Sunday, March 19, 2017

Pancakes are good, the taper is better

My phone was vibrating on the nightstand. An almost silent alarm, it turns out, I didn't need. I was already awake and squeezing into a third skin-tight layer.

I had pulled back my hair, pulled on an extra pair of socks, and had tied one sneaker before hopping out of the bathroom holding the other by its dangling laces to finally make the infernal buzzing sound stop.

“You are not actually going out in this, right?”

My husband, still snoring away, wasn't the culprit.

I just snorted, unsure which part of my anatomy questioned my sanity, but I certainly wasn't going to reward such a rude question with an answer.

Of course, I was going out. It was Saturday, and I had 15 miles ahead of me.

Fifteen miles? In single-digit temperatures? With thirty-mile-an-hour winds?

Did I mention the hills?

At least it wasn't snowing. Or raining. Surely there would be places along the way that would be sheltered from the wind.

See … It's possible to have positive thoughts before you spend nearly three hours doing something you love to hate.

It's all part of the plan: A six-week training schedule designed (by someone else) to ensure readiness for an early spring half-marathon.

I was just following blindly and looking forward to the pancakes at the end of the road. Please let there be pancakes.

Eight miles here. Ten miles there. This run was overkill, but apparently necessary.

Half-marathon turned out to be the fastest growing distance among road racers. According to Runners World magazine, in 2014 there were more than 2 million finishers of the 13.1-mile distance in the United States.

Although complicated plans include intervals and tempos and carefully calculated pace targets, the purpose is pretty straightforward: Build up endurance slowly and try not to get hurt.

Go the distance and try not to break, snap or pull anything important. This tact seems to be wise advice because as hard as it is to run as fast as you can on race day, it's nearly impossible to get your race fees refunded.

Anyway, you can probably guess that I am stalling.

Pretty soon a small gathering of other half-crazed runners will gather in the town square. They will head off without me if I am not there. I will not be able to catch up, and I haven't memorized the route.

I know how to get where we're going by car. But I always take shortcuts. This will take us the longest way possible. One wrong turn could change the coordinates from only "half-crazy" to a full-on marathon-level insanity.

If I am to keep up, I have to leave now.

I have my balaclava, my mittens, my hat, my sunglasses. I strap water bottles around my waist, even though I know the liquid inside them will freeze.

I am ready. And even though the first five miles of windchill feels like being tortured with sharp knives, I don't entertain the notion of turning around and going home. In a few more miles I'll be more than half way there, anyway.

It's all downhill after here. Not literally, sadly. But figuratively.

The rewards will be self evident: This week there will be pancakes with real maple syrup, and next week there will be a taper.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

This will (probably not) make your hair curl

She was going on about something with the level of sustained excitement parents find easy to ignore.

I was folding laundry. And then I was emptying the dishwasher. My daughter's voice was in a constant state of uplift. It had a sing-song quality that put me at ease. She was happy. I continued to half-listen as I freed a clog in the stick vacuum's frozen beater-bar. The thing I pulled out looked like ...

Well … I'll let you imagine the complicated forms bits of detritus we shed from our scalps or track in on our shoes take on as they collect over time. Suffice it to say what I only partially sucked up in the Dustbuster may or may not have resembled a small rodent of a decidedly muskrat-coloring.

But that is not the point.

My daughter had gotten a small part in the school play and was twittering about all the things that go into to making the actual performance so wondrous. Most important of which was that Yours Truly would be doing her hair before each and every performance.

“They want us to look like we're from the 1930s.”

Honestly, I hadn't been paying attention. But something told me to stop wrestling the dust bunny in the Dustbuster and tune in.

“Wait? What? Back up a bit. What did you say about your hair?”

“We have to make it curl and do fancy things like people did in the olden days.”

The way she looked at me as I gripped the vacuum filter, clawing giant dust balls into the trash, it was as if she had all the faith in the world that I could actually do this thing call 'a hairdo.'

Who does she think I am? I mean, I am the person whose Twitter feed describes her thusly: “Still getting up in the morning, but have given up combing my hair.”

That is not a euphemism. That line is the unvarnished truth. If I rake my fingers through the conditioning process in the shower, I count it as combed.

I get my hair cut once every three years, and the extent of my styling skill is to sweep up my stringy locks into a ponytail, hoping to catch all the wispy-bits at the back of my neck (I often fail).

The more I think about it, the more I'm sure that this thing called haircare might not be in my DNA. Growing up, I recall the errant pink-foam hair rollers I'd find around the house. I'd assumed they were my mother's even though her hair was close-cropped – like a man's – for as long as I could remember. Certainly before close-cropped hair on a woman was ever fashionable.

I'm still standing in a cloud of dust over the garbage can when my daughter hands me a picture of Ginger Rogers in the precisely-lit grandeur of her Hollywood heyday.

“They want me to make your hair look like that?”

The coiffure to my eye was an incomprehensible mountain range. It kept its shape – foothills above the shoulders, sloping peaks at the crown – despite appearing as smooth and buttery as silk. It flowed in rivulets nature had no part in making.

I didn't know where to start.

“They said that hot curlers would work.”

This hot curler thing – turns out – is a fishing-tackle-type box you plug into a wall, which then heats up a couple of dozen foam-lined spools that one is then supposed to wind around individual strands of hair.

Don't laugh at me.

Thankfully, the box came with simple instructions.

Plug in
Let heat for 10 minutes
Make sure lid is open while heating (to keep stored hair clips from melting)
Roll hair
Leave in hair for 10 – 15 minutes

I tried it on my own hair first.

It did seem foolproof. Not even waiting the full ten minutes, the hair that released from the flocked spools bounced into a loose coil.

Excitement abounds as we realized hair styling success was within our reach.

After a 10-minute reheat, it was my daughter's turn. But her younger, thicker, more lustrous hair was ambivalent. Some tresses doubled over at awkward angles; others refused to bend at all to the curlers' whims.

“What do we do now?” she asked in a panic.

I had no answer. “Maybe the Dustbuster … the hair that comes out of that always curls. …”

I know. ... She looked at me with that same horror, too.

I know. I'll Google “How to use bobby pins” maybe there's still hope.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Dog, sitting

My dog isn't territorial. Or this is what I thought, anyway, when I fogged up the name on my virtual Dog Sitting shingle, burnished it with my shirtsleeve and hung it up in an online pet care site. Think 'Uber for pet sitters,' and you'll have the idea.

She barely registers a response when I walk through the door, let alone a stranger. She stays wherever she is – be it couch or bed or a sunny spot on the floor – unless there's something in it for her. Cookies, let's say, or a walk.

But she will greet other dogs playfully, roughhouse a bit if they are willing, and show them the sights: The couches, the beds; the sunny spots on the floors.

And honestly, the idea of having a second dog that we get paid to take care of – and who morphs from a Shih Tzu into a Jack Russell terrier and then into a giant Labrador retriever from one week to the next – is pretty cool.

Except that I've noticed my dog skulking about, watching me through lowered head and raised eyes, ready at the slightest bit of affection paid to a visiting pal to barrel in between the interloper and me, and reassert her place in the hierarchy: Top Dog.

There has been some snarling, some protecting of the very same cats that she, herself, would have otherwise chased into closets, and some separate corner moments.

Arguments happen. Growling and raised hackles circling. When tempers flair we all go for a walk. Walks are a great equalizer. There is no home territory on a walk. No toy that is hers and hers alone. There is only the outdoors. And there are squirrels. The only struggle is mine as my charges stretch as far forward as the end of a leash will allow. Tangles-be-damned.

Tire them out. It's a strategy that can work pretty well for animals of all species, even the human ones. Tucker them out, and they won't have the energy to fight. They might even forget they aren't life-long friends.

Although there's something about that idea gives me pause.

As I watched my daughter snuggle up on the couch – a buffer between our pooch and her visiting friend -- it occurred to me through squinted eye and magical thinking that we'd been here before. A wisp of a girl sandwiched between the affections of a dark pointed fawn-colored dog with floppy ears, and a lanky, pony-sized black Labrador mutt.

Ages ago.

I was thinking about our old dogs, Maggie and Maddy. The dogs my husband and had before we married, and who had greeted the advent of our first child with a mix of confusion and wonder, and, finally, joy. The dogs that mark our lives with their indelible ink of their canine simplicity; a combination we tend to think of as loyalty and devotion.

I dusted off my camera and took a picture.

My daughter's head tipped back, and her mouth wide-open in laughter. Her hand was kneading one dog's ear while the other dog shifted position. The moment before I snapped the picture our visitor was seated squarely on my daughter. A human pillow.

Dog, sitting.

It wasn't new territory; it was more than familiar.

It may have even been karma.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Away from Home

I had been clapping in the wrong places. I had let go of my pent up breath at all the wrong times. Shouting support to the wrong kids.
And now there was just uncomfortable silence.

“Hey, Mrs. C! Aren't you in the wrong place?” yelled a friend of my son's who waved when he saw me in the crowd. “That's the visitors' stand.”

I guess I zigged when I should have zagged.

I took a left when I should have taken a right.

The people behind me? Not. With. Our. Team.

I wasn't even thinking about sides when I entered the gymnasium. No one was, if you took my son as an example. He had been wearing blue before he retracted his arms inside of his shirt, artfully turned out the white side of his reversible basketball uniform and then disappeared into the crowd. I was alone, so I just scanned the room and headed toward the place with open seats.

These days, it's not difficult to find yourself in enemy territory. Any Left will take you there. But in school – where teachers have taken to referring to everyone as “friends” – rivalries can be confusing. 

Carefully, precariously ascending the seat/stair construct of bleachers -- maximum seating with minimal visual obstruction – I choose a section with minimal fans. But I was thinking more about convenience than loyalties. No one will have to scoot down, or move over, or lift any luggage they may have brought with them as they were traveling.

Still … I didn't think about being Home away from home.

Of course, we were winning.

Which just made my outbursts all the worse.

Every articulation – excitement or disappointment – could be translated as a potential dig at the  “friends” behind me.

Every silver lining had its dark cloud: Every ball we turned over was a ball they lost. Every point we gained was a point they'd have to overcome.  All fouls were personal.

And the more I tried to subdue my reactions, the more awkward it got.

I may have covered my mouth, but I hadn't covered my eyes nor could I temper my body's reaction to what my eyes had seen. A steal. An assist. A three-pointer. *Quietly whispers YAY! *Silently* rocking in the stands, I just gave up and started clapping for everyone. Good plays are good plays, regardless of which color jersey scores.

And then … miraculously … it seemed as if I were not alone in my awkwardness.

The man behind me even started to grumble at the refs.

“Anytime they want to call a Travel … that would be good.”

The woman next to him shushed and elbowed him gently, admonishing: “That call would be on us. Our side was traveling, you know.”

“Yeah … I don't know which end is up.”

I couldn't help but laugh. But I was grateful the whistle blasts were sparse. 

I turned to let him know I felt his pain.

“Yeah … the time clock would never tick down if they made every call. We'd be here until our kids were all grown up.”

“That is the truth,” the man laughed back. “I keep forgetting we're not Home.”

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Cold shoulder

The car passed me with an eerie silence.

The force of my breath and the beat of my heart made more noise sluicing through the carpet of new-fallen snow than his late-model SUV. Nature's insulator and sound buffer.

Why am I here?” is a question we've no doubt asked ourselves silently in our separate spaces outside of this early particular Sunday morning outing, before the plow operators have felt the pressure to clock in to this seasonal, over-time gig.

Are we crazy?

What we don't question is which of us has the right of way.

Each of us feels entitled to be exactly where we are in this moment. Me against the wind for a five-mile loop. He, perhaps, heading toward the warmth of companionship with a coffee and cruller. We pay our taxes. We know our rights.

I can sense the incredulity of the driver even though I can't see him clearly through the gun-turret-sized hole he'd brushed from the windshield. No one on this road welcomes runners. He feels confident he has the upper hand in his two-ton machine.

He probably wonders aloud in his empty truck why I don't use the sidewalk. (Because sidewalks are slippery. Because concrete is harder on my joints than macadam. Because they don't even exist here).

I wonder why he can't just accept I am here and slow down. I am a road condition, same as ice.

He guns his engine, hugs the white line and raises a middle fingers as he passes.

Still, I persist.

I feel righteous anger rush into every pore.

When it's cold outside, I put on an extra layer. I tuck hand warmers into my mittens. My gait changed by the conditions. My footfalls are closer together now that the ground underneath them has turned ice-solid and slippery. It's still just one foot in front of the other.

I've long stopped wearing earbuds. Even when I'm alone, I stay unplugged.

I want to hear the birds call from the bushes as well as the throaty mufflers of muscle cars.

I've see his kind before.

He's seen my kind, too.

He wonders why I don't hibernate or spin like the other gerbils on our indoor wheels.

Maybe what he doesn't know is that even if I had the room, any treadmill would gather dust. I need to leave the house and find myself somewhere half-way away if I am to return having gone the full distance. 

Not that it matters.

There's no law against me here. It's not a highway or interstate. Just a country road with cold shoulders.

He knows I don't always stay on my side of it, whichever that may be. Facing traffic, or greater visibility, whichever side that may be. I migrate to middle sometimes when winter heaves the center pavement from its sides. I cross before the blind curves for better visibility.

We are unlikely neighbors. We often pass each other in wary silence. Heads down. Full-steam ahead.

So lately, I’ve been waving.

Holding up a mittened hand and tipping it from side to side in the most jovial way I can manage. Smiling to anyone who makes even the least attempt at cordiality.

Slowing your car, giving me a wider berth.

And I try to smile as I acknowledge the driver in him that is inconvenienced by the runner in me. A little gratitude for sharing the road with me this morning.

I can tell the small effort has value. Today, he waved back.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Rock, paper, scissors fix

We have rules in our house.

Of course we do. Our rules range from the Set in Stone kind -- the THOU MUST BRUSHEST THY TEETH TWICE A DAY and LOOKETH BEFORE YOU CROSSETH THE STREET rules -- to the Mostly Unspoken variety, which are intended to insure we do not spend the majority of our maturity alone in some sad hermitage. These rules are usually whispered in question form and colored with a hint of disgust for emphasis: "pssssssst: must I continually tell you to flusheth the commode?)"

While most of these rules are proactive -- Get dressed before breakfast; Wipe your feet before entering the house; Feed the cats BEFORE they find a new family -- they also include a growing list of reactive commands. Don't slam doors! Don't pinch your sister! Don't make that face! These rules are designed to show disapproval for choices that come into direct conflict with our ability to hear ourselves think.

We are not, as they say, a Democracy.

My husband – the one among us with the shortest temper and loudest voice – doesn't want to be The Heavy. He doesn't want the job of Head of Household. 
But someone has to do it. We play Rock, Paper, Scissors for the role of The Fun Guy twice weekly. He usually wins. (I think he cheats). 

That job, therefore, falls to me.

But that's not my point. Exactly.

As the enforcer of The Rules and their corresponding sanctions, I strangely find myself preferring total (albeit benevolent) authority to a representative democracy.

This system of governance, after all, is proprietary. And of it, I feel somewhat protective since I have created this tiny empire out of thin air to incorporate the six main components of modern life: necessity, fortitude, love, forgiveness, screen time and snack foods. Glitter is an optional seventh, but until vacuum cleaners meet some regulatory standard currently not in place ... we shall outlaw recreational usage.

Who am I kidding?
It's just easier to be The Decider if you aren't stuck in committee.
Which is where we find ourselves when the bubble on this little fiefdom (The Royal) We have established was pricked by the pin of a separate governing agency: Elementary School.

Note from school:
"To the parents of Child No. 2.061907.C09
Your darling child had occasion to visit our infirmary today after an incident on the ground where post-dietary recreational education commences. Somehow during the quarter-hour of supervised activity, the aforementioned child suffered a kick to the abdominal region near the right hip, anterior side. 
Ice was applied. 
Efforts to extract cause of this injury were unsuccessful, though your child and Child (NUMBER REDACTED) were referred to the Vice Principal for clarification. Anything further inquiry and notifications will be forthcoming from that office.

School Nurse

Did Child No. 2.061907.C09 give me this note, you wonder?
Of course not.

It was extracted, along with three crusts of bread, a candy wrapper and seven rubber Superballs, from the bottom of his backpack as I was checking for unfinished homework.

"Oh ... yeah. I forgot about that. I've never been to the principal's office before. It's nice there."

"So ... what happened?"

"It was just an accident. My friend and I were jumping around some girls, and one of them kicked me in the stomach. Nobody meant any harm. Do you think my appendix will burst?"

Now ... since I don't have Child (No. Redacted)'s side of the story, I must be her advocate.

"So ... you do realize that when someone says "Stop" you have to stop? Right? It's like the tickle game. ... it's not always fun even when a person is laughing."

"I suppose," but I think it was just an accident.

"Maybe you should ask and be sure. You might have been frightening the girls, or at least annoying them to the point of frustration."

He lifts his shoulders and tips his head as if something he hadn't considered a possibility was now weighing on him.

"I guess, now that I think about it, the vice principal's office is the last place I should get comfortable."

Right. Because if that happens, I'm going to have to figure out the over/under on your dad's Rock, Paper, Scissors fix.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

The paper chase

'Round about last week or so … maybe earlier, I can't remember, exactly since I didn't write it down ... I resolved to change.

I was going to organize.

Now, I wasn't going to Get Organized, in the uppercase sense of the phrase. I wasn't going to clean the house from top to bottom or throw out two items of accumulated consumption for every new object of desire. 

I was just going to attempt to bring order to some small mess within my existence.

Anything: A desk drawer; A closet; the cabinet nearest the sink, or just one measly shelf in that little old medicine cabinet. Something. Anything.

Now, you might be tempted to think this sudden desire to go from dissonance to consonance would have something to do with the Earth completing its rotation around the Sun, but its timing was merely a coincidence. 

The only temporal arrangement that matters was the moment I realized I had no idea where my birth certificate had gone … or our marriage license … or the title to my car.

Oh sure … I know it has to be here somewhere. I tap my finger on my nose as I prop my chin on my thumb as I squint into my sunlit home office. But where? Binders. Bins. Briefcases. File cabinets filled to overflowing. 

Paper chase.

It's not that complicated, you tell me. It's not like taking a Bar exam, or applying for a student visa, or making a souffle that doesn't fall. The answers are usually straight forward.

You just need to put all your import information in one place.

Which, in my way of thinking means an entire room of my house will be filled, floor-to-ceiling, with stuff. Picture an eight-foot-tall area rug surrounded by a couch and two chairs. It will have coffee and jam stains in a matter of minutes. The cat will chew the edges.

No. No. No, silly. You need a container. With a handle. An object you can take with you. In your travels. Yeah … travels.

It should resist flames and floods and all sorts of natural disasters.

You have already bought your fire safe container, where you've put your important documents. The basic life forms: Birth. Marriage. Death. In that order. You probably haven't even mixed them with documents of the more social-genealogical sort -- the newspaper clippings about friends of relatives, recipes from the Internet and kindergarten hand-print animals – as I have.

I know … I'm making it too hard. Those fire-proof vaults are never big enough to store papier-mache wildlife, which will probably be both literally and figuratively extinct by the time the kids reach middle school anyway. 

Shhhhh. The sky isn't falling. The sky isn't falling. I just need a place to put important papers I might need in case of inevitable doom. And up until now, I'd just been worried I'd lose that flimsy-little key that makes all “safe.”

Also ... I can be honest. Those things weigh a figurative TON, and I hadn't had the foresight to liberate a shopping cart before having the impulse to buy.

Just follow directions, and you won't have this problem, say the experts. It's as easy as Lather. Rinse. Repeat. 

But I don't want the SHAMPOO telling me what to do with my life. I don't trust it (or its legal team). I tried it their way, and all it gave me was dry, brittle hair.

Maybe organizing the medicine cabinet was too ambitious. Maybe I should have started by making a list ... Which I will do, after I organize the pens.