So many choices, so little time

There are people who look back on their lives and wish they’d spent less time at work and more time with family. I’m going to be in the group that looks back on life and wishes I’d spent less time at the grocery.

The ever-increasing multitude of choices at the store may reflect progress, but all this progress has become terribly time consuming.

Did you know there are now 180 kinds of pasta? Someone could do an entire quiz show based on nothing but pasta shapes.

The make-up of pasta is mushrooming as well. We now have whole grain, oven ready, no boil, vegan, quick cook, organic, gluten-free, quinoa penne and pasta made from chickpeas— all multiplied by at least 180 shapes.

I could pick a stock fund for retirement or find the perfect little black dress in less time than it takes me to find one specific pasta.

All I want is plain old pasta—the kind Italians eat, the kind that leaves you loving opera and imagining that you own a sprawling Tuscan villa with windows without screens.

The pasta I often look for is orzo. I have a wonderful orzo salad recipe with fresh spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, pine nuts and lemon. Just thinking of it makes me think I can sing opera.

You know where I usually find traditional orzo? On the top shelf. It doesn’t matter what store I’m in, it is nearly always on the top shelf.

I have next-to-top shelf arms.

In addition to the time I spend looking for the pasta, I am also out the time it takes to wait for someone who plays basketball to saunter down the aisle and reach it for me.

This ever-growing multitude of choices takes a toll on a relationship. The husband and I have come to an understanding, which is more like a truce. I will no longer ask him to stop by the store for a bag of chocolate chips and he will not text me when I’m at the store to say he needs deodorant.

The request for chocolate chips inevitably leads to a flurry of texts.

“Milk chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate or dark chocolate? Regular chips, mini-chips or chunks? Small bag, medium bag or a bag big enough to feed the city?”

I’m not any better when it comes to finding his deodorant. The last time I was looking, I asked him to send a picture of the one he had. If I had colors to match, the process might go faster.

It didn’t.

I still had to sort through 20 different brands with a dozen scents per brand—Sport, Super Sport, Ocean Surf, Aqua Sport, Regular, Fresh, Ultimate Sport, Musk, Irish Spring, New Car and Dirty Socks. OK, I made those last two up, but I bet they’re in the pipeline.

The one he wanted that I couldn’t find?

Unscented.

Some of us just weren’t made to enjoy a thousand choices.

I’ve got mail

I owe a young lady a letter.

She wrote to me last week asking how I was, saying she was fine and that she was enjoying a necklace we sent for her birthday. She even drew a picture of herself wearing the necklace. Then she wrote, “Pleeeese respond.”

I can’t remember the last time someone asked me to write back.

We don’t write letters anymore, which is also why we don’t race to the mailbox anymore. The thrill is gone; there’s never anything good in the mail. We know what’s in the mail—advertisements, circulars and more advertisements.

People often ask how I got started writing and my answer is writing letters.

When I was the same age as the little girl writing to me, my father took a new job. We only moved 200 miles, but it felt like we had been separated from friends, extended family and all things familiar by two continents, an ocean and four black holes. Long distance phone calls were rare and expensive then, most often reserved for emergencies or bad news.

But people wrote. Both of my grandmothers, and two of my great-aunts who were retired school teachers, all wrote letters.

And they wrote to me.

It was special that someone took an interest in a homesick kid with shaky penmanship and yellow stationery that came in a pretty tin box. That someone would take the time to put pen to paper and share their lives and inquire about mine meant a lot.

It would mean a lot to anybody, really.

I spent many a Sunday evening straining to compose thoughtful and well-written letters. “Dear Aunt Mary, How are you? I am fine. I hope you are the same.”

I didn’t say I was good at letter writing; I just said it was how I got started.

My mother was an avid letter writer. I looked forward to her letters when I left home, went to college and then hopscotched across the country working newspaper jobs. When I married, had children and moved again, still far from home, she wrote faithfully. Letters were a way of closing the distance.

She was a natural storyteller. She could make a story about a dull gathering where everyone sat on metal folding chairs and had nothing but tepid water to drink and stale crackers to eat and make it sound like the party of the century.

But then, letter writers are storytellers because letter writers are observers—of the world around them, changing seasons, of people around them and changing lives.

As phone calls became affordable, then cheap, then super cheap, then nonstop, the flow of letters slowed to a trickle and eventually stopped.

But that was not the case today. Today there was more than junk, circulars, coupons and advertisements in the mailbox. Today there was something truly special, which takes me to my most delightful task at hand, “Dear Audrey . . .”

The nearly true story of the First Thanksgiving

There’s a lot of grumbling that young people don’t know history like they should. If we’re honest, we must acknowledge an inherent problem to being young and learning history. The younger you are, the more there is to learn.

Curious, I asked five members of the youngest generation in our family (preschool through early elementary) for the story of the first Thanksgiving.

What follows is “The Nearly True Story of the First Thanksgiving.”

“The king said they weren’t allowed to worship God so the Pilgrims wanted to come to America where they could do what they wanted. They picked a ship called the Mayberry.”

“No, I think they came on the Mayflower.”

“It was a long trip. It took a year, maybe two. The kids played games on the ship, mostly soccer, but also some tic-tac-toe.”

“There was a captain on the ship and he had guiders who helped guide the ship.”

“The Pilgrim ladies wore blue dresses. They looked like Mary and Laura from Little House. The men wore blue shirts and jeans. Pilgrims were like pioneers.”

“Some of the people on the ship got sick and died. A baby was born on the ship. His name was Oceanus.”

“They sailed and sailed until someone said they saw land.”

“They landed at the Mayflower. There was a rock that said Mayflower right where they were landing.”

“They didn’t have much food and were very hungry.”

“They ate fish and probably berries out of the woods. The men went out to hunt deer and bears. I don’t think I would eat bear meat, unless I was super hungry. I bet I would if I was super hungry.”

“More Pilgrims died that winter. Maybe more than half. We think they had little pox. In one family, both the mom and dad died and one girl had to live alone. She only had herself.”

“Only two families survived without losing any family members. One of them was Oceanus’ family. None of the people in his family died.”

“In the spring, a couple of guys were hunting for food and they saw an Indian. He helped them learn how to plant and harvest and where the lakes were and how to weed and other good stuff and how to make fire.”

“And he helped them bury the fish in the ground.”

“When fall came, they wanted to celebrate and called it the First Thanksgiving. They were going to celebrate that they were alive, so they had a big feast.

“They had turkey and deer, potatoes and carrots, ham and chicken.”

“The Indians brought popcorn. Salted popcorn. The Pilgrims had never seen that before.”

“They played a lot of games. The moms might have knitted mats for checkers and cut wood from trees like checkers. Oh, and they might have carved chess sets, too.”

“Did you get the part about popcorn? Salted popcorn.”

“They played and ate and thanked God for letting the Indians be nice to them and they thanked that one special Indian for helping them learn their way.”

And there you have it – a composite account of the first Thanksgiving as told by the historians of tomorrow.

Did I Dippity Do? Sure did!

My hairstylist told me something frightening. She said bangs are making a big comeback. Not little wispy bangs and not the swept-to-the-side bangs, but thick straight bangs—the kind that can obscure your vision, scratch your corneas and make eye contact completely discretionary.

The dreams of my youth have returned.

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I spent years pursuing thick fringe bangs. Everybody who was anybody had bangs — a curtain of straight, thick hair that hid their eyebrows and framed their eyes like a luxurious theater curtain.

My bangs were like a curtain of sorts, too—like an old spring-loaded roller shade. As soon as I combed them down, they sprang right back up.

Girls with thick, straight fashionable bangs were going places. The only place I was going was to the drugstore. Every dollar of babysitting money was spent on hair products guaranteed to transform untamed curly hair into thick long, beautiful shocks of straight hair.

Dippity Doo was my first hope. Following the directions, I applied it to wet bangs and waited until they dried. It turns out that Dippity Doo was part wallpaper paste. It straightened my bangs, but they were so plastered against my forehead that it looked like large spiders had been smashed directly above my eyes.

My next great hope was magic tape. You combed wet bangs into place and taped them down, affixing the tape to the sides of your forehead before you went to bed. Yes, it did hurt when it came off. Yes, it did leave skin red and irritated. Yes, it was the price of beauty.

When the tape failed, I tried wrapping my hair around empty tin cans. Sleep was nearly impossible, and I was forever smelling green beans.

All this was before the days of straight irons. But there was another iron. It was the iron my mother used on clothes.  I’d heard talk in gym class of girls ironing their hair.

Cautiously—not to mention foolishly—I set the iron on low, sectioned a piece of hair on the ironing board and pressed. It’s not easy to see what you’re ironing when your face is smashed against an ironing board, but the first section felt smooth and straight so I ironed another and another. With each glide of the iron, I just knew I was inching closer to true beauty.

I stood up and walked to a mirror.

Unbelievable.

My bangs were straighter than they’d ever been. Unfortunately, they stuck out at a 90-degree angle. I had created a human hair visor.

I was wrong about the gel, the tape, tin cans and the iron. I was also wrong thinking my parents would not notice something odd about my hair visor at dinner.

As frightening as it is to hear that bangs are back in style, I believe that I now have the maturity to let a trend pass without me.

Besides, there is comfort in knowing it could always be worse.

At least shoulder pads aren’t returning.