Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Thoughts On Tailgating

Well, I have received my first official blog request from my friend Stacy. Her topic of choice? Tailgating. Not the intoxicated-and-shirtless-man-mass-huddled-around-a- barbeque-grill-in-the-parking-lot kind of tailgating. I’ve come to believe that such a scenario either exists only in Miller Lite commercials or is simply foreign to my world, because I have yet to witness anything like it firsthand. This is probably because parking lots in Phoenix are much like crock pots, and, were Phoenicians to tailgate, burgers and bratwurst could be prepared sans grill, seared to perfection on the hood of an F-150. No, I’ve been assigned to write about the other kind of tailgating. The kind of tailgating that has elicited such bumper stickers as: “I brake for tailgaters,” “Stop tailgating me, or I’ll flick a booger on your windshield,” and “Unless you’re a hemorrhoid, get off my…” Well, you get the picture.

The experience of being tailgated almost always begins with a look into the rearview mirror. You’ll glance up at it as you do periodically, then do a double-take, wondering why the car behind you has no hood. “Am I towing somebody?” you may wonder to yourself. Perhaps so, but more likely you are the victim of a tailgater. I think the offense that we find with tailgaters is similar to that which we find with close-talkers: an invasion of personal space. The difference with a close-talker is that if you need to suddenly end the conversation, the threat of whiplash is not involved. This must be why following too closely can be punishable by law and close-talking is only a minor social annoyance. But that is a blog for another time.

I find that riding in the car with a tailgater is far more nerve-wracking than actually being tailgated. The driver will carry on casually, oblivious to the concept of a following distance and completely unaware of the nail marks that you are leaving in the armrest. You may attempt to hold up your end of the conversation with distracted “uh-huh”s and “oh, really?”s, but mentally you are occupied with visions of truck under-ride and airbags deploying as your right foot continues to involuntarily press down on the imaginary passenger-side brake pedal.

I must admit, as most of us would, that I have been on both sides of tailgating. I’m not much of an aggressive driver now that I cart around two babies in the backseat, but over the years I have learned a thing or two about the practice both firsthand and through the observation of others. One thing is for sure: while there may be a time now and then when tailgating is warranted, there are more often times to relax and back off. So I will wrap up this fragmented entry by compiling a short list of guidelines that the casual tailgater may find helpful in discerning when tailgating might not be the best idea.

When Not to Tailgate

-On the freeway.

-When testing for your driver's license.

-When you’re stuck behind a car that has had its turn signal on for 6 blocks. This is a waste of your energy. If they haven’t noticed the continuous clicking and flashing lights coming from their dashboard, they most certainly are not going to notice you either.

-When the car in front of you displays any or all of the aforementioned bumper stickers.

-When any of your passengers have a known heart condition.

- When driving without car insurance, or with a deductible that could single-handedly send you into personal bankruptcy.

- Sunday mornings, en route to church. Chances are, the driver in front of you meandering along at 10 miles below the speed limit is headed to the same place you are. Better to be a few minutes late then to rear end an elder.

-When the car in front of you indicates an affiliation with the NRA.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

No More Blue Runs

Matthew and I are off on a ski retreat with West Valley Bible Church this weekend, leading worship for their youth group. Our girls are in the care of a 10-person tag team babysitting extravaganza, so for the next three days we will experience both the miss and the bliss that goes along with leaving them behind. Part of the bliss is chances like this, to write uninterrupted for hours at a time, so I will take this opportunity to document our adventures thus far.

Our first day on the slopes was tenuous, at best. We’ve both been skiing before, but once we had strapped them on we realized that skiing is not quite like riding a bike. Lathered in sunscreen and layered with clothing, we shuffled over to the nearest lift up an easy hill and away we went. The majority of the conversation on the ski lift was spent in a concentrated discussion on how we were going to accomplish getting off of the lift without colliding into each other and tumbling down the mountain in a tangled mess. We reviewed the disembarking strategies and agreed on who would veer in which direction, vowing not to take the other down with us. As the top loomed, we shifted into position. Eyes wide and breathes held we pushed off the chair and executed our plan. We slid to a stop. We were still standing. My ear- to-ear grin of relief and Matthew’s hearty “Woo-hoo!” must have made our state of affairs obvious to other greenhorn skiers as they smiled and laughed in acknowledgement and kindred spirit. Unfortunately, this would not be the only laughter we would encounter from other skiers that day.

Our first couple runs down were pretty uneventful. We spent them relearning the balance, coordination, and complete disregard for personal safety necessary for successful skiing. Avoiding falls is always my highest priority, as evidenced in my painstakingly slow descent down the mountain, providing Matthew with ample opportunities to practice stopping. About the third time down we came to a fork in the slope with an easy run (green) going one direction and a more difficult run (blue) going the other. We both decided that it was time for Matthew to move on to bigger, better, and steeper things. So we wished each other well and went our separate ways. I coasted off carefully down the winding green slope, and soon I came to another fork offering a blue run. I stopped and assessed the situation. It looked harmless enough. A little steeper, but it was certainly wider than the slope I was on now. With Matthew’s line of progress resembling that of the stock market in the 1990’s and mine the 1930’s, I knew I had to try something to improve myself. This ambition, combined with an insufficient supply of oxygen to the brain, led me to leave the safety of the green run and turn off onto the blue.

I started out okay, making wide, careful turns across the hill, until I reached a crest in the slope where I stopped to survey what was beyond it. It was only then that I was able to see what qualified this run as a blue: Moguls. For those of you who have never done something this stupid, moguls are large mounds of snow built up to create a landscape of miniature mountains that a skier must navigate through. Indeed, the wide road leads to destruction. I turned and looked back up the hill, considering hiking back to the green run, but wasn’t sure I was able to do even that. So I gathered my courage and began to make my way down.

The next 15 minutes were simply pitiful. I slid around like a Labrador on ice skates, barely managing to stay on my feet. About 20 yards into the moguls, my better judgment finally kicked in. “This is ridiculous,” I thought to myself. I wobbled over to the side of the run and removed my skis, planning to hoof it down to safety. As I sat in the snow, I heard skiers coming down behind me. “I’m going to watch how this is done,” I decided, turning up the hill to see them. And watch I did, as a mother and her six-year-old daughter went swooshing down, having the time of their lives. Now completely deflated, I rose to my feet to begin the walk of shame, only to quickly realize that walking down was not even an option. The slope was too steep and too icy to keep decent footing. It was time for plan B. I sat down in the middle of the run, lifted my feet off of the snow, and let physics take over from there. I must say, butt-sledding down the remainder of the run was probably the most fun I had all day. I slid to a stop at the end where another green run awaited me. It took me a good 10 minutes to reattach my skis, so by the time I reached the bottom of the mountain I had been up there for over a half-hour. I kept picturing Matthew worrying at the lodge, maybe sending one of those rescue teams after me. I scanned the mass of people surrounding the lift, but I couldn’t spot him. I turned around and lo and behold, there he was, just coming to the bottom of the slope. My first thought was that he had gone back up to look for me and was now returning, but in fact he too had just completed his descent. “That was horrible,” he gasped, and we took turns dramatically relating our respective miseries to one another.

It turned out that the blue run where we originally separated turned into an expert run about halfway down. Knowing his limits, he too took off his skis and decided to hike across the wooded area to an easier run. It wasn’t long before he was up to his chest in snow drifts, laboring over each step. He in turn was picturing me at the bottom of the mountain, worrying that he had been gone for so long. After enduring sweat and snowdrifts and the ridicule of grade-schoolers on the lift above him, he was finally able to make it down the mountain a mere 15 seconds after I did. Upon completion of the telling of our tales, we both heartily agreed- no more blue runs.

Matthew and I went out after lunch and stuck to the greens for a run or two. Matthew ended up back on the blue runs before the end of the day, and had an absolute blast. I stayed on the greens that time around and again managed not to fall for the rest of the afternoon. Matthew is back out on the mountain this morning, testing his limits and rising to new challenges. And as for me, I sit here by the fireplace in our room, enjoying the snow falling outside our window, my skis in the closet where they belong.

The last time I went skiing, I noticed that my level of ability was beginning to correlate with my age. When I was 11, I was amazing, speeding fearlessly down the slopes. Then at 15, aware of my mortality, I took a few more precautions but maintained a taste for the thrill. By 19 I was all about taking it slow-and-steady, but still enjoyed myself. And now, 24 and a mom, I think that perhaps my skiing and snowboarding days are over.

Skiing is not very much fun unless you are willing to take some chances, but the thrill in taking chances has somewhat faded for me. Perhaps it is because what I am chancing is infinitely more valuable now that ever before. But whatever it is, I resist this change of heart because I know that this is how people get old. They lose their sense of adventure and spontaneity, becoming fearful, worrisome people whose chief concern is to avoid hazards and prolong their lives. Growing old is a daunting prospect ( I’ve always prayed for death before dentures). I imagine that it must happen slowly and quietly, like sinking into quicksand, until one day you wake up terrified of eating a mad cow, boarding a doomed airplane, or investing in anything but your IRA. The fact that I no longer find skiing enjoyable is probably not going to mean my total demise, but it serves as a good reminder. When those risks that truly matter present themselves, those risks for the cause of Christ, I want to be found holding my life so loosely that at a moment’s notice I would lay it down for Him.

Someone just popped their head in the door and invited me to go inner tubing down the slopes with them. This is an invitation to put on layers of waterproof clothing, leave my cozy lodge room, and go out into the cold only to careen down snowy embankments at unreasonable speeds with no way of controlling myself, much less stopping.

Well then, I guess I’d better get going.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Throw Pillows

A few years ago Matthew and I were in the market for a sofa, and we had it narrowed down to two choices: A green one and a gray one. The retailer didn’t actually call the gray one “gray”, probably because “gray” makes the buyer think of depressing things like cloudy days and getting old. Instead they called it “bone”, which for me isn’t much of an improvement given that I immediately visualize the remnants of my 3-piece Original Recipe Meal sitting in the garbage can. To give the bone couch a fair shot in the decision-making process, I mentally renamed the green couch “peas, trampled underfoot”.

Both sofas were made of a very nice micro-fiber, sheik yet inviting. But the green couch had a very distinct disadvantage. It was flanked on either side by the most hideous throw pillows we had ever seen. They were leather, which is usually a positive quality when dealing with furniture, but not these pillows. These pillows were multi-colored scraps of cowhide sewn together into a mosaic of pure ugly. Just the sight of them made our faces contort, but we decided to do our best to look past them knowing that throw pillows can indeed be thrown- far, far away.

We began to bargain with the saleswoman on the green couch. It was soon established that it was impossible for us to purchase this particular sofa without involuntarily acquiring the throw pillows as well. After we had spent some time negotiating and were still several hundred dollars apart, Matthew posed an intriguing question. How much of the price, he inquired, was tied up in those pillows? The saleswoman, who had up to this point been referring to my husband as “sweetheart” and “honey”, began to get a little less affectionate. She obliged, however, and retreated to the backroom to crunch a few numbers. Several minutes later, she returned with the answer: Ninety dollars a piece. Matthew’s eyes grew very wide. It was not looking good for the green couch.

The saleswoman tried to reason with us. She even suggested buying the couch and selling the pillows to someone else. But since we didn’t know any blind people with $180 to burn on cushions, that was simply not a viable option. The bone couch was looking pretty good by now with its sensibly matching pillows, and it was indeed the bone couch that we purchased that day. I feel a little sorry for the green couch, but not nearly as sorry as for whoever purchased it. And if, by chance, you’re reading this saying “Hey, I think she’s talking about my couch”, then you should be sorry too, because you have really, really bad taste. :)

Sunday, March 05, 2006

He Will Gather the Lambs In His Arms

It’s shortly after midnight and there’s no way I’m getting back to sleep anytime soon. I guess I’ll just write it out until the melatonin gets the best of me and overcomes the lingering adrenaline. Bethany woke up about an hour ago crying hysterically, and when I went to her she recoiled from my touch and fought against me as I tried to lift her from her crib. Matthew came in a few moments later and was able to take her in his arms and, after several more minutes of crying, to settle her. We spent the next half hour or so trying to decipher what was so terribly wrong and tried to calm and reorient her. We were finally able to get her back to sleep, though we still had no idea what the cause was. Matthew went back to bed and I went straight to Google, a mother’s 24-hour best friend. After about 10 minutes of research I am pretty confident that Bethany had what is known as a “night terror”. It’s different from a nightmare in that your body is awake while your mind is still sleeping. Apparently it’s very common and not really anything too serious, apart from giving mom and dad a heart attack. I don’t know who actually experienced more “night terror”- Bethany or me, but given the fact that she’s in her crib sleeping peacefully and I’m sitting here writing a blog entry, I’m going to go with me.

They say that having a child is like having a little piece of your heart walking around, exposed and vulnerable to the world. I have come to find this to be one of the most accurate analogies ever presented. It’s one of those things you can never understand until you’re in the place yourself, and I have already had several occasions to understand it. I remember the way my dad would recount the “scariest moment of his life”, when my sister was careening down a hill on a sled, accelerating and out of control, completely unaware of the fast-approaching stand of trees as the bottom. “I thought I’d lost her…” he’d say. That was always just a story to me, kind of an oh-wow-that’s-interesting sort of thing. But I get it now. I know what it’s like to think you’ve lost her and I know how heavy a heart is when it plunges into your stomach. And you know what's even scarier? I’ve only been a parent for 18 months.

At times like these I ask myself, what did I sign up for here? Did I miss some of the fine print? You know, the part about loving someone so much that your heart physically aches for her and that when she hurts, you hurt worse? The part that tells you that neither your greatest dreams nor your worst nightmares will ever be about you again, but that life in all its sweetness and bitterness is bound up in these fragile little creatures? We are so beautifully helpless as parents. We can teach them, we can train them, we can give them Tylenol, but we cannot save them. We can only trust. Trust that the Shepherd who gathers the lambs in his arms will indeed gather ours to Himself, and that He who laid His Lamb upon the altar will gently lead us on.

“He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” –Isaiah 40:11

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Age of The Smell Test

Just the other morning I found myself faced with a potentially life-and-death decision. I will do my best to communicate the conflict despite the fact that, seeing as I am obviously alive to tell the tale, much of the suspense of the moment will be lost.

I had just finished up my oatmeal, prepared the only way I'll eat it: Mixed into chocolate chip cookie batter and baked in the oven, and I was craving a tall glass of ice cold milk. I opened the fridge and pulled out the carton. Judging by how little was left, I figured it had been in there for a while, so I checked the date printed on the side. There are two dates, actually: The "sell by" date and the "use by" date, both of which invariably include the year, as though such a specification were necessary to distinguish between milk that is 3 days old and milk that is 364 days old. In any event, I've always been a stickler on expiration dates, especially on dairy products, so whenever I come across milk that is even past its "sell by" date, I'll either throw out the remaining milk and open a new carton or I'll pour it into Matthew's glass because he never knows the difference anyway. But this morning was a turning point. Just six days prior I had implemented a new family budget which included significant cuts in the grocery department. Every dollar would be accounted for. Every receipt would be analyzed. Something had to give.

I read the date, looked at the calendar, and did the math. Three days. Not past sell by. Past use by. I was practically holding a carton of toxic waste. Fighting back the urge to deposit it directly into the outdoor trash can and despite the fact that there was a brand-new container, pristine and unopened, sitting in the fridge, in the interest of frugality I emptied the substance into my glass. I stared at the milk, waiting for something to happen. Bubbles, floating chunks, perhaps melting glass. Nothing. It just sat there, perfectly nonchalant about being three days expired. I was not convinced. Eyeing it suspiciously, I slowly leaned forward to perform “The Smell Test”. The Smell Test ruled in my house growing up. If something was questionable, my mom or dad would simply give it a good whiff to see if it smelled "bad". I always wondered what it would have to smell like for my parents to deem it "bad". Garbage? Feet? Dorito-breath? I don't know that there was ever a set rule since my parents still can't agree on how long eggs are safe. Mom says two weeks past the sell by. Dad seems to think that as long as no baby chickens are hatching in the refrigerator, they're good to go.

I gave my milk a cautious sniff. No garbage, no feet. I took a small sip. It tasted fine. Refreshing, even. With a sense of liberation I threw the empty carton into the trash, scoffing at its melodramatic scare tactics. They would phase me no longer. It was the end of an era. The ushering in of the Age of The Smell Test.