Need a break from binge-watching?

Try binge-playing.



A few weeks ago I had a leak under my kitchen sink. The day after the plumber fixed the leak, he called my cell phone. The conversation started with, “I have to tell you something.”

No good conversation in the history of mankind has ever begun with those words.

Long story short, the friends he’d spent the previous weekend with tested positive for COVID-19. Though I’d already been socially distancing and self-isolating, this news prompted a 14-day self-quarantine (which has now expired without incident). During those fourteen days, I reacquainted myself with Wordscapes, a puzzle game that I downloaded from the App Store last holiday season.

Who Plays?

Three generations of my family are obsessed with Wordscapes. It started with my son. He showed the game to me and my sister last Thanksgiving, then told my mom about it. My son is a young adult, my mother is retired, and I’m somewhere in the middle (but it’s not polite to ask, so don’t).

It’s a single-player game, though my mother refuses to accept this and continually sends a group text to my kids, my sister, and me asking what the icons mean. (“What does the rocket do? What’s the bullseye for?”) I’m the world’s worst gamer and not inclined to click a button unless I know what it does, so I’m unable to respond to any of her requests. Also, the game eats my battery (admittedly, my battery is trash—thanks a lot, Apple—but that’s a rant for another day) so before you try it, make sure you have a fully charged cell phone and six hours of free time.

The Good, the Bad, and the Social

Wordscapes is highly addictive. Every few weeks my mom sends a group message letting us know she’s been playing for days on end and cursing my son for introducing her to the game.

The free version has incredibly long and annoying ads that play between each level. And, as I mentioned, it drains my battery.

Regardless of the drawbacks, there’s something really soothing about the game. I find the music redundant, so I usually turn off the sound, but the word searches are fun.

As with all things, I play in spurts. Absolutely obsessed one day and then bored to tears the next. I return to the game every couple weeks, and it’s fun to compare levels with my family.

UPDATE: By the way, if you’re into engaging with others while you play (a concept utterly foreign to me), Wordscapes has a fairly robust Facebook page. You can post selfies, join a team, check out the FAQs page, and more.

Kids not paying attention in class? Don’t panic.

So how’s that whole homeschooling thing going? Anyone making their kids work all summer (the way I used to)?

I was a terrible student. I rarely did my homework, I never paid attention, I always had fifteen more interesting things to think about than the matter at hand. Note taking? Yeah, right.

Apparently, some people (including my children) are visual learners.

Rachel Smith’s TEDx Talk describes visual note taking, which is exactly what it sounds like — drawing in class.

The key point here is that the picture and the information are not just connected in [the] notebook, the picture and the information are connected in [the] mind.

This isn’t mindless doodling. This is deliberately attaching meaning to images.

But I can’t draw.

Yup. Same here. Not a problem. Smith shares three simple steps to visual note taking — deliberately designed for those of us who cannot draw. Check out this screenshot from the video:

Rachel Smith demonstrates basic icons in her TEDx Talk

According to Smith, visual note taking works, provided you capture the speaker’s key points. This TEDx Talk includes beautiful examples of Smith’s work as a visual facilitator and recorder. ADDED BONUS: at 15:15 (of the 18 minute video) you will learn to draw a person. I promise! Even if, like me, you can’t draw your way out of a paper bag.


Listen to your mother.

Posted: 2020/06/06 in On Writing


When I was in high school, my mother suggested I take typing as one of my electives (yes, I went to high school long before everyone had a home computer and smartphone).  She assured me that learning to type was a valuable skill I would use my entire life. I told her I had no intentions of becoming a secretary, and that I would have people to do my typing for me, thank you very much.

Fast forward two decades. Guess what I do for a living? I’m a writer. Guess how I type? Hunt and peck. I can’t look at the screen while I type—my eyes must stay trained on the keyboard at all times. And even then, I hit CAPS LOCK for ‘a’ and a semi-colon for an apostrophe more often than not. And for the record, I have no people to do my typing.

I follow a lot of my mom’s advice. I eat protein with every meal, I get plenty of sleep, I always wear sunscreen. But every day as I sit down at my computer and my slow fingers desperately try to keep pace with my fast brain, I wish I had followed my mother’s suggestion and learned to type. (Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash)

I’m a Google Girl

Posted: 2019/06/09 in Random

When it comes to search engines, I definitely drank the Mountain View Kool-Aid.

Screen Shot 2019-06-07 at 1.06.38 PM

How can you not love a company that so publicly celebrates diversity?

My Safari preferences are set to use Google as my search engine. It would never occur to me to use anything else. In fact, a representative from GoDaddy recently told me that a website I designed wasn’t functioning properly on Internet Explorer because Microsoft no longer updated it. I can’t fathom that Bing would produce better results then Google. 

For Pete’s sake, Google has literally become a verb. It means “to search for something on the Internet.”

Remember way back in the day when we had to look up a phone number in a book? Or actually pick up a telephone and speak to someone before we could get a pizza delivered to our front door? Can you imagine actually having to step outside to determine the temperature and air quality?

Let’s face it: pre-Google, we were living like animals.

Just for fun (and to prove my point), I performed a search on both Bing and Google. For starters, Bing didn’t like my first entry (how to dispose of a body) and asked me to include an additional word (how to dispose of a dead body), which I felt was redundant, but I complied. The results for both sites were quick, to be sure, but here are the numbers:

Bing: 13,000,000 results (after I modified my search)

As a reminder, just looking for “how to dispose of a body” on Bing returned this:

Screen Shot 2019-06-07 at 1.19.23 PM

Mind your own business, Bing.

I feel like “human” should be a given. Are that many people on Bing disposing of horse corpses? Is this a thing now?

Google: 71,200,000 results (and I didn’t need to specify that the body was dead. Because really, that’s none of Bing’s business, is it?)

Bottom line: if you have a body in need of disposal, don’t trust that Microsoft is gonna have your back. (If you don’t believe me, just ask this guy.)

Forever a fan of excess, I usually subscribe to the “one’s good, two’s better” philosophy. Sadly, I’ve been outsmarted. By a couple of babies.

TStone Family -FT-043.jpg


In case you’re contemplating getting a pair of puppies, please understand: it’s not twice as much work, it’s four times as much. Cute? Yes. Warm and snuggly? Absolutely. Apart, these Dobermans are smart, alert, and attentive. But when they’re together, it’s like a half of a brain between them.

And just in case you’re wondering, the girl (Raven) is a wee bit smarter than her brother (Raja). (To be fair, Raja is picking up house-training better than his sister.)

The Hunger Games!

Posted: 2012/03/20 in Favorites



This Friday, the much-anticipated (at least in my house) movie, The Hunger Games, will be released and I already HAVE TICKETS. I can’t wait!

For those of you who haven’t read The Hunger Games (Mom) because it sounds like a horrific premise, know this: You are really missing out on a fabulously written book about a kick-a** girl.

I hate any entertainment related to the abuse of children (that’s why I stopped watching Law & Order). The only reason I read Suzanne Collins’ book is because a blogger said, “This author really knows how to end a chapter.” It was meant to be research, really. Except once I started, I couldn’t put it down. And as soon as I finished, I ordered the sequel.

I haven’t been this excited about a movie in a REALLY long time. Actually, I can’t remember the last movie I’ve anticipated. Hmm… Maybe I should write a screenplay?

Well, look at me…

Posted: 2012/01/10 in Favorites, Personal

Last Sunday we (the Sun Ninjas) played our arch-rivals (the Mobile Monks) for the Cerpok Cup– the coveted end-of-season trophy awarded to the winner of the Sabakiball Championship Game. For weeks the game had been postponed–first due to weather, then Christmas, then New Year’s Day. Finally, after long waiting (and three weeks of getting out of shape), we convened on the field.

The Monks started strong. They had eight players–since only five are allowed on the field, this gave them three subs–fresh legs every few minutes. We had five players, but only because a friend of ours was able to sub (one of our men was down–now I’m not saying he was injured by a Mobile Monk days before the game, but the timing is a little suspicious…).

The first period ended zero-zero. We felt good; strong. We took our thirty second time-outs, rested up before the next period. Then the Monks scored. AJ, a professional soccer player. Mid-twenties, total athlete… While we chug water or throw-up or whatever between periods, this guy is out on the field with a sabakiball practicing his footwork. Nobody likes him.*

[I don’t like to be down points. Now, I’m the goalie, and when someone scores it’s my fault, I get that. But my teammates suffer the brunt of it. I usually call a huddle, tell them all what they’re doing wrong, how to fix it to ensure success. Then the huddle breaks and they continue playing exactly as they were before, as though I hadn’t spoken.]

We scored next. For those of you who can’t count, we’re now one-one. The Mobile Monks are athletes–every single one of them. They’re pegging me with balls, left and right. I blocked a shot from Joe (who seriously could be a linebacker for the NFL) and ended up with flattened sabakiball-shaped tattoo on my arm.

Then my Sensei–who plays for the Monks–made some (good-natured) crack about me, I allowed myself to be distracted, and the Monks scored again. Next, the Ninjas. Third period ends and we’re tied up. What does that mean?

Sudden death overtime.

First team to score wins. It’s all down to the goalies. (I would like to point out at this time that the Monks goalie–Brandon– is about 6’5″, and I’m 5’2″. Brandon informed me that since the bakipin is low to the ground, everything above his chest is wasted space, but I must object to this reasoning. Especially since they have AJ-the-Flying-Soccer-Player on their team. He shoots right over my head.)

So what happened? Was I victorious? Am I here to gloat, taking full credit for my team’s Championship win?

Sadly, no. AJ (who didn’t score ALL SEASON) scored the winning point against me. And it was a beautiful shot.

The only thing keeping me off the ledge is the fact that I received the MOST VALUABLE PLAYER AWARD for the entire adult league (thanks, guys!). And the BEST part was that my Sensei (who created the game of Sabakiball) had to present me with the award.

Though I must say, he didn’t seem too broken up about it while he was doing the victory lap with cup in hand.

I can’t WAIT for next season.

* This is a total lie. Aj’s a great guy, a really good sport, and pretty funny, too.

A Fresh New Year

Posted: 2012/01/02 in Personal, Random

I don’t know what it is about turning the calendar page from December to January that IMG_2059makes us think our willpower will suddenly strengthen. And yet, every year, I have a list of self-improvement goals. A lot of them I keep, a couple of them show up year after year, some last a few days… They say if you share your goals with friends and family you’ll be more likely to reach them (because people will hold you accountable), but after posting about writing 50k words in November and falling short, I don’t know if that’s true.

The key, I believe, to long term change is this: Focus only on the next 24 hours.

Trying to lose weight? Don’t think, “I’ll never get to eat Nutter-Butters again!” Instead, try: “For the next 24 hours, I’ll make healthier choices.” Sometimes it’s an hour at a time. (If you’ve ever quit smoking, you know what I mean.) After dinner, sitting on the couch watching TV, the cookies whisper from the kitchen. Take a deep breath–from the gut, not the lungs. Try a sliced banana sprinkled with cinnamon instead. If all else fails, go to bed.

Here’s an article about goal-setting that I liked, Keep Your New Year’s Resolution (No Willpower Required).

I asked my family what their New Year’s goals were, and here’s what they had to say:

15-year-old daughter: “Resolutions are over-rated.”

12-year-old son: “I’m pretty much perfect as I am.”

Husband: “Improve my health.”

At this point, I told my husband (who hadn’t read the afore-mentioned article) that vague goals were an invitation to failure. What, specifically, did he hope to accomplish? He answered, “Increased core strength.”

“But how?” I queried.

“Going to the gym.”

Here, my 12YO and I exchanged knowing glances. He said, “Dad, that’s not specific.”

“Working my core.” He added.

12YO (rolling eyes), “But HOW?”

“See,” the 15YO interjects, “Resolutions are stupid. Nobody cares.”

So, being the conscientious mother and wife that I am, I decided to make my family’s resolutions for them. Oddly, no one liked the goals I selected. My 12YO said, “Fine. But we get to pick yours.”

Fair enough. “What’s it going to be?” I asked. “Cook more dinners? Get more organized?”

“No,” he said. “You have to stop being so mushy. No more ‘sending loving-kindness’.”

I’ve been meditating a little, and it’s brought about a calm inner state that I tried to share with my sweet angels. Apparently, my children like me better when I’m mean.

They say we prefer what’s familiar, right?

Happy Birthday, USMC!

Posted: 2011/11/10 in Personal

Flikr Photo by expertinfantry

Today is the 236th birthday of the United States Marine Corps. Since the men and women of the USMC serve and protect our nation, I will refrain from singing my rendition of ‘happy birthday’, which involves something about an odiferous monkey.

I had a dear friend in the Marines. He was chivalrous and honorable. A perfect match. He was stationed at Camp Lejeune, and he and a buddy drove all the way to the Eastern Shore of Maryland to take me and my college roommate to a formal dance. They wore their dress blues and man, did they look good.

A few years later, my friend was killed in a training drill when his helicoptor collided with another.

Today I’m thinking of my friend. And missing him. He gave his life doing what he loved.

Thanks to the men and women who serve, and to the families waiting at home for them.

Gary Vestal/­Getty Images

The 5.8 magnitude earthquake on the east coast this past August came as a surprise to us (the human inhabitants of our planet), but apparently, not so much to the animals 84 miles away at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

Reportedly, 15 minutes before the quake hit, the zoo’s lemurs began sounding their alarm calls. The flamingos packed themselves together, and the mommy gorilla dropped her lunch, gathered her baby, and climbed high onto her structure.

I remember hearing about elephants behaving in a peculiar fashion just before the devastating tsunami in India (December, 2004). They moved inland, far from the shore.

So do animals have a sixth sense? Well, of course they do, right? How else could you train a dog to sense an upcoming seizure, warn his owner, and then call 911? What about people? Do we have it?

Before the tsunami, Thailand’s indigenous tribes also vacated the beach. They knew about the deadly wave. Psychic? Maybe. But they noticed two things: first, the water on the beach had receded. According to a legend of the Moken people, the sea pulls away from the shore before the arrival of “the wave that eats people.” Second: the cicadas, usually deafening, fell silent. A tribesman noticed the silence and warned his community. They headed for high ground long before the wave struck.

Evolutionarily speaking, our ancestors must’ve all been this observant. Picking up the subtle shifts in barometric pressure, the gentle changing of the wind. Or else we would not be here. People who live off the land and by the land retain these gifts. But most of us don’t even pay attention to the animals. (You know, the horror movie where the dog whimpers and the pretty blond says, “Oh, what is it, Ginger? Should I go outside in the dark by myself and check it out?”) But can you imagine if the President of the United States ordered an evacuation of San Diego because the zoo animals were behaving in an unusual fashion?  He would be laughed out of office.

But check this out. It’s from ABC News, written by Sunlen Miller.

“In 1975, Chinese officials actually ordered the evacuation of an entire city with a population of close to a million people because of peculiar animal behavior. In ‘When the Snakes Awake: Animals and Earthquake Prediction,’ physical chemist Helmut Tributsch described the behavior that led officials to take this action.

‘Geese flew into trees,’ he wrote. ‘Pigs bit at each other or dug beneath the fences of their sties.’ When a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck the next day, 2,000 fatalities and many other injuries were reported. However, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that ‘the number of fatalities and injuries would have exceeded 150,000 if no earthquake prediction and evacuation had been made.'”

That is one brave leader.

As for me, unless I’d been texted ahead of time, I suspect I would’ve missed the boat.