The Rockwood Files: The Name Game

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

In Dale Carnegie’s famous book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” he wrote that you should use a person’s name when you’re talking to them because “…a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

I’m not here to argue with Dale Carnegie because five million books sold can’t be wrong. But I do wonder if the sound of your own name is always as appealing as he says it is.

The other day I sat across from a woman at the orthodontist’s office who was running my credit card so I could pay for our son’s braces. She glanced at the name on my card and said, “Oh, that’s a nice name. I really like it. It’s not a name you hear very often.”

I thanked her for the compliment. But what she doesn’t know is that a name like Gwen rhymes with way too many common words used in normal conversations – words like “when” and “then” and “in” and “pen” and the list goes on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spun around to answer someone who wasn’t even talking to me and just happened to be within earshot. For example:

Stranger 1: “Hey, did I tell you I’m going to Hawaii?”

Stranger 2: “Oh my gosh! WHEN?”

Me (turning around to face them): “Yes?”

Strangers 1 and 2 (who are confused and assume I must be a weirdo): “What?”

Me: “Oh, I thought you said my name.”

Stranger 2: “Um, no.”

So I say “Oh, sorry” and then I act like I’m in a big hurry to get somewhere important, which is true because I’m in a huge hurry to be anywhere but there, dealing with my mistaken name shame. This has happened more times than I care to admit.

So my new policy is to ignore it when I think I hear my name because there’s a good chance I’m wrong. And if the person really is calling my name, he or she will probably repeat it a few times or just give up and send me a text, which is the more practical way to go anyway.

My mother once told me that she had planned to name me “Gwendolyn Jane,” but my father didn’t like it and made fun of it so often while she was pregnant that she shortened it to “Gwen Ann.” My maiden name, Rule, was also very short so the whole thing together was three stupid syllables. Drove me nuts.

jennifer keychainI wanted a sophisticated, multi-syllable name like Elizabeth, Jennifer, Kimberly or Christina – the kinds of names you could always find on key chains at the Six Flags gift shop. (I never once found a key chain with the name Gwen on it, but my best friend Jennifer had key chains out the wazoo. Not that I’m bitter.)

Names are also great tools for teasing attacks on the elementary school playground. One day in second grade, this jerky little boy came up to me and called out “Gwen, Gwen, the big fat hen!” which was ironic because I was the kind of kid who was so awkwardly skinny that you could count my ribs anytime I inhaled deeply. And even though it’s ancient history, I can still sometimes hear that sing-song chant in my head. (Do you think people named Jessica or Jonathan ever have these issues? I wonder.)

But the good news is that the years have taught me to appreciate my short, not-too-common but rhymes-with-everything name. It’s simple and unassuming, and so am I. And as fate would have it, I married a man with a two-syllable last name which made me feel downright fancy.

Who needs your lousy personalized key chain? My last name has not three, not four, but eight whole letters and rhymes with almost nothing! Life is good.

gwen headshot 2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Have trash, will travel

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

When I noticed the delivery box on the front steps, I flung open the door and greedily grabbed it. I hauled it to the kitchen, grabbed a pair of scissors and sliced through the packing tape in one stroke.

“What’s that?” Tom asked.

“It’s my new trash can,” I said.

“In that small box?” he said.

“It’s a trash can for the car,” I explained.

“Another one? What is this crazy obsession you have with car trash cans?” he said.

“It’s not an obsession, Tom. It’s a necessity. Your children are very messy and I’m usually the one hauling them all over town.”

He rolled his eyes because the kids are always “his” when they’re leaving a trail of crumbs, dirt and used tissues in their wake. (They’re mine again when they’re getting good grades or being especially cute.)

Tom’s car is mostly free of all the kid baggage that clutters mine up – the duffel bag full of ballet shoes, backpacks, stray school papers, gum wrappers, fast-food cups left behind and – the tissues. Don’t get me started on the tissues. Cold and flu season and now spring allergies keep us knee-deep in used tissues, and I just can’t stand the thought of plucking another one out of the car’s cup holders. It’s disgusting.

So I’ve been on a quest to find a suitable trash can for this on-the-go lifestyle. It’s tricky because it has to fit in a place where it won’t be repeatedly knocked over and spilled. And I don’t like the kind that hang from the back of a headrest because then the backseat passengers are eye-level with trash.

My last attempt at a car sanitation system involved a plastic bin with a flip-top lid, and I was pretty proud of my do-it-yourself solution. I lined the bin with a plastic shopping bag and tried to anchor it to the back of the center console, where the kids could easily reach it. But it tipped over time and time again. Too top heavy. So I tried putting Velcro strips on the bottom, but that didn’t work either. Then I tried using extra shoelaces I’d found in the junk drawer to tie the trash bin to the center console. But the laces kept slipping and so did the tippy bin.

After scouring the Internet, I finally found a car trash can with good reviews from other shoppers. It’s waterproof and has a weighted bottom that keeps it car trash cananchored even in tight hairpin turns around the Chick-fil-A drive-thru lane. Very impressive.

The kids have accidentally kicked it a few times, but that can’t be helped because three school-aged kids plus friends getting in and out of a car is a little like a herd of hyper horses, only far less graceful.

My new mobile trash can has been in place for about a week now, and having a container to corral the trash has helped my sense of order in the Universe. (I have this suspicion that a mother’s mental state is somehow linked to the condition of her car’s interior, her purse and her clothes closet.)

Experts say that, on average, Americans spend so many hours in the car that – over the course of a year – the time spent there adds up to almost a full month. (For those families that travel to out-of-state ballgames or dance competitions, I’d bet that the number is at least double.)

So it’s no wonder that a mother/chauffer like me would be so invested in finding the right trash can. It’s not a “crazy obsession,” honey. It’s survival of the cleanest.

gwen headshot 2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Life with Ladybug: Show me your scars and I’ll show you mine


By Shannon Magsam, Ladybug’s mama

One night when we were visiting my husband’s family in Philadelphia, his brother-in-law and I started comparing scars. My husband joked that we reminded him of that scene in Jaws when the characters were showing each other all their old war wounds.

Ours certainly weren’t that bad.

My husband’s brother-in-law, a rough and tumble guy who played and coached all kinds of sports, had lots more scars to share. But I had quite a few and gleefully displayed the visual evidence, making the how-I-got-my-scars stories as dramatic and gory as possible.

Well, I didn’t show him ONE of my scars: the jagged C-section that runs low across my abdomen.

At the time, it didn’t exist. (If it had, I totally could have trumped his old football scars. “And then they took my internal organs out, and had them lying on the table next to me!”)

But I had other old scars. From my bottom lip down to my big toe, I told my brother-in-law about these:

♦ The vertical line on my bottom lip from getting socked in the mouth with a baseball bat from that time in fifth grade when I was standing too close behind home plate.

♦ A mostly-faded gash on my neck from when I fell out of bed as a kid and came in contact with the edge of a trash can that was sitting right next to my sick bed.

♦ A puffy lighter-than-flesh-colored scar on my left palm left by the nasty bite of a fuzzy red ant that I tried to pick up when I was 6.

♦ Both my knees, from the time I careened through a barbed-wire fence on a go-kart with no brakes that was driven by a friend.

♦ On my right foot, an angry white line bisecting the bottom of my big toe from the cut I received after falling off a small bridge across a creek and landing on a broken glass bottle.

♦ Oh, and in the middle, there’s the one that’s more recent: the C-section scar. My OB told me I’d still be able to wear a bikini and I did, once, when I was at a tropical location to attend a wedding. But never here in NWA where I live and play, thankyouverymuch.

Our scars are evidence of a story. Often, lots of stories. The stories of our particular, unique, sometimes difficult, sometimes brave, sometimes daring lives.

We all have them, right? Where are your scars and how did you get them?

Let’s compare!

Shannon headshot, peach USE THISShannon Magsam is co-founder of and She’s married to an awesome newspaperman and they have a fun-loving, artsy teen (officially!) who loves watching tv with them and drawing cats. If you have a question for Shannon, send it to or leave a comment here.

The Rockwood Files: A special day in March

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

A remarkable thing happened this month. The Sound of Music (the movie) turned 50 years old and readers all over the world celebrated the birthday of the late Dr. Seuss on the very same day, March 2nd. It’s perfectly fitting that those two things happened simultaneously because, for many reasons, the movie and the books should be required viewing and reading for every kid on the planet.

Usually I don’t even like musicals. When I see one, I always end up thinking it’d be a better movie if people would just stop singing at each other all the time. But The Sound of Music is different. Even after 50 years, it still works.

I’ve already had my kids watch the movie for the past three consecutive Christmases and I hope they’re growing to love it the same way I do. What the movie reminds me of (and what I hope it’s showing the kids) are these three eternal truths:

maria favorite things1)    You don’t have to be perfect to have a perfectly good life. (After all, Maria was considered to be a “problem” nun-in-training and was even called a “flibbertijibbet,” which I’m guessing must be pretty strong language for a nun.)

2)    It’s better to focus on your blessings and the good things in life, even “when the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad.”

3)    You have to “look for your life” and be willing to climb a few mountains to find what it is you’re meant to do.

More than anything, I hope the movie proves that some celebrities like Julie Andrews are the real deal. While Kim Kardashian attempts to “break the Internet” with snapshots of her naked behind, some women still rely not on their body but on their body of work to earn their place in history. I have to believe and hope that, 50 years from now, Kim Kardashian’s booty will be long forgotten.

As for Dr. Seuss, my kids are already fans because they grew up on his books, as so many of us did. Just above my writing desk, there’s a shelf that holds reference books I sometimes need – a dictionary, thesaurus, punctuation guide, and a few books on writing. But nestled between those more serious books is a small book by Dr. Seuss that I used to read to the kids every day because it was our favorite. It’s called “There’s a Wocket in My Pocket.”

wocket in my pocketEvery now and then, when I’m stuck for words and feel like I’ll never have another good idea as long as I live, I reach for that little yellow book and start turning the pages. “Did you ever have the feeling there’s a Zamp in the Lamp? Or a Nink in the Sink? Or a Woset in the Closet?” By the time I get to the last line of the book, the one about the “Zillow on the Pillow,” I always feel better. And I’m reminded that sometimes what our work needs most is play.

Dr. Seuss spent the early part of his career working in more traditional jobs as a writer and illustrator on advertising campaigns and for magazines. His first book was rejected 27 times before being finally published. And he was over 50 years old when he published “The Cat in the Hat,” the book that would earn him world-wide acclaim.

Can you imagine what a loss it would have been for millions of children if Dr. Seuss had never indulged his sense of play by creating those crazy poems and characters? Thank goodness he did. Thank goodness he didn’t give up when those 27 editors said it wouldn’t work. Because that little book about the Wocket in my Pocket has become, as Julie Andrews sang it so well, one of “my favorite things.”

gwen headshot 2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Revenge of the Girl Scout Cookies

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the kitchen, they’re baaaaaack. It’s the Girl Scout cookies. There’s a whole gang of them hanging out on our kitchen counter this week, just waiting for some poor unsuspecting schmuck to walk by and fall in love with them – again.

It’s not that I don’t like the cookies. Quite the opposite. The problem is that I really like the cookies. And when I really like the cookies, the cookies decide they really like my thighs and want to set up camp there as extra body fat. And that makes me not like the cookies nearly as much anymore. It’s a love hate thing. It gets messy.

Ironically, the sinister cookies were delivered here by the sweetest little blonde-headed Girl Scout you’ve ever seen. She was like a little merit badge-wearing angel. She handed me four boxes of cookies, and I handed her a check. Then she skipped back down the sidewalk, turning to wave goodbye and say thank you. I waved back at her, shut the door and that’s when the cookie showdown began.

I’ve been trying to keep a safe distance from them, but I swear I can hear those cookies whispering all the way up the stairs. It’s the Trefoils that call to me trefoil cookiesmost. Some people think the unassuming Trefoils are the most boring of all the Girl Scout cookie varieties, but I couldn’t disagree more. While it’s true that the Trefoils are a simple shortbread cookie, what they lack in color and texture, they more than make up for in pure sugary goodness.

They’re not as showy as the Samoas or as multi-layered as the Thin Mints, but they have an undeniable charm that can only be appreciated by a true cookie purist. The only problem with the Trefoils is how easy it is to rip through half a sleeve of those babies before you even realize it. They go down so easily with a glass of cold milk that it’s easy to lose count. (Your thighs and the bathroom scale, however, never lose count, and therein lies the problem.)

At least I’m not alone in this cookie conundrum. If Tom hadn’t left town for a few days on a business trip, I can almost guarantee that the box of Samoas would already be ancient history. He has to go to a different zip code to avoid scarfing down those coconut confections.

And our cookie-loving 10-year-old is coping with a pretty serious Thin Mint addiction right now. Every time I see him lately, he has traces of chocolate in the corners of his mouth along with minty fresh breath that didn’t come from mouthwash.

The only box of cookies that hasn’t been cracked open yet is a new variety called Rah-Rah Raisin. The description says it’s a “hearty oatmeal cookie made with whole grain oats and packed with plump raisins and Greek yogurt-flavored chunks.” The somewhat healthy sounding description is probably the only thing that has saved this box from the kids. But once they’ve torn through all the Thin Mints and their cookie craving ramps back up again, the Rah-Rah Raisins will have to make a rah-rah run for it if they have any hope of surviving the week.

The good news is that, at the rate we’re going, the Girl Scout cookie invasion won’t last long. By this time next week, the cookies will have been vanquished and their flattened boxes will be at the bottom of the recycling bin. The Samoas, Thin Mints, Rah-Rah Raisins and my beloved Trefoils will all be a distant memory. Now… if only my thighs would forget them, too.

gwen headshot 2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

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