Friday, January 30, 2009

The Star Has Been Wished Upon

I have returned from the land of magic and dreams and sunshine. Not that we don't have our own magic and dreams and occasional beams of sunshine here in Minnesota, but given that it's January, they seem a little fewer and far between. 

The trip was fantastic. The real magic of Disney is that they are able to create an entirely commercial environment, charge you to enter it, and simultaneously convince you to suspend your believe, if you will. 

I honestly don't care that they are profiting from children's happiness because the children are so happy. Even the adults are happy. I was happy to be there. It's just fun. 

I'll spare you a play-by-play of our entire vacation, but here are a few highlights:
  • Breakfast with Mickey (Contemporary Resort) - Like most adults, I was not thrilled by the idea of having a meal surrounded by people dressed up as cartoon characters. However, my aunt (the Disney expert) insisted it was a must-do and she was right. The awe and joy that my boys experienced when Mickey Mouse himself came to our table to meet them was worth every minute of screaming babies and every bite of mediocre buffet food. 

  • Being co-pilots on the monorail - Again, my aunt's expertise made this possible. The drivers ("pilots") of the monorails have seats inside the cockpit and if you ask nicely, they might just let you sit in them. It just so happened that we got to sit in the cockpit on my boys' very first ride on the monorail, taking us to their very first visit to the Magic Kingdom. Imagine a panoramic view of the horizon as you zip along the track. Now imagine seeing Cinderella's castle rise up before you on that horizon. "Magical" might be the best word for that experience.

  • The Wishes fireworks (Magic Kingdom) - You know pretty much every commercial for Disney World, where you see the fireworks bursting perfectly over the castle while thousands of children's eye grow wide? That really happens. It's a bit like walking into a postcard. It sounds cheesy (hell, the whole park sounds cheesy) but it's amazing. And the gasps of wonder emanating from every child in the park makes it that much better. 

  • Teppanyaki in Japan (Epcot) - I love the entire World Showcase. It's fun to be able to stroll through 10 countries (plus America, for some reason) in a matter of hours. But I'm singling out Japan here because we had dinner at Teppan Edo, the teppanyaki restaurant there, complete with Japanese chefs and servers. By far the best meal of the trip, made even better by the fact that our kids were enthralled by the cooking and therefore inspired to eat everything on their plates. And Owen is still bragging about trying (and liking) the hot mustard sauce.

  • Toy Story Midway Mania (Hollywood Studios) - Thanks to the merging of Pixar and Disney, all your favorite Pixar characters are now part of the magic. The Buzz Lightyear ride and Monsters, Inc. show at Magic Kingdom are both great, but this new ride over at Hollywood Studios (which is otherwise not that great for small kids) suggests that the imagineers actually went inside my children's brains and set out to combine their obsession with carnival games and their love for Toy Story. You put on 3D glasses, get in a car and are spun around to various midway games where you must use a toy "gun" to shoot targets, knock over ducks, toss rings, etc. all to earn points. We wanted to ride again and again, but sadly the line was 30 minutes long. 
Those are just a few of the great moments we had. I'm sure my kids would also list the pool, the mini golf and the sugary cereal my aunt stocked in our hotel room as highlights of the trip. 

Here is where I could tell you that I wish we hadn't had to leave and how hard it's been to adjust back to the mundane, but the truth is that I'm kind of in an ideal little pocket of my life at the moment (excluding the self-esteem crushing job search) because I had a wonderful family vacation and just six days from now I get to leave for a long weekend getaway with a couple of my BFFs. More on that in a later post. 

For now, I'm still basking in the magical glow that Disney has cast on my family. I'm hoping not all the pixie dust washes off. 

Friday, January 23, 2009

Maybe I Just Need a Little Pixie Dust

I had a job interview yesterday. I am going to Disney World tomorrow. That makes today seem somewhat uneventful.

The last time I went to Disney World was nine years ago. The day before I left on that trip, I quit my job in an uncharacteristically dramatic fashion.  I was an editor at a local alternative weekly. I was in charge of all the music and film coverage. The paper was run by a crazy old hippie who fancied himself a writer and apparently had enough cash to keep the paper going. 

The working conditions were something that only a recent college grad would tolerate. Our office was in the top half of a duplex in a not-so-nice part of Minneapolis. Our desks were probably salvaged from street corners. Our computer equipment was cobbled together just barely well enough to actually get a paper out every week (all reboots, all the time). Still, I worked hard because I didn't know any better and because getting paid (even if it was next to nothing) to write about bands and movies was awesome. 

But on that day - the day before I left for Disney World with my then-boyfriend and his then-eight-year-old son (he was so sweet then) - the owner, Mr. Peace & Love, called me into his office to inform me that I was no longer to write about any bands playing at venues that wouldn't advertise in the paper. Specifically, First know, the Minneapolis landmark? The place that all bands come to play? Mr. Peace & Love felt that us giving them press was like giving them free advertising. 

Those who work in journalism know that advertising and editorial don't mix. Otherwise, you're just delivering PR material and not news. 

So, in a passionate rage that only my idealistic younger self could have mustered, I yelled about his lack of journalistic ethics and I stormed out (which I recommend doing once in your career). 

And then I went to Disney World. Incidentally, when I got back from Disney World, I found out Mr. Peace & Love had stopped payment on my last paycheck, but that's another story. 

In what would be a fantastical reversal of Disney-related fortune, I'm hoping that perhaps with this trip, I will come home to a job offer. I'll wish on a star and everything. Fingers crossed. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Look Out, Mickey

The countdown is on. Three days from now, we will be on a plane headed to Disney World. My kids are overjoyed. I share their enthusiasm, though more than being excited about visiting The Happiest Place on Earth, I am excited about having my husband with us for five days straight. (He is currently away on his third business trip of the month.)

Amid all the Disney excitement, my boys have started debating whether the Magic Kingdom is, indeed, magic. Owen is on board with the fantasy, exclaiming "Everything there is magic!" 

Aidan is more skeptical. While peering into the refrigerator yesterday, he suddenly turned to me and said, "I don't really think everything there is magic." And then he began muttering about how, logically, it just wouldn't be possible...sometimes, I'm afraid, he's a little bit too much like me. 

He's right, of course, maybe it isn't all magic. Except at his age, maybe it should be. "Why don't you wait until you get there to decide?" I suggested. "Maybe it really is magic." 

To that, he just shrugged. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


My kids got to watch President Obama's speech at school today. Well, Owen did. Aidan gets pulled out of class for 1st grade reading a couple days a week and I guess the 1st graders weren't watching, so he missed most of it. He was whining about it when I picked them up from school. 

I assured him that I had the whole thing on Tivo, which he demanded to watch immediately after lunch. And we did. And he actually watched it. (Owen fell asleep, which I think is a more standard 5-year-old response.)

I don't recall ever being remotely interested in an inauguration at that age. Actually, I don't remember ever being particularly interested in any inauguration until today. I certainly never whined about missing one. 

But my kids actually get excited when they see our President. What a concept! A leader that inspires excitement. 

Kids will grow up interested in the democratic process again. They will grow up believing they could actually be President someday. That's a pretty significant change already and it's only day one. I am hopeful. 

Monday, January 19, 2009


I went to the dentist today. A new dentist. I needed a cleaning, but I mostly wanted him to fix my front tooth, which mysteriously developed a dark spot on it sometime last week. No matter how hard I scrubbed, I couldn't get that damn thing off. I even gave up red wine, worried it might be culprit.

As soon as I saw the spot, I figured, "Oh great, now I'll probably finally get a job interview." And I did. Only I fooled the universe by getting into the dentist's office before the job interview (which is Thursday!). 

So the dentist came in and I made it clear that my only tooth-related concern was the spot. He began asking the standard questions about how much coffee I drank, etc. -- I cut him off with, "Yes, I drink a lot of coffee and tea...and I drink red wine." 

His immediate response: "Well, you don't want to give up the red wine." I think that I like this dentist.

Turns out the tea -- not the wine or the coffee -- was the main culprit, but the helpful hygienist was able to get the spot off with the high-powered polishing machine. Hallelujah. 

So bring on the red wine! And the job interviews! I'm ready.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Joys of Hermit-hood

Ever since my freelance work dropped off into oblivion and my job hunt revealed itself to be full of disappointment, I've turned my obsessiveness to saving money and losing weight. 

I told you about my neurotic grocery budgeting, which so far is proving to be a real challenge to successfully execute. I'm also attempting to save money by becoming a hermit. (Hermits never have to worry about all those miscellaneous expenses.) The below zero temperatures are making this endeavor much easier. 

As for losing weight, it's not that I have a lot of weight to lose, but since I hate (hate) exercise, have no willpower, and love sugar and butter, it's more of a psychological battle. Really, it's not about the weight as much as the jiggliness in the mid-section. I'd happily stay at my current weight if things were just a little bit more...defined. But also, I need to be healthier. I have no endurance and my body is aging faster than I am, which is no good. 

And so I am treadmilling. This might sound like no big deal to those of you accustomed to physical activity, but for me it's quite an accomplishment. Obviously I need to do more than walk if I really want to be in shape, but you have to start somewhere. 

If I can stick with the treadmilling habit, I'll think about adding in some weights or something...I don't know, are there pro bono personal trainers? I need someone to hold me accountable besides me because I'll just tell myself to shut up and go bake some more cupcakes (although I promise I'll feel guilty about it for weeks). 

So will I emerge from this "transitional time" (that's how I like to think of it) healthier and with more money in our savings account? Maybe...or maybe I'll just stick with the hermit thing - you don't really need money or a good figure to be a hermit, right?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Thank you, Food Network

I think I may have found the secret to getting my kids to eat dinner without any arguing: TV tie-ins.

You see, modern parenting advice tells us that TV is bad for kids, but I think it really depends on what you watch. On Sunday night, the boys watched The Food Network's Ultimate Recipe Showdown with me. This is the show where home cooks get to compete with other home cooks using their own recipes and the winner not only gets $25,000, but also gets to have their recipe "interpreted" for the TGI Friday's menu...I think that's an honor if you're a home cook and not a snobby chef who would prefer to pretend chain restaurants don't exist. 

So the theme this week was burgers and the burgers looked mighty good. Inspired, I decided to make my own special burgers for dinner last night. I'm calling them "Chive Turkey (burgers)" and all they consist of is ground turkey stuffed with chive cream cheese. 

They were a hit. Since I prefaced the meal with a "we're having fancy burgers like the ones on Ultimate Recipe Showdown," Owen, who has always refused burgers in the past, dove right in without any complaints about having never tried it before (a first, let me tell you) and Aidan cleaned his plate! This is a breakthrough for sure. 

This can only mean more Food Network for me and more happy meals (not to be confused with Happy Meals™) for my family. Win-win. 

Monday, January 12, 2009

Allez cuisine!

Consider this a heads up. My family is entering a soon-to-be-named contest. It required us to make a video featuring a certain name brand condiment.

Normally my husband would opt out of such things, but the details of what we could win (free trip and more!) and a quick scan of the current entries convinced him to join up this time.

Which is how we found ourselves acting out a no-budget version of Iron Chef America in our kitchen yesterday afternoon…we could call it Iron Sandwichmaker America. Oh, but the way we hacked at that bread with the giant knife…the artistry of our plating...I fully expect to awake to TV executives knocking at our door tomorrow…or whenever it is that my husband finishes his fancy video editing (he went to art school, you know) and we get the thing posted.

So stay tuned. Your participation will be requested…soon, I hope.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


I think my kids are trying to make me feel better about going back to work (assuming someone hires me someday). Yesterday they clogged their bathroom sink with wads of toilet paper. Then, a few hours later, after apparently completely forgetting my riveting lecture about acting like 5 1/2 year-olds rather than 2 year-olds, they snuck into my bedroom and drew all over our giant, white bathroom sink with a red Sharpie

It's so thoughtful of them to show me that staying home much longer will surely drive me insane (and be very bad for our house). Such considerate, selfless souls. 

Monday, January 5, 2009

He Makes it Look So Easy

The Amateur Gourmet posted such a nice blog about his New Year's Eve party that I'm feeling like maybe I could get over my Peter Brady Syndrome* in time to throw a NYE party next year...maybe. I make no promises. Let's talk about it again in, say, 11 months.

In the meantime, let's all make sure our resolutions include getting "as drunk and fat as possible."

*A reference to Brady Bunch episode 22 ("The Hero") in which Peter throws a party and no one comes. The sight of him sitting alone amongst the dozens of glass soda bottles has been burned into my psyche. 

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Questions on a Cure

There is a lot of controversy over whether autism is something that we should be trying to "cure" (in case you're still confused, there is no cure, despite what any former Playboy bunny says). There's an entire neurodiversity movement that feels it is insulting that the medical community would try to cure or remove the traits of autism when autism is really just an alternate way of being. 

Now, I agree that we need to figure out how to better support people with autism and part of that is increased awareness and acceptance.

But I don't think it's reasonable to say to a mother of a child with autism so severe that he can't speak, for example, that she is selfish or bigoted because she wants the medical community to find out what's causing this disorder and then find a way to help her child speak.

When it comes to this debate, the question I always ask myself is, would I want Owen to be "cured" if that were possible? Would I want to change who he is so that maybe his life would be a little easier?

The other night at dinner, Owen was being particularly spacey, getting distracted between every bite of food. As usual, I asked him to try really hard to focus on eating, but his gaze kept wandering off and we had to redirect him to his plate.

So I asked, "Are you having a hard time focusing tonight?"

"Yeah," he answered.

"Does it bother you that you have trouble focusing?”

“No,” he said. And although I don’t think this response was intended to convey a pro-neurodiversity stance, it did occur to me that his autism bothers me more often than it bothers him. But he’s only five.

The thing is, I love who he is and I wouldn't want to risk losing any of the extraordinary parts of him in exchange for some illusion of normalcy. So I don’t think I would choose to “cure” him. 

But I would love to see a day where he could make that decision for himself. I hope we get there.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Grocery Neurosis

I wouldn't call it a resolution exactly, but I've decided to make an effort to trim our grocery bill by 25%. I've been told that our grocery budget was pretty lean already ($400/month for a family of 4), but I think I can do better.

Any of you who watch Jon and Kate + 8 regularly have probably seen the episode where Kate goes grocery shopping and explains that she spends $150/week to feed her family of 10. She is meticulous about clipping coupons and recording how much things cost at various stores so she gets the best deals, but that is still an insanely low number for 10 people. That's $15 per person for an entire week. In my new plan I'm giving us a luxurious $18.75 per person. 

Today was my first attempt. I finally gave into my OCD urges and started working on an Excel spreadsheet listing every grocery aisle of SuperTarget so that I can make my list in order. I actually took photos of the aisle signs with my cell phone today so I can ensure accuracy on my next trip. It's freaky, I know, but it's always such a bummer when you get to aisle 7 and realize you forgot something that was in aisle 2. 

I also clipped coupons for today's visit. I used to love clipping coupons and then I would always forget them when I went to the store and so I gave up. But not today. Not only did I bring the coupons, but I made little asterisks next to all of my coupon items and had the boys help me find them using the pictures on the coupons. Yes, it took longer, but if I get the boys onboard the coupon train, it will help me remember to bring them and encourage me to keep clipping them, even when saving 35 cents seems like a big waste of paper. 

So, the good news is that I saved $6 today with coupons. The bad news is that I didn't make my $75 goal, but I was close. Next time I'll do it.

Why am I going through all of this trouble? Is it really worth saving $25/week? Well, since that's $1300/year, I'm going to say yes. Plus, despite my interest in home cooking, I don't think I'll ever love to eat at home. I'd much rather put that $1300 toward Hawaii...or a weekend trip to Las Vegas...or a handful a really nice dinners in town...or, oh yeah, my steadily rising property taxes. Wait, aren't we in a recession?