Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Naughties

Confession: I read the Fifty Shades trilogy.

Bigger Confession: I liked it.

I actually read these at the end of last school year, beginning of summer. I was probably just finishing or had just finished them when I resurrected this blog. For the sake of decorum though, considering any of my kids or parents may look at this blog, I decided to overlook them in my reading log. Here's the thing though... Everybody has (or is) reading them! That is what surprises me most about the 50 Shades Phenomenon. Once upon a time, not very long ago, you would have to venture into seedy book stores- or verify your age with a credit card online- to read anything more risque that Harlequin romances. (This is assumptive of course, there is no "Even Bigger" confession that I have done either.)

I had seen several ladies talking about Shades of Grey on Facebook- posts such as "Church Service was good today, trying to finish reading book 2 of Fifty Shades before I give Susie a bath." (Names of the innocent changed there.) So when I went to Barnes & Noble (more commonly known as Nirvana in my world), I decided to check them out. They weren't hard to find; they were #1, 2, and 3 best-sellers. So, as soon as I flipped one over to read the jacket and saw that it was defined as "D/s erotic fiction," I was floored!

Again, I do not think I am a prude. There are times in my life when perhaps I should have been a bit more prudish in what I chose to talk about and who I chose to tell it to (Have we discussed finding out I was pregnant 2 weeks after Jason had a vasectomy yet?). I am floored by just how commonplace it has become. How did reading such literature so very quickly go from something hidden to front-shelf top-seller? The trilogy was the #1, 2, 3 downloads on Kindle this summer for 30+ women. I was among those numbers. I didn't want anyone to know I was reading it! Yet, I had a parent pull out her well-worn copy to show me and joke about people helping her gather pages when the blew all over the beach. I had a co-worker sit down her teacher bag to go to the bathroom last week and there was book 2 sitting right at top. You brought that to SCHOOL? All summer long the racks were empty at Target; even The Wal-Mart had to cash in on the dirty money (although shrink-wrapped on the shelves to maintain some semblance of Christian modesty).

All that having been said, I did enjoy the reads. The first book was my favorite. I liked that it did not have a happy ending. I do not color my world with black Crayolas but it was a realistic ending. I do not like that E.L. James made Christian Grey a psychological mess with Mommy issues. Why couldn't he just be into an alternative way of life? I think she caved to societal pressure. Typical woman trying to "fix" a messed up guy. I would not be so bold as to call it "good literature" but the character development of the novels were good. There was more to the psychological power exchange between Christian and Ana than cuffs and blindfolds. That made for an interesting read... with or without the "bonuses." I wasn't so much a fan of the third book. I wanted to see how the trilogy ended, so read I it, but it was all a bit too fairy tale and trite plot developments for me. It lacked the development the other two did and was more choppy in introducing, then pretty quickly resolving, various complications.

Post-Christian Grey, I did read two of the "If you liked 50 Shades, then try this" genre. The first was Switch by Megan Hart. If you truly liked the psychological push & pull of the dominant & submissive relationship in E. L. James trilogy, you probably will like this one. There is very little physical contact between the the two parties. It is a "catfish" story of the old-fashion type, involving leaving mysterious letters in mailboxes to influence and direct the activities of the another. It is definitely not a PG family read. The main character does have some heated trysts with her ex, but the relationship on which the novel is focused does remain on the psychological, not gratuitously physical, level. "Switch" refers to roles in a relationship- whether being dominant or submissive- and sometimes being mistaken about which one is true to your nature.

The other book, apparently also part of a trilogy is Sylvia Day's Bared to You. I don't feel moved toward reading either of the other books that follow this one, even when the author ended the first with a very trite cliff-hanger meant to hold in you suspense until you could get your hands on the next one. I am really curious about the time relationship between the release of these books and the 50 Shades trilogy. There is a great deal in common between them- far too much to be coincidence- so much as that I'm surprised not to have heard about a potential lawsuit for intellectual theft. Again we have characters that I feel are far too young and wealthy to carry the plot. It worked for Christian Grey. It does not work for Gideon Cross, nor for the heroine of the book, who is so insignificant that I can't even remember her name. It is believable to say that you liked 50 Shades beyond the heated scenes. To say that about Day's book would be likened to saying you read Playboy for the articles. There is not much of anything beyond the heated scenes. There is little interaction between the main characters at all beyond their detailed trysts. To compare this trilogy to E. L. James is to insult both the writer and the readers of 50 Shades.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Community Cookie Exchange 2012

One of the many careers, jobs, careers I had before going into teaching was working as a Unit Coordinator on the post-surgical floor of a hospital. The holiday schedule for employees was coupled in a way that you either worked Christmas Eve and New Year's Day or Christmas Day and New Year's Eve. Often, those of us with little ones at home could find some younger co-workers who had big plans on New Year's Eve and wanted the following day to recover, thus being willing to trade whichever Christmas day they we beleaguered with for an extended window of party time on New Year's. One holiday season though, this trade did not happen and I found myself at work on Christmas Day.

This was over 17 years ago (oy!), so the details are a bit fuzzy, but there was a father that brought his son and daughter around to the nurses' stations with a big stocking of candy and had the kids, adorned in Santa's caps, pass the candy out to those of us working and wish us a Merry Christmas.

It was a true Random Act of Kindness because I do not know who that family was or the impetus that drove them to such kindness. I do know it is a testament to the theory of Paying it Forward, because nearly two decades later (double oy!), it is still a memory that I find touching... and it was the inspiration for the Community Cookie Exchange.

This year we hosted the Third Annual Community Cookie Exchange. Near forty people, mostly Key Clubbers of course, came over to donate and trade cookies. Donated cookies are delivered to police stations, fire departments, nursing homes, and of course, the hospital, to those who are working or volunteering on Christmas Day. For some of our participants, it is their favorite Key Club event and/or, something they really look forward to during the holiday season. This year I had three of my former Key Clubbers drop by and participate. It hints to the legacy this event is building and the potential it has to be the genesis of a Pay it Forward movement beyond our community.

(You can read Amanda's- Key Clubber alumni- blog about the cookie exchange... HERE!)

For the Exchange this year, I made 4 kinds of cookies- tripled the Santa Whiskers and double batches of the others.

Santa Whiskers have been my traditional cookies for years. The recipe I use comes straight from the good old Red & White, Better Homes & Gardens cookbook.
Andes Mint Cookies are a new tradition. I tried 2 cake batter cookies last year. The others were nothing special but these are quite possible my absolute favorite cookie ever. 4 ingredients- quick, easy & chocolatey-minty goodness (The melted Andes will harden to a candy topping.)
I wanted an oatmeal cookie but with a twist, so I found these Cranberry Orange Oatmeal Cookies. The recipe lacks great detail but the cookies came out great. These were Jason's favorite this year. It does not provide a recipe for the drizzle, so I used a classic powdered sugar and milk/vanilla icing.
My new cookies this year were Salted Caramel-Pretzel Thumbprints. I found these little slabs of salty sweet goodness in Food Network's magazine. The only caramel sauce I could find at the store was sundae topping; after leaving them out a few minutes to set, it worked just fine- just be conservative. The grocery store also did not have "flaky sea salt," so I just used some of our table salt, which is grounded sea salt. It worked perfectly fine. As a matter of fact, I was too conservative with the salt and it provided a good "kick" for the sweet caramel topping.
I picked up some very large tins from The Wal-Mart last year on clearanced-clearance when just about all the other Christmas supplies had been deleted. This year, we filled up 10 of the big tubs to send out on Christmas Day. I feel pretty sure it was the largest volume and variety of cookies delivered thus far in this growing tradition.
The participants, as always, had a great time too. The Neverending Coffee & Hot Chocolate Bar was still a hit despite the much more temperate weather.
And the festivities ran over as the kids finished playing games of Spoons on the dining room floor (since every other surface of the downstairs was covered with food for noshing, trading, or donating).

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Wait, I can explain!

That's not the beginning to my "Dear Santa" letter; it's more like the beginning to my weak explanation for why my on-line ramblings have been scarce lately.

Benjamin was diagnosed with pneumonia last week. Monday night/ Tuesday morning, around 1:30 a.m., he woke me up crying. I stayed up with him until he fell asleep around 4. He didn't seem particularly sick- just not particularly wanting to sleep either. The next morning, I was the human-form of The Walking Dead, so I called out sick and with questionable judgment sent Benjamin to pre-school because he seemed fine. About 11:30 a.m., the school called because he had a fever. So, we picked him up and Jason stayed home with him Wednesday. Driving home from work Wednesday afternoon, Jason was concerned that he seemed rather lethargic, so I called the pediatrician, who wanted us to bring him in immediately. We were sent to the hospital for stat x-rays and blood work. Benjamin was not at all happy about the viciously viscous shot he was given in the doc's office, but he was a real champ at the hospital. I don't know what I was thinking. I guess that I wasn't thinking at all, but I was rather shocked when they took his blood like they would do for a grown-up- a big one! I was even more shocked when Benjamin did not cry, or even flinch, as he watched the blood fill the vials. The pediatrician stayed at the office for us to come back for the x-ray results. He said it was pretty severe pneumonia in both lungs. Thankfully, the meds he had before going to the hospital had already broke the fever and had returned some of his energy, or else the doc was going to admit him. Instead we did a lot of cuddling... and a lot of meds at home... and after a couple of days, he was back to his inquisitive and rambunctious self.

Missing two school days during a very busy week for Key Club and curriculum were not quite as easy and pain-free for me though- especially since the following week was the 1.5 day pre-holiday break week. So, poor Juliet, Romeo, Brutus and Cassius all had to die at a bit more of an accelerated pace. And the Key Clubbers had one Manic Monday, indeed. The morning began with a 6:30 am run to Wal-Mart for sodas and paper supplies (leading to a pledge to boycott Wal-Mart in 2013, which I will go into on another day). Then, we had two morning activities going on simultaneously. In my room, Kristen was leading Christmas Caroling practice to prepare for the day's field trip. In the library, Savannah and other volunteers were accepting and cataloging donations for the Holiday Teacher Luncheon. During second block planning, I squeezed in a field trip to the local nursing home with about 15 Key Clubbers to sign carols & visit. Then, during 3rd block, the Key Clubbers hosted a luncheon for teachers & staff, which meant setting up before 3rd block, restocking between lunch shifts, and cleaning up everything after last lunch. During the very same 3rd lunch, Key Clubbers were taking "Pictures with Santa" as a Relay fundraiser. AND, all members had to check in at Santa's station to sign-out their Breakfast & Chili fundraiser tickets. Fourth block, in addition to cleaning up from the luncheon, Candy-grams were delivered to classes- ONE of last week's fundraisers. Then, did I collapse in my chair under a wave of exhaustion at 3:15? No! I raced to the store for last minute Christmas gifts for Cameron's teachers the next day and then raced home to get ready for the Key Club Holiday party. After hours of pizza-making, dance partying, and pictionary drawing, the night finally ended around 1:00 a.m.-ish, after the kitchen was pretty-much cleaned up and I went on-line to order the pics from Santa so they could be picked up by Jason in the morning and delivered to kids the next day.

I have many busy days. My brand of crazy is far more insane than most folks brand of crazy. But even for me- that was a busy & crazy day! I told Jason I wasn't sure if I felt like Santa with a workshop full of elves, or Donald Trump with a tower full of Apprentices- but it is a powerful feeling of achievement to know that I work with a group of students that have grown into the type of leaders that can make all that magic happen without direct supervision or instruction from me.

Ah yes, but let's footnote the end of that night with one not-so-smart misachievement of my own. Justin had a blue flash drive laying around, showing up here & there all the time, so I popped it in my laptop to see what was on it. A virus. Of course, a virus. So, after the holidays my sick baby of the digital type will be visiting the doc of the technical type.

So, the explanation? Life's been rather busy.