Monday, September 29, 2008

Give Me The Grateful Life - Monday

Sorry for the delay of Give Me The Grateful Life - Monday, I was busy spilling splattering cooking soup for the Jewish holiday. Since it's a holiday, it makes it a little easier to remember the what and the whom I'm grateful for...

  1. I'm grateful for holidays when I am forced to break from my normal hermit-like tendencies and enjoy my friends.
  2. I'm grateful for my husband who is better looking now than the day I met him. (Okay, he's a better person, too, should you think I'm just a shallow bitch.)
  3. I'm grateful for my son's third grade teacher who wants to see my struggling kid succeed (almost) as much as I do.
  4. I'm grateful that I am MY world's best chicken soup...maker. (Challenge me, I DARE you.)
  5. I'm grateful you guys keep coming back to read even though I've flaked on the rest of the Japan trip. (It's still coming...soon...I promise...this week??? Possibly.)

On another note: The concealer contest is still on. What's up with you women, does no one wear makeup in the blogosphere?! I know that is a lie. So, come on, tell me what you think by Friday, October 3. See this post for details. If I get enough responses I'll giveaway the winning product. Kay?

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Great Schlep: Be A Part of History!

I don't usually use this blog to espouse my political views.
So many of you already do that much better than I ever could.
If you're not an Obama supporter, consider yourself forewarned.
You can come back Monday.
I won't be upset.

This came my way last night from my friend MAC who is going to Vegas soon to pound the pavement for Barack.

I found it so funny and so important, that while I'm not flying to Florida anytime soon, I am sending it to everyone I know.  This includes my parents (who are supporters) so they can share it with all their Jewish friends who, despite their dislike for McCain, refuse to vote for a BLACK man.


Please share it with everyone you know.

One last warning:  It's Sarah Silverman so there's lots of profanity.  Enjoy!

The Great Schlep from The Great Schlep on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Look Younger Now: Help ME Help YOU - A Contest

On Monday, in this post, I asked:

"Who's got a concealer that really, truly conceals under-eye wrinkles."
Because if you're make-up challenged like me, my concealer settles inside my crevices bringing OUT my mature beauty(?) rather than camouflaging it.

I got responses like:

Wall Spackle 
(May be true, and funny, but not quite helpful, Ms. Meta).
 (Also true, but I kinda like my eyes and forehead to move with the rest of my face,  thanks anyway, maybe later, csquaredplus3.)

Many of you who didn't have suggestions were just as desirous as me of finding a truly age-defying makeup.

So, I had an idea.
I'm posing this crucial question for women out there "of age,"  "coming of age," or "over the age".
Whatever the age!


  • If I get enough similar answers, I'll put together a product comparison - just like the Pepsi Challenge - except I won't drink the samples (unless of course none of them work and then in my suicidal state I really can't guarantee anything).
  • I'll buy the top three brands of make-up submitted.
  • I'll post pictures of myself wearing each one and taken under identical conditions, i.e., bright, unforgiving sunlight.  
  • In a poll I will post on my blog, you guys will choose the winner. 
Here are the only rules:
  1. You must have used the product consistently for over a month.
  2. The product must be clean, i.e., organic or having low levels of cancer-causing chemicals.
  3. You must NOT suggest LaMer or anything in that price point unless you SWEAR it's a miracle product ('cause if it doesn't work and I'm out that money, I will come find you and kill you
    steal all your credit cards.)
  4. You are the judges so you MUST be honest.  We'll all benefit much more from the truth than from any token I'll decide to send you.

Token-  who knows??
Good make-up  - PRICELESS!

All right, ladies.
The contest is ON!  

You have until 5pm Friday, October 3.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I Ramble Because All I Really Want To Do Is Sleep - Dammit!

I wanted to finish up and publish my final post about Japan today. 
I tried but my brain wouldn't cooperate.
I know, I know, it's taking waaay too long and you probably don't give a crap anymore about how I peed on my foot or how I ended up in the ER.
I don't BLAME YOU.  I should stop crying wolf already. 


My kids are sick. 
My dogs are sick.
Merlotdad's back is sick (meaning I've been doing MORE THAN USUAL IF THAT'S EVEN POSSIBLE in the Merlot household.)
And me?  I'm sick. 
(Thank you so much for asking.)

So, I haven't had it in me to finish my final (sure-to-be uproariously funny) photo chronicle of Japan because writing it is a huge time commitment that, frankly, doesn't garner that many responses from my fans bloggy friends so I've lost a bit of my mojo.

In the midst of my meandering train of thought, let me just be clear:

Comments are good, people.
Comments are the sustenance without which I'll die and it will be on your head my validation, people.
Comments are the paycheck for this FREE therapy, neuroses dump, cheap attempt at making friends entertainment I deliver to you every day week, PEOPLE.

But hey, I'm a girl of my word, so I will complete the chronicle and share it with you later this week. 
I know you're going to LOVE it.  (There goes that wolf crying again.)

But, in the interest of getting to know me better, and feeling as if I've delivered a legitimate post, I thought I'd let you in on a little story that ran through my head earlier today as I was overdosing on cold medicine considering moving my family into a safer, germ-free environment.  A plastic bubble similar to (but a more modern version of) the one John Travolta lived in in The Boy In The Plastic Bubble.

Another dated movie reference...Anyone??  Anyone??

For those of you born after 1970, THIS is what I'm talkin' about.
Only one of the BEST tv movies of all time! (I should know I spent way too much of my adult life working on them.)

And thinking about John Travolta brought back a memory of a Friday night in 1976 when my best friend, Missy, and I sat in a suburban Long Island bedroom with two of the most popular boys in school.  The dark room lit only by the blue ray of the 13" television set and the debut of JT in The Boy In The Plastic Bubble.

I remember wondering how we, not members of the most popular girls in school, ended up in these exalted quarters.  I didn't think to inquire too much of Missy when she informed me of our plans, I'd dreamed endlessly about such a night and wanted to believe we were worthy of it.  I brushed aside any feelings I had once I got there that something was amiss.

Halfway through the movie, while watching John Travolta and Glynnis O'Connor steal their first kiss, I turned to my friend to see if she too felt stirred; To giggle and silently bond as we had so many times before over wishes for someone to want us that same way. 

I discovered that my friend was indeed sharing the intimate moment  - but not with me.  While all eyes were supposedly on lips locking through the sterile plastic of an adult sized incubator, I enviously watched as a fist-sized lump maneuvered it's way under my friend's shirt and up to her eagerly awaiting breasts. 

Suddenly, I understood how we got here.  Why this night was not as heady as my fantasies.  The sensory shift, the revelation that Missy had abandoned me by secretly using me to get her to this moment.  It would mark the end of our friendship. 

I spent the rest of the night with my eyes fixated on the television.  Stirred.  Unsated.  Sickened. Unwanted.

Envious of the boy in the plastic bubble.

(I have no idea how I ended up writing about this.  I blame it on the drugs!)
Good night sweet peeps.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Give Me The Grateful Life - Monday

Okay.  It's Monday.
Give Me the Grateful Life - Monday.

So, despite the fact that I am feeling anything BUT grateful today: stuck at home with two sick kids, two chocolate-squirting dogs, a husband whose back went out and has spent all weekend useless loopy on painkillers, I will do my best to find the positive.

That's what the gratitude journal is for, right?

So, here goes...

  1. I'm grateful that I discovered a cheap place to have my hair blown out for a Saturday night event because it took the focus off the ever-deepening fault lines beneath my eyes.  (Could someone please recommend a concealer that camouflages wrinkles rather than accentuates them?!)
  2. I'm grateful for brown rice and bananas which will (hopefully) stop my dogs from squirting out stinky, liquid poop patties all over my backyard.
  3. I'm grateful I haven't YET found stinky, liquid poop patties anywhere OTHER than my backyard.
  4. I'm grateful both my kids are home sick today and content watching television because that means NO CARPOOL this afternoon!  Yippee!
  5. I'm grateful Merlotdad is having acupuncture for his herniated disc today because HE NEEDS TO SOBER UP AND GET BACK ON HIS FEET SO HE CAN HELP ME OUT AROUND HERE I feel bad for him when he's in so much pain.

I feel better already.  Oprah, it works!

What are you grateful for this Monday??

Friday, September 19, 2008

I'm Too Busy Freaking Out To Write A Coherent Post

My daughter is 12 years old today.

Did you hear me...T-W-E-L-V-E !

I'd like to prove to you that this is mathematically impossible but, the sad thing is, it hasn't been mathematically impossible for... (computing...computing...) TWENTY-TWO YEARS. Ack!

13 (first period) + 12 (daughter's age) = 25 - 47 (my age in Dec.) = one very depressed, number-challenged mama.

I mean Jamie Lynn Spears will be 28 when her daughter is 12. Bristol Palin, not quite 30. Hello? Should I be jealous? Jeez, what am I saying? See, I told you, I'm incoherent.

It's just that I blinked my eyes and suddenly I'm almost 50 with a teenager on my hands. (If this post goes on any longer I'll be ready for retirement by the time it's finished). Forget pre-teen. Have you seen girls these days? 12 is the new 15. These babes are TEENAGERS.

In my mind, I'm still the 12 year old girl, pimples erupting, hormones raging and silently crushing on cute, young boys who don't give me the time of day. Only now it's labeled peri-menopause. Or sad. Or Cougar.

Someone, quick, get me a rope.

I'll be spending my weekend soaking my wrinkled face and caramel-coated grays in a nice room-temperature tub of merlot BUT you all have a terrific weekend.

Visit me next week for Give Me The Grateful Life - Monday and the next installment of Merlotmom Does Japan. By then, I should be less hysterical, more grateful ... or dead.

TTYL girlfriends!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"Who Are You And What Have You Done With My Children?"

Pinch me.

"Is it real?"  I ask myself. 
"Did aliens abduct my kids while I was asleep and leave me with perfect little clones?
I'm scared to admit it, for fear I'll jinx this positive moon I'm under, but the last two weeks with my children have been... dare I say ... a dream

Click to read more about my surprising snippet of sanity at LA Mom's Blog.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Merlotmom Does Japan: Part 3 - How To Keep Your Kids Smiling While Traveling: A Tutorial

I know you're ANXIOUSLY awaiting the tale of my ER incident and the PEED ON MY FOOT fiasco, as well as more virtual touring of Japan, but I think you (and by you I mean I) need a momentary break from temples and shrines (and hideously long, time-sucking posts...and painfully long run-on sentences).

International travel is hard;  the long flight, the time change, the dearth of restaurants serving chicken fingers and grilled cheese...  

We knew taking the kids abroad would be an adventure (and by adventure I mean pain in the ass).  So we gave no a lot of thought to how to keep the Merlot kiddies smiling.

Take a look...

First we prayed to the G-ds that we wouldn't kill each other
Then hubby and I got to work

 We dropped everything upon hearing the first, "I'm thirsty" and bought them whatever they wanted to drink


No matter the beverage was loaded with caffeine and high-fructose corn syrup  
Artificial stimulants kept them in motion

We didn't wait for the predictable groan, "I'm hungry"
  We bought them food whenever and wherever it was available


No matter much of the foods were packed with trans-fats and processed sugars  
We dubbed them our empty calorie engines that could

We timed our itinerary to hit the hotel just as the toxins reached their jittery, nutrient-deprived brains

and we rested our feet

and turned on the TV 
and handed out Nintendos like it was Christmas


We took them to restaurants where the entertainment was included

We swallowed slimy and deep-fried sea creatures with multitudes of legs

Hubby took Merlot boy to a Japanese baseball game

 We stayed at an American hotel in Kyoto (Hyatt) with modern rooms, separate beds,  and gourmet hamburgers
(don't miss Merlot boy's body in the background)

We bought Merlot boy a dry shirt after he got soaked a few drops on him in the rain

We bought Merlot boy yet another jersey because he whined and pouted politely asked for it

We forced him to pose for lots of silly pictures

And if any of that failed to whip them into shape
we didn't hesitate to make the following threats:

 "Behave or you'll trade places with that monkey and have to work for a living"

"Stop complaining or we'll leave you in the big scary bamboo forest to find your way home"

"Quit fighting or we'll call the babysitter"

So... should any of you find yourselves traveling abroad with your kids, feel free to use my kinda, sorta, oh who am i kidding foolproof methods for a peaceful and enjoyable trip.
Or you can contact me here for more expert advice: 
(Your welcome)

P.S.  This post?  MAJOR time suck.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Give Me The Grateful Life - Monday

The weekend is over.  I'm sure you're all rested and ready for the week ahead.  No?  Me neither.  I need a weekend to recover from my weekend.

But no negativity today.  Today is gratitude day here at Merlotmom's.

So here goes:

  1. Today, I am grateful my hubby took Greta with him to the office. My house is actually peaceful. (If you don't count the LOUD STREET DRILLING going on next door.)  Still, I'm grateful.
  2. I am grateful for hiring a new dog trainer (this one at a reasonable price) who's going to help me recapture my role as Alpha Dog.
  3. I am grateful for surviving my weekend as a single mom despite waking at the crack of dawn to tend to my two looney mongrels before 8am soccer games and 9am religious school.
  4. I am grateful for satellite radio.
  5. I am grateful for bloggers who read why I'm grateful.
Tell us what you're grateful for?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Merlotmom Does Japan - Part 2: The Sights, The Sounds, and The Sacrilege

Ohayou gozaimasu (Good Morning), travel companions.

We awoke very early our first full day in Tokyo - our body clocks stuck in a confused purgatory between time zones.  We were hungry and ready for adventure, having no idea our first would be finding a place to eat. 

The hotel restaurant could have sufficed had we been cool with spending upwards of $100 on breakfast.  Instead we decided to try an authentic (i.e. cheaper) Japanese breakfast on the streets of Tokyo.  The concierge's English was limited, our Japanese worse.  Fifteen minutes of pre-school repetition, miming, and nervous laughter later,  I could no longer bear the look of anguish on his polite but unhelpful face.  I pretended to think his suggestion a good one, let him draw us a map to... somewhere... and led my family out into a foreign city, famished and clueless.

While trekking through the exclusive Ginza district (think NY's Fifth Avenue or LA's Rodeo Drive), my kids' blood sugar dropping in direct correlation to the intervals between whines, we discovered that most of Tokyo's restaurants and retail shops don't open until 10 or 11am.  We came across a few places with telling plastic food replications in the window but noodle bowls with "dropped egg" (think poached) and prawns with the heads and eyes still attached, just didn't appeal at this early hour.

 (photos courtesy of google images)

While standing on the corner waiting to cross the street, we heard a strange hum.  A cacophonous ambient buzz loud enough to overtake the traffic din.  I looked around for a giant, electrical transformer but saw none.  The noise continued as we walked.  It was everywhere. Pointing the sound out later to our tour guide, she informed us it was cicadas.  Cicadas!  Thousands of them.  All over Tokyo.  I thought it the oddest background noise for an overcrowded, bustling city.  Yet another strange Japanese contradiction.

It began to rain harder as the kids complained about parched throats and pleading stomachs.  Just then, we looked across the street and there it was - our salvation - our oasis.  A green pasture of palatable pastries where we sat down to our first Japanese breakfast...

photo courtesy of Google Images

Yes, Starbucks.  (Judge not, my friends.)

Tokyo, like most U.S. cities, has a Starbucks on every corner.  We gleefully ordered tall mocha lattes, iced teas and cinnamon rolls by pointing our non-lingual, American fingers.

Starbuck's ad in Japanese (sort of)

And here's what they play and sell at a Starbucks in Japan  - compilation CDs - Motown - in English. 

This was just the first of many examples of Japan's infatuation with American culture.  The faces of Cameron Diaz, Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, and others, smiled at us from giant billboards everywhere as they hocked designer watches and Japanese beverages.  Advertisements for American television shows like Fox's Prison Break called out to us from the back of taxi seats.  And yet another curious Japanese contradiction (who's keeping score?) was that EVERY hip retail store we visited played American soundtracks.  L.L. Cool J, John Mayer, and Michael Jackson boomed from state-of-the-art sound systems while Japanese teens swayed to the beat (yet no one speaks or understands English?)

My ex-pat friend, Deb, who's lived in Japan for almost 20 years, told me that the Christmas season is the time she feels most homesick.  Walking into stores covered in familiar holiday decorations and hearing comforting Christmas music emanate from hidden speakers, Deb gets caught up in the joy and generosity of the Christmas spirit she grew up with.   She forgets for a moment how far she is from home until wishing Merry Christmas to some Japanese store employees and getting only confused, blank stares in return.  It's like finding a beautifully wrapped holiday package under a tree only to discover it's empty inside.

Powered by caffeine and sugar, we made our way from Starbucks to the Tsukiji Fish Market.  Had we arrived between the hours of 5 and 7am, we could have witnessed the lively and frenzied tuna auction  (Skip to the second minute of the video link to see the craziness.)

But merlotmom doesn't get up that early for anyone, not even a big ass tuna.   So instead we arrived around 9am (late) and perused hundreds of stands at a more gentile hour, getting an intimate look at fresh Japanese ingredients.  So intimate, in fact, that as I dared to peek too close into a bucket of live clams, one of them squirted me in the face.

We sampled meat-stuffed bao, shrimp dumplings, teriyaki chicken skewers and marinated seaweed.  Sellers squawked at us to try their mysterious beans and buy their live eel.   It was a true Japanese smorgasbord in all it's fascinating and grotesque glory.

The Japanese are known for being amazing gardeners and now I know why.   Look at this produce!  It's hard to tell from the photos, but the grapes, peaches, everything was, as my son described it, "ginormous!"

Stuffed to the gills (pun intended), we returned to our hotel to meet, Tomoko, our tour guide.  Luckily for us, she lived in the States for three years so her English was AWESOME.  Yay.

Our first stop was Akasusa where we visited the famous Sensoji Temple. In Japan, there are two main religions: Buddhism and Shintoism.  The two co-exist peacefully, many Japanese practicing both.  In some cases, as with Sensoji, the Buddhist temple and Shinto shrine reside on the same property within a few hundred feet of each other.

Sensoji Temple

We passed through "Thunder Gate", the temple's grand entrance with it's  massive paper lantern painted in dramatic red and black symbolizing thunderclouds and lightning.  The lantern is flanked by two ominous statues - the guardians of wind and thunder.


The temple as well as the five story pagoda on the grounds are post-war reconstructions.  We continued to hear this about other sites we visited.   I felt a pang of guilt as I imagined the destruction of such beautiful architecture, not to mention the civilians.

We walked through a bustling alley of booths selling goods and souvenirs.  I thought it odd that a sacred ground would dedicate so much property to commercialism.  Tomoko told us that Buddhists who worked to maintain the temple received no compensation.  So, to thank them, the Emperor granted them this space to earn a living.  And the tradition continues.

Behind the shops is the temple and the shrine where it is said the bodies of Emperors are buried.  Before entering the temple, Tomoko showed us the purification ritual.  First, we waved smoke from a large incense burner toward our faces (this no doubt is what led me to the ER -more on that later, hint, hint), then, with a special ladle, we cleansed our hands, our mouths and the stems of the ladles (where our unpurified hands had touched), before returning it to it's place for other sullied mortals. Word of advice: DO NOT put mouth to ladle.  Bad, very bad.

Once "purified" we entered the temple where we threw coins and prayed.  In Buddhist temples you bow before praying.  In Shinto shrines you bow twice, clap hands twice, pray, and bow once more.  Clapping summons the dead emperors, letting them know you are there (but don't quote me on that, I was  busy coordinating my claps and bows so I may not have heard correctly) .

We crossed the city by Tokyo Metro and headed toward the Meiji Shrine, one of the most famous and beautiful shrines in Japan.

 Meiji Shrine

It was built in honor of Emperor Meiji (and his wife Shoken).  He was considered a great emperor for transforming Japan from a medieval to a modern society at the end of the 19th century. It is said that the Emperor and Empress' spirits reside at Meiji (their bodies are buried near Kyoto).

The property we see today is also a reconstruction as the real shrine which was destroyed by Tokyo air raids in 1945.   The new structure and grounds were made possible by citizen's donations. 

The shrine is incredible, not merely for it's architecture but for it's landscape.  The grounds are 175 acres of beautiful parks, gardens, and woods.  Walking the miles of gravel path toward the shrine it was hard to believe we were still in Tokyo city.  A canopy of huge evergreens hovered above our heads, shielding us from the rain and the hustle and bustle outside.

The day we visited Meiji there was a festival taking place just outside the grounds.  All over the area, in the subways, in the streets, and on the grounds we saw troupes of costumed dancers en route to perform.

We arrived at the gates to the shrine, Tomoko, my husband and I in front, as the kids trailed behind.

"Do we have to see ANOTHER shrine?" whined my daughter.  "I've seen enough  already."

"I'm thirsty," chanted my son.   "Can we go to Starbucks now and get an iced tea?"

I ignore them as Tomoko tells us how it is proper only to walk on the sides of the path while inside the gate - not the middle.

"The middle is kept clear for the deities," she explained. "This ground is believed to be very sacred."

"Did you hear that, guys?" I turn to tell my kids.  "Move to the side, this ground is ..."

...and with impeccable, I-couldn't-make-this-up-if-I-tried-comic-timing, the minute the word sacred dropped from my lips, so did a huge glob of spit from my son's mouth. 

Yes, my son, my adorable, tactless, stereotypical, American son, violated Tokyo's most inviolable ground by hocking a gigantic, bacteria-laden loogey onto G-d's walkway.

I just hope he didn't hit any deities in the eye - now THAT would be embarrassing.

I said a few Kenna Hora's (Jewish warding off of the evil eye) and we went on our way. 

 photo courtesy of Google images

At the  shrine there was a circular structure with thousands of wooden plaques hanging from racks.  Each plaque was a wish left by a visitor.  There were wishes written in many different languages asking for love, health and world peace.  We decided to express our dreams as well. We wanted to balance the scales a bit in case the G-ds were angry about getting spit at.  So my husband purchased a wooden plaque on which to express his most divine thoughts.

"I wish for my children to have great memories of Tokyo '08!  I wish my wife peace on this trip!  Dream and believe...and a Wii for Josh."

I think that made everything okay.  Don't you?

We covered more ground in Tokyo that day: Harajuku, the Edo Museum (fascinating) and slowly became familiar with Tokyo's winding web of a transit system.

I will share more tales and pictures of these and bullet trains, Kyoto, and of course, the ER, but I'm more exhausted from writing this post than I was from covering these places on foot.   So, for now, I will leave you with this one, astute revelation from my travels...

... I always thought, having seen them in the States, that the Japanese were shy, reserved people who talked little, smiled a lot, and nodded their heads.  Here, on their turf, I realize, while they are indeed polite people, it is I who am the one doing little talking, a lot of confused smiling and continuous nodding of my head  (not to mention taking lots of pictures with my expensive camera). 

Oh the things we learn when we venture out into the world.

Until next time, folks.

Arigato gozaimasu (I'm bowing).

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