Thursday, November 26, 2015

When the Face on the Milk Carton is a Milk Carton

When I got home from the grocery store yesterday I decided to have some Oreos and milk to reward myself for remembering all the things on my grocery list. Things like Oreos… which I had forgotten to pick up the day before, when I went grocery shopping.

Except... we were out of milk.

I just got home from my second trip to the grocery store in two days, and I needed groceries.

The story of my life.

If only... I thought.

If only there were some way for the milk carton to let me know that it was almost empty and that I first trip to the store, but the children and the husband have been on a cereal-for-breakfast kick lately and I hadn't factored in the increased milk usage when I made out my shopping list.
should probably think about picking up more the next time I was at the store. I could swear I had checked the milk before my

If only... I thought.

If only someone who had – oh, I don't know – used almost all of the milk had told me “Hey, we're almost out of milk.” Or if only someone who had – oh, I don't know – actually used the last of the milk had told me “Hey, we are now actually out of milk.” Then maybe I would have remembered to add milk to the grocery list, and maybe I would have picked up milk either the day before, when we were almost out of milk, or yesterday, when we were actually out of milk.

I say “maybe,” because I have, on occasion, been known to forget to pick up items that are on my grocery list. And I have, on occasion, been known to forget to put things on my list thinking “Oh, I won't forget to get that, because that is totally the only reason I am even going to the grocery store.” And that is why I usually call or text my family while I'm sitting in the grocery store parking lot to ask them if they've thought of anything else I need to pick up.

That's when I thought “If only someone would invent a little microchip that you could put on a milk carton to remind you it's time to get more milk.” Then, when I'm writing out my grocery list and I shout “Is there anything else I need to get when I'm at the grocery store?” the milk carton could beep, or somehow reply “Why yes! You are almost out of milk! Please remember to put milk on your list and pick up milk when you are at the grocery store.”

Although I have to admit, hearing a voice call out from inside the refrigerator would be a little weird.

You know what wouldn't be weird? Having my children or my husband reply “Why yes! I used almost all the milk this morning on my cereal (even though I didn't actually drink the milk that was left over after I ate my cereal and basically wasted a whole cup of delicious, sugary-sweet, vitamin-enhanced milk by pouring it down the drain). Please remember to put milk on your list and pick up milk when you are at the grocery store.”

And then I thought, “If only that little microchip in my milk carton could send me a text message or just call me up when I'm at the store and say 'Hey! It's me, your milk carton. I know I wasn't almost empty when you left to go to the grocery store, but I am now, so could you please pick up more milk while you are at the grocery store?”

Although, expecting a microchip in a milk carton not only to have that kind of self-awareness, but also to know my shopping schedule would be a little weird.

You know what wouldn't be weird? If, when I text or call my family and tell them I'm sitting in the grocery store parking lot about to go into the store and I ask them if they have thought of anything else we need, like milk, they would actually go to the refrigerator, open it up, check the milk and let me know if I need to get more.

But until microchip milk cartons – or helpful family members – become a reality I'm stuck making frequent trips to the grocery store. Even if that means going to the grocery store three days in a row. Or sometimes going to the grocery store three times in one day.

And so this morning I made a special trip to the grocery store just to pick up a gallon of milk. Then I came home to have Oreos and milk. I knew we had Oreos at home because I had just bought them yesterday.

Except I hid them.

And I don't remember where.

If only... I thought.

If only someone would invent a little microchip that you could put on a package of Oreos to remind you where you hid it.”


Monday, November 16, 2015

Watch Me Twirl, Watch Me Nae Nae

Due to popular demand (or lack of opposition), I feel compelled to share the story of The Great Color Guard Rifle Twirling Fiasco mentioned in my last post, as straight forwardly as I can.

Back in the day, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and pterodactyls routinely picked off small children as afternoon snacks, being in the high school band was cool. At least that's what we told ourselves. We even had our own special “Bandcoming Week” with cool dress-up days like “Hat & Spats” Day, and “Shades & Bandanas” Day to celebrate our nerdiness... I mean coolness.

In addition to being cool, participation in marching band was on equal footing with football and cheerleading, meaning that participating in football or cheerleading did not get you out of marching with the band at halftime. (At least that's how I remember it, and this is my story, so....) Cheerleaders who were also flag girls or baton twirlers mastered the fine art of changing out of one short skirt into another in our cars. (We always kept our lollies – or privacy shorts – on, so get your minds out of the gutter.) Believe me that feat of contortion was much easier as a limber high schooler. (It was after a sweaty 5K, back out of the gutter.)

One more little detail which is vitally important to the story: Our band was blessed with a plethora of flutes and clarinets.

Another important detail: Our band director, affectionately referred to as Wim Jeaver, sweat more than any other human being I have ever encountered. In the heat of the directing moment I'm pretty sure he could sling sweat clear to the back row of the brass section. Flutes in the front row didn't stand a chance. Clarinets in the second row didn't fare much better.

So, partly because there were so many of us, and partly because we would do anything to get out of the sweat storm, most of the flutists and clarinetists became flag girls. I'm sure the term “flag girl” offends someone out there, but you're just going to have to get over it. This was back before we even thought about being politically correct. We were girls, we twirled flags, end of story.

In fact, as I recall we had almost as many flag girls (and two baton twirlers) as we did band members. This is (of course) yet another important detail.

When I was a junior, a new girl transferred to our school and our band. She had been a member of the color guard rifle twirlers at her old school, and, upon finding color guard rifles stowed behind the flags stacked somewhat haphazardly in our band room closet, she suggested incorporating those into our halftime show.

Back then, we didn't go to marching band competitions. I'm not even sure there was such a thing. My point is, we performed an entirely new show for each home football game. Things were simpler then. We only played other teams in our conference, all the conference teams were within a 45 minute drive, and we played home games every other week.

Again, that's how I remember it. I can't really say for sure because after running through the flag routine with us once, Wim pretty much left us alone to practice. Which we did. Vigilantly. Never goofing around or wasting time. High school girls are responsible like that. 
WLHS Flag Girls, Baton Twirler and Majorette circa 1983.

The only problem with adding a color guard rifle twirling unit was that there were only two color guard rifles in anything near twirling condition.

The solution: Our color guard rifle twirling unit would consist of only two members. Two girls would never be missed from the flag fleet.

Somehow I managed to convince Wim to let me join the new girl in the color guard duo. I'm not sure how this happened, but I imagine his final decision was announced with a heavy sigh, an exaggerated rolling of the eyes, and inspirational words along the lines of “Go ahead. Just don't screw it up.”

Now that you've read this far, I should probably warn you that I may be the only one who finds this story funny. It's really more of a visual story. The Princess always laughs when I tell it, but I'm not sure if that's because of the story itself, or because of the massive amount of pantomime twirling that accompanies it. Anyway, you're going to have to imagine a lot of hand gestures and spinning and twirling and tossing. If you've ever seen the precision movements of a real color guard, imagine the exact opposite.

I would also like to say that, unfortunately, I honestly don't remember the name of the other girl. She was a sweet thing, and this story should in no way reflect upon her as a person. In fact, I have never told this story to the general public before because I don't want to accidentally offend or embarrass her. For God's sake, if you think this story is about you, don't tell anyone. And don't slash my tires.

After much serious practice – remember, we were responsible high school girls – the night of the big performance finally arrived. The marching band took the field for the half-time show. The color guard duo took our places in front of the band. The eyes of the entire home crowd were upon us. You could sense the anticipation. You could cut the tension with a knife. The band started to play. We twirled our rifles once, twice and...

My twirling partner dropped her rifle.

OK. No big deal, right? Except that she didn't pick it up.

I gave her a look that said “What the heck?” I kept twirling. She didn't pick it up.

I gave her another look that said “No, seriously. What the heck?” I kept twirling. She didn't pick it up. But she did keep pantomiming twirls.

Wim gave her a look. I kept twirling. She didn't pick it up. She did keep pantomiming.

Wim rolled his eyes, shook his head and focused all his attention on the band, ignoring us.

I kept twirling. Except by now I was thoroughly lost and had no idea what came next in our routine.

I realized it didn't really matter, because I was the only one actually twirling a rifle.

I could do whatever the heck I wanted.

I did whatever the heck I wanted.

My poor partner stood there nearly in tears pantomiming what may or may not have been the rest of our routine as I twirled and whirled and flailed and danced about like some sort of deranged lunatic until the song finally, mercifully ended.

Tah Dah! I nailed the ending with great flourish.

Our brief but illustrious incarnation as the WLHS color guard ended with something less of a flourish.

At the next home game I was busted down to pretend trombone player, sans mouthpiece. I think Wim's instructions were something along the lines of “Stand between these two people. Do what they do. Go where they go. Don't play. Don't screw it up.”

I'm sure this was accompanied by a heavy sigh and an exaggerated rolling of the eyes.

There's a lesson to be learned here.

Keep on twirling.

Twirl like no one's watching.

Twirl and the world twirls with you, drop your rifle and you stand alone.

Never trust a flag girl with a gun.

When you have a blog, you can twirl the story any way you want.

Tah Dah!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

While My Banjo Gently Weeps

I have decided I want to learn how not to play the banjo next.

I already know how not to play the ukulele, guitar and accordion. I have forgotten how not to play the flute, oboe and saxophone (tenor and baritone). And my ability to play piano is only just slightly above how not to play.

I think you could say that, technically, I know how not to play the trombone, although the one time I got to not play it for high school marching band I really did not play it. Since I was just being used a place-filler in the formation, the director didn't even issue me a mouthpiece.

Spoil sport.

(This was after an ill-advised attempt to learn how not to twirl a color guard rifle. Now that, in my opinion, is a really funny story.)

I say this to establish the fact that when I decide I want to learn how not to play an instrument, I don't give up. So there is a very real chance that at some point in the future a banjo will join the guitar, ukulele, flute and piano gathering dust in our house.

Make no mistake. These are instruments that I have actually made a concerted effort to learn how to play, but through no fault of my own – other than a complete and utter lack of talent and ability – I have failed.

But that doesn't mean I'm going to give up.

Take the last time I learned how not to play the ukulele. This was, I believe, the third time I've taken intermediate group ukulele lessons, in addition to the two beginner group ukulele lessons and two sessions of beginner group guitar lessons. I lump both instruments together only because they are both stringed instruments and you would think there might possibly be some overlap.

Turns out? Not so much.

I would like to point out that my lack of ability is not a reflection on my teachers. It is solely and completely a result of my lack of manual dexterity (my fingers don't bend that way), spacial recognition (my fingers don't know where to go), and my utter lack of rhythm. My teachers have all been amazing, which is evident in the rapid improvements made by my classmates as well as my teachers' kind unwillingness to either call me out in front of the class or kick me out completely.

This time around I was in a class of child prodigies. By the end of the first class they were playing chords with ease. By the end of the second they were fingerpicking melodies. By the end of the third they were experimenting with amazingly complex rhythms. By the end of the fourth they were all comparing acceptance letters to Julliard.

I actually did master a few chords and was able to transition smoothly(ish) between them. My downfall was the whole lack of rhythm thing. I mean, I can dance. Sort of. I can keep time when I play piano. Sort of. But moving beyond a simple “One, Two, Three, Four,” or “Down, Down, Down, Down,” strumming pattern was much more difficult than I had realized.

There were a few times I started to (slowly) get into a “One And, Two And” or “Down Up, Down Up” rhythm. (Some people might even call this an eighth note rhythm. I think. Maybe.)

But when I tried to strum that pattern and switch chords it went something like this:
“One And, Two And, Chordchange And, Wrongchord And,
One aaaa, Wheream I, Crap I, Missedit And,
There! And, Two Nope, Three oops, Change uhh,
Change Arrrgh, Almost GotIt, Whatdoyou Mean, Wefinished Twobeats, Ago And?”

In other words, I have absolutely no business learning how not to play the banjo.

I'm not really sure why I want to learn how not to play the banjo. Maybe it's because of the shape. Or the short, fifth-string reentrant tuning. Or the unique sound. Or because it's so Tragically (un)Hip. Or because I want to be able to (not) play “Dueling Banjos” and scare the bejeebers out of anyone who's seen Deliverance.

Or maybe it's because I'm one of those hopelessly optimistic people who keep on trying no matter what. I'm always certain that the next time things will be better. Success is just around the corner. Just around this bend in the river. Just beyond this set of rapids.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to strum faster.

I hear banjos.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Yo No Hablo Teenage Boy-O

When the children were little I wished they came with instructions.

I realize that was a very silly wish. They don't listen to instructions, and I never read them.

They are both teenagers now and I know what I really need is some sort of Rosetta Stone for teen speak. Or teen non-speak, as the case may be.

The Princess is getting easier to understand. I'm not sure whether that is because she is quickly approaching the end of her teenage years, or because I have some personal experience with teenage girl speak. She may not want to believe it, but I once was a teenage girl myself. It's like they say: if you learn a language as a child, you never completely forget it. Teenage girl and adult girl also have some common linguistic components.

I remember, or have learned, that a girl-child can change the meaning of the word “Mother” simply by changing which syllable is emphasized (“MO-ther” vs. “moth-ER”). Likewise, the volume, tone and spoken length of any individual sound (“Mmmmmmmmother” vs. “Motherrrrrrr” for example) can be altered to adjust the meaning.

Teenage girl non-verbal communication is just as, if not more, complicated. The simple eye roll can have many and varied meanings, from “I can't believe you're such a dork,” to “of course I love you.” Sometimes it can have more than one meaning simultaneously.

When it comes to The Little Prince, however, I am completely at a linguistic loss. Yo no hablo boy-o.

The Little Prince has become a surly foreign exchange student skulking about our house, leaving his room only to procure food (to take back to his room) or to scowl at the printer. He speaks an undocumented dialect of an unrecorded language that, for all of its complexity apparently consists of only three phrases: “Uh-huh" (affirmative?), "Nuh-uh" (negative?), and "Dunno" (everything else). His eye rolls, shoulder shrugs and grunts are in a dialect that is completely different than his sister's.

Last night, when I returned from a four-day absence, I stood, smiling, in his doorway waiting for a “Hi, Mom! Welcome back.” What I got was an impatient “Yeah?”

I hugged him anyway.

It's hard to believe that this towering stranger, with facial hair and deepening voice was once my cuddly, little boy. OK, so he was never that cuddly, but he was the little boy I held tight in my mother-arms. The little boy who exactly matched and filled the little-boy shaped space that had been formed in my mother-heart.

Now my head rests against his shoulder on the rare occasion when I am able to ambush him from behind to wrap him up in a tackle/hug. More often than not he turns around and heads the other way when he sees me coming. Much like dogs sense fear, teenage boys sense incoming Mom hugs. Although, sometimes I like to think that his evasive maneuvers are purposefully a step slow, or that he waits an extra beat before attempting an escape, allowing me time to sigh contentedly as that little-boy shaped space fills in once again.

This morning he stopped by my desk as he headed out the door to school. For a moment he just stood there looking at me expectantly.

“Do you need something, honey? ” I asked, my Mom-radar pinging away.

“My laundry basket is overflowing,” he said.

“Well, I'd be happy to teach you...” I started, my temper flaring.

Then I saw the smirk on his face, and I understood him perfectly. No translation was needed.

I love you too, Little Prince.