Monthly Archives: November 2010

Who Says 40 is the New 30? The Grinch Maybe.

It was Oprah, wasn’t it?  Regardless, that’s a bunch of malarkey.  I did not just turn 40, (That happened a year and a half ago.) but it appears there is nothing like a major holiday to bring home the fact that I’m getting to be “of a certain age.” 

  • The Toys R Us ad goes immediately into the discard pile of Black Friday ads.  My kids long ago outgrew that store, thank goodness.  In fact, I’ll adopt Special Forces like maneuvers to avoid the toy department of any store from now until February.  I can’t take the clogged aisles filled with children sampling every noisy toy and their exasperated parents.
  • I curse the inventor of motion picture surround sound.  While watching the latest “Harry Potter” movie, I had to cover my ears during almost every action sequence because it was SO DARN LOUD.  And the sound was swirling around my head from every direction.
  • I’m wondering if I should take Zantac before or Tums after the Thanksgiving feast.  I don’t gorge myself.  But it seems like even minor departures from normal eating patterns produce indigestion these days.
  • I really think I need to have a pair of reading glasses just for the kitchen.  Why do the cooking instruction on the Butterball look like the fine print on a car lease?  Actually, I might have to put reading glasses on my Christmas list.
  • I seriously consider breaking my hard and fast fashion rule of not wearing sneakers unless I’m doing something athletic.  If we plan to hit 5 stores in 3 hours on Black Friday, I need something  a lot more supportive, traction-capable, and comfortable than my cute little boots.
  • What in the world do I have in my purse that makes it so darn heavy??  I see all these teens and 20-somethings just carrying a wallet when they go shopping.  Can I get by without my Tylenol, the tablet that I use to keep track of book titles or sizes so I don’t forget them later, hand lotion, reading glasses…?

I’m certain that as Thanksgiving blends oh-so-seamlessly into Christmas, I’ll discover lots of other hints that I’m no spring chicken anymore.  Some things are not so bad, by the way, like staying out of Toys R Us.  That place is awful at any time of year.  I would, however, like to hang on to my cute shoes as long as possible.

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I Was First! No, I Was!!

Image from Wal-Mart.com

What does the picture on your wall calendar look like?  If mine wasn’t a calendar of lush tropical island views, it would probably have a Norman Rockwell-type scene of a family gathered around a table.  Or maybe it would have some variation of the “Give Thanks” theme.  I can tell you for certain what it wouldn’t depict: Santa or a Christmas tree or a snow-covered wonderland.  Those are all reserved for next month–December.

So why, then, do more folks than ever have their homes decked out for Christmas already?  Over the weekend, I was stunned to see so many cases of jumping the holiday gun:

  • Friday, November 19:  An evening trip to Wal-Mart revealed their garden center full of cut trees ready for sale.  Wonder what those “fresh” trees will look like come Christmas Eve?
  • Saturday, November 20:  At SuzyQ’s chorus concert, one family arrived with a fresh Christmas tree strapped to the top of their car.  I guess they planned to rush home and start decorating it.
  • Sunday, November 21:  Outdoor decorations have cropped up in several neighborhoods near me.  I saw everything from just routine lights on the porch rails to yards full of those hideous inflatable snowmen and Santas.

Christmas is more than a month away (33 days from today, in fact).  We haven’t even broken into December yet.  I get why the stores start stocking Christmas merchandise even before Halloween.  They want to stretch every dollar possible out of a shopping-mad season.  I’m a free-market gal, so I can’t condemn retailers trying to make a profit, no matter what my personal feelings on the commercialization of Christmas may be.  I don’t know how the store employees can stand listening to the same rotation of Christmas music for 2 months straight, though.

But why on earth would anyone be so eager to get their lights and yard decorations up this early except to be able to say, “I was the first on my block.”  Do these people rationalize, “I’m already up in the attic putting away the Halloween decorations, so I might as well get the Christmas stuff while I’m up here”?  It’s not as though this past weekend was the last chance to do outdoor decorating before the snows come.  In my part of the country, we’ll be lucky to see a dusting of snow in late January.  In fact, the leaves are still falling off the trees here, so will these folks rake around the giant reindeer or just use the leaf blower and risk sending Rudolph up, up, and away for real?

This obsession with being first kind of baffles me.  Why camp out in line to get tickets to the first “Harry Potter” movie airing when you know it will be shown on at least 8 other screens, 6 times a day, for the next 4 weeks?  Why subject yourself to the stampede trying to get the new iPhone on the first day it’s available in stores?  It’s just as good 3 weeks later.  What sort of status comes from being the First?  Does anyone really go around thinking, “Gee, I’m definitely going to sleep out on the sidewalk for a week to get the next new iPhone so I can be as cool as that guy.”

For the record, we typically are the last family on our block to decorate for Christmas.  And we will be the ones trying to figure out if we missed the last recycle pick-up for our tree, too.  Having a Christmas tree on the curb in front of your house halfway through January–now that’s status.

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Children on Your Flight? Lord, Have Mercy.

Herded like cattle through long lines and subjected to fierce scrutiny.  Strapped down.  No fresh air.  Packed in so tight you can barely move.  No meals.  Enduring incessant banging and shrieking for hours on end.  What sort of torture is this?  Just a routine flight on any commercial airline.  And more specifically, a flight in which you are seated near an unruly child.

There has been lots of chatter about airlines beginning child-free flights.  Recently, The New York Times ran this article on the subject.  Apparently, a survey released in August found that a majority of travelers support the idea.  Message boards and complaint forums have been active with the notion of kid-free flying, and there is even a Facebook group called “Airlines Should Have Kid-Free Flights.”  Airlines aren’t talking about the idea.  Given the logistics involved and the potential costs to the airlines, it’s no wonder.

This is a tough one for me.  I have spent my share of hours giving the evil eye to the parent of  kids on my flight after enduring screaming, banging, hair-pulling as they grab my seat from behind, and nosiness as they stare at you from the seat in front and interrupt conversation or sleep.  Notice I said “the parent.”  Because really, the fault lies with the parent.  It’s the parent’s responsibility to pack enough distractions to keep the child from bothering others.  The parent should know how much noise will freak the child out, how long the kid can go between meals, the length of the child’s attention span, etc.  Isn’t that what being a parent is about: anticipating your child’s needs?  And with all of the books, magazines, and websites full of information on easy traveling with children, there’s really no excuse for attempting to fly unprepared.

Now in some cases, travelers need to cut the parents some slack.  Well, in only one case: flying with infants.  Babies cry.  That shouldn’t be news to anyone.  Sometimes babies cry for no reason at all.  And that magic thing you do that always gets the baby to stop crying will sometimes fail, probably once the place starts to taxi down the runway.  There’s nothing the parent can do except keep trying and ride it out.  Get over it, people.

A 3-year-old is an entirely different matter.  I have little patience for the parent of a bratty toddler or school-aged child who apologizes and says, “I just can’t get little Mackenzie/Tyler to settle down.”  That parent’s troubles started long ago, when she decided that discipline was an archaic style of parenting.   I have no problem relegating those families to the back row with the seats that don’t recline, right by the restrooms.

I have been blessed with kids who are terrific travelers.  They have flown over oceans and across the International Date Line.  Now, they are certainly not angels.  My carry-on bag was loaded down with pacifiers, bottles, juice boxes, Goldfish crackers, lollipops, crayons, Etch-a-Sketch-es, Barbies, Hot Wheels cars, portable tape/CD players, and so on for many trips.  Now they’re old enough to carry their own junk.  And when all else failed, I had no qualms about drugging them with gentle antihistamines that made them sleepy.  Dimetapp, Bendryl… just call them Mommy’s Little Helpers.

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Cruising:Paradise or Hell?

Why would anyone on earth want to take a cruise?  I am probably one of the few people left who has never been on a cruise, but every time I start to think it might be a good way to spend a vacation, I encounter a horror story.  The latest involves a Carnival cruise ship that experienced a fire in the engine room.  The vessel was left disabled for days: no hot water, no air conditioning, no hot food, no working toilets for a while.

And let’s not forget the risk to cruise ships of attack by pirates.  Last year, an Italian cruise ship off the coast of Africa fought off pirates, as reported here.   Other vessels have been rerouted or had their sailings cancelled due to fears of similar attacks.  Pirates…really!!

My favorite threat, though, is the invisible norovirus–better known as the “stomach flu.”  Every year, reports about hundreds of passengers being sickened by the bug fill the news.  It’s no surprise that outbreaks occur when you throw a few thousand people into a confined space where they share handrails, serving utensils, elevator buttons, and so on.  And the cramped quarters don’t help either.   This threat is the one that is most troubling to me because it is the one that could be avoided if only people maintained a decent standard of hygiene. WASH YOUR HANDS, PEOPLE!!!

And yet, the commercials make it look so inviting.  Lounging poolside, fine dining, fun activities, and trips to those tourist traps at your ports of call.  Who wouldn’t be tempted by the idea of a vacation that involves so little planning and organization.  I’m always exhausted trying to book flights, multiple hotels, rental cars, restaurants, and activities or sights.  There are so many maps to print out and tickets to buy in advance, parking to figure out and check-in or check-out times to worry about.

I don’t know if I’ll ever decide to try a cruise.  Plenty of people I know have had great experiences and choose to do it all again multiple times.  But it’s so hard to get past the news: dead in the water, pirates, hundreds sickened…

None of those things ever happened on “The Love Boat.”

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The Secretary of Defense Deeply Regrets to Inform You…

Is your next of kin on Facebook?  For all the military spouses and parents out there: is Facebook the way you would want to find out that something bad had happened to your loved one in a combat zone?  Sadly, that is just what is happening in this age of instant and continuous communication.

This article by a Washington Post writer relates how military spouses of Fort Campbell soldiers reacted to an imposed communications blackout after the unit had sustained casualties in Afghanistan.  Military officials typically shut down email and phone contact so that next of kin do not learn of their soldier’s fate via CNN or in passing in online chatter among other family members.  In the case of the Fort Campbell unit, one of the unit’s own soldiers violated the blackout by calling his wife to tell her he was OK and report who had been killed in an explosion.  Unfortunately, he had one of the names wrong.  As word got out, other family members wildly sought information from one another and compared names of possible casualties on Facebook.

I suspect that I was supposed to feel really sorry for the spouses who had been cut off.  After all, they were used to non-stop conversation with their loved ones.  Instead, I was outraged by this story.  Do we really think that the “right to know” is so sacred that we ought to seek and exchange information even at the expense of others’ well-being?  Imagine the effect of idle speculation on a child who overhears a phone conversation between wives or spends an hour browsing on Facebook.  Is it so terrible to wait until the basic facts and, indeed, the names are established?

Just because it is technologically possible to be in touch with your soldier, who is halfway around the world, doesn’t mean that you will hear from him regularly.  It’s possible that he might have something to do other than update his Facebook page.  You know, stand watch or go on patrol?  This is all connected to the idea that we can’t be without a cell phone–ever–not even in a restaurant or at church or boarding a plane.  Apparently, we must be in touch at all times, whether we are in the bathroom or driving down the interstate at 60 mph.

I know I am an old-school dinosaur, but I find this ridiculous. I would rather have “old” news that has been confirmed to be true than instantaneous reports that may be proved false later. Many of us survived multiple deployments without email and cell phones.  And even once email came into the picture, we realized that it was not a sure thing.  Here is my heartless piece of advice to spouses with a deployed loved one: find something to keep yourself busy!  You are only torturing yourself with this frantic 24/7 search for connection and information. 

Without a doubt, communications blackouts must bring a sense of dread to families and a desire to know what’s happening right now.  But do those few hours of waiting really cost us anything?  I would argue that those are extra hours a family has to consider itself normal and fine before tragedy robs them of that.  How many times does one spouse’s desire to find out take precious hours of normalcy away from another family?

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Welcome to Wild Kingdom

As I was browsing through the blogosphere (For the record, I hate that term.) this morning, I came across this post from Conversion Diary about finding a scorpion in one’s toilet.  This started me reminiscing about all of the wildlife I have had the privilege of encountering as we have bounced around the country courtesy of the U.S. Navy.  I think that’s one of the little-known “benefits” of being a military family.  How else would I get to know all of these various and sundry species:

In an 18-year military career, I have crossed paths with all of these creepy crawlies.  Full disclosure: the black widows only made it as far as the garage (Thank God!), and the snake was hiding in the screen porch.  Oh, and the fire ants were in the yard.  All the others made it into the house.  And wouldn’t you know, they usually all snuck in when darling husband was away from home.  My weapons of choice for extermination are his sneakers and his engineering textbooks.

Do normal, civilian people realize that we military spouses face challenges as ridiculous as this every day?  Every new duty station has brought me a close encounter with things I would rather not get to know.  And it is definitely a challenge trying not to completely freak out over a scorpion in front of your young children.  You don’t want them to be terrified of every corner of your own house, after all.  As the kids got older, they began to be entertained by how many times Mom would have to whack the centipede to actually kill it.  And they could offer ideas as to how to get it out of the house without touching it.  Same with the mice.

This is definitely one military privilege I would gladly decline. 

What is the nastiest visitor you’ve found in your home?

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Did You Vote Today?

Is it over yet?  It’s Election Day…finally!  I have spent the past week screening my calls–thank heaven for caller ID– since we’ve been inundated by political calls.  And I don’t even vote in this state.  Weeks ago, I marked and mailed my absentee ballot.  In fact, I have voted absentee for my entire voting life.  And I am extremely proud to say that I have never missed an election.

I do get election burnout, though.  It never fails that by Election Day, I exceed my tolerance for the rhetoric.  I think it’s because I get so invested in the issues from the beginning that when the moment of truth arrives, I’m exhausted.  Health care reform has been a huge topic since the town hall meetings of the summer of 2009 and the final vote in March of 2010.  The ban on funding for embryonic stem cell research was lifted in March of this year and then revisited this past summer after court decisions reinstated it and then suspended it again.  Financial reform also was debated through the summer.  And let’s not forget the debate and hearings all summer over the new Supreme Court justice Elena Kagan.  Add to all that the primary elections and the campaigning for the November elections, and I’m done.

Part of the reason for the emotional roller coaster I suffer through is the realization that even though I am passionate about the issues at stake, and a vocal minority shares that passion, most of America can’t be bothered.  The majority of folks you pass in the mall or the grocery store just don’t give a damn.  According to the United States Election Project, voting-eligible population (VEP) turnout in the last mid-term election (2006) was a mere 41.3%.  Compare that with VEP turnout in the 2008 presidential election, which topped out at 62.2%.  That’s pathetic.  So many Americans take for granted the role they play in our government.

We’re supposed to be the bastion of freedom in the world.  But judging by international voting statistics, we fall pretty short of that distinction.  Russia has only been directly electing its president since 1991, and its voter turnout comes in at 69.7% in the last election.  Consider Afghanistan.  Voters there face threats against their lives and bombings at polling places. Yet they still cast votes.  In 2004, 83.66% of registered voters showed up to vote.

There is so much at stake in this off-year election.  It’s too important to just blow off.  And how can people, especially military folks, just stand by when absentee ballots for overseas military voters don’t get sent out in time to be counted, or voting machines malfunction, or votes by dead people are counted?  Wake up, America!  Freedom is fading in this country, and today’s the day to something about it.  I’ve done my part, and now I’m tired.  I’ll follow the returns tonight through half-closed eyes because I can’t bear to watch.

Then it will all be over, and I’ll be able to breathe without anxiety.  Oh, wait.  There will be days of election analysis…races too close to call…talk of what the lame-duck Congress will or won’t try to do…Sigh.

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