It’s a Jungle Out There

animal-photography-animals-daytime-1260803Sitting in the petri dish of a playground at a nearby fast-food chain, I watch my grandkids jump around like just-released-into-the-wild baboons. Like every other adult in the room, I hoped this stop would be a fun diversion, a place the kids could play while I read War and Peace.

Kids on playgrounds are fascinating the same way the Spanish Inquisition was fascinating: lots of violence, torture, crazy zealots and tattletales. Sitting with the book I won’t be able to read, and eating cold French fries, I’m the Jane Goodall of the toddler kingdom, as I study their animal-like behavior.

There’s a hierarchy to the madness, with the older kids sitting at the top of the pyramid. They push toddlers out of the way and block slides until little kids cry.

The next level down are kids between the ages of 4 and 8. Not quite ready to be the bullies on the playground, they tail after the leaders hoping to be included in any dastardly plan.

Toddlers make up the lowest level of the playground food chain. These cute little kids are a pain in the asset as they try to establish a presence without being trampled by oblivious 10-year-old boys. I’ve witnessed several toddler smack-downs, including my granddaughter who started a fistfight with a little boy over a pretend steering wheel.

The fast-food playground smells like a mildewed diaper pail. It also has a fine layer of mucous coating every possible surface. Everything is sticky. Bacteria gleefully thrives.

There’s a logjam of kids at the bottom of the slide, backing up traffic and causing overall mayhem. Older siblings shepherd brothers and sisters through the throng of screaming and thrashing little bodies, in search of fun and excitement, while being screamed at by their mothers.

I watch kids scramble through the maze of colorful gerbil tubes, listening for the sound of my granddaughter’s screech as she fights her way to the slide, where she refuses to go down, triggering an uproar in the playground ecosystem. Her brother finally convinces her the slide is fun and they both tumble to the bottom. They run back up and do it again.

I hear snippets of conversations. “That boy is taking off his clothes.” “She put ketchup in my ear.” “Look! I can fly!” But when the Lord of the Flies Preschool bus pulls up in front of the building, that’s my signal to skedaddle.

Easier said than done.

As soon as I announce it’s time to leave, my granddaughter scurries up the tunnel, refusing to come down and throwing poo at anyone who approaches. I send her brother up to get her and hear his bloodcurdling scream as she kicks him in the head, and climbs higher into the hamster maze. He finally drags her down, both of them crying, before she steals someone’s shoes, and runs toward the restroom.

Security tackles her and wrangles her back to the playground. She’s covered with either BBQ sauce or blood and tries to scuttle away as soon as I put her down. Chaos has erupted. We duck tranquilizer darts as we run serpentine to the exit.

I finally wrestle them into the car, wearing the wrong jackets and without socks. I spray them down with Lysol and have them take a big swig of hand sanitizer. I just survived a primate attack. Jane Goodall would be so proud.

 

Originally published in the Davis Clipper – https://davisclipper.com/it’s-a-jungle-out-there-p5616-103.htm

Hang Me Out to Dry

After happily drying our clothes for a decade, our dryer hit its tweenage years and started giving us the silent treatment. It would only work when we said magic words or used pliers to wrangle it into submission.

I wasn’t ready to plop down several hundred bucks for a new dryer, so I suggested we string a clothesline in the backyard for fresh, sunny, natural drying. But with all the snow and the rain and the wind and the snow and the snow, I finally gave in.

clothesline-cold-depth-of-field-166592One weekend, the hubby and I got in the car, girded our loins (I think that means we buckled our seat belts) and drove to the gargantuan furniture/appliance store where we were immediately attacked by suit-coated salespeople.

They swarmed from everywhere. I thought, at first, they were zombies and impaled a couple of them with the leg of a kitchen chair before I realized my (understandable) mistake. One of them valiantly latched onto us, and the rest of them staggered back into the bowels of the store.

Our salesperson/creature had mainlined 17 Dr. Peppers and hopped around us like a crazy ding-dong until we reached the appliance center. There were washers and dryers as far as the eye could see, which isn’t far because I’m pretty nearsighted. But trust me, there was a huge dryer selection.

Mr. SalesCreature launched into his spiel. “I want you to have the dryer that your future washer will adore. Not the washer you have now, but the one you’ll want in two years.”

I explained we weren’t looking for an appliance matchmaker, but he continued.

“You don’t want a dryer that will be mocked by your future appliances,” he said, as if he weren’t talking nonsense. “You want a dryer that will raise the standard of your home.”

He’d obviously never seen our home.

He guided us to the Drying Machines O’ The Future, detailing all the dryer features we never knew we needed. Throwing out terms like Wrinkle Shields, Quad Baffles and All Major Credit Cards, he described a Utopian laundry room where unicorns came to raise their young and clothes never smelled like mildew.

We then learned about laundry pedestals; the crazy 12-inch tall invention that raises your washer and dryer by, well, one foot.

“Why do I need my laundry machines on $300 pedestals?” I asked. “That seems like it’s setting a bad precedent for other appliances in my home.”

“You won’t have to bend over to get your clothes,” he said, jumping in place. “They even have pedestals with a tiny washing machine to wash small loads, or to store cleaning products!”

“Wouldn’t I have to bend over to reach that?” I asked.

He blinked, then started again with the benefits of appliance pedestals, but I interrupted.

“Look,” I said. “We have $300 in cash, $200 in collectible stamps, $123 in Kohl’s cash and $67 in pennies. What can we get with that?”

His face fell. He waved his hand in a vague direction that could have been behind him or downstairs, then walked away. We wandered until we found a machine that could dry our clothes. We purchased it and ran from the building, making no eye contact with any sales-zombies in the area.

The new dryer is beautiful. It’s shiny. It’s not coated with lint-covered laundry detergent. It actually seems kind of haughty, so I’m glad we didn’t buy it a pedestal.

We assure our old washing machine that it’s still a valuable part of our family. We hope positive attention will keep it working for a few more years, but it’s also in the tweenage stage, so I’m expecting tantrums and/or the silent treatment at any time.

First published in the Davis Clipper: http://davisclipper.com/opinion/hang-me-out-to-dry/

High Intensity Interval Torture

If you heard a loud groan echoing through the stratosphere, it wasn’t our planet finally imploding, it was the sound of millions of people rolling off their couches to start an exercise program for the new year. Maybe they want to lose 10 pounds, run a 5K –  or maybe even a marathon if they think they’re some kind of freakin’ super hero.

action-adult-agile-316769Some people hit the ground running. (I hit the ground every time I run. That’s why I stopped running.) Others might take a gradual approach, adding an extra 5 minutes each day until, like me, they’re exercising for 5 minutes each day.

But some folks lunge directly into extreme exercise – trying to punish themselves into health, beating muscles into submission and then talking about it NONSTOP. There’s no one worse to talk to than someone who just discovered CrossFit.

And people who do Parkour? Intolerable. They jump from buildings, swing from trees, climb walls and don’t touch the ground for 24 hours. When I was a kid, this was called, “Don’t step in the lava,” and we’d jump from couch to end table to piano bench to bookshelf to the safety of the kitchen floor. Now, it’s basically an Olympic sport.

There’s always a new health fad that promises to SHRED fat, BURN calories, BUILD muscles and DESTROY abs. (And they mean destroy in a good way.) Spokespeople are usually tree trunks with heads and are as hyped as a toddler mainlining Mountain Dew.

If you trace exercise craziness back to its roots, you’ll find Jack LaLanne, the great-grandfather of fitness, and the first person to make everyone feel super crappy about their bodies. Jack LaLanne didn’t wear a shirt for 40 years. Before that, humans were basically doughy people who didn’t give a rip about biceps.

Then, Jane Fonda high-kicked her way into the fitness industry, wearing high-cut leotards, leg warmers and terry-cloth armbands to fashionably wipe the sweat from her brow. She had a gajillion housewives burning calories with her VHS tapes, starting the workout-at-home phenomenon. She’s 125 and will still kick your butt.

Now we’re obsessed with high-intensity fitness. (“We” meaning someone who isn’t me.) We throw down $50 to sweat through an excruciating hot yoga class, cycle like we’re being chased by stationary zombies and do hundreds of burpees to remixed hip-hop tunes.

Guys at the gym bench-press Volkswagen Beetles and dead-lift redwood trees.

Overtraining has become a merit badge for fitness success. People at the fitness center will warm up for 30 minutes, take a cardio class for an hour, a weight-lifting class for an hour and Zumba their way into intensive care.

Here’s the thing. Overtraining is dangerous. It can leave you moody and fatigued, it saps activity-athlete-barbell-703009your immune system, contributes to insomnia and makes you a cranky $%#*. There’s even been an increase in rhabdomyolysis, which is not rhino abs (like I thought). It’s muscle tissue breaking down from overuse. It can make your pee dark-red! Ew.

I get it. Everyone wants a beach body, even though that term doesn’t really narrow it down. Walruses live on beaches. Whales have often been found on beaches. And even though I’m a Cancer, I’d rather not have the body of a crab.

So before you roll off your couch this year, maybe set a fitness goal that doesn’t involve throwing tractor tires or leaping out a second-floor window. Mostly because your body will be healthier, but also because I don’t want to hear you talk about it.

To Infinity and Beyond

As our country devolves into a 24/7 protest, people are casting their eyes to the stars. They’re either hoping for a) an asteroid to hit the planet, b) our alien overlords to save us from catastrophe or c) the chance to flee to Mars to populate (and eventually destroy) another planet.

astronomy-earth-lunar-surface-87009Life on this beautiful blue marble (or beautiful blue dinner plate if you’re a flat-Earther) has had a good run. We’ve evolved from being hunters/gatherers to being couch potatoes while creating technology that is certain to bring about our impending doom. Do we really need a talking fridge?

But Mars! Oh, the possibilities!

I envision a world where everyone lives in hexagonal domes, speaks in British-accented tones, and wears white flowing robes. That could be a problem. I can’t wear white, even when I’m not living on a planet covered in red dust. Every night I would look like a red chimney sweep.

NASA wants to send the first humans to Mars in the 2030s, which creates an interesting predicament. I’ll be too old to populate anything, but every planet needs a wise old woman giving cryptic warnings to the younger generation. I could fill that role, assuming I survive the seven-month journey to the Red Planet.

The possibility of relocating to the planet of war has become an animated discussion in our home.

Me: Would you want to live on Mars?

Hubbie: Of course!

Me: Wouldn’t you be afraid we’d die on the way there?

Hubbie: Wait. You’re going, too?

Seven months is a long time to give someone the silent treatment.

Describing the flight to Mars, NASA uses magical terms like “transfer orbit” and “astronomical position” which I’ve learned are NOT part of the Kama Sutra. Voyagers traveling to Mars could lose fingernails, have spinal fractures and vision problems, and there’s always the chance you’ll upchuck in your spacesuit and suffocate after blocking the air system with your intergalactic vomit. So, there’s that.

Once we land, we’ll spend a lot of time cleaning up abandoned movie sets that Abbott and Costello, Matt Damon and Santa Claus basically trashed during filming. But once that’s done, then what do we do?

I guess people will build greenhouses and grow food. I won’t be on that crew because I can’t even grow mold. Others will install solar panels. Solar companies are already training door-to-door salesmen for the Mars market.

ai-artificial-intelligence-astronomy-73910There will be a team working on communications so we can keep up with our favorite Netflix shows and hopefully someone will open a really good Mexican restaurant.

Space enthusiasts have wanted off-Earth colonization for decades. There’s been discussion about creating a city on the moon, but scientists feared people would treat it like a giant bounce-house and not get anything accomplished. Plus, one day on the moon is equal to one month on Earth. And you thought an 8-hour workday was bad.

Venus was never an option. With skin-melting temperatures, acid rain and a super-dense atmosphere, Venus was too much like Alabama in August. However, nights on Venus can last up to 120 days. Maybe then I could actually get eight hours of sleep.

So, Mars it is.

What if once we get settled, we find a prehistoric Statue of Liberty, buried in the red clay? We’ll discover that billions of years ago, people left Mars to travel to Earth because idiots were destroying the Red Planet. Like one of those giant leaps for mankind, only backwards.

There’s no chance of me relocating to another planet. But I can still stare at the stars and watch Mars twinkle in the distance. I just hope it’s not flat like Earth.

 

Rockin’ Around the Real Christmas Tree

Now that we’re almost empty nesters, my husband tentatively suggested that we destroy Christmas. We were cuddling in front of the TV when he whispered, “Do you think it’s time we invested in a fake tree?”

“No.”

“But a real tree stresses you out each year.”

“That’s not stress, it’s the Christmas spirit,” I replied.

“I didn’t know the Christmas spirit was so grouchy.”

DSC_0798A real Christmas tree has always been the center of my holiday decorating. Growing up, we’d hang stockings, put out Advent calendars and display nativity scenes, but the season didn’t officially start until the tree was plunked into a bucket of boiling Mountain Dew. We had the only caffeine-addicted tree on the street.

After dad strung the lights and went to hide in his bedroom, we’d attack the tree like a whirling tornado, fighting over who got to hang favorite ornaments. Once we were in bed, mom and dad would re-decorate and hang tinsel, one silvery strand at a time, on every branch.

I’ve carried on that tradition (minus the tinsel that would cling to our clothes) to create our own perfect Christmas tree.

Our holiday tree has never been a symbol of opulence. We’ve never had a Winter Wonderland tree with white fluffy reindeer frolicking through snowy silk ribbons, dangling with sparkly Swarovski crystals and silver-sequined snowflakes.

Instead, our tree’s branches are weighed down by homemade angels with ratted-out hair and lopsided halos, clothespin reindeer tangled around hand-beaded wreaths, and South Park characters rubbing shoulders with the baby Jesus.

Decades of school photo ornaments hang amid the evergreen boughs, detailing years of missing teeth, questionable hairstyles and teenage angst. And loved ones who have passed away are remembered with ornaments ranging from dancing shoes to teardrop prisms.

Put together, it’s an explosion of bad taste that would make Martha Stewart cry. But it’s not just a Christmas tree—it’s a family tree representing years of holiday memories.

The finished product is only half of the story. Finding the perfect Christmas tree is a tradition/catastrophe I anticipate/loathe every December. Hence my husband’s misguided “fake tree” suggestion. He just doesn’t understand that a plastic tree is a soulless imitation of holiday beauty, and the first step to anarchy.

Each year, I schedule a day to pick out a tree, and without fail it’s the coldest, snowiest, iciest weekend of the month. My youngest daughter tags along to make sure I get it right, and to help hold the tree on top of the car once the loosely-tied knots start to unravel–much like my mind.

We scour tree lots, looking for an evergreen that is devoid of bare spots, more alive than dead, and not full of spiders. (Don’t ask. It’s a horrible holiday memory.) We also try to avoid tree lots managed by the town drunk. (That’s another Christmas/horror saga involving a leering, inebriated tree salesperson with a chain saw.)

pig angelOnce the tree arrives safely home, we discover the 10-foot tree won’t fit into our 8-foot living room. We attack it with dull handsaws and scissors until it fits, and then, in a flurry of Christmas chaos, we adorn it with lights and ornaments, and top it with a rickety angel, balanced precariously on the highest branch.

When the dust settles, we’ll snuggle by the tree, watching Christmas lights twinkle while the snow softly falls. It’s the epitome of holiday perfection. Until my husband whispers, “What do you think about having Christmas dinner at Village Inn?”

Could be a long, cold winter in our home.

Have Yourself an Eco-Friendly Christmas

It turns out that some scientists think we’re headed for a mass extinction. Merry Christmas!

chimney-exhaust-gases-factory-60575I guess our greedy attitude about the world’s resources is taking its toll on the oceans, rain forests, various ecosystems and the ability for celebrities to own a different fur coat for every day of the week.

In order to reverse this Christmatasrophe, we need to change our crappy behavior. I’ve put together some new holiday rules that might just save the planet. (You can thank me later.)

  • Due to the inversion, chestnuts can no longer be roasted on an open fire. Chestnuts can instead be microwaved and then sprayed with a chemical-free Roasting Chestnut air freshener.
  • In accordance with PETA guidelines, reindeers will not be allowed to fly for 24 hours without a bathroom or smoke break.
  • Naughty children will no longer receive lumps of coal, but will instead be given a stocking full of organic Brussel sprouts. (Much worse than coal.)
  • Colorful Christmas packages can only be wrapped in old newspaper, making them neither colorful nor timely.
  • Thanks to global warming, dreaming of a White Christmas is no longer allowed.
  • No Christmas trees can be displayed unless they’re made from reclaimed barn wood.
  • With the rapid rise in STDs, mistletoe can no longer be hung at office parties. (All other unacceptable behavior has been canceled.)
  • Christmas carolers can only go door-to-door with the proper permits and background checks.
  • The phrase, “Let your heart be light” only applies if your heart is powered by solar panels.
  • Because of the increasing number of people with diabetes, cookies for Santa are no longer allowed.
  • No family can send out Christmas newsletters. (Not to save the planet. I just don’t want to read them.)
  • Due to the melting of the polar ice caps, Santa’s workshop is being relocated to Canada.

While these changes are great, it’s not just our harmful environmental attitudes that need a holiday makeover.

Unregulated capitalism in America has created a society of materialistic little buggers (i.e. teenagers) who are never content. Cutting back on holiday extravagance could remind your family the importance of the season. As Thoreau once said, “Simplify, simplify.” (Although you’d think he could have said it once.)

You can tell your kids you’re trying to save money or you can tell your kids that Putin has “annexed” the North Pole and put a sanction on gifts made in Kris Kringle’s workshop. Whatever works.

Decorate your home with nature. Pine cones, dried leaves, artfully arranged twigs and fresh pine boughs (cut from your neighbor’s tree) can add a beautiful touch to a mantel or centerpiece. I went in my backyard to find some nature but only discovered little piles of Christmas spirit left for me by my dog.

For Christmas dinner, whip up a delicious batch of grass fed, locally-grown, free range sweet potatoes. Forgo the annual ham or turkey and try a fresh holiday green salad. (Don’t cook reindeer burgers, unless you want PETA to jump out from behind your couch and smack it out of your hand.) You could even give your guests a paper bag full of food scraps as a Start Your Own Compost Kit.

abandoned-abandoned-building-building-938044Then, on Christmas morning, while you’re sitting with your family amidst piles of gifts made from recycled soda cans, old socks and discarded toilet paper rolls, you can bask in the warmth of an eco-friendly Christmas. Or, according to scientists, it might be the warmth of poisonous gases trapped in the earth’s atmosphere. Happy holidays.

O Tidings of Comfort Annoy

blur-business-card-211290Now that Facebook has become a year-round newsletter, packed with enough posts to make us feel miserable all year long, can we finally call it quits on those dreadful holiday letters?

I understand a family newsletter can be a highlight of the season, recapping all your adventures with witty repartee and candy cane clip art, but to many people, this bragalicious tradition is lemon juice in the paper cuts of life. Reading about how you cured black lung disease or saved an endangered species makes others’ successes look like table scraps.

My newsletter would go something like this, “Dear family and friends, I did not get arrested this year. Happy New Year! Love, Peri.” (Disclaimer: The year’s not over yet.)

So, first of all, don’t write a Christmas letter. However, if you feel you must write an annual message or your life won’t be complete, here are tips to make it bearable for friends and family.

Let your children do the writing. I would LOVE getting a Christmas message that read, “Mom cries in the bathroom and tells us to eat Froot Loops for dinner. Dad has a special ‘drinking mug’ in his garage. Aunt Ethel spent Thanksgiving in the county jail for walking streets. Happy Holidays!”

Use your letter as a weapon. A Christmas newsletter can encourage friendly competition amongst your offspring. Announce who had the most As, the best-cleaned room or who peed the bed the least amount of times. Be sure to embarrass the *&%$ out of them so they’ll be on their best behavior next year.

Create an acronym. For instance, NOEL can be Notice Our Exceptional Lives or No One Enjoys Letters.

Quote Quiz. Choose the funniest quotes said by your family during the year and have your readers guess who said it.

January–“Who left the %&@* lights on?!”

February—“Is there a reason there are a dozen shoes by the back door?”

March—“Who left the %&@* lights on again?”

Write from your pet’s perspective. “This is Peri’s dog, Ringo. I was taken to the vet three times this year and had to get shots. She forgot to give me a treat twice last week, even after I sat under her feet for three consecutive episodes of Westworld. She also didn’t pet me long enough after she got home from work, but she gave me a steak bone, so all’s forgiven.”card-celebration-christmas-1652103

Share a family recipe. If people ask for your sugar cookie recipe, put it in your Christmas newsletter. But don’t be like my neighbor who leaves out key ingredients so my cookies never taste quite the same as hers. Not cool.

Don’t recount Family Disasters 2016. Your water heater broke, your car died in the desert, you have rats in the basement and bats in your belfry. You lost several jobs, were abducted by aliens and SWAT kicked in your door at 3 a.m. Newsletters are not catastrophe competitions. Next!

Don’t brag. For every straight-A accomplishment, for every award-winning dance competition and for every higher-salary promotion you exclaim over, your letter will be read by a man with kids struggling in school, a daughter with no noticeable rhythm and a woman in a dead-end, mind-numbing job. Take it down a notch, will ya?

Even better, since I never receive mail anymore (except for Hickory Farm catalogs and postcards from mortgage companies), maybe save all your glowing updates for Facebook and Instagram where you can gush all you’d like. You can even add clip art.