Thursday, May 29, 2008

Who to hit up?

This is a call for help...or just a call for ideas if not help. I'm organizing a silent auction to raise money for a charity and I'm looking for ideas of places that might be good to ask to contribute something to the auction.

The auction will be at a national convention, which means since the majority of people will be from out of the area, local-specific items are out (e.g., gift certificates to local restaurants won't go over well). Also, since many people will be flying, larger items that won't fit in luggage probably won't be too popular.

So do you have any good ideas of types of products or companies I should try asking? Oh, it'll be all mom and dad (of twins specifically) attending.

Random unrelated thought, of interest to bloggers only edition: There was an interesting article in the June 08 Scientific American about the therapeutic benefits of blogging. It doesn't mention snickollet, so it's no cnn article. But I do have to appreciate an article that focuses on the neurobiology of why blogging feels good. Mmmm, yummy dopamine!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

My awesome bad luck

I was having a rough afternoon yesterday. I've been sick, and while I'm recovering, I feel pretty low on energy. The boys were in a grumpy mood, and probably would have napped except a thunderstorm rolled through right as they were falling asleep. So I had two grumpy, overtired, scared boys while I was feeling pretty crappy myself.

I brought the boys downstairs, and N-man played quietly while I held B-man, trying to console him from the scare of the thunder. Of course B-man fell asleep in my arms. So I was trapped on the couch. Luckily, the computer was close by so I started browsing. I decided to look for a wii fit. Of course, it was nowhere to be found. Until I happened across one local store that as of closing the night before, had a "limited stock" available. Well, I figured that was a long shot if I ever heard of one as it was already afternoon. So I kind of put it out of my head.

Then N-man peed out of his diaper, and I had to put B-man down. B-man woke up, and started having a crying fit. I'm busy cleaning up pee and changing all of N-man's wet clothes and B-man is working himself up to a full-blown tantrum. I know, you're all jealous of my super-glamorous life. Luckily, I think the vast majority of my readers are all moms so I know you all have had days like this. It's not just me, is it??

I get N-man all cleaned up, then work on calming B-man down. I finally turn on a short TV show (god, I love on-demand. They have a huge selection of free children's programs, including a few really short animated versions of story books. A perfect 5 minute calm-down activity!) It helped a little, but things were still on the verge of falling apart. Oh, and TK wasn't coming home until bedtime since he was at band practice. I was all on my own.

So, a change of venue was in order. But where to go at 5pm? Of course, on a quest to get a wii fit! I load the boys into the car. And get going. And get stuck in traffic. Because it's rush hour. And not only that, but the road I was taking was torn apart. Shouldn't they give me updates if they're going to start construction on a road I want to take? Geez! (And yes, I'm also now running into dinner time. Luckily, since my boys don't eat, this is never a big problem with them).

I get to the store, get the boys back to the electronics section, wii fits. Of course. But I didn't go all that way to give up without even asking. I wait in line, and ask the people who work there. Nope, no wii fits. Another woman comes up to ask the same thing, and we all start chatting about how many people have been in to look for wii fits and how annoying it is that there are never enough wii things to go around. I was laughing, talking about how on the way over I was teaching the boys about a "long shot". Well, along comes a manager, listens for a minute, then asks, "Are you looking for a wii fit?" Yes, answered the other woman and I. "Well, I have a few I just got in."


So the manager went to get the boxes, opened them, and we bought our wii fit! It was that easy. And if I hadn't had the bad luck to have N-man's pee accident, B-man's tantrum, rush hour traffic, road construction, and just generally being in a bad mood and having to get out of the house, I would have been there too early and they wouldn't have had any wii fits.

It's amazing, sometimes all kinds of bad stuff can happen that come together for something good.

Random related thought: I'm completely uncoordinated and a lot of the wii fit games rely on balance. Of which I don't possess any. At one point, the game actually heckled me and asked if I tripped a lot while I walk. Sadly, the answer is yes. My play was further impaired by having the boys playing with me. I'd let one get on to the balance board with me and we'd play together.

When TK got home, the boys excitedly told him all about playing the games. N-man happily reported, "We played the falling off the building game!" Yeah, it was a tightrope walking game. Although mostly we did just immediately fall off the tightrope and down between the buildings. Kids are so easily entertained. I love that he was just as happy with the thought that the goal of the game was to fall off the tightrope as to stay on it!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Laura Ingalls Better Watch Out!

Have you ever wanted to make butter? Well, here's your chance. It's surprisingly easy and while not exactly quick, is far quicker than I originally feared. My almost three year old twins aren't overly impressed with making butter, but adults find it incredibly interesting. We made it twice while my parents were visiting, and they've been making it with all their friends now! So I suspect this one will be a big hit with the adults even more than the kids. Without further ado, here's the recipe:


Heavy Cream
Salt (optional)
Minced Garlic (optional)
Fresh Rosemary (optional)
Fresh Parsley (optional)
Fresh Chives (optional)
Or, whatever mix ins you'd like...or no mix ins at all.


Find a small wide-mouthed container with a tight fitting top. We used an old Avent bottle with a non-nipple top. I've heard the glass stage 3 baby food jars would be a good size as well if you still have some sitting around.

Fill the container about half full of heavy cream.

Shake. Then shake some more. Then keep shaking. It takes a while. We just kept passing the bottle around and giving it a shake. At first, TK's comment was "the cream is going to spoil before it turns into butter!" Nothing happens for a little while. Then, it starts to turn into whipped cream. Then, after it's been whipped cream for a while and you keep shaking, it suddenly "breaks". The butter solidifies and the excess liquid (buttermilk) all comes out. It takes about 10 minutes or so total.

Pour off the buttermilk, and now you have butter! You can eat it straight, or mix in whatever you'd like. We tend to do lots of herbs from the garden, but you could also mix in some cinnamon and sugar and use it to make cinnamon toast, or just a little salt to make it slightly salted. I put the minced herbs in a little bowl, and then let the kids sprinkle them into the butter and stir it all up.

As you stir in the mix-ins, more excess liquid will come out...just pour it out.

Eat the butter! You can store it for a day or two in the fridge. We never make enough that this is really an issue, though.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A Taste of Spring

My girlfriend Jules was lamenting the fact that she couldn't find any fiddleheads yet. It got me to feeling guilty: I've seen them pretty much every time I go to the store, but haven't gotten any yet as they're not my favorite vegetable. So, after all the talk, when I saw a big pile of them yesterday, I bought a bunch.

Since I don't love fiddleheads, I decided to try something new and add all my favorite ingredients: butter, lots of garlic, and some mushrooms. They were okay. Still not my favorite. But in good news, FINALLY there was some local asparagus at the farm so that's what we're having tonight. If I can wait that long. I might be having it for lunch. Or a midmorning snack now that it's on my mind...

Random related thought: I haven't been posting much about eating locally because frankly, once I started doing it, I've found it's pretty easy to eat local on a small scale. Certainly not 100%, and probably not even 50%, but once I started focusing on local brands and products, my pantry and fridge became stocked with local choices and I didn't have to think so much about it. One night I even made a 100% local salad for dinner...without even meaning to! We were half way through eating it when I realized that everything, from the greens and veggies to the croutons to the dressing to the cheese were local (at least locally produced if not made from local crops).

I'm sure as the summer progresses, you'll be subjected to more of our eat local adventures, but for now, I'm just making local choices when I can!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Crazy freakin' clown!

I'm not the kind of person who is especially scared of clowns. I mean, I don't always find them particularly amusing, but so long as they don't hop out of the pages of It, I remain relatively coulrophobia-free.

But the other day, I was walking through the aisles at a local discount store (you know the type, with stuff piled up high leaving little visibility). As I pushed the cart with both of my boys in it out of the aisle, AHHHH, a clown popped out. I'm not sure if he was trying to rock the hungover-hobo-clown look, or if he was, you know, a hungover clown in a threadbare costume. He offered to make balloon animals for the boys. His offer, and I quote,

I can make swords, guns...

Um, can you make anything a little less disturbing? So I asked if he could make them dogs. Sure. I was just hoping they wouldn't be killer attack dogs. He made the first one and gave it to me and explained that he had to give it to me instead of the kids for liability reasons and that I had to take the responsibility of giving it to my kids.

Huh? What the heck is in this balloon? Does he fill them with laughing gas? Does he buy special discount balloons that advertises "Exrta Lead in evry baloon"?

He then proceed to inform me that he's available to do parties. Anyone looking for a slightly disturbing clown able to shape balloons into any weapon you'd like? Because boy do I have a recommendation for you!

Random unrelated thoughts: I love the age my boys are at now (almost 3 years). Their personalities are really starting to shine through and they're so much fun. Last night before bath time, I said to them, "Guess what we're going to go do in the bathroom?" B-man pipes right up "Take a bath!" while N-man simultaneously happily guesses, "Fix the toilet!"

This captures them so perfectly. We always take a bath at that time of night. B-man loves schedules and knowing what happens when. N-man, however, believes that anything is possible. The toilet wasn't broken, nor has it been broken recently. However, about two months ago when it wasn't flushing right, N-man got to see the toilet being fixed. He hasn't mentioned it since, but apparently it left an impression. He was very disappointed we were doing something as run-of-the-mill as taking a bath.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Get used to it, kids! That's life!

Every once in a while, I'm taken aback by a children's toy. It's happened once again. My grandmother gave the boys a large set of matchbox-type cars, trucks, and related stuff. It was some cheap off-brand I'd never heard of, not particularly well made, but my boys are absolutely loving it. And while it's turned my house into a giant disaster of tiny little toy pieces, I can see that it is a lot of fun so I'm not overly disturbed by these toys.

My problem, however, is with one of the small toys included. It's a barrel. Okay, that kind of makes sense. There are a lot of construction-themed pieces of the set (pylons, cones, etc.). What would you think the barrels contain? If you guessed "toxic waste", you'd be correct. Yes, you heard me: toxic waste. I've got to give you photographic proof:

Look closely: that's a picture of a person's hand being dissolved by a drop of what I assume is some kind of acid.

I wish I had been at the meeting at this toy company. I imagine it went something like this:

"How about we include some barrels in the set? That would be fun for kids."

"Great idea! What should be in the barrel?"


"No, that's already been done."


"What does that have to do with construction?"

"Um, those barrels that keep cars from being destroyed when they miss the exit and ram into the concrete?"

"Doesn't that seem a little dark for a kid's toy set?"

"Oh! I've got it! How about some toxic waste?"

"Yeah. I can see that!"

"What a great idea!"

"Kids love toxic waste! Just look at the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!"

"And what parent doesn't want their kid to play with toxic waste?"

"Okay, it's a go."

Of course I'm letting them play with the barrels. Hey, kids, that's just the kind of world we live in. Filled with toxic waste. Sorry guys, get used to it!

Random unrelated thought: We bought the boys twin beds this weekend. They'll be delivered in about a month. Oh my, how did this happen??

Friday, May 16, 2008

Chocolate covered pretzels

I wrote an article for my Mother of Twins newsletter about cooking with kids (that phrasing still sounds all wrong to me!), so I've decided to use my blog to be a little more organized about cooking projects that have gone well with the boys. Or failed miserably. That would be fun, too. I figure it'll help me to keep all my "recipes" in one place, and maybe it'll help a few of you, too.

So here's a recipe we made a few weeks ago for chocolate covered pretzels. I use the term "recipe" loosely. I've found with three year old twins, recipes that need precise measurements are a set up for failure!


Pretzels (any kind you want, just make sure they're big enough for your kids to hold part of it and dip the other part)
Chocolate chips (let's say 2/3 cup)
Sprinkles (I don't know, I just kept dumping more into their bowls as they ran out)


Cover a cookie sheet with waxed paper. Set aside. Fill a small bowl for each child with pretzels, and another small bowl for each child with sprinkles. Set aside. Don't even think about making them share bowls, because that's just setting yourself up for fights :)

Put the chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave 20 seconds at a time, stirring well after each 20 seconds, until they are melted. The chocolate will be hot, but if you take it out JUST as the chocolate has melted, it shouldn't burn your kids. At least it didn't burn mine, but as always, test it yourself before giving it to your kids.

Set the bowl of melted chocolate where each child can easily reach it. Give them their bowls of pretzels and sprinkles. Show them how to dip half of each pretzel in chocolate, then dip it in sprinkles. Set them on the waxed paper to cool and harden. Or eat them right away. Whichever.


This recipe worked really well for us, and as you may imagine, was a big hit with the kids. Of course. Pretzels, chocolate, and sprinkles. Those are things I've never had trouble getting my picky boys to eat. On the messiness scale (from 1 to 10, with 10 being a complete disaster), I'd give it an 8. Chocolate got all over them (especially their faces), and sprinkles ended up all over the place. It was a pretty quick clean up, though, as the chocolate wiped off things easily and the sprinkles could just be vacuumed up.

It was a very quick recipe: quick set up, quick to make, quick to eat.

Overall rating: 7 out of 10. Unhealthy, messy, but quick, delicious, and so much fun for the boys. I'll be honest: we'll definitely make this one again, despite the fact that it's not exactly health food!

Food allergy note: nut-safe chocolate chips can be a challenge as all the major brands carry a potential nut-contamination warning. I've found two brands, though, that are safe for nut allergies: the BJ's store brand (Berkley and Jensen, I think), and the Roche Bros. store brand. Neither have a nut allergy warning on the bag, and I've given both to my son who has peanut and tree nut allergies.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Short fiction recommendations

Last night at book group, we discussed Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. It was good, and pretty interesting to read a short story collection: the first I've read in my many years of being in book groups.

I read short fiction avidly, probably because I'm a big sci-fi/fantasy fan. That seems to be the genre where the short story is still alive and well. In fact, if it doesn't out me as too much a geek, I'll admit I even have a subscription to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I love it!

So, in honor of our book group, I'll list my favorite short story collections in no particular order:

  • Stories by T. C. Boyle. I love most everything by Boyle, but short stories are by far his best. This is a HUGE, MASSIVE book (wow, 704 pages!) that contains 4 of his previous short story collections. The stories in here range from pretty good to truly outstanding. Most are a bit odd, somewhat funny, and kind of skewed. He's a fiction writer, with a slight sci fi tinge every once in a while.
  • Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. Autobiographical short humor pieces that actually made me laugh out loud. I know most people have either heard him read these pieces on NPR or have read his books, but if you've somehow missed it, this is one of the funniest books I've ever read.
  • Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman. Neil Gaiman is another author I'm completely in love with, but I also think he truly excels at short fiction. He's a fantasy author, and if you haven't read his Sandman comics, well, you've missed out on some of the most imaginative, fantastic writing (and art). Anyway, back to Smoke and Mirrors: a very strong showing, with only one story that I didn't enjoy.
  • Wilderness Tips by Margaret Atwood. Another author who excels in the short story form (although in her case, I must admit I like her novels better). Her sarcasm and healthy feminist streak comes through loud and clear in this collection.
  • The Borderlands series edited by Thomas Monteleone. Oh, this is a shame: I just checked on amazon and this series apparently has gone out of print. I found it to be a great collection of horror stories by many big and small name authors. And, while you can't judge a book by its cover, having artwork by Dave McKean is a pretty big draw for me! If you happen to enjoy horror, and happen to stumble upon any of the books in this series at a used book store, grab them right up!
  • Different Seasons by Stephen King. Okay, these are novellas, but hell, even a normal length novel would practically be a short story for Stephen King. "The Body" is probably my favorite story by King (it's the story Stand By Me is based on. As much as I love that movie, the story is even better). Also contained in this collection is "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption", which was also made into a great movie, and "Apt Pupil", which was made into a movie I never saw. Liked the story, though. Additionally there is a disturbing story called "Breathing Lessons", which I'd suggest any pregnant women avoid.
  • Maps in A Mirror by Orson Scott Card. Another HUGE collection, bringing together a number of previous books of short fiction. There are some phenomenal stories, some good stories, and some weak stories here, but overall, a great collection.
  • Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut. Genius. Lovely.
Well, that's all I can think of off the top of my head. Feel free to add your own short story collection favorites. I've (mostly) left anthologies off the list...maybe I'll add another post of those some day. Or not. We'll see what I'm feeling like.

Random unrelated thought: I really should be writing, and not on my blog. I have an article due for the Mother of Twins club newsletter today, and of course I'm procrastinating in celebration of my boys actually napping. Back to "work"!

Who's not reading this

I was talking to one of my friends from college yesterday, and I mentioned to him I'd been blogging. But here's the thing: I don't think my blog really speaks to the single male demographic.

Hmm, kids, cooking, and books: not the three most popular topics with the dudes, I'd imagine. But what do I know?

You know what, I think I'm okay with not having a large single male readership. Yes, definitely okay with that. But hi, Jon! I do have some fairly inappropriate posts sprinkled in here and there, if you can manage to sift through all the suburban mommy stuff.

Random effed up thought for the day: Here's what ran through my head as I got dressed this morning: "I wish I was pregnant, because that would explain why I'm always hungry and can't seem to lose any weight." Yes, that's a great reason to have another an explanation for my weight gain. One day he'll ask, "What did you say when you found out you were having me?" and I can answer, "I was so relieved there was a reason I was gaining weight." Also, I'm somewhat ridiculous because to even have a noticeable weight gain due to pregnancy I'd have to be at least 3 months along, and somehow I think I would have noticed in the past 3 months if I was pregnant.

Just to be clear, I'm not pregnant. Just eating a lot and gaining weight.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

1k Wednesday, Destroying our trees edition

Here it is: the very hungry caterpillar. Our trees' leaves are becoming lacier by the day. When will the tree service get here to spray? Soon these stupid winter moth caterpillars will have eaten entire leaves!

They're little, but annoying. This is one on my son B-man's hand. When we're outside, the inchworms fall out of the trees on to us. I'm not sure if I'm ever going to go outside again after having caterpillars rain on me. Yuck.

Reduced to a name and date

It's so weird. I've been going through all the family genealogy, entering the research done by different branches of the family into I'm lucky: different people have done a lot of research already and just by asking the right people, I have huge swaths of our family tree entered...back as far as 11 generations.

As I'm entering them, though, all of these people have been reduced to names. And dates: birth, wedding, death. Perhaps an immigration date of when they arrived in America. That's it. All these people had stories, and it's all gone. All that's left is a few documents, or an entry in a family bible, or some scribbles on a family tree. It's weird to think about. And a little depressing.

So, to add some levity, or at least change the subject a little, here are some interesting facts about my family:

  • I have ancestors who arrived in America as early as 1634 (and perhaps even earlier).
  • There are at least 3 of my direct ancestors who were Revolutionary War Soldiers. Yes, that officially qualifies me to be in the DAR, you know, if I was 102 years old and interested in that.
    • As an unrelated side note, we stopped for lunch on our way to NJ for Passover and happened to run into the attendees of the Connecticut DAR convention. They weren't all 102 years old. Some, I was surprised to note, were approximately my age. Some were 102, though.
  • Another relative was hung during the war for spying for the British. I bet that'll win me some points with my gigantic readership from England. Hee! I'm kidding of course. I don't have a gigantic readership from England.
  • My only even minorly famous relative was the Vice President under Monroe, Daniel D. Tompkins. He looks disturbingly like my brother. Tompkins apparently wasn't the best Vice President ever. In fact, my grandmother has an article about how he was the worst vice president on record. Even the wikipedia article contains the amusing information that he often presided over the Senate drunk. Nice. I'm so proud.
  • Unknown to me, I have a number of ancestors who had the same name as one of my sons. We didn't know it was a family name, but I guess it is.
  • I also have ancestors with some really odd first names, including: Chillingsworth, Obadiah (unfortunately, not Jebediah Obadiah Springfield, although I do like to hope that my ancestor also embiggened those who knew him), Ebenezer, Jemina, and Burr. Oh, and about 67 people named John. What's up with that...couldn't anyone think of a better name than John without going as far as Obadiah?
That's about it. As I said, mostly I just have names and dates.

So what's the word...any famous (or even better, infamous) relatives of yours?

Random unrelated thoughts: My little ones have just made a gigantic pile of blankets, toys, and books. They are calling it a mountain. Damn, they're cute. I should go mountain climbing with them now.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Oh, and another thing I'm hopeless at

I want to make my boys aprons. You know, something smock-y/apron-y that they can wear while cooking and doing crafts. Kind of like something you'd expect to see at Pottery Barn Kids, except I don't want to have to pay $50 for two of them.

I went to the fabric store, and they each picked some fabric from the upholstery remnants section of the store.

Then I went to the pattern section, because I figure I should get a pattern. Do I know how to follow a pattern? Nope! But I figure how hard can it be? I'll never know, because I couldn't figure out how to even find a pattern. There were piles of books with all kinds of pictures in them, but no discernible indices**. I did manage to find some children's aprons, just by paging through some books, but they were really frilly and girlie. Clearly I don't have much of a problem with that. It wasn't so much an issue of gender roles as "good golly, there's no way I can sew all that frilly crap! I can barely use my sewing machine!" Then I realized that I don't even know how to go from the book to the file cabinets full of patterns. The boys running around like crazy people wasn't helping my concentration much, either.

So now I realize I:

1) Don't know how to read a pattern

2) Don't know how to find the pattern I'd like to make in the books of patterns.

3) Don't know how to find the actual pattern once I've located it in the book.

That's a lot of "I don't knows". So what do I decide to do? Just buy the fabric and wing it. I winged it the past two Halloweens, turning my boys into playing card Jokers (that turned out pretty well), and newts (not quite as well as most people thought they were dragons or ninja turtles). My theory of sewing is to keep cutting and sewing until it vaguely resembles whatever I'm trying to make. Then I'm done.

Wish me luck. Or better yet, wish my boys luck. Maybe they'll get their aprons before they turn 10. Or maybe it'll never turn into aprons but will instead become some oddly shaped cape or something. We'll see!

**English is so weird. I was pretty sure the plural of index was indices. However, I'm getting a red underline under the word's not being recognized as a word! I looked it up, and apparently "indexes" is the more accepted pluralization of index. I guess I'm hopeless at correct English grammar as well. Oh wait, all my regular readers must know that anyway!

Animal Identification Experts

My kids are doomed: they come from a long line of suburbanites totally disconnected from the natural world. Here's a conversation we had yesterday morning:

Grandma (my mom): Wow, come quick boys! There's a bunny in the yard!

TK: That's huge. I don't think it's a bunny. It's a CAT!

Me: There's no way it's a cat. I think it's a baby raccoon.

N-man and B-man: Staring blankly out the window...

Me: Clearly we have no idea what this animal is.

Grandma: Let's ask Grandpa. Grandpa, what's that animal in the backyard?

Grandpa, looking out the window for one second: It's a woodchuck.

None of us were convinced, still clinging to our belief that it was an oversized rabbit/odd looking cat/baby raccoon. So we looked up a picture, and sure enough, it was a woodchuck.

It ran away and went under our shed. I think it lives there. So if it pops out again, next time we'll know it's a woodchuck!

Random related thought: Did you know that "woodchuck" is just another name for a groundhog? I didn't know that either. I thought they were two different animals. We're all hopeless in my family. I hope the boys learn from their grandfather and not from the rest of us who clearly are completely useless at animal identification. Imagine if we were only trying to use tracks to identify the animal!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Two more random ways to waste time

Quick post today as I've still got a zillion and two things to do before my parents get here. I've stumbled across two websites that look like an interesting way to waste some time. However, since I don't really have time to waste, I haven't been able to fully explore them yet to figure out if they are fun or stupid.

But here they are. Maybe one of you will find them fun or interesting. Or stupid. Who knows? Or maybe one of you will already know about them and can give me feedback.

The first is It's a genealogy website that seems to be pretty easy to use to set up your family tree. The neat thing is that it's kind of viral. You add a relative, enter their email address, and send them an invitation. Then they can enter their relatives, invite them, etc. So it's neat to see the tree grow quickly, at least among the current generations. My mom is bringing up some research that was done into our family tree back into the 1800's so I'll be entering that this weekend. An interesting site, and I could see getting really addicted to genealogy research via this site. Or not.

The second looks like a much bigger time suck: Oh my gosh, it's a whole website with user book reviews and discussion boards! It's a little slice of my own personal heaven! This is the site I could see myself becoming desperately addicted to, you know, if I didn't spend my few free minutes per day blogging. Or if my kids ever took a nap so I'd have more than 10 minutes free per day. Or if I stopped wasting my evenings watching Farscape on DVD. But come on, is there anything better than Farscape?

So there it is, my current potential time wasters. Enjoy!

Random unrelated thought: Happy Mother's Day to all you moms reading! Have a great day!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Stupid very hungry caterpillar!

Our trees are infested with something called winter moths, or more precisely, the larvae that will turn into moths. These crafty little buggers turn the leaves of the trees into swiss cheese. Swiss cheese leaves are not very effective at, oh, little things like photosynthesis. Last year it was wicked bad...our trees had hardly any full leaves. We got the trees all sprayed. Okay, it didn't make the leaves come back, but the trees managed to limp through the rest of the season and most branches survived.

Yeah, now the new leaves are out, and TA DA, swiss cheese. Stupid stinkin' winter moths. Now we have to get them treated. Again. Apparently, we'll probably have to treat for years. It costs a gazillion dollars (yes, that was the official estimate), and it's not even effective in the long-term. I'm being outwitted by a caterpillar! A bug! Frick!

So, any good bug infestation stories to share? Misery loves company! I could tell about the time termites swarmed all around me in our basement and I didn't notice since I was hard at work on the computer writing a paper while I was in grad school, but that was more funny, especially since the termites didn't establish a colony in our house. I hope one day I'm amused by these winter moths, but as of right now, they mostly just make me want to declare war on nature.

Random unrelated thought: My parents are coming up this weekend, and we're all going to visit my grandparents for Mother's Day. It should be fun, I'm very much looking forward to it.

I did something I almost never do and told TK what I want for Mother's Day: Wii Fit. Of course, it's already sold out everywhere and it hasn't even been released yet :) Oh well...

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Ideas of recipes my kids can help me make?

I'm writing an article for a twins newsletter, and I'm going to write about cooking with kids**. Anyone have a favorite recipe their kids like to help with? It can be as easy as mixing together a fruit salad to something more complex where they can only help with certain steps.

My kids are almost three, and we're dealing with peanut/tree nut allergies. Those are my only constraints.

Random unrelated thought: N-man climbed out of his crib yesterday at nap time. I heard him over the monitor, with his little feet pitter-pattering around the room. Then I heard B-man ask him, "Can you get me out, too?" Sorry, bucko, you're stuck!

**PS~~Got a better way to phrase it than "cooking with kids"? It sounds like my kids are going to be the main ingredient! A little too To Serve Man-esque for me!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Oh, hilarious irony!

If you haven't read the post before this (titled "Gearing Up For November"), please do so immediately. No real reason, I just would like you to. Ha! Kidding! Seriously, this will make more sense if you've read my earlier post first.

Okay, that out of the way, I was just looking through to see what else Michael Chabon has written, and I discovered that The Wonder Boys is a book about a writer writing a book. So in my last post I declared my undying love for Michael Chabon, and also my unswaying belief that books about writing are never interesting. What to do, what to do?

Will Wonder Boys be the exception? Or will this book scare me off reading any other Chabon books? I think I'll go with The Yiddish Policemen's Union next, since that's been on my to-read list anyway. Just in case.

Gearing up for November!

Some of you know that last November, I wrote a novel during National Novel Writing Month. It was a great experience and I'm so glad I did it.

You haven't heard much about my novel since then. That's because it was terrible. I say that with a lot of love. I learned so much while writing the novel, and I think the only way I could learn it was by doing, and doing badly. I got more than I could have ever hoped from the experience, even if I didn't end up with the "Great American Novel".

I'm planning to do another round of NaNoWriMo this coming November, and have continued writing on a smaller, less insanely epic scale. I don't blog much about it, because in my opinion, reading about writing is one of the most boring activities on earth. There are some rules that are immutable: any books where the main character is writing a book will be unreadable, and movies about someone making a movie will be unwatchable. Seriously. I just dare you to give me an example that disproves this. Oh, you're going to pull out The Dark Half, aren't you? Please, one of Stephen King's weakest showings. Or Adaptation, the pallid followup to the genius that was Being John Malkovich. Now a movie about writing a book, maybe. Or a book about making a movie, well I haven't read one by perhaps it wouldn't be entirely tiresome.

I'm digressing again, aren't I? There's a perfectly good reason why I don't find it overwhelming to write 50,000 words in 30 days. It's because words flow out of me. They're not always coherent, or to the point, but they certainly don't get clogged up in there! Perhaps I should install a bit of a filter...

Back on topic, starting now. I promise.

So I'm currently finishing up reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon. First, this book is incredibly awesome. Amazing. All of you who have read it are in deep, deep trouble for not giving me this book and demanding I read it immediately. And for anyone of you who haven't read it yet, I demand you get it and read it immediately. There, now you can't blame me for not informing you of its awesomeness. Second, I have to get everything else by Michael Chabon and read that immediately. I hope it's just as good. Or even half as good. Because then I'm in for some awesome reading material.

How does this tie into my novel writing? Well, one of my biggest difficulties in writing a novel was in transitions. I got so mired down in minutia. I never knew how to jump over time. I didn't want to write the boring stuff, and I'm sure no one would want to read the boring stuff, but I had so much trouble skipping from Activity A to Consequence B without explaining all the blah blah that happened to get them from A to B. Kavalier and Clay is like a guide book for me in how to jump between points. It is so interestingly structured. Not only does he skip over the boring parts, he skips over the exciting parts, taking you to a point in the future where stuff has already happened, and then you as a reader piece it together in bits and pieces.

I don't think I will be structuring my future novels this way, but it's just so amazing to see the facility with which he handles movement in time. It's not particularly loud; not an attention grabbing structure. Not like how, for example, Vonnegut's structure choices sometime pop right out at you (I love Vonnegut, by the way...that's not a complaint at all about his writing, in fact, that's something I love about his writing, how he takes chances and plays with structure). If I hadn't struggled so much with my novel about how to get from place to place within my own story I'm not sure I would have even noticed Chabon's choices. But I'm just finding it so incredibly well done and such a joy to read. I have to shout it from the rooftops, or from the random bits that make up my blog.

Whew. I'll leave it at that, and hope my brief foray into writing about writing didn't bore you to tears. It was mostly a love letter to Michael Chabon, wasn't it? And isn't it fun to sneak a peek at my insane writer-crushes?

Random related thought: Anyone want to join in and write for NaNoWriMo this November? It really is fun, and doesn't take as much time as you'd think (about 2 hours a day is what I wrote on average, and I finished my 50k words nearly a week early). No using NaBloPoMo as an excuse, either!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

No Thank You's

I could use some parenting advice. Here goes: my boys are 2 and 3/4 years old. They are shy, in fact, they still often don't talk in front of strangers. Sometimes they hardly even talk in front of friends they don't see very often. I'm okay with that. I'm shy too, and there's nothing worse than being forced into being overly sociable.

My problem is what to do when they are given something by a stranger or acquaintance: a lollipop from the bank teller, a cup of milk from a waitress, a sticker from the librarian. N-man and B-man are fairly polite in our house: they often say "please" and "thank you" unprompted, and always do with prompting if they forget. But in public, forget it! I remind them to say "thank you" and they cower behind my leg, or hang their head and stand there mute.

So, here's where I need the parenting advice: how far do I push it? Do I let them get away with not saying thank you? I've been trying to model good behavior by asking them to say thank you once, and if they don't, simply saying thank you myself. But they're getting older, and eventually they're going to have to put those good manners on display in public, not just in our house. But I don't want it to turn into a showdown, where I repeated ask them to say thank you, probably making the person they're supposed to be thanking feel very uncomfortable. And I'm not sure that taking the item away would be appropriate, either, given the fact that I believe their lack of thank you's is a direct result of a hopefully mild case of shyness and social anxiety, which I don't want to make worse by turning every interaction they have with a stranger into a battle of wills.

I realize it's completely normal to be shy and reserved in public at their age (although there are plenty of kids who are the exact opposite as well), but I also think it's reasonable to expect almost three year old kids to say "thank you" when they are given something. So what do you think? How would you handle this?

Random unrelated thought: I cooked with grass-fed organic beef for the first time today. Any vegetarians reading this, close your eyes: when I took the meat out to cut up (I was making stew), it smelled awesome. I'm talking about raw, bloody, uncooked meat. Usually it's all I can do not to get all skeeved out by raw meat. But this actually had a delicious aroma. That was a pretty surprising revelation to me. Maybe I'm one step closer to understanding how anyone could force themselves to eat beef tartare. Hmmm, no I'm not. Anyway, the stew came out incredible. One of the best stews I ever made, if I can be so humble. But who knows if it was due to the beef. I might have just been having a moment of culinary genius today that had nothing to do with the meat. Some day I'm going to have to cook two identical meals side by side, using organic meat in one and conventional in the other and then do a blind taste test to see if there's a real difference.

Because I don't trust my taste buds. I expect there to be a difference, so I'm tasting a difference. But I used to think I could taste the color of M&M's (okay, to be fair, I only thought I could distinguish red from all the other colors. I felt like it had a slightly more bitter taste). TK didn't believe me, but I was so sure I said I'd do a blind taste test. Yeah, it turns out I can't taste M&M colors. Who knew!

In for a yard

While we were in New Jersey for Passover, we went to my sister-in-law's brother's house for a Seder. While there, I realized something amazing: they had more furniture OUTSIDE their house than we have inside. Okay, I'm exaggerating slightly. I mean, they didn't have bedroom furniture outside. Just patio furniture. Lots and lots of it. A full couch and two chairs plus a coffee table surrounding an outdoor fireplace with full chimney. A table and chairs. Another set of couches, chairs, and tables.

Oh, and all their outdoor furniture was nicer than our real furniture. Hee! Seriously, though, my boys aren't potty trained. I know our couch is ripped and in serious ill-repair, but I don't like it enough to have it refinished and I refuse to buy a new one when I know in the next year, there is an approximately 100% chance the couch will be peed on, at least once, during the potty training endeavors. Okay, hopefully I'm overestimating that 100% chance, but if we bought a new couch, you know it definitely would get peed on. Potty training is going to be harrowing enough; I don't want to have to worry about possessions getting worried as well. So we're just fine with our old couch, thanks.

Back to this house we were at for the Seder: it was nice. A McMansion...the first I'd ever been in. Generic, cookie-cutter-ish, and a tiny bit TOO perfect, but nice. A little odd, and not my cup of tea. I guess I don't need to worry too much about it, though, as the chances of us buying a McMansion are slim. See, first we'd have to win the lottery...

So what do you think? Have you ever been in a McMansion? They're not so omni-present in the Boston area as they are in the part of New Jersey where my inlaws live. It was kind of strange to just see neighborhood after neighborhood after neighborhood of gigantic houses, all looking vaguely similar and brand-new.

Random unrelated thought: I was paging through the 3/30 Boston Globe Magazine (yes, I'm just reading it now. I know! It's May already! Anyway...). In their cooking section, they explain that a frittata is an egg dish that is not flipped in the pan but is finished in the oven, while a tortilla espanola is basically the same dish, except flipped in the pan using the technique Giovanna was kind enough to explain to me where you invert the eggs onto a plate, then slide it back into the pan.

So now I know. I'll happily make tortilla espanola from now on as I clearly can't be trusted with making a frittata! The article in the Globe states: "Frittatas are even easier to make [than tortilla espanola] because they don't have to be flipped in the pan." How little they know. How vastly they underestimate my ability to burn myself with hot pan handles. Bring on the flipping any day! Of course, I may be blogging next time about how my tortilla espanola slid off the plate and onto the hot burner, or onto my hand, or something equally ridiculous. Cooking is always an adventure!