Wednesday, April 14, 2010

McVicar System Processing the Unprocessed...

Well for the first time I have had a request for a very specific blog post, so far be it from me to ignore it! (Yes Miss Ashely...this is for you). Suffice to say I have been meaning to grant this request for awhile now, but it seems I start every blog talking about how lame I am with my infrequent postings - so it just goes without saying at this point that I do not post as much as I would like to.

So the big news this month is this push to cook fresh food - not to succumb to the oh so easy box+ microwave frozen fare whose siren call lures me in practically every night I have to admit. So what made me do it, you ask? Why forgo that which is so easily made and eaten with great enthusiasm? A couple of things, I guess...

Reason #1
As you probably are aware if you follow this post at all, since I was separated from my last office gig I have been cooking, well, 100% more than I used to. It turns out I'm not too bad at it. By my family's standards, anyway - so with the positive feedback I've been getting, I am putting more effort into/paying more attention to this particular endeavour in general. Really, lately, us McVicars are not that bad as far as our eating habits are concerned. Not great...but comparitively speaking, not bad. But we could be better.

Reason #2
In the past I have tried to like processed foods, like I have REALLY put effort into picking out something just right from the frozen section, the kids fundraiser food sale (Market Day) or from Omaha Steaks or whatever - but whatever I would buy and heat up always tasted "off" to me. People would rave about a certain boxed Chicken Kiev...I would try it...and never really enjoy it. So I have been predisposed to not loving this kind of food anyway. Don't get me wrong, my kids are fine with it and are the first ones to request Chicken nuggets with french fries if given the choice but I suppose it's all about not giving them the choice anymore isn't it?

Reason #3
I have realized something very important about myself. I cannot cannot cannot diet. I just like eating way too much. It never feels like I eat a whole heck of a lot and I exercise more than anyone I know except maybe Michael Phelps or someone like that but I never ever lose weight. So I'm thinking that if can't manage to cut calories, maybe I can keep my food intake to things that have as few chemicals in them as possible --- it might help matters some. OK I'll be honest I'm looking for the magic bullet, and who knows? Maybe this is it. But I should probably consider that:

1) I'm over 40 years old. Metabolism-ly speaking, this is no man's land. You eat one raisin and you gain 4 pounds.
2) I quit smoking and more importantly stopped chewing the nicotine gum not THAT long ago
3) Birth control hormones. Need I say more??
4) I continue to eat cookies and ice cream on what is probably a daily basis

Yet I wonder why I don't lose weight. I really do!! Anyway, I do know in my heart of hearts that keeping it fresh and "from scratch" certainly isn't going to solve my weight issues but if I'm going to be chubby, at least I will be a healthy chubby person. If there is such a thing...I am it.

Reason #4
And of course, Mr. Jamie Oliver. We have had his cookbooks forever and actually Tom (my husband) has been on this "fresh/from scratch" kick for a couple of years now. He read The Twinkie Deconstructed by Steve Ettlinger (lots of petroleum in those gems! yum yum!) and Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser and got sufficiently freaked out by what we, as a nation, actually eat. And by what the government considers edible. He wanted to change things around here so true to "Tom form" he went out and bought loads of books on the subject. We have some cookbook from Jamie Oliver's predecessor...I forget his name but he's some barefoot hippie dude that has two piglets under each arm on the book's cover. Hmmm where might he be heading w/ those?? We also have volumes and volumes of "how tos" on vegetable gardening in its various forms but also the much less sedate topics of how to raise your own chickens, beekeeping and how to start a grass fed cattle farm (?!) So I was a little freaked out by the overall concept, it seemed a little extreme to me...especially when he started talking about buying our own cow or 1/2 of a cow. So I would nod, smile and say "Honey I do love you, but you are a weirdo."

...Little did I know...

Back to Jamie Oliver - I believe my long-winded point was that he has been around our house for quite a bit now but has recently gotten tons more exposure with his new Food Revolution show. And my dear friend Kelly got sucked into it - and she was truly affected by it and told me about it. So I decided to check it out for myself and I was so totally and completely disturbed by the family that Jamie showcased - what they ate (omg piled on the table like that! All color AT ALL), their health issues the doctor revealed for them and the sheer SIZE of all of them! When that little girl said she was 4 I almost passed out. She was about 5 times the size of Charlie! What this diet and seemingly subsequent lack of activity did to these people horrified me. Horrified me right into action. Not that I was afraid Charlie or Max would suddenly grow to 10 times their size like one of those little toys you put in water (usually an iguana or something) and within 2-3 days it becomes this frightening, squishy form of monster proportions that vaguely resembles an iguana. No, that wasn't my fear was what ELSE is this food doing to them? What is it doing to me? It can't stop at just making you fat...We already know it is flinging my husband into Barnes and Noble to whip out his credit card and buy books like "Barnyard in Your Backyard"...heaven knows what else it is capable of.

So I have been keeping it real for a few weeks now and have generally been pretty darn successful. I'm not perfect - I fell off the wagon a couple of times - giving in to chicken nuggets and frozen french fries and once a month, a treat of McDonalds (it really is just SO GOOD). I have some favorite easy recipes with all fresh ingredients that I would be happy to share if anyone would like them. Evening practice/activity schedules are always a problem so I try to do as much prep early in the day as possible or I shoot for a slow cooker recipe that is sitting waiting for us. I have made vats of bolognese sauce and chicken stock to freeze and use instead of canned/jarred. While I do not yet have my own chicken coop, I am growing my own herbs and some vegetables. What I'm not growing I buy at the farm market (no more canned), Meat is a little more difficult, we do have chemical/hormone free venison and pork in our freezers from Tom's hunting adventures but I love a good burger and that stuff just doesn't cut it. I think perhaps we should look into getting that 1/2 a cow...

...oh how Tom is doing the "I told you so dance" right now...

Monday, March 15, 2010

A few of my favorite things

So in light of the horrendous weather this winter and my subsequent mental and physical suffering from not being able to get out and run I finally broke down and used my "hair money" to join a pool. It did the trick! Boy do I feel better - the whole "process" of driving, getting into and out of the pool is a bit of a drag (I really hate locker rooms, esp. cold ones) but wow, what fantastic exercise. It's been about 4 weeks and I can see/feel a difference (albeit slight), and now that I can combine it with running it keeps things interesting for me. Since I do run and swim on the same day often times, I am actually starting to entertain the thought of "triathalon" in the back of my head but there are two problems with that

1) I don't think they would let me just borrow a bike, pretty sure I'd have to actually buy one
2) I don't think they'd they'd let me stop in between each segment and eat Pop 'ems and play Scrabble on Facebook like I do now between my morning runs and afternoon swims.

So I don't know. I'll have to ponder this more. For now I need to just settle for looking and feeling better. Well, except my hair of course. Which is a bit of a fright these days...

But ANYWAY - until I can hunt down a waterproof iPod, I have only my own thoughts to keep me company while swimming. Which can get very dull let me tell you. But there have been some instances where I had a good train of thought going and I have decided to share my mental list of the best things in my possession. I mean, don't you just love it when things WORK? When they actually do what they are supposed to do? I feel like cases of that happening are too few and far between - but there are times when you feel like you actually finally got your money's worth (and I do want to hear about everyone else's list of faves!! but I will plead for that more at the end). Regardless, here are mine:

1) My Dyson vacuum cleaner - what an amazing piece of machinery. This thing sucks up anything and everything that is on your floor or any other surface it gets close to. Seriously this thing practically inhaled one of the kid's winter coats. I bought it several years ago and it continues to work with no issues - with little or no effort on my part. Everything just feels so much cleaner after it is used - probably because everything IS so much cleaner. In a house with three dogs, two kids and a man it is a "must have" item. Very pricey, but worth every ever-lovin penny.

2) The Butter Boy - I love my Butter Boy. He is the best invention for corn on the cob since people decided to eat corn on the cob. I bought this little gem as an afterthought at one of those kitchen outlet stores and boy am I glad I did. The top of his little head pops off right at the seam of his smile and lo and behold there is a stick of butter in there (that you load from the bottom) - and the upward curve of Butter Boy's grin perfectly form fits to an ear of corn - so you can butter your corn with no mess or fuss at all. He's fantastic and I can't wait for summer so he can be locked and loaded and ready to go once again.

3) Member's Mark Dutch Oven - I am so glad I decided to get this, it is the most useful pot in the kitchen. It has completely changed what I think about cooking and has opened up an entire array of possible meals. For someone who struggled with the idea of putting anything on the table more complicated than a chicken patty this is a huge statement. I know dutch ovens can be pricey - but I didn't have to shell out too much for this one comparitively speaking. And as far as I can tell, it works just as well as it's more expensive cousins. So get to Sam's Club and check it out!

4) Under Armour - For any of you out there that also sweat on a regular basis, I think you'll agree that there is a reason you have to take out a second mortgage to purchase any of this stuff because it is honestly amazing. To start with, wicking sweat or no, it is so incredibly comfortable - which when you're running non-stop for over an hour is a very big deal. Now I can vouch for the Cold Gear stuff because of my outside running adventures this winter - it is an incredibly thin layer that does indeed keep you warm. I am not sure about the Heat Gear, I really haven't put it to any big test yet. I am also interested to hear if anyone has tried the shirts that do both heat and cold - you turn it inside out to get one or the other. I'm not sure if I believe that but it is Under Armour after all and I pretty much believe they can do anything. I am also interested to hear if anyone has tried their running shoes. I really believe in this brand but I buy my running shoes at a running store which does not carry them - which gives me serious pause about their viability. So if anyone has any thoughts there - please share them!!

5) My North Face snow boots - What an incredible difference in your opinion of snow and honestly winter in general when your feet are warm and dry. I don't know how the folks at North Face did it but I have stayed outside for hours with my feet completely immersed in snow and wet and my feet felt like it was any old spring day. So along these same lines I have to also commend my Columbia winter jacket which is also pretty amazing but not as amazing as these boots. But since moving to Budd Lake, which lately has been akin to living in the Arctic Circle, I broke down and bought real winter gear and I am sooooooo glad I did. Wouldn't survive out here without it.

6) iPod + iTunes - and I only use it for music. But what an amazing device and online store. Is there anyone out there who doesn't like their iPod? Now if I could only find one that works underwater...

7) Lawry's Seasoned Salt - say what you will but this stuff is great. I got the inside tip on it from the Pioneer Woman (whose cookbook is my current fave) - she uses it in almost everything, and I've gotta tell you, she's absolutely right about it. It actually makes Walmart brand boxed mashed potatoes taste good. Enough said.

8) Last but not least all my Levi's jeans. I have done some serious research on jeans, I have tried on every single brand Kohl's has to offer in women's AND juniors (remember...unemployed...have to fill my days somehow hahaha) and I have actually purchased jeans that are over $125.00 - twice! (One pair from Nordstrom's one from Bloomingdales - 5 years ago but still...) - nothing but nothing beats Levi's. They are comfortable - before and after washings - and they are the jeans that I pull out of my closet over and over again. They just plain fit.

So those are a few of my favorite things. Pretty much covering the categories that rule my life these, cleaning, exercising, shovelling snow...but whatever the case, like I said, it's just nice when something you spend your hard earned money on actually works. That just makes me happy.

And yes, I did think of all this while swimming.

I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to hear about other people's favorite things. So please! Comment here, on FB, wherever - I want to know! So worth sharing...

Friday, February 12, 2010

Boy am I behind!!!

Yes it has been forever and day since I actually posted any musings here. It's been a tough - and busy - couple of months. Not to mention that my mojo has been off. Could be the weather (which just sucks), could be one respitory or stomach disaster after another that I keep suffering (I blame the skeezy wrestling room for this), could be I'm eating too many carbs...I don't know. Point is, I haven't been myself. So, I figure to help try to get back to being myself I need to get my butt in front of the computer and write!!

A couple of updates to previous blogs, first...

1) Charlie's b'day party - held at DaBarn in Chester, NJ - was a huge success and a totally original event for the fine kindergarten through 2nd grade denizens of Mount Olive. Big shout out to my friend Cindy for that one.

2) My running is suffering I have to say. Because of above mentioned weather, constant snow cover causing unsafe road conditions and health issues I have been having a tough go of it. Not running could conceivably explain my mojo issues. But, I did get out this week before our latest blizzard + extreme wind/cold front (not to mention yet another respitory event that seems to be percolating) and I can still run 3 miles two days in a row with no problems anyway. Next week I am going for 5 and we'll see what happens. Heather, Ashely and Tonya - I'll be in shape for OBX I promise!!

3) Charlie's wrestling season has almost come to an end. And while there were more tears than I ever imagined, he is starting to win and he even wants to get better and go for the "extended" program (1x/week post season)...provided it doesn't conflict w/ baseball that is. My rule...not his.

4) I have read some interesting books and I will absolutely share my thoughts on these in a post in the near future (I WILL NOT wait as long to post next time I SWEAR).

Well onto the actual topic I jumped on here to write about in the first place - - - - I have been "Gainfully Unemployed" for just over a year now. It blows my mind to think that it has been that long...and I actually have survived! There are many many changes that I have gone through that the "Full Time Job Me" would not have ever imagined would happen - for instance...

1 - I would consider a kids' football/baseball/wrestling/basketball/track/swimming practice a social event.
2 - I would volunteer to do ANYTHING having to do with these events. I'm just not a Joiner.
3 - I would volunteer to step foot in either of my kids' schools - to do the book fair, be a "mystery reader," help with Market Day fulfillment, Field Day etc. - if I didn't absolutely HAVE to be there.
4 - When someone says "Wow your hair looks good today, what did you do different?" I would reply with "I washed and dried it" and honestly mean it. (I know, I know, gross...but true. Especially in the winter...)
5 - I would be appalled at the notion of not vacuuming - at least my downstairs - at least once every week, week and a half tops. Not to say this always happens, but at least I'm appalled when it doesn't.
6 - I would get super excited over a new washer and dryer and show them off to family and friends as if I had just acquired a Monet and a Degas.
7 - I could go to Target for 2 hours and walk out only having spent $13.87 (True story! Kelly can vouch for me!)
8 - I would gush over a cookbook (Oh the Pioneer Woman...don't get me started!)
9 - I would actively clip - and USE - coupons, as well as scour weekly flyers for sale items. And I would actually COMBINE the coupons with the sales to save even more! Oh, yes it's true...
10 - Similarly - I would actually purchase a store brand. And I will say proudly - even the Wal*Mart store brand. OK, not too proud about that but DAMN it's so much cheaper!
11 - I would consider jeans and a button down shirt kinda being dressed up.
12 - I would make the best twice baked potato this side of the Mason Dixon line.

Well I'm sure there's more but you get the drift. And if I think of any others I will be sure to let you know!

Anyway it's good to be back and like I said, I won't be a stranger anymore.

Monday, December 21, 2009

THAT kind of parent

Charlie has started wrestling and it has truly been quite an experience so far.

Now let me start by saying that Charlie is just about 7 years old (for those of you that don't know or have forgotten). It is a very freaky thing to see such a little boy locked in mortal hand to hand combat with some other little boy that is just as wiry and fast and strong as he is. And therein lies the problem...

Charlie is the kind of kid where his whole life, everything has been easy, everything comes naturally - from sports - like baseball, football, soccer, running - to things like schoolwork, making friends and actually having a sense of style - to the even more basic skill of really enjoying himself pretty much no matter where he is or what he's doing.

***Enter the sport of wrestling.****

Well practice was all just learning in a fun kind of way so it was very exciting at first. I was thrilled because the coaches are tough - tough in a good way. They don't take any kind of nonsense from the kids and practices themselves are very disciplined - and Charlie was really listening and paying attention and trying his best (i.e. not goofing off). THEN we had our first match. Oh boy, talk about tough - in that Charlie, the kid who is used to being the best at almost everything he does, and having it all come oh so easily, had to deal with getting his ass kicked around by kids better and stronger than him. And he proceeded to walk off the mat in the middle of his 4th match and have quite the tantrum, which included crying, storming and stomping all the way up a set of bleachers...and you must remember the acoustics in a gym. I was mortified.

I was not mortified that he felt so horrible. I mean yes, I felt bad that he was mother wants to see her kid so totally unhappy...but mostly, God forgive me, I was mortified because I was very VERY embarrassed. Thankfully, as I mentioned, he is still so young and junior wrestling is apparently notorious for tears and meltdowns. But his reaction was still a little extreme even within these parameters...And Tom and I are making him continue with the program, even though he would probably take us up on it if we said "OK you can quit." But not so that he redeems himself - and us - in future matches and tournaments by managing to hold it together. But so that he learns a few pretty darn valuable lessons that apply to life in general:

1 - Not everything in life is going to be easy and sometimes you have to fight tooth and nail for what you want. Don't expect things to be handed over on a silver platter with little or no effort on your part.

2 - When things get difficult, you try harder. You DO NOT quit.

3 - Sometimes, you are going to lose. And yes, it sucks when you do. And no, you don't get a trophy anyway.

4 - As good as you may be, at some point, you are going to come across someone who is better than you

5 - Respect authority...your superiors have the power to make your life not so fun. Be aware of that - and act accordingly.

6 - You are a boy - and sometimes it is not only appropriate but it is expected that you be aggressive.

Now let me say that Max is involved in Track, Cross Country and Academic ventures such as Debate and annual County Spelling Bees where many of these same lessons apply. And yes, he has wanted to quit each one of these several times. And Tom and I are as tough on him as we are with Charlie. But things have never been as easy for Max...which is another blog post completely.

We enforce participation in these activities because we both strongly feel that learning to act appropriately while competing with your peers can help build the kind of mental fortitude that generally seems to be lacking these days. There is truly something wrong with so many kids in this country. There is this sense of entitlement, a disregard of values and what seems to be an overall lack of respect for ANYTHING that doesn't make them feel good...and Tom and I find this absolutely appalling. We want to do whatever we can to help prevent this from happening to our kids.

And not that this is the only reason it's happening - but this seems to kind of sum up what's happening. In most kids' activities they don't keep score, no one loses, everyone gets a trophy and if they don't want to practice during practice and they'd rather run crazy or pick daisies...hey! That's ok! Let's not force them to do anything that might make them uncomfortable or tax them in any way, shape or form! Take it easy on them! And let's expect that they take it easy on each other and not get competitive or aggressive, why should they? Yes, it is football, one of the most vicious sports EVER but it's going to be a tie score anyway! It should be shocking if a kid gets up in another kids face and actually BLOCKS him! And if there is a kid that is naturally good at what he is doing - well...then by all means, let's let him slack off, be disrespectful to coaches and make fun of those who may not have his talent. After all, he'll be in the big leagues some day - he's going to beat those 1 in 50 bazillion odds against him...let's start to pay homage now.

And we all know this is what real life is like. You always get to pick who you work with. You always get the job you want for the most money possible. If you don't like something you're working on or decide hey! I'm not much for parenting this can always just stop what you're doing and move on to the next thing. You can tell your boss to go jump in a lake whenever and as often as you please. You never ever have to do anything that makes you pay the bills or give a presentation or wash dishes or carry a car seat with a 15 lb baby strapped inside or even fix a toilet. And if you did...well by God you should get a trophy for it! If some a-hole hits you, well shucks you don't have to hit him back. And if you do happen to be good at something then we all know you are allowed to act however you want and treat people as poorly as you think they deserve.

OK so that last sentence is unfortunately what real life is like - but you get my drift with the rest of it...right???

Yes, Charlie is 7. And wrestling makes him immensely uncomfortable for a whole multitude of reasons. Many parents would let him quit...even encourage him to quit. But Tom and I are THOSE kinds of parents. We feel there is a lot to learn from true competition, not the nonsense kind that's happening these days - and it's never too early to start teaching kids these lessons.

So if you're looking for me to tell me what you think, you'll find me on the sidelines - I'll be the short blonde with the big mouth...cheering her kids on!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Cardio as Religion

So I just got back from a 10.5 mile run, which is in fact a personal distance record for me. It took me close to forever, which pretty much goes without saying, but I did it. Sadly, I did not come back from this run a size 4. You chuckle...but there is a part of me that is honestly surprised by this. For real! I mean, you run that far for that long you think you'd just shrink to almost nothing, right? Yeah. Wrong. But, anyway, 2.6 miles to go and I have a 1/2 marathon under my belt. You can all pat me on my size 8 (ish) back now.

But as I was running, two questions burned in my mind - - - how on earth did I get to this point and why the hell do I stay here i.e. why do I continue to do this to myself?

Well, as far as the "how did I get to this point" question goes - how it all started is really not terribly glamorous or inspiring. It was not a situation where I felt compelled to be more healthy or look better. I did not push myself and track my progress as I got stronger and better and faster. It was more an issue of having to walk multiple dogs and getting impatient and pissed off with how long it took so I would break into a jog - and it just went from there. Soon the jogging spurts were longer, which probably directly correlated with the smoke dissipating from my system.

You see, I used to smoke - really smoke. As in not one of these "I can take it or leave it" bullsh*t smokers that seem to be prevalent these days. I smoked like I meant it and then smoked some more. Air travel was pure hell. OK lets be honest an hour long meeting was pure hell. You know how the human body is like 80% water or some such pretty shocking figure like that? My body was 80% tobacco smoke. I made Phillip Morris proud.

But suddenly, out of nowhere, one cold February day almost 3 years ago, I quit. Again, not because I wanted to be healthy or because I had any inspiring desire to live longer for the sake of my kids - it just plain started to irritate me. Budd Lake is effing cold in the middle of February. The "needing" of a cigarette at inopportune moments - like when it is 4 degrees outside - just got to be too much for me to take. So, instead of going on my freezing cold porch to smoke I just said the hell with it - and that was that. That's not to say quitting was even more pure hell than air travel - and I will admit I still want a cigarette to this day - but I kicked it and its over and hopefully I will never have to deal with that whole hot mess ever again.

So that was how it went. The smoke cloud lifted its way out of my system, the running became more frequent and I went for longer periods of time without stopping...until I was counting miles instead of minutes. It got to "ok I did 3, maybe I can do 3.5? ok did that for a few weeks, now maybe 5?" and on it went until today's 10.5.

The bigger question is why do I keep doing this? Seriously, it's more like physical punishment. As I sit here and assess how I feel I can honestly tell you that practically everything from my waist down hurts. My hips, my behind, my quads, my hammies, my calves, my shins, my heels, my arches, the balls of my feet and the second and third toes on my right foot. And I am bound to get a headache later. But I can keep going because most importantly, my knees and ankles don't hurt. And shockingly, I can breathe - except maybe on the really big hills.

I certainly don't do it because I look better. As I sit here and assess how I look after months and months of running, combined with occasional walking, lap swimming, elliptical machine sessions, sit ups, push ups, weights, pilates - I can honestly say that my forearms look really good. But I keep going, because now I'm really scared to think about how I would look if I didn't. I'd loose my awesome forearms at the very least.

In assessing the long distance routes, I have to admit they are not at all relaxing. In order to get the distance, I have to go on main roads - many of which do not have sidewalks. There is not a lot of pavement between the white line on the side of road and where the uneven ground begins - and all along it is covered with sticks, acorns, leaves, trash, hidden divots...all manner of things that can easily produce a broken ankle. But it is understood that this little sliver of pavement is your allotted space if you are a pedestrian...staying on it often times makes it feel as though you are trying to run on a balance beam. Which makes it very interesting when you and the Pocono Produce 18 wheeler need to share the skinny little bridge crossing the Musconetcong River. It also makes it very interesting when you are running by the high school and loads of 17 year old boys are driving their broken down Tercel hatchbacks at Mach 8 to get back to the school before study hall ends and someone notices they are gone. But the most interesting of all was today's run - I was chased by an enormous Great Dane. Boy was he big! I half expected Shaggy and the gang to come barrelling around the corner behind him to lure me into some ridiculous trap and then try to take off my mask.

But I keep going, because once you've done long distance you have to keep trying to go further. You learn to block out the extraneous. And there are the peaceful runs through the woods and past the lake that quiet the mind and are good for the soul.

So get here I did, and stay here I will, and talking like Yoda I will not continue - I'm not entirely sure I answered the "whys" of it all, why running has indeed become a religion for me - but I guess when it all comes down to it, it may hurt like hell, I may not look a heck of a lot better for it, and it may at times be death defying, but it really and truly does feel good.

Keep in mind I am saying that while still sitting down....!!!!

As always, would love to hear everyone's thoughts/experiences etc!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Books that have Bummed Me Out

I don't do a lot that is terribly interesting, so it's not always easy to come up with something to write about. But one thing I do - I read...a lot. Interestingly enough, it is not because I am unemployed and have time on my hands - I have always been this way. Those of you that know me are nodding your heads - and you all know that for the most part, I turned off my TV in like, 1998. I am always the person who sees previews for movies and says, the book.

I am always looking for good fiction - anything imaginative, exciting - anything that moves me in any way. Which is pretty much what anybody is looking for I suppose. Funny thing about me is that I will keep reading a book until it's bitter end - even if I hate it. I can only think of a handful of books that I actually put down before they ended (one that comes to mind is "PS - I Love You" which was so predictable and sappy I couldn't take it anymore). Is muscling through books I am hating a huge waste of hours in my life? Yeah, probably - but I just always have to know what happens. Even if I groan and moan and carry on about how awful it was. Perhaps it's a sickness? an obsession? A form of OCD maybe? Not sure. It's simply part of what makes me tick.

I do have favorite authors, as any big reader does - my "go to" guys, books I will buy - in hard cover even - because I am sure that I will enjoy them. Or, there are books that I will buy because I have heard good things about them. And then there are books that I buy because they are part of a series, and I just have to know how it all ends.

But lately I have to say that much of the "tried and true" that I have been buying and reading has been disappointing to say the least. And I'm here to tell you about it so you don't waste your money and/or your time reading a bunch of crap, even if I did. And if these are books you read already - I am sorry. But maybe you can commiserate with me on their crappiness. Or yell at me because you thought they were awesome.

BUT just so you don't walk away from reading this thinking I am Johnny Raincloud, I will try to recommend similar "alternates" that I did actually enjoy a great deal.

The Lost Symbol - Dan Brown

OK, seriously Dan...can I call you Dan?...The DaVinci Code came out in what, 2003? That's 6 years...and this is the crap you came up with during all that time? WTF? I feel very strongly about this because I really REALLY liked The DaVinci Code as well as Angels and Demons. What a great mind this author has! I kept at this book, pretty much non-stop for 2 days because I was so sure it would get good, some spark of greatness similar to his other novels would make its way to the surface. And it never did. In fact it just kept getting worse. I found it difficult to really care about the Freemasons and what they've been up to. The end was so anticlimactic and I honestly am not even sure what the whole Noetics thing is, or what real relevance it had to the storyline, other than filler copy. And really? A sensory deprivation tank with breathable liquid in someones secret basement? Come on. The piece of tarp slowing Langdon's free fall from a helicopter thousands of feet in the air (Angels and Demons) was more plausible - and that was completely over the top. What a letdown! THUMBS DOWN MR BROWN.

Read instead: His two "non-Robert Langdon" books, Deception Point and/or Digital Fortress. You could also try the author Steve Berry, a lot of his stuff is similar but not so hyped up that you expect the world from it. It's good - not great, but good and is definitely in the same genre.

The Hour I First Believed - Wally Lamb

This may top the list on complete total utter disappointments in all my days of reading books. I looked forward to this book for years and years, She's Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True are two of my favorite books of all time. And then Wally comes up with this monstrosity. It started out very good, it seemed very promising - but then BANG - every socially sensitive topic got thrown in, and it became this disorganized, pieced-together Frankenstein plot - post traumatic stress, economic difficulties, drug addiction, adultery, dysfunctional family life, suicide resulting from military service in the Middle East, inter-racial marriage, same sex marriage - oh, you name it, it was in here. What a horror show. I was so seriously bummed out by this book - its badness affected me for days.

Read Instead: I am not even sure what to recommend in its place, Wally Lamb's stories are so uniquely moving and insightful - it's hard to come up with something even remotely comparable. The closest books I can think of would be Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (what a wonderful, amazing book!) or The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (if you haven't read that gem already). And if you haven't read the first two Wally Lamb books I mentioned - I can't recommend them enough.

The Given Day - Dennis Lehane

I really enjoy Dennis Lehane books, they are usually exciting, nail-biting crime/thrillers (Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River) and I make it a point to read all of his stuff. But this most recent book was just plain boring. It was about the formation of the union and subsequent strike of the Boston Police Department in the early 1900's. Zzzzzzzzz. I couldn't get into it, but my mother-in-law really liked it. Guess you just have to be into the subject matter?

Read Instead: There are any number of historical fiction books that are soooo much better. Just depends what "history" you prefer. I haven't come across anything good about America during this certain timeframe - has anybody else?

The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer

Oh my I'm going to upset a lot of people but I have to say these books are just the worst. I can understand the teen obsession with them, but all of us adults that have become infatuated by this story? Don't get it. I have finished the 3rd one and refuse to move forward until the next book comes out in paperback...or someone else buys it and I can borrow it. I honestly dislike almost every character including Bella's mother, who plays such a minor role, its shocking that Ms. Meyer manages to make her so easily unlikeable with so few "appearances." I have had it with Edward "chuckling" and being oh-so-amused with Bella and her teen angst antics and am so sick Bella moaning and groaning and rolling her eyes and otherwise being a total pill. These two haven't ever had one meaningful conversation and yet they have this supposed intense love that just came out of nowhere. They stare at each other a lot. That's about it. Why she doesn't go with the hot werewolf instead of the cold-as-marble vampire is beyond me. Do I hate these books? Sure do. Will I keep reading them? Of course. I have to know how it ends.

Read Instead: Want a comparable love story? Read any trashy Harlequin Romance. At least they might actually have some decent sex scenes in them.

Interested in Young Adult fiction? There are so many better options out there (and in my humble opinion this is where the truly imaginative fiction should check out this section in the bookstore.) It just goes without saying that Harry Potter kicks the Twilight series' ass. The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Going Bovine by Libba Bray and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak are just a few in this genre that have the McVicar thumbs up.

Want a good vampire book? Salem's Lot by Stephen King is always a classic. Anne Rice who pretty much started this vampire love affair has a couple of good ones, Interview with a Vampire and The Vampire Lestat are awesome. And I think the best vampire book I've read is Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist - really creepy and its originality manages to stand out in this overcrowded sea of vampire books.

And finally, interested in Stephenie Meyer? Read her book for grown ups, The Host. A very original and interesting story that proves that she can actually write.

Well that's about it I think. I could do more, but this was getting long! Perhaps I will have additional bok review installments. Please, comments! LOVING THEM!- even if you want to disagree! Would love some lively discussion! So glad I fixed that annoying little feature...

Friday, November 6, 2009

2009 Christmas Lists

So first things first, I must apologize for the whole "posting comments" thing. I honestly do not know what I am doing wrong, all of my settings seem to be what they should be in order for people to "write in" - which is, quite honestly, half the reason I started doing this in the first place. So if anybody cares to email me and let me know wtf I need to do in order to get the comments thing up and running I would be forever in your debt. Well, not really. But I would appreciate it.

Secondly, my kids had three half-days and two full days off from school this week, for parent/teacher conferences and the NJEA conference. Seriously? What is this conference and what teacher actually attends? Well, regardless of the reason for it, this extra added bonus time at home for the kids couldn't come at a worse time. We are in between fall and winter sports/activities and they have waaay too much free time on their hands. And they mostly while away the hours by watching YouTube, playing Call of Duty on the PS3 (man do I hate that machine) and/or fighting with each other.

And did I mention Tom was away most of this week? Yeah. It was a good time.

The point I am trying to make is that after a very full week of YouTube Watchdogging, playing referee to ridiculous verbal exchanges and physical entanglements, listening to the sounds of machine gun fire and dying men spewing from my television - combined with all the normal domestic disturbances - it wasn't quite the environment that fostered free-flowing prose. So, I haven't exactly been as prolific on this blog as I would like.

But before I get to the real reason I started writing today, let me give a big fat shout out to my friend Cindy - she helped me solve the b'day party dilemma by recommending a nearby indoor party venue that should be perfect! Of course, I haven't done anything about it yet (see previous blog that details my birthday party planning "ability") but I am positive it will be absolutely perfect! Thanks Cindy!

OK - so...the kids have been putting together their Christmas lists, mostly at the requests of their grandparents so they can start the annual "Christmas Present Competition." But really, this year I'm glad for it, too. It is getting more and more difficult to navigate what is appropriate and affordable - and have it be something kids actually want.

So in an effort to make this easier on us all, Charlie went through the Target Holiday Toy catalog and circled all of the items he wanted. And as I look through these items I realize that we are really no better off than we were before he did this. Most of what he circled he would never ever play with. And I have vowed - for the hundredth time but hopefully this time it will stick - to NOT spend a fortune on Christmas toys for the sake of spending a fortune on Christmas toys. Especially those toys that spark a Merry Christmas "G--Damn It" Festival when I have to assemble them.

Charlie has items like the "Star Wars Deluxe Vehicle" circled. OK, not so bad - if it weren't for the fact that I just threw away about 3 of these deluxe vehicles because he hadn't touched them in 3 years - and the fact that this new one he wants is $64.99! What??!! And that's on sale! Then there is the G.I. Joe Accelerator Duke Figure that is eerily reminiscent of a gigantic Batman action figure I just put in the donation pile. And it wasn't even a question of him not touching it for a few years, I really don't think he EVER played with it. Then there is the $99.99 G.I. Joe Pit Mobile Headquarters, guaranteed to fall apart as soon as Charlie and his friend Sean launch their first "air strike" against it. There is the ever-present Nerf gun circled, but man do I hate those things, those damn darts get lost within the first 10 minutes of opening the packaging. Then they turn up in the weirdest places - darts in the pantry mixed in with the soup, darts in my underwear drawer, darts in the dogs' poop...I can explain the dogs' poop, but my underwear drawer? Before you ask...I have no idea.

But honestly the very best one is the Mindflex - which touts it will "move objects with brainwave activity!" and shows a very intense 8 year old with some bizarre looking headgear on, concentrating with every ounce of his being on floating a foam ball through a plastic hoop. First of all...yeah, that toy'll work. Second of all - even assuming it did work - this just doesn't seem like Charlie's kind of toy. Mostly because it involves intense thought. Now I love Charlie and I'm not saying he is not bright, he absolutely IS! but...well...he's Charlie. His idea of literary genius is the "Ricky Ricotta and his Giant Robot" series. And he wants a toy that's all about brainwave activity? Hmmm.

But Tom thinks we should get the Mindflex anyway - he thinks it would be really cool to hook it up to Junior.

Now Max is getting to a really difficult age for Christmas gifts. He's out of toys. He's not into clothes yet. He's still a little too young for a bunch of electronics. That pretty much leaves one games. And boy does his Christmas list show it. The problem is these PS3 games are bazillions of dollars, and the net $$ total of the games he listed is equal to about 1 year's tuition at Princeton. Well, maybe not Princeton...but definitely Rutgers.

He also wants Rosetta Stone for the German language. Oh, Max. So very you.

But one of the items on Max's list that made me stop and give pause was the request for a "PWND" t-shirt. I asked him what on earth this was and he said "it's 'poned,' Mom" in an exasperated tone - as if that explained everything and by God what is wrong with you Mom that you don't know that?? Well I asked could he please give me a definition of "poned" and his answer (verbatim) was "complete domination or shutdown of a person, place or thing." Huh? I mean, I just recently figured out what "LMAO" means. Now what is this "PWND" all about? It seems a little...overwhelming...for a t-shirt. Oh, Max.

Appropriate or no - his grandmother got it for him already (of course). I'm really just hoping he doesn't end up wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the rally cry for the Skinheads or something. Because he would have no idea and I would be the one trying to explain it to the Principal.

So goes our Holiday Joy. But I think the real joy will be seeing the wonders of Junior's brainwaves set the Mindflex ablaze with activity.