Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ski legs

What's the first thing you think of when you hear the words "Spring Break"?

That's right -- Oregon!

We spent the week of Spring Break skiing Mount Bachelor outside Bend, Oregon.  The most important thing to know about Mount Bachelor, aside from the fact it's a gorgeous volcano with great spring skiing conditions, is every Mount Bachelor employee has a different answer to any question you might ask.  The key is to keep asking people until you get the answer you want.

For instance, after asking if we could rent our package-deal equipment earlier than anticipated, one employee replied, "No way, step back, rule breaker," another said, "I have no idea" and continued staring dreamily into space but the third said, "You bet!  Come on over and let's get you suited up." And that's what we did.

Alex and I no longer own ski equipment so we had to rent, which is always a bummer.  Ski rental equipment is the worst.  The skis are never well waxed, which will sometimes give you the sensation of skiing through glue and rubber bands.  Your eyes may widen with concern when the dreadlocked white man behind the rental counter hands you your rental poles.  "Did you just put those through a wood chipper?" you'll ask but the real question is, are they really still poles?  Or are they now just a loosely attached collection of dings, dents, and scratches?

You'll envision all the people who have held those poles before you and obviously wiped out in spectacular fashion.  You will hope the fault lies in the crappy abilities of the skiers themselves and not bad pole juju.

Ski boots by their nature are never going to be comfortwear.  They're heavy and bulky and give you the grace and ease of movement of a Transformer.  The omniprescent sound in a ski resort is the *clunk clunk clunk* as people sidestep down staircases made intentionally wide to accommodate a skier's comically limited maneuverability.

That's all awkward enough but the difficulties are magnified in rental boots.  You might as well shove your foot into a cement block that is both way too rigid yet always loose.  The boot buckles will be worn and tired and no longer serious about their jobs; they will weakly grasp the other side of your boot but will regularly bust open when they can't take it anymore. By lunch you will have bruises on your tibias.

I haven't skied in a handful of years and much has changed.  For instance, skis are now short.  When the adorable (adorable!) rental guy from Santiago, Chile, handed me my skis, I looked at him suspiciously and asked, "That's it?  Where's the rest of 'em?"  They looked like kid skis -- except once I saw my kids' skis I realized they'd gotten shorter, too, and are now approximately the same length as pencils.

He laughed and said, "How long has it been since you skied?" I said it had been a long time, since back when ski lengths were normal.  He told me I would love the new length because it makes it so easy to turn I would barely need my poles.  I said, "good, because I don't have a whole lot of faith in those mangled things."

I assembled myself.  As I *clunk clunk clunk*ed my way out the door, I looked over my shoulder at adorable Chile guy and called, "I can't wait to try out my magic skis!"  Then, not looking where I was going, I ran into a pole in the middle of the room and had to stand there for a minute rubbing the side of my head.  Adorable Chile guy waved and looked encouraging but he was probably thinking, "She seems nice. I should go visit her in the hospital later when she inevitably winds up there."

Other than the skis, skiing remains much the same as I remember.  The chairlift ride is thrilling as your legs dangle high in the air.  The sound of the chairlift is the same --a vibrating hum, accompanied by a rubbery squeaky squeaky when you pass through the wheels of a support pole.  Dismount is still a challenge as you navigate around the newbies who just bit the dust in front of you.

Our first run was painful -- my form was weak and my unhappy rental boots barely hanging in there.  I can't say I noticed an ease of turning on my mini skis but it's been so long, I can't remember what it felt like to turn before.  As slightly awkward as that first run was,  both Alex and I were hooked on skiing again by the time we reached the bottom.  Alex got immediately back in line for the chairlift and called over his shoulder, "I forgot how much fun this is!"  Our next runs showed quickly improving forms and increased confidence. We were soon skiing like the wind, as we were both raised to do.

I'm standing on top of a volcano!  YEEAAAH

Alex and I, as in all areas of our lives, have very different styles when it comes to skiing.  I like to stop several times during the course of a run.  I rest my legs, look around, watch other skiers, appreciate the view.  Alex, however, has a mission and that is to WIN and BEAT THE MOUNTAIN.  He skis down a mountain like if he doesn't beat some arbitrary time record, the mountain is going to be taken away from him.  Then he's immediately in line again, while I'm still halfway up counting the snowflakes on the front of my jacket and giggling alone.

Alex and I weren't always so different.  The years have changed us both, in that we're each becoming stronger caricatures of what have always been our core selves.  It usually works well, having our strengths lie in different areas, but when it comes to skiing it just means we get separated a lot.  I'd ski down to a fork in the slope and be stymied -- "Well which way did he go?  Why the hell didn't he stop?" -- then I'd shrug, continue on my way and call his cell phone when I reached the bottom.  He would inevitably be on the other side of the mountain so we would take a few runs solo, work our way towards the middle, meet again, high five.

That's actually a great summary of our marriage in general -- we're on the same mountain but each doing our own thing, and sometimes we meet up for what inevitably become our favorite runs.

The weather was incredible, the snow soft, the crowds minimal.  My happy place became the sunny bar terrace where I would have a beer at the end of the day and watch my kids finish their lessons on the bunny slope.  Coco got so frustrated by her repeated falls she sometimes stayed face down on the snow and pounded it with her tiny fists for awhile.  It's OK, girl, we've all been there.

Our final day of skiing was a different weather story.  It was foggy followed by sleet and snow with zero visibility on the mountain.  Alex and I did a few runs in complete whiteout conditions.  I skied on Al's heels, stared at his back and yelled, "Don't you dare take off without me again!" The darkish blob of his jacket was the only object keeping me anchored to the earth.

We would still get back on the chairlift after each wet, miserable, scary run.  To love skiing is to be gripped with an irrational fervor.  We would suggest another run hoping conditions had improved up top (they hadn't).  We hunkered down on the chairlift with our faces tucked into our jackets to avoid being pelted with the sharp ice chips flying out of the sky.  We would then make our way slowly down the run using our gut instincts or, in a pinch, echolocation.

The kids are really the best part of our ski vacation.  We started with two kids afraid of skiing and left with two skiers.  Lucien, especially, has taken a shine to it and improved dramatically in his few days on skis.  He's now overconfident and trash talking, "Oh yeah? You think you can ski?  You can't ski, I can ski. Watch this and weep, sucker!" *fall* 

We stopped in Portland for a night before coming home to Seattle.  Portland is still Portland -- delightfully weird and filled to the brim with hipsters. While perusing the open air market, we overheard people say head-scratching Portland things like --

 "I hand painted the design on this t-shirt.  I wanted it to be like a man, but also like a fish.  And I wanted him to wear a tie.  It's a classy fish man." 

and from the sleepy-voiced man wearing knee-high socks and sandals --

"I knit these socks myself from vegan fiber."  

The latter comment begs the question.... vegan fiber?  I get it's not wool, but aren't other basic fibers vegan?  Like cotton?  Have I stumbled into an episode of Portlandia?

 delightful wares for sale in Portland

In a spontaneous happy turn of events, Alex agreed to entertain the kids for the evening so I could go out with Supermodel Neighbor, my beautiful man friend who moved from Seattle to Portland last year.  In an even happier turn of events, he brought along two of his friends who are also male models.  I went out with three male models.  Nothing to complain about there.

All three are quick to point out they don't do much modeling anymore and it's not how they define themselves.  That's totally true and I respect that, but I'm still going to call them male models because it makes my life seem more glamorous and exciting than it is (she says as she packs the banana into the dinosaur lunch box).

Our night out in Portland involved a performance by Michael Hurley, a seventy-something-year-old folk singer I've seen perform before, also with Supermodel Neighbor, back in Seattle. There were many beers.  In the later hours we craved late-night junk food and found it in the form of fries covered in cheese and Russian dressing. It was not my favorite combination.

going out with male models can make you feel short

The conversation was boozy and may or may not have included me agreeing to be a surrogate for their experimental three-man-made baby.  There was also some speculation as to how many cows a person could eat in a year.  Also lots of talk of pork.  Bottom line -- if you have the opportunity to go out with three male models, you should do so.  If you want to find some, you'll be able to identify them in the wild by their knit beanies.

Go, Coco, Go

Returning from vacation sucks,

Friday, April 11, 2014

Look out, trees, here we come

We're going skiing for Spring Break 2014.  Alex and I both grew up on skis yet have never taken our kids to the slopes.  The time has definitely come to place Lucien and Coco on slippery boards and push them down a hill. 

Both kids are enrolled in full-day ski school.  It may be difficult for me to separate from them, entrust them to someone else's care while learning a potentially dangerous sport.  It feels a bit like throwing them into the deep end of the pool but I guess that's usually the most surefire way to learn to swim.  Or maybe that's the most surefire way to drown?  I'm not sure of my own message there.

I hope their first ski school experience is nothing like mine.  Below is an essay I wrote in my memoir writing class last year about that very subject.  The exercise was to write about an experience you had as a child, in 300 words or less, in which a valuable lesson was learned.

Here's hoping this isn't foreshadowing. 

Tree Killer

In my family, there was one truth: skiing was life.  As a young child, I was regularly handed to relatives as my family sped off with skis strapped to the car and maniacal looks on their faces.  They would sometimes yell, "See ya Monday!" as the car peeled away but often forgot, perhaps distracted by the fluorescent hues of their ski jackets.

At the age of six, I was finally old enough to join them. I was put in ski school with a gentle instructor named Ruth.  I aced the chairlift dismount when most kids faceplanted in the snowbank.  It seemed to confirm I’d arrived at my destiny. 

As Ruth led us down the bunny slope, a snails pace trail of kids in ugly snowplow formation, I knew she was holding me back.  I was a Jones and Joneses skied like the wind.  But as I broke from the pack and headed down the hill alone, I soon realized I was not a gazelle like Mom nor a perfectly tucked racer like Dad;  I was more a hurtling projectile headed straight for a tree.  I don’t remember the impact but do remember being pulled in Ski Patrol’s rescue toboggan. 

My parents saw a sign at the top of the chairlift:  “Dave and Judy Jones, please contact Ski Patrol.” They decided it wasn't addressed to them because they have very common names and honestly, what kind of trouble could I have gotten into so quickly?  They finally called when upon each successive trip up the chairlift, the message grew by another exclamation point.  Then they learned another family truth: it was a spiral fracture of the tibia. 

Good DNA does not replace effort.  And as we learned the next year, when we saw the offending tree had been removed from the bunny slope, the hubris of a child can sometimes lead to the killing of trees.

Wish us luck, and see you on the flipside.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Happy Birthday to me

Spring is arriving in Seattle and we're excited to spend some time on our new back deck. When we first moved into the house, the back deck was a rickety little thing made of plywood that moved back and forth and up and down when you walked on it. 

Exciting but not inviting

We tore down Danger Deck and started over.  Now we're looking more like this --

 it's not finished but at least we're not scared of it

Yesterday was a gorgeous day and an exciting one because our new outdoor dining set was to be delivered.  It arrived while I was running the kids to school.  I was less enthusiastic about the delivery when I returned home and found this mess on the front porch --

It was not a box. It was a very loose interpretation of a box.

The carnage was so bad, the furniture had begun unpacking itself in a desperate attempt to flee the structural collapse of its home.  I pulled the pieces out slowly, assuming damage.  And of course they were damaged.  I think it's fairly obvious this deliveryman hates his job.

So we still don't have an outdoor dining set, just an email sent to customer service filled with impotent rage and a ton of cardboard clogging the entryway.  The good news is the kids love playing on it and we've begun referring to it affectionately as "Mount Mangle."

So I turned 39 over the weekend.  It was one of my better birthdays because it began in total silence.  Alex woke up long before me and took the kids out all morning.  I slept in, drank coffee in my bathrobe and read my Facebook birthday greetings.  Sometimes Alex gets it just right.

Things got exciting later that day when we all clustered around Bobo the bearded dragon's tank and stared at him with concern.  Lucien was convinced Bobo was dying and it didn't seem an overreaction -- Bobo hadn't moved in four days, hadn't eaten in two, hadn't pooed in over six weeks.  It was an alarming combo and drove me to the internet where I deduced Bobo was suffering from "impaction."  In blunt terms, Bobo the bearded dragon was hella constipated.

Impaction can kill a bearded dragon.  Lucien was growing frantic, there wasn't a moment to lose. "Bobo, you ain't dying on my birthday," I said, and strapped on the latex gloves. 

The internet told me the best home remedy for bearded dragon impaction was a warm bath with accompanying abdominal massage. Bobo flattened his body in the bath and closed his eyes.  I wrapped my hands around his scaly little body and massaged what I assumed to be his abdomen. I guess I did something right because half an hour later BLAMMO, Bobo sh*t all over the place.

 Thanks, lady, and happy birthday
and you might want to bleach the bathtub

A group of friends met us later for my birthday dinner.  Look, I got a plant!

The strange thing about dinner was our server kept bringing us more bread even though we hadn't finished our other bread.  We finally had to shake him by his slight shoulders, smack him around a little -- "No more bread, man, you've gone mad!"

 it's too much bread
must give more bread

After our dinner we walked to Neumos where Dum Dum Girls were playing.  As I've mentioned, I have an intense love for live music.  It feeds my soul.  My friends do not all share this fervent love but they still agreed (enthusiastically, even!) to stay up way past their bedtimes and go with me to see a band they'd never heard of.  I love them for that.


Dum Dum Girls played a good show.  The men enjoyed it, especially, because the lead singer wore a sheer shirt with nothing but pasties for coverage.  She can wear whatever she wants, she's a badass in a girl band, but it may have been too distracting.  Afterward Alex asked, "Wait...did they play music?"

Alex stepped outside for a cigar midway through the show.  He struck up a conversation with a guy in the band that played earlier.  The band guy told Alex his shoes were rad and asked where he got them.  Al is still glowing from that one and occasionally puffs out his chest, pounds it, and yells, "I STILL GOT IT I'M STILL COOL" at various times throughout the day.   

It was a late night but worth it
because we got to hang out with this Macklemore-ish guy wearing a white fur coat

Anne, Angelo, Anna, Kristin, Alex, Kate, Eden, Rhonda, Matt, Raba and Zee -- thanks to you, I turned 39 just right, and don't wish to be in any other place or at any other age.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Family Fun Day

Family fun days are not always full of family fun.  They are sometimes a kind of well-meaning torture. No sooner do you step out your front door than the whining starts -- someone needs the bathroom, someone's thirsty, someone accidentally put on shoes they outgrew two years ago.

The worst is when you realize you forgot your directions and/or tickets to some event on your desk.  The second worst is when you realize after you've hit cruising speed on the highway you forgot to put your youngest in the car and she is still standing in the driveway.

(never done that but came damn close)

I've taken to a lot of teeth grinding when we all go out for family fun days.  It's an overwhelming challenge to keep everyone in the same place and get everyone happy at the same time.  More than once I've become a manic-eyed Clark Griswold -- "This is a QUEST, a QUEST for FUN" -- as I've shuttled my family members from one area of the city to another.

Sometimes there are parks involved

 Sometimes carousels

Sometimes the overcrowded treehouse playground at REI, where you can hunker down at the adjacent World Wraps and dull your family fun anxiety with a Black-n-Blue smoothie. 

All that to say -- I'm pleased to announce we have finally found a winner for family fun day.  It's a family fun activity that is actually fun.  It's the only thing we've ever tried that has won enthusiastic, joyful approval from all members.

Boing boing boing

Boing boing boing

Trampolines.  Ridiculous, yes, but magical.  When adults jump on trampolines, it instantly erases years from their person.  They get giddy, and have way more fun than their kids, and it's about time.

If you're not into jumping around aimlessly and prefer a little more structure to your trampoline experience, perhaps you would enjoy trampoline dodgeball.  It's like reliving the horror of junior high dodgeball except you're bouncing all over the place and can't control your body and look like a total spaz -- actually yeah, just like junior high dodgeball. 

The above game was dads vs. kids.  The dads smoked 'em because kids are small and can't throw very well.  A kid would give a wildly inaccurate throw, it would land ten feet from its intended target and the dad would respond by pointing and laughing at them for a minute before BOOM, beaming one right back at their face.  It may seem heartless but everyone knows there's no compassion in dodgeball.

Lucien dragged Coco onto the court with him for the savagely fought "big kids" game.  Coco's no dummy.  She knew what to do --

Here's hoping trampolines never lose their novelty so I don't have to go to the aquarium or the science center or, god forbid, the library ever again.

I've recently started going to a co-working site to work on my Paris book.  It's impossible for me to write a book at home.  The lure of the laundry, or the home repair projects, or the snack cabinet is too great.  There were many times I sat down to write but then jumped back up to lip-synch some rad tunes into a large spoon.  I am prone to procrastination when I'm afraid of something so I guess writing that book scares me very much.

I needed some accountability in the form of other bodies.  Not that those bodies would stand over me and hit me with sticks if I didn't write, but more they would notice if I sat there and stared at my laptop screen doing nothing.  Then they would probably think, "She's the dumbest writer ever because she never writes anything" and I don't want people to think I'm a dumb writer so I would write a ton out of fear of judgment.

The co-working movement, if you haven't heard, is about having a place to go for people who work from home.  It's a way to combat the loneliness of working alone and to rid oneself of the distractions of home.  Instead of puttering around getting nothing done at home, participants in the co-working community gather in a place, each focused on their own pursuit, and get nothing done together.

I was nervous walking in my first day not knowing anyone.  I may or may not have given myself a few pacing pep talks before getting into the car.  It's hard to put oneself out there, walk alone into what you assume is a well established community, and beg them to love and accept you. 

I reassured myself that if I walked in the front door and realized it wasn't my scene, I could backtrack silently, cover my eyes and walk slowly backwards putting my feet in exactly the same places they had been when I walked in, and nobody would ever know.  Or perhaps they would all be sitting there and clearly see me doing that and think I was a lunatic but who cares, I'd be gone. 

There was no need for nerves.  The co-workers at my site are pathologically friendly.  Now that I'm settling in nicely, being in a co-working space is much like having regular co-workers.  We all work silently, heads down, the only sound in the room the "tap tap" of laptop keys until suddenly someone stifles a giggle.  Moments later the rest of us receive an email because a fellow co-worker has found something delightful on the internet they need to share right away.  That's how I came to have "Vladimir Putin Gay Dress-Up" in my inbox. 

The stream of people I've met at co-working are super Seattleish -- artists and software people and web designers and writers and not-for-profit idealists.   One guy has a science-themed radio show.  One guy works for the Beacon Hill Food Forest  (The Beacon Hill food forest is an urban public food forest -- if you want an apple, just take an apple!)  He also partakes in drum circles, which I imagine is obligatory for young Seattle men who work in public food forests.

One woman is an artist and has painted kids room murals depicting children in pink capes flying over Mount Rainier and the Space Needle.  One woman is a writer and community organizer and was one of the driving forces behind the "Hopscotch CD" event we took part in last summer.  Very few of these people have children so I'm a bit of of a foreign specimen.  When I pack up and leave shortly after noon because I have to get Coco at preschool, I am met with puzzled looks.  Most of them have just recently rolled out of bed, you see.  They nod thoughtfully when I explain about the kidfolk and now call me "The A.M. shift."

Lucien's karate class discussed their word of the month, "kindness," this week.  The teacher asked, "How do you show kindness to others?" and one little boy raised his hand and said, "I guess if somebody had hypothermia, I would probably help them, I guess."

Karate: shaping the leaders of tomorrow!

Boing boing boing,