on rice-a-roni and inspiration

I decided against posting my thoughts on my essayist project just yet. I thought that maybe two essayist posts in a row might be about as thrilling as back-to-back episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger.

I’ve been thinking about how homeschooling ebbs and flows. There are days and weeks when the kids come up with projects that enthrall them, that keep them busy and buzzing. There are weeks when it seems that we’re doing nothing more than running around, to performances or classes or appointments, or we’re preparing for a holiday or a few days out of town, and all we manage is a little reading together. Then there are days that just don’t feel inspired, when we’re home and the kids are dabbling at a little math here, a little reading there and no one seems thrilled about anything.

This, however, has been a particularly good week, one of those busy and buzzing weeks. Lulu and Mr. T have both found projects that have them all worked up.

Lulu decided that she wants to study the history of American food in the last century. She’s been looking at popular recipes for different decades, at particular products and when they were introduced, at typical lunches and dinners through the years, at how food trends are often tied to what’s going on in the world. It’s fascinating.

She’s just done a quick overview so far. By the time she got to the 70’s, she started asking what products I remembered and before long, that Great Talent of mine, which you may remember from the beginning of my last post, began to rear its ugly head. Lulu would name a food product, and I would sing its jingle. I spent the morning singing:

Every single Pringle’s potato chip is a perfect (doo doo doo) potato chip…”


“Hamburger Helper helps her hamburger help her…make a great meal.”


“Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco treat.”

(But why is it the San Francisco treat? I have lived in San Francisco, and never once saw a person eating Rice-A-Roni. Look, even Rice-A-Roni’s own website “explains” the connection without explaining anything. Oh, but Wikipedia has the story! A deep sigh, after decades.)

And of course, once I started jingling, Lulu had to search out the old commercials on YouTube. Here’s one of my favorites. My best friend and I performed this endlessly, as a duet, for our parents, who acted as if they found it entertaining. 


In between the commercial karaoke, Mr. T wanted to learn about spiders. As I read to him, he began to notice how spiders come in different types. How they have particular strengths and weaknesses. And methods of attack.

Is this beginning to sound familiar?

He began to notice that spiders are a lot like Pokemon.

It was just a small suggestion: “You could make spider cards, like Pokemon cards.”

Suddenly, he was bouncing on to the arm of the couch on his knees. On and off and and on and off. “I don’t want to just make cards! I want to design a game! There will be a game board and enemies and…”

He was off.

for his spider game

So they’ve been blissfully busy all week. As a homeschooling parent, I wish all of our days were like this. But hard as I try to make that happen, I can’t. You can’t manufacture inspiration. I try, I do, but sometimes a little suggestion like You could make spider cards, like Pokemon cards is met with nothing more than a grunt. I remind myself that we need the slow, stewing, simmering days for ideas to form and collect into something grand. You need to make lots of pots of rice, lots of pots of vermicelli before the notion strikes to throw them into a pot together and cause an entire generation to sing a jingle that no one really understands.

Some days are ablaze with singing in the kitchen, with the invention of epic games. And some days are about as thrilling as back-to-back episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger. That’s just how it is.

28 comments… add one
  • Lise Jan 15, 2010 @ 17:35

    Ok, you have me beat. I have never seen that fig newton one!

    This is such a great post about the ebb and flow of inspiration. Some days, it’s hard to remember the awesome stuff that has happened, and will happen again. I love reading other people’s stories (those spider cards are wonderful!); it’s a reminder.

    • patricia Jan 16, 2010 @ 17:22

      If you haven’t seen the Fig Newton one, it’s probably because I’m older than you are. 😉

  • Kate Jan 16, 2010 @ 12:27

    So true. That IS just how it is.

    Those jingles just have a way of sticking, don’t they? I always liked the Wonder Bread song. lol, when I think about wonder bread now — it’s just scary! Thanks for the Wikipedia article. I always wondered too about the San Francisco treat.

    • patricia Jan 16, 2010 @ 17:24

      Okay, now you’ve got me baffled–what is the Wonder Bread song? My mind that never fails me in trivial matters such as these doesn’t remember that one!

      • Kate Jan 16, 2010 @ 17:45

        Most songs haven’t stuck with me but this one did as well as the Facts of Life theme song:)

        “All across the USA 15 million times a day just a slice of america. wonder bread.”

      • patricia Jan 16, 2010 @ 17:57

        Okay, I watched the link, and now I know why I don’t remember the song: that was an 80’s commercial. By the time the 80’s rolled around, I was a teenager, and watching much less television. Instead, I was filling my brain with other important stuff, like the lyrics of REO Speedwagon and Duran Duran.

  • Just Peaches Jan 16, 2010 @ 14:14

    That was a thigh-slapping LOL post! I have tons of jingles in my old rat’s-maze. I used to do the”tricky part” all the time for the amusement of family and friends. I showed the kids the video and then read on and burst out laughing again. My 14 year old son and I laughed at the Pokemon connection. Priceless post – thanks for the laugh!

    BTW you don’t happen to know the Bumblebee Tuna jingle do you? I’m in Canada so I’m not sure if you had that one. But Bumblebees and tuna? hmmm

    • patricia Jan 16, 2010 @ 17:27

      “Yum, yum Bumblebee,
      Bumblebee Tuna,
      I love Bumblebee
      Bumblebee Tuna.”

      But now that I’ve gone and figured out why Rice-A-Roni is the San Francisco Treat, you’ve got me wondering about yet another plaguing mystery of American food products: why would they name a tuna Bumblebee? I mean, Chicken of the Sea I get, but Bumblebee Tuna?

  • Barrie Jan 16, 2010 @ 18:08

    It’s funny about the inspiration, isn’t it? I mean, with math, Audie has almost never been interested. We had played games from “Family Math” before, but something about it made her not like it, and I didn’t want to press it so we just abandoned that. And so on with other math activities. But then, we arrived at our furnished vacation home two weeks ago that is evidently owned by people with kids. On the bookshelf in the master bedroom, they have a 15-volume encyclopedia set published by World Book called “Childcraft, the How and Why Library”. One of the volumes is titled “Mathemagic”, and Audie is enthralled by the depiction of numbers as shapes (pentagons, octagons, and so on) as well as the historical (and physiological) reason we count in base ten–the rest of the set also has age-appropriate explanations for just about everything she’s asked about in the last 2 weeks from why there are tides to how human digestion works. And suddenly we are able to maintain some cerebral activity amid the mind-numbing boredom coupled with anxiety that is finding a place to live under a time crunch.

    And for jingles, I don’t remember as many of the food jingles as you do, but like you and, it seems, almost every other kid growing up in the latter half of this century, I have a commercial jingle I used to sing for the amusement of my elders (although now that you mention it, I wonder in retrospect just how authentic that amusement was by the fiftieth time I performed it):

    Ban and sportswear,
    Ban and dresswear,
    Ban! With everything from cotton to cashmere
    If you care, you’ll bother–
    Don’t wear one without the other!

    This was, of course, sung to the tune of “Love and Marriage”, which I did not know was the original until “Married With Children” came on in the 80’s. And then it was several more years until I realized that it was a Sinatra classic from the 50’s. Thanks for the flashback and, again, the inspiration.

    • patricia Jan 18, 2010 @ 17:09

      Yep, that’s how it goes isn’t it? If you try to make them interested in something, it rarely happens, but if you have patience, they often end up finding their own way into the same topic.

      The Ban song cracks me up. Especially the third line, with that exclamation mark: Ban! It’s so ridiculously earnest.

      • Barrie Jan 18, 2010 @ 17:40

        The exclamation point is my interpretation, as I did not need Google to help me remember the lyrics–they are forever branded on the inside of my skull. But “ridiculously earnest” is probably an apt description of my performances.

      • patricia Jan 18, 2010 @ 17:54

        Hee hee. I liked it, regardless.


  • stefaneener Jan 16, 2010 @ 21:02

    How lovely.

  • molly Jan 17, 2010 @ 12:00

    back to back walker, texas ranger. you kill me.

    have you guys listened to the hidden kitchen series on npr? i’ve been listening to old podcasts. there’s one about rice-a-roni.

    i’m currently sewing up valentines, listening to michael chabon on cd and thinking of you. he so eloquently puts into words, sentences, paragraphs, essays exactly how i feel about parenthood. amazing.

    • patricia Jan 18, 2010 @ 17:28

      We haven’t listened to Hidden Kitchen, though I’ve read about it. I’ll have to look up the rice-a-roni podcast! (Who could have predicted that those two words would ever make it into a single sentence?)

      Oh, does Chabon read the audiobook himself? I’d love to hear that too. I knew you’d like it–I think you’re a poet at heart.

  • Billie C, Jan 18, 2010 @ 13:36

    A spider game. How thrilling is that? I know of several families who would love a game of this type. If / when you decide to market it, let me know and I’ll be telling my local home school community all about it. We have a weekly get to gether and the boys need new(er) games. Not leaving out the girls but spiders and boys just seem to go together better.

    • patricia Jan 18, 2010 @ 17:36

      Thanks for dropping by, Billie.

      Oh no, I just hope that Mr. T will finish making his game; I don’t think marketing it is on his radar.

      But we have enjoyed another game that was designed by a kid: Elementeo. It’s a game played much like Magic, but based on the chemical elements. http://www.elementeo.com/

      Or encourage the kids to design their own spider game…

  • melissa s. Jan 18, 2010 @ 16:18

    So good to hear, as always. Especially since we’ve been “stewing” since the holidays. A guest post about the History of American Food would be lovely (just a small suggestion 😉 And now, I need to get the rice a roni song out of my head…

    • patricia Jan 18, 2010 @ 17:42

      And stewing is just right sometimes, isn’t it? Even when it makes you feel like you’re not doing enough.

      A guest post on especially-interesting food facts could be fun! I will see if I can do the necessary convincing…

      Rice-a-roni, the taste just can’t be beat! (Oops, now you’ve got me going again!)

  • marta Jan 19, 2010 @ 8:27

    My 9 yo son and 3 friends are creating their own card game too, complete with fact sheets and board-map – their inspiration comes from both the pokemon cards and the computer game Spore (look it up, it is trully great!), and from a liking for dinossaurs, monsters and collecting data. They are still inventing the rules – which, to my knowledge, seem to change everyweek – and carrying rolled paper and sheets everywhere they go.

    The funny thing is my son and his friend who started out the game go to two different schools (we live in the same neighbourhood and see each other everyday at the local park) and, each at their different school, have both co-opted another friend to the game. So now the 4 of them work in pairs in their different schools and when my son and his friend meet later on at the park they bring the input the other 2 gave during recess that day (2 hours long recesses, here).

    I loved the post. Though we don’t homeschool I’m always following interesting, clever bloggers who do – and who don’t feel superior or make it all sound just so EXCITING and FUN and STIMULATING all the time, 24/7, 365 days a year. Your days sound pretty much like our weekends/holidays/vacations…


    • patricia Jan 19, 2010 @ 8:43

      Oh, this is fantastic. I love projects like that, that kids do in every waking moment–or every recess! There’s something beautiful about an activity that captures them so. (And something too about the “still inventing the rules” part–somehow the rule-making seems more important than the actual playing!)

      My son plays Spore too. In fact, he just got off the computer where he was playing, and is demanding oatmeal! It’s interesting–I don’t think all boys, or girls for that matter, have this same fascination for games with creatures and levels and complex rules. But for the ones that do, the games are irresistible. And they often see the rest of the world in the same framework, even if they’re looking at spiders, or chemical elements…

      • marta Jan 19, 2010 @ 15:02

        Speaking of dinosaurs and fact-filling and checking… Yesterday my 4 yo son asked me whether the dinosaur he was holding (a triceratops, I think…) was an herbivorous or a carnivorous creature. I shrugged, looked at its menacing horns and said I though it was carnivorous. The 9 yo son immediately piped in: “Mom, that is not possible, see? It has a beak and no teeth, therefore it cannot chew, no way! It cannot possible be carnivorous.” I’m in awe. When I was 9 I surely knew everything about The Famous Five and The Secret Seven but I couldn’t, for the life of me, tell one dinosaur from the other (let alone wonder why beaks mean insect and small stuff eating, strong teeth mean flesh-eating and so on…) 🙂

      • patricia Jan 19, 2010 @ 15:08

        Just goes to show how all that time spent playing and designing games–which might seem frivolous to some people–might actually be teaching a kid more than we ever imagined. There’s something in all that sorting and categorizing that must transfer over to more “serious” topics.

  • Angela Jan 22, 2010 @ 22:43

    That sounds like a GREAT week. Now _I’m_ fascinated with the history of American food. I’d love to see what she comes up with.

    And I’m laughing at commercial karaoke. Growing up we used to have a rule: No commercial jingles at the dinner table. Which must mean that my sisters and I sang commercial jingles sooooo much that my poor mother felt the need to institute such a rule … because she was really not such a stick in the mud that she wouldn’t have tolerated a reasonable amount of commercial jingles at the dinner table.

    • patricia Jan 25, 2010 @ 23:16

      Hi Angela!

      The no jingles at the dinner table rule cracks me up. Around here, it’s more likely my kids telling me to stop singing jingles at the table. Sometimes I just can’t help myself.

  • Tara Reese Jan 25, 2010 @ 14:01

    when i hear about other homeschoolers having weeks like this, it makes me so happy. not jealous anymore. which must mean that i’ve been having more weeks like this, too 🙂
    here’s to a year of homeschooling amazingness, sweet mama!

    And Hidden Kitchens! it is so great! Also, has Lulu checked out the Mark Kurlansky book “Food of a Younger Land”?

    • patricia Jan 25, 2010 @ 23:23

      Oh, I’m glad you’re having good weeks. You know I want to hear all about them!

      I just reserved the Kurlansky book at the library–for both of us! Lulu has been having a fabulous time reading “The Century In Food: America’s Fads and Favorites” by Beverly Bundy.

      And I’ve been canning this year, and thinking of you!

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