The Scrabble Nazi

My mom was an absolute shark about Scrabble; she was very good at it, and she played to win. She was clever and quick and always found the best ways to reap the biggest scores. I wish I had a dime for every “Bingo” she made (using all seven letters, which garners you 50 extra points), and then got more points for playing it on a triple word score!

Anyone who has ever played Scrabble with my mother has had the pants beaten off them more than once, including me.

I learned a lot about strategy from her. Scrabble is exciting and a little bit dangerous; that is, you can’t worry about hurting someone’s feelings. You’ve got to play with a bit of blood in your eye; you watch for the weak spots in your opponent and play to that weakness.

Mom had one Scrabble partner who always played defensively; it drove her nuts. If you play that way, you miss opportunities. Playing Scrabble with my mother was both nervy, challenging and filled with landmines. You really had to be on your toes with her. She liked a player who took risks. She loved the competition;  it made her even more sharp.

Scrabble is a heady combination of risk, daring, mental agility and just plain nerve. But Mom would always take the risk, even if she had drawn all vowels. She would somehow make it work and win. I’d say in all the years I played with her, I won about 20% of the time. The rest of the time she absolutely ran over me.

Anyone who ever beat my mother in a game of Scrabble went home sweaty, shaking and reaching for a bottle of wine. What they didn’t know was that Mom was sharpening her wits for the next game, vowing that she would beat them the next time.

I have Mom’s old Scrabble game; the cover held together with elastic bands. Many of the tiles are worn soft around the edges, and there are still pencil-and-paper lists of games past. Some days I lift off the lid and swear I can smell all those years of victory.

Well played, Mom.

 

 

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*Mannheim Steamroller—The Experience

Last night the Crankee Yankee and I went to see Mannheim Steamroller in concert. If you have never had the pleasure of listening to their music, I encourage you to check it out. This is one of the most unique musical groups in the long history of music. Some of the instruments used are synthesizers, woodwind instruments, drums, piano, trumpets, french horn, harpsichord, violins, guitars, even a toy piano; and so much more.

It’s difficult to pin down exactly what style of music Mannheim Steamroller actually is; it is an amazing blend of classical, folk, techno, new age, rock, and more. While listening to the music, we enjoyed the incredible light show that accompanied it. We experienced the lift-off of Discovery with all the sights and sounds, while accompanied by incredible music.

It’s one thing to hear their music, and quite another to see the music being made. The head violinist and the guitar player were out in front of the group, and it was fun to see their interaction and great enthusiasm for the music. Everyone on stage was smiling and thoroughly enjoying themselves.

At one point I thought; ‘wait, what’s wrong with this picture?’ And then I realized that there was no conductor. These folks have been working together for so long that they have no need of one. They know the music and the players so well that it becomes an organic experience.

The music is such a unique blend that it is hard to call it just one style of music. There may be a synthesizer playing along side a wooden recorder, one of the most ancient musical instruments. Or there can be a massive percussion presence just after sleigh bells and harpsichord.

The lighting effects were a fabulous part of the show. Not only were there dazzling light shows with laser-like beams sweeping all through the arena, but there was also what looked like drifts of snow lightly falling on the audience. It was a wonderful and playful accompaniment to the music.

In addition, there was a huge screen behind the musicians featuring everything from the space shuttle to golden angels flying through the sky. Some people in the audience might say that the music was much too loud and too ‘in your face.’ For us, it was perfect, amazing and inspiring.

If you get the chance to be part of the Mannheim Steamroller experience, be prepared to enjoy it on every level. It is an experience for all the senses, and then some.

*Per Wikipedia: Mannheim Steamroller is an American Neoclassical new-age music group founded by Chip Davis, that is known primarily for its Fresh Aire series of albums, which blend classical music with elements of new age and rock, and for its modern recordings of Christmas music. The group has sold 28 million albums in the U.S. alone.

 

50 Great Things to Do

I found the following in the Kindness Blog (check it out; it is often a source of great wisdom and comfort).

I truly hope that you enjoy this as much as I did.

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“John M. Sweeney is (as well as being one of kindness blog’s inspirations) the creator of suspended coffees, a nonprofit organization partnering with a variety of businesses around the world, helping to bring communities together and change people’s lives.

One of the followers of John’s own facebook page, sent him the following list of wisdom.”

1. Have a firm handshake.

2. Look people in the eye.

3. Sing in the shower.

4. Own a great stereo system.

5. If in a fight, hit first and hit hard.

6. Keep secrets.

7. Never give up on anybody. Miracles happen everyday. (see 17)

8. Always accept an outstretched hand.

9. Be brave. Even if you’re not, pretend to be. No one can tell the difference.

10. Whistle.

11. Avoid sarcastic remarks.

12. Choose your life’s mate carefully. From this one decision will come 90 per cent of all your happiness or misery.

13. Make it a habit to do nice things for people who will never find out.

14. Lend only those books you never care to see again.

15. Never deprive someone of hope; it might be all that they have.

16. When playing games with children, let them win.

17. Give people a second chance, but not a third.

18. Be romantic.

19. Become the most positive and enthusiastic person you know.

20. Loosen up. Relax. Except for rare life-and-death matters, nothing is as important as it first seems.

21. Don’t allow the phone to interrupt important moments. It’s there for our convenience, not the caller’s.

22. Be a good loser.

23. Be a good winner.

24. Think twice before burdening a friend with a secret.

25. When someone hugs you, let them be the first to let go.

26. Be modest. A lot was accomplished before you were born.

27. Keep it simple.

28. Beware of the person who has nothing to lose.

29. Don’t burn bridges. You’ll be surprised how many times you have to cross the same river.

30. Live your life so that your epitaph could read, “No Regrets!”

31. Be bold and courageous. When you look back on life, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did.

32. Never waste an opportunity to tell someone you love them.

33. Remember no one makes it alone. Have a grateful heart and be quick to acknowledge those who helped you.

34. Take charge of your attitude. Don’t let someone else choose it for you.

35. Visit friends and relatives when they are in hospital; you need only stay a few minutes.

36. Begin each day with some of your favorite music.

37. Once in a while, take the scenic route.

38. Send a lot of valentine cards. Sign them, ‘someone who thinks you’re terrific.’

39. Answer the phone with enthusiasm and energy in your voice.

40. Keep a note pad and pencil on your bed-side table. Million-dollar ideas sometimes strike at 3 a.m.

41. Show respect for everyone who works for a living, regardless of how trivial their job.

42. Send your loved ones flowers. Think of a reason later.

43. Make someone’s day by paying the toll for the person in the car behind you.

44. Become someone’s hero.

45. Marry only for love.

46. Count your blessings.

47. Compliment the meal when you’re a guest in someone’s home.

48. Wave at the children on a school bus.

49. Remember that 80 per cent of the success in any job is based on your ability to deal with people.

50. Don’t expect life to be fair.

 

Strolling and Caroling

Last night I had the great pleasure of singing Christmas carols with the Southern NH Ukulele Group (SNHUG), plus a whole lot of singers. There was a short blurb in last week’s paper about this; basically it just said to meet in front of the Town Hall at 3:30pm on December 3rd to stroll and sing until 5:00pm.

I used to love caroling, and have missed it over the years. I couldn’t resist; I showed up at our town hall, bundled up and ready to sing. The ukulele group tuned up and provided the music and jingle bells and kazoos. We sang in place for a few numbers, and a few people gathered to listen. We talked them into walking with us, and off we went.

For that hour and a half, we were a band of wandering minstrels. We sang every Christmas carol from Jingle Bells to White Christmas. We walked through town, which was dressed up in lots of colored lights, golden angels and evergreens. As we sang, we waved to passersby and got appreciative smiles and waves.

Our final stop was the town’s nursing home. And honestly, that was the best part of the evening. As soon as we were spotted, several ladies in their best Christmas sweaters came out to sit and enjoy the show. There were smiles all around, and we encouraged them to sing along with us.

As we sang “Jingle Bell Rock,” two of the ladies got up and jitterbugged. They didn’t miss a step, and their smiles went ear to ear. When they sat down, we all applauded their performance and they modestly took their bows.

We stayed longer than we planned; but it was a wonderful time and we really hated to leave. We sang “White Christmas” as we walked out, and we all waved and blew kisses to everyone.

By the time we got back to Town Hall, it was nearly 5:00pm. However, the town bandstand was right there near the hall, decorated to a fare-thee-well. We couldn’t resist; we gathered in it and sang a few more carols as people drove by.

It was a wonderful night. We all started as strangers (except of course for the ukulele folk), and ended the evening as friends and fellow singers. We certainly weren’t the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but we did pretty well.

May ALL our Christmases be white and bright!

Coffee Cups

Isn’t it funny how we all like our particular cups for our morning coffee…at least I do. The Crankee Yankee and I have cups ranging from years before we were married to the present day.

Between us we have a pleasant company of coffee cups; the Crankee Yankee has one Pembroke Corgi cup he loves, even though the handle broke off years ago. I bought him a new one; different corgi and different colors.

I had a creamy white pottery cup with gray accents and a pretty scallop on top of the handle that I bought in Maine. Unfortunately it smashed to smithereens during one of our moves. I traveled back up to the store I’d bought it in, only to find that the artist no longer made that style. But I did buy one of her new ones; a sea-blue mug with the same charming scallop on the handle.

We have a large black and white cat cup given to the Crankee Yankee from his daughter one Christmas, and I have a similar large cup striped in red and green, given to me one Christmas from a dear friend.

Then there is a blue pottery mug with a clever little ceramic worm on a ceramic book; get it? A bookworm mug! My mother gave it to me one year, and of course I eventually broke the worm off by mistake. But when the Crankee Yankee and I were cleaning out Mom’s and Dad’s house after they were gone, I found that she had had one as well; with the intact worm!

Among all the stuff from the house was a white mug Mom gave Dad one year that has a dancing couple on it over the words “I’d Rather Be Dancing!” Mom was a huge Edward Gorey fan, and she met a woman who owned a shop full of Edward Gorey memorabilia. They had a wonderful conversation about him, and the woman sent Mom a white mug with black “*fig bashes” all around the bottom of it:

There is also Mom’s “elegant lady” cup; a fragile English porcelain tea cup painted with springs of lavender. And from my single days in my 20s, I still enjoy my old “tree of life” mug and a hand-painted mug in blues and greens I bought from the artist.

One year I was given a B. Kliban Christmas cat mug:

Vintage 80s Kliban Fat Cat Made In England Christmas Santa Mug Ironstone

I had that mug for decades and loved it. Just a few months ago, one of our cats, Bailey, was on the counter by the coffee pot and the mug. Bailey, being Bailey (he loves to knock things over or push things around), knocked it to the floor where it was broken beyond repair. (Bailey was not punished for this, as cats will be cats.)

I hated to lose that mug; it was my favorite. But I went to faithful old eBay, and found one. I know that I could have just gone to the B. Kliban web site and ordered another one, but I wanted one with some history. Behold and lo, I found one and bought it. So my Christmas cat mug is back in another iteration, a la **Doctor Who.

This very morning I am drinking coffee from my blue mug with the scallop on the handle. To my fellow coffee drinkers and coffee mug lovers: “drink coffee each day from a favorite cup. It always tastes best that way.”

*If you too are a fan, you’ll know what fig bashes are.

**From Wikipedia: Doctor Who is a British science-fiction television programme produced by the BBC since 1963. The programme depicts the adventures of a Time Lord called “the Doctor“, an extraterrestrial being from the planet Gallifrey. The Doctor explores the universe in a time-travelling space ship called the TARDIS. Its exterior appears as a blue British police box, which was a common sight in Britain in 1963 when the series first aired. Accompanied by a number of companions, the Doctor combats a variety of foes, while working to save civilizations and help people in need.

 

Reasons for It All

How many times have we howled to the heavens, “why ME?” Something happens that we didn’t plan on, “life shocks” puts our personal world in a spin, and so on. We would love to have life flow smoothly for us like fish through a sparkling river. But things happen.

We wonder what the reason is for that flat tire on a busy day, a bill we didn’t expect, a leak in the roof, one of the kids needs braces, and on and on it goes. Sometimes it just seems like the tide is against us and we are fighting to get to shore.

I began to get tired of getting upset over things I knew I couldn’t control. Being angry or swearing couldn’t change the circumstance, so I decided to change me. I began to look at those unforeseen circumstances in a new light. If someone cut me off in traffic and scared me, I turned my knee-jerk angry reaction into thanks to whatever angels were watching out for me. I realized that most of my anger was seated in plain old fear.

Years ago one summer I was running late for an appointment, and although I didn’t have that far to travel, traffic moved like molasses in January. As I fretted and worried and swore about being late, I got to the actual traffic jam. Two guys were running madly after a large pig who must have gotten out of the back of their truck. A policeman was directing traffic, and the two guys were laughing their heads off as they ran. It even looked to me as if the pig was having a grand time.

Luckily, they were able to stop the pig and load him back into the truck. Looking around me, I saw smiles on everyone’s faces. The circumstance didn’t make me that late, plus it was too funny for words.

Just imagine the effects of not falling into the old “why me?” way of thinking. For me, it’s lower blood pressure, a healthier attitude on life in general, and a more effective way of dealing with stuff I can’t control.

But I’m not perfect. There have been plenty of times when I have surreptitiously flipped someone off (under the dashboard, though) or gotten angry with situations I can’t control. However, when I slip and go into rage mode I remember that pig.

And I laugh.