Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Case of the Missing Spree

My first leg of the 57 mile, 5 person relay race had been an absolutely invigorating and inspiring 6 mile run at 7 am. As the sun rose, I began running in a beautiful, green farming valley, ran straight up to the ridge east of the valley and then north to a local farm.

Four hours later, I had eaten, drank plenty of water and was as rested as I was going to be. I felt ready to run my second leg of the relay race. For this leg, I was to run 7.1 miles from the center of a small town, up into the foothills ending at a gorgeous lake. I was dropped off by my teammates at my tag off spot. I put a pony tail in my hair, readied my sunglasses and set my MP3 player to the appropriate settings. My son had also given me a packet of Sprees candy. Being a bit nervous about my second run of the day, which was ALL uphill, I thought I would eat one of his candies every 10 minutes or so. It would give me some way to pass the time and break the run up into smaller chunks. I was wearing shorts with built in underwear. They also had a small pocket on the inside waistband that was the perfect size for a key. I started to put the candies in that pocket when much to my surprise, my teammate that I was to tag off with showed up! I clapped hands with her and started running. I quickly shoved the Sprees into the pocket and turned on my MP3 player.

It wasn't long before I felt the jiggling. I soon realized that I had completely missed the pocket and the brightly colored, hard shelled Sprees had all gone inside the underwear of my shorts. Good God, I thought. This is not going to turn out well. I was still in town at this point and there were many spectators lining the running trail. I frantically tried to think of my options. Leave the Sprees in my shorts or......................get them out. I knew I couldn't run 7.1 miles with candies floating around the inside of my shorts and eventually migrating to my...um..."hoo ha" parts. So I decided to do the only thing I could. I reached my hand into my shorts and searched for a runaway Spree candy. While spectators were watching. I continued do this embarrassing action, over and over. At the same time, I attempted to run a fairly quick pace. I felt the unspoken pressure of my teammates to run a time fast enough that we would win a ribbon in our age division. "I must remove the Sprees." I thought. And so I did. I removed them all-one by one. The spectators lining the trail looked at me like I was a pornographic, self pleasuring, running fool. It was surreal. It was horribly embarrassing. But, I did finish the job. The Spree removal job, that is.

I was too nervous to try and fit the Sprees back into the little pocket. Yet I didn’t want to throw them away. They were still perfectly good to eat, for the most part. Besides, I didn’t want to disappoint my son. So, holding the recovered Sprees in my hand, I went on to finish the extremely difficult run, eating a candy every few minutes. The Spree color eventually started melting on to my skin. By the time I finished my leg of the race, I had a full rainbow of sticky colors dyed into the palm of my hand. It took two days to get rid of it. FINALLY, I came to the finish line and tagged off to my teammate. After I caught my breath and drank some water, I told my other teammates about my Spree story. They were quite amused and decided that if we did this race again next year, our team name would be the "Spree Girls". I was only somewhat amused.

About an hour later we were finally at a civilized location where there was a bathroom. I ran into a stall and quickly pulled down my shorts, for I desperately needed to pee. One of my teammates ended up in the stall next to me. As my shorts came down, a stark white, chalky Spree fell out, from who knows where, plopped itself on the floor, and rolled into my teammate’s stall next to me. I was so horribly embarrassed and appalled and horrified and amused all at the same time. My teammate called out from the other stall, "Is that what I think it is?" I reluctantly replied, "Um.....yes." There was a painfully long, silent pause as my teammate processed the shocking information before her. Finally, she said, "Um.....I thought you said you got them all out? Where has it been all this time? And WHY is it white?? Where did all the color go?"

I found myself unable to speak. Finally, she said, "Yes, I agree with you. Its better if I don't know the details."

My team ended up placing second in our age division. And I learned a valuable lesson. For next year’s race, I’m bringing M&M’s. They melt in your mouth, not in your……hands.

Check This Out!
Music for almost everyone!

A great anthemic rock song: Three Days Grace-Never Too Late
A little bit of old time banjo blended with ferocious modern country sung by a very cute lead singer: Old Crow Medicine Show-Wagon Wheel
Singing the greatest hits of the last 500 years-from opera to Queen: The Ten Tenors-Opera Without the Boring Bits
The man Elton John believes is the greatest living songwriter: Rufus Wainwright-I Don't Know What It Is

Friday, April 20, 2007

It's Not Automatic

I approached the deserted intersection at an almost legal and certainly respectable 27 miles per hour. As I began to slow down for the stop sign I decided to shift down to a lower gear. I firmly pressed my left foot on the clutch pedal and grabbed the gearshift.

The car immediately came to a shocking and abrupt stop. The children in the back seat strained against their seatbelts. The CD case on the passenger seat flew to the floor.

“What the heck?” yelled the almost a teenager daughter. “Whatcha do that for?”

“Um….”I sheepishly muttered. “I was trying to shift. I thought I was putting the clutch in and instead I slammed on the brake.”

The mini gearhead in the back seat started laughing hysterically. “Mom! “he choked out. “You’re driving an automatic! Don’t you know you don’t have a clutch in an automatic?”

It’s the embarrassing, dirty family secret that my car loving, gearhead husband had hoped would never get out. His wife is unable to competently operate a vehicle with an automatic transmission. I almost always drive a manual transmission, stick shift car. The times when I get stuck driving our automatic transmission car though, I do tend to get a little confused.

I’ve driven a stick shift almost exclusively since I started driving a baby blue Pinto over 22 years ago. I can explain to you why a tachometer is so important in a car. I can tell you what rpm’s to shift at for each gear in every car I’ve ever owned. I can tell you that I prefer to shift late because I love the feeling of a little more power. The automatic transmission however, has always given me a bit more trouble. When I was in college, I borrowed my dad’s automatic car. Once inside I realized I had no idea where to put the shift lever. Do I put it on D or 1 or 2 or 3? Was 1 the lowest gear or the gear of 1st choice? Was 3 the final destination after 1 and 2 or was it used instead of 1 or 2? And where does this mysterious D gear fit into the whole equation? If D was the gear I was to put it in, then why do they even need all of the numbered gears? I regretfully, to my dad’s utter dismay, decided to compromise and split the difference by driving for an hour on the freeway in 2nd gear.

In the last 22 years I am happy to say that I have stopped overanalyzing the automatic transmission. As my husband has instructed, I am now able to successfully, “Put it in D for Drive honey, and just leave it there.”

My problem now is going back and forth between the stick and the automatic or even from one automatic to another. Our ’69 Camaro is an automatic. It has an emergency brake foot pedal on the left side. Our new white appliance car has a hand emergency brake in the middle console. Every single time I pull into the driveway with the white appliance, I attempt to put the emergency brake on with my left foot instead of with my right hand. I slam my foot down to set the brake, wrenching my ankle as I hit nothing but floor. As I came to a stop at a stop sign the other day, I shifted the automatic into park, thinking I was shifting the stick shift into first gear. And of course, as my children will attest, in my attempt to put in the clutch on an automatic car, my left foot hits the brake quite routinely and causes much eyeball rolling in the back seat.

My frustrated and somewhat mortified husband has lectured me time and again about my unsafe driving behavior and how I need to be more mindful about which car I am driving. In fact, his last lecture came as the family was leaving for a day trip. We all piled into my stick shift car that my husband doesn’t drive very often. On this day, he decided to drive. As we pulled out of the driveway the children began tattling on my latest “mistake the brake for a clutch” fiasco. My husband began his usual lecture about how unsafe it was to accidentally slam on the brakes and unexpectedly stop in the middle of the road. And as he began to press down on the gas and let out the clutch, the unthinkable happened. He killed it. There we were, stopped dead in the middle of the road, unexpectedly, with cars approaching quickly behind us. It was at that moment that the lecturing stopped. He turned the key, started the car, very slowly and carefully let out the clutch and we all drove away in amused silence.

I am convinced that being able to go seamlessly from one car to another is a much underrated skill in today’s society. As for me, I have accepted the fact that I will never have a career as a parking valet.

Check This Out!
With gardening season upon us, I recommend the book, Earth On Her Hands by Starr Ockenga. It's a beautiful and inspirational book profiling 18 women,their gardens and their gardening and life philosophy. Most of these women have worked in their gardens for many decades. The pictures are wonderful. This book will give you tons of ideas-both for your garden and your life.

Monday, April 16, 2007

It's All In How You Look At It

I am highly amused at the amplified and exaggerated presentation of televised sports. It seems each contest is now presented as a “game for the history books”, a “race like we’ve never seen” or the “matchup of the century”. Each athlete is also portrayed in a heroic manner with their own heartbreaking, often tragic and desperate story. It is only an unusual and inspirational inner strength that allows them to play the “game of their career” today.

Come on. It’s just a game. They’re just regular people. The games and the athletes only seem superior and more exciting when they are elevated to such exceptional and extraordinary status by the television sports commentators. In fact, even the most presumably mundane life can appear to be special, exciting and inspirational if you just look at it the right way.

Sally Scrapbooks Until Midnight!
Sally scrapbooks today with a determination that we haven’t seen in years. Sally has failed in meeting her scrapbooking goals during her last 5 crops. Sally does admit to falling behind in her photo and page prep work compared to her more dedicated peers. A recent Personal Trimmer injury only added to her lackadaisical attitude. At crops, she has been seen chatting and eating the snacks more than other scrapbookers who took the crop more seriously. This has caused her to lose sight of her ultimate goal of completing a baby album for her son. This crop, however, Sally has refocused her efforts and has been sighted with a Power Layouts box. This can only mean that Sally is determined to rise above her past failures and finally reach the scrapbooking pinnacle that she has always dreamed about-a completed album. Success is virtually guaranteed.

Chuck Changes the Oil!
Chuck comes from a long line of oil changers. It’s hard to believe, but Chuck’s father changed his own oil before there was such a thing as synthetic. Chuck’s grandfather changed his own oil until he was 83 years old. And of course we can’t ignore the stunning fact that Chuck’s cousin Fred has changed the oil in his car, truck, boat, motorcycle, jet ski and generator-all in one weekend. With such obvious familial endowment for oil changing, it is no surprise that there was significant pressure on young Chuck to change oil as soon as he could be trusted not to use the creeper as a skateboard. Chuck was eventually recruited by the Jiffy Lube Corporation right out of his Jefferson High School auto body class. Chuck’s talent was recognized by that organization when he was named Employee of the Month an unprecedented 7 times. After 5 years, Chuck parted ways with the Jiffy Lube Corporation when he decided to take a position at the local Walmart because they had better benefits. Chuck currently lives outside of Omaha with his wife and 3 children where he now changes oil for pleasure only.

Sharon Shops ‘Til She Drops!
Sharon grew up in a disadvantaged shopping environment. She came from a dysfunctional shopping family that insisted on having a budget and planning each purchase. It wasn’t until Sharon got to college that she was finally given the opportunity to fulfill her shopping destiny. It was at UCLA when Sharon was introduced to her shopping mentor, sorority sister and lifelong shopaholic, Impulse Irene. Irene was instrumental in giving Sharon the tools to become the truly extraordinary shopper we see before us today. Sharon was determined to not be intimidated by her wealthier and more aggressive shopping sorority sisters. As Sharon absorbed all of the teachings of Impulse Irene, she gained shopping confidence. By the end of her 4 years at UCLA, Sharon had learned how to pay one credit card with another, that Saks Fifth Avenue always does their markdowns on Monday evenings and that no matter how depressed she gets, shopping will always make her feel better. Sharon now lives by the philosophy that every woman should have 3 good friends to get her through the tough times. Sharon highly recommends Kate Spade for her handbags, Jimmy Choo for his shoes, and Roberto Cavalli for his Italian made, flutter sleeve jersey dress from his spring 2007 collection.

So you see, we just need to look at things the right way, like the television commentators do. It appears we all can be full of inspiration and determination as we live our own “unparalled life”-just like the exciting athletes we see on TV. Now, where is that number for Nike? I want a big shoe contract.

Check This Out!

Sausage Ragu Bolognese
Saute an onion, 3 carrots and 3 celery stalks, all finely diced, in a little bit of olive oil or cooking spray until soft. Add 1 pound Italian sausauge, crumble and cook until no longer pink. Add 1/2 bottle of white wine or similar amount of chicken broth and simmer until fully absorbed. Add 3 or 4 cups of milk or cream and simmer until fully absorbed. Add a few shakes of nutmeg and 3 15oz cans of diced tomatoes. Throw in some basil if you have it, as well. I usually mash the mixture a bit with my potato masher to help break up the tomatoes. Simmer mostly covered for 3 1/2 hours or until the kids come in from playing outside. Toss the whole mess with a pound of rigatoni. Enjoy a little piece of heaven.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Kindergarten: How Hard Could It Be?

My mission was to ensure that 22 kindergarteners were alive at the end of a 20 minute lunch and a 15 minute recess. I thought to myself, “How hard could it be?”

I was greeted with the words, “Teacher! Teacher! Could you throw this away for me?” The boy with the runny nose had stripped the ketchup covered cornbread from his corn dog, rolled it up and then squished the whole thing in his hand. He handed me the sloppy mess by pretending he was dropping a bomb in my hand, complete with sound effects. The remaining hot dog on a stick became a gun.

2 adorable little girls dressed in full Gymboree ensembles complete with coordinating pony tail holders came up to me grabbing themselves and jumping around. “Teacher! Teacher! Can we go to the bathroom? We really have to go bad! We really do!”

As I gave the two girls a pass to the bathroom, they hugged each other and ran off giggling loudly. Another little girl shook her head. “Teacher, teacher…..you shouldn’t have done that. They aren’t allowed to go potty together. One day they went to the potty all the way at the other end of the school. They had tipped over the garbage cans, climbed up on the sinks and then climbed up on to the tops of the stalls. A 5th grade teacher found them when her class was disturbed by the girls singing songs from High School Musical too loudly."

“Teacher! Teacher!” pleaded a well groomed boy wearing dress pants and a belted in polo shirt. “Do you know that there are 357 kinds of lizards in the Peruvian understory alone? And that’s just the ones we know about? Would you like to see a lizard, teacher? I’ve got one in my pocket I can show you.”

In 20 minutes I tied 9 shoes, opened 14 fruit snack packages, wiped up milk from 4 tipped over cartons, broke up 13 scuffles of children who were “just messing around”, picked up 3 children off the floor who had fallen off their chairs after “just messing around”, and listened to 19 tattletale stories from 2 little girls who assured me they knew all the rules and would help me out. I learned that ¾ of all kindergarteners trade portions of their lunch with their friends. I learned that ¼ of all kindergarteners throw portions of their lunch at their friends. I found out that one boy’s mommy didn’t like his daddy’s new “pretty lady” friend. I listened as one teary eyed boy wondered who he would go fishing with since his grandpa had died last week. I marveled at the boy who shared with me the most efficient ways of killing in the M rated, first person shooter game Halo.

As we left for recess, in an effort to control the chaos, the children were supposed to line up boy, girl, boy, girl. Given the fact that there were 14 boys and 8 girls this proved most difficult. Plus, one of the girls was bouncing around so much she qualified to be placed in the rowdy boy category. Before we left the lunchroom for the playground I counted to make sure I had all 22 children. I had 17. I counted again. 19. I counted again. 18. If those “lively and spirited” children would have just stopped moving around so much it would have made counting so much easier. I finally determined I had 20 children in the dynamic and malleable “line”. The two potty girls were missing. As we waited for the two potty girls to return, two imaginative and very wiggly boys decided that the reason the girls were taking so long in the bathroom was that they were going poopy.

And with the utterance of that one word, “poopy”, what little semblance of tenuous control I feigned to have disappeared completely. They would say the word “poopy” and then giggle uncontrollably. As we marched down the hall to the playground the children began chanting, “We are on a poopy parade!” As our line stretched out to an unimaginable length, I learned that it is physically impossible for a 5 year old to walk down the hallway without touching every single piece of artwork on every single bulletin board-unless of course, they are touching each other, or pushing each other, or tripping each other or poking each other or hugging each other. Or tattling about how their neighbor did one of those things.

At recess I learned that one child can be bleeding and not care and another will require a visit to the nurse if his feelings get hurt. I learned that the most threatening statement on the playground is, “Na, na, na, na, boo, boo! You can’t get me!” I learned that kindergarteners are desperate for attention. I learned that the phrase, “Run clockwise only on the painted white arrows” means nothing when you are being chased. And I learned that the word ”poopy” can be a noun, a pronoun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb, a preposition, a conjunction, an interjection, an insult, a compliment, an exclamation, a question, a threat, a promise and of course, the most popular word in kindergarten.

As for my success in completing my mission of keeping 22 kindergarteners alive for 35 minutes, I’d say 20 out of 22 is a pretty respectable percentage. And as for the two missing potty girls, I’m sure they will be found soon. After all, how hard could it be?

Check This Out!
If you're feeling like you've gained a few pounds and are now a bit on the tubby side, check out the very humorous John Pinette in I'm Starvin' to put things in perspective.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Surviving the Gauntlet

It was a grey and misty afternoon when we reluctantly, and with great trepidation, approached the gauntlet. As we drove through the car lot we passed the lines of salesmen salivating at the prospect we could be luxury SUV buyers. They stomped out their cigarettes, adjusted their ties and readied themselves for the challenge.

Their chosen one was following our car through the lot before we had even parked. His slow pursuit quickened as my husband exited our vehicle. “What can we help you with today, sucker?” the salesman asked as he approached. “Are you interested in our 2007 Behemoth? I would desperately like to buy a big screen TV with my next commission check so I will sell this beautiful Behemoth to you for the deceptively low price of $49,998. If you have good credit, or heck, even if you are just breathing, you can qualify for our “Take You For Everything You’ve Got” 98 month loan program at a very special interest rate that we will make so complicated you will never really know what rate you are paying.”

“No, thank you,” my husband replied. “I am more interested in this ugly, cheap, appliance white, gutless wonder of a car that my wife thinks is practical, budget friendly and will most certainly lobotomize my road rage tendencies.”

“That totally sucks dude,” responded the salesman. “Do you think we can trick her with this sports car over here? It’s painted this shocking color and has obnoxious stripes all over it? It’s got a 6 CD changer and tinted windows. The chicks love it and it will make you feel 20 years younger.”

“Does it have the 7.0 engine with titanium connecting rods and dry sump oil system that does 0-60 in under 4 seconds and then stops on a dime with 6 piston front calipers?” my husband inquired.

“I honestly have no idea what you are talking about,” the salesman admitted. “I just try to look really impressive in this suit while pretending that I actually care about you and your family.”

“Well, it’s for the best,” conceded my husband. “My wife has been around me for a very long time. I’m pretty sure I’ve trained her well enough that she can tell a super fast, dangerous sports car apart from a completely uninspiring box on wheels that will suck all the manhood out of me.”

Feeling badly that my poor husband had been dealing, all alone, with the high pressure tactics of the salesman, the kids and I go over to help him out.

“This beautiful, safe family car we have here would be perfect for a beautiful family concerned with safety, such as your own,” the salesman says to me. “I will tell you now that I think it has an air bag, I’m pretty sure it has won a safety award somewhere, and it comes complete with some really strong brakes. For stopping.”

“Ooooh yes!” I coo back to him. “And isn’t it nice that the speed thingy with all the numbers on it is white too! It matches the outside paint! I like matching. Now, is that white a winter white or is it more of an off white?”

“Ma’am, it is actually called ‘the worst color for a car because it will never be completely clean ever again white’. It’s exclusive to the just about to go bankrupt American car company that has most of this car made in Taiwan.”

“Well isn’t that just soooo clever.” I affirm back to him with a polite, will this ever end, smile.

“What do you think of this nice car, little lady?” the salesman then says to my almost a teenager daughter in a mistaken assumption she was happy to be there and was interested in contributing to the conversation.

“Whatever,” she grunts back to him.

The salesman turns to my son. “What about you, munchkin? I bet you know as much about cars as your daddy pretends to. I bet you'd love to have this car!”

“Well, I think it’s a horrible idea to buy this car!” he firmly states. “First of all it’s white. So if you were in a snowstorm and you didn’t bring a map and you turned the wrong way down a road and then got lost and it kept snowing really hard and you got stuck and the national guard had to come look for you in their helicopters, they would never find you because you would be the same color as the snow and no one could ever see you, not even the search dogs. And second of all, it’s white. I don’t think my dad will like white because it will always get dirty and my mom will always be yelling at him to ‘wash the stinkin’’ car so it will look like we care about it and people won’t think we are poor white trash.”

And on that note the salesman slowly turned back to my husband and said, “Well, you poor, poor man. It looks like it’s unanimous. Your family loves it. Shall I get the keys and we’ll go for a test drive?”

Resigned to his fate, my husband agrees. And as the kids and I start commenting on how big the trunk is and how shiny the tires are, the salesman and my husband trundle off to get the keys.

Check This Out!
Leonard Cohen is an iconic author, poet, songwriter and performer whose life is profiled in the movie Leonard Cohen I'm Your Man. The music is great. The story is moving. It's a nice change of pace.