Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Week Before Christmas

'Twas a week before Christmas, and all through our house,
The boys were on iTunes, choosing music with a mouse.
And Dale in his red shirt and I with some treats,
Were headed to a party to hang with our peeps.

When out on the front porch the doorbell did ring,
And the dogs started barking, and growling, and things.
"We won't let them in here, You will come to no harm."
Thus said Duke and Liberty, our burglar alarms.

The boys looked through the peephole, but nothing did see.
So they opened the door thinking "Package Delivery!"
It was a package, indeed, but not from Fed Ex.
It was shiny and pretty, with a note nonetheless.

"It's a Christmas miracle" said the note, so sweetly written,
The boys were wary; protectiveness kicked in.
They carefully opened the package that night,
Checking for bombs, anthrax, and other such frights.

The next day they told us of the mystery gift.
From what they were saying, we thought something amiss.
Sure enough, it's a gag gift from a few years ago,
And it's really quite creepy, as the picture does show.

The gift had been passed at a white elephant party,
It was mocked and made fun of; the laughter was hearty.
But it had special meaning to one of the girls,
Seems she'd had one just like it in her growing-up world.

We'd long since lost thought of that silly decoration,
We'd heard rumors of its demise in a small conflagration.
So when gifted to us, we were quite taken aback,
The boys wanted it thrown into a large garbage sack.

But the friends we suspect of this dastardly prank,
Are ones we hold dear, and to them we say, "Thanks."
You'll get back this angel, this fun Christmas gift,
And we will be laughing--we'll keep the power strip!

*My sincerest apologies to the family of Clement Clarke Moore (no relation) for the misuse of his classic poem.*

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Military Mom, Part Three

NOTE:  This is third in a series of sporadic posts about this military thing happening in our family. How many military mom posts will there be?  No clue.  But more than three.

Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around the Whole Weekend

I had a lot of work to do over the weekend.  Dale had a lot of work to do over the weekend.  Dale's company holiday party took place this weekend.  My coffee/support group held a Christmas breakfast this weekend.  And the first of the stick-to-the-ground snow fell this weekend.  This was not a good weekend to have to make a trip and sit through meetings.  It's just the wrong time of year to try to add one more thing into our schedule. (That's not really fair, because it's rarely a good time to add to our schedule.)  But this was the weekend of the Yellow Ribbon Meeting for Spencer's unit.  (I assumed this meant we would receive a yellow ribbon to tie around our tree for Spencer's deployment.  Sometimes I'm really dense.)

NOW my understanding of the Yellow Ribbon program is that it is a series of meetings (some before deployment, some after they get home) for Guard and Reserve soldiers and their families.  We sat through 2 days of briefings about insurance, VA benefits, PTSD, spiritual health, and resources for counseling, care for exceptional children, and legal and tax issues.  I took pages of notes.  Which is funny, because the majority of what was talked about does not apply to us (Spencer is single with no children, and we are not eligible for 99% of the benefits they offer), but I am now a walking encyclopedia of information for families of soldiers. 

In addition to the vast amount of information thrown at us all, I feel that I learned so much this weekend.  In no particular order, here are a few of the highlights:
  • I am sucker for free stuff.  Pens, notepads, books (especially books).  If they are handing it out at a booth, I feel a need to have it.  I missed out on getting the patriotic stress ball, which kind of bummed me out, but I am going to score big on books, so it's all good.
  • Although I can get quite a bit of work done in the van, I can get much more work done in the middle of the night in a hotel room that is not moving lickety-split down the highway and blasting loud music.
  • The Duncan Air Band is the best. Don't even try to compete.
  • Even high-ranking personnel pass notes when the meetings get long (this made me feel WAY better about the game of hangman a few folks at our table played).
  • I am so darn proud of my soldier. (I already knew that one.  I just wanted to say it again.)
So, I learned a lot, some of it quite useful.  I also got to see some boys act pretty silly, as only brothers can do.  And I got to wake up and tiptoe past peacefully sleeping young men and thank God for letting me borrow them for awhile.  The clock is ticking as Spencer prepares to leave.  I'm cherishing every moment.

    Tuesday, December 7, 2010

    Adventures in Grocery Shopping

    I am a gifted shopper.

    I have my favorite grocery store.  It is not the store closest to me.  In fact, I drive right past one store (owned by the same company, no less) to get to my favorite store.  (This drives Dale crazy.)  I pull into one of the quite spacious parking slots.  I grab a cart. It doesn't matter which one--none of them have that irritating wheel that wants to turn the wrong direction or wobble down the aisle.  And none of them have that cart alignment problem.  You know, where you push the cart down the aisle and it travels somewhat sideways while still moving forward (kind of like how a German Shepherd trots back to you after retrieving the stick you just tossed, or the rabbit it just caught).

    One of my favorite things about my grocery store is the presence of a Starbucks just inside the door.  Don't judge me.  I am aware of the dangers of rampant consumerism.  I know an empire has been built upon the addicitons of the masses.  I know that their profit on a cup of coffee must be in the 4000% range.  But I also know that an Iced Passion Tea Lemonade or a White Hot Cocoa can push a trip to the store past dreaded status and straight into I'm-so-glad-I-came status. 

    Because Starbucks is right at the front with the produce, I do my fruits and veggies shopping while I wait. I love picking through the stuff that's seasonal as well as gathering the stuff we eat consistently. And I religiously buy more bananas than we will eat before they go bad.  Seriously, it's like I'm a banana collector.  And, yes, I know the trick about putting them in the freezer and using them to make banana bread.  I stopped doing that when our freezer died and I threw out no less than 30 bananas.

    When I leave the produce area, I round the corner to the bakery/peanut butter area where I buy the LARGE can of peanut butter and numerous loaves of bread.  I don't honestly know how to describe the amount of peanut butter that has been consumed by my guys through the years.  Let's just say this: No peanut butter has EVER gone bad in our house, we very rarely even see the separation of the oil and cream, and the most commonly heard phrase around here is "Mom, we are out of peanut butter again."  Once I get past the peanut butter and bread aisle, I am in fully committed shopping mode.  There is no turning back.  This is no quick shopping trip just to grab a few things.  I'm not leaving there without spending at least $200.

    The seafood guy smiles and waves as I quickly bypass his corner while holding my breath.  He knows, from experience, that I rarely cross over into his world, much to the dismay of the rabid seafood lovers in my home.  (This is why there are restaurants with Crab and Lobster and Catfish in their names.) As I enter the kingdom of meat, the butcher smiles and waves.  He knows, also from experience, that I will purchase enough of whatever is on sale to allow him to take his wife on a cruise. 

    Not far from there is the ketchup aisle.  Since Spencer moved into his own apartment, the ketchup consumption at our house has decreased dramatically.  But, at peak use, I bought 2 HUGE bottles of ketchup, and we would run out before the next week's shopping trip.  This is not an exaggeration, as can be verified by any of our friends or relatives who have seen Spencer eat ketchup.  Really, the fries are superfluous other than for their ability to carry ketchup to his mouth.

    It's usually about this time in my trip when I run into someone I know.  I realize there is a Murphy's Law about only running into people you know when you look your worst, but (and I'm just being honest here), I can't recall even one time when I have looked good at the grocery store.  And I feel like I need a sign around my neck that says "Hey, all of this meat and non-vegetable stuff is for my guys who all have the metabolisms of hummingbirds.  Do you see the bag of organic salad in the cart?  That's mine.  Plus some chocolate." (This is why I don't wear signs around my neck--I'm way too wordy.)

    I hit the pasta aisle, the baking aisle, the breakfast aisle, the oh-crud-we-are-out-of-this-thing-we-usually-buy-at-the-discount-store-but-it's-not-worth-a-trip-to-the-discount-store-even-though-it-costs-significantly-more-here aisle. All that's left now are the frozen foods and the dairy section. I am brilliant, I think smugly, because the really cold stuff will be the last in my cart and the first to be bagged, and nothing will melt.  My flash of brilliance quickly fades when I remember that I need to go to the pharmacy counter to pick up a prescription.  And when I get to the pharmacy, there is almost always a customer there who does not understand the concept of personal space combined with the pharmacy attendant who speaks a little too loudly.  "You do know that one of the side effects of this medicine is that you will randomly grow extra appendages and possibly have nightmares and most likely your digestive tract will be profoundly changed.  But, it also makes your nails grow faster.  Do you have any questions?"  This is usually when I run into another person I know.  And, yes, she heard about the side effects.

    I finally extricate myself from the pharmacy counter and make my way to the checkout lanes.  In my 20+ years of grocery shopping for my family, I can only think of 2 times I have had a legitimate right to be in the express lane.  Twelve items or less?  Really?  I had more than 12 items in my cart before I rounded the first corner.  Nevertheless, the clerk in the express lane tries to motion me over to her lane.  I assume this is because it does not make sense to her that she would stand there and do nothing while a line starts forming in the "big cart" line.  I tell her it is too stressful to me because someone ALWAYS shows up in the express lane with fewer items than suggested by the sign above the express lane, and I spend all of my time apologizing for following the direction of the store employee (who I assume, by the way, will save my life in the unlikely event of a water landing and MUST be obeyed).  It's just easier to stand in the long line.

    As I pile on the $200+ of various goods onto the conveyor belt in neatly organized sections that also suggest the most logical way to pack them (frozen foods together, snack drawer items together, etc.), I hear the funniest thing come out of the clerk's mouth.  "Did you find everything you needed?"  I look at my groceries, not all of which will fit on the conveyor belt at one time.  I look at the clerk.  I look back at my groceries. There is enough food here to feed a ravenous football team (or 3 teenage boys). "I can't afford to do a better job of finding what I need.  I came in here for bread and milk."

    We chit chat about the weather, local sports, and why the cash register in lane 10 does not like to read my checks.  (I am nothing if not a champion chit chatter.)  I secretly hope that the friendly banter will throw them off their game and that they will not ask me if I want drive-up service.  Now, I know this is someone's job and that I am depriving them of somethning to do and possibly contributing to the demise of their employment by not accepting this kind offer to load my groceries into my van.  I also know that there will come a time when I will have no choice but to allow this assault on my independence.  But that time is not yet here.  Besides, I've had a bad experience with drive up service.

    It was raining and cold, two things that make my knees hurt like nothing else.  I had purchased fancy food for a special dinner I was making for company.  In a moment of weakness, I said yes to drive up service, believing the lie that this would be easier than trying to wrangle the groceries on my own.  As I drove up under the canopy, I remembered the horrible state of the back of my van.  My stomach sank.  The cheerful teenager, who had been so sweet and nice while bagging my groceries, opened the hatch and looked accusingly at me in the rearview mirror.  With great horror, I jumped out of the van and ran to where he was standing. 

    "Oh, I am so sorry about this.  I totally forgot about the paper I was taking to the recycle center.  And those bags of clothing are just in here so they don't get put back down in the basement before the next charity pick-up.  And that cooler had Gatorade in it for the football game and I just forgot to have someone take it out of  here.  And ... oh, nevermind.  I'll just leave the van here and drive the cart home." Cheerful bagger turned into sullen eye-roller.  He had no interest in my van.  Or my humor.  (Or lack thereof.)

    So, I politely decline drive up service.  That should be enough.  I should stop there.  Sadly, I don't.  What comes out of my mouth next is such an incredibly stupid thing to say, but I can't seem to help myself.  "What I really need is someone to come home with me and help put all of this away."  Really, it does not matter which checker it is--this is not an appropriate thing to say.  The 17 year old kid who goes to school with one of my boys?  Scary.  The 58 year old man who has been married for 40 years?  Awkward.  The 40 year old mom?  Actually, she gets the joke.  But she's the only one.  I should really learn to not say whatever pops into my head. Story of my life.

    The awkwardness of that moment is usually abated by the amount of awe that creeps into the checker's voice when he or she, with great flair, circles the rather large number on my receipt that shows how much money I saved using my discount card.  (Back when the economy was better, before pay cuts and work cutbacks, I would write myself a check for that saved amount and deposit that into our savings.  We've paid for vacations that way.)  Now, I just bask in the respect of those in the know--it is quite an accomplishment to save 30% on your grocery bill (my average).  It's amazing when you save 69% (my all time high). 

    I somehow eventually manage to make it out to the van, get the groceries loaded, push the cart back to the corral, get in the van, remember the dog food on the bottom of the cart, go back and get the cart, bring it to the van, unload the dog food, take the cart back, get back in the van, realize the tailgate is still up, get out of the van, shut the tailgate, get back in the van, and drive home.  When I get home, I discover that the belt of my raincoat was shut in the door and has been dragging on the wet streets the whole way home. 

    As I review the events of the previous hour, as I think of the Herculean task before me of unloading and putting away this mountain of food, I have one thought:  THANK GOD I STOPPED AT STARBUCKS.