Screen Time

Before kids, one of my sisters used to refer to my husband and me as Siskel and Ebert, as in the thumb-up-or-thumbs-down theater critics. We went to the movies a lot. Our third date involved seeing a movie: A League of  Their Own. There was a year we had seen every movie nominated for the Academy Awards. Then we became parents and there was a year (or two) where we hadn’t seen a single one of the nominated movies.

I partly blame my mother for our drastic reduction in movie viewing post-kids. She babysat for one of our first dates after our daughter Sarah was born. We were thinking of catching a movie, but then my mother gently suggested that we use the rare time off to catch up without interruption. In a movie, after all, we couldn’t talk to each other. You know, share our hopes, our dreams, our fears … I bet we talked about how little Sarah slept. But it seemed like sound advice. And for years, we always felt like we should reconnect on dates and not sit in silence at the movies. Although I know now, sitting in silence together is reconnecting. Sometimes it can be healthier for a relationship than talking.

This year, I saw three of  the Academy-Award nominated films: Spotlight, Brooklyn and The Martian. I loved them all  (rooting for Spotlight to win Best Movie ). I also saw  all three in the movie theater., which, to me, makes all the difference. It’s an event. There are no distractions. I hope to see an even higher percentage of the Academy Award-nominated films when 2017 rolls around.

Brooklyn makes me want to go to Ireland again.

Thinking of the Oscars and, of course, my year of living like Alice,  I asked my mother recently about her top three favorite movies. I knew Barbra Streisand’s  Funny Girl was high on the  list. Let’s just say we don’t share that in common.

Beautiful voice, but she has always grated on my nerves. Yentil anyone?

A Quiet Man with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara is another one. My mother says she tries to watch the movie  every year around St. Patrick’s Day. ( I plan to do the same this year if anyone wants to join me.) The third top pick is American President. Following in the footsteps of Alice, we decided to watch the movie early this morning, which seemed especially appropriate with the Massachusetts presidential primary  on Tuesday.

Written by Alan Sorkin, the movie came out in 1995.  It tells the story of  a widowed U.S. president (Michael Douglass) who falls in love with a lobbyist (Annette Bening). Like his TV show West Wing, Sorkin’s characters speak in such clever sound bites that sometimes it’s not very believable conversation. But I liked it.

Toward the end of the movie, Douglas’ president lambastes his fictional Republication opponent, U.S. Senator Bob Rumson, played by Richard Dreyfuss:

“We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections.”

Remind you of anyone? I am not afraid of what Donald Trump wants me to fear. I am afraid of Donald Trump becoming the Republican nominee for president.








Not far from the tree

My sister-in-law called my cell phone the other night around 8:30 pm. And my first question after hello: Is everything OK?  I don’t know why I jump to the conclusion that people are calling with bad news. It wasn’t midnight; it was 8:30 pm for God’s sake. I do the slightly panicked voice to my husband on occasion. Paul will sometimes offer a preemptive strike if the telephone call is out of the blue: “Nothing is wrong,” but just checking on … Sometimes he calls just to say hi. Imagine that.

In my effort to spend the year acting more like my mother, I have come to discover how much I already act like my mother, in ways big and small. I would never call my mother at an unusual time of day (or at work) without first assuring her that everything is fine. As kids, if one of us was not home and she happened to hear sirens in the distance, she would assume one of us was in a car accident. And now that my oldest daughter drives, I sometimes do the same thing.

But there are little things too. I cut butter the wrong way, just like my mother. I used to think everyone sliced the stick horizontally across the top in a thin layer until a high school friend commented on my unusual technique. I discovered that, in fact, most people cut butter in a vertical motion, as in pats of  butter. But old habits are hard to break and I never retrained myself to cut butter the proper way.

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Her influence extends far beyond the refrigerator. My kitchen windowsill is lined with glass bottles and usually a few flowers, just like my mother. I keep the dining room table free of clutter. Before a party, I shove things into closets to make the room look neater. There is an abundance of throw pillows on our bed.  All very Alice Flynn.


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If I come to a sudden stop while driving, I use my arm as an extra seat belt on the occupant in the passenger side. Every time an ambulance races past, I say a prayer for the people inside. My mother taught me that. Whenever I talk to someone on the phone to make a reservation, or ask a question on a bill, I always ask for a name.  I don’t like to waste my day by sleeping late.

For good or bad, many of us act like our mothers in more ways than we probably realize or are willing to admit. We have to decide for ourselves what we want to do the same or set out to do differently. I want to worry less than my mother does. But I’m also grateful every day to still have someone so deeply invested in my life.

The other day my mother happened to pick up the phone at the same time as my Dad. She didn’t catch the caller’s name but heard him asking my father about making an appointment to check his fluids. My Dad’s had a tough winter of colds and coughs, but my mother worried why  the doctor was calling now? Were they hiding some bad news from her? She kept listening to the conversation as my father scheduled an appointment to come in to have his fluids checked, with the auto mechanic up the street.

My mother couldn’t stop laughing at that one. Neither can I.











Mixing it up in the kitchen

Every night I seem to get the same question from my family: What’s for dinner? Always hungry these people.

My rotation is fairly limited, but dependable — unlike the Boston Red Sox.  Ziti or lasagna, chicken with Mexican rice, homemade pizza, meatball subs, panini sandwiches. I also really like take-out. Growing up my mother seemed to also have her go-to dishes: shepherd’s pie, pork chops, breakfast-for-dinner, are a few that come to mind. On occasion, she tried new things, but they weren’t always met with a warm reception. (To this day, salsa is far too radical of a food idea for  my father to even consider.)

I do remember one new dish my mother made that I loved: French onion soup. My mother found a recipe after ordering it several times at a nearby restaurant called the Barnside Tavern. I was thoroughly impressed that she could recreate the soup at home, served in dark brown crocks with overflowing cheese.

Last weekend my daughter Elizabeth ordered a delicious three-bean chili at a restaurant in Portsmouth, N.H., called The Works. Since she had a bad cold, the chili was the perfect comfort food with enough heat to clear her sinuses.



Like Alice, I thought we could recreate the dish at home. I had never made chili before but with the Super Bowl the following day, I thought it would be a good time to try. Here’s the recipe we found from Cooking Light:

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup pre-chopped onion
1/2 cup pre-chopped green bell pepper
2 teaspoons bottled minced garlic
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 (15 1/2-ounce) can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15 1/2-ounce) can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15 1/2-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can organic vegetable broth (such as Swanson Certified Organic)
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained
1 tablespoon yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
6 tablespoons reduced-fat sour cream

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic to pan; sauté 3 minutes. Stir in 3/4 cup water and next 9 ingredients (through diced tomatoes); bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 8 minutes. Stir in cornmeal; cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in cilantro. Serve with sour cream.

The Fritos were not an  ingredient, but maybe my favorite part.

The store was out of fresh cilantro so we didn’t add any. And we served with Monterey Jack cheese and Fritos on the side. It was delicious. And everyone liked it. Next time I would double the batch.

I’m not sure why cooking feels like such a chore sometimes. On occasion I adopt an auto-pilot approach. It’s not that I don’t like the final product; it’s the process that I don’t enjoy as much as I wish I did. All the chopping and dicing, the cleaning up. And I know from every self-help book, Oprah magazine and tea bag I have ever read, you are supposed to enjoy the journey. I like the part when we are sitting down at the table. But there is a boost that comes from trying something new.

I have not adopted the clean-as-you-go approach.

Maybe some day I will be as accomplished in the kitchen as my mother,  but she’s quick to point out that she didn’t start out that way. “I’m not that great of a cook, Susan,” she corrected me the other day. “Don’t put me up on a pedestal. When I first got married I was a terrible cook.”

Before the age of microwaves, she said she especially struggled with timing, making sure the meat, potatoes and vegetables were all hot at the same time. For those of you who watch Downton Abbey (which my daughter Elizabeth says is the same as the Kardashians except the people have British accents) , it calls to mind the struggles of poor Mrs. Hughes. She can’t seem to make her new husband, Mr. Carson, happy in the kitchen. I think she should dump every dish that he criticizes right on his head.

One of my parents’ first fights happened in the kitchen. After trying hard to make a nice dinner for her new husband, my mother dropped the roast beef she was taking out of the oven onto the kitchen floor. She blamed my father, who had repeatedly promised to fix the faulty oven door. My mother was so mad she left the roast beef right where it was. My father was so mad that she blamed him that he did the same.

Growing up we were told that the roast beef sat there for hours. My mother know says it was probably closer to 30 minutes. Eventually my parents agreed to pick the roast beef off the floor together. There may be more romantic stories to share for Valentine’s Day, but I always really liked that one.

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My parents at their surprise 5oth anniversary party in 2011. Photo by John Hart.



Happy Birthday Mom!

It seems a short blog post is in order today to wish Alice Flynn a very happy birthday. Growing up my mother always made a big deal out of our birthdays. And she says her mother always did the same for her.

Her birthday on Feb. 3 coincides with the Roman Catholic Blessing of the Throats, so part of every birthday was spent in church. Her other tradition involved eating her mother’s homemade hot water sponge cake. Being the youngest of six children, my mother concedes she was a little spoiled on birthdays (and probably in general), especially when her siblings started to work and could splurge on presents.

The fact that my mother made a fuss over our birthdays is even more impressive considering three of her four children’s birthdays were very close to Christmas: December 13, December 19 and January 15. She never did combination birthday/Christmas presents, although she may have wrapped birthday gifts in Christmas paper, but I forgive her now.

Summer birthday parties would have been much easier. Imagine tying the figure skate laces of 10 cranky, runny-nosed elementary school kids at a birthday party held for one of us on the pond across the street. I remember another party at Chuck E. Cheese’s for my brother, back when Chucky E. Cheese’s was The Thing. Tommy had so much fun running around in the tunnels, swimming in the ball pit, playing video games and eating pizza that he threw up on all of his friends on the way home.

I have always loved my birthday, and I know I have my mother to thank. Everyone should feel like a very big deal at least one day of the year.


Let’s celebrate with Hingham High’s most adorable baton twirler.




In the cards

One of my all-time favorite Alice Flynn memories stems from an event that took place when I was sound asleep. And while I did not witness this incident unfold, my mother’s amusing account the next morning created a recording in my mind that I can replay whenever the mood strikes. It’s so classic my mother that I smile whenever I think about it.

On a Wednesday night back in the late 1970s, my mother won the $500 jackpot at a Bingo game held at a Catholic church in the next town over. She came home so excited that she scattered all her winnings on top of my father asleep in their bed, sort of like rose petals but better. “It probably wasn’t the smartest thing I ever did. But boy he got out of bed quick,” my mother recently quipped.

My mother likes to gamble. She will be the first to admit it. She’s not reckless (in fact she’s probably the opposite), but she likes to win whatever prize is up for grabs. Her mother also liked to gamble, and I have vivid memories of my Nana Kelly having no qualms about taking all my pennies in family poker games despite my quivering lip. My mother’s strategy toward games of chance of any kind is simple: Think positive. She expects to win, and very often she does.

On her first trip to Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, she won more than $900 from a crooning Elvis Presley slot machine that landed on three matching gold records. My parents almost missed the Knights of Columbus bus back home to Cape Cod while waiting for their payout.

My mother was all shook up.

But it’s not just gambling in the traditional sense. She once won round-trip airline tickets to anywhere in the United States from a raffle fundraiser run by the high school Boosters. (They went to San Diego.) At a church holiday fair, she bought a chance on the most beautiful wooden dollhouse you have ever seen in your life. Inside, the rooms were exquisitely decorated, like an Ethan Allen showroom, with a four-poster bed, red leather sofa, pedestal kitchen table and pewter dishes. My sister Christine got the dollhouse for Christmas that year.

I share some of my mother’s wishful (perhaps delusional) thinking toward gambling. I expect to win and I really, really, really like to win. My best prize ever was winning two tickets to the Final Four college basketball tournament in 1994, as part of a promotion with WBCN at a restaurant/bar near our house. When they drew the piece of paper with my name on it, I started to shake. I really, really, really thought I was going to win. Earlier that day I had told my mother that we would probably miss Easter dinner because we would be in Charlotte, N.C., for the games. I sort of willed it into happening, or so I like to believe.

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My husband (then boyfriend) with Arkansas fans at the Final Four. (Not sure what he was thinking with the Daffy Duck shirt …)

In my ongoing pursuit of living more like Alice, I recently invited three friends to gamble with me. Which is why this past Friday night, we went to the weekly Bingo organized by St. John the Baptist Parish in Salem. I called ahead and spoke with a kind woman named Marilyn and learned the games started promptly at 6:15 pm (doors open at 2 pm) and that the top potential prize for the progressive jackpot that night was $1,700. She wished us luck. I was feeling hopeful; that sum could really improve our family’s February school vacation week plans.

We stepped inside the florescent-lit bingo hall around 5:30 p.m. I thought I would remember the drill from the one or two times I played Bingo in my early 20s with my aunts and my mother. Not so much. Nice older ladies seated behind a long table immediately started firing questions at us: How many sheets do you want? Do you want the blue strips for the 50/50 game? Are you playing the Progressive Cover? How about the Quinella Double Bingo? It was a language we did not speak or understand. I asked one older woman what she would tell her daughter to do: She said she would tell her daughter to go home and not waste her money. I appreciated her honesty, but we were committed.

We bought our cards/strips, colored daubers ($1), some sodas and grabbed seats near the front. We found a few nice women nearby who took pity on us, and one, in particular, who took it upon herself to make sure we understood the many combinations of games. Before long we figured out the Coverall, Broken Picture Frame, and Number 7-to-Letter-Z games. But the Picnic Bench was tricky.  I’m not quick enough to stamp only the numbers that fall into an area that would form a picnic bench base. That’s at least an intermediate skill.

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My friend Leeann and I feeling positive at the beginning of the night. Photo by Julie Diewald.

What’s amazing is how some people can play 50 cards at once without batting an eye. With daubers in hand, they move up and down the rows, blotting with efficient precision. Many are very serious. We learned some don’t appreciate chit-chat.  They line up their good luck charms in front of them, share salty snacks on paper plates, and sigh loudly when someone shouts “Bingo” from across the room. I suppose you should feel happy when someone else wins. But I kind of understood the chorus of collective disappointment. I may have even joined in.


As Rudolph’s friend Yukon Cornelius liked to say, “Nothin.”  I was once “waiting” on one number, but most of my cards were duds.

Sadly, the night ended without any of us winning a penny. As my friend Julie pointed out, the odds were not in our favor because we played a lot fewer cards than everyone else. But we laughed a lot, maybe too much, considering some of the looks. Could Foxwoods be our next adventure?

Honestly, I‘m OK with the outcome. It wouldn’t have been fair if I won $1,700 at Bingo in January and then won the HGTV Dream Home in March. I have a good feeling about this one.

Friends and family are welcome to visit me in Florida. Just call first.