Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ages 6-42. What We're Reading Now

I come from a big family of readers and at every family gathering, we are all pumping each other for information about the books we're reading.  And we like a variety.  My brother-in-law is into anything that involves a war, my sister loves mysteries.  My mom reads pretty much anything she can get her hands on, while my dad fluctuates between spy novels, biographies, and whatever random thing his book club has picked out.  But the bottom line is...we're all always looking for something good to read.

So here is a break down of what we're reading right now, from kindergarten to...well...a lot older than kindergarten.

Mike (42) just finished reading How We Decide which was recommended to him by my sister.  If you like Malcolm Gladwell books like Blink and Outliers you'll love this one.

I (almost 36) have been on an Anna Quindlen kick.  I always do this:  I find an author I like and then get completely absorbed.  Ms. Quindlen has written some amazing fiction (which I've always known), but I'm just now getting into her non-fiction.  "Living Out Loud" is a book that I think every woman in her 30s should read.  It was a little tough to find, but her new book Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake is out now and I can't wait to read it.

My oldest daughter (10) inherited my love of diving into an author.  So lately she has been reading a lot of Ann M. Martin, which I love because I grew up with The Babysitter's Club books.  But, lucky for us all, Ms. Martin has written other books and series, so I think my daughter's summer reading list is taken care of.

My son (8) is just like every other boy in America and got completely sucked into the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books and was so sad when he read his last one.  So, after reading The Strange Case of Origami Yoda he is now into This Book Is Not Good for You, a title that will grab any kid and a mystery that will keep them hooked.

My youngest (6) has officially graduated from picture books to reading the Judy Moody series (yes, she's reading it on her own...I am not reading it to her).  I would love to tell her to look at the scenery when we get into the car, but her nose immediately dives into her book.  Hey...if it keeps her from arguing with the rest of us, who am I to complain?

So there you have it.  What the adults have been reading when we feel the need to be lazy and what the kids are reading when we beg them to be quiet.

And since we're always looking for something good to read...what's on your list?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Perfection is Exhausting

We were greeted with the perfect day on Memorial Day.  The sun was shining, it was neither too hot nor too cold, there was a heavenly breeze wafting through the open windows...and my kids all slept until almost 10 AM.

That's right, people.  All three of them.  The day I have waited for 10 years has finally arrived.  No one woke me up at 7 AM to inform me that they have to go to the bathroom even though we're past the age when I really need to know that information.  I actually woke up before they did and had an urge to go and shake one of them awake and say, "What are we having for breakfast?  What are we doing today?  What are we doing tomorrow?  When is everyone else going to be awake?  Where do you think I should go to college in 10 years?"

But I didn't.  I just enjoyed the silence and the breeze.

Anyway, the day was too perfect to not to something and so Mike and I decided that he should go get his 3 kids (who are the same ages as mine) so that we could all enjoy the day together.   But...what to do?

Play at the park with all 6 kids?  Well, we could.  But the 2 oldest are kind of beyond the park age.

Take a trip up to the mountains and wander around an old mining town?  Sounds good in theory, but do we really want to be in the car for a total of 3 hours, only to get up there and have at least 2/3 of the kids say they want to go home after 39 minutes of wandering?  And do we want to have to keep track of them all and if we don't...who do we want to lose?

This day was starting to sound like a bunch of work.

"I know!" I said.  "Let's just take the kids to the store, let them pick out a bunch of water toys, and grill while they play in the yard!  Simple!"

I didn't realize until later how exhausting this plan would be.

First of all:  Six kids in a Wal-Mart on Memorial Day is a fool's errand.  At one point, we literally had them all lined up like little ducklings as we waddled our way through the store.  Our carts were filled with water guns, sprinklers, water balloons, and various other weaponry for what was shaping up to be the water fight of the century.  And I, being none-too-bright, decided that I was over just making burgers and dogs for all of the kids - and decided that we should make fajitas instead.

(Mike - if you're reading this, you really ought to speak up when I come up with plans like this.  Any menu that requires 37 sides and has to be individually constructed for each of our 6 children is really a stupid idea.  And I think you knew it when I came up with it, but were too nice to say anything about it.)

It took the kids approximately 36 hours to put together their water fight, all of them seemingly missing the point.  As soon as the boys were ready, the girls would yell out, "Not yet!  Not yet!  We're not ready!"  So the boys would get bored and start playing with their weapons.  And then the girls would get ready and the boys would scream, "Not yet!  Not yet!  We're not ready!"

This is when Mike yelled out, as he was laboring over the high-maintenance menu, "Just start!  No one is supposed to be ready!!"

Once the meat for lunch was finally finished (at 3 PM), I had already made the guac, 2 kinds of beans, salsa, cheese and 10 other items for our "simple" lunch.  And then the real work began.

"I want chicken fajitas, with just cheese!"
"I want beef with cheese, guac, and beans!"
"I want chicken with cheese, beans on the side!"
"I want a quesadilla, guac on the side!"
"I want chicken with cheese and two dollops of sour cream!"
"Where's my burger?"

By the time they all had their food, I looked at Mike, his face droopy with exhaustion, and said, "I gotta sit down."  At which point, my dreams of a perfect family afternoon turned into just that - a dream - as I accidentally fell asleep on the couch.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

How to Get the Hell Out of Wal-Mart

I know there are many people out there who avoid Wal-Marts at all costs.  My brother-in-law is one of them.  I found this out after I had sent him the link to the People of Wa-lmart.  He called me roaring with laughter and I said, "Don't you find it interesting that it doesn't matter what city you're in...the people in Wal-Mart all look the same?"

To which he replied, "I don't know.  I never go in Wal-Mart."

Guess he's more of a Target man.

But it's true.  You could be in Aspen or Albuquerque, Hilton Head or Hartsville - you'll still see the same mix of dressy PJ pants, muffin tops, low-ride jeans, and "leggings" that are actually tights.  And in that mix you'll see harried mothers just trying to get the hell out of there.

Before I had kids, I think I'd probably been in one Wal-Mart.  But after I had two going on three toddlers...Super Wal-Mart became my salvation.  I loved any store that enabled me to get what I needed and only have to unload and load the kids into their car seats one time.  From tires to tampons...I could get it all.  The problem has always been, in a store that size, getting what I need and getting out as quickly as possible, lest I start looking at someone too long and thinking, "Huh.  I wonder if they have those Mickey Mouse PJ pants in my size?  And I think that girl is right.  Who needs to wear a bra anyway?"

So I had to come up with some short-cuts, some ways to expedite my shopping.  The first was something that Mike makes fun of all of that time - my list.  I am anal to the point of being OCD about my grocery list and it just about  makes me break out in hives when either he or one of my children adds something to it.  Because I just know they're going to put something in the wrong spot.

"Why have you listed milk next to ham?" I'll ask in disbelief.  "That just makes no sense."  Because even though they're both in a "cold" section, they're no where near each other in the store.  And that will just wreak havoc on my shopping experience.

It is very important, once you have said list, to stick to it.  In the beginning, I would find myself getting home and unloading my groceries, only to shake my head and ask myself, "Why did I buy this laser pointer by the cash register?"  After about $10,000 in spontaneous purchases, I decided that I better just keep my head down and plow through.

And then there's the most important part of getting out the door:  The cashier.  Now, if you are making the decision to become a regular Wal-Mart shopper, you need to start paying close attention to the check-out process.  You need to start identifying those cashiers who are going to get you the hell out of there.  For example:

  • Don't pick the old guy in the suspenders.  He's dying to talk to you.
  • Don't pick the woman who keeps turning the bagging thing around and around, looking for the perfect spot to put someone's Goldfish.  Her bagging process will keep you there an extra 10 minutes.
  • Don't pick the woman who tries to pack as much as she can into each individual bag and then decides that the bags are too heavy and need to be double-bagged, thereby doubling the bags she's been trying to save and taking twice as long because it's hard to squeeze one bag into another.
I know what you're thinking:  If I have to avoid all of these people, who is going to check out my groceries?  Who can I turn to?  And, yes...I have that answer.

Find the disgruntled teenager.

Now, here's the secret.  You have to unload your groceries in the order in which you want them bagged.  Because the disgruntled teenager doesn't give a damn if he puts your 6-pack of Coke on top of your loaf of bread.  He's trying to scan your items and bag them up as quickly as possible because he wants you to get the hell out of there.  Which is good because you want that too.  He doesn't care about your day.  He really doesn't care if you "found everything okay."  And he really doesn't care if your tomatoes get squished by your ice cream.

He wants you gone so that he can stare into space for few minutes before the next woman with 3 screaming toddlers comes by.  Don't pay with cash because he can't make change.  Don't use a check because he won't know what to do with it.  Unload, swipe, load, and roll.

This is actually when the lack in customer service which is so prevalent these days comes in handy.  Because while you might appreciate having a long conversation about your dog with the nice, middle-class lady in the confines of a Pottery Barn, you'll appreciate how the scruffy teenager at Wal-Mart really doesn't give a hoot about you or your dog.

He just wants you to get the hell out of there.

Friday, May 18, 2012

No Cutsies

It has come to my attention that a large population of individuals think that they are the only people on the planet.  I know because I live with three of them.  Rarely a day passes that I'm not forced to say to one of my children, "Why are you standing right there where people are walking in and out?  You need to move to the side!"

But I guess I always thought that an awareness of others would sink in at some point before my kids made their way out into the world on their own.  By 18, they should know that other people might need to exit an elevator before they barrel their way through or that it's not always necessary to walk against the flow of the general traffic and that they might need to step aside, rather than divide the crowd like Moses parting the sea.

I think my kids are important people and have their own positive imprint to make on this world.  But I'm fairly confident that not one of them is Moses.

Unfortunately, not every understands this by the time they're young adults and by then it seems too late for them to ever grasp it.  You know who they are.  The people who weave in and out of traffic as if there is not another car on the road and seem to own the one model car that didn't come with blinkers.  The people who park their carts in the middle of the aisle at the grocery store (those people who know me know that I have very strict ideas on what is appropriate grocery store etiquette) while you struggle to get to the one thing you need that they're parked in front of.

And then there's the lady I experienced today at Panera who apparently decided that the entire line of people standing and waiting to order could not possibly be as important as she was and therefore bypassed a group of about 7 people so that she could go ahead and place her order for a salad and M&M cookie.

Ooooo...that chapped me.

Were these people born without peripheral vision?  Did their parents tell them growing up that the people around them were just a figment of their imagination?  Do they just think they were born with some God-given right to get in the way of the rest of the world?

What would happen if we just set up a little island for these people somewhere and said, "You want to pretend like you're the only people on the planet?  Have at it."  With no aware citizens to move out of their way, they'd all be bumping into each other on the beach and cutting in front of each other in line at the Island Tiki Hut trying to get to their coconut water.  With all of that cluelessness and cutting, no one would get served.  And then those people would slowly die off, bruised and thirsty.

It's not like I have zero tolerance for someone who has a good reason for their behavior.  I understand that some people just need to drive fast because they're late for something (mainly because I'm always late for something).  And if that woman at Panera had just turned to the rest of us and said, "I have a medical condition that requires me to eat an M&M cookie at the stroke of noon"...I would have been willing to work with that.

But for most of those people, I ask you.  No.  I beg you.  Every once in a while just stop, move to the side, and look around.

That's right.  We're all here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Saying "I Do" to Reality Wedding Television

I have a slight obsession with reality wedding shows.  My Fair Wedding with David Tutera, Say Yes to the Dress, and even an occasional Bridezillas are all part of my regular TV viewing.  I even like to watch baking shows on the Food Network, just in case they throw in a wedding cake.

I don't really understand why I do it.  One would assume it's because I'm a girl and all girls want to get married (or so the myth goes).  One might also think that it's because I have visions of my prince dropping down on one knee and popping the question and saying, "You have $15,000 to spend on a dress and I expect you not to spend a penny less" and then whisking me away for an impromptu cake tasting.

My fascination with wedding shows has caused me to really dig deep and think about what I want for the future.  After watching 8 hours straight of women struggling into bridal gear, I'll usually end up asking myself, "Is that what I want?  Another wedding?"  But my answer is usually something along the lines of, "I don't give a hoot about a wedding.  I just want the honeymoon."

Which translates into:  I need a vacation.

This has come as a relief to my father who, when I started dating after the death of my husband, informed me, "I've paid for one.  The second one is on you."

That's fair.

Of course, this is coming from the man who told me when I was about 12-years-old that he would give me $50 on the spot if I agreed to elope when the time came.  He also offered to throw in a ladder, should my future intended require one.

I'm not the only one who loves watching these reality shows, but I get the feeling that most people I know don't do it on their own and wait until they're at my house to watch some woman go ape-shit on her Maid of Honor during the bachelorette party because she didn't wear the shirt that says I'm Her Bitch to Caesar's Palace as requested.  And I've had to start sneaking my wedding show reality TV because my oldest daughter has started to watch them with me.  I have a fear that, while planning her nuptials someday, she's going to look at me and say, "Wait.  Mom?  Where's my cascading table fountain/waterfall and the personalized slip covers for every one of the 500 chairs at the reception?  What's the deal here?" because she's watched too much David Tutera.

I guess when it comes down to it, I don't care too much about how the bride got there, so I don't watch The Bachelorette.  I'm not really all that concerned with the after either, which is why I never watched John and Kate Plus 8.  But give me a show where a size 20 woman is giving the alterations magician the stink eye because she can't understand why that dress doesn't make her look like a size 2 and...I can't help it.

I'm hooked.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Watch Your Step

My boyfriend has a thing about feet.

Now that I've typed that, I realize that sounds  little dirty.  But I assure you it's not.  Unless the feet are dirty.  And in that case...I guess it is.

He cannot stand ugly feet, something that I have never even thought about before I met him.  While I am a person who takes into account someone's smile upon meeting them or their sparkling personality...if the weather is nice, you can be sure that your feet is the first thing Mike is looking at.  And then he determines whether or not he can hang out with you.

I didn't know this when I first met him and I'm grateful for the fact that we began dating when the weather was cold.  Not because I have ugly feet (or then again...maybe I do).  But I would have worried about putting my best foot forward on that first date (so to speak).  And if I hadn't had time to get a pedicure, I might have canceled it.  And then the two of us as a couple may have never come to be.

His foot fetish has started to bleed over into my own life.  When I'm reading my US Weekly or People magazine, I'm likely to comment on how someone looks or the beautiful dress a woman wore to a premier.  And often, that comment is met with a sharp intake of breath.

"Ugly feet," I'll hear him mutter.  "Toes are too long.  Crooked.  Turn the page!"

And then I'll never look at that previously flawless actress the same again.

Summer is a particularly difficult time for him.  Some men, in particular, will cause Mike to stop dead in his tracks and stare (something that he swears he doesn't do, but I assure you he does).  If the feet are bad enough (hairy with yellowing chipped toenails), he may require us to shift our path or find a new restaurant.  I will assume, in the moment, that it's because of something entirely unrelated to feet.  Until he happens to mention, "Did you see the feet on that guy?"  And then I know that our day has been altered by Sasquatch toes and gnarly nails.

You might think that this would make me self-conscious, but it doesn't.  I was blessed with narrow, perfectly proportioned feet (the only thing narrow or perfectly proportioned on my body, by the way).  I could probably walk in the door with my head shaved and a tattoo of Justin Bieber on my forehead...but as long as my feet look the same (and when I want to treat him...have toenails polished in O.P.I.'s "Not Just A Waitress")...I have job security in the girlfriend department.

No so bad.  A girl likes to know where she stands.

People Who Do

There is a distinct line between People Who Do and People Who Don't.  For years, I mistakenly thought that People Who Do were always Southerners and that was just a small facet of the hospitality that Southerners are known for.

This is not the case.

I'm hoping that I'm one of the People Who Do, but if I'm not, chances are the real People Who Do will not tell me, mainly because they are too nice.  And People Who Do are almost always gracious and would never tell someone that they just don't Do.

The reason why I thought for years that People Who Do were Southern was because of my mother.  Hardly a week would go by without her commenting to someone in her thick Southern accent, "She just doesn't know how to do.  You know?"

And the person would know because the person my mother would be talking to was a Doer as well.

But I've come to realize that not every Doer is Southern and that People Who Don't are just as likely to be from below the Mason-Dixon line as People Who Do.  The problem is that once you fall into the People Who Don't category...chances are you will never be able to transfer to the other side.

Much of being a Doer has to do with food.  For example:  A Doer would never ask you over for dinner and then expect you to bring an integral part of the meal.  That we just won't Do.  If we ask you to our home, you should expect that we have every part of the meal taken care of and that we have extended this invitation in order to showcase our extreme hospitality.  And, frankly, if you insist on bringing something just throws us off our game completely.  You might think it appropriate to bring chips and dip for an appetizer and the Doer will completely panic, realizing that she doesn't have enough saucers to accommodate that because she has her smaller plates reserved for the dessert she's made.  And no, you can't just stand over the kitchen counter and scoop your dip.  That just won't Do.

A Doer will expect you to bring something, though.  We don't want a dish and will refuse your every offer, but if you should show up empty handed we will wonder what's wrong with you.  A bottle of wine or a small plant (not cut flowers because we will have to interrupt our Doing in order to artistically arrange them) would be appropriate.

People Who Do will never serve out of the kitchen.  We would prefer to dish everything up for our guests, but if the theme dictates, we are not above a buffet.  This buffet, however, will never be served from our counter or from the stove, but artfully arranged in a way that looks effortless, but in reality took us 2 days to put together. 

An original centerpiece is mandatory and may require a hot glue gun.

People Who Do, do not "potluck."  We will participate in yours, but never will we organize one.  If asked to bring something to your home, we will carefully prepare something and store it in a Tupperware container and then bring our good dishes to serve it on.  Do not offer us a plastic plate from which to serve from.  That we do not Do.

After your dinner (you know, the one we partially cooked), we will send you a thank-you note, thanking you for your hospitality.  (This is also a gentle reminder that we need the dish back that we brought over.) 

An unfortunate side-effect of People Who Do is the perception that we are somewhat controlling or anal.  And that's okay.  We can take that criticism.  Mainly because it comes from People Who Don't.

And they don't get it anyway.