Chocolate toothpaste targets sweet teeth

Back in January, an item in Bloomberg Businessweek caught my attention: chocolate toothpaste. Maybe because I needed to write “toothpaste” on my grocery list, or maybe because tooth-brushing remains an ongoing battle between me and my children. I see it as a big deal while they see as a big pain my harping about brushing.

I refuse to give up on encouraging better dental hygiene; however, I have far better things to do than post myself as dental sentry outside the bathroom after meals. I will be glad when they are old enough to become romantically involved with a someone who can take over my post on the plaque and breath brigade.

My fondest fantasy is to be a wall-adhered fly when the object of my son’s affection suddenly refuses to kiss him, complaining, “Dude, have you been eating dog poop?” or something similarly offensive regarding his rank breath. Hopefully that line comes from someone who tends to tell everyone everything. Having his abysmal oral hygiene outed might do my son some good in the long run. Or at least delay his denture adventure years.

Thank goodness those Proctor & Gamble (P & G) folks cited by Bloomberg reporter Kyle Stock have paired a great habit with a great flavor and come up with a sure-fire solution to the social ills of rotting teeth and rancid breath. There’s chocolate-flavored everything else, so why not toothpaste? I’m sure there’s a market for it. Just not with me.Chocolate toothpaste

I’m not big on chocolate. Oh, it’s okay, but what’s the point in eating or brushing with something that’s likely highly-caloric when it warrants only an “okay” within your ranking system? I’m not certain of the number of calories in chocolate toothpaste. Didn’t notice. Perhaps I was too busy quelling my revulsion at the three new chocolate-centric flavors P & G introduced: Mint Chocolate Trek, Lime Spearmint Zest and Vanilla Mint Spark.

Again, while I cannot declare this a case of my somewhat conservative, jaded opinions dipping into over-reactivity, where the heck did they come up with those flavors?! Hopefully it wasn’t while rolling and smoking the spearmint leaves.

What about Lime Spearmint Zest? That’s about as ambivalent a flavor as you could conceive. There’s a reason limes don’t grow in the same climate that produces spearmint. And then comes Vanilla Mint Spark, which smacks of people-pleasing – something for everyone. Neither vanilla nor mint has much of a kick, so the spark part of the equation had better get busy and bring the other two flavors along, to somewhere further along the dental health road less-travelled.

Revolting taste issues aside, another potential downside to the new chocolate toothpaste is if it goes the way of Dairy Queen treats, other companies will want to get into the action and candy bar flavors of toothpaste will flood the market: “Real Reese’s Pieces in every tube!” Chunks of actual candy will get stuck in teeth, which, of course, will necessitate brushing with some other, more neutral toothpaste. The solution will beget yet another problem.

I can’t rule out the non-preventive arm of the National Denture Designers Council is a silent partner in this chocolate-flavored toothpaste coup, seeing as how its membership stands to directly benefit from the fallout, literally when people’s teeth start to fall out. They may be realizing gains on both sides of the market by investing in P & G chocolate toothpaste stock. Faster than you can say “vicious cycle.”

“Chocolate toothpaste is squarely aimed at winning new customers. Maybe it can shake up the toothpaste market the way P & G’s Swiffer swept up mop sales or its Tide detergent ‘pods’ have been cleaning up in the laundry category,” wrote Stock.

My suggestion is for P & G to piggyback on those two successful ideas and develop a Swiffer toothbrush with the same cleaning potential. Why not create some time-released Tide dental detergent pods that would save the bother of squeezing out just the right amount of toothpaste? Pop one in your mouth and call it good.

Who needs chocolate when you can wash out your kids’ mouths with soap? My mom was way ahead of the curve on this one!

Musical last rites played for death row pianos

Five society throw-away pianos were lined up on death row at the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store. I conferred Last Rites by playing them each again, to assure them they were still loved.

Five of society’s throw-away pianos were lined up on death row at the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store. I conferred last rites by playing them each again, to assure them they were still loved. I hope they end up going to a good home and not some unsavory end.

One of my favorite haunts along the used store beat is the local Habitat for Humanity Re-Store, where donated building materials, household items and tools are sold to raise money to support the organization’s mission. You never know what you’re in store for at the Re-Store. Nowhere is the adage more true, that one man’s junk is another’s treasure. Note also, sometimes it’s universally agreed that junk is junk.

Most of the time, I don’t buy anything. But I’ve found stuff-watching to be nearly as entertaining as people-watching. And this is coming from a compulsive people-watcher. I find old stuff, even the really bad stuff useful in that it makes me think. Sometimes, those thoughts amount to, “What could the designer of that have been thinking?!” And I silently conclude that he/she obviously hadn’t been.

My children, when they are with me, have picked up my bad habit of examining objects and making judgmental pronouncements aloud, including, but not limited to “Good concept, but poor execution” and “Here’s evidence that upholsterers do more drugs than previously suspected” or “I certainly hope they fired the idiot who thought that color of paint might actually match the interior of anyone’s house.”

If you followed our family around the Habitat Re-Store, you would conclude we are fairly discerning when it comes to evaluating and purchasing used store items. This is a crucial skill for second-hand shoppers. Nothing ruins an assumed “great deal” more than later at home discovering the zipper on the jacket won’t run up the entire track, the track lights are not evenly spaced, or the space key is missing on the antique typewriter you bought for decoration.

Sometimes, I go to second-hand stores just to look because the items I find create a wave of nostalgia for simpler, albeit gaudier times. The vintage goods (and bads) remind me of proms past, math tests passed, and products made to last. Say that three times fast! It’s comforting to be among past-their-prime items; they remind me that at least duct tape is not my final solution.

While it’s nice people think to donate things for charity sale, some of their donations should have been made curbside and gone directly into the trash. I mean, really, are there people who enjoy drinking from a glass with a large, jagged piece missing from the rim? And damaged, hand-painted Christmas ornaments should be used to decorate one’s own garbage bin, not a stranger’s Christmas tree, no matter how economically unfortunate the stranger.

But somehow, I feel different with the five “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree” equivalent pianos I saw lined up just inside of the door at Habitat’s Re-Store. Too big to be thrown into the trash, they were sent to silently await their fate at the hands of a disinterested public. I felt moved to make them feel alive again. Or at least I could dispense last rites.

Seating myself at the amazingly well-preserved walnut bench of a leather-accented, spinet version of the 1940s Wurlitzer I grew up playing, I became a musical sister Helen Prejean. I presumed and indulged that piano’s silent “Dead Man Walking” request by whipping out and playing from a book of hymns I had brought just for the occasion. Someone needed to honor this aging veteran of music lessons and family sing-a-longs in its final hours. I doubted anyone would be saving Private Ryan’s piano.

By the sound of things, this one was beyond rescue. Not so for the neighboring huge, dark Grinnell Brothers upright that sang with stout-hearted cheer under my fingertips. Although senior statesman among the group, it had maintained its composure and much of its last tuning. It deserved far better than the bright orange $24.99 price tag that adorned its cabinet: a cozy home and a real family to love it.

I couldn’t imagine an offense great enough that got it sent to death row. As a further indignity, someone had taped to it a Pinterest page showing how to convert an old, scrap piano into a backyard fountain. I turned my head away in dismay. I have no trouble watching the local cable channel’s “adopt a dog that’s slated for euthanasia” pleas, but the destruction of a should-be-loved musical instrument? Well, that’s criminal.

Driven to distraction results in car kick-out

On my way to work, traffic began to slow a bit. I could see some white lights flashing. Instinctively, I knew it couldn’t be a pothole repair crew because . . . well, you know how that goes, or rather doesn’t go. So what was the holdup? Somebody hit a deer? I needed to know. You toy with making me late to work and you owe me an explanation. And it had better be a good one!

As I neared the flashing light vehicle, I noticed a body up ahead of it. Not a deer carcass, but something smaller and more mobile: an animal of the Homo Sapiens variety – a middle school boy, carrying a backpack and running ahead of the car. Hmm. There’s a story there. And no doubt a good one!

I considered pulling over up ahead of the car and getting out to take a photo and a few comments. But the expressions on the faces of the boy and driver, whom I assumed was his mother, told me to mind my own damned business, like they no doubt would have if I’d actually stopped. Neither appeared in the mood for a “media moment” courtesy of me.

So I pretended to myself I wasn’t stopping in order to get to work on time and I also didn’t want to create a secondary traffic hazard, making countless innocent others late to work. Deep down, the truth was I was afraid to deal with a mother who had just ordered her son out of the car on a Monday morning. I’d sooner wrestle a nursing mama Grizzly or a hungry alligator. I know exactly where she fell on the ferocity scale because I have been that mother, after a childhood of having been that boy.

Monday mornings stink. They serve to reinforce how little you got done on your weekend to-do list. After two days of having a little time to yourself, Mondays force you back to doing things on someone else’s to-do list. Granted, that person signs your paycheck, but it’s annoying to swap out slippers for heeled leather shoes just to prove your work ethic worth.

My Sunday goes from the nerve-wracking free-for-all of getting protesting kids out the door in one piece for church, to letting it all hang out during the afternoon, to silently cursing the way that day of unrest picks up momentum after 6 PM, with me frantically trying to accomplish all I had set forth for myself while simultaneously uncovering procrastinated homework and unsigned notes from school.

Looking back, I recognize the real reason my parents served frozen pizza and popcorn on Sunday nights was not due to a special family “Bonanza” watching tradition, but as a sanity-saving measure. With four children with unfinished homework, student papers to grade and cows to milk, the frozen pizza and popcorn was more of a football maneuver: drop back and punt.

I can still feel the cleated foot of my mother’s frustration kicking my butt into Monday morning. No penalty flags for unnecessary roughness; level of force dependent upon the size of the science project I’d been procrastinating.

Barbaric Monday mornings were continuations of a brutal Sunday night, when all that was left undone came crashing down on both perpetrators and unsuspecting victims. The only thing worse than being the sassy one kicked out of the family car was to be the witless witness to yet another Jerry Springer-style vehicular episode.

“I’m sick of your crap! I’m not driving another mile with you in my car. You’re EVIL!” my mother pronounced, slamming on the brakes. “Get out!” And I did. But instead of following me, like the good mother I witnessed following her son, my mother drove off! In retaliation, I hid behind some pine trees so she couldn’t find me when she guiltily returned to the scene of the crime.

When my mother eventually spotted me, I upped the ante by refusing to get back into her car. I made her beg until she cried, like I was doing her a favor. “You’re a terrible parent,” I chastised, back on a roll inside the vehicle. “Ben Cartwright never kicked Little Joe off his horse.”

 

This side of adulthood not very letter-worthy

Being a new teenager isn’t easy. With voices cracking, appetites growing out of control, and hair sprouting everywhere, it often seems more like demonic possession than angelic adolescence on the way to stabilized maturity, as if that pans out to be anything other than a lofty ideal for most of us.

Being the parent of a new teenager isn’t easy, either. In addition to all the other variables I haven’t been on top of for a number of years, I now have to contend with acne anguish, burgeoning grocery bills and surging hormonal behavior that pings between defiant and dependent. If my children ever had empathy for my socio-economic shortcomings, it’s been self-centrically severed, along with their spirit of helpfulness.

Even concepts as basic and predictable as math have left them. It started after my son, Connor, turned 13 last November. As of January 1, that number was verbally converted (by him) as being “almost 14” or “14 later this year,” on the days when he feels optimistic about his future. But often he isn’t.

I am partly to blame for his pessimism. It’s not as if my adult life during my son’s formative years has been something to write home about, unless you like reading tear-stained letters that serve as involuntary Dear Johns to the good life I thought was to be mine. Put into words, my dispatch from this side of adulthood would read something like this:

“Hey kids, I’m having a downright awful time here in the Adulthoodland. It’s no picnic, but more like a drive-thru with unaffordable prices, terrible service and a speaker system that’s on the fritz. They must not hear what I actually ordered because they always give me something else.

“It’s Crazy Town all the time without a weekend pass. Did I mention the other adults here speak a different language? Despite 32 straight years of being exposed to it, I still don’t understand what’s being said a lot of the time. Maybe it’s me and not the speaker system that’s on the fritz.

“Some people ask if I’m on vacation, but that assumes I’m having a good time. It’s more like being on an endless working vacation, with no time to see the sights. In recent years, the only real vacation feel of my adulthood experience has been akin to the airport losing my luggage, donating my wallet and credit cards to an amusement park ride that also made me sick, and having to use the last of my traveler’s checks in place of the missing toilet paper in an overly rustic campground bathroom. Thank God I know better than to drink the water. And it’s getting harder to refuse to drink the Kool-Aid.”

No wonder Connor is ambivalent about growing up. With glowing scouting reports like mine, it’s a wonder he hasn’t gone on a hunger strike and slathered his entire body with Oil of Olay to try and prevent further physiological forward motion.

“I don’t want to have to grow up, mom!” Connor lamented the other day. “Pretty soon I will be old enough to take driver’s training and I already know you won’t agree on the car I want to get.” This is pure conjecture, as it assumes I can afford the payments, insurance and gas for our existing vehicle.

“So just get me a cell phone, instead,” he switched subjects and down-sold. Good debate tactic, son! “That way people can get a hold of me whenever they need to.” Silly boy. Being available for others 24/7 is a bullet to be dodged. Just ask any adult who has to be.

“Why do you REALLY need a cell phone?” I asked.

“Because everyone else has one,” he said.

“Then you should have no trouble borrowing one in an emergency,” I replied.

“But what if I have a car accident while driving alone and need to call,” he countered.

“Someone who is pre-license worried about having a driving accident has no business getting a driver’s license or a car,” I checkmated his argument.

“Aargh,” he groaned. “That’s exactly why I don’t want to grow up. I’d hate to start sounding like some old, miserly fart.” Not as much as I do.

Street sign warns of “Autistic Child Area”

The signs of autism are already obvious enough without a sign to further stigmatize those who may be struggling with stereotypes.

The signs of autism are already obvious enough without a sign to further stigmatize those who display them. So who is this sign really for and what does it actually accomplish?

En route to a speaking engagement in another town in another county last week, I was on the final leg of my journey when I turned down a street and saw a large yellow road sign that startled me: “Autistic Child Area.”

While I am accustomed to signs that say things like “Slow, Children Playing,” or “Deaf Child Area,” I had never before seen a sign urging me to exercise caution behind the wheel because there might be an autistic child lurking about.

Had my intensive work with autistic boys in a residential setting for a two-year period of time (2011-13) desensitized me to the inherent dangers autistic children pose to motorists and vice versa? I’d like to think not. I never felt safer than when I was working with autistic children. Quirky me understood and enjoyed quirky them and we got along famously.

For the unenlightened (and for even some of the enlightened who might appreciate a quick guide to the topic), autism is a neural development disorder distinguished by four characteristics: social interaction difficulties; verbal and non-verbal communication problems; repetitive behaviors; and a markedly narrow range of interests that border on, if not cross over, the threshold into obsession.

I suppose in this case, the caution sign might be there because the autistic child in question had an obsession about the street, or traffic, or particular types of vehicles. But I’d like to think the sign wasn’t erected to warn people they might encounter a child who was oblivious to social cues, had difficulty using expressive language, didn’t understand sarcasm, couldn’t contain his/her arm-flapping, twirling excitability, or who might talk your leg off about something no one really cares about.

Following that logic, we could expect signs to start popping up everywhere, warning of the presence of precocious pre-schoolers and old farts. Maybe this child’s flavor of autism was linked to other, complicating factors, as is frequently the case. There just wasn’t room on a normal-sized sign to mention extreme reactivity to sound, light and tactile sensations, occasional seizures, attention deficit, sleep disturbances and gastrointestinal issues. That would require a billboard.

Curiosity on high alert, I did the only thing someone in my position could have done: I scanned the vicinity for any wayward autistic activity, then, sensing there was no immediate danger, I got out of the car and used my camera to take a photo of the sign, which I immediately texted to the mother of one of my former, autistic students.

Her reaction was both as incredulous and humorous and mine. “I didn’t know they needed a warning label.” She was also as curious as I was about the circumstances. Did the autistic child’s family put up the sign, or did the city in response to neighbor complaints? Had some disturbing incident led to its placement? Now we HAD to know.

We made tentative plans to do some online research for clues about the sign, maybe make a phone call to the municipality where it’s located, and to go back there some warm spring Saturday, stake out the area and try to figure out to which kid the sign pertained. We tee-heed at the possibilities, including what a warning sign might look like for our own children (and ourselves!) before we became more serious.

With a long list of both stereotypical and more individualized autism spectrum disorder symptoms possible, we speculated the “Autistic Child Area” sign might have been put in place simply to make people slow down and recognize they might encounter someone different who repeatedly colors outside of normal lines using non-traditional colors and/or speaks out of turn in repetitive phrases or obsessive tangents.

However, after you’ve lived long enough, you likely conclude there’s enough of that kind of thing going on already. Erecting a warning sign basically amounts to locking the barn doors after the horses have already left. It’s of dubious effectiveness.

If you really want to arouse suspicion and rile up passersby, put up a “Normal Children Area” sign. You’d probably have picketers over that one, if not get served with a petition ordering you to cease and desist with the false advertising. Let me know how it goes.

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Barbie’s bust getting busted on multiple fronts

Last week I wrote Mattel’s Barbie was featured in the Sports Illustrated (SI) annual swimsuit edition, but didn’t detail the controversy surrounding it. Sorry. Apparently, something really hit the big pink fan when people heard Barbie would appear in the issue. “She’s not real!” many decried. As if the other models are!

Truth be told, I suspect Barbie is easier to work with than the other swimsuit models. She’s been in the biz 55 years and has modeled more outfits than the rest put together. Her creators made her look perpetually, refreshingly sexy. No special lighting required. No need to starve or purge excessively prior to the photo shoot. Granted, the absence of body openings makes that a bit easier, but give the old gal some discipline points.

Barbie is also not likely to show up on the set looking hungover and/or wasted, with excess emotional baggage and bags under her eyes. Make-up is a snap, as it’s permanently adhered. A true professional, she doesn’t gossip about the other models or openly express jealousy. And she already has a boyfriend.

Costumers never worry about wardrobe failure with Barbie, as she never received that pair of potential peek-a-boo parts at the factory (unlike the models in the more revealing section of the SI swimsuit edition, whom a lactation coach I know predicted will do very well someday, should they choose to breast feed).

I wasn’t a big fan of Barbie during childhood, so far be it for me to turn apologist. But it seems everyone is ganging up on the poor doll who can’t even speak for herself, given her painted-on mouth handicap for which she compensates with blatant sexuality. Call it body language.

Another Barbie indignity came courtesy of my childhood neighbor, who obsessively sewed embarrassing Barbie clothing. We all know just how humiliating it is to wear something handmade that’s glaringly handmade. I wonder if any of the Barbies she gave clothing to stealthily slid down behind a seat on the Barbie Beach Bus, slid off the ill-fitting bikini and cover-up, and donned something more mainstream to avoid the sunbathing taunts of other Barbie owners.

Then came speculation Mattel was putting Barbie out to pasture, something the Girl Scouts of America actually did. Barbie, you’ll never eat cookies in this town again, not even if you had a real mouth.

Personally, I never regarded Barbie as a gender threat. Guys didn’t idealize Barbie and chastise me for not measuring up in the bust measurement department. But once the opposite happened. An inebriated fellow propositioned me using a most unusual pick-up line: his wife’s bust had always been too large for his liking, so mine caught his attention. Wonder if that strategy ever worked.

I can’t recall my female friends using Barbie’s boyfriend, Ken, as a standard bearer for the appearance of the guys in our school. Most of us found the plastic hair and sideburns off-putting, if not a full-fledged turnoff. And Ken’s wardrobe would have got him laughed out of a middle school dance, with a swirlie as a parting gift.

The Steve Austin “Six-Million Dollar Man” doll fueled our bionic fantasies. Admittedly, Steve got a head start in our household following years of my older sister and I salivating over living doll Lee Majors’ “Heath Barkley” character in afterschool re-runs of “The Big Valley.” In contrast, G.I Joe seemed too much of a man’s man. Forget him and all his camo-clad friends!

Barbie’s biggest fan and supporter is surprising. She could also be described as the biggest loser. It’s Ukranian model Valeria Lukyanova, whose bursting bustline and doll-like features have attracted major attention. Her mission is to become the “real life Barbie.” She’s had plastic surgery to make her look more fictional than fact. With friends like that to lend credibility to the cause, Barbie doesn’t need detractors.

Alternatively, artist by Nickolay Lamm has successfully created a more realistic Barbie-type doll and is raising capital to fund its production. The dolls have more reasonable proportions than Mattel’s Barbie, dress in sportswear and wear little makeup, which makes them more relatable.

Lamm’s tagline? “Average is Beautiful.” Indeed it is. I wouldn’t have it any other way for myself.

Swimsuit edition launched multiple careers

Recently “that time of year” rolled around once again for the many who eagerly await release of Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit edition. But it wasn’t just any annual swimsuit edition, but the 50th anniversary edition that came out February 18. That’s big stuff, with some really big stuff hanging out. On everyone!

For those who prefer words over pictures, there’s a companion volume called “Sports Illustrated Swimsuit: 50 Years of Beautiful,” the inside story of the worldwide phenomenon that has captured imaginations for 50 years. Wonder if there’s an audio version. Is there a need?

I inadvertently did some visual pre-training prior to observing the scantily-clad, nubile collective of swimsuit models through being Facebook friends with a former classmate who spends his life surrounded by young, buxom beauties who wear little but smiles. Mike’s regular posterior postings of these women, who make the Sports Illustrated gals look to be wearing granny panties, has de-sensitized me to the images that appeared in the magazine. My running joke is that I am holding a clothing drive to collect suitable coverage for all the poor women he knows who cannot afford adequate clothing.

I shelled out $7.99 and bought a copy of the 2014 swimsuit edition. Typically, I just look at friends’ copies or steal glances at local newsstands. Why? Because it’s always fascinated me, the same way casinos do. It must, because I had to put back some of my grocery items in order to be able to afford it within budget. But I bought it anyway. The power of collective fantasy rules.

This year, three Cook Island sun-splashed models graced the cover: Nina Agdal, Lily Aldridge and Chrissy Teigen. Topless, hair-tossing and smiling seductively over their shoulders, they managed to radiate a sunny, girl-next-door sexuality even with their hands fondling one another’s wedgie-clad bottoms.

Everyone Sports Illustrated could round up who had adorned covers of the magazine over the past 50 years (and who were still in great shape!) were featured, dressed sexily in varying degrees of black semi-coverup, in a horizontal centerfold. The women ranged from Babette March, the original 1964 swimsuit edition cover girl, to Cheryl Tiegs, Christie Brinkley, Carol Alt, Kathy Ireland, Rachel Hunter, Tyra Banks, Rebecca Romijn, Heidi Klum and Kate Upton.

Predominantly blonde and very tanned, many of the women talked about how being on the magazine’s cover had launched careers that had them doing much more important things for the world than looking freshly seductive. They had gone on to become photographers, journalists, fundraisers, business people and highly-respectable citizens of the world. It registered that some of those things might not have been possible had they not used T& A to open the door to TLC. No B.S.

Also featured was Mattel’s Barbie doll, who is retiring after 55 years in a similar business of fueling fantasies about how women should look. She was shown wearing her one-piece, strapless, black and white bathing suit from five plus decades ago, as well as a 2014 updated, sexy variation of the same swimsuit. This one required a neckstrap, as she’s lost a few upper body inches over the years and gained some I.Q. points. Time will do that to even the most beautiful of dolls.

It was late the night I bought my copy of the swimsuit edition, so I took it to bed with me and put it on my nightstand for early morning reading (No, not in place of my usual devotionals). Sometime during the night, I must have bumped it with my arm, for when I awakened it had secreted itself under my bed. I felt like a teenage boy!

A friend of mine said her 15-year-old son has a Sports Illustrated subscription, but she intercepted the swimsuit edition in the mail. Her husband asked if he could look at it. She handed it over, curious as to what his adult male reaction would be.

His response? “I can’t believe how much some of those bathing suits cost!” It’s made even worse by the miniscule amount of fabric that comprise the suits. Not much of a value. I guess you can place a value on glamour and sexuality. For me, it’s $7.99.

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