Getting Your Game On


It seems like old news now, but last year, when the actor Alec Baldwin got kicked off a plane for acting belligerent, I understood his psyche.


Apparently it was Alec’s turn to make a move in Words With Friends, a Scrabble-like game available for smart phones. According to news reports, he locked himself in an airplane lavatory just before takeoff, so he could take an extra minute to come up with a reply to his virtual opponent’s last effort.


He probably was contemplating how to use that triple-word spot, or struggling with a slate of too many vowels or consonants. Or, perhaps he was trying every possible option for using a K (5 points) or Z (10 points).


I’m guessing that Alec is a hyper-competitive guy – most successful people are – and that his drive to rack up points eclipsed his ability to think rationally, along the lines of, “The FAA requires all passengers to be in their seats with electronic devices turned off before takeoff.”


I can relate to Alec’s presumed affinity for games. I, too, have a bit of a Words With Friends (WTF) habit, and I have been known to complete plays at inappropriate times, such as at stop lights, while waiting for pasta to cook, as I’m brushing my teeth or lying in bed just after the morning alarm has sounded.


For me, part of the allure certainly is the contact with friends, but my enjoyment goes much deeper than in one-upping them; I get personal satisfaction from coming up with high-point words.


A few years back, I started completing the daily newspaper’s puzzles page in an effort to keep my mind sharp. As a middle-aged woman, I had started experiencing “senior moments” – asking my daughter to put clothes in the “bathtub” instead of the washing machine, forgetting where my car keys were and coming home from the store with everything but the one critical item I needed (milk, butter, bread).


I had read that puzzles such as crosswords, word jumbles and Sudoku might help stave off dementia – crosswords and bridge definitely helped my grandparents – so I returned to the games I had enjoyed in my PK (pre-kid) years.


However, I found that fully completing a crossword grid or coming up with an 89-point WTF word also brought the immediate satisfaction of completing a task and proving my mental acuity.


While I work part-time (as a writer, editor and French teacher), my current career(s) is not as fulfilling as when I was a full-time journalist. Back then, I knew when I had done a good job, and received pay raises and positive performance reviews as affirmation.


Now, most of my energy is focused on raising four kids (and two dogs). As parents, the work is harder, days are longer and paychecks smaller (actually, nonexistent). We don’t have annual assessments, and can’t aspire to promotions.


Perhaps when I’m 98 I’ll look back on my life and say, “Yep, my kids turned out great; I must have done a good job.” For now, though, the jury is still out. All four seem to be doing fine – they have good manners, function well in school and in social realms, eat well and plan to attend college – but anything could happen.


My kids have made plenty of mistakes, as have I, and I’m sure we’ll all make many more before it’s all said and done. So, will I ever really know if I was successful at parenting? Will I ever feel a sense of accomplishment in the home?


My house is beautiful, relatively clean and well-loved. The yard could use some landscaping and the wood floors need refinishing (both problems result from owning dogs), but overall, it’s a pleasant place.


I’m happy with an abode that looks lived-in and feels welcoming, and I’d rather spend my time with my kids than scrubbing toilets and polishing furniture. I’m sure I would not derive much satisfaction from creating and maintaining a showplace home.


However, I do feel successful and instantly gratified when I complete a four-star Sudoku puzzle or complete an online solitaire game in record time. “Hey,” I tell myself, “you do have a sharp mind, and it still works well! Keep up the good work!”


And so, I’ll give myself permission to continue playing games when I can find the time, and patting myself on the back every now and then. No one else is going to do that.


By the way, if you happen to see me on an airplane any time soon, please distract the flight attendant until I can find a double-letter spot for that “Q.” 


–       Linda Williams Rorem, 26 Nov. 2012
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Thanksgiving Memories

I love Thanksgiving. It is a simple holiday. I can enjoy the company of family and friends and savor a good meal.

I love that I never need to struggle with words to wish someone a culturally sensitive Fall Harvest Feast. It’s just plain old Happy Thanksgiving and most people reward me with a smile when I say this, rather than a harried furrowed brow. My friends almost universally describe Thanksgiving as a holiday without “baggage;” no further explaining needed.

This year I promptly put away the Halloween decorations to maximize the time my little Pilgrims could grace the mantel.  At my house, unlike the mall, it’s one holiday at a time.  I wanted to soak in every joyful minute of my favorite festival before the “holiday that shall not be named” arrives. I don’t need to think about presents on this day, just presence.Image

My Thanksgiving memories are happy ones. It was always a spirited gathering at my aunt’s house with extended relatives.  There was a main dining table and a “kids table,” which was actually several card tables set next to one another and patched together with worn table cloths. While turkey and mashed potatoes were served, that is not the food that made a lasting impression. I recall candied yams with marshmallows piled on top, goopy green bean casserole and lime green jello with shredded carrots hovering near the surface of the round mold.  The final touch was jellied cranberry positioned in several stations across the table to help mark each pod of people. The memory is so vivid because each bowl of the deep red accent was left purposely and unapologetic in the shape of the can so we could admire its ridges and slice it more easily.

This week when I prepare cranberry sauce for my own family it will be made from fresh cranberries, however I can’t help but smile when I reminisce about my mother’s frustration if she couldn’t coax her cranberries out without breaking the can shape. It was not beautiful food found by perusing the pages of Food and Wine. But, the meal was a potluck prepared with pride.

At our table this week we will gather with extended family and do our updated version of the banquet. There won’t be candied yams or lime green jello, but I know the food and company will imprint on the memories of our children. Although I don’t know what it will be, I am confident they will recall a signature “dish” such as the cranberries and look back with fondness 30 years from now.

I try to be thankful every day but I will dig a little deeper this Thursday. I live in a free country. I have a roof over my head and plenty of food to eat. I will be with people I love, including a daughter home from college.  We are healthy. I will see my nephew and niece, who are expecting their first baby soon. We will gather, share food and laugh. I will feel satisfied that we are carrying on a great American tradition into the next generation.  I will give myself permission to indulge and enjoy the heartfelt simplicity of the season.

Carol Lewis Gullstad November 19, 2012

Permission Slips Revisited

Just over two years ago, Carol and I returned from a publishing conference in New York with renewed enthusiasm about our writing project: a book about girlfriend getaways. Classmates, literary agents and editors all had taken an interest in our idea, and encouraged us to seek ways to spread the word and build an audience.

Within a few weeks of that trip, we inaugurated our blog, “Permission Slips,” which has grown to become a weekly reminder that we all should take better care of ourselves and tune out what others think we should do and be.

As we have continued to find new ways to share our stories, our audience has grown dramatically. We now have an abundance of email recipients, Facebook followers, WordPress subscribers and even Twitter and Instagram friends. However, as middle-aged moms, we do struggle to keep up with the constantly evolving technology at our fingertips. (Our teens just stand back and laugh…)

Over the past two years, we have thoroughly enjoyed looking at the statistics that our WordPress site provides. For instance, we can see a map that shows our readers come from 92 different countries, primarily the U.S., U.K. and Canada, of course, but also distant outposts including Albania, Cyprus and Jordan.

Each week, we can see how our readers navigate to our site, and know that most of you find us through Facebook, email links and our abbreviated posts on Seattle-area Patch sites.

It’s often humorous to note the search terms that lead readers to us. Over the past year, the most popular searches included “stress,” “50 Shades of Grey hard and soft limits,” “frazzled women,” “laundry,” and, of course, “permission slips” for various issues and outings. Those terms certainly speak volumes about our collective state of mind.

Along the same lines, we note that our tags about friendship, relationships and family seem to resonate the strongest. We will keep that in mind as we embark on our third year of blogging, and ask that you will continue to provide us with feedback and new readers through your shares and word of mouth.

In honor of our second anniversary of blogging, we are debuting a new look, which we think is cleaner, more engaging and easier to navigate. Let us know if you agree, or what you would change.

And finally, we decided to commemorate this milestone with a list of our personal favorite (not necessarily most-read) “permissions.” After checking out our list, please let us know which posts–either listed below or from our archives—have spoken loudest to you. Based on your feedback, we will post our “reader favorites” soon.

Following are our Top 10 Favorite Permission Slips (double-click on each link to re-read the post; be patient, as it may take a moment to load):

  1. The Mean Mom Club: Permission to Be a Tough Parent
  2. Sandwich Generation: Permission to Take Breaks to Refuel
  3. Good Friends Keep Us Healthy: Permission to Prioritize Girlfriend Time
  4. Dirty Laundry: Permission to Make Kids do Their Share
  5. Love and Lecture, Then Let Go and Live: Permission to Loosen the Reins
  6. Beginnings and Endings: Permission to Mourn and Move On
  7. The Kids are Alright: Permission to Raise Less-than-Perfect Kids
  8. Senior Road: Permission to Appreciate Milestones
  9. Dog is My Co-pilot: Permission to Love Four-Legged Friends
  10. Sh*t Moms SayPermission to Laugh at OurselvesWe look forward to hearing from you.

–       Linda Williams Rorem, 12 Nov. 2012
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Easing the Downhill Ride

Today, the blogosphere is chock-full of words about tomorrow’s election and the East Coast’s unfathomable woes. Instead of adding my two cents, this Permission Slips post will simply reiterate one of our core messages: give yourself a break.

I found inspiration Sunday morning listening to former Olympic skier Libby Ludlow speak of the challenges she faced, the lessons she learned and her mission to empower middle-school girls.

ImageLudlow’s main message—have compassion for yourself—clearly resounded with the mothers and daughters who gathered for The Lake Washington Chapter of the National Charity League (NCL) annual members’ tea.

Nationwide, mothers and their seventh- to twelfth-grade daughters join NCL to engage in volunteer work together. Last year, some 40,000 NCL members nationwide contributed 1.1 million hours of philanthropic work to their communities.

But on Sunday, local NCL members took a break and learned they should be easier on and kinder to themselves.

Ludlow wishes she had learned that lesson much earlier.

Ludlow, who grew up in the Seattle area, spent a decade on the U.S. Ski team as a downhill, SuperG and GS racer, and was part of the 2006 Olympic Ski Team.

She earned a degree from Dartmouth College, currently is a third-year law student at the University of Washington and recently founded ZGirls, a for-profit organization dedicated to empowering young girls, primarily competitive athletes, with confidence, courage and community.

ZGirls offers mentoring, workshops and camps for 11- to 14-year-old female athletes. Its mission is to help girls with goal-setting, positive self-talk, positive body image, self-confidence and recognizing the importance of support networks.

Ludlow would have appreciated a resource such as ZGirls when she was competing. Despite her extraordinary success on the World Cup circuit and in making the Olympic team, Ludlow faced a fair amount of adversity along the way. First and foremost is her diminutive size; she is on the shorter and lighter side, while the laws of physics dictate that a larger and heavier object will move more quickly down a slope.

“I was outweighed by up to 60 pounds by some competitors, and didn’t have the weight on some of the long flats to carry me across [quickly enough],” she explained.

A related challenge was that ski racing’s governing body sets a minimum length for downhill skis, and super-long skis can be difficult for someone of Ludlow’s stature to manage.

Perhaps more significantly, Ludlow suffered four major knee injuries during her 10 years on the national team, two of which were within months of Olympics games. The second ACL tear kept her off the 2002 Olympic squad; a later injury, which hinted at a degenerative problem with her knee, came 10 months before the 2006 Games.

She fought back in 2005 and, against all odds, was in prime form for the Olympics in Turin, Italy.  “What matters most is not the hand you are dealt, but how you deal with it,” she said.

She didn’t place as well as she had hoped in the Games – she was ranked tenth in the world, but came in 28th. The photographs in her power-point slide show demonstrate the disappointment Ludlow felt. However, looking back, she feels more positive about having attained her goal of competing in the Olympics, overcoming adversity to get there and learning important life lessons through the experience.

Ludlow recalled that at the starting gate atop race courses, she would often tell herself, “I don’t know what to expect, so I’ll have to react to whatever the mountain throws at me.”

Once she began speeding down slopes at 85 miles per hour, though, her intense focus allowed her to tune out the cheers of the crowd, the sting of the wind against her face and the chatter of her skis on the packed powder; she would then “feel an amazing sense of focus and calm.”

“My coaches [often] told me I was trying too hard,” she recalls, adding that she didn’t understand why anyone would instruct her not to do her best.

She now recognizes that “I was [always] too hard on myself.”

It wasn’t until after she retired from racing and became a yoga instructor that she realized that calm is really the key to success in sports — and in life.  “Balancing effort and ease will make for a smoother run,” she explained.

Clearly, Ludlow hoped the room of middle- and high school girls – and their mothers – would understand her allegory about life.  In all you do, she continued, “you need to cultivate a sense of ease and compassion and patience for yourself.”

Instead of being too self-critical, she stresses that “when you achieve a goal, enjoy the accomplishment. Honor your little victories.”

Ludlow’s words rang loud and clear for the local NCL members – both daughters and mothers: whatever you are attempting, no matter how difficult it seems at the beginning, “just take a deep breath, push yourself out of the starting gate and take the plunge. Figure out a way to muster the courage, and just go.”

Perhaps those out campaigning, mopping up basements or wondering how they can help East Coasters could heed that advice, as well.

-Linda Williams Rorem, 5 November 2012
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