The Dog Ate My Blog (aka: Lame Excuses)

Okay fine. The dog didn’t eat my blog.

In fact, we don’t even own a dog.

homework

But yes, my blog has been MIA for a couple of weeks. I had this long list of potential lame excuses as to why there haven’t been any new posts.

  • My kids have been hogging the computers. My tablet, too. And my phone.
  • I woke up one morning with blog amnesia. I remembered everything else — just forgot that I had this blog.
  • I joined a professional wiffle ball team, and we had to train for the Wiffle Ball World Series. (Okay, I just found out that that is really a thing).
  • My real parents finally arrived from Jupiter, and I spent three weeks showing them how humans live. I even gave them my copy of Earth (the Book). By the way, if you haven’t read it yet, you are really missing out on a vital part of your anthropology education.
  • just-didnt-do-it-excuses

Then I decided that honesty was the best policy. So I’ll be honest: I hate reading blog posts about why people haven’t been blogging lately. I hate writing about it, too. The truth is that I only have so much creative energy. And it occurred to me that I can spend it all on writing blogs, and writing mediocre poetry, or I can focus it on editing the YA novel I wrote, so that maybe someday, a publisher will want to pay me money for it and turn it into an actual book. But to reach that goal, the novel has to be super-awesome. And to write a super-awesome novel, a writer must learn to focus.

focus-on-the-important-things

Don’t take me wrong. I’m not scrapping my blog so that I can write. I’m just spending a lot less energy making sure that I post new material here every week. That’s lame, I know. But it’s so much better than coming up with lists of excuses about why I still haven’t finished editing the novel.

Like blaming the dog. Which we still don’t have.

Gold Medal Summer (aka: Let the Games Begin)

Olympic Rings

That magical time is upon us again. Every four years, we gather around our television sets to boooo our opponents, to pump our fists in the air and cheer on our favorites. USA! USA! 

No, I’m not referring to the Democratic or Republican National Conventions. Although the presidential election political circus is in high gear around this time, too.

summer games video game 80sTonight is the opening ceremony for the XXXI Summer Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Hooray! Hurrah! My kids and I plan to celebrate American-style by sitting around the television with slices of gourmet veggie pizza, commenting on the arrival of the olympic athletes and wondering where in the world countries like Tuvalu, Nauru, and Bhutan are located. Then we will ooh and aah at what’s sure to be a colorful, dizzying display of music and dancing of Brasilian Carnaval proportions.

Then finally, someone will ceremoniously light the ancient torch (insert more ooohs and aaahs), fireworks will explode overhead, and the games will officially kick off.

Rio Olympics racing runners track

I enjoy just about every sport in the Summer Games, except maybe wrestling. It’s so much fun to admire the displays of strength, speed, and grace as divers and gymnasts flip through the air, sprinters race like the wind, and soccer teams battle it out on the field. They are not only athletes – they are the elite, the amazing, the best of the best. The ones who spent hours every day training to bring home gold medals while the rest of us struggled to jog a mile on the treadmill a couple of times a week.

Our family’s favorite sport to watch during the Olympic Games is women’s artistic gymnastics. This is in part due to my 14yo daughter, the former gymnast. She once trained and competed at a level close to these elite Olympians, and still has the bulky shoulders to prove it. Some days, she is wistful, missing those chalk dust days in the gym, swinging and tumbling with her gymnastics teammates. But then she remembers how much work, commitment, and dedication it took to compete at such a level, and she is once again content to relax and cheer on Simone Biles and the rest of our national gymnastics team.

Rio Olympics 2016 Simone Biles gymnastics leap

Wherever you are in the world, I hope that you are able to gather somewhere with friends or family and cheer on your favorite country as they run, swim, tumble, and jump in the ultimate sports competition. May our athletes make it through without getting bitten by Zika-carrying mosquitoes. And may they continue to inspire the rest of us to get off our couches and into the gym, even if our greatest competition is against ourselves. Have some pizza, on me. And – LET THE GAMES BEGIN!

Beaches and Banana Slugs (aka: Camping is Boring)

“Camping is boring.”

I stared in shock at my 16yo, whom I had taken camping nearly every summer since he was a baby. “Boring?” I repeated. “How do you figure?”

Apparently, there was nothing to do while camping. No computer games, no WiiU, no skate park or Pokémon Go-ing. Nothing to do but swing in a hammock and stare at trees.

“Can’t we take a trip to a city and stay in a hotel instead?” he asked.

I laughed. Then I set the kids to work planning camping menus, writing packing lists, and stuffing the family minivan with sleeping bags, tents, and other well-worn gear for living in the wilderness. Okay, sort of wilderness. The truth is, we are not backpack-in-the-wild, cache-your-food-in-a-tree, filter-water-from-a-pond campers (much to my disappointment). We are more like state park campers with Coleman gear and a screen house to hide from mosquitoes and yellowjackets. But hey — we’re still getting “Out There.”

 

Our family has camped pretty much all throughout Northern California — Mt. Shasta, Mt. Lassen, and all throughout the Sierra Nevada. We’ve seen gorgeous waterfalls, amazing rock structures, and endless night skies smeared with clusters of brilliant stars. This time, we chose to camp at Big Basin, a huge state park nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains. We’d been there once before, but decided to return, drawn by the impressive beauty of the giant sequoia trees, not to mention the lack of bears. I love everything about camping except for bears. Especially at night. We pitched our tents, then did the usual camping stuff. We sat around in camping chairs, reading books and laughing over Mad Libs stories. We marveled over chipmunks and the horrid caws of Stellar’s Blue Jays. We spotted a slimy, adorable banana slug and dared each other to touch it. We grilled pizzas and toasted marshmallows and sang silly camp songs. So boring, I know.

 

On day two, we went for a long hike through the forest. We climbed on huge fallen logs and stood inside the hollowed-out trunks of some of the tallest, grandest trees on earth. Afterward, we had soft-serve ice cream at the camp store, then relaxed at camp with Uno cards and other travel games. “But Mom, there’s no Wi-Fi or cell phone service,” said the 16yo, his expression grumpy. “This is so bo-ring!”

 

The next day, we drove down the mountain toward the ocean. Then my three kids rode roller coasters and built sandcastles at the shore while I lay on the beach, devouring a good book under our huge sport umbrella. (The 16yo barely glanced at his phone, although he had service once again).  Later that evening, we returned to camp to enjoy one last evening around the campfire, where I entertained the kids by telling a super-scary story about a scarecrow who came to life.

At last, our camping trip drew to a close. We stuffed away the sleeping bags and tents and loaded up the family minivan. We cleaned up every last trace of our visit, so that the next campers could enjoy a clean campsite as we had. Then we drove away, waving goodbye to the sequoia trees and chipmunks and banana slugs — the only witnesses to our days of music and laughter, our nights of board games and reading books side-by-side under the glow of a propane lantern. No cell phones. No television. No computer screens to keep our family from truly connecting, if only for a few summer days.

Camping is so boring. Thank goodness.

 

Pokémon Go Go Go! (aka: My Super-Fake Video Game Rant)

Dear Nintendo,

What on earth were you thinking? Have you guys completely lost your minds?

I used to hold you in such high regard. Especially back in the days when you churned out seriously cool video games, like Super Marios Bros. and Zelda. It was so clever when you invented the Gameboy, and especially the Nintendo DS. My three kids used to be so entertained, and would sit quietly for hours, punching away at the keypad and fighting Lego villains on the miniscule screen. Your wonderfully simple, mind-sucking products resulted in peaceful family road trips, whine-free visits to the dentist office, and calm evenings between dinner and bedtime as my three munchkins racked up points and conquered digital worlds from the comfort of our living room sofa.

BUT THEN…

You had to go and create a revolution by inventing the Wii, followed by the bigger and badder WiiU. No more were my kids happily glued to their seats, engaged in the gameplay of the peaceful good ol’ days. Now they were on their feet, jogging in place, swinging invisible rackets and golf clubs, and shaking their hips in front of the TV screen. What madness! My quiet family evening dream was shattered by the thumping and jumping of little feet.

AND NOW…

You’ve really gone and done it. Pokémon Go? Seriously!? It wasn’t drastic enough to transform my kids from quiet sitters to noisy movers – now you’re encouraging to go places, too?

The other day, I tried to find one of my teenagers to make him take out the garbage. But you know what? He wasn’t even home! Turns out that he had actually figured out how to open the front door, and walked all around the neighborhood.

“Why would you do such a thing?” I asked him.

“To catch Pokémon, silly,” he told me.

I ended up having to take the trash out by myself.
pokemon-go.gif

If that didn’t take the cake, get this — as my kids have been Pokémon Go-ing, they’ve been meeting other neighborhood families at these so-called Pokestops and training gyms, and holding conversations about their little “adventures.” They’ve also been doing a lot more walking. Yesterday, my kids walked a whole mile in search of Pokemon, then had to text me to pick them up, because it was growing dark. So you know what? I couldn’t just stay at home relaxing. I had to get up off my rump and Pokémon Go Go Go, too.

Thanks a lot, Nintendo. What are you going to invent next — a way to make my kids eat healthier? Yeesh.

Say Cheese! (aka: One Cheesy Summer)

Cheese glorious cheese

Okay, I know it’s Independence Day, and I should probably write a post celebrating our nation’s bold and wonderful patriotic heritage, or about the joy of celebrating by making things blow up. But that’s pretty cliché, so instead, I’m going to write about cheese.

Yes, cheese. Queso. Fromage. Der käse.

See, every summer, my kids and I like to have a foodie adventure. Usually, we pick a country, or a type of cuisine, then we spend a few weeks tasting foods from that culture. We sample at restaurants, look up new recipes, and try our hand at preparing all sorts of interesting foods from around the world. The French and Chinese experiments were huge hits. Soul food and Indian food, to my disappointment, didn’t go over so well with my kids.

This summer, we took a slight detour from our annual tradition. After a delicious visit to a famous Berkeley restaurant known as The Cheese Board Collective, the kids and I were inspired. What if, instead of trying many types of food from one culture, we try eating a variety of fresh breads and cheeses from many cultures? Think of the possibilities!

bread

So once a week, instead of cooking dinner, we head out to the deli, or farmers’ markets, or to local bakeries, and we pick up a fresh, hot loaf of some type of interesting bread, and one or two cheeses. Then we head home and prepare a cheese platter to sample with our bread. So far, along with the usual staples like cheddar, swiss, and mozzarella, we’ve also eaten fontina, harvati, goat cheese, brie, and munster. We’ve also had plenty of breads, like pugliese, naan, rosemary olive loaf, cheddar-jalapeño ciabatta, and garlic-onion baguettes. Like with any foods, we have found definite winners (harvati with dill) and definite losers (a spicy artisan cheese from a farmers’ market stand).

You know, when you really think about it, this is a very patriotic blog post. No, not because of the amber waves of grain that went into each loaf of bread. But because our little food experiment embodies one of the values we Americans hold dear–the freedom to make our own choices. We live in a country where we are at liberty to make our own choices, to try any kind of bread or cheese or other food that we desire. And, true to the American spirit, we can break from tradition and define our own customs, like spending a summer tasting new foods together as a family.

Happy Independence Day!

Independence Day USA

My Two Cents (and Other Worthless Things)

penny

 

A couple of weeks ago, I did something I’ve never done before. I gathered up a bunch of our family’s old junk — rusty bicycles, worn-out camping gear, pieces of wood from a dilapidated IKEA bed — and took it to the city dump. Yes, the dump. You see, I grew up in an old-school family, in which the women-folk did things like bake meatloaf and scrub floors, while the men-folk did the heavy, dirty jobs like hauling junk. So, other than drop off our family Christmas tree each January, I had never had the experience of loading up our family minivan with household trash and lugging it to the dump.

It was not a pleasant experience.

However, it had to be done, as our shed and closets were bursting with useless things that couldn’t be tossed in a normal trash can. During the big tidy-up, I kept coming across these tiny, annoying little disks that, in my opinion, are about as worthless as rusty bicycles and 5-year-old IKEA furniture.

Most people call them pennies. I call them pests.

It never fails. Every time I sweep the floor, there they are. Whenever I stoop down to clear out things from beneath the beds or couch, I find at least a dozen. When vacuuming the house, one must steer the vacuum cleaner around these seemingly harmless, machine-clogging landmines. And most parents, at some point, have had to fish these shiny, toxic toys out of the curious mouths of babies.

A penny for my thoughts? I’d rather keep my thoughts to myself, thanks.

Really, I don’t see why our nation doesn’t just do away with the penny, like Canada did a few years ago. You can’t buy a single thing with a penny. You can’t even buy much for one hundred pennies, unless you’re shopping at the Dollar Store. Nor can you put pennies into a vending machine to pay for parking or buy a pack of Cheez-it crackers. Sure, there are other ways to spend your pennies. You can stand at the checkout, carefully counting out every little cent while the impatient people in line behind you shake their fists. Or you can buy some of those brown coin papers and spend your precious time rolling stacks of pennies into spendable rolls.

Or you can be penny-wise, like me, and scrap your pennies at the city dump.

Once upon a time, shiny, coppery pennies were useful little coins. But today, their face-value is less than the cost of the metal it takes to make them. Okay fine, pennies are great for making wishes at fountains. Also, if you find one face-up, then you may have a day filled with good luck (debatable). But for the most part, the good ol’ penny is an obsolete form of currency. It is time for our nation use our common cents — to let go of nostalgia and embrace new ideas, like rounding up to the nearest nickel.

That’s my two cents.

Connection! (aka: Unexpected Encounter on Aisle 4)

 

human connection contact

Connection.

After food and water (and, some would say, sex), connection may be the greatest thing we crave.

It’s why we become slaves to our cell phones, eyes glued to the tiny glowing screens, anxiously awaiting word from our contacts. It’s why we flock to social media. Our comments and Tweets, likes and shared memes are like drops of water, filling our empty cups. We need to reach out, to have meaningful conversations, to belong.

Connection used to be a simple thing. People rose in the morning and connected with family around the breakfast table. Or exchanged greetings at the local market, met with customers face-to-face, shared personal struggles and successes with neighbors, with coworkers, with fellow churchgoers. You were a member of the community – not a virtual one artificially contrived to group together the like-minded, but a real life community of people with real names (not user names) and real faces (not avatars).

Remember those days? Neither do I.

Imagine! Working side-by-side in a community garden while chatting with a human being instead of chiming in on a gardening forum online. Going for a jog or walk with a regular group instead of running alone, then posting your milestones on social media. Arguing with your local book club discussion group about the finer points of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World instead of tossing your personal review into the virtual soup.

Connection – real connection, is intimate. It has eye contact, and touch, and awkward pauses. It is the surprise of saying the same words at the same time (jinx!). It is the smell of someone else’s cologne, the sounds of sighs and tongue clicks, the inflection of voices.

It is ironic that I write of these things, since I am a writer and deeply introverted, and enjoy my time alone more often than time interacting with people. But once in a while, I actually crawl out of my cave to explore the human world. As I happened to be doing just the other day, during a somewhat routine 10-minute stop at the supermarket.

supermarket aisle shopping cartAs I pushed my cart down Aisle 4, an elderly woman leaned forward on her walker and complimented my dress. “It is so pretty, and it goes so nicely with your skin. You have lovely skin,” she added. “You are so lucky that it doesn’t burn easily.”

I flashed the woman a grateful smile, and nearly continued on my way, but stopped. What if this woman was not just offering a compliment? What if she was reaching out, seeking connection? “That’s true,” I told her. “But the trade-off is that it is harder for me to absorb Vitamin D from the sun.”

“It is?” The woman’s eyes widened in surprise. “I never knew that.”

The conversation continued, revolving around the challenges and benefits of my toasty brown skin and her pale, Irish complexion. We spoke of race relations throughout the generations, and of travel, and of the ups and downs of relating to siblings. My 10-minute shopping trip stretched out an additional 30 minutes. But that didn’t matter at all. What mattered was the mini-miracle of two complete strangers having an actual, meaningful dialogue about life right there in the aisle of the supermarket. Connecting. Just as everyone used to do, I imagine, in the days before cell phones and the internet.

At last, we said our goodbyes, and thanked each other for the unexpected and strangely satisfying experience. Who knows if we will come across one another again? Maybe that is the sort of thing that only happens in small communities. But still, my cup was filled, and I imagine hers was, too. Now, of course, I ironically must relay the experience here in the virtual world. But perhaps in reading these words, you, too, may decide to pause when the opportunity arises, put your cell phone away, and connect with a real, live human being.

community