2017 Battle of Catan

Settlers of Catan. Ever heard of it? Realm is always wanting to play Settlers. He wants more board game extensions, but I don’t know why. If he can’t get players for the original game, why would he think more of the same is a good idea?

Last night – being the beginning of a new year and all – the family acknowledged Realm’s delight in collecting wheat, brick, and ore. We all sat down to a rousing game. Some of us were more rousing than others, specifically Magne who decided his resource cards were all made of gold and wouldn’t trade. There was Dawn, who held the monopoly on wood for much of the game. Did I say monopoly? Why yes, I did. At some point mid-Catan-torture, I turned to Realm and said, “This game is Monopoly! It’s just monopoly re-packaged!”

This is a significant discovery because early in our marriage we had to ban Monopoly for a healthy relationship… with each other, with other couples, with our parents and siblings. Realm is terrifically competitive when Atlantic Avenue is on the line. He gets mean and calculating. Generally, we want our friends and family to visit again, but he’s not thinking about that when he’s bankrupting them with a sparkle in his eye. He’s not thinking of the short responses he is going to receive from me while I simmer over his quiet chuckle when finagling me out of my best property.

Yes, I think Catan brings out the worst in us.  Magne goes into power-hungry mode, and Pearl starts trading using her Batman voice. Okay, Pearl uses her Batman voice for everything lately. “Pass me the salt,” comes out much more threatening, and “the peanut butter cookies were delicious” takes on a Beetlejuice quality. Her Batman voice did not intimidate anyone out of their sheep, though. Pearl lost, Dawn won, and Realm began a campaign of assuring me it was a great game that I played well but for the slight infraction of trading in four brick for a wood when I should’ve offered him three for a trade instead.

Well, my good deed of playing Settlers is done for the year.

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A Picture is Worth a Thousand Trips to the ‘Fridge

My family has a Christmas tradition of using men’s tube socks as stockings. Realm’s family does not, and he finds it disgusting. I do understand his disinclination to put candy into something that actual men’s gnarled feet can fit into, but I do not understand the virtue of using those awkward, red objects that look like baby elephant booties. I’ve assured him I have no intention of using already-worn socks. I’ve tried to cajole him by pointing out the socks can be washed and worn after the goodies are dumped out (including the apples and oranges, which look so funny in the tube socks). My utilitarian pleas hold no sway. He just can’t handle my tradition.

I, too, have trouble with certain traditions. For example, I cannot physically sit through those Christmas claymation movies. They were even dull when I watched them as a kid! There were no streaming videos then, so I had an excuse. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have to make a movie like that. Or to tell someone, “I spent this many hours moving a ball of clay two hundred centimeters today.” Now that’s a nightmare before Christmas.

The one tradition I hope will continue is the family picture card. I love getting family pictures! I put them on my refrigerator door and look at them all year round. They make me smile. And it doesn’t matter if Gerard has his eyes closed and darling Evangeline is picking her nose. So what if Lilly has her tongue hanging out? It’s natural. It’s real. It’s having loved ones waiting right there at the door when you reach for the milk.

rilla2016

For you, may the season be festive and fun;
And the New Year, may it be a happy one!

The Company Drill

There is nothing like coming home after the holidays. I drive by the neighbors’ houses, where cardboard boxes are battling it out with the garbage cans. The once festive green garlands are trailing along the front walks like miserable, bloated snakes. I walk through my door and spot the tinsel draped across my sofa pillows, a tad passé now. The white tree lights, dangling dangerously near the forgotten mug of curdled milk left out for Santa, are not going to win any Better Homes and Gardens awards this week. The leftover party favors, the scary-looking nutcracker dolls toppled over like dominoes on the mantel, the torn edges of shiny paper littering my floors are all evidence that we were hit by the Christmas tornado.

Is it worth it? I’m not going to answer that. I’m not the wide-eyed seven-year-old on Christmas morning anymore. And I would never be the one to deprive a child of the joy of presents under the boughs of a precariously-stationed tree. (My kids witnessed two trees come crashing down this year, so I’m not entirely exaggerating the precarious part.)

Still, a new year means a new leaf, right? Easier said than done. Where to begin…

If your house is clinging to Christmas past, and you have kids at home who can read, catch up with the Company Drill. This drill is inspired by the panic that ensues when you find out—15 minutes beforehand—that your favorite Aunt Minnie will be dropping by for a visit; or when that fabulous Mrs. Hodge, the president of your homeowner’s association, who washes her car for zenith shine while most sane people are asleep, calls and asks to borrow your Rain-X. The drill focuses on getting the public areas of your house in order.

At our house it looks something like this:Company drill2

This simple little paper is posted in an inconspicuous location, say, on a door inside a closet. It works best if you employ a timer—because you’re trying to clean up in record time. The goal is to straighten up in less than 15 minutes. Don’t expect a miracle. The first couple of rounds of the drill will probably fall short of that goal, but it makes a significant dent.

Call a family powwow, bring your timer, and announce that it’s drill time. I like to assign certain rooms to each child with the proviso that if one person does not complete his/her task after the rest have finished, then the whole team won’t make the 15-minute goal. This encourages us to help each other once we’ve finished our room assignments. (I usually take the kitchen—less broken dishes that way.)

What’s the reward for beating the clock? A cleaner house. Seriously. Just knowing you’re done in 15 minutes is pretty exhilarating. The kids have more time to play, and mom can get some writing time in!

Two more tips:

Record your best time and see if your team can beat it during the next drill.

Upbeat music is a great motivator for cleaning, but I suggest not using the music during a drill. It’s more distracting, since you’re yelling “Who has the vacuum?” and such. Plus, without the music I can pretend I’m that kid on Newsies and encourage my team with “Go! Go! Go! Get the lead out of your pants!” I’m helpful that way.

 

Happy Hallothanksmas!

It’s that time of year again. Confusion is in the air! The stores are packed with jolly little pumpkin and candy cane costumes. Wicker cornucopia centerpieces dripping with blood are lined up on the shelves, waiting to adorn your festive table. I have no idea what all this is about. So, I did some research.

autumn-19672_640Regarding this “Halloween” thing (I read that on a poster somewhere. I think it was between some glittery corn husks and the purple and black-striped tree skirts.), legend has it there was a very old woman who liked to wear black, had an uncommonly warty nose, and carried a broom around—to sweep her neighbors’ front porches. She swept and she swept. Nobody noticed what a nice thing she was doing, so she became disgruntled and decided she wanted payment for her act of kindness. So, she knocked on their doors.

“Hello, I need you to come out and look at your porch,” she told them.

They looked, thanked her, and promptly denied her any donations for her good deed.

Well! she huffed to herself; and the more she thought about it, the more it rankled. She decided she would get even.

On every front porch she set a rotting pumpkin, and on one she placed a dead cat. (Her cat had died, and it seemed right to her, since that one neighbor had refused her quite meanly.) The neighbors, in return, decided to reward her for her presents. They baked pies for her. Made of pumpkin. (The rotting ones on the front porches went missing about that time.) The especially mean neighbor made odd-looking jelly candies for her. (Cat bones are wonderful for giving a jelly-like consistency to things, you know.)

For some reason the old woman became ill and died. The neighbors felt bad. They began to sweep their own front porches until it occurred to them to have their kids do it. The kids, knowing the origins of this chore, played terrible tricks on the neighbors, pretending to be the ghost of the old woman and leaving rotting pumpkins or carcasses and bones of animals. Some of the neighbors, still feeling guilty about the old woman, relented and gave the kids sweets as payment. Soon the children became bold enough to knock on doors dressed in their ghostly garb and announce, “Hello, we need you to come out and look at your porch. And if you don’t give us a treat, the ghost of the old lady will give you a terrible trick!”

The “Hello, we need” later merged to form, “Halloween,” the rest became the brief, “Trick or treat,” and that’s how it all began. At least, that’s the gist I came away with. I’m still looking for the thanksmas part.

Fall and Sour Grapes

I was seven years old and fighting to breathe. It was Halloween day. I lay on my bed, squirming and twisting, trying to find a position that would relieve the rock in my chest. Mom’s eyes showed her concern. I knew something was wrong, but I was too tired to ask what.

She took me to the doctor’s office, where they gave me a shot in my upper arm. For I moment, my lungs relaxed and I breathed freely. It lasted only a minute or two and my lungs became lead again, inflexible and heavy. They stuck me in the other arm. Nothing happened.

I stayed in the hospital for a week. That was the year I didn’t get to be Sour Grapes, the fancy, purple villain from Strawberry Shortcake. I missed trick-or-treating altogether. I had been so, so excited. In the top drawer of the hospital bedside table were a few pieces of Halloween candy someone had brought for me.

Every Halloween finds me sick. As a child, there were years I’d wheeze my way down the street to knock doors anyway. Hay rides were the asthma attack waiting to happen.

When fall comes, I breathe in the magic and forget. I forget about the disappointment of years before. My brain has this switch that only the smell of fall can activate. Story ideas grow like kudzu vines, latching onto my thoughts, tempting me to drop the work I’m doing and join them in the jungle of my imagination. I begin to scheme: How can I get away to write? I need a few hours for this story and a couple of hours to complete that one…

But the sniffling and the coughing start. I wake up nights, stuffed up and aching in my face. I can’t look at a computer screen; the light is too harsh, the letters too blurry. The throb behind my eyes won’t go away.

Fall allergies; I didn’t want to pass this down to my kids. They wheeze, sniffle, and cough. They pull themselves out of bed like they’re leaving a vat of molasses.

The humidifiers and essential oils are out. My house smells like cinnamon, cloves, lemon, and eucalyptus. At least, I hope that’s what it smells like—I can’t smell anything! There’s a tissue box in every room. Hot peppermint tea soothes swollen throats.

And I can’t think. I can’t focus. It’s like all of this mucus has stuffed up my brain and shoved out the lovely ideas and creativity.

So, I guess I’ll cross my arms and tell you fall isn’t all that great anyway. Who cares that the leaves are gorgeous, the weather is splendid, and Halloween is just around the corner?

Feeling Pumpkin-Headed? (Pumpkin and Image By C Tennie [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
I’m not fooling you, am I?

On Being Older

Took picture June 18, 2006 of a party hat I pu...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s the beginning of a new year! At least, it is for me. I’m the same age as Realm is now. For ten months out of the year we are the same age. Don’t ask me why I get a kick out of that, but I do.

Before we started dating, I told him I didn’t date guys who were younger than I was. I was implying he was younger, when, in fact, he is older. It was a test.

A) Did he remember when my birthday was?

B) Would he admit he was interested in dating me?

Very subtle, I know. That’s what you get from a seventeen-year-old, I’m afraid.

He replied, “I’m glad I’m older than you, then.”

“Are you sure?” I teased, grinning. It became our joke while we were dating. We kept it up, saying things like, “…you know, since I’m older than you.”

So, every year for the two months he is officially older, Realm reminds me almost daily, “See? I’m older than you.”

His two months of crowing are up for this year, which means there might be a note on his mirror that says something like, “Look who’s older now!”

Happy Memorial Monday!

Over the weekend, Realm and I celebrated our 17-year anniversary by visiting the Manchester, Tennessee area. You might be asking, “What’s to do around Manchester, Tennessee?” The answer is: Research the sequel to Dragonfly Prince. I needed inspiration and info on a special character and a setting for Book 2.

This is the second time we’ve merged our anniversary getaway with my writing research. The first was our visit to Clarksville two years ago. I thought Realm would hate it. I was sure he wouldn’t go for, “Happy Anniversary! Now these are the places I need to know about. We only have a couple of days, so let’s go!”

He surprised me by saying, “Sounds like fun. Let’s do it.”

We found out we make a great team. I prepare the itinerary, and he gets us there. He chats up the locals for me, while I take notes and let my brain marinate in the details. Yeah, I’m 100% grateful to God for every one of those 17 years. There is no doubt in my mind that God chose Realm for me and me for him.