Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Who's Divorce Is It Anyway?

I found this article on Web MD today, about how someone's divorce can affect their friends' marriages. I have to say, I've only read the first few pages, but so far this article is spot on. Michael and I have been through this more than a couple of times, where a couple we know and hang out with suddenly end up divorced. In fact, it's happened to us so often that I am no longer allowed to look through our wedding album, because I sit there and pick out all the people we know in the photos who are no longer together. These days, I can also pick out the people in our wedding album who are now dead, which is another reason why I'm not allowed to look through our wedding album anymore; Michael says it's just too ghoulish.

And he's right, it is ghoulish to sit there and look at the pictures and talk about what went wrong, like I'm performing some sort of verbal autopsy on a long-dead relationship, but that's how I handle these things. I look at what the people around me did wrong and I want to discuss it, to learn from it, to make sure I don't end up repeating their mistakes. As badly as I felt for my neighbor down the street who's husband died suddenly of a heart attack, I couldn't help but want to analyze about the aftermath she went through. She couldn't get into her late husband's computer to pay the bills; she wasn't sure how to handle the insurance claim; she didn't know how to deal with certain financial aspects of her home business because her husband had always handled it. I have to discuss these things with Michael to make sure I won't end up in the same bad situation.

I've done the same thing with divorces, picking apart what might have gone wrong and then comparing my findings to what's happening in my own marriage. It's armchair quarterbacking for sure, but when someone you know has been married for 10 years and you just went camping with them the weekend before and now suddenly the wife is moving out and they're getting a divorce, it does make you stop in your tracks and go, "WTF?! How'd that happen? Didn't we just go camping with them last week? Uh, honey? We're not headed for divorce, are we?"

To reassure all my friends, I do not study your lives under a microscope. Half the time, when you make a mistake, I have no idea; I'm too busy fighting off my own alligators to notice yours. And the closer I am to someone, the more likely I am not to need to analyze what's gone on in their lives. Those folks tell me everything anyway.

But some days I've got to be the ghoul. Some days I have to sit and try to learn from other's mistakes. It ain't pretty, but at least you know that because I'm a stay-at-home mom, I can't hang around the water cooler at work and gossip about it.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Move It Mama Monday! - Am I A Slug?

To quote the late, great Madeline Kahn, everything from the neck down is kaput. I am soooooo tired today, literally dragging myself through everything I have to do. I spent the weekend in Richmond attending Ravencon, and like a kid at a playground, I just wore myself out. I attended a slew of panels on podcasting and webcomics, stayed up too late chatting with friends I don't get to see often enough, and in general had a lot of grown-up fun (by which I mean I was able to do things without constant interuption from my kids, who stayed home all weekend with the Hubster - I love that man).

But after all that fun (which I know doesn't sound nearly as wild as the stuff I used to do in my twenties and even thirties), I had to come home and act like a responsible mommy again. After unpacking and handling a bunch of laundry, I crashed early, thinking I'd be better rested and prepared to handle the next day. WRONG! After eleven solid hours of sleep, I still had to drag myself out of bed, and then drag myself through the morning. I did manage to get out for an hour-long walk, and I did spend another hour outside with Pixie spreading mulch (Pixie LOVES to spread mulch!). But those two activities apparently consumed my entire energy allotment for the day.

By noon, I caught myself nodding off while reading to Pixie. I sent her off to her room for some quiet time and I stole a short nap. Twenty minutes later, I got up, took a bath, and took another nap. Thirty minutes later, I dragged myself up to the office to pencil the next episode of the webcomic. And thirty minutes after that, I was back in bed again, taking yet another nap.

Obviously, I had a little more fun than I realized this weekend. Even worse, I may have eaten a bit more than I thought I did. Wii Fit tells me I put on a pound or so over the weekend. However, I still have 20 days left to lose those last eight pounds and achieve my weightloss goal!

Um, yeah.

I have been exercising. I have been trying to eat right. Yet, it seems I am still tired and a little overweight, in spite of my efforts. So I have to ask myself, fitness-wise, have I accomplished anything in the last two months since setting my initial goal to lose weight on the Wii Fit?

I'm going to give a guarded yes. My weight may still be stuck at around 150 lbs, but it is more often below 150 lbs than above it these days. And I have seen that elusive number, 145, on my scale a few times in the last month or so. I'm willing to blame water weight at this point for my weight gain this weekend, and my period (along with too much fun) for the feeling of general tiredness. The ups and downs of a menstrual cycle are just a part of the unpleasant facts of female life that Wii Fit doesn't seem to understand or take into account when doing the daily body test. I wish it did. I also wish the Wii Fit could be programmed to deal with pregnancy (I'm planning on having one more child). Maybe some enterprising game designer will figure this out and a whole lot of women will be made very, very happy.

There have been other Wii Fit successes not related to my weight that I'm pleased with. My knees are doing much better. I'm lousy about taking my glucosamine and chondrotine supplements, and I just can't seem to fit both exercise and physical therapy into my daily regimen. But Wii Fit seems to have corrected my posture enough that I no longer sound like a bowl of Rice Krispies when I head down the steps. Even better, I can now hold a nice deep cat stance during karate class without feeling any pain. My balance while performing kata has improved, and it feels good for the first time in a long time to head into the dojo for an hour or more of class.

I won't be losing 8 lbs in the next twenty days. I might lose two pounds in that amount of time. I might lose a bit more if I really am carrying around some water weight right now. But I'm not going to be too upset about it if I fail to meet that initial goal I set. I'll simply correct the things I haven't been doing right, like eating more fruits and veggies, and get back on the Wii Fit wagon again. I'm looking at several weeks in a row without any trips out of town, so I think I'll be okay. And maybe in the next few months, those pounds will come off. We'll see how it goes.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Fiction Friday - Dune Vs. Frida Kahlo

After the unexpected surprise of enjoying the teen fluff romance of Twilight, I decided to dive into some serious science fiction just to prove to myself that I had not gone completely soft in the head. I hit Fictionwise.com and picked up a copy of Dune: Butlerian Jihad by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. I love the Dune series, both the original books and the first trilogy of prequels written by Herbert and Anderson. Given that the events in Butlerian Jihad happen over 1000 years before the original Dune, I really expected something exciting in terms of getting into the back story of the Bene Gesserit, the Mentats, and the whole history of the House Atreides/House Harkonnen feud. Really, this sort of stuff is right up my alley.

At least it should have been up my alley. I cannot tell you how disappointed I've been with this book. The story is set during the age when Thinking Machines rule most of the galaxy. The Thinking Machines want to wipe out the remaining free human planets, but a sort of stalemate has been going on thanks to the development of planetary defensive shields, called Holtzman Shields, that fry the computerized brains of any machine that dares to breach it. However, not all the Thinking Machines are powered by computers. A select group, called the Cymeks, are actually human brains encased in machine bodies, and the Thinking Machines figure out they can drop those human brained Cymeks through a Holtzman Shield to lead an attack.

The Cymek led attack on a human free world is the plot for the first chapter of Butlerian Jihad, and it irritated the crud out of me to have to slog through this. The miltary strategy was so simplistic it was ridiculous. To make things worse, the hero of the story (who just happens to be a Harkonnen, a member of the house that will eventually evolve into some of the vilest villains of all sci-fi) can't figure out what the goal is of the Cymek lead element when they land on the planet.

Now let's think about this carefully. Your planet is defended by a shield that keeps out all computer-run ships and assault equipment, yet a vast armada of computer-run ships is sitting in orbit overhead. These computers drop a small group of giant mechs controlled by human brains onto the planet. The human brain-controlled mechs proceed to attack while the computer-run armada waits overhead. What do you think is the goal of this lead attacking element? Do you think maybe, just maybe, they might want to shut down the shields that are the only thing keeping out the armada overhead? The armada that's just sitting there with enough firepower to wipe out the entire planet if only they could get through that stupid planetary shield?

I hate stupid main characters, and I'm afraid Dune: Butlerian Jihad presented me with a doozy of one. Xavier Harkonnen is about as thick as they come, a promising but love-sick military officer who obviously can't grasp the most basic concepts of military strategy. Not only is he slow to figure out what the initial attack on his planet is about, but he makes further dumb mistakes later on, mistakes anyone who's studied even a little bit of military history could figure out (I was a transporter in the Army Reserves -- a transporter, not an infantry man, mind you -- and I could see what the Thinking Machines were going to do next before the machines themselves even made the decisions in the book!). What's worse, Xavier Harkonnen is in love with the fair but boring Serena Butler. Serena wants to do good in the universe and save lives, and she'll willingly puts herself into danger to do so. Just as with the military tactics of the thinking machines, I could see what Serena was going to do long before she even did it.

It does not help that all the characters come across as cardboard cutouts, the dialogue is horribly stilted, and most of the book is just one massive info dump of back story. There's a basic rule in writing that goes "Show, don't tell." Having your characters actually act out the plot rather than spoon feeding it to your readers via info dump solves so many of the problems that Butlerian Jihad suffers from. But somehow, Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson forgot this rule when they wrote this book. I can't understand it. They did a good job with their previous Dune books, bringing to life the histories of so many characters who played essential roles in the original series. I made it through seven, maybe eight chapters of this one before I gave up reading any further.

Not knowing what to read next after such a disappointment, I simply decided not to read anything at all. I had picked up a few art books back in February and I thought I'd amuse myself by looking at the pictures inside. One book was Frida Kahlo: Beneath The Mirror by Gerry Souter. I found this book in the bargains section at my local Barnes & Noble. The paintings in it are so beautiful. Since I had never read about Kahlo before, I decided to skim through the first chapter to see if I could get a summary of her life. Wouldn't you guess, I ended up reading the whole book in just a few days? What the Dune book lacked in terms of exciting plot and fascinating characters, Frida Kahlo more than made up for. I don't think I could have imagined a more bizarre life for an artist. Souter did an excellent job of presenting the basic facts in a clear, easy style, without leaching Kahlo's life of all interest. My only complaint about the book is that Souter frequently discusses particular pictures that Kahlo painted at various points in her life, but the paintings don't appear on the same page or the next page so you can look at them while you read what he says about them. In fact, the paintings are scattered through the book in no logical matter. Souter talks about a painting Kahlo did early on in her career right after she marries her husband, but the image doesn't show up until the very last chapter, sandwiched between the pages of her funeral. Early on in the book, there were a few instances where Souter listed what page the painting was on when he described it, but that quickly stopped after the first two chapters. Another note, at one point in the book, there is a huge, blatant printing error where a paragraph cuts off in the middle and there is an inch or so of blank space, and then the paragraph starts again and the writing contiues on. I think it's for these reasons that the book ended up in the bargain section as opposed to the art section of the store.

In any event, Dune: Butlerian Jihad turned out to be a big FAIL in my book, while Frida Kahlo: Beneath The Mirror was an unexpected win. I have no idea what I'll read next. I'll ponder that question this weekend and start a new book on Monday.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Techno Tuesday - not your mother's "stay-at-home"

Technology and stay-at-home motherhood are subjects near and dear to my heart. As a work-at-home, write-at-home mom, I spend a lot of time online. Blogging, Twitter, e-mail, Firefox... the internet is a huge part of my life.

My own mother was a stay-at-home mom for the first few years of my life. Back then, we lived in a tiny, rural area of Georgia, miles away from any town. Fort Benning, the Army post where my dad was stationed, was about an hour's drive away. We had neighbors, but nobody Mom (the city girl from Philly) felt close too. And my dad? Between his assignment at Fort Benning and the master's degree he was pursuing, he was pretty much gone most of the time. So for two years, it was just Mom and me out in the middle of nowhere.

When I was three, Mom went back to work. She had to. Not for financial reasons but because she was going stir crazy. It's a feeling I understand all too well. When your only companion for weeks on end is a three-year-old who endlessly babbles, throws tantrums, and gets into stuff she shouldn't, you start to feel the walls closing in. My mom had an epiphany the day she ran me to ground, grabbed me by the pony tail, and prepared to nearly smack me into the next decade. She stopped, just in time, and realized that if she continued to stay home with me, it wouldn't be good for either one of us. She had to get out of the house; she had to have adult contact. She had to get a job.

Flash forward thirty-seven years. Now I am the stay-at-home mom, living in a suburb where I rarely ever see the other moms in the neighborhood. Either they work, or their kids are much older than mine and so they've got different schedules, or there's a gap between our personalities that's too wide for me to want to bridge (freaky goth mom here, remember?). Michael frequently works late or is away on business, and my constant companion is...

A babbling, tantrum-throwing, getting-into-stuff-she-shouldn't two-year-old.

I love Pixie, but honest to god, some days she just drives me crazy. Like my mother, when things get too nuts and I'm ready to blow my top at my adorable girl, I realize I need adult contact. Unlike my mother, I have more options. I have Skype, Twitter, e-mail. I can work from home, sending artwork and writing to clients via e-mail. I can give myself a purpose outside of motherhood all from the comfort of my own desktop. I am so plugged in, in fact, that I have not one but three computers in the house, all dedicated to me and they're all plugged into the net. Whether I'm in the bedroom, the office, or the kitchen, a sane (or even just semi-sane) adult is only a mouse click away. It's all I need to keep myself together.

These days, my mom lives out in rural Arkansas, miles away from the nearest town. Still the city girl, still the outsider, she doesn't have any close friends within easy distance. She does have a computer and e-mail, but living in such a rural area limits how much connectivity she has via that medium. She can't even get cell phone reception without getting into her car and driving to the top of the mountain my folks live on. Thus at the age of seventy, she's still working at a grueling job because if she doesn't she knows she'd go nuts.

I wonder myself how I'd fare out in those circumstances. Could I survive long-term without Firefox, Skype, Twitter, or e-mail? Would I eventually run my darling Pixie to ground, ready to murder her because I was too stir crazy to stop myself?

I hope I never have to find out.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Move It Mama Monday - Operation Kill A Lot Of Plants

I have never been big on yard work. Growing up, I can recall spending entire weekends devoted to raking cut grass, bagging up scratchy clippings from bushes, painting the back deck, etc. It was hot, sweaty, painful work, all of it, and I never enjoyed it.

In spite of all the yard work I did growing up, I never did learn how to do much more than rake and bag stuff and haul it to the curb. Mom just told me what to do, but never explained why we did certain chores at certain times (like she also told me what to do in the kitchen, but never taught me how to cook). So even though I'm forty years old, I've got this major disconnect about how to handle my lawn and garden. When do you actually plant stuff? When do you weed? How often do you water the lawn? And fertilizer! What do I do with that crap (pun intended)?

I've tried my hand at gardening. I've got two plots in the back yard, one of various perennial greens, and the other containing one giant rosemary bush and a lot of oregano. But there's no grace to either garden really. I just sort of slapped them together with no idea of what would grow and what wouldn't, what would look nice, and what would look like a tangle of weeds.

As for the rest of the yard? I've pretty much left that to Michael all these years. He handles the mowing, the watering, the edging, the deck and porch repairs, etc. In fact, he handles so much of it, I almost never have to go outside.

But that's about to change. I need to get the kids outside more, and I need to get myself outside more. The fact is, I'm bored with going to the playground and chasing after the kids. It's not that I don't love my kids, but I really don't fit into the jungle gyms they've got so all I can do is what most moms do at the playground - sit on my but and make sure my kids don't fall and break their necks. It's boring! If I'm going to be outside, I at least want to be doing something. And I want to be moving, because moving equals exercise, right?

So this is the plan. Last week, the Monday after we got back from Arkansas, I pulled out a bunch of peat pots and some soil, and the girls and I planted some seeds. Again, I have no idea what I'm doing. I let Pixie pick out most of the seeds. She selected corn, beans, tomatoes, and sunflowers. I did pick a few herbs out. I am most familiar with herb gardening, especially in small containers on my deck, so I think I can do okay there. But the plan is for the girls and I to try our hand at gardening together. Maybe we'll all learn something. Maybe my children won't grow up as gardening ignorant as I did. And maybe we'll all have an enjoyable summer outside this year.

We've all got gardening tools. Mine is a mismatched collection accumulated from previous attempts at gardening; the girls collection as pretty much all plastic beach toys. But I figure we've got the basics. I've also got a couple of gardening books, including one called Trowel and Error: Over 700 Tips, Remedies and Shortcuts for the Gardener. I've flipped through it and am finally starting to see how some gardening concepts I've heard about fit together. Plus, it's just a fun little book with all sorts of weird ideas that might be fun to try.

I can't say I'll do any better job gardening this year than I have in previous years. I am notorious for killing a lot of plants. But so far, two-thirds of the seeds we planted over a week ago have sprouted up, and I've managed to weed and mulch parts of the front yard. The fact that I know what mulch is and I know where to put it shows a huge improvement in my gardening skills already. Plus I spent three hours outside hacking up the lawn with a pick ax to get all this done, so you know I burned some calories. (Yes, I used a pick ax to weed and mulch my front yard. It was necessary. Have you seen the weeds in my yard?)

I am a little intimidated by my kids' expectations. They keep jumping around, shouting "We're growing a farm! A real live farm!" So there's a little pressure on me to make sure something survives my black thumb. But at the very least, I'm sure we'll all get plenty of fresh air and sunshine this spring and summer, and yours truly intends to drop a few pounds by
digging around in the dirt.

Or kill a lot of plants while trying.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Fiction Friday - twilight

Twilight was one of those books I just had to read. You see, I'd already read so much about it, and what I'd read was divided into two camps. People either seemed to absolutely love the book beyond all reason, or they absolutely loathed it to the point of vomitting at the mere mention of the title. I had a hard time imaging a book that could invoke two such extreme reactions, but after reading a few reviews and synopes of the book, I had a feeling I'd probably fall into the loathe camp rather than the love camp. The whole thing sounded too much like a bad romance too me, and I'm not a romance reader by any stretch of the word, especially if the romance in question is bad.

So this sounded like the kind of book I normally wouldn't have wasted my time and money on, but like I said, the reactions were so extreme, I just had to find out for myself what the book was really like. Sort of like a car accident, you know? You just have to see how bad it really is.

With all that in mind, I did want to give the book a fair shake. I wasn't sure how easy that would be to do, given my personal biases against romance and the fact that I already knew the plot in advance (honestly, I think there was no way for me not to know what the plot was once the movie came out). Still, I promised myself I'd read at least three chapters before writing the book off as a waste of my time.

Imagine my surprise when I ripped through the book in just four days.

Well, not exactly four days. I started the book, got through the preface and the first two chapters and then I stalled for a couple of weeks. The opening was just so slow, and the main character, Bella, rather dull. It was only my decision to get through at least one more chapter (along with the recommendation of the ever-sensible Patty, one of the moms in the Screeching Harpies) that made me pick up the book again. My family and I were getting ready to visit my parents in Arkansas for a week, and I thought maybe I'd squeeze in that third chapter then. Somewhere during that first day of travel to distant, rural Mountain View, I got hooked. I stayed up late the first night to read "just one more chapter (or three)" and then spent the next two days with my nose buried in my netbook, devouring the rest of the story. It was definitely a romance, but not a bad one, and better than even most good romances I've had shoved into my hands.

The book isn't perfect, of course. There's an article on Salon that gives a very complete and accurate list of the flaws, and I agree with a lot of that list. Myself, I found the opening preface to be entirely pointless, and the book would have been better without it. Also, the first two chapters were pretty slow. I understand the need to set the scene and introduce the characters, but this seemed tto happen at a glacial pace. The story starts out with the main character, Bella Swan, moving to Forks, Washington, to stay with her father. Once she gets there, a lot of mundane events unfold around her - she goes to school, meets the other kids, runs into Edward Cullen, who eventually becomes the love interest in the story. She complains a lot about how much she hates being in Forks.

And that's about it.

Have you seen the movie Coraline yet? It's a similar set up. Coraline moves to a creepy house in a rainy area (either in Washington or Oregon, I think), and she complains about how she doesn't want to be there. But the very first thing Coraline does when she arrives in her own personal hell is to go exploring. She makes a dowsing rod and looks for an abandoned well. She explores the house and finds a tiny locked door, which she eventually goes through to find a magical world on the other side. Coraline goes in pursuit of the adventure, the adventure doesn't come creeping to her.

But that's not what happens in Twilight. Bella is very passive. She doesn't explore her surroundings, and she certainly doesn't go looking for adventure. She just plods through her day to day routine, and that's boring. It isn't until things start happening to her that the book gets interesting. In fact, I'd say about 98% of the book deals with what happens to Bella, rather than with what she does herself. Bella is constantly reacting to the events around her, never really taking action herself to make anything happen in the book. She's in love with the mysterious Edward Cullen, but never dares approach him. Instead, he initiates all the contact, and sets the course for the relationship (which may be why so many of the negative reviews I read called Edward overbearing and domineering). Bella does get into into trouble a lot, but not because she goes out looking for it. She is, in Edward's words, a trouble magnet, someone simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Getting out of said trouble always involves someone else, i.e. Edward, showing up in time to rescue her. In fact, it isn't until the final chapters of the book that Bella takes any initiative to act on her own. I wish I could have seen a lot more of that sort of thing scattered throughout the book. When Bella took action at the end, I felt more of a sense of danger and excitement that the rest of the story lacked.

None of this is to say that Bella is completely useless as a main character; she's got plenty of wit, plus a snarky sense of humor that I found enjoyable. I even found her extreme clumsiness, which is practically pounded home with a hammer throughout the book, to be entertaining. But the real interest in the story is Edward Cullen. Is he a vampire or isn't he? (Actually, that question got answered so early on in the book, and in such a clumsy fashion, that I was left very disappointed.) And why is he alternately hateful and then friendly to Bella? Edward's got some serious problems to deal with, including his love for Bella warring with his instinct to sink his teeth into her and bleed her dry. This is where the romance comes from, and this was what had me intrigued. Not because I had any doubts that Edward would give in and turn Bella into a midnight snack (that would have been fun to see, but this is romance, which I've been told requires a happy ending). But there was something about the dialogue, the descriptions of Edward, his interaction with Bella... It was fun to watch Edward fall in love (Bella was hopelessly in love from the get go, so her point of view on things wasn't so exciting).

Of course, Edward is flawless, and it's oh-so-easy to understand why Bella falls in love with him. He's perfectly handsome, perfectly smart, perfectly strong and fast, and perfectly tortured. Meyers manages to hit all the right notes when writing Edward, making me want to see more of him. But she also left me asking the same question that Bella asks throughout the book - why the heck is he interested in her?

I can't answer that last question. Like I say, Bella initiates almost no action, is in constant need of saving, and is in no way outstanding physically or otherwise. But perhaps the more important question is will I pick up the next book in the series? After all, the point of a series is to keep people reading and get them to buy more books. At this point, I'm willing to say yes. I've bought the second book from Fictionwise. Now to see if I tear through that as quickly as I did the first. There is the promise of a werewolf in the next book, after all, and I can always hope that Bella gets a little more interesting. If not, I might just keep reading to see what happens with Edward.

After all, I could fall in love with him just as easily as Bella has. But hopefully I'm a little more interesting that she is.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Arkansas day 02 - What to do in Arkansas

There's lots to do in Arkansas. Seriously! Lots and lots of stuff to do!

Except we were too wiped out after a day of travel to do much the first day.

We woke up the first day to the angelic sound of braying donkeys. Yeah. My folks own two Sicilian donkeys, one male and one constantly pregnant female. Their names are Jonah and Jill, or as Mom likes to call them, that horney bastard and her poor girl.

Jill, on the left (man is she pregnant), aand Jonah , grazing on the right.

Let me tell ya, you don't need an alarm clock when you've got donkeys. But my folks also have two horses, a mare named Cheyenne and a gelding named Smokey Joe.

Cheyenne, on the right, and Smokey Joe's rear end on the left (I don't think I got a head shot of him all week)

Anyway, we slowly dragged ourselves out of bed to the braying of the donkeys... Okay, I dragged myself out of bed; everyone else was just too damned chipper for words... and we had a huge breakfast of eggs, potatoes, pancakes, and fruit and I knew right then and there that Wii Fit is going to be cussing me out when I get home because there's no way I can't not eat my mom's cooking, and she cooks a lot when we're home. She also takes us out to eat a lot too. In fact, these trips seem to consist of three activities - cooking, eating, and shopping for more food to cook and eat. And that's pretty much what we did all that first day of our trip. But we did manage to get out to see one of the local sites - Walmart.

Hey, we have to go somewhere to buy more food to eat all week! And Walmart is the place to go in this part of Arkansas. In fact, I think we went to Walmart every single day of our visit. But this trip was special, because on this trip we bought fishing rods for the kids!

I don't know why, but my dad decided we absolutely had to go fishing. I don't recall my dad being any great shakes at fishing, but apparently he was determined that the girls get the full country experience during this trip, so we hit the sporting goods section of Walmart to pick out fishing poles. Of course, the first pole Dad reached for was a pro level fishing pole that was twice the Princess' height. I nixed that and suggested we actually look for a kid's fishing pole. So we turned the corner and whaddaya know! We found Barbie and Dora fishing poles!

I thougth my dad was going to have an apoplexy. But the girls fell in love with those fishing poles the moment they saw them, so you know we had to get at least one. I convinced Princess to get a real kids' fishing pole, not a toy one, if she wanted to have any hope of catching fish. Meanwhile, we let Pixie have the Dora the Explorer pole, complete with everything except hook. And then we made our purchases and headed out to the tourist sight in the area - Wood's Pharmacy and Soda Shop.

Wood's Pharmacy and Soda Shop (and home of the best sandwich EVER!)

Wood's Pharmacy and Soda Shop is exactly what it says it is, an old (but still working) pharmacy with a soda shop built inside. This is the the only place in the world where I can get the delicacy known as a grilled pimento cheese sandwich. I love this sandwich. I would marry this sandwich and have its' cheesy babies if I could. The cooks at Wood's use three cheeses to make it, and if I ever figure out what the other two cheeses are aside from pimento, my arteries are in a lot of trouble because I'll be making this sandwich two and three times a day,every day, until the day I die of massive heart failure from all the dairy product and greese I have consumed by eating all those sandwiches. Unlike the cheese burger from Hell we had at Checker's, this is fried treat I can actually enjoy! Michael also got his favorite delicacy, a malted, which once again is something we can only seem to find at Wood's.

After lunch, we still had plenty of daylight left, so we headed out to the other big tourist site in the area - the caverns at Blanchard's Springs.

The Caverns of Blanchard's Springs

This picture hasn't been run through Photoshop yet, so you can't really see all the wonderful details, but trust me, these caverns are impressive. Maybe not as big as Lurray Caverns in Virginia, but still quite stunning with all those stalactites and stalacmites and helectites (formations that sprout out sideways from the wall, instead of straight up and down; didn't know about that one, didya? See, you learned something from reading all my vacation drivel). The caverns are actually just one part of Blanchard Springs. There's also the actual spring itself and the nearby lake and hiking trails. The place is huge, and you can't explore it all in one day, so we didn't. We took two days to do it instead.

I've got a whole slew of pictures from the caverns, but again, they need to be run through Photoshop to bring out the details, so I'll post those in a later entry. But after the caverns, we headed home to explore a little closer to home, and we ran across a few items of interest. The first was a closet full of my sister's old majorette costumes, which the girls went absolutely crazy over. I was able to find a couple that sort of fit, so the girls spent the rest of the day prancing around in tutus and fringe and sequins.

Princess and Pixie strut their stuff.

While the kids danced around the house, Michael and I went for a walk, and I found all sorts of interesting things to photograph, like these...

I don't know why, but I'm lichen this picture (har har har!)

The road to my parent's house (it's a mile walk to their mail box, and another four miles of dirt and rocks until you get to the highway).

The dogwoods are in bloom...

But most of the local area still looks like it was bombed to smithereens after this winter's tornadoes and ice storms.

I wonder who's jaw that is? (You know you're out in the middle of nowhere when you can find bones just lying all over the place.)

After our two mile hike to get the mail, we came home to devour more of Mom's cooking, and then there was dessert (there is ALWAYS dessert at Mom's), and then everybody else watched a movie while I went to soak in the tub, and then bury myself in a good book (the book in question was Twilight, by the way; yes I liked it, no it's not perfect, but it definitely kept me entertained for a few days).

And that was the second day of our trip.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Dinner this week - Southwest chicken stew

I hate cooking a different meal every night. I simply do not have the time to whip together something new from my fridge on a regular basis. I'm just too distracted and unorganized by the time 5:30 PM rolls around. My brain literally goes into shut down mode.

Thus I have adopted the habit of cooking a single dish at the beginning of the week and then reheating that dish all week long. It works for this family, seriously, because a) neither my husband nor I mind eating left overs; b) the kids don't care what I put on the table, they're going to snub it; and c) I can cook on autopilot once my brain has ceased all higher functions for the day.

I usually do the cooking on Sunday morning, and I always use a slow cooker. This week's recipe is Southwest chicken stew, from The Busy Mom's Slow Cooker Cookbook. If you like this recipe, consider buying the book. The recipes are low fat, pretty tasty, and usually easy to make. I'd say I use this cook book for 60% of my cooking.

Southwest chicken stew:
  • 2 lbs chicken breast tenderloin, cut into 1 inch pieces

  • 1 18-oz package refridgerated shreddedn potatoes

  • 1 15-oz jar southwest style salsa with corn and black beans

  • 1 4-oz can diced green chiles, undrained

  • 1 package taco seasoning (1 1/4 oz)

  • 6 tbsp Italian tomato paste with roasted garlic (or use regular tomato paste and add basil, oregano, and chopped garlic)

  • 1/2 cup water

  • 1 16-oz package frozen cut green beans

Spray the inside of the slow cooker with cooking spray. Add chicken and potatoes and mix together. In a bowl, mix salsa, undrained chiles and taco seasoning. Add to slow cooker and mix everything together. In another bowl, mix tomato paste with water. Layer this over top of the chicken mix, but do not mix in. Heat on low for 6 hours or high for 3 hours.

If heating on low, turn up to high. Add green beans and mix in. Cook for an addition 15-25 minutes.

I have not tried this recipe yet, but like I said, all the recipes in this book have been good so far, and the way dinner smells right now (it's cooking on the counter even as I blog), I don't think I'm going to be disappointed. If I'd had a little more time, I think I would have made up some corn bread to go with this. As it is, I'll probably serve this with baked tortilla chips, and maybe top with some low fat shredded cheese.


Arkansas day 01 - Getting there is half the misery

Well, for the first time in a couple years, Michael and the kids and I made it out to my folks' house waaaaaaaay out in the boonies in Arkansas. I am not from Arkansas; neither are my parents. But they moved there 10 years ago, so if I want to see them, I have to make the trek into the wilds to get out there. Here is a journal of one such adventure.

Day 1 - Getting there is half the misery...

It's a long trip from Virginia to Arkansas. How long is it, you ask? Sunday morning, we got up at oh-dark-thirty to scarf down breakfast, pile into the car, and make the hour-and-a-half-long drive to the Richmond airport. There are airports closer to us, but this one gave us the best price on a flight to Arkansas. The drive there wasn't a big deal. I've driven to and around Richmond so many times, it seems like nothing to me.

But anyway, we got to Richmond early that morning and hopped on a flight to Atlanta, the funnest airport in the world!! Okay, maybe not the funnest airport in the world, but I kind of like it because it has more food choices than most other airports I've been in. Unfortunately, we were traveling with the kids, and they didn't want to eat at Au Bon Pain or Moe's Tacos or even Sbarro's. Noooooooo, they had to eat at Checker's, which is really Rally's in disguise, and the burgers we got from there were D-I-S-G-U-S-T-I-N-G. I mean, the cheeseburgers were just dripping with grease. I picked up my burger and I could see the fat spatter on the paper beneath. GROSS! Even the kids didn't finish their meals, although to be fair, the Princess had a temperature of 102 degrees.

Oh yeah, did I mention we were travelling with a sick kid? Fortunately, she didn't puke during the trip, but she had me worried the entire time. I had me worried, too. We rode a puddle-jumper from Richmond to Atlanta, and an even smaller puddle-jumper (or should I call it a piddle-jumper, it was so small?) from Atlanta to Little Rock. Neither flight was good for me. You see, I have this thing about small planes. It's not that I'm afraid they're going to crash - I'm not. It's just that I'm concerned about spewing the contents of my stomach every time we hit turbulence. And the flight from Richmond to Atlanta was a bit... turbulent.

So I was queasy getting off the plane in Atlanta. And then I ate the grease burger from Hell. And then I got on the piddle-jumper. And there was more turbulence. Not a lot. Just enough to make me green around the gills. But then we got off the plane, met my parents, got into their car and...

Made the two-and-a-half hour drive from the Little Rock Airpot to my parents' house in the boonies...

Only we drove at a heart-stopping 70 miles-per-hour along the windiest, twistiest roads ever built in the history of civilization, so we could make it home even faster...

But first we had to stop in Conway and have dinner at the worst Japanese hibachi restaurant known to mankind.

How bad was this restaurant? Well, let me say this. I normally find hibachi food to be a light and refreshing repast. It's usually lean cuts of meat grilled with fresh vegetables and served with rice. But this hibachi was cooked with LARD, lots and lots of LARD, and the chef (if you could call him that) was a nut case who threw bits of food at us while he cooked. Not only that, but he hosed down the flaming onion volcano (if you've ever been to a hibachi place, you know what I'm talking about here - the chef cuts up the onion into thick slices, stacks them largest to smallest, fills them with some sort of flamable liquid and ignites it)... anyway, the chef hosed down the flaming onion volcano with a (get this) squirter shaped like a little boy WITH NO PANTS ON. You can guess where the water came out of. It was classy I tell ya. Really, really classy.


So I was on two tiny planes flying in gut-churning turbulence, I ate a grease burger from Hell, I ate hibachi from some place even worse than Hell, and I rode in the passenger's seat for a two-and-a-half hour drive on the highway to Hell (only Mom was speeding, so we got there a lot faster). Just in case you were wondering, the highway to Hell is not paved with good intentions. In fact, in some places, it is not paved at all. We were okay on the narrow two-lane highway that ran from Conway to Mountain View, except for the roller-coaster-style twists and turns, but then we got to my parents' neighborhood (and I use that term very loosely, because their closest neighbor lives a mile away) and it was all dirt road. Except for the spots where it was chunks of rock. Or exposed tree roots. Or mud. And don't ask me exactly which parts were dirt or tree roots or rocks or mud, because I had my eyes closed the whole way, to ensure I didn't add vomit to the list of surface materials for that road.

Anyway, after all that, we finally ended up at my parents' place, and I was never so glad to get out of the car and actually be in Arkansas, as opposed to being on my way to Arkansas.

And that was the entire first day of our trip.

My parents' place, Gallowglass House in Arkansas (that's my dad in the foreground)

Friday, April 03, 2009

Episode 29 - Thunder Pants!

We are actually mostly finished with Pixie's potty training. She's been in "thunder pants" for a few months now, only wearing a pull-up at night. Potty training is one of those things that as a parent you never think is going to happen, and in Pixie's case I was starting to wonder if she'd still be in pull-ups on her wedding day, but we eventually got things straightened out. It seems that so long as she was in a pull-up, she'd pee in it no matter how many times a say I sat her on the potty. Once I switched her to underpants, that quickly stopped.

Regarding the potty, does anybody else have a singing potty? Ours sings all sorts of little songs depending on what the occupant is doing. There's one song for lifting the lid, another for sitting on the pot, a third for actually making a deposit in the pot, yet a fourth song for rolling the faux toilet paper roll attached to the pot, and then a final song for closing the lid and pushing the little fake handle. It's all a bit much, in my opinion, and the whole singing potty thing really started to creep me out when the potty developed a short circuit of some kind and started randomly singing in the middle of the night while the Hubster was away on business. Nothing like waking up in the dark to the eerie strains of "Let's all sit on the potty!" Needless to say, I didn't bother to switch out the batteries when they died.

I'm headed out this week for a visit to Arkansas to see my folks. We're really looking forward to the trip, but alas I'll have no internet access while I'm there, which means yet another wait for the next cartoon. I'm starting to clear stuff off my plate however, and hope to get back to a schedule where I can turn out a cartoon a week, or at least every ten days. I'll get there by this summer, I promise.

In the meantime, you'll be seeing some changes around this site and my other sites as I merge all three blogs and websites into one mega-super site. I'm just spread too thing between the mommy blog, the cartoon blog, the writing blog, and the supporting websites. I figure if I get it all into one place, I'll be better able to keep up with blogging and you'll have an easier time keeping up with all the crazy wacky fun I have to offer (insert canned laughter here).

Have fun over the next week or so, and I'll be back with another cartoon as soon as I can!