***This blog has moved to My Convertible Life.***

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Friday's Five: Year-End List of Posts

I'd hate to miss out on all the year-end lists of bests and worsts, so here are links to the five Juni&Pip posts (not including Friday's Fives, New Music Mondays and recipes) that earned the most clicks on my blog in 2009 (at least according to FeedBurner).

I don't know if they're the posts people liked best, or if they just happened to be the ones that more people read. And they're not necessarily my favorites, although I like all of them. Okay, let's be honest -- I wrote them, so of course I like them. Here they are, in order of most clicked:
  1. Donate for Super Dylan: Great kid, great cause. We'll be walking again in May, so get ready to join us.
  2. Knock Knock: I mean, really -- who can resist a few non-sequitur jokes from a four-year-old?
  3. How Netflix Saved My Marriage: Believe it or not, the title is not much of an exaggeration.
  4. You Want a Piece of Me?: The one where I complain about going to doctors and getting old.
  5. The Pile: An archeological dig through the mess on top of our bedroom dresser.
But enough about me, let's talk about you. What posts on my blog do YOU like best? And while you're thinking about your favorites, go ahead and click on all five listed here to drive up my stats even more -- it will make me feel so popular. (As there's no "sarcasm" font on blogger, I'll add here that I'm not so delusional self-absorbed that I actually think you have a list my favorite posts -- but I really do feel loved knowing that people are actually reading some of my ramblings.)

Happy reading -- and a very happy New Year to you all!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Fourth Quarter Meal Report


Back in January, I really didn't think I would make it all year with the meal-planning -- but I figured even a little planning was better than none, so it was worth a try.

Turns out, I did make it -- every single week! Excuse me while I pat myself on the back for a moment.

Of course, we're still eating frozen pizza (4 nights), frozen skillet meals (3 nights) and hot dogs (2 nights), but we're doing it less frequently and more intentionally. And the kids are still eating too many chicken nuggets, grilled cheese sandwiches and bowls of Easy Mac -- but I still trust that one day they'll learn to appreciate my cooking.

So for the final 12 weeks of 2009, we were out of town four nights, had dinner in a restaurant eight nights (as a family or for date night), ate at a party or a friends' house six nights (hooray for holidays) and got dinner from our meal-trade five nights. Of the remaining dinners, here's a sampling of what we had during Q4:
  • 24 different dinners made at home
  • 22 nights of leftovers (a.k.a. good planning and lots of turkey)
  • 5 dishes involving chicken in various formats (crockpot, pasta, enchiladas)
  • 5 nights of homemade chowders and chili
  • 3 nights of breakfast
  • 2 nights of holiday meals
  • and assorted other dinners
Although I never turned into Julie & Julia through this process and I'm certainly no gourmet cook, it was worth every minute spent planning and every minute not wasted fretting over what to have for dinner. Now I might just have to reward myself with a sassy new apron to carry on this great idea in 2010.

For earlier meal reports, go to Q1Q2 and Q3.

Note: I found the adorable apron in the photo on an Etsy shop -- there were too many cute fabrics to choose from. I don't know anyone at GreatGoods (she's in Idaho -- who knew) and they haven't sent me anything (yet) in exchange for this post, but you should check out her site.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Letter to Santa


Junius wrote his first letter to Santa this week. I'm not sure who was more excited about it -- Junius or his daddy.

Thanks to some really wonderful coaching from Abby, they did a great job -- not sure if you can read Daddy's translation of Junius's drawings in the letter (shown left), but here's what it says:
Dear Santa, I have been good this year. Lightning McQueen and Chick Hicks [illustrations of the cars that he's asking for]. Please bring toys to other children too. Merry Christmas to Santa.
After they wrote the letter, we all went up to North Hills (a convenient substitute for the North Pole) and mailed the letter in the special Santa mailbox outside the toy store.

The whole thing was very sweet, but it left me feeling a little conflicted. I grew up "believing" in Santa the same way I "believed" in Pippi Longstocking, the Narnia siblings and the Muppets -- another great character to enjoy. I never felt deprived of the magic of Christmas, but also never had the crushing he's-not-real-and-everything-is-ruined moment.

As a kid, I loved watching Christmas specials, singing carols, decorating the house, waiting for my grandparents to arrive (which really signaled the beginning of the holiday for me). On Christmas Eve, we'd go to mass, then come home and open one present. Once we were in our pajamas, Granny would start looking anxiously out the window declaring, "Oh my stars! I think I see some reindeer out there -- you kids better get to bed!" In retrospect, I'm sure our holidays were filled with plenty of stress for my parents, but for me it was all fun and good times -- even though I didn't really believe that Santa was real.

Now as a mom, I'm at a total loss about how to create that same fun-without-the-pressure for my own kids. They'll be excited about Christmas morning no matter what -- doesn't matter who the presents are from. What I worry about (after listening to my 4-year-old for the past month) is my kids believing that Santa will automatically bring them every gift they want. I'm more worried about their disappointment in Christmas if they believe too much.

At the same time, I don't want to ignore Santa completely -- and I couldn't do that, even if I wanted to, given that he's everywhere and that so many people really want to believe. It's a tough call -- wish I had the answer. I know I'm not alone in this struggle -- see Erin's post at Triangle Mamas.

So tonight, after the kids go to bed, we'll put out a couple of presents under the tree from Santa. And I'll watch them in the morning to see their reaction. And then I'll be thankful that I have another 364 days to figure it out for next time.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Mama Wisdom for the Holdiay Break

Preschool is closed until the new year.

I should probably be excited about the opportunity to spend two whole weeks with my beautiful children, playing and celebrating the holidays. Instead, I'm a little bit terrified.

Did I mention it's two whole weeks, plus two more days?

But instead of quaking in my slippers and trying to figure out how to get Sesame Street to play on continuous loop, I'm making plans with friends and remembering this note that came home from Junius's preschool teacher last week:
"As my children get older, I struggle more and more to fit into their schedule. It doesn't seem that long ago that they were happy to sit with me on the sofa and watch Charlie Brown or read a Christmas story. At the time, I remember thinking that what I really needed was time to run to the mall or wrap a gift. I didn't realize how quickly the time would fly. While your children are small and still think you are the greatest thing ever, please take the time to make those memories that will last. Make cookies together, let your child help you wrap gifts for the family, read a Christmas story, sit on the bed and tell your child what Christmas was like when you were a child. Before long your children will be grabbing the car keys and running out the door. You only have them for a short time -- make it count!"
So now we're heading out for a fun morning with friends at the Museum of Life and Science, where I won't be distracted by my computer or the 782 things that need to be done around the house before everyone arrives later this week. We'll have a great time with minimal whining (by me or them) and lots of activities.

And hopefully all this fun togetherness will have another side benefit -- a good naptime for the kids so I can still have a few minutes to myself when we return home.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The One Where I Get Excited about an Invisible Potty Seat

In case you're tired of reading my soapbox rants and other people's guest posts, you can head on over to Triangle Mamas and see my post about a toilet seat. Really.

Don't say I never gave you anything.

Friday, December 18, 2009

An Open Letter to WRAL's Meterologist


A friend emailed the following letter last night -- it cracked me up, so I asked him if I could post it on my blog today (in lieu of the usual Friday's Five) as his blog is currently on hiatus. Thankfully he said yes (because he's a lawyer type, I couldn't publish without permission for fear of legal action).

The post is all the funnier because of the big, fluffy white flakes currently falling outside my window. Better luck next time, my friend -- last night, I was sure you'd be right!
________


Dear Greg,

I am on to you. It's a twisted little game you got going on, and I will not let it stand. See, Fishel, we've been down this road before, you and me. And as our former president famously said, "Fool me once, shame on — [pauses] - shame on you. Fool me — You can't get fooled again."

Here is the deal. You played this wintry weather scare game on the night of my wife's baby shower. Your dire warnings of 'frozen precipiatation' scared all my native southern friends from venturing outdoors. You made it sound like a flake of snow was akin to the ebola virus. Your 28 years of experience freaking out the natives might get you some street cred with the bread-buying, beer-hoarding locals, but I am not from here and I am hip to your reindeer games.

So, anyway, on that faithful night two years ago, me and my poor wife were just sitting at friend's house, alone, in the dark. No friends to wish our new arrival well. No cute baby clothes. No silly games we have decided here in the 21st are somehow an acceptable way to wish a couple well. And the worst part? The roads were dry. Bone dry. Yancey County dry. Dry enough for even the most southern of my friends to drive safely on.

So this time, Fishel (if that's your real name), I am choosing to ignore your doppler 5000 and your accuweather predictions.

I am going to the Raleigh Times at 11:55 tomorrow. I am going to enjoy my [monthly lunch group]. And when I hear your dire predictions of wintry weather, I will spitefully laugh and ruefully think of my young son and how he was forced to go without shower presents, all because you couldn't get your shower predictions right.

Yours in accurate forecasting,
Damon

Image from WRAL.com.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thursday Soapbox: The Myth of Rubbing Shoulders

Today I'm stealing a guest post written earlier this week by a 2007 graduate of Enloe High School regarding the significance of Wake County's diversity policy. For those less familiar with Raleigh, Enloe is a magnet high school that offers the International Baccalaureate program and is focused on humanities, sciences and the arts. Enloe, which regularly makes Newsweek's list of the top 100 high schools, opened in 1962 as the first integrated secondary school in Raleigh.

I love this post for several reasons...
  1. This student learned more than the standard curriculum in high school -- he learned about the world, about people, and about the kind of person he wants to be.
  2. This student recognized that his high school experience had significance beyond simply getting him a diploma and into college.
  3. This student is still connected to his community and paying attention to current events, even though he has graduated and moved away for college.
  4. This student took the time to share his experiences in an effort to make a difference for others.
Without further ado, here's Abhiram in his own words:


The Myth of Rubbing Shoulders

[There is a] myth that kids in magnet schools are merely rubbing shoulders and don't learn anything from diversity. I would like to debunk this right here and now with a few examples.

I understand very well that the following examples concern sensitive topics, and my intention is not to inflame emotions about these particular topics, but to address the impact that a diverse environment can bring to discussions concerning these topics.

Having participated in class debates about affirmative action in a diverse classroom, I understand very well the palpable tension that hovered in the air. Looking across the room, I could see very clearly the real impact this debate was having on each person as it related to their academic, social, and racial identity. Being in that diverse environment reminds you that you're not just talking about demographics, but real people on whom your advocated policy impacts. In a diverse classroom, you as a student can no longer ignore that elephant in the room and live in your ideological cave, but must absolutely step out into the open and see the world and the truth that it offers from many different perspectives.

Another example: As religion can be a personal and sensitive topic, it is often avoided as a topic of conversation among peers in ordinary life. However not too long ago, this peaceable state of affairs came to a crashing halt when one Wake County teacher invited a controversial speaker to talk to Enloe students. This speaker crossed the line and attacked and spread falsehoods about a particular minority. Had there not been a diverse enough community to recognize the blatant lies that had been propagated, it is not clear whether the appropriate authorities would have been contacted. In fact, no member of this particular minority was at the talk; the diverse student body confronted the issue and discussed it with their peers and it was only because of that diverse discussion that subsequently a responsible student (who belonged to that minority) alerted the appropriate authorities. [For more background on this incident, click here.]

Also, we take a course on World History in the 10th grade and part of this course includes a discussion of Holocaust and a trip to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. Can you even imagine how much more poignant each moment becomes when you look at the expression on your Jewish friend’s face who’s family had suffered at Nazi hands?

Another topic we discuss in our World History Class is the Hindu Caste System. Once again the elephant in the room could not be ignored. There are Hindus in the classroom. I can still remember the looks on people’s faces as they glanced at us, perhaps wondering, “Do they really believe that?”, “Does their religion really say that?”, “How could they be so blatantly insensitive?”

And then we have a class discussion; nobody defends the anti-egalitarianism, but we point out mankind’s long tradition of misusing and misinterpreting religion to justify evil, with examples of anti-egalitarianism from other religions and from our own country’s history, when slave-owners would justify “keeping one’s place in society” to their slaves through biblical stories. What diversity brought was not mere, “shoulder rubbing,” rather it functioned as a check and balance on our collective arrogance. It reminded us that we are all human and all come from equally legitimate backgrounds which have all had their fair share of unfairness.

Suddenly, it begins to all tie together. We no longer see only through our own eyes, but through those of our peers as well. We begin to understand not only the men and women with whom we interact, but also what drives them, and why they see the world the way they do.

What diversity brings is not merely the “rubbing of shoulders” between the rich and the poor, or even the one-way transfer of knowledge from one party to another. It brings an understanding between people and of the motivations that drive them. It is an understanding to which “F&R” kids contribute and receive, and one that they deserve as well. It enlightens ALL of us with multiple perspectives on issues so that when we deal with the diverse conflict present on the increasingly international daily theatre, we will not blindly rush forward with single-minded and ignorant views.
________

If you're a registered voter in Wake County and you'd like to sign a petition (started by Enloe students) in support of the district's commitment to ensuring diverse and healthy schools, click here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday's Five: Shop Local


If you think you might be getting a Christmas gift from me this year and you'd like to be surprised by said gift, you should stop reading now. Seriously -- grandparents, this means you. Go read today's Advent meditation from my neighbor's mama, Pastor Margaret, instead.

Okay, for the rest of you still reading, here's a list of five of my favorite local spots for holiday gift shopping (none of which have offered me anything to write this post). I try to avoid the mall most of the year (unless I have a gift card to Ann Taylor Loft and a babysitter), but especially in December -- it's a serious holiday cheer destroyer for me. In past years I've done most of my shopping online, but this year I'm trying to buy local as much as possible.

  1. Quail Ridge Books and Music: If you didn't already know this would be first on my list, then you really haven't been reading my blog (click the "books" tag on the right for more links). Go super local and look for authors like John Bemis or David Sedaris and musicians like Tift Merritt and Big Bang Boom while you're there.
  2. Revival Antiques: The furniture at this great store is all beyond my gift budget, but they have interesting smaller items too -- lamps, perfume bottles, tin wall hangings, jewelry and tea cup sets, to name a few. Plus the store is never, ever crowded and you get bonus points for "recycling" the antiques.
  3. Logan Trading Company: From ergonomically designed garden tools to bird houses to holiday decorations, this store has lots of interesting items. And you can have lunch at the cafe while you watch for the train to pass by.
  4. State Farmer's Market: When all else fails, give food. I've got a couple of people on my list who are really tough to buy for (ahem, Grandpa) -- but I've never seen them turn down a tasty treat.
  5. Raleigh Flea Market: Spend your weekend wandering around the fairgrounds and find a little something for everyone -- I particularly like the antiques and quirky crafts, but there's also food, toys, books, clothes and more. Parking and spectacular people-watching are free with every trip.
For more ideas in Raleigh, check out Ilina's post on Triangle Mamas -- and share your local favorites (for wherever you are) in the comments below...


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Recipe: Marbled Chocolate Treats


If you get this holiday treat from me, pretend you don't know how crazy easy it is to make. Over the years, I've slightly modified this recipe from Kraft -- a tasty and simple treat that makes a pretty gift to share with teachers, friends and neighbors. Assuming, of course, that my husband and children don't eat them all before I get them out of the house.


Marbled Chocolate Treats

Ingredients:

  • 10 honey grahams, broken in half (20 squares) 
  • 6 squares semi-sweet baking chocolate 
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter (optional)
  • 3 squares premium white baking chocolate 

Directions:

  1. Line 13x9-inch pan with foil, with ends of foil extending over sides of pan. Arrange grahams on bottom of pan, cutting as needed to completely cover bottom of pan; set aside. 
  2. Microwave semi-sweet chocolate and peanut butter (optional) in medium microwaveable bowl on HIGH 1-1/2 to 2 min. or until chocolate is completely melted when stirred, stirring every 30 sec. Stir until well blended. Pour over grahams; spread with spatula to cover completely. 
  3. Repeat microwave melting steps with the white chocolate. Drop spoonfuls of the white chocolate over chocolate-covered grahams. Immediately cut through the chocolate mixtures with knife several times for tiger-stripe effect. 
  4. Refrigerate at least 1 hour or until firm. Use foil handles to remove dessert from pan. Peel off foil. Break dessert into bars. Store in tightly covered container in refrigerator. 

Monday, December 7, 2009

Merry Pumpkins

We got our tree this weekend, much to the delight of my son. I usually have a pretty strict no-Christmas-decorating-until-after-my-birthday policy -- I'm not a fan of losing my big day in everyone else's holiday festivities -- but he's been nagging me for a month and I couldn't take it anymore.

My neighbor was similarly appalled horrified concerned about my delayed decorating plan -- and the fact that my (uncarved) pumpkins were still sitting on the front porch from Halloween. So she took matters into her own hands last week.

One day, when I returned home with my kids after an outing to the park, we found this:


Hilarious! She's brilliant -- and she's got a lot of felt. Have I mentioned how much I love living here? And do you think the pumpkins will last long enough for her to come over with bunny ears in a few months?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Remember me? I'm Your Wife...


What with all the ranting last week, I ran out of days to write about the glorious 27 hours I spent with my husband over Thanksgiving weekend.

That's 27 hours alone. No kids. No parents. No work. No deadlines. Just us. Overnight. For the first time in three years.

Crazy, crazy fun.

We left the kids at home with my parents on Friday morning at 9:30 and returned home the next day around noon. Picasso and Warhol at the Nasher in the morning. Pepper's for lunch. Afternoon nap at The Franklin. Dinner at Mediterranean Deli. Movie at The Varsity. The Franklin's special breakfast in bed. Brunch from Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen. Plus some lovely details in between that I won't write about because my parents and my in-laws read my blog (and it's not that kind of blog anyway).

Did I mention it had been three years?

Oh, and my favorite part about staying at The Franklin? The "do not disturb" button right beside the headboard -- you don't even have to get out of bed to hang the tag on your door.

Could it be more perfect?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday's Five: That Lovin' Feelin'


Just in time for the holidays, here's a super mushy mama post for you...

Too often, I find myself wishing time away, wishing that my kids were older so that they'd be less needy, so that I could go to the bathroom without an escort, so that I could sleep past 7 a.m.

And then I realize that they're doing just that -- growing up way too quickly -- and I remind myself to savor the sweet moments that I know will disappear all too soon.

Here are five of my favorite baby moments to savor, some already passed and some that I'm still (literally) holding onto:
  1. Nursing: After the first few awkward weeks, nursing came easily with both my babies (thankfully). That's Pippi in the photo, fresh at the hospital. We were still getting the hang of it there, but nursing felt like the perfect connection to me. (Side note: If nursing doesn't work for you, don't do it and don't feel guilty about it. I loved it because it was easy -- but that's another post.)
  2. Sleeping on my chest: Junius mostly liked to be held when he slept as a baby -- there were certainly times when this was exhausting, but it was also such a sweet feeling with the weight of his little body all warm and snuggled against me.
  3. Tucking baby's head into my neck: Whether it's the newborn snuggle under my chin or the toddler tucked into the side of my neck, I love this move -- feels like a hug, even when they're too young to know how to give one. Plus, you get to smell their sweet little heads. And where they're old enough to slide one hand around the back of my neck, it's even more lovely.
  4. Reading in my lap: Pippi never has been much for the snuggle nap -- but now that she'll finally sit long enough to read a book, I get to enjoy the weight of her leaned back against me in the rocking chair before bed. It's about the only time she gets still all day.
  5. Holding hands: There's something about that tiny hand tucked into mine that just melts me. It's a sign of complete trust that they have in me -- such an amazing responsibility.
And now I think I'll go pat their sweet little sleeping heads one more time for good measure. Before I know it, they'll be teenagers and I'll be that mom telling stories of how they used to fit on my lap and want me to cuddle with them before bed. Sigh.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thursday Sopabox: Character Education

A few years ago, I stopped watching the evening news because it was just too disturbing -- becoming a mom made me nervous enough, but seeing story after story about fires, crashes, abductions and killings put me over the edge.

Now it looks like I'm going to have to stop reading the paper, too. For the past two mornings, I've started my day as a serious grouch because of the headlines about the new Wake County Board of Education.

Today's soapbox post will ignore the actual substance of the decisions made at Tuesday night's board meeting -- you already know how I feel about the diversity policy and the magnet program, and I'm saving the staff development issue for another day. Today I just want to rant talk about the behavior and attitudes at the meeting following the swearing in of the four new members.

These new members campaigned on the notion that the old school board was arrogant and deaf to the concerns of parents and the community. Then, after being sworn in, these same members promptly got drunk from the kool-aid of power, pushed through eight new agenda items on major issues without any notice (or even printed materials) to the other four board members, and elected one of their own as the new board chair and another as vice chair (a leadership change that usually takes place in June of each year).

When questioned about whether they were behaving with the same arrogance that they'd accused the old board of, new board chair Ron Margiotta (the only incumbent who supported the new board members during the campaign) had this to say during the meeting: "Let's show the public we're going to respond to what they've been asking for all this time. That's the opposite of arrogance."

This is the same Ron Margiotta who threatened to cut off public comment during the same meeting when critics lined up to voice their concerns. Um, hello, irony?

To the "ruling majority": I've got news for you people. "The public" is not a homogeneous group. "The public" is not made up only of voters who elected you. "The public" is not all lined up to dismantle the Wake County public schools. "The public" is more than the squeaky wheel. In fact, only about 3 percent of the 570,000 registered voters in Wake County even supported you in this campaign. That's hardly a sweeping mandate for change.

If you're really serious about listening to "the public," that means you have to listen to ALL of it. Even me -- who didn't get to vote for or against you since you don't represent my district and who disagrees with most everything you did on Tuesday night. I know things aren't perfect in our schools -- and I'm happy to share my list of things I'd change if anyone wants to listen -- but I'm not interested in throwing out a healthy baby with the bathwater.

As a parent, I'm trying to teach my children how to behave politely and appropriately as the best way to get what they want. I'm attempting to model for them the way I hope they'll act when things aren't going their way (some days that goes better than others). And in our public schools, a district-wide focus on character education emphasizes such traits as integrity, respect and self-discipline.

If our own school board members can't display these traits, can't behave in a civil and thoughtful manner during a public meeting, how the hell can we expect our students to act appropriately in school? Maybe it's time these new board members had a tutorial on the difference between being a character and acting with character. And while you're at it, throw in a lesson on sunshine laws for good measure.

Disclaimer: I did not attend the meeting Tuesday night. I went to plenty when it was part of my job, so I chose to spend that time with my family instead. I'm writing this post based on what was reported in The News & Observer, so I realize that I'm responding to someone else's view of the event. No need to lecture me on not believing everything in print, unless you were actually there and want to adjust the record.


Photo by Ted Richardson at newsobserver.com, showing three of the four new board members (Debra Goldman, Chris Malone and John Tedesco) during Tuesday's meeting, along with newly elected board chair Ron Margiotta (seated).

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Guest Post: There's a Reason They're Smiling

Today we feature a special guest blogger: my husband. May God bless this wonderful man, who fearlessly tackled a most painful chore two nights ago and thus earned the right to rant.

Okay, I confess. I’m a customer service critic. From attitudes and aptitudes to cleanliness and consistency, I want companies to get it right.

Good customer service isn’t that hard….really…unless, you’re Time Warner Cable. They don’t seem to get it. After we discovered that we don’t need or want to pay for 400+ channels (including the home-wrecking channel, the laundry detergent channel or the we-don't-have-a-theme-yet-but-here's-some-bad-programming-anyway channel), I decided to make the call and downgrade our service.

But before I begin, in fairness, I must offer kudos to TWC’s “John” in sales and “Sara” in customer service who were nice, but powerless to do the one thing I wanted. No, that job was reserved for the folks in “retention.”

I’m not exactly sure what they were retaining, but “Jeremy” and “Bridget” had it bad. Jeremy bumbled for 10 minutes looking up my account, couldn’t take a payment and didn’t even try to solve my problem. He passed me to Sara (see kudos above) who could only take a payment and send me back to Bridget for more retaining.

Poor Bridget. Bless her heart, she couldn’t find my account for 20 minutes. She asked for our phone number (which came from TWC and was only ten digits) and couldn’t find it. I gave her my account number (which came from TWC) and she couldn’t find it. I spelled our last name several times and she couldn’t find it. I even tried spelling it louder for her. I gave her my wife’s Verizon cell phone number and then miracle of miracles! It appeared!

I stated what I wanted to do, how much I wanted to pay and why. She said “okay” and over the next 40 minutes dodged any rational discussion about whether or not she could do what I asked. Apparently the "okay" was her way of saying "yeah, right." She proposed meaningless offer after meaningless offer. I debated her logic, berated her company and mandated my request. I was even tempted by a free month of any movie channel. But alas, no.

Then I pulled out the nuclear option. I told her I was ready to cancel all of my services. Right then. Seriously. We could do it. We have more than 30 Sesame Street episodes on our TiVo, plus countless others from Franklin, Bob the Builder and the Biscuit Brothers. And of course, there's always our knight in shining armor -- Netflix!

I restated what I wanted one last time. Finally she said, “Okay, I can do that. I’m sorry, I didn’t know that I could.” There it was -- the magic "okay" and just like that I got what I proposed at the beginning of the call. Total elapsed time: 1 hour 20 minutes. We’ll save $516 over the next year on cable. Not bad for a Pyrrhic victory. I was exhausted when the call ended.

Of course, for every bad experience, there are those good ones. Such as the folks at the N.C. License Plate Agency on Wake Forest Road and the fine folks at the Guilford County Tax Office. That’s right – two government agencies.

The folks I encountered the morning after my TWC-near-death-experience were very nice, smiling and helpful people. They helped me sort out the hanging details of a license plate renewal that fell through the crack of last year’s move. They were patient, polite and personable. I suspect they knew I needed them more than they needed me. But they played along and made me happy about “going legit.” After I paid the back car tax and the renewal fee, I was done. It cost me $257, but I was happy and my faith in humanity was renewed.

Maybe they knew what the TWC folks didn’t. You don’t have to be so brazen about TAKING someone’s money if they’ll gladly GIVE it to you.

Thanks for letting me rant…

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Hooray for Birthdays!

December is my birth month. And yes, I like to stretch out the celebrating as long as possible. I'm a huge fan of birthdays in general, but mine in particular. When people complain about birthdays as a marker of getting older, my response is always, "It's better than the alternative."

The American Cancer Society has started a campaign for more birthdays, proclaiming that "there's no such thing as too many candles!" And even if I do get a little nervous about growing older, I completely agree with that slogan. I know that my friends who are cancer survivors are celebrating every candle, and I'm cheering right along with them.

In honor of my birthday, I hope you'll take a moment to read the guest post below from a great blogger, mom, scientist and cancer survivor. You might also want to read her more recent post in defense of mammograms, following the new guidelines released by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force -- as a scientist and a survivor, she knows what she's talking about.
_________

From WhyMommy at Toddler Planet:
Inflammatory breast cancer

There’s more than one kind of breast cancer. Did you know that? During October, we’re so often flooded with “buy pink” campaigns, and reminders to check ourselves for lumps, that it’s become almost commonplace. We all know that we should do regular self exams, and we’ve heard it so often that the urgency often fades into the background of children, spouses, laundry, and work. But did you know that there’s a kind of breast cancer that forms without a tell-tale lump?

It’s called inflammatory breast cancer, and it spreads FAST. The cancer forms in thin sheets, or in nests, like a bird’s nest of cancer growing inside your breast. There are few external signals or symptoms, and they’re sneaky too, since most of them are similar to mastitis, which many of us have experienced while breastfeeding a baby, or bug bites, or sunburn. But taken together, one or more of these symptoms can signal a dangerous cancer lurking in your breast.

What are the symptoms? Here’s a list, from the IBC Research Foundation:
* Swelling, usually sudden, sometimes a cup size in a few days
* Itching
* Pink, red, or dark colored area (called erythema) sometimes with texture similar to the skin of an orange (called peau d’orange)
* Ridges and thickened areas of the skin
* Nipple retraction
* Nipple discharge, may or may not be bloody
* Breast is warm to the touch
* Breast pain (from a constant ache to stabbing pains)
* Change in color and texture of the areola

There’s a great illustration of these symptoms over at Worldwide Breast Cancer that is guaranteed to be not like anything you’ve seen before….

In my mind, it boils down to this. If you notice ANYTHING DIFFERENT on one breast that’s not on the other breast, please CALL YOUR DOCTOR. Today. Because this cancer moves fast, faster than almost any other cancer, and is deadly. Only 40% of patients survive 5 years after diagnosis.

In the 2.5 years since my diagnosis, I’ve already lost a dozen friends to cancer. Many of them were moms and bloggers, readers just like you. They fought hard. They fought with everything they had. But cancer treatment is largely still in the experimental stages, and it’s a tough road. Just to be here today, I had to not only survive cancer, but also survive 6 months of chemotherapy, 7 weeks of daily radiation, 2 surgeries to remove my breasts and ovaries, and a lot of physical therapy to deal with lymphedema, which makes my arm swell in the heat when I step outside (as a lovely side effect of the mastectomy that took all my lymph nodes on that side). It’s been a hard, hard road, but I’m grateful for the chance to be here today, to hug my children, to play their games, to laugh at their knock-knock jokes.

There is joy after cancer. But first we have to get there. So please, take a moment, call/email/blog/tweet/update your friends, and SHARE the SIGNS of inflammatory breast cancer with the people you care about. You never know. You might just save a life.
_________

Just in case that's not enough to motivate you, check out this fantastic video courtesy of Ilina. She reports that "Emily Somers created, directed and choreographed this video in Portland for her Medline glove division as a fundraiser for breast cancer awareness. This was all her idea to help promote their new pink gloves. I don't know how she got so many employees, doctors and patients to participate, but it started to really catch on and they all had a lot of fun doing it. When the video gets 1 million hits, Medline will be making a huge contribution to the hospital, as well as offering free mammograms for the community."

Monday, November 30, 2009

I Knew Them When

I'm a big believer in being nice to people along the way because you just never know who they're going to turn out to be. Like the neighbor who used to tease me on the bus in 6th grade and pick on me at junior high? We ended up friends in college -- now he's an international celebrity and business mogul, posting Facebook pictures of himself posing with beautiful models and seated next to Will Smith on a recent flight. I get to live vicariously through him (from the safety of my laptop), while enjoying the image of that little 6th-grade kid turned glamorous grown-up.

Another great example is John Bemis -- we were classmates and friends in college, both studying to become teachers. Now, in addition to having a successful career in education, he's also a published author. Head on over to Triangle Mamas to read my post about his new book, The Nine-Pound Hammer. The book is great and makes a nice holiday gift, too.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Friday's Five: Photo Projects for the Holidays

This Friday's Five (on Saturday, I know) is adapted from a post in April -- I think it's particularly useful for the holidays. If you're like me and you have 42 million pictures stored on your computer that you've never printed out, this is your change to turn all those smiles into something useful.

Here are five of my favorite picture projects and my favorite sites for each (from simplest to most involved):
  1. Postcards @ Winkflash: The quickest, easiest way to use your photos is to print postcards with one photo on each card. Most sites offer lots of borders and other options, but I like just using a single picture that fills the card with a glossy finish. You can print messages or addresses on the back of the card, or just leave them blank. I like to print a 4x6 picture of my children on Christmas morning, then use the cards for thank you notes. You can print multiple copies of the same photo or get an assortment. At Winkflash, the prices are low and the quality is fine for a basic postcard. And now, with the collage feature in Picasa, it's super easy to make a single image file that includes mutiple photos.

  2. Notecards @ Winkflash: Almost as simple as postcards, the notecard set is great to have on hand or give as a gift and so much more fun to use than generic cards. Again, I think simple is best -- one full photo per card and you can't go wrong. With Winkflash, you can order the exact number you need instead of having to order sets of 12. Envelopes are included.

  3. Holiday cards @ Winkflash: Okay, so you're noticing a theme here. For my money, Winkflash is the best for card printing because I like to just use my photos (no borders or other designs) so that they work for anyone -- no worrying about getting Christmas cards for Christians, Hannukah cards for Jews and so on. If you want better designs, go to PhotoWorks (see below). But the other advantage with Winkflash is that you can print your message directly into the card -- no extra printing, folding and stuffing of holiday letters. I usually get the 5x7 size card so that I can put more than one photo on the front and have enough space inside for our annual update. And you can order the exact number you need instead of having to order in sets of 25. Envelopes are included.

  4. Calendars @ PhotoWorks: Lots of photo sites have calendars, but the nicest ones I've found are at this site. They have multiple sizes and styles (sample above), including a perpetual calendar for keeping track of birthdays and anniversaries, and the quality of the printing and materials is better than the rest.

  5. Photo books @ Shutterfly: When I was pregnant with Pippi, this became my addiction. I "nested" by becoming my own little yearbook staff for baby Juni pictures -- but way better than when I was actually on the high school yearbook staff because it didn't require a typewriter, scissors and glue (our kids will never understand that "cut & paste" was a literal thing before it became virtual on computers, but I digress). Of all the sites I tried, Shutterfly was the best combination of design options, ease of use and quality final product. One tip: Don't try to work in Mozilla Firefox; for some reason, Shutterfly is happiest in Explorer.
With all three sites, watch for sales and online coupons -- they all have good ones regularly and it can really make a difference. If you're interested, subscribe to their e-mailing list so you know when they're having specials.

Happy designing!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dinner's Ready!

For all of you spending the day cooking, prepping, shopping, sweating and generally working your tail off to get ready for the big meal tomorrow, I have three words:
The. Fresh. Market.

Their traditional holiday meal comes pre-cooked with turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry relish and rolls -- all I have to do is heat it up and set the table. The best $80 we spend all year.

I mean, I know I've gotten all domesticated this year, what with the meal-planning and the cooking chicken and the trying new recipes. But seriously, people -- I do not find joy in spending three days slaving over a meal that will get devoured in about 20 minutes. I know that some of you do, and I respect that -- but I have no plan to join you (unless, of course, you want to invite me to your house for dinner).

After our children were born, my husband and I implemented a pretty firm no-traveling-for-the-holidays rule for our family. There have been a couple of years where we went to our parents' homes for Thanksgiving, but otherwise we've enjoyed the luxury of staying home. That policy also means that we've extended a generally open invitation to our parents to join us at our house for the holidays -- thus, the need for The Fresh Market.

My mother is the one who taught me this trick, after years of doing it all the hard way -- and I expect my children will be stunned to discover (years from now, when they get invited to a boyfriend's or girlfriend's home for Thanksgiving) that not all turkeys arrive pre-cooked with the fixings from the store. And I'm totally fine with that -- I'll just tell them I was supporting the local economy (The Fresh Market is based in Greensboro) and ensuring that I had more time and happiness to spend with them.

Happy turkey everyone!

Note: As always, I received no compensation from The Fresh Market for this post. However, if they offered me a gift card or a discount for my Christmas meal, I wouldn't say no.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Recipe: Crispy Tilapia

Like most parents, I'm always in search of recipes that are easy, tasty, healthy and popular with the whole family. At our house, one of the favorites in this category is crispy tilapia.

I buy the fish whenever it's on sale at HT and keep it in the freezer -- it's easy to defrost in the fridge a day or two before we use it. I usually cook two filets at a time -- slice each in half, with three halves for the grown ups and one half cut into nuggets for the kids (we call them "special nuggets" to make them more appealing).

What really makes the recipe easy to prepare is that I mix up a ziploc bag of the breading (usually double what's listed here, which gets us through several dinners) so that I can just pull it out of the pantry when we're ready to eat. The only downfall of the recipe is that the leftovers aren't as good, so you're better off just cooking enough for one meal. For sides, I like to steam or stir-fry whatever green veggies are in the fridge, plus some ready-made mashed potatoes.

Crispy Tilapia

Ingredients:
  • 3 lbs tilapia fillets, about 10
  • 1/3 cup flour, for dusting fish
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning
  • canola oil, to cover bottom of large pan

Directions:
  1. Salt and pepper fish. Dust fillets with 1/3 cup of flour.
  2. Mix egg with buttermilk in one bowl.
  3. Mix flour, corn meal, baking soda and baking powder, Old Bay in another bowl.
  4. Dip all floured fish into egg then flour mixture.
  5. Heat oil medium-high in large pan.
  6. Fry in three batches, turning after 2 minutes on each side.
  7. Salt as soon as you take out of pan.
  8. Serve with tartar sauce.

Recipe and photo from recipezaar.com.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday's Five: The Lloyd Dobler Effect

I ran across this blog post recently, describing a group of men in NYC who dressed as Lloyd Dobler, boomboxes blaring "In Your Eyes" above their heads, to celebrate the 20th anniversary edition of the movie Say Anything. I'll pause for a moment while you grapple with the notion that a) yes, it really was 20 years ago and b) there really are people with that much free time.

But I can't blame them for being committed to one of the all-time great movie characters, who famously declared that "I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don't want to do that." Between that statement and his unfailing love for Diane Court, you just can't go wrong with Lloyd.

So in honor of Lloyd Dobler and the 20th anniversary of one of my most-loved teen films, here are five other favorite movies with John Cusack that my husband and I wind up watching every time we stumble onto them:
  1. Sixteen Candles (1984): Okay, so Cusack isn't the star of this Molly Ringwald classic, but it's so funny to see him so young as he plays one of the dorky friends to geeky Anthony Michael Hall.

  2. Grosse Point Blank (1997): Cusack stars as a professional assassin returning home for his high school reunion, where he runs into his long lost love (played by Minnie Driver). Chaos, wit and much gun fire ensue, along with a great soundtrack.

  3. Being John Malkovich (1999): This mind-bender of a film includes a rough-looking Cameron Diaz (who knew that was possible?!) and a scene with John Malkovich cross-dressing. Strange and fantastic.

  4. High Fidelity (2000): Another terrific soundtrack accompanies Cusack as he tries to piece together his romantic history (via his top five break-ups) to explain his latest relationship failure. Ah, the mix tape -- how I loved you.

  5. Serendipity (2001): I don't know exactly why we can never turn off this movie when it shows up on TV (including last night) -- maybe I love the idea that what seems like coincidences is actually life leading us to just where we need to be. Or maybe it's the fun of another side-kick role for Jeremy Piven. The movie won't change your life, but it's still worth watching.
Note: The title for this post was shamelessly stolen from the band of the same name, who will be playing in Charlotte next Saturday.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thursday Soapbox: Magnetic Responsibility

I may or may not have wasted an hour yesterday morning. That's because the magnet school I toured may or may not be there in six months. The building will be there -- goodness knows Wake County needs all the school buildings it has -- but the school, the program, the teachers, the students who make up that building today might be gone. Or not.

As a parent of a rising kindergartner, that's what's making me crazy these days -- the not knowing whether the incoming school board will make little tweaks or sweeping changes to my public school district.

In their quest to be responsive to parents, the newest four members of the Wake County Board of Education -- who will be sworn in on Dec. 1 -- campaigned on promises of a return to "neighborhood schools" and an end to "busing for diversity." I'm not exactly sure what people mean when they use those heavily-loaded phrases, but I do know that a strict neighborhood plan would eliminate or at least severely handicap Wake County's national-award-winning magnet program.

The Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) lists three objectives for its magnet program:
  • Reduce high concentrations of poverty and support diverse populations
  • Maximize use of school facilities
  • Provide expanded educational opportunities
The first bullet point there got a lot of attention during the campaign because "diverse populations" got shortened to "busing" -- and no one likes "busing," even though it's not nearly that simple. The third bullet point is a big part of what draws most parents -- including me -- to consider these schools for our children. Imagining Junius learning about music, art, science, technology, language, leadership and media in elementary school sounds wonderful -- especially when I don't have to pay tuition for him to get it.

But that middle bullet point is one that gets lost in the rhetoric -- and it's one that every taxpayer in this county should care about, regardless of whether or not they have kids in the public schools. Employing a magnet program -- one that lures families from the crowded suburbs into downtown schools or schools in "less desirable neighborhoods" (how's that for a fully-loaded phrase?) -- is a fiscally responsible way to run a district as large as Wake County.

Without the magnet offerings, Wake County would likely return to the challenges seen here in the early 80s before the program began -- the same challenges now facing Charlotte-Mecklenburg, where downtown schools face under-enrollment and suburban schools are bursting at the seams. In a district of nearly 140,000 students that continues to grow by at least 4,000 students a year, despite the recessions, Wake County simply cannot afford to have empty seats.

Unlike Clay Aiken, I'm not planning on calling the new board members "selfish idiots." I'll reserve that judgement until they've had the chance to quit campaigning and start governing. I'm truly hoping that they're not idiots at all -- and that once they get into the substance of the issues facing our schools, they'll realize it's not nearly as simple as they thought.

Personally, I want the new school board members to care about the magnet program because it's been successful for the students in those schools. I want them to hear the voices of the parents of those students, even if those parents don't live in the board members' districts. I want them to find ways to provide the best education possible to all 140,000 kids.

But I know that money -- not student achievement or parent satisfaction -- is the real bottom line. And in tight economic times, I hope the new school board will remember their fiscal responsibility to use the existing facilities in the most efficient way possible -- and that includes maintaining a healthy magnet program in Wake County.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Why I'm Not Good at Online Dating

The fact that I tried on four different outfits -- even though I was running late and my children were running wild -- suggested I was heading out on a blind date.

In truth, it was something much more frightening. An almost-blind dinner date with eight other women. And not just any women -- blogging women. I felt like an impostor, someone who got invited to a secret meeting by accident. Although I was with a friend and had met two of the other bloggers before, the rest were all new to me.

As I got ready, I fretted about looking too mom-ish, looking like I tried too hard, like I didn't try hard enough. What if they write about me afterward on their blogs? Or what if they don't write about me at all? What if they realize that I'm just over here blabbing random things about whatever is on my mind with no ads or marketing or serious focus? What if I get food stuck in my teeth and then smile all through the meal and no one tells me?

Or what if I just take a deep breath and realize that they're all lovely and interesting people who happen to be moms (like me) who enjoy writing (like me).

Breathe in... Breathe out... In... Out...

And so of course, it was all fine. I enjoyed meeting the other ladies, sharing stories, finding small world connections. I think it's something we'll do again -- and thankfully I won't stress out so much next time. Although I am worried that I've violated some sort of blogging code by being the only one from the dinner to write about it. Was there some sort of what-happens-at-blogger-dinner-stays-at-blogger-dinner pledge that no one told me about?

Ugh. Dating is hard.

There's a Reason Babies Are So Cute

Last week, I got the happy email news that a close friend had delivered a healthy baby boy.

To say she's had a challenging pregnancy would be an understatement, so her news brought great relief as well as joy. In addition to a range of craziness at home -- caring for her toddler, listing and selling her home, and working with her husband through a job change -- the last nine months included the following:
  • 18 weeks of all day and night "morning" sickness
  • 1 bout with the stomach flu
  • 1 second trimester hospitalization and surgery for a kidney/bladder blockage
  • 12 inches of a coil stent to open the blockage for the remainder of the pregnancy
  • 3.5 months of pain and contractions
  • 16 weeks of partial bed-rest
  • 7 ultrasounds
  • 7 days of home quarantine with attack of the H1N1 flu
  • 11 hours of induced labor
  • 1 epidural that came out and stopped working between the 4 to 10 cm dilation
  • 7 pushes
Despite those painful numbers, she still got some beautiful results: 6 lbs. 4 oz. of perfect baby boy. And even though that baby has caused her an awful lot of pain over the past few months, she's already in love with him.

Unlike my friend, I'm really good at being pregnant -- I get enormous and round, but I had it so easy both times (until about week 39). Turns out I'm not so good at the delivery part -- both babies required c-sections to make their entrance into the world (see photo of Junius, fresh after his arrival). I still struggle at times with the fact that my babies' beginnings didn't match up with my Hollywood vision of what delivery would look like -- that dramatic moment when I squeeze my husband's hand, push the baby out, and immediately get to hold him close and love him. (And in that vision, of course, I'm wearing make-up, looking flushed but lovely. And the baby is all clean and beautiful, with no cone-head. And I instantly lose 40 pounds so I can wear my regular jeans home from the hospital. But I digress.)

I know it's a cliche, but my friend's experience reminded me that it doesn't matter how you become a mama, as long as you get to love the baby that makes you one. Whether through c-section or induction or adoption or marriage or fertility treatments or a drug-free birth, those babies arrive in our lives and they love us and they make us love them back. And it's a damn good thing they're so cute -- they have the power to make us forget everything else.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday's Five: Pippi's Reading List

I've written a lot about favorite books to read with Junius, but haven't written much about what Pippi likes to read. That's partly because she doesn't sit still for books the way he always has, which is probably (partly) because she's been so much easier to put to bed than he ever was.

So, in my continuing effort not to leave out the Pip, here are five of her favorite books these days -- as she gets older, she's finally starting to request certain stories when we sit in her rocking chair before bedtime, which makes me really happy:
  1. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle: A classic and lovely book -- I'm assuming you've all read it. I think she mostly likes turning the little pages and sticking her finger in the little caterpillar hole-punches.

  2. Ten Wishing Stars by Treesha Runnells and Sarah Dillard: This counting book about sheep wishing on stars at night has ten raised stars with star-shaped cutouts -- and the stars glow in the dark. Again, I think her favorite part is touching the stars.

  3. Baby Faces by Margaret Miller: We like to pretend she can read this one because she's memorized each baby's expression, saying "stinky" and "boo-hoo" and so on. It's way cute.

  4. Corduroy by Don Freeman: Another classic and sweet story. It's probably the longest book she'll sit still-ish for.

  5. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr, John Archambault and Lois Ehlert: This alphabet story involves letters racing up and then crashing down from a coconut tree. I don't know why, but "chicka chicka boom boom" is just plain fun to say.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Round 1 Goes to the Pip

Today I thought I would be writing a post about how I spent my first night away from Pippi last night -- I had to be out of town for a meeting, so she and Junius were home with my husband and my in-laws. Although I've spent a few nights away from Juni, it was the first time that Pippi and I slept under different roofs in her entire little life.

But as it turns out, my night away was pretty uneventful for both of us -- and I had to be up so early for the meeting that I didn't even get to enjoy some extra sleep.

So instead, I'm going to write about this cute little outfit (shown at left), which is what Pippi was supposed to wear to preschool today. As it turned out, she wore the pants -- along with the pajama top she'd slept in the night before.

Why? Because she flat-out refused to take off her pajamas. I wasn't here to witness the struggle, but apparently neither my MIL nor my husband could wrestle her out of the jammie shirt. My husband (wisely) determined that it was not a battle worth waging.

After I stopped laughing at the vision of Nonna and Daddy trying to pin down our not-yet-two-but-thinks-she's-a-five-year-old daughter, I tried to figure out two things:

1. What about the cute outfit was so offensive to her? Did she remember that (although it's a Carter's brand) I bought it at Costco? Does she think mixing pink with chocolate brown is too trendy? Was she worried the leggings made her tushie look big?

2. How many battles are she and I going to have about her clothes over the next 16 years? And will I have enough sense to let her win the ones that don't really hurt anything so that I have the energy to conquer her stubbornness in the wars that make a difference?

At the end of the day, it really didn't matter what she wore to preschool today. In fact, some of her toddler clothes aren't so different than her pajamas -- and I'm sure her teachers love her no matter what she has on. But I can see the day coming when what she wears (or doesn't wear) Is going to make a difference in how others see her -- a skirt that's too short, a shirt that's too tight, a face-piercing. Ugh. I am so not ready for her teen years.

So I think I'm going to start working out now. Because clearly I'm going to need to be a lot stronger than she is if I'm going to win the wrestling matches yet to come.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hark the Sound of Basketball (and Rugby) Season

I know for some of you out there, it's still football season (hi Dad!). But this Carolina girl has already moved on to basketball. The Tar Heels played (and won) their first game on Monday night -- okay, so it was only Florida International, but it still feels good to know the blue and white are back on the court.

In honor of the start of my favorite sports season, I'll share one of the first pieces I wrote for my magazine course while I was studying in Cardiff. We were assigned to cover the local reaction to the start of the Rugby World Cup, hosted in Cardiff that year. Given that I knew absolutely nothing about rugby, I had to take a different approach than traditional sports reporting.

In Chapel Hill, North Carolina, we celebrate March Madness, a month devoted to the great sport of college basketball. As college teams from across the United States compete for the NCAA title, Carolina fans flock to arenas and television sets, decorating their bodies, their homes, their cars, even their pets in support of the Tar Heels.

The enthusiasm reaches a fever pitch during the first weekend in April, when the last teams standing compete the The Final Four. If the Tar Heels have survived from the original field, every bar on Franklin Street, Chapel Hill's main street, welcomes a standing-room-only crowd of blue face paint and Carolina cheers.

In Cardiff, Wales, they celebrate the World Rugby Cup. And althought it's quite some distance across the proverbial pond, the enthusiasm of openting day, as Wales hosted Argentina, felt just like home for this Tar Heel alum.

On Friday, 1 October 1999, I was amazed to see the usually drab, grey Colum Road awash in a vibrant shade of red. Bright red rugby jerseys boasting the WRU [Welsh Rugby Union] logo had replaced the typical full-black European ensemble. Cabs flew Welsh flags from their antennae. Even the bank clerk at Barclay's sported a temporary face tattoo in support of her team. The trains passed by, filled to capacity with more red jerseys to spill into the city. Students wearing Welsh flags as sarongs cheered in the streets. And there were still six hours until kick-off.

By the time the opening ceremony began, every pub in the City Centre fortunate enough to possess even one television was bursting with rugby enthusiasts. The pub crowds joined with fans inside the newly built 72,500-seat Millennium Stadium singing anthems and folk songs, cheering for celebrities and waving their inflated daffodils and red-and-green scarves.

When Welsh performer Max Boyce took the stage, even the rowdy crowd at O'Neill's Pub hushed each other to hear the original verses in his song, then erupted with the familiar refrain in his obvious crowd-pleaser.

The volume of enthusiasm only increased when the players took the field. The crowd around me began chanting, "Wa-les! Wa-les!" But another hush came over the group at the sounds of the Welsh anthem, a patriotic tear trickling down the televised face of one of them team members.

Although it seemed impossible, the start of the game brought even louder and rowdier cheers, But as the game progressed, not all of the cheers were friendly. At the sight of an injured Argentinian player on the field, one pub fan shouted, "Let 'im die!"

As the WRU fought for their 23-18 win and their ninth-straight victory, the cans at O'Neill's never stopped their energetic support of "Henry's Army." And although I understood little of the game of rugby, I did understand the sense of pride felt by the crowds there and throughout the city of Cardiff.

The face painted and jester hats, the radio station ticket-giveaway contests and the closed-off city streets are all symbols of something that every Chapel Hill fan recognises: a true love and loyalty for a sporting team that serves to unite the community. Whether young or old, male or female, city professional or country worker, everyone who cheered for the WRU on Friday enjoyed equal status: victor.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Happy Birthday, Sesame!

In honor of Sesame Street's 40th anniversary, here's a re-post from June:

Really good children's television has to be entertaining for viewers of all ages -- if I don't like it, I definitely don't want my kids watching it. The beauty of Sesame Street -- in addition to its efforts to teach preschoolers about math, vocabulary, and other skills -- is that it's hilarious. When I was a kid, I had no idea who the grown-ups were. Now that I'm the mom, I'm cracking up to see everyone from Jack Black to Brian Williams to Andrea Bocelli playing along with the muppets.

In no particular order, here are five of my favorite (recent) Sesame Street segments -- the video quality isn't so great on some, but they're still funny:
  1. Neil Patrick Harris as the Fairy Shoe Person: If you're a fan of NPH, you must see this. In full Broadway style, the Shoe Fairy tries to find just the right pair of shoes for Telly Monster. I can't summarize. You just have to watch it.

  2. Tina Fey with the Bookaneers: Tina and her Bookaneers (they're the Pirates of the Care-to-Be-Readin') crash into Elmo and Alan, recruit Elmo to join their crew and follow a treasure map to the library. The clip shown here doesn't give you all the brilliant puns, but it's a start. In case you were wondering, a pirate's favorite letter isn't R -- it's F. Pirates love F-words -- you know, like fish and flugelhorn.



  3. Will Arnett as Max the Magician: A Gob-like magician shows off his tricks to Big Bird, Elmo and the crew. Being clever muppets, they realize he's actually doing math. After watching this episode, Junius spent weeks running into rooms and shouting, "Did somebody say.....MMMMMMMAGIC?!" and then hurling things over his shoulder.

  4. Pre-School Musical: It's got sass and choreography and sustained notes. It's block corner vs. dress-up corner at the pre-school (problem solved when they realize they can "just take tu-uh-uh-uh-uh-urns"). In short, it rocks. And if you watch the clip, be prepared to sing the song ALL day.



  5. Texas Telly and the Golden Triangle of Destiny: This clever spoof of Indiana Jones brings in Texas Telly and Minnesota Mel as they search for the golden triangle of destiny. After finding several other golden shapes (and meeting other characters like Virginia Virginia) and avoiding a giant boulder, Telly finally finds his most favorite shape. Sadly, the clip linked here only shows part of the segment, but you get the idea.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Recipe: Pineapple Pork Tenderloin

"New Music Monday" has gone by the wayside now that I'm not on my own on Mondays... Pippi and I spend Monday mornings together while Junius is at preschool, so we often wind up at the grocery store.

So instead of music today, I thought I'd share one of my favorite crockpot recipes, stolen from another blog. What I love about this recipe: it's easy, it's delicious, my kids will eat pork tenderloin and it makes tasty leftovers. Enjoy!


Pineapple Pork Tenderloin CrockPot Recipe

Ingredients:
  • 3 pound pork tenderloin
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 orange bell pepper, seeded and sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons gluten free soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup apple juice
  • 16 ounces frozen or canned pineapple

Directions:
  1. Combine meat, sugar, spices, and cornstarch in a plastic zipper bag (I add a little extra of the spices). Seal and shake well to coat. Pour contents of bag into crockpot.
  2. Add garlic and peppers on top of the meat so that they're not soaking on the bottom.
  3. Pour in soy sauce, apple juice, and an entire bag of frozen pineapple. (I add an extra splash of the soy sauce because I like the salty flavor.)
  4. Cover and cook on low for 7-9 hours, or on high for 4-6. (The recipe said she cooked hers on high for 2 hours, then on low for another 6.)
  5. Serve with rice or pasta. (I like to serve mine over rice.)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Friday's Five: The Wedding

Yesterday, while most eyes (including the sweet groom's) were focused on the beautiful bride featured above, mine were fixed on that adorable little ring-bearer. Our family met the bride when Junius was 5 months old -- she was one of his first regular babysitters and has been an adopted member of our family ever since.

The celebration of marriage was wonderful and beautifully personalized by this special couple -- and of course, my favorite part was seeing how happy they were to be getting married. But here are five other favorite details about the big day:
  1. Junius in a tuxedo: Did I mention he was adorable? I'm talking crazy cute. The best was watching him tap dance in his shiny tuxedo shoes during the reception. I'm thinking we could rent him out as a ring-bearer for other weddings to help pay for college later on. He was that sweet.

  2. Kid-friendly event: Not many young couples would purposely invite lots of small children to their wedding. But this event not only allowed the kids, the bride and groom went out of their way to make sure they were included. From fancy corn dogs in the buffet line to dancing the hokey-pokey to a special photo of the bride with all her babysitting charges, it was a great wedding for the little ones.

  3. Musical favor: The bride and groom created a CD for their guests, calling it "a condensed playlist of our lives... so far." With tracks from Avett Brothers, Iron & Wine, The Shins and Wilco, it's not your usual wedding fare -- which is exactly what makes it so fantastic.

  4. Ring-bearer gift: One of the most useful gifts ever, this basket (shown below) came in black with Junius's name embroidered in blue along the side. For the wedding and reception, I loaded it up with coloring books (and those Color Wonder markers that only write on the magic paper), snacks, tissues and pajamas (for the ride home). Stylish and functional -- doesn't get any better than that.

  5. High heels: Okay, so I realize this last one is more about me than the event, but it was kind of a big deal. Despite my general fear of tall shoes, I found some very cute peep toe heels that I could actually walk in. Sadly, I can't find a picture of them online, and the only picture that shows my feet in them is one that Junius took and the awkward angle makes my legs appear chunky and I'm too vain to post it. But trust me that I was walking in heels, and they look good.
Congratulations to our friends -- thank you for letting us celebrate with you! May you always love each other and enjoy each other as much as you did on your wedding day.

P.S. Looks like the "Friday" post over the weekend is getting to be a regular event. My apologies... I never have been good at being on time, but at least I'm getting it done.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Seconds Have Firsts, Too

After my recent post about firsts for Junius, one of my readers wisely observed that the real challenge is to capture the same moments with Pippi. As a first-born myself, I'm sensitive about the tendency to over-do things for the first baby and under-do them for the second -- maybe it's lingering guilt over having my parents all to myself for the first four years.

Being second doesn't appear to be all bad. One advantage -- in addition to having more relaxed parents and a really entertaining older brother -- is that Pippi gets to tag along and join in experiences earlier than we did with Junius. Several of his firsts have also been firsts for Pippi, like the football games.

Here's Pippi loving her first stadium hot dog (like mother, like daughter) at her first college football game at N.C. State...

Here's Pippi trying to pick up as many pom-poms as she can possibly hold in her chubby little hands at her first UNC game...

This past Saturday was her first real time trick-or-treating. We took her along last year, but she couldn't walk yet, so I don't think it counts. Here she is, very nervous, at her first door...
After the first house, she quickly figured out the routine. The main thing that kept slowing her down was her intense desire to stop after each house and eat the candy right there in the driveway. Girlfriend comes by her sweet tooth honestly.

And then last night, tugging on my husband's pants leg and smiling up at her daddy, she said her first unprompted, unscripted, more-or-less complete sentence: "Ca cor peese."

Translation: "Candy corn, please."

Her father, so impressed by her politeness and her new-found ability to communicate, happily obliged her request. Don't think for a minute that she doesn't know exactly what she's up to.