Thursday, January 17, 2008

Getting Happy in the New Year

With it being January, I suppose it's only fitting to talk resolutions. Well, I won't talk about ALL of them. Just one really. The one about staying HAPPY throughout the year. As it so happens, this resolution resides in the number one slot. (I figured putting this resoluton ahead of the others would help keep all those that follow on track.) And also, . . . maybe I was kind of cheating, . . . because how hard can it be to be HAPPY when that's all you want to be?

Well? . . . I have to admit, those after-holiday retail sales certainly helped get me off to a good start -- or, so I thought.

Unfoturately, my glee was short-lived. All because of an innocent purchase of a pair of pajamas. Yes, pajamas. Who can't not get happy over a new pair of pajamas? Warm, cozy ones, at that? I certainly did--especially when they were covered with Happy Bunnies.

Happy Bunnies like this one.

Yes, I know--they may seem slightly juvenile for a grown woman. Truth be told, my husband wondered why I'd raided my daughter's dresser. Still . . . being completely naive, I told him I hadn't. I told him I'd bought them of my own free will, simply because
1) they were so WARM, and
2) that bunny was so SMILEY, and
3) that color was so PINK, and
4) because of all that, I couldn't say, "NO," to them.

My kids filled me in on the bad news later, when they saw me sporting my new duds.

"Uh, that's the bunny that thinks he's perfect and everyone else isn't," my daughter said.

"And that's the bunny that says, 'Hi, Loser!'" my son added.

What? 'Hi, Loser?' My thoughts raced, then took a nose-dive.

This Happy Bunny isn't really happy in the truest sense of the word?

This Happy Bunny is happy, because he's so RUDE?

I couldn't believe it. Didn't want to believe it. And went into a period of denial for about a week, until I got up the muster to do a bit of research. Turns out these pjs actually come with a warning label. No joke. I found this one at

WARNING: Happy Bunny products are designed for teenagers. A little too raw for the little ones.

So, . . . I'm floored. My happy-reality bubble is popped. Fizzled. All because of a stupid bunny.

There I said it. I called a happy bunny stupid.

Yeah, I'll say it again. "Hi, Stupid!"

Guess he's rubbing off on me. And guess my new year is off to a great start. Thanks, Loser! ; )

Monday, January 7, 2008

Pigs, Mice, and Stories That Speak to a Boy's Heart

First, you'll never guess what showed up on my doorstep the day after I posted my last entry. . . . Fruitcake! I found the whole experience hilarious and delicious. Just goes to show how life's surprises can make us smile.

The holidays brought lots of new books into our home. My sister gave me Alice Sebold's The Almost Moon, which I'm looking forward to diving into. My daughter, a bigger bookworm than myself, got Fablehaven by Brandon Mull, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, and Tale of Hill Top Farm by Susan Whittig Albert. My oldest son got Dangerous Book for Boys, three Geronimo Stilton titles, and the new Nixie's Song by DiTerlizzi and Black. And my youngest son's library (age 7) included three books by Arnold Lobel: Small Pig, Ming Lo Moves the Mountain, and Owl at Home. Arnold Lobel is his favorite author, and has been since he started choosing his own books last spring.

Which makes me wonder about the whole "boy" book genre that editors look to fill. These Arnold Lobel titles aren't packed with "nail-biting" action and adventure. Nor are they mystery, or science fiction, or fantasy. The characters aren't quippy, fast-talking boys, or loaded with "bathroom" humor. They're just simple stories, about simple, charming characters that find themselves in simple situations encompassing subtle, clever humor. Not to say, that my son is simple-minded. Or quiet. Or mild-mannered. He's all boy--into football, soccer, basketball, and getting dirty, or snowy, or muddy on the playground, just like anyone else. He loves pirates and science fiction and action movies. And he's super smart for his age--IMHO. A good student. Who happens to like good, solid stories. Like those written by Arnold Lobel.

Mouse Soup was his first book. And after we finished it one night before bed, he wanted to read it again. Then, after we read it about 5 times over the next few days, he discovered that there were other Arnold Lobel books listed on the back cover of Mouse Soup, and he wanted to read those, too. So, Mouse Tales and Grasshopper on the Road were quickly added to his collection.

But this wasn't our first introduction to Arnold Lobel. After organizing bookshelves over the holidays, I realized that this author had also been a favorite author of my older son. Lobel's, Frog and Toad were reread many times by both he and my daughter.

So, is there a "boy" book? A magic plot or combination of story elements that editors dream of publishing? I suppose there is. But there are also simply good stories. Stories that draw a child into another world, open their eyes to a way of being that they can relate to, or want to relate to, whether they be boy or girl, child or adult. And I guess I like seeing that experience happen in my children, thanks to authors like Mr Lobel. So, I'd like to thank him, and other authors like him, who worked and are working to bring good stories to life.

If you're looking for good books for the young child in your life, here are a few of my son's favorites (age 7, first grade).

The Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo.

Any book by Arnold Lobel: Frog and Toad, Mouse Tales, Mouse Soup, Small Pig, Grasshopper on the Road, Ming Lo Moves the Mountain, Owl at Home.

Harold and the Purple Crayon adventures by Crockett Johnson.

Olivia (etc.) by Ian Falconer

Henry Hikes to Fitchburg by D.B. Johnson

Click, Clack, Moo. Cows That Type (etc.) by Doreen Cronin

And click below to learn more about Arnold Lobel

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Fruitcake. . . . Or, How the Bubble Finally Popped.

Fruitcake was always a mystery to me. I mean, how could a dessert, that was so varied in its appearances, so long-lived in the history of cooking, have gotten such a bad rap? My great-grandmother on my father's side spent years perfecting her fruitcake recipe. Her hand-written cookery journal holds at least five different versions. And of the hundreds of cookbooks I've read over the years, I've seen as many different recipes.

So what's the deal? Surely, a sweet bread holding all this attention was worth the effort? Who cares if it needs to be carefully sawed through with a serrated blade?

How did it happen that ducking neighborly deliveries of fruitcake became a household joke around the holidays? Was commercial-mass production really to blame, as historians say?

Having grown up in a rather rural, mountainous area, I never quite grew to understand that spirited animosity. Partly I suppose, because unlike Urban/Suburbanites, we simply didn't have all that many neighbors. And partly I suppose, because thanks to a grandmother and mother who like to bake, I grew up liking fruitcake.

Yes, I grew up liking fruitcake. Eating fruitcake.

Devouring it, at the holidays, I'll admit. Just like this last one.

I'd forgotten my fondness for this dessert, actually. Having dismissed fruitcake as a dessert not worth making, thanks to popular opinion, I never bothered; and TIME, that tricky enigma, shuffled such memories to the darkest, deepest depths of my mind.

But thanks to Mom, who always has a way of doing something extra-special--who took the time to dig out Grandma's recipes and get to work long before the holidays began--those memories came flooding back this Christmas.

My grandmother, when she was living, made a great fruitcake. She'd send it out to us from Minnesota, along with her Norwegian lefse and a dozen or so cookies that she called rocks. The rocks, I didn't much care for, but the lefse and fruitcake . . . they were my favorites.

Funny, how I never quite connected THAT fruitcake -- the one my grandmother made -- with the other one -- the one everyone else seemed to hate, or pretended to hate when the holidays rolled around. Such is childhood. The bubble-world of every child's universe.

... I, for one, am so glad it finally popped. Because this year -- 12 months from now, I intend on jumping into the world of fruitcake preparation. Yep. I do.

So, neighbors and friends, watch out! I certainly hope that you'll rediscover, like I did, that fruitcake is so much worth it's every last ounce in gold, and then some.

I guess that's one New Year's resolution I'll work to keep: learn to make fruitcake.

Happy New Year!