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Absence Makes the Heart Go Wander

I feel so bad that I haven’t been posting here on my blog lately. I’d been doing so well with my strict schedule of a new post every three to four days.  I miss everyone here as well, so I thought I’d drop you a post to let you know I’m still alive.

I’ve been so busy with life, work, kids, two blogs, the election, wondering about life and death, doubting that it is possible to ever find true love, rediscovering old friendships, feeling pains of doubt, paranoia, insecurity, fear, seeking solace in going shopping, seeking solace in going to the eye doctor, blah, blah, blah. As you can see, I’ve been busy. With life. I know that none of this is relevant to any of you, but the more excuses I list the better I feel about not having written an official post here in such a long time.

Today I finally got tough with me, and told myself that I have to write something here tonight! It has been a week since my last post, and as with many things in life….you can become out of habit with things. Even things you love. Life is work, and so is this blog. But nothing in life comes easy, I guess.

Now I’m sure I sound like I’ve been dipping into the chardonnay….but I assure you I haven’t. I’m just in the midst of my usual midlife crisis-mode. With a touch of sadness. And a whisper of exhaustion…actually a great big loud yell of exhaustion.

In summary, it’s been a long day, and this post is making even me depressed! I’ll have a better post soon, if I can fit it in after the eye doctors and before I take my mom out on errands. But whenever it happens, it will DEFINITELY be before the chardonnay. Or not.

The Results Are In!

Thank you all so much for answering my survey I posted a few days ago. I was looking for insight from my wonderful blog readers on what types of stories I write here on “Fortyteen Candles” that you all find the most interesting, entertaining and enjoyable. Without a doubt, according to the results from my survey, the most interesting stories to you all are 1. Stories about living in suburbia and my neighbors (heh heh heh….) and 2. Stories about my experiences as a nurse.

Honestly, when I started this blog I KNEW it would be a great place for me to vent my frustrations about living in a cookie cutter town full of uninteresting people who like to form cliques and one up each other materialistically or child achievementally. Thank you all for confirming my belief that this is a very entertaining subject that is best suited to scathing sarcasm with a twist of sheer joy. My neighbors continue to drive me insane, and I’ll have more stories soon as our Halloween Trick or Treating interactions have awakened my muse and gotten her to work on some urgent therapeutic writing.

Something my survey pointed out that really surprised me was your interest in my work and experiences as a nurse. Nursing is something I went into in response to a strong desire I have to help and take care of other people. This is something that is just programmed into me and I don’t see it objectively. I never think what I do is anything above and beyond what humans should do for each other every day, or would do if they were in a situation to do so, therefore I never think it would be interesting or entertaining in any way for others to read about.

The interactions I have with my patients, families and co-workers are on an emotional, philosophical, moral and spiritual level at times. I don’t know how these translate into print, but my general impression since they evoke “feelings” is that they would be dull and non action-packed. Translation = “dull” writing-wise. However, the comments I’ve received on my stories about nursing, as well as on this survey, have really opened my eyes to the value of sharing these experiences with others. It is important for others to know that in this world of increasing depersonalization there are still people out there who care, and will always care, for others in need. I have taken these comments very seriously and it has given me a lot to think about as I organize my next big writing project.

So, since it is hard for me to only focus on one project at a time, I’ve started sorting in my mind two separate writing projects….one for suburbia and the neighbors who drive me insane, and one for my experiences as a nurse. I really appreciate the time you all took to give me your feedback. Thank you, thank you, and thank you again!

 

The Enforcer, or I Can’t Believe it’s Come to This, or I’m Mad as Hell

Children amaze me. They are known as the world’s pickiest eaters. Yet, if there was sugar involved that they could potentially obtain, they could gnaw through a cardboard box in about 28.2 seconds.

My kids are no exception to this rule. They ate very well as babies. It brought tears to my eyes when they finished their tiny baby food jars of spinach, green beans, and squash. Things that even made me queasy to think about. They ate them up and wanted more. I really thought I was the luckiest parent in the world. I couldn’t wait to brag about their healthy food choices at family gatherings and play dates galore. Not that they really had a choice back then, but they didn’t exactly refuse it either.

When their little teeth started showing up, so did their change in attitude. No longer did they want the delicious dark green vegetable-like pudding I’d been serving them without complaint all the while before. I upgraded them to toddler style vegetables. “Cool,” I thought. “This is what all the hip kids at the sandbox are eating. Don’t you want to be like them? It even has wagon wheel pasta!” My kids were unimpressed. One bite and both of them spit it out. I knew it was going to be a long, bumpy road to the teenage years. And one with limited vegetable intake.

Being ultra open-minded and forgiving about differences in palates, I tried many different ways to serve vegetables: squashed, boiled, minced, raw, cooked, strained, frozen, fresh. Time and time again, the responses were the same: “Yuck,” “boo,” no,” “stinky poo poo,” “barf,” “no no,” “blech,” “ick!”

It made me cry inside when my sister would casually mention how her young daughters loved salad. “SALAD?!?I would scream in my head, in a therapeutic and cleansing way. “SALAD?!?” I would scream as I punched a pillow in my sleep. “Salad,” I would sigh as I stirred my coffee, watching my kids staring at their plates full of food. “Salad.” I would say, defeated, as I watched commercials on TV about kids loving to eat their vegetables. “Must be that they’re girls,” I would cheer myself up with. My boys don’t like vegetables. Must be a gender issue.

Now let me get something straight. It’s not like my kids won’t eat any vegetables. They only eat certain vegetables. I will list the vegetables my kids will eat, as follows:

1. Candy Corn

2. Jelly Beans

Sigh. My recent approach to vegetable intake on the junior level is that I will prepare vegetables to make myself feel better. I serve them on the side of their entrees, more of a colorful garnish rather than an expected nutritional component of their daily vitamin and mineral allowance. For that we supplement with good old fashioned Flintstones vitamins. Occasionally, one of my kids might eat a kernel of corn. Likely, because it was stuck onto something else they were actually trying to ingest. Still, it makes my heart go pitter pat. I beam as I calculate the vitamins they just enhanced their diet with. I block out all realizations it’s more likely just sugar. I rationalize that even if it’s fiber, it is still a healthy thing to eat.

This morning I had a new attitude. As my youngest son sat staring at his delicious plate of hard boiled egg and yummy toast, I realized I’d had enough. I strongly encouraged him to eat his healthy breakfast, but all he would do was have a few bites of toast…..the part of the toast that didn’t include the crust that is. It then dawned on me that this was a kid who could tear through Jolly Ranchers, Laffy Taffy and probably chew a door off our kitchen cupboards if he knew there were marshmallows hiding within. Something in me generated a frustration like TV news anchorman Howard Beale when he goes off the deep end in the famous movie “Network” and says, “I’m a human being, god damn it! My life has value! And I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

So I did something that surprised even me. I had a secret weapon I’d been drinking for years. Something that could be used in the war against picky eaters. I sat down a large bottle of V8 Juice next to my son’s plate. I told him, calmly, that if he didn’t eat his egg and toast he was going to have to drink a glass of vegetable juice to make sure he was getting a healthy breakfast. My son thought I was kidding at first. But I sat down next to him, and the bottle, and stared at him until he ate his food. I was amazed at how quickly this simple trick worked. Within minutes he’d eaten half his breakfast.

For the first time ever I can now see how vegetables will improve my kid’s nutrition – not by my children actually eating them, but by my threatening that my kids will have to eat them! I hated the fact that I had to make vegetables the bad guy, but you can’t argue with success. And who knows? Maybe someday my kids will actually want to eat vegetables. But until then, at least I can truthfully say vegetables are an important part of my children’s nutrition. And, yes, now I can finally boast at family functions and play dates galore that my children are always eager to eat a healthy breakfast.

Is it Too Late or is it Right on Time?

Too late. It’s too late, actually. That’s  how I feel more and more every day. Too late for what? Too late for chasing dreams? Too late for taking chances? I don’t know, maybe too late for everything.

But that kind of thinking has been with me my whole life. It must have started when I was due to be born in October, then showed up late in early November. The die had been cast. Even when I was a kid I remember thinking I was too old to start ice skating lessons in fourth grade, because all the kids in the Olympics started when they were two. I remember at nineteen years of age talking myself out of modeling school because all the decent models had been in the field since they were fourteen. I finished my first college degree late, at the age of twenty-three, because of being sidetracked by irresponsibility. I got married late at the age of thirty. Then I returned to school for my next degree even later, at the age of thirty-one and considered myself the old lady of the nursing school class. Even though I wasn’t. I just felt that way.

The song “Undun” by the Guess Who was ahead of its time. Actually it was right on time for me, as it was from the year of my birth….1969. Because it is “my song” as I’ll call it, I cling to each lyric as if it speaks to me personally. A prophecy. Is it too late for me? Will this endless lateness eventually make me “come undun?” Even though this spelling for the word “undone” is incorrect, I’ll forgive them because she must also have been too late to worry about grammar. Plus, I’m sure they were hippies.

If you live your whole life feeling like you’ve already missed the boat, what’s the point in ever hoping to get anywhere? That is the million dollar question I’ve asked myself more and more often lately. Especially when it is coming up time for my next birthday. I wonder, what have I done this past year? What did I end up missing out on because I was too late? What can I do this year while I still have time to do it?

This year I’m going to start seeing the glass as half full. Instead of thinking about all the things I’m too late for, I’m going to make myself focus on what I’m RIGHT ON TIME for. So, at my tender age of fortyteen…what am I right on time for? I’m right on time for a slower metabolism, I’m right on time for a midlife crisis, I’m right on time to worry about my retirement, I’m right on time to be the mother of pre-teen boys (and the whole can of worms that comes  along with that), I’m right on time to be part of the sandwich generation and by then I’ll be right on time for another midlife crisis (why stop at one? I’m not a quitter).

So, I can see there is so much left in life that I am at the perfect age to enjoy. I’ll never miss out again on the surprises of life, thinking every opportunity is in my past. “I’m right on time” is what I’ll say as a I pay each bill, as I plan for my future, as I face another car repair or broken furnace. I’m right on time for the minute I’m in. Best of all, I think I’m right on time for a nap.

Freedom and Happiness and Other Notions of Youth

When you are a kid all you dream of each and every day is the time in your life when you are a “grown up.” You think once you’re older you’ll be able to drive, have a cool house, do what you want and stay up late. I have specific childhood memories, circa age nine, of what my house would be like when I grew up. I was going to live with my best friend in one of the many ranch houses that surrounded our elementary school. On a cul-de-sac, no less! I didn’t really know what my occupation would be, but I was going to own about ten dogs. My best friend wanted to own ten dogs, too, but she also wanted to be a truck driver. She thought we could also drive around town in her big rig which she would name “The Black Widow.” Yes, the times were good in the daydreams of youth.

Looking back now as a “grown up,” I know I have full freedom to own ten dogs if I wanted. I could also buy a ranch style home in the town where I grew up. I also have a full reign to go to truck driving school and find a truck I could drive around town in. And if I felt like it I could name it “The Black Widow.” But I do not choose to do any of these things. Especially the truck driving part. That was kind of the dream of my best friend.

Now being an adult, my ideas of what freedom and happiness truly mean are completely different. I see the world now as broken up into two parts: responsibility and obligation. There is no room to fit the imaginative ideas of freedom and happiness. At least not very much room. And certainly not from the innocent childhood perspective.

It is funny now that as an adult I dream of the time when I was young. That was a time of true freedom and happiness. No responsibilities, debts, obligations, and the knowledge that anything you really worked at could possibly happen someday. Didn’t want to go to class? Skip it! Want to stay out all night drinking and watch the sunrise? Sounds like a plan! Donuts for breakfast? Velveeta cheese for lunch? Beer for dinner? Yes, yes, and yes. And to think that I considered all three of these food categories sound, rational adult choices. Twenty-somethings.

Fast forward a million years. I know that I am not too old to have dreams or plans for the future, but it seems unlikely at my age I could, say, start a new sport and train really hard and end up in the Olympics. Which was always the measure of my youth. How much time I had left to do things….whether it was sports, modeling, learning a hobby, playing an instrument, becoming “famous.” Time was always a factor I considered in my countdown to adulthood. But, as the Rolling Stones continue their world tour well into their early hundreds, I think that maybe the concept of youth is becoming a more extended period of time.

Much like the ideas of “freedom” and “happiness,” “youth” is also relative. You’re as young as you feel, right? Actually that is something only old people say. Anyway, I realize now that in order to regain my youth, freedom and happiness, I will have to start training for the Olympics. I’m hoping that if I’m persistent I can win enough public sympathy that the Olympics Committee will suddenly recognize the importance of creating a special program for middle-aged first time athletes.  If this works out (fingers crossed!), count me in for skeet shooting. I have a feeling I’d be really good at it.

Na.No.Wri.Slo

This November a yearly writing journey begins for thousands of aspiring novelists. National Novel Writing Month, or “NaNoWriMo” was created years ago as a way for struggling writers to finally put a time limit on their dreams and commits them to finishing a novel in an international group effort.  Ideally, this would be one of the fabled Great American Novels. But, as any true writer knows, just having a completed manuscript is worth all the gold in the world. The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in  the span of one month: November. That breaks down to about 1600 words a day. Sounds simple enough, right?

The writers that I’ve heard about who are able to work on this project literally start the day with a pot of coffee at Starbucks and sit in front of their laptops writing and writing and writing themselves insane. They take brief bathroom breaks, I believe. But not too long as to avoid any procrastination with buying more coffee. Or eaves dropping on another writer. Or doubting their work. Or wondering where their plot lines are going. Or wondering if they really have plot lines. Or plot points. Or becoming unsure if their work is a science fiction romance or a simple down home cookbook.

For years I always dreamed of writing a book. I mean, how romantic would it be to be part of a creative wave of writing energy, inspired by the dedication others around you have with pushing themselves forward to completion? Thinking this was the push I finally needed, since we all know writing in solitude can be tortuous, I went so far as to sign up for local chapters of NaNoWriMo a few different times in the past. Why not? A) It’s a global event B) that is free (just the right price for writers) and 3) it gives people the opportunity to get caught up in the creative updraft of a million pounding keyboards. Destiny? Finished book.Reality? Hmmmm….the idea looks good on paper.

Sadly, the furthest I’ve ever made it into NaNoWriMo was the actual signing with my local chapter before the event begins. Usually it is in September or October that I convince myself “This Is The Year I Will Write That Damned Book!” Must be the changing of the seasons, or the back to school mode, or Fall is just so darn inspiring. Anyway, as the days got closer to the November First start date every year, my email inbox would start to explode with emails of NaNoWriMo deadlines, inspiration, encouragement and tales of other’s writing success.

Let me explain that the idea of a writer toiling away in a creative frenzy doesn’t include the actual reality of many writers: Family. Jobs. Commitments. The day-to-day grind of washing dishes, preparing meals, keeping your loved ones clean, and who can ignore the daily “must do’s” of scrubbing the floors and curling up into a fetal position and crying? Please. And so on. These are the necessities of keeping life functioning and moving forward. Unless you are young and not married or without kids or are in a position to be able to dedicate thirty days to doing nothing other than writing, drinking coffee, writing, going to the bathroom, hallucinating. Not that there is anything wrong with this. This is my dream life if I ever win the lottery. No doubt.

But, back to reality. I am encouraged that so many aspiring authors are able to partake in this NaNoWriMo journey. However, I’m feeling the pain of the aspiring authors who aspire to be able to participate in NaNoWriMo one day. Sitting down to the keyboard is a luxury I treasure between breaking up fights among my kids, washing dishes, doing laundry, working, paying bills and staring out my front window onto the bounty that is my cul-de-sac in the middle of nowhere.

So, this year I’ve decided this year to expand on the idea of NaNoWriMo….I am starting an offshoot program called NaNoWriSlo. Yes, it is the National Novel Writers (who write) Slowly club. Our goal is also to produce a 50,000 word novel, but it is at a more practical pace – between five to eighty-two words a day/week. At this rate your novel will be complete in about maybe a couple a years or so? It depends.  You might not finish it at all. And that is also ok. This group will be very supportive, and encouraging, but also very realistic. A daily schedule for the first day might go something like this:

  • Morning: Make coffee, sit down at key board. Enjoy sitting down for a minute. Time to check email.
  • Mid morning: Update Facebook status: “Just started NaNoWriSlo…WOOOO! Don’t count me out John Steinbeck!”
  • Late Morning: Clean bathroom and start dishes.
  • Lunch: lunch
  • Early Afternoon: Refreshed and ready to go! Start typing outline. After seeing what that crash was from upstairs.
  • Mid Afternoon: Call Plumber to fix toilet damaged earlier when book shelf fell onto it somehow. Or that’s the story your kids are going with.
  • Late Afternoon: Coffee time! Also time to go to the store to get food for dinner.
  • Homework: Plan to start Outline tomorrow, first thing. For real this time.

So, our group will start around November first-ish, and go on until you think you’ve finished your work, whatever form that may be in. No pressure. At all. Or not even. We’re mellow like that. And if you do manage to finish something following the strict guidelines above, you will become the face of the NaNoWriSlo international campaign I will start-up. Just as soon as I can get up from this nice comfortable chair.

A Museing

I’ve recently been sidetracked by many things going on in my life. Actually, maybe my life went exactly where it was supposed to but I wasn’t expecting it? Regardless, the purpose of my blog has sort of blurred from a cry for help to suburbia, to a cry for help in suburbia. Lately I’ve wondered how..how I can get things together again to keep this blog where it needs to be? Where is my muse?  I realized today all I needed to do was look out my front window.

I was sitting on my couch this morning, tackling my mountain of bills, when I heard the most horrible rumbling outside my front window. I looked outside to see what in God’s green earth was going on at an hour where the sun was barely awake yet. There was my neighbor, doing something that has been quietly irking me for the past few months.

On our street, like most places where people throw out garbage, every house has one huge garbage can called a “tote.”  These cans are so big you could easily squash down six big bags of garbage and have plenty of room for a crate of rotten onions and two bike tires (Note: we also recycle here). Each house puts their can out in front of their house early in the morning on garbage day, or late the night before, along with items for recycling, and anything else they want to get rid of labeled with a “free” sign. This is a good way to find ugly sofa art, racks  that are missing crucial bolts and odd toilet parts.

Anyway, my next door neighbors are new to the area – here less than a year. I like to think of them as the “newlyweds” in the grizzled marriage of suburban life. Perhaps they aren’t used to the idea of following societal norms, but for some reason they don’t put their extra-large tote in front of their house. Instead they park it at the end of the strip of property on my side of his driveway. Seems petty, sure. But it is very irritating. This is a problem because our front yard is so tiny that whenever you look out in a front facing window on garbage day all you can see is his extra-large green tote in front of our house. Perhaps I’ve gotten a little territorial, but what the heck? Maybe we should move our can down to the last square inch of our yard next to that strip? It just seems awkward and out-of-place. I feel crowded and suffocated by the mysterious rubbish within. Is it too hideous for him to have in front of his house? Is he embarrassed that he’s overfilled his can….again? Maybe I need to send him a note to address the issue. Or take it up with the Homeowners Association. It’s the little things like that make the subdivision walls close in even more.

There! I did it. And, I’m feeling better. Complaining like this about my street somehow seems to put a smile back on my heart! Wait….I feel more complaints surfacing. The flood gates are opening. But, they’ll have to wait for next time. For now I have to keep a watchful eye on any infringing totes from cul-de-sac greenhorns. Fortunately this is easily done at any time….either by daylight sun, or night time glow from the Walmart parking lot behind our house.

Charlie Brown Therapy

What is it about Charlie Brown that is so therapeutic? The same episodes have been playing on TV since before I was even born, yet whenever one of the Peanuts TV shows starts playing  my heart skips a beat. Somehow I shrink back down to an eight year old and my mind empties of all my adult-world stress. Magically, I’m teleported back into my childhood where everything is pure, innocent and safe.

Watching the Peanuts TV specials as an adult, I’m immediately taken by the fact that a whole world could exist of children only. In the Peanuts cartoons, adults are reduced to invisible, unintelligible background noise. Perhaps it was because I grew up watching the Peanuts cartoons, but even to this day I still see most adults in this way – joyless robots who try to enforce their authority with sporadic droning and irritating whining.

Charlie, Lucy, Sally, Linus and the rest of the Peanuts gang have managed to develop their own sophisticated world of social rules and etiquette. Somehow this society of children exists successfully enough to teach us all the errors and ethical issues of our own cruel social behavior. With tact and subtlety, heavy philosophical issues such as religion and social acceptance are brought to light with fun and innocence. We see that these issues are not only found in the adult world – they can weigh just as heavily on the young. We can find our way through them with conscientiousness and honesty.

Everything about the Peanuts kids world is amazing. Beyond their sense of right and wrong, they are always open to learning from each other. They eventually see the error in their ways and make changes for the better.Even though Charlie Brown will always be a Charlie Brown, he is an old soul.  He will always be the heart of the Peanuts gang.

The Peanuts kids have also incorporated the feelings and actions of animals into their own little world. As with any well-loved pet, a dog personified becomes a playmate with adventures all his own. We even able to see things from the point of view of animals – that within our society there are other smaller societies complete with their own social roles, etiquette and sense of right, wrong and fantasy.

The music of The Peanuts cartoons is something I’ve always found just as magical as the stories themselves. The great pianist Vince Guaraldi has created a soundtrack that is uniquely 1960’s – uniting children’s stories with the easygoing coolness of West Coast Jazz. I am such a fan of Vince Guaraldi that I used to play his CD’s for my children when they were babies to help get them to sleep at night. I still listen to his music independently of the shows and have actually gone on to research more about  the West Coast Jazz movement of the time.

Now in my adulthood, it is comforting to know I can always recharge my ethical batteries by watching the same shows that taught me these lessons in my childhood. All too often, these lessons I so easily accepted in my younger years tend to be forgotten in my adult years of sporadic droning and irritating whining. Even listening to the music of Vince Guaraldi is enough to put me in a more peaceful mindset, leaving my brain open to wonder and magic and idealism.

I’ve been watching The Peanuts with my kids today. I’m happy to say that my family enjoys these timeless stories over and over again as much as I do. Even on DVD, year after year, we still hang on to the edge of our seats to see what will happen when Linus runs for election as class president. And we always believe that somewhere out there The Great Pumpkin does exist – and hope that someday Linus will finally get the proof he needs to show The Great Pumpkin to the world.

Thank you for this treasure you left to the world,  Charles M. Schulz.

Self-Checkout Lanes = Twenty Minutes of Your Life Back

Why do so many people hate the self-checkout lanes at Walmart? I’m just asking, here. I’m one of those people, too.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wearily pushed my overloaded shopping cart up to the front of the store, being completely exhausted to the core and willing to make a deal with the devil if I could just be teleported twenty minutes into the future where I was sitting on my couch with a cup of coffee and all this shopping drudgery was well behind me. But that is just a daydream. Instead, I stand in a position in front of all the cash registers where I have the perfect vantage point to assess several things: Which lines are too crowded? Which people have too many items in their carts? Which cashiers look like trainees? Which cashiers are on their cell phones? Which cashiers are about to go to lunch? Which cashiers don’t give a damn?

At this point I notice that every self-checkout lane is empty. Crickets are heard instead of squeaking conveyor belts. The aisles leading up to them are gleaming. Makes me wonder why. I am suspicious that the rest of the customers know something I don’t. Occasionally you might see an employee zip through with a candy bar. They are in and out in a flash. Makes me wonder if they’ve really paid for their items. How could it only take a few seconds to do a transaction at Walmart? I chalk it up to tomfoolery and shenanigans, and think no more of it.

My next step on my check out journey is to narrow down my lane options to the top three that are most likely to process my order quickly: The disgruntled cashier with two customers with overloaded carts? The cashier on the cellphone with one customer but her boyfriend is hanging around talking with her? The cashier who is a trainee that keeps trying to scan a pack of gum? I need a few minutes to assess the progress of each lane. I gaze again over at the self-checkout lanes. In and out a person went with a club pack of bacon and a club pack of Twinkies. Ahhh…the breakfast of champions. He must be single. Still, again, in and out like a flash. How can that be? Maybe he left the Twinkies and bacon there for re-shops and cancelled his order. Nope. Looks like he has a bag with him.

After noticing the lines I’m assessing aren’t moving, I feel like I’m in a public service announcement for the dangers of wasting your life waiting in line. No lanes are moving and I’m trying to find my quickest escape route before I die. The panic and pressure I was feeling to get the hell out of Walmart before I ended up crying in a fetal position next to my cart and screaming for St. Jude to take me to the angels was too much to bear.

Without thinking, I abruptly sent my cart and me on a one way trip to the self-checkout lanes. The other shoppers gazed at me as if I had gone mad. I heard them whisper and buzz “She’s lost it. Those scanners are the devil’s work!” Well that also could have been my internal critic or my rumbling stomach. A bacon and Twinkie sandwich sure sounded good right about now.

The self-checkout lane is sterile and cold. The computer monitor stares at me, unblinking. I unload my cart and carefully hit the “start” button.  “Please scan first item!” I’m told by a cheerful invisible voice. I scan the item. “Please put item in the bagging area!” The cheerful but authoritative voice tells me. I put my item in the bag and jerk my hands away, afraid to touch anything I shouldn’t. “Please scan next item!” The chipper but bossy voice tells me. “Please put item in the bagging area!” I try to put the item in the bag, but it won’t fit completely. Again, I’m scolded “Please put item in the bagging area!” I jostle the item angrily until it sits in the bag. “Please scan next item!” I’m told before I can figure out what to do with the two full bags. Can I take them off the bagging area? Will I get in trouble? The cheerfully nagging voice never yelled at me about what to do in this situation.

“Please scan next item!” The computer was getting impatient. I didn’t know what punishment for non-compliance was within its arsenal of touch screen buttons, and I didn’t want to find out. I just grabbed anything I could and hurriedly found the UPC code to scan to keep the voice quiet. I crammed it into the bag before the voice could belittle me about my bagging prowess. “Please…” the voice started, but I scanned my next item before it could finish its monotone sentence. “Please…” “Please…” it kept repeating before I put the items in the bagging area. No computer was going to tell me what to do. These commands were all what I was going to do anyway. I’m getting credit for the thought.

Finally my order was through. I had to pay. I felt weird feeding my money into the machine. How easily could it suck my money in and say I never put in any? I felt completely helpless until it credited my money on the screen. Finally it spit out my change. I looked out and saw the people in the other lanes still hadn’t moved. How easily I could have still been standing at my vantage point assessing the situation, instead of taking a chance to get ahead. I could have been there twenty minutes or more at the mercy of indifferent cashiers and shoppers who wouldn’t let someone with one item ahead of their shopping cart full of miscellaneous items. I felt empowered as I put my money in my wallet. It was good to try new things! It was…”Please remove your bags!” What? “Please remove your bags!” I was still being yelled at. Even while I was soaking in my glory and empowerment I was still at the mercy of the monotone voice. “Please…” I took them off before that sentence could reach its predictably annoying end.

With bags finally in cart, I left the store minutes later. The other people waiting in line could easily be there at least twenty minutes more or longer. I really savored the idea that I had gained twenty minutes of my life that belong to me – not Walmart, not the lines, not to disgruntled cashiers and selfish shoppers.  I kind of pitied the people still waiting, even though it was their decision to wait there in the shadow of an obviously quicker way to pay. I’m convinced that perhaps my new enlightenment must have been the work of St. Jude.

Saturday Morning Cheese and Ice Cubes

Ugh…What does “Time for Timer!” even mean?!? If you were a child of the 1970’s this phrase is what jarred you from your zombie-like state during Saturday Morning cartoons. That’s right, cartoons were only on Saturday mornings. If you were lucky you might be able to also watch “Tom and Jerry” and/or “The Super Friends” for an hour after school. But I digress. And not everyone was so lucky, so I don’t want to boast here. Nothing is worse than stewed hard-feelings, especially among an online community of people you’ve never seen or met who enjoy reading your blog. But, again, I, regrettably, digress.

Saturday Morning cartoons were a staple of not only my childhood, but the childhood of Generation X. I remember waking up at the crack of yawn to secure my spot in front of our black and white 13-inch television with tinfoil on the antenna, and tune in for a few hours of cartoon-centered kid heaven. I don’t think I’d move an inch and I’m sure my mouth was agape with shock as if I was watching a warped live-action reality from somewhere else in the galaxy.

The cartoons were one hundred percent textbook pieces of 1970’s animation. Bad hairdos, bad fashion and bad color schemes all hustled their way into this art form. Art is an imitation of life, after all. And the musical soundtracks for these cartoons were time capsules as well.  You can almost imagine the musicians: middle-aged, overweight men with polyester pants and white patent leather shoes, probably sipping on some sort of a drink called a “Rusty Side Car” while they played the groovinist notes their wind instruments could bleat. Typical cartoon music of the time: blaring trombones, sneaky xylophones, and numerous sound effects that remain unidentified to this day. Example: Scooby and shaggy startled by another alleged monster start running in place quickly for a few seconds before they finally were able to take off. Also: any music that was a transition between scenes in the Super Friends – eerily creepy, and yet the suspenseful mania it generated was without compare.

But back to “Time for Timer!”  The TV executives in 1970’s must have thought this brief exposure to animation, and it’s associated cereal commercial brainwashing, were too toxic in its pure form. To counteract this poison, Public Service Announcements were played to show kids what a good breakfast would be, or why they need to eat Wagon Wheels – a revolutionary snack idea of cheese and crackers. The little cartoon hero, named “Timer” was a nondescript blob in a top hat, cane and bow tie. He also had some limber gams. He would sing and tap dance his way across the screen as he instructed young minds to fill ice cube trays with juice and tooth picks, eat a bowl of ice with cauliflower on top, or even have a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast. This last tidbit was revolutionary and blasphemous in my house, as we were served breakfasts of plain oatmeal and orange juice with brewers yeast in it. Hey, it was the seventies, and my mom was just keepin’ it natural.

Only in my later years did I realize this nondescript blob was really a stomach personified. A dancing stomach! And in this era we are in of childhood obesity, it is almost hard to believe they had to have PSA’s when I was a kid REMINDING kids to eat breakfast, or have an afterschool snack! So, now, as a parent, I’m thinking  about the consequences of our 24/7 cartoon marathon cable channels, and 24/7 kid centered programming, and the many other reasons kids have today to sit and stare. I’m wondering if there is a connection. Maybe I should put my family on the Saturday Morning Cartoon Diet where once a week we sit and stare at the TV for two hours, and for the entire rest of the week we are so busy playing outside that we might forget to have our after school Wagon Wheels.

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