Personal Statement

Personal Statement

Monday, January 31, 2011

Kid Stuff: Letter of Recommendation for a Feline

Found in one of Connor's old creative writing journals; footnotes mine:

My cat is a genius. He can answer any addition problem you ask him.  If you say, is four plus four eight, he will twitch his left ear.  Mainly if he moves his left ear it means yes and if he moves his right ear it means no.

I am thinking of taking him to a pet show. I think that he would win first prize. Even if he did not win I would still love him. No matter what happens Max is the best cat ever. FN1

Max is the smartest cat ever. FN2  

He might even be smarter than me. FN3

If he is smarter than me then he is really smart. I hope he is smart but I don't want him to be smarter than me. FN4

That would be wrong - really, really, really wrong.


FN1: I tend to agree.


FN2: Um . . . yeah. For the record: Max is dumber than a stump.


FN3: Way to toot your own horn there, kid. Although - considering that Max is on an intellectual level with the aforementioned remains of a dead tree - saying that he's smarter than you doesn't say a whole lot about YOU. So, really, you're selling yourself a bit short.


FN4: Ah, refreshing little kid honesty.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

TCU Gollum Update

Forgot to attach the actual image before, but it's there now . . . .

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Potpourri: State of my Parental Mental State

While the rest of the world was watching the State of the Union address this week, I was mired in indecision and writing standup comedy for an eleven year-old.

Allow me to explain.

Yesterday was the deadline for applying to Fort Worth ISD "Gold Seal Programs of Choice."  These used to be known as "Magnet Schools."  Then someone decided that they should be recharacterized as "Special Interest Programs" - and then the names were changed, yet again, to GSPoC.

Theories for the change(s):

1)  Why use two words when three will do?  Or, even better, let's use FIVE WORDS!

2)  Someone needed to justify their existence within central administration.  I am fairly sure that the same principle is behind the fact that, EVERY FREAKIN' SEMESTER, I am called upon to fill out new parent information cards.  The information required is the same each time; the only variable would appear to be the overall dimensions of the card.  As in, the card at the beginning of the year is letter-sized, then at the semester break we are presented with an index card-sized form, and so on.  There is no box to check for "see the last card, which is attached," because that simply would not do.  You cannot attach a card of one size to a card of another size.  That would just be wrong.  And the card MUST fit the dimensions of the file box . . . as the same is changed from time to time.  Why does the size of the box change?  TO FIT THE CARD.  Are you not following this?   (Friends who are employed by the district:  if, as I suspect, the cards are discarded because the information is inputted into a computerized database, don't tell me.  If you do tell me, the record is right here on the Internet:  your loose lips are what pushed me over the edge, "Michael Douglas in 'Falling Down' style.")

Anywho . . . it's entirely possible that the names were changed just so someone could demonstrate that they actually did something during the school year, justifying continued employment.  But I also have it on good authority that we moved away from "magnet" because it had negative connotations.  What, pray tell, would those negative connotations be?  Well, implicit in the concept of a magnet school is the notion of attracting the best and the brightest.  Wouldn't want to do that, not in our world where every kid's a winner and gets a participant ribbon.  We should definitely put the emphasis on "interest," as opposed to ability, in the interest of keeping the bar low and accessible for everyone.  But, wait:  maintaining interest can be a chore.  Don't want to overtax the kids.  So we'll just ask them to make a one-time "choice."  That's easy enough, right?

Well, you would think.  We went into the process expecting to really like one program, which was different than the program that Connor was favoring.  Then we went on classroom tours . . . and the world turned upside down.  Mom and Dad's choice going in:  underwhelming, on several points.  But strong on others.  Connor's choice:  far better than Mom and Dad expected.  Suddenly, we found ourselves considering what was behind Door #3, for no other reason than we couldn't decide between Doors #1 and 2.

What followed was a prolonged debate about just what the goal of middle school ought to be.  Our options:

Door #1:  The obvious choice if the goal is to enter ninth grade with multiple high school credits under one's belt.  Great math and science programs, engineering and robotics electives:  in other words, right up Connor's alley.  Well, one of his alleys.  Existence of multiple alleys became the primary problem with Door #1:  the kid has math and science geek tendencies, for sure, but he's more than that (as, I expect, are most kids, if you dig beneath the surface - but the dual nature of my child's personality is pretty easy to see).  When we got down to the nitty gritty, Door #1 was fairly one note, offering very little in the way of arts enrichment.

Mom (and son) worried that, if we went behind Door #1, the kid that would emerge three years later would be cemented into the role of engineering geek - whether that was truly him or not.  Mom also remembered from her own childhood the psychological torment of being pigeonholed as "just a smart kid."   It took me a lot of years to become comfortable with the concept that well-rounded was okay - in fact, well-rounded was better.

Door #3 (yes, I'm taking these out of order):  Safe.  Mostly upper middle-class.  Populated by kids who, by and large, look like our kid, which was not the case at his ethnically diverse elementary school and would not be the case at Door #1 (primarily African-American "home school" population) or Door #2 (primarily Hispanic).  But we have never been a fan of ethnically homogeneous, and Connor has reaped tremendous benefits from the mix at his current school, so - next.  Curriculum had some of the features that we liked about Doors #1 and 2, which made it a nice compromise . . . but it just didn't feel like a fit.  Also - full candor here - "mostly upper middle-class" gives me a little bit of heartburn, from the standpoint of one who went to a (very solidly) upper middle-class junior high.  In my experience, preteen kids with the (derived-from-Dad-and-Mom) financial wherewithal to acquire the latest fashions, toys and technology instantly and on demand have a tendency to turn keeping up with the Joneses into a competitive blood sport.  My child is blissfully unaware of many of the hot trends, because, frankly, a lot of his classmates can't afford them.  He is quite happy with his Wii, doesn't think it is his God-given right to also own an Xbox, has not asked for his own Facebook page and long ago gave up on asking for a cell phone.  And we'd kind of like to keep it that way.  Psychic torture is an inevitable part of middle school, but if we could keep it to a minimum, that would be a Godsend.  Really, same issue as the smart kid thing above - another hot button of Mom's, but a valid one, I think.

Door #2:  Science and arts magnet.  Nothing specifically to appeal to Connor's engineering bent, but (as he so eloquently put it), "How do I know that I won't want to be a biochemist, since I've never taken biology or chemistry?  I'm only eleven."  Exactly.  You're only eleven.  And, while Door #1 offers you X number of high school preps (for the record, Door #2 offers X less 1, and they are working on getting the 1 added to their curriculum), who's to say where you'll be in high school?  And do you want to be that far ahead?  Sure, it will free up room to take electives in high school that appeal to your creative side, but if that creative side has already taken a backseat . . . so we're back to the general thesis:  the preteen years are critical, but primarily because that's when your sense of self starts to gel.  And, at the end of the day, Door #2 seemed to be the door to the best breeding ground for a healthy sense of Connor-self.  Sufficient challenge for academic Connor, plus room to be "creative Connor" (and a curriculum that says, "Hey, it's great to be creative!  Even better to be creative and smart!  And here are things that you can do with those skills in the future!").  Watching the kids in the classrooms, I could easily see my kid there - working on group projects, excitedly dissecting frogs and cow eyeballs, participating in exercises that blended art with math and English, all in a setting that just immediately said "home" to me.  It said home to Connor, too.  And - after Dad got over his own middle school baggage (his fundamental issue with his schooling - not enough preparation for high school and college in the early years) - we had a consensus.

But it took us a long time - and a lot of waffling and navel-gazing - to get there.

Meanwhile, Connor had to write the essay that was part of his application packet.  The topic was accessible enough:  "What advice would you give a new student at your school?"  However, Big Kid was feeling contrary (and, as we learned a day later, was coming down with a stomach bug to boot).  "Mom, I'm just not a very good creative writer."  Yeah, right.  We brainstormed some ideas, and finally he hit on one that stuck:  a list of recommendations focusing on urban school legends, designed to scare an incoming student, with the last item on the list to read:  "Don't take my advice above, or yourself, too seriously.  Everything will be fine.  The teachers and students are there to help you with your transition, so don't let the fear get the best of you.  And, yes, I do intend to take my own advice with me to sixth grade."

Then the fun began:

"Ooh, how about this one?  'Don't be afraid to go to the school nurse.  She's nice, even if she is a zombie, and the only word she knows is "BRAAAAAAIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNSSSS!"'"

Other items on the list:

Standardized tests are scarier than the most awful thing to come out of the dark recesses of R. L. Stine's imagination.

If you fail a standardized test, plan on doing several days in solitary (AKA "the cooler").

The kindergarteners take a field trip to Bass Hall.  Four buses leave; only three come back.

If you see the same girl over and over in the hall, she could be a twin - or a stalker.

Soon the list grew to far exceed the space alotted.  And, as I did dishes and moved about the house attending to various other chores, I was called upon for consults:

Connor:  "How about, 'Watch your back . . . pack, because Joe in third grade is a notorious packswapper'?"

Me:  "Packnapper."

Connor.  "Ooh.  Yeah, that's funnier.  How about, 'Sweatshirts make excellent drool pillows . . . and weapons'?"

Me:  "Umm, maybe too controversial?  What about 'pillow or slingshot'?  A little more specific, and silly versus threatening?"

This continued, until finally I suggested that maybe, just maybe, we had hit upon a new talent show concept:  fifth-grade standup comic.  Connor was all over it:

"Do you think that they'd let me put a stool upfront?  With a glass on it, holding water tinted brown and some ice cubes?"

Yes, it's possible that the child has walked through the master bedroom while Mom and Dad were watching Ron White.

Glad that, at the end of the day, we were laughing after what turned out to be an exhaustive examination of Mom and Dad's middle school scars and our fears and hopes for our child's future.  Hopefully we made the right choice; if not, we'll make adjustments.  In the end, these things seem to work themselves out.

Right?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Things I'm Digging: Scout by Bungalow!


I am obsessed with bags, boxes and bins, and we all know that I'm all about the whimsy, so discovering Scout bags and the Bungalow! Web site was akin to being called home by the mother ship . . . if the mother ship was constructed out of brightly colored paisley ripstop nylon.

The Scout people get points for offering a variety of highly socially useful products in a variety of cheerful prints, and they get mega-bonus points for doing so with humor. Products include the "Junque Trunk," the "Smash Cache" (it collapses, duh), the "Shouldah Bin" and the companion "Couldah Bin," the "Be-Low Me" (subtitled "Under the Bed Stow-age") and the "Got Issues" (for magazines).

My favorite patterns, based on names alone, are "Strawberry Pop Tart'n" (a plaid) and "Elvis Paisley" (self-explanatory).

Check out the collection at www.bungalowco.com.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Super Week Exclusive: Walking Tour of Fort Worth "Super Week" HQ

IT'S SUPER WEEK IN NORTH TEXAS!  Well, actually, NEXT week is Super Week.  This week is officially "the week that North Texas demonstrated to the world that it's sort of bat-you-know-what crazy."

Scenes from my walking tour around downtown Fort Worth:

1)  New sports bar in town, just in time for the big game!  Wow - what a coincidence.  And, actually, sports bar is probably not the right term for it.  The big sign upfront advertises it as a "sports cantina," but judging by the frighteningly young waitresses sporting tight tees slashed down to there and rolled up there, tattoos, belly piercings AND BRACES (seriously, they all seemed to have them), I'm thinking that a better description would be "Hooters franchise in Matamoros" or "border town brothel offering libations."  But it has great happy hour drink specials, and the beef tacos (served in corn tortillas with lots of fresh onion, cilantro and jalapeno, plus a lime wedge) were FA-BU-LOUS.  Yes, I ate there.  For the record, I also eat at Hooters on occasion.  Never had the occasion to do so in Matamoros, though.

2)  Milan Gallery is showing works by Steve Sabol!  That's right - the voice of NFL Films makes sports-themed collages.  I particularly liked the one in the front window, featuring an image of Tom Landry and two scantily clad women.  Because when I think of Tom Landry . . . I totally don't think of scantily clad women at all.  Sorry, Steve.  Also - ew.

Next . . . .

3)  The usually stuffy and uptight Jos. A. Banks store is trying to get in the game by dressing their windows with wardrobe selections featuring the colors of the two Super Bowl teams!  I am guessing that this was improvised and they simply made do with items that they had in stock.  That, or they have profiled Steelers fans as "pimps" and Packers fans as "dorks."  The black and gold selections:  a black cashmere overcoat over a gold turtleneck with some sort of silk scarf, and four folded black buttondowns with garish bright gold silk ties on them.  The green and gold selections:  yellow v-neck sweaters, white shirts, green foulard ties.  Your basic Perry Como look.

Continuing north . . . .

4)  ESPN has arrived in Sundance Square!  Wow . . . how underwhelming.  A tented stage, another tented stage, a bunch of equipment trucks . . . and shrubs.  Tons and tons of potted shrubs to block off the streets.  Also a flatbed truck with what appears to be a whole mess o' potted trees.  Kind of confused by all of the vegetation - but, whatever.

5)  The old Billy Miner's Hamburgers location is now a Lids Locker Room!  Selling Super Bowl-logo'd stuff that no rational person would ever want!  My favorite:  a grainy photograph of the Super Bowl trophy mounted to a piece of balsawood, and they jigsawed around it, but there's no hanger on the back, or means of making it stand up.  I guess you're supposed to just LEAN IT against something.  But not outside:  there is a sticker on the back advising you that the ugly, useless trophy-esque tchotchke is "FOR INDOOR USE ONLY."  Also, it's $14.99, if you are wanting to run out and buy one based on my glowing recommendation.

Heading back to the office:

6)  Downtown restaurants REALLY want your business!  Mi Cocina (upscale Mexican) is OPEN FOR BREAKFAST.  Picchi Pacchi (hole-in-the-wall Italian) is NOW SERVING COKE ZERO.  Fox & Hound (sports bar) will BE OPENING AT 8 AM STARTING ON JANUARY 27TH THROUGH THE SUPER BOWL.  Wait, what?  Does that mean opening every day at 8 starting on the 27th, or is this a round-the-clock thing?  Who finds being at a sports bar at 8 am appealing - or anything other than tragic and sad?  As my walking tour companion noted, "That wasn't even appealing in college on Spring Break."  Also, Fox & Hound wins for "saddest sign."  It was a piece of white letter-sized paper tacked to a window with two pieces of Scotch tape.  Way to phone it in, guys.

As we entered the next block, I halfway expected Corner Bakery Cafe to have a sign screaming WE SELL FOOD!  But, to their credit, no sign - I guess that they figured that "Cafe" covered it.

Stay tuned for more insanity.  Seriously - there's going to be a lot of it.  And I'm going to make fun of it all.

Fun on the Interwebs: Birthday Express

E-mail in my inbox from Birthday Express encouraging me to check out their "Boy Themes."  No boy birthdays at our house until October, but, hey, a little recon never hurt.

Theme #1:   Robots.  Not the animated movie "Robots," just robots generally.  General is better in my book.  And good to know that they have this stuff in stock, given that Parker is going to turn seven this year, and space is the traditional seventh birthday theme for boys.  You did know that there are traditional birthday themes for boys, didn't you?  Like the traditional anniversary themes that they used to list in the back of those free Hallmark pocket calendars?  Based on empirical data collected at our house, fourth birthday is Thomas, fifth birthday is Batman, and sixth birthday is . . . well, let's see, Connor opted for "adventurers" (pirates, knights and Vikings), and Parker selected "Batman . . . again."  And Batman is the Dark Knight, sooooo - sixth birthday must be knights.  Yeah, that's it.

Seventh was space for Connor, so we'll see if Parker continues to follow in his footsteps.  If he does, Birthday Express is ready for him.

Theme #2:  Star Trek.  The new "rebooted" version.  Both boys are BIG fans.  So file this one away under the category of "space party options."

Theme #3:  Marvel Super Hero Squad.  Non-starter.  My boys are DC fans all the way.  I think we had a red Hulk action figure at one point, but it was a birthday gift from a friend who was unaware of the boys' "no Marvel" policy.  The dog devoured it.  Because, apparently, the dog got the DC memo.

Moving on . . . .


Theme #4:  Tom and Jerry.  What the what?  Are T and J cool again?  Who knew . . . .

Theme #5:  Mr. Men and Little Miss.  This one is on clearance - and for good reason, I think.  Doesn't scream "boy" to me.  Particularly given the pink and yellow color scheme, and the fact that Little Miss is prominently featured on every item.  Not even seeing Mr. Men, actually.


Theme #6:  THE PIG.  (You have to type it that way, IN ALL CAPS.)  Again, not screaming "boy."  Although boys can be pigs. 


Theme #7:  The Wizard of Oz.  Really?  Now they are just being ridiculous.  Unless this is targeted at the "early adopter of alternative lifestyles" grade school community.  

Insert "Friend of Dorothy" joke here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Adventures in Party Planning: Color Wheel Party


This month's installment of Keno was color-themed, with everyone being encouraged to bring monochromatic or other "color-creative" gifts. LOVED IT, and it has encouraged me to share a few things that have been lurking on my hard drive. Before I had the color wheel cupcake photo (taken from Better Homes and Gardens's Web site) on my hard drive, I had a paper clipping of a similar image in a notebook; probably still have it somewhere. I have been meaning to use this one for some time, but the stars just haven't aligned. The paint-chip table covering I HAVE used, and it was super-cute. Also kind of fun to collect the paint chips. But, if you are like me and feel guilty about ridiculously silly things like appropriating paint chips, it can be a long process. You have to remember to pick up a few EVERY time you stop by Wal-Mart, Home Depot or Lowe's. But only a few, so as not to incur the wrath of the Paint Chip Police - if they actually exist. (They exist in my mind, and they are STRICT.)

Instead of pre-decorating the cupcakes and arranging them in a wheel, you could substitute a DIY concept: fill paper or foil cupcake liners with colored cupcake toppings (sprinkles, M&Ms and Mike & Ikes separated into single colors, etc.) and then arrange those into a color wheel. Serve the cupcakes "naked" with a big vat of white icing. It's a snack, it's an activity - it's a snacktivity. LOVE snacktivities.

Another fun idea (not pictured) is a crayon color wheel. (I am NOT proposing this one as a snacktivity; I do not endorse the consumption of crayons, non-toxic or not.) Fill galvanized tin mini-buckets with single colors of crayons (stock up on multiple boxes in August when the back-to-school stuff hit the shelves), and arrange them in the same fashion as the cupcakes in the picture above. Give everyone a big sheet of white drawing paper as a placemat, and let them go to town. This one would satisfy guests of all ages - who DOESN'T like to color?

I cannot for the life of me find the Web site from which I obtained this adorable idea (which I intended to use for Parker's Harry Potter birthday, before Parker's Harry Potter birthday morphed into "Batman Birthday Party Deux"). Put a few drops of food coloring in the bottom of each cup, camouflage the food coloring with ice cubes, and then instruct the guests to add the fizzy clear beverage of their choice (Sprite, ginger ale, whatever). Boom - brightly colored fizzy lifting drinks, straight outta Oompa Loompa Land.


These paint chip cookies came from Bake at 350's site. Love them so much that I want to marry them. My married name will be Kathryn Paint Chip Cookie. We are registered at Williams-Sonoma and King Arthur Flour.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Eat This: These Dips are Super-in-a-Bowl

The madness that is the Super Bowl is fixin' to invade our fair city. ESPN is taking over the better part of downtown Fort Worth, and there's all sorts of rumors floating around about credentialing stations at downtown perimeters - as in, you'll have to prove that you work downtown in order to enter downtown . . . fairly sure that that one falls under the heading of "urban myth." But I can confirm this one: one of the swankier restaurants in Sundance Square will not reserve a table for you in the days leading up to the game unless you sign a written contract, guaranteeing a minimum of $100 in revenue per person and obligating you to pay a $50-per-head breakage fee if you cancel inside of a stated window. Ouch. It's our general policy to eat in during the second half of January and the first half of February anyway, on account of the fact that the entire world invades the West side of Fort Worth for the Stock Show (well, apparently not the entire world - HALF of the entire world, and the other half is coming for the big game). So, no high-dollar dining contracts in our future, but we will do some entertaining at home, for sure, and one or more of these dips may be involved.

Provenance of this first one is long-since forgotten:

BAKED VIDALIA ONION DIP

2 T butter or margarine
¼ cup dry white wine
3 large Vidalia onions, coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups (8-ozs.) shredded Swiss cheese
½ tsp. hot sauce
2 cups mayonnaise
1 (8-oz.) can sliced water chestnuts, drained and chopped

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add onion, and saute 10 minutes or until tender. Stir together shredded Swiss cheese and next 5 ingredients; stir in onion, blending well. Spoon mixture into a lightly-greased 2-quart baking dish. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes, and let stand 10 minutes. Serve with tortilla chips or crackers. Yield: 6 cups.

The second recipe comes from The Mason Jar in my old Houston stomping grounds. Spinach and artichoke dip recipes are a dime a dozen, I know. But this is an ARTICHOKE AND SPINACH dip recipe. See, the order is switched. This stuff is the real deal – creamy, gooey goodness.


MASON JAR’S ARTICHOKE AND SPINACH DIP

2 lbs. fresh spinach
1 (14-oz.) can artichoke hearts, drained
4 T olive oil
2 T minced garlic
1½ tsps. seasoned salt
1 tsp. white pepper
½ cup whipping cream
1 heaping cup each grated Swiss and Monterey Jack cheese

Wash spinach; remove stems and finely chop leaves. Bring 2 quarts water to a boil and add chopped spinach. Remove from heat and stir 1 minute. Strain through colander; press out all water. Chop artichoke hearts into medium-sized pieces. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat; add garlic and artichoke hearts and sauté. Add salt and pepper; stir well. Reduce heat to low and add spinach; mix well. Add cream and cheeses. Stir until well-mixed and heated. Serve with tortilla chips, sour cream and picante sauce.

The last recipe comes from Chez Z in my other old stomping grounds, Austin, Tejas, which, as I understand, continues under the name Chez Zee – but evidently without this recipe on their appetizer menu. Shame, because this stuff is really good. Guys like it.

CHEZ Z’s SAUSAGE CREAM CHEESE DIP

2 lbs. sausage
2 T chopped garlic
2 cups yellow onion, diced
2 cups red bell pepper, diced
2 cups green bell pepper, diced
2 cups celery
1 cup cilantro, chopped
1 can Rotel tomatoes
1 T cumin
1 T chili powder
5 lbs. cream cheese
2 cups sour cream

Brown sausage and garlic. Add yellow onion, red bell pepper, green bell pepper, celery, cilantro, Rotel tomatoes, cumin and chili powder. Saute until vegetables are tender. Add cream cheese and sour cream. Cook until the cheese is melted. Serve hot with lots of chips. May be made ahead and reheated.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Kid Stuff: TCU Gollum

Okay . . . in my child's defense, the attached image represents an attempt to step up his drawing A game.  As in, we have moved from beady eyes to eyes with irises and pupils.  We are also taken note of the existence of eyebrows, eyelashes and foreheads.

We just need to work on our proportions a bit.  And, you know, maybe depict the eyelashes as being CONNECTED to the eyelids, versus floating in the general region where eyebrows ought to go.

I have titled this one "TCU Gollum."  He could also be "Valentine's Day Gollum."  Not sure if we're supposed to be focused on his shirt ("TCU Rhools!") or the overall heart motif.  Myself, I'm too preoccupied with, you know, the overall creepiness of the piece to focus on particular details.  This is not "The Kramer":  when I look at it, I don't find myself thinking, "It's repulsive, and yet I cannot look away."    Instead, I look at it with one eye shut, then quickly divert my gaze . . . and then fight the urge to hide the scary thing in a drawer.  The reason that I have to fight this (I think quite rational) urge is that . . . Parker thinks that this is his masterpiece.  Precisely BECAUSE of the piercing but anatomically correct eyes, the floating lashbrows and the broad expanse of forehead - the very things that scare the bejeepers out of his mom are points of pride to my small son.

"Look, Mom, I'm drawing like a big person.  And I drew this for you, because I love you.  See, I wrote it on the top."  Aw, how sweet - but, also, aw, DANG, because now I am forced to display TCU Gollum on the fridge. 

If you happen to witness me running through the kitchen with a hand flung over my eyes, please don't judge.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Potpourri: Geister Fahrer


As I have mentioned before, I USED to speak German. Can't really claim to speak it now, as I have only retained a few words over the years, but in high school and college I was fairly fluent. And, in law school (back when I deluded myself into thinking that I would get a PhD after sitting for the Bar, and then sit for the Foreign Service Exam and either go to work for the State Department or a think tank - yeah, that was a LOT of years ago), I applied some of the money that I didn't spend on tuition (thanks, Dedman family, for my academic scholarship!) to a study-abroad summer semester in Austria. Took classes from a Supreme Court justice and his functional British equivalent, as well as from one of the most amazing women I have ever had the opportunity to meet (a Soviet dissident-turned-Russian reformer-SLASH-think tank director-SLASH-young mother of two, much deserving of her own post someday). Traveled a lot, some with classmates and some on my own, and ended my European tour with a prolonged stay in Hungary, which was cool because I was the first out of my generation of Kopcsak descendants to return to "the old country."

I learned so much that summer, and not just in the classroom. Being completely on your own, a half a world away from your support system, represents an advanced course in "being your own person," particularly if you are a sheltered only child, who, as my mother pointed out at the time, "never went to sleepaway camp." The learning curve was steep, but I came back from that summer with a firm sense of who I was and who I was going to be. Probably not a coincidence that I met my husband shortly thereafter - and, more importantly, had the common sense to recognize that he would be my traveling partner from then on out.

But I digress . . . .

One of the less useful pieces of information that I acquired that summer was the idiomatic meaning of the phrase "Geister Fahrer."  Geister Fahrer translates into "ghost driver." It is a term used to describe an idiot who gets on the Autobahn heading the wrong way.  If you've ever been on the Autobahn, I think you'll agree that it's a pretty descriptive phrase (as German phrases tend to be). Getting on the Autobahn facing traffic gives new meaning to the phrase "deer in the headlights." Odds of leaving the scene as an other-worldly spectre, your recently-deceased corporeal self remaining down below: pretty. darn. high.

Except that there's a whole system for getting a Geister Fahrer through his or her ordeal. I learned this one night when I was sitting on the bed in my dorm, reading for the next day's classes and listening to the only English-speaking channel on my radio headset.  And I do mean English-speaking: all of the DJ's (I hate to even call them that) spoke fluent BBC Standard.

Mid-song, a calm and soothing, veddy proper and British female voice broke in with the following:

"Your attention, please. There is a ghost driver on the A5. Please use extreme caution as you approach the ghost driver and make every effort to assure that the ghost driver successfully exits the Autobahn. Thank you."

Um, what the what?

A few minutes later, The Voice broke in again. The ghost driver was STILL on the Autobahn. We should continue to use extreme caution and make every effort to assure the ghost driver's successful exit.

I put together through context clues what was happening, and I marveled at:

1) The fact that The Voice was so blase about the whole thing.  Through professional training, or because this shizz happened all of the time?

2) The fact that, in the US, the news would have been delivered by a gonzo reporter in Chopper 5, shouting "oh, the humanity"-level comments over the WHOPP-WHOPP sound of helicopter blades. Point to Europe in the classiness column.

3) The fact that we were talking about the A5. IN SALZBURG. The A5, for those unfamiliar with the geography of Austria, runs north from Vienna, Vienna being in the northeast corner of the country, and Salzburg being a good bit to the west. However, we're talking about small relative distances here, and we're also talking about the AUTOBAHN. You don't have fender benders and minor two-car collisions on the Autobahn; you have eighty-car pileups. Pileups which, conceivably, could stretch from Vienna to Salzburg, or on in to Switzerland.


[Image of recent 60-car pileup in North Austria.]

So, I guess, conditions on the A5 might be of SOME relevance to folks in Salzburg. But the real reason that I was hearing about the A5 in my dorm room in Western Austria is that THE ONE RADIO STATION BROADCAST TO THE ENTIRE COUNTRY.  Refer to "small relative distances," above. This probably would not have shocked me had I grown up in, say, Rhode Island, but as a Texas girl (where radio stations can start to fade out before you make it from one point in Houston or Dallas to another point in the same city), this was a serious education in the concept of "everything's relative."

Anyway, I continued to receive updates from The Voice, alerting me as to where the ghost driver was along his or her route. FINALLY, The Voice made her last announcement:

"Your attention, please. The ghost driver has successfully exited the A5. Thank you for your cooperation."

And that was that. Cue the music.

I guess I should point out that exits on the Autobahn are few and far between.  And shoulders? We don't need no stinkin' shoulders. So the whole process, from entrance to exit, took a LOOOOOOONG time. I was morbidly fascinated with the entire thing; towards the end, I was eagerly awaiting break-ins from The Voice. It was like an old radio soap opera: would the ghost driver perish? Would he/she prevail to the end? Each update was a mini-cliffhanger.

I never got tired of Ghost Driver Theater.

And I have adopted "Geister Fahrer" into my lexicon. It's such a useful concept, and one that doesn't readily translate into English.  Like Litfasssaeule. Yes, there are three s's in the middle of that word, but only because Blogger won't let me insert the ess-zett symbol (like a capital B with a divot in the bottom) which represents a "ss" sound, nor will it let me put the umlaut over the a. A Litfasssaeule is a cylindrical column to which one attaches advertising and informational material. It's a community bulletin board, really, but a cylindrical one - typically made of concrete. We have these in the US, and when I've been called upon to direct someone to them, I've been hard-pressed to call them something OTHER than a Litfasssaeule.  "Bulletin board?" Refer to "cylinder made out of concrete," above.  "Kiosk?" Well, not really - kiosks are occupied.  "Cylindrical column to which one attaches advertising and informational material?" Yeah, doesn't really roll off of the tongue.

Litfasssaeule rolls off your tongue - if you know how to roll an ess-zett.

Recently, I've identified a lot with the Geister Fahrer. First:  we spent the better part of the month dealing with the fallout of Parker getting bitten by the dog. Apparently, our options were to opt against stitches and hope that the cut on his lip would knit together in an aesthetically appealing fashion or get stitches and jump through
a bazillion compliance hoops with Animal Control. Pick the agency to administer your proctology exam, McGlincheys: Child Protective Services or the dog-bite police?

We opted for dog-bite police. Note to Parker James: you owe Mom and Dad a fruit basket every year on January 2nd, the anniversary of said dog bite, until Mom and Dad keel over, or you do, whichever comes first.

Fun and games with Animal Control will have to be covered in a stand-alone post, but I do feel the need to blog about it eventually, in the name of catharsis. But, for now, I will simply report that . . . our file is closed. Magic words.

The dog-bite ghost driver has exited the Animal Control Autobahn.

On a completely unrelated note, I managed to ALMOST separate a toenail from its corresponding toe back in late October - horizontal cut, passing the midline, just a SMIDGE above the cuticle. Not wanting to remove the toenail at that sensitive juncture, I bandaged the heck out of it, and then departed on our fall hiking trip, fully expecting to be separated from The Toenail in painful fashion at some point. Somehow, The Toenail hung on. Every time I re-bandaged it, I made note of its progress and wondered aloud, would the cut grow far enough up the toe that I could clip it with minimal pain next week? By Thanksgiving? Christmas? New Year's?

For the record, it only SEEMS like your toenails grow fast; like the proverbial watched pot, they take eons to grow when you actually want them to. The whole process took a ridiculously long time. But, on the very same day that our Animal Control-initiated proctology exam began, I looked down at my foot, realized that the bandage had fallen off, and . . . not only was the cut grown out all of the way to the end, but the two pieces of nail had readhered to each other.

The toenail exited the Autobahn without me even realizing it.

Should you find yourself in the role of the Geister Fahrer at some point in the new year (and it's bound to happen eventually), may your exit from the Autobahn be relatively swift and relatively uneventful.  Somewhat on the model of The Toenail.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Things I'm Digging: Message-in-a-Cookie Cutters

I received the Christmas version of these Williams Sonoma cookie cutters from my mom, and I LURRRRRRRRVE them. They combine two of my passions: baking and typesetting. (Okay, so I may have exaggerated the part about my passion for typesetting - but, in this age of digital media, there is something quaint about sliding the little character blocks into the little tracks. I might, over time, develop a passion for it. It could happen.)

Just before New Year's, I took them for a test drive. Since we were having the family over for a New Year's Eve brunch, I opted to make turquoise ornaments (to match the pattern of my tablecloth and the centerpiece) and purple gingerbread boys (in honor of the hometown Horned Frogs). The word "Happy" came pre-formed, but I had to spell out "New Year" and (obviously) "Rah Rah TCU" with individual letters. I used the sugar cookie recipe that came in the package, and it was the bomb. My number one complaint about shaped sugar cookies is their tendency to lose their shape while baking (hence, my gingerbread fetish - gingerbread, or my recipe for gingerbread, at least, puffs up, but not out). These kept their shape, and the letters remained distinct. I give 90% of the credit for that to the recipe, and 10% to the fact that I put the cookies in the freezer (on a baking sheet) for ten minutes prior to baking.


Just call me Betty Crocker . . . Gutenberg.

The flavor was delish, too - like a moist shortbread (and, come to think of it, the dough was really more of a shortbread concept than a sugar cookie concept, which I guess explains its shape-retaining properties).

I most definitely will be investing in the "everyday" cookie cutters shown here pre-Valentine's Day, so that I can make cookies like these:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fun on the Interwebs: Stark Raving Mad Mommy's Blog . . . and Wookies


Friend Melissa (AKA Buffy) sent me this link to Stark Raving Mad Mommy's blog awhile back.

Like Melissa/Buffy, I am a big fan of S.R.M.M. We share a certain . . . perspective . . . warped though it may be. (Me and S.R.M.M., I mean - although, come to think of it, Melissa/Buffy's right there with us on the perspective front.)

The topic of this particular S.R.M.M. blog post: the ill-advised Star Wars Christmas special. God, I remember this thing like it was yesterday. Notwithstanding that I was in elementary school at the time, and totally jazzed about anything-and-everything Star Wars, I remember being horribly embarrassed for everyone involved with this steaming pile of bantha dung - specifically, for Carrie Fisher, who contributed a "vocal performance" (I'm using that term loosely) to the proceedings. I also remember being somewhat aware of the fact that, if an eight year-old was embarrassed by something (particularly something involving Star Wars), that something must be REALLY, REALLY, AWFULLY BAD.

S.R.M.M. has provided a seven-minute-or-so clip from the special. Check it out, and scroll to the end. The end confirms another memory that I've been carrying around for thirty years - namely, my youthful surprise at learning that COMMON AREAS IN WOOKIE HOUSES LOOKED A WHOLE LOT LIKE MY FRIENDS' REC ROOMS. As in, they featured stained ceiling beams and Danish Modern furniture. You can see examples of this design aesthetic in the clip. Not pictured - but the picture of them in my mind is crystal-clear - the Wookie bunk beds. Chewbacca's kid had a timber bed set straight outta the Sears Wish Book, circa 1977.

Again, although I was a fairly little kid, I can recall feeling a certain amount of skepticism over the whole interior decor thing. Other items generating shock and confusion in my little-kid brain:

1) Wookies holding hands and saying grace. "Wow, Chewbacca's house looks like the house of my Methodist friend down the street - and they have dinner like Methodists, too." (I was raised Catholic, which meant that we didn't hold hands at the dinner table. Holding hands would have interfered with the whole crossing-oneself bit. But I am Methodist now, and we say grace exactly like the Wookies.)

2) The concept of Chewbacca having a kid. I had him pegged as a swinging single, carousing around the universe, picking up space tarts with Han Solo. So to find out that he had a wife . . . and a kid . . . and he just left them at home? Mind you, in addition to coming from a Catholic family, I came from a military family, so I was personally familiar with the concept of a father who occasionally had to leave home when duty called. But this fact of life did not, in my mind, TRANSLATE TO WOOKIES.

3) Wookies as tree-dwellers. Um, those would have to be some super-big trees, wouldn't they? And Wookies seemed so committed to bipedalism; they just didn't appear BUILT for tree-climbing. Did they have to live above ground because of a predator issue? A predator who targeted eight foot-tall Bigfoot-like creatures with giant canines and crossbows? That would have to be some predator.

By the way, these are the types of questions with which I routinely pelted my mother, while she was trying to cook dinner or otherwise go about her daily life. Sorry, Mom. If it makes you feel better (and I know that it does), your grandkids give as good as you got.

I didn't ask these questions of my mom, though - or, for that matter, of my dad. Because, again, my little-kid brain was SHOCKED AND HORRIFIED by the wrongness of it all, and instinctively knew that shameful and bad things were not to be discussed in polite company but, rather, should be buried deep in the subconscious.

Only to surface thirty years later after receiving a hilarious e-mail from a friend . . . .

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Adventures in Party Planning: Camp Rock Indoor Campout (for the Jonas-Obsessed)

We have watched both “Camp Rock” movies, and I believe we may even own the first one on DVD. We aren’t rabid fans, to be sure, but my understanding is that there definitely are some rabid fans out there, most of them between the ages of 9 and 13 and possessing two X chromosomes. And, having thrown an indoor campout for Connor (moved out the dining room table, assembled a camping tent in its place), the thought occurred to me that the concept could be dyed pink, sprinkled with glitter and repurposed to suit tween girl tastes.

So, for all you girl moms out there, I present to you the blueprint for a Camp Rock Indoor Campout Slumber Party . . . .

I love digital file invitations for bigger kids – they can be customized for big kid tastes, and they are economical, given that after you purchase the file you can print as many copies as you want, either on a home color printer or at a local photo lab. (Or, if you want to be totally green, e-mail the design or create an Evite around it.) For $14.99, you can order a Camp Rock 2 invitation file like this one from Invite Delight Too’s Etsy shop:

Be sure to include in the invitation an instruction to guests to come packing sleeping bags.

On party day, move the furniture out of the way to make room for a tent as well as for a campfire area. You could try to create a campfire effect with a pile of good-sized branches (make sure that they aren’t bug-infested) or Duralogs, or you may have something around the house that could be pressed into service (my kids have a Fisher-Price play campfire that came with a camping set, and I also thought that one of those flaming Halloween cauldron props could work if you wrapped the cauldron with some brown fabric). Or, just let the kids use their imaginations.

As an icebreaker (particularly if some of the guests don’t know each other), you can begin with a lively game of “Pass the Parcel.” Some of you may have played this game during your own camp days, and it’s super-easy to implement: put candy or trinkets in a brown lunch sack and write on the front of it, “Share this candy with the other party guests.” That bag goes into another bag, on which you write a second instruction, and so on and so on. Make the tasks as silly as you want – sing your favorite Camp Rock while doing jumping jacks, imitate a monkey, pantomime jumping rope, etc. As you go, move up the bag size hierarchy, switching to paper grocery sacks – you could even use a paper lawn and leaf bag at the end. Don’t write anything on the last bag. You should have twice as many bags as you have party guests. When all of the guests have arrived, seat them in a circle around the campfire, turn on some music (the Camp Rock soundtrack, perhaps?) and instruct the guests to pass the parcel around the circle until the music stops. When you turn off the music, the guest holding the parcel pulls off one bag and performs whatever action is written on the next smallest bag. The person left holding the last bag distributes the contents of the parcel.

Other indoor activities could include playing Rock Band or Guitar Hero, watching the sing-along version of one of the Camp Rock movies and acting out the musical numbers with play microphones, or decorating pillowcases with fabric paint or stamps. When night falls, let the kids go outside and play Flashlight Tag, then assemble everyone around the campfire again to tell ghost stories.

Dinner could be pizza or, for a more authentic campfire feel, Thermos hot dogs: attach tags with the kids’ names on them to lengths of plain white string, and as each guest arrives, have them tie the end of their string around a hot dog. The hot dogs go into a large camping or other Thermos, and when the Thermos is full (you might have to use more than one, depending on the number of guests), fill it with boiling water and screw on the lid, making sure that the strings with the labels are all hanging out over the top and down the sides of the Thermos. While the kids are playing party games, the hot dogs will cook in the boiling water. Pulling the hot dogs out by their strings adds some fun to dinner and also ensures that the kids won’t burn themselves.

S’mores would be the obvious dessert choice. They can be made in the microwave, and you can let the kids design their own, setting up a buffet of graham crackers, cookies, marshmallows and sauces. Another option is S’more Cupcakes:

These are from Bakerella’s blog, and they look absolutely delicious.


I love these rock star toppers, created by Christyland by Hand.


These could set the colors for the party: pink, purple and black, with perhaps a touch of zebra print mixed in.

Pillowcases would make great party favors. The one below is from Bunnies and Bows and, at just under $20, is a high-end option - probably not feasible if you have lots of girlies underfoot. But what a cute gift for the birthday girl!


(If you are unfamiliar with B and B, check out their Web site. They have boy-friendly designs, too - lots of them. My guys have had B and B pillowcases since they were tiny, starting out with the toddler-sized ones and then moving up to standard size. They both still use their UT national champion cases - OUCH, sore subject, back to the topic at hand!)

You could also kick it old-school, put out a stack of white pillowcases, fabric paint and markers, and tell the girls to have at it. Be sure to have Sharpies at hand, so that the ladies can autograph each other's cases!

I have seen several microphone favors on Etsy - soft sculpture ones made from lame and sequined fabric, and the echo kind (which, I believe, came with a personalization option). Cute ideas for a favor or a gift. Ditto the following:


These are soaps, people! They are from AJ Sweet Soap - $5.75 for 6 (jumbos, not minis).



Pink camo arm warmers and guitar pick necklaces:  saw these for $8 and $5, respectively, on Little Divas and Dudes’ Etsy site; couldn't find her storefront this go-round, but look for her, or maybe you could find something similar.

Moms to tween girls, hope this post gives you some ideas and allows you to buy some street cred with your kids. If you are reading this and you are not a mom to a tween girl, (1) good for you (as challenging as my boys can be, I realize that I have it pretty easy!) and (2) pass it on to someone you know. Remember, “We’re all in this together” – oh, wait, that’s from “High School Musical.” Clearly, my own street cred is questionable.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Eat This: Girls' Game Night Casseroles, Volume I

Chicken with wild rice was my go-to "casserole-for-a-crowd" back in my Bunco days. I appropriated the recipe from my mother, who, I believe, appropriated it from my godmother’s mother (would that make her my god-grandmother?). When I transitioned to Keno, I made another transition . . . to tetrazzini, the recipe for which I will share in another post. I thought that I would post this one first, though, as it’s an oldie-but-goodie that you just don’t see that often anymore.

This is a good cold-weather dish – sticks to your ribs, for sure – and, as I recall, it fills a couple of casserole dishes without doubling, so it’s a good “cook once, eat twice” recipe. Put one pan in the freezer to thaw and eat later, or share some with a friend.

CAROLE’S (OR MAYBE LYDIA'S) CHICKEN-WILD RICE CASSEROLE

2 whole broiler-fryer chickens, 3 lbs. each
1 cup water
1 cup dry sherry
1½ tsps. salt
½ tsp. curry powder
1 medium onion, sliced
½ cup sliced celery
1 lb. fresh mushrooms
1 clove garlic, crushed
Chopped parsley
¼ cup butter
2 (6-oz.) pkgs. Uncle Ben’s long-grain wild rice
1 cup dairy sour cream
1 (10½-oz.) can condensed cream of mushroom soup

Place chicken in a tall Dutch oven. Add water, sherry, salt, curry powder, onion and celery. Bring to a boil; cover tightly. Reduce heat and simmer 1 hour. Remove from heat; strain broth. Refrigerate chicken and broth at once. When chicken is cool, remove meat from bones; discard skin. Cut into bite-sized pieces. Wash mushrooms and pat dry; add 1 clove of crushed garlic and some chopped parsley to the mushrooms, and sauté in butter until golden-brown. Measure chicken broth and use as part of liquid for cooking rice, following package directions for firm rice. Combine chicken, rice and mushrooms. Blend sour cream and undiluted mushroom soup. Toss together with chicken mixture. Cover; refrigerate. To heat, bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

(Editor's note:  I love looking at my mother's recipes.  They refer to archaic things, like "#3 cans."  Near as I can figure out, this is a reference to the largish cans that fruit and vegetables come in, versus the half cans that usually contain peaches, pears, corn or peas (#2 cans?), versus the flat cans that diced pineapple comes in.  Another archaic reference, faithfully reproduced above:  "dairy sour cream."  As opposed to the non-dairy kind?  I don't even want to know.)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Kid Stuff: Parker Versus Dad

More than once, I have come home from a Saturday afternoon of shopping and been handed a note saying, “Mom, keep me away from Dad, because he keeps hurting my feelings.”

“Dad hurt my feelings” is six year-old code for “Dad caught me doing something I wasn’t supposed to do, and there were consequences.” Case in point: the other day, Parker James got in trouble for – well, something. Can’t remember exactly what, but it probably had something to do with making a mess/not picking up a mess/whining and complaining about being tired when asked to pick up a mess . . . are you sensing a theme here? In a classic PJ “offense-as-defense” move, he pitched a wall-eyed fit, informing his father, “You HURT my FEELINGS when you get ANGRY AT ME!” Dad is not easily distracted by these tactics, and ultimately PJ got sent to his room. Some time later, he produced an original artwork, titled “When you yell at me, I learn a lesson.” What I found notable about this work – aside from the irony of the “I learn a lesson” statement (we’re talking about the kid who colored on the coffee table, was taken to task for it, and a few minutes later was caught red-handed – well, actually, black ballpoint-handed – coloring on it yet again) – was this:


That’s Dad in the picture. And those are “shout lines” coming out of his mouth. I thought that that was pretty sophisticated for a six-year-old – and a pretty good indication that he’s gonna rock at Pictionary.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Potpourri: Reincarnation Revisited

Parker has clarified that his total recall vis-à-vis his past lives is not just a byproduct of acquiring the same brain upon each “jump.” As a hedge against God screwing up and giving him a different brain, “I get my mom in each life to buy me a camera, I take lots of pictures of things just before I die, and I take them with me, so when I get to the next life, I can look at them and say, ‘Whoa, that was ME in my last life. Look at all of the stuff that I did.’” Soooooooo many questions: How, exactly, do you take the pictures with you? How do you know that death is imminent and a frantic round of picture-taking is in order? And your mom in EACH life buys you a camera? How did the mom of “Brave Sir Knight Parker” manage to procure one, centuries before cameras were invented?

Connor and I asked these questions. And Parker ignored them, and went on to drop the next bombshell:

“Lady Gaga was my mom in one of my past lives.”

If Parker can be described as “not much of a detail guy,” Connor can be described as the exact opposite. The eleven year-old walking encyclopedia waded in with both feet:

“Parker, that is impossible. Lady Gaga doesn’t have children.”

“She wasn’t Lady Gaga then. She was Lady Gaga BEFORE SHE WAS LADY GAGA, WHEN SHE WAS IN A PAST LIFE. And I was in a past life. And she was my mom, and then she got old and died, and then I died, and then she was reborn AS A FREAKY PERSON, and then I was reborn.”

Got all of that?

I took the opportunity to remind Connor of his youthful insistence that his real parents were Dallas residents named Carlos and Carol McLean and that, once upon a time, Carlos had to climb the radio tower outside of Amon Carter Stadium to rescue a baby Connor, after “bad men” had kidnapped him. Needless to say, the very suggestion that he used to be fanciful stunned the walking encyclopedia into (temporary) silence.

Later that same day, though, the boys picked up the discussion:

Connor (AKA “the easily scandalized Western Judeo-Christian Conservative”): “How can you believe in reincarnation if you’re a CHRISTIAN?”

Parker: (AKA “the freaky-deaky Eastern Mystic”): “Why can’t I?”

Connor: “Because God went to a lot of trouble to make Heaven PERFECT, but you’re in a hurry to GO BACK DOWN. And that’s rude. You’ll offend God.”

Parker: “Hey – HE’s the one that keeps reincarnating ME.”

Point to Parker.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Things I'm Digging: Zodiac Conference Realignment

First Nebraska went to the Big Ten, and then Colorado went to the Pac-10.  Now this:  I went to bed an Aries, and I woke up a Pisces.  What the what?

Not digging my new classification in the least, but not giving it much thought, either, because it's clearly bogus.  I am many things, but empathetic I am not.  I DEFINE the cold-prickly Aries.  Likewise, my eleven year-old, blonde version of Mr. Spock defines Sagittarius - emotionally controlled, dispassionate and every bit as independent as his mom.  Imagine how surprised he will be when the news trickles down to him that he is now a Scorpio - the sign that fit his ruled-by-emotion father and brother to a tee.  Dad is now, allegedly, a Libra.  Libras, I am advised, are diplomatic.  My husband has a LOT of wonderful qualities - too many to list here - but, and you'll have to trust me on this, a talent for diplomacy isn't one of them.  Likewise, Parker does not fit the profile of decisive Virgo.  Biggest ditherer who ever lived.

What I'm digging is the whole brouhaha surrounding the change.  First, why now?  Is this like when Moldavia finally got around to telling the world that they really prefer to be called Moldova?  At least Molda . . . MOLDOVA had an excuse:  while the name thing no doubt was important to them, "get out from under Soviet oppression" probably was a WEE bit ahead of "correct nomenclature" on the to-do list.  So, again, I have to ask:  astrology community, why now?  I read somewhere that the thirteenth sign was omitted lo these many years because of the stigma associated with the number.  Have we now gotten over that stigma?  Made a deal with the devil, perhaps?  Is this a sign that 2011, in fact, marks the End of Days?  Or is there a more practical reason why Ophiuchus got the shaft until now?

I have a few theories.  With apologies to David Letterman, here are . . . THE TOP THREE REASONS WHY OPHIUCHUS GOT IGNORED UNTIL JANUARY 2011:

1.  No one knew how to pronounce it.

2.  No one wanted to be known as a "serpent holder."  See "got the shaft," above.  Admit it:  you hear "the serpent holder," and you morph into Beavis and Butthead.  "Heh, heh - serpent holder."

3.  Concerns about a global run on Tat B Gone products, as people en masse come to the horrified realization that their tramp stamps and ankle tats ARE ALL WRONG.

This is the other thing that I am digging:  the whole tat issue.  I saw a semi-legitimate article on the Web today titled, "New Zodiac sign means your tattoo is wrong."  I also was advised by several people that the "new Zodiac" only applies to people born in 2009 and after.  I am convinced that the two issues are related.  People born in 2009 and after:  unlikely to have a Zodiac tattoo.  You know, on account of being toddlers. 

Otherwise, I can think of no logical reason for the cutoff.  The Earth didn't develop a wobble in the last two years.  Either we were supposed to have thirteen signs all along, or we weren't.  And your birthday falls when it falls.  Period, paragraph.

My prediction is that the whole controversy will blow over, and the "new Zodiac" will be relegated to the dust pile with ahead-of-their-time (and, also, just plain lousy) ideas like "new Coke."  People who want to dwell on the fact that they thought that they were one thing and now they are another will choose to dwell . . . but if they didn't have this to dwell over, they would find something else, on account of how they are self-absorbed navel-gazers.  The rest of the world will go on defining themselves as they always have.  Also, they will continue to recognize Pluto as a planet.  Because "my very excited mother just served us nine pies" is vastly superior to "my very excellent mother just served us noodles." 

In my humble opinion.  Or in my not-so-humble opinion; I am an Aries, after all.

Things I'm Digging: Stuff in Fort Worth

Specifically:

1)  TCU.  How 'bout dem Frogs?  Their Rose Bowl victory, I will admit, was just a tad bittersweet for me, because - while I adore my adopted hometown of Fort Worth, my Frog-filled family-by-marriage, and, by extension, their alma mater - I couldn't turn off the voice in my brain that kept saying, "Remember when the 'Horns played at the Rose Bowl?  Remember when we won the national championship, and all of that confetti dumped on Vince Young's head?"  What a difference five years makes.  For the record:  I have strong opinions about Mack Brown (I give him all of the credit in the world for recruiting VY and Colt McCoy and then having the brains to get out of their way, BUT . . . when called upon to ACTUALLY COACH, he proved himself ONE HECKUVA RECRUITER, didn't he?), Greg Davis (umm . . . this is a family-friendly blog, so I'll keep those opinions to myself) and Will Muschamp (umm . . . see "Greg Davis").  However, today's theme is "Things I'm Digging," not "Things That Bug," so how 'bout dem Frogs?  And how about Andy Dalton?  What a class-act of a quarterback.   Classy coach, too.  Proud of all of them, and pleased as punch for all of the TCU alums in my life.

In honor of the Froggies, I decorated for our family-only (Grandma, Nana, Granddad and Gigi) New Year's Eve "blunch" in purple, white and red (for the Rose Bowl, duh):


I made mimosas with blood orange juice, because I thought that orange would clash with all of the red.  Here's a tip:  don't make mimosas with blood orange juice.  Blech and double-blech.  Next time - regular orange juice, red food coloring.

My attempt at themed desserts met with greater success.  Dessert #1:  purple cookie boys with "Rah Rah TCU" stamped into the dough.  (No picture today, as I am planning on working them into another blog post.)  Dessert #2 came courtesy of . . .

2)  The new Nothing Bundt Cakes on Camp Bowie:  It's open!  And do you know what's better than a husband who offers to go to the bank for you on December 30th?  A husband who goes to the bank for you on December 30th, notices that the new Nothing Bundt Cakes store has opened next door and has the presence of mind to call you and ask if you want him to pick up a cake for the blunch that you are hosting on December 31st.  In submitting his application for spousal sainthood, I am ignoring the fact that he had a major ulterior motive - namely, he is a red-velvet-cake-a-holic.  The blunch was just a fortuitous cover.  I was sort of surprised when he showed up with the small ("serves 8-10") rather than the large ("serves 18-20") and complimented him on his restraint - at which point he looked embarrassed and mumbled, "They didn't have the red velvet in a large."


The fact that the box was, itself, red and white was icing on the cake (wince).  Cake not pictured, but it was delicious - every bit as good as the ones that come out of the Southlake bakery.  Welcome to the neighborhood, N.B.C.!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Fun on the Interwebs: 1stdibs.com

I love this site, and if you are a frustrated interior designer or collector of antiques, you should, too. Dealers post their wares online, everything is indexed by category, and the resulting database is fully searchable, so if you’re in the market for a mid-century modern coffee table or a wooden swan decoy, you can search hundreds of antique stores with one query, obtain pricing information, etc. A lot of the merchandise is high-end, but there are some bargains to be had, in addition to some really cool and funky stuff, and if nothing else it gives you an idea of what items are worth.

Yeah . . . on the subject of worth, I ran across this listing the other day:


This is a “rattan peacock chair,” circa the 1970’s. Look familiar? It did to me. Because we’re in the process of cleaning out the carriage house in preparation for a massive garage sale to come, and tucked in a corner is MY “rattan peacock chair,” the one that served as “occasional seating” in my first post-college living room. When I ran across the chair the other day, I wondered aloud as to appropriate pricing, and now I have an answer. $2,200. Um, seriously? These things were ubiquitous as bean bags in the seventies, and, if I recall correctly, similarly priced. Apparently – according to one New York-based purveyor of “junque” (spell it all French-like, and you can jack the price a BUNCH) – the “rattan peacock chair” has SIGNIFICANTLY appreciated in value. Score! Mine is lacquered an intense yellow, but if some theoretical buyer is willing to pay $2,200 for a natural-colored one (or, more precisely, a non-theoretical seller is deluded enough to list a natural-colored one for $2,200), then I’m sure there’s a market for mine. Right? Right.

I also was intrigued by this pair of “Grand Tour bathtubs.”

These would really class up a Viagra commercial. (Why ARE those people sprawled out in adjoining bathtubs, and why are the tubs on the beach? Or in a field?) Actually, they are much smaller than actual size, and it’s the small size, coupled with the following product description, that truly caught my eye:

"In centuries past, young gentlemen would take a 'grand tour' of Europe and purchase art and objects as evidence of their education and travels. These white marble baths are two such pieces."

Don’t know about you, but nothing says “sophisticated world traveler” to me like “a pair of diminutive replica bathtubs.” In the Pantheon (hey, a Grand Tour pun!) of items associated with the Grand Tour, you have the Eiffel Tower, the Acropolis, the Leaning Tower of Pisa . . . and, evidently, the diminutive replica bathtub. Learn something new every day!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Adventures in Party Planning: Big Kid Spy Party

Birthday party themes for big kids, like “presidenting,” are hard (so much so that I am on record that the theme for Connor’s twelfth birthday party will be “Hey, you’re 12!”). Fortunately, Connor arrived at a concept that I could live with (after abandoning his initial “Shaun White Snowboarding” idea): a secret agent party. The genesis of the idea, I think, was a “Spy School” mom/son party that our club put on a couple of years ago. Anyway, it seemed like harmless, easy fun . . . until I faced the twin realities that:

1) The mass-produced spy stuff tends to be pitched to smaller kids. Eleven year-olds don’t care to receive tiny plastic magnifying glasses in their treat bags.  And your typical Groucho glass/nose/mustache combos (the kind that come in multi-packs) are designed for tiny faces.

2) The GOOD spy stuff (like disappearing ink that really works) is expensive.  Particularly when you wait too late to order it online.

So I had to get a little creative. Invitation was easy enough – why not go for an old-school, “letters cut out of a magazine” ransom note look?



There is a great ransom note generator tool on the Web at http://ransom.sytes.org that you can utilize to make color ransom notes like the one reproduced above. I had trouble getting it to format properly for printing, though, so ultimately I went with something simpler, but the original plan was to put a color image of the ransom note (adding in party details) inside of the small manila folders, which I made by cutting down larger manila folders. You could print “Confidential” across the front, but I just used whatever rubber stamps I happened to have on my desk at the office.


Invites were sent in small manila envelopes, and the “treat bags” were larger manila envelopes containing word search puzzle books (where the leftover words in each puzzle form riddles – I thought that those were spy-ish). Because I couldn’t find commercial party décor that fit the bill, I ended up printing out a TON of oversized fingerprints, shading them (with crayon) in the colors of the tableware and gift wrap that I ended up selecting, and gluing them to whatever wasn’t moving. The tablecloth, the presents, the treat bags-disguised-as-envelopes . . . . I kind of liked the result – contemporary, and a little more grown-up.


Before the party, I purchased fake mustaches at the party store (here’s a tip – if you can’t find them on the costume aisle, look under “Fiesta”; I found mine next to the maracas and sombreros) and costume teeth at the dollar store. Groucho-type glasses weren’t cutting it, so at the last minute I picked up a pair of Ray Ban-style sunglasses for each of the party participants (also from Dollar Tree). I put the glasses, mustaches and teeth in mason jars and bowls in the middle of the table, and I let the kids customize their secret identities as soon as they arrived. (Anal-retentive mom that I am, I put their initials in their teeth with a Sharpie. I have no doubt that teeth were swapped nonetheless, but at least I tried to keep germ transmission to a minimum.)


The glasses were a BIG hit.


Game plan was to have a secret agent “school,” with training exercises like:

1) Laser beam avoidance:  Original plan was to mount multiple CDs on the walls, such that when you aimed a laser pointer at one of them, it would bounce off of that CD, hit the second CD, and so on, creating multiple beams. The “cadets” were going to crawl on their bellies under the beams, Mission Impossible-style. However, I (1) never got around to arranging for a fog machine (to make the beams more distinct), (2) didn’t want to use hairspray in place of a fog machine (yuck – sticky mess on the hardwoods) and (3) didn’t relish the idea of sticking CDs to the walls with poster putty (yuck – sticky mess on the walls). So Plan B was to aim a single laser beam and lower it after each round, like limbo (if they played limbo at Quantico – which, maybe, they do).

Why we didn’t go with Plan B: one of our party guests was autistic. It was his first sleepover. I thought it was a wonderful thing that Connor wanted to include him (and think it’s a wonderful thing that his friends include him in their ongoing reindeer games), but having him in the mix did cause me to have to change plans mid-party, when it became apparent that the noise and the hyperactivity were proving to be a wee bit much. (C, for the record, Connor’s mom was RIGHT THERE WITH YOU on the noise and the hyperactivity. When you finally cried uncle and asked to go home around midnight, I tried to think of an excuse as to why I might need to stay with you at your house. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of a plausible one.)

So, laser beam avoidance scrapped. But we did do this one . . . after C had gone home, and we did it outside:

2) Bomb detonation:  Inflate balloons. Allow eleven year-old boys to pop inflated balloons . . . with their bottoms. Repeat. Time them, and the boy who pops the most balloons in the time allotted wins.


Our other “scripted” activity (I’ve been doing this long enough to know that boy birthday party guests rarely stick to the script, so I limit the planned activities to just a few) was a game of Clue, using a new space-aged variant that allows you to call in to a “clue hotline,” and they text you clues throughout the game. Oh, I lied – there was one other scripted activity. The birthday boy – who, you may recall, was way too mature for a turkey pull-apart cupcake cake, requested cookie magnifying glasses. Because nothing says mature like a cookie on a stick. These are easy to pull off, though. I bought a bunch of round cookies at our local bakery (sugar, chocolate chip and M&Ms), put out tongue depressors and cookie sticks for handles and filled bowls with icing (cream cheese and chocolate), marshmallow crème and sprinkles, then let the kids have at it.


The party, overall, seems to have been a success. Connor enjoyed himself, which is a good thing, because I am also on record that THIS IS THE LAST SLUMBER PARTY BIRTHDAY THAT HE GETS. Until he is old enough to throw his own slumber party birthdays. The details of which I may, as his mother, not want to know about.

Next year: three kids, two hours of laser tag. With the kind of laser that does not require sticky hairspray or greasy poster putty . . . .

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Eat This: Hot Chocolate Party Recipes

Follow up to last week's post:

CROCK POT HOT CHOCOLATE FOR A GROUP


1 ½ cups sugar
1 ¼ cup cocoa powder
1 ¼ tsps. salt
¾ cup hot water
1 gallon milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon

In large saucepan, combine sugar, cocoa and salt. Add hot water slowly, mixing well. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture boils. Boil and stir 2 minutes. Add milk; heat to serving temperature, stirring occasionally. DO NOT BOIL. Remove from heat; add vanilla and cinnamon, and then whip with a whisk. Keep warm in crockpot. Yield: 20 servings.

Wondering what to do with your hot chocolate once you have made it?  Here are some ideas that I found lurking on my hard drive (no idea as to the source or sources - they had some virtual dust on them):

Snowplow: Combine hot chocolate with Irish cream and coconut extract or syrup. Top with whipped cream and grated white chocolate.

Peppermint Patty: Flavor hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps or syrup. Top with whipped cream, crushed peppermint candy and grated dark chocolate. Serve with a candy cane stirrer.

Aztec: Add cinnamon schnapps or ground cinnamon and a dash of chili powder to hot chocolate. Top with grated Mexican chocolate and serve with a cinnamon stick stirrer.

S’mores: Wet rim of mug with water and dip in graham cracker crumbs. Fill with hot chocolate and top with marshmallows and grated dark chocolate.

Liquid Snickers: Add hazelnut and caramel syrups to hot chocolate, and top with whipped cream and chopped peanuts.

Eat This: Cookie Sheet Sandwiches

Because of my weird sugar-and-refined flour allergy, sandwiches are kind of off of my radar.  Which, of course, means that I am jonesing for them.  These sandwich recipes are almost as weird as my sugar-and-refined flour allergy, but weird in a good way.  Weird factor #1:  both recipes are designed to yield multiple sandwiches, made assembly line-style.  Weird factor #2:  both recipes involve cookie sheets.  Recipe #1 requires you to put the cookie sheet in the freezer, so factor in the size of your freezer (and your available freezer space) when selecting a cookie sheet.  Recipe #2 calls for two cookie sheets.  You put the sandwiches on one, spray the bottom of the other with cooking spray, plop the second cookie sheet on top of the sandwiches - voila, a poor man's (very large) panini press.

Oh, and adding to the weirdness:  you dip sandwich #1 in a gooey mushroom soup mixture and roll it in potato chip crumbs before freezing.  It's yummy, I promise.  I used to make both of these recipes all of the time, before bread became the enemy.

[Sigh.]

CHICKEN LOUISA SANDWICHES


1 whole cooked chicken
½ small onion, minced
1 can cream of mushroom soup
½ cup cold milk, separated
2 cups potato chip crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg, well-beaten
12 slices bread, crusts removed
½ cup sliced almonds

Combine chopped chicken and onion. Mix together mushroom soup and ¼ cup cold milk. Beat in mixer until smooth and creamy. To chicken mixture, add 2-4 T of mushroom soup mixture, plus salt and pepper. Add beaten egg and other ¼ cup milk to mushroom soup mixture. Spread chicken mixture on 6 slices of bread, top with remaining bread, dip until thoroughly coated in mushroom soup mixture, then in potato chip crumbs, and then in sliced almonds. Place sandwiches on cookies sheet, cover with foil, and freeze at least overnight. When ready to use, remove from freezer, discard foil, and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Serve hot. Yield: 6 servings.

SOUTHERN REUBEN MELTS (recipe and photo courtesy of the March 2003 issue of Southern Living)



1 cup mayonnaise
¼ cup ketchup
1-2 T sweet pickle relish
1/8 tsp. ground red pepper
3 cups coleslaw mix
8 rye bread slices
1 (6-oz.) pkg. Swiss cheese slices
12 ozs. thinly sliced ham
Butter-flavored cooking spray

Stir together the first 4 ingredients. Stir together coleslaw mix and ½ cup mayonnaise mixture. Spread 1 T mayonnaise mixture evenly on 1 side of each bread slice; top 4 slices evenly with cheese, ham and coleslaw mixture. Top with remaining bread slices. Place sandwiches on a baking sheet coated with butter-flavored cooking spray. Coat bottom of another baking sheet with cooking spray, and place, coated-side down, on sandwiches. Bake at 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes until bread is golden and cheese melts.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Kid Stuff: When Someone Dies, They Die

From the prolific pen of the six year-old comes this piece, titled, “When someone dies, they die.”


Yes, the illustration features someone about to get shot with a comically oversized bullet. You can’t make this stuff up, people.

Not shown here – the companion piece, “Find me, and I will tell you where I am.” I can’t even begin to wrap my brain around that one.

Parker James fancies himself a philosopher. Well, that’s one of his many characters, anyway. And Philosopher PJ is quite convinced that when someone dies, they don’t stay dead for long. Quite the contrary. Not only is he 100% sure that reincarnation is a real phenomenon, he is 100% sure that it has happened to him, nine times. And, while he has some recall of the details of his past lives – being a boy – he has total recall of the details of his deaths. “I was run over by a car, poisoned, and shot in the head. When I was a knight, I fought a dragon – and I LOST. Another time, I went into the water and was eaten by a great white. In another life, I jumped into a lake, and piranhas got me. I got caught in a tornado, and when I hit the ground my head broke open. And this one was VERY weird – I was a zookeeper, and I had to take care of a lion, and it ate me for dinner.”

When asked how he remembers all of this, he will tell you that, “Every time I get a new life, I ask God to give me my same brain, so I will remember stuff. AND HE DOES.”

PJ has already submitted a request that, in his eleventh life, he come back as “a Chinese dude. Because, Mom, I think I’d like to learn ping-pong.”

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Potpourri: Pyrits and Dinusors

The six year-old likes to make books for me. And, recently, he slipped two of them into the bag in which I shuttle documents to and from work, idea being that I will actually look at said documents while I am at home.

That almost never happens.  Thus, it took me awhile to find my "Parker books."  What a fun surprise when I did find them, though.

Each book consisted of a piece of white paper, folded in half, with black ballpoint drawings on all four surfaces.  Text is reproduced below, along with my footnotes.
Book #1 . . .

Front cover: THE PYRITS [PIRATES] WHO ATTACKT TEXAS. [Illustration of ship with skull and crossbones.]

Page 1: One sunny day pyrits attackt our land. FN1 [Illustration of pirate ship run aground on a beach with a palm tree. FN2]

FN1: Like his brother at this age, Parker has a hard time assigning cities, states and countries to their appropriate locations on the "hierarchy of places.' He is utterly convinced that Texas is a country. We have done little to disabuse him of this notion.

FN2: My first thought: pretty awful pirate stereotyping, kid. My second thought: the kid has never seen the Houston Ship Channel, but he has seen the beaches of Galveston. If you approached "our land" via Galveston, you would see palm trees. And, based on his limited experience, that's how you dock a boat - just cruise on up and drop anchor.

Page 2: Then they attackt us. [Illustration of tall skyscrapers and people milling about screaming.]

Page 3: But they only were trying to see which ones of us had munny [money]. FN3 [Illustration of pirate ship, with pirates on board, sailing away from "our land." FN4]

FN3: So it's political satire? Something about a government shakedown? Pirates as a metaphor for the Legislature that extended the business gross receipts tax to limited partnerships?

FN4: It's hard to tell, but I think that in the last picture the skull and crossbones have been replaced by a peace sign. That, or he got tired of drawing a skull and crossbones on every page and just kind of phoned it in.

Book #2 . . . .

Front cover: DINUSORS THAT LIVD BEFORE TIME. [Illustration of iguanadon - complete with exaggerated thumb spikes FN1 - that has taken a bite out of the side of a tree. FN2]

FN1: We are obsessed about dinosaurs, and the details of dinosaurs.  Clearly. Given the thumb spikes.

FN2: It is believed that iguanadons dined primarily on conifers and gingkos. Discuss.

Page 1: Dinusors livd before time. FN3, 4 [Illustration of T-rex. FN5]

FN3: Ah . . . the grand childhood tradition of, essentially, repeating the title in the first sentence of an essay. So as to maximize word count with minimal effort.

FN4: Not even going to attempt to wrap my mind around the "before time" concept - which I blame on those awful "Land Before Time" direct-to-VCR dinosaur movies that we inherited from the neighbors.

FN5: Parker is convinced that the T-rex is an animal separate and apart from the tyrannosaurus rex. They are, according to him, "similar, but also different." I have long since given up on trying to convince him otherwise.

Page 2: Sum dinusors fytid [fighted]. [Illustration of a T-rex FN6, 7 terrorizing a triceratops. FN8]

FN6: I think it is a T-rex, but it possibly could be a tyrannosaurus rex. I have heard that they are similar - but also different.

FN7: It looks, sort of, pregnant. Or morbidly obese. With the bad kind of fat - apple, not pear.

FN8: The terrorized dinosaur might be a pentaceratops. Or a mountain goat. Hey - it's a side view. It has, at a minimum, one horn, and some sort of ruff - could be leathery skin, or wool, or "other."

Page 3: Then when they died we found bones. [Illustration of a slightly less paunchy T-rex with bones cross-hatched over his surface area. FN9]

FN9: Hey, Obese T/Tyrannosaurus Rex is slimming down! Oh, wait - he's decomposing.

I imagine that the sequel to "DINUSORS THAT LIVD BEFORE TIME" will feature megalodons. For those who aren't lucky enough to have pint-sized dinosaur educators residing in their homes, megalodon was a prehistoric shark that was three times the length of a great white - thus combining the ginormity and overall coolness of a dinosaur with the general awesomeness of a common, everyday shark. It doesn't get much better than megalodon if you are a six year-old boy. My six year-old boy carries around a book about  megalodons. It is called "Megatooth." He probably can recite it from memory by now. Like its subject matter, it is ginormous, and cool, and generally awesome.

My six year-old is not ginormous. Not yet, anyway. But, like megalodon - and T-rex, and tyrannosaurus rex - he is cool, and generally awesome.

And he is getting his stitches - I mean, "string bandages" - out today.  Wish us luck . . . .