Monday, December 31, 2007

A Last Minute Gift

It was Christmas Eve and I was out shopping with my son. I thought I had raised him better.

I remember many holidays when I worked retail—in high school, college and thereafter. Somehow I was placed in the lingerie department and then, when I graduated college, I managed a department store lingerie area. By then I had grown a little smug and called it Panty Land.

It was the worst place to be on Christmas Eve. Every man in town seemed to wait until the last minute to shop for his wife or girlfriend, and I’d find myself holding up various intimate items for them to consider. It was humiliating. They never knew sizes and I’m sure a lot of women were disappointed Christmas morning. I promised myself never to wait until Christmas Eve to shop.

And then I had boys. I will give him credit. He had half of his shopping done. And he had a good excuse for waiting: he needed some money and used his Christmas cash from his grandparents to pay for some of his gifts.

So we headed out to buy his dad something from Boater’s World, and he wanted to buy his brother a pet, specifically a turtle. We scored a captain’s hat for Dad and then headed to where the pets go. I had to keep him focused on the mission at hand. One minute he was showing me his mad bird-catching skills and the next we were contemplating a snuggly puppy.

Finally we located a red-eared slider well within his budget. For five dollars, I figured we were home free. But there was a catch. The salesperson said you couldn’t leave the store with a turtle unless you purchased the turtle set-up (or rip-off, in this case), to the tune of $150. Thanks, but no.

Without a plan B, we put a make-shift plan B into action, and he guided me over to Rodent World. There he played with various hamsters and gerbils that looked curiously similar to their cousin I had snapped in a trap in the garage a few weeks ago. Just missing a tail...

Now, we’ve had various pets: dogs, lizards, frogs, fish, etc., but I had always drawn the line on a pet that had whiskers and sharp teeth. And then he found the dwarf hamsters. By gosh, they were cute. So we picked out a fuzzy little grey guy, bought the Habitrail and headed home. Little sister dubbed him Small Pie, and he went into safe-keeping under a blanket in big brother’s room.


On Christmas morning, the unveiling occurred and Small Pie was an instant success. He keeps his owner up some nights, running rabid in his habi-wheel, but it looks like he’s here to stay. Dad just had one warning: Keep Mom away from him with a sticky trap.

Friday, December 28, 2007

What did you get for Christmas?

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday. My husband and I both commented that this Christmas seemed especially nice—low-stressed and pleasant. It doesn’t hurt when the weather is sunny and the temperature hovers around 60 degrees. No, I don’t miss the Midwest in the winter.

Writing my blog around the holidays was difficult since I couldn’t wax on about what I’d found shopping or the gifts I was eager to give, but now I can. One funny incident happened at a music store while shopping for a keyboard stand for my son. Right by the cashwrap was a small pink drumset. My daughter had already said that she’d like to have a pink drumset, a pink guitar, and a pink microphone that wrapped around her head like Hannah Montana. I knew I was doomed. I told the guy at the register to look out. As my daughter finished walking around the store, she approached me and saw the drumset. “Perfect!” she squealed, bending down to inspect it more closely. “Told ya,” I said to the guy behind the counter. He just laughed. Luckily she forgot about it soon afterward.

For me, books are always a favorite—to give and to receive. This year I bought my husband, “101 Things You Should Do Before Your Kids Leave Home,” and for my son, “101 Things You Should Do Before You Graduate.” I’m hoping they’ll find them inspiring.

For my other son I bought “Doodles: A Really Giant Coloring and Doodling Book,” and my daughter loved an Angelina Ballerina book we hadn’t read before. I bought my mom an audio version of “A Christmas Blessing” which she enjoyed listening to while she sewed. My mother-in-law reads voraciously and doesn’t mind their being pre-read, so I bought her a box of books from a little used book store I love. My sister scored a gift card from Half-Price Books from me since she reads so much I could never keep up with what she hasn’t read. And I gave my friend Jennifer a Paula Deen cookbook and “Blue Christmas” by Mary Kay Andrews.

I bought a Jennifer Crusie book for myself and yesterday bought a second. I had never read her books since I don’t read romance, but I found “Bet Me” to be a fun read that was a cross between “The Wedding Date” and “How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days.” It kept me up past 2 a.m. the other night because I had to see how it ended. Lots of fun. Now I’m reading “Faking It” which is about an art forger and a con-man.

So, what did you get for Christmas that had you squealing, “Perfect!” or at least made you smile? And what are you reading that you love? By the way, a new author I discovered when I queried her agent is debuting her first book in Feb. Advanced free copies are being made available through Ballentine while supplies last.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Shopportunities

I’m a really good shopper although I don’t see it as a recreational sport, as many women are accused of. I’d rather stay home and bake cookies than fight the crowds at the stores. The bad thing about shopping this time of year is I see things for myself. And buy them. Some of them. Yesterday saw a book I wanted at Half Price Books, and since it was used and, well, half-price, I bought it. Merry Christmas to me. “Thanks! It’s just what I wanted,” I said to myself after I got in the car.

I think the years of working retail have irreversibly influenced my shopping. First of all, I rarely buy anything that’s not on sale because I know the markup and that it will eventually get marked down. I found myself straightening the racks yesterday at a children’s clothing store. How do they expect people to buy things if they can’t find them? Force of habit.

The level of customer service really gets to me. I used to train sales people and I also hired secret shoppers to review my mall stores. So when I approach a glassy-eyed salesperson and ask them a question, I expect a well-trained response which doesn’t include, “I don’t know. I just started working here.” I want to say, “Then ask someone to train you better.”

Probably worse than being clueless and admitting it, is the assistant manager who “helped” me buy Christmas lights at Walgreens this year. She was clueless but presented herself as knowledgeable. I asked her how many strands of lights it took to light a 7-foot tree. I was thinking two or three but since they were buy-one-get-one-for-a-penny, I had to buy them in pairs, so I had four boxes in my hands. She looked down at my stash and without a moment’s hesitation said, “Oh, it’ll take at least that many.” I bought the four boxes and by the time I had three strands on the tree it was sufficiently glowing. If I had listened to her, I would have bought more than four. I’d rather her say, “I have no idea. Just buy a lot and bring back what you don’t need.”

A few weeks ago I found an item I needed online and then called my local branch of that store to see if they had it. They did but couldn’t find the box or the cables needed to work it. So I called the second closest store. They didn’t have it either but offered to call around for me and find it. By the end of this shopping adventure I had talked to four different people who all work for the same retailer in different locations. The level of service ranged from extremely helpful to the guy who told me he had never heard of the item. Hmmm.

It just makes me wonder how much good sales-training really does. Or does personality play into what makes a good salesperson. The guy who helped me at Half Price Books yesterday was super nice. He even let me tell him the price of the book my daughter had in her hands and didn’t want to hand over to him to scan. But how hard is it to love working at a book store? I know I would if I could find the time…

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Where can they go from here?

I am in the kitchen, washing dishes, minding my own business when it hits me like a slap to the back of the head. “Mom, have you ever had a yeast infection?” I wheel around to face my son and realize he has just seen a commercial on television for a feminine product.

In a flash I weigh my odds. I can say yes (I had one once, twenty-plus years ago) and see him later in health class with his hand up, offering to share the information on Infection Day. Or I can lie and tell him no. I opt for the second choice. He returns to eating his after-school snack and no more questions follow.

But days later, I am still annoyed. Not at him or his innocent question. I’m annoyed at the advertisements on daytime and primetime television.

I believe Courteney Cox might be partially to blame. In a recent interview, she claimed to be the first person to use the P word on television. Yes, folks, before she was cutting a rug with The Boss on stage, she was touting tampons for when you get your PERIOD. It seems a loose cannon was set off in the advertising world.

My brother-in-law was similarly victimized when watching television with my niece. She turned to him during an advertisement and asked him, “Dad, do YOU suffer from ED?” She heard the statistics of erectile dysfunction, did the math and figured the odds were, he did. For me, I will never be able to look at Bob Dole the same way again.

Now, I’m all for advertising to sell your product to its intended market. But I wish some products would take the same high road that tobacco and hard liquor took many years ago and stick to print. Finding an ad for erectile dysfunction in my husband’s golf magazine would not surprise me at all. I wouldn’t even care if they got a little tacky with lines such as, Is your putter not performing like it used to? At least the odds are my children won’t see it. And even if they did, they might not get the double meaning. Yeah, they probably would.

When my boys first saw an ad for Levitra on television and asked me what it was, I told them it was a vitamin for men that helped them throw a football through a tire swing. But I’m afraid the days of my not-so-forthright answers are running out as the ads get more and more suggestive. And from their giggles, I'm sure they know.

Before you accuse me of not shooting straight when it comes to my kids’ questions, let me assure you we’ve had plenty of talks about puberty and its trappings. When our daughter was born, we used all the proper terms in talking about her birth. Even before that, my older son asked me what a tampon was after seeing a vending machine in a family restroom at the mall. (Only he didn’t pronounce it right, making it sound as though it rhymed with harpoon.) I told him I’d tell him what it was when we got to the car and I did. Only my younger son objected to being informed and held his hands over his ears chanting, “I don’t want to know, I don’t want to know!”

So the next time I see an advertisement for a product to help stimulate a male with ED, watch out. I will probably be the one in the room with my hands over my ears shouting, “I don’t want to know, I don’t want to know!”

Monday, December 10, 2007

What's your lovey?

I’m on a readers’ panel advisory board for a parenting magazine. Before you start to get impressed, let me nip that in the bud. All it involved was shooting them an email stating I’d participate in monthly email requests for reader participation.

Back in the summer they were fishing for unique ways to make the getting ready for school routine easier. Hmmm. Just how do you coax a teenager out from under the covers? Humanely. I’ve tried turning the light on. Pulling his bedding off him. Kissing his face until he shrieks. Finally the threat of I am NOT driving you to school if you are late, eventually has him stumbling from his bed. Not exactly a technique to share.

Then before the holidays, I received a few emails from the magazine looking for holiday memories and traditions to share with other readers. Again, my mind drew a blank and, with a click of the mouse, the emails went into the trash file before I could let myself stew over the fact that I had nothing worth writing about.

The latest request had me tapping my chin. They wanted to know about a special lovey or favorite toy your child had become attached to. Both of the boys had pacifiers they couldn’t live without for the first two years of their lives. Then they carried around stuffed animals and little pillows I made for them. Again, nothing very remarkable.

But then there’s my daughter and her special go-to for comfort. My mole. Weird, I know, and believe me, I didn’t write in to the magazine about this either. (Not sure what’s possessing me to share it here…) I have a mole on my collarbone that she discovered back when she was breastfeeding. I don’t even remember when she first started touching it, but somehow it became a source of comfort for her.

Now, whenever she is upset or can’t get to sleep or just needs to be comforted, her hand will find its way inside my shirt until her fingers touch my mole. We tease her about it, call it the magic mole or momma’s mole and the boys taunt her with, “Moley, moley, mole!” until she squeals. I told her this morning I was going to have Santa bring her her own mole for Christmas and have it put right on her collarbone. Then she could touch it whenever she wanted. She just grinned and said, “No, Momma. I like yours.”

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Best Sugar Cookies

Around this time last year, I got invited to attend a book club. One of the women at the club shared a story about bringing sugar cookies to her child’s school under the guise as being store-bought since homemade goodies weren’t allowed. She purchased a plastic container of grocery store rolls, dumped out the rolls and put the cookies in their place. They looked store-bought, but she knew that they were hers and insisted that her recipe was the world’s-best.

I felt as though I had met my alter-ego, and I knew I could never be friends with this woman since we were too much alike. I also knew she was wrong; I have the best sugar cookie recipe. It was given to me by an old neighbor in Alabama—where, by the way, my most favorite recipes have come from. I love southern cooking and it was in Alabama that I learned some cooking and entertaining methods I will always use.

I will share the recipe with you now. You can either sprinkle sugar or candies on top before baking or ice them after they’re cooled. Either way, they are yummy! This is double the original recipe so feel free to halve it. My thinking is, if you’re going to make a mess—make a big one!

Soft Sugar Cookies

¾ cup unsalted butter (not margarine), softened
¾ cup butter-flavored Crisco
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 t. real vanilla
2 t. baking powder
2 t. salt
5 cups flour

Mix together the first five ingredients, then add the last three. Chill dough overnight or at least until firm. Separate into three or four sections for ease of rolling out and roll on a floured surface. Cut with cookie cutters and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 4oo degrees for 5-7 minutes or until edges just begin to brown. Remove immediately to a wire rack to cool.

These are yummy and, although I have a tendency to convince others that I’m right (isn’t admitting it the first step to recognizing you have a problem?), I wasn’t compelled to make up a batch and take them to her house so she could compare them to hers. I’m sure if I did, she would have insisted hers were better. And in her mind, she’d be right.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

House of Ill-Girl

Hopefully this is the last feel-sorry-for-me-because-my-kid-is-sick post for a while. Yesterday, we were back to the pediatrician for my daughter’s persistent cough. If she were a teen, I’d accuse her of smoking. She certainly has that hacker cough. When her doctor asked why we were back so soon, I told her we were trying to use up flex plan money before it expired. That or we heard they had a frequent visitor program and we’re racking up points. Before the doctor could accuse me of Munchausen by Proxy, my daughter started in with a coughing fit that would rival the Marlboro Man’s.

Diagnosis: Walking pneumonia—not to be confused with rockin’ pneumonia or the boogie-woogie flu—which, either one, would be a lot more fun. Three prescriptions later, we were on our way home.

I read through the side effects of two of the meds and noticed one warned she would be more susceptible to other illnesses. No matter. I hadn’t intended on taking her anywhere for days. We are going to hole up at home and get this cleared up.

After a dose of antibiotic, steroid, and a breathing treatment, I thought she would be ready for a nap. I know I was since she’s been waking us both up at night with her coughing. As soon as I took the mask from her face, she popped off my lap and started twirling around the den. Apparently no one in the test market exhibited the uncontrollable need to dance as a side-effect.

I guess I need to call her doctor and see if she’ll prescribe me the same drugs—or as the woman said in When Harry Met Sally’s famous café scene, “I’ll have what she’s having.” Because right now, I am not feeling like a very twirly-girl.

Yes, I love it! No, really, I do!

I’ve had several appear in my inbox before. You know, the different versions of “Getting to Know You” Q&As that make the rounds. Someone comes up with 20+ questions and you fill in the answers and pass it back and along to your friends.

The other day I got a new one—a Christmas version that asked your favorite song, favorite gift, etc.

There was also a blank for the worst gift you ever received. Of the few I saw, runner-up goes to my cousin, Kendra, for receiving some plastic green army men from her great aunt. I’ve known her all my life, and not once did I ever mistake her for a five-year-old boy. What was she thinking?

Hands-down winner is my sister, Amy, for getting the anniversary collector’s edition video and book set of The Exorcist. From her husband. Yes, nothing says, I love you and Merry Christmas like a horror movie.

So, what is your worst gift ever? Can you top Amy’s?

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Can you retire from this?

I just read online that Pamela Anderson is retiring. I don’t know about you, but ShOckeD is not a word to describe how I felt reading this news. In fact I was more stunned when I saw Peter Frampton on a Geico commercial. Where’s the hair, Peter? And what you have left is white!

It’s just a fact of life that we all are getting older. Some of us still have hair (and for some it’s still styled like our high school senior pictures!), but all of us have to deal with changing bodies. The other day I patted my daughter on her seat and told her she had a cute boochy. “Yours is jiggly,” she said. “And so are your boobs.” Can you see this child having NO friends in high school if she continues to be compelled to tell it like it is?

I half-fell out of bed in the middle of the night trying to spring myself free from the wedge of bed created between my husband and daughter. He had a leg over mine and her arm was over my chest and in my shirt. It’s nice to be loved, but please. I really like to sleep without being pinned to the mattress.

I managed to land on the floor without breaking any bones or wrenching any major muscles, but it wasn’t easy. But I’m sure later I will feel the effects of catapulting myself without first warming up.

The other day I tried to entertain the boys with the ol’ fake walking down the steps routine, or the fake escalator ride. (As in the Austin Powers movie and more recently, a BudLight commercial.) They were at the kitchen table and I was on the other side of the island. I did the fake walk down the stairs and tried to disguise my knees popping with a cough or two. And then I did the escalator ride. And then…I couldn’t walk because of the burning in my thighs. Apparently I do have muscles and they aren’t accustomed to squats.

Time to try and reverse—or at least stall—the aging process and work out. Or I might just be like my namesake, Ms. Anderson, and retire from trying to keep up with my kids.