Friday, September 29, 2006

Grousing and Grouting

I love my house, I really do. The layout is wonderful and the land is divine. There are a few things that don't exactly suit my taste, but those are certainly within the scope of several DIY projects. My current project, which I have spread out over many weeks, is the kitchen floor.

In recent conversations with our neighbor, I discovered that the man from whom we bought this house was a bachelor when he built it, which explains a lot, including (possibly) why the kitchen floor is made of faux brick tiles and cement-colored grout. (I mean this totally in jest! My dad lives alone and his home is immaculate, so I realize that "bachelor" does not equal "slob. ") When I consider why someone would choose faux brick tiles, I imagine that his logic must have gone something like this:

Brick is primarily an outdoor surface.
Outdoor surfaces generally do not need to be cleaned.
If I put brick tile on my kitchen floor I will not have to clean it.

When we moved in the kitchen floor was absolutely filthy. It had recently been mopped so there were no big chunks of food or anything, but the grout was so dirty in some places that it was black. There was only one thing to do: get down on my hands and knees with scalding water, floor cleaner, and a scrub brush. In the several weeks that it's taken me to complete this project, I have emptied at least 20 buckets of black water. I should note that the faux brick is expansive. It is not only in the kitchen and eat-in area, but in the connecting entryway from the garage and the hallway to the master bedroom.

It was amazing how obvious my progress was. You could actually see, just with a quick glance, which sections had been scrubbed and which were still waiting the treatment. And then Jay had to go out and buy grout cleaner, which is essentially just an enormous tube of Wite-Out, and sealer. So just when I finish scrubbing every square inch of floor, another project looms ahead.

Here's a picture of pre-cleaner and post-cleaner, side by side. Keep in mind that the dingy half is sparkling compared to what it was before.
There are other things I'd like to do around my house, but I have a feeling that I'll be bonding with my kitchen floor for at least a few more weeks.

Sunday, September 24, 2006


This week is the 25th anniversary of the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week, celebrating “the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular” and stressing “the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them.” (From Why Banned Books Week?)

I will be celebrating Banned Books Week in honor of my own experience of book-banning.

The summer before my junior year of high school, our summer reading list included One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey and Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. There were others, but those are the two I remember most vividly. Why do I remember them? Because when we returned to school my junior year I found out they had been removed from the summer reading list. It seems that my best friend’s mother challenged their inclusion on the reading list because of coarse language. She didn’t want her daughter reading those books, and she didn’t think they were appropriate for anyone else to read, either. The interesting thing about all of this is that 1) my best friend had one of the world’s foulest mouths when her mother wasn’t around and 2) those books weren’t required reading. They were two amongst several that we had to choose from.

In an effort to keep the peace between my best friend, her mother, and my mother, I chose other books to read. As a result, I have never read either One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Slaughterhouse Five, both of which have been challenged and banned on numerous occasions all over the country. I originally considered reading Catcher in the Rye to celebrate Banned Books Week, but thought better of it and decided to read one of the two that I didn't have the opportunity to read lo those many years ago.

The ALA has a list of The Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2005 and the Most Challenged Books of the 21st Century, as well as the opportunity to vote for your favorite banned books. My mom also sent me this great article from her newspaper.

(Shout out to my mom for inspiring this post).

Thursday, September 21, 2006

I Swore I’d Never

I’ve been a hard-core scrapbooker for awhile. I started around eighth grade when the bottom drawer of my nightstand, where I kept my keepsakes, became totally overcrowded. So I went to Wal-Mart and got some 11x17 plain brown paper scrapbooks. Over the years I’ve amassed about 10 of them, full of all sorts of things that I’ve hoarded over the years. But today’s scrapbookers would scoff at my brown paper treasure-keepers, probably referring to them as memory books or something equally as mundane. They simply bear no resemblance to the super-fancy, super-expensive scrapbooks that seem to be all the rage today.

I swore I’d never start scrapbooking, you know, the real way. It’s way too time-consuming, and I know myself well enough to know that I’d become obsessive about it. But it didn’t help that my mom gave me the most wonderful scrapbook of my early years when Joshua was born. And she’s about as crafty as I am (which means that we’re both really good at anything that requires following specific instructions, but neither of us are particularly gifted at freestyle-type creativity).

It also didn’t help that one of my parishioners gave me a Baby Book for Joshua that just begs to be given the royal scrapbook treatment. I’ve spent the last few days poring over the more than 300 pictures that we’ve taken of Joshua so far, trying to determine what to put in and what to leave out. I finally narrowed them down and was headed to Target yesterday for double-sided tape when I passed a scrapbooking store—a whole store just for scrapbooking. I went in. I made it very clear to the owner that I am not a scrapbooker, that I was just looking for some good tape and maybe some templates for cutting my photos into interesting shapes. I left with templates, stickers, and tape, and promptly came home to become completely obsessed with the scrapbook. I stayed up really late. I hemmed and hawed. I cut and scrapped. I climbed the learning curve as much as I could in one night.

When I got up with Joshua at about three this morning. I couldn’t go back to sleep. I was unhappy with my layouts and so I just laid there wondering if it would be possible to change them without tearing the paper. I am obsessed. I have other things to do. I have too little time in my life and too many things to take care of.

This is why I swore I’d never start.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


The workout I knew I needed but didn't know where to find. Our first class was three weeks ago. I was surprised at the amount of physical exertion involved. I was really surprised, though, when I woke up sore on Wednesday.

Incidentally, we listen to NPR in the car on the way to class. The show that airs during our commute is "Calling All Pets." Have you heard this woman? She's an animal behaviorist who takes calls from listeners and diagnoses the strange behaviors that their animals display. I don't have any pets, nor am I particularly interested in why Dave from Milwaukee's cat drops one kibble of food into her water dish before she drinks out of it. But the host...she is either the most animated and engaged woman on the planet or she takes a lot of medication...every caller has the most fascinating problem she's ever heard or the most fantastic solution to an animal behavior problem or the most devestating story ever told.

Anyway, it makes the drive interesting.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Fair Enough

Yesterday was our much anticipated outing to the West Tennessee State Fair.

We were disappointed.

On our trips to other regional and county fairs we have spent most of our time in the livestock sheds and at the livestock auctions. We've watched beef shows and alpaca shows. We've been through the home arts buildings to look at the table-setting competitions and agricultural displays, and have found ways to spend hours and hours wandering around.

Not so here.

The main attraction appeared to be the midway, and while the rides and games did look quite exciting, they weren't exactly what we were looking for. There was one building containing the home arts and agriculture competitions, although the primary draw to the building seemed to be the talent shows and beauty contest. There was one livestock shed. That was all. It appeared that farms only brought their livestock on the days that they were being shown because there were no sheds for keeping the animals on site for the duration of the fair, as was the case with the other fairs we've attended. No petting sheep and goats for us.

On a high note, we did get to see the end of the junior beef show, and that was fun. We even got some ideas of farms to call to find out if they have some grass-fed beef for us to buy. That was just about the only redeeming quality.

Despite all of this, I'm sure we'll go again next year. But our expectations will be reasonable.

Clarification: While I was writing this post yesterday I was also being regaled with stories of Joshua's first foray into a sandbox, so I wasn't as clear as I might have been regarding the table-setting competition. In the table-setting competition, the entrants are given a theme such as first birthday, 50th wedding anniversary, Sunday brunch, wedding luncheon, etc. They are then to create a table that fits that theme along with tablecloth, centerpiece, and four or so place settings. The best part of the competition is reading the judging cards. Some of the judges are picky about things like "good use of theme," but for the most part they are hard-core about the place settings. You might see things on the judging cards like "Water glass is too close to dinner plate" or "dessert fork is too close to salad plate." (I don't know enough about setting a table to know if those are even viable criticisms of a well-set table. If I ever need to know, Amy Vanderbilt will be glad to help). I enjoy the table-setting competitions because it is fascinating that someone cares enough to be that meticulous about setting a table. At my house we're lucky to get enough utensils to serve and eat with. They're usually chucked in the middle of the table and diners can get them if and when they want.

Friday, September 15, 2006

She Said "Housewife"

I just called to make an eye appointment. Since it's my first appointment with this doctor, the woman making the appointment had to take down all sorts of information.

She asked me where I was employed.

I couldn't bring myself to say that I wasn't employed anywhere, so I said, "I'm employed at home."

She said, "Ok, housewife."


Wednesday, September 13, 2006


As you may have noticed in my sidebar, I'm currently reading Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation. I'm behind, I know, since almost everyone I know (except TLS ) has already read it and expressed dismay over what they found inside.

I'm only about halfway finished, but I find myself regularly disturbed by the statistics and anecdotes that Schlosser presents. There are at least five or six statistics or stories per page that make me shake my head. Being a mom, there were two that stuck out to me in particular.

  • "About one-fifth of the nation's one- and two-year-olds now drink soda." (pg. 54). What? I wasn't allowed to drink "soda" ("Coke" where I come from) until I was older, and even then it was caffeine free. And it was a special treat...not an everyday occurence. Every other week or so my dad and I used to drive about an hour on Sunday afternoon to visit his mother. It was a huge deal to stop at a market on the way out of her town and get a Coke. And we shared it. I don't get this. I find it hard to believe that a parent would actually think that Coke is healthy at all, much less for a baby.
  • "About one-quarter of American children between the ages of two and five have a TV in their room." (pg. 46)Again I say, what? I don't even have a TV in my room and I'm 31 years old. Neither Jay nor I had television sets in our rooms growing up, and neither of us even ever had a game console. What does a two- to five-year-old need to watch on TV in his/her room?
My friend Jason says that the number one rule of parenting is not to judge other parents. And I don't want to imply that the way that I was raised was the only right way to raise children. But it seems that common sense would tell a parent not to feed their kids junk food or junk entertainment. What are we (and I mean the big, global we) not passing on to parents about how to raise healthy children? How do we (again, big global we) provide this information to parents who need to know?

I know I'm going to be even more disturbed when I get to the part about the deadly effects of E. coli on children. We may even have to go back to being vegetarian.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Is it Me?

Or are patrons of Wal-Mart and Target required to talk on their cell phones while shopping (read: pushing their carts aimlessly through the store with no regard for anyone in their vicinity)?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

More College Thoughts

I keep finding myself thinking about my college experience. Maybe it’s because Jay goes to one everyday. Maybe it’s because, now that both universities have resumed, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a college student.

So here’s a question:

If you could travel back in time and talk to youself as you were entering college, what advice would you give? If you had a chance to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

Of course I won’t ask without also answering. If I could talk to Mary Beth the college freshman I think I would tell her not to major in music. For some reason I had this crazy idea that I already had to know what I wanted to be when I grew up before I even stepped on campus. I was good at music, so I figured I should major in it. But in doing so, I missed out on the true liberal arts experience since the music curriculum was pretty straightforward and left little opportunity to take classes in other areas. So if I were to do it again, I think I would have majored in religion or history, or maybe Russian studies (That was my minor. Now it’s offered as a major). But a lot of my good friendships were made within the school of music, so that’s a hard call.

So anyway, what advice would you give if you could travel back in time and talk to your freshman self? What would you do differently, if anything?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Salvaging Labor Day

We were really looking forward to Labor Day this year. We found a nearby small-town festival to attend and scheduled our travel around naptimes. We would drive up during morning naptime, letting Joshua sleep in the car, and then drive home during afternoon naptime, leaving plenty of time for exploring in between.

Monday morning we got up early and headed to Martin, TN, home of the Tennessee Soybean Festival. Joshua napped well in the car and woke up just as we got into town. We drove through downtown Martin and cruised the perimeter, but just couldn't seem to find the festival. Finally we stopped to talk to a woman sitting next to her produce stand on the side of the road. She explained that the Tennessee Soybean Festival, slated to run September 2-10, had been postponed until the 6th.


Come on, Martin! You're home to the Tennessee Soybean Festival, the official Tennessee Soybean Festival. As far as soybean festivals go, you're all we've got! We're counting on you! You can't just postpone the festival!

On the way into town we passed a huge John Deere store, so after lunching at a lovely meat-and-three (reason #253 why I love the south) we perused the John Deere store for a bagging attachment and fun John Deere toys that someone may get for his next birthday (Come to think of it, there are two people in the house who might like John Deere presents for their next birthdays).

Across the street was a great park, so we spent some time playing there as well. Although Joshua chose not to nap on the way home, it ended up being a great Labor Day after all.

But now I have to wait a whole year for the Tennessee Soybean Festival.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Reason #437 Why It’s Good to be Back in the South

Pimento cheese.

I love pimento cheese. Actually, I love my grandmother’s pimento cheese. Store-bought pimento cheese will do in a pinch.

When I first moved to Boston I got a hankering for some pimento cheese. I couldn’t find it in the grocery store, and when I asked an employee where they kept it, he looked at me like I’d asked him where they kept the goats.

Needless to say, I haven’t been able to find pimento cheese in the grocery store for almost ten years.

Until now.

And there’s a selection. There were at least five different brands in the store yesterday. I was overcome, but I’m trying to pace myself. One brand at a time, at least until I can get to my grandmother’s house and get a good fix.

I love the south.