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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Prepping for Zombies (and Other Disasters)

It's no secret I'm a fan of horror movies, and one of the things I like best is to vicariously live through someone's journey where all the most horrible things happen and they survive. Watching shows like The Walking Dead also make me think how completely unprepared I am for any sort of major disaster. Or even a minor one.

So that's easy--I wouldn't survive a zombie apocalypse. But what about the real stuff that could happen any old day? For example, do I know what to do if my brakes fail while I'm driving? No. Do I have an escape route in the case of (God forbid) home fire? I do, but what happens to my cat if we're not in the same room? Do I have a plan B if one of my escape routes is blocked? (I do, but God knows if that one would work).

What about a flood? Not a clue. Can I grow my own food? Are you kidding? Do I have water stockpiled in my basement in case of an emergency? Thankfully I do, but only because my husband stockpiled it. We do have a little bit of extra food down there in cans; we used to have more but it got so old I threw it out and then forgot to replace it.

Then there's emergencies like your child swallowing poison (again, God forbid) or being allergic to bee stings (as my husband happens to be). I think he told me what to do once, but I've forgotten it. Life is just so busy and it moves too fast, and though I want to be prepared and prepare everyone else in the family, I let it slide because it's not on my radar.

I'm writing this post today to remind myself that emergencies happen, and that it really, truly helps to be prepared. I know my son took a CPR course but I never did; and I never bothered to teach him any first aid skills, either.

Do you know them? Do you talk with your kids about escape routes, burglars (watching Home Alone doesn't count), first aid, water safety, growing food, finding water?

If the answer is no, but I should, then like me, I hope you are thinking it's not too late to start. I have planted seeds in gardens, and grown tiny little carrots and tasteless tomatoes, but hey, maybe that's at least a germ of what I could do if I really put my mind to it. If someone asked me what to do in case he or she was choking or having a heart attack though, I'd have no idea.

Maybe it's time to start asking those questions--and finding out where I can get some answers. I'm just thinking life is short enough already and I don't need to make it any shorter, right? Plus, kids tend to think this stuff is kind of fun, so maybe they can help with research. (If I had an 11 year old around the house, I'd get right on that.)

Couple of tips I found for learning and sharing safety information with your kids can be found here. Hope it helps you - and most of all ME - to get educated. And if you find anything about handling a zombie apocalypse, please, PLEASE. Let me know.

Getting Your Family Prepared for a Disaster

Zombie: Brad Montgomery

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Not Kidding: Getting Your Kids into Poetry

Mention the “P” word to a group of parents and you’re likely to see Panic, if not outright dismissal.

“Poetry? Are you kidding? My son would rather die than read it, let alone write it. He’s into running and baseball. That’s it!”

“I have to work really hard to get my kid to crack a book that isn’t assigned. War stories and adventure is about all he’s up for.”

I know, believe me. I had to work really hard to get my son interested in books too. The only way he would read The Sword in the Stone was if I read it to him (which prompted him to tell me I looked like the picture of Madam Mim. Not my favorite).

So why I am saying you should try and get your kid interested in poetry? Simply put:
  1. Poetry’s easy. If you find the right poem or poems, you can read them pretty quickly.
  2.  If you’re trying to get your kid to write (and what parent isn’t)? – poems can be written quicker than almost anything else, including essays, blog posts, creative writing compositions and all the other stuff they make you write in school.
  3. Poetry is a gateway drug. I started writing poems when I was mad at my mom for not letting me do any number of things as a tween. The poems became an outlet for me when nothing else helped.

You don’t have to start with Wordsworth or other classic poets (unless you want to) and there are a lot of fun, interesting writers out there to choose from. I wrote about Beat Generation poets in The Beat on Ruby’s Street because they did such interesting work with language. If you want to explore them and your kid is younger than say, 13 or 14, you may want to be selective, as many of these poems are for adults.

Allen Ginsberg, for example, has written some of the most beautiful, devastating and superb poetry I’ve ever read, but some of it may be too intense for an 11 year old. On the other hand, some of his poetry can be read by people of any age. My choice would be My Sad Self.

Besides reading poetry, you might want to encourage your kid to write it when his or her emotions seem too high to contain in regular prose. Is he mad at you? Does she want something she’s likely never to have? Are two siblings fighting incessantly?

Ask them for a poem. Two poems. Ask them to spill all their emotions into those poems and have a read-off to see whose poem captures those emotions the best. Share poems you think are similar to the ones they wrote and talk to them about the lives of those poets.

Will that make your kids love poetry? I have no idea. But years from now when a teacher or boss asks them for a writing sample, you can pat yourself on the back because at least you got them started. And who knows, you might discover one of your children has a really fine inner poet and all they needed was a little prodding to get it to come out.

For more on introducing poetry to your kids or your kids to poetry, try these sites and links:

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Spring Forward, Fall Back: Make it Stop

I swear it was five minutes ago I turned my clocks back and hour. I REALLY needed that hour, where did it go? Seemed to evaporate by November and now they want to take ANOTHER hour away from us? Are you KIDDING?

Theodore Roethke's poem The Waking keeps prancing through my head. "I wake to sleep and take my waking slow," he says, and I agree with him. Morning is slooooowwww for me, and I only really start waking up when the sun goes down.

I once had an employer who said she loved night people because they were more creative. Whether that's true or not is anybody's guess, though I loved hearing it. Last night I was ready to dance around the moon at 2 a.m. Not so much this morning.

I shouldn't be surprised that my son is a night person, too - and has wicked insomnia.
 My question is, WHO started this whole daylight savings thing and why do we have to keep changing it around? Can't we just keep ONE time and not fiddle so much back and forth? Daylight savings time gets earlier every year anyway. Falling back an hour seems later and later, too.

Aren't these time changes for an earlier time, say, when people were living off the land? I know it's nice to have light earlier in winter (if you have to get up earlier). But... losing and gaining hours is making me crazy. Especially the losing part.

And when you're desperate for more time, as most people shouldn't be that hard to keep things even and stop adding and subtracting every few seconds. Or months.

Okay. Rant finished. Thank you for listening.

I also want to thank Midwest Book Review for the wonderful review of The Beat on Ruby's Street this month:

You can find more here:

Also have to thank the amazing Pam Labbe for creating the graphic you see here.

And if you need an hour or two to read the book (or do whatever you want) -- I hope you find it soon.

Big clock: Scott Edmunds
Graphic: Pam Labbe

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Oscar's Disconnect

We're all hearing lots about the "Oscar flub" that happened last Sunday, but somehow or other, I keep thinking there was another flub that made me much, much more uncomfortable than the one we saw.

First - I need to say I love movies, and love isn't even a strong enough word - I loooooove movies, I love actors, screenwriters, directors and playwrights (and as some of you know I'm a playwright myself). So of course I want to celebrate movies and the people who make them.

What I didn't expect to see was a busload of people being led into the Oscar ceremony, introduced briefly to a few different celebrities and then hurried out. I don't know if you saw this or if you did, if you agree, but to me, it seemed that tourists were being asked to perform some kind of worship ritual - and were then sent off afterwards, as toddlers might be, to their bus.

Kimmel talked up his idea for a few minutes so everyone, including the "audience at home" would be in on the joke. I kept hoping this whole scene WAS a joke--some kind of satire or something--but no. When the doors opened and the bus riders entered, they (very good naturedly) put up with Jimmy's jokes and comments. At one point he seemed to be mocking one of the tourists for taking pictures with his phone.

What was the point of the whole exercise? Who decided this would be entertaining? All I can say is it felt really creepy to watch, because clearly the people entering the hall would never have enough money to wear the kind of gowns and tuxes celebrities wear; they would never have the houses or lives of these celebrities; and it seemed like they were being patronized in every way I could possibly think of, and no celebrity in that hall seemed to notice or mind.

Am I wrong? Did you see what I saw? If you disagree, can you tell me why?

I couldn't help but think of the Beat Generation poets I'm writing about in The Beat on Ruby's Street and the Beat Street series. What would Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, Diane Di Prima, and other writers say if they could witness the scene Jimmy Kimmel engineered?

Maybe they'd say... something like this?

"The people who go to your movies and care and think about the characters and struggle with their lives and jobs or lack of jobs are not figures of fun or your pets or toddlers. They may not pay your salaries but they pay to see the movies you create . Like me, they love movies. They love actors, They may even be (or want to be) actors or writers or directors themselves.

Shouldn't you have invited them to stay and offered them seats and asked them what movies they like instead of being so superficially (and barely) engaged with them?"

I don't know, huh? Maybe the people who were on that bus were not offended and had a wonderful time. I don't know, but I had to share what I saw, and ask if you had the same reaction to it.

Because the grace and kindness of the tourists impressed me a lot more than the regulars on Oscar night. I really hope I never see them being patronized again.

Hollywood tour bus: Prayitno

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Found Money

I was walking down the street with my boyfriend in Cambridge, Massachusetts on a Sunday morning. I was a student at Emerson College and he was substitute teaching in Boston, having graduated from a Midwestern school some years before. We were both broke and wanted breakfast, but weren’t sure where or how we’d get it.

Then, suddenly, I saw him leaning down as a five-dollar bill blew into his hand.

It was early in the morning, and no one else was on the street. The money seemed to have come from nowhere and was going nowhere. I had about seven dollars in my purse and he had a few dollars too. This extra five meant we could go to the Plough and Stars, our favorite bar, which served an amazing Sunday morning brunch.

At the time I remember feeling like this was proof somehow of the magic in our relationship. It’s only with hindsight I realize our gain was someone else’s loss, though hopefully, not too much of one.

The breakfast was delicious; omelets and toast and hash browns, topped off by a Bloody Mary (shared) and coffee. Did it all taste better because we hadn’t expected to be able to afford it? I think it did.

My relationship with this man had been like that. On one of our first dates we went to the Farmer’s Market where he bought us a lot of fresh vegetables to cook. I asked if he needed help and he gestured at me dismissively. “I like to spend until I don’t have any more.”

I loved his answer. It turned our lives into something bigger than money and larger than life. I was a big fan of old 1930s and 1940s movies at the time and used to see them at a movie theater called the Orson Welles. Movies like The Thin Man with William Powell and Myrna Loy perfectly encapsulated my fantasy of the perfect couple; insouciant, cavalier and devil-may-care about the daily grind.

Now and again I look back at how I lived and find myself wishing I’d lived more like those fantasy couple in movies did. Now I realize the William Powells and Myrna Loys were quite rich so they of course could be cavalier about money.

But maybe my former boyfriend knew something about how easy it is to get enslaved to money—and that while it was hard to live without it, it was just as crazy to worship it too.

So if a dollar or five or ten dollars ever blows into your hand on a windy Sunday, you might want to blow it just as quickly on a fantastic brunch at your favorite bar or restaurant. Because sometimes, Virginia, that’s just what money should be for.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Kitty Blues

Worried as I'm writing this; my cat is getting older and arthritis is setting in. Our vet has given us these options:

Chiropractic care (who knew there were chiropracters for animals?!?)
Spinal surgery

My husband and I are trying to figure out what to do.

There are people who say, "It's just a cat, why bother?"

I can't talk to those people, or make them understand. Sydney is a cat, but what cat is "just a cat?" Can you honestly live with an animal in your home many years and not consider him or her to be part of your family?

Our Sydney is magically able to know your moods and manifest them. She is a lovely nurse when you need one, and can always be relied on to lift your spirits and comfort you when you're down. Until her recent illness she routinely slept on my hair. This is a trait I adapted into The Beat on Ruby's Street with Ruby's cat Solange.

This week she has stayed with me on the couch in the evening, but won't sleep near me and mostly hides in the closet. And I can't help feeling sad and helpless while I'm trying to sort through the options we have (and how much we can afford).

A friend told me last week that while cats can live 15 to 20 years, dogs live more like 10 years. I cannot imagine losing a dog after 10 years - I think it would be horrible. I would hate it even more if I had a young child or if our cat had died when our son was small.

I know things like this can be "opportunities" to talk to kids about loss; but what Sydney is bringing home to me is how unutterably hard grief is, how much loss really affects us, and how much animal companions bring to our lives.

I think whatever kids learn about these issues, they will have to learn this. As do we all.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Just Three Bites

When my son Josh was young, and by young I mean between when he started walking and age nine, he didn't much like eating, especially dinner. I think kids just want to move or run or sparkle or play and you can't do very much of that when you're tableside.

At first, I believed he'd starve to death if he didn't have a real dinner or at least get some kind of disease from malnutrition. Someone told me children would never starve if there was food on the table but being a first-time mom, I wasn't sure if I could believe that.

I tried all kinds of kid-friendly meals (which mostly comes down to pasta, strawberries and yogurt) but also hoped slipping some veggies in here and there where I could would help. Josh was a grazer, and luckily liked cucumber, which he ate while we were shopping. Berries and summer fruits seemed attractive to him too, so I slipped those into lunch boxes daily.

Still, we never did make much headway with dinnertime. After a while I made a deal. I'd try to get him to eat as much as he could (maybe 10 percent of his meal, if I was lucky), and then when he said he was done, I said he needed three more bites of something before he could leave the table. He took those bites, and that was how we left it.

Later, if he got hungry, I wasn't one of those moms who said, "You didn't finish dinner. Deal with it." Instead, I let him have fruits or veggies or even a little toast and butter. Milk or hot chocolate were OK at bedtime. And somehow, as children do, my son grew up and got big enough to play football in seventh grade.

By the time Josh was eight or nine, I decided I was done obsessing about nutrition. That didn't mean I wasn't obsessing about other stuff, though. My son was very active, and probably too active for a lot of his teachers' tastes. Several asked me to get him tested for ADD or ADHD. Health food store employees told me to cut out sugary juice drinks and never allow sodas.

I suppose I could have, maybe even should have, done some of this stuff. But the last thing I wanted was to give my son pills of any kind just because he was antsy. I worked with him a lot at home on homework and he knew we expected good grades and he had to pay attention in school, even if he didn't like it. I tried to minimize sugary drinks at night but I stopped obsessing about what he was eating and when.

I don't know if this was the "right" thing to do, but I can say junior high seemed easier for him than elementary school and high school seemed better still and he started to shine in college. In looking back, I feel lucky that all my coparents (husband, Josh's dad and his wife) were great parents too. I have a feeling my son's stepmother was responsible for Josh learning to try and eventually like a lot of new foods.

Seeing where my son is now (and wondering what he'll be like as a parent) makes me realize that most of the time, we parents are too hard on ourselves. Yes, we mess up (and I did a lot) but even with those messes, I still think our ledger falls closer to the "OK" side of things than not. And as for dinner time, well... I'm here to tell you (promise) -- those three bites really can be enough.