Thursday, July 30, 2009

Yummy Summer Salad

Courtesy of a friend of a friend (my friend J-Ro's friend Lyn), here is a light, tasty, limey summer salad that will be gone before you get a chance to taste it when you bring it to a church pot-luck. I speak from experience.

I took liberties and gave it a name:

Grape Tomato and Black Bean Salad with Garlic Lime Dressing

1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced smallish (1/2 inch dice)
1 15-oz can of black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 c. red onion, diced
2 T. jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced (about 2 peppers)
1/2 t. freshly grated lime zest
1/4 c. freshly squeezed lime juice (about 2 limes)
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. black pepper, freshly ground
1/2 t. garlic, minced or pressed
1/4 t. ground cayenne pepper
2 ripe avocados, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch or larger pieces

Gently toss tomatoes, yellow pepper, black beans, red onion, jalapeno peppers, and lime zest in a large, attractive bowl.

Whisk together the lime juice, olive oil, salt, black pepper, garlic, and cayenne pepper until it looks almost creamy. Pour over vegetable mixture. Toss well.

Just before serving, fold the avocados into the salad. Serve at room temperature.

I was going to post a picture of the colorful deliciousness that is this salad, but I couldn't find my camera. Then by the time I found my camera, the salad was all gone. So you're just going to have to use your imagination.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

20 Things Besides TV

Once baseball is over, we've survived summer school, and vacation is a fond memory--then what?

One kid in particular seems to believe that his lot in life is to sit in front of the TV watching Frasier DVDs, movies, and non-cable re-runs.

"C. Peevie," we said to him. "Get up and do something besides watching TV!"

"But there's nothing to deeewwwww!" he whined. Aha! I said to myself. A teachable moment.

"Turn off the TV, C. Peevie," I said. "I have an assignment for you." He looked at me from under glowering eyebrows. "Off," I reiterated. He complied, grumpily.

"Here's the deal," I told him. "I want you to write me a list of 20 things you can do instead of watching TV and playing video games."

"Awwwww, Mom!" he arghed, "That's completely lame."

"It's going to be 25 things instead of 20 if you argue with me," I said cheerfully.

It was 24 hours and no TV later that the boy handed me my list. Here's what he came up with, in its complete and unedited beauty:

  1. reading
  2. bike
  3. scooter
  4. drawing
  5. park
  6. hang out with pals
  7. stroll
  8. write a book
  9. knit woollen scarves for the homeless
  10. found a charity
  11. clean windows
  12. making Stouffer's family size mac & cheez
  13. making money
  14. cleaning
  15. shopping
  16. goin 2 the bathroom
  17. checkin email
  18. talk w/ friends
  19. cook
  20. pray
I like this list. Next time he tells me he's bored, I will whip out this little list and remind him that there are at least 20 different ways he can spend his time that does not involve sitting in front of a screen.

M. Peevie found the list on the couch, and read it. She was intrigued, and decided to write her own list of "20 things you can do other than watch TV:"

  1. read
  2. play outside
  3. climb a tree
  4. go shopping
  5. try on everything in my wardrobe
  6. plant a flower
  7. cook dinner
  8. hang with pals
  9. make a new club
  10. re-decorate my room
  11. have a garage sale
  12. save money for something I really want
  13. go to collage [where, presumably, she'll learn how to spell "college." She is, after all, only 8.]
  14. get my own house
  15. make a tree house
  16. visit all the places I want to see
  17. go to swim class (I really want to!)
  18. learn how to golf
  19. go to the park
  20. get old stuff from the dump

Get old stuff from the dump? Seriously. Because our house does not have enough crap in it that belongs in the dump, so we need to bring more stuff home. I think I saw a square millimeter of uncluttered space in the dining room earlier today, so we can definitely fit some dump treasures there.

I have more items to add to their list of things they can do instead of watching TV:

  1. Start a blog
  2. Visit an elderly neighbor
  3. Swim
  4. Toss the baseball with your little brother
  5. Write thank you notes to anyone who has ever done something kind for you
  6. Make a gratitude list
  7. Listen to music
  8. Learn to play an instrument
  9. Learn a language
  10. Learn to juggle
  11. Clean something. Anything.
  12. Make a list of birthdays you want to remember
  13. Make cards for people on the list
  14. Write in a journal
  15. Burn a CD for a friend
  16. Go for a jog
  17. Offer to take a neighbor's dog for a walk
  18. Wash the car
  19. Bake cookies
  20. Make a scrapbook
There. Sixty things (more or less) that you can do when you're bored and your mom or your conscience tells you to turn off the TV.

What's on your list?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Searches Ending at The Green Room, Part II

Last year I posted a detailed analysis of Google searches that brought unique visitors to The Green Room. This year, some of the searches are the same, but there are quite a few interesting new ones that make me shake my head at the strangeness of the World.

First of all, why are so many people asking about butterfly poop? Seriously. I get at least five, often more, inquiring visitors every week asking the age-old question, "Do butterflies poop?" There is an astonishing dearth of information about this topic on the otherwise knowledgeable Internet; and so the Internet sends them to me for answers. The answer is Yes, butterflies poop. Read all about it here.

Many stumble into The Green Room seeking book reviews, and sometimes they're looking for a specific kind of review. Some have searched for a bad review of Joker One--which they certainly did not find here. Some arrived looking for a dissertation on the themes or chapter summaries of Danny Gospel.

More than anything, new visitors want to know about a certain company that goes door to door trying to get unwitting customers to sign up for a long-term contract for the delivery of natural gas, promising budget-conscious consumers protection from future natural gas price increases. When I last updated this expose, I reported that my price-per-therm had averaged well-below the price that the company had tried to get me to lock in. Since then, my price-per therm has ranged from $112.84 in September '08 to $39.40 in April '09, with an 11-month average per-therm price of $73.09, still well-below the $1.13 lock-in price.

An alarming number of people want to know about sociopaths: "sociopathic husband laziness," "sociopath control cross," and "sociopath brain science," for example. The search engines direct them here because of my review of The Sociopath Next Door, a scary book that made me start seeing sociopaths every time I turned the corner. When I visit my family.

This blog does not pretend to be a food blog like some of the really great sources of food euphoria out there (Elise's Simply Recipes is one of my favorites, as is Chris' Ordering Disorder). And yet! Virtual visitors have uncovered some delicious recipes in The Green Room kitchens: authentic sopes rusticos; texture-and-flavor-rich corn, wild rice and sausage soup; and fresh summer salsa, for example.

Apparently I performed a service for Chicago families learning to navigate the Chicago Public School selective enrollment high school system when I narrated C. Peevie's journey to high school.

Night at the Museum 2: Battle for the Smithsonian got people to the Green Room with amusing searches for "Bobblehead Einstein that's the way I like it," "Einstein bobblehead conversation," and "watch Albert Einstein bobbleheads singing." I can't blame them--that was my favorite scene in the movie (reviewed here) as well.

Apparently many folks are interested in taking care of an unsavory little league situation--perhaps like the one I described here. They searched for "how to get rid of a bad baseball coach," "how to get rid of a little league coach," and "bad little league coaches."

I'll close with random selections from the site meter reports that offer secret insights into the weary travelers that stop by the Green Room for a brief visit:

  • Marriage is hard work
  • I believed that prayer would work without fail joker one
  • plucky people
  • what coral should I get for goldfish
  • how to get along at dinner table book
  • good boy movie dinner table
  • what is reading enrichment
  • senator burris vain nightclub
  • a boy touch a girl breast
  • your own word will turn around and bit
  • agent freckles
  • onesimus and philemon forgiveness drama skit
Thank you, visitors to The Green Room, for making this blog the 889,960th ranked blog on Technorati. I'm so proud.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Random Notes From My Vacation

1. Across Minnesota, giant, white windmills, each with three long arms, dot the landscape. They caused me to wonder: How much energy do they harness? Are they efficient? Are they privately owned, or state-owned? Can the energy be stored? What is the energy used for? Why aren't there more windmills harnessing free energy across the miles of empty land?

As you might have predicted, I did a little research on the subject. This article is informative, though obviously biased in favor of the benefits of wind energy production. This older article from USA Today reports that a teeny .5% of all electricity generated in the U.S. in 2005 came from windmills, but that percentage is expected to keep rising. The U.S. Department of Energy reported in 2008 that "wind power could provide up to 20% of the nation's total electricity needs by 2030."

2. The sky looks different in Minnesota and South Dakota than it does in Chicago. Bigger; bluer; taller. The clouds look different, too. Sometimes they were white mountain ranges; sometimes they were ominous tidal waves; and once they looked exactly like Wisconsin State Fair cheese curds.
3. A business opportunity for you entrepreneurial Green Room readers: There are two restaurants near the northeast entrance to Badlands National Park. One is the Wagon Wheel Bar, which I described here; and the other is the restaurant at Cedar Pass Lodge, just past the entrance. The next nearest restaurants are in Wall, South Dakota, a slow 22 mile drive away. This place can definitely use another restaurant. If you can stand the loneliness, start writing up your business plan. I'm available (for a fee) to help you plan the menu--based on my hours and hours of experience in the area.

4. As the child of two extreeeeemely conservative, Christian parents, I grew up believing what they told me: whereas the Bible must be interpreted literally whenever possible, and whereas the Bible says the earth was created in six days, and whereas yada yada, therefore, the earth is not more than 10,000 years old in spite of what science, archeology, and geology have to say about it. I confess that I still hang on to the inclination toward literalness in Biblical interpretation, and it has taken me a long time to let go of my young earth predilection.

However. Being in the Badlands for four days did more to influence my belief about the age of the earth than did 12 years of public school, six years of college and graduate school, and 48 years of exposure to news stories, public exhibits, museums, and other sources of information on the topic. The layers of fossilized Badlands rock, with their varying colors and textures, shouted out to me, "Look at us! We're really, really old! Older than your dad thinks we are!"

I still believe that it's possible that God created the earth in six literal, 24-hour days; I just don't think it's likely that he did. God can do anything, even create brand-new things that look old. Adam is a good example--if you happen to believe in the creation story of Adam and Eve, which I do.

Yes, it's possible that God created the Badlands--and other old-looking geological formations -- with the appearance of age and changes over time. It's possible -- but why would He?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Misogynistic Music

I was listening to a popular radio station in Chicago last week, and the female DJ played a song that was so sexually explicit, misogynistic, and profane that I almost threw up my Target cafe nachos. I reached over to punch the knob to change the station after the first line of lyrics, and instead decided I would give the song a chance.

The whole thing was disgusting, gross, inappropriate, and offensive. I mentioned it to Mr. Peevie later, and he said, "Welcome to the world of popular contemporary music." Seriously? The same world that brings us Lucky and Delilah and Leave the Bourbon on the Shelf?

And what is a female DJ doing playing shit that disses her own stupid self? Don't these people use their brains? Does she really want people singing along with a song that glorifies getting turned on by sexual assault?

I talked to C. Peevie about the station and the song, and told him in no uncertain terms that I did not want him listening to that station or songs like that.

"You wouldn't want someone saying things like that about your sister or your mother," I said, "so you don't want to people to gain from you listening to their music." He agreed; or at least, he claimed to agree. I take him at his word, because he's always been straight with me.

Meanwhile, here are my music and parenting questions for you: Do you pay attention to lyrics? Do you boycott stations that play music that you find offensive, or do you figure, well, it's just one song? How do you monitor the music your kids listen to: intensively, moderately, minimally, or not at all?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I Fought the Law and the Law Won

We left town at 8 a.m. on a Monday morning on our recent trip to South Dakota. At 8:30 I got pulled over for speeding.

"Shit," I muttered under my breath when I saw the flashing lights behind me.

"PULL ONTO THE SIDE STREET," the black and white ordered. I obediently pulled over, and opened my window. The officer walked up and I mustered as much innocence as a sinner with a black heart can muster.

"Is there a problem, officer?" I asked sweetly.

"Yes, ma'am," the young officer said politely, "You were going 45 in a 30. May I see your license and proof of insurance, please?"

I handed over my license, newly renewed last month, thankthelittlebabyjesus, or I'd be paying for a driving-without-a-license ticket as well as a speeding ticket. But when I searched for the current insurance card, it was nowhere to be found. I had the last two cards, but the most recent one expired in May.

"Do you have current insurance on the vehicle?" Young Officer Friendly (YOF) asked.

"Yes, sir," I said truthfully, but I was sure I was going down not just for speeding, but for POI as well. POI--Proof of Insurance. That's how us bad'uns talk about our rap sheets.

"When was the last time you had a moving violation?" he asked.

"Oh, I can't remember," I said. "Years, I think." It turns out this was an inadvertent lie. Days later I remembered that I got a ticket in the mail a couple of months ago for an illegal right turn on red. I am a regular Public Enemy.

YOF went back to his vehicle to write my tickets and do whatever mysterious things police officers do when they leave you waiting and sweating it out in your car after they pull you over. He was probably playing Scramble on his laptop while he waited for my extensive rap sheet to print out.

Meanwhile the kids were all speculating about my lawlessness in the back seat. "Were you speeding, Mommy?"

"Are you going to jail?"

"How fast were you going?"

"Are we still going to be able to go on vacation?"

When he returned to my window, he handed me back my license, plus a speeding ticket.

"You're sure you have insurance on the vehicle?" he asked one more time. Yes, I was sure.

"I'm not going to write you a ticket for not having your card," he said, "but I have to write you up for speeding." He explained what I needed to do about the ticket--which, uh oh, did I actually pay it? Crap! I can't remember!--and he let me know that if he had written me up for POI I'd have to show up in court to get my license back, and the cost of the ticket would automatically triple, or something ridiculous like that. I promised him I'd pay it as soon as I got home. Oops.

Frankly, he was so polite, and so civil and friendly--he actually asked where we were headed on vacation, and we talked about the Badlands for a couple of minutes--that it was almost a pleasure doing business with him. Except for the fact that "doing business" meant paying a $75 speeding ticket.
So, I fought the law, and the law won.

But when Dr. Paradigm Shift got pulled over for speeding through the Badlands several days later, she fought the law, and she won! The officer who pulled Dr. PS over told her that she had got her on radar going 55 in a 35, and, she hyperbolized, "I've never seen anyone going that fast in the park!" I was kind of proud of Dr. PS for that, but she was not buying it AT ALL.

The officer said she was not going to write her a ticket after all, because she didn't have a "clear reading" or some such nonsense, and this, Dr. PS said, was "fishy."

"Either she got me, and she'd write me a ticket," she theorized, "or she didn't get me, and she's not giving me a ticket." And what, she just likes to pull random people over and tell them that she's never seen anyone driving so fast through the Badlands?

I don't know. All I'm saying is, Dr. PS has a history of speediness in the Badlands, and I think she should take her Get Out of Jail Free card and run.

Plus, I was praying the whole time that I wouldn't have to show POI. The last thing I need is to have to show up in court in Interior, South Dakota, population 67, just to get my license back.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Update, Plus South Dakota Tales

Mr. Peevie asked me to point you to the update at the bottom of this post.

And I thought I'd also take this opportunity to show you a few photos from my trip to South Dakota. Here are the five kids atop a smallish Badlands formation (l-r: A. Peevie, Samwise, C. Peevie, M. Peevie, and E-Dude):

And here is my beauteous angel, M. Peevie, totally owning the Badlands:

Here's how A. Peevie spent approximately 50 percent of his time in the car. I don't know if you can tell or not, but that's Manny the Manatee in his lap. It's probably the first time a manatee, stuffed or otherwise, has been within 1000 miles of the Badlands.

I wish I had a photo of the Wagon Wheel Bar, in Interior, South Dakota, population 67 according to the sign at the edge of "town." We went there for "dinner" on our first day in the Badlands. To get there, you drive into town on Highway 77, and turn right at the gas station/"mini-mart." You'll know you're headed in the right direction because the sign on the corner points toward the "Business District." Pass the town jail (photo credit: Murrax on Wikipedia), which Dr. Paradigm Shift insists is not currently used as such because "the ACLU would be all over it," but which I think is totally where they throw the obnoxious drunk guy on Saturday night.

Anyway, as we walked into the Wagon Wheel, our feet stuck to the tacky floor and the smell of cigarette smoke immediately saturated our hair and clothing. But we were starving, and the bartender/waitress was smiling and helpful, so we ordered burgers and chicken fingers and home-made pizza, and beer for the grown-ups, and sat down at two small, slightly sticky tables.

The kids asked for money for the jukebox and started playing Johnny Cash songs, plus a little U2, Bon Jovi, and Toby Keith. There were no Killers songs on the playlist, unfortunately, or I'm sure we would have heard Leave the Bourbon on the Shelf, which is absurdly inappropriate for an 8-year-old to sing along with, or perhaps Human.

Anyway, while we ate, a cowboy walked into the bar, followed by his large dog. The dog walked up to us, smelled us, and then strolled over to his water dish and got a drink. Apparently, he's a regular.

Then, a bunch of Native American pool players stopped by the bar for their evening sport. They were wearing blue jeans, cowboy boots, and flannel shirts with the sleeves cut off. They sat around the table talking and laughing and sipping chardonnay from long-stem wine glasses. No lie. It seemed a bit incongruous, but maybe that's just me.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Where the Buffalo Roam

I'm back! Didja miss me? What's that, you say? You'd like to hear about our fast and furious trip to South Dakota and back? Well, you don't have to ask twice!

Here's the short version: Drive, drive, drive. Eat. Drive, drive drive. Arrive in beautiful, mostly deserted, downtown Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Eat. Swim. Sleep.

Eat. Swim. Drive, drive, drive. Eat buffalo jerky. Drive, drive, drive. Arrive in starkly beautiful Badlands, South Dakota. Have heart attack as kids walk too near the edge of sharp thousand-foot drop-offs. Eat at the rustic (to put it nicely) Wagon Wheel Bar in Interior, South Dakota, population 67. Hike the Badlands. Hike. Fall. Cry. Hike. Fall. Cry. Repeat. Sleep.

Biscuits and gravy at Cedar Pass Lodge. Drive, drive, drive. Watch buffalo making their home on the range. Try to get close to prairie dogs. Read sign saying, "Beware of prairie dog plague." Back slowly away from prairie dogs.

Drive, drive, drive. Shop for trinkets at the famous Wall Drug, the most famous gift shop in the West. Drive, drive, drive. Visit Mount Rushmore. Visit Mount Rushmore gift shop. Play on mountainside next to Mount Rushmore. Eat at DQ, because there's nothing like driving for 20 hours to eat at the same damn place you can eat at in Chicago. Drive. Visit Crazy Horse mountain. Drive, drive, drive. Climb the Badlands. Fall. Cry. Climb some more. Watch stunning lightning storm over the Badlands from motel balcony. Sleep.

Biscuits and gravy at Cedar Pass Lodge. Climb, fall, cry, repeat. Fossil talk with Ranger Joe. Climb, fall, cry, repeat. Lunch in Wall. More climbing the Badlands. Prairie walk with Ranger Joe. Visit Badlands gift shop. Climb, fall, cry, repeat. Watch Badlands evening slide presentation. Sleep.

Drive, drive, drive, drive, drive, drive. Sleep in own bed. Aaaahhhh.

Trip stats:

Total miles driven: 2,050.6
Total cost: approximately $2,000 (both families, for gas, food, lodging and sundries)
Total hours of driving: 35-40, including side trips
Total trip days: 5
Total pictures taken (E. Peevie only): 101
Total times pulled over for speeding: 2
Total number of speeding tickets: 1
Total number of times someone asked "Are we there yet?": 8,761

I'll leave you with this famous quote from M. Peevie: "How come South Dakota has all the cool stuff?"

More later. Because there is much to tell, of course.

NOTE: I don't know how to write on my photos, or put captions below them, so I'll just tell you here: in the mountain photo, the person on the top is C. Peevie, and the climber in the white shirt is A. Peevie.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

We're Off!

Today: packing for me plus three; picking up car snacks; gassing up the ol' Conestoga.

Tomorrow: Hittin' the road, headed for the Badlands, South Dakota.

First, we'll stop by beautiful downtown Wheaton, to pick up my therapist friend, Dr. Paradigm Shift, and her two above-average boys. (I don't like to travel far from home without bringing my personal therapist along. You never know when you're going to need a little psychoanalysis.)

Then, it's off on Adventure Highway, heading north and west to see sights for sore urban eyes: hills, mountains, trees, astonishing land formations, buffalo, prairie dogs. The plan is to travel as far as we can the first day, and then find ourselves a family friendly hotel, hopefully one with a pool. I picture us driving into a bucolic town along the highway, finding a Howard Johnson's, getting a couple of rooms, and ordering some fried clams as a late-night snack.

If worse comes to worst (and what a great expression that is!), we'll put our Garmin to work to find us a hotel. Only we don't have a Garmin, we have something better: we have Mr. Peevie on speed dial. He'll work his Internet Magicks and find us an acceptable crib for the night.

I'll keep you posted, with updates from The Road. I'm sure you can't wait.

E. Peevie, out.