Wednesday, September 25, 2013

childhood obsessions: Gone With the Wind.

(this is a special edition of the childhood obsessions series: it's Banned Books week, so what better time to talk about my obsession with a certain banned book and the movie that followed?)

I have yet another story about yet another childhood obsession. Is it just me, or did anyone else leap from obsession to obsession in their younger years? As I’ve grown older, I tend not to obsess as much (thank goodness – it was exhausting), but I certainly look back with fondness at my past obsessions.

I can’t remember exactly when my fondness (to put it lightly) for Gone With the Wind came about, but I know it was sometime during sixth grade and lasted well into seventh. Like many of my entertainment-based childhood obsessions (Titanic, Michael Jackson), this one was shared by my friend Sarah. She was the one who sat me down and told me that we were going to watch this three-hour epic whether I liked it or not. And I liked it – I LOVED it.

Gone With the Wind sucked me in easily. For one thing, I wanted to be Scarlett O’Hara. I was a pudgy preteen in the Midwest – Scarlett O’Hara was a beautiful Southern belle who lived in a mansion and had men falling over her. 
Check out that house.
Her life was so different than mine – not that I had any strong desire to have men falling over me, as it seemed a bit tiresome – and at the time, I figured that anything was more interesting than life in small town South Dakota.

Plus, Scarlett O’Hara herself was so unlike anyone I had ever met – she was downright vicious (trying to steal husbands, spreading rumors, manipulating everyone around her into getting what she wants), but she was also terribly plucky. She delivered her friend’s baby (yes, the friend whose husband she was trying to steal), fled Atlanta as it burned, and worked her tail off to keep her family plantation from being sold. 
She even made a dress out of curtains.
Scarlett O’Hara is quite a character, and it was simply amazing to me that she did what she did.

And then there’s Rhett Butler.
He was smooth, and he knew what he wanted – and that was Scarlett O’Hara. Personally, I never understood why Rhett was so keen on Scarlett – she was kind of a brat who was clearly in love with someone else. But then, she was a challenge. Love stories are not my cup of tea, but this one is chock-full of sass, hardships, infidelities, clashing personalities, and no happy ending. That’s my kind of love story.
And plenty of scowls.
After my first viewing of Gone With the Wind, I plunged headfirst into all things Gone With the Wind. I received the VHS for a birthday gift, and I practically wore it out. Sarah and I watched Gone With the Wind whenever we could (when we weren’t watching Titanic, that is) and rated Scarlett’s dresses. 
This was my favorite.
(I knew you were curious.)
I looked up all the Gone With the Wind trivia that I could muster (did you know they had to tint Vivien Leigh’s eyes in post-production, as Scarlett O’Hara had green eyes? did you know the hoops they had to jump through to allow Rhett Butler’s famous line “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” to pass the censors?)

To fill out my Gone With the Wind obsession, I tackled where it all began: Margaret Mitchell’s novel. I know it’s a little shameful that I didn’t read the book until well after I’d seen the movie, but I loved it just as much. Reading Gone With the Wind had all sorts of unforeseen benefits: in addition to gaining a ton of Accelerated Reader points, I learned that a great percentage of the questions in the literature and arts/culture sections of 1980s Trivial Pursuit have to deal with Gone With the Wind. I played all sorts of 1980s Trivial Pursuit with my family, and my strange amount of Gone With the Wind knowledge helped me win many a game.

In seventh grade English class, we were asked to write book reports. Until that point, I had never written a book report – hard to believe, but it just wasn’t on the Arlington curriculum, I guess. These book reports weren’t your regular book reports, though – they had to be CREATIVE. You would choose some kind of crafty book report (I made a pop-up book for The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and a board game for a book that I can no longer remember) and go from there. I chose to make a Gone With the Wind scrapbook. This was an excellent excuse for me to print out a whole ton of Gone With the Wind photos from the internet (not to mention all the copies I made on the school copiers) – it was for a book report, after all.

My Gone With the Wind scrapbook was totally bizarre – I had written a fake letter from Scarlett’s first husband Charles from the front lines of the Civil War, and I had taped a fake wedding ring onto some computer paper. I also stuck in some fake flowers (writing that they were from Scarlett’s wedding bouquet) along with all sorts of photocopied movie stills. It wasn’t my best effort, but honestly: a book report scrapbook?

My Gone With the Wind kick wasn’t quite as strong as Titanic (while I can no longer recite the lines to Gone With the Wind, Sarah and I found out last year that the entire script of Titanic remains permanently ingrained in our memories), it was a whole lot less embarrassing. My primary reason for loving Titanic at the time was that I had the hots for Leonardo DiCaprio. Don’t judge me: I bet you did, too. I loved Gone With the Wind for everything: the actors, the plot, the costuming, and the fact that they pulled off this huge film achievement – in color! – in 1939. It was hard to believe that this was (at the time) a sixty year old movie – it was all brand new and wonderful to me.

So ends the tale of yet another childhood obsession, and there are still more where this came from. I hope you’re still enjoying all these childhood obsession stories, because I’m getting a kick out of telling them. And if you aren’t?

(Just kidding! I do care; I just wanted to end with that. You guys know I love you!)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

let's talk about Scattergories.

We’ve talked about Candyland, we’ve talked about Monopoly, and I can’t even count how many of my family anecdotes involve cribbage. What’s left on my list of board games with odd back stories? Why, Scattergories, of course!

I must’ve been destined to be an English major/librarian, because I took to Scattergories (a word game) like a fish to water. (Oddly enough, though, I don’t like Scrabble – the ultimate word game. I find Scattergories to be more intellectually challenging, so maybe I’m just a snob.) I couldn’t tell you when I first started playing Scattergories, but believe me, it’s been an awfully long time.

For those of you who are unfortunate enough to have never played Scattergories, let me say this: get thee to Target and buy a copy, and come over to my house immediately so I can show you how to play. You start off with a little Scattergories notebook that has lines numbered one through ten. You put this in a little privacy folder kind of thing so that no one can cheat off you. There are twelve Scattergories lists, and depending on how hardcore you are, you can play the game from start to finish with all twelve lists. You certainly don’t have to if you’re pressed for time, but that’s how the pros do it. Anyway, each of these twelve lists has ten items or phrases on it, and they can be anything: excuses for being late, a woman’s name, something you might find in a kitchen, etcetera. BUT you can’t look at the list items until after you have rolled the gigantic alphabet die to get a letter of the (duh) alphabet.
Ta da!
Then, you go back to your list and think up something for each item on that list that starts with your letter.

Of course, this is all done on a time limit. You have sixty-ish seconds to fill in as many answers as you can. When the time is up, you each read off your answers and get one point for each one. However, if you and one of the other players come up with the same word for a category, no one gets a point.

There are a few ways you can get extra points – let’s say that your category is “fictional character” and the letter is D. If you answer Donald Duck (and no one else does), you can get two points: one for each D. However, this only works if both words are integral to the answer. I used to drive my dad crazy by using adjectives to try and score extra points: if the category was “article of clothing” and the letter was S, I’d write “spectacular sparkling soft silver slippers.” Dad finally laid down the law and told me to knock it off – but I’m pretty sure I can thank Scattergories for improving my vocabulary.

I have had the BEST times playing Scattergories with my friends and family. Bob, Sarah, and I spent hours – yes, hours – playing it at our hangovers (remember the hangovers? they’re like sleepovers, but we don’t sleep – we hang out. hence, hangovers).
This is a big table full of cousins (plus James and Grandma)
playing Scattergories a few days before our wedding.
We know how to PARTY!
My favorite Scattergories story is from a game night with our neighbors Tammy and Bryce and their son Taylor (who is about my age). Mom, Dad, Mitch, Darrah, and I were playing, and Mitch couldn’t have been much older than 10 (this is important). Anyway, we had split into teams: Dad and me, Darrah and Tammy, Mom and Bryce, and Mitch and Taylor. So the category was “parts of the body,” and the letter was P. So what’s a part of the body that starts with the letter P? I know where your mind went – that’s right where all of ours went, too. When the time came to read our answers, we went around the circle: Tammy and Darrah had written pinkie, Dad and I had answered pancreas, and Bryce and Mom came up with pupil. Taylor and Mitch were the last ones to share their answer, and no one wanted to be the one to read it. “You say it!” “No, YOU say it!” Obviously, they had written penis, and nobody wanted to be the one to read it aloud. Finally, Mitch said it: “PUSSY!”

We promptly died laughing.

So Scattergories is not only educational – clearly, none of us had thought of THAT body part starting with a P! – but obviously a blast. Imagine how much fun it would be with drinks.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

childhood obsessions: Bath and Body Works.

Remember how, in the first few years of elementary school, everyone was friends with everyone else? You exchanged those tiny less-than-wallet-size school pictures with every last classmate, and no one cared if you sat with the “wrong” kids at lunch because there WERE no wrong kids. (Not that kids are ever actually “wrong” kids, but you know what I mean.)  Everyone got along, and life was good.

But inevitably, the tides start to turn. The cliques begin to form, and clear lines are drawn between who is cool and isn’t cool. In my class, the change started to happen at the end of second grade. That’s when it started to matter what you wore and it became a major goal to get a boyfriend – yes, in second grade.

As we got older, brands and trends started to matter more and more. You were cool if you wore Tommy Hilfiger, but God help you if you showed up to school in Jordache. You were cool if you had a pair of clogs, but you were uncool if you wore them past 1998.

It will probably not surprise you to find out that I was a solid member of the uncool. I was doomed from the start: brand names and fancy clothes meant nothing to me, and I didn’t have a crush on anyone until Leonardo DiCaprio circa Titanic.
So dreamy.
Even though I was uncool and knew it, I still wanted what those cool kids had. I got my mom to buy me a pair of navy blue clogs at a consignment store, and I traded my tapered Jordaches for a pair of $7 WalMart flare jeans (which were technically not cool since they came from WalMart, after all, but I could get away with it because no one could tell).

When I was sixth grade, the big cool thing was to have lotion from Bath and Body Works. Yes: cool had a smell, and it was sun-ripened raspberry. Remember that kind? I think it's been discontinued, but sun-ripened raspberry was the must-have scent of sixth graders in Arlington in 1999.
I tried to find a picture of the
lotion in the 1999 era bottle,
but the best I could do was hairspray.

The Bath and Body Works trend continued through junior high, but the “cool” scents changed from year to year. Sun-ripened raspberry fell out of style in favor of pearberry in seventh grade, and coconut lime verbena was the scent of eighth grade. There were a number of other acceptable varieties, like cucumber melon and juniper breeze, but they weren’t at the top of the list. However, it was not ok to be the kid wearing sweet pea lotion.
As its name suggests, it was sickly sweet and would induce headaches upon whomever was unfortunate enough to sit by the wearer of said lotion. So the smell of perfumed lotion hung heavy in the air throughout all of junior high, but it’s better than the usual junior high smell of overpowering body odor.

There was a Bath and Body Works in the Watertown mall, but I never paid attention to it until I decided that I wanted some overpriced lotion of my own. However, when I got to the store, I experienced sixth-grade sticker shock: $12 for a bottle of lotion?! I don’t think so!! Twelve dollars was a fortune for an eleven year old (let’s be honest: I have a hard time paying $12 for lotion now, fifteen years later – remarkably, the Bath and Body Works prices haven’t really changed).

So, instead of spending my hard-earned allowance money on overpriced lotions, I did what any sensible kid would do: I got someone else to buy them for me by asking for them for my birthday. One year, I got a whole set of cucumber melon stuff – soap, lotion, body spray, you name it. I also received the coveted sun-ripened raspberry lotion (while it was still cool! score!), but I rationed it carefully. I used it only on what I deemed to be special occasions, so as a result, I was left with a whole ton of sun-ripened raspberry lotion after it had fallen out of fashion at Arlington Elementary. Story of my life.

When high school hit, carrying around Bath and Body Works lotions was no longer the thing to do – you had to buy actual perfume. That was WAY outside of my price range, so I didn’t even bother. Nowadays, Bath and Body Works is still popular – they’ve got some delightful soaps, and I almost always have a travel-sized lotion of theirs in my purse. But now, it’s not about being cool: it’s just about my hands smelling good.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

top ten Tuesday: school lunches.

Even though it’s been several years since I’ve experienced that special excitement/dread that comes with going back to school, being married to a teacher means that I’ll always be aware of the back to school season and everything that goes with it: school supply shopping (do you miss school supply shopping? I DO!), setting up your locker (or in James’s case, his classroom), and, of course, the return to school lunches.

School lunches have kind of a bad reputation, and I’m sure some schools deserve it. I went to Arlington Public Schools from kindergarten until I graduated, and honestly? Our school lunches were really not that bad. Admittedly, there were some lunches that were downright terrible (I’m looking at YOU, biscuits with tuna and pea gravy), but on the whole, Arlington did a pretty good job.

Maybe the lunches tasted as good as they did because my grandma Sheila was a lunch lady throughout my entire Arlington career. Grandma Sheila is the friendliest lady, and her cheeriness filled the whole lunchroom. Grandma’s post was at the dishwashing window, and kids would bring their dishes right to her. Grandma would greet each and every one of them by name: and there were hundreds. She was everyone’s favorite lunch lady, and I’m lucky enough to have her as my grandma.
I had some good times in that lunchroom, especially as my time there came to an end. During my junior year, my good friend Bob and I established what we called “the loser table.” Every lunch room has a “cool kid” table – even well into high school, and you know it’s true. Bob and I were not part of the cool kid ranks, and we were 100% ok with it: so we established a table of our very own. We started off small: about four of us staked our lunch table claim there every day. By the time I graduated the following year, our loser table had exploded into a group of at least 20. And yes, we were much bigger than the cool kid table.

So even if the food wasn’t great, I knew I could look forward to sitting with my friends and an enthusiastic hello from my grandma. When the food was good, well, then the day couldn’t get much better! For this top ten Tuesday, I’d like to present to you my top ten school lunches!

Italian Dunkers
Italian Dunkers were my hands-down, absolute favorite… and they are the simplest/probably least nutritious thing that the school ever served. They’re just toasted hot dog buns with melted mozzarella cheese and garlic butter (with spaghetti sauce for dipping). That’s it. They were a new addition the menu within the last couple of years of my high school career. At school, you had the option to “double plate”: to pay for two meals and get twice the food. The only time I ever double plated was on Italian Dunker day. Over spring break of my freshman year of college, I paid a visit to my old high school to eat lunch with my sister. Of course, it was Italian Dunker day.

French toast and sausage
This may seem like a weird thing for a school to serve for lunch, but it was delicious. The French toast was always really thin, but it was dipped in the perfect buttery/cinnamony mixture. The sausage could be a hit or a miss – the sausage with crispy edges was best – but the French toast was never disappointing.

hot dogs and macaroni and cheese
To this day, hot dogs and macaroni and cheese are two of my favorite foods. Yes, I have the culinary preferences of a five year old. Arlington served hot dogs as the main dish, macaroni and cheese on the side – none of this “hot dog pieces cut up in macaroni and cheese” nonsense. In my many years of hot dog eating, I have yet to come across a better hot dog than those served at Arlington. I’m not sure what made them so good, but they just were – they were a little pinker and saltier than normal hot dogs, if that tells you anything. The macaroni and cheese was something else, too – the cheese sauce was super watery and a strange shade of yellow, but still delicious. It’s hard to go wrong with macaroni and cheese.

chicken strips/chicken Os
The chicken strips in the Arlington lunch room were a lot like the chicken strips you can find in those little rotating warmer cases at gas stations, but I loved them. Chicken Os were made of the same chickeny stuff, but as their title suggests, they were shaped like Os. As for me? I love processed chicken of any kind, so the goofy shape is just an added bonus.

sub sandwiches
The sub sandwiches came on the same buns as the hot dogs, and let me tell you, they were great buns. The subs came with bologna, salami, cheese, and lettuce – simple perfection. The only downer to sub day was that they came with baked beans. Yeesh. In high school, we could opt out of the daily vegetable, but not in elementary school. In elementary school, there was usually a monitor roaming the aisles to make sure that everyone tried their peas or mixed vegetables or what have you. That’s when I learned the fine art of sneaking unwanted vegetables into a napkin and/or making a dent in my beans to make it look as though I’d had a bite. It’s amazing how clever you think you are when you’re in first grade.

pepperoni pizza
My school’s pepperoni pizza was served not in triangles, but in gigantic squares. It had tons of delicious melty mozzarella cheese and little teeny pepperoni cubes. Pepperoni pizza day also meant that there were brownies for dessert, and let me tell you, the school brownies were simply amazing. They were less “brownie” and more “flattened cupcake” in flavor and texture, which was probably why I liked them. (And they NEVER had nuts.) Pepperoni pizza day is not to be confused with fiesta pizza day – it was a bizarre concoction with taco meat and cheddar cheese on that same giant dough square. Fiesta pizza day did have a silver lining: we had brownies for dessert on those days, too.

I have to tell you: I don’t like chili. Why, then, did I include it on my top ten list? Because of all the delightful sides that came with it. Whenever we had chili, there would also be trays of bologna, cheese, and salami – aka, the makings of one of my other favorites, a sub sandwich. (Alas, there were no hot dog buns, so I made do with the ever present white bread.) It wasn’t just the cold cuts galore that made chili day a good one – there were cinnamon rolls for dessert. Heavenly.

wiener winks
I swear to you, the school actually called them wiener winks. Wiener winks are a variation on what most people call pigs in a blanket. These were the delicious school hot dogs wrapped in a piece of bread (weird) and cheese and baked. The result was a crispy piece of bread with melted cheese and a well-done hot dog. It was all tasty and wonderful, as long as you didn’t eat the rock hard bread crust.

tomato soup and grilled cheese
The tomato soup situation is a lot like chili: I don’t like the main dish, but I love the sandwiches that go with it. In this case, it was the grilled cheese. The school’s grilled cheese sandwiches came in halves, and they were crunchy and wonderful – I haven’t had a grilled cheese quite like them since. I – because I was quite possibly born in a barn – ripped off the crusts and only ate the middles, mostly because the crusts were amazingly crunchy and could break your teeth. Yes, I did this even during my senior year. I also hate to think about just how MANY grilled cheeses I ate on tomato soup day. Let’s just say it was a lot. Lucky for me, everyone at my table was just as fond of grilled cheese day as I was, so no one batted an eye.

My all-time favorite meal day was smorgasbord day: it was at the end of the year, and the lunch ladies were trying to get rid of all the leftovers before summer. Smorgasbord day could be rough if you were one of the last grades to eat: all the good stuff would be gone, and you’d be stuck with pizza burgers. However, the older you got, the sooner you ate, and the seniors always got first choice. Better yet? They’d let you have THREE different things! It was always hard to choose, but you’d better believe that there was always a hot dog and some chicken Os on my plate at the end of every school year.


Those, my friends, are my ten favorite school lunches. There were some good ones that I just couldn’t squeeze in – hot ham and cheese day, Polish sausage day, spaghetti day – and all of these meals leave me a little hungry for the good old cafeteria.