Thursday, October 29, 2009

Day 25: It's All About the Climb

Watching the professional skiers and snowboarders do their thing on Tuesday night inspired me to tackle a mountain of my own. Drinking too many Sweetwater and Oktoberfest beers on Tuesday night made me feel like I had been tackled. But there was no backing out. I had already committed to making Day 25's thing I haven't done before to hike Stone Mountain.

I always hesitate to say, "hike" because I don't know what "hike" really means. Isn't hiking just walking? When does a walk turn into a hike? When there is an incline, perhaps? I wrote "hike" because "walk Stone Mountain" sounded weird to me. But all we did was walk. To further confuse this issue, I wore running shoes, not hiking boots.

My friend Bug (not her real name, just what everyone calls her), accompanied me on this journey. She hikes Stone Mountain often, so she knew just what to do.

At the risk of sounding like a complete idiot, when we arrived a the base of the hike, I was genuinely surprised that the mountain was completely made of stone. I know, I know, Stone Mountain. It's in the name, dummy. Correct me if I'm wrong, though, but isn't Greenland, the country, covered in ice while Iceland is green? Can you tell I have no idea what I'm talking about? Anyway, I had no idea about Stone Mountain. Let's go hiking!

Just like any gym or park, there were people at the base of the mountain giving it all they've got doing push ups and jumping jacks before starting their workout. I don't trust people like this, I think they are show offs. I mean, jumping jacks? Next to your car at a public park? I run a 10K every year in Charleston, South Carolina and it always amuses me to watch the super runners jogging to the starting line, or even better, finishing the race, and then turning around and running the race route backwards. Sometimes we roll down the windows and yell angrily, "Overachiever!" at them. Seriously, what are you trying to prove? Are you so full of energy that you feel the need to run to the starting line? You're not late, the race doesn't start for another hour. Better save your energy for when I find you at the finish line and make fun of you for being so lame.

There's not a whole lot to say about the hike, other than we dominated the mountain. Are you surprised? I mean, really.

There were some pretty interesting characters along the hike worth mentioning. My favorite were a group of seemingly confused individuals twirling around in circles and shouting. At first I thought they were drunk because of their nonsensical moves and comments, but then I realized they were holding some sort of spiritual service on the mountain. They could've been dancing, although they looked more like wasted sorority girls wandering around looking for the bathroom at a band party. I am all about praising the Lord, and this was a beautiful place to do it, but I thought, "this mountain is steep, if you're going to sway around awkwardly, you should go back to flat ground." Perhaps they thought being "closer to God" meant climbing up to get as close to where God lives. Regardless, I was concerned for their safety and wished they had chosen a more stable place to worship.

The view was pretty amazing at the top too. Luckily we chose to hike on a day that was relatively smog-free, which in Atlanta, can be a challenge. Nothing like some not-necessarily-clean-but-cleaner-than-what-you're-used-to mountain air to get your day off to a good start.

I only fell once, too...well, twice, actually, on the way down the mountain. It was bound to happen and these spills, while not graceful, didn't yield any huge injuries or bruises. Miley Cyrus was right when she said sometimes I'm gonna have to lose. But not this time.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Day 24: This Blog is Rated "E" for Epic

I learned to snow ski when I was in high school, and since then, I've been skiing a total of three times. Twice to ski resorts in West Virginia (which my hardcore skier friends say doesn't even count) and once to Park City, Utah.

Despite a lack of natural athleticism, I'm not that bad of a skier. Or I don't remember being bad (it has been nine years). But the little skiing that I have done is far from "extreme." In fact, while the guys in our spring break group were challenging each other on black diamond slopes and moguls, my college roommate and I opted for less intimidating runs called "Easy Street" and "Serenity."

I genuinely enjoy skiing, though. I just haven't lived in a place where I had access to do it very often. I'm more of a beach girl.

But a couple of weeks ago, I got an email, titled "Ski Porn," from my friend Donald and I was intrigued:

Any of you jibbers down for Huckfest 2000 & Gnar? Lauren and I just purchased our tickets. Join us!

Come again?

I read further down to see that this email had been forwarded from another friend. His read:

Sick grindage snuff-film screening @ Sweetwater Brewery next Tues. Anyone want to join? Drink some beers, watch a flick and plan a winter excursion?

Besides "Sweetwater Brewery," I seriously had no idea what any of this means. But Donald taught me how to play the banjo, so I knew he wouldn't steer me wrong. Day 24's thing I haven't done before: go to a Action Sports Movie Premiere at Sweetwater Brewery.

The film, re:Session, put on by Teton Gravity Research, features some of the most extreme jibbers and huckers shredding the gnar at wicked awesome ski resorts all over the world. That, my friends, is apparently ski speak for insane skiers and snowboarders hurling themselves off of cliffs and down steep mountains in several locations including, but not limited to, Wyoming, Algana, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Colorado.

Intense. Extreme. Honestly, some of the craziest footage I've ever seen.

I've always been bummed that I didn't learn to ski when I was little and fearless. Unfortunately, I waited until I was fully aware that if I lose control and plummet down the mountain into a tree, I will probably die. The athletes in this film never grew up, apparently, or they lack the gene that the rest of us have that says, "don't jump off of that or you'll probably get hurt." How wicked awesome for them.

Sweetwater Brewery ( hosted the event in the courtyard of their brewery. They set up a big screen to show the film and then set up chairs, gave everyone a pint glass and said, "Drink up!" Very outdoorsy and very fun. It was crowded, too. Apparently there are a lot of extreme sports enthusiasts in Atlanta, or perhaps other bloggers trying to do something they've never done before. I even ran into some trouble trying to get my hands on a pint glass. Luckily, the crisis was adverted and no one was injured trying to keep me from the Sweetwater Blue on draft.

I went to the event straight from work, which was a shame, because, well, walking into this event was like walking into a room full of "my types." You know, the 30-something that looks like he's still in a fraternity that's getting ready to go camping? I'm sure they were not impressed with my suit and pearls.

What a gnarly way to spend a Tuesday night. Good brews, good company, good film and good publicity at the hands of my friend Lauren who told nearly every person she met about the blog (now all of the "my types" know that suit girl is also a loser blogger. Damn!) The movie may have even planted a seed for some sort of group winter excursion after the holidays. None of us won the raffle for the free trip to Jackson Hole (bummer), but an extreme trip in search of some fresh pow pow might just be worth paying for. And I've never been to Jackson Hole, so it would be blog-friendly.

I really hope I don't biff.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Day 23: That's enough, Nickelback

This summer, a couple of colleagues of mine and I engaged in an email conversation that eventually led to music, which eventually led to my friend John confessing that he liked the band Nickelback. Suddenly our lighthearted, funny banter took a serious, tragically sad turn.

I was shocked. Stunned. Nickelback?! "I am without words," I wrote to the group.

"I know it’s wrong. I know they represent all that is horrible about today’s rock music," John admitted.

Up until this moment, I had always thought John, a musician himself, had excellent taste in music. Our friendship was founded on our mutual love of the band Earth, Wind and Fire and their song, "September."

Nickelback? Really?

I tried to help him out, certain this was one lapse in judgment that could be corrected. I asked the group if liking three good bands could cancel out liking one terrible band.

Kim replied to my suggestion, "No. But the first step is admitting you have a problem, so bravo, John!"

This email exchange was one of many times that I have publicly divulged my hatred for Nickelback. Every time I am listening to the radio and one of their songs comes on, my stomach turns and I quickly fumble around to change the station. Even their physical presence annoys me and when they performed on one of my favorite morning talk shows, I was disgusted. I can't even stand to look at them.

But truth be told, I hadn't really ever listened to them. I mean, I'm certainly in good company by hating this band, but is it really fair to hate them just because a lot of other people do?

John sent me an article that makes a valid point: Nickelback has sold over 30 million albums over the last few years. ( Many people obviously like them enough to buy their albums. Maybe I should give them a chance before casting them aside? This is my year to be open-minded.

Or maybe I'm a glutton for punishment? Really I just want to be an informed music critic. If I'm going to talk this much smack, I think I better be able to back it up. So, the Day #23 thing I've never done before is: download and listen to an entire Nickelback album.

"Why? Why would you do that?" was the resounding response I received from most of my friends when I told him the day's challenge.

"Nickelback is a metaphor for what is wrong with the world," my friend Jeff said when I told him what I had done.

I agree, but I had to know just how really terrible they are.

So, I downloaded their latest album, Dark Horse, released in November, 2008. Eleven songs. Forty-four minutes of music.

Song #1: Something in your Mouth: This song proved that in addition to being terrible, Nickelback is also offensive. This song uses words like "thong" and "tattoo" and phrases like "sucking on your thumb." I'm embarrassed. For myself and for them.

Song #2: Burn it to the Ground: Sounded a lot like the first song, only I think it's about them (presumably the band?) going out on the town and "burning it to the ground." Good luck finding anyone to go with you.

Song #3: Gotta Be Somebody: I think this is one that I've heard on the radio. All of their songs sound like the same crap, so I'm not positive. He's saying there's "gotta be somebody" for him out there. Not if you keep creating music this bad.

Song #4: I'd Come for You: Sounds like a love ballad. I'd imagine at their concerts, this is when all the couples would grab one another to sway and all the lighters would get fired up. I hated this one the least. What can I say? I'm a sucker for a love ballad.

Song #5: Next Go Round: I can't even talk about this one. Let's just say if this song ever comes on and I'm in a moving car with my dad, I'm going to throw myself out the window.

Song #6: Just to Get High: Friend gets hooked on drugs, sells his mother's ring, ends up in an alley "just to get high." Perhaps he turned to drugs after listening to your crappy music. I don't blame him.

Song #7: Never Gonna Be Alone: Another love ballad. More gross making out by Nickelback fans at their concert. He's telling his love that she's never gonna be alone and that if she ever feels like letting go he won't let her. That poor girl. She's probably screaming, "Let me go! Please let me go!"

Song #8: Shakin' Hands: "She didn't make it this far by just shakin' hands." That's one of the lyrics. Seriously.

Song #9: S.E.X.: My dad would throw himself out of the window on this one.

Song #10: If Today was Your Last Day: This is the song I fumble around trying to turn the channel because it is ALWAYS on the radio. Living everyday to the fullest because "every second counts." Blah, blah, cliche.

Song #11: This Afternoon: He decides to not clean his apartment so that he can party in the afternoon with all his friends. What friends? I liked this song only because I knew it was the last one on the album.

Forty-four minutes of music turned out to be 44 minutes of torture. If hell has a soundtrack, I'd imagine that Nickelback would be singing quite a few tracks. I've jumped on a lot of bandwagons that turned out to be wrong, but it turns out the "Nickelback is horrible" bandwagon is appropriate. They suck.

Thanks to purchasing their album, iTunes is now suggesting other music "Just for Me," like Creed and 3 Doors Down. Um, no. This challenge was a mistake. Let's not continue it.

Someone forwarded me an email recently with a list of several funny comments, but my favorite simply said, "That's enough, Nickelback."

Yes, that is enough.

Day 22: Corn-mazing

It's that time of year again! Halloween is almost here and Thanksgiving is right around the corner. It's time to load up the kiddies in the car and take them to do various fall activities and then take pictures of them and post them on Facebook!

Everytime I log on, my Facebook "News Feed" is full of status updates that say, "Off to the pumpkin patch!" or photo albums full of Apple Picking/Hay Rides/Pumpkin Farm photographs. They are all ridiculously cute, but I can't help but to wonder if this is a requirement of all young families? I shared my confusion with my friend Mark, who has young kids of his own. Why, once you have kids, does picking your own produce become a way to spend your weekend, I asked him.

He had just returned from apple picking the day before. A cynic like me, I fully expected him to tell me how ridiculous it was and that the only reason he went is because his wife made him go, but he didn't. He said, "well, it wears them [the kids] out. And it is actually a lot of fun." If he's saying this, then maybe these fall activities are worth the price of admission.

I don't know when or if I'll have kids of my own, but I had to know what all of the fuss was about. So I recruited a friend to accompany me on Day #22's thing I've never done before: visit a pumpkin patch and complete a corn maze.

The way I had envisioned this corn maze going down was a big group of my friends and their husbands and boyfriends (all dressed in fall-colored fleece) would head to the country, share some laughs in the corn maze, high-five each other and drink apple cider. Think J.Crew catalog. But after sending an email out to those that I thought would join in on the fun, I only got one affirmative response from my friend Trish. Sometimes when I've invited friends to do something that they didn't want to do, they've come up with elaborate excuses as to why they can't, but this time around, most of them flat out said, "I just don't want to." Even tempting the girls with promises of outlet shopping wasn't enough to sweeten the deal.

Trish, the good sport that she is, was on board from the beginning. I should've known she would come along. After all, she was my adventurous travel companion the summer after our sophomore year of college when we traveled through Europe together and lived in Spain for a few months.

I'm sure she was thinking, as I was, "We dominated Europe. And now we're going to dominate Dawsonville."

We arrived at Uncle Shuck's Pumpkin Patch ( on a beautiful fall afternoon. I was pretty proud of myself for getting up and out the door fairly early for a Sunday. But by the time we arrived, around 1:30pm, this place was bustling with activity. There were people everywhere. Some of them were already on their way out!

Trish had advised me before we left Atlanta that she had been on the Uncle Shuck's website (awesome) and it said because of the recent rain, the corn maze was muddy, so it was best to bring old shoes when visiting the farm. The website did not say that the mud was going to make everything smell like poo. But it did.

The girl that sold us our tickets to the maze paused during the transaction, looked at both Trish and me and said, "and you know, there will be NO refunds on the maze today." I nodded in understanding, but this statement confused me on many levels.

1. What do you mean, "No refunds today?" Do you offer refunds on other days and are just choosing not to on this day?
2. What is going on in that maze that is so bad that has led so many people to ask for a refund?
3. Who asks for a refund on an $8 corn maze?

The tickets to enter the maze doubled as "maps" to the maze. I use quotes because a map at Uncle Shuck's farm is merely a piece of scrap paper with a bunch of black squiggly lines drawn on it. The minute we entered the maze, we were lost. We wandered around, picked out groups of people that we thought might know what they were doing and followed them for a while. But corn mazes, at least this one, are confusing labyrinths. Or maybe Trish and I are directionally challenged?

It occurred to me after being in the maze for half an hour, that I just paid to get lost. Lost in stalks of stinky corn. Aren't we usually trying to avoid getting lost? No wonder only one person agreed to participate in this challenge with me. Trish, you're a sucker.

After what felt like an hour of aimless wandering, we finally picked the right group to follow and made it out of the maze and back the farm safely. We walked around the patch for a few more minutes, but quickly realized there's not a whole lot to do at these places without kids. It was time to head to the place we felt more comfortable: the outlet mall.

On our way out to buy our pumpkins and leave, we heard a child having a Category 5 meltdown underneath one of the tents. I don't know what the kid was upset about, but I instantly felt sorry for his parents. I also looked at Trish, who is married, and said, "you do realize that when you guys have kids, you'll be hanging out at places like this every weekend?"

Trish laughed, but we both agreed that the amount of activity we saw on this Sunday was more than we usually see. "Who knew people actually did stuff on Sundays?" I said to her. I'm used to lounging on the couch, maybe doing laundry if I'm feeling ambitious and that's about it. These families were out making memories happen. I think I'm going to put off hanging out at pumpkin patches, and maybe save that for when I have a family of my own. But I think a few more productive Sundays would do me good.

Day 21: You Can Cook Too!

Due to an insatiable curiosity about pretty much everything, I have enrolled in several adult education classes since leaving college. From golf lessons to improv comedy classes, I've refused to let graduating keep me from continuing to learn about new things.

My mom, as a 29th birthday/I think this blog is nuts, but I'll support you anyway/you're a terrible cook present decided to enroll me in a class of her own choosing, making Day #21's thing I've never done before: take a cooking class.

The class was titled "Thai Dinner Party." I like Thai, I like dinner and I love parties, so it sounded like a winner to me.

When I arrived at the class, I was a little surprised to find out that the Viking Cooking School is actually in the Viking Cooking Store, making the entire experience somewhat like an upscale Tupperware party. Come on in, we'll feed you, show you how everything works, and hopefully convince you that if you don't purchase the equipment used to prepare the meal, then you'll probably never be able to recreate it.

It must work, because I fell in love at first sight when I walked into the demo kitchen. High-end stainless steel appliances, an oversized island for us to learn on, and all the fun tools, including our very own knives, cutting boards and lime juicers. Had I stayed much longer after class was over, they probably could've talked me into buying a new range for my apartment that I don't own. I truly felt like I had walked on to a Food Network set.

Had I had that kitchen all to myself, I probably would've pretended that I had my own cooking show. I'd offer commentary on everything I was doing, look into the camera and smile, saying, "Now don't be afraid to have a little fun with it," as I chopped green onions energetically. "Cooking is supposed to be fun!"

The teacher was a little wacky and all over the place. She also felt a need, and I'm still not sure why, to remind us of her extensive cooking resume throughout the entirety of the three hour class. It was so awkward, that there were times that I wanted to stop her and say, "No need for that, Sandra. I am going to assume that based on the fact that you're teaching this class, you're pretty well qualified. Also, I've been eating the same batch of spaghetti for two weeks, so really, anything that goes on in this class will surely be a step in a positive direction."

She was entertaining and sweet though, and happy to serve us wine when we asked for it, even if it meant breaking the cooking school's rules. So in my eyes, she's Teacher of the Year.

In all of the group classes I've taken as an adult, it's always interesting to see who else is going to show up. I mean, you hope that you're going to have at least one person that you can bond with. But it's been my experience that sometimes the only thing I've had in common with the other people in the class is that we both are in the class. And that's it.

In my "Thai Dinner Party" class there were two women presumably in their 30's and two couples, who were friends with each other and there to celebrate their birthdays and anniversaries. They were the ones that pushed Sandra to keep opening more bottles of wine (you thought it was me, didn't you?), telling her that they weren't able to get the full cooking experience without a little alcohol in their system.

Sandra began the class by serving us some Thai appetizers and telling us that we'd prepare three courses: Thai Beef Cups, Tom Kha Gai (a spicy soup), and Pad Thai with Shrimp. We would spend most of the class prepping each dish separately, and then during the last fifteen minutes, we'd assemble all dishes at the same time.

Five minutes into the lesson, Teacher Sandra says, "Stephanie, watch this rice that's toasting and make sure it doesn't burn."

Easy enough, I thought. Under control. We went on to chop green onions and garlic and talk about fish sauce.

Ten minutes later, Teacher Sandra says, "Oh no! The rice."

Damn. I forgot.

Married guy with braces from across the island says, "Well, I guess Stephanie's going to be the weakest link in this class."

Everyone laughed, including me, but I was embarrassed. We hadn't even been in the class for an hour, and this guy was already calling me out? I did not like it.

Sandra said the rice was "perfect." So there, married guy with braces.

We proceeded through the prep work for all three dishes and learned about proper knife technique, an easy way to peel ginger (using a spoon), and how to infuse broth with lemongrass. I don't think I had ever even seen fresh lemongrass before this class.

I had to laugh at the enormous amounts of "one-upping" (see: one upper, that went down in this class. I wanted to roll my eyes when everyone was telling Sandra just how devastated they were that Gourmet magazine went under. "I can't even talk about it," one woman said dramatically. I mean, I can hold my own in a kitchen, and I've eaten a lot of good meals over the years, but I certainly don't know everything that there is to know about food. Everyone here made an extra effort to let the teacher know that they knew all about the obscure ingredients she was talking about because they, too, had experimented with them. At one point it became a "name your favorite farmer's market," the further away from civilization, the better.

Oh how I wanted to trump all of this nonsense and tell these people I was just in Thailand less than a year ago, sampling authentic Thai cuisine. But I refrained.

We finished the assembly of our Thai meal and then it was time to eat. I had stayed close to the Tom Kha Gai (the soup) because it had been my responsibility to fish out of the lemongrass stalks with a spoon. Of all the things that we ate, I liked the soup the least, and it was the one dish that I worked the most on. Go figure.

The Pad Thai, assembled by married guy with braces, was my favorite. Though we got off to a rocky start, he ended up being really cool. He actually is a really good cook who definitely knows his way around the kitchen. He and his wife biked through wine country earlier this year and had a lot of funny stories to tell. His wife asked me if I was dating anyone. I said no, and then she proceeded to rattle off a list of good ways to meet other single people, including some wine tasting class and the Atlanta bike club.

Then they both said they wanted to introduce me to their son...who is 19.

"When you're 39 and he's 29, it won't even matter," married guy with braces kept saying.

Maybe he's right, but I kept thinking about this 19-year old college sophomore having the time of his life, completely unaware his parents are trying to set him up with some girl they met at cooking class. And then I wondered if this is how my dad's conversations with potential suitors goes. Does he shoot for someone within my age range, or does he just throw it out there to anyone?

This exchange was indication that cooking class for Stephanie had come to an end. I thanked Sandra and my new friends and got the hell out of there. What a fun afternoon, though. I would definitely like to go back, if for no other reason, then just to cook in their kitchen.

Thanks for the birthday present, Mom!

Day 20: Potty Mouth

I like to think of myself as an effective communicator. I usually don't have a difficult time expressing myself, rarely have I ever met a stranger, and if I could figure out a way to make a living telling stories in front of an audience, I would drop everything and do it. I guess by "effective communicator" I mean I talk. A lot.

Thanks to my English professors, an often stressful work environment and the neighborhood bad kids growing up, I've also developed an immensely colorful vocabulary over the years.

If "effective communicator" means I talk too much, then "colorful vocabulary" means that I have built up an arsenal of offensive language that flies like bullets in a shootout nearly every day.

My mom hates my sailor mouth, and though she's stopped commenting on it, I know it makes her cringe when I let these offensive words fly out of my mouth at the most inappropriate times. I've allowed these words to become a part of my vocabulary that sometimes I don't even realize that I've spoken them.

It was time to reel in the use of the bad words. I don't want to make people uncomfortable or be afraid to bring their kids around me. I'm not very good at that spelling thing that parents can do. "S-h-i-t" when I burn my finger on a hot plate isn't nearly as powerful as just yelling, "Shit!" Plus, I want to speak with purpose, and overusing any words--offensive or not--weakens my ability to do so.

So Day 20's thing I haven't ever done before was clean up my potty mouth and not use offensive words for an entire day. >I also upped the ante, committing to a $5 donation for every curse word slip. Good thing this challenge took place on pay day.

It did not get off to a great start.

9:03am: "Can you believe that story?! Holy Sh*t, that was crazy!"
Once again, "Balloon Boy" is responsible for me failing a mission. Damn you, Falcon Heene! $5 to charity.

12:56pm: "I'm gonna go get some water, maybe d*ck around a bit."
Classy, Steph. Who says that? What does that even mean? Another $5 to charity.

By late afternoon, these were the only two bad words I had spoken. I thought I was doing pretty well. Until my manager stopped by my desk on his way out the door and said to me, "You've been very quiet today. Is everything okay?"

"Everything's fine," I responded, "I'm just afraid my best strategy for not cussing is not talking."

Friends at work tried to throw me off my mission all day, standing by my desk to trade loud conversations peppered with bad words, but I was committed to the cause (and committed not to losing all of my money). But "offensive" proved to have different meanings for different people.

6:17pm: "Are you gonna be drinking a little this weekend? Maybe some boxed wine?"
One of my colleagues, a wine connoisseur, gasped at my joke and said, "you should owe $20 to charity for saying 'boxed wine.'" My friend Marc agreed that, indeed, Franzia is the new f-word.

While it's always a goal of mine to think before I speak, monitoring my swear word usage all day was miserable. I didn't feel like my spontaneous self for most of the day. I was grumpy and had a terrible headache. It was as if all the swear words had built up in my brain and couldn't find a way out.

So I decided that moving forward, I absolutely cannot cut curse words completely out of my vocabulary. After all, there are times when bad words are not only appropriate, they're also necessary. Like when Georgia's football team can't make a tackle, for example. Shouting "Make the tackle!" at the players through the television isn't likely going to make much of a difference. But if I yell, "Fucking make the tackle already!" then they'll obviously be able to hear me and will then do as I say.

Likewise, phrases like "ass-backwards" and "shit-show" are worthless without cuss words. "Rear-end backwards?" Lame. And when I have to describe how my cable company does business and weekends out with my friends, I need these phrases.

But an effort, kicked off by this challenge, is underway to ease off the f-bombs and replace them with smarter, more impressive words. Maybe I can still be a lady yet. A pretentious, need-a-dictionary-to-understand lady.

Friday's challenge yielded $30 (yes, I'm donating $20 for "boxed wine") for my friends at The Village Theatre, where offensive language, jokes, and people are always in ample supply.

Curse on, my friends, curse on.

Day 19: New York Times, Part Deux

Nina Sankovitch is a Connecticut woman who reading one book everyday for one year in hopes to inspire a love of reading in others. All of the books are ones she's never read, and she only reads one book per author. 365 books in one year?! I'm lucky if I finish one book in a month. Now I feel like a loser. I mean, she doesn't have a job outside of her home like I do, but she is raising four kids and she blogs about all the books she reads the day after she reads them. I'm impressed.

After hearing about Nina, a friend said that I should try and read a book in one day for the blog. Great idea, but unless children's books count, I may have to put this challenge off until I'm on vacation at a beach somewhere. I think I could do it, but I would have to completely remove myself from real-life distractions.

But I like challenges that force me to do things I should be doing more of anyway. Like exercising, doing kind things for others, or reading. So in honor of Nina reaching her goal, I decided to make Day #19's thing I haven't ever done before to read the New York Times cover to cover.

My first encounter with the New York Times with this project was back on Day #4 when I tried to complete the dreadful crossword puzzle. It was a beatdown and my pitiful performance still haunts me in my sleep. But I can definitely read, so really it was just be a matter of time to get this challenge done. As long as I was committed to the challenge, there was no way I could fail.

At least I thought so at first. I had a nice little rhythm going. I would make some work calls, and read an article. I'd send a few emails, and read another article. So what if I got mildly excited when I would turn the page and find a full page ad? It was a big issue on Thursday. I was making fantastic progress, though, and I was on my way to conquer the New York Times.

That is, until "Balloon Boy" happened. That's right, this 6-year old boy, that we now know is Falcon Heene, was believed to be floating through the Colorado skies in an experimental aircraft built by his parents. When news of this ordeal broke Thursday afternoon, I became glued to the television. Even worse than being captivated by the pictures, I was emotionally involved in this story, fearing for the safety of this little boy and feeling sorry for his parents. I'm such a sucker!

The whole "Balloon Boy" ordeal turned out to be a hoax, and just as the Larimer County police department is now blaming the Heene's for orchestrating an incident that created panic in their town, I blame the Heene's for distracting me from my goal of reading the entire New York Times.

Who can focus on where the health care debate stands in Congress when there is a Jiffy-pop looking vehicle floating through the air? Who?

I read many publications online, but it had been a while since I'd held a newspaper in my hands and flipped through its pages. There were stories I read that I don't know I would have even been able to find if I was reading the paper online. I feel smarter already. Did you know that the government has hired outside contractors to search for radioactive rabbit feces? And did you also know that 5400 public libraries in the United States are now offering downloadable books to their customers? And thanks to support from the community, Junior Silverio is going to keep his Greenlawn, New York video store!

And, get this-starting December 1st, any bloggers or Twitterers who write online product reviews must must disclose the receipt of free merchandise or payment for the items they write about. I guess I should mention that I have received NO free merchandise since starting my blog. But if anyone wants to give me pair of Jimmy Choos, I would be happy to make owning fabulous shoes one of the things I have never done before, and I will also be happy, Federal Trade Commission, to disclose that they were given to me for free.

You probably didn't know all of this information because you didn't read the New York Times on Thursday. But I did. Well, most of it anyway. By 11:34pm, I had looked at every section of the paper, but I did start skipping over some articles. I simply ran out of time.

I can't say I'll ever have enough time in the day to read the entire paper from start to finish (I mean, who knows when the next "Balloon Boy" is going to pop up), but maybe if I devoted a little more time to reading the paper and a little less time watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians, I'd probably be a lot better off.

If we're keeping score (and we're always keeping score, aren't we?), that's New York Times 2, Stephanie 0. But it's the moral victories that count, and I feel like I'm a winner.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Day 18: Coffee Run...away

Suggestions on how to fulfill my 365-day project have poured in since the blog began. I've been amazed at the creativity of some of the suggestions and amused by the ones that are repeatedly mentioned.

Skydiving is the obvious front-runner and though it freaks me out to even type the word "skydive," I am sure going to try to make it happen this year. My friend Dan has already invited me to come along on his 30th birthday skydiving trip in November. I was sort of hoping to build up to take such a jump, but maybe I need to take the opportunity when it's presented.

Volunteer projects and random acts of kindness also keep coming up, which means my friends are a lot nicer and more charitable than I thought. I got an email last week from someone suggesting that I pay the toll for the next person, which is a great idea. I have actually done that before, though, several times, but I liked the concept, so I decided to take it one step further. The Day #18 thing I have never done before was to buy coffee for the person in line behind me.

Wednesday was the perfect day to pull this one off because fall finally arrived in Atlanta. The air was a little cooler and crisper, so there was a high likelihood that people would celebrate the changing temperatures with expensive coffee drinks. Whereas people from the north know fall has arrived because temperatures start falling and the leaves start to change color, those of us in the south can tell it's fall by the specialty drinks offered at Starbucks. It may be 85 degrees outside and all the leaves on the trees are still green, but Starbucks has Pumpkin Spice Lattes, so Thanksgiving must be right around the corner.

I hesitate to call what I did a "random act of kindness" because it was actually pretty calculated. After deciding that this was the activity I was choosing for the blog, I actually drove around the city trying to find a Starbucks that had a drive-thru window. I'm happy to do something nice for someone, just as long as I don't have to look them in the eye when I do it, or--God forbid--talk to them.

I found the place where my coffee buying would go down and pulled up to the ordering area. The shopping center was bustling, but after I placed my order, I glanced in my rear view window and saw that there wasn't anyone behind me in line. I texted a friend, "What am I going to do?! There isn't anyone behind me in line! How am I going to pull this off?!!"

She texted back, "Huh? I don't think I understand what you're trying to do." I wonder how many times this year I'm going to get that as a response when I tell people about this blog.

Isn't doing something nice for someone else supposed to make me feel at peace? So much for that! I was a nervous wreck.

I pulled up a little further and was elated when a car finally pulled in behind me to place an order. I was really hoping that a poor college student taking a study break would be the lucky recipient of my generosity, but instead it was a sharp dressed woman in a shiny Mercedes. When I was 16-years old I got into my first car accident . . .with a Lexus. Apparently I have a gift for locating nice cars and either destroying them or buying the people driving them things they could afford to buy themselves. Oh well.

I pulled up to pay and let the barista know that I would be paying for the person behind me. I fully expected him to tell me that she ordered a Venti vanilla skinny soy latte with a shot of liquid gold and a sprinkle of diamonds and that this little exercise in kindness was going to cost me a small fortune. He did not. In fact, he didn't seem at all surprised by my gesture. He just ran my card for both orders and handed me the receipts.

Indeed this idea is not one that I came up with myself, but rather something I've been hearing about people doing for years. The most notable, in Washington state, where a woman, wanting to wish a stranger a Merry Christmas with a cup of coffee, kicked off a "pay it forward"chain that lasted several days and 1013 customers participated in( I paid extra close attention to the local news to see if my act of kindness may have sparked a similar response, but no such luck. Too bad!

I'm not sure how this woman in Washington handled it when she bought that first cup of coffee for someone else, but I'd like to think she wasn't as awkward as I was. You would've thought I keyed the Mercedes and was trying to make a getaway, because when the barista handed me my cup of coffee I squealed out of the parking lot like a criminal on the run.

"Gooooo!" I pleaded to the car in front of me that stalled momentarily at a stoplight. I kept frantically looking to my left to see if Mercedes was looking. I'm not sure I could've dealt with her acknowledging the fact that I did something nice for her. What if she waved, nodded her head in appreciation or said, "thank you?" Then what would I do? Better, I thought, to keep it anonymous.

When I was safely out of the woman's sight, I felt the rush of what I had just done and I had to laugh. Why so much excitement for buying someone's coffee? And why the frantic need to keep it secret? If I had done something nasty to her, I probably would have stayed to watch her react to it and delighted in her misery. But thinking about her being genuinely surprised and pleased with a free coffee drink made possible by me was embarrassing. Why is taking a compliment or accepting gratitude for doing something nice, so damn hard for me?

Perhaps I need more practice doing nice things.

There is a good chance that Wednesday turned out to be a great day just because it was so much better than Tuesday and that's what I was comparing it to. On the other hand, kicking off the day by doing something nice for someone else definitely didn't hurt. I also drank my coffee drink while working out at the gym, which was almost like drinking espresso in terms of energy, but it tasted better. I'm not sure if it was necessarily good for my heart, but I was definitely burning some calories on the elliptical machine. I've never done that before and it was awesome.

This blog is my personal challenge to myself. Nothing more, nothing less. My intention wasn't to be a part of some movement for everyone to find new things to do everyday. But if anyone out there is looking for something new to try, randomly doing something nice for a complete stranger is definitely worth it. I spent $3.73 on Mercedes' vanilla latte, but I really did feel good for the rest of the day. There's no way of knowing if she returned the favor for someone else, but it's nice to think about.

And not to get weird like Haley Joel Osment's character in that creepy, but "rip your heart out" sad, movie Pay it Forward, I think we could all afford to be a little bit kinder to each other. Who knows what could happen?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Day 17: Wrong Side of the Bed

Perhaps the Southern Belles that made up the "no white after Labor Day" rule were scowling upon me after Monday's decision to wear white pants, because Tuesday did not get off to a great start.

I won't bore you with the details . . .wait, yes I will. This is my blog. That's what I do.

It started with computer issues, followed by camera issues, followed by back pain issues. When I finally got it together enough to leave my house, I realized after I was out of my neighborhood that I had forgotten something and had to turn around and go back. I retrieved what I needed, headed to the gym again. And then realized I had forgotten something else and had to go back. Again.

When I got to the gym, I could not find my check-in card. I dropped my blackberry and the battery slid across the floor. After a supershort workout, I started getting ready for work and realized I've forgotten a crucial part of my wardrobe at home. And by crucial, I mean cru-u-u-cial. Which meant that I had to go back to my house for a THIRD time to retrieve something else AND call my boss to explain that I was going to be a little late.

All of this happened before 1pm. I started to think God really was mad at me for wearing white after Labor Day. I told him that I was sorry and that it would never happen again.

I guess you could say I, "woke up on the wrong side of the bed." Only I didn't. I woke up on the same side of the bed that I always wake up on. Because contrary to Diane Keaton's advice for singles to sleep in the middle of the bed in the movie, Something's Gotta Give, I have chosen a side. The right side.

I've tried to sleep in the middle, for the health of the mattress, but it just feels weird. Plus, it feels more hopeful to me to stay on my side. It's like I'm saying, "I may be sleeping alone now, but I'm confident that this won't always be the case, so when the time comes, this other side is gonna be all nice and unslept on."

But to metaphorically (and literally) put an end to the horrible day, I made Day #17's thing I haven't ever done before: sleep on the wrong side of my bed.

When it was time to go to sleep, I turned on my alarm, walked to the other side of the bed and climbed in. Immediately it was awkward, as I was lie there staring at my bike that's parked on the left side of the bed. The bike's handle bar was too close to my face, so I turned to lie on my right side and stared at the side of the bed I normally sleep on. I longed to be there instead of this foreign side. It felt wrong.

I was a big girl about it, and stayed on the left side all night, but I wasn't happy about it. Thanks to the day kicking me in the tail, I fell asleep pretty easily, and I woke up vowing to never sleep on the wrong side of the bed again and eager to make Wednesday a better day.

Day 16: White Out

There are dozens of email forwards that I've received over the years highlighting the characteristics of southern girls. Most of them are fairly silly, and play to outdated stereotypes, but two rules have stood the test of time as Southern Girl Code:

1. Don't call boys.
2. Don't wear white after Labor Day.

The first rule is less literal, more of an idea that my brother has helped ingrain into my head that when it comes to relationships, boys are supposed to be the aggressor. According to him, girls are meant to be chased and must play hard to get. I have definitely broken this rule. I have always regretted it. Dare I admit that I think my brother is right?

Rule number two is pretty straight-forward and a rule I've been following to the letter since I was a little girl. Following the first weekend in September, all white pants and shoes have to be put away and are not to be brought out again until after Easter. My friend Kyle works in fashion and she often acts as my unpaid, overworked stylist. She has told me for years that the Labor Day rule is no longer a rule, and that white is absolutely fine all year-long. I have allowed Kyle to talk me into many things (skinny jeans, even), but old habits die hard, and when it comes to white, I have yet to take her advice.

Until now. The Day #16 thing I haven't done before is wear white after Labor Day.

So once the decision was made to wear white, what should be worn with the white. Certainly not seersucker, or some pastel printed top. I mean, the white was taking a big enough step. I couldn't go full-on spring attire. It's October, after all, and even though it stays warm in the south well into the fall months, there are lines that even I won't cross. Even for this project. So I went with black. Black shirt, black shoes. White pants.

I was hoping that my friend, co-worker, and the master of all things southern, Emily would be at work to weigh in on me breaking the white rule. She'd be able to tell me if this rule was worth leaving in the past or not. But she had the day off! She doesn't even know (Don't worry, Emily, check out these J.C. Penney catalog photographs and let me know what you think).

As has been the case with many of these exercises, no one even noticed the white pants. Could it be that this rule is much ado about nothing?

Yes. White is alright...for ALL seasons.

So, Rule #1, still very much in practice. Thank you, Jeff. Rule #2, see ya! I'm leaving you in the 1950's where you belong.

Kyle, I'm finally on board with what you've been preaching and I'm working the white pants into my winter wardrobe. You were right, white is completely acceptable post-Labor Day. Until you tell me that it's not.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Day 15: Changing My Life, One Concert at a Time

When I arrived at work Friday morning, before I even logged on to my computer, a friend of mine, who I'm now calling "Dream Killer," stopped by my desk and said, "I think you need some new ideas for your blog, Steph. Trying espresso? Not exactly life changing."

The words stung, I'm not gonna lie. I think I muttered something in response, but I was really so shocked, I really didn't know what to say.

Besides hurting my feelings, his comment made me think, am I selling myself short JUST painting my nails red, or JUST trying to complete a crossword puzzle? Are there bigger, more valid missions I should be trying to achieve with this project? Probably, yes. But even if I could think of 365, would I even be able to complete them and still keep my job? I just don't know how.

Truthfully, this blog feels like my second job sometimes. It's not easy. I'm already behind and it's just week #3.

But I never promised sky-diving type missions daily. Did I? If I did, I've misled everyone. I'm just doing things that are new to me. That's it. It was my year to say, "Why not?" when people ask me to try new things or do things that scare me.

If we want to get technical, up to this point the ONLY thing that I have done that has been life changing has been kissing a dude with a moustache, and that is the kind of change I'm trying to avoid in my life.

I suppose I felt the need to point that out because just like trying new foods, restaurants, sports, I plan on seeing musicians I've never seen before too. In honor of the previous day's music lesson, and subsequent less than stellar performance, it was time to see some professionals do what they do.

So, Day #15's thing I haven't ever done before: see Thievery Corporation, a band I know very little about, in concert. (Warning: it did NOT change my life)

There aren't any banjos in Thievery Corporation, but there was pretty much one of everything else, including a guy on the sitar, two guys on turntables, a sax player, a trumpet player, a bassist, and a whole slew of male and female singers. When they introduced the members of the band, it felt like a gathering of the United Nations. The diverse cultures of the performers influenced their performances as well. It was like a reggae, rap, indie rock, electronica show all rolled into one.

When I go to a concert where I only know a handful of songs, I usually get so distracted waiting for those songs to be played, that I can't focus on the other songs that I don't know.

It was like this band knew what I was thinking because the second song they played was the ONLY one that I had ever heard, "Lebanese Blonde" from the Garden State Soundtrack. I also happened to be in the company of my friend Melanie, who is both Lebanese and Blonde. Once that song was out of the way, I was able to enjoy the rest of what they had to offer, which was a lot.

I always get a kick out of seeing a band in person for the first time because how I picture them to look is almost never how they actually look in person. I've heard "Lebanese Blonde" a hundred times, but seeing the little African woman with dreads that almost touched the floor sing it was awesome. I wasn't expecting that.

There were some things I didn't get about the concert, like the guy dressed in camoflauge and the video of the old, creepy dude doing insane yoga poses. I wonder if, like Radiohead, maybe I'll just never understand it. Overall, Thievery Corporation put on an unexpectedly entertaining show that rocked my Sunday.

No, seeing a band I haven't ever seen before is not terribly out of my comfort zone. Seeing two concerts in one weekend for free IS new. Liking a band like this, also new. And I saw a woman with two tattoos under her armpits, definitely new.

On second thought, I think my life did just change.

Here's Thievery Corporation performing Lebanese Blonde in Bucharest.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Day 14: Dueling Banjos

I enjoy music the same way I enjoy sports: as a spectator. There's nothing better than watching my favorite team pull out a win with a last second touchdown, or watching a good band play an exciting show.

Friday night, my friend Lisa scored free tickets to see Kings of Leon at Phillips arena in a suite (which was also something I have never done before). On Saturday, I stopped by my friends' house in hopes that my favorite team could pull out a win on the road, and therefore help me to achieve a well-balanced, perfect weekend.

Kings of Leon held up their part of the bargain. Georgia's football team, however, for the second weekend in a row, did not. The game was embarrassing.

Towards the end of the game, we tried to busy ourselves with other things so we wouldn't have to watch the train wreck. My friend Lauren and I looked through all of my brother and sister-in-law's 1200+ wedding photos. She showed me her farm in Facebook's Farmville (whoa, this deserves more attention at another time, but what a bizarre new way for Facebookers to waste even more time). Eventually, Lauren's husband Donald, emerged with a guitar and strummed a few songs. He mentioned Scott, his neighbor and our friend, just bought a banjo.

"Do you know how to play it?" I asked Donald.

"Yeah, I know a few songs," he replied, modestly.

"Can you teach me one? I've never played the banjo," I said, thinking this day was starting to turn around.

Nothing like a little pickin' and grinnin' after your football team gets slaughtered to pick you up and make you feel good. That's right, music fans, the Day #14 thing I've never done before is learn a song on the banjo.

Donald and I walked down to Scott's place to pick up the banjo, which he had kindly agreed to let us borrow for the afternoon. He also supplied us with an instruction book and finger picks, items that were appreciated, but obviously not needed for this ultra-beginner lesson. When we returned to Donald's, Lauren said sweetly, "I think I'm going to go take some Advil."

Smart girl.

Let the lesson begin.

The song he decided to teach me was "Dueling Banjos," a song he has known how to play on the guitar and banjo for years. Suddenly my challenge became a challenge for Donald, who had to slow it way down and teach it to me note by note. Knowing how to do something yourself and teaching it to someone else are two completely different things.

What's funny about our lesson is that I don't know if the vocabulary he used to teach me this song is actually standard banjo-speak, or if it was just the easiest way to make me understand. If I ever take another lesson, is the way that he taught me the notes the same way everyone knows them? I honestly have no idea, but it's funny to think about, especially if it's not. I can't wait to pick up a banjo again in front of others and refer to the notes as open, 1, 3, open, 2 and have everyone look at me like I'm a complete idiot.

Not that I was terribly surprised, but playing the banjo is hard. Really hard. Thinking about moving my fingers to hold a string down and strumming at the same time is difficult enough, but actually making my fingers bend and stretch to do it is even more challenging. Within 30 minutes, my back hurt. Really? 29-years old and I can't play a banjo without back pain? Yikes!

Donald was a great teacher. He was very patient, even though I'm sure there were times he wanted to stick a knife in his eardrum. He even pulled up the scene from Deliverance to let me hear what the song was supposed to sound and look like. I was inspired!

When Donald (aka Teach) said I was ready, we invited Scott, his wife and my friend Emily, and her sister Amy, all down for my Saturday recital. The showed their support and clapped enthusiastically, proving once again, that friendship is a beautiful thing.

Alright, save the comments about my musical skills, or lack thereof. But if this is what I can learn in a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon, think of what Donald's Banjo School can do for you!

Day 13: Dad's Dating Service

I am always surprised by those responding that they are reading it and even more surprised at those who have suggestions for the next thing that I should do.

My friend Paul, for instance, emails me on Friday. "How about a bear fight? This weekend. As something you've never done before?"

"Bear fight?" I respond, quite sure, and quite hopeful, that this had nothing to do with real bears.
"Yes," he replied. "A Jager Bomb, followed by a Jager shot, followed by an Irish Car Bomb."

Ouch, I think. True, I have never involved myself in this kind, or any kind, of bear fight. The crowd that would be present for the challenge would be entertaining and prime blog material. I was excited about their enthusiasm and willingness to participate. So it was set. Friday night, after work, I would do a Bear Fight.

And then I started to freak about it. I really didn't want to this blog to turn into write ups on all of the stupid things I involve myself in over the next year. And this bear fight had high potential for stupidity. I asked my friend Vic if he'd ever done a bear fight. He had.

"Worst. Decision. Ever." he said. He said he did several bear fights in one night and vowed never to do them again.

"Well, it's for the blog," I explained, "as something I've never done before."

"Stephanie, just because you haven't ever licked the back of a cab seat doesn't mean that you should," he said.

Point taken.

Then I remembered I'd promised my dad, when I was all hyped up on espresso, that I would let his suggestion be my Friday activity. I decided to put the bear fight on hold, and keep my promise to my dad. Day #13's thing I haven't done before: contact a guy that my dad wants to set me up with.

That's right...apparently things have gotten so bad for me on the dating front, that my parents are getting involved. My dad met this guy at a wedding last month, he just moved to Atlanta, so my dad passed along his information to me and told me to get in touch.

My dad insists he's not trying to set me up on a date with this guy, and it's simply about me helping out someone that's new to town. But since giving me the guy's number and email address, he's asked me about it with the same consistency and concern that he asks me about the last time I got my oil changed and if I'm wearing my seat belt, so I'm not convinced. He REALLY wants this to happen.

Maybe I should reconsider the bear fight.

I'm always open to a set up. I've only been out on a few and none so far panned out, but all were really strong efforts. ALL of these semi-successful set-ups were constructed by my peers.

My parents and their peers however, almost always seem to miss the mark on someone that I would match up with, or they are so incredibly awkward about it, the meeting is dead on arrival.

Back when I was in college, my mom wanted me to meet this guy who was student teaching at her school. I popped in one day to surprise my mom at work, expecting for her to be happy to see me. Instead, she seemed frustrated as she exclaimed, "Eddie JUST LEFT! Why couldn't you have arrived 15 minutes earlier?!" She spent the rest of my visit trying to come up with a reason for us to take a walk to his classroom. Sadly, Eddie is now happily married to someone else, and I know my mom is convinced it's only because he and I never met.

More recently I was at a wedding and before I could even take a seat for the wedding to begin, the mother of the groom said seriously, "I've got a groomsman I want you to meet." She told me she was going to get one of the other groomsmen, David, who also happens to be my friend, to introduce us. But apparently David took too long to make it happen, because less than a hour later, she grabbed my arm and marched me across the dance floor to introduce me to this poor guy. It couldn't have been more awkward for him or for me. We struggled through five minutes of small talk and then quickly parted ways. David, who knows me pretty well later said, "Of all the people I would ever set you up with, that guy is close to the bottom of the list."

I don't know if it is my age or what, but sometimes lately the only trait people take into consideration when setting me up is that I'm single. Not what I like, what I don't like, what kind of person I am. "Stephanie, you're single, this guy's single, surely you're the only two people your age that are left. I think you guys would be a PERFECT match."

But honestly, I'll try anything once, even if it is emailing some guy that my dad thinks I should meet. So I did.

The email was short, and light. I certainly didn't want to freak this guy out. I'll save that for our first meeting. I simply introduced myself, explained that my dad had met him at a wedding a couple of weeks ago (oh my God, did I really just type that? Please kill me.), and that if he was up for a drink or lunch, I'm game.

So, with the email out there, all there is left to do is wait. What if my dad was so weird to him at the wedding that he doesn't respond? Then it's like a double slap in the face, both to pops AND to me.

Don't worry, Dad. He emailed back. I'll keep you (just Dad, not necessarily ALL of you) posted.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

DAY 12: Hit Me With Your Best Shot...or At Least Try

**Editor's Note: there were hilarious pictures taken of this outing, but they are lost on a less-than-user-friendly digital camera. My sincerest apologies.***

When I was a child, my parents signed me up to "play" rec-league soccer. The only female on an all-boys team, "playing" for me simply meant wearing the same uniform as everyone else. I certainly wasn't scoring any goals or helping my teammates to do so. I guess you could say I lacked the competitive spirit required of good athletes, because I preferred skipping around the soccer field picking dandelions like a little fairy.

Some things never change, I suppose, because while I enjoy working out and consider myself a sports fan, I never quite became an athlete. I understand the rules and am an informed viewer, but I enjoy sports from the sidelines.

Whereas food challenges have come pretty easy to me, I suspect trying new sports probably won't. But that's what this whole project is all about, right? So with the help of a much more athletically skilled friend, the Day #12 thing I haven't done before: play racquetball.

The timing of this challenge was perfect since I had enjoyed, maybe too much, the Ethiopian food Wednesday night. Thursday morning, it was time to hit the gym.

Now despite my lack of athletic prowess, I have dabbled into sports here and there. I mentioned soccer as a child. I played tennis as a teenager. I've also been on kickball teams and softball teams, my goal on both to not screw up so horribly so as to cause a loss for the team while providing enough comic relief so that the team will want to keep me around.

But I can honestly say that Thursday was the first time I have ever stepped foot onto a racquetball court.

I've watched others play and heard games going on in the gym. It looked like a lot of fun, and a great workout, but it seemed a little daunting being in an enclosed space swinging a racket around. My mom even said, when I told her about Thursday's challenge, "Well, you better wear goggles in that small room with all those balls flying around."

Sometimes this blog just writes itself.

I decided against the goggles, because they were terribly uncomfortable and I thought if a ball was headed in my direction I'd be able to get out of the way in time. The second time I hit the ball that day, I did so square into the side of my friend Brad's neck. He laughed and promised it didn't hurt. He also agreed to stay for more abuse, so I hope he was telling the truth. He opted against wearing goggles too. I wonder if he ever regretted that decision.

Brad explained the rules, or the rules as he knew them and we starting playing. The main object of racquetball is that the ball has to hit the front wall and can't bounce more than once before you have to hit it again. Sounds easy enough, except when it would hit the front wall and then the back wall, and I'd forget if it had bounced or which wall I was supposed to hit it off of.

Sometimes when I successfully served the ball or if Brad hit a good shot, I'd forget that the game was still going on and I had to move to hit the ball again. It was like it was 1987 again and I was tippy-toeing around on the soccer field.

Thanks to the echo that a racquetball court creates, Brad's instruction giving, my curse word yelling, and both of us laughing provided quite a soundtrack for everyone at the gym that day. My apologies to anyone who had to unwillingly be a part of this day's challenge.

Someone said to me, "racquetball is exactly like tennis." Sure, I thought, except it's not. I've now played both. Both sports use balls and rackets, but that seems to me where their similarities end.
There were a few good rallies, but for the most part what I expected to be true, turned out to be true: I'm not very good at racquetball. But it is a great workout, and I think with a little practice I could get better.

I said to Brad, "we should play once a week. I need practice!" But then I started thinking, with all of these things I have to try and all of the blogs I have to write, will there ever be any time to practice racquetball?

Perhaps the downside of the blog is that by doing a new thing every day, I'm not allowing myself the opportunity to master any one thing. Is trying something once really going to show me if I like it or not, or even allow me to succeed at it? Probably not. On the other hand, maybe this is the way I will learn what I like (Ethiopian food, concert-going solo), what I do not like (beets), and what I need to do a few more times (New York Times crosswords, racquetball) before making a decision.

Maybe with a lot more practice I can make another one of these entries Day # Whatever: Racquetball Tournament Winner.

Hmmm...I think that's a stretch. Maybe just winning one game would be good enough.

Oh, and because I know you competitive types want to know:

Game #1: Brad 15, Stephanie 4
Game #2: Brad 9, Stephanie 2

Thursday, October 8, 2009

DAY 11: Stumping on Cheshire Bridge

Another highlight of the espresso buzz was that it suppressed, for a time, my sometimes overactive appetite. I was enjoying the buzz so much, I forgot that it was dinner time. A couple more cups and I might drop a jean size. Unfortunately those two shots can only do so much, and by the next day my appetite had returned in full swing.

Time for a food challenge. I told a colleague about this day's challenge and his response was, "Is this whole project all about you trying foods you haven't eaten?"

So what if it is? I'm a pretty adventurous eater, I'll try most anything once, and there are currently only two foods on the list of things I do not like (thanks a lot, beets). That said, there are also a lot of foods I haven't tried, so I think this is absolutely the opportunity to try new ones.

I sort of developed an attitude about trying exotic cuisine, because for me it's as much about the atmosphere. I want to experience the culture and the people, a scenario best achieved by being there and dining amongst the locals. I've had some of the best Thai food in the United States but when I was in Thailand being served by Thai people and eating at a restaurant that resembled the house in Swiss Family Robinson, it seemed to taste better. Before I ever tried it, I wanted the first time I ever ate sushi to be in Miami at some posh sushi bar. Miami = Sushi? No, but in my head that's the city where I could fully embrace the sushi experience.

I was in 11th grade when I finally found someone that would take me to eat it and we did so in an Irmo Piggly Wiggly shopping center at a place called Inaka. Not quite how I had pictured it (I wasn't even wearing a sundress!), but the sushi was fabulous.

I don't imagine Africa being anything like Cheshire Bridge Road (unless it's full of seedy nightclubs and hole-in-the-wall restaurants) so I was going to have to modify and adjust my expectations again, because the the Day #11 thing I haven't done before was eating Ethiopian food. In Atlanta.

My brave friend Katy agreed to join me for this challenge and we met at Enat Ethiopian, a dive of a place that I had heard great things about. Katy called me before I arrived to tell me she had made it and said, "looks like it's a quiet dinner for two."

What is it that they say about restaurants that are always busy? That probably means they're good, right? So, what about a restaurant where you and your friend are the only patrons? Is the opposite true? Should we run? We stayed. On with the adventure!

They set the restaurant up so that if you want to eat at a table, you can. But we were ready to get the full experience, so we asked the hostess/waitress/cook (not sure of her name, but she seemed to do everything there) if we could get sit on the floor. Well, not really the floor, but little stumps on the ground in front of a larger, raised stump. So we did. If I'm being honest, it was awkward. We were sort of straddling this tree-trunk like table, unsure of whether to sit straight up, or stay hunched over. I'm all about authenticity, I just think a table would be more comfortable.

The menu seemed rather basic, broken into three categories: Beef, Poultry, and Vegetarian. We went for the Tomato Fitfit for an appetizer (Chopped tomato and green peppers tossed with injera) and for the main course, Kei Wott (Hot and spicy beef stew with very lean chopped beef simmered in a hot and thick barbecue sauce & purified herb butter with exotic spices added) and the Doro Wott (Chicken cooked and perfectly simmered with seasoned sauce of berbere and served with hard boiled egg). I have no idea what any of that is, but that's my co-worker told me to order, so I did.

The best part of eating Ethiopian food? You eat it, as the menu points out, with the utensils God gave you: your hands. An excuse to revert back to being a toddler and make a mess with my food? Sign me up!

When the hostess/waitress/cook brought our appetizer to us, though, she did so with two forks. What happened to eating with our hands? Is that just for the main course? Or did think we couldn't handle it, so that's why she included the forks? I want to eat with my hands!

We looked at a couple that had arrived since we had sat down to see what they were doing. But they weren't eating and the hostess/waitress/cook was nowhere to be found. So we dove right in, with our hands. I don't know if we were starving, or if not having utensils overwhelmed us both with excitement, but Katy and I dove into that meal as if it would be our last. We both loved it! The injera is pancake-like bread that both dishes were served on. We used it like a tortilla to make little Ethiopian burritos.

We ate until we could eat no more. Well, until we wanted dessert, that is. It was a little confusing, though because when we asked hostess/waitress/cook for dessert she said they didn't have any. Then she disappeared for a while and returned with baklava. Apparently there are Greek influences in Ethiopia, or at leas there were at this restaurant? We didn't care. We ate it right up. Katy, who is Greek, was loving it.

Still full the next day she sent me an email, "I feel like an overstuffed stuffed animal. But it was so good!" Couldn't have said it better myself.

Beets, still gross. Ethiopian...delicious!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

DAY TEN: All Jacked Up Like a Spider Monkey

I went into Tuesday without knowing what I was going to do for Day #10.

Scary, considering my lack of a plan on Saturday led to me kissing a dude with a moustache. I had discussed with my friend Melanie possibly going to see U2, since they were playing at the Georgia Dome. I'm not a huge U2 fan and she had seen them before, so neither of us were really excited about spending the money to scalp tickets to the sold out show.

"Maybe we should try and sneak into the concert. Have you ever done that?" she asked me in an email.

No, I responded, and the idea perked my interest. I shared the possibility with a co-worker who said, "Don't get arrested!"

Whoa, didn't think of that. Wait, why didn't I think of that?

I really didn't want to add, "Spend the night in an Atlanta jail" to the list of things I haven't done before. And honestly, my energy level was wavering. I just couldn't get excited about U2 (though I have heard since that the show was awesome).

The stress was making the headache I woke up with even worse. After trying what seemed like everything else to get rid of it, I decided I needed caffeine, and lots of it. And then it occurred to me: espresso is something that I've never tried.

I asked some people if that was a good idea for the blog, for the thing I haven't tried. Many were shocked, exclaiming, "You've never had espresso?!" No, I have not. And come to think of it, I've never seen any of you drink it either.

I mean, I've been hanging out in coffee houses drinking coffee drinks since I was in high school. But for my friends and I, it was less about the caffeine fix and more about going to Cafe Espresso in downtown Columbia to smoke cigarettes (sorry Mom and Dad) and pretend like we were in college. Fearful that ordering a hot chocolate would immediately give us away as teenagers, we ordered quite a sampling of flavored coffees, cappichinos, and lattes over the years. Some of them, most of them, had espresso IN them, but were NOT straight up espresso.

So that was it. Time to kill two birds with one stone: get rid of my headache and try something new by making the Day #10 thing I've never done before: get jacked up on espresso.

I went to Starbucks and ordered a double shot. This was no double shot added to a Cinnammon Dolce Latte. That's child play. This was real deal espresso. No cream. No sugar. The drink comes in a tall cup, filled about a 1/3 high. Leave it to Starbucks to rip me off.

I returned to my desk, took a sip and realized they didn't rip me off. It's just merely impossible for anyone to choke down anymore of such a disgusting drink that they see no need to fill it to the top.

Espresso tastes like tar. I think it may be worse than beets.

My headache did go away, possibly from the caffeine. Or maybe the pain being inflicted upon my taste buds made me forget that my head hurt. It's unfortunate, for all of you, that the hideous faces I was making trying to drink this horrific concoction weren't captured on camera.

And then, just when I thought espresso was a horrible idea, espresso got really fun.

I'm an anxious person by nature, so the super shot of straight caffeine hit my system and I suddenly turned into an extra-hyper version of myself.

I may or may not have done a dance at my desk similar to Jennifer Beals' "She's a maniac" in Flashdance.

I definitely rattled off a response to an email from my dad, who was giving me a suggestion for something to do for the blog.

"Dad...I really am going to do that!!!
It's on my list for Friday!
Today I had an espresso, hence all of the exclamation points. I'm JACKED!!!!!!!!"

He and I went back and forth for a few emails that I'm sure scared him a little for my safety and for the safety of those around me.

The last email I sent to him: "Yes...espresso is fun!!!!!!"

Another friend I had been emailing noticed the conversation going in a million different directions and responded, "Whoa, you're all over the place."

Clearly, Starbucks was NOT ripping me off by only filling the cup a 1/3 full. They are actually protecting their customers from potentially harming themselves. Espresso is meant to be taken in small doses.

The buzz lasted a solid three hours and coming off the caffeine was not at all difficult. I eased back into my normal sense of anxiousness seamlessly.

All things considered, espresso may taste bad, but it makes me feel really good and it does not turn my pee red. Success!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

DAY NINE: Worlds Colliding

"If Relationship George walks through this door, he will kill Independent George. A George divided against itself cannot stand!" --George Castanza, Seinfeld

One of my family's favorite Seinfeld episodes is the one when George freaks out about his "worlds colliding" when his friend Elaine wants to become friends with his girlfriend Susan.

Whenever my brother and I have had anxiety about two different groups in our lives intersecting, we've jokingly referenced that episode. When it comes to introducing my work friends to my college friends, or introducing someone that I'm dating to my parents, I don't know why, but I, like George, have always desired keeping the different parts of my life separate from one another.

So when someone talked my mom into setting up a Facebook account, I was adamant about not letting "Daughter Steph" and "Facebook Steph" cross paths. She sent me a friend request when she first joined, and I ignored it. What a slap in the face to the woman that raised me, especially since I'd friended my aunts and cousins, her college roommate and countless randoms from childhood that I don't even know. She didn't raise a stink about it, though, understanding my constant need to maintain distance in my life.

But in the spirit of trying new things and feeling that I needed more mom in my life, I decided that on Day #9 the thing I would do that I've never done before: Befriend my mom on Facebook.

Truthfully, I do find it a little weird that my 60-year old mom is even on Facebook and I've told her so. Considering she just figured out how to upload pictures and send out an online photo album, imagining her navigating through her friends' profiles and now my profile amuses me a little. And sometimes I laugh when I think about her spending an afternoon "facebook stalking" someone she went to high school with and then picking up the phone to call her sister to talk about it.

And then there is the overlap, the intersection of "Facebook Steph" and "Daughter Steph." I mean, "Facebook Steph" isn't leading some questionable or weird alternative existence or anything. Random strangers aren't "poking" me or sending me inappropriate gifts. But now that she can see this side of me, will she start asking questions about it? "Stephanie, who is that wrote on your wall?" or, "Do you really want to use that picture for your profile?" and,"Is there anyone on Facebook that you could date?"

Or worse, would she tag me in unflattering pictures taken on family trips?

I don't even how often she uses Facebook, and I'm certainly not as frequent a user as I used to be, except to promote this blog, so all this worrying was probably for nothing.

I placed the friend request on Monday evening, but just like any self-respecting Facebook user, she played it cool and waited until Tuesday at 5:35pm EST to accept. Well done, Mom.

No surprise, by 5:59pm EST she had commented on my last two blog entries:

"Well, first you complimented my nails; then you complimented my cooking, now I get to be your facebook friend-what next? It was fun to have two today! Love, MOM"

She's a smart woman, or maybe she's learned over the years to be suspicious of me. She knew that friend request was not just for fun. I had to fill her in (and I wanted to see if a Wall Post would throw her), so I wrote on her wall:

"Monday's entry is 'Befriend my mom on facebook.' Get ready!"

Without missing a beat, she commented right back:

"Well, that makes me very nervous. But seeing as you have over 600 Facebook friends, I should definitely be there too. After all, I am your first and best friend ever. Love, MOM"

She's good. Really good.

I don't know what I love more, her instant concern that she would be the topic of this blog entry, or that she signs all of her comments and wall posts, "Love, MOM."

Welcome to my Facebook world, Mom!