Thursday, March 21, 2013

Albertson's & Hasbro Bros: Not a Match Made in Heaven

Dear Albertsons,

We love your store. We love the convenience of your local Carrollton store (#4269). Even my kids, ages one and three, love your store. At just under a mile from our home, we sometimes make a fun afternoon of grocery shopping, pulling the kids’ Little Tykes wagon up the hill to our neighborhood store, the kids riding in your police car shopping cart while we run down our grocery list, collecting fun stickers from your tireless and good-humored cashiers, and then coasting our wagon back down the hill to go home.

The grocery manager – I believe that’s his position – is always present, friendly, and helpful throughout the store. It doesn’t matter if we’re shopping on a weekday morning or a Sunday afternoon, he’s always there, making sure the shelves are in order, checking to see that we’ve found what we need, and letting me know about that week’s specials.

Your cashiers can get my kids to smile, especially in that crisis moment when my cart goes one way to get loaded, and I go the other to pay the bill. Call it overly ambitious attachment parenting, but my kids always freak out. If I were a cashier, I’d wear earplugs, roll my eyes, and tell their mom to shop faster, so her kids weren’t worn out by the end. The cashiers at #4269 pass out stickers, and my kids put them on like a badge of honor: they’ve survived another grocery shopping trip.

For their part, the courtesy clerks push the cart of panicked kids around to my side of the counter, and then cheerfully go out of their way to load our bagged groceries. And someone always offers to help us to the car.

So we love your store.

But here’s the deal: we hate your Monopoly game.

Sure it looks fun, the store decorated with Hasbro Bros memorabilia, bonus ticket opportunities everywhere you look. We picked up three game boards in anticipation of our multiplicitous game tickets (our monthly grocery budget is second only to our mortgage), and we even set up a special side table in our kitchen to help organize the games.

Somehow, Albertsons has managed to suck all of the fun out of my favorite childhood game, and instead stirred up forgotten memories of throwing the board in protest when I found my older brother, appointed banker, was secretly “borrowing” from the bank.

Through an awful combination of over-complication, circuitous ticketing, and misnomer “prizes,” Albertsons has created this terrible, long-term, addictive experience, colored it a popular American past-time, and called it a “game.”

There’s the tickets: a folding, a tearing, a folding, a tearing, a peeling, tearing, tearing, tearing, and in the end, so many little pieces of trash. My three-year-old with a glue stick could create a secure game piece that’s easier to open. (That's not true. He'd have to be some kind of creative genius. But I bet your marketing people could.) When we finally get the tiny ticket apart, we separate all the little pieces magically contained therein:

-      Coupons. (25 cents off of whipped cream? How about coupons for the stuff we really need? Free milk! Free bread! I guess those would qualify as “prizes.”)

-      Bonus Monopoly Tickets. (The opportunity to go through this ticket-opening process two more times?)

-      Online game codes. (Oooh, thousands of prizes from online codes! Wait, two more losing tickets is considered a prize? I feel like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, after he joined Little Orphan Annie’s idealistic posse, only to find her coded secret message was just a marketing scheme: “Drink more Ovaltine?!”)

-      Actual Monopoly pieces. (To be licked and pressed down. I miss the old lick-and-stick postage stamps. I’m sure we all did. Thanks for bringing this back.)

There’s the board. Oh the board. It’s not a square track, like the traditional game, just pages and pages of small print and groceries. In our overwhelmed state of mind, when we first opened the board, my husband exclaimed, “There are letters, it must be alphabetical!” Nope. Perhaps Mapquest could create a special “Albertsons Monopoly” link, to help locate where all these little pieces go.

There’s the prizes, those elusive prizes. We have three game boards, each with 26 almost-monopolies. Each potential monopoly is missing that one winning piece that’s probably at the bottom of someone’s grocery sack, destined for a dumpster. I wonder, as any sore loser does, for all the 15,658,995 prizes available (including “2 Bonus Game Tickets” as the most popular “prize” available), how many of these prizes are actually claimed?

Nobody enjoys grocery shopping. I think my kids and I do a pretty good job of making it a good time. But seriously, it’s a chore of necessity, not luxury. So when the kids are finally in bed at the end of the day, and the house is clean, and the family’s ready for tomorrow (right, it’s an ideal not a system), the last thing I can handle is the rocket science of Albertson’s Monopoly game.  

I wish I could walk away. But the same gene that makes me categorize my grocery lists by Albertsons aisle, and hyper-organize my coupons, prevents me from willingly leaving a task undone. I might lose, and it might kill me, but I will play this damn Monopoly game until it’s over.

My therapist is working with me not to rant, without positive affirmation (see first five paragraphs) and constructive criticism, so please consider these suggestions for next year’s Monopoly game:

-      Play for a shorter season (or a longer season punctuated by more winning, something besides more playing tickets).

-      Increase the odds of winning (something besides more playing tickets).

-      Adjust the ratio of large, awesome prizes, and small, accessible prizes. (I would be THRILLED to win a free gallon of milk.)

-      Design simpler board games.

-      Create tickets with easier access, such as a pull tab.

Also, if you’ve made it this far in my letter, here’s the gold nugget that could be a game-changer for grocery stores in America, led by the Midwest rising star of Albertsons Market: create the perfect shopping list. In the same display where we pick up your weekly ads, have a simple, check-marked shopping list, with all the grocery staples, listed with aisle number. (Please don’t ask the same marketing company that designs your labyrinth Monopoly board to create this shopping list.) Mothers across America would bless you. And so would your cashiers, for getting those mothers and their whiny children through your store faster.

Thanks for hearing me out.

Friday, March 15, 2013

7 Quick Takes: In Which Grammar Dies and The Bus Has Poop (Vol. 4)

1. On Potty Training

How does potty training even happen? We don't know what we're doing. He doesn't know what he's doing. And if someone did a word chart of popular words in our house right now, it would look like this:

2. In Memoriam: Grammar

Did you know March 4th was National Grammar Day? I know, I missed it too. But it didn't stop me from taking a patriotic pause, three days late, to honor the memory of grammar in America. Remember when spelling was a subject in school, and people took the effort to write out TTYL, SMH, and WTH?  

3. WTH???? 

Sexual abuse is discovered after a young girl gets pregnant, and doctors respond by giving her a contraceptive implant. This girl doesn't need contraception; she needs to be protected from her pedophile step-father! Instead of putting an IV of artificial hormones into a 12-year-old, they should castrate the guy who did this to her.

4. On Fashion
I like to wear socks with high heels. But only if I know my skirt or pants are long enough to cover where the socks meet my leg. Maybe people will think, "Oh that girl's so fashionable with her opaque patterned tights," instead of, "OMG, she's wearing argyle ankle socks with heels in a skirt." Apparently my fashion sense is now affecting our three-year-old. 
Brown pants with blue socks with black shoes. 'Cuz that's how we roll.
5. On Elevator Abuse

6. On Parenthood, Dreams, and Fear

I thought I was ready for marriage and kids, but who can ever really be "ready"? Lately I've wondered if the unfinished business of my pre-family dreams will slowly dissipate from my thoughts, lurk around until I die, or circle back in some way. This new season, onset four years ago by insistent pink plus signs on successive, confounded pregnancy tests, brings fear, so much fear. And a roaring courage.

7.  The Wheels On The Bus

My 3-year-old has learned to make up new verses to this over-sung classic. The latest and most popular verse? "The poop on the bus goes 'poop, poop, poop,' 'poop, poop, poop,' 'poop, poop, poop.' The poop on the bus goes 'poop, poop, poop.' Aaaall through the toooooown." Obviously he has terrible parents. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A New Pope Allays The Side Effects of Electric Shock

I've been a little off lately. Zoned out, overwhelmed, more compulsive (than usual), and as I unloaded on my husband just yesterday, "on the brink of insanity."

My mom blames it on the time change. It's a tribute to our reigning bureaucracy that in a country whose agrarian prime peaked a century ago, we still celebrate the equivalent of a biannual electric shock in observance of daylight savings.

No, seriously, the minor side effects of electric shock describe exactly how daylight savings time makes me feel. 
But yesterday, I noticed a change, shortly before Rome, and then the world, started echoing with "Habemus Papam!" 

I don't know what sheep do without a shepherd. I can only imagine it's something like how my dog acts when I'm gone for too long: she's unsettled, can't sleep, paces from room to room, little disturbances make her startle, her world isn't right.

And that's just how I've been feeling lately.

Yes, we have THE Good Shepherd, like in The 23rd Psalm. But Jesus must have known we'd be pretty lost without an actual, physical shepherd here on earth, to care for, feed, and nourish us. Because He asked the fallible, impulsive Peter to do just this, followed by 266 others over the past 2000 years.

Without the vicar of Christ on earth, the prowling lion just feels more threatening.

Welcome Pope Francis!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Intervention: Quit Being A Jerk On The Elevator

I swore to myself when I discovered the express elevator trick that I would only use it as WikiHow instructed: for a good reason.

But I can't help myself.
The express elevator trick is pressing a combination of buttons when you enter the elevator that lets you go directly to the floor you need, without having to stop at every freakin' floor on the way.

Being on an express elevator is just so gloriously wonderful that I want to use it ALL THE TIME!

It started as a way to shoot up to the top floor, just if I'm running late.

Then it became a way to pick up mail in the lobby, without leaving my desk for too long. (It's not for my convenience. It's for my coworkers. It's for the good of the company!)

But now I use it to get to the snack machine faster. I use it to avoid awkward elevator conversation. I use it to bypass all the people on floors 2 - 23 who are also trying to leave work at exactly 5:30 PM, crowding my elevator and forcing an 8-second stop at every single freakin' floor when I just want to get to my car and sit in traffic already!

So, yes, I'm out of control. I am misusing this wonderful gift of the express elevator override.

I need some kind of NFP program for express elevators (and Facebook and cheddar cheese popcorn), something that can help me enjoy the opportunity presented by the express elevator override, without taking it for granted, putting my own needs before others, or using it just because I've gotten used to using it.

And who knows, maybe that kind of program would be good for my marriage too...

Or maybe it wouldn't.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

On Fear and Parenthood

This new season, onset four years ago by insistent pink plus signs on successive, confounded pregnancy tests, brings fear, so much fear. And a roaring courage.
I knew there was an irreversible clause in the choice to be a family. But the far-off places I'd wondered for myself were a painful, sudden loss in the intimate, nine-month fascination of new life growing inside me. 

I wondered if his new life would snuff out the little life I'd made for myself. Magazines and websites echoed warring cries of motherhood: the martyrs who can't clean up one mess before another explodes versus the entrepreneurs who use maternity leave as a launchpad for their successful new businesses. I didn't really want to be either.

Even now, with my sweet dreams of motherhood broken in by vomit and incessant neediness, fears of more vomit and more neediness are slowly allayed by quiet lullabies, whispered affections -- "I love you, Mama" -- encircled arms where everyone is safe. 

Floating back to the surface are new dreams on old themes, nearly forgotten. Trolling through endless sleepless days of babies has been good for them. They're clearer, more hopeful, more daring, than the guarded ambitions of a woman unfettered by love, family, Sacraments.

The lovely reflection of a composed, confident woman I'd labored to create over a lifetime of 29 short years, shattered unexpectedly in the labor proclamations of a new baby. And the mirror's yet to bring back that shiny, wise woman with her box of every answer and one-size-fits-all God.

It turns out my Savior isn't an XXL tee that "fits all," but gets sorted to the Goodwill pile without any use. He refuses escape to lofty heavens and wishing wells, insisting instead to come calmly beside me in the storm. And me, too simple, too naive, to stay safely onboard, I hold his gaze and step out

Friday, March 8, 2013

A Working Mom Grasps To Define "Rest" (A Throwback to 2010)

I scrawled this out in half-sentence intervals back in the days of being all things to all people, working outside the home full-time, pumping breastmilk in a tech room closet on my lunch breaks, and generally deteriorating into a striving puddle of hot mess while possibly fooling no one that I wasn't all that pulled together. I still feel the subtext soaking through as I re-read it, and the irony's not lost on me:
I am a master multi-tasker. My to-do list has to-do lists. I go insane, constantly recalculating the priority level of everything on the list, shifting items up and down to fill any unexpected 30-second gap that somehow slips into my day.
I don’t need coffee to shift into ADHD overdrive. But I drink it anyway.
Then I become a task-oriented superhero of completion. And it's usually at this point that I slam my shin into the open door of a half-unloaded dishwasher, on my way to add one more onesie to the last seconds before rinse cycle, while the Hamburger Helper begins splattering across the stove, and the microwave beeps at one-minute intervals to remove the sterilized bottles.
My world's become a machine of daily routine, and I leave waves of confused order in my wake, ending each day in exhaustion and wondering if this is really the life God has for me.
St Augustine wrote about finding rest, after pursuing it unsuccessfully for several decades of his life.
“You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
There is a rest that comes in the midst of us, just as Christ Himself came among us, not to clear sinners from the face of the earth, but to show us the way of salvation through it all, a way remarkably marked, by rest.
"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest."
Rest doesn't obliterate busy days or guarantee full nights of uninterrupted sleep.
(I can only look upon our baby son with gratitude, that God could have the audacity to surprise our striving lives with a living, breathing call to rest. For once, there is a cry important enough to put down a half-washed dish or let pasta boil past al dente.)
The kind of rest that's available is the peace of knowing that in any given moment I am doing exactly as God would have me to do, which incidentally, rarely lines up with my list of planned accomplishments for a day.
I have this vision of arriving before our God in heaven, with my checked-off to-do list trailing like a train of toilet paper from my shoe. And God saying to me, as He said to Martha, as He's said to every generation between us: "You have worried and been distracted by many things. There is need of only one thing."

'Martha and Mary' by Nathan Greene

7 Quick Takes: In Which I Don't Workout and We Have A New Pope (Vol. 3)

1. On Surprise Fridays

Every time Jen's 7 Quick Takes Friday blog comes up in my Google Reader feed, I think, "Oh, she's posting early this week!" And then I realize, no, it's actually Friday. When I was working full-time, I never missed a Friday. I knew by Wednesday that Friday was coming, and just kind of held on tight until it arrived.

2. On Fixing Washing Machines

Hair Rubberband + Zip Tie = Call me up, MacGuyver. Yes, I'll join your team. Hopefully it holds. Or we could have a serious mess on our hands.

3. On Sequestration

The inability of Congress to reach consensus and avoid sequestration surprises me. Perhaps I'm too idealistic an American. But now I'm beginning to think, if we could run our marriages like we do our government, there would be no more divorce! And not at the expense of miserable people stuck together for life, but just happy people all living together in bliss, inspired by the success of our two-party political system.

4. On Lent 

I hit that point in Lent when the sacrifice is no longer novel and the motive of self-improvement is no longer motivating. But luckily, that's not what it's supposed to be about anyway! So this is the point where I give up on me, God doesn't give up on me, and we can finally start getting somewhere. Ah, grace. 

5. On Working Out

I don't work out. Unless you count miles of walking a day, not for the sake of exercise, but just to drain the energy out of my boys, so they take coinciding naps and go to bed early. Yes, fresh air and exercise and seeing the world are great, and we have some fun adventures. But I just keep my eyes on the prize: nap time and bed time. My husband, however, has been showing some real initiative on the workout front. We tried to do a workout regiment after our youngest son was born, but I quit after a week. (Why would I workout and get all exhausted, if my kids weren't getting exhausted too? Eyes on the Prize!) So Wally gets home from work around midnight, sometimes later, and is getting up first thing in the morning to do this insane work out. It's so insane that it's actually called Insanity. Usually workout videos have happy, beautiful people totally oblivious to the fact that their at-home audience is probably dying. Not Insanity. The video opens with everyone smiling and slapping high fives, but as soon as the warm-up begins, they start dropping like flies.

6. On the New Pope
"He's from New York. I think he'll be great."
7. On Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman

After calming down my 18-month-old at 4:30 in the morning, I suddenly had to find out what happened to the original Colleen on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Something I've been meaning to do for 20 years.

Erika Flores: no gossip here, just focusing on school!

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Catholic Fluke

I'm not sure how I ended up Catholic. Especially when I look at all the sincere, holy, loving Protestants in my circle of friends and family who would LOVE the Catholic Church, if they looked too closely (careful!). I can only think it was a fluke.

I wasn't looking for a change: completely content with my Denton Bible Church friends, in a wonderful small group, on the register for the greeting ministry, choreographing for the dance ministry, always asking friends to join me at church events, and I felt the closest I ever had to Jesus.

But of course I felt close to Jesus. The faith that believes He is God-Incarnate-Crucified-And-Resurrected-From-The-Dead was easy in my sector of the world. Most of my friends were Christians, the small group meetings were dynamic, the large group events were entertaining, the leaders were inspiring, the people were welcoming.

Perfectly content, an awesome Protestant life scripted out for me, and then God shakes it all up when He opens a window to Catholicism. Why let me glimpse in?

There are so many people who are truly deep, intellectual, spiritual, and wise, and there are so many breath-taking conversion stories: Francis Beckwith, (current) Baylor professor and (former) president of the Evangelical Theological Society; G.K. Chesterton, one of the 20th century's most renowned writers; Tony Blair, who waited until the completion of his term as prime minister of England; T.S. Eliot, another literary convert; Dave Brubeck, a jazz musician who found the Church through music...

Of all the Protestants who would overflow with love for the Church we weren't aware Jesus built, somehow, I get pulled in. And the impetus wasn't a profound intellectual, spiritual, musical, literary event; I was just a Protestant girl dating a Catholic guy (after some serious discernment whether he could be both Catholic and Christian).

So why me? I'm still surprised to be here. 

In a call-out to "The Office" -- a show that used to be oh-so funny and now just refuses to die -- the bumbling accountant shares a surprising insight when his team of losers wins trivia night (despite being the coworker whose work has to be double-checked at the end of each day):

"Look, I know it's easy to say tonight was just a fluke, and maybe it was. But here's a piece of trivia: A fluke is one of the most common fish in the sea. So if you go fishing for a fluke, chances are... you just might catch one."

I feel like God let me slip in a side door, since my arrival in the Catholic Church was more a stumbling than a pursuit, and that kind of entrance hardly seems worthy of something so beautiful. But then again, St. Paul did say Christ crucified would be a stumbling block for many.  

"23...but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” - 1 Corinthians 1

Saturday, March 2, 2013

How The American Government Saved My Marriage

The other week, I'm about to check out at Walmart -- because once again, I'm the one with all the kids, grocery shopping -- and I see this little kit in one of those last-minute bins by the checkout. It's called a D2PS, and it's on clearance.

At first I had serious buyer's regret. It was such an impulse buy, and we are On. A. Budget. But to be honest, it's saved our marriage.

The D2PS from the clearance bin at Walmart turns out to be a Domestic 2-Party System, a household-scale model of our national political system.  

Upon further research, I find out this is a little known requisition of the Affordable Care Act, a new government program created to address the declining mental health of married Americans.

Everyone can get what they want!
There's this idea in marriage that the relationship strengthens when you work through issues. But that's just so tedious! No wonder so many couples can't make it! 

The longer Wally and I use the D2PS, the more we realize that reaching consensus is not only overrated, but completely unnecessary. Why stress about relationship problems, when you can just ignore them, and keep doing things your own way?

We also used to have real issues with money, but no more! Since we jumped over to the D2PS, spending has not even been a problem. We can save toward our 401(k) AND take semi-annual international family vacations!

Sound too good to be true? Surprisingly, it's not.  

The Domestic 2-Party System has an unusual and very popular approach: it's a generational gift. When purchased by any family member, it automatically becomes the system of the entire family. Any excesses in spending that the couple can't catch up with before that inevitable "death do them part" are automatically rolled over to their children's accounts. 

No kids in the picture? No problem! Through some very careful calculations, the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance concluded that distributing any compensatory spending across all households in the country would be only a few cents per person. No one will even notice! 

And thankfully, if that math doesn't work, the 2-party system lets both sides blame each other through endless future generations, with no need to reach any resolution at all!

It's not the first time a successful government system has been translated to rave popularity among average Americans. I  recently wrote about another helpful household tool, the Government Block of Time [G-BOT], which transforms deadlines into unlimited leisure

The D2PS comes with a game guide, similar to something you'd see out of a Cranium or Apples-to-Apples box. It includes weekly debates, household polls, and committee lunches, but really, they're non-essentials to the success of a 2-Party System.

For Wally and me, there's no going back to the days of lengthy discussion or respectful disagreement.  

And never again will we send a Bed, Bath, & Beyond gift card with all our best wishes to newlyweds!

Every couple on our list will be receiving the D2PS, and a guaranteed lifetime of bliss.

Thank you, American Government.