Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Joys of Catholicism

Happy Lent, everybody!

Oh, wait. Lent, like an alarming number of religious observances, is not a joyous occasion. (I think of Jon Stewart on the Daily Show one night when he and a guest were talking about different faiths and children and Jon said, "I'm Jewish and my wife's Catholic, and that means our children are...sad.") It's that 6 weeks every year where Christians in general, and Catholics in particular, honor Christ's love and sacrifice by repenting and punishing ourselves. The whole point, really, is to suffer for 40 days like Jesus did in the wilderness.

That's baffling, really. Even the time I gave up red meat for Lent, it wasn't exactly on par with the suffering of someone who walked in the desert for 6 weeks. I simply replaced the vice of bacon cheeseburgers with the vice of Snickers bars and the only ill effect that it had was that I became slightly anemic and couldn't give blood that spring. Not quite an earth-shattering, hell-rattling display of Godliness.

When I was newly Catholic, I was much more into it. After years of a sort of desert-wandering of religious soul-searching, I was thrilled that my new faith revolved around a very organized, predictable calendar with very structured rites and celebrations. I played by the rules because I was enchanted by the notion of rules to play by. I thrive on organization and structure and predictability; there's a reason I am a librarian.

But I have confession to make, and since it is the season for confessions, here goes: I'm no longer a fan of the whole "give something up for Lent" thing. And I'm not doing it this year.

Yeah, I know. I'm going to get my Catholic card revoked.

Here's how I look at it: 7 years ago, for nine months, I gave up alcohol and being thin and being able to get up out of a chair. A short time after that, I gave up growing hair, being able to enjoy the taste of food, and not feeling nauseated. (I have learned that the normalcy of not feeling nauseated is highly underrated; you don't realize how precious it is until a stomach virus or close encounter with strong medication takes it from you.) I may go to hell for saying this, but I feel in a lot of ways like I have paid my dues. I have done some penance.

This is not to say that I am above the human knack of sinning and that I'm not going to observe Lent. I just think that instead of giving up vices and denying myself the things that I enjoy, I should vow instead to do things that will stick beyond the 40 days of Lent, things that will make me a better person and my world a better place.

Because let's face it: if I were to give up chocolate, it's not going to make me a more Godly person. A thinner person perhaps, but not better. I actually think it would have the opposite effect: I'd become so grouchy no one could stand me and I would spread sheer misery wherever I went. I know I don't go to mass so much anymore, but I am pretty sure spreading misery is biblically discouraged.

Plus, life is short. If I were to get smacked by a large truck the day before Easter, I would not have wanted to get to heaven and be like, "Gee, it had been 39 days since my last Coke. That sucks."

I'd much rather be able to say, "In the weeks before I got hit by that truck, I gave money to my favorite charity and volunteered at the animal shelter. I planted a tree, I started recycling, I gathered up some of Ainsley's old toys and donated them to Goodwill. I did good things."

Ainsley yesterday told me what she's doing for Lent. She is being firmly indoctrinated at Catholic school and wants to give something up. At first, she said she was going to give up playing Mario Kart. I felt that was a little too much; playing Mario Kart a couple of hours on the weekend is one of the joys of her life. It was a touching gesture, but I urged her to think about whether that was something she really wanted to do without for 6 weeks. After all, you don't see me giving up Rock Band. Her decision: no.

But she is still giving up something pretty impressive for a kid: eating candy after dinner. She has a little bucket of candy she got at her school's Valentine party and from the birthday parties she has been to this winter. When she eats a good dinner, we let her pick a little treat. She has willingly decided to give that up. Bless her little heart. And bless her little stomach on Easter morning when all that pent-up candy love unleashes after lying dormant for 40 days and she eats and entire package of Peeps.

She's giving up treats, and I am going to try to give of myself and help our planet (the big thing I want to accomplish during Lent is to call our sanitation company and get on the list to recycle; I am embarrassed to admit that we as a family have not done this yet). For those of you of the Christian persuasion, are you giving up anything for Lent? Or are you, as some local churches are doing and as I have decided to do, going to do something good instead?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

She Bops

The people behind it are evil geniuses. I would say that I hate them, but that's just my jealously talking. If only I had thought of it first...

I am talking about Ainsley's newest discovery, Kidz Bop CDs. You've probably seen their commercials and are familiar with their concept: take hit pop songs and have a chorus of kids sing along. Until last week, I never got the true genius of this idea. Why does having kids sing along to these bubblegum songs that get overplayed on top 40 stations make them more appealing to kids? I used to think.

Then Ainsley asked for one. The Kidz Bop Valentine CD was a special item in her last Scholastic book club flyer, and since I order her a book from that catalog every so often I thought I would give it a try.

The CD arrived last week, and Ains immediately wanted to hear it. The track list was, shall we say, interesting. There were tracks that I knew would lend themselves well to a choir of kids singing along, like "Accidentally in Love" (after all, it's part of a Shrek movie.) Then there were songs where the thought of kids singing the lyrics boggled the mind like "Far Away" by Nickelback and "My Love" by Justin Timberlake. I'll admit; I was intrigued.

We popped the CD in. Based on the commercials, I thought that it would just be kids singing. Instead, each song is more like a duet between the kids and a singer who tries his/her best to sound like the original artist. The kids generally just join in on the chorus or the parts originally handled by backup singers. Some of the adult singers do quite well; the Alicia Keys sound-alike who does "No One" sounds enough like her that it took a minute before I realized it wasn't the original artist. Some, sadly, do not. There is only one Kelly Clarkson in this world.

These songs sung in this way have an interesting effect on my kid. During the very first time we listened, as I was musing over whether or not I wanted to puncture my eardrums during the butchering of "Hey There, Delilah", I heard a sweet little harmony coming from what I thought were the rear speakers of my car stereo. I realized that it was Ainsley. I am sure she wasn't trying to harmonize, but any time the kids came in on the soaring, "Oh, it's what you do to me..." Ainsley sang along and didn't quite get all the way up to the first note. But it still sounded good. Awwww. How cute is my kid, I ask you?

Like most of America, she and I have heard that song on the radio hundreds of times. I have been known to sing along, but I have never heard a peep from the backseat. For some reason, hearing other kids sing along to these songs makes Ainsley want to belt them out, too.

It makes sense, really. Having a chorus of children's voices singing in a child's natural range makes it easy for kids to find the right pitch and join in. It turns songs that aren't remotely intended as children's songs into tunes that kids can love and sing along.

But it is also ruining songs for me. Shortly after our first Kidz Bop listen, I heard the "real" version of "My Love". In case you aren't familiar with the immortal works of the Timberlake, the chorus goes like this:

My love...
(So don't give away)
My love...
(So don't give away)
My love...

It's catchier than it looks.

For the rest of my days, whenever I hear that song, I am going to hear wee voices in unison on the "So don't give away" part. It just doesn't have the same effect on me anymore. I no longer want to get my groove on when I hear it.

The fact that I will forever and for always hear kids' voices on these songs actually helps some of them. It's no secret that I am a Nickelback hater, but I could grow to love this new version of "Far Away." I think the kids have vastly improved the original; it no longer sounds like every other Nickelback song.

The people who came up with this idea of introducing popular songs to kids are smart. By making them want to sing along, they make them like these tunes and step outside of the Disney HSM/Hannah Montana/Jonas Brothers box of kid music, which I think will make most parents happy. In fact, I'd like to see the Kidz Bop people take it even further and take non-pop music and Bop it. Here are some artists I would pay good money to see in a future Kidz Bop CD:

Disturbed (Can't you hear kids doing the "Wah-a-a-a" part on "Down With the Sickness"?)

System of a Down

Metallica (I think "Enter Sandman" in particular would translate well, don't you? It is kind of a lullaby, after all.)

David Allan Coe (He did write the perfect country-western song, you know. As well as some ditties that, if movies, would get an NC-17, so maybe just the one song.)

Chime in below, especially you parents. Which performers or songs would you love to hear Kid-Bopped so that your kids will love it as much as you do? Or, which performers or songs would just make hilarious train wrecks if sung by innocent little children?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Giving Up The Ghost

I want to believe.

Last night was almost a bad night: none of our Thursday night must-see TV was new. I was about to do the unthinkable, go to bed at 8:30 on a major TV night, when we flipped around and realized...

Ghost Adventurers was on.

Oh, joy!

This is my newest guilty pleasure show. It appeals to two different things I love: the possibility that there are such things as ghosts, and making fun of douchebags.

If you're not familiar with Ghost Adventurers, it's a show on Travel Channel (motto: even the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota looks like a hot attraction when you put a bikini-clad model in front of it) wherein this guy who wears tight black t-shirts over his amply-muscled arms takes two more guys and some amateur AV equipment into haunted locations and spends the night.

The glory of this show is in this cast of (living) characters. These three manly men make a big show of how brave they are by staying 24 hours in these creepy abandoned prisons, mental institutions, or underground tunnels. The host, he of the black t-shirts and well-developed guns, employs provocation as a method of trying to rouse these ghosts and get some kind of reaction. I don't think he means to be funny when he tries to piss off the spirit world, but it's quite awesome nevertheless.

"Is this where you killed your wife, Mr. Boots? Is this where you watched her die? Why don't you come out and show yourself, Mr. Boots, if you're such a big man?"

And then he jumps like a little girl as a moth flutters by his head.

"Was that you, Mr. Boots? Dude, I just felt something touch my arm. Did we get anything on the tape?"

Every episode I've ever seen has had some spirit allegedly touching this guy's arms. Probably because they are always displayed for maximum manly-man muscular effect.

Last night I was in tears by the time the episode was over. They visited a former prison in Idaho, and spent much of their time in the gallows room. Which means I got to hear our hero say over and over,

"Is this where you were hung? Why don't you come out and show yourself if this is where they hung you?!"'s "hanged!" When a guy is hung, that's something altogether different.

And he also at one point asked the ghosts to "Touch me! Go ahead and slap me!"

I bet he tells the girls that all the time.

Of course, I can't make too much fun, because they did capture a voice in one of the rooms clearly saying, "Not my life." So in between giggles, I got the shivers. If that wasn't a trick, or one of the guys trying to perpetrate a hoax, it's pretty darn freaky.

So I went to bed last night with visions of murderers dancing in my head. I believe in the spirit world, but I want to see some proof with my own eyes. Sure, I've seen some weird things in my house (the winter after my dad died, his radio/CD player, which now resides in our den, used to come on all by itself) and heard weird things in the dorms I used to live in in college, but I've never had hard physical evidence that the spirits my mom's spiritualist friend has told us haunt both our homes are really there.

"If only I had lived somewhere where a previous occupant had met a grisly end..." I thought.

And then my eyes snapped open. I DID live in a place once where someone met a grisly end. I just don't talk about it much because I have tried to block it out.

Want to hear the tale?

When I was in fourth grade, my parents separated and we went to live in Mom's hometown of Heidrick in scenic Knox County, Kentucky. My mom's aunt is one of the most prolific real estate owners in the county and at this time happened to own an apartment building right next to her home and a 2-minute walk from my grandmother's trailer. For nine months, we rented a 3-room apartment that didn't even have its own bathroom; we had to share with the occupants of the two other apartments on the top floor. (Someday I am going to write a book about all this. It was an interesting time.)

The apartment's sole source of heat was an ancient upright gas heater with a grate. To get us warm, Mom has to turn on the gas, light a match, and WHOOSH! Blue flames jumped up. I was warned of two things right off the bat:

1. If I ever played around and turned the gas on and no one was there to light the pilot light...everyone in the building would get poisoned by the gas and die. Or someone would light a cigarette and we would get blown to bits.

2. No matter how cold I was, I was never, ever, EVER to stand close to the flames. Especially if I were wearing a nightgown or a robe that was long enough to get in the grate.

We all know that Cranky is deathly afraid of fire, right? I really needed no further incentive to stay the hell away from the heater.

I got some further incentive, though.

Mom's aunt was a big fan of furnishing her rentals, which worked out great for us. Mom sat me down on the floral, formal upholstered sofa in our living room.

"It's really important that you stay away from the heater. Lord, I hate that thing. A lady burned to death in this apartment."

Dear. God.

This old lady who had lived there a few years before, whose name I don't recall but who I shall call "Miss Havisham" for my Great Expectations fans out there, had stood close to the heater one night while wearing a long polyester nightgown. Being older and not so sharp with her senses, Miss Havisham did not realize her nightgown had caught fire until she was engulfed in flames. Someone heard the screaming and came in and put her out and layed her down on the couch. Nothing else in the room had caught fire. The lady went into shock, and with her age and her weak heart she died. Given that my aunt heard that her nightgown melted into her, it was looked upon as a blessing that she died right away.

That was a lot for a 9-year-old to hear. I started crying.

Then it hit me.

"Mom...did Berthie get rid of the couch?"

See, my aunt is a wealthy woman, and she got that way by saving money and cutting corners...and by simply fumigating and re-upholstering couches that old ladies burn to death on.

"Well, it is an antique," my mom offered.

I didn't want to believe my mom about Miss Havisham, so I later asked my grandmother, who clucked her tongue and shook her head and talked about how it was such a horrible way to go. And told me to stay away from the heater.

The rest of that winter that we lived there, I don't think I was ever closer than 6 feet to the darn thing. My mom was so afraid of it that she didn't run it at night while we slept;we huddled under a dozen blankets instead. After mom and dad got back together, Berthie remodelled the whole building, putting in central air and heat, and giving each apartment its own bathroom. Nowadays, those are cute little apartments. (And I would bet money that the occupants of our old place have no idea what happened there.)

The last week we were there, Berthie's grandson came and got the Couch of Death and replaced it with another more comfortable, less antique-y one. Oddly, I was sad to see it go; after avoiding sitting on for weeks, I eventually got over the fact that someone had died on it (sadly, I had more tragic things going on in my life and even the fable of the couch faded in the face of all the real-life dramas that happened that year). Since mom and I had to share a bedroom, the couch even became my second bed for those nights when I just wanted to be my myself.

Did I ever experience anything paranormal in this place so deserving of a good ghost story? Not really. But...

As the year went on, I grew up a lot. By the last weeks of school, I had Mom's permission to get off the bus and go to the apartment by myself in the afternoons if I didn't want to go to Mamaw's trailer. I would make the beds, wash the dishes, and dust so that Mom could come home from job number one and rest before she had to go to job number two. One glorious spring afternoon I was standing in the kitchen washing dishes when I heard a voice right behind me. I didn't hear what it was saying, but a woman's voice distinctly said something.

I turned, thinking my mom had come home, or my aunt was checking on the place. But no one was there. I remember a cool breeze came through the open (and screenless, gotta love that) window in the kitchen and I didn't feel alone anymore. I felt like my presence was no longer wanted in the apartment. Needless to say, I spent the rest of the day at Mamaw's, and was never as comfortable being in the apartment alone again.

I say all the time that I want to see a ghost, or hear a clear voice giving me a message from beyond. I want to someday go to the Stanley Hotel in Colorado, where Uncle Stevie got the inspiration for The Shining, or go on an old south ghost tour, or visit the catacombs in Paris. I want to go to a haunted place, but I've probably already been to one and don't know it. I mean, I slept on a couch where someone died after being burned, for crying out loud, and didn't see or feel anything truly concrete.

Maybe I should lighten up on the Ghost Adventurers guys. I, too, would probably scream every time I felt moth wings on my arm while sitting in a dark room where horrible things happened to horrible people.

But I think I would have the sense to not taunt Mr. Boots.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Granny Sugar Refund Check

Even in death, she continues to vex my mother.

You may recall that back in September we bid farewell to Granny Sugar, my dad's mother. She was already on my mind last week when Mom called with some interesting news; every year since, well, I was born, Granny put a birthday card in the mail for me that managed to get to me right on my birthday unless it was on a Sunday. When Thursday came and no card arrived with her signature scrawl, I had a moment of sadness that a gesture so small could be so sorely missed.

Thinking of Granny Thursday made me call my Mom to ask about what we had been jokingly calling the "Granny Sugar Stimulus Package." To my surprise, my mom was crying when I called.

A week before, she had called me to tell me the interesting news. One of Dad's brothers had called to say that Granny's estate had been settled, and that she had had a little money put away. My uncle told mom he had thought for a little while as to what to do with the money, and what Granny would've wanted, and he had made a decision to divide the money 4 ways and give each of Granny's children a share. With Dad gone, my uncle wanted Mom to have his share.

She tried to talk him out of it; she told him she didn't feel right taking anything from Granny. But my uncle insisted that that's the way she would've wanted it.

"Your check is in the mail," my uncle said. And he added, with a sarcasm that my mother could just see coming behind a wry smile so like my father's, "I just wanted you to know that you are going to be receiving a huge amount of money."

My mom was guessing it would be $200 or $300, at the very most. I thought she was nuts; I figured the money was some found cash she kept under her mattress or in a cookie jar, and that the sum total of mom's inheritance would be around $50.

And here's the shocker, and the reason my mom was stunned to tears: Mom got a check in the mail on my birthday for $1500.

Which means somehow my Granny had put away $6000. That doesn't sound like much, but for a woman who spent her whole life living off a fixed income, a woman who, for years, was technically homeless and bounced around living with different relatives until she found a tiny shoebox apartment in a complex built specifically for the elderly, it boggles the mind.

I was overjoyed for my mom.

"Why are you upset? That's good news, isn't it? Dad and Granny would want you to be happy about it."

For Mom, it was and it wasn't. On the one hand, Mom could certainly use the money. On the other hand, it broke her heart to think of Granny, eating canned soup and store-brand yogurt every day for the last 2 decades of her life, squirreling small amounts of money away for a rainy day. She lived as frugally as anyone I've ever known and died having never really gone anywhere or done anything. I know you can't take it with you, but I really think if you've got it, you should enjoy it while you're here.

And it also made Mom feel guilty. She and Granny were not exactly friends, though they did love each other in a prickly sort of way. Mom feels as though she does not deserve that money. She feels like, despite my uncle's argument that she would have wanted that way, Granny would not have wanted a portion of her saved money to go to her.

Getting an "inheritance" does feel sort of icky. When Mom talks about how she wants to have a little money to leave us when she goes, she says it like that would make it all better when her time comes to leave us. It won't.

But in this instance, I think my mom should have fun with the money. Yes, the money came about because someone we love died, but Granny lived to be over 90 and put that little bit of money away for a reason. Maybe, just maybe, it was to remind us, just like her without-fail mailing of birthday cards, that she loved us and thought about us and wanted to make us smile on that one special day a year. Mom talks about wanting to divide it up between my sister and me, but I for one don't want it. My mom has given me a lot over the years (the free babysitting alone is priceless) and I want the tables turned. I want Mom to give to herself and go out and have a ball with her Granny Sugar Refund Check. If she so much as tries to buy me lunch at Taco Bell with the money, I think I will get mad at her for not just accepting this as the unexpected gift it is. (Also, Taco Bell...blech.)

Maybe we should help her out. If you were to unexpectedly get $1500 in the mail, how would you spend it?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Children of All Ages: Go See This Movie

While enjoying our rented Mad Men season one DVDs these last couple of weeks, Jason and I had an epiphany: we are much more awed and impressed by the television of the last few years than we have been by the movies of the last few years. We liked The Dark Knight, and I was moved to tears by The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and we so enjoyed Once that we immediately bought the soundtrack and played it in the car for one entire weekend. But those are the only standouts among "serious" movies for me in the last 18 months or so; the only movies that made me get emotionally involved and think and dream and ooh and ahh for days afterward. That's pretty sad.

Even in these hectic years A.A. (After Ainsley), movies are a big part of our entertainment. I would dare say movies have even been a bigger part after we had a child; we might not have been able to get Mamaw to babysit every time we wanted to see a movie in the theater, but we could always pop something in the DVD player after the kid was in bed. We had a few years there when we looked forward to movies coming out the way some people look ahead to vacations; I would mark things like "Return of the King premieres!" or "Have a sitter to go see Prisoner of Azkaban!" or "Spidey!" or "X-Men 2!" on my calendar and count down the days.

It's been years since I have felt that kind of excitement about a movie. And years since I felt the kind of cinematic wonder a movie like the Lord of The Rings films and even the Spiderman movies (all but the last one) inspires. It's both anticipation and pay-off. The movies we've seen in theaters the last couple of years mostly had just the one, but not the other. But for weeks before the Lost season premiere, I was downright giddy with excitement. And then after that

But here's another revelation I had just last night: some of the best movies I have seen in the past two years, some of the most entertaining, moving, and thought-provoking, have been movies made for children.

What gives?

Maybe it's because as a mom I now see the world through my kid's eyes. Maybe my brain has been so slushified by kids' TV fare like Hannah Montana and The Wiggles and (God help us all) Wonderpets that when something quality for kids comes down the line I see it as a veritable masterpiece. But I offer the following "children's" films from the last couple of years as evidence.

To top the list: Wall-E. Such beautiful animation that you forget it's animation. The speechless first 30 minutes are a work of art. And the message, that we need to take better care of our planet and take a second look at our rampant consumerism, is something that adults as well as children need to learn. Look at the number of movie critics who put it on their "top ten of 2008" lists and the fact that many thought it would be a Best Picture nominee; how often does an animated film make such an impact on those so-hard-to-please critics?

Then there's Enchanted. It got a little Oscar love, showing that it was more than your typical Disney kiddie matinee movie. It had brilliant acting, and a great message for girls: the guy doesn't have to literally be Prince Charming to be your prince. It's kinda like the antidote for all the Disney animated classics; you're not going to find Prince Eric, or Prince Charming, or Prince Whatever-His-Name-Is from Sleeping Beauty in real life, and there are no fairy-tale endings. But finding a guy who loves you even though you come off as slightly crazy and like to break out in song in the middle of Central Park, and who is willing to fight the evils of the world for you, can give you a pretty good happy ever after. Oh, and sometimes the girl rescues the guy.

And today I add a new favorite: Coraline. I highly recommend, whether you have a kid to drag along or not, that you get yourself to a theater that's showing it in its full 3D glory and strap yourself in for the ride. It is, to use a movie review cliche, visually stunning. The 3D-ness doesn't feel gimmicky here like it does in a movie like Bolt because it's a stop-motion movie; the 3D effects aren't trying to make 2-dimensional animation look like it's 3-dimensional, it's simply showing off the fact that what's being filmed are, in fact, 3-dimensional sculptured works of art. It's a dark fable with quirky characters and a brave, smart heroine of a little girl who first gets herself into, then out of, grave danger. There are moments that border on horror, and the very young may get a little creeped out. But Ainsley didn't fidget for the entire hour and 40 minutes, and when it was over gave it the Ainsley seal of approval: a big open-mouth smile with her tongue hanging out. The message of this one is great, too, and it's summed up in the tagline on its poster: Be careful what you wish for. (I would also sum it as: The grass might be greener on the other side, but it might also be full of poison oak and spiders.)

Money is tight, and people's movie manners suck, and it's sometimes hard to justify putting down the equivalent of a tank (or 2, if you're taking kids) of gas to see a movie. But this one...for young and old alike, I think it just might be worth it. Forget the big-budget "adult" movies; I'd take a movie like Coraline over the latest smash-bang action flick any day of the week and twice on Sundays when you can get matinee pricing. Maybe this just shows I'm a mom; maybe, just maybe, it's because kids' movies are pushing the bar in a way more mature movies are afraid to do.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Jon Hamm + Buttercream Frosting = A Perfect Day

At the risk of jinxing it, let me just say that today is a good day.

It's cold, but the sun is shining. My assistant made me these treats that are chocolate cake on the bottom, marshmallow, peanut butter, Rice Crispies, and chocolate on the top (I stopped making these for myself even though she gave me the recipe because I have a tendency to eat the whole pan). The coffee I made this morning tastes awesome even though I made it from three different kinds of coffee, each of which had too small an amount in the bag to use on its own. And best of all, we have tomorrow off from school for a PD day and I already have all my hours in. So tonight I can sit back with a mochatini and watch 30 Rock and drool over guest star Jon Hamm and not worry about morning.

Ladies, you know who Jon Hamm is, right? I didn't really know who he was until he hosted SNL and I caught a few minutes of him there and thought, "I don't get this sketch about Mad Men but that guy is awfully cute." After reading countless articles about his work in the critically-acclaimed but too-little-seen drama Mad Men, I decided a few weeks ago that I need to see what all the fuss is about. I rented the first 3 episodes of the show, and it was love at first sight. Sure, the character Hamm plays is a chain-smoking borderline-alcoholic womanizing sexist mess of a man, but in a very adorable sort of way.

So with 30 Rock being my favoritest TV comedy and all, I literally squealed with delight when I learned that the very yummy Hamm would have a story arc as Liz's new love interest. And his character's first line in last week's episode has to be one of the best introductions a girl like me could hope for...

"I'm sorry I smell like frosting. I love to bake."


And as Liz says after that introduction...I want to go to there.

Here's what I will be doing at 9:30 tonight, the night I turn 35. I will be sitting under my Snuggie with a wedge of chocolate birthday cake with buttercream frosting watching Jon Hamm. It's the best way I can think of to celebrate my first day of middle age.

Anybody out there watch Mad Men? And share my new crush on Jon Hamm? And just because it's my birthday, humor me and go watch the above mentioned scene here and holler back with your thoughts on the awesomeness that is both 30 Rock and Jon Hamm.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

18-34...No More

Today is my last day of youth.

Tomorrow I turn 35. Starting tomorrow, when I fill out surveys I will no longer be able to check the box next to "18--34." I'll now be checking the box that says "35--44." Though it might as well be saying "35--death."

Crossing into 35 means, demographically speaking, I am no longer "young." According to advertisers and network execs and the like I am no longer in that coveted group. I am now (gasp!) statistically middle-aged.

It's funny. I don't feel old. I feel quite young. Playful at times, even. I really feel like I am just now truly comfortable in my own skin. I just now am starting to figure things out: how to be a mom, how to balance work and home, how to stay healthy and happy. I am having quite a bit of fun in this current phase of my life. Isn't there some mid-life crisis and existential angst I should be going through or something if I truly were middle-aged?

I have a few more lines around my eyes than I used to. And I have to highlight my hair to cover the smattering of grays. But I don't look into the mirror and see a middle-aged person. (Except for after that killer stomach virus I had at Christmas. I looked like the Cryptkeeper after that thing.) I see me. That bright-eyed young college girl is still in there. She may look a little more worn at times, a little wiser, but she's still there. She still likes to toss back a few on a Saturday night, to dance to some goofy top-40 hit, to spend quality time with a video game. And she's not ready to be called middle-aged yet.

So I'm rebelling. I'm gonna mark that dang "18--34" box for a little longer. You're only as old as you feel, right? Well, I still feel like I'm in my 20s. I've got a lot of livin' to do. I am not yet ready to cave in to middle-age.

I'm young, damnit.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ainsley Solves the Financial Crisis AND Global Warming

Seriously, I want my kid to go work for the government. I think she has some good ideas.

Jason and I have been, like probably 99.9 % of Americans, worrying out loud over the financial crap heap we're all in. After Obama's press conference last night, I couldn't sleep; Jason has had layoffs at his workplace, and my assistant was told yesterday that there might not be a job for her next year. I worry for her (though she's been told that nothing is definite yet) and selfishly for myself. The thought of running a library that services 1600 students and over 100 staff members and much of the technology needs of said students and staff without any clerical help made me want to throw up a little. After the press conference, I found myself fretting the economic catastrophe all night long and having nightmares about soup kitchens and bread lines. And I usually like soup and bread.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays Jason is home in the morning to help get Ains ready for school and he likes to have political news going in the background. This morning it got us talking about the sorry state of affairs in our own sorry state, about the cuts education is going to take and how angry that makes us as parents, and so on and so forth until my blood was running as hot as our morning Joe.

"I love everybody," Ainsley chimed in. This is something she throws out whenever she senses frustration and discord in the house that's not directly aimed at her; I guess it's how a six year old tries to change the topic.

"Well, what the world needs now is love, sweet love," I said. Without any trace of bitterness or irony. Of course. "Because it is the only thing there's just too little of. Oh, wait, except for money. And consumer confidence. And loans. And alternative energy sources."

Jason turned his sights on Ainsley.

"What do you think, Ains? Should the banks get more capital? Or should their toxic assets be purchased? Or do we just need more tax cuts?"

She thought for a minute.

"I think everybody should eat ice cream. Every day."


"Because it will make everyone happier. And if they're hot, it will make them cooler."

So there you have it. I plan on calling this the Cranky Stimulus Package, and I am putting it into action in my house immediately (once it is voted in by a two-thirds majority, of course. But I am pretty sure I have the votes. Though if Graeter's wants to lobby for it, I would not object.)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Cat People

The Cincinnati Zoo lost its renowned male cheetah last week.

For whatever reason, this wasn't on the local news until today. I don't know why not; it's not like we've had anything else newsworthy going on here in the Cincy area (snow, ice, some more snow.)

This was a beautiful animal and was my top reason for going to the zoo once every summer the last few years. A few times a week they put him in a special area and let him run up to top speed to show zoo visitors what the fastest land animal on earth can do. It was amazing; a nature show with a camera following the cheetah just doesn't capture its awesomeness like seeing the big cat run across an open expanse, leaving dust in its wake.

The story made me unrationally sad. It's been a big news week for animals in peril; yesterday both a horse and a dog fell through two different tri-state ponds' ice, and though both are now okay, it was hard to watch the footage. Ainsley and I found ourselves in front of the TV yesterday afternoon, both holding our breath, hoping that the horse up to its neck in icy water got pulled out in time. He did. But now I hear about Mora the cheetah, and I am more troubled than I should be.

I think it's a cat thing.

I am a sucker for a sad cat story. Just a couple of weeks ago, I found myself welling up during dinner when the local news covered not one, but two incredible accounts of feline survival. The first was of a family who had narrowly escaped their burning home who were mourning the presumed death of their new kitten in the fire. When one of the daughters went to the remains of the house to salvage some belongings she heard meowing. The baby kitty miraculously survived the fire and was under the rubble of one of the bedrooms. The second was of a beloved cat who was let out of a house by an overnight guest who didn't realize said kitty was supposed to stay indoors no matter how loudly it pawed at the door. The cat disappeared, but one year later was found back in the area and taken in by a foster mom who posted an ad about the cat. The original owner saw the ad, and cat and "mom" were reunited.

I've even blogged sad cat stories. I say all the time that I am an animal lover. But I think I need to be specific here, having never blogged about dogs, or birds, or turtles in crisis: I am a cat person.

I know that some of you are cat people, too. And some are dog people. And my sister is a bird person (for now; she changes animal allegiances the way some people change hairstyles.) I've seen debates between "dog people" and "cat people" become as heated as debates between democrats and republicans. I think there are some fundamental differences between those who favor the feline and those who favor the canine; it's a personality thing.

I may be completely stereotyping here. But here's what I've noticed about cat people:

We're kinda shy. We work hard when we need to, but we like being lazy. We're the type of people who, if a friend calls and says, "I've got free front row seats for a concert featuring this great up and coming band who are supposed to be the next big thing, and by the way, backstage passes, too, but we could just stay home and eat chocolate and wrap up in blankets and watch The Office tonight," would probably respond with, "Hey, that sounds cool...I mean, the staying home and watching The Office part." We have a small group of really close friends who we are intensely loyal to. Don't make us mad, though, even if you're in that beloved group; we hold grudges. To people outside of that small group we may seem aloof or indifferent, but more often than not, we are just big softies once you get to know us.

Dog people are a little more outgoing, a little more adventurous. Many of my grandest "adventures" have been initiated by the dog people in my life. At heart, my husband is a dog person even though we have never owned one together and instead were owned by a cat. Dog people are warm people who generally have a large group of friends and acquaintances; this is probably because many dog people genuinely like the company of other human beings and are a little more social. I think dog people are a little easier to read; you know where you stand with a dog person. If they love you, they'll show it. Tick one off, and she'll let you know. None of that passive-agressive grudge-holding cold-shoulder cat person bullcrap. I would bet money that Christian Bale is a dog person.

Dog people have probably already seen or read Marley and Me; we cat people are holding out for Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World (starring Meryl Streep! Seriously!)

So, talk back. Are you a cat person or a dog person? And how badly did I get you wrong here?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Belated Gifts

Looking back, it was just like the scene from A Christmas Story.

We were at the table eating dinner when we heard a large truck come down the street. We stopped mid-bite, staring at each other from across the table. The truck stopped in front of the house, its rumbling engine still running.

"It's the UPS man," Jason whispered.

"Could it be..."

He left his chicken tortilla soup on the table to go down and retrieve the box. It did not have "Fra-jee-lay" marked on the side, but it could not have been more eagerly anticipated had it been a Major Award.

It was...Snuggies! Two of them! With "free" booklights! It only took them 8 weeks to get here, but better late than never.

Yes, my friends, I got a red Snuggie for Christmas. Just like I asked for. I don't even mind that it arrived closer to my birthday than to Christmas.

Jason was the first to try one on.

"Oh, honey," I said, my eyes filling with joyful tears. "You so look ready to hitch a ride on the comet and go back to the mother ship."

Ainsley was next, and after almost killing herself, we advised her to only wear it when fully seated. It's so long that when she tried travelling with it on she looked like Maggie Simpson walking inside her baby gown.

I actually have not tried it on yet. I need to wash them first; the "high-quality fleece" in reality is some synthetic fiber that harbors enough static electricity to make Ainsley's hair stand on end and perhaps power every light in our house. If fabric softener doesn't solve that little problem they're not going to be good for much other than shocking each other and showing Ainsley what a spark looks like.

It seems we got the Snuggies right on time. They are starting to make appearances at local stores in the "As Seen On TV" sections and one of our local news stations just did a story about them. I tell you, one of my highlights of 2009 so far was when the station cut back to the anchor desk and good ole Kit Andrews was nonchalantly sporting a Snuggie while the crew laughed in the background.

I don't know how long they'll last; when I put them into the washer this morning I noticed that there was already a rip at the sleave seam. And without the sleeves, the Snuggie really isn't a Snuggie.

One thing is for certain--with the snow falling, tonight will find me wrapped up in one, my arms free to perhaps hold a book, or a remote, or reach for a lamp. While you will be struggling with that old quilt or blanket, my cult, er, family and I will be both warm and unencumbered, able to move our arms any way we choose. Bwahahahaha!

So just how jealous are you? And just how badly do you want me to post pictures?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Why My Kid Will Not Be Watching Super Bowl Commercials

What's Cranky's favorite thing about the Super Bowl? The commercials, of course. Unless the Bengals are playing (stop laughing, it might happen again someday) I really have no interest in the actual game. As a TV addict, I really just love having carte blanche to eat really junky food and watch the much-aligned pop culture art form that is the modern television ad.

I usually let Ains watch until her bedtime. Sure, most of the ads are for beer and many feature mild T and A, but she doesn't halfway pay attention and I figure she's going to have to learn that much of non-Disney TV is full of smut, anyway.

But this year, I am censoring the commercials because apparently she's young and impressionable. Who knew?

Here's why I am worried. Last night, we were watching the show featuring the "best" Super Bowl commercials of all time. The cat herders, the talking shirt stain, the dalmation and the Clydesdale. You know, all the classics.

Then the Nationwide commercial came on that pokes fun of the short-lived fame of Kevin Federline. It starts off with K-Fed rapping and literally bathing in cash; then it shows him working a fry line. Life comes at you fast, indeed.

"I like that song," Ainsley said while Federline was rapping. Then her next words are the subject of some debate; I swear I heard her say, "He's a cutie." After my head stopped spinning, Jason told me she really told him that he was a cutie, which is her newest term of endearment and is generally reserved for her stuffed penguin and Zac Efron. Either way, she looked admiringly at K-Fed for 30 seconds, and that is simply unacceptable.

Then came the Bud commercial. I don't remember which one, because there were about 100 featured in that hour-long special. I think this one may have had a guy who was trying to woo a girl with Bud Light; I am sure that narrows it down considerably.

"I love beer," she said.

And that, my friends, is the evil power of advertising. If you can make a 6-year-old, who has never had a sip of alcohol pass her lips, love your product, then you have done your job. Well played, Budweiser. Well played.

Make sure you stop back after the game and tell Cranky which commercials you liked best this year. And whether or not they made you love beer and/or Kevin Federline.