Monday, December 29, 2008

Arigato, Santa Kat!

Just as the post-Christmas blahs were setting in, the most wonderful package arrived at my door, courtesy of Kat, creator of the awesome blog Our Adventures in Japan.

Kat, a fellow Hawaii-expat who blogs about her life in Japan, ran a contest recently. Inspired by the holidays to send a small gift to one of her readers, she ran a contest and asked us to share our thoughts about Japan. I like to think that my entry was so poignant and brilliant that Kat immediately chose me; what actually happened was that she received so many entries from her adoring readers that she ran the names through a random generator. Guess whose name it spat out? (Thank you, random generator.)

I love things that represent everyday life in other cultures. Having lived most of my life near the Asia-Pacific corridor (first in Hawaii, now near Seattle), I've seen my share of Japanese items and some of the things in the box looked familiar. But there were some surprises. There were also reminders that big international food companies produce different flavors of the same items for different markets (see the Kit Kat listing below).

The photo above doesn't do the shipment justice. Here's a partial list of some of the things Kat sent:
  • A pair of pretty blue and white teacups and a pair of little dessert-sized plates in the same pattern.
  • A set of plastic egg molds. According to Kat's English note (since all instructions were in Japanese), you put a hot hard-boiled egg into one of the molds, immerse it in cold water for a few minutes and you have an egg shaped like either a bear or rabbit! Who are the geniuses who think of these things?
  • A cute plastic lunch container with a matching set of chopsticks and chopstick case.
  • A postcard featuring one of Kat's many great photos.
  • A box of Kit Kat in the flavor of ... get ready ... Caramel Macchiato McFlurry!
  • Assorted bags of cookies. One bag is the McVities brand, with chocolate digestive cookies on the outside. The filling, if I understand correctly from the picture, is a center of red azuki bean surrounded by creamy green tea. I love chocolate and azuki bean, so I may not be sharing this one.
  • Assorted bags of hard candies.
  • Two bags of chocolate covered nuts. One of them is called The Caramel Corn and appears to be cashews covered in bittersweet chocolate and then dusted with a spice mixture of black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, cardamon, cloves and allspice. Can't wait to try this one.
  • A bag of wasabi-flavored arare (rice crackers).
  • A bag of ume furikake. Our family loves furikake, which is a dry Japanese condiment usually containing bits of seaweed, sugar and other flavorings. This one contained bright red flakes, which puzzled me until I read Kat's note that it contained ume (bright red pickled plums). The red coloring, combined with the dark coloring of the seaweed flakes, makes for a really pretty combination.
  • A bag of ume tea packets. Each packet contains a powder that you mix with a small cup of boiling water. To me it tasted like a light vegetable or miso broth with a light tangy flavoring from the ume. I wasn't sure I liked it at first sip but it really grew on me. It's a winner!
I'm slowly rationing my cache to make it last longer, which will require me to hide it not only from my kids but also from myself. This way I won't blow through everything by the end of the week.

Kat, doomo arigato for your kindness and for brightening up my day!

If anyone out there has not read Kat's addictive blog, I highly suggest doing so, although not on an empty stomach. Kat is a great photographer AND gourmand, a dangerous combo in my book. She posts the most delicious and interesting looking culinary treats, both homemade and purchased. She also does a wonderful job giving us a look at everyday life in Japan (where she now lives with her husband Satoshi), stuff you would never find as a tourist.

I leave you with photos of the stamps that came with Kat's package. I don't know whom or what some of them represent, but they're fascinating to look at. My daughter has already swiped them for her journal and has claimed the chopsticks and lunch container for herself. See why I have to hide stuff?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Fun With Informercials

One of my favorite guilty pleasures, especially when I have insomnia and am snowed-in (as has been the case this week), is to watch late-night informercials. Nothing soothes like bad acting, loud booming voices and incredulous claims.

A current favorite of mine is the Magic Bullet, which, according to perky hosts "Mic" and "Mimi," can replace A WHOLE CABINET FULL OF KITCHEN APPLIANCES. I usually don't use all caps to type, but Mic really projects when he speaks, and I imagine he would type in all caps, too.

So the fake scenario is that Mic and Mimi's friends are visiting and all hovered around the kitchen, waiting for their hosts to provide for them. Did they have a sleepover or were they promised a breakfast buffet? This is not addressed. There is an assortment of fairly attractive middle-aged people (the types of actors that are usually cast as "everyday" people in commercials), an overweight hungover guy and some strange older chain-smoking woman in an old housecoat who doesn't seem to fit in with the rest of them. I get the feeling she was some cantankerous neighbor who just wandered in and they were too polite to tell her to leave.

In just SECONDS and MINUTES, Mic and Mimi not only make smoothies and omelets using the Magic Bullet, but also salsa, guacamole, quesadillas, pasta sauces and blended cocktails. If my friends were that efficient and cheery before I had my morning cup of coffee I'd have to smack them.

Who needs to dirty a knife and a cutting board when you can just throw onions into the tiny little Magic Bullet to be chopped? Of course, I'm not sure how the onion was peeled and quartered to begin with. Maybe the system works best if you buy really tiny fruits and veggies and only bring home cheeses that come in little cubes.

The claims that you can prepare EVERYTHING you need for your gastronomic pleasure using their product reminds me of an older informercial I used to enjoy that featured a sandwich grill: You would put in bread in, close the lid, and two hot slabs of Teflon-coated metal would enclose your bread and seal and grill your sandwich to perfection. Grilled cheese sandwiches? You bet. But that's not all. You could also make a breakfast sandwich with this, putting eggs and sausages and what-not between two slices of white bread and then closing the grill. Also, a hot-pocket meal that involved scooping some canned beef stew between two slices of white bread. And of course there was dessert, easily made by scooping canned apple pie filling between two slices of white bread. I imagined families ordering this and running out to buy loaves of white bread and perhaps a bottle of Metamucil for the ensuing constipation.

As I like to tell my kids: "Just because you can, it doesn't mean you should."

The following are some of my other favorite infomercials, in no particular order. I hope you find them as enjoyable as I do, but keep in mind that I'm easily entertained.

  • Dual Action Cleanse: If a greasy-looking guy named "Klee" tells you that you have a TON of fecal matter stuck in your intestines; talks about how thick and round his healthy four-year-old's poops are; and suggests that his product will help you lose weight, gain energy, eliminate acne, and prevent cancer, by golly, listen to the man. Not an informercial for those having a snack.
  • A variety of exercise equipment "programs," including the Gazelle by Tony Little (a disturbingly tanned bodybuilder) and anything piece of equipment that you strap to your abs.
  • Kinoki Foot Pads: From Japan? Really? I know the Japanese are generally a very clean people, but I've never heard of them attaching to their feet special pads that will draw toxins out of their bodies as they sleep, resulting in disgustingly brown pad in the morning. But if they say it's true, it must be. I wonder if I can skip using this if I'm already using the Dual Action Cleanse.

Do you have a favorite infomercial? Or am I just "special?"

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A White Christmas, and Other Thoughts

It has snowed at least three times this week, which doesn't happen very often around these Northwest parts. When the white stuff shows up, kids joyously suit up and run out to play while adults call in sick from work because 1) they want to go skiing or 2) they're too afraid to drive.

People who move here from the East coast or Midwest laugh their asses off watching us try to drive in the snow. Because this wondrous phenomena doesn't happen here often, most cities don't have a lot of snow-clearing equipment for the roads. Combine that with spastic newscasters who scream "SNOW!" every few minutes and a newspaper photo of a bus hanging off a road overlooking the freeway, and it's white-knuckle driving all the way.

It began snowing last weekend and we all enjoyed it. Then Monday rolled around and all the school districts began delaying school. Then on Wednesday it became apparent that winter break was beginning ASAP. Every morning at 5:30 a.m. when we received a phoned recorded message from the superintendent giving us the school status (canceled) for the day, I could hear the collective screams of parents everywhere, especially moms of young children who had planned to finish their holiday shopping before winter break officially began.

(On a side note, I have learned that many parents resented the 5:30 a.m. call because it woke them up early and they couldn't go back to sleep. I didn't mind the call because I am a sleeper. You could call me early to tell me I won the lottery and I would thank you and go back to sleep. It's a gift. Now I'm done digressing.)

Other than having my kids at home when I had planned to have some peace and quiet, the snow hasn't affected me much. I didn't plan to buy much this Christmas anyway (thank you, economy!) and had most of my shopping done by the time the white stuff hit. I did drive verrrry carefully to Costco the other day to pick up a ham and other supplies for Christmas Eve dinner. I thought it might be quiet there with the roads being icy, but apparently everyone else within a 30-mile radius had the same thought and it was packed in there. Great minds think alike.

I finally reached the point today when I took a deep calming breath and realized how pretty everything looked covered with snow. Case in point: the fir tree in my front yard, shown in the photo above. How can you look at that and not appreciate what you have? Perhaps Mother Nature gave us this snow as a symbolic cleansing of our soul, or a chance to spend more time at home with our loved ones, or a reminder to slow down and look at the beauty around us, or all above.

Thank you, Mother Nature. But next time, could you consult with the school calendar first?

Monday, December 15, 2008

In Your Facebook

In a previous life I think I was a Luddite.

How else to describe my non-techie nature? It takes me forever to send a rare text-message because I actually have to hunt and peck for the letters. Also, I spell everything out because I don't remember the shortcuts. Sometimes I even punctuate.

I have an iPod (without video!) that I rarely use because I forget I have it, so I resort to the radio and that new-fangled invention called CDs.

So when my friend Kristin started nagging me to join Facebook I laughed. I might have even laughed in her face. But she finally wore me down and I got on that damned site out of curiosity. Now as I check Facebook on a daily basis, I silently curse her for getting me started. It's a lot of fun to find out what your friends are up to and to check out their photos and videos. Addicting, even. And recently I discovered their Chat function, which allows me to *gasp* chat with friends on real time! This really comes in handy when you're a night owl and are looking for someone to gab with at 10 p.m.

While I am enjoying Facebook, one component that perplexes me is all the virtual stuff that people send you. Food, animals, holiday ornaments, pieces of flair, drinks, you name it. I just checked and I have 82 things that people have sent to me, all links that are waiting to be opened.

I appreciate the fact that friends are thinking of me, but I just don't have time to open all these links, let alone send a gift back or to others. I'm busy doing other important things, like working on my blog and chasing my dog with an anti-shedding comb. But I feel guilty not acknowledging their gifts and I'm not even Catholic. I'm the kind of person who writes thank-you notes for everything. I used to be even more extreme, but one year this guy I worked with sent me a thank-you card to thank me for sending him a thank-you card and I knew I didn't want to reach that level of obsession.

So if you send me any gifts via Facebook, please accept a big blanket THANK YOU from me. And please know that, even if I don't send one back, I still feel appreciative and guilty. You're welcome.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Chilling Holiday Warning for Men

Gentlemen, as you comb the malls this Dec. 24, looking for that perfect gift for the lady in your life, heed this cautionary tale:

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Ma and Pa Kettle Shop for a Dishwasher

Our 12-year-old dishwasher finally bit the bullet this weekend. I'm surprised it lasted as long as it did, as it came standard with the house and was one of those cheapo no-name brands.

For a second we considered becoming one of those back-to-basics families that spend their evenings washing and drying dishes by hand while having heartfelt conversations. Then we laughed and headed out to look at appliances.

After several hours and many stores later, I learned something very important: Dishwashers now come with a lot of extra crap.

Our old model cleaned and dried dishes, period. Oh, there were some nice options, such as Air Dry and Short Wash (as oppose to the Full Wash), which you selected by twisting the dial a certain way. But now, a lot of the newer models also offer a delayed timer (what?); "Adaptive Wash," in which sensors (you heard correctly) determine how much cleaning your dishes really need; and a sterilizing mode. Because it's not really clean until it's sterilized.

Apparently when you don't shop for household appliances very often, going into the stores is like being an Amish person shopping for a cell phone. Really, the number of options were quite overwhelming to us, as were the widely varying price ranges. If I'm going to pay more than $1,000 on a dishwasher, it better clean my dishes, charge my iPod AND offer me a neck and shoulder massage.

In the end we selected a well-reviewed, reasonably priced model from a locally owned appliance store. We didn't go for the bells and whistles (don't you love old-fart phrases like "bells and whistles?") because we just want a machine that washes and dries. We did splurge on the stainless steel exterior and also will receive a rebate from our utilities company because we picked an energy-efficient model.

I feel so modern.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Bird That Came to Dinner

Hey, Thanksgiving at my house was JUST like this Norman Rockwell photo! Well, okay, we did carve the turkey in the kitchen instead of bringing it whole to the table.

It is now four (almost five) days past Thanksgiving and apparently I cooked the magical never-ending turkey. We've eaten several meals of it. I also made a big pot of comforting turkey jook with the carcass and a lot of the meat. I believe my son even had a turkey sandwich. And yet the masses of white and dark continue to taunt us.

So into the freezer they go, where they will be reincarnated in a few weeks into something incredibly healthy and highbrow. There's a 99 percent chance that a can of cream of mushroom soup will be involved.

What are YOU doing with your leftover turkey?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

No Turkeys Pardoned Here

Watch the guy in the background. He gave me the biggest laugh!

Second biggest laugh was when Sarah Palin said, "I still have my values and convictions," and I realized she and I weren't thinking of the same convictions.

Monday, November 24, 2008

In Honor of Thanksgiving Day

I am thankful for many things, amongst them the funny images friends e-mail me. You realize, don't you, that before Al Gore invented the Internet, the following types of images were photocopied? On paper? In black and white?

Let us take a moment to reflect on how far we've come and how wisely we are using our technology. Then enjoy the following. (I get them every year but they still make me titter.)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Free Straitjacket Friday ... The Subject is Race

Oh, come back here. We can discuss race. For me, it's not as controversial a topic as religion, politics or how girly lil' Zac Efron got added to People magazine's "Sexiest Man" list.

This week Oakland Athletics bench coach Don Wakamatsu was named the new manager for the Seattle Mariners, making him the first Asian-American manager in major-league history.

Call it a character flaw, but baseball puts me to sleep. Whenever I'm forced to attend a game, I enjoy visiting the concession stands, waving to the mascots and doing anything but watching the play. So I don't usually follow MLB news, but Wakamatsu's hiring caught my eye because he's Asian-American like me. (Except he has a Japanese-American father and an Irish-American mother, and all my descendants hailed from a pre-melamine China.)

A poster on a message board that I frequently visit posed this question:

"Do you consider Wakamatsu an Asian, a hapa (popular nickname in Hawaii for a half-white person), or White? If he had a Caucasian last name, would there be a big deal of his background?By the same token Tiger (Woods) should be Asian because he is 1/2 Thai."

How would you answer this?

I like questions that force me to use my brain cells. So I thought and thought (and no, it didn't hurt!) and here's my take: I would be lying if I said I were blind to race. Just the fact that a name like "Wakamatsu" caused me to read the sports section is proof of that.

When I watched an interview with him, he looked and sounded like a good ol' Texas boy to me (which is what he is right now, living in Texas with his family). But in other interviews, he also has discussed the internment of his father's family and other Japanese-Americans during World War II, something I was very pleased to see addressed by a prominent sports figure. So in my mind, he is Asian because he has publicly identified himself as such. As for Tiger Woods, I don't know. Has he ever discussed being Asian? I really don't know, as I don't follow golf, so I don't view him as anything.

Mixed-race issues are pertinent to me because both my kids are half-Chinese, half-Scandinavian. And they look it. Do I see them as Asian or white? Neither, because I see them as my darling kids. (And on bad days, as the little heathens who turn my hair gray.) They don't pay much attention to race on a day-to-day basis.

But there are reminders. They root for the Asian contestants when watching Survivor, as does my white husband. And they've become very accustomed to checking the "Other" box on forms that ask for ethnic backgrounds.

We live in a very mixed-race community so their ethnicity is no big deal, but I know that at some point in their lives they will probably travel through areas where they might get called out. And if that happens, I hope they have the confidence, backbone and social skills to handle the situation. I also hope they'll continue to be able to view people as people first, and race as just another interesting facet of the game.

Photo Brad Vest / Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Friday, November 14, 2008

Free Straitjacket Friday is also Beefcake Friday

Went to see Quantum of Solace today with some gal-pals. It's not your typical chicks-outing movie, but as one friend says about Daniel Craig, "When I look at him I feel all yummy."

I'm not big on the James Bond franchise. When I was a kid, Sean Connery was already in his 40s and therefore ancient to me and Roger Moore reminded me of an old guy with warts. When Timothy Dalton was cast as Bond, I said, "Who?" and when Pierce Brosnan was Bond, he was good to look at but not drool-worthy.

Daniel Craig is a new Bond: Tormented, heartbroken, a loose cannon. And BUFF, but not in a cartoonishly large way.

I really enjoyed the movie. There were so many pros: Non-stop action, creepy villains, interesting plot and smart women.

Cons: He doesn't remove his shirt. Not even once. What's with that?

Do you think I should ask for my money back?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

More Deep Thoughts ...

... about my butt.

Last night I took my kids to Bingo Night at school and, for nearly two hours, we sat on these hard plastic seats. They're round, attached to the long folding cafeteria tables and were obviously designed for tiny little butts that can't sit still for very long. When I got home, my rear end let me know what it thought about those seats by sending little messages of pain throughout my back.

I can't help it if I have no padding on my butt and, believe me, that this is not a good thing. You'd think that all those glutes and lunges I do in my workout class would add some curvy muscle to it, but noooo ... it just gets flatter. My butt is so flat it's nearly concave. My butt is so flat it's the stomach I've always wanted. My butt is so flat I could wear my jeans backwards. My butt is so flat Christopher Columbus would have fallen off the edge.

And yet there is jiggle. I'm not sure what's jiggling back there when there is no padding. It's the ultimate cruelty, kind of like telling a flat-chested woman that she still needs to wear a bra.

As a farewell thought, here's Maxine:

Friday, November 7, 2008

Free Straitjacket Friday ... Crock-pots Rule!

Today's topic is crock-pots and why they rule:
  1. You throw your food in and forget about it for a few hours.

  2. It allows you to leave the house while dinner is still cooking.

  3. It tenderizes tougher cuts of meat.

  4. They make the house smell really good.

  5. Mine is red.

I start off with this:

After several unwatched hours, I get this:

I also like to make split pea soups in my crock-pot. One of my girlfriends stuffs uncooked manicotti shells with a spinach-ricotta mixture, places them in her crock-pot with a bunch of marinara sauce and then has a magically delicious meal hours later. I recently made hot apple cider for a large group of trick-or-treating kids by pouring a whole bottle of apple cider into the crock-pot and adding a few cinnamon sticks. Several hours later, our thirsty and cold group came back to the house and there was hot cider all ready to go.

Who else uses a crock-pot? Let's hear about it.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Change is Good

Now that Barack Obama is our president-elect, I am feeling much more optimistic about being an American, something I haven't felt in years.

Change is good, and one thing that I hope changes is our economy. I'm predicting that the election will cause Americans will feel more confident about their futures and this will result in them going out and shopping, thus giving our economy a bit of a kick.

Of course, the downside is that money is tight nowadays (for many people, including yours truly), so how do you balance between spending to invigorate the economy and avoiding putting yourself into further debt? While I feel lucky not to have a crushing mortgage payment, high medical bills or heavy credit card balances, I do have to budget carefully and walk that cash tightrope.

One thing that has really helped me has been to differentiate between "wants" and "needs." When it comes to buying things other than groceries, I try to give myself a 48-hour cooling period to think about the purchase. Sometimes, for higher-priced items, that 48-hour period extends to several months. Sometimes I end up forgetting all about it. Most of the time, I eventually realize I didn't really need or particularly want the item that badly.

I'm also trying to pay cash for most things. It's too easy for me to whip out that little plastic card so what I've been trying to do is to take out a certain amount of cash at the beginning of the week and make that cash last all week. When the cash is gone, so are the purchases. Some weeks it works better than others.

The Consumerist Web site ( offers some great tips and inspirational stories on becoming debt-free. Click here to read some of these posts. It's good to know that there are specific steps I can take and to read that these tips have actually helped people who were once deeply stuck in the hole of debt.

photo © Darren Hester for

No Words Required

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Free Straitjacket Friday ... Fun with Leprechauns

Some of my favorite horror movies are the inadvertently funny ones. Leprechaun, a 1993 release, certainly isn't presented as a comedy, but the first time I saw it I laughed so hard I had to check my pants.

It stars a very young Jennifer Aniston, whose character and her dad move into an old home. Unbeknown to them (because in the movies no one ever does a home inspection), the basement contains a VERY angry 600-year-old leprechaun. Said leprechaun, whom I shall call "Lep" for convenience, had his gold stolen back in Ireland. He followed the thief to America to retrieve his stash but the thief managed to lock him into a crate. The only thing that keeps him in this crate is a wee lil' four-leaf clover that repels him.

You still following me? Good. Then young Jennifer meets a local hunk/love interest. Also, there is a cute little brother and another young boy who happens to be kind of slow. The slow kid accidentally releases old Lep and all hell breaks loose!

A whole bunch of stuff happens that I won't detail. Let's just say that Lep goes on a killing and maiming spree to retrieve his gold, whacking people in the knees (because he's short, right?) or worse and crying, "Give me my gold!" My favorite scene is when Jennifer and the hunk, in a pickup truck going top speed, are desperately trying to escape from Lep, who is hotly pursuing them ... on a tricycle.

(Excuse me for a moment while I wipe my tears. Okay, better now.)

I highly recommend that you view Leprechaun, especially to celebrate Halloween or St. Patrick's Day. Sadly I cannot recommend its four sequels, especially the last one, Leprechaun in the Hood. Maybe I'm being nit-picky, but magical mythical creatures and gangstahs are not a palatable combo. Even if the cast includes Ice-T and Coolio.

Give me my gold! I'm going to say that all day today.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Whassup? 8 Years Later

In the 2000, the Budweiser "Whassup?" guys made their commercial debut. The ad spot (in which a bunch of guys kept yelling "Whassup?" into their phones) was widely parodied in songs, comedy skits and other ads. Everyone and his grandmother began using that phrase.

Personally, I found the "Whassup?" craze annoying and stupid, so when this new version (above) showed up, my initial reaction was to skip it altogether. But I force myself to watch train wrecks on TV, so I forced myself to watch the video. And I'm so glad I did.

Finally, something I really can say "Whassup?" to, and really mean it.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Free Straitjacket Friday ... Math Mysteries

In school they put me in a lot of advanced math classes. Don't hate me for that, because I detested math. It was like reaching Dante's Ninth Circle of Hell and finding it filled with numbers, graphs and polygons.

For some mysterious reason, I always scored well on math aptitude tests. Then I would find myself sitting in an advanced class, spending many enjoyable hours reading Judy Blume paperbacks tucked inside my textbook. Whenever the teacher called on me for an answer, my reply was something usually something like, "Um ... What page is that on?"

In one of life's ironic twists, I have a child who is not only good at math but actually likes it. A sixth-grader who is getting A's in an eight-grade math class. I'm proud but not a little befuddled. It's like a Republican giving birth to a social worker.

On the rare occasion my son asks me for math help, it becomes quite an amusing and pathetic adventure. I can remember past teen idols' siblings' names (Kristy and Jimmy McNichol! Leif and Dawn Garrett!) but for the life of me, I can't recall how to find the area of a triangle. I did okay when he was younger, but now that the math has gotten more sophisticated, I've decided to take the psychologist-couch approach to helping him:

"Hmmm," I mutter in a non-judgemental tone, "this is interesting. How do YOU think you should figure this out?"

"What have you been doing to solve this and why has or hasn't it worked?"

"Do you think you should call Brandon (fellow math genius buddy)?"

And damn if that kid doesn't end up figuring it out on his own! Maybe I really iz a genius....

Chart from

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Today's Ha-Ha

Since it's Tuesday and I wish it were Friday, I have to share this short but funny video with you. I know that it doesn't meet up with my usual sophisticated standards of humor (yes, I'm joking) but sometimes it doesn't take much to make my day.

Also, as you can see, I'm easily amused.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Free Straitjacket Friday: Comic Covers Rule!

I can't be bothered giving out free straitjackets today because robots are ruling the Earth and going after our women! And they're, um, kind of hot, too, if you just focus on their torsos.

I LOVE comic book and especially their covers. Sometimes I'll head over to the comics rack at bookstores with my kids. While they peruse the inside contents, I'll check out every little detail on the covers, especially if they feature Captain America's pecs. Just for accuracy, of course.

If you visit the Institute of Official Cheer, you'll find a lot of bad comic book covers, funny old ads and old Sears catalog pages featuring the ugly fashions we used to covet. They're a fascinating snapshot of what Americans were thinking of back in the day. Worried about the A-bomb? Put it in a comic book. Excited about new fabric technology? It's available in a polyester double-knit dress, with your choice of busy patterns.

Visiting the Institute of Official Cheer is always a hoot and the comics pages are my favorite. Here are some that I especially enjoy. Hope you'll like them, too!

But just crouch under your school desk and all will be fine. Really.

Because every nurse, when she's not working a double shift and dealing with the bloody aftermath of gang shootings, should take the time to fluff up her hair and put on a little lipstick. Just in case that handsome, straight doctor comes calling.

This totally explains one or two boyfriends I've had.

Um ... speechless.

Between this, the Beverly Hillbillies and the civil-rights movement, it was probably not a good time to be eating at the Waffle House.

All images from

The Nutcracker and Wieners

As far as I'm concerned, the holidays are here, because I've just ordered our family tickets to this year's production of The Nutcracker, performed by the Pacific Northwest Ballet in McCaw Hall in Seattle.

I first saw this production when my husband and I were dating. We sat in the nosebleed seats (the only seats we could afford then) but still got an amazing view. Halfway through the production, he turned to me and asked, "When do they start talking?" It was then that I realized the poor guy had never attended a ballet before. I married him anyway.

There are many version of The Nutcracker performed in the Puget Sound area, but the PNB version is considered the gold standard. Set in a beautiful venue that also houses the Seattle Opera, this is a lavish production that began in 1983 with a set designed by Maurice Sendak, best known for his children's books such as Where the Wild Things Are. Attending this production has become an annual tradition for many families.

This will be my kids' first time at the PNB version. Two years ago I took them to another version performed by a smaller ballet company at a old local high school auditorium. The music was canned and the venue left a lot to be desired. Nevertheless, it was a beautifully done version and my daughter, who was five then, sat mesmerized the entire time. My son, who was nine, said it was "good" but wished for more sword-fighting action between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King. I think he'll enjoy the PNB's more theatrical version. My husband enjoyed it and knew not to expect any dialogue.

(On a crude and comic note, we sat in the front row and got a VERY close-up look at the dancers, including a view of the Nutcracker's groin area, which was apparent even under his tights. For days after that, my daughter, goaded on by her brother, would announce, "My favorite part was the wiener!" Ah, the memories she'll be able to share with her own kids.)

Anyway, I have made the mistake of telling my daughter that I ordered tickets to The Nutcracker, because she has now begun the "How many more days until...?" game. She's very excited and so am I.

But it's not all good news. I don't have the heart to tell her that our seats are farther from the stage this time so there will be no looking at anyone's "wieners." Oh, well, time to make some new memories.
Photo from

Friday, October 10, 2008

Free Straitjacket Friday ... Fun With Pumpkins

When I see a pumpkin I either want to cook it or carve a smiley face into it. Or a sad face. That's the extent of my pumpkin creativity.

Fortunately, other people look at a pumpkin and imagine a puking person or their neighbor mooning them. That, my friends, is a real talent.

Here are some of my favorite examples culled from the Internet.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Didn't I Feed You Yesterday?

If you're not a Project Runway fan (and why the heck not?) you may not be familiar with Laura Bennett, season three finalist, mother of six and style/parenting icon. When I grow up I want to be just like her.

I try to keep in mind that I shouldn't idolize her because the woman has money, nannies, a fabulous New York city apartment and at least one Martha-worthy country home. Still, she does have six kids, which I think balances everything out.

Today she has a hilarious article on The Daily Beast ( titled, "Didn't I Feed You Yesterday?" She describes her hands-off parenting style (lets her kids eat chemical junk, buys them go-carts and doesn't know where their classrooms are) and even attributes it to a genetic disposition to laissez-faire parenting.

I love it because I am descended from an overprotective mom. She never allowed me out to play with neighbor kids (they were too rough) or join a sport (in case I got injured and possibly paralyzed for life) or go to friends' homes (should any family members living there possess hidden criminal records). I think I was finally allowed to cross the street by myself during seventh grade.

That's the family legacy I've been handed and it's one I'm trying to break. I think I'm making an admirable effort and it helps that my husband grew up in one of those homes where kids were allowed to roam outdoors all day and just return for meals.

I'm also trying hard not to be a helicopter parent at school. While I do volunteer with my kids' classrooms and know their teachers, I try not to hover around the schoolyard or obsess over their homework and friends. Our schools have enough neurotic parents; they don't need me to join their ranks.

Several years ago, on the first day of school, my friend Adrienne and I kissed our kindergartners, watched them march into class, left the weeping moms and went shopping. We might have left tire tracks in the school parking lot in our haste to get out of there.

There was another time a group of us moms decide to celebrate the kids' return to school by canoeing out to a small island with contraband margarita-fixings and snacks, only to find a work-party of prison inmates already there. We still had a splendid time.

So there is hope for me!

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Berry Good Monday

It's Monday morning and all is well. The kids got off to school without any drama; I got in a workout and am feeling good; the leaves are turning into beautiful golds and reds; and my dog appears to be done shedding all over the house.

Most importantly, I have a blueberry crisp waiting in my kitchen.

This summer we went to a nearby U-Pick blueberry farm and managed to come away with nearly 14 pounds of the good stuff. Some of it we ate while the others got bagged and frozen, just waiting to make their appearances throughout the rest of the year in pancakes, muffins, crisps and pies.

Yesterday when I reached into my freezer for a bag of blueberries to make a crisp, I was shocked to learn that it was THE LAST BAG. Damn, we should have gone to the blueberry farm again before it closed for the season. Now we'll have to buy it frozen until next summer.

Regardless, my blueberry crisp turned out very well and it's now calling my name, along with its partner, vanilla ice cream. So I leave you, but not before posting a photo of a blueberry pie I made this summer using the same batch of berries we had picked. My desserts may not look pretty, but believe me, they are scrumptious!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Free Straitjacket Friday ... What We Hear ...

... is not always what we comprehend. And a free straitjacket doesn't always help to clarify things (but go ahead and take one if you wish).

Case in point: My friend Peggy tells of Son #1 being allowed to go to the driving range with cousin Kelly while the Son #2 didn't get to go and threw a fit. The next day, Son #1 tells his brother that he had gotten to hit golf balls at the driving range.

Says Son #2, "Oh, I thought it was somewhere you got to drive go-carts."

Responds Son #1, "Yeah, I thought we were going to watch Kelly practice driving."

I love stories like this. So far, my favorite one involves one of my younger sisters whom we refer to as the Natural Blond, even though she's a brunette. She lived with us during part of her high school years and provided many moments of unintentional mirth.

My favorite was when I went to a plant nursery and then came home.

Natural Blond: "Where'd you go?"

Moi: "I went to a nursery."

Natural Blond (screwing up face in distaste): "Why would you want to visit old people?"

And that, my friend, is Free Straitjacket Friday. Have some coffee and donuts from the refreshment table and have a great day!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Dazed and Confused

It's October already? Really? Where have I been?

Does time pass quicker the older you get or does it just seem that way? When I was a kid, it seemed as if Halloween and Christmas would never come, but now I find myself looking at the calendar and realizing that Halloween is in a few weeks and we better get on the ball with costumes.

Both my kids were pumpkins their first Halloween, which was perfect because, as most pumpkins go, they just sat there and looked confused. Now Miss Thang (age 7) wants to be a hula girl, which is simple enough, since we can just get the "grass" skirt and coconut bra from a costume shop. Pubescent Rocker (age 11) is trying to decide between Al Gore or Stephen Colbert. Last year he was Dick Cheney and carried a pitchfork.

I admire his political-statement aspirations, but getting a costume together sure was easier when he wanted to be a skeleton or clown.

Image: Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Oxford University Press, U.K.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Happy Birthday, Google!

Google turns 10 years old! You don't look a day over nine, I swear.

More Free Straitjacket Friday, Bonus Round

Funny how good rest and good antibiotics can put a new spin on your perspective. In reviewing my previous post on neti pots, I have come to the conclusion that the post, while informative and interesting to some, might not be considered entertaining. (Although in my defense, I consider the video a real treasure.)

So today I introduce you to Butchering the English language has never been so much fun! I'm sure you've all seen the T-shirts worn by foreign tourists that bear words that appear to be English but don't make much sense. If you enjoy those, you'll enjoy Engrish.

Please to click on this link and enjoy refreshing! Don't forget to vote this erection year!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Free Straitjacket Friday ... Neti Pots

Welcome to another Free Straitjacket Friday. Today, anyone who has bronchitis and is getting cold symptoms gets first pick of fashion colors. Wait a minute, that would be me.

Today's weird topic is neti pots, which have been used in India for centuries for nasal irrigation. A few years back, a friend told me about using it to relieve her severe allergy symptoms and I thought she was finally ready for her own straitjacket. Of course, the fact that she described it as "a small teapot you put salt water in and then stick into your nostrils" didn't really help convert me.

Last year, after another friend recommended it, I started using a little plastic neti pot that I picked up at Walgreens and I absolutely love it. I can breathe much easier and my nasal passages no longer feel dry during the winter. I used to wake up on cold mornings barely able to breathe, despite having a humidifier in my room, and I no longer have this problem. I use it every night and after I've been in dusty or pollen-filled environments. When I have a bad cold (such as now) I also use it in the mornings. Let's just say it clears out and soothes the tubes.

Here's a video that shows you how it works. If you're squeamish about fluids coming out of your nose, you might want to put that snack down before viewing it. I found it very helpful when I was first getting started.

Does anyone have a neti pot story to share? Did it work for you?

Monday, September 22, 2008

'Tis the Season for Germs

You know it's bad when I have to resort to posting cute photos of dogs that aren't even mine.

When the kids return to school each fall, it's like sending them off to germ-incubation factories. Then these Junior Typhoid Marys come home and breathe on me. Now I have bronchitis and the coughing is driving me nuts. Lying in bed with some hot tea and watching a movie would be very nice right now, but I have too much to do and not enough energy to do it. (And the fact that I have energy to blog is an irony that does not escape me.)

Fortunately, I have my cough drops for day and, for evening, that lovely prescription codeine cough syrup, the one that quiets your cough and knocks you out for a full night of snoozy-poo. I kept my love of the codeine syrup under wraps until I cautiously talked to a few friends about it and discovered that they are big fans, too. I also have a prescription for antibiotics, but since my bronchitis seems to be viral instead of bacterial, I don't need to fill it.

One thing that mystifies me is why I crave the most unhealthy foods when I'm sick. Burger-like products from the Golden Arches. Instant MSG-filled ramen noodles. Fat- and salt-filled Hawaiian plate lunches. My only theory is that these warm, gooey, salty, and greasy items represent comfort foods for me, and when I'm sick, I need all the comforting I can get.

Gotta go now and get some rest. And eat a frozen burrito.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Free Straitjacket Friday ... Now With Cake!

Welcome to another Free Straitjacket Friday. Today, anyone who has ever had a bad experience waiting in line at the DMV or Wal-Mart gets first pick of fashion colors. Queue up, please.

Today's topic includes three of my favorite things in life:
  1. Good cake
  2. Laughing my head off
  3. Laughing my head off at bad misspellings, bad punctuation and "inappropriate use" of "quotation marks."
The good folks at Cake Wrecks have combined all three for me! It's motto: When professional cakes go horribly, hilariously wrong. I think that pretty much says it all.

The following are some of my favorites from Cake Wrecks, which provides wonderfully snarky commentary with each cake. I have other favorites, but these are some of the, um, cleaner ones.

Please to enjoy!

(All images courtesy Cake Wrecks)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Spamalot Lately?

This morning my friend Peggy sent out an e-mail informing a small number of friends about Dish Up Literacy. This is a very cool program that encourages people to eat out at participating area restaurants this Thursday. The restaurants then donate 20 percent of their receipts that day towards an effort to buy more books for our schools.

What I found interesting was the fact that Peggy prefaced her e-mail by explaining that she was sending it out because it's for a good cause but we don't have to worry she will start spamming us. She had received the e-mail from another friend who also explained that she wasn't trying to spam anyone.

I hadn't really thought of this e-mail as spam and so I found the disclaimers curious. I can only guess that someone out there had received one too many e-mails about worthy causes and declared war on them.

The Mirriam-Webster's Online Dictionary describes spam as "unsolicited usually commercial e-mail sent to a large number of addresses." I just describe it as delicious, especially fried and slapped between two slices of white bread. Sorry, couldn't help myself.

For the record, I welcome any e-mails from my friends regarding good causes. I also welcome jokes that are particularly raunchy, family photos and any personal updates. What I don't care to receive are e-mails containing the following:
  • Offers to enlarge my penis or make me fabulously wealthy by assisting some Nigerian prince
  • Any dire warnings about Internet viruses, diseases or upcoming gang initiations that have not been checked for accuracy. Really, is Snopes THAT hard to use?
  • Sentimental, heartwarming messages about (friendship, kittens, angels, old people who say profound things, etc.) that come with instructions to send it to seven friends.
  • Anything that has been forwarded so many times I have to keep opening new messages to get to the original message. If a message isn't important enough for you to copy and paste into a new e-mail, it's probably not something I need to read.
And now for some humor! Recently I DID send an unsolicited video link to a friend of mine because I knew she would find it funny. Now I share it (unsolicited) with you! And the subject is religion! I can do this because it's my blog, but, no matter what your religious beliefs may be, please tell me if this video doesn't have you rolling on the floor with tears in your eyes.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Free Straitjacket Friday!

Straitjackets are free every Friday around here! Moms with young kids get first pick of fashion colors, followed by anyone who has to work in customer service.

This morning I am putting on my straitjacket, sitting in my padded cell, and thinking of deep and profound topics ... such as my butt.

I blame it on calling dr. bombay, this fun new blog I just discovered and will now have to add to my lengthy list of favorites. In an entry titled baby got back our new friend talks about her posterior:

There was a time when I was in high school that I was obsessed with my ass.

I was sure that it was too big.

I wore long sweaters and big shirts to disguise it.

Every day in the cafeteria I took the long way round a table of upperclassmen boys because I was sure that Corey Hoffman would be staring at my ginormous rear-end and could never ever love me!!!

Over time, my obsession faded away and I never really worried about my body again.

But this morning prior to getting dressed, I was looking at myself in all my naked splendor in the mirror and it suddenly occurred to me that my 9th grade self would be positively mortified and quite possibly incapacitated if she could see the sheer size and magnitude of her ass now!!!

Raise your hands if you can relate! I was so self-conscious about my body in high school and college. Had I only known that one day my metabolism would slow down and I would have two kids and a Costco snack habit, I would have celebrated my perfect body back then. I would have strutted around and worn a bikini every day. To school. To the supermarket. To church, if I ever did go. Rest assure that I would have worn flats instead of heels with my bikini, because I do have a sense of propriety, after all.

My butt/arse/okole isn't big; I have the opposite problem: There is nothing back there anymore but when I jump up and down I feel something jiggling. Someone please explain this to me. Are they mystery buttocks? Is it like the phantom pains people get after their limbs are amputated?

In the big scheme of life I know it's not a big deal. My butt and the rest of my body may not look as good as it once did but I'm working out, trying ("trying" being the operative word) to eat healthy and usually maintaining a positive attitude, so I feel healthy and strong most of the time.

And I can still wear a two-piece bathing suit! Well, actually it's a huge tankini. Does that count?
photo Nikki Levine for

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Little Patience

This week I began a temporary assignment for a little girl who just started in our school's Special Education classes. "Kathy" (not her real name, to protect her privacy) is sweet and adorable. She also suffers from a condition that results in muscular degeneration. As a result, she is unable to speak, wears braces to walk, and has limited use of her arms, which will flail around uncontrollably. She also needs assistance going to the bathroom. She gets very excited around other children but tends to scare them because she shrieks, shoves her hand in her mouth and then tries to reach out with her wet hands.

While Kathy's arm movements are limited, she is still able to grab things, lightening-quick, and shove them in her mouth. Plastic play coins, toilet water, other people's food, she doesn't discriminate. I have to watch her every second and be ready to remove her hand from things she shouldn't grab. I have to dodge the drooly hand, which has slapped me and pulled my hair several times. This is not an easy task considering that I need to be close by to assist her.

I have never worked with a kid with such special needs before and I have realized several things this week:
  • People who work with Special Ed kids are saints. They are there for the kids every day, all day, and they persevere and celebrate the little victories. I, on the other hand, am there for just the afternoon, and I'm physically and emotionally drained at the end of the day.

  • I am not a saint, but I have more patience than I originally thought. Despite that, I could NOT do this on a full-time basis.

  • Once you've changed a Pull-Up on a child, you never forgot how to do it.
My initial reaction when offered this assignment was, "Hell, no!" (I didn't actually say it out loud, of course.) I can barely stand it when my own, highly functioning, kids are moving slowly, so how was I going to do with a special-needs child?

What made me agree to do it, albeit on a trial basis, was my realization that I was scared to do this, and I do not like to be scared. I also do not like to turn down a new opportunity just because I've never done it before. Experience, be it good or bad, make you a better person, and I want to be a better person. So I said "yes."

It's been a long couple of days. This afternoon I found myself losing patience with Kathy when she refused to cooperate and kept trying to bite my hand. If it had been one of my own kids I would have tried to reason with them, threaten them, read them the riot act, or all of the above. I couldn't do this with Kathy. And then I realized she was probably exhausted from all her efforts in walking, eating, learning, just being. So I took a deep breath, gave up on trying to get her to follow my game plan, and sat her down in her special chair. Once seated, she turned to me and gave me an adorable little smile and my impatience left me, at least for a while. I guess sometimes that's all we can ask for.

photo © Zbigniew Twardowski for

Monday, September 1, 2008

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

There is much celebrating in our home, for school begins in two days. Actually, I should specify that I am the one in a joyful mood; my kids, not so much.

It has been a very fun and busy summer. So busy that I just realized it's been nearly a month since my last post. There were many times that I thought of posting but couldn't find the energy to compose a thought or lift a finger to the keyboard. That's the kind of summer it's been.

We've gone to the zoo, the aquarium, the science center, the parks, the outdoor movies and many other fun and enriching venues. We stayed at home and did crafts, ran through the sprinklers and had backyard picnics. My kids participated in theater camps, basketball camps, sleep-away camps, swim lessons and every other fun summer activity you can think of. I provided transportation for all of it.

My little cherubs started the summer with very ambitious goals: physical fitness, art projects, playdates, reading Moby Dick, etc. For the most part, they have been well-behaved and helpful. However, for the past three weeks they have been whiny, argumentative and constantly begging to play video games. When they began to complain about not having any good snacks right after a Costco run, I realized: It is time for them to return to school.

I consider it a wonderful sign that I did not get sick of my children during this summer vacation until three weeks ago; it seemed like only yesterday that I was begging to be put out of my misery after the first week of having them home. Progress, indeed!

After they return to school, I will grab a cup of coffee, put my feet up and listen to the sounds of ... ripping and hammering, for we are having our house completely re-sided. For the past several days, two very efficient workmen have been showing up bright and early to rip off old, warped siding and put up fresh, new siding. This requires the placement of a dumpster and Honey Bucket on our driveway (see photo above). The little boy across the street is very impressed and has asked to use our Honey Bucket, which I believe his mother forbade.

The project will probably take another two weeks, during which time I will put my feet up at the local coffee shop, run many errands and try to pick up as many jobs as possible. However, if I choose to stay at home, I can try to drown out the sounds of construction. The workmen may be noisy, but they have not once sassed me or complained that they are bored.

Progress, indeed!