Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Day 306: A Prairie Home Companion

Still banned from watching television and home alone on a Friday night, I found another way to entertain myself on Day 306. I had no other choice than listen to talk radio on my computer.

Actually there were a lot of other choices of things that I could do. But by choice, I opted to make Day 306's thing I've never done before listen to an entire episode of A Prairie Home Companion.

A Prairie Home Companion is a live radio variety show created and hosted by Garrison Keillor. The show runs two hours on Saturdays and usually originates from the Fitzgerald Theater in Saint Paul, Minnesota, although it is frequently taken on the road.

Because it was a Friday during the summer, I listened to the July 24th archived broadcast, which was a mix of several shows over the past few years from the historic State Theater on in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

I can appreciate good talk radio (This American Life is my favorite; Ira Glass is a genius), and I know that by most people's accounts, A Prairie Home Companion is one of the best, but I didn't love it. I did like the music, which included performances by Ricky Skaggs and Wilco, but the comedy sketches were a little hokey for my tastes. Maybe I'm too young to appreciate Garrison Keillor's sense of humor or maybe I'm just stupid and this program is over my head, but I was bored most of the time.

Plus, I felt like a first-class loser listening to a radio program on a Friday night at my house by myself.

I'm not arguing the quality of the program; I mean, I know it's good. The show has been on since 1978 (minus a few years off the air). It's a classic.

But I'm 29, not 70.

Here's to never spending another Friday night like this again.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Day 305: Safety First

On Day 305 I was supposed to drink a non-alcoholic beer with my then-pregnant friend Trish as the thing I've never done before.

But Gallas, the restaurant that we went to for dinner, did not serve non-alcoholic beers. I feel this is discrimination against pregnant people, and I told the woman who took our order. She agreed, and promised to have the problem rectified immediately.

Pregnant women need beer too. Is it so hard to provide them with what they need?

With no other ideas, and not really wanting to make my eating at this restaurant for the first time the only thing I'd do that day, Trish came up with several other plans, all of which involved putting something together for the baby.

Her final suggestion: "Why don't you help us install Will's car seat?"

Done. A winner for us both: Trish can check it off her pre-baby checklist, and I can do something I've never done before.

I paused momentarily, however, considering Trish's husband Mark, who is fabulous in many ways, but most of all in his desire to be completely involved in his son's life from the start. I always thought to myself that if Mark could've, he would've carried the baby himself so that Trish didn't have to. But he even said so himself on the car ride home. He even said that he would've given up drinking altogether. Trish responded, "bull shit," to his remark, and we all laughed.

My concern was that maybe Mark would want to install his child's car seat. What if he felt like doing so was his dadly duty? I certainly didn't want to take that away from him.

When we got back to their house, I asked Trish if she thought Mark would feel slighted if I installed the seat. She gave me a look like, "Are you crazy?," and said, "Whatever! He doesn't care!"

I was, of course, also concerned that we're dealing with a very important task here--their soon-to-be-born baby's safety was at stake here. This wasn't some meaningless fun thing for the blog. This was life or death.

For those two reasons, I requested that both Mark and Trish both be present for the entire process. I wanted as many people involved as possible to supervise my work and give me step by step instructions. Not surprising, they both agreed. What was surprising, though, was how easy installing the car seat was.

In fact, the hardest part about the installation was accepting the fact that I was installing a car seat in Trish's car. Trish, my group's social director is going to be a mother? The girl that I back-packed across Europe with and the one who performs "Proud Mary," with the band at every wedding reception she ever goes to. She's having a baby? How did this happen? Weren't we just short sheeting each other's beds in college?

Luckily, the car seat companies recognize that most first-time parents are like Trish and me: completely clueless, and they make installing the device pretty easy and pretty much idiot-proof. In fact, Trish told me cars made after 2003 are required to come equipped with a LATCH system that makes car seat installation almost automatic. She opted to put her car seat in the middle of the backseat, so we used the old seat belt method, securing the base into the car. We threaded it through, checked the balance, gave it a shake test, and we were all set. That was it. The entire process took less than 8 minutes.

Trish and Mark, ready for baby. Trish and Mark's car, now (thanks to me) also ready for baby.

Me, on the other hand, not as ready. But I'm getting there.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Day 304: Tweet This, Y'all

Even though this happened a couple of months ago, it feels appropriate that I'm posting it on Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving to all of my blog friends!

I have a love/hate relationship with social media.

On one hand, Facebook is a fun way to stay in touch with friends who live far away, and catch up with people I haven't seen in a long time. On the other hand, it's a scary way for people to keep constant dibs on me and be forced to endure the painful "updates" on just where everyone I've ever known stands on issues from their best Thanksgiving Day recipes to health care reform.

Of all of the different social networking sites, I was the most reluctant to join Twitter, because it just seemed like a marketplace of nonsense, where a bunch of weirdos come together to share the most intimate details about their lives. I held off as long as I could, until it became absolutely imperative for my job that I join. Having been connected for over a year now, I've accepted and embraced these sites, realizing social media, especially Twitter, is probably here to stay. It's not just what the kids are doing, it's not a fad. Get on board, or get left behind.

Don't get me wrong, I haven't totally gone to the dark side. I'd much rather talk to someone on the phone or in person than "tweet" them or text them. And I recognize Facebook and Twitter make stalking socially acceptable and are therefore breeding grounds for crazy people, but I try to focus on the value in instant communication and not focus on the wackos.

And, as much as I hate to admit it, Twitter really is fun. It's where witty, sarcastic, intelligent people who are good at expressing themselves in 140 characters or less come to entertain and inform.

Plus, forget People Magazine and US Weekly, if I want to know what my favorite celebrities are doing, I only have to "follow" them on Twitter. Among the celebrities on my Twitter feed: Steve Martin (@stevemartintogo), Stephen Colbert (@StephenAtHome), Jimmy Fallon (@jimmyfallon), and my favorite celebrity chef, Paula Deen (@paula_deen).

I have loved Paula Deen since the moment I knew who she was, how much she loves butter in her recipes, and how she says (in the greatest southern accent I've ever heard) things like, "Y'all this is so good it'll make your tongue want to come outta your head and slap your brain." I had a feeling she'd be a hilarious person to "follow," and I was right.

I don't remember what she "tweeted" on Day 304, but it tickled me enough to respond with a tweet of my own. I wrote:

I think one of the best decisions I ever made was to follow @Paula_Deen on Twitter.

And then I went back to doing what I was doing, pretty sure that like most of the things that come out of my mouth, no one was paying attention to what I was putting out on Twitter.

I was wrong, though. Someone was paying attention.

Within minutes of sending my own tweet, I got a message from Paula Deen herself:

@sgallman You are sweet. How far have you gotten on your 365 new things?

I messaged Lauren immediately.

Me: OMG, Paula Deen just talked to me on Twitter!

Lauren: NO. You lie! I would pass out. What are you going to say to her? Ask her if you can go cook with her!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You're running out of things to do, can you go cook with her . . .please . . .
I did as Lauren instructed me and wrote Paula Deen back.

Hi @Paula_Deen! What a nice surprise! I'm on Day 304, leading up to my 30th bday. Anyway I could come cook with you? I've never done that.

And then I waited for her response. As crazy as it sounds, I think I actually thought she might agree to my request. I mean, I realize it's far-fetched, but stranger things have happened. She's in Savannah, I'm in Atlanta, it's not that unreasonable. Or maybe it was. Because all I heard back was silence.

@Paula_Deen, who for all I know could be the real Paula Deen's assistant or some creepy dude posing like Paula Deen, never Tweeted me back. And I was bummed. First Kelly Ripa never responds to my fan letter and now Paula Deen tweets me once and then never follows up? I'm 0 for 2 in on celebrity meetings this year.


But, for that one moment in time, when my 279 Twitter followers could see Paula Deen hit me back on Twitter, all was right in the world wide web.

I was so excited, I wanted to pick up the phone and call my parents to tell them. I stopped myself, though, realizing that they probably wouldn't share in my excitement.

"Twit-TER?! What's Twit-TER?," my dad would yell into the phone. He is happily oblivious to anything having to do with computers or social media.

"Nice mouth, Stephanie," my mom would probably say, assuming that "twitter" was another inappropriate word I've added to my already un-lady-like vocabulary.

So I didn't share this super exciting news with my parents. But I didn't exactly keep it to myself either. The beauty of Twitter (and what freaks people out about it), is that this conversation was out there for all the world to see. So as it happened, everyone that I work with who was also monitoring Twitter could see it.

"Whoa, Steph, are you having a conversation with Paula Deen?"

"Did Paula Deen just tweet you back?"

"Ha! Awesome, Steph, you're talking to Paula Deen!"

I giddily responded "Yes," to all of these remarks, proudly making Day 304's thing I've never done before to have an Internet conversation with Paula Deen.

Thank you, Twitter.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Day 303: Googie-Spiked Fountain Fun

Day 303 had been in the works for a while, and the idea came courtesy of my friend Amanda (of walk the mall, workplace romance, and online dating fame).

"Have you ever run through the rings at Centennial Olympic Park?"

"No," I said, and I'm sure I made a face too. She asked me this question in the middle of winter and the idea sounded terrible.

"Well when the weather warms up, we should do it."

I agreed. It's cheap, it's fun, it's something every Atlantan must do.

And on Day 303, the weather was plenty warm enough. It was downright hot. Time to put Amanda's idea to the test. Only thanks to her work schedule and a mid-summer sinus infection, she couldn't actually join in the fun.

Emily and Mo could, though. Day 303's thing I've never done before was to eat at Googie Burger, drink a spiked milkshake, and run through the rings at Centennial Olympic Park.

After some discussion at work ahead of the trip, we decided that we'd eat first and then run through the fountain. Emily and I met Mo at Googie Burger, a new walk-up burger joint inside the park. We stood back from the ordering counter and eyed the menu, which was short and sweet: Classic Googie Burger (Cheeseburger), Beefy Pig Burger (Bacon Cheeseburger), Flying South Sandwich (Fried Chicken Sandwich), Veg-Out Burger (Black Bean Burger). They offered a Kids Meal and fresh-cut French Fries.

Emily got a kids meal, Mo went for the Classic, and I opted for the Veg-Out.

I paid for my meal and the attendant slid me my receipt.

"You're Googie number 69," she said with a smile. I turned and looked at Emily and Mo and we all burst out laughing, proving that though our birth certificates say we're adults, our sense of humors still rival teen aged boys.

My Googie number was the number that they shouted down at the loud speaker when my order was ready, so we got to hear them say, "69," several other times. And we laughed every time.

"69, your drink is up."

"Googie 69, we've got your food ready."

"69! 69! 69!"

I swear the teenagers in the back were making up excuses to say it on the intercom, I felt like they said it so many times. The almost-30 year old in me wanted to march up to the counter and tell them to stop, reminding them that there are kids in this park.

When I did my retrieve my food and walked it to our table, I was completely overwhelmed. The portions were huge. Not too huge that I didn't wolf it all down, but I probably would've been equally satisfied with Emily's Kids Meal portion. And her meal was served in a frisbee!

I honestly cannot say enough wonderful things about Googie Burger; their black bean burger is one of the best I've ever had. Their fries are perfection. The flies were all over us and our food while we ate (there are only outside tables at Googie Burger) and that was annoying, but a small price to pay for the delicious meal.

Plus, after dinner, we went back to the counter to order dessert: a spiked milkshake. "Spiked," as in alcoholic. "Spiked,"as in awesome. "Spiked," as in I love you.

Admittedly, a milkshake with alcohol was a definitely the reason we went to Googie Burger in the first place, and had the food been terrible I would've still said good things about it for having come up with a concoction so ingenious. But the food really is good. And the milkshakes are so good.

There are just two flavors: Twinkie (Vanilla Vodka and Creme de Banana) and Red Devil (Vanilla Vodka, Creme de Cocoa, Maraschino Cherry Juice.)

Emily and I went for the Twinkie and Mo got the Red Devil.

When I went to retrieve my shake, (again, after they called "69" loud and proud over the intercom), I saw two regular cups full of milkshake, and two smaller cups half full of milkshake. I was confused. The guy behind the counter could tell, so he explained.

"That's the leftover," he said, "I just wanted to make sure you got all your vodka."

I love you, 16-year old kid behind the counter. I love you, Googie Burger.

Benjamin Franklin said, "Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." Spiked milkshakes are also proof of God's love, and could serve as evidence that God is probably a woman.

We walked our shakes over to the fountain and surveyed the very large, very lively, very young crowd. That's pretty standard for summertime. Centennial Olympic Park is a popular tourist attraction as it is, but the Fountain of Rings, a water exhibit in the shape of the Olympic rings, draws a crowd of locals all summer long.

After watching the pure joy on the faces of the children frolicking in the fountain, there was nothing left to do but get out there and do it ourselves. But I knew the "run through the fountain" I had imagined and that Amanda had suggested was not going to happen. There was just too much going on, too many people to do so without seriously injuring ourselves or the little kids.

We took our shoes and socks off and set some ground rules. We'd go in pairs, each of us had to go twice, and each pair had to walk (not run) through each of the five rings. The person not walking through the fountain would take pictures with my horrible camera that had a five second delay and took terrible pictures, few of which turned out.

Who makes up rules for running through a fountain? We're lame.

I should've guessed by the children wearing just bathing suits who had come there seeking relief from the dog days of summer that the potential for getting soaked was high. It's why Emily and I didn't change out of our workout clothes and why Mo was wearing a t-shirt and shorts. I didn't quite understand, however, just how completely drenched we would get.

Granted, we could've avoided it, by timing the bursts of water and only running to the next ring afer they went off. But what's the fun in that?

On our last run, Mo even ordered me to stand over one of the water jets until it went off and I was completely drenched. This decision helped turn, "running through the Fountain of Rings," into a Tuesday afternoon wet t-shirt contest for all of downtown Atlanta. Seriously. It was embarrassing. And no, I do not have pictures of that, dirtbags.

Before we left the park (to get towels at Mo's house), we took one last look at the group of kids still playing and saw some funny stuff. Lots of pushing, lots of standing over the water and getting sprayed directly in the face, and one girl who was doing some pretty provacative dance moves that she probably saw in a rap video.

I hate to be a downer, but watching the little kids splash though the fountain was way more entertaining than doing it myself. I think this might be one of the few activities not suitable for adults.

But alcoholic milkshakes, on the other hand, I'm definitely young enough (and old enough) for that.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Day 302: Turn it Off

There have been but a few challenges I have taken on this year that have required more than a day's commitment.

There was Day 197, when I began a week-long challenge to live as a vegetarian. I knew anyone could give meat up for one day, but a week? Now that's a real challenge! But it was easy. So easy, in fact, that I remained a vegetarian for much longer than a week. 12 days, in fact.

Then I upped the ante on eating only raw foods, and then starting a juice diet on Day 227. It was another week-long challenge that I put in the top five, "biggest mistakes I've ever made in my life," list. I'm still gagging about it now.

Not cussing should've been something that I made a multiple day commitment to, but when I didn't last half an hour on Day 20 without saying something inappropriate, I had to concede that a single day was just about all I had in me.

On Day 302, I set out for another week-long challenge. This one, to give up television for an entire week. That was the thing I've never done before.

Full disclosure here, I am required to watch a moderate amount of television to perform my job, so I admit the week wasn't completely TV-free. Miscellaneous, at-home television was what I was really eliminating. Once I left work, I could not, would not turn on my television (Which, by the way is a classic 1980s Zenith built-into-wood model. Truly vintage.) or anyone else's television. For an entire week.

When I started the blog back in September of 2009, I knew I would have to give up some or my extracurricular activities. Television was easily the first one to go, followed by working out and sleeping. There simply wasn't enough time to go to work, do something new, write about it and get invested into television shows.

Since most television programs premiere right around my birthday, I actively chose not to watch, and therefore didn't know what I was missing. So when everyone was talking about the Lost series finale, or what happened on Mad Men, or how awesome last night's Glee was, or how hilarious Modern Family is, I was usually in the dark, blissfully unaware of any of them.

Not knowing anything about any of these shows made me somewhat mysterious to others, which I obviously enjoyed. And when people would gasp that I hadn't seen any of these shows (or movies either, for that matter), and ask me why not, I used the conversation as an opportunity to exert my superiority (I don't have time for TV, I'm way too awesome and way too busy), and as an opportunity to pimp the project (I'm way too awesome and way too busy because I'm trying new things and writing about it. Here's my blog, check it out.)

Not until giving up television for an entire week did I realize what a fraud I was trying to posture as someone who doesn't watch much television or didn't have time to invest in television shows. What I should've said is that I don't have time to invest in television that involves intricate plots, complex story lines, developed characters, or any sort of talent and creativity to make.

Reality television, though, now that's a different story. I'm not sure why the shows on E!, Bravo, TLC, Style and the Food Networks are the channels that my remote usually finds and stops on in recent years. I consider myself a fairly intelligent person with an understanding of smart television when I see it. Perhaps it's because it's mindless and requires very little investment. Or maybe because this trash is so easy to find at all hours of the day, all days of the week?

Regardless, like most things I've ever denied myself, I didn't quite know how addicted I was to mindless shows like Keeping up with the Kardashians, Teen Mom, the entire Real Housewives series, Bethenny Getting Married, Toddlers & Tiaras until I couldn't have them anymore. Not until I forced myself to turn the TV off completely did I realize how much I watched these shows and how much they'd been serving as the background music of my life.

Without the noise coming from the television, my house became still, silent. I enjoyed it, for the most part. Without the television, I continued to do new things (which you will all read about very soon), I cranked out blogs like crazy (no distraction meant some real-deal focus), I picked up a book (Pat Conroy's South of Broad) I had previously started but abandoned because I thought I didn't have time to read. The quiet made me reflective, and I felt more at peace was so much more productive.

My one-bedroom house felt a little lonely, though, without the sound of my TV "friends." And sometimes the stillness, the silence got to me. I was forced to focus on the thoughts inside my head, which sadly are not always as pleasant as the tirades coming from Khloe Kardashian's mouth. I did well, for the part, easily focusing on other things throughout the week, making plans with friends and getting outdoors in the Atlanta summertime heat.

I almost threw in the towel on Sunday (Day 308), the day of the week that I am most likely to waste time watching mindless television. I was like a drug addict in need of fix (How had these ridiculous reality starts affected me this much? Gross.) But I knew I couldn't let myself go down at the hands of the Real Housewives. I'm no quitter. I said a week, and I meant it. So instead of throwing in the towel, and turning on the television, I just went to bed early.

I'm not sure I'm ready to give up TV completely, but it's hard to deny just how productive and effective I am without it. Life is all about balance, I suppose, though and I'm making a conscious effort to strike a reasonable balance and add some more thought-provoking activities to my life. And maybe I could stand to leave my television off more often.

But not when NeNe is on. Are you insane?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Day 301: Drop it like it's Hot, Drop it in the Box

On Day 301 I did something I have not done in a while, and that was to clean out my drawers and closets make a clothing donation to charity. The purging of unwanted clutter in my house was something I had made a blog entry out of before, and certainly not something new.

Dropping my old digs in the bright red bins that look like over sized library book receptacles in the parking lot of my neighborhood Kroger was Day 301's thing I've never done before, though.

There isn't a whole lot to say about this other than it's one of the easiest blog activities that I've ever done, and perhaps one of the more influential ones, assuming the donated items are given to people who sincerely need them.

Oh, and at 29-years old, I'm still as fascinated with these bins as I was when I was a child. The fascination is weird and difficult to explain but it's the same feeling that I have about laundry chutes, trash compactors and mail boxes. Like, who empties them? How do they work?

These bins are everywhere, and this task was easy. So go clean out your closet.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Day 300: Belly Shakes

Day 300. A truly momentous day! Or at least, like Days 100 and 200, one that I thought would be full of big activity. There was absolutely no reason why it shouldn't have been, since Day 300 fell on a Saturday; even work couldn't get in the way.

I begged for help with this day, trying to organize a white water rafting trip or a hang gliding excursion. But I couldn't get any takers. My friends either had plans, weren't interested in any of those activities, or were, by Day 300, over the blog and helping me try new things. Increasingly aware that I'd be solo on the big day, I asked for suggestions from you, the blog readers.

There were some good ones: flotation therapy (unfortunately NOT available in Atlanta), pre-qualify for a home loan (I'd actually done this before), write 5 blogs in one day (that coming from my mother, who was desperate for me to catch up on writing), sing to a nursing home (great idea, if I was a good singer, but as we all saw on Day 242, I am not, so singing just seemed cruel to the old folks).

I went rogue, ignored everyone's suggestions, and went out on my own. Day 300's thing I've never done before was to take a belly dancing class.

Once I had a plan, (a less expensive, not very much commitment involved plan), I asked others to come along, but for various reasons no one was able to. All of their excuses seemed believable, but I had to wonder if they chose not to come because belly dancing sounded weird and not at all how anyone wanted to spend their Saturday. Regardless, I was on my own.

I headed over to the Nazeem Allayl Bellydance Studio in Little 5 Points, stopping first at Chevron to pick up a bottle of water. I wasn't really expecting the class to be terribly strenuous, but I decided it better to be safe than sorry. And I was thirsty.

When I took my water to the counter to purchase, the guy behind the counter paid me a compliment.

"I love your hair," he said.

I was looking down at my money when he said it, but since I'd already noticed I was the only one in the store, I assumed he was talking to me. When I looked up to say, "Thanks," I saw that his hair was exactly the same color as mine.

I smiled, and thanked him.

"You know in another 40 years we're going to be extinct," he said, as if that was information I probably already knew.

"I'm sorry?," I said, still fumbling with my change, and now feeling terribly confused and kind of creeped out.

He went on to explain that when he said, "we," he meant, "redheads," and he referenced an article that he read explaining that scientists had proven that the redhead gene was dying out. Less than two percent of the world's population has red hair right now, and in less than 100 years, we will cease to exist.

This was a lot of information at 10am. This was a lot of information, period. And though I appreciated the trivia, I couldn't fake caring about possible redhead extinction despite the clear evidence that this news was obviously upsetting him. I simply nodded and smiled as he kept going on about what a crying shame it would be if gingers like us weren't around anymore. He even showed me pictures of his kids, as if to say, "I'm doing my part!"; one was a brunette, the other, a redhead. Both kids were cute, but I found myself drawn to the brunette, only because I wasn't confident that his dad loved him as much as he did the redheaded child.

Then, when he could tell I was ready to leave, he gave me a wink and said, "So, you and I need to get out there and make some babies."

Though I'm pretty sure he didn't mean he wanted us to make babies with each other, this guy had taken this conversation one sentence too far. I grabbed my water and said the first thing that came to me.

"You got it!," I said, as if I was on my way out the door to procreate with the first person I could find.

I don't know why I said that. Since then, I thought of all the things I could've said at that moment, and though, "You got it!" was a strange response, nothing quite seems appropriate when a complete stranger has urged me to make babies to keep my hair color going.

Later that day, I did some research. Remarkably, the Chevron guy was not completely crazy. There was a National Geographic article written by scientists who said gingers could be gone by year 2060. But another article written a month later by a different group of scientists that said it wasn't true. I'll be 80 in 2060, and I'll be sure to let you know how it turns out.

After thanking him for the water, and the strange information, I hurried out the door and headed to the belly dancing class.

I parked my car and entered the studio, paying just $10 for the class. I noticed that everyone there was either barefoot or wearing socks, so I slipped off my shoes and put them in one of the cubbies on the wall, and secured a place to stand in the back.

The teacher was petite, and she had super long dark hair. Her pants were long and flowy and swung when she walked. She was extremely nice, and had a pleasant, but strange look on her face. Almost like she was stoned or something. I realize the phrase, "head in the clouds," is just a figure of speech, but it was as if her head was literally in the clouds.

She wore a short, tight t-shirt that showed her stomach, which was not the washboard, flat stomach I've seen on other fitness instructors. Belly dancing, I later read, is all about accepting the curves of a woman's body; judging by the pictures on the wall and the movements we learned, there is a sensuality involved that exists regardless of the dancer's size. Unfortunately, I never achieved this sensuality, but I had a hell of a time trying.

The instructor climbed up on a box in the front of the room and put some music on and we began the warm up. I used the time as an opportunity to take a look at the other students in the class and I could immediately tell which ones had taken these classes before. They were the ones wearing the super annoying coins around their waists that jingled and jangled with every single move that they made. You know how babies learning how to walk have little bells on their shoes and it's so cute? Well this was kind of like that, only on grown women trying to get their groove back. Eventually I got used to the constant sound of loose change, but it was a lot to take at first.

I've seen some revealing dance wear in my day, but there was one woman wearing one of the oddest ensembles I'd ever seen. She was herself a strange-looking person, with bright red lipstick and short black spiky hair. Her outfit was a one piece cat suit with tight chiffon sleeves and a chiffon back that dipped so low, when her coin skirt that she had tied around her waist fell off (which was often), I could see the top of her butt crack. I tried not to look, but how was I not supposed to look at that?

This woman's crack was distracting, but more distracting than that for me was that the moves never quite went with the music that was playing. I don't know if that was my teacher screwing up, or if she viewed music as simply background noise or if belly dancing doesn't require listening to music at all, but it really bothered me that our moves were almost never on beat.

After completing the warm up, we moved on to a series of belly dancing moves. For the most part, my feet stayed planted on the floor in first position (heels together, toes apart) and required only movement from my waist. Aside from a few step touches, and toe taps (still moving the belly) that was it. The class was like one continuous body roll.

There were times when just the repetition of the movement was tiring and therefore challenging, but I barely broke a sweat in the class and didn't really even feel like I raised my heart rate all that much. I don't know if that is standard for belly dancing, or if my stoned teacher was just unaware.

The one time she told us to shake our legs and stomachs uncontrollably, she shouted, "You want everything to jiggle!"

I paused for a moment looking around at my classmates to see if they were as alarmed by these words as I was.

I couldn't help but think to myself, "Noooooooooooooo, I don't waaaaaaaaaant anything to jiggle! That's why I'm here! To make the stuff that jiggles stop jiggling!"

The class ended the same way I would imagine all belly dancing classes to end: with doing football drills and Soul Train lines from side of the room to the other with Boyz II Men's, "Motown Philly" blaring through the speakers.

I left feeling pretty proud of myself for going solo, pretty sure that I'm going to leave belly dancing to the professionals, and really sorry that I didn't ask anyone to take my picture while I was there.

Later that afternoon, I went to my friend Greg's son's 2nd birthday party. I knew it would be a fun time and a good chance to catch up with friends I had not seen in a while. I did not know that there was going to be a jump castle there, and Jessica (Greg's wife) didn't know, when she paid for it, that none of the children would be interested in it at all. The nice, generous friend that I am, wanting to see Greg and Jessica get their money's worth, I climbed inside and took a turn. My friend Karen joined me. And soon Jessica did too. And thanks to an afternoon summer thunderstorm, the jump castle was more like a slip and slide. We definitely weren't showing our "sensual" side like I had tried to do earlier in belly dancing class, but jump castles are so much more fun. So are child's birthday parties with cake and beer (and barbecue made on a Green Egg with homemade sauce.)

I also had fun touring Greg and Jessica's new mini-van. That's right, I said, "mini-van." And that's my friends Greg and Jessica who own one. I've long accepted that we are not kids anymore, and my friends having kids of their own doesn't freak me out at all the way it used to. But family cars? That's a new one for me. And it does slightly freak me out.

Day 300 didn't set out to be a terribly momentous day, but when I think about all that happened and all I learned, I can't help but be overwhelmed: i found out redheads are going extinct, I saw some girl's butt crack, I hate belly dancing but jump castles rule, and my friend Greg owns a mini-van.

What a weird day.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Day 299: Sick Drinks, Sick Guitar Licks

The good (and sometimes bad) thing about telling others that you're on a quest to try 365 things you've never done before is that when anyone else is scared to try something, they'll ask me to test it out first.

That's what happened on Day 299, when I saw a very determined-looking Amanda approaching my desk at work.

"Stephanie," she said, "Have you ever had a Green Tea latte from Starbucks?"

"No," I said, and while answering the phone with my left hand, I held out my right hand and she handed the mint green frothy-looking drink to me.

After I hung up the phone, Amanda explained to me that the store's baristas had messed up her manager's order and accidentally made a latte instead of the iced green tea she had ordered. The staff at Starbucks corrected their mistake, and gave her the latte to give away to a friend.

Luckily the "friend" in this case was me, and trying a Starbucks Green Tea Latte became the first Day 299 thing I'd never done before.

The drink looked tasty. Like mint ice cream. I started to take a sip and then Amanda stopped me.

"Wait! Where's your camera?!" she shouted, "We need a picture."

Her commitment to this project is truly something to behold.

While she got the camera ready to go, I looked again at the creamy, pretty drink before taking a drink. I cannot explain how misleading the looks of this drink are because it tastes terrible. I took one sip to taste it, and another just to verify that it's gross. There may have been a third sip for good measure, but that was it.

And then I threw the drink away.

The second thing I'd ever done before on Day 299 was to go see The Psychics, an Atlanta cover band, featuring my friend Shelley's father-in-law on lead vocals. She informed the group at the Wine Party on Day 247 that she and her husband would all be at Friday's performance.

"They're a lot of fun," she said, "I mean, they're our parents' age, but I always have fun when I see them play."

Shelley, like my sister-in-law Katie, can have fun in a paper bag, so I knew even if the band was awful, the night would still be a blast.

The night was a blast. And the band wasn't awful at all. In fact, they were pretty great.

Ahead of going, all I knew about The Psychics was what I had heard from Shelley and Kyle, who told me the band has been around for more than 30 years. Shelley's father-in-law is a doctor and the thought of him holding band practice at his house with his rocker friends is amusing to me, only because when I try to picture my own dad and two of his buddies getting together to start a band, I can't. I laugh hysterically at the very thought.

So I went, expecting to have a good time with Shelley and Kyle and crew, but not really expecting to enter the bar to an absolute dance party, led by three men my dad's age in rock star t-shirts and John Lennon sunglasses. This will sound cheesy, and Shelley will completely roll her eyes, but The Psychics are proof that age really is just a number, and who says doctors and architects can't moonlight as rock stars into their 60's? Who says?

So, the day started with something that looked good that ended up tasting pretty bad, and ended with a band I wasn't expecting to really care for, bringing the house down. I love it when that happens.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Day 298: Today's Not-So-Special Value

At least once or twice a week, I come home to find a HSN (Home Shopping Network) box waiting outside my neighbor's door. I know the guy who lives there and he doesn't strike me as a home shopping addict, but based on his frequent deliveries, I have to believe that he is.

I've let my imagination run wild trying to decide what products he's ordering from television and if his house is starting to look like the homes featured on Hoarders. He's not a disgusting person or anything, I just see a lot of stuff going into house, and not a lot coming out.

In honor of my neighbor, and my friend Jackie, whose sister recently bought something from the home shopping channel (therefore branding her forever in the category of "those who watch home shopping channels"), Day 298's thing I've never done before was to watch and purchase something from a home shopping channel.

There are three shopping networks on my basic cable: QVC, HSN and one that I'd never heard of, ShopNBC.com.

When I tuned in the evening of Day 298, QVC was featuring big electronic items, none that I needed or could afford (see Day 297 when I talk about not being ready for nice home furnishings); HSN was featuring handbags (totally up my alley); and ShopNBC.com (yeah, it's a channel, I swear) was featuring gemstone jewelry.

For an hour, I flipped back and forth between the HSN and ShopNBC.com channels. Handbags, jewelry, handbags, jewelry, handbags, jewelry.

Sounds like a great night of television, right?

But it wasn't.

What should've been, "awesome, awesome, awesome," was more like, "eh, I don't think so, yikes, no way."

The quality of the items for sale was less than stellar for the most part.

The few times an item did come up for discussion (and it was quite a discussion, I'll get to that later) on either of the networks that I did like, I'd consider picking up the phone to dial, but I'd stop myself, not sure if I was ready to pull the trigger, or if I should wait to see what's coming next.

The most entertaining part of the experience was, without a doubt, the hosts of the channel. Their ability to feign excitement over every single piece of crap that crosses their desk is truly remarkable. After giving the basic information to viewers: size, price, color, the hosts would find a way to talk continuously about whatever handbag or pendant they were hocking. For an eternity. As annoying as I found their ridiculous banter to be, I couldn't help but think that this is a job I could be good at. My ability to bullshit is second to none, and it seemed to me that's all these people were really doing. I mean, who gets that excited about an adjustable leather purse strap?

I had just about come to the end of my commitment to home shopping, and had resolved to giving up on buying anything, when I flipped back to ShopNBC.com. Something caught my eye. Yes, like a child, I am drawn to pretty colors and I couldn't take my eyes off a ring that featured a "Mohave green" stone. The host was speaking to the gemologist who had made the ring, and he seemed to know what he was talking about. He mined the stone in that ring with his own two hand and he said it was one-of-a kind (all 5,000 of them for sale that day).

The ring, for my purpose, met all the criteria. It was cheap and I thought I would actually wear it. I found a winner, so I picked up the phone to call ShopNBC.com. And then I hung up immediately, realizing I didn't know my ring size. Is my ring size something I should know about myself? Because I didn't know mine, but according to the table that I consulted after measuring a ring I already own, I am a 9. I dialed ShopNBC.com again.

I truly hoped that I would have a hilarious story to tell you about the conversation with the home shopping operator, but despite my attempts to be witty, she was all business. She didn't care that this was my first time with a home shopping channel, she didn't care about the blog (I may have mentioned it); she wanted my ring size, my credit card number and my address, and that's it. Even when I asked her to put me through to the on-air hosts to tell them how excited I was to receive my "Sterling Silver Mohave Lime Green Stabilized Turquoise ring" in the mail, she asked me if I had any more questions, and then she hung up.

When the ring arrived, I tore into the packaging like it was Christmas. I opened the container and had a good look at the ring. I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear that the ring looked cheap. Everything about it was wrong. The silver was too shiny, the gemstone didn't match. And the table that I referenced to get my size was also off and the ring didn't even fit. It would've fit my dad. A huge letdown.

Like a lot of things that had arrived in my mailbox over the summer, I left the ring in its box on my kitchen table where it sat for several weeks. My intention was to send it back, but in the midst of a big cleaning spree, I think I might've thrown it away and now I can't find it.

Of all the things I thought I might fail at during this project, shopping was not one of them, but I think I'm going to leave the home shopping to my neighbor.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Day 297: I'm a Crazy Wino

Months ahead of Day 297, my friend Emily informed me that she had just purchased a Fusebox wine blending kit during a Woot Off. She suggested I buy one too and blend my own wine as the thing I've never done before.

A now-seasoned "Wooter," I didn't ask many questions. I like wine and I like Emily and I like parties. Clearly I had nothing to lose. The next thing I knew, we'd planned a hypothetical wine blending party, time and place TBD.

Websites like Woot.com and Groupon have been so helpful in my journey to try new things. Unfortunately, since they've also encouraged me to make a lot of impulse purchases (wine blending kit, wha?), they’ve not been so helpful in keeping me debt free and financially sound.

Allow me to answer the popular question I’m always asked: "Is doing 365 new things expensive?"

Without a doubt, hell yes.

“Oh well, who cares, I'll pay my bills when I'm 30,” is what I usually tell myself. But at the rate I'm going, I could be 40 before I pay for all of my 29th year adventures.

But the wine blending kit sounded like a fun activity, so I bought it. It arrived at my apartment a few weeks later, and I did what I was doing with all of my mail at that time, and I put it on my kitchen table. And that's where it stayed for weeks, months even. The box, that was large and heavy, was like a centerpiece on the table. I’d stack my other mail on top of it, prop my purse up against it. And before long, I forgot the kit was even there.

That is, until Emily reminded me at work that we needed to start working out the details for our party. So we settled on a date, sorted out a guest list and began to plan.

For Emily, this party would be an opportunity to host a party at the condo she had just bought (which is so fabulous and wonderfully decorated and one of the reasons I am always contemplating buying my own place), and an opportunity for the both of us to introduce our friends to each other. A precursor to the “World's Colliding” birthday party I'd planned in my head.

Oh, and also an opportunity to blend wine, Day 297's thing I've never done before.

Emily and I laughed on Days 295 and 296 about how completely unprepared we were to host a party. We had barely talked about food, and I hadn't even checked the Evite to know who all was coming. But I know me, and I knew Emily and I wasn't concerned; I knew we'd pull it off.

We met at Publix after work, and shopped for food for our guests. The kit suggested we provide the wine blending participants with plenty of crackers and other bread so that they can cleanse their palate between tastings, but made no mention of what other foods might be appropriate for a wine party. So we bought what we liked.

Cheese, crackers, summer sausage, tomato, mozzarella, and basil sticks, grapes, brownies, chicken fingers.

Who said chicken fingers can't be paired with wine?

We rushed back to Emily's house to start setting up and I marveled her wide array of serving platters and decorative dishes. If we'd had this party at my apartment, we'd be eating food off of a broiling pan or a cookie sheet. Thinking about that, as I was chopping vegetables and sticking toothpicks in tomatoes and cheese, I began to feel a wide array of emotions, none of which had anything to do with a wine blending party.

When Emily told me a year ago that she was buying a condo, I remember feeling so proud of her, and so impressed that she, two years younger than I, had made such an adult-decision. And standing in her kitchen looking around at all of her pretty things, I couldn't help but smile that her home is such a perfect representation of her personality. It's elegant and classy, but welcoming and homey. I wouldn't be surprised if I walked into her home unannounced and found her wearing a fabulous outfit and posing for a Southern Living magazine spread. But I also wouldn't be surprised if I walked in to find her in lying on her couch eating ice cream and wearing her pajamas in the middle of the day either.

Being at Emily's house forced me to consider why I, in the almost six years I've lived in Atlanta, have yet to muster to courage to lay down roots in a place of my own.

A few years ago, I almost did. I made up my mind that I wanted to buy a place; I looked at dozens of houses and condos with some of my real estate friends, and found several that I liked. I spoke to mortgage brokers about home loans and was almost ready to make an offer on a place, but flaked at the last minute, letting someone else swoop in and get the house. Looking back, I know I wasn't ready for the financial and personal responsibility of home ownership, but I also know that wasn't the only reason I backed out.

For reasons I haven’t completely identified, I have been reluctant to establish financial roots in Atlanta. Buying a home of my own makes me feel anxious, like as if doing so means that I’ve trapped myself in a place I’m not sure I want to be, and one that I’d never be able to escape. But why, I wonder? I have so many friends here, a good job, and there’s tons of stuff to do. Yet, when I look at my own place I can’t help but feel ashamed that, while full of charm and character, my apartment hardly looks like it belongs to a girl who has established herself in a city; no, shamefully, my place looks like a college dormitory, full of hand-me-down, mismatched furniture. So why not settle into a nicely decorated home that I own, with matching utensils and decorative serving trays? Doing so would make my mother so happy.

I'm suspect that some of my reluctance to bite the bullet and buy something has to do with the expectation I had that when the time came for me to settle somewhere, I would be doing so with another person; and the seemingly overwhelming decisions of whether to stay or go, rent or buy, would be all be shared ones.

So there's that.

But shouldn’t “that” be a good thing? The power, the freedom and the wherewithal to do whatever I want, whenever I want, wherever I want? I suppose, but for some reason, knowing that the sky really is the limit, is crippling me. I’m afraid to move, leaving everything and everyone that I know, and I’m afraid to stay, settling on my own and giving up on ever living anywhere else for a while. So I teeter that line of never really planting my feet, but never really exercising my wings.

I realize that what I’m about to say will likely set the woman’s movement back 50 years, but there is a part of me that finds having so much power debilitating. I’ve been in the driver’s seat of my own life for 29 years and I’m exhausted. And there are days when I'd gladly relinquish the keys to the right person and happily ride shotgun for a while. But not for the whole trip. And I get to choose where we eat. And what music we listen to.

Speaking of driving somewhere, I've lived in Atlanta for six years, and I feel like I’ve been thinking and talking about leaving for five of them. But if I was going to go, wouldn't I have gone already? I feel like I’m waiting for a sign that will tell me it’s time to move on, or time to stay, and it’s not coming. Why is it that the older I get the harder it is to identify what I want and go after it? Shouldn’t it be getting easier?

I recognized these are not party preparation normal people thoughts, so I tried to shake them out of my head and focus on the tasks at hand, feeling eternally grateful that this was a wine party and I’d be drinking with my friends very soon.

I don't know how, with our complete disorganization and my crazy internal commentary, but at 6pm, the time the party was supposed to start, Emily and I had everything set up and ready to go. White wine chilling, red wine sitting, hot chicken fingers plated, and our faces fixed, hair brushed.

And we waited.

And then we waited some more.

I went upstairs to Emily's room and posted a blog while we continued to wait.

We chuckled about what we were going to do with all of the food if no one showed up. Luckily we didn't have to because just as we started to consider our options, Emily's friend Elizabeth arrived. And then my other friend Emily came. And then Maribeth.

Shelley and Kyle were the last ones to come, arriving straight from their tennis lesson. We'd all already had some wine, so we were appropriately loosened up. I could sense apprehension coming from them, though, so I poured them each a glass of wine. They grabbed some food and then joined us at the table.

"So," Shelley said, taking a seat, "Is this like some sort of pyramid scheme?"

I almost spit my wine out onto the table.

"What?!," I laughed, "No! Why would you think that?"

"Oh you know," she went on, "People invite you over for a 'wine party' and the next thing you know you've signed up to be a distributor and they're making tons of money off of you."

I knew what she was talking about; I'd been invited to parties like that before too and I did not appreciate it. Certainly Shelley didn't think that I'd get involved in something like that. But I'd like to think if I was, I'd at least be a little more transparent about it.

I had anxiety for the rest of the night that some of my friends thought that I was dumb enough to get involved in a pyramid scheme, and terrible enough to get them involved in it.

Emily and I together tried to explain what we were going to do, which was a challenge, since even though we forced ourselves to read the instruction manual minutes before the guests arrived, we didn't really understand. We knew right away that we didn't have enough wine glasses to do it the exact way it was intended, so we made up the rules as we went along.

The Fusebox kit included several bottles of wine, recipe cards of blends, pipettes and a mixing cylinder ala chemistry class. The idea was to blend and try some of the recipes to determine what flavors we all preferred before going on our own and creating our own blends.

Going to wine country in northern California is on the list of things I cannot wait to do in my life, but I'm starting to wonder if the experience for me would be more about the gorgeous scenery than about the wine. Because after a couple of tastes of our concoctions, everything started to taste the same. They all just tasted like wine.

In front of each of us were paper place mats, provided in the kit, so that we could write down comments about each of the blends pertaining to their aroma, taste and finish. I don’t think anyone wrote anything down and the chances of us ever being able to recall what we drank or how we blended it are pretty much non-existent.

After a few recipes, we abandoned the blending and did what we do best when it comes to wine: drinking. And talking, mainly coming from my crazy friends. Poor Elizabeth and Emily. My friends dominated in numbers, and in volume, and everyone left with gray-stained teeth and purple lips.

I came to grips with the fact that “hosting a dinner party,” is probably not going to happen for me as one of the 365 things I’ve never done before, since lack a place large enough, and nice enough, to host outsiders. But thanks to good friends who are far more emotionally and financially responsible than me, who are willing to help me co-host parties, I still have a little bit more time to figure out where I’m going.

Or if I’m staying. Or going.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Day 296: Handing Out Blessings

Almost everyday, I encounter a man on my way home from work, who stands under the I-20 overpass. He salutes, smiles, and waves at passengers waiting to turn left to get on the on-ramp and accepts donations from generous drivers.

His presence is of little concern to me, but on the days when I leave work tired, frustrated, daydreaming about all of the other things I could've been doing if I didn't have to work for 8+ hours every day, I have been guilty, on more than one occasion, of resenting him. I may smile or give a half-wave, but I've never contributed to his cause.

I do not know anything about him, where he lives, or how he came to settle on this spot underneath the overpass, or why he, presumably, doesn't have a job and therefore makes his living this way. But I have judged him, assuming the answers to all of these questions, and have often thought about how unfair it is that I worked all day while this guy accepts handouts.

Yet, on this particular day, Day 296, I was feeling particularly blessed and decided to put my preconceptions aside and share my good fortune with this complete stranger as the thing I'd never done before.

Unfortunately for me, and for him, my desire to be generous only went so far, as I reached into my oversized purse and came up with just a single dollar at the bottom. I paused for a minute, not wanting to insult the guy. But it was all I had, so I rolled down my window and gave the stranger a smile.

"Hi there, my friend," I said, cheerfully.

He smiled smiled back, as he walked over and took my dollar. Then he tipped his hat to me, and said, "Thank you, ma'am," all while clutching a sign that said, "Hand out a blessing today."

I'm not sure that my single dollar could necessary be considered a "blessing," but when he looked at me with a sense of gratitude, I knew that small amount of money so carelessly tossed into the bottom of my purse meant much more to him than it did to me. I was happy to let the dollar go and even happier to let go all of my negative opinions of this person that I never met.

A daughter of an entrepreneur and a firm believer that everyone should work for a living, I try to live my life under the terms of, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." But I also believe that, "A person's true wealth is the good he or she does in the world." And I think we could all benefit from a little more kindness.

I think God agrees, because after handing over the dollar, I was rewarded for my good deed when I saw a toddler running down one of the streets in my neighborhood completely naked into a sprinkler with her friends.

It was hilarious. It was happiness.

Day 295: Warm Fruit, Not Bad

I spent my last day in Charleston on the beach with Danielle, Karson, and Greyson before heading back to Atlanta.

Day 295's thing I'd never done before was to meet a friend in Augusta for dinner and eat a feta and pineapple pizza. I'm normally not a fan of warm fruit, but this was actually pretty good. The sweetness of the pineapple paired well with the savory flavor of the feta. Delicious.

Is it just me, or are a lot of these posts recently all about food? I'm going to try and get that under control.

No promises, though. I really like to eat.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Day 294: Shem Creek Sunday

The plan, laid out days in advance, for Day 294, was for my friend and lover of the outdoors, Adam, to take me shrimping. On a real-deal shrimp boat.

Only we both over slept and missed the boat.

I was so upset about my irresponsibility, and sincerely had anxiety about oversleeping for two reasons:

1. I really wanted to go.

2. Adam's friend who set it up was counting on us to be there and we completely blew him off. I'd never even met the guy, but I'm sure he was not happy that we were so flaky.

After stressing most of the morning about literally, "missing the boat," we decided to do the next best thing to shrimping on a summer Sunday.

We went brunching.

Not only did we go Sunday brunching, we brunched at the very same restaurant we ate dinner at the night before, Red Drum on Mt. Pleasant. The same restaurant, twice in 12 hours? I have stayed at a restaurant long enough to eat two meals there, but I don't think I've ever eaten dinner and brunch at the same place on two separate days, in a row. That could've been Day 294's thing I've never done before. I think the hostess did a double take when we came and we had to remind her that yes, she'd seen us before (the very night before.)

We sat at the bar, where we randomly ran into an old college friend, Jacqui, and her boyfriend, Andy. I drank my first bellini (sparkling wine and peach puree), as another thing I'd never done before. And then we took our Sunday Funday outdoors to Shem Creek Bar & Grill, where we enjoyed the sun, the boats passing by, and eventually, the sunset, all at a place I'd never been to before.

Ok, so I didn't go shrimping like I wanted to, but I did manage to achieve several new things with old friends, and I call that success. Actually, I call it a most perfect Sunday.

If you live in the Charleston area and have not enjoyed Red Drum on a Sunday, then YOU are missing the boat.

Day 293: Training Day

When I told her I was in town on Day 293 and wanted to see her, my best childhood friend Danielle said, "Well come on over. [Husband] George and [daughter] Karson are both out of town. I'm potty-training [2-year old son] Greyson this weekend, so I'll be here. I'm not going anywhere."

I probably don't need to tell you that I don't know anything about potty-training, despite successfully making a diaper cake and changing my first newborn diaper this year. But I've heard enough horror stories from my own mother and seen other friends begging for advice on Facebook to understand that teaching a toddler how to use the bathroom is not always the easiest thing to do.

But still, not leaving the house? For an entire weekend? That seemed a little extreme.

I went over to Danielle’s to find her and Greyson in the front yard playing. The three of us stood out there for a while, until it got too hot, and then we went indoors. Danielle and I didn't waste any time catching up on each other's lives while also trying to entertain Greyson.

While standing in her kitchen, I noticed a stash of salty, unhealthy foods on Danielle's table. I looked the bags of cheese puffs and Little Debbie cakes and was confused.

“What’s with all of this?” I asked. Owning this much junk food was out of character for Danielle. Food of any kind strewn across her kitchen table was very out of character for her.

"The junk food makes him thirsty . . . which makes him drink water . . . ,” her voice trailed off as if these two pieces of information should all make sense to me, but I was confused. I shook my head slowly, a vacant look on my face.

“Then he has to use the bathroom . . . it helps him to understand the difference between being wet and dry,” she kept explaining.


That technique seemed a little strange to me, but Danielle is an excellent mother, so I trusted she knew what she was doing (at least better than I did).

But I noticed, after she interrupted the conversation with her third or fourth, "Greyson, are you wet? Do you need to sit on the potty?," that he didn't seem to be "getting" what she was saying.

"So what's the deal?," I had to ask her, "He's not into it?"

"Um, no," she said, "He doesn't care if he’s wet or dry. He'd cruise around with poop in his pants for days if I let him."

I looked down at Greyson's sweet little face as he ran through Danielle's kitchen without any shorts on. He squealed and laughed while doing a little dance.

"See?," Danielle asked me.

She was right. Greyson didn't seem at all concerned with using the potty.

Even when we'd run him into the bathroom multiple times during one hour and force him to sit on it, he did so willingly, but seemed completely uninterested. We'd clap wildly and make a big deal about throwing the pee-pee from the little potty into the big potty, and he looked at us like we were nuts.

This went on for several hours; ample time for Danielle and I to catch up, but not much time to do anything else. Day 293’s thing I’ve never done before was to help potty-train a two-year old.

Frequent trips to the bathroom are the reason why going out into public is simply not feasible while potty-training. Potty-training takes commitment, stamina, and as Danielle and I were realizing, a child that wants to learn how.

Greyson, at least not at that time, was not.

There were several moments when I was borderline harassing Greyson to tell me if he needed to go to the bathroom, chasing him from room to room to ensure that he hadn't already gone, and sitting with him in the bathroom for long periods of time both of us staring at each other.

As far as all of my friends’ children are concerned, I am interested in one thing: being the absolute coolest aunt I can possibly be, gaining their adoration and unconditional love. I felt myself quickly moving from “Cool Aunt,” to “Mommy’s Sidekick.”

I was only a few hours invested into the project, and I cared more than he did. Selfishly, I wanted to make it happen (as if potty-training can happen in one afternoon), so that I could leave Danielle’s house confident that I would be able to say to Greyson later in life, “I was there when you were potty-trained.”

Weird? Maybe.

But considering I’ve been with Danielle for so many of these milestones in her life, in my life, and in her kids’ lives, it really wasn’t. In fact, I had to laugh, when at one point during the day, I took over for Danielle and took Greyson to the bathroom by myself. He sat on his little potty and I sat across from him, and we both looked at each other. It was like staring into Danielle’s elementary school face when we used to “play house,” on the playground at Harbison West. Only now we’re playing house for real! With her kids!

This version of “house” we were playing out in real life was far less glamorous, and not nearly like the one we had concocted all those years ago. But somehow the real thing felt a lot better, and I smiled to think about how far we’ve come.

After a stressful day of semi-parenting, I left Danielle at her house and went to the beach to meet my friend Adam. When his friends asked me where I'd been most of the day, I told them I'd been with my best friend, helping potty-train her son.

"That sounds terrible," one of them said.

But it wasn't terrible at all. It was pretty hilarious. And awesome.

***I'm happy to report that Greyson has, since Day 293, been potty-trained, without junk food, which Danielle tossed the next day. And no surprise, I had nothing to do with it.***

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Day 292: Doggie Daycare

If the last few days of blog entries have felt lame, uninspired and lacking motivation, it's because that's how I was feeling mid-July. The heat was stifling my excitement for trying new things.

I chalked it up to the dog days of summer and feeling landlocked; and I knew whatever was ailing me was nothing that a trip to the beach couldn't cure. So I took a couple of days off from work and planned a long weekend getaway to Charleston, my most favorite place to go to escape my real life. In my mind, I would lie by the ocean, sip cold drinks at beach bars, catch up with family and friends with the salt on my skin and everything would be summertime awesome once again.

Only, I forgot to tell anyone about these plans that I had so carefully planned in my head. And when I called my brother Jeff to tell him to get his guest room ready, he surprised me with, "Katie and I are going to the mountains this weekend."

Whoops. That's not really what I was expecting him to say, but he and Katie not being in Charleston was a slight disappointment, not a trip-ending crisis. There are plenty of other people in town to warrant a visit.

My conversation with Jeff continued for a little while before he made me a very generous offer, "Do you need to stay at our house? Do you want me to leave you a key?"

My own Charleston house for the weekend and no worry over about which friend to stay with? Yes, please. I'd be on neutral ground without getting in other people's personal space. Again, I was sad Jeff and Katie wouldn't be around, but everything was start to take shape up for a great weekend.

I took Jeff up on his offer (before he could change his mind) and thanked him. Then I thought about my second favorite thing about Jeff's house (besides hanging out with him and Katie).

"What are you doing with Ron and Penny?," I asked.

Ron and Penny are Jeff and Katie's dogs. And I love them dearly (remember when I put them on my list of things I'm most thankful for back in November?). This is going to sound nuts, but I love them the way that I imagine I will love my nieces and nephews one day. I want to make them happy and keep them safe and ensure that their needs are met above mine. Weird, I know, but I love them a lot and I can't really explain why. I just do.

Jeff said they were taking the dogs an out of their way to my parents's house on their way to the mountains.

"Why are you taking them to mom and dad's house?," I asked. "Let me take care of them!" I was almost shouting into the phone, this possibility excited me so much.

Jeff was silent on the other end, and I knew he was now contemplating my generous offer.

"Are you sure you want to do it? I mean, these dogs are crazy."

I was sure. But his reluctance to take me up on it immediately gave me pause. But I was so excited about the possibility of playing, "house plus dogs," my hesitance only lasted a moment.

"Yes! I'm defnitely sure! Let me dog-sit!," my enthusiasm was pouring out of me.

The rest of our conversation went back and forth for a few minutes, sort of like this:
Jeff: Are you sure?

Me: Yes.

Jeff: Positive?

Me: Positive.

Jeff: You're sure?

Me: I'm SURE.

Jeff's concern didn't seem to stem from him not trusting me. The very last thing my brother ever wants in life is to become a burden for anyone else. But when he considered how my taking care of the dogs would save him some trouble on both legs of the trip, he was grateful for my offer and agreed I could dog sit for Ron and Penny as Day 292's (and 293, 294 and 295) thing I've never done before.

I arrived at Jeff and Katie's on Day 292 so that Katie could give me the instructions on the ins and outs of dog care.

She showed me their food and water bowls and explained how I needed to shut the doors to all of the rooms before leaving. The dogs stay outside during the day, but sleep inside at night.

"Do you want me to take them on a walk?" I asked, "Where are their leashes?"

"Um, yeah . . .," she sound enthusiastic at first, but then her voice trailed off. She turned to show me where the leashes are and then stopped herself.

"You know, maybe you should just hang out with them in the backyard? They're a little . . .much. They're just not good on a leash. They're just too much."

I shrugged my shoulders, taking her word for it. I still wasn't particularly nervous, but so far Ron and Penny's owners had described them as, "crazy," and "a little much, "so maybe I should've been? I had to face the fact that I'd signed on to take care of two rambunctious dogs for the weekend for the first time ever and I might've been in over my head.

Once I felt like I had a handle on what I was supposed to do to keep the animals alive, Katie and I went to grab lunch on her way out of town. When we were done, I headed back to the house to start my dog-sitting.

When I got back to the house, I started to understand what Jeff and Katie had been warning me about. As soon as I walked towards the fence in the backyard, Ron and Penny were barking and jumping up and down like they were on a trampoline. I knew they were spirited dogs but I'd never seen them freak out this much.

I figured I'd go into the backyard, throw them a tennis ball for a little bit, and tire them out. Only when I opened the back gate ever so slightly, they almost knocked me over, breaking free and running wildly through the fence into the front yard.

Penny went straight for one of the big trees in the front yard; she put her front legs on the tree, and looked up as if she was going to climb it, all while barking at nothing in particular. I've seen her do this before at my parents' house, so I wasn't overly concerned. Ron was even more insane, running full speed into the street, like he was chasing something; once he realized there was nothing to chase, he paused, looked around, and then began trotting down the road with no clear destination. I ran after them, yelling both of their names trying to feel, and give anyone passing by the impression, that I knew what I was doing.

The dogs were not listening to me at all, and they acted as if they'd been cooped up in a pen that was too small for them for months. Though I was nervous to leave them out there, I gave up quickly on trying to wrangle them in through the fence they broke out of. They weren't even turning their heads when I called after them. I opted insted to get them in through the front door.

Thank goodness, it worked. I'm assuming the only reason is because they knew I was the keeper of the food, the water, and the air conditioning, but I didn't care. They were finally inside where I could keep an eye on them.

They came in the house and went straight for their water bowl that I had already filled with fresh water and ice cubes (best dog-sitter ever, right?). I left them for a bit while I moved my suitcase into the guest room and then to check my email.

When I returned to the living room, I noticed both dogs were lying down, but that Ron was furiously licking both of his front paws. I went over to see what he was licking at and when I looked closely, I saw that he had cuts on both of his legs, and they were bleeding slightly. He didn't seem to be in distress at all, but I immediately panicked. I laid down beside him to comfort him, and to inspect the cuts, which were strange, almost like a shaving cut on a human. I felt terrible. I was also completely in shock that he managed to cut himself while in the front yard for a maximum of 20 minutes.

I texted my brother right away to tell him. He was only 30 minutes outside of town at that point. He didn't seem too concerned, and told me to keep an eye on it.

I let the dogs chill out, and returned to my room to get ready to go to the beach. When I came back out to the I started getting ready to go to the beach, there was a huge disgusting mess of puke or poo (I honestly couldn't tell) in the middle of the floor.

Shit! Literally.

I looked around to see which one of these dogs made the carpet their dumping ground, but as Katie has explained to me before, when there are two pets, sometimes it's hard to tell who is responsible for bad behavior. And this mess didn't look like a punishable offense, it looked like one of the dogs was sick. I tried my best to clean up the mess and put carpet cleaner on it, but I could still see a stain. Again, another text to Jeff. This one went unanswered.

I realize that none of these things were completely my fault, but I had been dog-sitting for less than an hour, and so far both dogs had escaped, one had cuts on his paws and one made a mess on the carpet, and I wasn't sure which one. So far, not so good. Thank God these were just dogs we were dealing with and not children.

In addition to these three mishaps, the dogs were moping around the house with sad eyes and they looked at me like their parents had abandoned them for the weekend with their irresponsible aunt who doesn't know much about taking care of dogs. I texted both Jeff and Katie at various points during the weekend saying, "Your dogs miss you," and, "I think the dogs are depressed." Jeff was not really helpful responding once with, "Yeah, they probably are." I tried to spend as much time with Ron and Penny as I could, but they seemed uninterested in me.

Luckily, all of the messes and injuries, and their subsequent sadness only lasted the first few hours I was there. The dogs perked up, and rest of the weekend was fun, full of hilarious moments with me and my favorite pooches. I chased them through the backyard and let them sleep in the bed with me. I even introduced them to my friend Will's brand new puppy. The puppy will never be the same, but Ron and Penny had a blast.

Friends who feel sorry for me that I live alone have been advising me to just, "Get a dog," for years. I've always put them off, explaining that I love animals, dogs especially, but at this point in my life, I'm not sure I'd be a good dog owner. No poor, unfortunate animal should be subjected to my long days at work, tendency to be forgetful, and constant need for spontanaeity.

But based on my weekend with my two favorite four-legged pals, the first half-hour excluded, I know that I will make a great mommy to a dog one day. I liked being depended on and liked having a reason to return to my brother's house and having two excited pets there to greet me when I arrived. Just like the movie Marley and Me, (that that I have a difficult time even typing without crying), dogs don't care how pretty you are or how much money you make. They love you just they way you are.

And though I have a feeling they'll never feel about me the way they feel about their parents, there is nothing like feeling the love of a pet.