Thursday, July 21, 2011

Really, Someone Should Collect My Letters for Posterity

I cannot adequately describe what these cans smell like.  But I CAN tell you that I will NEVER forget it.  Ever.  Even with strong drugs.


I received my shipment of cat food today. Unfortunately, the box lacked proper packing material or had some other issue, because three of the large cans of cat food had been compromised and had leaked all over the others. The shipment then sat on my front porch in the hot sun all day and now smells like something DIED on the cans. There are foul stenches in this world --and I'm a mother so I am familiar with a lot of them--but I have rarely smelled anything more gag-inducing than the smell of canned cat food that has been out in the sun all day.

I can deal with the smell--sort of--since I'm dieting (and who needs to feel hungry, anyway?), but would like for the damaged cans to be credited to my next shipment.

If you want me to, I can send the three open cans back to you.

In case you're dieting, too.

Barb Cooper

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

AND It Doesn't Even Explode!

(I'm going to apologize right here for this blog post. As I was putting the finishing touches on it, I realized that I had written the entire thing as a vehicle for the link to the exploding patio furniture, which I thought was hilarious, in an "I need therapy" sort of way. I sincerely hope I haven't bored anyone to death.)

We've been shopping for patio furniture.

For, um, three years now.

We left our heavy wrought-iron furniture behind when we moved from Texas --it was pretty beat up after ten years pool-side and too heavy to add to the already groaning moving van.  My husband had closed on our house a few weeks before we moved and had bought some cheap outdoor chairs to use while he waited for us to join him. Those became our outdoor furniture.

For the next three years.

Here's a tiny video of what it looked like.  (On April 1 of this year.  When it was snowing.) (Not that I'm still bitter or anything.)

Every year, we'd think about buying new patio furniture but something always happened.  The first year, we had just moved in and I was busy buying things like, couches and dining room chairs and rugs and stuff.  The second year, we had a new puppy and we went to Europe, which took all available cash.  The third year, the FULF had me laid up and by the time I awakened from my 100-year slumber, all patio furniture was already sold out in the stores.  Seriously, the season up here apparently ends on July 1st.

THIS year, I really wanted to buy new patio furniture.  We spend so much time outside in this glorious weather and I wanted to sit in a chair that didn't threaten to drip rusty water on my shoes.

I asked my Facebook clan what they recommended and we had some debate about wrought iron vs. cast aluminum.  I kind of wanted wrought iron because I don't really ever want to buy patio furniture again. But all wrought iron furniture looks like it's vintage to me, and I'm kind of a modern girl so I couldn't find anything I liked.

I took the girls with me to check out what was still available at Home Depot.
Ana, prepared to duck and roll in the event of explosion.

Unfortunately, Home Depot was completely sold out of dining sets. We toyed with just buying a conversation pit, because it really was offered at a huge savings. Unfortunately, it's from the Martha Stewart Living collection and...well... had the potential of exploding.

I would be very put out if I'd spent all this time shopping for just the right patio set and it exploded.

So, we went with the non-exploding one that we found at a store that turned out to be owned by a couple who lives in our neighborhood, Genealogie Home and Garden.  I highly recommend them--they delivered for free and threw in the umbrella for good measure. Only, as it turns out, I had already bought a giant red umbrella at The Christmas Store, which is a store that has nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas. (I'm still in my red phase.)

(Okay, okay, so, as has been the theme of my summer, I bought the umbrella and it didn't fit the old table and I couldn't take it back because I had thrown away the receipt accidentally. I am challenged in so many ways--this is just one of them.)

So, here it is:
Now all our yard needs is a giant metal chicken and we're good to go.
Here's Jane, sitting at the new table and attempting to liven this blog post up with her outfit:
It's complicated.

Friday, July 15, 2011

And Now for Something Completely Different from THAT

So, it was with fear and trepidation that I posted my last post about how I had lost my faith in Lance Armstrong. I was honestly worried that I would get hate mail from Lance supporters. I posted it once and then took it down, let myself sleep on it, and then posted it again.

As it turned out, you didn't much care about Lance. "Lance who?" you seemed to ask. "Lance is so LAST DECADE."

It turns out, though, that what y'all really wanted to talk about was my giraffe shirt and the wisdom of wearing such.

I know.

I just...know.

The truly best part about this shirt is that it has stitching that adds texture to it.
Click to embiggen and see the intricate detail.  You know you want to.
(My husband said, "That's either the best shirt or the worst shirt ever.")

The thing is, that's not even the worst shirt I own.

Does this painting make me look fat?
This week my girls have been in sailing camp, through the Huntington YMCA. It's been a really good experience and a good camp and they are actually SAILORS now.
Jane bringing her mighty ship into port. (Click to embiggen.)
Ana doing something sailor-ish.
The Huntington YMCA Fleet
The thing about this camp is... everything about it was pretty fun, except the counselors.  A couple of them were really nice and seemed to remember that camp is supposed to be, you know, FUN, but then there was the usual contingent of Surly and Superior. I did my thing where I take the head counselor aside and explain that we're from the South and we really don't respond very well to people yelling at us and then things seemed to get a bit better, but really, should I HAVE to do that?

Oh well, the girls had a pretty fun time and learned a new skill and Ana made a new friend in the form of her sailing partner.  But we seriously thought about doing another week of this camp --which is pretty expensive --and now I don't think we're going to because it just wasn't as fun as it could have been.


I know you all were wondering, "WHERE are the pictures of the tomato sandwiches???"

(You are, right?  RIGHT?)


It is taking FOREVER for my tomatoes to ripen.  Last year, I'd been eating tomato sandwiches for two weeks by now. I did get an inkling that the harvest is coming along today (

(Parenthetical photo, she says modestly. Bow before my parenthetical prowess!)

I will confess that I panicked a few weeks ago thinking I had forgotten to plant jalapeño peppers this year.  So, I planted a couple of extra plants just to be sure we'd have jalapeños... actually did that twice. (I know.  I just...know.)

So, I have SIX jalapeño plants and they are producing peppers at an astonishing rate.  This is TODAY'S harvest:
If I hadn't had the cucumbers in the "C" and the "L" shapes, I guess I could have spelled out "Hot" but perhaps I am over-thinking the whole Fun with Produce thing. (Shocker.) (I mean, really, ME? OVER THINKING? Pshaw.)
Jane (10) bought, with her own money, a new beach chair. She's grown attached to it and now watches TV like this:

Would you make me some popcorn?

Saturday, July 09, 2011

And Now For Something Completely Different

I haven't written about the Tour de France in a long time.

Long-term readers will remember that I am a huge professional cycling fan--it's really the only sport I follow. I just love those cyclists.  I think they are so valiant and I think their sport is INCREDIBLY punishing and yet they do it, day after day, largely because of their love for the sport. I guess I'm kind of a sucker for boys and their bikes.

We started following the Tour when I was pregnant with Jane (now 10) and we've watched it every year since. I've written about being a Cycling Widow. When my husband and I took our daughters to Germany to meet my extended family in 2009, we stole away for four days and drove to France and on those tortuous winding mountain roads (I did NOT throw up out of the window of our car, but dudes, it was close.) so that we could see THIS:

Lance Armstrong (and about half of my husband --in the blue shirt and black shorts.)

I've written about my faith in Lance Armstrong a LOT.

As I was trying to survive my own journey of Chronic Pain, I clung to the idea that he was one of the good guys.  That he was out there winning the greatest and toughest sports event in the world on nothing but his indefatigable spirit and targeted, savvy training.  I needed to believe in him.  I needed to feel that sometimes the good guys finish first--because I was slowly drowning in pain and I could see no way out.

Only, see, at some point, I just... kind of...lost that faith in Lance Armstrong.

I lost my faith that it was possible to compete at the top level in the sport of professional cycling without using performance enhancing drugs. And you know, even if the entire freaking sport has a systemic use of drugs, it's still cheating.

It's cheating. And it broke my dang heart.

I didn't write about it.  I just kind of accepted that my faith was gone and added that negative baggage to all the other negative baggage I was carrying at that time.

One by one, almost all the riders whom I idolized and defended confessed to doping and were sanctioned.

Except Lance. Lance has still never tested positive, not that we know of, anyway. I'm not slinging any accusations at him --there are plenty of those floating around already. I WANT him to be clean. I just don't believe he is. I have no proof; just a gut feeling that makes me slightly ill. I don't want to get into a protracted debate about this --believe what you want. In the end, the nitty gritty details of the cheating don't really even matter to me. When THIS article by Bill Strickland (if you click on only one link in this post, make it that one) came out, it summed up everything I'd been feeling. I don't want to take away from the accomplishments of Lance--he still did things no other bike rider has ever done. He changed the sport of cycling through his training techniques. He helped inspire an entire generation of people battling cancer to keep fighting-- he DID beat cancer and come back to ride the Tour de France a bazillion times. (Most of us can't do that even if we're totally healthy and still young.) It's worth something.

But I just don't want to watch a bunch of cheaters. That's no fun for me. And as I was looking for inspiration and motivation to help me survive some of the darkest days of my life, I couldn't find it in my beloved sport of cycling.

I was heartbroken.  Cynical and heartbroken and in a whole lot of excruciating pain. Those were some fun times.

So, then, oddly enough, on the very day I took that photograph of Lance, my husband and I stumbled into an AMAZING five-star restaurant in the tiny town in which we were staying.  (And "stumbled in" may be totally accurate since we'd been watching the Tour all day and that is some hard drinking right there.) As we were sitting, I noticed Jonathan Vaughters being seated at a nearby table.

It's true, I am a total geek: I knew who Jonathan was immediately. Jonathan is a former cyclist --he rode with Lance on the US Postal team in 1999 and you may remember that he was thCrédit Agricole rider in the 2001 Tour de France who was forced to abandon the race after he was stung by a wasp above his eye and the powers-that-be refused to let him use cortisone on the wound.  (If that doesn't just sum up the schizophrenic approach of professional cycling toward doping vs. MEDICINE, I don't know what does.) After his days as a rider were over, he started a professional cycling team and that's why he was in an obscure town in France at the same time we were. His team was riding.

Jonathan is just...well, one of the coolest personalities in the sport. He's a dapper and flamboyant dresser, a wine connoisseur and gourmand, and a highly, highly articulate, charming and intelligent man.

Despite my liquid courage, other than pointing out that "JONATHAN-FREAKING-VAUGHTERS IS SITTING RIGHT NEXT TO US," I was far too shy to actually say anything to him.  My husband, though, is made of sterner stuff, plus he's a cyclist so he understands that cyclists are usually more approachable than, say, rock stars. He approached Jonathan and asked if we could buy the man a drink. Or, if he wasn't too fried from the day's events, could we persuade him to join us for dinner?

Jonathan ended up joining us for dinner and we closed the place down.
Yes, it's a giraffe.  I don't want to talk about why I thought that was a suitable fashion choice. Maybe I thought it would make me look THINNER.
It was one of the most amazing nights of my life--a chance connection with someone who is important in the sport we love, at a five-star restaurant with the most amazing wine I've ever consumed --lots of great conversation and this weird thing that happened when chance hedgehog came by.  (Seriously, a hedgehog.)

Here's the hedgehog, who hopefully had not consumed as much wine as I had.
But anyway, a little sprig of something started that night. A little bit of hope -- because in the course of our conversation with Jonathan, he explained that his team's dedication to a zero tolerance for doping wasn't just a publicity hook.  He spoke passionately about why he thought the doping culture was killing cycling and told us that his team had the most stringent anti-doping measures in place, that the riders themselves were all virulently committed to riding clean.

I believed him, I really did.

But honestly? I doubted that they would ever see huge success in a sport so riddled with cheaters. (I TOLD you I was cynical.)

Over the past few years, we've had the opportunity to meet Jonathan and his lovely girlfriend (you're not clicking on any of these links, are you? Well, click on that one because Ashley is a good writer and she writes about WINE.) a few times in New York City for meals.  One time we went and actually had drinks with some members of the team --David Millar and Tyler Farrar and a handful of others.  They are the NICEST guys. (Seriously, as we were saying goodbye, David Millar leaned over (he's tall) and gave me a hug and I was so taken aback that I blurted out, "Oh, my gosh!  You're so NICE!" because I am all socially adept in that way.)

So anyway, fast forward to this year.  As most of you know, this year is already one of the best years of my life. I ended my chronic pain odyssey through acupuncture, found yoga, lost 25 pounds, went off of my lobotomizing anti-depressants --I even quit drinking alcohol because once you've had to surrender a large chunk of your life to pain and despair, you don't want ANYTHING to take the edge off of your joy once you get it back. I'm happier, more balanced, more creative, more energetic than I have been at any other time since before I hit my 40's.

And it just so happens that this year? This is also the year that Jonathan's team, Garmin-Cervélo, earned the yellow jersey in the second stage of the Tour de France, and kept it (as of this writing) for more than a week. They WON the Team Time Trial stage, and Tyler won another stage, as well.  The team leader, Thor Hushovd, is the only rider in the Tour this year (as of this writing) who has finished every stage in the top ten --the magic of the yellow jersey is pretty astounding.

Basically, this is the year that Jonathan Vaughters showed the world that the nice, clean, PRINCIPLED guys sometimes finish first.

I'm not sure what will happen in this year's Tour, but honestly? It doesn't even matter to me.  In my heart and mind, they've already won it ALL.

(Actually?  I have, too.)

Friday, July 08, 2011

A Day of Extremes

Yesterday was interesting. (Well, to me--some of you may want to just shake your heads and hit "delete" now.)

My mother-in-law left in the morning, early.  While I was waiting for my lovely daughters (Ana (13) and Jane (10)) to get up, I checked in on Facebook (Oh, go on, friend me.  It'll be fun!) and a friend had posted THIS (a site where you sit completely still for two minutes) --which I found nearly impossible to do.  (And if you so much as touch your freaking mouse, the clock starts OVER!  ARGHHHH) and then another friend posted THIS, which is a compilation of the best autocorrect bloopers in June of 2011. (And vastly inappropriate for anyone allergic to profanity or bawdy humor.)  (I, of course, laughed so hard that the dogs came running. Which made me laugh harder.)

So, two minutes of silence and then laughing so hard that I cried.

Extremes, see?

Little did I know that this would set the tone for my whole day.

Then I got the girls all lubed up with sunscreen and fed them breakfast and made their lunches and took them to to their softball camp.  They are both really loving this camp, even though on Wednesday, Jane stepped on a bee (she was barefoot because she couldn't resist running through the sprinklers. Which...

...IS just so JANE.)

Anyway, then I cleaned house for a while, and threw the ball for the dogs, and then I decided to wash my car in the driveway, using the old-fashioned method of Dawn dishwashing detergent and a hose.  I mean, I haven't washed my car by hand since we moved here because of the FULF and the lack of a spigot out front.  But I had a long hose and it was a gorgeous day and I figured why PAY for a mediocre car wash when I can get that at home for free?

Look how shiny!  (But, you know, don't look too closely...)
So, then I came back inside and I looked at the harvest of carrots (which are awfully cute, but unfortunately, taste like a combination of dirt and old sweat socks)

and it was clear that there was only one thing to be done with them:
"Avast there, Matey!"
Alternate caption: "Come back here and I"ll head-butt you to death!"
(Yes, those are blank CDs and some rolled up socks behind the Pirate Carrot.  Because my family WILL use the kitchen island as the repository for All Things Random. No, that doesn't make me crazy.  Not one little bit.  This twitch was caused by OTHER things.)

Then I did some gardening and got bitten by mosquitoes TWICE on my face. Which was annoying. Also, I watched a chipmunk run out of the vegetable garden at full speed.


Just stay the heck out of my veggies, chipmunk, or I will revoke the Cat Curfew!  (Every day, we keep our cats inside from 4:00PM until 9:00AM in an effort to cut down on the rodent carnage wrought by the Orange Pride. You cannot even begin to imagine the language my cats use when they realize they are once again shut in for the night.)

I came inside, showered and scrubbed the upstairs bathrooms (a task I hate almost as much as I enjoy nice clean bathrooms...) and got dressed in grown-up clothes --no yoga pants for me today!  I even wore make-up!  I felt efficient and on top of the world.

Seriously, I was in a kind of SCARY good mood.  In my clean car, in my clean clothes, I went to pick up my daughters at 3:00.

Ana had been awarded Camper of the Day--which was awesome --and she wanted a smoothie so we went to the smoothie shop.  But Jane doesn't like smoothies so then we went to TCBY.  En route, Ana shook her drink to loosen it up and sprayed me with sticky chocolate smoothie.

I was not happy.

Then, in the TCBY parking lot, my new sandal broke.

And there, see: instant bad mood. High to low in an instant. Extreme.

(Ana: "You're ominously silent all of a sudden.")

We came inside the house and I put everyone's stuff away and then I decided to bake bread.  Only I didn't have quite enough yeast.  So I thought I'd go back out, try to return my shoes at TJ Maxx, and buy yeast. Ana came with me.

The people at TJ Maxx wouldn't let me return my shoes because I didn't have any proof that I bought them there. (I do see their point and the manager was as nice as she could be. But it made me sad that we live in a world where they couldn't take the word of a customer. I will call the credit card company and see if they have a copy of the receipt.)

We left and dashed into Trader Joe's, which is next door, to pick up some yeast.

Only, apparently yeast is considered a seasonal item at our local Trader Joe's and is only carried around the holidays.

I KNOW!  I just...


Well...okay, then.

We bought chocolate.

We left and as we were walking across the parking lot, I heard someone trying to start his car and getting the horrible clicking sound that heralds a dead battery. I've been having some similar issues with the van (and am now carrying around a new battery in the trunk of my car, just waiting to be installed.  If my car goes dead, I can jump start it BY MYSELF!) so I recognized that sound immediately.

I looked at Ana.  "We have to, " she said.  So we jump-started the car for this elderly couple, who accused us of clairvoyance.  (I am a whiz at jump-starting cars and during my hey-day, I could do the entire process in under a minute.  In college, I had a 1978 Audi Fox --it was pretty much the only way I could start that car.) (For my 18th birthday, my brother-in-law gave me a set of super heavy duty industrial jumper cables. I still have them.) Anyway, we helped them and then we felt very happy to have made THEM happy.

At home, I finished the bread up and it came out...completely perfect.  Seriously, it was the most gorgeous bread I've ever baked.  Look! (Click to embiggen all of the yeasty goodness.)

I was really excited about it until I tasted it and realized that I'd forgotten to add salt.


High to low--in a matter of seconds.

Extremes all day.

I don't think yesterday was all that unique in its highs and lows, actually. But I think my responses were all over the map, which was kind of exhausting. I think one reason I am off of my even keel is that my yoga instructor is on vacation this week and I haven't had the discipline to practice at home, nor the time to find an alternative class. I don't have my Yoga Calm (TM) and I'm really missing it. I realize how much a part of my life it has become --how breathing through annoyance has become my default coping mechanism.

I better make time for yoga tomorrow or chipmunks everywhere will tremble at the sound of my name.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

What a WEEK I'm Having

(Quick, name that 80's movie!)

(As always, you can click on the photos and they will magically embiggen in a new window.)

The girls started swim lessons.
And as you can see, Jane was really happy about it.  The sombrero adds a nice touch, no?
My father-in-law came for a visit and left again:
I seem to be challenged when it comes to taking photos when my father-in-law is here.  I don't know why --maybe because we stay pretty busy.  At any rate, here he is with Ana. (And yes, she really is 13 and THAT tall.)
And my mother-in-law arrived for a visit.

Coincidentally, we had just taken our house off of the market and naturally, we had four showings the week after that happened. Because, you know, of COURSE we did. Because having house showings when we have house guests just when we think our house is OFF of the market is really relaxing and fun.  You bet. (Did I mention we have to take our dogs with us while the house showing is going on?  And that our auxiliary dog, Scout, is INCREDIBLY car sick?  Yeah. Fun on a STICK.)

For my mother-in-law's birthday, we took her into New York City to see the Cirque du Soleil production of Zarkana.

You know how when you see a really amazing show with people doing things with their bodies that make you want to flee your own life so that you can join their troupe of really bendy people and hang from some apparatus while putting both legs behind your head?

It was like that.

Seriously, at the age of 46, I had my first-ever desire to run away and join the circus.

It was THAT amazing.

So then we had a birthday dinner for my mother-in-law and then yesterday was the Fourth of July, where we went to not one but TWO beaches.

Here is my teenager, who got up at noon and then at 3PM, took a nap on the beach for an hour or so.  Complete with ear buds. Because that's what teenagers do, I guess.  (I'm new to this.)
Summer is exhausting.

Here is Jane, doing her patented beach dance.  There has just never been a kid who is happier at the beach.  She gets into the water NO MATTER THE TEMPERATURE.  We've taken to calling her the Honey Badger. (I would link to that, but this is a family blog.  If you are not profanity adverse, go to Youtube and search for "Honey Badger Don't Care" and choose the one narrated by Randall.  I haven't heard my husband laugh that hard in a long time.)

Yes, that water is below 70 degrees and there is a fierce wind blowing.  What's your point? HONEY BADGER DON'T CARE!

Unfortunately, right after these were taken, a wave swamped her and her glasses were lost to the deep.  Even THIS was not a catastrophe since she was wearing her back-up glasses at the time, but she was disconsolate. Poor Honey Badger. (My husband also lost his wedding ring on this trip to the beach.  He'd taken it off for safekeeping, but we think it fell out of the safe pocket in our camera bag when he pulled out his wallet to pay for lunch.)

(I know y'all are adding up the cost of this beach trip and it's a little staggering. But dudes, we went to the BEACH.  So, really, how bad could life be?
No need to find a happy place because I am ALREADY THERE.
(Yes, a parenthetical picture.  Because I am back in good form and I am the Master of Parentheses.)

So, then we came home, got Jane's other glasses, cleaned up a little and headed back out to watch the fireworks at another beach.  It was really beautiful but, sensing a theme, I FORGOT MY CAMERA and so now all of that loveliness exists only in our memories.

Which may be the best way of all to watch fireworks.