Thursday, November 20, 2008

Circus! Circus!

This has been a crazy busy week, and I find that here I am at Thursday without even mentioning the highlight of my kids' November -- the circus last weekend. I haven't been to the circus since I was a very little girl, and I think I might have been more excited than they were beforehand because I had images in my mind of what I'd been missing all these years. My memories of the circus (apart from the endless hours I spent pretending to be a bare-back rider on our toy spring horse) are of lots of very beautiful women in sparkly costumes adorned with long flowing plumes. I don't know if these women ever really existed at the circus. It would certainly seem that long peacock tails and Las Vegas showgirl plumes don't make a whole lot of sense for a trapeze artists. But those are the women in my mind: spangled costumes with fluffy feathery tails and plumes on their heads, standing on top of cantering horses.

The bare-back rider was, of course, the only act not in the particular iteration of Ringling Brothers' Circus that we saw on Saturday.

But it's hard to argue with the grandeur of a performance that has traveled cross-country with ELEVEN elephants, ten tigers ("three white and seven orange," Son will tell you), half a dozen zebras, lots of horses, two large handfuls of dogs, and countless clowns. The Ringmaster had a voice as velvety as Patrick Stewart. The stilt walkers were enormous and funny. The acrobats amazing.

There was preshow fun -- performers of all kinds working in two small rings, and all of us able to mill around and get up close. We watched clowns walk on giant balls, acrobats do incredible things with giant piles of hula hoops, and an elephant paint a picture. I was thrilled to be so close to the beautiful giants.

Son's verdict? "They're kind of smelly."

One of the most stunning acts in the show was the sway poles. These are about 40 feet tall, and performers at the top of them are quite unafraid to hang upside down, swing towards each other, and generally astonish us with their bravery and agility.

My very favorite was the tiger tamer. Although the tricks he got them to do were pretty cool, for my money, the most impressive thing he did was before the act started. The spotlight was on the tight-rope walkers while the center ring was set up for the tigers. In the darkness, they erected the steel cage (something like a giant circular wall of chain mail) that kept tigers separated from the audience. Then they wheeled out the tigers, in containers that locked to each other to form a long tiger train. Soon, the center ring was filled with ten GIANT tigers -- plump, strong, tigers sitting each on their own stool. One tiger tamer in the middle of the ring, surrounded by ten tigers in the dark. By definition, standing in the middle of the ring, he couldn't see them all at once. But they didn't move a muscle. For a good five minutes, he murmured occasionally, moved slightly towards one tiger or another, and somehow managed to keep them all in order until the lights came up.

Why do I find this so impressive?

I only have two children, and I can't keep them sitting still and quiet for five minutes together EVER. And neither one of them weighs five hundred pounds or has razor sharp claws and teeth.

Son, of course, liked the clowns best. ("And the tigers. And the guys in that giant spinning wheel thing. And the elephants. And the horses. And the funny dogs...")

And as you know, clowning is serious business. Especially when your red nose is a little too big.

May you have some serious family fun yourselves this weekend.

Cross posted from Mommy's Martini.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

This Post Brought to You by Glamor in Unexpected Places

(And by 11th grade Political Science class.)

At various points in my life, certain songs have resonated so strongly as almost to become theme songs. Madonna's "Crazy for You" was the mournful lament of my (unrequited) loving heart for several years of high school. Maria's cheerful "I Feel Pretty, Oh So Pretty" from West Side Story carried me through many long days in the theater costume shop in college. (It worked because we sat in a windowless basement sewing room for eight or ten hour stretches, and none of us felt anything like pretty. But we did feel like we were completely hilarious in our perverse ability to be happy under the circumstances.) Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" was the love song that bouyed my first real relationship (made ever-so-romantic by his phoning me long-distance, drunk, one night at 2am to let me know that when the bar at closing time had started playing this song that reminded him of me, he'd made an excuse to his friends that he had to use the bathroom, just so he could stay inside and hear the song out before he had to leave with them *sigh* college boys can be sooooo charming).

Right now, the song I'm humming is the 1966 classic "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'."

And I feel every bit as sassy, fabulous, and powerful as the go-go-iest go-go girl ever could. Here's why:

Oh, yes, they are. Knee high, buttery soft leather boots with decorative buttons and 3+" heels. Red. A perfect glorious red. The color is blissfully nothing like bad lipstick. I've been trying for nearly four years to find red boots I could fall in love with, and I have found to my astonishment that most of them come in an overly-shiny color that can only be described as trampy and street-walkery. The ones that come in a good color -- something more like oxblood or cranberry -- are invariably chunky. They're awesome in their "girl cowboy" or "hip biker chick" vibe, but not really styled in a way that suits my work wardrobe.

Finally, my search has ended. And -- are you sitting down? All that style, all that class, and they are CROCS!

When the lovely new (perhaps my new best friend, I'll admit) "social media PR" person from YOU by Crocs emailed me to ask if I would like to try a pair of boots from their new fall line, I did the email equivalent of stuttering and blathering and perhaps drooling slightly, accidentally, on myself. That is, I did precisely what I would have done if David D-- had asked me out in high school. You know David D--, the hunky boy in Political Science class who always smelled so good, had devastating green eyes, and could have any girl in the school? The one who only knew you were alive when it was time to pair up for projects and he knew he could smile in THAT WAY that would make the shy brainiac without a boyfriend secretly sigh and then do the entire project herself because there was no way she was not getting an "A" on it, just because he was too lazy to do his part very well. Well, when Mr. YOU by Crocs emailed, I was nearly sure he must have been aiming at the blogger standing right behind me, and I was just accidentally in his sightline delusionally thinking that he was talking to me. But, of course, email doesn't work that way. And he was in fact talking to me.

And so I agreed to blind date and marry his boots.

Now, lest you think I've sold my soul for a pair of boots, let me reassure you that I am under no obligation to be anything but honest here. So, Fact 1: the first time I tried to wear them to work for one of my Marathon Mondays (on campus 8:30am-10pm), I only lasted three hours before I had to cancel my classes for the day and come home early. These boots will not, I repeat WILL NOT, cure stomach flu. Truth be told, they won't even really take the edge off, even though they are an awesome cherry red.

Fact 2: Back in realism land, I wore them again yesterday. For 14 hours. On my feet. Teaching. I, who do not normally wear stilettos. And all day long, I felt like a fashion model. My colleagues couldn't get enough of them. Even my students couldn't help but commenting on how great they looked. Every where I went, we had conversations about my footwear fabulosity. If you want to feel like a million bucks, get yourself some Crocs. Not a sentence you ever thought you'd read, is it?

Not quite accustomed to such high heels (heels for me are usually more like 2"), I couldn't walk the way I normally do. Instead of striding purposefully and fast through the halls, like a woman on a mission, I had to slow down slightly, and step more stately. I felt like I always imagined I would feel wearing heels, back when I was a little girl and used to listen to my mother's spectator pumps clicking smartly on the wooden floors and think it was the most glamorous sound in the world.

Fact 3: These boots are comfortable. The body of the boots is shapely without being binding. (By contrast, I have some black tall boots that make me feel like I'm wearing a tourniquet by the end of the day, and they aren't even styled to be super snug.) Also, I am notoriously klutzy when it comes to basic walking, and my heels slide out from under me all the time. I twist ankles. I slip on stairs. But yesterday? Never once. There is something fantastic in the design of these shoes that makes it possible for me + high heels to = graceful. I'm hooked. They have some padding in the footbed, which is nice if you're going to spend all day posing as a foot model for Barbie. Honestly, there could be a bit more padding for my taste, but then the balls of my feet aren't really used to spending 14 hours in stilettos.

Frankly, I didn't expect to come home last night and feel like I'd been walking in sheerling socks all day, and when I first saw just how high a 3 1/4" heel is, I was a little worried that I'd need to walk through the door and rip them off my feet in a fit of agony. But instead, I'll be wearing these again as soon as is fashionably possible. (It might be a little silly to wear chili pepper red boots every single day; they are quite noticeable.) Honestly, if you're going to spend all day in HIGH heels, you should do it in these. There are boots and shoes, all equally scrumptious in their leather and details. And if you want a bit more of the flat shoe comfort of the original Crocs in a super stylish alternative, you can prance around in the cozy, fleece lined, snow bunny boots.

And don't forget what is perhaps the most important thing: If you were the consummate wallflower in high school; if the David D--'s of the world got you to do their chemistry labs and poli sci projects just with a smile, but didn't ask you out afterwards; if you have any need to do something that will make up for all that high school angst and prove that 38 is not too old to be a "late bloomer," then get yourself some glorious red boots.

Those silly high school boys have no idea what they were missing...

Go on, click play. You know you want to see Nancy Sinatra and all her friends dancing around in sweaters and black satin briefs. And boots. Don't forget the glory that is boots.

Cross-Posted from Mommy's Martini

Saturday, October 11, 2008

An Extraordinary Baby Gift

You know how easy it is to find baby gifts for first-time parents. Between the registry, and the adorable clothes in such teensie tiny sizes, and the desire to help in practical ways, there are so many things to buy for baby #1 that it's hard to narrow down the options.

Well, I'm about to make it a little harder -- or a little easier, depending on your perspective.

If you want to stand out from a sea of diaper bags and burp cloths, or you favor gifts of a more crafted and heirloom quality, or you need something to give a mother of a second child, or you have your very own little one who just keeps dashing off in a store, look no further than this great idea:

Bumble Bells.

These beautiful, adjustable, sterling silver baby anklets are hung with little silver bells that tinkle softly when baby wiggles, kicks, or walks. They come in two sizes, for babies and toddlers. They would make a gorgeous and unique gift for a friend.

Or, if your children are anything like mine were as younger toddlers, they would be a very practical gift for yourself. If I'd had Bumble Bells on Daughter the day she ran away from me in Kohl's, I certainly would not have severely sprained my ankle trying to dash after her between the racks. I wouldn't have had to keep her in sight, you see, only within earshot. And I would have caught up to her just the same. Except without the week of being on crutches afterwards.

Those of you who are concerned about safety (aren't we all?) will be glad to know that Bumble Bells are ASTM certified. For you who don't click outbound links, that means that THE international organization that regulates product standards attests to the fact that these bells cannot be removed by a curious child and swallowed. Now that is peace of mind.

The main site for Bumble Bells has more information, photographs, and testimonials from other mothers who have fallen in love with Bumble Bells. You can buy them right now on the Bumble Bells Etsy shop, and in select retail stores, although the small company is expanding and soon will offer more purchase options.

One of the reasons I agreed to review Bumble Bells is that I prefer to support local business whenever I can. Bumble Bells is a Chicago-based company owned by a mother whose own daughter wears Bumble Bells, and as soon as I started talking to her, it became clear that she not only offers a great product but cares about children everywhere. After I'd already agreed to write the review, I asked Jill from Bumble Bells if she would be interested in making a donation to the Literacy Funding Challenge as part of Help Our Schools Saturdays; she responded right away by telling me that a portion of their profits already goes directly to Head Start and that she would be very happy to consider making another education-based donation as well. The goodness and integrity of small businesses in this country never fails to inspire me. All I had to do was explain the project to her, and within a few hours, I had this email response from Jill,

"I have donated! And man does that always feel good."

What a fantastic company to give your business to, if you're in the market for a unique and beautiful baby gift! I only wish I'd known about Bumble Bells before my children were too old for them.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Who Knew Gross Could Be This Much Fun?

Thanks to the generosity that is BusyDad, as well as his good friend, Jeff Day (M.D. and cartoonist extraordinaire*) -- and also thanks in no small part to the wonder that is the Random Number Generator -- the Time household was the lucky recipient of one of the coolest books EV-AH. I have to rave about this book because Son adored it instantly, preferred it over all other bedtime stories, and wanted to have the entire thing read to him in one sitting. Yes, all 112 densely packed pages.

Don't Touch That! The Book of Gross, Poisonous, and Downright Icky Plants and Critters
is a fantastic read -- funny, incredibly informative, and endlessly interesting in both pictures and text.**

If you have kids, there's a high likelihood that they are fascinated with the natural world. Darwin might have called them "budding naturalists." I would call them "inveterate ant pokers." Some people might simply call them "boys." I will admit that Daughter is much more inclined to crouch down very very close to the ground, put her face about 4 inches above the ant, and wave gently while repeating over and over, "Hi Ant. Hi Ant. Hi Ant." And Son is more likely to ask hopefully (as he did a few nights ago about a moth that flew out of our pantry and landed on the kitchen floor), "Can I squish it?" Nonetheless, they are both pretty much equally fascinated by bugs, plants, and all manner of critters. I would imagine that Son might embrace a snake more readily than Daughter, but I think it's an age thing and not a gender thing. For the record, both of them were equally enamored of the illustrations in this book. But, the Time family's efforts to thwart gender stereotyping aside, I'll get to the point:

Kids of either sex, unless terrified generally by spiders and plant life, will LOVE this book.

It's got fantastic cartoon illustrations that give you a sense of what these plants and critters look like, as well as light-hearted visions of their most salient traits. The text is much more thorough than I ever would have expected. It gives clear descriptions of habits and habitats, things to worry about and things not to fret over. (How often are spider bites deadly? Can a Venus Flytrap snag your finger? What should you really do if a snake bites you? What are the effects of a snake's venom? Of rubbing up against Poison Ivy? What are the biological mechanisms that create those reactions?) It will give you information about how to deal with the things you shouldn't touch, as well information that will satisfy your intellectual curiosity with all kinds of details you'd never imagine knowing.

And let's face it, if you have kids anything like my kids, you need some kind of reference for what to do when they invariably touch precisely what they aren't supposed to touch. Buy this book, and I swear, you will never go back to staid old reference tomes again.

Son insisted on taking Don't Touch That! with him to preschool a few days after we got it. And then he proceeded to flip to the page about tarantulas and explain to the teacher about how some of them can shoot spiky hairs out of their behinds, which was shortly followed by details of the relationship between the tarantula and the Italian dance, the tarantella. I have to admit, I was impressed at how much he'd retained after just a single reading the night before. I'm sure the great illustrations help in this regard. And so do all the crazy fun facts tucked in and around the useful information. (No, a tarantula bite won't kill you, or even be very harmful. And yes, the tarantella really is a dance named after the tarantula. Read the book to find out why.)

While I personally would have loved to have a little diagram of footprints with arrows to teach me the tarantella (kidding. sort of.) this book far exceeds any reasonable expectations you might have for a book about bugs and plants. And probably many unreasonable ones too.

So here's what I'd do, if I were looking for a present for a child ages 4-8 (and especially feel free to take this as a tip if you're a mother of girls seeking a present for a boy birthday party): I'd buy a copy of this book and then (because it's a bargain at $9.95), I'd pair it with an insect and butterfly net and this super cool bug magnifying jar for endless good times for any budding backyard scientist. In fact, I think I just might be taking my own advice come holiday time for at least one nephew of mine...

So, do yourself and your kids a favor and go check out this book. It's the most fun you'll ever having grossing yourself out.

* Yes, this is the same Jeff Day who is responsible for BusyDad's fantastic new header, as well as his collaborator on the cartoon-straveganza that is BusyDad Tales -- the series of stories written by BusyDad and illustrated by Jeff Day in comics faintly reminiscent of the cartooning style of Bill Watterson's magnificent Calvin and Hobbes.

**Nope, no one has coerced me to write this post, or made writing it a condition of getting the free book, or anything of the sort. I just had to pass on this great recommendation, since the book is such a hit at our house, and I'm so grateful to have won a book that will clearly lead to many good times of exploration in the future.

Originally posted at Mommy's Martini.

Monday, July 21, 2008

"Get Your Feet Off the Table," and Other Commonsensical Notions

I recently came from Target where I very nearly failed to purchase the item that is going to change my life. A failure that would have been entirely due to the most inane Target corporate policy you have ever heard.

But before I get ahead of myself, here is the product:
Yes, Ped Egg, not available in stores (except it is; it's just hidden). The ultimate gross-but-useful beauty secret. You use what is essentially a very fine box grater to scrape the hard callous-like skin off your heels. Then you empty the savings into the trash. Charming. But, let me tell you, if you can stand the slightly unsavory nature of the process, laws-a-mercy you will have the smoothest, the silkiest, the loveliest feet this side of six-months-old you ever saw. Ever. EV-ER. EVER. It will seriously be the best $9.95 you ever spent. EV-ER. Your feet will be gleaming, and smooth, and feel more shapely, and slide along the sheets as you get into bed, and become accessories for your most expensive shoes instead of the other way around, and everything. Smooth. Smooth. Smooth. That's what I'm talking.

I know this because my sister let me use hers once. And ever since, I've been coveting one of my own and taking a quick gander in the pedicure section at Target for one every time I'm there. But they never have one in stock, or even an empty rack to indicate that the whole world already knows this little beauty secret and has just been buying them out from under me. Unfortunately, I only ever have approximately 37 seconds to discern this, since I'm always in Target with two fractious children in tow, who are either begging to leave, or tossing unnecessary things into the cart, or running off and hiding under the clothing racks as if that doesn't give me a heart attack of nervousness that someone will kidnap them before I can haul my way over to them with my oversized cart-with-the-bucket-seats-on-the-front-that-the-kids-refuse-to-sit-in-anyway that is full of heavy things like 3 gallon jugs of laundry soap and mega-sized boxes of diapers. So there's not a lot of hunting for frivolous movie star items on my usual Target trips.

But on Friday I was in Target alone. And rather than walk slowly down every aisle, savoring the air conditioning and the lack of encumbrances company, I was trying to get in and out as quickly as possible so that I could go sit in a coffee shop and write for an hour. Having scoured the mani/pedi section thoroughly, I did the unheard of and picked up a customer service phone to ask where I might find the Ped Eggs. The nice voice on the other end of the phone made a few enquiries and told me "Aisle 32B, on the end cap." I spent a full five minutes wandering up and down Aisle 32A in the beauty products section, trying to figure out which end of it was labeled "B" before I discovered that the "B" aisles were the next whole section of the store, across one of those main thoroughfare lanes that you have to cross with as much care as a busy street.

And do you know what that section is? More beauty products? Oh no. THAT section is the KITCHEN section. Yes, folks, it's true. Target shelves the Ped Egg on the end cap of an aisle that contains henkle kitchen knives, box cheese graters, mandolins, and other slicer-dicer products.

Chuckling all the way to the checkout over the ignorance of some stock boy who saw "egg" on the product name and a grater in the packaging, and shelved this among kitchen items, I decided to do my good deed for the day and tell the Customer Service counter that they had a shelving snafu -- and that perhaps they would sell more Ped Eggs to harried mothers of ill-behaved children (who I am quite sure are the primary demographic in Ped Egg's advertising portfolio) if the products were located with the other files, buffers, scrubbers, polishes, and foot lotions.

The lady in Customer Service was very nice. She laughed with me over the whole thing. And then she said I was completely right, but that Corporate decided where things were shelved, and this item is technically NOT shelved in the kitchen section but on the end cap devoted to "As Seen on TV" products. So, even though there is a giant horizontal wall of the rubber handled KitchenAid tools that fill your kitchen drawers facing the end cap of this aisle of knives and slicers that is directly under the red "KITCHEN" sign in my Target, this little end cap does not count as the kitchen section. It counts as the "Products for TV Suckers" section.

This is precisely why all the Ped Egg websites brag that their product is "not sold in stores." I bet I'm the very first person who has ever bought a Ped Egg in Target. Because, seriously, who looks in the kitchen section for a product with giant silhouettes of feet on the packaging? I don't know about you, but I like to keep my foot hygiene practices and my cooking pretty well separated by the entire length of my body whenever possible. I won't be storing my Ped Egg in my kitchen drawers. And I'm guessing anyone shopping for knives or cheese graters really doesn't care to imagine doing serious culinary work with a device designed to shave heels.

Though I can't help but wonder if (and secretly hope that) some dumb college kid, eager to replicate his mother's deviled eggs and feel a bit closer to home, has purchased a Ped Egg and raved to his friends about the creamy texture it produced when he shaves those boiled yolks and then mixes them with mayo, mustard and paprika. Yummmmm.

Cross posted from Mommy's Martini.