Regional Scrabblers in the NSC

My non-Scrabble-playing friends might be surprised to know that, for five days in late July, 662 people gathered in Orlando for the 2008 National Scrabble Championship. For my friends who do Scrabble, you probably already know the players from our region who made the trip and the huge commitment in time, energy, and resources. To the Scrabblers I've had the pleasure of spending some time with, sharing some meals with, or just sharing some of this here blog with, congratulations for simply enduring:

(If I got your stats wrong, please e-mail me. I may not sleep but I do get a little...unfocused at 1:00 a.m.)

Steve finished 43rd in Division 1 (the top division which had 103 players) with a win/loss of 15-13. Steve writes a little in his blog and the general consensus among those who are in the know and have a sense of humor is that he should write more. I realize it's probably difficult for him to find time, though, because he's a stay-at-home dad and spends hours making flowery wreaths for his hair.

DAN STOCK is the ever-patient, frequent tournament director from Rocky River, OH. Out of the 134 players in Division 2, Dan came in 16th with a record of 17-11. Dan is seen here wearing a purple shirt but only because he couldn't find one that had a green collar on one side.
JEFF CLARK (Linden, MI) placed 24th in Division 2 (134 players) with a win/loss of 16.5-11.5. Jeff often finds himself teamed with Dallas Johnson (below) in the task of getting women to pay attention during poker games (after Scrabble tournaments). Is that why they call him "Mr. Lucky?" Hhh.
GARY PERMAN, Blairsville, PA
Gary hails from my husband's ancestral home of Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), PA and I got to talk with him some during dinner at Bluegrass Kitchen after the April tournament here in Charleston. Gary completed the tournament with a great record of 18-10 gaining him a 12th place finish in Division 3 (133 players). (I love the Pittsburgh accent!!)
Linda is fun, not too serious, and appropriately loud when there's not a Scrabble game going on (a super combination). She brought home a 37th place finish in Division 3 (133 players) with 16 wins and 12 losses.
KEN DUTCH is the director from what is essentially our "sister" club in Lexington, KY. He, too, came out with a winning record of 15-13, putting him in the 42nd spot (out of 133) in Division 3. Ken has given me some good Scrabble tips and is not, as his profile picture would imply, blurry.
Out of 113 players in Division 4, Katya finished with a win-loss of 15-13 gaining her the 45th place. She's a public-interest attorney in Charlotte, NC and still finds time to volunteer as a School Scrabble sponsor. I'd like to find time to read her book.
DALLAS JOHNSON (Stow, OH) is also a director and, no, he probably doesn't think it's funny if you ask him if he's from Tex...uh...Akron. When Dallas isn't helping Jeff try to keep poker games moving along, he's winning 15 out of 13 games in the NSC and finishing 48th out of 116 in Division 4.
JOYCE STOCK (Rocky River, OH) recently had her first first place finish in a tournament!! In the NSC, she placed 41st out of 96 in Division 5, with a win-loss of 14.5 games to 13.5 games.

Cecelia wrapped up her week with 15 wins and 13 losses, gaining her the 63rd spot (out of 96) in Division 5. She recently raised $2,000 for the 2008 Cleveland Breast Cancer 3-Day walk by raffling off five custom Scrabble boards! Oh...and she walked 60 miles in three days for that same event!!
Noah is one of the up-and-coming young players gaining momentum in the Scrabble world. Prior to the NSC, his rating had gone up almost exactly 300 points in the last twelve months. In the NSC's Division 5 (96 players), he finished 78th with 12 wins and 16 losses.
JOHN SPANGLER is an attorney from Versailles, KY. He wrapped up the NSC with 38th place out of 80 in Division 6 and a win-loss of 14.5-13.5. John has a booklet of every person he's ever played in a Scrabble don't go trying any of your old tricks on him.
HANNAH LIEBERMAN (Charlotte, NC) was featured in the Sunday Gazette-Mail's photo spread of the April tournament here in Charleston and she's well on her way to gaining the experience to be a contendah. In the NSC, she gave some very experienced players cause for concern, winning 12 games and losing 16, netting the 62nd place out of 80 players in Division 6.
You all played Scrabble for five straight days, and you survived! Barring any change in plans, I'll probably see many of you at next year's Player's Championship in Dayton. Until then, I hope to see you in West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, and Michigan!!

Marriage, Kids, and Pop Rocks

So today is my and my husband's eight-year anniversary. And I know you know this, but marriage isn't always easy. As a social institution, some days I can't even figure out if I'm "for it or agin it." That being said, my equally-stubborn and equally-annoying husband and I have now been part of that institution (heh...good word) for these eight years and, as of today, we're on speaking terms and tonight we'll go to dinner and a movie. I guess that means it's working on at least some level! (There's a joke in there, people...please don't take that too seriously.)

And days like this always set my stream of consciousness on a path toward childhood. Thinking about the complexities of adult life remind me of how, in some ways, childhood was filled with much simpler things. I was an anxious child...quiet...fairly OCD...but caring...and rarely if ever cruel. I loved to read anything I could get my hands on and I loved to laugh until my side hurt. And I found absolute delight in simple things like Mexican Jumping Beans and Pop Rocks.

I remember having lots of Jumping Beans but, you know, I can't remember how I got them, how long they lasted, or what we did with them when they were "done." (Unfortunately, as I read it now, it appears that "done" meant "dead." I have been terrified of every sort of bug all my life so I'm sure I'd remember if an insect had come popping out of my toy.) Holding them in my hand, though, it was so amazing when something I thought was a bean starting jumping around, giving it a magical quality like a pet rock. Back then, I thought a pet rock would come to life if you gave it enough attention. (Then again, I also lined all my dolls up on the bed in a rotating fashion every night so none of their feelings would get hurt because one got to sleep next to me more than others. Wait a second. Maybe I was not a smart child.)

I don't recall now just what I thought caused Pop Rocks to do their thing but I think I associated it somehow with the moon (like maybe they were from the moon). I suppose there would have been some disappointing point in my life when I would have realized, if I'd continued eating a lot of Pop Rocks as I advanced through science in school, that the moon would not succumb to a giant, foaming explosion if someone had dropped a giant can of soda on it. Okay, I feel like I'm getting off the subject, here. The point is, I loved Pop Rocks. What a simple pleasure could be found in that little package of candy.

Nowadays I'm very aware that somehow, I at once feel like someone pretending to be a grown-up and someone very old. I love stupid movies and goofy humor but sometimes I'm the only one laughing. I look around me and I've got a set of adult problems and concerns, a house full of beautiful children, a career I'm never sure I want, more wonderful friends than I have time to see as much as I should, pills to make me sleep, and a wicked sense of humor. And when I look at my children, I see many of my own childhood fears, my own facial expressions, the same resilience that all children possess, and the same fascination with fun, simple things.

So I'm 36...and ten years ago I couldn't have even begun to (correctly) guess where I'd be in life today. All this feels sort of like snow skiing. There's not much real control and, while letting go and taking a chance will probably be the most fun, it doesn't always get you the best result (e.g., trees and/or falling on your ass). Interestingly, I don't like snow skiing. It's cold and scary and I've never gotten past the falling on my ass part.

My closing thought is the result of this same stream of consciousness I spoke of earlier. Thinking about success in life and family, the only thing I know for sure I'm doing right is that I smile at my kids, hug them until they're tired of it, and say I love them with great enthusiasm and genuineness. You know, that sometimes-juvenile sense of humor I've retained is a check-mark in the "correct" column, too. I find myself laughing with the kids a lot (as does my husband). Maybe someday, after the teenaged years when they hate me for everything I may have done wrong, they'll remember that I looked into their eyes and smiled, gave them lots of hugs, and always told them I love them...and that we laughed together.

Not the Scarlet Letter "A"...

...but the black Sharpie letter "A". I found that I had to mark my prescription bottle with it or it was only a matter of time before I'd be taking my Ambien during the day...again. Recently my generic Synthroid* was switched to a pill almost identical in appearance to Ambien. They are also in the same-sized bottle.

Several weeks ago, just before my mother came to the house, I took my Synthroid and set about sorting the things in the house and packing. Several minutes later, about the time my mom showed up, I started to feel dizzy and just not right. When she said my eyes were all glassy and that I should lay down, I realized I had mistakenly taken the Ambien, not the Synthroid. Thank goodness she was there to watch the kids because I had to go immediately to bed where I slept solidly (the kind where you have no perception of passing time) for five hours.

After that, I noticed that I was still sometimes getting the Ambien bottle in my hand (instead of Synthroid) at work. Man, oh, man. What a huge, huge problem that would be. I would end up unable to stay awake (or if I could manage to force it, unable to be coherent or sane) and unable to drive myself home even if the work I had to do wasn't pressing. Talk about coming off as an irresponsible employee. ("Sorry, boss...I've improperly medicated myself again.")

So I pull out my favorite writing utensil (the Sharpie), and mark the bottle in a way that I hope prevents such mistakes. And sometimes I look at the bottle and ponder whether moderate-to-severe insomnia can ever be overcome without medication. Even I'll admit that the comedy of Adventures with Ambien gets a little old. (In fact, I lost my brux guard for several days this week. Turns out, it was on top of the fridge.)

*Women, thyroid disease is often missed, even when you think you've been checked for it.
If you have symptoms of hyperthyroidism or hyopthyroidism, be sure to push for thorough testing.
I'll probably soon write about my two years spent trying to get someone to recognize that I
wasn't eating myself into a 40-pound weight gain.

Christmas in July

Charleston's local "light" radio station, V-100, is having their annual Christmas in July today. I love Christmas music. I start listening to it the day after Thanksgiving (and a little earlier if I feel like it). My MP3 Christmas collection is huge and ranges from silly songs, to rock, to Leon Redbone, to classics like Bing Crosby, to Opera. The kids love Christmas music and sometimes they ask that we sing Christmas songs in the last week. It's fun!

You can listen online, too, no matter where you are, by clicking here.

Approaching my Scrabble Tour launch!

Tomorrow will find me in my usual spots for a weekday, perched in an unhealthy posture on the very edge of my office chair working, marching up and down the street to our main office, or simply darting over to Grasshopper's office to have some fun giving him a hard time. (Grasshopper is what I call our youngest associate. And, yes, I march and dart but rarely stroll.) A number of lucky Scrabble players, though, will be starting the five-day National Scrabble Championship in Orlando. (An interesting number, in fact: 666.)

Although I won't be playing in Orlando, I do have some big plans coming up. I've been studying and studying and studying since I made my commitment to my 2008 Whirlwind Scrabble Tour. SOON, it will be August. Before August is over, I'll be on an airplane (courtesy of my husband's new airline job), headed to Detroit. The Labor Day Weekend tournament in Pontiac, Michigan will kick off the big, seven-tournament series I'll complete between August and December. The Rocky River, Ohio tournament officially marked the start of my super fun half-year, but the fall and winter tournaments will be much more concentrated.

But there's a big bonus, you know. Three out of the eight tournaments are in the Detroit area. That means I get to spend a few fun Friday nights with my awesome friend, Spinster Girl. She just moved to Michigan and I can't wait to see her again!!!


I found out this morning that a certain four-year-old has been having two breakfasts every day and hadn't mentioned it. I didn't notice on the Pre-K schedule that, as opposed to the other kids in school, they have breakfast in their room every morning at 8:15. I'd been feeding her (and the other kids) breakfast at home each morning before school.

So either we don't feed her enough, she eats too much, or she's a Hobbit. Clever, nonetheless, not telling anyone about Second Breakfast.

NOW there's so much I CAN Tell You About the Underground Kitchen

Initially I had stuck to the hard-line Top Secret concept of Charleston's Underground Kitchen. Hey, you know...some people worked really hard to dream up these surprises and keep them a secret. Turns out, now that this month's installment has taken place, the all clear for spilling the beans has been sounded.

So, in compliance with the e-mail instructions I received on Thursday evening, Saturday evening I dressed, grabbed a bottle of wine from the stash, and headed out the door to Habitat for Humanity's ReStore. Upon arrival, I found a giant, long table adorned with fancy tablecloths, lined with taper candles, and lit from above by simple strings of small white lights (my favorites for any season). The table was centered right in the spacious row containing, among other things, brackets, plastic For Sale signs, and, if I remember correctly, roofing shingles.

Ummm...did I mention that the ReStore is currently non-air-conditioned (and that on my drive there the van's outside temperature reading was reflecting 94 degrees)? One would think that in my dark jeans and black t-shirt (my new favorite one that blessedly does not hug the midsection), I would have been a candidate for passing out. The building had some good airflow, though, thanks to a ginormous, strategically-placed fan, and was actually not that hot. One of the ReStore people in attendance did say that they're getting air conditioning right now.

So, as the other 29 guests strolled in, I was surprised to see that I didn't know as many as I thought I would. One of my best friends strolled in as the same-sex-hetero-date of another one of my friends that I gained when I started attending book club but, other than that, I had met just one or two of the guests around town. I pre-hydrated with my Vitamin Water and Stoli (yes, it's delicious) while waiting for our seating cards to be distributed so that we weren't placed too close to people we knew.

When I did locate my designated chair, I was seated between two men: an attorney from a local firm I had actually met a few days earlier at my kids' school's Local School Improvement Council meeting, and an attorney from the Dark Side (a defense attorney). I KID, I kid. Everyone deserves a defense I guess. Across from me was a beautiful young accountant who grew up with a friend of mine who now lives in Washington, D.C., a local art dealer with wonderful dark hair (that highlighted her sparkly eyes) and gorgeous artsy jewelry, and a friendly, funny business consultant that I know I've seen around town for years but just never met (whose grandmother had 20 children!!). Oh! I also met a young photographer ( of those people with a gift for looking 22 forever but who was actually almost 30). He was good-natured about my amateur photog groupie-ness and gave me a few tips about shooting digital. To me he looked a lot like Orlando Bloom but I'm not sure why.

So here's where I might get in trouble with Mr. DT. I can't remember what all the food was called. For one thing, I'm not sure it stayed on my plate long enough for me to absorb the name. Anyway, you can soon get the recipes here (if you see the picture of asparagus it's not been updated yet). I remember that the appetizers were curry chicken salad and a really refreshing spread on a pita slice (which looked like very smooth guacamole and tasted very minty). Dinner included a very light, white fish, something else spectacular that had orzo and corn in it, something deliciously like a salsa, and a little dab of soft cheese. Dessert was a chilled apple soup with walnuts and light spices. The wine was varied as it was brought along by each guest. I had a red table wine and then a Merlot, both of which were very good.

For four really fun hours I talked with the people surrounding me about light issues like children, education, social justice, politics, and religion. (Yes, we talked about politics and religion and there was no rumble. You just have to know when you're in the right company. And for clarification, I use the term "rumble" usually like in West Side Story or The Outsiders and not like thunder.) The more serious conversations involved topics like Scrabble (of course!) the online Webkinz universe, the delightfully-ridiculous Sean Connery character on SNL. And...yes, I know I talk about SC on CJ on SNL all the time but it cracks me up just thinking about it. (What's the difference between you and a mallard with a cold? One's a sick duck and I can't remember how it ends, but your mother's a whore.)

And by the time I pushed my chair back and headed out the door, it was 11:00. Time had certainly flown by on the wave of good company and frequent laughter. (Did I just mix my metaphors? You bet. I also eat my dinner in secret places so...)

Pretty cool, you think? Yes. Pretty cool. I mean, each and every day we can pay a decent sum of money, sit down to a dinner with our friends, talk about the things we love to talk about, and eat food we know we love...and maybe get a little drunk. At least for now, we have the chance to occasionally dine in a really unique place, get to know other people who appreciate the coolness of dining in such a place, eat some absolutely delicious food, and get a little drunk.

And, finally, a word about the location sponsor. If you have never visited ReStore (this one or one in your town), do so right away. Even if you're not building or remodeling a home, there is a constantly-changing stock of unique treasures, practical materials and antiques that you will either use or just love. The money spent at ReStore helps realize Habitat for Humanity's mission of providing people with decent, affordable, healthy housing. And whether you're undertaking a major remodel of your home, or just changing out an older light fixture, ReStore will gladly add the materials you don't need anymore to their inventory.

(P.S. I had taken some pretty cool pictures of the table and settings but because I'm the Super Genius of the Universe, I failed to take them on a camera with any storage at that moment.)

There's So Much to tell you about the Underground Kitchen

But, unfortunately, I cannot.

I can tell you that tonight I dined at Charleston's own Underground Kitchen...a social concept dinner party in its second month. The quick run down (and if you want the less quick run down, click the link above), is that the UK is a dinner where you don't know the other guests, you don't know what you're going to eat, and you don't even know where you're going to eat. (The day before the dinner you receive the Top Secret information about the location but that is all.)

Here's what I can divulge:

I had my dinner and drinks at a long, long table with about 30 other people. The seating placements were random in that they were meant to get strangers to talk to each other but planned in that people who already knew each other were separated as much as possible. I dined on a three-course gourmet meal prepared by chefs whose names shall not be spoken. I had delightful, thoughtful, and interesting conversation with unique people. I can tell you that we talked about light topics like civil rights, discrimination, education, and art, and very serious things like Scrabble and Sean Connery on SNL Celebrity Jeopardy (Swords!!). In the end, for a modest price plus a bottle of wine for the communal table, I had four hours of great food, great people, and great conversation.

And I can tell you this: as long as this fun and unique dining experience continues, I will be there (unless, of course, it conflicts with my very important Scrabble schedule).

Click here for the updated version of the night.

Some things never change

And they never should. This book was published in 1958.*

"I know up on the top you are seeing great sights,
but down at the bottom we, too, should have rights."
-Dr. Seuss

*By the way, Yertle is the antagonist.
Don't go naming your turtle Yertle.
Name him or her Mack.
Well, I guess if your turtle is kind of a jerk you can name it Yertle.

Swimming When I Should Be Working

Scheduling issues meant I had to leave the office at 2:00 and pick the kids up from school. I had to keep them until Eric got home from work (which effectively meant until after dinner). (Oh! The kids...all three of them!...are in school right now because they're in one of our three area year-round schools. I'm gathering my thoughts and observations on this new situation for us and am going to write about it soon.)

So, after picking the kids up, we all zipped over to Kroger and got some supplies for the kind of dinner you can make when you're getting home sooner than 5:30. Getting home by 3:00, I realized we had about 90 minutes to kill, though, before dinner needed to be I asked the kids if they wanted to go to the pool. In case you don't know, we're staying with my in-laws right now..and they live directly across from one of the local private pools, meaning that having 90 minutes to kill meant 5 minutes to get dressed, one minute to walk to the pool, and still plenty of time to make it worth it.

The pool was almost deserted because of a swim meet tonight (at another pool). All the swim team kids are banned from the pool after a certain hour on meet days so they're sort of forced to rest (theoretically) before the competition. Of course, all the swim team kids being gone means all of the parents being gone, all of their siblings being gone, and so on. Counting us four, there were probably 10 people in the pool.

Stony (who's been old enough this year for the first time to go to the pool on his own) found one of his friends and started doing the high-dive, low-dive rotation with the funny "dives" like The Egg Roll, Cowboy, and, of course, the classic Jack Knife. The girls and I hung around in the shallow end of the pool, where they could stand (or tippy-toe for Edie) on the bottom and I could better ensure their continued survival. They took turns climbing the steps, jumping into the water to each other, and playing "watch me, Mommy!"

Edie (who recently turned 4) would cock her head to the side, squint one eye, and sort of bend down and point toward she was planning on hitting a home run in my direction or something. It was hilarious and the sun made her blue eyes glow. With those eyes and the funny pose (and, of course, that face), she looked just like her dad. Somehow Bella's eyes seemed greener these days...and more so in the sun. Every day in the summer her freckles come out more and more. Maybe its the tan on her face that highlights the green. Nonetheless, Bella was in her Happy Serenity mode (her happiness is more serene than energetic) and she looked so sweet doing her underwater flips and smiling at me when she saw that I was watching.

After a while, the girls and I headed back up the house so I could make dinner and they could rest (with Stony planning on staying behind for about another hour). For several minutes before we left we watched Stony do those specialty dives. Edie proclaimed that he was "so neat!"

Dinner came out perfectly...and it was what I'd consider a summer feast! We had blackened salmon, Parmesan & Romano rice, sauteed spinach, and steamed green beans. (Jealous much?)

After dinner the kids settled into the small amount of homework they had. Well, two of them settled into homework and one four-year-old lost it (which four-year-olds will do when they're tired) and was sent to bed. I didn't bother fixing my post-swimming-air-dried hair, threw on an old t-shirt and comfy jeans, and went back to my office for a couple of hours of work...the kind that's always leisurely when the office is empty. After some more work and Gmail chatting it up with my newly-Michigan-residing friend, I headed back home. Since then, I've done...nothing (except study Scrabble words, of course).

Today was a good day.

The most important things are the hardest things to say (Stephen King)

The other day someone said to me that they wouldn't blog because they wouldn't want everyone to know that much about them. Well, I got news for you, brotha. They still wouldn't. It's all about what you want to put out there...and it can be as frank or as self-edited as you desire. Real disclosure isn't a requirement of this here blogging world. (And it's not that I'm saying you must blog. I'm just saying it's not like that, you know?)

Someone else said (in a different conversation) that the blogging thing was a sign that we were in the age of TMI. I guess maybe that depends on who you are, too. Among what I could consider "personal" blogs (as opposed to informational ones and such), I know bloggers who, indeed, have told or will tell you everything you never wanted to know about them. I also know those who divulge very, very little of their personal information and emotional thoughts (and often not even their names, although I think those are easy enough to find). I hope to have found a balance between the two things. Years ago, I would have blogged about deeply personal things. Even though I admit that was cathartic, it was a at times. Now I try to blog about mostly fun or funny things but I'm especially prone to let go of a little more personal information in hopes of making people laugh.

But I think we actually know very little about each other through blogs alone. They're thoroughly edited for content, read and reread before posting, and each specifically designed to convey what the writer wants, and no more. Similarly, e-mail gives us the chance to edit what we say before hitting the send button (unless we are, of course: (1) drunk; and/or (2) too quick with the send button or "reply all" button). Then we go on down the line with text messages, short phone calls, and so on.

So how...when so much of what we have to say is transmitted via a we achieve any of that great, multi-faceted communication? Face-to-face, of course. There's a pretty good chance to find the truth there, even if it's not what you thought it would be. Does that make any sense? I mean, sometimes people can really express themselves in writing but then also be very, very different in person. Getting to know someone in real life lets you learn their facial expressions, their body language, their neuroses, what they'd rather no one know, and the wonderful things about themselves that maybe they don't even see.

In that vein, I think a lot about communication and communication styles. I notice a lot of body language and I'm fascinated by it. I love how much is said just by how someone directs their eyes when they're talking to you. There's especially that one split second, right after someone feels something and before regaining control, when their body, their face, and their eyes will tell quite a lot. And people's voices say so much, information that's conveyed despite the words, not with the words. (And, for me, that would tend to have the potential for the most sting. It's so hard to quiet the echo of things that weren't said...and maybe that's why...because they weren't said.)

Yeah, that's getting a little heavy. Back to my point. Often I relate these things to tests of theory like the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator or The Hartman Personality Test. (By the way, I am an ENFP and a "blue.") And you know what? If I know you, there's a pretty good chance I can guess which color you are and come pretty close to your Myers-Briggs type. Want to let me guess? If so, the deal is that you have to at least post your initials or Blogging name or whatever (some type of identifier) in a comment so I can comment back then you can comment with your results. (You can take each test via the first two links.)

So I love writing. It's easier to be funny in writing because you have time to choose the right word. Writing sometimes flows from your fingers faster than you can think, because somewhere inside you some inspiration is desperate to get out. But, more than that, I like looking people in the eye. Sometimes you see what you want...and sometimes you don't...but if you're paying attention, you'll almost always see. In writing though, including blogging, there is always room for holding back and for interpretation.

Update: Oops! I didn't realize the Myers-Briggs was a pay test. I looked online and don't find a free one that looks legit, although I can't say I looked that hard. (What's the color for short attention span?)

Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?!?!

Remember my big defeat in Pittsburgh? For a frustrated moment after that, I thought maybe my adventures in Scrabble should be over. Then I thought, "Over?!? Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?!?!" And I've been studying like crazy since then. True to my mood swinging ways, right about the same time, I was struck with an idea to undertake a big series of Scrabble tournaments, dubbing it my 2008 Whirlwind Scrabble Tour.

And so the tour (with a shiny new schedule) has begun. The first official (and, so far the shortest scheduled), stop on The Tour was, in my opinion...a success!! DAH-DA-DA-DAH!!! (It was in Rocky River, Ohio, by the way.) I got what I basically wanted, which was to do better than I did in Pittsburgh. Sure...that wasn’t hard to do. If I had done worse than I had in Pittsburgh, it’s highly likely that I would have chucked this laptop out the hotel window (along with all the other contents of my room).
But what I did do was see improvement. In contrast to my previous 2/3 loss ratio (in PGH), I ended up at 4 wins and 3 losses with a positive spread of 110 points. PLUS, I had my first 500-point game (a 525 against the guy who ended up coming in second in my division), AND that landed me the prize for high win, AND I got the prize for high loss (with a 369-point game). Here's a picture of the board after the 525 game:

This weekend, someone challenged me to do 20 tournaments in one year. I said, "No way!" Now that I look at my schedule, though...counting this weekend, there's there's already like 9 on there, with eight being in 2008. Heck, I dunno. Maybe it'll happen. There are already several other tournaments I'll attend in the next twelve months that aren't even on the calendar yet.

SO...we'll see! This weekend was a good start! And a very special thanks to my club members, my Scrabble friends, and my everyday friends for their support in my Scrabble endeavors. It means the world to me. And, uhh...thanks to my husband. Although he continues to make fun of me for being a Scrabble geek, he still lets me Scrabble it up pretty much all I want.

Shot Down in a Blaze of Color

I recognized a pattern in myself today when Eric mentioned there was a camera (like a real camera, apparently not just a running-the-stoplight camera) at a local, major intersection. "What?!?! We said we didn't want cameras!" (The public had been asked for comment about surveillance cameras in Charleston a few years ago and the response was a big "NO!") Gazing out the window, I muttered, "I'd like to shoot it with a paintball."

Eric replied that I want to shoot everything with a paintball. I had to laugh and admit the truth in it. For instance, I have a slightly younger sister (not the one I talk about a lot) to put this...a really craptastic man in her life. My youngest sister and I have plotted how to fairly deal with him. Hmmm. Mystery cameras that appear despite the citizens' opinion? lens. Drug dealers messing up Everyone's East End? forehead...purple (an ironic tribute to Jimi and Purple Haze). And this last one is Martha's suggestion for bad drivers: a color-coding paintball system. It would let other people on the road know what to expect from you. For people who cut you For people who run red (duh). Of course, some people's cars would display multiple colors based on this yet-to-be-completed coding system.

Funny thing is...I've never, ever owned, nor shot, nor even held a paintball gun. It just seems like it's perfect as my would-be weapon of choice. I mean, what's a mostly-anti-violence person to do? It's not like I'd ever beat anyone up, but some just need a serious butt whoopin. For humans on the target list, a paintball would be non-lethal, embarrassing, and leave quite a welt.

DISCLAIMER: If you go and paintball something up and try to pin it on me, I will so totally paintball you. Close-range, right in the back of the knee. Think how much that would hurt. But really...I will never, ever really paintball anyone or far as you know.

My Wordle

So here is the ever-popular Wordle, this one based on my blog:

Even though it's generated based on the frequency of words, the position is random. I like finding certain phrases hidden or not-so-hidden among the words (which end up sounding something like magnetic poetry).

Some things I see:

Scrabble time

just like morning

Scrabble weekend

better response

Scrabble night

take tournament pictures

today make years

look right now

go home

great playing

something interesting

one good move make another

Scrabble words

started sure course

life signs

something now

Sure, it may sound a little like Tarzan-ese or maybe even Yoda-ish...but you get the point...s.

It's "See You Later"

If you have one true friend, you have more than your share. (Thomas Fuller)

I often say I'm not a big fan of change in life. That can't be true, though. I'm always looking to change things for the better. I guess what I mean to say is I take great comfort in certain aspects of my life and am never very open to the possibility that variations might be acceptable.

It took me about two years to really get to know my dear friend, whom I'll refer to by her blog name, "Spinster Girl," although I could never see her in that light. SG is intelligent, funny, and a wonderfully-unique person but about 1000 times more introverted than me. (This may reflect more on my crazy all-up-in-people's-face-ways more than on her.) This slow development, though, produced a solid friendship that I treasure and trust.

But now our SG has had to make the tough choice to move on. This town simply could not provide the career opportunities she deserved. A firm in Toledo has snatched her up and on Saturday she drove off in a truck filled with her belongings. Now she's going to live between Toledo and Detroit.

So many here in Charleston are mourning the daily or almost daily presence of our friend. As for me, my discomfort with this change is buffered by knowing I'll get to see her fairly often (because of Eric's new job and my Scrabble tour), and that those times will be something to look forward to. Those times are something I look forward to.

Charleston's Own Underground Kitchen

Last month, Charleston's first (as far as I know) Underground Kitchen made its debut. What is Underground Kitchen? It's not a's more of a concept. The concept? Serve a fabulous dinner to two or three dozen people, with a secret menu, and a surprise location to be revealed to the guests the day before. The identities of the guests are kept secret and, also, you're not allowed to sit with whomever you came.

Sound socially-awkward, scary, or potentially hazardous to your picky taste buds? Put your minds at ease!! Only the very coolest people would attend a dinner party with so many elements of surprise...and last time the cuisine consisted of: Seared ‘Steak’ Medallions with Plum Sauce over Scallion Parmesan Polenta; Grilled Asparagus Spears and Prosciutto with Honey-Mint-Goat Cheese Spread; Bruschetta with Wild Mushrooms, Tomato, Madeira & Asiago; and Fruited Couscous Salad with Tarragon, Citrus & Buttermilk Dressing. Doesn't that sound just awesome?

So last month I was otherwise-scheduled. This month, I've already bought and paid for my ticket! Last I heard, though, there were only about five tickets not requested for July...but there are about a dozen not yet paid for. You can still snag one of those unrequested tickets (and pay for it to secure your seat) or, if there aren't any of those left, you can let your evil side run wild and snatch a ticket up anyway (by paying).

So, friends...come on over and have dinner with me and the other cool people I know will be there (because they're the cooks). Although I can't yet give a first-hand report, I seriously don't think you'll be disappointed.

Maybe it's the 2008-2009 Whirlwind Scrabble Tour?

Oh, the universe is definitely leaning toward my 2008 Whirlwind Scrabble tour becoming reality. In fact, with the addition of the Players Championship in Dayton, Ohio next year, maybe my tour will be extended! What better way to end a year-long Scrabble extravaganza than with a five-day Scrabble marathon?

Guess what else? Eric has taken a part-time job that seems to secure this destiny of mine. He's going to be working with an airline while he finishes up his degree...meaning that I can fly for free to wherever the airline flies (and at a reduced cost on other airlines). Now guess where the airline's nearest hub is from Charlie West? DE-troit, Michigan! Detroit (and its surrounding area) seems to be the Scrabble capitol of my (regional) universe. At right about six hours away, though, it sits on the very border of the area I had been looking at for my Scrabble tour. Now, though, a trip to Detroit is likely to take more like an hour-and-a-half and, at most, cost me a rental car for less than the gas money and not nearly as much time. Although airline employees and their families fly standby, CRW is not the busiest airport in the world and I'd have three chances to make a flight any given day (and could zip back down the hill if I had to wait four hours for the next flight). The worst-case scenario: I get in my car at 4:00 in the afternoon (right before the last flight of the day leaves) and drive the same six hours I would have in the first place.

And since Eric's new job is so perfect for me, I'm thinking about foregoing the Durham tournament in favor of South Lyon, Michigan in October. The Durham tournament would offer a few more games and the chance for some trivia or poker after-hours, you are well-aware by now, the South Lyon tournament would give me a chance to fly instead of drive. And that would put me at being away from home no more than two weekends in a row (instead of three). shiny, new preliminary schedule goes a little something like this:

Rocky River, Ohio on July 12th;
Pontiac, Michigan from August over Labor Day weekend;
Fenton, Michigan on September 13th and 14th;
Hudson, Ohio on September 20th to the 21st;
South Lyon, Michigan on October 11th and 12th;
Elyria, Ohio on October 18th and 19th;
Lexington, Kentucky on the first weekend in November;
Strongsville, Ohio on December 6th and 7th; and,
the Players Championship in Dayton, Ohio from August 1st through the 5th, 2009.

Of course, if I make a big year of it, there will probably be other tournaments from January 2009 until August. And I guess, if I get that used to playing a lot of Scrabble, it will probably go on from there! If that be the case, then I sure hope to see some results from all this studying!!

Want to make a contribution to my
semi-worldwide Scrabble tour?
Just click here!!

Book Club...and Other Women Things

So last night was my monthly book club. As always, it's two or three hours sitting around with a lot of smart, funny women...talking about work, men, kids, life in general (and also having great snacks and great wine), and then maybe several minutes on the book. This is a time for which I have great anticipation each month as it approaches and it really does me good. The women I've met there are all smart, thoughtful, kind, and supportive. Some of them are loud and funny and some are more quiet and funny. But I think they're all awesome.

And it looks like many women are getting better physical and psychological health just by nurturing these types of relationships with other women. At the end of this blog entry, I've posted an article in which researchers discuss their findings that women react with positive physical and mental health changes from spending time with, and getting support from, other women.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about this concept over the last few years. I didn't need a research study, though, to tell me how important my friends were in my life. And I don't mean like, "my MP3 collection is very important to me." I mean like important as in the difference between simply existing and really living. As for me and the people that have become so important in my life...maybe it's our age...and the fact that many women (and maybe people in general) really seem to figure out who they are in their late twenties and early thirties...and each discover our strengths, our confidence, and our needs. And, as cheesy as it may sound, things like love, friendship and understanding grow when you give them to someone else.

And in these past several years, I've found friends like Melissa and Martha who together comprise a set of traits that epitomize almost everything I've ever wanted to be. (See how I did that? I said "together" they're what I want to be so it takes the pressure off both of them.) I've been equally as lucky to find friends like Sara and Jennifer who demonstrate the steady, constant nature of a true friend.

And this book club, of which I've been a part for maybe the past eighteen months, always reminds me of the commonality of this particular type of woman. More important than the brains, the variety of the very funny or the very quiet nature, and the personal strength, is the appreciation and support for other women.

I may be getting off course, and perhaps even venturing into the area of "rambling." I'll wrap it up now.

Sisters...remember to make time for each other. It's as important as taking your vitamins.


UCLA Researchers Identify Key Biobehavioral Pattern Used By Women To Manage Stress
ScienceDaily (May 22, 2000) — Researchers at UCLA have identified a broad biological and behavioral pattern that explains a key method used by women to cope with stress - and at the same time highlights one of the most basic differences between men's and women's behavior.

This pattern, referred to by UCLA principal investigator Shelley E. Taylor as "tend and befriend," shows that females of many species, including humans, respond to stressful conditions by protecting and nurturing their young (the "tend" response), and by seeking social contact and support from others - especially other females (the "befriend" response).

This "tend-and-befriend" pattern is a sharp contrast to the "fight-or-flight" behavior that has long been considered the principal method for coping with stress by both men and women.

"For decades, psychological research maintained that both men and women rely on fight or flight to cope with stress - meaning that when confronted by stress, individuals either react with aggressive behavior, such as verbal conflict and more drastic actions, or withdraw from the stressful situation," said Taylor.

"We found that men often react to stress with a fight-or-flight response," Taylor said, "but women are more likely to manage their stress with a tend-and-befriend response by nurturing their children or seeking social contact, especially with other women."

The UCLA study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of the Psychological Review of the American Psychological Association, based its findings on analysis of hundreds of biological and behavioral studies of response to stress by thousands of humans and animal subjects.
"The tend-and-befriend method of coping with stress seems to be characteristic of females in many species," Taylor said.

Just as the fight-or-flight response is based on biological changes that occur in response to stress, the UCLA researchers propose that the tend-and-befriend pattern may have a biological basis. In particular, the research team points to the hormone oxytocin as playing a large role in the tend-and-befriend response, in conjunction with sex hormones and the body's natural opioid system.

"Oxytocin has been studied largely for its role in childbirth, but it is also secreted in both men and women as a response to stress," she said.

"Animals and people with high levels of oxytocin are calmer, more relaxed, more social and less anxious. In several animal species, oxytocin leads to maternal behavior and to affiliation.

"Men secrete oxytocin too, but the effects of oxytocin seem to be reduced by male hormones, so oxytocin may have reduced effects on men's physiology and behavior under stress. Oxytocin, along with other stress hormones, may play a key factor in reducing females' response to stress."
The UCLA study also found that women are far more likely than men to "befriend" in response to stress - seeking social contact when they are feeling stressed, with befriending methods ranging from talking on the phone with relatives or friends, to such simple social contacts as asking for directions when lost.

"This difference in seeking social support during stressful periods is the principal way men and women differ in their response to stress, and one of the most basic differences in men's and women's behavior," Taylor said.

The different ways that men and women respond to stress may also help researchers understand why men are more vulnerable to the adverse health effects of stress, according to Taylor.

"Men are more likely than women to respond to stressful experiences by developing certain stress-related disorders, including hypertension, aggressive behavior, or abuse of alcohol or hard drugs," Taylor said. "Because the tend-and-befriend regulatory system may, in some ways, protect women against stress, this biobehavioral pattern may provide insights into why women live an average of seven and a half years longer than men."

"The tend-and-befriend pattern exhibited by women probably evolved through natural selection," Taylor said. "Thousands of generations ago, fleeing or fighting in stressful situations was not a good option for a female who was pregnant or taking care of offspring, and women who developed and maintained social alliances were better able to care for multiple offspring in stressful times.

The "tending" pattern is especially apparent in research conducted by UCLA psychologist Rena Repetti, who, in one of the studies analyzed in Taylor's research, examined the differences between fathers' and mothers' behaviors with their children after a stressful workday.

"When the typical father in the study came home after a stressful day at work, he responded to stress by wanting to be left alone, enjoying peace and quiet away from the stress of the office; when office-related stress was particularly acute, a typical response would be to react harshly or create conflict with his wife or children," Taylor said. "When the typical mother in the study came home from work bearing stress, she was more likely to cope with her bad day by focusing her attention on nurturing her children.

How did biobehavioral differences in how men and women cope with stress elude researchers until now?

"Until five years ago, many research studies on stress focused on males - either male rodents or human male participants in the laboratory," Taylor said. "Women were largely excluded in stress research because many researchers believed that monthly fluctuations in hormones created stress responses that varied too widely to be considered statistically valid.

"But since 1995, when the federal government mandated broad representation of both men and women in agency-funded medically-relevant research grants, the number of women represented in stress studies has increased substantially. Researchers are now beginning to realize that men and women use different coping mechanisms when dealing with stress."

"This is the first effort to identify a new stress regulatory system since the 1950s, and we are very excited about its ability to explain stress-related behavior that has not fit in traditional approaches to studying stress," Taylor said. "For example, people under stress, especially women, often seek social support from others, but until now, we haven't understood why or what the biological effects of support are. We are much closer now."

In addition to Taylor, the research team includes former UCLA post-doctoral scholars Laura Cousino Klein (now an assistant professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State University), Brian P. Lewis (now an assistant professor at Syracuse), and Regan A.R. Gurung, (now an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin/Green Bay); and UCLA graduate students Tara L. Gruenewald and John A. Updegraff.