Today is Alice’s Birthday

Today is Alice’s Birthday

Today is the Fourth of July, America’s birthday.

It’s also the day Alice in Wonderland was born, not to be confused with an un-birthday or half-birthday.

On July 4, 1862, Charles Dodgson, who published under the pen name Lewis Carroll, began telling three sisters a story. It so captivated and delighted the middle sister, Alice Liddell, that she begged him to finish it. Two and a half years later, he presented to her a leather-bound copy of Alice in Wonderland as a Christmas gift.

Peter Pan also grew out of the stories Sir James Barrie used to entertain children of the Davies family.

Both of these whimsical fairy tales are interwoven in the fabric of my childhood. I loved that Alice, bored when her sister ignored her, found such fanciful adventures after following a talking rabbit. As I read, I could go along with her to Wonderland, shrink and grow, attend a mad tea party, and play croquet with playing cards. Or, in the pages of another book, I could take flight with Peter Pan, swim with mermaids, and fight pirates.

The genius of Carroll and Barrie is timeless. As a writer, I’m encouraged that stories meant to entertain a few children grew to become enduring classics. They started from just a seed, without expectation, without a plan.

I often think of endings – from how the book I’m reading will conclude, to what my children will do when they graduate, and what my retirement will look like. Of course I remind myself to live in the present, really enjoy the experience of things. But I forget just how important beginnings are. Sometimes you just have to start on something. Take the first lesson on a foreign language. Save the first dollar. Write the first sentence. Because it will lead to the next one and the next and the next. And the ending might be something spectacularly beyond your wildest dreams, if you only you begin, plant the seed. All you need is just a spark of creativity. And maybe faith and trust. You don’t even need the pixie dust.

Coca-Cola Pool

Be honest. If your parents were the kind of parents who occasionally let you drink soda, then you must have fantasized about doing something like this. I know I did.

I also used to wish my house was an indoor swimming pool. I don’t mean I wish that my parents were uber rich and that we had an actual indoor pool. I mean that I envisioned my entire house flooded with water, save for a few feet at the top. Then I could swim down the hallway to my bedroom, or float around the living room while I watched TV.

Yes, yes, I know. Water and electricity don’t mix. But that’s not exactly the only flaw in that plan, is it?

Snozzcumbers and Frobscottle

These are not snozzcumbers.

cucumber and squash

But when I saw them I thought of the giant in Roald Dahl’s The BFG, eating Snozzcumbers and drinking Frobscottle. It’s funny how your favorite books from childhood stay with you.

Those vegetables are actually a cucumber and squash. Obviously. I could give you recipes for them but you probably have your favorites already and you have Google. Instead I will give you a Frobscottle recipe because everyday is a good day to relive a piece of your childhood with your kids.

This deliciousness comes from justJENN recipes:

frobscottleThat’s Pop Rocks on top, people. POP ROCKS. There’s also whipped cream, as you can see, but don’t worry about the sugar and calories because but it’s totally canceled out by the fresh raspberries. That’s how it works, right?

This would be the perfect drink to enjoy on a summer afternoon while you read your kids the book, if you want them to read it before the movie comes out on July 1st. Because isn’t that a good habit you want them to get into? I never read a book if I’ve already seen the movie. Totally ruins it, in my opinion. Although that may not be possible in this case. Can anything ruin Roald Dahl? Probably not.

Five unexpected gifts this week

Five unexpected gifts this week

It’s not my birthday. It’s not my wedding anniversary or any occasion* that would warrant me getting gifts but I have. I’ve been spoiled. This is a great week to be me.

Here is what I’ve been given for no reason whatsoever:

1.  Ashley Bell by Dean Koontz
A friend of mine had three brown paper shopping bags full of books to donate. Most of them weren’t my kind of genre but I did find a Dean Koontz book that looked interesting. I used to really like him and somewhere along the line I decided I didn’t anymore. After reading the first few pages of Ashley Bell, I decided to undecide what I previously decided. Now I like him again. Seriously. I’ve gotten to page 68 and I’m already recommending this book to you. Whoever said Dean Koontz is just a Stephen King wannabe hack (me, I said that) is totally wrong.

2.  Home-grown produce and eggs
My mother has friends who garden. People who get dirty in this oppressive Phoenix heat for fun. This week I’ve been the beneficiary of their labor. I’ve gotten eggs, squash, eggplant and juicy tomatoes that I’ve added to salads and used for bruschetta. Last night I made eggplant parmigiana and it was delicious. I would totally invite you over for dinner but A) I might not even know you and B) I don’t want to mop my kitchen floor and I can’t very well invite company over with an untidy house. That’s not my fault. (It is though, really. It’s my fault.)

3. Dishes and a breakfast sandwich maker
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, according to experts who know about these kinds of things. As far as I’m concerned, it’s also the tastiest. So I was only too happy to accept a breakfast sandwich maker from my mother-in-law. I can use the free range eggs I got! And some cheese! And it’s ready in five minutes! She also gave me plates and coffee cups so I will be very appreciative of her every time** I eat a yummy breakfast sandwich off a new, unchipped plate.

4.  Amazon gift card
I get my love of reading from my mother. For no other reason than she is very generous, she gave me an Amazon gift card. If you know me – and maybe you don’t, which is partially why you’ve not been invited to dinner – then you know that I added that sucker to my account faster than I can make a breakfast sandwich. Of course I’ve already ordered new books to read, even though I’m on page 68 of Ashley Bell.

5.  A $54.14 credit on Amazon
Okay, this one was weird. I was checking the balance of my gift card and I had even more than I’d just added, after I’d made a purchase. I found a recent gift card claim credit of $54.14, which is an odd amount. There was no explanation and at first I thought I’d been hacked. But what hacker would want to give me money? Either it’s someone who really, really wants to come to dinner or there had been some mistake. Then I found an email from Amazon explaining the Apple eBooks Antitrust Settlement and that I was eligible for a credit as part of that. (Check your accounts, everyone. You might have a credit too.) I hadn’t expected this at all so it was like receiving a gift from the Universe.

Clearly my mother, mother-in-law, and the Universe are telling me that I should take time to enjoy reading and eating breakfast. The mopping can wait.

Did you get any cool gifts this week? Maybe you just found something you’d misplaced. If it was gone long enough that certainly feels like getting something new. Or maybe you found someone’s forgotten change in the automated change dispenser at the grocery store. I’m not judging you.

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*I’d like to petition Merriam-Webster or whoever is in charge of words that we add an accepted alternative spelling to the word ‘occasion.’ Did you notice that alliteration, Mr. Webster? Does that somehow elevate my request? Because I’d really like to add an S to this word. I think we can all agree that occassion just looks better, red squiggly line underneath it be damned.

**While I’m requesting dictionary revisions, I’d like to add this to the list: make every time a compound word. Everyone. Everybody. Everything. Everywhere. Everyday. Everytime? Mr. Webster, I implore you. This nonsense of separating ‘every’ and ‘time’ is one thing that makes the English language so hard to learn. These words belong together and it would be nice not to have to backspace everytime I type them.

Casual Friday

bagel

This is how my Friday started – with a breakfast bagel at Einstein’s and good company to boot. Hope your Friday is off to a delicious start too.

library

—  Now THAT’S a library

—  Ricky Gervais to reprise role from The Office UK in the movie David Brent: Life on the Road. This is the news you needed to make your weekend better.

—  8 Life changing TED talks. This is on my list of things to watch while I hide from the heat this weekend.

—  The Wilhelm scream compilation

—  Behind the scenes photos of 80s movies. Confession: I’ve never seen St. Elmo’s Fire and I don’t plan to because I’m afraid it’s gonna be too sad. Isn’t there a tragic break-up with Ally Sheedy’s character? Or someone else. Eh, doesn’t matter. Not gonna see it.

—  Plan to make these adorable firecracker cupcakes

—  You may not want to make a headband but at least you’ll know how to make a Celtic knot

—  Video tutorial for a fairy lantern

—  Weak words and how to avoid them

—  Words to make you sound smart

I’m not pregnant or buying a house

A friend offered me some tea when I visited her recently. This tea didn’t come in a bottle and it wasn’t brewed from bags. My friend made it from scratch with hibiscus flowers, rose petals, clover and honey. After boiling and simmering it for 15 minutes, she added some orange slices. My taste buds were shocked to actually enjoy something liquid that wasn’t Coke or water.

Then a different friend shared an herbal tea recipe with me. Since regrettably stepping on a scale on Memorial Day weekend and discovering I weigh 8 more pounds than I thought, I’ve been cutting back on all that soda I drink. Here was another opportunity to replace sugar and caffeine with something tasty and healthy.

The problem was that grocery stores in my area don’t sell fresh chamomile and mugwort by the ounce. I didn’t want to order them online since you can never be certain to get fresh herbs. The best herb shop around is about a 40 minute drive from my house. I was disappointed until I learned the herb shop has a booth at a weekly farmer’s market at my favorite neighborhood park. If you call them, they will package your order and send it to the farmer’s market for pick-up. Score!

herbsThe friendly lady working the booth made polite conversation while she processed my payment. She asked me what I intended to use the herbs for and after I explained about wanting to cut back on soda and lose a few pounds, she congratulated me. “Thank you,” I said.

She started showing me the prepackaged teas that lined the tables. She selected a tea for pregnant women and talked about the herbs’ health benefits for expecting mothers. Wait. Did she think I was pregnant? What on earth did I say to make her mistakenly hear the word pregnant? Or was she just demonstrating the variety of teas they sold? Then she scanned the ingredients of another bag and said, “After you have your baby…”

Uh oh. That was awkward. I’d already accepted her congratulations. Was it too late to correct her? Which one of us would be more uncomfortable if I did? I decided to pretend I hadn’t heard what she said about having a baby and leave as quickly as I politely could. As she handed me my bag of herbs and receipt, she said, “Congratulations again!” This was my last opportunity to correct her. The herbs were affordable, high quality, and I knew I wanted to purchase more in the future. If I didn’t speak up now, it would be weirder later. But I didn’t. I smiled shyly and thanked her for the second time.

The next day I went grocery shopping. A lady was asking everyone who passed by her if they wanted to learn how to save on fuel and get free groceries. Ooooohhhh, me! Me! I do! The kids were at home with my husband so I was totally unencumbered and could kill a few minutes learning how to save money. I’m a dedicated coupon clipper. I combine them with the sales to maximize my savings. If there’s anything more I can do, then I want to know about it.

What this lady explained to me was really enticing, like tons of opportunities for reward points, 25 cents off per gallon of fuel for the first three months, and rewards checks four times a year. We chatted for a bit and I explained that I have a family of five, so I appreciate any deals I can get. Whatever I don’t spend at the grocery store or on gas can be saved or put in the entertainment budget. At the end of the spiel, I realized the only drawback. You have to get their Visa card. Even though I knew in the back of my mind I might want the card at some point, I wasn’t prepared to fill out an application and open a line of credit right then and there. So I admit it, I lied. I gave her the standard answer I tell every clerk who pitches a similar offer. I said, “We’re buying a house and I can’t open any new lines of credit right now.” That usually releases me from any high pressure sales tactics and ends the conversation. No harm, no foul.

Except.

This lady was so sweet that she was immediately interested in my fake house hunting experience. She agreed with my wise decision not to open any new credit and even advised me not to buy a car during the process. She told me not to stress, as so many people find it one of the most stressful things they do in life. She wished me luck. Once again I guilty thanked someone for their kind sentiment. I could almost feel my nose growing. Then she said to stop by and let her know how it’s going the next time I come in because she would be interested to hear. And I believed that she would genuinely like an update. I suspect she’s also one of those people who never forget a face.

On my way to checkout, I passed by this lady again. This time she was also giving away free samples of caramel popcorn. I’m a popcorn purist. I like it drowning in hot butter with very little salt. I don’t care for all the fancy schmancy dessert flavored stuff. When she tried to hand me a plastic cup full, I declined. “No thank you, I’m chewing gum.” I’ll have you know that was the honest truth. I was chewing gum.

She suggested I take some home for my kids and handed me a whole bag after she placed a sticker over the bar code so I wouldn’t be charged at checkout. I’m sure she had a certain amount she could give away. I’m also sure she chose me as a lucky freebie recipient because of the nice conversation we’d had. And yes, I felt appropriately guilty even as I later lazed on my couch, reading and snacking on that surprisingly delicious caramel popcorn that had no hulls or kernels. I’m definitely going to buy some the next time I’m in the store. I just don’t know what I’ll say to that kind lady when I see her again.

Love is love

rainbow heart

Like everyone, I’m overwhelmed by what happened in Orlando. The deadliest mass shooting in America.

I was a freshman in high school when the massacre at Luby’s Cafeteria in Texas topped the list. Because that gunman had driven his truck right into the restaurant before opening fire, some businesses designed barricades disguised as aesthetic like the giant red bollards in front of Target stores, or so says popular lore.

Then there was the Sandy Hook massacre which claimed the lives of 26 people, especially tragic for its mostly young victims.

Virginia Tech was utterly staggering for its high loss of life. I never imagined that would be surpassed.

And then a lone gunman stormed a popular gay nightclub in Orlando, taking hostages during his siege. At least 49 are dead and even more injured.

In all of these cases of senseless violence, the lone killers lay dead among their innocent victims.

Whenever something tragic like this happens, as parents we have to deal with our feelings and help our children process their own feelings of fear, helplessness and grief. Psychologist Dr. Janet Taylor appeared on ABC News to offer advice on how to talk to your kids about the Orlando massacre.

Two of my children are too young to be aware of what’s going on. It’s summer vacation for my soon-to-be 7 year-old son and my 4 year-old daughter has yet to start school. They are shielded in our loving home from the world’s atrocities. Just a few minutes ago they were happily enjoying some Neapolitan ice cream, a perk of lazy summer afternoons. And to be honest, I have no intention of telling them about what happened. Soon enough they will learn of hatred, cruelty, and violence. But today is not that day. Today is a day I can buy my son a $4.99 game he wants to play on the iPad. I can laugh with my youngest daughter while she dances with her hokey-pokey Elmo. And I can shower them with kisses and hugs and I love you’s in honor of the at least 49 families who no longer can.

#Loveislove #OrlandoStrong

Casual Friday

The weather forecast for this weekend is a high of 102°. In Phoenix we say that’s not too bad. We know it can get hotter. Ten degrees hotter. But trust me, once it gets to be 115° degrees don’t matter and it’s just hot. HOT hot. Boiling. Sweltering. Feeling like you’re inside a volcano swimming in molten lava kind of hot. Insert dramatic sigh here. I’m not looking forward to July and August. I hope you’re enjoying the weather wherever you’re at.

Here’s some links you can enjoy in the cool indoors.

Beauty and the Beast by Korean artistBeauty and the Beast

—  Koren artist gives western fairytales a makeover

—  Crazy things that correlate – Nicholas Cage films and drowning. The divorce rate in Maine and per capita consumption of margarine.

—  The science of motivation

—  Clothes hacks and goodbye to yellow armpits

—  50 questions to get to know someone

—  20 one-liners that are actually good

—  31 DIY paintings for your blank walls

—  13 infographics to help you eat healthier

—  Movie locations seen through Google Street View

—  Stephen king’s top 20 rules for writers

—  How to apply contour make up. I’ve been meaning to learn this for a long time but I’m actually one of those people who only wears make up for special occasions, like the Queen of England is visiting, for example.

My big PeeWee surprise

PeeWee's Big HolidayPeeWee’s Big Adventure is on Netflix. My husband recently put it on for the kids and and I was happy they enjoyed watching it. I’m an 80′s girl at heart. I remember when PeeWee’s ridiculous dance to “Tequila” made me smile and his trademark laugh was oddly endearing to me. I get sentimental about that neon decade of leg warmers so I like it when I can share a piece of it with my children.

Yesterday I found PeeWee’s Big Holiday was out. It’s a made-for-Netflix film to reprise the original and probably rekindle Paul Reubens’ career. I suggested that my kids watch it when they were looking for something besides Henry Danger reruns. They liked the other movie so they were excited. I was too… for a chance at some free time. I got on my laptop and half-watched the movie over my screen. It wasn’t grabbing my attention. The opening scene showed PeeWee and an alien exchanging friendship bracelets, which turns out to be a dream. But I did notice this: Paul Reubens hasn’t aged a day since the 80s so I’m guessing he sleeps in a cryogenic chamber. Or he has really good genes. Or I need the number of his plastic surgeon.

Then PeeWee goes to work at a diner and he makes someone a milkshake and then he gets on a motorcycle. I don’t know. I don’t care. But then he’s in VW Bug headed to New York City because reasons. Then three busty bank robbers, who he thinks are hitchhikers, squeeze into his small car and end up taking him to a motel room and tying him up while they decide what to do with him. Suddenly, there’s cops outside the room. The girls scramble to hide the money and one opens the door. The cops, who look suspiciously brawny even for a movie, announce that the girls are under arrest… for being too hot. They tear off their uniforms to reveal speedos underneath and I just managed to turn the movie off as a pillow fight was starting.

This movie is rated PG. No dash 13. Just PG. I literally have no idea what happens next but no. Just no. Call me a prude but PeeWee wasn’t exactly having the time of adventure I seem to remember him having. I have no idea what happened next but I wasn’t about to let my four and six year-olds watch and find out.

Epitaph Game

There’s a game happening on Tumblr where you figure out what your epitaph will say. It sounds macabre until you read the directions:

Uh oh, you just died and your family is planning what your tombstone will say. They decide to use your last outgoing text message. What’s your tombstone say?

My favorite epitaph so far: “I’m here.” That could be frightening or comforting, depending on how you look at it.

Some other gems are:

“Ok NOW I’m napping”

“Scott said I didn’t need to come in today”

“I just walked out of hospital cos it was making me worst”

“See you soon”

“Thought you’d find it funny and Kristen might too”

“So, if cats get lured away that’s why”

“Yeah, same”

“Let me know how it goes”

“I’m on my way now”

“You need to be let in?”

“Which one of us in this relationship never answers their phone?”

“Mum just finishing ironing, then we’ll be there”

“Noooooooooo”

“Oh dang it, see you some other time then”

“Ok :)

“Goodnight <3″

“This makes me feel even more single”

“Yes it’s painful”

“I literally just woke up”

“Call me”

“Oops”

What would your epitaph say? Leave it in the comments.