Behind Bars

Every now and then I crave a Kellogg’s Frosted Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tart. You can debate the matter and say the fruit Tarts are better – Strawberry, Cherry, and Blueberry – and I’ll give you those, but I stand by my boring-looking Brown Sugar Cinnamon. Maybe that’s because I consumed hundreds of them as a kid, piping hot from the toaster.

Somehow Pop Tarts eluded the otherwise healthy content of my mom’s pantry.  You’d walk in to dozens of those little red boxes of raisins, a pretty good assortment of nuts (which were more meant for recipes than snacking), and the occasional graham cracker.  The fruit and veggie drawers in the frig were loaded and there was always a gallon of milk on hand.  Yet there they were, in foil-wrapped packages of two: Kellogg’s Pop Tarts.  I wish I could see the ingredients list from the 1970’s versions versus those of today’s Tarts.  Surely the former leaned more towards “real food” and less towards chemicals, or my mom would’ve never gone for them.

Pop Tarts now come in twenty-seven varieties, which by any standard is ridiculous. Who wouldn’t be happy with the four I already mentioned? (Okay, let’s add Frosted Chocolate Fudge and call it good).  Do we really need options like “Wildlicious Wild! Cherry”, or “Confetti Cupcake”? Apparently so, because that’s where our demand for choices has taken us. The new approach to snacks: invent one, sell enough to get them into everyday conversation, then evolve to twenty-seven varieties.  Have you seen your options with Oreo’s these days?  I rest my case.

The other day I traveled down the cereal aisle of our grocery store for the first time in a long time (we have house guests). I was shocked to discover the “healthy cereal” section is just as big as the space reserved for regular cereals. Even more interesting, the overhead signs on the aisle first announce “Cereals”, followed by “Granola” a little further down, followed by “Diet and Fitness” a little further than that.  The entire aisle feels like the same kind of food, only you start with boxes, morph to bags, and end up with little bars.  I’d love to know the combined total grams of protein in the products in the “Diet and Fitness” section.  Gotta be ten thousand or more.

Fun facts: Americans now choose from over 400 brands of “healthy” bars, in 4,000 varieties.  At $6 billion in 2012, the healthy bar market was only 17% as big as that of savory snacks ($34 billion) but growing in a hurry.  American children consume almost 500 calories a day in snacks.  The routine starts when we’re young.

Snack bars seem to be almost-entirely carbs or almost-entirely protein. I won’t comment on the first variety because I don’t eat them (I’ve moved on from Pop Tarts), and I don’t even see the carb variety because our store puts them over in the cookie aisle. But protein bars are a challenging enough decision. For starters, are protein bars a “snack” or a “meal”? Many are advertised as “meal-replacements”. Others look small enough to be snacks. Even the ever-present “Nutrition Facts” label doesn’t really lend a hand, except to confirm you’re taking in more calories and sugar than you’d hoped.

I belong to Lifetime Fitness here In Colorado, a gym which stresses “healthy lifestyle” in everything they offer, whether personal training sessions, workout classes, spa treatments, or a cafeteria full of healthy choices. The mantra I hear like a broken record: “carb-up” at least an hour before the workout; “protein-up” within 45 minutes after. I’m sure some would dispute that approach, but regardless, it suggests a “snack” before AND after a workout.  And as I stand in “Diet and Fitness”, I ask myself, “Is that snack half of a “meal-replacement” bar?  Two or three of the “fun-size”?  Scrap the whole aisle and go with fruit and cheese instead?”

For my money, snack bars before and/or after a workout neither benefit the short run nor ease the long run. It’s kind of like my daily multi-vitamins: no clue whether they help me either (but I still take them). This much I know: I need to have a somewhat full stomach before I work out. On that note, maybe I’ll just skip the “Diet and Fitness” aisle from now on and go back to Pop Tarts.

Some content sourced from the Wall Street Journal article, “Our Misplaced Mania for ‘Healthy’ Snacks”.

I Need A Fix

Home improvement gets a lot of attention these days, thanks to HGTV programs and the do-it-yourself draw of Home Depot and Lowe’s. Home maintenance however, lurks gleefully behind the scenes.  Home maintenance demands your attention regularly, whether you want it to or not. If you’re a home owner, you’re a home maintainer. It’s the gift that never stops giving.

35 - mantra

Last week our kitchen garbage disposal finally got the best of me. It’s kinda-sorta worked for several weeks now, but the occasional drip-drip below the sink (and why is it just occasional?) and the uncomfortably loud grind of its teeth had my disposal practically begging to be replaced.  So I finally completed the task, but not before discovering some unexpected wiring and plumbing as a bonus.

For me, that’s how it goes with all home maintenance projects.  Something breaks.  I assess the situation and decide how long I can put off the fix.  I don’t wave the white flag until I find all of the work-around options I can think of.  Then, at last I purchase the parts and round up the tools, take a deep breath and dive in.  That’s where a project gets really interesting, because there’s always more adventure in the repair than meets the eye.

When I wrote about my smoke detector assault a couple of weeks ago, the fact remained that I had ten outdated detectors still to be replaced. Amazon Marketplace came to my rescue.  One mantra for modern times is “you can buy anything on Amazon”, and home maintenance projects back up that claim.  I matched my ten-year-old smoke detectors to photos and details on Amazon and instantly purchased a whole box of the exact same little devils. But what looked like an easy project became anything but.  It wasn’t until I replaced the first one that I realized the ceiling mount on the new units is slightly different than what I already have. So instead of just clicking in the new units, I also get to replace each ceiling mount, including the electrical wiring.

Perhaps you’re one of those who pays someone else to do your repairs. You figure, cough up the money and the job will be done a lot sooner (and better) than through your own effort.  Much as I want to walk that road, my conscience always gets the better of me.  I grew up with a father who basked in the curiosity of home maintenance and improvement.  He just about lived for any kind of fix-it project on his weekends.  His own upbringing – including a hand in the construction of his own childhood home – gave him the confidence to even take on the projects he’d never done before.  Hence one summer my brothers and I found ourselves digging trenches and piecing together PVC pipe in our front yard as we constructed a massive sprinkler network.  I’m not sure I even knew how to turn on the sprinklers before that.

Twenty-five years of home ownership would suggest I’ve evolved into a home maintenance expert.  Nope; just not built that way.  Even the most routine project still finds a way to confound me.  Whether I’m replacing the guts of a toilet, rewiring a light fixture, or addressing the next water crisis (and there’s always a next in that department), I cut myself a break by assuming the project will not go as planned.  That’s a good strategy for those of you just getting into the fix-it game.  Beware the phrases “easy to install”, “replaces in minutes” or “requires no tools”.  It will never go down as simple as swapping the old for the new.

Here are five home repair mantras worth memorizing.  One, your project will require parts or steps that were not part of your original plan.  Two, your project will involve words and gestures that are not typically part of your vocabulary.  Three, double the time you need to complete your repair (actually, triple it).  Four, the previous installation was not done perfectly – and you will suffer because of it.  And Five, you will worry for days or weeks after your repair, wondering whether you got it right.

Yesterday – utterly mocking this topic – my coffeemaker called it quits.  I worked on it for over an hour to no avail.  Broken coffeemaker and no morning joe?  Makes me want to call the repairman from here on out.