Category Archives: my childhood

Free Reading Friday: You’re Never Weird on the Internet (almost)

Never weird on internetI feel the need to be perfectly candid about something upfront in this review: I love Felicia Day. Although not a “gamer girl” myself, I have been immersed in geek culture my entire life, so I relate to her in so many ways. It probably also doesn’t hurt that she was on one of my all time favorite TV shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, AND in my favorite web min-series Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, AND my favorite web series, The Guild. Although I was not overly enamored of her awkward character Vi in Buffy, I simply adored her as Penny and Codex/Syd. I’ve also loved seeing her on Supernatural.

So when I saw her memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (almost) in the display window of my school library, I texted our librarian (school was over at the time) and told her I wanted it first thing the next morning. By the time I’d hit my car though, I was searching the online public library to see if maybe, just maybe, there was an audiobook.

There was. And even better, Day reads the audiobook! I LOVE when author’s read their own works. You get so much more than their stories when they do. You get the emotions that go along with those stories. In a way, it’s like listening to a good friend tell their personal stories. Because the author gets to relive the experience, so does the listener. Not that voice actors can’t do amazing jobs reading audiobooks. I’ve hears some spectacular performances, but an author reading their own work always excites me.

Hearing Day’s stories in her own voice was brilliant. She made me feel just as awkward and quirky and uncomfortable as she felt in so many of her childhood stories. And that was perfect, because I could relate. While I was not home schooled, I grew up in a very strange household myself and I found myself connecting on a very real level with her tales of social anxiety and awkwardness. It probably helps that Day and I are almost the same age, so many of her childhood and teen obsessions were also mine.

I still remember my step-dad bringing home our first computer when I was in 5th grade and the hours and hours and hours I spent playing video games on it. It was so much easier to play those games than it was to deal with real people sometimes. Especially when I was getting ready to start my 5th school in 6 years. Computers were far kinder to new kids than the other students were. Especially when those new kids were a bit chubby, had glasses and were insanely good at school (and serious, serious teacher pleasers to boot).

As an avid attendee of events like Comic Con, I loved Day’s stories of meeting other celebrities because they are so relatable. It’s lovely to see someone I look up to and know I would get a little tongue-tied to meet have the same problems. Her story about going out of her way to buy donuts so she could offer one to Matt Smith (of Dr. Who fame) was hysterical. Considering that until I was in my late 20’s I was the only Dr. Who fan (aside from my dad) I knew, I could see myself doing something similar. Heck, when I met John Barrowman I almost lost my mind. I loved hearing that Day did the same.

I also truly enjoyed reading about Day’s process of staying true to her inner geek by creating her own web series and then her own geek company. I particularly found her message to young, geeky girls inspiring. I wish I’d had someone like her to look up to when I was the only one in my 7th grade homeroom who had seen every episode of Dr. Who and could name all of his companions in order of their appearance on the show. It would have been nice to be able to feel proud of that instead of worried someone would find out just how odd I was. It also would have been lovely to know someone else was writing Fan Fic before there was a word for it. Yep, that’s right, I had notebooks full of Dr. Who Fan Fic back in the 1980’s and early 1990’s!

One of the most interesting and important parts of the book is Day’s account of her experiences during Gamer Gate. After hearing stories like Day’s it is hard to believe anyone could possibly still believe Gamer Gate was not sexism at its ugliest.

I am so glad I read this book and have already recommended it to several of my students, added it to my AP non-fiction list and look forward to talking to students about it.

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Throwback Thursday: Christmas with my mom

For the first time in over 20 years, I celebrated Christmas with my mom. Well, not actual Christmas day. That was reserved for my husband, our children and me. But, I did spend a large portion of December 23rd with my mom and that’s the closest I’ve spent to Christmas with her since I was 14.

I won’t go into the particulars of our rocky relationship. It would take too long and I doubt anyone would be very interested in it. The short version goes like this: My mom and dad split up when I was 5. My mom remarried when I was 6 and moved us over 2,000 miles away to Southern California. I spent the summers and a few Christmases with my dad, but for the most part, I spent all of my time with my mom.

And that was fine until I hit middle school. Then, we just couldn’t get along. I was not some crazy rebellious child. Unless you count wanting to watch Growing Pains and Just the Ten of Us as some major act of rebellion. TV was not the only thing we could not agree one. She did not let me listen to music or hang out with friends or do much of anything that required me to leave the house out of her supervision.

Again, I was not a bad kid. I was in honors classes. I got good grades. I went to church on Wednesdays and Sundays. I said, “yes ma’am” to most requests. But I was miserably unhappy, so one summer when I went to visit my dad, I didn’t return.

For the most part, my life got much better. My mom and I didn’t talk for nearly 4 years, but eventually we got in contact and slowly we started rebuilding our relationship.

I actually visited my mom one December before I graduated from college. I was actually visiting good friends who had moved to San Diego and since she was only a few hours up the coast and my friends wanted to visit LA anyway, they dropped me off at my mom’s and I spent two days there. It was close to New Year’s Eve and I spent one full day at Disneyland with my sister. No Christmas presents were exchanged and I’m not even sure my mom still had her tree up, so I don’t really count it as a Christmas visit.

This year though, my mom came to visit my grandmother for the holidays. My grandmother is 97 and has a host of medical issues, but she is so stubborn and fiercely independent that she refuses to leave her house. My mom has started coming to visit a few times a year to help out. While it’s up to my kids and I to make the two hour trip to see her and my grandmother, over the last few years, at least my kids have kind of gotten to know their grandmother.

As an added bonus, this year my kids got to give my mom the gifts we got her and they got to open Christmas presents from her with her. It’s the first time they’ve ever done that. The visit actually went better and longer than I expected. Of course, this was due in large part to the fact that my mom asked us to take her to Walmart so she could run some errands for my grandma. If I ever needed proof that I love my grandma it was spending time in Walmart two days before Christmas. Mad house does not even begin to describe the chaos of the place. It was the stuff my nightmares are made of!

Still, we had a little gift exchange, ate some pizza and talked a bit. Not about anything serious or deep, but my kids got to tell my mom a bit about their lives and she got to hug them and tell them a bit about their cousins who live in North Carolina with her. After about four hours, my kids got pretty bored, which is not shocking considering there are no toys to play with and two adults they don’t know very well. It didn’t exactly feel like a Christmas celebration, but considering it’s taken over 20 years to get this far, I’m calling it a win.

The kids and I are going back up to see her and my grandma later this week. This time the visit will be a bit shorter and they’ll get to have a sleepover with their cousins, so all of our hearts might be more in it.

My biggest hope is that it doesn’t take another 20 years for us to come together at the holidays.

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Throwback Thursday: Home Alone

At school we are having a Christmas tree decorating contest. Well, sort of. One of the clubs is sponsoring a contest where teachers deck out paper trees, and by default at least a portion of our hallways. This year each department got to pick a holiday movie as the theme to base our decorations around. I’m not sure if we actually win anything for really decking the halls, but this year my department has gotten into it.

Not that I think we’ll win. While we may be one of the bigger departments in the school, we are all bogged down in research papers and somehow it seems there’s always another department who recruits students to help them really go all out. As much as I’d love to do that, we have too many standardized tests going on and too much prep to do before finals, so instead of sacrificing class time, we are sacrificing our own time.

Although we’ve done this contest for several years now, I’ll admit my department has never really gotten into the spirit of it. The first year I was the only one who really did anything for our fake tree and all I did was create ornaments for it. Now, the ornaments were pretty fantastic: they had the body of Frosty with the head of our principal. Thankfully I knew he’d enjoy it. The ornaments were cute, but nothing compared to the display the art department put on, complete with not only the most elaborate paper snowflakes I’d ever seen, but also snowflakes digitally projected all over the hallway.

This year, seconds after the email announcing the contest came out, my newest colleague ran across the hallway to confer with me about our theme. She wanted to make sure we got first dibs on our movie: Home Alone.

I handed the paper tree to her and told her to go nuts. And she did! She decked that tree in garland and wrote “Merry Christmas ya filthy animals!” She draw an amazingly accurate picture of Macaulay Culkin, complete with hands on face in mid-scream. She also added a great drawing of an iron to the top of the tree. She then created a window and looking at the tree from outside are the two male members of our department dressed up like the bandits–one even has a iron mark on his face.

Seeing what she created kicked a few more people, including myself into gear. I made paint cans which we tied to strings and hung from the ceiling in front of the fake window. Another of my coworkers created Kevin’s battle plan for dealing with the bandits.

Looking at it, it reminded me of my first experience with Home Alone, when I worked at the movie theater…during the sequel’s original theatrical debut. It opened on Thanksgiving day and it was a crazy day. Every employee had a Home Alone 2 button attached to our oh so stylish red polyester vests. There was a giant Home Alone 2 display stand, complete with a NYC skyline in the background. I remember several of my coworkers wanted that display and our manager had to raffle it off. He also had to raffle the posters off.

What I remember most about that premiere is having to do so much cleaning at the end of the night because we were so busy the place was trashed. Even behind the concession stand there was popcorn, butter and soda everywhere. Still, I loved that job and there are definitely days where I might not miss the pay, but miss the fun and simplicity of the job. I also greatly miss the camaraderie we shared. We were high school and college kids. For most of us, it was our first job. We got to watch free movies and eat popcorn. It was a blast!

While my current job may be more fulfilling and I may love it, a piece of my heart will always belong to General Cinema.

I’m not sure when the trees we’ve decorated will actually be judged, but I hope we at least get an honorable mention for our creativity and dedication.

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Chocolate Monday: Theo’s Gingerbread Spice chocolate bar

Theo's gingerbread close upOn Friday I was out running errands with my kids. We had to stop by Fresh Thyme Market in order to pick up some Albanese gummi bears to send to my best friend in Georgia. One of the most miraculous things about Fresh Thyme is the fact that they sell a wide array of Albanese products. Not only do they have five or six of varieties of their gummy products in bulk, but they also have several of their chocolate covered yummies, including my dearest loves: their double dipped chocolate peanuts and raisins. They are simply delicious. Since I can’t get up North to either of the Albanese stores that often, when I found out Fresh Thyme carries their goodies in bulk, and at great prices, I started stopping by more regularly.

As we made our way into the store, intent only on purchasing some gummies to send to my BFF, I noticed a display with lots of fun holiday goodies. Part of that display contained Theo’s Gingerbread Spice chocolate bar. I’d never tried any of Theo’s chocolate, even though I see it every week in my local Kroger, so I figured this had to be a sign.

I love gingerbread! One of my fondest childhood memories is of my mom making gingerbread at Christmas time. Now, I’m not talking about gingerbread cookies, although I do love those as well. I’m talking about spicy, delicious, moist gingerbread. If you’ve never had it, find yourself a recipe and make it now. It is one of the best cakes out there, especially with a beautiful dollop of Cool Whip on top. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

One year as a tribute to my favorite Christmas classics, I made cake bite versions. While I thought my candy cane was pretty good, my egg nog even tastier and my chocolate fudge version darn near perfect, it was my gingerbread cake bite, dipped in sinful milk chocolate with a tiny white swirl on the top that made me smile the most.

So Theo’s combination of fair trade organic milk chocolate and the spices of gingerbread were a must have.

This is definitely a spicy bar! From the second the chocolate hit my tongue, my mouth was filled with the warmth of nutmeg and cinnamon. As the chocolate continued to melt, I got the tiniest hint of cloves. Thankfully they were not overpowering at all, just a subtle nod to the scent that often pervades the holidays. After my first bite was done, I felt like I still had cinnamon in the back of my throat and my tongue and cheeks tingled a little from the spices. It reminded me a bit of how I feel after I take a large gulp of a spiced chai tea latte.

The chocolate itself is not overly creamy. I think the spices temper it so that instead of getting a milky cocoa, it’s much more about the cinnamon and nutmeg. At one point I got a really clear after taste of nutmeg that was a bit overpowering, but thankfully it dissipated quickly. I like nutmeg, but it can very easily be too much.

This is a good bar, but not one that I can eat too much of at a time, which is definitely good for my waistline! The spice of it really does bring the holidays home for me. It tastes like Christmas.

Overall:

Taste: 7/10
Appearance: 9/10 for the wrapper and 6/10 for the actual chocolate
Value: 7/10

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Throwback Thursday: NIPSCO

Tonight my house is ablaze in light. It’s not because it is full of people, but rather because it is very dark outside and the light is comforting.

I’m not afraid of the dark or anything. I left that behind a long time ago. However, when my kids and I got home tonight, there was strange happening that set me a little on edge. We live in a fairly small neighborhood and while I don’t know all of my neighbors, I recognize most of them in the surrounding 8 houses or so. In addition, very few people in our neighborhood park on the street.

When we got home tonight, there was a car I didn’t recognize parked across the street and one house down. Now, that isn’t entirely strange…someone could have been visiting. However, as we pulled into our driveway, the car pulled into my next door neighbor’s driveway and sat there for a minute. I dropped my stuff off in the den and was heading to the bathroom when I passed by the front door and saw the car sitting directly in front of my house. It sat there for a very long time, partially blocking my driveway. I watched it and found it slightly unnerving. I opened my front door and when I did, the car slowly started driving away.

I started to shut my door, but decided to walk out to get the mail to make sure the car was leaving our neighborhood. It wasn’t. It went down toward the exit of the neighborhood (there is only one exit as the neighborhood is a circle), turned around and headed back toward my house. It was going slow and I hurried back into my house. I watched as it once again parked across the street and down two houses, then let someone out of the car. That person proceeded to walk back toward the exit of the neighborhood. I’m not sure exactly where the car went because I was busy watching the pedestrian.

I watched as he disappeared from my eyesight. It should have set me at ease, but it didn’t. I’m sure it didn’t help that my husband has band practice tonight, followed by cards with his buddies, so it’s just me and the kids.

So, as soon as the guy left my eyesight, I went around and turned just about every light in and outside of my house on. Our backyard is particularly dark, so I put the floodlights we attached to our enclosed patio on. I never turn those lights on.

While I am sure nothing will happen and it was just some strange fluke, it got me thinking of my teen years.

My parents worked shift work at one of the steel mills. My dad was a paramedic and my step-mom worked security, checking in the incoming trucks. While they were very mindful of their schedules when I was in my early teens, by my senior year, there were many nights when they were both on 4-12’s. They would be gone before I got home and home after I went to bed.

Of course it was those nights when I was all alone that the house would start to creak and moan. It was those nights that brooms would fall over in the laundry room with terrible crashes, scaring me out of my mind. It was those nights that the phone would ring and the callers would hang up. It was those nights when the power would surge or go out for a few minutes. It was those nights that strange cars would drive slowly by.

Or at least that’s the way it felt. To keep away potential intruders and to make it impossible for them to hide on the off chance they were quiet enough to sneak into our small house, I would turn every light on in the house. This meant flipping on exactly 6 light switches–like I said, it was a small house. I think on some level I knew there was no way anyone could sneak in that house without me hearing, but I put those lights on to keep myself safer. After all, anyone thinking of sneaking in would just assume someone was in those rooms, right?

Even though I knew I should turn those lights off, I couldn’t bring myself to do it, even when I was getting ready for bed. I would leave all of those lights on to protect myself.

When my parents came home, the house was often completely lit up.

In the morning I would hear the cry of every parent of every kid who grew up in Northwest Indiana: “What, do you think we own stock in NIPSCO?!” NIPSCO, Northern Indiana Public Service Company, supplied all power to people in my neck of the woods and my parents were constantly yelling at me to turn off the lights in order to save money. Any time I left them on, I heard the same refrain. All my friends heard the same refrain.

It wasn’t until I went off to college three hours away from home, that I realized every kid did not grow up hearing this. However, it was a touchstone for finding people who grew up in “the Region.” We all said it, often to confused friends, but the second a fellow Region-rat heard it, we’d laugh and ask if which of the two counties they were from. Usually we’d discover other regional loves that we had in common. While the phrase was the bane of my existence in high school, in college it was oddly comforting.

Just like all the lights surrounding me are comforting me now. Luckily I’m now in charge of paying the bills, so no one can yell at me for my little indulgence.

 

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Throwback Thursday: Black Friday shopping

When I was 14, my aunt took me Black Friday shopping for the first time. I had no idea what to expect, but I was excited. Back then, the deals were impressive and most of the stores opened early, but early was 7 am.

I stayed the night at my aunt’s house and we got up at 6 am so that we could be in front of our first store, which was Zayres. My cousin, who was 7 really wanted a Teddy Ruxpin doll for Christmas and Zayres had the best deal on it. Our aunt was bound and determined to get one. We stood outside the store, in the pitch black with about a hundred other people just waiting for the doors to open. Since I was smaller and quicker than a lot of the adults, my aunt told me where the toy aisles were and told me to sprint for one and that she’d catch up.

As we waited for the store to officially, open, I slowly started making my way closer to the front doors.

By the time they opened, I was one of the first people in the store and as soon as I was actually in the doors, I made a mad dash to the right and headed straight for the toys. I was one of the first people to lay my hands on a Teddy Ruxpin, and after I had it, I quickly moved out of the way, using a side aisle to avoid the chaos. My aunt, who took several minutes to find me, had a cart with her, so I deposited good ol’ Teddy and we went on our merry way, her pointing out items she wanted and me swooping in to get them.

When we finished at Zayres, we headed over to the mall. Our first stop there was L.S. Ayres, where they were giving out boxes of Cracker Jack with special shopping surprises. My aunt got a 25% discount on her entire order in her box. I got a $25 gift card in mine. Seeing as how I had limited funds, that gift card allowed me to buy two different Christmas presents: a stuffed sheep dog for one of my aunt’s (it looked just like the gianormous sheepdog named Muffin she’d had when I was a child) and toy for my cousin.

We spent a few hours at the mall scooping up deals at the big department stores, then we headed over to Burger King to have breakfast. It was about 10:30 am and we were done for the day.

Over the next decade and a half, my aunt and I made Black Friday shopping a tradition. We braved earlier start times, larger crowds, crazier deals and bitter, bitter cold, all for a few hours of togetherness and some pretty sweet deals. I never really bought that much as for the majority of our shopping trips I was either in high school, college, or just starting out as a teacher with a very, very small salary. But it wasn’t really about the shopping. It was about spending time with my aunt and sometimes my cousin or my step-mom. But mostly just me and my aunt.

The year I moved to Florida was the first time in 15 years I did not go Black Friday shopping with my aunt. Since the move only lasted for 6 months, I was right back at it the next year, but it felt like something had changed. The stores were opening on Thanksgiving day. The crowds were more hostile and the stuff on sale was either way too grandiose for me, or absolutely nothing I needed.

The following year I was pregnant with my son and there was no way I was getting up that early, getting jostled by crowds or standing in the cold while 6 months pregnant. I haven’t set foot in a store on Black Friday in 11 years.

I haven’t stopped Black Friday shopping though. I’ve just joined the thousands of people all across this country who have decided that o’dark thirty in 30 degree weather amidst angry hordes is not worth it. Instead, I jumped on my computer at 7 am and started ordering away. I still had a good portion of my shopping done by 10 am, but I got to do it in the comfort of my den while sipping my tea in my jammies.

Since it was never really about the shopping for me, I don’t really miss it. But I do get nostalgic for the talks my aunt and I used to have while standing in check out lines that stretched to the back of the store, during quick car rides between stores and over sausage croissants at Burger King.

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Throwback Thursday: Thanksgiving

Seasons 52 dessertLast week my family celebrated Thanksgiving in a way that was a bit of a shock for everyone. Well, everyone except me: we went out to a restaurant to have Thanksgiving dinner.

This was not my idea. I have been dutifully cooking Thanksgiving dinner for my family as well as 8 of my in-laws for the past decade–ever since my son was born. Every year we have pulled out my grandmother’s ancient, but still very useful, portable electric roaster to cook our turkey in. Every year I have pulled out my recipe book, filled with my husband’s family Thanksgiving recipes for stuffing, sweet potato casserole, orange cranberry sauce and hollandaise sauce. Every year I have stood with my mother-in-law as she gives me tips and suggests about how to cook her Thanksgiving feast (while she helps, of course).

And every year when I talk about making the stuffing, my mother-in-law and I have the exact same conversation about it.

Me: I’m going to start on the stuffing
MiL: Oh honey, you’re not going to stuff it in the bird are you?
Me: No MiL, I’m not. It’s your recipe and I’m going to cook it exactly like you do. I just call it stuffing because my family has always called it stuffing.
MiL: Oh good! Here’s the cornbread you’ll need to make that dressing (heavy emphasis on the word dressing). 

And every year, after having this conversation, I bite back my tongue and keep myself from screaming: Good GOD woman! You know what I mean! I will never call it dressing so let’s just move on with life!

But as usual, I digress.

Back in August, my father-in-law suggested that instead of having me spend hours in the kitchen and have everyone try to squeeze into our not very big living room and dining room, that we go out to eat, their treat. Since it was going to be the same group of about 11 of us, I immediately said YES! My husband was far more reluctant. He emailed his dad back about his disappointment over breaking tradition and how important it was to me and the kids. He CC’d me on the email of course, so I could immediately write him back and say, “As the person who is going to spend hours and hours in the kitchen cooking with your mother, I fully endorse this restaurant idea…now you email your dad back and fix this mess you’ve made!”

After an actual discussion between us, my husband completely saw it from my POV and agreed that a meal out might be fun. For him it was a big step out of his comfort zone, which is not something he’s used to. For me, not only did it mean NOT having to cook for a cast of way too many and still having leftovers for days and days, but it was actually a throw back to my childhood.

Even though my mom is a perfectly good cook, she has never actually enjoyed cooking. Whenever we could eat out, we did. And since I grew up in California, thousands of miles away from any family members who did not live in my actual house, my mom thought it was a waste of her time to make a huge Thanksgiving meal for four people. Especially when two of those people were kids who didn’t eat much. Plus, we lived in apartments with fairly small kitchens most of my life, so it’s not like it was easy to have tons of dishes going at the same time.

So every year my mom and step-dad found someplace that was not our own dining room for us to eat. I have very vivid memories of Thanksgiving dinners eaten at Sizzler, which up until I wrote this post, I thought was defunct since all the ones in Indiana had shut down. Turns out they still exist! Just on the West coast. This made me blissfully happy as my dream to once again eat their Malibu chicken, which was the stuff my childhood dreams were made of, is still a reality! Thank the Lord for mediocre steak houses and our love of them!

I also remember having Thanksgiving at church sponsored events where each family would contribute something to the meal. My mom would pick stuffing, but several boxes of Stove Top stuffing, make it quickly before we left the house and then we’d get to sit down to a full Thanksgiving meal at a huge table in some sort of cafetorium and eat with people we sort of knew from church. Those meals were a bit dicier as aside from my favorite, the stuffing, you never knew what strange ingredients people would add to their version of mashed potatoes or cranberry sauce.

One year we went to some super fancy place near Disneyland that was rather darkly lit and had some sort of ocean theme to it. I swear it was called something like Pirate’s Cove or something oddly similar…probably without the word pirate since I do remember it being nice. I was like 8 though, so really anything that wasn’t Bob’s Big Boy or Del Taco was pretty nice to me.

I do have to say that despite years of eating Thanksgiving dinner in restaurants, today’s trip to Season’s 52 for our family celebration was probably the nicest, tastiest one I’ve had at a restaurant. I do have to admit that the one we had aboard the family cruise we took two years ago comes a close second, but that was more for the whole being on a cruise bit than anything else.

To me where we ate wasn’t nearly as important as family being together. Although the fact that I spent no time in the kitchen and currently only have one bowl in my sink (from last night’s popcorn and movie watching), is the real holiday blessing!

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