The Ten Commandments of Grocery Shopping

Given the fact that the employees at my local grocery store see me more than my own family does, it’s safe to say that I have quite a bit of experience pushing a full cart around.

While I generally enjoy the experience because a) I love finding and checking things off of a list and b) food, there are a few simple things that would make it better for all those involved.

Thou shall not leave your cart in an empty parking spot.

There are two kinds of people in this world: 1) those who return carts to the cart corral and 2) a-holes. Leaving a cart to find it’s own way home often results in the cart camping out in a parking spot someone will inevitably pull halfway into before realizing the cart is there and angrily backing out, pissing off people behind them. The carts have a home. Help them find their home.

Thou shall not walk down the center aisle of the parking lot.

You do not have super-human pedestrian powers that override people in their cars trying to get past or around you. Pick a side — any side — and no one gets hurt.

Thou shall travel up and down the aisle like a civilized person.

Up one side, down the other. If you’re barreling down the middle or the wrong side like a linebacker and clip my cart, I am not above throwing a shoulder. Also, try to refrain from doing a 180 halfway down a jam-packed aisle only to amble along as if you’re taking in the sights of the Louvre. It’s soup. Not the Sistine Chapel.

Thou shall obey the express line rules.

The sign says 15 items or less. It does not say, “Everything you can stick in the small-ass cart you chose instead of regular cart.” That does not refer to the number of item types, but the actual item count. For example, those 75 cans of soup that took you 15 minutes to pick out does not count as a single item. You are not a special snowflake. If everybody ignored this rule, it would just be a regular line.

Thou shalt not decide against the frozen pizza you picked up in the frozen foods section and then place it on the shelf next to the shampoo.

Really? Come on now, people.

Thou shall respect the invisible checkout line bubble of personal space.

Regardless of how close you creep up or how many items you throw on the belt, you will be next — after me. If you continue to creep up, I will pretend to go through my coupon keeper for an extraordinary amount of time and chit chat with the cashier…unless you would like to pay for my produce. In that case, you have a deal.

Thou shall treat the cashier with respect.

This means not chatting on your phone while she’s ringing up your groceries or getting ticked when she won’t accept the four expired coupons you thought she’d ignore. If you get caught trying to sneak in an expired coupon, just let it go. It’s 35-cents off of dish soap. You’ll survive.

Thou shall not stop at the exit to go over your receipt.

Once given your receipt and all 300 extra pieces of paper that get pumped out of the printer with it, do not stop and read the receipt like it’s a treasure map. There is nothing on that paper that is that important that you need to throw on the brakes and cause a backup. Move it along.

Thou shall reconsider the self-checkout.

Know your limits. Can you find a bar code on a product? Match the picture of bananas on the screen to the bananas in your cart? Flatten paper money to insert into a slot? If you answered “no” to any of those questions, don’t be a hero. Go through the normal checkout.

Thou shall not stalk for a parking spot.

Finally, do not slowly drive behind me at 5 mph impatiently waiting for my parking spot that is often only two down from another available spot. Unless you’re going to get out and help me unload my groceries into the back, your insistence on sitting there, impatiently revving the engine on your minivan, will force me to do a full vehicle check — interior and exterior — before getting back in and leaving 5 minutes later.

Thank you for shopping with us.

Have a nice day.

Originally published in 2014.

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My Twitter Account Reads Like a Dysfunctional Food Network Show

They say you should write what you know, which is why I never write about math, sex, or spelling “camouflage” right on the first try. 

And even though my Food Network show would just be me sitting on the couch watching Food Network, it’s been brought to my attention from myself that I tweet a lot about food — eating it, pretty much daily trips to go buy it, and wearing it more than I care to admit. 

CHECKOUT

So I decided to share a few of the highlights from the past couple of months, you know, in case Food Network is reading or something…

What can I say? Bon appétit!

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If I Can Talk To CNN, I Can Talk To You About High-Functioning Mental Illness

I recently had a chance to talk about something I’ve never discussed on here — my exercise addiction — with CNN. If you have a few minutes, I really encourage you to click over and give it a read, because it gives a side of anxiety, depression, and OCD that not many people take seriously.

I’ll wait…

Are you back?

Great! I trust you clicked over so I don’t have to expand on it here, but long story short, it rules my life. It’s exhausting, and each night I lie there in bed in dread knowing I have to do it all over again the next day — because yes, it feels like I have to do it all over again the next day. 

It’s a routine of desperation, not trying to change the way I look, but trying to tire out the thoughts stuck in my head.

I bring this up because it’s part of something I don’t hear about all that often — high-functioning mental illness.

High-functioning mental illness doesn’t look a certain way. Yes, sometimes depression is huddling in bed and crying for days on end, but sometimes it’s that person who appears to be doing it all, but can’t muster up the energy to make a dentist appointment.

Sometimes anxiety is panic attacks and nervous energy, but sometimes it’s plowing through a huge workload while battling that voice in their head that says they have to do more, more, more that never quiets down.

Sometimes OCD is hand-washing and counting, but sometimes the rituals and the routines are things that might look harmless to those on the outside, but that hold that person in a prison of their own mind.

They’re pulled between wanting to do it all and wanting to do nothing at all — sometimes in the same minute.

I can tell you that while it’s not often talked about, high-functioning mental illness is real, because I live it, as do many other people out there.

The obsessive thoughts carry over into my work.

I pride myself on my work ethic and enjoy the work that I do. But much like with exercise, I have never taken a full day off, not even when I had blood transfusions.

Like the thought of not exercising, the thought of taking time off — even for a weekend — terrifies me. I constantly worry that I’m not working hard enough or being enough of a team player and that I’ll be filing for unemployment.

But honestly, part of it is that a day off from work doesn’t mean a day off from my own mind. I would still have the obsessions, the exercise, the same thoughts — I can never. get. a. break.

All I want is a break from myself.

But yet…

On paper it all looks okay — modest professional success, a clean house, bills that are paid. But if you look close enough, you can see it in cancelled plans or plans that are never made. In pictures never taken because I look so sick. In days alternating between anxious energy and waves of fatigue. In the panic that flashes through my eyes when anything changes that might affect my routine.

Oh, the routine.

It’s all about the routine.

I feel like if I slow down, I’ll lose something — my job, my grasp of control, my ability to get up and do it again — because I always feel like I have to get up and do it all again.

But behind my ability to do all these things I’m struggling to breathe, struggling to get out of bed in the morning, struggling to make it through the fog of depression each and every day.

I don’t know how I can be high-functioning, I just know I am.

So why dust the cobwebs off my blog and ramble here today even though I’ll probably regret it and obsess? 

Good question.

I guess because sometimes I high-five myself for mailing a bill or washing my hair. Sometimes the best thing that happens is that I made it through the day. Sometimes I long to crawl back into bed to try and escape myself.

Because it is all-consuming and exhausting.

Because it’s hard enough holding it together, but it’s even harder when people misjudge you when you when some days you just want credit for taking a shower, and sometimes you just want someone to know.

But mostly because sometimes I read something that reminds me that I’m not alone, that I’m not (that) crazy. Because maybe this post can do that for someone else who is struggling out there.

Because it’s real, and it’s okay to not always be okay every day.

It happens to the best of us.

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How to Properly Use the Grocery Belt Divider

The fact that the employees at my local grocery store know me and ask where I’ve been if I don’t stop in every couple days gives you an indication of how often I’m at the store.

But don’t worry.

This won’t be about how watching some people use the self-checkout is like watching fish ride a bike or how people still don’t know how to go up and down an aisle. 

No, this is about the plastic grocery belt dividers.

divide

I enjoy the grocery belt divider for the practicality and simplicity it provides.

Placed on the belt, it divides my order from the one in front and the one in back. There should be no confusion as to where one order starts and one order ends. If for some reason confusion does arise, it’s not hard to clarify and say, “Oh, that’s not my stuff.”

However, there are still people who are entirely too concerned that the cashier will confuse their things with the next persons, protectively creating about two feet of extra “empty” grocery belt space between their order and the divider.

Intercom announcement to this person ahead of me: I did not load up my cart and assume that I could sneak 25 items to the end of your order, dupe you into paying for them and then follow you out to the parking lot to retrieve said items.

But with that said, I do have an issue with the people behind me from time to time. While I don’t exhibit the behavior mentioned above and graciously place the divider at the end of my order, this is apparently not enough for some people. No, instead of waiting for the cashier to move the belt along, they insist on using every single square inch of belt space up to the plastic divider.

This I can overlook, as it’s their own bread they’re squishing in an effort to unload their cart at warp speed.

What I can’t overlook is when they insist on using every single square inch of personal space past the plastic divider, creeping up closer to me with their cart and sighing so heavily at the apparent lack of cashier expediency that it blows my coupons off the checkout stand.

Intercom announcement to this person behind of me: Regardless of how close you creep up or how many items you throw on the belt, you will be next—after me.

If you continue to creep up, I will pretend to go through my coupon keeper for an extraordinary amount of time, chit chat with the cashier and lift up the plastic divider and put it back down repeatedly under the guise of making room for a pack of gum I am actually just using as a prop to piss you off.

But because I’m all about solutions, I propose that instead of the grocery belt divider, we install a plastic divider in the LINE to keep the person behind me from creeping up and invading my bubble.

It could be like a shower curtain or one of those things you walk through at sporting events that simply lifts up and down when appropriate.

Now I realize this plastic divider could be symbolic of the way our society is divided and that unity can only be achieved when we remove these barriers, blah, blah, blah. People who think that are insane. I’m all about being friendly, but we need personal space—on the grocery belt and in the line.

Intercom announcement: Until they install these new plastic people dividers, please just back your shit up.

Unless, of course, you would like to pay for my produce. In that case, I welcome you with open arms and an open grocery belt.

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Questions To Ask Yourself Before You Freak Out

Life advice from Abby:

sweat

I would like to think I never overreact.

It’s not true, but I would like to think that about myself. The truth is that sometimes something like my spoon falling into my oatmeal can garner the same reaction from me as having to go to the hospital again or call a guy to remove a raccoon from my chimney–all three things that have happened entirely too much these past couple months. 

SPOON INTO THE OATMEAL, PEOPLE. 

Anyway, because I’m a helper, I decided to create a guide of sorts with a few questions you can ask yourself the next time you feel like flying off the handle.

Are you in the pasta aisle of the grocery store?

Good call. Pasta is delicious, but this is a maniacal maze of shapes, sizes, and sometimes even colors that if considered for too long, will drive even the most sane person to madness.

Do you want long or short? Small, medium, or large shells? Ziti? Rotini? Penne? Elbow? Bow tie? I DON’T KNOW I JUST WANT TO SMOTHER IT IN PESTO!

What to do:

Keep your eye on the prize–pasta, pesto, and other edible things that may or may not start with “p.”

Consider 1) the damage-to-clothes-while-consuming ratio–what affords you the least chance of spillage, 2) how much fork work you want to do –longer means more twirling while short means more stabbing and 3) why no one has invented macaroni made out of cheese in the first place.

Are you running?

Are you attempting to move at a rapid pace while wearing neon spandex? Are your muscles burning, along with your lungs and calories you just consumed from inhaling the eight pounds of pasta you just made because you can never figure out the right serving size? 

What to do:

Unless you are being chased by a wild animal, just stop. While physical exercise is vital, jarring your body up and down on hard pavement is not. No one should have to endure that. Cease and desist immediately. Take off your Nikes, post on social media about how you just went for a run, and nama-stay on the couch in corpse pose to recover. Power yoga for the win!

Are you dealing with Comcast?

Have you been on hold for 45 minutes? Are you refreshing your browser every .03 seconds and restarting your router only to get the same browser error? THIS IS A LEGIT REASON TO PANIC!!!

What to do:

Unfortunately, there are some things out of your immediate control, and you will probably find yourself going through the five stages of grief–denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance–while on hold for the third hour. This is natural. Let it happen.

When you’re finally connected to a person who assures you that they’re working on the problem, let them know you’ll be “working” on paying your bill whenever you get around to it. Once your connection is restored, be sure to make at least four jokes about “Comcrap” on social media. This appeases the gods.

Are you reading an inspirational quote?

Are there uncomfortable words like, “success” and “motivate” or reference to “Keeping Calm and Doing Something Completely Random” shared by someone you thought as a “friend?”  You might be reading an inspirational quote.  

What to do: 

Distance yourself from that person immediately. Block. Unfriend. Do what you have to do to remove yourself from that situation. You don’t need that kind of pressure in your life, especially if you’re shopping for pasta that night. . 

Are you driving?

Are you behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, minding your own business and putting down an awesome version of Uptown Funk to the zero passengers in your car? Are you the only effing person on the planet who knows how to slightly lift one finger to use a turn signal or go the speed limit in the left lane OH MY GOD YOU DON’T HAVE TO BRAKE WHEN YOU’RE MERGING ONTO THE HIGHWAY!

What to do: 

Actually, if you’re already yelling that at a high volume and using selective hand gestures as you pass the idiot driving with their head up their ass, you’re already doing okay. Gold star. Keep those roads safe. 

Were you eating and now you’re not eating? 

Scene: You were eating. You reached for what you thought was the last bite of food, only to realize you had already eaten the last bite of food and now you’re so emotionally unprepared that you don’t know what you can do. Now you’re not eating. Now you’re sad. 

What to do: 

Wipe the tears and the crumbs from your face, take a deep breath and evaluate the situation. Is there possibly a piece of pita you dropped on the couch? Maybe under your napkin? If not, I suggest you go towards the light, and by that I mean the light in your fridge.

Remember, hummus is the spackle that can fill a hole in your heart.

If after asking these questions you still feel like freaking out, just make sure to do it loudly and in a public setting so we can enjoy the show. I’ve found sometimes people will even throw you some tips. I’ve made $24 this year alone which is enough for a cart full of pasta…

BUT OH MY GOD WHAT KIND?!? Here we go again.  

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This Is a Cry for Yelp

I’ve never used Yelp, the site dedicated to “connecting people and businesses” based on user reviews. This is mostly because I rarely go places that would require a review to convince me to visit them and also because most people who write online reviews sound like the kind of people I would find in Walmart wearing pajama pants, a paper tiara, and Crocs. 

But with that said, I thought it would be interesting to find out just how I would be viewed Yelp-wise from the perspective of those who are forced to spend the most time with me–the things in my house. 

FRIDGE

User: Fridge

The ambiance is a bit like a disco–light goes on, light goes off, light goes on, light goes off. I don’t really know what goes on out there, but she always dances around when she sees me. As for the food, it’s good and vegan so you can always throw that into conversation when you want people to leave you alone. And she keeps things nice and clean, often bringing home new additions to my shelves like a lion proudly bringing home prey. 

Given the amount of time she spends with me, she could probably learn to cook like an Iron Chef instead of someone who uses the smoke detector as her kitchen timer. All in all though, 3/4 stars.  

User: Vacuum

Now I realize that I was brought here to do a job, but honestly, being told I “suck” all the time is NOT helpful. I mean, yes, it’s my job to suck, but that string on the ground that she forces me to run over and over again could be picked up in two seconds if she would bend over and do it herself? Do I have to do everything here? 

Anyway, I have to admit that when she puts on Eminem and raps while we go through the living room, it’s kind of fun. If you don’t mind the manual labor, about 3/4 stars.  

User: Couch

When I first came here eight years ago, I had really high hopes given the description of “nice house, nice neighborhood, single woman occupant in her mid-20s” blah blah blah. It had potential for a rocking social scene, you know?  I soon came to realize that the environment was much less “Sex and the City” and more “Sister Wife to Her Ass.”

But with that said, I’ve come to enjoy it quite a bit. The food she drops on my cushions has variety and nuance, and watching her invent new yoga poses while fishing a chickpea from under me is always worth a good chuckle. Good food, good entertainment, job security. I have to go with 4/4 stars. 

User: One “Real” Bra That I Have

It’s so dark in this drawer. So, so very dark. I’ve lost count of how long it’s been since I’ve seen the light of day. We  used to go on adventures, like dinners and that night in college when she woke up hung-over in a frat house and found me stuck in a fan. We were close, dare I say bosom buddies. But now it’s all “sports bra” this and “sports bra” that.

Victoria’s Secret was apparently that I would fall as flat as her chest after just a few years in service. Needless to say this neglect relegates me to assigning 0/4 stars. DO NOT RECOMMEND. Go! Save yourself! 

User: Toaster

Normally I enjoy my time here and give it high marks. We have an understanding. Bread goes in, handle goes down, bread pops up. Clean transaction. But lately I’m just tired and will “occasionally” refuse to keep the handle down, therefore negating the actual toasting I’m pressed into service to do.

I mean, can’t I get a day off? Obviously not, as she came back at me with, “Well, aren’t WE the defiant little bastard today,” so I made her bread come out unevenly browned and bitter at the forced interaction.

The next time she decided to try a different approach with, “Yes, take your time. I’ll just hold the handle down while you decide what you’d like to do with this bread.” That worked a bit better—sometimes you just have to ask nicely. The moral of the story is that if you’re an appliance looking for a place to hang out, it could be worse, so I’ll go with 3/4 stars.

At least she cleans the crumb tray. 

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It Can Always Get Better

“How often do you have to come for chemo?” The woman hooked up in the chair next to me–a grandmother with a kind, yet tired face –asked me about two hours into my transfusion.

I looked up at the tubes attached to my arm, blood slowly and mechanically dripping down into the IV.

“No chemo for me,” I said, nodding my head up at the machine. “Blood transfusion because my hemoglobin was dangerously low.”

I was almost embarrassed, humbled by not only that woman, but the other people in the room who were also getting their chemo. I was lucky. I was sick, but I didn’t have cancer.

It could always be worse.


At this time last year I didn’t have a job.

Even though I dreaded returning to one I had gone to every day for seven years, that loss of security seemed like the end of the world. Every day was spent frustratingly looking for work, dealing with the unemployment agency, and trying not to let what was already a years-long deep depression completely sweep me up in the current.

I would lie in bed those unemployed months and make bargains with myself and some unknown higher power. “If I can get this job, I promise I’ll get the help I need for my (insert depression, exercise addiction, OCD here) and really make those big changes.”

“OK. That one didn’t work out. If I can get this job, I promise I’ll stop (insert maladaptive behavior), finally gain those needed 30 lbs, and dig myself out of this hole.”

Then eventually I landed a job I couldn’t have written up more perfectly for myself, one that’s the complete opposite of everything that made my last job so miserable. On even my worst work day, I always tell myself, “Remember how things were. Remember how grateful you are that this happened.”

Things could always be worse.

Yet many days are still a struggle. All those promises I made to myself, all those changes I no longer had an excuse to make are still there. For awhile, the newness and excitement of the job did distract me a bit. Then the OCD got worse, the fog got a little bit thicker. I made up new excuses to distract myself from the problems and continued to literally run myself to the ground, my body taking the brunt of my mind.

I conveniently ignored the signs, but I couldn’t ignore my mom crying about how sick I looked, the nights in my bed when my heart felt like it would either flutter out of my chest or stop, and then the phone call that I had to go in for two blood transfusions as soon as I could.

Sitting in that hospital chair, I had time to do nothing but think.

Everything I had been given could be taken away–the job, the freedom, even my life–because I refused to admit that I couldn’t outthink my physical and mental illness, that doing the same things wouldn’t land me in the same exact place.

Where it landed me was in the hospital with an IV running blood through my arm for eight hours, making small talk with a woman who had been dealt a deadly illness she was valiantly fighting. I again made all those same promises to myself that this time things would be different, that this is what it would take to finally get myself healthy.

And then when I was feeling better a couple of days later, I went back to the gym and all my old habits.

After all, it could be worse, right?


“Well yeah, it’s not cancer and it could be worse,” said my doctor a week later when I gave her my tired excuses. “But not much.”

There it was in black in white in the form of my lab results. There it was coming out of the mouth of a professional who I couldn’t negotiate with like I could–and do–with myself, which is why I’m rambling here.

Because the fact is you can’t negotiate yourself out of physical or mental illness–the latter of which is often suggested to be a choice. After all, if we know what we can do to “get out of it” but still engage in behaviors, that means we’re weak, right? I mean, we have so many good things in our lives that it’s ridiculous there are days that taking a shower is a major accomplishment.

Well, it’s not a choice.

Sickness is sickness, and I’m pretty sure that if we could get hooked up to a machine and have an IV drip some cocktail cure-all for mental illness into our arms, most of us would sign up in a second, no questions asked. It’s not that easy–nothing about it is easy. Wishful and willful thinking alone can’t cure cancer, low hemoglobin, depression, addiction, etc. or the guilt that sometimes accompanies these.

So for me–and for you–here’s a reminder.

It’s not a choice to be sick, but it’s a choice to admit that you are.

It’s a choice to do what you need to do to be healthy, even if it’s really painful in so many ways.

It’s a choice to reach out for support.

It’s a choice not to feel guilty.

I don’t know if I believe that myself most of the time, but I don’t want to know just how much worse things can be.

Because while it’s a choice to believe that “it could be worse,” it’s also a choice to believe that it could always be better.

better

It can always get better.

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