Monthly Archives: April 2011

Angry Birds Nation

The Daddy and I got our iPhones just over a year ago. The negotiations over getting them went much like the TiVo Accords, only this time I was the one who made the move to seal the deal with a trip to the Apple Store.  “It’ll be so easy to check email,” I said to myself, “and I can get a few fun games for the kids to play.”

On my first day with it, I took it in to the office where my co-worker, a veteran iPhone user, helped me set up my email account. “What apps are you going to get?” he asked innocently. “Have you seen Angry Birds?”

And thus it began.

For those of you who have never seen nor heard of Angry Birds (Hi, Mom!), it’s a maddeningly addictive game created by a Finnish company called Rovio. In the game, evil green pigs have stolen eggs from a flock of birds. (According to Wikipedia, the game developers made the villains pigs because the original design process took place during the swine flu outbreak.) The birds are very angry at these pillaging pigs and you, the player, are charged with helping to get the eggs back.

The pigs jealously guard the eggs underneath structures made of various materials. The materials include wood, glass, ice, and stone. You launch the birds by slingshot at a section of the structure, and whether or not the bird breaks the structure and kills the pig(s) is decided by some kind of sophisticated algorithm that takes angle, force, and speed into account. Complicating matters is that each bird in your arsenal has a different skill or function. Red birds are boring – they go straight ahead at medium speed and will possibly break something if everything is perfect. The blue bird turns into three when you tap on the screen. The yellow bird accelerates when you tap. Black birds land and then explode like a bomb – they’re my favorite. The white birds (hate them) act like a boomerang. Etc.

The game is highly addictive (I keep saying that word) and trance-inducing. I’ll play for a while, put it down, and then think, “I could do better on that level,” and pick it up again. Any situation that involves waiting (doctor’s office, airport, grocery store lines) is now time in which I can potentially increase my score. But I’m not addicted. Nope! I prefer to say I’m loyally dedicated to learning. Current learning schedule:

6:00 pm: Waiting for water to boil. Playing Angry Birds.
6:10 pm: Waiting for spaghetti to cook. Playing Angry Birds.
6:40 pm: Quick round of Angry Birds before I clean up the kitchen.
7:30 pm: Kids’ bathtime. Benjamin prattling on about Transformers. Playing with kids, but plotting Angry Birds strategy in the back of my shriveled mind.
8:15 pm: Sitting in Ellie’s beanbag chair, waiting for her to fall asleep. Angry Birds.
11:00 pm: Can’t sleep…maybe just a few minutes of…

You get the picture.

It’s not always like this, thank heaven. The initial obsession has waned, and now I only go cuckoo when a new update or version is released. I’m not alone, though…over 12 million copies of Angry Birds have been purchased from the iTunes App Store. There’s a feature film in the works. I even read an article in a business publication not long ago outlining how Angry Birds can make you a better manager and leader. At first I thought, “Wha?” But the author made some compelling points.

So if you’ve got an iPhone, iPad, or Droid and you haven’t tried Angry Birds yet, you really should! Or maybe you value your spare time and you really shouldn’t. But if you do, just so you know, you’ll have a hard time catching up to me. I’m currently ranked number 2, 230,520 out of 12 million. Beat that, suckahs!

BEWARE THE EVIL EGG-THIEVING SWINE

Preschool Iron Man

“Mama, what does being strong mean?”

“It means that you are healthy and that your muscles can do a lot of work.”

“Am I strong?”

“I think you’re very strong for a boy your age. Why are you thinking about being strong?”

“I don’t know. If I can lift up the gime, does that make me strong?”

“What’s a gime?”

“You know, the gime, that people do for exercises.”

“No, I don’t know what a gime is.”

“How can boys get even stronger?”

“Well, you have to eat good foods, and get lots of sleep, and play a lot.”

“What are good foods?”

“You know…things like fruits and vegetables and all the stuff Mama always wants you to eat.”

“Oh. I like to eat chocolate. Is that a good food?”

“Not really. But you can have a little bit, as long as you eat your good stuff first.”

“Then I can lift up the gime?”

“I still don’t know what a gime is.”

“You spell it g-y-m, Mama. The gime.”

“OH! I think you mean gym.”

“No, I mean gime.”

(I think he actually means weights, but that’s an argument for a different day.)

“That’s not how you say it, buddy – it’s gym, like the name Jim, and if you could actually lift up a gym, then you really would be superduper strong.”

“I’m gonna say it gime.”

“Okay, but don’t be surprised if people tease you.”

“I WON’T!”

*sigh*

It occurred to me later that if he really did become superstrong, no one would tease him for saying gime. Would you bother to correct Mike Tyson if he told you he just got back from the gime?

Me neither.

Television Schmelevision

Oh, television…how we love to hate you, and how we hate to love you.

Growing up in a rural area in the northernmost part of Michigan, the big antenna that stood next to our house received three channels. One was from Canada, one was PBS, and one was a local channel that generally carried CBS shows. The CBS channel was the clearest channel we got. Canada and PBS were snowy all the time; any manner of inclement weather created problems. Even a particularly bad mood could create enough atmospheric interference to render those two channels unwatchable.

It wasn’t a bad thing, and I don’t remember feeling at all deprived or any more bored than any other kid.  True, I never saw a lot cultural milestone shows that “everyone” has seen, like Gilligan’s Island or The Brady Bunch. The Daddy still becomes occasionally horrified when he uncovers yet another TV show of his youth that I’ve never heard of.

Given that history, I hadn’t been much of a TV fan for most of my adult life. I preferred to socialize; I felt that contact with other human beings was a far better use of my time and energy. “Human relationships are based on give and take,” I’d sneer haughtily, “and you can’t have a two-way relationship with a television.” 

BUT THEN we got a TiVo. In the pre-purchasing period, I argued against it – what did we need it for?  But in his infinite wisdom of all things electronic, The Daddy ignored my anemic assertions and got one anyway. Once it took up residence in my very own living room, I finally understood.  TiVo freed me from TV schedule slavery. If I didn’t feel like watching something on Wednesday at 9:00 p.m., I could watch it Saturday at 10:00 a.m.  Or 2:00 p.m. Whenever!

Me – 1, Bondage to Television Scheduling – 0

Furthermore, I no longer had to watch a single commercial!

Me – 2, Greedy Corporate Advertisers – 0

The final nail in the coffin was the first baby.  For those of you who’ve never gone through it, there’s a lot of sitting around when you have a newborn. There’s feeding, and rocking, and holding them while they sleep.  And it’s not just part of the day – this is a 24-hour-a-day cycle. Sure, you spend a lot of time just gazing at that  adorable face, but you can only do that for so long. So what do you do? TV!

I learned that there really are a lot of great shows. True, many of them are geared towards the lowest common denominator, but not all of them. There are shows promoting creativity, such as Top Chef and Project Runway (I even watched those before baby brainlessness struck me). There are gripping dramas like Big Love, which I’m sad to say recently ended. Fun travel shows like Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. Spirit-expanding specials like the one we recently watched on PBS about the Buddha. Hilarious, gut-busting comedies like Modern Family.

So does all this mean that my intelligence is waning, my energy is draining, my high-minded ideals are dwindling, my creative capacity is on the decline? Does it mean that my thoughts and ideals are being replaced by those of one-dimensional television characters?

Probably.

Television Brain Rot – 1, Me – 0

However, according to my (always questionable) math skills, that still puts me up by at least one point. I’d like to be able to say that I’m winning, but I can’t because Charlie Sheen ruined that word for the remainder of 2011, at the very least.

This is the opening to Big Love, which I felt was a work of art in itself. The song is by a band called Engineers; all of their music is just this enchanting. Even though Big Love is over now, you can get all the seasons on Netflix. And they didn’t pay me to say that. (Private note to Netflix: If you did want to pay me, I’d be fine with it. Call me!)

Blades of Glory

The Daddy and I have been discussing when we should get Benjamin into some kind of martial arts class. I like the idea of disciplining and expanding his mind as early as possible. If  I drew you a map of his brain today, I would simply label one hemisphere “DINOSAURS” and the other “TRANSFORMERS.”  The end. Nothing else enters his mind, and nothing else exits.

Then we discussed Ellie and what she might want to do in the future, and I was reminded of my own childhood physical endeavor: figure skating.

I started figure skating at around age 5 or 6. My final hurrah came when I was around 13.  That year, my coach said I could go to the annual competition in Marquette. It was an international competition, which sounds really impressive, no? But all it really meant was there would be at least one skater from Canada.

I would be participating  in two events: ice dancing and the short compulsory program. So exciting! Issue number one (of course) was OMG WHAT WILL I WEAR? Issue number two was preparing the actual dance. To my distress, the dance I would be performing was the Canasta Tango.

At this point, I will fully disclose that I barely practiced that miserable tango. I had learned the Canasta years earlier and had no interest in revisiting it.  I halfheartedly lurched around the rink when the music came on. I rolled my eyes and sighed and said I was tired. Puh-leeze. I spent a fair amount of time just leaning against the boards, observing my fellow skaters as they prepared their dances. I watched jealously as the club’s celebrated superstar practiced her Rocker Foxtrot. The Rocker Foxtrot just oozed coolness and intrigue, while the Canasta had all the coolness and intrigue of a geriatric shuffleboard match.

I was uninspired, to say the very least.

On competition day, I skated purposefully out to the starting point on the ice and waited for the music to start. I was unafraid. My dress was gorgeous – black, with filmy handkerchief-cut sleeves and a matching skirt. I smiled winningly and looked for my mother in the stands. The music started…

And I just stood there.

It was as though someone had picked up an eraser and wiped my mind clean of any memory I had of the Canasta Tango. It was completely gone. Whoosh.

Any sane person would’ve just skated off the ice. Instead, I thought I’d give it a whirl. I skated aimlessly around, smiling like a deranged maniac, throwing in some out-of-sequence steps here and there.

Up in the stands, my mother was blissfully unaware until one of my fellow skaters said, “Oh, wow…she really blew it.”

After it was over, I met my mother in the locker room and cried. The most pressing issue at hand was that I still had another event to compete in, and I was too embarrassed to even think about going back out there. How could I face the panel of judges again? And my peers?

My mother looked at her pathetic, tear-stained daughter and said, “Well, it’ll be fine. You’ll be wearing a different dress. They won’t even know it’s you.”

At the time, I accepted this advice as being inarguably logical. Of course they wouldn’t know it was me! I’d be taking off my elegant black dress and changing into a jazzy purple dress with a vibrant Hawaiian sunset scene around the neckline.  I’d be completely unrecognizable!

And so, buoyed by this change your clothes/change into a different person idea, I went out there and skated my compulsory routine and won 3rd place. I even got to stand on risers with the medal around my neck and have my picture taken. Just like the Olympics!

As I consider my children entering the world of individual and team sports, I wonder how we’ll handle the highs and lows, the wins and losses, the triumphs and the embarrassments. I do think martial arts will be great for Benjamin. But I’m pretty sure there’s only one outfit choice in martial arts, so there’ll be no saving him from abject humiliation by simply changing his clothes.

Poor kid.

MICHELLE KWAN NEVER FORGOT THE CANASTA

Image via Wikipedia 

 

The Forbidden Keychain of Mystery

Scene: Yesterday morning. I’m driving the car, the children are strapped in their car seats.

Background: Benjamin, 4, is holding a Transformer and a combination keychain/flashlight/photo frame that contains a picture of himself with The Daddy and Thomas the Tank Engine. Ellie, 2, is holding her doll and a pink metal princess purse. They are poster children for gender stereotypes.

(Yes, I did say metal princess purse – you read that right. Someone decided it would be a great idea to make metal purses with pretty beaded handles. The cacophony created by 5 crayons and a block in a metal purse really makes your brains curdle. Way to go, Disney Princess purse designers.)

Crisis: Ellie, suddenly realizing that Benjamin is holding the Forbidden Keychain of Mystery, decides she wants it RIGHTTHISINSTANT.

“Benjamin, I can hold the keythain?”

“No, Ellie! It’s MINE!”

“Pweeze?”

“No!”

“Mama, Benjamin not share wiff me!”

*repeat* *repeat* *repeat*

I’ve been trying to let them fight their own battles more often, watching from the sidelines like a frustrated referee. I drove along silently for some time, but as usual, the whining eventually got to me. I’m not proud to say that I tried a little guilt on Benjamin to see if he would let her look at it, however briefly.

“Ellie, I guess it’s as good a time as any to realize that sometimes people just won’t share things with their little sister, even when it’s the nicest, kindest thing to do.”

Benjamin replied, “Yeah, mama, that’s right – people like ME!”

Lessons Learned:

Benjamin: I feel validated. Mama really understands me and is okay with my possessive behavior.

Ellie: Benjamin is selfish, and Mama is ineffective. I should just pout some more.

Me: The four-year-old has outsmarted me once again. Passive aggressive discipline doesn’t work, at least on the boy. Do I have time to stop for coffee?

LOVE ALWAYS WINS

A Sign of the Impending Apocalypse

I was talking with my mother the other night, as I frequently do, and she mentioned that she was enjoying Steven Tyler on American Idol. “He’s funny!” she said. “And I think he gives good advice to the contestants.”

The fact that my mother even knows who Steven Tyler IS – well, it’s kind of freakin’ me out.

My parents were not at all interested in the music of my youth, and that’s putting it mildly.  (To be fair, my taste was often questionable; does anyone remember Ratt?) My dad used to say that everything that came after jazz wasn’t music at all; it was simply garbage. “What about the Beatles?” I asked, thinking that perhaps since they were essentially his contemporaries, he could muster up an appreciation. I was wrong.

My posters of Bon Jovi and David Lee Roth had to be hung on the INSIDE of my closet door. Now that I’m a mom, I think that was actually an inspired idea.  

I didn’t go to a concert that wasn’t classical or school-related until I was 19 years old and away at college.  I’d occasionally try to play a song for them  that I really liked, even going so far as to point out to them what was so great about it, but the enthusiasm fell on deaf ears. (Ha ha! See what I did there?)

With all that in mind, you can imagine my amazement that they’re even watching American Idol at all. And apparently this isn’t even their first season watching it. What it means for American Idol is that the show has truly saturated every possible viewing demographic. What it means for the rest of us is that the world may really be coming to an end.  I hadn’t imagined that doomsday would involve Steven Tyler, but if you think about it, it’s not all that far-fetched.

FOR MOM
Photo by PR Photos

Grammar Hammer

Dear PHILADELPHIA Brand Cream Cheese:

Thank you kindly for printing a “Savory Tip” on the foil seal that covers and protects your delicious product. I’m always ready, willing, and eager to learn new ways to use cheese, or in your case, spreadable cheese-ish substances.

However, I was distressed to see that your grammar department was taking a leisurely snooze on the day that this little ditty was printed on possibly billions of circles of shiny silver foil: “For a savory side dish, add plain or savory PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese Spread to hot, cooked mash potatoes.”

You see, PHILADELPHIA, the rest of the world eats mashed potatoes. Someone cooks the potatoes, mashes them, and after that process has occurred, those potatoes have been mashed. Mashed potatoes.

Other examples of this important principle:

Baked Chicken
instead of
Bake Chicken

Potted Palm
as opposed to
Pot Palm

Whipped Cream
not
Whip Cream
(although I see that one more than I care to mention)

Steamed Vegetables
vs.
Steam Vegetables

If you’d like to fly me to headquarters to review all of your printed materials for other such egregious errors, I’m ready and willing. I’ll admit to also being curious about why you are known as PHILADELPHIA cream cheese…why the unnecessary shouting? My guess is that it has something to do with your cheese not being related to the actual city of Philadelphia, but we can talk about that later. Perhaps over some BOSTON cream pie. 

(Just so you know, PHILADELPHIA is referred to as a capitalized word, not a capitalize word.)

You’re welcome, PHILADELPHIA. You’re welcome.

Love and Kisses,

SassenFrassen

I KAN HALP YOO

Hot Buttered Butterflies

The Daddy’s Conversation with 2-Year-Old Ellie:

“Ellie, we’re going to a movie today!”

“Yay! A moodee!”

“It’s a movie called Hop.”

“Hop! Hop! Hop! Wike a bunny!”

“That’s right. What do you think we should eat at the movie?”

“Buttafwies!”

“All right! One bucket of hot buttered butterflies for Ellie!”

The rest of us simply ate popcorn.

DELICIOUS

The Dirt Pile of Our Dreams

Back in snowy December, we reserved a lot upon which a construction company agreed to build our dream house.

“We’ll break ground in February, and then your house will be done in June.” Simple pimple!

Even though we had two months until ground breaking, there were still things to do and think about. We had to choose colors…siding, wood, granite, tile, carpet, front door…even door knobs. (Or should I say door levers, because that’s what we went with in the end. Knobs are so 2010.) Did we want recessed lighting? A garage extension? Pre-wired home security system? Clear or obscure glass in the shower? Disco ball in the great room?

(No, that wasn’t really an option, but that doesn’t mean we won’t have one.)

We did all of that, and then we waited impatiently. And waited impatiently some more. Finally, one day in late February, they dug a hole! A big house-shaped hole, surrounded by mounds of dirt. And then nothing else happened.

In this and other cold-climate states, there are laws addressing the time of year in which the frost in the ground is…defrosting. While that’s going on, people who construct things can’t drive their necessary-for-construction vehicles around on the soft ground, lest they commit such crimes as cracking the tender pavement and mashing the sensitive curbs. I had no idea these laws existed before this particular spring, nor would I have cared. But what it meant for The Dirt Pile of Our Dreams was that it would remain nothing more than a dirt pile until the laws were lifted.

So, since February, we’ve been stuck in construction purgatory. Daily, I checked the frost law update web page (they even have a web page for it!) to see if the status had changed. Daily, we drove by our mound of dirt, monitoring the progress on other people’s houses, because at least it was something to DO. Daily, we valiantly maintained patience and perspective, at least on the outside, while we waited for the day that the trucks would roll in.

And that day is TODAY! Today, the frost law enforcers (seriously, there are frost law enforcers who come and take your equipment if you defy THE LAWS) will abandon their posts, and with any luck, the burly concrete guys will begin pouring our basement walls.

Halle-frickin’-LUJAH!

I LOVE TRUCKS

Let’s Jump Right In

When I was 15, my best friend talked me into joining the swim team. “You need to do something,” she said, “to prove you have school spirit.” 

The truth was, I didn’t have much school spirit, nor did joining the swim team provide even a teaspoon more. I liked school, probably more than most, but the school spirit thing eluded me. It seemed to be nothing more than a lemming-like belief that our school was better than anyone else’s school, which was just plain hard to accept. It was a good school, sure, but I’d been in other schools and they all seemed much the same. There were kids and teachers and lockers, and reportedly the same lunchroom popularity contests resulting in priority seating for cheerleaders and jocks. I never ate in the lunchroom because I just couldn’t bear to witness it.

(The one time I went into the lunchroom, there was the obnoxious fun table, and then the tables containing everyone else.  Most heads were bowed silently over peanut butter sandwiches and Pringles, praying not to be noticed. I never went back.)

So I did eventually join the swim team, and I learned the following things: how to get up at 5:00 a.m. (didn’t care for it), how to leap purposefully off of a starting block (really fun with careful aim), how to breathe efficiently (less is more) and how to force yourself into ridiculously cold water when you’d rather just go back to bed. The answer to that one is: Stop thinking – just jump right in.

I thought about how I would write this very first blog post, and then I thought about it some more. And then a little more.  Then it struck me that the continual thinking was much like teenaged me, the sulking sleepy procrastinator…sitting on the side of the pool, waiting for a reason to force myself to move.

(I’d love to be able to say that the reason I eventually jumped in each morning was an innate drive to perform and succeed, but actually it was Coach Hal’s harrassing threats.)

In summary, welcome to SassenFrassen, written by a woman who has no school spirit, who hates lunchrooms and frigid early morning swims, and who performs only in response to harrassment and threats. *waves* This is going to be fun!