Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Day 212: Lost in a Lonely Planet
Maribeth and I woke up early and enjoyed the hotel's free breakfast, excited to get out and see the city. We made the decision the day before that we'd head first to the Panama Canal.
I know that the canal is important and has changed the way we are able to do business with other countries, but if I'm being 100 percent honest, I really didn't understand how a canal works. I had to see it in person.
While at breakfast we ran into our friends from Day 211, Roy and Luis, in the lobby. Roy was checking out of the hotel, likely suffering from a raging hangover, ready to leave the night before behind him. Luis asked us what we were up to and we told him. He, having a free morning, offered to take us, in his own car, to Miraflores Locks.
His offer was sweet, if indeed he was the nice man he appeared to be. But what if he was not that man, but instead a crazy psycho Panamanian ready to prey on unassuming American girls?
Maribeth and I went back to our breakfast table and discussed Luis' offer, and realized we were united on how we felt. This was a very nice gesture, and quite possibly the best opportunity we'd ever have to see the country from a local's perspective. But as kind as Luis had been so far, getting into a car with a complete stranger in a foreign country was not a smart idea.
My dad, aware of my adventurous nature and free spirited attitude, is always nervous when I travel. And I assumed, as most daughters would, that his concern is for my safety. But based on our conversation, I'm not 100 percent sure that's all he's worried about.
"Stephanie," he'll say in an uncharacteristically serious voice, "Please don't force me to go on one of these morning shows crying asking for you to return safely. I just don't think I could handle it."
We had this conversation before my cross-country Phish adventure and we had it again before I left for Panama. I'm assuming he meant to say, "If anything ever happened to you, my beloved daughter, I would live in despair for the rest of my life," but clearly he has no desire to ever appear on the Today show either.
I couldn't help but think about my dad while making this decision. I think he would've definitely vetoed Maribeth and me catching a ride with Luis. Luis has a daughter our age, I pointed out to Maribeth, so he would have to understand our reluctance to go anywhere with a complete stranger. We'd have to decline and catch a cab.
Luckily when he returned, Luis told us he'd forgotten he had a meeting that he had to go to and wouldn't be able to take us to Miraflores after all. Problem solved, we were on our own.
We arrived at Miraflores, which is several miles outside of city, but a mere $8 cab ride. We paid our admission and the ticket seller advised us to go upstairs to the balcony so we could watch a boat come through the canal.
As I said before, I had to see the canal in action in order to understand how it really worked. I still don't think I'm able to explain it to someone else, or write about it, but I will try and risk making myself sound like an enormous idiot. The canal is made up of several different locks. Locks are a device that helps raise and lower boats to allow them to pass through the canal. How they do this, I have no idea, but I know it has something to do with raising and lowering the water.
It sounds lame, and a weird thing for a 29-year old to spend her time doing on vacation, but I was actually fascinated by watching the boats travel through the canal. I was also fascinated by a guy with a group of American tourists wearing a shirt that said, "Been there, done that."
The shirt was like the canal. I don't completely understand it, yet I feel compelled to tell you about it.
There is a museum of sorts at Miraflores highlighting the history of the canal and explaining how it was built. There was even a video (in English, thankfully) offered every half hour. Reading and hearing about the construction of the canal was truly fascinating—it was a process that took years, and employed people from all over the world. I found it mind-blowing that such a sophisticated system could’ve been built with such relatively primitive resources.
After spending the morning at the canal, Maribeth and I consulted her Lonely Planet Panama book for what to do.
I absolutely love travel books and since traveling to Europe in 1999 and treating the Let's Go Europe book like the Bible, I wanted to be a travel writer. The books scout the best restaurants and places to stay and are always full of useful, and not always obvious information.
Because of the book, we decided that we would head next to Casco Viejo, a must-see area of Panama City, and a perfect place for us to have lunch. We asked a cab driver, driving a 1996 Nissan Pathfinder that reminded me of my own car that I laid to rest in 2009, to take us there.
Just like Lonely Planet said, to get to Casco Viejo, we'd have to drive through some pretty rough parts of Panama City. The area that surrounds it is poverty-stricken and to put it mildly, rather seedy.
When the seedy parts began to disperse, it became very obvious very quickly when we had arrived at our destination. Casco Viejo sits right on the water and boasts some of the most beautiful panoramic views of Panama City. I loved the area immediately, as it reminded me of the French Quarter in New Orleans. Later I read that there is a reason for that—Casco Viejo is where the French who came to Panama to build the canal settled in 1881.
There was a quaint little lunch place that we read about called Manolo Caracol and we asked the cab driver to take us right there. According to Lonely Planet, there are no menus at the restaurant. Patrons pay $15 and are served several courses of whatever the cook feels like making that day. I loved the idea of an authentic Panamanian meal.
We had no trouble finding the place, and immediately felt relief of air conditioning when we walked in. We sat down at one of the oversized tables and after a while, a waitress came over to take our drink order. Maribeth and I verified that the meal would be 15 dollars.
"No, no, veinticinco dolares," she said.
"Veinticinco? 25?," I said, sure that if I repeated it in Spanish and also English, then she would change her mind.
She did not.
We said, "No, no," and picked up the book and showed her where it said, "$15."
The waitress shook her head, as if she couldn't understand our broken Spanish, ignored what we were showing her in the book and said, again, that it would cost $25 to eat there.
She walked away and Maribeth and I considered the following:
Is $25 a lot/too much to spend on lunch? Yes.
Was it a possibility that they were jacking up the price because we were two lost American girls who weren't very savvy in Spanish? Absolutely.
Would I have dealt with the answers to the first two questions for a chance to stay seated and eat a good Panamanian meal? Hell yes.
I wanted to stay, for many reasons. The food on other people's plates looked good. And I was hot. And I was tired. And I wanted some relief from the sun. And I dreaded the inevitable wandering around that would follow if we left. I'm really fun to travel with. I promise.
Maribeth was highly turned off by the $25 price tag and I couldn't blame her, especially since we'd already decided to go to dinner later that night. But I was starving (did I mention that already?) and I would've paid whatever. I do this a lot in foreign countries: I wait until I am starving and grumpy to find a place and will usually just sit down wherever is open and pay whatever they ask.
We left the restaurant and turned left, hopeful that one of the books other suggestions was nearby and equally as authentic. We stopped in front of a place called, "The Tequila Bar," a cheesy place that normally I wouldn't be caught dead in. An Australian couple sitting outside the restaurant could obviously tell that we looked lost, so they asked us if we were looking for a place to eat. We told them we were. They motioned in the direction we were walking and said, "There's nothing up that way."
Maribeth looked at the book, then she and I looked at each other, I shrugged my shoulders like a brat who didn't get her way, and we sat down next to the couple. My affinity for eating shitty meals in foreign countries lives on, and Maribeth and I ate nachos and ceviche and drank Balboas at "The Tequila Bar."
I cursed Lonely Planet for steering us wrong on Manolo Carocol and leaving us with no other choice than to eat at this tourist trap.
Regardless of how terrible the food was, I felt better after taking a break. After lunch, we redeemed ourselves with mango and berry sorbets at another quaint establishment, Grandclement. This vacation was off to a roaring start with me eating and drinking nearly everything I could get a hold of.
We took our sorbets to go, and walked slowly through Casco Viejo on brick paved roads next to majestic churches under French-style balconies. I felt so happy to be there and so far away from my regular life. We walked towards a park by the water, stopping to take pictures and eavesdrop on a tour guide leading senior citizens through the park. It was a beautiful day, and the views were amazing. Part of me wished we were staying in Casco Viejo, minus the ghetto we had to pass through to get there.
After a few hours of wandering, we popped into a church to take a rest and enjoy a few quiet moments of Zen before catching a cab back to the hotel where we rested up for dinner that night.
Besides the Lonely Planet lunch failure, we opted to try again and consult the book for help in making our dinner plans. Like I had done all along, I deflected the decision to Maribeth because that’s what I do and because it was her birthday week and naturally she should decide where we should eat. She should decide everything. I’m not sure forcing her to make nearly every decision was her idea of a good birthday present, but since I hate making plans, I tried to make her think I was doing her a favor. I would help, but the ultimate decision was hers.
Over the ten days we were in Panama, we would be staying and eating dinner in Panama City just three nights, so we wanted to choose wisely. Maribeth and I both love a good meal. So we did what any laid back, spontaneous traveler would do: we cross-referenced Lonely Planet’s recommendations with travel websites and the restaurant’s website before making our final decision.
I told my friend Lauren, who showed me this system of the cross reference when we traveled together in Asia, that she would be proud. I knew her system worked because we didn’t eat a single bad meal for three weeks.
After mostly glowing recommendations from both Lonely Planet Panama and several websites, we chose, for our first real dinner in Panama, The Greenhouse.
We hopped in a cab, gave the driver the address in the Lonely Planet book. The place was not very far from our hotel, but not knowing the area well, we didn’t want to take any chances walking by ourselves.
The cab driver pulled up to the building at the address we gave him and there was no sign of The Greenhouse anywhere. There wasn’t any sign of life at all, to be honest. The cab driver turned around, looking confused, and asked us for the name of the place again.
“The Greenhouse,” I said, and then, in a vain attempt to use my Spanish, I followed with, “El Casa de verde.”
He nodded in understanding and we drove by again, just to verify the address.
Ugh...this book did it again! We tried to figure out how it could have screwed us up twice in a row? We cursed Lonely Planet.
“Check the publishing date,” I suggested to Maribeth
She thumbed through, squinting her eyes to read the print.
“2007,” she said.
“Well, damn, no wonder! That book is three years old,” I laughed.
We’d have to take everything Lonely Planet said from then on with a grain of salt. A three-year old grain of salt. We stopped cursing the book, and instead cursed Barnes and Noble for selling it to us.
After several loops around several blocks and asking several passersby, we arrived at the Greenhouse. We were relieved, but also a little bummed, and perhaps a little concerned, that besides the staff, we were the only two people there. It was Tuesday night, so I kind of understood, but we were ready to live it up like the people in the pictures on the website.
So much for living la vida loca. And clearly the guy that could potentially be "the one," the man by the water, wasn’t going to be here either.
We ordered a pitcher of Sangria and both ordered a corvina, a white fish, and fried plantains for dinner. The food was delicious (seriously, it may have been our best meal on vacation) and though we only had our plates and each other to look at, we had fun.
After dinner we went to the Istmo Brewhouse right down the street from our hotel to officially ring in Maribeth's 30th birthday. When the clock struck midnight, I took Maribeth's picture and sent it to our friends and titled it, "MB's officially a Puma." Not quite old enough to achieve cougar status, but definitely on her way.
Then I listened to her reflect on her 30 years of existence with a lot of weird statements, most of which she forbade me to share with the blog audience.
Among those that are shareable include:
"I need to change my behavior now that I'm 30." Maybe you should. But you probably won't.
"I feel like I have certain responsibilities now that I'm 30." Actually you've had those responsibilities for years now. But it's good you’re starting to pay attention.
Vacation was underway, complete with random thoughts by Maribeth.
Friday, June 25, 2010
Day 211: Water Boys in Panama, the Country
In the weeks ahead of Day 211, I asked my friend Maribeth, the next to turn the dreaded 3-0, how she planned to spend her birthday.
She said, in very dramatic fashion, "I cannot be in this country on my 30th birthday!"
While I found her insistence on being away from the USA on her 30th strange (I mean, what's the big deal? 30 is 30 regardless of where you celebrate it), with plenty of vacation to burn, I agreed to tag along with her wherever she chose to go.
"Alright," I told her, "Let's go somewhere."
This conversation, no kidding, happened the weekend before I left for Lake Tahoe, and a mere 48 hours before Psychic Rose told me she predicted that I would be taking a big trip, by the water, in April.
Maribeth's birthday is April 28th.
Even weirder, Maribeth and I decided almost immediately to go somewhere in Central or South America. We wanted some place warm, and a place on the beach, or on the water. We kicked around several ideas, first considering Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.
Our second choice, thanks to my friend John and Maribeth's friend Chris, was Panama. The destination was a winner on all fronts: warm weather, beach activities, reasonably priced, and, above all, easy to plan. At least I think it was. Maribeth did most of the work.
Plus, every time I told someone I was going to Panama, I got to hear their version of Van Halen’s song, “Panama.” And then I had to break the news to them that I was going to the country of Panama, and not the Spring Break hot spot Panama City Beach, where that song was probably hugely popular in 1984.
Before we left, Chris and John, passed along a wealth of useful Panama information. Where to say, places to avoid, cool things to do.
Of all the advice John gave me, what he stressed the most was cab fare.
"Here's what you need to do," he said, almost as if he was letting me in on some huge secret that no one else knew about. "You need to take out $100 in one dollar bills before you go."
I let him know, that unless Maribeth had big plans for her 30th birthday she had not yet filled me in on, I was not planning on going to any strip clubs in Panama. What gives with the one dollar bills?
He explained that every place in Panama takes American money, and cabs will take you wherever you want to go for very little cash.
"So have small bills and negotiate with the cab driver before you get in the car."
His advice made sense, so on Day 211, before getting on an afternoon flight to Panama, I went to the bank and asked for $100 in ones.
I used to be a waitress, so I know what a lot of cash looks like, but it had been a while, and I don't think I could have anticipated what 100 singles looks like. It looks like a lot of freaking money. I felt like a stripper having that much cash on me at one time. John was right, though, it made getting around the city extremely easy, minus the whole language barrier thing of course.
Maribeth and I arrived at the airport and grabbed our first drink of vacation at the airport bar. I revealed to Maribeth that taking off for two weeks was nerve racking for me, but that I was really going to try and relax. I didn’t promise to go off the grid or disconnect completely, but I promised to behave in a very un-Stephanie-like fashion.
While sitting at the bar, I reminded Maribeth about how Psychic Rose had predicted that I'd take a big trip to a place by the water and here we were taking the big trip! I also told her to be on the look out for dudes because Rose also mentioned that my significant man may or may not have something to do with my big trip, but he definitely has something to do with the water. Again, I'm not sure if Rose wasn't simply referring to someone who drinks water or is a plumber, but here I was, on the trip, and I wanted to be on alert, just in case.
So when an attractive, fratty looking young guy with a Georgia Bulldogs hat boarded our plane to Panama City in Atlanta, I immediately turned my head to look at Maribeth.
"Holy crap, that guy's really good looking," I said with wide eyes. Could this be the water boy?
At some point during the stare down, Maribeth announced to me that she thought she knew frat boy.
She seemed stumped, though, not recalling the guy's name and not sure why the guy would be wearing a Georgia hat.
I wasn't convinced that it was the same guy, but decided that her thinking he was could provide the perfect reason for us to talk to him. And obviously we needed to talk to him, because he was good looking and what if he was the guy Psychic Rose was talking about? Even if he wasn't the same guy Maribeth thought it was, we could still make him our new friend and someone to hang out with on the trip.
And maybe the love of my life.
We landed in Panama, staying in hot pursuit of frat boy and giddy with excitement that we had arrived at our destination after a super short, relatively easy flight.
On our walk to customs and baggage claim, Maribeth started chickening out on our original plan, after deciding that frat boy was not the guy from Jacksonville that she knew. She also assumed that he was on his way to be reunited with his girlfriend who is in the Peace Corps or volunteering with "Doctors without Borders," and would want nothing to do with us. I assumed he was on his way to a deep-sea fishing bachelor party, and would love the company of two almost-30 year olds.
I liked my assumption better.
We never talked to frat boy, unfortunately, but decided that if we ran into him again on our trip then that would be a sign that he was the water boy Psychic Rose was talking about and girlfriend or not, I would have to talk to him.
Maribeth and I hailed a cab to our hotel in Panama City and I impressed her and the cab driver with my Spanish-speaking skills. I really did. I don’t know where it came from because I rarely ever have the opportunity to ever speak Spanish in my regular life. But I was belting out all sorts of phrases to the cabbie, telling him my name (Me llamo Stephanie), where I was from (soy de Georgia en los Estados Unidos), that I was there to celebrate my friend’s birthday (el cumpleanos de mi amiga). Not exactly advanced conversations, but I was still pleased.
We got to the hotel and stepped out of the cab, to the delight of every bell hop at the hotel. I’ve traveled enough to know that two light-haired, wide-eyed American girls are bound to get some attention, and sure enough, we did. The hotel staff fumbled over each other to help us with our bags and it was sweet. Chivalry may be dead in a lot of places, but it’s alive and well at the Hotel Riande Granada. We checked into our room, which was nothing to write home about, but it was clean and it was cheap, so we decided to stay.
Exhausted from the trip, Maribeth and I laid on our beds and went back and forth about how to spend the evening. There was a lot of, “Do you want to go out? I don’t care, do you want to?” going on. Here, I thought, is where my age is starting to show, because 21-year old Stephanie would’ve dropped her bag in the room and hit the pavement immediately, ready to explore the city. 29-year old Stephanie, however, was tired, hungry and ready to go to bed.
After a good half-hour of trying to figure out what to do, we decided to take advantage of our free drink coupone at the hotel bar, which was nothing more than a shelf with three bottles of cheap liquor and a cooler full of beer in a dark room next to the lobby.
We both ordered a Panama beer, and a grilled cheese sandwich.
About midway through our meal, an older gentleman came over to where we were sitting at the bar. He was very tall, and kind of awkward. He asked us if he could sit down and we said yes. When he took a seat, I noticed he nearly fell off the bar stool, and when he spoke he slurred his words.
“Those women over there said I wouldn’t come over here to talk to you,” he said, motioning to two women sitting on a couch nearby, laughing.
We introduced ourselves and found out his name was Roy. He was from Trinidad, but was in Panama on business. We told him our names and that we were on vacation to celebrate Maribeth’s birthday.
“And how old are you?,” he asked Maribeth.
“Well,” she said, “I’m turning 30 on Wednesday," she said with a smile.
“And you’re not married?”
“No, not married.”
He asked me the same questions. Then he turned to Maribeth again.
“And you’re how old?”
She looked at me and we laughed.
“I’m 29. I’m turning 30 on Wednesday.”
After a few minutes, we were joined by Roy’s friend and colleague, Luis, who was from Panama and in far better shape than his wasted friend. He was nice too, welcomed us to his country and wrote down names of popular restaurants and clubs to go to in the area. He also gave us his number and said if we needed anything, we could call him anytime.
Roy asked us both if we would be his girlfriend, and we both declined. And then he told us he was happily married and had five children ranging in age from 21 down to five years old.
My head was spinning. Roy was like a tornado.
“How old are you?” he asked Maribeth.
This has to be a joke, but she kept on answering.
“Roy, I’m 29.”
“Now do either of you have children?”
“Nope,” I replied.
“How old are you?”
Is this guy serious?
“Are you barren?”
First of all, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone actually use the word “barren” in a sentence until that moment. But if I was unable to conceive children, I’m not sure I’d want to talk about it with a drunken stranger in a sad Panama bar.
I chalked it up to too much booze and simply answered his question.
“No,” I replied, “I’m not barren, at least not to my knowledge. The reason we don’t have kids is because we’re not ready for them. We’re not even married yet.”
Telling him we weren’t married confused him greatly. I think he thought there was something wrong with us.
“I know, Roy, we’re awesome. It confuses me too,” I told him.
We talked for a little while longer while trying to pay our tab, which the bartender told us Luis had already taken care of.
After he asked Maribeth a 15th time how old she was, Luis said it was time for Roy to go to bed, and he walked us all to the elevator.
We laughed later in our room that as single girls living in Atlanta, we have both gone months without having anyone we don’t know approach us in bars. And here we'd been in Panama for less than two hours, and already we had two gentlemen buy our drinks and dinner.
Likely not the men by the water that Psychic Rose was talking about, but the trip was off to a pretty good start.
I think I love Panama.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Day 210: The Tree that Owns Itself
The shower was fun, as it brought together a group of girls who I rarely get to see together all at once. Plus, it was the topper on an action-packed weekend and I still had a two week vacation waiting me. I was feeling pretty great.
Hearing my friends "Ooooh" and "Aaaah" over the diaper cake that I made on Day 209 felt good too and I was happy that my drama-filled attempt at craftiness had paid off.
"So is the diaper cake the thing you've never done before today, or yesterday?" someone in the crowd who reads the blog asked me.
"Well, then what's your thing for today?"
I thought long and hard about what I could do in Athens that I hadn't done before. But having had the privilege of living there for four and a half years (I double majored, give me a break), there wasn't a lot of ground that I hadn’t already covered.
We joked at Rebecca's brunch that I should ring the doorbell at our old sorority house and either run away or ask whoever answered the door for a tour so I could take a picture by my old composite picture. I would’ve done it, but no one would come with me, and I wasn’t about to do that by myself.
I had already thought of something else that I wanted to do, something that would be easy.
There is an Athens landmark that I had actually never seen before, so I dragged my friend Doris, 8 months pregnant, to see The Tree that Owns Itself as Day 210's thing I've never done before.
"Does anyone know the story about the tree?," I asked at lunch.
The question was met with blank stares and lots of shoulder shrugs.
Interesting that these women, who remember every embarrassing thing we ever did the four and a half years we were in school together, and not one of them recalls what this local landmark is all about.
"Where is it?," I followed up.
More blank stares.
Doris pointed out that she thought she'd been to a party on Finley Street in college and therefore had seen the tree, but that's all she could tell me about it.
She suggested that there might be a sign or something marking the tree that would tell us what it's all about.
So with a little help from Rebecca's husband with directions, we drove there. I missed the turn the first time, but I eventually took a left onto Finley from Broad Street and drove up a steep hill.
At the top of the hill was the tree, surrounded by a fence, and just as Doris suggested, a sign naming it "The Tree that Owns Itself."
We parked the car in front of a house and got out.
"Don't all trees own themselves?," I wondered aloud. "I mean, they're trees, who else owns them?"
Reading the sign in front of the tree, Doris said, "I think you're going to need to look this one up," Doris said, "This sign doesn't say anything."
We walked around the tree, took a few pictures and that was about it. It was indeed a nice tree, but there wasn't a lot to do there.
I did look it up when I got home.
The story goes that between the years 1820 and 1832, in a desire to protect the tree, the owner of the land, William H. Jackson, deeded to the tree ownership of itself and the surrounding land. Though unclear whether such a deed ever actually existed, or still exists, the current actual plot map for the property near the tree does not include the tree’s oddly shaped corner.
In 1942, the tree fell and another one was planted in its place. That tree, the one that we visited, is referred to as "The Son of the Tree that Owns Itself."
Doing research on what the tree means, I also read that the stone tablet near the tree, the one that Doris and I couldn't read, apparently says, "FOR AND IN CONSIDERATION OF THE GREAT LOVE I BEAR THIS TREE AND THE GREAT DESIRE I HAVE FOR ITS PROTECTION FOR ALL TIME, I CONVEY ENTIRE POSSESSION OF ITSELF AND ALL LAND WITHIN EIGHT FEET OF THE TREE ON ALL SIDES." WILLIAM H. JACKSON
So another Athens landmark checked off the list.
A tree. That belongs to no one but itself.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Day 209: Diaper Cakes and Frat Parties
Well that’s because 2010 has been the year of the baby shower, so I've already included my other roommate Ashley and her baby shower and her baby Robert in the blog.
This is my other roommate, though. This is Rebecca.
All of my former roommates are having babies.
I'm writing a blog.
Besides not knowing much about babies myself, I've eagerly signed up to host baby showers for my friends. And for this one, I was looking to stretch my creative arm and try to make something crafty that I’ve seen at nearly all of the baby showers that I’ve gone to this year.
On Day 209, I attempted to make a diaper cake.
For my male audience, I’m sure you’ve checked out by now, having already read the words “baby” and “diaper.” If you stick with me, though, we’ll get to the end of the day where I attend an adult fraternity party as another thing I’ve never done before.
But for now, it's back to the diaper cake.
I said I "attempted" this diaper cake, because I wouldn’t call the effort that I put into completing this craft anything more than an attempt. And I’m going to have to blame that on Day 208. Because after experiencing the trauma and humiliation that is a bikini wax, I celebrated the experience with a My Morning Jacket concert and a very late night.
So when Day 209 rolled around and it was time to construct the diaper cake, I was feeling less than enthused about it, and far less confident that I could pull it off.
I consulted some websites, all of which had different instructions on how to do it, some using just diapers, others filling the diapers with rolled up clothes and trinkets. I needed some hands on training, though, so I pulled myself off my couch and drove to Kyle's store to seek her assistance.
Since making her first diaper cake that our friend Maribeth actually thought was a real cake, Kyle has been the resident diaper cake officiando, making them for several of our friends and several of her colleagues' friends. I joke that diaper cakes are her side job.
Ahead of going to Kyle's, I bought a jumbo box of Pampers swaddlers, small diapers made for newborns. Buying diapers is not something that I have ever done, and now having attempted that too, I'm convinced no single people should ever do. Or maybe it's just me. I found the experience to be confusing, and unnecessarily frustrating, like the baby product people are trying to screw with you.
There are far too many categories, all labeled by some weird system, that unless you have a baby yourself, you're probably not going to understand. Would it be so hard for diapers to be sized small, medium, and large? I don't understand why you can't see what the diaper looks like unless you open the entire package. And I don't understand why diapers have cheesy designs on them and why some of them are tinted blue. Why can't they all be white?
When I arrived, Kyle looked at the box of diapers that I bought. There were 64 in the package.
"Are those all the diapers you have?" Kyle said.
"Yes," I told her. "Do you think I need more?"
She nodded her head, indicating that I would. She also said that she thought I should buy generic diapers. It's cheaper, she said.
Makes sense. We went ahead and she started showing me how to roll the diapers with rubberbands. When we reached a stopping point, she made me a list, telling me what was on it and then she instructed me to go to Michael's craft store.
I soon found out that not buying enough diapers and not buying generic ones would be the least of my worries that day.
I went to Michael's, Kyle's list in hand. Actually, not in hand. I tossed it into the abyss that my purse has become and never saw it again.
I remembered what she told me I would need: rubberbands, thick decorative ribbon, a cardboard circular disc (usually used for a real cake) to set the cake on, and, if I wanted, wooden figurines for the front of the cake.
Before even attempting 365 things that I've never done before, I had a pretty good idea at the things that I'm good at and ones that I'm not. I'm not really crafty at all. So I knew that making a diaper cake wasn't going be the easiest thing for me, despite Kyle's ability to make it look easy. But with all of the things I've managed to accomplish this year (sky-diving, a polar bear plunge, speed blind dating), I didn't think that shopping at Michael's Craft Store would be the experience that would bring me to my knees.
But sure enough, I had a Category 5 meltdown.
I blame this on a lot of factors, starting first with my own state of mind. Plus I was strapped for time. Plus it's Michael's. Not exactly the kind of place for first-timers. I sincerely think, now having had this experience, that they should ban amateur crafters like myself from entering. They should have a bouncer outside that checks your craft abilities before you walk in the place.
I wandered up and down the aisles, locating the ribbon first. My indecisiveness made choosing ribbon one of the most difficult tasks ever. I chose a light pink ribbon with hot pink polka dots.
And then I wandered some more, locating some sort of wooden trinkets, all of which seemed tacky to me and not good enough for my diaper cake. I was off to try and find the cardboard cake stand when Andrew called me to talk about plans for later that night. I saw his name pop up on caller ID and I should've ignored it, but picked up the call, causing me to lose my train of thought in a store where I already felt out of place. We rehashed the previous night for several minutes when I realized I had wasted far too much time.
"Andrew, I have to go," I finally muttered hastily. I hung up quickly and tried to refocus.
I found the cardboard cake disc, but only in a package of eight. Perhaps I'd have an opportunity to make seven additional diaper cakes, but at this point, I just wanted one. I bought the 8-pack. I had no choice.
I continued looking for the wooden figurines, not ready to give up on that idea. I started sweating though, holding a pink dragonfly in the palm of my hand and then putting it back. And then picking it up. And then putting it back.
I finally took the ribbon and the cardboard cake discs to the checkout counter and left.
When I returned to Kyle, she admitted she was a little concerned about my whereabouts. I told her I'm not cut out for places like Michael's and then showed her what I'd purchased: one spool of ribbon, two bags of rubberbands and an 8-pack of the cardboard cake discs.
She looked confused. When I asked her if I'd forgotten something, she laughed and said, "Well, I said I needed two spools of ribbon, one bag of rubberbands, and one cake disc."
Seriously, Stephanie. This is not that hard.
"And more diapers," she said.
In my defense, the cardboard cake thing was only available in the 8-pack. At least as far as I could tell. Plus, I knew Michael's wouldn't have diapers, so I walked next door to CVS and bought more, this time bigger ones, and of the generic variety.
Once again, collossal failure. When I got them back to Kyle, we opened them and found them to be a completely different style, color, and design than the first ones that I bought. These had a blue tint.
Why is this diaper cake the worst decision ever?
I took the half-opened diapers back to CVS and tried again, this time buying the exact same name brand, small diapers I bought from the beginning. The teenaged cashier wanted to talk to me about diapers, assuming having been in there to buy them twice, that I would've too. I did not, obviously, and tried to leave in a hurry.
I returned to Kyle's store, stressed and exhausted. The stress caused me to blow my 12-days of vegetarianism on a microwaveable White Castle cheeseburger, courtesy Kyle's co-worker and friend, Mendy. Unfortunately, even red meat couldn't help me in this situation.
Once we had a random assortment of supplies, all that we had left to do was to construct the cake. Kyle, not used to working under such conditions with such crappy materials, did the best she could to get me started and to show me how it needed to be done.
In fact, she constructed two of the three layers with little to no help from me at all. I promised her I'd go to Michael's on my way home and pick up another spool of ribbon to complete the project. If she could just get me started, I could pick it up where she left off.
"And," I told her, "I got this oversized Rubber Duck to go on top of it," I said excitedly, certain she would be thrilled with this innovative idea.
She was not. She looked at me like I was both crazy and a redneck with absolutely no class whatsoever.
"It's supposed to be a floppy, stuffed animal," she said. "The animal's legs are supposed to hang over the sides."
"Oh yeah," I said, nodding, "I know. But I decided to go with a beach theme. And the duck is really cute."
She did not look impressed and though she never said so, she gave me a look like, "I'd rethink that plan if I were you."
I stuck with my theme and finished my multi-colored and multi-textured, ghetto style diaper cake. It took one more trip to another Michael's, a completely different ribbon choice, and when it was done, it had a giant rubber duck sitting on the top of it. Since I ran out of diapers (just like Kyle said I would), I was forced to roll up the outfit I'd bought baby Edie and make it a part of the cake.
Despite my failure at nearly every turn, the cake was a huge hit on Day 210. Rebecca loved it. I think I'm going to continue to outsource my craft projects to Kyle, but at least I know when push comes to shove, I can make a diaper cake.
And then it was time to party.
Admittedly, part of the stress in finishing the cake was that I was also doing something at night on Day 209 that I had never done before that I had to get ready for.
My friend Paul had asked me that morning if I would be his date to the 9 o'clocks spring party later that evening at Piedmont Driving Club.
The 9 o'clocks is an all-male social club that several of my friends are members of. The group has two parties every year, one in the spring and one on New Year's Eve. Those who are members are not shy about the fact that the organization's entire existence is for the parties.
I'd like to say that this was the first time I'd ever been asked out for a date on the same day as the date, but it is not (I'm not sure what this says about me, but I'm sure it isn't good). I know the southern lady in me should have said no, and demanded that he ask me days in advance, but the reputation of these parties made me curious and I wanted to go, so I said, "yes."
Paul had to go to a wedding, so we arrived after dinner, just in time for the first of two bands and a DJ that would fill the evening's entertainment line-up. In that regard, I'd say we arrived right on time.
I was a little intimidated, and somewhat turned off, by the exclusivity of this group. I wondered if I'd feel out of place. I mean, I did go to public school, after all. But when I got there, I saw that this party was nothing more than an adult fraternity band party with tuxedos and fancy dresses. It was less like some exclusive party and more like the greatest wedding I'd ever been to where no one got married.
I suppose upon further investigation we could talk about the social injustices and potential snobbery associated with such a group, but I'd rather not. Plus, I can't, and wouldn't, because the party was freaking fun. I had a blast and everyone that I met was super nice.
Plus, I got to watch my friend Philip accidentally dump a woman's purse out onto the floor and middle aged white men get their groove on to Yacht Rock. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday night.
This day was like a giant metaphor for my life. One hand in diaper cakes, and the responsibility of babies and adulthood, the other hand still holding on to fraternity parties, not wanting to let my spontaneous, fun side ever go.
Part of me wonders if that feeling of being trapped between two sides of myself will ever change. Part of me hopes it never does.
Monday, June 21, 2010
Day 208: Ouch
And I really don't want to talk about it.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Day 207: Picking Teams, Choosing Sides
Day 207 was Earth Day.
So naturally, a day full of things I've never done before, all dedicated to the preservation of our planet and its resources should've been in store.
Only it wasn't.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover, after running down a list of environmentally-friendly blog possibilities, that I was already a fairly green kind of gal. I recycle nearly everything, I use canvas grocery bags, and I shop and eat locally, frequently buying all of my groceries at my farmer's market.
I mean, at this point, I was still a vegetarian for Pete's sake!
Sure, there were things that I'd never done before, like riding public transportation or walking to work, but I didn't think of either of them until I was already sitting at my desk.
"Plant flowers," Melanie, one of my greenest friends suggested.
“Nah,” I told her, “I already did that on Day 173.”
There was some discussion about composting, but that also wasn't going to be possible from my desk. Plus I don't have a yard or a garden, so this one would be a huge, not to mention, pointless challenge for me.
I'm ashamed to tell you that by day's end, I ended up participating in an activity that had absolutely nothing to do with Earth Day. Something that felt dirty, and wrong. Bad for the planet and bad for humanity.
Day 207’s thing I’ve never done before was to watch the NFL Draft in primetime.
Really, I had never watched an NFL draft, period. I only mention that it was in primetime because people kept talking about that fact and apparently it was a big deal that it came on at night.
The draft, for those of you who don't know, is when NFL teams choose their players for the next year. It's the grown up version of picking teams on the playground, only with exorbitant amounts of money.
Typically the team with the worst record gets to choose first, though I learned in the weeks leading up to the draft that deals can be cut with teams ahead of time to change their position. One team could, for instance, trade one of their current players to another team for a spot higher in the picking order.
Confused? Yeah, me too.
Considering no money ever changed hands, there were no agents brokering deals, or a fancy stage with spotlights, or time limits, or pinstriped suits, choosing teams on the playground is actually nothing like the NFL draft.
The NFL draft is the male version of a beauty pageant. An overproduced spectacle full of attractive, talented people saying asinine things, there are a lot of emotional parents, a lot of glitz, a lot of drama, not a lot of substance.
All the good going on in the world to save the planet that day couldn't offset this horrific display.
Every time the commissioner came to the microphone to announce another pick, I felt like we lost another innocent soul to the big bad world of professional sports.
I emailed Mountain Man, who knew I was watching the draft, "I feel like I'm watching the very moment that these guys go from being college athletes, to complete assholes."
He responded, "Yep. Rich assholes with social issues who have trouble operating in a rational society."
I know it's terribly unfair to assume that all of these men are destined to live the flashy, reckless lives that will put them in the headlines with the likes of Terrell Owens and Ben Roethlisberger, but I also think it's probably naive to assume that some of them weren't already of that mindset before the draft.
Still, watching this little spectacle did little to change my opinion that professional athletes are soulless people with inflated egos and inflated paychecks. It was a lot of, "I'm awesome! Look at me! I deserve this! I had it coming!"
Mo, who I was also emailing as the draft was happening, assures me that his beloved Florida quarterback and Heisman trophy winner Tim Tebow won't ever become part of the professional athlete stereotype. I have to agree, based on the geek squad surrounding him at his house in Florida, if anyone has the potential to overcome what seems inevitable when young people come into a lot of money at once, it’s Tebow.
And I sincerely hope that he does.
I dropped my negative attitude several times during the broadcast to consider that maybe they're losing their innocence and the pure joy of playing for the love of the game, but it's pretty cool that we're watching the start of their adult lives. Their very large, very expensive lives. Good for them.
Maybe all of my frustration comes from a place of jealousy. I mean, when I accepted my first real job post-college, there weren't any spotlights or television crews. My family wasn't there to embrace me dramatically and tell me how proud they were of me. I think my Dad's exact words were, "Well it's about damn time."
If only all job interviews were like picking teams on the playground and we found out if we were hired based on which old guy handed you a shirt with their company's logo on it.
"Welcome to the real world of paying taxes and responsibility, Stephanie, here's a jersey to prove you've really made it!"
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Day 206: Exit Row
I was ridiculously busy while I was there, so there was no time to do something that I'd never done before. There wasn't even any time to eat, so I managed to stay a vegetarian for another day. A hungry, grumpy vegetarian.
I planned on ordering something from the SkyMall catalog as the thing that I'd never done before, but thanks to US Airways, I didn’t have to. Because much to my delight, Day 206's thing I've never done before was to sit in an exit row.
Many of my tall friends tell me that they often request the exit row so that they will have room to stretch their legs on long flights. I'm just 5'7", not really tall enough to make a case for the extra room, so part of me felt badly that they booked me in this row. A taller person would have benefited much more than I did.
I'm lying. I really didn't feel that badly. Because the exit row rules.
When I got to the row, I was delighted that my row mates didn’t have to get out of their seats to let me by. That's how much room there is in an exit row. I walked right past them with ease to get to my window seat. Once there, I buckled my seat belt and stretched my legs in front of me, feeling relaxed.
Who knew extra leg room could be so enjoyable? All that space felt like a party!
I watched as other travelers boarded the plane and noticed them staring at me, and everyone else on my row. Some of them were almost glaring at us.
I assumed, at first, that they were glaring because they were jealous of all of our leg room. I couldn't blame them for that. Then I thought maybe they were checking me out to make sure I was capable of opening the exit door should the plane go down. I was starting to see that with great power comes great responsibility.
Before diving into the safety announcements for all of the passengers, a sweet flight attendant paused by our row, leaned on the aisle seat and quietly said to us, "You're all aware that you're seated in an exit row?"
Hell yeah I'm aware, and it's awesome!
"And you're prepared, in the event of an emergency, to assist in opening the exit door and assisting others?"
Sure, I guess.
"And I just want to make sure that you can all read, speak, and understand English?"
Well, yes. But at what point during an airplane emergency would I be required to read anything?
Furthermore, and this goes back to her second question, if the plane is going down, I don’t know that I will be of much use to anyone but myself. The whole assisting others thing sounds good in theory, but the chances of that actually happening in the event of an emergency are slim. I’d probably just open the door and heave myself out and let everyone else fiend for themselves. I’m a pretty considerate person normally, but if the plane is plummeting to the ground, I confess I might just be looking out for number one.
News headlines are made out of exit row passengers who forgo their own safety to rush to the aid of others in times of emergency. My headline would likely read, “Woman Successfully Opens Exit Row Seat, Saves Only Herself.”
Maybe that's why tall, chivalrous men usually take the exit row.
I prayed to God that he would keep us accident free, not only because I didn't want to die, but because I knew if something were to happen while I was sitting on the exit row, I'd completely blow it.
The extra room is nice, but I don't think I'm ready for the responsibility of this highly coveted seat.
Now flying first class, on the other hand, I think I could handle that.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Day 205: Not So Smooth Away
I am a night owl and am not so embarrassed to admit that I’ve wasted many hours watching pitch men tell me what products I need to buy to help me get skinny, live longer, and stay happy.
No, really, I’m a sucker.
In fact, if I ever find myself in serious debt, we should all assume it was on stuff I bought from an infomercial as it was on clothes or traveling. For Christmas, 2008, I even themed one round of presents to my family, the Made for TV round, purchasing for each of them, something from infomericals. My dad got a Ped-Egg, my brother got Magic Putty, and my mom got a Snuggie (I’d like to point out, again, that this was in 2008. The Gallmans are way ahead of our time).
The beauty of the As Seen on TV products is they’re not just on TV anymore. They’re in stores, too! Right there at the checkout counter at Target and Bed, Bath & Beyond.
Thanks to their new accessibility, Day 205’s thing I’ve never done before was to try Smooth Away, an As Seen on TV hair removal kit.
Don’t worry, for those of you concerned that I was about to delve into a blog entry about hair removal, please don’t stop reading. You’re safe. That’s because Smooth Away didn’t remove any hair at all.
The kit, as advertised, contained a large Smooth Away pad and a small one, in addition to a handy travel case. That’s about the only thing that the infomercial said that was true.
The rest of the product’s claims are false. Seriously, I rubbed my leg raw with what felt like an over sized emery board and did not remove any hair. My skin was not smooth and soft. It hurt. At the end of the day, I lost $14.95. But I gained an unsightly rash and more clutter to fill up my bathroom drawer.
Thanks for nothing, Smooth Away.
Monday, June 14, 2010
Day 204: Three Out of Four Ain't Bad
But since I spent $186 to become a temporary vegetarian, I still had quite a bit of food left over that needed to be eaten. So maybe, I thought, I'd try to be a vegetarian for two weeks. Just because I love a challenge, so bring it on. I can do it.
What better way to celebrate not eating meat than by eating the holiest of holy foods for vegetarians, tofu? Only having ordered tofu and eating it several times, there was no way to make it the thing that I’ve never done before.
Day 204’s thing I’ve never done before was to cook it. Cook tofu.
Tofu seems to garner the same reaction as peeps did on Day 193. People fall into two very distinct categories. They either hate tofu with every fiber of their being, or they tolerate it.
The tofu audience isn’t so split, however, and there are quite a few more members of “Team Hate Tofu” than are in “Team Tofu is Alright.”
There is no” Team Love Tofu” because it is my belief that no one actually loves tofu, regardless of what they say. I’ve heard vegetarians who are so committed to their lifestyle they cannot accept reality tell me that they love tofu. But I have then, and will now, call bullshit on that. I know it's impossible to love the taste of tofu, because I've tasted it many times. There is very little to love about a wet, soggy, tasteless square of soybean curd except, of course, whatever curry, sauce, hummus, goat cheese concoction that has been prepared to mask the taste, or non-taste, of the tofu.
I love tofu curry = I love curry
I love this tofu goat cheese veggie wrap = I love this goat cheese veggie wrap
Pad Thai with Tofu is my favorite! = Pad Thai is my favorite!
You can love that tofu gives you the protein that you need, you can love that it makes you feel healthy and socially superior to carnivores, but if you, or anyone, tells me that you love the taste, I will tell you that you are a liar. And if you persist, I will tell you to come over to my house and eat an entire block of it without anything on it. And if you finish the entire thing and are still smiling, I will pat you on the back, congratulate you on proving me wrong, and then kick you out my house for being lame and weird.
And then my friend Julie, who almost lost her own challenge with snow peas because of tofu, will kick your ass.
Tofu merely takes on the taste of everything else around it, which is a good thing. It’s like the quiet wallflower in a party full of loud, drunk people.
Cooking with tofu is a challenge I decided to take on, not because I found it particularly interesting, or tasty, but because I had it in my refrigerator and I needed to do something with it. Though I'm not sure of the lifespan of tofu, I assumed because I found it in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, that it wouldn't last forever.
When I bought it, I noticed there were several varieties from which to choose from.
I chose "firm” tofu. Not because I knew that's what I should do, but because I imagined "soft" tofu would likely have the consistency of cottage cheese and though I like cottage cheese, I wouldn’t really know what to do with that. Also, writing "firm," even if it's pertaining to tofu, is humorous.
If what I bought was indeed the "firm" variety of tofu, I would hate to imagine what the "soft" version looks like. The firm tofu was like a wet, white sponge.
I removed the sponge from its packaging and cut it into squares, threw them into a frying pan with some olive oil and garlic. For the most part, the tofu browned evenly and stayed firm, its composition intact. Some of the squares did fall apart, making for little tofu bits swimming around in the curry after I poured that in. I tossed in some steamed broccoli, and served it, to myself, over jasmine rice.
And that is how I successfully cooked with tofu.
My Tofu Curry plus broccoli over jasmine rice was awesome.
And that of course means: I love curry. I love jasmine rice. I love broccoli. I still don't love tofu, even when I made it myself.
But three out of four ain't bad.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Day 203: Do you have any Grey Poupon?
Ashley and John, obviously having already heard him do this before, laughed and explained that yes, their son was responsible for that sound, and that they at one time were also surprised by it. Not anymore though.
The sound wasn't just gas, either. Robert needed to have his diaper changed.
"Have you ever seen a newborn's poop?," John asked me.
"It's different," Ashley said, "Not what you would expect."
I paused to consider the subject matter of this conversation, and I knew their lives would never be the same again.
"No," I said slowly, assuming now that baby poo must be different from adult poo, or else why would we even be talking about it?
Inside was just a small amount of yellow poo. Weird, but not disgusting.
I went in with a baby wipe and cleaned off the Grey Poupon. Robert held still and cried only a little, which I appreciated. I was ready to start figuring out the diaper when Ashley told me to wait. She handed me a cotton pad with ointment on it and said I needed to put it on his circumcision scar.
Whoa, say wha?
I'm down with cleaning the poo, but dealing with surgery wounds in very sensitive areas? I did NOT sign on for that. I did get a little nervous doing this, and I felt badly for the little guy, all of these people staring at his area.
I did as I was told, and fastened the diaper successfully.
Dressing him after the diaper change, however, was an entirely different story. I thought I had it right, but then he tried to straighten his legs and was more or less trapped in his outfit. The snaps were tricky. I called in for help from Ashley to dress him.
So, for all of the new moms and moms-to-be, Aunt Steph can change diapers and is available for babysitting.
Friday, June 11, 2010
Day 202: Can Somebody Please Belay Me?
They said, "Sure."
Philip was listening to the conversation. He furrowed his brow and gave me a look like, "Are you crazy?" Less because I was agreeing to rock climb, more so because who makes a decision to tag along on an out of state rock climb at 12:30am?
I ignored Philip, and told Maribeth that I was serious. I really wanted to go.
When I woke up at 7am on Saturday morning, however, I did not want to go. In fact, I laid in bed for 20 minutes and went back and forth, with myself, about whether or not I should just blow the whole thing off.
"Get up, loser! When else are you going to have an opportunity to rock climb?"
"Stephanie, you can sleep on the way to Tennessee. These are serious rock climbers who know what they are doing. Just get up!"
"This bed is sooooo comfortable. I want to sleeeeeeeeeeeeep."
I texted Maribeth, "I don't think I'm going to make it. You guys have fun!"
And then after beating myself up about being so lame, I forced myself to get up and texted her again, "Nevermind. I'm coming. Don't leave without me."
The ride to Tennessee was, for me, painful. Thankfully Brandon was in the driver's seat and Maribeth was riding shotgun, so I stretched out in the backseat and slept, waking only when we went to a gas station to pick up breakfast (McDonald's) and lunch (Subway). This was, as I mentioned on the start of vegetarian week, the first time I'd ever bought breakfast and lunch at the same time.
Pardon the pun, but buying two meals at the same time felt like rock bottom.
When we arrived at Sunset Rock on Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, I was surprised that we go there by way of a very nice, seemingly exclusive neighborhood at the top of the mountain. The houses we were passing were gorgeous, and likely boasted some of the greatest views in the city. We met up with our friends Jeremy, Megan and Dustin, and parked our car in a gravel lot next to the nice houses.
The hike down the mountain to where we would climb reminded me a lot of hike I did with California Kevin and Mountain Man in Yosemite right down to me wearing my super radical, super outdoorsy Marmot fanny pack. Lots of greenery, lots of scenic views.
Only this time we had dogs. Now, I love dogs. I do not love them, however, when they are wandering close to the edge of cliffs. I was already worried that I would soon plummet to my death. Now I was worrying about the pooches doing the same.
We made it to the rock that we were going to climb and I was a bit confused because while I didn't expect to see thousands of bolts screwed into the rock for us to climb, I thought that I would at least see crevices in the rock for us to put our hands and feet while climbing.
There were but a few.
Jeremy and his friend Dustin stayed behind while we hiked to set up the ropes that we would be using to climb. Once they made it down to where we were, there was still some more setting up that needed to be done. I marveled at how much gear is needed to rock climb.
Maribeth, Brandon and I stayed out of their way, enjoying the mountain air.
"Since when are you a rock climber?," I said.
She laughed and kind of took a step back from her gear, almost in a, "What? This old stuff?" kind of way.
"Haven't you ever heard about my awful experience at Atlanta Rocks?" Atlanta Rocks is an indoor rock climbing gym.
"No," I said.
"Oh yeah," she went on, "I decided when I moved back from Jacksonville that I wanted to learn how to rock climb so I bought all of this equipment. And then I went to the gym and left in tears when I realized I didn't have anyone to belay me."
She burst out laughing remembering this experience, and therefore, so did I.
Her move back to Atlanta was tough enough; the thought of her standing at the base of the manufactured rock with all of her equipment in her hands with no one to help her was both sad and hilarious all at the same time. Extra sad that her plan, I presumed, was to go to Atlanta Rocks to possibly meet someone, a cute someone who would've been more than happy to belay her.
"Certainly," I insisted, "There were dudes there that could've helped you out."
"Nope," she said, still laughing. "Everyone there was with someone!"
Ouch. Add rock climbing to the long list of things singles can't do, I guess.
Dustin and Jeremy went first and made it look easy. They hit a handful of difficult climbs along the way, and I got to see how rock climbing is as much of a mental challenge as it is a physical one. Brandon, also a beginner, but fresh from a tour of duty in Afghanistan showed his strength as well. He may not have been as smooth, but he got to the top impressively.
I decided, after all of the boys took a turn, that I would go first for the girls. Not because I was so excited to take on the challenge, but because my nerves were getting the best of me, and I wanted to get it over with. No question, since I’m constantly trying new things, I’m nervous a lot. But at this point, I hadn't eaten meat in five days, I had jumped out of a plane just a week prior, and faced 20 kindergarteners the day before. This week was emotionally and physically exhausting.
Maribeth offered me her shoes. She wears a half-size smaller than me, but insisted I'd be able to wear them. I started putting them on and it felt like I was stuffing a 15 pound load into a 12 pound bag. They were entirely too small.
"They're supposed to be tight," Maribeth assured me.
Well, then, mission accomplished. They were definitely tight.
Now I am already self-conscious of my legs and of the fact that I have, thanks to my mother, cankles, the kind of leg where the calf more or less becomes the foot with little to no ankle definition whatsoever. My friend Amanda at work insists that I do not have cankles, and she has gone to great lengths to point out others who do have them so that we can compare mine to theirs.
Well, in Maribeth's rock climbing shoes, there was no question; even Amanda would have to agree. I had cankles. Serious ones.
The tightness of the shoes made any and all extra skin and fat on my feet squeeze out to my ankle. Thank God I was wearing long pants because it was embarrassing. And disgusting.
Plus, the shoes really hurt my feet and it was hard to get used to how tight they were.
I climbed up onto the first rock/platform where I would begin the climb. Megan assisted me in putting on my harness, which was quite similar to the harness that I wore skydiving the week before. As if my cankles weren’t unattractive enough, I now had more ropes squeezing the top part of thighs and stomach.
She asked her husband, Jeremy, if she could belay me.
Megan looked at me and said, "Is that okay with you?"
Belaying is crucial in rock climbing. The belayer is the person attached to the climber who stays standing and weights the climber, like an anchor. If the climber should fall, their attachment to a belayer would ensure they wouldn’t fall very far.
Obviously I didn't care who belayed me and most everyone except me (and Maribeth) seemed capable of doing so. I was concerned, however, about the difference in Megan's weight and mine. If I fell, there was a great chance that I would cause her to fly wildly in the air or tip over completely.
"Are you sure that's a good idea?," I asked.
She and Jeremy assured me it would be fine, and I believed them, so I went with it.
The nerves I was feeling here were similar to the nerves I felt when I went skiing with Elizabeth and company in Tahoe. The “I have no idea what I’m doing, but I don’t want to make a fool of myself in front of all these people who do,” kind of nerves. That’s, I think, why skiing and rock climbing seemed much scarier to me than skydiving—all activities are scary, but adding the fear of being embarrassed on top of it makes some challenges extra terrifying.
After everything was clipped and secure, it was time to go for it.
“Stick your hand in Jeremy's chalk bag,” Megan said, seconds before I turned around to start the climb.
The phrase sounded dirty and I laughed out loud when she said it.
“Wow, Megan,” I joked, “Way to just offer me an opportunity to touch your husband's chalk bag. It's kinky. And I like it.”
The chalk was for my hands, to keep them from slipping. I happily did as I was told, knowing full well that I was going to need a lot more than the chalk in Jeremy's bag to make this experience successful. I wished Jeremy had an "athletic ability" bag or a "miracle" bag.
After I was appropriately chalked, I turned around and stared at the wall. There were no obvious grooves or shelves that I could see to put my feet or hands on. Just straight, smooth rock.
I heard Dustin ask Jeremy quietly, "Has she really never done this before?"
My feelings exactly, Dustin. Actually, my feelings were more of the four-letter variety, but "wow" was appropriate too.
I turned around and sort of whiningly said, "I mean, I don't even know where to start."
Immediately, everyone jumped in and started giving me suggestions on how to start, where to put my hands and feet.
Rock climbing requires you to rely so much on the people with you to guide you to places you can't see, places that can get you to the next level. I liked this. There was an instant feeling of community and camaraderie.
"Put your hand in that crack," someone shouted to me, “And pull yourself up.”
Again, with the dirty talk. Another reason to love rock climbing.
With their help, I was able to achieve far more climbing than I ever could've imagined, which really wasn't that much. The shoes, while squeezing my feet past the point of recognition, were extremely helpful in allowing me to literally climb up the flat rock. I don’t know how, but I’m sure it must’ve been the shoes that allowed me to pull that off. I didn’t make it very far, and grew frustrated several times when my friends were saying, “Just grab that,” or “Just a little bit farther.” There was nothing about rock climbing that was “just” anything. There were some great achievements on my brief time on the rock, but I soon reached a point and physically had no strength to pull and no mental capacity to figure out how to move on. I was tired and when I turned around to see everyone staring at me, I started to feel sick, so I asked to come down.
Repelling was my favorite part because you just let go of the rock, lean back and let the belayer ease you back down to the ground. Everyone was really supportive and said they were impressed by my performance, particularly because I hadn’t ever done it before. They also informed me, after I was safely on the ground, that this climb was not for beginners. Thanks for telling me now.
After my piss-poor performance, it was Megan's turn. I had asked earlier what kind of body type makes a good rock climber and everyone agreed that long limbs make the difficult reaches easier to accomplish. Megan proved that those without long limbs can still dominate, and her petite frame leapt to the top like a spider monkey. I was super impressed.
Maribeth’s was unable to overcome her experience at Atlanta Rocks, and made it to the same spot on the rock that I did. She seemed frustrated. I couldn't blame her.
I'd be frustrated too if I'd come out there with my own harness.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Day 201: Ahhhh Yeah, Story Time
In fact, during a work presentation about our new health care benefits, Stacia took my Blackberry from me and in a file dedicated to the blog, she began filling it with ideas: bikini wax, competitive eating contest, colonoscopy.
I'm starting to question if Stacia likes me.
One of her least scary suggestions was to be the Mystery Reader for her son's kindergarten class. I loved the idea but forgot about it for a few months. With the end of the year drawing nearer, I reached out to Stacia and asked if she would set it up for me.
She did, and Day 201's thing I've never done before was to read a story to a kindergarten class.
Ahead of Friday, I emailed her and asked her if I was supposed to choose the book, or if they would give me one when I arrived.
"No," she responded to my first question. "I'll bring you the books."
The next day, she stopped by my desk with two books (apparently the Mystery Reader reads two stories, not one), The Circus Ship and Michael Recycle.
She explained that after I'm done reading them, the books become a gift to the class on behalf of Grant.
"Oh," she said, as she turned to walk away, "You're going to want to read those ahead of time, because trust me, you do NOT want to fuck up in front of these kids."
I burst out laughing, certain that she was just kidding and that this dramatic advice was not for real.
"They're 6-year olds! They're going to love me!"
Stacia was not laughing.
"I'm serious," she said. "They've likely read these stories before. They know what comes next. If you skip a page or screw up a word, they're gonna know."
And then it occurred to me, again, "They're 6-year olds! They're going to eat me alive."
I did as she told me and read both books twice. Once the night before and once the morning before I drove over to the school. I arrived 20 minutes early and sat in my car. Knowing my tendency to get nervous for no reason, I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear that I was super nervous.
I even emailed Stacia and said, "I think I'm freaking out more than I was when I went sky-diving."
Finally I walked my weak knees up to the front of the school and rang the doorbell outside. I paused and mourned the days when it was safe and acceptable to walk right into an elementary school. Those days have since passed.
The receptionist let me in and asked me to sign in and then pointed me in the direction of the kindergarten class.
When I arrived in the class, I walked into a pandemonium of kids running around playing, laughing, yelling. It was like a scene out of the movie Kindergarten Cop before Mr. Kimball (aka Arnold Schwarzenegger) whipped those kids into shape. Nothing worse than what I would've expected from a kindergarten class, but nonetheless overwhelming for someone who deals with kids one at a time, if ever. The students were finishing up eating their snack and cleaning up the classroom, so there was a lot going on.
The teacher greeted me when I arrived, and I explained to her, after she asked me, my connection to Grant.
What I gathered based on my discussions with Stacia and my brief meeting with the teacher, is that that about the Mystery Reader is always someone related to one of the kids in the class. Moms, Dads, brothers, sisters, grandparensts, babysitters, all obvious choices for the job.
I wondered if I was the first student's parent's employee to make an appearance as the Mystery Reader. I wondered if the teacher thought that it was weird.
Grant, Stacia's son, and I had spent no more than 15 minutes together total our entire lives when he came into work last Christmas and we talked about dinosaurs. The entire encounter consisted of him telling me how much he knew, and him rolling his eyes and shaking his head at me over how little I knew. Then he reminded me that his mom was my boss.
I highly doubted that he remembered this brief exchange and I was slightly concerned that when his teacher announced that the Mystery Reader was "related" to him, that he might freak, yell "Stranger Danger," and run out of the room or something.
When he heard his name, Grant jumped up in the center of the carpet and did a dance that I'd seen before many times; it's the same dance his mom does by my desk at least once a week when something goes well at work. Then he looked at his friends and said, "Ahhhh yeah!"
Apparently our little encounter about the dinosaurs had made an impression on him, or, more likely, when you're 6-years old, having something that the other kids don't have, even if it's a distant relationship with the day's Mystery Reader, is always a good thing.
Regardless of what sparked his reaction, I loved Grant immediately. And immensely.
I sat in the glider chair and looked at all of the precious faces of the class looking back at me. I didn't really have to work for their attention, which was surprising to me. They seemed instantly eager to hear what I had to say.
I asked them which book they wanted me to read first, and overwhelmingly the choice was The Circus Ship, a story about a ship carrying animals to a circus that gets caught in a rainstorm, displacing the animals.
The book mentioned Boston, which struck a chord with a couple of kids.
"My grandparents live in Boston!" one shouted out.
"I've been to Boston!," another one yelled.
I stopped myself from yelling back at them, "I'm a Boston Red Sox fan!"
Instead, I kept reading, letting them point out the hidden animals in the pictures.
"That's a giraffe!!"
"I see the elephant!!!!!!!"
When we read Michael Recycle, I thought it would open up a conversation about recycling and being green, but my message, if there was one, seemed to be lost on them.
I asked them, in my best kindergarten teacher voice, how they could help the environment.
Silence. Blank stares.
After both stories had been read, the class asked me where I was from and Grant pointed to South Carolina on the map.
Then, just as they do with all of the Mystery Readers, all of the children came up, one by one, to shake my hand and introduce themselves. Most of them were shy, but sweet, extending their hands and telling me their names.
Some wanted to tell me that they had a sister or a brother, others what they did on spring break, or that they were going to the beach this summer.
Grant approached my chair and asked me if I was going to his older brother Bennett's class.
"Nope," I said, "Just yours."
His eyes danced with excitement at this thought. The fact that he was getting a visit from me and his brother was not positively delighted him. And then he walked away.
One of Grant's friends approached the chair, laughing before he ever spoke.
"I'm Vaughn. I'm 15," he said.
I looked at the teacher, confused.
"Oh yeah, that's the thing right now," she said, "They're all into being older than they really are."
I remember wanting to be older when I was six too, but why 15, I wondered. I held back from telling them how much I hated being 15.
Vaughn returned a minute later and said, "I meant I'm 19."
Better, Vaughn, but still, why 19? Be 22.
Olivia took my hand and told me she knew how to read.
I told her that was awesome and she said she's been reading since she was 3, before most of her classmates. And she reads books. A lot of them. Every night before she goes to sleep.
Alright, Olivia, I was impressed, but any more details about your reading habits and I'm going to think you're showing off.
Another kid approached my chair slowly. He grabbed my hand with purpose, looked me in the eyes and said, "Thank you so much for coming to our class to read The Circus Ship. It really was lovely."
He was so serious, so grateful, I couldn't help but laugh. He was definitely an old soul.
There was Grace, Copeland, Grady and Evergreen (no kidding), and even a little unfortunate girl who looked exactly like Vienna from the last season of the Bachelor.
After meeting everyone in the class, it was time for me to leave. The window of opportunity of these kids going from cute to insane was narrowing rapidly.
As I drove away, I thought about how I'm still not sure if I'm cut out to be a parent myself, but that I absolutely loved reading to these kids. I know procreating for my own amusement is not the way to go, but selfishly I'd consider having them just because they are so damn funny and I would get the biggest kick out of them everyday.
Maybe I should just be a teacher. Or a full time Mystery Reader.