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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Welcoming the Light

"There were times when I thought I couldn't last for long/ But now I think I'm able to carry on/ It's been a long, a long time coming/ But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will." - "A Change is Gonna Come" by Sam Cooke

Wow, it's been a long time since I wrote a new post! I have not forgotten about my blog, but I haven't been a place where I can focus on writing something worth reading for a little while. My life was getting overwhelming and now that the kids are out of school, I have been working double my normal hours, so writing has gotten pushed to the back burner.

This week I am on vacation from work though, and I am determined to get to a better place in every way. Yesterday I went down to the beach very early in the morning, and I cleared my head, spent a lot of time praying, and worked on some poetry as I watched the sun come up over the Atlantic Ocean. For the first time in a very long time, I felt at peace with myself, and that is a huge deal for me. So I thought I would share a poem with all of you as well as a few photos of what I was seeing as I wrote it. I hope you guys enjoy this. :)

"Welcoming the Light"

The sand and the sea meet
Two bodies intertwined
Altering the coastline forever
While the town sleeps
Beneath a red sky night

The roar of the waves
As they crash on the shore
Replace the riotting murmurs
In my cluttered mind and aching bones
And I know a change is gonna come

The tide rolls higher
As the stars disappear
Washing away the broken shells
Of past life
Leaving the world at peace

Goodbye darkness my old friend
Sailing out beyond the pier
Until the time we meet again
Like the sand and the sea
Under a red sunrise

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Something I Learned Along the Way

"I can do anything/ I am strong/ I am invincible/ I am woman." - "I Am Woman" by Helen Reddy

First off, I really hate that song. It's so annoying, but it fits this post so I'm going with it. I was thinking the other day about how much I have changed since I was a teenager, and one thing that stood out to me the most was how I react in certain situations.

I have always considered myself to be a feminist. I think that women can do anything men can do, I believe in equal rights and equal pay (it makes me furious that women in America still only make $0.77 on the dollar compared to men), and most certainly do not feel like I belong to the "weaker sex". And I will proudly and loudly voice my opinions whenever I feel it's necessary. That will never change. But when I was a little bit younger, I would actually get a little angry, offended even, if a guy tried to open a door for me, offered to carry my things, or do something for me that I was perfectly capable of doing myself. I think I knew that they were just trying to be polite or helpful, but I took it to mean that they thought I couldn't get the job done on my own. I was a little too proud and stubborn for my own good.

That changed a few years ago when I started going places with the kids on a regular basis. When I had two toddlers in tow, plus a diaper bag and enough other junk to last us a week on a desert island, I found myself smiling and offering my heartfelt thanks if someone opened the door for me, picked up something I had dropped, or offered to help me out to the car with my purchases. It took me being in a more vulnerable state to learn that it's okay to accept help when someone offers it. It doesn't mean I am any less strong of a woman, of a person, or that I am dependent on others to get through my day. It just means that maybe sometimes it's okay to not be the one who has to do it all. Even for little things like I have mentioned here. Sometimes it's better to accept someone's act of good will and then pay it forward. That's what I try to do now, to graciously accept and give back, and I think it's a good example for the kids to see as well. And whenever I see one of them thank someone for helping them, no matter how minor the help was, and then turn around and hold a door open for someone else, help their friends carry their things to the car at school, or offer to help their teachers clean up just because they know it's the nice thing to do, I feel a sense of pride build up inside of me. It looks like they are learning this lesson much faster than I did.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I Can't Move On and I Can't Stay the Same

"But that ain't the way.../I can't move on and I can't stay the same/ And all my friends say.../ Hey, turn the record over/ Hey, I'll see you on the flip side/ There you go, turn the key and engine over." - "45" by The Gaslight Anthem

These lyrics are part of The Gaslight Anthem's new single "45", off of their album "Handwritten", which will be released on July 24. As soon as I heard this song, the words spoke to me, just like every song in Brian Fallon's catalogue does in one way or another. I'm telling you, this guy is a poetic rock and roll genius. So, what exactly hit me with this song? It was the phrase "I can't move and I can't stay the same". Allow me to explain.

I have been trying to get a literary agent off and on for a long time now. "Off and on" being the key words there. I can't be lazy about this anymore. I can't continue doing the same thing, where I query a couple of agents, get depressed if the news isn't good, and then not query anyone else for months and months. I will never get anywhere with that approach. But I can't move on either. I know a lot of people would give up after not getting a bite the first couple (dozen) times they throw out the line, but I believe in my "Willow Ryan" series and in my abilities as a writer too much to stop without achieving success. I am supposed to be doing this. Writing is a gift that God gave me, and I am determined not to waste it. So now that "I can't move on and I can't stay the same", what will I do?

I have revised and streamlined by query, and am compiling my next list of agents to contact. I will send out emails and snail mail queries, and I will wait. While I'm anxiously waiting for a positive reply (I had to consciously try not to roll my eyes as I typed that), I will do what a writer is supposed to do - I will write. Who We Thought We Were is going nowhere fast and I have to get back into the swing of things with that novel. I will also work on some articles I have rough drafts of and some poems I have been working on, so I will have plenty of productive projects to keep me busy and focused. And if I don't get anywhere with these next queries, I will turn right around and send out letters to the next several agents on my list. I am going to make this happen.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Tuesday's Top Ten - Things I'm Looking Forward To This Summer

"In the summertime when the weather is high/ You can stretch right up and touch the sky." - "In the Summertime" by Mungo Jerry

Summer is my least favorite season. In fact, I dread it because of the horribly oppressive heat and humidity that plagues the South, not to mention the gigantic, steroid infused, Incredible Hulk sized insects that invade this part of the country for about six months out of the year. But in an effort to use positive thinking, here are the ten things I am most looking forward to this summer.

1. The Gaslight Anthem's new album "Handwritten".It will be released on July 24, and that can't come soon enough for me! It is definitely what I am most looking forward to this summer. It's going to be phenomenal! The new single, "45" is available on iTunes today, and I will be talking more about that in tomorrow's post.

2. Spending quality time with the girls I nanny for. All school year long we run and run and run, so it will be really nice to be able to hang out at the house, do some fun homeschool work, play, and relax. I am bound and determined to let them act like kids this summer and not have to worry about staying on a strict schedule and dashing from place to place all the time.

3. Four weeks off of work! They will not be all at the same time, but it looks like I will have a week off in June, two in July, and one in August while the family I work for goes on vacation. That will really help break up the 50+ hour work weeks this summer.

4. Christmas in July! If you have read my profile (or any posts from December), you know that I am obsessed with Christmas. It's my favorite holiday, so why celebrate it only once a year? My family has been having a Christmas in July celebration every July for about eight years now, and it's something I really look forward to.

5. Writing! With my various weeks off this summer, I am planning on working on Who We Thought We Were, as well as some poetry and articles on child development. I need to be much more proactive about my dreams of a writing career, and this summer will be the perfect time to get down to business.

6. The 2012 Summer Olympics. I always get excited when the Olympics start. I first got into watching the Olympics in '96 with the "Magnificent Seven" women's gymnastics team. I don't know if anything will ever beat Kerry Strug's vault that she did on an injured leg, but you never know. The events I will definitely watch are gymnastics, swimming, and diving, and probably some track and field as well.

7. Listening to summer music. I have about 50 songs in a summer playlist on iTunes, and I don't listen to a lot of those songs any other time of the year. The Beach Boys and Jimmy Buffett get played a lot. When it's 100 degrees outside, nothing sounds better than songs about hanging out at the beach or getting wasted away again in Margaritaville.

8. The Beach Boys' new album "That's Why God Made the Radio". Due to be out on June 5, this will be the perfect start to the summer season. From all of the reviews I have read, this album is supposed to be like a throwback to the classic Beach Boys music of the 60s. That sounds great to me!

9. Summer reality TV series. Being the TV junkie that I am, I'm really looking forward to So You Think You Can Dance, Big Brother, and Hell's Kitchen. I am a sucker for these reality TV shows/competitions, and they are on almost every night of the week all summer long.

10. Thunderstorms. I love thunderstorms, just as long as they are not in the middle of the night while my dog keeps me awake as he shakes uncontrollably from his irrational fear of lightning and thunder. I think storm clouds are beautiful, I love the sound of rain and thunder, and best of all, they can cool the air down by 20 degrees sometimes, and that is always welcomed during the long, hot days of summer in Virginia.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Tuesday's Top Ten - Favorite Television Characters

"There was someone on a platform talking to the folks/ About the T.V. ..." - "T.V. Talkin' Song" by Bob Dylan

I have done a couple of television-related lists in the past and they seem to be pretty popular based on page views, so I thought today I would focus my efforts on naming my all-time favorite T.V. characters. It was hard to narrow these down because I am such a T.V. junkie, but I think my top ten goes a little something like this:

1. Lorelai Gilmore (played by Lauren Graham) - This one was a no-brainer. "Gilmore Girls" is my favorite show and there has never been a character as fantastic as Lorelai. She's quick-witted, a pop culture whiz, quirky, snarcastic (snarky + sarcastic), and a great mom. I love how she's such a fast talker and is so goofy, but she is also a successful businesswoman and managed to raise her daughter entirely on her own, even after giving birth to her at only 16. I wish more people were like Lorelai in real life. And coincidentally, Lauren Graham also plays another great character in one of my current favorite shows, "Parenthood".

2. David Addison (played by Bruce Willis) - Before becoming an A-list movie star, Bruce Willis played David Addison in the 80s series "Moonlighting". In the third episode of the first season, David, in his smooth-talking, charming way, sings "Doo Wah Diddy Diddy" and I loved him from that moment on. He's the type of character that gets into trouble but can always talk his way out of it, will punch a guy in the face to defend someone important to him, and can win anyone over with a smile. Who wouldn't love David Addison?

3. Mike Seaver (played by Kirk Cameron) - "Growing Pains" has been one of my favorite sitcoms since I was in preschool, so it's no wonder it has had such a lasting impact on me. In fact, I think Michael Aaron Seaver was the first TV character I ever loved. He's kind of like the younger version of David Addison - the charming, mischievous guy who gets into trouble but never really means to, but no one cares because you can't help but like him. I think it's the smile.

4. Lucy Ricardo (played by Lucille Ball) - There will never be another Lucy. Her trademark slapstick humor and vibrant personality is the reason everyone loves Lucy. I loved how she always wanted Ricky to put her in his nightclub act and sometimes went to extreme lengths to make her dream a reality. She and Ethel had the best friendship, and no one could pull off a joke or a prank like Lucy. She was one of a kind.

5. Jim Halpert (played by John Krasinski) - The way Jim handles his rivalry with Dwight on "The Office" has landed him on my list. Jim is one of the funniest characters on TV at the moment, and has pulled some of the best pranks of all time. (Does anyone see a pattern here with some of these characters? Hmm...) I don't think I have ever laughed harder at a TV show than when Jim impersonated Dwight or when he created a "security threat" work ID badge for Dwight "Fart" Schrute. And his storyline with Pam was so sweet and innocent, that I can't help but love him.

6. Sheldon Cooper (played by Jim Parsons) - Okay, I am now deviating from my typical favorite character completely and picking the biggest of all uber-geeks from "The Big Bang Theory". Sheldon is hilarious! His character has no sense of humor, aside from his "classic practical jokes" with a bazinga zinger at the end, seems to be incapable of most human emotions, and is consumed with science, video games, comic books, and trains, but I still love him! He could be the poster child for the phrase "there's a fine line between genius and insanity", but there is something about him that is quite endearing. I think part of the appeal of the show and Sheldon's character, for me anyway, is that they are completely different from anything else out there on TV. No one is quite as weird as Sheldon, quite as oblivious, or quite as brilliant, and that makes him very fun to watch.

7. Lindsay Weir (played by Linda Cardellini) - There has never been another character on TV that I relate to as much as Lindsay from "Freaks and Geeks". This show was on when I was a senior in high school, and in so many ways, I was Lindsay. I was the good girl that hung out with the "bad kids", I always got good grades (although I was never a Mathlete!), and we liked the same music. Plus she was quick-witted and quick to speak her mind, both qualities I have always been proud to possess myself. I think it's kind of unusual for a girl like Lindsay who is thought of as wholesome and intelligent and has never been in trouble a day in her life to be accepted by a totally different crowd, "the freaks" in this case, but I experienced a similar connection and acceptance, so I immediately identified with her. It's a shame the show wasn't on longer. I would have loved to have seen how her journey following The Grateful Dead around for the summer went.

8. John Boy Walton (played by Richard Thomas) - I love "The Waltons" and John Boy was my favorite character right from the start. I can relate to his dream of becoming a writer and each time he sent off a submission or got a rejection letter, I was like, "Yep, I know just how you feel!" And when it shows him sitting down to write at night, trying to escape all of the craziness that goes on in the rest of his life and find a moment of peace, I like to think that I know a little bit how Earl Hamner, Jr. (the real life John Boy that wrote the book which inspired the show) felt as his pen sailed across the paper, telling stories that maybe, just maybe, would mean something to someone someday.

9. Cameron Tucker (played by Eric Stonestreet) - Easily one of the funniest characters to ever appear on television, and my favorite character on "Modern Family". Cam is so over the top and flamboyant, and the faces he makes are beyond hilarious. Even his mannerisms are laugh out loud funny! He has said in interviews that he modeled his character after his mother, so I'm just assuming that she's one of the funniest, goofiest, nicest, and most likable people on the planet. And I love seeing Cam interact with Lily, his TV daughter. He's like a big papa bear who plays dress up and probably throws a killer tea party.

10. Mr. Lynn Belvedere (played by Christopher Hewett) - I have mentioned before how I think of Mr. Belvedere as my TV kindered spirit, so it's just right that he rounds out my top ten. Lindsay from "Freaks and Geeks" may be the most like me as a teenager, but somehow, I relate to Mr. Belvedere as an adult! Not the British middle-aged curmudgeon of a man (insert eye roll here), but the house manager/nanny who keeps everything under control and everyone in line, even that lovable little trouble-maker Wesley. And Mr. Belvedere writes every night as well! I think if Mr. Belvedere and I sat down for tea (yes, I know he's fictional; I haven't completely lost it yet!), we would have a lot to talk about.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Put Your Records On

"Girl put your records on/ Sing me your favorite song." - "Put Your Records On" by Corinne Bailey Rae

As you may have noticed, I have been absent from my blog for a couple of weeks. I have had a lot going on and not only haven't blogged, but haven't done any writing either. I must get back on track now! So tomorrow there will be a fun Tuesday's Top Ten, and today I will write about something I absolutely love - records.

I have an iPod and an iPad which are great, but I am not from the mp3 generation. I am from the generation of records and cassette tapes, even an occassional 8 track thrown in when I was little. Part of that is because I grew up in the 80s, and part of it is because I have always been a fan of anything retro. Even though CDs started to come out when I was a toddler, I have always loved vinyl more. There is a richness to the sound of a record spinning on a stereo that cannot be achieved with tapes, CDs, or mp3s. Yeah, the sound might be crisper or louder or clearer with modern technology, but I think some of the honesty and depth is lost compared to the sound of music on vinyl.

Once I started to really collect vinyl, my mom gave me all of her old records (yea me!) and I bought some at yard sales when I was lucky enough to find them. Now I shop online and at my local independent record store that I recently discovered, just in time for Record Store Day which was great for me but not for my bank account! What is especially exciting, is that there are bands and artists out there who are still putting their albums out on vinyl, like The Gaslight Anthem, The Horrible Crowes, Bruce Springsteen, and many more. So my collection continues to grow. And when I buy records, I play them. Even limited editions that some people won't open, let alone listen to. But I figure that if I'm spending my very hard earned money on something, I am going to enjoy it. So when my turntable started malfuncitoning recently, I knew I had to buy another one. And because I love it so much, I will share a couple of pictures of the record player with you, featuring some of my favorite records and a few that are new to my collection.

What do you think? I love the vintage look and the sound is unbelievable. When I lowered the needle for the first time, all was right with the world as the first notes floated out through the speakers. Sometimes I think rock and roll really can save the world. Maybe the hippies were right about that. Peace, love, and rock and roll everybody!

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Age of Aquarius

"When the moon is in the seventh house/ And Jupiter aligns with Mars/ Then peace will guide the planets/ And love will steer the stars." - "Aquarius" by The Fifth Dimension

For my 200th post, I thought I would share a funny conversation I heard in the car on Tuesday when I was driving the kids home from school. Just for a little background information, the seven-year-old tends to get very fixated (a nicer way of saying utterly and completely obsessed) on things, and she has always been fascinated with astronomy - planets, the moon, stars, etc. She was doing some research at school that day and somehow discovered zodiac signs. I don't buy into astrology at all and neither do her parents, so I didn't really know what to say about this topic. So I decided to just sit back and let the kids direct this conversation just to see where it would go. It went to a very different place than I could have ever imagined...

Seven-Year-Old: Guess what? I researched zodiac signs today and I discovered that I am a Scorpio, which means scorpian. Did you know that you are a Libra and the symbol for that sign is scales?

Shannon: Yes, I did know that.

Seven: Too bad you weren't born a couple of weeks later. Then we would have the same sign and it would be totally awesome.

Shannon: That would be really fun if we had the same birthday. What made you think to look up zodiac signs at school?

*My question is ignored completely*

Five-Year-Old: Do September birthdays have a special name too? What am I?

Seven: You are a Virgo.

Five: *Scrunches face up and stares at her sister suspiciously* Virgo? What is that supposed to mean?

Seven: It means virgin.

Five: What does virgin mean?

*Shannon keeps her mouth shut and prays that she won't have to figure out an answer for this one.*

Seven: It means that you are like Mary, Jesus's mommy.

Five: But I don't want to have a baby in a barn by stinky cow poop!

Seven: Well, Jesus was born a long time ago when there weren't many hotels, but now there are tons so you can have your babies in a hotel.

Five: But what if I don't want to have babies in a hotel?

Seven: You have to. You're a virgin.

Yes, boys and girls, that is just a sampling of what I hear every day working as a nanny. After that last statement, I quickly steered the conversation toward a song on the radio (No, it wasn't "Like a Virgin") and no mention of the zodiac or virgins was heard again during the 20 minute car ride home - thank God! I just don't get paid enough to teach the kids about the birds and the bees.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Teach Them Well

"I believe the children are our future/ Teach them well and let them lead the way." - "The Greatest Love of All" by Whitney Houston

One of the most important traits I have tried to instill in the girls I nanny for is empathy. This has never been a problem for the five year old, but the seven year old is still a little too egocentric for her own good, and I finally made a breakthrough with her a couple of days ago. She was complaining that she was bored, and after hearing her whine for the tenth time or so, I decided that a little life lesson was in order. So I sat down with her and told her exactly what bored is, and it went a little something like this:

"Bored is not having anyone to play with - ever. Bored is not having an adult in your life that devotes their own life to teaching, entertaining, and taking care of you because they love you so much. Bored is not being allowed to go to school. Bored is not being able to play outside and run around with the freedom that children should have. Bored is basically being left to entertain yourself, look after yourself, and survive all on your own. You are not bored. You have everything you could possibly want. You are very loved and you are very lucky."

After my lecture, this normally talkative child stared up at me and was speechless for a moment. Then she started asking questions, but not in her normal smarty-pants kind of way. These questions were thoughtful, careful, and heartfelt. She asked why a child would not be allowed to go school, or play outside, or run around and have fun. She asked why a child wouldn't have a grown up to pay so much attention to them, like how she has both of her parents and me - three people who love her to pieces and will do anything to make sure she has the best life possible. She asked why a child would be alone so much and why a parent would treat them like that. Honestly, I didn't have answers for all of her questions, but I have known children like this, and I think it was time for this extremely privledged child to have a reality check. We talked about the children I have known that lived this kind of life, and she felt so bad for them. She tried to think of solutions to make sure this never happens to another child, the kind of innocent ideas that come from the mind of a child who thinks that telling a caring adult can solve all the problems of the world. Because this is the world she comes from. And now she knows how lucky she is. And you know what? She hasn't said that she is bored since we had that conversation.

Those of us who raise children - the parents, the grandparents, the aunts and uncles, the nannies, the teachers - we don't always know what to do or what to say, but I think I got this one right. To see a child who normally thinks of herself way before she thinks of others, who thinks the worst thing that could ever happen would be if someone called her a name, who's only real worry in life is deciding what to eat for snack or which toy to play with next, suddenly evolve into a person who is so overwhelmed with empathy it brings tears to her eyes, was a very special moment. And we're both better people for having experienced it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tuesday's Top Ten - My Favorite Movies

"And I always dreamed of classic cars and movie screens." - "Old White Lincoln" by The Gaslight Anthem

When I was trying to decide what list to write today, it occurred to me that I have never done a list of my favorite non-holiday movies. How could this be? So here it is, my top ten favorite movies. Since I have separate lists of Halloween and Christmas movies, I won't include any of those this time around.

1. "Almost Famous" - This movie has been my favorite since it came out in 2000. It has everything I love in a movie - a fantastic storyline, terrific characters, a great setting, and the best soundtrack ever. The story of young journalist William Miller (the enemy!) travelling around the country with one of his favorite rock bands, Stillwater, and a group of girls known as Band Aids, is as good as it gets in my opinion. My favorite scene is when they are all on the bus (Doris) after Russell's acid trip and everyone starts singing "Tiny Dancer". I can't hear that song without thinking of "Alomst Famous".

2. "Across the Universe" - Told through a wonderful collection of Beatles songs, "Across the Universe" is not just a movie, a musical, or even an artsy film, it is a masterpiece. The songs are interpreted so creatively through excellent acting and the brilliant direction of Julie Taymor. The 1960s have always been my favorite decade for a number of reasons, and this movie does a great job of showing the trials that made the 60s what they were - The Vietnam War, protest rallies, race riots - and how the music reflected the time. The best part is when Max (Joe Anderson) is drafted, and the Uncle Sam "I Want You" poster comes to life, and Max and the other men reporting for physicals sing the Beatles' "I Want You", carrying the Statue of Liberty as they sing the line "she's so heavy". Genius.

3. "The Help" - Like "Across the Universe", this movie also takes place during the 60s, but in the Deep South as opposed to Liverpool, Detroit, and New York City. I have written about my love for this book before, and the movie is just as good. The acting by Emma Stone, Viola Davis, and Octavia Spencer is outstanding, and I absolutely love the storyline which revolves around black maids and the women they work for. It's so honest, so heartbreaking, and so touching that I could watch this one every day and never get tired of it. And in addition to the drama that makes up most of the movie are a few hilarious parts, including my favorite "Two Slice Hilly" scene. If you have read the book or watched the movie, I'm sure you are laughing right now, and if you haven't, then you are missing out!

4. "Footloose" - I haven't seen the remake yet, but the original version has been one of my favorites since I was a little kid. There is so much great 80s music in this movie that reminds me of my childhood, and I have always loved how Ren (Kevin Bacon) brought life, dancing, and rock and roll back to the depressing little town that seemed to have forgotten the meaning of the word fun. Whenever I hear John Mellencamp's "Hurts So Good" I think of the scene where Ren, Ariel (Lori Singer), Willard (Chris Penn), and Rusty (Sarah Jessica Parker) go over the state line to the bar, but my favorite part is when Ren teaches Willard how to dance. Classic!

5. "The Trouble With Angels" - When I was a kid, I used to watch the old Hayley Mills movies as often as possible, and this is still one of my favorites. She plays Mary Clancy, a mischievous teenager who is sent to a boarding school run by some very interesting nuns. She meets another girl on the bus, Rachel Devery (June Harding), and together they get into all sorts of trouble over the next fews years. It's such a fun movie and has so many terrific scenes, but the best is when Mary and Rachel make a plaster cast of Marvel-Ann's (Barbara Hunter) face. Hilarious!

6. "Juno" - "Juno" is so quirky, so different, and so perfect, that it has become one of my all time favorites. Ellen Page is great in the role of the pregnant teenager, and I love Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman as Vanessa and Mark Loring, the prospective adoptive parents. "Juno" sends out such a positive message about adoption, and the ending couldn't be better. This movie doesn't sugarcoat any of the emotions or rough patches, but it's definitely not a downer either. I have two favorite parts in "Juno". The first is when Juno's dad finds out that Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) is the father of the baby and he says, "I'm gonna punch that Bleeker kid in the weiner next time I see him." I almost died laughing the first time I heard that line. My other favorite part is when Juno writes the note to Vanessa and we find out what it says at the end. It makes me get choked up every time.

7. "Baby Boom" - Diane Keaton is one of my favorite actresses, and this is my favorite of her movies. She stars as J.C. Wiatt, a high-powered Manhattan businesswoman who inherits a baby from her deceased cousin who she hasn't seen since childhood. The learning process that J.C. goes through, with diapers, feeding, nannies, etc. is very funny, because she doesn't have a clue what to do. Since I have been taking care of kids since I was a kid, I always found this so hilarious. Eventually J.C. and baby Elizabeth say adios to New York and move to the beautiful countryside of Vermont and buy a huge old farmhouse complete with apple orchards, but that brings on a whole new set of problems. This movie is just so fantastic, and it never gets old, even though it was made 25 years ago. One of my favorite parts is when J.C. passes out and wakes up in the doctor's office, only to find out that she's being treated by a veterinarian.

8. "Now and Then" - My mom, my sister, and I saw this movie in the theater five times because it was so good. "Now and Then" centers around four 12-year-old girls in the summer of 1970, and how they all reunite 25 years later when one of them is having a baby. The performaces by Christina Ricci and Gaby Hoffman in particular are very heartfelt and the characters are so real, that I think most girls would be able to see themselves and their friends represented on the screen. It's so hard to pick just one favorite scene, so I'll go with the funniest, when the four girls spot the Wormers - four brothers from their neighborhood that love to torment them - skinny dipping and they steal their clothes and run off. There are lines from "Now and Then" that my family still quotes on a regular basis to this day because the movie is that good.

9. "Bandits" - Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton play Joe and Terry respectively, an interesting pair of bank robbers who escape from prison together and end up getting involved with Kate (Cate Blanchett), an unhappy and unstable housewife who just left her husband, only to be mistaken for a hostage. Joe is the tough but charming guy, and Terry is the neurotic, smart, but somehow loveable part of the duo, and they are just perfect. Well, Cate thinks so anyway. If you haven't seen this movie, I highly recommend it. It has something for everyone - comedy, action, drama, and a little bit of a love story too. Plus it has a great soundtrack as well. One of my favorite parts is when Joe convinces Terry that he has a brain tumor, and poor neurotic Terry starts developing imaginary symptoms, like having the right side of his body go numb. You have to watch the movie to understand how hilarious this scene is.

10. "How to Beat the High Cost of Living" - I got this movie for Christmas several years ago, and it instantly became one of my favorites. I have always been a big fan of the 80s sitcom "Kate and Allie", so I was really excited when I saw that "How to Beat the High Cost of Living" starred both Susan Saint James and Jane Curtain! They, along with Jessica Lange, play three friends dealing with different financial hardships in 1980, and come up with a plan to steal the cash out of a giant money ball that is part of a contest at their local mall. It's a really fun movie, and with the current state of the economy, it might give people a few ideas on how they can beat the high cost of living. Just kidding, just kidding! This entire movie is so great, I can't even pick a favorite scene. One of the best conversations though, is between Elaine (Jane Curtain) and her friend, Patty (Susan Tolsky): Elaine - "I want you to get this lousy bank to lend me some money, or at least extend my MasterCharge limit. Oh, Patty, You've got to help me! I'm broke, flat busted broke. The house and car payments are due on Monday, I need money." Patty - "You know how banks operate. They only lend money to people who don't need it." So very true.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Idiot Wind is Blowing Strong

"Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your mouth/ Blowing down the backroads headin’ south/ Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth/
You’re an idiot, babe/ It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe." - "Idiot Wind" by Bob Dylan

I am outraged! Seriously, I have seen two things in the past few days that make me want to scream, call social services, and punch idiot parents in their stupid faces. What has gotten me so irate? Allow me to explain.

On Friday, I spent a couple of hours at the park with the girls. This is a nice park in one of the more upscale areas of my town. It's not the kind of place where one would expect to see graffiti on the bathroom walls, cigarette butts on the sidewalks, or evidence of teenage liasons left behind that almost certainly would provoke children to ask some very uncomfortable questions. And most of the people who visit this park fit right in with its wholesome feel. Most people. Then there is the family I saw last week. It was a young couple, late teens maybe, and their little boy who looked like he was about three years old. This sweet child that was running around happily, blissfully unaware that he is the offspring of morons, was wearing a t-shirt that had "Future Pimp" scrawled right across the front. Really? Seriously? Why would a parent do that?!

And please don't think that I feel the bad judgement shown by these parents has anything to do with their age. I think that even though most teenagers/young adults are not ready to be parents, there are always exceptions. That's one reason why I wanted to write the Willow Ryan series, with the main character being a teenage mother having and raising a baby on her own. There are some teenagers out there who are mature, responsible, and selfless enough to successfully raise children, and I find them incredibly inspiring. But these people at the playground, they are just idiots. It doesn't matter if you're 15, 30, or 45, dressing your child in a shirt that proclaims to the world that they will grow up to be a man who sells women for sex is a crime. Or at least it should be. And I am appalled that this shirt even exists.

Then today I saw something else that made smoke and fire shoot out of my ears and nostils like some crazed cartoon character. I had just dropped the kids off at school and was driving through a nice part of downtown Norfolk, VA, when I saw a woman walking with a little girl who was probably about four or five. The woman was dressed in a business suit, she was holding the child's hand, and everything seemed so normal they almost didn't even register in my brain. Until I stopped at a red light and looked at the child. On the back of her shirt was the word "Bootylicious", with an arrow pointing down toward her rear end. I was hoping that maybe I was losing my mind, I had forgotten how to read, or maybe I was going blind and didn't see the words clearly, but no, I was right upon taking a second look.

HOW IS THIS ACCEPTABLE?! Who does these things to their children? Part of a parent's job is to protect their kids, and dressing them in clothes that call negative attention to them, sexualize them, and disrepect them and those of us around them who have an ounce of class and decency, does the exact opposite. Why do things like this even happen? Apparently the idiot wind is blowing really strong in my part of the world.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Children Get Older

"But time makes you bolder/ Even children get older/ And I'm getting older too." - "Landslide" by Stevie Nicks

In just a few days I will be celebrating my six year anniversary with the girls. Six years. For six years, I have been teaching them, taking care of them, loving them, raising them. I have been with their family longer than the little one has been alive, and for more than a fifth of my life. And today it really hit me that they are growing up...way too fast.

When I take them to school, the first thing I do is drop the older one off on the big kids' playground. I have always gotten out of the car and opened the gate for her, because she was too short to reach the lock. A couple of weeks ago I had her try it on her own though, and sure enough, she was just tall enough to do it herself. So today she hopped out of the minivan and went over to the gate, opened it with no problem, turned and waved, and walked off. A lump instantly formed in my throat as I watched this child walk away, this child who I first met when she was 12 months old, barely able to take two steps without falling over, and now she's growing up, independent, and walking away. And it happened so fast.

I know this is a good thing, but it tears me up a little inside too. I'm not her mom; I don't get to stay with her until she's 18 and goes off to college. I will be gone before then, and the realization of the temporary nature of my job hit me like a ton of bricks this morning. If I'm lucky, I'll have another couple of years with them, and it's not enough. It's just not enough.

Then as I walked the little one to her playground, this child who was born fiesty, independent, and with more confidence in her little finger than most people will ever have in their lives, grabbed my hand and said, "Thanks for walking with me. I'm glad I don't have to walk alone like Sissy." All I could do was try to hold back the tears, smile, and say, "Me too, sweetheart, me too."

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Magic Bus

"Every day you'll see the dust (Too much, magic bus)/ As I drive my baby in my magic bus (Too much, magic bus)." - "Magic Bus" by The Who

On the way to school yesterday the kids were kind of quiet, but instead of enjoying the peace for a change (what can I say, I'm a little insane), I suggested that we play the amusement park game. This is a little game the three of us made up a while ago to pass the time in the car (where we spend a good part of our day sometimes!). I am the owner of the park and take the kids on all kinds of wild rides, describing each turn, flip, and splash with over-the-top enthusiasm. They love it! It's simple and silly, but it makes them happy.

So yesterday, the five-year-old asked me to make up a roller coaster that was also a water ride. After taking them on an imaginary trip aboard the "Atlantic Splash Coaster" as they named it, they were laughing wildly and shaking pretend salt water droplets out of their hair, when the seven-year-old stopped and told me that I was just like Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus.

Now, I look nothing like the cartoon character, who bears a striking resemblence to Bette Midler, so I asked her how I was like The Frizz. She said it was because I am crazy like her and make everything an adventure, and they always have fun learning with me, just like the kids in Ms. Frizzle's class. I was touched. And aparently if I had to identify with a cartoon character, it would be The Frizz, haha!

I have to say though, the bus itself does nothing for me. In the end, it always transforms back into just a plain yellow school bus. If I were to drive a magic bus, I think Further, the groovy psychadelic bus driven by Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters in the 60s is more my taste. But I think I'd bring along my own Kool-Aid. ;)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tuesday's Top Ten - Best Things About Working With Children

"May you build a ladder to the stars/ And climb on every rung/ May you stay, forever young." - "Forever Young" by Bob Dylan

I love my job. Yes, I complain about it and there are things about it that could be a lot better (*cough cough* I need a raise *cough cough*), but overall, nothing other than a career in writing could beat working with kids everyday. And these are the reasons why:

1. Boredom is nonexistent. Even with my overactive imagination, I get bored easily if I don't have something to do or some kind of entertainment to occupy my time. There is no way I could ever be bored with kids around! They are constantly running around, coming up with some wacky game to play, or chatting about anything and everything under the sun. I am way more likely to suffer from sensory overload than boredom when I'm at work.

2. The hugs. Not many people go to work in the morning and are greeted with hugs, and then ambushed with more hugs when they leave like I am every day. Although for most people, getting attacked by the people they work with would be a bad thing...haha!

3. Making an impact on the kids' lives. Knowing that every little thing I do with the girls has the possibility to make a difference in their lives is an amazing thing. I take my roles as their nanny and teacher very seriously, and my influence on them is not something I take lightly. It's a huge responsibility, but an enormous honor too.

4. Passing on my knowledge. This goes for academics as well as knowledge of the world around us. Sometimes I wonder if they would ever learn anything if I wasn't there to teach them. My goal is to educate them as much as I can so they can be successful in life. I want to do my part to give them the world, and in little ways, through our school lessons and countless conversations, I hope I'm doing that.

5. Seeing them grow. I have been there for first smiles, first words, first steps, first temper tantrums, first days of school, and so many other important moments. I have raised these kids since they were babies, and it is so cool to see them grow and change, sometimes on a daily basis. I love that they are such incredible little people and I can't wait to see how they will continue to grow in the coming years.

6. The way they look up to me. There's an old saying, "The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world." This usually applies to mothers, but I think it applies to people like me as well. In their little world, the kids think I'm an important person, and I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy that. Everyone wants to feel valued in their job, and I know that I am. Even if sometimes I am reminded of my "value" to them because they treat me like a parent and may talk back, throw a tantrum, or ask me, "Why" a hundred times until I say, "Because I said so!" They are that comfortable with me, and I think that they look up to me just like a child looks up his/her mom and dad. Wow...

7. Playing with toys. Ah, one of the perks of my job! If you don't work with kids, chances are you have never gone to work and spent at least part of your day building a town out of Legos, painting a masterpiece (as described by a five-year-old, but still!), reading Dr. Seuss, and putting on a Barbie fashion show. Toys today are so much cooler than they were when I was growing up (although we 80s kids had some totally radical stuff too, as described in my last Tuesday's Top Ten), and I will admit that I still like Play-Doh, American Girl Dolls, and Etch-a-Sketches, so a house full of toys makes the days go by faster!

8. They remind me of the magic. Childhood should be magical. There is something so beautiful and precious about children who still believe in the wonders of fairies, the joy of Santa Claus, and have the belief that the world is a kind and safe place. I wish we didn't lose some of that magic as we grow up, but it seems inevitable.

9. Writing lesson plans. I love this part of my job! During the summer when I homeschool the kids full-time, I come up with extensive lesson plans in about seven different subjects that we cover daily, and I love every second of it. The planning, the research, the shopping for supplies, and of course, the teaching! I try to make learning as fun as possible, and judging by the fact that the girls start asking about our summer lessons for the next year as soon as school starts in the fall, I think I'm doing a pretty good job.

10. Nap time! After all of the busyness I have just described, this one needs no explanation! :)

Friday, March 2, 2012

I Was Blowing Kerosene (Gym Moms Revisited)

"And the breath from my chest I was blowing kerosene/ My lips and fingertips were stone/ I wore my heart on my jeans." - "Wherefore Art Thou, Elvis?" by The Gaslight Anthem

Okay everybody, are you ready for a rant? If you said yes, boy do I have a story for you. After reading this you will understand why this amazing Gaslight tune is my song of the day.

If you read my post from a few days ago, you already know how I feel about the Gym Moms, the parents that annoy the heck out of me while I watch the girls I take care of do gymnastics twice a week. For the most part I ignore it, just thinking snarcastic (snarky + sarcastic) thoughts in my head and subtly rolling my eyes as needed. Today I spoke my mind.

Sitting behind me on the bleachers was a woman whose picture belongs in the dictionary next to the term trailer trash. Harsh, I know, but today I'm calling them like I see them. I sat for nearly an hour listening to her belittle almost every child in the gym, commenting in her irritating, loud voice, on their weight, body shape, strength, skill level, etc. She described the five-year-old I nanny for was the wild girl with skinny legs. I said nothing, allowing my emotions to reach a boil, until two minutes later when I gave "my kid" a thumb's up for doing a flip. The evil Gym Mom tapped me on the shoulder and asked in a sickingly sweet Southern drawl if that was my child. I turned around, recoiling at the sound of her voice, and asked in a sarcastic tone, "The one with the skinny legs?"

Ms. Trailer Trash said nothing, she just stared like a deer caught in the headlights. I said that yes, she's my kid, but I wouldn't expect her to know that since she had been spending the whole hour criticizing every child in the building, except for her own of course. I went on to tell her that I pray none of those kids heard her comments, because no child should go home thinking that there is something wrong with how they look or what they do. She got this snooty, offended look on her face and said, "Oh, I didn't realize anyone could hear me. Why didn't you say she's your daughter sooner?"

Remaining calm like I had been the whole time, I responded in an even voice, "Because I am her nanny. She isn't my daughter but yes, she is my kid, and judging by your many remarks about all of these children, I figured you were too ignorant to understand anything rational I could have said." Take that Gym Mom!

She ended up moving to a different section of the bleachers (where she sat quietly for the rest of the class, thank you very much!), and as she walked past, I smiled and told her to have a nice day, polite as always. I don't think I'll be having any more problems with her, and hopefully I spared a child or two from hearing insults that could cause them a lifetime of trouble. Gymnastics is a competitive enough sport without having parents like that adding to the pressure. She was lucky I have enough self-control not to talk with my fists like I wanted to. She would have deserved it too, because there is never a reason to talk about an innocent, defenseless child like that. Never.

So that, my friends, is my rant of the day. And you know what? I'm proud of what I said and how I conducted myself. I didn't (totally) lose my temper, I didn't punch her, I didn't yell and make a scene. But I did stand up for all of those children who couldn't defend themselves. I will never regret that.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tuesday's Top Ten - My Favorite 80s Toys

"Toys, toys, toys in the attic/ Toys, toys, toys in the attic." - "Toys in the Attic" by Aerosmith

Don't worry, this post has nothing to do with scary dreams or screams like the song of the day, I just heard it on the radio this morning and it fit the theme, so I went with it. Today we are taking a trip back to the awesome 80s and I am going to introduce you to some of my favorite toys from my childhood. So hop into the DeLorean, put your Wayfarers on, sing along to my Wham! cassette, and let's go back to the future.

1. Cabbage Patch Kids - If you were a little girl in the 80s like I was, nothing could beat Cabbage Patch Kids, the adorable dolls with the chubby cheeks, yarn hair (or round bald head), and their very own unique birth certificate signed by their creator, Xavier Roberts. I got two for Christmas in 1984 during the Cabbage Patch hysteria that caused parents all over the country to stand in horrendously long lines and put their names on waiting lists, and my collection was started. Thanks Mom!

2. Talk 'n Play - This wonderful toy was the great-great grandfather to things like e-readers, Leap Pads, and the Leap Frog Tag reading tools for kids. I loved it! There were lots of tapes and books that went with it, and you could read along with the interactive stories and answer questions using the four rainbow colored buttons. This toy probably entertained me more than any other, except for my many Cabbage Patch Kids!

3. Roller Racer - This toy was so much fun! All you had to do was sit down and move the handlebars from side to side, and off you'd go! It didn't go fast and going uphill was nearly impossible, but it was a blast. My sister and I used to make up obstacle courses that we would have to navigate on the Roller Racer, usually ending up with one of us pushing the other about halfway through because Roller Racing was hard work! Ah, good times. :)

4. Skip It - These were fantastic! It was a simple concept, just slip your foot through the ring, whip the toy around, and jump over the plastic bar each time it came around. What made it so great was that it had a counter on it, so for competitive children like me, it created fun games of trying to jump more than my sister or friends, or if they refused to play with me because they knew they could never beat a Skip It champ like myself (that had to be the reason, right?), I would just try to break my own record, which was well into the hundreds. It was great exercise, but it was so much fun kids didn't even realize they were getting a workout! Just look at the girl in the photo. She is having so much fun in all of her 80s glory.

5. Popples - Popples were so great! They were cuddly stuffed animals with a built-in pouch that they could curl up in, turning themselves into a ball. One minute they could be dressed up in doll clothes drinking out of a baby bottle, and the next minute they could be balled up, bouncing off of your cousin's head. What could be better?

6. Lite-Brite - I don't think any child of the 80s can forget about the Lite-Brite. I don't know what it was about sticking those colorful plastic pegs through the black paper, but when the light box was turned on to reveal the glorious work of art you created, it was like a little bit of magic had happened right before your eyes. A classic 80s toy for sure!

7. Viewmaster - Another great way to pass the time before things like iPods, Nintendo DS, or iPads were created. Just slide a thin disc made of cardstock and plastic into the toy and the story comes to life. As easy as that and no batteries required! You know, people complain about how slide shows are so boring, but millions of kids in the 80s found these cartoon slides to be absolutely wonderful, me included!

8. My Little Pony - I am so excited that these lovable little toys are making a comeback. I had several of these, in various sizes and colors, all of which I sold at a swap meet for five bucks when I was 13. I wish I had held onto one or two of them because they were really cute and I had lots of fun playing My Little Ponies with my sister and cousin when we were all kids. I lived in the suburbs of Los Angeles so having a real horse was out of the question, so My Little Ponies were the next best thing.

9. Nintendo NES - The original Nintendo was so cool in the 1980s, so high tech, and at the top of every kid's wishlist. I did not have one because my mom thought I watched too much TV already (hmm...why would she ever think such a thing?!), but my cousin had one and I loved it! I would spend hours playing Super Mario Brothers (the first one was the best) and Duck Hunt. By today's standards, this game system is beyond primative and the graphics are insanely laughable, but back then, the original Nintendo was the king of all video games.

10. Pogo Balls - They didn't bounce that high, they were simplistic, and they looked like the planet Saturn, but I loved my Pogo Ball. I remember hopping onto my Pogo Ball and trying to bounce across the patio and back without falling off, which was quite a feat if you could do this, because if you didn't jump hard enough, you could stumble and fall flat on your face. But they were still fun and still totally 80s! And like the Roller Racer and Skip It, it was a something to get kids off the couch and outside to burn off some energy. Where are these toys now? I think they could find happy homes with a whole new generation of children.

This list could have gone on forever, so I'll just mention a few runners up before I get too carried away. Care Bears, Rainbow Brite, Puffalumps, Fisher Price Little People, Teddy Ruxpin, Pound Puppies/Pound Purries, and Pillow People. So much awesomeness went on in the 80s!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Name Game

"The name game/ Shirley!/ Shirley, Shirley bo Birley Bonana fanna fo Firley/ Fee fy mo Mirley, Shirley!" - "The Name Game" by Shirley Ellis

After reading my Tuesday's Top Ten post about names a few days ago, Mary Ellen Quigley wrote a great post on her blog, Mary Ellen's Musings (see link on the right hand side of the page), about how she names the characters in her books. Her blog inspired me to share my thought process on naming my characters as well.

When I first got the idea for the "Willow Ryan Series", I instantly knew what her name was going to be. I knew that the series would take place in the 80s, with Willow having been born to hippie parents in 1968. The name needed to have a hippie-dippy flare, but still be "normal" enough where it wouldn't distract readers from the story. So Willow Brook Ryan was created, as was her sister, Summer Star Ryan. Nothing too out there, but the names fit the characters' personalities, their history, and their time of birth. Those are the three main things I think of when choosing names for my characters, which is one of my favorite parts of beginning a new book.

For my current work in progress, Who We Thought We Were, I picked names that were fairly common or typical for people of my generation since these characters are around my age. This novel is set in Virginia, so I stuck with fairly average sounding names, nothing too wild or inventive, which is not the norm in this part of the country, especially during the early 80s when these characters would have been born. The next factor was personality. Now I know this can be up for debate because everyone has their own opinions on what kind of person a name sounds like, but I paired up the following names with what I thought would be their character traits:

Shawna Sharp - The Poet - intelligent, quick-witted, sarcastic, and independent

Ryder Harrison - The Musician - a practical yet creative dreamer with a powerful presence

Christen Romano - The Girl Next Door - kind, outgoing, smart, and patient

Jared Jenkins - The All-American Boy - high school football player, devoted family man, popular, and easy going

Megan Delaney - The Cheerleader - bubbly, perfectionistic, always smiling - even if it's forced

Matt Harper - The Jock - high school baseball star turned major league pitcher, charismatic, cocky, loved by millions

Nicole (Nikki) Castille - The Rebel - unconventional, driven, always reinventing herself, not afraid to speak up about anything and everything

Evan Schultz - The Brain - average looking, extremely gifted, had a very magnetic personality in high school, over thinks everything

So that is how I begin a story. I use my three guidelines and come up with the characters, and somehow the rest just falls into place, like magic. And sometimes that's what writing is. Yes, it's hard work and can be quite challenging and exhausting at times, but the act of creating a story that (hopefully) a lot of people will read and enjoy, is a very magical thing. And it all begins with a name.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Gym Moms

"I can bitch, I can bitch/ 'Cause I'm better than you/ It's the way that I move/ The things that I do." - "The Bitch is Back" by Elton John

Have you seen the Lifetime show "Dance Moms"? It is disturbing, maddening, and totally, 100% addictive. Instead of focusing entirely on the high-pressure performing world that these children are thrown into (like on TLC's "Toddlers and Tiaras"), the Lifetime hit focuses on the bickering, one-upping, sometimes manipulative mothers of the future "So You Think You Can Dance" powerhouses. Wow, it's obviously clear that I watch way too much TV!

Anyway, I have come across mothers like the Dance Moms at the gym where the girls I nanny for do gymnastics. They are the Gym Moms! Yesterday I was appalled by three things I heard.

1. "Good thing we are nothing like those dance moms on TV!" Oh really? I have routinely heard these women commenting negatively on the skills of some of the children, bad mouthing the other parents, and having dozens of self-centered conversations each afternoon. Sounds a lot like a certain TV show that they can't seem to realize mirrors their lives to a tee. Hmm...

2. "I just bought this shirt yesterday at Target. That store is as good as it gets." The others all agreed enthusiastically. I guess these women have never heard of Neiman Marcus or Bloomingdales.

3. "The nanny was supposed to take Ava to the dentist yesterday, but she called in sick. Can you believe she would get the stomach flu like that? It messed up my whole day." It took all of the self-control I had not to turn around and give these women a piece of my mind. If I hadn't had the seven-year-old sitting next to me, I'm sure I would have told them a little something like this: "Between throwing up and feeling like she was going to die at any second, your nanny, who probably caught the stomach flu from taking care of your kids by the way, was probably doing a little happy dance thinking about how much she messed up your day, because after all, the world does revolve around you." It was probably a good thing I had to keep my mouth shut, huh?

And those three conversations were not unusual in the slightest. Move over Dance Moms, the Gym Moms could make you hide under your chairs and cry. Can you still cry if you've had massive amounts of Botox? I'll have to do some research on that one.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tuesday's Top Ten - My Favorite Names

"Like the pine trees lining the winding road/ I've got a name/ I've got a name." - "I've Got a Name" by Jim Croce

I have mentioned a couple of times before that I have an obsession with names. It all started in sixth grade when my classmates and I had to raise egg babies for a week as part of our family life class. I was the lucky student that was awarded triplets - three soft-boiled eggs that I doted on enough to get an 'A' on the assignment. And the first part of the project was picking out names. That is what kickstarted an obsession that has been going on for well over a decade now. So here are my top ten names for boys and girls, with explanations as to why I love them.


1. Katelyn - It's just the most beautiful name on the planet.
2. Sheridan - Combines the names of my aunt and my uncle - Shary and Dan.
3. Shealyn - Irish for fairy palace - pure magic right there.
4. Bridgette - A pretty Irish name that means strong.
5. Teaghan - Welsh for beautiful. What a great name to go through life with.
6. Melissa - I have loved this name since 1984 when I bestowed it upon my first Cabbage Patch Kid.
7. Bethlehem - After Jesus' birthplace, and I love the nickname Beth.
8. Kelly - It was popular in the 70s/80s and sounds fresh 30 years later.
9. Jillianne - This name just sounds happy to me.
10. Mary - Classic, beautiful, and Biblical.


1. Brian - Irish for strong and noble. What could be better?
2. Dylan - After my favorite musician, Bob Dylan.
3. James - This name has been in my family for at least six generations.
4. Aiden - I like that it means fiery, and I loved it way before it became one of the most popular names in America.
5. Joseph - It's a strong, Biblical name, and I love the nicknames Joey and Joe.
6. Ryan - I think the meaning little king is very neat.
7. Jeremy - No reason for this one, I have just always liked it.
8. Nicholas - After St. Nicholas. I am so obsessed with Christmas!
9. Matthew - I used to babysit a little boy named Matthew and it has been one of my favorite names ever since.
10. Beck - A family name that has a nice ring to it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tuesday's Top Ten - Favorite TV Couples

"Love and marriage, love and marriage/ Go together like a horse and carriage/ This I tell you brother/ You can't have one without the other." - "Love and Marriage" by Frank Sinatra (and theme song to "Married With Children")

Happy Valentine's Day everyone! In honor of the holiday today, I have decided to list my favorite television couples. They laugh, they cry, they fight and make up, and chances are they're very similar to people you know in real life. Al and Peg Bundy didn't make the list, but that song was just perfect for today's post, don't you think?

1. Tim and Jill Taylor - "Home Improvement" - Tim and Jill were the perfect TV couple. They played off of each other's jokes so well, they had great chemistry, and they just seemed so real. In one of my favorite episodes, Jill takes a relationship quiz in a magazine, prompting Tim to create one of his own. He then reveals that Jill's score falls between elbow pads - "soft, flexible, and a good takes care of the joint", and a jock strap - "gets in the way a lot, but basically supportive." So, so funny! This episode is in season 2 and is titled "Love is a Many Splintered Thing".

2. Roseanne and Dan Conner - "Roseanne" - They were the quintessential blue collar, lower-middle class American couple. They didn't have much money, struggled a lot, fought even more, but they loved each other and that was enough. The show strayed from it's humble, honest beginnings in the last season or two, but the Dan and Rosie that America loved when the show began are one of my favorite couples watch. One of the best episodes was in the third season where they celebrate Mother's Day. "Scenes From a Barbecue" has a great part toward the end where the Conners and their family and friends gather in the backyard and have a sing along with Dan at the guitar. And Bonnie sings an amazing rendition of "You Really Got a Hold On Me", a song that fits Roseanne and Dan to a tee.

3. Ross Gellar and Rachel Green - "Friends" - Ross and Rachel were meant to be together. Everybody knew it. And when they broke up (they were on a break!), we all knew they would find their way back to each, which they did several times, once resulting in a drunken Vegas wedding and another time resulting in Emma. The series finale was the perfect way to seal their relationship in television history, but my favorite Ross and Rachel episode is season 2's "The One With the Prom Video", where it shows that Ross has loved Rachel since she was a high school senior and he almost got to take her to the prom.

4. Lucy and Ricky Ricardo - "I Love Lucy" - One of the very first and most beloved couples on TV, Lucy and Ricky balanced each other out perfectly. She was kooky, mischievous, and hilarious, while he was much more practical and level-headed. And no matter how angry he got at Lucy's antics, Ricky would always end up laughing by the end of the show. One of my favorite episodes is "Lucy's Schedule" from the first season. She is always running late so Ricky puts her on a strict daily schedule, but of course this plan backfires in a classic Lucy way.

5. Ray and Debra Barone - "Everybody Loves Raymond" - I love Ray and Debra. He is immature, neurotic, and a bit of a mama's boy, but still a good guy who means well, even when what he says or does backfires. And she puts up with it all, often with just a roll of the eyes and a mutter of, "Idiot" when he leaves the room. They are a lot like Jill and Tim, a normal couple that people can relate to, and you know that no matter what happens, they will end up okay and laughing in the end. A classic episode that showcases their relationship perfectly would be season two's "The Checkbook".

6. Lorelai Gilmore and Luke Danes - "Gilmore Girls" - No, Lorelai and Luke never got married, but everyone knew they belonged together. She was silly and unconventional, he was serious and average across the board, and they just clicked. When they finally got together I was so excited, and then when they broke up it was just so very, very wrong. But when the show ended, I just knew that Lorelai and Luke would end up together after all. Watch their first date in season 5's "Written in the Stars".

7. Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper - "The Wonder Years" - They were just kids and didn't even end up together in the end, but the relationship between Kevin and Winnie was so sweet and innocent, whether everything was perfect or falling apart. Kevin loved Winnie, even when she broke up with him and went out with other guys, he still loved her. Their relationship began on the pilot episode, when they were only 12 years old, but everyone knew they had something special. I miss this show so much.

8. Jim Halpert and Pam (Beesly) Halpert - "The Office" - Ah, Jim and Pam. The sweethearts of Dunder-Mifflin. In classic sitcom tradition, we knew from the start that they would end up together, and when Jim finally declared his love for Pam in "Casino Night" at the end of season 2, I felt like cheering. All was right with the world. Except it wasn't. Pam was still with stupid Roy. And she was caught off-guard when Jim kissed her. And Jim ran away to Stamford! But of course everything worked out in the end. Like Kevin Malone once said, "I thought they'd be good together, like PB and J. Pam Beesly and Jim."

9. David Addison and Maddie Hayes - "Moonlighting" - I love this show so much, and part of what made it so good was the chemistry and tension between David and Maddie. He was so fun-loving and free-spirited, and she was kind of prissy and uptight. Another case of opposites attract. They drove each other completely crazy, made each other angry a lot, but were still drawn together like magnets. I can't even pick one specific episode that showcases their relationship, because every episode did in one way or another. One of the very first episodes, "Gunfight at the So-So Corral", is a classic in my opinion. They are just getting their agency started and David has to teach Maddie how to be a detective. And he sings "Do Wah Diddy Diddy", which is just so perfect.

10. Carol Seaver and Bobby Winnette - "Growing Pains" - They weren't a couple for very long, but I loved Carol and Bobby together. She was a brainiac and he was a star football player, the classic opposites attract love story. One of the best Bobby Winnette episodes was "Some Enchanted Evening" from season 2, where Carol is upset that Bobby won't ask her to the winter formal. And when she discovers why and they end up dancing after all, it was pure television magic.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tuesday's Top Ten - Winter Songs

"All the leaves are brown/ And the sky is gray/ I've been for a walk/ On a winter's day." - "California Dreamin'" by The Mamas & The Papas

Happy Tuesday everyone! Winter is my favorite season. I love snow, cold weather, and when the sun sets early in the evening. I have done lists of Christmas songs in the past, so I thought today I would share my favorite winter songs with you. A couple of these could be considered "not quite Christmas songs", but I'm including them anyway because the subjects of these songs are not holiday-related at all. If I'm missing any of your favorite songs with winter as the theme or the setting, leave me a comment and let me know. Maybe I'll find a new favorite!

1. "California Dreamin'" by The Mamas & The Papas - Nothing beats this song for the cold winter months on the East Coast. Being a California girl myself, I can relate to the lines I'd be safe and warm, if I was in L.A./ California dreamin' on such a winter's day.

2. "Sweet Baby James" by James Taylor - Technically this song is set in the fall, but the icy scene that James describes gives off a very wintry vibe that makes me want to curl up with a cup of hot chocolate. The first of December was covered with snow/ So was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston/ The Berkshires seemed dream-like on account of that frosting/ With ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go.

3. "Girl From the North Country" by Bob Dylan - This is such a beautiful song. I just love Bob's old folk music from the 60s, and this wintry tune is a masterpiece. Well, if you go when the snowflakes storm/
When the rivers freeze and summer ends/ Please see if she’s wearing a coat so warm/ To keep her from the howlin’ winds.

4. "Baby It's Cold Outside" by She and Him - What makes this version so great, other than Zooey Deschanel's incredible voice, is that she and M. Ward have taken on opposite roles. Zooey is the one in the relationship saying, Mind if I move in closer, while M. isn't so sure, telling her, I really can't stay. It's a fun twist on an old classic from their 2011 holiday album, "A Very She and Him Christmas".

5. "I Am a Rock" by Simon and Garfunkel - I love Paul Simon, and this is one of my favorites from his pre-solo career with Art Garfunkel. It's so hauntingly, beautifully heartbreaking. A winter's day/ In a deep and dark December/ I am alone/ Gazing from my window/ To the streets below/ On a freshly fallen, silent shroud of snow/ I am a rock/ I am an island.

6. "Desperado" by The Eagles - This song talks about loneliness, but I have always found it very calming, a nice feel for a winter tune. Don't your feet get cold in the winter time?/ The sky won't snow and the sun won't shine/ It's hard to tell the night time from the day.

7. "Same Old Lang Syne" by Dan Fogelberg - This is the other "not quite Christmas song" I was talking about. The story of two old lovers meeting up by chance on Christmas Eve night is all about nostalgia and catching up with the one that got away. It's kind of sappy and cheesy, but I don't care. There's something about this song that I absolutely love any time of the year, but especially in the winter. Just for a moment I was back at school/ And felt that old familiar pain/ And as I turned to make my way back home/ The snow turned into rain.

8. "A Hazy Shade of Winter" by Simon and Garfunkel - I always describe this one as Paul and Art's psychadelic song, and for some strange reason, picture the Peanuts gang dancing to it with their silly dance moves. I have no idea why! These are my favorite lyrics from "A Hazy Shade of Winter": Funny how my memory skips/ Looking over manuscripts/ Of unpublished rhyme/ Drinking my vodka and lime/ I look around/ Leaves are brown/ And the sky is a hazy shade of winter. When I take up drinking (as I often say I will after having a rough day at work), I will start with vodka and lime. ;)

9. "Cover Me" by Bruce Springsteen - Every song on the "Born in the U.S.A." album will probably find it's way onto my blog at some point, and for this post, it has to be "Cover Me". Outside's the rain, the driving snow/ I can hear the wild wind blowing/ Turn out the light, bolt the door/ I ain't going out there no more. So, so good!

10. "New York's a Lonely Town" by The Trade Winds - I always thought this song was by The Beach Boys, because it has that same harmonic, 60s, mellow surfer rock sound that I grew up with. It has a similar theme to "California Dreamin'", with a boy moving from Southern California to New York where there's plenty of snow, but no surfing, and he wants to go back home. My woodie's outside/ Covered with snow/ Cold winds will blow now/ New Yorks a lonely town/ When you're the only surfer boy around.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

I Got What I Needed

"You went to school to learn, girl/ Things you never, never knew before." - "ABC" by The Jackson 5

Friday morning as I was driving the girls to school, we had a conversation about college. Their father is going back to school to get his MBA, so the five-year-old asked what grade her dad was in, which led to the topic of different degrees. The seven-year-old asked me if I had a doctorate, and our conversation went a little something like this:

Shannon: No, I don't have a doctorate.
Seven: Why not?
Five: Because she's not a doctor, she's a teacher.
Shannon: Well, teachers can have doctorates too, but I have my associates degree. I graduated college at that point because I got what I needed.
Five: Yeah, you got us.
Seven: That's right. You need us just like we need you.

I had to use every ounce of self-control I had not to burst into tears in the school driveway. Sometimes children just get things on a different level, a deeper one, than adults think of at first. That is a moment I hope to never forget.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tuesday's Top Ten - Favorite Books

"She reads too many books/ Got new movies inside her head." - "Hero Blues" by Bob Dylan

I love to read, which is probably no surprise. Ever since I was 11 years old I have enjoyed memoirs and biographies, and I have always loved fiction that blends emotion and humor. And then there's anything related to pop culture. And psychology. And thrillers. And women's fiction. And poetry. I just love books - the words on the pages, the smell of the paper, the feel of a hardcover book in my hands. It's an addiction that I am proud to own up to. It's hard to choose just ten favorites to showcase, but I'll do it for this list.

1. I first read this book when I was in sixth grade and have read it many times since. This memoir was written by Betty Mahmoody about her truly horrific and inspiring experience being trapped in Iran by her deranged husband and refusing to go back to America without her young daughter, Mahtob. Not Without My Daughter reminds me of how strong and courageous people can be, and what we can survive with faith, love, and intense determination.

2. I know I've talked about The Help before, but I will mention it again because it is a book that everyone should read. Kathryn Stockett takes readers to a place that is rarely talked about and only understood by the women filling the roles of "the help". The black women in the mid-twentieth century South who raised white children and managed the homes of white families - some appreciative, some racist, and some indifferent. The characters are so well-developed that after only a couple of chapters I felt like I knew these women. The story is gripping, interesting, and best of all, honest. I was so sad when I finished the book because it was so amazing, I just didn't want it to end.

3. Becky Bloomwood is one of my favorite characters of all time. I love the entire Shopaholic series, with my favorite titles being Confessions of a Shopaholic and Mini Shopaholic. Sophie Kinsella is a master at creating characters that are believable, hilarious, and likable. That's a killer combination that I don't always see in books. And being a card-carrying (Visa, Mastercard, Discover...) shopaholic myself, I can relate to Becky as she finds amazing deals, perfect gifts, and items she can't possibly live without, as well as the sick feeling when the bills come. "Okay, don't panic."

4. Robin Jones Gunn is my favorite author. She creates characters that people can identify with; that I would like to be friends with. I love her Glenbrook Series (women's fiction), Sierra Jensen and Katie Weldon Series (both young adult), and Sisterchicks novels (women's fiction), but my favorites are the books that make up the Christy Miller Series. I read these twelve books over and over again all throughout my teenage years and grew up with Christy, Todd, Katie, Tracy, Doug, and the rest of the group. After Christy grew up and that series ended, her story continued in the three book Christy and Todd Series which is also among my favorites.

5. Stephen King is a genius. I have read so many of his books over the years, but 11/22/63 is a true masterpiece. And I'm only halfway finished with it! Normally I would never say something was one of my favorites when I haven't finished it, but this book is just that amazing. 11/22/63 centers around a man who travels back in time to try to stop the assination of John F. Kennedy. Along the way he learns that everything he does has an impact on the future and affects so many lives. It really gives readers a lot to think about. And Stephen King has a great way of incorporating music and other pop culture references into his work that make it really enjoyable to read, even if the story is freaking you out a little at the same time. It is extremely difficult to put this book down!

6. As those of you who read my blog regularly know, I love psychology! This is the book that got me hooked on that subject. Starving For Attention is the autobiography of Cherry Boone O'Neill, daughter of singer Pat Boone. She suffered from anorexia and bulimia for many years, even before they were widely known disorders. I have lost count of how many times I have read this book and am sure I will read it again many times in the future. Cherry fought back from being on the verge of dying and was brave enough to share her story with the world. And it's an incredible story.

7. Ah, Little Women. This was one of my favorite books growing up and I still love it. Jo was my favorite of the March sisters, and I wanted to grow up to be a writer just like her. All of the sisters were so great in their own ways, and I love how Louisa May Alcott created such separate, fully fleshed-out identities for each character. It was like they were real people, and I know from personal writing experience that that is a very difficult thing to do. Little Women is a classic for a reason. It's a beautifully told, engaging, entertaining story that will always stand the test of time.

8. This book is wonderful! Kristin Hannah is a genius at writing books that tap in to a reader's emotions and make them fall right into the story. The Things We Do For Love is about Angie, a thirty-something divorced woman who is mourning the loss of her stillborn child, and Lauren, an above average teenager from a below average upbringing, who is dealing with an unexpected pregnancy. Their lives intertwine and while I thought this novel would be predictable, it wasn't! The Things We Do For Love has one of the best endings of any book I have ever read, and I will be a Kristin Hannah fan for life because of it.

9. I just talked about The Gift of the Magi a couple of months ago, so I'll keep it brief. The reason I love this book so much is because it tells the story of Della and Jim Young, a poor couple who love each other so much, they give up their most prized possessions in order to buy a Christmas gift for the other person. Simple, lovely, and timeless.

10. I am a sucker for rock (auto)biographies, and this one was fantastic! Pattie Boyd, the inspiration behind the amazing songs "Wonderful Tonight" and "Layla" by Eric Clapton and "Something" by George Harrison/The Beatles, was married to both of these rock icons and had an interesting view of the music world that she shares beautifully in this memoir. Plus there are great photos.