Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Random Thoughts

*I haven't been here much lately. And by "here" I mean the internet in general. Over the weekend I barely used the computer at all, which is unheard of for me. I'm usually addicted to checking my email or reading blogs, but I've been feeling myself getting overstimulated again. Plus, I've been spending a lot of time with the kids, who appear to be taking turns getting on my last nerve. It's hard to spend time on the computer when you're constantly breaking up fights over who gets to eat the last Go-Gurt. It's totally bad timing on their part because the weather is cold and gloomy and I want to stay home, sit by the tree, play games, and drink wine/coffee/tea/irish cream, but yet I don't want to be home if it means occupying the same space as two bickering asshats. (Is it wrong to refer to your children as asshats? I don't care. I do it here so that I don't do it to their faces.)

*It's recently come to my attention that I really don't like turkey. I've never loved it, but I could deal with it because I knew it would only show up once a year. But I think we're breaking up now. Every year I try to convince the family to do Thanksgiving Tofurkey style, but now I don't even want that. I don't want a turkey or anything that is supposed to even slightly resemble a turkey. I think next year we'll be doing a smaller bird for Jay and the boy and I'll just load up on sides the way the girl does.

*Carla has been doing some really interesting posts about her Mennonite faith. I admit to previously being hopelessly clueless about Mennonites so I'm finding it all very fascinating. (You can find posts here and here.)

*Has anyone been watching the show Downsized on the WE network? Long story short, it's a reality show about a family of nine (two adults, seven kids) who went from being fairly wealthy to living below the poverty level when the economy tanked. I don't normally get worked up about a TV show, especially a reality show, but this one has deeply affected me. In one of the first episodes I watched, one of the teenage daughters went to the store to get a few grocery items and was given the food stamp card to pay for it all. After everything was rung up, she was told she only had $2 available on the card, so she had to put all of her items back and left with only a packet of gravy mix. I was bawling like a baby while watching this. I would be mortified if that happened to me now, I can only imagine how awful it would feel as a teenager and half the people working in the store go to your high school. I know that I'm totally gushing about this (I've already called my best friend and gotten quite choked up), but I really feel like if you've ever had any financial problems ever, you should be watching this show. And if you have older children, they should be watching it with you.

*Have any of you ever made a brown sugar pie? I made one for Thanksgiving (I got the recipe from I Like You by Amy Sedaris), and although it tasted fine and still got eaten, it didn't set as well as I would have liked and was a bit goopy in the middle. Anyone have any thoughts on this?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Snow Day

For the last week or so the weather man had been threatening us with snow and rain, but all we ever saw in our neck of the woods was the rain part. That all changed last night. I looked out on the back balcony and there was a thin layer of snow covering everything. Just enough to make a few small but well packed snow balls. This morning I woke up, checked the school district's website and sure enough....snow day. I didn't realize school would be cancelled over such a small dusting of snow, but the roads are quite slick, which I guess is the main concern. Not only is this the kids' first snow day, but mine as well. The last time I saw snow I was just a little girl, not even in school yet. (I've had my share of hurricane days though.)

The kids and I walked over to the park to check it all out. So far my morning has been filled with lots of coffee (for me) and hot cocoa (for the kids), warm foods, and saying new-to-me phrases like "Please take off your muddy, slush covered boots before walking on the carpet" or "Where is your other mitten?"

I hope wherever you are, you're enjoying the weather you have.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Book Review:: The Night Bookmobile (Plus, A Few Thoughts on the Graphic Novel)

Late one night after a fight with her boyfriend, Alexandra takes a walk and comes upon a parked Winnebago. The man in the driver's seat, Robert Openshaw, explains that it's The Night Bookmobile, it's only open from dusk to dawn, and then he invites her to come inside and see the collection. Upon further inspection, Alexandra realizes that not only has she read every book in the library, but that there are even copies of her old childhood diaries housed in the Winnebago. Mr. Openshaw explains that the Bookmobile is her personal library and that everything she has ever read is catalogued there. But as the sun begins to rise, Mr. Openshaw and the Winnebago are forced to go, leaving Alexandra wanting more.

Over the coming years, Alexandra comes upon the Bookmobile a few more times, each time it's larger and updated with all the recent books she's read. But it's never enough and she becomes obsessed with the Bookmobile. She goes to school, becomes a real librarian, and later the director of a large library in Chicago. Still, she's empty, she wants to work in her personal library with her private collection. But can she get there? And if she does, will she be happy with her choice?

This is the second graphic novel I've read by Audrey Niffenegger, the first being The Three Incestuous Sisters, which I admit to checking out from the library because I thought it would be wildly freaky. It was not. It was very dull. The Night Bookmobile though, was wonderful. The story was completely original and I never knew what would happen next. The ending was somewhat shocking and magical, but in a good way.

I know a lot of people tend to avoid graphic novels and I'm not sure why. Maybe for fear of there not being a good plot or cohesive, linear storyline? (I admit I've read a lot of crappy graphic novels.) Maybe you think of them as comics, thus not real literature? Or maybe you just don't want to spend your book money on a book that you can read in one night? I can totally understand that. But if you've never read a decent graphic novel then you're truly missing out on a large genre of literature and a type of storytelling like no other, that a lot of times focuses on topics you won't find in typical novels.

So if you've been avoiding the graphic novel, it's time to shake your fear and head to your library. If you don't know where to begin, here are a few of my favorites:

*The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

*Blankets by Craig Thompson

*The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

Do you like graphic novels? If so, what are some of your favorites?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Randomness About My Past as One of Jehovah's Witnesses and My Present as Not One

I really don't think much about my past life as one of Jehovah's Witnesses anymore. Of course it's all there, always sort of hovering around in my brain.....but as far as day to day goes, I don't give it much thought. This time of year though, it all begins to rumble around me like constant thunder. You'd think that I'd be here, purging all my thoughts and feelings but it really is the one thing I can't write about in any cohesive manner. I just don't have a clue where to begin. So I keep it all in until I feel like there is just no more room in my head and then I come here and spew a bunch of randomness until I feel better. It's a weird routine I've gotten into. But here it goes:

*I sometimes see Jehovah's Witnesses going from door to door in my neighborhood. When they come to my apartment I either don't answer the door, or answer it and just quickly say that I'm not interested. I have no desire to get into any theological discussion with any off those people. I hate that religion and disagree with the majority of the beliefs. But, I think that the practicers of the religion are basically good people who got swept up with an all consuming faith that completely took over their lives. In their hearts they feel they are doing the right thing because they are told over and over that they are, and I can't fault them for that. Nor can I try to change their minds about it all. Although I want to. I so want to. But you can't argue with people about faith/religion/god. Well, you can. But unless someone wants to hear what you have to say, it's futile.

*I sometimes find myself humming songs we used to sing at The Kingdom Hall (the JW church). I find this irritating because none of their songs are particularly pretty or well written. There's one called Let's Watch How We Walk and it's all about watching what you do and say because people of 'the world' are always looking to judge you and the religion and if they see it in a negative light, then they won't convert and have eternal life. And if they don't gain eternal life, then you're essentially blood guilty, and who wants that? But yeah, I hate that those songs are in my head taking up valuable brain space.

*I wish that I could talk to my dad about all this. But he's still an active member of the church and anything I say to him would be seen as completely sacrilegious. He may even go so far as to assume that my thoughts and words aren't my own, but that I'm under the influence of the devil. In recent years our relationship has gotten better but I know that we'll never be close while he's one of Jehovah's Witnesses because there is a whole portion of my life that I can't share with him for fear of offending his completely irrational belief system. I can't send him pictures of the girl dressed for Halloween or pictures of the kids faces on Christmas morning. When my dad and I do talk, there is a whole host of topics we both just sort of mutually avoid. After we talk about Jay's work and the kids, we usually end up discussing real estate or politics. Is that a normal father/daughter conversation? I don't know, it feels like something is missing.

*Random fact: There was a study done by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and it found that "Jehovah's Witnesses have the lowest retention rate of any religious tradition. Only 37% of those who say they were raised as Jehovah's Witnesses still identify themselves as Jehovah's Witnesses." (The full report can be seen here.)

*As far as my childhood goes, it wasn't an awful one and I never want to give the impression that I was abused. I was loved. I had everything I needed. But I was sheltered to the point where I think it stifled my development in many ways. I was always shy to begin with, but the fact that I had this viewpoint that the entire world was evil except for those who served Jehovah, made it even worse. Plus, I was an only child. There are times I remember being painfully lonely. I see my own kids now and they have so many friends and such active social lives. I didn't have that as a kid. Mostly, I think I've gotten beyond that now. I'll always be an introvert because I think that's just my personality, but I consider myself normal. More or less.

*I regret hanging around the Witnesses as long as I did, mainly because it caused my son to miss out on so much in his early childhood. He sees the girl going to birthday parties and trick or treating and he makes comments that he wishes he could have done those things. It makes me sad because I know he can't get those years back. But there really isn't anything I can do about it now, I can only try to make the rest of his childhood as normal as possible, and I think Jay and I are doing a pretty good job of that.

Anyway....I guess that's all I have to say about this right now until the time when it bubbles up once again. As always, please feel free to leave any thoughts or questions in the comments section and I'll try to respond to them in the best way I know how.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Ornaments

As Peggy mentioned in the comments of my last post, we have a lot of ornaments for a family that has never had a Christmas tree before. While a few meaningful ones have been purchased new, most have been picked up within the last few months at garage sales and Goodwill. I thought I'd take a few moments to share some of my favorite thrifted ones with you.

These green balls are my absolute favorite:I love, love, love them. I have a set of 14 that I bought at a garage sale for about $4. They look vintage but I don't think they are. They probably originally came from Target or some place similar.

This sled ornament also came from a garage sale.I think it was some outrageous price like 25 cents. It's hand painted and the date on the side says 1983. I know that it may seem weird to some that I have other folk's personal, hand made ornaments hanging from my tree, but I have no problem co-opting someones happy memories and making them my own. Plus, I think that in twenty years, these ornaments will have more personal meaning to me. They'll serve to remind me of our first real holiday season.

I bought these dog balls (ha, dog balls) at Goodwill this past weekend. They were $2.99 for a set of eight. Being that we are atheistic around these parts, our tree doesn't have any serious religious meaning to us, so I have no problem kitsching it up a bit and these are just good, tacky fun. Who knows though, we may tire of them and send them back to Goodwill after the holidays are over. (Sorry the glare on these is so awful. Bad timing, elusive Oregon sun.)These last three ornaments came in a grab bag from Goodwill. The bag cost $7.99 and was filled with probably close to fifty ornaments. A lot were handmade, some were cuter than others, some just aren't us, but the kids and I had fun going through them all. The girl put them all on the tree but when the holidays are over I'll definitely be going through and keeping only the ones we love.

This one is the girl's favorite, probably because it's pink. It's handmade from a clothespin, but handmade well, meaning it doesn't look like a first grader's craft project.She's holding the tiniest jar of potpourri with a gift tag for Leslie so I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that this was a gift for Leslie. The year 1984 is written on the bottom. Apparently the early eighties were a good time for handmade crafts. In my mind I like to think that some crafty mom made these ornaments for her kids every year and that Leslie is her daughter. The truth could be something completely different and Leslie could be a raging bitch but I'm sticking with my happy fantasy.

This guy makes me chuckle every time I look at him. He looks like something straight out of the Rudolph special they show on TV every year.Now this last guy certainly isn't fancy but I wanted to share him with you because I think his construction is pretty clever:His head and body are two nuts glued together:I think it's such a cute, but still quick and simple, craft idea.

I'm still finding my rhythm with this whole holiday tree thing and I guess the possibilities for decorating it are almost endless. Do you decorate your tree differently every year, maybe adopting a different theme? Because the control freak nut job in me could totally get on board the idea of maybe one year only using pastel colored ornaments, or striped ornaments, etc. What are your favorite ornaments and why? Is it the same year after year? What about lights? Do you change those out every year? And while we're on the subject of Christmas lights, are they the shittiest, most shoddily made products or what? I have a feeling that the next three months of my life are going to be spent wiggling teeny tiny bulbs trying to find the culprit that is keeping the whole string from blinking.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Tree

Now I know that by a lot of standards it's a bit early for Christmas Tree shopping, but for us, this past Saturday was the perfect day. Jay has a few busy weeks coming up. His store is getting remodeled and he'll be working overnights all of this week, then he has to work Thanksgiving until about three in the morning, so we really need to take advantage of family time where we can find it. Plus, the weather this weekend was cold and drippy and put us in the perfect mood for sloshing around the tree farm.

We went to Lee's Farm, which is this great family farm not far from our apartment.
It didn't take us long to find the perfect tree. One that was nice and full, yet not too tall. Stump throwing commenced while waiting for someone to come and cut our tree: The man with the saw soon arrived:
The tree is then carried off to be shook out and tied to our car:While we were waiting we ate pumpkin donuts (!!!) and hung out with a few farm animals: As many of you know, this is my family's first *real* Christmas. (Or you may not have known that. Or you may have known but forgot. Either way, if you want to read more about that, this post and this post are good places to start.) Even though it's been a long time since I've actually considered myself one of Jehovah's Witnesses, the celebration of most holidays has never really been high on my list and Jay is so easy going that he's never cared one way or another. Plus, since I have family members that are still Witnesses, it was hard to really celebrate anything in any kind of overt manner because it would inevitably start up a discussion that no one really wanted to have. Simply put, it was easiest just to avoid the whole thing.

But now, here we are, thousands of miles away from my whole messy, sad past and it seems like a great time to start doing certain things. Let the holiday season begin.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Book Review:: Dark Places

When Libby Day was seven, her mother and two sisters were murdered as she was in the closet hiding from the chaos. Knowing she heard her brother Ben's voice in the house and that he was involved with a rough crowd, she testified against him and he went to prison.

Flash forward twenty five years. Ben is still in prison and Libby is now in her early thirties and having a rough go at life. She's basically friendless, alone, and can't hold down a job and now that the trust fund set up in her name has been depleted, she needs to do something fast.

Enter The Kill Club, a group of average folks who meet to discuss the specifics of famous crimes, one of them being the murders of Libby's family. They are convinced that Libby's testimony had been coerced and that Ben is innocent. At first Libby wants nothing to do with the Club, but then she realizes that they are willing to pay her to go back and talk to Ben and other people associated with that night. In desperate need of money, she agrees. But as she talks to surviving relatives and reconnects with people from her past, she soon realizes that maybe she isn't so certain about everything after all.

This is another AMAZING book from Gillian Flynn. Each chapter is written from the perspective of a different character and at different time: Ben today, Libby today, their mother the day of the murders, etc and it was such a fascinating way to get all the details to the story. The way Gillian Flynn built the mystery by adding new, albeit small, details every chapter kept me totally on the edge of my seat and aching to read more. Plus, she's really good at writing about these horrific, gruesome events in a way that never really seems scary. Which I like, because I'm not really a fan of horror type books.

This is the second Flynn book I've read (the first is reviewed here) and she has no more books at the moment and I'm sad because everything I'm picking up now is falling short of the mark. Even the new Sedaris isn't really doing it for me. There is a definite down side to reading a really great book.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Comfort Food

This innocent looking plate of mush is actually the Chick Pea and Potato Mash from Apples for Jam. Basically, you saute a can of chick peas in olive oil, garlic, and sage. Once they're soft, puree them with a bit of butter and milk and then fold that mixture into whatever mashed potatoes you have laying about. I used instant, which I know is totally lame, but the boy eats constantly and if I didn't have things like that on hand, I'd never leave the kitchen.

I have to admit that as I was making this I thought "They aren't going to go for this. It's going to seem too healthy and weird and they're going to make fun of me the way they always do." But they loved it! The boy shoveled it in wordlessly-a good sign-and Jay ate a heaping helping, saying that the beans didn't take away at all from the way he associates mashed potatoes with good, simple, comfort food. Initially the girl was a bit turned off by the color but after some prodding she cleaned her plate too. As for me, I really couldn't even taste the actual chick peas, it just tasted like seasoned mashed potatoes. I liked it so much that I made some more the next day.

I almost always have chick peas on hand so I'll definitely be making this again. It's an easy way to sneak some fiber into my otherwise white bread family.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Curried Squash and Apple Soup

This is Curried Squash and Apple Soup and I totally get that it may not be your thing. Apples in soup? Curry? A raisin garnish. Yeah, I know it's a bit atypical. But it's delicious.

Friday when I came home from volunteering at the girl's school, there was a piping hot bowl waiting for me. It was made even better by the giant slab of nutty, crusty bread accompanying it. Jay knows I like to carbo load when eating soup.

The recipe is from Soup: A Way of Life, which is a book we've had for over a decade but it's usually used more as inspiration than actual instruction. Jay is the soup maker around here and frankly, he needs no stinkin' book. He's one of those people that can throw random items in a pot and have a delicious soup in an hour. But, for whatever reason, he decided to follow the recipe almost exactly. The only major change he made was that he didn't puree the apples, which is fine by me because I prefer my soup to be chunky.

I've had at least one bowl of this soup everyday since Friday, including this morning after coming in wet and cold from getting caught in the rain. Soup, it's not just for dinner anymore.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Highlights of the Week

This morning Jay said, "Hey, do you think you have a blog post in you anywhere? Because it's been a while."

Yeah, yeah. What can I say? I have a bit more of a life here than I did in Florida and lately I'm finding it hard to fit it all in and still have time for my reading, sub par crafting, and copious TV watching. So here's a short rundown of what I've been up to:

*Wednesday after school the girl and I had company in the form of a classmate, her younger sister, and her mom. We walk to school with them and have been over to their house, but this was the first time having them over. This is a big step for me because it's hard for me to invite people into my little world. Which I know seems weird because I have no problem talking about seriously private stuff here on the old blog, but to actually have people physically in my space is another story. Anyway, the day before the visit was spent cleaning and disinfecting and just all around making the place presentable. I don't know why I bother because something disgusting is bound to happen once guests arrive: the cat will do a giant, smelly turd in the cat box or the chihuahua will come out and drag her ass on the carpet. You know, the usual. Fortunately our play date went well and the pets were mostly behaved. The only true glitch was when the girl announced over lunch that the reason the chihuahua is locked in the bathroom is because she "has her period." Note to self: Get chihuahua fixed.

*That night Jay and I watched THE.WORST.MOVIE we'd ever seen. It was called Emmanuelle. We were intrigued by this flick because it was supposed to be really groundbreaking in the seventies for it's graphic sexual nature. Now going in, we knew it was from the seventies so we weren't expecting a lot, but it was just awful. The sex wasn't sexy and the storyline was non existent, which I guess is to be expected but there was also this weird rape thing going on at the end that I wasn't into at all, to say the least. The next day I did some research and apparently this movie was only the beginning in a loooooong line of soft core porn movies. Which is good to know because now I know to steer clear of them. I'm all for a sexy movie but I'm making a vow to avoid all genres of movies with the word 'core' in front of them. It just makes me feel like a degenerate and a waster of time. Like, "Well, I could have been blogging or reading a book but instead I spent an hour and a half watching soft core porn." Yeah, it just makes me feel like a loser.

*Today I volunteered at the girl's school. (How's that for a segue?) The school district here has an Art Literacy program where parent volunteers help out in teaching art to the kids, usually in a way that goes above and beyond what they may learn in a typical weekly art class. My mommy friend (the one privy to the inner workings of Sadie's menstrual cycle) is actual the head volunteer for the kids' class but she needed an extra pair of hands so I helped out. Today's lesson was all about symmetry and the kids did chalk drawings on sandpaper of King Tut and there was a lot of focus on getting the eyes and the ears in the right place so that the face was symmetrical. It really was a lot of fun and went so smoothly. Even though the girl doesn't really give a hoot about art, I love that she's being exposed to this sort of thing. Art class had long been cut out of the budget in Gainesville and there really wasn't a lot of parental support in the form of volunteers. (As a side note: One thing I have noticed is that Oregon makes it much easier for parents to volunteer and be present in their kid's education. For instance, if you want to volunteer in your kid's class but you also have a four year old, the four year old can come with you provided they aren't a disruption. A lot of the volunteers bring the siblings into the class and there are no problems. This was not allowed in Florida and it was pretty vehemently enforced. It's sad really because that ruled out a large chunk of the parental community.)

*The boy has been kind of a butthole on and off lately. Nothing serious. I guess he's just at that age where he still wants to be around us, but yet is conditioned to believe that we're uncool so there is an inner struggle. He wants us around, but quietly and in a way so that others don't know we are related. Twelve is a blast.

Other than that, not much going on here. Reading a lot, giving serious thought to holiday gifts, etc. More than anything, I'm ready for the weekend so that I can sleep in past 6:45.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween Wrap Up

Halloween really isn't my thing. I like watching others get dressed up and totally immerse themselves in it, but I'm content to stay home mentally judging costumes and handing out candy. The boy, being very much like me, donned only a wolf mask and met trick or treaters with a half hearted Grrr, before soon tiring of the whole thing and deciding to play video games.

I would like to share something that I overheard between my son and a group of female teenage trick or treaters, just moments after I told my son to only give out one piece of candy per person because I wanted to make sure we'd have enough candy for the whole night.

Girl Dressed as Whoopie Cushion: "Ooh you're scary. Do I know you? Who are you?"

My son removes his mask and the girl says, "Ooooooh, you're cute."

I'm standing in the kitchen (rolling my eyes), neither of the kids can see me and I can't see them but I can almost feel my son blushing.

Then Whoopie Cushion asks, "Can I have two pieces of candy?"

Of course by this point my son has no mental powers whatsoever and I hear him mumble something like,"Yeah, whatever, go ahead" and I imagine that he's now pushed the bowl of candy at Whoopie so that she can take and take and take like the taker that she is. Then I hear Whoopie Cushion stomping down the stairs with a fistful of the candy she conned from my son through flattery.

I have no idea how I'm going to make it through the teenage years.

The night wasn't all teenage shenanigans though, most of the kids were really polite and sweet (even the older ones) and the girl and Jay came home with enough candy to last us until next Halloween. This was the girl's first time trick or treating and she went as a fairy princess.I have to admit that at first I was really tempted to spend a lot of money on a fancy costume but, in the spirit of Enviromom's Buy Nothing New Halloween, I'm so glad I didn't. The girl's costume was cobbled together from things we already had, the only 'new' part of the costume is the cape, which I made in about ten minutes out of some fabric that I had gotten in a fabric grab bag at Goodwill. I'm excited that I was able to find a use for it because unless I had decided to start my own business making Quinceanera dresses, it would have probably sat unused in my cabinet forever.The girl is so easy to please at this age that she loved her costume and thought it was the greatest thing ever. Which is good, because it won't be long before she'll be standing on someones front steps dressed as a Whoopie Cushion, conning some poor, mindless boy out of his candy.