Followup: When ‘Words With Friends’ Opponents Fall in Love

My loyal followers know of my obsession with Words With Friends, the online Scrabble-like game that you play with friends.  My blog about it was on “Freshly Pressed” and had more than 10,000 views over a three-day period.  Many of you started following The Sandwich Lady after that blog, and I’ve gotten to know many talented bloggers through their  comments on this one and my other blog posts.

This morning I learned that Words with Friends has has helped several formerly-random opponents to fall in love! Here is the Wall Street Journal’s wonderful story about it, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

The phenomenon shows the power of social media, which apparently now includes games as well as internet dating sites such as match.com, in bringing people together.  While my husband and I met the “analog” way — working side by side at the school newspaper at Penn State — I have to say that Words With Friends has definitely spiced things up.  It is the only time we are truly ruthless with each other, allowing us to indulge a totally competitive side that never permeates our other interactions.  This morning we gave each other wonderful goofy hand-made Valentines.

And while I am happily married and not looking for love, I have enjoyed meeting new WWF friends who have been great competitors.  Thanks to JaggedCell, georgegeorgegeorge and lanceshaubert for some terrific games.

Too Many Cookies, and Other Post-Christmas Hangover Notes

The holiday that seemed to come upon us like a tinseled tsunami is now over.

It was a wonderful holiday – filled with warmth and laughter, too much food and drink, the bustle of shopping and wrapping, and most of all the presence of our family.

But now the tree is starting to look a little tired and its needles sprinkle when touched; some nights we forget to turn on the candles in the window. A battalion of empty wine and beer bottles now stands guard next to our recycling bin.

We still have too many cookies and no appetite for them. They no longer have the same appeal they had when they were baking in the oven, infusing the house with Christmas warmth. Even the cookie tin with the Santa on it couldn’t keep them from getting stale. The red and green sprinkles look weary, like someone who slept all night in her makeup. I’ve tucked a few dozen into the freezer, figuring that we might feel like having them again in April. Wish there were a foolproof method for matching supply with demand for cookies.

The wind is keening outside; I feel sleepy all the time; and just want to live on vegetables and soup. It’s just a case of post-holiday letdown.

Today when we woke up I noticed that our second floor hallway was sunnier than it had been for a week. That’s because the bedroom doors are no longer shut because our grown children are no longer sleeping behind them. Ben, Rachel B and Jesse have gone back to their apartments near Boston; Rachel F returned to San Diego on Monday and I dropped Ryan off at the airport yesterday for his trip back to London.

I miss that darkened hallway; the messy pile of Christmas gifts that have now been dispersed to Boston, California and Europe; the laughter that we could hear downstairs when we went to bed and the kids reveled until the wee hours; the medusa of X-Box wiring in our family room.

Yesterday John and I drove Ryan to the airport and listened to his IPhone playlist on the way – Lady Gaga, Adam Lambert, lots of unfamiliar club songs. I could picture my son dancing to those songs in some London disco. When we pulled away from the international terminal I plugged in my own phone and switched over to Elton John. Driving west on the Mass Pike, with “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” on the SurroundSound, I thought about how independent the kids had become and how the years when they need active parenting are so short. Then all of a sudden they have their own lives, with their own soundtracks that sound so unfamiliar.

A few hours later, John remembered that he had some homework to be completed over the holidays. After some grumbling to myself that the homework never seems to take a vacation, I helped him think out when he was going to complete it. Then I listened to him practice his trombone, which he is supposed to do every day.

“I want to be busier, but not too busy,” he said. “I’m playing too many video games.”

We talked for about 45 minutes on the satisfaction that comes from putting work before pleasure, and of having an optimum amount of busy-ness in our lives. John said he wished he could get better at school or on the trombone by just willing it to happen, without all that hard work. I told him that everybody struggles with that – even adults — and that Middle School was the end of playtime for most kids, and if he committed himself to a schedule for homework and trombone he’d feel better about both.

We unwound by singing the chorus from The Kinks’ song, “Father Christmas,” as the howling wind outside announced that January was on its way.

The Myth of the Perfect Gift

Does anybody else feel a little guilty having to ask their kids what they want for Christmas?

I struggle with this every year since most of our children have grown and moved away. When they were little it was easier. We knew if they coveted a certain toy or game, or which Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle was their favorite, or if they wanted the BeeBop or Rock Steady action toy in their stockings, or if they needed pajamas or socks. It was easier to know exactly what would delight them. Well, maybe except for the socks.

But in recent years it’s been harder to find the perfect gift. We listen for hints in every long-distance phone call from Thanksgiving on. We ask questions designed to unearth a nugget of an idea. And when all else feels we ask them outright, feeling a bit guilty that we don’t know instinctively and sad that we are no longer as wired into their lives as we once were.

Sometimes we punt: we give money or a gift card, along with something else to open so it’s not just a stark white envelope on Christmas morning…jewelry, a book, a warm scarf. Choosing that something is an act of faith. Will the book be read? Will the sweater or earrings actually be worn?

Maybe it doesn’t matter if the gift isn’t perfect. In fact, maybe the idea of a perfect gift is just a myth. For Bob and me, the greatest gift of our 2011 holiday season is that all six of our children will be under our roof for the first time in two years. The gift-giving will be wonderful, but it will be a warm tradition rather than a measure of our love. Like the gifts, that love is sometimes imperfect – more frustrating than the mall parking lot on Christmas Eve; more confusing than the clearance rack at Marshall’s; requiring more patience than waiting in the pre-dawn hours for Wal-Mart to open. Sometimes selfishness or pettiness or fatigue makes us behave in ways that don’t appear loving.

But we continue to strive to love as perfectly as we can, and to worry and to want the best for our kids, and to take pride in their accomplishments, and that’s what counts. That love and concern will last far longer than a Lexus with a bow. Even a gift from Nordstrom or Tiffany could not capture it.

Here are some gifts that would be perfect for me if only they could be wrapped:

• Watching my wonderful husband wash dishes after he’s worked a 10-hour day, which he does every night.
• My son Ryan, at age 5, cleaning off my car after a snowstorm while I sipped coffee in the warm house, still wearing my bathrobe. I later discovered he had been using a shovel.
• The happiness we both feel when I rub my daughter Rachel’s back, which I have been doing for the past 25 years.
• Listening to John, 13, and his older bro/idol Ben, 25, laughing and watching wrestling in the other room.
• Our son Jesse’s quiet sense of humor and his kindness and helpfulness.
• The pride we feel in our children’s achievements – such as Rachel B’s new fulltime job, and Rachel F’s “A” in her anatomy class – and in how hard they’ve worked to get there.
• Having our blended family around the same table, playing a symphony on their water glasses and trading many laughs.

Merry Christmas and much love to all my readers!