Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How was that again?

I was driving Aisling to her piano lesson today and she spent most of the twenty minute ride telling me about a boy she likes and bewailing the fact that the males of the species are just so difficult to understand.

"Doesn't it make you feel so lucky that you're old and have been married for a million years so that you don't have to worry about this stuff anymore?" she asked me with great seriousness.

I turned my head to give her a long, appraising look. "You might want to re-phrase that, dear."

She sat and thought for a moment, her brow furrowed. "You mean 'married for a thousand years'?" she asked.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

12 things I always buy at Dollar Tree

Dollar Tree is, like, one of my favorite stores ever. Barnes & Noble is a strong contender; Ulta Beauty is definitely in the running. I deeply enjoy Hobby Lobby and Bed, Bath and Beyond. And I can always find time to go in Kohl's or Macy's. But Dollar Tree has a different vibe from any of those other places. It is homey, low-market (well, obviously, since everything costs a dollar), and the place where I will ONLY buy a number of commonly used household items, as follows:

1. Dish towels - If it's your thing, you can buy dish towels at Dollar Tree that are printed with wine bottles or latte cups or Santa: those things are at Dollar Tree in abundance. But they also have a large selection of neutral cotton dish towels in blues, greens and taupes that will go with anyone's kitchen and I just dare you to prove that you didn't spend $5 per towel on them at Williams-Sonoma. The towels do the job you bought them to do, and the moment they start looking ugly, you can either toss them in the wastebasket or delegate them to dusting duty.

2. Tea lights - We seem to have a number of ornamental candle-y arrangements around the place that require tea lights, which are those teeny candles that come in their own little aluminum holder. I find these little candles to be much more easy to deal with than votive candles, which, while bigger, have that annoying habit of leaking wax all over, say, the china cabinet in the dining room or the fireplace mantel. At Dollar Tree, you can get a plastic bag of sixteen tea lights for $1, each of which burns for about 2-3 hours. A total steal, especially when you compare that price to Hobby Lobby's, which is significantly more.

3. Tooth flossers - In this house, none of us like just plain old dental floss. We like those plastic doohickeys with the little piece of floss stretched on them. I don't want to get into a big (gross) thing about how all of us enjoy sparkling dental health due to the daily flossing our pearly teeth receive, but I will tell you that you can get a big bag of these handy flossers for $1 at the Dollar Tree. Compare that to the $2.89 you'd be spending on these very same things at Kroger, and even a math-impaired dork like me can figure out that you can get twice the flossing power at your friendly neighborhood DT.

4. Gift bags and tissue paper - Okay, some of the gift bags are ugly. But not all of them are. In fact, there are a good many cute ones available for any holiday you'd care to name. Well, except maybe ones like Arbor Day. And Columbus Day; I don't recall seeing any gift bags printed with the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria last month. But, okay: Christmas, birthdays, weddings, graduations, Easter and Valentine's Day, the Dollar Tree has them. Plus, they have a wide assortment of tissue paper, a really generous amount, and you can even buy brights and pastels along with the typical white. You will never be able to spend $4.95 on a gift bag from Wal-Mart again.

5. Movie candy - Going to the cinema? Need Milk Duds, Junior Mints, Charleston Chews, Raisinets, Starbursts, M&Ms, Goobers, Mike & Ikes, Laffy Taffy, Gummi Bears or any of a dozen other candies you can find behind the glass at the Loew's concession stand? Go to the Dollar Tree before your show and stuff your purse and pockets with $1 candy to avoid spending $5 per box on the very same candy. That'll leave you enough money left over to buy some popcorn, which the Dollar Tree also sells, but only in un-popped form. The ushers will give you the stink eye if you try to find an outlet to plug in a microwave.

6. Basic OTC medicines - Pain killers like ibuprofen, acetaminophen and plain ol' aspirin can be found at the Dollar Tree, along with their store brand of meds like cold tablets, decongestants, cough syrup, anti-diarrheal medication, allergy tablets, triple anti-biotic ointment, you name it. I keep a first aid kit in my car stocked with items from the Dollar Tree, as well as the medicine cabinets in the house. I also use Dollar Tree medications to stock a little kit for my husband to keep in his desk at work. You can also buy stick-on bandages, peroxide, isopropyl alcohol and other little items of that nature.

7. Little Debbie snack cakes - My husband has a terrible weakness for Little Debbie cakes, a fondness that is not shared by anyone else in our home except for the dogs. Dollar Tree has a wide selection of snack cakes at $1 per box, all the regular kinds: Sonic Brownies, Swiss Rolls, Oatmeal Pies, Zebra Cakes, Fancy Cakes, Honey Buns, Fudge Rounds and Nutty Bars are yours for the purchasing. They even have seasonal cakes like Christmas trees and those cute (but inedible) little heart-shaped ones for Valentine's Day. After paying $1 a box, I can't bring myself to spend the $1.89-$2.09 per box elsewhere. And no, these aren't old, stale, nasty cakes. They're just as fresh as the ones you'd buy at the grocery, just like the candy.

8. Paper product staples - Paper napkins, paper plates, paper towels, tissues, coffee filters and, if you're in a pinch, toilet paper. Just your basic white stuff, but it works great and it's cheap.

9. Party balloons - Dollar Tree has a big selection of both Mylar and latex balloons for a number of celebrations. Some of their balloons are pre-filled with helium, but if you want something special, a clerk will fill them for you, free. That'll make you think twice before going to Balloons, Etc. and paying $1.50-$3.00 per balloon. Dollar Tree also has a bunch of those cute little balloon weights to hold down your bouquet and keep it from taking off for the moon.

10. Wine glasses - I have to admit, my false pride makes it a bit hard to say, "Yes, I buy all my wine glasses at the Dollar Tree," but that's only because I'm an awful snob and need to be brought down a peg or two. But. But, but, but. Dollar Tree's wine glasses are virtually indistinguishable from a wine glass bought anywhere else, and I have to say that the time I've spent serving wine to my guests, I've never once had one smash their glass to the floor and say, "That does it! I am never coming here again and drinking your cheap wine out of your cheap glasses." So I buy the glasses and they're pretty and they're big -- *hiccup!* -- and if you serve enough wine and some nice little crackers with some cheese and olives and a bowl of smoked almonds, who the heck is going to care where the wine glass came from? All that matters is that it stays filled, right?

11. Disposable cooking containers - You know how nice it is to take food to people, right? A lasagna, a pie or cake, some cookies on a platter, a loaf of banana bread - gifts like that are always welcome for hostesses or the ailing or whoever you know who needs some home cooking. But I don't have to tell you what a pain it is for the recipient to make sure you get your Pyrex baking dish back, right? Especially if the person you're taking food to is a new mother or a post-op patient: those folks don't have the time to wash your casserole dish or your platter and make sure it's returned to you. So go to the Dollar Tree and spend one hundred pennies on a disposable aluminum baking pan and don't even think of going to the grocery store and spending FIVE DOLLARS -- no, I am not kidding -- on the very same pan. The only difference is that some of the grocery store aluminum-ware come with those "lifter" contraptions that don't really work anyway, so why bother? The giftee will be so happy to not have to wash and return your container, and you won't have to spend months afterwards thinking to yourself, I know I have a nine-inch Anchor pie plate around here somewhere before remembering that you used it to take an apple pie to your child's piano teacher. True story.

12. Christmas cookie tins - Speaking of containers, if you are a Christmas-cookie-baker, you can find adorable little festive tins in about three or four different sizes at the Dollar Tree. Line them with some of that above-mentioned tissue paper and you've got the sweetest and cheapest little vehicle ever for gifting someone with your homemade goodies. We stock up every year.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Signs that the Apocalypse is Upon Us

Today I was at the laundromat washing the duvet from our bed and an absolutely riveting episode of Matlock was playing at high volume on every single one of the flat-screen televisions hanging over the washing machines.

Matlock is one of those television shows that, to me, is so incredibly boring, I can feel myself dying a little each and every second it is being broadcast in my presence, but I suddenly snapped to attention when a commercial break shifted us out of whatever hell dimension Andy Griffith and his band of do-gooder cronies inhabit when I heard the unmistakeable opening guitar riff of AC/DC's "Back in Black." This is a song that never fails to make me smile, and I'm often overwhelmed with the urge to bust out some major air guitar. Which I didn't do. Because, dignity? I don't have much, but the little bit I have left to me, I cling to like frozen pizza remnants cling to an oven rack.

So I'm smiling, bobbing my head and mentally singing along with the lyrics, when all of a sudden I realize that I'm watching a FREAKING WAL-MART COMMERCIAL advertising their upcoming after-Thanksgiving Black Friday sales.

I seriously wanted to just fall to the floor and scream "NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!" Lead singer Brian Johnson has nothing on me when it comes to anguished howling.

AC/DC. And flipping WAL-MART! Can you believe it?

I know. Me either.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Because I'm weak

I don't think it speaks well for my character that I blow right past the dry cleaning establishment that's four blocks from my house, but where you have to park in their lot and haul your sweaters and your dressy wool coat and your husband's autumn sport coat, while on my way to a rival dry cleaning establishment that has a drive-thru window. Where, you know, everything can just be bundled through the hatch while sitting in the comfort of your car and listening to the radio.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Creature from the Madge Lagoon

You just knew it wasn't all over with Madge, didn't you?

I scared her off the other day with my Teacher Look, but she must have been feeling under the weather, not quite her usual hideous self. Maybe she had a sniffle, a headache, or a sudden smiting with fire and brimstone from above. Who knows? Anyway, we had another encounter in the pool today and the old bat was in rare form.

So I was in the pool, naturally, doing my usual routine. I'd been there for about twenty-five minutes and was deep into cardio and feeling good, which was, incidentally, a feeling that was going to be leaving me shortly.

Madge came in - she's recognizable because she always comes in wearing a yellow bathrobe with a duck on the back - and I didn't worry about her because there were three open lanes. I was in my usual "step lane," the lane I always use because the lap swimmers don't like to use it: the set of steps that the handicapped use to get into the pool descends into the lane and shortens it by about six feet. So imagine my surprise when Madge came down the steps into the pool and hollered at me, "I'm swimming in this lane now, so MOVE."

The aquatics director happened to be walking by on the pool deck just about then and her head whipped around, her mouth and eyes open in astonishment. Me, I wasn't really much surprised. So I was ready for her.

I looked her square in the eye. "Can you say 'please'?" I asked with a tight smile.

"No," she said shortly. "This is lap swim time and you're not swimming laps, so move."

"I'm not moving because you are so incredibly rude. You can't come in here and demand that people move," I said determinedly. Because, listen: I don't want to start things with people. I don't. I'm not that kind of person. However, I'm no stranger to the fact that some people don't respond to either niceness or reason, which leaves standing up for yourself in a dignified yet rock-solid manner. I'd never scream curse words at anyone, especially an ancient old lady who looks like a manatee. But I'll be squizzled if I'm going to let some pushy old harridan order me around like she's Catherine-the-Freakin-Great, either.

The aquatic director spoke up: "Madge, this is not just lap swim time. This is lap swim and water jog time and you can't tell people to move."

"THIS HAS ALWAYS BEEN LAP SWIM TIME," Madge trumpeted, whirling about in the water like a hippopotamus preparing to charge.

"Well, it isn't anymore," said the director, frowning and putting her hands on her hips.


I drew a deep breath and looked her straight in the eye, feeling like I was getting ready to draw my revolver to fire the first shot at the OK corral. "No, you're not, you big bully."

Madge recoiled in shock. "You," she spluttered, "are MEAN." Which seemed a bit of the pot calling the kettle dirty bottom, but Madge is obviously one of those old folks who is more than willing to use her advanced age into manipulating people into doing her bidding.

"MADGE," bellowed the aquatics director, looking like she was fixin' to jump into the pool and drag Madge out by her hair, "either move to another lane or GET OUT OF THE POOL."

"You're not really swimming," Madge said bitterly, looking at me hatefully. "What you're doing doesn't count." (Like that floating-on-the-back and using her hands as paddles maneuver she does is equal to a 500 meter freestyle at the Olympic trials.)

"Maybe not," I said evenly. "But whatever it is or isn't, I'm doing it in this lane."

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Because Wonder Woman is for realz, and she is me

Today I got home from Fishers at ten minutes 'til noon. I had exactly one hour before I had to be in yoga class at the YMCA, making my body bend and stretch in ways it doesn't necessarily want to. Unless, of course, I'm stretching to remove a bag of Hershey's Kisses from the top shelf of the cabinet where I hid them from myself last week, and then drop them on the floor, necessitating a bend-over to pick them up. Wait. Where was I?

Okay, anyway, I had an hour. And in that hour, I changed my clothes, ate some lunch, fussed at Aisling for leaving her crap lying around all over the house, made a meatloaf, stirred up some honey-oatmeal dough for the bread machine to bake, took a load of clean towels out of the washer and put them in the dryer, started a second load of towels in the washer, collected a stack of library books that are coming due, packed up my gym back and hopped into the van at 12:58 to make the six-block drive to the Y. Add to all that the fact that I'd put in a good, solid two hours of prep work for the Brit Lit final I am administering to a happy group of students on Thursday, and I'd say, "So who do you know who is a busy little Amazon and has two thumbs?"

The answer is "Me!"

And you were supposed to picture me pointing at myself with my thumbs.

Oh, never mind.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Reprise and Reprisals: Madge-at-the-swimming-pool

I'm kind of proud of that title. I flatter myself that it sounds like something Jane Austen might have come up with. Er, something with which Jane Austen might have come up. Up with something Jane Austen might have come?

Shut up.

Anyhoo, Madge, the elderly woman I encountered at the YMCA pool a few weeks ago, the one who told me, obnoxiously, that she was going to swim in my lane? I met her again today in the clear, chlorinated waters of the shallow end. All the lanes were in use by lap-swimmers; I myself was moving into my fortieth minute of high-cardio aqua aerobics and was feeling particularly sassy.

So when Madge came down the steps into the pool, she didn't look in my direction. But she did start moving toward me with a purposeful stride and it was pretty obvious that she was going to come up to me and attempt to commandeer my lane in her imperious way. I was all, like, grimly, "Hells to the no!" and was ready to square off with her, if I needed to. Because remember, I am both a mother and a teacher, which means that I am possibly one of the bossiest people alive, except for maybe Hugo Chavez. And one of the mores of a peaceful and prosperous planet is that people need to learn to wait their turns. Old or young, poor or wealthy, people need to stop being so freaking pushy and acting like the axis of the world runs through the middle of their ridiculous heads. For heaven's sake, just BE POLITE.

So I left her approach me, and when she got within six feet, I turned the ol' laser eye on her, that look which clearly says Do Not Frigging Mess With Me. It's not so much an entire facial expression as it is a dangerous glint in the eye, that same one Mel Gibson had in the Franco Zeffirelli-directed Hamlet, when he put some manners on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. It's the same look I give to whisperers, note-passers, eye-rollers and sigh-heavers. And it works.

Madge stopped short and looked around, nonplussed, probably searching for someone else to persecute. Seeing that there was no option, she turned and went back to the steps, climbing out to sit on the bench, just like everyone else does when they're waiting for a lane to open. And while her head was turned away, the lifeguard caught my eye across the splashing of four swimmers and gave me a double thumbs-up.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Lies your friends will tell you

I have a confession to make.

I have been known to speak in encouraging tones of bright confidence to my friends who have small chirren, telling them how someday, the little buggers will sleep past the crack of dawn; indeed, they'll sleep so long, you won't be required to feed them either breakfast or lunch. They'll just stagger, grumbling, down to the kitchen in flannel pajama bottoms and big, lumpy sweatshirts and raid the cupboards and the fridge, eating up several key ingredients you bought to use in making various recipes through the week.

I've also told my friends, the mothers of young kids and desperate for sleep and the desire to pee without an audience, that things are just so much easier when all the little ones are all out of diapers and able to pour themselves a drink without flooding the floor in a sticky sea of cran-apple juice.

Oh, these things are true, they really are. But I've been shamefully negligent in sharing the other side of the story, which is that somehow, you'll find you're busier with your teenagers than you ever were with your babies. Looking back on it, I fondly recall the days I spent at home with Meelyn-the-toddler and Aisling-the-infant. I was babysitting back then for my longtime friend Beth's toddler, Allison, and another little girl as well, the daughter of one of my brother's high school friends. The five of us were a jolly little fivesome: we finger-painted and sang songs along with the Raffi cassettes and read stories (especially Madeline stories) and swung on the swings; I cooked carefully balanced lunches and set up a little Montessori preschool in our playroom. It was utterly lovely, all four of them in diapers at one point, and everyone went down for a nap at precisely 12:30. They were all champion sleepers and I got a blessed two hours to myself every single day.

When I think about "bad days" back then, the only thing I can remember with eye-bugging clarity is the time when I found a crate of eighty-five library books in the trunk of my car, books I'd meant to return, every single one of them overdue by two weeks. The money I paid for that fine financed the complete renovation of the New Castle-Henry County Public Library, including furniture and computers.

But now we're at these days, the days when Meelyn and Aisling can pretty much fend for themselves in the closet, the bathroom and the kitchen - although Aisling frequently claims that she can't boil water and needs me to make her a grilled cheese sandwich immediately, if not sooner. But somehow, we're busier. Both girls have jobs; I have several part-time teaching jobs. My husband has a different job that is thankfully closer to home and demands less hours of him. But it's still retail and there is still a lot of time involved. We're busy, busier than we've been before, yet somehow clutching every moment to us as precious as we get ready to set our little chicks free from the comfortable and comforting nest.

All this is to say that there are reasons why I haven't updated my blog in almost three weeks.

It wouldn't be because I'm, like, lazy or anything. Or playing a really addictive online backgammon. No, no, nothing to do with anything like that.