Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Return to the land of grocery science

Recently I posted about grocery store technology, particularly in the area of self checkout lanes. I have recenlty come up with a new reason to utilize the self help lanes...grocery store employees. It is hard to believe that unemployment is so high in this country when you take a look around at the people helping you in the grocery store. In fact, you can make the same commentary about any type of store anymore. Unless someone is making a commission on your purchase (you know if they are by the way THEY hold the merchandise when they escort you to the checkout lanes), there is no knowledgable service anymore. There was a time when you could go to the grocery store and ask where they have chocolate covered spaghetti noodles or some obsure product and the employee would say "aisle 11, half way down, on your right, third shelf from the bottom, between the raisins and the cocoapuffs." Now when you ask where they have ketchup, they look at you like they have never heard of it and say , ''uuuuummmmm, did you look in, umm the produce aisle???" Don't even think about buying a tv or stereo at walmart or any other big box store unless you have done the research yourself and already know more than the manufacturer. The people working can't give you an answer over the quality of two different tv's that is any more useful than, " ummmm, this tv is 26" and the other is uhmmm, 25" so this one is is one more inch of quality than the other."

Of course then there is the fun again at the checkout lane. The paper or plastic question seems to be the only thing gone over in training for the grocery bagger. Don't bother trying to be "green" and buy the reusable cloth grocery bags that many stores now sell. The bagger will put them right into the plastic bag, as if you purposely bought them for home use later. I recently bought a box of popsicles on a +90 degree day, and bought one of the insulated foil bags to keep them from melting. The bagger placed the popsicles into one plastic bag and the foil bag into another. So much for smart shopping...

Friday, August 8, 2008

Date night

Whoo hoo!! It's date night tonight. Got a sitter lined up, and don't even have to take out a loan to pay for the sitter. It's dad and mom night tonight--or rather, her and I night-let's leave those other titles at the the door when we escape. On the list for tonight is a trip to the Virginia Theater to see the ALW musical "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." I've seen it before, but my wife hasn't. Of course, with live theatre, even if you've seen it, you haven't seen it the way they are doing it in this production. Of course, there are directors who just copy someone else's ideas or worse, copy action for action, inflection for inflection the way it was done in the movie version (I don't like it when directors do this...why would I want to pay 10-20 dollars to see a play that is an exact copy of a movie I either own or can rent for a buck???). OK, off the soapbox and back to the topic at hand. Whoo hooo, date night!!! Gotta get through the work day and get the kids picked up and get home, and then it's "our time." This only happens once in like a million years, so obviously I'm excited about it!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Just Keep Going

If you are fan of my wife's blog, you know all about our latest excercise program. She and I have been running the workout system for the Couch to 5K program from Coolrunning.com. This program allows you to slowly work up from no running to being able to run 5k (or 30 minutes straight) over the span of 9 weeks.

The workouts start easy. Week one is 3 workouts on nonconsecutive days of a 5 minute walk, 8 cycles of 60 seconds of running and 90 seconds of walking, followed by a 5 minute cool down walk. Week two has the same warmup and cool down walks of 5 minutes (this is consistant through all the weeks), and 3 workouts of 6 cycles of 90 seconds running and 2 minutes walking.

Week 5 runs you through day 1 being three 5 minutes runs with a 3 minute walk in between, day 2 being two 8 minute runs with a 5 walk in between. Day three is a major killer with a 20 minute run with no walking break.

45 minutes ago, I finished week 5 day 3. I survived my 20 minute run. I am a runner!

All day long I psyched myself up (or was it out?) to try to pull off this run. It has been 19 years since a couple of track practices my senior year of high school which were the last time I ran 20 minutes without stopping. Since that time I have completed college, worked several menial back breaking jobs, worked one deadend career position for 10 years, met my wife, had kids, put on about 60 pounds (I was an absolute twig in HS), eaten about 30 billion calories and 600 million fat grams, drank 14 olympic swimming pools of regular Mt. Dew (I DON'T do diet soda), done virtually no physical activity for the sake of "exercise", and suffered a stroke at age 22. I truly doubted my body could survive a 20 minute run- at least not in one piece.

Guess what...despite the torture and self-destruction I have caused my body over the years, I made it through the pinnacle 20 minute run workout of C25K. I feel pretty good about it...right now at least. We'll see how I feel in the morning. That is, if I make it to the morning.

If I don't, I leave everything to my wife...except my credit card bills. I leave those to the guy who came up with couch to 5k. I hope he appreciates it.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Defying gravity

2 months, 13 days, and still flying high. Sir M had a birthday party on the 19th of April. My job on the day before was to stop by the Rantoul IGA to pickup the birthday cake for the shindig (btw--this is THE place for cakes in the area...no other place is even close to their quality. Get the bettercreme whipped frosting, and remember who sent ya). While waiting for the cake, Sir M decided he wanted a pre birthday gift--a power rangers mylar balloon. He picked that balloon from the center of about 50 balloons on the ceiling. It took me two minutes to even find the balloon he was pointing at. I bought it though, figuring I was wasting 3.99 as most likely that balloon would make a break for the open sky as soon as we left the store. It didn't-- we made it to the car and made it home, and through the party throughthe week, and on into the next month. As I blog, that crazy mylar balloon with the power rangers picture on it is STILL flying in our living room. Red Ranger-FULL POWER!!

Anybody have a recent copy of the Guiness Record Book? What is the record for longest flying power ranger mylar balloon? I think I have a contender...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Lunchtime at the Daycare Cafe

Well after much prodding, I finally listened to my wife. (count me as 1 for infinity in this area). I took my lunch, plus a few extra minutes, and made my way over to the daycare center where my children, Sir M and Lady A, spend the majority of of their waking time each weekday. I was going to spend my lunch with my kids, and with their teachers and friends, eating the things they eat, talking about the things that 2 and 4 year olds talk about.

Let's just start by saying that the food was not quite what I am used to eating for lunch. I spend most lunches driving through the McDonald's or Arby's or KFC/Tacobell or Subway drivethru's, trying to scrape enough money to purchase 1-2 not so quality items from the 1.00 value menu, while listening to a audio book on the minivan sound system. Today's lunch consisted of pasta salad (which was actually pasta, dressing and mixed veggies belended together), pineapple, a cheese chunk, and a cup of milk. My kids are different ages, and in different lunch shifts-so I got this smorgasboard of pleasure twice.

Of course, the food wasn't the point (and it was free-so there was no scraping the car to find enough change to buy a KFC snacker). The point was to get some bonus time with the kids, and that was the most enjoyable part. My kids were generally well behaved. I was shocked. Lady A was first up this morning, and we sat down with my knees 6 inches above the toddler tables, with her dressed in her pink dress and an ear to ear smile while she looked at her friends and said "my daddy." She scooped her own pineapple on her plate, and then proceeded to devour each particle of food and milk given to her. I was amazed. She cried when lunch was over, because she didn't want me to leave her in her class for nap time. Sir M was up to bat next. Sir M has had some difficulties the past few days with getting into trouble at the noon hour/nap time part of the day. My visit had a dual purpose today: spend time with the little bug, but also see if I could help get him on the right track behaviorally. Well, Sir M and T-dad sat down to eat with the other kids , and I kind of felt like a celebrity with all eyes on me. There was quite a bit of squirelling around going on, but I must say again, Sir M was pretty good, and he also ate every bit of food on his plate.

I think this is going to be a regular thing. I think at least every other week or so I will try to make a trip to the daycare cafe for a visit. Maybe the other squirrels in the nest will get used to my visits and we can all sit and talk about the stuff 4 years talk about -the pressures of craft time quotas, not enough time play time, sleeping on those uncomfortable cots, the high price of gas(come on, it affects us all). I'm really looking forward to next time---but I'll definitely pay closer attention to the menu.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The grocery store technology

Grocery store technology...let's face it. The grocery store is the one place that technology doesn't really seem to be keeping up with therest of the world. However, over the last few years, one bit of technology has entered the world of grocery that, honestly, I don't think the world really was ready for: Self Check Out. How great an idea...no teeny bopper or underemployed person needed for you to scan and pay for your purchases. At least, that's the theory. I have yet to go to a store with self check out and not see a customer who was "beaten by the machine." Monday night, for instance, I was in one of the local locations of "the greedy corporate giant big box store", you know the one that rhymes with "Ball Cart", and there were three out of four self checkouts open (I assume that some customer must have gotten frustrated and beaten up the one now closed). Of the three open registers, 3 were in use...and in use still, and in use even still for at least 10 minutes (keep in mind there is a 20 item limit on these lanes). Each person had to, no less than three times during the running of their checkout, ask the underpaid, underappreciated, and undertrained employee for assistance. Meanwhile, I stood there with my 5 items, waiting for some grace of god that would help these customers figure out the complexities of the machine and actually finish their transaction. Let's be honest here...it's not all that complex. Pick up item, run the bar code over the scanner, put in the bag, select form of payment, pay, grab reciept, leave. Simple. I suppose, once again...that's the theory. This assumes that the customer knows what a "bar code" is, and is able to push the correct 'on screen' button to move from scanning to paying (not that it doesn't say something like "finish and pay"). Finally, one of the three customers finally figured out the system and completed their payment, and I moved into position to checkout. The pressure was on. Scan the items. That took me 15 seconds. Push the payment button, scan my debit card, put my pin in, grab my reciept, grab my items, in my car before the other two customers even finished scanning. I love self checkout and my debit card...I wouldn't go shopping without either one.

Words of advice for first time "self checkout users."

+If you don't know what a bar code is, skip the self check out. Or, perhaps pay someone to do your shopping for you.
+If you have produce purchased by weight, go to the standard lanes. Produce by weight is for experienced self checkers.
+If you have coupons...best to skip the selfers and go to the manned checkouts. Coupons are trouble even for trained employees.
+Use self checkout for less than 20 items, even if not marked as such. There really is no space for running a full cart of goodies. Also, the more items you have, the more chance for system errors.
+Use a debit or credit card. Yes there options for cash and check, but those options are for show. Plastic is the only acceptable form of payment. (In fact, plastic is the only way to go in standard checkout lanes too...Check writing went out in the 80's. Throw the checks away and go electric.)

With experience, you can turn a checkout on a self lane into a time saving measure- scanning and paying in less than a minute. You can't even get that from a standard checkout employee. However, the first few times will take a few minutes to figure the system and the scanning technology. Don't be tempted by an empty line if you are a first timer and in a hurry. Learn it at your leisure. Someday, grocery stores will be entirely do it yourself...Probably in about 80 years, at the rate people are catching on to their use. I went by the store yesterday, and one of those two customers was still there trying to scan her bananas....that darn produce.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Parting is Sweet Sorrow

Ok, I'm beginning to feel a little bad. I recently auditioned for a production with my theatre group. I wasn't going to, because my calendar is pretty full, and I enjoy summer months of hanging out in the yard in the evening with my kids and wife and neighbors.

But this is the play...the quintessential historical drama of evolution vs. creationism. You know the one, if you know drama. Now I'm not the type of person who has to play the lead. In fact, I'd prefer to not play the lead...my memory isn't what it used to be, and I can't spend 10 hours a night sitting in the common room studying lines like I did when I was in college. There were, however, a couple of really good roles I did want. I talked it over with Lady McMom, and told her how much I loved the show and how much I wanted to play the role of either the preacher or the journalist...both totally sweet roles-roles I really have wanted to play for a long time. Lady McMom was great, despite how hard it would be and how I'd be leaving her to do bedtime with M and A and all the home stuff on her own, she was very supportive and told me to get my rear down there and audition. I was flying on clouds for a couple of days...

Until the cast list came out. No Preacher or Journalist role for me. Not exactly the spear carrier #5 either, but I ended in a role that was pretty boring. It wasn't one with a good meaty run of lines...nothing I could sink my teeth into. It was a role that I generally had no interest in, whatsoever.

Now I had a dilemma. The show is way short on having enough men to cover all the roles. However, I didn't feel it fair to my family to be away from them during these summer months for a role that didn't "do it for me." On the other hand, the director is good friend, and bailing on him wouldn't exactly make me feel all warm and fuzzy.

In the end the choice was no choice at all. Family first...always. I sent a very apologetic email to director saying essentially, "thanks but no thanks, I can justify the time away from my family." Two days later, no return response. I can't make everyone happy, I suppose.

I don't think I'm a primadonna. I don't regularly pass on a role just because it isn't the role I truly wanted. It's all about priorities, which over the years have been misguided when it comes to the theatre. Here I finally got it right. No second guessing, I made the right choice.

I can still feel bad about it, right?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

All the World's a Stage

Welcome to the living hell that is community theatre. Notice that I spell theatre with an -re and not the more regular -er. I have come to believe the proper spelling for theatre, the art, is with the -re and for theater, the building, is with an -er. So if I were headed to the theatre, it would mean I was heading for an evening of entertainment involving a theatrical production. If I am am headed to the theater, it typically means I am headed to the dreaded building to pound nails, paint walls, run rehearsals, or any of countless meaningless tasks that come from a theatre director. Or should I say, community theatre director. Let's be honest here, I'm not famous, or performing in Phantom of the Opera or even Macbeth or Hamlet. I'm talking about voluntary directing work for low budget productions such as Best Christmas Pageant Ever or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Productions that provide hundreds of hours of unpaid work with casts of hundreds of (mostly preteen) locally found actors and actresses to provide 90 minutes of (psuedo-) entertainment for literally tens of thous-...no make that, tens of people who find their way into our audience. Volunteer was never such a dirty word before the creation of community theatre. But alas, those of us who are addicted to it can find no freedom from it. Come hell or high water in front of an audience of as few as 6 people, we are there pouring our hearts out to become John or Ethel Barrymore, at least in our own minds...

Honestly it isn't as bad as all that...from my perspective. From my wife's perspective...it's ten times worse than all that. Lady McMom, is a big fan of me and of my productions, that is unless they take me away from the family, which is almost always. Oh yes, Lady McMom and I have kids. Sir M (4) and Lady A(2). From the birth of M, my theatre has been limited, though not as much as Lady McMom would prefer. I took on direction of a play less than 6 months after Sir M came into the world. That may have been the last time it was somewhat of an enjoyable experience for Lady McMom. M was too little to know what was going on, and he and Lady McMom came to many rehearsals so we could all be together. I acted in this show as well as directed, and found a way to get young Sir M on stage for a little bit of audience baiting. Did I tell you I am notorious for adding fluff to my shows???

Of course, it's been kinda downhill since that production (although I have directed 3 and acted in a 4th since then). Sir M made a second trip to the stage in the next production, and Lady A got her feet wet in my most recent directorial project. Both were set to play my children in the production I acted in, by Sir M, refused to go up on stage and I had the director replace them. I have yet to Lady McMom on stage, but that will happen...probably about the time pigs fly and politicians stop being lying greedy criminals.

So what will this blog thing be about....who knows? I suppose at this point it will be a little about the home life and a little about the theatre life, and little bits of both in between. As Bill Shakespeare wrote (and Deluxe has printed on my personal checks) "all the world's a stage." God, what an overused cliche, but then again, it is my motto. Now if I could only come up with a cool themesong...