And Then I Stepped in Gum . . .

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

What Is Wrong with Me?

Or, Why Type-A Overachievers Should Not Be Stay-at-Home Moms

Today -- well, yesterday, actually -- is Thinking Day, a Girl Scout/Girl Guide holiday on which girls learn about other countries around the world. When I found out that our council wasn't doing anything council-wide for Thinking Day, I was a little surprised. I remember big events, with troops presenting booths on their country, dressing up, serving food, etc. But since that wasn't happening, I thought it would be fun for my Daisies (5- and 6-year-olds) to celebrate at our meeting.

Last week I gathered a bunch of books on different countries from the library and brought them in to show the girls, who I thought -- and rightly so -- probably wouldn't have a very firm grasp on the concept of "other countries" quite yet.* (I had them brainstorming other countries that they knew about, and one poor girl kept naming U.S. states and cities -- "California! Washinton, D.C.! Atlanta! Tennessee! Hey, at least she kept trying.)

* And apparently, I should have been worried about more than the girls. My co-leader, after being the secretary for the brainstorming session, came up to me and said, "I don't know why I wrote down Canada. That's not a foreign country. They're part of us." Sigh.

So the girls had fun perusing the books, but then when it came time to pick one, they all wanted different ones, according to which book they'd latched onto. Of course. So we drew names from a cup -- no "guiding" there from the leader, unfortunately. Ultimately, we ended up with Japan.

I thought Japan was a pretty good choice -- sufficiently "other" to get the point across about different cultures, but not a country I knew absolutely nothing about. Except I didn't know as much as I thought I did. So I ended up hitting the Web, and it's worked pretty well so far. I even have some Japanese things to bring in -- two dolls and a kimono that I think my dad brought back from Okinawa when he went there on TDY, some decorative Japanese chopsticks I picked up from SF's Chinatown, etc. My biggest stumbling block has been the food.

For one thing, I can't really bring anything hot, because there's no access to a microwave or anything, and I don't want to give the girls food poisoning. For another thing, Japanese food is darned hard to come by in Mobile. The grocery stores' "ethnic foods" sections are pretty pathetic. I went to some promising-sounding small markets, but struck out -- International Food Market had mostly Arabic and Jewish imports; Asia Market carried only Indian foods (would it kill them to call it Indian Market, or even South Asia market, then?). My quest for the one Japanese item I really wanted -- sweetened red bean paste, used as a filling for dessert-like teacakes, and pretty much the only thing I think the kids might like -- went unsatisfied.

I did end up with some vegetarian sushi, some rice crackers, chopsticks for the girls to practice with, and green tea. But I decided -- thanks to the goodness of the Internet -- that I would make my own red bean paste.

This is where I think I've finally figured out that there is something wrong with me. Usually you see people being depicted with little devils on their shoulders, spurring them on to act unwisely. My devil looks an awful lot like Martha Stewart.

The first problem is that, like Japanese red bean paste, Japanese red beans are hard to come by. I ended up with "light red kidney beans." I figured beans are beans are beans, pretty much, and by and large I think that's right. And I got the dried version, which means soaking and then cooking for an hour and a half. I did that last night, and put them in the fridge to continue working on them this morning.

Then I was supposed to put them in the blender or a food processor. Food processors are such a pain to clean, so I decided on the blender. Yeah, well, the blender pureed the bottom 1/4 of the beans, and then wouldn't mix any of the whole beans in. So I struggled with the blender for a while. Then I was to press the beans through a sieve. Which would have been easier if they'd actually been pureed like they were supposed to be. And in the process, I lost half the bean puree in a big, cow dung-like splat on the floor.

No matter, right? I'm only making treats for six kids. I continued, halving the rest of the recipe. I sieved the beans (that took a while). I put the puree in a pot, with some vegetable shortening and sugar. And it was an unappetizing pinky-brown color. So I added red food coloring. Now it's kind of a weird red color, rather than the dark red of the storebought paste, but what the kids don't know won't hurt them, right? I tasted it. Surprisingly, it actually tasted like what I was aiming for. Thank goodness I knew what I was aiming for!

The next step in making dorayaki is to make little pancakes to spread the bean paste on. Now here I had no idea what I was aiming for. I ended up with little pale, thick, slightly rubbery pancakes, that, when spread with red bean paste, so taste like they could possibly be Japanese. So it's done. (Well, except for the assembly, which will be done when everything has cooled.)

Want to take bets on what proportion of the six proclaim them "yucky"? I'm not entirely sure why I bother, except there's that little Martha Stewart-shaped devil on my shoulder who wants me to make things perfect. I just can't stop myself.

On the upside, every parent I talked to last night said their daughter was excited about learning about Japan today -- it's a good thing. Right?

Monday, February 21, 2005

Calling Thing 1 and Thing 2 . . .

Last night I was doing laundry, and I came across a shirt that Dave had taken out of his exercise bag and put in the hamper. I looked at it closely, and called him. "Dave, you realize this shirt is pink, don't you? It looks like it's supposed to be gray, but it really looks pink." And it did. Strawberry sherbet pink. Which apparently is a color that the mildly color-blind can't actually see. I've been giving him a hard time for weeks about a pair of his pajama pants that have snowflakes on them which have turned the same color pink, and he can't see it.

Sure enough, he came into the laundry room and scrutinized the shirt with a quizzical look. "You mean, right about there?" he asked, pointing vaguely to an area on the shirt. "No, the whole thing is pink. Can't you see it?" He admitted he couldn't, and I told him not to worry, I'd put it in with a load of lights and a Shout Color Catcher sheet, which usually works well for me.

So I wash the clothes, which are mostly the kids' and mine. And I used the color catcher sheet. And when I went to put the load in the dryer, I discovered that the pink had completely left the gray shirt. It's now just a normal heather gray.

But two of my bras -- one light blue, and one beige -- are now a hideous mauvey purpley pink. Everything else in the load escaped unscathed. It's like a scene from The Cat in the Hat Comes Back!

Dave suggested I not try to get rid of the pink by using the bras to clean the tub. What a wit.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Time to Go Furniture Shopping?

This morning, the kids let us "sleep in" until after 6, a relatively rare thing. Well, Ian did wake up at 5, but Dave got him back to sleep. Anyway, I was awakened by Katie at my bedside, saying, "Why aren't you guys with Ian?"
"Wha...?" I coherently replied. "Ian's still sleeping. He's in his room."
"No, he's not. He's in the living room."
"Wha...?" I got up and went to the living room, with Katie. Ian was nowhere in sight, and his bedroom door was shut. "No, sweetie, he's still asleep."
"No, he's up. He's behind the couch."

And sure enough, he was. He'd climbed out of his crib, left his bedroom, closed his bedroom door, and was just sitting there in the semi-dark, playing with a coffee cup. All without making enough noise to wake us over the baby monitor -- and I'm a light sleeper.

Guess it's time to go look for that "big boy" bed, so he doesn't break his neck in the middle of the night!

Monday, February 14, 2005

Teachable Moments

Lately I've been finding myself having serious, educational conversations with Katie, who will turn 6 next month. One, occasioned by her having four (!) loose teeth*, involved a lengthy explanation of the baby teeth to adult teeth transition, complete with illustrations, while waiting in line at Target's pharmacy. I'm just so glad that we can give back to Target's customers, supplying them with endless amusement at our expense. Ian was listening to our exchange, and came away with his own addition to his knowledge. After getting the story from me, Katie summed it up by saying, "So the adult tooth says, 'Hey, baby tooth! It's my turn! You get out of here, I'm coming in!'" Ian now walks around the house expressing his take on the whole thing: he gestures in an expansive pushing motion with his arms while saying "Gum!" repeatedly until you acknowledge that yes, the teeth are pushing through the gums. Then he screws up his little face to look angry and yells, "You out! I in!" Hey, look, a shoe-in for the school play on dental hygiene. Our little prodigy.

* (I've decided I like Mimi Smartypants's digressions in asterisk form and will copy her, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, of course.) What kind of horrible parents are we, not to have been paying attention to what's going on inside our daughter's mouth? She got in the car after school the other day and said, "Hannah says I have a big tooth coming in behind my other teeth."** I look, and sure enough, she has two adult teeth pushing their way through behind her lower front teeth. And one's halfway up! And I had no idea! Neglectful, that's us. Call CPS.

** Teeth are apparently a hot topic of conversation in kindergarten. Kids are yanking them out during lunch, wiggling them, reporting on their loss -- I can just imagine how much fun that must be for the teacher! Another reason that I trained to be a high school teacher, rather than studying elementary ed.

Next, we had a discussion about my work as an editor. I was copyediting a bibliography and getting frustrated with its poor quality. (Side note: Why on Earth can't authors write a decent bibliography?? I mean, how hard is it, people? You supposedly used these resources to write your book (if I turn a blind eye to the fact that at least one of the references is copied wrong, verbatim, from other sources) -- how difficult is it to obtain the correct information and put it in the correct order? I know I'm there to clean up, by making sure the punctuation is in the right place and it follows the style, but I shouldn't have to spend four hours on a 3-page bibliography!) Anyway, Katie and I talked about the process of writing books and getting them published, and about what I do to help make a book the best it can be. And I emphasized, given how irritated I am about this particular book (could be hormones, could just be a poorly written book, could be both), that it's very, very important to always do your best work before turning something in. I think she got it. She says she always fixes mistakes in the books she writes, like the time she noticed a period was missing and she went back and put it back in. Ah, it warms the cockles of my little copyeditor's heart.

I should really scan some of her books. They're hysterical. Especially the one about the zebra who didn't realize he was a zebra (inspired by the movie Racing Stripes). It ends thusly: "Hay!" he says. "I'm a zebra!" Cracked me up.

The most recent topic of "serious conversation" was slavery and racism. It's amazingly hard to couch these issues in terms that an almost-6-year-old can understand. I think this one started in the car because she brought up the fact that it was President Lincoln's birthday, and I asked if she knew who he was. She really didn't, and you can't exactly talk about how great he was without referencing the Civil War and slavery. I'm not one to get all gushy about the innocence of children, but I was encouraged by her reaction to my description of racism. She couldn't understand why anyone would think that other people were different because of the color of their skin. I know that's typical for young kids, but I'd really like to preserve that feeling, and culturally, down here in Alabama, that's going to be difficult, I think.

Oh, it won't be hard to maintain in theory, but in practice, she knows no people of color. I know no people of color. She goes to a private school where there are few students of other races. It's one of the reasons we're trying to get her into a magnet school, which is not only a good school but which, by law, has a 50% non-black to 50% black ratio. We visited the school on Friday, and I'm pretty confident that it has an atmosphere that I like. Unfortunately, the drawing is by lottery only -- you can't test into the school -- so I'm not sure what her odds are. Guess we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. In the meantime, Dave is thinking about accosting the one black dad he sees at dropoff time at Katie's school and asking, "Will you please be my black friend?" We'd like some gay friends too, but my guess is they're even harder to find here in the Bible Belt! So much for cultural diversity.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

A First for Me

There's some talk on my March list of how we should be taking time for ourselves and being less kid-centric. And while I don't think I'm any more kid-centric than necessary when one has a 5- and a 2-year-old in the house, I decided to take it to heart.

For the last almost six years (note the coincidence of that time period being almost exactly as long as we've had children!), moviegoing has been an activity that we rarely partake in. Hiring a babysitter is relatively infrequent, mostly for logistical reasons, and when we do hire a babysitter, paying around $40 (movies and sitter) for two hours of not talking to each other seems a little silly.

So, since I'm a big old crank today anyway, I decided to take myself the the movies to see The Phantom of the Opera, which I've wanted to see for a while . Dave, who despises musicals (except, for some reason, Jesus Christ Superstar), had no desire to see this; I, a big musical fan, was desperate to see it, even though I know it didn't get the best reviews and I hadn't been impressed by the clips I'd seen on talk shows.

Yeah. Well. Does it still count as "me time" if you end up doing something you enjoy so little that you actually cut it short? I walked out. Forty minutes into the movie. It was that bad.

I have never walked out of a movie. Not even from Joe Versus the Volcano, which I contend is the worst movie ever (I spent about 40 minutes during that thinking, "This must be a dream. This is a dream, isn't it? Isn't it? It's too ridiculous not to be" and it turned out it wasn't). But there were so many things that irritated me that I found myself obsessing over all the other things I could be doing. For one thing, I've never seen such obvious (and bad) lip synching in my entire life. I mean, yes, I'm a grown-up. I understand that it's not practical (maybe not even possible?) to actually film people actually singing in a musical. Tracks are laid down afterward. I get that. But geez, people, if you have to lip synch, at least look like you're singing an aria in your highest register -- don't just stand there with your mouth hanging open! Why show only part of a song being sung, with the rest appearing to be in Christine's head (seems like it would be one or the other)? Why show Raoul running/bouncing down the steps while singing but betraying no physical bouncing in his voice? And for the love of God, if your singers aren't the best (which, I'm sorry, they just aren't -- they may be perfectly pleasant, but I had a hard time suspending disbelief and accepting the thrill with which the actors reacted to Christine's debut, because she was not anywhere near good enough, even as the ingenue fulfilling the diva's role. Sarah Brightman, she ain't.), don't land on the notes and draw them out adagio-style. Every song was so plodding, and I just couldn't deal with it. I left* and drove across the street to buy the 2-CD set of the original, but unfortunately they only had the movie soundtrack. So I dug up my highlights album and am listening to it at full volume in my office. Ah, much better.

Sigh. So much for me time.

* Side note: I was amused by the fact that the radio was playing "If You Leave, Don't Look Back" when I got into the car. Maybe my life actually is taking place to its own soundtrack.