Sunday, March 30, 2008

push it real good


Disclaimer: I debated with myself long and hard before deciding to post that (decidedly cropped and intentionally shadowy monochrome) picture there. I guess it could be misconstrued as being too open, too revealing, too much; it's more of me than you're likely to see should you see me in person, but less than you'd see of a lot of folks, should you happen to not live in a bubble. I'm not in the habit of posting nude pictures of myself, but I am in the habit of writing about myself online, which is something of a verbal Full Monty equivalent, naked in words every time I post. Even my words aren't so revealing here, in this quiet blog spot any person could stumble upon and find, but it's still me, raw and real and honest, even if you have to squint a little and leave the rest to your imagination. This is who I am. And I'm working on being more okay with that.

Last week, I was listening the The Satellite Sisters, my turn-to podcast when I want to be amused and vaguely informed and generally kept company while I nurse a toddler or wash some dishes, and they were discussing the push-up. Of the drop and give me twenty variety, not the frozen confection out of the back of a beat-up van playing the same tinny version of Turkey in the Straw a thousand times over.

Apparently, new studies (to which I offer no links, I'm not that sort of researched blogger) find some correlation between a person's ability to do push-ups and his/her general fitness level, especially as one ages. This makes sense, in a making broad assumptions sort of way, as we might assume that if you can do twenty push-ups somewhat easily, you're likely not a two pack a day smoker. I'm not sure if the relationship is symbiotic or coincidental, I am sure there are many exceptions, but I'll buy it. I might have my numbers a little off, but I'm recalling that studies indicate that a reasonably fit 40 year old woman should be able to do fifteen pushups. A similarly aged man, 27.

Now I don't purport myself to be super fit or anything. In fact, if I'm really telling it like it is, then I'll tell you that the truth is that I'm closing in on twenty pounds above where I was a year ago, and it's not extra muscle bulk I'm carrying, no. It's twenty pounds of a dang hard year, clinging to my middle like bad memories. I don't exercise as much as I did before. The one-two sucker punch of miscarriage complications slash fractured foot followed closely by the onset of one very wet winter did a number on me and my ability to move my body as much as I did before. I'm not athletic in the slightest. I'm the opposite of athletic and dislike sports of all kinds. But I do like being active and walking and hiking and bike riding. The only weight I lift is my thirty-five pound son.

Genetics didn't give me a dewy complexion or musical talent, just a stocky and stout stature with maybe a little bit of an extra inclination toward being muscley. So despite any dedicated effort on my part, I have a strong upper body. I mean, stronger than you might otherwise think. Or I thought it was pretty strong, anyway. Who knows what you think. I may have even had passing thoughts of pride, which confused my customary self-deprecating disposition, regarding my strong back and shoulders.

So when the youngest of the Sisters (but still, a decade or so ahead of me) declared her push-up test total at 16, I was challenged to try myself. I can't recall the last time I tried to do one. Not on the on-your-knees type, but a regular full on push-up. I had no reference for guessing how many I could do, but if a woman in her forties can do sixteen, me, with my strongish back and strong enough arms, well, I can do ten, right? Easy.

Not. Easy.

I managed a measly three. And my husband, who says that at his best he could pump out sixty-eight in two minutes, reminded me that to be "right" my arms must bend to ninety degree angles. So the three I barely did? Probably not even right. I'm pretty sure I didn't go down that low. Now, I have since seen websites that demonstrate a proper push-up starting prone and working up, one, back down, up, two. Like that. If I start flat and go up, and back down, flat, I can do lots, lots of independent push-ups. But hover with my nose near the floor and my arms at right angles? No freaking way.

So all this means what? That maybe I have some serious training to do before I quit my day job and join the women's bodybuilding circuit.

My new goal is to get to a point where I can do ten in a row. I'm practicing by holding plank exercises and doing half-pushups, where I focus on just the downward motion. We'll see what happens from there. I don't really aspire to the full on body wax, oiled skin and string bikini look, arms clasped above my head in flexing competition pose, but I do want to be just as strong as I can be. I'm not there yet.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

don't blink or you'll miss it

I have so many things I want to tell you. So many ideas that crop up quickly, like those intense momentary wind gusts in the desert that seem to come out of nowhere and sting your legs with flying sand, but then, just as suddenly, fall quiet. What was that thing I was thinking? That thing that made me lose track of the present and wash the same dinner plate over and over so many times? It seemed important then, but now, I don't remember.

Have you read a particularly good book lately? Fiction? What I need is a decent novel. Someone who knows me well enough thinks I'm hard to please, but I'll tell you what I think: I think I have an abysmal track record for picking real doozies. Books, Movies, What have you. So it's not that I don't like *anything*, it's that I have such varied, unpredictable tastes that I try a little bit of everything and I have to slog through plenty before I find some that fit just right.

Of course, it may also be argued that I might (and this is purely speculation for while I am an expert at resorting to snappy self-deprecating retorts for humor's sake, I never say anything overtly incriminating, a gal's got to have a little bit of mystery, after all) be a little bit of a contrarian. I've been considering this quite a bit recently. I can be contrary. I don't know how to get along with everyone but I do know how to take the dissenting opinion. This applies to lots of things, media, fashion, lifestyle choices, presidential candidates.

I don't care to discuss politics at length, but I will say this: It's hard for me to look at the current campaign without seeing a fat, fast moving bandwagon. Just guess how I feel about bandwagons. It boils down to this. I don't care for the masses. If the masses care for something, then I can assume it's not for me. This fuzzy logic has proven true more often than not. Which is why I'm having a very difficult time considering Obama's rising popularity as more than a parade, people falling in line just because the line is long and people are in line. I see a lot of enthusiasm. And? A lot of enthusiasm. This cynic isn't blowing horns for anybody yet.

The truth is, the more popular something (some one, whatever) becomes, the more suspicious I am. So if I am building a reputation as a curmudgeon, I supposed it's deserved. I'm a jolly curmudgeon, though. Not one of those surly ones. I never (okay, rarely) rap angrily on the window at passers-by from inside my house and I only smell like urine a little.

You saw Blades of Glory, right? Will Farrell? That urine line had me laughing for days, but it was all in his delivery. I don't really stink. But I do contradict myself, all the time. I have a soft spot for the basest comedies. I still quote Chris Farley movies with my sister and I find Will Farrell hilarious. It's true. You couldn't pick me out of line up of the hoi polloi if you tried.

I've made two bad comedy movie picks in a row, though, and I didn't find them funny at all. Not the 40 year old Virgin and not, definitely not, Superbad. Just because I loved Michael Cera in Arrested Development and just because I had so recently watched and adored Freaks and Geeks, in which Seth Rogen plays a part, does not mean I should assume their respective future projects will appeal to me in the same way. I didn't make it past the first twenty minutes or so, but if the masses made it a blockbuster, I'll gladly be the grumpy curmudgeon calling bullshit from the corner. Because it wasn't funny to me at all.

I haven't seen so many other movies lately. When I discovered NBC was streaming The Office online, we watched all of the current season, which we hadn't seen, and got all caught up. It does make me laugh. See, and that's popular, right? I'm right there with you. Movies often feel like such a time investment. I can much more easily commit to watching one, okay just one more, television episode than a whole full length feature film.

Oh, but this isn't about movies! This was just an incredibly roundabout, freewritey way of saying that, yeah, sometimes I like regular old stuff that you probably like, too. I'm overdue a trip to the library and I need something compelling and brilliant and life changing to read. Or, you know, something Not Terrible. I'm easy.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

i beat dead horses with scissors


As much as I tout the diy hairdo, and as much as I grimace at my bedraggled appearance every day, I'm at the same exact point I'm always at, about three months past a trim: I waiver. I think, maybe, I should let it grow out. Or, I should chop it all off so short. Or I should cut bangs. See, I thought my flirtation with bangs was five years past, but then I heard someone refer to them recently as "the poor woman's botox" or something like that and -I must confess- I can't get that comparison out of my head. Even though it contradicts so much of what I believe, in theory, about beauty and aging and self-confidence.

Recently, I listened to a PRI To The Best of our Knowledge podcast on the beauty biz and the part that really rung with me was how younger and younger women are putting themselves through invasive cosmetic procedures to avoid looking old. But a young woman with a chemically unexpressive forehead and plumped up collagen injected lips doesn't look like she's embracing her youth, she starts to look like the women who have already lost theirs.

I don't want to look like that.

So, the verdict's still out. Bangs or no bangs? Short or to my shoulder? My hair starts doing this thatgirl flippy thing the longer it gets and I don't enjoy the way that feels. Can you believe that of all the things I'd like to think more about and write about and receive some comment feedback about, I'm still stuck on my fricking fracking hair? It's safe, that's what. And easier to write about amid the distractions of a suddenly extra-needy two year old and an always (but always) chatty nine year old and the various half-neglected chores around the house. How thoughtful do I need to be in writing about my hair, fer cryin out loud? Not very.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

weekly fly-by

white 3

I don't intend to wait nearly a week in-between blog entries. In fact, I've started several drafts over the last few days, but for various reasons, I get distracted or frustrated by my lack of articulation or bored with my subject and I just haven't finished. Let's you and me pretend it would be all such fascinating stuff. Because the dirty corner truth is that it's the same old soft focus, isolated moment fodder that doesn't mean much of anything to anybody but me. And that's okay, because the whole reason I'm here at this party in the first place is for practice. Not writing practice. Noticing practice. Remembering practice. The practice of sharing. Whatever that means.

Oh, here's something worth sharing. Consider this a friendly public service announcement, all ye who arrive here via misspelled google searches: this blog is called little pitchers. I sometimes share pictures. But pictures and pitchers? Two totally separate things. Pitchers are vessels for holding and pouring. Or, so I've heard, the tossers of balls in baseball games. But pitchers are not photographs or images. Those would be pictures. Here, let's try that again. Pictures. They even have distinct pronunciations. Yes, it's true. Pitchers. Pictures. Not the same thing. Frankly, I'm a little embarrassed for you, and by "you" I don't single out some poor lone poor speller, no, I reference the handfuls who clonk on over here every single day looking for pitchers of teeth, pitchers of lolas (what the heck?), pitchers of any sort of word I've written. But no pitchers of pitchers yet.

And while I'm on the subject of search engine keywords, I'll mention that the number two way random anonymous folks find this little quiet place of mine here is from looking up haircuts. I haven't trimmed mine since I wrote about it in the beginning of December. I'm overdue. I'm a lazy haircutter, it's one of those chores I always procrastinate on for a long old time, but then it's such a relief when I finally get to it. Owing to the number of folks who seem to be seeking out information on d-i-y haircuts, there must not be enough validation out there. So, you! Hey you! With the scraggly hair and the sharp scissors. Just freaking do it already, why don't you? Cut it off. So what if it's a little crooked? It'll grow back. And you'll get better. You've spent more money to look worse before, admit it. And the feeling you get when it's all over? Like Sydney Bristow dying her hair in an airport bathroom. Bad. Ass. Not that here, here's my self-esteem, please take care of it fretfulness that happens at the hair salon. The do it yourself haircut isn't just about saving a few (or a lot) of dollars. It's about being yourself, not some not-quite version of yourself as translated by someone who doesn't watch you flex muscles naked in the bathroom. It's about not hoping to heck it doesn't look like crap or having to buck up and pretend, in the big, swivel chair reveal, that it looks fine when it so clearly, painfully, does not. It's about not having to come home and touch up spots that the stylist missed. It's about never having to break up with a longtime stylist because she keeps giving you the same old lady 'do. It's about doing it your own effing self. I don't know why haircuts have become so specialized. If you catch me in a cynical mood (not hard to do), I'll grumble about how everything has been industrialized and specialized and don't get me started on the standards of aesthetics and beauty in our culture. Must we all have frosty tips and chunky highlights and some fancy style heavy on appliances and product? No. I mean, if that stuff all rings your bell, then do what you must. But when somebody else does it for you? Something changes, some little shift in responsibility, some little erosion of your own self image. And, by "your" I mean "my" but I'm going to be bold and assume that this must apply to others, as well. I don't want to hand someone else the power, even some faint suggestion of power, to influence how I perceive myself. If I do it all wrong, I'll blame myself, but I'll get over it. I blame myself for a lot of crap. But if it turns out fine? Man, the best haircuts I've ever gotten at salons never gave me that feeling. No way.

What do you want to bet that my inclusion of the word "naked" up there pulls in all sorts of gutterminds with questionable spelling skills? Maybe they need a haircut. Ha!

Monday, March 10, 2008

smells like spring, or something

I caught a crappy whiff last week. Which is to say, a whiff of crap. And I checked the bottom of my shoe, immediately, because I can't tell you how often I've walked across my yard and slid across wet dog crap. Not my dog's crap, mind you, but random, anonymous dog crap. (My apologies to my daughter -who does not read this blog, but whose expected future proficiency with a search engine is bound to reveal the secret online life of her mother one of these days- as she has respectfully requested that I strike the C word from my speech). We have a plan for a front fence, but until then, the unwelcome feces situation sneaks into my head all the time. If I'm not stepping in it, I think I'm stepping in it. If I don't think I'm stepping in it, I'm glaring through my big front window at the person letting their dog piss in my grass, waiting to confront them if the squat-to-crap position is assumed. It's becoming a problem. So when I smell that unmistakable smell, it's only natural that I'd check the bottom of my shoes. But this time, last week, it wasn't my shoe.

And then I had a small flash of some psychosomatic existential crisis: I'm having such a crappy week, it even smells like crap, something like that (though maybe ramp up the maudlin a few extra notches). I talked myself down from that, so ridiculous, and determined that it was just phantom crap smell. At different times in my cat's life, she's taken out her frustrations (with many, many moves, mostly, but sometimes it's just breakfast coming a few minutes too late) by urinating in places cat urine does not belong. It seems to come in bursts. It hasn't happened for a long time, thank goodness, but when it does, when I pick up that pile of laundry and smell that unmistakable ammonia-laded acrid but sweet stench, or when I stretch out my legs in bed upon waking and wonder, is that cold or is that wet?, when it happens frequently for a spell, I think I smell cat pee all the time. The odor crawls up inside my sinus cavity and hunkers down low and then surprise! does jumping jacks to get my attention all of a sudden, whether the cat really peed in some strange place or not. Phantom Cat Piss Smell. So, if the wafting stink of crap wasn't from some mutt's mushy pile outside, if it wasn't the rotting smell of my own wayward psyche leaking out into the atmosphere, then it was probably just my imagination.

But my imagination was so vivid. I kept smelling it. It was growing stronger. It was driving me crazy. And then I walked back to my boy's room, which isn't his room for sleeping, yet, but just his room for toys and books and clothes and books, and found, a discarded, forgotten poopy diaper. As in, I vaguely recalled changing it hours and hours earlier and just upon finishing, the doorbell rang (package delivery) and then the phone rang and then it was probably lunch time and then the day just clipped along and I never took care of that diaper. And it had sat there all day, warming up in front of one of our original 1958 cutting edge of technology radiant wall heaters. Like my own personal shit scented aromatherapy diffuser.

So sometimes life is crappy, and sometimes it's just a diaper you left behind.

This past weekend was a pleasant rush of yard work and muffins and reading and hot baths. You'd think I'd been missing hot water for months the way I jumped at the bathtub as soon as the hot water heater was replaced. I don't take a bath every night, usually, but I always could, if I wanted to. And something about the not being able to made me want to all the more and it was only three days, but I've taken five baths so far to make up for it.

And we built a new raised garden bed in an under-utilized corner of our front yard. By we, I really mean "he" as his building skills far surpass mine, but I stuck some annuals in pots for the front steps and stood by with the camera, should anyone care, or not, to have their picture taken.


It felt like Spring and I am excited about this shift in our family's busyness, the activities moving outside and in the dirt. The children coming in for dinner with grass stained knees, the obligatory removal of tiny splinters from hands with tweezers before bed. Our transient past has meant that we haven't done much in the way of vegetable growing, but I'm feeling enthusiastic. In general. And there's nothing crappy about that.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

the boiling point

because yellow is a happy color

There aren't a lot of things that make me feel so Little House on the Prairie like having to boil water to have any warmer than, say, cold. Okay, so there are a lot of things that would make me feel so rustic and antiquated, but they're usually cozy little things I do because I choose to or want to, or maybe they're things that wouldn't likely occur in my life anyhow. I don't expect to play catch with an inflated pig bladder anytime soon.

I also didn't expect to wake up last morning and learn that in the night the bottom to our (old) hot water heater had rusted out. A whole night of running water, running hot water. A whole day with no hot tap water. Another whole day ahead of me tomorrow. It's not a big deal, in the big fat grand scheme of life and love and other things. It's just an inconvenience, a hassle.

It's my habit to fill my kettle up to boil water so many times a day. (not the kettle pictured above. that's a recent thrift treasure and, I think, will soon live on my front stoop as a house for some small plant or flower). I already wash all the dishes by hand. It's not a large leap to add the two together. So, it's not the boiling of a large pot that I find troublesome. It's just the being mindful enough to set a pot to boil and then to wait for it. I'm no good at waiting.

I guess one could say that hot tap water is the email to our times past handwritten letter. We all love to get mail, to send mail (I made generous assumptions here). But email is expedient and fits in the small fissures of our busy days. Letterwriting is something that has fallen, is falling, away. And it's a shame and just about anybody would agree. We should write more letters! Everybody loves a little something happy in their mailbox! Mail is great! Yes! Sure! Oh, but email. So quick and simple. And so we tap away when a postcard would be so much sweeter.

And what does all this mean, you wonder. . . Well, no, you probably don't wonder, or at least you ought not, because often I start in on some tenuous analogy, linking up disparate concepts with the most fragile threads which rarely no one else can see but I, and then I drop the whole mess and it doesn't make even the tiniest sense any more, not even to me (especially not after midnight on a Tuesday). But I'm finding this, the incessant boiling, actually a little pleasant, in a slowing down and noticing sort of way. The thing about letter writing is that we don't want it to become obsolete. Even if we aren't writing a lot of handwritten letters, we see the value in keeping the tradition alive.

And so maybe it is with water. Only, the tradition of boiling and boiling fell to the wayside. Having to do it is a hassle, not a simple happy task. We don't miss it because it transitioned out of our modern daily lives before we were born. I'm not starting a fire in the backyard, so the stovetop still allows for a certain amount of convenience. The truth is that my whole life is pretty darn convenient, busted hot water heater or no.

Lopsided analogy dropped. . . now! I told you it wouldn't last so long. And that's mighty close to the repsonse I had when the husband relayed our predicament. We're keeping fingers crossed that the home warranty folks cover a replacement and, in the meantime, boil water, drink tea, hope nothing else goes wrong for a while.

Which would be a Nothing Else after the something which was the husband's pick-up truck making the unfortunate acquaintance of a telephone pole this evening, on his way home from work. Not a banner day around our house. His truck is in sad shape, but he's unhurt. A plumber won't be here until Thursday, but at least we have water at all.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

going forward to go backward

oh techhology

When I was pregnant with my boy, something really terrible happened. Something that made me wonder about the world in which my children were living, something that made me worry about their respective futures, something that made me so sad and wistful for times past: Our local PBS affiliate stopped airing Mister Rogers.

By this time, my daughter was rapidly approaching seven, and would still, if we found ourselves at home mid-day, prefer a visit to the Neighborhood of Make Believe more than doing just about anything else. In her early years, from two-ish onward, we made deliberate attempts to be crosslegged on the floor in front of the television each weekday at 11:30 sharp. She was five when we moved to Arizona and it was such a relief and a comfort to discover that Mister Rogers aired daily at the same late morning slot to which we were accustomed. Moving with children across states can be a challenging transition; any little familiar thing helps. And so she'd turn it on, company while she drew or played with stuffed animals, and I'd fix lunch and in that moment, it didn't matter that we were in a new place, that she didn't have any friends, that everything felt upside down and out of sorts. Lady Aberlin would float through Make Believe and Lady Elaine would get into scrapes and the trolley would ding and the fish would be fed. Ah.

Once we were well outfitted in our new Arizona life, once routines and regularities were carved into place (at first I typed 'fell into place' but building something from nothing and feeling okay about it is rarely something to which happenstance is responsible, more likely it's chipped into place tediously with dull tools and no water breaks) our schedules and her shrinking interest meant we caught the program less frequently. I looked forward to sharing that gentle half hour of children's programming with the next child.

I was bummed for days and days when the Phoenix station yanked Mister Rogers. I can't even recall what they put in his place, probably some obnoxious program which died shortly thereafter, replaced by some other new obnoxious program, and so on and so on. It is not some arbitrary "for the good of the children" ideal that compels my passion for this show, no. It is that I don't think, in all the years of early childhood programming, anyone else has ever made a show any better. You could say that I think it's The Best. I don't care that it's been decades since new shows were made. I don't care that, by today's standards, it's slow and simple and, okay, maybe a little hokey. And I don't believe that children care either. I'll be so bold as to say that I'm suspicious of anyone who doesn't like Mister Rogers (which means that if you fall into that category, don't tell me), children included. I've had conversations with other parents before in which I was told that their children find the show "too boring." I admit it: this baffles me, confuses me, breaks my heart a little. I don't know that I want a generation of children who find Mister Rogers "too boring" to be the key to our futures. This is when I start to sound like a gray-haired curmudgeon. . .

Mister Rogers isn't a tub of candy, he's a homebaked oatmeal cookie with whole grains and maybe pure maple syrup. Which isn't to say that a little candy isn't okay sometimes, just, well, I wouldn't want it to be the mainstay in my kid's diet.

We'd already checked the Oregon Public Broadcasting television lineup weeks in advance of moving back to this state last Spring. Hurrah! Mister Rogers every day at eleven thirty again. Just in time for my boy making a decided leap from Baby to Toddler. A perfect little rest in the middle of our day, during a hard scrabble few months I refer to as "the darkest times." My girl would watch, her little brother often between her legs and leaning against her, for old time's sake. Like visiting a dear old relative.

And then, what do you know? OPB did another schedule switcheroo and the show was shoved into the 6:30 am slot. I'm convinced that this is the slot where they send old kids programs to die. The inconvenient time will allow us to forget about it, before it disappears all together. And I'll tell you, they're on to something, because despite my fondness for Fred, for the cozy memories he's created for my family (and, yes, for me firsthand too, as a child who also watched the show every evening), for the value I believe this program has for any child, it fell off my radar. We are rarely, if ever, awake in the six hour.

It hit me a few weeks ago what a tragedy this is. Now that Fred Rogers has died, I keep hoping that dvd sets of his shows will be released. But until then, I keep waiting for the classic programs to get the axe, to no longer be a common cultural reference. A world without Mister Rogers? Can you imagine?

So we've started hooking our laptop up to the cable cord at night, set to record the show in the morning, while we sleep. We're filing episodes away on an external hard drive, to be watched later or again. As soon as I get the software, I'll start burning dvds myself. And I don't know what pbs would think of that, but I know Fred would be okay with it, and so that's good enough for me. Fred Rogers fact: did you know that he nearly saved the vcr by convincing congress that it was okay for parents to record his program to watch it later, that he thought the vcr was a wonderful tool for busy parents to use so that a child could watch his show, even if they were at daycare during the day, that if a parent needed to make dinner, they could turn on the vcr and play his show? And that's why we can record television programs today! Without some piracy laws or what have you. Or, at least, that's the gist of my understanding of his influence in the birth of the vcr. whew.

So, we think he's swell. I think it's funny that we have a complicated system of external drives and usb ports to record a program made twenty years ago. I think it's a shame that he isn't aired in the middle of the day anymore. But in our house, I hope it's always a neighborly day in this beautywood. Would you be mine, could you be mine? Won't you be. . . my neighbor.