Friday, February 29, 2008

Diet Crazy

On Michael Ruhlman's blog yesterday, he talked about America's fat problem, and the general public's whacked out ideas on nutrition, that are fed by media buzz and fad diets that villify certain ingredients.

We have a serious fat problem in America. It has nothing to do with our obesity problem. We also have a salt problem, and it’s not about hypertension. Fat and salt are the leading bugaboos in America’s on-going national diet program, the wrench in the spokes of our quest for good nutrition, the evil forces which, in our fearful helpless craving for them, prevent Americans from achieving their whole-grain, high-fiber, all-natural, Rocky Mountain health. And what can we do about it?
Eat more fat! Salt your food naturally.

He goes on to say:
I say unto you: Fat is good! Fat is necessary. Ask any chef. Fat does not make you fat, eating too much makes you fat! We aren’t filling our bodies with sodium because of the box of kosher salt we use to season our food, we’re doing it with all the processed food that’s loaded with hidden salt.

I happen to agree with him, wholeheartedly. I have long been of the opinion that eating healthy food and eating delicious food can be the same thing. There are very few foods that are truly bad for you, just amounts that are bad.

I remember doing a health class exercise in the fifth grade about nutrition. We had to choose cards with the nutrition facts of different foods and draw a bar graph showing the amounts of vitamins, calcium, protein, fats, etc in them. One of the items I chose was deluxe pizza. Of all of the graphs that we lined up on the chalkboards, later, mine had the highest amounts of all of the different categories, and I made some comment about the pizza being the healthiest. Immediately, my classmates began to make fun of me, because there is no way that pizza could be healthy, no matter what our bar charts said. Sure, it had plenty of fat, but between the crust, veggies, meat, and cheese, it was a meal in itself.

I have never been able to stick to a diet, a fact which I'm beginning to believe is in my favor. My weight has had its ups and downs over the years, but not significantly. Not long out of college, I spent a couple of months working 6-7 days a week with our lunches and dinners ordered from restaurants (and plenty of donuts available in the mornings), and at the end of it I weighed 10-15 pounds more than I do now after two children. Breastfeeding has given me a nice metabolic boost with both children, but my weight stayed comfortably at my pre-pregnancy level in between children as well. These days, I weigh about 3-4 pounds less than I did before Charlotte. I chalk it up mainly to eating better.

I don't eat a low-fat diet. I would call it a moderate-fat diet. I don't eat a low-carb diet, though I eat a large portion of my carbs as whole-grains (the rest probably comes from chocolate, lol). I love meat--especially beef, and I can match my husband ounce for ounce on steaks. I love vegetables, crave them, and really hate most canned ones. When we do try to grab a quick bite to eat out, my husband probably cringes every time I say that I want somewhere with veggies (and chips and fries don't count)...we eat a lot of Subway and St. Louis Bread Company. I like salad dressings and butter, and did I mention chocolate? And, I completely count the calcium from ice cream as meeting part of my daily requirement--I also eat it in a coffee cup and not a bowl (easier to scoop out enough to be satisfied without it looking skimpy).

Whenever I eat a lot of truly junky food (greasy burgers and fries, chips, too much caffeiene), I just plain feel yucky and start overeating, probably my body's attempt at filling the nutritional gap. But, I also start having food cravings when I don't get enough fat in my diet, and find myself binging on sugar or bread in an attempt to feel satisfied. It's amazing the difference a little olive oil or peanut butter can make in my attitude towards food.

I prefer my food to be both healthy and delicious. Asparagus? Wrap in prosciutto, or drizzle with olive oil, s&p, and oven roast it. Yumm, I think we have some waiting in the fridge. I always include a dash of salt when cooking my oatmeal (old-fashioned rolled oats, sometimes with rolled barley and/or a sprinkle of flax seed meal), the salt brings out the flavor of the cinnamon and brown sugar. My occaisional coffee? More often than not a decaf mocha with whipped cream (Most places use skim milk these days without having to ask). I doubt a day passes that I don't have a piece or two of chocolate. These days it has to be dark, or I overeat on it too...wonder if there's some nutrient in there that my body craves.

I learned a couple of interesting lessons on that day in elementary school. One is that healthy food can be good food. The other is I can't always convince people to agree with me. I guess that leaves more pizza for me!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

She must get it from her father

At 5:25PM yesterday, Charlotte, Trystan and I were in the lobby of our community center, waiting for Charlotte's weekly dance class to begin. We had arrived 7 minutes earlier, just enough time to dress in pink tights, long-sleeved pink leotard, pink chiffon ballet skirt, and a pair of pink slippers that are about two sized too large. My totebag held many useful items: diapers and changing pad, toys for Trystan, my cell phone, a bag of Teddie Grahms for the ballerina; however, it did not have a hairbrush. Luckily, the dress code is not particularly strict, and a headfull of loose and tangled hair would not earn me any disapproving frowns, or lose her any stickers on her weekly scorecard. Then again, I'm not sure anyone could see whether Charlotte's hair was tangled, as she "waits" every week for dance class at a full sprint.

The lobby area where the parents wait is about 20x20, with chairs set around the perimeter and a large-screen TV at one corner, tuned to the evening news. Charlotte warms up for class in generally the same way every week: running laps in the open space between the chairs, occaisionally stopping to eat a few bites of snack, or to feed her brother. She greets the other girls, and occaisionally shares her snack with them as well; she has learned to ask their parents first before doling out food, though I rarely pack anything with nuts or other objectionable ingredients.

It would be a lovely half an hour for me to catch up on world events, or even to read, if it weren't for Trystan. Exactly once in the last 6 weeks, he has fallen asleep enroute and snoozed through most of the class. The rest of the sessions, he has spent crawling at top speed towards any interesting object: other girls' dance bags, Charlotte's snack, the TV cabinet where a thoughtful person has left a small bag of extra screws and several sheets of paper instructions. The toys work as a distraction for about 30 seconds of our entire adventure. They do, however, serve as lures for attention from the older girls. Trystan has acquired quite a following among the 6pm class, who have already mastered the feminine way of cooing and fawning over a baby. He flirts shamelessly with all of them, hoping to snag a hat or a spare shoe, or, like last night, an entire Dora the Explorer backpack to play with.

Charlotte really enjoys her class these days, and her previous separation anxieties are long gone. Nowadays, she begs for tap shoes, though I tell her every week that she has to wait until she turns 4. We are all exhausted by 6:19 when we get home, and Charlotte can be horribly grumpy. Dinner generally perks her up, and I suspect that she needs more fluids; despite a half hour of post-sprint dancing and a bag of graham crackers, she had insisted that she wasn't thirsty yesterday. I tend to be thirsty too, as I quit bringing my ever-present water out of the car after the second time I spilled it in my bag. Juggling a baby, a preschooler, and anwieldy totebag through a parking lot makes me feel less than graceful.

We are generally inclined to allow our little athlete some rest time on dance class days by watching a "short show" or two (current favorites being Dora or Max and Ruby). Last night, although Charlotte had previously been granted approval for after-dinner TV, she curled up with her Leap Pad for a long stretch of quiet play time instead, followed by architecting block towers with her daddy (where they butted heads over wheter or not to include board books as structural features).

She had a late burst of energy during a conversation about what the Easter Bunny might bring her, and began running in circles again, though in a much more confined spot in our living room. I couldn't help but laugh out loud at her, in fleece footed pajamas, running and saying "The Easter Bunny brings grapes and apples and jelly beans and grapes and jelly beans, and More Jelly Beans, and MORE JELLY BEANS!" You would think she was burning off the sugar rush instead of anticipating it.

Monday, February 25, 2008

What are you reading?

Do you subscribe to any magazines or journals? Do you like them? What are they? I don't know how many responses I'll get to this, but I'm curious to see any and all.

As I've mentioned before, I do a lot of reading, and am not overly particular on what I read. Well, I am sort of particular, but I don't, for example, just read a single genre to the exclusion of all else. I don't read a lot of book-length nonfiction, but I won't say never.

On the subject of non-book-length nonfiction, my taste in magazines is all over the place too. Truthfully, except for a few cooking magazines, I should rephrase that to "my distaste in magazines is all over the place". Right now, we get Cooking Light and Cook's Illustrated, and I've had a subscription to Better Homes and Gardens forever, which isn't horrible (not great either, though--kind of unsatisfying in cooking, family life, decorating, and gardening all at the same time). We got Rolling Stone for about a year as a freebie with some concert tickets, and that was one of the more interesting subscriptions in recent years, but I felt too uneducated about the music and media business to follow anything but the long articles. We get Parenting (or is it Parents?) magazine, not because it's great, but because my daughter loves the Sesame Street kids mag that comes with it (and it's cheap). I used to subscribe to several sewing magazines (Burda, Threads..), but those became expensive eye candy (though I'm getting a decent amount back out of my Burda collection, thanks to Ebay....), and always made me annoyed about the time I don't have to spend creating some of the beautiful garments they would showcase. We have a handful of software journals, but I rarely read those (don't feel like reading about work once I'm gone, somehow).

I keep wondering if there is something out there that would be interesting to read for more than a year or so. The pop-culture mags don't seem to fit--Vogue, Glamour, Cosmo, etc. I rotate through various home-type ones (Traditional Home, Southern Living, etc), but they get kidn of repetitive after a while (and the rooms they feature are horrendously expensive). I keep tossing around the idea of National Geographic or Popular Science, or ? I just don't know. So, I'm curious to see what other people read. Maybe it'll spark some ideas...

Sunday mistakes

We were invited to a wedding over the weekend, and I'm bummed to have to say that while the ceremony was lovely, I have no idea how the reception went. We actually arrvied late to the ceremony (wouldn't have been so bad, but carrying recalcitrant preschoolers while wearing heels and parking 1/2 mile away after circling the place 3 times doesn't make for speed). After sneaking in the back, I realized that my kids were the only ones in attendance. I had vaguely remembered that there was a note about babysitting being available during the reception, but I hadn't gotten a chance to re-read the inserts that were sent with the invitation right before we left (I'd done a basic skim the day before for starting time and locations). I had a vague idea that there might be a babysitter set up in a side room somewhere with videos, but I really wasn't sure.

Apparently, the reception was "no children" at all, and the babysitting was offered at the bride's mother's house, and I'm not sure whether it was for their out of town guests or just anyone. By the time we figured this out, the ceremony was over, Trystan had woken up from his nap with a stuffy nose, goopy eye, and was coughing nonstop (which meant my husband spent most of the ceremony hiding in a stairwell with him so he wouldn't interrup things). We just went home at that point. When I got home, I re-checked the invite and saw nothing written anywhere about babysitting or the no-children. Maybe it was on the RSVP card (that we sent in long ago).

I am not upset with the wedding couple at all--they have every right to choose their guest list and to exclude children (especially kids of friends...we aren't family or anything). They were also nice to set up babysitting. I do wish they had marked the invitation or the direction/hotel insert or something, so that those of us with a million things on our minds don't show up and feel like schmucks for not remembering something like that. I'm sure that Emily Post or Miss Manners or whoever sets the "rules" these days could probably have read what we received and understood immediately that there were to be no children, but I'm much more used to technical writing. Say it, say it clearly, don't expect the user knows rules that you aren't explicitly referencing, and make sure it's user-friendly (i.e. on the actual invite that the guest holds on to, not the rsvp card that they mail in a month in advance).

We have at least 2 more weddings coming up in the next two months or so, and I guess we'll need to make certain of the specifics for those, and try to remember to hire a babysitter before 2 days ahead if there's any doubt. Having kids does make these kinds of things a lot more expensive, doesn't it? The ironic part is that the reception was being held at a children's museum.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Twice Shy

While Trystan was still in the NICU after he was born, I had to pump to establish/maintain my milk supply for when he could eventually begin breastfeeding again. My milk came in at an astonishing rate, probably because it had been less than a year since Charlotte was weaned. She nursed until she was around 19 months old, and I really enjoyed that time with her. With Trystan, I was worried that he would have trouble breastfeeding, or would end up preferring the bottle after sampling the preemie nursers that practically pour the milk into the babies mouths. I decided at the time that if I had to, I could just pump and feed him my milk in a bottle, as clearly my body was responding fine to the pump, and because the thought of drinking processed powdered milk gives me the icks. Happlily, my little guy came right back to the breast and has stayed there after we came home. I have pumped while at work and for other occaisional separations, but I have always breastfed Trystan while we're together.

Always until about the past week. Trystan is approaching a year old, and is eating table food (nearly as much as his sister at some meals), and probably does not need as much milk as he did a couple of months ago. However, the little guy has decided to treat me like he does his pacifiers--and gnaw on me occaisionally. Ouch. Ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch. Trystan has two bottom teeth already, and I think he's working on a top one as well. His sister didn't cut her first tooth until nearly 14 months, and though she went through a "biting" phase at about this same age, it was more annoying than painful. And she would only do it when she was done nursing, while Trystan is doing it instead of nursing.

Yesterday, he was home on a pseudo-sick day (had run a fever at daycare the day before, but was symptom free all day), and he only actually nursed once, at about 4am. He takes a laxative every day that has to be mixed in fluid, so he generally takes it in one of his daycare bottles (he still doesn't like juice, crazy kid), and so I gave him a bottle in the morning for that. After his afternoon nap (when he woke up with a dry diaper, and immediately tried to bite me when I offered milk), I gave him another. My husband fed him a third at bedtime, though he did nurse a tiny amount (more for comfort, as he hadn't latched right to actually drink much) before he fell asleep. I managed to pump twice in the evening, but my regular pump is at work.

I wasn't intending to wean him by his first birthday. I wasn't intending to switch him to bottles. But the kid has got to have fluids, both for normal health and because his laxative keeps him from absorbing all of it (more fluid = squishier poop, you know). Darn it, I like breastfeeding him--it's cozy and exceedingly convenient. I will probably keep offering the milk to see if he gets over this phase soon, though I get nervous every time I do now, for fear that he'll actually break the skin one of these times. But I'm afraid that I will be spending the next month feeding plastic bottles two or three times a day and counting down the days till I can hang up the horns.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

It was free, but not exactly lunch

Today after church, we went out to eat. My husband's birthday was last week, and my MIL's is today, so we had a rather large group--my family of 4, MIL & FIL, SIL & BIL & their 8-month old twins. Table for 10. We went to the Krieger's on Oakland, you know, where the old Kiel Center used to be. Just to be really clear, I'm talking about this one.

MIL & FIL arrived first around 12:45 and were shown to a table, square in the middle of the main dining room. I think they were hoping for one of their quieter side rooms, but it would work. SIL & family walked in right in front of us, and everyone set about arranging the 3 high chairs and 1 booster we would all require for lunch. I immediately took Trystan to the restroom to change a soggy diaper, and found no changing table. The floor of the handicapped stall was not particularly clean, and there were no paper towels. By the time I'd wrestled Trystan back into his clothes and packed up the changing pad, I figured I'd missed placing a drink order.

If I had missed it, then so had my 9 dining companions. In fact, we all missed it. Heartily. Thirstily. For at least 15 minutes, if not more. The 4 or so servers in the place were all deliberately ignoring our table (quite an impressive feat, as we were smack dab in the middle of the place). No one would make eye contact with us, and none of them responded to polite "excuse me"'s. I belive it was my MIL who finally walked to the hostess station and demanded that our server be found, and that someone at least bring us water.

Water did arrive shortly thereafter, followed by a slightly apologetic server, who took our entire meal order. She seemed surprised that we were all ready, despite us telling her that we'd had plenty of time to peruse the menu. Well, all of us, except for Charlotte, who was never provided with a kids' menu or their customary crayons. She had perused the adult menu and chosen macaroni and cheese, which the server tried to tell me was not on the kid's menu (note the kids' choices are not on the adult menu). I don't think that I was particularly friendly in my reply to that. Actually, my husband had trouble deciding as well. You see, he was sitting at the far end from where the waitress had rattled off their anti-specials: the list of items that they were out of (including wings, caesar dressing, their fish n chips special that was still listed on the board, and several other items). I think it was the wings and caesar that caused hubby the most difficulty.

By now, the twins had been fed, and Trystan was pretty well fed up with Cheerios, though he was quite entertained by his sister who'd learned the trick of dribbling water into his mouth with a straw. I think he consumed 3 ounces or more of her water over the following 20+ minutes as we waited for our food. Our drinks did arrive shortly after we ordered them.

I suggested once that I could probably have driven through the Steak n Shake drive through down the street and brought it back to eat before our water arrived. My MIL made a similar joke about ordering from Imo's. The lady at the table behind me leaned over at one point and complained that her dish had been served incorrectly twice--it was fish and not cooked enough to be edible. I told her that we hadn't been served at all. The next table over in front of us was seated, placed their orders, and were eating before our server arrived the one time. By the time they had been handed their check, SIL and I were both bouncing babies (she in an attempt to entertain hers, me in an attempt to distract mine from hunger).

We got up and packed up. My FIL did finally catch the manager, who appeared to be making laps of the dining room and kitchen, doing no visible work and avoiding us as thoroughly as the servers did. FIL very politely explained that we had been sitting in his restaurant for nearly an hour, and had only grudgingly been served our drinks. He mentioned that they were regular customers (and they were, though were is now a key word here), and felt that this was not their normal pattern of service, but with 4 children, there was no way we could stand such a long wait and such inattentive service. In response, I overheard the manager give a litany of the workers who had not shown up for work that day and other excuses. I'm not sure I heard an actual apology, but I was rather busy explaining to Charlotte why we were not going to eat there today. I believe my FIL generously offered to pay for our food, or possibly just our drinks (I for one had no intention of paying for food that I could not see),but in that, at least, the manager was fair.

On the way out, I saw the servers seating other families, and was tempted to tell them to go home and save themselves the trouble. We all stopped through drive-thrus's and met back at our house to eat. The clock in our car read 1:57 as we started driving.

That was an exceedingly confusing and frustating experience. The manager appeared useless--generally, they would be speaking to their customers and apologizing for their waiting time, or throwing on an apron and cooking or bussing tables or something. This guy just walked in laps. They complained of not having enough servers, but I counted at least 4, and though they were busy, there was not a wait for tables at all. Every one of the adults at our table ordered a salad, and not a single one was presented to us. Even if you're having trouble cooking food for our "large" group, you'd think a waitress or bus person could toss some lettuce and cheese in a bowl and drench it with dressing.

Maybe they were surprised that it took us so long to clear out. Truthfully, I was going to suggest leaving around the time we had to beg for water, but the momentum it takes to get 10 people, with 4 under 4 moving and relocated is rather steep.

Basically, if this particular location isn't already planning to close their doors soon, they should be. The other locations we've eaten at have all been fine, and very family friendly with changing tables, balloons, crayons, and best of all, food.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentines' Day

75% of our household popluation is sick. Charlotte is the lucky holdout this time, though I dearly wish it were Trystan. He has an unnamed respiratory infection that is neither RSV (for which he gets a vaccine anyway), nor flu. He's had a fever since Tuesday, and has produced enough snot since this weekend to ice a cake.

I, being the wonderful mommy that I am, am the frequent subject of his orthodontic explorations as he tries to discover the meaning of the new white structures appearing in his own mouth. Alas, he cannot yet reach the sink by himself, and finds the bottles of hand sanitizer near his changing tables to be fascinating but useless, therefore his little digits are rather potent deliverers of microbes. Thus, I am also suffering from what appears to be an unnamed respiratory infection. My fever had abated by midday yesterday, though.

My husband has been sick for over two weeks, though he's frequently known to tell us that he's turning a corner (I believe his illness to be a polyhedron of very large scale). He has, unfortunately, been working long long long hours for about two weeks to meet a deadline at work, so he's not had much time to rest. Today, in fact, he was taking the day off so that he could relax a little. Instead, he got sick baby duty. I took my day off yesterday (with both kids home, and feeling like crap, so I can't really say I got to relax either).

Not only is schlepping the kiddo to the doc not the most romantic way to spend Valentines's, but today's his birthday as well (though I do hope that his original daytime plans weren't actually romantic either, or we have a lot to talk about....). It is probably up to me to decide what we are having for his birthday dinner, and to prepare, though I'll be darned if I know what to make. Probably steak. We all like steak. And it can't possibly conflict with tomorrow's dinner menu.

In the mean time, I'm hoping that my hubby and his son are getting some rest and cuddle time this afternoon. I'm looking forward to joining the two of them, and our daughter, in the early afternoon at a very exclusive Valentine's celebration, a soiree that forms the very pinnacle of our social season. And, we hear, that a very sought-after family of culinary talents is regalling the attendees with refreshments from a time-honored cookie recipe that has been handed down at least three generations. Personally, I'm hoping to snag some fruit snacks as well.

Monday, February 11, 2008


I spend too much time thinking about bowels lately: whose are moving; whose are not; how much they're moving; what's gone into them; what has not gone in (but should have); etc. Managing Trystan's diet has made meal planning much more of a challenge than ever. The kiddo wants to eat the same food that the rest of us are, but his system is so much more sensitive to what's in everything. Basically, while it's normal for some babies to go a day or two without pooping, its NOT good for Trystan--his system is still healing, and was not normal to start with. Also, he does not seem as able to push out anything that's too thick or pasty, so the consistency has to be pretty soft for him (hey, if you don't want to hear about poop consistency, don't read my blog...this isn't the first time the subject's come up!). He's taking a daily dose of Miralax to help ensure that he's going, and I have another kind of laxative and glycerin suppositories in the cupboard just in case. Also, we have a ready supply of baby prunes and prune juice in the cupboard.

Besides prunes, we have to make sure he's getting plenty of fiber, and enough liquid to balance it all out. This would be much easier if the kid liked juice (or even water), but at least he's finally acquiring a taste for fruit. He's a big fan of anything bread-like, so just about everything we eat has to be whole wheat or whole grain. I did discover that he will eat pureed veggies smeared on cut-up whole grain tortillas (doesn't a broccoli enchilada sound yummy?). There are a limited number of foods that he will suffer through being spoon-fed: sweet potatoes (though he will eat them mashed with his bare hands even faster), oatmeal (I make his with prune juice...sounds yucky, but smells like raisins so it's not that bad), yogurt. Just about everything else must be of a size and consistency that he can feed to himself. He had 3 helpings of green beans last night.

All this food craziness has made me a lot more conscious of how much fiber is in all the food we eat every day. I think it's a good change for me and the rest of the family, as we're actually eating healthier. I've also found that many of the foods that are good for breastfeeding and milk production happen to be high in fiber (whole grains, barley, nuts). I think the recommended amount for adults was like 25 or 35 grams per day (I tried looking online, and found several numbers, so we'll go with this range). I was curious how close I come to that, so I decided to read a few labels as I was packing for work this morning. Here's what I packed for my breakfast & lunch today (and the fiber content) :

oatmeal/barley hot cereal (with brown sugar and cinnamon): 7g fiber (I eat a rather large serving of this...yummy)
vanilla yogurt with cut-strawberries: about 1g fiber (estimate by how much fruit I cut up)

Can of healthy choice soup: 8g
1/2 peanut butter sandwich on whole weat: 2g for the bread, 3 g for the peanut butter
small blood orange: 1g
homemade trail mix (peanuts, cashews, dried fruit mix, m&m's): estimated 3g

So far, I'm at a total of 25g, not including dinner. Not bad. I'm not always this good--that soup & sandwich combo really helps today. My list doesn't count my chocolate intake for the day, but I don't feel like admitting how much I really eat of the stuff, and it has no fiber anyway.

Do you eat enough fiber? Do you care?

Friday, February 08, 2008

An article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch this week announced that Macy's would be closing their regional headquarters here. The headquarters was, from what I can gather, patched together from the remains of the old May Company headquarters before it was bought out several years ago. The company has been having financial trouble, and, surprise-surprise, their midwestern stores are especially struggling after being "re-branded" to Macy's.

I keep wondering if the people who planned the buyout and changeover from Famous Barr, LS Ayres, Lord & Taylor, and the late-addition of Marshall Fields really did any research before plastering up their new neon signs and swapping out the product lines. Did they bother to ask any of their potential consumers about their wants, needs, preferences in shopping? Certainly they did not predict the backlash in Chicago when the huge downtown Marshall Fields's was renamed. Heck, I'm not even from there, just a semi-frequent visitor, and I was sad to know that it was being changed.

Locally, I'm not sure I've shopped in the former Famous Barr in the Galleria more than 2 or 3 times since it changed over. I used to shop there a lot. Their 15 hour sales were always packed, and every time I would wander through the store (I usually parked in the garage outside it), I would find myself drawn to the clothing displays. Lately, when I've bothered to go in, I see it all as an outsider. The clothes are beautiful and trendy, and I alway think to myself, "Who actually wears those?" They remind me of some of the smaller boutiques in the mall, full of clothes for tall, skinny, beautiful, club-hopping women with fat wallets (or at least, large credit limits). Sure, there is a market for that kind of shopping, but a whole department store full of them?

Granted, I do not work in a fashion-conscious industry. As a software developer, I work with mainly male engineers, who consider a pair of khaki's and a polo shirt to be dressed up. But even in a previous job where I was a "consultant" and sent in front of non-engineering customers, expected to dress appropriately, I wouldn't have bought most of what I see at Macy's these days.

I'm not thrilled with their housewares section either. I like to browse through kitchenware and china and crystal, and have been known to repeatedly "visit" items that I'd like to buy (but haven't yet found the budget for). Even there, I'm not that impressed with what they have. I feel like they are providing us with fewer options, not better ones, and their prices went up. Maybe they have to do that in order to stay profitable. But zero sales at a higher price is going to bring in fewer dollars than paltry sales at a less profitable price.

At this point, it would be hard work for them to buy back my shopping loyalty, and they're not going to do it on the strength of their NYC brand name alone.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Talking Chocolate

I am not a vegetarian. I have never had an issue with eating food from the animal kingdom. At the same time, I’m not overly comfortable with the actual act of killing my food. I much prefer to buy my cows and chickens in small bits, wrapped in plastic wrap. I have the same squeamishness about lobster—while I have eaten lobster meat, and possibly a lobster tail, I have never stood in front of a tank and played the grim reaper. If I had been born several thousand years ago (or even a hundred or so), I am confident that I would quickly have overcome that particular weakness in favor of survival and feeding of my family.

Lately, I’ve begun to wonder if there are a lot of Americans who are trying desperately to fulfill an instinctive drive to hunt their own food. There are quite a few who actually hunt for sport (and who eat their catch), but there are even more who are turning to video games to satisfy that hunger. And now, as if virtually shooting deer, monsters, and cops weren’t enough, the manufacturers of packaged foods are attempting to mollify our internal carnivores by providing our food with personality.

Thanks to the wonders of printing technologies, everything we eat from chocolate to taco sauce can now have it’s very own voice that we can heartlessly crush with our appetites. “I Hate Mondays”, one Hershey’s kiss grumps, while another greets me with a modest “Hi”. Yet another is telling me “Congratulations”, though for what, I’m not sure. Our ketchup bottle is trying to sell itself (or maybe discourage us) by telling us that it “Hides Grill Marks”. And, apparently Taco Bell’s infamous sporks are known to pick on their sauce packets when no one’s looking…I know this because the sauce tells me. Other packets have career aspirations and some even propose marriage. Dove’s chocolates are working towards a career writing for women’s magazines with such advice as “Discover yourself first” and “Sometimes a smile is worth more than a dozen roses.” I don’t know that anyone’s yet achieved a Potteresque chocolate frog that actually hops, but I would bet you $1.49 that there are several candy companies working on it.

I’m not sure I like my food to talk to me before I eat it. At this rate, it won’t be long before I’ll be wishing to behead my own chickens, for no other reason than they won’t make any smartass remarks about it first.

Super Fat

I finished both The Kite Runner and Wizard's Daughter about two weeks ago. I was disappointed in Wizard's Daughter. It was a romance but with a heavy fantasy element too--but I found both aspects unsatisfying. Not enough tension in the romance, and the magical world they end up in at the end of the novel just read too much like the characters stepped into a cartoon or something.

The Kite Runner was good, but I do think it took things one step too far. Several books on writing suggest that you think of the worst thing that could possibly happen to the characters at every step, but Hosseini really really took it to heart. It was worth having read.

I'm currently in the middle of Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb, which I'm really really enjoying. Unlike Coulter's fantasy world, this one is entirely believable and full of rich detail. It's my "pump" book as it fits in the skinny pocket on my pump bag. On my nightstand at home I'm working on A Salty Piece of Land by Jimmy Buffett (yes, that Jimmy Buffett). I'm not making as good progress on this one, but that's because I'm not relating as easily to the narrator. He's a cowboy from Wyoming who's on the run from the law and ends up in Punta Margarita in Mexico on the Yucatan Peninsula, restoring an old lighthouse. Interesting, but hard for me to put myself in his shoes for most of the story--I think it's the first person narration. For me, that works better with a woman's voice, or at least a youth's (like in the Hobb book).

Also, today is Super Fat Tuesday. I am exercising my right to vote by declining the option of playing eenie-meenie-minie-mo at the ballot box. A coworker suggested voting for the worst candidate of the oppoisite party, but I think I'd feel awful if I inadvertently helped elect someone I disliked. Besides, I'm not thrilled with any candidate from either party. And, since Charlotte's ballet class is tonight, we wont' be doing any Mardi Gras celebrations either. The bright side: I need to go grocery shopping, but tomorrow is a day of fasting anyway. As long as we have some mac & cheese or pb&j to feed the kids, we ought to be in good shape until Thursday.

Monday, February 04, 2008


Getting peed on is not the most auspicious start to any evening, even less so when you're getting ready for a black tie event. Lucky me I didn't have my dress on yet.

My husband and I, along with my in-laws, were given tickets to the St. Louis Mayor's Mardi Gras Ball Friday night. It's an actual black-tie masquerade ball, held at the St. Louis City Hall (if you've never been to city hall, it's georgous...check the website for last year's photos..). I've heard of the ball before, and always thought it would be fun to go, but the tickets start at like $100 a head. Several years ago, in fact, we held our own sort of Mardi Gras masquerade party at our house, encouraging our friends to don masks and black tie and/or costumes, and we had a smattering of old bridesmaids dresses and dusty tuxes along with at least one friend in drag (who looked amazingly like his sister that night...).

When another friend called on Tuesday last week, wanting to know if we wanted to go to a real ball, it was all I could do not to jump up and down in delight (then again, I might have'd have to ask my husband). I love getting dressed up, and going to fancy parties, and we have precious few excuses to do that these days. Reality hit home about 30 seconds later, when I realized that we had 3 days to find outfits and a babysitter.

My husband owns a tux, so I thought his outfit would be the easiest of all. Wrong. The tux is nearly 10 years old, and he's not quite the tailored 30 waist that he was back when it was purchased, and upon inspection there was not quite enough fabric in his pants waistline to alter it to fit now (not to insult him...he's a quite respectable 32 waistline now, but there were not 2 extra inches of fabric to work with). I went to Kohl's on Wednesday for hose for myself and found that they had tuxes on sale--for $120, I brought him home a brand new one (not inclucing the shirt & vest/cummerbund, which he owns 2 sets of). I'm not sure he could have rented one for that price. I'm not sure he could have found a regular suit for that price. I did have to hem the pants, and the jacket could use a touch of tailoring at the shoulders (he'd fit a 39, but no one sells odd-numbered sizes), but overall it looked wonderful.

I found in my closet the dress I'd made for our own masquerade several years ago (for about $10 worth of materials, if I remember right)--it's a 2-piece gown in purple taffeta, with a full, floor length skirt, and a strapless corset-style boned top that has lacing up the back, exposing about an inch of skin underneath the black cording. Appropriate. Flattering. Still fits (that lacing is fairly forgiving). Price is right. Except: it's impossible to wear a bra underneath it. Even a low-backed bra would show, unless the low back strap went across my butt or something. During my Kohl's trip, I was hoping to find a stick-on bra, preferably the kind that had real cups in the front, and sticky sides. I found only the stick-on cup kind. Those are completely useless, by the way. Maybe I bought the wrong size (they're sold by "cup" size, but a 32C and a 36C would have different "C" cups, so who knows what they intended by "C"), but 1) they weren't particularly supportive, and 2) got kind of itchy after about 10 minutes and 3) the only squishing they did formed my breast into a Madonna-style cone that was not flattering. I tried using some double-sided tape under my arms as insurance to hold the top up, but it stuck only to my skin and not to the dress at all.

In the end, I relied on the boning in the top, and used caution when raising my hands over my head, lest everyone think I earned my beads the old-fashioned way. I think it worked well anyway--the color was perfect for Mardi Gras, and the dress was both formal enough for black-tie and tart-y enough for Mardi Gras without being too slutty. The other accessories: a strand of fancy beads leftover from that party, a mask of the same vintage, black fabric high heels that I bought last year while I was pregnant (they were not too tight even after dancing for an hour! hooray for shopping with swollen feet!), and a little evening purse (that probably cost more than my dress).

We found a babysitter from our kid's daycare. I tried in vain to find a salon who could do my hair (with no appointment on a snow day). I didn't even get around to attempting to curl it myself, as I was busy feeding and changing Trystan before he would stop fussing and let me get dressed.

The ball was fun. The food was great. I made a pitifully small dent in the open bar's supply of wine (1 glass made me tipsy....I have no head for alcohol these days ). I think we missed dessert because we were dancing. The friend who was giving us tickets has worked on the Mardi Gras celebrations for years, and got up on stage at one point to present something to Mayor Slay from his krewe, Zulu (which is establishing their first chapter ever outside of New Orleans).

Hanging from the archways of the upper levels around the center hall and grand staircase were large (2-3 foot diameter) balloons in purple, green and gold. As the night wore on and the dancing got underway, the balloons began falling (with or without help, I'm not sure) and the dancers batted them around the dance floor. It was like a scene from a high school prom with the masses of tuxedo and gown-cladded forms pulsing to the music, except for the men in drag and the super-sized balloons. Looking down from above, the scene resembled a pan of boiling water, with large globe-shaped molecules occaisionally escaping up into the air.

I wouldn't mind doing that again next year...