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!

Game Time (The iPod Shuffle Game)

And now, for something completely different…

Then again, not so different. Seeing as my brain is worn out after a day of work, and Mom stuff, and studying programming (for fun, of course), and seeing as I was already on the topic of never growing up, I thought it may be time for a game. I know, right? Hooray, a game! I love games!

Okay, get your music player out, and prepare to hit that shuffle button. You heard right – it’s once again time for every music lover’s favorite time-waster:

The iPod Shuffle Game

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In case you don’t already know the rules, here they are:

  1. Put your music player on shuffle.
  2. For each question, press the Next button to get your answer.
  3. You must write down (or say) the name of the song, no matter how silly it is. (Cheating optional)

Ready? Here goes…

  1. How do you feel today?

Foxey Lady – Jimi Hendrix

[Oh my! Okay, kind of accurate, even. 😉 ]

 

  1. What do other people think of you?

This Love – Maroon 5

[Fire in my eyes? Chaos controlling their minds?]

 

  1. How do you describe yourself?

Oops!…I Did it Again – Britney Spears

[*Shocked face* What!? Me?! But..but…I AM that innocent!]

 

  1. What is your life’s purpose?

True Colors – Cyndi Lauper

[This actually made sense once I thought about it]

 

  1. What crosses your mind often?

Patience – Guns n’ Roses

[So true! Be patient me, be patient…]

 

  1. What do you think of the person you love/luv?

Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen

[Haha! Not exactly, but this was very, very funny!]

 

  1. What is your life motto?

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For – U2

[Some days, yes.]

 

  1. What song will they play at your funeral?

You Be Illin’ – Run DMC

[Lol! Quite unexpected.]

 

  1. What do you dream about?

Get Lucky – Pharrell Williams

[Mmmaybe… 😉 ]

 

  1. What gives you nightmares?

Baby Beluga – Raffi

[AAACCK! A whale! Wait -why on earth is Raffi is still in my iTunes collection?]

 

  1. What was the last lie you told?

I See Fire – Jasmine Thompson

[But there really was a fire, I swear!]

 

  1. What embarrasses you?

La Isla Bonita – Madonna

[Huh?]

 

  1. How do you feel about your coworkers/friends?

I’ll Be There for You – Bon Jovi

[Awww!]

 

  1. What is your biggest secret?

Superman (It’s Not Easy) – Five for Fighting

[Oh great, now you all know my secret]

 

  1. What gets your heart pounding?

Bonito – Jarabe de Palo

[Dancing to this song gets my heart pounding! ¡Bonito! Todo me parece bonito…]

 

Game over – Thanks for playing!

Life (and Other Games)

board game pawns dice“Hey mom, can we play a board game?”

Groan. I looked at the eager, shining eyes of my 10yo and pasted on a cheery smile. “Oh boy, a board game! There’s nothing I’d like better.”

“Hooray!” My son bounced off to search for a board game. “Blokus?” he called. “Chutes and Ladders? The Game of Life? Ooh, I know, how about Dogopoly?”

Nooooooo! I wanted to scream. Anything but Dogopoly, which takes the world’s longest, most boring board game and makes it more boring by selling dogs instead of luxury properties. Luckily, our Dogopoly game had mysteriously disappeared, so our family (minus the older teen, who was superglued to the computer, lost in the World of Warcraft) settled down on the living room floor to play Scrabble Slam!

dogopoly_boardYes, it is necessary to write Scrabble Slam! with an exclamation point, to emphasize how fun! And exciting! And fast! This game is. For about three minutes. Then, of course, Mom wins while everyone else is still holding a fistful of cards. Because we all forgot rule number one of Family Game Night in our house – never play word games of any kind with Mom. Or strategy games. Or pretty much any game besides Life or Chutes and Ladders.

 

The strangest thing is that I used to be crazy about board games. When I was a kid, my brother, sister and I played them all the time, whenever we weren’t playing Atari games or little league sports. Pay Day, Clue, Connect Four, and yes, even the dreaded Monopoly used to seem so fun (even though my older sister used to alter the rules in her favor). But somewhere within the past several years, I lost my enthusiasm for board games. Especially games of chance, where it doesn’t matter how talented you are at anything, because any player can win or lose just by getting a lucky spin or landing on the wrong space. Maybe it feels too much like the real Game of Life.

But here’s the thing – even though I am no longer crazy about board games, I am super crazy about my kids. They are like a cup of awesome-sauce with sugar on top. And so, any trace of distaste I may feel for board games is overshadowed by my love for them. For them, I would happily roll dice and dole out fake money. I would pretend to suck at checkers and accidentally-on-purpose forget that I am holding a +4 Wild Card in my Uno deck. I would even – gulp! – play Dogopoly for a few hours, if that’s what they really wanted to do.

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Because that’s what you do when you love someone. You jump into their world with them and play the game with your sunniest attitude, even if it’s not your thing. Game on!

classic board games

Chess, Life, and Other Games (aka: Taking Risks)

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

super crazy stuffI saw this on another blog, to use as a sort of journaling prompt. My mind immediately began to rewind back to a number of crazy things I’ve done – stupid choices and embarrassing mistakes. But then I stopped myself. It is too easy for me to focus on the negative crazy things I’ve done. But what about the positive crazy things?

Some people dive into life headfirst. I’ve browsed through dozens of blogs and social sites showcasing the lives of the brave people who walk among us, or skydive above us, or fly past us on motorcycles, setting the wind on fire, on their way to the next grand adventure. I stand back on the sidewalk, staring in awe, knowing that I can never be that person, but admiring their courage and spark and zeal for life all the same.

I take so few risks in life. It has usually been my habit to think and analyze and research the heck out of every possibility before finally deciding on the safest, most practical path. I suppose it is like playing chess with life. There is no way to avoid being defeated (as every one of us will eventually face the Checkmate), but at least I can protect my pawns, bishops, and knights for as long as possible. Chess is Life Bobby Fischer

Okay, enough with the metaphors. What’s the craziest positive thing I’ve ever done in life? Okay, well, maybe this one is only semi-positive, but here it is. When I was a senior in high school, I worked as a student assistant in the school library. It was a great job for an introverted book lover like me, with access to tons of books and, well, some private student records, too. So one day, I became curious. At the time, I had just turned sixteen, which made me the youngest senior at the school. And I wondered – who was the absolute youngest student in the school?

ninja_girl

It took a lot of research. There were around 2,500 students in my school, and the student records were all on paper, stored in file boxes. Whenever the library was quiet and there was little work to do, I pored through the records, scanning birthdates, until at last I found him. Let’s call him D.W. He was a freshman, and had just turned 13. The youngest in his class.

 

I could have let it end there, having satisfied my curiosity. But that’s when I got a spark of crazy. I copied down his school schedule, then wrote my first note.

Dear D.W.,

You don’t know me, but I am hoping you’d be interested in playing a little game. I know that you are the youngest student in the school. I am the youngest senior in the school. Let’s see if you can figure out who I am.

Sincerely,

A Mysterious Stranger

BU009237

I folded the note into the shape of a frog (because, why not?), then used my student assistant powers to have the note delivered to D.W. in one of his classes. The game had begun. During the days that followed, I had several other notes delivered to D.W. containing small clues about my identity. I also learned that he was friends with a friend of mine (weird coincidence), and that he spent his lunch period playing games with a group of role-play gamers (what!). According to my friend, this kid was very into the game I had created, and was doing everything he could to figure out my identity. Ohmigosh, so fun!

Nerd Games

Eventually, he won my little game. He learned my identity and became an instant friend during the last few months of my high school years. So I guess that makes it a good kind of crazy thing. Of course, it could have ended up completely the opposite, with him getting all creeped out by this senior stalker and me getting in trouble with the library staff for misusing private student records. But maybe there was something about our shared experience of being young, somewhat-nerdy, so-called geniuses that put us on the same wavelength and kept the game in perspective.

So there you have it. Nothing exciting like swimming with sharks or bungee jumping (*shudder*), but definitely out-of-the-ordinary and risky.

Down Down Baby (aka: Exploring Children’s Folklore)

girls playing games It is a part of nearly every childhood. It is passed on from one generation of children to the next, and from one side of the country to the other.  From the outside, it looks so innocent: clusters of little girls clapping hands together and singing songs on the playground. So sweet, right? Surely they  are singing about rainbows, butterflies, and unicorns.

Completely wrong. Chances are, those little girls were singing something like this:

Down down baby, down by the roller coaster

Sweet, sweet baby, I’ll never let you go

Shimmy shimmy cocoa pop, shimmy shimmy rock!

Shimmy shimmy cocoa pop, shimmy shimmy rock!

Ooh chi chi wa wa (a biscuit)

I found a lover (a biscuit)

He’s so sweet (a biscuit)

Like my candy treat (a biscuit)

 Or perhaps:

 

Uno dos ciento

East to west

I met my boyfriend at the candy store

He bought me ice cream, he bought me cake

He brought me home with a belly ache…

Passed down through the ages

 

What’s that you say? These little girls are singing about finding lovers and meeting boyfriends? But they are only children! Well, it is not so unusual. When I was studying child development in university, I came across a number of interesting books chronicling children’s folklore throughout the decades. When one looks at the songs, chants, games, rhymes, and stories shared by children, and passed down from one generation to the next, one thing becomes glaringly evident: childhood is not completely innocent. Children’s folklore is filled with adult themes of violence, sex, racism, and classism, because they see and experience these things, to some extent,  in their actual lives.  Through childish expression of play, music, and games, children often explore and attempt to make sense of the issues which confuse, worry, or frighten them.

These examples which I have shared are fairly innocuous. Truth be told, I am too embarrassed to publish some of the blatantly racist jeers and games that were common among groups of children for many years (“Open the refrigerator, take out a Coke” may ring some uncomfortable bells for a few of you). A number of other rhymes and songs were disturbingly violent.

On top of Old Smokey, all covered with blood

I shot my poor teacher with a .44 slug…

 

Fudge fudge call the judge

Mama has a newborn baby

Wrap it up in tissue paper

Throw it down the elevator…

 

And a larger number of these rhymes and games were based on issues of sex and promiscuity.

 

Apple on a stick, makes me sick

Makes my tummy go two-forty-six.

Not because it’s dirty, not because it’s clean

Just because I kissed a boy behind a magazine.

Hey boys, wanna have fun?

Here comes ______ with her pants undone.

She can wibble, she can wobble, she can do the splits

But most of all, she can kiss kiss kiss!

 

Mama’s in the kitchen, burning rice

Daddy’s round the corner shooting dice

Brother’s in jail, raising hell

Sister’s ‘round the corner, selling fruit-cock-tail

hand clapping games

 

Children’s folklore has been documented for many decades, and in countries around the world. Though there are often variations from one town to the next, it is interesting to note how little the rhymes and games have varied over time. If you were once a child – especially a young girl growing up in the USA, chances are you recognize at least one of the rhymes I have listed here, and probably a few more which you would prefer to forget about. Of course, our own children are much more sheltered than we were as children. Much more innocent, too. Surely, they only play innocent games and sing about rainbows, butterflies, and unicorns.

Resources on Children’s Folkore:

One Potato, Two Potato: The Folklore of American Children by Mary Knapp

American Children’s Folklore edited by Simon J. Bronner

Children’s Folklore: A Source Book by Brian Sutton-Smith, Jay Mechling, Thomas W. Johnson, and Felicia R. McMahon

Children’s Folkore: A Handbook by Elizabeth Tucker

 

 

 

 

Playing God (a.k.a. Life is a Simulation)

During the week, my routine is not very different than most of yours. I take kids to school, go to work, come home, cook dinner, pay the bills, etc. Just like most people. But when the day is over, and all the work is done, I am God.

Okay, okay, don’t get all offended. The thing is, I have these secret worlds, filled with people whom I have created, who wear what I tell them to, sleep when I tell them to, and live and work wherever I see fit. It is up to me to decide who will become a beautiful rock star, who will become a poor family with six children, or who will become a lonely insane genius who works all night in his laboratory, creating mysterious potions. In this world, I control everything. I can make it snow for weeks on end! I can (sort of) bring the dead back to life! I have the ability to turn an entire population into bloodthirsty vampires! Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

A Sims 3 Family Did I get too carried away? Oops, sorry. Something about playing The Sims 3 turns me into a power-hungry megalomaniac. Yes, I said The Sims 3. It is one of my favorite creative escapes. Truthfully, I have been a huge fan of simulation games since I was quite young. Back when Sim City first came out, it was like I had discovered gold. Since then, I have played every subsequent sim game:  Sim City, Sim Earth, Sim Farm, Sim Tower, you name it. When The Sims was first released, I was immediately hooked. And now, more than a decade later, I am still Sim-ming.

Here’s the deal – like a god, you create a person, or an entire family. You dress them, give them names (and sometimes pets), then move them into a home in your neighborhood. Really, it’s like playing a sophisticated game of Barbies. Only get this – the Barbies have come to life. And you, the player, have to guide them as they live their lives, and help them to stay happy as they navigate the ups and downs of careers, relationships, and family. Just like real people, each individual Sim has wishes and desires, which you can help them to fulfill. Like real people, they age, give birth, raise children, and then kick them out into the real world. And, like real people, the Sims grow old and die. (Or they can die sooner, you know, like if their house burns down and they can’t escape because you “forgot” to add doors. Just sayin’.) You can even throw a funeral, and then watch your other Sims get freaked out when the person comes back to haunt them as a ghost. Best game of Barbies EVER!

(Great video of Sex & the City, Sims 3 style)

Sims can walk around the neighborhood and meet people.

Sims can walk around the neighborhood and meet people.

Okay, so maybe the Sims isn’t the right game for everyone. It does take a lot of responsibility, organization, and time management skills to succeed in controlling the lives of others. And while the Sims can satisfy my hunger for power much of the time, I recognize that some of you may need to control a greater territory than just one little town of Barbies. I understand. And for you, I recommend one of many great war strategy simulation games, such as Civilization, Europa Universalis, or my personal all-time favorite, Age of Empires (the second one – forget the others). Then you can have your very own world of Barbie warriors who engage in medieval skirmishes or global thermonuclear warfare. HUZZAH!

sims-3-university-life-screenshot

 

What Shall I Do Now? (a secret revealed)

Okay, brace yourself. I am going to let you in on a secret about me…a little-known secret from my past. But you must be careful not to judge when you find out, okay?

Here it is:

My very first computer was a Commodore Vic-20.

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I was six years old when my stepdad bought it for me for Christmas and hooked it up to my bedroom television (which looked a lot like the one in above photo, btw). I was smitten from the first moment my hands began to type on the clunky keyboard. I had discovered my calling. I was destined to be a geek.

And really, it took a true geek to love the Vic-20. These days, playing a game means popping in a CD-Rom or downloading a file. But the Vic-20 didn’t have such fancy-pants technology. Games either came on a cassette, like this:

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Or you could do as I learned to do at the age of six: spend hours copying BASIC code out of computing magazines in order to acquire new games. See, I told you…geek from the very beginning.

And the Vic-20’s best game ever? Adventureland. Ohhh…I spent so much of my early childhood glued to the screen, playing God in a very nerdy, BASIC, text-based kind of way.

I’M IN A FOREST. TREES. WHAT SHALL I DO NOW?
(answer) kick tree
OKAY. WHAT SHALL I DO NOW?
climb tree

Yes. That was computer game bliss in 1981.

Eventually, as time passed, I moved on to better, more powerful systems (Commodore 64, Apple II Plus, Apple IIe, Packard Bell 486…skip a few…iPad 2). I no longer program my own games, though I am still quite the gamer. Only now when I play God, it is usually to a family of Sims or a squadron of strategy-game soldiers with wa-a-ay more pixels and power than my first little personal computer could churn out. But my Vic-20 is the one that started it all, the one which opened the door to techie adventure, and taught me always to wonder, “WHAT SHALL I DO NOW?”