Wednesday, October 31, 2007


We had a great time on Halloween! First, we had dinner at our friends' house and answered the door for a lot of trick or treaters. Every time the doorbell rang, Ulysses jumped up and ran to the door, saying, "I'll get it, I'll get it!" Then he would carefully lift the big candy bowl and stagger to the doorway that Gloria had opened by that time.

Gloria had bought some kind of motion-sensitive electronic witch that groaned and grimaced when people came to the door. She delighted in flickering the lights -- which also made the witch go off -- and scaring the poor children. It was the scariest house I saw in the whole neighborhood! When we got back from our trick-or-treating, Donald told us that while we were gone, one little girl got so scared that she had to go inside to use their bathroom!

Ah, yes, trick-or-treating. Ulysses was all for trick or treating, except that he didn't want to put on his costume! The farthest he got was the red plaid shirt and blue jeans. He loved the red cowboy hat, but that didn't mean he wanted to wear it. He wanted to wear his favorite hat, which is a denim ball cap. So he did not look very cowboyish. Whenever we tried to get him to put the costume elements on, with whatever coaxing we could think of, he just laughed at us and said, "No...ho-ho-ho!" as if we were all just kooky. I tried to just put the vest on him, and he screamed. So I just started touching him with the vest to make him scream. You know, little touches, little short screams. It sounds pretty mean, but I couldn't help it! It was too funny. Don't worry, I didn't really make him upset.

I carried the vest on my arm and wore the hat, and told everyone that he was a cowboy. Nobody seemed to mind! And to think I was so proud of making that gold star and putting together the whole costume. Oh, well. Next year he'll get the idea. I think he had the idea, anyway. He just didn't want to dress funny! Either way, people marveled over how cute he was and gave him candy!

Halloween prep

This neighborhood we're going to also has people who do up their houses to thrill the children on Halloween night. I am looking forward to it!

Unfortunately, the children of our friends are going to be off doing their own thing. Nico, 13, is doing something with his friends and Vicky, 8 is doing something with her friends. Gloria, a mathematician, is working on a grant proposal that's due tomorrow. So it's not the big H fest I've been looking forward to having with them for years.

The good news is that Sigurd is happy that we're coming -- otherwise he was going to be alone all night on door-answering duty.

For the robot costume, last week I got a lot of really cool gold-faced cardboard scraps at work that were being thrown out. I spent some time on the web researching robot costumes and came up with a sandwich-board concept. But then Donald nixed a boxy homemade robot because of safety. He didn't want any hard edges around U's neck, etc. I agreed immediately, once he put it that way.

I took U shopping for a costume on Sunday. I thought it would be best to wait until the last minute. I was really disappointed by the selections -- everything was Caribbean pirates, vampires and ghouls, and a few other characters thrown in.

We went to a thrift store that has a lot of new Halloween merchandise, but didn't find any ready-made costumes that U was remotely interested in. While there, we heard a father mention to his son that there was a used cowboy costume on the rack. Ulysses heard that and got excited by the idea of a cowboy. That costume was way too small, but I managed to find some basics on the regular clothes racks: a red plaid shirt and a denim vest with red piping!

We looked everywhere for a cowboy hat, but nobody has them! We went to a Halloween superstore kind of thing, and stuff was flimsy and expensive, which I was expecting, but not to that degree! $55 for a Thomas the Tank Engine costume. $30 for a Sherrif Woody: an already-beat-up-while-still-brand-new foam hat and a cheesy-looking coverall.

I thought that was so weird, that children's cowboy hats were impossible to find. Next year I'm going to get a jump on things and look for essential props on eBay.

I put out an e-mail at work for a cowboy hat, and someone brought me a red child's cowboy hat today! Someone else brought me a red kercheif.

Remember the gold cardboard? On the computer at work, I drew a sherrif's star -- 5 pointed, with little circles centered over each pointed -- somehow, the circles make it seem really Western -- and the automated computerized cutting machine people were nice enough to offer to cut it out for me. (I was going to hack through it with an X-acto.) I sewed Velcro on the denim vest, and attached the gold star.

So U has a red hat, a red kerchief, a denim vest with red buttons and red piping, a red plaid shirt, a gold star, and blue jeans. I thought of drawing a Wyatt Earp mustache on him, but I think it's better to keep it simpler at this point. He might think he wants the mustache but then get freaked out by seeing it out of the corner of his eye, or something like that.

I can't wait to see if I can get the costume/trick-or-treat concept across. If he puts his costume on, it will be adorable.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Hello, Mom and Dad

Friday evening, Ulysses and I were sitting together on the couch. He was on my lap. He looked at me and said, "Mom? Mom." He turned to Donald, who was in the chair by the couch, and said, "Dad."

Donald and I laughed. "Where did that come from?" we said. I've always been Mama. Donald was Dada, until he became Tata earlier this year. That's Serbian for "Daddy," so I would always refer to him that way speaking Serbian to Ulysses.

Over the course of the weekend. Ulysses gradually replaced all occurences of "Mama" and "Tata" with Mom and Dad. By now, I can't say I've heard either one for at least a couple of days.

There's something so grownup sounding about it. It's freakin' me out!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Butter is the answer

My new slogan:

(the question doesn't matter)

Feel tired? Glum? Anxious? Depressed? Are you too fat? Too thin? Is your food dry and tasteless? Are you sick of dieting? Do you walk around in a mental fog all day? What makes life more fun?


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Now I've seen everything

Ulysses and I went to Pierce's, the small, locally owned supermarket near our home last night. Walking past the apples in the produce department, I noticed a display of clear plastic tubs, each containing 12 ounces of sliced apple. "Garden Cut: A fresh experience," read the labels. Price: $2.99. I looked at the price per pound of the whole apples that these tubs were nestled among: 87 cents.

Is it really that challenging to slice up an apple?

Is there anyone who finds the pre-slicing of a couple of apples to be worth $2, plus degradation in looks and flavor?

When do you need 12 ounces of sliced apple all at once? That's the equivalent of four medium-sized apples. Do you open the package and eat a few slices at a time, then come back the next day to the heap of pre-sliced apple getting yuckier and yuckier? Or is the idea that you can treat your friends and family to a cornucopia of stale apple? It's as easy as popping off a lid! (And earning the amount of money it requires to take home $3. For most people, that takes more time and effort than slicing four apples.)

A bad deal if ever there was one.

There was a Web address: I tried to find what sort of preservative they used to keep the apples from turning past the moderate shade of dun yellow-brown that they had become from being cut. There was little information, besides the promise that Garden Cut would increase my produce sales and minimize product loss.

Remind me to ask the produce manager at Pierce's in a few weeks how well the sliced apples have been going.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Alert: Kid too smart

Bad enough that Ulysses has hijacked my nice, new MacBook as his personal Photo Booth device. He spends hours switching between effects and taking pictures of himself and his toys. Yes, he can use the trackpad to do all of those things by himself. When the MacBook arrived in mid-September, he couldn't use a mouse -- didn't understand it -- but that's all over now, you betcha!

Here's the rub. Last night, I forbade him from using Photo Booth while I was trying to use the computer at the same time. I was willing to share the screen space, but he wasn't -- was hogging the pointer, so that I couldn't scroll through the Web pages I was reading. So I quit the Photo Booth application. Thought that would stymie him. Wrong.

He unhid the dock (I keep mine on Autohide), pushed the pointer up to the Photo Booth icon, and clicked on it.

He LAUNCHED the APPLICATION! Not, aw, cute baby, he punched a button and something happened. He selected it and purposedly LAUNCHED it!

I was so astounded and impressed that I let him play with Photo Booth for a while. Until I got mad again after not being able to read my Web pages. (Yelling on both sides, and putting the computer away for the night, ensued. When I shut the lid, he said, with finality, "The End.")

Is any of this three-year-old behavior? Or just 21st-century three-year-old behavior? Someone tell me.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Missouri trip, Day 6: Tuesday

Tuesday we drove home.

We stopped in Platteville, Wis. and I got a McDonald's iced coffee to see what all the fuss was about. Donald had never even heard of them. I thought it was the fakest thing I'd ever tasted. Yuck. I got it plain. It was so pumped up with coffee flavors, and so syrupy with sugar. I can see why people like it. Those are all appealing flavors. But once you get turned off to the taste of Fake -- ick.

Missouri trip, Day 5: Monday

Sharon had to go to work today.

Donald and Ulysses and I visited the smallish supermarket down the street, which is much closer than the Wal-Mart, if I do say so, and was so friendly and nice. We bought some coffee that we'd never seen at home, and we got her some kitchen supplies that it seemed she'd run out of. We also bought groceries to make some yummy dinner with. Sharon is leaving vegetarianism after decades of practice, and we've been taking the opportunity to share whatever we know about cooking non-vegetarian food with her. Of course, I can relate to her experience somewhat. But her process is different from mine. Partly it's because she's moving to a country where vegetarianism is practically unknown. Partly, she says, it's because she wants to be an easier mate to her fiance, not that he isn't estatic with her just the way she is.

We got some ground beef and figured we'd teach her how to make a good, basic meatloaf. An endlessly flexible entry in any repertoire.

I got a cute little pie pumpkin at the pumpkin place on Sunday. Ulysses was desperate to have me cut it in half; I don't know why. He kept making cutting motions with the side of his hand. At one point, for a moment he somehow even got hold of our 8" Dexter Russell chef's knife that we'd brought along from home and made as if to do the job himself! Yikes!

I was reluctant to cut the pumpkin, because if I was misinterpreting his request, or if he changed his mind, there would be wailing and gnashing of teeth over the murdered pumpkin. Finally, today after we got back from the market, I cut the pumpkin for Ulysses. He was thrilled!

Then Donald and I had the idea to stuff the pumpkin with the ground beef! I hollowed out much of the pumpkin flesh and spread out the seeds to dry out for toasting later. We mixed it with the beef, and wow! It was one of the best meat loaves we've ever had! We cooked and mashed potatoes, also. And we had tossed green salad. A lovely supper.

Meantime, the day. At noon we met Sharon for lunch at a Burger King that boasts Missouri's largest indoor play structure for children. This thing took 10 entire minutes to climb to the top of! Then you slide down a loooooong spiral slide. That takes about 40 seconds. Pretty long for a slide. You have to work for it! Sharon, Don and I took turns going up the thing with Ulysses. Sharon's energy, as always, amazes me.

Donald and I went to a park after lunch and hiked with Ulysses. We had gone there with Sharon on our last visit a few years ago.

More later.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Visit to Sharon's, Day 4: Sunday

Today we went pumpkin picking at a place called The Peach Farm. Ulysses had a blast. They had a straw bale maze. It was a lot more fun than a corn maze. It had a roof, and it was dark! The ceiling was less than 5' tall, so grown-ups had to lean over and really work to get through it. Very exciting. I was scared whenever I couldn't see the LEDs U's twinkling Thomas the Tank Engine shoes.

Before that, we had lunch at a diner that had all sorts of memorabilia, 50's-ish. It was visually a whole lot of fun. The food seemed like an afterthought, unfortunately. We had a good time there.

When we got to the parking lot there, Ulysses wanted to know what was going on. Sharon told him, "We're going to have lunch." "Lunch," he repeated, thoughtfully. It was the first I'd heard him use that word.

In the evening, Ulysses wanted to go back to the diner! He got his hat and went to the door, pulled at the knob, and said, "Lunch! Lunch!" He was sad and disappointed that we couldn't all just head out the door in the middle of the night and have it be lunch again.

Donald stayed home that day and watched movies and ordered pizza. He had little interest in visiting a pumpkin patch. He had great interest in having a day to himself for once.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Missouri trip, Day 3: Saturday

Sharon and I went grocery shopping. She turned into the parking lot of Wal-Mart, and I was so horrified that she left and drove to a local supermarket!

Today it was raining. Hard.

We went to an ethnic grocery owned by a local man who came from Iraq with his family. A pillar of the community. He recently got into some ridiculous trouble with some government agency just because of where he's from, despite being completely innocent. I can't remember the story now. Sharon told me in detail. Now I have to get the story from her again.

Funny how much the subject of Islam is coming up on this trip. It ordinarily barely exists for me. Apparently Friday night was something called "Eid," the celebration at the end of Ramadan. Sharon and U and I were walking in her neighborhood, and she saw a man and woman evidently dressed up for a nice evening out, heading for their car. The woman was dressed in Muslim-type clothing. Sharon told them, "Happy Eid!" They were thrilled that she knew that it was Eid. I had never heard of it. One of the most important days of one of the world's most populous religions.

What with Sharon moving to Turkey, the topic is coming up regularly. Sharon is atheist. Her fiancee is a moderately religious person in a country where Islam is the religion, so naturally that is his religion. His family is not religious. But the people of the country, apparently, in general are. Even though the separation of church and state has been very complete there pretty much throughout the twentieth century, even more so than in the U.S.

The market was marvelous. Such wonderful smells. They gave us some samples of their homemade baklava. Mmmmm. I bought a packet of spices from Pakistan. I don't know what it is or what to do with it; I can't read most of the label; I'll just put it in a pot with some meat and cook it and find out. I'm sure it'll be good.

Sharon bought ingredients for Turkish burek. Serbians have a similar dish also called burek. It's a layered filo dish made with cheese and spinach. Dill was one of the main seasonings. It was lovely.

We also did some baking. Ulysses helped. Ulysses found that Sharon had an apple Peel-Away corer and peeler. It was all we could do to keep him from peeling every apple in the house.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Visit to Sharon's, Day 2

Sharon couldn't start her car this morning. She said it sometimes acts up, but always starts after a minute or two. We all sat in her van for about 10 minutes while she tried and tried and tried and tried. Finally, Ulysses suggested, "Try the key!"

Very helpful.

It was the perfect day for the car to break down good, because we were there to drive instead. She called the mechanic for a tow, and they had it fixed by the afternoon.

We spent the morning shopping for knives and other kitchen equipment to equip Sharon with some decent stuff. Sharon wanted our advice. I told her that Don was mainly the person to get advice from. He's such a gearhead when it comes to kitchen stuff. We went to restaurant supply stores and a retail kitchen place similar to Bed, Bath and Beyond. What a spree!

We got a couple of things, but mostly Sharon needed some good knives. She got a lovely bamboo cutting board. She also got a special glove that you wear to protect your hand from getting cut while the other one holds the knife and cuts.

Sharon got a diagnosis of breast cancer this spring, and it had gone into the lymph nodes. She had an operation and lots of chemo. And I think radiation, but I'm not sure. She says it's critical that she doesn't strain the arm on the side where the cancer was, or get a cut on that hand, because she could develop a permanent swelling called lymphedema. Hence the glove.

In the afternoon, I dropped off Sharon at her chemo appointment. I lent her my precious copy of Good Calories, Bad Calories to read during the three hours she needed to spend there. I went to the Columbia, Missouri library to work on my Sandra Lee cover story for Brava. Mainly I realized just how much there was to be done in that article, and how far, far, far I was from finishing it.

After picking up Sharon, we went and got her car from the mechanic's. Fast work!

This was the day we got Sonic for lunch. It was so awful. Don blogged about it on his Blogging for Pancakes site.

Sharon and I stayed up late talking. I slept on the couch downstairs with Ulysses. Don got to stretch out upstairs.

Wifi! Sigh of relief.

We're visiting our friend in Missouri who has modem dial-up. All the wifi networks in range are password-protected. 

I'm in a study room at the town library now, to work on an article for a couple of hours.

I'm sure it's been said countless times already, but it's astounding how painful it is to be without easy, automatic broadband access! Just because I have this access, I feel a compulsion to post. And surf, and e-mail. 

OK, now to get to work.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Missouri trip, Day 1

Hooray! We're visiting Sharon, who's moving to Turkey at the end of the year.

We started out from the house at 6 am, and arrived earlier than expected, around 2:30. We took the route suggested by Google Maps when you select "Avoid highways." A lovely ride through Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri farmlands and small towns.

Sharon, Ulysses and I drove to a park with a nice playground in the evening.

Ulysess loves the dogs, Savvy and Piper.

Friday, October 5, 2007

A different vegetarian, but I spoke up!

Folks were talking about making a lunch run to Qdoba. In case you don't know, they're a chain of Mexican fast-food restaurants owned by Jack-In-the-Box, a publically traded (NYSE) company.

One fellow, a vegetarian, asked, "What are the cookies like?" No one answered. "Hard or soft?"

He hadn't directed his comments to anyone in particular, and since no one knew the answer, no one felt compelled to respond.

"Does anyone know what Qdoba's cookies are like?" he persisted. "Does anyone know whether their cookies are any good?" Silence. "Are they hard cookies? Are they soft or what? What are they like?"

Finally, I spoke up. "I'll tell you what they're like." I took a deep breath. "They're made of sugar, cheap corn-derived sugar substitutes, refined white flour, and a whole bunch of high-tech, overprocessed, completely devitalized ingredient crap."

"Thank you, Vesna," he said. "I knew that."

I knew I was on the high ground. My breakfast had been local traditional sausage, free-range eggs scrambled in butter, mixed veg cooked with ghee and extra-virgin, organic coconut oil. My lunch bag was stocked with organic salad greens, homemade dressing, and local, rBGH-free cheese.

There was no arguing who was leaving the smaller carbon footprint today.

Several minutes later, he announced that he was leaving. "Anyone else want anything?"

"Yeah, pick me up a couple of cookies," I said.

He gave me the finger (not for serious).

I smiled a great big smile.