Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Too Much Information

I’m back. I’d like to tell you that I’ve been on a fantastic, extended vacation but that would be a lie; I’ve just been busy with life. I’m sure you can all relate. But wait no more, here’s my latest rambling on yet another completely picayune topic.

I’m a firm – wait a minute, that’s not really accurate – I’m a VERY firm believer in that there’s a lot out there that you’re just better off not knowing. What brought this to mind was a headline that flashed across my computer screen this week: Mobile Phones 18 Times Dirtier Than Toilet Handles. Really? Really? Did I need to know this? I’ll never look at my cell phone the same way again.

“Too Much Information”, also known as “TMI” for short, is everywhere. The straight information sort, like the cell phone / toilet seat article above are often studies carried out by people with seemingly way too much time on their hands. Who thinks this stuff up?

"Hey Joe, let's take a cell phone, and a toilet handle, and count the germs on each."

“Great idea Hal, that would be awesome!”

My husband has completely embraced online banking as it has allowed him to check in on our investments nearly every day, but especially on bad market days (I still haven’t figured out the masochistic nature of that one). No more waiting for quarterly statements, we can find out today how much money we lost in the market. I’ll hear a groan come from the office, he’ll stumble out and start to say “guess how much…”, and I’ll quickly blurt out “I don’t want to know”. I do not need to know how much money we lost in the market as it only conjures up a picture of myself driving down the road slipping $20 bills out an open window.

The bad news ilk of “too much information” is often the teaser stories on your local news. You know the ones that grab your attention and they finally get to in the last 3 minutes of the broadcast.

“How your refrigerator might be killing you, tonight at 11.”

“You’ll never want to eat cheese again after what we tell you tonight at 6”.

I’ve gotta be honest with you – I’m OK not knowing how my fridge might be killing me - and I LIKE cheese, I really like it. I don’t want to know something that might make me want to question or change my relationship with cheese.

Probably the most popular use of “TMI” is the visual sort. You see something that you cannot believe and wish you had never seen, and you can help but mutter “too much information” under your breath. This typically refers to exposed body parts on people whom would have been better served keeping those parts under wraps. There’s the woman with the large puppies (dogs actually) barely contained within her tank top who passed on wearing a bra because she thought that the straps would look tacky. The overweight man who still has a 34” waist under his beer belly; his pants ride so low that his butt-crack is on permanent display. And my personal favorite, those who believe that Lycra really is a miracle fabric. TMI!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Carrot or Stick?

Warning, small children should leave the room; adult content will be discussed.

A few years ago I just didn’t understand texting. Why would you take the time to tap out a message to someone’s cell phone when you can just call him or her on the very same device? Then one day I needed to get a message to a coworker that was in a meeting. I knew he wouldn’t take a call during the meeting, but I guessed that he would be able to glance at a message. Mission accomplished, and just like that I was on board with texting.

Maybe it’s because I work in technology that I discovered numerous scenarios where texting was the preferred method of communication, this however did not carry over to my personal life. A few friends have recently started to text now that so many devices like the Blackberry and the iPhone have full QWERTY keyboards, but there’s precious few who can, and will, type via triple-tapping (using a standard phone numeric pad to select letters, for example – you have to tap the #2 key 3 times to get a “c” – hence “triple tapping”) on a standard phone.

My husband was firmly in the camp of “it’s a cell phone, not a cell typewriter. Call me.” This frustrated me to no end. When I traveled internationally it was really expensive to make a phone call, so we were relegated to email for a week to 10 days at a time. I wanted to feel like I was talking to him, and text messages – because of their immediacy – do a pretty job of mimicking a conversation.

No matter how hard I tried, my husband had absolutely no interest in learning how to text message. He was fine with our email communication; that was enough technology for him. It’s probably worth mentioning here that my husband can be a bit technology-adverse about some things. For example, he doesn’t like updating his software; he declines every update offered. He’d still be on Windows 95 if he could. He also holds a pretty serious suspicion that it’s the anti-virus companies themselves that fund the hackers, thereby ensuring the success of their business model.

Then one day I got a bright idea; what was needed here was a carrot – some motivation - and because he’s a man, well I think you all know where I’m going with this. The following text message was sent to his cell phone:

“If you can figure out how to read this, there’ll be something in it for you tonight. If you can figure out how to reply to it, you’ll get bonus points.”

I thought this was perfect. I would say nothing and wait until that evening to see if he had figured out how to access the inbox on his phone and read the message. He would have to claim his prize; I wasn’t going to make it easy on him. Less than 10 minutes after I sent the message my phone chirped with a notification, the message read:

“How many bonus points and when can I use them?”

A carrot was the right call; we’ve been texting each other ever since.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

I Hope Andy Warhol Was Wrong

In 1968 Andy Warhol was quoted as saying "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Geez, I hope not. Have you done the math? The US population alone is 307 million, that’s almost 77 million hours of television coverage! I can’t take that much stupid.

This prediction has morphed into a birthright, a cultural imperative along with a flat screen TV and a BMW. You must be famous at some point in your life; you just have to figure out how and there is no shortage of avenues for you to take.

Television has brought us the reality show, PUH-lease, what part of any of these shows even approaches reality? America’s Next Top Model, America’s Got Talent, American Idol, Addicted, Armed and Famous, Amish in the City, Are You Hot? Average Joe, The Apprentice, The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Big Brother, The Biggest Loser, Basketball Wives, Beauty and the Geek, Boot Camp, Brat Camp, Bridezillas, Battle of the Network Reality Stars – and that’s only a small sampling of the As and Bs!

What people will do, say, or eat just to get on television never ceases to amaze me. I couldn’t even watch the trailers for Fear Factor without a stomach flip; the entire premise seemed to be based on getting people to eat disgusting things. Survivor and Big Brother are all about psychological head games (this is fun to watch?); one takes place on a “deserted” island (save for a few hundred film and production crew) and the other in a house that no one can leave. Wife Swap; I’m sorry – I can’t tell you what that’s about – can anyone out there help me?

Unfortunately these people are rewarded with exactly what they crave, celebrity status. The tabloids and magazines cover them as if they…did something. They’re constantly being photographed and interviewed because they’re on TV. They’ll go to the opening of an envelope. Other television shows have them as guests, sometimes even elevating them to reporters and commentators; you know where Elizabeth Hasselbeck of The View came from? Survivor: The Australian Outback. I don’t even know where the Kardashians came from.

It’s a vicious circle; you become famous for being on a reality show. Then you’re photographed and interviewed because you’re on TV. Then you’re on the cover of a magazine and someone says “let’s get him/her on the show!”

The real challenge seems to be just how long these “stars” can string this along. Case in point, Rob Mariano aka “Boston Rob”, who parlayed his initial stint on a season of Survivor into 2 more, as well as 2 seasons of The Amazing Race, his own reality show “Rob and Amber Get Married”, about the wedding to his wife whom he met on Survivor (a collective ah, or is that eww, is appropriate here) and then because apparently we would care what happened after they got married, “Rob and Amber; Against the Odds”. Not to be limited to the US market only, he also picked up a season on the Canadian show “Reality Obsessed” (what a shocker).

So let’s see, from Survivor: Marquesas in 2002 to Survivor: Heroes and Villains in 2010 – that’s an 8 year run - his 15 minutes are up. I guess there are worse ways to make a living, although if you make me watch any of these shows I’d be hard pressed to think of any.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

10 Things I Need To Thank My Father For

On this Fathers Day, along with the whoopie pies I sent, here is the rest of my gift to my dad – or more accurately my thanks for the gifts he’s given me.

1. Work Ethic. My father has an unshakeable work ethic and this has been firmly instilled in both my brother and I. “If you’re going to do something, do it right” is something I remember hearing over and over again during my childhood; however its worth noting that this was delivered more as an imperative than an ethos (anyone who knows my father is nodding and smiling right now). It was his expectation. I can tell you that I’ve had many a happy employer over the years due to my work ethic.

2. Brevity. Conversations in our house were typically direct, and to the point. We didn’t really pull punches; we said what we meant – assessed the damage – and moved on. We didn’t belabor issues into the ground. While sometimes these conversations were uncomfortable, you knew where everyone stood. My husband comes from a family of conversationalists. They like to talk and talk and talk, summarize things, and then look at it from a different angle. Its pure torture for me and I’ve come to call it “heel grinding” because that’s what it feels like to me. I find beauty in brevity and try to apply it both to my oral and written communications.

3. Fearlessness. When I tell people about my dad, at some point their mouths start to gape open a bit. It might be the fact that he’s started and sold 3 very successful companies over the course of his life, or that he was a charter boat captain, a lobster fisherman, a race car driver, a Busch Grand National crew chief, a private pilot who owned his own plane, etc. - you get the idea. I’ve always thought of my dad as fearless; if he wanted something, he just went about getting it. I like to think I have some of that in me too.

4. Making your own way. Every now and then my husband has to remind me that we’ll never be handed anything; we’re going to have to work for everything we have. I’ve known this along, because it’s the same message my father always delivered to me – count on yourself and you’ll never be disappointed – but every now and then I would forget it; usually at those times where you just look to the sky and say “Really? Really?” because you can’t imagine any worse luck, taking on any further burden, or having anything else go wrong. But I’ve always had confidence in myself, and now I’ve also got my husband to count on, and I think we’re doing pretty good.

5. Jumper cables. I still have the set that my father gave me when turned 16 years old and got my first car. No matter where I’ve lived, eventually everyone always figures out that I’m the person that has the jumper cables in the neighborhood (as our mailman did about 3 weeks ago). I’ve received more compliments on a) the fact that I have jumper cables b) what a nice set they are and c) that I actually know how to use them!

6. Change. The amount of change in our lives when I was growing up is probably directly related to #3 above. My father was never afraid to make a change. If he wanted a better (or warmer) life, he evaluated what needed to be done and a plan was put into action. This applies to himself - his hobbies and his work life - but also to the family. We moved a lot; I attended 8 schools in 12 years, but looking back it was a great lesson to not accept less. Less than what you want. Less than what you dream for. I took this example to heart and moved so much in my 20s that family members learned to record my new address in pencil, not pen, lest they loose an entire page in their address book to scratch-outs. But I don’t regret any move (location or career), even though some were lateral changes, they all led me to where I’m at today and that’s a great place!

7. Mirrors. No, not those mirrors, the mirrors on your car. Growing up I had a horse and so therefore we also had a horse trailer. When I turned 16 my dad said that I could start driving myself to horse shows – as soon as I could back the truck (a regular pick up truck with a cap on the back – which means you can’t look out the back window!) and trailer up our driveway, from one end to the other. No big deal you say? Our driveway was almost a half-mile long, had two hills, and more curves than Pamela Anderson. I practiced every day after school and after about a month I took the test, and passed. At virtually every show I ever attended, I was asked to back up somebody’s rig for them; I was the go-to person after they had seen me park mine. To this day I back up my car with the side mirrors even though I can see out the back window, something my mother commented on during her last visit; “Just like your father, you back up with the side mirrors.” I took it as a complement.

8. Leadership. As I mentioned above my father has started and sold 3 very successful companies during his life and at each he developed a strong following of dedicated and satisfied employees. No matter your background, pedigree, resume, or degree - my father values people – and those people that he values are treated and appreciated accordingly. This is a strong contributing factor to his success. The number one reason employees leave a company is always thought to be money. It isn’t, that’s just something employers tell themselves to justify the turnover. It’s lack of acknowledgement and appreciation for their work. I’ve tried to apply the same principles in my career and based on feedback from the people I’ve worked with, and for over the years, I think I’m on the right track.

9. Letting go. My dad’s got a temper and I inherited that from him in spades. I’m not thanking him for that, because sometimes even I hate my temper (it can frighten those around me), but what I remember most about my dad’s temper was how quickly it passed. Don’t get me wrong, he could be a real shuttle-launch (his term, not mine, but he does use it to describe me – I’m enjoying turning the tables on him :o), but once the initial blast was over, it was all about moving on. I’m exactly the same way. If I have to have a temper, I take a small amount of solace in the fact that I don’t scorch the earth – just the immediate area around the launch pad.

10. For being the family’s “go-to-guy”. My dad has been everyone’s go-to-guy for as long as I can remember. He just knows things, and people. No matter what the issue, people would call my father. He’d have an answer, or at least an idea, or know who to call for the same if he came up blank. This has been a heavy burden over the years; family funerals come to mind – there’s always one person who must carry the weight for those who are unable to in their grief and more often than not that’s been my dad. He’s always there for anyone who calls. Sometimes it’s his time, experience, connections or advice – but I believe people think of my dad like State Farm; he’ll always be there when you need him most. I know I do.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Breaking Up is Hard To Do

My 1-year subscription to a magazine is about to expire, I know this because nearly everyday I receive something in the mail alerting me to this fact. It started about 9 months ago with notices stating “your subscription will soon expire, renew now at this special rate!” Huh? Clearly their definition of “soon” and mine differ greatly. At this point in our relationship, I was still trying to decide whether or not this magazine was worthy of my limited reading time. A particularly interesting issue that I lifted from a doctor’s waiting room had seduced me into signing up for a full year of home delivery, but now that we were regularly seeing one another some of the shine had worn off. It just wasn’t as exciting as that first “stolen” date.

A couple of months later and the envelopes started arriving in bright colors with enticing words printed on the outside. “Act now and save.” “This special won’t last long.” “VIP offer.” By this time I’d pretty much decided that I was over this mag and renewal was not in my future. I found myself lazily flipping the pages, barely interested in the contents. I knew I’d made the right decision when I tried “recycling” them to my neighbor and even she couldn’t muster enough enthusiasm to accept a free magazine.

And then it was crunch time; less than 4 months to go before my subscription ran out. Was I aware of this? If so, then why wasn’t I taking action? The envelopes turned red, literally, and the messages printed on the outside that were once so appealing started to take on a darker tone and contained at least one, if not more, of the following words: urgent, late, expire, terminate, last – you get the idea. I began to feel like a hunted woman; these people would not give up. I just wanted the whole thing to end. I didn’t even care if I got the last couple of issues still owed to me and I was afraid to go to the mailbox.

And then there was a light at the end of the tunnel; my husband handed me the mail and there was an envelope marked “Final Notice”. YEAH! On the same day I also received my last issue; I know this was my last issue because it arrived with a paper cover that was printed with the words “LAST ISSUE” on it. I get it. This is my last chance. They’re not going to stick around forever while I ignore them. They have more self-respect than that. Finally, the long year was over and we had finally broken up. I looked forward to digging into some good books.

And then, just like any good horror film, or the boyfriend that you can never really break up with, they were back. I received a brightly colored yellow envelope letting me know that as a courtesy they’ve extended my subscription for another 2 months, free of charge, because apparently they were concerned that perhaps I’d fallen, and couldn’t get up, and had missed the last 9 months’ renewal notices, and if I acted now I could take advantage of the very, very low – one time only – special renewal rate of…

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

10 Things I'd Like to Thank My Mother For

In a nod to the month of May in which we celebrate Mothers Day, here’s my own “Top 10 List” dedicated to my mother.

1. Handwritten thank you notes. From the time I could hold a crayon or a pencil, I was sat down at the kitchen table to write thank you notes for every gift I received. At the time I remember thinking what a colossal waste of a 10-year olds valuable time. Now that I’m in my 40’s and a trip to the mall (present), Hallmark store (card and wrapping paper), and post office (shipping) is only slightly more appealing than sticking a fork in my eye, I behold the wisdom of her ways. Three or four heartfelt, handwritten sentences in acknowledgment of such attention and effort is the LEAST anyone can do!

2. Chores. I did ‘em and I received a weekly allowance for them. I was not given money (as in "here's $20, go have fun); my parents weren’t an ATM (we didn’t even have them back then anyway). “You work, we pay, you don’t, we won’t” is how it went down, and I’m the better person for it.

3. Adult responsibilities at an early age. When I turned 16 my parents cosigned on a car loan; they could have bought me a car – they didn’t – they got me car payments instead. My mother took me to our local bank to open a checking account and get a credit card ($300 credit limit!!). I worked weekends to pay for the car, insurance, and gas. By the time I turned 20 I had work history and references to put on a resume, credit, a paid-off loan, 4 years solid record with a credit card, and I knew how to balance a checkbook and manage my money.

4. Stubbornness. My husband doesn’t really think a “thank you” is in order on this one, but I do. I come by my stubbornness honestly, and I’m referring to the “good stubborn”, not the bad (although I have both in spades). My mother is not one to let go, back down, or roll over and unless you want to be road kill on the highway of life, this is a good thing. It’s been said that when I sink my teeth into something, I’m like a “pit bull on a rump roast”, I will not let go – and sometimes I should. My mother’s recently figured that one out – sometimes you do need to just let go – so based on her timeline I can expect to attain that same level of wisdom in about 25 years.

5. Dogs are woman’s best friend. We always had dogs growing up and I still have fond memories of each and every one. My mother instilled in me the responsibility of pet ownership; it’s for life and obedience training is a must - obedient dogs are a joy to live with. Dogs give so much and ask for little in return, I can’t imagine my life without one.

6. The importance of family. Many years ago my father and I had a rift that kept us from speaking for a couple of months. I knew this was killing my mother, but she pretty much stayed out of the fray until one day, during the course of a regular phone conversation about something else, she stated that I needed to think about how long I wanted this to go on, and perhaps I should make the first move toward reconciliation (for my reaction to this suggestion see no. 4 above) because I only had one father, and he wouldn’t be here forever. Did I want to waste anymore time cutting him out of my life? My mother lost her mother at the age of 27, I can’t even fathom that today, such an early loss for her. I made the first move, we cleared the air between us, and we’ve never even strayed near such a scenario in the 20 years since.

7. Christmas cards. We’ve moved around a lot, and my parents make friends wherever they go, this resulted in a card distribution list that topped out at about 150 at one point in time and that point in time would be before computers and adhesive address labels. My mother hand wrote a note to each and every person, filling them in on the latest family news, where we were living, etc. Every envelope was hand addressed. It would take her weeks to complete the task, but so worth it; many of the recipients have since passed, but it meant so much to them that my mother stayed in touch throughout the years.

8. Mistakes are ok. I have a lot of practice on this one; love life, work, real estate – you name it – I made a mistake somewhere along the line. My mother never told me what to do, sometimes she’d question what I was doing, but she never exerted her authority. There was always the assumption, the expectation, that I’d get myself out of whatever I got myself into. Just that belief alone, knowing that someone else thinks you’ve got the stuff to get past whatever is bringing you down at the moment, sets you up for success. I did get myself out of everything I got myself into and I’m a smarter and stronger person because of every mistake I made. I regret nothing, I’m happy I made most of my missteps in my 20s because it’s allowed me to live a pretty contented life in my 30s and 40s.

9. Embracing the fact that she has “grand-dogs”. A few years ago, when single and living in New York, I rescued a shelter cat. The next Christmas I bought her a sweatshirt that read “Let me get this straight, my grandchild is a cat?” She got the joke, loved it, and proudly wore it. My mother never questioned my reasoning or decision to not have children. Now I have 3 dogs (and a different cat) and the graduation (obedience training), and birthday pictures that I send get shared with all her friends. When we adopted a new dog, a “birth announcement” of sorts went to her distribution list. My mother never made me feel guilty for not giving her grandchildren, and for that I can’t thank her enough.

10. The “mother-daughter weekend”. I can’t remember exactly when, or how, it started but it’s been going on for almost 20 years. There have been race weekends in Montreal and Milwaukee (we were like two star struck teenagers), historical trips to Charleston (where I ate my body weight in hush puppies) and D.C. (during the hottest summer on record) and an Audi Driving Challenge (you couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces for 2 days) among other trips. A couple had to be cancelled (her motorcycle accident, my broken knee), but we’ve always picked back up the next year. We talk, laugh, and sometimes cry. I wouldn’t trade them for anything and hope that they continue for another 20 years.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Grits and Bear It

Gastronomically speaking, there’s not much in the world that I love more than grits, and apparently I’m not alone in my admiration. The state of Georgia declared grits its official prepared food in 2002 and a similar bill has been introduced in South Carolina with Charleston’s The Post and Courier proclaiming in 1952, “An inexpensive, simple, and thoroughly digestible food, grits should be made popular throughout the world. Given enough of it, the inhabitants of planet Earth would have nothing to fight about. A man full of grits is a man of peace.” My husband is not that man.

I come by my love for grits honestly; I grew up in the south where grits are fit for every meal. Any diner worth its salt will offer a choice of hash browns or grits with your breakfast, and if you want more you can always add a monkey bowl of grits as a side order. You’ll regularly see “shrimp and grits” on a menu, as well as with other kinds of meat, and especially cheese, but rarely vegetables.

Grits can be served hot or cold, porridge-style, or cubed and fried, but my favorite is simply hot and made a bit soupy with some butter, salt, and pepper. Grits are international, in Italy it’s called polenta and considered gourmet (hey, it’s basically the same thing) and in South Africa I was thrilled to find “pap”, a traditional porridge made from ground corn, so in a word – grits. Despite this far reach, grits can’t seem to make it over the Mason-Dixon line. My years living in the northeast after we returned from a few sun-soaked years Florida were dire; any trip south of DC required an early stop at a roadside Waffle House for a fix.

It was on our first trip together while dating that our grits rift was exposed. I shrieked with excited at the site of the first Waffle House, he – not so much. “What are grits?” he asked, I tried to explain but suggested that he just order them and find out for himself. He refused and despite never having tried them (he was born in New York; upstate – not the city – but as far as grits are concerned, it doesn’t make a difference), he knew he didn’t like them (huh?). “Ok, that’s fine, but you’re not getting any of mine!” That didn’t seem to bother him.

I didn’t give up; convinced that homemade grits, the kind that take 20 minutes to cook, would do the trick. Once he tasted that, he’d be a convert and bye-bye hash browns. Nope. He refused to season it, took one bite and almost spit it across the room. “You have to season it” I said, “just add a half a stick of butter and a handful of salt.” He disappeared back into the kitchen and returned to try again. Another bite and the same reaction, “What did you put on it?” I asked. “Some maple syrup and brown sugar” he replied. NO! What was he thinking? I explained that grits are savory; this is not oatmeal! But that was the end of it and he’s never eaten them again. Now he revels in telling all our friends that I like to eat ground-up corncobs, the part of corn that the cows won’t eat.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Downside of the Upsell

I hate upselling. Don’t know what that is? Sure you do, you just might not recognize it by this name. “Do you want fries with that?” That’s upselling. You thought you knew what you wanted, that was before you met “upseller”, now you have to figure out how to get past him or her without spending more money / consuming more calories.

Restaurants have been upselling for years. I was recently at a business lunch where the server would just not give up.

“Would you like to order any appetizers today?”

“Ah, no, thanks very much, we’re good with just the entrees.”

“Are you sure? The buffalo wings are real good.”

“No, thanks, really – just the entrees please.”

“How about some mozzarella sticks?"

“No, really, we’re good. Thanks.”

“How about…

“Look Pete, stop the upselling, we don’t want any appetizers.”

It was a battle, like trying to cancel a credit card – crikey – I’ve had an easier time ending relationships than trying to cancel a credit card; those people will not let you go, but I digress.

Shipped anything at the Post Office lately? Then you’ve had the upsell treatment. Any of this sound familiar?

“Hi, I’d like to ship this first class mail please.”

“Would you like Priority Mail, guaranteed 2-3 day delivery for only $3.45 more?”

“No thanks, first class is fine.

“Would you like to insure the package?”

“Nope, I’m good.”

“Would you like a delivery signature? Delivery confirmation? Registered or certified mail etc. etc.?”

“Just first class mail please.”

A couple of weeks ago I had to ship 6 packages on the same visit and we went through this routine for every single package. After the first box I informed the clerk that my answer would be the same for every box, that I just wanted the same, plain, service for every package; she informed me that she had to ask for each one, it was the rules.

And the worst, which for me has forever ruined a New England (if not American) icon, is the upsell at Dunkin’ Donuts. I moved away from New England (and thus Dunkin’ Donuts) almost 15 years ago. Back then life was simple; they sold coffee and donuts. Period. You could get your morning breakfast (with a cup of the best coffee in the world) in less than 2 minutes. The only thing that held up the line was someone with decision issues buying a dozen donuts.

Dunkin’ Donuts has recently come to my local airport and the first time I saw it I had all I could do to keep from running through the terminal to get in line for a cup of the best coffee in the world.

The line that I remembered moving at break-neck speed now crawled as servers offered up an array of items that I’d never seen served at a Dunkin’ Donuts before. Orders were placed for double non-fat, extra whip, vanilla lattes (hey, go to Starbucks if you want that!), and bacon-and-egg bagel sandwiches, and sausage/egg/cheese croissants - all of which have to be assembled and cooked on-order. There were 4 people in line ahead of me and I almost missed my flight.

Wikipedia states that upselling is a sales technique whereby a salesperson induces the customer to purchase more expensive items, upgrades, or other add-ons in an attempt to make a more profitable sale. Now you know; good luck with your waist and your wallet.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Sleepless in (insert your city here)

The older I get, the less I sleep, what’s up with that? When I was seventeen I could sleep until noon, and now that I’m middle aged I struggle to get in a solid eight hours (and I love to sleep). At this rate by the time I retire I’ll be down to twenty minutes. The reasons for my sleeplessness are many, let me review a few of them here:

My husband is the human equivalent of a nuclear power plant. He throws off more body heat than a wood stove. Nice in the winter, but brutal in the summer – and no one can sleep when they’re hot.

We have dogs, one of which is an early riser – and I mean early. If you’re not up and out of bed by 5:45 AM she’s on your case. First comes the staring, then hot dog breath in your face, followed by pawing, and if none of this works she brings out the big guns – she licks your face. Yuck! There’s nothing quite like starting your day with a big, wet, stinky, dog kiss.

Another dog is not an early riser (he squints his eyes and rubs them with his paws when you turn the light on in the morning), however he’s fond of the midnight foray to faff around the backyard for five minutes and just “check things out”. He gets the backdoor opened by masquerading this little jaunt with an “I have pee NOW” whine. I get sucked in every time, what if he really does have to pee?

I travel internationally for work, so am often jet lagged. Either traveling ahead or behind, it doesn’t matter; your sleep just doesn’t pick up where you left off despite the fact that you revel being back in your own bed.

I can’t stop thinking about, well, everything. Work, friends, my desk, the kitchen, Will it rain on Saturday? I really need to clean the guest bedroom closet. When should we have the yard sale? We should bathe the dogs this weekend. STOP. But I can’t and it drives me crazy and keeps me awake.

And if all that weren’t enough, I suffer from occasional bouts of insomnia. You know what I’m talking about; you get in a rut that you cannot break. You wake up at 2:00 AM one day and then – boom – that’s it, you wake up at 2:00 AM everyday, with no end in sight. I try to stay in bed and will myself back to sleep, but ultimately I end up flopping around like a fish out of water – sometimes for hours at a time.

A couple of years ago I got to the breaking point, a person can only go so long without a good night’s sleep. I made an appointment with the doctor for some help. Yep, the “better living through chemicals” kind of help. My husband was alarmed (note: he was sleeping through ALL of the above) as soon as I hung up the phone he made a comment about my forthcoming addiction to the sleeping pills that the doctor would – I could only hope - prescribe for me. My response was quick and sharp, “how about we wait until I actually leave the house for the appointment before we start worrying about addiction”.

I have to preface my husband’s concern by stating that he has a general aversion to the “better living through chemicals” lifestyle. He takes an aspirin for everything. Got a cold? Take an aspirin. Drive a nail through your finger? Take an aspirin. Cut your arm off with a chainsaw? Take an aspirin. I, on the other hand, am quite happy to occasionally take a magic pill.

A week later I had a prescription for an extremely low-dose sleep aid in my hand and I promptly went to the pharmacy to fill it. That evening I took a pill and…I almost tear up thinking about…I had one of the best night's sleep of my entire life. Eight hours, straight through. I woke up feeling great. It was fantastic, right up until the moment my husband asked, “Do you recall driving, binge eating, sleep talking, or performing any other daily tasks while sleeping last night?”

Sunday, March 21, 2010

I Wanna Be a Cougar

I’m middle-aged. My husband’s not, he’s a few years older than me. Ahead of her time his mother didn’t have him until she was in her early 30’s, something unheard of back in the 50’s. All this adds up to a mother-in-law that’s always been more like a grandmother to me so I can’t really relate to my girlfriends who have in-laws that rival Marie Romano on “Everybody Loves Raymond”.

My mother-in-law comes to visit for a few weeks each year at Christmas (hold your applause – I am that good of a daughter-in-law) but as she’s gotten older she’s no longer comfortable making the trip, which entails a connecting flight at O’Hare, alone. So for the past few years my husband has flown up to get her, only to fly right back the next day with her, and then do it all over again 3-4 weeks later when she returns home. Last year I felt bad for him so volunteered to take one of the legs. I’m not exactly sure where I went wrong but I ended up with the return which meant flying the week between Christmas and New Years, through Chicago, when half the world (and their over-tired, cranky kids) are returning home from a week of family (dys) fun (ction).

Amazingly, considering what we were up against, the outbound flights went off without a hitch. We arrived at mother’s “independent living” (NOT assisted living, that’s different, if you don’t believe me just ask her, she’ll tell you) facility at 5:27 PM which worked out well because they serve dinner at 5:30 and all day there was a concern that we’d miss it.

We took seats at a table for 10 and joined 8 other women already seated. I took a look around the dining hall and counted 3 other tables each with 8-10 people seated at them (headcount was low due to the holidays, lots of residents still visiting family). Out of +/- 40 people there was one man. One very brave, somewhat frightened looking, man.

Most of the regular staff was also on holiday so the girl who usually mans the front desk was waiting us on. Sweet girl, but multi-tasking and memory were not her strong suits. She proceeded to take our orders for appetizers and entrĂ©es, not writing anything down. The results were less than impressive and the residents let her know it. I wanted to sink into a hole in the floor. By the time dessert rolled around – an interesting choice of cornbread served with blueberries or ice cream – they were out for blood.

“Is it real ice cream? Or that non-fat yogurt stuff?”

“Are the blueberries real? Or canned?”

“Is the cornbread cut in squares? Or are they muffins?”

They made the poor girl run to the kitchen no less than 4 times to ask the “chef” these burning questions. I couldn’t wait for dinner to be over. I had seen a glimpse of my future and I didn’t like it.

When I got home the next day I recounted the story to my husband and put him on notice; I had no intention of spending my golden years with the “Golden Girls”. Due to our age difference, and if all goes according to God’s plan, it’s likely he’ll go before me. If that happens I plan on dropping 20 pounds, dying my hair, and finding myself a younger man to “take care” of me in my later years; it’s going to be the cougar-life for me.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Cat in the Bag

I love Halloween. What’s not to like? It’s a holiday of a sort, adults get to dress up in costume and no one thinks it strange, there’s candy, and it doesn’t involve family stress like Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s like a stag/hen night in a way, your last night of freedom and fun before a lifetime of marriage and commitment (or insert here “two months of present shopping, gift-wrapping, party-going, overeating, traveling and family dys”fun”ction).

My mother knows how much I love Halloween so despite my middle age she sends me a card every year in honor of the day. I still think she sends it out of guilt as one year she made the off-handed comment that she wouldn’t be buying candy that year because she didn’t have any children. We may not be much, but my brother and I took umbrage with the comment. She quickly tried to cover the gaff by saying she meant that she didn’t have any children “that came to her neighborhood”, but words hurt.

I elaborately carve at least two pumpkins and alight them at the front door to beckon the kids. We only buy “good candy”; brand name chocolate bars and such, nothing that I would have scoffed at when I was 12. And despite the fact that the doorbell is akin to a starter pistol to our dogs, we settle in to spend 3 hours listening to them bark uncontrollably from the back bedroom while we pump the neighborhood kids full of empty calories and admire the year’s costumes. Our all-time favorite is still the two pre-teen boys who came to our door a couple of years ago; one dressed as Tony Romo, the other as Jessica Simpson with fake ta-tas, mini-skirt and a blonde wig.

A few years ago my Halloween card arrived in a box along with a pumpkin decorating “kit” in it. I put the word “kit” in quotes, because I use the term VERY loosely. The “kit” consisted of a few pieces of stamped metal in a bag. When you laid them out it was apparent that it was a cat – or at least part of a cat – the body of the cat is where the pumpkin comes in. That’s it. No instructions. No picture of how cute your pumpkin kitty will be after you quickly and professionally stab the various metal parts into your pumpkin “as shown in picture”; just a bag of body parts. Now before you think my husband and I are complete idiots, the head and the tail were obvious, however the 4 feet/leg pieces were shaped like nothing I’d ever seen on a cat before. It was enough to make a veterinarian scratch his head.

I figured that once we had the actual pumpkin, assembly would become apparent. Nope. After an exhaustive search (I do recall my husband mumbling “just shoot me now” once or twice) for the perfectly shaped pumpkin body for our cat, we (two grown adults of average intelligence) spent the better part of an hour trying to figure out how the 4 feet/legs were to be installed onto our amputee kitty. We finally settled on a configuration that looked the most anatomically correct however it didn’t provide the necessary stabilization to keep the cat from occasionally tipping over. On more than one occasion I left the front door to find our kitty face down in the entryway as if in a drunken stupor.

It was our UPS man that eventually pointed out that while cute, he thought that the cat would look more normal if we swapped the front legs to the back and vice versa – and that might also keep kitty from face-planting. Worked like a charm, and yes kitty did look more normal afterward too. I took a picture so that I would have it as a reference the following year on how to assemble kitty; I was going to attach it here but I can’t find it. I don’t see kitty making another Halloween appearance until I do; we’ve had the same UPS man for years.