Monday, December 25, 2006

Pa Rum Pum Pum Pum.

In consideration of our sanity and that of our neighbors', we decided against getting Kiyomi a drum set and instead got her one of these, a digital drum machine:
She was pretty excited, and couldn't wait to get started. After the four hours it took to open the box and then search the house for six C batteries, she finally got down to business and started banging away. After her first solo she dramatically thrust her sticks in the air above her head, got up and took a deep bow. Then in an added bit of realism she pretended to be drunk, staggering around the room with her eyes half closed and bumping into furniture, JUST LIKE A REAL MUSICIAN.

We're so proud.


HAPPY HOLIDAYS! I'm wishing all of you good things for the coming year - joy, health, happiness and the company of those you love.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I Went To A Concert Where I Gave Birth
To Someone On Stage.

Sounds messy, I know. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago I wrote about Kira and Kiyomi starting guitar lessons. They just finished their first eight week session, although on the last day Kiyomi decided to quit and walked in and announced to her teacher, "I am not a guitar player. I am a DRUMMER!" It remains to be seen whether or not Santa will be stuffing this down the chimney. I'm sure the money would be better spent on a math tutor, but who ever won American Idol by reciting their times tables?

Kira, however, took to it immediately. By the end of her second lesson she knew how to tune her guitar, had memorized her chords and could play a couple of songs all the way through. Rigel was amazed that he was actually learning a few chords from her, although I think it was a blow to his ego when she called him her roadie in front of her friends.

She had her first gig on Friday night, accompanying her teacher (and a seven-year-old singer) on Green Day's Boulevard Of Broken Dreams. I've seen the Stones from the tenth row, partied backstage with The Talking Heads and been offered a joint from Stanley Clarke, but I have to say none of my musical experiences so far compares to seeing someone you gave birth to playing her mini-Fender on a community center's stage.

(In true Stage Mother form, I have to add that most of the guitar you are hearing is Kira's, since she was hooked up to an amp, and her teacher wasn't. Okay, that's all. I'll be over here trying to get her to wear makeup and this sequined halter dress I made her.)

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Saturday, December 09, 2006

This Is Where I Talk About My Refrigerator And Then Provide Links To Distract You.

It's been a plodding week over here. First Kira got sick, then I thought I was getting sick, then Rigel got sick, then I thought I was getting sick again then we woke up Friday morning to a huge puddle of water underneath our refrigerator. Never say I don't know how to have fun.

The repairman showed up to look at our refrigerator and told us it would cost $450 to fix. Seeing as we had just spent $400 on it a little over a year ago to fix a similar problem, we started discussing whether or not it was worth it to fix a twelve-year old appliance. This seemed to cause our repairman great distress, all this tossing around of big words like "money" and "fix" and "old" because he started sighing loudly, rolling his eyes and checking his cell phone. Finally he said, "While YOU TWO are TRYING to decide I'm going to go outside and smoke." Charming fellow!

Apparently he called his office to complain about us indecisive yuppie scum, because immediately the phone rang and when I answered it his supervisor launched into a whole sales pitch, trying to convince me that buying a new refrigerator would be a mistake, and we should fix our old one and he knew that if I went to the store I would (and I quote here) "buy a refrigerator with a TV in it, and in a few years that TV that you thought was so great would end up speaking French to you." I told him that his talents were obviously being wasted in appliance repair, that where he really belonged was as an ambassador to NATO.

But what really sealed the deal for me was this exchange that followed:

Me: Thank you, but we've really made up our mind not to fix it. We'll be buying a new –

Ambassador To Nato: Excuse me! Let me explain! I don't think you understand - your refrigerator is perfectly fine. The new ones are not made as well. You should let us fix your old one.

Me: Yes, I do understand but we've decided to –

Ambassador To Nato: Let me explain! Or, maybe you don't understand. Maybe I need to talk to your husband.

WWMD? (What Would Mom-101 Do?) Liz, I could have used a good feminist zinger to put this chauvinistic, appliance-fixing, French-TV-hating jerk in his place.

The upside of the whole ordeal is that I now have this beauty humming away in my kitchen.

Unfortunately, I had to cancel plans to have coffee with one of my favorite bloggers.


Some more links to distract you from the fact that this entire post consisted almost entirely of my conversation with an expert on refrigerator repair:

If you haven't already read this, go read it now. KC of Where's My Cape writes beautifully about growing up with racism and ethnic stereotypes.

Check out MetroDad's mailbag, where he gives advice on a variety of topics, including hiring a nanny: "During the interview, have your wife dial her cell phone and check her ring tone. If it plays "My Humps" or the theme song to "Scarface," don't hire her. There's a good chance your potential hiree is a wanna-be gangsta or an undercover skank."

I'm not even remotely crafty but I'm inexplicably intrigued by this project over at Wisdom Has Two Parts. It must have been the cheapskate in me picking up on the part where she mentions getting something for a quarter.


The best part of my week? I went to a great concert on Friday night.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Don't Even Think About Getting Me That Knitted Toaster Cover.

The holiday season is here and all the excitement that comes with it: The parties! The shopping! The buffets! It's all over so quickly, but there's one thing I can count on to be with me even after the season has ended, something that will remind me of the holidays long after the tree has been unceremoniously thrown to the curb and the last piece of gingerbread has been inhaled.

I'm talking of course, about all those bad Christmas gifts.

It's not that I'm ungrateful - I'm definitely from the 'It's The Thought That Counts' camp when it comes to gifts. It's just that I can't help but feel bad for the tree that had to die in order to make those wooden boxes adorned with cat portraits that I got one year, or the underage Thai children that worked at a knitting machine for hours to turn out that beaded, sequined, mauve vest a friend gave me.

So I thought as a service to anyone in the midst of their shopping this year I would put together a gift guide, something to help you figure out what not to buy this holiday season in the hopes that your gift won't end up in the back of someone else's closet only to be re-gifted to you for your birthday in two years. Happy shopping!

1. Try to avoid giving those huge gift baskets of cheese and salami to anyone on a diet, or twenty-pound bags of Starbucks coffee to someone trying to cut their caffeine intake. However, if you've already purchased these items, I'll be happy to take them off your hands.

2. By the same token, never give a vial of live Ebola virus to a hypochondriac.

3. Don't give gifts 'for the baby' to a pregnant woman. This will only breed resentment towards the unborn child because what the mother-to-be really wants are some nice bath products or a gift card to an all-night donut shop. There'll be plenty of time for resentment once the baby is born.

4. Additionally, absolutely never gifts 'for the baby' if you're not certain the woman is pregnant. If it turns out she has just put on a little weight you can just kiss that friendship goodbye.

5. Stay away from pet-themed gifts unless you know that the recipient is a dog fanatic or subscribes to Cat Fancy magazine. I have a friend who gave me cat gifts for Christmas and birthdays for three years straight. Earrings with cats, cat necklaces, cat stationery, even a fly swatter with a felt cat on it. The sheer awfulness boggled the mind. While we had a cat we loved, I never considered myself a 'cat person,' one of those people who wears huge sweatshirts with sparkly, appliquéd cats on the front and who always signs their name with a little paw print next to it.

6. When giving an item of clothing to a female friend, never buy it in her actual size, always at least two sizes smaller than she wears even if you know it will be an inconvenience for her to return it. She will think you see her as thin, which is important to all good friendships.

7. It is never a good idea to give suggestive pictures of yourself to your husband for Christmas, as this may cause some uncomfortable moments during the big family gift exchange. Plus, it can be crushing when your niece asks, "Are those pictures of Grandpa Earl?"

8. Don't give movies unless you are certain of the recipients tastes. It's fine, for instance, to give a Super Deluxe Gold Re-mastered Pantomimed Edition of The Lord Of The Rings if you know that the person is a fan of the movie. But buying someone a DVD because you've "watched it at least fifty times" is not a good reason, and you may be shocked to discover that not everyone thinks Patch Adams is a cinematic masterpiece.

9. The same rule applies to books. They are not a good gift choice unless you know the person very well, or are trying to date them in which case remember to only buy books that greatly exaggerate your intelligence and knowledge base. Art Of The French Renaissance will get you considerably more action than Garfield: Survival of the Fattest.

10. Never give anything that can't be quickly recovered from the closet and put on display whenever you come over. It's unfair to expect your friend to haul out that life-size panda wall clock you gave her whenever you decide to drop by for a visit. At least that small vase made out of walnut shells can be brought out from behind the books at the last minute. Be considerate.

11. Try not to give expensive gifts to your neighbors. They will perceive you as being rich and will constantly be over to ask for things, like a cup of sugar or some gold bullion bars.

12. It is dishonest to give someone a gift you know they won't use because you are secretly hoping they'll turn around and say, "Oh, I'll never use this. Here - you take it." Like giving a friend who never cooks an expensive enameled sauté pan. Not that I've ever done that. I'm just saying.

13, Avoid stereotypical ethnic gifts. It annoys the hell out me when someone gives me a pair of chopsticks, or a toothpick-holder shaped like a rickshaw, or a 3-disc bundle of all the Karate Kid movies. If you feel you really can't help yourself from buying these types of gifts, try not to preface them with statements such as, "I wanted to give you something from your motherland" or "Your people sure know how to kung-fu."

14. Unless you are very close to the person you are giving to, never hand them a gift and say, "I know you're going to love this. I bought ten of them for myself." It is a 100% certainty that they will hate it, and then question your taste for all eternity.
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Friday, December 01, 2006

Losing My Tradition.

A few years ago I bought this beautiful wooden advent calendar. It's not a traditional one, but works in much the same way to count down the days until Christmas, except without the Bible story and with small compartments for each day that hold gifts. In other words, it's a cheap commercialization of a lovely Christmas tradition. Just what I was looking for!

I saw The Box as a way to start a tradition with my girls. Instead of constantly asking me how many days were left until Santa's arrival, I imagined them excitedly opening the door for each day to find the small trinkets I would hide in there. They would pass it on to their children, who would pass it on to their children, and so on until years from now my great-great-great-great grandchildren would be retrieving their time-travel vouchers from The Box's tiny alcoves. As you can see, I put a lot of thought into this.

When I showed The Box to Rigel he reacted like a typical male, skeptical about us needing any more holiday traditions. I convinced him that the customary Holiday Hangover and our festive, annual Haggling Over The Moneys were probably not things we wanted to pass on to our children and he grudgingly agreed. The girls were excited about it, deciding that anything that increased their gift-receiving days from one to twenty-five was all right by them.

That first year I spent a lot of time carefully choosing small knickknacks to put in The Box. The size of the compartments posed a challenge and finding items that would fit inside the small space was sometimes difficult. But I did it, scouring Target and Claires to find small keychains, miniature bottles of nail polish and chocolate Santas that were just the right size. I was so caught up in my wonderful new holiday tradition that if you knew me then you would have wanted to throttle my holly-ringed neck. And in hindsight, I wish someone had.

By the second year, I was slightly dreading the Filling Of The Box. In my initial excitement I had failed to calculate the sheer volume of gift buying I was in for: 1 item x 2 girls for 25 days = 50 items. This was in addition to my already extensive list, so I didn't spend as much time shopping for items that year. Carefully chosen presents were replaced by dimes and quarters on some of those days, which the girls heartily approved of. There were less bracelets and more chocolate coins, less tubes of Skittles-flavored lip balm and more stickers. Still, The Box was filled and there was happiness in the household.

When the holidays rolled around last year I had serious regrets about The Box. This came after a particularly grueling cleaning session of the girls' room where I found enough small trinkets to fill five-hundred advent calendars. The idea that I would be buying more crap to fill up those small compartments for twenty-five days panicked me. I considered recycling items, but that wouldn't be in the spirit of the season, and besides I intended to wrap most of it up and re-gift it to the kids of people I didn't like.

I ended up buying a few items but my lack of enthusiasm was evident and I was no longer concerned with the element of surprise. I would scramble to find the little presents for the day, ask them to turn around while I put them in the cubbyhole. and then they would immediately turn around to open the small door to retrieve their gifts. I was beginning to wonder why I didn't just hand them each a bag on December 1st with twenty-five items inside.

On some days I wrote small notes which the girls, while politely feigning gratitude, weren't so crazy about. I don't blame them - who wants a piece of paper that says, "We're so proud of you!" when you're expecting a rhinestone ring? It got worse as the month wore on, with me forgetting days altogether or scouring my closet for leftover party favors or office supplies. By the time December 24th rolled around I had turned into a regular Scrooge, and the girls couldn't hide their disappointment at what they found behind those tiny doors that day. I gave them a lecture about being grateful and thinking of those less fortunate, so then they thanked me for the pocket lint and three paper clips.

I briefly considered not even taking The Box out this year, until Kiyomi saw it in the closet and started pointing and squealing, "The Box! The Box!" as if she had discovered Santa himself sitting there on the shelf. I brought it out, but told them I wanted to do something different this year with more meaning and less useless junk. I took it as a good sign when they looked thoughtful for a moment as they opened the small doors, but then Kira inquired, "Can a gift card fit in there?"

So, today's December first and I haven't gotten around to buying anything for The Box. I've got some Halloween candy that will last me through the next few days, but beyond that I'm not sure what to fill it with. Touching notes of encouragement? Coupons for extra desserts? Lumps of coal? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Either that, or feel free to FedEx me twenty-five small items that can fit inside a two-inch space.

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