Living life on the cutting edge of obsolescence

I debated writing this column, which was triggered by previous writing about the inability to find the 100% cotton, basic brassieres I like. But after devoting 700 words to my bra quest, my latest Holy Grail, razor blades, deserves spotlighting.

How many of you have shopped lately for razor blade shaving cartridges? It’s an overwhelming experience. There’s a wall of possibilities at every store, with packaging more colorful than a candy display. All that for something as non-thrilling as razors? Geez.

Granted, my 12-year-old daughter was dazzled by and ended up smitten with a particularly colorful Bic shaver, but she should be the exception, not the rule in the razor department. She sees razors of evidence she’s maturing, while for mature razor users, shaving is more akin to mowing the lawn.

The sky was the limit with both choices and prices. Up to five bucks for a shaving head? You’ve got to be kidding! It would be cheaper to go to a salon for a body wax. But that’s not a viable option. Instead, I just stood there, trying to pick among the choices I wished I didn’t have to make. It there’s an upside, had I been considering self-harm via razor, choice paralysis just might have prevented it.

My choice should have been easy, the way it’s been for 30 years. I should have been able to simply walk straight to the razor aisle and grab a plain, 10-count package of Atra Plus shaving heads for my ancient Gillette razor. Except that in a world where some razor heads have a half-dozen blades, my trusty, three-bladed Atra Plus razor heads have been retired. Deemed obsolete.

Had I known it, I would have stocked up on Atra Plus blades using my income tax refund and stored them in a safe deposit box. Alternatively, I could move to a European country where Bohemian style calls for leaving your armpits and legs unshaven. I wouldn’t have just unwittingly burned through my existing stash of Atra Plus blades like there was no tomorrow. But alas, it’s too late.

I did the only thing a self-respecting leg-shaver with no intention of purchasing a fancy-schmancy, neon-colored, six-bladed, grossly-overpriced razor cartridge could do: I went to the amazing granny’s attic of eBay and engaged in a bidding war with another Atra Plus hanger-on-er. I’ll spare the gory details, but soon I had wagered $30 and my first born child on a 20-pack of blades, with an additional $3.50 for shipping. Talk about living on the razor’s edge!

Fortunately, I was outbid, which furthered online exploration. I found a vendor willing to sell me two 10-count packages of Atra Plus blades for “only” 12.95 each, plus free shipping. I fell to my knees and thanked God I would be getting out of this ordeal for slightly less than the price of two Fruit of the Loom bras. My kids couldn’t figure out why this victory so excited me.

“Well,” I said. “I was spared buying an even more over-priced, multi-tiered razor that cuts through budgets in a single pass – an expensive accident waiting to happen!” Additionally, some of the new razors looked capable of causing carpal tunnel syndrome and had so many bells and whistles they would require their own suitcase in order to be my traveling companions on business trips.

Three days later, my new Atra Plus razor heads arrived. I openly admired the understated-looking, yet highly-effective weapons against unwanted body hair that use technology only slightly ahead of the Cro-Magnon curve. They’re workhorses that get the job done without too much blood-letting. You really have to work if you want to cut yourself.

There’s nothing cool about my shave, the manufacturers told me by removing my razor refills from the market. And we all know how cool shaving should be. Spectator sport, right? I happen to think living within my means feels rather spectacular.

This begs the question: just how much should a shaving cartridge cost? A good shave shouldn’t run you more than a good meal. Maybe I should get a Gillette “Good News” razor to slash some of the cynicism from my attitude. Now there’s a nick-proof notion.

Ship turned mean mom into ferry-godmother

I never really think about taking a summer vacation. With kids’ ball games, summer camps, Young Marines drills, county fairs, family reunions, agricultural opportunities, church responsibilities, pets, lawn mowing, custody agreement limitations and little disposable income, the odds of the cosmic tumblers aligning sufficiently to allow it are remote.
So when earlier this year I learned my employer needed me to travel to the Upper Peninsula, I decided to incorporate my children into the outing. They’re old enough now to be decent traveling companions, at least theoretically. And they liked the idea they would be going to the UP State Fair, as their father’s vacation plans with them had them away from home during the week of the Branch County 4-H Fair. It’s just too bad he opted to steal my thunder by taking them to the UP the week before I was slated to go there.
“Hi kids, please unpack your bags so we can wash all your stuff, repack it and hit the road again in the same direction,” is what the situation required. Most parents would have difficulty delivering that line with contagious enthusiasm. However, having spent six years of my career arranging for multiple adults to go to either jail or prison, telling my children they’re going on back-to-back, same destination trips, wasn’t that difficult. It’s all in the spin.
“I’ll bet you’ll be tired of sleeping on the hard ground, catching and cooking your own food, and swimming in lakes and rivers by the time you get done camping with your dad,” I said in my well-rehearsed pitch to them. Connor cocked an eyebrow, immediately suspicious.
“Where are you going with this, Mom?” he wanted to know.
“Well, I have the opportunity to go to the UP for my workplace during the second week in August and thought we could turn it into a real vacation,” I said.
“Mom’s boss is making her go to the UP and she wants to drag us back up there,” he interpreted for Kate, who happened in on our conversation. I ignored Connor and launched into a description of the hotel where we’d be staying, with its large indoor pool and a hot breakfast area where you make your own waffles.
“It must be a pretty bad assignment or she wouldn’t be trying to sell us on the hotel amenities,” Connor again addressed Kate, shaking his head. This forced me to play the trump card I had been holding off on revealing: ferry transportation on the return trip.
“And we’ll drive from Escanaba down to Manitowoc, Wisconsin and take the S.S. Badger car ferry across Lake Michigan to Ludington to shorten the drive,” I baited, then waited. I knew they enjoy the Mackinac Island passenger ferry. I slowly reeled them in with this ferry’s on-ship movies, concessions and places to plug in electronic device chargers. They bit.
Overall, our UP “vacation” went well – if you are good at ignoring or mitigating arguments over who gets to ride shotgun, use my cell phones, charge his/her iPod, or lie down in the backseat. I am skilled at tuning out their bickering – until it escalates to someone kicking the passenger seat from the back or beaning a fellow passenger with an empty soda bottle to settle a radio station argument. Listening to an entertaining book on CD biography of comedian George Carlin was about our only mutual interest, although at times I was forced to turn it wayyyy up to drown out complaining and name calling.
The S.S. Badger was the highlight of our vacation. We boarded, re-bonding over stories of a guy we know who has an obsession with badgers. My kids got their fix of junk at the snack bar and watching “Delivery Man” and “Smurfs 2” (although Connor wants it noted he bailed on the latter).
I stayed on deck, reading, sunning and writing this column, venturing downstairs only to use the bathroom and long enough to overhear a BINGO game that got me high-tailing it back to the upper deck and the peaceful sanity of a well-worn plastic recliner.
Thank you, S.S. Badger, for transforming me from a mean car mom into a ferry godmother.

Zipper issues sabotage Upper Peninsula trip

I spent last week at the Upper Peninsula State Fair. My kids and I noticed the extraordinary friendliness of most everyone we met. And it suddenly hit me: we were the odd ones out, and as a minority, might be viewed as representatives of the lower part of the state. That meant acting more ambassador-like.

No fighting, kids. No low-cut shirts or tight jeans, Kate. No using your laptop in public, Connor. No cursing or colorful commentary, me. Unfortunately, no one warned my increasingly frequent hot flashes I was supposed to be on my best behavior.

I learned the hot flash routine back in 2008 following surgery and temporary placement on a high-priced drug that catapulted me directly into instant menopausal Hell for four months, but that hazing did not prepare me for the intermittent ambushing by the real thing.

“Why are you sweating?” my son questioned as we crossed the Mackinac Bridge into the UP. “Are you afraid of heights or water?”

“No, I’m afraid of instantaneous hormonal fluctuations. News flash: it’s a hot flash,” I advised. Then quicker than I could crank down the vehicle windows while simultaneously cranking up the air-conditioning and mopping my brow with a crumpled fast food napkin from the car console, the urge to submerge myself in arctic waters passed.

“Why are you turning up the heat, Mom?” my daughter demanded as the effects of the extreme cool caught up with me. How do you explain to kids just ramping up hormonally what it means to be on the rocky decline? I didn’t feel inclined to comment, plus I was too busy hurriedly rolling the windows back down.

One of the worst parts (as opposed to the better parts?!) of hot flashes is trying to dress around them. Fortunately, I heat with wood, so I know all about layering with various weights of clothing to accommodate temperature fluctuations.

In packing for my UP trip, I deviated from professional dress somewhat and selected a neutral pink, zippered hoodie as my jacket of choice. It coordinated with all of what I packed, except three of the four outfits. It also had deep pockets for carrying lots of cumbersome crap and possessed the all-important zipper for quick evacuation when the menopause meter flew off the charts.

On second day of my trip, the longish hoodie gained in stature, as the lock on the zipper of my capri pants experienced irreparable failure. I was on my way to the Miracle of Life barn when I realized my own barn door was permanently open. It had just rained and the 80-degree humidity steaming; my flagging hormones were in rebellion, and my sewing kit was eight hours away. The zippered pink hoodie was all that was standing between me and full frontal exposure. Some downstate ambassador I made.

When the hot flashes flared, I’d unzip the hoodie about 75% of the way, with the swiftness of Superman ripping open his shirt to unveil his superhero identity. But alas, repeated unzipping took its terrible toll. By 2 PM, the pull tab fell off my zipper onto the ground, into some animal droppings. During attempted reattachment, the fastening clasp broke in half, but I could still operate it by pinching the remaining mechanism between my fingers.

Around 3:30 PM, while I was talking with another female exhibitor, a major molten hot flash swept over me like lava through the ancient city of Pompeii. My hand flew to my zipper. It wouldn’t lower. I struggled, mid-sentence, but it wouldn’t give. So I yanked my hoodie off over my head, gasping for cool air. This startled the 60-something woman until I mouthed, “hot flash.” She cracked up.

The next hot flash had me tearing at the defective hoodie like it was Biblical era sackcloth. This time the entire zipper split out, taking several mid-range teeth with it. $@*&%! My colorful thoughts betrayed me, too.

It was nearly freezing the next morning, so I stapled shut the front of my ailing hoodie. “You’ve got a weird accent,” said an early fairgoer, eyeing my makeshift solution hoodie eyesore “Where you from, eh? Downstate?” I nodded. He rolled his eyes. “Tourists never come prepared.”


Search for ideal brassiere less than uplifting

BOOBY TRAP - Seems like there's something wrong with a world where undergarments cost more than the clothing they are worn under. Makes me want to wear them over my clothing as a status symbol.

BOOBY TRAP – Seems like there’s something wrong with a world where undergarments cost more than the clothing they are worn under. Makes me want to wear them over my clothing as a status symbol.

Last Wednesday, I closed out the end of an already too long day with an even longer after-work undercover mission, shopping expedition. What exciting items were on my list? New jeans for the kids and new undergarments for me. Yippee! Doesn’t get much more exciting than that!

One of the secrets to successful shopping for kids’ school clothes is to NOT take your kids with you. Especially not both at one time. If you’re not careful, they’ll tag team you with distractions or start fussing and fighting back and forth so much that you lose both your mind and sight of your budget.

Even if you end up having to go back and return items, it’s still faster to shop alone. Plus, I had two different $10 off J.C. Penney coupons I needed to use before they expired. A clear head was required to strategize which items would qualify for coupon coverage and the fine print on the coupon required an especially clear set of eyes. It’s a good thing a clear complexion wasn’t required or I would have been in a world of hurt.

At J.C. Penney, I scored my son one pair of $54 pair of jeans on clearance for $2.99 and a $38 pair for $7.99. I next tracked down three pair of half-price colored, skinny jeans. With the two $10 coupons, I probably should have been arrested for stealing.

Then I wandered into the lingerie department. Let’s not class it up that much. Victoria’s Secret it wasn’t. It was the bra and underwear section. Period. I looked at the first rack of bras, designed for rather large racks: $46 dollars apiece. I went into sticker shock and had to be revived by a sales associate waving a Playtex display ad in my face to create a breeze.

Maybe $46 doesn’t seem like a lot to you, but a lot less fabric was needed for that bra than for the $54 pair of jeans I had just purchased. What’s the deal? I examined the bra more closely to see what made it so special.

Perhaps it was the fastening hardware in the back. More hooks than in the average fishing tackle box. They were roughly the size of the one I just replaced on the closet door. For the millionth time in my life, I was glad my anatomy didn’t require a great deal of either support or containment from so-called lingerie.

I walked over to a smaller, less armorish-looking bra in a jungle print. Fortunately, I’ve learned not to stray far from basic colors. Too great a potential for accidents: you’re hurrying and realize too late in church that you’ve worn a high-necked, but rather sheer white blouse with the red words “hot stuff” doing some not-so-subliminal advertising in the line for communion. Not to fear, this bra cost “only” $42, so it priced itself out of consideration.

What do I look for in a bra? Let me give you the ABCs of it: affordable, breathable and cheap. I want one very thin, seamless layer of 100% cotton fabric in white, tan or gray, with half-inch-wide straps and two to three hooks in back. No frills stuff!

You can skip the lace than makes me itch, the cutesy bows that look dingy after a couple of washings and the scalloped piping that gets snagged by other garments in the dryer. Also spare me the narrow, silky, ribbon-like straps that couldn’t support a humming bird. While my cup doesn’t exactly runneth over, it’s certainly not empty.

All I found in the bra section of the store was a collection of overly-padded cups covered by shimmery, synthetic material. Sports bras, which are about as flattering as binding yourself with duct tape, were virtually the only cotton bras available.

Meijer, K-Mart and Wal-Mart all quit carrying the Fruit of the Loom 9292 basic model bras of my non-descript dreams. I blame them for my predicament. On a whim, after leaving J.C. Penney bra-less, I went online and found some 9292s for only $9.80 each, with free shipping. I was so excited I actually ordered a pink one, too. Frugal is so sexy! Undercover mission accomplished.


Gratitude benefits outweigh entitlement woes

Believe it or not, I am grateful for many things. If you were to read my journals (which I’m not offering for public view here), you would find numerous passages outlining how good I think I have it. But too frequently, like the occasions back in school when I got a 95% on a 20-question test, I find myself more interested in what went wrong than what went right.

As a humorist, it’s a lot easier and more satisfying to poke fun at situations gone bad versus situations that either started out good and/or ended well. I call attention to other people’s self-righteous small-mindedness by using my own as an example. You laugh at my selfishness while silently seeking to squelch your own.

What’s the opposite of grateful? The word “entitled” comes to mind – expecting things should go your way or the highway; that life and everyone in it “owes” you. Other antonyms for grateful include “rude,” “thankless” and “unappreciative.” But you already knew that. Those are the words we use to describe other people!

Is there a suitable synonym for gratitude? Some sources suggest “obligation,” but I’m not so sure it fits. You can feel grateful without believing you need to pay back someone for their kindness. If you’ve ever made the mistake of offering money to someone who just got done doing something for you out of the goodness of his/her heart, you recognize it cheapens things. The correct response is prompt and enthusiastic acknowledgement.

Maybe there’s no other good word except “gratitude” to describe gratitude. We nonetheless recognize gratitude when we feel it. Great feeling, eh? To be the object of someone’s attention, thoughtfulness, or favor is nothing short of marvelous, especially when a note or a gift accompanies it. So why do so few of us take the time to thank others for providing a much-needed fresh breath of positivity?

It’s no coincidence I mention this at a time roughly two months past high school graduation commencement celebrations and at the height of summer wedding season. Grateful gift recipients should get cracking, take the high road and send out thank-you notes, however delinquent, to those who have gifted them (even if they suspect the gifting was done out of obligation).

Don’t worry that it’s too late. Overdue is just another excuse for not doing what’s right. Not only will the recipient of your thank-you note benefit from your expressed gratitude, but you will, too. How do I know this? From personal experience and from being a grateful geek who reads research on subjects as off the wall as gratitude.

According to University of California – Davis gratitude guru professor Robert Emmons, practicing gratitude (in contrast to the habits of envy, covetousness and scorekeeping) yields not only social and psychological benefits, but physical perks. Through helping others systematically cultivate gratitude, Emmons has documented these resulting physical changes: lowered blood pressures, strengthened immune systems, increased motivation in exercising, lengthened and higher quality sleep, and less-deeply registered aches and pains.

How do you sign up for that? By using the same pen as you did to write thank-you notes! Seriously, find a writing instrument and start keeping what Emmons refers to as a “gratitude journal.” It needn’t be elaborate, just a place to list what you’re grateful for each day. You could even use the squares on a calendar, which might also spark gratitude for the ability to write extra small!

According to Emmons, gratitude raises our alertness to the good in and around our lives and grounds us in the present. Gratitude increases our sense of optimism, empathy for others and the likelihood we will take positive action. Gratitude also blocks toxic emotions from seeping into our already self-centered psyches. Finally, it reduces the expectation and importance we place upon material goods, leaving us more satisfied with less. A grateful heart doesn’t have an eye toward what’s going too good for others in comparison to our own lot in life.

That’s a lot to think about. But don’t just think. Do something. Start counting your blessings, even the smaller, sometimes stale blessing crumbs toward the bottom of your dented blessings container. Savor the life-changing goodness of gratitude!

Don’t become a prisoner of an emotional war

One of my favorite childhood mental games was “I’m never gonna live like this when I grow up.” And I’d recite the changes I planned to make. Sometimes, that was the only way I could get through some less than tolerable moments of my formative years, when the only thing that seemed to be forming solidly was the chip on my shoulder.

Spending time in the haymow talking to the cows eating in the manger, playing with the dog, riding my horse and kicking down goner (dead or dying) trees in the woods were great escapes for me. But when those avenues weren’t available due to the constraints of weather and/or darkness, I read instead.

Back when I read fiction, I believed it a first-class ticket into other worlds where ordinary people were powerful and not victims. In the fantasy world woven by fiction authors, those technically in charge of things never held supreme authority. Time and again, determined protagonists eventually managed to make a difference – provided they stood for the right thing and weren’t afraid to stand up for their rights.

Through the school library, I read all of the “Childhood of Great Americans” biographies. They reinforced fictional settings weren’t the only places where the good guys won. Real life stories of people who had defied odds without special powers, futuristic weapons or dramatic fanfare became my standard fare. I liked human superheroes who relied on positivity and perseverance to overcame life’s barriers.

Another category of books I read was downright confusing: historical fiction. Although based on real events, these stories veered off into fictional relationships and dialogue. I can remember trying to breeze through Gone With the Wind (GWTW) like I would have a work of total fiction, yet being blown away by the historical details. I had trouble reconciling truth with fiction. But encyclopedia verification (before the Internet) attested to Margaret Mitchell’s considerable accuracy.

Something I remember about GWTW’s heroine, Scarlett O’Hara, was the vow she made to herself when all the chips were down: “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.” The scene was even more dramatic in the big screen movie version.

Clear as the Clearasil on my adolescent acne, I could relate to Scarlett’s self-vow: it gave her the necessary determination to wade through otherwise overwhelming pain, loss and deprivation. The only problem was, after the immediate crisis passed, Scarlett couldn’t seem to find the post-trauma “off” button. Scarlett’s scarred vows justified everything that followed.

What are vows to ourselves? The inner vows or behavioral directives we adopt as defense mechanisms to prevent hurt. Usually further hurt; “I won’t” versus “I do” vows. A woman vows she will never let herself become angry like her mother, but instead becomes a human doormat. A man vows he will never be poor like his family of origin, and instead compulsively saves and hoards a fortune in a different form of scarcity mentality. Jilted lovers swear off relationships and sentence themselves to the even worse pain of lifelong loneliness.

Sound familiar? As ongoing prisoners of emotional wars, we’ve all done unlovable things for self-preservation, then punished those who failed to love us for our peacetime PTSD survival tactics. Temporary boundaries established as self-protection become relational prison cells for living out self-avowed life sentences. Captivity to past pain and fears hardens our hearts and alienates potential supporters. “No trespassing” relational signs effectively fence out love and intimacy. Outside of our awareness, inner vows exert furtive control over our decisions and actions.

Another dangerous aspect of inner vows is they render us reactive rather than responsive. Impulse replaces thought, leading to poor decision-making. And given that inner vows hang around way past their usefulness, emotionally, they become more toxic than a food product that’s outlived its shelf life.

Review your inner vows and see if they are still purposeful. Perhaps it’s time to exchange your emergency emotional preparedness system for a healthy margin of trust. The cell door is wide open. Come out of relational hiding and experience the awaiting openness and flexibility. Thank goodness that by the grace of God and the declaration of Scarlett O’Hara, tomorrow is another day!

Obsession with new stuff is fast growing old

“Mom, I want all new clothes for the new school year.” I couldn’t tell if this was a legitimate (meaning sincere) request from my son, or if he were just sending up a trial balloon to see which way the wind was blowing.

Clearly the mother of the wearer of this catfood bag shirt wouldn't know cool if it pounced on her!

Clearly the mother of the wearer of this catfood bag shirt wouldn’t know cool if it pounced on her!

It didn’t matter. He might as well spit into the wind. It wasn’t going to happen. It couldn’t happen. And even if I had the means, it shouldn’t happen. Based on the diminishing respect my 13-year-old’s been showing me lately, he’s lucky I don’t start making his clothing myself – sewing together old, plastic mesh cat food bags so the “Special Kitty” el cheapo brand name is emblazoned across the front.

Of course, then he would complain that the other kids in his grade were wearing plastic mesh cat food bags that had the brand “Fancy Feast” or “Iams,” (the cat food equivalents of Hollister or Aeropostale) written across the front.

“You embarrass me when you send me to school wearing a cat food bag that has less natural flavor, more meat byproducts and killer fillers!” he would yowl. “People size up my nutrient panel and find me lacking. This is child abuse.” I’d throw him a bone in the form of the ASPCA phone number so he could report his mistreatment.

With this going through my mind, I also had a fleeting thought that he might be right. I remembered a middle school classmate wearing a car seatbelt in place of a real trouser belt several decades before that actually became briefly fashionable. That trip was far enough down memory lane that the streets were made of cobblestone, the men owned dress clothes, and people still said “trouser belt.”

No, I was quite sure I wasn’t launching my son off to school in garb that would get him beaten up. If I were, I would at least be a good enough mom to feed him a breakfast of raw meat and yell “Them’s fightin’ clothes!” as I shoved him out the door, itching for a self-defense bout with someone wearing a trendier cat food bag.

“But I just bought you some new clothes!” I reminded.

“Socks and underwear don’t count,” my son said. Except in this case they should. Regular underwear would no longer do, he informed me as we surveyed the unmentionables in the “I’m Too Big For Kids’ Britches, But Not Yet a Man” section at Kohl’s. He claimed he couldn’t live without “compression shorts.”

The chief function of compression shorts is to separate people from their money.

The chief function of compression shorts seems to be to separate people from their money.

What, exactly, are these modern marvels? Spandexy, Under Armourish, thigh-length version of women’s control top panty hose. Oh, they compress, alright. That’s why some young males report wearing them as a libido-disguising/limiting layer. In fact if there’s an upside to this relatively new garment, it’s that it helps prevent things from heading that direction.

According to Wikipedia, “Compression shorts are designed to keep the muscles warm to prevent muscle strain and fatigue, and wick sweat away from the body to prevent chafing and rashes.” The same source adds, “They are also used as a way to keep the male genitalia in place.” Bonus!

According to my son, compression shorts are so performance-enhancing he cannot possibly expect to compete athletically unless he owns several pair. I compromised and bought a two-pack, plus a spare to wear at home. By my calculations, they possess the power to help him finish household chores in record time. I imagine my son snagging Olympic Gold in the dishwashing competition.

“Mom, they’re no good for that kind of thing,” he spoils it. “You just don’t get it.”

No, I don’t. Just like he won’t be getting the new jeans for which he’s been begging. Compression shorts cost more than jeans. So I suggest my son wear his new compression shorts OVER his old jeans. And leave out the price tags as status symbols. He declines.

I’m back to scouting Salvation Army and Goodwill for jeans. Maybe some ultra-cool guy has died from the power surge of simultaneously wearing compression shorts and compression socks and his parents just donated his clothing to one of those used stores. It could happen.

I’ll be there to cash in on them. But better keep clipping the cat food coupons, too.

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