Saturday, December 29, 2007

Mr. Baseball and the Monkey, enjoying the new Chair

10 reasons we go to Wal-Mart

10. A top ten list of reasons to go to Wal-Mart should include some comment about the way their business model acts like a virus, latching onto a community and sucking it dry. But I don't want to begin there, because really, what more could be said than has been shouted from so many other blogs, books, and documentary exposés. What good would it do to mention how sad it seems to me that so much of the county's (and our own) Christmas shopping was done under the watchful eye of the big yellow smile. Or that I feel like a miner forced to shop at the company store, or a communist in a bread line, except that instead of standing in line at the only place in town that has bread, I'm standing in line at the only place in town that has anything.

9. Grover mentioned this in his blog last month, but there is the whole "degradation of food quality" issue at Wal-Mart, like the abominable donuts with their three and four layers of glaze, frosting, striping and sprinkles, colored in neon greens and blues and filled with a corn syrup/Crisco cocktail that can scarcely be considered "food." I mentioned the donuts to a woman behind the cake counter once, being careful to sound neutral and disinterested when I asked her if she was the one who decorated the donuts.

"Noooo," she said, with a sideways glance at the mutant pastries in the cases against the wall. "Those are done by the night people."

The "night people," are apparently a group of second class (or maybe third class) citizens who work all hours of the night wreaking havoc on what would other-wise be a fairly tame donut case at Wal-Mart. I picture frosting zombies holding pastry tubes in stiff outstretched arms, layering sprinkles through glazed-over eyes and limp lower lips.)

8. And its not just donuts. Produce at Wal-Mart, while priced fairly reasonably, is often either over-ripe, or green, hard, and woody. Anemic tomatoes, limp spinach, and bitter cucumbers make for sad salads.

7. Which, of course, is not a really fair argument against Wal-Mart, at least not in Athens, a hippie town with a year-round farmers market that sells the freshest of produce. But unless your schedule and your budget line up with the Market's, then your only other real alternative is the Kroger, which is open late, but suffers from the same price problems that the farmer's market does.

6. So we find ourselves going to Wal-Mart at least three times a week for food, light bulbs, feminine products, tooth paste, batteries, diapers, etc etc etc and we're getting to know some of the regular clerks who are glad to have work where they can get it, and we shop next to the same people every week and you can just tell how pleased so many of them are with the sheer size of the carts, the shelves, the selection, the falling prices, and of course, the mutant donuts.

5. And I'm beginning to think that I am too hard on Wal-Mart, too hypocritical, too holier than thou ("thou," of course being everyone else pushing a cart in the store, holier than the other poor families sitting in line to take family photos with cheap film in dated lighting that will be printed on cheap paper with sickly color values, and certainly holier than the rag-tag teenagers playing guitar hero in the back end of Seasonal).

4. And maybe there's a service Wal-Mart provides even to the self-righteous. By monopolizing the economy Wal-Mart maintains a steady enough level of odiouosity (get it? state of being odious) to keep the noses of customers like me sufficiently turned up in disgust, even as we are pushing our carts down the aisle. Thus we somehow justify our patronage with the negative feelings conjured up by being in the store.

3. In other words We get to feel self-righteous, holier than thou, and perfectly disgusted, and Wal-Mart still gets our money.

2. And so much of what we buy at Wal-Mart ends up breaking--mirrors, chairs, dishes, hangers--because we bought the "Great Value" brand at $2.42, instead of buying the national brand at $2.72, and the savings we supposedly see end up a wash anyway because we've got to go back and replace all the broken stuff.

1. Which was the case this year, with our own Wal-Mart portrait studio pictures, which we spent too much on, because we wanted the package deal that gave us enough little photos to send to our families. After spending 30$ and waiting two weeks for the prints to come back, we were left with what amounted to poorly developed snapshots of our boys that looked like bad school pictures. So, in frustration with Wal-Mart, I dressed the boys up in their Christmas best and took them and a camera to the park to have my own photo shoot, which turned out fairly well. And, then, thank heaven for Wal-Mart, I was able to print order them online at the one hour photo booth and we got the new photos sent off to our families on Christmas eve.

So, here they are. I don't know what to say, except that this is life in Athens. When Wal-Mart gives you unripe lemons, make Lemonade, extra high fructose corn syrup.

Wal-Mart aside, (and actually, thanks in-part to Wal-mart) we did have a fabulous Christmas--two days of relaxed playtime with the boys, just enough really good food, and lots of thoughtful gifts given and received.

We made a Japanese Christmas Cake for Christmas Eve, read the Christmas Story with Callan, and sang Happy Birthday to Jesus. We also made Sour Cream Twists (amazing Fitzgerald tradition!) and Mel and I had just about all the gifts taken care of by midnight.

The one gift that proved problematic was a rocking chair that Callan and I refinished for Melissa. We salvaged it from a move-out a week ago and it had a lot of cigarette smoke damage. Long story short--Callan and I sanded and stripped the chair and refinished it and bought new cushions for it, but the final coat of finish was still tacky on Christmas eve and the fumes were too much so we couldn't have it in the house. Luckily our neighbors were out of town and they had given me a key so I put it in their kitchen until the day after Christmas when we finally brought the chair inside.

The new seat in the house is everyone's favorite. Callan and Nolan probably spend a half an hour each sitting in it, reading books, and trying to make the rocker glide back and forth. Nolan in particular is fond of it.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

COSI with Bob

We took another marathon trip to Columbus, this time not to the temple but to a museum! COSI
reminds me of going to OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) when I was growing up. I have fond memories of the "Earthquake House" and other exhibits that never seemed to get old. I was excited when I discovered COlumbus has similar museum, I knew Mr. Why would love it. It was more exciting when the website announced their Bob the Builder exhibit. If you're ever in Columbus and have a whole day to kill, go to COSI!

The Ocean exhibit had an old submarine (partially submerged in water even!) we got to climb inside. Good thing we're not claustrophobic!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Sweet Tooth's increasingly problematic little habits

Another note. Sweet Tooth has been climbing like crazy. On the chairs, on the couch, on the shelves, on the beds, on his new bike, on the table! Perhaps we can find good use for it. Putting a star on the tree maybe?

Monday, December 10, 2007

"Fan Appreciation Day"

Last Saturday was “Fan appreciation Day” at the Ohio University Men’s Basketball game (which is a PR hack’s way of saying, “There are no students in town to come watch our team play, so we’re inviting the community to come for just $0.25 per ticket.”) Since tickets are usually $12 each, we figured we ought to take advantage of the deep discount. We all wore our Ohio t-shirts and got great seats just above the away team—University of Delaware. (Incidentally, we couldn’t figure out if the other team was from Delaware, the state, or perhaps one of the many Delaware Cities somewhere else in the United States. There are no less than 5 Delaware Cities in the U.S. besides the one in DE. Turns out they’re from the State, and their mascot is something fierce like a ‘Blue Hen’). When we sat down, Delaware—“The blue team”—scored and Callan shouted, “Whoo hoo. I want the blue team to win!” I informed him that we were Bobcats, and we were cheering for “the green team.”

“Which one is the green team?” he asked, which was a good question, because Ohio was actually wearing their home jerseys, which were white with just a little bit of green striping. To Callan, who has not yet learned the subtleties of team color palette standards, there was a white team and a blue team, but no green. I pointed the striping out to him and he got straightened out. Soon he was shouting “OHIO! OHIO! OHIO!” at the top of his lungs.

After the game Nolan and I followed Callan down on the court where both of them joined a few dozen other kids who were running around the floor, shooting little white plastic basketballs into the hoop. As part of “Fan Appreciation Day” the players came out to sign autographs, but the line was worse than a Santa line on black Friday so we opted out. Instead I met a friend for racquetball and Melissa went with the boys and some friends to Taco bell to exchange their ticket stubs for free tacos (another “Fan Appreciation” gimmick). At $0.25 per ticket, and free tacos for each ticket, we all figured we should have bought a dozen tickets. Oh well.

The game had all the feel of a good college basketball game, including some impressive (if not spectacular) basketball by Ohio’s front five, a lively crowd, cheer leaders throwing t-shirts and plastic basketballs into the crowd, cheesy advertisement-cum-fan participation contests, and, of course, overly enthusiastic fans shouting at the referees (including one loud woman sitting a few rows in front of us who appeared to be connected to the Delaware team and who did not have many nice things to say about the officiators).

The small town twist for this game came at the half time show—eight ten-year-old synchronized jump ropers from Parkersburg, WV known as “High Five.” They did great, only messing up a few times. That kind of thing always makes me nervous. Not because I’m worried about them getting hurt, but worried about how they’ll feel if the mess up. As a ten year old who broke down into tears regularly after striking out in little league baseball, I can relate all too well to how it feels to mess up in front of a crowd. And in something like dance you just can’t stop in the middle, even if you really screw up. And when you’re just watching them, literally praying for them to do well, and they mess up, what can you do except cheer hard for them so they know you’re on their side—nothing to do but cheer and pray.

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, please oh please don't kill me (or my children)

We got our tree up last week—a free live tree from a friend. In addition to worrying about Nolan pulling off and eating/breaking/losing all the ornaments, or spilling/drinking/playing in the water in the tree stand, or climbing up/pulling over/breaking down the tree, according to CNN we now have worry about lead in the vinyl wire covering on the lights (as if we weren’t already worried about the perfect storm of dry tree, cheap lights, and power surge). But for now everyone is safe, lead free, and not on fire, so it should be a merry Christmas.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Whose Bathroom is it anyway?

Last night Callan and I braved the icy roads to do a little Christmas shopping for Melissa. We decided this year that Callan ought to make gifts for everyone, rather than spend a lot of money, and I've been trying to help him come up with something for Melissa on his own. I thought a walk through the store might stimulate some ideas. I primed Callan with a few questions as we drove to the store, asking him what he thought mommy might WANT for Christmas. He couldn't think of anything. "Okay, What does mommy NEED?" I asked him. He thought for a long time and then said,

"Her own Potty," an answer that attests to Callan's listening skills. Melissa has on a number of occasions (usually when she has just used the bathroom after Callan) lamented the fact that she has to share a bathroom with " little boys" (I'm still not sure why she pluralizes 'little boys,' since Nolan doesn't use the bathroom yet). She dreams of the day when she no longer has to compete for counter space or toilet, sink, medicine cabinet, and mirror time with me, or Callan or anybody else and on more than one occasion she has hinted that when we do have two bathrooms, I might be relegated to sharing with boys so she can have her space.

The truth, however must be told. The bathroom is already Melissa's. Anyone who spends any time there, as I have recently, can tell almost immediately, by the reading material alone, that this is no man's bathroom. Family Fun, Mothering, Good Housekeeping? That's the reading selection currently on the shelf. Whose bathroom?

Not that I don't appreciate a good article on public breastfeeding or on how to make Christmas ornaments out of popcorn and pipe cleaners, because I do, and not that I don't appreciate Faith Hill's "Inspiring advice--and funniest-ever story," in the "Giant Holiday Issue," with the "Bonuse Ultimate Holiday Planner," and the "Perfect Party Dresses (Under $100!)," but while being "commodious" a guy might want to read an article in Time, or maybe something from Outdoors or even the AWP Magazine, something without a lot of billowy fabric, holiday recipes, or advertisements for Coldwater Creek.

When we were kids, my youngest older sister, Misha,--ever outnumbered by her four brothers--was at some point given the hall bathroom to call her own. Central to the entire house, and complete with tub-shower, ceiling fan, and ample cabinet space, the "middle bathroom" as we once called it, (with no intentional Tolkienian reference), was prime real estate for vain teenagers and became the sight of many a battles worthy of a J.R.R. himself. It became known, despite our best efforts, as the "girls' bathroom" (or was that "girl's bathroom," I could never tell, even though there was only one Misha).

The "boys' bathroom" resided in the farthest, coldest, most remote outcropping of the house in the back of the laundry room, behind a weathered pocket door that only halfway worked. The low toilet, industrial sink, and curtain-less fogged window screamed "concentration camp" and it seemed that toilet paper was always in short supply.

We all still used the middle bathroom, but Misha's "ownership" made innocent transgressions like leaving the lid up, or tinkling on the toilet seat, or forgetting to flush, or leaving any variety of hair anywhere was cause for battle royale. However, the only time she could really exercise her eminent domain over the "middle bathroom," was if she had to use it at the same time one of us boys did. The boys were sent to the boys' bathroom.

Who wants a bathroom anyway? There are so many other rooms in a house that it seems almost silly to pine for a private potty. What about the kitchen, or the hallway, or the living room? Yes. When we have a bigger house, I would like my own hallway, one I don't have to share with anyone, one I can walk through in peace. Some day. Some day.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Coconut Soup Recipe, as requested

This is the funniest recipe, but it turns out really well! I usually use about 4 red potatoes, 2 carrots, and 1 medium zucchini. Oh and I always add chopped onion, occasionally cubed chicken and chicken broth instead of water. This amount usually uses 2 cans of coconut milk.
Curry Coconut Soup

some potatoes, diced
some carrots, cut into matchsticks
some zucchinis, diced
enough cans coconut milk to cover these vegetables in the pan
add enough water to thin it down as much as you like
some red curry paste (maybe about 1/2+ tsp for a pot with enough soup for 6-8 servings)
some fish sauce (maybe about 1-2 Tbs for the same size pot)
some pure maple syrup (1-2 T?, or 4? large medjool dates (pitted), or 1-2? Tbs brown sugar )

Place cut up vegetables in a pot, and then add enough canned coconut milk to cover them. Add water to thin to desired broth thickness. Add to taste red curry paste and fish sauce. Add preferred sweetener: if using medjool dates, blend them with a little coconut milk. Cook until vegetables are done.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Super Tar-mart!

Callan has been waiting and waiting for it to snow. He looks outside every morning to check and this morning he got his wish! It's after 1pm and it's been snowing all day. Check out the campus webcam. The trees around here had lost all their leaves; it was starting to feel pretty lone and dreary. But now the snow cheered things up! And since it cheered me up here's some things I'm grateful for that I didn't mention during the recent Gratitude-day.

- A live tree! A gift from some friends.

- A tree that's still alive! And not torched after we accidentally left the lights on all night

- Coconut Soup. It's delicious.

- Coconut Soup with Lemon Red Curry Chicken on the side. WAY delicious.

- Little boys who smile and laugh all day

- Little boys who smile and laugh all day because they're getting so much sleep at night now

-Walmart. ugh. Yes, I can say that. I can do it and really mean it. And wait a sec, lest you think I've become a Walmart-o-phile I didn't say I LOVE it, I said I'm grateful for it. Grateful that it's 5 minutes away and that I can actually buy things I need there. White Paper for instance that didn't cost me $4.50 for a half-ream. And cheap tree stands and clearance matching shirts for those smilers and laughers. And just one tiny little request now for Walmart. Would you please magically change into a Target? I would be so much more grateful for you! Maybe Santa could help you out, or the Genie? Or maybe in the very least you could change into the first Super Tar-mart! Thank-you kindly Walmart. Much appreciated. You can stay Walmart in all those places where people can choose where to shop.