Dialing for Democracy

Hey, remember those innocent bygone days of the 2008 election? The candidate with the ears whom I’d barely heard of beat out Hillary and went onto win a second term? McCain sunk his own ship by joining forces with that dingbat who could see Russia from her porch?

God we were naive.

Anyhooo, the feeding frenzy of ’08 inspired me to write a humorous feature for the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor, where I worked at the time. Reading it now, in the light of the shit show our country is in the middle of, I had to laugh or else I would cry (and possibly never stop until all the votes are counted tomorrow night).

I hope you get a little chuckle too…

Dialing for Democracy

My thumb has lost all feeling so I decide to switch hands and continue calling in my vote. I know there are people out there with way more spare time, as well as multiple phones, but I’ve got to get in my two cents worth. Maybe it won’t even matter, but I hit disconnect each time with a little swell of pride.

The year is 2032 and it’s that time again. Time to choose the president of this great nation the only way we Americans know how. Phone in voting, of course. When the powers-that-be realized how much command shows like “American Idol” and “Dancing with the Stars” had over the masses, our electoral system evolved accordingly.

dialingmadness

Six months ago the latest pool of candidates was formed following auditions from Vegas to D.C. We’re still enjoying tape of the worst rejects between weekly eliminations. There was the congressman from Montana whose moving speech and rendition of “I Am, I Said” were interrupted by his longtime mistress and 12-year-old love child. Well-placed cameras later caught the heavyset woman and the politician’s wife going at it in the parking lot. Yes, he had presidential potential but now the congressman was part of the gag reel with the rest of them.

Thanks to the Buffet law of 2016, candidates could no longer spend millions in advertising in order to woo American audiences. No, they simply had to rely on their charm, singing and/or dancing talents, photogenic quality of their immediate family, and of course, the fickle taste of viewers. A quirky black sheep or closeted skeleton was hardly a detriment to a presidential hopeful; nay, it just added texture and color to the televised competition when a redneck cousin popped out of the woodwork.

Legislation now allowed billions of dollars in advertising to be diverted, not to mention the forests of trees that were saved when political junk mail was outlawed. The surplus money went mostly to education — also provided entirely by television and Internet — and making sure each citizen had enough monitors and modems per household to receive their God-given right to the information highway. With the majority of the workforce operating from home, it really was a win-win situation. In fact, as soon as time’s up for calling in our final votes I’ll be back at the computer fielding angry I-M’s from India. My mom says it used to be the other way around but I find it hard to believe I would call someone in Punjab to discuss my credit card balance.

My eyes drift back to the set as the busty emcee of “The Amazing Race: Presidential Edition” points to the clock in Times Square. Voting is almost over and with today’s technology we’ll know in mere minutes who will be running the most powerful country in the world.

I think it’s going to be close. Dakota Fanning definitely won over the hearts of America with her childhood filmography montage and proposed line of biodegradable hand-held computers. But Ashton Kutcher has age, experience and let’s face it — he blew away the competition during the last round of “I Can Name That Third World Country in Two Syllables.” Even if he didn’t win, his audition tape punking Senator Chelsea Clinton would go down in history.

The election clock ticked off the final second and Jay-Z’s classic mix of “Hail to the Chief” blasted from the speakers. I reached for the remote and fell on my face.

As shag carpet tickled my nose I sneezed and came fully awake. Ah jeez. What a nightmare. To think I fell asleep watching the last of the nasty 2008 campaign ads, and almost woke to a country run by Ashton Kutcher. Although, Bruce Willis would have made a great Secretary of Defense. Yippee kai yay…

PS: I really wrote this EIGHT YEARS AGO with tongue in cheek and didn’t change a word. Kind of chilling. Now go vote, for the love of all that’s holy!!

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Post-hibernation homework

Published with permission by the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor

After a few heartbreaking false starts, it appears that spring may finally be ready to stick around. Well, at least until it snows tomorrow. I can handle precipitation as long as it’s not frozen and accompanied by frigid winds. I’m more than a little whiny these days.

With the warm-up, I can tell it’s not just my attitude that needs adjusting, but my creativity as well. After a while of everything being brown or white, I’m simply not as inspired – be it words, art, music or other forms of expression – I’m just not feeling it.

Don’t be late for this very important date… with your creative self.

If you’re the same way, crawling out of your figurative cave this spring, I have some post-hibernation homework for you: make a date with yourself.

Years ago I read an amazing book called “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron and I’ve carried some of the most inspiring points with me since then, one of them being an artist date. Cameron is primarily a writer but the spirit of the book and the artist date is really for all types of creative people – and in my humble opinion, we’re all creative no matter what shape that may take.

Unfortunately we’re all too often waylaid by work, family, obligation – or in my case, winter blues – to get those juices flowing and we need to assign ourselves the task of stimulating those senses again. It won’t take a lot of time and it may even be something you’ve already scheduled. The key is opening your eyes and looking at the world a little differently.

Start with an hour a week and designate that time as your creativity date. One of my favorite places to start is the local thrift or antique store. Look past the junk that no one else wants or the dated dishes and clothes that make you cringe.

Look for the treasure. Think about the history behind an unusual knick-knack. Imagine the story behind the old book with the personal inscription. Appreciate the intricate pattern on a single dish that survived from a whole set of old china.

When the weather is finally cooperative, take a walk – just you and your imagination. Along with your stiff legs, you’ll feel your creativity stretch and yawn while you look at the dark bare branches lacing against the sky, their buds not quite visible to those in a hurry. Really admire the mosaic of decades-old flagstone that graces so many of the streets in Berthoud. (No really, look at them and make sure you don’t trip on an uneven edge while looking at the trees.)

Sometimes the date can be less abstract and you can take the time to fully enjoy the arts as created by others. When the kids are in school, spend an afternoon in the theater with a small independent film that has the critics buzzing. Speaking of kids, the Annual Thompson School District art show “Look. Think. Make. Connect!” is at the Loveland Museum/Gallery through April 14. You will be awestruck and inspired by the talent of our regional youth.

So many stories... one of them could be yours. (What is that weird black thing on the table?)

So many stories… one of them could be yours. (What is that weird black thing on the table?)

The Longmont Library is holding a festival this month that includes a talk and slide show with renowned Colorado author and photographer John Fielder on April 17. Any library is actually a gold mine for creative dates. I’ve been known to walk the stacks without purpose, just looking at all the books and seeing what subject sparked my curiosity.

You get the idea. You don’t need to be a writer or painter or musician, but may just need a seasonal jumpstart to your creativity. So here’s your assignment, if you choose to accept it: take an hour this week just for you and your winter-worn imagination. Work that intangible muscle and see what tangible impact it has on the rest of your life. It’s an easy A.

Matrimony: The Musical?

For someone who has never been married I seemingly have a lot to say about the Big Day, thanks in part to the Surveyor‘s annual bridal section. If you like this musing on music, you may enjoy my thoughts on ugly bridesmaid dresses.

WEDDINGSINGER

…but not necessarily the feelings I would want on my special day.

No wedding reception is complete without romantic music and cheesy ballads to accompany the newly wedded couple and their guests as they sway in time — or possibly in direct proportion to their alcohol consumption. Song lists for the festivities can be just as important as finding the ugliest bridesmaid dresses on the market for your “besties.”
Depending on your budget or your love of Adam Sandler movies, you can choose from an mp3 player containing your playlist and blasted from a speaker system, to a professional DJ, to a tuxedoed crooner who may offer his own interesting renditions of the classics. Whichever way, if there’s a party following the nuptials you’ve gotta have tunes.
The most important song is probably the first dance for the newlyweds. It should be special to both parties, romantic, and not too long. You don’t want to have to gaze into each other’s eyes eternally while the guests are raiding the open bar.
Some timeless favorites are “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You,” by Elvis, “Just the Way You Are,” by Billy Joel, or if you’re a late bloomer, “At Last,” by Etta James. “Nothing Compares 2 You,” by Sinead O’Connor topped one list of popular wedding songs, but if you’ve actually listened to the lyrics it’s more of an eat-a-gallon-of-ice-cream-he-left-me song than let’s-spend-the-rest-of-our-days-together.
An informal poll of couples of all ages revealed that people have very personal connections to certain songs, not to mention a marvelous sense of humor. Choices included Boney M’s “Rasputin,” “So Rot” by Subway to Sally, the medal ceremony music from “Star Wars,” and one song from Slayer that gave me nightmares. One woman I know *cough*my sister*cough* included Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” at her second wedding, which turned out to be a little too prophetic … six months later. Ah, crazy kids in love. (Google these songs at your own risk.)
In recent years there’s a trend of contemporary songs recorded specifically targeting marrieds-to-be, in case you don’t have the imagination to pull off “#1 Crush” by Garbage. These heart-melters include “Marry You,” by Bruno Mars, “Marry Me,” by Train or “Just Say Yes,” by Snow Patrol, all with explicit instructions imbedded in the lyrics and titles. How long do you want to be with your betrothed? “1.000 Years,” according to Christina Perri.
If you need a little more direction, Amazon and iTunes conveniently provide themed collections and song lists as long as the bride’s train.

Drink enough champagne and you don't even need the groom. Do the bridesmaid boogie...

Drink enough champagne and you don’t even need the groom. Do the bridesmaid boogie…

Sure, instrumentals or classics like “Here Comes the Bride” are great for the processional music to set the hushed tone of awe for the ceremony, but what a couple dances to — and chooses for their guests to dance to — is what makes memories. Have fun choosing the music for the daughter-father dance, the dance that is guaranteed to spark something between bridesmaid #3 and the best man, or the final song before calling it a night. And maybe for inspiration, kick things off with Pink’s anthem, “Get the Party Started.”

Concerning cup holders

Reprinted with permission of the Berthoud Surveyor

My 14-year-old car is perfect in many ways. I’ve had to do minimal maintenance on it beyond the usual and it’s only stranded me once. It’s not very pretty anymore but I do my best thinking in the dinged up Honda sedan and I dread the day I have to retire Snowbell. (Yes, Snowbell.)
The one notable problem with my car is that the interior has been bathed in so many beverages – mainly coffee and soda – that I’m sure I’ll never get it perfectly clean. The poor excuse for cup holders molded into the console is the glaring flaw in the car.
to go cupI hate them. They’re two different sizes and neither is the right size for any can of soda or average thermal coffee mug, which means the first corner I take results in tipped containers and flying liquid. If I’m lucky, it spills into the passenger side, but usually it’s on my leg. I’ve trained myself over the years to turn with one hand and hold the precarious coffee with the other, a technique that would surely be frowned upon by the state patrol.
I’m not sure when my next vehicle purchase will become necessary but I’ve vowed for years that the decision will center on the all-important cup holders. Of course mileage, reliability and horsepower will be taken into consideration, but no more caramel-macchiato-soaked pants for me. And I don’t think I’m alone in this automotive quest.
“It can make or break the deal,” agreed Lewie Puckett, the new car manager at Valley Nissan in Longmont. He explained that some car shoppers will research the car thoroughly online but decide against the vehicle once they see the cup holder situation in person. He added that the manufacturers definitely talk about the importance of the beverage storage.
Chris Gebhardt of Subaru of Loveland said it’s usually quantity over quality, with his buyers making sure there are enough in the back seat to accommodate passengers. As for the evolution of the cup holder, Gebhardt said, “They’ve definitely improved.”
Remember the flimsy plastic ones we used to hang on the door that never fit right or stayed put? Only slightly worse than mine.
The quantity and quality have not only improved, but exceeded my imagination. Many vehicles now offer beverage containers that keep your coffee warm, your water cool, and your drinks illuminated for easy night-time access. And if you have a big, thirsty brood, you may want to check out the Toyota Land Cruiser which has a full dozen holders.
We’re a mobile species, and many people in Northern Colorado commute substantial distances to their jobs or even use their vehicles as offices-on-the-go. The importance of the cup holder cannot be exaggerated. In fact, I suggest you bring your favorite souvenir insulated coffee cup to your next test drive.salesman
And while the law against texting-while-driving is a no-brainer, I urge legislators to look at the size and shape of vehicle cup holders for the next line of defense against careless driving. Or I could stop taking my coffee with me in the mornings, but that’s just crazy talk.

Mid-century defiance

Reprinted with permission from the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor

I recently passed that dreaded mid-century milestone, and once I finished crying over the AARP application I received in the mail, I realized that 50 isn’t quite what it used to be. Neither is 40, 60, 70 and so on, for that matter.

It’s not just my fresh perspective on the matter; the numbers back it up. In 1910 the average life expectancy in the United States didn’t go much past 50. It jumped to 70 by the time I was born 50 years ago and the current number, according to worldlifeexpectancy.com, is 78.2. Wow. Maybe 50 really is the new 30.

If you take the cold data out of the equation, there are examples of 50, then and now, abounding — in my life and the world around us. When my own mother turned 50 she was living in a retirement park in Southern California with her husband. Although they were considered “the kids” in the neighborhood, the thought of myself in that situation is, well, unthinkable.

Instead of golf and hip replacements, I’m busy with my fourth-grade daughter and retirement is a fairy tale. Later motherhood is just one facet of the new 50. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) verifies a noticeable increase in births after 40. Whether it’s career, later marriage, or an altered biological clock, the reasons are irrelevant.

The fact is I’m definitely not the only mom rocking gray hair at the school pick-up line.

That’s another perk of being 50 today — many of us have forsaken the ritual dying of the gray. My hairdresser confirmed (sadly) that much of her clientele has decided to embrace the silver in recent years. But even with the gray it’s harder to tell how old anyone is. Colorado’s active, healthy seniors look great no matter how many laugh lines and gray streaks they sport.

Our brains are younger too, by the way. U.S. Department of Education statistics from 2010 showed that 25 percent of college students in this country are over the age of 30, and a good chunk of them are even older. Mature students seek the mental stimulation and are more committed to academic success (probably because we’re paying for it ourselves) and, like the current generation, enjoy reinventing ourselves every few years.

Sure, part of it is out of necessity. The recession and subsequent job loss has forced many people of all ages to rethink their career choice or up their educational value to stay competitive in the field. But it’s also made us more creative. Instead of swallowing a bottle of Geritol in the face of losing their job to a 22-year-old, more seniors are starting their own businesses or capitalizing on their years of experience by offering consulting services.

Let’s face it, the new 50 — or 60 or 70 — does not mean retirement age anymore. I couldn’t even find the word “retired” in the definition of AARP on their website. If this is the new 30 and the average life expectancy continues to rise, then people won’t be whiling away their days in a rocking chair until they’re edging toward the century mark.

Although putting my feet up and reminiscing sounds lovely right now, I’m afraid it will have to wait until after I meet today’s deadline at work and take my kid to her play date and happy hour with the girls and …

I guess I’m too busy having fun to get old.

Spider man

A creepy little Halloween treat for you. Reprinted with permission from the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor.

The old man stood on his porch, glaring at the vandalized front yard. His lips were pursed with anger while he gripped the coffee mug so tightly the skin over his bony knuckles glowed white. A gentle breeze carried a two-foot length of toilet paper from a lower branch until it fell lazily on to his slippered foot. He seethed.

Just then a giggle erupted from the other side of his box elder shrubs before being instantly muffled. The old man didn’t even glance over. He knew the hooligans were there the whole time. He knew they were waiting for his reaction to the snowy transformation of his yard, every branch of every tree festooned with endless lengths of toilet paper.

“You have no idea who you’re messing with,” he croaked in the mischievous boys’ direction, his voice raspy but ominous. “You’ll be sorry.” And with that he walked back in the house and slammed the door.

That night — Halloween night — all the neighborhood kids laughed and gamboled up and down the streets, ringing doorbells, collecting candy and making merry. None of them acknowledged the old man’s house or the fact that they generally crossed the street to avoid it. The five young boys who had braved the property the previous night weren’t bragging about it any longer.

*****

The next morning fingers of bright autumn sunshine reached through semi-bare branches of maples, sumacs and elms. Discarded candy wrappers danced down the sidewalks, no doubt left by a few impatient children who couldn’t wait to sample their haul. Most of the neighborhood kids were still tucked in bed with full tummies and budding cavities.

Most of them.

The old man’s trees were still draped with tattered remnants of Charmin’s best double-ply. So much TP, in fact, passers-by wouldn’t even notice the five white bundles of tightly wrapped tissue paper hanging from the lower branches. The growing breeze made it difficult to tell if they were wiggling or swaying.

The home’s sole occupant chuckled as he scrabbled across the wood floors to answer the door. The bored policeman who had been dispatched to find a suspected runaway sixth grader squinted at the name etched in brass above the doorbell.

“A. Rachnid,” he murmured to himself, trying the name out before he addressed the homeowner. “Mr. A. Rachnid.” The door swung open.

 

Orange folders and martini lunches

Well, we survived the first day of school, although from the annual photo of my daughter next to the school sign it looks more like she’s facing a firing squad than fourth grade. Fortunately, she was in better humor when I picked her up later.

Besides arranging after-school care, buying new school clothes and reinstating early bedtimes, there’s a recurring ritual that’s become a big pain in my backside. I shared my thoughts in last week’s Berthoud Surveyor. Other parents — in my district or not — should appreciate my frustration. ~ Suz

Do you know how I can tell school is about to start? Besides the morose look on my daughter’s face as though mourning the loss of her favorite stuffed animal, I can sense the end of summer by the school supply list posted on my pantry door. And the noticeable eye twitch I develop each time I walk past it.

School supply lists are becoming the bane of my existence each August.

The first year it’s kind of fun loading up your kindergartner with fat, bright crayons and a Clifford backpack, but by fourth grade it’s taken on a new insanity. The only upside is discovering I’m not alone in my quest for two orange, plain pocket folders.

Yes, orange pocket folders are right up there with the tiny Southeast Asian tarsier when it comes to rare, difficult-to-find creatures. There were 100s of red folders at the local WalMart but red is clearly not on the list. Orange is. While trying to control my eye twitch after the shopping trip, I was surprised and relieved to see several other mothers on Twitter from around the country also bemoaning the absence of orange folders.

The rare tarsier is not amused by orange folders or mill levies. (Photo courtesy of toptenz.net)

Aha! I smell a conspiracy. I now imagine teachers getting together, making up these lists, then sitting back to drink martinis and laugh at parents. How else do you explain the required supplies such as a four-pack of dry erase markers, one box of gallon zip-loc bags, one black felt tip pen (no Sharpies), one pad of 3×3 sticky notes, a box of non-Latex band-aids or three boxes of tissues?

These are all items on various lists throughout the school district. Some of the supplies are even brand-specific so don’t try to be cheap and get the generic crayons. And don’t put your kid’s name on most of the stuff because the whole class will be using the colored pencils, yellow highlighters or school glue (orange cap only, please).

Fine. I’ll go buy all of this stuff even if it takes three stores and a large bottle of wine to find it all, because at least now I know I’m not alone. And at least I’m not being asked by the government to bring a roll or two of toilet paper the next time I have to visit the DMV. Yet.

Anyway, I’m sure once the school district convinces the taxpayers to sign up for a new mill levy we won’t have to buy extraneous school supplies anymore. Then they can go hunt down the elusive damn orange folders.

UPDATE: I found the orange folders at Target for $1 each. The red ones at WalMart were 15¢. There are no more glue sticks in Northern Colorado, in case you were wondering. And sure enough, the Thompson School District decided to put the mill levy issue on this fall’s ballot after spending many thousands of dollars asking us taxpayers what we thought they should do. How about spending that money on orange folders and glue sticks, eh?
I’d like to thank my twitter pal in the know, @5280PRgal, for throwing some gas on my fire as well as enlightening me.

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