Jury duty less than inspiring of patriotism

I was already having a bad enough day when I made the mistake of going to the mailbox. Anyone who reads me regularly knows many of my problems begin with something coming in the mail. Recent receipt of a jury duty summons served to reinforce that unfortunate pattern.

“Tell them you are too busy and can’t make it,” advised my son. I told him the jury board doesn’t care because everyone feels that way. Can you think of anyone who actually likes having his/her life blown up by being summoned to jury duty?

“Summoned” sounds deceptively friendly. Kind of like your grandma standing in her apron on the back porch, beckoning you to stop playing long enough for a snack. “Yoo hoo, kids . . . I just baked some chocolate chip cookies. Can you pause your game of freeze tag long enough to have a cookie and milk? It’ll do you good.”

Good is not how the current juror summons process feels. The computer-generated document that requests your presence on the jury panel is far less patient, understanding and accommodating than your grandma. And the stuff you have to give up in order to free up time to be at the courthouse is a lot less forgiving and harder to put aside than a childhood game: your adulthood livelihood!

I was one of the lucky ones because I have an understanding employer that was willing to pay me for the time I missed work to be at jury duty. I’ve met other potential jurors who were farmers, waiters and hair stylists – not eligible for compensation beyond the pittance paid for this major disruption of their lives.

Seated with the other jury duty hostages, I settled back and watched the pre-requisite voir dire orientation video that used waving patriotic flags, close-ups of shiny scales of justice and dramatic music to convince me I was an integral part of a rich criminal justice tradition, not some poor sap whose living was being jeopardized for two weeks of possibly deciding on cases which might, ironically, involve people who apparently found the time to exercise poor judgment, criminal intent or to make false accusations.

The video said the jury selection process is fair. I disagree. Opposing attorneys interview potential jurors and pick and choose who they want. Instead of letting counsel play God, a practice that regularly backfires no matter what the setting, jury selection should be entirely random, like the rest of the world. Eeny meeny miny mo.

I hate having to play the jury audition game, recognizing no defense attorney worth his/her salt wants a former probation agent serving in judgment capacity of his/her accused client. I have to report to jury duty, anyway, and hope they quickly draw my name, question and eliminate me.

Unfortunately, that only excuses me from the case at hand. A person not selected to the first jury remains eligible for other cases that require jurors, and therefore continues to remain on standby. It appears kinder to be selected to a jury panel right off the bat. At least you have more notice of when you will be needed in court. And if the case takes only a couple of days to reach a verdict, you are off the hook for the rest of the two-week period.

That was not in the cards for me. I had to keep my schedule clear, which I believed wiser than putting out someone else at my workplace to reschedule all my appointments or to cover for me. It was a tenuous pain to have to call the jury hotline after 5 PM daily to find out what the next day would hold. I felt as if my life were on hold.

Holding a driver’s license or state identification card is what opens a person to potential jury service under the current system. Is there a more fair way to select jurors? Maybe. I think they should monitor people’s TV viewing. Those who watch the most criminal justice-oriented programs and court TV shows should become jury candidates. Give them more of what they already seem to like and leave the likes of me off jury service. Case settled.

Acne relief comes from hemorrhoid cream

My daughter, 14, has been suffering from an acne outbreak. It’s traceable to both changing hormones and unchangeable genetic inheritance. Sorry offspring, but as a teen, I was on every acne prevention regimen of the time and prescribed all the historically heralded acne medications, including three courses of Acutane.

While the Force may be with Kate when it comes to physical healing, heredity is against her. Ever alert for a new and improved snake oil, she came back from Christmas at her paternal grandmother’s house and handed me a small slip of paper with a word written across it.

“What is this?” I asked, not recognizing it as a product stocked in our medicine cabinet. Kate told me she didn’t know because she couldn’t read cursive, but she’d used the miracle balm on her acne when she was up north visiting. Apparently, it effectively cleared up the latest crop of zits that were colonizing on her forehead. The note said it cost about $7.49 for a tube of the stuff. Far more affordable than a dermatologist and/or prescription medication. I was up for trying it.

I had her put the slip of paper in the change compartment of my billfold, where in theory I would remember it when I was next near a pharmacy. But I promptly forgot all about it until last week, when she reminded me following a particularly severe acne breakout.

We had tried various over the counter acne medications; the usual Clearasil on a cotton ball and Stridex medicated pads. We’d experimented with special soaps, special diets and more exposure to sunshine. But to date, the only thing that had made a marked difference at improving Kate’s complexion was her going on seven straight weeks of industrial strength IV antibiotics in conjunction with her mitral valve infection, bacterial meningitis and stroke last spring.

I pictured Kate running hurdles during the upcoming middle school track season, PICC line back in her arm and infusion pump housing bag draped off her shoulder. She’d likely catch some of the tubing on a hurdle, on another runner, or trip herself. The jumping and jolting would mess with the fragile battery connection, leading to an incessant beeping that drove everyone over the edge. Plus, it would be near impossible to find an infusion pump bag that coordinated with Union City’s maroon and gray school colors. All in the name of clear skin.

For many reasons, it looked like we would be bypassing the IV antibiotic acne cure in favor of something more conventional, albeit less effective. I looked at the name of the suggested product and did an online search:

Calmoseptine Ointment – “protects and helps heal skin irritation and itching from incontinence of urine or feces, feeding tube leakage, minor burns and scrapes, fecal or vaginal fistulas, wound drainage, diaper rash and moisture, such as perspiration” said Walgreen’s. Another website raved about Calmoseptine use for hemorrhoids. That soundly convinced me of its usefulness on facial acne.

At the rate it was going, Calmoseptine just might earn itself a spot next to the Bag Balm in our bathroom cupboard! And in case that wasn’t enough to convince me to get some, the Walgreen’s website where I did my reading featured testimonials from people who had successful experiences using the stuff.

Users raved about Calmoseptine’s healing properties on anatomical real estate ranging from fingers, to fatty folds, to feet. It was reassuring to know the same product that received 16 letters praising its effectiveness with Ileoanal reservoirs could also soothe teething rash. And if a person experienced a radiation reaction, Calmoseptine might be their go-to drug. The downside was the active ingredients in Calmoseptine are menthol and zinc oxide. By way of side effects, Calmoseptine has sometimes been known to cause hives, itching and skin rash.

What?! Isn’t that what we’re trying to treat? Well . . . yeah.

Perhaps Calmoseptine works by causing such a large problem elsewhere on the body that it has the net effect of making the original problem seem trivial in comparison. Houston, I think we have a solution. From the acne sufferer’s perspective, Calmoseptine can work however it wants, as long as it attacks acne.

Trends stealth their way into colors, animals

Even though I’ve spent a lot of time, money and thought studying human behavior, it still baffles me. For some reason, I thought most people would graduate from the need to be cool about the same time as they paraded by in a classic cap and gown to pick up their high school diplomas. But I was wrong.

If they had it to do over, last year’s graduates would wear customized ball caps with an authenticating stickers stuck on the bills of them, along with Marsala-colored gowns. Why? Because of herd/heard mentality: in other words, they behave like a herd of sheep that heard that Marsala was 2015’s color of the year.

Who determines that? More to the point, why weren’t we consulted? Well, the making of such self- important, pseudo-life-altering decisions as selecting the color of the year, cannot be left to popular vote or chance. Rather, it is commercially determined by the Pantone Color Institute, a shallow person’s think-tank. If you think I’m being a smart aleck and making up this stupid decision-making body, you would be as wrong. Get a load of this December 4, 2014 ABC NEWS online report. It’s a load of something:

“Marsala. That’s the Pantone color of the year for 2015, and the shade color experts believe will be reflected in fashion, home decor and graphic and industrial design trends next year . . . a naturally robust and earthy wine red. Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, said the color would enrich the mind, body and soul.”

Oh my, a color not content to be just a part of the spectrum or to get slapped onto a wall. That kind of ambition is a danger in disguise. Make a mental note to avoid its social-climbing tentacles. Meanwhile, Eiseman augments that stupid-speak.

“Much like the fortified wine that gives Marsala its name, this tasteful hue embodies the satisfying richness of a fulfilling meal, while its grounding red-brown roots emanate a sophisticated, natural earthiness,” she said in a press release. “This hearty, yet stylish tone is universally appealing and translates easily to fashion, beauty, industrial design, home furnishings and interiors.”

For God’s sake, it’s just a color. Get a grip! I have to wonder if the Pantone people would get as excited over something of actual importance, such as people of color continuing to be victims of discrimination. I can only hope that when the group Chicago sang “Color My World,” it was with the right hue for that year.

Incidentally, 2016’s Pantone color of the year turned out to be two colors (plural): Rose Quartz & Serenity, “a warmer embracing rose tone and the cooler tranquil blue.” Rival color magnate Benjamin Moore Paints named Simply White as its color of the year, if anyone cares.

One area where people do give a darn is about animals of the year. Not the Chinese restaurant placemats that proclaim “Year of the Rat” or “Year of the Monkey,” kind of animals, although monkey likenesses proliferated the apparel and home décor markets a few years back. Not the sock monkeys, albeit hybrid, neon ones, that are still coveted as cool, but the unsuspecting species that humans have cruelly turned into pop culture icons.

For a while, it was cows, cows, cows, from asinine socks, to clocks, to uniform smocks. From heads full of rocks. But alas, tastes along that country road took a sudden turn toward roosters. Rooster plates, rooster toasters, rooster mugs. Just when you were about ready to retch from wretched roosters, the owl craze came to perch.

Owl wind chimes, owl wall art and owl pillows. Owls with sequins and button eyes. Marsala-colored owls. They all looked so cutesy, whereas the real things are powerful birds of prey that could gouge your eyes out. Scary stuff, but not as frightening as wolves during the height of their consumer popularity, when small children were kept awake at night by wall posters with glow in the dark wolf eyes.

Best to skip the color Marsala and stick with the actual wine. You’re gonna need it to maintain your cool smarts in the face of continued stupid pop culture.

 

Teen hermit crab hooked on borrowed items

If I didn’t know better, I’d think I was losing my mind. But since I’ve already lost it or possibly had it stolen, I know that can’t be the true. What is documentable fact is that as the single parent of a teenage daughter I have been living around intensifying crazy-making.

My daughter has been especially challenging in recent months due to her habit of borrowing. I use the term “borrowing” loosely, as it implies initial permission to use something and its eventual return. From what I’ve observed, she has no intention of either.

Two different, full-sized, wooden wastebaskets have walked off from the basement and family rooms, respectively, and ended up in her room, where they keep company with the painted table swiped from the attic, along with a clock she also liberated. Holy hermit crabbery. It’s making me crabby.

I could write a book about the innumerable nail clippers and countless tweezers I’ve never had the opportunity to use before they mysteriously disappeared into the Bermuda Borrowing Triangle also known as my daughter. To ensure I had a brush to do my hair, I had to lash one onto the bathroom towel bar using a lanyard that hadn’t yet been borrowed. No kidding.

The smoothness of her moves brings to mind watching professional ice skaters performing an impressive feat called the triple-axel. When caught “borrowing,” my daughter has developed the verbal dexterity to perform its argumentative, hypocritical equivalent. If butt-covering were an Olympic sport, she’d capture the gold! I call her patented maneuver the “triple-standard,” which consists of a double-standard followed by a half-rotation of blame pointed in the direction of its victim.

“Mom, you have the crappiest make-up,” she recently complained. I found that an interesting comment, as my monitoring various product levels revealed they were going down at alarming rates. How clever to criticize the very thing one is pilfering – to divert suspicion from oneself!

To deter my daughter from my personal care products, I took her cosmetic shopping for her own. She surprised by asking for items identical to mine, albeit a lighter shade of foundation and brighter color of lipstick. Affordable, conservative choices. But more importantly, different from mine.

If you thought, like me, that purchasing my daughter her own cosmetics was a solution to the problem, you’d be wrong. She apparently regarded the acquisition not as a replacement for, but an enhancement to my make-up collection, which she’s continued to use regularly.

When I confronted her about getting into my stuff, she told me I was welcome to use hers. I replied I had no use for hers, but did have a vested interest in keeping her out of mine, as it is rarely put back where and in the same condition she found it.

Not only did she ignore my request to stay the heck out of my things, but she ceased trying to hide it. I started finding my foundation three rooms away from the bathroom, my loose powder in a laptop computer bag and my favorite lip crayon in the car door compartment. The already-challenging act of getting ready in the morning became a full-scale scavenger hunt.

Frustrating doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings regarding this kind of trespassing. And just when I didn’t think it could get worse, she took my make-up with her during a weekend at her dad’s house. When I, the victim of this property violation, discovered its absence and called to confront, my daughter’s response was classic: “You don’t even need make-up, Mom.” As if that statement, even if it were true, somehow justifies heisting my belongings. How silly of me to have had belongings in the first place! Why, I shouldn’t miss them at all!

Did you follow the flawlessness of that triple-standard maneuver? To summarize, first you criticize the victim’s choices; second you take advantage while they are caught off guard by the smokescreen of distracting comments; followed by third, you try to make them feel stupid and selfish for self-advocacy. Triple-standard perfectly executed.

Fortunately, life offers no long-term reward for hustling. You meet your cosmic and cosmetic comeuppance when you least expect it. At least, that’s what I hope will happen soon.

 

Underwear prevents winter driving accidents

Finally, after approximately a two-month delay, winter weather hit. I hope I don’t sound glad because I’m not. But I have a pretty strong sense that it was my heart- and butt-felt prayers for the time to heal my aching piriformis muscle (that would have made shoveling and/or snow blowing impossible) that kept southwest Michigan’s winter weather at bay.

Even though I’m not glad, I’m also not disappointed. Screwy weather conditions and timing are just our way of saying, “Welcome to Michigan.” The mystery behind our unexpected and dysfunctional climate change-ups is as broad and deep as the Great Lakes. I’d like to call it “charmingly fickle,” but that would be as untruthful as calling me “flexibly friendly” in my response to the 2015 Indian summer and fall.

When I wrote this in early January, the temperature had unexpectedly (gauged by the unseasonably high temperatures we’d had) “dipped” down into the 30s. I went into a shaking frenzy along with it. Strange thing was, I was shaking and complaining about the temperature more loudly than I normally would when things drop down below zero for the first time. It’s all so relative. With overnight lows predictions down into the teens, I feel absolutely beside my frosty self.

If I had a choice in the matter, which none of us year ‘round Michiganders do, we’d get a major snow and/or ice storm the week before Halloween, like that memorable one nearly two decades ago. No wimpy testing of winter’s soon-to-be-frozen waters with that: demon drop straight into the main course of winter without so much as an appetizer. Mother Nature’s crashing that fall party left no one wondering when she’d make her appearance! It surely prepared us for whatever was to come next.

Whatever comes next this winter, I’m ready and able, although dubiously willing. Got gas ahead and a new cord for electric-starting the snow blower; salt and shovels are poised by the back door; heated mattress pads are on the beds; boots, hats and gloves are on standby; and emergency provisions (former zombie apocalypse preparedness gear) have been readied by my son.

I truly do not mind driving in crappy winter weather. There’s no getting around this unfair fact of living in Michigan. I have never owned a four-wheel-drive vehicle because, well, actually, I have no good explanation – except they cost more and might ruin my sense of adventure.

Historically, I’ve commuted thousands of miles for business travel. I contrast that with my dad, who would at the most log 80 miles during the busiest of weeks, and only if he had to go to Charlotte for combine parts. He continually made comments to me about wearing out my car “gallivanting up and down the road” for no reason. Well, I tend to view work as a valid one. And he seemed to like to read the resulting newspaper articles I wrote.

I get calls, emails and Facebook messages either telling me or asking me about the weather. It’s funny because I don’t check the weather report. However, I also don’t mind giving live testimonials and receiving real time weather warnings, especially from people with 4WDs. They challenge me to be all I can be behind the wheel. I give the most credence to other people who have to drive a lot for work, while I ignore nervous Nellie, Sunday drivers.

What’s my secret weapon for driving on bad roads? I’ve shared it before and continue to stand by it: bad underwear. While some people save up their worst, worn-out, torn, stained and sprung elastic underwear to wear on vacation and pitch as they go, I save mine for winter car travel.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been slipping and sliding along Michigan roadways when I re-read the “Don’t Despair – Remember Your Underwear!” note on my steering wheel. The mere thought of some EMT or emergency room staff getting a glimpse of my rat-gnawed-looking granny panties has countless times saved my butt from the ditch.

Granted, close calls sometimes necessitate tossing out a soiled pair once I reach my destination, but it’s still the cheapest way to safely travel the Michigan winter roads.

First world problems from second-rate minds

Recently there’s been growing concern regarding “Affluenza,” or conspicuous consumption at its worst. On our multiple-channeled, satellite-fed television sets we’ve followed the Ethan Couch “Affluenza Defense” court case where it was argued he could not be held responsible for his drunken killing of four people because he was too influenced by privilege and his parents’ permissiveness to know right from wrong.

In our minds, Affluenza is a condition from which OTHER PEOPLE suffer. To the backdrop of that denial, the phrase “First World problem” has entered our national lexicon, keeping pace with the Affluenza epidemic to which the United States has succumbed while we were vigilant in guarding against more unlikely illnesses, like Ebola.

Although “First World problem” first appeared in writing in 1979, in G.K. Payne’s Built Environment, it wasn’t officially recognized by popular culture until November of 2012, when it showed up in the Oxford Dictionary Online. A year later, it officially entered my vocabulary via a conversation with a co-worker, who was fretting over the amount of embellishment to use on an invitation to our workplace’s annual meeting.

“Talk about a First World problem!” she laughed. Seeing my puzzlement, she explained First World problems are issues in First World countries that receive more attention than they deserve, or superficial things that get complained about only because of the absence of more pressing concerns. Way too much ado about nothing.

I got it and was happy to have a word to classify a lot of the ridiculous hooey I have noticed with my fellow citizens and myself getting our name-brand panties in a bunch over, while people in Third World countries go without basic clothing.

The fact I am typing these observations on my laptop computer in cozy pajamas and suede Land’s End slippers in my warm dining room at an antique walnut table with a decorative pewter bowl atop it while drinking a cup of coffee with flavored creamer that came in commemorative Star Wars packaging gives me zero room to talk. But that has never stopped me.

If it’s any consolation, something we Americans like – consoling, I realize how good I have it and how unnecessary my luxuries. In good conscience, I can’t award myself even half a humanitarian point for my feelings of guilt because my furnace no longer requires me throwing wood into it to generate the heat I cease to appreciate, until there’s a power outage and I complain all the way to someone else’s house or a hotel. Americans have Affluenza bad and that ain’t good.

As with most problems, I notice the symptoms more easily when they’re displayed by other people. Just the other day, I found a good deal on steaks, bought them, then asked my teenagers to grill them for dinner. I thought they would be grateful because it’s been a long time between steak dinners.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” one of them said. “There’s snow on the grill and I don’t want to have to go out in the cold to flip them.”

Holy First World problem! There are many countries where they would be grateful to have any kind of meat, let alone steak. And a propane-fueled cooking source?! They would have died and gone to Heaven or been reincarnated or whatever, depending on their religious beliefs. But in our First World country, discomfort and inconvenience are synonymous with deprivation.

To raise awareness of Affluenza in developed countries, some videos are available on YouTube showing Third World scenes with un-American-accented residents reciting First World problem statements. They effectively show us how ridiculously, unnecessarily and unappreciatively good we have it.

My favorite is the half-starved-looking girl, with a pig rooting about her shack of a home, who comments, “Don’t you hate it when you ask for a burger without pickles and they give you pickles, anyway?!”

Ethan Couch deserves incarceration, right? It would serve him right! Unfortunately, prisons are not immune to First World problems, either. As one exasperated female inmate announced to corrections officers after losing electronics privileges as a behavioral sanction, “I have never been to a prison like this before!” Affluenza strikes everywhere: a First World problem of second-rate minds.

 

New planner signals new year can get started

I started to pay bills on December 30, but remembered to hold off for a couple of days. Why? Because if I write a handful of checks on January 1, it will jumpstart my mind into 2016 mode and writing 2016 (versus 2015) on everything. Well, until it’s time to do my tax return and I have to revert back to all things 2015.

This Christmas, I thought I did an extra good job of curbing spending. Unfortunately, my car noticed this and ran up repair bills just shy of a grand. Happy post-holiday to me! So much for entering 2016 in the black. But red really does make a statement. In my case, it’s “Why me?!”

I really shouldn’t have begun that sentence with the word “so,” as it’s the first of the words Lake Superior State University had on its recently published list of words that should be banished from the English language. While it’s okay to continue to use “so” as in “for the Bible tells me so,” the word needs to cease being used as an empty lead to a sentence.

Keeping track of such things, including the annoyingly overused words I plan to send in for consideration on next year’s banished word list, got swallowed up during December amidst all the musical, medical, employment, family and community happenings that came at me fast and furious. So fast, in fact, I had to stick up a butterfly net to catch the tail end of the month. That was tough, as I was already booking ahead into 2016 as far back as August.

Problem was, I had no date book or planner for 2016, so I mostly just wrote on my hands any upcoming appointments I needed to calendar, followed by making a mental note not to wash them until I had transferred the details to a more permanent location. It’s not the kind of system I would recommend, but you have to work with what you’ve got.

Clearly, I needed a planner, but not just any planner. Historically, I have messed up big-time by rushing out and buying the first one I saw just so I could check off “obtain planner” on my to-do list. Allowing my employer to pick one out for me was an equally bad office-kind-of arranged marriage. I should know. I suffered all last year trying to fit 10-daily appointments in boxes approximately the size of a head of a pin. Even repeatedly reminding myself that 2015 planner was free did not lessen my annoyance with it.

While I have in the past ordered planners online and through mail-order catalogs, I’m too persnickety about them to trust that process. I like to personally feel the pages between my fingers, mentally transfer daily data entries onto its lined spaces and see if it will physically fit into my purse and/or camera bag.

Relying on both objective and subjective criteria, I ventured in to Barnes & Noble last week to check out datebooks and planners. They had the usual nature-scened offerings, others featuring the works of prominent artists, and still others with photos of either dogs, cats or quotes adorning the covers and pages. Unfortunately, some of the ones I liked stylistically, did not address the practical functions I desire.

Call me concrete in my thinking, but I like to see full-month calendar pages throughout my datebook/planner. I need that visual more than I need cutesy day of the week divisions that defy my sense of time and offend my sense of space. I need days and dates to fall in a linear order, left to right, even more than cool graphic design.

I spent nearly an hour sorting through all Barnes & Noble calendars before settling upon a gold-colored Gallery Leather 2016 Weekly Professional Planner. It was originally priced at $19.95, but was 50% the day I purchased it. In addition to the full-page monthly calendars and anal user linear date listings, it sported approximately 30 lined pages at the back for note-taking. To someone who forgets what is not written down (and much of what is!), that became its selling point.

New planner in hand, I officially decree 2016 open for business.

 

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