Sunday, February 24, 2008

This column is 75% off. Stock up now!

Published February 24, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

It often goes that I am driving down the road and am suddenly struck by an overwhelming and nearly uncontrollable urge to smack myself square across the forehead. I had such an urge today as I passed a very large sign advertising Valentine cards available for 75% off the original price. I have a lovely bruise to prove it, too.

There are two things you should know about me. I'm cheap and I like to plan. If I believed in tattooing my body, the words "generic," "second-hand," and "clearance" would be permanently emblazoned across my forehead along with a to do list for Monday...ten years from now. If a tattoo artist wants to offer me a deal and would let me organize her budget in advance for the next 5 years, I might do it anyway.

The (non-tattoed) forehead smacking ensued when I realized that buying Valentines a year in advance for a mere 25% of the original price is something I should have been doing since my oldest child started preschool. Here I am, a mother with 4 school-aged children, and I've never taken the stores up on this crazy cheap deal.

Of course, this kind of thing isn't reserved for the post-Valentine's Day celebration (yes, I refrained from the much abused "sale-a-bration"). There are sales like this after every holiday that induces gift giving or decoration of any kind. It gets better. There are also post-season sales on clothes. I could pick up brand new shirts and pants for my children for a few bucks apiece. I'd be planning ahead and saving a bundle. (Excuse me while I make this bruise a little bigger.)

My self harm notwithstanding, I've actually known about these sales for years now. Every budgeting article suggests finance conscious shoppers should plan ahead and save. I have a very good reason (actually several good reasons) I've never shopped them. They're called Ray, Miriam, Cate, Evelyn, and Michael.

What I've learned in 11 years as a mom is that my best laid plans are no match for a curious three year old wielding a magic marker. They're also no match for a popular kindergartner with more friends than she can please on one day of card giving. And, of course, they're no match for an impatient eight year old who doesn't care if it doesn't fit yet. If I buy it, they want to use it, and there is nowhere short of Fort Knox where I can keep this stuff safe for a year at a time.

I've thought about buying plastic storage bins store this stuff, but they don't look nearly important enough for my kids to understand that they're meant to stay away. I once considered purchasing biohazard stickers for the bins, but it seems silly to do that. I mean, if I'm not labeling the dirty diapers that go out to the dumpster, how are they supposed to believe I'd label anything in the house?

My new plan of attack is to come up with some color code to alert my children to the relative severity of snooping in any given bin. I've decided to pattern it after our country's terror alert system, because you know I get terrified every time we get bumped up a color. I don't really know which color signified which level. Maybe Valentines will go in the yellow bins and egg dye will be found in the orange ones. I do know the red bins will be the "Do not touch unless you want to meet God" bins.

I'm reserving those for fireworks, a turkey fryer, and stale Halloween candy.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

What was this column about, again?

Published February 17, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

The other day i had the opportunity to entertain the students I work with when I had to call a locksmith to get my keys out of my minivan which was locked up tight in the school's parking lot. I don't think the girls would have laughed so hard if it weren't the third time I've had to make that call from that parking lot in the last 12 months. The fact that I actually had a way into the van when I saw the driver side door hadn't locked and then went around and manually locked it without thinking didn't help either.

Fortunately for me, the locksmith was efficient and kind and my insurance reimburses. Commenting to one student after I retrieved my keys, I said, "You know, what I really need is the tool that guy had. Then, whenever I lock my keys in the car, I can just pop it open again." She smirked and replied, "Where are you going to keep that tool? In the car?"

I'm learning about memory in one of my classes at school, and I'm ever astounded by the miracle of the human brain. That is to say, I'm ever astounded by other people's brains. When I lose my keys, my train of thought, and my sense of direction in my own house all within moments of each other, I'm astounded by the fact that I manage to make it through a day without feeling my own brain oozing out of my skull through my ears.

There is, however, an upside to being absent-minded. You get much more done than a person who knows exactly what they want to do and how to do it. Don't believe me? See below:

Between writing the two paragraphs above, I got up from my computer for some reason I can't remember, went upstairs, turned on the heaters, turned off excess lights, reapplied the weather stripping to the back door, started a fresh load of laundry, warmed up a piece of banana bread and grabbed a glass of milk. Now that I'm back at my desk, I still don't remember what I supposed to do, but if it was one of those things, I'm set.

(It's an hour later now, and I'm finally remembering. I was supposed to take my contact lenses out. Last night.)

There is good news for the memory challenged out there. My textbook is loaded with tricks to help with memory retrieval. For instance, did you know that you remember things better in the same context and location in which you first thought of them? So, if you're struggling to remember something, simply go back to the place where you first thought of whatever it may be, and the familiar sights and sounds should jog your memory.

I don't know about you, but I do my best thinking and planning in the shower. All I have to do if I can't remember what I had planned for the day is to return to my shower and let it flow back into me. Of course, for most of my day, I'm nowhere near my shower, so I'll have to borrow someone else's. Or find some sprinklers. Or pray for rain.

Of course, I'd have to be in the shower to remember all of that.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Call Immigration!

Published February 10, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

We’re hearing much these days about the problem of illegal immigration. The oft used and abused justification for such is the belief that illegal immigrants are here doing the jobs “Americans won’t do” and thereby represent a vast and crucial part of the framework of our economy. Opponents of this way of thinking purport that Americans would do these jobs if they weren’t priced out of the industry by cheap, illegal labor and that illegal immigrants need to be found and deported.

I found one.

Using the straightforward criterion of a job most Americans wouldn’t want to do, I set out in search of illegal immigrants and found one on my first try. This person, whether from Mexico, El Salvador, or Sweden, can be seen standing near the corner of Sunset and Dixie Downs Road, waving at passers-by and encouraging them to come into a local business. He or she is easy to spot. The chicken costume is kind of hard to miss.

What? You don’t think this chicken suited person is an illegal alien? As a natural born American in the Caucasian, 18-34, and “soccer” (actually, it’s karate) mom demographics, I believe I constitute a typical American citizen, and I can tell you with a certainty that I would never, ever do that job.

What you need to know about me is that there aren’t many jobs I wouldn’t do. I would readily work in a restaurant washing dishes. I would have no problem cleaning hotel rooms. I would even dig ditches and pick produce and build houses if it meant providing for my family. As a mentor to troubled teens, I actually have a job most people tell me they wouldn’t do. But I would not dress up as a chicken and stand on the street and wave, no matter how much the job paid.

I guess I have to give the chicken person credit for doing the job during our mild winter. On the basis of that fact alone, I’m willing to concede that the chicken in question is a legal citizen of the U.S. Nothing beats the chill in the air like being covered from head to toe in plush fabric and dancing around like a maniac. I have, however, seen this very same chicken costume in the middle of a blistering St. George summer. There is no way you can get me to believe that’s an American. I’m having a hard time believing it’s a human.

There must be some segment of the population who once donned chicken (or hot dog or statue of liberty) costumes of their own reading this and wanting to defend the job as not only legitimate but enjoyable, as well. Herein lies our problem. For every political hack claiming illegals are doing work we Americans won’t do, there have to be a large number of Americans saying, “Hey, wait a minute! I would do that job! I want to do that job! How do I get that job?”

For all I know, the person in the chicken suit is very happy with the job. Maybe he’s gone through life lamenting his “chicken trapped in a man’s body” existence and has now been given the chance to break out. Maybe this person is finally free to be who he really is and is, as I write this, organizing chicken pride rallies and painting protest placards that say, “Cluck shall overcome.” It could happen.

Strange digression aside, it’s become obvious to me that for every job one American wouldn’t do, there is at least one more who would. It’s also clear that the powers that be will continue to debate the illegal alien issue without actually doing anything about it. If they do begin a manhunt, checking out the employees in so-called undesirable jobs may or may not yield results. There’s no accounting for chickens, of course.

If they do search for people in crappy jobs, I’d start with Britney Spears’ publicist.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Ettiquette Schmettiquette!

Published February 3, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

I had the singular opportunity to sit in on a class on the etiquette of fine dining the other day. The enthusiastic teacher hoped to prepare her boorish students for the experience they might have at a fancy schmancy restaurant and came prepared with faux plates, glasses, and cutlery to demonstrate. It was enlightening and frightening at the same time.

I think fancy schmancy etiquette is the upper crust's way of separating themselves from the masses. In days past, the gentry kept the populace at bay with moats and swords and the occasional beheading. Now they use silverware.

I've been to a couple of restaurants here in St. George which I thought were fancy. Then I went to a couple of restaurants in Las Vegas that put them to shame. This is the whole of my personal experience with the fancy and the schmancy. I thought I had a handle on table manners because I knew the obvious rules: Elbows off the table. Napkin in the lap. Don't talk with your mouth full. Don't talk about religion or politics and keep your mouth full if you're tempted to.

Apparently, I didn't know the half of it. When it comes to eating in a fancy schmancy restaurant, I figure I'll just do what makes sense and leave the etiquette for the people who care about it. I can learn convoluted rules until I can recite Miss Manners in my sleep. I'm still bound to make a mistake like dabbing the corners of my mouth with my napkin one time too many (UNCOUTH!). If I'm going to wear the bourgeois shoe no matter what I do, I might as well make it fit.

For instance, it makes no sense whatsoever to have 59 pieces of silverware for one person's meal. Do you know what does make sense? The words, "Save your fork! There's pie!" Upon arriving at my table, I will scoop up everything but the one fork, one spoon, and one knife I actually need to eat, hand the excess to the hostess and tell her to melt them down and send the money to starving kids in...well, wherever they have starving kids these days. (I hear Ethiopia is doing quite well now.)

It doesn't make sense to me that I must learn some form of silverware code in order to communicate with my server. Apparently, I'm supposed to cross my knife and fork to let my server know I'm still eating. I'm supposed to lay them parallel diagonally across my plate at a 10 o'clock/5 o'clock position to signal I'm through. If I'm going to be giving up to 20% of the price of the meal to this person, I'd like him to ask me how I'm doing, how my food tastes, what my hopes and dreams are, and how I feel about the state of America today.

And if that doesn't make sense, it certainly doesn't make sense to me that in a fancy schmancy restaurant, where a meal costs more than my entire monthly milk budget for my family of 6, I'm supposed to a) NOT mop up excess sauce with a piece of bread from the basket full of bread just inches away; b) leave some food on my plate so as not to commit the cardinal sin of cleaning my plate; and c) NOT ask for a "doggie bag" or box to take leftovers home.

According to the etiquette teacher, "If you have to take your leftovers home, you probably shouldn't be in a restaurant that nice in the first place." Ouch. Apparently, wastefulness is next to godliness to the dining elite. Returning to what makes sense, my intention is to flout these rules with impunity. I will mop up sauce and clean my plate. I will ask for a doggie bag. I will place my half eaten filet mignon and new potatoes inside of it along with whatever is left in the bread basket. I will carry my doggie bag out of the restaurant without an ounce of shame and allow the other patrons to think whatever they want.

I'm sure they'll think whatever they want when I take their leftovers too, but that's to be expected.