Monday, January 31, 2011

Facebookin' Rant

OK... I have to keep talking about this...

I just issued a fairly strong ultimatum to a huge list of people on a Facebook thread I was tagged into.  In it I said I would delete anyone who replied to the thread from my friend list.  I know.  Heavy stuff.  But, something had to be done.  The thread was dead.

Now,  I don't mind the original intent of the thread.  It was an innocent Christmas wish from a good friend to all of his friends.  But then, weeks later, a very young FB user resurrected the thread looking for someone with which to "chat."  (There's an age limit on FB... this kid was too young and thus should have never been in this forum to begin with.)  A week later people are calling names and yelling about why the thread still exists, yet they are the ones perpetuating this mindless blather!  Blather, I might add, of which I am an unwilling participant.

This constant mouthing about mundane issues, along with the occasional "poking," is one the reasons I resisted FB for so long.  I don't want to get wrapped up in who's ticked off at who or for what or how their garden is growing or their mafia hit squad's doing.  I suppose some people do, but if I stand on the sidelines with my ears covered, don't mind me.

This, I believe, is the inherent fault of FB.  I respond to friend requests... and "friend" other people to create meaningful connections.  There are some I refuse because I don't know them or because I don't want their putrid wall content mucking up mine.  The concept of FB is "friends." People you know.  This idea of "friending" everyone out there whether or not you have a relationship is not only pointless, but it creates issues such as the one I described above.

I'm not being harsh here... just realistic.  (And, it seems, a bit snarky, per Suzi)

So, for those who've held out of FB this long, more power to you!  Resist its societal tentacles!  Resist the whirlpool of albums, calendars, quizzes and farmyard pets!  Hold fast to your belief that friends should call or text or *GASP* send out an actual note written on paper!  I support you... but first I've got to update my status, post some pictures and make sure this blog entry appeared on my wall.

And that'll be the end of my rant.  Thank you.

After all of that... A few minutes later, someone actually replied to my comment the thread... no kidding.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

SUZI: Creating Fun

I’m not the most fun person in the world.  I’m not trying to belittle myself here, folks.  I’m just stating the facts. 

When there’s something super fun that needs to be planned, I’m not the person to call.  My favorite “get together” activity with friends is to have a small group over for dinner or go to a cafĂ© for coffee/tea and chat.  Yeah.  It’s not that I don’t like having fun.  I do.  But I’m just not the “life of the party” kind of person.  I like to read and cook and sew.  I like museums.  I like to go for walks and enjoy the scenery around me.  Not a lot of side-splitting hilarity in that.  With that being said, I want to make sure that Cooper does things that are fun.  Make-you-laugh fun…that he has a list of fun family memories that he can look back upon.

On several occasions when I was young, we had what we declared “Messy Night.”  My mom made her famous spaghetti and meatballs, but utensils weren't allowed – you had to eat with your hands.  We ate outside and had a wonderful time making an amazing mess.  On one occasion, my dad got a case of cream pies from work.  We wore old clothes and had a good ol’ cream pie fight.  I’m sure the neighbors thought we were nuts – I’m sure I didn’t care!  There was a lot of squealing and hilarity that went on that day.  We literally had to hose off before we could even go into the house.  Fun memories!

I know some fun things are planned and some just happen in the spur of the moment.  I want to do my best to give Cooper both!  I want to plan ahead and create special moments, but to also take advantage of whatever unplanned exciting moments come along.  For now, we’re making silly faces in mirrors and tickling and laughing as much as we can.  And if Cooper’s lucky, he’s got some of those fun, larger-than-life genes flowing in some of that Texas blood he’s got in his veins!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Two Things Thursday

One of the things I got really comfy with in Jordan was the steady exchange rate.  The Jordanian Dinar is "pegged" to the US Dollar... it hasn't changed from it's current state of $1 to .71JD in years.  This meant our currency's value stayed the same.
In the Czech Republic, however, the Koruna (or "Crown") fluctuates multiple times a day.  This morning, $1 was worth 17.68Kc.  This evening it rang in at 17.66Kc.  In the past two weeks it's dropped nearly 2Kc.  That means the money I withdrew from the ATM three days ago is worth less today.  In fact, when I went to pay our rent, from the time that I pulled the cash 'til I paid the bill, I "lost" over $14 due to  consecutive drops in value.  Amazing isn't it?  This is why currency trading is a lucrative and totally devastating game.  
So, we watch the market carefully before we pull cash.  If the value starts to edge up, it's time to hit the ATM!

Tonight we had friends from church over for dinner.  Suzi pulled off an awesome goulash-type concoction and whipped together a berry/nut cobbler... just good soul food on a snowy Prague night.  Cooper was the epitome of perfection and provided a decent amount of the night's entertainment.  This included showing off his four front teeth by taking chunks out of an apple.  Table-side tricks and a darling smile... the kid's a natural.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


According to iStock, Pantone declared Honeysuckle as 2011's Color of the Year... this coming on the heels of Turquoise in 2010.

They say that'll keep the blues away... seems a step above Blush and Bashful to me, but then it might just show up somewhere in my stuff, who knows?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Speed Check

For the Missouri readers out there, Gov. Jay Nixon implemented a program to increase the speed and accessibility of internet access in the state.  In 2009, Nixon requested $142 million from the Feds to improve broadband access throughout rural communities and in his state of the Union address, he noted that "more than $260 million will be coming to Missouri." 

According to a Columbia Tribune article, surveys are going out to 4000 mid-Missourians to get an idea of what they pay, the speed they get and where they get web access.  According to those involved with MissouriBroadbandNow, the state has an access rate of nearly 80% and Nixon is pushing for 95% of the population to have web access by 2014.  The survey results will be used by regional technology planning teams to implement Nixon's goal.

It's an admirable idea, IMHO... if you get a survey, fill the thing out and send it back in!  You voice represents a whole lot of other folks.  The program is also providing speed tests and is tracking the results.  I know there are plenty of sites to check your speed, but this gives a map of access, so go check in and let 'em know what's going on out here... faster speeds and access are on the line.

Friday, January 21, 2011

11 Step Program for Those Thinking of Having Kids

Since this list is making the rounds over the past couple of weeks, I thought I'd post it here to widen its audience a bit. Of course, this is all very tongue in cheek.  Some of us have reached the melon head feeding in lesson 8 or the Goat in the Grocery phase, but it’s that cute li’l grin that makes us momentarily forget all this craziness!  It can’t last forever!

(Um, can it?)

Lesson 1

1. Go to the grocery store.
2. Arrange to have your salary paid directly to their head office.
3. Go home.
4. Pick up the paper.
5. Read it for the last time.

Lesson 2

Before you finally go ahead and have children, find a couple who already are parents and berate them about their...

1. Methods of discipline.
2. Lack of patience.
3. Appallingly low tolerance levels.
4. Allowing their children to run wild.
5. Suggest ways in which they might improve their child's breastfeeding, sleep habits, toilet training, table manners, and overall behavior.

Enjoy it because it will be the last time in your life you will have all the answers.

Lesson 3

A really good way to discover how the nights might feel...

1. Get home from work and immediately begin walking around the living room from 5PM to 10PM carrying a wet bag weighing approximately 8-12 pounds, with a radio turned to static (or some other obnoxious sound) playing loudly. (Eat cold food with one hand for dinner)
2. At 10PM, put the bag gently down, set the alarm for midnight, and go to sleep.
3. Get up at 12 and walk around the living room again, with the bag, until 1AM.
4. Set the alarm for 3AM.
5. As you can't get back to sleep, get up at 2AM and make a drink and watch an infomercial.
6. Go to bed at 2:45AM.
7. Get up at 3AM when the alarm goes off.
8. Sing songs quietly in the dark until 4AM.
9. Get up. Make breakfast. Get ready for work and go to work (work hard and be productive)

 Repeat steps 1-9 each night. Keep this up for 3-5 years. Look cheerful and together.

Lesson 4

Can you stand the mess children make? To find out...

1. Smear peanut butter onto the sofa and jam onto the curtains.
2. Hide a piece of raw chicken behind the stereo and leave it there all summer.
3. Stick your fingers in the flower bed.
4. Then rub them on the clean walls.
5. Take your favorite book, photo album, etc. Wreck it.
6. Spill milk on your new pillows. Cover the stains with crayons. How does that look?

Lesson 5

Dressing small children is not as easy as it seems.
1. Buy an octopus and a small bag made out of loose mesh.
2. Attempt to put the octopus into the bag so that none of the arms hang out.

Time allowed for this - all morning.

Lesson 6

Forget the BMW and buy a mini-van. And don't think that you can leave it out in the driveway spotless and shining. Family cars don't look like that.

1. Buy a chocolate ice cream cone and put it in the glove compartment.
Leave it there.
2. Get a dime. Stick it in the CD player.
3. Take a family size package of chocolate cookies. Mash them into the back seat. Sprinkle cheerios all over the floor, then smash them with your foot.
4. Run a garden rake along both sides of the car.

 Lesson 7

Go to the local grocery store. Take with you the closest thing you can find to a pre-school child. (A full-grown goat is an excellent choice). If you intend to have more than one child, then definitely take more than one goat. Buy your week's groceries without letting the goats out of your sight. Pay for everything the goat eats or destroys. Until you can easily accomplish this, do not even contemplate having children.

Lesson 8

1. Hollow out a melon.
2. Make a small hole in the side.
3. Suspend it from the ceiling and swing it from side to side.
4. Now get a bowl of soggy Cheerios and attempt to spoon them into the swaying melon by pretending to be an airplane.
5. Continue until half the Cheerios are gone.
6. Tip half into your lap. The other half, just throw up in the air.

You are now ready to feed a nine- month-old baby.

Lesson 9

Learn the names of every character from Sesame Street , Barney, Disney, the Teletubbies, and Pokemon. Watch nothing else on TV but PBS, the Disney channel or Noggin for at least five years. (I know, you're thinking What's 'Noggin'?) Exactly the point.

Lesson 10

Make a recording of Fran Drescher saying 'mommy' repeatedly. (Important: no more than a four second delay between each 'mommy'; occasional crescendo to the level of a supersonic jet is required). Play this tape in your car everywhere you go for the next four years. You are now ready to take a long trip with a toddler.

Lesson 11

Start talking to an adult of your choice. Have someone else continually tug on your skirt hem, shirt- sleeve, or elbow while playing the 'mommy' tape made from Lesson 10 above. You are now ready to have a conversation with an adult while there is a child in the room.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Two Things Thursday

A few nights ago, I stepped outside with Cooper to take a quick walk around the square.  It was so foggy you could barely see from one end to the other.  I mentioned this to Jaromir later in the evening.  According to him, this kind of fog is rare... and I knew immediately that meant I'd be out late.  Who could pass up such amazing, mysterious shots?  I grabbed my DSLR, two lenses, my Speedlight and triggers, and my video camera.  This was gonna be an all-nighter.

As I walked out the door, I checked my camera battery; 1/2 would surely last.  I glanced at the wall charger glowing merrily with a second battery in mid-charge. I decided to chance it.  Obviously, you, dear reader, know the rest of the story.  You don't use "I decided to chance it" when everything turns out roses and sunshine.  That's just Lit 101.  Sure enough, half way to my intended destination, the SLR freezes up... battery dead.  
Knowing I'd picked my poison from the outset, I pushed on across town to Charles Bridge.  Hoping to get off at least one shot while the battery rested, warm in my bag.  I crossed onto the bridge as the lights came up, the mist blowing across the beams like a scene out of Sherlock Holmes.   Sometimes you've got one chance at coolness... plant your feet and take the shot.

Cooper's got his own youtube channel.  CooperCast will give you a little window into what's going on with the li'l guy.  There's too many folks out there who haven't fallen under Mark Z's FB spell and don't have access to to what we've posted there.  I could keep updating our website, but it's another piece of busy work, so we'll just link from youtube to FB and our site.  I can't guarantee something on a weekly basis, but we'll try for some regular stuff... Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Growing up, I hated cheese.  My hamburgers were plain, I didn't eat pizza (imagine!) and flatly refused cheesecake until an embarrassing age due to my misconstrued notion that it was, ironically, a cake of cheese.

These things have all changed now.  In so many ways that my own mother can't believe what I'll eat.  There was one hold-out over the years that I just couldn't get into... the Grilled Cheese Sandwich.  Now, let it be known that I have texture and taste issues.  This coming from the guy who didn't eat salad for years due to the perceived "dirt" taste inherent in lettuce.  In my mind, all I saw was two white pieces of Wonder bread with some gooey fake orange gunk dripping out the side.  I know... another misconception!

Late last year, we stopped off at Len & Helen's for a visit.  Lunch consisted of soup and, *cough* grilled cheese sandwiches.  To my dear Aunt Helen, I give complete and total credit for what happened next.  Knowing full-well that anything arriving from her kitchen would be worth trying out, I sat down, only slightly hesitantly.  The soup was fantastic.  Suzi can probably tell you ingredients, it was a lentil variety, and I ended up even having some for breakfast the next morning.  The sandwiches?  I had two, maybe three.  Amazing.  This? This is grilled cheese?  Rye bread, baby Swiss cheese and ham; oh yeah... totally blew all of that white bread thing out of the water.

Fast-forward to this week.  Bread is not taken for granted overseas and is usually full of grains and seeds and covered in crunchy crust.  You buy it daily, eat it and quickly go get more.  And more... and then your wife cranks out some mini-grilled cheese sliders with smoked edam and you think, "Man, I could live on this stuff."  But, then things get weirder when she makes some mean potato soup and you find yourself at the stove making grilled cheese sandwiches.

Could life be any better?  Obviously it can because the good folks in Wisconsin have a Grilled Cheese Academy that's gotta be rated E for Eat It with it's amazing pictures and recipes.  From the pulled-pork Biloxi to the chocolate drizzled Lisa Marie, it'll take your Wonder bread out on the town and paint it yellow... with butter.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Santa Revisited

So, these pictures are just surfacing from the holidays.  Cooper got to meet Santa in downtown Moberly for the first time.  Seems it was less than impressive for him AND Santa.  I particularly enjoy Santa's expression:

"You're kidding me, right?  You gave this kid to me, knowing he'd go nuts.  Skip the candy canes, Elf-Lady, get me some Advil."

Monday, January 17, 2011

SUZI: Dairy Fasting

A lot of you know that Cooper had tummy problems for the first few months of his life.  (You might remember the entry about Bio Gaia probiotic drops several months ago.)  I did everything I could think of to help him - from tummy rubs to avoiding any food in my diet that could even remotely affect him.  If I read about some food that bothered breastfed babies, I knocked it out of my diet.  

One of those things was dairy.  Cooper didn't have any signs of a major reaction to dairy in my diet, but he did seem to be slightly sensitive.  His doctor suggested I try to cut out dairy (or at least cut back) to see if it made a difference for him.  I eliminated all obvious sources of dairy and have kept it up for several months.  Upon doing so, I realized just how much dairy I eat.  I drink quite a bit of milk.  I love yogurt.  And cheese.  And cream in my coffee.  And ice cream.  It's amazing how many things have dairy in them.  It did seem to make a difference for the little guy, so of course it was worth it.  But it hasn't been easy. 

Many people say babies can outgrow this sensitivity by 6 months.  I waited until Cooper turned 7 months and then started adding small amounts of dairy back into my diet.  It's amazing...when you haven't had milk for a while, even skim milk can taste like cream.  I bought a wedge of brie and it was gone way too soon.  Cereal just tastes better with milk on it.  There was a sale on ice cream at the store - Scott got one container, and I got two.  Scott got me a gift certificate to Cold Stone Creamery that hopefully we'll enjoy when we return.

Of course, I'd continue this "dairy fast" if I thought it would help him, but thankfully, Cooper seems to be dealing fine with this change in my diet.  All I can say is dairy is back and I'm pleased as punch!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

SUZI: The Chef

When Scott and I first got married, I wasn't much of a cook.  I didn't really like cooking.  I would have much rather gone out to eat.  I cooked because I had to, but there certainly wasn't much enjoyment.  Part of the problem was that I'd follow a recipe exactly only to get less-than-perfect results.  It was exasperating!  All that time and all those ingredients down the drain.  Among others, I remember undercooked broccoli cheese twice baked potatoes, tasteless chicken, chewy stew meat, tart spaghetti sauce and overdone cookies.

A few years down the road, and a lot more practice under my belt, I really enjoy cooking.  I've learned to make adjustments to recipes, throw some things together without a recipe at all and try a variety of flavors mixed together.  Now I would much rather eat my own cooking than go out.

Homemade food feeds you a little differently than store bought, out of the box mixes.  There's something about the time and love that go into the dish that makes it a little more satisfying for both the "cooker" and the "eater." 

Scott and I have pretty traditional roles when it comes to the kitchen.  I do most of the cooking/baking and Scott does the grilling.  (Although Scott does make a delicoius Mexican cornbread.  Yum!)  Although sometimes we cook together, and we both have a wonderful time.  We listen to music while we chop, sautee and mix.  We serve up our food on lovely plates and declare, "This is better than a restaurant!"  Then we decide how much we would pay if we were eating the food somewhere else.  "You'd pay at least $10 for that sandwich in a nice deli!"  "This steak would be $25 in a restaurant!"  Then we gloat at how much money we saved.

A lady I used to work with volunteered with children in abuse shelters.  She believed that cooking was one thing that brought everyone together.  Even the very young children could help with something.  The children could talk or be silent - either way, cooking was what brought them together.  Afterward, they would all enjoy the fruits of their labor together.

If you've been eating out-of-a-box food, here are some yummy recipes to get you back in the kitchen:

Apple Pumpkin Muffins (I leave off the streuel topping, and they're still yummy):

Chocolate Cake with this Topping. (There is nothing healty about this!)

Old Fashioned Apple Cake (one of Scott's favorite...I cut the glaze in half...just keep saying it's an apple cake to try to convince yourself there's something healthy in it)

Curried Chicken with Almonds and Dried Fruit

Lemony Lentil Soup with Greens

Good, Ol' Fashioned Pancakes

Spicy Ginger Tea
   4 cups of water
   4-5 slices of fresh ginger
   A few strips of orange peel
   4 pods of cardamom
   4 cloves
   2 cups of milk, low-fat
   4 teaspoons of tea leaves (Assam)
   Brown sugar (according to taste)

Put the water, cardamom, ginger slices, orange peel, and cloves in a saucepan, bring to boil, then cover and simmer for about ten minutes. Add the tea leaves and milk and simmer for another two minutes. Turning off the heat, allow it to steep for about 4-5 minutes or according to how strong you want it. Strain the tea and add sugar according to taste. Serve hot.

Thai Peanut Butter Chicken
   1/4 cup sugar
   1/4 cup crunchy peanutbutter
   3 T soy sauce  
   3 T water
   2 T cooking oil

Heat all ingredients in pan over medium heat until dissolved.  Serve over chicken (or beef or pork) and cooked veggies of your choice.  Serve with rice or noodles.  Yum!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Two Things Thursday

Deer season in the States is well and done, I believe.  For those who aren't in a county full of deer, you missed the constant pop-pop-pop that comes along with culling the local herd.  The majority of folks out there are shooting with traditional deer rifles.  A few, however, are knockin' off antlers with a black rifle.  I wondered how prevalent this may be and then ran across this ad for Trijicon optics in Guns & Ammo.  Follow the sight line of the picture... shouldn't there be a bad dude in some foreign country downrange from that AR-15?  And why's the shooter wearing Blaze Orange?
One of the points made in the debate between traditional, bolt-action rifles (say, the Remington 700) versus what we civilians call a military rifle (typically the AR-15 body) is that the guns used to hunt over the past 50-60 years have been the same guns used in combat.  Guys came home from the War to put meat on the table with the same piece they used in the service.  Whether this becomes the case with the AR-15 or not over the next 5-10 years remains to be seen, but visual is interesting, nonetheless.

So, I'm supposed to come up with a second item today, but for the life of me I'm struck dumb.  I could talk about being in Prague and the great two services we've had.  I could mention that Cooper's sleeping better for the past few nights mainly because we had a heart-to-heart with him about how he needs to be a big boy.  And then there's always that debate over whether Coke in the States tastes different than Coke overseas, but I settled that one to the affirmative with the last can I had today... it's just not the same.  To close I'll celebrate the fact there's a Burger King in the mall two blocks down from us... yep, a li'l bit of Whopper heaven whenever the urge hits ya'.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Car-less = less bags

When living "car-less," one of the beauties of urban life is access to public transportation.  The better the infrastructure, the easier it is for you to get around.  In a city that's well laid-out and fully serviced, there're few places you can't get to without a vehicle.

(Insert big HOWEVER here)

In the States, or at least the Midwest, we've learned that our cars let us buy huge amounts of stuff at one time.  Grocery runs mean fill the cart and pack the trunk so we don't have to head back for the week...  When all you've got is two hands, you buy what you can carry, otherwise it ain't goin' home.  We brought a few market bags with us, sturdy and packable, knowing from experience plastic bags weren't going to cut it.  You fill the bags as you shop and then head for check-out when they're full.  You're done shopping for the day!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Two Things Thursday

OK... I get a waiver for yesterday... I was slingin' 250 lbs of bags all over creation and wasn't paying for a "Boingo" hotspot.  Call me cheap.

This morning/afternoon (depending on which clock/watch you reference) we made it into Prague and very successfully at that.  More about the city and our amazing location later, today we talk Cooper and his travelin' skilz.  This kiddo did fantastic.  Charmin' the socks off the gate agents and navigating the moving walkways with aplomb.  I'll admit, I wasn't totally looking forward to this trip.  He was older, totally mobile and vocal about it.  But we had no issues with ears popping and only one instance of meltdown... and that was more related to an interrupted mamma/son dinner time. To the dude in front of us who decided that particular time was his chance to work out the kinks in his knees and stare down over the seatback, I have one long, drawn out word for you:  Eeewwwwww.

And second is a celebration of the Disney concept that "A distracted wait is shorter than an un-distracted wait."  Why do they put those monitors in line at Six Flags?  It's to keep you watching while you're waiting 2 hours for 34 seconds of Mr. Freeze.

"See, kids? It's not so bad on a Saturday in July after all!  Why, we'll just watch this short clip two dozen times and it'll make the time fly!"

You might use your reading lamp for reading, but intrepid moms use theirs to strengthen neuron bonds and bridge new synaptic gaps.  And to keep that li'l guy from climbing right over the seat and into the hairpiece of the Eewww dude's wife in front.

Yep, fancy stuff on the Boeings these days.