25 December 2007

merry christmas!




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17 December 2007

'tis the season: holiday books

We are a bookish family. Okay, well, to be precise, I am a very bookish person, and I'm doing my best to pass on a love of reading to my boys. One of my favorite things about being a parent is introducing my kids to things I loved as a child (and still love). I had so much fun reading Charlotte's Web to James, and I am waiting impatiently to start reading him the Little House books. But it's also a ton of fun to discover new books together with my children.

This year we've started a holiday book collection. We've always had holiday books, but this year we've collected them in one place and plan to make it a tradition to read our favorites every year. Below the fold, I've compiled a list of some of our favorite holiday and winter children's books, both classics and new favorites.

One of our favorite children's authors in general, ever since Greg's mom got us one of her books years ago, is Jan Brett. Her illustrations are intricate and beautifully drawn, and are wonderful accompaniments to fun stories. The Hat and The Mitten are two of our favorite winter stories, so I was excited to see that this year, she'd come out with a version of The Night Before Christmas. I've been wanting to buy a copy of this poem for the boys, and when I saw Brett's at the bookstore, I knew it was the one. The classic Clement Moore poem with Brett's illustrations is a beautiful combination.

Next on the list, a modern classic, How The Grinch Stole Christmas. This is one of the rare children's books that I can read over and over without tiring of it. Which I had to do when Evan went through a Grinch phase a few months ago, and and requested it every day at naptime, and sometimes bedtime, for god only knows how many days. But the magic of Dr. Seuss is that the rhyming and nonsense words are fun even for grown-ups to say, and until you really memorize it, you have to pay attention for the trickier phrases. And the story can't be beat -- a Scrooge-like cave-dwelling creature learns the true meaning of Christmas just in time to redeem himself. We also love the movie (the original movie, that is, not the horrible Jim Carrey remake), which is very faithful to the book.


Another new favorite, also introduced to us by Greg's mom, is Olive, the Other Reindeer. What could be cuter than a little dog who thinks she's a reindeer? She tries her hardest to help Santa on Christmas Eve -- and succeeds, too, in unexpected ways. This one is really a lot of fun to read, and popular with the kiddos, because that dog is just SO cute.



The last book I'm going to mention is another family favorite, The Polar Express. Haven't seen the movie (sources tell me it's not worth it) but the book is one of those magical Christmas stories that kids and adults love. The illustrations are beautiful, and to combine the Santa myth with a train? Genius, as far as kids are concerned.

And that's it for the holiday books we own, though I have to note two of my favorite Christmas stories, both of which I'm trying to find in children's versions with illustrations I like (tricky, because I'm kind of picky about things like that): The Nutcracker, and A Christmas Carol. Actually, I hope to eventually start a tradition someday of going to see each of those live (we nearly went to see A Christmas Carol at a local theater over the weekend, but it turns out that even with the family discount, we still couldn't afford it), but it won't hurt to have books as well. As I always say (and as Greg always disagrees with me), there's no such thing as "too many books".


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14 December 2007

friday photos: christmas past edition

We're having an early Christmas with my mom tomorrow before leaving next week to celebrate the real Christmas Day with Greg's family, so before I leave my computer and all my photos behind (stupid desktop! Someday I'll have a laptop!) I thought I'd post some of my favorite old Christmas photos of the boys, and a bonus Christmas video that makes me laugh no matter how many times I watch it.

A classic photo from Evan's first Christmas -- still cracks me up:



If James had decided to exit the womb three days before his due date instead of being forced out 12 days late, he could have been born on Christmas, and maybe then he would not have repeatedly taken off the cute little Santa hat I bought for his first Christmas. Still, he managed to be pretty cute:



Last year Evan thought, when we brought out all of the Christmas ornaments, that we were giving him a bunch of new, tiny, fragile toys. Of course he had a ridiculous amount of fun:



And here it is, the cutest video of James ever taken, in which he demonstrates how to properly enjoy the season:

video

Have a good weekend, all!

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13 December 2007

'tis the season: rampant consumerism

Okay, this is not strictly a holiday post per se, but I figured that Christmas is the perfect time to write a bit about consumer culture and marketing. Everyone, at this time of year, feels the pressure to buy. If you're a parent, you're feeling it even more, because in addition to the ordinary media pressure to spend a lot of money on your family and friends, you have small children begging you for every cool new thing they lay eyes on, because they know that presents are coming. Lots of parents can shift the responsibility to Santa, but since we don't do Santa, we're stuck looking like Scrooges when we don't come through with the cool gifts. And this is the first year where either of our children has really cared about particular presents. I guess I should be glad they waited this long.



Yesterday I read this piece by Barbara Ehrenreich in The Nation about the ubiquity of the Disney princesses. The popularity of Disney princesses for little girls is the flip side of Star Wars and superheroes for little boys, with a slight difference -- little boys' loyalties and affections are divided between Star Wars and Transformers and Superman and Spiderman, while for little girls, the Disney princesses are it. There aren't any competitors in the same league, at least not for a particular age group. Ehrenreich covers the problems inherent with having princesses as role models, but she doesn't get into why they are so popular, so desired by little girls everywhere. I can answer that, at least in part.

This topic is really interesting to me, especially in light of the book I'm currently reading, Buy, Buy Baby: How Consumer Culture Manipulates Parents and Harms Young Minds, by Susan Gregory Thomas. Thomas writes about how consumer culture has evolved over the last few decades, and the ways in which toy companies market to children and prey on the fears and insecurities of parents in order to generate huge profits. It's been a really interesting read so far, in many ways. Where do the Disney princesses come into this? Thomas devotes a whole chapter to the Disney princess phenomenon and its financial success. It's a perfect example of a product being relentlessly marketed to young children (you can find Disney princesses on merchandise ranging from toothbrushes to bedroom decor to clothing to board games). It also falls into the category of appealing to parental nostalgia. Have you noticed the comeback of '80s characters like the Care Bears, Transformers, Strawberry Shortcake? It's not a coincidence that the children who grew up on these toys are now beginning to have kids of their own.

Thomas cites studies that show that the only measurable thing toddlers and babies learn from watching TV is character recognition. So it's not that little girls inherently want to be beautiful princesses, it's that from the time they are very small, they are saturated in a consumer culture where corporations deliberately target children as consumers. Children begin to form an emotional attachment, through repeated exposure, to a character. Children are incredibly succeptible to marketing, because until the age of 7 or 8, they are unable to understand the idea of persuasion, and at younger ages, can't tell the difference between fantasy and reality. They love Cinderella because they've watched her videos and they have her nightgowns and sleeping bags -- they think of her as a friend because of her presence in their lives -- and so naturally they will want the Cinderella tent and the Cinderella DVD player.

This is true not just of Disney princesses, of course, but all kinds of characters. For my own boys it's Pokemon and Star Wars. Star Wars Monopoly is superior to regular Monopoly because it has Star Wars characters and pictures. I have noticed that my kids are affected not only by media directed at them, but even by media that's not aimed at children. Greg and I were recently having a conversation about diamonds (and nothing positive, because I am not a fan of diamonds) and James, just overhearing the key word, pipes up, "Diamonds? Go to Zales. They're the diamond store," in his most helpful tone. (Also, as a side note: James heard me telling Greg a statistic from the book -- that over a quarter of kids under two have a television in their bedrooms, which I think is appalling -- and said incredulously, "A TV in their BEDROOM? Can I have one??")

I'm pretty anti-consumerism in general, but reading this book makes me want to sell my television and never set foot in a mall again. But it is really helpful to be reading it right now, at this time of year, because I'm able to realize that the overwhelming urge for holiday consumerism I'm feeling, and the ridiculous gift lists my son is composing, are products of the capitalist marketing machine. We are feeling this way because there are people out there whose job it is to make us feel this way, and they are good at what they do. They are getting rich because they are skilled at manipulating consumers. It's casting a new light on the Christmas season for me. I'm not even finished with the book but I'd recommend it to anyone, especially parents.

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12 December 2007

'tis the season: holiday weirdness

Time to post about one of my favorite holiday traditions: making fun of other people's holiday traditions! Well, not traditions so much as bad taste. Christmas wouldn't be Christmas if no one displayed their bad taste for the world to see, or if retailers didn't come up with holiday kitsch to sell, and likewise, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a little mockery of those things.

First, to follow up on one of the videos I posted on Monday, I learned from Karen that apparently a lot of people synchronize their Christmas lights to songs by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Who knew that would be such a popular holiday pastime? This is not so much a mockery as an observation that there are evidently many people out there with a lot of time on their hands during the holiday season, as you can see from a YouTube search.

Now for the mockery.

Who doesn't love tacky Christmas lights? I found an entire site deovted to them: UglyChristmasLights.com. Some of the photos on that site aren't that bad, but others are totally hideous. I love it.

Next up, tacky ornaments! The strangest ornaments I've ever seen in real life are those made by elementary-school children (myself included, of course), but there are a wealth of bizarre ornaments out there. The best I've seen is this delightful Elvis Cow, which, sadly, is sold out. That means a little less kitschy glitter on my tree this year.

I also found a Flickr group devoted to strange ornaments, and there are some real treasures there. What says "Happy Birthday, Jesus!" like hanging a winged pear, a monkey head, or a portrait of Frida Kahlo painted on a bright pink star on your tree?

Okay, my next link isn't about mockery, because it's kind of sad -- but also very funny: a collection of photos of children frightened of Santa. What kind of parent makes their screaming, crying, struggling child sit on Santa's lap for the photo? I'm not sure, but there are at least 187 of these sadistic parents out there somewhere.

And now. I have saved the best for last: the Cavalcade of Bad Nativities! This year's is actually the second edition; be sure to check out the first cavalcade, from which I stole the photo of the owl nativity. Owls! I laugh every time I look at that photo, because who thought it was a good idea to represent Jesus & Co. as owls? Or even if they didn't think it was a good idea, who would think of such a thing in the first place?

I am incredibly grateful, though, that there are people out there who think of things like Elvis Cow ornaments and Owl Nativities, because sometimes when the Christmas season is getting to be too hurried and too busy and too much, you need to sit down and envision God sending his son to earth in the form of an owl. Oh, man, but I'm still laughing at that. If ever I were to have a nativity scene in my home, that would be the one. That would guarantee our Christmas season would be full of laughter.

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10 December 2007

'tis the season: christmas music

I am a total, unabashed lover of Christmas music. Carols, popular songs, hymns, orchestral music, I love it all. Years of church-going, years of high-school choir in a small town where it's not taboo to sing religious songs in public school, years of band and orchestra, and years of being assaulted with Christmas music playing in every public place during the month of December have taught me pretty much every Christmas song in existence. And there is hardly a one I don't like. Oh, there are plenty of arrangements or versiosn I hate, but the songs themselves occupy a very special, perhaps larger than usual, place in my heart.

I've tried to narrow my list of favorites down (really!) but it's still pretty lengthy, so you'll find videos galore below the fold.



I'll kick off the list with my essential Christmas music: Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite. I can't wait until James is old enough to take to a live ballet performance (we're thinking maybe next year -- I was surprised to find out Greg has never seen the ballet, so I'll have to introduce them both!). But until then, this is one of the greatest videos I've ever seen:




I found a really nice performance of my second most essential Christmas music, but embedding has been disabled for this video, so you'll have to click to hear "Hallelujah" from Handel's Messiah. This makes me miss being in a choir so much.

Next up are a couple of lesser-known carols, old madrigal-style songs I learned and fell in love with in high school. First, "The Coventry Carol":



Next, "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming":



Next is a song my grandmother used to sing in church every year, but this rendition is not my grandma's baritone:



And to finish up, what's Christmas without songs about peace? I have two to share. This first one may be my favorite duet ever, Christmas or otherwise:



And finally, one of the best Christmas songs ever written. But beware, the video is sad and a little disturbing. I cried a bit.



What are your favorite Christmas songs?

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09 December 2007

'tis the season: favorite holiday movies

Things are getting awfully Christmasy around here. I think I mentioned already that we have our Christmas tree. We have been watching all of our favorite Christmas movies, reading our favorite Christmas books, and listening to our favorite Christmas music. Yesterday we even braved the germ-ridden masses at the mall to go Christmas shopping (seriously, I hate the mall under normal circumstances, but in the middle of winter with all the season's illnesses beginning, and no parking for miles, and the terrible Christmas Muzak everyone plays... I actually feel really proud that we managed to buy three things on our list. You know, out of the twenty or so things we needed to buy). So far I've refrained from making Christmas cookies, but I'm not sure how much longer I can hold out -- I'm feeling so festive this year! This is the first year that both of our kids have been old enough to get into it, so it's really been a lot of fun.

I thought I'd do some posts on some of our favorite ways to get into the Christmas spirit. Today, movies. I'm a little ashamed to admit that I've never actually seen any grown-up Christmas movies all the way through. No It's a Wonderful Life, no Miracle on 34th Street... but I'm a pro on the kiddie flicks. Sure, everyone knows the Grinch and A Christmas Story and Rudolph and A Charlie Brown Christmas, all of which we love and watch every year, too, but my favorite kids' Christmas movies don't get that kind of attention. I can't decide if this list will illustrate to you my awesome taste, my '80s nostalgia, or my elitist preference for Jim Henson originals, or all three.

My favorite Christmas movie of all time is pictured on the right: A Muppet Family Christmas. Not to be confused with The Muppet Christmas Carol, this is a fabulous Henson muppet-fest from the '80s featuring a ton of holiday songs, and just about every muppet known to man, from the original Muppets to the Sesame Street characters to the Fraggles. I have an old VHS tape of this which is starting to wear out from watching it so many times. If there were a soundtrack from this movie, I think it would be the only Christmas music I'd listen to. I don't think it would be possible to overemphasise my love for this movie. If I were only allowed to watch one holiday movie for the rest of my life, it would be this one.

Jim Henson did a couple of other Christmas movies too, one of them being Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas. The only official Muppet who makes an appearance in this one is Kermit, as the narrator. The story is about cute little Emmet Otter and his mother each trying to give the other a special Christmas in spite of the fact that they are poor and fatherless. The music is a bit countrified (there really is a Muppet jugband) but it is a sweet story, one I try to watch every year.

The third Henson Christmas movie I love is The Christmas Toy. Another tale narrated by Kermit, this one bears some similarities to Toy Story in the idea of toys coming to life when their owners leave the room, and also the idea of a toy's fear of being replaced as the favorite toy, though this one doesn't play out exactly the same as Toy Story (i.e., Toy Story did not rip off the plot of The Christmas Toy, only some key elements of the story). This stars a lovable (but kind of dumb) tiger named Rugby, who is a toy I would totally love to own one day.

I'll finish off my movies post with a clip from A Muppet Family Christmas. This is a scene that was in the original but didn't make it onto the DVD release for reasons of music copywriting. Enjoy! And feel free to share your own favorites in comments!





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04 December 2007

christmas has come early!

Not only did we get our Christmas tree this weekend, but yesterday we received our Lego Star Destroyer.

The boys are already hard at work:

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02 December 2007

a week of ham

Once a year, I buy a ham. I'm not really a big fan of ham, but once a year I buy a big ol' ham and go to town. I was beginning to think ham wouldn't go on sale this year in time for us to have one before we went away for Christmas, but yesterday I went to the store and found them super-cheap. The problem is, the smallest ham I could find was seven pounds. And that's a lot of ham for four people, one of whom doesn't love ham (me), and one of whom hardly eats anything anyway (Evan).

So I'm asking for suggestions. What creative uses do you all have for leftover ham? Tonight I'm serving all seven pounds with Jessica's fabulous cider glaze, and we're going to eat all the ham we can stand, but I'm anticipating days of leftovers. As far as real recipes from my collection go, I've got a ham-potato-cheddar soup planned, and ham tetrazzini, a pasta dish my mom used to make. We'll probably do a pizza, and possibly omelets, but those won't use much ham. I want to do as few ham sandwiches as possible. I'm mostly just looking for a way not to eat it straight up for days and days.

So what else can I do with several pounds of ham?

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27 November 2007

revealing my inner nerd

Just wanted to share some fun, nerdy sites I've come across recently:

Free Rice quizzes you on vocabulary while donating rice to be distributed by the UN's World Food Program.

This site is a quiz to name as many countries as you can in ten minutes.

The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks is hilarious.

And free Sudoku puzzles online. Who can resist?

Got any links to share?

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26 November 2007

thankful

In the aftermath of Thanksgiving, while approaching a comatose state what with the full belly and the warm house and the utter satisfaction of having a relaxing holiday, I thought a bit about the things I'm thankful for, with the intention of writing the requisite Thanksgiving blog post.

But it's hard. It's not hard to think of things I'm thankful for, but it's hard to find the balance between sappy and trivial. Do I write a serious blog post about how grateful I am that I live in America at all, instead of, say, Iraq or Sudan or a hundred other places? Or do I take those things for granted like every other day of the year and write a fluffy post about how thankful I am for bands like Stars because they're just so totally great? Do I try to be brief and poignant, or do I let myself ramble because there's so much to be thankful for? (As if me not rambling is even a realistic option...)

So I'm trying to incorporate a little bit of everything. Especially the rambling.

I'm thankful that I have a loving, generous, fun family, but I'm especially thankful that they're the sort of family who pretends that my questionable cheesecake is good, despite the greasy crust and the slightly-too-much-sour-cream taste.

I'm thankful for a boyfriend who loves me, supports me, and makes me laugh, but I'm especially thankful that he's the sort of boyfriend who washes all of the dishes from Thanksgiving dinner.

I'm thankful that I have children who are funny, beautiful, well-behaved little geniuses, but I'm especially thankful that they're the sort of children who can patiently and cheerfully endure a four-hour car ride home (a ride that's normally two and a half hours) when their parents get tired of the highway traffic and decide to explore some back roads.

I'm thankful for a sister and brother-in-law who give us their kitchen hand-me-downs, who play (and play and play and play) with our children, and who think to bring along a decadent, artistic Thanksgiving cake from a fantastic little bakery in the town where they live.

I'm thankful for a mother who hosts us, feeds us, changes all the diapers and lets me sleep in.

I'm thankful for the little quirks in life -- of all the people I grew up with and have known in that small town over the years, I wouldn't have predicted that I'd be keeping in touch, much less going out for coffee and having a really fun time, with the neighborhood boy who spent years crawling through the shrubberies with his G.I. Joes.

Reading Dave Eggers' What is the What, a novel about a Sudanese refugee based on a real story, makes me exceedingly thankful that I had the good fortune to be born into relative prosperity, in a time and place where I can't even imagine surviving a fraction of what some people in this world live through every day. That I have so many things to be thankful for in the first place is something to be thankful for. As much as I can complain about the terrible twos or other trivial annoyances of day-to-day life, it's important to remember to keep it all in perspective.

Well, it looks like I came out on the sappy, rambly side of things. (Is anyone out there surprised?) I hope all of my American friends had a good holiday, and took a moment to think of all the reasons you have to be thankful in your life.

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19 November 2007

happy birthday to me!

Twenty-six years, and one awesome weekend with friends and family to celebrate it. We ate dinner at a new restaurant I've been wanting to try; we did karaoke at a Mexican restaurant, where I rocked the house down singing "Son of a Preacher Man" while wearing a sombrero; we went to the Our Body exhibit at the science museum, which was (to me) equal parts fascinating and gross; and I baked myself this cake, which is one of the most delicious cakes I've ever had.

The photo doesn't really do it justice, but Greg has got some impressive decorating skills. People thought it was weird that I made my own cake, but that's my birthday present to myself -- once a year I get to take the time to search for the perfect recipe, buy unhealthy ingredients that I wouldn't normally use (such as heavy cream, and high quality chocolate!), and bake and frost a perfect dessert just for myself. Of course I don't eat the whole thing myself, but the creating is half the fun anyway.

All in all, not a bad way to celebrate twenty-six years. Not bad at all.

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16 November 2007

progress report

My mom is visiting because my birthday is coming up, and we have lots of plans and festivities coming up this weekend. This leaves me little time for a real post, but I thought I'd share a quick update.

We had our parent-teacher conference with James' teacher this morning, and in the tradition of his preschool progress reports, we were told that James is a great student. Things we've worried about (If he's bossing his brother and friends at home, is he bossing other kids at school? Is he improving on his emotional control, i.e. keeping outbursts and tantrums to a minimum?) seem to be non-issues at school, where he is generally well-behaved and focused and participatory and pretty much everything else you could ask for from a five-year-old.

The big news is that she estimates his reading ability and comprehension to be at about a third grade level. This doesn't really surprise us, but it's always nice to hear someone else praise your child.

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14 November 2007

advice requested

Evan has been slowly but surely moving out of the terrible twos (knock on wood). His temper tantrums are a lot more manageable these days, and he is learning important skills like sharing and apologizing. He plays nicely with James most of the time, he uses silverware some of the time, and only occasionally spits food out at the dinner table. He has improved in so many ways over the last several months that it's hard to understate the achievement. He is a lot more Dr. Jekyll these days and much less Mr. Hyde.

But if I've learned anything during my almost-six years of parenting, it's that as soon as you solve one issue, another crops up. Now my little blonde bundle of joy, when frustrated or upset, instead of throwing things or biting or screaming, lets loose with "stupid" or "poopy". Everything lately is stupid this or poopy that, or stupid and poopy. Heck, he doesn't even have to be upset. "Poopy" is probably his favorite word at the moment; I often hear him substituting "poopy" for other words in songs. Almost every day, instead of the familiar Pokemon theme song lyrics ("It's a whole new world we live in"), I hear, "It's a whole new poop, it's a whole new poop!" sung gleefully throughout the house. This morning I was trying to sing the alphabet with him, and Evan's version is now "A B C D E F POOP! H I J K L M N O POOP!" Etcetera.

Needless to say, these are not things he's heard from Greg or me, and I've never heard James do this, so it doesn't come from him. I suspect "stupid" comes from Pokemon or maybe other older shows he sees while James is watching something. Poopy, I have no idea where that came from. I inwardly think it's kind of hilarious and very clever of him to be substituting song lyrics, but it's also annoying, after the thousandth time.

So, my question is, what do we do? James has been instructed to ignore Evan when he talks this way, and usually succeeds. We give him time-outs for calling people stupid or poopy, though that hardly seems to dissuade him. We don't make a big deal out of it, we don't laugh at it, but we don't really know how to stop it. And it needs to stop. It was funny at first, but this little game is now a couple of weeks running, and I'm getting so tired of stupid and poopy. SO TIRED.

Any ideas?

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09 November 2007

friday photos: brotherly love edition

Not much today -- a couple of photos of my boys enjoying each others' company. First, watching a Pokemon movie together earlier this week:

Second, the scene I found when checking on the boys before I went to bed last night. I'm surprised I didn't wake them with my laughter:

And finally, a video in which the boys demonstrate their new favorite song. They need to work on their coordination (and balance) a bit:

video

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08 November 2007

this is what i get for being lazy

Last night, I was having an I-don't-feel-so-great, making-dinner-is-such-a-chore, let's-eat-out kind of night. We had some errands to run, so we decided to get some fast food while we were in the commercial area. Now, you should know I'm incredibly anti-fast food. I hate it, I think most of it is disgusting both in taste and nutrition, and I think the mass-producing factory farms that supply them are immoral and terrible for the environment and soulless. I'm proud to say that we rarely, rarely feed our kids fast food -- usually only when we're travelling and there aren't many options.

With that out of the way, I have to admit that I will, occasionally, eat fast food, because as much as I wish I were, I am not (yet) perfect.

So last night we ate at Burger King, and the kids were in seventh heaven what with the strawberry applesauce and the Viva Pinata toys. I thought, eh, once every few months won't hurt 'em.

Then, this morning on Slashfood (these people should start paying me to promote them, it seems I've linked to them twelve times in the last week alone), I saw this link: The 88 Fast Food Items Most Likely to Kill You. I started to panic -- what was I doing to my kids, just because I didn't want to cook for one night?!

The list is based only on trans fat content, and luckily none of the items we ate last night was on the list. But this 88-item list includes only fast food items (from an extensive list of restaurants) that contain 4 or more grams of trans fat. So we probably did consume trans fats last night, just not in the obscene amounts of some of the foods on this list. I could write more about the evils of trans fat, but follow the link above and read for yourself.

What really gets me, thinking back to last night, was that almost everyone we saw at Burger King last night had kids with the. Fast food are among the most unhealthy foods you can eat, short of just eating sticks of butter or guzzling sugar, yet they are the cheapest, easiest foods to feed to kids, and incredibly popular with kids.

All of this is just strengthening my resolve to never eat fast food again. I make a better burger than Burger King anyway.

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07 November 2007

yay!

Guess who won the Mouse-trap Car contest!

Raise your hand if you're even the slightest bit surprised. No? Neither am I.

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06 November 2007

feminism is still necessary

Yesterday a friend I haven't seen in several months came over to visit. She has a son who James is good friends with, so the boys played, giving us a chance to catch up. It didn't take long for her to tell me that she and her husband are getting a divorce.

Mostly she's fine with the way things are working out, but she confessed that she's worried about going back to work. She was a nurse before her son was born, but she's been a stay-at-home mom for almost six years now. She's worried about how much the field has changed in six years; she's worried about whether anyone will want to hire someone with a six-year gap in her resume. In short, she's fine with the fact that her relationship is ending, but she's worried about the money.

She's gone from living in a spacious 4-bedroom house in one of the wealthiest suburbs around to living in a loft apartment in a terrible neighborhood downtown. Her husband is wealthy, with the potential to earn even more money in the years to come. Together over the last 7 or so years they've enjoyed a high quality of life. Now that they're getting divorced, her husband will be able to continue his way of life virtually unchanged. My friend, however, for all her years invested in raising their son and running their home, cooking their meals and managing their everyday life, is suddenly reduced to a fraction of her former quality of life.

This is not uncommon.

On my sister's recommendation, a couple of years ago I read Ann Crittenden's The Price of Motherhood. Every mother should read this book. Every parent should read this book. To be brief, it examines the value that American society really places on mothers* -- the economic value, that is. Cultural wisdom tells us that being a mother is one of the most important things a woman can do, if not the most important. The cultural ideal is that every moths should stay home with her children and devote herself to raising them.

The practical reality, though, is that women who choose to stay home with their children are making a huge economic sacrifice. They are losing income, obviously, by not working, but they are also losing future income, should they return to work someday, by putting a sizeable gap in their resumes. They are also forfeiting benefits such as health care, social security and retirement savings -- some are lucky enough that their husbands' benefits will include them, but certainly not everyone has that option, at least not at an affordable price.

It's no wonder, then, that divorce is a worse experience for women, financially, than for men. Women usually retain custody of the children, but even with child support, they usually face a significant drop in income on which to raise those children. Sadly, my friend is finding this out the hard way. She did not hesitate to remind me that I'd face the same situation should Greg and I split up, something I've definitely thought about.

So what's the solution? Well, I think cultural recognition that parenthood is real, valuable work would be a start. Universal health care would help. It'd be nice if more businesses would offer flexible schedules and benefits for part-time workers. Maybe government inclusion of unpaid caregivers' jobs in social security. Crittenden's book -- seriously, I can't recommend it enough -- addresses all of this, with real-life examples of how other western nations deal with the same issues. There aren't any easy solutions, especially since people's circumstances vary so much. But I think more women, especially those who stay home to raise children, ought to be aware of the real consequences of that decision.

*Of course this would apply to stay-at-home fathers as well, but mothers make up the vast majority of stay-at-home parents, so I'm generalizing.

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02 November 2007

friday photos: halloween edition

More Halloween pictures!

James, trying to look as scary as possible:


Little lion, big roar:


Cannibal jack o'lantern:

Posing before heading off to trick-or-treat:

And I got all snazzy in the kitchen. I get all my really cool ideas from Slashfood, and of course I don't pull them off as well as the magazines and food sites from which Slashfood gets their material, but I don't do half bad, if I do say so myself.

Spider eggs (delicious, by the way):


Witches' fingers (surprisingly un-delicious, what with being incredibly sugary cookies and all):

I also made GHOULash for dinner (get it??) -- another Slashfood idea -- and I reprised my role as a black cat this year. No photos of me, but scroll down to last Friday's photos and I looked pretty much identical. We also watched The Wolf Man, James' first horror movie. He thought it was more sad than scary -- he cried at the end when they killed the werewolf.

All in all a pretty successful holiday -- and so far I've managed not to steal too much of the boys' candy.

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31 October 2007

happy halloween...

...from those lovable Schmidt boys.

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30 October 2007

let's hope i'm the only loser in the family

Anyone who's ever played a game of chance with me or competed against me in any way knows that I have terrible luck. Terrible, horrible luck that keeps me from ever winning anything, including a Nintendo Wii, an iPod (from a contest held on the same site) or a free Dyson vacuum cleaner (from a contest at Rocks in My Dryer).

Amusingly, the only cool things I can recall winning are Bryan Adams concert tickets from a radio station when I was 12, and a Caribbean cruise from the county fair when I was 16. Unfortunately, due to the fact that I was under 18 in both instances, I was unable to collect. Once I hit 18, I never won anything again. (...Well, that's not entirely true. My friends and I won a trivia contest at a local pub, but that was a team effort. Though I did win the tie-breaker myself, and I came home with an enormous, but lovely, Saranac t-shirt. One of the proudest moments of my life.)

But Greg -- if you know Greg, you know that he is one of the luckiest people who has ever lived. He has more luck in his pinkie toe his pinkie toenail a single cell of his body than I have in my entire body. If I didn't love him so much I'd hate him sometimes. But he and James have entered a contest at Geekdad to win a Lego Star Destroyer. (A three-hundred-dollar Lego Star Destroyer, I might add.) To enter, they had to build a car that was powered only by a mousetrap and create a video showing them building and testing the car. Keeping that prize in mind, they came up with a really cute, creative video. You can go to YouTube and check out their competition, but I think they've got a really good shot. Especially considering the deadline is today and there aren't many entries yet.


video

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29 October 2007

better late than never -- especially when chocolate is involved

Somehow, I missed out on National Chocolate Day yesterday. But let's not let love of chocolate be limited by the calendar. If you know me at all you know I'm a total chocoholic (I've written a little about it before) so I don't really need much of an excuse to talk about chocolate. Slashfood had a few more articles on chocolate yesterday in honor of the occasion (including a recipe for these brownies that I'm dying to try -- maybe I'll make these for myself instead of a birthday cake this year), and I thought I'd post a few of my own favorite chocolate recipes as well.

Because I am so savvy, I learned how to make expandable posts, courtesy of Hackosphere. So you'll find some recipes after the jump -- just click on Read More.


Disclaimer: None of my recipes are my own. I steal them from all kinds of places and rarely write down where I got them, so please don't think I'm inventive enough to have created these. I just can't remember who to credit.

Swirled Peanut Butter Brownies

(One of my all-time favorites.)

Peanut Butter Layer:
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
2 Tablespoons milk
Brownies:
1 cup melted butter
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 eggs
3/4 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips

1. Combine all ingredients for the peanut butter layer; beat until smooth. Set aside.
2. Combine butter, sugar and eggs; mix well.
3. In a separate bowl combine cocoa, flour, baking powder and salt.
4. Combine mixtures from steps 2 and 3. Stir in chocolate chips. Scoop out 1 cup of batter and set aside.
5. Spread remaining batter into a greased 9x13" baking pan.
6. Spread peanut butter batter over brownie batter.
7. Drop spoonfuls of reserved brownie batter from step 4 over the peanut butter layer. Use a knife to swirl through the layers for a marbled effect.
8. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 35-40 minutes.

Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes

(You can pretend this one's healthy because it has a vegetable in it. You can't really taste the zucchini -- you might notice it texturally, but it also keeps the cupcakes nice and moist.)

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
3 eggs
1 3/4 cups brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups flour
2 cups grated zucchini
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Beat eggs and brown sugar together with a mixer for 10 minutes or until thick and pale. (Note: I almost never beat them this long -- in fact, I've been known to casually mix them with a wooden spoon instead -- and the cupcakes still turn out fine.)
2. Add oil and melted chocolate; stir well.
3. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
4. Combine flour mixture and chocolate mixture; stir. Stir in zucchini.
5. Spoon batter into prepared muffin tins, filling each cup 2/3 full.
6. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before removing from pan.

The original recipe suggests frosting these with chocolate frosting, but I've never bothered. They're good as is.

Mexican Chocolate Crinkles

(I hesitate to post a recipe using corn syrup -- I'm really anti-corn syrup -- but these cookies are so good. SO good. I guess that makes me a hypocrite.)

3/4 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 3/4 cups flour
2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
additional sugar

1. Cream shortening, sugar and egg. Add corn syrup and melted chocolate; mix well.
2. In a separate bowl combine flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon; add to chocolate mixture and combine.
3. Roll dough into walnut-sized balls and roll in the additional sugar.
4. Place cookies 3 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets (they will spread).
5. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 10-12 minutes. Cookies will be soft when done. Cool 2-3 minutes before removing from pan.

I've also added a bit of cayenne pepper to these cookies -- a nice addition, but be conservative. Unless you really like spice; then knock yourself out.

Creamy Hot Cocoa

(Okay, this one I can credit -- I found it at AllRecipes. I made this over the weekend and it knocked my socks off -- homemade hot cocoa is immeasurably superior to the packaged store-bought stuff. It's amazing.)

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup white sugar
1 pinch salt
1/3 cup boiling water
3 1/2 cups milk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup half-and-half cream

1. Combine the cocoa, sugar and pinch of salt in a saucepan.
2. Blend in the boiling water.
3. Bring this mixture to an easy boil while you stir. Simmer and stir for about 2 minutes. Watch that it doesn't scorch.
4. Stir in 3 1/2 cups of milk and heat until very hot, but do not boil!
5. Remove from heat and add vanilla.
6. Divide between 4 mugs. Add the cream to the mugs of cocoa to cool it to drinking temperature.

I made this with less sugar (about 1/2 cup -- based on reviews at AllRecipes) and replaced some of the milk with more half-and-half and it was delicious.

Okay, I could go on and on about chocolate, but I'll stop at 4 recipes. Got any favorite chocolate recipes you'd like to share?

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28 October 2007

kids are funny

Tonight I made split pea soup for dinner. The last time I made it (last winter, I think) everyone really liked it. Tonight, Evan climbs into his booster seat, takes one look at the soup and exclaims indignantly, "I don't want that garbage!"

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26 October 2007

friday photos: vintage halloween edition

We are gearing up for Halloween here. We have a costume for Evan, which he was indifferent to when we bought it, but which he is now excited about, and James tells me he's going to choose between two costumes (one too big, one too small) the day before Halloween. Evan is practicing zombie faces in the mirror, and James is begging us to read him scary stories. We've had little success finding kids' stories that are scary enough for him, but we're reluctant to try out anything really scary. We had a serious conversation about what to do if you should find a dead body, thanks to a story from this book. This weekend will involve getting pumpkins and making Halloween cookies, though I haven't decided what kind yet.

So in honor of one of our favorite holidays, I present a Halloween retrospective, in photos. I couldn't find a photo of James' first Halloween, so we start with #2. This, sadly, is the best photo we've got of James in his Tigger costume:


2004 was the Year of the Monster:


The following year we had a cute, fat baby chili pepper, nearly too fat for the costume at all:


James had two costumes that year. Buzz Lightyear for the preschool Halloween party:


And a scary skeleton (with no arm bones) for trick-or-treating:


Last year Evan was sick on Halloween and instead of trick-or-treating in James' old Tigger costume, stayed home in his Tigger pajamas, tended to by Mama Cat:


This isn't actually a Halloween photo, but considering how under-represented Evan is in these photos, I thought I'd include it. This was taken at Pottery Barn Kids, actually, shortly before Halloween:

Our older boys had impressive costumes last year, though -- a pirate and Superboyman.


Next Friday you can expect the current Halloween photos. And hopefully no one will be sick this year.

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25 October 2007

these are a few of my favorite things

It's a books and music post!

Hopefully you've noticed my fancy new sidebar. I love talking about books and music, recommending things to people, and getting recommendations, but this isn't a books-and-music-blog* so I don't want to bore you all by constantly gushing about this really cool book on migratory birds which would bore most of you to tears. I'm aware of my eclectic (and sometimes questionable) tastes, so for your sake, I keep that sort of thing to a minimum.

So my new sidebar is a way of letting you know what I'm currently into, and you can feel free to comment on it, or ignore it, or criticize it, or whatever. I'm mostly mentioning it because I feel pretty proud of myself for managing to figure out the HTML to post those pretty little linked pictures.

I don't have anything important to say about the things I'm reading or listening to -- the books are still in progress, but are obviously interesting enough to keep me reading, and the CDs are all my style, which may not be your style, so maybe you'd like them and maybe you wouldn't. I have to say that my favorite of the 3 CDs at right is the Scissor Sisters, who are poppy and funky and fun, though I can recognize that they are certainly not for everyone**. If you think you can handle Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" set to a synthesized, BeeGee-esque beat, then check them out. If that idea abhors you, then maybe you should not listen to my musical recommendations.

Wait, I do have one important thing to say: John Lennon is magic. The CD I'm listening to is a collection of covers of John Lennon songs, made by Amnesty International to raise money for the Darfur crisis. I noticed when looking at the track list that there are two covers of "Imagine" -- one by Jack Johnson and one by Avril Lavigne. Seeing Avril's name made me roll my eyes. Obviously Jack Johnson would do a better "Imagine". I'm not a fan of Avril's music, and I've loathed her on priciple ever since I heard that she mispronounced David Bowie's name at an awards ceremony. DAVID BOWIE, people. Come on! But "Imagine" came on and... I like it. Avril can actually sound good when she has good music to work with. In fact, I prefer her simple piano arrangement to Jack Johnson's version. That, my friends, is the magic of John Lennon.

On to books, in general. A bookworm like me is always looking for good new books, or to talk about books, and now that my once-infrequent book club is officially disbanded, I'm desperate for book talk. But I've found a really cool site that is helping me out in that regard. A few months ago, Dawn invited me to GoodReads, and I've finally gotten around to checking it out. And I immediately joined and then invited some friends who are just as bookish as I am. You can rate books, see what other people are reading and see what your friends think of the books they've read. My profile is here; if you're interested, sign up and add me. We can talk books!

So what are you reading and listening to?

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*So what kind of blog is this then? I'm not sure, but I think I just don't want to give in to having a label.

**Update: I forgot to add that the Scissor Sisters can be kind of dirty, and this is probably not a good disc to play around the kiddos (if you have kiddos). Just so you know.

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19 October 2007

friday photos: home decorating edition

Now that we've been in the new apartment for almost three months, I'm finally getting around to framing and hanging some photos on the walls. And poor baby Evan, who (thanks to digital cameras) for over two years has had almost no photos of him on display, is finally getting included. Here are some family favorites that are now decorating our living room:








Happy weekend, everyone!

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17 October 2007

raising a family on one income

Get Rich Slowly, a personal finance blog that I read regularly for sensible, practical money-saving tips and advice, is holding a contest -- to win a Nintendo Wii. Since the requirement for entry is a blog post about your personal financial success, I'd be a fool not to enter. Not that I've had a lot of personal financial success in my life (yet), but I do have a few things I can share. My biggest financial success so far in life is raising a family on one (small) income, without resorting to taking out loans or going into debt. Most of what I write will not be news to many of my readers, who all know a thing or two about being frugal, but maybe I can impart a small bit of knowledge about things that have worked for our family.

First, a word about our circumstances. Greg is a graduate student, nearly finished with his Phd, and I'm a stay-at-home mother to two little boys. I think our level of frugality is tolerable to us in part because we know that it's temporary. We know that within a year Greg will find a job that will push us into the middle class, and within a few more years, once both kids are in school full-time, I'll be able to get a job and further increase our income. If Greg didn't have the career prospects he has, if we were going to have to live on our income indefinitely, I don't think we would continue things this way. But we have a future in front of us to look forward to.

So how do we do it? How do we live on one income? Well, the short answer is that we don't spend money. We have a cushion in our savings account that we don't touch. Greg's paycheck goes to rent, utilities, food, gas, and paying back my student loans. We rarely use our credit cards, and don't keep a balance on them. We have only one car, which is sometimes inconvenient, but usually not an issues. Greg rides his bike to and from school whenever possible. We don't go out much-- to restaurants, bars, concerts, the movies. (This has been a bit of a sacrifice, but considering that having kids significantly curtails your social life anyway, it hasn't been unbearable for us.) We rarely buy new clothes (the exceptions being shoes, socks and underwear). We rarely vacation anywhere that requires us to pay for lodging (either we stay with family or friends, or we camp). We've never paid for a babysitter (thanks to the generosity of family and friends, or through making babysitting trades with other stay-at-home parents).

Living frugally isn't all about depriving yourself, though. In some cases, it's simply delaying gratification, rather than getting the instant gratification that our consumerist culture promotes. We may not be seeing blockbusters on opening night at the theater, but we can borrow almost any DVD from our local library. We don't have cable, but most of the good shows are on DVD now, and we don't mind waiting until the season's over to borrow those DVDs from the library. I'm a total bookworm, but again, the library is my best friend. I even borrow CDs from the library, instead of buying music. We are a family that loves video games, but we are happy with our original X-Box (which was paid for through a point-earning system available with a job I worked several years ago) and a borrowed Nintendo Gamecube (though we would really love that Nintendo Wii!). Used games for older systems are easy to find at affordable prices at game stores.

In other cases, living frugally is about looking for cheaper alternatives. One way in which we've managed to save a lot of money is by frequenting thrift stores. Our living room and dining room furniture have all come from thrift stores. Much of our other furniture was given to us by friends who were upgrading. We're happy to use used furniture -- it still serves the same purpose, and may look a little more worn than new items, but we're not picky.

Thrift stores can be a godsend for parents, especially. Kids can be incredibly expensive. I've had so many conversations with other mothers on variations of "I can't believe how expensive kids' shoes are!" For kids, who grow out of clothing, shoes and jackets so quickly, especially when they're very young, it makes no sense to pay $20 for a pair of new jeans when you can find a gently-used (or sometimes, if you're lucky, brand-new) pair at a thrift store or consignment shop for $5-10. Luckily, kids (especially young kids) don't care where their clothes come from, as long as you don't. If you feel weird about wearing other people's clothes, I'd recommend consignment stores over places like Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Consignment stores generally don't accept merchandise that's not in very good, almost-new condition. Garage sales are also a good option for kids' stuff -- not only clothing, but toys, games, bikes, or furniture too. Look for garage sales in the wealthier neighborhoods in your area and you'll find good-quality, name-brand items at a fraction of their retail price. These are also good places to look for expensive items that are rarely used, such as Halloween costumes or dress clothes.

We also manage to save a lot of money by cooking at home most of the time. It's easier for us than it might be for other families who don't have a stay-at-home parent who loves to cook, but it's still easy. I make a lot of things from scratch. My mom found me a used breadmaker at a church rummage sale, and after replacing a missing mixing blade ($9 online), I make my own bread, pizza dough and biscuits. I never knew how easy it was to make soup until I tried it. All you have to do is throw a bunch of ingredients in a pot and cook it for a few hours, and voila! Soup's on. I've started making large quantities and freezing leftovers to reheat for another dinner on another day. We've also cut our meat consumption over the last year, mostly for environmental reasons, but that small step has managed to further reduce our food costs.

By saving money on the little things, we're able to splurge occasionally and still (mostly) stay in our budget. We have high-speed internet instead of cable or cell phones -- we can email or instant message friends and family, and there are plenty of TV shows you can watch online now, so we're not missing out on much (Edit: I should add that we do have an ordinary land-line phone -- that plus the high-speed internet serves our needs quite nicely). We went to Nantucket last weekend, which was expensive for our budget, but cheap for a vacation -- we carpooled with friends, stayed at a friend's cottage, and ate in, splitting the cost of groceries with friends. We visit our parents as much as we can (with Greg's parents living on the opposite coast, however, this is not as often as we wish we could) and though travel expenses can be a lot, we have free lodging and food, as well as good company. We have memberships at our local zoo and children's museum, which require a substantial fee initially, but we can visit those places as often as we like, for free, which for us is a good investment.

Something I've learned from living frugally for the last several years is that it's more than a financial survival strategy, it's a lifestyle. Our income will probably triple within the next year, but aside from buying a new car, upgrading our living arrangements, and spending more on food (we'll finally be able to afford to eat organically!), I don't foresee our expenses increasing significantly. Now that I know that you can find a child's winter coat at a consignment store for $20, why would I pay $60 retail? Even with an increased income, $10 a person is still too expensive for a movie, when you can borrow one for free.

We have plans to buy a new(er) car, we have plans to buy a house, and we have hopes (if not definite plans) of traveling a lot more. By living frugally now, hopefully these goals will all be in our reach sooner rather than later. And, if we're lucky, maybe we'll have a Nintendo Wii to help us pass the time while we're waiting.

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12 October 2007

friday photos

Greg and I spent last weekend relaxing, child-free, with friends on Nantucket. We had a great time, though the weather was not the best we could have hoped for:


But the thick fog, brisk wind and 60-degree temperature didn't stop Greg from swimming:


But Mother Nature redeemed herself for a day of bad weather by giving us this sunset the following night:

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04 October 2007

thursday photos

I'm posting photos a day early this week because I probably won't be able to post tomorrow. (Next week's photos may tell you why!)

We spent last weekend with my mom and my sister, and had some fall fun. We bought a million apples at Fly Creek Cider Mill, where we got the unexpected bonus of being able to feed ducks and turkeys as well. You may not know that I really enjoy birds (looking at them, that is; getting too close kind of frightens me) and there's something I really love about turkeys. I mean, look at this guy:

They also had a playground there, so after a scrumptious lunch, we let the boys play for a while. They had a little racetrack for ride-on toys that was situated on a slight hill. When you're two, though, even little hills are challenging, so Evan got a little help from his big brother:


We headed into nearby Cooperstown, and it just happened to be the weekend of Pumpkinfest, where farmers from all around bring their biggest, fattest pumpkins for competition. I saw a special about this festival on PBS a few weeks ago, so I was excited to see it in person. Y'all, when I say big, fat pumpkins, I mean big and fat:


Unfortunately, we missed the lake race, when they hollow out the enormous pumpkins and ride inside of them (really!), but we did see plenty of amazing pumpkins. While we were looking around we heard one weigh in at over 1300 pounds. 1300 pounds of pumpkin! They actually have to life them with a crane to weigh them. And look how many there were:

On Sunday we took my sister to the bus/train station, and while we were waiting for her delayed bus, we took a look around at some old trains they have displayed outside:

Apples and pumpkins and turkeys... it was a perfect fall weekend.

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01 October 2007

i'd rather we had bake sales

Now that we're a month into the kindergarten routine, I'm finally getting to used to it. I'm used to watching my kid climb aboard the bus without looking back, I'm used to checking the kindergarten calender every morning to see whether he needs to bring anything, I'm used to receiving the Friday Folder at the end of the week, filled with correspondence from the teacher, homework assignments, school newsletters, and notices from the PTA.

But some of these notices from the PTA have got me wondering. In the first month of school, I've gotten at least four letters from the PTA about fundraisers. Fundraisers! In kindergarten! I've also had two neighborhood kids come knocking at my door, selling things to raise money for school.

As a high school student involved in pretty much every club, group, or organization my school offered, I certainly did my share of fundraising. Selling candy bars to earn money for a band trip, selling holiday items to raise money to buy track and field sweatshirts, that sort of thing. I raised a lot of money to help fund my extra-curricular activities. But the latest letter from the PTA at James' school informs me that "these programs enable our school to obtain items for our children's use, such as classroom equipment, sports equipment and in some cases, funds for special projects". Sorry, what did you say? Classroom equipment??

What kills me (even more than the fact that our school does not, apparently, have adequate funding for classroom equipment) is that the fundraisers the PTA is urging us to participate in give us so little money back. The PTA letter says that last year, through programs with Campbell's Soup and General Mills, "we collected 7496 Campbell labels and received $706.70 from General Mills". If my math is correct (and it may not be -- my mental math skills are very much out of practice), that means a school earns less than ten cents per label. For every can of soup your family consume, Campbell's will give ten cents back to your school. How much is a can of soup these days? Three dollars? I really don't know, but in any case it doesn't seem that Campbell's is breaking the bank with school charity.

Even worse is the Target program the PTA is promoting. If you specify your school when making a purchase at Target, Target will give 1% of your purchase amount back to your school. ONE percent. If my math is correct (again, quite possibly not), I would have to spend one hundred dollars on worthless Target crap to give a dollar to James' school. Wow, Target, how generous. I can tell you're really concerned with the plight of education in this country.

You know, the ideal situation would be for schools to be adequately funded, from the local government level to the federal level, but if that's not possible, my next choice would be to give money directly to the school, rather than buy a bunch of junk in order to send a few pennies toward the school. And I do understand that there are people who buy a lot of stuff at Target already, or who eat a lot of Campbell's Soup, and that these programs are ways for those people to help out their kids' schools without putting in any extra effort. But it's still ridiculous that one of the primary ways of raising money for equipment and projects at our school is by asking parents to clip labels and UPC codes from our groceries.

Of course, I'm still going to send in the labels from our occasional cans of tomato soup, or the boxtops from our Kix cereal. But I'm going to do it grudgingly, cursing the forces that make this sort of thing necessary in the first place.

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28 September 2007

friday photos

Last weekend we went camping with a group of friends at Watkins Glen State Park. We had a lot of fun, and I have a LOT of photos. It's been tough narrowing down which ones to post, because the hike at Watkins Glen is a phenomenally beautiful climb up a gorge, following a series of waterfalls, along picturesque stone pathways and bridges.

Here's a look down the gorge after climbing lots and lots of steps:


James in front of one of several stone tunnels we passed through on the climb:


Look closely and you'll see a wooden railing beneath this waterfall -- the path goes behind the waterfall, but unfortunately my camera couldn't take a decent picture of people posing behind the waterfall, or of the gorge from behind the waterfall, so I had to content myself with a side view:


Here's Evan enjoying a banana chip at the top of the trail, where it blissfully levels out:



Sunlight shining into the gorge:

It was a really nice trip. The only disappointments that I can recall now are that we didn't get to explore the town as much as I would have liked, and James was frustrated that no one knew any good ghost stories to tell around the campfire. But if those were the worst parts, then that makes this a pretty good weekend away.

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