Friday, November 30, 2012

Family Fun

The internet is loaded with ideas on how to squeeze the most enjoyment out of time spent with your family.  From trips to Disneyworld to outings at the local museum, day trips to the beach or quiet afternoons at the library or the movies, we are blessed as a nation to have as many choices for entertainment as there are individuals.

If your family is like mine, time and money are precious, and it is impractical to take many expensive trips or find time for outings due to other activities.  That’s why dinnertime is a great built-in time where your family can have fun, but more importantly, you can have fun at the expense of your family.
One of my most favorite and time-tested ideas always elicits amusement for me.  You can easily fit this five-minute jamboree into any day; in fact, I have prepared for this particular delight in the few minutes it takes for my children to get off the bus and walk in the door after school.

(Note: I like to employ this idea a day or so after hearing some considerable complaining about what I decide to make for dinner.)

 First, get yourself an old-timey cookbook.  Any one will do.  My favorite is a Better Homes and Garden cookbook I inherited from my great-great-aunt, published circa 1958.  It is in mint condition, either because she never cooked, or because she had two and kept this one as a collectible.  These days, it serves this latter purpose.  If you don’t have an old-timey cookbook, cruise the internet for some old recipes, preferably ones that contain words like “aspic” or “picnic loaf.”

Find a few choice recipes that call for ingredients clearly not in fashion anymore, or ones with horrible pictures with slices of hard-boiled eggs as a garnish for roast beef or maybe pictures containing cocktail wieners.

Make copies and distribute the recipes to each member of your family.  Tell them that you are looking to expand your cooking repertoire, and ask them to choose one or two recipes that you have selected because of their simplicity or because “they just sound good.” 

IMPORTANT:  Do NOT actually make these recipes.  You will poison yourself and your whole family.  Our modern-day palates are not designed for the culinary adventures a 1950’s cookbook brings.  Trust me.

An example of some recipes I like to use for Family Fun Night (please excuse the quality of photo):
My favorite instruction in this "Variety Meats" section is to cook ingredients like brains and sweetbreads the day that you purchase them.  You know, because after a day they are not fit for consumption.

These will elicit the most fun for everyone if you have picky eaters who have not touched anything but chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese for three years, or if you find a new pre-teen vegetarian in your midst who has taken it upon himself to “educate” you about the pitfalls of an omnivorous lifestyle.

Be creative.  Don’t just stick to the outline shown here.  Family Fun Night can be any night where, as your family members breeze in the door asking “What’s for dinner?” as you slave over a hot stove, sweat dripping from your brow, you can point out one of the recipes that you have circled using a red pen, or if you are really creative, some beef blood.  It is most important in this scenario to keep the illusion going as you all sit down to eat, even if you have prepared baked chicken or beef stroganoff.  The power of suggestion is powerful, and they will think you are trying to poison them with chicken-fried heart or liver loaf.  If someone in your family has a strong gagging reflex or temper tantrum about “eating trash,” be sure to have a camera ready to capture the magic.

All it takes is some forethought and minor prep time for good old fashioned family fun in the home, and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune.  Your family members will thank you for the good times you have shown them, and the memories made will last a lifetime.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Playing Favorites

I am not a literary genius.  I haven’t read many of the classics, though I wish I had.  My husband and I went through a period when we thought we’d read some classics, and bought some hardbound books to begin a library of intellectual proportions unknown to us at that point.  Together, we read exactly three classics: Pride and Prejudice, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Little Women.  Those books took us so long to get through that we put them on a shelf when we finished and they collected dust until I put them in the giveaway pile.  We never made a silly pact like that again.

My taste in books can hardly be considered highbrow; I like reading novels, biographies, humor and historical fiction.  I read books that everyone was talking about three years ago.  I have a stack of magazine subscription cards scribbled with titles of books that I read about in magazines and hear about on TV that I mean to read but probably never will. 

My favorite books are varied and decidedly not intellectual, though I dream of rattling off poetry and having real discussions about literary figures, real and imagined.  In the movie Sabrina she says that her father became a chauffeur so he’d have more time to read.  That thought has never left me; what a wonderful, simple choice.  He probably read things like War and Peace and Moby Dick and others I can’t think up on the spot because I am not a literary genius.

When I was a kid I loved Judy Blume.  I read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing over and over; I truly identified with Peter, who was a serious kid and a little curmudgeonly at nine years old, just like me.  And who lived in New York City, to boot.  Then came Margaret.  Are you there God?  Good Lord, this girl had issues.  And I had every one of them too.  From questions about religion to the anticipation/terror of puberty, I read this book and saw myself on every page.

I also loved this book not on any class reading list called Anna to the Infinite Power, about a girl who finds out she is the product of a cloning experiment.

In high school I fell in love with Holden Caulfield.  The Catcher in the Rye was one book out of ten I was expected to read one summer break before hitting the ground running in an advanced placement English class.  I read and re-read Catcher, but never got around to reading the rest of the others.  I had to inform my teacher that I didn’t get the work done over the summer and started school that year in a regular English class, wistfully watching the AP kids walk into their classroom, the classics under their arms and filling their brains. 

I spent the rest of high school reading Sassy, Seventeen, and YM magazines.

During college and grad school, I rarely read anything that wasn’t assigned, though I blew off one whole day of work and office hours sobbing through The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard.  I also swiped my mom’s Rosamunde Pilchers over breaks and found a home in Coming Home.  That book is beloved and I read it at least once a year until my daughter was born.  Haven’t heard of it?  It’s because it’s not a literary masterpiece.  

These days I re-read in anticipation of a sequel or movie release, as in the case of all the Twilights and Harry Potters.  My latest re-read was Life of Pi, also one of my current favorites, and despite the many, many OBVIOUS hints I’ve dropped to my husband that I want to see this movie, I still haven’t seen it.

I also re-read Catcher recently, where I realized what a creep Holden Caulfield really is.

Atonement, The Alchemist, Water For Elephants, Ken Follett’s epics, anything by Chelsea Handler, David Sedaris or Anita Shreve; these are my favorites these days, and while they may not be classics, the more I read, the more favorites I find. 

What are your favorite books?

Help someone else find their favorites by promoting literacy.  It will cost you nothing, and you can do it right now!  All you need to do is:

  • Enter your name and email in the spaces provided. 
  • *Please mark that you got there from my blog: About 100%*

This is the best part:

An anonymous donor has agreed to contribute $1 to our YWCA’s Adult Literacy Program for every valid name and email address received.

There is no cap on the amount of money they are willing to donate.  Thank you!

Monday, November 26, 2012

So Soon

It's THAT time already?

I guess when you wait until summertime to put the winter accessories away, these things tend to sneak up on you.

Hats and scarves and mittens, oh my!

Friday, November 23, 2012

In Which I Offended The Lead Singer From Gin Blossoms

Life is full of awkward moments.

If you’re like me, life is defined by awkward moments.

My early youth was highlighted by an incident in which I wore a white bathing suit which, when wet, became invisible.  As I emerged from our backyard pool and my brother pointed out the obvious, I tore into the house to hide, covered my bits with a towel, and spent the rest of the day inside.

Elementary school is remembered as a time when, as a cheerleader and head of the line, I pranced out onto the gym floor at halftime at a basketball game.  My ponytail and cheerleading skirt bounced gaily together as I kicked up my heels, ready to perform a dance number that we had practiced to perfection.  As I turned to jump and face the audience, hands on hips, my huge smile froze into a grimace as I realized that none of my fellow cheerleaders had followed me out onto the floor.  I was standing in the middle of the basketball court all alone.  It was just a timeout, not halftime, and it was NOT time for me to dance.

Ahhh, the teen years.  I’m not sure which uncomfortable memory is more defining, the one where suddenly starting my period at school was alternately horrifying and embarrassing, or the one where, as a member of the Color Guard in our marching band, I was still made to march during the Homecoming game even though I couldn't twirl a flag because I had a cast on my arm, or the fact that I also attended the Homecoming dance all dressed up with said cast on my arm?

Awkward moments in college were propelled by alcohol and often blossomed into indiscretions, as I said and did things that if dwelt on even now I wince painfully.  Some were just plain funny.  A girlfriend and I had the opportunity to meet the 1990s group Gin Blossoms at my college after a concert.  As our turn came to meet the band, I sidled up to the lead singer and mused that I wish he could take me home with him.  As he demurred politely I realized what I had done.  He thought I was flirting, and I explained that I wasn’t really into him or his band, and that I was jokingly asking for a free ride back to Arizona where they were from because my boyfriend at the time lived there.  I watched the playful look in his eyes turn to annoyance and then abject hatred as me and my girlfriend screamed off into the night, hysterical at the discomfort of the whole interaction.

As an adult the awkwardness continues.  Parties and gatherings are opportunities for me to put my foot in my mouth, like the wedding reception where I hashed out the details of childbirth and after birth events, or at the church picnic where I wrongly assumed a fellow conversant and mere acquaintance knew about a minor transgression my son had recently made regarding his undergarments, and gave details that no one should know.  The looks on people’s faces are precious when they hear me blather on about something totally inappropriate to the situation and utterly confusing in every way.  People just don’t know what to do with one as awkward as me.

And I can’t for the life of me figure out how to be any other way.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Confessional Tuesday on Wednesday

I am a drunk walker.

Oh, I’m sorry, you don’t know what that is?  Well, it’s because it’s a term I made up. 

A drunk walker is one who walks as if she is drunk even when she is not.  The person can be walking along, and then all of a sudden lose her balance and stumble, or twist her legs a la Bambi on Ice.  I can barely cross a room without falling down or stumbling over something, like my feet.  Every trip down stairs is a courageous act.  I’m not afraid of heights, but I avoid them because if I’m not tethered, it is likely that I will fall to my death. 

This lack of sure-footedness is hereditary.  My grandmother is also a drunk walker.  Some years ago she lost the vision in one of her eyes, so she has no depth perception, which makes her even more of a drunk walker.  It became more of a problem for her as she aged, because of breaking legs, hips, and ankles and all of that, which not funny unless you think it’s hilarious when elderly ladies fall down, and in that case you are rude.  I have passed the gene to my son, who has a rare talent of standing still and suddenly falling to the floor in a loud cracking heap.

And that is funny.

The biggest problem with being a drunk walker is, naturally, the heightened chance that you will hurt yourself.  At any given moment I will have an angry bruise sneaking a peek at you from under a sleeve or pant leg.  It’s grotesque.  Likewise, at any given moment I will injure a toe or ankle, causing a limp that lingers for days.

The other problem with being a drunk walker is that people may assume you’re drunk when you’re not.  I can be drinking water at a party and still hear comments like “whoa, feeling good, aren’t we?” and “yo bartender, cut her off!” as I struggle to stay vertical.  No one believes that a person who stumbles so much is totally sober.

And there’s not much you can do about that but humor people and carry a bottle everywhere.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Laying It Down

Lately the kids have been testing the waters.

Of my good graces and self-control, evidently.

One tween begets another, even if the other is not yet a tween.

Attitudes and talkback and eye-rolling are contagious.  Mother definitely doesn’t know best, and every utterance elicits a strong negative reaction: violent opposition, downright defiance, even tears.  I run a prison here.  They are serving 18-year sentences.

Schoolwork, while important, can be done at any time.  Any time that is not Mom’s preference, that is.  Bedrooms are not messy, even though you can’t see the floor for the clothing, and every surface is covered with junk.  Reading and instrument practice has already been finished, although books are not to be found and the air is void of music.  Only one hour of the two-hour computer allowance has been used, even though the computer has been on since seven-thirty a.m.  Promises have been kept; friends are waiting for their playmates.

It is enough to make the most patient of parents close her eyes and pray for deliverance from aggravation as well as the temptation to respond with her own tears and denial that things really aren’t so bad and that this behavior can be let go.

But it cannot be let go.  Responsibility needs to be learned.

A calm demeanor and firm, choice words are required if behaviors are to be changed and lessons taught.  Swaying from the rules or allowing negotiations are not advisable actions.

But it happens.

Humanity takes control and weariness sets in.  Negotiations are tolerated and other, future promises are made.  The homework will be done.  I will.  I know.  I am.  After.

I close my eyes again, defeated.  They have won again.  I can’t even face myself, nor can I make sense of what just happened.

And yet, as I watch them escape into the fresh air, smiles on their faces, free from their sentences for an hour, the mood lightens.  The air is silent again, and I lie down.

I will do better next time, I promise.  I will.  I know.  I am.  After.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Get It Together

Adults are supposed to be with it.

And by with it, I mean, have it together, know what’s going on, able to do things, get things done. 

At least that’s what I used to think, back when I was hilarious.

As an adult, I have never felt so inept in certain situations, because I have spent a lifetime seeing other people get things done.  My ineptitude comes primarily in the form of remembering.  Remembering not dates and names, but daily tasks, like putting on deodorant and making dentist appointments for my family.

Wait.  What were we talking about again?

As an adult, I cannot remember anything.  I blame it on the children, of course.  Mom brain is such a tired cliché but as I always say, clichés are clichés because they are cliché.  And again, cliché.  I have spent so many brain cells trying to keep other people alive that I have no more to spare for my own survival.

My husband is at the end of his rope with me.  Just the other day we went out to lunch, and as we were driving to the restaurant we discussed getting gas for the car and going to the bank and the hardware store.   After lunch I forgot about our errands.  As I drove away from the restaurant on the way back home, he reminded me of the errands, and re-routed me to the bank.  After the bank, he steered me to the gas station, and again to the hardware store.  Once in the store, he told me that he was going around back to pick up his purchase, and left the store.  I strolled outside to get in the car, and was more than a little nervous that the car wasn’t there.  I wandered around the parking lot in circles until he picked me up at the curb. 

At that point I guess he figured that if he was ever going to get home in a timely manner, he needed to be in charge.

It’s particularly bad with the children, and affects my validity as a parent.  Recently we punished our son for something.  I say something because I’m not sure what it was.  I know that the punishment was that he couldn’t hang out with his friends after school for a week.  Was it this week or last week?  Or was it no electronics for the day?  All I know is that my son was supposed to be punished, and he hung out with his friends after school twice this week AND I gave him extra time on his electronics yesterday.

And how many times do I open the dryer and find an old load of laundry in there?  When did that…?  How did I go without…?  Didn’t anyone notice…?  Sigh.

Maybe it’s not normal.  Maybe I’m regressing.

Maybe I’m not really quite an adult.  The time I spent eating candy and looking up funny pictures on the internet today seem to point in that direction.

Maybe I'd be more productive if I didn't
waste so much time taking self-portraits.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Confessional Tuesday on Wednesday

So last weekend we rented movies because we didn’t have any plans for the night and God forbid we don’t have any plans for the night.  OMG WE HAVE A FREE EVENING WE HAVE TO MAKE PLANS

Says my husband.  Not me.  Ever.

Our entertainer for the night decided he’d venture out to the Redbox to rent a couple of movies because we don’t have Netflix or any other kind of home movie rental business that requires a monthly fee, because we are cheap bastards.  He returned home with one family style movie to watch from the hours of 7 to 9 pm, and one adult only movie for 9 pm on.

And not that kind of adult movie, ya pervs. 

Anyway, the two movies that were on deck for the evening were:  The Amazing Spider-Man and Magic Mike, two gloriously current movies that none of us really cared about seeing.

Yeah.  My husband rented Magic Mike for us to watch after the kiddies went off to bed, presumably because he thought he’d gain some side benefit from his wife viewing a movie about sweaty men taking their clothes off.

Hold up.  Let me clarify something that you may not know:  Magic Mike?  The movie that my husband rented for us to watch together?  Is about male strippers.  Holy Patrick Swayze, Chippendale Batman.  I am so not into watching strange men take their clothes off.  Never mind that I loved The Full Monty back in the ‘90s when it was the funniest movie about male strippers I’d ever seen in my life.  Or the only one.  Because male strippers are the worst. 

Now look here.  I am quite aware that there’s a little revival of the female fantasy genre in the arts going on today.  First all the vampires.  Egads, so many.  Then Fifty Shades of Come On Now, Seriously?  The soft porn industry has squealed into our living rooms with a book series that women are embarrassed to be seen reading at the community pool.  These books have their own wing in every airport bookstore.  Now we’ve got Magic Mike taking up space in my brain.  Really?  This is what women want?

Okay.  Maybe women do want these things.  I could be the outlier.

But listen up.  Give me a movie about a good-looking smart guy who takes care of business and tries to take on the world, and another one about a good-looking dumb guy who needs to be taken care of by everyone else, and my preference is crystal clear.  

Monday, November 12, 2012

Reading For Life

As I sat across the table from the shy, blond boy, he stared at the flashcard I flipped over from the pile on the desk between us.  On it was a word I had been reading since before kindergarten.


“Tuh, tuh, tuh.”  He sounded out the simple word.  “Tuh-uh. Oh.” 


I gritted my teeth.  We had been over this word several times just a few minutes ago.  Try again, I said.

He looked at me and said again, “Toe.”

No, I said.  It’s To.  Like I went TO the store.

Oh, he said.  To.

It was 1990.  I was in high school, and I had volunteered to be a helper for students in our school who needed extra practice with reading.  This boy was only about a year younger than me.  I didn’t know him.  In fact, I didn’t remember seeing him in the hallways before we worked together.

In 1990, I had no idea that kids my age couldn’t read words like to, and here was one right in front of me.

The boy was quiet and polite.  He worked hard, and even though it was frustrating for both of us when he messed up words like here and his and are and go, he knew cat and dog and I and a.  He went silent when he got really frustrated, but he never complained or gave me a hard time, which I appreciated.  I enjoyed spending time with him.  His triumphs over the words became my victories, too. 

We worked together for a semester, and when my schedule started filling up with courses that prepared me for college and beyond, my time helping this boy with reading was over.

I never knew if my helping him ever really helped him, if he ever really became a reader.  What I do know is that I learned that not everyone experiences the privilege of reading.  During the weeks we worked together, I learned empathy, patience and humility.  I remember seeing him in the hallways and at lunchtime after our time together that year, and then I never saw him again. 

I have been reading since preschool.  I have memories of reading books, real memories that shape how I view the world and people in it, and secondhand memories like when people tell stories about what you did when you were little.

Even though my memory is foggy, I still have the book that I read to my grandmother, who still recounts with a sweet smile how I read to her about the ten little animals who were “bery, bery cold” so many years ago, when I was three.

I remember “borrowing” some hardbound Peanuts cartoon collections from the old seamstress who sewed together my dance costumes.  I read those books until they were just tattered pages.  I read an old copy of Grimm’s fairy tales that my mother had from when she was little.  I remember climbing the steep hill to our neighbor’s house in the summers just to read their collection of Dr. Seuss books, even though we had our own set at home.  My mother says she’d call the neighbor when I left the house and the neighbor would call when I got there.  Once there, I’d stretch out in front of their bookshelf and read for hours. 

When I got older I read Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary, then the Sweet Valley High series for tween girls.  I read horse books, choose-your-own-ending sci-fi books, books about ballet dancers and plucky girls who rise above struggles like health problems, abusive families, and tragic events.  In junior high and high school, I read Romeo and Juliet and The Iliad and The Great Gatsby and The Catcher in the Rye.  I read and re-read.  And re-read.

I married a reader, and have two children who are readers.  Of course as a mother I’d rather them spend more time reading, and that time is never enough.  But they, like my husband and I, have the privilege of knowing how to read.  That lesson has never left me.

I am aware that many adults who live around us cannot read, that many children struggle with reading despite our public schools’ emphasis on reading programs.  Reading is something that not everyone has learned, and I learned this reality firsthand when I was in high school.

I can’t imagine how difficult life would be if I could not read.  From my meager experience in a literacy program so many years ago, I know that the daily struggles of not being able to read are burdensome, the pain and fear of not knowing what most of us take for granted is very real.  Had I not been involved then, I would take reading for granted today.

Literacy is the most important skill I own.  Without it, I would be a very different person.  Without it, the potential of so many people in our communities is buried.

The best part about literacy is that it can be taught.  Community programs are available.  In my community, the YWCA’s Adult Literacy Program is committed to help people learn this very important skill.  It’s a great program that helps adults learn basic reading skills, comprehension, even English as a second language.  You, fellow reader, can help.

It’s easy, it costs nothing, and will only take a moment.


-Enter your name and email in the space provided.

-Don’t forget to mark that you got there from my blog, About 100%

This is the best part:

An anonymous donor has agreed to contribute $1 to our YWCA’s Adult Literacy Program for every valid name and email address received.

There is no cap on the amount of money they are willing to donate.

I humbly thank you for your part in helping others receive the privilege of reading.  Now get out there and read something to celebrate! :)

This post is part of the Pottstown Mercury's Read and Write for Literacy Program

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Let's Get Something Clear

At any given moment, you will see at least one competition happening between at least two opposing sides: disagreements between friends, arguments between siblings, fist-fights in the schoolyard, boxing matches, football games, even a race to see who gets in front of a line of traffic, who can get to the store earliest to get the best deals.  Our favorite TV shows pit singers, dancers, even traveling pairs against each other week after week until there is one left standing.  The winner gets a trophy, money, a title.  Sometimes the competition is between one person and the world: we suffer through the incessant one-upmanship of a person who proclaims to be the best, the champion, the ultimate success, of a parent’s immodest crowing of his or her child’s accomplishments. 

In the weeks leading up to Election Day in our country, competition is everywhere.  Neighbors supporting opposing sides display signs for their favorite candidates on front lawns.  Presidential debates are not just discussions; we pore through the newspapers, read articles online and watch the news to see who ‘won’ the argument in a forum that formally defines no clear winner or loser.  Things get ugly.  Everyone aligns with a side; the other side is silly, wrong, immoral, unimportant, evil, the enemy.  We want to be the top, the leader, the winner.  When we win, too often than not bragging rights are assumed, and sportsmanship, common courtesies, and humility are forgotten.

Being a generally non-competitive person in a world where everyone seems to be at each other’s throat is a little isolating.  I wish there was less competition and more cooperation, less smack-talk and more kind words.  I respond to uninvited competition by refusing to play.  When someone tries to draw me into battle, I smile.  I’m not interested.  I’d rather do anything else than play a game just to see who wins.  Despite this wishing upon a star for more flowers and less fencing, I concede that there are situations where there must be a winner.  Like a presidential election.

JFK said “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer.”

I allow that for every competition.  Let the right answer rise to the top, the most deserving victor win.  Sometimes what is right is very foggy, and people cheat to get across the finish line first.  Sometimes what is right only comes out later, and the fraud isn’t always corrected.  Our world often allows more wrong than right, and our belief systems get twisted and warped until what is wrong seems right, and what is right is lost. 

And then sometimes, the right answer isn’t clear, and the best one has to do.
Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer,
but the right answer. 
Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. 
Let us accept our own responsibility for the future. 
-John F Kennedy