Two Family Movies Worth Watching (Again) Over The Holiday Break

I cried a bunch yesterday. When the doctor finally came in to see us after two hours of waiting at Primacare (a walk-in clinic) and saw the tears rolling down my cheeks, he probably thought I was worried about Emmie (she has bronchitis)… or that I was fed up with having to wait so long with a bunch of sick people ON THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS.  But Primacare was showing The Rookie on their in-clinic movie system– why wouldn’t everyone cry at that?

It was the second time I’ve seen it.  But I think I cried not only because it’s a great, true story about second chances, it’s also a really well-made movie, and well-made movies are hard to come by– great soundtrack (tunes by Steve Earle, Willlie Nelson, John Hiatt, and Ryan Adams, among others); great acting (Dennis Quaid in the lead role of Jimmy Morris); really good camera work (you can almost feel the West Texas dust in your face); appropriate for all ages; and a feel-good story without being schmaltzy or too sugary.  I can’t say enough good things about this wonderful 2002 Disney flick, and I’m not even a huge sports fan. Quaid once said in an interview with Larry King that it would have been too unbelievable if it had been a fiction piece, and that it worked because it is a true story.  I checked it out online when we returned home yesterday and amazingly, the main parts are true.  All the elements needing a “second chance”– the strained relationship Jimmy Morris had with his father, the high school baseball team Jimmy coached, that needed to start winning, Jimmy’s early failed attempt at playing pro baseball and the challenge from his students to try again over a decade later– all true, as well as his 98 m.p.h. pitches in his mid-thirties and his debut in the majors in, of all places, his home state. Definitely a good movie to watch over this holiday break, especially if you (or your children) have never seen it!!  So uplifting in the midst of so much angst in the news!

I got in on yet another “second chance/true story” movie about four hours later when Emmie, feeling miserable and lying on the living room sofa, requested that we watch Soul Surfer with her. She’d gotten the DVD as a Christmas present, and Andy had never seen it.  I took both girls to see it when it was at the dollar theater but found myself drawn in again last night as I tried to clean the kitchen while Andy and Emmie watched.  Definitely a bit scarier than The Rookie, with a brief glimpse of a shark, lots of blood, hospital emergency scenes and a teenage girl that loses her left arm, and it definitely borders on schmaltzy with a “forced” performance by Carrie Underwood as a church youth counselor, but there are a lot of really uplifting things about this movie, too, and there I was, sniffling again. Seriously, who can’t be moved by a girl who gets back on her surfboard and competes again after losing her arm to a shark????  And if you don’t believe it, real-life video footage of the real Bethany Hamilton shows as the credits roll at the end.  There is good acting in spite of Underwood (Helen Hunt, Craig T. Nelson, AnnaSophia Robb and hey, there’s Dennis Quaid again!); gorgeous camera shots (what’s not to love about Hawaii?); and the first time I’ve ever seen a youth mission trip portrayed on film (Bethany goes to Thailand, after the tsunami).  You come away from the movie not only inspired by Bethany’s courage, but also by her close-knit family and the way her parents chose to follow their dream of living near the beach and being lifelong surfers. 

So, Soul Surfer is another good movie to watch over the break, appropriate for, I think, pre-teens and up (and it’s not just for girls– Bethany’s brothers are portrayed in this almost as much as Bethany!).  There’s also a book of the same title, written by Bethany, for teens and others who want to know more about her story, so the movie can be a springboard to reading.  And if you happen to have lazy kids, you might even get other “mileage” out of the movie– the next time they balk at cleaning their rooms or helping around the house, just remind them of the scene where Bethany fixes breakfast for her whole family– using only one arm!!

Who Spiked the Punctuation? Why Most Holiday Cards Need A Ride Home From The Party

Okay, okay, I know…who am I to criticize holiday cards when I haven’t sent any out in… hmmm…a couple years? But I’ve been wanting to say something about them for a long time.  No, not about how good friends I haven’t seen in ages expect me to read the long letters they’ve composed but don’t even bother to personalize it by signing their name at the bottom, let alone write me one or two lines. And no, not about how some families spend tons of money and time on getting that perfect holiday card portrait taken by a professional photographer when sadly most of those gorgeous cards just end up in the trash…but my biggest beef with holiday cards is with the use of the apostrophe. Or, I should say, misuse.  I know most adults have long forgotten many punctuation and grammar rules they learned in school, but I think most remember the simple stuff—like capitalizing the first letter of a sentence, putting a period at the end of one… so why can’t they remember the rules for the apostrophe? There are only TWO— it’s used when showing possession, or replacing missing letters. Not when making a noun plural.  Is that so hard to remember? Guess it is, since no one seems to know it anymore. I see apostrophe errors on expensive billboards, on corporate websites, even in letters sent home from school principals and teachers (yes, Microsoft Word Spell Check is not always right!).  You’d think at least printers and engravers would be astute enough to correct our sloppy English, but even they don’t care anymore, either.  Because there it is, every year, embossed in gold at the bottom of John Doe’s card—Merry Christmas from The Doe’s.  “THE DOE’S WHAT??” I always want to scream.  Yes, as a writer who loves words and loves putting them together, and who has had to follow correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation rules as part of every writing job or college writing assignment I’ve ever had,  this is like fingernails on a blackboard to me.  And then another similar card arrives, and another.  Why do families insist on throwing an apostrophe in their last name when they add an “s” to the end?  If Fred and Wilma send out a Christmas card (er, in their case I guess it might be a Christmas rock), they should engrave it “Merry Christmas from the Flintstones”, not “Merry Christmas from the Flintstone’s”.  And even if they put “From The Flintstone’s House”, that actually would be incorrect as well…the correct way would be “The Flintstones’ House”.  (Click here for a great explanation of that.)

I’m not the only one who’s ho-ho-horrified about apostrophe use.  The Apostrophe Protection Society (, founded in 2001 by a retired British journalist, has had over one and a half million visits to its website, and its founder has received letters of support from all over the world.  The Facebook page, “Apostrophe Preservation Society” has photos and comments about idiotic apostrophe use (one memorable one: a college brochure touting the “Honor’s Program”).  There’s “Apostrophen-Katastrophen”, a German website, and “The Dreaded Apostrophe”, a website that tries to explain the proper use of the “most misunderstood and misused piece of punctuation in the language” by combining its two rules into one.  But there are naysayers as well, who think the apostrophe should be abolished—like;  many texting addicts; and the now-defunct  rock band R.E.M., who purposely left out the apostrophe in their album “Lifes Rich Pageant” because “they hate apostrophes”. 

Some say the mark is misused so much, we should take it out of the language completely so that no one has to look like they don’t know what they’re doing.  Which is probably what I’d look like today if I sent out a card and put, correctly, “The Allbees”, at the bottom.  So for now, I guess I’ll just avoid the confusion by saying

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to All My Blog Readers,

From Uncool Mom and Family

(and wishing you peace on Earth and goodwill to every apostrophe…).

Friday Freebie: Yummy Eats From Taco Cabana

Just in time for the busy holiday season: free food from Taco Cabana! The folks at Taco Cabana have given me three “be our guest” passes to give away (worth $5.99 off any purchase, alcohol excluded) so I’ll send them to the first three people who write to me ( before Thursday, 12/22/11.

If you win one, I highly encourage you to use it toward the purchase of one of TC’s “Group Meals”, especially if you’ve got a busy family (and are being pulled in 2000 different directions this season!).   For around $20 (the meals start at $17.99), you can feed 3-4 people with entree selections like a tray of eight beef, chicken or cheese enchiladas; a dozen chicken flautas; a pound of brisket; or a pound of beef, chicken or mixed fajitas.  All come with rice, beans and tortillas. Our family just ate the mixed fajita Group Meal and it was GREAT, not only because it was convenient and we were all super busy today, but also we were pleasantly surprised at the ample amount of food (you know how lots of packaged meals will say “serves 4” and you’re wondering, once you see it, if they meant “four toddlers“!?).  This group meal came with one pound of grilled beef and chicken, as promised, but larger-than-expected containers of rice and beans, a big stack of steaming hot tortillas, and a bunch of sides not mentioned on the drive-thru board: chopped tomatoes, guacamole, sour cream, and lots of shredded lettuce and cheese.  We ate ’til we were full and still had leftovers.  I am definitely going to add this to my arsenal of last-minute dinner ideas and think other fast food establishments ought to follow suit.  It’s just taking what you already have and marketing/packaging it in a different way.

Genius idea, Taco Cabana!! Thanks for letting me know about it!

Helping Kids Study for Tests: Just Do What You’re Told and No One Gets Hurt

I did something last night I’ve never done before– I helped two teenagers study for semester final exams, at the same time.  See, this is the first time for Emmie to have an exam week like this, and we discovered yesterday that today, she and her sister both have finals in similar subjects– for Emmie, Texas History, and for Allison, U.S. History. So last night, I asked them if they needed anyone to quiz them on definitions or dates or anything. “We can sit in a circle and I can fire off questions to each of you, and when it’s not your turn, you can figure out if you know the answer, too, or just listen.” Surprisingly, they were enthusiastic about this, and so we sat in the living room, dogs and all. To my left, I’d fire off questions about early Texas Indian culture to Emmie (“Were the Tiguas sedentary or nomadic? How did they get food?”) and to the right, questions about everything from the American Revolution up to the 1940s to Allison (“What is isolationism? How did Duke Ellington affect American culture?”).  I felt like Alex Trebek. But only because I was the moderator.  Not because I knew all the answers like Alex (did you know he speaks six languages?). When Allison didn’t know the answers (she hadn’t printed all of them on the test review sheet), I wasn’t much help. Not only did I not remember “for sure” the outcome of the Scopes Monkey Trial, I couldn’t remember a.) if Susan B Anthony only worked for the right of women to vote, or was a champion of other women’s rights; b.) what was contained in the Pure Food and Drug Act and c.) what caused the Spanish-American war.  It was close to 10 p.m., and she was getting frustrated with me, and with having “tech issues” in trying to look up some of the answers online, on her phone.  “Geez, Mom, weren’t you taught any of this????” Um, I only remember having a really boring U.S. history teacher in 9th grade and that’s about it, I told her. We had to memorize a ton of facts and couldn’t wait to empty it out of our stressed heads when the semester was over.  And anything that was left, well, it’s been 35 years…

“Why do they have us learn all this if we’re just going to forget it!!?!” said Allison. Good point, I said. 

Meanwhile, Emmie was knee-deep in hunters and gatherers.  “Mom, it’s my turn!!”

Okay, okay.  “What was the name of the Indians who lived in the Coastal Plains and how did they adapt to their environment?” I asked, squinting at the review sheet. After a few more, I commented that it was sad that the Apaches, Comanches, Tonkawas and Kiowas had to make their living partly by raiding camps. Emmie looked like she was going to blow a gasket (in addition to being tired, she also had a headache).  “Mom, they’re Indians!!” she exclaimed.  “What do you expect?! Just keep asking the questions on the review sheet!!!” Of course I had to point out to her that she was stereotyping, and that she’d previously described other Indian tribes who got along just fine without being criminals, and that not all Indians were scalpers and bandits.  I think she understood my point and we moved on…

Even though helping my kids study for tests usually subjects me to ridicule and disdain, I still partake in it once in awhile because I always re-learn something I’ve forgotten or learn something I didn’t know (The pilgrims were sick, dying and depressed when they first sighted our shores? Lindbergh once lived on an island? Who knew…and of course, learning Texas history is always a new adventure for us northerners…). 

But probably the best part about helping kids study for tests, in addition to spending some quality time together and providing them with feedback, is that when you ask a lot of questions (whether you really don’t know something or not ) and your kids are suddenly in the position of teaching someone instead of someone else always teaching them, it’s one of the best ways that they can solidify facts in their brain.  Well, that is, when they get the facts straight.

“YOU MEAN YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT BIG STICK DIPLOMACY IS?” marveled Allison at one point last night after one of my questions.  She eloquently went on to explain to me how Teddy Roosevelt carried a big stick and would shake it or bang it when dealing with ambassadors from other countries, to make the point that America was tough, as opposed to President Taft, who just wanted to throw money at other countries to keep the peace– a.k.a. “Dollar Diplomacy”.   

You don’t say?! Interesting! Well said!

I went to sleep feeling good that I had helped my kids learn by getting them to help me learn, to engage in a conversation with me about history rather than just having them regurgitate facts.   But today I looked up info about Teddy Roosevelt, and, um, he never actually carried a big stick.  It was part of his favorite phrase, “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” and it was a metaphor about his get-tough foreign policies…but he didn’t actually carry one…or bang one…

Guess I better stick to letting PBS and good books help me re-learn history from now on…and an occasional episode of Jeopardy…

Friday Freebie: Baking Mixes, Cookbooks, and More

Today’s giveaway is a $25 gift certificate to the Hodgson Mill online store ( If you’re into whole wheat and flaxseed like me (remember Emmie’s nickname for me– “Nutrish Patrish”?) or if you’re always on the lookout for gluten-free products, you probably are already familiar with Hodgson Mill and know how great this giveaway is, and how you can get a lot of Hodgson Mill products for $25.  And if you’ve never tried them, it’s definitely worth putting your name in this drawing to see what they’re all about. 

I’ve raised my kids on whole wheat bread, pancakes, and sometimes, pasta, and taught them to throw in a handful of ground flaxseed when they make chocolate chip muffins from a Betty Crocker boxed mix to “up” the nutrition. It’s just never made sense to me that when we’re so lucky to have all the choices that we have in our supermarkets, why choose white bread when its whole wheat counterpart, sitting right next to the white, is so much better for your health, and richer tasting? Why eat muffins and cookies made with refined white flour, where the grain has been stripped of most of its God-given nutrients, when you can make them (or in some rare instances, buy them pre-made) with bran, flaxseed, whole wheat (or a Hodgson Mill mix) instead? Some would say they can’t stand the taste, but I say there’s nothing that a little butter, honey, cinnamon/sugar, peanut butter, or real fruit jam can’t fix.  I could go on and on, especially since I “went lo-carb” this past summer and learned even more about the negatives of white flour…but you can look up that stuff on the Internet.

What’s more important right now is that this gift certificate can be used toward the purchase of anything from the Hodgson Mill online store– cookbooks, coffee mugs, cereals, flour; mixes for yummy stuff like European Cheese and Herb Bread, gluten-free pizza dough and pancakes, and brownies; Garlic & Basil Whole Wheat Couscous; even “Vidalia Sweet Onion Ring” batter mix… so write to me at before 11:59 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 12 to let me know you want to be in the drawing (U.S. residents only on this one).  Just send me your name and if you win, I’ll ask for more information. (Hodgson Mill is also giving away a Baker’s Gift Pack valued at $85; click here or go to to check that out.)

In the meantime, I’m going to be busy whipping up some cookies for the Hodgson Mill “Have a Grain Holiday!” recipe contest for bloggers. Yep, that’s right– me, in a recipe contest!  They had to “twist my arm”, but when I found out I didn’t have to come up with the recipe completely from scratch (and that they were sending me two bags of flour), I was sold on the idea.  Besides, now that the weather has turned frosty in North Texas and Christmas is near, I’m definitely in the mood to bake (never mind that I also have to snap a decent photo of what I create!!!).  I will keep you posted on the results and hopefully I will be able to eventually share the recipe with you. Maybe if I get good at this I just might be a mom that always has warm treats for her kids when they get home from school…well, maybe one day a week…okay, okay…I’ll be doing good if it’s once or twice a month!!! Wish me luck!

Jim Bob, John-Boy, and Me

If you’re familiar with The Duggars of Arkansas, the family with “19 kids and counting”, you may have looked at them like they’re crazy.  I know I have.  Packing up the family for a road trip must not be too easy, y’ know? And cooking for that many must take all day.  But…I bet their holidays are a blast…

For some reason this holiday season, I’m feeling “big family envy” more than ever.  Maybe it’s because it’s the first year my mom, who is 87 and lives 13 hours away, is choosing not to spend Christmas with us or any of her children.  (“I’m 87 years old,” she said, “and I don’t want to travel in winter weather, and I don’t want to worry about anyone else traveling to see me.”)  Maybe I’m missing Cleo, our French exchange student who lived with us from August 2010 to June 2011. Last Christmas was extra special with her here.  Or maybe it’s because we just hosted 18 of Andy’s extended family for Thanksgiving and I really enjoyed it, but they’re all doing different things for Christmas…

I’ve always had a special place in my heart for big families (definition: any family over 4 or 5 members), which I’ve written about briefly before.  I’m sure that admiration comes from the fact that I was raised as practically an only child (both my siblings are at least 10 years older and one has lived abroad for many years). And, I lived in a neighborhood containing hardly any other kids.  Some of my most cherished childhood memories come from the times I’d get to spend a week at my cousins’ house, or a few nights at my friend Ann’s house, 16 miles away from mine.  Ann was a girl I’d met at summer camp who lived in a really tiny town and was part of a big Catholic family with six kids, and when I was at her house, I felt like I’d walked right into both of my favorite TV shows, The Brady Bunch and The Waltons.  Her dad was the town milkman, and their garage was filled with, among other dairy items, ice cream bars and popsicles.  I ate dinner with her family, went to church with them, walked the few blocks to downtown, played games…it was heaven.  There was always something to do, always somebody sticking their head in Ann’s room to crack a joke or make a face. 

Freshman year of college was like that for me, too–  living on a dorm floor with 15 other girls from different backgrounds who didn’t know eachother previously, and becoming friends, walking in and out of eachother’s rooms to talk at all hours, eating dinner together in the cafeteria, playing cards, sharing one bathroom…heaven, I tell you.  And, bonus! My roommate came from a large, Italian Catholic family of EIGHT kids, with great names like Vera, Vito and Vince—very fun for me to go home with her on weekends!!!

So why didn’t Andy and I create our own big brood when we had the chance? Well, economics, for one.  And age, for another (we were both in our early 30s when we started).  And nerves, too.  I could barely keep my head on straight with two young children while working from home, and I could only imagine things completely falling apart if I had more to manage.  And so, we stopped at two.

Thank goodness my brother had three, two who have married and had children– and many of his bunch don’t live too far away.  So, often my bunch has gotten together with his bunch for a day or two over the holidays.  17 people (and 5 dogs) under one roof!!  Once again, heaven, even when everyone is doing different things.  Sometimes I’ll just catch my breath for a minute and soak it all in, that my family of origin has grown to this.  Some might be playing computer games or watching a movie, some are playing guitars, some are cooking, someone else is outside walking a dog or riding a bike, someone else is reading, someone else is snoring, someone else is singing in the tub…and then the laughter and talking when we all come together to eat.  It’s the rhythm of a big family, and it’s music to my ears. 

This year things are going to be different, with part of his bunch needing to spend the holiday with in-laws, Grandma going solo, and vacation times not all coinciding, but we’re trying to work out at least a day during the break when some of us can get together.  I hope we can.  Because if not, I may have to resign myself to popping some kettle corn, lighting a fire in the fireplace, and cozying up with my two teens in front of what they consider to be their favorite TV show, “Keeping Up With the Kardashians”.  The Kardashians may be far, far from Walton’s Mountain in many ways, but I’ll take my big families where I can get them.  

Too Many Wimps, Not Enough Warriors

Sometimes it takes awhile to get inspired to write a post and sometimes a topic just keeps bugging me until I do something about it. One that has been knocking on my door a lot lately is the topic of doing the right thing when you view an injustice or crime or something just plain wrong, especially when it involves a child. Do you stop it from happening? Do you call police? If it involves bad parenting, do you say something to the parent? If you catch the child doing wrong out of sight of the parent, do you let the parent know later? What do we teach our children about “doing the right thing” and how do we act ourselves?

Of course, the highly publicized Penn State/Jerry Sandusky case brings up some of those questions. After assistant football coach Mike McQueary witnessed Sandusky allegedly committing child sexual abuse, he responded in what I would call a wimpy (not to mention, I think in some states, criminal) way– he waited a day, then told a supervisor about it and then did nothing further, kind of like, “Well, this could really hurt the football program and I really didn’t want to tell on my friend Jerry but I told someone, so thank goodness it’s not my problem anymore.”

Headlines next told of former Syracuse assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine, who’s been accused of abusing young ball boys in the 80s.  Audio recordings have surfaced that reveal his wife, Laurie, knew about the abuse, some of which allegedly took place in her home, and did nothing to stop it.  Evidently she told one of the victims that she probably would have done something to stop it if he’d been a girl.  Wow, I bet that brought him comfort.

Then this morning on the radio, I heard a news report about a four-year-old local boy who wandered away from his private school and got on a city bus, rode around awhile, then got off at a random spot.  No one, not even the bus driver, asked him why he was alone or where his parents were, except for one rider who exited the bus at the same time, asked him a few questions, and called police, keeping him from crossing a dangerous, busy street.  While his school is apologizing for its lack of supervision, Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) is defending its bus driver, saying, “There are no age restrictions” on who can ride a bus alone.  Are you kidding me? Does that mean a two-year-old or even a baby can just crawl up the bus stairs and take a joyride anytime he/she wants without the driver doing anything about it? A horrible response from the transit system, as well as a horrible lack of concern by the passengers and bus driver, but I guess that’s just the norm these days, huh?

What ever happened to “It Takes A Village to Raise a Child”? Shouldn’t we all do the right thing and care about not just our own children, but about all children?

Well, many of us have stories of “doing the right thing” when it just doesn’t work out quite like we’d expected.  Friends have told me about getting yelled at by parents they didn’t know when they’ve told them their child was hitting another at a playground. I once had a mom not believe me when I phoned to tell her that her 4th grade daughter had somehow gotten around our online parental controls and we’d caught her looking at pornographic websites on our home computer (“My child hardly knows how to work a computer,” she said, “and if she did this, it’s the school’s fault because it must have been learned on their computers!!”) and she was still not quite believing it when the child admitted to the principal that she learned about the websites from a boy, her next-door neighbor (“Well,” the parent told me later, “my daughter said that your daughter begged her to go to those sites.”).  

I will never forget reading, several years ago, about a local pharmacist who was taking part in a health fair at a local hospital.  His displays kept getting touched and jostled by a disabled and hyperactive child who was at the fair with her mom.  He’d told the child to stop and then said something to the mom about watching her child.  The mom went home and told her husband, who came to the fair, confronted the pharmacist, and proceeded to beat him up, kicking him viciously in the stomach, the head, everywhere,  while a crowd watched and did nothing to stop the attack. The pharmacist later died of complications from his injuries.

Should he have just kept quiet and said nothing to the child’s mother? And what about that crowd of onlookers (who no doubt would have been happily capturing the incident on their cell phones had cell phones been around at the time)? I’d like to think I’d have bravely stepped forward to scream at the kicker, risk life and limb to pull him off the victim. But would I?

While I’ve never been in a situation like that, we’ve all been in situations where we’ve wimped out and taken the “path of least discomfort”. I once waited several months, until the schoolyear was almost over and other parents had started coming forward, to report the behavior of a jr. high teacher who was routinely walking out of class and leaving the classroom unattended for long periods of time, telling the students to just ask each other if they had questions about their work, both during regular classtime and tutoring sessions.  The principal and counselor told me they wished I hadn’t waited so long.  But… she was an award-winning teacher…  and the kids said they felt sorry for her because they’d seen her cry a lot and they thought she was having personal problems…  and I kept hoping things would get better. I “just didn’t want to cause trouble”…

North Dallas writer and mom Ruth Ann Janson wrote in a Dallas Morning News column recently that
when parents don’t step forward to confront other adults about how they’re treating children or how their children are behaving, that it’s similar to bowing to peer pressure, and similar to not standing up for someone who’s being bullied– two things we tell our children NOT to do.  “When parents choose not to lead by example in these areas, they are sending their child a clear message, ‘Do as I say, not as I do’,” she writes.  She talks about the many times we’ve probably seen a child in a car and not wearing a seatbelt, yet to avoid conflict, nothing is said to the driver, even though not having a child in a seatbelt is illegal, not to mention dangerous.  I could definitely see me not saying anything in that same situation, whether I knew the driver or not, thinking, “That’s their child, that’s their business.” 

Yet, is it? Isn’t this non-confrontational, “circle the wagons and take care of only my own” attitude that pervades our society how we eventually get tragedies like that at Penn State? 

If there’s one good thing that can come out of all these crazy headlines, it’s that maybe they will cause us all to take stock of our values and become more of a culture of courage.  Do we show it enough in ourselves? Do we keep persevering even when our courage isn’t rewarded? And do we foster and reward it in others, especially our children? Out of all the qualities the Oz travelers requested from the Wizard, courage may just be the most important.