Online Scrabble? Bring It!

Published in The Ferndale Record, February 23, 2011

The game of Scrabble has deep roots in my family of origin. Whenever we all came together, my four older siblings played for hours leaving me out because I was too young. I hated that it took so long and that apparently, I lacked the required intellect or life experience to participate.

When I was 8-years-old my oldest brother, who thought I was adorable, took pity on me and during one of their Scrabble marathons told me that I must spell the word “dictionary” before I got a seat at the table.

That night while they played, I studied until I had it right. When I proudly spelled it for everyone in the room, they were generous—I got a shot. And while I was out of my league, I’d officially joined the club.

The brother who made me a player was a classic Scrabble con artist, playing words that even as a child I knew weren’t real. But he persisted. His plays were almost always challenged, and often he lost a turn because of his bold behavior, trying to snag the rest of us in his lies.

My favorite word he played was “retux.”  When it was loudly and laughably contested, he argued that it meant a man took off his tuxedo and put it on again—thus, he was “retuxing.”  The dictionary proved, of course, it wasn’t a word, but I loved that he tried to get away with it.

Recently, I’ve been playing Scrabble online with my other brother. Known for his gaming prowess, he’d be a formidable opponent, I thought. It took me awhile to discern that online playing is an entirely different species than the board game. On the Web, anything goes.

There’s no argument about a play because the game won’t allow invalid words. So, I was on my own to come up with brilliant moves worth points that would leave my brother in awe of how well his little sister had learned to play Scrabble. After all, I’m a word person. How hard could it be?

Now, my brother is a smart guy, but I began to suspect he wasn’t finding words like “dialytic,” “sabaton,” and “aboiteau,” stored in the recesses of his memory.

However, I decided to take the high road. Online Scrabble cheats weren’t for me. Nope. I was going to play fair and come out the winner—until last week. When I saw there wasn’t a way for me to compete with the number of Bingos (when one uses all seven letters dealt, earning very high scores) he was producing, I goaded him into telling me his secret.

I chose to fight fire with fire, and within the past week I’ve laid down a few exquisite plays of my own. With a little research on a Web site built exclusively for Scrabble users, I found that  “azonal,” “levanted,” and “doolee” are all perfectly acceptable words, and as a result I’ve racked up more wins in a couple of days than I had all last month.

Game on.

I’m oddly competitive. It’s like flipping a switch. The usually easy-going me morphs into a feral carnivore circling prey. Now that I’m armed with a level playing field, I must, no—I WILL win. It’s a side of myself I’m unfamiliar with, but I like it.

My brother, a stellar competitor, also happens to be a nice person. When I win, my comments are “BOOYAH!” and “Who’s Your Daddy?”  His are “Good Job, Suzie” and “Way To Go.”

I guess if we’re both using outside help and winning games, the least I can do is be a gracious winner. Maybe I’ll try that next week.

For now, I’ll enjoy rolling around in my small victories. I like sitting with the grownups and winning a few.


















Exactly What You Want

Published in The Ferndale Record, February 9, 2011

The February I was expecting my fourth child, I knew what I wanted for Valentine’s Day. Those decorative boxes of candy are a deliciously evil indulgence, and I always thought instead of eating the goodies inside, I might as well attach them directly to my hips and thighs. But, that year I was pregnant and decided since my weight was only going up before it would come down again, why not?

I explained the object of my desire to an understanding husband in explicit detail: It should be an enormous pink or red heart-shaped box of assorted chocolates, with a festive bow on top. It would be all mine, and a symbol that my mate knew how to get me a gift I really wanted. It felt oddly powerful.

His gift giving was on target and I can still taste those gooey little hunks of whatever-they-were doused in varying chocolate.

I know, I know. It’s not as romantic as having your loved one read your mind and inherently KNOW what you’d like for a special day. But here’s the deal: It works.

If you prefer to be surprised but are feverishly counting on a particular gift, prepare to be disappointed. Significant others usually mean well, but don’t often nail it without a giant hint—like a piece of paper with all pertinent details such as color, precise location of the desired item, size, and the fact that it’s on hold in your name at Macy’s.

In fact, send your loved one an Email with a link to the specific item and a kind note saying how bitter you’ll be if you end up with a Dust Buster instead. Boom. There it is.

You still might not get what you’d like. But at least you’re not depending on someone remembering your not-so-casual mention, a few weeks or months ago, of that thing you really want in that store by that place off some exit.

Here’s something I’ve tried. Buy it yourself.

The year after my divorce was final I decided to go to the beach alone for Christmas. In hindsight this was something I probably won’t do again any time soon, but it felt right at the time. On top of which, I intended to make it a holiday I could enjoy.

So, in the days before I left town I did a little shopping. I bought a pair of those retro, cat-eye reading glasses with little jewels in the top corners and asked the clerk to gift-wrap them. I had a couple of other little things to open, and I laid them all on a table in my hotel room.

When I tore open the box with the glasses, I was thrilled—it was a giddy moment. I could give myself the perfect gift without relying on anyone else. Oh, the control!

Another time I sent myself flowers for an accomplishment that would mean little to anyone else. I went to the florist, picked out what I wanted, wrote myself a lovely card, and asked for them to be delivered at 3:00 p.m. that day. I discovered that when someone’s standing on your porch with flowers for you, it doesn’t matter who sent them. It was my little secret, and I felt giggly surprise. I read the card with the kinds words, and tucked it away in one of those places with things I’ll keep forever.

Nobody wants to receive something you don’t want. But since others extend their own brands of kindness, you will. That’s why it never hurts to take care of the job yourself.

Heartless? Nah. Just satisfyingly practical.