Month: January 2012

The Evil Gull Has Landed

The family at a stop on the fjord cruise

In the summer of 2009, my in-laws took the entire family on an amazing week-long trek to Norway. It was the boys’ first time abroad. They were then just six and eight. They were treated to business class seats on the flight from Newark to Oslo. We spent a couple days in Oslo at the Holmenkollen Park Hotel, our headquarters for exploring the city, viewing viking ships, and visiting the Vigeland Sculpture Park. We left Oslo and traveled via rail to Bergen where we spent two days enjoying the city, Bryggen, and the aquarium. We left Bergen on a fjord cruise. One of our stops on the cruise was Finnbotn farm where we were able to drink from a glacier-fed waterfall, eat traditional Norwegian food, and enjoy the odd sight of their pet parrot flying around the fjord. We later took a ride on the Flam railway, saw Kjosfosson Falls, and finally returned back to Oslo to enjoy the view from the roof of the opera house, which rises from a fjord. My point is that the entire trip was memorable. Each day was a grand adventure filled with incredible sights. For my boys, though, the highlight of the trip, the thing that still sticks with them, was a seagull.

On our first night in Bergen, as we were getting ready to put the boys to bed (a feat that is not easy when it’s 10:30 p.m. and still light outside), we heard a noise on our third-story window ledge. We went to the window and there, just inches away from us through an open window, was a large seagull that seemed not the least bit alarmed to find us staring at him. I told the kids to ignore him and get ready for bed, and we closed the window. Next thing we knew, the dang bird was pecking at the window. Seriously? Like it’s not difficult enough to get the kids to sleep? Now they know there is a large bird trying to peck his way into our room? Come on. Work with me, Norway.

The kids were by then completely riled up. They kept going to the window, trying to scare the seagull. It seemed, however, that the more they pestered him, the longer he felt compelled to stay. To get the kids away from the window, I decided it was time for a scare tactic. (I’m not proud of it, but sometimes they work when nothing else does.) I told them that the seagull, enraged by their taunting, was trying to get into our room so he could peck out their eyeballs. Okay. Okay. Not technically true, but effective nonetheless. They snuggled up to each other in their shared full-size bed and stayed well away from the window for the rest of the night.

The evil seagull hell bent on revenge

However, for the rest of the trip, they were convinced that every seagull we saw (and you can imagine how many frigging seagulls are in Norway) was the one from that window ledge. I have to admit that I might have encouraged the story a bit by pointing them out and telling them he was tracking them. When I did my 50-mile MS Walk in San Diego later that same year, I sent them this iPhone photo of a gull and told them he had found me so it was just a matter of time until he found them. I’m going to hell.

Well, today we were on our way home after school and Joe noticed a seagull in the park in our neighborhood. Of course, Joe not being one to let things go, the entire conversation began again. While Joe pondered their safety, Luke tried to persuade him that perhaps that gull he saw was just one of the original seagull’s henchmen (or is it henchbirds?) and that the true gull had not yet drawn a bead on their actual whereabouts or their eyeballs.

I have to admit that the entire legend completely cracks me up. How my kids, who started reasoning away the logical existence of Santa Claus at age six, can honestly believe one lone seagull is tracking them around the world is beyond me. Still, at the very least this tells me that a) they do actually listen to me and b) seagulls are a lot scarier than I thought. 😉

Trust Falls

Looking for the silver lining in my cloud

On January 1st, in the spirit of everything zen, I made myself a list of mantras to repeat this year. They are meant to guide me toward achieving greater personal peace in 2012. I printed the list out and stuck it on my closet door as a daily reminder. My seven mantras are:

1) Soften

2) Be Grateful

3) Adventure

4) Trust

5) Be Still

6) Practice Acceptance

7) Listen Beyond the Words

I plan to blog about each of these seven mantras at some point during the year. Today I am struggling mightily with the idea of trust, so it gets to be my first victim.

I am a trusting person. I want to believe the best about people. Most times I’m not disappointed. Sometimes, though, I get kicked around for trusting some who should not have been supplied the benefit of the doubt. To combat my very trusting nature, the universe provided me with a defense mechanism, the ability to not care what most others think of me. When most people break my trust, it doesn’t bother me. In my life, there are a mere handful who are capable of hurting me by pointing out or taking advantage of my weaknesses. Unfortunately, some of the handful have pushed me to a point where I doubt them.

And, this is why trust is on my mantra list. Sometimes I feel like Charlie Brown with that stupid football. He knows in his heart that Lucy will pull that football away each time. He tries to be strong, to deny her the opportunity. He knows he will end up feeling like a fool. He knows she thinks he’s an idiot for falling for it repeatedly. But, Charlie Brown is ultimately a kind soul with a trusting heart. He gives in to his optimism, and let’s Lucy hold the ball for him. Of course, she does pull it away at the last second and laughs as he lands on his back with a resounding thud. With the people I love, I am Charlie Brown. I want so badly to trust them that I give second and third and fourth chances. It’s careless. Sometimes I get hurt and wind up cursing myself for not trusting my instincts and protecting myself against what I was absolutely certain would happen. But, I’m Charlie Brown, so I give in to the idea that people can change and that what has happened before may not necessarily happen again.

What I am pondering today, though, is this: am I optimistic for giving second and third chances to people who’ve repeatedly proven me wrong or am I insane for putting myself time and time again into the same situation and expecting different results? I suppose there are plenty of people in my life who would opt for the insanity defense in my case. But, I can’t help but think that what keeps me giving people the benefit of the doubt is that I deeply want them to rise to the occasion and not kick the crap out of me again even though they know they can. I’m still waiting for that moment of triumph when I know that my risk in trusting was worth it.

I guess I am too much like Charlie Brown, doomed to endure those ridiculous, epic-fail place kicks at the hands of that conniving Lucy. Even though I get hurt, I’m simply not ready to close myself off and give up on the people I love. It might be a trifle hippie, love-child, Woodstock-ish, but I’m just going to sit around singing Kumbaya and participating in trust falls until the day I don’t fall flat.

 

 

She’s Alive

Hubby in the midst of fixing our Sirena Espresso Machine

I went to early yoga this morning. At 8 a.m. I was on my mat, ready to face my day, lighten my heart, loosen up my hamstrings, and stretch the sleep out of my body. The boys had woken me up particularly early and rather than be grumpy about it, I decided to embrace the day. When I saw my favorite yoga instructor was subbing at an 8 a.m. class, I thought it might be the universe speaking to me. It was. The message that Venus (how’s that for a perfect yoga instructor name?) shared with us this morning was exactly what I needed to hear. The whole hour flew by, and I left the studio with an open mind, feeling ready for whatever the universe might have for me.

Good thing too because when I got home hubby had our Sirena espresso machine on the counter. I immediately cringed. There is a long story about this machine. It was a replacement hubby talked me into that ended up breaking a few months after we got it, forcing us to buy a replacement machine for our replacement machine. This broken machine sat in Steve’s office for nearly two years. Every time I walked by it, it taunted me. Steve could not find a place that could repair it.

This past week Steve was having a conversation with his boss about espresso machines, and the Sirena came up. Steve told Sonny that he hadn’t been able to find a way to get it serviced. Sonny, logical guy he is, asked Steve why he didn’t just fix it himself. Apparently, this thought had not yet occurred to Steve. So this morning while I was being enlightened at yoga, Steve was preparing for battle with this machine, this little burr that had been slowly digging its way under his flesh for over 70o days.

I tried not to be negative when Steve removed the lid of the beast with a screwdriver. I tried not to think that he might be putting the final nail in the Sirena’s coffin as he tinkered around with it. I chose to stand back and see how things developed. Steve, while quite smart and capable, is not your typical Mr. Fix It. The way I had it figured, though, the machine was already broken and apparently no one else was interested in fixing it, so what did I have to lose?

On and off in between other things, Steve spent the entire day with that troublesome espresso maker. He reviewed online manuals. He watched videos about it. He stared intently into its inner workings as if the answer would magically appear. He found a pin that he come loose from somewhere inside the machine. We knew that must be the key to the problem. I’d leave for a while, come back, and find him standing over that machine waiting for the solution to come to him. He fixed a couple other minor issues within the black beast while he waited for the universe to reveal the answer to him. Finally late this afternoon we discovered where that stupid pin belonged and put it back in place. Steve reassembled it. And tonight, two years after her breakdown, we each enjoyed a decaf latte in celebration of Steve’s grand accomplishment and Sirena’s resuscitation.

This morning’s epiphanic yoga class was about expectation and how we need to let go of it. I am especially guilty of putting expectations on things, things which the universe is under no obligation to provide for me. I spent the class thinking about how often I set my expectations too high and am disappointed. The whole Sirena incident, however, reminded me that sometimes expectations work against us in another way; sometimes, we set our expectations too low and keep ourselves from achieving things we could if we simply tried.

 

Can I Get an H, Pat?

All consonants are important, even if they're voiceless.

Joe is in the 4th grade and has graduated from those cheesy book reports that are mostly art projects designed to drive parents insane (you know…dioramas, mobiles, puppets….seriously, teachers?) to true, written reports this year. Joe is a solid C student in language arts. He reads quite well, but his writing and spelling are, well…let’s go with interesting. Still, he’s been doggedly determined to learn to write on his own so we’ve set him loose to see what he can come up with for his book reports. For the most part, we’ve been pleasantly surprised with his reading comprehension and his ability to retell the story for his reports.

Today I got quite a shock, however, when I proofread his written report for his latest book, Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl. We’ve been on a Dahl kick at our house. Joe’s read James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and The BFG. So far he has refused to read Matilda because (and I quote) “It’s about a girl.” At any rate, as I was reading the text of Joe’s report this time, I became a bit concerned.

“Joe….what do you mean by ‘He ran away to poach peasants’?”

“He went off into the woods and poached peasants,” he responded, as if I was crazy for not understanding.

“What do you mean by poach?”

“He gets peasants and eats them.”

“He eats peasants?

“Yeah. He eats them.”

“Peasants?”

“Yes. Peasants.”

“Like he cooks them up and eats them?”

Yes,” Joe replied, obviously becoming exasperated with my idiocy.

Was my son honestly telling me that this library book that I had selected for him was a book about people ingesting other people? I know Dahl’s stories are highly imaginative. In James and The Giant Peach, James’s parents are trampled to death by rhinoceroses in pastoral England. Then, James takes a trip from England to New York in a giant peach filled with a cast of bug characters who are all the size of an adult human. Dahl’s stories make me wish I had known the right drugs to do while I was in college. But, I still could not imagine a children’s novel in which Dahl creates cannibals who hunt and eat peasants. That seemed like a bit much, even for him. Joe and I went round and round until I finally grabbed the library book and began scanning it for evidence of cannibalism. Then, I found the word that might clarify the entire book report.

“Joe…were Danny and his dad poaching and eating birds?”

“Yes. Peasants are birds.”

“No, Joe. Pheasants are birds. Peasants are people”

“I know that,” Joe replied. “I knew they were eating birds. There were pictures of the birds. I just forgot that there was a difference between peasants and pheasants.

“Big difference, Joe. At least your report makes more sense now. I was a bit uneasy picturing Danny and his dad feeding peasants sleeping pills stuffed in raisins and then watching them falling out of the trees.”

Joe had a good laugh about my mental image of poor, country folk dropping from the sky only to be then being picked up and subsequently cooked by gypsies. But this little miscommunication proves how delicate and complicated the English language is. One missing “h” and suddenly a simple hunting expedition takes a sinister turn. It’s miraculous that any of us learn to understand and communicate with the English language. There are myriad rules and then just as many exceptions to those rules. Take the suffix “ed,” for example, which can sound like “ed” (tainted), “d” (cleaned), or “t” (walked). For a native speaker, these distinctions are somewhat natural because we’ve heard them repeatedly. But, to a non-native speaker learning English, there is nothing but obfuscation. And, don’t even get me started on our punctuation rules, which can turn “Let’s eat, Grandpa” from a nice invitation for your grandfather to join you for dinner into “Let’s eat Grandpa” and somehow we’re back to cannibalism.

At the very least, today’s book report exercise reminded me to cut my kids some slack as they muddle their way through phonics and language arts in grade school. I have a master’s degree in writing and I still regularly have to research correct language and usage rules. I tell you, though, I am going to start being a bit more careful around Joe. If he could mistake pheasants for peasants, who knows what kind of breakfast he might cook up for me on Mother’s Day?

Hobo Sapiens

If hubby had his way, this would be in our dining room.

We bought the dining room set we have now back in 1996 when we were first married. We purchased it at Bergner’s department store in Peoria, Illinois, for $500. It has survived several moves, two boys, and a border collie puppy with a penchant for chewing wood. But, as tables go, it’s seen better days. For years now we’ve discussed getting a new dining table. I suppose we put it off because after your kids have stabbed your table with forks, colored on it with Sharpies, and stuck things to it with Krazy Glue, you start to wonder if spending money on a nicer table is such a brilliant idea.

Still, it’s time. To that end, we’ve been furniture shopping. The problem is that hubby and I don’t necessarily agree on what constitutes a “nice” dining room table. Originally, he was pushing for a dining room table with a brushed, stainless steel top. I told him he’d been hanging out in too many Chipotle restaurants. I wanted a wood dining table, something simple with clean lines. He couldn’t get over his idea of having metal somewhere in the mix, even though I told him repeatedly that we are not hipsters living in an upscale, downtown loft. He argued that our dining room isn’t formal (true) and that most of our furniture is clean and simple (also true). He thinks a metal and wood set would blend the stainless in our house with the wood we already have (true again). We’d finally found a set at Room and Board that I was fairly certain I could live with, even though it was a bit more modern than I originally preferred. Marriage is all about compromise, right?

Then tonight he showed me something new.

“What do you think of this dining table?” hubby asked, showing me a photo of a reclaimed wood table with pointy, metal legs and wooden benches. I rolled my eyes.

“I’m looking for a dining table. NOT a picnic table. What are you? A hobo?” was my response.

“No. A hobo doesn’t spend time negotiating with his wife about dining room tables. He just quietly eats his food right out of his bandana on a stick.”

My eyes rolled again. (They do that involuntarily sometimes.)

“It’s made of reclaimed wood,” he said, sounding as if that was something to write home about.

“Ummmmm….you know the table we’re trying to replace? If I sand it and restain it, I’m pretty sure I could call that reclaimed wood too. I want a new table. I haven’t waited all these years to get a real dining room picnic table.”

“It’s NOT a picnic table,” he replied.

“It has benches,” I pointed out.

“So?”

So, while I’m sure the pilgrims and indians sat at benches at the first Thanksgiving dinner, I don’t want people sitting on benches at my dining room table on Thanksgiving in 2012. If we’re upgrading to a better table, I think we should list chairs as a necessity.”

“It says here we can order chairs instead of benches. And…it’s made in Denver,” he offered as if that would change my mind.

“Listen…I’ve already conceded as much as I’m going to about this table. I’m willing to go with metal and wood, but not THAT way. It’s either the Room and Board table or we go back to an all wooden table.”

Stymied, he went back to the Room and Board web site to look at the agreed upon table. A few minutes later he piped up again.

“Well, at least this table is made in Wisconsin. That’s something.”

Yes it is. It’s a sign that we might actually get a new table sometime in the next decade. I have no intention of eating out of a bandana if I don’t have to.

The Man Cold

My poor little bunny....resting.

My husband has a cold. (Insert sympathetic groan here.) He is home from work today…resting. My husband’s occasional “sick days” used to bother me greatly. Since my children were born, I have been gifted one sick day, a day when I was allowed to do nothing other than be sick. One. Even after two surgeries, I was up and going the very next day. In my 10.5 years in my current position, I’ve come to realize that moms don’t get sick days. It’s just the way it works.

In all fairness to Steve, he rarely gets sick so he rarely takes sick days. Still, I bet he’s stayed home maybe 5-6 days in the past 10 years which, any way you slice it, is a better sick leave policy than I have. Many of those days when he’s been home sick, I too have had the cold or flu or what have you. But, I’m the mom and the mom has Mom Duty. My kids, although somewhat sympathetic when I don’t feel well, are tough bosses. They expect me to carry on. If they need to be at Chuck E. Cheese’s for a school fundraiser, I’m required to put on my chauffeur’s cap, drive them there, pay for their meal, and then sit patiently for two hours in my misery while they run around have a grand old time. I’m not even supposed to curse them for the illness they gave me. Sigh.

I’ve been working to become more zen about the whole cold/sick day thing, but it’s been a long haul. I am not a highly sympathetic person. I come by this naturally. Growing up, when I was sick my mom would simply utter a dismissive “This too shall pass” and go back to her ironing. Don’t get me wrong. When I’m sick, I’m a big whiner. Huge. I give 15 minute updates on my condition. I’m sure it’s annoying. But I take loads of over-the-counter medicine and I carry on like the postal service on a snowy, blustery day. I don’t get a sick day to rest in solitary confinement and not bother anyone. I figure that if I have to keep going, I will. You’re going to hear about it, though.

Still, I ponder the Man Cold. Why is it that a cold shuts my husband down but I continue on? This morning, I went in search for an answer to that question. I found this article on WebMD that makes a lot of sense. Basically, the article claims that although there is no proof that for men and women cold symptoms are any different, our thresholds for perceiving and dealing with them are. Women are expected to soldier on, so we do. Men, whom society requires to be strong, take this temporary weakness more personally and use it as an excuse to be babied and taken care of. I guess I can understand that, at least on an intellectual level.

A couple weeks ago when the kids and I had the flu, however, I kept on with our normal routine. I popped Advil and Sudafed like Pez and cooked dinner, did laundry, and even walked the dog beast. So, it’s hard to buy into Steve’s misery when I don’t truly get to rest when I’m feeling poorly. I’m working on it, though. It’s going to take some time. Zen is a process. I am trying to look at the big picture. I mean, I did get to go skiing yesterday while Steve was at work, and he didn’t give me a hard time about that. So, maybe I can give him a break and let him loll about in bed today without making fun of him. Maybe. I reserve the right to post this semi-unflattering photo of him “resting,” though. If I have to wait on him today, the least he can do is gratefully supply me with blog material.

 

Not Just For Hippies Anymore

Perfect morning for some skiing

This morning, I escaped. I put gas in the car, dropped the boys at school, and headed up I-70 to Loveland. It was my first time on skis this season, not because I haven’t wanted to ski but because I’m reluctant to spend good money to scuff up my skis on exposed rocks. Seeing that Loveland finally had a 43″ base, I decided it was worth the trip.

I got a perfect parking spot in the third row in the lot so I didn’t have far to walk. I had my ticket on my jacket already, so I skied right to the lift without any hassle. There were no lift lines so I hopped right on Lift 2 and rode straight up to Bennett’s Bowl. It’s normally a bit icy up there so close to the Continental Divide at 12,000 feet, but it wasn’t bad at all. The sun was out. There was a light breeze and some powder left to be had. The day was shaping up quite nicely.

About halfway through my fourth run, something amazing occurred to me. My legs weren’t tired. As an occasional skier, I’m used to my legs getting tired (okay, okay, my quads actually burn) when I ski. But, I was busting out runs without having to stop to rest. On the ride up in my car, I was planning for a short day because I’d put in about 20 miles in exercise between Monday and Tuesday and experience has shown that I’m good for next to nothing on my third consecutive day of cardio. But, it wasn’t until my 10th run that I finally started to fatigue. I put in three solid hours on the slopes riding up and skiing down. Then, satisfied with my ski morning, I hopped in my car so I would be home in time to shower and pick up my kids from school.

On the drive home I was feeling a bit puffed up by my awesomeness. I’m going to be 44 in a few months. It was my first day on the slopes all season, and it was pleasantly pain free. When I got home, I was unloading my car and wiping down my skis when I spied my yoga mat. Suddenly it all became very clear for me. This past Saturday was my yogaversary. Two years ago on January 21st, 2010, I stepped on a yoga mat for the first time and my life changed. That mat in the back of my car is the reason why I can bust out a day as an occasional skier without pain. Yoga is my cross-training secret. No matter what sport I am doing, as long as I’m practicing yoga two to three times a week I’m set.

Yoga is a gift. It clears my head, balances my spirit, tones and stretches my muscles, and brings me peace. I’m stronger now at 43 than I was at 33. Yoga is the only explanation for this phenomena that makes sense. I can do the things I do in my 40s, like lift my 60 pound son and ski and cycle without pain, because I practice yoga. So much of who I am today is tied to this profound ancient practice. If you haven’t already, you really should try it. If you stick with it for a couple classes, you’ll thank me. You know, it’s not just for hippies anymore.