childhood

Writing 101: Happy (Insert Special Occasion Here)!

Writing 101: Happy (Insert Special Occasion Here)!.

For me, it would be Happy Spending Time with Grammy!

My favorite meals are both cooked by my grandmother. One of them can be made by anyone (meat pie) and often is but the best childhood memory of a meal that I can possibly think of that never fails to fill me with joy (and homesickness) is my grandmother’s meatloaf. Now I know most of you are probably puking on to your keyboards right now but to me, that is the ultimate comfort food.

I have had many meatloaves over the years. Barbeque ones, bacon ones, salty ones, mushroom ones, and even one filled with mac n’ cheese. And while each meatloaf is probably good in its own right, my grandmother’s is something special. Most people think of meatloaf and think of dried bricks of hamburg, excuse me, ground beef, and that it must be swimming in gravy to be any good at all.

Well, I’m here to tell you that you are wrong to think that. This meatloaf comes in your standard 9×13 baking pan. It is about 2 inches high, smothered in tomato paste of all things, and filled with chopped onions and love. It’s a little greasy but warm and perfectly cooked. The smell makes you mouth water the minute you enter the house. And if you go peak in the oven door, you can see the perfection at work.

The homemade mashed potatoes with real cream and butter sit on the counter having just been finished and the green beans (substitute peas, carrots, or corn as necessary) are warming in the microwave. The plates are paper and the cutlery is plastic but it’s all waiting for you. There is a bag of fresh rolls sitting in the middle of the island table with a dish of butter and one of margarine to spread as you like.

We would all gather around the table and say our blessing for food and family, health and happiness and then it was time to go serve yourself. Get a plate and fill it up. Two pieces of meatloaf, each no more than a 2×2 square. A big dollup of mashed potatoes and vegetables so mom didn’t yell at you.

Get a cup of milk or water. Grab a roll and split it open with your fingers, letting the crumbs fall onto the plate. Slather on some butter and close it back up. Fork in one hand, roll in the other, it’s time to begin the meal.

The mashed potatoes slide off my fork into my mouth with ease and smoothness. The green beans crunch in the perfect pitch. And lastly, the meatloaf is salty and filling. Not overly salty mind you but the perfect amount. It has a little tart bitter type taste from the tomato paste and a nice after taste of onion. It isn’t dry or super thick. It’s a mouthful of perfection.

I sigh with happiness and plow my way through the meal. I continue to munch on the roll in between bites, scooping little bits of mashed potatoes onto it as I do. I reach for and butter a second roll and use the end of it to slop up any leftovers on my plate.

I slug down my water and sit back on the stool with a contented smile. My grandmother looks at me and laughs. She knows how happy her meatloaf makes me.

And she continues to make it when I visit now. Even a grown-up can use comfort good every once in awhile.

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Mystery Ending

(From the Daily Post) Now, the “challenge” part of this challenge: every day for the next four days, open your draft and add to/edit what you’ve already written to fold in something new. Here’s your progression:

  • Day One: start your post.
  • Day Two: add a quote from a conversation you had with someone today (an email, instant message, or text conversation is fine, too).
  • Day Three: add something related to what your childhood self wanted to be when you grew up, or a dream you have for your future.
  • Day Four: add a reference to something currently in your refrigerator.
  • Day Five: add something inspired by a song you heard today. If you didn’t hear any music, use something you read (and turn on the radio!).

 

In a society that consistently pushes us to be better than the person next to us and define that gap a little more clearly, have we lost what it truly means to be great? When we celebrate participation and don’t keep score at sporting events, haven’t we really started to praise mediocrity? There are students who overwhelm themselves trying to be everything at once and others who simply can’t be bothered to try. Some schools hand out A’s like they are candy simply because having a C is now seen as not average but less in some way. Coursework has gotten easier in some ways and more difficult in others. And those who want to learn are often throw into a system that can’t properly cultivate that thirst for knowledge.

For example, I had a conversation today with a young woman who didn’t know what an amended tax return is, and I should probably mention that this student also happens to be a finance major at a prestigious business school. If our youth are so unprepared to meet the world that they don’t even know how to file their taxes, let alone amend them if need be, then what has all of that schooling really been preparing them for? Schools aren’t teaching lessons on how to be an adult and act in the real world but rather they are being sheltered from what they really need to know in order to survive. Something as simple as creating a budget or filing your taxes should be a class taught to our students rather than drones of meaningless facts and equations that they will probably never use again.

I had a variety of careers that I wanted as a kid, most notably, I wanted to be a doctor. But of course for me, I had a specific type in mind. I don’t remember which book gave me the idea, perhaps it was “Toxin” by Robin Cook, but I decided I wanted to be a cardiac-thoracic surgeon. That is until I heard the sound of a bone snap for the first time. Then that dream died. Now, I want to be a novelist. Well a writer, at least. Plus I want my writing to mean something, to influence people, specifically I want to inspire young women to embrace who they want to be. I want them to celebrate what they can accomplish in their lives and never have to give up on that dream.

And one of the most important parts of being a writer is obviously the snacks. And the tea but that’s a topic for another time. In the quest to make a difference, you have to treat your body well and to that end, I went to Trader Joe’s today. Boy, have I missed that store. I brought my 10 year old cousin with me and introduced her to the magical world of organic and all-natural. And we bought chicken pot-sticker dumplings. And damn are they good. Definitely worth keeping in my fridge, or rather in this case, my freezer.

As it is now Sunday, I can’t remember any song that I heard on the radio on Friday. But fortunately, I am reading a fascinating book by David Sedaris. His views on family and holidays are highly entertaining. “Holidays on Ice” is hysterical yet odd at times. I read a story called “Dinah – The Christmas Whore” and I had to try so hard not to snicker loudly late at night. No idea how this story might tie into the earlier ideas on society and mediocrity but I’m sure there is a lesson to be learned in there. I am very much enjoying Sedaris’ take on life, his humor, although sometimes dark, has the ability to make you think about life in different ways.

I’ve also decided that I’m not going to bother to go back and reread or edit any of my thoughts from the previous days. I’m simply going to post this and let the world see it for what it is. Love it or hate it, it is what it is: the product of whatever I was thinking and feeling on a given day. So have at it.

Better’n

PB

Because life without peanut butter is no life at all…

Try this amazing, healthier option from Trader Joe’s. It takes better than regular peanut butter (and as a diehard Jif fan, I can honestly say that) and it is lower in calories, fat, and ingredients!

The Phantom Tollbooth

Book quote

Rereading a book that you loved as a child can have a profound impact on you as an adult. You understand some of the deeper life lessons that it was trying to teach you and can pick out the themes around which it revolves. As the quote from above (from “You’ve Got Mail”) states, the books we read as children become a part of our identity.

Reading as an adult can also impact us but usually in different ways. We are most likely given over to deep thoughts or changing our way of thinking based on a new idea represented or an old one given new light.

So what happens when you read a childhood classic as an adult? Well I participated in this little experiment to find out. A former coworker of mine lent me “The Phantom Tollbooth” because she was appalled to learn that as an avid book lover, I had never read it. For those of you who were in the same boat as me, the novel revolves around a boy named Milo who is consistently bored and pleased by nothing until the day he receives a mysterious package. When Milo discovers that the package contains a tollbooth that transports him to another world, he jumps whole-heartedly into the journey. He meets many a strange character and on his question to restore Rhyme and Reason meets members of the two kingdoms of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis, one convinced that words are better and the other prefers numbers.

The entire book is a thinly veiled attempt to install good behavior and habits into children, which isn’t bad at all. In fact, Norton Juster does a fantastic job at leading Milo down the correct path without ever forcing him down it. Plus he has to outwit other players on the field if he wants to move forward in his mission. Demons such as the Terrible Trivium and Senses Taker plus places like the Island of Conclusions crop up to interfere with the quest. It is humorously well-written and edges the reader along without feeling like the lessons are being shoved down your throat.

When I was finished with the book, I was amazed at how good I felt. I had learned that words and numbers are equally important and that being idle or bored with life is no way to live at all when there are so many adventures to be had. Since I try to live my life to fullest on a daily basis, I was not surprised to learn that this book had only served to reenforce that ideal.

And one quote in particular stuck with me: “So many things are possible just so long as you don’t know they’re impossible.” What a wonderful thought for an author to present to our young people. As we get older, we often lose sight of our dreams or stop making goals. In essence, many people stop living and just simply survive. But why not have something to reach for? Nothing is impossible as long you don’t think that it is. The minute we allow doubt, worry, and indecision to become every day part of our lives is the day that we stop living with the childlike wonder that makes life worth enjoying.

Pick up a book. Receive a new idea. Dream a big dream. And never let anyone tell you that you can’t because no one but you ever truly knows what you are capable of and what will impact you the hardest. Learn something from a book, a news article, a conversation and allow yourself to imagine a greater self than the one you are and work towards that identity.

The Giver

Have you ever saw commercials for a new movie and wondered if it was a book? And then of course, once you wonder that, any self-respecting book lover will immediately Google it and then go find the nearest copy if it an interesting sounding book.

This has happened to me several times over the years. Titles like Twilight, The Book Thief, Ender’s Game, The Wolf of Wall Street, and The Monuments Men all come to mind. I have become interested in reading the books after seeing the preview for the movie. That new thing that everyone is talking about. Well it’s happened yet again. This time with “The Giver”.

I thought I had read this book as a child, but it turns out that I hadn’t. (I’d read “The Wish Giver” which is very different.) And my cousin mentioned that he would be reading this in 8th grade next year so I decided I should pick up a copy and see what all the fuss is about. And within 10 pages, I could see why the movie is being made now. There is a huge market for dystopian/post-apocalyptic/cult-like society movies based on the realm of YA novels that are popular.

The novel is decidedly spectacular. It paints a picture (pun intended) of a community that has strict rules and faithful followers. It is creepy yet completely logical way of life. And it makes you question your own life and if it would be better if you had someone else to make major life decisions for you, for mutual overall benefit of course.

I love finding a book that makes me think. And this one certainly did. The quick read gave me chills at times but its message is worth sharing. So if you haven’t read it, I would recommend doing so before the movie (with Jeff Bridges, I might add) comes out. And not just because I think the movie will alter the premise drastically and manipulate the message to suit the watered-down Hollywood version, despite having the blessing of the original author. I can already tell it will be very different (not necessarily to the point it will be a bad film) based on the movie poster. Oh, look another teenage romance novel. Wait a second…

What I’m Reading

currently reading 7.19

I noticed that I haven’t posted my current reading list in almost a few weeks so I decided today was as good a time as any. I am attempting to read “The Book Thief” for the second time and hoping that it can capture my interest more easily this time around. I have also yet to finish Holidays On Ice because it creates stitches of laughter at work that it often becomes inappropriate. A couple of new great finds from the library grace this list as well.

What are you reading?

Is it just me…

…or are most book characters being made much older when they are brought to life in movies? I first started realizing this phenomenon when “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” came out. Don’t get me wrong, I love Logan Lerman (like a lot) and I think he did an amazing job playing Percy. He had the right looks, the right temperament, and the skills to handle a sword. But in the first book of the series, Percy is 12 years old. Twelve! Logan easily makes the character appear to be in the 16-18 age range (being that he was around that age during filming), which is definitely not in keeping with the story.

Isn’t the whole idea of a series to grow and learn with the characters as they grow up? Not just in books, but on TV as well? Take “Harry Potter” or “Boy Meets World” for example. You wouldn’t let an 11 year old start on book or season 5 would you? (And not just because they would have missed everything that happened before) Because doesn’t that defeat the purpose of learning something about the people as they learn about themselves? Why care about a character that you can’t relate to because of an age difference?

Not the mention the fact that it also gives the youth unrealistic expectations of how people at a certain age will look. For example, Katniss Everdeen and Tris Prior are both played by women who are in their early 20s when their characters are 16. And while I enjoyed the portrayal by these wonderful actresses, I kept thinking they looked more like they were 18, which misses the boat on what being 16 and dealing with these crises can mean.

And now, a loved childhood classic, “The Giver” is being made into a movie and the main character, Jonas, definitely does not look like he is 12. Probably because the actor is actually about double that age. What is this phenomenon? Is it because film makes are trying to draw in a larger audience? Or because it might be troubling to see an actual twelve or sixteen year old in some of these fictional situations?

I think by making the characters older in the movies, or choosing older actors to portray them, we are actually losing a bit of what makes some of these stories so moving, breath-taking, and in some cases, disturbing. I don’t think the full impact of what the authors are trying to say is truly understood by the audience. I’m sure there is an explanation, reasonable or otherwise, for this but Hollywood sometimes just can’t leave well enough alone.