Saturday, July 28, 2018

Strawberry Shortcake and Rocky Road Trip Oreo cookies


Oh man, it's been a while since I've done one of these. It's not like I haven't been trying all the new Oreo flavors, I have been. It's more like I buy a pack, get busy, and finish the package before I get a chance to write down my thoughts and take pictures. Lucky you, reader, that I went into this with the express intention of telling you just what I thought about these new flavors.

Let's get this over with, shall we?

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Can we talk about this towel?

Last Saturday, I was killing some time in Walmart while my wife was teaching a class at the Y. Yeah, I could probably use a class or two myself, but I get enough of a workout when I'm at work. We were going up to Chincoteague Island to hit the beach once she was finished, and I had just realized I forgot to pack a beach towel. I walked over to the beach towel aisle and was a bit surprised at the selection. All the choices were rather overwhelming. I don't know if you know this, but there's a bit of a process in selecting a beach towel. You want to get something big enough that you can lay on it without getting sand all over yourself, but you don't want something so large that it doubles as a king size comforter. It's a little hard for me to find towels long enough, so I don't mind as much if my feet stick off the end. The other important consideration is color. Too light, and it will pick up stains quickly, or it'll be blinding in the sunlight. Too dark, and you're going to roast your back laying back down after getting another round of fruity, slushy beach drinks. And of course you'll want something that speaks to you, or shows off your taste.

So, I was standing there applying my process when I found this towel. THE towel..


I know what you're saying, it's just a towel with some flamingos on it. And yeah, you'd be right. But it's just so much more. Shall I list the reasons why?


1. Dem flamingos!

I love flamingos. They're my favorite of the lazy long-legged birds. Standing around in knee deep water and snacking on shrimp all day sounds like a good life to me. Whenever I see flamingos, my thoughts immediately go to warm, humid climates. Some place like Florida, or some tropical island with white sandy beaches. I also start thinking about all those 80's movies that place in the suburbs in the summer. The ones where everyone has the same style house, the same manicured lawn, and a flamingo or two hanging out next to their driveway.

I also love that these flamingos aren't wearing sunglasses. Artists always love putting shades on flamingo faces, so I like that whoever designed this towel played it straight. They're not a bunch of mascots, they're just some cool ass flamingos just chilling off a beach in southern Florida. If you want some crazy pink bird to shill sugary summer drinks for you, ya gotta go somewhere else.


2. That blue!

It's no secret that my favorite color is blue. Or, if you didn't happen to know, my favorite color is blue. And there is a whole lot of blue on this here towel. It's actually pretty hard to catch the color through photographs. In person, it's more of a sky blue. Like, a cloudless summer sky blue, or the waters off the beaches of Bora Bora blue. I mean, it's a bunch of flamingos walking around in water, so I guess it would make sense for it be blue, but I really think they picked the perfect shade here.

It also reminds me of the color of my favorite ice pops. We'd get these pops that were actually two frozen together. I guess the idea was that you were supposed to split them apart and share one with a friend or sibling. Being an only child meant I wasn't sharing anything, and got to enjoy both ice pops. All the flavors were great, but the blue ones were a particular favorite of mine. I'm sure it was all in my head, but they just seemed to get colder than all the other varieties. Same with the blue FlaVorIce and those Mexican ice pops with the crimp in the middle. Blue just gets colder. Trust me, it's science.


3. That water!

I know it's just a bunch of white lines on a blue towel, but it's the simplicity that I love. It brings back memories of water in NES games. You'd get to the beach level, and you're running along the sand bashing baddies, with that big blue expanse in the background. It was static, but the developers would still add some 8-bit beach sounds for ambience. If you were lucky enough to find a spot to hide, you could take a breather and enjoy the sound of staticy wave crashes for a bit.

Look at those little lines at the right angle, and it's like you're staring out to sea, the sun reflecting off the waves, a cool breeze blowing the fresh salty air across the sand. I can almost hear the blender at the tiki bar mixing up my pina colada, and smell the suntan oil of the women playing volleyball next to me, while the Beach Boys' "Kokomo" plays on someone's radio down the beach. I guess you could say I found my summertime security blanket.

Have a fun summer out there, and don't forget to go find your towel.






Sunday, June 24, 2018

I was a Planeteer, for an afternoon



I was reading a recent post from Dinosaur Dracula that brought back some memories from elementary school. It was the early 90's and I was really into Captain Planet. I wasn't so into it that I was ready to plaster the walls with posters, or use the bed sheets, but I made sure I never missed an episode. Every day, I watched the Planeteers use the powers of earth, fire, water, wind, and...heart(?) to summon the cool blue Captain to fight a ragtag bunch of polluting super villains. If I'm being completely honest, the villains were the real highlight of the show for me. With a group that includes a walking pile of nuclear rocks with a penchant for Hawaiian shirts, or a half man, half rat who loved pushing drugs, it's hard to be that excited by a bunch of teenagers with fancy magic rings. Still, the basic message of the show, polluting bad, recycling good, stuck with me.

It was one random afternoon in 4th grade that the power of the Planeteers compelled me. A couple of friends and I were running around, pretending to be Ninja Turtles, when we noticed that there was quite a bit of trash all over the playground. We huddled together, talking over a plan about as well as a 9 or 10 year old is able, and decided to take it upon ourselves to clean up the yard. So, the next 30 to 40 minutes were spent picking up the random pieces of litter strewn across the playground. Crushed pudding cups, torn up notes (Do you like me? Yes/No), broken pencils, a glove that had been hiding under the jungle gym for at least 3 months; it's amazing the crap that elementary school kids would just toss on the ground. At some point, one of our teachers came up to us and asked what we were doing. I'm not sure of the exact wording, but I'm pretty sure I blurted out something like, "We're the Planeteer club!".  All my friends watched Captain Planet too, so they were totally into it, giving each other high fives, throwing their arms into the air in a show of solidarity and victory. The teacher wrote down all our names and left us to enjoy the last few minutes of our recess, which were likely spent taking on an imaginary Verminous Skumm or Shredder.

Soon, we were back in class, ready to slog through the last couple hours of school. After what seemed like an eternity, our class was finally able to put away our books and get ready to go home. As we were packing up, the principals voice came over the P.A. system with the afternoon announcements. I never really paid attention to the announcements, because they almost never had anything to do with me. So, I was just sitting there at my desk, tired and leaning my head on my hand waiting for him to finish when I heard, "Finally, I'd like to give a special thanks to the Planeteers Club for their help in keeping our school playground clean", and he read off the names of my friends and I. I was floored. My buddies all looked over at me wide-eyed with amazement. We had made it on to the announcements! I mean, it wasn't much, but at that age, any time your name was said out loud in public, and not because you were in trouble, it was a damn good feeling.

When I got home, I was still flying high on the excitement. My imagination took off, and I started having 10 year old level delusions of grandeur. I love how quickly my thoughts would grow at that age. Today, I would be known as the kid who helped clean up the playground at Willis Wharf school. Tomorrow, I'd be the president of the Planeteers club, responsible for thousands, no, millions of kids going outside and cleaning up the world. Maybe I could even get to meet Captain Planet! Even better, maybe I'd get to beat up villains with Captain Planet! I fell asleep humming the Captain Planet theme song to myself, trying to find ways to seamlessly insert my own name into the lyrics.

The next day, I was ready to continue the fight against trash and litter on our playground. I'd brought a small plastic grocery bag with me, so I wouldn't have to keep running back and forth to the garbage can. Even at that young age, I was starting to think about efficiency. Before the bell rang to let us outside, I walked over to my friends, eager to enlist their help yet again.

"Hey guys! Ready to clean up the playground again?"
"Nah, I think we're going to play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles today, wanna come?"

But, we were the Planeteers. We were going to clean up the world, one playground at a time. We were going to take pollution down to zero. We weren't playing, we were actually doing some good. Feeling dejected, I turned down their offer and went off to pick up trash on my own. It wasn't nearly as much fun as it had been with a group, but I was still able to clean up the yard before recess was over. That day, however, there was no thanks over the P.A., no recognition for what I had done. Just a reminder to tell our parents about an upcoming PTA meeting, and tomorrow's lunch menu. I kept it going for a couple more days, but only grudgingly. By the last day, I was starting to realize that walking around the playground picking up garbage by yourself just looks odd to other people. And if there was one thing I definitely was at that age, it was self conscious about how other people saw me. Seeing my friends climbing all over the monkey bars, beating up imaginary mutants and ninjas without me, I was starting to feel left out. I tossed out the small bag of garbage I had been carrying, and walked over to join them.

R.I.P. Planeteers Club. You were no match for the attention span of 10 year olds.


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Stuff I bought from Toys R' Us


This week, the news about Toys R' Us has gone from bad to worse. They've been operating under a crushing amount of debt the past few years, and not too long ago they filed for bankruptcy and started closing stores. Well, it seems that just wasn't enough, and it looks like the chain will be closing for good in the near future. Someone else could come in a buy them out, but that's a longshot, and not looking very likely.

I have to admit, as sad as I am about TRU closing, I don't have much in the way of nostalgic feelings for them. The nearest store to me was over an hour away, so it's not like my folks would take me there every weekend to spend my allowance. Most of the times I ended up there, it was with my spoiled neighbor, who was almost always going to get spend a couple hours buying new Nintendo games. Whenever I would try to wander over to the action figure aisles, his mother or grandmother would tell me to stay put, and not to wander off. I would stare longingly in the direction of G.I. Joe and Thundercats, just wishing I could sneak over there for a few lousy minutes while my neighbor argued with his mom about whether he was going to get 3 or 4 new games.

Still, as infrequent as my trips to Toys R' Us have been, I still managed to pick up a few things from them over the years. Some of them were gems, others, not so much. So, here's a complete list of everything I've bought from Toys R' Us, roughly in order.

Note, I don't own any of these anymore, so I unfortunately had to use pictures from the net.


Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Saying "YES" is the hardest part.

I had bit of an existential crisis last weekend. My wife and I were walking around Toys R Us, and I made my way over to the video game section. There, at the top of the display case were two brand new SNES Classics. When it was first announced, I really had no interest at all in the tiny little retro machine. Most of the games included on the system really held no interest for me, and I already had the ones I did like socked away on my computer's hard drive. There was no reason for me to fork out the $80 in order to enjoy the same games I already had. But, there was something about seeing that black box with the red lettering that just triggered a sudden need to open up my wallet and take one home with me. My wife was incredulous.

"You're not spending that kind of money on something you'll only play twice then forget about. Besides, we already have a Super Nintendo that we never play".

"But, that's because we don't own any games that I want to play. This has a bunch that I love. Besides, just one of those games is worth what the system costs!"

We went back and forth a couple times, and in the end I relented. I was pretty mopey as we walked around Petsmart, lamenting the joy that such games as Super Metroid and Link to the Past could bring. Plus, I was little sore about being told I couldn't buy something I wanted. I was an adult, dammit! As long as my bills were paid, I should be able to buy something now and then. Eventually she told me that if I wanted it that badly, to go back and buy it. I gave her a kiss on the cheek, and started making my way to the exit doors. I stepped outside and started walking back to Toys R Us when something stopped me in my tracks.

I started thinking, that maybe Chelsea was right. I looked back at my history of impulse buys, and started noticing a trend. Most of the things I bought on impulse were gone, sold off when I eventually lost interest.  I'd get caught up in the excitement of finding the thing that everyone else was looking for, and quickly whip out my wallet. Even if I initially had no interest in it at all, I'd still buy it. Who cares what of consequences this might have for my bank account? I now owned this thing! Then a few months later I'd find the thing in a box and wonder, "Why the Hell did I buy this?", before tossing it up on eBay. That all changed a couple of years ago, with Chelsea's newest career venture.

Before her new job, we were nearly living paycheck to paycheck. Not exactly above our means, but definitely not far enough below them. Since her new job involves helping other people be responsible with their money, she decided we should follow the same advice she was giving. It was tough at first, saying "no". There was always that temptation to toss it on a credit card. It's easier to ignore the growing balance rather than ignoring the leaking bank account. Over the course of a few months, both of us fell in line, pretty much cutting off any extraneous purchases, and almost immediately we saw the difference in our bank account. I grew up in a household where the paychecks were pretty much spent before they were deposited, a habit that carried over into my young adulthood. To have money leftover at the end of the month that can be put into savings has been unheard for me.

That's not to say that we still don't buy stuff, it's just more intentional now. Saying "Yes" has definitely become more difficult. Big purchases are the hardest ones.  My old computer started failing but it still took me at least 8 months to finally get up the nerve to buy something else. Both of our couches are pretty worn out, but it will probably be a few more months before we replace them. Even small purchases get the same scrutiny now. That $20 dollar action figure might look cool and all, but am I going to enjoy looking at it once I finish writing a blog post about it? Or am I going to toss it on eBay afterward, hoping to recoup some of my money? If it's the latter, then it stays at the store now.

I've also set limits on what money I can use to buy non-essentials. For example, any money I make selling on eBay goes toward "fun" stuff. When it's gone, it's gone. And no more using PayPal credit. That's a hole that can easily get too deep. Same with gift cards. I usually get a bunch for Christmas and birthdays, so I'll use them to purchase things I want over the course of the year. If I blow them all before January is over, like I did this year, then I gotta wait until I get some more. It's all about limits, and once you can find some you can live with, it makes life a lot easier.

I'd be lying if I said this change in philosophy wasn't at least partially responsible for the lack of new content on the blog lately, but I'm also trying to find ways to stop on relying on just things I've bought for subject matter. I guess I'm trying to be a more deliberate blogger as well. That doesn't mean that I still won't be posting "Hey lookit this toy/food/random thing!" posts, but I don't want them to be the only thing that I do anymore. I won't promise that the quality of the writing is going to improve, because I don't make any promises I'm sure I can't keep. Besides, it might give me a reason to start having my wife edit everything before I post it.

So, has anyone else gone through similar changes? Do you buy more or less now? Or, do you throw caution to the wind and let the creditors sort it out?

Since I don't want to end this on a question, here's a random picture of an Incredible Hulk Christmas tree.


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