The Toy I Trashed: The Hot Wheels Slimecano

With lots of pieces and lots of slime, I should have known better.

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Photo: Christopher Harris | Unsplash

 

Every parent has been there. You buy that cool toy your child yearns for and within minutes you realize: BIG MISTAKE.

So, in the spirit of Christmas, I thought I would relate my own such experience with the Hot Wheels Slimecano Playset… y’know, to relive the “joy” once again and possibly save another parent from buying this behemoth. After all, even though some cursory online searching indicates this toy has been discontinued, one or two units could still be lurking out there on a dusty store shelf or in an online retailer’s inventory.

In a word, the Hot Wheels Slimecano was formidable. Introduced in 2004, this apparatus was composed of an armload of plastic pieces that snapped or otherwise fit together. My eight-year-old son had seen it advertised on TV and wanted it desperately.

All those plastic pieces were accompanied by directions that explained which parts attached to which other parts, which combined to form race tracks, slime reservoirs, ramps, and other components that, when completely assembled, resulted in an ominous and wobbly gray, brown and orange tripod-like structure down which my son could send his cars. So awesome, Mom.

Also, there was somehow a skull or dragon head involved in the design of the thing, although I don’t remember the significance of that, other than maybe it was there to advise parents in “Jolly Roger”-style of the gooey mess that was about to be made.

An unsettling slime concoction was key to the Slimecano. I don’t remember if it was a slime we made ourselves from ingredients supplied in the box, or if it was included in the package already prepared in packets, but it was there, a thick, gloppy translucent orange goop dotted with dark specks. This slime provided the magic of the toy.

For a fleeting five minutes, my son played with the Slimecano. He was mesmerized watching his car careen down the plastic track… until it hit the slime and needed to be pushed through an oozing river of the stuff and then guided around a puddle at the bottom of the track. This all happened to the same unfortunate car. After all,  the wheels on a car can only move when they are not embedded with slime. My son soon figured out that this was a toy that required him to sacrifice his least favorite car. Send that car down the Slimecano once, clog up the wheels, tire treads, and undercarriage, and voila! auto salvage in miniature.

Then came the very unmagical clean-up time. While snapping apart the Slimecano, my son discovered the entire apparatus was encrusted with the orange goo. So was the floor. And his mom’s patience. As he dismantled the game, washed off each piece, and shoved the plastic collection back into the box, we knew that the Slimecano may have just had its one and only use. The game was over and disappointment was the victor. Thanks, Hot Wheels.

So there you have it, my gift to you: a cautionary tale of the toy I trashed. Have a similar toy story in your family? Tell me about it in the comments. We can laugh about it now, can’t we?!


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Dear Parents: The Church of Scientology wants to get inside your child’s classroom.

And they don’t need Tom Cruise to do it.

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By 롯데엔터테인먼트 | Youtube link | [CC BY 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

A year ago last fall, I scanned the first page of a glossy teacher’s guide, part of a free educator’s kit sent to me (at my request) from Youth for Human Rights International (YHRI), an organization I had discovered in an online search for some teaching materials on human rights for my classes. On that first page was a list of well-known human rights leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, and L. Ron Hubbard.

My eyes rested on that last one. I asked myself, why is the founder of the Church of Scientology included on a list of human rights leaders? Nelson Mandela and the others I could understand, but L. Ron Hubbard?

I questioned Hubbard’s name because I knew a little about the Church of Scientology. I had read “The Apostate” by Hollywood director, screenwriter and former Scientologist Paul Haggis in The New Yorker. I had read former Scientologist Amy Scobee’s Scientology: Abuse at the Top. I had also watched HBO’s documentary, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. Out of curiosity, I had even read a Scientology text from my local library that, had I been a lost soul looking for some easy — and expensive — answers, would have been convincing; however, for all its ostentatiousness and extremely happy people holding e-meters, the text felt empty and false.

 

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What Are Human Rights? educator’s kit

With all the media attention focused on the Church of Scientology, it’s easy to conclude Hubbard’s “church” is no religion at all, but rather a dangerous money-making cult that uses Tom Cruise and other celebrities, its 501(c)(3) status, and hyperbole to convince its followers that it’s a major force for good in the world. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

But that day last fall at school, I was in a hurry to get my classroom put together, so I cast from my mind Hubbard’s name on that list of human rights notables. I looked through the rest of the educator’s kit: lesson plans, a set of thirty professionally-photographed human rights posters, a class set of booklets that explain each of the thirty rights, plus a well-produced DVD that discusses the Cyrus Cylinder, Natural Law, the American and French Revolutions and other global watershed moments in human rights. I filed the DVD away, laminated the posters and hung them on a wall of my classroom, and then shelved the booklets, which would be used later when my eighth-grade students would start connecting the literature we read to human rights.

Then over the next few months, I watched “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath,” the actress’ documentary series on A&E. Alongside consultant and former Scientologist Mike Rinder, Remini exposes The Church of Scientology’s abuses, violence, and inhumane practices through interviews with former “parishioners” now disconnected from the group.

During one episode of Remini’s series, I learned about the many front organizations the Church of Scientology uses to gain credibility. And that was my lightbulb moment: Youth for Human Rights International must be one of those front organizations, I thought. That’s why Hubbard’s name was on that list. A few minutes of online searching confirmed my suspicion.

Indeed, the Church of Scientology doesn’t make it obvious that it’s the force behind YHRI. Visit the YHRI website and you’ll find no connection to Scientology; however, visit Scientology.org, and you’ll find numerous mentions of YHRI, its partner front United for Human Rights, and a heavy dose of grandiose language extolling the progress being made globally by the Church of Scientology to advance human rights.

On Scientology.org, you’ll also find lots of United Nations name-dropping. Clearly, it enhances the cult’s image to rub shoulders with the UN, but it baffles me why the United Nations would align itself with the Church of Scientology. Here’s a link on the UN’s website to its annual International Human Rights Summit held last August at its New York City headquarters. According to the article, student attendees spent day three of the summit at the Church of Scientology Harlem Community Center, which is right next door to the Harlem Main Church. The UN summit was co-organized by the permanent UN missions in Cambodia and Panama and YHRI, which has been a co-sponsor of the summit since its inception fourteen years ago.

 

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Photo from United Nations News & Media

Based on the alliance with the UN, many people likely assume YHRI is a reputable, forthright group worthy to publicize in public school classrooms. Heck, that’s what I assumed.

However, there are several human rights that the Church of Scientology violates, which discredit its claim of being a leader in the field of human rights. I’m not an expert on the Church of Scientology, but if one reads even a moderate amount on the cult, you’ll discover many questionable, unethical activities. For now, here are three that I’m aware of: 1) the cult’s Rehabilitation Project Force, a forced-labor camp where cult followers are imprisoned to perform hard labor to compensate for violations they have allegedly committed; 2) the cult’s disconnection policy, which requires followers to separate themselves from friends and family members who criticize the Church of Scientology, and 3) the documented charges of physical violence and assault by David Miscavige, the Church of Scientology’s Ecclesiastical Leader, and other higher-ups.

To be honest, human rights violations or not, when a cult is making inroads into American schools — even though that inroad, human rights, may be innocuous and noble — it’s unacceptable and dangerous.

So, parents and teachers, please know that if you or your child’s teacher discusses human rights, do not consult Youth for Human Rights International or United for Human Rights because if you do, you will actually be consulting the Church of Scientology.

There are reputable organizations out there ready to provide teachers with classroom-ready, cult-free materials. I’ll discuss some alternatives in an upcoming post.


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Thanks, Kohl’s, for selling this shirt.

It’s nice to see clothing like this instead of that snarky shirt I wrote about recently.

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Now that’s more like it… a shirt about kindness.

 

In August, Kohl’s mailed a back-to-school catalog with a shirt on the cover displaying the words, “Shhhh! Nobody Cares!” I wrote about it in “Ten Questions for Kohl’s About This Shirt.”  I believe that snarky messages like this only send negativity into the world… and can be especially hurtful in a school setting.  I’m a middle school teacher and I know several kids who don’t need to read that their lives are unimportant.

Kohl’s tweeted to me a week or two after I published that blog post. Here’s their tweet: “Thanks for this feedback, Marilyn. We’ll be sure to pass it along to our buyers here at Kohl’s for review and future considerations.”

So when I found this “Throw kindness like confetti” shirt on a pre-Halloween mailer about a week ago, I was gratified. Yes, I know this mailer wasn’t in response to my blog post. I’m sure this flyer and the merchandise within it were all “put to bed” weeks or months ago. However, it’s nice to know that Kohl’s is aware that positive messages make the world a better place.

Promposals, Gender Reveal Parties, and Other Things I Do Not Understand


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Photo: Pixabay

In which I see a connection between these things and mascara

Gender reveal parties. Promposals. Save-the-dates. Bachelorette weekends. Maybe I’m a Debbie Downer, but these are all things I just don’t see a need for. I don’t understand the need for a get-together where we pop a balloon to see whether it’s filled with pink or blue confetti. I don’t understand why a guy can’t just ask a girl to prom. And if save-the-date cards are just a “heads-up” to book flights and lodging ASAP for a wedding, then does that mean the actual invitations are for people you don’t expect to show up anyway?  And finally, who decided that bachelorette parties needed to occur three states away and therefore require asking Friday off, and maybe Thursday, too?

It seems that major life occasions of the twenty-something set are now bigger, better, and more celebrated than ever before. And I’ve noticed this trend not only in major life events, but also in (brace yourself)… mascara.

In fact, while shopping at Target recently, I realized that shopping for mascara isn’t what it used to be. For example, here’s what I used to do when I ran out: enter cosmetics department, find Maybelline Great Lash by looking for hot pink tube with green lid, get brownish black, toss into cart, roll eyes at $4.99 price for a teensy-weensy .34 ounces, and leave. Easy, right?

Here’s what I have to do now: enter cosmetics department, find Maybelline Great Lash by looking for hot pink tube with green lid, get brownish black, see royal blue color and wonder if I would like it (maybe, maybe not… not sure), wonder why I can’t find my classic spiral brush, find it mixed in on a peg containing something called a grabber brush, notice three other brush styles, read packages to figure out which one does what, give up, pick one, toss into cart, roll eyes at the price, leave, and wonder how mascara became so complicated.

Too many decisions. Too many choices. Too many everything. There are now mascara formulas and brushes designed for multiple purposes: lengthening, adding volume, separating, enhancing eye color.

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Cover Girl mascaras at Target

 

In fact, within Target’s cosmetics department, each brand’s makeup section is dominated by a yard-wide patch of real estate sporting glossy cardstock packages that sparkle with blister-packs of mascara shaped like torpedoes, cylinders, and even telescopes. Sometimes at Wal-Mart, the mascara even spins on a pedestal, and a little spotlight illuminates it when you walk by. And mascara gets this kind of attention at every retailer, whether it’s Target, Wal-Mart, Walgreen’s, or the cosmetics big box known as Ulta.

The Maybelline selection alone is impressive. Here one will find a mind-dizzying array of mascaras with names such as The Colossal Bigshot, Lash Sensational, several sub-categories of Great Lash, Pumped Up Colossal, The Falsies Push Up Angel, The Falsies Push Up Drama, Illegal Length Fiber Extensions Mascara, Define-a-Lash Washable, Full ‘N Soft, Lash Stiletto Ultimate Length Mascara, plus a range of Volum’ Express versions: The Falsies, The Rocket Volume, The Colossal Spider Effect, The Colossal Chaotic Lash, The Mega Plush, The Falsies Big Eyes, and The Colossal Cat Eyes. I’m not kidding… they’re all there. Just look next time you shop.

Likewise, Cover Girl also boasts a fair share of mascara overload. Here one will discover Full Lash Bloom, The Clump Crusher, The Super Sizer Fibers, Lash Blast Volume, Lash Blast Fusion, Bombshell Volume, So Lashy! BlastPro, and Plumpify BlastPro.

You may be thinking that since Cover Girl and Maybelline are brands that target young women and teenage girls, the same group going gaga over promposals and gender reveals, it makes sense to cater to their “more is more” mentality. True, but I contend it’s infiltrating into other age brackets, including mine. Y’know, women who were married on a Saturday afternoon at a church (of all places!) and not at an exotic resort over a three-day weekend, hence the need for a save-the-date.

Don’t look now, but soon all women will be forced to sift through row upon row of mascara options. It’s already happening with Revlon. This brand may not sport the oomph of rockets and push-ups, but when one has had enough colossal chaos, there are still six choices. Oh, and they have five different mascara brushes, too, and they’re all trademarked.

So there you have it. Promposals. Gender reveals. Save-the-dates. Bachelorette weekends. Mascara. They’re all connected. Simplicity is out. Complexity is in.

And I get it: making memories and having fun is also in. But for a generation that incorporates  “simplify” and “live love laugh” wall art into their home decor, promposals, bachelorette weekends and their ilk seem to rub against that notion and complicate occasions already fraught with details.

Maybe I’m just getting old(er!), but if this generation really wants to simplify, it should scale things back. Wait to see if it’s a boy or girl. Ask a girl to prom between classes. Buy the basic mascara. Really keep it simple. Sound less than exciting? Well, Debbie Downer would be proud, so there’s that.


 

What do you think about promposals, gender reveal parties, etcetera? Click like and leave a comment so I’ll know whether or not I’m a Debbie Downer who just needs to chill out.  

I’m a writing teacher who writes. Click here to find my teaching blog.

Ten questions for Kohl’s about this shirt

Yeah, it’s just a $10 t-shirt (when you buy two of these charmers), but clothing has power.

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This is the cover of a back-to-school Kohl’s catalog I received in yesterday’s mail.

 

  1. Is this shirt supposed to be funny, Kohl’s? Because it’s really just mean. 
  2. Did you know that back-to-school should be a time of building students up, not tearing them down? “Nobody cares” has no place in an environment structured for emotional growth and learning.
  3. Do you realize the clothing you sell affects the social climate? Sure, maybe we don’t read and reflect on messages like the one on this shirt, but I think our minds do absorb its spirit.
  4. Do you know this shirt also says “You don’t matter”? It extends the “Whatever!” attitude with an added dose of disdain and egotism.  
  5. Do you know how a message like this can harm someone who’s having a bad day? I’m a middle school teacher. Messages like this are the last thing a middle schooler needs to see.
  6. Could you sell this shirt without the wording? Because it appears to have a nice fit and I like the longer length.
  7. You paid a designer to design some new back-to-school fashions, and this is what they came up with? And then you put it on the cover of your catalog?
  8. Do you know that the world doesn’t need this shirt? We’ll all get along better if we don’t cover our bodies in snarky comments.
  9. Do you realize that people actually do care about other people? In fact, I contend there is a greater capacity for compassion among humans than there is for scorn.
  10. Do you really want to associate your brand with such disrespect? I didn’t think so. You’re better than that, Kohl’s.

 

 

If this post made you think, regardless of how you feel about rude t-shirts, click the like button, leave a comment, and share on social media. Follow me to read more or check out my teaching blog, www.elabraveandtrue.com.  Thanks for reading!

87 years ago today, Warren wrote to his mother

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Warren Kerns (right) with his brother, Nelson

Below, I’ve transcribed a letter from my grandmother’s brother, Warren Kerns, 17, who was killed in an airplane accident with his brother Nelson, 15, on July 24, 1930. You can read about the accident here. He wrote this letter to his mother, Caroline (called Callie) who was visiting her parents in California at the time. Some of the handwriting is indecipherable. I just transcribed the letters as best I could, leaving out editing marks to avoid distraction. For example, I’m not sure that the first word in the last sentence is “Play.”

It’s eye-opening to read how life was so vastly different back then in southwest Missouri. My ancestors worked hard. Their days were consumed with difficult, laborious, time-consuming, hot, sweaty work. This will be even more evident in other letters I have and will eventually post. True, we work hard today, but with much less exertion. My ancestors also enjoyed relief from their work-filled days in the simple joys of ice cream and socializing.

June 10, 1930

Dear Mama: 

How are you getting along. We are all getting along fine. Charlie and I have been plowing corn most of the time since school was out. I sure was glad when the last day of school came. It rained today and is rather cool now. I s’pose it is nice and warm where you are. We went to two children’s day exercises Sunday. We went down home Sunday and had all the ice cream we could eat. You don’t know what your missing. I have to wear an overcoat to plow corn in. Where are going to spend the forth of July. It is not very far away. I don’t know where we will go.  Most any place rather than in the corn field. Things sure are cheap here. Eggs are $.16 and cream $.25 in Hume. I am going to a community sale tomorrow, which they are starting in Hume. It is now nine o’clock about my bedtime (sometimes). Well, this is all I can think of to tell you. Answer my letter soon and send me a good measure of California summer. Play like you are receiving kisses through this letter also. 

With Love, Warren

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Is an overseas internship in your daughter’s future? (Don’t worry, she’ll be fine. You, on the other hand…)

 

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My daughter in Venice. Photo: Stephanie Trujillo

Last December 2, I backed out of the driveway headed for the rural middle school in southwestern Missouri where I teach language arts. It was 7:02 a.m. My phone rang. I saw it was my daughter. Awfully early to get a call. I wondered whether something was wrong.

“Mom!?”

“Yeah, what’s going on?”

“I got the internship!” My heart soared. Two months earlier, she had applied for an internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a modern art museum in Venice, Italy. She would venture to the beautiful floating city to undertake museum duties such as guarding masterpieces, giving presentations, hosting tours, and sculpture cleaning from Feb. 2 to May 2.

She was beyond excited. So was I, but now that her acceptance was official, it was impossible to imagine her moving to a foreign country and working for three long months away from her home, her language, her friends, her family, her life. The night she received the acceptance email, I lay in bed and cried.

I simply could not see it happening. but it did. True, it was a rough transition for everyone at first, but we made it, and it was a beautiful, life-changing experience… for her and me.

And let’s be honest, I realize this isn’t intimidating for everyone. Many kids and their parents have no problem doing this type of thing; however, for Midwesterners like us, just traveling to the coasts of the U.S. is a major excursion. In our eyes, Venice might as well have been Venus.

Internships that pay, like my daughter’s, are popular and highly valued. Study abroad programs are also. Should you ever be so fortunate as to have your child venture out alone on a similar endeavor, here are some tips to get you through it.

1. Be Strong. Even though I was excited, I was also scared for her, but I couldn’t let my reservations known. I had to be strong and encouraging because I knew that deep down she likely had reservations as well. Even though living in Italy and this particular internship had been her dream ever since we discovered it on Google, interrupting her college career and moving to a foreign country would definitely be outside her “comfort zone.” I had to show I was positive about this opportunity.

2. Send your spouse to get her settled. This was my first and best idea. My husband would fly over with her in January to help her get settled and accustomed to her new home. After all, she had never been to Italy, or even Europe for that matter. She had traveled with our family to South Africa five years earlier, and with a group of other college students and veterans to Vietnam in 2015. But Italy? For three months? Alone?

3. Make sure she doesn’t stand out. We Americans like our colors. Once my husband realized her bright floral umbrella could be spied far ahead through a crowd, he purchased her a black one. In looking at her Facebook posts that first week, I noticed her eye-catching, crimson-red purse.  I texted my husband to make sure to get her a black one of those, too. Maybe we were being overly protective, but after watching a few Youtube videos of tourists and residents walking around Venice, we knew the city is a labyrinth of narrow, sometimes dark, walkways interspersed with those picture-perfect canals. No reason to look like an outsider, especially if you’re female.

4. Use technology. Numerous Facetime calls, the app People Tracker, Facebook, and Instagram made Italy seem not quite so far away. She started a blog called “From Venice with Love” that kept her in touch with friends at home. Happily, her work and social schedule quickly filled her time, and posting to Facebook and Instagram became more convenient.

5. Send a care package. We waited a couple of weeks, but then sent things from home she couldn’t find there. For example, the Venice grocery stores she frequented didn’t carry American basics such as Ranch salad dressing or pancake syrup. Peanut butter is  hard to find. So are Ziploc bags.

6. Visit. If possible, visit for a short time about halfway through. This helped me understand the new lifestyle my daughter was experiencing. Her pictures and posts made more sense and I gained a new appreciation for the life-changing time she was having. Plus, it was Venice, people. We had to.

7. Break the trip into “chunks.” This made the trip seem more “doable.” My daughter’s internship broke down into three parts: one five-week period after my husband left, one weeklong chunk when we would visit, and finally one six-week chunk. Honestly, this last part flew by for both my daughter and I as she was finally comfortable and confidently knew her way around the city.

8. Pray. I relied on this daily. It was a great comfort to know that He would protect and care for her continually.

My daughter’s Venice experience was indeed life-changing. She now has an international set of friends she keeps up with daily through What’s App and she can’t wait to return and tour southern Italy. Her internship also confirmed her next steps: to complete her bachelor’s degree in Art Education and then pursue a master’s degree in Art History with the intention of working in a museum setting someday. She is already filling out applications for another overseas internship. I, on the other hand, am writing myself a note to re-read this post when she lands it.