Spice Girl

It was officially the first day of fall which means it’s that time of year when we are inundated with pumpkin spice-flavored EVERYTHING. I’ve gotten over my childhood aversion to pumpkin pie and I even have a few recipes I really like, but I have to draw the line somewhere. It’s just TOO MUCH.

In fact, I hate the pumpkin spice obsession so much, I just had to make a blog challenge out of it. I spent all week eating this stuff so maybe you won’t have to, hoping to discover whether adding pumpkin spice to a product improves it or ruins it. Here are the results of my extensive study.

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GOOD STUFF

In case you’re in need of a one-stop pumpkin spice dealer, you probably can’t go wrong with either Target or Trader Joe’s. No shortage there. In fact, I think I exercised great restraint (mostly because none of it was tempting to me). These products were so good, I might even consider buying them again. I mean next year, though, because after this week, I need a year to cleanse my palate.

Archer Farms Pumpkin Pancake Mix (Target): Delicious with a little bit of syrup and a whole lot of whipped cream. I was introduced to this years ago and I still like it.

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Thomas’ Pumpkin Spice Bagels: Nice, mellow pumpkin spice flavor. I like them toasted with plain cream cheese.

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Keebler Fudge Stripe (Pumpkin Spice): These surprised me because not only did they not make me gag, but I found myself actually wanting more. My kids really liked them too, especially because of the white chocolate.

Kellogg Company Keebler Pumpkin Spice Fudge Stripes Cookies

Pumpkin Crunch CakeNot really a product, but this recipe was really good. I’m not sure about the walnut/pecan combination though – I’ll probably go all pecan next time. Served with whipped cream.

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The next category includes food that didn’t make me gag but that I probably won’t buy again – stuff that left me wondering why.

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UM, OKAY, I GUESS

Archer Farms Pumpkin Spice Granola (Target): I mostly liked this because I wasn’t overwhelmed by pumpkinyness and I always like granola, but I can’t see myself craving more.

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Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Caramel Corn: I always like a good caramel corn, and I liked the addition of pumpkin seeds, but the pumpkin spice was a little too strong for me.

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Pumpkin Spice Life Cereal and Frosted Mini Wheats: I just couldn’t see the point. With the Mini Wheats, I couldn’t really tell much of a difference, and I just felt like they ruined a perfectly good batch of Cinnamon Life by adding pumpkin spice.

Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookie Butter: I feel like I’m the only one in my family not obsessed with cookie butter, so I can’t tell if I’d like it more or less if I had strong feelings about the original. I liked the pumpkin kind as much as I do the original (meh), but I’m tempted to add some vanilla ice cream and make a milkshake. That just might bump it up in my estimation.

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The final category includes all my regrets from this week. It does not include all the things I flat out refused to try – recipes and products that triggered my childhood gag reflex associated with pumpkin puree texture, color, or smell. I stayed far away from foods I could tell might make me puke but there were still some unexpected surprises.

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EW, GROSS

Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Soup: I usually like their soups and I’ve had some very delicious pumpkin soups, especially in Bali, but this was just not good. I think pumpkin works when it’s either sweet or savory. This soup was just confused.

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Pumpkin Spice Oreos: I suspected I would not like these and I was right. The taste is okay, but they tried to make the color of the filling resemble pumpkin pie, and something about that color and texture combined gave me dark feelings.

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Pepperidge Farm Pumpkin Spice Milano Cookies: I love Milanos, plain or mint, so I had high hopes for these. Maybe that’s why I felt so betrayed when I bit into these waxy things. It just felt so wrong. How did these make it past market research? Just because you can do something, that doesn’t mean you should, Pepperidge Farm.

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Pumpkin Cheesecake Snickerdoodles:  So much work, so little payoff. These were a pain to make and they resulted in gigantic cookies I felt like all the milk in the world couldn’t wash down. I love snickerdoodles and my kids love snickerdoodles, but these sat mostly uneaten for several days before I finally threw them out.

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Have you ever noticed that, for the most part, pumpkin spice recipes/products are really only good if you add enough cream cheese, whipped cream, or white chocolate? Maybe our obsession with pumpkin spice really just reflects society’s very basic, very real need for more cream cheese frosting. Or maybe we should ask ourselves: if we have to pile on sweet cream to mask the flavor of our food, should we really be eating that food in the first place? I think there is a time and a place for everything, including pumpkin pie. Let’s keep it in November where it belongs, the way the pilgrims intended!

Polishing Up

I was in high school the last time I remember painting my fingernails. I had a piano audition in the choir room and as I recall, it didn’t go very well. When I played, I was used to seeing plain, stubby fingernails, so it was very distracting to suddenly see flashes of blood red. I wondered what I’d been thinking, painting my nails. Why had I chosen this, of all days, to decide to be girly?

I swore never to paint my nails again, and aside from the occasional Halloween costume, I have stuck with my promise. I’ve never regretted it – with my pianist-length nails, it seemed pretty pointless. Plus, I have actual Man Hands (proven in a side-by-side comparison with my grandfather’s identical hands), and while I’ll admit they’re quite useful, they are not at all attractive and I see no reason to draw attention to them by adding polish. And, as I discussed in one of my earliest blog posts, for a long time, I snootily saw painting my nails as a frivolous waste of time (as if I spent it doing anything more noble or elevated).

Another reason I didn’t want to draw attention to my hands is that I just don’t think any hands are attractive. I know it’s common to hate the sight of feet, but I get grossed out by fingers (especially long, creepy ones). I don’t mind watching fingers doing useful things, but fingers reaching out as if they’re about to grab you really bother me. My kids enjoy drawing pictures of fingers–or things made entirely out of fingers–just to bug me. They often wave their fingers in my face just to get a rise out of me and they keep threatening to buy me those awful finger hands.

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Fingers with super long nails creep me out even more. I’ve been trying to stop saying, “How can anyone…” but seriously, how can anyone find these attractive?

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A few weeks ago, I babysat a little girl who asked me to paint her fingernails. Luckily, she was easily distracted and moved on to another idea quickly, but I was surprised by my panicked reaction (Fingernails? Me? Do I even know how? This is why I have no daughters!!!) and decided it was time to get over my aversion.

My husband was surprised. “You never paint your fingernails? Did I know that?” Then a few minutes later when he walked back into the room, “Wow, you’re right. I never realized it, but it’s really weird to see you with polish.”

And it was so weird. Like mirror shock, but always there in my peripheral vision. Do I have a piece of spinach stuck to me? No, just my nails.  Did I cut myself? No, just my nails.Did I not wash off all the flour after making bread? Is that White-Out? No, just my nails.

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It bothered me that I could feel the polish all the time. I always felt like it wasn’t quite dry and that I’d stain everything I touched. Also, I always assumed the smell went away after a while, but every time my hand was near my face, I had flashbacks of the Stop Zit polish my little sister used to wear at night to discourage thumb sucking.

Since I wanted to get a broad range of experience, I polished and removed polish and re-polished almost daily. I realize that most people keep the same polish on for a while so it’s probably not as tedious for them, but how do they prevent daily chipping? After only a few hours of playing the piano or cleaning the house, the tips of my nails were already chipping away and looking pretty trashy. If I had polished nails regularly, I’d have to either maintain them vigilantly or just do nothing all day but sit back and admire my nails. That doesn’t seem like it would work, long-term.

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I’m also really bad at painting nails. One of the days this week, I hired my 11-year-old neighbor to do it for me, but then she left town and I was forced to develop my own skills.

I even tried to get a little fancy with some lady-bug dots. I don’t think anyone will be hiring me anytime soon.

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After a while, it became less strange to see my nails painted but I never felt like they made me more attractive. My hands are still just tools and I still don’t want to draw attention to them, but there was one particular color that made me feel a little nicer when I wore it, probably because it was pretty humdrum and neutral.

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Maybe I’ll even pull it out sometimes on special occasions. You know, the kind that call for painted nails. I have yet to encounter such an occasion, but you never know. All I do know is that right now I just really, really want to take this stuff off!

 

No Comment

Why on earth did I even go there? I have a strict rule against reading the comments section online and I broke that rule, all for a dumb blog post. I took detailed notes, thought through categories and types of comments, and tried to understand where every side was coming from so I could write a balanced, thoughtful post. But it just made me feel icky to repeat stuff I didn’t want to read in the first place and I felt guilty about subjecting others to the stupidity, anger, name calling, terrible spelling, and even poetry (poetry!! terrible, terrible poetry!) spewed on the screen by people feeling safe in anonymity.

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Bottom line: Don’t Read The Comments! They represent only the fringiest members of each side: caricatures of liberals or conservatives, of religious or non-religious, Coke vs. Pepsi, you name it, who paint those who disagree with them as even more cartoonish. Reading the comments made me hate everyone and I don’t want to hate anyone. Well, except maybe the dude who wrote the poem. I kinda want to hate him. It was really bad.

After School Special

After two weeks of being a full-time mom every afternoon, I can now report that our lives are very different now. I know it might sound mundane, but to us these new developments are a big deal. After 18 years, I think it’s about time.

We have time to go to the library together every week. My boys get to choose their own books instead of being stuck with whatever I used to grab for them while they were in school. I even check out books for myself and I even have time to read them, a luxury usually only reserved for summer break.

I am now a soccer mom, I guess. I don’t know if it counts if I only have one kid playing twice a week and I read books whenever he’s not on the field. We used to stick to basketball because the practices were late enough in the evening and the games were all on Saturday. Other sports were pretty much impossible, especially soccer. So even though Fritz is still figuring it out and I don’t know enough to know what he still needs to learn (and I’m pretty sure he’s playing in baseball cleats), we’re pretty excited about it around here.

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I get to help my kids with their homework and practicing now. I’ve been amazed at how much progress they make at the piano when I practice with them. For the first time ever, I’ve quizzed my child on spelling words. I’m aware of upcoming projects and deadlines. My kids are pretty independent and did a lot on their own, but it’s nice to feel I’m in the loop now.

One difference I’ve noticed is that it bothers me when Big O isn’t home. He’s really busy with extracurricular activities and work, so sometimes I only see him a few minutes before school, a few minutes as I drive him to work, and, if I’m still awake, a bit when he gets home at night. When I was teaching, I didn’t really notice how much he was gone because I was busy too. I liked that he was busy. Now I’m starting to resent it because now I miss him.

I enjoy cleaning now. I don’t understand it, and I don’t know if it will last forever, but for the first time in my life, I haven’t been seeing housework as drudgery. It’s like I’m a different person or something.

And here’s one of my favorite changes. For years, my kids have begged to get to take a cooking class. Last year, I asked around to different moms in the neighborhood to see if they’d be interested in making a little extra money by teaching a kids’ cooking class once a week, but there were no takers. As soon as Fritz heard I would be available after school, his greatest wish was for me to teach him how to cook. Then my two friends (and toilet papering partners) decided to join me and rotate teaching each week. Last week, Itzel taught them to make pretzels. Have you ever seen anything cuter?

This week I had them make ice cream sandwiches. Things got a little bit crazy by the end. Far too many giggles.

The original plan was to make homemade ice cream (Fritz’s current obsession) for the filling, but then I remembered that I should ease into this Super Mom stuff and just buy the ice cream.

I may not have it all figured out, but I think I’m going to like this new gig.

Heavy Lifting

One of the reasons I decided to stop teaching afternoon piano lessons is that I’ve noticed our family has developed a culture of scattering instead of gathering together. I spend most of my time on the main floor, cooking, doing laundry, and teaching. The boys either go upstairs to their rooms or downstairs to the basement. When I’m really tired, I tend to hide myself in my room. I realized that if I want to change our culture, I have to change the setup of our home from their territory and my territory to areas where we all want to gather.

This feeling came at an auspicious time: a week when our oldest had just moved away to college, leaving an empty room available; when I was feeling renewed energy and urgency the week my other boys had started school but I hadn’t started teaching again yet; and with a looming deadline of a Saturday yard sale fundraiser urging me to find as much stuff as possible to shed. The stars aligned perfectly and I had both motivation and energy to move all the things.

Of course, once you start messing with part of the house, there’s a domino effect, and pretty soon my husband and I were looking at every room with fresh eyes and we went a little crazy. I’m pretty sure we won’t be making any changes to the bathrooms or kitchen, but the rest of our house is feeling shaken up by change (and we’re still in the process of finishing what we started). The result is a home with more space to breathe, more practical use of the space we do have, and a peaceful, clutter-free feeling.

My goal was to make the traditional Boy Territories more appealing to me so I would want to spend time there. We’re still working on their bedrooms, but my week of work in the basement has been miraculous: more room, more light, less clutter, and fewer Perler beads and popcorn kernels everywhere. My previous attempts at cleaning the basement were effective, but because I didn’t go down there often, it became the Lord of the Flies island in no time. Now that I’ve given more thought to what would lure me down there more often, I’ll be around to better enforce mess control.

I found out this week that I’m more powerful than I think – I can move and assemble a lot of furniture without any help, and most of the rest I can handle with my son’s assistance.

The thing I struggled with the most was decorating just to make something look nice. I work better with practical storage, but all this shuffling led to many spots that needed knick-knacks and chotzkies, and I’m terrible with all of that. After struggling quite a bit, I finally decided to not worry about how it would look to other people, especially because the end goal was to make the basement more inviting to me.

I love my “new” basement and I love that I can walk down those stairs without a sense of dread. I love that it has become our hangout of choice, and that we have specific places set up to study and play. I love that I spent very little money to make very dramatic changes in our environment and our family culture. I can already tell that having my afternoons free to be with my kids is going to be a really good thing. They’re pretty neat boys and I enjoy being with them.

This Must Be the Place

My husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary a few months ago while we were on a tedious 14-hour flight to Bali. It may not sound like it, but believe me, it was super romantic, especially when he let me use his last moist towelettes and then I texted him a picture of my elephant-like swollen ankles from the airport restroom and then he spent an hour searching the airport for support socks to fix the swollen ankles. Are you jealous yet?

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“Have you ever seen anything more disgusting? Happy Anniversary!”

Since we were a little bit preoccupied with travel and never got around to properly recognizing the event, I spent the whole trip (plus a few extra weeks) making something to commemorate our twenty magical years together.

One of my favorite lines from any song comes from Talking Heads’ This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody):

I can’t tell one from another
Did I find you, or you find me?
There was a time
Before we were born
If someone asks, this is where I’ll be.

Out of all those kinds of people
You got a face with a view.
I’m just an animal looking for a home and
Share the same space for a minute or two,
And you love me till my heart stops.

 

Long ago, before there was vinyl lettering, people displayed their favorite texts through cross-stitch. Since I’m a fuddy-duddy anyway, I decided to take my declaration old school.

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For my first-ever attempt to cross-stitch, I probably should have turned to my friend Lizzy’s awesome Stitch People book, but in all the pre-trip craziness, I didn’t get around to it. Instead, I ordered a pattern online and tried to teach myself the basics. Now that I know I like cross-stitching, I think I’ll have to try some of her patterns because they’re just so cute.

As much as I’d like to think all my experience watching women stitching away in their sitting rooms in period dramas would transfer over to real life, I was pretty slow and not very good. Each day, several people would ask to see my progress (which was hardly noticeable), I would sheepishly show them that I had finished a whole other quarter inch, and they would try to think of something positive or encouraging to say, all while straining to discern any difference from the previous day’s work.

I kept at it, though. Fritz and I had a lot of time together while everyone else had outings or rehearsals, so I was able to plug away and my llamas in love (or, as one student put it – “Llamas in Llove”). 

I was really worried when it came time to add the text. I have a history of poor planning in that department (like that time I tried to decorate a birthday cake), so I was especially careful doing the math to center everything just right. After two days’ (or, the entire final season of Downton Abbey) worth of work, when I was almost finished, I realized I should have put more space between each word. It was all too squishy looking, and I knew from my sad Have Nercy Turkey that I would hate it forever if I didn’t change things.

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So then I picked it all out and started again. One season of Endeavor later, I finished! The original plan was to make it into a pillow, but I got lazy and framed it instead. But I kind of like the idea of keeping it behind glass, protected, instead of letting our kids toss it around and trash it. I want it to stand the test of time. Kind of like our marriage. And that song.

Buckle Up and Hold Tight

Fritz has been working hard all year to overcome his fears. Since last August, he’s learned to ride his bike and swim (with his head actually under water) and has overcome his fear of water slides and airplanes. With each new fear he has conquered, he’s found that he actually really enjoys the thing he once dreaded. Sound familiar? There was just one more challenge to face, one more hurdle to jump, one more mountain to climb (insert your favorite cliche here…).

Fritz has always had a fear of amusement park rides. Actually, let’s rewind, because before even trying a real ride, Fritz had a fear of elevators. For several years, we had to take the stairs everywhere because the feeling of motion sent him into a panicked frenzy.

Once he worked past that fear, we tried Lagoon and failed. When he was older, we figured we could finally go to Disneyland as a family. Does it count as a family vacation if Fritz and I spent all three days riding The Little Mermaid ride and exploring the Up campground while everyone else went on actual rides? At one point, we tricked him into going on the Cars ride with all of us and for months afterwards, especially when passing the red rocks of Southern Utah, he’d clutch his armrests, mutter, “Oh no…Cars ride,” and beg me to slow down whenever we drove over 40 mph.

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Last summer,we tried carnival rides and failed (that’s him in the striped shirt obviously enjoying himself). Not only did we fail, but Fritz later noticed this sign and pointed out that we had broken the rules and were terrible parents.

But since this has been Fritz’s Year to Conquer Fear, we knew we had to try again. My siblings love to complain that my mom used to make us earn our trip to Lagoon each summer. That’s right – my horrible, mean mother made us read books to earn a day at the amusement park. And since I am working hard to try to become even half the horrible, mean mother she was, I decided to continue the tradition. Each member of our family had to read 2,000 pages this summer to earn an admission ticket and most of us succeeded.

So did I fail to mention the other purpose of this Lagoon trip? Silly me. I was so focused on fixing Fritz’s quirks, I forgot to mention that I have not ridden a roller coaster or anything scarier than the Cars ride for probably 20 years. I had lots of solid reasons: it would be a frivolous drain on our tight budget as grad students and young parents, someone had to watch the kids, my vertigo made it unbearable, and I have a strong aversion to crowds, especially of the carnival (Trump rally) variety.

Isn’t it the mom’s job to stay with the cooler and stroller with a book while Dad has fun with the older kids? Someone has to do it, so why not the Humdrum Stick-in-the-mud? I’m good at being the spectatorat holding the drinks, taking the pictures, and since I hate riding the rides anyway, I might as well fill that role. For two decades, that’s what I’ve chosen to do.

Determined to get off the bench and conquer my own fears at last, this time I asked my older boys to choose the three scariest rides to take me on. We started with a classic: the Colossus Fire Dragon. As soon as we stepped on to the metal walkway, I immediately had flashbacks from my teenage years, and as we started up the track, I felt like I was calling on long-latent muscle memory with each twist and turn. I had no vertigo, no motion sickness, and I realized I have probably ridden that coaster 30+ times in my life. I liked it, and I realized that I have always liked it.

Pumped with adrenaline, we went straight to Wicked. If I had I actually bothered to research Wicked in any way, I probably would have refused to ride it. Straight up and straight down? Roller coasters did not do this back in my day. And the twisty-turny stuff? Not cool. But I did it, and I mostly kept my eyes open the whole time. The girls sitting next to me had a good laugh at my reactions, though, so I was glad I brought someone joy.

It was much easier to go on Wicked, knowing and expecting nothing, than it was to go on Cannibal. As we stood in line, a recorded message would say, “Welcome to Cannibal…” My husband thought it sounded like the man was saying, “Welcome to Canada…” To me, it sounded like he was saying, “Welcome to Hell…”, and judging from the people in line, that wasn’t much of a stretch. There was weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, children begging parents to leave, husbands dragging wives up the steps. It was not reassuring, and soon it was my turn. This picture was taken by my husband without my knowledge. It was not staged. Those are actual white knuckles and that is my actual “let’s get this over with” face.

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I did not know until afterwards that the vertical drop isn’t even vertical – it’s worse than vertical, but I did it!

Fritz didn’t join us on any of the really scary stuff, but bit by bit, he worked his way up to more challenging rides. It helped that he’s super tall and wasn’t allowed on any of the beensie kid rides. He was forced out of his comfort zone. We did some hand holding, some pep talks, some occasional bribes, and by the end of the night, he insisted on tackling some of the rides on his own.

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As I watched him, I realized how silly it was that I had gone from fearless to boring and that I had somehow convinced myself I had always been that way. I also realized that I really only have ten years or so to enjoy my rekindled love of roller coasters before I become a grandma (yikes!). Everyone knows that Grandma is always the one stuck with the cooler and stroller. Then again, maybe I’ve found a replacement benchwarmer…

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