Archive for June, 2009

Five Ways to Make Family Visits Fun

Monday, June 29th, 2009

It’s summer, and time for reunions, visits from family, or Camp Grandma. Some people love these visits, some hate them, and some worry that there will be nothing fun to do. Our family holidays and vacations often include at least 10 or 12 adults and even more children. Mass chaos is the usual order of the day, but we always have a lot of fun. If your family visits leave something to be desired, here are some suggestions for livening things up this summer.

1.    Play a simple card or dice game. After dinner, we clear the table and my sister-in-law declares game time. Sometimes it’s a board game, but usually we play Farkle with dice, or Golf with cards. Five to eight players might start the game. Others stand behind them and give advice or talk trash. Someone gets irritated by bad cards and quits in the middle of the game. Someone else sits down in their seat and takes over. It’s a fluid kind of game. Often it gets pretty loud. The little kids play wrong, the old people forget the moves, the middles are distracted and have to be reminded when it’s their turn. Everyone accuses everyone else of cheating. Everyone cheats.

2.    Look at photo albums. Not the recent ones, get out the really old ones, where everyone has funny hairstyles and ugly clothes. Laugh at the cat-eye glasses, fins on cars, and crying kids. After a while, you begin to notice the backgrounds, remembering furniture in Grandma’s house, your dad’s vegetable garden, the neighbor’s bushes where you played hide and seek. Show them to the kids and you have the basis for passing on family stories to the next generation.

3.    Make Cookies! Come on, surely one person in your family knows how to make cookies. We tend to make two or three varieties at once, with one adult in charge of peanut butter, one in charge of oatmeal, one in charge of chocolate chip. Children are allowed to help more or less, depending on the patience of the supervisor. Dough is stolen, fingers are smacked, flour is spread, and mouths are burned. There are no cookies left for the next day.

4.    Watch a movie. I don’t recommend watching a movie you’ve been dying to see. You’re going to miss half of it. With all the seats full of adults holding children on their laps while teens cover the floor, heads will be blocking the view, crying babies will interrupt the dialogue. We like to watch movies we know well, so that we can quote along with the actors. Or watch home videos. My daughter’s Spanish project had the entire family rolling! Comments are welcome. Silence is not.

5.    Sit on the porch and talk. After doing activities 1-4, everyone is relaxed and talkative. Now memories are bubbling up and talk flows freely. Give the kids some plastic peanut butter jars and send them out to catch fireflies while the grownups rehash juicy stories, then let them cuddle on laps and fall asleep as quiet reminiscence ends a satisfying evening.

These are activities our family enjoys. Sure, we get irritated, criticize each other, yell at kids, and make a mess. We could get mad, hold a grudge and quit talking to each other. Instead, we choose to forgive each other when feelings are hurt, and to cherish our time together even when things are rocky. The ONE thing you need for a great family visit is lots of love.

Power to the People

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

When I was in high school, my goal was to become a journalist. I loved writing, loved reporting, and wanted to save the world. My passion for the free press overwhelmed me. I couldn’t wait to get through college and start setting the world on fire with my in-depth articles, my investigative breakthroughs, my timely insights.

But I didn’t settle into college well, and I quit. I came home and applied for a job at the local newspaper and was told that they only hired reporters with college degrees. Goodbye, journalism!

I went on to other things, settled into raising a family, worked on saving the world in other ways. After a while I lost interest in being a journalist. But the one thing that I never lost interest in is freedom of the press. The freedom of journalists or individuals to write about whatever they choose, to give opinions about government, business, politicians, or whatever else comes to mind, to shine light into dark corners and ferret out dirty secrets, keeps all of us free. Information is power, and the free press brings information to anyone who can read or listen.

In the busyness of life, I haven’t taken time lately to think much about the press, except to mourn the thinning of my daily papers and the demise of those in other cities. This week, that changed. Iran elected a new president, the people rose up in protest, and suddenly information became vital. And a most exciting thing occurred. The people of the world joined together spontaneously to assure the flow of information into and out of Iran.

While I wasn’t paying attention, the world changed radically. Journalists, newspapers, TV networks-none of these were instrumental in moving information this week. Individual people did it. Twitter and Facebook and computer networks and cell phones all played a part. People worked together, without much direction, without an overall plan, to keep information flowing to and from the people of Iran even as the Iranian government worked to plug up leaks. But you can only plug so many leaks. When every individual with a cell phone or computer has the power to reach the entire world, the light will continue to shine in the dark corners. The power of the press has now truly become the power of the people.

Lost in Automation

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

I am on medication for high blood pressure. My insurance company pays part of the cost for this medicine, and that’s nice. They also send me fliers and magazines and emails about wellness, which include ideas on lowering blood pressure without medicine-smart, since if I quit taking it, they won’t be paying for it. I have a suggestion to help them with this endeavor. HIRE AN OPERATOR!

Yes, today I called my insurance company. The woman who answered the phone had a fairly pleasant voice with a flat mid-western accent. She greeted me nicely and asked if I was a provider or a patient. That’s when my blood pressure started to rise. I REFUSE to speak to a computer as if it were a real person. Sorry, I’m not going to do it. If a computer is going to answer the phone and route my call, it should be easy to tell by the “press one” list that the company is saving money by not hiring a real person to do this job (and thank you for not hiring India.) See, I also called my cellphone company today, and while I hate their menus and “press one” instructions, at least I don’t feel like an idiot. Talking to the nice fake lady makes me feel like a freak. (And no, she won’t let me bypass her questions by pressing zero. She is a tyrant.)

Once, after ranting to the poor woman who finally answered the phone, I found out that each choice the fake lady gives has a corresponding number on your phone, so yes is one, no is two, and in a list of choices, just count each one and press the number. So I no longer speak to the fake lady, ever. But there is also no “undo” among the choices, so every mistake means beginning again (para espanol, el prima DOS.)

So my health suffers a little more each time I’m forced to speak to my insurance company. My blood pressure is higher, my stroke risk soars. But that’s what insurance is for.