Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Dora spoof

If you've ever been forced to watch Dora the Explorer with a small child, don't miss the Saturday Night Live TV Funhouse spoof.

(Got the link from a crossword guy who's into cartoons.)

I beat Phil Donahue

Oh, yes. I kicked his butt. Phil Donahue placed 642nd out of 698 contestants at the crossword tournament, and I was in the top 20. (Would've been top 10 if not for one mindless mistake on the easiest crossword puzzle.) Remember Phil's trademark salt-and-pepper hair? He still has all his hair, but the pepper has given way.

I had a wonderful weekend, though I'm horribly sleep-deprived after getting about four hours of sleep both Friday and Saturday night. Fortunately, I had the good sense to stay up late socializing rather than trying to go to bed at a decent hour, which surely would have meant endless tossing and turning and getting only a few hours of sleep. I spent some capital-Q Quality Time with my crossword boyfriends (outside of crosswordland, all my friends are women—my guy friends are all men I know through the crossword thang).

Oh! On Saturday, I met my editor at the St. Martin's Press table. She handed over a set of page proofs for this book. Technically, I don't know exactly what woot or w00t means, but all the same: Woot! (Is it poor form to woot yourself rather than receiving a woot from another?)

If you are word-nerdy enough to want to read more about my Adventures in Crossword Competition, feel free to visit my crossword blog.

You know how I harbor secret fantasies of becoming an infectious-diseases epidemiologist? With a lesser degree of fervor, I think the idea of being a lexicographer is incredibly cool. At the crossword tournament, I met a real-life dictionary lexicographer. You can check out Erin McKean's site, Dictionary Evangelist, for saucy lexicographic musings. Erin lives just a few miles away from me and has a son near Ben's age, and has a compelling resume.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

I'm off!

Friday morning, I fly away to the crossword tournament! This is good because:

• I get a weekend away from domestic responsibilities.

• I'll be seeing friends from faraway places.

• I'll be meeting some new friends from inside the computer for the first time.

• If all goes well, I could end up with another wee trophy to attest to my Extreme Word-Nerd skillz.

• While it's not likely, there's a small chance I could win and walk off with $5,000.

• It's gonna be fun! Tons of socializing.

This is not so good because:

• Benjamin's first-grade show is Friday morning, and I'll miss it. His one line: "Hey, did you hear that they have the Queen and Maleficent in the courtroom on trial?" Mr. Tangerine will capture it on video. (Ben has warned that this show is a lot longer than the kindergarten one was last year. So maybe it's actually a good thing that I'm missing it?)

• I've got one ear that's muted by fluid. What's more fun in a large group setting than replying, "What?" to all conversational gambits? (Not dreading the flight because the ear doc sold me EarPlanes ear plugs, which should ease the effects of repressurization.)

• On the heels of Wordplay, there's a lot more interest in the tournament. What if some of those 200+ rookies can kick my ass?? And what if I self-destruct of my own accord?

The only new clothes I've bought lately consist of a single pair of jeans that look OK but not great. Remember when I asked you about skinny pants last fall, and whether I was too old to wear them? Well, I bought Gap skinny jeans in a size (8) smaller than my usual size (10), and...they're not remotely tight on my legs. They're not overtly baggy, either, but they're definitely not tight jeans. I suspect that most women must have far curvier legs than I do and that the Gap adjusted the sizing to accommodate that, because I usually can't zip up size-8 pants. Apparently I have size-4 legs, out of proportion to the rest of me. Grr.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Didn't I tell you he was a cutie?

Mr. Tangerine once drew little cartoons on our Christmas cards. This meant that in following years, people expected the hand-drawn card, but it was a one-time-only deal. His cartoon skills haven't diminished, though, and today he sketched out a work commissioned by a small patron of the arts named Benjamin.

Look how cute!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Procter & Gamble thinks we're dim

So I've been buying the 200-ounce bottle of Tide laundry detergent for some time. Imagine my surprise when the new jug arrived with the rest of my Peapod grocery order. Emblazoned at the top of the label was this message:

33% MORE
ounces than 150 oz.

Seriously. That's the best they can do? To challenge us to practice our arithmetic by figuring out if they did the math right?

Same product. Same jug. But the jug is larger than a smaller jug.

There's no limit to where marketers can go with this. Gallon of milk? 100% more ounces than a half gallon! One-liter bottle of Coke? Half the calories of a two-liter bottle!

Procter & Gamble isn't alone in thinking their customer base is easily cozened and rather simple-minded. Today's Chicago Tribune business section had an article about Wrigley's bold new idea for chewing gum. Justin Timberlake's bringing sexy back, and Wrigley is bringing stick back. Yes, their market research tells them Americans are hankering for traditional sticks of gum, and a brand called 5 is just the thing

Wrigley's marketing guy, Martin Schlatter, says the 5 stick "is the right size." The Tribune reports that this will "help consumers select the right serving size." Is there a lot of confusion about that, about how much sugarless gum is the right amount, not too big a wad and not so little it gets lost between your teeth? Schlatter also said 5 is softer and thinner (and will undoubtedly fall prey to all those penis-enlarging spams).

The article continues: Schlatter said the company believes that teens and young professionals will be drawn to the high-tech black packaging that will glow slightly in darkened clubs.

"Others will see that they are taking a stick of 5," said Schlatter, predicting that it will become a sought-after product.

This summer when the 5 gum is launched nationwide, you too can be a trendsetter with your high-tech pack o' chewing gum. Oh—and the peppermint flavor will be called Cobalt, which Wikipedia describes as a "slightly toxic" element, and the radioactive isotopes could be used in a dirty bomb. Yum!

Seen any other ridiculous consumer products or packaging lately?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Yo mama!

I think we can all agree nobody especially wants a "yo mama" joke told about her, what with the undercurrent of misogyny inherent in that. But of course, playing the dozens has a rich history, and not solely in African-American culture—the Wikipedia article on it is an interesting read. The Norse, Arabic poetry, 16th century Scottish poetry, Shakespeare's era—many examples of insult competitions.

Having not grown up immersed in any of the aforementioned cultures, I was caught off guard this afternoon when Ben trotted over to me at the school playground. "See that boy over there? He said you're a peabrain."

"Meaning you're a peabrain or I am?" I asked.


Alas, it did not occur to me until later that I ought to have advised Ben to concoct another insult in return. I told him the other kid was playing a "yo mama" game wherein you trade insults and try to top one another. He came up with "Yo mama lives in the sewer," which I thought was an excellent first attempt.

Now he will be ready for the next round. I can't wait!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

An ode to Mr. Tangerine

I love that Mr. Tangerine (who celebrated his birthday yesterday). Here are a few reasons why:

• Like the most recent commenter on my phobias post, Mr. Tangerine has an abiding distrust of all things avian. Birds' resemblance to the raptors in Jurassic Park is unforgivable in his book. He's never seemed to share my fear and loathing of centipedes, but last night, after I mentioned that I'd seen (and avoided clicking on) a link to a clip of some centipede attacking an animal, he (1) Googled up the link for himself, (2) didn't try to make me see what was on his laptop screen, (3) exclaimed, "Oh my god! Oh my god! No fucking way!" (etc.), and (4) now believes that centipedes are among the vilest and cruelest creatures on this earth. Probably you don't want to search for that clip yourselves. Mr. Tangerine has taken one for the team, and confirms my fear and loathing of those hundred-legged bastards are well-founded.

• Wow, is he ever a good dad. And a good husband. In combination—I am ready for a break from parenting duties when evenings and weekends arrive, and Mr. Tangerine is terrific at simultaneously cutting me a break and nurturing his son. Ben has always turned to both parents equally when in need of comforting, and you can't get a better endorsement than that. And why was the weekend getaway described in the previous post so unnecessary for me? Because my husband facilitates my having more weekends of "me" time than any other parent I know. I never worry that my child isn't being well tended while I'm away.

• He's been doing all our travel planning for our trip to England in May. And doing a nice job of it, too, I must say. Most thorough.

• He's not Mr. Patriarchical. Yeah, I do more of the dishes and laundry, but I'm home freelancing part time while he's at the office full time. He's never had any expectation that I'll do the traditional wifely thing and cook dinner on a regular basis. Also? He's deliciously non-homophobic and non-racist.

• Those things people quote as the main reasons for divorce? Do not apply. We've always been in sync on all the hot buttons: financial matters, family issues, religion or the lack thereof, and general lifestyle issues (we both like the city, nobody's hankering to go out dancing, we like a lot of the same sorts of movies, etc.). We started out head-over-heels in love with each other (there is no better reason to get married or embark on a committed relationship, is there?), but as life partners, we're also compatible in all the important ways. Which is not to say we don't argue, but when we do, it's not about these giant practical matters that prompt divorces. Occasionally I remind him that he is stuck with me for the duration.

• He's handsome and super-smart.

• He brought thick-hair genes to the relationship so I could have a kid with good hair.

• He single-handedly installed and set up an HD plasma TV. Some sources say only a small percentage of consumers could do the same. He also is handy with things like the household wireless network.

• Although he and I prefer different mirror and heat/AC settings in the car, we keep the driver's seat in the same position. See? Compatible!

• I can tell him anything and everything. He might even listen if he's not watching sports at the moment.

• My oldest friends (meaning the ones I've known since high school) like him.

• When Ben first came home from the hospital after doing hard time in the NICU, he tended to spit up a lot at night. His daddy not only got up with me for all those middle-of-the-night feedings (even though he had to work in the morning), but he also started sleeping in Ben's room—with Ben on his chest. I've heard about new fathers complaining that their wives had abandoned them in favor of the baby—in our house, we had Super-Daddy. Given how difficult that period of my life was (postpartum depression or merely situational depression over the things that sucked?), he wins the Oscar for Best Husband and Father in a Leading Role.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The No-So-Great Escape

I have before me the schedule of events for last weekend's suburban expedition, and all week I've been too disheartened to write about it. But my expat friend has been hankering for the write-up, having heard a few highlights from me, so here goes.

The thing was billed as "Girls Great Escape." That's right: No apostrophe. The purpose? "Designed to pamper and refresh the female spirit." Sounds vaguely feminist, no? Let me ask you this: Is [warning: do not click link without first muting your speakers] the BeDazzler feminist? Are the terms girls and ladies innately feminist when referring to women?

I'm getting ahead of myself with the BeDazzler reference. Let's take things in order here. The Escape began first thing Saturday morning with check-in in the hotel lobby, whereupon each registrant received a crinkly plastic satchel with papers, a fan (perfect for the hot-flasher, I s'pose), a bottle of water, and a 2-ounce scuffed plastic bottle of Smirnoff Orange Twist vodka. Hello! Good morning, Mr. Vodka! My cousin (code-named M, after Judi Dench's character in Casino Royale) and I deposited our luggage and crinkly satchels in our 11th floor room a with view of the downtown Chicago skyline and, closer in, the hotel's dumpsters and the car dealership next door, and the seedy D-Lux Motel across the street.

Time for continental breakfast. It was amazing! I'd never before tasted fresh pineapple so utterly lacking in pineapple flavor. I don't know how the kitchen staff managed to track down this rare variety of pineapple—quite a coup.

M and I had to hustle after breakfast because I had booked a 9:30 manicure. First we stopped at the sign-up table to see which activities we wanted to attend. Water aerobics or yoga? Not dressed for either, nor in the mood for exercise. Psychic readings? Oh, puh-lease. (Which, by the way, has become Ben's favorite phrase of late.) What utter crap. Wine-glass painting class? Why would we want to paint wine glasses? Flower-arrangement demo? I trust the florists to handle that for me. Self-defense demo? My mom and I took a multi-session class at the Thousand Waves women's martial arts studio. Bra-fitting makeovers? Already booked solid. Okay, so nothing to sign up for. Free afternoon!

The manicure was fine, and actually went days longer than usual without chipping. The manicurist asked how long I'd been married (going on 16 years) and exclaimed that I didn't even look 30. Yay me!

After the manicure, we sat on our respective beds (nice linens!) and chatted (or, to borrow the parlance used on the printed schedule, we opted to "Chit and Chat comfortably." WTF? "Chit and Chat"? What, pray tell, is Chitting?) while leafing through magazines. (Thankfully, I'd brought some magazines. What kind of hotel doesn't sell magazines?!?)

At 11:00, it was time for the Boutique Shopping Market to begin. O frabjous market! One vendor's table offered BeDazzled t-shirts. My personal favorite, what with my Irish heritage, was the tee with a leprechaun made of orange and green rhinestones. There were also BeDazzled hats with words writ in rhinestones, not to mention purses bedecked with shiny studs. Another table was laden with counterfeit designer bags. There were assorted jewelry and clothing displays, a nice-if-you-like-scented-candles selection of soy candles, and an out-of-place booth with hipster screen-printed tees, the shirts made of pre-weathered soft cotton. Hmm, not for the demographic in attendance here. Poor thing. I should've bought that brown long-sleeved tee with the monkey on it for Mr. Tangerine.

Three vendors' tables featured merchandise generally sold exclusively via house parties (much like Tupperware used to be)—shiny purses, Tastefully Simple food (damn, I was hungry—I snacked on the almond pound cake samples), and Pampered Chef kitchen tools. You know—the mainstays of suburban married-lady retail-oriented evenings. (I've never been invited to one of these events by friends in the city.)

So, M and I, both hardcore city dwellers ill-aligned with the suburban mystique, found much that provoked our mockery. Yes, we recognize that we were unbearably snobby and catty. But good gravy, we needed the entertainment, because the boutique and the crafts classes weren't doing it for us.

The luncheon began at 1:00 and consisted of passable chicken Caesar salad. The catering staff put a smallish glass of white wine at each place setting. Our table was almost half empty, meaning there were four extra glasses of wine just sitting there…so when we finished our wine, M reached over for two more. And when we finished those, she stretched her arm a little farther and grabbed two more. (Mind you, I normally don't drink more than one or two glasses of wine in a day.) M figured the other Girls at our table had us pegged for lushes. That may be.

The event's emcee was a man (why?? Where's the female recharging in that?) in a Cosby-style patterned sweater (you know the type). He boasted that the attendance numbers had grown over the Escape weekend's three years, and this year, there were "over 162" people registered. I want to know how many exactly. Was it 163? 164? Or maybe 168?

Our afternoon gaped wide open, and we feared falling into the depths of hell. So instead, M and I picked up a couple cans of cold Sprite, ordered up Casino Royale on pay-per-view, and sipped our orange vodka and Sprite cocktails during the movie. Pretty good movie, though there was a tremendous amount of disbelief to be suspended. M thought Daniel Craig was cute, but I don't much care for him. Lovely piercing blue eyes, though.

Eventually, 6:00 rolled around. Time for the wine tasting! Alas, I had already developed a hangover despite never actually being tanked. Same-day hangover! So unfair. So I had Diet Coke (elixir of the gods) while M had a couple more small wines.

Dinner followed on the heels of the wine tasting, which was actually more of an "open wine bar" deal. I had to sweet-talk the event's managers to line up a non-steak entrée. The alternative turned out to be a steak of white fish clad in a uniform yellow coating. It had no discernible seasoning (aside from salt), and I still haven't a clue what the yellow stuff was.

Some Girls ordered cocktails before dinner. One woman at our table explained her drink to her group: "It has lime and mint and rum. It's called a MOE-ja-toe." (Er, mojito takes a Spanish pronunciation.)

M and I were wearing the same ultra-casual clothes we'd had on all day. We were surprised to see that many women had dressed up for dinner. Dresses and high heels, sparkles, and ornately patterned apparel abounded. Also, who knew that the chemical dyes needed to "frost" hair were still on the market? We don't see much frosting in the city. I don't understand why so many retro '80s and '90s hairdos were on display, either. The suburb the hotel was in borders on Chicago, and we all get the same TV shows, movies, and magazines. Why have hairstyles so close to a large city stalled out in a previous decade? Can anyone explain this phenomenon?

During dinner, a Frank Sinatra wannabe serenaded the Girls and roved around the ballroom with his wireless microphone, kneeling down to put his arm around assorted women's shoulders while he sang. It was incredibly cheesy.

After dinner, one of the women at our table—a stranger to us, really—asked M if she could take her leftover steak to give to her dog the next day. (Steak lady did say that M and I looked like we were in our 20s. We opted to take her at her word, though it's certainly possible that the eyesight of a 71-year-old grows dim.) Another diner must've been bothered by meat strands caught in her teeth. M described it as "deep-sea diving," what this woman was doing in her mouth with toothpick and fingernails at the table. Eventually she extracted a piece, and resumed the toothpicking action for another extended bout.

Sinatra-esque was continuing his performance after dinner, and when he finished, a DJ was due to spin some tunes so that over 162 Girls could dance. Dance! I'm marginal on dancing with my husband at a wedding, so dancing on carpet in cargo pants amid BeDazzled women while my headache throbbed? Did not sound like a good time.

M also had zero interest in dancing, so we headed back upstairs for more pay-per-view. The Departed was fantastic, though I could've done without the gushes of blood from crania and whatnot. I also managed to feel queasy all evening. Was it the uncharacteristic consumption of alcohol? Was it the wine-followed-by-vodka sequencing? Or was it the yellow fish coating? I know not.

The next morning, the champagne breakfast buffet had…moist scrambled eggs. I'm choosy about eggs: they must be well scrambled, and don't gimme any wet stuff. So I opted to forgo protein. The pecan coffeecake was good, though. You could bake a shoe with pecans on top, and I'd eat it with pleasure. I love, love, love toasty, crunchy pecans. I also skipped the champagne because that's an instant recipe for a headache (although I think I can safely drink prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine).

The stand-up comedian (pardon me, the comedienne, as she was billed on the schedule) who performed was decent. (Have you ever heard of a comedian working a breakfast gig? Me neither.) She lost me with all the country music references, but when she asked the assembled crowd if anyone had any piercings, she got off a good joke: "My nipples aren't pierced, but sometimes I like to wear clip-ons." She'd also asked anyone with a tattoo to raise her hand. Out of over 162 people, I think only about four people raised their hands. So apparently, this is a tattoo-averse demographic, the Girls. (I don't have one, but I harbor thoughts of getting a small blank crossword grid tattooed on the inside of my calf so I'll never be without a crossword to work on if I get bored.)

A woman at our breakfast table exclaimed, "This is the greatest weekend I've ever had!" (Poor dear.) I suspect this crowd consisted largely of women with husbands and kids, women who don't get many opportunities for "me" time. Last year, I had three long weekends away from home without my family, and there was probably another weekend or two when Mr. Tangerine and Ben visited my in-laws without me. I'm lucky to get the time that I need to recoup some sanity, to feed my mind. I wish everyone's existence allowed them that—because we all need to have some time when other people's needs are secondary to our own.

So in sum: I'm a little bit of a snooty bitch, but I'm a happy one. And I paid the karma price for the mockery with that hangover, which lasted from Saturday evening through Sunday night.

Friday, March 02, 2007

That's my boy

The kid flipped on the TV this afternoon, and the local news was airing on the channel the TV was tuned to. Never one to miss weather coverage (flood warnings! thunderstorms! hail!) and miscellaneous vehicular mayhem (a car under a truck, driver unhurt! driver ticketed for not staying in her own lane), he didn't mind watching a few minutes of the newscast.

The business update began, and the reporter was talking about Toyotas. At the bottom of the screen, however, the closed captioning read TOY OATAS.

"Hey, they made a mistake. They put a space in there," he remarked.

I'm so proud. (By second grade, I expect him to be catching the multiple errors.)

Thursday, March 01, 2007

A new blog you must visit!

The fabulous Mr. Tangerine has a birthday coming up next week, and to mark that occasion I plan to limn his goodness in a paean. (Really! As a husband, he's well-suited to me. As life partners, we're largely in sync. And as a dad, wow, is he good.)

In the meantime, though, he has started a blog. It ain't much yet, but you can play a frightfully addictive game there (don't even try it if you're busy!). There's a lonely little comments link. He checked the next day, "No one's left any comments," he remarks mournfully. I told him eventually someone will pass through via Blogger's "next blog" button, and they'll leave a comment to say, "this blog is stupd. why do you waste my time."

Would a couple of you go show him some love? Thanks, dears.

Presented without explanation

Yesterday, Ben said, "If I had my choice, I would be a dancer or a bunny."