Sunday, December 31, 2006

What do you call African Americans when they live in Great Britain?

This question, from my oldest son, reveals a lot about why he loses sleep. And gives you some insight about how many steps ahead we are expected to be.

I'm not opposed to researching, reading, learning and informing myself to keep myself on the ball when they ask these questions. We love finding out answers to all kinds of mysteries. But I admit that my husband and I have become, when necessary, experts at the dodge and bull. Some diversionary tactics, in case you need them:

"I think that would be an excellent question for _____." (Where the blank is basically any other adult person of influence -- teacher, pastor, grandparent, etc.)

"We don't really understand how that happened. It's a mystery."

"That's a very good question. Let's look up the answer." This of course wouldn't apply to the title question, nor many others. But it does work for such inquiries as whether or not a species is carnivorous.

And of course, these are only the generics. You have to be poised and ready to concoct just about any framework for any given question, pulled out of the labyrinth of possibilities in their minds.

Try pitting your child against the popular electronic game 20 Questions. (I'm sure, if you have a kid who can read, you own one, or one of their friends does.) They routinely beat the game, often on finely split hairs that are in fact nuggets of truth they have databased somewhere from some Discovery Channel special or non-fiction library book. The computer chip doesn't have a prayer.

Given these odds, what chance do I have of providing a correct answer to the majority of what they ask me? Probably my best weapon is creativity. From the time I learned to mime a phone call to the kitchen to keep my toddler occupied ("Hi, this is Kia LaBracke -- we ordered grilled cheeses a little while ago but they haven't arrived... oh, I don't remember, wait, let me ask him -- Did you want fries or chips with that?"), I can digress far enough off the point to keep everyone happy. So even if I don't have the right answer, the tangent is always a fun ride.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Secret

My friend Jenny often talks about a friend of hers who is, to put it mildly, an intuitive person. This friend reads reads Akashic records. So she's the closest thing to clairvoyant that I know of. I've never consulted this person but always have it in the back of my mind when I'm having difficulty sorting something out that her number is a good one to have in my back pocket.

Recently while speaking to this friend, Jenny noticed (because she also is an intuitive person) that her friend sounded different. When she asked her about it, her friend replied, "I am different. It's all because of this movie that I watched called 'The Secret.'"

Fast forward many Google searches and $150 later, and Jenny owns three copies of the DVD. After watching it and telling me -- without telling me, so as not to ruin it -- I buy one off of her and decide to give it to my husband for Christmas.

This was a thinly veiled plot to force him to watch it with me. I knew he'd be skeptical. Plus he manages direct salespeople -- so motivational speakers (and speaking) are his daily fare. So I knew it would be a stretch to get him to do this on his downtime.

Bottom line, my friends? Anyone who is over 40 should really be tuned into a lot of what is being said. The production is cheesy and even absurd at times.

But the message is outstanding. The conversations have been endless. And I find myself revisiting a lot of situations by reframing them with The Secret. So check it out, and let me know what you think. If you live nearby, I'm happy to loan you my copy.

I, too, am trying not to betray the full meaning of the movie for the uninitiated. But it can be summed up in one of the participant's quotes (and I'm paraphrasing):

"Mother Theresa would never attend an anti-war demonstration. But she would attend a pro-peace demonstration."

It's worth the watch.

PS: You need to get the Esther Hicks version. Or so says the clairvoyant...

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Number 29

A local woman's shelter co-hosted a program where their clients and other families in the area could come on a specific day to a large parochial school. Parents and caregivers could go into the gym and choose gifts for their kids, meantime kids could come into the gift shop and choose a gift vice versa. My friend Christy and I were on the team of helping the kids choose for their adult caregivers.

I learned early in the game that my own kids couldn't come and help because of confidentiality issues. It didn't hit me though until I was helping my first customer, number 29, that this experience really was a bitter combination of joy and resentment for the older of the kids being shepherded through.

As for number 29, she made no eye contact with me as we walked down the hallway to the gift shop. I pointed out some of the options she had for gifts for her grandma, and she skitted past one to the next, eyeing the clock, checking her cell phone, disengaging from the process. Finally she settled on a gift set of perfumes and body lotions that were packaged into a gift basket, and seemed genuinely happy with that selection for her grandma.

The process was to go something like this: Pick up the kids (though she hardly seemed like a kid, a fact not lost on either one of us), take them through the shop, pick the gift(s), then guide them to the wrapping/snack/Santa post, where their caregivers were to pick them up again. Hence the reason for the number assignment -- crowd control and a means to match kids with the adults who brought them.

I probably escorted ten families' worth of kids through the process. There was a four year old boy who clutched my hand for dear life but let me know he liked superheroes. (Check! My son does too.) An incredibly verbal and intelligent girl who made sure that her mom's gift basket, towels and wrapping were all color-coordinated. A younger girl who asked that I stay by her side until all gifts were wrapped and her mom had come to get her.

As for number 29, I failed miserably with her. It reminded me of the description in Betty Smith's "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," where Francie describes her mother's loathing of charity. To the point that Francie lies about her first name being "Mary" so that her name is eligible to win a coveted porceleain doll. About the shame she feels as she walks up to receive it in front of other children who know the truth. And ultimately she discovers, with glee and horror, that her real name is Mary Frances. So she deserves -- or does she?

My customer was there for a purpose, but she didn't like it. And when I tried to lead her into the wrapping room, she demurred -- "I have my own wrapping paper." I told her that her grandma would be picking her up there, and she insisted "That's not how we did it last time. I don't want to go in that room. I'm 15." I could see her point. So instead I led her back to the registration room, where, sure enough, her grandma was waiting for her. And let them go on their way.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Only Show in Town

I live in a very small town. Very. Small. Okay, not rural, exactly. As modern evaluations go, there's a Starbucks (let me repeat, we go here; I'm just using it as a nationwide basis for comparison), a Target within 15 minutes, and as rumor has it, even IKEA is coming. Between the city limits (15K people) and the outerlying school district area, we number around 35K.

That actually is quite a few people. Hardly rural. But you'd be surprised just how small we are.

Take my friend Kevin, who thought he lost his keys last week. Yesterday he was telling me that no fewer than 10 of his clients came in saying, "So, I heard you lost your keys... did you find them?" Without talking to anyone at the gym, or each other. How did they know he was looking?

Or my friend Karen, who went to high school here and literally knows everyone and how they're connected, maiden names, addresses, and life outcomes. (This is, to me, a full time job and migraine-inducing. I can't even remember which cars my own friends drive, much less a matrix of that depth.)

Someone recently said to me, "Who would you even date around here if you were single?" That got me thinking, Carrie Bradshaw-style, of a couple of my friends who are exactly in that situation -- divorced with kids and living in the same small town as their exes. If they did decide to date, who in the heck would be available? The pharmacist with a lisp and a bad haircut? The guy who always seems to be behind you at the bagel shop? Your fellow room-mom's ex?

For men, and there are a handful of divorced or never-married successful guys I can think of here, I guess being the only show in town, for lack of a better term, could be fun. On the other hand, knowing that everyone knows you're the only show in town has to be somewhat emasculating. Then again, I still think they have it easier than my female friends, who mostly go outside a 30 mile radius to seek out dates or even male friends. I think they've figured out that anonymity is bliss.

Silent Night

It's really no wonder why I have an obsession with kids' pajamas. I almost never skimp on pajamas. I never buy them used. Using a gift card before my first son was born, I purchased a delicious pair of Petit Bateau mille raies navy blue striped jammies that went through both of my sons and are still delectable.

"Jammy up, it's almost time for bed!" is one of my favorite phrases of the day. Not just because it means it's nearly time for some quiet time of my own -- though let's face it, that's a beautiful thing. But because more often than not, they're clean, they are winding down from their day, and most of all they look and feel simply scrumptious.

Not just my littlest, who of course has the cutest pj's because, well, she's a she. Put on the most recent ones and she's quick to point out the "tookie" (gingerbread girl) on the torso.

My six year old, who gets a lot of hand me down pj's, shares my love of loungewear but for the past few months has nixed any tops. So he has lots of great pants that he wears, apparently oblivious to the chill I feel just looking at him. (The fact that he's 45 lbs with snow gear on just adds to my feeling that he just *should* be cold!)

Then there's the oldest, for whom, I'm sad to say, the tight-fitting jammies of old just seem, well, nearly pornographic at this point. Or is it that he has so little sense of fashion and comfort that he has been known to try to stuff his junk in boxers underneath long-underwear styled bottoms? So we've switched most pair to the looser "lounge pants" with long sleeved t-shirts, or more classic styled flannels. Trouble is that most of the time they don't match. So we wind up with some bizarre combination of colors, patterns and fabrics. He could care less.

Even so, I can't resist a request when one of those delicious dishes sidles up to me with their jammies on (or, half on as the case may be).

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

About as Funny as it Gets

These days, I am old enough to be in bed when Saturday Night Live is on. But last Saturday I made an exception because I heard that Justin Timberlake was going to be both the host and musical guest.

I've never "gotten" the big deal with JT. He's just not that good looking to me, I never listen to popular music, so I'm just out of his sphere. So I thought it would be a great opportunity to get why he's the bomb.

The show -- and I only watched 30 minutes of it -- stunk. Even the Bee Gees Talk Show, a bit he's done before, was just not that funny. But this was worth the extra half hour's sleep I lost...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Blog = Extended Christmas Letter

So I made the mistake of sending my husband the link to this page.

I should back up. For the uninitiated, computers are to my husband what jumper cables are to me. Necessary, but basically used only when absolutely necessary. Preferably by someone else while I watch.

As you may have ascertained, I do most of my living (communicating, bill paying, information gathering) via the Internet.

It should really have come as no suprise that his comment was, "Why do you do this? And by the way, do you realize, since you wrote a post about Christmas letters being self-congratulatory, that a blog is basically one big long Christmas letter?"

He has a point... but I'm still up for pointless navel-gazing as a form of recreation any day!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Got It!

I found out yesterday that I have been offered the J-O-B !!! Woo-hoo!!! I'm actually so incredibly relieved to be past the wondering stage and into the logistics...

I find out soon what the process will be, likely beginning with a day's training in Illinois.

Thanks to everyone who has offered their support during this quite momentous time for me.

Monday, December 11, 2006

All About Christmas Baking Recipes

Because I'm all about sharing, here are some that I routinely make each year... tasty and easy once you get the hang of them!

Cream Cheese Walnut Cookies -- from Martha Stewart
Makes 4 dozen cookies

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 pound butter, softened
6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups walnuts, toasted and chopped
1 cup walnuts, finely chopped

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Whisk together flour and salt in a large bowl; set aside.

Put butter and cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Mix in sugar and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add the flour mixture, and mix until just combined. Mix in toasted walnuts.

Transfer dough to a clean work surface. Divide in half; shape each piece into an 8 1/2-inch long log, about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap each log in parchment paper and freeze until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350F, with racks in upper and lower thirds. Remove one log from freezer. Roll in 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, coating completely. Cut log into 1/4-inch thick rounds. Transfer rounds to parchment-lined sheets.

Bake, switching positions of sheets and rotating halfway through, until cookies are golden around the edges, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer to wire racks; let cool completely. Repeat process with remaining dough using cooled baking sheets.

Mrs. Repetti’s Cupcakes
Makes 3 to 4 dozen

1 8 oz package cream cheese
1 tsp baking soda
1 egg
½ tsp salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 cup oil
1 12 oz pckg miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla
1 ½ cups flour
1 cup sugar
¼ cup cocoa

Combine softened cream cheese, egg, sugar, and salt; mix well. Blend in chocolate chips, set aside. Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa, soda and salt. Stir in water, oil and vanilla. Line mini-cupcake pans with paper liners. Fill each cup 1/3 full with cocoa mixture; top with 1 teaspoon cream cheese mixture. Bake at 350F for 20 minutes.

Peanut Clusters

1 lb. white almond bark
1 c. chunky peanut butter
12 oz. pkg. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 lb. spanish peanuts

Melt almond bark and chocolate chips over double boiler. Remove from heat.
Add peanut butter and spanish peanuts. Drop by teaspoonsful onto waxed paper. Store in the refrigerator.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Snow Days

We loved this site last year -- and now it's linked to being able to donate to a wonderful cause -- the Salvation Army.

Warning -- it can be addictive for all ages.

PS: Search on "Oconomowoc" to see our creations...
Hosiery and Cosmetics Required -- Part Time

On Friday I had my second interview for a job. I think I wrote that correctly: J-O-B. Paid, part-time, accountable to someone else's calendar. It's too much to stand the thought that it's been nearly ten years (okay, nine and a half) since I last was on someone's payroll. Lots of consulting and marketing assignments, three children, and countless volunteer hours later, here I am offered what seems, on paper, to be an ideal fit for me to supplement our family income to help offset tuition costs for two (soon three) in private school.

The offer to apply came through my volunteer contacts at Emergency Medical Services for Children. The J-O-B is Executive Director of a state chapter of a national professional organization championing children's health. It completely falls within a lot of the things I already do on a volunteer basis. "Executive Director" sounds cool; it's really a lot of administrative stuff and managing a volunteer organization comprised of caring pediatricians. The hope would be that I'm fabulous enough on and off the clock to secure additional funding to lead into more full-time (maybe with staff), ideally as my youngest is heading into school.

This couldn't have been scripted better for me. And yet I am so ambivalent about jumping the track from happily retired stay-at-home (or never-at-home) mom to having to be accountable to some whole new organization's schedule. Then again, my volunteer work for GFWC tends in the hundreds of hours per year direction anyway.

At least with this, my travel would be paid for... and my hours too. Stay tuned!
Runway Withdrawal

I am a somewhat rabid fan of the Bravo show "Project Runway." And it's been way too long since the finale where Jeffery "I'm so BAD" Sebelia walked off with the $100K to boost his Cosa Nostra clothing line.

Now, there are reports that Tim Gunn may not be returning for the fourth installment of PR. Say it ain't so! Tim is the reason to tune in. As my friend Christy often says, "Tim for President!" As the Tim-inspired T-shirt, designed by winner Jeffery says, "Sex, Drugs and Tim Gunn."

Even if you haven't watched the show, TG's podcasts are worth every second of downloading time (note to my friend Debbi who somehow lives without a high speed Internet connection in West Virginia, who tells me the link from my YouTube post took her over an hour to access)

I sincerely hope that the producers do more than try to work around TG's schedule. He. Is. What. Makes. It. Work.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Funny something-somethings

My mom's sister sent her this birthday card -- and I'm still laughing about it.

Actually, just the front makes me laugh.

The inside -- from those witty Hallmark folks, says:

"I think the ruffle really makes a difference, don't you?"

Enjoy the Fresh Ink -- my favorite line!

Another cool link I stumbled onto this weekend involves a YouTube video, which, for once, I actually got to enjoy. (I have a faulty sound card / Windows conflict that only allows me to iTune or video about as often as Halley's Comet comes to town.)

I think it's brilliant to take a family classic (especially from the House of Disney) and turn it into something horrific.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Photo

We used to send out Christmas letters with our holiday cards and pictures. I thought it was good, if for nothing else, to take stock of the year (since I am terrible about journaling, much less putting "baby" or other memory books together for my kids). At least I could pinpoint which year my son was Aladar for Halloween and which year we went on which trip... so that someday I could put those pictures in the right order.

Years ago my husband put the kibosh on the letters. I resisted at first, citing the reasons above, but I could sort of see his point about them tending to be mostly self-congratulatory and a fictional confection of what really goes on. So I agreed to stop sending them, even to distant relatives. It was also one less thing on my December "To Do List..."

We switched gears to photo cards. As I've noted before, it's become patently clear to me as a parent that all anyone really cares about is how your kids are growing, especially if they don't see them very often. In theory, this is a great idea. I love receiving photos of my friends' kids (and my friends, for that matter). (Then again, I also like receiving Christmas letters, but I digress...)

This all sounds good on paper. The problem is getting The Photo. As I've chronicled before, I'm no photographer. I try, and two of my three kids are good sports, but 99 times out of 100 the shots are miserable. Nothing I'd choose to print copies of.

If you go the professional route, then my life becomes a whirl of preparation for The Photo Shoot. A photographer who took the first precious pictures of my first son once told me all the tips for getting the most out of your family photo. It involves a lot of planning, all the more so as our numbers have grown to five human beings to coordinate (but not match), do hair for, and care and feed so that they are in relatively human moods during The Photo Shoot.

With a nine year old whose main occupation seems to be eye rolling, a six year old who showed up in superhero mode, and a-nearly-two-year-old who, well, was acting her age and clearly wanted no part of the entire business... the family photo basically didn't happen. Even our laid back photographer,
Miranda, admitted later, "Well, we didn't get the rock star shot of all five of you."

Fortunately we did get some great ones of the kids, and even one where John is (miraculously invisible to the camera) holding our squirmy daughter in between her brothers in a tree. Given what we were working with -- that's The Photo for 2006.