Tuesday, April 29, 2008

#31 Reading

My book club selection for this month was The Last Days of Dogtown, by Anita Diamant. Diamant is also the author of The Red Tent, which I read years ago and loved, so I had high hopes for Dogtown. I was a little disappointed. The characters are very well written in this novel, and I was engaged in their stories. But the stories are depressing! I think maybe one of the main characters has a happy ending. And of course I know that's the way the real world works, and life was tough in the 19th century. But a bit more hope would've been nice. I am glad our book club chose this book, though, and I think it ranks among the best-written stories we've read.

From Publisher's Weekly:
Fans of Diamant's The Red Tent who were disappointed by her sophomore effort (Good Harbor) will be happy to find her back on historical turf in her latest, set in early 1800s Massachusetts. Inspired by the settlement of Dogtown, Diamant reimagines the community of castoffs—widows, prostitutes, orphans, African-Americans and ne'er-do-wells—all eking out a harsh living in the barren terrain of Cape Ann. Black Ruth, the African woman who dresses like a man and works as a stonemason; Mrs. Stanley, who runs the local brothel, and Judy Rhines, an unmarried white woman whose lover Cornelius is a freed slave, are among Dogtown's inhabitants who are considered suspect—even witches—by outsiders. Shifting perspectives among the various residents (including the settlement's dogs, who provide comfort to the lonely), Diamant brings the period alive with domestic details and movingly evokes the surprising bonds the outcasts form in their dying days. This chronicle of a dwindling community strikes a consistently melancholy tone—readers in search of happy endings won't find any here—but Diamant renders these forgotten lives with imagination and sensitivity.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

#9: Weeknight Dinner

Breakfast for dinner again! Just thinking about breakfast food has me craving brown sugar cinnamon oatmeal--the kind from a mix that is barely healthy. Mmmm.

We finished the remainder of this month's Bacon of the Month, which was hickory smoked bacon from J. Samuel Whiting Smokehouse in Pennsylvania. That's right, we've been receiving bacon from around the country for a year now, and I just signed K up for another year membership. Why mess with the best birthday gift ever, when it can just be repeated? Since his gift already arrived, and his birthday is early next week, I am thinking about looking for a little something else. Since I stocked him up with plenty of silly little bacon-related gifts at Christmas, I think I'll opt for something else.

Monday, April 21, 2008

#5: Finish Wedding CD for M--Almost!

I knew this would be a tough project, but I'm finally getting much closer to completion on my friend M's wedding CD.

It has become a tradition in our small group of close girlfriends to compile a CD to celebrate each gal's wedding. Each of us (except the bride) contributes songs that remind them of the bride, or the bride and groom, or even just love songs. Each writes a note to the bride, and one person is in charge of compiling the songs and notes into a CD and package--which is then presented to the bride, with copies for the rest of us. M is the most organized of our group, and she handled the CD responsibility for three of our weddings. So when she got married a year ago, I took over the project. And now I know why it takes her so long to get the CDs ready! Since I had this item on my list, and her one year anniversary just passed, I have been pestering the other gals weekly for the past month. Finally, I have a song list and note from everyone except one hold out. . .and she will likely take a lot more pestering. I know she's super busy, with her two little boys and all of the activities she's involved with, but as I've mentioned in my weekly emails I really want to finish this up by the end of the month!

I guess I will go ahead and select the songs I'm planning to contribute. haha! I gave myself the luxury of waiting until everyone else turned in their songs so I wouldn't duplicate any other contributions, and so I would know how many songs we'd need to fill out the CD. Since one of the gals decided to only submit one song (the same song that she also submitted for two other CDs), I may need to opt for more than 4 selections. Time to hit the itunes!

Friday, April 18, 2008

#33: Health Check In

I seem to keep losing and gaining the same two pounds over and over again! This week, they're lost. I think I'm going to start weighing myself every other week. . .and hopefully I'll actually lose more than those two pesky ones.

Part of what has been working for me this week is eating small snacks during the day, so I'm eating roughly every two - three hours. When I began dieting before my wedding, I read the South Beach diet book and remembered the snacking plan as a way to boost metabolism. I'm not starting back on the South Beach diet full force (yet), but I have cut waaaay back on sweets. I think the snacking might be helping--I've woken up hungry every morning this week, which is good. I think the biggest benefit of SB for me at this point would be the two-week detox period. I already make mostly healthier choices regarding the food I eat than I did 4 years ago.

This past week, I have not been doing well with exercise at all. I only worked out once, with K. I did the core master video and worked out with resistance bands. Usually we work out together most evenings, but he wasn't feeling well towards the past few days. Naturally, I used that as my excuse not to work out. I may be the laziest person alive.

Last night I dreamt that K & I were staying with his parents (like we did last weekend). In my dream, I had just showered and was dressing in our (his childhood) bedroom. MIL walked in, pointed at my stomach area, and said "You're cookin' a baby in there." I replied, "No, I'm just carrying a few extra pounds." Then I went to her closet to help her pick out clothes for a cruise before I woke up. Hmm, what might this mean. . .either I really want to have a baby or I'm self-conscious about my middle. Yep, it's both. Funny that in the dream I didn't feel bothered about her walking in while I was dressing!

Tomorrow, the 19th, will be six months of working on my list! I selected an end date so that I'd complete the list on a big birthday, but I can't believe that my time is 25% complete. Yikes! I'm certainly doing better in some areas than others.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

#9: Weeknight Dinner

It's Bacon of the Month week again, so last night I made one of our favorite things. . .breakfast for dinner! (Or, as a recent episode of Scrubs designated it: brinner.)

We had cheesy scrambled eggs with bacon on the side. Easy, and delicious. This month's bacon was hickory-smoked, and K declared it his favorite yet, but I think he was just really hungry for bacon. He tends to like the sweeter bacons best, like brown sugar bacon.

His birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks, and I've renewed his year of bacon subscription. Hope he enjoys it as much as he has over the past year!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

#4: The Other Nephews

My brother's two boys live in Kyle, so when I listed my goal of spending quality time with the nephews once a month, I had them in mind. I met each of them the day they were born, and want to have a strong relationship with them as they grow up--luckily, that will be easier since their family lives in the Austin area.

But I actually have five other nephews, who became my nephews when K and I married. Two of them, I have never met. K's brother (who is the oldest sibling in their family) married very young and had two boys. He left his wife and was not part of their family (his choice) until the boys decided to seek him out once they reached high school. By this time, K & I had started dating, but as far as I know, the boys never visited his brother more than a handful of times. They are both in their early or mid-twenties now (barely younger than me, weird!), and at least one of them has his own family. My MIL tries to keep in touch with them, and occasionally reports that she's visited with them via phone, but I honestly don't know all the inner-workings of the relationships and suspect it is in everyone's best interest that K's brother isn't involved in their lives. He's. . .difficult, at best.

However, K's brother has another son with his second wife. This son (J) is 13, and K's godson. Over the years, K has tried to be involved in J's life and remain a positive influence, but living in seperate cities makes it difficult. (Their family lives in SE Texas.) Now that J is getting older, he has email and his own cell phone, and K can keep in touch a little better. This past weekend, we went into their hometown for a visit, and K made a point of seeking out quality time with J. Unfortunately, it almost didn't happen. The past week at school, J got sent to detention for talking in class. (Which is surprising to me because he's a very shy kid and almost never talks during family gatherings.) J's dad decided that, as punishment, he was restricted from playing musical instruments for a week outside of school. Harsh punishment for J--he plays guitar, saxaphone, clarinet, and several others. Plus, he's a member of the Jazz Band at school and has a performance on the 17th. K had asked if he could get together with J for some time on Sunday and play guitar, but J's dad "forgot" about K's request when they came over to the IL's house and J didn't have his guitar (actually, he hadn't even heard about K's request). Luckily, K was able to convince J to give him a reprieve for an hour. We rarely visit their hometown apart from Christmas, and playing guitar together is a great way for K and J to connect. I was able to get some good photos and video of them playing together. During the visit, I was thinking it would be fun for J to come to Austin to visit us this summer, and in the car on the way home K mentioned the same thing. K's brother started down a scary path of bad decisions in his teen years, and I think K wants to fill the positive role model void for J. We need to working out timing and a bunch of other logistics--not the least of which will be getting J's parents to agree to the trip--but I hope it works out.

One of K's sisters has two sons, AM & CM. Her oldest son just turned 18, and his high school prom was this weekend. He and his date were having photos taken on Saturday afternoon, so we were able to swing by the park and take some pics of them (and see K's sister) before the festivites got under way. AM seems to be a really sweet kid. He did not have an easy childhood, but he has grown into a smart, polite young man. And his girlfriend also seemed very nice, and not at all hoochie. ha! Although one of his pals at the park was obnoxious and irritating. Ugh, I have little patience for high school kids who think it's funny/ironic to wear a powder-blue tux, doo-rag, and fedora to their prom. Not to mention the endless stream of annoying chatter the kid kept up during the photos. I guess it's official: I'm old. Anyway. . .AM is trying for a baseball scholarship to college next year, but it's not looking promising. He had a serious arm (shoulder? elbow?) injury at the end of his sophmore year, so after surgery and rehab, he's been taken out of the pitching line-up and the coaches are no longer playing him much. I hope something works out for him. K mentioned that if he ended up going to UT, we should consider letting him live with us for a year to help him/his mom save $$, but that would require a lot of discussion & rule-making on our part. His dad (divorced from JM's mom) is not able to contribute financially as far as I know, though he is a strong supporter and tries to stay very involved in AM's life.

CM, who is AM's half-brother and my youngest nephew on that side, is a character. He's 12, and pretty much the polar opposite of J. He plays baseball, too, and we went to one of his games on Saturday evening. He's the biggest (tallest) kid on the field. He's a great hitter, and pretty good fielder (not that I know the name of his position. . .somewhere sort of close to 2nd base but not the second baseman? maybe short stop?) and had some great plays. Too bad the kid's dad is a total asshole. He pushes CM, even though CM has been complaining of a sore thumb (on his catching hand) and elbow (on his pitching hand) for weeks. CM's dad is remarried, and hated by K's family. Luckily MIL finds the patience to deal with the louse, and got him to tentatively agreed to join her when she takes CM to a specialist next week about his thumb and elbow. I hope it works out. Apparently, as one of the coaches on the team, CM's dad can force his hurt kid to play without a word from the other 2 coaches. K had a talk with CM about how he can listen to his body, and if he doesn't feel like he is healthy enough to play, he should refuse. As in, if he's made to take the field, he should not make any plays. I hope CM takes his advice to heart. He & his mom have talked about moving to another city for a new start, so if they do go through with the plan, it will be good and bad for him. Good because they'll be away from the assclown, and living closer to Austin. Bad because they'll be away from their strong support system (ILs), and K's sister will have to deal with selling their house, buying a new one, and finding a new job. Not easy! She says her main reason for the move is to get CM involved in a sports program where he can excel. . .but is that really the best reason to move? Seems like a lot of pressure on a kid, to me. When CM mentioned moving, I asked him what he thought about it, and I think it was the first time anyone had asked his opinion. He said it might be okay. I hope it is.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

#9 Weekly Dinner

Tonight I cooked up the second dish of Giada's Baked Italian Chicken that I froze a week or so ago. I took the dish out of the freezer while my oven was pre-heating, to give it a chance to thaw a tiny bit. I left it in the oven for 40 minutes instead of 30, and it was delicious.

Thanks again to frozen veggies in a steamable pouch, I was able to do other things (work out, start laundry) while our dinner cooked. I'm definitely going to continue doubling recipes and freezing half when I can--maybe using this method, I'll actually get up to 3 or more weeknight dinners cooked!

For my next weeknight meal, I think I'll actually make a non-Giada recipe, haha!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

#31: Reading

My book club read Feast of Love, by Charles Baxter, this month. I think this may have been a book I suggested--based on the synopsis, it sounded like something I thought the gals would enjoy. Each of several characters tells the author their love story, narrating their own chapter, and all the stories and characters are interwoven. (Perhaps reminiscent of one of my favorite shows?)

The first few chapters were promising; the characters were interesting, and each seemed to have their own unique quirks. But, by the time all of the characters had been introduced, I was already getting tired of one of the main ones--Bradley, the author's twice-divorced neighbor who owns a coffee shop in the mall. Bradley is depressed and strange. He's difficult to like, and every time I came to one of the chapters he narrated, I found myself rushing through. A few of the plot points of Bradley's story were implausible to me, particularly the way his love story ends. Some of the relationships between characters are also a reach. For example, I doubt a middle-aged sucessful businessman is somehow a good basketball buddy of an early twenty-something former drug addict who works in a coffee shop. Contrivances like this (and others) take me out of the story and make it difficult for me to connect with the characters.
I was hoping this book would be more like True Love, by Robert Fulghum. In that book, Fulghum reports real-life love stories he's collected via mail and in person. Yep, he apparently set up a table at a Seattle coffee house, and put out a sign asking people to tell him their love stories in exchange for a cup of coffee and possibly being made famous. Hearing other people's love stories, their how-we-met stories is one of my favorite things. Maybe one of these days I will set up a table at a coffee shop and ask for stories!
From Publisher's Weekly:

In a buoyant, eloquent and touching narrative, Baxter breaks rules blithely as he goes along, and the reader's only possible response is to realize how absurd rules can be. Baxter begins, for example, as himself, the author, waking in the middle of the night and going out onto the predawn streets of Ann Arbor (where Baxter in fact lives). Meeting a neighbor, Bradley Smith, with his dog, also called Bradley, he is told the first of the spellbinding stories of love--erotic, wistful, anxious, settled, ecstatic and perverse--that make up the book, woven seamlessly together so they form a virtuosic ensemble performance. The small cast includes Bradley, who runs the local coffee shop called Jitters; Diana, a tough-minded lawyer and customer he unwisely marries after the breakup of his first marriage to dog-phobic Kathryn; Diana's dangerous lover, David; Chloe and Oscar, two much-pierced punksters who are also Jitters people and who enjoy the kind of sensual passion older people warn will never last, but that for them lasts beyond the grave; Oscar's evil and lustful dad; and philosophy professor Ginsberg, who pines for his missing and beloved son, Aaron. The action takes place over an extended period, but such is the magic of Baxter's telling that it seems to be occurring in the author's mind on that one heady midsummer night. His special gift is to catch the exact pitch of a dozen voices in an astutely observed group of contemporary men and women, yet retain an authorial presence capable of the most exquisite shadings of emotion and passion, longing and regret. Some magical things seem to happen, even in Ann Arbor, but the true magic in this luminous book is the seemingly effortless ebb and flow of the author's clear-sighted yet deeply poetic vision.

Monday, April 7, 2008

#64: Visit Churches

This weekend, K and I tried out another church in our area--St. John Vianney. One of the highlights of the visit was walking (rushing) in, and K saying "Did Mike Brady design this church?" I think I heard the person walking in behind us stifling a giggle at the comment. Apparently, K is suddenly a connisseur of Mike Brady's architectural style, which I had to quiz him about later. (?!)

So, Church #2 pros:
--sign out front says "All Are Welcome" and they seem to mean it.
--random people were nice to us and friendly, but not in a creepy recruiting sort of way.
--Smaller church than the last one we visited, so it was easier to find a place to park.
--Congregation & church officials seemed more casual & easy-going, if not a tiny bit disorganized. (Much more my religious & personal style.)
--Children's choir cracks me up, esp. when they sing off-key. Off-key solos = bonus.
--Shorter, more to the point sermon than we experienced at the other church we visited.
--At the later morning service, the mass is interpreted in sign language for the deaf church members. Ever since my mom took some sign language classes when my brother & I were younger, I've been fascinated by sign language and wanted to learn it. It was interesting to watch the interpreter, esp. during the songs. Also, good lip-reading practice.

And the cons:
--Church is all hard surfaces, even the seats. (i.e., no cushions, curtains or rugs--it was all wood, stone & marble/granite) So when the priest/reader/whoever is speaking, there is a lot of echo and sometimes they are difficult to understand. The priest has a slight accent, which I think exacerbates the problem a tad. Sounds made anywhere in the church (fussy baby, etc.) are also overamplified, and I felt bad for a couple of parents who were carrying crying kids into the cry room.
--K found the hand motions of the children's choir distracting. (The choir did a performance in front of the altar towards the end of the service. The director--who was squatting down in front of them--kept motioning for them to spread their arms wide during part of the song. But, since the kids were shoulder to shoulder, they couldn't spread their arms out. It didn't bother me, and I may have mentioned to K that I thought it was odd that this bothered him.)
--Incense overload. I understand it is part of the Easter-season tradition to use incense during the service, but they were swinging it around like it was going out of style. They even refilled the incense ball (the technical term, I'm sure) halfway through the service. It gave me a headache.
--Second morning service is at 11, instead of 11:30.
--Further north than other church visited, but only by a few miles. Other church was less than 10 minutes from our house.

K thought the last church we visited looked nicer, and I agreed that the other church was beautifully decorated and looked a lot like a cathedral from a movie. Yesterday's church is much more modern-looking, but I still thought it was nice--lots of natural light. Still, I don't really care much what our church looks like either way, and I don't think it's really a big deal for K, either.

Verdict: We like it better than the last church we visited, but don't love it. Will it grow on us? We went to the last church twice, so we'll go to this one at least twice, too. There's a church in Pflugerville we'll try, and I may try to convince K to give St. Theresa's a chance, too, depending on how long it actually takes to drive there from our house.

#9: Weeknight Dinner

Last week I made another attempt at a previously succesful weeknight dinner, only to fail!

I made Giada's Parmesan-Crusted Pork Chops again--I wanted to use up the rest of my parmesan cheese from the last dinner I made, and these chops are usually a very quick and easy dish. But, I accidentally bought pork chops that were too thick, so I had to cook them longer. The crust was a little browner than I'd like in most spots, and I was very nervous about under-cooking. K was a good sport about eating one for dinner, but he "forgot" about the leftovers. Yeah, lesson learned.

Friday, April 4, 2008

#4: March Nephew Time

Apparently, I'm a little behind--since I've reporting on March nephew time in April! And maybe I skipped a February nephew time report? I'll have to look back to check.

K & I had dinner with my family on Easter evening, and got to spend some time with my nephews. We had to miss the little guy's first birthday party the weekend before because we were in Houston for a wedding, and I was really disappointed that we weren't able to be there. Not just because you only have one first birthday party, but because (shhh!) the little guy is kind of my favorite. I know, it's terrible that I like one of my nephews best. I am focusing on giving the boys equal attention because I am afraid to favor one over the other, and I think (I hope!) this visit I did a good job of that.

The little guy has a personality just like my brother. He's happy, easy-going, and usually content to sit in someone's lap to cuddle or play. (Umm, not that my adult brother is a lap-sitter, just that he's pretty much happy anywhere.) Little guy's high chair is next to my seat at the dinner table (my mom is on the other side of him), so I often get the pleasure of helping out with the feeding. He's eating small bites of table food, and even though he has a habit of flinging or slapping his food around when he's chewing or full, I have learned to dodge the bigger pieces. He cracks me up. Why a baby flinging chunks of food onto the floor at random intervals is funny to me, I don't know. But he also scares the crap out of me when he crams his mouth so full that he starts to choke, which he did during dinner. He quickly dislodged it, so no need to intervene--luckily. He is still fascinated by the little triangle patch of hair K wears below his lower lip, too. K sits to my left at dinner, and whenever the baby catches a glimpse of K, he just stares at his mouth. I have started referring to K as "Uncle Weird Beard" to the little man, and I kindof hope he picks up the nickname when he starts to talk. K oblidges him by moving the little "beard" around and making weird faces. . .all of which simply mesmerize the little guy. It is both hilarious and endearing.

His older brother (almost three!) is currently obsessed with Transformers, specifically Optimus Prime. My brother bought him a transformer book, and told him all about OP, so even though he hasn't seen the movie or any cartoons, OP is all he will talk about. OP is even a motivator to eat more dinner; for example, my brother will say "OP eats his vegetables, so you should eat two more bites." The big guy gobbles them up! I still have to be careful not to let him know when he's cracking me up at the dinner table, esp. if he's getting in to mischief. He looks just like my brother, and it's hard to not find him funny and adorable. My brother, mom & SIL have each told us stories about him talking about K & I when we're not around, though I'm not sure if I believe it. K was excited to hear that the big guy mentioned something about Uncle K's music, since we listened to a cd of his at Christmas. I think the big guy is now K's favorite, haha! After dinner, the big guy found a cooler in the pantry that he wanted to load up with toy cars. K showed him how to open it, and then (a little later) offered to read him the Transformers book. Extra bonus points for Uncle K. Seeing them on the couch together reading a story was killing me with cuteness. Halfway through the story, K realized that the big guy mainly wanted to point out OP on each page and hear about whatever he was doing, rather than the actual story. K is a quick-thinker, so he turned the story into more of a 'Where's Waldo?' much to the big guy's delight. On our drive home, K mentioned that he maybe he could be the cool uncle who reads stories. Awwww!