Things I learned this week (July 25 – 29)

It’s Friday! You know what that means.  Time to find out what I learned this week.

I learned this week…

…that Alaska has now been promoted to my list of no-can-dos.

…that while I am saddened at the loss of a musical talent who had yet to reach her full potential, I can’t say that I am particularly surprised.  Addiction kills and some people, unfortunately, are past the point of no return.

…that my love for politics has waned.  For years I’ve been a liberal leaning Dem, but recently I have grown increasingly disgusted with both parties and their self-serving agendas.  When I was researching Ronald Reagan this past spring, I stumbled upon this gem:  “Governments tend not to solve problems, only rearrange them”.  Absolutely true, and while they are rearranging our monumental problems, they are running our country straight into the ground.  Our founding fathers would hang their heads in shame at the behavior of our so-called leaders – on both sides of the aisle.  So much for American exceptionalism.

Another pissing contest

…that “A vision without a plan is just a dream. A plan without a vision is just drudgery. But a vision with a plan can change the world.”  Proverb.

…that no matter how much I try or how much I am looking forward to a vacation, I still dread it.

…that fields of blooming sunflowers make me smile.  No easy feat.

…that the icy tentacles of winter would be a welcome sight, even if for just one day.

…the Orlando International Airport was designed by a bunch of crazy monkeys.

Journey of Self-discovery: Conquering Math

You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition.  What you’ll discover will be wonderful.  What you’ll discover is yourself.  ~Alan Alda

If you don’t get lost, there’s a chance you may never be found.  ~Author Unknown

In recent years, I’ve gone through a lot of personal changes.  Some good, some bad – all of them learning experiences.  I guess you could say I’ve been on a quest to find myself.  Sounds a bit cliché but, I suspect, not uncommon for people like me – staring at the business end of forty.

I think my journey really began with the passing of my dad.  Unexpected death of a loved one has a way of putting things into perspective.  It makes you reevaluate your life, take stock in what you’re doing and what you want to be doing.  The harsh reality that this sort of thing could happen in my family with such cruel swiftness was eye-opening  – like someone doused me in ice water.  I began to take stock of my life.

What I found was that while I was happy, I wasn’t fulfilled.  Something was missing in my life.  I also quickly realized that the fault was entirely my own.  I’d created this bubble around myself – my comfort zone.  I didn’t wander out of this zone for any reason, for anyone.   But in creating this buffer between me and the outside world, I stunted my ability to grow.

Herein lies my problem.  I needed a challenge in my life – something outside my comfort zone.  I thought about changing jobs, maybe going to work for a bigger firm but I decided wouldn’t solve anything.  Bigger isn’t always better and it wouldn’t really be that much of a change to go somewhere else, doing the exact same work.  That would sort of defeat the purpose.  I struggled with this dilemma for a while, got good and pissy about it, made everyone’s life hell until out of the blue, I was struck by an odd notion.  I wanted to go back to school.  Alrighty then.

The prospect of entering a classroom after all these years was a bit overwhelming but I was convinced that it was exactly what I wanted to do.  Not because I wanted a new job – I liked my job – but because I wanted to expand my horizons, take on a new challenge that was more than just a one time deal, and learn.  I set about this with the same ardency that I do anything I am truly determined to accomplish.  The first thing I learned – I was going to have to take a placement test.  That little bit of news sent chills of fear down my back.  Well, only one part of the exam really scared the shit out of me.  The math portion.   I hate math and math hates me.  Years ago we mutually agreed to steer clear of one another.  It was better that way – for both our sakes.

I almost walked away from the idea at that point but once I accepted that I was going to have to conquer my fear and loathing of math, the rest was pretty much smooth sailing. Of course, determination to achieve something doesn’t mean you will get there on the first try.  Failure helps you succeed, right?  I bombed the math portion of that test and was relegated down to remedial math – not the lowest level, but pretty darn close.  It was humbling but I sucked it up and soon found that math, at least lower level math, wasn’t all that scary.  I had to study, do my homework and faithfully go to class but passing was within my reach.  And I did pass. Every single one of those remedial math classes – with an A.

Then came the true test.  College Algebra.  Pshaw, you say?  Piece of cake?  For some, yes.  For me, it was probably the scariest, most intimidating thing I’ve done in a very long time.  But after three semesters of back to back math classes, I knew I was as ready as I’d ever be for this challenge.  It was no easy task.  I spent hours and hours doing homework, pestering the tutors in the Math Lab, and studying.  Repetition, I discovered, is the key to mastering math at any level.  I didn’t get an A in College Algebra.  I knew after the first exam that it was going to be an uphill battle but I did manage to pull out a B.  Which in any other class would have sent me into a complete meltdown because I get A’s.  The higher the A the better.  I am a firm believer in the idea that every point counts.  I would never be satisfied with a 90 just because it’s all the same on a transcript.  I want every point possible.  But this was College Algebra and to finish with a B was absolutely the greatest feeling in the world.  Which is saying a lot because I was also awarded a Scholar Award in History for the same semester.  A great honor, one which I am extraordinarily proud, but I am even prouder that I made it through four successful semesters of math.

I am no longer afraid of math.  I know and understand what it takes to not just get by, but to do well in the subject.  That’s not to say that I’m going to change my major and suddenly embrace Mathematics.  If I have a say in it, I will never step foot in a math class again.  But the sense of accomplishment that I feel knowing that I swallowed my fear, looked straight into the eyes of the dragon and sliced it’s head right off is priceless to me.

Things I learned this week (July 18 – 22)

It’s Friday!  You know what that means, right?  It’s time to examine the things I learned this week.

This week I learned…

Head Baboon

…that I dont’ want to be the baboon in charge.  Playing second fiddle to the big cheese is better for your health.  All the benefits – none of the stress.

…that Jennifer Lopez should chalk this whole marriage thing up to experience and never, ever do it again.  It’s quite obviously not working for her.

…that I don’t have to go far if I wish to have a long life expectancy.  Of course, I’m pretty sure I’d much rather live somewhere else in my golden years.  A beach house in the Caribbean, a villa in Rome, or Börsborn, Germany.

…that New York is making good on a promise – never forget.

500 year old tree - Borsborn, Germany

…that pissing contests like these benefit no one – least of all the children who, I might remind these two governmental entities, are the future of our country.

…that I prefer my daughter’s summer gymnastics schedule.  I don’t know where all the obnoxious, nitwit stage moms have gone for the summer but I hope they stay there.  I can actually write in peace. 

…that sometimes I should keep things to myself.

…that having short, stubby legs might not be such a bad thing after all.

…that I still don’t understand what “ranch casual” is really supposed to entail.  Now they’ve thrown “summer ranch casual” at me.  I am equally perplexed by this concept.  Guess I’m going shopping.  Again.  This time, however, I draw the line at cowboy boots.  Not happening.

…that the pre-dawn landing of the space shuttle Atlantis was a beautiful and emotional thing.  The end of a wonderous era.  I’m glad I watched.

Pierre Duchame/Reuters

Guilty Pleasures

We all have them.  My husband is a lover of bubble gum pop.  I will tell you, there is nothing funnier than listening to him sing all the words to a Lady Gaga tune at the top of his lungs, while driving his very manly truck down the freeway.  It’s one of the reasons I love him. 

I have one too – guilty pleasure, that is.  The Real Housewives of (insert random city here).

Snicker away.  I’m not ashamed.  I’ll tell you why.

I’ve been a vocal opponent of “reality” television’s hostile take over of primetime scheduling for a very long time – since it’s onset in the early part of the last decade.  I would much rather go skinny dipping in a tank of hungry sharks than lower myself to the level of watching grown people eat bugs, sing bad karaoke or strategically sabotage each other all in the name of prize money.  Give me a well written drama or situation comedy or even a news magazine show highlighting a gruesome murder and I’m a happy girl.  Of course, every fall they give me exactly what I want only to yank it away ten episodes in and replace it with some mind-numbingly stupid game show or yet another version of the Bachelor/Bachelorette – because one’s true love can always be found by putting twenty men (or women) in a house together and making them compete for your affection – oh and a rose.  Absolutely, a sure-fire way to find your soul mate. 

The fact that I am now a full-fledged Real Housewives junkie is a testament to the power of a flu-like illness.  About two years ago, I was lying in bed in a fever induced fog, flipping channels.  I blame the fact that I’m not an accomplished napper for the ease in which I was sucked into this franchise.  If I’d been asleep, like any normal person should have been, I would not have stumbled upon a Housewives marathon.  But I wasn’t and I did.  I don’t remember which city it was and it really doesn’t matter.  What I do remember is being completely mesmerized by the train wreck playing out before me on the screen.  It was absolutely breathtaking.  These women’s antics – all unscripted, of course (wink-wink) – were the funniest thing I’d ever witnessed on television.  I don’t think I have ever laughed so hard in my life.  I watched for two days straight and from that moment on I was hooked.

Now, two years later, there seems to been an endless stream of Housewives to choose from, for your viewing pleasure.  Just as one ends, another begins.  Right now, New York and New Jersey – my favorites by far. Why, you ask?  Could it be Ramona S’s crazy eyes and demands for cases of Pinot Grigio?  Teresa G.’s table flipping temper or her flair for um…fashion? Caroline M.’s voice of reason and sage advise?  Jill Z’s proclamations that “that’s just not who I am” (but she really is)? The Countess’ belief that using the word “darling” and dropping the names of European “royalty” we’ve never heard of makes you classy?  Or maybe it’s Dina M’s adorable Grandma Wrinkles?

I can’t decide.  It’s all so fabulous.

These women are like caricatures to me.  I equate them to characters I might find in saucy novel.  Not real housewives by any stretch of the imagination.  But, really, would a television show about real, honest to goodness housewives be any fun?  I think not.  I was a housewife once.  Nothing remotely interesting about it.  Unless you want to chronicle the number of times I was poo’ed on, puked on, or walked around in a sleep deprived trance.  I once put a carton of milk in the cupboard instead of the fridge and didn’t notice for several hours.  Funny?  Perhaps.  Television worthy? No.

Judge me how you will.  I care not of your opinion of my viewing choices.  I’m unashamed at my obsession with the manufactured adventures of these synthetic women.  They make me laugh.  Out loud.  Until I wanna pee myself.  It’s great.  Now, I ask you – can Big Brother do that for you?

My summer reading

There is a temperate zone in the mind, between luxurious indolence and exacting work; and it is to this region, just between laziness and labor, that summer reading belongs.  ~Henry Ward Beecher

I don’t get to read as much as I’d like.  Most of my days are filled to the brim with work, school, and family.  What little time is left over for me, I tend to devote more to the task of writing than to the enjoyment of simply reading a book.  A prioritizing failure on my part for everyone knows that to be a good writer, you must first be an accomplished reader.  I am lacking in this department of late.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I have lots of books that I intend to read.  They are piled on my nightstand, the floor next to my nightstand, all over my desk and even in a box in my closet.  I am a compulsive book buyer.  I just can’t muster up the time to read them and even if I do crack the spine on one, fifty pages in I find myself wondering how this work of complete shit ever made it to an editor’s desk.  

This summer I vowed to break my reading dry spell.  Classes are over until the fall.  I have a couple of day off during the work week from now until then.  What better time?  I also have a trip coming up – the perfect opportunity to make a dent in my pile.  So last weekend I started thumbing through the stacks and I found that my book clutter was all in vain.  There was nothing worth reading in any of the piles.  How could this be?  Perhaps it is because a lot of the books lean toward the heavy side – definitely not fun summer reading material.  So, off to my favorite local bookseller I go, member discount card in hand. 

I went with the intention of buying a good old-fashioned, trashy romance or two.  I perused the shelves endlessly and could find nothing that was even remotely appealing.  I did discover, though, that when I wasn’t looking paranormal romances seem to have overtaken the genre.  I’d rather put an ice pick through my brain than read anything about vampires or werewolves or whatever else constitutes paranormal these days (to this category I must exclude Frolay because that story is just good fun – love you tons, Helen).  Feeling slightly depressed, I meandered over to a table of high school English required reading selections.  I shuffled through them, considered for a minute rereading a few of my favorite classics – Of Mice and Men, Animal Farm, Alas Babylon.  None of which are light, easy summer reading.  I considered an Agatha Christie mystery.  I’ve always loved the antics of super sleuth Hercule Poirot, but even that didn’t tickle my fancy.  I’d all but given up hope when a lone display caught my eye.  On a whim, I picked up the first book that my fingers touched.  That is when I discovered the brilliant intrigue of Daniel Silva.

Not exactly a bodice-ripping romance.  But then, who was I kidding?  I was never going to be satisfied with such fluff, especially in light of what I’m currently writing.  There wasn’t a lot of description of the content given, just a brief snippet beneath the author’s picture on the back cover but something about it felt right.  I bought it and the next in the series.  Like I said – compulsive book buyer.

What I found within the pages of The Kill Artist was absolutely spine tingling.  Silva is a brilliant writer.  He sucked me into the depths of a story as exciting and thrilling as it was heartbreaking and tender.  For the first time in a very long time, I read a story with unbridled anticipation, page after page, word after word, craving to know what would become of Israeli assassin, Gabriel Allon.  The nature in which Silva crafted this story, brought this quietly powerful, yet shockingly fragile character to life, left me breathless and wanting more. 

Up next The English Assassin.  I can’t wait.

Things I learned this week (July 11-15)

In keeping with the theme of last Friday’s blog entry…

__________________________________________________________________________

This week I learned…

…that fashionable (not functional) suspenders are back.  Apparently, we didn’t get enough of this trend in the 80s.  To this I say:  Gag me with a spoon.

that no matter how safe you think your neighborhood is, there is still someone out there sick enough to harm your child

…that I am not alone in my love affair with the trash that is The Real Housewives franchise.

Table flipping fun
 
 
eek!
 
 
 …that it takes exactly five days for the stench of something dead in the wall at the office to stop stinking up the place to high heaven.  This is indeed a good thing to know because next time, I will know exactly how many days of vacation to take.
 
…that stabbing yourself in the eye with a mascara wand will cause two days of incessant eye watering.  This of course, will lead to excessive eye wiping – which in turn, will lead to a redness, puffiness and soreness.  Joy.

And to think I saw it all on Mulberry Street

Well…not really, but I always did like that particular Dr. Suess offering. 

So, today was cardio day.   I’ll be honest, I wasn’t feeling it.  I waged a war within myself on the drive in from the office.  Go.  Don’t go.  Go.  Don’t go.  It would be so easy to drive right on past the exit.  Of course, just as I made my mind up not to go, a nagging little voice inside my head said:

“Hey, stupid.  Key West.  Swimsuit. Gym. Go. Now.”

I took the exit, changed and went in search of my favorite spinner.

Ocupado. 

Sigh.

This is one of the drawbacks to exercising in a public gym.  People.  They don’t seem to grasp the unwritten rules I have decreed upon them.  Bike number three is mine. 

Mine. 

Not the dude with the swirly tattoos and flat billed hat. 

Mine.  

Unfortunately, at this stage in my life, society demands that I conduct myself with at least the illusion of decorum.  That means it would be unacceptable for me to pull him off of bike number three and scream “MINE!!!” in his face while kicking him in the stomach.  I will have to make do with shooting him my best stink eye – to which he is oblivious, of course.  

Being a grown-up sucks. 

In spite of the foregoing, people are what get me through days like this when I have absolutely no desire to be sweating like a pig, riding a long imaginary road to nowhere.  Of course, I don’t want to interact with them, just watch them and then only as long as they stay off of my cloud and keep their distance.  Under the right circumstances, it can be a lot like watching lions in their natural habitat from the safety of the covered jeep. Utterly fascinating with a hint of danger.

Now set their movements to music only you can hear and you have workout motivation gold.  It’s better than watching Richard Simmons’ Sweatin’ to the Oldies.  What?  Never heard of Richard Simmons?  Google him.  You’ll never be the same.  My music choices vary from day-to-day, mood to mood.  Some days I’m in the mood for some 80s hair band rock or The Police, other days a little Elvis mixed with a dash of the Beatles and a side of the Stones do the trick.  Today, it’s random shuffle day and up first is Gnarls Barkley’s Smiley Faces.  This song indeed makes me smile – and want to bust out with the Carlton right here in the middle of the gym.  I will refrain for the sake of the children and the elderly.

As I listen to the infectious beat, I settle into the rhythm of the bike (after grudgingly getting on bike number one) and take my first good look around.  It’s like gazing out into the Serengeti, a vast array of specimens lie before me.  All of them going about the business of getting their fitness on in their own special way.  Over in the back corner, you have the predator species better known as the hard-core body builder types.  They prance around their marked territory, grunting and groaning as they pump iron.  No one daring to venture any nearer than necessary.  Until…oh wait…what is this?  My music changes to Britney’s Oops! I Did it Again just as a female wanders into their midst.  Not just any female, either.  It’s my favorite buxom blonde, who I’ve not see in quite some time.  A rare treat, indeed.  It takes them a minute to notice, but slowly, one by one, they become aware of her.  Perhaps because she is now lying supine, legs up and spread wide as she proceeds to do several repetitions on the reclining leg press machine.  Men are such simple and predictable creatures.

In the center of the room, amongst the more user-friendly machines, you will find an eclectic group of grazers.  They are a lot like me – dedicated but not enthusiasts.  Just trying to either lose the bulge or keep the bulge at bay.  For the most part, they aren’t all that interesting to me.  Just drones flitting from machine to machine.  But as Florence & the Machine’s haunting vocals of Howl fill my head, something odd catches my eye.  I do a double take.  Surely my eyes have deceived me.  They haven’t.  Coming towards me, through a space in the crowd is a man – a man who the 1970s have surely thrown up on and he’s failed to notice.  Or maybe he just doesn’t care.  Why else would he consider going out in public with that ridiculous terry cloth sweat band wrapped around his head and those white tube socks pulled up halfway to his crotch?  And, as if that weren’t bad enough – and that alone was pretty frightening – his shorts were on the wrong side of too short, leaving little to the imagination.  Horrified beyond words by this sight, I take a big swig from my water bottle and pray the bitter bile that is tickling the back of my throat will recede.

Forty-five minutes in, I am treated to another Florence & the Machine tune, Drumming Song, and I pick up the pace.  As the sweat streams down my back in earnest now, I catch sight of a class beginning just beyond the glass windows that enclose the room with the dance floor.  An aerobic class with dance overtones, it seems.  They remind me of those little furry rodent things – Meerkats, I think they’re called – all lined up in nice neat rows.  I watch as they begin to move in unison – well almost in unison.  Some are quite coordinated, their movements flowing and graceful.  Others not so much.  They are awkward, stunted even, and struggle to keep up as the intensity of the class builds.  This seems to me to be a classic game of survival of the fittest.  The stronger ones will dominate while the weaker ones are destined to be trampled upon and left for dead in piles of panting goo on the shiny wooden floor.  I shudder at the potential carnage.  I vow to never step foot in that room.  I would surely be picked off by the stronger members of the pack.  A coordinated dancer, I am not.

So, finally the bike’s screen tells me that I’ve accomplished what I didn’t think I could do today.  I’ve made it through the entire hour of spinning.  I wouldn’t say it passed quickly.  An hour is an hour, after all.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider getting off at the thirty minute mark.  But I didn’t and now it’s over.  I head to the locker room to collect my things on legs that feel a little like numb Jell-O – not that I know what numb Jell-O feels like, but I can imagine – feeling quite pleased with myself.  I round the corner and BAM!  I am accosted by a sight that I should be used to, but sadly, I am not.

Naked lady.