Marital Negotiations – Recycled Sundays

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With spring comes the sound of wedding bells. The following is a list of hints for young wives-to-be. No, they aren’t all from my marriage. In fact at the moment, my husband cooks more often than I do. This is by popular demand since, “Mommy makes weird stuff like tofu guck and puts vegetables in everything.” If it doesn’t come from a box, apparently it’s not real food.

Smart brides-to-be plan ahead. I don’t mean floral arrangements, matchbook covers or double rings. I’m talking about the things that last a lifetime. Like bathtub rings.

Most men are mythologists. Deep down, they believe house god’s come in and do the work if you ignore it long enough. They usually don’t even think of the dirt buildup and so I have used the nag by note method. Other wives use a more direct approach.

One woman I know put the dirty dishes between the sheets on her husband’s side of the bed. I wouldn’t recommend this if you don’t have twin beds. Another woman frisbeed them out the back door into the snow. Certainly not recommended for good China and best when at least 4 inches of snow has fallen.

Because of the hunting instinct, men enjoy setting booby traps. Be prepared to constantly trip over boots in the hallway or clothes on the bedroom floor. It’s always fun to play along by enriching his tracking skills. Kick the clothes under the bed or toss the boots down into the basement. Look bewildered when he asks if you saw anything.

Watch for the “what will our friends think?” mode sabotaging your plans for equality. When you’re expecting visitors, divide up the jobs fairly, do yours, and then disappear. You don’t need the stress of watching him spread the wax 30 minutes before they arrived and he doesn’t need the suggestion to use an old toothbrush on the baseboards.

When the children are clothed by Daddy, ignore little things like shirts on inside out, knee patches behind the knees, and blouses as worn as dresses. If daddy thinks it works and the child is warm and happy, let it be. Who knows? They may set a trend.

Fathers teach such important skills as differentiating between Taco and Tortilla chips, 300 uses for Cheeze Wiz, how to look clean without really washing your face, 47 obscene noises you can make with body parts, and how to turn a sock into a puppet while you’re still wearing it. It never hurts for them to also teach their sons non-gender related skills, such as how to roll undershirts into knotty little balls so that more can fit into the drawer.

Positive reinforcement goes a long way. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to show your husband that you appreciate some recognition as well. Many men never actually realize that people track dirt onto the carpet, make messes in the refrigerator, or smudge the walls. Subtle remarks like, “Don’t the hall walls shine since I spent four hours scrubbing them?” may alert him.

If your husband feels “henpecked and hard done by”, encourage him to run off with a maid. It will serve him right. You and I know in two months, shall be tossing his boots into the street and billing him for it.

Don’t be surprised if your husband develops arrogance about his role. He may remind you that your friends’ husbands don’t do half of what he does. Smile graciously and reply, “That’s why you’re lucky enough to have me, darling.”

Published Sunday, May 17, 1992 in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

1 2 3 Versus A B C by Mike Boldt.

 

This silly book begins with the number one saying, “Hello! I’m so glad you chose to read this book about numbers!” Traveling in the other direction, the capital A says, “Hi! I’m so happy you chose to read this book about letters.”

What begins with a friendly disagreement quickly draws in the entire alphabet and the numbers up to 26 as well as an alligator, two bears, three cars, four dinosaurs, etc. (There is no explanation for why the alligator is wearing a cowboy hat, thick black rimmed glasses, a striped tie, and carrying a briefcase.) The book gets zanier when the named animals interact with each other. Monkeys juggle oranges and ties while lions try to put together a jigsaw puzzle assisted by koala bears. Wolves playing violins ride unicycles. It is a fast paced book with expressive illustrations.

At the end, there is a double page spread of the numbers from 1 to 26 and the letters from A to Z with the occasional character tucked in between. The letter A and the number one shake hands and agree to call it a day. They walk off arm in arm. They stop, mouths agape, when a raspberry looking blob says, “Umm… Hello? I’m a little lost. I’m supposed to be in a book about colors.”

What a great jumping off point for a child or a class to make their own book.

Children between the ages of two and four often confuse numbers and letters. If they are ready, this book would help them to understand that numbers and letters serve different purposes. After reading through the book, it would be best to go back and focus on the letters second time. Then on the third read through, focus on the numbers.

Counting and alphabetizing are ways we bring order to our world. Basically, they are a type of categorization. Show your child how numbers and letters can help them organize.

You can carry this through into sorting items in the house, first by number, then by beginning letter, and lastly by color. Buttons are great for this. I recommend you do one type of sorting per day.

Here are some examples.

 

Expand into:

There’s more:

weight

texture

sound when dropped into a can

float or sink

stackable or not

expensive or cheap

used (recycled) or unused (new)

Can you spin it like a top?

Can you play tiddlywinks or pogs with it?

It’s only as limited as your imagination.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Yard Sale – Recycled Sundays

“Ouch! What did I step on?”

“No wonder you can’t shut the closet door! What is all this stuff?”

This is called pre-yard sale conversation.

In spite of my lectures on the value of money, the eternity of plastic, and the bane of clutter, my son collects plastic figures. Somehow we escaped G.I. Joe but not Masters of the Universe, superheroes, army ants, wrestlers, Ghostbusters, and now Ninja Turtles.

These are billion-dollar enterprises. Whenever my son gets close to completing the collection, new figures are introduced. He couldn’t live without a mailman who dropped his pants and transformed his belly into a toothy monster mouth. I saw him looking at our letter carrier with interest.

Manufacturers understand boys. Every year or two they create a new series to whet the collector’s flagging appetite. The stores are now stocked with Dick Tracy figures and, I’ll bet, Gremlins II are not far off. How about a politician series? Each figure would transform into a useless lump.

The bizarre thing is, these toys all have the same questionable play value. Good guys versus bad guy. They only vary in powers or abilities. Does it matter whether the figure can spit, spin body parts or mutilate?

When crossing my son’s room was like entering the Temple of Doom, I offered half the money from any toys sold. Suddenly that Dusty He-man didn’t seem so precious. It was easy to take the clutter induced, “Let’s have a yard sale.”

Conversations in closets, sheds and the basement went like this:

“Whose is this?” (Demanding)

“Mine.” (Hesitant)

“When’s the last time you used it?” (Disgusted)

“Not very long ago.” (Muttered)

“It’s filthy and has a spider’s web!” Stronger disgust.

“It’s still good.” (Quick)

“Great. Then someone will buy it.” (Insistent)

“But, I like it!” (Voice pitched higher)

“Then you’ll have fond memories.” (Decisive)

“Whose is this?”

When I finished the slag pile of saleable items, we made signs. My daughter warned us that her teacher said permanent markers cause brain cells to pop.

“Open a window,” I suggested.

“Pop. Pop. Pop,” muttered my son.

“We’d better do these outside,” I sighed. None of us could afford too much popping.

The usual types came to the yard sale.

Happy Bargainers laughed and socialized. Sometimes they offered less but never cheated.

The Lonely Scavengers had tentative voices and hesitated over each item. Once I showed an interest, they talked about their grandchildren (whose parents were probably tripping over plastic figures already).

The Serious Collectors looked for specific items, china or teaspoons, to complete their sets.

The Weasels got as much as they could for as little as they could any way they could. They didn’t smile and seldom conversed. They took off price tags, moved items into lower-priced boxes and offered a fifth of what was asked. One sent her tiny granddaughter, already wearing the jewellery, up to me with only half the money.

Finally, we packed it in. The leftovers were given to charity and the money was counted and divided. My son was ecstatic. He wanted to go to the mall immediately. There was one plastic ninja turtle villain he just had to buy.

 

Published 1992 in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-news.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Never Trust a Charming Man – Recycled Sundays

The power to make someone else feel that both of you are “wonderful” is the Thinking Man’s Dictionary’s definition of charm. It takes talent to accomplish mutual wonderfulness without high fat, sodium, condoms, or financial risk. Feeling wonderful is a gratifying thing, in moderation. Unfortunately, gold diggers, salespeople, con artists, pushers, sexual predators, and corporate climbers have used charm to manipulate others to such a degree that many people are now suspicious of charm. A poet once said to me of a warm, supportive writer, “I never trust a charming man, and he is very charming.” Perhaps the level of acceptable charm corresponds to the amount of control involved.

Charm has also developed a bad reputation due to attitudes toward co-dependency. The Thinking Man’s Dictionary also stated, “All charming people have something to conceal, usually their total dependence on the appreciation of others.” Sounds like 99% of entertainers, yet we’d missed the charm of Eddie Murphy’s contagious laugh, Martin Short’s confused grin, and Mel Gibson’s sultry smile should they learn to get along without our admiration.

There was a time when the charms of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara were emulated. It was shallow and pretentious, but, oh, they had such style. The Gone With The Wind lifestyle did not bring happiness, but at least it brought the occasional heart flutter. Not so with the “in-your-face” attitude of the 90s. Heart flutters today are based on the fight or flight response.

Throughout history there have been those who lacked intangible charm, or sought to strengthen it with other means. Tangible charms have been used for as long as the wink and the compliment. A rabbit’s foot is a charm still used today to bring good luck. Obviously, it wasn’t very lucky for the rabbit or he wouldn’t have been caught in a trap. Lucky pennies are still used, though you’re hard-pressed to find anything for that price. Crystals and gems, considered New Age, have been around since man first dug his first hole with his first sharp stone.

Men, especially athletes, seem to prefer their charms grubby. Apparently the amputated foot of a small, fluffy, vegetarian is not close enough. On the TV show Coach, Luther had all the football players rub his lucky jersey in order to ensure their winning streak. Kelly Gruber refused to clean the grub off his helmet during the 1992 World Cup series for fear washing away the luck.

While many people will admit to using good luck charms on occasion, few admit the opposite. Voodoo dolls and potions are denounced charms used to control others. Miniatures have often been used in the occult as a method of charming someone. It was never acceptable to charm someone into sickness, unless it was love sickness.

Charming someone into nausea became a fashion statement of the late 60s and early 70s. Remember when everyone owned at least one silver or gold charm bracelet? If you think about it, isn’t it strange that women would cart around a pound of precious metal shaped into sports equipment, pets, and buildings that she often saw every day?

Those with gold bracelets selected their expensive charms carefully but those with silver were as insatiable as 12-year-old boys collecting baseball cards. I learned never to comment on the 35 miniatures strung on a woman’s wrist. It was tantamount to asking her life story.

Charm bracelets gave license to stories of poodles who had to be put to sleep, grandchildren who were potty trained early, knitting needles that represented one of her many skills, and hula dancers who invited the owner onto the stage in Hawaii eight years previous. It was as bad as a tour of spoons. Home video seemed exciting by comparison.

These charms have not disappeared. Nowadays, women and men wear one or two on a chain, usually gold, around their necks. They can be a conversation starter without leading into a therapy session. Quality has replaced quantity.

Marion Zimmer Bradley, award-winning writer, wrote a futuristic novel entitled The Shattered Chain. She may have developed the idea from an old charm bracelet. Women were completely subjected to men in her story. What an unusual idea! All females past adolescence wore wrist chains, similar to handcuffs. They were connected by a longer chain that threaded through the woman’s belts, enabling her to work, but not lift her arms over her head or fling them in an outstretched manner. This would make hurling a drink impossible, allowing men to abandon any guise of charm. “Pampered” women had solid gold wrist chains decorated with gold and jewels. Scarlett O’Hara would’ve garrotted herself.

As sick as the idea is, Bradley may have been onto something. Not as a method of subjecting one gender, but as a deterrent and punishment for lawbreakers. Instead of offenders wearing handcuffs, they could be subdued by charm bracelets weighted down with all the symbols of their crimes.

The criminal could be forced to explain the significance of his “guilt charms” to a designated number of citizens. Part of the punishment is in the struggle to get people to listen. This might also negate the interest in the sadistic docu-dramas of murderers and rapists freeing television for better things. In order to complete his sentence, the criminal would have to file the names of the required number of listeners. How would he find people willing to provide the time? I guess he would have to develop some good, old-fashioned charm.

Published Sunday, November 21, 1993 in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-news.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

If Greeting Cards Told the Truth About Little Boys. Recycled Sundays.

a-young-latino-boy-playing-on-a-playground

Whenever I browse through the card shop, I’m always impressed by the birth congratulations.

Little boys are portrayed as adventurous charmers. Ahead are years of sweet discovery. Parents can’t wait for all these precious joys to unfold.

The cards are true, of course, but I’d like to see one that prepares a new mommy and daddy for the realities of having a son. Just picture it: a foldout card with a toddler on the cover, both knees out of his pants, black marker on his arms and stitches in his lip. Inside, is the deeper truth about sons.

Baby boys grow so quickly. Before you know it, they’ve mastered the qualities of boyhood. For them, steps are not for climbing. They’re for jumping, launching an attack rolling down laundry baskets with the cat inside and volleying vehicles that fly into forty-five sharp pieces.

Any carpet with a minimum of three square feet is used for wrestling. Dolls are great, especially when boys can rip off heads and stick silly putty on the neck – even better if the eyes come out!

Halls are perfect for playing ball, preferably with an obstacle course of breakable photographs and mirrors.

Chairs are points of reference and not to be seated in for more than a second.

Fried and poached eggs are finger food for little boys, but raw carrot sticks must be eaten with a fork no matter how many loud, clanking stabs it takes.

Hard candy is chomped. Jelly is swished. Drinks are sucked with at least four straws. Dribbles in the bottom of a glass can last an hour.

If a boy sees an older one doing a difficult activity, he would rather cut his eyes out with a spoon than admit he’s too young to do it.

If there are two boys in the same room and they’re both still conscious, they are competing.

If there are two loose objects in a room, boys must test them against each other by banging, gouging and grinding.

Finger snapping is second in coolness only to whistling which trails behind belching.

Boys know, if it was assembled, it can be disassemble but probably not reassembled.

Boys teach us patience, persistence, to live in the moment, and that stuff is only stuff. Best of all, nothing beats a little boy’s hug.

    

Click on the cover for more info or to buy the book.

Published Sunday, July 22, 1990 in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Apple Pie A B C by Allison Murray. Book Review.

This very simple alphabet book tells a cute story. It is done with woodblock prints using white, orange, yellow, red, black, and blue in bright chunks of color. It tells the story of a little girl leaving an apple pie on the table in front of a hungry beagle.

It begins, “A apple pie” while the girl is sprinkling sugar on the pie. “B bake it” shows the pie in the oven and the dog following the delicious smell. “C cool it”. The little girl and dog are staring at the apple pie cooling in the window. The story continues with the dog’s eagerness for pie building and building until he gets sent to his dog bed. Eventually, he sneaks back into the kitchen, pulls on the tablecloth, and gets the pie. Each step of the story is told with a single word or phrase beginning with the featured letter.

The drawings are very simple but expressive. Murray shows the dog chagrin, excitement, hunger, misery, and sneakiness with a simple adjustment of two lines, one for the mouth and one for the eyebrow. Small children will love this book while they are exposed to the bright capital letters.

A delightful discovery.

Click on the cover for more information or to buy the book.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Aster Aardvarks Alphabet Adventures by Steven Kellogg. Book Review.

This book is basically an alphabetical tongue twister. The first letter reads:

Aster Aardvark had an aversion to the alphabet. Appalled by Aster’s attitude, Acorn Acres Academy alerted her aunt Agnes, who arranged for an airplane to aid Aster’s academic advancement. After Aster applied herself and achieved and A, all assembled to applaud her amazing aptitude for aerial alphabetical aerobatics.

Each letter is a story or vignette onto itself. This includes a bear basketball team, and animal Symphony, archaeologists, and celebrities. All are represented by anthropomorphic animals dressed in clothing and living in a human world.

The pages are crammed full of detailed illustrations. There are so many patterns and movements that the eye is somewhat overwhelmed. This would be a great book for the type of child who enjoys studying each page and discovering more than what is seen at first glance. It would also be a challenge for children, or adults, to read aloud.

Click on the item or cover for more information.

  

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Bowling is Not the Same as Baseball – Recycled Sundays

 

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“Action is eloquence,” wrote Shakespeare. I always thought he was referring to my sister. She could skate, swim and dive. She could bat, catch, steal bases and even pitch while in a cast. I cringed whenever anyone threw the ball in my direction and have been known to actually hop over it in an effort to avoid direct contact.

Time alters all. She finally met her Waterloo. At a bowling lane. My average score is around 130 and, unbelievable as it sounds, I’m ahead of her for once. She was wrangled into substituting for a friend on a five pin bowling team. Her baseball skills did not serve her well.

Long, long ago, she learned to bowl in socks. (“Learned” is an exaggeration.) This time, she was forced to don the gaudy shoes that announce your size to world.

I’ve always hated this, being a size eight. Where else are we forced to proclaim personal measurements? I’ve never seen a Speedo bathing suit with the bust size written across the chest in Gothic letters, or men’s jogging shorts with inches in frontier script, so why bowling shoes? Perhaps this was on her mind as well and may account for her fall from grace.

I’ve seen people knock down the plexiglass barrier, even cause a chain reaction and bring down two or three. I myself have dropped the ball and cringed when it rolled backwards toward the seats. But I’ve never seen anyone bring the entire building to a shocked standstill like my sister did.

When it was her turn to bowl, she stumbled and lurched her way toward the line, then with the power of a demolition crane released the ball directly into the gutter. After each throw, she became more self-conscious. (Now that bowling scores are kept by computer on a large, overhead screen, pseudonyms might be appropriate.)

Focusing every grey cell she could muster on the correct footwork, the fault line, and placement of the weird shoes, she tore up the lane and threw the ball with all her baseball prowess…overhand. Past her own gutter, past the next lane’s gutter, and into the alley beyond.

Complete silence followed the ensuing crash. All eyes turned. She managed to lift her head enough to see if the manager was bringing her street shoes and coat. When he sputtered from shock into laughter, the clientele joined it. My sister slunk to her seat. “Would that be a zero?” asked an opponent. My sister resisted the urge to tell her to put a sock in it. No one commented on the next fourteen gutter balls since they were in her own lane.

After such a public display, it was easy to talk her into a few days out of the country. A friend convinced my sister to join her at Hinkley for gambling. What the heck? She’d already broken all the odds.

We drove her to the bus stop at 7:00 a.m. My sister enquired at the desk, “Has the bus for–” “It’s loading now,” interrupted the clerk, not looking up from her novel. My husband carried my sister’s suitcase outside. He advised her to check with the driver.

“It this the bus for taking a gamble?” asked my sister.

The young driver looked offended.

“Are you going to Hinkley for gambling?” repeated my sister.

“No,” said the driver. “We’re going to Duluth for bowling.”

“Oops,” said my sister.  “I’d wind up black-balled in two countries. The only thing I’m doing with this arm for the next three days, is pulling the slot-machines.”

I hope they gave her a lot of room. I wonder if she gambled in her socks.

Published first in 1991 in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Black Balloons. Recycled Sundays.

black-balloons

I’ve been thinking about the end of the line.  Not that my family is driving me any crazier than usual, just that I’ve been exposed to too many black balloons.  A visual oxymoron if there ever was one.

Over the last few years, numerous friends and acquaintances have hit the big 4 0, some the bigger 5 0.  They often receive salutations stating they are, “Over the Hill.”  I wonder.  When I’m forty, I will still have two-thirds of a mortgage to pay off, two children to raise through their teens and help with post-secondary education, and more than half my job to finish before retirement.  I thought “Over the hill” meant I could coast for a while!

I sincerely hope it doesn’t mean things go downhill from then on.  I’m already aware that there is little I can do to stop the onslaught of aging.  Every time my husband comes home from the barber, I am reminded of the ticking clock.  For some reason, sitting in the barber chair gives him more grey hair.

My memory isn’t what it used to be, but then it never was much to begin with.  Still, I used to forget people’s names eight to ten years after loosing contact with them.  This shrunk to four or five years, then two or three.  Before I knew it, I was forgetting the names of co-workers and neighbours in one season (winter counts as two seasons – early winter and I can’t believe it’s still here winter).  Now, after a long weekend, I have to look up my boss’s name on his door plate.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes believed the mind had a finite space for memory, (like a computer).  As the years pass, I seem to be downgrading to a smaller and smaller hard drive.  I can’t control whether my brain is on SAVE or DELETE.  SEARCH FOR FILES keeps coming up CONNECTION LOST.  Files are cluttered with junk I can’t erase, like the theme songs for The Flintstones, The Beverly Hillbillies, Gilligan’s Island, and Green Acres, none of which I’ve watched during my children’s lifetimes!  Important new information, on the other hand, such as my bank PIN number, the difference between RAM and ROM, and my children’s shoe size can not be stored for later retrieval.  I often feel that my brain is becoming as obsolete as the old PET computers, large, slow, and taking up space with very little inside.  Not at all what I expected would come age.

Some societies venerate the elderly for their experience and wisdom.  I’m a little relieved ours doesn’t since they might suspect I’m a fraud.  I’ll never be one of those senior citizens who can tell you what the weather was like a certain summer 30 years ago and the world events at the time.  By March, I can barely remember ever experiencing a summer.

Perhaps I have selective memory.  My husband thinks so.  I can remember exactly how many times he has thrown wet items into the bottom of the laundry hamper in spite of my requests.  I can remember how much money he had at the beginning of the week and what he was “supposed” to spend it on.  I can remember what he gave me for my last eighteen birthdays and whether he picked it out himself.  I can always remember how many days it took between his agreeing to do a house chore and its completion.

Still, I’m holding together a little better than my friend I will call Max.  He offered to drive the car around to the front of the plaza so that his wife would not have to carry her parcels through the parking lot.  He brought the children out to the van, loaded them up, and drove home, whereupon the oldest child asked, “Where’s Mom?”

After all is said and done, it is more important what people remember of me after I’ve crossed the final hill than whether I mastered my instant teller.  I hope they remember me with a smile.  Just to make sure, I’m looking for the perfect one-liner to leave ’em laughing.  What could be better than a joke for my final words?  An epitaph can be a perpetual one-liner, something like, “I’d rather be in Paris,” but it’s best said aloud.  One problem though.  What if some eager intern revives me and I have to do it all again?  I might not have a back-up joke.  Oh well, I can always claim I forgot.

Published 1992 in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-News.

    

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Ah Ha! by Jeff Mack

 Click here to buy Ah Ha!

There are only two there are only two phrases repeatedly used in this clever book, “Ah ha!” and “Aahh!” but plot and emotion are clearly shown through the illustrations.

Frog is just trying to relax in the pond. A boy tries to catch him with a jar, and the turtle, alligator, and flamingo try to eat the frog. Every time he escapes some dire fortune, he finds himself in another life or death situation. The story goes full cycle. When the boy catches the frog in a jar at the beginning, the dog accidentally releases the frog. At the end of the story the frog is cornered by the three animal predators until the boy catches him in the jar again. As the boy carries him away, the frog utters a new phrase, “Ha ha!” The reader assumes that the frog’s situation is almost as bad as being eaten by the predators until the clever frog pushes the lid off the jar and escapes.

Young readers will find this book both suspenseful and humorous. Adults will appreciate the clever chain of events and the inventive use of vocabulary, or lack thereof. It is a book that must be read aloud with great expression. Both phrases, “Aahh!” and “Ah ha!” have different meaning, depending on the context.

Illustrations are double-page, full-color, and expressive. The cheeky personality of the frog comes through loud and clear as does his terror at almost being eaten.

While this is, at first glance, a light-hearted and clever chain of unlikely events, the book does bring home the message that surviving as a little frog is challenging and requires both wit and courage. It encourages discussion on the morality of capturing live creatures for amusement, courage and determination, the food chain, and the importance of never giving up. For an adult, this book is a gentle reminder that life is short and unpredictable. Live in the moment; take the opportunity when it is available to lie back and say, “Aahh!”

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages