Saturday, November 27, 2010

On Thanksgiving Games (Or, Not your typical Thanksgiving post, I promise)

Are you familiar with Thanksgiving Day music? Did you even know there were Thanksgiving tunes? Neither did I, but two days ago, a simple game meant to occupy the kids turned our family Thanksgiving into a local musical.

It all started when I felt pity for my two kids for not having cousins to share the family holidays with. I was fortunate enough to grow up with a table full of 'em and so loved all family gatherings. But since my own kids aren't as lucky, they don't enjoy the family dinners like I did, and that makes me sad. So in planning for this year's T-giving dinner at my mother's house, where 13 adults would grace the table with my two children, ages 12 and 9, I decided my kids needed jobs.

I created two questionnaires - one for my rock-musician son, and the other for my silly goofball of a daughter. His question was: Who was your favorite singer or rock group when you were a kid? Her question was: What was the craziest thing you did as a kid or teenager? I then provided the name of every adult in attendance and a space for the kids to fill in the answers. They conducted their interviews during cocktail hour so that during dinner - once the can't-talk-eating silence set it - we'd make a guessing game out of it.

My son began by asking everyone to guess whose favorite group was The Platters. A poor poker face on my father's part revealed him, and when my cousin chose him, Dad broke into song - a tune I could not place, not so much out of lack of familiarity and more out of inability to identify any tune whatsoever. (This from the same man who insists on singing Happy Birthday to me every year over the's painful, I tell you.)

Next came Dion and the Belmonts. Once Mom was guessed...yep, you got it...she broke into a rendition of Run-around Sue which, at least, was better than Dad's singing. At this point, my son was losing it. He wanted to get through the list. I reminded him that this was the purpose of the game - to get everyone talking, laughing, and discussing something other than politics (which never goes over well in this bi-partisan family).

I won't go through all 13 musical selections, but I will mention my step-father's choice, John Philip Sousa. (What????) With this, everyone broke into Be kind to your web-footed friend, for a duck may be somebody's uncle... Oy vey! But when it was my turn and I was identified as the lover of Styx, I couldn't help myself. Tonight's the night we'll make history, honey, you and I, and I'll take any risk to tie back the hands of time and stay with you here tonight. Yeah, baby, the Best of Times.

Finally, it was my daughter's turn to have everyone guess who had committed what crazy act in their youth. I learned many wonderful things about my family and friends that night, thankfully in rated G version since most of us knew these answers would be shared. Not my cousin Don, though, whose answer was "got married". His wife was there, and later when we went around the table and said what we were thankful for, she said, "I'm thankful I've got a sense of humor." Good woman, my cousin Judy!

Other gems included shooting out street lights with a BB gun, climbing a hotel tower and dropping water balloons on people below until chased away by police, trying to get into the Guinness Book of World Records by trying to drink the most water (failed), sneaking into the University of Miami pool at night and jumping off the high dive naked, and cutting off a sibling's long hair while she slept (my personal favorite).

This game lasted the entire dinner as we talked, stared at each other in surprise, and laughed loudly. It was brilliant. And the kids could not once complain of being bored...the greatest part of it all. Everyone enjoyed it so much that I think it will become a family tradition. I've already got question ideas brewing for next year.

What say you? Any fun Thanksgiving traditions you'd like to share?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

On Facebook Birthdays (Or, 190 friends? How did that happen?)

Today (November 16) has been a glorious day, and not only because I celebrated completing another year of life. First, I received my annual phone call from my dear friend in Germany. Even though he was out of town on business and had to search desperately for somewhere to plug in where he was staying, he called me at 7pm my time, which is 1am his time. He'd been stuck in meetings all day and confessed to being a little drunk, and I love him for it.

Second, I received no fewer than 54 birthday wishes from Facebook friends - enough to keep me occupied all morning as little red flag announcements popped up in my FB bar minute by minute. It was great to receive good wishes from people who normally would have had no clue it was my birthday (and who probably wouldn't have cared for not knowing).  But as my profile page was filled with wall posts, it occurred to me...what about the other 136 friends in my list?

According to FB, I've got 190 friends, only 54 of whom cared enough to write a short message of happiness on my birthday wall, apparently. And that's just fine with me. Honestly, 54 is five times what I need. If I'd received 190 birthday messages, I might have found myself wishing I hadn't reached this annual milestone. So how did I end up with 190? Here's where Facebook annoys me.

When I first joined, back in 2008, I was very particular about who I requested friendship from and more particular about who I accepted if from. But just like in high school, where peer pressure forced us to sometimes hang with kids we didn't want to hang with, I've accumulated about 100 more FB friends than I care to have. (Not naming names here, of course.) I know how callous I sound, and I'm aware I may lose some FB friends in the wake of this post, but the good news is that any of you reading this are NOT part of the 100 or so I don't care about.

Conceptually, Facebook is a brilliant idea that has mostly been the funnest (yeah, I said "funnest") thing to come along since roller skates. I've loved reconnecting with people I thought I'd never hear from again, and more importantly, I love how connected I am to my overseas and out-of-state friends. For that, I thank the Facebook team almost every day. And as I stayed home today determined to write at least 1000 words, I didn't mind not accomplishing my task since I was busy chatting with FB friends in live chats or speaking to others on Skype (another worldly wonder).

Now, as I prepare to end my birthday, I will put my nasty attitude to rest and instead focus on the blessing of those friends who remembered me on my special day. My life is good and my true friendships - real and virtual - are beautiful. After dinner, I cracked open my Pei Wei fortune cookie and read, "Your life is a dashing and bold adventure." If the cookie says so, it must be true, and my friends are an integral part of it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

On Coexistence (Or, Can't we all just get along?)

This is the bumper sticker I have on my car. It's been years now, and I'm always pleased when a stranger notices or asks about it. Yesterday, while parked at a red light, I noticed the woman behind me pointing to my sticker and talking to her passenger. I could actually read the driver's lips and saw her mouth "Jewish" as she pointed to the sticker. Then she held up a questioning hand as if to say, Don't know what the other stuff means.

Since the women in the car behind me were obvioulsy unfamiliar with the meaning of the sticker, I thought it would make a great blog post. I'm all about tolerance, but to appreciate my message, you must understand the symbolism. Here's the story...

Piotr Mlodozeniec is the Polish designer of the original Coexist design, which substituted the crescent moon representing Islam for "c", the Star of David representing Judaism for "x", and the cross representing Christianity for "t". Since then, the design has been expanded to cover all types of tolerance.

- for the letter "o", the peace symbol is substituted
- for the letter "e", a male/female symbol is substituted
- for the letter "i", a pagan/Wiccan symbol is substituted
- for the letter "s", a Chinese yin-yang symbol is substituted

All we need now is to color it like the rainbow flag to represent homosexuality, and the design becomes an international message of tolerance and hope.

(If you're interested in helping spread the word, you can do it here.)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

On Time Management (Or, Not!)

I love blogging. I only entered the blogosphere back in February of this year, and I jumped in head first, exhilarated by the hard splash. I set myself on a twice a week posting schedule and honored it for many months. Then it became once a week. (You know what I'm talking about.) And somewhere between once a week and today, I got lost. And I'm disappointed in myself - my harshest critic.

You must understand...the biggest compliment-insult my husband bestows on me is that I'm too efficient. (He's trying to insult me, but I take it with pride.) Never was I a procrastinator - not in childhood and certainly not in adulthood. No, siree. You'll never find me putting off until tomorrow what I can get done and check off my list NOW.

So if procrastination isn't my vice, why haven't I been blogging? Or writing, for that matter? I blame it on my muse. Many of my blogfriends reference a variety of amusing muses (I just wanted to type that), often posting muse avatars to inspire them daily, but I've never gone that route. Admittedly, I've never been able to clearly identify the source of my inspiration...either it was there or it wasn't, and I simply waited (rather patiently, I might add).

But last week I got pissed off. Since the school year resumed, when I've bumped into friends who ask about my writing, I've heard myself say, "My muse went on summer vacation and never came back." It's a charming enough response that elicits smiles, but every time I said it, I was afraid it was true. What if the unknown source of my inspiration never returned? I thought I'd die.

Then I found it. It started with a conversation in October in New York, where I got the idea for my next book. I let it sit for a while, brew inside my head and take shape. Then I picked up my copy of Hollis Gillespie's Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a Bad Neighborhood, and I felt inspired. (If you're not familiar with this book, check it out. It's pee-in-your-pants funny while also being touchingly poignant and beautifully written.) I sat down and started the Preface of my new book and was already on a roll when my lovely blog buddy, Nicole Ducleroir, said I HAD to read Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

How could Nicole know that I was writing my own memoir and troubled over the narcissistic nature of the whole project? She couldn't, of course. But that, my friends, is an example of serendipity. By picking up King's memoir (already half-way through), I found the courage and attitude necessary to move on with  my own project.

So I thank you, Nicole. And I thank Hollis and Steve, too. (Yeah, we're not really on a first-name basis, but hey, this is MY blog.) I still can't promise you'll be seeing me post regularly, but at least I'm writing...and that's a beautiful feeling.