Monday, May 30, 2011

Well it's 1, 2, 3 .....

…. what are we fighting for? 
 Memorial Day.  Yes, the holiday is actually a “day”, not a weekend.  It used to be celebrated on May 30th each year, no matter what day of the week it fell upon.  But in 1971, Congress passed the National Holiday Act which morphed it into a three-day weekend.  So now when you ask people “What is Memorial Day Weekend?” you get told it is the beginning of summer, the weekend our pool opens, the first cookout of the season or the weekend we put our boat in the water.
There was a time when we understood the true meaning of Memorial Day.  I am happy to say I lived during that time.  I can still muster up some remnants of it, though it is difficult to compete with the giant sales at most retail stores.  They try to make it authentic by splashing the Stars and Stripes across their advertising, but let’s be honest, we’re all missing the boat.
I can’t remember the last time I saw veterans selling the poppies.  When I was younger, you would see them everywhere.  They were small, they were artificial, they were bright red like my mother’s lipstick. My mother would always buy one and display it on the sun visor in our car. It would stay there long after Memorial Day, fading to pink before she decided it was time to throw it away.  I guess we could use that analogy to describe the demise of the holiday.
There are varying feelings about war, depending on which one occurred during your lifetime.  My father and uncles all fought in World War II, the big one.  They came home as heroes, welcomed with the GI Bill, college opportunities and the burgeoning of suburbia. We waved out flags proudly, saluted them and recited our Pledge of Allegiance in school each morning.  We never stumbled over the words to the Star Spangled Banner.
It was different when we became involved in the Vietnam Conflict.  Soldiers, many of whom had to be drafted, traveled across the world to fight without really understanding the cause. They came home to anti-war protestors who burned flags and draft cards. Many of them never recovered, physically or emotionally.
Today we have soldiers spread all over the Middle East, terrorism the target.  Ask any American their opinion on today’s war efforts and you will get a different answer.  Our opinions are as scattered as our armed forces.  And though many of us do not support these “wars”, we do support our soldiers.
Take a minute today, in between grilling the burgers or heating up the charge cards at the sales, to reflect on what today really is all about.  Say the Pledge of Allegiance to yourself, and savor the words.  Sing the Star Spangled Banner or God Bless America, do it with your kids or grandkids.  Fly your flags, attend a parade, salute a soldier.  And please, let me know if you find anyone wearing a poppy.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Can of Cancer

Doing my best to adhere to my new turkey sandwich lifestyle, I spent the afternoon at the park with my daughter and grandson the other day.  I still had to wrestle with my conscience that was telling me it was during “working hours” and that I was somehow playing hooky, but I got over it the minute I stepped outside and found sunshine and 75 degree temps.

My daughter’s sister-in-law and children were also there.  Shortly after we arrived, the girls started rummaging through their giant pocketbooks and diaper bags.  “What are you looking for?” I queried. “Cash for a drink,” they responded, “but we know we don’t have any.”  It’s not a matter of not having money for these two, it’s simply that this generation somehow does not ever think to carry cash.  They can whip out their debit cards faster than a speeding bullet, but if they want something that requires a cash payment, they immediately start looking around for an ATM machine as if there should be one on every corner.

My generation is never without cash, though you may not realize it because we tend to stash it in hiding places.  Mine goes in a double-secret folder in my wallet and stays there for emergency purposes only.  In the old days, we referred to it as mad money.  

“I have cash, what do you want to drink?” I said to the girls. 

“I’ll take a diet c….,” Danielle stopped dead in her tracks and looked at me, then at my daughter, with a look of horror on her face.  “What’s wrong,” my daughter asked her.  Danielle looked sheepishly at me, then back to Vicki and said, “I feel like I am asking your mom to buy me a can of cancer.”

We all laughed out loud, but she was serious in a way.  I continually spout off about the detrimental ramifications of diet sodas to my daughters and have actually threatened bodily harm to the person who offers my grandson his first taste of Mountain Dew.  I have become much more aware of what goes into my body these days and subscribe to the age-old adage of You Are What You Eat.

It took me years to be enlightened on this subject.  I literally shudder when I reflect on my eating habits as a young adult. It’s no wonder I have never been happy with my body; I abused it for years with white flour, preservatives, salt, MSG, saccharin and way too much sugar.  My mother was one of the old-time “meat and potatoes” cooks, and those old habits died hard after she passed them down to me.  But I have seen the light and I am trying to make up for lost time.  I strive to eat vegetarian at least two or three days a week.  I avoid white flour as best I can and look for all-natural products when I shop.  I have completely sworn off soda products, especially diet versions.  Basically, if I cannot pronounce the ingredients in something, it’s not going into my mouth.

I know I drive my daughters and their friends a little crazy when I analyze their food, but it’s only because I love them and want them to be healthy.  I want to share with them what it took me well over fifty years to figure out.  I may be living my life as a turkey sandwich, but I’m not eating one unless the turkey is cage-free, the bread is whole wheat and the lettuce and tomato are organically grown.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I've Got Dibs

I have never really been a politically-charged person.  When I was a little girl, my grandfather ran a private club and bar. He served as president of that club known as The Naugatuck Democratic Club.  As a child, I had no idea what that meant.  I just knew that a lot of men would come there every day, sit around the bar, drink and tell stories and jokes.

My dear friend, Richie Rothstein, passed away two years ago.  A year or so after he died, I went to visit his wife.  She handed me an envelope full of pictures that Richie had taken while we were both students at SUNY New Paltz.  I was surprised to see a slew of photographs of George McGovern, taken during a campus visit in the early seventies.  I felt almost a bit ashamed by the fact that the event apparently meant so much to Richie, yet nothing to me.  My priorities during college did not include politics.
I was already in my thirties the first time I exercised my right to vote.  My second husband was a former Air Force Captain who awakened me to my responsibilities as a citizen.  Once I voted in my first presidential election, I realized what a privilege it was and I have never missed an election since.  Every four years, I voted for the person who I felt best represented my beliefs.  Some years it was a Democrat, others it was a Republican.  I honestly never felt the need to pledge allegiance to one side or the other.  Sometimes my candidate won, sometimes he didn’t.  But whoever won became my president for the next four years and to me, he was the person in charge.

The political climate in this country has changed and it seems you are no longer allowed to straddle the fence.  I sometimes feel as if I am back to being a kid, once again playing Red Rover.  I despised that game.  As a slow runner and a puny girl, I simply didn’t have the strength to ever succeed at it. Before I knew what was happening, I would get picked for a side (often the last pick) and the next thing I knew I was interlocking arms with the rest of my “team”, unsure if those were the people with whom I should be aligned.  Why couldn’t they have some non-intrusive positions in that game, like a line judge or umpire?  I wanted to be the person that settled disputes and pointed out the strengths of both teams.
I feel the same way about politics.  Forward thinkers exist within each party; it’s just a matter of getting them to work together.  Yet it seems if we express an opinion on any issue, we are automatically associated with a particular party. The scary part is that those affiliated with the other party react as if we have contracted leprosy.  I honestly have friends among whom I am afraid to express my opinion for fear of being ostracized.  It all has become black and white, or actually red and blue, and apparently gray has been completely eradicated from the color spectrum.

I am fearful about the direction we are headed and envision a complete division of our country based on political beliefs.  But how will the division be achieved?  One group lives in states that start with the letters A to M while the opposing side takes N to Z?   Will it be east is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet?  Will some go to the mountains and others to the prairies? Let’s just go back to the civil war division, no sense reinventing the wheel.  But I’ve got dibs on the south since I want to be near my grandchildren.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

You Know You Might as Well Face It….

You’re Addicted to?
According to Robert Palmer, it’s love.  But let’s face it; addiction has been a problem in society for, for, ever.  I remember my first foray into the notion of addiction.  It was the first time I watched Frank Sinatra in The Man With The Golden Arm.  I was still young and didn’t fully grasp the concept at the time.  I feel pretty certain that humanity has dealt with addictions of some sort since prehistoric times.  I bet the cavemen got a rush from sniffing the dust of certain crushed rocks.  The human body is susceptible to cravings of monumental proportions that need to be fed; it’s that itch which needs to be scratched.

I was in high school when I discovered friends were experimenting with marijuana.  By college, I was exposed to methamphetamines as students pulled all-nighters cramming for exams.  Likewise, when the weekend rolled around, they dove head first into an alcohol and downer cocktail.
After graduating college, I noticed how rampant cocaine use had become. Perhaps it was because I was living in New York City and it was the “in” drug.  I never got involved with cocaine.  I think it had something to do with my financial upbringing by depression-era parents.  The truth was, I simply had no desire to take my hard-earned cash and literally put it up my nose.

Now I find myself this aging baby boomer embarking on a new lifestyle, one with less routine and restriction.  It has been emotionally liberating, to say the least.  I find I am more open to exploring new things, much less fearful of the consequences.  Is this the reason I now have to face the fact that I have fallen to my own addiction? Can I deal with it at this juncture of my life?
I am not really sure when exactly it happened.  I cannot recall that first exposure, that temptation that I allowed myself to give into.  I don’t recall if it was peer pressure, doing it because my friends were doing it?  All I know is that I now have a serious problem that I need to face head on.

It’s a common drug and doesn’t require a prescription.  I am able to secure it easily on the street with the convenience of a drive-in dealer.  When I get the craving, which is now almost on a daily basis, I grab my purse and keys, and jump in the car.  Sometimes it happens late at night, long after I have gotten comfortable on the couch in my sweats or jammies.  It hits me like a ton of bricks, and with adrenaline pumping, I am out the door.  I don’t know what the pharmaceutical term is for it, but it goes by the street name of Sonic Blast.
Some addicts take theirs topped with M & M’s or Butterfingers, but my choice is Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.  When I pull up to place my order, I am anxious and jittery.  Knowing I am that close makes the withdrawal more intense.  As my car inches its way toward the delivery window, I practically foam at the mouth in anticipation.  When I finally get to the window, I hand over my cash and peak inside to see it if it is ready yet.  I once asked the clerk to put extra peanut butter cup pieces on it for me.  He informed it would cost an additional twenty-five cents.  Like a typical addict, I now find myself rummaging through pants pockets and winter coats, looking for errant quarters to help feed my habit.

The clerk hands me a napkin, rolled around a plastic spoon and a long straw, providing me options of how I want to inject myself.  And then I see it, that giant Styrofoam cup with the clear plastic lid.  I can see the frothy whipped cream and dusting of candy on top.  I grab it from him and speed away, the craving having completely overtaken me.  I live but five minutes from the Sonic Drive-In, and yet, there are times I have to dig into that ice cream if I get stuck at one of the two traffic lights in my path.
I know I have to get hold of this problem before it starts affecting my work and my family.  I had hoped I could count on my roommate for an intervention, but you know how we addicts abide by the “misery loves company” and “partners in crime” way of life.  Yes, I did it.  I brought her one and now she is addicted as well.  

And in case you were wondering, yup, it tastes great with a turkey sandwich.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Root of All Evil?

I have a real love-hate relationship with money.  I love when I have money.  I love being able to buy things like food and clothes.  I also love going downtown with friends for dinner and drinks.  I love to buy gifts for people, I love to treat myself to a pedicure and haircut once a month and I love the feeling I get when all my bills are paid and I have a clean slate.

Now, on the other hand, I hate money.  I hate what it does to people.  I hate the greed it propels.  I hate the devastation it causes for those who don’t have it. I hate not having enough of it to stop working and I hate knowing that a serious illness or other catastrophe could wipe me out.  I simply hate worrying about it every day.

I know it is unrealistic for me to think the world could survive without a monetary system, but I sure do enjoy dreaming of what life would be like if we went back to the days of bartering for goods.  Would we respect each other more knowing we are dependent on each other’s skills and products?

When I was a kid, I didn’t have much concept about money. Even when I started getting an allowance, which I believe was fifty cents a week for doing household chores, I was still too young to comprehend the impact that money would have on my life as an adult.  We had a much simpler way of determining who was rich in the neighborhood – we traded baseball cards.

You always knew who on our block was prosperous at the moment in the baseball card world.  They were the ones who had to carry their cards in a shoe box.  Those of us who were less fortunate could carry our entire collection in our back pocket, perhaps with a rubber band around the stack.  If you were lucky enough to come into possession of a Mickey Mantle or a Roger Maris card, you could trade it for a whole pile of lesser known players.  Most times you wanted to hold onto one of those valuable cards for as long as possible.  It was the equivalent of having a hotel on Boardwalk.

Life was so simple back then that we solved wars with baseball cards.  Two cardholders would square off, flipping down card over card.  The pile would grow tall, and then it would happen.  Your opponent would lay down a red card, perhaps a Ron Swoboda Mets card.  And then you won the pile by trumping it with another red card, Sandy Koufax from the Dodgers.  Wouldn’t it be nice if instead of sending our soldiers to Afghanistan to ferret out terrorists, President Obama could simply challenge Hamid Karzai to a game of baseball card war?

Living life as a turkey sandwich has definitely jolted my financial security.  Gone are the days of the steady, weekly paycheck and the annual two-week vacation.  I worry about money a lot more, but somehow I always seem to get by.  It’s more about focusing on real priorities – family, health and happiness.  Would I trade that to go back to the nine-to-five, hectic rat race, corporate world?  Nah.  But I might for an Elston Howard Yankees card.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Life as a Turkey Sandwich

My mother's Thanksgiving dinner menu was exactly the same every year. Along with a huge, slow-roasted bird, she served her hand-mashed potatoes, homemade bread stuffing, rutabaga, cauliflower and Bird's Eye frozen corn and peas, always in a divided serving bowl. Cranberry sauce was sliced along the can imprints. The rolls arrived to the table late, and slightly burned, as she always forgot they were in the oven. Her pan gravy topped it all. There was a comfort in knowing that menu would never deviate. You could count on it to be the same every year, you didn't ever have to wonder what might be different. It made life just a little simpler and sometimes we need that.

I lived much of my adult life just like that Thanksgiving dinner. It was always about the 9 to 5, corporate job that came with a medical plan and two weeks vacation. I lived for the weekends, the two days that I didn't have to be somewhere at a set time. It was safe, it was secure, it was simple. I went to work, paid my bills, started a retirement plan and got through every day on the hopes of "someday" when I wouldn't have to do it any longer.

And then the light bulb went on, most likely prompted by the news that I was about to become a grandmother. I realized that as much as I loved that annual family dinner with all its steadfast routine, I enjoyed the late night, leftover turkey sandwich so much more. That sandwich was different every time - sometimes on one of those burned rolls, sometimes on wheat bread; sometimes with mayo, sometimes with mustard; sometimes turkey first with extras on top, sometimes the opposite. There was no specific time frame for eating the turkey sandwich, I made it when I felt hungry. And then I languished over it. I usually ate it while sitting in front of the television. And honestly, as good as that turkey was at the dinner table a few hours earlier, it was even better on that sandwich.

So now I live my life as a turkey sandwich. I still have to work, but it's with a different purpose. I do things I enjoy, making my own hours. I don't have the same security I did in the corporate world, but that's ok. My comfort is now in the form of spending more time with family and friends. I simply live a more meager lifestyle, but a happier one.

As a gracefully-aging baby boomer, I see life a little differently now. And though much of my observation comes in the form of "whatever happened to the good old days," I am living my life as if the best days are yet to come.

Welcome to my life as a turkey sandwich.