Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Year In Review

Vacations Taken:
Ann Arbor
Dauphin Island

Favorite TV Shows:
Friday Night Lights
Mad Men

Farmer's Market Wine Dinner, River Oaks
Farmer's Market Wine Dinner, Home
Zanone Ravioli

Best Books I Read:
Fair and Tender Ladies
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
When You are Engulfed in Flames

Sous chef

Three people in my office

2006 Conundrum
2006 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay
2006 First Class Shiraz

Red flats
Images 2 by Roger Burrows
Tervis Tumbler

Rock Band drummer

Tiffany and Mark
Cory and Chris
Brandon and Shelley

Professional photographer
Facebook request ignorer
Best husband ever

Needs Improvement:
Exercise habits
The attic
Knowledge of French wines

Monday, December 29, 2008

Holiday Hangover

Today Chip is back at work, the tree is out on the curb next to the garbage can, and there is just nothing worse. The house is a mess, laundry needs to be done, pounds need to be lost, and my kids need about three days' worth of sleep. We are all dragging today, just a little depressed to be on this side of the holiday.

In order to cheer myself up, I am putting up some cute holiday pictures in order to solicit tons of comments about how adorable my family is. Go crazy!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Russ, When Was the Last Time I Overdid Anything?

This year we had another big Christmas. I love getting the whole family together for the holiday, and having everyone around to see what Santa brought. The only problem, if you can call it that, is that this big of a family gathering has too many presents. Woo hoo! Presents!

Santa made a stocking for all ten people in attendance, and left toys under the tree for the kids- and for me and Chip! When we went to bed, there was no Rock Band 2 under the tree. But Christmas morning, there it was. Score!

We all got lots of things to keep us busy for the foreseeable future- books, luggage, cooking tools, photography equipment, and toys. Lots and lots of toys. A big thank you to Santa and all his elves! Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Fa La La La La, La La La La

Last Tuesday was the kind of day that makes the holidays great.

Both of my kids were scheduled to have their holiday programs at 6:00 that night. Fortunately, Connor had a daytime performance as well. I called in reinforcements and set up the following schedule:
8:30 am- Mom and Grammy watch Connor perform
6:00 pm- Mom, Grammy and Tiffany watch Chloe perform, while Chip, Bwana and Mimi watch Connor
This schedule worked out perfectly. And because Chloe's performance was much shorter than Connor's, we all ended up at Snowden at the end of the night which made the ensuing trip to Huey's that much easier to coordinate.

As the parent attending both performances, I had the daunting responsibility of photographing both events. I totally failed at Connor's performance, unsure of what settings the camera should be on and just turning knobs and pressing buttons with reckless abandon. I still managed to get a few shots of his elementary stage debut.

The program consisted of performances by the kindergarten and first grade classes. Connor's class (along with two others) performed third, and did three songs. The first was a Hanukkah number about lights, and Connor was one of eight dancing candles! I was proud of him for having a special "part," and he did a great job. The other two songs were fun too, with a Santa rap involving hip hop bleacher dancing, and some hand motions to accompany music from The Nutcracker.

For the grand finale, all the kids came back out for a big sing-along. I think this was a highlight for Connor, because he managed to stand next to Miss M during this portion of the show.

That night, Chloe donned her finest Christmas pjs and took the stage with the other Toucans to perform Rudolph. Chloe knew all the words and all the hand motions- she was a total pro. The best part of her show was the fact that one of the kids accidentally turned off the CD they were singing along to, so they got to start over from the beginning- two performances for the price of one!

Times like these make me realize how grown up my babies are. Chloe looked huge next to her classmates, and so grown up with her hair pulled back into barrettes. (A look that only her teachers can convince her to wear.) Connor, instead of being nervous, actually looked forward to performing in front of a crowd. When did he gain all that confidence? Sure, he actually lost his pants at some point during the day, but for the most part he seemed really mature up there.

It was a fun, exhausting day. Thanks to the family and friends who made it special, and to the teachers who worked hard with the kids to put together such great programs. And thank you, Mother Nature, for diverting the great ice storm of '08 and allowing us to spend the day making holiday memories.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Got the Daughter in the Clinic, Gettin' Cured Off the Wild Turkey

I'm sure I've said this before, but Chloe is just a delight right now! This weekend she had another chance to wow me with her sweet nature. We gathered in Shelbyville for Christmas with Chip's extended family. Lots of presents were opened, including several gifts for little girls in the 2-5 year-old age range. Chloe played with all the toys, and shared hers, and had a great time.

The next day, back in Nashville, she was looking for something to do. I suggested she pull out her new Barbie car to play with. She looked at me quizzically and said, "But that's at that other house!" Awww- she didn't even know those toys were for her! She was just happy to visit with other kids and play. I love that she isn't a greedy pre-schooler yet!

I'll leave you with my favorite Chloe quote of the weekend. She was busy playing with a tea set and a baby doll, feeding the baby and getting it to sleep, when Mimi said, "You're just a busy bee, aren't you?" Chloe looked up only briefly from her chores to give this reply, "No, I'm just the Mommy." You said it, kid!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Save the Neck for Me, Clark

This really has nothing to do with the holidays, but has everything to do with what Steph and I do when we ship the kids off on a Saturday night.

Applewood smoked white cheddar, manchego, and Saga bleu cheese...

...with Mumm Blanc de Noirs
And I'm really not much of a red meat eater, but we did succumb to some awfully good-looking filet mignon from Fresh Market. Vegetarians, avert your eyes. Pan-searing with some sauteed spinach...
Genius at work.
Some Saga Bleu Cheese Maitre D'Hotel butter on the filet, and onto the plate with rosemary-roasted new potatoes.
Medium rare, of course:

Main course wine: Seghesio Zinfandel, Sonoma County 2007. #10 on this year's Wine Spectator top 100. Like drinking a bowl full of berries and spice. Perfectly balanced, finish goes on for days.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Got a Lip Fungus They Ain't Identified Yet

About four weeks ago, I woke up with a horrible headache. It felt like my brain muscles were all tensed up, and I couldn't relax them. I thought it was a hormone-induced migraine, except it lasted too long. For four or five days, it felt like my brain was being squeezed. Just when I was ready to schedule an MRI, it suddenly went away.

For about three days I felt okay, then I slowly got a cold. I spent most of Thanksgiving weekend blowing my nose and wishing I could just lie in bed with my eyes closed. Instead of getting better, it got worse. According to Chip (and Web MD), I developed a sinus infection. I was considering visiting the doctor for some antibiotics until Chip (and Web MD) decided that Sudafed was the answer. And boy was it. I took generic Sudafed every four hours for five days, and finally started feeling like a normal person. Then Friday I had the stamina to shop. Saturday I had the energy to run after the kids. And today I got on a treadmill before my work day started. I feel like a new woman! Or possibly just like the old woman I used to be, before a month of illness wiped out my (considerable!) spark.

Chloe sensed our house was about to be free of illness, so she decided to step up her slightly runny nose and make it into a real cold. Her nose is now running like a faucet, and her voice is down to a croak. However, she doesn't know she's sick. In true Chloe fashion, she is all smiles and charm and finds her new voice hilarious. This morning I asked her how she felt, and she replied, "Good!" and then dissolved in a fit of giggles because she sounded more like a frog than a "big girl." She sat at the breakfast table and took requests from her brother. "Say 'Connor!' Now say 'waffles' again! Hahahahahaaa!"

I guess she already takes after me- I didn't take any sick days off of work while fighting my various illnesses, and she doesn't seem willing to give in either. As she gets older, I'll have to teach her the magic power of laryngitis. There is no better time to call in sick than when you sound like a frog- I would have let her call Brenda for me this morning if she had been willing. But she soldiered on, willing to take on a cold and rainy Monday as long as it meant she got to go to school and entertain her classmates with her "crooked" voice.

The boys have managed to avoid all this, which is great. (Knock on wood.) For our next trick, we will try with all our might to avoid the stomach flu that is going around my office. We were able to avoid the strep throat, but I can't imagine we'd get that lucky twice. At least I've got some sick days saved up, just in case.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I Was Just Blousing. Browsing.

On Friday, I took a vacation day from work in order to finish up my Christmas shopping. I had a list of things I needed to get, and I knew which stores I needed to visit, and I also knew that there is one section of town where most of those stores are located. So I loaded up the old front-wheel-drive sleigh and headed to Wolfchase at 8:00 Friday morning. (Technically I arrived at 7:50. And stores were open!)

I was nervous, but at that time of day Wolfchase wasn't that bad at all. The traffic was really picking up by the time I left, three and a half hours later, but the stores were very manageable. From there I headed back to town in order to have lunch with Tiffany (hey- I deserved a glass of wine after visiting Wolfchase) and do some shopping with her. All in all, it was a very successful day.

Here's a list of the places I visited:
Toys R Us
Old Navy
TJ Maxx
Sports Authority
World Market
Bed Bath & Beyond
Rack Room Shoes
TJ Maxx (again!)
Pottery Barn Outlet
Williams-Sonoma Outlet
West Elm Outlet

I can't make a list of my purchases, since some of it might be for you! But here's what I bought for myself (discount prices included):
A dress ($5.90)
Black Gloves ($5)
Sunglasses ($10)
Shampoo ($10)
Very reasonable, I think. And practical. I think it's worth noting that I left $100 worth of shoes behind at the Eastgate TJ Maxx- I showed serious restraint. I did take pictures of all of them to show Chip, though. Just in case he's not done with his shopping.

Now I only have one gift left to buy, assuming everything I ordered from Amazon (and Caleb) arrives on time. Now all I have to do is get it all wrapped! I'm ready!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Are You Sure You Ain't Santy Claus?

I'm sure you've wondered, "Are the ChockleyBlog children excited about Santa's impending visit?" I don't want to keep you in suspense any longer- the answer is yes.

Several weeks ago, Connor partook in one of his favorite holiday traditions- he got the extra-thick toy-themed Target circular from the Sunday paper and cut out pictures of the items he wanted most. Then he cut out pictures of things he thought Chloe should want. Then he arranged them in piles according to importance. For two weeks after that, every time he saw or heard mention of a toy that he had clipped from that ad, he said, "I'm getting that for Christmas!" Eventually I've gotten him to tone it down to, "I asked for that for Christmas!"

What is it that he wants? Everything. Santa definitely heard some of his requests, particularly those for a Leapster and a Bakugan battle set (What? I have no idea.) One request will be ignored, by both Santa and his helpers: the Nerf machine gun. That's right. Nerf has a machine gun! Sure, they call it a "dart blaster," but let's not pretend for a minute that this is anything but a machine gun. Sorry Connor- not gonna happen.

Chloe, in her happy-go-lucky way, isn't fixated on any particular toy. She talks a lot about Barbies, but that might just be because I've steered her in that direction. The one thing she is certain of, however, is that she is going to meet Santa Claus and talk to him when he comes to our house. No amount of talk about moving quietly, using magic, being super-fast, or even the fact that she could sleep through a tornado will deter her from this belief. So more than any toy, she is most looking forward to talking to Santa Claus in our living room.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

In It Up To Here

The recession has really hit home for us lately- not just in increased grocery bills, but in a flurry of calls from our creditors.

Now, before you start worrying about the state of the Chockley checkbook, let me clear something up. We may have more debt than we should, but our credit score is fine and we pay our bills every month without exception. It turns out, the recession isn't just making borrowers nervous- suddenly the creditors are worrying about paying bills too.

In one instance, a bill I thought I had sent in plenty of time apparently arrived a few days late. They assessed a $39 late fee, which I paid with the next month's bill. However, in the two weeks the $39 was pending, that company called us on our home and cell phones constantly. We started to get concerned that maybe there was a larger problem than just $39, so one day we answered and talked to them. Long story short, it ended with Chip saying, "We always pay our bill- are you really this concerned about $39?" The answer was, "Uh. . . yeah, we kind of are right now." Wow.

The other story is even better. One day, out of the blue. Wachovia (with whom we have our mortgage) gave us a call. I thought hey- things are rough for them right now. Maybe they are calling to thank us for buying a house that was within our budget! No. They were calling to see if we wanted to pay our bill right then, over the phone or online, rather than sending in a check. And keep in mind, our payment wasn't late. The due date had not come and gone. And they have received a check from us every month, without fail, for over seven years. Chip sputtered indignantly into the phone a few minutes then hung up bewildered.

We wondered if maybe that was some kind of scam, but it turned out to be legit. Then we looked back through our payment history to see if we had done anything to give them the impression we weren't going to pay. But after thinking about it a bit, we realized they probably had a bill they had to pay that week and just needed some extra cash on hand to cover it. I guess you do what you have to do to avoid those $39 late fees.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

I'd Like to Try to Fumigate This Here Chair

Cleaning projects I completed while home with a sick child, which would go entirely unnoticed if I didn't specifically point them out:

1. Cleaned out my pajama drawer, getting rid of what I never wear and neatly folding the rest
2. Moved the couch to collect long-lost toys and then sweep
3. Removed the couch cushions and vacuumed underneath
4. Organized the scarf/gloves/hat shelf in the coat closet
5. Found a perfect spot for Connor's twin-bed-sized toy race track, underneath his elevated twin bed

Monday, December 01, 2008

Nervous or Excited?

I recently had the joy of teaching my kids the meaning of the words "optimist" and "pessimist." It went like this:

We were taking a different route home so that we could stop by Whole Foods. As we drove down Poplar, the kids kept asking where we were going. I vaguely said, "a store," so Chloe starting guessing that we were going in every store that we passed. When stopped at the light at Highland, Chloe pointed to Spin Street.

"Let's go in there!"

I replied that it would be fun, since that store has toys and stuff, but that wasn't it. Chloe agreed that it would be fun, while Connor took a different position.

"Chloe, why would you think it would be fun? You've never even been in there!!!"

I told him it was because Chloe is an optimist, or someone who assumes the best until proven otherwise. I also explained that he is a pessimist, because he generally assumes the worst until something good happens to prove him wrong. Before I could even finish, he crossed his arms over his chest, harrumphed, and said, "Fine then! I won't say anything else ever again!"

I tried not to laugh too hard as I explained to him that it's okay for people to have different outlooks on life, and that I love them both for who they are. I let Connor know that I was somewhere in the middle of where he and Chloe are- sometimes an optimist, sometimes a pessimist. He was satisfied with that explanation, but let me know that it didn't change his attitude one bit.

"That's fine, Mom, but I still don't want to go in that store."

I know, Connor. I know.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Kicking Off Our Fun Old Fashioned Family Christmas

As promised, I switched to 24/7 Christmas mode the day after Thanksgiving. I shopped in two different cities! Friday night the kids helped me hang the stockings by the chimney, (although with only a modicum of care) and Saturday we put up the tree. Saturday night Chip and I watched Christmas Vacation, and today we will attempt to illuminate the outside of our home in homage to the great Clark W. Griswold, Jr.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Last week, a Noggin cartoon character prompted a discussion on being thankful. Chloe turned to Chip and said, "I'm thankful for yooOOUU, Daddy!" Chip melted into a puddle and we both agreed it was the cutest thing ever.

On Thanksgiving Day, I wanted to prompt another discussion on thankfulness, but didn't want anyone to feel left out by Chloe's clear preference for her Daddy. I told the group that we needed to say what we were thankful for, but up front we needed to agree that we are all thankful for friends and family, and also for Barack Obama. I was trying to encourage creativity!

Chip was thankful for sushi. My MIL and I were thankful that we live in the United States. My FIL was able to stick to the no-friends-and-family rule, but couldn't stop himself from being thankful for Obama and the hope he brings.

My kids were the opposite - they wanted us to know how much we were loved. They did, however, attempt to follow the rules. Connor just pointed his finger around the circle when asked what he was thankful for, and Chloe ran around giving everyone hugs. But they never said "family," so technically they followed directions for once.

I didn't say it on Thursday, but I think it's safe to say that I'm thankful for my kids' sweet creativity.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Turkey Day with No Turkey

This year, we went flip-mode on our usual take-all-comers-brilliantly-planned-by-Steph-masterpiece  Thanksgiving meal at our house.  We made the trip to Nashville (with Steph's mom in tow) to hang out with my folks.  Since they're vegetarian, that means no turkey.  At least no real turkey.

This is Quorn turkey:

...which is really not bad.  But then, the turkey is always the least important dish to me anyway.

It's the sides that are the important things to me:

(That's roasted butternut squash casserole with goat cheese, leeks and hazelnuts)
Two words:  Sister and Schubert.

Mac and Cheese doesn't do it justice-- Fontina, Gruyere, cheddar, and Parmingiano-Reggiano.
See all the rest, along with desserts here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Photo Assistant

My kids have tolerated my preoccupation with my camera the last couple of years, especially since they were invariably the subject of my photographs.  I still take pics of them, of course, but this year I've broadened my horizons to take pictures of other people's kids, events and food.

Last Sunday, I had two shoots for Memphis Parent magazine-- one at Baskin Robbins and another at the Zoo.  I thought it would be fun to take Connor along, since his sis was napping, and his mother sometimes just needs to be left alone to watch the NFL on Sundays.

He did that thing where he resists anything new:
"Connor, how'd you like to come along on a couple of photoshoots with me-- I'm going to take pictures at Baskin Robbins and then the Zoo." 

"Noooooo!  I want to stay home with Mom." 

The nonverbal whining commences.

"Connor, remember when I told you to come with me to take pictures of Kendo, and you really didn't want to go, and I made you go and we had a great time?"

"Yeah, but I want to stay home with Mom."  More whining.  Steph and I exchanged a look and the decision was made.

"Put your shoes on, let's go."

One of the hardest parts of being a parent is knowing when to push and when to respect.  In this instance, Connor needed a push.

He really perked up when I told him he could have ice cream while I shot the nice family at Baskin Robbins.  He was an excellent assistant at the Zoo, alerting me to those brief moments when the 16-month-old in the family was actually staying still for more than 2 seconds.  (If you're interested, some of the pics of these lovely families are here.)

When it was time to leave the Zoo, Connor admitted it.  "Dad, I had fun going with you to take pictures."  I laughed and said, "Good!  Just remember that next time when you don't want to do something new and I make you go."

Saturday, November 08, 2008

More Homemade Pizzas

Steph got the idea from a restaurant in D.C. to make pizzas with this interesting combination of toppings-- roasted red peppers, sauteed spinach, roasted butternut squash, balsamic carmelized onions, pecorino romano and goat cheese.

Genius at work.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yes, he did.

This morning, the air seemed a bit more crisp and clean, the sky a little bluer, my mind a touch less cloudy.

As we listened to McCain talk about great presidents during his concession speech, Steph and I realized that George W. Bush will go down as one of the most influential presidents of our time.  What single man has affected the course of our country more?  The Bush administration has done more to influence our economy,  ideological divisions in our country, our constitutional freedoms, and most importantly our standing in the world, than any administration in my lifetime, certainly.  It goes without saying that this influence has not been positive, and repairing the damage is no easy task.

The spontaneous elation across the country is just something I've never seen.  Sometimes politics seems like sports to me-- did your team win?  Are they coming on strong at the finish?  Last night was like my hometown team won the World Series, except that it's not just me-- it's thousands of hometowns across the country.

(Check out Shannon and Carrie's awesome spontaneous communal celebration in Ann Arbor here.)

Obama's acceptance speech contained no mention of fear, terror, or hate.  It was unifying and inspirational.

For the first time in years, I feel hope.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


My first assignment for the Commercial Appeal was published yesterday!  (Link here.)  The pics in the online version are pretty small, but the paper layout was huge and actually made me look like I know what I'm doing.

Of course, I owe it all to Stacey-- she got the assignment in the first place and finagled me into the job.  It was definitely the most challenging shoot I've ever done, what with the fluorescent lighting, the ugly meeting room, and the abundance of fast motion.  I found the Kendo fascinating, though-- so much so that I sometimes forgot to take pictures and just watched.  The speed and fluidity of the motion was amazing.