Monday, October 30, 2006

Sweatpantsmom Reveals The Secrets Of Blogging!

A friend of mine called me recently to say that she was thinking of starting a blog and wanted some advice. I told her the blogosphere was already too crowded, and if she had any 'thoughts' or 'feelings' she should either keep them to herself or just write them down in a spiral-bound notebook like everyone else. She persisted, though, and I agreed to answer a few questions mainly because I'm a supportive friend but also because she agreed to cough up a couple of bucks for a cappuccino and a scone. Here is our Q & A:

Can anyone start a blog?

Yes. In fact, that's the comment I hear most often after people have read my blog. "Oh, I see anyone can start a blog."

How much time do I need to devote to my blog?
Most of your waking hours that you aren't working, sleeping or going to the bathroom should be spent on your blog. Nobody likes a lazy blogger. In fact, before starting you should explain to friends and family members that you will no longer be available for lunches, parties or funerals. It's also a good idea to teach your children to cook and clean and to do their homework on their own because you won't want to be bothered with any of that.

How do I get people to read my blog?

I don't know.

Can I earn money by running ads on my blog?
Some people make lots of money with blog advertising. If you look on some popular sites you'll see ads by big name advertisers like Mattel and Paramount Pictures. It depends on how successful your site is - the more readers you have, the bigger advertisers you can attract. I myself am waiting for approval from some advertisers as we speak! (I'm talking to you, Hals Donuts and Nails by Fatima!)

Are blog rankings important?
Absolutely. I suspect it has something to do with being more talented and more creative, but I know for a fact that those with higher rankings are definitely better looking. My Technorati rank is something like 18,000. That puts me right on par with say, Dan Rather or Bea Arthur. In fact, that's what I'm thinking of for my new tagline: The Bea Arthur Of Blogs!

What about comments - are they important?
If you're talking about your sense of self-worth, yes. If I see that I have zero comments, I'm likely to grab a box of candy bars and crawl into bed for the rest of the day. The higher that number gets, the less I yell at my kids and the more optimistic I am for my future. Once the number of comments gets into the double digits my mood gets even sunnier and my husband knows he'll be getting lucky that night. And just as I said that I realized where all those "Anonymous" comments are coming from.

I've heard that bloggers are a narcissistic bunch. Is this true?
Absolutely untrue. But did you want to talk about other bloggers and their problems, or - Hello! Why don't you ask them out for coffee?

Should I tell anyone about my blog?
If you're planning on trashing your friends, relatives or your mailman, then no. There are those that find it offensive to be called a turd or a back-stabbing ho in a public forum. Some people are just sensitive that way.

But I find it can be an effective tool in certain social situations, like if you're trying to stop that pesky neighbor from stopping by "just to chat" or to get rid of someone at a party. Because nothing stops a conversation dead in its tracks like the words, "Let me tell you about my blog."

I'm interested in blogging and its relevance in the bigger picture. How can bloggers use their collective voices to influence political issues? In what ways can bloggers use their platform to affect social change? What are some ways that blogging influences public opinion?
No. Are you going to eat the rest of that scone?
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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Nice To Meet You, Please Don't Kill Me.

Yesterday someone knocked on the door and when I opened it there was a package on the steps. It was a small box, with my name clearly typed on the label but no identifiable return address. I then did what any normal, rational human being would do - I decided that it was a letter bomb, and set about deciding how I could open it without losing a limb or even worse, scorching my eyebrows.

I took the package outside onto the front porch. I saw a documentary on letter bombs on TV, and knowing that my blood and severed digits had the possibility of shooting several feet, I decided that detonating the box inside the house wouldn't be smart - you're looking at a few hundred dollars just to clean the walls and hardwood floors. That's me - always thinking ahead!

I pointed the box away from my body and slowly opened it, pushing it away from me after each rip so that once I reached the fuse I would have at least a few seconds to hurl my body out of danger and minimize the carnage. If any of the neighbors saw me and the obvious peril I was in none of them stepped up to help me - no doubt they were all just waiting, camcorders in hand to record the explosion of human tissue and body fluid so they could post it on YouTube. Those sadistic bastards.

Finally, after a few agonizing minutes during which my life passed before my eyes and I had rehearsed what my last words would be to Rigel and the girls ("Sorry for the mess. By the way, we're out of milk.") the lid of the box flipped open. My heart pounded. Sweat dripped from my forehead. I glimpsed a piece of foam padding and an ominous-looking grey object.

It was my new replacement battery for my PowerBook.

When I told Rigel this story last night he laughed for second, got really quiet and then said, "Wow. You're brave. Because if I did anything that loopy, no way would I even think of telling anybody."

I take full credit for my neurotic, doomsayer tendencies. That huge, old tree in front of our house that's withstood a thousand years of earthquakes and storms? Clearly minutes away from smashing us to smithereens in our sleep. The guy at the park who I thought was about to snatch a kid and whisk him away in his stolen van? I sneered at him for a solid hour before I found out it was actually my friend's husband. The gnarly-looking crew that showed up to do some yardwork? Certain that they were all escaped convicts, I called Rigel at work to tell him that the one with the glass eye and skull tattoo was not only eyeing me but our patio furniture, too.

I wasn't always this suspicious. I used to be trusting and naiive, and while I didn't just fall off the turnip truck, I certainly had no trouble just getting right into one. During a solo trip to Seattle to visit friends I took a ferry alone to catch a shuttle that would take me to the airport. Weighted down with three bags, a backpack and walking through a rainstorm, I accepted a complete strangers offer to take me to the bus stop. And while I became uncomfortable when he professed his belief in UFOs, I didn't think anything of it when he opened the back of his truck cab and I saw:

a thick coil of rope
two shovels
several tarps
The Holy Trinity of mass murderer accessories in his truck - no problem. Crazy talk about alien beings - Hey, back-off psycho man!

While I can't begin to figure out the origins of my fears, my near-death experience at the hands of my laptop battery has got me determined to confront my suspicious nature. I've decided to make a conscious effort to be more trusting from now on. Strange letters in the mail that have no return address and smell of sulfur? Bring em on! I'll not only open them in the house, I'll carry them around in my pants for an hour first! Strangers approaching me on the street? I'll no longer assume they're out to steal my children, but hug them warmly and offer them a mint. Heavily tattooed, breast-gazing men who show up at my house to haul away greenery will be shunned no more! Now, they'll be invited in where I'll offer them coffee and the password to my online banking account.

I'm a work in progress, though, so those of you who've never met me, don't be surprised if I eye you warily at first. Try to ignore the retina scan, and please be understanding if I summon law enforcement if you attempt to approach me and my children to set up a playdate.

Most importantly, if you plan on sending me any computer accessories, make sure to mark the package clearly.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

This Little Scribe Of Mine.

Edited 10/24: Kiyomi regrets the omission of the Aries horoscope. She claims the error was because she wasn't able to finish the newsletter due to the unreasonably early bedtime imposed by her parents. Here is the missing forecast:

aries: you will be interested in animals.*
*Sweatpantsmom assumes no responsibility for any aberrant actions or risky behavior as a result of the above forecast.

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Not to be outdone by her sister's popular AnimeKat Weekly, Kiyomi has come out with a newsletter of her own, the Weekly Bunny Moon. I know I'm partial, but the title alone is so cute it makes me want to cry.

Like Kira, she types it out on her Mac and then emails it to family and friends. (If Kira is feeling territorial at all she's not letting on, although I did catch her Googling 'creative domain' and 'sister is a copycat' the other day.) If this keeps up I may have the two of them just take over my blog - not only is their writing a thousand times more imaginative than mine, but they're cuter, younger and have smaller pores. In other words, they've got 'BOOK DEAL' written all over them.

Kiyomi does her own version of a horoscope, called 'future telling.' It's good news if you're a 'caper corn' (like me) since relaxing times are ahead. However, if you're a pisces, be prudent with your good times, and you geminis out there - unfortunately you're all vampires.
future telling for the week
cancer: you will have a sudden need for cookies

caper corn:
you will be resting good

you will have nightmares

you will be shy oftanly

you well look pretty

you will not look in the mirror

you will ware ribbons

you will have a great time

you will feel curious

you will be shocked

you will do great in your work

have fun but not enough

Enjoy your first free, introductory copy of Weekly Bunny Moon. Kiyomi has informed me that future issues are available by subscription only, at a cost of 12¢ or a box of Twizzlers.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I Know It's Only Rock And Roll, But They Like It.

A couple of years ago Kira and Kiyomi became obsessed with the band Puffy AmiYumi and the cartoon that was created about them. I liked this phase, since the worshipping of two hip Japanese rocker chicks was preferable to the phase where they were fixated on Barbies, princesses and those awful Bratz dolls. My daughters, at the young ages of 6 and 8, were determined to become superstars and someday travel around on their own tour bus, just like their idols. I told them I had a similar dream, but it involved me, alone in my minivan on a four day bender to Vegas.

That Christmas they asked for electric guitars so that they could embark on their quest for musical stardom. I found a couple of cheap ones at Toys R Us, but Rigel, currently pursuing his own dreams of rock and roll immortality, decided this was his domain and no wife of his was going to go buying his offspring just any old guitar she picked up in a bargain bin. I figured this was his sneaky way of spending even more time at GuitarCenter, but I was relieved to have anything crossed off my holiday to-do list. Three days and almost four-hundred-dollars later he had purchased two mini Fender guitars, each with it's own amp and guitar stand. I thought this was a little extravagant, especially coming from a man who thought that having GPS installed in his wife's car was too much of an expense, even though it's known that she requires MapQuest to navigate down their own driveway.

Now, two years later, they've just started their guitar lessons. It's going well, and they've already mastered the first few chords of their favorite Green Day song. Kira has obviously inherited Rigel's musical genes which also probably explains why, despite the fact that she barely practices, she has managed to become first-chair violin in her school's orchestra. But what Kiyomi lacks in actual musical chops she makes up for in theatrics. She just joined the orchestra on violin this year as well, and after playing for me a scratchy version of Hot Cross Buns the other day, she stood up, blew me a kiss and then pretended to smash her violin on the floor with big overhead swings. I did the wave and then held my lighter high up in the air.

They've even started a band with their two best friends, Sophia and Samantha, calling themselves the Sunflower Sisters. Though they don't have any songs written yet, haven't mastered any instruments or decided on a genre, Kira has already designed an entire tours worth of band outfits and decided exactly what the inside of the deluxe bus will look like. They've already had their first fight - about the logo design - so it won't be long before they're stealing each others' boyfriends, battling substance abuse and attempting to mend their broken relationships as a result of their solo albums. I'm just beaming with pride!

Recently I saw the two of them in the living room, practicing their post-concert sign-off. Kira had the microphone hooked up to their karaoke machine and Kiyomi was sitting next to her with a globe in her lap. She would spin the globe, stop it with her finger and then show Kira where it had landed. Then Kira would shout out, "Thank yewww... TOKYO!!" and "Thank yewww... WYOMING" and my favorite, "Thank yewww... [examining...long pause]...LIBYA!!"

We're accepting bookings now.

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

My New Best Friend.

I'm a huge David Sedaris fan. I've read all of his books twice, eat up his occasional pieces for The New Yorker, and when I saw him live earlier this year I even briefly considered waiting in the line of two-hundred-plus people just to get my copy of Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim signed. Instead I sat at a nearby table where I drank my nine dollar glass of wine and fantasized how I would trick him into coming to my next dinner party. I had gotten to the part where he takes out a restraining order, when I was brought to my senses by Rigel pointing out that I was smashing my plastic tumbler into tiny pieces and mumbling, "But all I wanted was to be your friend!"

Yesterday, as I was browsing the bookstore, lamenting the fact that it had been two whole years since his last new release, I came across this book, written by his sister Amy. I'd seen her occasional appearances on David Letterman and as Carrie's agent on Sex and the City, but had never read anything she'd written until now.

It's a how-to book on entertaining and contains actual recipes for things like Roast Leg Of Lamb, but the text is like something written by the local Girl Scout leader after a night of tequila slammers. You'll find recipes for Vulgar Barbecue Sauce and even useful beauty tips such as how to use cigarette ashes to remove hair color from your hairline. And how awesome is it that I can follow her recipe for white frosting with figs and then, on the facing page, find tips for keeping my private parts clean and fresh!

The first thing I saw when I flipped open the book was this recipe for hot dogs, and after reading the first few steps I knew that I had found someone else to stalk.

Mrs. Hog's Hot Dogs
  1. Wake up.
  2. Turn the stove on.
  3. Get a pan, put water in and boil it.
  4. Drop hot dogs in boiling water but be careful not to splash boiling water on yourself.
Not only do I have a book of new recipes to pour over, I also get some good advice in her Art of Hospitality section:
A Self-Realized Person Will...
  • Be unique in a way that is pleasing to everybody.
  • Accentuate the postives – medicate the negatives.
  • Have a hairstyle that is flattering to some and offensive to few.
  • Have access to money.
  • Never cry herself to sleep in front of others.
This book is around 300 pages and I'm only on page nineteen, so it should keep me busy until what's-his-name decides to publish another book of his essays. Plus, the entire last section is devoted to crafts and there's a few that I want to get started on right away. The pantyhose bath sachet and the wooden calf stretcher will be perfect for the slumber party I'm inviting Amy to!

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Buy, Buy Japan.

Recently Kira overheard a friend telling me how the last three months of the year are always so hectic, and how she's dreading the big Christmas rush and the buying frenzy that it brings. "Gawd, I hate to shop. Hate it hate it hate it." While this sentiment was even a little strong for me, by the horrified look on Kira's face you would have thought my friend has just lifted her shirt to reveal a parasitic twin. On the way to the car Kira nervously whispered, "Okay, she was just joking about the shopping, right? I mean, is she some kind of weirdo?"

When a website asked me to write an article on traveling to Japan with my girls, it didn't take me long to realize what stood out in my mind. Although their willingness to adapt to a foreign culture was exciting, what really impressed me was their ability to sniff out a retail opportunity from five miles away. To them, the ancient temples of Kyoto were merely facades for the gift shops tucked away inside, and their bizarre internal radar expertly guided us from our hotel in unfamiliar surroundings straight to a seven story shopping complex.

Sure, Rigel and I came away with many rich memories of our trip, but through our daughters' eyes we came to realize that the true worth of the journey is measured by the number of crappy keychains you bring home. (You can read about Desperately Seeking Souvenirs on KidsCanTravel.)

Just so you don't think this post was a cheap way to get you to read my article, here are some of the treasures we scored:
iPod skins: Ask Kira about the trip, and the first thing she is likely to say is, "Their iPod skins rock." Hers is the 'angel' (front and back) and mine is the much more boring dotted version next to it.

Key Covers: These are everywhere in Japan. For some reason, of all the souvenirs that I bought, this is my favorite. It's on my house key, and makes me smile everytime I open my door. It's as if it's saying, "We all went to Japan, and all I got was this lousy key cover."

Cell phone charms: They're around two years ahead of us over there in terms of cell phone technology, and around fifteen years ahead if you're talking cell phone accessories. I've never seen so many cases, straps, decals or hanging-thingies. The gray ball on the one on the right lights up and flashes whenever a call is coming in. I barely know how to even use my phone, but with all these goodies hanging from it I look like a pro.

Cookies: These are so good you'll want to roll around naked in them. They're called Yoku Moku, and here in the States you can only get them at Neiman Marcus or Saks Fifth Avenue, where they'll set you back $20 a box. We got them in Japan for $11 each, which is not bad considering each cookie is individually wrapped and packed into this beautiful metal box, which you can use later to hold all those keychains and cell phone charms you don't use anymore.

We bought around eight of these to give away as gifts but have eaten almost all of them so far. We've only given away one, to Rigel's sister, and that's because I forgot to hide them before she got here.

Jiji and Dust Bunny Keychains: We're all huge Hayao Miyazaki fans. Jiji is the cat from Kiki's Delivery Service and the Dust Bunnies are from My Neighbor Totoro. If you've never seen either of these movies you are dead to me.

There's a Studio Ghibli Museum in Tokyo which is basically a shrine to Miyazaki and his films. We wanted to go, but the tickets are sold out months in advance and the earliest date they had was in December. So imagine the glee when we stumbled upon a gift shop that stocked nothing but merchandise from all of Miyazakis movies - which is probably the only reason the girls wanted to go to the museum in the first place.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

We'll Have Our Cake And Eat It, Too.

As you know, I'm not much for tackling any important issues on this blog. Homelessness, poverty and oversexed Republican representatives take a back seat to any narcissistic stories revolving around my latest diet, grooming habits or too-cute-for-words anecdote about my kids. But when I see something that really riles me, that just screams injustice, I am forced to take action. Because this time, it's personal.

They're trying to take away our cupcakes.

According to this recent article* in the Los Angeles Times, some school districts are banning any non-nutritional treats from classroom parties. That would include birthday cupcakes, Halloween candy or little Susie's mom's killer caramel brownies. Instead, one district administrator suggests parents bring carrots.

Oh, yummmmm! Birthday carrots!

Now, I don’t know about your kids, but if I were to show up in either of my girls’ classrooms with a bag of carrots to celebrate their special day, I'd be beaten senseless by a mob of angry kids. And Kiyomi, while relaying the offense to her therapist in twenty years, would recognize it as a pivotal moment in her decision to jack a Hostess truck.

In fact, if I show up at any party bearing a platter of carrots, feel free to pull me aside and kick my ass.

Don't get me wrong - here at home we try our best to give our kids a healthy, balanced diet. We even have soy bacon in our freezer, right alongside the edamame and Boca Burgers. As they're getting older, we try to guide them towards making healthy choices for themselves. (Oh, alright. Except for this.) And I supported the ban on soda vending machines in our district schools – the daily presence of those big metal boxes was unnecessary and too great a temptation, sort of like putting a bacon dispenser outside my office door.

But the responsibility of my child's health is not the job of anyone else, especially the parents of my child's classmates. I trust my kids to exhibit some measure of self-control, so if Billy's mom wants to bring in birthday cupcakes smothered in buttery pink frosting and topped with chunks of sugar crystals and gummi bears, that's fine. My girls usually scrape off half the topping anyways, and will usually forego sweets for the rest of the day, telling me they're "all sugared out." And even when they do jump on that treat like a rottweiler on a pork chop, I'm not likely to become alarmed enough to call for a district-wide cupcake ban. More likely I'll ask them why they didn't save half of that monstrosity for me.

I realize there's growing concern over childhood obesity but I think it's a mistake to blame it on a few cupcakes consumed over a nine-month period. Most teachers I've seen have the foresight to make sensible recommendations: only one treat per child, and for classroom potlucks parents are encouraged to bring vegetable and fruit platters or sandwiches. I showed up at Kira's last classroom party with a tray of sushi which, along with other parents' offerings of dolmades and pupusas was appreciated by teachers and kids alike. But I know that we were all grateful that one of the mothers had the sense to show up with a tray of homemade churros for dessert.

Some administrators are suggesting alternate treats for the kids - stickers, school supplies, special seat covers (and sue me for having a perverse mind, but all I can picture are those things you find in public restrooms, only this one has "Happy Birthday Claire!" scrawled across it in crayon.) These are all good suggestions, but the idea of all my child's classmates singing 'Happy Birthday' to her while she blows out a candle stuck into an eraser just seems so wrong to me.

The article mentions that the Texas legislature passed the "Safe Cupcake" amendment last year, which guarantees parents' rights to deliver unhealthful treats to their children's classroom. This would ensure that anyone showing up at school bearing a platter of sninckerdoodles won't be fingerprinted, put into a headlock and escorted off the premises. I hope we won't have to go so far in our school, but if a ban on sweets appears on my district's horizon I'm prepared to fight tooth-and-nail for the cause.

Because if they want my cupcake, they'll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands.


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