Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Words That Bug Me

Last night I attended a presentation about the school district's gifted and talented program (don't you love it how I slip in wherever I can that one of my kids is gifted???). It was a 2 hour presentation that could have easily been a 1 hour presentation.

I was bored. I did consider leaving. I am, afterall, a grown up and I could have pretended I had somewhere else important to be. Like watching Biggest Loser. But I stayed (and I'm glad I did because some High Drama erupted--apparently people are very passionate about their gifted children, but that's a story for another time).

And then I started noticing how many times the presenters said the word "kiddo." Not kid, not child, not student, but kiddo. I find it a totally annoying word, especially since it was used so excessively during this presentation I was ready to stick a pencil in my eye.

So in true 7th grader fashion and just like I used to do when a really bad presenter would say "um" over and over again in a presentation and I would keep track, I started keeping track of how many times the presenters said kiddo. Keep in mind we were 20 minutes into the presentation before I started tracking, but the grand total was 17.

While I was sitting there apparently not paying attention to what was actually being said (I did take notes though), I started making a list of some of my pet peeve words. Most of these became annoying when I was in the corporate world and they were thrown about a conference room by people who thought they were important, but weren't.

A sampling:

Actually, one of the presenters used this word last night. Seriously? Obviously, as the parent of a gifted student, I should know what this means. And I sort of do, but really, do we need to use Education Speak? Couldn't we just say "what they will be evaluated on?"

As in, "Let's craft a response to this crisis situation." You mean write? Develop? Craft? Come on. Craft is what my kids do on rainy days. Which, come to think of it, could be considered a crisis situation if it involves paint or glue.

Long pole in the tent
OK, I realize this is a phrase, not a word. The remainder are phrases, too. The vice president of marketing at a certain long distance company I used to work for loved this phrase. The fact that this guy was a totally incomptent idiot didn't help endear the phrase to me. According to some random Web site, “The long pole in the tent” is an expression used in military parlance to mean “the intractable part of a problem.” The editor of Aviation Week defines the term to be “the thing in a long list of tasks for a project that will… hold everything up” – in essence, the core of the problem. Again, why do we need this fancy phrase? Can't we just say, "The problem?"

Let's take this offline
Back in the days when the Internet was fairly new (you know, right after Al Gore invented it), this phrase was frequently heard being bandied about the conference table during meetings. Say an issue came up during the meeting and it needed to be addressed, but it didn't concern everyone at the meeting. It became a catchphrase to say, "Let's take this issue offline." What? For heaven's sake, can't you just say, "Let's talk about this later."? But this was the time when online and offline were new, cool words for the world and apparently we had to overuse them and sound like idiots.

One more and then I'll stop, because I could go on like this forever.

Get our arms around it
"We need to get our arms around the problem." Huh? Like you want to give the problem a big hug? Gag. I'm not a hugger. At least I wasn't until I met Eamonn's cousin, Theresa, and she hugs everyone all the time and it kind of rubbed off on me so I would describe myself as a semi-hugger now. But that's beside the point. The point is, why don't you just say, "We need to figure this problem out."?

No wonder they (and I'm referring to the mysterious "they" who is the expert in all matters of the world--when I quote something to Eamonn and use "they," he says, "Who is they?" And I wave my arm vaguely around and say, "You know, THEY.") say that English is the hardest language to learn. We're speaking in code.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Mercy Rule

I don't know what's up with me, but I've got no cooking mojo whatsoever lately. Meat has been dry and tough. Veggies limp. I plan great meals--and then they're horrible.

Tonight I had to invoke the mercy rule. I think I've told you about the mercy rule before: I cook a meal so hideous that no one has to actually consume it--they can choose something else instead.

Tonight's fiasco involved a crock pot chicken and rice dish. I found a blog (very likely via someone's blog who reads my blog) where this woman decided to cook in her crockpot every day for a year. In the fall and winter (and sometimes the spring and spring), I'm a slave to my crockpot. Yes, it's as far from raw cooking as you can possibly get, but it's a necessity. With sports practices occuring right during the dinner hour, I need a meal preparation method that can accomodate someone who needs to eat dinner at 4:15pm (hockey practice nights--and hello??? Was there an off season and I blinked and missed it???) or someone who is eating at 7pm (soccer practice nights). I also need the crockpot for days when we're out and about and I know that I won't want to cook when we get home.

Most of my crockpotting is successful. There has been a lot of experimentation (read: trial and error) over the years. FYI: Chicken thighs do well in the crockpot. Chicken breasts: Not so much. BBQ pork shoulder: A surefire hit. Mu Shu Chicken: Delish.

So today I tried this chicken and brown rice recipe and it was supposed to be like the chicken and rice bake I used to make in the old days before I knew white rice had no nutrition and Campbell's Cream of Whatever Soup was full of disturbing chemicals. So with this recipe, you make your own Cream of Whatever and pour it over rice in the crockpot, top it with spices, an onion, mushrooms and the chicken.

Voila. So easy sounding.

And it was easy. To prepare. But there were a few warning signs I ignored when choosing this recipe. First, it called for chicken breasts. Second, it used brown rice. Cooking brown rice at high altitude is, um, challenging. In fact, I only ever got it right after I discovered Alton Brown's Baked Rice . So anyway, I should have been on high alert when the recipe called for uncooked brown rice.

In the end, the result was dry chicken, and rice, some of which was cooked, some of which was not.

Now, I just went back and re-read the directions and I found my mistake--I didn't stir the rice and cream of whatever together. I didn't see that part and I thought I wasn't supposed to stir (which makes no sense, duh). Which reveals another problem--I tend to skim through recipes because I have the attention span of a gnat.

But that's another story.

So, because I've had good luck with some other recipes on that site, I'll try, try again. Both boys did actually taste it, but complained the chicken was dry (I'll have to turn the leftovers into chicken salad now). And bizarrely, Declan liked the rice.

Go figure.

I've got to get my act together. I'm using the crockpot again tomorrow. Fish in the crockpot--a first. But now I'm a little worried.

PS: If you get a chance, stop by and drop a word of encouragement to Jonathon and his mother They are neighbors of our old CaringBridge friends, the Hurleys. Jonathon is 4 and has been battling leukemia since he was just six months old. Their family is Hmong--so you can imagine being in a foreign country and battling a life threatening illness is a scary thing.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Date Night

Last night, Eamonn and I had a date night. Actually, it accidentally started as a date afternoon that stretched into a date night. It started as a date afternoon because we're procrastinators of the highest order (at least I am. I won't bring Eamonn down with my procrastination).

So last spring at the St. Baldrick's silent auction, Eamonn bid on, and won, a trail ride at the local dude ranch because he knows I love to ride. We had until September 30 to use the certificate. Around September 1, I pulled it out and panicked. We didn't have any free weeekends to use the certificate. That was a problem. And I hate letting certificates for things go unused. I'm cheap that way.

Fortunately, a friend came to our rescuse and said she'd take the boys right after school on a Friday and keep them for a sleepover so we could go on the trail ride and go out afterwards.

Spring and fall are great times to live in a resort town. All of the restaurants, spas, hotels, etc., run huge specials for the locals (OK, who are we kidding--it's so they stay in business during the off season and the only way locals will come out to play is with huge discounts). There had been an ad in the paper that Spago was running a special--all entrees $11. At Spago. Oh my word. I was going to get to eat at Spago once in my life.

So the plan was: trail ride, early movie, Spago or trail ride, Spago, later movie--however it might work best.

Problem. Everyone else wanted to eat at Spago once in their life, too, and they were totally booked. Oh well. A great sushi restaurant was having 50% off. Eamonn forewent a burger so I could have sushi.

Our new plan was: trail ride, early movie, sushi.

Trail ride. Check.

On to movie (the Informant), which was scheduled to start at 4:10pm. We arrived there in plenty of time. The movie was late starting. And still later. Finally, at 4:30pm I went out to see why the movie hadn't started. Turns out we, along with about eight other people, were sitting in the wrong theater because of some bad signage.

We were annoyed, so the theater said we could come back for the 7pm show. To kill some time, we went to look at a house Eamonn has been remodeling and we fed the people's fish since they were out of town. It was the biggest fish I've ever seen outside of a large body of water. I had nightmares about it. It was a mutant goldfish or something.

Then on to sushi were I ate so much I could barely move. At 50% off, I felt we could indulge.

And finally, to the movie, which was excellent, but it was so painful to watch this man self destruct by his own doing. Highly recommended.

So even with our big agenda, we were still home by 9pm. We're just crazy, I know.

That's the Sawatch Mountain range behind us. Photo kindly taken by our guide, Steve. Check out my horse, Gus. Possibly the most docile creature on the planet. I think he's actually asleep in this photo.

That is a mountain called Red and White behind us, apparently named because in the winter when it's all snowy and the sun is setting, the red rays make the mountain red and white.

And now, date night is over. Probably for another year.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Little Boys, Big Words

Finn: My uvula hurts. I can feel it moving.

Me: Your WHAT? (I asked, while racing to Wikipedia to find out what exactly a uvula is. I didn't know the male species even had a uvula.)

In the end, I didn't need to go to the Internet to confirm what a uvula is. Finn knew and told me.

It turns out your uvula is that dangly thing in the back of your throat. Uvula. I don't like the way it sounds. But I was feeling pretty smug that my 6-year old knows such body parts as uvula. What a Super Genius I have spawned. Impressive, I know.

So then I asked him how he knew what a uvula was and he tells me he heard it on a cartoon.

Excellent. Excellent. My Super Genius is learning biology from children's shows. I see no need for school after this.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Apparently I Need to Repeat First Grade

Finn brought home this "Theme Test" from the third day of school. He scored 100%. Always nice to see.

However, as I studied the test, I, myself, was stumped by question number 3.

"Mark the picture word that has the same middle sound as ham." He was supposed to circle the picture whose name had the same middle sound as ham.

His choices were:
a. a picture of the United States
b. a picture of a dog
c. a picture of the number 10

I was stumped.

I continued to stare at question number 3. Finn had marked "a" and apparently it was correct, but how did that picture of the U.S. sound the same as ham?

I gave up and asked Finn. Turns out that picture of the U.S. was a "map." OK, duh, I should have figured that out. BUT, do map and ham really have the same middle sound?

I just asked Eamonn, and he thinks no, too.

But I'm not going to question it. He got 100%. I'll just sit here and revel in my ignorance.

Monday, September 21, 2009

How I Know It's Fall

Besides the date on the calendar, I mean.

There are a couple of sure signs:
-The leaves are turning (OK, that's another obvious one)
-I had to close all the windows in the house
-I'm sleeping in socks
-There's an extra blanket on my side of the bed
-There are Halloween decorations and Christmas decorations on display simultaneously in Costco

And. . .there is snow on the New York mountain range once again.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dear Jessica Simpson,

On Tuesday, I read on CNN.com (of all places), that your cute doggy, Daisy, was abducted by a wild coyote (it's a good thing that CNN.com distinguished the "wild" coyote that took Daisy from the "domestic" coyotes that roam the streets of most cities). It's just sooooooo sad!

Anyway, I heard you made posters and are offering a reward.

Jess, I admire your creativity, but I have some news for you. Maybe no one has wanted to tell you this yet, but I'm just going to jump right in here with the conclusion that everyone, except you apprently, has come to.

Daisy? She's dead. Way dead. She was dead about 3 seconds after the coyote grabbed her.

You see, coyotes don't grab little dogs and cats for fun. They don't take them and head to the dog park for a playdate. They don't take them back to their dens to meet the fam.

Nope, that coyote was hungry and Daisy was the perfect snack. Little cats and dogs go missing all the time around here, never to be seen again.

So while I admire your ingenuity in creating the signs and the reward, I suspect it's too late. By the time the coyote read your sign, Daisy was already repeating on him.

The only hope remaining is that maybe it wasn't a coyote at all. Maybe it was some crazed fan dressed as a coyote, a la Little Red Riding Hood, and now Daisy is hanging out at Grandma's house waiting for you.

But honestly, I don't think so.

I think you should just try to take comfort in the thought that maybe the coyote had trouble digesting Daisy's Burberry trenchcoat, has learned his lesson and will never abscond with another Hollywood doggy. Or at least will choose one less well dressed next time.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I Can Hardly Contain Myself

Holiday season is approaching, and you know what that means! It's time to start talking about Andy Williams and ramping up my efforts to be named his Biggest Fan. Because I love him. Even though he's 40 years older than me, I don't think it's a bit weird.

Imagine my excitement when Ann sent me a link to this today:

Andy has a new biography coming out on October 13! As Andy's Biggest Fan, I probably should have figured this out myself, but fortunately Ann is looking out for me. Thanks, Ann!

So, now I have this plan. Eamonn is reading this here for the first time. . .

At first I wondered, should I pre-order the book myself? Or should I ask for it for Christmas? And then I decided I should order it now and take it to Branson at Thanksgiving and have Andy sign it. Because as soon as Andy finds out I'm coming to Branson, I feel certain he will invite me for Thanksgiving dinner. I feel he must be that kind of guy.

I'm telling you, I've got to figure out a way to get back to Branson before Andy stops doing his show. Yes, money is tight, but at this point, I'm willing to go camp on the shores of Lake Taneycomo to make this trip happen! Yes, I love Andy that much that I'm willing to camp. In Branson. In November. Actually, I think I can find pretty cheap accomodations in Branson, it's kind of like Vegas that way--not that I've ever been to Vegas, but you get the idea.

So, if any of Andy's close, personal friends, like the Osmonds, read this blog, put in a good word for me, Andy's Biggest Fan, and let him know I'm trying my darndest to get there.

Eamonn, I swear I'll never ask for another birthday or Christmas present for as long as I live. . .

Sunday, September 13, 2009

And how are you today?

I pondered this question from the gas station attendant on Saturday (yes, our little town still has a full-service gas station, and it's the cheapest gas in town--why wouldn't I go there and have someone pump my gas and wash my windows? It feels so 1950s.).

Anyway, as the attendant was washing my windows, he asked how I was.

And when I'm troubled, as I was on Saturday, I wondered: Do people really want the truth when they ask you that question?

When I was in high school and college, I worked as a lifeguard at the local pool. Mr. Kay, who I am sure has long since passed away so I feel OK using his real name, used to come each day like clockwork to swim. He'd had heart surgry and had a bad elbow, but he was very good about getting his daily exercise in.

Mr. Kay was one of those people who, if you didn't want to hear every detail of what was medically wrong with him on that day, for heaven's sake, don't ask how he is.

"How are you Mr. Kay?"

"Well, my bursitis is acting up. See how swollen it is? (Ewww, yes, I can see it's the size of a grapefruit, thanks) And I wrenched my back and had to see the chiropractor yesterday. And you know I have to have follow up surgery on my heart. I'll show you my scar when I get changed. . ."

It was a running joke amongst the staff--Don't ask Mr. Kay how he is unless you have an hour to spare. But he was a nice man and we always asked him anyway. Besides, it was kind of interesting to hear how this man was holding up.

Anyway, back to present day. So the guy at the gas station had asked a polite question. How was I? I, personally, was fine. But so many others weren't. He had no way of knowing I had just come from a funeral for an 11-month-old baby--the son of a girl I met through Bible study. He passed away very quickly earlier in the week from a Strep A infection. I hope I never have to attend a child's funeral again. It was the most awful experience to see a parent grieving for a child. When Finn was sick, we were at the lowest point in our lives, save one. And on Saturday, I saw that save one up close and personal. It was a terrible thing to behold. And I will never forget it.

When I returned home from the funeral, I received a phone call from a friend telling me that the husband of another friend of ours had died suddenly. He was only 48. They had an 8-year-old son. I couldn't get over the shock. I still can't believe it.

It's hard to imagine going on in these situations. And yet you do. That was the question people asked the most when Finn was sick: How do you do it? The answer: Because there isn't another option.

Even after the funeral and the shocking news about my friend's husband, life went on for me that day. I went to the post office and the grocery store. I was doing normal things when other people's lives were altered forever.

I bought gas.

And so when the attendant asked, "And how are you today?" I smiled and said, "I'm fine, thank you."

And I was fine. But I didn't feel fine. If that makes any sense at all.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Wild!

We've got a lot of wildlife here in Colorado. When we first moved, I had a mortal fear of bears. I didn't want to camp in anything other than a cabin because I was certain a Grizzly bear was waiting to maul me at every turn.

Nevermind that we don't have Grizzlies in Colorado.

We do have Black Bears, but they're herbivores. And also trashivores, if you're not careful.

So my bear fear has kind of subsided and has been replaced by mountain lion fear.

I'd heard rumors that we had mountain lions around here, but they're rarely actually seen. Mostly heard. Heard in a creepy screeching noise like you'd hear on Charlie the Lonesome Cougar, a la Walt Disney.

This summer two women thought they heard a mountain lion as they walked at the other end of our neighborhood. I, of course, freaked out, but many people poo-poo'd the women and said it was probably something smaller, like a bobcat, at our altitude.

No one is poo-poo'ing now.

Early Friday morning, a full-grown mountain lion was spotted. At the school. Eeeek! I actually talked to the guy who saw it and confirmed it was an actual mountain lion, not someone's cat who had a little too much cat chow and got all huge and crazy.

I spent the rest of the morning Googling "mountain lion safety" and obsessing over this Web page.

But it's not all mountain lions and bears. . .and coyotes. . .and foxes. . .around here. We've got some less threatening wildlife as well.

Here are some pictures from August and the start of school that show a little bit about what we've been doing and the wildlife we've been seeing.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Freeze! Drop the Broccoli and Put Your Hands Up!

Last week a friend sent me an e-mail that said the following:

If you saw ME in a police car what would you think I got arrested for?

My response to her was immediate. I said she would be arrested for Driving While Intoxicated. . .on Diet Doctor Pepper (you get one guess as to who it was).

And so I was curious. As I often am. What would my friends say? I figured it would be Driving While Sarcastic. But do you know, not one person referenced my actual driving skills, except for my "loyal" sister who assumed I would be arrested for road rage. In my defense, I don't think I've road raged for a very long time. Having kids and/or living in a small town tends to change your behavior. The neighbors just don't take kindly to me flipping them off around here.

So what did everyone say?

The very first response came from a different Christie who was sure I was going to the Big House because I was caught selling bootleg organic fruits and vegetables.

A few others agreed with her.

Kristie thought I'd flattened the tires of Eamonn's opponents at a bike race (which I think I'll try in the future, just for fun).

Cari thought it would be for getting my, um, breasts out in public--a long ago reference to a saying Eamonn shouted at me after imbibing with a little too much Christmas cheer at a holiday party. Everyone thought it was hilarious. I can laugh about it. Now. But I won't reprint the "saying" here because I'm sure there are public decency laws on Blogspot.

But to a person, everyone else said I would be arrested for protesting something. Jen even wrote PROTESTING in big, huge capital letters--she apparently feels strongly about her answer.

Marci went as far to say I was protesting something for Greenpeace and everyone got tired of it and called the cops on me (this sounds scarily real).

Other people weren't sure what exactly I was protesting--just general protesting.

I have to say, I was surprised. I don't think of myself as a protester, but apparently that's not the case! I always thought I was just standing up for what I believe in. Are they the same? Heck, I don't know.

But the whole thing was hilarious and I got a good laugh out of people's answers.

And now, I've got to go make some picket signs. We're having an eat-in at a local park on Monday to make Congress aware of the need for more funding for school lunches.

I'm totally serious.

Check it out and see if there's an eat-in in your area and you can join me in the back of the cop car.

OK, so maybe I shouldn't be surprised so many people said "protesting."