Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Guilty Pleasures

Let's talk about guilty pleasures, shall we? You know, the stuff you love that you should be scoffing at instead.

Here are my confessions:
  • People Magazine. I have a degree in English. I even graduated with honors. I've read many of the classics, and have slogged my way through Faulkner with the best of them. As such, I should be embarrassed all to hell to read People. But, almost nothing makes me happier on a Friday night. If I can read it in a hot bath with a glass of Riesling (or a Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi) perched on the edge of the tub, so much the better.

  • Bad Pop Music. One of my favorite hobbies is scoping out new music. I actually spend a fair amount of my time listening to music-related podcasts and reading music blogs. Few things thrill me as much as finding an inventive new song and adding it to my music library. 2009 found me grooving to Metric, the XX, Animal Collective, and Thao. Why, then, do I have "I Can't Wait" by Nu Shooz on my iPod? And "Der Kommissar" by After the Fire? Should I not be horribly ashamed? There are a handful of songs I cannot stop myself from liking. Do you remember the song "Dance with Me" by Orleans? I don't have that one on my iPod but if it comes on the radio, I am incapable of turning it off. Seriously. "Let it lift you off the grounnnnnnd . . . "

  • Chocolate Chip Cookies (followed closely by the all-American brownie). My palate is vastly unsophisticated. I don't like cheesecake. I don't like flan. No to coconut, stuff with fruit jammed in it (I love fruit but I don't want it stuck in places it doesn't belong), and eclairs (stuff with goop inside it - blech). Nay, I prefer the same thing I preferred when I was five. Chocolate chip cookies. Brownies. No fancy ingredients, but oh. so. good.

  • Talk shows. I've never been one for soap operas, but I do love to watch a good pithy topic played out on a talk show. I mostly stopped watching Oprah once she started blathering on about her "spirit" and other self-help topics. I watch Dr. Phil when he's got an interesting guest on. I want to start a drinking game where you have to down a shot every time Dr. Phil says, "This ain't my first rodeo." I've also been known to watch the occasional court show. I live to hear Judge Judy tell some slack-jawed defendant, "I'm smarter than you even on your BEST day."
There you have it - my lowbrow pursuits. What's your guilty pleasure? I was going to add "cheap wine" to the list but that might fall more appropriately under the category of "shameful vices."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The things a daddy does

This is what all the fussing and cussing was about. To give you an idea of the size, it is 51 inches tall.

I always knew my husband would be a good dad. I never heard even a hint of "must have a son" from him (even though he does loves sports). Now that our daughter has gotten a little older, she is serving capably as a playmate for him. They play Lego Batman on the PS3, they talk about super heroes, and they rummage through the pantry (in search of baked goods) together. They conspire to keep things from me, such as a red light accidentally run and a hunk of toothpaste smeared on a freshly-laundered dress. Last night I was on the phone with my mom but could hear the two of them singing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, replacing all of the verbs with the word "fart." They were both howling with laughter.

I took care of most of the Christmas preparations, but P took it upon himself to go out and get her four sets of super hero figurines. "Ugh," I thought. He handed them to me to wrap and I put as little effort into it as humanly possible.

When A opened those packages on Christmas morning, however, the two of them huddled excitedly over the action figures. "That's the Flash! That's Wolverine!" They talked about which of the toys depicted super heroes and which were villains. I just shook my head. "Bless their nerdy little hearts," I thought. But then it happened: Wonder Woman somehow turned up in the dollhouse.

"No super heroes in the dollhouse!" I said (quite emphatically, I might add.)

"Maybe the super heroes can hang out in the attic of the dollhouse," replied my husband as he posed Wonder Woman in the kitchen.

"How about we dig a hole under the dollhouse and they can live down there?" I suggested.

Meanwhile, one of the legitimate inhabitants of the dollhouse, the mama, disappeared. We searched everywhere for her. Later, we learned that the figurine had never left the dollhouse - my daughter had shoved her into the oven and closed the door. I am not really sure what to make of that. I had trouble finding a family to live in the dollhouse and bought what I could find, which is why the house is inhabited by an African-American mom, an Asian dad, and a blond-haired, blue eyed daughter. We're all about diversity here, people.

On Christmas Day, our daughter received a little make-up set from my sister-in-law (and T, if you are reading my blog: this is war. Your kid is getting a drum kit and a puppy from us next Christmas. And oil paints.) The set included little bottles of nail polish. The kid demanded to have her fingernails painted almost immediately. And P, God bless him, obliged. When he was done painting her nails, he blew on them. Then he flapped his hands at the wrist and said, "Dry them like this."

When I met that young Marine on the dance floor those many years ago, I never pictured the day when he would paint his little girl's nails and, moreover, do it so precisely. I never imagined that young jarhead saying, "Wipe your gyna*!" and then making up a little song about the importance of doing just that.

In a few years, when she is accusing us of ruining her life just by breathing, I hope she'll remember . . .

*pronounced "guy-na" - it's a family term

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

You'd Better Not Pout, I'm Telling You Why

When I was little, we lived in an apartment in Maryland. I knew how Santa got into one's home and I was also well aware that we didn't have a chimney. I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear that, even as a young child, I was every bit as high-strung and fretful as I am now. I all but had a coronary event over this how-does-Santa-get-into-our-house issue. Seriously, I lost sleep over it.

My mom, in her infinite wisdom, told me this: "Santa takes a pill and it makes him very, very small. He walks right under the door!"

As implausible as this explanation may seem now, I totally bought it. I think I just needed something, some reassurance that Santa would not face any obstacles in bringing me my gifts. You do NOT want to make things difficult for St. Nick, through such means as not having a chimney. I did briefly wonder how this microscopic Santa would get my full-sized presents under the apartment's front door, but I quickly dismissed it.

Fortunately for us, our current home does have a chimney. It's been cold lately and we've regularly had fires blazing in the evening. It has occurred to A that this could pose a problem for the man in red. She wants my solemn promise that we will not have a fire on Christmas Eve. "Because Santa might burn his feet!" Then she got worried that Santa might also snag the bag somehow and tear a hole in it, thereby allowing my daughter's presents to fall right out on the roof. I have assured her that the bag is as sturdy as they come.

We also discussed the need for her to be sleeping when Santa comes. "Well, I might hear him ho-ho-ho-ing in the living room," she told me solemnly. I replied that she might but that Santa isn't kidding around about that whole knows-when-you're-awake business. If she hears anything, it'll be Mr. Claus stomping around in the basement and cussing like a longshoreman as he attempts to put together the gazillion piece dollhouse (with six double-sided pages of instructions). Mrs. Claus warned Mr. Claus that he should not wait until the very last minute to assemble the doll house, but Mr. Claus has his head up his ass sometimes.

Now, lest you think we are putting too much emphasis on Santa, know that this is not our sole focus. Some of my happier childhood memories involve Christmas and Santa, and I want my daughter to have that, too. Plus, I know that in only a few short years, some brat at school will tell her what's what and then it'll all be over. I want the magic to last as long as possible. At church last Sunday, the pre-k teacher taught the class about Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas. At our church (Unitarian Universalist) there is also an emphasis on the Winter Solstice and the return of the light (as the days slowly grow longer). My daughter knows that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, although she did accidentally call him Jevins the other day. We gotta work on that.

So, there is a lot of excitement building at our house. We've got the cookies and even a special plate. The shortest member of our clan has even thrown in some last minute good behavior by being compliant at the store today (it could have had something to do with me telling her that the sleigh has not been loaded yet). It looks like Santa will definitely be stopping at our house tomorrow night. Well, if he can get the %&$*ing dollhouse put together . . .

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fourth Time's The Charm

Gretchen and I recently completed the Pre-Novice Obedience training class for the third time. Now, please understand that most duos do have to repeat the class at least once. You have to be able to demonstrate a certain level of proficiency in the various exercises before passing into Novice Obedience, where the dogs are off-leash much of the time. Most do not make it through on the first try. So, I wasn't too surprised about having to repeat the class after we botched the first final evaluation. The second time we took the class and didn't pass, I was vaguely embarrassed but mostly took it in stride. By the third time, I felt like Gretchen had improved a lot. One of the hardest exercises is a "stand for exam." She has to remain standing while I move six feet away from her. The evaluator moves towards her and touches her head and then touches her back in a couple of places. The dog needs to remain planted and not move at all. We struggled mightily with this one but now she does it beautifully. She also heels pretty well most of the time.

So, when we went into the evaluation Wednesday night I was feeling pretty good. She performed well on all of the individual exercises. "We've got this in the bag!" I thought. The evaluator (note that the evaluator was not the class instructor - the instructor could not be there) called everyone back into the ring for group sits and downs. Gretchen completed the one-minute sit-stay even though the dogs on both sides of her broke the stay. Then came the three-minute down-stay, which is one of her weaker exercises. It baffles me because, really, what could be easier than LYING ON THE FLOOR for three minutes? Seriously, take a nap, bitch. Anyway, she made it into the third minute but then both dogs next to her broke the stay again. Eventually, Gretchen got nervous and shuffled towards me. I put her back in the down and then shot laser beams into her skull with my eyeballs.

The down-stay is worth thirty points so we were screwed. Our instructor had chosen to use an official trial scoring system rather than the typical pass/fail scoring. I was vaguely miffed at first. But then, when I saw who passed, I got downright irate. There is a black Lab in the class who is a real pill. Flat-out aggressive. He has come after my dog multiple times. His owner has so much trouble controlling him that she has to wear gloves to maintain her grip on the leash. He did poorly in many of the exercises in the evaluation, but somehow pulled the sit-stay and down-stay out of his ass and passed. The sit-stay and down-stay are weighted very heavily in the scoring.

As this dog's owner stepped forward to receive the certificate, the dog actually lunged and growled at a nearby Golden Retriever. The more I thought about it, the madder I got. My dog has a nice temperament and failed the class because she broke one down-stay? WTF? I decided to throw a minor tantrum with the evaluator. I should add that I've known the evaluator since 1998, when I began training Lucy Annabel under her tutelage (and eventually earned several titles). I pitched my fit, she attempted to console me, and I left. I wasn't mad at her; I was irritated with the scoring system and how the evaluations were handled.

As soon as I got home, I ripped off an email to the director of training. She sent me a very cordial response and invited me to bring Gretchen back to the kennel club Saturday morning and take the test again. I mulled it over for a couple of days and then decided to go for it. I took Gretchen to Petco Friday night to practice. Of course, I forgot that automatic sliding doors scare the poop out of her, so she was a little "off" the whole time we were there (had her scaredy face on). Nonetheless, I put her in a very long down-stay in the back of the store and she held it.

On Saturday morning, we headed back to the kennel club, where the director of training was running the evaluations. Gretchen's performance was not perfect. She lagged a bit on the figure-eights and didn't do the smoothest finish after the recall (something she ordinarily does quite well). But, she held the stays. This time, the evaluator was using a pass/fail scoring system and Gretchen passed. I imagine she would have passed this time even if the other scoring system had been used.

I really didn't think I could bear to take that class a fourth time. We'd both be bored to tears. Now, I hope to get her into the ring and start showing next year. My formerly emaciated secondhand dog . . . she's gonna be a supa-star.

Friday, December 18, 2009

My First School Concert

I attended my first school concert (dubbed "Winter Wonderland") yesterday. Or at least, it was my first one as a parent. P's sister was in town so she went with us. A was very excited to have her parents and her aunt there. She dressed up for the occasion.

First off, some of you seasoned parent types could have warned me that getting there 15 minutes ahead of time would not be anywhere close to early enough. When we walked into the school gym, every parent and grandma in town was already there. A lady gestured to me that there were two seats open to the right of her, so my sister-in-law and I sat down. A coat was partially covering my chair but I didn't really think anything of it. It turned out that the lady to the right of me had been attempting to save two chairs, not just one. She started loudly saying things like "WELL, I GUESS IT'S GONE NOW" and "I GUESS THEY'LL HAVE TO SIT ON EACH OTHER'S LAPS." I turned to her and apologized for my crime and let her know that the lady to my left had stated that the chair was available. However, I did not offer to give up my seat. I was there to hear my baby sing and that's all there was to it. She shrugged and turned around to complain more discreetly to her husband.

Within moments, every chair in the room was full and I'd say at least fifty parents had to stand. They stood in a ring around the perimeter of the gym, leaning against the painted cinder block walls. The latecomers to my right did eventually arrive and did share a single folding chair. It was two young women who were both very skinny so I didn't feel all that bad about it. One thing that bugged me was that so many chairs were occupied by very small children who were there to see their older siblings perform. It did seem to me that a lap will do just fine for a small child when adults are left to stand.

My daughter is in 4K so her class took the stage first. I had sent her off looking pretty cute yesterday morning but her hair had taken on a life of its own in the intervening hours. Once she spotted me, she waved frantically and jumped around a bit with excitement. Her class sang a song about a snowman, complete with arm movements. They then launched into a brief little ditty about mittens. I think it goes without saying that my kid, the shortest but cutest in the class, was the star. And then before we knew it they were off the stage and the five-year-old kindergartners were climbing the risers. We sat through two songs from each grade (4K through 5th), and then a grand finale that did not include the 4K class.

As I watched each grade perform, it occurred to me that each class was like a microcosm of society. Each contained: one super tall kid, one super short one, one chubby girl (to whom I can only hope the other kids are kind), one hammy kid who sings a little bit louder than everyone else, one girl who tells all the other kids what to do, one angry boy who doesn't want to be there at all, and one shell-shocked youngster who stares blankly ahead and sings nary a note. I also noted that there seems to be an age at which you can tell the parents have lost control over what their kid wears out of the house. The shift appeared to occur somewhere between third and fourth grades.

So there you have it: my first winter concert. I heard rumors that there will also be a spring concert. No chair wrangling for me next time. I'm camping out for front row seats.

Here is a repeat performance (two videos) that took place in our very own living room.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Things That Suck (Issue #52): The Circus

Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight. - Albert Schweitzer

I was elated to see this recent Washington Post article about the training of circus elephants. Don't worry - the article is not overly graphic. Don't be afraid to check it out. When a former elephant trainer acknowledges that there is rampant cruelty in training these animals for circus acts, it's hard to spin it any other way.

Although I don't consider myself an animal rights extremist, I do hold firm the belief that animals should not be used for entertainment purposes. What is done to elephants and other non-human circus performers in the name of good family fun is truly unconscionable. There is nothing natural or fun about wrapping ropes around a young elephant calf (who has probably been forcibly removed from his mother) and forcing him to the ground. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

I hope other parents will consider rejecting the circus as a form of family entertainment. Your kids would probably enjoy a day at the park just as much. And as a bonus, you wouldn't have to buy any overpriced souvenirs.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

That's Hobo with a B

Giddy thought the stuff from Goodwill smelled mighty suspicious.

My daughter became a hobo today. She didn't know what a hobo was, so I explained to her that's it's someone who has no home (although I guess there's also a connotation that a hobo is sort of a purposeful vagabond, a lovable character even . . . but I didn't go there). She was playing the part of the train-hopping hobo in a Christmas play at church. The children were performing "An Orange for Frankie," based on a book by Patricia Polacco.

Let me tell you, it was a hard sell. I spun it as a "won't it be fun to wear a costume" sort of adventure, but she saw it a bit differently. A lot differently, in fact. She has worn only dresses for almost two years now. I went to Goodwill and picked up some overalls, a red shirt, a red bandanna, and some gloves (I cut off the tips of the fingers - very clever, ne c'est pas?). I bought these items in the boys' section. If my daughter knew this little fact, I seriously think she would experience a psychotic break and never be the same again. I thought of taking a bit of soot from the fireplace and smudging her cheek with it but I knew it would never fly.

The pre-k kids are cast mostly as extras in these annual performances, so A didn't have any lines or anything. She wandered around the stage and sat in a painted train when directed to do so. Eventually she left the stage altogether and sat on her dad's lap for the remainder of the play. She was a cute hobo, but the cuteness was short-lived. She demanded to change into a dress as soon as we got home.

After church, we made cut-out cookies. I rolled out the dough and cut the shapes, and the kid decorated them. And by decorate, I mean that she poured enough sprinkles on each one to choke a horse. Fa la la la la!

Yes, Virginia, there is a cookie under that mound of festive red sprinkles.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Updates on Stuff

A few random updates:

I had no idea that the mystery of the doll with the green thing on her head would keep people up at night. A few friends and aquaintances have posted various theories on my Facebook page. "Do you think maybe she meant Tinkerbell?" Or, "I saw this doll at Target - maybe this is the one?"

The good news is that A has mentioned fifty other toys since she first asked for the doll with the green thing on her head. My mom is getting her the Tiana doll from Princess and The Frog. Then, if that's not the doll the kid was talking about, we'll just say, "That's what we thought you meant." Case closed.

This "I want I want I want" business is precisely why I'm on a mission to have her buy a gift for the Toys for Tots program. Maybe it will hold some meaning for her if she can hand a doll or a game directly to a handsome, uniformed, too-young-for-Mama smiling Marine. I once read that kids aren't really capable of thinking outside themselves until around the age of eight, but I figure it can't hurt for her to have the experience of choosing a toy for a stranger (a child) who may not get one otherwise.

The other update is that the kid is not deaf. My theory was correct. She can hear but she doesn't listen. I took her to see her pediatrician last week. He scraped a few hunks of wax out of her right ear with a wee little spoon (wait, you weren't eating were you?) and then sent her into the next room for the test. I had forced A to practice ahead of time when we were waiting in the exam room. I'd say "booooooooooop" in various tones and volumes and she'd dutifully raise her hand.

The evaluator sat her on a stool and attached the headphones to her noggin. I perched in a chair behind her. The test had three phases. For the first two, she was doing fine, jutting that little hand into the air right on cue. By the time phase three came around, though, the urge to spin on the stool had overtaken her. She completed two full revolutions before I stopped her. The headphone cord was wrapped around her torso so I unwrapped her and then gripped the stool in my hands, holding it in place. I was trying my damnedest to avoid an unneeded trip the audiologist. Fortunately, she finished the test and I was handed a slip of paper stating that she can hear. Eureka! I then had to mail that back to the health department.

So, I think we're all set until next year, when she fails the test at school again. Speaking of school, we received her first ever report card yesterday. She was rated on various skills on a scale of 0 to 4. She received ten 4's, eleven 3's, and two 2's. 4 equates to "achieved skills," 3 is "most skills" and 2 is "some skills." As for the 2's, she got one in "follows a sequence of directions." Okay, no surprise there. If I send her into her bedroom to get her pajamas, she'll walk to her bedroom, find that she has no earthly recollection about why she's in there, and start coloring or something. The other one was in "hears and discriminates the sounds of language." I'm not really sure what was being tested there. I already know my daughter is borderline genius - I don't need no stinkin' report card!

One skill category that made me giggle was : "demonstrates ball catching skills." She got a 3 on that. I am 39 and cannot catch a ball. I graduated college with honors and have been gainfully employed since I was 15, so I'm pretty sure she'll make it into adulthood either way. Thank God she didn't fail "skipping and galloping," though. There's really no hope for you after that.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


My 400th post! Please, hold your applause!

Seriously, though, I'd like to thank those who read my random little blog and those who link to it from their own. And the 26 souls who follow it on Google Friend Connect. I have to blow a kiss to my longtime friend J, who wrote "Obsessed with every detail of this fascinating and alluring woman's life" on his Google profile. Ladies, if you don't have a supportive gay male friend, I suggest you seek one out immediately. While I still have not met my goal of submitting my writing to various sources for possible publication, every day I inch just a little closer. The dream, it remains. Thank you for reading!

In other news, my friend Kari Beth came over yesterday to take some photos of my daughter. I still have not decided if I am sending out Christmas cards this year. I'm under a lot of stress at work right now and I'm really trying to enjoy the holidays without adding any additional angst. In any case, I've got a few good candidates if I do decide to send cards.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Me So Smug

My daughter asked for a Fur Real Lulu Cat for Christmas. Our cat hates her so of course she is obsessed with all things feline. She often pretends to be a cat and makes me rub her belly. When it is time for A to get out of the bath tub, she tells me I have to say, "Please get out of the tub, kitty."

So, when she saw the commercial for the Lulu cat, she said she wanted to add it to her list for Santa. And then began talking about it ad nauseum soon thereafter. I started doing a little digging online and found a message board entirely devoted to shopping at Target (seriously). One of the members indicated that Target had a coupon book offering great deals on toys, and that said coupon book included $10 off on the Lulu cat. Target didn't just leave this little goldmine laying around at its stores, however. You had to ask for it at the service desk (the coupons expired before Thanksgiving, so don't get any ideas). So a few weeks ago, after taking Gretchen to obedience class, I stopped at Target and asked for the coupon book at the service desk. Sho nuff. However, that particular location was sold out of the Lulu Cat. I drove across town to another Target and bought the last one on the shelf. The shelf price was $38, but it rang up at $36. So, with my mighty coupon, I got it for $26.

All the way home, this thing was meowing to beat the band. Gretchen was mighty suspicious, cocking her head and twitching her ears with every motorized meow. I knew I'd have to wait until the kid was fast asleep to smuggle it into the house. Later that night, I brought it in and showed it to my husband. He peered at it from below a furrowed brow. "That? Seriously? She wanted that?"

Lulu does all sorts of tres adorable things, like washing her own face, purring, etc. Things that are indeed captivating if you are a four-year-old girl. The cat has sensors in her head and all it takes is a simple wave of your hand to animate her. To date, I have not seen the elusive Lulu on a store shelf again - anywhere. It is sold out on most websites and in most stores.

Of course, people are selling it on eBay, ready to take advantage of desperate parents. BuyItNow prices range from $60 to over $100. And sometimes that doesn't even include shipping.

Normally, I am not Amazing Foresight Mom. Normally, I am Why-the-Hell-Didn't-I-Buy-It-When-I-First-Spotted-It Mom. So yeah, I am feeling pretty smug about this. Every time I venture into the basement to do laundry, I walk by the bag with the Lulu Cat in it. She says, "Meow" but what I think she is really saying is, "You're the best mother of all time and space." Sho nuff.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Confession #47

Here goes: I have an intense dislike for "The Christmas Shoes," to the extent that hearing just a few notes of it when flipping through radio stations elicits a fairly violent response from me. Yes, "The Christmas Shoes," one of the most beloved songs of all time. To many people, this is akin to saying you don't like oxygen.

Here is a sample of the lyrics:

It was almost Christmas time
There I stood in another line
Trying to buy that last gift or two
Not really in the Christmas mood
Standing right in front of me
Was a little boy waiting anxiously
Pacing around like little boys do
And in his hands he held
A pair of shoes

And his clothes were worn and old
He was dirty from head to toe
And when it came his time to pay
I couldn't believe what I heard him say

Now, I love holiday songs as much as the next girl. I can Feliz Navidad with the best of them. I even have over 100 Christmas tunes on my iPod. But this cloying song with its treacly lyrics . . . I just can't hack it. I think what bugs me the most is the fact that the child is portrayed as poor AND dirty. It's not enough that his mom is dying and that he doesn't have enough pennies to buy her some shoes to meet Jesus, he also has to be a crudbucket on top of it. That those living in poverty are unclean - ah, I don't know, the concept just bugs me, I guess. And yet, the world was so moved by this song that it was made into a film. A film!

At times, we all need to be reminded that Christmas isn't just about commercialization and consumption. But seriously, aren't there less saccharine ways to get the message across? Even my personal favorite Christmas movie, "The Muppets Christmas Carol" does a better job of it.

So there you have it. Please accept my apologies for disliking "The Christmas Shoes." Don't even get me started on "Butterfly Kisses."