The Spice of Life

63. Spice: Write about flavors and tastes or a favorite spice of yours.

ThinkWritten.com

Sure, I have a favorite spice. And that spice is

Eyebrows.

Yes. I said eyebrows.

Good eyebrows are what add spice to a person’s face. And right now, big bushy eyebrows are in, for men as well as women!

(Thank goodness! Now these uncontrollable caterpillars on my forehead are actually desirable!)

A Versatile Accessory

Just think what you can do with bold eyebrows! I mean, look at this face:

Everything is right about those eyebrows. Colin Farrell‘s eyebrows suit every occasion.

An Expressive Accessory

Good use of the eyebrows can be devastatingly effective. Just take a look at Jamie Hector here, killing it with his eyebrow game:

And check out Oscar Isaac‘s pathos in this clip:

Would that be possible without those eyebrows?? No. It would not.

A Necessary Accessory

To me, a face without eyebrows is like an under-salted, under-spiced meal. Just… bland.

Now don’t get me wrong: eyebrows can be overdone. I don’t need them dancing all the way over your forehead (cough Jim Carrey I’m looking at you cough).

But big, strong eyebrows can be thoughtful:

Soulful:

They can be alluring:

They can be kinda frightening:

And also… hilarious:

So I’m just going to come out and say it:

I have a thing for eyebrows. Specifically on men.

Eyebrows are the spice of life.

Top Five Movies That Made Me Laugh

The other day, I wrote about the top five movies that made me cry.

Since everyone could use a little levity right now, I thought I’d reverse that today and look at the top five movies that made me laugh.

1. My Cousin Vinny (1992)

Perhaps it was the context in which I saw this movie, but I NEARLY DIED LAUGHING.

We saw this film shortly after the birth of our second son. He was born in extraordinary circumstances while we were in Switzerland (we lived in Germany at the time).

My mother had just died, and one week later, the apartment had emptied of guests and visitors who had come for her funeral. It was just Chico, our Bug, my dad and me, and this tiny little newborn person.

We needed a good laugh. So one night, after putting our firstborn down to bed, my dad said, “Let’s watch My Cousin Vinny.”

Chico and I had never heard of this film, and my father was aghast. It turns out, it was the last film he and my mother watched together before she died, and they had both laughed so hard they had tears running down their cheeks.

So we watched it. And we laughed, and laughed, and laughed. I was dying. Marissa Tomei earned that Oscar in my books. (Her outfits! They killed me!) She was just delightful.

It’s a miracle our guffawing didn’t wake the sleeping toddler, much less the infant sleeping on my chest!

2. A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

Jamie Lee Curtis. John Cleese. Kevin Kline. Michael Palin.

If those names don’t mean anything to you, you have not seen comedy.

This movie has me gasping with laughter every single time I see it. It is still just as funny now as when I first saw it.

When Kevin Kline’s character realizes the safe they’ve robbed is empty, leans back on his heels raises his hands and says, “DisaPPOINTED” that way? Tears are running down my face.

3. The Full Monty (1997)

When six Sheffield former steel workers are desperate to make ends meet, they turn to striptease dancing to earn some money.

But they’re not just stripping down to thongs. Oh, no. They’re going for the “full monty.”

They’re not pretty, they’re not built like Magic Mike, but man are they funny.

What’s wonderful about this film is that it stays consistently hilarious, all the while dealing with some heavy themes like depression, suicide and broken families.

(PSA for people whose native language isn’t English or who struggle with unfamiliar accents: you might need to put the closed captioned subtitles on for this one.)

4. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

Great music. Great actors (John Tuturo anyone??). Eminently quotable.

This was the first movie I saw with George Clooney in a comic role, and I loved him.

This one could also use the closed captioning subtitles. It’s so quick that a lot of the hilarious lines can be lost in the pace. The Coen brothers are geniuses, and this is probably my favorite of their comedies.

5. Death At A Funeral (2007)

Frank Oz’s ridiculous slapstick comedy doesn’t pull the punches right from the get-go.

In the opening scene, the undertakers arrive at the family home with the coffin. They place it in the living room and open the lid. The mourning son (played by Matthew Macfadyen) steps forward and looks down at the corpse in the coffin. There’s a pause. Then, with a totally straight face, he says, “That’s not my father.”

It’s a strong start.

Things only get more ridiculous from there. This movie has it all: blackmail, psychedelic drugs, poop jokes, nudity, grumpy old people, Peter Dinklage. And through it all, Matthew Macfadyen is so wonderfully bumbling, inept and hilarious.

You can see why I could never take him seriously as Mr. Darcy.

Honorable Mentions

We recently watched Knives Out, and that had both Chico and me laughing. Daniel Craig is surprisingly hilarious, despite his terrible excuse for a southern accent. And Jamie Lee Curtis. I love her.

Airplane! gets me laughing every time, even though I know it is SO STUPID. I just can’t help myself. And the black knight scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail? You can’t tell me it doesn’t make you giggle.

Finally, any comedy movie list would be incomplete without at least mention of a Robin Williams film. The Birdcage never fails to slay me with its standout performances by Williams, the irrepressible Nathan Lane, Hank Azaria and Gene Hackman. I recently rewatched it on a flight and didn’t regret a moment of it.

Your Turn

What are the movies that set you giggling uncontrollably? Please share!

Slip Up

62. Slip Up: Write about making mistakes.

ThinkWritten.com

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately.

Mostly they’re from dear friends of mine–fellow mothers–who have questions about how I might handle a certain parenting situation.

While I’m flattered that they turn to me, I also kind of worry about why they feel they can ask me for advice.

But hey! If people think I have my s*** together, then great! I’ll take it.

(I do not really have my s*** together.)

A Recent Query

A friend recently asked me, “Jane, how would you handle it if your partner were putting your oldest kid to bed, but the kid wanted YOU to put her down, and ended up having a complete meltdown and begging for you to come.”

Essentially, the question was: do my partner and I look weak for caving into our daughter’s tantrum over who puts her to bed?

My short answer was: No. You do not look weak.

A Little Background

The back story to this was that there’s a baby sibling involved (jealousy), they are on vacation with family (meaning lots of activity and sleep deprivation), the kid has recently given up her pacifier, she’s dropping her afternoon nap…

In short, as any parent of a 3-year-old reading this can guess, the entire situation is a hot mess.

Such times are not times to dig your feet in and insist that your child do what you say BECAUSE YOU SAID SO.

It sounded to me like that kid needed to get to bed ASAP and the best thing was to get her to bed in the quickest and calmest way possible.

And so in response to my friend’s question, I said:

No. You are not weak or undisciplined for giving into your daughter’s demand for her mother to put her to bed.

It’s Not Admitting Defeat

Raising our kids is not raging war (no matter how much it might feel like it sometimes).

We, as parents, do not always have to win.

Don’t get me wrong, I am the first person to want my kids to snap to order when I say “go” (see my recent article about my overuse of the word No).

But when they don’t, when they fight back, protest, or throw tantrums, it does not mean that we the parents have lost.

In fact, I’ve learned that sometimes my kids throw fits or have meltdowns because I am being either unreasonable or terribly unsympathetic.

Admitting Weakness Gives Strength

One thing I’ve tried to work on, is being able to take a step back in the heat of the moment and look at a situation from my child’s perspective.

When you’re locked in a power struggle, it can be so difficult to get yourself out of that mindset, and to ask yourself, “Why is this happening?”

Another thing I’ve tried to do is to say, “Mama’s got it wrong. I’m sorry. Let’s try again.”

For our older son, it really works with him to get down to his eye level, and say, “We’re having some trouble here. Let’s figure this out together.”

Strange to say it, but he seems reassured when we admit that we’re wrong. It’s like he’s relieved to know that it’s not just he who thinks that a situation is coo-coo bananas.

Slip-Ups Happen

Sometimes the kids are being pig-headed.

Often times, I’m the pig-headed one.

Either way, we all make mistakes. Hopefully, our children will learn from our example that admitting to our mistakes does not make us weak.

Pick Your Battles

And “caving in” (or, as I like to call it, “picking your battles wisely”) does not make you a weak parent.

It makes you a smart parent.

Culture Shock

As I wrote recently, I’ve been enjoying some serious brain candy reading these days.

I’ve read several books in Jasmine Guillory’s Wedding Date series. These books aren’t quite romance novels, but nearly. They’re rom-coms!

Girl meets boy, they fall for each other, their relationship moves along swimmingly until there’s some kind of conflict or crisis that splits them apart. But soon they realize they were made for each other and make it up in a funny/romantic way. Happy endings all around!

From Here But Not From Here

Guillory is from California, and all of the books I’ve read have been set in L.A. or in the Bay Area.

I live on the east coast of the U.S., and while it’s the same USA, there are a lot of cultural differences between east and west, north and south in this country.

Also, though I am American, I have lived the vast majority of my life outside of the United States. My husband is European, I myself and a dual citizen.

So while I’m here, I never feel really from here.

The Biggest Culture Shock

The biggest element of culture shock that has hit me since being here, and since reading these books, is all about…

FOOD.

Food is a big part of Guillory’s novels. Of course it is! Her characters are going on dates, which most often involve eating together.

But what strikes me as so strange is WHAT and WHERE they eat. And all the snacks!

First Off: What.

Donuts. Pastries. Pizza. Tacos. In-N-Out (a California thing, I think?).

Even the one character I’ve encountered who likes to cook (Carlos in The Proposal) mostly eats takeout.

Granted, Guillory’s characters are busy 30-something-year-old professionals. They’re career-driven doctors and lawyers. They start off single in the books, living in their own flats or houses.

When I was a single young professional, I didn’t do much cooking for myself, either. It’s no fun to cook for one!

But damn. Reading these books and seeing what they eat, I wonder how her characters stay so trim in their mid-thirties.

Secondly: Where.

Here’s a list of where Guillory’s characters eat:

  1. On the couch
  2. In the car
  3. At their desks
  4. In bed
  5. In a restaurant

Taking most of their meals on the couch?? This, to me, was the biggest culture shock. In all three books I’ve read, she’s specifically said that someone or other doesn’t even own a dining table.

Even when I lived in a tiny one-room studio flat, I had a dining table. Every meal that I ate at home, I sat down to eat it at the table.

Not Just In Books

And this has been a general theme in meeting new people and going into other people’s homes in the States (something we haven’t done since February, mind you…).

Dining tables are covered with stuff. They’re clearly not where the family eats.

I remember living with a college professor and her family one summer during my undergraduate studies, and I was deeply surprised to learn that their family of three rarely sat down for a meal together.

Mostly, they ate take-out on the couch.

I thought this was just a weird quirk of that one family, but I have since encountered it so many other places.

And What is With the Snacks??

Reading Guillory, I’ve learned about “bag snacks” (snacks carried in one’s purse), “desk snacks” (snacks stored in one’s desk drawers) and “car snacks” (presumably, snacks stored in… cars).

Elsewhere, especially among families with kids, I’ve noticed that snacking is a HUGE thing in the States.

Parents on the playground are always armed with food distractions like Goldfish, cookies, crackers, gummies and more.

Don’t get me wrong: we eat two snacks a day. One mid-morning and one mid-afternoon. Sometimes our snacks are on the go, like at the park or the playground. But as soon as it’s time to eat, my boys are washing (or wiping) their hands, they’re sitting down and they’re staying on their butts until their food is done, or they’re full. This, I’ve learned, is unusual (“How do you get them to sit still and eat?” one mom asked me.)

Food as an Event

Really, the key thing that brought on culture shock for me was the fact that eating in this country doesn’t seem to be much of an event.

Growing up in Switzerland (with American parents, mind you!), eating was An Event.

For all meals (and most snacks, too!), my family would sit down together. They happened at about the same time each day, and each meal had a clear beginning and end.

Dinner, especially, would begin with grace and end with asking, “May I please be excused?” and carrying our plates to the kitchen sink.

The act of sitting down to eat together was so important to my parents, that I still remember the year we didn’t take any summer vacation to the States. It was because that year, Mom and Dad had paid for a nice dining room table with 8 chairs and a matching sideboard.

Sticking With It

Even though I’m learning that this is not how many Americans approach eating, I’m sticking with it.

Maybe it’s because I absolutely hate the feeling of crumbs on a couch or on a bed, but I will NOT STAND for food anywhere but on the table.

It’s also how Chico grew up, and to us, it’s a natural thing for our family to gather together to eat.

The Beauty of Culture…

…Is that you can take it anywhere.

And the beauty of the United States is that there are so many intersecting cultures here that you can go from one house to another in a neighborhood and experience something of culture shock.

Who knows? Maybe when the pandemic is over and we actually have people over to our house again, someone will experience culture shock in our house.

The Joy of Reading

It feels so decadent.

It almost feels sinful…

To sit down and pick up a book…

…In the middle of the day!

Early Pleasure

I’ve always been a reader. I don’t even remember learning to read. As far as I can remember, I’ve always been able to.

My happiest memories of childhood are of our family reading together.

We read about NIMH, Narnia, Middle Earth, the cupboard, the high seas, deep space, jungles… More places than I can remember.

When we outgrew family reading time, I started reading on my own. I was never as voracious a reader as my brothers, but I was always reading something.

Forgotten Pleasure

When I was studying I found it hard to read for pleasure, as I am a slow reader and spent so much time reading school materials.

But upon graduating from college, I moved back home and started working a job that had a 30 minute commute by public transport. Perfect. My love was rekindled.

After having children, though, my reading slowed way down.

And then, after my mother died, I nearly stopped reading altogether.

Shared Pleasure

Reading was something I shared with my mother. It was something we did together. Almost everything I read was a recommendation from her.

She had majored in English and was always a deep and thoughtful reader. By reading the same books, we could talk about them together, too. Long after I’d stopped writing papers for English class, I’d still be discussing and arguing them with my mother.

When she died, that font dried up. There was no one else I could really talk about books with.

Many of my friends and family read constantly. But either they restrict their discussion of books to their book groups, or their tastes and interests are very different from mine.

And sadly, many friends, like me, have drifted away from reading because they feel they don’t have time. Whether it’s because of kids or work.

Necessary Pleasure

Since moving back to the States where I have access to a wonderful public library system, my love of reading has rekindled.

Access to English-language books is helpful.

Developing the courage to make my own reading choices and branch out into the unknown is also helpful.

Suddenly, despite not having my reading guru–my literary guide–anymore, I have fallen in love with reading all over again.

Now, with the pandemic, struggles with mental health, small children at home, isolation and boredom pressing in–Now, more than ever, reading is a necessary pleasure.

The newspaper. Magazines. Children’s books. Nonfiction, history, social sciences… And yes, the novels I have always loved.

Reading Is Keeping Me Sane.

I’m currently reading Kate Atkinson’s latest in her Jackson Brodie series, Big Sky.

In between novels, I’m reading chapters of El infinito en un junco by Irene Vallejo. It’s a sweeping history of books themselves, the earliest written word and the first libraries.

What are you reading?

Find me on Goodreads!

Drama

61. Drama: Write about a time when you got stuck in between two parties fighting with each other.

-Think Written

Clowns to the Left…

Though I suppose “clowns” is not a fair description of Kamala Harris. Thank GOD she’s Biden’s VP pick, because maybe–just maybe–she’ll bring a little sanity and maturity to this presidential race.

Finally, there’s a grown up in the room!

Now now now, I know there are lots of Biden fans. And I’m not anti-Biden by any means.

But I’m not so terribly pro-Biden either. I see him as more of the same ol’ same ol’.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to do my best to get him elected in November in the hopes that he will prove me wrong.

Jokers to the Right…

But writing Trump off as a “joker” has proved dangerous.

(As anyone with half a brain and an ounce of integrity knows.)

The thought of four more years of this maniac terrifies me. But what really frightens me the people who are willing to keep him in office.

Who are these people? Any conversation about Trump I’ve had, with strangers, friends and family alike, has yet to reveal anyone who actually voted for him.

They’re out there, obviously. But they’re as elusive as unicorns.

Tired of the Drama

I want this year to be over. I want to know the result. I want to be out of this melodramatic mess.

But it seems like we won’t get off that easy. Trump is already vowing to continue the drama after the election if he loses.

So here’s what I’ll be doing: volunteering, getting out the vote, donating money to organizations dedicated to getting out the vote, and reminding all and sundry to register to vote by mail.

That, and breathing a short prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

Reinhold Niebuhr

Uninspired

The past few prompts from my creative writing series have been duds.

I’m not feeling inspired at all.

It’s not like each and every one of these posts has been fabulously inspired. But the past couple days, I’ve struggled to even muster up the energy.

Fickle Inspiration

Inspiration doesn’t just pop up out of nowhere.

Sometimes, something lights a spark. Often, throughout this process of writing (almost) daily, I’ve felt true inspiration.

Other times, I feel like it’s a struggle to hammer something out.

The past couple of days I’ve felt uninspired, and I’ve been tempted to not write. To wait until the spark comes again.

The Trouble Is…

If I stop doing the work and just wait to feel inspired, it might never happen.

Yeah, it’s true, sometimes I feel like what I’m writing here is crap.

(A lot of times, actually.)

But at least I’m writing. Quantity, not quality, right?

While I Wait

Any readers I still have may just have to suffer a bit! Huzzah! I hope you’re up for it!

I’ve got a sweater that came off the needles. Maybe tomorrow I can get some photos of it and write something up.

Hopefully I’ll feel inspired.

In the meantime, I’ve been enjoying this podcast.

And this book.

The Perfect Weekend

There was nothing special about this weekend. And it was perfect.

You know how it goes.

Weekends are supposed to be relaxing, but they can often be stressful. Whether it’s an activity to get to, a get-together that requires cooking something, or just the pressures we put on ourselves to get stuff done.

No Pressure

This weekend we had absolutely nothing on schedule.

Zip. Zilch. Nada.

On Saturday morning I had to fight the urge to plan something for us. It was a struggle. I often feel the need to fill up our time with outings, activities, whatever.

It was a beautiful morning; would have been perfect for a bike ride. It was cooler, overcast but not raining. An ideal summer day for cycling.

But instead, we didn’t.

Instead, I slept in. We lingered over breakfast. The boys played. I made a picnic.

We went to a park, ate, threw the frisbee, blew bubbles, and then parked ourselves on a playground. Saturday night we had pizza and watched a silly movie.

Today, Sunday, was even more low-key. We didn’t get out of our pyjamas until the afternoon. Pancakes, knitting, reading, trampoline, paddling pool… We had our big meal of the day mid-afternoon.

We did manage to do the things we needed to. We tidied the house, put on a little laundry. I did my hair. Chico struck a couple things off his to-do list.

It was so relaxed.

I feel more refreshed after this weekend than a whole week of vacation. Perhaps it was the good book I started and finished in 24 hours. Perhaps it was the weather.

But I think most of all it was the fact that I wasn’t putting pressure on myself or anyone else to do anything in particular.

With no agenda, nowhere to be, no obligations, neither Chico nor I had any stress about this weekend.

And our extremely sensitive children felt that. They sensed zero anxiety from either of us, and as a result they were totally relaxed.

It feels so delicious, I don’t want it to end.

But let’s not mess with perfection.

So: Bring it on, Monday!

PS I also FINALLY finished the sweater I was knitting. Damn. It really was the perfect weekend.

Latest Brain Candy

It’s summer time, and that means summer reading!

This summer, the reading hasn’t been so super light. I’ve had a number of challenging reads on my list.

It’s time for a little break.

That’s when one of my sisters-in-law recommended Jasmine Guillory.

Like Drinking Champagne

It’s bubbly. It’s light. And it’s DELICIOUS.

I started with The Wedding Date and now I’m on The Proposal.

These books are just so much fun. They’re romantic and sexy, and I can’t put them down once I start.

The only annoyance is that her characters are sometimes frustratingly clueless for such intelligent people. But what would a romance novel be without any tension?

Nice For a Change

My brain candy usually consists of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, or going back to an old and comforting favorite like Jane Austen or Tolkien.

Because my SIL is wonderful, she knew I was looking for reading that would be light, entertaining, but be something fresh and different for me.

Jasmine Guillory is Black, and she writes about women of color, men of color, white men, white women, and their love lives. Most of my life, my reading list has been shockingly white.

This summer has been about diversifying my reading list. While it’s important to read books that push and challenge, it’s also important to read authors of color for pleasure, too.

In the Meantime…

I have some reading to do. Reading that is seriously making me blush…

Vote by Mail!

Ladies & gentlemen, it’s time!

Time for what?

TIME TO REGISTER TO VOTE BY MAIL!!

Today, I received a form that I had requested online. The form is an application to vote by mail in the upcoming November 3rd presidential election.

It’s been filled in and mailed back. My ballot will arrive about 45 days before the November election.

Why This Matters

This year especially, this matters SO. MUCH.

And it’s easy to think that November is a long time from now, that we all have time to do this stuff later.

But November will be here before we know it, and now is the time to request an absentee ballot.

Rules Differ by State

All states differ, so a quick Google search of your state’s voter registration site should help you find all the information you need.

Where I live, we are being encouraged to register to vote by mail.

Your state may be different, but please be sure to find out.

Get Others Registered

Tell your friends. Tell your family.

Also, there is a frightening push against voting by mail by the Republican party, and especially the president (who voted himself by mail in the Florida March primary…).

There are many organizations fighting to defend peoples’ right to vote. The NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund (LDF) is one of them.

There’s also Fair Fight, run by Stacey Abrams. These organizations can use our support.

Consider Volunteering

Typical poll workers are retired folks, people who are right smack in the most at-risk age group for infection from covid-19.

If you are young, healthy, have no underlying health conditions and feel safe doing so, consider volunteering as a poll worker in November.

Hopefully most people will be able to vote by mail, but after June’s fiasco in Georgia, who knows how things will turn out.

Vote, Vote, Vote!

Share on social media! Tell your friends! Send links! Help people navigate the site to get themselves registered.

Please let’s not be complacent about this.