Thursday, July 31, 2008

Worlds Are Colliding

I signed up on Facebook back in March or April. I didn't do much with it. I collected a few friends, wrote on a few walls, and got a few messages on mine.

Then my best friend from high school joined up, friended me, and the late 80's have come back to me in a rush.

I've connected with people whom I haven't thought about in years, and most of whom I haven't seen since shortly after college during the wedding rounds.

It's a bit eerie.

It's not like I left the hallowed halls of Dulles High School twenty years ago (twenty years ago!) with a staunch vow to never return or have anything to do with that life. I am in regular touch with two friends, and in touch through friends of friends or parents or siblings with a few others. I think that's a pretty good track record

But to suddenly see pictures of them (twenty years older), to find out where they are living, to see pictures of their pets and families--I'm not quite sure how to process it.

I have to admit that until now I wasn't really sure what Facebook could do for me. I friended people that I see every week, some family members, some college friends, some internet buddies, and people from my previous hometown. I couldn't get into it. But now I guess I get it. Seeing all of the people who my old friend (she's old, not me) uncovered, caused me to root out even more of connections. It's pretty cool, I guess.

As long as I don't wake up with toilet paper streaming from my trees tomorrow morning, I might enjoy this little trip down memory lane. And maybe I'll update my Facebook page more than once every 6 weeks. In fact, I've already updated it three times in the last two days. I am so hip.


You will go up ten points in my estimation if you can identify the source of the title.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Panera Don't Fail Me Now

One of the things I've missed most about school being out is my trips to Panera. Kyle was in school two days a week, and I tried to reserve one of the two days each week to spend most of the four hours that he was in school at Panera: sipping coffee, enjoying their free WIFI, and writing or working on the computer. If I got bored with that, TJ Maxx is just next door, so I can easily pass 45 minutes or so trying to have a Maxx Moment finding that steal of a bargain.

Next year Kyle will be in school three days a week, which means I can have one day at Panera and use two days to surf the net at home get stuff done around the house.

Today I got a babysitter so that I could get my hair cut (so I'd look great for my exciting NYC adventure tomorrow--details to come). I decided to have him come a couple hours early so I could treat myself to Panera.

I arrived at about 9:20. I ordered my bagel and filled up my mug with their dark roast coffee and half and half. One huge benefit to Panera in my mind is drinking out of a mug. You have to ask for it, but they are a vast improvement to styrofoam. I sat down with my laptop and the WIFI didn't work. There was a signal, but it wasn't working. I thought it was my computer being wonky, but I heard someone else complain as well. I had some writing to do, so I opened a Word document instead, but I was sad about being thwarted.

Then I got up to refill my coffee, and they were out. I decided to go with the Cafe Blend, which is fine, and they were out too. Out of coffee. Before 10:00am. Not good Panera.

They remedied the situation, but I'm hoping that when I step out in September I'll have better luck with my favorite coffee cafe. Since Starbucks is now offering free WIFI and free refills with their Starbucks rewards program, Panera is going to have to work a little harder for this mama's business.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What's on My Nightstand -- July

What's On Your Nightstand

I'm so happy to be participating in the first monthly "What's on Your Nightstand?" If you'd like to join in (either by linking up your own post, or just reading others' posts), click on over HERE.

I have to say that I'm a bit of an erratic reader. I am often reading more than one book at a time, and often leave perfectly good books unfinished in order to dip into another one. The deadlines that have been imposed upon me by my online reviewing gig(s) have made this worse.

So--I rounded up the books from my "nightstand" so that I could share them with you (in reality they were in a bookbag, on a bookshelf that I reserve for my to-be-reads, on another bookshelf in my bedroom where I park books that I hope to get to very soon, and in a magazine rack that I recently put beside my bed to avoid irritating my husband with the piles of books beside my bed, on the chest beside my bed and under my bed). For me, that means sharing what's in progress, and those juicy books enticing me to be read very very soon. You might deal with books in a normal one- or two-at-a-time fashion, and that's fine, too.


The Condition by Jennifer Haigh

I'm over halfway through this book now (it's a thick book, weighing in at 400 pages), and I'm really enjoying it. It's a well-written, character-driven, literary type novel. I haven't read that type of book in a while, so I'm really enjoying it. If you like books that give you a peek into the reality of family dynamics, you might want to check it out. Gwen is a 34-year-old adult who lives with Turner's Syndrome, which causes her to look a bit like an 11-year-old boy. The stress of her diagnosis precipitates her parents divorce. Her parents are dealing with the reality that they are getting older. Other "real" themes include ADD, tension and temptation in marriage, homosexuality, loneliness, and self-discovery. It's not depressing, but it is real. It's the kind of book that some people love, and others avoid. I don't like this kind of novel to be the only thing on my nightstand, but I am enjoying this one.

The Mercy Rule by Perri Klass

As I mentioned in my Bloggy Giveaways post yesterday (and if you click over, you can enter to win it and $100 worth of other stuff), I was drawn to this book because of the author. I read a memoir she wrote with her mother, Every Mother is a Daughter, and absolutely fell in love. When I saw that she had a new book out, I knew that I wanted to review it. In my weird reading fashion, I have read the first chapter of this one, and will finish it after I finish The Condition. A full review will be posted on 5 Minutes for Books.


Slummy Mummy by Fiona Neill

I'm halfway through this one, too. It's a review copy that was described to me as "a laugh-out-loud book on modern motherhood" and being "in the style of Bridget Jones." It is clever, and I have chuckled, but I am finding it to be much more insightful and thought-provoking than that blurb promised. A full review will be posted on 5 Minutes for Books.

Harry Potter #5 by J.K. Rowling

This book is beyond a "thick book," so I'm not sure if I can devote the time needed to it after reading two other thick books this month. However, Amanda is wild about Harry. This summer she wanted to read the Harry Potter books, and I told her that she could, but I had to read them first to make sure that they were still appropriate for her, and that if I thought they weren't, I could cut her off at any time and make her wait a year or two. She's read through number three, and so I need to get reading at some point. If the opportunity presents itself, I will dig into this one (I actually have read the first 100 pages of it, and my bookmark looks like I just dipped in. I think I put it aside because I couldn't handle a thick book at the time and the early setting in that old house didn't draw me in--but I have heard it gets better, and I think I'm right past that, although it's been a long while since I read that, so I might have to start over).

The Shack
by William P. Young

A non-booky friend of mine told me, "I just read the best book. I'm sure you've heard of it, because you're up on these things. It's called The Shack." I actually hadn't heard of it at all, so she said, "Promise me you'll read it." I looked into it, and saw that it's garnered a lot of attention (and some controversy). So, it's waiting to be tackled. A full review will be posted on 5 Minutes for Books.


The Dangerous Days of Daniel X
by James Patterson

I received an email asking me if I wanted to review this one. I was intrigued because it's written by James Patterson, but specifically because it is meant to conquer the problem of boys not reading because it is "boring," "there are other activities that they like better," and they can't "get into the stories." Patterson has a ten-year-old son and is determined to give boys what they will like. From what I've read of the plot, I don't think that it would be appropriate content for a ten-year-old, but I'm willing to find out. I love his motive. A full review will be posted on 5 Minutes for Books.

Listening:

To add to the confusion, I love having an audiobook on my ipod. It's the perfect thing to keep me busy while I'm supposed to be doing chores, and I can "read" and extra book or two each month this way.

Merle's Door by Ted Kerasote

I'm halfway through this book, which I can only describe as a love story between a man and his dog. Reading it has made me think about my dog more and understand her more, as he shares his research and opinions on what is best for a dog, and digs into the relationship between dogs and humans. He does include a fair amount of evolutionary theory, but I just ignore that, and it doesn't bother me. If you are a dog lover with affection or tolerance for people who think that dogs are like people in their thoughts and emotions, you might enjoy this.

If you like audiobooks, audible.com is having a summer "Paperback sale" which ends TODAY. That's where I got this book, and the book that is on deck, My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult--both for under $9 (and one more--at 1/3 to 1/2 off, I could not resist).

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Bloggy Giveaway

It's time for Melanie/Chilihead's Bloggy Giveaways carnival. I participated the first time, and it was one of my favorite bloggy happenings. I even won a thing or two. If you want to participate on your own blog (or just try to win lots of stuff), check out the guidelines HERE.

I'm going to bless you with some of the stuff that I've been pleased to receive to review. As a writer at 5 Minutes for Mom, I receive a lot of products to review, and as a book reviewer, I receive a LOT of books, all of which I can't even review (well, I couldn't until we launched 5 Minutes for Books. Now with a crack team of 6 other reviewers to help me, we are covering a lot more ground). Since I don't live in a giant house with unlimited storage, some of it has just gotta go.

I reviewed some Brighter Minds products recently. My daughter and I LOVE them, but if it's not something she's going to play, I need to let them go. When I originally posted the reviews of the first batch of these products (the giveaway of all 4 titles is still open HERE), I hadn't yet tried Miss Management. I knew it would be addictive, and it is. I'm having so much fun trying to manage the employee's likes and dislikes and keep the office productivity high. But since the computer calls to me in other ways, I'm going to have to let it go.

So here's the list:


Computer Games:


Miss Management
Wedding Dash (we are keeping 3 other "Dash" titles, so I think that's enough)
Jewel Quest and Jewel Quest 2

DVDs:

It's a Big, Big World The Earth Needs You
Disney's original movie The Minutemen

Books:


The Suicide Index (an interesting memoir that I'll be reviewing soon on 5 Minutes for Books)
The Mercy Rule by Perri Klass (an author I fell in love with, as indicated HERE in my review of her great mother/daughter memoir).

Other:

Lily on the Fly meal planning kit
30 Minutes a Day Kindergarten or 1st grade workbook (if you want it)--original review and giveaway (still open) is HERE.


To win ALL of these products, leave a comment here (U.S. shipping addresses only) and make sure there's a blog or email address where I can reach you if you win. So that I know you at least read through this, please name a product that really jumped out at you from the list.

I'll draw a winner on Friday night, at the end of the Bloggy Giveaways carnival.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Book Looks

When I was younger, I often selected books based on the thickness of their spine. I read so much and so quickly that I wanted to get bang for my buck, so I selected thick books so that they would last longer. When I was trying to decide among several books, the thickest one always won out.

I am still affected by how a book looks. Trade paperbacks are most appealing to me. The size is just right--not a small squat mass paperback, but not an unwieldy hardback. I love the feel of the smooth matte covers.

I have always taken advantage of the library, and used to love to buy bargain used books, but I've come to realize lately that aesthetics matter. I picked up a copy of one of C.S. Lewis' books on the free table at the library (which is where books end up that were donated for the book sale, but they decide not to sell). Although it seemed like an interesting book, the dated and slightly dog-eared cover just did not call to me. I never read it, and in fact ended up donating it back to the library, planning to buy my own new copy.

For the same reason, I'm not checking out as many novels at the library anymore. The library binding with the plastic dustjacket is like eating a four-star meal off of a paper plate. Sometimes a free meal off a paper plate tastes better than a $100 meal on fine china, and so goes the library as well. I love using it to try out cookbooks, for reference, and to fill my children's voracious appetites, but because I have a steady stream of novels sent here for me to review, I can afford to discriminate.

A book (trade paperback and thick and brand new) did recently call to me. My review (and giveaway) for The Moon in the Mango Tree is posted today at 5 Minutes for Mom. The book is over 450 pages long. It was not thrilling and suspenseful, yet it didn't drag either. I enjoyed each page of the story as it unfolded.

However, as I was reading it, I was thinking about the many other books that I'd like to read. There are so many stories out there, and if I'm reading an extra-long book, I'm missing out on another story. I have found that a thick book has to be really compelling for me to choose it over another. When I was young my time was unlimited. There was an infinite number of stories, as there are now, but I didn't feel the pressure to read them all. I don't feel pressured now, but I do feel desire to consume as many wonderful words as possible, and the time to read a long book pushes aside someone else's story.

Find out more about what I'm reading tomorrow (including another thick book that is waiting to be read), when I post in the first What's on Your Nightstand? carnival over at 5 Minutes for Books. You're welcome to join in as well.

Do have odd preferences regarding the looks of your books? Have you always held them, or have they changed a bit like mine?

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Faith of a Child Isn't as Simple as We Think

I was quizzing Kyle after church on Sunday about what he had learned at church. I then asked him if he remembered any of the stories he heard at VBS. Since I was teaching the class of older preschoolers, I knew all the stories that he heard, as well as the truth about God that went along with it. I also knew that the music teacher reinforced all of them each day.

"Well, we learned a story about sand and water."

Yep, that's the music teacher's doing.
She had a small bottle of sand and one of water to signify the parting of the Red Sea. "What did you learn about the sand and water?"

"The sea opened so that the Igalites could get through, and then it came together (CLAP), and those people who were chasing them couldn't get through."

"That's right, Kyle!" Then I asked, trying to reinforce the truth that because God cared for the Israelites, he will care for us as well, "And did that show you that 'God is good to everyone'?"

"Well, not those other people."

Oh, yes, the Egyptians. They might not have been thinking that God is good to everyone as the water consumed them. He got me thinking.

And then yesterday as he sat at the table eating his Pop Tart, looking out at the rainy morning, he said "I asked God why it was raining."**

"What did He say?" I asked, expectantly.

"Nothing. What do you think?" he tossed the ball back into my court.

"God knows that little boys don't like it when it rains. He wants us to be happy, but He also wants what's good for us. Do you know what would happen if it never rained?"

"What?" Kyle asked, rapt and still.

"The green grass and the beautiful flowers would die. We wouldn't be able to grow corn and tomatoes and broccoli."

He got me thinkign some more. It all comes back around to God's sovereignty, and His unfathomable nature. He is good to everyone, but we just can't comprehend exactly what that means all the time with our shortsighted human vision.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,"
declares the LORD.

"As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts."

Isaiah 55:8-9

- - - - - - -

**I loved hearing this because Kyle is not that spiritually deep kind of child that some are. In fact, listening to our VBS CD on the second day in the car, after the song "I know my God is real," Kyle, ever the literal preschooler, said, "But God isn't real." The nine-year-old was quick to correct, explaining that just because you can't see Him doesn't mean He's not real.

Destination Disney -- Other Orlando Activities



I have bad news, folks. This is the last Destination Disney that I will be hosting here. I should have stopped when I had gone through the information that I wanted to share from my trip, but you all begged and pleaded to continue.

However, my heart isn't in it (since I don't have a lot of information on these topics). If one of you would like to take it over and host on your site, please contact me, and I will think about transferring all of it to you, and passing the word about its new home (and adding it into my archived posts).

So, with that out of the way:

The topic this week is "Other Orlando Activities." Some of you have mentioned off-site shopping for good deals--let us here them. Is there a place you and your family loves to eat? Dish up the details.

I was going to cover Universal Studios separately, but now if you would like to go ahead and mention your experiences there, or at Sea World, let us know.

What do you do when you leave the House of Mouse?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Daughter is Like Someone Else Too

"Hello," Amanda greets the Panera employee she encounters as she rounds the corner to throw away her trash. The employee is taken aback, "Oh, hello," she answers, and smiles.

Simply typing "Hello" can't convey Amanda's tone. It's not the furtive "Hi" or polite smile that one gives as you pass someone on the street. It's full of meaning, more along the lines of "I'm friendly, and I love people. I noticed you. I hope you're having a nice day."

I've noticed this admirable quality in Amanda lately. She's the kind of child who will look an adult in the eye and have a conversation with them. I love that about her.

Recalling a situation that occurred when my dad (Pops to the kids) was here in May illustrates where she gets it.

We were walking through the parking lot after leaving church. All of us were headed left, to the car, and Dad's stride suddenly lengthened and picked up pace as he walked straight ahead, hand extended in greeting, "Are you really from Texas?" he asked, nodding toward the Texas license plate on the family vehicle they just exited.

"Yes. We just moved here," the man answered as his wife and three little ducks huddled around him.

That caught my attention, so I walked over and introduced myself to his wife. I got her name, email address, and phone number, because I know what's like to be a transplant.** We got in the car, and I said, "Thanks, Dad, for going over there. I'm sure it meant a lot to them to meet someone before they even walked into the church."

"Well, certainly. I saw that Texas plate, and I couldn't not say something."

"Stan never met a stranger," his partner Susan chimed in, chuckling, having witnessed similar scenes a multitude of times.


***********

**I'm ashamed to say that I have not called or emailed that woman. I will. Perhaps today. We left for our vacation the next day, and when I returned we were in full-tilt "end of school" mode. That's no excuse, and every time I think of that scrap of paper with her email address on it that is in purse, I have a pang of regret over that unfinished business.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Like Mother, Like Daughter

Photobucket

The other half (the Mother half) of the title can be found today on 5 Minutes for Books: My Favorite Summer Pastime.

For more Wordless Wednesday, click on over to 5 Minutes for Mom.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Almost Like Being There

Did you miss BlogHer? Did you even consider going? If so, why didn't you?

I would have liked to go in theory, but spending well over $1000 on airfare, hotel, and conference fees wasn't really worth it for this little blogging hobby of mine. The time away from family was probably equally as precious. I was lucky to get to go to Disney for the weekend as part of an all-expenses paid Mom-blogger mixer in April, and soon I will be announcing another trip that will take me away from my family (but will hopefully reap some eternal rewards).

In the weeks leading up to BlogHer, I was busy helping Janice and Susan line up some interviews with some of the top bloggers. 5 Minutes for Mom hired a production crew to film interviews and some red-carpet style Q&A's on the spot with the many bloggers who they encountered.

The first teaser video is up on 5 Minutes for Mom now, with many more to come. Click on over and see how many bloggers you recognize (or at least to get a peek at Janice and Susan, who look fabulous!).

Reading What's Available

I have always loved to read. When I was an eager reader in elementary school, I selected books based on thickness to insure that they would last as long as possible.

When I was in junior high and high school, I did some traveling with my grandparents. They usually took a cross-country road trip in their Silver Streak luxury trailer that lasted from June until October. My sister and I would meet them en route for two to three weeks.

What's odd is that I don't remember taking a stack of books with me. Now when I go on vacation, taking just the right books with me is critical--the right mix of fiction and non-fiction, light and heavy reading, and the right number of pages to last throughout my trip, yet not so many that I am carrying unnecessary weight.

I know that I did read, because as we drove, I remember being chastised by my grandfather to "Get your nose out of that book! You can read at home! This is God's country--open your eyes and look around!"

To some extent, I read what my grandmother was reading, or what was in the trailer. I remember reading Joni Eareckson Tada's autobiography, the Janette Oke Love Came Softly series, alongside celebrity biographies on Princess Di and Jackie O.

We still share some books, but it's now more often I who am sharing them with her. I introduced her to the Mitford series, and later found Phillip Gulley's Harmony series when she wanted something similar.

Author Tina Ann Forkner's guest column at 5 Minutes for Books, My Grandma Taught Me to Love Books, inspired these thoughts. I know that I recently said that the Books on Screen is one of my favorite features over there, and it is, but I am enjoying the regular On Reading feature as well.

Monday, July 21, 2008

What's in a Name?

My teen helper for Vacation Bible School was a fifteen-year-old girl named Amanda.

From Tuesday on, we had a five-year-old girl named Amanda in our class.

My daughter's name is Amanda. When she would come to my class at the end of the day, there were three Amanda's spanning 10 years in that one room.

Teen Amanda said, "I've never been surrounded by so many Amandas!"

Amanda had to be Amanda D. for first grade, because there was another Amanda. She's moved away, and I'm not sure if there is another Amanda in her grade right now or not.

I picked her name because it spanned generations--it sounds equally appropriate for a regal old matriarch or a newborn child. I later found out that teen Amanda is named for her great-grandmother, but I found it interesting that she perceived her name as uncommon (or at least not ever common enough to be surrounded by two more in one room).
I like that.

Uncommon, yet not unusual. It was another thing I was striving for, and I seem to achieve it. You never know with names. A friend of mine named her son Cole in the late 90's, and suddenly there were Cole's everywhere.

My parents claim that 50% of all girls weren't named Jennifer when they picked it for me, but the truth is a girl was born between 1968 and 1975, there's a good chance that her name is Jennifer. In my fifth grade class, there were four of us. As a member of a large adult Sunday School class (over 50 families), there were five of us! It doesn't seem to be quite so popular here in New England for some reason.

And I like my name. I long ago got over the fact that I would not be able to find personalized shoelaces or souvenir magnets on the rack since all the other Jennifers had already snatched them up.

What I do find funny is that the time will come that I will have an old lady name much like my great-aunts (or grandmothers) whose uncommon names announced their age--Eula, Merle, Opal, Addie. In 2040 when we are all gray-haired grandmas, I'll feel sorry for Kyle's preschool classmate named Jennifer who will be in her 30s, but stuck with the name which ages her before her time.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

WALL-E

Kyle has been looking forward to seeing WALL-E ever since we saw one of those early early preview teasers in the theater. The reviews have been fantastic, so my excitement level has been building, too. We were out of town opening weekend, and then we just had our busiest week of the summer, so I kept saying we'd see it "after VBS week." I made other plans for Monday, and I didn't want to already have the first two days of my non-scheduled week occupied, so I decided that we'd go on Friday afternoon.

I had money in my weekly budget left over, so we ate popcorn and drank Diet Pepsi (a lunch-ish supplement to the cheese and crackers they ate while I was loading up my car after VBS), and I even gave Amanda $3.50 to buy Dippin' Dots from the vending machine, thus ending her ability to moan, "I've never ever even had Dippin' Dots."

I don't like to give too much of a plot synopsis, because of my own weird quirk of liking to be as "fresh" (ignorant) as possible going into a movie so as to really experience the magic (for more plot, check out these two reviews), but there was a great story with a little heart-thumping excitement as well as some thought-provoking themes: two robots who cared for each other in a self-sacrificing way as they truly learned to love; what could happen to our earth if we continue to buy "Big N Large" and consume and throw away; what our responsibilities to our earth are; and even a bit of a hint at what our plugged-in lives might be leading to. None of these themes were heavy-handed or preachy, but their inclusion turned a cute, fun, well-animated kids' movie into a film worth watching.

There are some games on the official WALL-E site that I plan on letting Kyle check out to extend the magic.

Was it worth the $35 that I shelled out (and even had I not splurged on snacks--$21 for admission)? That's steep, and I try to remain ignorant about that element as well by just not thinking about it after I've paid up. All I know is that we did have a great afternoon that we all enjoyed. Pixar movies are by far my favorites, and this one didn't disappoint. Kyle (4) loved it, and sat through the entire 97 minutes without wanting to leave or go to the bathroom or asking when it was over. Amanda (9) said it was good, but since she wasn't quite as captivated by the deeper themes as I was, and wasn't quite as impressed with the cute robots as Kyle was, her review was "It was okay."

*************

One of my favorite features at 5 Minutes for Books is Books on Screen where we will be looking at book adaptations on the big and small screen each Thursday. I gave my thoughts on Curious George this week, and last week Melissa reviewed Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (which is on our list to see as well).

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Traveling Bookstores

I have seen Booking Through Thursday around a time or two. I thought it would be a great weekly meme to feature on 5 Minutes for Books (Melissa posted her response over there today).

However, these questions from today are near and dear to my heart, so I thought I'd post my own responses here as well:

Do you have something to say about bookstores and vacations? Do you have favorite bookstores that you only get to visit on a trip? When/Where are they?


We lived in Portland, Oregon for three years, and I loved taking my daughter to Powell's Books in her stroller and just wandering the aisles looking for unexpected discoveries. They buy used books, so I'd sell a few back, and then buy one. We haven't been back to the city since we moved eight years ago, but I definitely want to visit, and if I do, The City of Books is definitely on my list of must-sees. That baby in the stroller is now a bona fide booklover herself, so I know she'd be thrilled by the shelves and shelves of books.

When we go back home to Houston to visit family, we always leave room in our suitcases for books. We developed a love of Half-Price Books while we were there, and here in Connecticut, we have no such options.

However, when we go into New York City, we often include the Strand bookstore in Union Square on our agenda.

I don't usually buy books on vacation (above stores notwithstanding), but if we're walking a main street that we've discovered on a Saturday drive, or if we're touring a city, I will certainly peek into a bookstore and browse.

I can't really imagine a better way to spend a day.

If you'd like to play, you can link up.

Three Forks Up

Amanda has become quite opinionated about our dinners:

"Chicken, again? I don't really like chicken," (unless it's a nugget).

"I don't really want that for dinner. It's an okay dinner, but I just don't want it tonight."

Because of that, I dread the "What are we having for dinner?" question that comes sometime each afternoon. It seems I can't win, and it's not usually up for debate, so I give an answer similar to one that you might hear from any tween, "Food."

Recently I tried a recipe from a cookbook that I checked out from the library. I showed Amanda the recipe when she asked what was for dinner, and she turned up her nose.

Undeterred, I began preparations, and when Kyle came prowling and asked for eggs and biscuits for dinner, I told him that we were having chicken that had bacon in it (I'm sure that the "breakfast for dinner" idea came when he noticed the bacon purchase at the grocery store that day).

I left a few pieces of the bacon pretty large in the sauce, and served that to Kyle along with his chicken, rice, and broccoli. "I want normal bacon," he wailed. He ate a few bites of rice for dinner.

So, here's the dinner that received a "three forks up" rating from the family. I'm not really counting Kyle, since VBS this week has left him overly tired, and Dad's work schedule has resulted in later-than-normal dinners, which means he had done a good bit of snacking. So, it's a home run.

Bacon and Cheddar Chicken
from Family Suppers (there are several other recipes I plan to try as well)

1 Tbl vegetable oil
4 large skinless boneless chicken breasts
1/2 cup crumbled bacon (I used 5 slices, I think)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup milk (I used half and half for half of the milk, and 1% for the rest)
6 oz shelf-stable cheese, sliced (I think that this means Velveeta, which I didn't have so I used some sliced American cheese, but also about 1/2 cup of real shredded cheddar)

1. Cook chicken over medium heat in the oil, until golden on both sides and cooked through, about 7 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.

2. Add bacon to skillet and cook until crisp. Add the onions and cook, about 3 minutes (At this point I dumped out the onions, bacon and grease, which wasn't suggested in the recipe). Add milk and cheese and stir until smooth (I had removed the onions and bacon for better mixing, so then I added them back in). Return chicken and any juices that have accumulated to the pan and turn chicken in sauce to coat.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother



For more Wordless Wednesday, check out 5 Minutes for Mom.

5 Minutes for Books
is going to be playing along each week as well.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Just Busy

Nothing's better than a bulleted list in a busy week, right?
  • Amanda's home! She had a great time, and is fine. She and Kyle had a dramatic reunion ("Amanda!!!" "Kyle!!!" with hugs all around), and a four-hour truce, followed by the reinstatement of sibling rivalry. Because I loved the break from listening to harsh words and harsh tones (that shouldn't be used anyway), I am trying to stand firm on not allowing them (or using them myself). We ended up being away from home all day making the trip.

  • Sunday I had to stay after church to help prepare for Vacation Bible School. After a couple hours, Terry and the kids came and picked me up, and we went to his coworker's house, who had invited us over for dinner and to swim. She was easy to talk to, Amanda and her oldest daughter got along, and we had a nice evening all around (but yet again, I was gone from home all day).

  • So VBS is this week. I'm teaching 4's and 5's (not Kyle, who is in with the 3's and 4's). It went so well yesterday! The eleven children listened in Bible time, they listened in Music (led by someone else), and played well. VBS is always a draining week in the summer. I enjoy being at the church and meeting new people, but the 3 to 4 hour endeavor seems to affect our whole day. When I brought Kyle into my classroom at 12:15, he was practically delirious, "I'm sooo hungry. Did you bring lunch?" he repeated slowly as he sat at the table with his eyes taking slower and longer blinks each minute.

  • 5 Minutes for Books -- I'm so proud of it, and since I feel like I'm just doing behind the scenes and administrative work at the moment, I can say that and still be humble, right? My team is doing a wonderful job, and they are outreading me at the moment as well. For the first time in a long long while, I didn't write the 5 Minutes for Books column at 5 Minutes for Mom. I posted a review of a book I really wanted to read by Nancy Moser, but I passed it along to Carrie, because I knew she'd get to it before I did.


It's only Tuesday, but the great thing is that I don't feel overwhelmed-busy, or stressed-out-busy, or "This whole week is going to be so hard" busy. I just feel busy.

The house is starting to get to me, so perhaps this afternoon I'll get some cleaning and decluttering done. I also have some work that I need to do, so I need to find a couple hours for that, so it's not hanging over my head.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Walk it Off

Yesterday afternoon I was feeling funky (not like shake-your-booty funky, but funky blue).

Writing up that post about what I missed about Amanda made me miss her more (in case there are any doubts, I still don't miss the bickering a bit). That's one reason that I have a pretty firm "no talking" policy when separated.

Talking makes you each miss the other more. I know that I am way way waaaay in the minority here. Terry and I did not call home when were gone a full seven days (really eight since we left pre-dawn one morning and returned a week later at midnight).

In the event that you think I'm a horrible parent, when Terry and I were separated a semester when we were dating, we didn't talk on the phone much either. In fact, when he was traveling after we were married, we didn't always talk in the early years. We do now (mostly because he calls to keep in touch with the kids maybe? Or maybe he just loves me more now).

We did talk to her twice this week, where she said she was having a great time, but she'd be having a better time if I was there.

Two thoughts diverged in a blog post, and I took the more rambling one, and that, that has made for a long and incohesive blog post.

What I meant to say was I was missing Amanda, and I was worried because she either has been missing us a good bit, or is actually suffering from a stomach-hurting ailment.

So, instead of sitting around and fretting, I took Kyle and the dog for a walk. We stopped at the stream and threw rocks, and I didn't have to carry him once.

We tried to walk it off, which works for me much better than Org Junkie Laura's suggestion to "Eat the Frog." She mentioned that a while ago, and I'm not sure if it's a weird Canadian thing, but I can't stop thinking about it. Why would one eat a frog? I mean, I understand that's the analogy, as she explained, "Just do what you don't want to do," but it falls short somewhere.

Of course, eating while worried or upset or procrastinating is an effective tool for me as well, so maybe I'll just fry me up some frog legs.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Table for Three

Until Amanda was 5 1/2 years old, she was an only child. I enjoyed being able to focus on her in those preschool years. The ages of three, four, and five are so full of wonder and excitement, and yet they also zapped me.

Amanda was a talker (she still is a talker).

She wanted to know "why?" and when I told her "I don't know," she got upset and insisted, "You do know." She thought that "Mommy Who Must Know Everything" was simply holding out on her by not revealing why they changed the lineup on Nick Jr. or how thunder and lightening happened.

It takes a lot of mental energy to keep up with an inquisitive preschooler, and many times I just need a bit of quiet.

I am so glad that Amanda became a big sister when she was five. She was so helpful with Baby Kyle. She made him laugh like no one could. She's almost like a third parent at times. He will often turn to her instead of us for help or with an exciting announcement ("Look, Amanda, a cow!").

For some reason God blessed me with another chatty preschooler. To the talking and the spunk that his big sister had, Kyle also possesses a bit of drama and high energy. Because he's a second child, I think everything is also intensified as he competes for attention with his sister and strives to keep up with her.

Amanda really wanted a sibling, but now that she's a tween, she sometimes balks at Kyle's attention and just wants to be left alone.

She got her wish. Amanda stayed on in Virginia with her grandparents for the week.

This week I've seen what Kyle the only child would have been like.

Setting a table for three is different. I remember those years with Amanda. Amanda started school the year Kyle was born, so he too has had his share of undivided Mommy attention, but the afternoons and the evenings usher in a more frazzled Mommy that they both have to contend with.

One child is simply easier. There's less fighting, less whining, fewer sandwiches to make and glasses of milk to pour, so I am better able to act like the kind patient Mommy that I should be regardless.

We'll meet my in-laws halfway to pick Amanda up on Saturday. She's had a great time getting that special one-on-one attention from grandparents, aunts and uncles, and her cousin. I have enjoyed having just Kyle (and I haven't missed the bickering for one moment), but her absence is strongly felt.

I miss sharing a smile with her over Kyle's zaniness or mispronunciation of a word. I miss having more girl-power in the house than manliness. I miss her help (unloading the dishwasher is getting really old), and I miss being needed by another child.

Kyle misses her, and he informed that Blankie misses her, too (which surprised me because I didn't think that Blankie and Amanda interacted very much).

Having one is easier. I am too short on patience and kindness in relating to my children (who do tend to try my reserves with their larger-than-life personalities), and having one allows me to dole it out more freely. I know that motherhood has refined my character like nothing else. Actually it's revealed my character (flaws) and showed me what I need to refine and let go of.

I wouldn't trade either one of God's refining fires. I'll be happy on Saturday to set another place at the table, dole out another portion at mealtime, and break up the sibling squabbles that will probably commence shortly after the dramatic reunion occurs.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Destination Disney -- Wow



This week is a photo carnival, with the topic "Wow."

There are so many things that could inspire a "Wow" in the Magic Kingdom, so let's see it.


Mom Blogger Mixer
Originally uploaded by disneyworldphoto


Isn't seeing Cinderella's castle a big wow?

How about being ushered to the gated area that all the celebs go for their private pictures?

How about having your picture taken by a professional Walt Disney World photographer?

That's Amy and Gabrielle soaking up the star treatment with me (even though I am not sporting the star look--I was wearing my comfy sneakers because it was a walking day, but that whole outfit does nothing for me).


Upcoming themes:
July 25: Destination Disney -- Other Orlando Activities (not other theme parks)
August 8: Photo-- Hot
August 22: Destination Disney -- Animal Kingdom
September 5: Photo -- Cool . . . .

It's a . . . Website!

Have you ever noticed that completing a project seems like birthing a baby?

There's the stage (pre-conception) when you decide to pursue something,

then the part where you are gathering the support to make it happen (conception),

and then for a long time, you are waiting for it to just come out already (gestation).

A lot happens while you're gestating, but the real thing--the baby--hasn't shown its face yet.

I've been gestating. I've wanted to share so many times, but couldn't.

Now I can. At noon on July 10, 2008, my baby was born.

Join me as I welcome to the blogosphere


I think she's beautiful, so go on over and welcome her to the world. Feel free to post her picture on your blog and spread the news about her arrival as well.

And guess what? I have some fraternal twins, too. My sisters, born the same day, and also with the same parents (or grandparents?), 5 Minutes for Mom.
Go give them a big welcome as well.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Mmm. . . .Vegetables


I'm sure I'm not the only mom who has served her child cake for breakfast, as I did this morning, but I'm feeling a little defensive (however I guess this new post also incriminates me, since he's still in his pajamas after 10:00 a.m.).

I was cutting up some vegetables for Kyle and I to eat today, and I thought I'd post a few tricks that work as far as getting him to eat vegetables:



  • Let him snack. He is always feeling graze-y while I'm making dinner, so I allow him to snack at will on the veggies I'm cutting up. That leads me to the second point--
  • Try different shapes. When we bought the carrots, he was dying for "a whole carrot," so I let him eat it that way. I usually cut my bell peppers in strips for eating raw, but I was doing a large dice last night, and he said, "This is my favorite shape--rectangles." He ate more little rectangles than he normally does. Which leads to my next thought--
  • Raw is better. Not only do the nutrients stay completely in tact, both of my kids like them better. So, if I know that they are unlikely to devour the stir fry I'm preparing, I put a few raw veggies on their plates to eat.
  • Keep trying. Sometimes Kyle eats cauliflower, sometimes he doesn't. I keep trying different things (and now different shapes) and hope that a new veggie will sneak its way into his diet.
For more Works-for-Me-Wednesdsay tips, visit Rocks in My Dryer.

Cake for Breakfast

That picture really was taken real-time. Before 7:30 a.m., we were making cake in our pajamas.

Yesterday, Kyle's brother was here. When Lee came to pick him up, I shared some of my bounty with her. I am going to be reviewing Naturally Nora's mixes on 5 Minutes for Mom, and that morning I had received a box with samples of all the flavors. I definitely want to try out a few of them before I post the review, but I also thought that getting another mom's perspective would be good as well. Lee is a bit more ingredient-conscious than I, so I knew that she would appreciate that it is all-natural.

When I was allowing her to choose her flavor, Kyle saw them. He wanted to make some cake right then. Since it was hot outside, and pretty warm inside as well, I didn't really want to bake a cake.***

Kyle woke up at 7:00 a.m. looking for the cake mixes. "Can we make them now?" he asked.

I relented, and he had cake for breakfast.



_________________________________________________________________

Instead of using long parenthetical asides as I'm known to do, I think I'm going to employ the footnote method henceforth:

***When I lived in the always-air-conditioned South, I never understood the whole concept that magazines touted about "cool summer recipes" that didn't involve heating up your kitchen. "It doesn't matter if it's 95 or 75 outside, it's still a cool 75 degrees inside," I thought (we were always too cheap to keep it at 75, but you get the point).

When I lived without air-conditioning in Portland for a year, I begin to get it.

Here in Connecticut, many homes are un-air-conditioned as well (most using window units at least), or they have a small central unit as we do. We do have a/c, and it works to cool the bedrooms upstairs quite well, and if it's running, it does prevent the downstairs from becoming absolutely sweltering, but it's not cool when it's over 80 and too muggy outside to allow the outside air in.

So--over 80 and muggy equals not a good time to bake in this house.

On yet another side note, I have become like the New Englanders that I used to make fun of. When we first moved here four years ago, I would think, "It's a bit stuffy in here. I know she has a/c. Why are the windows open?" Fast-forward four years: when I visit overly air-conditioned homes, I think, "Brrr!" I observed to Terry the other day that I didn't mind our stuffy house anymore.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Don't worry, I'm not turning into a Yankee. I still say "y'all," and Terry and I are quick to correct Amanda when she asks for "seerup." Syrup is pronounced "surup" around here.

Inspected by No. 4



Check out other Wordless Wednesday participants at 5 Minutes for Mom.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

I Found the Antidote!

Today in my mailbox, I found a special "corporate offer" for another magazine:

46 Issues, one year, of New York magazine for $13.97.

I don't know much about New York magazine at all. But it's New York. The liberal, intellectual-loving city on the East coast. The heart of publishing. It must be high-brow and high class.

I told Terry, "If that is not the complete opposite to an addiction to Entertainment Weekly, I don't know what is."

He asked me, "Have you ever read it? It makes the long articles in my Texas Monthly look like nothing."

"That's my point."

I've often told Terry that I am not smart enough to read those articles. They're too long and intellectual for me. I think it has more to do with the delivery. Magazines are supposed to be light and fluffy. They can give me information, but it should come in catchy little bulleted lists.

"This question might prove that I'm really not worthy to read this magazine, but are New York magazine and the New Yorker the same or different?"

"Different."

"Are you sure that the long intellectual article that you read online was from New York and not the New Yorker?" I asked, after checking out the two websites.

"Maybe you're right," he said upon further investigation. "The other headlines here are about Spitzer's daughter's date to prom, and something about A-Rod, but the article I read about politics was really long."

So perhaps I'm not redeeming myself after all, but at about 30 cents an issue, including special issues on the Best of New York, Fall Fashion, and Best Places to Eat, I just can't say no.

If the New Yorker magazine offer comes in, I'll accept it, and I'll dutifully read it each week before I dig into my brain candy, I promise.

Honest truth--in my mailbox today was also an offer for 6 weeks of People free.

I declined. In fact, I buried it deep in my trashcan. A girl's gotta have limits.

It's sort of like drinking a Diet Coke with a double cheeseburger and fries. Maybe the damage has already been done, but I'm not going to push it over the edge by adding a chocolate milkshake to the mix.


**--**--**

I feel the need to confess the truth about my re-entry. I neither restocked the fridge, nor did even one load of laundry. However, I did prepare a nice meal for dinner (with what was available without shopping), and played outside with Kyle today, and took him to the library as promised.

So until I get to the grocery store and complete at least one load of laundry, I guess I'm still in limbo.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Re-Entry

We are back from our weekend trip. You know what that means--going through mail (although since it was a holiday weekend, we didn't have too much mail, other than my awaited-for Entertainment Weekly magazine), doing laundry, restocking the fridge. Good times.

Thankfully, we managed to avoid holiday traffic, by waiting a few hours to leave on Thursday. Sunday was light as well, which leads me to believe that people really are sticking closer to home this summer.

I am also thankful that my in-laws like dogs in general, and my dog in specific. Apparently, shedding is not her worst fault (if you haven't checked out that post, and you have a dog--click on over). On Friday, we noticed that she was playing with the drain spout in the backyard. We thought that it was either an old one that she found beside the house, or was down. No, she had ripped it off the house! We assume that a chipmunk had gone up, and she was trying to foil his plan.

Then, Friday afternoon she got upset that we had left her, and ate her way out of the backyard. A neighbor found her at 5pm and put her in their basement.

Like I said, she's lucky. Most grandparents probably don't invite the dog along with the rest of the family. Ours do, but if she keeps this up, they may rescind her invitation.

The DC fireworks were very cool. I think the cloudy weather made the colors fill the sky more. I don't remember that from past displays.





As you know, I love New York City, but there's something equally cool about driving through town and coming upon the Capitol, the White House, or the Jefferson memorial. Awe-inspiring.

Friday, July 04, 2008

July 3, 11:22 p.m.

Making the drive from Connecticut to my in-laws' house in Virginia for the long weekend
Switching stations on the newly-installed Sirius satellite radio, from Prime Country, to Spirit, to 80's to Classic Rewind
Observing the sleeping faces of my precious cargo, illuminated by the headlights of the passing trucks:
a four-year old who looks more like a boy than a baby, and
a nearly ten-year-old whose face foreshadows the woman she's becoming.
A snapshot in time.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Feel Free to Stage an Intervention

Maybe I should call this the "guilty pleasures" this and that. . . .

I have to admit to turning up my nose at People magazine readers. Those I know who read it look forward to their weekly issue with excitement. They love being in the know about things that no one really needs to know about. I've wondered why an otherwise intelligent person would care.

But if someone is reading it on an airplane, I peek over their shoulder to catch a glimpse of who A-List Celebrity is dating this week. I haven't been reduced to reading it in the checkout line (I must keep up appearances, you know), but if I see a curiosity-inducing headline, I've been known to call my sister-in-law to find out the scoop.

When I got an offer in the mail to receive Entertainment Weekly for only $10--for the whole year--I couldn't refuse. Since I have started reviewing most of the DVDs on 5 Minutes for Mom, I justified it for journalistic reasons (and in fact, I'm sure that I received the offer from one of the PR firms with whom I've worked).

Three weeks into my subscription, I am breathlessly awaiting each issue as it arrives in my mailbox. Go figure.

&**&**&**&**&**

Terry and I have watched the past 24 seasons on DVD. We started after the first 2 seasons, but had no desire to catch up so that we could watch the new season live. Terry rightly observed that it was too stressful to watch it for 24 straight weeks. He didn't think that his heart could handle the stress of the excitement and cliffhangers week after week after week.

We had been on a long hiatus (for the health of our hearts), but we decided that this summer was a good time to tackle season 6, so we reinstated our Netflix account for this purpose (busy weekends and our new love of Redbox had caused our mailed movies not to be watched in a timely fashion, so we canceled our account and saved the monthly fee). Last weekend, we zipped through all 4 episodes on the first disc. We just watched two more last night on disc 2.

We're hooked.

&**&**&**&**&**

Speaking of unhealthy addictions--I've recently discovered Doritos Spicy Sweet Chili chips in the purple bag. They are quite delicious.

What's your guilty pleasure?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Meatzza


Many years ago I found this recipe for Meatzza in an Eating Well magazine. I've long since lost the original recipe, which I'm sure was much more complicated than what's come of it now. I had planned to make it tonight, and then saw the special "5 Ingredients or Less" edition of Works-for-me-Wednesday, and since it fits, I'm posting (with pictures taken tonight as I made it).

Meatzza

1.5 pounds of ground beef
peppers and onions (mushrooms if you like)
jarred spaghetti sauce
mozzerella cheese

Season the ground beef (I use garlic powder, pepper, and salt), and shape into a round flat pizza shape (about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch thick). I have a cool two part pizza pan that allows the fat to drip, but you can use a large rimmed cookie sheet as well (with space around the meat for the fat to collect).

Cover it with spaghetti sauce.



Saute the sliced vegetables, and then put them on top of the meatzza. Cover with grated mozzerella cheese.


Bake at about 420 for about 20 minutes, until meat is cooked through and cheese is browned.

I serve this with rice, and sometimes an extra veggie or salad.

It had been a while since I had made this, and Amanda (9) ate it well, and Kyle (4) didn't really, but might on another night.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

I Tried It!

Chic Critique is a fun blog I've recently discovered. I feel about it the same way I feel about Laura's Org Junkie blog--I don't have any business following a fashion and makeup blog (or an organizing blog), but it's so well-written and fun that I can't help myself. Also, I actually referred to it as "Chick Critique" to Jo-Lynne, and she had to correct me! But seriously, did any of you wear "sheek" jeans in jr. high? No, you wore "chick" jeans (okay, probably none of you wore Chic jeans no matter what you call them).

Chic Critique has started a new monthly carnival where we can blog about products that they reviewed that we tried. It's called "I Tried it Tuesday."

When I met Jo-Lynne (she's one of my Disney buddies), I seriously coveted her eyelashes. I wondered what she used on them, and I knew that she had the Chic Critique blog, so she was probably in the know, but I never asked her. When she Blogged Her Face, she revealed the secret: CoverGirl's lash blast. I bought it a week or so ago, and I'm loving it. It goes on nicely (without clumping), and gives me gorgeous lashes.

Speaking of mascara, I also tried Carol's technique for mascara application, but I'm not sure if I can switch my paradigm over 20 years into mascara application. It does make sense.

And finally, I also bought Heather's suggested curly hair-styling product. I like it. I more often wear my hair wavy than curly, but this product did work nicely for wash and go curly hair. I don't know if it's revolutionary, but it sort of controls frizz.

So that's it for me. If you want to check out other people's reviews of the reviewed products, click on over. Maybe you'll find something you want to try and join in next month.