Monday, August 23, 2010

Let’s ban automatic windows

Just when I’d resigned myself to driving around with the van window permanently stuck in a partially closed position -- leaving a tolerable two-inch gap -- it finally came unstuck the other day.

The funny thing was, I’d just sent our paychecks through the pneumatic tube in the bank drivethrough lane when it happened. I was standing there with the van door open so I could reach the tube. While I was waiting, just for something to do I pressed the window button. And suddenly it worked! So I gave a little shout of triumph and hopped back in the van and opened the window -- only to discover that I couldn‘t reach the tube. So I had to get back out again.

And so now we have an apparently functional window that we never use, because I don’t trust it to not get stuck in some inconvenient position.

Which makes me wonder: Who decided that automatic windows were a mark of human progress? Can’t we all just go back to the old-fashioned cranks, which almost never break down? I mean, the worst that ever happened is a knob would break off or something, but you could still get the window open with just a little bit of extra effort. Do kids today even remember hand-cranked windows?

If I had a Facebook page, I’d start a campaign to demand automakers scrap automatic windows: Ban them! Wipe them off the face of the planet! Except for people who need special assistance, I guess.

So maybe this will get me over the inertia speed bump and I’ll finally plug in to the rest of the human interface. We’ll see.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A matter of perception

I was looking over granola bars at the store the other day when I found myself gravitating toward the cookies. Usually bars are found in the breakfast aisle and cookies in the bakery or snack aisle. But at Aldi‘s, granola bars co-exist with cookies, and with good reason: According to their labels, the primary difference between the bars on my list and the oatmeal-raisin cookies I was coveting was their shape.

The Benton’s Homestyle Oatmeal Raisin cookies I bought were 120 calories each, with four grams of fat and two grams of fiber. That comes out to two Weight Watchers points -- the same as a typical Fiber One bar and less than many other granola bars, which often have more fat and calories and less fiber.

Here’s an even weirder comparison: One serving of Nature Valley Oats ‘n Honey crunchy granola bars has 190 calories, six grams of fat and two grams of fiber. That’s four Weight Watchers points -- the same as one of those frosted bakery-style Lofthouse sugar cookies, which have 190 calories, seven grams of fat and less than one gram of fiber.

That doesn’t mean all cookies can compete nutritionally with granola bars, or that all breakfast bars are little more than rectangles of cookie dough. But when you consider that granola bars usually cost more than cookies, it’s worth checking the label.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Beach substitute yields cheap vacation discovery

We were going to go to the Warren Dunes on Lake Michigan last weekend, just drive up for the day because we’re squeamish campers and the Holiday Inn Express wanted almost $300 a night, this being peak season and all. But then we heard about the E. coli trouble they’ve been having up there, and decided to do the beach thing at Mississinewa Reservoir instead -- which was much closer and much cheaper, when you consider that we were able to rent a cabin for less than the cost of a tank of gas.

I was afraid it would be boring. I couldn‘t get the idea out of my head that this big old “lake” was really, underneath it all, just flooded farmland (and at least one flooded town, Somerset, Ind., the ancestral hometown of my husband’s family). But the beach was really nice, and as the kids played in the water it suddenly occurred to me that while this body of water lacks the grandeur of the Great Lakes or the Gulf of Mexico, the kids were basically having the same sort of fun they’ve had on tonier beaches.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Economical, environmental and cute, to boot

It’s not exactly groundbreaking news that reusable sandwich containers make a lot more sense than plastic sandwich bags. But it took the pop art kitsch of this Wonder Bread box to get me over the inertia hump and finally make the switch.

These sell for $3.99 at various online sites, including Amazon, but I found this one in the bread aisle at Walmart for about a buck less. That’s Rowan in the pic, with her first-day-of-school PBJ (on whole wheat, of course).