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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.