Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Life in the Mid-West  (part II)

So now that everyone has had a chance to practice their new driving skills, I thought it would be a good time to move on to the next lesson :  How to behave in public.

This may be slightly more difficult than changing your driving habits, but I am confident that you can master these new skills!   As a general rule of thumb, when moving here from the north-east, take almost everything you have learned about public behavior and reverse it.  The few exceptions being bathroom, table and clothing "behaviors", as those are universal (I should hope).

As a north-eastern resident, you have undoubtedly learned the following about acceptable public behavior.
1) NEVER make eye contact with anyone while using public transportation.  You MUST keep your eyes on your e-reader/ipad/book/newspaper..what ever you brought with you to do while on the bus or train.   Making eye contact with a fellow passenger is like making eye contact with a strange dog....it is viewed as a direct challenge.

2) DO NOT try to start a conversation with the clerk/shop keeper/cashier/ gas station attendant who is assisting you with your purchase.   This is viewed as a waste of time and possible territorial challenge
(see #1) 
       2a) don't expect any help from store employees or any of your product questions to be answered...you should know what you want and how to get it before you get to the store.

3) When calling a government agency's office (dog catcher, secretary of state, governor, etc) be prepared for a long wait time and many menus to work through before you may or may not get to speak to a live human being.  If you do get to a live human being, do not expect them to be able to answer your question.  Do expect them to put you on hold, or send you back to the phone menu maze.

4) When visiting a government agency's office (DMV/ county tax office, etc.) DO expect to spend an inordinate amount of time standing in line only to discover one or more of the following:
       a) you have the wrong forms
       b) you have the wrong support documents
       c) you have the wrong form of payment
       d) you have the wrong office
       e) you have the wrong line

But now that you are in the mid-west you can reverse a large portion of your behavior when interacting with others in public.  Here you are free to do the following:

1) Talk with other people, in public, while looking at them, without electronic devices or reading materials in your possession.  In fact, you will be considered rude if you don't speak to people while out and about.
As an advanced exercise for you over-achievers you can even try smiling while talking to others.

2) Feel free to respond to the store employees as they initiate conversations with you.  Again...you will be considered rude if you don't interact with them. They really make it easy for you to ask questions and have a pleasant exchange of words.  They even know how to help you find something, and can do so with a cheerful expression on their face.  Almost as if they were hired to be helpful to the customers!

3) If you need to call a government office, be sure to have your questions ready, since it is very likely that you will quickly be speaking to a real, live, human!  Sometimes you even get the person in charge of the whole department. Not their secretary, not their voicemail, but the actual person.  This one threw me for a loop the first time I tried it and I wound up stammering my way through a conversation with the State Secretary of Education.   Mumbling Idiot was not  the impression I wanted to leave with her, but I really was flustered when she answered her own phone.

4) When visiting an actual government office, phone first (see #3) to get your questions answered.  Since you speak to a real person, not a phone system, you may find yourself doing the following:
     a) getting to the right office
     b) getting into the correct line
     c) having the correct forms, documents and payment options.
     d) NOT wasting an entire day lost in the system.

I will leave you to practice this lesson for a bit before moving on.
Lesson 3: Specific Customs and Traditions  to follow soon.

Because you don't want to miss the class on that!

Monday, July 23, 2012

extreme couponing.

Please understand.  I love saving money as much as the next person....maybe more.  I've often said that bargain shopping is my varsity sport in the University of Life.  I use coupons almost every time I shop. I can work a few deals with the rewards programs at the drug store.  I carry unit prices around in my head so I can know if a sale price at one store beats a regular price at another. That one gets me some strange looks...yes my head is filled with random, useless pieces of information such as how much a pound of bananas costs at all 4 grocery stores in my area!
My children know that in order for something to get into the grocery cart it has to fall into at least one of three categories.
1) It is on the list because it is a need and not a want.
2) It is on sale for a good price and we will definitely use it in the near future.
3) It meets criteria #1 or #2 and there is a coupon for it.

We even play this little game called "The ___________(insert name of store) Game"  We watch the running total as the items are scanned, then watch the total decrease as rewards cards are scanned, then coupons are scanned.  The way to win the game is to get your actual total to be less than the "saved" total on the slip.
Then Mommy does the Money Saving Dance of Joy out to the parking lot.  (I have promised my pre-teen to never release video of this dance for fear of YouTube viralness before he gets to high school.)

But I fear I will always be a simple bench warmer or practice squad member in this competitive sport of extreme couponing.  You see, I have never been able to get my totals down to the levels of the starters and MVPs.  I clip. I organize. I scour store ads for sales that match my stash of Sunday inserts.  I make my weekly menu around what is on sale to maximize savings.  But in spite of all my best efforts, I have yet to get a total that matches what you see on those television shows. 

I finally figured it out though.   I have a few obstacles that no amount of extra training will overcome.
 For a long time I lived in a state that charged sales tax on everything...including food.   There was no way I was getting out of the store without paying my 7.85% on the pre-coupon/rewards price of the items I was purchasing.  In that state I also had only 1 store in the area that doubled coupons, and even then it was only up to 50 cents.  Of course it was the most expensive of the stores.
Now that I live in a state that doesn't tax food, I have hit another obstacle.  No grocery stores here double coupons...at all.

And so, I am sorry to say that you will most likely never see me perusing the aisles while being followed by a television  crew and adoring fans clamouring to learn my shopping savvy secrets.  I will still have to hand over hard earned cash when I leave a store with items in my bag.   I have gotten better over the years, and learned a few tricks to pass on to others, but cable TV programs will not be calling me any time soon.....

because I missed the class on that.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Life in the Mid-West (part 1)

Probably wasn't even a real class, since most New Englanders wouldn't ever consider living in a different (part of the) country.   I, myself, thought I would live and die in that wonderful country region, but didn't take God's sense of humor into account.

I grew up in eastern Massachusetts. Eastern as in the next body of water east of my town was the Charles River, then the Atlantic Ocean.  After getting married and moving around the eastern time zone a bit, our little family moved to eastern Kansas for 7 and 1/2 years.   Eastern as in east of the wheat fields and cattle ranches.   We currently reside in south-central Iowa.  As in south of the central corn fields.  Culture Shock anyone???

There are many, many wonderful things about living in the mid-west as opposed to the east coast, but it did take some getting used to.    Even though everyone speaks the same language (supposedly), not everyone speaks the same culture.  There were some adjustments that had to be made.  What all of our sojourns have given me however, is the ability to teach the class that I never got to take. For the benefit of the few other New Englanders who live west of the border (of MA), I have created a few helpful hints to  hopefully ease your transition into this new life.

For now we will just address the most pressing of topics: Driving
I know that things can be a bit confusing when you first find yourself on the roads out here. Let me give you a little hint:  That driver's manual that you ignored back east?....you should probably go back and read it, then do what it says. No, seriously...stop laughing.... things like 4 way stops and turn signals really do exist, and you are expected to know how to use BOTH of them out here.
That middle light on the traffic signal?  Yeah, the yellow one....really does mean slow down.  Shocking, I know.
Drivers look a little younger?  They are...and most have been driving the farm pick-up truck since they could reach the pedals.  Don't panic, you'll be safe.
Having trouble finding your way around town?  Let me help....the street signs are actually correct. Gasp!
And what's more...most of the streets are laid out in a grid pattern....as in North-South/East-West running streets intersect at right angles.  Sometimes they're even numbered...in order...  oohh ...ahhh.
And now for the one that will probably save you the most money...Speed Limits.  No, they are not merely suggestions.  Yes, they really do mean what they say.  No, there is no need to drive like a bat out of Hades, New York,  well...you get my meaning.  People and life here in the mid-west do not require the same break neck speeds to get the job done.  That leads into our next topic..way of life.

So tune in next time for more helpful hints on a successful transplant.
Just because I missed the class on that doesn't mean you have to as well.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

how to be a morning person.

Which is kind of ironic when you consider my life over the last 20 years.

In college I had 8 a.m. classes every semester except one....and that was the semester that my work-study job was cashiering for the food service BREAKFAST shift that started at 7 a.m.  :(   In the summers I worked for a day-camp that paid extra for morning and afternoon extended care workers.  Guess who earned extra college $ with morning hours?
As a teacher I was often required to be in the building on school days by 7:30 a.m. It was assumed that I would also be presentable, professional and prepared at that hour....most days I was 2.5/3 with the presentable being left open for interpretation.  Who really needs make-up and finished hair at 7:30?

As an "old" married lady I discovered that my husband was a true morning person.  Sleeping in for him is defined as still being in bed at 6:30 a.m.  I guess we do marry our opposites.

As a mom...well...lets just say that my children's early years are awfully blurry in my mind due to sleep deprivation.  Neither one of my children slept past 7 a.m. as infants or toddlers....sigh.
One of our newer family hobbies is gardening.   Guess what the best time is to water, weed and harvest your garden.  No, really, go ahead and guess.....or just laugh, or in my case cry......   Most gardening books and websites strongly urge you to do your gardening in the early morning to get the best flavor from picked herbs, and allow your plants to get water in their systems before the heat of the day.  Early as in just as the sun is rising.  Sigh again.

So now I do what any non-morning person has been forced to do in this daylight driven culture.  I consume caffeine and sneak afternoon naps :)

While I was no stranger to caffeine as a college student, I didn't consume much of it unless I was studying for finals, or finishing a paper.  Coffee wasn't really on my radar until my last semester and I had started my student teaching.  It was then that I was introduced to the wonderful mysteries of the Teacher's Lounge.  That wonderful room contained fluorescent lighting, a community fridge, uncomfortable plastic chairs at the table and....a coffee pot :)  My supervising teacher made sure to point it out to me on my orientation tour.

At every school I worked at, the Teacher's Lounge and it's coffee pot became my 2nd favorite spot in the building. (The first being in my classroom with the students...one of the few things fun enough to entice me into a job with those hours.)  I had the students in some of my first hour classes trained to check the level of coffee in my mug before they asked me questions like.."Are we really having that test today?, Can I have an extra week to turn in my paper without losing points? and What was the homework I was supposed to do last night?"  If the mug was still full, meaning I has insufficient caffeine in my system, they knew to wait a while before asking such things.

As a mom and wife I helped my family learn how to operate the coffee pot and time the first pot to still be hot when I make it to the kitchen.  In addition, I also taught the fine art of afternoon napping.  Especially for toddlers and extra-especially for Sunday afternoons!  Even if the kids weren't tired we still had afternoon quiet time.  Some of us used that time for a nap :)   I am convinced that Sunday afternoons should be declared International Mandatory Nap Time...for everyone...except the NFL, MLB, PGA and NASCAR.  Without those, its hard to find good background noise to lull you to sleep.

I suppose I could always try something like...going to bed earlier..... 

That might just make me a morning person...and I can't do that....because according to my transcripts...
I missed the class on that.  :)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

not being a tacky tourist.

Maybe I missed this class because during my formative years I grew up surrounded by historical tourist attractions.   I walked by the marker of dead British soldiers on my way to elementary school.  I would have to go through famous universities' campuses to get to the bus or train stops I needed.  I avoided any downtown area on major national holidays because of all the "tacky tourists" that were crowding the streets and subways. 
 I never thought I would ever become one of those dreaded out-of-towners.  You know the ones.  They have out of state plates on their cars and GPS systems mounted on their dash boards.  They never know how to get anywhere, and clog up the sidewalks gawking at the sights and sounds of their vacation destination while desperately trying to get the perfect angle for the family photo, even if it means standing in the middle of rush hour traffic. They are also easy to spot because of their universal uniform:   Moms in capri track pants, with sneakers, ankle socks and fanny packs.  Dads with khaki shorts, polo shirts, ball caps and frazzled expressions.   The kids with low blood sugar symptoms, fussing and whining about wanting to go back to the hotel to go swimming instead of looking at any more museum exhibits. 
And then one more thing will happen to forever brand these poor, misguided souls.  At some point in their vacation, they will buy T-shirts emblazoned with the name of the town/site/event/museum that they are visiting.  Then they will commit the ultimate tacky tourist tragedy.....they will wear that T-shirt while still in the same state as the town/site/event/museum.  

Of course our family went on vacation when we were younger.  My parents took us to the same place every year.  Which was the same place my dad's parents took him every year when he was growing up.   That kind of made us "un-tourists".   We had out of state plates, but knew how to get everywhere, and how to avoid the crowds of "tourists" that invaded our favorite sites.   We even knew how to get the family photo in the same spot every year, without interrupting any flow of traffic.
We were "tourists" twice that I can recall...both times were trips to Florida to the one place in the country where 90% of the population is expected to be tacky and touristy...so that doesn't really count, right?

Fast forward a few years.....
I now have a family of my own, but we do not live in the same region or even time zone as my traditional family vacation site.  When we were blessed with the opportunity to return for the first time in 4 years, we jumped at the chance!  We are now at the end of that vacation time, and as I look around at the bags we are packing I am noticing something rather alarming.   What is that in my suitcase????   Capri track pants, ankle socks and a fanny pack???? Oh No!   What did my husband just pre-program with the next 4 stops we have planned????   A GPS????   Gasp!   What do my kids have set out to wear for tomorrow????   T-Shirts with the National Park's name emblazoned across their fronts????   Arrrgh!!!!   How did this happen?  Why did this happen?  How can I make it stop???   Why did I ever allow this tragedy of epic proportions to take place?

Maybe I'll have the answers to these questions when we get back to our state of residence.  You know...after I've downloaded all those family photos with the perfect angles, stored away the GPS, washed my husband's khaki shorts and unpacked my T-shirts and ball caps with Acadia National Park  emblazoned across the front......

'cause I missed the class on that.....but boy did we have a great time!

Friday, July 6, 2012

How to relax on vacation.

Or more accurately...how not to get so stressed out getting ready for vacation that I never wind down while ON vacation.

I know that I once was able to do this thing called vacation, and enjoy it.  I distinctly remember going on family vacations as a child and having a fun filled, restful time.  We would drive to Maine, stay at the cottage, and the four of us kids, plus all our cousins would spend an entire week playing in the tide pools, skipping rocks, and scratching mosquito bites. No television, hardly any radio reception and no city lights to dim the evening stars. It was great, and we always looked forward to it.   Almost nothing could keep us from that yearly tradition.  Not even the year the car broke down on the interstate and the 6 of us were stuck on the side of the road for what seemed like hours, waiting for the tow truck. (Yes, this was before the days of cell phones and OnStar.)

Now?   Not so much.
Now just the thought of a family vacation is sometimes enough to make me want to curl up in a corner and twitch.  It seems I have lost the childhood knowledge of how to relax on vacation. Somewhere between elementary school and now, that ability was erased from my memory.  I think it was around the time that I had two small children and many other things were slipping out of my sleep deprived memory.  Things like what my pillow looked like at 2 a.m., or my husband's name.

That was also the time when family vacations turned into an event that needed all the planning and strategy skills of a D-Day invasion.  I used to think that vacationing with an infant or small children required many, many pieces of equipment,  a stockpile of diapers, wipes, snacks, bottled water, infant tylenol, shot records, pediatrician phone numbers, nail clippers, band-aids, 3 changes of clothes per day (for children and adults), etc, etc, etc.....

Now, even though the kids are older and do much of their own packing, I still have a hard time not stressing about vacations.  Things like batteries for the camera (yes I still use one and not a cell phone for pics), chargers for all of the various electronics, snacks for the ride, $$ for tolls, bandaids and ibuprofen for the first aid kit, phone numbers and addresses, enough knitting projects and books to keep me "busy".   Yikes....no wonder it takes me a good 5 days of a 7 day vacation to unwind.

Today, however, I had a sudden realization...

Pretty much everywhere I travel, there are these wonderful inventions readily available to any weary mom/road warrior.  They cover many acres, have ample parking spaces, bathrooms, air conditioning and employees that wear khaki pants and blue shirts.  Yes, my friends, I realized that there are big box stores almost everywhere I go, and they have shelves stocked with anything I could ever think I would need on a vacation.

I am currently on vacation, in the land of star fish, mosquitos and starry nights. This afternoon I went to one of these stores just to double check.

Yup...they carried multiple brands of anything I could possibly think to pack for a vacation...which leads me to wonder why I even bothered to pack bags in the first place???  Maybe that could be something to try on the next vacation.....Just holler up the stairs at the kids  "Van is leaving in 10 min. for a 1500 mile trip....throw some clothes in a bag and head out the door!"

As I exited the blue big box store this afternoon, I took a deep breath and smelled the ocean for the first time in 2 years.  Between that and the thought of never again having to pack for a vacation, I felt myself get a little giddy :)

I'm glad I learned this lesson now, while I still have time to put my new knowledge into practice, because vacation is something that is supposed to be relaxing.

So glad I got to make up the class I missed!