Monday, December 29, 2008

The Gumdrop Years

By Amy Platon

My grandmother, Edith Williams Crawford Williams, died January 2, 2001. Seventeen days before my wedding. The wedding she had always said she would walk in, without a walker, and in high heal shoes of course.

She was a true southern bell. But not the bell I saw depicted by Hollywood. No, she was the real thing. As down-to-earth as dirt, just like all her friends, and she had many.

She grew up in a small town learning how to cook her would-be signature chicken and dumplings’ in a tiny crowded kitchen beside her mother and her grandmother. Using the same worn out wooden bowl used to mix the dough they would roll out by hand. And true to the day she died, it was not uncommon to see her rocking on the old front porch snapping the tails off the green beans then snapping them in half. There are so many details like that one that forms the memory I have of her.

I missed a few details along the way growing up, like how she met and married her husband, the grandfather I would never know. But from what I knew, she did well. She chose a man that would provide her a good home in which to raise their family. Which turned out to be only a son, my father.

Her husband Floyd died when she was 52. He was a strong, quiet but opinionated man who was viciously loyal to his family. I assumed it was that characteristic that probably lured him into becoming a Florida Highway Patrolman. Protect and serve, he did. Not only for his family but also for his small community of Lake City, Florida. It was a town smack in the middle of northern Florida. I should know. I spent many weekends and holidays there, visiting my Grandmother.

She had a small retreat cabin on the Ichetucknee River. I got to know that river well. We would tube down it all together as a family bound by legs and arms. I guess from a distance our family looked like a group of lily pads that had broken off in a bunch and started free flowing down the river.

One of the tubes would float the beer that would be kept cold by the frigid water.

I would always bring a mask to peer into the water and at the river bottom below. Gazing down, as we would float by, was like watching a silent movie. The river bottom and all its unique treasure-trash would coast into view through the mask on the left. Bottle caps, aluminum cans, fishing tackle, would just disappear out of view as I passed it. My favorite was the green beer bottles full of dirt that nested in the soft bottom. They were the kid-equivalent of a sparkling diamond. I guess because the water was always moving, not much muck and algae had a chance to grow. Most of the rocks were clean because the floor was made of this sort of white dirt. Not loose like sand but rather packed tight. The cans were never rusted either, which was noticeable to me since I grew up on the Atlantic. Everything I ever found in the ocean was corroded.

Occasionally, we would see an alligator or two on our trips. They could usually be spotted on the tall bank getting some sun, perched on the exposed roots that held the land in place. I suppose those gators have drifted those waters for decades, because once in a while we would find flint arrowheads in the river mud. I believed that warrior Indians tried spearing gators with those arrowheads. Seemed logical to me.

But as long as those gators stayed perched on the banks where I could see them, then I could be talked into some friendly sibling inner tube balance competition. My brother and I would have contests as to see who could stand balanced on top of the tube the longest.

Of course, when we had those contests we had to break away from the pack. Eventually one of us would smack into the water like a fish just set free from a hook. And when we did, we had to be sure we wouldn’t get grandma’s hair wet.

I guess she spent all day at the salon getting it set, but whatever the case, we knew not to splash in her direction. I personally think it had more to do with the cold water hitting her warm sun baked skin and not getting her cigarettes wet. Because we all knew she loved to be in that hair salon. After all that’s where she got all caught up on the local happenings of her tiny little town.

I always thought of my Grandmother as Lake City’s social mayor or its prom queen. She knew everyone and their family and their family problems. She knew it all because people liked her. They liked talking to her. She was very easy to talk to, and she always seemed impartial. I loved that about her. But the best part of talking with her was that if I asked her to keep a secret, she kept it.

My grandmother never had to work, but she did, at the local pharmacy as a clerk. She knew a lot of people in town and this job was perfect to keep up with all the local gossip. And there was plenty. People trusted her. She was a good listener and knew just what to ask to get tongs rolling.

When her husband died that town came together to help her get through it. But her friends were a cushion she didn’t need for long. I grew to admire that about her.

Other women would have drowned beneath the fear of life after the death of their husband. They would slap the water that was trying to sweep them downstream, cling to the inner tube of a man, or grasp for the roots of their grown children. But not Edith, when her husband died, she began her life. She commanded her lily pad, stayed the course and kept every bit of it together. She didn’t even get her cigarettes wet.

And after watching her two grandchildren grow into adults, a few road trips, a couple of cruises, a second marriage and a move to South Florida, death became hungry. It was a gator wading into the water.

He snapped her up, without warning. And she was gone. No warrior Indian around to save her.

Her funeral was memorable. It was held in a little white chapel on a few acres of land that her family had donated to the parish some fifty years before. She was buried right next to Floyd, as one of the only two graves on the site. The pastor knew of her, but he didn’t know her. He was young and didn’t quite know of her former social status. He was probably a third her age, and had only met her a few times. His sermon was not at all who she was. He believed that she was "ready" to “go home.” It was probably death sermon #169 with modifications. Maybe she was happy about being back in her hometown. I believe she would have been happier buried under that beauty shop.

Her body may have been giving out and she wasn’t able to get where she wanted to go, but I don’t believe she was ready to leave this earth just yet. She would have much rather been hanging out with the family on the back porch, drinking screwdrivers and talking about all the great times we’ve had over the years, sucking a cigarette between her fingers. She most certainly would have wanted to see my wedding.

Instead, she was the absent host of the farewell cold cut luncheon held at her little house about twenty minutes from the chapel. A house that wasn’t the same without her, and if you let your mind take a break from that day even for a minute, you may expect to see her walk around the corner, or check her hair in the mirror. But she never did.

She was, so much more than I will ever know. I regret not having called her on New Years Eve. But I forced grief out of my head to focus on what I did do. I do know that we were, in such a way, soul mates.

The only reason that last phone call I didn’t make hurts so much, is because I missed one last chance for memory. Oddly, it wasn’t the “I love you,” because I truly have that in my heart and grief cannot penetrate there. But I regret missing that last chance to hear one more story, the kind she told like rosary.

Since her death, I’ve tried to string those stories and memories together, so that they could start to become something tangible. Perhaps something a little like the plastic candy garland we hung on our Christmas tree growing up.

Related Articles:
Tales from the Sidelines
Confessions of a Housewife

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Perfect Circle (Ultimate Void)

Excerpt from novel
by Amy Platon

At seven o’clock, Clair got a knock at the door. She looked out her window and was surprised to see that it was Edie, peering over her shoulder. Clair grabbed her purse and headed for the door.

“You’re early.”

“Oh good, you’re ready. Come on, I got us a ride.” Edie motioned for Clair to follow her. “Out front!” she said in a half-whisper.

Clair turned out her hall light and the two rushed toward the steps. Clair barely had time to lock the door behind her.

She turned to Edie, who was waiting for her. Once Clair caught up, the two headed for the parking lot. Clair followed closely, while Edie, holding a set of keys, led them toward the end parking spaces.

Clair stopped. “Which one?” She demanded.

“This one.”

Edie stopped at a parked golf cart, and got in. Clair noticed that the golf cart was the Holiday Park security cart…Bill’s security cart. Clair peeked under the canopy at Edie, who had already started it.

“Edie? Where did you get this? It’s Bill’s cart!”

“He spends the night with Carol every time he works the second shift, he’ll never miss it.” She said as she adjusted the rearview mirror.

“You stole it?!”

“The keys were in the ignition, and we’re are only borrowing it. Now get in before someone sees us.”

Clair rolled her eyes, and took the passenger seat. “Oh, great!”

She sat with her knees together, hugging her new purse in her lap. She was like a nervous child clinging to her bedtime blanket.

Edie put the cart in reverse and let off the break. The women were thrust backward. Edie then overcorrected by pressing hard on the break. Clair’s body did its best to keep up with the frantic motion of the cart.

Edie, overrun by determination, put the cart in forward drive then took off toward the back of the parking lot. Clair bounced backward a bit. Her arms flew up and out in different directions as she scrambled for a handle to hold on to.

Her purse fell to the floorboard between her feet. Her right hand was clung to the edge of the canopy. Her left was grasping a vinyl handgrip that was sewn into the seat between her and Edie.

It was clear that Edie had little experience driving golf carts, but at this point Clair was just praying that the two wouldn’t have an accident or roll over. Her next concern was where Edie was taking them.

“Edie, there’s no exit this way!”

“We’re going the back way.”

Neither of them had a clue as to what this night had in store. They just drove on, hair parted by the wind that whipped over the short windshield. Clair had to blink hard behind her plastic saucer glasses to keep her eyes moist. Eyes that were fixed forward trying to make out the tree stumps in the dark woods ahead of them.

Then she did it. Edie jumped the curb. Clair could feel the wheels spin freely as the cart jumped from the pavement. When they landed it caught traction unexpectedly. They kicked up some grass and it sent the cart into some side-to-side motion that jiggled Clair’s body and nearly knocked her glasses off. They were caught somehow by the tip of her nose. Edie drove on aiming for the narrow sporadic walking path ahead of them.

"Edie we'll never fit!" Clair let out in an I-want-out scream.

Before she knew it, they were deep in the woods with low lit front beams barely lighting their way. The exposed roots and uneven land made the ride like being in some made for TV weight loss contraption. Clair could hear the contents of her purse rattling on the floor board but she couldn't risk letting go of her strap to get it.

Somehow the two made it out the other side of the pine needle track. It spit them out at the back of the strip mall that housed their destination, Dumpling Night at "The Arcade.”

The glare of the parking lot lights reflected off of Clair’s glasses as she looked in Edie’s direction in shock over what she had just put her through.

Edie eased up behind the building and parked the golf cart.

Clair emerged to solid ground. Then she leaned in again to collect her belongings from the floor of the cart and placed them back in her purse, which she would be sure to zipper before the ride back home.

Edie fixed her hair in the long rearview mirror then walked around the cart to Clair’s side. She waited as Clair composed herself. Edie walked toward the building… as calm as if all of that chaos was in the plan. Clair's body was numb from all the vibration. She did her best to straighten her hair as she followed Edie to the front of the building.

The storefront of The Arcade was tinted black. Neon signs read “The Arcade” and “Game House.” This perfectly legal concept had a grungy black market feel. Clair thought they needed a special knock and handshake to get in. But Edie just pulled on the metal ribbed door handle. The door cracked as she stretched it open for Clair. Once inside, Clair saw that the Arcade was laid out like a casino. Slots lined the walls and other electronic games were grouped randomly in the center of the floor. It was low lit and the sounds of winning slots filled the cool damp air. The sweet salty aroma of chicken and dumplings also competed for Clair’s attention.

Clair followed Edie to the counter where a fat old woman sat like a club bouncer. Her cigarette ashed as she spoke, "Need a card?"

The woman was perched behind what looked like a jewelry case with a register on top. Edie explained that Clair could trade her winnings or points for gift cards or trade them in for items in the case. It was a Chuck-E-Cheese for seniors. Instead of stickers, toys, and candy, it was a sea of dollar store quality items and things like plates, silverware, perfume, ceramic dolls, glassware, and simple jewelry. Clair was more interested in the gift cards than the case prizes.

The woman at the counter charged up their cards and the two were off to play like they were in Vegas.

Clair pasted on a smile, “Where’s the restroom?” She pointed her cigarette toward the back of the game room as the flesh under her arm swung, almost waiving goodbye.

Clair turned to Edie, “I have to pee and you’re coming with me.”

“I have to go too.”

The two ladies Pac-Manned their way through the maze of machines to the back hallway that was labeled Restroom. Raw tube lights in the ceiling made Clair's eyes squint. They entered the women’s room and each took one of the two stalls. Clair hung her purse on the door. “Are you sure Bill’s not going to miss his cart?” She said as she positioned a disposable cover over the toilet seat.

“He doesn’t come out until morning when he stays with her.” Edie reassured her.

As they began to relieve their bladders, Clair asked, “Do you think $60 a good amount for the card?”

“I put $100 but $60 should be fine, if you start winning.”

Clair laughed, “Edie, pass me some toilet paper, would you, this one’s out.”

Edie reached into the bottom of her toilet paper cover-contraption and only felt a cardboard role. “Shit, this one’s out too!”

Clair inhaled, “UH, wha-do we do?” as her voice echoed in her stall. “What do you have in your new purse?”

Clair shuffled through it, “Nothing, just my wallet, checkbook, and keys.”

“Pass me a check Clair.”

“Oh my God, Edie, I’m not giving you a check. We’re just gonna have to drip-dry.”

“I don’t have that option Clair, I need something, and that’s all we’ve got.”

Clair put her head back. She looked up at the ceiling, hoping for a better idea. “You NEED something?”

“Well, with all the bouncing around we were doing, I guess…. Please Clair?”

“Oh, alright.” Clair folded a check at the perforation, tore it neatly, and handed it to Edie under the stall.


“Fine. What’s the check number? 306?”

“You’re putting it in your ledger?”

Edie looked down at the check, “And you voided it Clair?”

“Hey, you never know these days Edie, people can steal your identity with the information on a check.”

“I don’t think you need to worry about this one Clair, it’s the ultimate void!”

Other Excerpts:
Perfect Circle (Bingo Night)
Cracked (Grocery Run)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Perfect Circle (Bingo Night)

(Excerpt from novel)
by Amy Platon

The three ladies walked down the street to the Civic Center, and bought their lucky Bingo cards. They took their seats at the back of the room filled with assembled card tables, and plastic folding chairs. Edie took out her very own marker for blotting out the numbers called. Clearly she had done this a few times before.

Clair and Jan on the other hand had not played in years. And came with no tools to speed up their game. The two would be stuck punching out the numbers as they were called.

The room filled with seniors from their development. Some arrived as couples, and others as groups of women. All of them in pastel colors, and each with an embroidered sweater, in case the room got chilly. They all seemed to know one another and a few of the ladies stopped by Edie’s table to introduce themselves to Jan and Clair.

A couple of friends of Edie’s came by, “We’re Joanne and Perla, we live in Bermuda Cove.”

All of the residents introduced themselves in relation to their subdivision as if it were some longitude/latitude position point. Perhaps it was some sort of social order, but Clair was oblivious to it, being so new to the area. Clair did notice that no matter what division they were from the ladies she met all had a sweet smile and cordial things to say. Edie introduced Clair as being new to Holiday Parc, and all wanted to know the same three things: how she liked it so far, if she was married and if she had a car or not. Clair answered all their questions, but wasn’t sure how her answers reflected on her.

The room was alive with chatter and excitement. It was a sweet explosion of Vera Bradley handbags and tapered elastic waist pants. The floral quilted prints on the bags matched their owners obediently acting as the prized embellishment to an otherwise basic outfit. It was like opening a catalog. There were multiples of each print, but the obvious favorite seemed to be the pink print variety. It was then that Clair decided that she too needed to get herself a cute Vera Bradley and she decided on the navy print in a medium-duffel with the double straps.

As the games were to begin, the announcer introduced himself and his panel of assistants. “Hello Ladies…and George. I’m Alan.”

George raised his hand, in fame, as his name was announced. He was the only guy in the room.

Alan continued, “For those who don’t know me, I’m the one who picks the numbers from the metal ball cage, and shouts them out. It goes something like this…” Alan reached into the cage basket and pulled out a chip and shouted it into his microphone, “B-9!” The rambunctious ladies in the front yelled and clapped, approving of his pick.

“Ahh, this is only a test ladies!” Alan said as he held his hand in the air like a rock star. Half the room giggled to one another like groupies. Alan continued in a slight British accent that could have been self-invented, “Did everyone hear the call? B-9? Great.” His voice gallivanted in a smug tone. Already, the Thursday night pseudo-fame was going straight to his head.

He sang into the microphone, “Thank you Donnaaaaaaaa, ladies and George, if you do not hear a call, you can look for it over on the light board.” His voice danced through the sentences as a form of self-amusement. (It seemed Alan had done this before.)

“If you have Bingo, you must yell it out as loud as you can and hold your card in the air. Patty, raise your hand.”

Patty raised her hand and smiled politely at the crowd. She held her microphone close to her chest. She seemed meek and could have easily been an elementary school teacher by day.

“Patty will come to your seat and verify your numbers. Any questions?” Alan asked as he turned his back to the audience, putting the B-9 chip back into the cage as he wound the handle. He turned the chips over on themselves to mix them up thoroughly. His eyes wandered up at his convenience. He glanced over the now drooling crowd of seniors, as if rolling the numbers was some sort of freaky for-play.

“No questions?” he taunted, as he spun the cage over itself.

“Alright then, let the games begin!” His low seductive voice over poured over the padded microphone.

Clair looked at Jan, a little nervous at how cold the room had turned. Jan seemed unaware of the change in climate and looked anxiously at her card for the first game.

Alan declared this game, “5 in-a-row.” He drew his first pick.

The first numbers he called out were met with cheers and overall happiness. But after just five numbers, the room turned to booing and hissing. Clair and Jan were surprised at the change of mood in the ladies they had just met. Edie on the other hand didn’t seem phased by it one bit. She just kept her eyes on her card and played hard. She anxiously blotted each number called. Clair and Jan were in a bit of a frenzy trying to keep up with the speed at which Alan delivered his numbers. There was barely any time to punch out the calls and fold them back before the next one. It was clear, that Clair and Jan were in over their heads here, and it became obvious that they were among professionals. Clair felt they were going to be eaten alive.

Just after the eighth number called, Clair heard Jan shout, “Bingo!” It startled her, not just that Jan had won, but that she shouted like she had just had her purse stolen. Jan held up her card and waived it frantically as Patty descended on her, confiscating her card. Patty began forcefully reading back all the numbers Jan had punched. Even Sunday-school Patty had turned hard. Regardless, it was true-Jan had won!

Each wrinkled face and glaring bifocal, turned in their direction awaiting the results, shook in disappointment. Those who chose not to look hissed at Alan’s announcement, “We have our first winner!”

Patty whispered to Jan, “What’s your name?”

Jan just smiled at Alan with hearts in her eyes, or were they dollar signs? Anyway, Jan did not hear Patty, so Clair answered for her, “Her name is Jan.”

Patty then spoke to Jan in the microphone, “Jan, step right this way, so we can get you your winnings!” Jan went with Patty.

She turned once to Clair and smiled in excited disbelief.

The room regrouped. They pulled out the red cards this time, per Alan’s instructions. Jan quickly returned to the table and joined in for the next round. Donna cleared the light board of all the numbers from the previous game, as Alan started again,

“Four corners.” He shouted.

About five numbers into the four corners game, someone on the far end of the room yelled out that horrid word, “Bingo!”
Patty swooped right in, and began calling out the numbers, Alan either confirmed or denied the numbers from Donna’s light board. There was a discrepancy. Patty called O-4 but there was no O-4. Alan took a minute to converse with Donna and compared the light board with his chips. Patty flew up to talk with them, fake-card in hand. After the meeting, Alan announced, “We do not have a Bingo, repeat, no Bingo, no win!”

Alan’s accent was fading among the hustle and bustle of unfolding events.

Half the room sucked their teeth as if the fake winner was an idiot. They were going to hold that woman responsible for breaking their concentration, and it would be the talk of the pool deck for the next week.

Then Patty declared over her secondary mic, “Ethel, your not a winner, here is your card, you may continue playing.” Patty was stern in her speech. She said it in a distinctive you-better-not-let-this-happen-again tone.

Clair felt badly for Ethel. Patty was even looking at her as if she were trying to scam the whole Bingo organization. But the worst part, the loser had a name and it was Ethel.

This really spooked Clair. She had no idea how competitive this game was going to be. She spent sixty dollars on Bingo cards and now she was afraid to have Bingo.

Clair had no choice but to just play hard and try for it. It was the last game, and it was the “fill your card game.” It felt like it dragged on forever. The crowd had loosened up a bit, though, and the ladies were casually talking amongst themselves, which made Clair feel better. Even Edie was talking now. The next thing Clair knew, her card was in the air and she was screaming


“Bingo! Bingo! Bingo!” She said as she jumped in disbelief that she has actually won. Patty immediately appeared and began to read back her card to Alan. The room held it’s breath, as each number was called for Alan to confirm. Clair secretly held her breath chanting in prayer, please, please, please, please……

“We HAVE a winner!” Alan screamed, almost in relief that it was finally over, so he can go get his drink-on at The Tavern.

The ladies pack up their Vera Bradley’s at the announcement, turning sweet again, and saying their goodbyes to one another, almost unaware that Clair won. She was relieved.

She marched up to collect her winnings, $190.

Jan and Edie waited for Clair at the front of the hall. She joined them with a huge infectious smile, clutching her bag and her winnings tight under her arm. Success was hers. She was anonymous, but still a winner. Just the way she liked it.

Other Excerpts:
Perfect Circle (Ultimate Void)
Cracked (Grocery Run)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Candy Land

photo by Kevin Russ
By Amy Platon

To My Dearest Friend,

Game Play for Candy Land:

It’s a race (aren’t they all!), woven around a simple story line about finding the lost king (or Queen ☺) of Candy Land. The board consists of a winding, linear track made of 134 spaces, most of which are red, green, blue, yellow, orange or violet. (Ooh pretty colors…) The remaining few spaces are named locations such as Candy Cane Forest and Gum Drop Mountain (yummy).

There are three colored spaces marked with a dot. A player that lands on such a space is stuck, all cards are ignored, until a card is drawn of the same color as the square. (Ahh, the mirror.)

The game is won by landing on or passing the final square.

The classic game takes longer to complete than one might expect (tell me about it), because the location cards can send players backwards. Also, the dot spaces could force players to exhaust several turns without moving (sound familiar?).

There is no optimal strategy, or indeed any decision-making, involved in Candy Land. The moves are wholly determined by the cards, which are drawn in order. (Hmm.)

Game History:

The game was designed in the 1940s by Eleanor Abbott (a woman, of course it was), while she was recovering from polio in San Diego, California – (I mean Polio! What the hell? Now it all makes sense. Keep reading….)

Why You Should Care:

Your life, it's complicated now, but really it’s just a game of Candy Land. One day you’re moving along just fine, dancing with the candy hearts, until suddenly you’re stuck on a dot. You’re totally stuck on a dot. But remember, you’ll always have your next turn. You’re the one who draws the card, and you’re the one who moves your game piece. If you’re patient, you’ll draw the card you need to get unstuck and you’ll be on your way again.

No matter what, whether you’re lost in Candy Cane Forrest, or stuck on Gumdrop Mountain it’s only a matter of time before you’re sucking on lollipops and floating on ice cream. You’ll find your home again and it will be a sweet victory-one that’s all your own.

Do something amazing with yourself. Live your dream. Make your kids proud to have a mom like you. When you’ve lost it all and start again, failure is one less thing you fear. And when you make that last turn, and you're face to face with Molasses Swamp, it won’t look so scary. In fact, if I know you, you’ll probably dip a few jars in and sell them at market, so you can redecorate the house - or something like that. (Smile)

At least you have the cool game. Mine’s Chutes and Ladders. I’m just praying I land on 28. See you at the winner’s circle.

For your reference-
Candy Land board picture.
Chutes and Ladder's board picture.

Related Articles:
Tales from the Sidelines
Confessions of a Housewife

Confessions of a Housewife

photo by Kevin Russ
by Amy Platon

I guess I’ll have to trip him on the way out the door. It’s all I can do at this point. There are only a few days left until my husband casts his vote for his candidate of choice and I have tried everything to change his mind. We are usually in agreement with our political views so this came as a surprise to me.

Before guessing which candidate we are voting for, know this- We feel that right wing or left wing, if a bird were to fly with only one, it would go around in circles. So, while we do vote in our party lines regularly for most offices we are independent when we vote for the presidential office.

Typically, our household politics go like this: I watch all the debates and read all the background information and I give him the “best of” review. He’ll read a few articles here, catch a couple commentaries there, but overall we see things through the same lens. And yes, I’ve probably been the neck that turns his head. But he’s a smart guy. He could do the research if he wanted to.

Although now, no matter how many you-tube speeches I show him, he’s convinced that he wants "the other guy" to win.

In past presidential elections, I have been forced to vote for the candidate that opposes the guy I feel shouldn’t win. In other words, I hadn’t been voting *for* a candidate-I had been voting *against* a candidate.

This election has changed all that for me. This time around, I am actually voting *for* a candidate. I am fortunate because, unlike some of my voter peers, I am energized about my candidate. I’m excited to vote.

I don’t think my husband has the same spark for his guy. Which I can only hope, doesn’t propel him to the polls. That’s what I’ve noticed about registered voters that don’t vote. If they don’t feel obligated to vote, then they have to feel inspired to vote in order to actually show up at the polls.

In our house, I’m the one who marks it on the calendar. I’m the one who updates our voter registration. I’m the one who knows which voting precinct we belong to. I enforce his obligation to vote. I’m curious to see if he votes without my usual scheduling.

I’ll let you know after…What’s that date again? *smile*

Related Articles:
Tales from the Sidelines
The Gumdrop Years

Tales From the Sidelines

by Amy Platon

It started to happen to me! And I always considered myself a laid-back mom. I’d always allowed my child to develop his skills on his terms.

Let me explain. My five-year old son tried basketball for the first time this year. There I sat, on the sideline, with my camera in hand. Adrenaline pumped through my veins with each dribble he made closer and closer to the basket. He pushed the ball up into the air (breath in). But with such little power, it fell short of the basket-very short (and release). I clapped, and shot two thumbs up at him, “Good job, Honey!” As another mom and I shared an isn’t-this-cute glance.

Meanwhile, his teammate recovered his miss and made the shot. We, the parents, all cheered and laughed with one another. “Wow, this kid is good!”

As the game went on, my son’s teammate made most of the shots for the team and out ran all of his opponents down court. It was obvious he was one of…those kids, the kind of kid with natural talent for the game. Talent, my son did not appear to have.

During that first basketball game I looked down the court at a row of hopeful moms and dads. There was something we all had in common. We were searching for that thing that would set our child apart.

Even off-court I felt the effects. My husband would occasionally come home from the office with the “So-and-so’s son can read-he’s only three-they’re looking for a special school for him-” story.

Our son was not an early reader, and we now knew he was no super-star b-ball player. He hadn’t even found that “thing” that had him all fired-up. We had friends whose children had obsessions over dinosaurs or robots, things that fascinated them for hours. Yep, no such luck with us.

I found myself wanting something (anything) for my son that he could obsess over. I wanted us "in" on the race.

The pressure was building. All I saw were the kids that found their…thing. Was I a bad mom because I had not exposed him to enough?

I knew the answer was no, essentially. I do love my boy. And, at the very least, I wanted theses things for him. But where was his passion?

Those amazing, super-human kids that play Mozart as infants, or can recite all the presidents (and their wives) by name, where did they find it? Do we all have it in us somewhere? And then it occurred to me. It took me 25 years to find my thing. But the good news was, I had it all along.

The best thing about that gift-what ever it is- is that once it’s tapped, it comes on strong. The time spent searching for it (how ever long) just melts away.

Basketball continued, and my son improved. He most improved, actually. His coach awarded him the Most Improved Player trophy at the end of the season.

In hindsight I realized that essentially, our kids only have to be good at one thing at the end of the day. My son will have a lifetime to find his. As long as I can keep his precious little gift clean and clear of fear and logic, so he’s ready to receive it, whenever that day comes – then, I’ve done my job.

He’ll be in basketball again next season. And if he thinks it’s cool, then he can try the swim team in the spring (wink).

Ahh, now that’s better. A little more like my kind of parenting!

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Coupon Mania

Guru Unleashed

by Amy Platon

I’ve never really believed in cutting coupons. My Mom always told me that I wouldn’t save that much with ‘em, and if I went generic on most stuff that would save me the most money in the long run.

I believed that for most of my life, until recently when I got a copy of the Sunday paper and rediscovered the land of the coupon. Some things never change. The Sunday paper is full of goodies. But maybe, I thought, just maybe I’m not seeing the full coupon-picture.

That’s when I decided to call my Coupon Guru and good friend/fellow mom Tracey. We all have one. It’s the person in your life that seems to know every deal out there. If I was going to take a Sunday-drive through Coupon World, (and bring you with me) then she was gonna be our guide!

As soon as my husband left with our son, I picked up the phone.

“Are you busy?” I asked.

“Nope, just waiting for Princess to finish up on the potty. What’s up?”

“What can you tell me about coupons that I would be surprised to hear?”

She laughed. “What are you up to?”

“Well, why are coupons such a big commodity?” I glance down at my circular. “I mean is 35 cents off Minute Rice really worth the trouble, when I can just by the store brand at the same savings?”

“In some cases you’re right.” She admitted. “But are we talking about a manufacture’s coupon or a store coupon?”

I looked again, “Manufacture’s coupon.”

“Well, if you can get a store coupon on the same product you can use both on the same purchase.”

“Whaaaat?” I was shocked. What in the world of not good in combination with other offers could she mean? “Two coupons for the same purchase?”

Her voice in calm hesitation responded, “Yes.”

She continued, “You can actually make money on some of these coupons.”

“No!” My voice deepened in total disbelief.

“Oh, yeah. If you shop at stores that give register cash or store bucks on specific products, you can use the coupons on top of that offer and actually make money, well store credit anyway.”

“People really do this?”
“Mmm humm. It’s like a whole underground society. There are websites that do all the work for you. All you do is click and print.”

I tried to disregard the seeping thoughts of dollar signs raining themselves into the gutter all these years. Now is not the time for looking back, I tell myself. To the future!

Then Tracy brought me back to earth, “You may only save a few bucks here and there in the first couple weeks of shopping, but the more you clip the more you’ll save. You can combine coupons on the buy-one-get-one days at the grocery store too.”

“Get out! You’re kidding!”

“Oh no.” Her toilet flushed in the background. “And you can save money by stocking up on the stuff you know you’ll use, like toothpaste, shampoo, paper towels... toilet paper. Max out on sale stuff and your week to week amounts at the grocery store will decrease.”

“Ok, but how do you plan a meal with all this random stuff you got on sale?” I asked. Because if there was a catch, then I was going to find it.

“Well, there’s always a buy-one-get-one sale in every section of the store. Every meal has a meat, a starch, and a veggie right? So do sale frozen veggies, sale meats, and sale starches. You’ll have to give up the weekly list and just make a menu from what you’ve got instead of getting your groceries for the menu.”

Once I got off the phone with her I went straight to the computer looking for store coupons that matched the products I had for manufactures coupons I found in the newspaper. She told me to research my BOGO deals and match them to coupons for maximum savings. Then I was off to the store to test her theory. And, she was right, sorry Mom. I saved $32.00 on my first try. And I have to admit, it's a little like chasing the dragon, I'm only as good as my last savings! (Signs of addiction are glowing hot red.)

Now every publication I pick up, I search for coupons. Including the packing sent in my kid's Christmas present shipments (told you I was addicted). I see it as free money.

As a novice, I will admit I made a few mistakes. Mainly because I didn’t read the fine print, or let the coupon expire, but overall I found that it’s totally a thrill to get the best deal I can.

Thank you Coupon Guru! Thank you!

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