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Friday, December 30, 2011

Another Year Over

"Another year over/ And a new one just begun." - "Happy Christmas (War is Over)" by John Lennon

I am not a New Year's person. It never really made sense to me why people would celebrate a year ending, 365 days that we are never going to get back, another year of our lives over. No matter what has happened in the last year, it always makes me kind of sad to think that it's gone forever, never to be seen again. Are you sufficiently bummed out now? (Sorry.)

And then there are resolutions. I don't believe in making New Year's resolutions because they will just be broken by February - at the very latest. If I said that my resolutions are to lose weight, eat healthier, start exercising, not be negative, etc. etc. etc., I would just get depressed when I didn't live up to my own expectations by eating a big piece of cheesecake while laying on the couch on January 2, eyes fixed to the TV, possibly being mistaken for a person in a comatose state. That would not make me exude any positive energy out into the world at all, I would just be in a terrible mood. And normally I'm a freakin' ray of sunshine! I feel very sarcastic today. Can you tell?

Seriously though, what I do believe in is taking control of your life and making changes because you want to, not just because the year is over. So, what changes do I want to make for 2012? The biggest one is with my writing. I need to get serious about it, really give myself a chance at making a career out of my biggest passion in life. Yes, I have been trying to get an agent and get the Willow series published for some time now, but I haven't been as persistant and gung ho as I should be. That is going to change. This year, not a single week will go by without me pursuing my dream. Agents will be contacted, queries will be revised, magazines and newspapers will be contacted in the hopes of getting some of my articles or poetry published so I can build up a portfolio. I am taking charge and no longer twiddling my thumbs, waiting around for an agent to get back to me. If I want this, I am the one who has to make it happen. And I won't stop working at it until I no longer have any words left to write or opinions to voice. And let's face it, that will never happen!

I hope all of you reading this are blessed with a great year ahead, happiness and prosperity, and a much more positive attitude than I have. ;) Happy New Year, everybody!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry Christmas!

"Good tidings we bring/ To you and your kin/ Good tidings for Christmas/ And a happy new year!" - "We Wish You a Merry Christmas"

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope all of you out there have a truly blessed holiday season filled with family, friends, and wonderful memories.

Since this is a season where traditions are so important, I thought I would share one of my favorite Christmas traditions with you. Every night on Christmas Eve before we go to bed, I always read "A Visit From St. Nicholas", my mom reads the Christmas story from the Bible, and my sister lights the candles to our Swedish chimes, a decoration we both remember from when we were very young. It's a tradition that costs nothing but is rich in meaning and memories for us, one of the most important and enjoyable parts of the Christmas season.

No matter how old I get, Christmas always takes me back to my childhood, a time of wonder and magic, when big jolly guys could slide down chimneys, even if your house didn't have one, when reindeer could fly, and when all was right with the world. I like to think that I still hold a little bit of that in my heart, because Christmas is a time for miracles, and anything is possible. And it all started with the first miracle, a little baby born in a manger over 2,000 years ago, the King of Kings, the reason for the season, Christ the Lord.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Must Be Santa

"Special night, beard that's white/ Must be Santa, must be Santa/ Must be Santa, Santa Claus." - "Must Be Santa" by Raffi


Today I took the girls to see Santa Claus at the mall. In the past, they have had a Polar Express setup as well as a Narnia village, but this year Santa is located in the middle of a winter wonderland complete with enormous snowglobes to walk through, lifesize polar bear statues, an "ice thrown", and very cool videos from BBC Earth about Arctic wildlife. It really is pretty great, except for the styrofoam snow that sticks like a magnet to clothing and hair. We spent the next two hours at the mall walking around with foam pellets in our hair that looked like giant flakes of dandruff. Oh well, it was a small price to pay for the best visit to Santa ever!

When the girls walked up to Santa, they gave him big hugs and he was fantastic, acting like he remembered them, even calling them by name, which I'm sure he heard me say many times as we walked through the snowglobes and experienced the MacArthur Center winter wonderland. Anyway, as I eavesdropped on their conversation with Santa while I paid for their pictures, I heard them say that they wanted the Looks Like Me American Girl dolls for Christmas. Then my jaw hit the ground. Santa let out a jolly chuckle and said playfully, "Didn't I bring you American Girl dolls last year? The ones that are not even made anymore? Are you sure you want more dolls?" The looks on the girls' faces were pure joy and astonishment because that was one hundred percent correct! With them being five and seven years old now, I know the years of wonder and innocence are quickly flying by. This visit may have bought another year or two of magic for these kids, which I am very grateful for. And there is no other way to explain that moment today expect to say that it was truly magical. If I didn't know better, I would say that this guy is the real deal, the head elf, Saint Nicholas himself. But that's impossible...isn't it?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tuesday's Top Ten - Rock and Roll Christmas

"Let's have a rock and roll Christmas/ Just like we used to know." - "Rock and Roll Christmas" by George Thorogood

Happy Tuesday, everyone! As you've probably figured out from my last few posts (or from reading my profile), I am just a tad bit obsessed with Christmas. I have already covered Christmas books, so this edition of Tuesday's Top Ten will be devoted to holiday music, specifically, rock and roll. All of these songs may not be rock, but they are performed by rock stars or rock/pop bands, and play on my CD player all season long. If your favorite rock and roll Christmas songs differ from mine, leave me a comment so I can check them out. Merry Christmas!

1. "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" by Bruce Springsteen - It just doesn't get better than this. My favorite part of this rockin' kids' song is the intro where Bruce talks to the band and the crowd, asking if they've been good or what. And he asks Clarence if Santa is bringing him a new saxophone for Christmas. I miss the Big Man. Bonus points for this song, the girls I nanny for absolutely love it and sing along at the top of their lungs whenever it comes on the radio. It just makes me happy.

2. "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" by John Lennon - I am choosing to ignore the Plastic Ono Band because everyone knows that John Lennon was the genius behind this song and he is the only one who deserves any credit. "Happy Xmas" has such a great message, that peace is what matters, and if everyone wants it, it can be achieved. This is a song that should be enjoyed all year, not just in December.

3. "Christmas All Over Again" by Tom Petty - Man, I love this song! It became a staple at my house every Christmas season because of the "Home Alone" soundtrack (and because Tom Petty is just so fantastic!) and I will never get tired of hearing it. It's fun, it's festive, and it's funny, like the line about not wanting to kiss your long distance relatives. The best line, though, is "Hope Mama gets her shopping done!" So great!

4. "Merry Christmas, Baby" by The Beach Boys - Not to be confused with the R&B standard that has been recorded by Otis Redding, B.B. King, and Bruce Springsteen among others, this is a Beach Boys original and one of my all time favorites (since I was a very young child!). Unlike most cheery holiday songs, this one is about a guy who wants his girlfriend back, who broke up with him at Christmas. Not really fine holiday fun, but I absolutely love it anyway. It still sounds upbeat and is really great to sing along to.

5. "Santa's Beard" by The Beach Boys - Another classic from their '60s Christmas album, this song is about taking your little brother to see Santa, and he discovers that - gasp! - the department store St. Nick is an imposter. But hey, don't worry kid, he's just one of Santa's helpers, so it's okay! I think all of us who take children to Santa at the mall have a fear that this will happen. At least we have a song that will explain it all in a gentle way that will still keep the magic alive. Whew!

6. "I Believe in Father Christmas" by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer - Probably the most different song on my list, "I Believe in Father Christmas" is beautifully haunting, touching on the true meaning of Christmas ("the virgin's birth"), the magic of the season ("and I looked at the sky with excited eyes"), and peaceful wishes for the new year. If you don't know this one, go check it out. You won't be sorry.

7. "We Three Kings of Orient Are" by Spinal Tap - As you can probably imagine if you know anything about Spinal Tap, this is a hilarious version of a classic Christmas carol. The guys don't know the words and end up singing about smoking exploding rubber cigars. So funny! And the banter between the guys is just great. I always laugh when I hear this song, especially when my sister sings it in her fake British accent. She does terrific impersonations of Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) and David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean). Hey, Jenna, it goes to 11!

8. "Run, Rudolph, Run" by Chuck Berry - A holiday classic that makes me think about the scene in "Home Alone" where the MacAllisters are running through the airport, sans Kevin. Just one question though. Who the heck is Randolph and why is he chasing Santa and Rudolph? An evil twin, perhaps?

9. "Merry Christmas, Baby", versions by Bruce Springsteen and by Melissa Etheridge - Now this is the classic song I was refering to in #4 on this list. It's impossible to beat Bruce, but Melissa's version is so good, I am calling it a tie. Bruce's "Merry Christmas, Baby" is perfection, plain and simple, a classic R&B/rock song with a holiday theme, but Melissa's version has a great line that I haven't heard anywhere else. "I haven't had a smoke this morning/ But I'm all lit up like a Christmas tree." This is a great song to just belt out, especially when you are alone in the car and no one can laugh at you for singing off-key at the top of your lungs.

10. "Must Be Santa" by Bob Dylan - Just the fact that Bob recorded a Christmas album at all is laugh-out-loud hilarious, but every song on his "Christmas in the Heart" album is wonderful! "Must Be Santa" is my favorite because of his additional lyrics. Along with some of Santa's reindeer that we all know and love, Bob has included a few special guests on St. Nick's Christmas Eve flight. :)

"Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen/
Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon/
Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen/
Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton!"

Saturday, December 10, 2011

All is Bright

"Silent night, holy night/ All is calm, all is bright."

Two nights ago, I was driving the seven-year-old I nanny for back home after her dance class. It was late in the evening and she was exhausted, but we took a few extra minutes to drive around her neighborhood and look at all of the beautiful lights. As we drove along, I would slow down when we came upon a nice display, sometimes even stopping for a moment so we could marvel together at the wonderous sights before our eyes. After going down a few streets, this child who is normally very on edge and way too driven for her own good, laid her tired head back on her car seat and sighed contently. I asked her if she was having fun and she replied, "Yes! Looking at lights with you is a lot more fun than with Mom and Dad." I asked her why she would say something like that, and she told me that it was because I took the time to slow down and look at the lights too. I was enjoying them just as much as she was, and it made a huge impression on her. She comes from a very busy family and her parents don't always have the time to slow down and stare at Christmas lights, and I bet they never knew that their daughter noticed.

So this holiday season, I hope that we will all take the time to slow down, stop, and look at the glorious sights around us. There is so much beauty in the world, especially this time of year, and it will all be over in the blink of an eye. I for one, do not want to miss it. So once again, the teacher has learned something from the student. Always keep the magic of the season in your heart, and take the time to let your inner child out so you can remember what it was like to be a kid at Christmastime. Just think of it as a gift to yourself and those around you. And it doesn't cost a penny.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Deck the Halls!

"Deck the halls with boughs of holly/ Fa la la la la, la la la la."

It's my favorite time of the year again, and I thought I would share some photos of what my house looks like at Christmastime. Around here, Christmas is a huge event, the biggest, and we don't do anything halfway. We have not one, not two, but three full-sized Christmas trees and enough decorations to cover basically every inch of the house. It's a regular Santa's Village in here! And I love it. Here are our trees and some of my most favorite decorations.


This is the tree in our dining room, which doubles as my office. It is the Victorian tree, dressed up mostly with delicate vintage or vintage inspired ornaments and white lights. On top of this tree, we have a glittery finial that we call the Family Heirloom. It is actually just a cheap tree topper that my mom bought at Sav-On for $1.79 when she was 19, but it just wouldn't be right to not have it adorn our fanciest tree. What can I say, we are suckers for tradition.


Our living room tree is the first one you see when walking through the front door. We call it the retro tree, as it is the home to our old (and new) Shiny Brites, colorful blown glass balls, Santas, and snowmen, and a variety of theme ornaments that remind us all of our childhoods. Looking around the tree, I am greeted with the joyful sights of ornaments featuring the Peanuts characters, Mickey Mouse, Rudolph, and Hallmark's very own Rhonda and Rodney Reindeer. You can't help but smile when seeing this Christmas tree.


And now my favorite tree. This tree is in the corner of our family room, and it is packed full of fun ornaments, the majority being from Hallmark. Honestly, my mom, sister, and I have spent so much time and money at that store over the years, I think they should start paying us to promote their Christmas decorations! You know it's a bit excessive when the sales associates know you by name.


Right smack dab in the middle of the family room tree, I have placed my favorite ornaments for all to see. My all-time favorite collection is my Crayola collection from - you guessed it - Hallmark! I have about 15 Crayola ornaments that I have collected over the years, but my favorite is the very first one I got when I was in kindergarten, the "Bright Christmas Dreams" crayon box from 1987 with the four adorable sleeping mice, all tucked in for a long winter's nap. That is one of two ornaments that I always put up on the tree myself, no matter what. No one touches these special ornaments but me, or else! (I know, I turn into a crazed, hyper five-year-old this time of year!)


This is the other one that I have to find the perfect spot for every year. No, it's not the B.A.S.S. one, it's the "Beary Smooth Ride" ornament from way back in 1985 when I was only three years old. I don't what it is about this one, but I absolutely love it. Out of the hundreds of ornaments that hang on nearly every branch of our trees, this one of the teddy bear on the trike is my favorite. When I see it, I instantly flash back to being that three-year-old, zipping around on my own little tricycle. I love all of my ornaments, but it's these old ones that mean the most.

Okay, I'm done with the trees now. Here are a few photos of some of my favorite decorations, just a sampling of what I get so excited to see every Christmas season. I am a big snowglobe collector, so there is part of my collection on top of our piano, a photo of our stockings (made by my mom) hanging over the fireplace, the glittery village of vintage-inspired houses and figurines on a tea cart in our dining room, and last but not least, my favorite decoration of them all. That would be the nativity scene that my dad gave my mom a long time ago, I think before I was born. Some pieces have been added over the years, but the original figurines are Christmas to me. Seeing them not only reminds me of what Christmas is all about, the birth of Christ which is the greatest gift of all, but also of all of the wonderful Christmases I have been lucky enough to experience in my life. I hope all of you have as many heartwarming holiday memories as I do.


One stocking for each person and two for my much loved, very spoiled dog, Scooby.


Monday, November 28, 2011

I Knew It Was a Dream When...

"I hope you have a good one/ I hope Mama gets her shopping done." - "Christmas All Over Again" by Tom Petty

Last night I had a dream that included some of the characters in my Willow Ryan series, and it seemed so real! I was shopping at Thyme to Play, the cutest toy store in Santa Elena, and talking with Willow and the store owner, the quirky Peggy Maguire. Willow, being the hardworking, friendly salesperson that I wrote her to be, was telling me about these new fairy wings that they just got in, and she said my nieces would love them. I was just about to hand my Visa card to Summer, who was working the register (all decked out in an acid wash jean skirt and off-the-shoulder hot pink sweater - the series is set in the 80s after all!), when I remembered that I was done shopping, so I left! That's when I knew it was a dream because I would never turn down the perfect gift, even if I had thought I was completely done shopping. I really wish Santa Elena and Thyme to Play were real places. I could have done a lot of Christmas shopping there this weekend!

Okay, back to reality. I am actually done with my Christmas shopping! And it's only November 28! I have been so consumed with buying and making gifts that I haven't written a single word for my work in progress all month. Isn't that terrible? I just can't concentrate on my novel right now when there are so many other things to do, so I am taking a break until after the holidays. I will still be updating my blog, but as for writing new chapters, the characters of Who We Thought We Were (and my notes for the next book in the Willow series) will just have to wait patiently until I can give them my undivided attention. I guess the freedom to stop and go as I please is one benefit (maybe the one and only benefit) of not having a publishing contract. I really hope that changes in the coming year!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tuesday's Top Ten - Christmas Stories

"There'll be scary ghost stories/ And tales of the glories/ Of Christmases long, long ago." - "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by Andy Williams

From November 1 until New Year's Day, I only read Christmas books. Honestly, I will read a holiday story any day, but since it's the most wonderful time of the year again, I thought I would dedicate my latest list to my favorite Christmas stories of all time - various forms of books, a short story, a beloved poem (can you guess which one?), and of course, Scripture.

1. The Nativity Story from the Bible - Luke 2:1-14 - This is not only my favorite Christmas story, but the most important one as well. Amid all of the shopping, the decorating, the movies, and the rest of the commercialism of Christmas (all of which I love, by the way), nothing means as much to me as these few lines about the true reason for the season. The birth of Jesus is why we celebrate Christmas at all, and that is the greatest gift we will ever receive. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

2. A Visit From St. Nicholas - "'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house..." Who doesn't love this classic poem written by Clement Clark Moore nearly 200 years ago? For as long as I can remember, I have read this story with my family right before we go to bed on Christmas Eve. When I was a child, it held all of the magic and anticipation of Santa Claus coming in just a few short hours, filling my stocking and putting a special present under the tree for me to find bright and early the next morning. Now as an adult, this poem brings me back to those innocent times when everything was magical, and reminds me to always keep some of that magic in my heart. After all, it was the father, a grown-up, who saw St. Nick in the story. Magic is all around us, especially during Christmas. There is a great line in "The Santa Clause" that says, "Seeing isn't believing, believing is seeing." Who knows? Maybe one of us grown-ups will catch a glimpse of Kris Kringle filling our stockings this year... ;)

3. The Gift of the Magi - This short story by O. Henry is one of my favorites of all time, not just during the holiday season. It's simple messages of giving being more important than receiving and putting others ahead of ourselves are timeless, and never more appropriate than during the holidays. Jim and Della Young had so little, barely enough to survive, but they sacrificed their most prized possessions so they could give something wonderful to each other. It's heartwarming and beautiful without being corny or overly sentimental. It always makes me think, what would I do if I only had one dollar and eighty seven cents with which to buy presents. I hope I would be as selfless as Della.

4. A Christmas Carol - This is the only Dickens book that I really love, and it is hands down one of my favorite Christmas stories of all time. I love the tale of redemption, how someone as miserly and sour as Ebenezer Scrooge can change their ways and become a caring, loving human being. My favorite line in the book is when Scrooge wakes up to find that he is alive on Christmas morning and says, "I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year." I try to do the same thing, every single day.

5. The Biggest, Most Beautiful Christmas Tree - What? You've never heard of this fantastic children's book that I love so very much? Then chances are you were born after the '80s or were not a fan of Little Golden Books. This story, written by Amye Roseberg, was published in 1985 and has been out of print for quite a while, although there are used copies out there from sites like Amazon. The charming book is about Nina and Nutley, two little chipmunks who live in a giant fir tree with their parents and neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Fieldmouse and Old Gray Acorn, an elderly squirrel. Every year Nina and Nutley wait for Santa to come, and every year they are disappointed. Enter Aunt Mim. She is tons of fun and decides that since the fir tree looks like every other tree in the forest, they should decorate it so Santa will notice and visit them on Christmas Eve. The illustrations are beautiful, and for the last 26 years they have stuck in my head like no other picture book I have ever read. And of course, there is a happy ending.

6. Molly's Surprise - The American Girl dolls and books were brand new when I was a kid, and Molly was my favorite. I received the doll when I was eight years old, and ever since then, I have read this book on Christmas Eve before I go to sleep. Even now, and I am 29! There is just something about this book that makes me so happy. The Molly series is set in 1944 during WWII, and Molly's dad, a doctor, is stationed at a military hospital in England. Molly's dad always loved Christmas and would come up with great surprises for his family every year, but since he is overseas, there is a chance that there will be no gifts from him that Christmas. This series gives kids a glimpse into what life was like during the '40s, with rationing, air raid drills, and how people made the best of a bad situation with a little creativity and a lot of heart. I bought this book for the girls I nanny for, so I have a feeling I will be reading it more than once this holiday season, which is fine by me!

7. The Christmas Bus - I love Melody Carlson, and this Christmas book is her best. The novella starts out with an older couple, Pastor Charles Ryan and his wife Edith, who own an inn. Their children will not be home for Christmas, so they decide to open their inn to strangers, something they have never done before during the holidays. Several interesting guests check in, and one day right before Christmas, a young couple in a psychadelic bus pulls up in front of the inn, and they are expecting a baby any minute. They don't have much and can't afford a room (sound familiar?), and the town of Christmas Valley wants them out as soon as possible. Edith takes them under her wing and shows us how important and rewarding it is to help those in need. All in all, this is a great story, a fun read, and a powerful message that is never better to hear than at Christmas.

8. The Nutcracker and the Mouse King - This story written by E. T. A. Hoffman is fantastic even without the music or ballerinas. I love the whimsy of the dream lands that Marie (Clara in the ballet) visits, the excitement of the fight with the Mouse King and his mouse soldiers, and how the Nutcracker is transformed into a prince. I also really like Drosselmeyer, the mysterious, kind of eccentric godfather who gives Marie the Nutcracker. He is a great character that has a huge impact on the story, even though he only appears for a short time. I have seen the ballet many times and have read the book over and over, and this story never gets old, even though it was written 195 years ago.

9. A Christmas Story - This book and the movie of the same name were originally a part of Jean Shepherd's "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash". This is my favorite Christmas movie of all time, so it's only natural that the book would be on my favorites list as well. I don't know what I find so endearing about a kid who wants a BB Gun for Christmas (an offical Red Ryder carbine-action 200 Shot Range Model Air Rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time!), but I love Ralphie Parker. This book has just the right amounts of humor, innocence, reality, and nostalgia that make it absolutely fantastic. And who can forget the part where Ralphie didn't say fudge? Haha!

10. God Rest Ye Grumpy Scroogeymen - I love this book! It was written by Laura Jensen Walker and Michael Walker, a very Christmassy couple that share their traditions for the holiday season with readers. If I needed any help getting into the holiday spirit (which I obviously don't), reading this book would kickstart the merriment for sure. Laura and Michael write about their favorite holiday music, movies, and books, talk about gifts they have made, and offer creative ways to get into the spirit of the season, remember the reason we celebrate in the first place, and spread the joy to those around us. There is even mention of having a Christmas in July party somewhere in the book, which is why I always read this book every summer. The way the book is written makes me feel like they are old friends who I haven't seen in a while, which I absolutely love. It's very personal and an easy read, and I recommend it to everyone.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Blue Jeans and White T-Shirts

"With wild hearts/ Blue jeans and white t-shirts." - "Blue Jeans and White T-Shirts" by The Gaslight Anthem

Last week I was taking the girls to school and we pulled up to a red light. Just in front of us in the next lane was a tiny red Miata that the girls were very excited about, saying that it was so cute and looked like a Barbie car. The five-year-old was just saying that maybe it belonged to a princess when the light turned green, we inched forward, and saw that a guy was driving the girly little car. One of the kids asked why a man was driving a girl's car, and the other one said, "Oh, it must be his mom's."

Where did all of the real men go? I know my thinking is out of touch with 21st century reality (not that I care at all), but what happened to tough guys who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty, their clothes greasy, and their hair messed up? Where did guys like this go?


I don't know why, but I cringe when I see a guy in a fancy, tailored suit (like the very expensive looking one worn by Mr. Miata), with his nails so obviously manicured (Mr. Miata again) and enough product in his hair to withstand a category two hurricane. Where did the blue jeans and white t-shirts disappear to? I blame the preppies.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tuesday's Top Ten - Parental Catchphrases

"Mommy's alright, Daddy's alright/ They just seem a little weird." -"Surrender" by Cheap Trick

Remember those things your parents would say when you were a kid that just seemed so stupid at the time and mostly went in one ear and out the other? Have you ever caught yourself repeating them to your own children? I know I am not a mom, but as a nanny, I have listened to myself in horror as my mother's words escape my mouth on a regular basis. Here are my top ten catchphrases that I heard as a child, many of which I have used, confirming my suspicions that I'm turning into my mother.

1. "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." - I say this at least once a week at work, sometimes several times a day. I used to hear this one all the time (I kind of had a big mouth...and a smart mouth) and of course it never registered for more than a few seconds. Still, I have hope that the girls I take care of will take these words to heart in a way that I never did. It really is good advice. Just this morning I told the seven-year-old this very phrase, followed by, "And calling your sister a Poo Bottom is definitely not nice!" Sigh...

2. "Don't talk with food in your mouth." - Why is this one so hard to remember? You'd think that when the kid has food spilling out of his/her mouth as they tell you some pointless story that goes on forever, they would correct the problem, but no. As a child I had good manners, I just chose not to use them a lot of the time. Sorry, Mom!

3. "Be nice to your sister." - But why? She was super annoying and always started it! Funny how little sisters are still doing that today... I don't know why it's impossible for siblings to just play nicely 100% of the time, but it is. And even though these five words hold practically no meaning whatsoever to a child, especially a kid who is mad and trying to shove her sibling out of her bedroom, I still find the words flowing from my mouth with the hope that just this once they will sink in. Maybe, just maybe, the child will slap herself on her forehead and say, "Duh! I should just be nice. I'm so sorry for being mean and I'll never do it again." Ha!

4. "Your face is going to freeze like that." - My dad used to tell my sister and me this all the time when we made faces at each other. I remember rolling my eyes at him, knowing that there was no way my tongue would be permanently sticking out of my mouth while my eyes remained crossed and stretched, my fingers pulling them as far to the sides of my head as they would go, but he just kept saying it...for years. This is one I don't say now because it just sounds so ridiculous, but the girls tell each other this, then discuss at length how cool it would be if they could freeze each other's faces whenever they wanted. Oh, to be a kid again (written with a huge amount of sarcasm!)

5. "Just pretend you're asleep." - Now this one might have just been at my house. I tended to be somewhat of an insomniac, even as a baby and small child, and I don't even know how many times my mom told me this when I was whining loudly that I couldn't sleep. I have said this one a time or two when the girls don't want to go to bed. It works just as well now as it did back then. Yep, they don't find pretending to be asleep all that great either.

6. "Keep your hands to yourself." - Man, parents just try to suck the fun out of life, don't they? I will admit that I use this one all the time. Last week I told the five-year-old this as she was reaching across the car toward her sister on the way home from school. Her response? "If I keep my hands to myself, how can I pinch her?" Oh, the honesty of a child. But really, is there any other short phrase that encourages children to respect other people's personal space in a more effective way? I think not.

7. "I'm going to count to three." Why do we say this?! Who cares if we know how to count to three? The kids don't. I know that I always waited until my mom got to two-and-a-half (I was spoiled, I admit it) before I stopped misbehaving, and now I'm on the other end of that threat. I will always follow through with a time-out or some similar form of discipline if I do reach three and nothing has changed so this is pretty effective, but c'mon. Counting to three is a stupid threat, especially when you hear a parent say it in public. Sometimes I want to count along like I'm singing the end of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame", just to see what they'll do. "For it's one, two, three strikes you're out of the old ball game!" That could be pretty funny!

8. "Just try one bite. You might like it." - No, I won't. I am the world's pickiest eater, and if I try something new, there is a better chance I will lose my lunch all over the table than find a new food I want to add to my plate. Still, I tell the girls the same thing. The thing with them is that they almost always end up liking the food in question! Then they realize that I am right and everything is peachy keen jelly bean. Whenever I was told this, I proved my parents wrong. So I guess I was right then too (and a little too concerned with being right all the time)!

9. "When I was a kid..." - Just finish that sentence on your own. I got this one a lot from my dad. Especially in regards to watching TV. "When I was a kid, we watched whatever Grandpa wanted to watch. I never got to pick the shows." Whatever! Unless it's a funny story about how life was in the olden days when dinosaurs roamed the earth (like my childhood in the 1980s, a whole other millennium), young children couldn't care less how bad you had it when you were a kid. But still, adults can't resist using examples from their childhood to try to educate the younger generation on how easy they have it. I only do this to illustrate a point about how much things have changed in the last 20 years as kind of a history lesson, and to show them that their life isn't so totally unfair and horrible. What? That's what my parents thought they were doing too? Bummer.

10. "You can do anything you set your mind to." - This one is 100%, totally and completely accurate, and I tell the girls this as often as possible. Of all the things parents can tell their children, this one ranks right up there with I love you. It instills confidence, self-esteem, and the warm fuzzy feeling you get when you know someone believes in you. I follow this one with, "...because you are strong, hardworking, and very, very smart." I hope they are listening when I tell them this, even if they ignore every other word I ever say.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Learned More From a Three Minute Record

"We busted out of class had to get away from those fools/ We learned more from a three minute record than we ever learned in school." - "No Surrender" by The Boss

Bruce's music always speaks the truth. These lyrics pretty much describe me when I was in high school, and some of those memories came flooding back yesterday when I drove by my old school on my way home from work. A word was misspelled on the sign out front, a couple of kids were "discreetly" (yeah right) smoking a joint next to the teachers' parking lot (or maybe they were young-looking teachers, which wouldn't surprise me one bit), and a backpack was left on the sidewalk with its contents spilling out for all to see (not a textbook in sight), most likely by a kid who doesn't care about anything they are supposed to be learning in that big brick building. I can say this with some certainty because I spent four years there, and not that much has changed around here in the last 11 years. I learned nothing at that school and couldn't wait to get away from it and the fools that filled the classrooms and halls as soon as I could.

That being said, I have always been a big fan of education (I did become a teacher after all) and firmly believe that most of what a person needs to know in life is not learned by sitting quietly in a desk and taking notes. Here are a few lessons I learned from rock and roll, one of the greatest teachers around.

1. You have to change with the world or you'll get left behind. This is just one of the lessons passed down by Bob Dylan in "The Times They Are A-Changin'", one of my all-time favorites. The world around us is constantly evolving, and we have to grow right along with it. Don't stop trying, don't stop moving, and keep an open mind.

2. Stay hungry if you want to succeed. I thank Bruce for this one. "Dancing in the Dark" teaches a great lesson on how you have to want something really badly, you have to stay hungry for it and never forget what it is that you want, even if you're in a bad place for whatever reason and nowhere near where you want to be. Best line: "You can't start a fire worrying about your little world falling apart." Pity parties help no one.

3. All You Need is Love. This is probably the most simple song in The Beatles catalogue, but that one line says it all. Love beats hate. Make love not war. Good triumphs over evil. As long as you have love in your life, in any way, you can get through anything. It might be a little idealistic, but John and Paul knew what they were talking about when they wrote this song.

4. There's a time for everything. The Byrds' song "Turn, Turn, Turn", adapted from the Book of Ecclesiastes, illustrates this point perfectly. There's a time to laugh, a time to cry, a time to be born, a time to die, a time for peace, I swear it's not too late, and so on. I try to remind myself of this every time I get impatient (frequently), overly emotional, or a little off kilter. Don't rush through things, don't jump ahead, don't move or speak out of turn. There's a time for every purpose under Heaven.

5. Don't let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy. This is from The Eagles' "Take it Easy". I have always found it hard to relax, very difficult to live in the moment, and nearly impossible to escape my own thoughts, but this song reminds me of the importance of all of these things.

I really do have all of these lyrics going through my head at various points in my life, and for whatever reason, the wisdom of rock does help. The wisdom of rock. I like that! I haven't mastered these lessons yet, and maybe I never will, but I'm working on it. So to sum it up, in high school I learned nothing worth remembering, but from music, I have learned so many things that are valuable and necessary to live a good life. You need to have the abilities to adapt, to strive, to love, to take things as they come and recognize the times for what they are, and to lighten up every once in a while. How come they don't offer classes like this in high school?

No Surrender

"Tonight I hear the neighborhood drummer sound/ I can feel my heart begin to pound/ You say your tired and you just want to close your eyes and follow your dreams down." - "No Surrender" by Bruce Springsteen

This is my song of the day for two reasons, which leads itself to two separate posts. Here's part one:

As readers who have kept up with my blog for a while may remember, I finished my fourth novel in the "Willow Ryan" series in September...or so I thought. I had read through the manuscript so carefully, hoping to catch every typo, every fragment, every mispelled word that would hopefully jump right off the page in a glaring fashion that I would notice immediately. As all of my fellow writers know, this is rarely, if ever, the case. My mom and my sister read through this book after I declared it finished and attacked it with a red pen, much to my horror and appreciation. How could there be so many mistakes? So today I went back through and made corrections, again, and now it's finally done! So what's next (other than still trying to find an agent so I can eventually get published)?

Well, now it's time to get busy on "Who We Thought We Were", the new novel I told you about a few weeks ago. The problem is that I haven't worked on it since then! I am only one chapter in, and I just haven't been able to find the motivation to dive into it. Until now. Something happened while I was sitting at my computer fixing my mistakes from the fourth Willow book. I felt the need to write, to create, to follow my dreams and see where they take me.

I kind of feel alive again! I don't sleep as much as I should (stupid insomnia!) and I worry about everything under the sun (stupid worrywart genes!), and I felt like the creativity was completely squashed out of me. What I came to realize this morning is that I can change all of that instead of succumbing to it. "No Surrender" as Bruce said in the song of the day. I have to channel the anxiety, the stress, the fatigue, and everything else that tries to keep me down, into energy that will allow me to accomplish what I'm supposed to do. I am a writer. I may not have met my goals yet, I may not be making my living at it, I may not even be published yet, but in order to make those things happen, I have to sit down and write. And writing is what I will do.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Angel is...what?!

"My blood runs cold/ My memory has just been sold/ My Angel is the centerfold/ Angel is the centerfold." - "Centerfold" by J. Geils Band

In the past, I always changed the station when this song came on the radio while I was with the girls I work with because I didn't think their parents would want their very sheltered kids to sing a song about a Playboy model. But when I found out that the girls already knew the song because they heard it with their mom and dad, I figured it was fine and let John Geils sing away about his homeroom angel.

So we were driving along today, rocking out to the radio in the minivan (you're picturing this and laughing, aren't you?), and the seven-year-old asks, "Why would someone sing about concrete?" I had no idea what she was talking about, so I asked where she heard a song about concrete, thinking maybe it had to do with sidewalks or something. She looked at me like I was an idiot, pointed to the radio, and said, "It's on right now! Why does the band sing 'My Angel is on a concrete floor/ Angel's on a concrete floor'." How was I supposed to respond to that? Deciding it was easier just to go along with her strange yet innocent misheard lyrics, I just told her I had no clue why anyone would sing about concrete, then distracted her with talk of the changing leaves outside. Awkward explanation averted!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Here's the Story...

"Here's the story/ Of a lovely lady..." - theme to The Brady Bunch

I am a huge fan of classic TV, mainly the sitcoms of the '60s and '70s. When I was in second or third grade, I would sneak out of bed at night, angry at my unreasonable 8:30 bedtime, and sit in the hallway where I could see the TV but my mom couldn't see me, and watch these great old shows on Nick at Nite.

But were they really the great, wholesome family entertainment that they were made out to be? Thanks to my overactive imagination, I have come up with some alternate storylines about the seedy underbelly of classic sitcoms that you may not only find surprising, but shocking in nature! Buckle your seatbelts boys and girls. We are about to enter the Twilight Zone (do do do do/ do do do do/ do do do do...)

* Disclaimer: The following storylines were made up by me, purely for my own amusement. I honestly love all of these shows, and I think I may be losing my mind a little after reading some of the stuff I came up with, but who cares? Enjoy!*


Let's start with "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis". On the surface, this seems like a nice sitcom about Dobie and his friend, Maynard G. Krebs, who was TV's first beatnik. But what people didn't know, is that Dobie Gillis was aspiring to be television's very first polygamist! Long before the days of "Big Love" and "Sister Wives", Dobie was planning on marrying his many loves and building a compound in Utah. I hope those girls were careful though. Just look at this next picture:


Next on the list is "The Andy Griffith Show". How, you ask, can the Taylor family of Mayberry, NC be anything other than a good old-fashioned American family? Well, what Andy didn't tell you was that Opie wasn't his son's full first name. Nope. Opie, in fact, was short for Opium. Now ask yourselves why the sheriff had a son named Opium Taylor. I think the sleepy town of Mayberry may have been a front for an underground drug ring that supplied opiates to the Southern states. Oh yeah, Aunt Bee was in on it too. She always added a little something special to everything she made in the kitchen!


Remember the Cleavers, the average goody-goody family on "Leave it to Beaver"? Well, they may not have been like the family next door after all.


I seem to recall Ward smoking a pipe quite a bit, and I am beginning to think that it wasn't filled with tobacco. Instead, I think Ward was the ringleader of a marijuana cartel whose members also included Jim Anderson from "Father Knows Best" and maybe even Ozzie Nelson from "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet". Adventures indeed! The frequent drug use could explain why Ward named his oldest son Wallus and chose to call his baby boy Beaver, somehow short for Theodore. And Jim could never even remember his kids' names, instead calling them generic nicknames like Kitten, Princess, and Bud. And don't think it was only the TV fathers who were one toke over the line. Oh no, the mothers were potheads too! Why else would they be so happy to stay home all day, cooking and cleaning in their high heels and pearls. They had to have a Mother's Little Helper to get them through the day (think of the Rolling Stones song)!


Now why, in 1961 when "Mister Ed" first aired, did nobody realize the real reason Wilbur Post moved out to the country was to fulfill his lifelong dream of making and selling bathtub gin and homemade whiskey? Of course they couldn't show these doings on TV, but good old Wilbur new he was on to something when that horse began talking to him. Yep, that was some good stuff! Something else that wasn't shown, was that the booze business steadily picked up steam, and Wilbur had to hire some help. Enter Uncle Joe from "Petticoat Junction" and later on Oliver Douglas from "Green Acres". They were a terrible trio, for sure, and television audiences were completely in the dark...until now.


Anybody remember Sally Field flying through the air as Sister Bertrille on "The Flying Nun"? I have come to the conclusion that no one in their right mind would wear that get-up, and it's now painfully obvious that LSD is what made her fly. I know, it's terrible, isn't it? A couple years before LSD was first mentioned on TV in the classic Blue Boy episode of "Dragnet", the Flying Nun was flying high on acid. It was way too risky to mention the truth on a family show, even if LSD was not illegal yet, and the creators of this show just assumed that no one would find out. Well, think again!


Ah, yes, the first witch on TV. Admit it, you always thought something fishy was going on while you watched "Bewitched", didn't you? Well, you were right! All that nose twitching was not just to cast spells. No, it was really a rather unfortunate side effect of cronic cocaine use. Samantha, Samantha, Samantha. What would Endora say? Come to think of it, I bet Endora was her dealer! That makes perfect sense. She always was a little out there. The years of cocaine use also explains why Samantha's husband, Darrin, had a total face transplant in the middle of season four and she never even noticed! Take a look below at how oblivious she is to her husband's switcheroo. She's just smiling away, with a bit of a crazed look in her eyes. Shocking.


Follow me as we near the end of the 1960s and take a look at one of the most beloved TV families in history, the Bradys.


Don't they look groovy with their outta sight clothes and far out permed hair (I'm talking about you, Brady men!)? Naturally, but the unofficial Brady family member was not as happy as everyone thought. Alice Nelson was out to get the Bradys at every opportunity, especially dinner time!


Poor overworked Alice. She rarely got a day off, had to wear those terrible uniforms (who wouldn't be furious?!), and was forced to sleep in a room on the main floor off of the kitchen. What she really wanted was to have the attic all to herself, but no! Greg and Marcia had to fight over it instead. Spoiled rotten children! And Alice always dreamed of wearing short dresses like Marcia and wearing a cool black wig like Jan, but it was against the rules strictly inforced by Mike and Carol. She had to remain in her uniform at all times. After hearing all this, I'm sure it comes as no surprise that Alice routinely laced the Brady Bunch's food with shrooms. No one realized this until the Brady movies came out in the 90s, but Alice sent that family on strange trips all the time. Meatloaf? Check. Pot roast? Check. Pork chops and applesauce? Double check. That kind of explains the wacky clothes and male perms, doesn't it? Those poor Brady's never saw it coming...

Hold on, don't get off the ride yet! We have one more family that you probably thought was a little off all along. Just one year after "The Brady Bunch" made it's TV debut, viewers were in for another treat with "The Partridge Family".


Their music may have been good family fun, but these guys had a real wild side! When they weren't filming their show, the Partridges were touring as The Grateful Dead's opening act, and their road crew was none other than Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters! Did you really think little Chris was going to set up his own drums and Tracy was going to carry around that heavy tambourine all day? I think not. And boy did those kids like their really swell Kool Aid! In fact, they painted that bus after drinking a whole pitcher. Oh, Shirley claimed at the time that she thought LSD was a vitamin and the acid those crazy pranksters were talking about was citric acid to give the Kool Aid a little zing, but who does she think she's fooling? Keith admitted all along that he knew what was happening, but no one blamed him at all. He needed a little something to escape the embarrassment of traveling around in the psychadelic bus and singing corny songs with his mom and younger siblings. Totally justified.

Okay, how are you feeling? Is your head spinning? Do you feel like your whole world has turned upside down? It's okay, I felt the same way when I discovered what had been going on in television sets across America for the last half of a century. I'll just leave you with this picture of a classic TV duo that no one could possibly think anything bad about whatsoever. Totally normal, straight-laced, not caught up in any kind of illegal doings at all, children's cartoon characters. ;)


There, don't you feel better now?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The X Factor

"May you build a ladder to the stars and climb on every rung/ May you stay forever young." - Bob Dylan

I am watching The X Factor right now and was totally blown away by Josh Krajcik's rendition of "Forever Young", one of my all time favorite Bob Dylan songs. I even used the lyrics above as my senior quote in high school.

What is really getting on my nerves though is the host, Steve Jones. The dude won't stop interrupting Paula Abdul and won't let anyone complete a sentence! I realize that they may be pressed for time, but Ryan Seacrest And Cat Deeley are never that rude or obnoxious. Steve should take lessons from them. Ooh, commercial's over. Good night, and check back tomorrow for what I hope will turn out to be a hilarious post!

Tuesday's Top Ten - Halloween Part 2

"Six more days to Halloween, Halloween, Halloween/ Six more days to Halloween/ Silver shamrock!" - Jingle from "Halloween III: Season of the Witch"

Have any of you out there seen "Halloween III", the third movie in the "Halloween" series that has nothing to do with Michael Myers, Laurie Strode, or Dr. Loomis? If you haven't, don't bother. The only thing worth remembering about this movie is the annoyingly fun jingle that appeared on commericals throughout the movie.

With Halloween being only six days away now, I am doing a follow-up to my list from a couple of weeks ago and listing my favorite Halloween TV specials, made-for-TV movies, and TV episodes. So grab a popcorn ball, a handful of candy corn, and a cup of apple cider and relive some of these small screen classics with me.

1. It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown - No Halloween special will ever top this one. Good old Snoopy fights the Red Baron as a WWI Flying Ace, Sally joins her sweet baboo, Linus, in his quest to get toys from the Great Pumpkin, and Charlie Brown has trouble with scissors, cutting dozens of eye holes in his ghost costume (hey, some of us still have a little trouble with those darn scissors...). It's a little piece of everyone's childhood since 1966 that is as feel-good as they come. Especially at the end when Lucy, shedding her smarty-pants, know-it-all image for a minute, goes out at four in the morning to retrieve her sleeping, shivering little brother from the pumpkin patch, which evidently, was not quite sincere enough for the Great Pumpkin.

2. Freaks and Geeks: Tricks and Treats - Easily the funniest episode of this great series that didn't last nearly long enough. There's a reason it has risen to cult classic status. I just love geeky Bill's Bionic Woman costume (my family quotes him all the time from this episode) and when Lindsay, the girl caught between her geekdom past and her freaky new friends (more burnouts than freaks, but that's beside the point), kicks a jack-o-lantern and gets her foot caught in the pumpkin as she tries to make a run for it. If you haven't seen this show, do yourself a favor and check it out. You just may find a new favorite!

3. That '70s Show: Too Old to Trick or Treat, Too Young to Die - This episode is totally brilliant! Paying homage to Alfred Hitchcock, the king of suspense, the gang from Point Place, WI fill the half hour with parodies of "Psycho", "The Birds", "Vertigo", "Rear Window", and "North by Northwest". I especially enjoyed "The Birds" homage, with Laurie getting pooped on by a bird and being terrorized off and on throughout the show. She was evil and deserved it. So there. Oh yeah, and the scariest part was Fez dressing up like Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Yikes!

4. Roseanne: Trick Me Up, Trick Me Down - If you are a fan of this show, you know how much Roseanne loved Halloween, and this is my favorite of her annual spooky episodes. I love how she becomes paranoid, thinking her "needle butt" (another episode...) neighbor, Kathy, is out to get her back after she pulled a prank on her. Plus, DJ is dressed as a killer Alfalfa. Fantastic!

5. Home Improvement: The Haunting of Taylor House - Brad dressed like Raggedy Andy, Jill dressed like a giant carrot, and Tim scaring everyone, including Shawn from Boy Meets World in a cameo appearance, with his "Catacombs of Terror". A very hilarious episode that is - brace yourself - 19 years old. Wow.

6. Friends: The One With the Halloween Party - I love Friends! And what's better than when all the friends get together for a party at Monica's? I realize that she might not be the most fun-loving character in the bunch, but she's my favorite. In this episode, we have a showdown between Catwoman (Monica) and Supergirl (Phoebe), Joey dressed as Chandler, Ross dressed as a satellite/potato (Spud-nik), and Chandler dressed as a giant bunny. Hey, maybe he should have gotten together with Jill from Home Improvement. Plus, Phoebe's twin Ursula shows up and she is engaged to Sean Penn! The best moment though, is when Gunther arrives at the party dressed as Charlie Brown. Perfection!

7. 8 Simple Rules: Trick or Treehouse - This episode from season one is just good family fun. The girls are too old to want to participate in Paul's Halloween traditions, and Rory is more interested in toilet papering the neighborhood than having a family camp out in the backyard treehouse. Of course everything ends up perfect at the end of the night since this is a sitcom, and it's a nice show to look back on since less than a year after this aired, the world lost John Ritter, the patriarch of the Hennessey household and a very talented comedian.

8. The Worst Witch - This is a children's made-for-TV movie from 1986, starring Tim Curry, Charlotte Rae, and 12-year-old Fairuza Balk that my sister and I watched over and over again as children. There is something entertaining and endearing about young Mildred, a witch-in-training who has nothing but trouble with every spell she tries to cast.

9. Everybody Loves Raymond: Halloween Candy - Frank is left at Ray's home to pass out candy to trick-or-treaters and runs out. He looks through the kitchen and thinks that he has discovered some chocolate coins. Wait Frank, not so fast! Uh oh, too late. When Ray and Debra come home, they find out that Frank had actually passed out condoms to all of the neighborhood children. As if Debra's life wasn't hard enough before Halloween! A very funny episode!

10. Modern Family: Halloween - I love everything about this show, and this episode is so good it's worth watching again every October. Gloria speaks in a weird English accent, Mitchell is stuck at work in a Spiderman costume, and Phil becomes paranoid that Claire is leaving him. Really, Phil, who else would be patient enough to put up with you? And then there's Cameron, traumatized by his childhood "accident" in front of the whole town, who is pretty much the highlight of every episode. Funny, in an episode centered around a children's holiday, I don't really remember the kids' roles in this episode at all...

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Help

"Help, I need somebody/ Help, not just anybody/ You know I need someone/ Help!" - "Help" by The Beatles


This is one of the best books I have ever read in my life. Seriously, maybe the very best. In case you aren't familiar with this debut novel by Kathryn Stockett, a literary genius in my book (pun intended!), let me fill you in. The Help is set in Jackson, MS in the early 1960s and revolves around the black maids who work for spoiled, often ignorant and racist white women, and Skeeter, a white aspiring journalist who ends up working with the help to write a book exposing their lives for everything they are: touching and maddening, heartwarming and heartbreaking, and most of the time, so full of prejudice it's hard to believe that this was everyday reality just fifty years ago. You have to read this book. Now. It's that important.

Kathryn Stockett's writing style is familiar yet polished, and she manages to capture the personalities of each character so perfectly, I could hear their voices in my head and see their expressions as I was reading, and that's not just because I saw the movie first, which also comes highly recommended by me. I couldn't put this book down and couldn't stop thinking about it when I was forced to close the cover and say, go to work.

Ah, work. In that part of my life, I kind of relate to the women in The Help. Now, I'm not saying that I am oppressed or discriminated against, far from it. Most of the time, I feel like I am part of the family that I work for. But then there are other moments, many of which I have experienced this week, when I realize that I am just "the help". I am paid to take care of the children, run the occasional errand, and keep the house running and in order. I also do way more than is expected of me, but that's not the point. I have no rights to these children, even when I know and understand them better than anyone, I don't make the rules or have the final say in anything, even when I think I should, and I oftentimes feel underappreciated and overworked. Bottom line, I am an employee. I have no benefits whatsoever, am expected to work even when I'm sick (no benefits, remember), haven't gotten a raise in four years (probably hasn't even occurred to my bosses that I deserve one), and am beyond flexible with working late, coming in early, and working extra days just to make their life easier, but I don't get paid when I take off one day a year (my birthday). So why do I stay? For the same reason Aibileen stayed in The Help - because I love the kids (and I need that paycheck, as small as it may be). The girls need me. I have been here five-and-a-half years, even longer than the youngest child I take care of has been here, and these kids are a huge part of my life. If I wasn't here, who would help the oldest child get her extreme emotions under control so she doesn't feel like she is unable to stop crying, which she does at the drop of a hat? If I wasn't here, who would tell the youngest girl that it's okay to be a little wild, crazy, and rock and roll when you are surrounded by type-A classical music lovers who live and think inside the box? That's what it boils down to. The kids make everything worth it, even when I get my depressingly small paycheck tonight since I took my birthday off last week.

I have to admit, I cried when Aibileen, my favorite maid in The Help, talked about how one day she would have to leave Mae Mobley, the little girl she took care of and loved so deeply. That will be me one day. The girls will outgrow their need for me, and since I am just "the help", I will be let go. I try not to think about it, but it will happen eventually. But while I'm here, I will take my cue from Aibie and instill in the girls what they need to hear, what I have been saying to them all along (but with better grammar). "You is kind. You is smart. You is important." Enough said.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Mixing up the Medicine

"Johnny's in the basement/ Mixing up the medicine/ I'm on the pavement/ Thinking about the government." - "Subterranean Homesick Blues" by Bob Dylan

Just call me Johnny this week, because I've been surrounded by medicine for four days now. The five-year-old I take care of has pneumonia for the second time this year, and it's been a rough week. With a fever of over 105, horrendous coughing, and enough gross bodily stuff to even make a brown collar worker like me scrunch up her nose in disgust, the poor kid has been miserable and I have been spending every spare second I have sanitizing the heck out of her house in an attempt to keep everyone else healthy, especially her sister. So far, so good, although I am exhausted!

Being home with a sick child all week has given me flashbacks to when I used to stay home sick from elementary school. The catch was that I was rarely sick. I was Ferris Bueller before I even knew who he was! I was the queen of faking illnesses. My favorite lie was saying that my stomach hurt and I might throw up. That was a surefire ticket home from school, often just minutes after the bell rang. At six or seven years old, I never thought how difficult it would be for my mom to take off work or anything like that. I just smiled to myself, thinking about getting out of school and spending my day watching cartoons and game shows. And if I went to my aunt's house, a soap opera or two.

My favorite place to go when I was "sick" was my Aunt Shary's house. I'm sure she knew I was faking all along, but she never said anything. My cousin would be off at school and I would get to hang out with my aunt all day, which was so much fun! She always treated me like an adult, an equal, even though I was only six months older than her daughter. I loved that! We would talk and watch TV, she would tell me stories about growing up with my dad and my other aunts and uncle, I would have soup or a balogna sandwich for lunch, and then I would miraculously recover from the brink of death I had feigned at school a few hours before, just in time to go pick my cousin up from school and play with her all afternoon.

Looking back now, I have no regrets from playing hooky so much - and I did it quite a bit! I am still waiting for my Academy Award to come in the mail. My family lost my Aunt Shary five years ago, but I will always have those memories of hanging out with her instead of sitting in a desk at school, bored out of my mind and probably getting into trouble for talking too much. Maybe I didn't have any awesome adventures like Ferris, but I have a whole heartful of memories that are more important than anything I could have learned in school. Sometimes it's just better to break the rules.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

29

"Sixteen candles make a lovely light." - "Sixteen Candles" by The Platters

This may be true, but 29 candles can burn the house down. Yes, today I turned 29, and I will never turn a year older. The next number is too horrifying to think about, so I will just stop aging at 29. Sweet sixteen will not turn 31 and there is no way seventeen will turn 35. It's not happening, no way, no how.

I have lived two years longer than Jimi, Janis, Brian, Jim, Pigpen, Kurt, Amy, and a whole host of others, but I don't feel the need to keep counting. And this is coming from someone who is obsessed with numbers and counting. So I will just stay 29 and eventually get too senile to remember my real age.

So, with a fresh year beginning, I am hoping for three things: health, happiness, and a little bit of luck (okay, maybe a great big heaping ton of luck). Am I asking for too much? I am just really hoping that this year will bring something different, especially in my writing. Maybe this year will be when I get a break. Maybe I'll finally find the missing piece to the puzzle and discover what these agents are looking for, and then the publishers he/she submits to will fight over my book, declaring that it's the best thing they have read in years and years (hey, it's my birthday, so let me have this very unrealistic fantasy for a few more hours). Hopefully I won't get sick this year and spend a ton of money I don't have at the doctor since I also don't have insurance (sigh). And then there's happiness. I just hope that I'm not the captain of my burden, dragging myself down with realism and pessimism. Maybe I should have wished for a magic genie instead.

Anyway, happy birthday to me and anyone else born on this great day! I know this post is kind of sarcastic and full of my stubborn attitude, but it really has been a great birthday.

P.S. - If you didn't catch the three song references other than my song of the day, here they are - "Rock and Roll Never Forgets" by Bob Seger (Sweet sixteen's turned 31), "Cherry Bomb" by John Mellencamp (Seventeen has turned 35/ I'm surprised that we're still living), and "I Could'a Been a Contender" by The Gaslight Anthem (And of the few things I am certain/ I'm the captain of my burden). Just had to throw those in!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

When We Were Young

"But I am older now/ And we did it when we were young." - "We Did It When We Were Young" by The Gaslight Anthem

Just like it always is when I start writing a new book, my mind is filled with ideas and thoughts that I want to incorporate into my writing, but maybe more so this time than ever before. I just think that there is so much to explore in the topic of what kinds of people you thought you and your friends were growing up and who everyone actually became, that I'm constantly wanting to dig a little deeper into that idea.

I'm not sure what made me think of it, but about a year ago I remembered an English assignment I had at the beginning of my sophomore year of high school that got the wheels turning for Who We Thought We Were. My English 10 teacher, Mrs. Colley, gave us the assignment to write an essay about how we thought our lives would be as adults - college, family, career, etc. For most of the class, they had no concrete goals, but I sure did. Never without a plan and a whole headful of dreams, I stood up in front of the class at 14 years old and read my essay for all to hear, telling everyone what my future would hold. I don't remember all the details, but I thought I would go to college to become a teacher, marry right after I got my degree at 21, and then immediately start teaching first grade and having babies of my own, all the while working on my writing career as a children's book author that would most certainly start off with a bang. And I fully believed that all of this would happen. Yeah, right.

Now let's fast forward about 14 years (oh my gosh, I just realized I am now twice as old as I was back then. The horror!) and see which of those set in stone plans actually happened with a yes, no, or maybe so. Well, I did become a teacher, but preschool instead of elementary and now I am a nanny and homeschool teacher. I'll count that one as a yes. Let's see, a husband and children. Um, no. Looking back now, I can't imagine having gotten married so young, although when you're 14, 21 seems really old and mature. As for children, I have been spending a lot of time raising other people's kids since I wrote that essay, but that doesn't count for this topic. Then we have the writing career. I am going to give this one a maybe so, because I am writing and working toward becoming published. My focus shifted away from children's books to novels, but at least I haven't forgetten that dream that was actually born many years before high school, when I was in second grade. And as we all know, my writing career has not started off with a bang, but that was a hard lesson I had to learn along the way. I now believe that sometimes the best things in life have to be earned, and I am working really hard to be deserving of those blessings.

Sometimes as children and teenagers, we look at the world through rose colored glasses and live with blinders on, which is not necessarily a bad thing. There does come a time though, when we have to see ourselves and those around us in a real way - successes, failures, dreams, fears, positives, and negatives - and that's what I want to show in Who We Thought We Were. We think we know people, but is there something deeper inside of them that we don't see? We may think we know exactly how our lives will pan out, but what if that doesn't happen... and what if it does?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tuesday's Top Ten - Halloween Movies

"Psycho killer/ Qu'est que c'est/ Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better/ Run run run run run run run away." - "Psycho Killer" by The Talking Heads

Halloween is less than three weeks away, so I thought I would devote the latest Top Ten list to my favorite scary movies. Are yours on the list? Did I make a glaring error and leave off the best horror film of all time? Let me know!

1. "The Shining" - For those of you who read my post about this movie last week, this should come as no surprise. The creepy faces Jack Nicholson makes can give even the most seasoned veteran of horror movies a serious case of the chills. Not to mention room 237, Danny's imaginary friend Tony, "All work and no play...", and REDRUM!

2. "Psycho" - Alfred Hitchcock at his finest. When this movie premiered in 1960, it was so terrifying that many people were afraid to take showers after seeing what happened to poor Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) at the Bates Motel. From today's perspective the gore and violence are very mild, but 51 years ago, it was groundbreaking. The best line in the movie is, "We all go a little mad sometimes." Well said, Norman.

3. "Halloween" - The original in the movie series about mute boogie man Michael Myers from 1978 not only kick started the career of Jamie Lee Curtis, it also opened the doors for future horror movie franchises like "Friday the 13th" and "Nightmare on Elm Street" (eww, Freddy Krueger!). It was the first, and in my opinion, the best of the series movies. What could be scarier than a homicidal, silent, escaped mental patient that stalks young girls? Oh yeah, and the mask he wore was made from a mold of William Shatner's face. Enough said.

4. "Friday the 13th" - The first installment of the series is my favorite. I have a thing for the first part in a long series, I guess. I just like to see how the story gets started. In this movie we get introduced to Camp Crystal Lake, a young Kevin Bacon, and Jason Voories before he got a hockey mask. A true classic.

5. "Scream" - Once again, the first movie in the franchise. I loved this movie when I was a teenager and it first came out, and I still do today. I especially liked how Randy, played by Jamie Kennedy, was such a horror film buff and seemed to know exactly what would happen before the event occured, except when it was happening all around him. "Look behind you, Jamie!"

6. "Misery" - This movie, based on the Stephen King book of the same name, is fantastic. Kathy Bates is terrifying as the obsessed, sadistic fan of writer Paul Sheldon (James Caan) and said a couple of great lines in the movie that my family will quote from time to time. Is that weird? Probably, but it's definitely fun! Along with "The Shining", this movie has made it clear to me that as a writer, I should never hole up in a hotel in the mountains for an extended period of time to work on my novel. Bad, bad idea.

7. "Silence of the Lambs" - Definitely the most critically acclaimed and award-winning film on my list, "Silence of the Lambs" is also the scariest. It's equal parts psychological, crime, and horror, the trifecta for truly scary movies in my book. The reason it isn't higher up on my list is because it lacks the humor that some of the other movies do, which is a little more up my alley. Still, this film is amazing. And I will forever have the image of Hannibal Lecter (shudder at the mention of his name) in the cannibal face mask emblazened in my brain for the rest of my life.

8. "The Exorcist" - Why, you ask, is this not higher on my list since it is considered by some to be the top horror movie of all time? The answer is, because it freaked me out too much! There is just something about a child getting possessed by the devil that is a little too disturbing, even for me. And I don't get disturbed that easily. Still, this movie is a classic for a reason. People were seriously scared when this movie came out, I think because it combined the elements of very creepy special effects with the fear that people really can be possessed by Satan. If you have not seen this, go rent it, download it, or better yet just buy it, because this is a movie that horror film fans should watch every Halloween. It's that terrifying.

9. "Poltergeist" - I have only seen this movie once, maybe when I was 14 or 15, and I don't know why I don't own it and rewatch it every October. I think I might have to go shopping. Anyway, the terror in this classic from 1982 all begins with television static. Remember how late at night when all the shows were over, there would just be static or a test pattern on every channel? If you don't you must have been born after 1990 or so. Before the days of 24 hour programming and a thousand TV channels, after the late night movie, nothing would be on again until the morning news. That's when the evil spirits came out in the Freeling house, spawning the famous line, "They're heeeerrre!" For a TV junkie like myself, it's pretty freaky to think that ghosts can come out of your TV. I hope my neighborhood wasn't built on an old graveyard, although that could explain why my stuff keeps disappearing and why my dog barks at nothing all the time - or at least, I think it's nothing...

10. "The Amityville Horror" - One word - flies! Whenever I see a bunch of flies, I always flash back to the scene in this movie when the flies attack the poor priest who is there to bless the house. And if I wake up at 3:15 a.m., it takes me forever to fall back asleep. I even wrote that into one of my Willow books. Willow and her friends watch this movie on Halloween and one of the other characters changes her alarm clock to read 3:15, which she did not appreciate. Okay, back to the show. What makes this movie so good is that it is based on the alleged true story of the Lutz family who buy a great house at an even better price (gee, I wonder why?), only to find out that it is haunted by some very mean ghosts. Did it actually happen? Who knows, but after watching this movie, you might believe it did.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Story To Tell

"And I got nothing for you darling but a story to tell/ About the rain on the pavement and the sound as it fell." - "Wherefore Art Thou, Elvis?" by The Gaslight Anthem

Yes, today I do have a story to tell. In fact, it's a new novel I have been planning for over a year and just really started to write today. It is going to be mainstream commercial fiction, a slight departure from the Willow series which is most definitely women's fiction, and I am really excited about it. The title is Who We Thought We Were and it is the story of eight friends who grew up together and reunite twelve years after graduation, only to discover that they are not really the people they thought they were back in high school. Nothing sinister or anything, just exploring the real life fact that for most of us, we do not end up being the people we thought we would be when we pictured our future as teenagers. And we do not live those dreamed about lives either, which can be a good thing or a bad thing, as my characters come to realize. The working promo pitch is:

Sometimes knowing yourself in the present means reliving your past.

So, what do you think? Remember, this is just my first attempt at a pitch for this book, so there will be changes and improvements along the way.

Thank goodness for Columbus Day, which my very generous employer gave me off as a surprise holiday, because I was able to sit in a quiet house with nothing to do but focus on my writing. That is a rare commodity that I don't take for granted. I was afraid that I would have a hard time starting this new novel since it's quite different from my Willow Ryan books, but I actually got into it pretty quickly. I wrote 2,000 words today and am now on a writing high, feeling totally exhilarated that I started a new project and am back into the writing groove. Now to get published... that's a goal I'm still working on.

Mark my words, one of these days you will walk into a bookstore and see my work on the shelves. I'm still looking for an agent and have queries for my first Willow book out there, and I will keep trying until I succeed, which I will some day. My writing just means too much to me to ever stop, and that's not just the writing high talking! I am actually feeling strangely optimistic today. I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tuesday's Top Ten - Pet Peeves

"Well I think I'm going out of my head/ Yes I think I'm going out of my head." - "Going Out of My Head" performed by The Zombies, Little Anthony and the Imperials, and many more.

As you may remember from recent posts, I have been known to walk the line of sanity and I have some OCD issues, but for the most part, I am okay. Really, I am. There are some things though, that really push my buttons and make me go just a little nuts. Here are my top ten biggest pet peeves that really drive me up a wall.

1. Prejudice - No one has the right to look down on anyone else, and I take personal offense to any comments made that put someone else down because they are different in any way. We are all created equal in the eyes of God and people need to remember that. It doesn't matter what race, nationality, gender, religion, etc. you are, you are no better than me and I am no better than you. I can't stand when people look down on others because of what they believe, what they look like, or how they live their lives. Living in the South, I have seen numerous examples of prejudice toward people that make me realize we haven't come as far as we should have since the days of the Civil Rights Movement and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

2. Ignorance - Now I'm not talking about stupdity here. I would never fault anyone for having a low IQ. What I have a problem with is offensive ignorance, or as I call it, "chosen stupidity". When people choose to be in the dark, not evolve with the times, or remain uneducated for whatever dumb reason they can come up with, it really makes me angry. We should all try to be the best people we can be in how we act, how we think, and how we live our lives. Ignorance should not be a part of our world.

3. Lazy Parents - Having worked with other people's children for the last 17 years (I am including the tons of babysitting I did as a teenager in this), I now have very little tolerance for moms and dads who are not active participants in their children's lives. Your children are not here to work as your servants, entertain you, or for you to dress up and parade around for your friends, only to be forgotten when they are no longer being shown off. Parents who do nothing for their children's education, future, or self esteem fall into this category as well. If you are lucky enough to be a parent, then be a parent! It breaks my heart when people don't value their children like they should. I am so glad that I don't work with parents like this anymore. Another reason I am thankful for my current job.

4. Slow Drivers in Fast Cars - If I ever develop road rage, it will be because of this pet peeve. It makes me so mad when I am stuck behind a sports car or a muscle car that is going below the speed limit. If you drive a Corvette, then drive it like it was meant to be driven! The other night I was behind a middle aged guy in a Dodge Challenger going about 35 mph in a 45 zone. Come on! I drive a Mustang (red because it looks fast, of course!), and I guarantee nobody will ever think I drive too slow. Am I reckless? Not normally. But I'm also not going to hold up traffic.

5. The Stars and Bars, a.k.a. The Confederate Flag - I know I could get a lot of flack about this from Southerners, but I despise the Southern Flag. Yes, I live in the South, but I am a California girl, 100%. I do not understand Southern Pride, and I, along with a lot of other people out there, find this flag to be offensive for what it represents. This flag stands for a time when part of our country wanted slavery to remain legal so much that they seceded from the Union, causing the Civil War to begin. What about that is not offensive? It goes right along with Pet Peeve #1. I might not be able to control myself the next time I see a rusty old pick-up truck with a Confederate Flag plastered to the back window, most likely also sporting some bumper sticker about how the the South's gonna do it again. Maybe this will bring on my road rage before the slow drivers push me over the edge...

6. Baby Talk - I hate baby talk. It doesn't help a baby's language skills develop, it's beyond annoying, and it makes a person look like an idiot when they use it. Babies are people, and they should be spoken to with respect. Use full sentences, real words, and age appropriate language please. We'll all be much better off for it, and steam won't escape through my ears and nose like some crazed cartoon character if I happen to overhear your conversation.

7. Mispronunciations - Maybe this is because I love words, maybe it's because I'm a teacher, maybe because I'm a writer (unpublished as of right now, but still...), but I cringe every time I hear someone mispronounce a simple, everyday word. Library for example. It is not li-berry! Frustrated is another one. It is spelled f-r-..., so it is not pronounced FUSTrated. I am flabbergasted by the number of people who say that. Same thing with forward. It is pronounced for-ward, not fo-ward. Then there's the word ask. It is not pronounced axe! Whenever I hear someone say axe instead of ask, it reminds me of an episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond" where Debra pointed out to Ray that he says axe. Ah, a classic. And if anyone wants to challenge me on these, go to dictionary.com and click on the sound bite. I win.

8. Girly Names for Boys - This one really bothers me, because whenever I hear of a baby boy with a feminine sounding name, my mind flashes forward to the poor kid's elementary school years and I see him getting teased on the playground because he has a girl's name. And I'm not just talking about the former male names now used almost solely for girls, like Ashley, Lindsay, and Leslie, but about the unisex names of today that are being used more and more for girls and have a decidedly feminine sound. For example, Avery, Bailey, Reagan, and Alexis. If someone says any of these names, I automatically think of a little girl. I know this is just my opinion on these names, but it's just not okay to give a boy a girl's name. On the other hand, I do think it can be pretty cool to give a girl a name that is traditionally male, like James, Dylan, or Charlie. To each his own I guess, but I still feel sorry for the little dudes named Ariel and Finley.

9. Inappropriate Commercials - This includes all feminine hygeine products, impotence drugs, and anything two consenting adults would use in the privacy of their own bedroom. Think about it. Do you really want to be watching a football game or a primetime sitcom with a child and have them ask you what Viagra, tampons, or condoms are? I think not.

10. Pimped-Out Classic Cars - If you have a classic car, especially a cool muscle car from the 60s or early 70s, treat it with dignity. I hate seeing an amazing old car with tacky, flashy rims, bouncing around on hydraulics, painted in day-glo colors that went out of style with spandex pants and acid wash jeans. That's just embarrassing.

So there you have it. I think I may be a slightly opinionated person (and a little sarcastic too). Oh well. Thanks for listening to me vent today, and if you have any of your own pet peeves that you'd like to share or would like to call me out on mine, please leave me a comment. Debating is not one of my pet peeves, but is a treasured pasttime. Have a great day everybody!

Monday, October 3, 2011

How Shannon Became GoGo

"Wake me up before you go-go/ Don't leave me hanging on like a yo-yo." - "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" by Wham!

As I promised last week, here is my story about how I became a nanny. Let's start a few years before that. Right after high school I enrolled at a local university with plans to get my Masters in education within five years and become an elementary school teacher. When classes started, I began working part-time at the university's child development center and absolutely loved my job working with toddlers. I loved it so much that I shifted my focus to preschool education and transfered to a community college the next fall, because it was so much cheaper and I could take only the classes that actually pertained to my degree and not a boatload of gen-ed courses that would bore me to death. I went to school off and on for the next few years and graduated in December of 2004 with my certificate in Early Childhood Instruction. So basically, I completed my education backwards.

During my final semester of college, I did an internship at a wonderful preschool in Virginia Beach and ended up getting hired at their newest location just a few miles from my house. I loved the children, loved teaching, and loved planning my lessons, but the nonstop work (over 50 hours a week at the school and 15-20 hours a week working on classroom things at home), the marketing of my classroom that took my focus away from my students, and the politics involved in all of it, caused me to leave the school after one year.

Right after I quit, my sister's boss (she was a nanny at the time too) was at the doctor and learned that her doctor was pulling her little girl out of preschool and looking for a nanny. The child's teacher who she had really taken to had just left the school and they were expecting another baby, so they really wanted someone to teach and care for the children at home. My sister's boss told her doctor that her nanny's sister might be interested, and it turned out that I had been her daughter's teacher at the school! I interviewed with them later that week, and the rest is history. It is now five-and-a-half years later and I am happy to say that even though I finished my education backwards and some would say went backwards in my career as well, I am pleased with how everything turned out. That just goes to show that no one's future turns out exactly how they think it will when they are high school dreamers.

Now, the GoGo part. When the oldest child I teach was around two years old, she still wasn't talking much, and would just point at me instead of saying my name. Sometimes she would point at the garage door as well, the door I entered and exited every day. She probably thought I lived in her garage! Anyway, around the time her baby sister was born, she started talking a little more, and for some reason, started calling me GoGo. It sounds nothing like Shannon, which she adamantly refused to say for years, but it quickly stuck and has now morphed into all kinds of nicknames including Goges, GeeGee, Geegs, and the always embarrassing Gogolicious, which is especially mortifying when said in public. When I asked one day a few years ago why she calls me GoGo, this little girl looked up at me and said that it's a fun name for a fun person. Very sweet, but I want to know why it started! In the future (when I'm a rich and famous author who will probably have to write a book about everything I have been through working with these crazy, lovable, wonderful children), people will ponder these great mysteries in life: How was Stonehenge built? What really causes crop circles? Are Elvis and Jim Morrison both living in Seattle drinking Frappaccinos and laughing at everyone who thinks they are dead (okay, I think I'm losing it a little!)? And why in the world was Shannon called GoGo by those two kooky kids? The explanations could be very interesting!