Monday, November 30, 2009

Back to blogging to talk about... ground turkey!

I took a couple of weeks break from blogging because I truly had a half full brain and couldn't put two words together, much less accomplish all of the things I'd love to have done in that time.

But today, post Thanksgiving, I have found inspiration in Extra Lean Jennie-O Ground Turkey. Yes. In the words of Meg Ryan in "You've Got Mail":  "I lead a small life. Valuable, but small." When your heart starts getting all a-flutter standing in the butcher section of the grocery store, that's pretty much the definition of "small" in terms of life, right?

Monday morning is grocery shopping day at our house. The kids and I head over to Yoke's Fresh Market, stop to get the kids their Kids Club "special treat", and do our shopping. By happy coincidence (I have shopped on Monday's since becoming a stay at home mom), Yoke's marks down some of their meat on Monday morning to make room for more stock. So I troll the meat section scanning for the orange "Manager's Special" stickers on random packages. Sometimes I even sift through the meat -- sometimes those stickers are hiding in there! Today as I walked past the turkey section, I saw a sea of orange stickers. I thought they were going to be "Extra Lean" stickers. I fall for that trick almost every week! But, no! This week the Jennie-O ground turkey is on sale, but there was also an entire layer of ground turkey marked "Manager's Special" for... $.99/package! I don't know if the regular price varies by store or town, but typically at Yoke's such a package would cost around $4. I even checked my Costco bulk ground turkey package and found that I paid $3.50 a package the last time I went there. $.99/package for EXTRA LEAN ground turkey!

I honestly considered taking every package I could find, but couldn't bring myself to do it. I bought three. But now I'm thinking I should drag the kids back there and buy even more! Talk about post-Thanksgiving sales! =)

Speaking of, have a happy "Internet Sales Monday" or whatever it's called! I'll be talking a little bit about that tomorrow!

I'm back to add that I did indeed pack the kids back into the car for a second Yoke's trip. I bought 5 more packages and the cashier commended me on my deal finding ability!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Good Read Thursday: What is the What

Over the summer, I read what has become of my favorite books of all time: What is the What by Dave Eggers.

I admit, I picked up this book because I had heard of it before and it was on the sale rack at Barnes and Noble. Not necessarily a promising beginning, I have found myself reading some pretty horrible books via that method!

But, What is the What reawakened my interest in cultural differences and, specifically, the cultures of Africa.  I have felt a heart tug towards Africa in my life many times, and this was a reawakening.

What is the What is a fictionalized biography of Valentino Deng, a Sudanese boy whose village was destroyed during the civil war and who, without his family, became one of the "Lost Boys" of Sudan.  He spent years (13?) wandering from the wilderness to refuge camps, threatened by animals and armed militia. He experienced countless challenges including witnessing the death of friends, injury and starvation. Finally, in his early 20's, Deng was sent as a refuge to the United States.

The book, narrated by Deng, flips back and forth between "present day" - where Deng has to navigate his new world as a stranger - and the experiences of his past. 

While I was reading the book, I had a few different people ask me about the title.  I don't want to give too much away, but the title refers to the Sudanese creation story and, in particular, one point where God offers the Sudanese people "the What".  Upon hearing the story, Deng and his friends naturally ask, "What is the What?" And part of this story is about different people's impressions of what "the What" really is.

The story is in turn heartbreaking, exhilarating, funny, informative and inspirational.  I didn't want to put it down. And it has led me to read further about the Lost Boys and about the history of Sudan, which I think was probably the point of Deng sharing his story. 

Thanksgiving traditions

Halloween and B's birthday have come and gone, and we're starting to see the fall colors of our new town. Not in our neighborhood because we don't have many big, beautiful trees here, but driving through town is a special treat this time of year!

Time to turn my attention to Thanksgiving. Always on to the next thing, right?

I have to admit I have a big failing when it comes to Thanksgiving... I am not a big fan of turkey. That is probably because I am not very good at cooking them. Or maybe because I don't like gravy. Turkey is just a little dry and boring, in my opinion. Now, cold turkey leftovers for sandwiches?? Sign me up! But, secretly I curse the giant slimy turkey and it's bag-o-guts. I'd take a ham any day. But then where would I get my turkey sandwich leftovers?

When we moved this summer, we left behind one of my favorite holiday traditions. Probably the one that is the "biggest deal", and something Eric and I have done every year since we lived in Oregon: cutting down our own Christmas tree with friends.

Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I had no idea you could do such a thing. Didn't everyone go to a Christmas tree lot and spend big bucks on a full, beautiful tree farm tree? Or maybe mom just had me help lug the box with the gigantic fake tree up from the basement?

Oh no. In Oregon, I discovered a whole new world of Christmas tree fun. Fun that was always the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Fun that only cost $5!

Saturday morning we would meet up with our friends to caravan out into the national forest to find our Christmas tree. It's Oregon, so of course there was the mandatory stop at the espresso stand for lattes or hot chocolate. Everyone bundled up in winter coats and snow pants, boots and hats and gloves. (This happened regardless of what the weather indicated was necessary - you never know what kind of weather you'd find in the foothills.) From Bend, the drive to the forest was only about 20 minutes - plenty of time to drink a peppermint latte and enjoy the beautiful fall scenery.

These Christmas tree hunting trips were not our idea. We joined in on the tradition of friends who had been going for years. The number of families always varied, but it wasn't unusual for 5-8 families to drive up together with their kids and dogs. 

When we found the perfect tree hunting spot, the kids would run around together, dogs would run free in the snow, moms would take pictures and corral kids and the dads would lead the hunt for the Christmas trees. We'd also collect boughs for the church's Christmas float.

Side story: The year I was pregnant with L, Eric took off on his own to find our Christmas tree and was gone for more than an hour. Every other family had cut down their tree, posed for pictures and loaded it on to their car, and there I was alone and hormonal wondering where he went. It is a story I am almost required to bring up every year when we cut down our tree. Is that wrong of me?

Anyway, after finding the perfect tree and cutting it down, we always took lots of pictures.

Family picture with our 2008 Christmas Tree

This year will be our first Thanksgiving as a family where we haven't been in Oregon. I really want to continue our tradition of going out as a family to cut down our Christmas tree. I've been doing some research and have found that the closest forest where tree cutting is permitted is about 70 miles away. So we have to decide if the tradition is worth that drive time. If we didn't have a 2 and 3 year old, I'd definitely say "Let's go for it!" But forcing the kids into a day long "adventure" makes me pause. Then again, this is the time for memory making, right?

I'm going to be looking for and trying to think of some other good family traditions for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I really would love for this time of year to be full of meaning and memories for our kids.  When I come across some good ideas, I'll post them here for others to see.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Aliens: Don't Go There, Movie Makers

I am a pretty big fan of movies. Eric and I watch movies a lot and there are very few movies I have seen that I really disliked. I'm not even limited by genre, though horror is not a favorite and I'm sure I don't enjoy action flicks as much as my husband does. But, my movie viewing habits do have one serious limitation.

I cannot stand seeing aliens in movies.

Honestly, this preference runs strong enough that it probably borders on strange. Let's put it this way: If I loved aliens as much as I hate seeing aliens in movies, I would be attending conventions in some kind of stretch body suit with fake ears and painted green or purple skin.

I have instituted a "No Aliens" movie rule which is this: I will watch a movie with an alien plot, but only if the alien goes unseen for the entirety of the movie. This means any kind of alien movie has to be pre-screened by Eric who then tells me (99% of the time) not to even bother.  Even movies where the alien doesn't show up until the end get ruined as soon as I actually see the visual interpretation of the alien. I would much rather leave that up to my own imagination. And it is always, inevitably ruined by the cooky, "man dressed in Alien-wear with a mask" from back in the day or, more recently "totally ridiculous computer generated scary Alien".

There is only one exception I can think of to my "No Aliens" movie rule, and that is E.T. But, E.T. has the benefit of being connected to childhood memories. Plus, who can say no to cute little E.T. hiding out in the closet of stuffed animals??

I am writing about this today because yesterday I saw Alien (1979) for the very first time. I thought that maybe I had actually found a movie that wasn't ruined for me by the actual appearance of the alien! I actually told Eric during the movie that I think my brain was responding to the Alien more as a "monster" (which I have no problem with) than as "alien". You know, it's all drooly with the extra sets of teeth, busting out of some guy's chest, shreiking and flailing around. Really, more of a horror movie than an alien movie. I made it all the way to within the closing minutes of the movie, impressed with how current the alien looks considering the movie is now 30 years old. And then what happens? I won't ruin it in case anyone reads this who hasn't seen the film. Let's just say the final confrontation occurs and all of the sudden there is a cut to a wide shot of...person dressed in dark clothes with an alien mask/helmet and extra fake limbs attached to his body. What a bummer.

All I could say to Eric was, "And now... the line has been crossed for me." I was done, but the movie was also over.

I can't think of another movie rule I have that is as 100% true for me as this one, or one that I feel so strongly about. Please, no alien related movies for Christmas! =)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Ode to "Teddy Man"

My son has a best friend. His name is "Teddy Man", usually shortened to "Man".  "Man" is his lovey.  I have no idea what the kind of toy is actually called. We always called it a "teddy bear head blanket". From that, my daughter named the blanket for us. 

Here is Little Man with his Teddy Man back in the summer of 2008.

Man is a little worse for wear now. But he is a loyal friend. He sleeps with my son every night and tags along anytime we are going someplace that might stress him out.  He is soft and lovable. Thankfully, my son will let me give Man "a bath". We have a front loading washer, so occasionally Man will get a "bath" and my son will stand in the laundry room watching Man go around and around and around.

We will be in big trouble if something ever happens to Man. I didn't realize until too late that my son was developing a "lovey" style attachment to him. By then, an emergency replacement Man couldn't be found.  My daughter never had a lovey, so I guess I was a little behind on that one!

Recently I learned something new about Man.  A few weeks ago when I got B out of his crib, he started talking about a wallet. I thought he meant my wallet, since he likes to get into my wallet and pull things out of it. "Where wallet go, Mama?"

A few days ago, I discovered that B was actually talking about Man's wallet! I didn't even realize Man had a wallet! I guess he probably does have lots of important things he would need to keep with him, right? So, after some questioning, I learned that Man's wallet is his tags! B will say, "Where wallet go, Mama?" and then find the tags and beam with pride as he shows me Man's wallet. Very cute.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Good Read Thursday: The Art of Racing in the Rain

I have always enjoyed reading. At times in my life, a majority of the time, I have been a voracious reader. I sort of fell out of the habit a few years ago when our daughter was born, but I am back at it! When stress or anxiety or busy-ness start to build up in my half full brain, it is nice to read. I usually read fiction, but recently have been reading some fictionalized biographies and novels based on real events or people. I consider them sort of "half fiction". Occasionally I throw in a "summer read", but tend to avoid books I consider "ladies books" - they don't interest me.  Eric makes fun of me for reading Jodi Picoult, but her books aren't "ladies books". They often deal with very real social and moral questions, and I find the relationships interesting.

I realized the other day that I have been reading about a book a week, sometimes more. I thought I'd share my thoughts on some of the good reads here. And so, I'll start with...

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

I picked up The Art of Racing in the Rain at the library after failing to finish a recent disappointment. It was sitting at the front of a "current paperback" shelf. I admit, my first thought was, "That looks like Marley!" I enjoyed reading Marley and Me (back before it was a movie), so I picked it up to take a look. 

The story of life from a dog's perspective. Sounded intruiging enough for me. I like reading about people's lives, their motivations, etc. As I often do, I read the first couple of pages. Writing style is almost as important to me as the story line.

I was immediately drawn to Enzo, our narrator. Enzo is a dog, nearing the end of his life and reflecting back on the wonderful ride he has had with his owner and master.  The title relates to his owner's profession (semi-pro race car driver and driving instructor), but also becomes the primary metaphor for the book. The book is about how Enzo and his family make it through difficult times. 

For me, one of the most delightful parts of the book were Enzo's references to TV watching. He stays home while everyone else is at work or school and the TV is left on for him. So he references television shows and specials, tv personalities, as though they are always accurate and true. And the references are always very funny. In one situation, he talks about a court hearing and mentions that he wasn't allowed to attend because he is a dog, but he has a pretty good idea of what happened based on viewing LA Law and Law & Order.

My only complaint is with one of the plot twists that occurs about half way through the book. I won't give details in case anyone else wants to read it, but it challenged my "suspension of disbelief". Whether it is in a book or movie, I always lose a little interest when my mind consciously notices a theme of "anything that could go wrong, will". If you've seen "Meet the Parents", you know what I mean. But, the good thing is that this particular plot twist was tied up nicely and in a semi-believable fashion, so the author saves the story in the end.

By far, the star of this book is Enzo. Possibly one of the most loveable characters I have ever encountered in a book. He will make you want to own a dog, or, at the very least, consider leaving your TV on for the dog you already have!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

November Pictures - Past and Present

We have been taking a lot of pictures lately. Lots of little trips, fun fall events, out of town visitors, Little Man's 2nd birthday. Good memories. Everytime I load pictures from our camera on to our computer, I create a new dated folder. Since the folders are stored alphabetically, I get to look back at the dates of pictures from the same month last year or the year before, etc. I have really gotten a kick out of looking back at those pictures lately. B just turned 2 and L is 3.5 years old. A year makes for big changes at that age! It is really fun to look back and see not only what they looked like, but what they were doing and interested in at the same time in the previous years.

Here are some pictures from previous Novembers.

Early November 2009

Early November 2008

Early November 2007

Early November 2006 (Pre-"Little Man")

Early November 2005 (pregnant with my big girl!)

Early November 2004

Early November 2003

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

On Planning

I am a planner and occasionally find that, despite my planning - or maybe in spite of it! - things don't go the way I envision.  How frustrating, but also an excellent reminder that God has plans for me and our family and I don't need to sweat the details as much as I do.

A week or so ago, I wrote about feeling a little overwhelmed by Little Man's upcoming birthday, my dad's visit from out of town, and Halloween all happening pretty much at the same time. I organized and planned so that I wouldn't forget anything and things would go smoothly over that 4 day period.

Then, guess what happened?

My daughter (3 years old) suddenly came down with the flu. Thursday morning I had my normal, hyper and energetic daughter, and by Thursday afternoon she had a fever of 103F and looked like a zombie. And out the window went the plans! Halloween and my dad's visit (which also spanned Little Man's birthday) had to accomodate my sick child and doctor's orders that she not leave the house, not to mention taking steps to get her well and try to avoid everyone else getting sick!

And now the busy few days have passed, and we had a very nice time!, and I am reflecting back and feeling dumb for being so worried.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. -- Jeremiah 29:11

So here is a good reminder for today: don't spend energy worrying about how things will get done, or when! God has perfect timing and things will turn out exactly as HE plans, which may not be the way we think things should go, but is always a better way.