Friday, December 24, 2004

Like Mother, Like Daughter

Julia, my 5-year-old, has her own blog now. In fact, I've been so busy helping her update hers that I've been neglecting mine. She tells me what to say and I type it in. You can read it at:
  • Julia's Ocean World
  • Time to Bake More Cookies

    By Deana Nall
    Baytown Sun

    Published December 22, 2004

    You can always tell when it’s Christmas in our house. Some clues are 1) the Christmas tree in the living room, and 2) my husband’s body on the kitchen floor where he has passed out from shock at the sight of me actually baking something.

    I usually bake three kinds of cookies every year. I pick two new recipes in addition to my old standby, Chocolate Bliss cookies. These are very sweet and highly addictive.

    Don’t get too hasty nominating me for Best Cook on the Block, because this recipe comes from the Baker’s Chocolate company and not from me. If you make them just right, they come out looking like something you would want to avoid, say, in a cow pasture. But taste-wise, they truly live up to their name. I was going to print the recipe here, but the scary “Message from our Lawyers” section at led me to believe that I could get sued by Baker’s, which would cause me to not have enough money to buy Baker’s expensive chocolate to make the cookies. So here is an extremely generalized version:

    Chocolate Cookies That, For the Moment, Have Nothing Whatsoever to Do With a Certain Chocolate Company That Will Remain Unnamed:

    Get a bunch of yummy stuff, most of which is chocolate in various forms. Mix it all up in a bowl. Drop big globs of aforementioned stuff onto a cookie sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for 13 minutes. While cookies are baking, taste the batter that has stuck to the sides of the bowl. It tastes so good you have an out-of-body experience and see visions of dead ancestors. Grab a spoon and scrape the sides of the bowl.

    Wow, this sure is a lot of batter! Eat most of it. Next, realize with horror that you are a nursing mother and you have just consumed raw eggs. Say a quick prayer that you do not pass salmonella on to your baby. Take one more taste and pray for God to cover that, too. By now, you should be overwhelmed by the urge to drink a glass of cold milk. This is a natural response when one has eaten a lot of chocolate.

    Ding! The cookies are done. Take them out of the oven. If you plan on giving these to friends, you will want to taste them to make sure they came out alright. After you have “tasted” a dozen or so, remember that you meant to give these away and ... holy cow! It’s already Dec. 22! Send your friends cards instead. They’ll get cookies next year. Then refer to my column on exercising from last week. Believe me, you’re gonna need it.

    You can visit Baker’s at and get the real recipe, if you want. I will say that I alter the recipe to leave out the walnuts. I generally leave nuts out of all recipes because my husband doesn’t like them (which makes pecan pie especially difficult.)

    For your amusement at the site, check out the “Healthy Living” link on the “Recipes” page. That’s right! While you’re browsing through recipes like “Decadent Raspberry Brownies” and “White Chocolate Candy Cane Cheesecake,” you can get tips on how to lead a healthy lifestyle. A tip like “Avoid These Recipes Like the Plague” would be a good start. This is almost as bad as Philip Morris USA having a “Quitting Smoking” link on its Web site.

    Whatever vice you choose to get you through the holidays, chocolate or otherwise, keep in mind that moderation is key. Remember, friends don’t let friends eat all the Chocolate Bliss cookies.

    Deana Nall’s column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is

    Thursday, December 16, 2004

    The Little Grown-Up

    This morning my 5-year-old and I were waiting in line in front of her school for the teachers to get her out of the car. I always let her unbuckle early so she can get out quickly when it's time. Today after she unbuckled, she hopped into the front seat. "I'll be sitting here until further notice," she said.

    Wednesday, December 15, 2004

    A Little Imagination Can Take You Far

    By Deana Nall
    The Baytown Sun

    Published December 15, 2004

    I took a walk through Lakewood the other day. OK, down one street in Lakewood. I was taking in the sunshine, admiring the waterfront homes and “clearing my head.”

    A lot of people say they go walking to “clear their heads,” but avid walkers know that the phrase is actually code for “I don’t want the three cinnamon rolls I ate today at Golden Corral to still be hanging on to my thighs come July.”

    So we walk.

    I used to walk more often. Then I got pregnant. The first 15 weeks or so of my pregnancies tend to be pretty rough, and I didn’t think people living five blocks down North Burnet Drive wanted to see me throwing up in their bushes.

    So I quit walking. Then I had a baby. The books say to not even think about exercising for the first several months after giving birth. This is a welcome piece of advice for new mommies who are sleeping about 45 minutes a night and couldn’t care less if their backsides are hanging down to their Achilles’ tendons.

    But we have to be careful or this exercise hiatus can stretch into our children’s late teen years, where we could find ourselves still convalescing from episiotomies or C-sections that happened decade before last.

    So the solution is to get moving. This can seem daunting, so I’ve written a handy guide called “Tricking Yourself Into Exercising” or “How to Burn Calories by Blinking a Lot.”

    First, you need to know that incorporating an exercise regimen into your schedule may be easier than you think. You’re probably exercising already without even realizing it. Pushing a cart full of groceries around the store for an hour definitely burns some calories. Putting a 50-pound 5-year-old in your cart is even better. Just make sure the 5-year-old is your own.

    You can also try parking at San Jacinto Methodist Hospital or one of the adjoining office plazas and taking the subsequent half-mile hike to your doctor’s office.

    But if you have a day in which you are doing neither of these, you may have to exercise on purpose. I recommend walking because it’s so easy to pretend you’re doing something else. I like to pretend Jude Law lives about three houses down from me. Or Tobey Maguire. Oh, heck. Let’s make them roommates. When I set out on my walk, I’m actually going to visit my celebrity neighbors. When I get to their house, I pretend they actually live in the next house. Then the next house. When I’ve gone all the way down the street, I pretend they aren’t home and then I walk back to my house. See? All this takes is a little imagination.

    And, this being the 21st Century and all, don’t be afraid to let technology work for you. I always carry my cell phone when I go walking. This way, if I am attacked by a wild Chihuahua, or accosted by someone who wants to sell me a box of Porterhouse steaks, or if I get tired of walking and want to be picked up, my husband is only a phone call away.

    One more important reminder is that you need to drink a lot of water. I read that the human body is 70 percent water. Or is it 90 percent? Wait, that might be a head of iceberg lettuce. Oh, I don’t remember. Just drink water — that’s all you need to know.

    Happy walking!

    Deana Nall’s column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is

    Throwing It All Away

    I'm so grossed out that I don't know if I can even write about this. But I'll try.

    Every year I like to make Christmas cookies for the other ministers at church, my child's teachers, the children's librarian and the people at the local newspaper who are nice enough to let me write for them. I end up making 10 or so dozen cookies so it is not a small job.

    Anyway, yesterday I had baked two batches of Chocolate Bliss cookies. All 37 cookies were laying out all over the kitchen counters cooling. About a half-hour after the last batch came out, I went back into the kitchen to put them in containers. I'm sort of a germ freak and went to the sink to wash my hands and there was a ROACH THE SIZE OF AN AIRCRAFT CARRIER in the sink! People who know me know that I have a worse-than-average aversion to these creatures. I HATE them. I don't know why God created them. Nothing, absolutely nothing, disgusts me more.

    So there it is in the sink, I'm freaking out, which causes my 5-year-old to start crying. She then barricaded herself in my room, blocking the door with "Moby Dick" and a Thesaurus so "it can't get me." The thing (I hate even saying/typing its name) is at least staying in the sink, but the thought occured to me: "How did it get to the sink? Was it on the counters...did it CRAWL ACROSS THE COOKIES??!!"

    So Chad gets home, takes care of the thing (I will not deal with them -- dead or alive) and I'm throwing away 37 Chocolate Bliss cookies that took me a couple of hours to make yesterday. Do you have any idea how hard it is to make cookies when you're home alone with a 3-month-old??

    I bought more stuff to make the cookies this morning. (That Baker's chocolate ain't cheap.) Those of you who receive cookies from us every year, please know that these unwelcome visitors to our house are quite rare -- especially this time of year -- and you will be getting uncontaminated cookies. I'm still so mad, though!!! Chad is from Alaska and has always told me that one nice thing about Alaska is there are no small insects like this that invade houses. Incidents like yesterday's really get me thinking about moving up there! Seriously!

    Tuesday, December 14, 2004

    Twilight Zone

    OK -- I'm having one of those "Mommy can do it all" moments. I'm at the computer, Christmas cookies are in the oven, and both children are on the living room floor playing QUIETLY. This is so bizarre -- I'm not used to this.

    Anyway, tonight is Bunco night. I'm making the drive to LaPorte, which is difficult for me to do alone since my friend Jennifer and I used to drive together. She loved this time of year, too -- she was one of those moms who went overboard making Christmas extra fun for her kids. I always wondered why Christmas carols petition for "comfort and joy" -- maybe for those people who find that stuff hard to come by this time of year. I want to go to her grave but I feel weird asking her husband where it is. The graveside service was just for family.

    I saw Jennifer's 6-year-old daughter running up to the school building the other day with the biggest smile on her face. I don't know how the whole afterlife thing works exactly, but I hope Jennifer could see her. I hope she died with the peace of knowing her girls were going to be OK.

    Now to get out of this Bunco group plays for money. Yep, that's right. A minister's wife GAMBLING. I felt weird about it until I won $20 the first time I played. I haven't looked back since. So tonight I'm hoping for BIG MONEY!

    Friday, December 10, 2004

    End of the World as We Know It

    Why is it so warm in December? I remember when we used to have actual winters down here, at least by southeast Texas standards. But here it is Dec. 10 and 75 degrees outside. I've given up planting tulips again. I think the winters are getting warmer every year because of global warming. That frightens me.

    Wednesday, December 08, 2004

    Under Pressure

    Remember that song? It was a Queen/David Bowie collaboration that was very cool before Vanilla Ice stole it for his "Ice, Ice Baby" atrocity. There's no great piece of music that some one-hit poser can't ruin.

    Anyway, I'm overwhelmed lately by people's problems that I'm powerless over. Teens in the process of self-destructing. Marriages in trouble. My house that is slowly being consumed by the growth of "Mt. Laundry." And the story I still owe ACU Today. (I'm getting to it, Ron!) And my child who won't let me stay focused on a task for more than six minutes at a time. I know God's in charge, but I have a frustration that occasionally surfaces -- something to the effect of "Why can't you just fix all this?"

    On an unrelated note, I found a quote I like: "A writer is supposed to know the English language, dang it." -- New Yorker editor William Shawn, in Garrison Keillor's Love Me.

    Kindergarten Has Changed

    By Deana Nall

    Published in The Baytown Sun on December 08, 2004

    I think I’m getting the hang of this kindergarten thing.

    Almost four months into my oldest daughter’s academic career, I have finally hit the rhythm of filling backpacks, making lunches, signing behavior reports, checking homework, reading her the lunch menu, tracking Accelerated Reader points, setting her clothes out every night and leaving the house by 7:40 every morning.

    I gotta tell you, I’m tired.

    Of course, Julia is never tired. She’d go to school seven days a week if she could. It’s not unusual for me to wake up (too early) on a Saturday morning to a 5-year-old bouncing on the bed saying, “Hey, Mommy! Want to hear me count to 100?”

    “Make it a million,” I tell her. “Wake me up when you’re done.”

    Actually, I think Julia does get enough of her new schedule at times. She’s just having too much fun to care.

    But if you ask me, I think 36 hours and 15 minutes of school every week is a bit much for a 5-year-old. I didn’t work that many hours a week at my last job.

    And it’s not just the schedule that has kindergartners and their parents worn out. Kindergarten is harder than it used to be. The Washington Post reported last week that curriculum once reserved for first-graders is now being pushed down to the


    “It’s no longer playing and just socialization,” said Susan Benezra, principal of McNair Elementary School in Herndon, Va. “Everything has an academic bent.”

    Since Julia started kindergarten in August, I’ve been comparing her first-year-of-school experience to my own. I went to kindergarten in Roswell, N.M. (This was when the government was still keeping the UFO crash there a tightly-guarded secret. I had my suspicions, though. The kid who sat next to me ate a lot of glue. I think he may have been one of “them.”) It was good to be a kindergartner in 1976. I caught the bus early in the morning, went to school, came home and had lunch with my mom while we both watched “Guiding Light.” Then I took a nap. It was an easy life.

    Plus, I was cute as all get-out.

    Back then, half-day kindergartens like mine were the norm. Today, 60 percent of American kindergartners go all day, like Julia (who, incidentally, is also cute as all get-out.). At Travis Elementary, where she attends, the schedule allows for art, music and theatre arts. But in many schools across the nation, such classes have been cut for more math and reading.

    School districts just want their kindergartners to be ready for first grade, which is understandable. But sometimes, while Julia is in school, I glance wistfully into her empty room. It’s stayed pretty clean since August, and not because she’s finally learned to pick up after herself. She simply doesn’t have time to play at home anymore. I want my daughter to learn and be prepared for life’s academic challenges. And she is having a great time at school. I just don’t want home to be a place where she only does homework and sleeps. I want her to enjoy being a kid.

    Next time she wakes me up on a Saturday morning, I think I’ll pull her into bed with me and turn the TV on to something completely non-educational. I’m going to make sure she knows how to take it easy before adulthood gets its schedule-dominating hands on her.

    Who knows. We might even eat some glue.

    Deana Nall’s column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is

    Friday, December 03, 2004

    Another Nall Family Voyage

    Published in The Baytown Sun on December 01, 2004

    Last week was a time to spend with family while reflecting upon everything for which we are thankful. Personally, I am thankful that my family survived a trip across Texas without inflicting any deep emotional scars on each other.

    When my husband Chad and I left Baytown last Monday with Julia, age 5; and Jenna, three months; I was tempted to drive straight to the state hospital in Rusk to check us all in for even attempting such a trip.

    But it really wasn’t so bad. I attribute this to a wonderful little invention called the portable DVD player. You just plug it into your car’s cigarette lighter and you can watch movies to your heart’s content — as long as you’re not the one driving.

    So that took care of the 5-year-old. The baby, when she wasn’t sleeping, amused herself by staring into space and drooling.

    Our itinerary included Dallas, Abilene, Lubbock and Denver City (a tiny town almost in New Mexico). All along the way, we were greeted by aunts, uncles, cousins and great-grandparents whose voices immediately jumped up three octaves when they saw our new baby.

    Why is that such a natural response for people when they talk to babies? I do it, too. Why don’t we talk in extremely deep voices? Or with Hungarian accents? I think this warrants an in-depth study.

    Anyway, by the time we got to Chad’s grandmother’s house in Denver City at the edge of west Texas, we decided we had gone way too far and seen way too many relatives. So we got ready to head home.

    “You can either sit in the back with the kids or up front with my mom,” Chad told me.

    I thought for a minute.

    “Couldn’t you just strap me to the top of the car?” I offered.

    When he refused, I ended up in the back. Julia entertained herself by watching “Freaky Friday” and perusing my “Good Housekeeping” magazine (which I found ironic in light of the fact that she has destroyed just about every attempt I’ve made at good housekeeping during the last five years). Jenna stayed happy by, once again, staring into space and drooling.

    By the time we were south of Dallas, Julia was so bored that she started playing with the language selections on her DVDs and ended up watching “The Lion King” in French. It’s amazing how French can make even Pumbaa sound refined and cultured.

    This works for people, too. Next time you’re touring Paris, go up to a native and say, “J’habite dans une voiture, et je me marie avec ma soeur.” It means “I live in a car, and I am married to my sister,” but don’t you sound spiffy?

    Well, we’re done traveling for 2004. I can now say that I have breastfed at nearly every Dairy Queen on I-20. Here’s something else I’m thankful for: We’re not taking our Nall Family Texas Tour for a whole year.

    Special thanks to Leslie Cushman, French teacher at Lee High School, for her help with this week’s column. Merci!

    Deana Nall’s column appears every Wednesday. Her e-mail address is