Setting the mall on fire (almost).

Though I’m officially done with school, I continue to learn. The brain, for example, is fascinating and complex, and we are discovering how it functions, how we think, feel, and process, and how memory works. Fun fact: our sense of smell is powerfully linked to memory. I can personally vouch for this.

When I think of that smell, and remember the smoke, I am instantly transported right back to 1983. Of course, I am referring to the smell of burnt caramel popcorn. If you missed my last post, it will take just a hot minute to catch up.

Let me set the stage. I was a bored-to-death teen in small town Iowa, working at the only mall for miles around. It was actually hopping back then, with fun hangouts like Music Land (they sold OG vinyl) and a video arcade (games were only a quarter). My employer was KarmelKorn. You already know why I chose this place.

We had none of this fancy signage.

It was here that I perfected cotton-candy making, candy-apple making, and, drum roll please, the ultimate prestige of making caramel corn from scratch. In hindsight, they must have been desperate. This 15 year old had zero experience beyond consuming these sugary treats.

Karmelkorn was strategically placed on the corner at the main entrance, nearly dead center in the mall. The walk time from the farthest end (in either direction) to our counter, clocked in at a whopping three minutes.

It was probably a Saturday afternoon. Prime time for every teen in town to be strolling about, laughing at other people’s hair or fashion choices (it was the 80’s with plenty to laugh at). Or they may have been waiting for the next movie time. Yes, theaters back then were known for the stale, inferior, and very overpriced popcorn.

I must have gotten distracted while boiling of a batch of caramel, forgetting to add a key ingredient at the precise time. The contents in the copper pot severely scorched, and smoke billowed for a good five minutes before I could get it under control.

It felt like this.

Thankfully, sprinklers did not activate nor did the fire department show up. There was a security person who hustled over to see if there was an actual fire. We determined that an evacuation of THE ENTIRE MALL was unnecessary. It would take several hours for the smoke, and especially the smell, to dissipate.

Our prime location provided for everyone’s easy inquiries, “What’s on fire?” “Is something burning?” “Did YOU do that?”

It was not one of my finer moments.

There were other humiliating character-building things that happened in my early working days. Like busting a lawnmower blade on a visible water pipe. Or totally forgetting to show up for an easy-peasy babysitting gig a mile from my house. Or when my mall career advanced to cashier – and I was nearly trampled in a Cabbage Patch Doll stampede.

Ah, those were the days.

I’m pretty sure this is the point of having a job when we are teenagers. So that we can be reminded that there is room to grow, and that we are not perfect. It’s a decent lesson to remember as an adult, too.

What are some of the learning experiences you had early on? Can you laugh about them now? Can we laugh with you?

Thanks for reading, until next time,

Number 14 is my favorite.

Today I bring you some helpful tips for a day at the beach. These are all real things I have learned in my MANY trips to Siesta or Lido or wherever I land. Some of these will help you. Some of these will help the person that camps next to you. Some of these should just be plain old common sense, but somehow are not. 

I wish I could print these and hand them out to every single person who comes to the beach. In all the many languages that would applicable, just to be perfectly clear. We’ll start at the beginning and work our way through…

What to bring…
1. Food and water. This depends entirely on how long you’ll be there, and how many are in your tribe. Figure 3 cold bottles of water for every 45 minutes, per person. If you bring a cooler, no need to overpack, just take the bare necessities. If you freeze your water bottles the night before, and you’re not bringing a ton of food, no need for ice. 

2. The beach bag. When I go, because my kids are big, I only take this. Everything fits, including food & water, or it doesn’t come with me. You’ll be glad if the bag is washable. A zip pocket inside is ideal for phone and keys.

3. A good chair and towel. I bring two towels just in case. A side note, a nice, plush, oversized beach towel is worth it. Really nice beach chairs are worth it. Get the kind that recline. And that have cup holders. And carry handles. It’s a good investment. Unless you never go to the beach in which case there’s no need to continue reading this. Or even subscribing to my blog. I’m not sure we can still be friends actually.

Sorry, I’m sensitive about this. Back to the list….

4. Plenty of sunscreen. And lip balm with sunscreen. You’ll want to lather this on children BEFORE you even leave the house. There’s no stopping them once you get there. Plan to reapply every 45 minutes unless it’s after 4pm. Don’t skimp on this unless you’re going for the lobster look-a-like contest. Or if you’re trying to get melanoma. Remember your ears and the tops of your feet.

5. A noodle or floatie, but nothing that requires blowing up. It’s just too much work. A good noodle is like $3 at Walmart. Keep it simple.

6. A book or music. A note about music…be courteous. Bring headphones. Not everyone will appreciate whatever it is you may be jamming to. Toys if you have kids, and only what THEY can help carry. No need to bring every single thing. Keep them in a plastic container that can be rinsed right along with the toys.

7. An umbrella is a good idea if you have small ones. Or if you just can’t handle the sun. Invest in a corkscrew base so you can actually get it in and keep it in the sand.

Once you arrive….

8. Park in the shade wherever possible. Crack the windows. Don’t leave your valuables out where they can be seen. In fact leave them at home if you can. And remember where you parked.

9. Choose your neighbors wisely. Pay close attention to the crowd. If you want peace and quiet, I suggest avoiding people with small children (noisy), large groups of people (noisy again), or anyone blaring a boom box (just obnoxious). If you have small ones, camp close to the water because they will kick sand on everyone along their constant path.

10. Give yourself plenty of space. Take out your bag, your towel, the noodle, the toys, and give yourself a decent circumference. If you don’t have room to do this then you are obviously too close. Move to a more open space. Try to get there earlier next time to claim your territory. The early bird gets the good spot.

11. Bottoms up! Turn your flip flops over or put them under your chair. I know, that’s not what you were thinking. Trust me on this one. The sand gets hot later, and so will your shoes.

12. ENJOY!! Put your phone on vibrate and put it away. Breathe and relax. But do pay attention to the flags on the lifeguard stands and know what they mean. Green is good!

12b. And if you have small kids, skip the whole breathe and relax thing. You have to watch your kids. Constantly. Make castles with them. Take them in the water. Have fun! They grow up and won’t even let you go to the beach with them one day. Just give them boundaries of how far to go, unless you like panicking when you can’t find them, or you’ve been training for a marathon and want to RUN the entire length of the beach looking for them!

13. Shells and other treasures. Take them home if you like, but only if it’s not alive. Those little crabs can hide, so hold the shell for a few minutes to see if anything emerges. If it’s empty, no worries. You will want to rinse them well and/or soak in bleach water if you bring them home. They can get pretty smelly.

14. DON’T FEED THE STUPID BIRDS!! Please, I beg you, do NOT ever, under any circumstance, feed the birds when you are at the beach. If you learn just this one point, my life is complete. They are like vultures. They are not cute. It’s not cute for you to feed them. They are wild animals and will in fact ATTACK you and take your sandwich right out of your hand. Hide your food, don’t leave it just sitting on a blanket. You – and your neighbors – and every other person on the beach will be annoyed if you blow this one. Me especially.

Upon Leaving….

15. Know when to go. Plan to leave BEFORE your child(ren) go into total meltdown mode. You know them. They will play until they’re exhausted. You simply can’t carry them and their stuff and your stuff. Give them a 10 minute warning, and then pack it up. Let them go rinse all the toys. Then explain there is no more rolling in the sand.  You’ll quickly undo any benefits of relaxing you just got from being there if the exit is rough.

16. Shake it out. When you shake out your towel or blanket, be courteous to your neighbors. Pay attention to the wind direction. It’s not that hard.

17. Throw away or recycle all your trash. There are usually barrels on your way back to the parking lot. Seriously, we all LOVE a clean beach. And littering is just the ultimate show of disrespect to one of the prettiest places God ever did make.

18. Rinse it off. Take advantage of the rinse stations, but please, you can take a full blown shower when you get home. Don’t bring your shampoo, I mean really. Try to be quick here, especially if there’s a crowd. It’s not your personal locker room.

19. Pulling out. Try to be quick in the parking lot as well. There have been fist fights over parking spaces. It’s hot, and it’s crowded. Throw your stuff in and go. No need to doddle when there are 27 cars all waiting for the guy who is waiting for your space. But please beware of the seat belts. These can leave marks that require skin grafts if you’re not careful. Keep a towel handy to assist with the buckling.

20. Rub it in. You probably took at least one photo while you were there. Share it with everyone you know who lives somewhere landlocked. Make it your profile pic. Use it on a Christmas Card. Be grateful for the time you got to spend there, and look forward to the next trip.

If you have any additional thoughts or tips for fellow beach-goers, let me know!!
Sorry it’s so long, hope it was helpful, thanks for reading!