Posted by: andeek | December 6, 2010

I’m Raising A Racist

A while back, Michael’s cousin, who is a principal at the Monroe Elementary School in San Francisco, sent him an article about race. It all started with a 2007 study in The Journal of Marriage and Family. The study and a subsequent book (NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Brosnson and Ashley Merryman) concluded that if you don’t talk about racism, you’re gonna have problems.

I thought we were pretty well covered. I exposed Zia to all sorts of races and cultures. We had dolls of different colors, we read books with non-white protagonists, we learned about real girls and women who had to deal with racism in our not-so-distant American past. Plus, we had friends from many different races and we were surrounded by many different cultures.

So I would facetiously pass on the information about the article during cocktail conversations and book club discussions, implying that I, of course, had it Under Control. I did, didn’t I? Look at how I handled it with Zia. Brant was learning by default.

Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that while I may have exposed the issue to Zia, I completely dropped the ball with Brant. Two years of living in Texas, surrounded by white people, has made me inadvertently raise a potential racist.

Last night, Michael recounted an incident with Brant at the airport. He said they were sitting down in the waiting area and when Brant looked up, he saw a young black boy sitting near them with his family. Very loudly, he turned to Michael and said, “I want to move seats. I don’t like black boys.”

Yes. My son, my own flesh and blood, said these words.

At first, I was furious: it’s that combination of anger and embarrassment, when you think, “Oh, my. I have failed miserably at my job as a parent.” And because of my humiliation, I was ready to kill Brant a week after the incident happened. Then, I realized that we had become the subjects of that study. In NY, we talked about it frequently because we were surrounded by many different races. In Texas, we didn’t really talk about racism, not because we were intentionally avoiding it, but because, well, the subject never really came up.

Luckily, knowledge is power and we are not powerless. Out will come the books, discussions will be had, differences will be pointed out. And maybe next year, we won’t be a statistic anymore.

In any case, I hope that my lesson will become your lesson and rather than simply passing on the results of the study, you will talk to your 2-year old, your 3-year old and your 4-year old before they’re too old and it’s too late.

If you’re wondering about ways to start:

  • Find books like Keats’s Neighborhood: An Ezra Jack Keats Treasury by Ezra Jack Keats;
  • Look at the news, tv shows, movies, etc. Talk about the difference in colors or (sadly) the lack of difference colors;
  • Recreate pretend scenarios. Tell your child you’re going to playact with her/him and have him say, “Play with me.” You respond, “Hmm… I don’t know if I want to play with you because I don’t like white boys…” Talk about how that makes you feel.
  • Delve into history. Share stories and incidents about racism.
  • Above all, don’t be afraid to mention it. Talk about it in the car, at home, away from public eyes, but do talk about it.

Do you have more ideas about how to create an environment aware of all races? Please share them!

Posted by: andeek | October 19, 2010

Classic Theatre and Kids

Kids, Let’s Go See A Classic!
A Parent’s Guide to the Season at the Classic Theatre of San Antonio

This is the stuff of high school and college term papers. Do your kids a favor and let them see it on stage rather than just buying them the Cliff Notes. (Hey, I don’t knock Cliff Notes. They can be a great precursor to the production.)

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
The run is over. Unfortunately, I did not have the idea to create a Parent Guide at the start of the season. Fortunately, this is a frequently done production, so I’ll probably add the scoop at some point.

Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward
October 14th-31st

What is the plot?
Charles Condomine, a middle aged writer, has run out of ideas. Until he hits upon a fabulous one: invite a medium, Madame Arcati, to his home to perform a séance. Madame Arcati is a bit… eccentric. She accidentally brings Elvira, Charles’ first wife, back from Beyond. Elvira shares no love for Ruth, the current wife. And Ruth shares no love for Elvira. They can’t actually see each other, but Charles can see Elvira. (Did Battlestar Galactica borrow from Coward’s piece?) This comedy takes you on a wild ride.

Should I take my child?
Blithe Spirit
is done a lot. Some productions are great. Some are not. But comparing theatre productions and genres can be quite satisfying. There’s nothing overtly sexual or violent in this play. There is a lot of witty repartee, as pieces from the 40s were wont to be. I don’t know if the director has plans to cut the original piece. While I think the Classics can be just as timely today as they were then, that doesn’t mean I think the audiences need to see the whole thing. We’ve been trained to get the story quickly. And the seats get uncomfortable after a while.

What can we talk about?

  • Listen to the language. Wow! So many adjectives. Such enunciation. You might be spending a lot of time explaining, “What does that mean?” 
  • Of course, the afterlife must come up. Do you believe in it? What do you believe?
  • What is a séance? How is a séance like a magic show?
  • We, the audience, see the first wife, and we know she’s an actor. What would it be like to be the actor who can’t see her on stage? How can you ‘not see’ something that is really there?
  • Do people tend to ‘see’ what they want? How many times have you really seen and listened to each other?
  • Charles called for a séance because of writer’s bloc. What are some ways to get your creative juices flowing – ways that don’t involve the spirits?
  • We tend to romanticize the recently departed. Why did Noel Coward choose to make Elvira (the first wife) so human when he brought her back from the Great Beyond?
  • Noel Coward wrote Blithe Spirit in 1941 in Britain just after his house had been hit by a German bomb. How did he use writing as a way of dealing with the situation? How could writing or music or dance or drawing help you deal with life and it’s disasters?
  • People have called Noel Coward’s piece full of “biting wit.” What does that mean?
  • The original story was set in 1930s England. Is this production authentic?
  • There’s a word for all those English sayings: Briticisms. What sounded like a joke during the play, but didn’t quite make sense? Was it a Briticism? Can you guess the meaning behind the slang?

Pre-/Post-Show Activities

  • Go on an adjective hunt. Try to find adjectives in newspaper articles, stories you read, newscasts, television shows, movies, video games. If there aren’t many, insert your own.
  • Look into the history of séances. They were popular parlor game activities in Europe and the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
  • Start to really see the world. Next time you enter a restaurant, while you’re waiting for your food, take a moment to really look around you. Then take turns resting your head on the table while the other person asks questions like, “How many windows are in the room? What is the person wearing on the table to our left? What color are the waiter’s eyes?” etc.
  • Get a ouijia board? Nah… that’s too freaky for me.
  • Use your art to deal with a particularly trying situation in your life. Rather than talking about it, write, draw, dance or paint about the incident.
  • Did you know that editors are hired to adapt British novels to American slang? (I know an editor who did this for “Harry Potter.”) They have to change all those Briticisms so we Americans will “get it.” Look up some British articles online. Try to find the slang. Then try and decipher it. Search online to see if your translation was correct.
  • They made Blithe Spirit into a movie in 1945. Rent it. Compare it to the live production. Or read the script. Compare it to the live production.

Lion in Winter by James Goldman
March 10th-27th

What is the plot?
The play takes place in Chinon (the English-ruled region of France) on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day of the year 1183. King Henry II has allowed his wife, Eleanor, to come out of the tower to celebrate Christmas with the family. He keeps her locked there on a day-to-day basis, for the past ten years, actually. Kind of like Rapunzel. Just like the witch in that story, King Henry doesn’t want his wife to get into “trouble.”

What’s the biggest question amongst royalty? Who’s going to be the next heir, right? And that’s the undercurrent of this play. Henry and Eleanor have three sons. Eleanor wants Richard to be the next king. Henry is vying for John. But that may be moot, because King Philip II of France shows up and reminds Henry that he signed a treaty a long time ago. He promised to marry his heir to Philip’s sister, Alais. This is a big problem because Alais is actually Henry’s mistress. He doesn’t want to pass her off to one of his sons.

Then, of course, because all this is happening within a royal family, every decision has massive repercussions – namely, with politics. Civil war, treason, even murder?

Should I take my child?
I’m always fascinated by how easily royal families betrayed and murdered each other. Sometimes, I think the dynamics aren’t quite so different from my own modern, American family. Luckily no one has murdered anyone, yet! Still, the history of royalty amongst any of the cultures is eerily similar. I’m not so concerned about siblings killing each other (we all saw The Lion King, right?). I’m more concerned about glossing over the mistress thing: “Mommy, why doesn’t he want her to marry his son?”

What can we talk about?

  • What can you NOT talk about? Start with history. The specific history of this time period and what was happening in England and Europe.
  • Can many major, historical and political battles be reduced to petty, human quabbles?
  • Why the heck are the women treated like property or possessions?
  • How cold would a castle be in England in December?
  • Where did they go to the bathroom?
  • How many other royal or powerful families plotted to murder each other?
  • Is Henry simply trying to get his affairs in order, like a last Will and Testament?
  • Is this family considered dysfunctional? Are all families pretty much dysfunctional? What exactly is a “functional” family?
  • Many family feuds have begun with the inheritance. Start a family discussion about inheritance.
  • How many different plans were being hatched during the play?
  • Did you feel any emotional attachment to the characters?
  • Why is it considered a drama?

Pre-/Post-Show Activities

  • Again… think history. Explore the history of the time period, or several time periods. Read about the kings and queens and their battles to maintain their control over the crown.
  • They made this play into a movie, too. Katharine Hepburn, 1968. Definitely worth a look-see-compare. They remade it Glenn Close in 2004 (?). Not sure if that one is worth it. But you can always watch it, as well and compare the two movies with each other and the stage production.
  • Costumes, costumes, costumes. Were the costumes in the production authentic? How much did all that clothing weigh? Try to weigh yourself down with the same amount of clothing and then have a serious discussion with someone.
  • Was the language modern or historic? Did the author try to make the language seem like period language?
  • Build a tower meant to trap your hamster or cat or little brother. What do they need to keep them alive and healthy, but out of the way?
  • Break out a map. Where was Chinon? Where would King Philip have been coming from? Outline the route you think he would have taken and estimate the amount of time it would take to get there.
  • This takes place during the Middle Ages. What “modern” advances did we lose during the Middle Ages. Remember the Greeks and Romans were in power before. The Egyptians before that. How did those Empires fall? What had they accomplished that was forgotten? Make a graph of the changes.

Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen
May 12th-29th

What is the plot?
The great thing about Ibsen is that he creates some pretty hard-core female characters who are fun to act. However, on the whole, the plays have very adult themes and are long, frustrating and depressing. The plot is complex. Rather than regurgitate it, has a good description for Hedda Gabler. also has a good synopsis.

The father of modern drama and one of the founders of Modernism, Ibsen wrote plays that scandalised society. He wrote about things that were hidden under the surface. He broke the thin veneer that covered the strict mores of family life. Whether his work reflected reality for all or but a few, the plays made many people very uncomfortable. And the female characters have a depth that’s rarely seen in theatre.

Should I take my child?
If your child is a Junior or Senior in high school or in college, Ibsen is better seen than read to yourself. Anyone younger has the potential to be completely traumatized and might fall into a hopeless stupor. I wouldn’t risk it.

What can we talk about?

  • How does the play make you feel?
  • What if you were trapped in a life you didn’t want to live?
  • How far is too far when “teasing” a friend?
  • Are Hedda’s actions similar to what you might see during hazing? What about how you see people interact on the reality shows?
  • Do you think suicide was the only option?
  • Was Hedda normal? Did many women feel this way or was she a freak?
  • Which character do you empathize the most with?
  • Can these families compare to modern-day families?
  • Compare your mother’s life with Hedda’s.
  • Ibsen was Norwegian. Do you think temperature affects your outlook on life?
  • How would you describe your family dynamics?
  • Was this a typical situation for many European and American women?

Pre-/Post-Show Activities

  • Explore Ibsen. Read some of his other plays. Compare similar themes and characters. He based a lot of his characters on his parents.
  • Research Modernism. What is it? What are the plays that reflect Modernism?
  • What kinds of pistols would have been in Hedda’s father’s collection? Draw some examples.
  • Write down your deepest, darkest thoughts and then throw them in a fire.
  • List the reasons why your life is better than Hedda’s… Ejlert’s.
  • If you had to design the set for this production, would it be similar? Make your own model set.
  • Read another Ibsen play and design a set for it.
  • Hold a mock trial with Judge Brack as the accused. You’re the jury.

If you have more ideas or input, please share. Hope to see you at the theatre!

Posted by: andeek | October 12, 2010

Families at the Vex Season Theatre

A Parent’s Guide for the Season at the Sheldon Vexler Theatre (The Vex) in San Antonio

Most of us want to introduce our children to live theatre. But we can’t seem to get beyond children’s theatre – If You Give a Moose A Muffin, anyone? Or musicals – “Annie, again?!” Those are fun and have a definite purpose, but at what point do you take your child to plays intended for more mature audiences?

The Sheldon Vexler Theatre (The Vex) located at the Barshop Jewish Community Center in San Antonio has an exciting season planned. Here is a guide for parents.

Extremities by William Mastrosimone
The run for this show is over. But that’s okay. It wasn’t appropriate for younger audiences.

The Arabian Nights by Mary Zimmerman
October 21st-November 13th

What is the plot?
Based on the ancient text of The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, this play is about a king who discovers his wife in the arms of another man. King Shahryar’s rage sends him on a rampage and he vows to marry and murder every virgin in the kingdom. His brutality is interrupted only when he encounters the clever maiden Scheherezade, whose cliffhanger stories prevent the king from murdering her. Yes, he ends up falling in love with her and his murder spree is halted. This adaptation offers a wonderful blend of the lesser-known tales from Arabian Nights.

Should I take my child?
Well, it is about murder and sex, but what isn’t? The focus is really on the power of storytelling. The production will be very interactive with drumming and chanting, so you will feel like you’re part of the performance. Most of the sexual innuendos will go over the younger crowd’s head and they’ll be caught up in the music and action.

What can we talk about?
It’s time to go beyond Disney’s “Aladdin.” Ali Baba is only one of the many stories that Scheherezade creates. Here are some discussion ideas:

  • Storytelling as the original TV episodic
  • Power of the pen vs the sword (Scheherezade doesn’t have to resort to violence to save her life)
  • Finding your strengths and using them
  • What story would you come up with if your life depended on it?
  • Middle East vs United States
  • Politics
  • Clothing
  • Different lifestyles

Pre-/Post-Show Activities

  1. Make up 1,001 stories of your own – make up a story a day.
  2. Take a drumming class together.
  3. Read the Arabian Nights.
  4. Do a virtual trip to the Middle East.
  5. Collect stories. Record them.

Unnecessary Farce by Paul Slade Smith
February 3rd-February 27th

What is the plot?
Suspecting embezzlement, two police officers, Eric Sheridan and Billie Dwyer, have been sent to videotape a meeting between the new city accountant  and the mayor. But things are not going as planned. Billie has been spotted by the Mayor in the motel lobby.  And Eric and the accountant, Karen Brown, are trying to hide the fact that they’ve just spent the night together. The Mayor is accompanied by Agent Frank – the head of Town Hall security – an impressively nervous man who warns the officers that anyone who dares to try to find the missing money will incur the wrath of Todd – “the Highland hit man” – a formidable villain, who always dons a kilt and plays the bagpipes before making a kill. Then the Mayor’s wife shows up on the scene.  Is she concerned or involved?

Should I take my child?
There will be a lot of sexual innuendo, but not too many specifics. People will be on top of each other in sexually suggestive positions, but nothing will be happening. And clothes will be off, but underwear will remain on. Other than that, you’ll be caught up in the farce – Who done it? Will everyone survive? And are these people for real?

What can we talk about?

  • What is a farce?
  • How did the playwright manage to create the story using only two motel rooms?
  • Is the removal of clothes necessary?
  • Who’s the villain?
  • What is embezzlement?
  • Could this really happen?
  • Why isn’t the mayor a woman?
  • Do things move quickly or are you getting bored?
  • Does it make sense?

Pre-/Post-Show Activities

  1. Research current spy gear and compare it to the performance.
  2. Go deeper into embezzlement. How does it work? Who does it?
  3. Pick an instance from your life that could be made into a farce.
  4. Try to play bagpipes.
  5. Explore the playwright’s other works. Are they the same style or different?

Assassins by Sondheim and Weidman
May 5th-June 5th

What is the plot?
A musical based on an idea by Charles Gilbert, Jr., it uses the premise of a murderous carnival game to produce a revue-style portrayal of men and women who attempted (successfully or otherwise) to assassinate Presidents of the United States. The music varies to reflect the popular music of the eras depicted. The show explores the inner motives of each assassin. Eventually, each individual must confront the fact that committing the ultimate crime failed to assuage their personal problems. In the end, the assassins return in 1963 to convince Lee Harvey Oswald to shoot President Kennedy.

Should I take my child?
There are two sides to every story and this is a side rarely looked at. The music and lyrics are haunting rather than snappy. People tend to avoid subject matter that makes them uncomfortable. By reaching outside your comfort zone, you might open up more avenues of expression. Besides, is Voldemort that different from these assassins?

What can we talk about?

  • What are some other views to historical events?
  • Is assassination the answer?
  • Look at two different perspectives between different countries.
  • What determines if a person is mentally disturbed?
  • What’s the difference between right and wrong?
  • Why are there always more men than women in plays?
  • How can a musical be sad or disturbing?
  • What was happening during the different eras in U.S./World history?
  • How has security for the President changed over the years?

Pre-/Post-Show Activities

  1. Find out how many Presidents of the U.S. have had assassination attempts on their lives.
  2. Take a trip through history. Explore the eras depicted in the show. Does understanding the era affect your opinion towards the assassins?
  3. Research mental illnesses. Volunteer at a psychiatric hospital.
  4. Compare personalities between comic book heroes and the assassins.
  5. If you were the President’s security expert, what would you do to protect her/him?

That wraps up the season. Please share any ideas of your own. Hope to see you at the theatre!

Posted by: andeek | September 22, 2010

Learn to Typeeeee – Sites for Kids

How To Type: Great Online Resources for Kids and Keyboarding Skills

Zia’s grandparents sent her an old laptop computer. She’s thrilled. However, I keep on urging her to email any number of friends or family members and she continues to resist me. Can you blame her? I wouldn’t want to write to people if I had to finger poke my way through the message.

Thus, I’ve done a search for some free online typing tutorials and games. We’ll see if this works!

A quick note – there is some discussion as to whether you should use the standard QWERTY keyboard or the simplified DVORAK keyboard. Many believe that using DVORAK is easier and quicker than QWERTY. Alas, alack. Zia’s laptop has a QWERTY keyboard, so that’s what we’ll be focusing on.


Dance Mat Typing

The BBC always comes through with great, free, online learning games for kids.

Keyboarding Skills by E-Learning for Kids

Once you can get into the lessons, they’re useful. You just need to skip the main intro (the spaceship lands and the kid looks at the alien and names it “Blob”). There’s another introduction that acclimates you to the icon and menu bar. It’s helpful. In the future, though, just hit the icon bar and click, “next” to move into the spaceship. Once you’re in the spaceship, follow the link to “Type E-Chi Workshop (Lessons)” to begin.



This seems better for adults and drills, but there are a few games. Once your child has mastered the placement of keys, come here and click on the “Games” tab.

Learning Games for Kids

There seem to be a number of fun games for the kids. Again, learn the placement of the keys before playing these.

Do you have any other sites or games that helped your child learn to type? List ’em in the comments.

Posted by: andeek | September 1, 2010

Do the Good Gals Ever Win?

Do the Good Gals Ever Win?
A Theatre Review by Andee Kinzy

Let’s face it: there are more female actors than male actors. So why different groups keep on staging productions that involve huge casts of males is beyond me. We need more roles for women. Women like watching other women perform. Men just like watching women. Really.

“The Children’s Hour” by Lillian Hellman is full of women; young women, older women and women in between. In fact, there’s only one male in the cast. The story is a familiar one: lies and slander bring about a person’s (or, in this case, two) ruin.

I’d like to think that today’s day and age is the worst period in human history when it comes to the rapidity and the scale with which words can destroy. We have the Internet, right? Sadly, that’s too naive. We’ve known this fact since even before Edward Bulwer-Lytton coined the phrase, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” in 1839. Remember Salem? People like to talk and we like to surround ourselves with people who agree with what we say. In a large city, there are usually enough differing opinions that people can agree to disagree. In a small community, like a school, this can be deadly. And you’re left with the nasty feeling that the slanderer got away with it. (Another brutal reminder that the nice gal doesn’t always win.)

Unfortunately, the play closed this weekend. Why am I bothering writing a review, then? Because the Shadow Show Theatre Company of San Antonio is doing stuff you’ve got to see. There’s solid acting all around with quite a few exciting moments. Secretly, one of my favorite sections was the scene change. The director, Dan Schap, chose to have all the actors remain in character as things were being rearranged. Rather than losing the audience during the mandatory interlude, he kept us diligently watchful.

I hate to single out any one performer because without the support of the entire cast, this production would have flopped. That said, I’m still going to do it. The aunt, Mrs. Lily Mortar (Sharon Argo), annoyed the heck out of me every time she was on stage – which was perfectly in character. The grandmother, Mrs. Amelia Tilford (Pamela Dean Kenny), was regal and well cast. Everyone in the audience sat up straighter and listened when she came on stage. However, the scenes sometimes slowed down because of her imperious attitude. The accused, Karen Wright (Cynthia Davila) and Martha Dobie (Jennifer McKenzie), brought a nice dimension to their characters and were very genuine in their performances. I wish they weren’t quite so timid, though; we could have used some more fire. There wasn’t a lot of arching character development amongst anyone, but everyone did a good job and kept the audience quite engaged. Also, you can’t help but feel special when they’ve commissioned composers (Magnolia Music House) for the show. Nevertheless, cut the length of the prelude next time.

Keep this company on your radar. Hopefully we’ll continue to see shows from the Shadow Show Theatre Company with many more meaty parts for women, whether or not they have to jump back eighty years to find one.

Much Ado About the Classic Theatre of San Antonio
A Theatre Review by Andee Kinzy

It’s always ironic when you realize that the subject matter of the “classics” are just as poignant today as they were then. We have the Internet to showcase how malicious rumors and gossip can spread. The Elizabethans had Shakespeare to illustrate the damage caused by pernicious slander and lies.

Once you catch on that everyone is bent out of shape over she-said, he-said, the title  becomes evident as it is “Much Ado About Nothing.” Essentially, boy meets girl, they fall in love, but their wooing is hampered by vengeful accusations. At the same time, another boy meets girl, they fall in love-hate, but their courtship is furthered by whispered tidings. As the picture on the program indicates, it’s a simple matter of putting these puzzle pieces together.

Although listed under Shakespeare’s comedies, this staging by the Classic Theatre of San Antonio gets off to a slow start. The troupe of performers vocalizes, stretches and talks on stage before the show even begins. The audience mistakenly watches them, waiting for something to happen. By the time the show begins, we’re a bit dulled in the senses and it takes us even longer to decipher the language barrier. About twenty-five minutes into it, we’re shaken out of our stupor by a fantastic scene. Don Pedro (Adam Guerra), Claudio (John Cheuvront) and Leonato (Bill Gundry) are trying to trick Benedick (Anthony Ciaravino) into loving Beatrice (Asia Ciaravino). Bill Gundry has a great mastery of the language and paves the way for everyone to “get it.” From then on out, we’re all on the same page. Forrest Cobb (Dogberry) delivered some real comedic punches, as well. The rest of the cast did an admirable job of spouting Shakespeare, too. If you’re wondering specifically about San Antone’s favorite theatre sweethearts, both Tony and Asia delivered a solid performance and the words came “trippingly off their tongues.” However, this play doesn’t do justice to their talents. The interaction between the two was like a comfortable marriage and lacked the spark and the fire of first love.

I did have a problem with the ages of the actors. The theatre is intimate enough that you can tell how old everyone is – and the actors varied in age considerably, not always fitting the proper age of their character. It became confusing trying to figure out who was supposed to be “young” and who was supposed to be “old.”

Finally, there is one basic consideration I think all modern producers/directors should take into account when putting on a Shakespearean production: cut more! We are not an audience of Elizabethans, standing around the pit, eating, talking and planning to spend our entire afternoon at the theatre. We’re an attentive group who starts to get uncomfortable in our seats after two hours.

Should you go? Of course. I applaud anyone who attempts to do Shakespeare in San Antonio. This town is big enough that we should be able to support one or more Shakespeare productions every quarter. There’s no better way to become comfortable with the Bard than to hear it out loud.

Have you seen it? Let me know your thoughts.

Posted by: andeek | July 29, 2010

The Smile by Andee Kinzy

The Smile
by Andee Kinzy

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who was born smiling. She smiled at her parents. She smiled at her siblings. She smiled at family, friends, and even strangers.

Her world was full of ups and downs, but she smiled through it all.

She wasn’t the most popular kid in school – she smiled, anyway.

She wasn’t the most beautiful or the smartest – but she still smiled.

And people couldn’t help but smile back.

She learned that if people were smiling, anything could be worked out.

When she grew up, she moved to a Big City. People didn’t smile much there, but she smiled at them. Mostly, they looked right through her. Every now and then, someone would even smile back.

She surrounded herself with smiles.

She did her Art, and smiled because she could. She met a man and smiled when they got married. They had two kids, and the first things they saw when they entered the world, was their Mommy smiling at them.

Now she was a woman, a grown-up.

Not too many grown-ups smile, so the woman played with kids, who were always smiling. She found a few other grown-ups who also smiled and played with them, too.

Time passed and things started changing. The world around her wanted her to act like a grown-up. The kids started getting older and they needed more guidance than ever before. The Daddy started working more. People around her argued. Money disappeared. Decisions needed to be made.

So she started to act like a grown-up. And then something happened: the girl-who-never-stopped-smiling, started smiling less and less.

They moved to a new town. People there smiled, but only if you believed what they believed. Parents there smiled, but only when they were extolling the accomplishments of their own brood.

And kids weren’t smiling so much, anymore. They were too busy with computers, television, video games.

One day, the woman woke up and realized that her smile was completely gone.

She looked for it in her kids. It wasn’t there. She looked for it in her husband. It wasn’t there. She looked for it in the rest of her family, friends, strangers. It wasn’t anywhere.

Then she looked for it in herself.

No smile.

The woman was very sad. She couldn’t figure out what happened to her smile. She missed it terribly.

Without realizing it, she had become the-woman-who-never-smiled.

She decided to look even harder for it. She tried so many things: clubs, classes, gatherings, bonding with nature, cooking. It was nowhere.

Then she tried to find it in other worlds: books, movies, television, food, alcohol. It wasn’t there, either. But these worlds numbed her mind so she didn’t care.

She still had to exist, though. And once she got back to reality, deep down the savage grief would rise up when she least expected it and contort into anger and yelling and the urge to inflict pain on others.

She didn’t want to live like this. Finally, she gave up.

She sat down and didn’t move. She cried a thousand tears.

She cried so many tears that they collected in front of her. Gathered together, they made a little pool.

Looking down, the woman could see her reflection.

She stared at herself for a long time.

The sun’s glare made her squint.

And then she saw it.

For the briefest of seconds, her smile appeared.

She squinted harder, hoping to get a glimpse of it again.

And there it was!

Then, gone.

She tried it again.

Squint, smile, surprise, gone. Squint, smile, surprise, gone.

Then she knew.

Her smile had never abandoned her. She had abandoned it.

She got up and returned home.

The next morning, she stared at herself in the mirror.



Then she went out to face the world.

She saw her kids first. She faced them with a smile. And they smiled back.

So did her husband and her family and friends and strangers. They all smiled back.

So the woman-who-never-smiled became the woman-who-never-stopped-smiling.

Oh, it was still hard. Having been out of practice for so long, she had to consciously find her smile again every morning. But once she knew it was hidden in her, she never lost it again.

The end.

Posted by: andeek | July 11, 2010

The Once-a-Year Camping Trip

Michael camped a lot when he was a kid. There were no cushy hotels with fresh sheets or cabins with a toilet and refrigerator for him. Nope. Just the great outdoors and the clothes on his back. Well, it wasn’t that bad. However, he hates camping. Once a year I have the perfect, fail-proof, no-excuses-allowed reason for a camping trip. My birthday!

And it’s coming up!

That said, I’m not a professional camper, either. If you only do it once a year, how are you supposed to remember everything?

But, hey – I have the Internet and the experience of millions of people before me – and most of them like to write about it, so I can step into each great outdoors adventure well-prepared. (Too bad I didn’t read about racoons eating your angel food birthday cake if you leave it out on the table overnight. That was… umm… interesting. But that won’t happen this year.)

Andee’s Plan For a Well-Prepared Camping Trip With Family and Friends (at Lost Maples State Park):

  1. Bring aluminum foil, tongs and salt and pepper. We’ve learned that you should take salt and pepper with you everywhere.
  2. Don’t forget the air pump. You’ll need it to blow up your air mattress. And shove the four pillows for you and your husband in the car, too. The kids don’t need pillows. Their air mattress thing has a little lump at the head. Bet it’s really comfy. (Michael needs some comforts of home.)
  3. Bug spray. Sunblock. Bug spray. Sunblock. Bug spray. Sunblock. Bug spray. Sunblock. Bug spray. Sunblock.
  4. If you don’t have a dog, it might be a good idea to borrow one for the weekend. After all, what’s a camping trip without a dog? They just go together.
  5. I’ve been reading about all these people using sharpened sticks to cook some food over the campfire. Then I read about all the people who were killed because they picked the wrong stick. Luckily, a long time ago, we bought some long, metal skewers. And they actually survived the mass throw-out from our move. We’ll be bringing those along. And they’re color-coded, so no chance of anyone fighting over whose is whose.
  6. I’ve even got our meals all planned. And it’s not just hot dogs and s’mores. Check this out:
    • Friday dinner: Teriyaki grilled chicken, corn-on-the-cob, grilled zucchini sticks, banana boats, bread and butter.
      This is going to be great. I’ll have the chicken marinated beforehand, so I won’t have to bring the Teriyaki jar. I read that you can cook the corn in the husks. Just remove the silks, re-tie the husks (someone suggested kitchen twine, but I’m just going to use a strip of the husk), soak in water for 30 minutes and then set on the side of the coals. I’m not sure how long I’m supposed to leave them there, but it can’t be that hard, right? We’ll shove those zucchini on the skewers and the kids can grill them! Brilliant! Get everyone involved. The bread is made beforehand. Just wrap it in foil and set it around the corn. Maybe I’ll have to turn it once or twice. And butter stays out without spoiling for a couple of days. No problem there. The banana boats are all over the Internet. It’s a common girl scout dessert. If the girl scouts can do it, so can I!
    • Saturday breakfast: After a great night’s sleep – fresh air makes you sleep more soundly – we’ll awaken at dawn. I’ll have brought some muffins with us. We’ll have the butter already softened. And then we’ll all make our eggs and bacon in a bag. You gotta see this. You can make eggs and bacon in a paper bag! There’s even a video about how to do it. We can do this! I’m sure of it! Then you eat out of the bag and throw it in the fire afterwards. Leave no trace, right?
    • Lunches: REI recommends that you “graze” during the day, rather than having “lunch.” So we’ll graze on trail mix (has anyone found fair-trade, organic, shade-grown M&M type candies? Do they exist?), granola, PB&honey tortilla wraps, jerky, salami, cheese, crackers, dried fruit and apples or oranges. No muss, no fuss.
    • Saturday dinner: Oh-so-fun – Foil-wrapped dinner, a campfire favorite. We’ll toss some sausage, onions, peppers and broccoli in individual foil squares, then cook ’em over the coals. Easy as pie. Then we will make a cous-cous recipe with our leftover zucchini from the night before. For dessert, we’ll do baked apples (another foil-wrapped delectable dish). And if we’re still hungry later, we’ll have those jiffy pop containers that I’ve had lying around forever for just such an occasion.
    • Sunday breakfast: We’ll be experts at bacon and eggs in a bag and will show off to our visiting couchsurfers who will be joining us on Saturday night. We can use the leftover tortillas and have taquitos. Yum.
    • Sunday lunch: All that leftover dried lunch food.
    • Then we’re done!
  7. Okay. Food, an air mattress and sunblock. I think we’re set!
  8. This will be fabulous. Now I just have to get all the prep work done, pack the clothes, the water, the tent, the paper towels, the TP, the trash bags, the ziplocs, the beer, and all those other little things, in addition to rehearsing and performing the play we’re doing at the library on Wednesday and the workshop I’m teaching on Thursday. No problem.

Definitely share your tips and secrets. Although I’m confident that we’ll perform superbly, I’m not too above myself to respect the advice and opinions of those who have traveled before me.

Posted by: andeek | July 10, 2010

How to Play With Your Friends

On June 28th, I taught two workshops at the Bulverde/Spring Branch library. (I’ll be doing a performance there with the Travelin’ Hats Troupe on July 14th at 11am – it’s free – and I’ll be teaching another two workshops on July 15th.)

The plug was: No Batteries Required.

Here are some fun games you can play with a group of friends/family. And guess what? No batteries required!


  • Black Snake
    Pick an object that will be hidden. You can even pick (gasp!) a person! One person leaves the room – or goes where s/he can’t see. The rest of the group then hides the object. When it is safe and sound and can’t be found, they call out, “You can come in now, Person’s Name.” The person enters the room and starts to search for the object. The group sings out, “Black snake, black snake, where are you hiding?” alternating between soft and loud, depending on how close to the hidden object the person gets. Sing the loudest when they’re right on top of the object. Once it is found, a new person can be picked to leave the room. By the way, I didn’t ever really learn a tune for “Black Snake.” You can set it to anything. Also, this game can be played with just a few people. Good for when those kids are bored.
  • Duck Duck Animal
    This tried-and-true game with a twist never fails. Play it with 4-6 year olds. It’s just like Duck, Duck, Goose! Only instead of “Goose,” you call out the name of a different animal each time. Then the person has to run (or crawl or creep or hop) as whichever animal they’ve been “assigned” around the circle. We always change the chant to reflect each new animal. So the first person would say, “Duck, Duck, Jaguar!” The next person would say, “Jaguar, Jaguar, Lizard!”
  • Have You Seen My Sheep?
    Stand in a circle with one person in middle, who is It. “It” goes to a Player in the circle and asks, “Have you seen my sheep?” The Player replies, “How is it dressed?” “It” describes someone in circle – what they’re wearing, their hair, their eyes, etc. As soon as the person being described recognizes their description, they make a run for it – no, not for “It,” they just run around the circle in an attempt to get back to their spot before they’re caught. If “It” catches the runner before she gets back to her spot, the runner becomes the next questioner. If the runner is safe, It is still It. This is a little old for 4 year olds. You can try it with 5 year olds, but it’s best with 6-11 year olds.
  • Rhyme Charades
    Like it sounds – this is charades, rhyme style. The “Thinker” calls out, “I’m thinking of a word that rhymes with…” The rest of the group is not allowed to say a word. One at a time, people jump up and mime what they think is the right word. Everyone guesses the answer. The person with the correct guess can be the new Thinker. Although I’ve found that before the kids are familiar with the game, if they’re too young (under 6), it’s best if the grown-up or an older kid is the Thinker.
  • What Time Is It, Ms. Wolf?
    There’s always something exciting about chase – in whatever shape or form. In this game, a home base is set. The Wolf marches around the yard (or room) with all the other players trailing behind, as closely as they dare. The players call out, “What time is it, Ms. Wolf?” And the Wolf yells out various times, in no particular order, from 1 o’clock to 12 o’clock. Unfortunately, when the Wolf calls out “12 o’clock!” that really means, “Lunchtime!” So all you tasty little morsels had better run as quickly as your little feet will carry you to home base.
  • Poet’s Corner
    For this game, you need people to partner up. One is the Poet and one is the Translator. The two stand up together and the Translator announces, “Today we have a poet from the country of [imaginary country name] and s/he will be presenting one of her famous poems. Unfortunately, s/he only speaks [name of language]. Thankfully, I speak [language] and I will interpret for us.” Then the Translator announces the title of the poem and the Poet’s name. They carry forth with the Poet saying the poem one line at a time and the Translator translating. The poet talks in gibberish. It’s really fun when the poet adds emotion, gesticulations, and style to the gibberish poem.
  • Dragon’s Jewels
    The Dragon stands guard over her jewels. Everyone else forms a circle around her and tries to steal her treasure (an old sock, a hanky, a shoe, etc.) without being tagged. The Dragon can range as far as she wants, but if you get touched by the dragon, you’re frozen in place until the end of the game. If the Dragon manages to freeze everyone, she can choose to leave them frozen for the next 500 years. Don’t try this with more than 10 people. It’s too unwieldy.
  • Dropping Things
    Everyone is supplied with pencil and paper. A person and assistant step behind a curtain (or where they’re hidden). The person has a number of articles such as a knife, bunch of keys, pin, piece of paper, book, tin plate, etc.  S/he drops each item one at a time. The assistant writes down the order of the items being dropped. Before dropping an item, the person informs those outside that s/he is about to drop something, and tells them to be quiet. The others try to guess what is being dropped. They write it down on their paper. The person having the greatest number right wins.
  • Question Bombardment
    Players form a circle with one player in the center. They then bombard the player in the center with questions, as quickly as possible. The player in the center must try to turn and face each questioner and answer each question. The player in the center will shortly become very confused and flustered, and will start to give some very interesting answers. This can be fun, but you have to be careful. Grown-up supervision will help it stay on track. Make sure the Players feel comfortable around each other. You don’t want the Players to taunt each other and you want to keep the questions clean.

You can take any of these games and play them at a Dinner Party for adults. It’s fun to play with your adult friends, too. Got any more? Please add them to the comments!

Reviews of Kid/Family Activities Outside Frankfurt, Germany:

If you have any suggestions or reviews, please leave a comment.

(More photos:

  1. Hut Museum
    Andee (Mom): “Hut” is the German word for “hat.” “Homburg” is a common name for a man’s style hat. The Hut Museum in Bad Homburg (fitting, eh?) is 400 years of hats and hat-making. Is it worth the trip? If you’re looking to kill some time before you can head to your Couchsurfing host and it’s convenient to get to and you’d like to hike in the woodsy area behind it – then go for it. All the informational displays are in German. And it’s small. I love hats and we made it through in about 15 minutes – believe me, we really examined certain hats. That said, I’m glad we went – I never would have known otherwise.
    Zia: They had some pretty good hats, but for kids under 5… 5 and under? It’s not for them. Brant was pretty much bored out of his mind.
    Brant: I don’t remember it.
  2. Schloss Freudenberg in Wiesbaden, Germany
    Andee (Mom)
    : This place has a steep price, but you can spend the whole day there. Schloss Freudenberg is a Museum of the Senses. The closest I can describe it is to imagine a science/discovery/children’s museum set in a big house with exhibits that aren’t so technical and “scientific.” It takes a while to get sorted. The English guidebook costs 5 Euros, but without it, you might have trouble figuring out what you’re supposed to do at each exhibit. It would have helped if they had included a map in the guidebook, or at the very least, the German name for each of the exhibits – then you could follow the German map. Everything is interactive – indoors and out (that said, you should visit on a nice day so you can play with all the outdoor exhibits). Learning is based on play. The tour guides leading the school groups were having a blast, as were the students. Here’s an example of the exhibits:

    • A singing water bowl – it hums when you rub the handles and the water starts to vibrate and pop.
    • A huge swing set based on impetus balls and a pendulum.
    • Dark path and Dark bar – a journey through a pitch-black room and/or a visit to a “bar” complete with juice and cake offerings, all completely dark.
    • A wall of smells – jars of scents that you can puff towards your nostrils.
    • A climbing structure made entirely of huge tree trunks toppled on one another.
    • A barefoot walk over a multitude of surfaces.
    • We never did find “the smallest museum in the world” while we were there. Again, the price is steep. But from what I gathered, you could play with the outdoor exhibits for free. Also, the mornings are crowded with school groups. The afternoons aren’t so crowded, but the young adults and middle aged adults and old adults all come out to play. Despite all that – go. Families love it. There’s a cafe, but offerings are small. Take a lunch and buy a drink or an ice cream from the cafe.

    Zia: All ages would love that place. It’s wonderful – you should go there if you’re traveling there. It’s definitely a place to go.
    Brant: (Mommy: What was your favorite thing about it?) Going in the dark.

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