Friday, February 29, 2008

An update on My 101!

I am s-l-o-w-l-y making progress!

My 101

Record family history (Create a family tree with my grandmother? Photos? Stories?)
Take Clay’s picture professionally at least once every 6 months
Make a will
Make a living will
Talk with Laura about Clay
Send a Christmas card to an estranged family member
Write to my grandmother
Attend services at three local churches
Volunteer in a way that’s meaningful to me (I've been working on TWO volunteer projects, and there's another one in the near future that I've agreed to.)
Go back to the gym – at least 3 times a week (YAY, me!)
Lose 10 pounds
Keep it off for 6 months
Train to run 3 miles without stopping
Try a yoga or pilates class
Go to the International Museum of Muslim Cultures
Go to the Smith Robertson Museum
Go to the Lauren Rogers Museum
Take an art class (pottery, painting, etc.)
Paint a picture
Learn to play at least one song on the guitar
Write a food article and get it published
Write at least one poem or short story
Paint the front porch swing
Tile the master bathroom
Plant some flowering shrubs in the back yard and DON’T let them die
Plant an herb garden
Fix the patio table
Get a window shade for the baby’s bedroom
Have an energy audit done on the house
(I couldn't find someone to do this locally, so we got some instructions and did it ourselves. We ended up putting ALOT of weatherstripping around the front door and the window in the nursery. Yikes!)
Paint the shed in the back yard
Paint the inside of the garage
Take Clay swimming
Drink wine in California
Ride in a helicopter
Ride in a hot air balloon
Go to Graceland
Go to New York City
Create a “great books list” and start reading (at least 5 books)
Create a “great movies list” and start watching (at least 5 movies)
Treasure hunt on Highway 49
Host a New Year’s open house party
Host a “dinner among the leaves” party
Host an Easter brunch
Throw a Kentucky Derby party
Celebrate the Chinese New Year
Pay off the last of my student loan
Buy some sexy new underwear
Attend at least one live concert
Go the fall flower show/festival in Crystal Springs
Visit a botanic garden
Learn more about the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict
Watch a meteor shower
Give blood
See snow
See the ocean (we'll do this one in May! Yay!)
Adopt an Angel at Christmas
Go bowling
Pay for the person behind me in line
Do an anonymous good deed
Learn to bake a good loaf of bread
Go on a day hike
Write a letter to the editor of my local newspaper
Go on a vacation sans baby
Let Clay ride in the convertible with the top down
Perform in at least one stage production
Attend at least one Mensa meeting (I will have to blog about THIS sometime.)
Attend at least one college alumni event (This is coming up soon . . . )
Get back in touch with some of my college professors
Learn how to play poker
Learn how to shoot a decent game of pool
Make a real paella
Make a real sangria, to go with the paella
Get a facial
Start taking vitamins again
Take mom to have her makeup done
Discover 5 new recording artists I really like and buy their CDs
Find a pair of sunglasses that will change my life
Find my signature fragrance
Take some pictures of leaves turning color in the fall
Set up and take some faux-tography shots of the baby
Write to Grace
Visit Grace in Oregon
Go on a picnic and eat food that I MADE, not food that I bought
Visit a dermatologist
Book a session with a personal trainer
Buy sheet music for a song I like and learn to play it on the piano
Learn to do a passable waltz
Bring the baby to visit my dad at work
Take a bubble bath (Divine. Why on earth don't I take these more often?)
Light some candles just for us, when we DON’T have someone coming over
Make mint juleps and drink them on the front porch swing
Go ice skating
Preserve Clay’s foot and hand prints
Attain APR accreditation
Buy or make Clay a kick-ass Halloween costume
Give a gift that I made.
Send someone flowers for no reason
Begin using my wine notebook again and identify at least three new wines that I like (Got this one checked off at the wine tasting I just hosted. Plus, a friend gave me a bottle of Menage a Trois - I kid you not; it's a blend of three different white wines - and it's AMAZING!)
Buy a birdfeeder and set it up in the back yard
Fix the broken window pane on the porch
Spend an afternoon lying in the hammock

First day of the challenge: January 1, 2008
Last day of the challenge: September 28, 2010

A sniff of spring

This week, we've had a couple of seriously beautiful days. Now, if you've lived in Mississippi for any length of time, you know how michevious the weather can be. Winter drags along, cold and rainy but without the thrill of snow, and here and there, the season throws in a couple of nice days to trick you into thinking spring has sprung. But it's all a cruel joke. The universe just wants to fool you into digging out your shorts and tank tops, and then it will decidedly turn nasty out. This pattern repeats itself throughout the winter. (Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Clay and I took EVERY opportunity to get outside on the few nice days this winter - walks, trips to the park, picnics, etc. This year, Mississippi's fickle weather was a GODSEND.)

But now I can tell that spring is truly in the air. The first green sprouts of my daffodils are peeping up out of the soil! I've seen some already in bloom throughout the metro area, but when they start growing by my mailbox (which is a notoriously cold, windy spot), I know it's for real. And once it warms up enough to make for consistent, comfortable temperatures outside, you know what that means - PLANTS!!!!

Last year, I was pregnant dring the spring planting season, and in the fall, I was overwhelmed with a full-time job AND a new baby, so I didn't do too much gardening. But this year, I'm ready! I'm planning on moving some plants around in the back, getting rid of some others, creating a new bed by our big patio (I'll need some dirt for that.), and just doing some general puttering. Can't wait! Can't wait! Can't wait!!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Sway with me . . .

Clay and I visited a new restaurant, Sway's Bistro, this week for lunch, and we were pleasantly surprised. The restaurant opened in a small shopping center at the corner of Spillway Road and Lakeshore Parkway. It's a small place, with maybe about 10 tables and a small bar serving draft beers.

Service was a bit slow (which is the case in many new restaurants), but very friendly. I had the salmon salad, which consisted of a large, perfectly cooked piece of glazed salmon on a bed of spinach with red bell pepper, red onion, and dressing. With tea, my bill was around $10.

The full menu looks tasty, with steaks, seafood, pastas, and more, all offered at pretty reasonable prices. While it was a white-tablecloth restaurant, they had both booster seats and highchairs available and seemed to be very family-friendly. We will definitely be visiting again!

Wine and roses

I hosted a dinner and wine-tasting at my house tonight, and it was DIVINE. It was for 6 people, and one of my friends even brought her sweet little baby for Clay to play with! (Clay was remarkably good, too. He wanted me close by, especially at first, but as the night wore on, he got more comfortable with all of the people.)

The Menu
Appetizers - cheese plate featuring sharp artisan cheddar, havarti, feta, and brie; sliced pears; green grapes; smoked almonds, natural almonds, and macadamia nuts; olive artichoke tapenade with french bread toasts.

Entree - rustic mashed potates with beef bourguignon (from this amazing recipe)

Dessert - chocolate amaretto fondue with strawberries, bananas, and pound cake

Ok, so this menu definitely blew my diet. BUT tomorrow it is right back on the straight and narrow. (A girl must celebrate once in a while, and it's not as if I host elaborate dinner parties on a regular basis. And I freezed all the leftover beef bourguignon for a later date. Someone watching their calories can only eat that once in a GREAT while.)

The Wines
To go with the meal, I (and the nice guy at Silver Leaf) selected four wines:
1.) Sterling Vineyards Merlot - This is one of my favorite Merlots, and I've been drinking it for years. The reserve label is good, too, when you can find it.
2.) Clos du Bois Cabernet Sauvignon - I've drunk several wines from this vineyard, and I have liked most of them.
3.) Graham's Six Grapes Reserve Port - I'd never had this port before, and I really enjoyed it. It paired wonderfully with the dark chocolate of the fondue. This wine has a very fruity, spicy quality that I loved.
4.) Saintsbury Garnet Pinot Noir - This was a brand new wine for us. YUM.

I chose the wines based on their versatility with the menu I was serving. For example, the port was delicious with the chocolate dessert, but it could have just as easily been drunk with the cheddar in the appetizer course. What was especially great about all these bottles - they each cost $20 or less. And with the discount that Silver Leaf gave me (they are running some kind of promotion - GET OVER THERE and buy some wine), they averaged about $17 each.

It was a fun evening of food, friends, and flowers. (Greenbrook must also be publicly commended for their $12 for a dozen roses deal. I chose white and yellow blooms for the kitchen and red ones for the living room. I felt like a movie star.) The event began at 6 p.m., and we lingered, talking, until about 9 p.m. By 9:30 p.m., I had the kitchen cleaned and the leftovers stowed, with my sweet baby peacefully sleeping in his crib. (You cannot imagine how happy that makes a little OCD person like myself.)

Another milestone - my first real post-baby dinner party. Here's to more of them!

P.S. If anyone is looking for something to do on Wednesday, I have plenty of leftover fondue and wine!! Don't make me drink alone!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Back to the gym

After a looooong hiatus, I am back at the gym. I made it in three times this week (YAY, me!) for cardio and weights.

And I've learned a few things. Lifting a 20+ pound kid will keep your arms in shape, honey. I am lifting the same poundage that I lifted pre-pregnancy, and I'm not struggling to do it, either. However, my legs are a different story. I've got some definite ground to recover there. (And my aches and pains since working out are a CONSTANT reminder of that.) Flexibility is remarkably good, probably from scrounging around on the floor with the baby all the time.

Mainly, though, it just feels great to get moving again. It has been a while since I've exercised with any regularity. (Let's face it, when you're up 30 pounds in your third trimester, you barely feel up to walking down the hall, much less doing circuits at the gym. There were days when I considered typing an aerobic activity.) But, dang, it feels so good to get back to it that I wonder why I waited so long. (Oh, yes. I remember now. It's because it took Clay five months to sleep through the night. After two months of fearing it was all a trick, I figured out that sleeping all night was the new norm. Hallelujah!)

Anyhoo, I am on a kick, so I've also been tracking my calorie/nutrient intake for the past three days. It's amazing how much better you eat when you know you're going to have to write it all down. (Thank God I didn't start this until AFTER I scarfed down those fajitas on Tuesday night.) There's a great, free Web site I've been using where you can track calories, nutrients, and activity - http://www.fitday.com/. I LOVE this site. While everything isn't perfect (it tends to lowball calories expended on aerobic activity, and it also doesn't allow you to put in the RDA of vitamin K for any custom foods you enter), it's pretty dang powerful for a free program. And it helps you to feel like you are doing something positive about your health, which I appreciate.

Onward and upward!

Ramblin' man

My worst fears have been realized. Clay has started to crawl. I did everything I could to keep him from learning how. (The darn cats betrayed me, though, clandestinely showing him on numerous occasions how easy it is to get around on all fours.)

He's still at a slow pace for now, but I can tell he's about to blow the lid off this thing. I have babyproofed everything I can think of, but I'm sure something has been forgotten. He is already seeing me from across the room and making his way over towards where I am. It's the cutest thing EVER, and while I can appreciate the sweetness of it, I am mostly paralyzed with horror that he's going to be up and into stuff. The kitties, immediately regretting their betrayal, have already learned to make way.

There's a new sheriff in town.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The play's the thing

A month or two ago, our local theatre asked me to serve as a volunteer on its play-reading committee. I was super-flattered and accepted at once.

Each year, the theatre produces one new play as part of its Eudora Welty New Play Series. As part of my duties on the committee, I help read through some of the 150+ submissions to the new play series to help them separate the wheat from the chaff.

So far, I've read around 20 plays, and two things have become very clear to me.
1.) Some people think they can write, but they are clearly awful writers. As you read these submissions, you start to think, "Geez, if these people consider themselves writers, why the heck aren't I writing plays?!"
2.) The people who have actual talent can write WAY better than me. As you read their work, you think, "No wonder I'm not writing plays."

It's simultaneously ego-boosting and humbling.

Although there have been more duds than gems in the selection of plays I've read, I have seen some pretty good ones. It makes me excited to see which script the theatre will eventually choose to produce this year!

History comes alive

I saw Night at the Museum recently, and I LOVED it! The movie stars Ben Stiller as Larry Daley, a young dad who can't seem to hold down a regular job. In order to achieve some stability in his life (primarily for his son's sake), Daley interviews for a job as the night watchman at the Museum of Natural History. During his first night on the job, Larry learns that every evening, all the museum's exhibits come to life. Larry's menial job turns into a fun caper as he tries to keep a lid on all of his new charges and foil would-be thieves.

I really enjoyed this movie. In addition to Stiller's performance (which I thought was great), there are surprise appearances by Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Owen Wilson, and Robin Williams. There are some cool special effects, too, as everything from T-Rex skeletons to Civil War soldiers to models of tiny Roman cities come to life. Mainly, though, the movie has great messages about the value of self-reliance, confidence, and ingenuity.

This is a really good family movie. It's rated PG, and kids and adults would both enjoy it. Fun, fun, fun, and very entertaining.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Still my Valentine

Hubs and I celebrated Valentine's last week. We almost NEVER celebrate Valentine's on the actual date, due to my dislike of crowds and lines. (Plus, we had a disastrous, but highly memorable, experience dining out on Valentine's Day one year. Maybe someday, I will blog about it.) And now that we have little man, I'll be damned if I'm going to spend precious child-free moments waiting for a table or hoping my server hasn't forgotten I exist.

Anyway, in honor of our little observance, I thought I'd do a quick blog about hubs. I have two photos of he and I together that I have always kept close. When I worked, they were in my office. Now, I've moved them to the house, and they've been joined by a few other more recent ones. But these are the two that I always liked looking at best.

One of them is of us on our wedding day. We are at the cake table, and I can’t remember if we’d already eaten cake and done the champagne toast or not. But we are standing there in our white, my hair long since undone from its barrettes, smiling like we are the happiest two people on Earth. And we probably were that day, with all of our family around us, with our new lives stretching out ahead of us in glorious possibility. We look as if we KNOW, somehow, that we will be happy. Happy in our lives together.

The other one is a photo of us on our honeymoon, sitting at the formal dining table on a Carnival ship, drifting somewhere in the middle of the Caribbean. We are dressed in our best duds, coat and tie, sparkly dress, probably waiting for course number four or some such nonsense. We are smiling again, so earnestly young and hopeful. (And we look good, dammit. What a handsome couple those two are!)

I realized recently that so much of the hope in my young eyes then has been validated. I have been happy. I have shared the kind of life with hubby that I’d always wished I would have. I have enjoyed being married, enjoyed our adventures together and, too, the nights we stayed in, watching movies and eating soup. The day we worked in the rain to build a retaining wall for my garden after I broke the hammer. All the times we’ve cuddled before going to bed. Kissing at the Bridge of Souls in Paris. Marveling at the crazy people who must live in Jerome, Arizona.

And now that we have a new addition in our lives, I am again filled with anticipation of what is to come. Yes, we are wiping up poop, but we are also smoothing lotion over a clean little tummy after a bath. And in the years to come, we will kiss boo boos and make pancakes on Saturday mornings. We will endure countless school “performances” and dye Easter eggs.

With a new little person depending on us for everything, I know it will be easy for the two of us to let our own private moments and joys get lost in the general chaos. But I will always remember, though we are knee-deep in dirty diapers and sippy cups, that everything started with him. With just me and him. He'll always be my Valentine.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Life's a beach

This week, hubby and I booked our accommodations for a week in Gulf Shores (Alabama) this May. We decided to make Clay's first vacation a trip to the beach for several reasons:

1.) We could easily find a condo, which would allow us a bit more room as well as a kitchen. This would allow us to prepare our own meals if little man didn't seem up for restaurants on some days/nights.
2.) For us, beach vacations are laid-back and more kid-friendly than trips to big cities, where I'd have a list of sights to see and alot of activities would be indoors. At the beach, there really is no schedule. And he can play in the sand all he wants (thought he will probably end up eating it in the end).
3.) The drive to Gulf Shores is manageable for a little guy. We can break the 4-hour trip into two 2-hour chunks, stopping in the middle for a few hours to eat and play outside a bit (if the weather's nice).

So, we found a great condo with amazing views, and we booked it. (If you're looking to do the same, I can recommend homeaway.com and vrbo.com. Both of those sites list properties that are being rented out by their owners, and you can find something in nearly every vacation-worthy destination you can think of.)

While I am super-excited about the trip, I'm also gripped with dread. You see, there are still about 7 pregnancy pounds on my body. And even if they WERE gone, I wouldn't be the same shape I was pre-baby. To be fair, I haven't really done much to lose the extra weight. I haven't been good about going to the gym. I haven't created a diet and stuck to it. I haven't done alot of sit-ups. I've basically just done whatever I wanted to and assumed that the weight would make its way back to wherever it came from before it made all of my pants a little too tight in the waistband.

Sooooo, it's time to quit hoping that those pounds will miraculously melt off on their own and actually do something about it. Like exercise. And stop eating so many cookies. Parking farther from the door, taking the stairs, drinking more water, whatever. Because the thought of cramming this body into a swimsuit is chilling. Chilling, I tell you. And I don't want to look back and pics of baby's first vacation and think, "Geez, I look like a WHALE." I'd much rather look back and say, "I look pretty darn hot for squeezing another human being out of my body only a few months prior."

Wish me luck. LOTS of luck.

Road trip!

Ok, so Clay is 7 months old, and we hadn't really taken him out of town. We have a nephew in Biloxi, and he was celebrating a birthday over the weekend. Sooooo, we decided to try a quick weekend road trip with the baby. His first weekend away!

He slept most of the drive down, only getting cranky near the end, when we were (I freely admit it) hopelessly lost trying to find hubby's sister's house. EVERY time that we go to visit Stacey, we get lost trying to find her house. What follows are several fruitless phone calls between hubby and his mom and Stacey. He doesn't really tell them WHERE he is at that moment, so they can't direct him properly. And there's always stuff going on in the background (in this case, Clay complaining in his car seat in the back). And they never seem to be able to talk us in. Thanks goodness I finally got on the phone with Stacey's husband. He gave me excellent directions, and we got there in time for the party. For the rest of the trip, I insisted on this M.O. to get us where we needed to go.

We went straight to a really loud, really crowded skating rink, with tons of lights, music, and stuff going on everywhere. I was positive Clay would have a meltdown. But I was wrong. He was very interested in everything going on around him, and his big blue eyes darted from one thing to another for most of the party. He loved looking at the children and watching all the arcade games. Hardly a peep of crying or fussing. YAY!

We stopped by the hotel to check in and let him stretch his little legs a bit, then we went out to dinner with the family. Again, I was fearing a crying jag. But little man surprised me yet again. He sat calmly in the highchair at the restaurant, ate his pureed garden vegetables, and cooed at his cousin and grandmother. I even got to eat my entree WHILE IT WAS STILL HOT. (Mothers of infants know what a big deal this is.) I could hardly believe it.

We went back to the hotel, and after his usual bath and bedtime bottle, we put him in the pack and play we'd brought along for him to sleep in. Now here, I was really expecting some resistance. He's never slept in the pack and play before. In fact, he's never slept overnight anywhere except his own bed. But we turned off the lights, and he laid himself down. He looked up at the ceiling for a while. The little booger was asleep by 8:30 pm. A miracle.

But at 10:45 p.m., he woke up. And he WOULD NOT go back to sleep in the pack and play. I brought him up into the bed with me, where he kicked me in the ribs, snatched at my hair, and made a general nuisance of himself until falling back to sleep for a few hours. Then we repeated the whole charade a few more times before morning, with Clay intermittently wailing like an Irish banshee set on fire. Miserable. Especially miserable since he's been sleeping through the night with no problems for more than 2 months. (You get used to sleeping again, people. And then when you don't for some reason, it's like a gut-punch.)

The next morning, hubby and I arose like the walking dead, stumbled through most of the morning, and got in the car for the long, yawn-filled ride back (which, of course, Clay slept right through - the little rascal).

Lessons learned on this trip:
1.) Little man can actually handle more than I thought, stimulus-wise. He behaved quite well in two or three restaurants during our trip.
2.) We had better get the baby used to sleeping in the pack and play before we take ANY MORE overnight trips. Because we are planning a week-long vacation in Gulf Shores this May, that will mean LOTS of nights in the pack and play between now and then. May God have mercy on our souls.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A bleak world

I watched Children of Men, starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, and Clare-Hope Ashitay, this week. Yikes.

Set in 2027, this film depicts an Earth in which humans are dealing with 20 years' worth of infertility and societies around the world have collapsed into chaos and violence. Britain is under military rule, and illegal immigrants are being summarily deported. Theo (Owen) works for the government and spends his spare time with Jasper (Caine), a retired political cartoonist with a penchant for illegal drugs. Theo becomes a reluctant hero when his estranged wife (Moore), the leader of a resistance movement, contacts him for help transporting a young refugee to the English coast. Theo agrees, for a price, and meets up with Kee (Ashitay) for the trip.

What Theo does not initially realize is that Kee is pregnant with the first human to be born in nearly two decades. Once he knows the truth, a harrowing journey to safety begins for the expectant mother, her unborn child, and Theo.

This film is a VERY loose adaptation of P.D. James' book (of the same name), published in 1992. All I can say is that James, and director Alfonso Cuaron, must both have a very bleak view of the future. The world is controlled by violence, distrust, and prejudice. People have absolutely no hope. The cinematography matches this, with future London looking trashy, gritty, and even grayer than it does now.

This film is expertly performed. The script is scary. The primary premise - that humans could become infertile and face extinction - is fascinating. Some of the decisions the characters make in the movie (such as keeping Kee's pregnancy a secret) are ridiculous, however, and sometimes make it difficult to truly inhabit the world of the film.

Though the ending is ultimately redemptive, this is not a happy movie. And it's not for families (too much violence). Overall, I'd give it about 3 stars.

Staring down death

I realize that Tuesdays with Morrie is an old book, and that tons of people have already read it. And that it's been made into a TV movie. And that I'm probably one of the last people in America to pick it up.

Nevertheless, I DID finally get around to reading it, and I can recommend it. Written by Mitch Albom, the book tells about the author's relationship with Morrie Schwartz, his favorite college professor. After maintaining a close relationship with Morrie throughout college, Mitch graduates and then fails to keep in touch. In fact, Mitch forgets all about his professor until he sees him on Nightline one night. Turns out, Morrie's got Lou Gherig's disease, and he's dying. BUT he's dying with grace and fullness. He's filling his last days with friends, family, good food, the things he loves. He's seizing this opportunity to say his goodbyes and leave people with good memories of him.

Stricken, Mitch contacts Morrie and arranges a visit. Mitch makes a list of all of his big fears/questions. Then, he uses Morrie's unique perspective on life and death to illuminate these issues.

Morrie's outlook is refreshing, true, and rare. He tells us all the things we really already know, but forget. He reminds us that all those trite sayings about family and love being everything really are true. He admonishes us to value people over all else.

This is a quick, uplifting read. Morrie's no slouch.

Monday, February 11, 2008

How E! will be the downfall of civilization

To preface this, I should tell you that I hate E! I do not believe that it is the Entertainment Network. Rather, I think it is the clarion call of the end of living with any kind of integrity in America. I share my household, however, with a sweet, kind, funny man who I must (at least occasionally) compromise with.

My husband loves E! He particularly loves The Soup (which, I think, is the only show on E! that I find myself remotely interested in watching, even though I've never seen most of the stuff they are making fun of), but he will also watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians, E! News, and E! True Hollywood Stories about some of the saddest and most washed-up people in the "entertainment" industry. (He is also a fan of The Surreal Life and Celebrity Rehab, shows of similar ilk on VH1.)

I burn with loathing for these shows. They are putting sad, quasi-"celebrities" on television who then basically expose the worst of themselves (sometimes literally) for the "entertainment" of America. Ick. They do not uplift the human spirit, but instead show us how hopeless, shallow, and pathetic the human condition can be.

In addition to that, E! runs alot of hour-long programs (dubiously called "specials") like "The Hottest Celebrity Bodies" and "Look How Much Money Oprah Makes!!" that he will sometimes watch. So there, we're basically spending an hour consumed with counting every entry in some celebrity's balance book (or every ripple in their chiseled abs). I'm not sure what the purpose of this programming is, because the viewer learns nothing of real value. In fact, these "see how much famous people have" stories probably do more than we think to contribute to general malaise in American society.

I mean, KIMORA? The Simple Life? Looong specials on what overpriced "fashions" the latest celebutaunte is wearing? Why on earth do these shows exist? And, apparently, some (otherwise perfectly sane) people are watching them. Because if no one was watching, the good people at E! would be forced to close up shop and get their gaunt, tanned carcasses off the air, right?

While my own viewing habits are far from perfect (I have unhealthy obsessions with HGTV and Food Network. And to be honest, there are only so many ways to dress a window or brown meat, KWIM?), I feel that at least my preferences don't tear people down and invite despair regarding the quality of people American society is producing these days.

Am I the only one that thinks this stuff is sick? And worthless? And completely devoid of "entertainment" value? I truly believe that, the more of this type of media the American public consumes, the worse off we will ALL be as human beings.

Ok. Now that I'm off my soapbox, I'm going to go try and find zen. This post has gotten me a little worked up.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Hooker shoes

Post-baby, I have not been as "about town" nearly as much as pre-baby, as you might well imagine. It's just more complicated to arrange to be at a certain place at a certain time, particularly with theatre productions (which I love). But I am making the effort, people! So, for last night I put on cute dress, some chunky jewelry, and some REALLY high heels.

These high heels are one of the first purchases I made after I had Clay, mainly because I had been stuck at home, feeling like a dairy cow, and if I didn't get out and get some retail therapy, I thought I might end up pushing a shopping cart aimlessly around downtown Jackson. Because I was still rather rotund (and I'm being kind here), I bought shoes. LOTS of them. And this particular pair was one of the sexiest I could find.

(Need I explain why I was buying sexy shoes? Well, I was feeling very un-sexy. And the rest of me was still huge. So I bought something very sexy for the only part of me that wasn't still bigger than normal. Pathetic, but it did the trick.)

They are patent. They are red. The heels are really high. An old friend of mine would have called them "FM" shoes. (YOU are going to have to figure out what the initials stand for.) I call them hooker shoes. And I'll be the first to admit that since I bought them, I had not worn the hooker shoes even once.

But last night, I broke them out. And they looked GOOD, dangit. And with the jewelry, dress, and shoes on, I felt that I looked perhaps as good as I've looked post-baby.

We went to dinner at Bravo!, a perennial favorite of mine. It's locally-owned, plus the food and service are great. It's one of those places that you walk into, and you KNOW you are going to be well-cared for during your visit. Plus, it's pretty reasonably priced for a nice restaurant.

We had a wonderful dinner, chatted, laughed, drank wine. It was a beautiful evening. And, as always when I go to Bravo!, I ran into several people that I know. People came over to the table. Hugs, jokes, catching up were all exchanged. And I felt like I was BACK. Back to my old self, or as much as I could be my old self now that my life is completely different.

And even though I know this feeling is a credit to the journey I've made since having the baby, a byproduct of the time that's passed since he was born, a virtue of being around old friends and enjoying one of my old stomping grounds, etc., I must also consider that ~maybe~ the hooker shoes had something to do with it.

There is a power in hooker shoes, I've decided. I will be buying more of them. If you don't have any, I highly recommend getting a pair.

(And if you DO find yourself in possession of a pair of hooker shoes, girl, CALL ME. We will both put our hooker shoes on, and we can be "about town" together. Martinis, anyone?)

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Food and tragedy

I recently read Five Quarters of the Orange for my book club, and I thought I'd post a quick review here. (Especially since I didn't make it to that book club meeting! Clay is always sleeping when I should be walking out the door. I hate to wake him, so I end up either chronically late or totally absent! Ah, well.)

The book is by Joanne Harris, who also wrote Chocolat (upon which the movie starring Johnny Depp and Juliet Binoche is based). Harris is also the author of a novel called Blackberry Wine. (Seeing a pattern here? Yes, her world is as food-centric as mine!)

I really loved this book. The protagonist is Framboise, an old woman who is telling us the story of one monumental event in her life. As young girl growing up in the French countryside during World War II, Framboise had a poisoned relationship with her single mother, Mirabelle. Framboise's father has already been killed in the war, and the little family is struggling to establish a new dynamic amidst the swirl of events around them. Mirabelle is an accomplished cook with a bountiful farm, but she suffers from horrible migraines in addition to some psychological problems. Mirabelle always knows when one of her "spells" is coming, because she smells oranges, even though she strictly forbids them in the house.

Framboise and her two siblings (all, interestingly, named after foods - Framboise itself means raspberry) strike up a capitalistic relationship with a German soldier (part of the occupying force). The children provide a little information here and there about black market activities in exchange for items such as chocolate, magazines, and other products scarce in war-torn France.
(Framboise always asks for an orange as part of her "payment." She uses its peel to trick her mother into thinking one of her spells is coming. This allows Framboise to not only inflict suffering on her mother, but also to gain a few hours of freedom as her mother holes up in her room, desperately trying to ward off the migraine.) The children don't really realize what they are doing. After all, the people they inform on are not killed or jailed. The soldier simply extorts them for his own goods.

And the soldier, named Tomas, ably fills the masculine void left by the children's father. In a world devoid of much affection (their mother is a brusque, busy woman not prone to displays of tenderness), the children love him. Before the end of the novel, though, the soldier turns up dead. And how he dies, and who pays the price for his death, are secrets of the novel I won't spoil here.

This book is much about mothers and daughters. Upon her death, Mirabelle leaves her "album" to Framboise - a book full of recipes, thoughts, notes, etc. By reading the album, Framboise comes to know her mother in a way that she never has before. The relationship between the two is certainly acrimonious; Framboise often refers to it as a war, trying to win this or that battle. But as the book progresses, even Framboise herself admits that she and her mother are very much alike. (Incidentally, Framboise also names her two daughters after food items.)

A couple of things I thought were interesting - An ongoing project for the young Framboise is to try and catch a large pike that is rumored to be swimming in the river that runs through her village. The pike, which villagers refer to as "Old Mother" is said to be magic. If you see the fish, but don't catch her, you will be cursed. But if you catch her, she will grant you one wish. Framboise is obsessed with catching the fish and making her wish. Just as with her own mother, she wants to triumph over this fish, to control it, to make it bend to her will. I thought this was an interesting support for the mother/daughter relationship theme.

Also, Harris is a master of description. She frequently writes about food - the foods that Mirabelle cooks, the foods that Framboise cooks as an adult, all the recipes in the "album" that Mirabelle leaves to Framboise upon her death. Your mouth will be watering. Have a Patricia Wells cookbook handy; you'll want to whip up some French country food.

Lastly, the novel is about secrets. It is, after all, the tale of Framboise finally telling a secret that she has carried with her for her entire life. This is where the title comes in - it's one of the secrets that Framboise has kept. Framboise tells no one, not even her siblings, of her use of the orange to trick her mother into thinking a migraine is coming. As a result, when her two siblings (and one friend) see her with one of the oranges she's procured, they ask her to share it. In order to reserve some of the peel for her secret purposes, Framboise turns her back to her siblings/friend while she "quarters" the orange. But in fact, she divides it into five pieces, hiding one of the slices in her pocket. This way, she saves one-fifth of the orange to use on her mother. The fifth quarter of the orange is the "something" that no one knows about. It is what is hidden. And for a novel filled with secrets, I think Harris chose the perfect title.

I can heartily recommend this book. In fact, I'll be in search of Blackberry Wine soon.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Update on my 101 List

Since January is done, I thought I'd give a quick update on my 101 List. I got the things in bold done this month, and I'm already working towards some of the other items on the list. I'm posting this to keep myself accountable!! Hopefully, I will continue to make progress towards my goals!

101 things to do in 1001 days

Record family history (Create a family tree with my grandmother? Photos? Stories?)
Take Clay’s picture professionally at least once every 6 months
Make a will
Make a living will
Talk with Laura about Clay
Send a Christmas card to an estranged family member
Write to my grandmother
Attend services at three local churches
Volunteer in a way that’s meaningful to me
Go back to the gym – at least 3 times a week
Lose 10 pounds
Keep it off for 6 months
Train to run 3 miles without stopping
Try a yoga or pilates class
Go to the International Museum of Muslim Cultures
Go to the Smith Robertson Museum
Go to the Lauren Rogers Museum
Take an art class (pottery, painting, etc.)
Paint a picture
Learn to play at least one song on the guitar
Write a food article and get it published
Write at least one poem or short story
Paint the front porch swing
Tile the master bathroom
Plant some flowering shrubs in the back yard and DON’T let them die
Plant an herb garden
Fix the patio table
Get a window shade for the baby’s bedroom
Have an energy audit done on the house
Paint the shed in the back yard
Paint the inside of the garage
Take Clay swimming
Drink wine in California
Ride in a helicopter
Ride in a hot air balloon
Go to Graceland
Go to New York City
Create a “great books list” and start reading (at least 5 books)
Create a “great movies list” and start watching (at least 5 movies)
Treasure hunt on Highway 49
Host a New Year’s open house party
Host a “dinner among the leaves” party
Host an Easter brunch
Throw a Kentucky Derby party
Celebrate the Chinese New Year
Pay off the last of my student loan
Buy some sexy new underwear
Attend at least one live concert
Go the fall flower show/festival in Crystal Springs
Visit a botanic garden
Learn more about the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict
Watch a meteor shower
Give blood
See snow
See the ocean
Adopt an Angel at Christmas
Go bowling
Pay for the person behind me in line
Do an anonymous good deed
Learn to bake a good loaf of bread
Go on a day hike
Write a letter to the editor of my local newspaper
Go on a vacation sans baby
Let Clay ride in the convertible with the top down
Perform in at least one stage production
Attend at least one Mensa meeting
Attend at least one college alumni event
Get back in touch with some of my college professors
Learn how to play poker
Learn how to shoot a decent game of pool
Make a real paella
Make a real sangria, to go with the paella
Get a facial
Start taking vitamins again
Take mom to have her makeup done
Discover 5 new recording artists I really like and buy their CDs
Find a pair of sunglasses that will change my life
Find my signature fragrance
Take some pictures of leaves turning color in the fall
Set up and take some faux-tography shots of the baby
Write to Grace
Visit Grace in Oregon
Go on a picnic and eat food that I MADE, not food that I bought
Visit a dermatologist
Book a session with a personal trainer
Buy sheet music for a song I like and learn to play it on the piano
Learn to do a passable waltz
Bring the baby to visit my dad at work
Take a bubble bath
Light some candles just for us, when we DON’T have someone coming over
Make mint juleps and drink them on the front porch swing
Go ice skating
Preserve Clay’s foot and hand prints
Attain APR accreditation
Buy or make Clay a kick-ass Halloween costume
Give a gift that I made.
Send someone flowers for no reason
Begin using my wine notebook again and identify at least three new wines that I like
Buy a birdfeeder and set it up in the back yard
Fix the broken window pane on the porch
Spend an afternoon lying in the hammock

First day of the challenge: January 1, 2008
Last day of the challenge: September 28, 2010

Dinner with friends

On Wednesday, some friends and I enjoyed a yummy Italian dinner together. We meet once a month to laugh, eat and drink. (Actually, when we first started meeting, we were a Bunco group. The only problem was, there were many nights when we didn't have enough players for Bunco. Then, you'd rustled up all those annoying card tables and folding chairs for nothing. Plus, I was never any good at playing Bunco. At best, I won the "lowest score" prize. Talk about a blow to the ego! So, we decided to switch from Bunco to just dinner, drinks, and socializing. Now, my husband calls these monthly meetings "Drunco." He thinks he's sooooo clever.) We feasted on seafood pasta, a really great salad, all kinds of wonderful munchies, and an amaretto almond cheesecake that has got to be at least a little illegal in some parts of the state.

Anyway, one of our little group recently had a baby, and she brought the precious bundle of pink and lace. Holding the wee one made me remember when Clay was that small, and it's only been a few months! But there is something indescribably sweet about very small babies. The hint of newness that is still about them. The odd little facial expressions. The wide-open eyes. The total unfamiliarity with the world.

It's funny - this group of women all originally got together because we worked in the same field. But it has really become more than that. We've learned a ton about one another. We've lunched, we've run together (albeit not in a while for me!). We've thrown showers for one another, swapped tips on everything from cooking to communications, and had a pretty damn good time doing it, too. When I initially joined the group, I never thought that I'd foster and maintain such wonderful relationships.

But I sure am glad that we don't play Bunco anymore. Man, I sucked at that.