I know that someday you'll find better things.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Better Luck Next Year

"Maybe we should learn a little more about Chinese decorations before we go in there, so we don't accidentally buy any bad-luck ones," I suggested to my family as we pulled into the parking lot of an Asian market.

"Stores don't sell bad luck ones," Russ reasoned. "It would be bad for business. Why would anyone ever want to buy bad-luck ones?"

And that is how we accidentally bought the supplies to deck the halls for a Chinese funeral.
***
The decorations we purchased-- the oh-so-many decorations-- are beyond creepy. 

What we thought was a colorfully festive tablecloth turned out to be a large paper envelope containing an elaborate symbolic burial ensemble. Shoes. Pants. Tunic. Two tunics, actually. And a particularly peculiar watch made of aluminum foil.

Quite a value for $1.49.

There's more. Lots more. I don't even want to tell you what else, because by midnight, it will all be ashes anyway.

That's the protocol for these items, apparently.  You buy them at the supermarket, and then you bring them home and set them on fire. Deliberately and respectfully, according to the Internet. 

It's okay. To be honest, our Chinese-themed New Year's Eve party was already somewhat cursed. The bahn mi dinner we've planned is Vietnamese, the origami we'll fold is Japanese, and not a single moon cake or fortune cookie could be found in any of the three Asian markets we visited.

So it's a good thing we saved the wrapping paper from Christmas, because we'll need to use it as kindling for our newest party activity: the backyard bonfire.

At 11:59, we'll pay our last respects to 2014--  the joys, the sorrows-- and we'll strike a match to our little suburban pyre.

All of the year's stress will be consumed by the light and the heat; the new year will emerge, clean and innocent and eager to be filled with new joys and new sorrows.

New opportunities for those oddball impulse-purchases that shape our family's lasting memories.

No matter how you spent your 2014 or how you'll welcome your 2015, I'd like to invite you to release the memories you're ready to part with out into this night.

Here's to better luck next year.


Time flies. This time will fly into the night, and that's a good thing.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Net-Neutrality

"So, several of the big streaming companies were displaying the 'wheel of death' today to show their support toward concept of equal-opportunity internet speed," Russ said at dinner on Wednesday, following our nightly round of Roses and Thorns.

"Oh," said Hannah, who didn't really care.
"Hmm," I said, because I wasn't really listening.
"Yes, the Net Neutrality protests," said Mia.

We all turned to her, mouths agape.

"I'm not a lump, you know," she said. "I do try to keep up with the news."

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

They Didn't #SingForNicole

"Today's the day, Mom! Do you think they'll change around the words to really make it the story of Nicole's life?"

For a seven-year-old, Mia had been unusually consumed with the idea of the band One Direction acknowledging the passing of my former student Nicole at their Dallas concert.

"That's not usually how it works, Honey. Usually they'll say, 'This next song is dedicated to memory of one of our biggest fans' and then everyone cheers and the band sings, and the audience sings, and everyone's hearts are bursting with emotion."

It was a total mommy bluff. I don't really know how it is supposed to work, but my version seemed more logical. 

It turns out that neither of our notions came to fruition.
One Direction did not #singfornicole.


***

In May, shortly after Nicole's passing, her sister Kelly posted a message on twitter to the band.

Friends, friends-of-friends, and even strangers were touched by Kelly's message and the story of Nicole's life, and within hours, her message went viral. Social media was flooded with the positive energy of #singfornicole.



Nicole was one of my dearest students in my final year of teaching sixth grade before becoming a stay-at-home mom. After learning of her death, nearly every moment of my every day was spent worrying and wondering about how her classmates-- my sweeties-- and Nicole's family were coping with this devastating loss.

Grief, though inevitable and inescapable, never gets easier with practice. Not really. Is it easier when there's a warning, as with a terminal illness? Probably not.

Yet the unexpected death of an adolescent seems particularly cruel. 

How would they weather this ache? How would they summon the strength to put one foot in front of the other and walk through each future day?

"Sing for Nicole" sprouted wings, helping everyone carry those heavy hearts forward. It was a merciful distraction in the finest sense, channeling--no, converting-- pain into purpose-driven productivity.

Awareness of Type 1 diabetes was promoted.
Donations--tens of thousands of dollars, eventually--poured in to help sponsor children to attend Camp Sweeney, a local summer camp for kids with diabetes.

The cherry on the sundae, the victory sign, would be an acknowledgement at the concert, which was to be held the night before school started.

You can see a brief local news report on youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzpP_xVMIFI

***

"I don't understand, Mom. Why didn't the band sing for Nicole at the concert? It doesn't seem like it would have been so very hard."

No, in theory, it doesn't seem like it should have been so very hard, yet there are blurry reasons at the edges of our understanding. How do you explain to a second grader things like "slippery slope" and "setting a precedent" and contracts and legalities which limit the humanity of the humans in the band?

"Maybe they're not nice people. Or maybe they didn't know," she hypothesized.

I suspect their niceness had very little to do with the decision, and there's no way they didn't know, but I held my tongue.


***

From what I understand, the concert started later than planned.

Monday was the first day of school, and I am certain there were lots of tired ninth graders roaming the halls of their new school, acutely aware of the absence of their old friend.

Tired and disappointed.
Tired and angry.

For months, hope had numbed the grieving process. The wound that had just begun to heal has been torn open again, bleeding the fresh pain of disappointment.

And the song

Up until now, the song has been the auditory equivalent of the butterfly hovering outside the window or the sunbeams streaking a spotlight through the clouds. 

Hearing the song on the radio was an opportunity to reflect on a beautiful life. It was a sign. A smile from above.

My fear is that those positive feelings might be replaced with betrayal and resentment. I worry that the song will come on the radio, and hands will reach out to change the station or turn it off entirely.

While I don't want to give too much power to the decision-makers who chose to forgo an acknowledgement, I don't think they gave adequate consideration to the potential emotional damage of replacing solace with disappointment. I also think they underestimated just how many people would be impacted by their decision.

For heaven's sake, I'm a 35-year-old suburban housewife and mother who didn't particularly know or care about these One Direction fellows, yet this situation is all I can think about as I move through the day.


***

It would have been cool if they'd dedicated the song to her, but life's not fair.

At least not down here at eye-level.
At least not what we're capable of seeing and understanding in each present moment.

If life were fair, we'd still have our friend-daughter-sister-student.
We can't allow the actions of someone (or several someones) who didn't know her tarnish our memories or limit our opportunities to reflect on her spirit.

We can choose to separate the decision from the band from the song from the girl.
It can still be Nicole's song.
We can be the singers. 
We can #singfornicole.

First Day Forms

"Could you please sign this?" Hannah asked.

"Sure. What is it?" Russ wasn't being lazy-- he was across the room, and his hands were full.

"Possibly the dumbest thing ever. Listen to this: 'I will be where I am supposed to be, on time and ready to learn. I will do what is right. If I'm not sure, I will ask.' Seriously? When did this become 'Expectations and Guidelines' material? I thought these behaviors were considered 'norms'."

"Guess not, if they had to give you two copies. Speaking of which, do I sign both?"

"No, just one. The other stays here at home for us to reflect upon together throughout the year."

You can't bust a fourteen-year-old for being disrespectful when she is so freaking astute.

How many trees gave their lives so we could be formally notified in duplicate of our societal norms?

Feather your handbaskets, everbody, and hang on with both hands.
Down, down we go.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Open Enrollment: Plan B

The magical month is upon us:
Open enrollment for health insurance with my husband's employer.

My husband is a public school teacher in one of the highest achieving and respected school districts in the great state of Texas. 

Texas is a "Right to Work" state, so we don't have unions.

One of the areas that this status impacts tremendously is the cost and quality of health insurance.

I don't think I am violating any confidentiality policies by sharing some of the specifics of the available plans with you, as the same information is accessible to the general public on the school district's main website.

To be clear, what we are about to examine is strictly medical insurance. Dental, vision, disability, and life insurance are all available for additional costs, but today we are just going to look at medical insurance.

There are three levels of plans available, and within each, there are four subcategories. I'm going to focus on "Employee and Family". As you can see in the plan premium prices below, the employer graciously contributes $259 toward the total monthly cost.




The three options-- $886/month, $979/month, and $1,064/month-- translate to $10,632/year, $11,748/year, and $12,768/year.

Remember, this is just the monthly premium cost. It doesn't factor in deductibles, copays, or prescriptions.

Let's look at this data another way:

A Texas teacher with 13 years experience earns a respectable $52,000 per year. (This is before taxes, insurance, retirement contribution, etc. Gross, right?)

$10,632/year = 20.4% of the annual salary 
$11,748/year = 22.6% of the annual salary 
$12,768/year = 24.6% of the annual salary

That's without ever setting foot in the doctor's office. Cross that threshold, and things get hairy. Here are the plan details:



We are very, very lucky to have a healthy family. "Plan A" isn't a good fit for us, because (Oh, God, don't let lightning strike us) we would never, ever reach the deductible to activate the goodies, and we'd REALLY never hit the out-of-pocket maximum. "Plan B" allows a $30 copay for doctor's visits, since even healthy kids succumb to strep, ear infections, and pinkeye throughout the year.

Cost of middle class medical insurance premiums: $11,748/year.

Home Economics and Other Taboo Topics

Recently I wrote about the annual cost for light-to-medium use and routine maintenance on two paid-off cars. 

$6,022.

This had been quite a shock to me, because while yes, we are all acutely aware of the wallet-squeezing strength of gas prices, I hadn't really considered the other ongoing costs in the vehicle category.

Having no car payments felt akin to free.
There's a big difference between "debt-free" and "free".

Measuring Middle Class


Our youngest child, a second grader, will tell you we're rich. Our eldest, a junior in college, will tell you we're dirt poor-- why else would we refuse to buy her a brand new sports car, right? Everybody else in our family is of the belief that we are medium. Middle class, and proud of it.

But what does that mean, really? What does middle class look like? There are enough statistics out there to keep your eyeballs and math-brain engaged for a decade, but so much of it speaks in generalities that it's tough to make the translation between paper and reality.

Traditional taboo topics include age, weight, and income. I think household expenses have crept into this category through the years, and I'm starting to realize that if nobody talks about them, we'll never really understand our culture. Our American life. Our American dream.

With my husband's blessing, I'm going to put it all out there and show the world what our middle class is made of. My hope is that it will generate dialogue about our perceptions toward the economy. (Okay, my secret hope is that it might generate some money saving tips, too!)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

If They Gunned Me Down

Rodney King.
Trayvon Martin.
Michael Brown.

These are only three of the notable racial conflicts that have occurred in my lifetime and my nation.

Tornado-ing around these tragedies is the term 'White Privilege'.

I don't understand it.
Much of it.
Any of it, actually.

I don't understand why our society continues to give so much power to skin pigmentation-- something not one person here on earth had the power to choose.

Not skin color, no more than ear-size or height or birth-name.

White privilege.
White privilege?

Perhaps my knowledge of this is limited because I'm not white-- I'm sort of a pinky-peach. Not translucent, contrary to a few sun-worshippers I know. Most of the people I know are not white, either, though there are are several shades of beige among them.

One of the most significant privileges bestowed upon me during my upbringing-- which is becoming more and more valuable with each emerging news report-- was in the form of rules, expectations, and traditional wisdom.

1. Nothing good happens after a certain hour at night or in certain areas of town. Nothing you want to be a part of, anyway. Have a plan, follow your plan, be mindful of your surroundings, and be polite.

2. Signal your intentions. Your clothing choices communicate your plans. Skin-color aside--no, skin-color obscured, as in not visible whatsoever-- I am more cautious and alert whenever someone is inappropriately dressed for the circumstances.

Person sprinting through the park in athletic apparel?  No problem.
Person sprinting through the park in a three-piece suit? Problem.

Back in the days of metal-detector morning duty while teaching eighth grade in Dallas, I saw what could be concealed in saggy pants and baggy hooded sweatshirts. Is it stereotypical to have an awareness of appearance, or is it a responsibility in self-protection? (PS-- have you ever seen this? This teen's pants are a veritable clown car of guns and weapons: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Epeo8Pfm1xM)

3. Watch your mouth. (And your posture, too.) Your words and gestures carry the power to influence how others perceive you. Speak respectfully. Behave honorably. If you consistently make the effort to make good choices, you'll avoid being the star of scandalous photos, videos, and recordings.

There's a trend on social media right now where people are posting contrasting pictures of themselves-- typically one casual photo (often involving rude gestures to the camera) and one formal photo (often involving an achievement accessory-- graduation cap and gown, diploma, sports trophy, or in a capacity of helpfulness with young children or the elderly) with a caption/hashtag of 'If they gunned me down'. 

Rhetorically, they ask:
Which photo would the media use if [they] were victims in a [supposedly] racially-motivated act of violence?

[You understand, of course, that I have to say supposedly,  because we weren't there, so we can't know.]

The attempt to illustrate a 'don't judge a book by its cover' message is weakened by the subject's flagrant flip-of-the-birds to the photographer and the vulgarity-laden tee-shirts bearing messages like 'What the F are you looking at?'

I can't participate in this compare-and-contrast internet-sensation activity, because there are no photos of me dressed provocatively or behaving disrespectfully. 

If they gunned me down, the media's photo choices would be both infinite and limited-- lots of photos of me exist, but I am usually dressed in unmemorable solid colors and doing something incredibly mundane. For this reason, even I have a hard time determining what year most of the photos were even taken.

I guess it's because I had the privilege of being raised to be mindful and responsible.

I'm still not sure how skin color factors into this, though. It seems pretty equal-opportunity to me.

If you missed out on this 'privilege', it's not too late for you. Follow the same wisdom that my village expected from me, and the odds of you getting tangled up in one of these tragedies will reduce significantly. You don't have to be white (or pinky-peach) to have the privilege of following a code of honorable living punctuated by common sense.


Compounding Tragedy


Exponential Tragedy

Exploitation of Tragedy
This doesn't feel like community and collaboration toward compassion, awareness, and growth. This doesn't feel like healing. This feels like ripping open the stitches of the wound and grinding in bitter germs of hate, vengeance, and fear. They call it viral, but I call it bacterial. It's an infection, all right. There's a cure, but it's not this.

Man, our media sure has an odd way of honoring the deceased.



Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Thousand Dollars in a Single Afternoon

"I made a thousand dollars at school today!" Mia announced one fine afternoon this past May.

How does a mom respond to that? 
Like this: "You, um, what?!"

"A thousand dollars," she repeated. "And you know what? It didn't take very long, and it wasn't all that hard, either."

"How... did you..." 
Sheesh, I didn't even know how to finish the question. Time to regroup. "Could I see?"

"Sure! Here. I can make more, if you'd like. Just let me know how much you need."

And off she skipped, leaving me with a fistful of these:

I already knew she was a forgery artist. Now I discover I'm raising a counterfeiter. What's next? 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Skyline Chili, No Way

"It's like Christmas in a can," he said.
Men. Always so quick to forgive and forget. I had NOT forgotten. Skyline chili is one of life's most unforgiving and unforgettable  experiences. It's something a person should only have to try once. Twice, if you're cursed.

"You know what I have a hankering for?" Russ announced. "Skyline chili."
"But we just had chili last week," I reminded him.
"Skyline chili is different," he said. "You put it over spaghetti.  And you can have it different ways. There's three-way, four-way, five-way..."
"Okay, I get the idea." Jeez, such passion. "I'll find a recipe," I promised.

The recipes were so bizarre, though. Nearly all of them involved cinnamon, cloves, and the use of a blender. Meat in the blender. Meat. In the same place that you make a smoothie. Meat.

I located the best of the bunch: somehow this recipe was yielding a respectable four and a half stars from the good citizens of allrecipes.com.

I followed the directions precisely.

It smelled... ?
It smelled.
It stank up the kitchen with its smell.

Already holding the title as the pickiest eater in the family--and particularly picky about chili-- I could not muster the moxie to have a sneak-preview taste.

We sat down together and had our first bites. Here I should note-- all the other family members are brave-palated eating enthusiasts. Brussel sprouts are devoured with the same urgent zeal as pizza.

"Yuck," said the kids.
"Eew, gross" I said.
"Are you sure you followed the recipe?" asked Russ.
"Yes," I hissed indignantly, despite my private doubts that something was supposed to taste this way.
"Maybe it's one of those things you just have to eat at the restaurant,"  he said very, very quietly.

***

We had the opportunity to find out when we went to visit Russ's dad in Cincinnati the following year.

"You'll see," Russ said.

We saw.
We tasted.

"Eew," we agreed at the restaurant. There was no mistaking it--
the flavor was EXACTLY like the recipe I'd prepared at home.

***

Guess what I saw in the pantry yesterday? A can of this stuff! The can was smallish by supermarket standards-- a mere 10.5 ounces-- but it loomed ominously among the other pantry fare. 

Was the radioactive glow my imagination?

"I had to get it," said Russ. "I didn't know they made it in a can. And it's gluten-free!"
"Well, hooray for that," I mumbled.

With the twist of the can opener, everything we'd (he'd) forgotten came flooding back.

Same runny-gritty consistency.
Same Christmassy scent.
Same disgusting clear-your-sinuses flavor--a
 flavor so...robust...it leaves you wishing for the ability to decontaminate each and every tastebud.
Or to scrape off your tastebuds, entirely and permanently, along with any memories of the moments before, during, and after you ingested it.

Why would anyone put this stuff in a can? Probably to contain the smell and get it as far away from Cincinatti as possible, I'd imagine. At least that's what I'd do if I was in charge of it.

If you have the misfortune of finding a can of this sand-soup in your pantry, please contact me before you attempt to eat it. I can give you some pointers on how to get it closer to edible, but it's not going to be easy, and it will require the contents of nearly a whole jar of cumin. Despite your efforts,  you'll fall victim to Post-Traumatic Chili Disorder, too.

Unless you're male, of course. Men will forgive and forget before Tuesday.
Seriously, ladies. There should be support groups for this stuff.
It's that bad.


There's a reason they're hiding it beneath THE ENTIRE STATE OF WISCONSIN!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Signs of a Problem

Boston Poops! Get your tickets now!
P  Late Specials
Ten Muppets That Changed History
TRY OUR MEN ANGRY WHOPPER!
Vacation Destinations: Sun, Sand, and Smurf

When I began my quest for a remedy of the light-induced migraines, at no time did I anticipate a diagnosis of a visual processing disorder-- a sort of neurological roommate to dyslexia.

But that's where we've landed.

Self-centered as this may sound, I've dismissed a number of billboard and headline peculiarities as errors on the part of the creator/writer. (People these days! Doesn't anyone proofread anymore?!)

It turns out that I am the problem.

One of the solutions we're exploring involves tinted contact lenses. They're not like the traditional colored lenses with their Cheerio-ring of color to alter the hue of the iris. These peepers are tinted at the center; they're designed to filter out the blue spectral rays of light--the troublemakers-- before they can enter my pupil in order to prevent them from reaching my brain.

Isn't that wild?!

The initial week-long trial of "migraine red" filters proved less than ideal, with four of the seven days out in the 'real world' culminating in headaches.

Yesterday, I reported back to the eye doctor, and we've decided to try an amber filter instead. So far, the results are impressive, and the world is technicolor-gorgeous.

It's as if I'm living inside an HD vision blue-blocker sunglasses commercial.


It's only been one day, but I haven't seen any bizarre billboards or headlines yet.
This certainly seems like a good sign.

Here are my miracle-makers. If all goes well, I should be able to re-enter society without going blind!



Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Reality Check

Buzzfeed was promoting ‘37 Deep Cleaning Tricks Every Obsessive Clean Freak Should Know’. How could I not investigate?

Here’s the original link. You can read it first, and check back for the ‘dirt’, or you can start here and see their pictures later.


Some were old faithfuls.
Some were intriguing.
Some were weird.
Some were just plain upsetting.

Here we go!


1. Hang your brooms and mops instead of storing them on the floor.
Duh.

2. Use slow cooker liners.
Yes, cleaning the crock can be frustrating, but liners seem wasteful—environmentally AND financially.

3. Make the steel plate on your iron smooth and shiny again. (There’s a link—whatever this is involves salt.)
I try to avoid the iron, and I achieve this by avoiding owning things that need to be ironed. Ironing is so aggravating. So pointless. The moment you buckle your seatbelt, all your hard work is eliminated. Instantly. Ironing is an obsessive’s nemesis. It almost makes you appreciate linen for its straight-forward defiance—you can’t even stand still without wrinkling linen. I’m getting stressed out just thinking about this. Let’s move on to the next topic, shall we?

4. Remove any carpet stain (and anything off a mattress as well).
Dawn, hydrogen peroxide, and baking soda are the ingredients of their secret potion here. When it comes to carpeting, Folex is my go-to stain solution. Recently I saw this same combination being touted as a clothing stain remover, so I decided to put it to the test. I’d just found one of Mia’s baby bibs from what feels like a million years ago. Hidden beneath the carrot-puree stains was an embroidered ‘Mommy’s Little Girl’. Awwww! The stain had been setting in for SEVEN years. Could it be saved? YES. This miracle combo, applied with a toothbrush, removed 95% of the stains. AMAZING.

5. Use an iron to remove REALLY stubborn stains from carpet.
I’ve tried this in the removal of candle wax. It worked. Took a while, though.

6. Use Pledge to really clean your stainless steel.
The picture from the website looks nice. Or shiny, at least. This just doesn’t sit well with me, though. Wouldn’t it be slippery/oily? I wonder if it does any long-term damage.

7. Invest in a “Purifying Light Sanitizing Cutting Board System.”
This exists?! If it does what it says it does, I must have one. Soon.

8. Clean your clean machine: the washer.
I’ve heard that those new-fangled front-loaders are notoriously stinky if not cleaned routinely. We have a traditional model, so I haven’t really worried about this. Too much, anyway. Other than the occasional Clorox wipe inside and out, of course.

9. Use a dish scrubber filled with dish soap to clean the gunk off your cabinets.
And then rinse that sticky soap off with… ?

10. To kill the germs and viruses that have gathered on your nasty sponges, microwave on high for 2 minutes and let cool.
This is not the first time I’ve heard this. I’ve also heard it’s hokum. I say sponges are for suckers. Clorox wipes take the germs to their trashy graves.

11. Use a few drops of water, cream of tartar, and a sponge to get your stainless steel appliances looking brand new again.
I’ve tried cream of tartar as a cleaning agent, although I can’t remember why. Wasn’t particularly impressed, either.

12. Clean your sink drain.
Are there people who don’t?! Is this truly a trait of the tried-and-true obsessives? Yikes. Thank goodness I don’t get out much.

13. Clean your window tracks.
They say cotton swab and vinegar, I say duh.
.
14. Refresh your mattress.
Nothing can be offered here that can erase the memories of those mattress commercials that talk about how a mattress gains X amount of pounds after X amount of years from accumulated body soil and sweat. Forget trying to ‘refresh your mattress’. Buy a new one, stat. I know a place if you want a good deal on a mail-order generic tempur pedic. We’ve had ours for almost four years now. I can’t even imagine how much weight it has gained--guess it’s time to order a new one…

15. Keep baseboards clean with fabric softener.
Tried it once. Can’t remember the outcome, so I guess it wasn’t impressive. I’ll stick to vacuuming them with the attachment every other day, thanks.

16. Dust first, then vacuum.
Who wouldn’t?! And while you’re at it, put on your underpants before you pull on your jeans.

17. Clean your candles with pantyhose.
I would probably give this a try if I had candles. Or pantyhose.

18. Unscrew light bulbs and wipe off with a microfiber cloth.
Okay, but I’ve had good luck with regular old dusting cloths. (And Clorox wipes, of course.)

19. Rub a faucet with waxed paper to prevent water spots and finger prints.
So you’re applying a coat of wax to the faucet then? I don’t know how I feel about this. I do know that one of the two times my grandpa yelled at me was the time that Justin and I wax-papered my grandparents’ beautiful wooden staircase so that we could zoom down faster on our rear ends. This was a technique I learned from my mother, might I add. Granted, we were at Roseland Park at the time. On a side note, playgrounds don’t have metal slides anymore.

20. Snip off a slice of a Magic Eraser and drop it in the toilet. Let it float overnight and it’ll remove any toilet ring. No scrubbing! No one wants to be touching toilet germs, not even with gloves on.
Of all the tips, this one bothers me the most. The tip fails to address all the other parts of the toilet which must be routinely cleaned. Magic Erasers are not cheap, and they practically disintegrate upon contact with water. There’s no way it would last long enough to do anything truly beneficial, and if for some reason it DID make it through the night, what the heck are you supposed to do with it in the morning? Flush it down? That doesn’t seem prudent, either…

21. Use Resolve to get your grout back to white.
Had to try this right away. Results were only moderately impressive. Better than the peroxide-dawn-baking soda mixture (leftovers from the extremely successful carrot stain baby bib experiment) but not nearly as great as oxi-clean experiment or even/especially today’s bleach/baking soda combo. Now THAT was impressive.

22. Keep a Scotch Brite dishwand in the shower filled with 1/2 vinegar, 1/2 dishwashing detergent.
Genius! I feel somewhat silly that something this obvious has eluded me for this long. Dishwashing detergent seems like it could build residue, though. Maybe I will start with just vinegar…

23. Deep clean your water bottles if they’ve started to smell a little moldy.
Yes.

24. Clean your hairbrushes if you really want a good hair day.
The picture accompanying this tip is horrifying. I don’t own a round brush, but if I did, I can assure you that I would clean it LONG before it reached that state.

25. Clean old paintings with a bagel cut in half.
Seems like a waste of a bagel, which would be a shame if you like those sorts of things. Furthermore, it’s so wacky that either (a) they’re messing with us, or (b) it’s so crazy, it just might work. 
So maybe someday I’ll try it.
With an old bagel.
At a Goodwill.

26. Clean blinds with an old sock.
The old standby. If a blog or buzzfeed tip list tries to seduce you into dipping your blinds into Murphy’s Oil (diluted) in your bathtub, DON’T. Stick with the sock method. Or a Clorox wipe.

27. While cleaning the bathroom, fill the tub up with a couple of inches of the hottest water you can draw from the tap.
I’ll keep you posted, but I don’t have high hopes.

28. Cut a hole in a cloth napkin to make dust covers for coats and vests.
This doesn’t sit well with me, but I don’t know why.

29. Use foil in your George Foreman grill or panini maker to prevent mess.
Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of George’s “let the fat drain off” concept?

30. Use WD-40 to erase scuff marks on floors.
I guess. Or lighter fluid, brake fluid, old sunscreen…

31. Pour a packet of lemonade Kool-Aid into the detergent cup of your dishwasher to remove lime deposits and irons stains.
We don’t have those here.

32. Start cleaning out your dryer vents.
Start?! If you’re alive to read this, you’ve probably already made this task a routine.

33. Behold, the sanitizing vacuum cleaner.
Intriguing. But does it work?

34. Use a solution of 1/2 coconut oil and 1/2 baking soda to remove sticky residues.
Or lighter fluid, brake fluid, expired sunscreen (or WD-40, apparently!) Save the coconut oil for winter eczema—sure can’t use lighter fluid for that!

35. Wax your vents with car wax to keep the dust off all year.
Hmm… this looks promising. I’ll let you know!

36. Know your uses for vinegar and natural cleaning agents.
Long-time lover, lifetime fan. If I could only take one thing with me to a deserted island, it would definitely be vinegar.

37. The ultimate organization tip: anything and everything should have a place.
And category and a label, obviously.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Holding the Bag

A police cruiser pulled into the gas station.
There I was, in the middle of the parking lot, holding the bag.
My heart pounded at a criminal rate.
How far did the law extend? Were we safely out of the ban zone?
Holy moly smokes, was this a sting op? I couldn't believe it. I was totally going to be charged with possession.

We are such suckers, I thought. 
We'd walked right into it.

A long, long, long time ago, I'd heard something about someplace outlawing plastic bags. It was around the time that I'd heard about Santa Barbara placing a ban on the practice of fast food restaurants supplementing their kids' meals with toys, because someone--a bunch of someones, I suppose, since the law was passed-- thought it rewarded and reinforced poor eating habits.

The toy story took precedence in my brain. The plastic bag details were vague at best.

Well, the somewhere is Austin, we found out. These are the things you can only find out the hard way, like at 11pm at a skeezy Walmart where you purchased WAY more than the planned four-pack of lightbulbs. (Incandescent, and also soon to be contraband.)

Who doesn't buy lightbulbs while on a four-day trip? People who remember to pack them, I suppose.

If you're already at said Walmart, and you happen to notice that the Equate brand now has a line of generic Clinique products (Strikingly Unique, if you're interested) well, you simply must find out if they are comparable to the real mccoy. 

It's not indulgence, it's research.
Scores of dollars could be saved here, folks.

But if you're already there and you're already getting more than the lightbulbs, you should probably get something indulgent. We recommend Breyer's gelato, or as we call it, 'butter icecream'.

Better add some plastic spoons from the party supply aisle. (Hotel, remember?)

We emptied our loaded arms onto the conveyor belt and proceeded through the checkout line with the assistance of an unusual cashier. (Meth-head, Russ later predicted. Exhausted after a double shift. And weird, I countered.)

After ringing up our items and stacking them haphazardly on that peculiar proprietary Walmart checkout triangle, there was an interminable pause.

"Did you, uh, want a bag?" she rasped.

Well, the leaning tower of impulse buys made it somewhat obvious that we needed one. Did she have to ask?

She did!

Because it turns out that bags are illegal. Or giving away bags is illegal, as we were able to purchase a modest paper sack for the modest price of ten cents.

Please understand, I'm not opposed to phasing out plastic bags-- I just need a little warning. Or at least better communication at the register.

The paper bag was lovely, functional, and worth every cent.


***

On the return trip, we stopped for fuel at a gas station, used the restroom, and became distracted by snacks and beverages. Since I am trying to be more tolerant and less weird, I lied and told Russ I didn't care when he asked if I'd mind if he got Corn Nuts.

Have you ever smelled those things? Yuck. Thanks to this fleeting attempt at grace, I was now going to have to hold my breath and/or breathe through my mouth the whole rest of the way home.

For my part, I made courteous selections, like gummy worms, trail mix, and two humongous and awkward bottles of water.

We approached the counter to checkout and spilled our spoils sheepishly.

"Did you want a bag?" the clerk asked.

Oh, crud. I'd left the dang Walmart one in the car.

"Yes, please," we replied shamefully.

He casually loaded our haul into a PLASTIC bag and bid us farewell. 

We stepped out into the bright and sizzling parking lot just as the police arrived on the scene.

Consumed by panic about our imminent arrest, I forgot how to walk. I willed my legs to move, and that was all the encouragement they needed because by then, adrenaline had taken over.

"Hurry!" I hollered.
"Why?!" Russ shouted.

"BECAUSE WE HAVE A--
Mercifully, I remembered about self-incrimination.
"B - A - G," I spell-mouthed.

We got in the car and got the heck out of there.

My eyes were glued to the rearview mirror for the next five miles, but it appeared that no one was following us.

We had escaped, holding The Bag.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Deal Breaker

The open road can be the devil's playground when it comes to desiring the impractical. Something about traveling creates time and space in my brain for wild wishes, and the return road trip home from Austin was no exception.

"I wish we had a Winnebago. Well, maybe something smaller, like a cross between a Winnebago and a Westfalia-- most of the creature comforts but still small enough to navigate through town," I said, and even I was surprised by the urgency of my tone. 

It sounded like we needed to buy one that evening, if not sooner.

Russ remained unruffled, his gaze never leaving the road, hands upon the steering wheel still relaxed. "The trouble with those things is that you have to take 'em with you everywhere. To the grocery store. To the mini-golf course..."

"True. But on the bright side, you could unpack your groceries right there in the supermarket parking lot."

We drove in silence for several miles.

"The only way I'd own a Winnebago," Russ said, immediately harnessing my attention, "is if we had a couple of Vespas, too. Vespas with trunks or saddlebags... you know, big enough to hold a bag of chips."

I couldn't believe that he was actually considering it! I was closer to making this fantasy a reality than I'd ever imagined. There was just one tiny detail that needed clarification before I could start officially planning.

"So... you're saying that if the Vespas couldn't transport potato chips, you're not interested in owning the Winnebago?"

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What happened to you?

"When did you get so weird? How did I raise such a weird person? You weren't always this... weird," she says. And to some degree, my mother is right.

Oh, let's not point the when-finger and count the many, many fingers of how.

Not now.

This weekend, I'm going to fix it all. Time to look to look weird straight in its weird eye and take weird down. 

I'm heading to Austin, capital of both Texas and Weird. My goal is to come back a little more normal.

Well, we looked into weird lodging, and that was a bust for several reasons. But I am confident that I can tackle weird from a suite at the Hampton Inn as easily as I could from an Airstream in someone's backyard or a camper-top of a stranger’s pickup truck. (See www.airbnb.com if you’re intrigued by these and other weird options.)


Side by side, these Hampton Inn post-it notes look suspiciously pre-printed, don't you think? No matter. My portable blacklight will determine the veracity of their mass-produced statement, and if there's even a slight question about the level of cleanliness, I'll wait for them to rewash. Heck, I'll do it myself. 


I'm going to eat weird things. I've even been practicing. I had four chicken wings on Tuesday, so I'm ready. I might have a rib. Or salmon. Or--[gulp]--something prepared by the vendor of a food cart.

For at least ten years, I rode ferris wheels and those giant swings, blue-faced and white-knuckled, calculating my escape strategy for when the ride inevitably broke free. 

At some point, I realized there was a name for the condition AND a cure.
Fear of heights.
Stay off of them.

Apparently, this kind of caution has made me weird.

So, this weekend, I will be skydiving. Later, you'll find me zip-lining over canyons and lakes.

"What?!" Russ exclaimed. "Those are the two things you fear most!" (Besides germs, Muppets, kidnapping, drowning, and fires, he graciously did not add.)

But I explained--calmly, rationally-- that this was the New Me.

Either I will live to tell about it, or I will die. 
And if I die, at least I'll die knowing I was right about the life-threatening dangers of these pursuits.

Also, I plan to be dangerously close as ten gazillion winged rats explode out from under a bridge at sunset. I bet they'll poop all over me. I might not even bring an umbrella. Because, you know, that would be weird.


We shall see.