Visibility is Terrible (Part I)

I ran up to the kiosk and popped in my debit card. I was running later than I should have; and even later than that.

Enter the first three letters of your final destination, the machine said.

L-A-N I typed hurriedly.

It pulled up options from Lansing to foreign destinations I could only hope to go. Lancaster was not among them. I typed in the full destination. “We’re sorry, United does not fly to Lancaster.” The machine read. I looked at my confirmation again, but everything seemed to be in order.

I fought with the machine while the clock ticked. Finally, the machine gave up and told me to consult a service representative. I had to wait my turn.

The agent who finally helped me looked at the clock and gave me a disapproving look. I know. I know. Just please, please get me on this flight!

She handed me only one boarding pass–to Dulles–but I took it and ran. I would have three hours in Dulles to work it out. For now, my goal was to get through security and on this flight before it left me.

So far, not an unusual trip. Not unusual to fly. Not unusual to fight machines or be scolded by cranky customer service reps. Not unusual to stand in a long security line. Not unusual to be the last person to board a flight.

Since my first flight when I was 14, I’ve spent thousands of hours in air travel. I estimated that I’ve spent at least the equivalent of 83 24-hr days on nothing but air travel. I’m still basically cattle car status with the major airlines, but I recently achieved elite status on Bostic airlines. Which, incidentally, has the best food at the best prices.

Among my experiences is being stranded for about 24 hours in the airport in Beijing only to be placed on a connecting flight operated by “Lucky” airlines. (Who named that and who taught him English?). I’ve fallen asleep in front of my gate only to be woken up by “final boarding call. Passenger Danielle Walker please report to gate A3.” Seems the gate attendants were watching me and taking bets on whether I would wake up or not. One plane we were on crashed into a random set of stairs while taxiing and we all had to deplane and find some other way home. And, of course, there was the unfortunate day when I left my new computer at a security check point–never to recover it on this earth.

I remember as a kid being absolutely fascinated by airports and the whole business of travel–the coming, the going, the adventure. Slowly, the infatuation has worn off and while it remains a utility, air travel is a largely inconvenient one. Necessary, just not terribly exciting.

Following the lost computer incident, I’ve had two other “after shocks.” During my trip to NH this summer, our delay caused me to miss a connection. I spent about an hour and a half at the O’Hare haggling with machines and customer service reps live and on the phone before giving up and booking a room. It was about 11:30 pm and I wasn’t going to be able to get out until sometime the next morning.

I trudged with my bags down the escalator, through their “was-cool-in-the-80s” moving walkway, out through baggage claim, across 5 lanes of traffic and almost to the shuttle. Then I realized I was missing my computer bag. It had mysteriously escaped. And I wanted to cry.

I retraced my steps down the walk, back across the traffic, and back to baggage claim. But of course the TSA official would not let me back in. I tried to explain to him my problem with what little sanity I had left. “Go to the lost baggage counter.” He instructed me.

“You don’t understand.” I was choking back tears by now in what I knew was a futile effort. “This was not a checked bag.”

“Don’t cry.” He ordered.

That did it. I cried.

“Go to baggage claim.” He said again. He would not budge.

I stood in another line at baggage claim. Recounting to myself all the reasons why I was wasting my time and should instead at least be at the hotel trying to rest. And regain sanity. What could they possibly do for me at baggage claim? It was not a checked bag. I had carried it until…until whatever happened, happened. I didn’t recall ever putting it down.

Finally, it was my turn. I explained my plight.

“We don’t have anything to do with bags you carry on with you. Why are you here?” The lady asked me.

Good question. I didn’t know why I was there. Insanity taking over, I guess.

She made a few calls to make me feel like she was trying to help. A few other agents came over and she explained to them my dilemma and they all said the same thing. “Why is she here?”

I felt like a 10 year old trying to convince a teacher that I should get grace because my dog ate my homework. I was the one who lost the computer. I didn’t know where or when. And it wasn’t their problem.

Then, she appeared with it. My computer bag. It was all in tact. I don’t know how she did it and I was in such shock, I didn’t thank her adequately before she moved on to the next customer.

It was my very next trip that I lost my computer again. Yes, again. Curtis and I were working away on our laptops when the plane came in to land. As instructed, I turned my computer off and set it under the seat in front of me. We were in the first row of economy but the barrier between economy and First Class didn’t go all the way to the floor. So when was taxied to a stop, the computer slid out of sight and into the wild blue yonder of First Class.

Since we would be deplaning in just a minute and since no one in First Class would care about my old computer, I wasn’t too worried and while Curtis crawled on the floor and eye-balled it, I didn’t bother to inconvenience the passengers who were trying to gather their things and get off the plane. We would get it soon enough.

Unless, of course, someone stole it.

To be continued…

Pops Goes the Fourth!

bostonWe were fairly new to New England. One of the guys in our church college and career group (who defied all of the rules of single adult living and was actually a planner) had the idea of going to hear the Boston Symphony Orchestra live under the hat shell in downtown Boston on the Fourth. Then, of course, to climax the evening, there would be a spectacular fireworks show.

Boston on the Fourth. What could be more patriotic than that?

So while Planner put together all of the important details, college and career groups can turn even the smallest of details into cumbersome and tiring Group Decisions. A characteristic of C&C groups that has caused more people to starve to death than the potato famine. I hate Group Decisions.

In this particular instance, the group of us stood in the parking lot all of 15 minutes trying to decide who would ride in which vehicle. We had one Lady Driver and one Man Driver and there were one too many girls to fit into Lady Drivers’ car. Hence the dilemma.

One girl attempted to solve the problem and volunteered to ride with the guys. Man Driver actually resolved the problem by replying that it would probably be better if one of the “skinny girls” rode in his truck instead. Mind you, we were all on the thinner side except Volunteer.

To say her feelings were hurt would be putting it mildly. Not a great start to the day.

But, as I hinted, he did resolve the issue because we girls suddenly realized that we could all fit nicely in the girl car and we would just see the guys at the sub station. Decision made.

The first stop of the day had been carefully plotted thanks to Planner and we went to the hat shell to stake a claim on the grass with a blanket and pick up wristbands which would later grant us admission to the Pops Goes the Fourth! concert.

It was 7:00 am. It was 700 degrees. It was 700% humidity.

After that we were “free to sightsee” a phrase which herein means “free to debate what to sightsee.” Planner was actually pretty familiar with the city, but he was completely overshadowed by the two strong personalities held by Lady Driver and Man Driver–neither of whom knew the area. And when I say, strong personalities, I mean with a capital “S.” In comparison, I am meek as Moses (and a lot less likely to hit rocks).

Lady Driver trusted no one with the planning of our Independence Day in Boston. She was determined that the first order of business was to procure a map. This was, of course, before Google maps and smart phones. But even then, printed maps didn’t exactly fall out of parking meters.

By the time we found a map, frankly, it wasn’t necessary. We knew downtown Boston by heart. And Lady Driver had blisters. So now we all needed to go on a band aid hunt.

Mind you, there were still other strong personalities expressing other opinions about what to do, but Lady Driver pretty much had her mind made up. Regrettably, Man Driver was still being punished for his unfortunate comment in the parking lot. And since the girls followed Lady Driver and since there were more girls, when we took off, the guys eventually followed. Hence…decision making morphed from “Group” into a dictatorship/democracy with female only suffrage.

It was probably a little before noon before we settled on our first real attraction of the day–the Aquarium. The Boston Aquarium may be best known for its penguin exhibit, but frankly, all we cared about was the A/C.

It was a long, long day but somehow we made it to 7:00 pm and the esplanade in front of the hat shell. Keith Lockhart was directing the Boston Pops with Barry Manilow as a special guest. I didn’t know who Barry Manilow was, but the lady next to us sure did. She looked at him with sunbeams in her eyes and sang every word of every song along with him–hands clasped in front of her and the whole bit. Her husband just sat next to her and scowled.

It was a good concert though–they played all the classic John Phillip Sousa marches and it gradually cooled off to about 600 degrees and for the first time that day, we seemed to be able to relax a little and actually enjoy ourselves.

The fireworks were good enough to make Walt Disney jealous. And by the time they were in full gear, we were starting to think Planner had actually had a good idea. So, when he suggested that we leave where we were and head to an area to the left of the esplanade, we trusted his judgment.

But this one time, Planner made a mistake.

In theory, we were going to be able to see some of the smaller displays over the water better from the new vantage point, but in fact, we could see nothing. The space was crowded beyond belief but by the time we had fought our way in through the crowds, there was really no getting out.

The fireworks ended and when we turned our attention to a way out of the crowds, we realized that we were stuck on a tiny island with about ten thousand other people and one foot bridge. At first, I thought we were making headway, but soon began to realize that the only thing that was happening was that we were becoming more compact. Very compact.

It’s an unpleasant feeling when the sweat streaming down your back is not your sweat. When a fly lands on your head and you can’t free a hand to swat at it. We were so compact that I was in one row, my feet were in the row behind me, and my purse was about three or four rows behind that. It would have been the perfect opportunity for someone to wipe it clean. If they could have gotten their hands free.

I don’t know how long we stood like that, but it was at least two hours because by the time we got off the island and to the closest subway, it was after midnight and the sub was closed. As was the next. The next. And the next.

So it was actually well into July 5th before we found ourselves truly heading for home. We were all in need of band aids, and frankly, by that point, any car would do.

Needless to say, the logistics of that day sort of eclipsed the whole patriotic celebration thing and it’s taken 12 years for the sweat to dry so I could really laugh about the experience. But when I count my blessings and give thanks for the freedoms that so many have given so much for—I count among them the freedom not to go to Boston on the Fourth.

Okay Grads, Here’s My Advice:

thEXP33LMKIf you’ve perused the card aisle recently, I’d bet my teeth that this is the jist of what you read in the graduation section. And if you are like me, this is what you thought.

Follow your dreams. After all, It worked for My Little Pony, the Little Mermaid, and Rainbow Brite.

Believe in yourself. Because there are a few worse things you could believe in—like zombies, My Little Pony, and Rainbow Brite.

Reach for the sky. There’s nothing up there. But it will be a good stretch.

Be yourself. Don’t let anyone change you. Just be yourself at a big school on the other side of the state so I don’t have to put up with your selfish attitudes.

Enjoy the journey. And if you get a job, you might have enough money to travel, too.

Look inside yourself; then follow your heart. Wow. And they say texting and driving is dangerous!

What you believe, you can achieve. Yeah, I guess CNN still doesn’t believe in finding Flight 370.

What matters in life is not your success, but your significance. And you’ll never be able to accurately measure either one. That’s depressing.

YOU did it! That’s right…YOU opened your eyes every morning when the alarm your parents bought you went off. Then YOU put on the clothes your dad paid for, ate the breakfast your mom made, and one of them dropped YOU off at school carrying the lunch your mom packed. YOU stayed alive all day while your teachers tried to beat knowledge into your head against your will, and then YOU sat and griped at the kitchen table while your mom made you do your home work. And when it was all over, your parents made you go to bed so YOU would get enough rest to do it all again the next day. For a lot of years.

And now I’m writing YOU a check.

Needless to say, I am unimpressed with graduation cards.

So I googled the best graduation speeches. I read speeches given by everyone from Steve Jobs to Steven Colbert. And each of them were basically the same thing as reading the wall of cards at the grocery store. You did it! Now follow your dreams. You haven’t failed until you stopped trying. I don’t think there have been more commonly repeated lies (with maybe the exception of that little thing about how you could keep your insurance).

To be fair, there were a few statements here and there about hard work and giving back. But almost every speaker seemed to be trying to inspire graduates to ______________? I’m not sure. Be themselves??? Keep moving forward???   Think??? Why, at graduation, do we all feel so compelled to inspire and yet resort to such ridiculous statements like this card.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all for celebrating milestones. And I think there is hard work involved in school—especially some school—that is worth rewarding. But it truly amazes me how many words a speaker can string together and say nothing. On graduation day, that seems to be completely acceptable. Even for non-politicians.

But what most graduates need is not as much recognition of their achievement, but preparation for change. When a graduation is followed by a major life changes—different location, different friends, different activities, different schedule, and student loan payments–all at once, it is little wonder that so many grads struggle. Good thing we’ve equipped them with helpful phrases such as: Like shining stars, every one of us has the potential to light up the darkness with our own particular brilliance.  [Author unknown.  I didn’t write that gem.]

I feel compelled to do better than that. And since no one asked me to speak at a graduation and since I can’t find any good cards, here is my advice:

Practically: Get a job. Any job.  Forget all this nonsense about doing what you love.  The fact is, you won’t love any job every day.  You will love a job most if you are good at it.  And you will get good at it by doing.  So yes, get a job you think you’ll like if you can.  And if you can’t, just get a job.

Work hard. Try to make your employer successful. Don’t be above any task. Learn everything you can learn—in your mind, don’t think of it as flipping hamburgers, think of it as learning how to run a business. You can build valuable skills just about anywhere.

Be kind to your co-workers. You will enjoy your job more and you will learn how important people skills are to anything you do. If your co-workers are obnoxious, weed-smoking, partiers, then take note of the fact that they work at a hamburger joint and for Pete’s sake, don’t try to be like them. Work that much harder so you can get out of there faster. Take the good and leave the bad, but be kind in the process.

Respect your boss. He knows more than you do. True story. Sure, he may not appreciate you for everything you are and do. He may not know all the hoops you had to jump through to carry out his instructions. He may not keep you informed of everything that you really should have been told. But that’s life. And one day, when you’re the boss, you’ll forgive him everything.

Emotionally: Be grateful.

If you want to be happy, be grateful. Gratitude can lift your spirits like a hot air balloon and an ungrateful heart will sink you right into the electrical wires. Remember how little of your achievements are really that—your achievements. Thank the people who have invested in you.

Spiritually: Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. All the other things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

So there’s my advice for graduates.  And here is my free bonus advice: don’t get a tattoo.

And here’s my advice for non-graduates: Don’t waste your money on a card. Just write your check for $4.00 more and give it to them with a firm handshake. If they feel cheated, they can always go to the grocery store and buy themselves a card.

But I’ll bet my teeth that they won’t.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Courthouse

I have seen that title floating around for years. And I know now—more so than ever—that it is a lie. It’s a lie straight from—well—I can’t really imagine where because I don’t even know a lawyer that is a good enough liar to make that up. That’s like saying, “a funny thing happened during brain surgery.” Some things are just not funny.

The way to the courthouse is when you realize you forgot an exhibit you needed. It’s when you decide you need an exhibit you didn’t make. It’s when your client calls because they can’t find you and you realize they went to the wrong courthouse. It’s when someone in front of you gets in a wreck. It’s when the parking garage is full. It’s when you second guess whether you read the correct line of cases or are calling the right witnesses. It’s when the one hour of sleep you got the night before is just not enough.

You could put Barney Fife, Gomer Pyle, Mike Rowe and Yogi Berra in the car with you on the way to the courthouse and it would not be funny.

As a matter of fact, not much happens in the legal world that’s funny. That’s just the unfortunate fact of the field I’m in. Bizarre, yes. Contentious, yes. Funny, not much.

In the ten years I’ve worked at the BLF, we’ve had people forge insurance paperwork, intentionally break their own bones, name their two daughters the same thing, request a bronze pig as a headstone, falsify leases, claim severe scarring from bed bugs, and more. You should read what some people will fill in on a web form to describe their legal concerns. Yeah, there are some odd ducks out there. But save the one person who claimed they slipped out of the hotel shower into the toilet, not many are truly funny.

So when I decided that I wanted to write about something funny that happened at the Bostic Law Firm, I had to dig deep. Way deep. But one lady saved me.

I tried to change names to protect the innocent, but it just didn’t work. I couldn’t tell the story. So instead, I have changed names to protect the guilty. For the sake of this story, I will call her “Miss A” (only because it has pretty much nothing to do with her real name).

Miss A came to us because of a car wreck. She did not have a very good case, and frankly, it wasn’t long at all before we completely regretted having signed up Miss A.

But to her, it was the most important case in the world. And she called every day to make sure that it was being treated as such. I don’t know if she thought we were all hard of hearing or just stupid, but either way, she made sure we heard her by bellowing into the phone, “HI, THIS IS MISS A. IS PETER SAWYER THERE?”

It wasn’t a question, it was a demand, and frankly, it was entirely unnecessary. We knew who it was before she even got the “HI” out and no one would have robbed Peter of the pleasure of speaking with her that day.

If, for some reason, Peter was not able to satisfy her concerns over the phone, Miss A would unexpectedly show up and express herself in the lobby, “WHERE PETER SAWYER?” she would ask. The rest of us would run and hide. “I NEED PETER.” The glass doors would shake. Whatever Peter was doing, he would have no choice but to immediately direct his attention to her. “WHERE’S MY MONEY?” I would grab my wallet and sit on it.

Miss A was about twice Peter’s size (or so it seemed) and I was borderline scared for him a time or two. If things didn’t seem to be progressing as quickly as she would like, she let us know in decibels.

Fortunately, the day came for Miss A to come pick up her check. She arrived at the office decked to the hilt. Every nail painted; every eyelash in place—and about five times as long as natural. She wore platform shoes that made her presence even more noticeable (if that was possible), but she was sweet to our office manager; she was patient in the lobby. Peter was the conquering hero and the rest of us came out of hiding to witness the end of the historic era of Miss A.

After signing her release, and getting her check, Miss A, got up and floated out of the conference room.

This is the part I’m not sure I can do justice to. You may just have to have been there to really appreciate what happened next. You may just have to have known her. You may have to have heard her commanding voice booming through our office to really get the scene in your mind. But I’ll do my best.

Miss A was so happy, that she reached out to give Peter a crushing hug. Peter, who—to his credit—doesn’t generally go around hugging women, had no real choice about whether or not to participate. But from my view from the next room, I saw him try to extricate himself after ten seconds or so and it was a noble effort.

But Miss A’s long, flowing braids attached themselves to Peter’s glasses and her wig stayed even after he pulled away.

It was one of the funniest scenes of my life—Peter backing up and her voluminous wig preferring his glasses over her head.

It’s okay to laugh—it was not an “I’m battling cancer” wig it was more of an “I want to beautiful and I don’t have the patience” wig. And it was hilarious. I had to go back into hiding so I could laugh. And laugh I did.

That scene has provided me comic relief many, many times since.

Just not on the way to the courthouse.

I Want to Eat Healthy. Sometimes.

So…I’m fairly confused about the whole healthy eating thing, but I try to make an effort. At least, in between everything else I eat.

Recently, I stopped at one of the “healthy” supermarkets. I perused the aisles like the nutritionist I am not, checking labels and reading ingredient lists as if I understood them. I chose the healthiest lunch items I could find (that I thought I would actually eat), then I headed to the checkout counter to see what the damage would be. As I was waiting in line, I saw some “healthy” chocolate mint patties—looking attractive and utterly harmless perched on their shelf beside the register. The package boasted “only three ingredients!”

It’s not as if mint is some lifelong favorite of mine, so I’m not really sure why I yielded to that particular temptation after turning down so many others. I suppose it was just the simple fact that they were beside the cash register.

It was the next day after lunch when I felt the hankering for something sweet that I broke out the chocolate mint patties. They looked fairly convincing—and I was proud of myself for buying a healthy alternative to what I really wanted.

I took one bite and I nearly spit it into the next room. The whole thing tasted like something that should involve a phone number for poison control. Those three ingredients must have been Simple Green, Soft Scrub, and wax.

Call me what you like, tell me I’ve been ruined by the evils of sugar, read me any book, make me watch any movie—that thing was vile.

Watching people who eat super healthy diets is like going to the circus. Performers who effortlessly walk a tiny tightrope between two poles make you think, “Wow! What skill! What courage!” Then you see acrobats swinging stories between heaven and earth by their hair and you think, “Nope. Not worth it. Not for me at any price.”

Eating healthfully is like backwards barefoot mud skiing through a cranberry bog. For a select few, it is fun and exciting. For the rest of us, it is at best the cruelest of torture; and at worst an unfortunate and unpleasant way to meet your Maker.

Trying to eat healthfully is like trying to find your way through an authentic Iowa corn maze…Enduring the heat and the bugs only to discover that you wasted your energy on yet another dead end. And eventually, feeling so lost that you defy all the rules and head straight through the corn rows for the parking lot.

Seriously. Theories on what makes for the healthiest of diets are as numerous as theories of whatever happened to Flight 370 and just as disturbing. To some, it is all about calories. To others—about gluten… glycemic index…carbohydrates…proteins…organics, fats, GMOs, chemicals and insecticides…whatever…and the market will supply wherever the winds of demand take it and mark them up 15-75% from the “non-health food” alternative. It seems our planet in 2014 is a virtual minefield for would-be healthy eaters…especially those without the means to hire a personal chef.

So what does one do? Live on spinach? Even that, I hear, is not a good idea (too much can give you kidney stones). Nothing seems safe but starving to death.

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence for any theory you want to believe. For example, my grandfather is almost 97. He has been a gardener most of his life. He has organically grown green leafy vegetables (the one thing all experts seem to agree are good for you) and consumed them faithfully. He stayed active—playing tennis, swimming, and riding his bike. Not surprising, he has always been relatively healthy.

Aha! Proof that we all need to eat vegetables and exercise regularly!

And he eats a bowl of ice cream every day. Propylene glycol (antifreeze) and all. And he eats baked goods constantly—yep, white sugar and gluten. He buys them from the discount sections in the back so he can get fifty cents off (which doesn’t matter, because most of them have a shelf life that would enable him to bequeath them in his will).   And everyone who sold him annuities is going broke.

Aha! Proof that it doesn’t matter what you eat!

Trying to discern what to eat using Scripture doesn’t exactly make things easy. Granted, it does eliminate the “eat nuts, berries, and meats like our ancestors who roamed the earth for millions of years before us” theory (which, if based on a truth, leaves me wondering why all who ate such a healthy diet are extinct). But, it still leaves room for quite a few other “biblical” theories like those who pull a verse out of Ezekiel and turn it into a recipe from God. Hmmmm. Perhaps not all bad, just not all it is marketed to be.

But the Bible does have a lot to say about food just as it does any other area of life. And after some research and some study, this is what I’ve come to so far:

  • Be as good of a steward as you can be. Just about all the nutrition “greats” agree on some things: More vegetables, less sugar. More natural, less processed. More raw, less cooked. More exercise, less stress. More water, less Pepsi. We can all use the same general principles that we use to avoid smoking and drugs and try to be good stewards of the temple God gave us. I Corinthians 6:19-20. If you live your life eating pasta while watching television, don’t complain to me that you don’t feel well. You are not going to feel well. Conversely, you probably know your body better than anyone. So if you conclude that it is better if you avoid dairy, or sugar, or gluten, or whatever, I’ll cheer you on. I have a lot of respect for several friends who have taken drastic measures to deal with health issues nutritionally.
  • Don’t let food become an idol. Food, or the lack thereof, shouldn’t be the central focus of our lives—at least not under normal circumstances (health issues might require more focus for some people). Philippians 3:18-19. We shouldn’t let it be our source of fulfillment. Sometimes, we are going to need to limit our desires so as not to offend; sometimes we might expand our horizons so as not to offend. Because, after all, if God really wanted His church to follow a single set of strict guidelines, He would have said so. And He didn’t. I Corinthians 10:31
  • Be disciplined; use moderation. Sometimes it is healthy for us to deny ourselves our wants for some greater purpose (Isaiah 58:6). Sometimes repentance, sometimes provision for others, and sometimes for consecration to Him. It is healthy for us to discipline our bodies and Scripture strongly discourages gluttony. I Corinthians 9:17; Prov 23:20-22. Ouch.
  • Celebrate! Just about every biblical holiday involved food—yes, even the marriage of the Lamb will include a feast. When it’s appropriate, eat well. Leviticus 23:2 And if you are following the other guidelines, it won’t be a problem.

There. That’s it. Those are all my conclusions.

That and the fact that I will no longer buy wanna-be healthy peppermint patties. If I need one that badly, I will buy the real thing. After all, you are what you eat, and I wouldn’t want to be nasty hunk of wax and Simple Green.


Went to the Gym; Forgot to put it on Facebook; an Entire Workout Wasted

If you’ve ever considered joining a gym, you’ve probably been told the same lies I was told…you’re going to look better, feel better, have more energy, make new friends, and be healthier…you’re just going to love coming here!

When I first moved to Charleston, I finally set aside my aversion to monthly payments, and I tried out several gyms before settling on Ladies Choice Fitness. As the name suggests, it was a ladies only gym. That is probably why it went out of business. There was nothing interesting there. I mean nothing interesting to do there (just treadmills and Judge Judy). I did, however, go faithfully for the two years. I do not remember looking better, feeling better, or having more energy, and I didn’t get to know one single person over the course of my membership. The employees changed like the wind and very few of the members came to sit around and chat. That is, except the Mary Kay lady. She cost me more money than the whole membership.

I did nothing for two years after severing ties with Ladies Choice.  That is, my plan was to get exercise by mowing the lawn and doing other profitable activities. I tried out several gyms, though, and finally after one high-pressure sales talk, I found myself joining Select Fitness. I went there consistently for one year before Steffanie talked me into doing P90X with her. But Steffanie recently got married and took P90X with her, so I have found myself debating once again what I’m going to do to look good, feel good, have more energy, make new friends, and be healthier. This is where the story really begins.

By now, I had a pretty good idea of what gyms are in the area and what they offer and what they cost. I made up my mind to start going to St. Andrews. They don’t have very impressive cardio machines, weights, or technology, but they have a pool, racquetball courts, and Tae Kwon Do classes that all sounded interesting. I am a fan of variety and I was looking forward to trying some new things.

Last Tuesday night, I went by on my way home and they offered me a free week, so I thought I would do that to get started. I arrived early Thursday morning prepared to swim laps. The pool was already loaded with dedicated swimmers quietly gliding from one end of the pool to the other. Some of them you could only see a small snorkel sticking up above the water, and a few you couldn’t see at all. I hoped I snuck in under the radar while they were all preoccupied. I’m not a very good swimmer. In fact, I don’t know if you would even call what I do “swimming.”

But I splashed my way to the end of the pool and back. And there and back. And I was pooped.

I looked at the clock. It had been about four minutes.

Fortunately, one of the super-good swimmers took that opportunity to swim on his back one lap and that idea saved me. I did some swimming on my back to break up the work out. Well, that, and the ladies aqua aerobics class. Little did I know that at 6:00 am on Thursdays, about a dozen ladies ages 60 and up don swimsuits and do kicking and stretching in the pool right next to the lane I was in. It was so entertaining that the next 20 minutes passed quickly.

But when I got to work at 7:30 am, I was exhausted. Seriously, I was trying to prop my eyes open the whole day. I was slapping myself, eating chocolate, and playing music and I could just hardly stay awake until 5:00. In fact, I had a headache and generally felt terrible. So much for the “feel better” and “have more energy” lies. I could have gone to sleep under my desk. Maybe they put some kind of drugs in the pool.

I still felt so awful on Friday morning that I didn’t go back to the gym until Saturday. They had a 9:00 am “spin” class. For those of you that don’t know, that’s what we cool people call riding a bike. Again, trying to be inconspicuous because I had no idea if I would be able to keep up or not, I picked a bike all of the way in the back of the room. There was an impressive number of people for 9:00 am on a Saturday, so I figured I would pretty much go unnoticed. The instructor played a video of lovely scenery while giving us instructions. We climbed hills, did sprints, and just enjoyed the Puerto Rican roadways in between.

As I rode along, I noticed that pretty much everyone else had brought water and a towel with them. Well, that was okay, it was only an hour. But the more we sprinted and climbed, the hotter it got in that room. Even with fans blowing, I could tell I was starting to get light headed. Would this class never end? I kept looking at my watch. Ten minutes. Five minutes. Two minutes. Zero minutes. It should have been over, but there she was, still up there smiling and giving instructions—oblivious to my agony.

Finally, she instructed us to get off our bikes to do some final stretches. I got off my bike, but the world just kept spinning. I tried to stretch, but Puerto Rico was starting to go black. I knew I needed to sit down or I was going to end up on the floor some less desirable way. Good thing I was in the back. I sat down and leaned against the wall. The class was basically over and surely no one would notice me.

Wrong. People were on me like flies on honey. Was I okay? Did they need to call an ambulance? Did I want the rest of their water? Did I need to call someone? Had I already purchased my burial plot?

I stood up so that people could see that I actually wasn’t dying, just a little faint, and about four of them escorted me to a bench outside. It was much, much cooler, so I felt a little better and I tried very hard to act like I was fine so that they would all go away and leave me alone. No such luck. Cups of water. Juice. I tried to put it all in my system and it was not a good thing. I was going to throw up. “I need to go.” I said, and I made a charge for the ladies locker room. At least I could throw up in the privacy of a stall.

But it wasn’t over. The lady in the stall next to me took it upon herself to run to the manager. The next thing I knew I had the manager, class teacher, and a few other people all pinging me at once. “I’m fine.” I kept saying. “We’re going to call someone to pick you up.” They told me. “Who can we call?” Frankly, I couldn’t think of anyone who would want to drive to the gym on a Saturday morning and get me when I was fine and had a perfectly good truck sitting out front.

Then they told me they had to fill out an incident report. Good grief.  There was a “bad girl file” on me and I hadn’t even joined yet. Yeah, so much for the feel better, have more energy thing. That’s strike two.

Monday morning, I went to swim again before work. The only lane open was smack in the middle of all the super-good swimmers. Twenty minutes seemed like an eternity, and I kept getting water in my contacts which made it so I couldn’t see where I was going. Thank God for the floating ropes that I kept bumping into.

I didn’t have the same level of diversion, so I felt incredibly self-conscious swimming alongside of people who looked and acted like something out of the last Olympics. I have to swim with my head up, because if I put my face in the water like everyone else does, I end up with a coughing fit, and I really don’t want another incident to add to my record. I have stopped laughing at the ladies doing aerobics in the shallow end of the pool.

Then I had an idea: all of these people had skull caps and goggles. They may not make a better swimmer out of me, but they do make for a fairly effective disguise. By the time I put my hair in a black latex cap and put on a thick pair of goggles, who really cares how I swim?

Well, let’s just say that it’s a good thing I never believed the lies about looking better, feeling better, and having more energy. So far, this gym has had me looking foolish and feeling terrible. I will say, though, that the people have all been nice; especially when I want to be inconspicuous and stay under the radar.

And this morning, I made myself go back to the spin class and this time made it through without an incident report. In fact, I made a friend at the class (calm down, it was another girl). And maybe if I keep working at it, I will learn to swim with the Olympic greats. Maybe. Oh, and I bought a racquetball racket, so I’m going to give that a try.

And if all else fails, going to the gym at least gives me something to post on Facebook.


This is an non-original title and a non-original post (written a few years ago)…but I’ve been re-inspired to go to the gym recently and, frankly, I need a little more time to finish my next “original” blog post.

Amelia Bedelia and I

I was staring mindlessly down the hardware aisle. It was my third time to Home Depot. That day. This time, I had made a list of five things I needed. I even alliterated the list in my head so that I would be able to remember. Yet here I was, down to the final two items, and all I could remember was that they both started with “D.” I walked up and down hoping that something would trigger my memory and I would be able to complete my third Hope Depot trip of the day without the defeat of an inevitable fourth trip.

It was not to be. I finally checked out with my three items and headed out to the parking lot.

I hate when I do dumb, inefficient things. Mindless characters make for great kids’ stories, but they are not so much fun when the main character is you. Nevertheless, I am not Amelia Bedelia.

We all know Amelia Bedelia. The kind lady with the IQ of a jack rabbit who can cook like the child of Rachel Ray and the Cake Boss.

I am not Amelia Bedelia. I can prove it. I don’t say that because I have never “spotted a dress” by taking a can of paint and adding spots to a white gown. I say that because all of her books have happy endings and all of those happy endings involve food.

My experiences with making food seldom have happy endings.

Just recently, my parents came to Charleston. We went out to dinner, but I was convinced that I could at least make breakfast the next morning. I had oatmeal for my mom, but my dad is a refrigerator biscuit guy. He loves those canned refrigerator biscuits, scrambled eggs, and bacon. I figured I could handle oatmeal, refrigerator biscuits, scrambled eggs, and bacon. Most anybody could.

So I put water on to boil and I turned the oven on to preheat while I got some other things in order. It wasn’t long at all before I began to smell a strange smell. I ignored it at first, but when I opened my oven to look for a baking sheet—I found the source.

Yes, as I expected, the stack of baking sheets was sitting on the top rack. This would have been no big deal. Except that some of them were new. This also would have been no big deal except that they had been wrapped in plastic. I say “had been” because the plastic was now gluing the sheets together and creating stalactites and stalagmites between the top rack and the bottom of the oven.

It had been so long since I opened my oven that I forgot that when I put those there I thought to myself—now I need to remember to take these out before I turn the oven on…

But the sad part is this story doesn’t really stand out in my series of food misadventures. There are many, many more—most that involve me and some distraction that kept me from focusing on what otherwise might have been a successful meal—but some are just completely random.

Like the time I set a Pyrex dish of brownies on top of the stove to cool while I ate lunch with some friends. Halfway through the meal, we heard what sounded like a gun shot inside my house. It was not a gunshot; just a deadly pan of exploding brownies. Unbeknowst to me, I had set the Pyrex pan on a hot burner. I never did get all the burn marks off my floor.

Then there was the time that I thought I set the microwave timer for 20 minutes, but I actually turned the microwave on—empty—for 20 minutes. It had a major meltdown sometime before the alarm went off. For several days, I thought it was toast. When she came to, the words flashing across the tiny screen were all in Spanish. I’m not sure I wanted to know what they said.

Oh, I’m just getting started—one time (another brownies story) I don’t know what I did wrong. I thought I followed the box: egg, water, oil, what is hard about that? But about the time the brownies should have been finished, I opened the oven to find a hard dark brick which had pulled away from the edges of the pan and appeared to be frying in its own fat. I considered opening a booth at the fair for deep fried brownies but the liability insurance quote came back too high when I said I’d be cooking.

But that isn’t my worst cooking story. The worst would go something like this:

It was taco night at church. I was asked to bring two pounds of taco meat. No problem.

I was coming from work and so tried to arrive a few minutes early and cook the meat in the fellowship hall.

I thought I was there plenty early—but either I wasn’t or everyone else was early too. The fellowship hall was quickly filling with people as I attempted to inconspicuously fry ground beef on the stove. Everyone seemed to feel the need to come over and ask me what I was doing. It was taco night. Did they think I was scrambling eggs?

Something must have been on the burner because almost immediately a burned smell permeated around the room and it wasn’t the meat. In fact, it seemed to be the world’s slowest cooking meat. Ever.

Meanwhile, the fellowship hall started filling with smoke. People began to cough and choke. At first it was a little teasing and a lot of drama. But pretty soon it was just a lot of smoke. It looked less like a church fellowship dinner and more like an Indian peace conference. More people came over to the stove to ask me what I was doing.

Someone tried to prop open the fellowship hall doors, but it was not a warm evening. So—picture a fellowship hall full of people, coughing, choking, shivering, and squinting to see through the haze. Meanwhile, I was begging God to let the crazy meat cook! It was like the burning bush.

Finally, someone came up to me and when I turned around, I was so rattled that I swung the pan around with me. Some of the meat flew across the counter and in my haste to over correct, I dumped the contents.

It might have all fallen on the floor, but for one thing.

One thing.

That one thing was my purse, which sat open on the floor by my feet.

That’s right. I dumped two pounds of ground beef into my purse.

After all the smoke. All the haze. All the smells. All the shivers. I dumped the two pounds of ground beef into my purse.

How I wanted to leave it there and go home. But my keys were somewhere inside. Under the two pounds of hot, greasy ground beef.

It was months before I would eat tacos again. And it has been eight years and I’ve still never been asked to bring taco meet again. In fact, the food coordinator apologized to me afterwards for asking me to bring something “hard” like taco meat.

I now get asked to bring sour cream. Occasionally, they branch out and ask me to bring shredded cheese. But they do not ask me to bring “hard” things like taco meat.

So now you understand why I say I’m no Amelia Bedelia.

My happy endings include things like walking into my house to switch on the light and realizing the cracked double light switch plate had had been on my list to replace. Then shutting the sliding glass door and remembering that I needed a dowel to complete my Ft. Knox-like security system.  My happy endings look an awful like the beginning of a list for a fourth trip to Home Depot.

And the lesson in all of this: I should  stay away from trying to cook “hard” things like taco meat, box brownies, and refrigerator biscuits.

Big Red

When I pulled up to drop something off at the Hock’s house the other
night, Chris asked me, “So, why are you driving that thing?”

“That thing” that he was referring to was a 1994 F150. It had a post hole
digger, a shovel, a dog bowl, and a few feet of rope in the bed. In the cab
with me were a few empty water bottles, a dirty paper plate, a drop cloth,
and a pair of old tennis shoes.

And why was I driving it? Well, because it is a stick shift and I don’t want to
get any older not knowing how to drive a standard.

Up until Thursday evening, my entire experience with a stick shift was a sad attempt at a driving lesson around the neighborhood with my friend Melissa about 4 years ago, a few country roads with my friend Anita about a year ago, and one load of junk from the house to the dumpster with Curtis and Stephen. Poor Big Red.

So I pulled up after having been given due permission to drive Big Red for a week. Climbed in and started it up just fine. Then I surveyed my dilemma. The marks have long since worn off the gear selector and I couldn’t remember how to put it in reverse. To make matters worse, the truck was parked right in front of a pole. I only had about four inches of trial and error. Not a great start to this adventure.

So, I did the logical thing. I called my dad and asked him how to reverse. He tried to give me instructions to drive a truck he’d never seen before while I tried to talk on the phone and try them out at the same time. Like I said, the truck started just fine. I know because I started it about ten times in a row. Yeah, in a row. I couldn’t get the truck to move. Not forward or backward. It just kept dying. I finally hung up the phone so I could focus. But it wasn’t until I finally figured out the parking break that I actually went anywhere.

Well, things went okay as I pulled out of the driveway and onto the country roads, but I had forgotten a very important detail. I was going to have to pull out from a stop sign and make a left into heavy, highway speed traffic. Well, here we go.

Well, here we didn’t go. I tried to go. I tried to go several times. But I kept going backwards. I kept hitting the gas and the truck would roll backward. What in the world? I didn’t have it in reverse. I wasn’t on a hill. The people behind me started to back up. I tried a few more times. By now, I wasn’t scared of getting killed pulling out into traffic, I was scared of Big Red reversing his way all the way home.

The vehicle behind me pulled up next to me. “Not working?” It was two guys from…another country. They were laughing and it was probably a good thing I couldn’t understand much of what they said. They pushed me and Big Red over onto the side of the road. It’s leaking. They informed me. That must be the problem. It’s leaking.

Another guy pulled up in front of me and popped the hood. “That’s your radiator.” He said. “That’s your…” He proceeded to point at all of the different truck guts and tell me their names. Very helpful. Finally he said, it’s not leaking anything. That’s just the air conditioner. Here let me try this. He hopped in and had it working just fine. He threw me a softball, “Sometimes the clutch just needs to be pumped a few times.” Then he gave me his phone number and told me to call him if I had any other problems.  Yeah, right.

So, it was me and Big Red again. Somehow, we made it all the way back to the office. Forward to the office, I mean.  Do you know that Fords kinda jump around? It’s the weirdest thing. I just prayed no one I knew saw me hopping, crawling, dying, and just generally surviving my way into town.

When I pulled into the parking lot and shut the thing off, I couldn’t for the life of me get the keys out of the ignition. Finally, I gave up and just left it. Surely no one would steal Big Red. He wouldn’t even let me drive him and I had permission. Then I had a stroke of genius and I hung one of the old tennis shoes over the keys–so no one would notice.

Big Red and I got along pretty well that night and the next morning as I was on my way to work I started thinking I was starting to get the hang of driving with a stick shift. I pulled up at the final stop sign across from the office and let out a sign of relief. But it wasn’t over. Big Red threw the biggest fit of his life. As I hopped my way into the parking lot–my pastor drove by. Excellent timing. Just smile and wave.

That brings us to Saturday. Saturday I was supposed to go kayaking with a group from church. Jonathan asked if we could take Big Red since it would be easy to hitch up a trailer to him. I said that would be fine as long as he drove it. I didn’t want to put anyone through me driving a stick shift–with a trailer–on unfamiliar roads–with other people following me. That would be a recipe for disaster.

Jonathan had no trouble at all taking the keys out of the ignition when he stopped. So not fair. We were parked at a boat landing generally in the middle of nowhere, so we threw all of our valuables inside and locked the door. That was 9:30 am.

Little did I know, the ignition key that I so carefully put in my pocket before locking up was just that–an ignition key. It was not going to open the truck. Not ever. Not with any amount of convincing. A coat hanger wasn’t going to do anything for us either. When you lock up a 1994 Ford truck, you’re done. That’s it.

It was 4:30 pm before Big Red and I were happily on the way home again. I was tired and he was hungry. But overall, it had been a good day.

Sunday morning, I opted not to take Big Red to church. I was going to meet my cousin and his wife whom I hadn’t seen in years. Just for…good measure…I would take my Chevy Silverado.

That was probably a good decision. When Nathanial saw my wheels he said something like, “a truck? I didn’t figure you to be such a redneck.” Good thing I didn’t bring Big Red. Nathanial would have bought me a pair of overalls and started calling me Bubba.

Well, I’m not discouraged by the fact that I can’t open Big Red, can’t move him, and end up going backwards when I want to go forward. Honestly, that’s not the problem. The problem is that he goes through gas like he owns BP. Big Red has two tanks and we’ve been through both of them. I guess that is his way to get even with me and it might be working. I wish I could tell you how many miles we’ve traveled together, but the odometer is broken. Along with the speedometer. I guess that’s kind of part of what makes him. And now that we’ve mostly worked out our differences, I may just let him return to his comfortable life as a farm truck.

I thought about giving him a good scrubbing before I return him, but after all we had put each other through, he had earned my respect.  And like any good farm truck, he is probably happier with the mud.

Originally posted May 31, 2010.