Friday, May 02, 2008

Game's On, Shuffling the iPod and Those High Gas Prices (Friday Roundup)

Parlor Games & Weekend Plans ... If you are hard up for something to do this weekend, we have come across a delightful little Q&A starter, perfect for the couple who has been together more than 18 years, is too unimaginative to go out and too exhausted to care.

You can imagine my glee when I saw these two books on the kitchen counter still inside the bag. A new conversation game! I'm just competitive enough to see the pair of quiz books as a challenge. In fact, all I could think was, "I'm going to kick his #@% in this game." I don't forget ANYthing. He can't remember what he had for dinner.

But kudos to the man for finding this gem, which I have realized is simply a kinder, gentler version of several games I have tried to initiate, like:

• Name my friends who you think are hot.

This request received a swift and firm "absolutely not." And then this, shouted over his shoulder as he left the room: "I might have fallen for that a couple of years ago, but not now." Which begs the question: So exactly who DOES he think is hot?

• List all the things (character flaws, bad habits, etc.) that drive each other crazy.

I once had the idea that we should host a candid exchange of "Here's What I Think Is Wrong With You," with each player having equal time to offer an honest assessment of how the other person could shed his/her bad habits and in effect become more enjoyable to live with and bring more to the table at a dinner party. Apparently, I was the only one who thought this idea had any merit. I still do. None of us is perfect. Everyone could stand some degree of improvement.

What I lost by not being able to employ MY games, these books deliver! We've unearthed all sorts of vital pieces of information, like whether he can raise one eyebrow at a time. (Yes, he can.) We know each others' least favorite relatives on opposing sides. (If my paranoid mother is reading this, she is asking, "Was it me? He wouldn't have said it's me, would he? Where's that phone?") I know that he doesn't remember the phone number I had when we first started dating. (But I do.) In fact, on the answer sheet, he made up a number that is partly our current fax number, partly some number in another state.

But he hit a homerun when he answered the following fill-in-the-blank correctly: If you want to make her unhappy, serve her ________ for dinner. Correct answer: Corndogs!

Bingo! Well played, sir.

These books retail for $5.95 each and are available at Target. And lots of other places, too.

The Most Cliché Comment Made in the Entire Month of April ... In one of The Today Show's more self-serving Moments of the Week (last week), First Lady Laura Bush sat on the lovely couch surrounded by The Today Show anchors, who were sitting on their hands, waiting to ask poignant questions, like "What's on your iPod?" Laura Bush looked startled, as if she wanted to say, "I don't know what you're talking about," or, "I beg your pardon, but that's really none of your business." Instead, she answered, "Oldies ... and Motown." Yawn ...
Loosen UP, Laura! It's not like your husband is running for election! Say what you WISH you could upload on your iPod, for Pete's sake, if you only knew how. For example, I haven't updated mine since Christmas break because it's such a pain in the rear, and that's why I'm typing away to Chaka Khan this very minute. I do love Chaka Khan, but sometimes I'm just not in a Chaka Khan frame of mind. When Leona Lewis is uploaded, she will make a fine neighbor to Chaka Khan, because you must know that mine is a DIVERSE iPod neighborhood—Mary J. Blige, Paul Simon, Sara Bareilles, Stevie Wonder, Elizabeth Mitchell, Feist and, of course, Andy Gibb. Ray Charles, Elvis and Rod Stewart roam the block from time to time, just to keep everyone in line.

Four Dollars a Gallon? Who CARES? ... By my calculations, summer vacation begins in exactly 14 days. For us, it will last approximately 99 days. If gas prices and a sluggish economy are going to keep you home more than you'd like, let me share the following tale with you: During one spring break, when I was essentially the only person who stayed in town and was therefore responsible for feeding every animal and double-checking the locks on storefronts, I took the only two children I had at the time to a church playground with their bikes. And there they played for about four hours, in the dirt, on the slides and swings, until they were sweaty and limp. I told them we were at the beach.

It's the weekend ... Go play games, listen to some music, lie to your kids ...

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Myths & Legends: The Runner's High

I am in search of the elusive Runner's High, which some have described as a "zoning out," others as an "adrenaline rush." Both descriptions sound manageable -- enjoyable, even. If I've gotten close to achieving it on the treadmill, I don't know it. I tend to get a sick feeling and chicken out before it hits.

I decided that I didn't want to reach the Runner's High on a treadmill, where I might embarrass myself with weird speech patterns and spontaneous behaviors and go crashing into a wall. I wanted to be in the Great Outdoors, where I stood a greater chance of not being seen.

My first Runner's High was to be authentic ... special. So I headed for the nearest park, where a hillish trail winds across open fields, around patches of trees, past a skateboard park, around baseball fields and so on and so forth. Walking this trail is vigorous enough. Running it seems downright foolish. So I decided to set small, attainable goals for myself. I'll start at this lightpost, I told myself, then make it over that hill, around that bend and all the way to that picnic pavilion. Surely, I'll get my high by then.

This is what a female under the influence of the Runner's High should look like. Fine posture, good form, sporty watch. The background looks remarkably like my park. My shorts, however, look nothing like this woman's underwear. The fuzzy individual is a kidnapper who plans to leave her body in a grove of trees. He can be found in most parks. At my park, he rides a bike.

So I stopped walking and stood beneath the lightpost, waiting for the appropriate song to be played on the antiquated Walkman I had found in my glove compartment beneath a wad of Starbucks napkins because I had left my hip and stylish iPod at home. And that's when the long-winded Foreigner ("Feels Like the First Time," no less) gave me my cue. With nobody beside me, I was my own trainer -- and I was inspiring. I talked myself through each small stretch as Foreigner prodded me along ...

"If I make it to the far post of the picnic pavilion and strategically stand behind the trash can, no one will see me vomit."
(see Amy run; hear Amy breathing heavily)

"If I don't stop before then, I'll be in danger of passing out in clear view of the playground. The worst that could happen there is that I startle a bunch of preschoolers. So I'll keep going."
(see Amy run; hear Amy breathing heavily)

"Uh-oh. What if the moms see me? That could be good. They probably all have cell phones and could call 9-1-1. Right?"
(see Amy run; you may not hear Amy breathing at all)

"But if I gamble and travel farther than the playground, I may end up near the woods and closer to that strange man on the bike, and I won't be visible because of all the trees. Then he'll steal this antiquated Walkman, which doesn't even belong to me. Run faster."
(see Amy run; technically, that's not really "running")

"Then he'll notice my car key tied in my shoelace and steal my car. Where will he dump my body? I should have brought my cell phone with me. But I'll probably be unconscious, so it wouldn't matter anyway. Keep GOING..."

By the time all these thoughts had run through my head and the park was spinning at warp speed, I was already past the picnic pavilion AND playground. And over the hill and around the bend, with no strange man on the bike anywhere in sight. And it was there that I found what may not be the Runner's High, but something more akin to "intense nausea" and "early onset dementia." It was a dangerous level of work not to be rewarded with a high, if you ask me.

My heart rate monitor had long since passed the 99% mark and made its way into the blinking-light zone, which, if you read the manual to this useful device, you know that the watch was about to explode. And that I was probably nearing death. But I didn't vomit. I didn't pass out. I didn't lose my memory.

I looked like this.

When I got home, I searched high and low for Tylenol. Or Advil. Or crystal meth. But then I remembered that my dear husband likes to confiscate OTC medications and keep them in the console of his car, "just in case." Just in case HE gets a headache during his busy day. Or just in case I need them here and end up sawing off my head just to relieve the pain so that he can come home to a headless wife who can't complain or boss him around. So I ate a handful of chocolate Cadbury Mini Eggs instead. Amazingly, the headache eventually faded.

Clearly, the Runner's High is greatly overrated ... and probably dangerous. Running should be reserved for people who are in a hurry, or who are being chased by a strange man on a bike, or who look like this ...

We all know the most successful long-distance runners come from Kenya and Ethiopia.

But I had no one to share my almost-victory with. No one who would understand the greatness of this near-feat. With other aerobic sports, you have people around. But with running, you tend to be on your own. Long-distance runners must feel lonely from time to time. Just ask this guy ...

He just keeps running and running.

Do I give up? Throw in the towel? Call it quits? Absolutely not. The Runner's High is around here SOMEwhere. I shall keep you posted ...

Monday, April 28, 2008

Why I Love Ann Curry

"For someone who judges The Today Show so harshly and complains about it so much, you sure know a lot about it..."

You've got that right. The Today Show keeps me on task. It's like a timer with A/V capabilities. When I hear Ann Curry's voice, I know it's time to make sure everyone has brushed their teeth. When I hear it the second time, butts had better be in the car. The third time, I should probably get in the shower. The fourth time, OK, really, it's time to get my day started.

And between Ann's newscasts, I am treated to nuggets of entertainment, like:

• Al singing with Neil Diamond
• Matt playing a video game
• Meredith's self-effacing jokes and feature stories
• A smattering of stories about cheerleader attacks, alligator home invasions and surgeries gone bad

Ann's dad passed away almost two weeks ago, so she was absent for a few days, and that left a gaping hole in my morning routine. I was sad for her. And I missed her. It was like staring at an empty chair at Thanksgiving. The dynamics were off. Meredith wore frumpier clothes, Matt seemed bored, and Al was more pensive than usual. Somebody filled her shoes and did the job. I don't remember who that was, and it didn't really matter. Ann wasn't there.

Ann exemplifies grace and femininity. Last Friday, she wore a lovely and shimmery loose-fitting white tank top with a simple black, unbuttoned cardigan and grey slacks. If I wore this, I would look like I had the flu. But she pulled it off. She could have left work and gone directly to a cocktail party.

In one not-so-newsy segment, she interviewed Madonna and asked (in the most gracious Ann Curry way) if Madonna's critics were justified in discounting her latest causes (international adoption, humanitarian efforts, etc.) as the latest in her 25-plus years of reinventions (religion, kids, husbands, boyfriends, more religion, more music and less dance, more dance and less music, writing children's books). MADONNA FLINCHED. Why? She didn't see it coming. That's Ann Curry for you -- soft-spoken, lovely and kind, and WHAM! Her words didn't say it, but we all know she meant, "Madonna, you tend to get on people's nerves." Madonna, who is a solid rock and intimidates everyone, FLINCHED.

Watching the Final Four couldn't have been more riveting. The really neat part was, Ann didn't mean a thing by it. She was just being inquisitive. Honest. Sincere. She might as well have said, "Madonna, we are all SO very tired of you changing gears, shifting focus, acting like you're ... Madonna and all. What do you have to say for yourself?" Madonna, who flips off a critic at the bat of an eye, sat there in her lovely chair and long eyelashes and was clearly stunned. What could she say? The graceful and best-friendish Ann Curry had caught her off-guard.

I provided the color commentary for this segment while on the phone. I described Ann's outfit and her "I work hard to look so casual" hairstyle, and then we both sighed. "I love Ann Curry." To which I said, "I do, too." How can you not? She doesn't go on and on about herself, she seems so CONCERNED about the person sitting next to her or in front of her, and she looks so darn TASTEFUL and STYLISH. No matter what.

Sadly, Ann Curry is underrated and underviewed, graciously sitting in the shadows of Meredith and Matt, wearing her simple and elegant clothes, periodically delivering the real news of the day and assuring her viewers that everything is OK. And even if it isn't, she will be there to nod her head and lend a listening ear ... in her minimal makeup and stunning outfit.