Weekend Update: From Girl Scout Cookies to Laser Tag

Happy MLK Day!  I hope you all had a wonderful weekend.

72 hours with nothing special planned turned out to be very nice.  On Friday we made tacos for dinner and then the girls and I curled up on my bed to watch Little Women (the version with Susan Sarandon as Marmee and Winona Ryder as Jo).  L. read the book last year, in 4th grade, and loved it.  She was so excited to learn that a movie had been made from the book.  The girls laughed at my tears when Beth died, but I saw them wiping their eyes, too.

K.’s best friend turned 9 on Saturday, and she was invited to go with her friend’s family and another friend to the American Girl Store in Los Angeles for their Broadway-style show and tea.  The kids brought their dolls and had decided in advance to all wear hats and boots.  They looked so darn cute, as you can see from this teeny tiny picture. For some reason, since I got my new iMac, I can’t get the pictures to be the right size on the blog. They are either tiny or super huge, nothing in between.

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L. and I went to the book store after dropping off her sister.  I needed to pick up The Jane Austen Book Club for my book club, and L. needed the next couple of books in the series she is reading (The Five Ancestors series by Jeff Stone). We then headed over to Starbucks where the two of us sipped chocolate yumminess and read our books.  I must say my little girl looked very grown up hanging out in Starbucks with her nose in a book. My mind fast-forwarded 10 years or so and I could see my girl as a young adult.  I wish there was a way to slow down the growing up process.  I’m not ready for the teen years.

Saturday was the official kick-off for Girl Scout cookie sales in our area.  It’s funny how Girl Scout cookies just sell themselves.  People have their favorites and know what they want.  The kids don’t have to do much work because looking cute and being polite is all it takes to make a sale.  L., 10 years old and in her second year of Junior Girl Scouts, sold 100 boxes of cookies while K. was away at her friend’s party.  Then on Sunday K., 9 years old and a third year Brownie Girl Scout, worked just as hard but only sold a mere 28 boxes.  The neighborhood had been canvassed by competitors, so we didn’t have as much luck on day 2.

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L. had homework to finish up on Sunday, which she did without a fuss or complaint, woo hoo. Homework over the weekend sucks, and I do feel bad for her, but after last weekend’s white-out incident, I was preparing myself for another scene.  I guess if you take a girl’s iPod, tv privileges, computer use, phone use, and Nintendo DS away for a week, she thinks twice about freaking out over a little homework.

On Sunday night I caught my first Jane Austen movie ever on PBS’s Masterpiece Theater, Northanger Abbey, and I LOVED IT!  I want to see them all!   The acting was superb and the story was funny and sweet.  I missed Persuasion last week, but my mom Tivo’d it, so I’m going to watch that soon in an effort to prepare for my book club meeting in February.  The Jane Austen Book Club movie comes out on dvd February 5th, and I plan to rent it before our meeting on the 10th.

Today we got a slow start, sleeping in just because we could and then hanging out in pajamas until 10am.  Dad and the girls made waffles and sausage for breakfast while I read the paper.  The weather was cold and rainy.  We brainstormed ideas on how to spend the afternoon, and I hit on one that brought screams and squeals of delight… laser tag!  L. played once before, at a friend’s birthday party, and has been wanting to go back ever since.  So it was decided.

Laser tag is part hide and seek, part tag, part “GI Joe”, and all fun!  There were 20 players, about evenly divided between adults/extra large children and little kids.  We split into two teams, big people vs. little people, donned our day-glo vests and phaser guns, and cut loose in the dark, stalking our victims, hiding from our enemies, and claiming their headquarters as our own.   It was a total blast, and something we’ll definitely do again!  When we finished, everyone was starving, so we voted on where to go for dinner (Chili’s).

How did you spend your MLK weekend?        

Cravings for Chocolate and Books

Last night I had such a craving for chocolate. It was an out of control, GOTTA HAVE IT craving. B. worked late and wasn’t home or I would have sent him to Dairy Queen. The kids were already in bed so I couldn’t go myself. I went through my pantry, hoping for a stray leftover Christmas cookie, or one of those chocolate covered granola bars, anything! But all I could find was a can of chocolate fudge frosting. I came dangerously close to whipping it open and eating half of it. After a mental tug-of-war, and some quick calculations of how many hours I’d have to spend on the treadmill to work off oh, 900 calories or so, I went to bed (patting myself on the back), but it was a really close call!! When none of your clothes fit, the last thing you need is half a can of fudge frosting. In the harsh light of day, it occurs to me I really should throw it in the trash. (Ha, like that will happen!)

A couple of days ago I finished Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2000. I’ll probably write a review later today. I’m still thinking it over and deciding how much I liked it. Sometimes it takes me a few days to let it settle in my brain, if that makes sense. My kids are home sick today (which may explain some of the moodiness of the last few days) so in between waiting on them and doing extra laundry, I might write a review.

I started The Girls by Lori Lansens Sunday night, and it’s not what I expected. It’s about twin sisters conjoined at the head; interesting characters but so far the book is rather slow moving. Or maybe it’s just me. I’m trying to get into it.

My book club is reading The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler for our February discussion. I haven’t picked it up yet but need to start it soon. Masterpiece Theater on PBS is having a series of Jane Austen movies on Sundays. It began last weekend with “Persuasion”. See the schedule HERE.

I haven’t read any Jane Austen, ever, nor have I seen any of the movies. I’m not sure how I got through school without reading any Jane Austen, but somehow I did. For that reason, I worried that I might not be able to really appreciate our book club choice, but I’ve been assured by another book clubber (and huge Austen fan) that I don’t need to be familiar with her work to enjoy this book. I’ve been told that once I start reading Austen, I won’t want to stop. Is she really that addicting? Will I crave Austen books the way I do chocolate?

Well, I’m being summoned by the sickies. At times it feels like I work here rather than live here! Any other moms ever feel that way?

Weekend Update – From Chef Hats to Santa’s Lap



What a weekend! It was nonstop action around here.

On Friday, the Girl Scout troop descended on my house for a holiday party and sleepover. We turned my kitchen into an Italian Trattoria, complete with opera music (Russell Watson “The Voice” ) and red and white checked tablecloths. The girls donned homemade chef hats, then proceeded to whip up a batch of brownies, a green salad, garlic bread, and huge amounts of spaghetti. After pouring the sparkling cider, we all sat down to an awesome meal. I was amazed at how well these 10 year olds knew their way around the kitchen. They prepared everything with minimal supervision.

After cleaning up, the kids got into their pajamas and had their Secret Sister gift exchange. Later they watched Ratatouille and ate popcorn while the leaders (Sara and I) pumped up the air mattresses. The girls finally conked out around midnight. After a quick breakfast of cinnamon rolls and oj, the girl scouts were all picked up by 9am Saturday morning.

It took a while, but I am finally in a holiday mood. On Saturday, hubby, the girls and I hit the mall. I didn’t have a very detailed list, so my shopping was sort of haphazard. The big event was the visit to Santa. My kids are believers, pretty much (this may be the last year), and the Santa at the mall is very good. He picks up on the littlest things. For instance, he overhears me say their names, and then he uses them as if he knows them personally. My 8 yr old said, “Mom, I don’t think he’s a helper. I think he’s the real one. He knows my name!” Even my jaded 10 year old was impressed. After the obligatory photo, we did a little more shopping, and then left the mall in search of the perfect Christmas tree.

After a sunny afternoon, it started to rain lightly as we were leaving the mall. “Rain..just what you want as you traipse around looking for a tree,” my Grinchy mind thought. My plan of taking a picture at the tree lot to use on Christmas cards was looking like a soggy bust. I grumbled my displeasure to my husband as we drove to the lot near the mall, but then we turned a corner to see an enormous, brilliant, perfectly formed rainbow. Was this God’s way of telling me to put a sock in it??

It was cold (by California standards–56 degrees) and still raining lightly, so we quickly walked the lot. I wanted a 6-7 foot Noble, and they had scads of them, all beautiful. In past years, we’ve gone to 2, sometimes 3, lots before finding the right tree. This year, it couldn’t have been easier. We found a gorgeous tree, the rain stopped, we asked the man helping us to snap a picture, and we were in and out in 15 minutes.

Once we got home, hubby and I had a heated discussion about where to put the tree. Good sense won out (mine). We got the tree into the stand and put it in the room, but decided to leave the decorating for Sunday. That settled, we made dinner then snuggled up and watched The Grinch (not the classic cartoon, but the mildly creepy Jim Carey version. The kids liked it, but I read my book instead).

On Sunday, we played all the Christmas cds, everything from Elvis to Bing to Diana Krall, while decorating the tree. This is definitely the most beautiful tree we’ve ever had. It’s got a great shape, with lots of spaces for ornaments. The girls got bored halfway through, so they decided to play Santa and reindeer. L. dressed like Santa, K. dressed like Rudolph, and they recruited our neighbor to be an extra (lesser) reindeer. They gathered up some of their old toys that they no longer play with, put them in a sack, and off they went in the wagon taking toys to the 3 yr. old twins down the street. It was very cute.

Once the tree was done, I took the tree lot picture in to have cards made at the drugstore. 30 minutes later, cards in hand, I left to do some grocery shopping (so easy when I’m by myself). After shopping and dinner, I addressed 60 cards by hand while hubby and the kids set up the train around the tree.  It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Please consider sending a Holiday card or a Thank You card to a recovering soldier. It’s important for them to know they are remembered and appreciated. My Girl Scout troop sent a stack of them. Here is the address:

Recovering American Soldier
C/o Walter Reed Army Medical Center
6900 George Ave. NW
Washington DC 20307-5001

Weekend Update-From Hamsters to Goldendoodles

On Friday afternoon, there was a mysterious odor in my house, near the bottom of the stairs. It was a smell I just could not identify. My first thought was, “What died?” I was desperate to find the source, opening closets, sniffing the garbage can and the garbage disposal, looking under the couch, going berserk trying to figure out what it was. Then I went upstairs, and wham! There it was again, only worse! The air was thick outside my daughter’s bedroom door. I peeked in, afraid of what I might find, and there, staring innocently back at me through the bars of his cage, was Teddy, L’s stinky new hamster.

L. turned 10 a couple of weeks ago (double digits!!) and Teddy was her birthday gift. I only agreed to Teddy after L. assured me she was responsible enough and old enough to completely care for him herself. The staff at Petco told us his cage would need to be cleaned once a week. Don’t believe it. Hamster cages, I’ve come to find out, reek after about 4 days. So our weekend started off on Friday after school with L. cleaning out the hamster cage. She took it out to the front porch and soon drew a crowd. Every kid in the neighborhood wanted to watch and help. What is so fascinating about cleaning out a hamster cage?

After cleaning the cage and airing out the house, the girls got on their bikes and cruised the neighborhood for a Girl Scout project: Scouting for Food. Boy and Girl Scouts collect canned goods for donation to the Second Harvest Food Bank. We have very generous neighbors, and the girls collected several bags. Dad worked late, but we hooked up with him later for dinner at Chili’s.

On Saturday, K’s Brownie troop came and kidnapped her at 6:45am for a Surprise Kidnap Breakfast at McDonald’s. Her troop leader and 3 of her Brownie friends crept into her room and woke her up. Her startled response was, “What the..??” They scooped her out of the house and took her away in her pajamas. L’s Girl Scout troop was up early too for a Veteran’s Day event. Together with local boy scouts, they went to the cemetery and placed flags on the graves of all the veterans. When they were done it was startling to see how many flags there were. SO many.

Later Saturday, the kids had tennis lessons, then we delivered the donated canned goods, and picked up our team’s soccer pictures. The group picture was good, but K. had her eyes shut in the individual picture. The package includes a big button that a proud soccer mom can wear to games, but it looked so silly with her eyes shut. K. said, “I can fix it!” She got out a Sharpie pen and put two little dots on the eyelids. Perfect!

K. was on FIRE at her soccer game-she had some really good plays, but alas, much to her frustration, she still has not scored a goal this year. There are still 2 more games to go before the regular season is over, unless they go to the playoffs. We’ll see what happens. In a way I hope they lose this week so they won’t go, because if they win it could be as much as an extra 6 weeks of soccer (two practices a week and games on the weekend). It would be nice to be done at the end of November instead of mid-January. And now I’ve probably jinxed it, too! After the game we went out to the local pizza place with my parents, where the guys could watch 6 different football games simultaneously. The kids and I couldn’t care less about football, so I gave them quarters for the game room, and off they went while I drank beer and laughed with my mom.

On Sunday morning we went to church. We try to go each week, but don’t always make it. We’ve been better lately. It’s strange how often the sermon is exactly what I need to hear on that particular day. This week it was on generosity and being rich. Funny, I don’t feel rich, but since I have fresh water pouring from my tap, a car to drive, and a roof over my head, I am rich compared to the majority of people in the world. It’s shocking, really, when you consider that Americans account for only 6% of the world’s population but consume 40% of the world’s resources. We are rich, and we need to share our wealth. A good and important message. Sunday afternoon was L.’s Girl Scout meeting, where the kids learned to make pumpkin bread for a cooking badge. Mmmmm, it made the house smell so good! Bring on Thanksgiving. L. had a friend sleep over that night. We made pasta and crusty bread for dinner. Friends stopped by to drop something off and stayed for an hour laughing and talking. The kids stayed up until midnight.

Monday: Veteran’s Day Holiday.. no school! Bob (my husband) is a veteran, but he had to work. L. wanted to spend her birthday money, so we went to Target, where she bought a really nice Polaroid digital camera on sale, along with a case, flash card, and extra batteries, and she still had money left over. She is so excited about her new camera, and I was glad she spent her money on one big thing, rather than waste it on a bunch of little things. The camera takes great pictures, clear and sharp, and also video clips, and you can play slide shows on the tv simply by plugging the camera in. Pretty cool. Then we were off to the mall to use our Too Bucks at Limited Too (I am such a sucker).

On the way out of the mall, we stopped at the pet store to peek at the puppies and saw THE most adorable animal I have ever laid eyes on. “What is that?” I asked. “That is a Goldendoodle”, the girl said. “Cute, huh?” Ummmmm, I thought, yes. Cute. The cutest dang dog I ever saw! “Are you familiar with this breed?” she asked. Nope. Not at all. “They don’t shed.” WHAT? That long haired furball doesn’t shed????? I must hold him! So we were off to the “getting to know you” room.. 3 little girls, me and a wiggly Goldendoodle, who we promptly named Noodle. My emotions were taking over as I imagined Noodle with our lonely golden retriever, Jasmine, playing and having fun all day long. My brain interfered.. “How much is he?” I asked as he licked my neck. “You can take him home today with a $50 deposit. We have a great payment plan.” My girls started frantically digging through their purses to see if they could come up with the deposit, as I asked again, “How much does he cost, all together?” “$1100.” Oh. I can explain away small impulsive purchases, like shoes. But an $1100. puppy? Buh-Bye Noodle!

Later we met up with friends from the soccer team to see “The Bee Movie”. The 10 and under crowd enjoyed it, but the moms fell asleep (all 3 of us).

How was your long weekend?

Review: The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Loses a Head!

Our book club is reading The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory this month. The size concerned me a bit (661 pages) so I started it immediately after our last meeting to be sure I had plenty of time to read it. I needn’t have worried.. it is a very fast, easy read. I devoured it in less than a week. When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about the book and the characters, and would try to finish whatever I was doing quickly so I could get back to it.

You might expect a book of this size to have lulls or slow parts. It doesn’t. The editing is tight, and the tension builds throughout. An absorbing page-turner; I could not wait to see what would come next.

There are those who don’t care for historical fiction because the outcome is a forgone conclusion.. the ending a certainty. For me, this was not an issue, as I knew very little about the 16th century English court or the reign of the spoiled tyrant, Henry VIII (aside from the playground song, “I am Henery the 8th I am!”). In this case, ignorance is bliss. I liked not knowing what would happen.

Framed by two executions, this novel reads like a 16th century soap opera, full of scandal, danger, murder, ambition, greed, opulence, sex, incest, and more. The Other Boleyn Girl is told from the perspective of Mary Boleyn, the lesser known sister of Anne Boleyn, one of King Henry VIII’s six wives. Taking sibling rivalry to new heights, it tells the tale of two sisters vying for the attentions of the king, and a fiercely ambitious family who sacrificed their daughters in order to find favor, wealth and power.

Mary comes to court as a young girl. Married to William Carey at age 12, she soon catches the eye of the king. She is then ordered by her family to leave Carey’s bed to become the king’s mistress in the hope that their affair will yield land, riches, and power for the Howard/Boleyns. An obedient daughter, she sets aside her own life and desires and does as she is told. After several years and two illegitimate children, the king’s interest begins to wane. The more ambitious sister, Anne, is thrown into his path, and Mary falls from favor. The madness that is Anne’s exhaustive pursuit of the king takes over. Anne, using Mary and their brother George, will stop at nothing to get what she wants. She creates a situation with Queen Katherine that seals her own fate years later.

The historical detail is flawless and the research extensive. It was fascinating to learn about the way people lived, the inequality of English society (from deep poverty to amazing wealth), the expectations of women (proper language, proper manners, the ability to speak several languages, fine domestic arts), the small daily rituals and the use of household items like lice combs (yes, lice, even among the highest levels of society).

There are so many great passages in this book. When I read for my book club, I highlight quotes that I might want to refer back to during our meetings. I did a lot of highlighting in The Other Boleyn Girl! One of my favorite lines is a simile about the excesses of the court, found on page 54:

“There was a trail of extravagance and dishonesty and waste that followed the king round the country like slime behind a snail.”

Such vivid imagery! I was impressed by Ms. Gregory’s writing, the way she handled the complexities of the characters and the seamless blending of fact and fiction. This is an enthralling novel, one I would highly recommend.

You can check out Philippa Gregory’s website HERE

For information about the upcoming movie, starring Scarlett Johansson as Mary, Natalie Portman as Anne, and Eric Bana as Henry VIII, click HERE

You can see our book club’s other selections HERE

Review: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Who hasn’t thought, however briefly, of leaving the rat race behind and getting closer to nature?

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer is a nonfiction account of Chris McCandless, aka Alexander Supertramp, a bright, 24 year old college graduate who gives all his money to charity and drops out of society on an Alaskan quest. Leaving his family and friends behind, he tells no one where he’s going. For 3 years, he wanders, having adventures and preparing for Alaska. He makes it to Alaska and walks into ‘the wild’ with 10 lbs of rice and not a whole lot more. He survives the Alaskan wilderness for 16 weeks before succumbing to starvation.

Was he stupid? No. Was he suicidal? I don’t think so. So how did this happen?

Jon Krakauer attempts to answer that through research and interviews with McCandless’ family and those who met him during his “lost” years. He makes comparisons to other “adventurers” and assorted nutballs who did similar things, with similarly disastrous results. It is a well written account of what may have happened to Chris during his odyssey. Granted, much of it is speculation, but Krakauer’s research is thorough and was made easier by the fact that McCandless left an indelible impression on those he met.

He felt things deeply, passionately. He stayed in written contact with people he met only briefly. People gave him rides, boots, jobs, sandwiches, advice. In one case, an elderly gentleman was so affected by him that he offered to adopt him. He brought out a protective instinct in acquaintances. Maybe they could see what he was.. a bright, caring, idealistic, naïve, ill-prepared wanderer who needed help.

I think my opinion of Into the Wild might have been different in my youth. Maybe I could have related better to Chris’ wanderlust. But, as a parent, I had so many mixed emotions. For almost 3 years, this kid (ok, sorry, Young Adult) wandered the western states without so much as a phone call or a postcard to his parents or sister. 3 years! I couldn’t help thinking, “Grow up! Call your mom!” This was not a kid from a broken home; he was not abused or neglected. He just selfishly wanted to be lost. And so he was..

For another book set in Alaska, check out my review of Winterdance: The Fine Madness or Running the Iditarod

Helping Moms Use Common Sense

Being an old fogey in my 40s, I can’t possibly stay current on all the music being marketed to kids. Oh, sure, I know every word to every song on the High School Musical 2 cd, and I listen to (WAY more than) my share of Radio Disney. But beyond that, I’m pretty clueless on what’s hot with the preteen set. Santa is bringing my children iPods this year, so I went looking for a resource to tell me if any of the songs they are interested in downloading contain the F-word, or talk about killing cops in the alley, or make it sound really fun to have boys touching their bodies (ooooo, give it to me, baby!)

That’s how I came across Commonsensemedia.org, an invaluable tool for parents, and the place to go if you want to know whether or not a book, movie, tv show, website, song, or video game are age-appropriate for your child.

I love their reviews. They use criteria that’s important to me. The standard rating system doesn’t tell me enough, but this site gives me exactly what I want to know before I take my 8 and 9 year old to the theater, or buy a new cd or game, and plunk down piles of cash.

Along with thorough reviews, Commonsensemedia.org gives analysis of the following categories for everything they rate. I’ll use the movie “Evan Almighty” as an example.

Sexual Content: (“Evan and Joan kiss and hug a couple of times”)

Violence: (“The flood scene is a bit intense as the water rises and the ark is propelled forward, but no one gets hurt. Some comic pratfalls/injuries while building the ark.”)

Language: (Very Little, even by PG standards: “pissed”, “Jackass”, “Oh my God!”)

Message- Social Behavior: (“Evan sacrifices his reputation in order to follow a greater calling and by doing so, saves lives, animals, and his family. Some poop/bodily function jokes-not surprising, given all the animals involved)

Commercialism: (Just a few: Hummer, The Daily Show, The 40-Year-old Virgin Mary),

Drug/Alcohol/Tobacco: (None)

All in all, an awesome website for parents. Especially those of us who have been accused of being somewhat overprotective. In my defense, I just want to preserve my children’s innocence as long as I can. The way I see it, it’s part of my job as their mom.