Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Day 352: Skype Date

Tackling a project to do 365 things I've never done before could not have happened had it not been for the eager support of my friends and family, rooting me on from the start and willing to be a part of challenges.

If you've been reading this blog from the start, you likely know the names of some of these supporters. Their names appear to the right of the screen, in that huge long list of awesomeness where I've "tagged" them each time they participate in my blog, and in my life. The more times they participate, the larger their name gets. But don't be fooled into thinking that only those on that list have participated in this experience. There are plenty more, whose names are smaller or nonexistent, who have cheered me on from afar, commenting on my progress and leaving me messages of encouragement when an entry has touched them. Tagged or not, without my team, my pit crew, there is no way this project would have ever gotten off the ground or sustained 352 days.

One of my friends, who had yet to appear in the blog until this day, is my hometown friend Kelly.

I have known Kelly since middle school. We met in 7th grade at the height of our awkwardness. We spent summers swimming in her pool, going to the mall, and obsessing about boys, and have been friends ever since.

When we were in college, Kelly moved to San Diego to live with her sister. She was only supposed to stay for the summer, but after meeting a wonderful guy and falling in love, she decided to stay. Years later, she and the wonderful guy got married and now they have two gorgeous kids. It's taken years, but I think I've finally accepted that Kelly's probably not moving back to the east coast. Knowing that I will always have a friend in Newport Beach, California with a free place to stay makes that pain hurt a little less.

With two young kids and a busy life in California, flying to Georgia to go sky-diving or polar bear plunging with me for the blog was obviously not in the cards for Kelly, but she is definitely one of my supporters from afar. There was something that I'd wanted to try for the blog, though, and I thought she might be able to help, so I emailed her ahead of Day 352.

"Do you Skype?," I asked her.

"Are you kidding?" she said. "Yes! We Skype all the time!" Kelly's sister has since moved back to the east coast and that's where her parents live too, so web chatting through this service is something that they do often.

We made plans to make Day 352's thing I've never done before to catch up with each other via Skype.

Ahead of my Skype date with Kelly, I talked to others who were frequent Skype users. Some of my co-workers with long-distance boyfriends were big fans of the service, as were those who lived far away from their families. My friend Jackie said Skype has been great for her son because while he's not much for talking on the phone, when he can look at the screen and see the person he's talking to, he's much more likely to become engaged in the conversation. In fact, at one time her son thought her parents (his grandparents) actually lived in their "'puter" (computer).

I looked forward to seeing Kelly's face (and her kids' faces) and for us having a real conversation that included body language and visual responses. There is only so much that a phone call can do.

Everyone that I talked to said Skype is extremely user-friendly, but it would be like me to somehow screw it up or not be able to figure it out. So I asked a ton of questions before logging onto my boss' computer, where he had a webcam installed for Skype. I created an account and then found Kelly's username that she had given me ahead of our date. I clicked on her name, and within seconds, a screen popped up and I could see her! Clearly I'm behind the times when it comes to technology, evident by my television and my cell phone, but I honestly could not believe how easy this was.

I gasped like I was seeing her for the first time in my life.

"KELLY! HIIIIIIIIIIII!" I shouted at the screen. Everyone sitting around me turned and looked annoyed. I apologized for my overzealousness and tried to play it cool. And then I laughed at myself, as I imagined that how I was acting was exactly how my technologically disadvantaged father might act if he was using Skype for the first time.

Kelly smiled and waved, but then frowned and told me she could see me, but couldn't hear what I was saying. "WHAT?! YOU CAN’T?!?! OH NO!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Again, I was shouting at the computer.

I started spastically clicking on audio buttons and furiously looking for a microphone hook ups, anything to fix the problem so that she could hear me. I knew my friend Katy uses Skype for her job, so I rushed over to her desk to see if she could help."

Do you have a Skype headset?," she asked me.

I looked at her, puzzled. " I don't know what that is."

She explained that a lot of personal computers have microphones built in, so an external mic isn't necessary, but since we're in a public workspace, a headset with both earphones and a microphone is necessary. I didn't have one. She didn’t either.

Noooooooooooo. My Skype date was about to go up in flames.

Kelly was patiently waiting in front of her computer when I ran back to my desk. Skype has an application that also allows you to Instant Message the person you're talking to, presumably in situations like this. I explained to her what was going on and told her I was in search of a headset and would be right back. She laughed and said, "Ok."

After pleading with several people, my friend Jason finally came to the rescue with a Skype headset. It made me look like a telephone operator, but I didn't care. I plugged it in, and finally I could hear Kelly and she could hear me.

Crisis was averted, and our Skype conversation could commence.

Unfortunately for Kelly, our Skype conversation, at least for the first ten minutes, became a conversation about Skype. I was so enthralled with this technology and the fact that it costs nothing; I could hardly concentrate on the conversation. I was "that girl" who said probably a dozen times, "I can't believe I'm looking at you right now! And you're in California!"

When I finally calmed down long enough about Skype to actually talk to her, we had so much fun catching up. There is a little bit of a delay, which can be frustrating but also humorous. I could hear her laugh sometimes before I could see her react to what I was saying. And because I was looking at her on the screen and not directly into the camera, we never really looked each other in the eye.

I didn't think about it while we were talking, but later I was absolutely hysterical thinking about the first time I ever logged onto the Internet with Kelly and our other friends Lisa and Cindy. We were at my parents' house on their old computer with one of those free trials from AOL. We stayed up for hours online chatting with God knows who, pretending like we were in college and making up fake names for ourselves.

Fifteen years later, there we were, on the computer again, only this time talking about our real lives, not ones we made up. Still hysterically laughing, though.

I felt like I got a glimpse into her life, and she got to see a little of mine too. I was at work, but I wasn't technically working when we spoke, but still there were phones ringing and co-workers stopping by my desk to talk to me. Kelly's kids were waking up from a nap and were running around in the background, demanding to be let out where their dad was. She managed to get them to say hello, but they are active little boys with an agenda of their own. And they even cuter live than they are on their Christmas card. I was soaking it up.

There is absolutely no way that Skype could ever replace the comforting feeling that comes with being the presence of good friends. I so wish that Kelly and I lived closer and saw each other more than once or twice a year. There's nothing quite like giving her a hug, seeing her face in person, and hearing her laugh without a delay. But to have the option of speaking to her face-to-face and see her crazy kids bouncing through her house, all for free, through the wonders of the Internet? Well, that's technology that I can get behind.

Skype, you are amazing. As long as, of course, I remember a headset.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Day 351: Sipping and Stroking

Day 351 was several weeks in the making. In fact, several friends of mine and I had started talking about taking an art class back at the wine party I threw on Day 297.

Sips N Strokes is just one of many "art for amateurs" studios popping up around Atlanta and all over the country tailored for non-artists who want to learn how to paint. The teachers at the studios will actually teach their students step by step how to paint their very own masterpiece, and the studios encourage students to bring their own wine or snacks and make a party out of the experience. The friends that I knew who had been before all had a great time and all created something worthy of hanging in their homes.

A Sips N Strokes outing sounded like a fun thing to do, and several of the wine party participants were interested. But thanks to busy schedules and lives, when it came down to it, Emily was the only person who could actually commit. She and I perused the studio's website that allows you to see what painting will be taught on each particular day. There was a lot of emailing back and forth, a lot of discussion (Do I really want a UGA Football themed painting in my house?), and a lot of us almost deciding on a painting only to have it sell out before we could put down our deposit.

Finally, we came together and decided to the embrace the country side of our usually rock 'n roll personalities and paint a picture of cowboy boots as Day 351's thing I've never done before.

When I arrived at the class, I couldn't believe how many other people were there, interested in painting cowboy boots on a Monday night. The tables, all set up with easels and white canvases, were packed.

I purchased a magnum bottle of red wine for Emily and I to "sip" on while we were there (I don't know why I thought we'd ever drink that much), but I proved my amateur painting and drinking status because I forgot cups to drink from. I was like an unprepared student on her first day of class without paper or a pencil and I embarrassingly had to go to the head of the classroom and ask if they had an extras. Luckily, they did.

Only when I returned with cups (phew!) was I was able to properly get set up and ready to paint. Emily poured the wine, while I put on the apron they had provided. There was a young, spunky redheaded woman walking around instructing us on which colors we would need for this painting. I joined the other students at a station set up with huge jugs of paint with what was the equivalent of a piece of white cardboard and collected the colors and returned to my seat. I felt like I was back at Harbison West Elementary School art class.

When it was time to actually get started, the young, spunky lady slipped fastened a microphone around her head a la Britney Spears. She told us her name was Molly as she climbed up on an elevated platform to stand in front of her very own white canvas. There were a few other welcoming pleasantries and then she went right into teaching us how to paint cowboy boots.

At first, her instruction was extremely straight-forward. She told us to dip our medium-sized brush into a little yellow paint mixed with white and to draw a straight line down almost in the middle of the canvas. From there, still with the yellow paint, she gave more specific instructions that included drawing more lines next to each other and an upside down triangle at the base of one of the lines. I trusted the process, but I had absolutely no idea where she was going with this. My lines and upside down triangles looked more or less like everyone else's around me, though, so I felt like I was on the right track.

And then Molly went off the map, abandoning step-by-step instructions for the more abstract. She said, "Now from the lines you've already drawn, just draw the body of the boot."

"Just draw the body of the boot?" Just like that? Just do it? How, Molly? How?

I don't know how to just do that. That's why I'm here, Molly. Because that would take artistic ability, something that I lack. I'm going to need you to tell me exactly how to pull that off. I looked around and saw that everyone else was just doing what Molly was doing, and with serious reservations, I went for it.

The result was the most insane yellow boot I've ever seen. The leg of the boot was so big, it looked like someone with elephantitis owned these boots. And the toe pointed upward like an elf shoe. I took a step back and tilted my head to the side. The boots still looked awful, so I took a sip of wine. Clearly this painting was going to be a disaster, I thought, might as well drink!

The whole, "now just paint the boot," merely kicked off a succession of instructions from Molly that were hardly helpful or really instructional at all. And I had to consider that maybe painting can't really be taught. At some point, true talent has to step in. That's what separates the Van Goughs and the Picassos from everyone else. Or, in this case, what seemed to separate every single other person in the class from me.

Molly went rogue, slapping blue, yellow, and pink paint in the white space surrounding her boots, encouraging us to do the same. I tried to follow her lead, or literally copy what everyone else around me was doing, but my color blocks looked crazy, and not at all like the picture on the website.

After slapping paint on her canvas and somehow making it look great, she turned around and told us we'd need to clean off our medium sized brush and dip it into the black paint.

"Now it's getting real," she said, smiling. I paused, pleasantly surprised and half-expecting for her to tell me that everything that we had done up until now was practice. Then she'd deliver new canvases and we'd all get to start over.

I'm sure I don't need to tell you that's not what happened. She kept talking.

"This is serious," she said.

Indeed she was serious about the black, and when she said it was getting real she meant that once the black paint goes on the canvas, there is little a painter can do to fix it. All of my terrible yellow lines and ill-shaped boot could be tweaked with darker colors or covered up all together. But once black gets slapped on there, it's a whole new ball game. A serious one, according to Molly.

I did as I was told, looked at Emily and started to go for it, but then I stopped. I waited for her to go first, like she could show me the way. I hoped that the black paint could help me shape my boot to not look so crazy.

Once the boots were traced in black, Molly came down from her platform and began walking around the classroom to check out how everyone's pictures were coming along. She was still mic'ed, so we could all hear her as she responded with constructive criticism or words of praise. Occasionally she'd shout instruction as vague and confusing to me as, "Just draw the boot."

"Now add an emblem to your boot if you want."

"Shade the back of the boot with black so it looks like it's casting a shadow."

"Blend the blocked colors so that they're not so separate from one another, like they all run together."

Say what?

When she responded positively to someone's work, we all turned to look at what picture warranted such remarks. I should've known by the elaborate wine and cheese spreads laid out by some of the other students that there were definitely some in the class who had been to Sips N Strokes before. But to turn around and see what could only be the work of professional artists, I couldn't help but be annoyed. Not only were the paintings good, these painters were so good that some of them had taken the creative license to make their cowboy boots depict the Impressionist or Cubist art movements.

I had flashbacks to the adult guy with braces who tried to one-up everyone in cooking class. Pretending he really wanted to know how to cook Thai food and then dropping Thai cooking knowledge on everyone for hours. These people didn't sign up for this class to learn how to paint. They came to show off!

When Molly came to our table, she looked at mine and tilted her head to the side, clearly disapproving of what she was seeing. She pointed to an area that I had left unpainted and then looked at me.

"Were you meaning to leave that part white?"

I certainly wasn't meaning to do anything really. At that point, I was just putting paint on the canvas and hoping for the best. She was hardly the warm and fuzzy art teacher that I remembered from elementary school and she made me nervous.

"Uh . . .uh . . . I don't know," I stammered. Ease up, Molly, I felt like saying. I'm no artist. I never claimed to be.

I looked at Emily with pleading eyes. I didn't think it looked that bad with the white, but before I could defend my decision, Molly turned her attention to Emily's painting. I could tell she liked what she was seeing. She picked up it up, much to Emily's surprise and mine, and held it up for the entire class to see.

"See how she added the black accents?" The class smiled and nodded. Emily is a teacher herself, so while it was nice to be praised in front of the class, I could tell she was a bit uncomfortable being on this side of the attention. In an instant, Emily went from teacher to teacher's pet.

By the time Molly was done walking around the classroom, we'd all more or less finished our paintings and were free to go whenever we wanted. Emily and I stayed, mindlessly adding accent lines and filling in gaps, pretty sure that nothing we were doing was going to make much of a difference on how our pictures looked. I had also become engaged with the conversation happening across from me. A handful of girls, probably five years younger than me were discussing some serious drama between a guy one of them was dating and some other skank from Auburn and I had to hear how it all played out. Plus they were having a party that weekend and desperately trying to decide on whether or not Jell-O shots were necessary, or just a pain to deal with. I almost spoke up, saying Jell-O shots are almost always a good idea, and then asking if I could come to a party.

I found myself aching to be a better painter, and to be five years younger, and then perfectly happy with just being me, almost 30 and a painting amateur.

Sips N Strokes does not an artist make, but I did prove that I'm excellent at following directions and hanging out with my friends, drinking wine always makes for a good time. Like Molly said at the beginning of the class when faced with a room full of skeptics, the painting did come together in a way that I never thought possible. Not in a way that it merits hanging on my wall anytime soon, or ever, but certainly worthy of wrapping up and giving to a family member for an awkward Christmas present.

Or, perhaps worthy of a sale on eBay. I wonder if that bitch Connie likes cowboy boots?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Day 350: Au Naturel

Day 350 was the day that my mother had been dreading since I started the blog and told her it was on my list of things to do that I'd never done before. When I told her that since I was nearing the end, this had to happen now, I could hear the disappointment in her voice over the phone.

"Mom, are you ok?"

She let out a half-laugh/half-sigh that she does when she's holding back what she really wants to say.

"Are you really that upset about it?," I asked her.

"I just don't know what the point is? I mean, so you do it, and then what? How are you going to write about it?"

I didn't say it to her, but I knew I'd write about this ridiculous conversation she and I were having about Day 350's task and how strange it seemed to me that she could get so bent out of shape about this one little activity.

I pointed out to her that I'd done far crazier, way less safe, downright embarrassing things over the course of the year that could've definitely brought shame to me and my family. I'd jumped out of a plane, inappropriately danced with a Panamanian, and sang "Happy Birthday" to my friends and other patrons, in a nice restaurant, on a microphone. She never once cared about any of them like she cared about this one. She hardly batted an eyelash when all of these other challenges went down!

So with all of the other stupid things I've done in my life, especially for this blog, I couldn't understand why my decision to go to work not wearing makeup as the thing I'd never done before on Day 350 was going to be the one that was going to really send her over the edge.

My mom is not a shallow person, nor is she particularly looks-conscious, so her concern over this challenge was perplexing to me. Was she afraid that I'd regret my decision and be embarrassed, forced to sit through an entire night of work feeling ugly? Did she think that the decision might make my bosses and other managers think I wasn't taking myself and my job very seriously?

No, it's none of those things. She just thinks I look bad without makeup on.

She's not entirely wrong.

I tried to make her feel better about it, while also convincing myself, and I told her I was actually working an overnight shift on Day 350 into Day 351, so I wouldn't run into a lot of my usual colleagues anyway. Plus, I was still tan, my skin was clear, and I had just had my eyelashes tinted so they weren't their usual blond/invisible. (When it comes to my not wearing makeup, it's my eye lashes that change my appearance the most. Without mascara, I look like a completely different person.) But all things considered, this was the best case scenario to do it.

Plus, and I didn't tell my mother this, I feel like I've eased up on my need for makeup all the time in general. I'm not sure if I've completely given up on myself, or truly don't care anymore, or if I've just come to the realization that those scenarios of meeting cool people in line at the supermarket are never going to happen to me, but I've definitely become more comfortable without wearing it just to run errands or go to the gym.

When making the case to my mother, I told her how free I would feel without wearing makeup. Taking the step out of my "getting ready" routine would free up extra time and my freshly clean face would be free of any and all impurities. That's how I thought I would feel, and what I was most looking forward to.

But getting ready for work, skipping the makeup step, and then walking into my office made me feel the opposite of free. I felt like I was missing something; like I forgot to wear pants or shoes. As usual when I do anything for the first time, I was extra sensitive to who might notice or what they might think or say seeing me for the first time without it.

I didn't feel free at all. I felt anxious.

I was extra friendly and smiley walking into work, greeting everyone that I saw perhaps with the mindset that if I was really nice and a hyped up version of myself, then maybe they wouldn't notice that I'd forgotten to put on my face. And from what I could tell, it worked. No one looked at me any differently or seemed startled to see me.

Just my luck, I arrived to find an attractive guy sitting two seats away from where I was supposed to sit. I'd met him once before, so I waved hello; at that moment, I regretted the decision, certain that I couldn't possibly bring my charm and my A-game without makeup on my face. Thankfully work was busy and I effectively avoided looking in his direction for the rest of the night.

There aren't a whole lot of people coming and going on an overnight shift until the morning, and that's when things got particularly uncomfortable. I was already tired from being up all night and mentally drained from the workload. Then I had to attend early morning meetings, hyper aware that I looked messy and not put together.

I'm the kind of woman who puts makeup on once and then never thinks about it again; I don't pack makeup in my purse and reapply throughout the day or night. I thought it was interesting that I'd never thought more about makeup and my bare face than I did during this night when I wasn't wearing any.

Hardly the freeing experience I was hoping for.

Still, no one seemed to notice that anything was different except for me. Only when I asked Jackie to take pictures for me, for the blog, did she even acknowledge that something might be slightly different.

I decided that regardless of whether or not it changes my appearance all that drastically, makeup is a workday requirement for me simply because of the way that it makes me feel. Without it, I felt out of sorts without it and, sadly, not my usual confident self. If by not wearing it, all I do is think about not wearing it, then I'd rather just wear it and forget about it.

And if it makes my mother sleep better knowing that I'm not out galavanting my bare face for all of Atlanta to see, then that's nice too.

Day 349: Not that Kind of Transfusion

Elizabeth and Kristof were in town from San Francisco, and on Day 349, we all met at Kyle and Greg's house to watch the South Carolina/Georgia game. Friends dropped in and out with their kids and their dogs throughout the day and we flipped back and forth between baseball and football games. It was a daytime get together that lasted well into the night.

I was sure that at some point, after all the games were over and we needed a change of scenery, that we'd head out to the bars.

But no one was really interested in doing that. And I couldn't help but think that in addition to having conversations about life insurance, getting older also meant that we'd traded bar-hopping for staying in and playing games.

But having game night was not Day 349's thing I've never done before. Pretending to be Charlie Chaplin and humming the words to "Here comes the Sun," by the Beatles and having Momo understand it during a riveting and competitive game of Cranium, well, I'd never done either of those things either but what I'm not counting them.

Day 349's thing I've never done before was to try a new drink called a "Transfusion." Andrew told us about them and how good they were and when he saw that we were interested, he wasted no time in going to the store to buy the ingredients to make them. The drink includes vodka and grape juice, half a cup of ginger ale and a lime wedge. I assume they are called, "Transfusions," because their color makes them look like blood, but I didn't care. After drinking beer all day, the cocktail was a sweet and refreshing change.

As Andrew said, "These are money." Indeed they are.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Day 348: Measuring My Existence

Every Christmas, in addition to our other gifts, my brother and I receive a statement from Northwest Mutual in our stockings.

"That's from me," my dad announces proudly, always smiling. "I got you that."

The first year we got the envelopes, Jeff and I confusedly looked at each other while opening them and then stared blankly at a statement neither of us understood.

"It's your life insurance policy!!!!," he exclaimed. "You're welcome."

For several years, I laughed and rolled my eyes, tossing the envelope to the side and filing it away with all of other generous things my parents have done for my brother and me over the years to set us up for financial success. Only a few years ago, did I finally ask, holding the envelope, "Really Dad, what's this for?"

My question sparked an ill-timed conversation about life insurance right there on Christmas morning, while we were all sipping coffee in our pajamas.

"I have life insurance so that when I die, your mom will have some money to live on," my dad said. He talks about dying as if his death is imminent.

Since he opened the policies for Jeff and me, and still pays for them, my dad said he is the sole beneficiary of both. As children, we didn't really need life insurance, but he started the plans early, since buying life insurance only gets more expensive the older we get. He said he did so with the intention that we'll eventually take on the payments, and make our spouses and children the benefactors of our policies.

The whole conversation made my eyes glaze over. It was a little heavy for Christmas.

Jeff seemed more concerned, if not suspicious, of the whole thing.

"So the only way anyone gets any money is if someone dies?," he asked, eyebrows raised. We all laughed.

Life insurance is morbid and quite sad, and reminds me of all the 20/20 specials I've seen about victims who were murdered by greedy spouses after their money. Now that I had my very own life insurance policy, I wondered if I should keep it a secret to any eligible suitors.

But my dad, with the whole envelope in the stocking trick, somehow managed to turn life insurance into quite a humorous topic in my household. And now every time I ever hear a commercial for life insurance, I smile thinking about Christmas.

So when I received a call from a life insurance agent associated with one of these policies, wanting to meet for a chat, just weeks before I turned 30, I honestly thought it was a joke. First of all, Jeff and I have had little to nothing to do with paying for these policies, so I wasn't sure why they wanted to meet with me. Secondly, the timing was equal parts hilarious and daunting. Two weeks before my 30th birthday and I had to face that maybe life insurance was more than a Gallman family joke, and actually something worthy of a serious meeting?

I called my dad to tell him and he was also confused, wanting to know several times who had called, how they got my number and what they wanted. He promised that he hadn't put anyone up to it. He encouraged me to go, and report back about what was discussed.

Day 348's thing I've never done before was supposed to just be seeing the Avett Brothers in concert (which I did and the show was amazing; they are definitely worthy of the hype they are receiving). But before that, I reluctantly had a discussion about life insurance.

Seemingly desperate to make this meeting happen, Greg, the agent who made the call, agreed to meet me at work. He found a table at the food court area in my office building, and when I was done with my day, I joined him. He had a binder opened up on the table with stacks of paperwork (about me?) and he was joined by an older gentleman. Both introduced themselves and both seemed nice, but I was guarded from the start, not really wanting to talk about life insurance on a Friday afternoon, and hyper aware that this meeting was going to involve them asking me to pay more money.

I tried to suck it up and listen to what they had to say. Maybe this is what 30-year olds do, I thought. They talk about life insurance and retirement plans and mortgages. No more mindless conversations about unimportant things for me anymore! All business, all the time. Even on Fridays before concerts.

After brief introductions, they asked me about myself. I wasn't quite sure what they were looking for, so I briefly glossed over growing up in South Carolina, going to Georgia for college, and some of the jobs that I've held since graduating.

They smiled politely, but I could quickly tell that's not what they were looking for. The older gentleman gave me a creepy smile as he leaned back in his chair and said, "So, what is it that you want out of life?"

I nervously laughed, completely surprised and intimidated by his question. In 29 years I hadn't been able to identify and articulate for myself or to any of my family and friends what I want out of life. How could I possibly tell this insurance agent I've known for 15 minutes?

There was an awkward silence as I tried to figure out what kind of answer he was seeking so I could answer accordingly. But after a few minutes of searching, I still had no idea what he was looking for, so I rattled off something that made me sound like a complete flake.

"Um . . .I'm not sure, I don't think anyone has every asked me that . . .um . . .um . . .I just want to be happy!"

I sensed by his reaction that other 30-somethings he'd met with didn't have such a hard time explaining what they wanted. And I wondered if he wanted me to say something more specific like, "I want a house! And a boat! And an expensive car!"

My vague answer left him with a challenge, but it also set him up so that he could tell me how buying more life insurance would secure this happiness I desired.

So he went for it. In a completely annoying way.

He flipped through the paperwork that showed the current policy that my parents were currently paying into and how by just increasing my monthly payment slightly, I could increase the value of the payout amount. I could even borrow money against the policy at a lower interest rate if I ever needed it, "You know, for things like braces for your kids or a new fence for your house."

I said I wanted to be happy. Apparently this guy thinks happiness is kids with bad teeth and a home with a bad fence.

His vague explanations and feigned interest in me was maddening. If you're trying to sell me more life insurance, explain to me why I need it for the life I have now, not one I might have in the future and tell me how much it's going to cost.

I fought the urge to grab him by the shoulders and shake him, screaming, "ENOUGH OF THE SMALL TALK!! JUST TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT FROM ME!"

In his defense, my vague answers to his questions made his ability to make a case for additional life insurance quite difficult so he was struggling to make a point that I was struggling to get.

In fact, the most interesting, and humorous, parts of our conversation came with the hypothetical scenarios he created about my life. There was a lot of, "Say you have two children, retire when you're 65-years old, and you live until your 80 . . ."

Choosing a life insurance policy forced me to consider the value of my life in monetary terms, which I discovered, is difficult to do without a husband or any children. As a single person no longer dependent on my parents and without any dependents of my own, the financial value of my life is non-existent. If I died right now, any debts that I've incurred would more or less go away, because the collector would have no one to go after for the money.

The thought could've depressed me, but I was actually amused by the whole thing, thinking about debt collectors rummaging through the financial statements of single girls everywhere.

"So what if she racked up $10,000 in credit card debt buying things she cannot afford? She died alone. Just let her rest in peace."

Only in death will singles finally catch a break.

I don't need a husband or a child to prove the value of my existence, even if the financial world didn't see it that way. But I smiled thinking that even as a child, my dad saw my potential (and Jeff's) and that's why he set up the policies in the first place.

But without having tied myself to anyone financially and not owning anything of real value, my agent was having a hard time making a case for me to buy more life insurance. He refused to give up, and like one of my girlfriends talking me through a tough time, he looked at me sympathetically and said, "Well of course you're going to get married, Stephanie!"

I was dying. This guy was out of control. "Indeed, I might," I said.

But, I thought to myself, I might not. I also might walk out of this meeting and get hit by a car.

As I continue to grow personally more comfortable with my life exactly where it is, I also refuse to believe that it will ever be without value, even if no one comes to collect my debts after I'm gone. A year ago, this conversation may have sent me into a tailspin. (What? I'm alone? And nobody cares?) But not anymore. The only thing this guy had made me question was whether or not I should make my brother the beneficiary of my existing policy, since he would probably be around longer than my parents.

I was becoming increasingly restless during the meeting and I was itching to leave. So I said what I've heard my parents say when someone is trying to sell them something they have no intention of buying, "You've given me a lot to think about, so let me do that and we can talk in a couple of weeks."

From what I could tell, the timing of the meeting was purely coincidental and had absolutely nothing to do with me turning 30. But I had to laugh that a mere two weeks before my momentous birthday I was forced to evaluate my life on these financial terms.

I politely thanked them, got up from the table, and almost broke into a run, away from this unpleasant conversation and towards my unconventional, albeit sometimes irresponsible life, that I value in my own terms -- by the good people, the good times, and the good tunes that are in it.

And by that measure, it's truly an invaluable life.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Day 347: 100 Percent Weirdo

When my new friend and fellow blogger Julie announced, right around the time of her end-of- blog party, that she was leaving Atlanta to move to Los Angeles, my emotions were mixed. On one hand, I was so excited for her and for her new adventure. On the other, I was sad for myself, because we had just started to get to know each other and see each other on a semi-regular basis, and now she was leaving.

We decided to have one last supper before she departed for the west coast. She suggested we come full circle and go back to Watershed in Decatur. That, of course, was where it all began for our friendship, where we had first met to sample beets for the first time. There we decided that even when prepared and served in a nice restaurant, beets are gross.

We sipped on wine, talked about her upcoming move and my upcoming birthday, and turned the entire night into a love-fest. I wanted to tell her, in person, how she had been the star of Hollis' book writing class and also thank her for encouraging me to take it.

We talked about how much our blogs had coincided with major changes in our lives. Julie ordered the vegetable plate just to prove to me, and herself, how truly far she'd come in her quest to enjoy produce. I ordered one too. I had to smile, thinking about how a year ago we were spitting out beets on our plates, and now we were eating vegetables like civilized adults, talking about how we'd become writers (!), with fans (!), and how maybe one day, we'd come together as authors.

What a difference a year makes.

When we finished eating, Julie excused herself to the restroom and I asked the waiter to bring the bill so that I could pay it. My plan all along was to treat Julie, since she was embarking on a cross-country journey to a very expensive city.

I knew she'd protest, and she did, insisting that she should pay her portion of the check. I changed the subject, telling her what I had planned for Day 347's thing I've never done before.

"I'm going to tip this waiter 100 percent," I said, with a sly smile.

"Are you serious?"

"Yes," I replied.

When I used to waitress years ago, I used to dream of someone tipping me 100 percent. It never happened, but an occasional good tip was so much more than just money. I used to feel validated in what often felt like a thankless job. Giving that feeling to someone else was on the Project 29 to 30 list of things I needed to do before I turned 30.

So, even though Watershed is a nice restaurant, and there is a good chance our server was a career waiter and not necessarily someone who really needed the extra help, I had to make it happen.

I couldn't help but be reminded of the first days of the blog when I bought someone I didn't know coffee at Starbucks and nearly killed myself trying to drive out of there without the person seeing me. In many ways, giving this waiter a 100 percent tip was just like that, only on a bigger, grander scale.

I thought that maybe I'd act a little more normal about doing something nice for someone than I did at the beginning of the project. But even more so than the coffee run, the moment I wrote $74 into the tip line and then signed the bill, I told Julie we had to go. Immediately.

As much as I would've enjoyed seeing the pleased look on his face realizing that instead of a typical 20 percent, $14 tip, he actually made $74 on these two chatty young women, I was too afraid to stay. Afraid that if he didn't react the way I expected, then I'd be annoyed and want to take the tip back. And more afraid that if he was thankful and gracious, then he'd feel like he had to come over and say something to me about how generous the tip was.

Better to leave it anonymous and get the hell out of there.

No doubt we'd come quite far in our blog journeys together, but as Julie and I rushed out of Watershed like two girls on the run to finish our conversation in the parking lot, I had to think, maybe we hadn't really come as far as I thought.

I can't even be generous without acting like a freak.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Day 346: What's the Point?

Back on Day 305, the thing I'd never done before was supposed to be order and drink a non-alcoholic beer in an effort to relate, in a small way, to a pregnant woman's plight. Only the restaurant Trish and Mark and I went to didn't serve non-alcoholic beers, so I installed their unborn child's car seat instead.

Since (or maybe even before) that failed attempt, my friend Amanda has suggested trying O'Douls as something I've never done before. When a day was winding down and I hadn't done anything that I'd never done before, she offered herself and her apartment for the perfect place to drink a six-pack.

I never took her up on the offer, and truthfully I thought I'd make it to 365 without needing to, because with just weeks to go, activities were lining up left and right.

On Day 346, Amanda and I set out to run the stadium stairs at Grady High School like hard core athletes, but when we arrived at the school, there were only two football players on the field and they said the stadium was closed.
So as a backup, we had no choice but to drink an O'Douls non-alcoholic beer as Day 346's thing I've never done before.

If you've been reading for a while, you likely already know that there is very little rhyme or reason to this blog. I went from attempting to do something very good and very healthy for myself to sitting around Amanda's apartment drinking beers. As long as I hadn't done it, everything was fair game.

After getting turned away at Grady High School, and decided that O'Douls was the way to go, we walked for a little bit to Amanda's neighborhood bodega to pick up our booty. But there was no booty at this market. At least not the kind we were looking for.

Amanda had to start getting ready for work (she had been temporarily moved to an overnight shift), so I drove to Trader Joe's, certain that they would have some tasty non-alcoholic beers we could sip on, maybe even fancier ones than O'Douls. But the only thing I could find was yuppie dorks and fresh from the gym people looking for trendy snack food and cheap wine.

I was starting to take all of these hurdles as a sign that the beer gods didn't want me to try brews without alcohol. Why else would they be making it so difficult?

I finally went to Publix instead, where I was finally successful in locating the O'Douls. I took my purchase to the express checkout lane and threw the six-pack on the conveyor belt, weirdly proud about making this purchase. I considered asking the clerk for a pack of cigarettes, just to raise some eyebrows, but decided against it.

When the sales clerk asked me for my ID, I was elated like I always am when I get carded, but I was also a bit confused. If the beer doesn't have any alcohol in it, then why do I have to be 21-years old to buy it?

I got back to Amanda's and presented the six-pack like we were teenagers and just bought beer with a fake ID.

I told her that the clerk asked me for my license and Amanda agreed that was strange. I think she congratulated me on not looking well above 21-years old. I presented her with a celebratory bottle of non-alcoholic brew and then opened one for myself.

"Cheers," I said, as we clinked bottles. We both took a sip and then looked at each other.

"Not bad," I said. Amanda nodded.

We were having beers while she got ready in her bedroom. It felt like college a little bit, drinking while getting ready to go out. Only we were drinking non-alcoholic beer and she was getting ready for work. Such a strange way to spend a Wednesday.

When Amanda's husband Stephen got home from work, I think he was a little confused to find his wife and I kicked back on the couch drinking O'Douls. If he was trying to read between the lines, his heart might've even stopped.

Amanda texted me from work later that evening, "The O'Douls makes me have to pee," she said.

She was right. O'Douls came with all of the negative side effects (burping, peeing a lot, calories), but there was no buzz. No warm and fuzzy feeling.

So while it tasted fine, I think I'm going to have to pass.

At least not until I'm pregnant and in desperate need for the taste of beer. Otherwise, what's the point?

Day 345: You Can Recycle That?

Day 345's thing I've never done before was to recycle my old cell phone and all of its accessories.

I've burned through quite a few phones and work Blackberries (and cameras, but that's a whole other story). I have racked up a plethora of phones and accessories that have been cluttering my house, and my life. I don't know why I've held on to them, as if some day they would just start working again, and that I would need all 8 chargers to give them power.

Donating my phone and accessories was easy for me because my bank has a cell phone donation drop box, so I didn't have to go out my way to find a place to do this. But there are plenty of organizations who accept old cell phones, even broken ones.

What happens to them during the "recycling" process, I truly can't tell you, but I think the organization either restores the broken phones and sells them, or breaks them down and uses the parts that still function. I felt good that these parts that could've ended up in the trash won't be littering a landfill.

And before you make comments on my last cell phone and how it looks like it's from 1989, please understand that my current cell phone isn't much better. Just like my television, I enjoy the classics.

I realize now, after completing this last challenge, that I really should've tagged all of the environmentally friendly activities I did for the year because there really have been a lot.

I walked to work, I planted azalea plants in Grant Park, I tried to compost. I had really made a small difference while trying new things, and it felt good.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Day 344: Blondies Do Have More Fun

I know what you're thinking after reading Days 341, 342, and 343, assuming you did, which you should and if you haven't, do it now.

You're probably wondering how is Stephanie going top winning credit card roulette, hanging out with the geeks of freaks of DragonCon and spending the day at a NASCAR race with a celebrity and friend with Day 344's new activity?

And the answer is: She doesn't. She doesn't even try. She basks in the Monday-after glow of an amazing weekend.

And she bakes brownies.

Actually, these were Blondies, and I'd never made them before. Day 344's thing I've never done before was to bake Blondies, the white chocolate version of the brownie.

I know, not terribly inventive or groundbreaking, but I never promised big things everyday.

Thankfully, when I'm all tapped out on blog ideas, I have my friends to lean on. Like, for example, Olivia. In addition to making me want to drink wine, go on beautiful trips and high tail it back to Charleston and never look back, my cyber-friend Olivia's blog everyday musings most makes me want to bake beautiful creations and take lovely pictures of them.

One of her favorite things to bake is brownies, which is one of the reasons I liked her right away. There really isn't a better dessert than a brownie, in my opinion. Olivia loves them too, and is always experimenting with different flavors. I consulted her blog for the recipe and went to work.

Again, completing this task wasn't all that awesome, because while I may lack creativity in decorating, arranging flowers and taking pictures, I can bake my ass off. In fact, a guy that I work with was surprised to find out that I was just 29. He said, "Really? You're not even 30? You bake like you're 60." I decided to take that as a compliment.

I mean, baking is just following directions, but I happen to follow directions VERY well. These blondies were (sorry, I have to use this word) moist and delicious. White chocolate, butter, sugar, what could go wrong?

Well, for me, the only thing that was wrong with mine, was the presentation. I brought them to work to share and I had to chuckle when I put them on display. I knew they were good, but they just looked so sad.

Yeah, those beautiful blondies placed perfectly in the le cruset dish? Those are Olivia's blondies. And these redneck blondies, looking as if they were haphazardly thrown into some tinfoil, are mine.

Hey, I can't be good at everything.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Day 343: Off to the Races

A friend and former colleague of mine now works for the Speed channel and when I started Project 29 to 30, he contacted me to congratulate me on such a lofty endeavor; he wished me much luck on the journey, and proposed that I come to a NASCAR race with him as one of the things I've never done before.

Several emails and trips down memory lane later, he and the organizers of the event said that they would leave me two tickets and pit passes for me for Sunday's race. I didn't know what all of that meant, but it sounded good, and I was excited.

Day 343, I was off to the races, making attending the Emory Healthcare 500, my first NASCAR race, the thing that I'd never done before.

I knew this event was going to be fun, and I couldn't wait to share it with a friend. But when it came time to choosing that friend, I didn't really have any one person in mind that I wanted to bring. Not one friend was standing out in my head as the perfect person to take. Perhaps that's why, in the weeks leading up to the race, I couldn't find anyone to come with me.

Most had good reasons why they couldn't make it - either they were out of town, or they had already made other plans. Some never returned my invitation message leading to me to believe that they were either not interested or weirded out by it, or possibly both.

And then one of my guy friends responded to the invitation with a text that said, "I don't know . . .I don't think so . . .that sounds like a bit of a commitment," it almost sent me into a tailspin.

I've certainly been on the receiving end of "Let me see if something better comes along before I commit to that," before, and I've been on the giving end as well, but this particular response hurt because it just made me feel like a loser. And crazy. Like what kind of vibe am I giving out if an invitation to a NASCAR race is somehow being misconstrued as a "commitment?"

Or worse, is NASCAR actually a commitment? Was I ready?

I almost responded with, "Hey man, not a marriage proposal. Just a NASCAR race. I swear." But I didn't. I did think long and hard about it though, and the whole thing just made me feel bad about myself.

This racing experience so far, paired with how I was already feeling about the 30th birthday party I had started planning that wasn't exactly panning out the way I had envisioned, was the perfect storm for my very own pity party.

Several friends, after the fact, pointed out, "Well you never asked me!" And they're right. Admittedly, I didn't ask every single person that I know, but after 10 "no's," (including one from my own dad), I just couldn't bear asking an 11th person who I was certain would give me the same response.

I almost called my Speed channel friend who had set aside the tickets to tell him that I couldn't go, too embarrassed to drive down to Atlanta Motor Speedway by myself. But then I thought about my friend's vibrant personality, his up-for-anything attitude and the fact that he had gone out of his way to get me these tickets and genuinely seemed excited to see me and be a part of my blog. And I just couldn't stomach making that phone call. Plus, I really wanted to go and see what NASCAR was all about.

So I went.

By myself.

And I called my brother Jeff on the way there to ask him if going to NASCAR race alone could qualify as "rock bottom."

My Speed channel friend called me as I was making my way towards the race. I started to lie and say that the person that was supposed to come with me had to back out at the last minute, but I just didn't have the energy. And my friend, because he's awesome, interrupted me before I had to even go down that road and said, "No big deal! We're going to have a great day!"

He told me to let him know when I arrived. He had a few things to do before he could meet me but he told me to enjoy myself and he'd come and get me as soon as he was done.

I drove into Atlanta Motor Speedway and soaked up the atmosphere. Even stuck in traffic headed into the lot, there were plenty of things to look at: a lot of big trucks, a lot of denim, and a lot of tattoos, as expected. I wasn't surprised to see so many people there (and there were a lot). I knew that there is a huge subculture of people following this sport. I was surprised, right from the start, that the stereotypical race fan may exist, but there were plenty of non-stereotypical race fans as well. All ages, races and classes were represented. Everyone, it seemed, likes fast cars.

I parked my own non-fast car and got out to walk towards the track, never so aware that I was completely by myself. I wondered if the tailgaters wondered why anyone would come to a race by herself, and then I remembered from previous solo missions, that probably no one was really all that concerned. Still, I've done a lot of things on my own before, especially during my 29th year, but attending a sporting event solo was definitely new, and it actually felt quite sad.

As I approached the track, I could see a great deal of typical pre-sporting event fanfare. There were radio stations blasting music, merchandise tables with t-shirts donning pictures of the racers' faces on them for sale. I considered buying one, just because I find them to be hilariously tacky, and definitely good for a laugh, but I decided against it.

I saw quite a few race fans purchasing headsets that look like they belong in a recording studio. I assumed it was to block out the loud noise from the engines, but my friend later told me that the headsets allow spectators to listen to the pit crews communicating with the driver. My head just about exploded trying to figure out how that is technically possible, but I had to acknowledge it's pretty cool.

I stood watching dirt bike racers do flips off a ramp for quite a while, waiting for my friend to get in touch so that we could hang out. He said he managed to wrangle a golf cart away from his network and he was on his way to get me. When he showed up, driving like a crazy person with a big friendly smile on his face, I knew that in spite of it all, I was going to have fun.

Oh, and my friend? My super-awesome-would-give-you-the-shirt-off-his-back friend is Speed channel personality Rutledge Wood. And unbeknownst to me until that day, he's a celebrity in the race world.

In a matter of seconds, I went from being sad girl at a NASCAR race by herself to being the guest of the most popular guy at the race. Deciding to come alone was the best decision I ever made.

I hopped on the golf cart with Rutledge, who was going to take me to pick up my tickets and passes. As we took off towards our destination, I watched as tailgaters did double takes in our direction, trying to figure out if that actually was the goofball from the Speed channel, or if their eyes were playing tricks on them.

We tried to catch up on life, and I told him how it felt to be narrowing in on the end of the project and my 29th year. He told me about his wife Rachel, who he says is the love of his life and his daughter Elsie, who was soon going to become a big sister. He was so endearing talking about his family and I could tell that even though he loved what he was doing, the women in his life were his first loves.

Having a conversation under these circumstances was difficult. There was so much to see, plus people were shouting at Rutledge from the sidewalks.

"That's Rutledge Wood from TV. I love him!"


"Hey Rutledge come back here, I wanna tell you something!"

Many of them would run after the golf cart we were on with drinks in their hands, trying desperately not to spill whatever was in their cups. Rutledge managed to acknowledge all of them with a smile and a wave and still stay locked in our conversation. I, on the other hand, was having a hard time focusing.

All I could think to myself was, "Holy crap, Rutledge is a celebrity. My friend is a celebrity."

Half of me couldn't believe it. The other half of me could absolutely believe it. All of me was loving it.

Rutledge pointed out different areas of the track while explaining to me where we were headed. I was still trying to get over the fact that in the midst of our conversation, we stopped a handful of times while fans asked to take pictures. Everyone was so nice to him and to me; Rutledge was so nice and attentive back, listening to their stories and making them feel important. When it came time to take the picture, I usually offered to take it, but there were a few overly excited (or perhaps drunk) fans who demanded that I also get in the picture. I smile when I think about these people looking back on their photos years from now, wondering who the hell is this redhead?

We arrived at our destination to pick up my ticket and pit pass. Rutledge proved he was just as much of a hit here as is anywhere else. Men wanted to shake his hand, ladies wanted to give him a hug, everyone wanted to talk to him. When I was all squared away, we headed back out the same way we came, on the golf cart again, this time to the Speed stage in front of the track.

Just like ESPN's Gameday production, the Speed channel broadcasts from the site of the race each week. NASCAR live is an interactive show hosted by John Roberts and other reporters, and it caters to both the television audience at home while entertaining race fans before they go inside the track. Rutledge and I hung out backstage watching the show and were eventually joined by some of his college and high school friends who were all dressed to the NASCAR nines, complete with racing shirts and in at least one case, quite the pair of short shorts. They were all very nice guys who seemed as delighted, and somewhat taken aback, by Rutledge's success as I was.

But I don't think any of us were surprised that he had so many fans. I always knew Rutledge would do something cool with his life and I always knew he'd be successful. I don't think any of us could've imagined it would happen at this level. And Rutledge is just so nice. Goodness oozes out of him. He deserves this big life he's having and his success made me smile from ear to ear.

Rutledge's friends invited us to their tailgate happening in the parking lot, so we headed out there for a little while. They had really done this race in style, hiring a driver and a party bus (complete with a stripper pole, on which I may or may not have taken a turn) to bring them to and from the race. Everyone had come to party, and everyone was so nice to me, offering me food and beer. I happily indulged in one can of Budweiser (it felt like the right thing to do); that would be my first and only beer of the day.

At this tailgate I learned that at NASCAR races, or at this one anyway, coolers are acceptable and can be brought into the race. Certainly a recipe for disaster for those who had already been partaking in beverages all day, but overall another great reason to love NASCAR.

We had to return the golf cart to where Rutledge "borrowed" it from, so we left my new friends at the tailgate and headed next to the infield of the race. As we were driving away, a guy walking through the parking lot called out to Rutledge, "Hey! You! Rutledge! Bring yo ass on back here." He was brilliant, and with remarks like that, I hoped he had packed a cooler full of tall boys.

Rutledge made driving into the infield sound like it was no big deal, but getting to the infield is actually an experience all its own because it requires driving underneath the racetrack to get to the field in the center. The infield is full of hardcore race fans who camp out all weekend for the race. There are deluxe RVs and judging by the number of solo cups I saw on the ground and in people's hands, the party in the infield is like the biggest, rowdiest fraternity party of all time.

Once in the infield, I understood why Rutledge had advised me to wear closed-toe shoes and bring something to wear over my shoulders. With so much debris in the air and on the ground, covering as much skin as possible was definitely for the best. Later that evening when I got home and washed my face, I could actually see the dirt in my sink.

Rutledge had to do a short radio interview with Atlanta's Sports Station 680 The Fan, so we walked over to their broadcast tent. Rutledge sat down next to the host, and I stayed standing outside watching the interview. I'm not sure how, maybe because I was awkwardly staring at them, and taking pictures, but Rutledge mentioned to the host that I was his guest for the day, and that I was attempting to do 365 things that I'd never done before. The next thing I know the host of the show is motioning for me to pick up the headphones in front of me so that I could talk to them too.

Just a few hours into this day, and so far I'd realized that my old friend is a celebrity, taken pictures with people I don't know, and then appeared on the radio? I'd say it was all too much, but it wasn't. It was just right.

After our radio appearance, Rutledge and I walked to the winner's circle and around the pit, where all of the pre-race hoopla was in full swing. Engines were starting to rev in the distance, and there was a parade of sorts bringing all of the drivers into the track. We walked up and down the pit and watched the pit crews preparing themselves for the big event.

I was thankful I had earplugs. I don't think anyone can fully comprehend how loud a race is until you're standing there at the track. One of the many very nice people we'd met along the way had given me some and Rutledge had plenty more if I needed them. One of the few things that I did know about NASCAR was that the races are insanely loud; my dad always tells this story about him taking my mom to a race back when they first got together (I know, he's such a romantic). Someone told them that if they didn't have ear plugs, they could break the ends off cigarettes and just use the filters.

When it was time for the national anthem, we rushed over to the stage, which faced away from the infield, towards the grandstand. I, now luckiest person at the race, watched the national anthem standing on the track. When I looked down and saw the black and white checkered line painted on the ground, I looked at Rutledge.

"The finish line," Rutledge said, answering the question I never asked.

Right. So let me then clarify exactly where I was. I was standing on the track, on the finish line to watch the national anthem at Atlanta Motor Speedway. And then fighter jets did a fly-over. My heart was racing. In the best way.

They moved us off the track pretty quickly after that, not wanting to take any chances for stragglers as the race was starting.

"Gentleman, start your engines," the announcer said, prompting everyone to get on their feet. I chuckled as if I didn't think they actually said that. They do.

All at once, the drivers rev their engines and the entire grandstand erupts in shouting and applause and there is a feeling of unexplainable excitement. Even if you could care less about racing and about NASCAR, I challenge anyone to stand where I was standing that day and not feel excited.

When the cars took off, the track got even louder and though because I was still standing in the pit and couldn't completely see the cars well, I could feel it every time a group of them whizzed by. I confess I was also still soaking up the atmosphere and not completely paying attention to the race. Rutledge and I also went in search of billionaire Warren Buffett who we heard was sitting with one of the pit crews. I still don't know if it was actually him, but it sure looked like him.

Watching a pit stop in person was quite possibly one of the most impressive things I've ever seen. Crew members refuel, change the tires and send the car on its way in a matter of seconds. Speed is crucial, but so is accuracy and there is very little room for error. The drivers get all of the money and the glory, but without an intelligent, effective pit crew, they could never be successful. And one bad crew member could spoil the entire process.

I thought about the driver/pit crew relationship as a metaphor for my life and any of the successes that I've had. I credit myself, sure, for maximizing opportunities as they've been presented, but only up to a certain point. I've also been lucky, showing up at the right place at the right time and most importantly, I've surrounded myself with some pretty outstanding people. My pit crew is encouraging, smart, funny, supportive, challenging and looking back on all of the pictures I've taken this year, pretty damn good looking too. I have them to thank for my seemingly charmed life. Recent birthday party and race day disappointments excluded, I am so very fortunate. Just like a pit crew can have an off day, maybe that's all that was happening here, and with my crew's help, I'd be back on track before long.

We stayed in the pit for a while before heading up to the fancy sky box at Atlanta Motor Speedway (are you lost yet? We covered a lot of ground that day.) Since he's a personality for Speed channel, Rutledge is often asked to show up at events and mingle with racing fans and Speed viewers. I had to laugh, though, that while his employer may ask him to do it, something tells me he would do it anyway. He really is friendly, he really is funny, and he really does enjoy meeting his fans. I know being on the road and away from his family is tough some times, but I can't think of a more perfect job for him.

The clientele in the sky box proved, once again, that racing is not a sport just for lowbrow rednecks. There are plenty of those, but there were some pretty fancy people in this box who seemed to enjoy racing just as much as the rest of us. And from up high, I could really see the race and more fully grasp how fast these cars were actually going and watch the pit crews in action.

I also saw several caution laps, which I loved. A pace car enters the track during a caution period (after a wreck or when debris falls on the track) and forces all of the drivers, who are obviously amped up and ready to go super fast, to table their speed for a bit. Once the pace car exits the track, the race cars increase their speed to more appropriate racing levels, an action that had all the excitement of the start of the race. It brought a whole new meaning to one of my favorite phrases, "Going zero to 60 in seconds." They really did.

We stayed in the box for an hour or so, meeting guests and eating ice cream. At some point it had occurred to me that I hadn't eaten all day, so ice cream sounded like the right thing to do. Some more photo ops, handshakes and hugs later and we headed back to the pit.

There, Rutledge introduced me to one of the crew members who looked all of about 17-years old. There were so many things that I wanted to ask him, but I refrained, knowing that he was probably very busy. While standing over a racing tire, he explained to me that one of his jobs was to check how the traction on the tires was wearing down and adjust A super important job for someone who, to me, looked so young.

Before the race was over, Rutledge told me he was going to dip out a little early; he hadn't seen his wife or daughter in several days and was anxious to get home. He encouraged me to stay if I wanted to, and even offered to call his friends that I had met earlier in the day so that I could sit with them.

I considered staying, and shockingly by then, the idea didn't bum me out nearly as much as it had just hours before. But I decided to leave when Rutledge did. After such a gloriously full day I was ready to go. Also I think a part of me didn't want to test my luck.

I know, I know. "Quit while you're ahead," is certainly not a slogan to race by and it's not one that I live my life by either. But I got what I came for and a whole lot more. So by those calculations, I didn't really need to see much else. Plus the only thing that anyone told me about Atlanta Motor Speedway was that traffic is a bitch, and I'm no fool.

Tony Stewart went on to win the Atlanta Motor Speedway Labor Day Classic (I listened to it on the radio leaving the track), but it was I who really felt like a winner that day. Thanks to one particularly awesome member of my very own pit crew, who just so happens to be famous.