feel special. Book challenges are rare in my school district. We have a policy in place that doesn't make it easy to get a book removed from a collection, and most parents have backed off after talking to the principal and librarian and learned that they actually have to read the entire book, fill out a form, and convince a committee that said book is harmful to the student community as a whole. For most people who have an issue with a book, it's not worth the time, and all they really want is to be heard. So for me to be "chosen" for this I am really good at hitting the jackpots nobody wants to win.

I am not going to violate anyone's privacy by giving names, or even the name of the book in question. All you need to know about the book is that it's a standard issue young adult novel, just one in a sea of novels written about and for teenagers. It received some honors the year it was published, and was very well-reviewed, and is well-worn from the high number of circulations it has gotten in the 4 years it has been in the library. It's not a book that you will have ever heard of, and not one that has made any list of most-challenged books that I've seen. Harry Potter or Catcher in the Rye it ain't.

Its status as an "ordinary" YA novel is what has me so baffled and blind-sighted. It also has me worried, and quite frankly, angry. Thus the soap box.

The complainant has issues with the book based on one out-of-context and subtly-written oral sex scene she saw when her 9th-grade daughter had the book checked out. When she first emailed me about the scene, I was expecting to read an explicit handling (har) akin to an airport-bookstore Harlequin romance novel. In truth, the scene was tamer than a similar scene in an episode of Desperate Housewives.

As we continued to communicate about the book I held out hope that I could diffuse the situation. I pulled reviews of the book, which were favorable and from YA literature stand-bys like School Library Journal. The reviews gave the recommended grade level for the book as 9--12. I talked to other school librarians about what they see as the value of the book in their collections, and I searched online for mentions of the book as a part of recommended reading lists to find that it is a pretty popular summer-before-9th-grade recommended-reading-list choice.

None of this matters to the staff member. She does not simply want to stop her daugher from reading the book; she wants to prevent other students at my high school from being "harmed" by the book.

Her main argument is that the sex scene introduces oral sex to our students. As a high school, my collection serves students aged 14 through 19 (since we have some seniors who have been held back or who started kindergarten late.) While I might be convinced that the scene might be too much for a naive 14-year-old (might), I think it's extremely tame for our mature students.

She has told me that she wants to shelter her daughter from these issues and that there are things she doesn't want the girl to know about until she's older, and she didn't appreciate a book taking her into that unexplained territory. She thinks other parents, even the parents of some of our 18-year-old seniors (!) would not want this either. I really don't know how to tactfully respond to this. So I won't even try to restain myself in this forum.

First of all, I'm going to go out on a limb and say the vast majority of 14-year-olds are already familiar with the concept of oral sex. Not saying they've done it, but they know. If they've been inside a locker room, or overheard conversations in bathroom stalls, or watched any television show on a basic cable channel, or paid attention during the sex ed unit in their freshman health class, they have caught wind of the fact that something like that goes down (pun intended.) If you think your little darling doesn't know about oral sex at age 14 in the year of our Lord 2007, I have to question a little bit whether or not you know your kid as well as you think you do.

Second of all, even if they honestly don't know, they probably should. Let's face it: sex is everywhere when you're a teenager. You're getting pressure to talk about it, think about, and do it every day of your high-school career. Eventually, these 14-year-old girls this parent wants to protect are going to find themselves alone in a bedroom with a boy before his parents get home from work, or find themselves in his car at a remote overlook, and they will be faced with some decisions. It's hard to say "no" when you don't know what you're saying "no" to. I don't know in this case if ignorance is bliss.

Maybe I think this way because I was brought up liberally by two trusting parents. They gave me a good set of directions and a well-calibrated moral compass at a young age and then set me on my own path, trusting that I would make good decisions. And I did. Even though at my own daughter's age I was just as likely to be watching MASH or All In The Family reruns as I was to be watching Sesame Street, and even though I started reading V.C. Andrews potboilers when I was in 4th grade and Stephen King books in 7th. I was exposed to an awful lot of sex, violence, and mature situations in the books I was allowed to read and the shows I was allowed to watch, but it didn't make me want to jump the gun and imitate those behaviors. If anything, it made me take these things more seriously. I saw that there were bad consequences for rushing into adult behaviors. I knew what was out there in the big bad world, and it made me prepared for how I would handle those situations.

Not everyone was raised this way, and that's fine. I am not saying what my parents did was right for everyone; it was just right for me. To each his own. But I get fired up when someone tries to impose their parenting rules and their narrow set of values on an entire community. By challenging this book, this parent is saying that no other parent or student gets to make a decision about this book. A student like I was in high school, who is already reading "adult" books and dealing with mature content in a well-informed, healthy way, would be denied access to the book. That's not fair. That's not right. That's not freedom.

I work really hard to buy age-appropriate books for our library. I do order some Stephen King, because there are some high-school boys who will only read a book that features monsters and bloodshed, but I don't order all of his. I used to love Anne Rice, but no way in heck would I order Interview With a Vampire for my high-school library (even though that's the kind of book I would have walked to the public library through the snow for as a teen.) I do order some Jodi Picoult since she has a huge fanbase in young women, and a few other "adult" authors find their way in the mix when students or teachers recommend them to me. But mostly I stick to things in that big YA category. I try to buy books in a broad range of tastes for the broad audience of teenagers I serve. I trust that parents of our younger students will help make some of these decisions about what is appropriate and what is not appropriate for their children. I do not think it's okay for said parents to deny these books to everyone, especially when the book in question was written by a YA author for a YA audience.

There are all kinds of censorship quotes and slogans I could throw at you right now to conclude this rant, slogans I've picked up after years of doing Banned Books Week Promotions. "Free People Read Freely." "Who's Reading Over Your Shoulder?" "You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture...just get people to stop reading them." (Wait, I guess I just did throw them at you.) But I've gone on long enough. And I am all about people deciding for themselves when it comes to books. So if you're interested, you can contact me privately and I can tell you the title of book. Decide for yourself whether the book is worthy of being banned, and holler back.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Throat of Strep

The kid stayed home sick again today. AGAIN. This time the culprit is everyone's favorite throat-dwelling bacteria, streptococcus something-or-other-icus.

The good news is that she'll be better enough on Wednesday to go for her last day before the holidays and participate in her class party. The bad news is that, well, she feels pretty horrible and feverish and hasn't been able to get up from a reclining position since around 11am today. And she still has some fluid in one of her ears from her last ear infection a month ago. Grrrreat. If things don't drain with this course of antibiotics, that ear may have to be drained. Which I am guessing involves a sharp instrument. And much wailing and gnashing of teeth from both her and me.

Neither me or Jason are very strep-prone, so we're hoping we get through unscathed. But as the doctor reminded us, what with the 3-7 day incubation period for strep, there's a chance we'll come down with it by, oh, Christmas Eve or so. Fabulous!!

The weird thing is, on this same date last year, Ainsley also had strep. Something about mid-December and all its parties and Santa breakfasts, I guess. Or just plain old bad luck.

Either way, it's enough to make me feel a little less than ho-ho-ho-ful. (There's an off-color joke to be made in there somewhere, but I just don't have the energy for it. Use your imaginations.)

Here's to you, Christmas! You've gotten the best of me two years in a row playing the "sick kid" card.

Out of the Mouth of Ains, Naughty or Nice Edition

We wouldn't be American parents if we didn't use that whole Santa thing to our advantage, would we?

We've been telling Ains about Santa's "Naughty or Nice" meter, and how there's one for every kid, and how Santa can take one look at it and know whether or not presents are in order. When Ainsley has had a good day, she's heard about how the needle on her meter surely is pointing at "Nice"; in her most tempermental moments, she knows her needle has fallen into "Naughty" territory.

Yesterday was mostly a good day, but by bathtime, I'd had to issue some warnings. When I had to tell her three times to wet her hair, I'd had enough.

"Santa's watching, Ainsley. I don't think he would be very happy with you right now because you're not listening."

She thought for a minute.

"I'm probably just on the 'Kind Of Nice' list right now."

I can't argue. An awful lost of us are probably on the "Kind Of Nice" list. I wonder what you get from Santa for that, since it's not quite lump-of-coal status. Some socks, perhaps?

Friday, December 14, 2007

That's the (Christmas) Spirit!

I haven't been to a single Christmas party yet (the McScrooges at hubby's workplace cancelled their annual event to cut costs--boo!). I haven't baked any holiday goodies. I've barely wrapped any presents, and I've yet to sample any eggnog. Tuesday it was warm enough to be outside without a coat on, and instead of fluffy, white snowflakes and red sleds zooming down hills, we've had days of dark gray skies, rain, and black umbrellas as far as the eye can see. I've not been feeling very yule this year.

As we were cleaning up from dinner last night (and by cleaning up, I mean throwing away the paper plates I threw some turkey sandwiches on), Jason leaned in and said, "You know what it's time for, don't you?" And then he launched into that Bing Crosby Christmas standard. You know, that special holiday song that gets everyone in the spirit of the season.

"Mele Kalikimaka is the think to say
On a bright, Hawaiian Christmas day..."

What? Which Bing Crosby Christmas song did you think it was? Does he sing any other ones?

See, we in Cranky House think the best Christmas movie of all time is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. I know there are other, more heart-warming movies that more cultured and mature folks like, but for us it's all about the Griswolds and Cousin Eddie. As absurd as that movie is, it speaks more to what the holidays are like for me than any other holiday movie. I know that makes my family sound crazy and dysfunctional, but hey, that's pretty much the best way to describe us.

And of course, "Mele Kalikimaka" is the background song in a pivotal scene in that movie. Well, pivotal if you're male and you like watching a pretty girl strip off her bathing suit.

Talking to Jason about how it's just about time to have a Christmas Vacation viewing night, and calling out our favorite lines to each other, I felt my grinchy heart grow at least a size and a half.

Then, as if the TV gods heard my laughter and knew I needed some more cheer, we stumbled upon the SNL Christmas Special. The bad thing about having a DVR is you never see commercials for upcoming TV specials, so I had no idea that perennial favorite was on last night. Hooray!

I was way too tired to watch the whole thing, but we recorded it and I got to watch a few of my favorite holiday-themed sketches. Who doesn't feel the reason for the season when watching Mary Catherine Gallagher trying to outsing Whitney Houston and then crashing backwards into a Christmas set? Or when the middle-school music teachers re-enact the nativity at a shopping mall by singing an ill-arranged and operatically-sung medley? It brings a tear to my eyes and warms my heart. It really does.

I am hoping that when I watch the rest of it tonight that I get to hear my favorite fake R & B Christmas song. Yeah, you know the one. About a certain something-something in a box.

And that a certain Pete Schweaty gets to share a very special treat with the NPR ladies.

And if those sketches aren't included, I know I can find them on You Tube. After spending some time on that site, which features the very best and worst that our society has to offer, I always want to echo Tiny Tim. God bless us, everyone, indeed.

With a potential snow storm coming this weekend (rush the stores, everybody! Get your bread, milk, and de-icer before the White Death comes!), I am looking forward to watching my Christmas movie and my SNL and by Monday, I should be having the hap-hap-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby danced with Danny Kaye! Ho, ho, ho, everybody!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The First Baby Shower

Ainsley's kindergarten class is honoring the birth of Jesus in the traditional, old-fashioned way today; they're having a baby shower for the virgin mother.

Whaaaa? Exactly.

When the letter came home detailing the event, I was a little cynical. But then I read that all the gifts brought by the children will go to a local charity helping impoverished mothers-to-be, so I filled a gift bag with some baby essentials and sent Ainsley on with it this morning. She was really excited about it, and she is in love with the soft, green blanket I chose. She thinks "baby Jesus" will love being wrapped in it. Since she's into the spirit of the whole thing, I've had a hard time being completely snarky.

But I wouldn't be me if I didn't have some kind of commentary, now would I?

I am not a big fan of showers in general. Oh, the gifts are wonderful. Who doesn't like buying and receiving itty bitty onesies, fuzzy blankies, and sleepers? And I love getting together with the girlfriends. But I hate hate HATE having people watch me open gifts. I never know what to say. Especially with the baby gifts; it's a little embarrassing to open, say, a breast pump, in front of people you may or may not have beyond a passing acquaintance with. What do you say there? "Thanks so much for selecting this model; I hear it doesn't yank your nipples uncomfortably like some of those cheaper ones do!" Yeah, I prefer not to have to think or talk about such things in mixed company.

And then there's the cattiness. No matter how much her friends love the mother- or bride-to-be, there will be a lot of gossip and cutting-down around the salami rolls and champagne punch. The expectant mother will be criticized for either looking too fat or not looking pregnant enough, and everything from her nursery paint to the crib set to her method of birthing and plans for feeding the baby will be scrutinized and discussed. It's just what happens in a room full of women. Which is why I was thrilled when my good friend threw me a couple's baby shower; having men in the house toned some of that down a little.

So all morning I've been thinking about what a shower for Mary would have looked like.

A group of ladies are standing around a bowl of goats-milk sherbet punch, waiting for the guest of honor to arrive.

"I can't believe they haven't left for Joseph's home town yet. She's getting really big."
"I know! If they wait too much longer, she'll give birth somewhere in the middle of the desert on the way out there."
"And I'll bet you 20 ducats that Joseph hasn't send word out to make reservations at an inn yet."
"And you know how fast those inns fill up in Bethlehem."
"I can just see her having to have the baby in a barn or something."
"Yeah, and putting it to sleep in a trough!"
(Everyone laughs.)
"Well, I died the wool pink for the blanket I made her, but I hear she just knows she's having a boy."
"Oh, how could anyone know for sure what they're having? Unless she has a direct line to God or something."
"My great-great-great grandmother swore up and down she was carrying triplets but it just turned out that Goliath was a really big baby."
"You know, Mary is awfully big for how far along she says she is. Does anybody else find the math a little suspicious?"
"I am so glad someone else thought that! Surely she wasn't pregnant before she married Joseph..."
"Shhh, here she comes!"

Enter Mary. Everyone runs to her to hug her.

"Why, Mary, you're absolutely glowing! I'd almost think you were carrying the Messiah himself!"

Mary quickly changes the subject.

"So, I really hope one of you got me a cushion. It's going to be a long trip on that donkey!"


Of course, Ainsley's baby shower for Mary and Joseph will be very low on cattiness and high on sweetness. I hope that she learns all about Jesus's birth and the manger and the wise men and all that good stuff. She's got plenty of time to learn about the potential horridness of baby showers.

Here's hoping she doesn't need to learn that lesson for a looooong time.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Taste Aversion

The unbelievable has happened. One of my favorite foods, a substance that under ordinary circumstances I cannot live without, has become vile to my taste buds. I am almost in tears, y'all.

Every time I get a bad respiratory infection, I lose my appetite for a few weeks. It's usually a good thing; most people gain weight in the winter, but that's my thinnest time since I have at least one bad illness every winter. Occasionally, in addition to losing my appetite, I develop a serious aversion to some food that I ate while sick. Mostly it's meat that starts tasting funky, especially meat from hoofed animals (cloven and un.) Last year when I got bronchitis the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve, I went through a couple of weeks where Coke didn't taste right. Initially it was the only thing that would settle my stomach when the antibiotic upset it, but too much of a very, very good thing made even that old favorite taste off. I thought that was as bad as it could get, and when an icy Coca-Cola finally started satisfying me again, it was a joyous time, marked by the purchase of some pricy 8-oz. glass bottles to celebrate.

This time, it's my all-time favorite food that darn near sickens me. I have an aversion to chocolate. I know! I wouldn't have thought such a thing were possible, either.

It has been a week and a half since I've had a mid-morning Coke-and-candy-bar break at work. And longer than that since I nibbled on some Kisses or M&Ms while watching my favorite prime-time TV shows. I've tried milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and even made chocolate-chip pancakes for breakfast yesterday, and I can't take more than a few bites of any of it before I get a sour taste in my mouth and my stomach starts churning. It's quite tragic.

You would think I would be happy about this. I could stay a lot slimmer if I didn't crave chocolate every day. But it's one of the great joys of my life. A life without brownies, Snickers, and fudge is a life almost not worth living.

As I write, I have a Mr. Goodbar in my little fridge at work, and it's that time of day when I usually take a break, wrap up a blog entry, and nibble some processed cacao. Said treat is not calling my name. My stomach is more intrigued by the Cheetos I brought for lunch. Oh, sad, sad day.

I blame my Cacao Reserve fetish for this. I kinda lived on those things while I was coming down with the cold from hell. I guess my body associates that taste with the agony of the later sinus infection.

Whatever the reason for losing it, I want my taste for chocolate back.

I am open to suggestions for treats so delectable that my buds can't possibly resist them. (If you're going to suggest "Ghiardelli chocolate squares", yeah, I tried that last night and after one square tasted the way the zoo smells I broke into sobs and admitted defeat.) I've got to get my chocolate groove back!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Kingdoms or Planets

Would you scientist-type people stop changing the rules, already? You can't just go around and add new divisions of life and take planets away and then just expect people to, you know, be informed and stuff.

I am a very confused librarian today, and it's all because I fell asleep to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire yesterday.

I slept very restlessly on the couch for a few hours yesterday after school was cancelled; I am still taking cold medicine, and it does weird things to my sleep stages and makes me incorporate everything I hear while asleep into some crazy half-asleep, half-awake lucid-dreaming hallucinations. I don't need to try 'shrooms; I am pretty sure I get the same effect napping on Sudafed.

I know that while I was sleeping everyone's least favorite trivia game show came on, and there was some question about the classification system biologists use to organize life, and some neglected part of my brain that hasn't been exercised since 9th-grade biology class started chanting, "Kingdom! Phyllum! Class! Order! Family! Genus! Species!" to the remains of my consciousness, and I couldn't get that little voice to shut up. I was jolted fully awake a short time later by Drew Carey telling the first contestant on The Price is Right to come on down, and sat bolt upright on the couch yelling, "Kingdom! Phyllum! Class! Order! Family! Genus! Species!" to no one in particular. Good thing no one was around to commit me.

But as happens so often do right after waking from a dream, bits and pieces of the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire sequence started coming back to me. I could remember that I kept willing the contestant to answer with the "kingdom" choice, but when the answer was given, the correct answer was something else. A word I'd heard before, but never in the context of the classification of life. And the sad thing is, I couldn't even remember the question or the word that ended up being the correct answer. But since I'm a librarian, and maybe a little obsessive-compulsive, and because I couldn't get the whole "Kingdom! Phyllum! Class!..." mantra out of my head (thank you very much, Mr. Blankenbaker, something you taught us has stuck with me through adult-hood), I had to investigate a little this morning after things quieted down at work.

Did you all know that kingdom is no longer the highest classification? When I did a trusty Google search for "biology kingdom", I came across this little Wikipedia article. Now I know you aren't supposed to trust Wikipedia without investigating, so I have and it looks like some guy named Carl Woese proposed a 3 domain classification system back in 1990, and most contemporary American biology textbooks break life down in this way. And not only that, but instead of the 5 kingdoms I was taught (of which, in my stupor yesterday as I was trying to recall my "dream", I could only remember "plants", "animals", "single-celled organisms", and "two other groups that my teacher didn't spend a lot of time on, which may or may not include bacteria"), under this 3-domain thing there are 6 kingdoms. Whoa.

Those of you who took biology in college are probably going, "Duh, moron." But the last time I studied biology (and I'll have you know I got an A+, thank you very much) was the 1988/1989 school year. I opted for psychology as my life science in college, and apparently, I missed out.

If this is news to you, and you're still reading because you find this post remotely interesting, this site does a better job than the Wikipedia article about explaining the 3-domain system. As with many aspects of my life this week, it all boils down to bacteria. The 6th kingdom is "archaebacteria", which are those extreme organisms that aren't structured like any other life form and which can survive in the harshest places on earth, places where until the last couple of decades it was thought no life could exist. Pretty heavy stuff. Though I keep picturing "extreme" organisms as little mohawk-sporting, snow-boarding, bungi-jumping creatures who say "dude" and "wicked" a lot.

I had just gotten used to the idea of Pluto no longer being a planet, and now this whole "domain" and "6 kingdoms" thing invades my brain. For someone who nearly had a nervous breakdown in a summer astronomy class while trying to wrap my head around the concept of "nothing" before the Big Bang (I actually asked my GSP roommate, "But what color was the nothingness? If I can't see it, I can't understand it!"), this is hard to get.

Yes, I am a total nerd. Yes, I need a real life. Yes, I will go back to blogging about my kid's power poops.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Things I Wish I Hadn't Said

Oh, boy. I just made a complete ass of myself.

You ever watch a TV show like The Office (or watch Susan Mayer in Desperate Housewives) and get so embarrassed at the cringe-inducing things they're saying and the hole they're digging for themselves that you have to just turn away or watch through your fingers? I know I do. I get horribly embarrassed for people who can't seem to get embarrassed for themselves. And if you had been with me half an hour ago, you would have been having one of those so-awkward-I-can't-watch moments.

Let me set the scene. Five minutes before Ainsley and I would have to leave for school, I got that phone-master call I had been expecting that my school was cancelled in light of snow-covered roads. Ainsley's school made no such call, so I still had to take her in to school.

So we pull up in front of her school while it's still mostly dark, and there's some wet snow coming down. As I help Ains out of the car, squinting against the wind and snowflakes, I see some other parents and their kids coming up to the front doors. Ainsley calls out, "Hi, Billy!" to one of her classmates. I perk up at this; Ainsley has just received an invite to Billy's birthday party, and I still need to RSVP. So when I see the person holding Billy's hand, and see waist-length dark hair, I decide to introduce myself and say we're coming to the party.

"Hi! You must be Billy's mom," I say. "We're coming to the party; I just haven't RSVP'ed yet..."

And about then Billy's "mom" lifts "her" head and I see the stubble. Crap. Billy's dad has really long hair.

And then I just started rambling.

"Oh! You're Billy's dad. I'm sorry, I just saw the hair, but this is Ainsley, and she's coming to the birthday party, and..." and about then I realized I couldn't shut up and really couldn't tell you what all I said, but I know whatever it was it probably didn't help anything. Billy's dad just smiled and nodded until we got to the door and there we thankfully parted ways.

Maybe she's not going to the birthday party. I don't know if I can show my face to the dad again.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Best Part of Working in Education in a District That Uses Buses Is...

The snow day.

The weather forecast is calling for snow overnight, my assistant principal did a test of our "phone master" system that sends each of us an alert when school is closed, and the skies are becoming that precious shade of so-pale-gray-that-it's-almost-white, so I am bracing myself for a possible day off tomorrow. I probably just jinxed it by talking about it, though, so I better go do my snow day dance.

I ordinarily wouldn't be so excited about a day off so early in the winter, but I had to concede defeat to this respiratory thing and go to the doctor today, and a day off would be so fabulous. As I type, it feels like a small creature is trying to beat its way out of the sinuses above my right eye. Of course, I am on an antibiotic (anybody else feel incredibly guilty when prescribed one in the face of all the talk about how they're overprescribed and creating superbugs and all that?), and that should kill the creature soon enough. But, man, wouldn't I love to get a 5am "Go back to bed" phone call tomorrow morning.

I know you hate me, all of you who work real jobs and who have to go to work even if Armageddon comes and the interstate highway you travel gets closed down by Satan-sent lava flows. But just think of this--when the dusting of snow melts and I go back to work, I have to face 1500 hormonal, smart-mouthed, eye-rolling, know-it-all teenagers.

Would you still want to trade me?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Just Stand Around Me and Wave Your Arms, Charlie-Brown Style

Just watched "A Charlie Brown Christmas." I still cackle at the dance scene, and have a new favorite dancing character every year; this year, I was all about the brunette in the lime-green dress who just puts her hands in front of her face, "Vogue"-style. She replaced the Frankenstein-looking guy who runs in place in profile with his arms held out like a classic movie monster. Oh, if only Dance Dance Revolution let me get away with such rad moves.

And as always, I wish we could truly make things prettier by just standing around them and waving our arms willy-nilly, like the tree's Extreme Makeover scene.

Such a classic. And it gets so many things right. I feel a little Christmas spirit coming on...oh, wait, that's the shot of Wild Turkey Honey-Bourbon liqueur I just took as a hot toddy for my cough.

Out of the Mouth of Ains

Ah, this is a good one.

Because, as a typical 5-year-old, the little one still has some, shall we say, personal hygeine issues, she lets us know when she has done her doody. Tonight, she hollered out,

"I power pooped!"

Surely that's not what she said. I asked her to repeat herself.

"I said, I power pooped!"

Not quite sure what she means, but I am intrigued. Could this be the new power lunch? That would be one hell of a corporate strategy, wouldn't it?

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Worst Christmas Song in the History of the World

If anyone was surprised or a little put-off by my "I hate Christmas" rant a few days ago, I apologize. I now know why I was in a particularly bah-humbug mood; I was coming down with the atrocious infection my daughter had. I have felt pretty physically rotten the last 36 hours, and when I feel sick, I get grumpy and blue. Being sick around Christmas is even worse; I get bogged down in the stress of getting behind on shopping, decorating, wrapping, etc. This is the second year in a row I've been out for the count the week after Thanksgiving, and it's making me view the holidays in a bad light. Perhaps things will get better once I get better.

But you know what I will always have ill will towards? The worst, most exploitative Christmas pop song ever. The song that makes me holler out, "Nooooo!" and change channels immediately. Any guesses?

Before I give it up, let's review. I did a post a while ago about those songs that you hate so much they immediately make you change the channel. I am shocked that I left this one off; I think this cheerful little holiday ditty might be my least favorite song in the history of ever. Nothing makes me hit a preset button faster than the opening notes of this song. Not even Nickelback.

It is..."The Christmas Shoes"! Oh, yeah. We all know this one, right? It gets heavy airplay on those radio stations that start playing non-stop Christmas "hits" in November, and if you listen to those stations longer than 30 minutes a day, you are guaranteed to hear the tinkly, saccharine opening of the "Christmas Shoes" at least once.

Some of you may be thinking, "Awww! I love that song! It's so sad!" Yes, it is. Which is why I hate hearing it at Christmas.

And not just sad. It brings out every weepy lyrical device ever conjured for the sole effect of making people cry into their Christmas stockings. Its purpose is to say, "Hey! I know this is supposed to be a joyous time of celebration, hope, and light, but let's all stop for a minute to think about how tragic the holidays can be! Everyone just seems too happy this year!"

In one short song, here's what you get:

You've got the old tear-jerker standby of the dying young mother (and though not stated, the lingering nature of her death sounds like cancer). It's like listening to Debra Winger die in Terms of Endearment. But wait! There's more! Then you've got the impoverished, ill-kempt child running around without adult supervision on Christmas Eve. Like Tiny Tim, said poor kid is heart-wrenching in his concern for others. He's saved all his change to buy his dying mom a pair of Christmas slippers. And that's not all! You've got impatient, selfish shoppers and sales people who get annoyed that the kid doesn't have enough money and who treat him badly. As if that's not enough, then you've got the religious overtones. The kid isn't just getting the mom a pair of shoes; he's buying the shoes she'll wear at her imminent death and that she will meet Jesus in. And just in case you haven't caused a car accident yet by crying while this is playing in your car, they make sure that one chorus is sung by a children's choir so you can literally hear a child's grief coming through your speakers. Gah! The cherry on top of this big old mound of profound hopelessness is that the narrator saves the day (as though it can possibly be saved at this point) by digging into his own pockets to buy the shoes. Love and selflessness prevail, right? It's hopeful at the end, isn't it?

Wrong! Think about it. That poor kid still has to go home and face the dying mom. Yes, some stranger tossed a few bucks his way, but is the stranger also walking him home? Comforting him? Contacting social services to try to get the family some financial help (and to help make sure the kid isn't always running loose on the streets?) It just ends with the narrator feeling all heart-warmed about this big, generous thing he's done. He's really congratulating himself on his own Christmas spirit; he says,

I knew I caught a glimpse of heaven's love as he thanked me and ran out.
I know that God had sent that little boy to remind me
What Christmas is all about.

So, God sent a pitiful, grieving little kid your way with the sole purpose of redeeming your misguided idea of Christmas? Really? Is it all about you?

Of course, some martketing genius turned this 4-minute song into a 2-hour TV movie several years ago and made the narrator more involved and tried to make the final picture a little more hopeful and complete. And they even came out with a sequel. Because if there's one thing we need more of at the holidays, it's stories about kids who have lost their moms.

Maybe I'm so sensitive to this song because of my own backstory. Maybe it hits a little too close to home; as a cancer survivor, one of my worst fears is that I will die a horrible, prolonged cancer death while Ainsley is still young, leaving her lonely and scarred. I don't want to think about my little girl searching the couch cushions for spare change some future Christmas Eve, catching a bus to Macy's to get me a pair of shoes to die in. There are so many things wrong with that scenario. It doesn't exactly put me in the Christmas spirit to listen to this put to song for the sole effect of making people cry at Christmas.

Do I think everything about the holidays should be cheerful? No! Some of my favorite carols (the Coventry Carol, for instance) explore the sadder, more reverent side of the birth narrative. And I love me a good Hallmark commercial. The difference with those types of Christmas weepies is that they don't try so hard to be sad just for the sake of being sad; they just tell good stories. Don't you feel all warm and fuzzy inside after watching a Christmas Hallmark commercial? Don't they just reinforce that holidays ar all about love and family, even if they do make you cry a little? Now imagine if someone took the plot of The Christmas Shoes and made that a greeting card commercial. Do you still feel warm and fuzzy, or are you more in a mood to drink your sorrows away for the remainder of the season?

For me, it's the latter. And that's why I hate this song.

What do you think? Am I being too harsh? Is there a redeeming quality there that I'm missing? Is there a worse holiday song?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

New Posts Below!

I finished everything I started during the long holiday weekend. Check out the new posts below.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Catching Up...

Wow. It's been almost a week. Sorry I haven't graced you with my presence over the holiday of thanks. I've had a lot going on. Like:

1. Cooking sides and desserts that barely got touched at both of the Thanksgiving family deals we attend;

2. Playing Guitar Hero III;

3. Putting up Christmas decorations;

4. Avoiding major shopping centers and doing all my "Black Friday" gift shopping online while sitting in my pajamas;

5. Nursing a 5-year-old with an ear infection.

The last one was the least fun. That kid always gets sick after a major holiday. It's as reliable as most people's New Year's Day hangovers.

So, to get caught up, I am going to do a couple of little posts tonight and tomorrow. I am going ot try to cheat the posting times so that they follow this post.

Talk to ya soon!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

I'm a Mean One...Cranky Grinch...

It didn't take long for the Christmas grumpies to set in.

It doesn't take much for me, really. Here's a dirty little lean in close...closer...I HATE CHRISTMAS! There. I said it. Call me Grinch. Call me Scrooge. But don't dare say you love every single teeny tiny minute of the holidays. Do you honestly like standing in line in an overheated department store behind a woman who wants to argue that the Tommy Hilfiger jeans she's holding came off of the "$9.99 or less" rack to buy a sweater for a picky relative who will either store it in a closet with the tags still on to never ever wear or to exchange the day after Christmas? Do you really? Do you enjoy spending every free evening surrounded by wrapping paper and tape and tags and bows, fighting off the family cat, who likes to get in the middle of every expanse of wrapping paper as soon as you spread it out, trying to wrap a bathrobe that you miraculously squeezed into a shirt box and therefore is trying to explode out of the box like a can of snakes? Is that fun for you? Huh? Liar!

OK, so I know there are some people who truly love every minute of Christmas and the smile on the kids' faces and the family feasts and the drunken office parties and all that. I am friends with some of these people. Good for them! Just don't give me one of those disbelieving, wide-eyed, you-mean-to-tell-me-you-don't-like-Christmas looks when I confess I'm not one of them. It doesn't make me a bad person. It does make me a woman.

Men have it easy when it comes to the holidays. The little woman scrambles to get the vast majority of the gifts, do the wrapping, deck the halls, keep the master schedule of Santa breakfasts, parties, and church events, and tops it all off by cooking, baking, and cleaning for the big family holiday party. Then the men wonder why, come December 26, we just want to lay on the couch and drink leftover eggnog with a little extra "nog" thrown in for good measure. It's exhausting, and since I am a perfectionist who needs to feel inspired by each gift I buy, emotionally draining. I take it too personally when someone acts less-than-thrilled by a gift. I almost break down when Santa's cookies get a little too crisp, or the roast beast ends up dry. I don't handle stress well; when it's December 23rd, and there are still unwrapped presents, and stocking stuffers to buy, and that one last gift to get for that person I don't know very well in the in-laws' family name draw, I can't take it. I can't enjoy the pretty lights, the TV specials, or playing Santa. I'm too bogged down in the details.

I would like it so much better if the whole gift thing was thrown out of the equation for anyone over the age of 18. I like buying for kids, and I love Ainsley's face on Christmas morning. That, to me, is what it's all about. Imagine, if you will, a Christmas where it's all about the kids, and where adults spend their money on the less fortunate or on themselves. We wouldn't max out the credit cards. We could afford to do more for the homeless and the impoverished. Heck, if you want to think about it selfishly, you wouldn't need to ask Santa for a new iPod; you could afford to buy one yourself. Think about how much more enjoyable the holidays would be if our time and energy wasn't spent in the stores. Instead of spending hours buying gifts for your mom, you could spend hours with your mom. Isn't that what the holidays are really supposed to be about? Did all you Christmas-lovers pay any attention to Charlie Brown? Wasn't his whole point that commercialism sucks all the joy and meaning out of the holiday? Everyone talks about the Charlie Brown tree; I want a Charlie Brown Christmas, stripped of all the excess, back to the basics of joy and light and time spent with family. I want to start a minimalist movement this Christmas. Let's take back the fun of the holiday and leave the stress behind! Who's with me?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Oh, alright then. Commercialism wins. I'll see you at the mall.

Friday, November 23, 2007

You Can Always Go...Downtown!

It's amazing how poorly we know our own cities and towns.

I've lived in northern Kentucky for, oh, 3 decades now, but downtown Cincinnati, a mere 20 minutes away, is almost as unexplored to me as, say, New York City. That's sad, really.

In our search for a family holiday tradition that we can realistically follow every year, we ventured downtown the day after Thanksgiving. And we had a terrific time. We rode a bus from a nearby Park and Ride, took in the Duke Energy train exhibit, ate lunch at Benihana (Ainsley thinks it's so cool that they make her fried rice on the table, and she picked almost every bite of hibachi shrimp from our plates), watched the ice skaters at Fountain Square, and took a horse-drawn carriage ride. It's the most fun I've ever had on Black Friday. There were no crowds, everything felt festive and laid-back, and every dime we spent we spent on ourselves. Not a bad way to kick off the stress of the rest of the holidays.

I learned a lot during the carriage ride. When I do visit downtown Cincinnati, I always have a specific destination in mind and never wander much further than the fountain or the Aronoff Center. Our horseman strolled us into the oldest part of the city, where Taft built his mansion and where classy granite and brick German architecture gets dwarfed by the glass and metal of the contemporary office towers. I know so little of the history of my own surroundings; it was nice to sip coffee and hot chocolate, cover up with a blanket, and get a history lesson accompanied by the clip-clop of horseshoes on asphalt.

All in all, a pleasant afternoon, and the start of what I hope will be a Cranky holiday tradition.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


A few things I am thankful for this year:

1. After spending last Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter in the hospital, my mother-in-law finally got to spend a healthy holiday with her family (and she was so healthy that she cooked almost everything herself!);

2. Heroes stopped sucking;

3. Another year cancer-free;

4. Ainsley's teacher and her little friends at school;

5. Hershey's Cacao Reserves bars;

6. Being able to find a Wii before Christmas;

7. Antibiotics;

8. Unibroue beer;

9. Beer in general;

10. Our jobs, without which numbers 4 through 10 would not be possible;

11. Our families, and our friends, who are like family.

12. My readers. All 6 of you.

Happy Holidays, y'all!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Over the Top

Macaroni and cheese: Good!

Cincinnati chili: Good!

Mound of finely shredded cheddar cheese: Good!

Gold Star Chili's new Chili Mac and Cheese? of retching)...not good.

Check out that commercial for it in the link above. Does that look remotely appetizing to you? Anyone? Anyone? Is it just me? Or is that really one of the most disturbing restaurant creations ever?

I mean, c'mon. I like a 3-Way every now and again (the chili version, of course.) But I feel guilty about it. I'm pretty sure it has no redeeming nutritional value. Several years ago the Cincinnati papers did an expose on the extrememly high (even for fast food) calories and fat grams in 3-Ways and cheese coneys and it was enough to make your liver heave. I can only imagine taking out the plain spaghetti noodles, the only part of a 3-Way not loaded with artery-cloggers, and replacing it with macaroni and cheese. It may taste good, (may), but I can't imagine it would be so earth-shattering as to be worth the thousand or so calories.

The Gold Star people have grossed me out before. Once a year they bring out the chili burger. Now, I know many restaurants serve a chili burger. That's fine. But like the Chili Mac and Cheese, they take it above and beyond. As you would expect, it's a cheeseburger (1/4 lb. of beef!) with some of their Cincinnati-style chili on top. I'm with it at that point. But what makes theirs truly special is that an ordinary bun isn't good enough. They serve their chili burger on garlic bread. Yes! It's the burger for the guy who feels his arteries are simply too clean, and who wants to make sure his co-workers get to put their CPR and portable defibrilator training to good use. I can just picture the development meeting for this item:

"Gentlemen, we need a burger!"
"Yes! Absolutely!"
"And since we're a chili chain, we should put our chili on that burger!"
"But of course!"
"And make sure we put a slice of American cheese on that beef patty."
"Naturally. It wouldn't be a cheeseburger without that!"
"And then some of our finely shredded cheddar on top of the chili."
"Why not? It makes our 3-Ways so good!"
"But it's missing something. It needs some pizzazz. What kind of bread do the people like?"
"I like garlic bread, sir."
"That's it! We'll serve it all between two slices of Texas toast soaked in garlic butter! Genius! Now, what does everybody want to order today for lunch?"

Perhaps I am being too harsh. It could be the greatest junk food creation since, well, ever. But I just don't know if I could bring myself to try it. I'm not a health food freak, by any stretch of the imagination (she says, as she pops open a Coke and nibbles on a Cacao Reserve bar). But I have never understood how anyone over the age of 25 can, without guilt, go into a Wendy's and get the triple cheeseburger with extra mayo, Biggie fries, Biggie Coke, and a 99-cent Frosty. If the nausea didn't kill me, my own guilt and calorie-counting would make me want to jump off a cliff after such an indulgence. I've seen Supersize Me and Fast Food Nation. I don't need to live it.

But we all do it, don't we? We've all done the over-the-top food thing. It's part of being American, after all. But I feel I have to draw the line somewhere. And I am drawing that line at Gold Star's Chili Mac and Cheese.

As we approach the holiday of indulgence this Thursday, let us all think about times that we should have drawn the line with food but didn't. What's the most outrageously bad-for-you thing you've ever eaten? And would you try macaroni and cheese smothered in Cincy chili smothered in cheddar cheese?

To show you I'm not a granola-eating health freak, let me get the ball rolling. Once, when I was much younger and thought that both my skinny genes and my skinny jeans would last forever, I pulled into a McDonald's to take advantage of their limited-time-only "2 for $2" double cheeseburger deal. Midway through the second burger, I realized they had given me 2 triple cheeseburgers (on sale for 2 for $3!) instead. I still finished it. And felt like crap for 2 days. And swore I would never eat that much fried beef in one sitting again, but justified it to my fiance later by saying, "But I didn't get any fries!"

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Near Miss

I have good news and bad news. Which do you want first? I personally like to hear the bad news first, so let's start with that, shall we?

The bad news: One of the kid's most prized possessions, her The Little Mermaid music box with 4 little snow globes on top, shattered into a million little pieces yesterday.

The good news: She wasn't seriously injured when the dresser said music box was perched on fell over on top of her.

It was not a good way to kick off a Sunday. I was leaving for a solo trip to the grocery store, and before I headed to the garage I told Ainsley to go get her socks on. To get her socks, she had to pull open a drawer in the tall, thin "Dresser of Death" in the corner of her room. Jason and I have been iffy about that dresser since she moved into that room. It used to be mine when I was a kid, and though it never fell over on me, it has a high center of balance and has always seemed a little wobbly. We tell her to stay away from it when mommy and daddy aren't in the room, and we help her get her socks and pajamas and undies out of it, but just as she ran into her room yesterday morning to get the socks, I hollered up to ask Jason a question. That was the moment he would have been in there supervising the drawer opening. In that split second, she plopped on the floor next to the dresser and yanked open the bottom drawer where the socks are. It toppled the dresser, and sent the large Ariel music box with its 4 glass domes flying overhead.

I heard the boom in the garage. I thought something was going to come through the drywall. It didn't occur to me what had happened until I heard crying.

Jason got to her room well before I did. When he went in, she was still seated with her knees up close to her head and the dresser leaning over her, with her head and arms and knees supporting the weight. She had kept it from crushing her. The snow globe was a couple of feet behind her, shattered in a kaleidoscope of glass and glitter.

So many things could have gone wrong there.

If she hadn't been seated where she could kind of brace herself against the weight, she could have been crushed. The 10-pound music box could have fallen right on top of her head had it not gotten some momentum and been thrown over her head. In either scenario, she could have died.

As it was, the only mark on her is a pale red scrape above her eyebrows where one of the drawer handles was resting against her head as she braced herself. And, of course, she was really frightened. It took 10 minutes of crying before she got calmed down and could talk to us.

When nothing on her body appeared to be broken, or smashed, or cut, I set about cleaning up the phenomenal mess a broken snow globe leaves behind. The first shard of glass I reached down to pick up lodged straight into my left index finger. It didn't go in deeply, but for a few seconds I just stood there, piece of glass sticking out, wedged into the skin so that even when I foolishly tried to shake it off, it stayed stuck. I expected a gush when I pulled it out, but it barely bled as I finished the cleanup.

And what a cleanup it was. The contents of her top dresser drawer, which mostly holds rubber bands, head bands, and toy jewelry, spilled into all the glass and liquid. Most of this was too big to just suck up in the sweeper, so even though I knew very little of it could be salvaged and had to get thrown away I still had to pick it up by hand, dodging glass pieces as I reached into the wreckage. I learned that the chemical inside snow globes that all that glitter and "snow" float around in has a strong smell and doesn't dry quickly. I had to vacuum over wet carpet, which I know is an electrocution hazard, but what are you going to do when you have a gazillion miniscule pieces of glass imbedded in the carpet? I vacuumed twice, and this morning could still see a few glints of light in the pile that make me think there's still some glass in there. And the carpet still isn't dry.

We're all upset that the music box/snow globes got broken, but we are grateful for the miracle of Ainsley not getting killed by the heavy piece of furniture. We are also grateful for the fact that when Jason ran into that room barefoot to rescue her, despite the massive amount of glass right in the middle of the floor, he didn't get a single cut.

By the time I had things picked up, Ainsley was running around in the living room throwing paper airplanes, none the worse for wear. I still had to do our grocery shopping. I was at the store when the enormity of what happened finally hit me. I felt a breakdown coming on right there in the produce aisle, and for 5 minutes I couldn't for the life of me remember what I had come there to buy. I made 4 or 5 circuits around the oranges, lettuces, and potatoes before I could think about where I was and what I was there to do. And I still had to keep going back to the produce throughout my trip because I kept forgetting the things I needed. In the canned fruit aisle, I had another moment where my brain buzzed out, and I caught myself standing slack-jawed and mouth-breathing in front of the applesauce, wondering at what my life would be like and how I could possibly go on had that incident gone differently.

Life is so incredibly fragile. One stupid mistake, one wrong move, one misstep, and someone you love could be taken from you. We try to child-proof our homes, to batten down the hatches and build safety nets, but we can't possibly foresee every possible accident. We knew that dresser was a little wobbly, but never seriously thought it could topple over after one tug on the bottom drawer from our skinny little kid. After all, I had had it in my own room when I was not much older than Ainsley, and I'm still here. But you don't always see the big dangers of your life, even when they're hurtling toward you at 60 miles an hour. I guess that's why they're called accidents.

Consider us warned. We will be doing something with that dresser (like chopping it up for fire wood) very soon. But what else is out there? What other dangers lurk?

No one really knows. And that, my friends, is the scariest realization I've ever had.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

An Exploration of Art...Including a Picasso...But Not a Garfunkel

Sorry, Barenaked Ladies fans. I couldn't resist adapting some lyrics for the title.

I cannot believe that I have lived in this area for so many years and claim to support the arts but have never visited the Cincinnati Art Museum. Well, there was that one time "Wanda" and I visited her mother when she worked in the museum restaurant, but seeing as how I didn't check out a single painting, and instead made a beeline for the kitchen to eat a ham sandwich, I'm pretty sure it doesn't count.

I had my chance yesterday and pounced on it. The advanced art students were going there on a field trip, and per museum rules, there had to be one chaerone per 10 students, so I was asked to tag along. I don't know what took me so long; it's well-organized, not overwhelming, and the best's free! How did hubby and I not go there for a date when we were poor high-school kids?

Even more so than the original works of art gracing the walls and display cases, I was most impressed by how intelligently and knowledgeably our upper-level art students could talk about what they were seeing. I had humanities classes in college, and know a little about the major movements and most famous artists, but when it comes to discussing line, medium, and brush clue. These students could and did. And they were talking about how they were going to try this technique and that technique and this palette and that palette and pointed out the paint thickness to each other and compared their own styles to what they saw. Meanwhile, I stood in front of the paintings my un-artistic brain told me were"pretty".

I did find myself very moved by some of the works. Cassatt is one of my favorites, and I stood in front of a beautiful painting she did of a mother holding her infant with its head peeking over her shoulder and almost cried at the rawness of the love she somehow expressed with a brush and some oils. Meanwhile, the talented kids, who the docent said had "good taste", were gathered in silent awe around a painting that did little for me emotionally, but that had drawn the art kids in from all the way across the room before they ever even saw who painted it: Van Gogh. The last painting he completed, in fact. While I can appreciate that, I would much rather stand in silent awe around the Cassatt. And another mother/child painting done by a "minor" painter I had never heard of in that same room. I guess for most of us art is very subjective and personal.

The one room I didn't enjoy was the modern art room. It featured a Picasso, and again, while I can appreciate it for what it is, I didn't think it was much to look at. The kids, of course, ate it up. In fact, many said that that room, with its examples of Cubism, Surrealism, and a few other "isms" I completely don't get, was most like their work and most like what they saw themselves doing this year. Personally, I find my daughter's doodles and drawings of people with huge heads and bug-like bodies to be more impressive and inspiring, but I guess that's to be expected from someone who can't even draw a convincing lollipop tree.

I've told Jason I want to go there on a family date soon and spend a little more time browsing the rooms we didn't hit and revisit some of my favorites. We need something a little more cultural on a Saturday than trying to beat Guitar Hero III and falling asleep during Academy-Award-nominated-but-boring-as-hell Netflix rentals.

And maybe, just maybe, I'll see in a second visit what those talented eyes saw in the Van Gogh and the Picasso.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Little Time in the Reserves--The Cacao Reserves, That Is

Every day, long about 10am, I have to have me a little chocolate.

Sometimes more than a little.

Like so many of my little quirks and addictions, I have to point the finger at my parents for this problem. They ate sweets everyday, and I was allowed to have a little treat every day so long as I ate most of what they put on my plate at dinner. Each evening when one or the other of the parental units would make the daily trip up to the Convenient (I love it when stores are named exactly for what they are) to buy their cigarettes, I was asked what candy bar I wanted brought back. I went through a Twix phase, then foundered on Nestle Crunch, and for a long time, gorged on Whatchamacallits. In high school, I ate my weight (which, thankfully, was not much) in Snickers bars. Whenever I saw an advertisement for a new candy (anybody remember Royals?), I would have to give that a try. As long as I got some form of chocolate every day, I was pretty easy to please.

As an adult, I have tried to break this habit. Especially the last few years when I have finally begun fighting the battle of the bulge. For a while, I tried to appease my daily craving with those little 100-calorie cookie packs, or with low-fat and diet bars, or with a Slim Fast shake. Life is too short for crappy chocolate, though, and the deal I have finally been able to live with is that as long as I can make myself get to the gym at least twice in any given week, than I reward myself by bringing in a chocolate bar of some sort to nosh on during my mid-morning Coke break. This is probably the main reason why I can't lose the last 5 pounds that separates me from my pre-Ainsley weight, but that's something I think I can live with.

With all the talk about the health benfits of dark chocolate, particularly the chocolate that is at least 60% cacao, I have been branching out and trying the darker, more serious stuff. I think I've converted; milk chocolate is almost too sweet for me now, and even my M&Ms have gone dark. But this morning I stumbled across a dark (and therefore healthy, right?) treat that I have to share with my readers.

On sale at Kroger's this week were all varieties of "Cacao Reserve" bars by everyone's favorite American chocolatier, Hershey's. I got one of each, and wasn't terribly impressed with the other one I tried , a milky bar with only 35% cacao. Today's rocks my socks, though. It's the 65% cacao bar with cacao nibs. And oh my God, the nibs.

I thought it might be too much. But it's kinda like a Nestle Crunch's dark and obscenely wealthy evil twin. Except instead of the crispiness coming from rice, it's coming from little chopped up cacao beans. The chocolate itself is smooth as velvet, then you get this little crunch from even richer, very finely-crushed nuggets of the pure stuff...excuse me while I wipe the drool off my laptop.

The downside? While rationing the rather large bar into segments so I didn't go over the recommended 3-block serving (the label on the back states, "Like most indulgent treats, Cacao Reserve by Hershey's should be enjoyed in moderation"--you mean I shouldn't eat the whole bar to get double the health benefits?) I sent cacao nibs flying everywhere, including on my fairly new Gap khakis, where they melted into little dark-brown blobs.

Really, though, a small price to pay for a few minutes in chocolate heaven.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Schoolhouse Rocked

Yesterday afternoon we caught a matinee of the kid's school's fall musical, Schoolhouse Rock Live! Jr. Imagine a bunch of little squirts singing your favorite edu-ma-cational shorts from all those Saturday morning cartoons you used to watch as a kid. Awwwwww. Yeah, it was that cute.

Each class took part in one number, and the kindergartners' song was that little ditty about Manifest Destiny called "Elbow Room." I had been hearing Ainsley sing it at least half-a-dozen times each day this week, plus she wanted to watch that song on our Schoolhouse Rock DVD every day this weekend, so I thought I was pretty tired of hearing it. Talk about something that will get stuck in your head. Sing it with me now!

Elbow room, elbow room!
Gotta gotta get us some elbow room.
It's the west or bust
In God we trust
There's a new land out there!

But seeing the kid do it with the other little kindergarten baby-faces, and watching them do little choreographed moves for all the verses (and there are quite a few of them) I got such a case of the cutesy-gigglies that I had to wipe a tear or two from my eyes. It was worth missing my Sunday afternoon nap for.

The other classes were terribly precious, too, especially the 1st-graders, who did "Unpack Your Adjectives." The song itself was adorable (they all had little visors and backpacks and ran from a huge-but-not-remotely-frightening plush bear!), but what really cracked me up was how they all huddled into one side of the stage at the beginning, and when a backstage mom got their attention and motioned for them to spread and for some to go the other side, they acted like lemmings and all went and huddled on the opposite side. Remind me never to volunteer to be a backstage mom; it seemed too much like herding cats.

We were worried that Ainsley's shyness would cause her to stand frozen on stage with her fingers in her mouth like she did at our church's vacation bible school final show last summer, but the little thing did quite well and sang most of the time and did her choreography with flair. She has said she wants to do this kind of thing again. And is talking about wanting to take dance lessons. A diva is born!

Which is fine with me. Any Sunday afternoon that I can spend watching munchkins sing, dance, and mess up their stage directions to humorous effect is a good Sunday afternoon, indeed.

Friday, November 9, 2007

All I Want for Christmas

We are apparently skipping Thanksgiving this year. Oh, I know the stores always rush the season and throw the red and green decorations on the shelves as soon as they get rid of the orange and black. But this year, I am already seeing yuletide commercials, news stories about in-demand toys, and at least one retailer has sent me a circular stating that their "biggest sale of the year" will come not on the traditional day-after-Thanksgiving, but 2 weeks before. It's stressing me out, y'all. I feel like I should have started my shopping already, but I haven't even decided which side I will bring to the two T-day turkey dinners we attend (green beans, corn casserole, or sweet potato bake?)

When, the kings of snark, made this week's Pop Watch Confessional about Christmas pop songs, I knew the season had officially (and prematurely) begun. As I sat reading everyone's faves at lunch yesterday, and got Bono's oh-so-sexy voice stuck in my head ("Baby please come home..." I'm on my way, Bono!) I started thinking about what I was going to get everyone for Christmas. Which led to thoughts of what I want for Christmas. 'Tis the season to be selfish, after all.

So, in case you were wondering what to get the Crankmeister for Christmas (or, the solstice, if you no longer respect my validity as a Christian after my Belief-O-Matic experience), here's a little wish list for you. To make it easier for you, I have included links so you can shop online (I'm here to make your life easier!) Perhaps on this list you will find a little gem for yourself, too. Get in the spirit!

1. Radio-controlled tarantula Crawls like a real spider! Scurries across any flat surface!
This is the gift to give me if you don't like me very much, or if my political and religious posts have offended you in some way. You really want to surprise me this Christmas? Unwrap this, put batteries in, and remote it across my kitchen floor while I'm starting brunch Christmas morning. The look on my face will be priceless! Mostly because it will be the last look my face ever has.

2. T-shirt from Northern Sun referencing my true nature
Reads "I Haven't Been the Same Since That House Fell On My Sister!" Would also be a good gift for my own sister. It works both ways. Really, there's a lot from that particular store that would suit me; this bumper sticker cracks me up, too.

3. Latawnya, The Naughty Horse, Learns to Say "No" to Drugs. An epic tale of what happens when horses and drugs mix. It may be hard to find, but it would be a gift that keeps on giving, as I would certainly share it with Ainsley. And with all my friends, who I would invite over for beverages as we share this well-written and heart-warming tale. (By the way, if you need a laugh today, spend a few minutes looking at the customer reviews for this book. You won't be disappointed.)

4. Star Wars Luke Skywalker Lightsaber
Because I am, at heart, a huge geek.

5. A case of Mexican Coke
Because we addicts know that the Mexican stuff is the finest.

What are you waiting for? Credit cards out, people!

Seriously, though, all I really want for Christmas is world peace.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

My Poor Little Sick Kid

The kid is sick. AGAIN.

This is illness number 3 for us in a little over a month. She's worn out and we're worn out.

She always gets a cold the week after Halloween. I don't know what it is; we dress her warmly, don't let her stay out the entire 2 hours of tricking and treating allotted in our city, and don't let her eat her weight in candy. But it never fails.

It was no huge shock, then, when the sniffles started over the weekend. I thought things were fine, though, until she had a meltdown over her Honeycombs this morning. She suddenly burst into real, heart-wrenching tears and, when we asked her what in the world was wrong, looked at us with her big doe eyes and said, "I can't breathe through my nose and I feel bad and I don't want to go to school and that makes me sad." Good Lord. No way could I make her go to school after that. I'm not made of stone.

No way could I take a day off work today, either (I had to play the role of Technology Wench for a slew of guest speakers today), so we would have been stuck had Mamaw not come to the rescue. The woman is a saint.

Hopefully the tears and the snot will be dried up by tomorrow and we can get her back to school. As much as I believe kids should stay home when they're sick, it kills me to keep her at home because of the unbelievable amount of make-up work she will have to do. We'll spend all weekend filling in letter-writing practice sheets, matching shapes, sorting things by color, and, or course, coloring. Add to that the "Family Turkey Project" we already had for homework this weekend (we, as a family, have to "adopt" a paper turkey and decorate him and name him and enter him into a contest against the other kindergarten families, most of whom I wager will care a lot more about this assignment than I currently do.) And the little darling gets to do a class act in her school's presentation of School House Rock Jr. on Sunday.

If it weren't for the annual Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Wines and Beers of the World festival Saturday, I think I, too, would be falling apart over my breakfast cereal.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Classroom Helper

I spent part of my day off yesterday being a "room mother" at the kid's school.

Before you think I did this because I am such a caring, philanthropic soul, remember that Ainsley's school asks (though is it really asking if they charge us $100 at the end of the year if we don't do it?) that each school family contribute a total of 20 hours of volunteering per year at the school. That's why Ains and I each took a shift at the pit of hell otherwise known as the church festival, and why I made a huge pan of not-from-the-box brownies for the school Halloween party; I'm in it for the hours. And every time I have a day off school that Ainsley doesn't, instead of falling asleep on the couch with chocolate melting in my lap and The Price is Right blaring on the TV, I'll be helping out in a room full of 5-year-olds.

It wasn't so bad. The last part of my sentence involved working the "sweet shop", in which the munchkins trade in the pennies they have earned for good behavior for nickels and the nickels for small boxes of Nerds. I gave each kid the option, as the teacher asked me to, of holding on to their nickels for bigger prizes to come at future sweet shops. A very few did this; most, including my own daughter, acted like those Nerds were little boxes of gold. I reminded Ains that we had a couple hundred of those same boxes of Nerds at home, left over from trick-or-treat. Heaven forbid she walk out of the sweet shop empty-handed, though, so she traded in her nickels for more pure-sugar-and-fake-strawberry-flavor goodness.

The differences in maturity among the kids was amazing. Some of the kids looked like babies; you could just fold them up and put 'em in your pocket. Others, mostly the boys, looked like they were just days away from needing to shave and from getting driver's licenses. I know that the big thing now is to hold boys with late birthdays back a year to allow them to be more mature when they get to kindergarten, and I'm not knocking it (especially with all the trouble Ainsley had adjusting herself that first month, being one of the youngest kids), but it's weird to see these older boys like Gandalf among the hobbits.

I loved being able to put faces with the names from all the big hairy tales Ainsley comes home with. When I met some of these kids, I would think, "Oh, so you're the one who pushed my kid on the playground," or "You're the one who was first in the class to get sent to the principal's office." Surprisingly, they all seemed very well-behaved and polite to me.

Until later last night. During bath time, Ainsley informed me that "George" (name changed to protect the guilty) had told the class he thought I was ugly. Wow. That'll do wonders for your self-esteem. I mean, I know I wasn't wearing my makeup or anything, but dang. That's harsh coming from a 5-year-old.

"But 'Meredith' said she likes your hair," Ainsley said, apologetically.

"Do you think I'm ugly?"

Ainsley thought for a moment. "No. You're pretty when you wear earrings."

It will be Christmas before I have another opportunity to work in her classroom, and that's a good thing. My ego needs some time to recover.

And I'll be sure to wear earrings.

Monday, November 5, 2007

You've Got My Vote. Now Leave Me Alone.

I hate this time of year.

For one thing, we just moved the clocks back so it's dark by 6:00. I like gaining the extra hour and all, but my tail will be dragging all week because my body will think it's really an hour later. Grr.

I could deal with my Circadian rhythms being out of sync with the clock if my phone weren't ringing off the hook with recorded messages from our wonderful candidates for governor telling me how their values best represent Kentucky and the other guy is really Satan in disguise and eats small children in his free time and blah blah blah. I really wish these weren't recorded messages because I've had several snarky comments on the tip of my tongue as I've heard their campaigning this week.

What's frustrating is that the guy I'm by far getting the most calls from is the guy I plan on voting for. I really wish there was a real person on the other end so I could say, "Look, I take voting seriously, and I will be at the polls tomorrow, rain or shine, and I'm voting for your guy, unless you keep calling me and disturbing my dinner and my Sunday nap time, so effing quit calling me. Paid for by the Cranky for Less Phone Ringing Campaign Fund 2007."

Hubby is registered in the opposite political party that I am (though I think I have converted him to the dark side...bwahahaha), so we get hit pretty hard by both sides the week before Election Day. Occasionally we do get a real live person on the other end, or a visit from a campaigner to our front door, and I live for these enounters. Especially during bitter election years (and by bitter, I mean my guy isn't doing so hot in the polls). I am so full of sour grapes and vitriol that if the person I am talking to is telling me I should vote for that other party, I very politely (well, not really) tell that person that I am a fervent, card-carrying, Godless supporter of his enemy party and that I plan on hitting that beautiful little "straight ticket" button in the booth (even though I rarely do this) and therefore no, he/she cannot count on my vote in Tuesday's election, thank you very much. I love how quickly I can get someone off the phone or off my porch with that rant. Though Jason has gotten where he intercepts people who visit in person. You would think I've embarrassed him or something.

Despite how annoyed I am getting, though, I will drop off Ainsley off at school tomorrow morning and go do my civic duty and cast my vote for the candidate of my choice (and, as usual, feel that I am really voting for the lesser of two evils rather than for a guy or gal who I think will really make a difference). We always have election day off school, and I choose to do that, and sometimes wait in long lines surrounded by people who I know will cancel out my vote a hundred times over, rather than just come home and play Wii and nap because I appreciate my right to vote even if I resent the candidates' right to call my house 4 times a day the week before the election.

I encourage you to exercise your right to vote, too. No matter how bitter you yourself may be over what the candidates have said, or haven't said, or the phoniness of it all, get out and vote tomorrow. No matter your party, no matter your choices. Cancel me out. Write in your neighbor. Just pull that lever. And know that no matter the outcome, after tomorrow, you're not going to get any more political phone calls or have to watch any more ridiculous TV ads.

Until the presidential election next year.