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?