Time in a Bottle

“Step forward -that’s right! Now, grasp this sand -yes, in both hands. That’s right, sir.”

Wondering, he thrusts both hands forward. Sensing the weight against calloused palms it overflows, draining with the pull of gravity to spill upon his shoes, the floor, the table legs.

“That’s right: step forward to the table. Quickly, now! Choose which of these bottles in which to pour your sand.”

Gravity is cruel. It pulls more and more from his hands as he frantically searches for an identifier on the glass bottle fronts. Which is which? How will he know what he is choosing -!?

“Your time is running out and you cannot get more until tomorrow…”

A blue bottle catches his eye; a portly one which reminds him of a fat man. He leans and manages to dump a measure in, to a halfway point. -Not too much, though; what if he chose poorly?

“That’s it. Good. But what of the others? Do you wish to spend all day at that one?”

Probably not, he thinks, and thrusts toward the nearest bottles. A squat red jar, two narrow green-tinted vases, and a pinkish jug each receive a bottom’s full. The red jar’s neighbor, a dubious black container, accidentally receives a bit more than even the first.

“Hmmm…”

The booming tone frazzles his nerves, already high-strung from the continued loss of sifting hand-sand. With not much left, he jerks his cupped palms hither and thither. The table claims much if not most of what’s left. Ten random jars each carry a small dusting. He looks round; no one seems to be watching. Quickly, he gathers table sand and deposits it into a comely emerald urn. He dusts any lingering pieces from his fingers, his heart racing.

“Ah, I see you are done. Let’s see: Fortunately for you, your first choice was sleep. Some poor fool last hour completely neglected that one. Not a bad number in exercising, either. Work has even more than sleep; yes, this black one, here. I’m not sure how you’re going to feel much accomplishment from only a few grains in household upkeep, budgeting, personal hygiene, nor expenses. The fewest grains seem to be, here, in leisure….”

His hopes raised at the news of sleep; deflated somewhat at the exercise. He was just going to ask whether leisure might be a bit higher than budgeting when he notices a shadow frowning over the green urn.

“Hmmm. Odd. You’ve a fair bit in meals, here, but they’re not the best quality. It’s almost as though some other, older bits of grit are in here. …Perhaps the urn wasn’t quite cleaned -or the sand. Well, I’m afraid your nourishment will not be the best sort. At least you’ll have it though, eh? Not like that woman just yesterday…”

He watches in astonishment as arms wave over the table and every bit of sand within the containers rises into the air. They’re colored like the vases or jugs or urns they traveled from and dance in a dusty swirling cloud which follows the circling arms. The cloud condenses within the taskmaster’s shaping hands and resolves into parchment.

“Your day. You’ll see it has everything you chose. Now, take it and exit behind me through the large wooden doors. Move along, move along.”

He stumbles unsteadily out the exit indicated, an exit he swore was not there when he first entered the room with the pouring sand and the table. Between his careworn yet clean fingers he clenches his hard-won paper prize. From the closing door behind him calls the echoing voice again:

“Next! Now, don’t be shy -don’t be shy. Step forward, ma’am, and take your sand…”

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Food on Your Family

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There is a recall out for chopped Romaine lettuce.

Normally, I am unaffected by produce recalls because my lettuce was purchased thirty days ago and I am still telling myself that I’ll eat it. I can cut around all the brown spots, right? We’d hosted a family party Sunday, however, so I bought that huge package of Romaine hearts from Costco the day before.

As each heart was ripped out and discarded, I had the mental image of pulling cash from my wallet and throwing green bills away.

Which leads me to a common question I hear: how much does it cost to feed a family?

I have four boys. They’re young, and have always had modest appetites. My husband, who has never passed 150 lbs in his life, says he feels full after soup. Still, our food costs are going to be more than a young couple working full time or a small family of three.

Plus, kids grow. They eat more when they grow.

I lived with my younger brother when he was a teenager. I’m safely estimating that I’ll have that TIMES FOUR in a few, short years.

One perk to having children is that people will occasionally offer me free food. As in, Chelsea, I’m moving and am just throwing away all the food in my fridge. Do you want to come over and see if you can use any? Or, I’m going on a restrictive diet and left some pantry items on your porch. Give away what you don’t use.

It almost makes up for how much I spend otherwise. Actually -no, no it doesn’t.

Whenever I think I’ve got it bad, however, I think of larger families. We’ve hosted my husband’s sister’s family of eight children a handful of times. Don’t worry -we’ve returned the favor. But adding six people to ten is easier: just kill two chickens instead of the one and throw a bit more flour into the roll dough.

I may go into Costco to buy bread and come out with a new set of tires, but my weekly trips and expenses for food are about equal to my sister-in-law’s daily ones.

One of my favorite films to watch growing up was Yours, Mine, and Ours, with Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball. Although it has many pertinent scenes, every time our relatives come stay I replay the grocery store part in my mind. In the film, the poor cashier enters the products manually. Tub after tub of oatmeal follows bags and bags of Wonder bread, AND they have two more shopping carts to go after all that. The cashier totals it all up; they spent $126.63 (the equivalent of $920.87, using online inflation calculators).

The North family really could have used a Costco.

We took our ten house guests to the world’s largest Costco last time they were here. My husband was at work, so we may have resembled members of a certain lifestyle involving two wives. Each adult manned a shopping cart and helped herd the dozen children roaming around us.

It was somewhat exciting to purchase 36 hot dogs, multiple loaves of bread, 5 lbs of cheese, and enormous bags of chips -and know that we would eat it all within the week. We filled the carts with food and diapers, plus children in time-out.

I felt overwhelmed projecting how much regular grocery bills must cost. And, as with any large organization (recalls aside), their family has waste. have waste, and feel that I do fairly well planning out meals and reusing leftovers.

I find myself mentally calculating what the cheapest take-out meals are (Chinese food, pizza, or chicken “on the bird” from Costco), least-expensive home meals are (bean soup, grilled cheese and tomato soup, pancakes), or how often we can visit relatives at mealtimes.

I mean, when the boys do hit puberty, I’m going to be in trouble. Donations? GoFundMe, maybe? Actually, taking a full-time job might be the best option.

I wonder if Costco is hiring.