Monday, March 29, 2010

Why Did We Like This? An American Tail

Friday night was a good night for snuggling on the couch together and watching a movie. We were flipping through our choices on Netflix (Netflix + XBox = Netflix streaming on our TV, wheee!) and Ryan settled on Don Bluth's 1986 feel-good paean to the American dream, An American Tail. We remembered both liking the movie as kids, and figured we'd give Piper a run at it. We're pretty picky about what we let her watch, but from what we remembered, this should meet our critera. And it's not like she could ask us to buy her 586 Fievel toys next time we go to Target. Until she learns how to use Ebay, we'd be safe.

She got squirmy and ran around destroying things after about 15 minutes, as usual, but begged us not to turn it off when we tried. Which was unfortunate. Like so many things we enjoyed as children, this movie made us want to poke our eyes out as adults.

R: Why did we like this again?
S: I don't know. I just don't know. 
R: His tongue is freaky. It just keeps poking out of his mouth like it has a mind of its own. Why the hell does a mouse have a tongue that huge?
S: His adorable child-like manner of speaking makes me want to punch that little mouse in the face.

R: Why don't his clothes fit? They don't have proper clothing in Russia?
S: I guess not. Not even in Imaginary Cartoon Russia.
R: You think at some point he would just cut off the ends of those sleeves.
S: If he loses that stupid hat again, I am going to SCREAM.

R: Why is the seagull wearing a tuxedo and a top hat?
S: I think it's a pigeon.
R: Okay, but why does he have to be French?
S: Uhh...because pigeons just crap all over everything and are completely annoying and useless?
R: And have to take prostitutes everywhere they go, apparently.

R: Oh, COME ON! That's like the fifth time Fievel has almost but not quite crossed paths with his family. The fake-anticipation is making my eyeballs itch.
S: Now I understand why my mom got that look on her face whenever we asked to watch this movie. I understand why the videotape would mysteriously disappear for months at a time. And why, when they took us to see it in the theater, all the other parents looked physically uncomfortable.

R: Oh, wow! You know what this means?
S: What?
R: The entire rest of the Mousekewitz family went through Ellis Island or wherever, like they're supposed to, but Fievel snuck in. He's an illegal alien!
S: Ooh, they're gonna have to come and get him with guns, like Elian Gonzalez.

S: Oh, look, they got the cats. Does this mean the movie is over?
R: YES. And now let's never watch it again. We shall not even speak of it from this day forth.
S: Agreed.

Unfortunately, we forgot to get Piper in on this little pact. She's been asking to "watch the mouse one again."

P: You wanna watch the mouse one again? Please? We can watch the mouse one.
S: Uhh...I don't know kiddo, I don't think I can find it.
P: Can you look for the mouse one please? Mommy can find it?
S: Here, let's watch this instead! ("This" was the Shirley Temple verson of Heidi, non-colorized thankyouverymuch)
P: I don't like this one. I want the mouse one. Can we watch a different one? The mouse one?
S: You don't like this one? It's about a little girl and her grandpa.
P: I don't want this grandpa one. I don't like this one. I want THE MOUSE ONE.

Lucky for me, it was bedtime.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Leaf Baby

She immediately went for this huge pile of leaves in the street and DOVE right in. We were in the student ghetto, and all I could think was "Please don't let there be dog poop in there...or broken glass...or used needles...or puke..." She had fun, but after about five minutes my nerves couldn't take it and I made her come out.

From our visit to Kalamazoo and the Vine St. neighborhood, Kalamazoo, MI, November 2009.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Walk in Kalamazoo

Some more photos from our November ramble around Kalamazoo's Vine St. Neighborhood:

I bribed her with a Rice Krispie treat from the coffee shop to get her to a) walk and b) occasionally stand still for photos.

Stripes of spray paint on a fence. Ahh, college.

She thought the pumpkins were pretty cool, though.

"His face is all smushed in. Dat's kinda gross.  His face is gross."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Student Ghetto Revisited

This was the neighborhood we lived in while we were in college in Kalamazoo, MI. Street after street of ramshackle Victorians, hacked up into teeny apartments, with umpteen mailboxes on the front of each one and couches on porches and cars always overflowing the driveways. It was a great neighborhood, despite the noise and general college-student dumbassery. It's still my favorite place we've ever lived.

In November, I took Piper there, to see some friends and poke around town. We spent two nights at the apartment my adorable sister shares with her adorable boyfriend. They live smack in the middle of the student ghetto, so I was more than pleased to be within walking distance of all the stuff I wanted to re-visit.

Piper and I went to the park on Davis St., and we walked past the apartment where I lived when I met Ryan. I told her about our life there, and about my life before I met her dad. I showed her all the places I'd lived on Vine Street, the mere mention of which is synonymous with student-ghetto living to Kalamazoo dwellers.

When I lived there, I couldn't imagine living the life I have now. And now? I can barely remember the person I was then.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Little Milo Green

Another one of these. I skipped the cable again, but did stripes.  I was trying to use up some old yarn that's been in my stash since I learned to knit 4 years ago, but I wound up going out and buying a whole 'nother ball of the green anyway.  Sigh. That's usually how it works, right? It's really a nice pattern, but something about it doesn't quite seem to fit her properly. They've both come out a little big in the shoulders, even though this one is a a size smaller than the the blue one. Project details on Ravelry are here.

She loves it anyway, and it's kept her warm during these not-quite-spring times.

She loves these mannequins. She calls them "my friends" which makes me smile at the same time it breaks my heart, for some reason. I think it's because she doesn't have any actual, human, recurring friends in her life. I just cannot seem to dig up consistent age-appropriate playmates for her.

Anyway, about the knitting: The stockinette body of this vest also came out crooked-looking, prompting me to try and figure out what the hell is wrong with my technique. I finally figured out that I've been doing a few things wrong the entire time I've been knitting. Things like, um...the purling...and the knitting. WRONG. For four years. I watched a lot of videos and mostly corrected myself, but then a friend asked me to teach her to knit and I decided it would be more fun to take a class together. I thought the class might well be a waste of $45 and four hours, but I am the sort of person who needs the reassurance of someone checking my work. It worked out well, because instead of being bored I learned to knit continental-style (working yarn coming in from the left, instead of the right as it does in English-style knitting) and was able to help other members of the class when they struggled. Sometimes the teacher didn't seem to explain things in a way that everyone could understand - I think it's the problem of teaching something that comes easily to you - and I was glad I had some previous experience or I might've been totally lost and felt really dumb and started crying in the middle of the yarn shop. I felt nice and useful, though, because I was able to translate his rapid-fire instructions into something that my classmates could more readily absorb.

Part 2 of our class is this week, and we will learn proper purling. Wish me luck!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Thursday, March 18, 2010

For the Love of Puddles

The aftermath of two days' worth of downpours is a true delight for a little girl whose favorite activity involves a pair of rain boots and lots of splashing:


Of course, I failed to notice until we were already outside that she'd grabbed her good (read:  new, a little too big, and WHITE) coat instead of her (brown, last year's, badly-in-need-of-washing) play coat. So after we came in I spent an hour scrubbing red-orange mud spots off of cream-colored polyvinyl and white polyester lining.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Owning Things Is Expensive, and My Sister Loves KG

I know my usual wordiness has been somewhat absent from these parts lately (most of you are probably saying "thank goodness, because you talk type too much and we'd rather look at pictures anyway"). First I was busy cleaning and straightening and hiding the whips and chains getting ready for my mom + sister + sister's boyfriend to come visit.

Then, the day before their arrival, I learned a hard lesson about not eating dairy products found at the back of the fridge if you can't remember when you bought them. Turns out sour cream can go bad after all, and "I don't see any furry green spots so I think it'll be fine" is not a good way to judge freshness. However, two days of feeling sick to my stomach 24 hours a day, being unable to consume anything other than ginger ale and saltines with the salt scraped off did cure me of any lingering thoughts I might have about getting pregnant again any time soon. Not that we were planning on it, but sometimes it seems like I'm surrounded by babies and my mind wanders...ahem. Considering I only lost one measly pound for all my suffering, it felt pretty unfair.

Then my family was here and although I had a good time with them (except for the part where my sister and I almost got into a screaming match about Kate Gosselin), it was an exhausting 2.5 days of driving them around and cooking huge meals (while still feeling pretty queasy) and making sure everybody had enough blankets and I had my first knitting class in there too and Ryan had to work every day so it was all on me. One night while they were here, we also had to get up at 2:00 am and bail a friend out of jail. That was entertaining, let me tell you.

Oh, and then we decided to take my computer in to have it looked at, and $245 plus one argument with the tech people that had to go up the ladder all the way to their district managers, my computer works only marginally better than it did before (thanks to the anti-virus software eating up all my memory) but I am assured that it is virus-free (and, because of said argument, the work is guaranteed, at least for a little while). $367 dollars later, the front driver's-side wheel on our second car is no longer in danger of detaching itself and wheeling out into the stratosphere while the car is moving.

It's been an expensive week, and it's only Wednesday.

P.S. Happy St. Patrick's Day. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Greenfield Village: Chickens

When we visited my family in November, I asked my dad to take me to Greenfield Village. I had never been, all those years I lived in Michigan, and my Dad loves the place.  It's amazing,  really.  Building after building that has been carefully taken apart, shipped, and re-assmbled...on a the middle of the city. They have Thomas Edison's workshop, painstakingly restored and outfitted with all his equipment. You can even ride in a Model T, which we did, and which was way fun.

 They raise animals there, including several heirloom varieties of chickens.  Piper was with us, and thought the chickens were pretty cool.

 She spent at least ten minutes chasing them, saying "Hey turkey come back, can I pet you?"

 The chickens were not impressed.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

October 2008: Lists, Part 2

Another one of the posts I've found abandoned in draft mode. Orignally written 10/28/08. Piper was 16 months old, starting to talk a lot, and running, jumping and climbing with ease. We had been in our house in Charlotte for about six months.     

Things My Child Likes To Pay With
Broken cellphones
Cat toys
Kleenex boxes
Entire rolls of oh-so-shreddable toilet paper
My knitting books
The horribly pink singing teapot my mom bought her
Bottle caps
Anything she can reach through the child-safety-latched cupboard door and grab
Entire bottles of shampoo
Ink pens
Yard trash

 Things My Child Couldn't Care Less About
The $10 all-natural wooden teething ring she liked in the store
The $11 Petey Piranha plush she wouldn't let go of in the store
The $12 Domo plush she wouldn't let us leave the store without
The $30 non-toxic and totally safe Haba Stockpile House she wouldn't leave alone in the store
The gigantic stuffed dinosaur plush she carried around the grocery store for twenty minutes
The other two gigantic stuffed dinosaur plushes we bought because she loved the first one so much and they were on clearance
The gigantic "world's biggest piano mat!" my in-laws bought her last Christmas, which is taking up space in the closet.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Mud Day

From mid-February. The snow we've been getting recently never sticks around long, and for a little girl who loves to wear her rain boots and jump in puddles, this has been the best winter ever.

Thursday, March 04, 2010


This is what happens when 2.5-year-olds get control of their own wardrobes.  She is wearing:

A green-and-white-striped shirt over a two-tone blue-striped shirt;
A cream-colored skirt with sparkles, which falls down constantly;
Black tights and maroon legwarmers;
Pink-and-blue polka-dot rainboots;
A blue fleece cape with green apples on it.

She was quite happy with her outfit, except the skirt, which has a too-big, too-slick waistband and won't stay up, especially not over tights.  Eventually she exchanged it for another skirt, which was black with a tiny orange pumpkin on it.

Unlike some moms, this toddler fashion show does not bother me.  I think it's awesome and hilarious to take my kid out dressed like this.  It's even better when she wears her red cowboy boots and stomps around making clack-clack noises everywhere.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

We're Not Gonna Take It (To The Potluck) Anymore

I usually knock myself out for potlucks.

Pies made from scratch 100% - not even so much as a pre-made crust. Crisp, cheesy Crock-Pot potato recipes that start the day before. Chicken fajita dip that requires warming and mixing just before you set it out so it will be at its yummiest. Cookies that take all day; layer cakes threatening to cover my car interior with homemade buttercream on the drive over; fruit crisps taken out milliseconds before departure so that they are served at a still-bubbling temperature. Complicated transport rigs involving cardboard boxes, silicone potholders, aluminum foil, kitchen towels, and bungee cords. Presentation in my best ceramic or glassware, with hand-lettered signs and decorative ribbon. Big chunks of the grocery budget taken up with quality butter, goat cheese, red wine, white chocolate, imported sugars, organic flour.

For a long time, I did it because I loved to cook, I loved to show off my kitchen skills, and I got satisfaction from knowing that I'd used top-quality ingredients and put my heart and soul into it.

But that was before.  Before this past holiday season wore me down.  It wasn't a horrible, stressful Halloween-to-New Year's run; no more than usual, anyway.  But somewhere in there was the straw that broke the camel's back.

This year was just one too many.  One too many times I'd stood by a long, extra-leaves-added table in someone's dining room, watching as people inhaled Minute Rice and Velveeta while giving my lovingly-made food a wide berth. Too many years of work potlucks where people passed up the pie I'd made from scratch in my tiny, hot-as-Hades kitchen while fighting over the last grocery-store doughnut. One too many times all those expensive, quality ingredients sat getting soggier and sadder in my fridge as I struggled to consume the leftovers I'd had to bring home.  Schelpping my beautiful glass bakeware in its own insulated carryalls home at the end of the night, their weight only marginally less than when I'd taken them out the door a few hours earlier - this had become my own personal walk of shame.

This year, it felt like I spent more time than usual working my ass off on food nobody wanted to eat.  Maybe, if I'm being honest, the seeds were planted last March, when I made, per a friend's request, a chocolate-bourbon-pecan pie (again, from scratch) for his birthday.  He forgot about our plans and failed to show up to eat it (my husband polished it off for him). We re-scheduled and I made my friend another pie...which he also didn't show up to eat (though this time at least it wasn't because he forgot). I made a third one - the third one of these in less than a week - and he finally showed up to eat it, but with just a brush off "Oh, thanks." Three rounds of pecans and bourbon and crust and toiling in a hot kitchen, all in less than a week, and all I get is "Oh, thanks"?

This same friend completely forgot about my birthday a few months later.  He (and his wife) didn't even give me an after-the-fact courtesy "happy birthday" when he asked about my new phone and I said "Oh, it was a present, for my birthday last week." Not a word. Disappointed didn't quite cover what I felt.

Fast-forward to this Thanksgiving, when I was visiting my parents' place and made seven pies in one day.  First there was some whining because I'd only made one pecan, and that was the only pie some of the non-family guests wanted to eat; then, two of my beautiful pies had to be thrown out after a couple of days because nobody thought to refrigerate them.  They were both untouched, the sweet potato's delicate asiago crust uncompromised and the pumpkin's smooth surface unbroken. 

As Christmas time rolled around, I got invited to a cookie exchange.  I figured I'd better bring my A-game, so I got my mom to give me the recipe for a family favorite, small butter thumbprint cookies with a creamcheese & candy-cane filling.  They were a real pain in the ass to make, but delicious.  I also made a pan full of these, a clone recipe for Starbucks White Chocolate Cranberry Bliss Bars. I figured if my fellow exchangers didn't like one, they'd like the other.

When I got to the cookie exchange, I discovered that not everyone thought a cookie-exchange party meant "bring something really cool." There were plywood-tasting slice n' bake cookies, break n' bakes that had been baked in their original squarish shapes, and at least 1/4 of the entries were plain old chocolate chip. One or two people brought bakery cookies, and at least 1/3 of the participants left without taking anything home. I pushed some of my peppermint & cream cheese drops on people as we were filling containers at the end of the night, because even though I knew I'd have no problem eating up the leftovers, I couldn't bear to take a box full of my own cookies home. I already had to take home the cranberry white chocolate bars, which had turned out too crumbly to dish up, not that it mattered because I and the hostess were the only ones who tried them anyway.

Dejected, I soldiered on, readying myself for a friend's Christmas-Eve potluck.  This would be our second year attending, and I think we were the only non-family people on the guest list both years.  I decided not to do anything too elaborate, but I knew that my friend adored both sweet potatoes and goat cheese, so Heidi Swanson's Sweet Potato Spoon Bread (from Super Natural Cooking, the book that changed my life in the kitchen life) seemed like a slam-dunk.  I also brought an apple crisp, for which it was no picnic finding decent out-of-season apples. Both items were made the day of the potluck, and transported fresh from the oven, so they would still be warm for serving.

Which would've been great, had anybody actually eaten them.

Since this crew is all family, everybody pretty much brings the same thing year after year, and I overheard a lot of "Oh, you brought your rice! I'm so glad" or "Did you bring that mac & cheese?  I was hoping you would!" I have no problem with this...but they don't even try anything else. As I filled my own Chinet plate with items I could easily feed to Piper, I watched as spoonful after spoonful of fluorescent yellow macaroni and cheese or greasy Lil Smokies disappeared, while the perfect golden-brown, cheese-flecked surface of my spoon bread remained untouched.  I eventually grabbed a spoonful for myself, since it is delicious, and my friend said later that she did try it and liked it. But we were the only ones who even gave it a second glance.

My apple crisp fared only slightly better. When I went in for a round of desserts, I at least found I wasn't the first person to broach its crispy surface with the spoon (although I'd wager I was the second, and only other person that night who did). At the end of the evening, as I packed up my dishes and my now-cranky child, I felt like crying. I had a moment of deja vu, and realized that this was the second year in a row I'd left feeling disappointed in this way.  The previous year, I had made an apple pie and, because I know there are people like my husband who don't like fruit pies, I had bought a frozen Oreo pie from the store.  All night I'd watched as the store-bought one disappeared, its peaks of chemically-solidified whipped cream being cut into again and again. Meanwhile, my hand-made love letter to Washington apples sat in its glass dish, with only one piece gone. I had apple pie for breakfast for the next week.

I decided right then and there that I wasn't going to do it anymore. No more pies for people who wouldn't eat them, no more food-from-scratch for work potlucks or places where it hadn't been appreciated.  From now on, I will bring plates and cups as my contribution.  I will bring drinks, or napkins, or help clean up afterward.  But I'm not going to break my back cooking for people who don't appreciate it anymore.  If they'd rather have Velveeta on Minute Rice...well, let them. I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore. 

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Light Source

I took this (with my phone) when we were outside playing.  At first, I thought it was a throwaway photo, but the more I looked at it, the more I liked it.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Mark it With an "H"

Piper got invited to her first-ever birthday party of a classmate last weekend, and we were both psyched for her and nervous.

She's only been at this school for a couple of months (less than, actually), so we didn't know the birthday boy well.  I think it was one of those "invite everyone in the class" things.  Still, we were excited, as much for the opportunity to hang around other adults and possibly make friends as for Piper to have a social outing.

The party got re-scheduled; it was supposed to be on a Saturday afternoon at 3:30, but the birthday boy took ill and it was re-scheduled to the following Sunday.  At 10:30 in the morning.  While this sounds like a weird time to have a party, once I thought about it, it actually seemed better than the middle-of-the day times I'm used to seeing. Most of the under-5's I know still nap, and nap right after lunch, somewhere in the 1:00 to 3:00 range.  The party was at a Bounce U, and I couldn't think of a better way to wear my kid out than pumping her full of birthday cake and turning her loose in a variety of bouncy structures and obstacle courses.  About the time everyone is getting sick of each other and ready to drop in their tracks, taa-daa! Party's over, time for a nap.

Anyway, we didn't know the kid well but figured books were a good bet - all the parents I know get sick of reading the same ones over and over and welcome a change in the roster - so we got him a collection of Stuart Little adventures and Syd Hoff's The Horse In Harry's Room. I was going to craft some sort of fabulous stenciled hoodie or...something...but didn't get to it (and wasn't sure if these were the sort of people to appreciate handmade gifts), so I figured I'd better bring my A-game to the wrapping table:

The birthday boy's name started with "H," so I ran with it. The brown paper is kraft paper that was used as padding in some shipping package; the brown ribbon was saved from a friend's sweet cupcake-box decorations at her son's party; the "H" letters I traced from my own home-made templates and cut out of double-sided scrapbook paper. I glued down both the ribbons and the H's.
(Please excuse blurry phone photos, I only remembered to snap a couple shots as we were zooming out the door) 

They looked cute, but the paper was a little thin and I double-layered the (sturdier and hardcover) Stuart Little book.  This plus the glued-on ribbon and letters created a nearly-impenetrable fortress of gift wrap. It took the poor kid several minutes of struggling to get it open. He had similar trouble with the second one (although it was only single-layer-wrapped) and his mom helped him because she was afraid he was going to tear the softcover book.  Whoops.

But he seemed to like the books, and forgot all about his other presents once he cracked open the Stuart Little. His mom thanked me, saying "We always need more books, we get so tired of the ones we have at home." So that made me feel good, even if my fancy wrapping job was kind of a fail.

I was really glad we went, because (due to the re-scheduled time, I think), it was just the birthday boy, his older brother, a friend of the older brother, and Piper.  The other parents (birthday boy & brother's mom and dad, friend's mom) all agreed that maybe it was better this way, because four kids under age 5 was totally manageable, whereas 12 kids...maybe not so much.

The kids got to visit two different rooms in the bounce place, and there were different activities and structures in each room.  It was pretty cool, because by the time they got bored in one room, it was time to move on, and then when they started to wind down in the second room, it was time for pizza and cake. The cake was this huge squashed-face Elmo cupcake-cake which the other parents thought was cute but we found a little disturbing.  I find cupcake-cakes a little disturbing in general. Most of the kids just ate the two inches of technicolor frosting off the top of their cupcakes and left the rest.  A good time was had by all, and an excellent nap was taken shortly after the end of the party.