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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