Monday, November 26, 2012

Temporary Digs and Subscriber Problems

Greetings from our temporary home while our house recovers from Sandy.

I have heard from several email subscribers that blog posts are not being received. Glitches occur occasionally and fixing them can be a frustrating enterprise. I hope changes made fix the problem.
Thank you, readers, for your patience!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Marketing Madness Begins

Elections no longer dominate headlines, and just in time. They would have been pushed back to page 19 in favor of other news articles extolling the arrival of what has morphed into the ultimate American holiday: Black Friday Eve and Black Friday.
Thanksgiving is no longer the quintessential American special day. It has become the prelude for the main event, the real American holiday, what Americans have made a classic American activity: shopping.

It does not matter what your gender is, your marital status, age, sexual preference, education, or immigration status. No one cares about your color, ethnic background, religion, job title or whether or not your are employed, retired, work full-time or part-time, are a professional, union worker, laborer, self-employed, tradesperson, or a card-carrying member of the 47%. An individual with a credit card, debit card, check, cash, gift card, or any other acceptable form of monetary payment is welcome to share in what is truly a homegrown American experience.

Thanksgiving has been supplanted by Black Friday and Black Friday Eve as the main happening of the late fall season. I doubt Abraham Lincoln had any idea what he unleashed when officially declaring that henceforth Americans would celebrate Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November. Before the proclamation each state set their own Thanksgiving Day date.

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United
States…to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next
As a day of Thanksgiving and Praise…

That was 1863. For the next 75 years Thanksgiving was celebrated on the last Thursday of November.

Fast forward to 1939. The country was in the midst of the Great Depression. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was President. Europe was mired in war. Retailers urged Roosevelt to move Thanksgiving a week earlier anticipating an increase in holiday shopping sales.

Pre-Christmas holiday shopping mania had already begun to take hold throughout the country. Retailers claimed research indicated most people began shopping for the holidays after Thanksgiving. They maintained – wishful hoping would be a more accurate description– shoppers would spend more if they had an extra shopping week before Christmas.

Roosevelt obliged. There was confusion for two years – 1939 and 1940 – as some states complied with Roosevelt’s proclamation and others did not. Congress officially legislated the change in 1941.

Studies later indicated people did not spend more because of the extra shopping days. But the change proved permanent.

The traditional Thanksgiving turkey meal (or Tofurkey for vegetarians) supplies much-needed energy to withstand the cold, standing in line for hours waiting for a favorite store to open, the rush to grab sale items, maneuver to checkout and finally hand over credit card, check or cash. These activities take time and energy. Turkey, stuffing and pie fortifies the mob shoppers.

In traditional American fashion the event has been extended and drawn out. Now there is Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. Cyber Monday was originally a big online shopping day because, many years ago (as we will someday tell our great-grandchildren), few had fast Internet connections at home. People were forced to wait until work on Monday (yes, Virginia, most of us left our homes and went somewhere else to work back in the old days) to shop online.

But times changed. We all have fast Internet at home, the neighborhood coffee shop, library, or some other convenient location, and can now shop online anytime, anywhere.

And so ends a nostalgic walk down pre-RAM memory lane...

I hope everyone enjoyed family, friends and a wonderful holiday dinner.

And I hope everyone enjoyed their journey to the mall, outlet center, downtown business district or wherever their pocketbooks or wallets wandered.

I trust, besides spending money on Black Friday at big box stores, many of you spent dollars on Small Business Saturday, supporting your local shopkeepers. Go, economy, go!

And, in a note of complete disclosure, I must report I did not participate in any of the above post-Thanksgiving Day activities this year.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Brother-in-Law Blues

A Family Thanksgiving Holiday Tale

We will be having a wonderful Thanksgiving with my Mom, my son and his family, and my sister and her family. My mother-in-law was supposed to be a part of the festivities, but will not be joining us.

This is why -

My brother-in-law – a.k.a. BIL - is fourteen years younger than my husband. Hub went away to college when sixteen. BIL was two. There was not a lot of time spent growing up together. That partly explains why there are no deep ties between them. It does not explain why they are so very different.

The relationship between the two was never great and disintegrated over the past couple of years. Some of the key reasons are easily pinpointed – disagreements about money (Mom’s), politics, and religion are three topics of dispute and dissension.
The two have barely spoken following a meeting a couple of years ago. Hub initially attempted to patch things up. He called. He emailed. He tried to have Sister mediate. Mom could not bear the fact that her two sons did not speak and tried to intervene. BIL ignored the calls and email and rebuffed all reconciliation efforts.

BIL is not a fan of two-way communications. If he wants to talk or email, he contacts you. Otherwise he ignores messages and the messenger. He may return a call or email days later. Or never.

Mom is feisty as ever, living in an assisted living facility near us. We see her more often than hub’s siblings because of proximity. We listen to Mom’s complaints about the other two, whom she says never calls (not true) or visits (maybe not often enough, but…). Mom never learned how to check her cell phone messages. All she sees is the last call received, creating problems with family, friends, and anyone else trying to get in touch with her. But I digress…

When Mom moved to the facility we made an informal family pact that we would have Mom for Thanksgiving, and brother and/or sister would be responsible for Mom on Christmas. Years ago we all spent the holidays together, but as our kids grew, married and had their own kids, and as the family rift widened, it became customary for everyone to go their separate ways on holidays.

We planned Thanksgiving at our home. Everyone will travel a fair distance, but no one minds because Mom was supposed to be here. We are still not living in our home because of Sandy damage, but can spend the day at the house cooking, eating and hanging out. There is no hot water, but space heaters provide heat and the gas stove works.

Arriving home from Denver Sunday night the first thing confronting hub and I was an email from BIL asking if hub would drive and meet him halfway Thanksgiving morning so Mom could spend the holiday with BIL and his family.

I visited Mom Monday and she spoke about how she rarely sees BIL and the kids (she is not especially fond of his wife). The two teenagers are her youngest grandchildren. It would be so nice to spend the holiday with them, she revealed.

I was not going to argue. But I told her hub could not spend Thanksgiving morning driving.

It sounds like such an innocent request, but is indicative of how life with BIL has evolved over the years. Plans are made and the games begin.

All three kids met at Mom’s to celebrate her birthday last January. Sister and Mom decided everyone would go for Chinese food – Mom’s favorite. BIL arrives with his family and, although he had previously been told the plans, decided it was not what he wanted to do and said so. Sister held her ground – something sister and hub rarely did in years past. It was always easier to give in than argue with BIL. Anyway, at the birthday bash BIL did not like the fact that plans were not changed to suit him. He and his kids went to the restaurant and sat, sullen, rarely speaking, refusing to eat.

Hub was first to become estranged with BIL. Over the past couple of years Sister and BIL have drifted apart and communication is erratic and strained.

Tuesday morning BIL picked up Mom and they returned to his home in north Jersey. We did not know until hub stopped by on his way back from a business trip to see Mom. After searching and not locating her, he stopped by the front desk. Oh, he was informed, didn’t you know your brother signed her out?

We live our life and make our plans, but BIL has a knack for placing a wedge between people, places, and activities. Family occasions become a challenge. How will BIL mess with the next family event, meeting or holiday?

Hope everyone has a delicious Thanksgiving dinner 
with people most loved and cherished. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

One Baby Boomer’s Guide to Today’s Kids

A week with the grandchildren is an exhausting feat for a sixty-something. It is a lot of fun, but I can totally understand why God in his wisdom ensured young women give birth while older women cannot (until recently, but we are not going there…)

As more of the children of my generation, the baby boomers, marry and start families, it is our pleasure and one of life’s greatest gifts to spend time with the grandkids. It is also a great joy and delight to hand them over to their parents and quickly exit, fading away (temporarily) as we return to our quiet home and slower pace of life.

Here are a few things I learned during recent occasions with the little darlings, and a few tips I picked up along the way.

Kids say the darndest things (remember the old Art Linkletter show? Well, he was right).
A short clip with Art Linkletter, Bill Cosby, and kids.

Kids rule. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.

Kids can often sleep anywhere, anytime, take a short nap, wake up and be ready to go full speed ahead. Grandparents, on the other hand, rarely catch a nap and, as the day wears on, slow down.

For those with grandkids in diapers, do not forget a stocked diaper bag whenever leaving the house. When the diaper bag is left home, it will be needed. When the bag is taken and not replenished before leaving, the much-needed diaper and/or wipes will be missing.

Kids want to eat whatever is NOT in the house.

Kids will eat a favorite food until you prepare it or order it at a restaurant. Then it becomes yucky.

Kids will be starved until you prepare a meal or order food in a restaurant. Suddenly they are no longer hungry.

Woe to the grandparent not prepared with snacks when in the car, on a walk, at the playground, or anyplace else.
Ice cream is one of the major food groups - according to kids.

Dessert is essential and an important food group. Favorite foods in this category include Mom’s chocolate chip cookies and ice cream. The two other major food groups are bread and peanut butter. (Forget about government guidelines.) The minor food groups are: M&Ms, dipping sauces (ketchup, ranch dressing, maple syrup, etc.) and drinks (milk, water, apple juice, hot chocolate). Occasionally the kids feast on the minor food group called adult real food, such as chicken, cheese, lettuce, fruit, and veggies. 

The kids are well educated in the various uses of your iPhone or smartphone and can teach you how to take pictures, view the pictures, download songs and games, play the songs and games, change settings, etc. Be sure, however, they download only free stuff!

The kids will go to great lengths to tell you about their interests and activities, some of which you will have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. Try to look intelligent and occasionally nod your head in agreement.

The kids can teach you how to use the various remote control devices in their homes. There will be at least two needed to watch TV or movies.

Before visiting it might be a good idea to become familiar with the characters on today’s TV shows. Ask Mom and Dad what the kids watch, and view YouTube videos. There is the usual Sesame Street gang, Dora and Diego the explorers, Caillou, Blues Clues, the Disney gang, and the action-packed stuff older kids watch…the list goes on and on. Personally I do not like the action-packed stuff the eight-year-old watches, but I am just an old fuddy-duddy grandma.

Kids learn very quickly they can watch whatever they want, whenever they want (or whenever Mom and Dad allows), thanks to recording devices and On Demand. When they visit, if you do not have the capability, good luck trying to explain to your toddler grandkids why they cannot watch a particular show whenever they want.

If it rains kids will not want to wear their raincoats and boots. If it is hot they will want to wear winter boots. If it snows they will insist on wearing crocs without socks, or sneakers. In any weather they will want to go outside barefoot. They will insist on wearing the jacket, sweater or coat that cannot be found.

Whining is an acceptable communications tool.

Crying is also a suitable communications method of obtaining what one wants.

Stamping of feet is another method used to garner attention.

Grandparents – if they have the stamina - can ignore the whining, crying, and stamping of feet until Mom and Dad appear on the scene, unless of course it is the grandparents whining, crying and stamping feet.

Whatever clothes Grandma or Grandpa choose, the kids will not want to wear that particular outfit that day. Tell them Mom chose the clothes and you might get them to put them on.
Having a pet, such as a dog around, provides added noise and general chaos to the mix.
But Charlie, although old, is so cute and lovable!
If they need a bath they will not want one. If you are tired and want them in bed, they will insist on a bath.

Forget about getting anything done once the kids are in bed. You will be too exhausted.

Go to bed early so you can wake at the crack of dawn. No alarms needed. The kids will make sure you are up and ready for another fun-filled, busy day. Forget about enjoying a leisurely cup of coffee, reading the paper, catching up on your email, or enjoying a long, hot shower. At least until the kids are once again in the full-time care of their younger, vibrant, energetic parents.
Keep the kids busy...or else.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Baby Boomer Déjà vu

As a card-carrying member of the baby boomer generation (I am an AARP member) I was a babe in my mother’s arms in the early 1950s when babies ruled the world – at least in the United States. My parents moved to a new house in a new suburb on Long Island in 1952. Every house sheltered a twenty- or thirty-something couple, most married following the war. Dads went to work, the majority commuting into ‘the city’ – New York City, of course. Dad carpooled for a couple of years, but as the Long Island Expressway morphed into one long, meandering traffic jam, he switched to the train.

Moms remained at home with a growing brood of babies. It was a different lifestyle from many of today’s modern 21st century Moms. They were not constantly chauffeuring kids to activities, play groups and parties. It was several years before many owned second cars. Mom either threw the kids in the car (literally – this was before seat belts and car seats) and drove Dad to the train station, or survived without a car.

Although a lot has changed, a lot remains the same. Babies are born in the 21st century the same way they were in the 20th century and for thousands of centuries before that. Well, most of them are. I do not want to get into a discussion of alternate means of pregnancy, such as intrauterine insemination, in vitro fertilization, donor eggs, embryo adoption, surrogacy…I am not even sure what all of them are.

Anyway, getting back to the subject at hand, I am spending a week in Denver with my grandchildren. They live in a fairly new, constantly growing community. Every time I come out there are more houses, playgrounds, pools, schools, etc. Construction slowed during the Great Recession, but the pace has quickly increased.

I am in the middle of a 21st century baby boom. There are young children, babies, and dogs in every house in the neighborhood. Everywhere I go Dads and Moms haul kids in SUVs and push double strollers with one or two additional kids walking alongside. It is baby boomer déjà vu – babies rule the world once again.

My daughter-in-law is in charge of the kids’ school Book Fair this week. I am here to watch the two-year-old and drive the kids to school, pick them up, then drive to various after school activities.

Each morning I get up early and shower and dress quickly, before the kids descend.

I make sure the two older ones are dressed and have all school gear ready.

Breakfast is the next order of business. One or two want pancakes – mini ones from the box in the freezer. The third wants cold cereal. 

Or maybe one wants mini pancakes, one a bagel, the other a bagel but now there are none left. She’ll settle for an English muffin – but only if she can spread the butter herself.

One morning one wants mini pancakes (there is a theme here – the two-year-old has a one-track mind, at least for breakfast), the other two feast on banana bread. There is always fruit along with the main course. Mom helps, but is off to school early.

We collect the dishes, put everything away, and then collect ourselves. Put on boots (snow on the ground here in the beginning of the week!) or shoes, and argue about the need for socks and coats. I manage to get all three in the car, in car seats and booster seats, belted.

One morning I drive them to school and we all pile out, only to discover the eight-year-old left his backpack at home, which he needs because his homework is in it. After making sure the kindergartener gets to her class, the two-year-old and I drive home, grab the backpack, hop back in the car, drive back to school, find the third grade room, drop off the bag, and the two-year-old and I are left to enjoy the day together. I am already exhausted!

Various activities located throughout Denver take up most afternoons. Or we just go home to an enjoyable time of sibling fighting, rivalry, general mayhem, disorder, and pleadings to do what is prohibited according to The Laws of Mom and Dad but which the kids figure Grandma will let them do.

Such is life for a new baby boom generation and their Grandma. But here’s a pleasant thought – all these kids will grow up, go to work, and pump money into the Social Security and Medicare systems, assuming the programs are still around. So Mom and Dad can breathe easy. They are not just raising kids. They are planning for their own retirement.