Friday, April 30, 2010

Day 177: Mutual Admiration Society

For most of my high school and college years, I gave a lot of guys (well maybe not a lot, but some) the proverbial "Heisman," arm when I felt there could be feelings developing, hoping that if I kept them at a safe distance and our relationship on the surface, things would never get messy or complicated, or worse, ever come to an end.

If I never let anyone really into my heart or into my life, I thought, then such an ending would never come. We could live happily ever after. As friends.

There may be a list of complex issues here like fear of intimacy or commitment, but I hid behind all of that saying to any eligible suitor, "I don't want to take this to the next level, because I don't want to ruin our friendship."

That is, until I met Mark.

I don't know what about him was different, but after we met and went out on a few dates, I decided to take a chance, allow myself to deeply care for someone else, and together we built a life together.

And it was a fun-filled, hilarious life that we enjoyed for four and a half years that carried us through an assortment of different jobs and moved us to two different cities. We were out of college and therefore considered adults to society, but really we were babies navigating the real world for the first time together.

As we grew up, and started sorting out who we really were, it became painfully obvious that there were fundamental differences between us keeping us at odds often. After months of anxiety and fighting the same fight over and over again, we ended things on Memorial Day of 2007.

For me, the end of our relationship felt like a divorce. We never lived together, but after four and a half years there was still the separation of belongings and friends, followed by countless sleepless nights and several accidental and consequently tearful run-ins. The break up was mature, and void of drama, but it was brutal.

As we tried to sort through our new singlehood, I tried hard not to blur the lines of our now different relationship, always avoiding opportunities to hang out, certain that in a moment of weakness, I could and would return to the comfort of him and the easy parts of our relationship. And I feared that regardless of how good it felt to be back in the ease of his company, we'd likely end up at the same place again.

I knew for us to be together would likely mean that one of us would have to change. And there really isn't a need for that, because I believed then, and I still believe now, that we're both pretty awesome just the way we are.

When I started this blog, Mark, in his hilarious, sweet way, no surprise, emailed me to wish me good luck and remind me that 18-holes of golf with an ex-boyfriend is definitely something I've never done before and would make for "excellent blog fodder."

I couldn't disagree with any of that, and part of me thought it might be fun to go. I asked my friend Kyle what she thought.

"No. Don't go," she said, without even pausing to think about it for a minute.

"Really?" I asked. I had a feeling that's what she'd say, because she, like all of my friends, were sad when our relationship ended, but agreed that hanging out opens up the opportunity for confusing things.

"I don't want you to write about Mark in the blog," she said, almost desperate. But I could hear in her voice her concern wasn't for me. It was for him.

"What? Why?" I asked.

Apparently she assumed that if I went on this outing with him, that what would follow would be scathing, potentially embarrassing commentary about Mark. But anyone that knows Mark and knows me should know that would be impossible. What could I possibly say?

We never did go golfing, but recently Mark contacted me, asking me to go to lunch. He wanted to show me his portfolio from The Creative Circus, an advertising school he just graduated from, and, he said, "I wanted to know if you'd link to my web site from your blog."

Say wha?

I mean, of course I will link to his website,, though I'm concerned he may have a distorted view of this blog's true reach. I mean, I'm not Oprah. I can't just casually mention, "Please check out Mark Pantsari's website," and people will just flock there in high numbers.

But just for fun, let's test it out.

Day 177's thing I've never done before was to go to lunch with my ex-boyfriend at Daddy D'z barbecue.

I had never been to Daddy D'z barbecue, a dirty (and I mean that in every good way possible) little joint near downtown Atlanta. The place completely lived up to the hype. I got pulled pork, macaroni and cheese and collard greens. The food is ridiculously good and contrary to Mark telling me that I wouldn't, I smelled like a smoker for the rest of the day.

But let's get serious, this is not about the barbecue, or about eating at a place I'd never been to (though that's what the pictures will show). This was about Mark and me, one-on-one for the first time in almost three years.

I have to be honest, I wasn't really nervous about going to lunch with him until I told other people that I was doing it. My friend Lauren, who doesn't even know Mark, was nervous for me and wished me good luck numerous times before I left.

I arrived ten minutes late, apparently wanting to prove to Mark that I'm still the same girl that I was when we dated.

He instructed me on what to order, as he's a Daddy D'z regular and then we dove into the food and into what we'd been up to for the last three years. This "catching up" felt a little awkward, since he already knew what I've been up to because he reads it on the blog and I knew what he'd been up to because we share numerous mutual friends. And it's not like we haven't talked at all in three years.

He showed me his portfolio from advertising school, a school that I believe is made for people with Mark's ridiculously dry wit and juvenile, sometimes inappropriate, make you want to piss yourself sense of humor. I am highly impressed of the campaigns he's come up with and nervous about the daunting job market that he's facing. (If you are looking for a copy-writer, please consider for all of your advertising needs).

He told me he'd move anywhere if the job was right, but that he really wants to move to Austin, Texas. I told I'm in complete support of that decision because Austin is a super cool town and I think he'd fit right in. I didn't tell him that I think it would be weird if he moved away. And then I remembered it doesn't really matter what I think.

I hate to disappoint everyone, but there was no drama. We laughed, we joked around and then we parted ways with a hug. I left feeling proud of the people we became while we were together and who we've become since we broke up. I felt most proud that he is the person I have to measure all of my other relationships against.

I don't know that I have any hard and fast rules on friendship after a break-up, so I don't know that I can tie this one up and say Mark and I have paved a new road of friendship and we are supportive of each other in every way.

Like any good friend, I will promote him and his hilariousness and his copy-writing skills all day long (seriously if you haven't gone to then there is something wrong with you). And I wish for him a very big life full of success and love. I want him to be happy. Isn't that what friends want for each other?

Yes, but I also want all of those things for myself. And I want them first. See, now that's the ex-girlfriend talking.

Maybe there is far too much emotion between Mark and me to ever make a true, honest friendship work. I mean, I wrote this entry easily, but when I read it aloud to my friend Maribeth, I cried. And then she cried. Twice.

Mark is an avid music fan and over the course of our relationship, he introduced me to many bands. One of my favorite albums that came out when we were together was a collaboration between bluegrass band Nickel Creek and Toad the Wet Sprocket's Glen Phillips called "Mutual Admiration Society."

I couldn't help but think, when we were sitting across from each other at lunch, that maybe we can't ever be best friends, but that Mark and I had grown into our own Mutual Admiration Society. In admiration of each other, and of the time we spent together. And yes, I suppose, of the delicious barbecue we were eating as well.

I told him I would and I already have, but I will pimp his website one more time, check it:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Day 176: Ten Freaking Crumbled Dollars

Since I made my first eBay purchase of those 1980s tight ski pants for my trip to Lake Tahoe, several people said that the only way I'd ever get the full eBay experience would be to also sell something.

So, Day 176's thing I've never done before was to sell something on eBay.

Actually, if we're getting technical about things, I actually sold the item on Day 183 or 184, but it was Day 176 that the sale began.

Deciding what to sell on eBay was both sad and difficult, because looking through my house I realized I have very little that I'm willing to give up that anyone else would be interested in having, much less paying for. I hold onto electronics until they break and clothes until they fall off my body. My apartment is decorated with mementos from my life, but likely wouldn't have value to anyone else.

After digging under my bed and through closets, I found a Patagonia fleece that I received as a Christmas present several years prior that was too big for me. This was a good option, because Patagonia fleeces usually sell for over $100 in stores, so even an older, used one would definitely be worth something. Plus I didn't really wear the fleece much so it'd be easy to get rid of. I find it obnoxious to throw around name brands, but I feel the need to reiterate that this was a PATAGONIA fleece that I was selling. Not some cheap knock-off, this was Patagonia. I'm doing so only to make a point that will (hopefully) make sense later.

I called on my friend Emily, who is a seasoned eBay shopper and seller, for help with this challenge.

She asked me what I was going to sell. I told her that after an hour of rummaging through my things, I'd decided to put an oversized Patagonia fleece on the auction block.

Emily said that sounded good, but she also advised that it's usually best to sell clothing items when they're in season. Selling a fleece in March was probably not the wisest idea, she warned. I understood her advice, and it made excellent sense, but it was all I had. Perhaps some woman going on an Alaskan cruise would find my fleece and we'd make a deal.

I thanked Emily for the advice, but told her my mind was made up to sell the fleece. I was comfortable with whatever outcome. If I sell it for any amount of money, I'd consider it a success because it's been hanging in my closet untouched for at least a year. If it doesn't sell, I thought, I'll write about how much I suck at eBay and try to sell the fleece in the fall.

Emily told me to take several pictures of the fleece, showing any damage whatsoever.

"You want full disclosure here," she said.

I snapped several pictures of the fleece, including one of the tag showing the name brand (apparently that's important in eBay world) and another of the size.

I uploaded them to my computer, and Emily helped me get started filling out a profile for the jacket that potential buyers could view.

She said more descriptive words would help people find the fleece, regardless of what they typed into eBay's search engine. This meant a lot of redundancy. My profile's name was, "Women's Ladies Grey Gray Patagonia Fleece Jacket‏," for example. I uploaded a couple of pictures (which costs money, surprisingly), and set up a PayPal account so when the item sold, I could get paid.

We decided to start the bidding at $9.99, which is fairly standard, Emily told me.

During the seven days the fleece was up for auction, I checked in a few times to see that only three people "watched" my fleece and only one person had bid on it. I was disappointed to discover that Emily was right. I probably would've done better selling the fleece in the spring time. Or maybe this fleece is not as cool as I thought.

When one week had passed and the auction ended, the lucky winner purchased my Patagonia fleece for the bargain price of $9.99, plus shipping. The seller paid promptly, which Emily said had to happen before I shipped the fleece to her.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't bummed that my fleece sold for less than $10, but so far the sell had gone down flawlessly, so I tried to think positively. It's ten dollars I didn't have before and I'm able to get rid of something taking up room in my closet.

The morning the fleece and I parted ways, I washed and dried it, folded it nicely and shipped her to New Mexico to be with its new owner, Connie.

I wondered what adventures the fleece would go on out there and I'd hoped Connie would show it a better time than I had. In the four years I owned it, I'd only taken it to the gym and a handful of Widespread Panic concerts.

I slipped the clean, neat fleece into a shipping box and said good-bye, feeling nostalgic about all of the fun times we had together, but confident that this separation was for the best.

A few days later, I received an email in my eBay inbox, which apparently I now have since I'm an eBay buyer AND sender.

The email read: I am disappointed in item, it arrived dirty and crumbled, I’d really like to return it. How can we settle this? Connie

I was stunned. Shocked. Hurt.

I was also nervous that Connie would report me to the eBay higher-ups and I could be banned from selling anything on the site ever again. I emailed Emily for help, certain that she'd know what to do in this situation. Only it was late, Emily probably wouldn't get my email until the morning and I needed to act fast. Any time wasted could mean Connie reported me and my perfect "rating" on eBay would be tarnished forever.

Shortly after the initial shock and hurt of her response, I got pissed. Like abnormally pissed about a fleece I didn't care about.

I sort of felt like the parent of a child who was chosen last in gym class, or got stood up for the prom.

"How dare you not like my fleece, Connie?"

A million things flooded my thoughts including:

"Ten dollars? For a Patagonia fleece? And you're going to bitch and moan, Connie? Really?"

"Crumbled? The f-ing fleece traveled more than 1000 miles to get to you in a box more suited for a Barbie. Perhaps it "crumbled" during shipment, you dumbass."

"Ten dollars? It's Pat-a-gon-ia. Connie, Get. Serious."

I instantly typed an email response that included a lot of passive aggressive language and a sentence that said something to the effect of, "I would be remiss not to remind you that you did purchase a Patagonia fleece for $10, so perhaps you might be happy with that." I reread before pressing "send" and changed it to:


I promise the fleece is not dirty, as I literally took it from the laundry to the post office to mail to you. As far as it being "crumbled," is it possible it was wrinkled during shipment?

Regardless, I don't want you to be unhappy with the item or pay for something you don't want, so I'll gladly take it back. I've never dealt with returns on eBay, so if you'll tell me how to proceed, I will do so.


I'm. Such. A. Pushover.

Perhaps it was my email, or perhaps Connie came to her senses and realized that getting a Patagonia fleece for ten dollars actually is a good deal, but I never heard back from her after that.

I check my eBay account weekly, however, just to make sure she hasn’t reported me or posted any nasty comments about me, crumbled fleece girl.

I'd bet money that the crumbled Patagonia grey/gray fleece shows up during the fall on eBay, and if it does, I may buy it back, just because I'd prefer it living with me then that ungrateful bitch Connie.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Day 175: Finding My Own North Star

Since I can remember, when I've wanted something, I've gone after it. Sometimes I've been successful, other times I haven't, but I've always been able to identify what i wanted, and put an action plan in place to go after it. In high school, I was working to get to college. In college, I was working for a degree and a good job.

Now that I've landed the good job, I've reached this point of, "Ok, so what now?"

I have a feeling that's partly why I started this blog. To give myself a goal to work towards.

But Project 29 to 30 aside, lately I've been sort of going through the motions of my life. Unsure of what I want, therefore unsure of what to do about it. Do I move? Do I stay? Is the job that I'm doing what I should be doing? Or would something else suit me better?

My mom always tells me, "When you're not sure what to do, don't do anything."

I understand her advice, and her fear that in a moment of uncertainty I could make a hasty decision that I'd later regret. But following this advice and doing nothing has left me sort of drifting without any true direction.

Right now, my only goals are trying new things, being happy, and having fun.

Don't get me wrong, I think those three are all good goals to have for life. But contrary to popular belief, and much to my dismay, I'm not the free-spirit that can exist comfortably with these goals alone.

I need something to work towards, and I'd like to find what it is that I'm meant to do for forever.
I shared my desire, and lack of direction, with an old friend at Ashley's baby shower on Day 167 . She smiled and said, ''I know exactly how you feel.''

Then she recommended a book called Finding Your Own North Star, by Martha Beck. She said it was an easy read and could definitely help me start making the right moves to getting to where I want to go.

So I bought it and on Day 175, the thing I've never done before was to read a self-help book.

The book starts off pretty standard. Beck tells stories about real-life characters who were also going through the motions of life. Not unhappy people, necessarily, just uninspired ones who seem unsure of what their purpose is.

I liked reading their stories and I could certainly relate to how they feel. I'm not unhappy, either. Far from it. I just often wonder if I'd be happier somewhere else, doing something else. Is that the dreaded "grass is always greener" syndrome, or do I just need some more direction?

I read on, hopeful that Martha Beck would make things crystal clear for me.

I thought I'd be able to see where she was headed, but soon into the book, Beck starts asking me a lot of personal questions about the things that make me happy, the things that cause me embarrassment and the people who make me feel uncomfortable. The book went from straight text to worksheets I had to fill out.

Worksheets? Come on, Beck! Truthfully, I don't have time to fill out worksheets, or time to devote to thinking about the last time I was embarrassed or people that make me feel badly about myself. I have a life to lead! New things to try! A blog to write!

I was more hoping for an approach of, "Just read this, follow its instructions and your life will instantly improve."

On the other hand, the questions she poses are quite thought-provoking and the point that she's ulitmately trying to make (I think, I still haven't finished the book), is that we do a lot of things in our lives because we feel like we have to, not because we want to and not because we should. Identifying, and eliminating those situations is vital to becoming more of our true self.

Beck also asks readers to "Think about the last time you did something for hours and hours without noticing and then looked up and realized you'd completely lost track of time."

Losing track of time isn't something I have the luxury of doing very often, but I smiled thinking about the times, especially lately, when I've done it: talking on the phone with a new guy (I know, this is 13-year old behavior but I love it), traveling (I've enjoyed getting lost in cities all over the world), and, believe it or not, writing.

How might I combine all of these things that make me lose track of time into my own North Star? A travel writer/phone sex operator? I highly doubt that's where Beck is headed in her message, but wouldn't that be awesome?

Doing something new everyday and writing about it is a lot of work. It's like a second job (I'm currently in Panama, for example, writing from vacation). But I have truly enjoyed it and know that I will see it through until the end proud of completing the challenge I set for myself. Perhaps it's stupid, but I like writing about my life and I love even more feeling that I've connected with the people who are reading. Or maybe I just like to know that people are reading (see Psycho Analysis, Day 120).

So maybe Project 29 to 30 is my North Star, and I just didn't realize it until now?

Regardless, I think Beck is on to something with finding something that you love and making it your career, while eliminating the negative people and experiences in your life.

Here's to finding your North Star!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Day 174: Sisters in the Highlands

My brother Jeff and his wife Katie came to Atlanta for an engagement party on Saturday night. So, we had the entire day to hang out together. A whole day of blog possibilities.

I begged Jeff to let me set up a Facebook account for him as the thing I'd never done before, but despite understanding the obvious networking possibilities Facebook provides, he can't bring himself to join. So I'd have to find something else to do.

Unfortunately, what I quickly learned is that one of the problems with having loved ones in town in town on a beautiful day when there is basketball on television is that all I wanted to do was stuff I'd already done before, like daytime drinking and watching sports.

Plus, hanging out with my brother married was something that I'd already done before on Day 62. But this is the first time Jeff and Katie had been to Atlanta to hang out since getting married. So Day 174 was a day of a few firsts, none of them particularly significant.

We headed to Virginia-Highland to grab some lunch and stopped by the neighborhood's farmer's market, something I'd never done before. Maybe, I thought, Jeff and Katie could find something for their house. I love farmer's markets and I love Virginia-Highland, so how could we go wrong?

Maybe we hit this farmer's market on the wrong day, or at the wrong time of day, because I found it all to be a little sad, a little lame. Instead of eclectic, creative crafts for sale, it felt like a bunch of random people gathered up miscellaneous crap from around their houses, displayed said crap on a card table, fully expecting innocent shoppers to buy it right up.

I would've been offended, had I not also tried this technique when I was six-years old. After several successful lemonade stands, I decided to up the ante and just start selling my personal belongings from my parents' driveway. My dreams of becoming an entrepreneur were shattered when some neighborhood kid picked up one of my used coloring books for sale and said, "No one is going to buy this!"

I wouldn't have ever shattered anyone's dreams like that guy did to me, but I did make a mental note that the farmer's market in Virginia-Highland is not all it's cracked up to be.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking to several places around the Highlands and enjoying the afternoon.

I love hanging out with my brother and Katie, and I enjoyed introducing them to some of my friends in Atlanta that they'd never met.

Despite having only known her for three years, I really think of Katie as the sister that I never had. In fact, at their rehearsal dinner I joked she's the sister that I never knew I wanted. She fits so easily into our family, I can't remember her not being around. We joke around and have a relationship that feels much longer than the time we've spent together.

When we got back to my house to get ready for the party, it was fun having someone to get ready with. We helped each other pick out clothes and I even attempted to play hairdresser, taking a curling iron to Katie's hair. An attempt that was less than stellar, but my heart was in the right place.

Katie jokingly asked me, "Stephie, is the thing you've never done before to do your sissy's hair?"

Indeed it is.
Not necessarily life changing, but still new to me.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Day 173: Green Thumb

Spring finally arrived in Atlanta on Day 173.

Lucky for me, I worked early on Friday and was therefore able to leave early to enjoy the beautiful day and get ready for my brother and sister-in-law who were coming to town.

The warm weather made me want to do something "springy."

Day 173's thing I've never done before was to garden.

Maybe "garden" is a stretch. Actually it's a huge stretch. Because I don't have a yard, I had no place to actually garden. So let's make that Day 173's thing I've never done before was to pot a plant.

Going into Lowe's was a little bit intimidating, since I do not come from a line of seasoned gardeners.

After years of trying to plant something, anything with no success, my parents eventually gave up on ever having a good-looking yard at the house I grew up in. My mom spent a great deal of time and money trying to make it happen before finally convincing herself that something was wrong with the dirt. I believed her, until the next owners of that house went on to win the neighborhood's "Yard of the Month" award several times. What a slap in the face.

The staff at Lowe's seemed determined to help me succeed at this task. Every person I came into contact with was super friendly and helpful.

I wondered if there might be a lot of fertilizer and special ingredients needed to make this happen, but the sales guy said it was simple as he pointed to tell me what I needed to buy, "Pots, rocks, dirt."

Then he pointed towards an array of flowers and said that they were all annuals and best suited for this project.

I shot him a look of confusion.

"Annuals . . .meaning that they'll come back every year."

I like the idea that this plant will yield flowers for many years to come, but I think this guy may have given me far too much credit. If the plant lasts until the end of the summer, I'll consider it a success.

So I walked to aisles to pick my flowers, proving once again that one of my worst character flaws is indecisiveness. I paced up and down for half an hour, as if this decision could make or break me.

When I got back to my house, I removed the pot and dirt and flowers and contemplated where I could execute the plan. I pay rent on time, but the yard in front of the house where I live, even after five years, still doesn't feel like mine, so I actually asked my landlord where he thought I should pot the plant.

He looked at me like I was an idiot.

"Why don't you just do it right there on the grass?" he asked me.

So I did.

I filled the bottom of the pot with rocks (this apparently keeps the soil from washing out of the bottom when the plant gets watered) and then dumped the dirt, and then planted the flowers that I chose.

The result was a beautiful springtime present that I gave to Jeff and Katie when they arrived at my house later that night. They seemed pleased, but also mildly confused by the gift.

Perhaps because giving a plant is somewhat a reverse gift. I do a little bit of work on the front end and then pass the responsibility on to the gift recipient. Not quite as bad as a pet (though if I have nieces and nephews, I'm totally giving them pets as gifts), but now it's up to them to keep the annuals alive.

I visited my brother and sister-in-law a week after giving them their plant and it seemed to be doing well. Due to the Gallman's luck with plants, hopefully Katie is tending to it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Day 172: March MADness!

My friend Mo loves to win. He loves it.

Lucky for him, he wins a lot. I joke that he may be the luckiest person that I know because he's always winning raffles, contests, friendly competitions. He is a die-hard Florida Gators fan (I know, I can't believe we're friends either), so he's used to winning.

He has even turned getting tagged in Project 29 to 30 into a competition at work, a competition that he is now winning among our colleagues.

Mo also loves to bet. On everything.

When our colleague was having a baby, Mo started the baby pool on when the baby would come and rather or not it would be a boy or a girl.

I was not surprised when one of his suggestions for the blog was for me place a bet in one of his off-shore betting accounts. Quite frankly, I have no idea what that means and there is a good chance "off-shore" means "illegal," but since I was going through his account, he assured me he'd take the fall if anything happened.

Day 172 was the first day of the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament, it felt like the right time to place this bet as the thing I've never done before.

Since I had no dogs in the fight, I truly didn't care who was playing. I didn't even know who was playing, to be perfectly honest.

Mo told me to do research, and not just pick the team with the best name (Gonzaga). He knows me too well.

"Research" for me meant asking the men in my life.

So I started with Justin, who printed an empty bracket so I could see who was actually playing. He also printed a copy of President Obama's bracket, just in case I wanted to seek the advice of the leader of the free world.

I had to look twice when I saw "Wofford" on the bracket.

Wofford is a small school in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Several of my brother's best friends went to school there. This year would mark their first ever appearance at the tournament and their chances of winning a game were slim, much less going all the way.

Still, wanting to pull for my home state, I considered Wofford.

I even emailed my brother's best friend Trey, who graduated from there.

"Do you think it would be a mistake to bet on Wofford to win it all."

Trey's response was simple.

"Um, yes."

My dad, seemingly unaware that I was kidding, was not as amused.

"Should I bet on Wofford going all the way?!"

His response, "No."

Dad and I continued our conversation and I told him that I was placing my first real-deal bet for the blog. I asked him who he thought was going to win.

He was as conflicted as I was.

"I really don’t know who I would bet on. Ohio State is a 2 seed but don’t know if they can run the table. I hate Duke and Kentucky so they are out," his email read.

A lot of that, "seed" and "run the table" was foreign to me, so I honed in on the last thing he said.
"Why do you hate Duke and Kentucky," I asked him.

His response simple, honest, and hilarious, "Probably because they have obnoxious fans. They are like that because they win too much."

Just like many South Carolina fans who have been tarnished with years of disappointment, my dad hates teams that win.

My brother Jeff wasn't much help either. He also advised against Wofford, though he thought the suggestion was humorous.

I wasn't getting a lot of direction from the men who know this stuff the best. There wasn't one clear favorite. Well, actually there was, Kansas, but that was just according to all of the sports guys and what do they know anyway. Kansas didn't even get out of the second round.

I read articles, I looked at statistics, I looked at the team's fans and their cheerleaders.

When I made my decision, I emailed Mo.

"Kentucky. I think. I keep going back and forth between them and Syracuse. This feels right-Kentucky's cheerleaders are better and hotter."

Mo emailed me back, "Are you sure? How much do you want to bet?"

"Sure? No, I'm definitely not sure."

I wasn't sure about any of it. Which team? How much money? Do people do this regularly? I was getting an ulcer.

Finally, after a few more exchanges with Mo and some more agonizing on my own, at 10:25am on Thursday, I made my final pick.

"50 on Kentucky. Done."

I sent an email to some friends, including Stephen, who graduated from Kentucky. I let them all know that my decision had been made, and I was voting on his Wildcats to go all the way. I also told them that naturally, if they didn't, then it would be all his fault.

Kentucky breezed through the first three rounds.

In the quarterfinals, the Great 8, I believe it is called, Kentucky faced West Virginia, the team that Mo had picked to go all the way.

I wasn't with Mo, I was in Charleston with my family watching the game.

My dad, in a last minute decision, picked West Virginia in his bracket so we found ourselves rooting against each other. We cheer against each other every fall when Georgia plays South Carolina, but this time there was more than bragging rights at stake here. I had money on the line.

The game was close for a while, but West Virginia slowly began pulling away right before the half, nailing 3-pointer after 3-pointer. Kentucky couldn't stop them, and they couldn't get it together.

I became irate.

So I did what any sore loser would do: I chastised my dad for rooting for such a low-life team like the Mountaineers.

"They're all a bunch of thugs!" I shouted at him. "I can't believe you'd root against the SEC! It's like I don't even know you!"

For the record, there seemed to me an equal amount of thugness coming from my team's bench too, but the fact that West Virginia's coach didn't wear a suit to the game really rubbed me the wrong way and was just another reason for me to hate them.

I've mentioned many times that I'm not a super-competitive person. That is, apparently, until there is money on the line. I was so upset that I was going to lose my first bet I could've made Day 182's thing I've never done before, "Gave a shit about Kentucky basketball."

I lost $50, which isn't a huge deal in the scheme of things (easy for me to say, since I haven't actually paid Mo the money I owe him). But I also lost my ability to control my emotions over two teams I don't care about, so I think I'm going to leave the betting alone for now.

I know a lot of people who place bets to make otherwise uneventful sporting events exciting for them to watch. I have no trouble finding enough things to work myself up about. I don't need this kind of excitement (read: anxiety) in my life. Plus, I don't have the disposable income to lose all of the time, and I'm not lucky like Mo. I'd go broke.

Duke went on to win the NCAA tournament, beating Butler at the last second.

But Kentucky's cheerleaders are still better. And hotter.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Day 171: Black Velvets

Day 171 was St. Patrick's Day (I know, admitting that gives me anxiety. I'm behind, but I'm trying.) and I came into work feeling like a million bucks, having slept a full 12 hours the night before. Thanks Ambien!

My alertness was in sharp contrast to others in my life who celebrated St. Patrick's Day on Tuesday.

The first was my mother, who during her Ambien-email tirade revealed to me that she had - in her words- "gotten a little silly," with her girlfriends drinking sour apple martinis at Bunco the night before. Interesting that she was so free with this information, I thought, because she is constantly telling me how much she hates it when I talk about drinking in the blog, which according to her, is a lot.

My drinking habits are no different from most people that I know, I've told her. The only difference is that I'm writing about it.

Still, at my mom's request, I'm marking this entry and everyone that follows with the the tag, "Drinks," so she (and you) can track all of the times I talk about drinking. Mom, consider this your warning, I'm about to talk about a new cocktail I tried on St. Patrick's Day.

Elizabeth was the second person who celebrated St. Patrick's Day a day early. I asked her how her day was going and she told me she wasn't feeling well.

"What's wrong," I said.

"Too many black velvets," she replied.

"Black velvets?" I asked.

A black velvet is a cocktail that she and Cynthia drank at their cooking club the night before. The drink is simple: Guinness and Champagne mixed together.

"Yikes," I said, "That sounds disgusting."

"Suprisingly, it's not," she told me "The bubbly really cuts the heaviness of the beer."

Who gives a shit, I thought? I drank a Guinness on Day 124 and the beer's heaviness is not worth mixing it with champagne to make a new drink that I can only imagine tastes completely dreadful. But still, I considered, if she has a headache, she may have enjoyed more than one. So maybe I should give them a try.

Day 171's thing I've never done before was to drink a black velvet.

Maribeth and I had already made plans to celebrate St. Patrick's Day at one of the best bars in the Atlanta area, the Brick Store Pub in Decatur. I am not Irish, though my hair and complexion would indicate otherwise. I get the crazy looking hair, without the free pass to drink like a moron. Still, I always like a reason to celebrate and go out during the week, so, "Erin Go Bragh! Let's drink black velvets!"

The Brick Store, like every bar everywhere, was packed on Wednesday night. Maribeth and I stood behind the people sitting at the bar and shouted over them to the bartenders. Which was tough because I wasn't completely confident about what I was ordering.

"Can I get a black velvet?" I asked, timidly. I hoped someone behind the bar would know.

The bartender, a short, leprachaun looking fellow kind of paced back and forth behind the bar like he knew what I was talking about, but not really.

He disappeared for a moment and then returned, stood in front of me and loudly spoke over the people sitting at the bar.

"See, I can't make that because I don't have cider on draught," he said.

I furrowed my brow, confused.

"Cider? Isn't a black velvet Guinness and champagne?"

Two older gentleman turned around and stared at me like I had horns and a tail.

"That sounds terrible," one of them said to me.

"I know! Doesn't it?" I said, thinking that our agreement over how disgusting this drink sounded would solidify our friendship.

It did not. The guy rolled his eyes at me shook his head, and turned back around in his chair, ignoring the back and forth between the bartender and me.

"Ok . . .hold on . . .," I stammered to the bartender.
I immediately text messaged Elizabeth, "Are you serious about the black velvets? I'm at this bar and just tried to order it and they don't know anything about it."

While waiting for her to text me back, I went to my Blackberry to consult the Internet. Certainly if this drink exists, Google will know. I'd been at the bar for a total of 15 minutes, and so far I'd ordered a fancy drink that no one has every heard about and now I'm texting and surfing the web on my phone. I wasn't exactly the "bar favorite" at that point, I don't think.

Sure enough, Google knew all about it. According to several web sites, a "Black Velvet" is a beer cocktail made from stout beer and sparkling wine or champagne.

By this time, Maribeth had ordered a beer and another bartender came out from behind the bar to hand deliver it to her. He looked at me, confused, assuming he forgot to also get my drink.

"Did you...?"

"No," I replied, "I had asked the guy about making a black velvet . . .and he said you didn't have any cider . . . but I didn't think the drink needed cider . . .do you know what that is?"

"A black velvet?" he said assuredly, "With Guinness . . .?"

"Yes!" I shouted, louder than I should have and before he could finish his thought. I don't know what I was more excited about: the fact that black velvets really do exist or that I was finally going to get a drink.

"Do you want sparkling wine or champagne?"

I gave him a look like "Does it look like I care? I didn't even believe that this drink existed five minutes ago. You can make it with whatever you want."

"Whatever you think is best."

Five minutes later, my now favorite bartender slid a champagne flute across the bar in my direction.

So if everyone in the bar didn't already hate me for ordering a drink that no one except for this one bartender had ever even heard of, now I'm drinking what looks like a Guinness out of a champagne flute at a place that usually serves up microbrews in pint glasses.
Pretentious, party of one.

I cautiously took a sip of the black velvet, still not believing that a concoction of these ingredients could ever taste good. But Elizabeth was right, black velvets are delicious. I can't tell you what it tastes like because it doesn't taste like anything I've ever tasted before. But I understand what she meant by the champagne or sparkling wine cutting the Guinness' heaviness. I can only really drink one Guinness, but I could drink black velvets all night.

The drink did attract a lot of attention, or maybe it was our charming personalities and insane good looks.

Nah, it was probably the drink.

Those that dared to ask about the black velvet were rewarded with a variety of answers. Sometimes I told them it was just Guinness, but that I like drinking out of a champagne flute so I carry one with me at all times.

Most of the time, Maribeth and I took turns telling people what it really was, which led to telling them about the blog.

One of the guys that we met was completely unimpressed with Project 29 to 30. Not only was he not impressed, he was angry that I would waste his time telling him about some of the less adventurous activities I'd done as a part of the project.

He seemed mildly intrigued by the the whirlwind vacation I took with Mountain Man, but overall, my attempt at doing things I've never done before really seemed to piss him off.

I kept trying to defend myself, tried to explain to him that I don't have the money or the time to travel the world and do adventurous things every single day. I'm simply attempting to do new things in the context of my regular life.

I later found out from someone who knew angry guy that he had recently married a girl from another country so that she could get her green card, so clearly his sense of adventure is much greater than mine.

Whereas wearing red nail polish or learning to play the banjo present two challenges for me, tricking the Federal Government is more his speed.

To each his own, I guess.

A few black velvets later and we called St. Patrick's Day an enormous success. New friends, we pimped the blog, and a new favorite cocktail that I will definitely be enjoying again.

Day 170: Ambien, Take Me Away

On Day 170, I was tired.

Thanks to my ambition (who did I think I was trying to run a biathlon?), and working the overnights for a few days, my body and my sleep patterns were completely out of whack.

Monday night I expected I'd have no trouble going back to sleeping during the night. A hard work out and a couple of beers to celebrate the hard work out would certainly be all the sleep aid I would need to get me back to living like a normal person.

Or so I thought.

Instead, I was up at 2am, wide awake, alternating between "True Life" and "The Real Housewives of New York," both disgustingly awesome reality shows that I love, but that I'd also prefer to enjoy at a more reasonable hour.

I eventually drifted off to sleep sometime after 4am, and just like I do everyday, woke up before 8am unable to go back to sleep.

Tuesday, Day 170, was, therefore, painful. I felt physically sick from exhaustion, but couldn't enjoy loafing on the couch like I normally do when I'm tired. I had stuff to do, and I had blogging to catch up on.

I also had to get back on a regular schedule and couldn't afford to be so tired on Wednesday. Desperate for sleep, I took Ambien as Day 170's thing I've never done before.

For those of you wondering how I just happened to stumble into some prescription medication that I've never taken before, give me a break. Ambien is as easy to come by as Coca-Cola these days. Before I left to go to Asia a few years ago, my mom was quick to offer up her prescription and nearly everyone I told I was going to be on a plane for 13 hours said, "Ugh, that sucks. Do you need sleeping pills?"

Honestly, though, I'm weird about pills, and usually only take them as an absolute last resort. I don't know why I'm this way, I guess in the midst of a drug-addicted society, I still think I can solve my ailments the old fashioned way: with diet and exercise.

But I'm also not stupid and I had been given some Ambien, so why not put it to good use?

I had been told explicitly by all of my friends who either have sleeping problems that I was unaware of, or who have also been blessed by their own pill pusher, that Ambien works pretty quickly, so when I was ready to take it, I'd need be at home, ready for bed, with at least 8 hours to devote to sleep.

At 9pm, I swallowed one of the pills. I don't know for sure, but the last time I remember looking at the clock it was no later than 9:30pm. I didn't wake up until 9am, feeling back to normal and more well rested than I had in months. So I'd say I passed my little Ambien test.

I was so happy to feel somewhat back to normal, but truthfully, I wasn't that surprised. Everyone I knew who had ever taken Ambien never stopped singing the drug's praises.

Everyone, except for my mother.

I emailed her on Day 171 to tell her I was off the overnight shift, back to the land of the living, all thanks to my little friend named Ambien.

My mom fired off an email right back that said, "You need to be careful with that stuff, Stephanie. Last year when I had surgery on my arm, I was taking it to help me sleep at night. And then one day while I was driving home from work, I burst into tears for no apparent reason. I went home and looked up all of the side effects of Ambien and sure enough, I had every one of them."

Clearly I need no help in the "crying for no reason" category, so I listened to her warning.

She continued, in her next email, "And when Patty (our neighbor) was taking it, she forgot to raise the garage door one morning and backed her car right into it. Then she couldn't get the garage door open because it was so bent from where she hit it that she somehow turned the car around in the garage to come out the other side."

I was hoping for a third Ambien horror story just to ensure that once again, my mom could get full credit for helping me take an entry about something lame (sleeping pills) and turn it into something far more interesting. But unfortunately, she only had these two.

"Be careful, Stephanie," were her parting words.

I knew she was in South Carolina thinking about me holed up in my house with black curtains on my windows, popping Ambien round the clock and crying in my bed. I tried to ensure her that my Ambien habit was hardly a habit at all, but just a one-time thing to help get me back on a normal sleep schedule.

On the other hand, maybe I will start taking Ambien so that I will have something to blame when my behavior appears irrational.

"I'm sorry I cussed you out in front of your friends, Grandma, I think it was the Ambien talking."

"Sorry for eating all of the food in your fridge in the middle of the night, Mr. Boyfriend, I guess the Ambien really kicked in."

"My bad for showing up late to work and drooling all over my computer keyboard, Boss Man, it's likely just the Ambien."

I'm probably not going to make Ambien a regular thing. Not because I'm against it, but because most of the time, I'm sleeping just fine. But ever I need it, I know where to go.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Day 169: Not So Iron Girl

My friend Maribeth is training for a mini-triathlon, hence all the bike riding we've been doing. She tried to get me to participate with her, but I wasn’t sure that I’d have the stamina, or the time to commit to training, while also trying to do 365 things I’ve never done before.

Also, I’ve seen the outfits that triathlon participants wear and I’m just not sure I’m ready to go full on body suit in front of other people.

But I’m a good friend, and I needed a little boost on the exercise front, so I agreed to help Maribeth with her training. The weather had finally improved, we no longer had to be banished inside a gym, so on Day 169, the thing I've never done before was attempt a bike ride, followed by a run.

I’m not sure why I was feeling so ambitious here because I'm not the greatest biker. I'm slow. Plus the wheels on Maribeth's bike are much larger than mine, so she's often several yards ahead of me on our bike rides. Plus I’m slow.

The distance between us makes conversations difficult. I thought conversation (i.e., gossip, pointless complaining) was the reason for an exercise buddy, but when it’s the two of us, that usually involves me shouting at her and her straining her neck to turn around and look at me.

We put our bikes away and started running and I felt like a fool. Running is such a different movement than biking and when we dropped off our bikes and started to jog, I felt like I didn’t have control of my legs. It felt like they were flailing independently from my body, like the cast of Riverdance (thank you Friends for that reference, I wish I thought of it on my own).

Admittedly, it was me who asked if we could stop running, after a short jog up Maribeth’s street. I was spent.

Moral of the story here is that I can run. I can swim. And I can bike. Doing all three (or even two) of them in succession, however, now that’s a different story.

But cheering Maribeth on? That I can do. And I will.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Day 168: The Lost Princess

My friend and blog supporter Anne sends me emails every month with lists of ideas of things that I should do that I've never done before. Back in March, the list she sent me included an activity for us to do together.

On Day 167, the thing I’ve never done before was to go to the Princess Diana exhibit at the Atlanta Civic Center with Anne.

I had never been to the Civic Center and to be honest, when I first arrived, I wasn't terribly impressed. The place looked vacant and run down; hardly suited for any princess. Though I went on to be highly impressed by the exhibit inside, I'm still trying to figure out why they chose the Civic Center as the place to put it.

Anne told me before we went that she has always loved Princess Diana. When she was a child, she had Princess Diana paper dolls instead of just regular ones. She was a big time Diana fan.

I revealed to Anne that sadly, the only thing that I really remember about Diana was her death. And what's worse is that the only reason that I remember that is because she died the first weekend of my senior year of high school, which was the same weekend my friend Billy had a party at his house because his parents were out of town. I couldn't go to the party because I had a dance competition the next day and therefore missed out on drinking Busch Light and making questionable decisions with all of my friends. Why I'm able to remember these details about my life, but not useful things like how to speak Spanish is both confusing and unfortunate.

Anne and I were among the last people to arrive at the exhibit that day, causing concern to the ladies at the ticket counter and the security guards, who were banking on leaving promptly at 6pm. They were sweet, though, even when I told them that we had come to the exhibit for some inspiration from the royal wedding for Anne's upcoming nuptials in June.

A security officer pointed us to a dark hallway that snaked around to a larger space where we started the tour. I gasped when I got there.

In the dark room was one of Diana's crowns that looked as though it was floating on a pillow in the middle of the glass case surrounding it. A large spotlight shone on the crown and behind it hanging on the wall, there was a gorgeous portrait of Diana, wearing a crown. It was gorgeous. Upon close inspection, Anne and I discovered that the crown in the case was not the same crown she was wearing in the picture. Another confusing and unfortunate discovery, but I was still in awe.

I don't consider myself particularly "girly" or overly impressed by sparkly things, but I was in awe quite a bit during the tour. Several times I'd hear myself gasp or take a sharp inhale.

The next stop on the tour was a selection of Spencer family heirlooms. Earrings, necklaces, pendants, hair pins all made up the collection and they were all gorgeous. It was at this point during the exhibit that Anne suggested we talk in British accents. I loved this suggestion and commended Anne on another great idea. However, my British accent sounds like the Australian guy on the Outback commercial, so while I encouraged Anne to go for it, I decided it was probably best that I not participate in the exercise.

With so much to look at, there were obviously several interesting things to take pictures of. Unfortunately, however, throughout the exhibit, there was also a strict "No Photography" rule. Anne, who despite her straight and narrow upbringing, is quite the renegade who doesn't always play by the rules. So I would stand guard and make sure no one was coming while she snapped a few pictures.

Next we went to a room full of Diana's childhood belongings. Porcelain figures (some of which were cracked), letters she wrote to her father from school, diaries, stuffed animals, all of which looked like they could've come out of my own bedroom, circa 1988. I wondered if, as a child, Diana ever could've imagined her impact on the world would've been so great that someone like me would pay money to view her things. Vainly, I kept wondering if ever there would be a day when my own things might be as interesting to someone else.

And then I thought, "I sure as hell hope not."

All of my diaries make me sound like I am a depressed, crazy person. I made a mental note that if I ever became a princess or found out that I was dying, to burn all the incriminating evidence immediately.

Home movies and portraits of Diana with her family and friends lined the dark halls between rooms. Among the photographs was also a timeline and a brief history of Diana's life. From there I discovered Diana was also born into British aristocracy, but as a commoner, she was raised by her father after her parents divorced, and she was a ballet dancer. I also read that Prince Charles met Diana for the first time when he was dating her sister Sarah.

Reading about Charles and Diana's courtship felt a little sad, not only because we all know that the relationship ended in divorce, but also because it seemed so clear to me, looking at keepsakes, that they never seemed very much in love at all.

Charles, for example, sent Diana an official royal family Christmas card just weeks before he proposed to her that he signed, "Happy Holidays Diana. Best, Charles." Really, Charles? Is that all you could come up with? You want to marry this woman and that's all you have to say to her? It was like the writing was already on the wall, or in this case, in the cold, impersonal Christmas card.

Maybe I'm still a hopeless romantic, but I'd like to think someone who wants to marry me might take the time to write me a personal message. Maybe this is how their relationship always was though, or maybe this is how people in royal circles operate. Marriage, love to them is less about connecting with someone and spending a lifetime with a best friend and more about a business arrangement.

Despite the way it ended, seeing the Princess' wedding dress was amazing, and worth the price of admission. The 25 foot train, her shoes, the veil are all majestic, just as she was on that day.

According to the exhibit, nearly one billion people watched the royal wedding in 1981. I was too young to remember it happening then, but I've seen it replayed so many times since, it's as if I was there.

I chuckled to myself, thinking about brides-to-be who confess that on their wedding day, they "just want to feel like a princess." I wonder if Diana ever said that, considering on her wedding day she actually became a princess.

No part of the exhibit is more moving than a room full of items collected following Diana's untimely death in 1997. A large picture showing the countless homemade memorials to Diana is on one wall, and in front of it there are rose petals scattered on the floor.

Diana's brother's notes for the eulogy he delivered at her funeral line the other three walls of the room. As a writer, I'm always interested in the process writers go through when choosing the right words and the right phrasing.

Seeing the eloquence with which he wrote, even the first draft, at what had to have been one of the most difficult times in his life was more than just interesting. It was remarkable, and emotional. He so obviously loved his sister and exhibited an enormous amount of strength and class in his prose and in his delivery.

Diana's death moved me like it moved a lot of people. Her senseless loss was devastating, leaving two boys without a mother, and the world with one less humanitarian.

Thinking about that, reading Earl Spencer's words, with Elton John's "Goodbye England's Rose" pumping through the speakers above me, gave me the chills, and (don't judge), I actually teared up.

The exhibit ends with a collection of Diana's clothes. Besides her work as a philanthropist, the Princess of Wales also became known in her life as quite the fashionista. Chanel suits, elegant evening gowns, even pants she wore into a land mine zone that were custom made by Ralph Lauren fill the glass cases, along with pictures from the events where she wore them. Though her good deeds were her most significant contribution, she was a classy, and beautiful lady.

Princess Anne nailed it with this suggestion. The Diana exhibit is interesting, moving and a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

It will be at the Atlanta Civic Center until June 13th.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Day 167: Baby Hope is a Ninja

On Day 167, I went to a baby shower for my friend, and college roommate, Ashley.

Even though I have attended plenty of these showers and have several friends with kids, I still have a hard time believing that we are all old enough to raise children of our own. Thinking about my friends bringing a child home from the hospital and being responsible for shaping another human life for 18+ years is both remarkable and frightening. I'd like to think that when I actually have children myself and have nine months to prepare for them, I will find the whole process less scary, but I'm not so sure.

Since I've hosted and been to plenty of baby showers, so going to Ashley's wasn't particularly different in any way. We ate delicious food, oooh'ed and ahhh'ed over super cute presents, and played a handful of shower games. In general, I'm opposed to these silly shower games, except we played one that I've never played before; one that I found both creepy and hilarious all at the same time.

One of the hostesses, Caroline, walked around the party dropping ice cubes with plastic babies inside of them into everyone's drink glasses. Weird, but whatever, I thought to myself. This was their party and they can drop naked baby ice cubes into drinks if they want to. I never heard anyone explain that the cubes were a part of a game, so I assumed they were just for fun.

So I became alarmed when another one of the hostesses, Allison, looked into my glass, saw that my baby ice cube had melted.

She said, "You won! You have to yell, 'My water broke!'"

I was so tired, I thought I misunderstood what she said. "What?"

She smiled excitedly and repeated herself, "You have to shout out, 'My water broke!' when the ice melts and the baby is free!"

So these little ice cubes were a game, and the only way I could've won the game, and the prize was to announce to everyone at the party that my water broke. As much as I love winning and love yelling out ridiculous things at parties, I could not bring myself to yell out such a statement in front of people that I do not know.

Surprisingly, my water breaking is not the thing that I've never done before.

At the end of the party, after several guests had already left, a group of us were sitting around chatting. I was fighting the urge to touch Ashley's belly that was completely adorable on her long, lean frame. I know it's weird, but it's hard when there is a basketball-looking thing under your friend's shirt not to want to touch it. Ashley told me strangers have asked to rub her stomach, which I find horrifying, but looking at her I completely understand it. I wanted to touch it too!

"You want to feel him kick?" she asked me.

You would've thought that she offered to give me a thousand dollars.

Permission to touch her belly, and possibly feel the baby growing inside? Yes, please!

I've tried to feel my other friends' babies kick, but never with any success. They could be kicking up a storm and the second I put my hand on there stomach to feel, the baby would stop. But I think Ashley's unborn baby liked me, because the second I put my hand on her stomach, he kicked me, making Day 167's thing I've never done before feel a baby kick.
I think he was trying to say, "Hey Aunt Steph, get me out of here, I'm ready to play!"

There's no picture of it, but my face lit up like a light bulb. I was so amazed, so excited.

Ashley said her baby kicks her a lot, a thought that I considered for a moment. I don't think I would ever leave my house if I had something growing inside of me that kicked me. I'd want to stay home all day and wait for something to happen.

It may have been just another baby shower, but this one was special because it was Ashley and Baby Hope kicked me. I've never been so happy to get kicked before in my life.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Day 166: Healthy Living

This fitness challenge I signed up for so that I could get my body fat checked has seemingly had an opposite effect on me that it has on everyone else. Instead of making me want to workout more and eat less, I have almost stopped working out completely and have been eating nearly everything (baratta, anyone?) I can get my hands on.

Competition of this kind does not inspire me, apparently. It instead makes me lazy. Or maybe it was coming back from vacation and working the overnight shift? Maybe it was a combination of all of these things.

I have been reading a lot about living a healthy lifestyle, though, so even though I'm not making the healthiest choices I know what I should be doing. Since I was striking out on the exercise front, but my appetite was still in overdrive, I decided, on Day 165 to try and add some things to my diet that are a little more healthy.

Things like granola. Only, in an unexpected, completely confusing, turn of events, I soon realized that all not granola is necessary healthy. Some granolas are loaded with sugar and fat.

Seriously, what kind of crap is that?

Fortunately, I found a healthy granola recipe and made Day 165’s thing I have never done before was to make homemade granola.

The ingredients included, among other things, oats, almonds, walnuts and flax seed. I was happy to see flax seed was listed as one of the ingredients, because to all of the fitness magazines I'd been reading, flax seed is all the rage. I think it might have super powers and I was convinced that once I ate it, I would drop 20 pounds. The only problem is that I had no idea what flax seed was, or where to go in the store to find it.

I felt like my friend Julie of Julie versus Vegetables and her nightmare trips to the farmer's market to find produce she's never heard of.

Also, I was in my neighborhood grocery store and apparently the organic, whole wheat, super food craze has not made it to my "transitional" (read: ghetto) East Atlanta Kroger (and I'm not talking about the Edgewood Kroger, that place looks like Whole Foods compared to South Moreland Kroger). Our health food section has been banished to one small corner of the grocery store like it's in timeout for imposing itself on all of the processed foods.

I scanned the small section, already having resolved to go elsewhere if they didn't have it, when much to my surprise (and delight), I found both whole flax seed and ground flax seed. I picked up a bag and headed home.

The recipe was easy. Mix the dry ingredients, melt the liquid ones. Cover the dry ingredients with the liquid ones and bake them. Making my own granola was a lot like making Chex Mix, minus the butter and the constant stirring. I only had to stir the granola once.

The results were delicious. Seriously, this stuff is good. And I didn’t feel badly about eating it. I did feel badly about eating most of it in the same day, though.

My portion control needs a little work I guess.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Day 165: I'm (Not Really) Lovin' It

On Day 165, I began a four-day stretch of working the overnights at my job.

As much as I would love to dive into a multiple paragraph tirade about how much I hate working through the night and how horrible it is for both my physical and emotional health, I cannot, as I have worked the overnights before.

Instead, I did something else on Day 165 that I’ve never done before. Something completely void of creativity or personality. I tried one of McDonald’s new specialty coffee drinks.

Give me a break, ok? I still had jet lag, and I was headed into a full night of work when everyone else was headed home to go to sleep. I was desperate.

I’m a bit skeptical of the fast food restaurant movement into other food and beverage genres. First it was Wendy’s and their Asian chicken nuggets (if I want Chinese, I’ll order take out), Taco Bell with their diet menu (seriously, if I’m eating Taco Bell, I’m not thinking about dieting), and now McDonald’s and these fancy coffee drinks.

They’ve got a lock on so many other things: Big Macs, French Fries, Happy Meals. I don’t understand why the need to branch out into a genre that is already been handled by other corporate giants just like them. They should leave the gourmet coffee to someone else.

I pulled up to the drive thru and ordered a cappuccino, though I’m not really sure why because that’s not usually not my coffee drink of choice. I guess I figured if I was taking a chance on McDonald’s, I’d go ahead and take a chance on cappuccinos too.

What did it taste like, you ask? It tastes exactly like I expected a McDonald’s cappuccino to taste. Not terrible, but not great. A little too sweet for my tastes, almost like it was trying to hard.

McDonald's shouldn’t make specialty coffee drinks. Not because they can’t pull it off and successfully produce a tasty caffeinated beverage.

But because they should, in my opinion, stick to being McDonald’s. They’re good at it. And no one knows better than me, you can’t be good at everything.

Day 164: The Bank of Moses

I think I'm in love with my hairdresser.

Actually, I know I am. And I know it’s not particularly newsworthy. Aren’t all women in love with their hairdressers?

Not to mention, I’ve been singing Moses, my beloved’s praises since he came into my life in January of 2007, thanks oddly enough, to my then-boyfriend Mark who introduced us.

“Who highlights your hair? It’s beautiful," he asked me when I sat in his chair and rubbed his hands through my grossly long, strawberry blonde mane.

"Well, I guess God does," I joked. With the exception of one crazy Saturday in college when my dorm mates and I, along with a box of Clairol, turned me into a frosted blonde, I have never had my hair professionally colored.

Flattery gets you everywhere with me, so his compliment sealed our friendship; the haircut he gave me sealed a more important relationship and since that day, no one else has ever cut my hair.

Like any great boyfriend, Moses is nice, cool, good-looking, and straight (I know you were wondering). He's a great listener and he's fun to be around. I only see him 4-5 times a year, but our relationship is solid. It's healthy. We don't play games. When I call him, he answers, or he calls me back immediately.

He's dependable, and he's been there through the highs and lows of my life, and my hair, over the last three years. When we first met I was in the process of growing my hair out so that I could cut it off and donate it during a charity event. Losing nine inches of hair at once was a shock, but Moses eased the pain for me, and for my friend Emily, who cut her hair too.

Emily was the first of my friends to meet Moses, and now she and her husband Scott are clients. I've never shared any of my other boyfriends, but I trust Moses completely and I want him to succeed, so in addition to Emily and Scott, I've also shared him with my friends Lauren, Karen and Amanda.

Moses is supportive of me too. He told me to go for it when I told him about going on a trip with someone I hardly know. And he offered, when I told him about the blog, to take me to a strip club so that I could, "make it rain." Not exactly blog-appropriate activity, but his heart was in the right place.

The love that I have for him transcends the tales he tells me about all of his other girlfriends, and though I don't always agree with his choices, he knows he can talk to me about it and I won't judge.

All of this, and he gives an affordable, kick-ass haircut? I told you, I am in love.

I’ve never had this kind of relationship with a hairdresser. I was more of a stylist whore, skipping around to different people, different salons, trying to find the right person at the right price. But I guess it’s true what they say, and when you meet the right one and want to settle down, you do whatever it takes to make it happen.

Even if it means getting my haircut at an unconventional place.

Day 164's thing I've never done before was prove to my hairdresser boyfriend that I will follow him wherever he goes, and get my haircut at a bank.

Technically it wasn't at the bank, but a questionable room behind the bank, but when Moses called me, I was in California trying to write down the directions and he just kept saying, "Go to the bank, park at the bank, the room is behind the bank."

The bank, the bank, the bank.

When I was 8, my mom permed my hair in our kitchen. (Everything about that sentence is wrong. Accurate, but so very, very wrong). But when that disaster went down, I was too young to know any better. Plus, I was the one asking for a perm, so clearly I had questionable judgment.

Now I'm an adult. I should know that if a strange man asks me to come to his one-room shack behind a bank in the dark when it's raining I should say, "no."

But this wasn't some strange man. This was Moses. And I loooooooooooooooooove him.

Isn’t that what people in love do? They blindly follow their beloved wherever he goes?

I followed Moses from the salon where we first met to his second, which was in the basement level of Macy's Department store. That was mildly sketchy because while the place was a legit salon, no one had ever heard of it, and until I went there for the first time, I didn't even know it existed. When he called me to tell me about the third move, he said he was in the process of going out on his own, and in the interim, would be cutting hair at the bank.

I think this is also a sign that I'm in love, because that sounded completely normal and acceptable to me. I booked an appointment immediately for when I returned, making Moses the first person that I saw when I got back from my trip.

The Bank of Moses is nothing fancy. Just a room, in a bank building, that he's sharing with a massage therapist/nail technician/aestician. But it's temporary, and he still cuts great hair. What do I care if there is fluorescent lighting that washes me out and a light up clock with a picture of a rainforest on the wall?

I could hear myself convincing my family and friends that my hairdresser boyfriend really is going to go out on his own and open his own salon. This bank-space nonsense is just to save money. He's still a great guy! Who cuts great hair! If you knew him, you'd understand!

Emily used to let me know when she was getting her haircut by telling me she was going to see our boyfriend, but since Moses' location change, she and Lauren have both texted me recently saying, "I'm off to the bank!"

The Bank of Moses. That is banking you can really count on.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Day 163: A Big 'ol Lie and the Big 'ol Rock

On Day 162 I purposely missed my flight back to Atlanta, something I'd never done, forcing me to lie about it as one of Day 163's things I've never done.

Before leaving for my trip, my schedule at work changed significantly, leaving me with several extra vacation days upon my return. I figured I'd rather spend those vacation days in San Francisco than Atlanta, so I attempted to change my flight before I left.

Delta would let me change my flight, but only if I paid $50, plus the price difference between the new flight and the one I'd already bought. That totaled $450.

There was no way was I going to pay that, so I looked into purchasing a one-way ticket from San Francisco to Atlanta, and again, was faced with a hefty price-tag.

I elected to not do anything about it ahead of time, and see where the weekend took me. No surprise, the weekend took me exactly where I expected it would, to not wanting to leave San Francisco.

So without any other ideas, I decided to play dumb.

I called Delta early on Day 163, took a deep breath, and then exhaled while I spit out a tirade something like, "Hi, my name is Stephanie and I'm freaking out I just drove in from Lake Tahoe and was expecting to fly back to Atlanta tonight and I just looked at my ticket and realized I booked Monday night's red-eye instead of tonight's red-eye and I can't believe that I did something so stupid and I just looked at my ticket and is there anything that you can do please I'm desperate."


I'm a terrible liar, but fortunately I have a flair for the dramatics, so I made sure I sounded as desperate as I possibly could.

The customer service lady was pleasant enough, but either wasn't in a position to help me or wasn't in the mood to try. She read me my options matter-of-factly: "If you want to get on tonight's flight it will cost $473. There's a flight leaving tomorrow morning at 6:30am and that one will cost you $350. Neither are cheap, but that's all I can do, I'm sorry."

I tried so hard to make myself cry, but as I've said before, crying on demand is not my forte. I whimpered, gasped, and panted instead, "Please, isn't there anything you can do? This truly was an honest mistake."

Yes, I know, another lie, but there was a mistake made here. The mistake was booking my flight through Delta who finds a way to screw me over every time.

"Well," the apathetic customer service lady sighed, "I can ask my manager if she can waive the change fee, but you'll still have to pay the difference for the flight."

I asked for her to ask her manager. Every little bit helps, I suppose.

A few minutes later, she came back to the phone sounding surprised, "Well, my manager has actually agreed to waive all of the fees for you, so if you want, I can rebook you to fly out tonight on the 10:30pm flight."


Shut. Up. Stephanie. Stop. Talking.

So there it is, I lied to Delta.
I am a liar.

I don't condone lying ever, but in my defense, I tried to do the right thing before resorting to these tactics, and my lie didn't hurt anyone. And now that I'm back to being honest, I think we can all agree that Delta, and every other airline for that matter, has been sticking it to us for years with luggage fees and oversold flights, so it's about time they got what was coming to them. Plus, there was plenty of room on that flight, so it's not like I took the seat from someone else.

I've changed my tune about Delta, and will sing their praises for their willingness to help me extend my vacation. That is, until they overcharge me for something, which I'm sure will happen soon.

So with a secured seat on Tuesday night's flight, I set out to enjoy my last day of vacation and make Day 163's other thing I've never done before visit Alcatraz.

When my parents brought my brother and me to San Francisco in 1990, I said before that all I remember was riding a cable car and wearing a hideous fuchsia sweater. I often wondered why we skipped Alcatraz, one of San Francisco’s most popular tourist attractions.

Though I’ve never discussed it with them, my assumption now, after having been there, is that my parents didn't take us to the world famous federal penitentiary because I was nine, and my brother was 11.

For most nine-year-olds, jail is an ambiguous place where they lock up the bad people. But Alcatraz is the real-deal. From 1934-1963, the Rock housed some of the most notorious criminals including mobster Al Capone. According to the tour, for many of the inmates transferred here, Alcatraz was the end of the line.

Though I'm not sure I would've understood that at age nine, seeing a real-deal prison might've been too much.

In order to get to Alcatraz, I took a ferry across the San Francisco Bay. The ferry ride, the fresh air, and the view all made the price of admission worth it, and I hadn't even made it to the island.
My friend Trish and her husband Mark had visited San Francisco the summer before and told me going to Alcatraz was, by far, the best thing that they did. I also remember chuckling at the pictures of the two of them at various spots along the tour with their ear phones on and the audio player around their necks, looking like the ultimate tourists.

Soon, I was just like them, completely engaged with my own audio tour, listening to former Alcatraz prison guards and prisoners share their real-life accounts of working and living on the Rock. Their stories are chilling.
I wondered about the men (and it was all men who were locked up at Alcatraz) who became imprisoned there. I wondered if their criminal behavior were kick-started by something small, like a lie to an airline, that spiraled out of control. Maybe not (it was 1934, after all), but I had to question whether or not my lie to Delta earlier in the day could be the start of a life of crime for me.

The tour of the prison starts in the shower, a big, open space where all the prisoners were forced to strip down naked to get clean. I suppose if you’ve been sentenced to any time in prison, getting naked in front of your peers is the least of your worries, but I shuddered at the thought.

The cells were much smaller than all of the other jail cells I’d ever been in, which, counting Alcatraz, totals one. I guess in all the prison nightmares I’d ever had, my cell was always much bigger. I could stand in the middle of it, stretch my arms out and touch the walls on both sides. If the showering in front of my fellow prisoners didn’t kill me, the claustrophobia of these cells most certainly would have.

The whole tour was interesting, but there are a few highlights I found most fascinating: Most of the guards and their families lived in compounds on the island right next to the inmates. One of the guards' daughters recalls hearing the inmates' activities as she would walk to school or try to go to sleep. I can't imagine growing up next to one of the most dangerous prisons in the country.

There was also an account of a the Battle of Alcatraz, one of the most violent escape attempts in the prison's history. Five people, two correctional officers and three inmates died in the uprising. Another 14 were injured.

The geography of Alcatraz worked to the prison's advantage in that escapes were nearly impossible; the chances that anyone could survive a swim across the harbor to safety are slim. I imagined the geography also worked to jack with the inmates' psyches as well. I mean, it sucks to be at a maximum security at all. But to be at a maximum security prison on an island with views of one of the most beautiful bays and cities in the country must have been the ultimate slap in the face. I found it a little unfair, though, that even through a small cloudy little window, that they got to enjoy the view at all.

Since I returned from my trip, several people have asked me if Alcatraz is scary, and I wouldn’t say I was ever scared. I mean, prisoners haven’t lived there in many years. But the place is creepy, and I imagine if the walls could talk, they’d have a whole hell of a lot to say.

My brother, who is a huge history fan, has been back to San Francisco several times since we traveled there as a family in 1990, so I text messaged him to see if he’d ever been to Alcatraz. He had not.

My response to him, and my advice to anyone with even a mild interest in history, is, “You have to go. You would love it.”

I was thankful after my brilliant performance on the phone with Delta, I wondered if I was one lie away from a lifetime of crime myself.

After I got onto the mainland, I walked down to Fisherman's Wharf, and ate some clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. The bread was delicious, but the chowder at the Boston Sail Loft still gets my vote as the best.

I walked back to Elizabeth and Kristof's and started to feel the trip-ending anxiety that I always get when good times are ending, and reality is staring me in the face. Does everyone get this feeling, or is this an indication that I need to make a change in my real-life?

Before getting into a cab to take me to the airport, Elizabeth and Kristof helped me end my trip to the bay the same way I started it: with a lovely view of the city from the window in their apartment, a couple of glasses of red wine (purely medicinal to help me sleep on the plane), and one more generous helping of baratta (my new cheese boyfriend). Kristof, who had been overwhelmingly generous since I'd arrived actually bought me my own package of baratta to take with me back to Atlanta, but I insisted we eat it right then, not wanting to try and smuggle dairy onto an airplane.

My trip was full of things I'd never done before with old friends, and some new ones, committed to helping me reach my goal of doing 365 things I've never done before. Despite the trip-ending sadness, I had to feel good about that.