Saturday, December 12, 2009

Last-Minute Shopping for Crazed Elves

I HATE Christmas shopping at the last minute (a week before Christmas, in my book), especially at a mall. I have done both in the past. I will never - ever - do so again.

Remember the big torturous machine that sucks away life in The Princess Bride, that the villains hook up to Wesley, when one of them softens and shouts a warning about the power level: "Not to 50!"?

That's what it does to my soul to leave any Christmas shopping - especially at a mall - until the last minute.

Before I began any online shopping, I vowed my soul would never again be shattered by the hot, dry mall air pumping around pretzel kiosks, the jostled elbows in narrow aisles, the rows and rows - and rows - of Bath and Body Works lotion. So I began year-round buying and planning. I started emailing myself links to sites with good gift ideas for people I know. I buy Christmas cards during clearance sales right after Christmas - sometimes wrapping paper, too.

Well, when the economy slides towards a telephone pole like your vehicle on a poorly salted winter road, not much shopping takes place, period - at the mall, online, or year-round. Instead of browsing catalogs, you browse craft ideas. This year, our Christmas giving looks more like "tokens of appreciation", sprinkled with a few things from gift certificates I've won - especially with the approaching arrival of our own little Christmas bundle of joy, Jack.

But maybe your stock actually rose, or you left all your shopping shamefully late, or your boss had a stroke and started handing out hundred dollar bills, or you woke up from a coma and said "Crap! I need to buy gifts for all the nurses who cared for me during my 18-month hiatus from the conscious," or maybe you're the only person who is making a lot of money during this recession - the inventor of the Snuggie. For those of you who've been hiding from the Christmas shopping you know will be more painful the longer you wait, here are some last minute ideas.

The Gifts That Keep On Giving: Treats from Non-Profits & Faith-Based Organizations

Do you have a Secret Santa work party with a $20 limit? Did you draw someone's name and realize all you know of her is that her cubicle is covered in dog calendars? Help furry friends -and save yourself a trip in the frigid air - by ordering these slippers from the Humane Society; the organization's shopping page even has a separate "dog store" and "cat store." With such a high foreclosure rate, local humane societies are overflowing with pets - there are a lot of stories of guilt-ridden owners dropping off animals at a shelter and speeding off, without leaving any history on the dog or cat, like shot records, age, behavior around children, etc. This shelter actually had to euthanize 600 animals in one month. Or, if you'd rather keep your giving local, donate dog or cat food to your area shelter and give your Secret Santa pal a card with animals on the front, explaining the gift.

The Humane Society also has Christmas cards you can purchase - at $17.50 for 16 cards,
they're much more pricey than the Wal-Mart bargain box, but much less pricey than the thick, calligraphied cards nestled in gold-lined
envelopes at the bookstore. Personally, I would consider these cards to be a part of the gift, or would purchase a box to use sparingly for a few dear friends or family members. Of course, if you know an animal lover/stationery nut, the box of cards in itself could be the gift.

Do you need a gift for a seminary-attending, coffee-guzzling brother-in-law? Mystic Monk's Jingle Bell Java blend is a gorgeous mix of holiday aromas that would warm the hearts of Scrooge and the Grinch all at once. I was given some last Christmas and give my solemn oath of product endorsement. Roasted by monks in a Wyoming monastery, Mystic Monk coffee is a quirky alternative to a Starbucks gift card, and is helping out a fellow faith-based organization, not just a large corporation. (Not that there's anything wrong with Starbucks. Starbucks and I have a beautiful relationship.) At $10 for about 2/3 of a pound of whole bean or ground, it's comparable to the prices of the massive chain, too.

Speaking of yummy Catholic goodness, have you tried Gethsemani Abbey's Bourbon fruitcake? The Wall Street Journal has. Made down the road right here in the Bluegrass,Gethsemani Farms' sweets are mouthwatering. Alright, so not everyone is into fruitcake - although if they had this fruitcake, they would be - but the monastery - and former home to famed Thomas Merton - also offers Bourbon fudge...a great hostess gift.

These beautiful blankets are near and dear to my heart - mostly because one of them came

home to me as a gift several years ago, and has been my favorite blanket ever since. Sari Bari provides training and work for women coming out of the sex trade in India. The blankets and bags are hand
stitched by women who use this labor as a means to provide for themselves instead of working the streets, as they used to. They're crafted from old saris, a haunting reflection of the redemption at work in these ladies' lives.

But sometimes you need something smaller - a stocking stuffer, a gift for kiddo's teacher, a small-budget "token" - and then, I say, Send In The Nuns. Check out these beautiful Sugar Plum soaps made by, you guessed it - some sisters in New Jersey*. At $4, you can't beat the price,

and reportedly, this soap works miracles (aaahahahahaha) on dry, sensitive skin - they have a bar for "gardener's hand." They also have more seasonally-flexible scents like the alluring vanilla bean and pink grapefruit. And if you have an ongoing, friendly religious debate with a Catholic pal, well, what better to get him or her than nun-produced soap. Of course, if you're Catholic, you can give it to your Protestant buddy and tease that they'll need it to cleanse their Pope-rejecting soul! Either way, the purchase supports a faith-based organization - and makes your shopping easier.

If you'd like to get something special for your Old Testament-loving pastor

(and people, show your appreciation to your pastors/priests this
time of year!), and you'd like to support food pantries (all of the demands are up at food pantries right now), you can get an Isaac/Ishmael representative treat basket from Foodzie - featuring rugelach and ma'amoul cookies (Jewish...Arabic...get it?). Anyway, all of these products featured on the Chow Charity page include charitable donations to major food pantries this Christmas season, which means when you make a purchase, you're supporting a small business, you're getting something unique,and a portion of the profits support food banks. Wow, that's making your money work for you. And after all, who doesn't need more bacon peanut brittle in their life?

And to finish it off, because sometimes, you're looking for a gift that doesn't donate to any charity, feed any hungry, or multi-task in any way - when you need something simply to make a person laugh - well, I would go amiss without directing your attention to this keeper:

For additional ideas, visit:

And don't forget to Save the Publishing Industry, and give magazine subscriptions! I was given a Martha Stewart Living subscription for Easter last spring and continue to love, love, love it!
Because if you don't have time to flip through a magazine, you're too busy.

*Recommended by The Anchoress Online.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bright Copper Kettles and Warm Woolen Mittens...

It's that time. There is peppermint ice cream in the frozen food section of the grocery store. Josh Groban's technically proficient, if interpretively tepid version of "O Holy Night" is reverberating the icicles via Christmas radio stations. Churches have been greened. Bluegrass residents are wearing their annual look of shock at cold temperatures, and schools are being closed when a light dusting of snow gathers on sidewalk corners. (The first dusting of snow led to over 100 accidents in Lexington alone. Kentucky is perpetually Surprised at the Arrival of Winter. I think it's because it always coincides with UK basketball season - and of the two, UK basketball is on everyone's mind more. Need I remind you of the sweet nursing home lady who couldn't remember how many children she had, but who knew quite certainly that she was a UK fan?)

Advent has been a little stop-and-go for me. I love Christmas in all its tinseled, theological glory. This year? A blur. I'm pretty sure it's related to expecting a child in early January. Normally, I'd be indulging in crafts, lots of baking, lots of movies. Now, I don't want to be on my feet a lot, the crafts are for the nursery, and I'm too tired from finding great stroller dealers at consignment shops to stay awake for much Dickens or even Chevy Chase.

That, and having an essay deadline hanging over me (essay's not due til the end of January, but since the baby is due before that...must get cracking, and I'm not talking The Nutcracker...). Freelance projects are still popping up, baby shower thank-you notes lie blank and ready to be written, I'm literally months behind on long chats with far-away friends, Christmas cards lie blank and ready to be written, and hey, I still want to bake those Martha Stewart lemon cookies featured in my recent Christmas edition of her excellent magazine. Oh, and I need to add things to my It's Labor Time bag for the hospital. There's a letter of reference to compose, and fabric sitting on the dining room table next to a silent sewing machine. Has the tree been watered recently? Yes, yes, Sweet Husband did that the other day. Did I write the follow-up email to the interview? Yes, yes, I did that the other day. Whoa, but the secondhand dresser for the nursery still needs painted with something that has "cashew" in the name. Dayquil and Nyquil for Sweet Husband? Check. Juice? Check.

When all these thoughts begin to pile up like evil, leering presents under a monstrous, consuming nightmare tree, it's time to step back. If it doesn't get sewn, okay. Daniel Martin Moore's "Christmas Time Is Here" plays in the background. I breathe. If it doesn't get baked, okay. I write long lists to organize my thoughts, my tasks, my emotions. I think about Mary and Joseph and the third trimester trek across rough roads and how she didn't go to childbirth class and I wonder if Joseph delivered Jesus or if some seedy-looking hotel manager's wife cut the umbilical cord. I wonder how much Jesus weighed. I wonder if anyone gave Mary breastfeeding tips, or if she got frustrated and cried against Joseph's shoulder. I hope the shepherds knocked before they came in.

I think that times like these, it's important to step back a bit and consciously adopt a posture of receiving, rather than one of acting. There are times when you build character, and times when you draw on character - and I think, in seasons of fatigue or unexpected limitations, it's important to passively allow God to take you where he will. Overachievers, take note.

Advent is to be received, not performed (pastors - take note). Childbirth will be both acting - hey, there's a reason it's called labor - and receiving - you're receiving this child, this experience, whatever it entails. Jesus' Incarnation was not initiated by humans: that is one of the most important implications of the Virgin Birth. Jesus came, unexpected, uninvited, uncreated.

Receive Christ, then, this season, as you do in Holy Communion. You can put up a tree: you cannot create Christmas. You can get a great deal on The Toy for your kid: you cannot create Christmas. We receive Christmas.

Receive Christ, and the celebration of his birth, this year, and be blessed.

Monday, December 7, 2009

We Are The Champions...

Ah, Queen: what a triumphant anthem of victory; no false modesty, just a blaring shout of visceral good cheer.

And I Am That Champion.

Okay, okay, it's through no skill of my own. And I'm not so much a champion as a winner. And I'm not really doing anything To Win other than fulfill basic requirements. But that doesn't kill the buzz, all the same.

And I've prayed this little tongue-in-cheek, yet sincere, prayer: "Lord, you know the year we've had. Lord, we've been laid off since March. And oh Lord, I know the winners of these giveaways are determined by random number generators on - but Lord, you directed the casting of lots in the Old and New Testament, which means you can do it now..."

What's all this about, you ask? Turns out there's this whole teeming world of Mom Blogs on the internet - mostly stay at home moms. Turns out advertisers have discovered that word of mouth promotion via Mom Blog sites is really productive. So there are a bunch of Mom Blogs that review products - but those advertisers are wise. They often give one to review, and one to give away to A Lucky Reader.

So I started entering these giveaways because of the baby stuff you can get - small things, like onesies, to large things, like strollers. The host Mom Blog always has a basic entry ("go to Graco's website and tell me one other product you like") as well as other additional entry opportunities. I never do all of those, usually just one or two, but it ups your odds of winning.

And so far, my personal winning tally is...

A toy Oreck vacuum cleaner (not received yet)
A toy Hugg-A-Planet stuffed globe with labeled countries (in the nursery as I type - educational, woohoo!)
A $75 gift certificate to (coupon code available for use any time)
A $25 gift certificate to (coupon code available for use any time)
A Wicked Jack's Tavern rum cake from Aroma Ridge (already digested by friends and loved ones)'s creme de la creme....

A new XBox 360 Elite prize package for Sweet Husband!!!!!!!! Yes, I can type that safely here, because Subtlety Is Not My Strong Point, so when I got the confirmation email, I screamed, and when he came into the room, I clapped my hand over the monitor and wheezed, "I won you something!", but of course was too excited not to tell him, for which he was very grateful.

"I wanted to try to wait to tell you, but..."

"WHY would you wait to tell me???"

And so on.

The source of scanning all these marvelous giveaways?

You'll notice a "select category" drop-down bar, from which you can choose to look at giveaways for baby stuff, giveaways for tech stuff, etc. I never check the "sweeps4bloggers" giveaways, they look too generic to me. But the other avenue is that in gleaning extra entries for things, I've become an email subscriber to a lot of these blogs - which yes, means that I get like 15 emails a day from them, but I just quickly glance through and delete them if there's nothing I'm interested in, or follow the link to new giveaways they have going on.

There have also been a few giveaways I've gone ahead and entered that I personally wouldn't have a lot of use for, but that would eBay for a very nice sum, thus making it totally worth it if I win.

'Tis the season to be frugal.

The Internet: The Gift That Keeps On Giving. Thanks, Al Gore. Thanks.

*Examples of giveaways: baby stuff, baby stuff, kid stuff, cosmetics, electronics, foods, toys, baby stuff, purses, maternity wear, Etsy seller items, personalized Christmas cards, gift certificates, etc...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Taking the Turkey on a Roadtrip

Many women I know would say, "yep - I've traveled with my husband, too" - ba-dum-bum. But no, I just mean taking Thanksgiving on the road. This year - lo, with child - Sweet Husband and I packed up the car and the dogs and headed from Kentucky to Texas. Ooooh, boy: 8 months pregnant, people. If there's a bathroom between here and there, I've been in it. But the last Big Trip Before D-Day (delivery) went well. Well, except for a Starbucks crisis.

I hate being so stereotypical of a certain generation, but ya'll, there are NO STARBUCKS on the route we took between southern Kentucky, down to northern Nashville, and over to Little Rock. NONE. I was shocked and appalled and goaded into making it my personal mission to find one.

Texarkana. It was Texarkana before I got my half-caf, nonfat grande Gingerbread latte with whip. Just typing that makes me drool. The Gingerbread latte is a slam-dunk.

The other entertainment Arkansas offered on the long drive through was a radio station's name. Yep. "You're listening to OINK, The Pig - where our music is never a boar..." I'm not even kidding. It was real. Unless it was a Starbucks famine-induced hallucination...

We had a great time with Sweet Husband's family: my sister and mother in law threw me a great baby shower; we went swimming with "Grandma" at her senior center pool (dang, is that a nice facility!!), where there are 20-foot slides. Sweet Husband went down them and came up sputtering and bewildered - apparently they're faster than they look! (The life guard actually quietly told him that sometimes the old folks like to go down the slides, but shoot out so quickly that they get disoriented in the water, don't know which way is up, start swimming the wrong way, and have to be helped out by the lifeguard...) Sweet Husband and I were living jungle gyms for our adorable nephews - we now have four; there will be five boys within three years apart soon when Jack is born, and a brave, lone niece is slated to join the gang in January. "Where's Ewisabef? Ewisabef, I'm gonna gobble you up!" Love it. I got to hold new baby boy Davey, which reminded me how satisfying it is to get a smile from a baby. I know, I know, it's pretty arbitrary - will they smile or scream when you hold them? - but a baby smiling at you is like a You Must Be A Good Person badge. We decorated for Christmas. We saw loads of Sweet Husband's extended family. We visited a fantastic Cuban-American restaurant in Dallas, Free Cuba. Gorgeous food, and I'm still dreaming about it at night. Personal chef! Hey, you, personal chef! Go make me that again!

What? Oh. I don't? Dang.

On the way out of town, I got a newspaper - I like skimming newspapers on roadtrips - and discovered that beloved Pioneer Woman was going to be in Dallas. The day after we left.

NOOOOOOOOOOO. Poor buddy Emily has a similar story. It's okay, Emily. We'll just drive to her house someday. I'm sure she won't mind. Let's just go.

So that was turkey on the road...oh, and a fantastic, idyllic touch football game occurred in the backyard after dinner, with the guys roaring and yelling and scrambling and throwing the ball over the fence into the neighbor's yard.

Okay, that only happened once. But it was hilarious.

How was your Thanksgiving? Did you have turkey on the road? Are you one of those rebellious we-have-lasagna-on-turkey-day families? Did you get up crazy early, or even stay up all night, for Black Friday? Is your tree up?

I hope it was a blessed time, a peaceful time with family or friends. With or without "OINK, The Pig!"

Friday, November 13, 2009

You Got A Friend...

So I just had to run over here to The Couch and mention that James Taylor and Carole King are planning a tour together...


Winter spring summer or FAALLLLLLL



Yes I will...

You got a FRIEENNND....

Monday, November 2, 2009

Gnome Sweet Gnome

Heavens to Murgatroyd, where to begin.

10. My back gnome is back. Pregnancy has let the little devil into the house. He follows me around jabbing a screwdriver in my sciatica. Usually when I'm standing still longer than 30 seconds, or walking through a store. I need gnome spray.

9. This stopped me in my tracks today:
I'm frozen. I feel the compulsion to put aside everything else until I've made this. I won't. But I feel it.
I'm telling you. Bloomacious is the new...whatever you love. I mean - lemon meringue cake? Deep breaths. In. Out.

8. Feeling stressed? Crazy, whacked-out insane? Go to and make a Vince Guaraldi playlist. It's doing for my soul what conditioner does for frazzled hair.

7. Why am I posting now, as opposed to, say, days ago? I'm posting now because I'm procrastinating, THAT's why. I've taken on a couple freelance gigs, one of which is the size of an ancient Egyptian pyramid. Good part: something to do during this...sabbatical...of unemployment. Bad part: what? unemployment office wants to know when I do this kind of thing so they can deduct my earnings from my unemployment check? What the...Anyway. What's the project? It's an enormous amount of material that has to be gone over with a fine-toothed comb for any copyright-relevant references in it. Ever read something that quotes a hymn? Okay. Well, ever read something and wonder, "I wonder if they have permission to quote that copyrighted text and composition?" Aaaaand there you have it.

6. I did nothing for Halloween this year and it was both poignant and great. I'm too bulging to dress up. Give me yoga pants and a giant sweatshirt. And a heating pad for my back. We'll have lots of fun in the future dressing up Jack as things before he can voice an opinion, then taking photos that Will, Ironically, Haunt Him.

5. There's a fort in my living room right now. Don't ask.

4. OH: documentaries. If you want to laugh out loud and see something really unique, watch "Young@Heart." FANTASTIC. Netflix has it; I'm sure Blockbuster online does, too. Ever wish you could see a bunch of senior citizens singing Coldplay? Today, that wish has come true. They have a blast. It's so bittersweet and true to life. And their "I Feel Good" rendition is just...well, the whole thing leaves me speechless.

3. For some reason, I really love the Curious George movie. I know, this is like three years after it came out. But be that as it may, I love it. Speaking of a movie, did you know babies can sense some light through your pregnant belly at a certain stage, and will sometimes move towards the light source? I knew I was aiming my belly at things for a reason. You and I both know that all babies have a periscope they sneak out of your belly button to get a peek at the world.

2. What's that? You want to know if I'm going to have an essay appearing in an upcoming book? How strange you should ask. What a coincidence. I hardly know what to say.

Okay. We all know that last part is never - ever - true.

But yes, I will have an essay in a book on Sherlock Holmes and philosophy - due out late spring, early summer 2010. My essay will be on death. I'll give you more details when I got 'em. I'm super excited about the opportunity.

And, 1. My friend Melissa and I have due dates a week apart, and recently I was blessed with the chance to see her.

Because when she's not here, I'm forced to do this:

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Captain's Log

Aboard U.S.S. Enterprise. Crew has sustained surprising events over the past twelve months and now has fielded new challenges. That, and Spock's been acting funny ever since I beat him at UNO.

After losing a job, spouse losing a job, extended guest visit, and spouse's mysterious three-month stomach illness (Bones tells me it was a Klingon parasite), the exhaust pipe fell off the only three-year-old Enterprise while cruising at normal hyperspace speed. Had to call in intergalactic towing vessel. While Enterprise's makers repaired it, crew adjusted to loaner spaceship during asteroid storm ("rainy day" on earth) but failed to make all necessary adjustments. Crashed loaner spaceship. Crew fine but monitored in sick bay for eight hours as precaution ("hospital" on earth). But apparently after my stay in sick bay, Bones' menu didn't agree with me. On way back to base, in crashed loaner spaceship, I was sick all over the deck.

For kicks, made Scotty clean it up. "Arghh, it's too muuch vomitt, sar, I do na' have enuff pooer in my cleanarr to get i' all."

He had it coming. He beat us all at "Cranium" so badly Lieutenant Uhura cried.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Pork Roast Remix

A Pork Roast was mentioned here recently, but unfortunately, the surrounding adventure kept getting interrupted.

Ladies and gentlemen, today, The Pork Roast Remix, live, with no interruptions.

(Clears throat.)

It was a dark and stormy night...(or an average autumnal day).

Battling hurricanes, wildebeests, and killer bees, our heroine travels to find sustenance...(I had to buy groceries).

She slogged her way through a death trap of dead animals and gleaming butcher knives...(Sometimes the meat department has great sales. I shop the sales.)

What's this? A pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?...(Some kind of pork cut for a stellar buck-twenty-nine a pound.)

But what does fair lady do with a pot of gold? Ye Olde Stock Market is bad...(I'd never cooked this kind of pork before in my life.)

She worries not. She will Find A Way...(There were basic instructions on the back, which boosted my confidence that This Could Be Done.)

After lugging the pot of gold home on her burro through a bayou of rattlesnakes and Amway salesmen, she presents her treasure to her rugged husband...("Eat something light for supper, I just looked up a recipe online for this huge hunk of sales meat and it won't be
done 'til at least 9 or 10 this evening. In other interesting news, this is the kind of pork 'they' use for making pork barbecue. Now that I have a recipe, I have to go back out and get apple juice and barbecue sauce.")

Our brave heroine follows the ancient wisdom passed from woman to woman on what to do with a pot of gold, putting it in a roasting pan in a hot oven, drenched in apple juice and brown sugar, covering it with foil. She sits in a corner and braids her Rapunzel hair for the four-and-a-half to five hours it takes to roast, then tunes her harp. (I hadn't started watching the new season of "Project Runway," which is fascinating creatively and seamstress-ly, so I caught up on like six episodes.)

But what is this? Disaster! Neither dragons nor invading armies nor the plague can outwit this tragedy...(After following the direction not to open the oven the entire five hours, I opened it when it should be done - to find that not only had the roast failed to be fall-off-the-bone tender, but that it also...still bled when I poked it with a fork.)

Lament! Wail! Rend thou thy garments, woman, and roll around in the nonexistent ashes of thy pork roast. (This oven runs hot: could it be that setting it 50 degrees low like always was too low for a slow roast? It didn't help that I discovered the foil that covered it was wrapped the wrong way. And I don't have a meat thermometer.)

"Sweet husband, fetch thyself some dinner of substance. This pot of gold may be cursed. I have much watching and waiting to do...(From here on out, this Friday night turned into a regular checking of the pork roast every hour to hour and a half. At 1:30 in the morning,
I declared the end to be in sight - another hour should do it.)

After keeping watch over her errant treasure with much trepidation, yon heroine fights the temptation to succumb to despair and rest. She valiantly battles the cursed pot of gold, determined to wrest from it sustenance for her family.

At 2:30 in the morning, as darkness blanketed the heart of the Bluegrass, light shone on the heart of our heroine: 10 hours from starting time, the pork roast was done - tender, falling off the bone. As the heroine felt what little enthusiasm her exhausted heart could muster, she willed to taste the object of her fury.

It was worth it.

Especially since her hamlet grocer kept stores of Stubb's Bar-B-Q Sauce.

Our heroine and her valiant Knight husband consumed the pork roast with much merriment and joy. They ate it and ate it some more. The pork roast continued to give forth much bounty as they thawed what they had frozen and continued to sup on the riches of this mysterious pot of gold. Over a week passed before the entire pork roast had vanished into the valiant Knight's ravenous appetite.

In our next adventure, the heroine outsmarts the pot of gold, knowing it must take lo, many hours - but she chooses to best her enemy by means of a crock pot instead of her oven. Will it survive? Will Valiant Knight be fed again for many moons, or will the roast defeat the crock pot strategy?

Only time will tell.

About nine more hours of time.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Perhaps I've inherited it from my Grandpa.

Well, it, and a wild passion for puns.

The "it" I'm referring to is a keen fascination for unique foods. Now, unemployment being what it is, there are obviously seasons in life created for indulging in unique foods, and seasons in life in which you return to the familiar comfort of the basic (and on sale).

But I love exposure to interesting cuisine. International, ethnic, global; boutique, cottage industry, local; it's fascinating to consider different foods even within the continental U.S. In Wisconsin, they'll make you try cheese curds (pictured left); in Indiana, you inevitably buy fresh sweet corn from a roadside stand; in New England, you'll find yourself staring at a bright red lobster; in the South, someone will make you taste fried okra and pork barbecue. A trip to Michigan will yield venison stew, and we haven't even touched the unique dinner plates on restaurants in New Orleans.

I'm a fan of homemade, too - different denominations, nay, even different congregations have their own specialties (as we've noted in a review of an unfortunate Episcopalian
potluck!). Recently, I was flipping through a cookbook from my mother-in-law's church and discovered several different recipes for something called "Dr. Pepper cake". (That mystery is solved by knowing that Dr. Pepper has its origins in that very region of Texas.)

So it's with delighted fanfare that I mention Foodzie to you. The Pioneer Woman commented on it recently, and ladies and gentlemen, I'm in love.

Do you ever wish there was a bakery nearby besides the purveyors of hard, stale, tasteless bread in Wal-Mart? Do you think to yourself, "my friends in The City have so much to discover and explore, while my options are limited to new display stands at the gas station?"

Welcome to Foodzie. The site describes itself as "an online marketplace where you can discover and buy food directly from small passionate food producers and growers." So while the site gives you one place to go and browse, you're actually purchasing directly from the bakers, candy makers, and so on. There's chestnut jam, spiced pear butter, and strawberry marshmallows; there's Indian curry brittle, orange pecan granola, and roasted red pepper cheese bread; there's buffalo jerky strips, lavender sweet and savory shortbread bars, and dark cacao macaroons.

Some of the products are pricey; some are about what you'd spend on chocolates from, say, Godiva; and some are fairly inexpensive. There are great gift ideas in here as the holidays approach, if you're the "throw together a unique gift basket" kind of person. And it's also an interesting venue if you yourself own a small business or cottage industry and are looking for more exposure. If you're the kind of person who thinks, "that's an interesting combination of ingredients, I think I could make that at home...", then it's also helpful as a springboard for fresh ideas in your own kitchen.

I love the idea of supporting small businesses, especially in this economic climate. My sister-in-law is blessed with a great local dairy in her region, so that she gets milk in glass bottles straight from the town cows. It's fascinating - though pasteurized, it's not homogenized, so you shake the bottle before pouring.

I long for glass bottles of milk.

And Foodzie is another tiny step in supporting small businesses that function like the northern Ohio dairy.

If you have any experience purchasing from Foodzie, let the rest of us know your personal review!

I should add - especially with Salvation Army bellringers just around the corner - that this post is meant in the spirit of luxury, and not every-day treats; our nation's food banks are taxed to the limit, and my appreciation of fine cuisine does not ignore the need for basics and staples in your local food pantries. So if you need to purchase a pastor's Christmas gift, a hostess present, or a "thank-you" gesture, Foodzie might be a unique resource for you; but if you're looking for ways to reach out to your community, there are plenty of people thankful right now for a few cans of green beans. Both are appropriate in their contexts and seasons.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Jindal's Ideas

Check out the credentials on this guy...

Gov. Bobby Jindal has written an op-ed for the Washington Post on conservative options for health care reform. It offers a variety of ideas for the kinds of ways that health care in the U.S. can be improved for folks; and interestingly, it does so in a way that engages him in a key issue for the current administration's tenure.

And you can tell the difference between a politician and a statesman, which are rarely one in the same: I think he has the potential to be a savvy politician and a substantive statesman. Why? Because he actually knows his stuff. It's not hard to sort out leaders who parrot what advisors are feeding them from leaders who generate their own ideas, from their own experience.

A quick glance at his page on Wikipedia reveals this: "In 1996 Foster appointed Jindal to be secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, an agency that then represented about 40 percent of the state budget. During his tenure as secretary, Louisiana's Medicaid program went from bankruptcy with a $400 million deficit into three years of surpluses totaling $220 million. Jindal was criticized during the 2007
campaign by the LouisianaAFL-CIO for having closed some local clinics to balance the budget. In 1998, Jindal was appointed executive director of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare, a 17-member panel charged with devising plans to reform

And that doesn't include his experience at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar.

You can read his thoughts here, titled "The Conservative Case for Reform":

Who knows, he might even give former Gov. Sarah Palin a run for her money with the hunting/fishing folk...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Jack does it again...

Not Baby-in-the-Womb Jack.

C.S. Lewis. "I can't imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once."

Aaaaaand that explains my bookshelves.

On this autumnal day, relish the change of seasons, the feel of a good book propped between your hands, and a nice toasty beverage.

On another note, I'm loving these Estee Lauder ads on the site today. I think it's the color.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


There are so many problems in the world. You can get bogged down quickly by thinking about them. I mean, even just last night, the Detroit Tigers lost a big tie-breaking game. Why? WHY? Why do bad innings happen to good teams?

There are so many problems that one has to be careful which to highlight. I have no rubric, no set, standard criteria for what I discuss here at The Couch (um, no kidding...). Mostly, topics here involve what I'm passionate about, or terribly flawed arguments that irritate me, or recipes that I could make over and over again, or bizarre stories from the family archives.

But today, I'm mentioning an actually serious thing. Not just my chicken and dumplings tragedy, not just my terror at a long, endless aisle full of rows and rows of baby bottles. Not that those aren't serious, in their own way, of course.

"With all the horror in the world," you may quote from What About Bob?, "what difference does it make?"

Well, the fact that President Obama appointed a man to help lead Safe Schools who has publicly declared being inspired by a big NAMBLA supporter does make a difference.

Oh. What's NAMBLA? stands stands for North American Man/Boy Love Association, and no, I'm not making that up, and yes, I wish I was. It's an organization that supports...that supports...

(Eyes shut tight, speaking quickly)

That supports sexual relations between adult men and young boys.

"Wait," you say; "you have my attention now. Could you repeat that?"

(Eyes shut tight, speaking quickly)

The guy Obama appointed to a position of leadership in education has said he's inspired by a famous supporter of NAMBLA. Kevin Jennings is now the Assistant Deputy Secretary of the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, in the U.S. Department of Education. On another note, he also failed to report a suspected case of statutory rape when he worked in a local educational system - the case involving an adult male.

I hate bringing up serious things here, Sweetness and Light Central. But it has to be done. I don't care what your political views are, what your ballot said last November, etc. If you want to know what a person believes, don't listen to what they say; watch what they do.

Either A) this is a case of deeply failed vetting - the process by which candidates are screened; B) the appointment was made with little concern about the man's admiration of NAMBLA supporters; C) the guy's views are seen as enlightened and tolerant, and therefore not problematic; or D) the powers that be thought no one would notice.

The gentleman appointed by Mr. Obama is a practicing homosexual. Am I against the employment of practicing homosexuals in political administrations? No. Do I have friends and family affected by homosexuality? Yes. I'm not here today to talk about homosexuality.

I'm here because many people would be concerned that a guy who has a history of activism and extreme educational views** has been placed in a position with a lot of power. What disturbs me most, personally, is that someone with sympathies for an organization associated with what most people still call "pedophilia" now has a national position of power in the educational program "Safe Schools."

It's astounding. Good heavens, it's's like stocking a school system with convicted sex offenders. Not because the gentleman is homosexual; there are many homosexuals that do not support NAMBLA. It's his admiration for a famous NAMBLA supporter that I find astonishing. Further, if I was a convicted sex offender driven from communities by residential laws and living under an overpass (like in Miami), I'd be pretty steamed that I was homeless under a bridge while a guy who actually supported the practice of my crime was appointed to a position of national importance.

Yes, there are a lot of problems in the world. Starving populations, disease, sex trafficking, drug and substance abuse, brutal poverty. Today, I'm mentioning this one, not to start a partisan debate, but to help alert people of all (or no) political persuasions that Something Went Wrong in an important process, and that your feedback to your elected officials is important.

We now return to our regularly scheduled Sweetness and Light.

**This link takes you to an article that references circumstances I deemed Too Explicit for this particular site, because I don't ever want you to associate a gag reflex with reading something on my blog. Well, the cat urine escapade may have already broken that ideal, but you get my drift. You may do your own research from here on out.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Brief Ode to Pregnancy

Soon, I will tell the Real, Authorized Adventure of the Pork Roast (unabridged).


Today, a brief nod to pregnancy. Occasionally, I have "pregnancy is..." thoughts. "Pregnancy is working out by countless trips to the bathroom." "Pregnancy is elastic waist bands." And so on.

It's eternally amusing to sit in the Pregnancy Office waiting room surrounded by bellies. Belly with stripes. Belly with cropped jacket. Belly with outie showing through form-fitting material. Belly with shirt worn last two pregnancies. Belly with rain jacket.

For some reason, it reminds me of Monty Python's "Spam" skit. You can hide that belly, you can expose that belly, that belly can come in tan or pale or rich brown, you can drape that belly or layer over it, but at bottom, they are all bellies. Lots of bellies. Bellies in one room. Belly, belly, belly, striped belly, belly, belly.

I think that waiting room bathroom must get a lot of use.

The Big Red Couch isn't just getting used, I'm pulling over a footstool and a heating pad. The Big Red Couch is getting....stretch marks on its upholstery. Gasp.

But this is Knocked-Up Fun Time. Morning sickness and nausea are traumatic memories of the early summer, heartburn has quieted to a dull roar, for the moment, I don't find myself falling asleep for an hour every afternoon. We know that it's a boy. We are naming him Jack.

("I am Jack's healing umbilical cord stump." "I am Jack's messy diaper." Name that bizarre pregnancy-pop culture crossover...)

Knocked-Up Fun Time includes registering. Wait. Did I say fun time? AAAAHAHAHAHAHAHHA.

Okay, mostly it's fun. Except that if you think Brides and Bereaved are the only ones targeted as a demographic for Rite of Passage cash, think again. Have you felt your brains marketed out by veil options, tuxedo choices, or coffin liners, along with that heavy "this is important" feeling? I thought marketing for weddings was bad. Just wait until you have a baby! 7,000 different bottles, 372 strollers that convert, shield, protect, jog, or have traction for your frequent Himalayan hikes.

Different safety ratings on them all. A deluxe Crayon box full of color choices - and then there are patterns. Pink, blue, and we-don't-want-to-find-out yellow. Monkeys, planes, cartoon characters. Target alone? A $72 stroller that folds up as small as your golf umbrella, or a $700 stroller that I think had a rotisserie chicken function on it somewhere for the luxurious on-the-go parent. It's so bad, Sweet Husband pointed out one ad to me that pitched "we have limited selection for your convenience" - which, to a naive outsider, looks silly, but to One Who Has Been Through the Crucible, looks heavenly.

And then there's used. eBay. Craig's List. Relatives. Garage sales. Consignment shops. From "gently used" and beyond.

Don't even get me started on eco-friendly! There are fair-trade fabric burp cloths, cloth diapers, infant sweaters from recycled wool, "green" baby bottles, and a few things actually not made in China.

Oh, that conversation? It went this way:

"Oooh, let's get this!"


"Wait - let me look. Doggone it, made in China. You know they recently exported a bunch of toys to the U.S. with high lead contents? LEAD? And a bunch of infants in China died from tainted formula they manufactured? And what about their one-child policy and systemic human rights abuses?"

"Honey, everything is made in China."

"I just hate not having many other options, even these famous, name-brand..."


And that was when Sweet Husband took the package from my hand and scanned the bar code. Which, when all's said and done, was good, or it would've taken us twice as long to get through because of The Rant That Happened Every Aisle until he finally sighed, turned, and, through unusually gritted teeth, said, "Honey. Everything is made in China. You're just going to have to deal with it."

I dealt with it. After all, registering is supposed to be fun.

And then, for better or worse, I opened up the feedback lines on Facebook and asked for opinions on the registry items from Those With Parenting Experience. I got no less than about four differing opinions on bottles alone. I decided to rein it in and consult Some Experts: my sisters-in-law. (They have four, soon to be five munchkins, between them.)

Why did I start this post again?


Work-out videos.

In these economically burdensome times, one cannot always continue one's gym membership, but of course, wellness and fitness are important in healthy pregnancy. And the fall weather may prohibit extended outdoor activities. But in these times, one also gets very bored very quickly with eight-year-old Tae Bo tapes.

And then I thought of YouTube. Oh, YouTube, what would we do without you?

And in the land of YouTube, there's a fantastic woman with a very pregnant belly who provides 8-10 minute workout segments, including warm-up, specific muscle areas, and stretching. And the Fantastic Woman from the land of YouTube is a doctor, and a nutritionist, and uses YouTube as her video venue, so you don't have to worry about accessing copyrighted material. Did I mention she has a big belly?

A fitness instructor with a big belly is such a comfort.

Go here to her profile page; it includes all her Pregnancy Exercise videos, as well as a few videos of healthy recipes...

I promise, someday, you'll hear about my pork roast.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Adventure of the Pork Roast

Before I get to the gripping saga of me and a certain pork roast, class, we have a new student today. Class, say hello to...

"US Gov Info"

"Hi...US Gov...Info..." (trailing off in confusion)

Class, US Gov Info comes to us from...well, I'm not sure, but I'm sure you'll all be friends in no time. We're glad to have you, US Gov Info.

US Gov Info can sit over in Janie's old seat...which is next to all of you in the "Followers" section on the right-hand side. For those of you gone with the flu lately, US Gov Info joined us a little while back. I hope you do what you can to show US Gov Info around the halls to classes.

And now we're going to return to our topic: The Adventure of the Pork Roast.

Oh. You have some questions. Yes, Becky? No, no, I'm not sure why US Gov Info moved here. Maybe you can ask at lunch.

Now, the thrilling tale of the pork roast - yes, Tyler? Well Tyler, I'm guessing that we inadvertently did something to get US Gov Info's attention as a school that looked desirable to attend. Now, who can tell me - what IS it, Lauren? - Lauren, yes, it is possible that US Gov Info isn't our new student's real name. Anything is possible. I suppose you're right, Lauren, it could be "marketing web trawler" or something, but that doesn't seem very likely.

Really, now, we need to get to our lesson. This diagram of hog butchering will show us that the pork roast - this really has to be the last interruption. What is it, Ron? Ron, I've already explained, we don't know why US Gov Info's family moved here.

I do wonder in retrospect, though, Ron, if it has something to do with these words, that I've realized have been in recent discussions: chemicals, dying, government, Nazis, doorstep, explode, Republicans, Democrats, cannon, China, Iraqis, death row, evil, blast, and Nazis again. Now of course, Ron, as we learned in English, context is important in interpreting meaning. But Ron, if you're a web trawler searching for combinations of certain words, context isn't taken into consideration.

Like chemicals in an artist's studio. Or Ernie Harwell dying of cancer. Or Nazis forcing the British to live on rations for years and years. Or doorsteps being a place in Loony Tunes animation where packages are left to explode in Elmer Fudd's face. Or Republicans and Democrats...existing. Or antique cannons being used by history nerds. Or China harvesting organs on death row. Or Iraqis having oil problems involving Chinese companies. Or the philosophical problem of evil. Or "blast! This mop is defective." Or "I have a charming childhood anecdote about a parent inadvertently scaring me with stories of Nazis."

You see what I mean, Ron. In this fearful age, sometimes things are taken out of context. Like Democrats like to claim that Fox news takes things out of context. What, Ron, what? We're never going to get to the pork roast now. You think I use a lot of violent imagery, Ron? Well, I think there's a lot here that isn't - like acorn squash recipes.

Yes, US Gov Info? What's that? It was the - it was the acorn squash recipe that drew you here? Now you see, class, this is what happens when you jump to conclusions about new students. Here you were, with all your questions, and it turns out our new friend collects recipes.

You should be ashamed of yourselves.

We'll revisit pork roasts tomorrow. Class dismissed.