Monthly Archives: May 2019

Next Stop, High School

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Next Stop, High School

Things have been busy around here. The Holderness Family made a video called MAYcember which is a beautiful tribute to the insanity that is the end of the school year.

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My daughter is about to finish 8th grade which apparently is a big deal now. When I transitioned from 8th into 9th grade in the ’80s, not so much. There’s a promotion ceremony which requires a new outfit and shoes ($$$$). There’s also a party for which parents are expected to donate time, money and a pint of blood (specifically, unicorn blood).

Of course a Sign Up Genius went out via email and I was ready. I beat out at least 17 other parents to be the virtual first which means I get to be Napkin Mom. This is the most coveted of all of the sign up options, followed by Paper Plate Dad with Aunt Disposable Utensils coming in third.

Yesterday Facebook made me all gooey by showing a photo of my daughter from five years ago. It was her third grade field day and let me just say, we do field day big here. Until middle school then it falls off a cliff because middle school should suck every damn day. When I was a kid we had tug-of-war and races, that’s it. If you were lucky you got one of those frozen POP-ICE sugar water things that bled purple dye on your legs, done.

Field Day here has a theme and kids are encouraged to build something to go with the theme. They order special t-shirts each year which kids (and adults) customize. One year it was flying machines…most kids went with airplanes and helicopters, my girl made a flying saucer and it was the sh*t!  The memory photo that came up yesterday featured the seafaring vessels. That year both my kids participated. My son made a viking boat and my daughter brought out the big guns and made a submarine.

Obviously these projects require some supervision. Unlike the Boy Scout Derby Car that my husband totally made (1st place winner), field day projects are individual with minimal construction help. My daughter would always consult my father in-law. Nonno was the fixer of things around here, that Italian ingenuity deep in his DNA, he could jury-rig anything. She would come to him with a very specific vision of what she wanted, sketches in hand and he would search for the materials to make it happen. They would tinker in the detached garage until the structure was built and then she would take over with painting and any finishing touches.

Yesterday’s memory photo featured my daughter at 9, beaming with pride next to an equally proud art teacher, the submarine in the foreground. That particular teacher is a mentor of emerging artists, an innovator, one of those teachers that makes a difference. Nonno helped her make that submarine, letting her lead, making gentle suggestions only when necessary.  It was a snapshot of that precious time between childhood and the teen years. The last real bits of childhood, before you care about how you look or what others think. Before she was on Instagram or Snapchat, when she was a ball of creativity and enthusiasm guided by the gentlest of souls, her dear departed Nonno. She still has those qualities, they are just a bit muted now by life experiences and the realization and pressures of the real world beginning to unfold.

Next stop, high school.

 

 

 

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Heaven Sent

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Heaven Sent

I used to visit her on Tuesday mornings. I would make a cup of tea and fill up the pan with warm soapy water. Kelly would soak her feet a few minutes and we would chat about whatever caught our interest that day. Sipping tea, chatting like old friends though we didn’t know each other that long.

She created a Facebook page for people with cancer so they could pass along items they no longer needed – wigs, walkers, canes, commodes, anything. Kelly wanted to help anyone in need, she was keenly aware that there were many people in need. We also talked about her children – a daughter and two sons. The daughter was married, her youngest son was in middle school, the same age as my boy.

After about 10 minutes I would take one foot out and pat it dry. Then I would give her a pedicure, she always liked a good pedi. It isn’t something I excel at but that’s what she wanted, so I fumbled my way through. She was always grateful for my attempt, a genuine smile on her face. We did this for months before I left for vacation.

That summer my family spent 3 glorious weeks in Italy. Exploring as much as we could – Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre, Lucca, Orvieto and Rome. My husband speaks fluent Italian and he got us some great rental properties to stay in. It was my all time favorite vacation. It was magical, the four of us in a place of beauty, enriched in history and the food, my God what a time we had.

When I got back home I was preparing to jump back into my schedule when I heard the news. Kelly had passed away just a few weeks after her 48th birthday. Today her birthday came up in my Facebook feed, she would have been 51 today. I turn 51 next week.

I think of her youngest son often. I didn’t know her that well, I was just a hospice volunteer that would visit once a week, make her tea and paint her toes. Sometimes I wonder why life is so hard for some people and seemingly so easy for others. Why did I get to go to Italy while she perished?

Life doesn’t make sense, there is nothing fair about it. So today Kelly reminded me how precious life is and how fleeting and unpredictable it can be…I feel like she would have wanted me to share that message, so I am. Happy Birthday in heaven Kelly.

HaPpY BiRtHdAy!!!

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HaPpY BiRtHdAy!!!

It’s been a while since I’ve written about Rob and Laura, my spunky nonagenarian clients. Last week Rob turned 95 and I gave him these socks –

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The birthday card I selected had two Shih Tzus on the cover (featured photo). The inside read – If it were anyone else’s birthday I wouldn’t give two Shih Tzu. I had a twinge of concern that this card might be too racy but I gambled and won. I stopped by the afternoon of Rob’s birthday to drop off his gift and say hello in person. One of his daughters was there with her husband, they all approved. The socks were such a hit that Rob decided to wear them to his birthday dinner, truly an honor.

Last week I asked Rob if he only wore the white diabetic socks that I see him in. He confided that on Sundays he wears brown socks to attend meeting. Meeting is the Quaker version of a worship service. It is a quiet gathering unless a member has a desire to share something. I’ll be honest I don’t know much about it, they seem like a very chill group.

If you watch the show Catastrophe, the main character, Rob (coincidence?), becomes a Quaker for about 3 minutes and the portrayal seems fairly accurate to me. Rob & Laura have mentioned the firm wooden pews at meeting and how they are likely designed to discourage people from getting too long winded. They noted that all of the meetings they have attended feature firm uncomfortable seating except for England where they had fancy upholstered chairs. By the way Catastrophe is an excellent show if you’re in the market for viewing something with razor edge humor which embraces the messier aspects of modern parenting and couple-hood.

Happy Birthday Rob – 95 looks great on you!

 

Napkin Mom (Over It)

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Napkin Mom (Over It)

I started out so strong when they were little. When my son was colicky and didn’t sleep through the night I would hold him, offer him a bottle, sing a little song I made up. I was a good mom. When my daughter came along 19 months later, I was still good. Grateful that this one liked to sleep more…I promised her the moon. I was so filled with gratitude for an easy baby.

When they got to preschool I was all in. I knew every kid/mom/dad/teacher/assistant, I could tell you the names of the baby chicks that came in the spring. I dressed like an adult for the Mother’s Day Tea. Hell, I put on lipstick AND mascara. For Halloween I dressed up as Cat in the Hat, my kids were Thing 1 & Thing 2. I was happy to be there in those moments, soaking it in.

My reign of good momness continued into elementary school. I volunteered for everything. I was a lunch mom, I assisted the littles with their Capri Sun straws, opened cracker packages, kept the peace at recess. I was the Class Mom for both my kids some years….do you have any idea how hard it is to pull that off? People fight for that here, I was golden. There were years when I had each School Board Member and the District Superintendent in my phone contact list. I never called them but they probably would have answered if I had (alright, most probably would have answered…..some….perhaps, two of the 10 wouldn’t block me).

At one point I was consistently attending school board meetings and I had opinions about things. Then I realized that I didn’t need to have an opinion about EVERYthing, so I shifted my focus. I started volunteering for a non-profit that provided grant money to the district. This was the big time of good momness, I was raising money (say it with me) “FOR THE CHILDREN.” And honestly it was a lot of fun for the first year or two, until it wasn’t.

When my kids were both in middle school I hit the wall. I was burnt out and it happened to coincide with some family issues and a teeny bit of social drama. I wouldn’t say I went out in flames, it wasn’t that dramatic. I just kind of walked away, fire licking at my toes and I didn’t look back.

It’s been a year now since I deserted my volunteer post and I have definitely turned a corner. My daughter has a school event coming up in a couple of weeks. As is the norm these days, a Sign Up Genius went out requesting parents to bring party goods – food, decorations, etc. I responded immediately, I wanted to get on there before anyone else so I could make my claim. It was close, I edged out 4 other moms to beat them to the coveted spot and I’m happy to report that I won. I used to be the makes-homemade-chicken-parm and brings several trays to feed a hundred people mom. Now I’m “Napkin Mom” and that’s just fine.

 

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White Tower View

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White Tower View

When I was a teenager I spent several months living in an all female group home. The ages ranged from 15 to 65 and anyone that was within childbearing age was taken to the gynecologist and put on birth control. It was explained as a way to keep everyone on a regular cycle and minimize mood swings. I didn’t fight it and went on the pill like most of the other residents.

For the next fifteen years I took birth control pills, the lowest dose at the time (ON777). My menstrual cycle was consistent, nothing more than a minor inconvenience. Not painful like some of my friends and the pills didn’t seem to cause any side effects. When I became sexually active, I was grateful for their effectiveness. I went to Planned Parenthood for my annual exam and purchased my birth control pills through them at a discount until my late 20s.

I never had a bad experience. The place was clean, staff was professional and no one shouted “whore” as I made my way into the clinic. Never once did anyone try to sell me on an abortion, I never needed one thanks to those little pills. I had access to effective healthcare, physical and financial accessibility, without which, I could have had a different outcome.

When I got to my early 30s I was starting to get concerned about the long term effects of birth control pills. I decided to give my body a break and go off of them. I discussed this with my long term boyfriend. By this time I had a good job and I owned my own home. My guy was doing well and we were in love, 5 years into our relationship. We were pretty relaxed about the possibility of becoming pregnant and let the universe guide us. We eventually got pregnant….I say we because I don’t know any female that has gotten pregnant on her own (an immaculate conception is pretty rare). We decided it would be a good time to get married and have a kid.

We got married and the pregnancy was going well until 39 weeks in. I felt a dull ache behind my left knee. Turns out I had a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) which can become fatal if a blood clot breaks away and goes to your heart/lungs/brain, scary stuff. I was fortunate to be within 3 miles of a trauma center hospital. A retractable filter was inserted through my jugular vein and was placed below my heart and lungs to break up any potential killer clots. The fact that I’m typing this lets you know it worked.

It turned into a fairly dramatic birth including me being induced, 5 hours of pushing and a sideways baby that wasn’t budging (I’m happy to say he’s become much more compliant since then). Eventually it was determined that I needed to have a cesarean section. Two weeks later, the retractable filter was removed and I was put on blood thinners for 6 months. I had all kinds of terrible reactions to the medication which caused me to have numerous tests for Lupus, MS and enough blood draws to satiate an army of vampires. It was rough and we didn’t plan to have another child.

Because of the blood clot issue I could not go on BC pills or have any kind of hormone based birth control. IUDs freaked me out, I heard too many horror stories. So our options were a diaphragm, condoms or pull out. We failed at those options and I got pregnant soon after our son’s first birthday. When I told my husband I was pregnant he said – “congratulations, are you sure you want to go through with this?”

It was a fair question given the unexpected complications of my first pregnancy. My husband was traveling internationally on a frequent basis. Most of my pregnancy would be spent with a toddler and no local family, just a handful of friends that I made in the 6 months since we moved. I didn’t hesitate though, I wanted to go through with the pregnancy.

My gyno had become very close with me since the birth of my son. The kind of closeness that comes from a near death experience. I could see the concern on her sweet face when I went in to see her to have the pregnancy confirmed. She contacted the hematologist and gave me the name of a good perinatologist, I was going to be closely monitored.

I did the best I could to not focus on what could happen. My biggest fear was driving or being alone in the house with my son and having a pulmonary embolism or a brain aneurysm, these were not far fetched concerns. I kept thinking of Steel Magnolias when  Shelby dies while making dinner with her young son crying next to her body. The possibility was a shadow throughout my pregnancy.

Six and a half months into the pregnancy I felt that familiar dull ache behind my knee again. I called my gyno she asked me to meet her at the hospital.  Sure enough I had a clot, not a monster DVT like the first time, but a clot which could have been fatal to me or my baby girl. I was put on a heparin drip and remained inpatient for a week. When I was sent home I was given medicine that I needed to inject into my pregnant belly twice a day for the remainder of my pregnancy.

My gyno and my hematologist were getting twitchy. I could see fear in their eyes with every interaction, I was a ticking time bomb. I told my gyno that I wanted a tubal ligation after the baby was born and I could hear her exhale as she expressed gratitude over my choice. To be clear, my husband was also onboard with that and he respected the fact that ultimately it was my decision.

This time I had a planned cesarean and the now familiar retractable filter was inserted just prior to that. They decided to do a c-section at 35w6d and I got my tubal ligation immediately after. Two weeks later the retractable filter was removed followed by a year of blood thinners and more blood draws, so many blood draws. I went to a blood clinic at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Jersey to see if there was a genetic reason for my issue. After more tests and many more blood samples it was determined to be pregnancy related and having no plans for further pregnancies, I was released from care.

I was fortunate to have two healthy babies, now teenagers. I had a caring partner with both pregnancies. I had assistance with child care when I had to go to the hospital. I had good health insurance. I had a vehicle to get myself to the necessary appointments. I had money to pay for gas, pay for a sitter, pay co-payments, I had a network of support. I also lived within reasonable proximity to excellent reproductive healthcare.

What if I couldn’t get birth control as a young woman? What if there was no clinic, no sliding-scale fee, no access? What if I was a woman of color? Would my seemingly minor medical complaints have been taken seriously? Would that dull ache get the attention it deserved? Or would I just be another sad anonymous number in a case study?

I understand how the pro-life movement can seem like the high moral ground when you are looking down from an ivory tower. You can’t see deep enough into the brush to see what is happening there so it simply blends into the background, it’s just scenery. I would ask you to take those long steps down and see what is happening outside of your limited view.

Have you ever gone with a 15 year old girl who was getting an abortion? I have, it was devastating. She made a mistake, she was so scared, just 15. I held her and cared for her and listened to her when she told me about the recurring nightmares of her unborn child. This was not an easy decision, she was gutted.

Have you ever seen the bruises of domestic violence on a pregnant woman? I have and I wanted to kill the guy. I threw a baby shower for a dear friend when we were both 20. She married her long term asshole of a boyfriend when she got pregnant. Fun fact – domestic violence often escalates during pregnancy. She got changed in front of me and her chest was covered in bruises. She and her baby eventually got out of that situation, it took a long time.

Have you known anyone who had a late term abortion? I knew someone who had a late term abortion. It was heartbreaking. A co-worker of mine found out that her fetus died in utero in her third trimester. She was given the choice to abort or wait for her body to naturally go into labor and deliver a stillborn baby. Can you imagine living with that trauma?

Do you know any females that have been raped in a manner which could have resulted in an unwanted pregnancy? I expect every hand to be raised at this one. Has the #MeToo movement taught us anything? Sexual violence and molestation is rampant – at work, in the military, college campuses, church, school, pretty much everywhere including home for some unfortunate victims. These women should go to jail if they abort an unwanted zygote? Should they be denied a morning after pill? What if the trauma has them so horrified that it takes them a few weeks to come to terms with the possibility of an unwanted pregnancy? What if the victim is also beaten badly during the rape and is in a coma – does she get a f*cking pass then?

We all have strong feelings about this topic and I’m not trying to isolate anyone, truly I am not. I’ve seen some horrible stuff up close and in person. My own personal experiences and those of people close to me have helped to form my opinions and I’m sure the same is true for you. There is a lot of gray area for me and in the end I always circle back to individual choice. I can’t know the fine print details of each individual situation. I’m not a medical professional, psychologist or social worker. I’m not pro-abortion, I’m pro-choice.

 

 

 

Fixer of Broken Things

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Fixer of Broken Things

A great tree fell in the forest of life on this day a year ago and I am sad. I miss the colors of fall, the snow on winter branches, the shelter for spring birds and the clean air he so effortlessly provided. He made our world a better place and asked for nothing in return, except perhaps, some pasta.

I talk to the ghost of my father in-law daily, I miss him every day. He was a quiet man, a man of action, a family man, a zen master. He could pop over any time and I was always happy to see him. Not even a hint of internal – oh shit I need to….his visits only brought joy – a smile, an enthusiastic hello, would you like some coffee/breakfast/lunch/anything and it truly would have been my pleasure to serve….just the pasta, that’s all he wanted.

He would spend hours at our house, pulling weeds, fixing things, dawdling in that classic old school Italian way, cigarette hanging out of his mouth, the dog at his feet hoping for a crust of bread which, he always shared as he exited his car in our driveway. He was the fixer of broken things, the finder of stuff (he knew where everything was), the quiet gardener, the happy chef, a humble man who loved his family.

When the kids were little they would become attached to tiny toys that were given in party bags, random gifts and tchotchke items. One of a kind special things that were beloved and irreplaceable or at least hard to find. If something broke it would be set aside for Nonno to fix. His success rate was pretty high somewhere above 90%. He had that Italian mind designed to solve problems and find solutions, curious and steadfast in his thoughts, the man had an abundance of patience.

He painted when something needed to be painted. He organized, he cleaned, he made himself useful, he had to be productive, it was in his DNA. Like a border collie, he needed a job. He was happy here toiling around our house during the day and when he was done he would drive the 8 minutes back to his house. Freedom and independence without isolation.

He could sew too. My daughter had a brief stint in the Daisies and the Brownies and I never sewed a single patch, Nonno did that. He even sewed the dog’s toys back together. He could do stuff with gorilla glue and duct tape that defied the laws of physics, truly a fixer of broken things.

If I’m honest he fixed me as well. I didn’t grow up with a father in my life. He showed me what a good father was, I felt loved and appreciated. Perhaps that’s why I never lost patience with him popping in unannounced or declining invites to the kids events. Behavior which annoys me when someone else does it. I simply enjoyed his company and knew he loved us whether or not he attended the Holiday Concert.

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year. It feels like yesterday and another lifetime all at once. I don’t know how that’s possible, it just is. My husband seemed distracted and down today. He’s horrible at remembering dates so I didn’t want to remind him if the date slipped his mind. Why scratch the scab?

I popped in his office and asked if he was OK. Told him I thought he seemed distracted. His response let me know he didn’t realize the significance of the date – he asked if it was “that time”. That usually gets a steely gaze from me, on this day I practiced restraint…then he asked if I was OK, suspecting I was hormonal. I responded with a cheerful “just checking on you, I’m good”.

I’m not good.

 

On the Path…

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On the Path…

Sometimes you find yourself on a path and you have no idea how you got there. Is this the beginning, the middle or the end? There’s no map. It isn’t a path you chose, it was chosen for you. You don’t know the length, topography, the fitness required to complete it…hell you don’t know the destination and yet, here you are.

There are no trail markers to assist, no consistent guide. You observe, look for tripping hazards, avoid the pitfalls when you see them. You try to adapt to the ever changing conditions, not knowing how long you will be here or where it ends. You have to adapt, try and enjoy the path when you can, take deep breaths, look around, it feels lonely. You are isolated, afraid, desperate. Every so often you hear a friendly voice nudging you along…mostly though, you are on your own and you need to make peace with that.

Johnnie Walker Red

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Johnnie Walker Red

There was a mouse in the house and no Johnnie Walker Red. I may need to back up a bit for this to make sense. Today featured an outing with Rob and Laura, my nonagenarian clients. We hit the usual spots including the grocery store where we were supposed to get three things and left with six.

The official list included bread, milk and peanut butter. The unofficial additions added frozen peas, cheddar cheese and white wine. The dairy aisle is approximately 2,789 miles from the packaged goods area (wine & beer). During our trek from one end of the store to the other, we passed a gentlemen wearing this shirt –

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We decided that was a sign from the Universe. Since I thought the Universe might be listening I quickly asked for world peace and anyone but Trump in 2020

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Laura waited by the register while Rob and I went to fetch her wine. When we were checking out the cashier was interacting with Rob and I, Laura always provides the laugh track.

Cashier: OK, almost done you just need to respond to the questions….(jokes) your mother’s maiden name, blood type, name of your first kid.

Rob: OK, Wilbur (that is NOT the name of his oldest child)

Me: The name of the street you lived on when you were five.

Cashier: The fake name of your first dog.

Me: My first pet had an unusual name. When I was seven we had a cat named Johnnie Walker Red. Mom always told us it was because that was the box the cat picked out but I had my suspicions…

We all chuckled and went on our way. Rob interacts with everyone and we had a conversation about Marty, the useless robot that is usually summoned to produce when we frequent the store. Then we speculated about what Marty did on his/her/their time off.

Me: Rob, I didn’t hear an announcement for Marty to clean up in Produce today.

Rob: Me either, I wonder if Marty has the day off.

Me: What do you think Marty does on his day off? Perhaps the beach, a museum visit, the movies…

Rob: I don’t know maybe Marty likes to hang out around garbage, always cleaning something up. I see you have assigned a male gender to Marty. I think of Marty as female because there was a cute girl named Marty in one of my classes…

Laura: Clears throat.

After a few more errands we went back to the house. I went into the basement to get birdseed so I could fill the feeders. They use large old pretzel tins as bird seed containers. The tops are difficult to get off and I struggle with them. I noticed that one of the tins was running low so I lugged the large container toward the old refrigerator which is now dedicated to housing excess bird seed.

As I was getting ready to pour seed into the tin something caught my eye. At first I thought it was just a clump of gray seeds, perhaps black oil sunflower seeds, shifting.  When the gray “seeds” moved, I knew it was a mouse of some sort.

I quickly came up with a plan for capture which, involved a scoop funnel (with the funnel end closed) and a coffee tin. Several attempts were made with me jumping in unison with my new furry friend in a staccato rhythm. My plan was catch and release to the great outdoors. Perhaps I should have explained this to the mouse before attempting the catch end of it. The mouse managed to escape to corners of the 60 year old unfinished basement that I was not willing to attempt. Mouse: 1 Me: 0

I thought about suggesting that they get a cat and then I realized I would likely get stuck changing the litter box so I kept that idea to myself. I told my mouse tale to Rob and Laura when I got upstairs. They found it amusing and were not alarmed in any way. Rob explained that they worked out a deal with the rodents. They are welcome to stay as long as they confine their activities to the basement. His house, his rules. I filled the bird feeders and wished them a good afternoon.

 

Coming Soon, the TP1CGAF

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Coming Soon, the TP1CGAF

I’m at a food store at least six times a week. Two of those times are for the elderly clients that I take out for errands, the rest are for my family. I have to amuse myself at the grocery store because I’m there so much. I also spend more time than is needed in the parking lot.  It’s my escape when I need some urgent “me time” and yes, I realize how pathetic that sounds, thank you for noticing. I also sneak in a few rounds of Word Stacks in case you weren’t already judging me too harshly.

One of the things that I find funny lately is the advertising for toilet paper. The commercials for TP are awful – especially the one’s that boast about how clean your ass will be if you use their product. There’s also significant shelf space dedicated to adult wipes because apparently we’ve forgotten how to do that properly.

The thing that got me today though was the number of rolls that the manufacturer claims to represent in a package. A package of 6 rolls will now replace prior packs of 1,272 rolls (OK 12, close enough). Made me envision the next iteration of TP manufacturing when they try to get a year’s worth of toilet paper on a commercial grade spool. It may not fit in your bathroom but it will last the average family of four 12 months (Manufacturer disclaimer: unless your family comes down with a stomach bug then maybe 11 months and 17 days).

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Bob at Charmin is currently working on the latest innovation within the toilet paper industry. The TP1CGAF. it lasts one year for a family of four. We can’t cure cancer or the common cold but dagnamit we won’t rest until no one has to change the TP roll for at least a year. Amazon may gripe about delivering this through Prime.

I’m waiting for AI to take over this task, in a few short years, Rosie the Robot will fetch your next roll of TP and place it on the holder facing toward the user as G*d intended.

 

Bonus points if anyone wants to guess what TP1CGAF stands for in the comments.