Monday, March 31, 2014

Back in the Day...

Oh my... well, the kids over at Our Freaking Budget manged to both crack me up and make me feel like a complete and total dinosaur with their recent What in the World are we Whining About post.

I always find it interesting to hear a younger person's perspective on the whole "what we take for granted" topic. And I have to admit that it does fill me with hope that at least some folks in the under 30 crowd do have an appreciation for how things were back in the "olden days."

It is an interesting exercise think about what the world was like when I was a kid vs. what it's like today. And as a person who will be crossing that big five-zero landmark in a few years... well, let's just say that with age comes perspective.

So here's a snapshot of what I remember life being like back in my childhood during the 1970's:

Our family had one television set - a 19 inch black and white model that my parents bought to watch the Apollo 11 moon landing. I still remember being awakened in the middle of the night for that - I had absolutely no clue what was happening, but I got to be out of bed, so I was happy!

The TV pulled in a sum total of 5 channels (on a good day) and the stations all stopped broadcasting at around midnight. From then until morning all you got was static or a test signal.

There were no VCR's, and going to the movies was a treat we got to experience only a couple times per year - usually at the drive-in because it was cheaper and you could bring your own popcorn. I still remember making my mother turn down the scary music and hiding behind the seat backs during Jaws.

Music came on vinyl records - which were either the "long playing" 33 revolutions per minute variety - the so-called "LP" - or the singles which played at 45 rpms. Many an afternoon was spent enjoying the sound of Perry Como sped up to 45rpms so he sounded like the Chipmunks!

And remember those little inserts that you had to stick in the hole of the 45 so the spindle would have something to hold onto?

Of course, if you were really hip you might have an 8-track tape player, but I didn't know anybody cool enough to have one of those.

One year my brother and I whined loud enough and got Mom to splurge on a TV tennis game for Christmas. It wasn't a real "Atari Pong" system, it was a cheap knock-off, but I still spent HOURS glued to that thing!

But other than the TV tennis game, "toys" generally consisted of things like balls, skateboards, hula hoops, Pogo sticks and other things that you actually played with rather than looked at.

We had one telephone - a big black rotary dial model that hung on the wall of the kitchen.

There were no answering machines or call waiting, so if you couldn't get through you just had to try back later. We were lucky to have our own number, because a lot of our neighbors still had a party line.

Long distance service was expensive, so we only got to talk to the out of town relatives on birthdays and special occasions. The rest of the time we wrote letters.

Back in those days only the really rich families had 2 cars, so even though most women were stay-at-home moms, kids didn't get shuttled around like they do today. Instead we had things called bikes and feet.

My parents were divorced, which was a real oddity back then, and Mom had to work, so my brother and I were what was known as "latch key kids" from about age 7 or 8 on.

For those too young to remember this era, this meant that we walked home from school and let ourselves in, then we were pretty much on our own until Mom got home around 6 or 7 in the evening. It seemed perfectly normal at the time, but these days I think you might get jailed for child neglect if you took that approach!

Computers were enormous contraptions that filled up entire wings of academic buildings. And while there may have been some connections between large mainframes, there certainly was no "internet" as we currently enjoy it, so doing any sort of research meant going to a library.

And writing school papers? OY! You had to use an actual typewriter. We had an electric model, which was nice because you didn't have to push the keys down quite so hard.

But it still had the keys that flew up to strike the page, so if you accidentally hit more than one key at a time they'd get hopelessly stuck together.

And if you needed more than one copy... well, there weren't Xerox machines back then so you had to use carbon paper. OY!

And when you made a typo.... it was "OY" in duplicate or triplicate! Let's just say I spent a lot of time blowing on my term papers to get the liquid paper to dry...

In school when the teachers wanted to make copies of things, we had a mimeograph machine that you had to put fluid in and turn with a crank.

Remember that purple ink? Anyone? Anyone?

Microwave ovens were confined to places like restaurants and rich people, so convenience food meant TV dinners - which always came out a bit black around the edges.

Or those pouches of chicken a la king that you heated up in a pot of boiling water and poured over toast.

And it still cracks me up that they now have "instant macaroni and cheese"

Apparently the stuff that comes in the box is not quite instant enough for the younger generation - I mean really... having to wait 9 whole minutes for dinner?!?

When you wanted a drink of water you turned on the tap. I still remember that the first brand of bottled water to come out was called "Evian" which, when spelled backwards gets you "Naive." We all thought that was quite appropriate because who in their right mind would pay for water? Oh silly me...

And of course we didn't have a dishwasher - well, not unless you count me. So I got to wash all of the dishes by hand - every. single. night. - hence my lifelong hatred of doing the dishes!

We didn't have a clothes dryer either, so doing the laundry meant hanging it to drip dry in the basement.

When you wanted to take pictures you had to shoot a roll of film and then send it out to be developed. This usually took about a week or two, and if you were lucky about half of the pictures would turn out.

And when you went to the store the cashier actually had to punch in the price for each item from the price tag!

And, of course, you had to actually go to the store in order to buy things, unless you wanted to roll the dice with a mail order catalog.

It's funny... when I think about all the ways that life has gotten more convenient over the years, you would think that people would be so much happier now than they were then. But somehow that doesn't really seem to be the case. It's like our expectations seem to have outpaced every advance in technology.

I don't know, maybe I'm just being nostalgic. I mean I'm really glad that I don't have to use typewriters or carbon paper anymore, and I LOVE my dishwasher beyond compare.

And seriously, Netflix? Are you kidding me? I can watch virtually any movie I want whenever I want to? How can anybody not love Netflix?

But I have to admit, that there is a part of me that really longs for the days when things were slower, and people didn't expect you to be available 24/7.

At least ignoring the technology is still an option in most cases... and I get to pick and choose only the parts of all this "progress" that actually do make my life better.

So tell me, what things stand out to you when you think about how life was different when you were a kid? I'm curious to know which things feel like "progress" to you and which don't.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

What Are Your Food Foibles?

The weather was warm today, and Sunday is generally produce markdown day at my local grocery store, so I took a nice little walk to the store and back.

And I did score on sweet bell peppers in the markdown bin - yellow and orange peppers at 3 for a dollar, woo hoo! Combine that with what I got at the Mercado the other day and I see some fajitas in my future!

Unfortunately, I suffered a bit of a lapse, and came home with some other things that I probably shouldn't have - mostly dark chocolate and exotic fruit, 2 of my very worst weaknesses!

The thing is, dark chocolate is "healthy" (wink wink, nudge nudge). But I'm never sure which brand will be the best, so today I decided I really should do some comparison shopping and came home with three different kinds. Because, you know, it's very important to be an informed consumer. (The Lindt Lindor Extra Dark Truffles are the best, BTW.)

Anyhow, it got me to thinking about what I do and don't consider to be a splurge in terms of grocery shopping, and I'm not entirely sure that there's a whole lot of rhyme or reason to it.

Generally though, I think my splurges fall into one of two categories - the "too expensive" category or the "too unhealthy" group. Then, of course, there are the really decadent ones that manage to fall into both categories. Like... say... the um... Lindor Truffles....

So here are my Food Foibles:

  • Dark Chocolate - I think this qualifies in both categories
  • Ice Cream - vanilla only, and just the real stuff, no guar gum or unpronounceable ingredients - probably both categories on this one too.
  • Berries & Cherries - fresh, frozen, dried, you name it, I can't resist them. I once bought a four pound box of fresh cherries at Costco and managed to down the entire thing in a matter of days. I know they're considered to be healthy, but they do contain a lot of histamines which can either provoke or worsen an allergic reaction, so I'm supposed to be careful with them. Plus, they ain't exactly cheap. So probably a bit of an argument for both categories on this one too.
  • Dried Fruit - any variety, I pretty much can't resist (well, except for those yucky banana chips - could totally live without those.) Generally dried fruit is considered healthy in small quantities, but I'm sorta incapable of eating only small quantities.
  • Grapes - I could live on grapes if they weren't either toxic or ridiculously expensive. So, this is an either/or choice on the expensive vs. unhealthy depending on whether you go organic or not.
  • Shortbread Cookies - only the homemade variety made with LOTS of real butter. Pretty cheap, but nothing even remotely healthy about them.
  • Cream, Butter, Full Fat Milk & Full Fat Yogurt, or anything made with cream, butter, full fat milk or full fat yogurt like Alfredo sauce, whipped cream, cafe au lait, cheesecake, etc. Not terribly expensive, but not terribly healthy either.
  • Imported Cheese: Gouda, Havarti, Jarlsberg... the list goes on. Probably not too bad for you in moderation... Ha! And WAY too expensive to enjoy very often.
  • Nuts, by which I mean Cashews & Pistachios - I'm allergic to most of the rest. Definitely too expensive to indulge in every day, plus I think they're only "healthy" when you consume them in moderation... something that I am incapable of (are you sensing a trend?)
  • Buttered Popcorn (usually with powdered Parmesan Cheese too) - Cheap but artery clogging - see the above entries on butter and imported cheese...
  • Smoked Salmon & Lox - OMG, OMG, OMG... is there anything more delicious? Now, salmon is healthy, but I think the fact that it's smoked might sorta cancel some of that out. But it's sort of a moot point because it costs a small fortune.
So there you have it. Those are my food foibles. And now you know what to fill a gift basket with if you ever decide you have to send me one! 

But interestingly enough, there are a lot of foods that are supposed to be decadent which I'm either indifferent to or find to be outright disgusting like potato chips or chocolate ice cream, BLICK! 

And anything really sweet like marshmallows, cake or frosting just makes me sick to think about. So I suppose I should count myself lucky because my list could be worse.

I'm curious to know how your lists compare with mine. And do you have any other categories besides "too expensive" and "too bad for you"? I suppose if I were a better greenie, "too environmentally destructive" would be a third category, but alas... it hasn't quite gotten equal billing with the other two... at least not yet.

So tell me, if you were gonna splurge at the grocery store, what would you come home with?

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Grass is Always Greener...

Back when I used to work at the music school, not a week passed when someone didn't say to me "Oh, I'm so jealous! That must be such a fun job - getting to sit around and play the guitar all day."

And to be honest, it was a pretty neat place to work, but there wasn't much sitting around and playing the guitar.

In general when I think of my former life, I remember how I worked very long hours for very short pay, and how I had to deal with an incredible amount of office politics... because musicians aren't exactly known for being even tempered.

I remember how I got work calls at home at all hours of the night and day. Like the time the phone rang at 2am: "Hi, um... we have a little issue here - you know that concert grand piano that's on loan for tomorrow night's show? Well, um... one of the volunteers was trying to move it, and it seems they accidentally sorta broke off the front leg, and the nose kinda smashed into the ground, what should we do?"

In general, I sorta felt like I spent my life trying to squeeze blood out of a proverbial turnip.

So, I couldn't help but smile and feel a sense of commiseration when Dar over at An Exacting Life mentioned in a recent post how people always assume that since she works at a library she gets to sit around all day and read books.

In fact, I seem to have run into a lot of examples of the "grass is greener" syndrome lately.

CatMan and I were chatting with a fellow on the bike path the other day. Turns out he used to do real estate up in Winter Park, a little ski resort town outside of Denver.

He was chuckling about how at least twice a week a couple would wander into his office and say, "We're looking for a nice place that we might be able to turn into a bed and breakfast."

It reminded me of all the people who would show up whenever I advertised a teaching position saying, "I've always wanted to quit my corporate job and make a living as a music teacher!"

To which I'd generally respond "OK... so have you thought about how you're going to handle living under the poverty level?" Because... sadly, "starving musician" isn't just a euphemism.

And I couldn't help but chuckle when I stumbled upon this open letter to Gwyneth Paltrow.

Apparently Gwyneth was recently asked about the stress of raising kids while making movies, and made some rather unfortunate comments about how it would be so much easier if she just worked a normal 9-5 job - the letter was one working mom's hilarious response.

Oh dear! Apparently even the rich and famous can succumb to lusting over how the "other half" lives!

In a certain sense, I think it's just human nature. We're all way too familiar with the struggles that we personally deal with on a daily basis, yet we always put our best feet forward in public - so I guess it's reasonable that other people might think our lives are just carefree and easy.

I also think that our society tends to encourage "woe is me" syndrome, which makes it even harder to keep from wallowing in a pool of self pity when we look at the perceived idyllic lives of those around us.

And I'm in no way immune to this myself.

Every time I'm chatting with someone in another part of the world about gardening, I find myself grumbling about how easy it must be if you live someplace with more rainfall than we enjoy - because, you know, in that case the grass really is greener!

Of course, I neglect to consider little things like slugs, and root rot, and lack of sunshine, and mold, and allergies, and the fact that weeds like water too - never mind what it must be like to try to hang your laundry to dry in a wet climate!

I'm sure there are a million other ways in which I assume that other people's lives are easier than they actually are, and it all got me to thinking, there must be countless examples of this sort of thing.

So here's your opportunity to vent all of your grass is greener pet peeves... I'm dying to know how it is that people assume you've "got it easy" when it ain't necessarily so!