Thursday, November 20, 2008

Can I break my addiction to paper towels?

Seems ridiculous, I know, but I think paper towels are one of the greatest household tools of all time. A spill? Tear a couple off and wipe it up. Peanut butter splooge or syrup stick? Scrub it off with a paper towel. Dry a freshly washed apple. Catch potato peels. Wipe away milk mustaches and dab off scraped knees.

Is anything else as versatile, convenient, comparably inexpensive and just plain useful?

I'm not sure of the answer to that one. What I am sure of, though, is that our family goes through way too many rolls in a month. All those paper towels may biodegrade comparably quickly, but we're wasting a truck load (or several) worth of trees each year.

So it's time... time to break the addiction.

I have a stack of squares I cut from an old sheet, so I'm going to use those instead. I can use them, rinse them and toss them in an tupper (with a lid!) till the next load of laundry is tossed in. These days, that's at least every couple days.

I didn't think I'd be ready for this step for a while, so I may fall off the proverbial wagon. I promise to try really hard, though!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Deliciously Great Green News!

Got the gas bill today and by turning my thermostat down to 67 degrees, my bill went down 30%!! And not only that, but according to various sources, I saved 1000 lbs of C02 from entering the atmosphere!

Yahoo! *Doing the Happy Dance!*

Of course, PUD decided to raise their rates so I actually only saved $3 compared to last month. Grrrr!

So let me ask you this... What amount should I add to my Green Fun? The $3 I actually saved or the amount I would have saved if rates had not spiked? That would have been around $20 give or take. I'm all for the $20. The more I can add to the fund, the better, right?
67 degrees is not nearly as frigid as I though it would be. I just wear a sweatshirt or sweater and I'm fine! The kids are rarely cold since they rarely stop moving. Even Scott, who I thought would fight the issue, didn't mention the temperature too much. Maybe it didn't bother him too much. Or quite possibly, he knew this was a battle I was willing to fight. Either way, the temperature adjustment worked!

Deliciously Reviewed: "New Moon"

The second book in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, New Moon was every bit as compelling, engrossing and fascinating.

More than once I found myself yelling at the book, "Don't do it! Don't do it!" Scott looked at me a little strangely, but knowing the depth to which I incorporate myself into such stories, he refrained from asking for details.

New Moon is slightly more intense than Twilight, but not so much that I had to put it down. (Remember, I am the one who, when watching Miss Congeniality in the theater, sat shaking and barely breathing from fear. Pathetic, I know, but I *don't* do well with suspense.)

Emotionally, the romance factor wasn't as strong as in Twilight, but it was the teeniest bit more physical. Still very much PG, though -- one slightly longer kiss vs. the occasional peck on the lips.

But once again, I couldn't put the book down. I read while brushing my teeth and blow drying my hair. I read while stirring meatballs and while eating breakfast, lunch and dinner. (Ok, I admit it. It was probably a bad mom moment when I let my kids eat dinner in front of the tv just so I could keep reading! LOL!)

So another 36 hours and another 500 pages, I'm done with New Moon. I can't wait to start Eclipse, the next in the series. It might be a while, though. The library has 66 copies, all of which have holds placed on them by over 300 people. Here's to hoping that they're not just fast readers, but fast returners as well!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Deliciously Reviewed: "The Mysterious Benedict Society"

Another Young Adult novel, The Mysterious Benedict Society was intriguing, but slightly disconcerting. It was very much like a children's version of George Orwell's 1984 with one very strange and unpredictable man, Lepthora Curtain, trying to control every one's thoughts in order take over the world.

The Mysterious Benedict Society itself is a group of four children who passed a random and inexplicable series of tests. It is their mission to prevent Curtain from succeeding in his diabolical plans. These children, no older than 10 or so, must muster incredible courage and strength to carry out their own plans. And, most importantly, they must learn to work together even though the four of them are completely and totally incomparable.

It was a good read, but I can't say I would read it again. I just thought it was a little weird. The possibility of someone, fictional or not, controlling the thoughts of the general public makes me shutter. It's just not something I want to imagine. I almost stopped reading the book a couple times because I was getting uncomfortable with it. But every time I walked away from it, I couldn't help but walk right back and pick it up again.

Hayley, my little fantasy genre lover, is sure to appreciate The Mysterious Benedict Society more than I did.

Deliciously Reviewed: "Twilight"

One of the most popular YA (young adult) books in years, the Twilight series has never once caught my attention. Sure, I've seen it at the bookstore but the cover is something my eyes would never stop on. I couldn't have even told you the title.

Then three people in two days mentioned the book. Of course there is plenty of furor over the upcoming Twilight movie, but clueless as I am to the outside world, I had no idea.

My wonderful friend, Amanda, and her fam came over for dinner on Saturday bearing yummy cake and the first two books in the Twilight series. I started Twilight that night -- 500 pages and 36 hours later, I finished it.

Could not put it down! Fantastic story! Irresistible. Humorous. Suspenseful (but not in a bad way). Romantic (pg rated).

17 and clumsy, Bella Swan moves to the Washington coastline to live with her father. Her first day of school brings the usual fears, but also an unusual biology lab partner -- Edward, the most beautiful young man she's ever seen. After months of mixed signals and several convenient "rescues" by Edward, they form a unique and intense relationship.

The story follows Bella and Edward through compromise, understanding, sacrifice and a profound love possible, but not usually felt, in those so young.

High five to author Stephenie Meyer for her character depth. Bella is multi-faceted and tangible, a very real person in every sense of the word. Edward has a personality to rival any living human, plus also the mysterious and extending characteristics of a (hopefully) mystical being.

Aside from her appreciable development of characters, Meyer's writing was basic. Not bad, mind you, but definitely tailored to the young adult set with no attempt at expanding their knowledge of literary style.

Here's what I didn't care for too much in the book... Bella, as I mentioned, is clumsy. Not just a little bit, but extraordinarily so. If any real person had as many accidents as Bella does, he/she would be undergoing serious medical testing for possible causes. Completely unrealistic, but certainly convenient to the story line.

Because of Edward's limitations, Bella must put aside her own needs and wants -- physical, emotional and cognitive. She doesn't question, or mind, doing so because she loves him so intensely. I can't help but think that this may send the wrong message to the readers who, please remember, are tweens and teens who are inclined to think everything they feel as intense as Bella's feelings for Edward.

Then there's also the Prince Charming syndrome -- you know, boy repeatedly saves girl. This doesn't bother me so much because it is such a common theme in past and current stories. I think it's lost much of it's importance -- there is a fantastic amount of "Girl Power" expanding through media and toy outlets. I guess I like to believe that we can preserve antiquated story themes just as we can preserve antiquated furniture, linens and tools.

None of this was so prevalent as to detract from the story line, but as an adult critiquing a YA novel... well, they're just food for thought and tools for expanding my own writing expertise.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The earth needs to open up wide and swallow me whole right now!

Embarrassment doesn't even begin to describe how I feel right now. Chagrined? Oh yeah, times 100. Discomposed? Doubtlessly. Mortified? Yup, this is probably the closest word that can aptly describe my humiliation.

"So what happened already?" you're anxiously (and bemusedly, I'm sure) asking.

Ok, so the six of us (the D____ four, plus my parents) went to dinner at this great restaurant called Beaches. They have fantastic service.

Let me say it again: They have fantastic service.

The food is great; the atmosphere is relaxed and comfortable; the food is delicious and well-priced; the employees treat you like old friends.

Tomorrow being Hayley's birthday, she immediately pronounced the fact to our server, Stephanie. We had a great dinner, with the girls and my dad all getting individual little pizzas. Hayley ate all of hers. Emma, with leaden chewing, managed at long last to get through half of hers. Dad, with my help and Mom's, ate all but one piece.

Stephanie offered to put the left-overs in box. Scott had also needed a box half an hour earlier when he had to take off for Men's Group, which he then took with him. I'd forgotten, though, that he took it with him, so as we were leaving the restaurant, I realized I only had one box and I thought that it was Scott's burger. Did I bother to check?

Of course not!

I asked the hostess to see if she could track the tiny box of pizza down before it was too late. In the process of trying, she asked Steph, who could have sworn she gave us the box. The manager came over, too. I told them it wasn't a big deal at all and not to worry about it. I mean, it was half a kid's pizza, plus a small slice of Dad's. Really not a big deal!!!!!

But the the overzealous folks at Beaches it was a HUGE deal! I told them not to worry about it, but thanks very much, then got the family into the car. (Remember, Dad is in a wheelchair, so it takes a bit of coordination.) It's pouring. I left my jacket at home. I'm getting soaked as I balance Dad into the car. Mark, the manager, and Steph came running out to stop us.

Did I mention that is was raining?

They were so concerned about this damned half a kid's pizza. I kept telling them it was ok! They kept saying it wasn't. I finally told them (pleasantly, of course) to go back inside so they wouldn't have to work the rest of the night soaking wet. We told them we'd be back anyway and not to worry. (Beaches is Dad's new favorite hangout. We've been there four times in seven days.) At last they went back inside.

Dad, Mom and kids were finally in and buckled, so I pulled my wet self into the driver's seat. I'd just shut the door when Steph came running back out.

Did I mention that it's still raining?

"Can I have your address?" she asked. "Really," I say. "Please don't worry about this. It's not a big deal!" "But it's your daughter's birthday. It's a huge deal!" I gave in and recited my address.

Finally we get to leave. It's only been a few minutes. But a few minutes in Stressville is like a hour, as you all well know. The roads were slippery. It was hard to see, but we got home safely. I settled Dad in, flipped on CNN for him, booted Emma into the shower and Hayley into her room for pj's.

Somewhere in among all the activity of driving and coordinating, it occured to me that Scott took his burger with him and that I had the pizza. Sure enough, when I peeked in the box, the pizza is nestled in a delicious pile. I was so embarrassed and planned to call the manager to let him know my mistake so he really wouldn't worry about it.

Too late.

We'd been home five minutes (well, maybe seven) when someone knocked on the door. I peaked out the window and saw a guy holding a pizza box. I opened the door to tell him he was delivering to the wrong house but I caught my words just in time.

It was one of the chefs from Beaches, hand delivering a full-sized pizza and a mouthful of prolonged apologies!!!!!

Do you see now why I'm wallowing in mortification? All this hullabaloo for three tiny pieces of pizza that I had the whole time!

A whole pizza. Delivered by the chef. In the pouring rain.

Yeah, that qualifies as fantastic service.

Friday, November 7, 2008

School and Girl Scouts and Church and More! (Part 2)

Part 2 of volunteering: Girl Scouts!

I am having so much fun this year as leader of a Girl Scout Junior Troop. We only have three girls in the troop (down from eight last year), but they are the most dedicated, adorable, funny and responsible girls.

They are working towards their Bronze Awards so dedication is necessary at this point. A Bronze Award is a service project on which the girls spend at least 15 hours working -- half is planning; the other half is actively doing. The girls can choose anything they want as a service project (provided it's feasible and I agree with it!) An original idea is challenging to develop, but listen to what these girls are planning:

"Doctor's offices always have toddler toys, board books and half-destroyed picture books, but they never have anything to entertain older kids. We plan to put together baskets for older kids that include things like a Rubix cube, an Etch-a-Sketch, game books, markers and magazines like American Girl and Sports Illustrated for Kids. We are going to donate four boxes each to The Vancouver Clinic and The Free Clinic."

Isn't that a great idea? Most Junior troops seem to perform a service project around pets and humane societies. Noble, to be sure, but overdone and a bit droll in my opinion.

Last Monday was the monthly GS Leaders' Meeting and my Jr's came along with me to announce their Bronze Award project. They did such a fantastic job! All three of them spoke clearly and loudly. A terrific round of applause accompanied them back to their seats. Compliments on their ingenuity flew as they passed out their fliers as did questions on when and where people could donate. I was (and am) so proud!

At any rate... having a small troop is so much more manageable and there isn't nearly as much drama. I talk to the other two girls on the phone a couple times a week and I really feel like I'm making a difference in their lives. And they are most definitely making a difference in mine.

All three of them are so different in personality, but so similar in values. They're a wonderful support for each other and I have the fantastic benefit of seeing how other tweens operate. I sincerely hope all three stay with GS through high school. There are some amazing opportunities out there and some great scholarships available for Girl Scouts who have earned the highest honor -- the Gold Award!

4 states and 7 years of service -- can you tell how strongly I feel about Girl Scouts?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

School and Girl Scouts and Church and more! (Part 1)

I realized the other day that I have posted very little about my title claim of being "Volunteer Extraordinaire". Kind of interesting considering that volunteering is such a huge part of my life!

So relax for a few minutes while I regale you with tales of the crazy, headache-inducing, but incredibly fulfilling insanity that is Volunteer Work...

Monday afternoons I love, love, love because I go into Emma's third grade class to help the kids learn the writing process. Sometimes I meet with small groups -- one or two kids -- to discuss what they're writing and how they can expand, edit, add detail, etc. Other days, I wander around the classroom answering questions and helping to clarify the sticky points.

Occasionally, the teachers will call on me to talk to the kids about techniques from a "real life author". It is so much fun! Many of these kids want to be writers when they grow up, so they are really listening and really trying and really making progress.

Walking into the classroom yesterday (Monday) afternoon, I set my things down and settled in to listen to the writing lesson. When she finished, Mrs. L. gave me a run-down of what she needed me to do. Before she turned back to the kids, she said, "The two kids you helped last week came back into the room so excited! I listened to them tell their table mates all about the ideas and suggestions you gave them. It was awesome!"

Yes! I am actually making a difference! I'm somehow imparting my experiences on these little people in a way that they understand and can employ to advance their writing skills! How cool is that!!

Last year, in Hayley's fifth grade class, her teacher asked me to help a boy with the beginnings of an essay. We sat in the co-op and he said, "I'm not a good writer. I'm just no good at it." By the end of our half hour together, he was so excited with what he'd been able to do with his heretofore lacking essay. All I did was ask him questions and help him understand what makes writing great. As he stood up to go back into class, he gave me an brilliant, lopsided grin and said, "I can't wait to tell my mom about that! She's going to be so proud of me!"

I left the school that afternoon so incredibly fulfilled.

The next time I came in to help out, Ms. V. told me that the boy came back into the classroom after I'd met with him and he was ecstatic! He couldn't wait to tell everyone what he learned -- most importantly, that he was a good writer!

I made a difference in this kid's life. I made a difference that will help him not only through the rest of his school career, but his work career as well. I know without a doubt that he will remember that half hour for a very long time to come.

**Delicious Disclaimer**
If you know me well, you know that I am one of the last people on earth who could brag about themselves. If you don't know me well (or at all), please understand that I haven't shared all this to say "oh look how great I am". I've shared this because volunteering has fulfilled me in so many different ways that I never could have imagined. These kids I work with inspire me.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

What did yoooooooouuuuuu have for dinner on Halloween?

(That "yoooooooouuuuuu" was supposed to sound spooky like a ghost. Did it work?)

Years ago, Scott's parents gave us a fantastic recipe for Muenster Chicken. The girls, of couse, immediately started calling it Monster Chicken so we decided to make it our traditional Halloween dinner. (You can find the recipe at the bottom of my blog under "Delicious Recipes".)

We have it often enough, but since it's one of our favorite dishes, we were all excited about having it on the big night. Chatting about it a few days before Halloween, over a scrumptious dinner of Garlic Chicken, Pasta Alfredo and carrots, I looked at the dish of pasta in the middle of the table. "Oh, man!" I said. "I should have waited till Friday to make the pasta alfredo!" "Why?" they all asked. "Because," I laughed, "pasta a-fraid-o goes great with monster chicken!!!!""


Well, of course, we then had to come up with a spooky vegetable. Any guesses on what we came up with?