Thursday, December 31, 2009

Day 57: An Apple a Day...

I've had my Dell laptop for five years and right around the time I started writing this blog, it started giving me problems. It's low on hard drive space and I'm pretty sure it has a virus. I know this is probably not the best way to care for a computer, but I worry that whatever is wrong with it is so bad and unfixable, that it'll cost me a fortune to fix. So, I just assume ignore what might be wrong with it and deal with the problems as they arise until it stops working all together.

I'd like to say this behavior is reserved for just computers, but this is how I live. I tend to keep things, especially expensive things, until they fall down, wear down, or break down.

Some may call this behavior frugal, others might call it cheap. I think I have a genuine fear of making big purchases.

Despite my dad's constant reminders (read: nagging) about shopping for a car, I put it off for an entire year, until my car died on I-20, leaving me stranded on the side of the road outside of Augusta, Georgia. The fiasco inconvenienced my mom, who had to drive from South Carolina to come pick me up. It also caused me a great deal of stress for the month I was without a car, and before it was all over, ended up costing me a great deal of money in rental car payments.

Waiting to shop for a car until I was car-less probably wasn't the wisest move I've ever made. But some funny things happened as a result, so I didn't mind. I was forced to get acquainted with Atlanta's public transportation system and I also got to test drive some pretty sweet rental cars, like a 13-passenger church van and a silver PT cruiser.

I don't anticipate this level of drama when my computer finally dies and goes to computer heaven, but I did want to have my research done so when that day comes, and I'm pretty sure it's coming, I'll be ready. I also needed to get real about how much this purchase was going to cost me.

Day 57's thing I've never done before was to go to an Apple store and shop for a computer. Not only was this my first time in an Apple store, this was the first time I'd ever shopped for my own computer. All of the other computers I've ever owned were handed down to me or purchased by my parents. It was time to be a big girl!

I've passed the Apple store dozens of times, but until this day, hadn't ever stepped foot inside. I never had a need to go in there, and I'm not much of a browser, especially when it comes to electronics I cannot afford. I'll admit, I walked in cautiously. I'm not sure why and it seems so silly, but I was intimidated. Within five seconds, a cheerful woman approached me and asked me what I was looking for. I told her I was interested in a laptop.

She nodded and said, "That's great! There are a couple of people ahead of you line, but someone will be with you in about 30 minutes."

Come again? We're one month from Christmas and I have to wait a half an hour for someone to sell me a computer? Every other store I'd walked in to that day, the sales people were tripping over each other to try and sell me something.

I told someone at work about having to wait to speak with a sales person and he asked me if I considered making an appointment.

An appointment? To buy a computer?

Apple seems to have that way about them. They make you think that they are cooler than they are, with all this waiting to see a sales associate and appointments. Give me a break, Apple. Who do you think you are? On the other hand, based on the overwhelming response from nearly every Mac owner that I know when I mentioned I may be in the market for one, maybe they really are that cool?

Or maybe all of these Mac owners, who likely have Apple stickers on their cars and Gmail accounts, should reevaluate things. It's a computer, geeks. Just a computer.

Super busy Apple sales guy James finally became available and they called my name. What a production! He and I went over what I was looking for in a computer.

I said I wanted a laptop just for the basics. Surfing the Internet, downloading music, uploading pictures, blogging.

"Oh, you're a blogger?" James asked me.

Indeed, James, I am. Yes, that's right, I pimped my blog to the Apple guy. I even gave him my business card and wrote the blog address on the back. I'm a shameless self-promoter these days.

James showed me the different computers and explained how easy it would be for me to move my files from my current computer over to my new computer. After hearing about what I needed, we agreed that a 15" Macbook Pro best suits me and what I need. He then proceeded to tell me about Apple Care and all of these other programs that I would need to buy to support the already expensive computer.

I was starting to get really irritated about all of these additional costs when James said the sweetest words I've ever heard: Macs don't get viruses. Sold!

Well, not really "sold." I didn't actually buy one. This is me, remember? I have to wait for old Dell to blowup in my lap before I actually purchase a new one.

I got an email from my friend James. He read the blog and then he asked me out on a date! Day 57's other thing that I've never done before: get asked out by the Apple store guy.

My friend Trish said I should go.

"Free tech support."

There may come a time in my life when I go out on dates with people for free tech support, but I'm not there yet. She also pointed out that he may be able to get me a good deal on the computer. That would be nice, since as well as trying something new everyday, I'm also trying to live a financially responsible life, and that means buying the computer with cash. I'm not quite ready to make such a big purchase, but hopefully soon.

Fingers crossed my Dell holds out until then, or I might just have to take James up that date.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Day 56: Roundhouse Kick to Your Face

Justin, fellow Wooter and colleague, is also a skilled martial artist. He said I needed to try kickboxing for the blog.

"Are you saying I need to work out?" I asked him.

He looked dumbfounded, like I backed him into a corner.

"I'm kidding," I said. "I'm down, let's do it!"

Our other friend and co-worker Jackie was also interested, so Day 56's thing I've never done before was take an MMA kickboxing class.

On the drive over to the studio, I thought about how cool it was that Jackie was participating in this blog experience. Jackie has been on a fierce workout regimen for months now, determined to get down to her pre-baby weight. Her dedication inspires me to work out. On the other hand, Jackie is the reason that I need to work out as much as I do. She is an excellent baker who sabotages everyone's diets with her culinary excellence at least once a week. So if I was dragging myself out of bed on a cold, wet Sunday morning, then it's only appropriate that Jackie should be there too.

Jackie, Justin and I arrived at the studio and just as Justin had instructed us to, Jackie and I faked like we wanted to join the gym so we could take the class for free. While giving us a quick overview of the facility, the saleswoman wrapped our hands for the class like we were real deal boxers. She asked me what kind of working out I did. I told her I was a runner, I used to be a dancer and I like yoga every once in a while. She nodded her head enthusiastically in approval of my exercise choices. She also said I'd probably really enjoy the class and have no problem getting the hang of it.

I've had my ass kicked in enough exercise classes to know that regardless of how many miles I've run, dance classes I've taught or yoga classes I've taken, this was not going to be easy, regardless of what she had to say. No cockiness or sureness coming from me. I was scared to death.

Our instructor was a short guy, and five minutes into the warmup I diagnosed him with a Napoleon complex. He was nice, and helpful, but also relentless. He told us at the beginning of class that he was a pissed-off Georgia fan ready to take out his frustrations about the Kentucky loss out on us.

And he did.

There wasn't any easing into the workout. The instructor, who I'll just call Napoleon, went after it, barking at us to do jumping jacks, then run in place, then more jumping jacks, then mountain climbers. I was sure Napoleon bet money on the Georgia game. He was really mad. Jackie and I looked at each other with desparation. And then we glared at Justin.

Not to mention, my pants were falling down. For a brief, ridiculous moment I thought perhaps the kickboxing was really working and I'd already dropped a pant size! But I'm pretty sure this was not the case, and the pants falling down was due to the fact that I was I jumping up and down like a monkey and crawling around on the floor like a dog. This was still during the warm-up. The no-more-than 10 minute warm-up.
Jackie and I had a clear view of the clock on the wall, so we knew from the minute the class started how much longer we had until it was over.
Jackie said this helps her sometimes. She says she thinks its the notion that regardless of how difficult something is, she only has to endure it for 15 minutes. It's just 15 minutes!

I always get screwed by the clock, because I will convince myself that I've been running on the treadmill for at least 30 minutes. At least! And I'll look down and I've been running for 10. The clock is never on my side. This was no different.

Following the warm up, the instructor walked around the class and shouted kickboxing instructions to us. No surprise, there were a lot of punches and some kicks. What a great stress reliever. Just picture your worst enemy as the punching bag and go to town. Jab, cross, upper cut, roundhouse kick in your face!

Kickboxing, at least this teacher's version of it, is as much of a mental workout as it is a physical one. It's hard! I reached a point in the class where I wasn't even sure what Napoleon was saying. My legs were just sort of galloping like a horse and my arms were like spaghetti noodles flying around. I made sure I kept moving, though, because I had a feeling he was the kind of teacher who liked to call people out, by name.

I miraculously finished the class. I may have been worthless and sore for the rest of the day, but I still finished. And I convinced myself that a few more of these classes and less time on the treadmill might be just the shock that my body needs to actually lose a pants size for real.

Day 56 was the day that I tried MMA kickboxing with my co-workers. It is also the day that I learned to toss vanity aside, because as you can see by these hideous pictures of myself, I am a disgusting sweaty mess. Don't be fooled by the pleasant look on my face, I'm only smiling in hopes that you'll look at my face instead of my body in workout gear. I'm also happy that the class is over. So there are the pictures...the good...the bad...and the very ugly.

I pity the fool who makes fun of them!

Day 55: All Day Blogger

Day 55's thing I've never done before is give up social interaction in order to blog. I've heard from others that this is when blogging really gets dangerous. I didn't believe that I would ever get to this point. Socializing, hanging out, that's what I do. Yet, in an attempt to get back on track and caught up, I said "no" to invitations to watch football, "no" to lunch and a movie, I even said "no" to skydiving (this "no" was mostly due to the fact that I needed to write, but also because I wasn't quite ready to make the jump).

I woke up, got my laptop, and did not leave my couch. All. Day.

I did make it out after dark to a bar to watch Georgia get beat by Kentucky, something I'd never seen before, and hope to never see again.

Day 54: Food Drop

In honor of the upcoming Thanksgiving holidays, my super-generous colleagues decided to organize a company-wide food drive supporting the Atlanta Food Bank. This food bank, along with so many others, has been completely strapped this year and in desperate need of donations.

When it came time to make the delivery, I offered myself and my SUV to help make the drop off. This certainly wasn't the first time I've ever participated in a food drive, but Day 54's thing I've never done before was to deliver the food to the food bank.

I anticipated a well-run operation at the Atlanta Food Bank, which it was. I did not, however, expect it to be so busy! There were cars dropping off, cars picking up, and a whole lot of foot traffic for 9am on a Friday morning.

Our two week effort yielded around 970 pounds of food, which I'm told eventually increased to 1000 pounds. When a supervisor was told how close we came to reaching a half ton, he took it upon himself to make up the difference.

According to the volunteers at the food bank, a meal requires 1.3 pounds of food to make. So, assuming we made it to 1000 pounds, our department provided 769 meals to families in Atlanta over the Thanksgiving holidays. As impressive and helpful as that was, within just days this food would be gone and the food bank would need more. Food is one of the many things that I take for granted that I will always have, often in abundance. I cannot even begin to imagine being forced to wonder where my next meal is coming from, a reality that so many people face everyday.

A more hands-on volunteer effort may be in order to really make this day count, but it was eye-opening to see the Atlanta Food Bank.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Day 53: Really Blind Dating

My friend and co-worker Emily came over to my desk in October and said, "I've got an idea for your blog." I knew before she even explained to me what it was that I was down. I trust Emily completely and knew she wouldn't lead me into any embarrassing or illegal activities. At least not on purpose.

Sadly, the same can not be said for some of my other friends.

"Dating in the Dark," she said, smiling, "You know, like the show."

I did vaguely remember the show from the summer that put men and women in dark rooms to see what qualities, besides physical appearance, attract individuals to each other. I also remembering thinking, when I saw it, that I would never participate in such a show because they filmed that show with "night vision" and everyone looked like they were on the Blair Witch Project.

A local radio station decided to try their own version of the experiment and make it a part of an exhibit in Atlanta right now called Dialog in the Dark. At Dialog in the Dark, visually impaired guides lead visitors on a journey through a series of darkened galleries created to replicate everyday experiences. Without familiar sight cues, visitors are forced to use their non-visual senses.

Emily said she thought we would go through the exhibit before participating in the dating portion of the evening, which was a huge selling point for both of us.

Ahead of the event, we had to fill out a form online and submit it to the organizers. It was full of stupid questions that I often find impossible to answer.

1. What's your favorite band? One band? I have to choose one? I didn't choose one, I chose several, and all were the bands that I had listened to the most that day. By the time the event had arrived, another three had taken their places.

2. What celebrity do you most look like? Uh...Wilma Flinstone? After seeking the opinion of others, I put Amy Adams. But I wasn't happy about it.

3. Best date you've ever been on. I've been fortunate to have been on some really good dates, but one that stands out involved Thai food and a Bela Fleck and the Flecktones concert.

The day had arrived, and Emily and I planned to meet at the event. She called me when I was en route.

"You're never going to guess who's here," she said. I could tell she was smiling. She may have even been laughing.

My stomach flipped, and I feared the worst, like the person that was there was some crazy person we work with or one of our ex-boyfriends.

"Who?" I asked, not sure I wanted to know her answer.

"CNN," she responded. "They're filming everything.'"

I nervously laughed, "Please tell me you're kidding."

Now I realize I have made my adventures public to all of you through this blog, but I was not then, and am not now, quite ready to have my dating experiments out there for a national television audience to watch. There are just some things that aren't suitable for TV.

I'm getting ahead of myself here, but I will tell you that in addition to dodging weirdos, Emily and I also spent the night dodging cameras.

I arrived at the event and they ushered me into a part of a room that was sectioned off by lockers. I found this odd, but it made more sense when the actual dating portion began and we were able to stow our belongings in one of the lockers. I found Emily immediately and she introduced me to the booze they had provided to loosen everyone up. I opened a beer and it was time to let the games begin.

I checked in with the event organizer and noticed that it was difficult to carry on a conversation with her because of the loud pop music playing over the speakers. I can't remember every song that was played, but I do remember Beyonce's "Single Ladies" and Creed were among the tunes played. I should've walked out right then. She asked me to sign a waiver (presumably so that I couldn't sue her or the radio station if this experience caused any emotional distress, which it did, or embarrassment, which it already had) and then she handed me five blank cards. Emily instructed me to put my name on one side of the card and an interesting fact about myself on the other.

Apparently agreeing to participate in this nonsense wasn't interesting enough.

Emily suggested I choose two interesting facts and put them on the five cards, so as not to make things too complicated for myself.

Interesting Fact #1: Last year at this time I was traveling in Asia with a friend. (And I sure wish I was still there!)

Interesting Fact #2: I have a blog: (When all else fails, talk about the blog!)

We moved to the periphery of the room (next to the lockers) and as Emily told me her observations so far, I took a look at everyone in the crowd. Emily said that she was pretty sure we were going to be some of the oldest people there. Great. She also said she overheard some of the girls talking about how they drove over from Athens to participate in the event and that one of the girls wrote for her interesting fact that she was the president of her sorority.

"WHAT?!" I blurted out. There are college girls here? I probably should've been upset, because clearly there is absolutely no way that I can compete with college students, but I was actually sad for them. When I was in college at the University of Georgia, I rarely left Athens, especially not to meet guys. The city was full of young cute fraternity guys who looked like they were about to go camping. Why drive an hour and a half to meet dudes in the dark? Had Athens changed this much? I made a mental note to get to the bottom of this.

My assumption about this experience was that those who chose to date in the dark probably did so because maybe they had "faces for radio." But not in this case. Most of the girls were really cute. Many, including Emily and me, seemed apprehensive about how everything was going to go down, but that was to be expected. These nerves manifested themselves in excessive amounts of drinking, mindless chatter and lots of "omgs" being thrown around. Yes, it seemed as though we were the oldest people there.

We sat around the locker room for what felt like an eternity and then finally it was time for us to head into the exhibit. They gave us each a walking stick and we followed each other through a dimly lit hallway and then into a room that was pitch black. I realize "in the dark" was in the title of this event, however, dark doesn't even begin to describe it. I mean, depths-of-the-spider-cave-can't-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-own-face dark.

Someone said, "just let your eyes adjust and eventually you'll be able to understand better where you are."

Bull. Shit.

I couldn't see anything.

We soon realized that the dating was going to start immediately and that we would not be viewing the exhibit as originally thought. The guide sat Emily and me in the "diner" at semi-circular booth across from each other. We stayed there the entire night, and every 15 minutes a guide would sit a pair of guys next to us in the booth for us to meet. Dating in the Dark was really like speed dating, only with the lights out.

Here are the highlights, and some of the low lights:

Matt and Allen were the first guys that Emily and I met and they were nice. Matt worked at Georgia Tech and Allen was a salsa dancer.

Scott was a former golf pro turned bodyguard. I tried to think of someone in Atlanta that might require a bodyguard.

Me: Do you carry a gun?

Scott: Yes.

Me: Are you carrying one right now?!

Guns + Darkness = Scary

Jordan just graduated from UGA and was back at home figuring out his next move and writing a book. Despite our obvious age difference, he was actually pretty interesting and seemed cool.

Emily told me later that her conversation with Jordan went something like this:

Jordan: Tell me about your style.

Emily: Like what I'm wearing?

Jordan: Yes.

Emily: I'm wearing jeans and a white button down shirt. What about you?

Jordan: Blue v-neck t-shirt under a cotton striped button-down shirt with the buttons undone mid abdomen, skinny jeans and Chuck Taylors.

Whoa, thanks for the details. He must've really worked hard on his outfit.

Mike sat down and after asking me my name and what I did for a living, he asked me how old I was.

Me: I'm 29.

Mike: Finally! Someone closer to my age!

Me: Well, how old are you?

Mike: I'm 45.

Kill me.

Doug was one of the last guys that we met. He sort of collapsed into the seat, put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Seriously, Stephanie, tell me the truth, how many fat chicks are doing this?"

I was completely caught off guard by his question. He was so blunt. So forward.

I laughed, which is what I always do when I don't completely understand what someone said or I don't know how to respond. So I didn't.

After rattling off 15 questions in a row as ridiculous and off the wall as his first, Doug moved his hand to my knee and accused me of wearing sweatpants. I was so concerned with convincing this guy that I was not wearing sweatpants, but a cotton dress, I didn't even care that it was pitch black dark in there and he still had his hand on my knee. The brief time I was able to get him to be serious, he told me that he was a personal trainer who lived in a suburb of Atlanta. He threw out several more questions and comments that under any normal circumstances, might've offended me, but within the constraints of this already bizarre scenario, I found completely hilarious. He, like Emily and me, wasn't taking himself, or this experience, too seriously. I appreciated it.

Doug was one of the last guys that Emily and I met before it was time to go back to the locker room to retrieve our belongings. As our eyes were adjusting to the light, I was handed a slip of paper and instructed to write down the names of three guys that I would like to meet again. Truthfully I wanted to meet all of them again just see what they looked like, but I looked down at the cards that had been given to me and in a fit of confusion, I tried to recall some of the more interesting conversations that I had.

I looked around and saw groups of girls huddled around the lockers looking at laminated sheets of paper that had been taped on them. I asked Emily what that was all about and she explained that that online questionnaire that I had filled out had been turned into a profile sheet, complete with a picture of a South Park-looking character created based on photos we had to submit.

These profile sheets were a guide of sorts to help people figure out who they had talked to, and I suppose, try to garner some sense of what they look like based on the profile picture.

It was a bit like sorority rush. You choose them, they choose you, and if there is a match, they'll call you back.

I got a call back, which meant the awkwardness would continue for me, only this time it would be in the light and it would be one-on-one. I was really done with the whole experience and in need of some cocktails at the Dating in the Dark reception, so I was hoping this part was going to be brief.

I was led into a room and told to sit on a plastic cube on the ground. The matches were led in and told where to sit beside us. Once everyone was sitting, they brought the lights up slowly and sitting next to me was Matt.

Only this wasn't the right Matt! And I'm not just saying that because I wasn't at all attracted to him. The Matt I put on my slip of paper was the Matt that worked in the admissions department at Georgia Tech. This Matt lived in Dahlonega and was an I.T. guy. I later met the other Matt and wasn't attracted to him either.

Wrong Matt was still really nice, so we walked over to the reception and he bought me a beer. After all of the trauma they just put us through, and we still had to buy our own drinks?! Ridiculous.

The reception was interesting, because while I didn't want to ditch Wrong Matt, but I was dying to find out who everyone was and, of course, prove to Doug that I wasn't wearing sweatpants.

Doug was as hilarious in person as he was in the dark. He definitely looked like a personal trainer from Marietta, Georgia and was about a foot shorter than me. Salsa dancing Allen looked like Howie Mandel, and Georgia Tech Matt looked exactly as I would've expected Georgia Tech Matt to look like: tall and goofy.

45-year old Mike is a sports radio DJ and was wearing a black leather jacket. He said he was looking to settle down and have kids and I'm exactly the type of girl he's looking for, if only I was a few years older. Whoa there, Mike, slow it down. He did give me a card and said I could come on his radio show for the blog.

Jordan reminded me of Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future. Cute, little, and full of energy. I think he may have been crushing Red Bull and Vodkas, because he bounced around the bar like a kid in a toy store. Apparently Emily's style was just his style, because he really took a liking to her.

Bodyguard Scott was physically probably most my type. We talked about golf and how I'm trying to learn how to play and how he wanted to go back to being a golf pro. Then he told me about how his ex-girlfriend took a strip tease class and the conversation went from normal to weird in 5.5 seconds.

Because Emily and I work together, everyone knew us as "company girls." As the crowd dwindled and soon it felt like it was just her and me, surrounded by several of the guys. We were a hit!

"You two are really cute, and cool?!" one of the guys said to me and I couldn't tell if he was making a statement or asking a question. He seemed almost surprised.

Again, not knowing what to say to this compliment/question, I nervously laughed.

He went on, "And you're funny!" Finally, I knew what to say to this one, "If you think I'm funny here, you should read my blog."

I was flattered by his compliments but somewhat taken aback at his surprise that we could be all of those things at the same time. He seemed shocked.

What types of girls have these guys been hanging out with? Pretty, stupid girls who are boring? Fun girls that aren't nice?

I'm not sure I buy into the whole "Dating in the Dark" concept. I do think it's possible to be attracted to someone based solely on common interests and compatible personalities. Dating in the dark forced me to consider those traits before ruling someone out based on looks alone. At the end of the day though, being physically attracted to someone is an important piece of the puzzle.

My friend Trish wants to set me up with someone that her husband works with, but when I asked her if I could see a picture of him, she seemed offended.

"I don't want you to judge him before you meet him," she said.

Yes, I know looks fade and what's on the inside is way more important than what's on the outside, but is it completely superficial to want to know what someone looks like before I agree to hang out with them?

It's not like I have a "type" and if a person doesn't fit into that mold then I won't even consider them. All of the guys that I've dated look different from each other, but they all looked good to me!

There weren't any love connections made that night, but what an experience Emily and I had. We're still laughing about it. Bodyguard Scott walked me to my car and has since messaged Emily and me to hang out. We're not sure if he wants to hang out with us together or separately. Jordan also text messaged Emily, but he may be too busy working on his book or doing his chores to hang out.

Emily and I managed to stay out of the way of the CNN cameras, too, which is perhaps the biggest success of all.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Day 52: Woot Off

Before I got to work on Wednesday, I received an email from my friend (and veteran) Mo. It was sent to me and several others.

The subject line was "Woot Off," and the email read, "Maybe we can convince Steph to buy something from Woot today as her blog idea. Unless she already has plans."

Prior to his email, "woot" was a word I used in my vocabulary quite often. Mostly in text messages or emails, and always to express elation.

"Just got Eddie Vedder tickets. Woot."

"I'm coming to Charleston this weekend. Woot woot!"

"California! Woooooooooooooot."

Used in this context, however, "woot" had now become a foreign word to me. Still, I assumed that a business named after such an awesome word had to be a good time. Plus, Mo suggested it and he rarely participates in things that aren't fun and I didn't have plans for today's activity. So Day 53's thing I'd never done before was participate in a Woot Off. is a website that sells one item each day at a discounted price. Once the item sells out, that day's sale is over. Sometimes the site hosts an unannounced "Woot Off," where they sell sell multiple items all day. During a Woot Off, an item goes up for sale and stays up until it sells out. Once it sells out, a new one goes up.

A Woot Off, by name, is exciting. But more than the name, it's exciting to see how long it will take an item to sell out and to see what the next item will be. Not to mention having the opportunity to purchase a SOG PowerLock EOD Multitool for a mere $35! If that's not exciting, I don't know what is.

This multitool was the first item up for sale when I joined the Woot Off. It included a screwdriver, pliers and some other tools that I don't know the names of and I'm certain I would never use. Is $35 even a good value for something like that? It wasn't hard to decide this would not be the item I would purchase. But I immediately could tell that I was going to enjoy this experience. Part of the fun of are the comments that the site features about each of the items.

The comments for the multitool, for example, said, "Got more tools than a Nickelback show." shares my opinion of Nickelback! Good taste in music, clever writing AND gifts at a discount? I love Woot Offs!

I also learned that it takes a village to participate in a Woot Off because items come and go pretty quickly. Unfortunately, I did have to work that day so I couldn't keep on the computer all day. So, I'd receive updates from Mo and Justin keeping me updated as to what was new gifts were appearing.

Mo at 1:34pm: Next item ESPN Ultimate Universal Remote with WiFi. $90

Mo at 1:55pm: And it’s Sold Out. Next item WowWee Tribot Talking Robot $28.

Hmm...Talking Robot? I was intrigued, but not ready to pull the trigger.

I missed out on some other items, including a remote control snack float that would've been awesome at a pool party. The pool wasn't included, though, unfortunately.

Mo at 4:47pm: Now it's a T-shirt. LAME!!

Mo at 5:55pm: GFM Digital Camera and Camcorder with 8X Zoom $30. This looks good.

This was it. This is the gift that I wanted. A $30 camcorder? Think of all the possibilities, especially for the blog.

But within less than a minute, the camcorder had sold out. Damn!

Mo at 6:00pm: Acer Space-Saving Multimedia Desktop with Intel Dual Core Processor $280

Um, no.

Mo at 6:05pm: Next item Karcher 1750 PSI Pressure Washer for $80. Does Chuck Gallman need one?

Chuck Gallman already has a pressure washer. In fact, it might be one of his most prized possessions. But my brother had just bought a house, and to my knowledge he doesn't have one. Hmmm...

I'm not buying my brother a pressure washer. No chance.

I started thinking that I was never going to find just the right Woot gift. And then I worried that woot offs could be a metaphor for my life. Was I the type of person who couldn't settle on something (a pressure washer) because I always thought there was something better out there (a remote control snack float)?

I really hope not.

I told myself to relax. This is Woot. Not life.

Pretty soon Mo left work and it was just me, alone with Woot.

At 6:46pm, I sent an email to Justin that said, "I'm buying blower!" That's a sentence I never thought I'd type, but it was an electronics "blower" that cleans out dust from computer and stereo equipment. It was $9 and I was pretty sure I could find a way to use it.

Justin responded at 6:47pm: Sold out. Did you get it?

Noooooooooooo. I had to attend a short meeting with my supervisor at work and didn't have time to get it. I hate it when work gets in the way of the woot.

Mo had told me before that missing out quickly in a "Woot Off" was very likely. I had no idea.

My work day was winding down and I was tired of wooting. Would I find something to buy by the day's end? And if I didn't, how would I be able to call the day a success? And then, as if the Woot Gods knew I was ready to throw in the towel, they sent me the gift that was made for me, made to be given to a member of my family.

An Emerson Jumbo Universal Remote for $1.

I suppose this is the same feeling people have when they meet "the one" they are meant to be with. I also suppose that having this feeling for a large remote is not a good thing.

I bought the remote and anxiously awaited its arrival. I was not disappointed. I sent Mo and Justin a picture of it.

Justin responded, "That's one big ass remote."


And one very lucky member of my family is getting that big ass remote for Christmas this year. Woot! Woot!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Day 52: Hell of a Season, Baba Ghanuj!

In the days and weeks following the trip out west and to Boston, I scheduled several "catch up" lunches and dinners to tell those who wanted to know (and some who probably didn't care) all about it. The first time I told it was to my dad and it took the meal, plus the trip to and from the restaurant to tell it.

Conversations about the trip now go something like this:

Them: "Tell me about California!"
Me: "It was awesome!"

When I met my friend Maribeth for dinner the Tuesday after my return, telling the story took most of dinner, with various interruptions to discuss her weekend as well as the food we were eating.

That's because on Day 52, the thing I've never done before was to eat Baba Ghanuj (I thought it was spelled Ganoush, but this is how they spell it on their menu), Lahem-Bi-Ajeen, and Drunken Halloumi, all Mediterranean dishes at Zaya in Inman Park

"Say wha?" you might be asking yourself. It's okay, my knowledge of Mediterranean food before this trip was limited to hummus, feta and gyros. Baba Ghanuj is an eggplant dip. It's also Vince Vaughn's character's nickname in Wedding Crashers. Has the blog come full circle already?

Lahem-Bi-Ajeen is a Lebanese meat pie. This particular Lahem-Bi-Ajeen included lamb and beef. And finally Drunken Halloumi, which was Cypriot Halloumi cheese seared in olive oil and flambéed with Ouzo, served with tomatoes and garlic sauce (I completely copied and pasted this description from the menu, but you take a look at the picture).

Really what else is there to say? I ordered, I ate. I liked. I plan to return.

The food and wine were delicious. And lucky for Maribeth, the cuisine made my endless chatter about California and Boston a little bit easier to take.

I think.

Day 51: Finally, I'm in!

So after getting denied twice from joining my public library (once on Veterans Day, and again the following Friday), I was kind of annoyed by the whole concept.

You know, like when you want something for so long and you wish for it so much and by the time you get it, you've already forgotten why you really wanted it in the first place? You soon realize that what you wanted is actually really lame, you were just addicted to wanting it.

Alright, so maybe that's not exactly how I felt about getting a library card, but I did feel like this branch was playing a little hard to get.

Eventually the library caved, and I made Day 51's thing I've never done before join my public library.

The new East Atlanta Public Library opened within the last couple of years and is less than a mile from my house. So it's fairly new and very nice.

I really love to read. I am a reader. At least I was before I started this little experiment. Joining the library will be good for me, I figured, since I spend way too much money on books (I don't know why, but I love owning books.) and am running out of space to put them. So joining the library could help me satisfy my love of books and my desire to create less clutter in my life.

But there are two problems with that:

1. This library, while nice looking, has one of the poorest book selections I've ever come across. Pathetic.

2. There is little to no chance that I'm ever going to have time to go to the library, much less read any book. All thanks to my delinquent blogging, any ounce of freetime I'm spending writing and proofreading (I know, you're shocked that I actually edit these, but it's true).

Nonetheless, I have my very own library card! I checked out two books with it, but have since returned them both, reading the first 5 pages of one and reading just the flaps of the other. If I ever catch up on writing and feel like giving the library another chance, I may venture back there. Only if I have time, though, and there seems to be less and less of that every day.

Take that, East Atlanta Public Library, look who's playing hard to get now.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Day 50: Just Cobbled Together

Sadly, I wish I had made some really cool plan for what I would do for Day 50 of this blog. Can you believe we made it to 50? I couldn't have done it without you!

I woke up Sunday a little foggy. Mark and Jen headed back to Jacksonville and I was forced to endure the pain of my decisions the day before all by myself. Apparently, when I decide to do something, I do it. So if I'm going to crash a wedding, I'm going to do it in style, complete with the following day headache and anxiety.

But the blog doesn't care how I feel. I said I would do something new everyday for one year and that means everyday.

I was drinking scotch on Friday and crashed a wedding on Saturday, I needed something a little wholesome. Cook something. That's my solution to doing something I've never done before when I don't feel like doing it. So Day 50's thing I've never done before was to make a fall favorite, apple cobbler.

If drinking scotch is refined and bad-ass, I would say cobbler is the exact opposite. Cobbler is my Grandma, who was a lot of awesome things, but bad-ass she was not.

I don't know how it got its name, but the great thing about cobbler is that it is literally just cobbled together. Perfect for me and for this day. Annoyingly, like the pumpkin pie, the recipe called for two cups of diced apples and I had no idea how many apples it was going to take me to get there. So I bought an entire bag of Granny Smith apples (and ate the leftovers for several weeks). And I still have an embarassing knife collection, so I ended up peeling the apples with a butter knife.

Of all the desserts I've ever made, I find cobbler to be so misleading, in a good way. It tastes like your grandmother slaved all day over it, when really it was just me! And it didn't take long at all.

And though I don't recall a specific occurence, I'd be willing to bet that my dad has eaten cobbler while drinking scotch. I ate this cobbler without the scotch.

And, are you ready for this? That's all I have to say about that.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Day 49: Wedding Crasher

A couple of weeks after starting the blog, I received an email from a girl from my hometown named Carrie.

"Love your blog," it read, "you should start a food fight as something you've never done before."

Love. It.

I hope she won't be offended by this, but I'm not really sure what Carrie is to me. I wouldn't be so bold as to call us friends, because we really don't keep in touch or ever see each other. To call her an acquaintance seems cold and not quite right. She's more than that. To say she's just some girl from my hometown implies that we once knew each other but have since had a falling out and that's not the case either.

Her first email kicked off an exhange between us, and she revealed she also had a blog that she hasn't yet had the guts to promote. Well, I love promotion, so her blog is: You know what, now that I'm thinking about it, I consider anyone that reads my blog a friend, so Carrie and I are friends. There. I said it.

One of the last emails that I got from Carrie came in when I was on my trip to California and Boston. It read, "Ever crashed a wedding? I know one on November 14th that's pretty low risk!"
I had to read it twice to completely understand. Did this girl just tell me to crash her wedding?

Hmmmm...My mind went to (where else?) the movie Wedding Crashers. Two dudes, making up aliases and going to weddings they aren't invited to to meet girls and hook-up. Ok, so this wouldn't be exactly like that. I'd have to go as myself, I would know other people there and the bride has thrown it out there, so it's not a full-on crash, but I liked the blog potential.

I shared this email with my friends who were invited to the wedding and were staying with me for the weekend. "Should I really crash her wedding?"

"Heck ya!" they both said, "Awesome."

With full support from those with an actual invite, I made Day 49's thing I've never done before crash a wedding.

I told my friend Katy what I was doing. She looked confused and said, "You go to weddings all the time. Why would you go to one that you weren't invited to?"

It's true. Like a lot of people in their twenties, I have made a second career out of weddings. I have become a professional wedding guest and bridesmaid, attending more than 60 weddings since college (at the request of a co-worker, I actually counted them) and have been a bridesmaid 12 times.

So Katy's inquiry was valid. Why, after finally having a weekend off, would you want to go to another wedding? This was going to be different, though. Dangerous. Well, not really, the bride told me to come. But still, having been to so many weddings that I was invited to, I'll know exactly what to do and how to act.

Carrie's wedding day arrived and it was beautiful. "A perfect day to crash a wedding!" I said to Mark and Jen.

In the days and weeks leading up to the wedding, I really wasn't nervous about pulling this off. But when we were getting ready, I started to get nervous. What if Carrie was just kidding about me crashing her wedding? What if she freaks when she sees me show up?

Mark and Jen assured me it was fine and it was going to be fun and a great opportunity for the blog. Plus, we all decided that a wedding ceremony is just like a church service. That's all it is. I'm just going to church, on a Saturday night. So what if there is a girl in a white dress standing up in front? No biggie. This was a big wedding/church service. There is a good chance Carrie and her husband won't even know I'm there.

The ceremony was lovely and I surveyed the crowd and saw several familiar faces from my hometown. I even saw a couple that was at my brother's wedding back in September. I was feeling good about just laying low, blending in and not revealing to anyone that I wasn't actually invited. A great plan, until the pastor invited everyone forward for communion, a practice that would require walking in front of the entire congregation and the bride and groom.

Sorry if it is sacrilege to say this about communion, but shit.

We filed out of our pew and began our approach to the altar and I felt like everyone's eyes were boring into the back of my head. "Who is this girl?!" I could hear them whispering. "She does NOT belong here!"

We made it to the altar and it wasn't long before I made eye contact with Carrie. Her eyes widened and a huge smile appeared on her face. I think she was genuinely surprised (or shocked or horrified) that I actually came. She nudged her fiance and whispered something into his ear. Not sure what, exactly, but in my head, I imagined it was something like, "Whit, please tell security that there is a wedding crasher who will be making her way to our reception soon. Have them ready to take her down."

But Whit smiled too, so maybe this was going to be ok. So much for laying low, though.

The wedding was a success and it was on to the second half of the evening, the reception at the beautiful Piedmont Driving Club on Piedmont Park. Shockingly, in the 60+ weddings I've been to, I hadn't ever been to a reception there.

I thought that after making eye contact with the bride and groom and receiving approving smiles that I would feel like I was home free, but as we're pulling up to the valet, I had another sick feeling. I shared it with the group.

"What if this reception is a sit-down dinner?"

I pictured us all walking in and Mark and Jen finding their place cards and ditching me with nowhere to sit. I told them that if that happened, I would walk to a friend's apartment, which was right down the street. But they were as much a part of this experience as I was, so they said if that was the case, we could share the two seats between the three of us. One person would just have to be up walking around at all times. That would likely garner strange reactions from the other people seated at their table, but it was a risk we were all willing to take.

We walked into reception, which was gorgeous, and I was relieved that there were no signs of seating cards or numbered tables. Safe again!

The reception was fantastic and I was ready to take advantage of all that it had to offer. Mark, Jen, our other friend Myles and I found a table and set up camp. From there we had access to the delicious food and the photo book (that's right, this reception had a photo booth).
We eventually moved closer to the dance floor to enjoy the band. We even got a bonus performance by the groom and his band. I felt safe on the dance floor and tried to stay huddled to my friends. I only left twice: one time to get wedding cake, and another time to talk someone.
She was the girl that was at my brother's wedding. She said, "So how do you know Carrie?"

This made me nervous, so I just started rambling, "Well, Carrie and I actually knew each other in high school. She went to Chapin, I went to Irmo. . ." and then I just decided to tell her, "but I actually wasn't invited," I went on. "She told me to come with Mark and Jen. They're staying at my house."

She smiled reluctantly and then I watched her quickly scan the room, presumably to figure out a way she could make her getaway. We'd already been talking for a while and she must've been worried that people might associate her with the wedding crasher.

Before we parted ways, she said, "Yeah, Matt and I were wondering what you were doing here."


I guess that's the tricky part about crashing a wedding where you actually know some of the guests. If there is any question as to your relationship to the bride or groom, chances are it's going to be brought up in conversation. I think I might've been better off just going to a complete stranger's wedding and not conversed with anyone.

I returned to Mark, Jen and Myles, who not only didn't mind being with the wedding crasher, I think they enjoyed it. And we rarely left the dance floor all night. In fact, it was the dance floor where I came face to face with the bride.

Carrie, like all brides, had been like a pinball bouncing from one group to the next, and while there were several invited guests who were waiting to talk to her, I couldn't miss my chance to tell her, "You look beautiful! Thanks for not calling security!"

She said she couldn't believe that I actually came, but she loved it. Or at least she said she did. She was so cool, I looked at the leftover crab claws and considered starting that food fight she had suggested. Knock out two of her ideas in one night. I figured it best to not push my luck, though.

Congratulations Carrie and Whit! You throw a great party. It couldn't have been more fun if I was actually invited.

Day 48: An Acquired Taste

Since I can remember, my dad's drink of choice has been Dewar's (scotch) and water. Apparently there was a time in his life when he liked PBR (his nickname was "PBR Charlie") but since I've known him he's always been a scotch man. Not just any scotch though. Dewar's.

My voice is on the deeper side for a woman, so when I am tired or coming down with a cold, I'm sometimes accused of being a seasoned scotch drinker. But the only scotch drinking that I have ever done has been purely accidental. It's a light enough liquor that when watered down, a scotch drink looks like water. And I've picked one up, more than once, taken a big sip thinking it was water.

Big mistake.

The handful of times I've done it, I've nearly spit the drink out, exclaiming, "Ugh, Dad, how do you drink this?"

But lately I've developed a curiosity about the beverage. There is something equally refined and bad-ass to me about a woman who drinks scotch. I think of scenes from movies or television shows where a woman storms up to a bar after a fight with her boyfriend and has the bartender pour her a scotch. Another woman heads home to her perfectly decorated house after a long day at work and pours herself a lowball of scotch from a crystal decanter. Do scenes like that happen in real life? I don't know, but there is a part of me that wants to be a scotch drinker, and not just sound like one.

So Day 48's thing I've never done before was to drink, and perhaps learn to enjoy, scotch.

The day started with much better intentions. I walked to the library, again, in search of a library card. And again, was denied because my public library doesn't open until noon on Fridays. Seriously, I wanted to know, why are they making this so hard for me?

I had friends coming in from out of town who know my dad pretty well, so they were on board to make the scotch challenge a success. They were more than on board, actually. In fact, Mark and Jen had a Dewar's and water waiting on me when I got to the restaurant where we were meeting.

"In honor of your dad," they said, and we all clinked glasses.

Sure. Only when I think of my dad I usually don't make the face I made when I took the first sip. Painful is the only word I can use to describe it.

My dad said scotch is an acquired taste. I think that means it tastes terrible and makes your taste buds burn, but if you make up your mind that you're going to drink it, eventually your body will have no other choice but to accept it.

I took another sip.

And, in between telling my friends the story of my trip to California and Boston, I took more sips. And pretty soon, scotch began to warm me up and relax me the way I believe it is supposed to. It still tasted pretty bad, so I took my sweet time finishing it.

We left the first restaurant and went to another venue, where I tried to order another Dewar's. The place didn't have it, though, so I was forced to try a different scotch. I can't remember the name of this scotch, but it was as unpleasant as Dewar's.

I finished two scotch drinks and never really enjoyed the taste of it. Maybe I've still got some acquiring to do. But I think I'll give it a few more tries before I give up on being a refined bad-ass woman.

Day 47: And Bingo Was Its Name, Oh!

A few days after I started the blog, my friend Dani sent me an email saying she had an idea for something I could do.

"Bingo," the email read, "I've done it three times. It's the best entertainment."

She went on to say that the average age of the participants is 80, but there is an opportunity to win money. Some winners take home between $50 and $75 per game and the final jackpot, depending on how many people show up, is between $700-$1000.

Entertainment, a blog entry, and the possibility of winning cash? Sign me up.

It took us several weeks to get it together, but Day 47's thing I've never done before was play Bingo with the Knights of Columbus.

Part of the reason why the evening took some effort for me is because Bingo starts at 7:30pm and I usually don't get off work until 9pm. So in order to go, I had to ask a generous colleague if he would switch schedules with me so that I could leave early. He agreed.

That's right, I rearranged my schedule on a Thursday night, not so I could go out on a hot date, or because I scored tickets to some great concert. No, I got out of work early and raced to the Knights of Columbus hall for Bingo night.

For those of you who don't know, and I didn't, the Knights of Columbus is a Catholic fraternal benefit society founded on the principles of charity, unity and fraternity. Which is a lot of words to say it's an adult fraternity for Catholic men.

I barrelled into the parking lot right at 7:30pm freaking because I was late and I was scared I was going to miss the first game or worse, that they wouldn't let me in at all. Bingo was already causing a lot of drama for me, which is sad and quite telling of my increasingly lame social life. Luckily when I arrived, my friends Lisa and Dani, along with some others well over the age of 60, were still in line purchasing their cards. I burst out laughing when I saw them, partly because I was nervous and relieved that I made it, and partly because my friend Lisa was standing there in her designer jeans and Ugg boots, sipping on a Bloody Mary clutching Bingo cards. We were really doing this.

Dani helped us pick out what supplies we would need to best execute Bingo night. That meant cards and a stamper. Gone were the days of my Bingo youth, where pennies or beans marked the squares. I quickly learned that this isn't your elementary school Bingo. This was serious Bingo and serious Bingo requires an ink stamper. Dani already had a stamper for herself and an extra one for Lisa, a fact that is worth delving into at another time. I bought a blue stamper for myself for $1.

We took our seats with all of our cards and I scanned the room to take it all in. The room reminded me of an old church fellowship hall or gymnasium. Everything seemed yellow, old, and I don't just mean the people. There was a light up Bingo board up at the front and a podium with a microphone. The rest of the room, which was pretty big, was full of cafeteria style tables and folding chairs. I'd like to tell you how many people were there, but I have no gauge on that (I once told someone that there were 500 people at a wedding that I attended and there were 200). It seemed like 60 people to me, so that means there could've been anywhere between 15 and 200 people there.

While I was perusing the competition, Dani starting pulling bags of snacks like Munchies and Lifesavers out of her purse. I gave her a look that said, "What the hell are you doing?"

She responded, smiling, "Look around, Steph. People bring snacks."

Sure enough, she was right. At all of the cafeteria tables were players, and their cards, and their snacks. We fit right in. What kind of strenuous Bingo was this, I wondered, that constant nourishment was necessary?

Besides the three of us and another young couple, there was one other guy that fell way below the average aged person. He looked like the guy that had a recurring role on Grey's Anatomy whose name escaped me until I just looked it up: Jeffrey Dean Morgan. He was cruising around in a t-shirt and warm up pants and it was obvious by the fact that he was moving chairs and assisting players, that he was a member of the fraternity. He likely wasn't expecting to to see three young, attractive girls show up at Bingo night, or he probably would have dressed up a little. He liked us and gave us a hard time pretty much all night, so we considered him our friend.

I asked Lisa about her Bloody Mary and she remarked that the hall had a full bar with cheap drinks. "Two dollar Bloody Marys, Steph," she said. "Where else in Atlanta can you get that?" I can't think of anywhere, Lisa, so drink up. But the accordion style doors separating the bar from the big room had already been shut, blocking it from view. There was no time for drinking. It was time to focus.

There's an all-call before the games begin, where the "caller" (not sure if that's what they are named, but the 100-year old guy that calls out the squares) chooses one square as a "free space" in addition to the already free space in the center. Ours was B-4. So I went ahead and stamped all of the B-4's on all of my cards. Not because I thought that was a good strategy or because I thought it would help me, I just saw Dani do it. Seeing as how she already owned two stampers and brought snacks, I figured she knew what she was doing.

The last time I played Bingo I remember only having one card and the way to win was to get five squares in a row, horizontal, vertical or diagonal.

Again, this is not your average Bingo. First of all, we had sheets with 16 cards on them, so it's a lesson in detail because there is a lot of squares to pay attention to. Knights of Columbus Bingo has several rounds and each round requires a different combination to win. One round you had to have two rows on the same card, one you had to get four squares in one of the corners, and one you had to black out the entire card. They even had "caller's choice" and he picked a round of nine squares to win.

The most stressful part of the evening came during the speed round, where the caller calls squares quickly, barely pausing before he announces the next one. Intense.

There is an intermission where they open up the bar and everyone grabs drinks and takes smoke breaks. We bellied up to the bar during intermission and grabbed a beer as well as the attention of several of the regular male players, who were quite impressed by us. I told Mountain Man about it later and he laughed saying, "You probably made their night."

I'd like to think so.

Following intermission, we went back to our table and started playing again. We were all stamping away, laughing and having a good time. And by "good time," I mean no 29-year old person should really enjoy Bingo quite like this. We weren't even winning! But I thought it was hilarious. There were points, at the peak of such enjoyment, that I thought it might be time to reevaluate my life.

I looked across to my friend Lisa and said, "This is awesome, we should do this every week!"

She glared at me and said, "Stephanie, do you want me to be single forever?"

I suppose making Thursday Bingo nights a weekly thing would put us on the fast track to dying alone in a house full of cats. Most of the people at Bingo night would old enough to be our grandparents.

But I don't care. It was fun. So let that be a warning to all of you Bingo regulars. Though maybe not every week, I will be back. And next time, I'm cleaning house.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Day 46: Two Girls and a Veteran

The plan for Wednesday, November 11th , was for me to join my public library. I walked to my neighborhood branch, but when I got there, I found a sign on the door: "The library is closed today for Veterans Day."

Not only was I disappointed that today's plan for me to get a library card was no longer possible, I was embarrassed that I absolutely no idea it was Veterans Day. No idea. November 11th has always been just San Francisco Elizabeth's birthday for me.

I walked back to my house trying to figure out how I was going to rectify both problems. How can I commemorate Veterans Day for the first time ever?

When I got home I logged on to Facebook, and no surprise, people had used their status updates as a vehicle to honor all of the nation's veterans. I followed suit, leaving messages and texting the veterans I knew, thanking them for their service to our country.

This all felt cheap and not good enough. Like sending an email forward instead of a personal email to tell someone that you love them. I consulted my friend Matt aka "Mo" at work. He is a veteran and I thought he might have an idea of how to celebrate veterans on their (his) day. "Can I take you out for a beer or something," I asked, "Is anyone having any Veterans Day drink specials?" He seemed apprehensive, which is not like him. He's a huge supporter of the blog and usually up for anything.

Most of the organized Veterans Day activities were not an option. It was already close to noon, so all of the parades were over. I searched the local newspaper and came up with nothing. Do people, besides those at banks, the post office and the library, not celebrate Veterans Day?

I was even more determined to not let the sun go down before finding some way to mark this holiday. Day 46's thing I've never done before was to spend Veterans Day with a veteran.

Mo had agreed to help me achieve this task. I made him promise that he would let me pay and that we would do whatever he wanted. So joined by our friend Katy, we went for drinks at the Nook in midtown Atlanta. Before we went, Mo headed home and brought us a photo album from his time in the Army. So while sharing drinks, we listened and looked to Mo tell us about his time in the Army.

Mo enlisted in the military when he was 17. He actually needed his dad's permission to join because he was too young to do it on his own. He left for basic training in July before ending up at Fort Leonardwood in Missouri. He was only supposed to be there for a couple of months, but ended up staying for six while waiting to get a security clearance. While waiting to move to his next base, Mo learned how to be a carpenter and a plumber. He wanted to get trained to be an electrician, but because not enough people had signed up for the class, he was denied twice. That means, I guess, that more people wanted to learn how to fix a toilet than make things spark? Fascinating.

Mo moved on to Fort Gordon, Georgia before going to Camp Carroll, Korea, where he was stationed for one year. I do not know much about my own dad's time in the military (other than the fact that nothing difficult my brother or I ever faced would ever be as tough as the time he served), but I do know that he was also stationed in Korea. So, as Mo was telling his story, I made a mental note to ask him about it the next time we were together (perhaps on our next date that I pay for).

At Camp Carroll, he explained that in addition to their daily on-the job duties, everyone in his squad's formation had an "outside" job duty. When the workday was over, everyone knew what to do. One person got hamburgers, one person brought music, one person brought beer. Everything, even the non-military stuff is organized. They were a team.

I could relate to a lot of Mo's stories, as they reminded me of my early college days--meeting and befriending people from all over the country, drinking for the first time and the antics that ensue as a result, for example (a six-pack of Schlitz tall boys cost a mere $1.80 in Korea, which aided them in their efforts, but still, a lot was the same). There were many, however, that I couldn't begin to relate to.

Perhaps the most poignant part of our conversation came when Mo told us about the military's Roll Call. Roll call is a tradition practiced after a soldier dies. While in formation, the squad leader calls the deceased person's name three times as a reminder of their absence. No response is made. Just silence. There had been a memorial for the victims of the Fort Hood shooting the day before and Mo said he had to get up from his desk and walk away when he heard their version of the Roll Call begin. I got chills.

We never discussed it, but I started to sense that the reason Mo may have seemed apprehensive to my wanting to use Veterans Day as a way to knock out another day on the blog is because this day for him is one that he remembers every year. Not because it's necessarily a festive one like July 4th, because as the case for so many veterans, sometimes their military service is not one that ends on their own terms. This day for him, and for all those who have served in the United States Armed Forces, is not about drink specials or a day off from work. It represents the sacrifices they have made or will make for our country.

This experience, this blog, for me, is about trying new things and doing things I've never done before. This November 11th opened my eyes to a whole other side of someone I thought I knew pretty well.

Mo is the wacky Florida Gator fan who has dressed up like Santa Claus for work and organizes putt-putt outings and betting pools. But as I learned over Coronas this Veterans Day night, the life he has already led and the stories he can tell stretch far beyond football tailgates and trips to Las Vegas.

Sorry, Elizabeth, November 11th isn't just about you anymore. Thanks to Mo, it will now be about him, my dad and all of the veterans I know and don't know. Thank you for your service, thank you for sacrifices.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Day 45: Adult-Sized Decisions

Coming back from vacation and reentering real life is never fun.

Coming back to work to reminders that it's "Time to elect your health care coverage for 2010" made it far worse.

There's nothing like those emails to remind you that you're not in Yosemite anymore.

Day 45's thing I've never done before wasn't really something that I wanted to do or chose to do, it was something that I had to get done before the end of the week: read my health insurance manual and make a responsible decision about my plan.

I have elected my health insurance before, when I first got a job. But I did so haphazardly, not really understanding what was covered and what wasn't. Going to the doctor is sort of like a game show. After the examination, I'd step up to the counter having no idea how much I'm going to owe them and then....the big reveal. "Congratulations, Stephanie, your co-pay is only $25!!!!"

Evident by the ongoing health care debate, being an uninformed citizen is no longer good enough, so I decided this time around, I was going to make an intelligent decision about it.

So I settled in on Tuesday night to read, in its entirety, the manual sent out my company's benefits department about health insurance.

The manual is full of insurance jargon that gave me a headache. HMOs, PPOs, FSAs. The booklet actually had a glossary to help explain all the terminology found within the pages. It's just too much. I wondered if those fighting for and against these different health care reform packages really know all of this stuff, or if they also have dictionaries that they refer to when the debate heats up.

According to the super duper research some outside company did, I've been to the doctor a total of five times over the last five years, meaning I could probably save some cash and select a minimal plan.

But then the hypochondriac in me started anticipating "what if" scenarios in my head. Maybe I'll forego the vision insurance and just pay for contacts out of pocket, I considered. But what if I develop a lazy eye and need surgery? In one evening, I anticipated needing physical therapy for two broken legs, an organ transplant and developing a rare skin disease that left me unable to work and virtually unrecognizable to everyone I know.

I consulted coworkers for advice, but health insurance isn't like picking out a sweater. It's definitely a personal thing. A lot of the people that I was talking to have families and wouldn't likely be needing the same kind of care as me.

Finally, after reading the manual and attending a class that walked me step by step through all the options (a class virtually useless to me because my boss and I spent most of it brainstorming ideas for the blog), I was ready to make my informed, well thought out health care selections. How so very adult of me.

Well, not exactly. I tried to go at it completely without my parents' input, but before I hit confirm on all of my selections, I simply couldn't help myself and I emailed my mom for her opinion.

"What do you think about Flexible Spending Accounts? Do you and dad have one of those?"

She emailed me back a few minutes later, "I'm not sure. I don't think I know what that is."

Neither do I, Mom. Neither do I. But I signed up for one in 2010!

Day 44: Date Night with Dad

The day after I returned from Boston, my dad happened to be in Atlanta for business. We had discussed, prior to his arrival, the possibility of us going to dinner when he was in town. My work schedule is a little out of the ordinary, though, and I work most days until 9pm, past my dad's dinner time.

"That's too late for me for me to eat," he said when I told him what time I get off work, "But maybe I'll come by and see you at work."

Too late? To see his daughter who lives out of town and who just returned from her 10-day vacation with some random dude? Really?

Meanwhile, my mom was back in South Carolina ready to gnaw her own arm off to hear about the trip. She would've met me at 2am in a dark alley in the worst neighborhood in Atlanta if it meant she would get to share a meal and hear this story from her undercommunicative daughter.

My dad was indifferent.

After what I can only assume was a stern discussion with my mother, my dad eventually came around and agreed to go out with me at 9pm. It's a good thing he did because I decided to make Day 44's thing I've never done before buy my dad dinner.

I know what you're thinking and you're right. Twenty-nine-years old and you've never bought your dad a meal? I scanned my adult life to try and remember a time when I may have done it and couldn't think of a thing. In fact, starting when I was in college, whenever my parents come visit me, not only have I never bought them dinner, I'd presuasively suggest we go to the nicest restuarants because I know that they would pay for it.


But this night, seeing as how he extended his dinner time and bed time for me, I would pick up the tab for our meal.

We ate at Figo, a Italian restaurant where you pay when you order and then the wait staff serves you at your table (not quite five course fine dining when it's on my dime). When we heard the total, my dad and I both reached for our wallets at the same time.

I looked him in the eye, smiled and said, "I got this, dad."

He looked surprised as he backed away from the counter and he laughed. I thought he might be weirded out a little bit, seeing as how it's been him my entire life reaching for his wallet when the bill comes, but he wasn't at all. My dad took to having dinner bought for him quite nicely. Especially, I think, because it was his spoiled daughter that was buying it.

I had just returned from Boston and was ready to talk about my trip, all of it, to anyone that would listen. So from the moment I picked him up from his hotel, I dove right in, begining wth how I decided to go on the trip, and then through each leg of our journey. He was probably thinking pretty early on that he deserved a lot more than dinner to suffer through this.

About mid-meal I had reached the part of the story when the fight with Mountain Man occurred. At that moment, and not before, I became increasingly aware that I was talking to my dad, so I had to approach this carefully. I wanted him to understand what happened, but the less detail, the better. I gave him more or less the blog version of what went down, and watched as a sympathetic look come over him.

His face was earnest and compassionate, like he could picture the scene and he could see his little girl upset in San Francisco with this dud(e) from the northeast.

And then I realized that this look wasn't for me. This look was for Mountain Man.

My dad wasn't thinking, "My poor, sweet daughter. How could anyone hurt her feelings so badly?" He was thinking, "Oh that poor guy."

Don't get me wrong, my dad is my biggest fan. He is very supportive of all of my shenanigans, even when he doesn't understand them, and sometimes I'll call him when I'm having a bad day just because he always laughs at all of my jokes. He remains the coolest guy I know. But when it comes to tears, emotional, freak out stuff, he prefers to keep his distance.

So with that look in his eyes it was as if he was saying to Mountain Man, "I know, dude. I've been there. It sucks. Glad you made it the whole week."

Yes, my trip story and all it's drama was probably a better story for my mom. But my dad hung in there and was a great listener. And he got a free meal out of it, so we were both winners.

He even called me the next day to thank me for dinner and to tell me he was headed back to South Carolina. And just like that, it seemed my dad was once again, the man in my life.

I guess it could be worse. I just hope he doesn't think I'm always paying.

Day 43: A Green Monstah Goodbye

One day left of the Team Whatever tour, and I'm sure if you asked Mountain Man he'd tell you we saved the best for last because Sunday we went to the one place in Boston that he probably knows more about than Lindsay: Fenway Park.

The last day of vacation, Day 43, was full of more things I've never done before: tour the home of the Boston Red Sox to see the Green Monster and eat New England Clam Chowder in New England.

Part of the reason why Sunday's activities were so much fun for me is because it gave me an opportunity to try out my best Boston accent on words like "chowdah" and "monstah." Sometimes I'd throw a "wicked pissa" and "pahk the cah on Havahd Yad" out just for good measure, but those two phrases were difficult to work into normal conversation. I love a Boston accent, but my version needs a lot of work.

Though not a huge baseball fan myself, I've watched enough Sportscenter and read enough Facebook statuses during playoff time to understand that those who love baseball are serious about it. I had to see what all the fuss was about.

Fenway Park offers tours seven days a week, every hour on the hour. We assumed that on a Sunday afternoon in November we might be some of the few that would take this tour, but there were dozens of people there.

The tour guide led us in and around the park for an hour and she was a wealth of information like Lindsay was the day before. Mountain Man has been going to Red Sox games since he was a little kid, but all he could show me were all the different parts of the park he's sat in and where he was when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004. I confess, I don't remember much of what he or the tour guide had to say.

But there were a few highlights. Fenway, for example, is the oldest Major League Baseball stadium still in use. The wooden seats in the grandstand have been there since the stadium was built in 1912. In right field there is a lone red seat in the bleachers that signifies the longest home run ever hit in Fenway by Ted Williams. The home run measured 502 feet (I didn't remember that, I had to look it up).

The Green Monster is a 37-foot high green wall in left field. The wall is famous for preventing homeruns that might clear the wall in other ballparks. That's all nice and cool and interesting, and the seats over there are where I would want to sit if I went to a game (for the bargain price of $160 a seat, face value). But I couldn't wait to get over there just so I could say "monstah."

The tour took us through the entire park, and behind the scenes to some areas that on a game day we would never have access to. But I still think the best way to see Fenway is to go to a baseball game there, eat hotdogs, drink beers and sing "Sweet Caroline" in the eighth inning. So I'm adding it to the list of things still left to do.

When the tour was over, we said goodbye to Lindsay and Tarek and took them back to Cambridge. Then Mountain Man and I went to the Boston Sail Loft on the Boston Hahbah for our last suppah (sorry, I'll stop). Not quite ready to leave Massachusetts, I ordered a Cape Cod and a cup of the best clam chowder I've ever had. According to Mountain Man's dad, the not-so-secret ingredient in their chowder is dill. The restaurant had a great view and we watched sailors taking advantage of the unseasonably warm temperatures on their boats in the water. We also recapped the entire week, and congratulated each other on having made our crazy idea a reality. Not drama-free, but overall a huge success.

Mountain Man took me to the airport and we said farewell. Our goodbye was weird, and sad. We were both painfully aware that our vacation was over, and it was time to go back to work. Sad. Plus, this wasn't a "see you next time" or "see you at Christmas" kind of goodbye. This was an "I had so much fun. And I'm not sure if or when we'll see each other again" goodbye. Really sad. But perhaps I was most sad because I had the Soul II Soul song "Back to Life, Back to Reality" playing like a soundtrack in my head.

So what about Mountain Man? I know you're all dying to know. All three of you.

Mountain Man has returned to his reality in the mountains, and I have returned to mine in the city. It's been one month since the trip ended, but some days I feel like it happened in another lifetime, and that Mountain Man lives on another planet and not just in another state. After a lot thought and some tears (I know, enough with the crying already), here is all I can tell you:

So far, we haven't quite figured out how to translate our super fun and crazy impulsive trip into anything more than just that. We're still friends, and I know that we care about each other very much. But as my dad has always said, "When it comes to relationships, timing is everything." Timing is everything. But in our case, so is geography. And initiative. And faith.

The first time Mountain Man and I ever met was for a very brief time in Philadelphia. He jokingly said to me after that meeting, "Well, Steph, we'll always have Philadelphia."

Indeed, we will. And now, we'll always have Yosemite, San Francisco (minus the five hours in the Haight), and Boston too. An amazing trip that I won't soon forget.

And maybe that's all it will ever be. And maybe not. I suppose it'll be ok either way.