Sunday, November 18, 2012

Leave(s) Me Alone

Autumn is a favorite season for many people. Grown-up people. People who appreciate the change brought on by the September equinox, resulting from the yearly revolution of the earth around the sun and the tilt of the earth's axis relative to the revolution. I'm excluded from this group.

Actually, that's not true. There are things I appreciate about fall. I appreciate that my toes are now covered up, so I can stop fretting about how terrible my toenails look because I'm too lazy to paint them and too cheap to get a pedicure. I appreciate that the library is quiet again because all the kids are back in school. And of course, I appreciate the changing landscape, when the trees show off their vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges. Once the leaves fall off the trees, though, that's when the appreciation ends and the aggravation begins.

We live on a one-acre lot. Given my urban upbringing, I'd always associated the measurement "acre" with farmland, certainly not yard. When we first looked at our home and I was told the house stood on an acre-sized lot, I looked out the window, expecting to see livestock lumber by. To my husband, an acre is nothing. He grew up in the country, and hopes one day to have the kind of land he grew up on: acre upon acre of rolling hills, ponds, trees, deer, and unshaven men carrying hatchets and riding ATVs and snowmobiles. I can't wait.

Well, B might have to wait for the acerage, but he didn't have to wait to get his trees. He was blessed with about 100 of them, and what seems to be their perpetual leaf production. The trees provide shade in the summer, beauty and interest in the winter, and in between, they provide nothing but drudergy. If we didn't do anything about the falling leaves, they'd be waist high by October 10. By Halloween, we'd lose our children when they went into the yard. By Thanksgiving, you'd be hard-pressed to find our house. It's best if we stay on top of the leaf situation.

Years ago, B would spend countless hours taking care of the yard in the fall. He had an elaborate system of moving leaves onto tarps and dragging the tarps to the curb, depositing the leaves for the city to pick up.  He'd come in the house when it got dark, cheeks flushed, smelling of fall. "That's a lot of work," I'd say. "Are you sure you don't need help?" He'd wave me off. "Of course not!" he'd say. He took a great amount of pride in the leaf job being his, and his alone. Most of our neighbors hired out their leaf removal, but not us. As the gargantuan piles of leaves grew bigger every day, people would stop and ask, Who did all this? Who did you hire? No one, B would say. I did it all myself.

Eleven years later, B's day job is much more demanding, leaving less time for him to be in his beloved yard. I bought him a leaf blower for his 30th birthday ("The best gift you ever got me!"), but even that high-powered piece of equipment can't keep up with the torrent of leaves. So this year, because I'm home during the day, I had no choice but to take over the leaf job myself. This idea made B nervous. 

"Now, do you know what to do?"  he asked me.

"Do I know what to do?" I asked. "I rake the leaves onto a tarp and drag them to the curb."

"Yes, but do you know the system?" He took my arm and guided me to the window. The same window I had looked out 11 years ago, expecting to see cattle. "You have to start over there, under those shrubs. Use a hard rake to get the leaves out from under there. Do you know what a hard rake is?" I looked at my husband. I realized at that moment that he thinks I'm an imbecile. I turned away, grabbed my coat and went outside. And I didn't come in for a week, except to cook dinner and put my children to bed.

People took notice. They're not used to seeing me outside for extended periods when the temperature dips below 70. And the fact that I was doing yard work made people wonder if my husband had died. They were relieved when they'd see B arrive home from work. And when he went outside to survey my progress, neighbors would corner him.  "Did you know your wife was out here? Raking? She even used a hard rake!" 

Day after day I'd head outside to tackle another section of the yard. I wore the same clothes every day to conserve laundry, even the day after it rained, when I was covered in mud. The next morning, when I walked into the kitchen, my children looked at me and then looked down at the trail of dirt I was leaving. Bravely, Sam asked, "Uh, Mom? Are you going to change clothes sometime?" This from the boy who once suggested he bathe only at the new moon each month. Sam decided to rescind his question after I told him to do some laundry so that I'd have some clothes to change into. 

The leaf job would have been quicker if I'd been able to use B's leaf blower, but I was strictly forbidden to touch it. And I really couldn't argue. B's tired of repairing or replacing equipment that I've broken. The can opener wasn't so bad, but it was kind of expensive to replace the lawn mower after I pushed it over a tree stump.  When I crashed our riding lawn mower into a tree, I was cut off from using any electrical device other than the coffee maker.  

So I raked. And raked. And raked.  I filled up countless tarps with leaves and dragged them to the curb, creating piles as high as I'm tall. Once, I stopped to look at my progress. I looked at the part of the yard I'd raked, and I thought, Wow! Look how how far I've gotten! And look how nice and clear it looks! Then I turned and looked at the remaining nine-tenths of the yard that I hadn't touched. And I cried. 

But I got through it. And I had a lot of time to think. One day I thought about the time in second grade when my teacher, Mrs. Wooldrick, posed the question, "What's your favorite season?" My classmates shouted out the predictable "Summer!" and "Winter!" But I knew that would do nothing for Mrs. Wooldrick, and I wanted her approval. I knew a woman of her age, which I gauged to be just under 100, would be enchanted by the falling leaves in autumn. I also knew that I'd sound much more sophisticated if I didn't call it fall. So I proudly responded "Autumn!" And just as I predicted, Mrs. Woodrick's wrinkly face lit up, and she said, "Why Sara, autumn is MY favorite season ALSO!"  I basked in the glow of her approval, even though I knew it was wrong to lie and I knew I'd have to go along with the charade that I liked fall for as long as I knew Mrs. Wooldrick. (Or for as long as she lived.)

I'm older and wiser now, so I'll admit it: autumn is not my favorite season. My favorite season is any season but autumn. And if you don't approve, well, then, I have a hard rake with your name on it. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Summer of Sloth

It's summer! It's the time of year most of us live for. School's out, the weather's hot, and the days are long. For some, summer means sending their children off to expensive camps where they learn to speak French or play the oboe; for others, it means packing up their families and heading up to their lakefront cabins. For George Clooney, it means hopping on a private jet with his girlfriend and flying to his Italian villa. For my children and me, it means holing up at home and going to seed.

We're homebodies, my kids and me. Unlike my husband, who's on the same schedule year-round (plus or minus several tee times), things change for my children and me in the summer. We go to bed late and sleep in. We eat odd food at odd hours, as we demonstrated this morning when we had lasagna for breakfast at 10:00. We don't get haircuts, we barely brush our teeth, and we don't shower unless absolutely necessary. It concerns some people, like Mike, the intern pastor at our church.  He looked alarmed when we arrived for the evening service last Sunday. "Sara?" he questioned, looking us up and down. "Were you the lake?"  I think he wanted to say "at the garbage dump," or "wrestling with wolves," but he restrained himself.  "No," I chirped happily. "We slept too late to make it to either service this morning."

I can't blame Intern Mike for being worried.  As a result of our severe lack of hygiene, my kids and I have let our appearance deteriorate from the usual school-year unkempt to the complete disrepair of summertime. If you don't believe me, take a look at this recent photo of us:

I didn't realize how bad it was getting until we were on Nicollet Mall this week after visiting my husband for lunch. Some woman tried to shove a dollar into the cup of coffee I was carrying.  That's when I figured it was time for all of us to comb our hair. And perhaps put on some shoes.  

Why, you ask, aside from occasional visits to the store to restock my supply of Diet Coke, do we stay at home when there's a whole world out there to explore?  Well, why do we need to?  The school year is demanding, so in the summer, some serious R&R is in order. Of course, our idea of R&R would drive some people mad. My best friend Amy, a high-ranking IT executive, brings her daughters to the American Girl store for some family-style enjoyment. Me, on the other hand, a freeloading housewife, can scarcely afford the gas money to get to the Mall of America, much less any purchase at the American Girl store. Fortunately, my kids don't mind. We don't need much. Give us a pile of books, a deck of cards, some lemonade, and ingredients to make M&M cookies (the dough made an excellent breakfast yesterday!), and we're good. Alright, fine. We're lazy.

And just when I thought that we couldn't be any more lazy, my kids decided that the act of speaking in sentences was too much effort. Therefore, they came up with their own language of abbreviated words, so that only the three of us could understand anything that they said.  My daughter wouldn't even look up from her book when I'd walk by and she wanted something to eat. She'd just say "muff", and I could translate that to mean "Mother, may I please have a muffin?"  On the rare occasions that we'd leave the house, my son would say "Yu?" which translates to "Are we going to drive Dad's Yukon?  Because I like riding in his vehicle much better than riding in your 11-year-old sedan.  It's old and it smells funny."  Unfortunately, I had to put a stop to the shorthand when they started abbreviating the words "butter," "hello," "peanut," and "assume."

Although we're in a state of extreme relaxation, we still keep a schedule, mostly because I worry about our muscles going into atrophy. We have our own set of activities every day, and missing them causes a great deal of distress. My daughter almost cried when I was in the bathroom at the scheduled start of our regular Dance Party on the Deck. The only way to redeem myself was to perform the Worm to the ubiquitous "Call Me Maybe." I'm not sure when I'll recover, either physically or emotionally.  Maybe I'll ask Intern Mike to add me to the prayer chain. If he hasn't added all of us already, that is.  

Intern Mike really shouldn't worry about us, though.  Although there's still plenty of summer, it's going to end. Those premature back-to-school ads remind us of that every day. Sometimes I consider what I'll do when school starts again and my kids are gone every day.  But I know the answer: I'll cry and eat cookie dough. And then I'll take a good, long shower. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Excuse Me While I Kiss The Pergo

Last night I was quickly cleaning up the dishes after dinner when it happened. I was in a hurry because I wanted to join my family outside for a game of scramble. In my haste, I dumped over the can I keep for collecting discarded grease. This can had been nearly full, but was now almost empty, its contents quickly spreading across the kitchen floor. Many people would have cursed at this calamitous turn of events. Martha Stewart would surely have fired any minion who spilled a can of grease on her floor. (Except that Martha Stewart probably doesn't eat ground beef, so that example is moot.)  I simply sighed and began the long process of cleaning up my mess. Again.

My clumsiness is something I'm accustomed to. I've learned not to wear white; I've learned not to carry explosives; I've learned not to write with permanent marker without first putting on coveralls. I love wearing high-heeled sandals, but I say a little prayer before I leave the house so I don't end up in the emergency room if I fall off of them. While most people think my fear of heights is just a run-of-the-mill phobia, the truth is that heights pose a real danger to a klutz like me. I suppose I could try to avoid all situations that hold any chance of injury to myself or to others, but that would mean living my life inside an empty closet. Sometimes I think that might not be so bad; the peace and quiet might be nice. But then I think of everything I'd miss out on, like who Kim Kardashian is dating and the decision on the Vikings stadium. Not to mention dinner parties.

I enjoy entertaining, but unlike most hostesses, who only have to worry about the condition of their house, their food, and their kids during dinner, I have the added concern that some sort of mishap will leave me, or worse, one of my guests injured. I haven't injured anyone else (yet), but I once gave myself a second-degree burn on my wrist while making fajitas for guests. My friend Jennifer saw it and was horrified. "I'm fine," I said, and continued cooking, my raw skin shimmering as I flipped a steak in a cast-iron pan. Trying to be helpful, Jennifer reached for the freezer. "You should really put some ice on that."  What Jennifer didn't realize is that if I attempted to put ice on my burn, I'd most likely drop the ice, slip on it, fall, hit my head, and end up with a concussion. In the end, we all forgot the incident, and we went on to have a lovely evening. The two-inch burn scar on my wrist is like a of many that I have. In fact, If you look closely, you might find much of my life story from my collection of healed injuries: the huge scar on my knee from the time I crashed my bike into a tree, the scar on my elbow from the time I fell off the clothesline pole, the scars on my hand from the time I collided with David Eubanks during a basketball game in 8th-grade gym class. I can still see the lead in my palm from the time I joined my fellow high-school newspaper staffers in throwing pencils straight up so they'd stick into the holes in the acoustic ceiling tiles. Theirs stuck; mine instead flew back down and punctured my hand, leaving a tiny graphite spot. I worried for a while that I'd be poisoned, but now I think of it as a welcome excuse whenever my memory fails me. 

Throughout my life, my lack of grace has appealed to some, who find it charming. It's also annoyed many more, who consider it one of my several off-putting traits. Thankfully, my husband is in the former camp. Early in our relationship, on a trip to Hawaii, B and I were racing through the maze in the Dole pineapple plantation when I fell. In mud. I instantly got up, thoroughly embarrassed, expecting him to laugh at me. He laughed all right, and straight out of the manual How to Add Insult to Injury, he asked me to lay back down in the mud so he could take my picture. I declined. I assured him that he'd have plenty more opportunities to capture me horizontal after a tumble. Now when I fall, he doesn't even blink an eye. If we're talking, he continues the conversation as if nothing happened, although he might lean over so he can be sure I can hear what he's saying.

Somehow, people still trust me to perform tasks that are probably better left to the graceful.  Last week I was tasked with cleaning the white altar paraments for our church. Someone (apparently a fellow ham-fisted congregant) had spilled wine not once, but twice on the paraments. For most people, the process of bringing these materials home, washing them, drying them, ironing them, and returning them to the altar would not be a big deal.  For me, the assignment was more like a list of don'ts: don't drop the paraments in the street, don't run over them with your car, don't inadvertently wash them with your daughter's red sweatshirt, don't knock over the drying rack on top of the cat, don't burn yourself ironing them. On Sunday, when I looked at the clean, pressed paraments on the altar, I beamed with pride. Or maybe it was relief.

After Thanksgiving dinner at my brother's house last year, my sister dropped the tray that held the turkey, spilling grease all over the floor. (Yes, another grease spill. BP should have contacted me for advice.) As we were cleaning the floor, I realized that clumsiness runs in my family. My father used to ride his bike to my high-school tennis matches. Our dog, a Scottish terrier mix, rode in a crate my father ingeniously attached to the back of the bike. After one match, when I was exhausted after a particularly devastating loss, I watched longingly as my teammates climbed into the comfort of their parents' cars to go home. My dad gave me the option of either riding on the back of his bike or hitchhiking home. There are few things more humiliating for a 15-year-old than riding on the back of your father's bike with a dog named Scottie riding in a crate behind you. That is, unless that bike were to tip over, scattering you, your dad, your dog, and your tennis balls across 28th Avenue during rush hour. I think that's about the time my dad decided to quit smoking.

Thus far, my children appear to have inherited B's deftness. Nevertheless, they've had to learn to put up with me and my awkwardness. When my son was four and my daughter was three, we were stringing beads together to make Christmas ornaments. My son used his little fingers, his motor skills still developing, to meticulously slide twenty-five red beads onto a string. He handed me the string of beads, so proud of himself, and as I was attempting to tie the two ends together, praising him for his efforts, I dropped one end of the string and all 25 beads scattered across the floor. He was disillusioned, but after we picked all the beads up, he gamely started over. He carefully got all the beads back onto the string, and just as I was saying "Mommy will have to be more careful this time," I dropped the beads again. I gasped, looking at my son, expecting him to cry. Heck, I was almost in tears. Instead, he looked shocked for a moment, but then he cocked his head and looked at me with pity. "Oh, Mommy," he said, shaking his head. I realized that one advantage to my condition was that I was teaching my children to have sympathy for the less fortunate, and more klutzy, among them. Amen.

As for last night, I did eventually make it out to the scramble game. I was immediately knocked out of the game by my very athletic and agile daughter, but that's okay. I'd had enough exercise scrubbing the kitchen floor anyway.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hey, Baby!

Some friends of ours, Seth and Betsy, are expecting their first baby in a couple of months.  As a mother of two, I am thrilled for these parents-to-be, because I remember what it was like to have a new baby! I also pity these parents-to-be, because I remember what it was like to have a new baby.

Watching our friends prepare for the arrival of their child brings me back to the days when my husband and I were expecting our first baby. We were so excited!  In fact, the very day I found out I was pregnant, my husband gutted what would become the baby's room. We had so much fun designing the room and picking out furniture. I attended showers where generous friends and family gave me beautiful and thoughtful gifts: the outfits I'd lovingly chosen, the stuffed animals that would coordinate with the quilt I'd registered for. Oh, the fun Seth and Betsy are going to have! Their lives are going to be so happy! Enjoy every minute, I say. Because once that baby comes, the fun is O-V-E-R, and you're left with a glut of useless stuffed animals and dressy outfits that the baby will wear once and ruin. No one gives you what you really need, which is diapers and a bottle of scotch, because that's not what you asked for. And now you're stuck with a bunch of stuffed bears, giraffes, and lambs, which would be great if they could hold, rock, and feed an inconsolable baby at 3:30 in the morning. But they can't. All they can do is sit there and look at you, and sometimes talk to you (or so you think when you haven't slept in three days).

When I consider the early days of my son's life, I'm glad I didn't know what I was getting into, because I'd never have done it. People tried to warn me, too, but I didn't listen. I remember being pregnant, in a state of bliss, munching on a doughnut and waddling around the office, when I came across a coworker, Chris. He looked like he'd been on a week-long bender, but really, he and his wife had just had a baby. Disheveled, bleary-eyed, barely coherent, Chris was clutching a cup of coffee and leaning against a wall. "It's so hard," he mumbled. ""  I patted him on the back and tried to comfort him by offering him a bite of my doughnut. But I also didn't let him dampen my spirits. Sure, he was having a hard time, but I was, after all, going to be a mother, not a father, and everyone knows mothers are better equipped to handle parenthood than fathers. Just ask my husband, who put our daughter's first diaper on backwards. You might think that's completely understandable, but a) she was our second child, b) our son was still in diapers at the time, and c) our nurse accused me of putting the diaper on backwards, because, naturally, my husband told her I'd done it. He was already on my bad side for blithely getting up during my labor and saying, "You look like you're okay. I'm hungry. I'm going to get a muffin." If I didn't think I needed him to help raise the children, I'd have bludgeoned him with my copy of What to Expect When You're Expecting.

I can only vaguely remember my son's first couple months of life, which is probably for the best, because most of what I remember was pure misery. All he did was eat, hiccup, and cry, over and over and over again. We had a cat that wanted to hurt him. Bad. Our son had jaundice and was supposed to wear a lighted blanket to sleep. Except that he didn't sleep, save for the times during the day when I'd put him in the stroller and attempt to jog with him. One of our neighbors, Mrs. Johnson, later told me that I looked less like a new mother and more like a zombie, stumbling back and forth along the street with a stroller. Mrs. Johnson is also the battle-ax who often shouted at me that it was too hot outside for the baby. I had to remind myself that people like her--who had babies during the Nixon administration--drank and smoked during pregnancy, didn't nurse their babies, buckled the baby into the car with them (if they even used a seat belt) and came from the school of Let Your Baby Cry it Out. But they will criticize anyone who brings a baby outside when it's over 72 degrees. Mrs. Johnson is a constant reminder to me that I have my parents to blame for all of my deep failings.

My mother-in-law, God bless her, stayed with us one night so that I could get a decent night's sleep. (I don't think she believed me when I said how bad it was. Either that, or she was scared into helping me by the fact that I was functioning just above the level of a comatose person.) She only did it once. When we asked her a month later if she'd stay with us another night, the look of horror on her face was immediate. "I just don't think...I can do that again." And I couldn't blame her. She'd survived one night with a baby that wouldn't sleep, on top of several years with me for a daughter-in-law. Asking for one more night was simply asking too much.

My friend Amy had her first daughter about a year and a half before my son was born, so the experience of having a newborn was fresh in her mind when I called her at the height of my misery, blubbering into the phone about how I didn't think I was going to survive. I remember her promise to me: "Sar, it's going to get better. Really."  She paused. "Didn't anyone buy you a bottle of scotch?"

That was nine years ago. It did get better. Now when I watch my son dive for a ball in a scramble game, quietly read a book, or double over after I've sat on a whoopee cushion he's planted on my chair, those memories of sleepless nights seem so long ago. Now I just enjoy his company. And I'll enjoy it even more when he learns to control his flatulence and he chews with his mouth closed.

Of course, I've not shared my stories of sleepless nights with Seth or Betsy. Who knows; their baby might sleep beautifully. And if that's true, I'll be so happy for them. Really. Of course, everyone knows that babies who are great sleepers will cause their parents the most trouble when they become teenagers and young adults. I heard the entire cast of Jersey Shore slept through the night straight out of their mothers' wombs. Just sayin'.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

My Son for President

When you're young, your ambitions are limited only by your imagination.  My kids have had dreams of becoming teachers, scientists, or stay-at-home parents; veterinarians or artists or doctors. I encourage and nurture every dream that my kids have.  After all, that's what mothers do, right?  That is, until my son recently announced that he might want to run for president. Of the United States. That's when I banned all newspapers, news websites, news apps, and all television from our house until the election is over in November. Yes, it's a long time, but luckily, our kids have video games to occupy them until then.

At one time, I might have thought that the classic childhood aspiration to be president was noble, and cute.  Now I think if someone wants to be the leader of the free world, there must be something wrong with him. Who in his right mind would want to put himself and his family through a presidential campaign?  There were many times I questioned whether John McCain would even live through his 2008 campaign, and, with all due respect, this is a man who survived over five years as a POW in Vietnam. Of course, McCain did make it through the election, but not only is he not running in 2012, he won't even endorse a candidate. Clearly, he's staying as far away as possible from what was surely a traumatic experience for him.

I really can't blame my son for wanting to run for president. The images he's seen of the Republican primaries make campaigning seem glamorous and fun.  Everywhere a candidate goes, there are crowds of people cheering for him and holding up signs bearing his name. Winning a state's caucus is reason for a celebration of Mardi-Gras proportions. So what if  the caucus in reality means nothing, and that a minuscule number of voters actually take part?  The Pioneer Press headline "This is Santorum Country" that ran the day after the Minnesota caucuses didn't convey the fact that just over 1 percent of the voting-age population participated. But who cares? Santorum WON! And to an 8-year-old, it all looks like a big party.

And then there's the cool stuff you get when you're a big-shot candidate.  For a Boy Scout who's excited about the archery belt loop he recently earned, a huge campaign bus with his name on it is the very definition of Nirvana. Especially when the bus probably has a bathroom on it. And what if he becomes president?  The White House!  Air Force One! His own personal cook to serve him his Honey-Nut Cheerios!  Who wouldn't want all that?

You might think it cruel that I'm trying to discourage my son from following one of his dreams.  But truly, I have only his best interests in mind.  I've paraphrased some of the conversations he and I have had over the past month so that you can use them as a starting point if you want to discourage any of your loved ones who are considering a run for public office. Good luck!

The ugly truth comes out
And I'm not talking about the fifth Diary of a Wimpy Kid book. Remember Herman Cain?  Yes, the "Cain Train," that's right. His campaign showed some promise, but now it appears that "9-9-9" no longer refers to his tax plan, but rather to the number of women accusing him of sexual harassment. Son, if you run for office, it's only a matter of time before people find out that you're too lazy to tie your shoes and you once made your sister cry by punching her stuffed cat.  And remember the time you clogged the toilet in Gaviidae Common? That's going to come out, you know.  Plus, they might start attacking your family too.  Do you want it known that your mother eats ice cream out of the container when no one's around?  Wait, forget I said that.

Every word you say is scrutinized
You have to choose your words with painstaking care when you're running for office. Believe it or not, if you bumble one phrase, it could seriously hurt your political aspirations. Senator John Kerry was rumored to be considering a second presidential campaign, but during a speech in 2006 this sentence derailed him: "You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well.  If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."  Yes, it sounds sort of like he was insulting the military.  But he says it was a botched joke aimed at then-President Bush, which seems reasonable; why would Senator Kerry, a Vietnam veteran with possible aspirations for a presidential bid, publicly insult the troops fighting for our country overseas? At any rate, it's best to just speak clearly and carefully and honestly, like you do with me. You know, like when you say, "That was a terrible shot, Mom", or "I'm getting carsick from your driving."

You have to know everything about everything
When running for office, you have to know everything about every relevant topic, which is hard sometimes because people get worn out during a long campaign. Yes, like when we practice your spelling words when you're tired.  Take Judi Dutcher, Mike Hatch's running mate in the 2006 Minnesota gubernatorial race. Close to election day, Ms. Dutcher was questioned by a reporter about E85 (which is ethanol, a type of gas, and fairly big business in our state).  She had no idea what the reporter was talking about, and that didn't look very good for someone who is running for lieutenant governor. In fact, it may have been the beginning of the end for her and Mr. Hatch, because he got mad at a reporter who asked him about Ms. Dutcher's lack of knowledge about E85. Here's a helpful hint for you: it's not a good idea to call a reporter a bad name in the final days before your election.

You need a lot of money. And a recognizable name doesn't hurt
So you're thinking that before you run for President, you might run for governor of Minnesota?  Like Gov. Dayton?  Well, that's not a bad idea. Gov. Dayton took the express route to governor by skipping the Democratic caucus altogether. And yet, even without the DFL endorsement, he still won the primary and then the general election (which actually is not unusual. So what's the caucus for, you ask?  That's a fine question). Unfortunately, you have neither the money nor the highly recognized family name that Gov. Dayton has. Unless you marry a Carlson or a Pohlad or a Mondale, you're going to have to go about it the old-fashioned way. Wait, maybe Gov. Dayton went about it the old-fashioned way, with family money. You'll have to go about it the new way, which is...well, whatever. You just need a lot of money.

Your enemies have to become your friends
During primary season, the people running against you will say really mean things about you. They'll make fun of you. They might even tell lies about you. But, if you win your party's nomination for president, the people who said those awful things about you will suddenly be like your best friends! They'll talk about how great you are, and how you'd make a great president. They'll ask people to send you money. Why? Well, remember, because it's expensive to--what's that?  Yes, you're right.  Jesus did tell us to love our enemies.  But, politics is kind of complica...

Actually, maybe you should run for president, after all.

For Sue.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

This Year I Resolve To Make No Resolutions

Ah, it's that wonderful time of year again. A time when the health clubs are packed, Nicoderm CQ flies off the shelves, and traffic at is at its peak.  Take a look around the office today, and see how many people are replacing their usual doughnut with oatmeal.  And what about your coworker? Is his walk a Chalk it up P90X soreness. Happy New Year!

I used to be a part of that Resolution crowd, because I had no choice. I eat so much between Halloween and New Year's that I'm forced to lose weight because my clothes are starting to bind me. Yes, that's right, I don't wait until Thanksgiving to start overindulging; I start sneaking candy from my children's Halloween stash and I don't look back until January 1st. Or 2nd, really, because New Year's Day brunch always kills my resolution for that day. This New Year's Day, I blew it with a burger and fries with my best friend Amy. We had planned to go out for sushi, but then, because she knew exactly what I'd do, she pointed out Big Mike's across the street. Naturally, I made a beeline for the burger joint, and Amy could happily enjoy her meal with a clean conscience, knowing she had me to blame for our detour. Between (and during) bites, I philosophized about how I'm so over health food. Mostly because I've given up.

Sure, I've pored over many health and fitness books over the years, looking for the one that will tell me I can be thin and fit while subsisting solely on pastries. (I have yet to find it.) But I've also made attempts to eat more healthfully too. After all, I'm not a teenager anymore, and forget unhealthy; it's just plain embarrassing for a woman my age to eat Pop-Tarts for breakfast.  (Never mind that my husband, undeterred, starts his day off with an overflowing bowl of Fruity Pebbles every day.)

It's difficult to eat healthy. And I'm not even talking about the deprivation; it's that what's considered healthy keeps changing. It seems that every day a new study comes out that undermines a previously nutritious food with a new, improved, better-for-you alternative. It's no longer healthy to eat just salad; you have to eat organic spinach. Don't bother with skim milk, because almond milk has twice as much calcium. Whole-wheat bread and brown rice are out; sprouted-grain bread and quinoa are in. (What? You don't know what those are? Me neither.) And where was Greek yogurt five years ago? Today you're not healthy unless you eat Greek yogurt every single day, even though it's roughly twice the price of regular yogurt. You could actually save up enough money to travel to Greece in a year if you skipped the Greek yogurt and bought the regular stuff.

The only good food-related news of late is that it's okay to eggs again.  There was a good 20-year stretch when you couldn't eat an egg because you'd immediately have a heart attack. Now they're like nutrition's all-star: cheap and full of quality protein and B-vitamins. Wait, I'm sorry...that only applies to eggs that come from cage-free, organic chickens. The eggs you buy in the cooler at the grocery store will still kill you. I once actually kicked around the idea of getting a couple of chickens so we could eat "good" eggs.  Then I looked at my children, cats, and fish, and reminded myself how fortunate I am that they've survived my rearing thus far. Two chickens might not be so lucky.

Besides the fact that I'm done with health food, I'm not making any resolutions because most New Year's resolutions are colossal failures. And we fail despite the plethora of expert advice--especially dieting advice--that's available to us. Although I'm not supposed to use the term "diet" anymore, because apparently there are too many negative connotations with that word. You'll have much greater success if you rename your misery from "diet" to "lifestyle change."  Try telling yourself that you're in the midst of a "lifestyle change" the next time you're looking at a menu and choosing between the grilled salmon and the fettuccine alfredo, and see if that makes it easier for you.

Useful advice for those like me, who have a penchant for sweets, includes the experts' suggestions for controlling your cravings. I know smokers think they have it tough, but I argue that my addiction to sugar is just as difficult to kick. I have the most wicked sweet tooth in the history of mankind. If you try to come between me and a piece of cake, well, let's just say that you do so at your own risk. And there's no "patch" for my addiction, either, like there is for smokers. Instead, the health experts suggest that a piece of fruit, like, say, an apple, will satisfy your craving for a brownie, or a candy bar, or ice cream.  These experts can make ridiculous statements like that because they don't eat brownies, or candy bars, or ice cream.  When they want dessert, they treat themselves to a piece of organic dark chocolate. I've eaten organic dark chocolate, and frankly, I'd rather have the apple. But a piece of fruit as a stand-in for a package of Double-Stuf Oreos?  Please!

With my poor eating habits, the only thing that has kept me alive this long is my workout regimen. Because I work out at 5:00 in the morning, I like (need) to drink caffeine beforehand, but that's not good enough either. Jillian Michaels says it really should be white willow bark. Jillian Michaels scares me, so in order to stay on her good side, I started to do some research on white willow bark. It turns out that you can't just go out to your yard and scrape the bark off of a white willow tree and put it in your coffee. (Sorry, Starbucks across the street!)  You have to buy white willow bark, and like most everything you buy at GNC, it's overpriced and its benefits are questionable. (But don't tell Jillian I said that.)

So no resolutions for me this year. I wish I could say, like Greg Heffley, it's because I'm already pretty much one of the best people I know. But really, it's because I know I'd be setting myself up to fail. And who wants to do that when they could eat a cookie instead?