Monday, July 29, 2013

Mannequins are Just Like Us

It was 2 pm on Saturday, and The Mister and I were impatiently waiting in the dealership’s queue for someone to help us. All we wanted was an inspection, and what the dealership didn't know was that I've had inspections before that only took 10-15 minutes. Using our laser beam stares (dual-focused for maximum effect) we finally got a nice man’s attention. 

“It’ll be an hour and a half…. at the most,” he quickly added, probably after noting the two holes in the ceiling right above my eyebrows.

“Yeah. We’re out.”

We decided that we needed a break. 
A date even, post haste. 
So we went to our favorite watering hole right off I-95, which also happens to be at the mall, because walking around in air conditioned bliss while people watching is one of our favorite things to do.

Once in the mall, “Look at that mannequin! I mean, who even can stand that way in real life?” he said.

I couldn't come up with anything; however, like a trail of breadcrumbs, there were mannequins only a mere stone's throw away that looked like this:

"What is she thinking?"
"Hmm.. probably whether or not she looks good in that dress, or maybe she's just judging all of us humans as we walk by."
Ten paces further, a whole set!

We like standing in line. And bad wigs.
Holy cow! We really hit on something here. There happens to be an entire subculture of mannequins that only differentiated themselves from us only by their plastic skin (and sometimes stares). They are just like us. For example, they have friends:

Oh! That's the same place I shop!!

They have dreams:
Need more pixie dust.

They get married:
Saying yes to the dress.

They get pregnant:
Boy or girl? Oh mannequin, cool!

And have little ones:

They have jobs:
Werkin' it
And today's secret ingredient is... legs!

They put on weight:
Add caption

And work it off:
I just got back from Power Power class.
I never eat doughnuts!

They hang out:
Mannequins photobombing each other.
Does anyone have a quarter? 

They enjoy the upper crust:
Life in plastic, it's fantastic!

They hire their own butlers:
Welcome home, Sir. 
Just like us!! 

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Novelty of Going Back in Time

I grew up with a book practically attached to my arm, and somehow managed to develop a triangular thumb from keeping paperbacks wedged open hours on end. In a minute of inspiration (with the help of Amazon), I purchased a paperback copy of the Starlight Crystal for $0.01. This was my favorite book in high school, although I was a fan of a lot of Christopher Pike’s work. 
A lot of my high school days looked like this.
Reading his stories made me feel powerful and smart – things that are totally up my alley. I had completely forgotten what this particular story was about, but the cover art reminded me (in the cobwebby part of my brain) that the story affected me in a deep, unchangeable way.

When it arrived, I was disappointed at the thinness of it. I also laughed at myself for the label ‘reader,’ when most of the books I consumed in high school were on the order of a couple hundred pages at most. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix* was 870 pages, 570 pages short of War and Peace.

I should also mention that I've developed a bit of attention deficiency over the past few years. Back when I had an extremely long attention span, I’d spend hours cataloging and rehearsing the lyrics to songs like Jump Around and Slim Shady. Granted, there was a certain level of freedom not owning a car, having access to the internet, or paying bills.  The last time I did nothing for a stretch longer than a few minutes was sometime in 2008, when I was still convinced that I could change the entire world.

The lack of attention has spilled into my reading habit, and I have frequently picked up a book only to stop reading it 30 pages or so in. Perhaps the part of my intellect that thoroughly enjoyed young adult lit refuses to evolve into big-girl stories. There’s also a lot of crap out there that’s not worth reading, or it just takes too long to get into (Tolkien, Tolstoy).

As I opened up the yellowed pages, I expected another childhood memory to be ruined (like the time I watched a Strawberry Shortcake episode or ate a blueberry Pop-Tart - gah!), but my curiosity at that point had reached critical mass. I shouldn't have worried – I inhaled the book in one day.

I probably won’t do the book justice with my description, so here's what I liked about it. It was the first book in ‘my collection’ with a Buddhist flavor; it was a story about space-time, destiny, and discrimination of the real and temporary. Writing the narrative was probably tough, because it's through the lenses of a teenage girl, and also has a striking vision of how galaxies work with the mechanisms of spirituality. When I read this book the first time, it was hard to understand the concepts of permanence because my concept of forever was sort of tiny (after all, I had four friends that made a BFF pact). It also didn't help that my only resource for space-time concepts was contained in a dusty copy of A Brief History of Time on our bookshelf. However, the story of looking for someone special across galaxies and centuries captured my heart, and it was the first story I enjoyed reading on how 'things happen for a reason.' 

I was pumped after reading it again. It meant that I do not have the attention span of a gnat, and I remembered how great it was to enjoy young adult fiction (or philosophical stories about aliens). That said, I'm up for suggestions on what to read next! Please post in the comments.

*I read this entire series as well as the Hunger Games trilogy. Both were good, but Harry's story moved much quicker (and who can argue with the cool factor of magic?).

Monday, July 15, 2013

Beyond Sustenance and Taste, An Ode to Food

A modern-day Boo Radley knothole.
When I was seven, I was privileged to have a snack cabinet, at my grandmother's house, all to myself. Of course there were paper plates and extra cups stored in there, but there were also little treasures of Fig Newtons, and ‘Nabs.’

If you’re not familiar, Nabs are Nabisco products, mainly bags of crackers or chips, and I was obsessed with Fig Newtons because of its weird texture and slight aftertaste. Fig Newtons were my inspiration to be sneaky. How could I get two packs of Fig Newtons without being obvious?

My sister, the stealthier of the two of us, had a weakness for the candy dish.  Watching her remove the glass top was like watching Stella open the safe in the Italian Job. When I opened the dish, inevitably a grownup would yell from the other room, “Get out of the candy!” Dang.

Food, particularly the variety that foodies and doctors warn you about, was always a fun memory to revisit. My grandma would ‘split a Coke,’ with me, or we’d pack up a cooler of snacks for a trip to the pool. My sister and I first learned how to negotiate with Kellogg’s cereal variety packs. We took extreme care to ensure if someone was stuck with the Frosted Mini Wheats, then they got dibs on the Frosted Flakes.  

I was a pretty happy kid, but there came a time when I needed to be out of the house every so often. Fortunately, food was also a way to get out of the house, and I was very open to even the smallest field trips. Bubba’s, a soft serve joint, was just half a mile away, and happened to serve a mean banana milk shake. We also filled after-class time with Cappuccino Blasts and Rax’s curly fries.

What were we thinking when we made a Wendy’s frosty run? It wasn't important, and most likely, it was just an excuse to drive “the Strip” on Friday night. Or mess with the Wendy’s workers by driving the car backwards through the Drive-Thru. Food represented a context; it was an entity that coincided with an event, effectively creating a snapshot of time. The BBQ sandwich special at Short Sugars* was a small reprieve from high school classes (and it didn't hurt that it was $2.63 for the sandwich, chips, and a sweet tea). Joe and Mimma’s was the ‘fancy’ Italian restaurant that denoted straight A’s or a birthday. Auntie Anne’s was more about the quest for acquiring a limeade versus whether it was made of fresh juice or not (although I frequently became hypnotized by both the operation of the juicer and fresh-pretzel making while waiting to pay).

There was always a dose of people watching thrown in. My husband and I are masters of noticing oddities at restaurants, and our specific series of eye movements are undetectable, except from real spies. “Do you see that older guy over there?” one would say.
“Yeah, what about?”
“He’s got a jar of peanut butter at the table.”
Insert subtle, non-directional glance. Report verified.
“Who does that?”
“Maybe he just likes peanut butter.”**
“Sure, but when you decide to bring in a whole jar of something to an establishment, is it a quick decision or have you been thinking about it for a while?”

And so on. It is a delight to dine at both expensive and low-rent establishments. Weird people go to both types, though there’s a higher density of them at places like Waffle House after 2 am.

Now that I live in the county, my going-out options are severely limited. To keep the food front fresh, I take up experimenting in the kitchen and sharing with my husband, friends and coworkers. Sometimes it goes well, “Liz, you've made the most perfect dessert (angel food cupcakes with butter cream icing). The cake part collapses into itself and all you’re left with is a mouthful of icing.”

What the perfect dessert looks like.
This was after I had scrapped a whole bowl of homemade cookie dough that refused to rise en oven. I've also created the seven-pound pumpkin cheesecake, modifying and combining a couple of internet recipes on the subject.*** It is both a blessing and a curse being an everlasting gobstopper of a cake, but if you really want to show someone who likes cheesecake that they are special, it does the job. 

Honestly, it’s not as fun making things in the kitchen as it is sharing food, although any time spent perusing the Food Network would lead you to believe otherwise. As such, I've transformed our kitchen into a sort of laboratory, outfitted with a proper snack cabinet for our guests.

And cats, evidently.

*Didja know you can buy individual hush puppies here? Yes. They are 25 cents.
**This is a real conversation we had in a local diner.
*** I used these recipes for the biggest cheesecake ever:

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Psychology of Not Doing Things

How many things can we get done today that have nothing to do with what "should" be done?

Where does this so-called "should" come from? Why do we end up not doing things that have an obvious logical benefit? There's something small that makes these tasks impossible, and I suspect has more to do with priorities over lack of motivation, personal accountability, or passive barriers. The barriers are the symptom of a value conflict, which I most frequently encounter with my to-do lists.

I have lists from six months ago where stuff still hasn't gotten done, but the consequences of not getting those things done clearly aren't strong enough for me to make them a priority. In many cases, I'll just let these things slide for days, weeks, months. Spoiler alert: I haven't washed my car in a year. My favorite things to NOT do are:

Getting my car cleaned or clothes tailored
Updating my passport
Cleaning the bathroom
Filing away papers

I know I should just file away the tax papers in a separate folder, so tax season won't be a struggle. But that damn folder is so elusive (and upstairs), so I just don't feel like making the extra effort to put the paperwork away... especially because it won't make taxes any easier or more fun. 

For the most part, these things get done eventually. Should I have spent time on these things over other things? No. But a pile of papers on the counter or a stack of ill fitting pants give me a slight ping. Over time, I've realized that most of the things on my to-do lists probably aren't that crucial anyway. Why would I spend my waking hours on lots of unimportant tasks?

My wish for today is for everyone take one thing on their to-do list and  NOT do it.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Tree and the Squirrel

Some … are born without any sense of time. As consequence, their sense of place becomes heightened to excruciating degree.
                                                                    -Alan Lightman, Einstein's Dreams

The backyard buzzes with the bustle of the usual morning hub-ub. Larks sing their songs and mockingbirds repeat them. Moles furiously undo yesterday’s work and start new tunnels. Worms travel to the cooler patch of grass. The speckles of low-sun light filter through tree leaves as they practice their tai-chi in the wind.

On the hunt, an old squirrel looks for breakfast. He jumps half a foot, stops and cocks his head slightly, apparently listening, and sprints to the next spot two feet away. His belly is as curved as his cheeks, but his quick step implies this morning’s mission is for something beyond the next meal. An acorn, round as the sun, sits near a young oak. The Squirrel, feeling the prideful sense of jackpot, quickly grabs the acorn and begins inspecting it for wormholes.

The Tree watched the squirrel climb down his neighbor’s branches and whispered, “You can leave any time. Any time you’d like.” The Squirrel twitched his whiskers in response. “Leave? Why would I wish to leave?” he asked.

“What is the point of staying here when the earth is cold and the light is muted? Every year I grow taller, and every year I lose my beautiful leaves.” The tree paused. “The birds tell me the trees in the South are always green. They never sleep. I must be missing out,” said the Tree.

 “Silliness,” said the Squirrel, evaluating an even rounder acorn. “It’s not in a tree’s nature to leave. The place a seed picks is the place a tree lives.” Squirrel cracked open the acorn, and contemplated this while chewing the insides. “Well, how would you get there? To the South?”

“Wait for a storm, perhaps. I could loosen my roots with enough rain and the wind could take me away.”

The Squirrel paused his chewing. “How would you know if you’re heading South in a storm?”

The Tree could not answer this question, and so it did what trees did best, responding in silence.

Another acorn, 30 feet away, caught the Squirrel’s eye. That acorn, he thought, would be worth at least two meals. Quickly, he bounded away from the younger oak to the shade of an older oak, to pick up the newly found treasure.

The Tree considered the conversation, and what it means to be a “tree.”

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Ruckers: Brick and Telephone Pole Caddies

Yesterday I learned about GoRuck, where groups of regular people who themselves through hellish tasks like carrying bricks for miles. The activities are based on Special Forces training and experiences. Teams of folks are led by one cadre, and must endure anywhere from 4 - 24 hours of unending push ups, buddy carrying, and crawling through the Atlantic in December. It sounds like ultra-marathoning, but with lots of weights and people. 

A colleague described his recent GoRuck experience, which involved hauling a telephone pole uphill, as bruise-inducing, and amazing. The goal was to get the job done (teamwork!) versus doing it in a specific time. Through Google, I found that a normal telephone pole weighs approximately 1200 pounds. I also discovered that people pay anywhere from $60-$350 for such an experience. As I was listening, I couldn't wrap my head around it. Why would extreme physical activity be enjoyable? I'd break 20 minutes in with a nap or cookie request.

These types of conversations make me wish I were made of harder stuff – the endurance piece alone sounds intimidating. I can barely function in a 65 degree room for more than a few hours. It makes me realize how different people are built, because I prefer the benefits of mental understimulation (meditation and sleep mainly).  

I’m more likely to stop and smell the roses when I focus on relaxing my mind, which doesn't involved log-carrying. We’re all trying to come to the same point though, which is feeling exhilarated, a sense of togetherness, and proving something to yourself. It’s the stuff of happiness. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

13 Journals and the Puzzles of Life

Yesterday I filled another journal, and it surprisingly only took six months (most of the time the span is longer). My first journal was given to me at the ripe age of 8, and it was a proper diary outfitted with a lock and detachable pen. I wasn't sure what was supposed to go in it at first, so I just wrote about stuff that happened throughout that day. I was perhaps a quarter of the way through the pages when a frenemy at school broke my brain with the explanation of sex. Just the word, SEX, made me stop breathing because it was about the weirdest thing you could do with another person (besides hugging them). I wrote as much as I could into that diary, just so I could get the idea out of my head. People couldn't and shouldn't know what I know. I hid it under a couch cushion, locked, and booby trapped with invisible hairs, so I’d know when to relocate it.

Filled journals spanning a decade.

Since then, I've made it a habit to write out all the bumps, absurdities, and thoughts that muddle my head or drive my emotions to critical mass. Sometimes, I go back to those personal Wikis to see what was going on at a given point.  

“Liz, if we ever dated, it would be great and more fun than I could ever hope to be, but it wouldn't pan out in the end.” I wrote that in the spring of 2004, when I was preparing to take on the world after college. I wrote it, mainly because I couldn't figure out why he told me in the first place. He was intimidatingly smart, and right, of course. This was one of the many instances where I didn't understand what a guy was saying, and it took me almost a decade to catch up. It went in the journal because I was fixated on the honesty and ambiguity of that statement.  Reading it now reminds me how hard it is to date someone, or even find someone who clicks with you and is simultaneously good for you.

So today I start a new journal. It will most likely contain some remnants of the late night conversation I had with Jason last night on how we fall into our own traps. Or maybe just how incredibly delicious this tea is.  Probably both.