The Rockwood Files: I don’t mean to brag, but…

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

My mom taught me not to brag, but I’ll make an exception this one time. Because after my last few trips to the grocery store, I’ve decided I am the best of the best when it comes to the following three special skills:

1. Picking the wrong cart.

I have an almost magnetic pull to bad shopping carts. Because I have such a long history of picking the wrong cart, I size up my options before I pick one, grocery-carthopeful that maybe this time I’ll get a good one.

I check the wheels to make sure there’s not a gigantic wad of gum stuck there. Then I check inside the cart to make sure it’s not harboring any suspicious-looking tissues. (Choosing a cart with a crumpled up tissue inside it is the grocery store equivalent of rolling around in a big pile of bubonic plague. You just don’t do it.) Without heavy rubber gloves and a gun to my head, there’s no way I’m touching a stranger’s crumpled up tissue.

About a dozen steps inside the store, I realize my cart has mechanical issues. I hear a strange “thwump” sound at regular intervals that only speeds up when I do. Or I’ll notice the cart pulls hard to the left, no matter where I steer it. If shopping carts were cars, I’m the lady driving around a rusted-out 1982 Chevette with cheap tires and alignment problems.

2. Picking the wrong line.

When it becomes obvious my cart is a clunker, I don’t trade it for a different one because, odds are, I’m going to pick another lemon anyway. So I tell myself I’m not going to be there long anyway (an obvious self-delusion). Eventually I “thump-thwump-thwump” my way to the front of the store and pick the absolute worst check-out line.

Do I want to be in the slowest line? Of course not. I do what we all do – cruise past each line, scoping it out to see how many people are waiting, how much stuff they have in their carts, and how speedy the check-out clerk appears to be. I take all these factors into consideration before picking a lane. Then about five minutes after making a lane commitment, I realize I’ve chosen a line that moves at about the same speed as toxic sludge.

I consider bailing out and starting over, certain there must be a faster line out there somewhere. But then I hesitate, afraid that if I give up now, I might get stuck in an even slower line, and then I will have done all this waiting for nothing. So I stand there and wait while the person in front of me divides her items into three separate orders or pulls out a shoebox full of coupons or pays with a temporary check that requires multiple forms of I.D., a blood test and approval from four different managers.

3. Picking the wrong item.

After wrangling the wrong cart and waiting in the wrong line, I’m always relieved when it’s finally my turn to check-out – except when the check-out clerk holds up an item and says those infamous three little words: “There’s no barcode.”

“Do you remember how much this was?” she asks. Then I’m faced with a dilemma: Do I tell the truth, that I really don’t remember exactly how much it was? Or do I make up an approximate price and hope she doesn’t put me on a Wal-Mart “watch list” for getting it wrong.

I default to honesty and tell her I’m not sure, which results in her turning on her lane flashers and asking for a time-consuming price check – which makes the other people in line want to throw their produce at me or run over me with their superior shopping carts.

What can I do? I give them my best “I’m sorry” eyes and try to take solace in these unusual bragging rights: Of all the shoppers in all the stores in all the world, nobody does it as badly as me.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

The Rockwood Files: What were you wearing when…?

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

“Can we give it to him now? Please, Mom? It’s just a few days early.”

“No, you can wait. If you give it to him today, he won’t have anything to open on Father’s Day.”

“I know, but it’s so hard to wait! I really want to give it to him today. He’s gonna be so excited.”

“You’re just like your Dad, you know. He never can wait to give presents either.”

ATGAMES DIGITAL MEDIA INC. ATARI FLASHBACK 4Ten-year-old Jack kept trying to convince me as we made our way to the check-out lane with the gift he picked out for his dad. It was an Atari “Flashback” video game system, chock full of video games nearly as old as we are. Jack’s eagerness to see his dad’s reaction reminded me of the ratty old bathrobe I have hanging in the back of my closet.

Fifteen years ago, I grabbed that robe and threw it on when my apartment’s doorbell rang. I went to the door and peered through the peep-hole, surprised to find Tom standing there looking uncomfortable and fidgety.

I wasn’t expecting him to pick me up for our dinner date for at least another 45 minutes. He was early – really early. And after a year and a half of dating, I knew him well enough to know he was never early.

I cinched the bathrobe closed tighter and wrapped my wet hair up in a towel turban before opening the door.

“Hey! I thought you said 6:30. It’s not even six yet. I’m not ready,” I said.

“Yeah, I know. But I really need to talk to you,” he said as he walked past me into the living room.

Ask any woman who has spent more than five minutes in the dating pool and she’ll tell you that a nervous guy who “needs to talk” is almost never a good thing. It usually ends with a tired speech about commitment issues or an “It’s not you, it’s me” finale that makes you want to break things or jump head-first into a gallon of Butter Pecan ice cream – or both.

But I’d been down that road before and was in no mood for a return trip. So I steeled my nerves and resolved to show him right back out the door as soon as he stopped recapping our relationship, talking about how marriage is such a big step and about how he needs time to make sure he’s ready. In fact, I was just about to launch into a “Go have your commitment issues somewhere else” speech when he interrupted me and said, “Okay, I think I’ve had enough time now.”

In the next heartbeat, he was on a knee, holding out a ring box, asking if I’d marry him. And because I’m a girl and just vain enough to care about those sorts of things, I immediately made a mental note that this was not what I was supposed to look like in the moment I was proposed to – wearing a bathrobe, with no make-up on and my hair up in a towel turban. But there I was, and real life doesn’t wait for costume changes.

Later that night during our celebratory dinner, he told me that his plan was to ask me during a romantic dinner, in the same restaurant where we’d had our first official date. But then he picked up the ring and just couldn’t wait another second to give it to me.

And that’s why I have a 15-year-old bathrobe in the back of my closet. That’s why I still get gifts from Tom weeks before my birthday or Christmas. And that’s why I have three great kids, one of whom can’t wait another second to give his dad a present. The eager apple doesn’t fall far from the “can’t wait” tree.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

The Rockwood Files: Are you a Netflix zombie?

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

It’s not culturally sophisticated to admit it, but I love TV – always have. I loved it ever since I was a kid and Fred Flintstone heard the whistle blow at five o’clock and slid down the back of his dinosaur bulldozer.

4.1.1I loved speculating with my mother during the summer of 1980 about who shot J.R. I loved watching Bill Cosby raise the Huxtable kids. And thanks to TV, I’ve met great characters like Flo from Mel’s Diner, Frasier Crane, J.D. and Turk from Scrubs, and Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. Oh, they make me laugh, even in reruns that never seem to get old.

For TV lovers, the last decade of technological advancements have meant huge changes in the way we cozy up to the tube. The game-changer invention has to be the DVR, which is easily the best thing to happen to television since the remote control and microwave popcorn. The DVR lets you record shows and skip all the commercials, which reduces an hour-long show to about 40 minutes or so. It saves time and helps keep annoying commercial jingles from getting stuck in your head.

But lately, one of television’s new conveniences is wrecking me. I’m suffering from the “Netflix effect.” In case you’re not afflicted yet, Netflix is an online service that lets you watch almost any show at any time and in almost any place where you can get a Wi-Fi signal. For example, if you missed the boat when the show “Mad Men” first started, you can go back and watch back-to-back episodes online for all seven seasons. Want to know if the hype about the show “Breaking Bad” is justified? You’ll find the answer on Netflix, along with more than 30 million other subscribers.

The instant, easy access is a wonderful, terrible thing. Otherwise rational people who KNOW they should go to bed already find themselves desperate to watch a story unfold just a little bit more. We’ll say, “Well, maybe just one more episode..,” and then we kid ourselves into thinking we won’t pay the price for it the next morning with under eye bags large enough to hold all our regrets.

zombie redIf your friend or co-worker is shuffling around in a bleary-eyed haze, it could be a drinking problem, or it might just be a bad Netflix hangover – one too many episodes that stretched into the early morning hours. With just the push of a button, the closing credits of one episode morphed into the opening scene of the next. They got drunk on the power to keep the story going. (Tom and I may or may not have watched four or five hours of House of Cards the other day – just because we could.)

Television binge-watching is like eating Cheetos. Once you’re halfway through the bag, you know the responsible thing to do would be to stop. But then again your fingers are already coated in that orange Cheetos dust, so you might as well just finish it off, right? (Trust me, that line of reasoning makes perfect sense around 11:30 at night.)

Netflix should start posting a public service announcement at the beginning of the really juicy episodes that reads: “Just because you can watch an entire season at one time doesn’t mean you should. Watch responsibly. Friends don’t let friends become Netflix zombies.”

Of course, I don’t have a problem. Not me. I know when to say when. I can put down the remote any time I want – unless the last scene was really good and I need to know what happens next: “Well, maybe just one more episode.”

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

The Rockwood Files: When lettuce and bacon grease meet…

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood,  newspaper columnist and mama of 3

You don’t need a time machine to revisit the past. What you need is the right meal. Last night I had a big bowl full of “wilted lettuce” that took me right back to 1983.

As soon as the first forkful hit my mouth, I was a kid again having Sunday lunch in Ethel, Arkansas – a tiny, dirt-road town in Southern Arkansas where my Grandma and Grandpa lived and spent their 70s doting on grandkids and their garden.

Wilted lettuce salad isn’t a name that gets your mouth watering, I admit. It sounds like something you throw out of the crisper drawer after it’s hung around too long. But my Grandma and her sister, Aunt Eunice, made wilted lettuce a country culinary art form. As soon as we arrived at their house for Sunday lunch and spotted a bowl of it on their kitchen table, I’d squeal as if Christmas had come in June.

wilted lettuceHere’s the three-step process you’ll need if you want to create Southern wilted lettuce. I know you’re skeptical, but once you eat it, you’ll believe it. Step 1: Cut fresh lettuce from the garden. Step 2: Chop it up and toss it in a bowl with green onions, radishes, tomatoes, a hard-boiled egg, and a bit of sugar and vinegar. Step 3: (And here’s where it gets truly Southern and delicious) Douse it with bacon grease and crumble the bacon into the salad bowl like a meaty garnish.

When you drizzle hot bacon grease over garden-fresh lettuce, something magical happens. The lettuce soaks it up, as if it somehow knows that it’s been missing out on a fabulous party up until this moment. All that leafy green goodness helps you forget about the grease that might be clogging your arteries a little more with every bite. This dish is the perfect combination of good and evil, Heaven and Hell, sensible diet and sinful indulgence – all mixed up in one big bowl.

Lettuce and bacon grease are the Romeo and Juliet of the food world – star-crossed ingredients that shouldn’t go together but, when they touch, they’re no denying the chemistry.

As I sat there scraping every shred of lettuce out of the bowl, I kept expecting to see my great Aunt Eunice shuffle into the room holding one of her Word Search books. She passed away several years ago at the age of 105, but that meal made her seem so present again, as if we’d hear her voice any moment or see her head out the screen door toward the chicken coop to collect the eggs.

That’s one of the great things about food – how certain combinations, smells and textures can bring us home again. It can flood our minds with memories we didn’t even know were still in there, just waiting for the right moment to resurface.

After the salad bowl was empty, I chased the last bite with a glass of sweet tea, knowing full well I’ll have to walk several miles to make up for the free-for-all at the dinner table. So be it. Some meals are just worth it.

And even though I’m not skilled in the kitchen the way my Grandma and Aunt Eunice were and the way my mother still is, this lovely trip down wilted lettuce lane has made me realize I should learn to cook a signature dish that my kids truly love. So that decades from now, even long after I’m gone, they’ll sit down to a plate of food that makes them feel like I’m right around the corner and might pop in any second to ruffle their hair, give them a hug and remind them to take those dirty dishes to the sink.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

The Rockwood Files: Heard of Google Easter Eggs?

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

A decade feels like a long time – right up until the day one of your kids turns 10 years old. Then it feels more like a fast 20 minutes. In just two short days, our middle child, Jack, will hit the big 1-0, and he can hardly wait to embrace his double-digit status.

When Jack’s older brother turned 10 a couple years ago, I felt weepy every time I thought about it. He was halfway to 20 and only 8 years away from leaving the nest for college. The lump in my throat felt as big as the birthday cake.

Now that Jack is also turning 10, I’ve learned that I need to treat this milestone more like a carnival ride. As much as you want it to slow down, you also know the speed is part of the thrill. So you hang on tight and try to enjoy the adventure – even when it’s scaring the daylights out of you.

When Jack isn’t scarfing down carbohydrates and growing out of his shoes too fast, he likes to tinker around with computers. And one of the cool things about him getting older and wiser is that he can teach me things. The other day we went to our favorite deli to have soup and iced tea, and during lunch he told me all about Google “Easter eggs.” When I gave him a blank stare, he resisted the urge to roll his eyes and say “Duh, Mom” and instead grabbed my smartphone to google easter eggshow me an online “Easter egg” in action.

In case you, like me, are uneducated about hidden high-tech eggs, let me explain so you can score some “cool points” with kids who might think you’re ancient and clueless. A Google Easter egg is simply a hidden feature or trick tucked away in an online hidey-hole by the crazy smart computer nerds who run Google. To see an Easter egg in action, use the voice search function on your computer or smartphone and ask the question, “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” A computer voice will answer you right away.

My favorite Google Easter egg is a nod to Star Trek fans. Using the voice search function on your smartphone, say the words, “Beam me up, Scotty!” The computer voice will answer you just like Scotty always did: “I cannot do it, Captain. I do not have the power!” (Except your smartphone’s voice will say this famous line in the worst computerized Scottish accent I’ve ever heard, which only makes it funnier.)

If you don’t have voice search on your computer, try this one: Type in the name of any famous person and then the words “bacon number” right after his or her name. Google will immediately show you how many degrees of separation there are between the famous person and actor Kevin Bacon. (Anne Frank’s “Bacon number” is 3, by the way.) There are dozens of these high-tech Easter eggs hidden throughout Google, and apparently most 10-year-olds know where to find them. Now we do, too.

When Jack turns 10 in a couple days, we’ll have a big carbo-loading birthday party complete with his favorite lasagna and more garlic bread than should be legal. Then we’ll finish up with cake or cookies or both, if Jack has any say in it.

And when he falls asleep later that night, I’ll stop for a few moments in his doorway to look at him – marveling at how our baby could have grown into this amazing young person right before my eyes. It all happened so fast – in the blink of a decade.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s new book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

Photo credit: Lisa Mac Photography

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