Friday, February 15, 2008

I Am No Martha Stewart

My knees are knocking as I write this post. My palms are sweaty. My heart is pounding. I am about to write the most embarrassing post to date. You might think that all my posting about my postpartum issues might have been a wee bit embarrassing, or that my post about my down-to-my-waist boobs might have caused me to blush. Oh no. This is the big scarlet A. I am going to share pictures of my house. My very, very disheveled and undecorated house. Now I will freely admit I am not the world's best housekeeper, but try to look beyond the mess and focus on the lack of decorating.

For the past few years, I have gone into other people's homes and felt a twinge of jealousy. These homes are decorated in what I call "furniture showroom style." The scent of new leather perfumes the air. Lampshades and throw pillows are festooned with beads, jewels and feathers. Walls were decorated with scrolled mirrors, ironwork, or manufactured prints. Generic doodads are scattered artfully across coffee tables and bookcases. Mantles hold faux greenery, candles, and bronze sculptures of horses or elephants. Bed are dressed with matching bedding and have pyramids of pillows placed just so. Windows are draped in puddles of curtains. Dining room tables are set with a service for 12 and a massive fake floral arrangement spiked with feathers and other oddities anchors the table. The home literally looks like the owner went in to a furniture store, pointed to the little room arrangements they have displayed and said, "I'll take that. All of it."

I am not jealous of the actual decorating because furniture showroom style is not my taste. But I am jealous that these homes are decorated with something at least, as opposed to the very little decorating going on in my home.

We are lucky to have very generous family members who have given us furniture, which is fantastic because Lord knows how we would have bought it ourselves in these years of me not working. And the furniture is great stuff and I am very grateful for it. Unfortunately though, we haven't added much to these gifts and we have some nice furniture interspersed with Tarjay junk and stuff from our single-days apartments.

On top of that, I have no talent for choosing all the other little stuff that would make the house look more put together. I see stuff in stores and it just doesn't do much for me. I never know which candle holder to get or which knick-knack would look good where. I never feel inspired.

I also am a wee bit of an art snob. I admit it. I just really don't like mass manufactured art. I would rather display original or limited prints of real artwork and I would rather my geegaws be things picked up on a vacation or at an arts and crafts fair or someplace with a meaning connected to it (kind of like my Christmas tree philosophy) or at least be so gorgeous I can't stand not to have it. Unfortunately, these things are usually more expensive than the generic vase at Tarjay and my art budget is well, nonexistent.

Let's play a game. Compare the pictures below and guess which ones are my house and which ones are from Southern Living. Don't worry. It won't be difficult.


Dining rooms

Living rooms




How did you do? Yeah, pretty sad isn't it? We are obviously in need of a home makeover. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Just don't tell me to clean up. That's like battling a force of nature. A 16 month old and 3 year old can put any tornado to shame.

Just in an effort to redeem myself, I will share the three pieces of real art that we have:

Willie by a Nashville artist and friend of my sister and TC.

Robert Johnson's Last Gig by a Nashville artist

My parents gave us this as a wedding present. It's by an artist in New Mexico.

Did I Read That Correctly?

Yesterday as I pulled out into traffic after picking up my son from preschool, I got behind a pick-up truck with this logo blazed across its rear end, minus the steel erectors-crane service box.

Gives a new meaning to the term "handyman," don't you think?

What To Buy When You Have More Money Than Brains Day!

Have you been buying that regular old Perrier or plain Aquafina bottled water in those horrid plastic bottles? Or worse, do you just drink the city tap water? Why lower your standards by drinking the same water as the plebian masses when money can buy you the finest exact same thing in luxury sparkling water: Antipodes.


This water is bottled from the tap a ground source in New Zealand and its delicious taste has won water awards. (How do you get into that field? I can taste some water with the best of them.)

And with this superior beverage, you don't have to worry about a tacky plastic bottle ghettoing up your look: the minimalist bottle has been especially designed to compliment your table.

A generous 24 bottles of Antipodes can be yours for only $70 plus a very reasonable shipping charge of $40.75, bringing the grand total to a low $110.75. Just $110.75 for 24 bottles of water.

Better get on this right away. They may sell out, it's such a great deal.

A Boy and His Purse

Remember the Cookie magazine I posted about the other day? Well, the latest issue has this article about a mother's struggle with whether or not to allow her son to wear a dress to preschool.

Well, folks, we are having our own little gender-identity bobble here too.

Today, as I was wrangling the two kiddos into coats and hats to make a trek to Tarjay, SweetPea stopped in his tracks, yelled "Wait Mommy, I got to get my purse!"

"You have to get your what?"

"My purse, Mommy. Wait"

Ummm, ok.

So he runs to the living room toybox (yes, I know it defies all rules of decorating, but hey what are you going to do?) and he gets out a little giveaway Clinique bag that I had given Ladybug to play with.

He then goes to my desk and selects a post-it note. His "list" he says.

He puts his list in the bag.

"Ok, I ready Mommy. I got my purse and my list."

I decide to just go with it and we head to Tarjay. In the store, Sweet Pea trails along beside me, carrying his purse and checking his list to make sure "we got ebryting, Mommy." He also wants to put all our purchases in the cart and to load the bags into the car.

He was quite the little helper.

It really was very cute. He did garner some odd looks, but of course they were all from insecure, homophobe men and teenage boys. All the little old ladies and other mommies smiled at us and told me he was cute.

I told Big B about Sweet Pea's new accessory when he got home and he was a little lukewarm on the idea. I reminded him that Sweet Pea is only three, for God's sake and he just wanted to be like Mommy, heaven help him.

Here he is with his purse. Maybe I should get him some little play heels and a dress to go along with it, just to really freak his Dad out. (Oh, his head is not in the shot because Daddy is wary of posting pictures of them.)

What To Buy When You Have More Money Than Brains Day!

It's Tuesday and therefore it's What to Buy When You Have More Money Than Brains Day! Anyone read Cookie? It's a parenting magazine that covers "all the best for your family." We had a bunch of frequent flyer miles on Delta that we will never use and so we ordered a bunch of free magazines. Unfortunately the selection was a little limited.

I have only received two issues of Cookie so far, but I can tell you that this magazine doesn't really speak to me. For example, one of its feature stories was how to visit Paris with children. No, not Paris, Tennessee. Paris, France. Apparently I am short-changing my children and myself by limiting our vacation plans to the Redneck Riviera. Silly me. I'll just add Paris to my list of vacation destinations, right alongside Tokyo and Milan.

One article proposed a Valentine's Day dinner that you could make for you hubby after the kids have gone to bed. First course--caviar and blinis, darhling. Second course--Chateaubriand. Dessert--Champagne Poached Pears. Now all this does sound delicious. However, I might have a little difficulty feeding the rest of the family that week if I went this route. Oh well, I guess we could make do with macaroni and cat food. That's cheap, right?

You get the picture. It's a little, OK a lot, upscale. It should come as no surprise then that I found this week's insane purchase in the gilded pages of Cookie. Here it is:

The Mooney Flat by Marc Jacobs. The shoes in the magazine were black, but I could not find a picture online of the black pair, so here is the silver pair. Have an extra $209 floating around? Yes? Then your deserving daughter can have her feet shod in designer shoes. Never mind the fact that you haven't had a new pair of shoes in months or that your shoe purchases are made in the aisles of Tarjay. Your daughter deserves nothing but the best. Suck it up, Mommy and shell out the cash.

I agree that these are adorable, but seriously, spending $200 on a pair of children's dress shoes seems a little crazy to me, especially when they will outgrow them in a matter of months.

I know many parents like to give their children the best of everything. Many a teenager gets a fancy new car. I have seen quite a few young ladies at the mall sporting $300 handbags. Some kids' bedrooms resemble Circuit City with the number of fancy electronics they have. Overindulgence of our children seems to be pretty commonplace. But is it a good idea? I don't think so.

I have had friends whose wealthy parents gave them their heart's desire. These people didn't turn out so well. They had difficulty adjusting to life on their own. They were so used to buying whatever they wanted, that when they had to try to live within their own budget, they couldn't. Parents had to bail them out when their credit card bills stacked up. Were they thankful? Of course not. They believed they were entitled to enjoy a better lifestyle and it was Daddy's job to provide that. They were spoiled brats. They had no comprehension of how many, many people struggle to make ends meet every day. They didn't care. All they cared about was themselves.

I have also had friends whose wealthy parents forced them to work to buy their first cars and who told them a resounding "No" to many of their requests for the latest fashion or gadget. Upon meeting these people, you would never know that they came from a very wealthy family. They were very down-to-earth, well-adjusted people who displayed none of that sense of gimme- gimme-gimme- I-deserve it nonsense. They were compassionate towards others and did not believe that they were the center of the universe.

Some parents overindulge their children because they can and because it makes them feel good. Many do it because they feel guilty about not being able to spend more time with their children. Others do it because it makes them feel superior to other people who can't afford to do it. Others try to buy their children's love or try to cover their own sins under a blanket of gifts, hoping the child will overlook their transgressions. In the end, it only hurts the child.

So, no I won't be buying Ladybug any mouse shoes. Even if we could afford ten pairs of mouse shoes, I would not buy them. The cost, monetarily and psychologically, is too high.

You're Too Pretty to be Smart

A couple of days ago, I wrote about how a man told me I could never be President when I was a kid. Well, yesterday on the drive to Sesame Street Live, I thought of a couple more incidents in which I or a friend was told by an older man that our gender would be a stumbling block for us. I wonder how many other women in my generation have been told the same thing? I'm 34, so theoretically I should not face much in the way of sexism in the academic world or the workplace, right? Things are equal now, right?

The first incident was in high school. I was in AP English my senior year and my teacher, a man in his fifties, told me that I might have trouble being taken seriously in college because of my attractiveness. It was not a come-on or anything improper. I attended a highly regarded academic magnet school in Nashville. Our motto was "Hume-Fogg, Just a Bunch of Nerd Having Fun." I never felt any pressure to dumb myself down just because I was a girl. This environment expected you to be smart and encouraged it. This teacher was the best and most beloved teacher in the school. He made the statement to me in a private discussion about my college thoughts and he meant it as a warning. It was the first time that someone I respected gave me a warning like this and it made me think twice.

The second incident was in college. My freshman year, scared stiff by the Journalism School at Missouri, I toyed with the idea of majoring in Anthropology. It is a subject which has always interested me greatly and I loved the intro class I was taking. I went to talk to my professor about the field and career possibilities and he made essentially the same comment to me. I don't remember the wording, but he said that the field was dominated by men and as an attractive woman, I would have difficulty. He discouraged me and suggested an easier field.

So, I heard this message twice and it's not like I am a super-model or anything. I'm not some extraordinary beauty, but merely being attractive was perceived to be a problem by these men.

The other incident I thought of happened to one of my best friends, T., in college. She is a very pretty blond who also happens to be very smart. In a conversation with one of our history professors, she was told,"I'm not asking you to the prom or anything, but you are very attractive," and then he went on to warn her that her attractiveness could be a problem in graduate school.

I really believe that all three of these teachers meant well and only wanted to assist us in our academic pursuits and perhaps shield us from what we might have to face.

Well, thanks but no thanks, Daddy. They should not have said these things. In all three of these cases, we were absolutely qualified to pursue the course of action being discussed. Both of us had top-notch grades and test scores. These teachers could have said, "If this is your dream, go for it. You can achieve what you put your mind to." Instead, we were warned that our female qualities, something we can not control, would hold us back and therefore, we should think twice about continuing.

How often does this happen? How many young women hear this?
Let's hear the stories. Comment if you have ever been told something like this and if you know someone who has been told this, send them this link so they can leave their story. Pass it along. Let's see how many stories we get.

He, She, We

So we've been having a conversation through comments on my previous two posts about women in power. I am thrilled that Will started this whole dialogue. I love it when people comment and I love a good debate! All you lurkers out there, come out of hiding!

Will was suggesting that perhaps women don't bring anything different to the table than men do. Many of us like to think that women in government might be more compassionate and simply nicer than men. They would be more willing to work together and listen to what people had to say. They would govern with civility. We also like to think that they would be less eager to involve us in war and conflict. Is this really true though?

It seems to me that many women in power have gotten there not because of their female characteristics, but because of more masculine traits. Hillary Clinton is hated by many people and I think a large degree of this hatred is subconscious sexism. We don't like her because she is cold and calculating. She does not embody womanly traits. Much of the dislike of Hillary stems from the fact that she stepped outside of our notion of wifely boundaries in the White House, though it is naivete to believe no other first lady did this. They were just more secretive about it. Hillary rubbed people the wrong way when she defied their notions of what a First Lady should be and she continues to turn off folks with her ambitiousness, shrewdness and sometimes condescending manner. If she were a man exhibiting these traits, would people still dislike her?

Has Hillary brought anything to the table that men have not? In some ways, I think so. She has worked for children's and women's issues and that has to be informed be her gender and her role as a mother. Have women like Condeleeza Rice, Sandra Day O'Connor, Madeline Albright, and Margaret Thatcher brought anything different to the table than the men around them? I don't know.

I think a larger question is do we really want women to be substantially different? Would we want a very womanly woman in office? Could she even ever get there?

Finally, isn't it a little sexist to believe women would act differently in positions of power? Shouldn't we be judging individual people based on their own traits rather than making generalizations and assumptions based on gender stereotypes?

What does everyone think? Comment away!

Why Don't Women Rule the World?

My last post ended with a suggestion that the world might be a better place if women ran it. Will left this comment which got me thinking.

"Yes, the world might be better off with women running it; however, I wonder if we will ever know. Having gone through the sixties at a very impressionable age, I thought the influence of women at all the "decision making levels" in our society would surely make it a better society. I have been disappointed my friend. Apparently women do not want that. Look at how few women are in congress .. on the supreme court, etc., etc. (shouldn't it be about 50%?) What happened?" Will

I don't think it's that women don't want to be in positions of power. I think it is more complicated than that. I still believe that by and large, the world is a gentleman's club. I believe that the glass ceiling still exists in many sectors of commerce and government. In some cases this may be deliberate and probably not in other cases.

In my town, we have a county government that would put any good old boy network to shame. Really. There have been court orders and lawsuits to sort the whole mess out. Basically, a bunch of guys named Scooby, Lumpy, JJ and Jimmy control a large part of our county government through deals and nepotism. If you are not in with these dudes, you're toast. Hopefully the voters will toss the bums out this election cycle. At any rate, they have had a large degree of influence over which of their golf buddies or relatives get placed in appointed positions, and most of those placements went to men. While this is very much out in the open where I live, it is better concealed in other locales.

I also think that the fact that many women leave the work force to have children accounts for some of their absence in positions of power. They often take a couple of years off in their twenties or thirties and this stalls their rise. When they do go back to work, they face judgements and concerns about their dedication to their work. I have a very good friend who was subtly reprimanded when she told her employer she was pregnant with her second child. The employee evidently saw her pregnancy and maternity leave as a problem and almost a sign of disloyalty to the company. I believe this is very common and probably affects many women in that they are not as likely to be promoted as their male colleagues.

Age also comes in to play here. Usually people who reach the level of Supreme Court Justice or CEO are nearing the end of their careers and have been working many, many years to get where they are. The women who have reached this age did not begin their careers in as open a workplace. When they were in college, they may not have believed that they had every opportunity in front of them, as girls now believe. They may have been steered more towards nursing, teaching, or other historically female careers. Even if they entered more typically male careers, like law, they had to spend the first 15 years or so battling sexism. This sets them behind several years. I suspect that in the next 10-15 years, we will see more women in roles of power because those women began their careers on more equal footing.

I also think that many women still have subconscious notions of their gender role, especially in some parts of the country, the south in particular. Even in my generation, which was reared after the whole ERA movement, many women still hold unvoiced ideas about what a woman's role is. For example, I know many other stay-at-home moms who still feel obligated to iron their husband's shirts, cook dinner ever night, and try to change out of the sweats we wear all day for when our husbands come home. I fall into this mindset myself, and I was raised to believe I am an equal to any man. When I catch myself thinking these types of thoughts or feeling obligated to perform some typically female role in my home, I try to remind myself that my job is to take care of my children and that is a full-time job for me. It is every bit as taxing as my husband's job, just in an entirely different way. My job at home does not necessarily entail performing services for my husband which he could very well do for himself. I often go ahead and do it, because it is easier for me sometimes and because I am grateful to him for being able to provide enough for me to stay home with our children. My point is, though, that many women still have some degree of gender programming in them, whether they admit it or not and this programming influences the roles they take in their homes and in their workplaces.

When I was around 11 years old, I was told I could never be President. I was at a church camp in a group of children being lead by a middle-aged male and we were discussing what we wanted to be when we grew up. A lover of politics even at a young age, I said that I wanted to be President one day. The man in charge laughed said, "Honey, you can't be President, you're a girl. Only men are Presidents." Honest to God, that is exactly what he said to me and I will never forget it. Girls are fed messages all the time about what they can or can't be. Every time our society values a supermodel or sexy pop star more than an a female engineer, scientist, or elected official, they hear this message. Every time they are laughed at and made fun of at school for having the correct answers, they are fed this message. Every time they are spoken down to by an older male, they are fed this message. Every time they turn on MTV and see scantily clad women gyrating on male rap stars and being referred to as bitches and ho's, they are feed this message. In American pop culture, our face and body are valued more than our brains. Until this changes, many young women may not make the effort to strive for greatness.

Hillary Clinton's presidential bid is an interesting thing to watch. I absolutely believe that one reason she is so hated by so many people is that she defies our ideas of what a woman should be. She is brilliant, shrewd, calculating, and (sorry Hillary) not pretty in a conventional way. If a male leader, a military leader for example, exemplified these traits, he would be exalted. Because she is a woman, it turns people off. This is the reason she got a boost for her tears in New Hampshire. Conventional wisdom would tell you that crying is a death sentence for a female candidate, but for her, because she is seen as being so cold and masculine, it helped. It will be interesting to see what happens with her in the rest of the election.

Thanks for your comment, Will! I was kind of getting tired writing about fluff! What does everyone else out there think?

Hospital Administrators, Here's An Idea For You

This morning, I packed up both kids, an endless array of snacks and diversions and went to a last minute appointment at my urologist's office. I have a chronic urological condition that occasionally flares up, resulting in the need to pee every 5 minutes, and when it flares, I have to go in to the office for a bladder instillation. I usually don't take the kiddos with me, as this office is always behind schedule. I swear that they must triple book every appointment slot. I sweated bullets all the way over there, dreading the whole thing. I just knew Ladybug would scream her head off and Sweet Pea would get into everything.

Of course the office was crowded and they were running behind. We waited about a half an hour in the waiting room and then finally got back to a room, where the nurse acted like it was the biggest inconvenience in the world that I had brought my kids. I don't know why it was such a big deal, the treatment takes less than 5 minutes, but apparently it really threw a wrench in her whole routine. I almost said, "Look lady, do you think I like having to drag my kids all the way over here, try to entertain them for a half-hour in the very boring waiting room full of geriatrics, and then have them watch me spread eagle on the table being catheterized? No, not my idea of fun. This is way harder on me than it is on you so just DEAL WITH IT!" Of course I didn't say that. I just glared at her and thought evil thoughts. Actually, my kids were very well-behaved, all things considered. It was just such an ordeal.

On the way home from this hour of torture, I had a brilliant idea. Wouldn't it be great if large medical centers had drop-off childcare? How wonderful would that be? You could drop the kids off just before your appointment, let them play for an hour and then pick them up. It is often hard to find day-time sitters and I bet they could make lots of extra money this way (as if they didn't already bill enough for things like that pair of disposable panties you get after delivery). We all know hospitals like making money. I wonder if this is already in place in more progressive cities or countries?

We don't do enough to support parents in this country. Wouldn't the world be better if women ran it?

I Have Seen the Promised Land

Well, dear readers, I believe I have solved my bra dilemma. Last night, after attending a canvassing training for my man, Barack, I stopped by Dillard's armed with recommendations from you. I marched right in there and amassed a huge, staggering armload of bras, sizes 34 C and 34D (thanks to Danielle). On the way into the dressing room, I passed the pinnacle of bras, the Le Mystere. They held a place of status by the cashier, back lit by well positioned lights and hung in an alcove trimmed in gold-leaf. They looked, well, a little industrial, but since both you and the bra authority on high, Oprah, recommended them, I grabbed a couple of those too.

Once in the dressing room, I struggled to untangle the huge mass and began trying the suckers on. My first revelation: the flat-chested, 16 year old nincompoop who measured me the other day apparently was absent the day they covered subtraction. Am I a 34B? Heck no. I am a proud (albeit it proud and saggy) 34D! Shut up, T. and C.--I can hear you laughing from here. How can this be? Before I got pregnant with Ladybug, I wore a 38D, but I weigh 25 lbs less than that now! How can my ta-tas not have shrunk?

Even though I had finally found the correct size, none seemed a great fit until the final bra. I strapped that puppy on and looked in the mirror and I swear my mouth dropped open. Sweet Jesus, we have a winner! Hot damn I looked good! My bosom looked like the majestic prow of a viking warship. I turned this way and that. I cut a fine figure from all sides. The thing even minimized my usually protruding underarm sausage!

I looked down at the label on this thing of wonder. Hell, wouldn't you know it but ole Oprah was right (and you too House of the Flying Monkeys. The Le Mystere bra did wonders. WONDERS I TELL YOU! Sure, if my husband tried to caress my newly elevated bosom, he would get a handful of foam, but who cares? It's not like he caresses them that much anyway--though I guess he might be tempted if they looked this magnificent.

I knew these darlings of the bra world were expensive, but when I looked at the price tag and saw $72, my heart sank a little. Could I spend that much on one bra? If I did, I feared I might have to submit myself to my More Money Than Brains category. I vowed to find something comparable for a less, so I went back out there. This time, I actually did find a well fitting Cabernet bra that was a very close second to Le Mystere and only $48 (I say only, but that still seems like a lot to me). And to tell you the truth, I actually liked it a little better because it wasn't as foamy. Hey, if they are going to look good, might as well feel good too, right?

So in the end I passed on Le Mystere and bought a few Cabernets. I am happy with the purchase, though I have to tell you, somewhere down the road, perhaps when my boobs are in even worse shape than the are now, I may come back to Le Mystere and decide it is worth the money. It really is a miracle bra.

More Money Than Brains

I am declaring today What You Buy When You Have More Money Than Brains Day. In fact, I think I may make every Tuesday What You Buy When You Have More Money Than Brains Day.

Here is my first submission to the category:

Behold the Bootie Pie. This crazy boot can be your's for ONLY $128. Yes, that's right. Only a measley $128 (which could buy groceries for a week, but what the heck!).
This marvel in boot technology allows you to keep your tootsie warm while not smudging your polish. Go from the spa to the street in just minutes. After your feet are soaked and buffed, slide your feet back into the boots using the convient zipper in the back. The nail tech may then polish your piggies and out the door you go, warm and dry. Truely a miracle product.

Birth Control Advertisers, Look No Further. We're the Family for the Job.

I could regale you with stories about my daughter's disgustamundo ear funk pouring out of her infected ear tubes. Truly foul. Or I could tell you all about the hellacious trip to Kroger to get said daughter's ear drops and antibiotics. The trip wherein Sweet Pea and Ladybug fought the entire time, apparently trying to push each other out of the race car cart that is already difficult to maneuever but becomes very difficult to manuever when it is holding two wrestling children. I could tell you about how Sweet Pea screamed at the top of his lung repeatedly, while Ladybug pinched the bejeezus out of him. Or I could talk about the stares our little party ellicted. We truely looked like street urchins. Poor Ladybug was the worst. She had taken off one sock in the car and I had hurriedly just stuck her shoe back on. She then took the shoe off in the shopping cart so she had one bare foot that she kept waving in the air for God knows why. Her nose and mouth were covered in dissolved cookie particles held together with snot and her entire ear area was encrusted with soemthing too foul for words. She was wearing her brother's old jacket that needs a good wash and carrying her very disgusting pink dog, whose ears she likes to chew and sleep with in her mouth, resulting in chronic ear mildew. It was the kind of morning that makes you think, "Gee, I sure am glad Big B got snipped."

Yes, I could tell you about all this. Oh wait, I guess I just did. Hope your day was better than mine!

I Am a Dancing Queen.

We just had Dance Party 2008 in our living room. My rock star/computer geek husband just built a media center pc which can download TV and play all the music we have downloaded on our computer. So, tonight we rocked out to Like Oh My, God The 80's Pop Culture Box. We're talking 867-5309, You Dropped a Bomb on Me, Electric Avenue, Tainted Love, Roam, Major Tom, 99 Luft Ballons etc. We played it all, baby. The kids didn't quite know what to make of their mom flailing around the living room like she was having a seizure. It was like, AWESOME, DUDE.

Seriously, I had a flashback moment or two. I was totally transported back to Club 616 or Raiford's in Memphis in the early 90's, dressed in a babydoll dress and clunky Mary Jane heels, drinking dollar beer or quarts (Raiford's only sold Q's) and dancing like a maniac. I looked through my picture albums to try to give you a visual, but it seems as if all my pictures were taken at Alex's the hole-in-the-wall after-hours bar we basically lived in. Oh those were the days.

A few years ago, the year before Sweet Pea was born, we went to a New Year's Eve party at some friends' house and they had transformed their basement into a disco. They played all 80's and 90's hits all night and the women spent the entire evening dancing. We all took our heels off and danced until 4:30 am. It was something to see: 30-something women, many mothers, all getting down until dawn. It was one of the best New Year's Eves I've spent. I felt like hell the next day, but it was worth it.

I have feeling we'll be listening to a lot of music tomorrow.

In Search of a New Bra

Free, free like the wind...
Now that I am finished with the PPP saga, I am free to blog about anything and everything I want to.

And today folks, I will be blogging about......BOOBS. Yes, you read correctly. I am blogging about breasts, specifically, my breasts.

You see, yesterday my wonderful husband took over the kids so I could go have a massage and do some shopping. I have needed new bras for like, forever. Months. Since having Ladybug and losing a lot of weight, my bra size has changed but I have been making do with a couple of ill-fitting holdovers. I am tired of the droopy boob look I've been sporting and vowed to get some well-fitting substitutes.

I used to really like the Body by Victoria unlined full coverage, so I headed to Victoria's Secret, where they were conveniently having their Semi-Annual sale. Before digging through the mounds and mounds of bras, I asked to be measured. Sales-chickadee whipped out her tape measure and declared I am a 34 B. This matches my last measurement so I select several different styles and head to the fitting room. None even remotely fit. My cup runneth over. My back fat protrudes. One even makes me look like I have an extra set of boobs under my arms.

Discouraged, I went to a department store. I tried on practically every singe bra they had in 34 B and 34C. Nothing fit. My breasts bulge out over the top of every one. Kind of like this.

I tried a D cup, but its cup gaped at the sides. I am apparently neither a B, C or a D.

The problem, I think, is they don't make bras for women who have had children, gained and lost a bunch of weight, and who now have sad, pendulous sacks instead of the perky, upright peaks of their youth. What I think is happening is that the measurement is way off because my boobs are so saggy. When they measure me around the bust, the measurement indicates a B cup because my breasts are so flat across and most of their volume is in their length now, but once I stuff all that hanging down flesh into a cup, the volume overfills the cup. Des this make sense?

I simply can not find a bra that does overfill at the top of the cup. And I am not trying on push-up bras either. These are the normal, non-sex kitten bras. What to do, what to do?

Back in college, my friends and I used to love to compare what God gave us. My friend T. and I had an especially fierce, but friendly competition in this area. We were similarly sized and had pretty nice sets of tee-toes if I do say so myself. I used to have a black sweater with white horizontal stripes running across the bust and we call it "the measurement shirt." Everyone's rack looked bigger in that shirt. We would all try it on and count how many stripes it took to scan our bosoms. Then, C., a less well-endowed friend, devised an equation to measure the volume of our tee-toes and took detailed measurements on all of us. When out at bars and feeling particularly gregarious (or drunk, rather) T. and I would ask guys to compare us and tell us who had the better set. Probably not our best moment, but believe me, there were far worse. I won't even talk about Mardi Gras.

Because I have had such a love affair with my own breasts, I am pretty sad that they aren't what they used to be. I know it is vain and selfish, but I would love to have a breast lift. I won't ever do it, but boy, if we had an extra $10,000 sitting around, I would be sorely tempted.

Until then, I am going to have to rely on a good-fitting bra and I just can't seem to find one. If anyone out there has a suggestion, I'm all breasts, er, ears.

Think Snow!

When we first moved to Knoxville, I read some statistic that said that Knoxville gets an average of 11 inches of snow a year. Well, either that stat was from the ice age or the author was smoking crack because it never snows here. Well, not never, but at least not in the three winters we've been here. We did get a light dusting once, but nothing of note. Longtime residents swear that it used to snow more and blame it on global warming. Others say that our position in the valley means that storms go around us and dump everything on the mountains. I don't know the explanation, but I do know that I WANT SNOW!

Growing up in Nashville, when I was in kindergarten or first grade, it snowed for weeks. As soon as one melted,another one hit. We were out of school for days and days. My family lived on a hill surrounded by other hills and my sisters and I had a ball sledding the streets.

My mom still has our Radio Flyer sled. We'd wax the runners to make it as fast as possible and tear down the hills. The best time to go sledding was the evenings. The whole family would bundle up and take to the streets. My mom would bring a thermos of cocoa and we'd meet up with neighbors for a sledding party.

We'd ride that sled in every way possible. We'd fit two, even three of us on it. If the snow and ice was really thick, with the added weight of additional people you could break the speed limit. We'd try out different positions, sitting, lying, kneeling. My favorite was lying face down. You could feel the wind rushing past your face, tearing your hat off. This position also allowed you to drag your feet to slow down if needed or help steer.

During the day, our friends would come over and we'd devise new and dangerous routes. The black diamond route started at the top of our steep driveway, curved left around the triangle in front of our house, turned right down the big hill and then immediately turned left down a side street. What made this route so dangerous were the obstacles in the way. There was a yield sign in the triangle and a stop sign at the immediate left. That stop sign was the killer.

One morning, Andy and I positioned ourselves on our sled at the top of the driveway. I sat in front and he sat behind me with his legs alongside me, steering with his feet. Calvin gave us a huge push and we were off. It was a bumpy ride down the gravel drive, the rough terrain threatening to tip us over. At the bottom of the drive, Andy jerked the sled left and we sort of hopped over the corner of the triangle and sped down the straightaway toward the next turn. We made the right down the hill with no problem. We were going so fast by this time that Andy couldn't control the sled. He pushed left as hard as he could, both of us leaning to help the sled make that last turn by the stop sign. The other kids were all running behind us, cheering us on. We both thought we were home free. Unfortuantely, we didn't make a wide enough turn and we jumped the curb, went airborne and slammed headfirst in to the stop sign. To this day, that sign is still tilted slightly. That ride went down in sledding history. It was one wild ride.

That year spoiled me. For winters afterward, I didn't understand why we never got that much snow again. In high school, desparate for a snow day, my sisters and I would do snow dances. We'd put on all our winter gear, go outside, hop around in a circle, waving our arms and chanting, "Snow, snow, snow, snow. Snow, snow, snow, snow." It worked more than once and soon friends started asking us to perform the dance each time snow was in the forecast.

This morning,the weatherman predicted a chance of snow showers tonight and tomorrow. Later this afternoon, Sweetpea and I are going to don our gear and I am going to teach him the snow dance. After that, I'm getting the sled out of the attic. Bring it on, Mr. Snowmeister.

Post-holiday Decorating Tips

My blog has gotten entirely too serious this week. I don't know any good jokes, so you'll have to be amused by this.

I have a new home decor thing going. It's called post-Christmas chaos. You too can achieve this delightful look by doing the following things.

Take all the ornaments off the lower branches of your tree (think three year old height and under) and scatter them around the house. Be sure to reserve some to hang only on the middle branches. This way your tree will look pleasantly unbalanced.

If you have garland on your tree, take it off and wrap it around one branch so that it hangs on the ground in a puddle.

If you love icicles on your tree as I do, don't bother to try to evenly distribute them over the tree. Instead strew it along the ground in a six foot radius around the tree.

Take every singe toy in your house and place them strategically in the middle of all the central pathways in your home. Your feet will love this, as will your ass when you bust it on that annoying pull-a-long dog that your one year old loves.

Ball up and shred a variety of tissue paper and scatter them like confetti over all the furniture. It gives a festive look to things.

Are you always wondering what to do with that wasted and seldom used space in your dining room? Turn it into wrapping central. Get out every box, bow, gift bag, ribbon and wrapping paper roll you own and spread them around on the table, chairs, buffet. You can even get daring and perch some on top of the china cabinet.

Save all those twist-tie things that toy manufactures have invented just to aggravate parents and infuriate children who want their toys out of the boxes NOW. Hide them in the couch cushions, preferably in an upright, poking position.

Get out all your suitcases and open them. Take out half your wardrobe and dump in. Place on in every bedroom.

The latest in home artwork--cardboard sculpture. Don't worry, you don't have to be an artist. Just find a bunch of old boxes, the more torn-up the better,and pile them one on top of the other in your garage. The more precarious, the better.
You can also do this with full garbage bags. This is useful if your garbage pickup is delayed due to the holidays

If you have any of those light-up deer and one happens to fall over, leave it for a while. It can be a sleeping deer.

I know I have a bright future in decorating.

I May Have Superpowers

Somehow, I have jinxed Christmas. I didn't know I had that power, but it appears that I do. Just Friday morning, I was telling friends how much I enjoy traveling over Christmas and how it is really no big deal to cart two children, enough luggage to supply Paris Hilton, and Santa's entire bag of loot for the Western Hemisphere to Nashville. Mistake. Big Mistake. I should have kept my big mouth shut because it appears that I have conjured into being all kinds of snafus.

First of all, on Friday afternoon my sister-in-law called to tell me that her little munchin has a cold. We were supposed to leave yesterday morning and spend the night with them before heading to my parents'. Seeing as Ladybug has a long and sordid history of ear infections whenever she gets the slightest sniffle (despite the several thousand dollar ear tubes she received on her birthday), we decided that it might be best if we swapped things around and moved our stay with them to the end of our time in Nashville. Normally, I am not the overprotective, germaphobic mom but if Ladybug gets an ear infection in Nashville, we'll have to take her to the ER because you can't get in to a pediatrician unless you are an established patient and our crap insurance won't pay for us to see anyone here anyway.

What do you know, but Ladybug wakes up yesterday morning with yellow snot coming out her nose. Lovely. Then I hear that one of our friends who we just played with on Friday has croup. Great. Then I remember that Ladybug licked the icing off of said friend's ice-cream cone Christmas tree project on Friday. We might as well head to the ER now. It serves me right.

That was the first snafu. The next series of snafus occurred en route. It takes us three hours to get up, fed, dressed, and packed in to the car yesterday morning. By the time we are all set to leave, I am as wound up as last year's tinsel. I snap at my husband. I snap at the kids. I snap at the dog. Finally we are on I-40 headed west.

About 20 miles down the road, Ladybug somehow extends her arm to superhuman lengths and snatches Max's preschool treat bag off the seat next to her. She extracts a snickers snowman and proceeds to eat the plastic in an effort to get inside to the chocolate. I yell and plead with her and court death by trying to reach over the seat and get it from her. She is a crafty little thing and evades my frantically searching hand. Big B can not help, as he is driving his truck too--remember all that luggage and shitload of presents? So, I have to pull over and get the thing from her. She has bits of plastic all in her mouth and has managed to suck a corner off the chocolate, so her face is covered in an appetizing mixture of yellow snot and melted chocolate.

We get back on the road. Midway into our trip, Sweet Pea declares he is hungry and demands chicken and french fries. We find a Chic-Fil-A and oblige him. We are sitting down, trying to gooble down our lunches as fast as possible so that the kids can spend a moment or two at the playground. Sweet Pea proceeds to spill milk all down the front of his sweater and pants. We mop it up. He gets up to play. I then notice that there is a suspicious puddle of yellow liquid on his seat and a tell-tale giant wet spot in his crotch. Yes, he has wet his pants. For the third time this week. On the Chic-Fil-A seat.

I take him to the restroom and try to get him cleaned up. We have to take half the luggage out of the car to get to his suitcase for clean clothes. This, of course, takes forever. Finally, we are back on the road.

Here comes the best part. We are about a half-hour outside of Nashville. Traffic is god-awful heavy. I and the cars around me are cruising at about 80 mph. The white pickup truck in front of me has two very large, heavy-duty plastic trashcans bobbing around in the back. I think to myself, gosh, those could fly out very easily. Again, a mistake.

No sooner than I think these horrible thoughts than one gigantic forest green trash can comes flying out at high velocity. There is absolutely nothing I can do to avoid it without hitting the overpass we are under or another car. I yell, "Oh, Shit!" The thing hits my car squarely on the hood and bounces down and I run over it. Plate-sized pieces of it fly behind me and cars swerve all over the place to avoid it. Sweet Pea's eyes are round as saucers and I am shaking. Two cars pull beside me to make sure I am OK. The owner of the trashcans speeds up and darts in and out of traffic, fleeing the scene.

Big B take off after the motherf***er and I eventually catch up, adrenaline racing. We both write down his liscene plate number and I notice that his truck is a company vehicle and has a phone number on the side. I get out my cell and call the motherf***er and proceed to bitch him out and tell him his negligence could have killed my 3 year old and baby in the backseat and he needs to tie down his damned trashcans next time. He is not very friendly, but I guess I wouldn't be either if some screaming banshee called me up and busted my ass.

After all this, we arrive at my parents, safe and sound with only a small dent on the hood of my car. I am relieved to be here. I may not ever leave.

Recall on human toddlers?

Dear God,

I'm sorry to bother you right now. I mean, this is probably your busiest season-Christmas. I am sure you are busy decorating and getting ready to celebrate the birth of your son. And I know you are also busy listening to all those little prayers for a Tickle Me Elmo or Thomas the Train. I don't mean to question your glorious works, but I was thinking that it might be time to update the current human toddler model. I have an August 31, 2006 human toddler and it needs some tweaking.

First of all, is there any way you could do something about the human toddler's total lack of fear? August 31, 2006 likes to take off the couch cushions, stand on top of the couch and belly flop onto the cushions on the floor. She also seems to think that tables and chairs are for standing on. I am worried she is going to take out the Christmas tree. If you can't install a fear chip, maybe you could work on a warning system. For instance, right before the human-toddler preforms some death-defying act, their heads could spin around and they could emit some loud whistling sound. Just an idea.

Secondly, can we do something about their dislike of having their diapers changed? August 31, 2006 screams at the top of her lungs and twists her little body around so that I can't get her cleaned up. Who knew that human toddlers had the strength and moves of a pro-wrestler? This really causes problems when the human toddler has pooped (which, you know, you could also so improve. A better fragrance would be nice). I get tired of cleaning poop off of every surrounding surface because my human-toddler has gyrated so much that everything within a 10 ft radius is contaminated. Maybe we could install an on-off switch for regular maintenance? You know, this would come in handy for many situations.

And how about a better sense of aim? My human toddler loves to throw food. Perhaps with better aim she could throw it in the trash or sink or even the dog's bowl. That would really be handy.

Finally, how about an alternate sense of time? It's hard to get any Christmas shopping done because the human toddler only likes to be restrained in a cart or stroller for a finite amount of time, usually around 5 min. After this, the human toddler goes into meltdown mood, screaming and wailing. This is embarrassing for the mother and results in numerous return trips to the store because you can't think straight with all that racket and therefore you neglect to get everything you need. If the human toddler experienced a half-hour as if it were 5 minutes, we could really get some things done and since the season is all about you, it would be nice if you could help out with this.

These are just a few suggestions. I am sure there are many other moms up there in heaven who could help you with this project. Perhaps you could make it your New Year's Resolution. And don't feel bad that your creation's not perfect. I am sure creating everything in existence takes practice.


Lisel, owner of model August 31, 2006

Claws of Status

The other night at book club, it dawned on me that perhaps I am kind of a slob. My friend Jackie was talking about how she likes to go to the Wal-Mart in the neighboring suburb as opposed to the one closest to her house because she's less likely to see people she knows there and it won't matter if she hasn't brushed her hair for the past three days. Apparently, if she goes to the Wal-Mart near her house, she finds it necessary to get all dolled up so as not to offend the eyes of any of her friends or acquaintances should she come across them in the cereal aisle.

I like to occasionally watch What Not to Wear on TLC and I have often heard Stacy and Clinton bitching and moaning about how American housewives are the sloppiest dressers in the world. I guess they are talking about people like me. I wouldn't think twice about heading to Target without make-up on or with a ballcap thrown over my messy hair.

I wish I had the time and energy to try to look like a MILF. Instead, I frequently go to preschool drop-off or to the store looking like I just rolled out of bed. ( Well, in some cases I have but not at 3 pm).

I do make some attempt to look presentable. I usually pull my hair back and maybe put on some mascara, but I am frequently wearing yesterday's sweats and often have not showered yet that day. My husband says I don't stink, so I tell myself that it's OK.

I envy those women and moms who look effortlessly put-together. You know, the ones with the perfectly highlighted hair with no visible roots. The ones wearing a cute outfit that makes them look young and hip but hides the mommy pouch. The ones with the latest handbag and great shoes that were not chosen for their comfort and functionality.

Above all, what I envy the absolute most about these women is their french-manicured set of nails. I love the way they look. They whisper, "This woman is not spending all day scrubbing toilets and wiping snot off noses. This woman has the time and money to pamper herself. This woman is sexy and beautiful and immaculate."

I envy this because it is something I will never have. Let's ignore the fact that the one or two times I have had acrylic nails for a wedding, I had to take them off because I couldn't even get my contacts out of my eyes. And ignore the fact that my hands aren't my best feature. I don't have and may not ever have the money or time to devote to these claws of status. And even if I did, I probably wouldn't get them done. I would always feel fake, like they didn't belong on me. Like they were an effort to be something I'm not.

What it all boils down to is that I think some people have the ability and interest in always looking great. But others, like me, often get caught up in doing other things, like reading or blogging, and don't put importance, or maybe enough importance on looking fabulous. Many times, I would rather be doing something else and I always would rather be judged for my mind over my appearance.

Does this indicate that I have some self-esteem issue? That I don't care enough about myself to present myself in the best light possible? Or is it just that I value other things and am a stressed out mother of two very young children?

I probably should put a little more effort into my looks. I heard on Oprah the other day that to spice up your sex life you should try to look your best when your husband comes home. I guess that means no sweats and ponytails. I wonder if those mommy-divas are having great sex?

The Golden Compass Debates

If you've been following movie news, you have probably heard that The Golden Compass is opening this weekend. I'm usually not up on movies because we never get an opportunity to go see them, but this one has received a good deal of press. The movie is based on the first of a trilogy of young adult fantasy novels written by Philip Pullman. The brouhaha surrounding it stems from the author's supposed agenda of deriding Christianity. Several conservative religious groups, including The Catholic League, have urged their members to boycott the movie.

What really bothers me about this particular situation is that the Catholic League has called for this boycott not based on the content of the movie, but because they are afraid that children who see the movie will then want to read the books and therefore be exposed to anti-Christian sentiment.

I have a real problem with this. I think it is irresponsible for anyone, let alone an authoritative organization, to discourage reading. According to a new study released by the National Endowment for the Arts, less than 1/3 of American 13 year olds are daily readers. That is a sad and scary statistic. As a teacher, I know how difficult it can be to get kids to read, particularly the age group for which this book is written and particularly boys, who often like this type of fantasy. I think we need to do all we can to encourage kids to read, even if we don't necessarily love what they're reading, within reason of course.

Several years ago, I taught a young man who just really did not enjoy reading books. He did, however, like to read car magazines. One of my standing assignments for my reading classes was an outside reading project. They were to read at least one book of their choosing each six weeks and complete an assigned project on that book. Now this young man was just not going to read a book, so I met him halfway and allowed him to read a selection of car magazines and prepare a report which advised me on what car I should purchase (my husband and I were planning on buying a new car that spring). The student came back to me with a very detailed and well-researched report that was actually useful in my decision. Now of course I would have preferred he read a book, but all that really mattered to me was that he was reading something. I could use with that and gradually work him in to books he might really like. My point is that a lot of kids don't like to read and we do a disservice to them when we don't allow them access to materials they might really like and which might spur them to read more.

I also think perhaps people are giving 13 year olds a little too much credit. I have read The Golden Compass and I guess I wasn't paying much attention, but I never picked up on the supposed anti-Christian message. Having now read articles on the controversy, I have learned that the overall theme of the books is metaphorical and characters and events are symbolic of religious institutions. If you can find a 13 year old that reads this book and understands all that, I'll give you a million bucks.

More important of course is the concern that we should all have when institutions try to limit knowledge. That should be a bright red flag for anyone. People, including children, need to be exposed to things they may not agree with. Exposure to new beliefs broadens our world-view and helps us understand and respect that people are all different. Our world is no longer limited to our homogeneous suburban neighborhood. Children need to grow up with a deeply ingrained tolerance for all types of people and all types of beliefs because they will have to interact with these people on a daily basis.

This tolerance is especially important concerning religious beliefs. It scares me when religious groups seek to limit exposure to conflicting views. The most violent and tragic conflicts in the world right now are over religious differences and intolerance. The Christian groups advocating this ban are only a step away from the fundamentalist Islamic groups which ban Bibles or Christian education in their territories. I am sure the Christian groups would disagree with this, but I fail to see much difference.

Children also need exposure to different views because it helps them examine and understand their own views. Questioning this is not bad; it leads to a deeper and more thorough knowledge of yourself. This movie and the book offer the perfect teachable moment for Christian parents to explore with their child their specific beliefs and the reasons behind them. If parents would read and the discuss the books with their child, they could help the child become more secure in his faith. I wish the Catholic League had suggested this instead of an all out boycott.

Finally, I think that Hollywood is irresponsible and greedy when it chooses to market movies like this one to children. I have not seen this movie yet, but the novels are aimed at young adults, meaning teens 13-18. The story line will be above most young children and some of the characters may be very frightening to them.

We've seen a lot of "children's" movies lately that include foul language, adult humour and violence. Shrek is a perfect example of this. In an effort to make as much money as they can, the producers try to appeal to both adults and children. The animation and children's storyline gets families in the theater, and the adult humour and language entertains the parents. The producers can then cash in on all the tie-in products lining the shelves of the nearest toy store.
Parents must be super-vigilent today. PG and G ratings no longer mean movies are automatically safe.

You can read another blogger's opinions and reader commentary here Get In The Car!: The Golden Compass Debates: This Christian Woman Can't Wait to Go .

Reasons I'll Never Win a Mother of the Year Award

1. I let the dog clean up Ladybug's high chair. Hey, it saves on dog food!

2. I sometime require a cold and frosty adult beverage to make it through animal hour, 5 pm-bedtime.

3. I often forget to change Ladybug's diaper for hours on end and only realize it when her sodden diaper literally falls off her under its own weight.

4. Vegetables? My kids don't need no stinkin' vegetables.

5. My kids are more apt to hear The Rolling Stones in my car then the Wiggles.

6. I spend so much time on my computer that, when we tried told my son that angels tell us God's messages, he said, "In email, Mommy?"

7. Occasionally I have the thought that if I leave when my husband gets home, I could be at the beach in 6 hours.

8. My psychiatrist has insisted I remain on birth control. I quote, "The last thing you need right now is to have another child."

9. I figure PB and J hits all the major food groups.

10. I like to watch The Girls Next Door and fantasize about leaving all this behind and becoming a playboy bunny. Heck, they can airbrush anything, right?

My Foray Into Wal-Mart

Yesterday the Little Ladybug and I ventured into Wal-Mart for my big grocery shop of the week. If you read yesterday's post, you know that this was a difficult decision and I really dreaded the experience.The results were a mixed bag.

On the positive side, the store was fairly empty. I guess weekday mornings are the time to go. I was able to find almost everything I needed and I did notice that some items are slightly cheaper than at Kroger. Wal-Mart also carries some things that Kroger doesn't but I didn't want to get too distracted or grab items that weren't on my list, so I didn't investigate that too closely.

I got a good amount of groceries for a little under $200. Of course that doesn't include the $5 T-shirt I also picked up. I guess that's one way they get you. You go in for groceries and come out with an additional hundred bucks in cheapo clothing and toys.

On the downside, there weren't enough cashiers and the wait in line was a little long. Luckily, just about the time Ladybug started screaming at the top of her lungs and throwing groceries out of the cart, another lane opened and we managed to get out of there.

I do have some questions about the quality of the food. I might be imagining this, but the bagged salad I usually buy looked to be a smaller bag than the same item at Kroger. I wonder if they skimp on the ounces of product to make up for the lower cost? Also, for dinner last night I bought some steak for fajitas and it just was not very good at all. It was tough, but worse, it didn't taste good. It wasn't spoiled or anything, just bland and a little reminiscent of the half-beef half-soy burgers that my elementary school served.

To cap things off, I had to go to Kroger anyway to pick up the couple of items Wal-Mart doesn't carry and while there, I noticed that at least three things I bought at Wal-Mart were cheaper at Kroger this week! Grrrrr. I guess I need to read the Sunday ads and try to shop the best deals at both places. As if I needed to complicate my life more....

On the Horns of a Dilemma

My ethics and my pocketbook are at war with one another. It's all over that evil but cheap commerical mecca, Wal-Mart.

We have been spending an ungodly amount on our groceries and try as I might, I just can't bring the expenditure down. I usually do our grocery shopping at the Kroger just down the street. It's convenient, clean, and has everything I need. The cashiers are helpful and friendly.

Unfortunately, it's not cheap. Oh, it's not the Cadillac of groceries, that would be Pulix or Harris Teeter, but it's no ugly stepchild either. I use coupons, I buy the store-brand items or items on sale, and I try to avoid impulse buys, but we're still spending a pretty penny each month.At dinner the other night, one of my friends explained how she feeds her family of three on a little over $300 a month.

Yes, you read that correctly, $300 a month.

This woman does 95% of her shopping at Wal-Mart and Sam's Club. She also plans her meals for a month at a time and buys the majority of the month's food in one trip. I was dumbstruck.

We spend 3 times that much for our family of 3.5 (my 15 month old doesn't eat alot). We occasionally go to Sam's Club for things like tires or contacts, but I don't do much grocery shopping there.

And I almost never go to Wal-Mart. Both my husband and I are both ethically opposed to Wal-Mart's for the usual reasons: poor treatment of employees, anti-labor tactics, forcing companies to reduce the quality of their products and encouraging companies to move oversees. Plus I just don't like the stores. They are always crowded and dirty and I can never find anything. It's not an enjoyable experience.

I can't pretend that I can do all my shopping for a month at a time. We eat far too much produce for that and my 3 year old son powers through milk like a newborn babe. However, we have got to find a way to lower our grocery bill and thus, I am at war with myself.

Do I throw my beliefs to the wind to kneel at the altar of the Sam Walton? Should I cave in to save some cash? Is Wal-Mart really that much cheaper? Is it worth the hassle of shopping there?

I guess I won't know until I try so I have decided to give Wal-Mart a go for one month. I know it won't be pretty but I will gird my loins and do the bulk of my shopping there. At the end of the month, we'll compare this month's bill with last month's. It would be nice to do an item by item comparison on say, 50 things I regularly buy, but I don't have time for that. I buy pretty much the same things on each trip, so we should get a general idea of how Kroger and Wal-Mart compare. I'm crossing my fingers that Kroger will be comparable, but I have my doubts.

Billions of people can't be wrong, right?

The Day of the Tree

Today was the day of the Christmas Tree. I LOVE Christmas. It is my absolute favorite time of year. Some of the best memories from my childhood are of Christmases spent with my huge extended family. I loved traveling up north or west to Iowa to my relatives' homes where it was sure to be cold and likely to have snow on the ground. I loved getting to see all my cousins, piling up together and watching The Year Without a Santa Claus, singing along with the Snowmeiser and Heatmeiser. I loved the way my grandfather would bang out hymns on the piano, bellowing at the top of his lungs, and insist we all join in. I loved the wide-ranging, often impassioned adult debates over dinner, the ones that we children watched and learned from. My all-time favorite year was the year of the Evil Bunny of Death, the persona a dramatic elder cousin attached to a purple bunny balloon my grandparents had bought little Nell, the youngest cousin. That whole Christmas, the specter of the Evil Bunny hung over every event. You never knew where he might turn up, causing all of us to roar with laughter at the antics and cleverness of our showman cousin. Those years were magic. Now having young children of my own, my happiness comes from watching their emerging understand of Christmas and seeing their wonder and joy at the marvel of Santa Claus and the birth of a babe in a manager. I want for them everything that I had those Christmases ago.One of my favorite parts of the Christmas season is decorating the tree. I have a vision in my head of what my Christmas tree should look like. It should be of ceiling-grazing height, lush and full with no holes, fragrant, triangular in shape and preferably pine. We always get a real tree for Christmas, no artificial stuff for us. Oh, I understand the appeal of a fake tree; they are easy, don't dry out, and after an initial hefty investment, free. But they don't offer an opportunity for the whole family to bundle up every year and go on a search for that picture perfect, living symbol of Christmas. They don't bring the feel of a real tree, that sense of something earthy and organic that warms our winter-chilled souls and speaks of rebirth and spring to come. They don't remind me that this is the season to remember our mutual creator and celebrate the gift of life. They are cold and too, well, artificial.My husband's grandmother lives on a large rural plot of land populated by white pines and cedar trees. Being a child of the depression, she can't fathom why we would spend our hard-earned money buying a tree when there are perfectly serviceable ones on her land for the taking . She made it clear over Thanksgiving that she expected us to come over and cut down one of her trees. She even walked her land and earmarked her favorites for us to select among. How could we refuse?Trying to be a good sport and not wanted to offend anyone, I agreed that yes, we should go and cut down one of her trees. So we pack up the kids and travel the 30 miles or so out to her place to get our tree. After much deliberating, my husband selected a seemingly acceptable cedar, cut it down and we brought it home.I thought I would be OK with it. After all, I don't insist on the absolutely perfect, designer-decorated, color coordinated, be-ribboned and be-bowed, opulent but generic tree that is so popular these days. Who ever thought to put a giant bow on top of a Christmas tree? I don't pretend to understand that and it's not my style. I like homey trees decked out in a hodgepodge of ornaments ranging from heirloom glass beauties to the glittery, macaroni encrusted monstrosities made in my son's preschool class. I like to take out my ornaments each year and be reminded of that Christmas in San Fransisco when my sisters and I all received Chinese lantern ornaments, or the year that my son was born and we received a bevy of baby's first Christmas ornaments. I like ornaments that mean something and tie the family together. That's the whole point of Christmas, isn't it? For us all to remember our love for one another and reaffirm our connections to our faith, families, and all mankind?Given all this, I thought I would be OK with the skinny little balding tree we brought home. Unfortunately and to my shame, I was not. I tried to be, oh I tried. I didn't want to offend anyone and I didn't want us to have to spend any money on a tree this year since times are beyond tight. But I just couldn't stomach the thought of having this somewhat less than ideal object in my living room, the standing symbol of the season. It was too skinny, the bottom tier of branches was sparse, and its poor trunk was so small, it almost didn't fit in the stand. I want the full, majestic, perfectly triangular pine beauty of the forest ( albeit one that is helped along with constant trimming and tending). My heart sank each time I looked at this little cedar and deep down, I was disappointed and feared this might be an ominious portent of the season.Having lived with me for five years now, my husband read the look on my face. He was gracious about it and, rather wisely, said that although he didn't want to have to go get another tree, he would rather do it now than deal with an unhappy wife for the next three weeks. Smart man, he. So, after my children woke from their naps, we packed up again and headed to a local tree farm, spent an hour or so selecting that majestic pine, felled it, plunked down $35 and brought it home.I am happy now that we have the tree worthy of my high ideals. It will look beautiful in its spot in our living room and I will spend many an evening between now and Christmas curled up on the couch, gazing at it.I am, however, a little disappointed in myself, apparently a tree-snob. Why wasn't the truly natural cedar enough for me? After all, isn't this the time of year to remember the lowliest of us all? In rejecting this humble tree, have I shown myself to be frivolous, selfish, and ungrateful? Have I begun to buy into the commercial-driven image of what Christmas should be? Am I one step away from that color-coordinated, steel and plastic altar to a credit-card god tree from Wal-Mart, all tied up in a bow? Have I put too much stock in the appearance of Christmas and lost sight of its meaning? Or is it just that I want to make my Christmas all that I dream it could be? Something to ponder.