Saturday, November 30, 2013

Half-Full and Twenty-Seven Seconds

I'm in the mood to bitch about things. But have you noticed that it takes energy to bitch? Well, I've got some energy to spare, so hang around. I might get you to feel indignant about things too. Then there will be a whole wave of indignant people out there. Maybe we need more of that in this world, more indignant people.

I'm particularly pissed about a couple of things. Didn't I already complain about the corporations starting the sales on Thanksgiving day? I think I did. Maybe you'd like to take a moment and think about that one again.

Then yesterday, I heard that they tend to push the prices up well above what they were so that 50% off is only about 10% off if you're lucky. How are we supposed to know when the prices change almost on a daily basis? We aren't. That's the point. So, we rush out on the evening of Thanksgiving day and spend thousands of dollars trying to get that sale price only given to the first hundred customers. You've just been duped and you spent your precious holiday evening waiting in lines for hours to do it. Did you stay up all night? Did you get the deal you expected to get?

And then when you come home with groceries, have you noticed that when you buy a great big bag of chips, the bag is only a third full, unless you count air, when you open it up. What the hell is that? Pill bottles are half full. Protein powder is sold in huge half-empty containers. Is that container half full or half empty? Well, it appears that there is abundance when you're shopping those shelves, but you actually get much less than you think when you open it up at home. There are spacers built into boxes, air pumped into the bags, huge bottles that could be half their size. They are selling us air and we haven't even noticed. There are probably whole departments in these companies whose sole jobs are to find ways to make minute changes over time to sell you less for more.

God forbid you need to go through drive-thru after all that shopping. Don't mention that they've change the spelling of the word itself. You won't get more than fifteen to twenty-five seconds of the drive-thru cashier's attention. You'll need to know what you want to order before they ask that three-second question - are you ready to order? Then you rush. Have you noticed that you feel rushed? Why is that? Is twenty-seven seconds of their attention too much. Yes. Yes, it is. You get ten or twelve seconds at most to order it and confirm that she got it right. Don't fumble with your change either. In fact, you shouldn't even carry change. Your debit card should be available the moment you finishing braking at the window. That thing is swiped and handed back to you. Four seconds. Again, you rush to get it back into your wallet while the cashier simultaneously speaks to another customer and hands you your salad minus a fork and some mozzarella sticks. That might take seven seconds if you need any sauce with that. She forgets the cup of water you asked for. Did you really think you had her attention when you were ordering? No. She was busy swiping a debit card and handing food out the window to the schmucks in front of you. Don't worry, they didn't get any more attention than you did.

They didn't get water or a fork with their salad either.

Thank you for listening, jules

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Big Turkey

Why did I buy such a big-ass turkey? I could have gotten a small turkey and I wouldn't have had to get up at oh-God in the morning to put it into the oven. What the hell was I thinking?

Everyone else in the house is asleep. It's completely dark out. Really, I should have gotten this damn turkey in the oven an hour ago. I don't even like turkey most of the time.

For me, it's all about the pie. Pumpkin pie, squash pie, apple pie, raisin pie. Oh man, if you've never had that buttery flavor of raisin pie, you're really missing out. How could you, unless you're my cousin. We called it fly pie. For reunions, that put off a few people, for a while. Then, it got popular and you had to elbow your way to the front of the line to get some.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. You wouldn't know it from my current attitude, but it is. Food, non-denominational good spirit, loud music as I cook, and my little family at home for four days in a row. Why is that non-denominational part of the good spirit important to me? Dunno. Plus, there isn't an over-arching need to stress over what gift to buy anyone.

"I thought Christmas was your favorite holiday," Nick said yesterday.

"No honey, Christmas is your favorite holiday. Thanksgiving is my favorite."

"Oh ... but why?"

"Because Thanksgiving is simple."

"What about the presents?"


He sat there with a look on his face, that look that said that I had no idea what I was talking about. We're in that stage. It's okay. I don't expect him to get it at this age. I didn't.

Thank you for listening, jules

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Bug

It's a stomach virus.

Last night, Nick skipped the troop swim. I almost gave him grief about it. Why does he miss all the good Boy Scout stuff? Well, it's the good stuff in my opinion, anyway. Biking, hiking, swimming.

Thankfully, I didn't give him too much grief. He said his stomach hurt. I planned to send him to school today anyway because I didn't want him to have one more absence for a half day at school before a holiday. The day before Thanksgiving is always an easy day.

Last night, he ate. A little. He complained that he felt a little nauseous, but he didn't use the puke pail he put by his bed. It took him a while, but he eventually fell asleep.

This morning, with no thought in the world except of all the kids who's parents took them out of school today so they could travel, I sent Nick to school. I'm self-righteous about that.

And then.

And then, it hit me, right in the stomach. Oh, I've had worse bouts of stomach flu. I have. But it was there, insistent and persistent. I'm feeling a bit of it now. You know what I mean, that big grumble, the feeling that you want to eat macaroni and cheese or toast instead of your usual salad. Why do I always get the munchies when I have the stomach flu? All you ever get afterward is worse symptoms.

About ten minutes ago, Mike came into the room and said, "Yup. We've got a stomach bug. It's official."

Tea. I'm going to make tea and go back to bed. No, I don't have a dinner plan. And no, I don't intend on taking the dog for a long walk, probably not even a short one. I don't think I'll puke. Nick didn't. Mike's not taking the dog out either. That poor guy will have to run up and down the stairs with his toys tonight. Teddy, not Mike.

Or maybe he'll chase the cat. Poor cat.

Thank you for listening, jules

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Being A Single Drop in an Ocean

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

How often do you get a letter from an ordinary citizen?

I'm sure you hear from lobbyists and yes men, people who would have you believe that they represent the people. They don't. I'm sure you hear a great deal from corporations hoping to promote their subsidies, but regardless of the law, a corporation is not an individual, so that doesn't count either. (A corporation does not have hopes, dreams, nor should a corporation have the rights of an individual. Free speech? The pursuit of happiness? There is no true correlation between an individual and her rights and a corporation and its interests, which is a fancy word for 'profits'. Since when did you hear of a corporation yearning for a better education or the right to govern her own body? I know you don't enact the law, nor do you interpret the law, but I just had to throw that in there.) In your position, you also hear from pollsters, but I'm not sure a poll can truly portray the concerns of your citizens.

So, I figured it was time for you to get that letter, the letter from an ordinary member of an ordinary family. I am not a wealthy donor. I am not a lobbyist. I do not represent a corporation. I'm simply a stay-at-home mom who works on a daily basis to keep my family running, who contributes to my community, and who hopes that there are enough like-minded people in the nation who will follow suit.

In my family, we are blessed with enough most of the time. My husband and I struggle to help our son make his way through school and to make sure he becomes well educated in the process. We discuss childhood development, the policies of the school district, and how to develop integrity in a young mind. We manage our schedules around his karate classes, volunteering at Boy Scout meetings and campouts, volunteering in the school, participating at church, walking the dog, and helping our son develop a strong group of friends while we maintain our own. We live in the kind of community where we run into friends and acquaintances at the library and the grocery store and, believe it or not, we actually get things accomplished during those chance meetings.

My friends and I discuss education trends, methods of increasing literacy, how to manage health issues, nutrition and fitness, the role of art in the community, the reduction in basic privacy and freedoms, giving back or paying it forward, the cohesiveness of the neighborhood, the fight against drugs, and the future of our children.

So how should this affect what you're trying to accomplish? Let me count the ways:

  • First of all, I believe in the work that you are doing. It would be easy for you to get discouraged with all of the opposition you encounter. I believe that most of that opposition is racist in nature. Sorry for that. You don't deserve it any more than the average black man deserves to get searched when he shops at Macy's.
  • I appreciate that you didn't back down when radical members of Congress hijacked our government's budget, temporarily closing down programs such as Headstart and Meals-On-Wheels in their attempt to circumvent the process of law established by the founders of our nation. That process is there for a reason.
  • I know there are challenges that your healthcare program faces, but some of us believe that all people, especially children, are entitled to basic healthcare. Thank you for that. The cost of healthcare is a big deal in our family, but the efficiency of available medical care is as important to us as we face our particular set of health problems. As it is, we struggle to get the kind of care that we would like to receive and our insurance, a part of the profit-centered system that currently exists, is an impediment to that care. My hope is that your system will help to iron out these impediments. I'm telling you, these insurance companies won't back down easily. They like making money without having to pay for medical expenses.
  • The deficit? It's hard to know what to believe. You need to know that there is no clear information about the national debt that trickles down to people like me. If I were to believe one faction, you've saddled us with overwhelming debt. If I believe another group of people, you've actually reduced the deficit. I would really like to know where the truth lies. How can you better convey that information? How can you create a more transparent system for showing the way our tax money is spent? I'd love to see it.
  • I know people who have been illegal immigrants in this country for years. These people don't receive basic freedoms that hardworking people like them deserve. Their immigration status gives employers the right to take advantage of their time, to pay them a pittance, and to eliminate any benefits. These people are still poor for that reason alone. We are a nation of immigrants, so unless we want to send the pilgrims home and leave the country to Native Americans, your plan to allow illegal immigrants a path to citizenship is the right thing to do. Building a longer, wider wall to keep illegal immigrants out is a waste of money and time.
  • Please close Guantanamo and put the remaining prisoners on trial. I know it's complicated, but a person's basic rights to a fair trial are simple, even if they are a terrorist.
  • I'd really appreciate if you would move forward with protecting us from climate change by enacting a carbon tax. It will do no good to get medical care for poor children or to improve our educational system if we can't survive the environmental changes that we have caused. Really, I do think we're sticking our heads into the sand on this. I would also love to hear clearer advice about what ordinary citizens need to accomplish in this regard.
  • Can you change the tax code to eliminate corporate subsidies? I've heard that a set percentage for everyone would do the trick. Is that an oversimplification? The current code with its tens of millions lines of regulations is not working. The poor remain poor, the middle class pays the bills, and the rich find loopholes so they get richer.
  • I appreciate the First Lady's attempt at fighting the battle against obesity, but two things stand out in my mind with regard to her program: school lunches still suck; and no kid wakes up in the morning and decides that he wants to be fat, so we need to make sure that we aren't fueling the trendy wave of cruelty toward people and kids who struggle with their weight. There is no easy solution to obesity or someone would have made millions on it already.

Have I covered everything? I haven't really discussed the human need for art or the ways we can create more tightly knit communities. I missed technology completely. And I didn't complain, though I should have, about the degradation involved in traveling through airport security. Maybe I'll cover those things in another letter some day.

Thank you for lending me your ear. I had gotten an email that promised me a moment of your time, but I realized that it was a blatant attempt at soliciting a donation. My husband sent a donation to your last campaign and my son still has the photo of your family on his bulletin board above his desk. He is such an optimist. I wonder where he gets that trait?

On that note, I send this letter, hoping that in some small way, it can make a difference.

Sincerely, ...

Do I dare send it? Oh, I know that it will lie in the inbox of some intern. It may even undergo some special scans. Isn't it sad that time and energy need to be taken to protect our interns?

Maybe I'll win the lottery. Maybe I'll get struck by lightning. Maybe someone will read my letter. At least I can say I tried.

Thank you for listening, jules

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Your Damn Gratitude Journal

I should be going to bed, yet here I am.

I don't have anything to complain about except that everyone's Facebook pages are filled with gratitude posts. Why does that bother me? Sure, I love Thanksgiving. It's my favorite holiday, so I should take the whole month of November and be thankful every day, right?


I'm allowed to be a curmudgeon. Who ever said I had to state out loud, to all my friends, acquaintances, and people who friended me who I was too polite to refuse, all the ways that I am grateful?

Why does this bother me so much?

Because I'm sure everyone knows that I love my family. Of course my boy is amazing. The way he broke those boards with his open hand last night at the talent show was perfect. I'm grateful he didn't break his hand. Of course I love my husband and I'm happy he didn't croak when he had his heart attack three weeks ago. I'm telling you, there is nothing like hearing 'your husband had a heart attack' to get you thinking about love, about how you might not be able to live without someone, about how fucking dependent you are on the fact that they breathe in and out next to you in your bed at night.

But do I have to broadcast that to my friends? Most of them lie in their beds at night next to men or women that they love too. Yes, some of them had fights that day. Some get annoyed because their husband's towel is always askew on the towel rack. Some didn't take the time to really watch the movie with their beloved before they went to bed because how many times can you hear 'You can't handle the truth!' without knowing the line before and the line after in that movie?

Am I clear?


So, I think I hate those gratitude posts on Facebook, not because those people are grateful. It's good to be grateful. It makes you happier to be grateful and I think you live longer.

I hate those gratitude posts on Facebook because they have a Martha Stewart feel to them instead of an Oprah feel. You know what I mean, right? The sheets are 1200 thread count percale, folded impeccably. The lawn has every blade of grass in place. The children are all on the honor roll and the boys are on track to become Eagle Scouts. The bottle-blond wives are still thin and pretty and the husbands are manly enough that they can deadlift 235 pounds. Someone in the household works at one of the big four, Microsoft, Amazon, AT&T Wireless, or Google. Their lives are just about perfect most of the time anyway. And the children's well-tutored SAT scores are perfect too. Right?

Oh, I can't compete. That's the problem. I watched Martha fold her fitted sheets perfectly and I could never duplicate that. My lawn is pathetic, even where there is grass. My son is bright, funny, and solid as a rock, but not on the honor roll. He may or may not become an Eagle Scout, despite the fact that my husband is the Scoutmaster. I am not bottle-blond, nor am I pretty or thin, but I try to make up for that with sincerity. My husband never lifted weights, but he's had a solid job with a technical company for the past twenty-three years. My life is never perfect. I almost always have a spot on my shirt after I eat, and I make mistakes, lots of mistakes, every day. So, I guess I'd rather be like Oprah than Martha Stewart. Oh, I know that Oprah struggled to manage her weight. She looks good, doesn't she? Who cares what that woman weighs? She's got her own network, for God's sake. What I like best about her are her imperfections, her enthusiasms, and her honesty.

So, I guess I wouldn't mind those gratitude posts on Facebook if I could see a bit more of the person in the post. I'm not interested in one more perfect post about the perfect life. Show me something real, something even slightly imperfect that you can still be grateful for.

I'm grateful that my damned gutters are clean. I'm grateful for the carpet of red maple leaves on the green moss that grows on my sidewalk even though I know I'll eventually have to rake them up and shove them into the yardwaste container with the pizza boxes from last night. I'm grateful that my pants fit better now that I'm drinking 1 percent milk instead of whole. I'm grateful that, despite the fact he's never going to deadlift even eighty pounds, my husband's cheek is still pink in the morning light when I wake up to watch him sleep. I'm grateful for the fugly yellow, purple, green, and red pinch pot my boy made for me on the mantelpiece and that he doesn't have a clue how damned ugly that thing is. That is what I am grateful for, damn it.

Okay, all you gratitude journalists. Here is my proposition for you when you sit down to your Facebook page tomorrow morning. Make it real. Make it dirty. Get that gratitude out of the closet and roll it in the grass before you put it up for me to see on my Facebook wall. If it ain't real, I don't give a shit.

Thank you for listening, jules

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Hovering Again

Mike can't go into the bathroom for too long without me wondering if I'm going to find him laid out of the floor there, pants down, and gray from lack of oxygen.

I'm not sure you really need to know this, but I'm telling you - I hope and pray I'm not naked when I die. I don't know why that bothers me. I feel pity for Marilyn Monroe over that. She died in the nude. Her housekeeper also walked past her door, saw the light on, and decided not to disturb her near the time of her death. I wonder how this housekeeper felt after she'd found out the poor woman was lying naked on the floor, possibly still alive when she walked by. It makes you think, doesn't it?

I also worry that I'm going to wake up next to Mike, having slept through his struggle, and finding his cold body sucking the heat from me as I sleep. I wonder if we'll walk too far into the woods on our rambles and I won't be able to get Mike to help soon enough after he collapses. I worry I won't do a good job at CPR. I worry he'll drive into the back of a bus, killing children, as he clutches his chest while trying to drive home from work. Nightmares. Every one of these scenarios is a totally possible nightmare.

There are so many ways that death can come. Even though Mike had a heart attack, I can't really guess how it will come for him. I can't guess how long we have together. I can't control a thing, unless I happen to be very lucky and get into my CPR training class before an episode and I'm right there with Mike when something happens and can get him to help quickly enough. What are the odds?

It's just a reminder that, no matter how hard we try, the people we love may still die alone and untended.

The other day, I asked Mike if it bothered him that I was hovering. He smiled and told me it didn't. Still, I wonder if he knows just how many times I check to make sure he's still pink in the night, how often I look out onto the lawn when he's outside blowing the walkway, how often I wander innocently into a room where he's sequestered and watching TV, or how much I watch out the window for him to return when he's out running an errand. I hover. I wake up worried. I try to keep breathing in this beautiful world.

It's exhausting, you know.

Thank you for listening, jules