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.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Belief-O-Matic 2007: The Best Way to Find Out If You Indeed Are Going to Hell in a Neo-Pagan Handbasket

My world has been well and thoroughly rocked.

A friend of mine stopped down to the library Monday and told me I had to take this online religion quiz she had just taken, and that she found her own results to be so interesting she wanted someone else to take it so she could talk about it. Well, this was right up my spiritual alley; I love to explore my own religious beliefs, and am open to a lot of different religious ideas and points of view, so I spent part of my lunch that day heading over to the Belief-O-Matic to see what church this little converted Catholic girl really belongs to.

My friend had as her number one match "Orthodox Quaker", which shook her a little bit as she feels like she's a pretty good fit at her Methodist church. At least her results were in the Christian circle, though. Now, I am the first to admit that I am probably not a true Catholic. I have had many crises of faith in my life; a Philosophy of Religion class I took my freshman yeare at Centre pretty much convinced me there was no God, and it took me years of soul-searching to come back into the Christian fold. When I did return, I converted to the Catholic faith, which my sister had converted to years before, and which my husband was raised in (though he seldom practices), and I felt good about that choice. I know that my true religious and moral beliefs are a little granola and a little too liberal for the Catholic church, but I love the Catholic sacraments and rituals; I truly feel at one with God after mass, and I am often moved to tears as we remember the crucifixion each Sunday. So I wasn't quite ready for the results I got back Monday.

According to the Belief O Matic, I am a 100% match for...wait for it...Neo-Pagan! What exactly is a Neo-Pagan, you ask? I don't really know! And neither do they, according to the links attached to the results page. They're kind of open to everything. But they sure as heck ain't Christian.

I initially laughed at the results. Me, a Neo-Pagan! Hilarious! Guess I'll have to quit shaving my armpits and drag out my Birkenstocks and peasant skirts and start talking about the Earth Mother. But as I started trying to learn more about this faith, and about some of the others in my top 5, I realized that I do share an awful lot of similarities in what I truly believe and what the pagans believe...and Reformed Judaism...and Universal Unitarianism...and the liberal Quakers. I even found myself shaking my head in agreement a little with the Ba' hai page. (Though I have a hard time trying to spell it.) Any type of recognizable, traditional Christian faith was way down on my list, and my Roman Catholic brethren were way down at my lowest match. Holy crap.

I asked Jason to take the quiz that night, and by the time I had come back from running (I needed a night-time jog to try to clear my head of the thought that I was going to hell) he had taken it and told me he was really an Orthodox Jew. Neo-Pagan was nowhere in his top 5, though we did share an awful lot of our top ten. And like me, traditional Christian faiths were not ranked very highly. At least I'll have company in hell. (Just kidding! None of our top faiths believe in hell!)

I let myself get so worked up over this that I re-took the quiz. Talking to Jason and to my friends who have taken the quiz, I realized I really didn't read some of the questions right. To my relief, my results the second time were more what I expected. "Liberal Quaker" was my top choice this time, and reading about them, I think that's a fairly accurate assessment. And given that the friend that recommended this to me was labelled an "Orthodox Quaker", it absolutely makes sense to me that I would be the far-left sister to her beliefs. Though reading about both, I have a hard deciding whether or not you can say either is an exclusively Christian faith. Reformed Judaism was also still high for me (number 2), and I welcomed the addition of "Mainline to Liberal Protestant" to the top 10. But that darned Neo-Pagan was still my 3rd highest match. Roman Catholic was still way down in the bottom 5.

I always knew that I am accepting of other faiths, and I've never believed that Christians have all the right answers. Who am I to say that because you're Jewish, or Muslim, or Hindu, and live your life trying to be a good person in accordance with the guidelines your faith have given you, that you're not going to enjoy a peaceful afterlife in the presence of the deity you worship? I can't (unless you murder innocents in the name of your God, in which case I think there just might be a hell for you. Just sayin'.) The God I believe in doesn't work that way. But I have always felt like Christianity, the path I choose, was a pretty good fit. Now I'm not so sure. I feel another crisis coming on.

Take the quiz and come back here. Does it label you pretty accurately? Any surprises? And if you're so inclined, swing by the Cranky house someday to discuss over a little wine. That really is the best way to tackle the subject, you know. And maybe that's why I enjoy the Catholic faith so much.