Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Day 250: The Tominator

On Day 250, my friends Dan and Karen generously invited me to their rehearsal dinner the night before their wedding.

What made this evening so special for me was not the high school reunion that it became for me, since a lot of my oldest friends made the trip from South Carolina for the wedding, or that Dan and I have known each other since elementary school and here we were, 20 years later on the eve of his big day.

Yeah, all of that stuff was great, but what made this evening particularly special was that the dinner was catered by Fox Brothers Barbecue, which is quite possibly the best idea for a rehearsal dinner ever.

Fox Brothers Barbecue is an Atlanta favorite, usually ranked pretty highly on lists of great places to eat in the city, and certainly on the "best of" lists for barbecue. It's also one of Dan and Karen's restaurants. In fact, they told me later that choosing the menu for the rehearsal dinner was one of the easiest wedding decisions that they made.

Among the rehearsal dinner offerings: pulled pork, spare ribs, macaroni and cheese, green beans, and the Tominator.

If the Tominator sounds aggressive, it’s because it is: a heap of tater tots, covered in melted cheese and Brunswick stew.

I was so excited to see that Karen and Dan decided to choose the Tominator for their menu, because despite having been to the restaurant several times, this glorious concoction is one of the few Fox Brothers' specialties that I hadn't tried. No surprise then, that eating it for the first time became Day 250's thing I'd never done before.

Merely writing these ingredients evokes several statements, exclamations even, from me, and I’m sure it does you too.

“Yessssssssssss! What an awesome idea!” (I know!)

“Ugh, that sounds like too much of a good thing.” (There is no such thing as too much goodness, especially where tater tots are concerned.)

“Why didn’t we come up with that? When can I try it?” (I don’t know, because we’re idiots. Whenever you want, I’m always game.)

“Damn, I wish I lived in Atlanta.” (I completely understand; come and visit me and I’ll take you there.)

I scooped some of the Tominator onto my plate, and had to chuckle that I was scooping it from a perfectly refined sterling silver chafing dish, as if to say, “We may increase our chances of clogged arteries, but dammit we will do so with a little bit of dignity and class.”

When I took a bite of what was the equivalent of the best damn tater tot casserole ever, I found it to be every bit as wonderful as you might expect.

I couldn't eat a lot of it, but the portion that I tried was enough for me to fully understand the culinary genius of the Fox Brothers. The only reason I didn't dive head first into the chafing dish to finish off every last bit of the Tominator is because I was wearing white pants. Plus I knew if I ate too much I'd have to take a nap, and there was still lots of post-rehearsal dinner fun to be had (including me running through the streets of Decatur without shoes on.)

A frequent wedding attendee, I have, over the years, found that a direct correlation between tasty wedding food and successful marriages does exist.

Good food = long, happy marriage

Bad food, not enough food or places to sit = questionable

If the same is true here, then Dan and Karen, I’m going to predict a happy, everlasting marriage for you both. Because nothing says “lifetime of happiness” quite like the Tominator does.

Day 249: Playing My Girl Card

On Day 249, Emily and I hosted a martini party, something she'd been suggesting we do as a fun activity for the blog.

"Perfect," I thought, because while being a vodka martini drinker for several years now, I had never actually made the cocktail myself.

When Sex and the City 2 hit the theaters, this party we'd only just talked about started to make sense, and began to take shape. What if we had martinis and appetizers ahead of going to see the movie? How completely unoriginal and girly!

Let it be known that I make no apologies for liking this show, and the films, as much as every other woman. Interesting characters, superb writing, fabulous shoes . . .what's not to like? Hosting a party in honor of a movie, though, was completely out of character for Emily and me.

But what the hell? Who cares? I needed to learn how to mix a martini, I needed away to get people over to Emily's to taste it and I did want to see the film, so Day 249's thing I've never done before was to make blue cheese stuffed olives and mix a dirty martini.

And host a Sex and the City 2 party. Barf.

I prepared the blue cheese stuffed olives before going over to Emily's the night of the party.

They're not hard to make, they're simply time consuming. The challenge for me was figuring out how to get the cheese in the little hole inside the olive without kitchen tools like piping bags and toothpicks.

Before that, though, I had to get the pimentos out. I searched wildly for a tool that would've done the trick, but came up short. I wondered, after briefly considering grabbing my bathroom set to get this job done, if there is such a thing as kitchen tweezers for scenarios like this. If not, perhaps I will invent them and become rich and famous.

I washed my hands thoroughly and used my fingers and a fork to remove the pimentos. Then I filled a plastic sandwich bag (the single girl's piping bag) with the blue cheese mixture (blue cheese, garlic and black pepper), snipped the end off of it and squeezed the mixture into the now-vacant hole in each of the olives.

The process wasn't pretty, and my method, along with the mess, served as further proof that I will never have my own cooking show, but the finished product was delicious. I repacked the pimento-free, blue cheese stuffed olives into the olive juice, as the recipe told me to, packed my other hors d’ourves and raced over to Emily's house.

"I got all dressed up for my partay," Emily said when she opened the door to her place wearing a fancy new shirt.

In the spirit of girliness, I told her she looked, “Soooooo cute,” and that her tan from her long weekend at the beach looked, “Soooooo good.”

We began racing around to set up the food and drinks, forgetting for a moment that our friends are usually late and likely wouldn't arrive on time. Our window for food and drinks was short, though, since we were headed to the movie at 9pm, so we wanted everything ready by the time guests began to arrive.

As we started filling platters with the food we'd prepared, I had to laugh.

"Where were we going with this menu?," I asked Emily, as I looked at the spread that included baked brie, guacamole, wontons and frosted cookies with the characters from Sex and the City's names painted on them.

"I have no idea," she said.

Scott, Emily's husband, agreed. The theme we were apparently going for was, “Emily and Stephanie’s favorite finger foods.”

He motioned towards the brie.

"Did you guys make that because of Bree in the movie?," he asked, smiling, proud that he had drawn this conclusion.

Emily and I stared at him, and then we looked at each other. Then Emily looked back at Scott.

"Are you talking about Brie from Desperate Housewives?," Emily asked.

Scott laughed.

"Whoops, my bad."

And then he grabbed a wonton and left the condo immediately for Donald’s, where he would stay, banished from his own place for the rest of the girls' night.

After Scott left, it was time to mix my first martini.

And then Lisa called.

“Where are you?” I said, “I made blue cheese stuffed olives.”

"Well why don't you stuff one with a ruffie and I'll be right there.”

"What? Nice, Lisa. That just made the blog."

She hung up, and arrived a few minutes later.

While we waited for her to get there, I went back to mixing my very first martini. Though I wasn't thinking this at the time, I'm extremely grateful that learning how to make a martini was on my list of things to do that I'd never done before. I just feel like that's something every 30-year old should know how to do.

Emily gave me instructions, and said a martini isn't scientific. It's just vodka, a couple of splashes of vermouth, and as much olive juice as I wanted in the cocktail shaker with ice. That's it.

Then shake, (but not too much so that it spills all over Emily's countertops as I learned the hard way) pour, and serve.

Done. Easy. Delicious.

After a couple of tries, I discovered the key to a good martini is to make it super cold, and super salty with the olive juice.

Our guests agreed. Those who tried the dirty martini seemed to like it. Well, more like they didn't hate it; I'm going to take that as a success. No one seemed completely turned off my the drinks and the olives were a hit.

We spent a lot of time out on Emily and Scott's back porch that night, discussing everything and nothing. Lisa was surprised to find out, despite me already telling her, that I'd made the olives myself.

"Oh," Lisa said, "You made them?"

I reminded her about our conversation earlier about the ruffie, and I told her I'd already planned to write about it in the blog. Then she said she hated when I write about her, because I misrepresent her.

Her words stung.

"Like misquote you?" I asked.

"No," she said, "You just always make me sound stupid."

Maribeth chimed in and agreed with Lisa that I've painted her in an unflattering way.

Though this conversation was light-hearted (I think), I made it clear that the only person I aim to disbarage in this blog is myself. And I truly mean that. My friends are the characters in my life and they're way more interesting than any characters I could've created, but in no way did I ever mean to put them out there in ways that are unfavorable.

But seeing as how I'm several months behind in writing, I must admit that, "My blog is the truth, as I remember it," so I might not get everything exactly right. I'm getting up there in years, after all.

I told both of them this and then encouraged Maribeth and Lisa to start their own blogs to set the record straight.

At 8:30pm, we needed to make a move to the theater for the movie, but no one could really get the motivation to get out the door. The martinis were simply too tasty, and the conversation (read: gossip) was just too good, so after a great deal of dicussion, we opted to skip the movie and enjoy each other's company (and my martinis) instead.

The change of plans kind of screwed Kyle who had already bought her ticket to the movie, but the decision was the right one, and Kyle met us at Emily's.

So the Sex and the City 2 party turned out to be the martini party that we'd intended it to be all along.

So fun, so girly, and so fabulous. Just like us.

Ok, enough with the cliches. Can someone bring me a beer?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Kicking 30's Ass

I'm less than 30 days from turning 30, and while I have every intention of finishing this project exactly the way I started it -- with vigor, but habitually late -- I'd be lying if I told you I'm not also looking for a way to enter this new decade with a little bit of grace. And dignity. Because right now, all I want to do is cry.

I went to the Internet to find articles by other women approaching my age to see what insights they could share. I found this article in Glamour magazine from 1997 (when I was a mere 17-years old), that contained a list of what every woman should have accomplished by the time she is 30.

I decided to take a look and see how I'm doing with only a month to go before my "important milestone."

By 30, you should have:

1. One old boyfriend you can imagine going back to and one who reminds you of how far you’ve come.

Hmmm . . .not sure about that, but is it good enough to say that I have learned more about what I want and what I don't want with each relationship I've ever had.

2. A decent piece of furniture not previously owned by anyone else in your family.

Uh . . .uh . . .(I'm looking around my apartment wildly right now, certainly I have something . . . ANYTHING?!) Nope, my apartment looks like a garage sale. My parents bought me a piece of furniture a couple of Christmases ago, but I had no place among the crap to put it, so I left it in my closet at their house. I must figure out a way to get it here before September 27th.

3. Something perfect to wear if the employer or man of your dreams wants to see you in an hour.

Definitely. Thank you, Kyle and the Sandpiper.

4. A purse, a suitcase and an umbrella you’re not ashamed to be seen carrying.

Purse, yes. Umbrella, yes. My suitcase has seen better days but only because like its owner, it's well traveled, and I'm not ashamed of that at all, even if it does look like it's been through a tornado. If anyone is looking for something to get me for my birthday, though . . .

5. A youth you’re content to move beyond.

I feel like this is for the people who had traumatic experiences as children, which I did not. But sure, I'm ready to leave my awkward teen years behind. I thought I already did.

6. A past juicy enough that you’re looking forward to retelling it in your old age.

A juicy past? I've got some good stories to tell, but I'm not sure my past would qualify as "juicy." I do have 30 more days to spice it up, though. Who's in?

7. The realization that you are actually going to have an old age—and some money set aside to help fund it.

Here's to financial independence and responsibility! Thanks, Mom and Dad for teaching me the importance of IRAs and 401ks.

8. An e-mail address, a voice mailbox and a bank account—all of which nobody has access to but you.


9.A résumé that is not even the slightest bit padded.


10.One friend who always makes you laugh and one who lets you cry.

I've got more than one of these, and some that do both. I also have a lot friends who want to get drunk, and they're fun too.

11.A set of screwdrivers, a cordless drill and a black lace bra.

I'm not sure I agree with "needing" a cordless drill. But set of screwdrivers, check! Black lace bra, check!

12.Something ridiculously expensive that you bought for yourself, just because you deserve it.

I have a lot of ridiculously expensive things, most of which I bought for myself, not all that I'm proud of.

13.The belief that you deserve it.

I'd say I deserved at least half of them.

14.A skin-care regimen, an exercise routine and a plan for dealing with those few other facets of life that don’t get better after 30.

Boooooo . . .getting older DOES suck. I knew it!

15.A solid start on a satisfying career, a satisfying relationship and all those other facets of life that do get better.

A "solid start," is a fair assessment, I'd say. Neither category is where I want it to be, but I'm on my way.

By 30, you should know:

1. How to fall in love without losing yourself.

If this were a report card, I'd have to check the "Needs Improvement," box here.

2.How you feel about having kids.

I think I want kids someday. I think I also want to sail around the world. I'm not sure if those two things go together, so I'm still sorting this one out.

3. How to quit a job, break up with a man and confront a friend without ruining the friendship.

Quit a job: Thank your boss for the opportunity, tell him you're leaving and wait for him to tell you he already knew because your new boss already told him (this one works best if you're moving departments within the same company and your old boss and new boss know each other.)

Breaking Up: Take a Xanax, sleep for five hours on the way back from a trip together, wake up when you arrive at your destination and just do it. Then stand in the street with him for half an hour and cry.

Confront a Friend: I need work on this one, because I hate confrontation in general. Maybe I should go the breaking up with boyfriend route and use prescription drugs.

4. When to try harder and when to walk away.

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. If then you still don't succeed, walk away, find the friends that want to get drunk and do that.

5. How to kiss in a way that communicates perfectly what you would and wouldn’t like to happen next.

I am 75% sure I'm good at this, and 100% sure that my dad doesn't want to read about it.

6. The names of: the secretary of state, your great-grandmother and the best tailor in town.

Hillary; Lillie Ellen; no idea what her name is. We don't speak. I tell her what I want done, and she grunts at me, and then smiles.

7. How to live alone, even if you don’t like to.

Yes, unfortunately, I am very good at living alone.

8. How to take control of your own birthday.

Ugh, this is a conversation for another blog entry. I'm in the midst of planning my own birthday party as the thing I've never done before and it sucks. I wouldn't say it's at all "under control," and it's extremely depressing, but it is happening. And I'm in the driver's seat. Solo.

9.That you can’t change the length of your calves, the width of your hips or the nature of your parents.

Gah, this one really blows, but yes, I've accepted my dumpy knees and borderline cankles, courtesy my mother. Let's hope these special gifts come as a packaged deal, along with her sharp wit, affinity for choosing a good husband and having extraordinary children.

10.That your childhood may not have been perfect, but it’s over.

My childhood was pretty damn perfect, minus the perm, the braces, and the subsequent insecurity.

11. What you would and wouldn’t do for money or love.

This list just took an interesting and seemingly serious turn. I mean, I wouldn't subject myself to emotional or physical abuse for love and I wouldn't whore myself out for money. Is that what they're talking about here?

12. That nobody gets away with smoking, drinking, doing drugs or not flossing for very long.

Not true, some of us were meant to party. Like Lindsay Lohan.

13.Who you can trust, who you can’t and why you shouldn’t take it personally.

I know who I can trust, and who I can't. Not taking it personally is a challenge.

14. Not to apologize for something that isn’t your fault.

I have a hard time with this one. I'm really big on helping those who have hurt my feelings feel comfortable with hurting my feelings. It's my "thing." I think I need to find a new "thing."

15. Why they say life begins at 30.

Let's hope so, though I've lived and learned a lot up to this age, none of which I want to ignore or forget about. But I know that I'm not exactly embracing this milestone age as I had hoped I would.

I had a dream over the weekend that I was standing in a room with all of my cousins and one of them asked me if I was nervous about turning 30. My response, in the dream, while doing a high kick, was, "Nah, I'm going to kick 30's ass."

I really hope that I do.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Day 248: Silly, Silly, Silly Bandz

On Day 248 I walked over to my friend Emily's desk and saw a plethora of new toys on her desk.

"What are those?," I asked Emily, pointing at the oddly shaped figures on top of her computer.

"Silly Bandz," she replied, as if I should've already known.

"Oh, that's a Silly Band?," I asked, picking one up. It reminded me of the jelly bracelets I used to wear in elementary school, only sitting on Emily's desk, the bracelets looked like a football, a helmet, an elephant. Emily's Silly Bandz were Alabama football themed.

I first heard of Silly Bandz from my most favorite celebrity Kelly Ripa, who thanks to her own kids, sometimes wears and talks about them on her show.

Mo gets the credit for the bringing the plastic bracelets in animal shapes into my life, however. I'm still not sure why Mo knows so much about the most popular accessory in middle schools, but he outfitted some of our co-workers with their very own.

"Do you want one?," Emily asked me, almost childlike, proving that we're never too old to participate in trends meant for pre-teens.

"Sure," I said, happy to take part in the craze.

Day 248's thing I've never done before was to wear Silly Bandz.

I wore the two Silly Bandz Emily gave me off and on for about a week. In that time, I'd often forget that they were on my wrist, but when I did glance down I couldn't help but be reminded that Mo actually paid for these colorful rubberbands.

And that's all they really are. Rubberbands.

Rubberbands that have been banned from some schools because they cause such a distraction. They are, according to Time Magazine, 2010's version of Beanie Babies and Pokemon cards.

True, they form into the shape of animals, and I suppose that is the draw for children, but why so much hysteria over a plastic arm band? I'm not trying to be a downer, and crap all over Silly Bandz, I'm just trying to express my frustration over the fact that I didn't think of this idea. My brother used to wear a rubber band on his wrist all of the time, and my friend Greg still does. Why didn't it ever occur to me when looking at either of their wrists, "Now if I made that rubber band mold into the shape of a monkey and then painted it red, I could make kids go crazy and be a millionaire."

Later that month, I also wished I'd held onto my Silly Bandz for my family's annual trip to the beach in North Carolina. Those bracelets could've earned me the street cred I so desparately needed around my cousins' kids, who spend half of the short time we are together unsure of who I am and therefore scared to talk to me. Had I come to the beach with an arm full of Silly Bandz, I may have made some progress on these relationships.

Silly bands are just as their name suggests. They're silly. They're downright ridiculous. But damn I wish I would've thought of them.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Day 247: Spicing Things Up

"Today's the day," I announced to my friends at work. "I've got my reservation for Spicy Chicken."

In the weeks leading up to the unveiling of its newest menu item, the Spicy Chicken sandwich, fast food restaurant Chik-fil-a began a marketing campaign encouraging customers to make a reservation to try the sandwich for free.

Since there is a store in the food court of my office, it seemed fitting that I would sign up for one of these free sandwiches and try one as Day 247's thing I've never done before.

"This is history in the making," Mo said, when I told him it was time.

I don't know if I would go that far. True, this was the Spicy Chicken sandwich debut, but I'm not sure anyone will write about it in history books. I don't see myself ever turning to my children and saying in my most earnest voice, "Kids, you know what today is, don't you? The 25th anniversary of Chik-fil-a's release of the Spicy Chicken Sandwich. Let's all pause for a moment of silence in remembrance of this day."

On the other hand, the day the Spicy Chicken was made available to Chik-fil-a customers is exactly the kind of useless information I always seem to remember, so maybe I will.

Regardless, with my reservation form in hand, Mo and I headed downstairs to the food court in our office to pick up my free trial sandwich.

"I'm here for the Spicy Chicken," I said triumphantly to the man behind the counter, handing him my form.

He was friendly, and he smiled when I said it. Meanwhile, Mo was behind me snapping pictures of the entire encounter behind me on his iPhone. For all this guy knew, this could've been my first ever trip to a fast food restaurant.

Just before he handed me my food and drink, the Chik-fil-a guy started looking a little shady, like he had to tell me a secret or something. I was not at all following what he was doing.

"For mi amigo," he said, nodding his head towards Mo as he slipped a second spicy chicken sandwich into my bag.

We're not sure if it was our friendly conversation with the guy, or the fact that Mo was wildly snapping pictures to the point that it made him appear mentally challenged and therefore deserving of a free sandwich too that made our new friend so generous, but we got out of there with two free sandwiches, a drink and a salad for $4.10.

We thanked him profusely, like he had done us an enormous favor, realizing on our way back upstairs that free Spicy Chicken sandwiches were fairly easy to come by that week, reservation or not.

When we got back to Mo's desk, we handed the camera to Justin to document our reaction.

Since everything Chik-fil-a makes (with the exception of the carrot raisin salad) is pretty much delicious, I knew that I would like it. I just didn't know how much I would like it. I did not know that they would knock a spicier version of their already kick-ass sandwich out of the fast food ball park. It's just like the regular Chik-fil-a sandwich, only it tastes like it's been dipped in wing sauce.

After discovering how much I loved the Spicy Chicken, I asked around to see what others thought about it. The reviews were mixed, which for some reason really offended me.

Justin shrugged his shoulders and said, "It's ok. I just think it tastes like their regular chicken sandwich covered in wing sauce."

"I know!," I said, excitedly.

The very reason I loved it is the same reason Justin wasn't at all impressed.

My friend Emily's boyfriend Jay works for Chick-fil-a and he said they've been working on the Spicy Chicken sandwich for ten years. At the time, I was 247 days into this year-long project and completely exhausted, I can't imagine working on the same sandwich for TEN years. I suspect Chik-fil-a takes this much time with all of their new menu items, meaning if I started working on something now, I'd be almost 40-years old before anyone in the general public ever got to try it.

Though I wouldn't want to devote all of that time into a spicier version of the original, I am so thankful that someone did. I'd say it was time well spent.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Day 246: Good Vibrations, sans Stamos

Day 246 was Memorial Day.

And after a spirited and borderline combative conversation with my mother about how my generation isn't patriotic, and doesn't understand the true meaning of the day, it was clear it was time to leave my parents' house and head back to Atlanta.

FF had invited me to the Braves game, which sounded like fun, and a completely patriotic way to honor Memorial Day. But the selling point on this game for me was that the Beach Boys were playing a free concert after the game.

Question: What is more American than a baseball game and the Beach Boys?

Answer: Nothing.

See Mom, I told you I was patriotic!

Day 246's thing I've never done before was to see the Beach Boys at Turner Field.

When I told people my plan for Memorial Day, my news was met with several smiles and raised eyebrows, I’m sure in part because this was Day #3 with FF, and also because they were jealous that I was going to see the Beach Boys and they were not.

My brother's reaction surprised me, though. He wanted to know about FF, but that was secondary to what he was really curious about.

"The game will be fun," my brother said, "Is Stamos going to be there?"


"Yeah," he replied, "John Stamos."

"John Stamos? Like Uncle Jesse from Full House John Stamos?"


"Since when does he play with the Beach Boys?," I asked.

Jeff looked at me like I was an idiot, and for good reason.

I assumed that the “Uncle Jesse plays with the Beach Boys” subplot on Full House was just a ratings ploy to help the already absurd scenario of three men raising three little girls in the same house in San Francisco. When in fact, John Stamos has been playing drums with the Beach Boys for 25 years.

Since I was completely unaware of this already existing relationship, when Jeff, and later my friend Elizabeth asked me about Stamos' attendance at the game, I had to confess I did not know if he would be there.

I asked FF, since he had sold the game to me with the promise of a performance by Beach Boys.

"Is John Stamos gonna be with them?"

He laughed, but like me, was not aware of the 25-year long Stamos/Beach Boys relationship. I suspect he might’ve also been somewhat alarmed that I even asked a question about John Stamos.

Though not clear on whether or not Stamos is actually a “Beach Boy,” he makes regular appearances with the band as a drummer. When he wants to drum, he shows up at the concert, and he drums. I am not sure who fills in for Stamos when he's not there, or how that backup drummer feels about playing second string to Uncle Jesse.

Much to our dismay (especially my brother's), the Atlanta Braves Memorial Day concert was not one of the shows John Stamos signed on to play.

But the rest of the Beach Boys proved that they all may be pushing 70-years old and singing songs that haven't been hits since the 1960s, but they’ve still got it. The classics, like "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "Kokomo," and "Little Deuce Coupe," clearly never die. There were people of all ages both on the field and in the stands dancing, clapping, and singing along. I held off on showing FF all of my moves (this was only Date #3), but I think he became aware that day that I'll pretty much dance to anything.

The day wasn't drama free, thanks to the sound system that crapped several times during the show; there was also a scare when the ballpark staff stopped serving beer in the 7th inning before the end of the game. I worried that I have to deal with the third date jitters without the help of Bud Light. But thankfully, the concession stands reopened once the concert started, or things could've gotten really awkward.

I mean, the Beach Boys are good. But they're not that good.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Day 245: Spinners. Weird.

On Day 245, I went to Spinner’s, a private dining, member’s only restaurant on Lake Murray that my mom scored “passes” to for my brother’s birthday. Eating at this restaurant with my family was confusing for me, and was Day 245’s thing that I’ve never done before.

I don’t know what was weirder:

That Lake Murray has a “member’s only” resort, (Lake Murray? Really?), that there were women lounging in the resort’s “beach” getting wasted on Michelob Ultras and smoking Virginia Slims while their children were swimming, or that we almost got stuck in a tornado coming back, and were forced to hide under beach towels.

Definitely the Virginia Slims.

Day 244: A New Four-Letter Word

Warning: This blog contains language that is inappropriate for children. Words like shit, fuck, and golf.

After several private golf lessons, sinking a putt on a PGA golf course, and even a trip to the driving range on my own, the only thing left for me to do was to actually play a full round of golf.

Eighteen holes with my dad and brother. That was Day 244's thing I've never done before.

If you know me at all, you're probably thinking what my brother and dad were likely thinking: God help us.

My dad reminded me (or warned me?) all week that he'd booked one of the first tee times at the course so that I'd need to get up early and be ready to go by 7am. When my dad "reminds" me of something he does so as often and in as many ways as possible. So I was made aware of our tee time via email, phone call, and my mom, who reminded me one last time before I headed out after Caroline's performance on Friday.

I set my own alarm, so as not to miss the tee time he had made so abundantly clear, but I didn't need to, because my dad woke me up bright and early on Saturday morning. I suited up in my brand new golf outfit, we loaded our clubs into the car, and away we went, arriving with plenty of time to spare.

I knew before I even swung my club for the first time that day, that I was going to be getting a lot of instructions on my golf game from both Jeff and my dad.

What I did not know was that the instruction would not be limited to my swing, but would also include plenty about golf course etiquette. Ahead of us teeing off, for example, my dad said that he and Jeff would tee off at one box, and as soon as they were done, I needed to drive myself to the lady's tee box up ahead. They would take the other cart to get ready for their second shot.

"It keeps the game moving," my dad said.

I did as I was told, which turned out to be the only thing that I did right the first couple of holes. I was a mess pretty much from the start; if I hit the ball (which was not always guaranteed), I wasn't hitting it very far.

My dad and Jeff were both encouraging, taking turns giving me pointers so as not to overwhelm me with a barrage of suggestions. "Choke up the club," "Don't bring the club back so far," "Have your putter ready to go so you won't have to keep going back to the cart," were among some of the instructions I was given.

Despite their help, however, when I was able to connect with the ball, I still required three shots to get me into the vicinity of where their first shots were landing. I joked that since I hit them all about the same distance, I could really probably play with just three clubs: a driver, a pitching wedge, and a putter.
When I told him that playing 18 holes of golf was the thing that I'd never done before, my dad immediately removed his cell phone from his pocket and vowed to document the day's activities.
"It's for the blog," he said, enthusiastically.

I did need pictures for the blog, but when he handed me his phone to show me what he had taken thus far, I was not impressed. I was actually pretty disgusted.

"Ugh, Dad, I hate these pictures," I said, standing outside the cart waiting for my brother to hit. "I look fat."

"You're not fat," he said.

"I hate my legs."

"What?" He rolled his eyes. "Get in the cart."

I've had a version of this conversation with my dad before. Several times, in fact. So, while I don't think he was particularly surprised that my vanity is alive and well, I also don't think he expected he'd ever have a conversation like this one on the golf course. I'll bet at that moment he wished he rode in Jeff's cart.

I decided to drop it, because clearly there was nothing he could say that would comfort me, and if I took it any further, I'd probably never be invited to play again.

As we moved on, I discovered that I was most effective with my pitching wedge. No surprise, considering that's the club that my instructor used to teach me the basics.

But put any other club in my hand, and I was unpredictable; my shots were all over the place and my frustration was building. How, after lessons, and practice (Ok, not that much practice), could I be so bad at this?

"Focus," I told myself.

I stepped up to the ball, took my time to align my body, just right. When I felt like I was ready, I pulled back to swing feeling like this one was going to be a good one. I drove down and my club barely grazed the top of the ball, knocking it off the tee, but only moving it about ten feet.

"MOTHER FUCKER!" I yelled in front of my dad, at no one in particular.


Even now I'm not sure why I said it. I mean, I know why I said it, because I was so damn frustrated, but I'm not sure why "mother fucker," was the phrase that I chose. I've definitely dropped quite a few f-bombs in my time, but, never "mother fucker."

"Sorry," I said hastily to my dad who seemed more amused by my frustration than offended by the cursing.

"You know why they call it golf, don't you?," when I got back on the cart to drive the short distance to my ball.

"No," I said, warily, and still super pissed about how terrible I was hitting.

"Because shit and fuck were already taken."

I laughed. Then he laughed.

Then he stopped laughing and looked at me and said, "Don't put that in the blog."

"Ok," I lied, knowing that not only was I going to talk about it in the blog, but since I felt like swearing the moment I stepped onto the course, his joke might be the focus of the entire entry. Golf makes me say things that even my potty-mouth wouldn't normally say.

At the turn, my score was an embarrassing +28. We all took a bathroom break and my dad visited the snack bar.

"Do you kids want beers," he asked Jeff and me, removing Miller Lite cans from the cooler. I feel it necessary to point out again, for the sake of my mom, that it was dad asking us kids if we wanted beers.

Drinking beer at 9am felt a little aggressive to me, but if that's what golfers do, then I had no choice but to do it too.

"Sure," I said.

I waited until we'd played a few more holes before I cracked open one of the beers, and also exchanged my sunglasses for a visor.

When it was my turn to hit again, I drilled the ball with my driver and sent the ball soaring farther than I ever had before. The shot impressed my Dad and brother; I was shocked, elated.

That shot also kicked off a string of several impressive drives, forcing me to assume that the key to my golf game might be a few sips of Miller Lite and a visor. Screw learning the basics, all I need is some alcohol and a proper sun shield!

I pulled off a handful of double-bogeys, which for me is enormous progress and something to be happy about. My short game is shit; I can,and will, ruin a great drive once I get on the green having to putt 4-5 times before getting it in the hole.

Eventually we made it to 17. The most beautiful and kindest hole in the whole wide world. Dad hit and his ball went left, into the woods next to the cart path. I can't remember where Jeff's ball ended up but I'm sure it was somewhere good.

And then it was my turn. I knew I was going to hit the ball well because no one was paying attention to what I was doing, which seemed to be the theme of the day. When all eyes are on me, I'm horrible; once everyone looks away, I'll manage to squeak out something worth talking about.

I swung my driver and felt the connection instantly. The ball soared through the air and dropped exactly where I wanted it to, making Day 244 also the first time I ever shot from the tee box to the green.

And that, my friends, is the reason why people play this demoralizing sport at all. Because the second that little ball dropped on the green and rolled towards the hole, I forgot about all of the other terrible shots I hit that day (with the exception of the "mother fucker" one). I only remember how excited I was and the look on my dad's face when he finally emerged from the woods with his own ball and he saw what I had done.

I love you, #17. I really fucking love you.

Obviously for me this day was much more than a round of golf. The quality time I got to spend with the two most important men in my life was worth all the cuss words and the ugly pictures.

I don't suspect I'll be joining the boys all the time on their golf outings, I'm pleased to report that I was able to keep up, and had enough good shots to warrant my dad telling me several times that night, "Stephanie, I think you could be really good at this game."

"Good for what?," I wondered. Comic relief?

I'm not really sure what my final score was, and to be honest, I'd rather not know. All I care about is: I kept up! I shot a double-bogey! I got on the green from the tee box! Everyone got along! No one cried!

And only two casualties were suffered: my sunglasses that fell out of the cart and were run over and a club cover that I had to return the next day to pick up.

Hell yeah.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Day 243: Destiny UNBOUND

On Day 243 I went home, to Columbia, South Carolina, and met my mom and my friend Courtney, to watch a performance by the dance company UNBOUND. Our friend Caroline is one of the company's artistic directors.

Caroline and I have known each other since we were younger, and she is easily the most talented dancer that I actually know. She lights up a stage and even when surrounded by other dancers, sometimes she's the only one I actually ever pay attention to. My mom says she does the same and we're not sure if the reason she's the one we always watch is because she's the only that we know, or if she really is a stand out even among people equally as talented as her. Regardless, Caroline is a star.

After returning to South Carolina from New York where she was pursuing dance for several years, Caroline choreographed and performed a one-woman show about the loss of her mother and her life currently without her called, "Finding My Way."

The performance was moving in ways I never could've imagined. I think I cried from the time it started until the moment it ended. I knew Caroline's mom, who was amazing, and I'm sure that's why I was so touched, but more than that, I was in awe of Caroline's ability to convey her feelings for her mother, and her tremendous loss, through her movement on stage.

Day 243's thing I've never done before was to see Caroline, and UNBOUND, and their show, "Divine Art of Survival." Though I was excited to see the company, that had been receiving rave reviews since its inaugural show, I knew I was facing another emotional evening.

I knew I'd likely leave the theater with my nose red and makeup streaked all over my face. But sometimes a good cry makes me feel good. It's why, I suppose, I have an arsenal of sad songs on my iPod and why I'll stop channel surfing to catch the end of My Life, Beaches, or When a Man Loves a Woman. Why do we women do this to ourselves?

I digress.

The description of the show alone was moving: UNBOUND dance company is celebrating the power of the human spirit with survival stories of men and women in Columbia. Each dance was a story, most coinciding with a real-life story of a person overcoming obstacles like domestic abuse, Alzheimer's disease, the lesser-known Friedreich’s Ataxia in their lives. The people are real, their stories are heart-wrenching, all evoking emotions of pain, confusion, anger, sadness, hope, strength, relief, and love. These emotions are not mutually exclusive within the context of the challenges they face, and UNBOUND brought them all to life.

As expected, UNBOUND blew me away, and it wasn't long before their performances moved me to tears. But as I watched Caroline and her fellow dancers move across the floor with grace and power, it occurred to me that I wasn't just watching a beautifully danced interpretation of life and loss, but I'm also watching Caroline do exactly what it is that God intended for her to do.

I've heard many times that the key to finding happiness and being successful is, simply, "Finding something that you love to do and make a living out of it."

Caroline really did that, and the joy was apparent all over her face.

I know that I have other friends who have, at our young ages, who have also discovered their career destinies and are thriving at careers that best suit them. And if asked to pay admission to watch them at work, I'd probably see the same look on Emily's face teaching high school and Ashley's face taking pictures that I saw on Caroline's that night.

“Hmmm . . .,” I thought to myself later that night, “What do I love to do?”

Dance. Eat. Travel.

All fabulous ways to make a living, no doubt about it. But I live in reality. And the only kind of dancing anyone would pay me for would likely involve a pole, and even that might be a stretch (no pun intended), and as far as I know the people who make a living out of eating do so by stuffing soggy hot dogs and buns down their throats at eating competitions. No chance. And I’ve traveled to a lot of places, but traveling has yet to contribute to my bank account, it usually only sucks it dry. Crap.

What a gift that what brings Caroline joy is also how she is making a living.

I'm so proud of her, which is probably weird because I have had absolutely nothing to do with her success. I'm also admittedly a little jealous of her too. Not just because she's beautiful and sweet and talented beyond even reality, but that she has already identified exactly what it is that she should be when she grows up. And she’s kicking ass at it.

I remain on the search for what it is that I am truly passionate about, and really good at. Frustrating, yes, that at 29 I still haven't discovered it, but I think I might be getting closer. And lucky for me, I’m still having a good time trying all of the "not exactly right" things along the way.

I think I speak for the city of Columbia, too, when I say a huge thanks is owed to Caroline for bringing her extraordinary talent back to the city and giving dancers there an opportunity to make a living by entertaining us all. If you have not done so already, I urge you to check out UNBOUND.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Day 242: Birthday Girl's Choice

On Day 242, Emily was next on the list of my friends to turn the dreaded 3-0.

Her husband Scott organized a surprise dinner for her at Rosebud, a restaurant in the Highlands.

I had a little surprise of my own, deciding to give Emily, as her birthday present, the opportunity to decide what Day 242's thing I've never done before would be.

I know you're probably thinking, "That sounds like the crappiest birthday present ever." And it is. It was all I had, though, and the idea had the potential to be a win-win for both of us. Emily could completely embarrass me, and I wouldn't have to come up with anything on my own.

Besides, Emily is a Project 29 to 30 fan. When I told her my plan she actually seemed excited about the opportunity, which made me feel relieved, and less like a shitty friend.

When we took our seats for dinner, she revealed what she had come up with.

She motioned towards the trio that was providing the background music at the restaurant.

"You have a choice," she said, "You can either ask one of the band members out on a date, or you can get them to play 'Happy Birthday' and you have to sing it."

"Ok," I said, taking a breath. "Ok."

Two tasks, completely doable for the average person.

Only I'm me.

And thanks to my brother Jeff, I never make the first move when it comes to dating and boys; and thanks to a horrible singing voice, I never sing in public. Never.

Alright, with the exception of Spring Break 1999 in Key West, Florida, when my friend Lauren McKinnon taught me every word to "Let's Get it On," I never sing in public.

I love music, and I love to sing, I'm just so bad at it, that I keep my out-loud singing limited to my car and my shower. I really blame feeling so self-conscious about my singing voice on my dad, since he was the one who leaned over to me while I was singing a hymn at church and whispered, "Are you trying to sound that bad?"

I really wasn't trying to sound bad at all. Apparently it just comes naturally.

So what to choose when there are only two horrible options?

I glanced over at the trio, who was already hard at work playing unrecognizable background music. At least one of them was hot, the other two were not ugly, and none appeared to be wearing wedding rings. Asking one of them out seemed like the logical choice under these circumstances, though it freaked me out way worse than singing for some reason that even I can't figure out (No, I can figure it out. It's a book called The Rules, and it haunts me.)

I really do want to gather up the courage to ask someone out, but I want it to be someone that I am sincerely interested in. And I didn't know these guys at all.

"So," I told Emily, "I'm going to sing you 'Happy Birthday,'" as Day 242's thing I've never done before.

She smiled wide and clapped her hands, and together we decided to ask the waiter if the idea we had in mind was something he could help us execute. We're cute and can be quite charming when we need to be, so I think we both assumed this would be a pretty easy request, and that the waiter would be on board.

But he wasn't. Not one little bit.

He clenched his teeth and sucked in air and leaned back from the table shaking his head slowly.

"I don't know . . .," his voiced trailed off. "I'm going to have to ask the guys. I'm not sure they'll be down with that, but I'll check to find out."

Emily turned to look at me as the waiter walked away.

"That was weird," I said to her. She agreed.

I considered his reluctance and immediately considered that maybe he thinks I've had a few too many cocktails and just want to get up there and make a mockery of the restaurant and the trio's musical talent. But I wasn't.

And Rosebud is a nice restaurant, but it's far from stuffy. The slogan on the place's website says, "We like comfortable food, loud music and a good drink." I hardly think they're against people having a little fun on the microphone, good singer or not.

The more Emily and I discussed the reasons why they might be against my joining them for one song, the more annoying I found this trio. I mean, the place hosts "Grateful Dead," nights once a month. The fact that this trio, "wasn't sure," if I could come sing with them was annoying. Who did they think they are?

"Pssst . . .hey nameless trio playing in a restaurant on a Thursday night," I felt like saying, "Don't take yourself so seriously!"

Moreover, by that time our table of 15+ was quickly becoming the only group in the place, so the majority of people who could've been bothered by my singing Emily "Happy Birthday," would be my friends. And they already know I'm a terrible singer.

We ordered our food and enjoyed our meal and in between asking for drinks, Emily and I kept checking in with the waiter to see if he'd had any luck with convincing the band to let me join them.

Most of the time he shrugged his shoulders and said he wasn't sure; I wasn't convinced that he'd actually ever asked them. Towards the end of the meal, he returned to the table and said almost in a conciliatory voice said, "Ok . . .they're going to be winding down soon, so if you want to do it, you're going to need to go now."

"Now?," I said.

He nodded.


Based on his reluctance to let me sing in the first place, I didn't waste any time in jumping up from the table and heading over there. I didn't want them to start packing up before I had my chance, or worse, change their minds completely.

I tried to casually walk over instead of breaking into a full on sprint to get there. I wanted to appear cool, not overeager, and definitely not nervous, which is exactly how I felt. Luckily the whole thing went down so quickly that I didn't have too much time and before I could even summon the birthday girl and everyone else to come watch, the trio started playing "Happy Birthday," and everyone missed the beginning.

They all made up for it by running to the front to cheer me on, and to shoot video, and as you will hear, singing along with me. Thanks, Trish.

I told you, I'm a bad singer.

Regardless, I thanked each of them profusely for allowing me to sing "Happy Birthday" to Emily. Not one of them would look me in the eye. They may have agreed to play along, they may have agreed to let me sing into the free microphone next to them, but they clearly weren't amused by this idea. At. All.

Maybe they'd never heard such a bad voice? Or maybe they feel as though their artistic integrity had been compromised by participating in such "sorority-girl" behavior?

Don't they know that either way, regardless of what I did, I could only make them look better?

Happy Birthday, Emily! Sorry your present was so crappy.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Day 241: Bacon What?

On Day 241, Mo and I went to eat at P'Cheen, a fabulous pub in Inman Park that offers All-You-Can-Eat Crab Legs on Wednesday nights.

"Sure," I said, when Mo suggested we go there. Because quite frankly, I hadn't been eating enough lately.

Except I had. If the previous five summers have been the Summers of Weddings, then I would have to call this summer, the Summer of Eating. My appetite has been out of control.

But eating crab legs wasn't the thing that I'd never done before. Eating crab legs All-You-Can-Eat style wasn't it either. My family has been going to Oak Island, North Carolina every summer since I was a baby, and there is a local restaurant there, Jones' Seafood House, that has been doing All-You-Can-Eat crab legs for years. No surprise, the Gallmans are huge fans.

True, I hadn't participated in P'Cheen's version of Crab Leg night, but that seemed a little lame as the thing I'd never done before.

I did run into two people from my hometown and almost fell out of my chair when I found out they not only lived in Atlanta now, but are dating each other. We reminisced about seeing Wayne's World six Friday nights in a row in 6th grade and starring in Mrs. Vogel's riveting productions of Beauty and the Beast and Newsies in middle school.

I think Mo checked out mentally during that trip down memory lane, and I can't say I blame him. I was annoyed with myself, taking my unusually deep voice to abnormally high levels, squealing over this couple that I hadn't seen in at least ten years. It was awkward for me, and I was a participant in the conversation.

After finishing our meal, Mo and I left P'Cheen in search of the thing I've never done before, and for some reason, we decided that two beers and two plates of crab legs was just simply not enough food.

Only it was plenty. That meal was more than enough. But I have an eating problem. And the problem is that I eat too much.

So we walked down to Irwin Street Market where Justin had earlier suggested we go to eat Jake's Ice cream. According to him, it's the best ice cream in Atlanta.

Irwin Street Market is on Irwin Street (crazy, right?) and it's a colorfully decorated space that houses several vendors, including a southern cooking diner type restaurant and some local artists displaying their work.

Mo asked the lady behind the ice cream counter if she could make me a banana split, since in all my 29 years, I've never eaten one. Thanks to the crab legs, I'd stretched my stomach enough so I had room to make it possible.

She shook her head and said, "No, I'm sorry, we don't have any bananas."

"What am I going to do?" I said to Mo nervously. Again, technically, eating Jake's ice cream at Irwin Street Market is something that I had never done, but enough with the food already.

We began to peruse the flavors, because regardless of what did or did not happen as Day 241's "thing," I was not leaving without eating ice cream.

Jake's, I noticed, had a lot of clever names for its ice cream (if you feel like you've read me write these very words before, it's because I did. I went to a place on Day 238 that also had clever names for its ice cream. I told you, I've dedicated Summer of 2010 to eating.)

"What's this one?," I asked, pointing at the sign labeled, "Happy as a Pig in Chocolate."

She smiled as she said, "That's vanilla ice cream with pieces of chocolate covered bacon in it."

I turned my head sharply at Mo and raised my eyebrows, a big smile grew on both of our faces.

"Well there you go," he said.


Day 241's thing I've never done before is to eat chocolate covered bacon ice cream.

I admit, there were about 15 other flavors in that case that I would've rather tried than this one, but trying new things is what this year is all about, so while I wanted to stomp my feet and spin around like a 3-year old throwing a temper tantrum, screaming, "I don't wannnna eat that, I wanna eat Rocky Road!!!!!," I resisted the urge and just went for it.

She fixed us both a cone and I took a bite. The flavors confused me and I have to assume that chocolate covered bacon (which exists far and wide beyond Jake's ice cream) was created as an accident, or by some optimistic chef thought two flavors that were good on their own must be good together.

I don't know that I would agree with that chef. I mean, the ice cream wasn't terrible. I didn't want to gag or anything. But I probably wouldn't choose it again.

Part of it was a texture thing. Just as I would start to enjoy the chocolate, my taste buds would get rocked with the salty bacon and it was all just too much. And it was chewy. If I'm going to have to chew ice cream I prefer it to be because of Oreos or Heath bars or some other candy bar.

So Pigs in Chocolate: not awesome. But the night was pretty great.

Day 240: The Bathroom that Cleans Itself

On Day 240, Bug (real name: Jennifer) and I went to the Botanical Gardens in Atlanta to go for a walk as the thing I've never done before, but when we got there, the ticket lady told us the gardens were closing in half an hour.

We opted to save the Botanical Gardens for another time, and instead just take a walk around Piedmont Park.

In a public park, the possibilities for something to do that I've never done before are endless, right? Something would certainly come to me.

Why, 240 days into this project I'm still leaving things to chance, often forcing me to kiss dudes with moustaches and eat undesirable things, I have no idea. In my defense, I started this day with a plan. I just didn't research it ahead of time and didn't know it wasn't going to work out. So I had to scramble.

I told Bug I was going to roll down the hill log style into a group of Boot Campers as the thing I've never done before, but I didn't end up having to do that. I think it would've been so much fun, though, and have not ruled it out for the future.

But on that day, something else happened that made it so I didn't have to participate in such antics. As we started to another lap around the park, we saw a group of people gathered around a big silver box.

I stared at it for quite a while, unable to figure out what it was. I assumed whatever it was had to be new, because I couldn't remember having seen it before.

"What's that?" I finally asked Bug.

The silver box looked like a space ship.

"It's a bathroom," she said. "It cleans itself."

"What? Is it free?" I asked.

I don't know why my follow-up question to "What's that?" was "Is it free?" I'm really not a cheap person and I would've happily paid to see a self-cleaning bathroom. And from the exterior, it looked like the kind of place that would require admission.

Maybe it's coincidence, or divine intervention, but upon learning what it was, I realized I also needed to pee.

So naturally, my curiosity coupled with the call of nature made Day 240's thing I've never done before was to use the Robot Bathroom in Piedmont Park.

We walked up to the big shiny box and I got in line behind all of the other people who also needed to pee, or who were, as I was, interested in finding out what goes on inside a stainless steel, self-cleaning, over-sized porta-potty.

I watched as those ahead of me left the facility. A few people exited like it was no big deal, just another trip to the bathroom. Others laughed with their friends, impressed at the facility's simple utility and convenience (a bathroom in a park), but most impressed with that it's a self-cleaning bathroom! In a park! And it talks to you! Holy freaking cow!

When finally it was my turn, I stood in front of the door and it slid open, like magic. I entered, looking back at Bug pensively. The door closed behind me and there I was, all alone to enjoy the huge room (seriously, I could've done a full on dance routine in there) and the mystery of the self-cleaning bathroom.

As the door closed behind me, a voice from inside spoke to me, telling me I had ten minutes until the door would re-open.

First of all, the bathroom talks, which is genius. And it plays music, which made me want to stay in there forever.

But as the voice said, I only had ten minutes. I presume the creators of this device chose that amount of time as the cut off to keep drug addicts from shooting up, homeless people from sleeping seeking refuge, and couples from fornicating inside.

When I looked around, I immediately thought about how I wouldn't at all be surprised if the thing lifted me off of the ground and beamed me into space. That's how state of the art it was.

I sat down to do my business and looked to my right to find an electronic toilet paper dispenser ready to spit out tissue when I pressed to blue button. When I was done, I stood around looking for a button to flush, but couldn't find one. I wondered if it was like the airport bathroom that flushed automatically. I continued to stare at it as I went to the sink to wash my hands. When I put my hands in front of the soap dispenser, the toilet flushed. When I was done there, I continued on to the automatic hand dryers.


After standing around for a few more minutes, ready for a troll to pop out and give me a facial, I stood in front of the door and it slid open again, Star Trek style. Bug was standing there smiling proudly with a camera, and snapped a shot of me exiting.

"How was it?" she asked me, hilariously, like I was a child using the potty for the first time.

I didn't stick around to see this, but I'm told every hour or so, the bathroom shuts its doors and goes out of service for a while to clean itself. I don't know what exactly that means, or what happens during the self-cleaning. I wonder if anyone other than the person who invented it does, or if it's so secretive, they keep it to themselves. I imagine it's probably like a car wash, though when I let my imagination get the best of me, I picture fairies flying out of holes in the walls with squeegees and tiny buckets of soapy water, ready to take care of business.

Regardless, like the person whoever thought of the plastic table that goes in the center of the pizza to keep the cheese from sticking to the box, whoever came up with the Robot Bathroom is truly a genius.

There's a reason why I had to wait in line to use it that day, and it wasn't just because other people had to go.

It's because it's the most awesome public bathroom ever.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Day 239: Sleepy Time

After staying up too late the week before, and spending a not particularly restful weekend in Nashville, Monday hit me like a ton of bricks.
Day 239's thing I've never done before was to put myself to bed before the sun went down.

Now, if you want to get technical, having worked overnight shifts in the past, I have gone to bed when the sun was already up. And yes, I've seen the sunrise having stayed up too late the night before and gone to bed after that. But this was different than both of those.

This was a self-imposed, 8pm, before-the-sun-goes-down bedtime.

As a kid, I hated having a bedtime, especially during the summer, because it usually meant going to bed before the sun went down. I thought I would have a hard time falling asleep considering I could still hear kids playing outside and neighbors exercising outside my house.

But as it turns out, when tired enough, my body will sleep when it is given the opportunity. It doesn't matter what time it is, or if it's light out. I read for a little bit, but I could feel my eyes getting heavy, so I put my book down and fell asleep.

The next thing I remember was waking up. At 11 pm.

I panicked when I looked at the clock, thinking it was 11 am and that I'd overslept for work. I reached for my glasses and then noticed that it was still dark in my room. I'd only been asleep for a few hours. I calmed down, easily drifted off again and woke up the next time, in the morning, feeling refreshed.

Going to bed early is a good idea. A great idea.

My co-workers may not agree, since my extra energy gave me an extra pep in my step and even chattier than usual; one colleague in particular accused me of shotgunning Red Bulls in the parking lot. I felt great, and I considered making an early bedtime a regular thing.

But Day 239 was a long time ago, and I haven't been in bed before dark since, so I fear that getting ample amounts of sleep regularly is just not in the cards for me. At least not while also trying to do a new thing everyday and write about it. Maybe I'll have to save getting solid night's sleep for when I'm 30.

I can't help but wonder, though, about when I stopped going to bed before dark? Was it when my parents stopped telling me I had to? Like piano lessons, did they tell me that I could do whatever I wanted, but that I'd regret it if I quit?

And naps? Why did I ever fight taking one and can we bring them back? I'll never complain about them again.

I'll also never fight going to bed before dark. Ever.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Day 238: Eat, Shop, Play Locally

On Sunday, Day 238, I woke up fairly early considering how tired I was the night before. I guess that's what happens when I go to bed at 10pm on Saturday night.

Jeremiah, the overachiever, left to play in a tennis match and promised to return later so we could go to lunch.

Lucia and I sat on her couch and caught each other up on the last four years of our lives. Boys, family, work, nothing was off limits and in two hours I think we covered everything. At least the highlights, and the lowlights.

What I noticed about Lucia, and what I've noticed about others, is that she has read some of the blog, so there were times when as I was telling her something, she'd nod as if she's heard the story before. Only I knew that was impossible, because I hadn't seen Lucia in at least a year. For those who read the blog that I don't see very often, by the time I see them, my stories are old news. Those I do see regularly usually don't even bother reading the blog, because they've heard it all before.

My friend Adam has actually expressed his frustration with this fact, often unsure if things he knows about me are are because I've told him or because he's read about it.

Facebook, I've noticed, has the same affect. I've mistakenly approached people I haven't seen or talked to in a while saying things like, "Hey! Looks like your trip to the Bahamas was awesome," only to have them act weird towards me because I didn't actually know they were going to the Bahamas, I just stalked their pictures on Facebook.

After our marathon catch-up session was over and Jeremiah returned from playing tennis, the three of us, along with Amy, headed to Margot, a quaint little restaurant in East Nashville for brunch.

Nashville is, not surprisingly, like Hollywood for country music stars, and because it's so much smaller than Los Angeles, I kept looking around the area and in the restaurant for celebrities. The whole vibe made me feel like running into Nicole Kidman or Keith Urban was not the most far-fetched idea. And I really expected for it to happen to me.

It did not. But Nashville is a cool town.

I did manage, however, to sneak through a couple of firsts. Day 238's thing I've never done before was to try cucumber vodka and go to the East Nashville Arts Fest.

We got seated upstairs at Margot with a fantastic view of the bar and the front door, in case Carrie Underwood decided that she also wanted to brunch there. The waiter told us the list of specials including a Bloody Mary made with their own specially made cucumber infused vodka.

For whatever reason the smell and taste of cucumbers had not been appealing to me since the worst-decision-of-my-life juice diet the week before. Strange, since I'd always liked them, and of all the unpleasant flavors represented in the juices I had to drink, cucumbers were the least offensive. Regardless, I hadn't quite been able to stomach them since Arden's Garden liquefied and ruined them.

But, I thought, it's hot, cucumbers are refreshing, vodka is good, and Bloody Marys are my favorite. Certainly this will be fine. So several of us ordered one.

I took one sip of this Bloody Mary and nearly spit it out. I felt like I was experiencing the juice diet and a bad drinking game all at the same time. There are a lot of things vodka can be infused with, or be made to taste like, Mandarin, Lemon, Sweet Tea (thank you, South Carolina). Cucumber is not one of these things, at least not to me.

The waiter redeemed himself when I asked for a cup of coffee to replace the bad Bloody Mary and he brought me my very own personalized French press set. I'd had French press coffee before, but never from an individual set. It was delicious. and so was brunch.

After brunch, we ventured over to the East Nashville Arts festival where several local and regional artists, jewelry designers, and photographers had all come to display and sell their work. I'm a sucker for artwork, even though I don't know what I'm looking at or how high quality the pieces are. I see something I like and I'm ready to shell out the big bucks realizing only minutes before the transaction is complete that I don't own a home to put it in.

So I bought a bracelet instead. Lucia also bought a bracelet and a framed picture for her house that I loved. I decided I'd live vicariously through her.

Once we had baked in the sun long enough, we went for ice cream at the Pied Piper Creamery, an ice cream shop that occupies an old home and boasts flavors like "Trailer Trash," and "Debbie Does Ice Cream." We got our ice cream to go and sat out on the front porch, making friends with a pair of cousins who just as well assumed wearing their ice cream on their faces and hands than eating it.

We went back to Lucia's house to cool off, and so I could pack my stuff to get ready to leave. Jeremiah and I played several intense Scrabble games on his iPhone and then we got into a Hoarders marathon.

The next thing I knew, it was 6pm, Nashville time. 7pm Atlanta time.

As the third episode of Hoarders started, I jumped up quickly and announced I had to go. I felt a sudden urge to get home to clean my house. Truthfully, I wanted to stay and watch six more episodes and eat popcorn on Lucia's couch, but I was facing an early wake up call and had to get on the road.

The theme of the day was, "Support the local economy," which we really did (minus Hoarders, of course).

I can't stress it enough, Nashville really is a hip town.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Day 237: Flood Recovery, Lake Therapy

My friend Emily sent me an email ahead of Day 237 that her church was organizing a team to go to Nashville to assist victims affected by the recent flooding. She had already decided to go and asked if I'd like to come along.

Volunteering in Tennessee for flood recovery sounded like a perfectly wonderful thing to do for Day 237's thing I've never done before. So I did.

We met early on Saturday morning at Emily's boyfriend Jay's house, and stopped for a quick breakfast, then gas, then coffee before getting on the road to Nashville. I joked that the trip was starting to feel like some of the road trips I've taken with women when it seems like it takes forever just to get on the interstate.

When we finally did get on the road, it was Emily, Jay and their friends Kyle and Lauren in one car and me following behind in my car. They had elected ahead of time to drive up to Tennessee and return the same day. I decided to stay in Nashville for the evening, so I drove separately.

I didn't mind at first, because I actually enjoy solo car rides, as long as there are plenty of good tunes to keep me occupied, which there were (Thank you Rolling Stones, and Exile on Main Street). After a week of inconsistent sleep, however, the long, mountainous trip by myself wasn't fun forever, and I was very happy when we finally arrived at our destination. Nashville is not as close as I thought it was.

I wasn't sure exactly what we would be doing as volunteers, and I wasn't exactly sure what kind of damage we'd find. I've seen the aftermath of tornadoes and hurricanes and the destruction is usually apparent right away with roofs ripped off homes and debris littering neighborhoods. I wondered if flooding damage looked the same. I've seen pictures on the news of houses and businesses under water, but what's left when the water dries up?

Though a lot of the cleanup effort had already been going on for several weeks, I still expected to see neighborhoods in ruins. But flooding damage, I came to find out, is not as easy to spot. In fact, had it not been for the volunteer tents set up along the way, I might not have noticed when we had entered the flood zone.

We checked in at the church and then drove ourselves over to the neighborhood where we were going to be working. Volunteers peppered the streets wearing gloves, carrying various tools, so I knew we'd arrived at an area affected by the flooding. I was surprised, however, that most of the houses, from the outside at least, looked fine.

Jay and I parked our cars and let the site manager know that we had arrived. He was very friendly, and thanked us for coming. Then he motioned towards one of the houses, and told us our group had already started working inside tearing down dry wall. When I looked over at the house there were dozens of men and women, some wearing surgical masks walking in and outside of the house, throwing dry wall out of windows, and stacking items from inside the house out on the side of the street.

Among the items by the road included furniture, desk lamps, school art projects, a plastic jewelry box. Looking at the stack of personal belongings made me sad, and I thought of the family that was forced to leave them, and their home, behind. Was there time to grab any of their belongings, or did they evacuate before they had time to think about any of that?

We walked over to the house to lend our assistance by picking up the drywall they were throwing out of windows and carrying it to the front of the house to stack it with the rest of the items that were to be thrown away. I caught a glimpse of the activity going on indoors and was amazed at what I saw. Inside this home that from the outside, appeared to be fine, was not just a frame of what once was.

It took five minutes for the five of us to assist with the drywall, and we were all starting to feel like our help could be better used at another location with less people, so we grabbed a rake and a shovel and took off down the street in hopes we could find someone else to help.

The site manager had instructed us to simply go door to door and ask anyone if they needed anything. He also explained that a lot of what was needed was simple yard cleanup. Yards and sidewalks had been littered with debris that needed to be raked or swept up and bagged so it could be hauled away.

For the most part it was an easy task, but one that really opened my eyes to the impact of flash floods. Pill bottles, kitchen tiles, makeup brushes, television wires were just some of the personal items I collected. The rising water had ravaged these homes, picking up sheds and flipping them upside down; in one case, a house's add-on had been ripped up from its foundation completely and moved from the backyard to the front.

When I asked anyone who lived in the neighborhood what would become of the homes in the neighborhood, no one could really tell me for sure. Some were still waiting to dry up all of the moisture inside to make a final assessment, others were unsalvagable and would likely be torn down, leaving the occupants to find another place to live.

In my own little sick game of, "What natural disaster is the absolute worst?," I always thought I'd rather suffer a hurricane or flooding simply because, I thought, at least there would be time to prepare, as opposed to earthquakes and tornadoes, that strike without warning. But after talking to people and seeing the condition of their homes, flooding often happens a lot more quickly than many realize and once it happens, the results can be devastating.

At midday, our team leader drove by where we were working and said lunch would be served on the next street over in the next few minutes. The news was exciting because I was starving. We walked over and saw the rest of our team sitting on the side of the street with paper sack lunches strewn about them. We looked around for a box or a bin where we might also find a sack lunch. But we couldn't find one.

That's because there weren't any lunches left.

When they saw us looking around, the project leaders darted their heads to the left and to the right as if by doing so, they might magically make new sack lunches appear for the five of us.

They apologized profusely for running out, and other volunteers who became aware of our predicament offered to share their lunches with us. One of the leaders even jumped in his truck in search of food for us. I was gracious and smiled because I could tell everyone felt badly, but inside I was freaking, certain that if I didn't eat something soon I was going to have a meltdown.

I'm not sure if Emily could tell how I felt, but she tried to call my nerves by telling me that she packed snacks and they were in the car. So we walked back and dove into her plastic bag full of snacks, including crackers, peanut butter and gummy candy (Emily's favorite food group). I was thankful she was willing to share her food and was trying to convince myself that missing one meal is a small disappointment compared to the tragedy that the folks in this neighborhood have suffered.

Just when I thought I was going to eat Swedish fish for lunch, a woman and her son drove by and rolled down their car window.

"Are y'all hungry? We've got hamburgers and hot dogs!"

Say whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?

Emily gathered up the various snacks in her lap, threw them in a bag and stepped out of the car blowing right past me towards the woman in the car who made the offer. I don't think I've ever seen her move so fast in my life.

A lot of the people in town, so touched by the kindness of strangers coming to help them out, had decided to make it their job to feed the volunteers. Some of the volunteer tents we walked by had snacks, first aid items, drinks, all free for the taking. They were even making deliveries!

Missing out on the paper sack lunch ended up being the best thing that could've happened to us, and that was one of the best hog dogs I've ever eaten.

After lunch, we continued down the street and came across a house where several people were standing in the front yard around a huge pile of gravel.

We approached them with all of our tools in hand. Jay took the lead, told the family who we were and what we were doing there, and then asked if we could help them. There was a bit of a language barrier, and therefore some confusion, I think, as to what we meant by "help," but after a brief back and forth exchange, we understood that they needed the pile of gravel loaded on to the bed of one of a man's pickup truck. So we grabbed shovels and began.

Not long after we began, I looked around and noticed that we, Emily, Jay, Kyle and Lauren and I, were the only ones shoveling the gravel. The family members were either standing around watching us, or had returned to inside the home.

I considered maybe there weren't any more shovels. But there were plenty of shovels. Jay even handed one of the shovels to one of the men who I don't think understood the subtle nudge.

Pardon my, "God helps those who help themselves," moment here, but we were offering to help them, not offering to do all of the work.

Perhaps it was again the language barrier, or perhaps they've been working so hard themselves and under so much stress that at the first sign of help, they opted to sit this one out, but regardless, we were a little turned off.

Apparently I don't do enough manual labor and my dainty hands can't survive one afternoon of hard work, because in the curve in between my index finger and my thumb, I developed two nasty blisters that stuck around for a week.

"Did they not have any gloves?" more than one person asked me when I returned to Atlanta and showed them my wounds.

"Yeah, they had gloves," I responded. "I was wearing gloves."

I think I could stand to do more projects like this. My hands could too, apparently.

On our way down the street, we came across a volunteer tent with snacks, drinks, and plenty of first aid items. I asked a woman for a couple of band-aids for my hands and she whipped out peroxide and Neosporin and band-aids, making sure my blisters were well taken care of. Nashville women have southern hospitality down.

We ended the day near where we started, sweeping and bagging more debris for the trucks to come by and pick it up. And then we gathered for some words of encouragement by the team leader and a group prayer.

I'm not sure how impactful our service in Nashville was; I never got to demo anything (much to my dismay) and the place really didn't look all that different from when we arrived. But I'd like to think that we freed some of the residents up to do more of the bigger cleanup by assisting in their yards. And hopefully our presence helped them feel less alone in their journey to recovery.

And just like it always does, giving back to this small community made me feel a lot better probably than it made them feel. Doing something nice for someone else is always a winner.

I certainly didn't need to drive to Nashville to witness devastation like this to understand how insignificant material possessions are and how quickly they can be taken away, but being reminded certainly didn't hurt. I am so blessed to have the things that I do, but they are so temporary; it's the people and experiences that truly enrich my life.

After leaving the volunteer group, Emily, Jay, Lauren and Kyle all headed back to Atlanta, and I drove to Percy Priest Lake to meet my friends Jeremiah and Lucia, who had spent the afternoon boating. I planned to make them feel badly about themselves for spending an afternoon on the lake relaxing while I broke my back doing manual labor.

Jeremiah and I worked together in 2004 for Country Music Television, driving a truck and trailer across the country to different fairs and festivals promoting the network. We traveled full time for a year, and basically lived together at Hampton Inns all over the United States. Lucia was our boss, but became our friend.

They, along with their friend Amy, had been taking advantage of another CMT friend, Anthony's boat club membership. I just started hearing about boat clubs, and I'm completely in love with the idea. Basically Anthony pays into the service monthly and then can use boats from the fleet associated with the club whenever he wants. Plans are in the works for me to live in a place where I can be a member of a boat club, or better yet, just own my own boat outright.

They arrived at the dock to pick me up and two of their friends jumped off. I hugged Lucia, Jeremiah, and Anthony and met their friend Amy, who was enjoying her first day off in several months having lead the volunteer effort for flooding recovery for Hands on Nashville.

"You've been volunteering all day?," Amy asked me.

"Yes!," I responded smiling, feeling really great about the day.

"And now you're here? In resort wear?," she asked me.

I had to laugh, because her surprise was not unfounded. I started the day in Atlanta, drove to Nashville, and now was here, in a swimsuit, ready to enjoy the last few hours of daylight with some old friends. Her confusion made perfect sense.

Packing a swimsuit and being ready for summertime activities at all times is a strange, but classic Stephanie move. During the summertime I almost always travel with a beach chair and a bathing suit in my car for moments like these when I summoned to the lake, beach, pool. I just want to be ready.

We stayed out on the boat until the sun went down, catching up, and listening to some of Anthony's favorite Lady Gaga hits. Day 237 also became a day when I got to use the bathroom in a bucket aboard a boat, a truly memorable experience that Jeremiah captured on film.

After docking the boat we headed back to Lucia's to clean up and then to Edgefield Bar and Grill for some much needed food. Everyone was so tired, there wasn't a lot of conversation. We focused on our meals. That is, until Lucia got the bill and realized the waitress had rang up our orders for $8257. There was a lot discussion about that.

The free-spirit, live it up part of my personality wanted to hit the town and enjoy Nashville. Every other part of my personality and all of my body was screaming, "Nooooooooooooooooooo."

So when Jeremiah suggested we go home and make a pallet on the floor and watch movies, I said, "Yesssssssssssssssssssssssss."

So that's what we did. I think I saw less than five minutes of the movie before I drifted off, exhausted. Not exactly the rocking time in Nashville that I was expecting, but I wouldn't have had it any other way.