Thursday, December 31, 2009

In With the New

At the Family Christmas Party
Staring boldly into 2010. Note the festive holiday garb--you will be seeing more of this sweater vest shortly, I promise.

Goodness, me, look at the time! It's December 31. Anything you still need to do before the end of the year? I was going to take a bunch of stuff to Goodwill, but instead I took Hank to the doctor. He has an ear infection in both ears. His cold was finally going away, very slowly, but then he woke up this morning complaining that his ear hurt. I'm very glad I took him instead of starting into the long weekend with a sick kid. And did you know that the Publix pharmacy gives free oral antibiotics? There's a list of several common drugs that they will give you, up to a 14 day supply. Awesome. It's how the world should be.

I do love New Year's Eve. A long time ago I had the realization that I love this occasion so much because I never have any particular expectations for it. You can celebrate with many other people or just one, and it can be lively or it can be a little solemn. More than Christmas or other holidays, I love hearing people's stories of what they did.

For some reason, one New Year's celebration that is sticking in my mind today is years ago, I can't remember what year it was turning. We were up on the rooftop of the Pickle Barrel in downtown Chattanooga. This must have been in the late 90's because we hadn't moved to California yet. The town fathers had promised a display of "European Style" fireworks--my my how sophisticated!--so we were all up on the roof getting merry. I sat down on a chair that had a puddle of ice water in it. Two people were making out near us. One had yellow hair and one had blue, and Matt leaned over to me and said, "Their baby's hair is going to be a lovely green." At the stroke of twelve the fireworks began. Hmm, we thought. They must be just getting warmed up, because these are rather underwhelming. No big explosions or shapes. Like a slightly less exciting Roman candle, and kind of fizzly. And then they were over and the air smelled like a poot. So for years, in our household, anything that should be cool but kind of sucks is dubbed "European style." Sorry Europe, you are awesome, but what I saw that night from the Pickle Barrel did not do you justice.

I need to scurry to the kitchen and start fixing our New Year's Eve supper. Salmon cakes are a big favorite around here, and I just realized that I could have been calling them "galettes" all this time, thus upping our fancy quotient. Thanks, Mark Bittman. So we're having salmon galettes, y'all! Also champagne, and I am certain, pitchers of our usual cosmo potion as the night wears on.

Happy New Year to you from the Suburban Matron family! Have fun and lemme know what goes down at your place.

Oh, and to quote Garrison Keillor, from his anti-boastful family Christmas letter, "We hope to be able to meet the challenges of the coming year, but we are by no means confident."

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Girl Could Get Used to That

On Monday morning, I was asleep in my parents' house in Pensacola when my phone chimed with an incoming text message. I grabbed it and opened one eye to look. I can read a text without waking up. Anyway, it was Fabienne, my house cleaner, saying, "I'm on my way to your house." My eyes flew open. I was thinking, "Yikes, Fabienne is almost here and I'm not ready! I should at least put on pants." Then it dawned on me that I wasn't in my own bed and Fabienne was 400 miles away. So no need to put on pants.

I texted right back and said that we'd decided to stay in Florida an extra day and I'd forgotten that we'd switched her day to Monday. I told her where our house key was and that she could go on in and clean or reschedule if she preferred. She said she wanted to go ahead and let herself in. Great.

But it was so much better than I thought. We got home at 9 o'clock Monday night, and walking in to that clean house was the real miracle of Christmas. Floors were shiny, beds were made. Glory be, I felt at peace, I felt so civilized, I felt the way Oprah must feel all the time. It was good. And you know, it made me unpack much more quickly and completely, just to preserve the tidiness.

I highly recommend this. Even if you don't have a regular house cleaner, maybe arrange for one before you come back from a trip. Fellas, this would be an excellent present to give your ladylove.

Did I just say "ladylove"?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cul-De-Sac Falling Out

We got back to the ATL last night, so today was spent putting things in places and remembering how much I love my house. It is such a nice yellow inside and it has all my stuff in it.

I'm terribly behind on both blogging and reading blogs. Will try to remedy both.

It was sunny and nice today so I spent a lot of time standing out front watching Hank ride his trike and mess around with chalk and such. While I was out there, my next door neighbor Mindy and her husband drove up. Mindy had to rush off right away to some appointment or other--every part of her body is maintained by a different beauty specialist--but Ron walked over to chat with me. While we were standing there, Rebel Yelling Mom drove by, and I was surprised to note that she gave us both the stinkeye. I said something neutral, like, "There goes Danica," and Ron told me that Mindy and Danica are no longer speaking.

I said, "Whoa, really?" Those two were tight, once upon a time. Ron said that Danica had been "making up stories" about Mindy and telling them at the nail salon they both go to. I briefly wondered what nail salon they both attend that I might infiltrate, 'cause I like to hear stories too, you know.

I said, "Oh, that's too bad, but I'm surprised, I thought those two were really close." Ron said, "It suits me fine, Danica is not a nice person." I "hmmm'ed" thoughtfully and looked very serious. He went on, "And the things she was saying proved that." Reader, I could not bring myself to ask, "Well what was she saying?" I just couldn't, it didn't seem ladylike or some damn thing. I waited, hoping he would enlarge upon this, but he only said, "And then when Danica dragged their hairdresser into it, that was the last straw. After Mindy had introduced Danica to him in the first place." That told me all I needed to know. I mean, ouch! Once the hairdresser is part of the story, it really is serious. Those two have had a falling out that involves their grooming professionals. I don't really see a way of coming back from this.

That was all that happened in the hood while we were away, it seems. This Saturday night, though, is a progressive dinner on our street, involving some of the characters we've come to know right here on SubMat. We start with drinks and appetizers at the house of a couple who have never been mentioned on this blog because they don't seem narratable, then we have our main course at the home of the Mystery People, and oh my lord am I eager to get inside that place, then we have dessert at Normal Neighbor's. Might be interesting. And speaking of interesting, I want to make pesto farfalle to bring as a side dish--what can I add to that to make it more interesting? I just love pesto and I love those little bowties.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Pardon Me While I Blind Myself

This picture doesn't do the situation the terrible justice it deserves, but I saw this fine fellow in a Cracker Barrel today. I know, Cracker Barrel. I came home and told Matt and he said, "Well what did you think you would see there?" Here he is again.

A bunch of us stopped in for lunch at a Cracker Barrel near a big outdoor mall in Alabama. I know: Outdoor mall + Cracker Barrel + South Alabama = We really deserved whatever came our way. I say that in love, South Alabama. When this gent swaggered in--and he did swagger, he thought he looked good, baby--I threaded my way all through the crowd, with quiet but excited purpose, to alert every member of my family to this sight in our midst. When my dad spied him coming out of the bathroom, he turned to me and said, "Telling me about that was an an act of hostility." Then Amy said, "Take his picture. Why did God create iPhones?" So I oh so casually followed the dude and his wife around the store, trying to get the shot. He was wily, though. Like Bigfoot. All I could get were blurry scraps of tantalizing half-evidence.

So that happened. I think he was about 60 years old. And not the guy you expect to be flaunting his bod. You have to understand that there was nothing underneath that shirt, and it was unbuttoned down to the top of his tummy, which protruded gently like a little shelf. Also he was totally hairless. My dad remembered him as slightly sweaty also. The really striking thing was his whole attitude. He was truly the cock of the walk. Like, "Hey LADIES, I'm over here by the saltwater taffy! Better hurry 'cause I can't stay all day."

Oh, and as my dad pointed out, he definitely knew his shirt was unbuttoned, 'cause he went into the bathroom while he was there and came out still rocking this look.

Reader, I guess I'm just. . .confused. And I'm wondering, why? Just a lot of unpleasant emotions.

Also, if I hadn't already had a blog, I would have started one this day.

This is my day-after-the-day-after-Christmas card for y'all, my dears.

Hay is for Horses and That's Good Enough for Me

Katie's House

All you need for major kid fun is a really tolerant horse and a family member who loves to help little kids ride. That person in our family is Katie, my brother's wife. Katie, in addition to her many other virtues, is a former rodeo champion, and her parents still keep her three horses at their house. This makes her extra endearing to little children. A trip to ride Katie's horses is always on our agenda when we're in Pensacola. Laura first got to ride when she was three. Now she gets to steer by herself some.

laura solo on sally

Today we took all the cousins over there to visit, and Katie and Dave led each kid around the field. That Katie can walk really fast! One thing I've always liked is that she involves the kids in getting the horses ready to ride, and puts an emphasis on taking care of them afterwards, so the kids have learned they're dealing with animals and not a horsey amusement park ride.

Hank on Sally

When Hank was lifted into the saddle today, he said, "I don't wanna do this!" I said, "You're gonna love it, buddy. Be brave!" He said, "But I'm scared," and I said, "You can be scared and be brave at the same time." Two minutes of riding later, he said, "Hey, I'm brave now!"

nate on sally

We got up early, took coffee, and had a great time as always. The kids who were waiting for a turn to ride jumped on the trampoline, and not the new kind of trampoline with the safety walls, the good ol' kind where you can fly off at any moment and break your arm. Horses and trampolines: it's the land God promised to children.

ava on sally

hugging sally

More pictures are here. We hated to say goodbye, but Dave and Katie had to hit the road, and the rest of us had to get back to some important snacking activities. You know, day-after-Christmas things, I don't want to bore you. Also, Amy and Mom braved the sales at Target, but I decided that those bargains would just have to get along without me. I was kind of busy, what with the snacks and being halfway through that new Stephen King book.

I hope y'all are still feeling merry and bright.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Look Who Came To Visit!

The Australian Baby

It's That Australian Baby, Grace! My sister Amy and her gang landed in Atlanta on Monday night. This girl is like a real, full-sized baby now and not just a little bean. So snackable!

Greeting Baby Grace

Everyone in the family converged on my house to welcome the Australia crew, and it was a serious, class 1 hullabaloo. We had thirteen people sleeping in the house Monday night. I miscounted how many people would be there for dinner, and I made barely enough food. The sleeping arrangements were carefully orchestrated, yet during the night, two preschoolers wet their beds, and somehow Matt wound up huddled on a little folding steel cot. I didn't know any of this. I was dreaming that I was on a Greek island. There were goats and white roofs and I didn't want to leave.

It was a perfect kick-off to Christmas. We were reunited and it DID feel so good.

Dave on Guitar

Katie, Dave, and Mom


On Tuesday we loaded up in one big ass caravan and headed down to Mom and Dad's Pensacola house. Matt and I had four kids, one dog, and the entire set of Rock Band instruments in our van. (Okay, we weren't going to bring the Rock Band stuff, but both my brother and brother-in-law got a little wistful about leaving it behind.) We got out for lunch, somewhere deep in Georgia, and realized that not only was Hank barefoot, we hadn't brought any shoes for him, none. My mad organizational skillz, yo.

Now I'm blogging while my sister and sis-in-law wrap Santa presents. Here's the thing: when we were kids, presents from Santa just appeared unwrapped. That made sense to me. Then I married Matt, and to our union, he brought an expectation that Santa wrapped the presents he left. So it's a mixed marriage, but I've come around to his way of thinking. It means more to unwrap for the kids and more prolonged enjoyment. Is this how you do it? And Santa gifts have to be wrapped in virgin paper that hasn't been used for any other gift. Also, the gift labels have to be written in odd block letters that won't be recognized as parental handwriting. Of course, Laura has not shown much talent as a graphologist thus far, as I've been writing her notes from her freakin' elf all since Thanksgiving.

So I will sign off with a Merry Christmas! I don't know about y'all, but I've been an awful good girl.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

That Holiday Sweatshirt Again

It is fair to say that I might have overdone it last night. Overdone it with the imbibing. We had the Hamiltons over for what was supposed to be low-key pizza and Scrabble. Then, around midnight, my brother and sister-in-law turned up, having made it out of DC and driven south at probably the last minute anyone could leave the city before it became a total whiteout. They were heading for the mountain house, but they heard it was unreachable, so they came to Atlanta. Their account of the roads between Richmond and Charlotte was scary--cars all over the sides of the interstate, stuck. If you are up there in that storm, my heart goes out to you. Stay safe at home! So they came in and the low-key gathering kinda got a second wind, and some pitchers of cosmos were consumed, and we played Cranium, which Matt and I both remembered that we hadn't played since New Year's Eve of 1999. So we partied like we did in 1999, and the next thing I know it is 4:30 in the morning and we're standing in the kitchen eating crackers and griping about the Senate.

I'm not feeling too steady today.

Seeing Dave reminded me of his famously awesome Christmas sweatshirt. Which if you weren't reading me last December (where in hecks were you?) you may have missed. It made its debut in this post, excerpted below. Please enjoy it while I go sip some diet pepsi.

A few years ago, while they were still in college, my brother Dave and his roommate decided to make a Christmas sweatshirt. I don't really know what area of human knowledge we can draw on to help us understand that. Just two dudes, creating festive holiday garb. Their particular brand of college hipster culture was so complex that it can't really be known how sincere their efforts were. They certainly weren't snarky about it, but were they making the sweatshirt or quoting the sweatshirt? I think that, perhaps, postmodern irony really has given way to The New Sincerity. Maybe. It's possible that there are young twenty-somethings all over the country who are lovingly crafting that Tampon Turkey centerpiece. But here is the sweatshirt.

Lest you think that this was the half-assed work of a moment, I refer you to the 3D tiny wrapped packages under the felt Christmas tree, which they have decorated with little lightbulbs. My favorite part has to be the cheery and vague "Holidays!" leading up to the pom-pom poinsettias on the shoulder. This thing wants a wider audience. Surrender to its cheeriness. Holidays!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Dear Conde Nast Publishing

Hi Condé Nast, what's up? I know you guys must be busy with the holidays and the meltdown of the magazine industry and your company in particular. I just wanted to send a quick note to say I got your sweet postcard yesterday, telling me that my subscription to Cookie is being converted to a Glamour subscription, since Cookie is now defunct. The thing is, my subscription to the dearly-departed Domino was also converted into Glamour, and not that long ago. So now two copies will be coming to my house.

I don't like Glamour. It is not for me. I have already trapped a man, I know how to "read his love signs" (it is not complicated), and I do not have 50 Private Sex and Body Questions that I need answers to. I don't think I have even one. The whole thing makes me sad.

Also, why are the women on the cover of Glamour always squatting? Even Vogue lets the cover girl stand up most of the time, even if she is submissively pointing her toes inward. Sure, Michelle Obama got to stand up, but she is rolling her shoulders in like she's giving herself a hug. Is the lower, crouching pose designed to seem more approachable to your younger reader base? We're all just gals here, just squattin'.

Not that Cookie was really all that great.

So until this whole print media/newspaper/magazine seismic-shift-in-the-media-industry thing sorts itself out, I am going to stop buying your fine products. It's the first time in many years that I haven't had a subscription to either Vogue or Vanity Fair. I am going to stick to blogs. (Some of these websites even resemble magazines. Have you seen Lonny?) The blogs, they are so much better, so much fresher, and they are not so much about squatting.

Take care and good luck with all that stuff.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

On the Pleasures of Not Being a Room Mom

Laura and Me

Compared to last year's Christmas party, Laura's class celebration today was easy breezy, the difference being, of course, that last year I was the room mom, and I had organized this frenetic and supply-intensive game for the kids to play, in addition to the whole food and craft thing. Maybe I overdid it a little, in retrospect. And then that woman got in my face and told me her kid wasn't happy with his goody bag. Oh sweet fancy Moses. But here I am recapping the post that I just linked to.

I had only one assignment for this year's event: bring doughnut holes. That I could do. I classed them up by bringing in my Portmeirion Holly & Ivy Christmas tree-shaped plate. I believe in my heart that presentation is everything. The little girl next to Laura said, "Hey, nice plate!" I said, "Why thank you, sweetie. Have another doughnut hole." I would write "donut" hole, but I think we can try a little harder, right?

Not being the room mom, I was free to mingle and drink coffee. The room mom, bless her, brought a coffee maker. And speaking of dad-level events, there were a few dads there. One of them was kind of cute in a very preppy way. I had never met him before. He told me his name was Vandy. And I was like, "Are you real? 'Cause this whole persona is adorable." Then I remembered where I live now and reflected that "Vandy" is like "Bob" around these parts. And all the moms were there, of course, in uniform. (Pretty Neighbor and I agreed, after the fact, that the uniform was a sweater, puffy vest, jeans, boots, and a blowout.) I don't remember that we had parents attend school parties when I was a kid. You guys?

Anyway, I had my camera this time.

Loitering in the Hallway


Third Grade Class

Is y'all's last day tomorrow? Have a good one! And here's to just waltzing in five minutes late with doughnut holes.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Something Else for the Heirs To Fight Over

Me in Third Grade

The other day when I poked fun at Laura's handmade Santa head, I had forgotten about this little gem. That's me in my third grade school picture, sporting what is surely the most unfortunate haircut ever to be inflicted on an innocent child. Mom, if you're reading, don't worry, I'm not interested in laying blame or rehashing the past. My hair and I have moved on. But, you know, wow, it still hurts a little. And the picture is adorning, if you can't tell, vintage early 80's styrofoam. I cannot believe it has survived this long, and really, it is pristine. Now that I look at it, I wonder whether I really made it myself as an 8 year-old? Look how neatly the glitter line is done, and the sequins are stuck precisely in the same spot on each arm of the snowflake. I don't remember making it, maybe it was a gift from my teacher? This creation will probably outlive all of us.

Vintage Paint-at-Home Ornament

And this hickory dickory dock guy is one of a set of ornaments my mom and dad made before I was born. They're from some kind of paint-at-home kit, and there are all different shapes. They did them so carefully! I picture my parents huddled in their tiny apartment in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, wearing fingerless gloves and painting these tiny mice, sleighs, and gingerbread cottages. Or that's my romantic image anyway. Last year Mom gave them all to me and we love having them.

Christmas Tree 2009

We finally got our tree all done late last week. It was a multi-day process, much to the kids' chagrin. I ran out of lights halfway up (last year's tree must have been shorter), and then I nearly lost my mind trying to buy more lights in Target. There were no basic white lights. Everything is all LED or "faceted" or craptacular in some way. I felt like Andy Rooney doing one of those "I'm a really old fusspot" routines. I tackled an employee and said, "Is it possible you don't have any more white lights?" And he said, "Oh, we been sold out of those. They're all anyone wanted." Which raises the question, why are they stocking all that other junk? Not that it was really junk, it's just that I wasn't about to rethink my whole lighting plan and unwind what I'd already done.

And you know, we just barely had enough ornaments. We used every single one we had. All the kid-made ones, all the old faves, all the filler silver and red glass balls that Hank hasn't broken yet. I guess I need to get the kids to step up production and make some more ornaments, if Mom and Dad aren't going to come through with another set of handpainted ones. They're just selfish, really.

Free Wrapping Stuff at CVS If You Hurry

I'm a little late to the party on this one. For the rest of today (Tuesday), CVS has three different wrapping supplies that are free-after-ecb's. My involvement with CVS these days is limited to plucking the very, very low-hanging fruit, and that's what this is: Green and red tissue paper is $1.99, get $1.99 back; a bag of bows is $2.99, get $2.99 back, and adhesive gift tags are $1.99, get $1.99 back. You can do each of those deals twice. Sometimes the CVS freebies are kinda meh, but these are handy. This is a good time to rack up some Extra Care Bucks, if you've been meaning to get into the CVS thang. Here is an explanation of how that program works.

I was quite pleased with my transaction. I got two bags of bows, two packs of tissue paper, one pack of labels, and a pack of Bic Soleil razors, which are $4.99 and get $4.00 back. (Somewhere there is a coupon that makes those totally free, but what am I, Nancy Drew?) The helpful scanner machine at the front of the store gave me a $5 off a $15 purchase coupon for me to use right away. Sweet! I don't see those very much.

My total out-of-pocket in cash was $12.78, and I got $16 in extra care bucks. Or really like $15.94. So I came out ahead with a nice stash of ecb's, plus all the junk. CVS, I try to get out, and you pull me back in. Actually, I don't know that I'm back in--like, I'm not gonna start studying the CVS ads again--but I will certainly spend those $16 on stuff that goes on sale at CVS, like toilet paper and baby wipes. I've told myself that I will not buy any more skin care products until I've used the ones I have, which will take until never.

So skadoodle down there if you have a notion.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Only Mom Without a Camera


This morning was the three year-olds' Christmas program at Hank's school. I remembered it was happening, even though it received only brief mention in a newsletter last week. So after I dropped Hank off in the car line, I parked and went into the chapel. I figured, they're three. How big a deal can this be? Well, you'll understand what I mean when I say that the dads were there. Dads with video cameras. And grandmothers in Major Holiday Sweaters. I was served cider from a silver punch bowl. Don't you hate being caught unawares by a dad-level event?

And here's where I was glad to be the mother of a little boy, as gender stereotype-y as this will sound. All the little girls were dolled up: hair fixed, puffy skirts, Christmas tights. The little boys were a more ragtag bunch, so it didn't matter that Hank's shirt was untucked and his hair was sticking up in his eternal rooster-tail cowlick situation. He was standing up in the back row, where everyone could see him as he kept his hands over his ears throughout "Deck the Halls." It was a proud moment.

As part of my general unpreparedness, I hadn't brought my camera, so several photo ops were missed. I guess recording them in my brain will have to do. One I will remember is when, after looking around the room for two songs, Hank remembered why he was there, and busted out with, "All night, all day, angels watchin' over me MY LORD!" I swear I could hear his individual voice from the middle of the chapel.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The 30 Day Shred, Day 794 (Approximation)

I know you're at home on this chilly Saturday with your family gathered round, perhaps sipping a mug of warm soup, and thinking, "How are Becky's glutes?" Well, harken.

When last we spoke of the Shred, I had done twenty workouts on consecutive days. Then, Thanksgiving week, I caught a cold/sinus thing and didn't shred for four days. When I realized that my cold wasn't going away anytime soon and that I might as well get back to exercising, I picked back up with level 2 and had a noticeable loss of stamina. I determined that I would not let it lapse like that again, and since that time I've only missed one day. That was last Sunday, after Matt and I had worked out at midnight on Saturday night (I know), and I decided that counted for both days. Cleverness!

Oh, y'all, and Matt has started shredding with me! One night when I was feeling particularly unmotivated, I asked him if he would, and he took pity on me. I may have batted my eyelashes. Now, on the days I don't shred with Pretty Neighbor, I shred at home with him. I'm such a social animal, I find, that having a shred buddy keeps me going and makes it much more fun. With Pretty Neighbor, we shred then drink a beer, and with Matt, we shred then he cleans the kitchen while I stand around and fiddle with the Christmas tree. This system is working.

So, I've done level 3 twice now. And let me say that, on the whole, I got through it but MAMMA MIA LET ME GO it's really tough. I am doing modifications on a lot of the moves, especially the ones involving push-ups. Really what's standing between me and level 3 is man push-ups. Some of the moves are too easy with knee push-ups. So I need to work on those.

And there is a lot of jumping, or "plio" training as Jillian calls it, with her fancy workout vocabulary and her tight little bod. There are these squat jumps and plié position jumps, where you squat down, then jump up a little and point your toes, then come back down into a squat. Doing those last night was the only time in this whole process where I heard myself shout "No!" while doing the move. It's hard, definitely a real step up from level 2. Matt thinks it works different areas; I'm not sure, but I do think it is an awesome core workout. The ab moves are at a whole 'nother level. My question is, is it better for me to be trying level 3, easing into it and feeling somewhat uncoordinated, or to be doing level 2 with proper form? Level 2 is still a good, hard workout.

Oh, and the glutes. Between the shredding and the Weight Watchers, my two favorite pairs of jeans are now baggy in the seat. I pointed this out to Matt, and he was like, "Good job!" but as jeans-wearing women you all know that this is a bittersweet moment. They looked better back there when they were a bit tighter in the patoot. Soon I'll need to rummage in the closet for smaller jeans and hope those fit without muffin top. More than you wanted to know? I am sorry, you can go back to your soup now!

If you're shredding, speak up in the comments and let us know how it's going. xoxo--B

Friday, December 11, 2009

Santa Oedipus Rex

Santa Head

You know how your kids make holiday crafts from year to year, and then you kind of forget about them because they're packed away most of the time? Last night we finally brought up our boxes of ornaments from the basement, and from those boxes I exhumed many tissue-wrapped things, including this Santa head. Laura made it last year. I was like, "Yikes!" This precious, precious treasure always makes me think of Oedipus Rex, because he looks really surprised, and not in a good way, and it looks like his eyes have been stabbed out. They look that way because that's how she made them, by stabbing a pencil point into the clay.

Doesn't it resemble one of these Greek masks? Maybe a more dramatically lit picture would help make the point.


AAAAH! See? Yikes. Behold, Thebans, the terrifying, empty gaze of one whom thou must pity, though he be e'er so abhorred!

This cherished heirloom is resting on our mantle right now. I know you're envious, but I'm sure some of you must have some precious, um, artifacts like this one. She made this when she was taking private art lessons, so I paid money for this thing. Luckily I'm going with a sort of "junketeria" theme for the mantle so it fits in just fine. And good thing it's tiny. If it were life-sized, we'd have to cover it with a sheet.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

How I Spend One Hundred Percent of My Time: December

Christmas shopping did not even make the list. Hmm. Actually, I tried to get a few gifts online today, but somehow I wound up buying a cashmere sweater for myself. Those Lands End daily deals are dangerous.

What's filling up your pie chart?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Like I Should Be Worried About Those Jerks

Today we got a letter from the bank that has our mortgage, and with whom we have a credit card. I don't even remember how we got this credit card. But back when we lived in CA, we had our checking with this bank too, because it's everywhere out west. It doesn't even exist in the east, so we've moved on. Anyway, we have no balance on the credit card and we never use it. The card itself is in a file folder. So, the letter said, "Dear Matthew, it is never easy to bring unpleasant news to one of our valued customers." It went on to say that they were lowering the credit limit on this unused card, lowering it about 75%, because their "periodic account reviews" determined it was "necessary." They were kind enough to enclose a brochure that "offers many tips and resources available to help you on the road to financial success." I had just taken a swig of my tea and did a partial spit take at that last part. Galling! And totally bogus.

So I called them and was quickly connected with somebody in card services. I said, "Hi Martin, it is never easy to bring unpleasant news to a bank, but I'm calling to cancel my card." He mumbled something. I think the poor guy had a cold. And you know how this is the point in the call where they always connect you to a "retention specialist" to try to cajole you into keeping the account open? I mean, that's the way that call goes. We haven't paid the annual fee on our airline rewards card in a long time using this method. Well, not with Martin. He did not want to play. It took about ten seconds for a card we've had for years to be closed down.

It gave me pause. After I hung up, I told Matt about it and said, "I'm worried about those guys. They must be in trouble." I know that banks everywhere are moving to cut their potential liability (i.e., the amount of credit their customers could use), but whoa. We have a mortgage with these people. A mortgage they saw fit to refinance for us not that long ago. But our little credit card was giving them the shakes. Matt said it made him wonder if they were going to sell our mortgage to someone. Like, what's going on out there? Troubling.

Do you think I should send a fruit basket? Or maybe one of those Pepperidge Farm sausages. Oh, and also they can go fuck themselves.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Birthday Books

Birthday Books

Isn't this like looking at a nice juicy steak? I mean, if you eat meat that is. Are y'all reading anything good? Today is my birthday, and this seems to be the year for book gifts. Really I bought The Annotated Christmas Carol for myself, and I borrowed Serena from my parents. So not actually gifts. I wanted to show you Serena, though, because I finished it last night, and it is amazing. How have I never heard of this author? Serena is set in western North Carolina in the 1930's, at a logging camp. Note to self: never get a job cutting timber in the 1930's. Anyway, if Lady MacBeth and Cormac McCarthy had a love child, that offspring would be the title character. I loved the book for its sense of place and also its style that doesn't announce itself as STYLE, you know? It's funny, too, and gothic, and suspenseful. A good yarn.

We had cake and a little celebration on Friday night with Kelly and Jane and their husbands, who I can't link to because they don't have blogs. I hate it when I can't link to someone. Cosmos were consumed, and Lego Rock Band (my gift from the kids) was played.

This morning I told Matt that I'd had a realization. "When you're turning 37," I said, "all the bullshit that was okay in your twenties and that you got away with even into your thirties is officially no longer cute." He replied, "Hmmm." He was in the shower and not that talkative, which is too bad because I always like to stand in the steamy bathroom and chat. Anyway, I guess I need to figure out which parts of my whole act need to get the ax. Maybe the part of me that tends to make bold, categorical pronouncements. Food for thought.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

I Will Allow It

Hank Eating Jelly

Part of me feels like I shouldn't permit Hank to eat jelly straight from the jar, but I just can't work up the necessary mom energy. So you know how there are things in your house you just let happen? This is one of those things. (I also let the dog lick plates, and even summon her to clean up kitchen spills. She's a poor man's Roomba.)

Blackberry Preserves

I feel more okay with the jelly thing since I found a source of good jelly. Remember how, months ago, I was all like, "OMG, what jelly do I buy that isn't loaded with HFCS, is acceptable to the people who live here, and costs less per ounce than uranium?" I even made a Venn diagram to explain my dilemma. Then one weekend we were up in North Carolina, and I was shopping at the lovable local grocer, Harold's Supermarket in Sylva. I highly doubt they have Google alerts set up for themselves, but if so, hey Harold! Anyway, I rounded the corner and was greeted with this happy sight.

Home-canned Jellies at Harold's Supermarket

All Kinds of Jellies

A LOT of jellies and jams of every conceivable variety that seem to be canned just for Harold's, with all natural ingredients. Yes, I took photos with my iphone, because I was agog at all the industry. They have everything: two different kinds of jalapeno jelly; plus other pepper jellies; and tons of hyphenate jellies, you know, like strawberry-kiwi, strawberry-guava, you name it. Hank is working his way through a jar of blackberry preserves right now. I want to be clear that Harold's is NOT a chi-chi all-natural store, it's kind of grungy, the prices aren't great, and they sell weird cuts of meat. So the home canned jelly comes more from their countrified orientation than an all-natural orientation. But I've carted lots of this jelly home in the last few months.

At $2.99 a jar, it's not rock-bottom cheap, but my calculation is that, in North Carolina I'm on vacation and it's okay to pay more for things when you're on vacation. Again, look for my book on personal finance soon. After my book on child nutrition.

What Jelly?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

It Came from Far, Far Away

Poinsettia in Vanuatu

On Tuesday I went to Costco and walked out of there with a huge poinsettia. It was kind of an impulse purchase. They have big 10-inch plants for about 16 bucks, so not bad. I have it sitting by fireplace as part of the first wave of Christmas decorations. Seeing it in that familiar Christmas context reminded me of last summer, when Matt and I went to Vanuatu. Poinsettias grow huge all over the place down there.

Huge Poinsettia

That's a place we stayed for a few nights on Tanna, one of the outer islands of Vanuatu. There were big poinsettias all along the road, in both red and white. I didn't notice them so much at the time, because there are luxuriant flowering things all over the place. At night the air was fragrant. I've always read that in books: "The night air was fragrant," but I've never really experienced it until being down there. Seeing the poinsettia pots all arrayed at Costco made me think of them growing huge and tall in Tanna, truly a world away.

According to the interwebs, the poinsettia is native to Mexico and Central America, but they must have been brought to the South Pacific and cultivated a long time ago. You know how when you bring home a poinsettia, it lives long after Christmas, and you get a little tired of the red and green come late January? I'm describing myself here. Last year, with that in mind, I bought white poinsettias, thinking they would look fresh longer, which they did. The one I got at Costco is a big ol' red one though. How do you deal with poinsettias after Christmas?

Another plant I see associated with Christmas here, the Norfolk Island Pine, is also from the South Pacific. From Norfolk Island in fact. We saw them growing tall everywhere, even in Sydney.

Here you can only really find them in nurseries around this time of year, in my experience. They are sold labeled as "living Christmas trees" because people like to put lights on their sturdy branches. I had one a couple of years ago in my sunroom. When I bought it in the winter, it still had an undignified sprinkling of glitter from the nursery's Christmas display. I loved it but it died anyway. They need a lot of light, and are a little fussy. I'm not so good with the plants, and am in the process of killing an Ikea yucca. So I've got that going on.

Looking through my Vanuatu pictures got me seriously wishing I were back there. And it made me realize there are tons of cool things I haven't shown you guys from that trip. In the dead of winter, I may have a return-to-summer series and show the last of my vacation pics. Like, return-to-summer as in, last summer we went to the southern hemisphere where it was winter. Mindbender.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tuesday is for Lovers

Lovers of randomness, that is. Please come in and cop a squat, because there are a few things on my mind.

When I first got caught up on this whole Tiger Woods situation, the most surprising thing about it to me was that he lives in Orlando. No slight to Orlando, it's nice enough I guess, but dude can live anywhere he likes. Anywhere. Like he could probably live at Hogwarts if he wanted to. So, Orlando? Maybe Tiger and fam love visiting the big mouse.

I just did the shred for the first time since Friday. Pardon me while I pop this lung back inside. Skipping one day seems to have no effect, but I noticed a definite loss of cardio stamina after skipping three or four. After shredding through Thanksgiving, I've been letting my cold and sinus headache keep me from working out the last few days. But it's funny, in the middle of a set of plank jacks, I don't notice my face hurting. So there's some more fear leaving my body. One thing that inspired me to hop to it was that Pretty Neighbor has started level 3. Must catch up. And as crap as I feel right at this moment, that workout is still only twenty minutes. And now I'm covered in the perspiration of righteousness.

Yesterday I gave Normal Neighbor's daughter a ride home from the bus stop, because it was raining. Normal Neighbor asked me if I had gotten a call from Frenemy on Saturday. I told her that FN had texted me on Friday, asking if we were back home from the mountains. I had told her that we wouldn't be home until Sunday, and she'd wished us a nice time. Then, she texted me on Saturday, asking me if we were home yet, and I ignored her. Normal Neighbor told me that FN had called her on Saturday, when the Normal family had just returned from a week in Florida, and asked if Mrs. Normal could keep FN's daughter from 5-8 that night so they could go to a wedding reception. Normal told me that they begged off because they were exhausted from their trip. Then we exchanged a shrug and a head shake. I mean, you know well in advance that you're going to a wedding reception, right? Kind of like you know that your anniversary is coming up. So get a babysitter. Yes, I am being a bitch right now, but I think I'm in respiratory distress from my shred.

Looks like Dooce is giving away 5 Xboxes. I wish I could be that awesome, and I wish we didn't already have an Xbox, or I would totally win one of hers, but she's inspired me to do a little giveaway of my own. I won't spill the secret just yet, but the item rhymes with "schmea schmowel." I have some super sweet ones I've been hoarding since Australia. So please get very excited. And stay tuned.

At Laura's ortho appointment today, she was told she didn't have to wear her nighttime headgear anymore. Woohoo! She said it was the best day of her life, but she also says that if I let her make a cake from a box. In January she'll get braces on her top and bottom front teeth. I know that a geometrically, mathematically perfect bite is right around the corner, if we just stretch out our arms farther, and run faster. Oh, and the orthodontist told me that my chin is crooked, and that Laura probably got it from me. Watch it, buster.

And check out more randomization at Keely's place. She is such a doll face to host this business every week.