Friday, June 19, 2015

Silver linings around the mold

FINALLY. Yesterday was something of a landmark day here at Woodhaven.  The estimate to put our house back together finally finally finally got submitted to our insurance company.  Yes, that means we have been living in a state of disrepair for about 6 weeks now.  Things sure do move a lot slower when someone else is paying the bill.  At least it's been quiet.

We still have a couple of weeks to wait for approval and then scheduling.  If we're lucky, we might be bringing the Contractor Chaos back to Woodhaven after the 4th of July. Cue fireworks.

This little Intra-Construction Interlude has been beneficial, though.  We have now had plenty of time to adjust to the idea of our lazy summer being shanghaied by water and mold.  And we have developed a list of escapey day-trips when the disruption really gets to us. Because it will.  I know us. I'm actually looking forward to rediscovering stuff almost in our own backyard.

There have also been a number of little gifts the past month and a half.  Learnings, discoveries, insights, attitude adjustments.  Really, it's all good!

For instance...

  • I discovered that bath gel has an expiration date. Who knew?!? And, somewhat related, it had apparently been a long time since I checked the amenities in our "other" guest bathroom. We're all up-to-date now and won't be getting cancer from an ostensibly rancid Ocean Breeze. Phew!
  • We did quite a lovely job designing our guest bathroom remodel a few years ago. I love the tile work! And, even 6 weeks of daily use later, the WOW THAT'S GREEN accent wall still makes me happy. We did, however, forget to furnish the bathroom with a vintage clock. Duly noted and rectified.

  • So many travel soaps!  So many being used now!
  • I now know what a crawl space, central vacuum lines, and interior plumbing all look like. Without having to do much more than peer past my feet with my hands on my hips.
  • The weird dizzy vertigo head spinny thing I have been seeing doctors on and off for the last two years suddenly disappeared with the moldy wood and drywall. Feeling so much better now! I am not allergic to mold but evidently in large enough quantities, it can be a real head-spinner.
  • We get to fix the (our fault) misplaced shower head! For free! Sorta.
  • I found some old Ray-Bans inexplicably living in our now-emptied closet. They are quite comfy after all these years. I am eagerly waiting for a drooling 20-something to comment on them so I can brag that they are actually from the '80s.
Aren't they rad?

  • It's odd how quickly you get used to seeing a port-o-potty on your property. Or maybe that's just me.
  • Rojo the Llama has a new fan at USAA.
  • Making "Our House" by Madness the ringtone for all the contractors and insurance people makes me happy to get their calls. Especially while wearing my newly rediscovered vintage sunglasses.
  • Desperate to feel in control of something, our office is now extraordinarily clean and organized. Our guest room closet is next.
  • Hearing our insurance adjuster say, "I just looked at the photos. Wow, you had a lot of mold," was strangely reassuring. As was hearing her say, "For someone whose house is torn apart, you sure sound happy." (See "Rojo's new fan" above.)
  • Cat barf?  Overly enthusiastic Tabascoing of one's lunch? Eh, so what? Spill, barf, and stain all you want World, we are getting new carpet soon!
  • The billowing plastic walls are keeping our boy cat quite entertained. As long as he doesn't decide to try to attack the creature obviously living on the other side, we're good.

So you see, it hasn't been a completely wasted 6 weeks of waiting.  But frankly, I think I've learned all I need to during this phase.  Onward to "Let's Get The Game Plan Approved!"

Friday, June 5, 2015

The perspective of a 90 year old woman

Well, we have had a whole lotta nothin’ happening with the Great Water Leak of 2015 here at Woodhaven. We are waiting for a complicated estimate to be submitted to our insurance company. After another week or two of back and forth for approval, then...maybe then...we can try to squeeze onto the schedules of about seven different contractors. In the meantime, we are mostly enjoying the cool breeze from the underside of our house. Whoo hoo exposed crawl space!

Thankfully, we have had a few fun distractions from the billowing plastic sheeting decorating our living room and bathroom. One involved an airplane and literally getting away from all the reminders of a house disrupted. Ahhhh!

A couple of weeks ago, my grandma turned 90 years old. She is the last grandparent either Rob or I have left to impart wisdom and share stories. And given her spunk, there’s a chance she will outlive us all. She doesn’t look or act 90 years old. See? Even the interwebs agree.

Grandma and I are huge fans of this app.  Rob, not so much.

There was a big shindig thrown in Grandma’s honor, hence the airplane. There were at least 100 people there; I knew maybe 10 of them. Grandma has lived a long, well-connected, busy life. You see, she is a real estate agent. Yes, is not was. At her party she announced she had just renewed her real estate license for another four years. Business cards were available on the back table. Did I mention spunk?

Many of the people fêting Grandma were people she knew through her work life. Mortgage brokers, insurance people, other agents, electricians, plumbers, renters. It was quite a networking opportunity for a newbie agent in town. Wisely, I don’t think any of those were invited.

As people shared memories and told stories, I got to learn about a grandma I didn’t know. I mean, I certainly thought I knew Working Grandma quite well. In fact, this photo from a decade or so ago pretty much sums up my childhood memories of her:

I based the age of the photo on the phone.
Note that she now has an iPhone and an iPad.

When we would visit, Grandma’s office phone in the den would ring pretty constantly. Her car’s trunk (a Pontiac – never anything but a Pontiac) always had “For Sale” signs in it. My first home manicures were done using emery boards advertising her agency. Overheard conversations often involved carpet and paint and troublesome tenants. So I knew the long hours and Open House weekends and heavy sighs of escrows going sideways. But what I didn’t know was the manner in which Working Grandma actually worked.

Over and over, party attendees remarked how honest Grandma is. How you can always trust her word, how she will always give things to you straight, how punches are never pulled. Integrity, hard-working, dependable. Such kind words! And such a gift to hear them at a time when I could go over to her afterwards and hug her and tell her how proud I am to be her granddaughter. Sadly, such public appreciation is often left until it is too late to be fully appreciated by all involved.

The day after the party, I had a wonderful few hours to take advantage of Grandma’s 90 years of wisdom. A real estate agent is responsible for many things that are out of their control. I would last about a week. Grandma has lasted more than 60 years. I asked her how she has managed the stress in such a chaotic profession.

“I don’t drink.”

Naturally she was joking, so I laughed quite loudly. But she wasn’t joking.

“I drink when I am happy, but it is a dangerous path if you drink when something goes wrong. I have seen it happen too many times.”

Huh. Very wise words. Words that really don’t impact how I live my life, but wise nonetheless.

Grandma then went on to explain that she is often known to go see movies in the middle of the day, just to get away from people and the phone to regroup. She also takes walks.

These seemed like such simple ideas. I was honestly hoping for something more meaty, more inspired. Something new I could use to lighten up my Type A Personality world. But I already am very well-versed in introversion, and I am pretty dedicated to my daily walks. Bummer! I wanted a pearl, a nugget, some new technique to latch onto for the next 40+ years.

Veering off, Grandma then told stories of when she and Grandpa and my young dad militarily lived in Turkey in the early 1950s. And when they visited Jerusalem just a few years after Israel became an independent nation. And stories of being rushed around and running for fear of being Americans stranded in places Americans weren’t particularly welcomed.

At the end of that last story, Grandma noted, “You know, after you have been pushed around by men carrying big guns, a bad escrow really isn’t anything to get excited about.”

And there it was, the nugget: Perspective.

It is so easy (for me) to get all wrapped up in details and imperfection and some innate and hugely annoying drive to make things just so. I don’t know where I get it. (Hi, Dad!)

While Grandma is expert at it (I have watched in amazement for years), I kinda suck at just shrugging my shoulders. I mean, I am a lot better at it than I used to be say, 7 or 8 years ago, but I still have a hard time just letting things be.

I try to have faith, and I try to trust that things will work out and I will be able to handle (with help) any calamities that might come my way. But I can still get worked up. And that’s not a terrifically fun or healthy way to approach the world.

So, by the wisdom of Grandma, what I need is perspective. I need to learn to step back from all the details and realize how inconsequential many of them actually are. I am blessed that I really don’t have many Really Scary Sucky Moments in my life to use as benchmarks. I have a couple, though, and that should be enough.

And so, in the grand scheme of my life and moments, the Great Water Leak of 2015 really isn’t anything to get excited about.

Thank you, Grandma!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

And this is why we have insurance

I can’t figure out where to start, so I guess I will start at the end.

About 10 days ago, we discovered a water leak in our master shower. Our house is now sort of torn apart and we have a new summer project of trying to put it back together. Don’t you wish you were us??

It’s all rather funny.  Kind of.  OK, not really.

Back in December Rob and I decided we had charged ahead too hard and too relentlessly last summer. We were still paying for that exhaustion at Christmas, so we boldly said to the universe that we were going to have a quiet, relaxing summer this year. Few plans and fewer houseguests. Just slow and easy and boring. That’s what Summer 2015 would be.

And the universe laughed.

And laughed and laughed.  And laughed.

It’s a long story which I have desperately tried to shorten three times already. I’m just so close to it, all of the details feel vital. The punchline is a metal fitting in a showerhead in our master bath cracked. Probably a long time ago, perhaps when it was installed during a remodel 7 years ago. At least 3 years of drip-drip-spray-drip later, we had mold and rotted subfloor and moldy carpet and spongy studs (not of the SquarePants kind). “Had” being the operative word, because within a matter of days last week, we went from this

The showerhead on the right is the culprit

The leaky showerhead is on the other side of this wall, on the left

to this

Fun times behind the cabinetry

to this

None of those holes are supposed to be there.
Upside:  the house is very airy now!  Hello, crawl space!

The first few days I was in so much shock, I just laughed it all off. I had fun taking pictures and joking with the parade of contractors that kept emerging from the restoration company’s clown-car of a van. I giggled at how truly redneck we were to finally have a port-a-potty on the premises. And, being a quick learner, I offered chocolate to everyone on site. Until some of it ended up on the carpet.  Oops.  That was two days before learning the carpet will be replaced. Bring back the chocolate!

My attempt to turn tragedy into art.

Delphino was a hoot.  His sense of humor inspired me to keep laughing.

Because sometimes you just have to go.

I happily shrugged my shoulders of denial at the plastic tarps and loud HEPA fans and flurry of emails from our insurance company. I power washed our driveway to drown out the sounds of mirrors breaking and shower tiles being crowbarred and new doors being created in walls to allow for better containment and access. You have never seen a 24-year-old driveway sparkle like ours does now, therapeutic it was. (What, suddenly Yoda I am?  Tired so.)

I rocked and washed to my '80s playlist all day long.

But then it got to me.

The constant company of contractors. The stream of phone calls and texts and emails that all needed timely replies. The trudging upstairs to use our guest shower and each day forgetting something that made getting appropriately dressed before the contractors arrived a little more adventuresome. The moving of tension poles and tarps to access our closet. The inability to back out of the garage without having to ask someone to move their truck first. The wrangling of our two cats to sequester them behind closed doors upstairs. The eating of dinner at our table newly relocated to our living room. Much like the copper elbow, I finally cracked.

Tears. Fear. Sadness. Exhaustion. Insomnia. Oddly, no anger though. I’m not mad. Not even at the plumber who likely caused this with his overzealous tightening 7 years ago. Don’t get me wrong though – he is not welcome to visit again. Ever.

I have no idea if the plumber will experience any consequences from this. We learned a new word yesterday: subrogation. We also learned that the statute of limitations on this type of construction is 6 years. Honestly that is something of a relief. I wasn’t really looking forward to being tangentially involved in a lawsuit between The Plumber and our insurance company. Plus, this means we can keep the cracked elbow as our own evidence and eventually turn it into garden art. Don’t think we won’t.

The password is:  subrogation (the right for an insurer to pursue a third party that caused an insurance loss to the insured; see also statute of limitations; see also I could have gone a lifetime not knowing this)
I am hoping now that the mold has been removed and wood replaced and air cleaned and the scope of the damage is known, I am so very much hoping that the rest of the next several months will feel somewhat familiar.

We have done remodeling projects before (though not on this scale). We have lived at the whim of contractors’ schedules before (though not happily). We have had to special-order shower fixtures before (yay for being locked into Polished Brass. Had we only known.). We’ve done this before. We can handle it. Right? And the insurance company, they are great. Right? All the contractors love them. So really, this summer won’t be so bad. Right?

Oh, universe, please don’t laugh at me again. I’m really not that funny. Right?

It's a bit exaggerated but it is making me smile and feel better

Friday, May 8, 2015

They’ve got my back

There is no medicine more powerful than empathy. There is true, unique healing that comes from the depth of understanding of someone who has been down the same path as you. Been there, done that, have the road scars to prove it. The commiseration of shared experiences is the foundation of empathy. “I know how you feel because I’ve been there, too.”

Sympathy – the expression of sorrow and sadness and compassion and imagining how it must feel – can be a wonderful embodiment of love and friendship, but it is not quite the same as empathy. “I am so sorry for your pain. I can only imagine how much this must hurt.” Sympathy is more at a distance while empathy is full in with sleeves rolled up and hands in the muck.

When I went through my back surgeries in 2000 and 2002, I had nobody to commiserate with. I was barely in my 30s; “spinal fusion” was not a road anyone I knew had even considered traveling, let alone heard of. Everyone in my world was more focused on career growth and stock options and day care pick-ups.

The internet existed back then but social media didn’t so there really wasn’t any way for me to meet folks empathetic to my back brace, walker, zipper scar, tingly feet, and terror that the pain might never go completely away.

The closest I got to an empathetic moment was one day in my surgeon’s waiting room. Another post-op patient and I were chatting, both standing up because sitting still hurt. While we were talking, my fellow commiserator accidentally dropped the cap to his water bottle. We both stood there and stared at it on the floor, wondering how we might pick it up (post-op bending was much frowned upon, assuming it was physically possible at all). He and I then looked at each other and burst into laughter – FINALLY someone understood how even the simplest tasks could be such impossible mountains!

A friendship never formed, sadly. The guy was nearly twice my age and I didn’t know how to have older friends back then. Instead, the cap stayed on the floor and we exchanged a knowing smile when one of us was called into the exam room.

Fast-forward to 2008. Rob and I had left California and were trying to figure out our new life in the trees and dampness of Woodhaven. Facebook was well on the scene and I had been part of its cyberfamily for about a year. I hadn’t had anymore back surgeries but it was clear the two I did have didn’t fix everything. Chronic pain, inability to work, and insomnia had taken up residence in our new home despite never having been invited.

One night, during one particularly long and frustrating cycle of no sleep, I meandered my way to a Facebook group for people who had had surgeries similar to mine. The group existed to chat and compare notes and commiserate. I immediately joined, thrilled to have finally found a tribe of “Me, too’s!”

There was obviously a pent-up demand because the group became quite large in just a matter of months. Then the people who started the group got all dramatic. Pain can do that. With the drama and the nearly 100 members, the group stopped being the haven of understanding that it had once been. Entertaining, yes. Helpful, not so much.

Another woman felt similarly and with a few emails and keystrokes, eight of us broke off and formed our own group. Yeah, maybe it was a little bit of “FINE! We’re just going to take our toys and go home!” but the eight of us had bonded and were growing weary of the silliness that the anonymity of social media can elicit in large groups.

So on July 4, 2010, we declared our independence and Got Your Back was formed. Secretly, privately, quietly. Don’t try bothering searching for it. If we’ve done our job right, you’ll never find it. Thank you for your barriers, Mark Zuckerberg!

Our tribal flag

A few more people were added over the next couple of years, bringing the total to 12. Well aware of how dramatically things changed with the large group before, we agreed as a group to cap it. No more members. People could leave but nobody else could join.

While again that might sound like playground neener neeners, it was really meant to protect the deep trust that was developing amongst this group of strangers with a common thread. We were starting to share some very personal thoughts and fears in those secret Facebook posts. Bringing in new people changed the dynamic and caused some of us to pull back a bit until we learned we could trust the newbie. While this happens in any group, it seems particularly tricky online. No voices, no tones, no body language. Just typed words and occasional photos to learn a person and her heart.

And so we have been 12 women sharing the experience of chronic back pain for almost five years. Yes, oddly without planning it, we are all women. The youngest is in her 20s, the oldest in her 60s. We are scattered all over the US and one is in Canada. Some are married, some have kids, some have grandkids. One has given birth during our time as a group and we all feel like honorary aunties to the adorable Ellie. Many of us have a deep faith in God, prompting me to wonder what the connection might be between a life of pain and a hope for and belief in something so much better down the road.

Over the five years, we have vented, whined, cried, celebrated, and rejoiced together. We have asked for advice and we have given advice. We have compared notes and we have compared MRIs. We have celebrated births and graduations and successful surgeries. We have bemoaned failed medications and insurance policies and scary trips to the ER. We have asked for prayers and we have prayed intensely. We have shared our lives. All at a distance.

So the trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania a few weeks ago wasn’t just to roll around in chocolate all weekend. Although that IS highly recommended and worth a return visit. The true purpose of the trip was to meet some of these dear friends in person for the first time. We had hoped to get as many of the 12 as possible to join in the gathering; unfortunately as life and pain would have it, just four of us were there. But wow, what a weekend.

I had already met one of the women (Joyce) in person several years ago when she had a family wedding to attend on the west coast. Since that first meeting, Joyce and I have become real friends, not just Facebook friends, despite the many miles between Washington and Virginia. So I knew that it was very possible that meeting Donna and Barb would be similarly easy and seamless and powerful.

But I have also watched enough episodes of “Catfish” to know that online personas and real life don’t always match. Not to mention, I am sure I am not the only person who has a blast chatting away on Facebook with someone only for it to feel all weird and awkward and almost forced when trying to continue the conversation face-to-face. Right? I’m not the only one?

So I was prepared for the awkward but hoping for the seamless when Rob and I first entered the Hershey Theater…our rendezvous with Donna and Barb.

Huge smiles, bigger hugs, and “YOU LOOK JUST LIKE YOUR PICTURES!” echoed off the marble in the theater’s lobby. Within moments, it was clear we were old friends, had been for years, and will be for years more. It was fantastic.

But not just that. The entire weekend was weirdly wonderful. We were four women and three husbands meeting for the first time but feeling like we had been sharing lives and stories for years. Some conversations started new, others picked up where they had left off on Facebook just days before.

It was also strange to be in a group with that empathy thing going on all over the place. We are all so used to wearing a mask and plugging along and dealing with the pain later. And so we did. Except that we all know what that looks like so we watched out for each other and cared for each other and changed plans for each other. We had each other’s back.

We agreed how refreshing and unfamiliar it was not to have to explain or make polite excuses for not doing an activity or wanting to sit in a particular chair. A simple “I’m done” or “I can’t” was all that was needed. Instead of explanations, there was understanding. Instead of disappointment, there was commiseration. Instead of distance, the bonds of friendship grew closer.

If you read my travelblog, you know we left very little chocolate unsampled in Hershey. The four of us agreed that we had a blast …and probably did a little too much. All of us were in deep recovery mode for days after, none regretting the bonus pain one bit.

We also agreed that this Got Your Back Get Together was the first but not the last. I already feel closer to Barb and Donna simply for having hugged them and heard their voices. I want to feel that same surge of bonding with Sharon and Lisa and Sara and the rest. So while the next gathering might be a little more low-keyed…I’m thinking a spa weekend sounds fun…I know for certain that it will be a gathering of old friends simply meeting for the first time.

Despite appearances, we did not coordinate our outfits.  Freaky, huh?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Won’t you take me to Chocolatetown?

I was in grade school when I learned that there exists a real town called Hershey and it is indeed all about chocolate. Being all about chocolate myself, I have wanted to visit Hershey, Pennsylvania for ever and ever. And now, thanks to great friends, an accommodating husband, and sufficient frequent flyer miles, my bucket list is one item shorter.

The impetus for the trip to Chocolatetown is another blog for another time (soon). Suffice it to say, Rob and I got to spend a long weekend being toured around town by locals who know their chocolate history. Totally VIP all the way. It was awesome.

I didn’t really have any preconceived notions about Hershey, other than it would hopefully be somewhat chocolate-centric. In that way…and in all did not disappoint. Mmmm!!

For one thing, the place smells like chocolate!! Truly, the whole town! Although the locals said they couldn’t really smell it, I gotta tell you, it was salivatingly obvious to our out-of-towner noses.

The main chocolate manufacturing plant (focusing on Kisses and syrup) and a much smaller Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups plant are located next to each other on the outskirts of Hershey. Their intoxicating odors waft through town, especially down the main street – aptly name Chocolate Avenue. It was delicious and so much more dangerous than the smell of Juicy Fruit that used to fill the still night air in my college town when the Wrigley’s plant was in full operation.

Chocolate Avenue was also great fun because all the street lights are shaped like Hershey Kisses. They alternated between wrapped and unwrapped. Our first night, I eagerly awaited sunset with anticipation that the lights would glow in chocolate and silver but was sadly disappointed that at night, they were simply boring street lights. Boo!

Although, to make up for it, there were some novel lights in the street’s median that did cast a chocolate kissed glow at night. Still, glowing kisses hovering overhead would have been amazing. Hershey Chamber of Commerce, please take note.

I guess I should mention, the town of Hershey technically only exists at the post office. The rest of the town is actually called Derry Township. However, Mr. Hershey and his trustees are very smart marketers, so that little technicality is only briefly mentioned if you get the right tour guide. Nevertheless, the town…whatever its name…has done a commendable job of providing lots of ways to learn about, experience, and eat chocolate. We did our best to paint the town...and our faces...brown.

We spent a few hours at a museum learning The Hershey Story. We learned things like Milton and his wife had no kids so they started a school (still going strong) for orphans. We learned that Milton was sort of the Henry Ford of chocolate by automating the manufacturing process and making chocolate affordable to more than just the fancy people. We learned that Milton and his wife had tickets to sail on the Titanic but ended up taking an early ship across the ocean due to some sort of chocolate emergency (I have those with some frequency). We learned that the Hershey Company used to make butter and currently makes Twizzlers. And, most importantly, we learned that chocolate is more sustaining than meat. I knew it!!

I now own a t-shirt with this reminder

Sadly, public access to the chocolate factory is a thing of the past, much like Bar None and Swoops. Instead, you can take a free ride in Chocolate World through a simulated factory narrated by singing cows. Think Willie Wonka meets It’s a Small World a la Country Cow Jamboree. It was honestly such a frenzy of lights and music and cows, I didn’t quite retain all the manufacturing and production info it was trying to impart. If we had had more time, I would have lobbied to go through at least two or three more times…especially since they were handing out free full-sized Kit Kat bars at the end.

"It's the Milk Chocolate, yeah yeah yeah!"

Oh yeah, then there’s that part. Chocolate is EVERYWHERE! Chocolate World had the largest collection of Hershey chocolate products in one place I have ever seen. It was so overwhelming, we returned a second day just to make sure I had exhausted my shopping list.

But beyond the chocolate you could buy, there was all the free chocolate people were handing out on tours. And the lab where we got to design our own chocolate masterpieces AND lick the bowls and spoons when we were done.

I don't know what it is, but it was delicious.

And the Chocolate Tasting Bar where we got to sample warm liquid chocolate from around the world (and by warm liquid chocolate, I don’t mean hot chocolate. I mean chocolate chips that had been melted and then blended with just a little bit of milk to keep them from solidifying. OMG!! By the way, chocolate from Java tastes like caramel.) I truly ate more chocolate in three days than I have in three years combined. And that includes the Fair. It is by the grace of God and apparently some freaky metabolism that I didn’t have to buy an additional seat on the flight home.

And then, of course, there was the Chocolate Spa. Oh, yes, you read that right. And oh yes, you better believe I did!

I am soooo not a spa person. Before The Spa at the Hotel Hershey, I had done “the spa thing” just two times in my life. Both were awkward and weird and a little creepy. Something about being pampered by strangers. Especially when the strangers are wearing more clothes than I am.

ANYway… back to the chocolate.

With an afternoon to kill and a need to relax and rejuvenate before our journey home, I managed to snag an appointment for a Chocolate Immersion… a “signature chocolate-theme body treatment featuring a Chocolate Bean Polish followed by the Chocolate Fondue Wrap.” OH YEAH!!

The tantalizing description included words like “exfoliation of cocoa bean husks” “cocoa body moisturizer” “essence of cocoa” and my favorite: “the fondue application.”

Although none of the products were actually chocolate, it really didn’t matter because it all smelled like chocolate and looked like chocolate. I am proud to say I resisted the urge to find out if it tasted like chocolate; my success due mostly to the fact that I was already quite chocolated by all the free Hershey Kisses I had munched in the Aromatherapy Room and the decadent free hot chocolate I had sipped in the Quiet Room prior to my treatment.

When I opened my eyes during the Chocolate Bean Polish, I looked like I had been sprinkled with cocoa nibs. When I surveyed my limbs after the fondue application, I looked like I had been dipped in chocolate. I believe I have never looked more beautiful.

As Liz was wrapping my chocolate dipped self in a blanket to complete the Fondue Wrap, I giggled that the outside of the warming blanket was a shiny silver. All I needed was a little paper flag on my head and I would have been a human Hershey Kiss. So fun!

When I met up with Rob a few hours post-immersion (he had spent the day doing manly things like touring a coal mine), he took a whiff and said I smelled like a Chocolate Peep. He wasn't complaining.

We capped off the evening with a lovely dinner at the hotel where I indulged in my first-ever Chocolate Martini. I mean, how could I not have a martini with a Hershey Kiss in the bottom?? And yes, it was quite tasty. So tasty, I fear no other version will ever come close.

So much for only being a wine drinker

So with that and lots of chocolate treats to bring home, we brought our trip to Chocolatetown to a close. (Fun Fact: It takes seven teenagers less than 50 minutes to consume 30 full-sized packages of Hershey goodness. I’m sure the Youth Group parents love us. Oops.).

I now firmly believe that every lover of chocolate (read: woman) needs to visit Hershey, PA at least once in her life. And be sure to pack the stretchy pants.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Pee Town

It’s rare that I write book reviews because, well, it’s rare that I read books. I’ve covered that territory in past blogs. I am still mostly comfy with my identity of being more of a writer than a reader.

Nevertheless, I just finished a book that demands sharing. And no, it’s not the autobiography by Anson William of “Happy Days” fame. That one you can just have. Seriously. Anyone want my copy? Free to a good home!

No, the book YOU MUST KNOW ABOUT is something I picked up in a curious little store in Portland (is there any other kind?) while killing time until our appointment at the cat lounge. I saw the title and giggled. Then I flipped to a few entries and giggled a little more. Spontaneously (for me -- it took about 7 minutes), I decided the literary tour would be a fantastic addition to our guest room’s reading basket. Assuming I would giggle yet a bit more, I decided I should read the missive before inviting my future guests to do so.

And that is how I came to discover, purchase, read, and now recommend my favorite current book: The Best Places to Pee in Portland by Kelly Melillo. Subtitled “A Guide to the Funky & Fabulous Bathrooms of Portland.” BPTPIP is currently available on Amazon for just $995.95...or $10.82, your choice.   It has been reviewed by all of 9 readers; I’m suspecting a number of which are Friends of Kelly. And now I bring you #10 (obviously, I am quite jealous of the person who got to post #1 given, you know, the nature of the book).

When I bought The Pee Book, the quirky store owner (quirky modifying both the store and the owner) excitedly shared that the photographed feet on the cover rocking the pine green heels belong to the author herself. I also learned excessive details of the store owner’s accounting woes, technology phobia, and plans to bribe her brilliant but unmotivated slacker son to rescue her from both. It was quite a tale almost resulting in my regretting attempting to purchase the book. However I am now quite relieved I persevered. What an educational hoot!

Kelly (I consider her a pee pal so we're on a first name basis) reviews 51 potties throughout Portland. Most are in restaurants or bars, although also included are a tattoo parlor, a barber shop, a hotel, and an exceptionally orange and curvy public bathroom that apparently has been reviewed on Yelp and can be found on Flickr (I shall be visiting soon).

Each review provides a little history of the business and visionary insights from the current owners. Kelly also provides menu highlights, ghost sightings, and footnotes illuminating such tidbits as Gloria Gaynor’s hit “I Will Survive” was actually the B-Side of a song called “Substitute,” and “chin chin” is naughty-talk in Japanese. And then, as promised, each entry features a description and photograph of the noteworthy toity. So much porcelain! So many urinals! But all tastefully done such that I didn’t feel like I needed to hide the book in an in-flight magazine while recently reading it in seat 14B.

While I thought I would laugh at the obvious joke of this book, I was quite surprised to find it a rather interesting way to learn yet more about the enchanting oddness of Portland. Yes, there did seem to be an unusually high number of references to pinball machines and handcrafted cocktails. And more than a few bathrooms showcased patron-provided graffiti and chalkboard art. And a number of unisex loos. Big yawn.

But there were also totally unexpected discoveries like a video arcade's bathroom whose tile floor has been painstakingly designed to mimic a screen shot from Pac Man (OMG!). And the sake house inspired by Ewoks. And the beat-poetry-like venue whose owner describes the décor as “Grandma who wears Hot Topic clothes.”

Perhaps my favorite for the ingenuity and ability to create a community is the bathroom that has a drawing of a woman on the wall. The drawing is wearing a fabric skirt. If a bathroom visitor lifts the skirt, they only see a blank wall. However, when the newly relieved but somewhat disappointed customer exits the bathroom, they are met with cheers or applause or teasing because a light outside the bathroom goes on anytime someone inside decides to take what they thought was a secret peek.

Ok, yes, it’s a community built on laughing at someone, but still, it’s pretty creative, no? And yes, I am very relieved I am in the know about this whole skirt thing because I totally would have peeked and then I would have been so embarrassed I would probably have needed to return to the little room. Now that I am in on the joke, I am tempted to go and lift the skirt up and down a number of times just to make the light blink like a strobe light.

Not only does The Best Places to Pee in Portland tell you exactly that, it is also quite a comprehensive road map to some the hippest, coolest, “au courant” local hang out spots in town. I thought I had something of a pulse on that. I mean, I DO read Portland Monthly and watch Portlandia with insider smugness. But of the 51 locations featured in the book, I have only been to 5 of them. And had only heard of 7 others. That means there are at least 39 totally Portland adventures I need to drag Rob to!

Drink up, honey! We have some peeing to do!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Shade Worshiper

When I was 16, I was absolutely convinced that the secret to Teenage Bliss was long fingernails and a tan. If I just had those two things, I would lose my adolescent awkwardness and be awarded a boyfriend. I was certain of it.

And so the summer between my sophomore and junior years, I set to work. I drank an orange-flavored Jell-O-like drink every day (it was Knox Gelatin) in pursuit of the lovely long fingernails portrayed on the front of the box. I also had a daily appointment in a yellow lounge chair on the small deck in back of my parents’ condo. I baked out there from noon to at least 3:00pm every day (depending on my work schedule slinging pizzas at night), with SPF 4 to be, you know, responsible.

By the end of that summer, I had fabulously long fingernails that I painted in pinks and corals to showcase my even more fabulous tan. I also had an impressive collection of newspaper clippings handed to me from numerous sources of an Ann Landers column about a woman who was dying at a young age from skin cancer because she worshiped the sun a bit too religiously. Melanoma, shmelanoma. I had long fingernails, a tan, and a boyfriend! Whoo hoo!! My confidence blossomed and my awkwardness started to shy away. Even my biology teacher noticed it when school started up again. “You really grew up over the summer!” I remember him saying. Fingernails + a tan = I loved being right!

My pursuit of brownish skin continued through college. It helped that I went to school in a beach town. I still have text books with sand in the binding. I always eagerly awaited that one week of freakishly nice weather every February so I could get a nice base layer started for the summer. Occasionally I would go without any sunscreen so I could get a nice starter burn. Oy.

Somewhere in my late 20s, though, my determination to have that California Tan shifted. It probably had a lot to do with having found the Ultimate Boyfriend and also having, you know, a job. I would try to get tan on vacations and occasionally succumbed to faux-tans-in-a-bottle, but otherwise I mostly accepted my more naturally fair skin and stocked up on suntan-colored pantyhose.

Now having lived in the Pacific Northwest for over ten years and being closer to 50 than any other round number, my perspective on coloring my skin has changed once again. I now actively try to avoid it.

There are now hope-its-not-too-late thoughts of melanoma and age spots and pre-mature wrinkles. There are too many memories of the painful stickiness of a hot burn slathered in aloe. In my middle-age wisdom, my SPF is now 30 and I wear hats and sunglasses. And helpfully, my pale legs hardly stand out in the Pacific Northwest where legs are either ghostly or tanning-bed-orange.

They do, however, stand out in Hawaii. We spent a week in Kauai recently and boy, did I feel like a Washingtonian! Compared to most everyone else, you could use my legs as beacons on a night walk. Truly, who needs reflective gear when you have Washington Winter White lighting the way?

Finally being comfortable with my alabaster skin, I really thought I would be spending all of my vacation time in the deliciously warm shade. Indeed, Rob discovered a fantastic beach we now call Roboni Beach. It was hugely unpopular because of all of the delightful trees blocking the sun. We spent about 4 hours there one day, basking in the shade, until I got cold and dragged my beach chair around in the shifting sun, leaving a track much like a sea turtle. But thanks to my dedicated SPFing, the only color I had to show for it were slightly burned feet. Apparently burying your feet in the sand doesn’t serve as sun protection??

Roboni Beach.  Note the tantalizing shade.

We went snorkeling a number of times but the only lasting marks were the alluring suction lines on my face from the mask. As a side note, wow, nobody told me your skin doesn’t bounce back nearly as fast from stuff like that as you get older. Between snorkel masks and pillow case creases, who needs the sun for the appearance of pre-mature wrinkles? Fantastic!

And I did spend a day hanging out under a tree at the pool. Nothing to show for that either, other than bragging rights for having finished a not-so-riveting autobiography about Potsie from "Happy Days." As another side note, Bette Davis was a pain in the tush. Gavin McLeod concurs. (Yes, HEAVY reading took place on this vacation.)

I did, however, manage to add some redness to my neck, chest, and arms at the end of our trip. I think it happened while I was relaxing on the beach while Rob did some solo snorkeling. Although it was morning and wasn’t for more than 15 or 20 minutes, I think my SPF was with the fishes and it was just enough time for my skin to freak out at the once-familiar but long-forgotten feeling of being exposed to the sun unadorned.

And you know what? That 16 year old girl in me gave a little cheer when I discovered my last souvenir. A tiny part of me was oddly excited that I have some lingering proof that I actually did spend a week in a warm, sunny paradise. Not sure why I needed proof, though. The abundant photos and the stamps on the ice cream stand’s frequent shopper card are more than sufficient. Even more so, the already slower, more Zen approach to life, activity, and decisions. Hopefully though, unlike my tan, those won’t soon fade.

18 and sad to be leaving a Hawaiian airport after spending a week chasing the sun.

47 and sad to be leaving a Hawaiian airport after spending a week chasing the shade.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Booby Prize

I have never really been all that interested in fame. Honestly, the idea of it scares the Justin Biebers out of me.

The fact that this blog is public is alarming enough, despite my never saying my full name or hometown. Of course, I could play with the privacy settings and make this blog a by-invitation-only adventure. And believe me, I have considered it a number of times. But, well, I like to think that there are only about 20 of you reading this and we’ve met and chatted and have taken selfies together showcasing our food. We’re all friends here, right?

So then it’s really no big deal to tell the couple dozen of you some very exciting yet terrifying news.

I am in the April issue of Oprah’s magazine!!! You know, O – the one with Oprah on the cover? Every. Single. Month. This month she is pretty in purple and a ponytail with skinny jeans and a paintbrush. It’s this one:

Why am I in the magazine?? Llamas. Of course.

It’s been quite a ride with Rojo the Therapy Llama recently. I have long said Rojo is a rock star. I love being proven right.

Over the past year or so, Rojo and his buddies have gone viral a couple of times with a news story by a Portland TV station and then a video produced by a senior center in our rotation. Rojo is a chapter in a book that came out last fall (Unlikely Heroes). He is also in a National Geographic TV show airing this weekend (Nat Geo Wild's "Unlikely Animal Friends"), and he is one of the llamas featured in an upcoming documentary called Llama Nation (LLOVE their t-shirt – softest one I have ever owned). So yeah, he's a busy llama in amongst his main purpose of bringing llove and carrot kisses to the Portland masses. And now Ms. Winfrey has taken notice. As well she should.

The magazine interview with Lori and Shannon took place over the phone. The Llama Queens provided lots of info and photos. The end result was this, on page 26.  Never mind that the white fuzzy guy there is ALPACA.  Details, details.

How super cool is that?!?

What, don’t you see me? Look closer.

Here. Here’s a bigger version of the photo.

Still don’t recognize me? Look, there next to Smokey. See that black shirt? That’s me! Well, more accurately, the smallest hint of my left breast. Whoo hoo!!! My left breast is famous!!

Wait, that doesn’t sound right.

In all honesty, I am quite relieved. When Lori told me the magazine was going to use this picture

Photo taken by Nathaniel Young for Portland Monthly magazine.  PM deemed it unworthy for publication, yet it later showed up on Huffington Post and then...slighted edited...Oprah thought it was sort of cool.  To their credit, Portland Monthly chose an awesome photo of Smokey in a pirate hat instead because, well, Portland.

I was much more nervous than excited. I love being behind the scenes and behind the camelids. I love seeking out the quiet people and engaging them with all things llama. I love taking pictures and handing out carrots and helping the shy folks work up the courage to pet the soft fluff. But the idea of being front and center and all eyes on me makes me so nauseous as to never want to eat again. Can you imagine?! Me, not eating? Yeah, that’s how much I don’t want the spot light. UGH with a capital Uh.

So when I discovered that Oprah’s operators had cropped me out of fame, I let out a big ol' laugh of relief. Given the brief article, I would have ditched me, too. The story is rightfully about Lori and Shannon. One more face in the photo would have only raised questions. Much better to just hint at a breast and call it a day. Nevertheless, Rob is quite proud. As any husband would be.

I will say, though, that I am quite disappointed that Oprah’s people did not choose to use this photo instead. No sense of humor, I tell you.  (Those hats are usually worn by the llamas for their black-tie events.  Yes, plural.  It's a crazy ride!)

The O article itself is light and fun. Much like the rest of the magazine, as it turns out (this is the first issue I have ever purchased). If you want more llama llore straight from Rojo’s fuzzy lips, check out this fantastic interview he did on after those two llamas went adventuring in Arizona a few weeks ago. He's quite funny, that Rojo. Unlike Oprah's peeps.

Rock star, I’m telling you! (Rojo, not my left breast. Just so we’re clear. Good.)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sleeping cats and fast cars

Like so many odd yet ridiculously intriguing ideas, this one was birthed in Taiwan. Then came Oakland. And then, naturally, Portland.

So, in the name of Living a Bloggable Life, I HAD to go check out Purrington’s Cat Lounge – Portland’s version of the I’m-not-convinced-it’s-a-trend smush of a coffee shop and a cat adoption center.

Yes, Purrington’s is a place where you can grab a cup of Meow Mocha or a mouse-shaped cookie and then go enjoy your treats in a room strewn with cats. Real, live, people-friendly, mostly-napping, totally petable, entirely adoptable cats.

I went with two other cat-loving friends. Lisa, Barb, and I each have two cats at home. But all six of them are close to or well ensconce in their Senior Kitty years. So hanging out with some energetic kittens sounded like a yarn ball of fun.

Studying Purrington’s web site, it seemed clear we would need reservations for our 1 hour of cat therapy. We opted for a 2:00pm slot on a Wednesday, to allow for lunch before and hopefully not too much traffic after.

As we approached the café, one cat was already on a cushion in the window meowing a welcoming.

His name is Owen.

Once inside, the café was pretty sparsely appointed. It was mostly a long bar with a register and a retro-hip cashier. As we paid our $8 entry fee to hang out with the kitties, the cat-eyed lady tried to interest us “small sips or nibbles” – hipster lingo meaning snacks – but we were entirely focused on the cats visible through the medium set of windows. It was only on our way out an hour later that we noticed there were bakery goods and some commemorative t-shirts and coffee mugs for sale.

While properly dousing ourselves with the requisite hand sanitizer, we dutifully read the rules. We were all a little disappointed about the “no picking up the cats” rule. My cats don’t let me pick them up either. It’s a conspiracy! Boo! I also spent some time amusedly pondering exactly what circumstance prompted the “no intoxication” rule and its priority placement at #3 on the list. Oh, Portland.

Lisa, Barb, and I entered the cat room and found seats. The room was long and narrow with windows at the far end opposite where we entered. There were already 13 of the maximum 15 people allowed in the room, including a tattooed cat lovin’ employee proudly sporting a “SHOW ME YOUR KITTIES” t-shirt and a somewhat awkward, young, gushing reporter from a verylocal Portland newspaper who went around asking questions with a notebook and pencil in hand.  ("Best assignment EVER!  I am totally blissed out right now!")

We looked around for the cats. We were told there were 10 of them but they were a bit hard to spot. Most of them were asleep in various cubbies and boxes. The few that were awake and moderately active were already being entertained, iPadded, and cooed to. One lively black kitty named Mystery decided Lisa was interesting and let Lisa entertain her with balls and feathers on a stick. Lucky Lisa!

Slowly people cleared out, including the lone male and his friend who was wearing a cat-themed sweatshirt covered in cat hair I’m pretty sure she arrived in. The extra space allowed us to finally move closer to the window and to the mostly awake cats. But, well, they had had a long morning and really just wanted to nap. So we primarily spent our hour petting sleeping kitties and comparing cat notes with the other women in the room.

Curly Sue was kind enough to let us pet her through her napping

Debriefing in the car on the way home, Lisa, Barb and I agreed that we had had a fun time and were glad we had visited Purrington’s…but we weren’t sure we would do it again unless we knew someone who wanted to check it out for the first time.

Although the cats were younger than ours our home, they were all at least 1 year old (lounge rule) so they weren’t the crazy high jumping whirls of activity we were expecting from younger kittens. Also, we decided that the lounge was very well appointed for cats but not so much for the humans.

The rectangular shape of the room made it difficult to roam around and interact with the cats. Also, with so few tables to set things on, we were all relieved we hadn’t opted for any nibbles that we would have had to keep on our laps or the floor. The ratio of 15 people to 10 marginally accessible cats also seemed a little high.

Nevertheless, we agreed the concept is a great one for the cats. They get to live in a home-like setting, get TONS of human interaction and love, and eventually…hopefully…find their forever homes thru adoption from visitors. And for that we were very pleased to have donated $8 to the paws cause. That and I found it a rather calming, Zen-like experience to simply hang out in a room of cats and the people who admire them.

Prepare for a detour:

In completely unrelated but equally notable news…this happened before we headed out to Purrington’s.

Note the breakneck speed of 13mph

Lisa has a Tesla. I had only seen pictures of them. Even though Barbara drove us to Purrington’s in her car, Lisa offered to take me for a spin in her shmancy ride to start the day. I was absolutely dumbfounded when she offered to let me drive it!

Ummm…. WOW!! That thing flies! It goes from 0 to NASCAR in barely two blinks. It handles with a ton of stability and the braking is as easy as simply taking your foot off the accelerator. It was by far the most fun I have ever had driving a car. I didn’t bother to hold back my gleeful giggling because, well, there was truly no way to stifle it.

The interior was leather and suede…SUEDE! And the controls were all on a touch-screen. In fact, the navigation system/controls were essentially a large iPad with continuous access to the internet. Unlike most (all?) other car navigation systems, everything is always available and accessible. No waiting until you get to a stop light to try to punch in an address really fast. While very convenient, I wondered about the safety of actually being able to check Facebook or emails or watch cat videos on YouTube all while supposedly driving your car. But with the planned self-driving feature anticipated for later this year, I suppose that concern will soon be moot. As are any passing thoughts I might have to ever have a Tesla of my very own. Yowsa!  Thank you so much for the test drive, Lisa!!!

A much more commendable speed of 82mph...and you can see the in-dash iPad

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Ova Achiever

I have been a bit MIA for a while. You may…or may not…have noticed. Aside from one lonely post in January and a binge of two posts in one particularly productive week in February, there just hasn’t been much writing going on here at Woodhaven. It’s not that there wasn’t anything to write about. Indeed, there has been quite a bit about which I could have rambled and mused. But I wasn’t ready to share yet. I think I finally am. We’ll see how it goes.

On January 27th, I had a surgery. It had been pondered for at least 6 months, discussed quietly for at least 4 months, and decided and scheduled for a month and a half prior to The Big Day. Only Rob…and then my doctor…knew about it for most of that time.

I found myself really not wanting to talk about it, as I seemed to be uncharacteristically nervous and talking about it just made the new-to-me anxiety tons worse. I also didn’t really want to explain all the particulars because, well, it was one of those sorta private girly surgeries. And who wants to talk about that?

OK, enough beating around the bush. I had a hysterectomy. Weeeee!

The reason for the surgery wasn’t anything particularly alarming. I had just had quite enough of the increasingly annoying and odd side effects of a certain permanent birth control device that Erin Brockovich is all excited about. I can essure you, the device is not all it was promised to be. I’m blaming the nickel. And perhaps a long undetected allergy to it.

The only way to remove the intruder my body was slowly rebelling against was to take some body parts with it. Since I had abandoned the intended use of those body parts with the decision to get the device in the first place, having the parts gone for good was really no big deal. And honestly, six weeks of lounging around in yoga pants while sipping tea and watching past episodes of “Sister Wives” sounded rather heavenly.

But, well, things haven’t gone quite as swimmingly as expected.

The surgery itself went just fine. No complications other than the on-the-spot decision to remove one ovary. I saw the laparoscopic photo of the poor little thing covered in cysts. Its removal was a very good idea. Besides which, I have been assured my one remaining ovary is sufficient for providing the needed hormones to keep things going until nature decides it’s time for A Change. We'll see about that.

You see, the challenge with this hysterectomy thing has not been the physical part. Honestly, with two spinal fusions as my benchmark for what a surgery entails, this has been a tea party. I haven’t really been in much pain (well, that my brain recognizes – yay for whacked out pain tolerance!), and I haven’t had to live with any severe restrictions for very long. Lucky for me, the warnings not to lift things or bend too much or drive too far are all things I already live with on a daily basis with my back issues. And I don’t swim very often and I prefer showers over baths. So a week or so of needing Rob’s help to get dressed was really the biggest imposition to my daily life. And that wasn’t really much of an imposition. Ahem.

People keep telling me that a hysterectomy is a Major Surgery but I still can’t really wrap my head around that. So I had some organs removed. Big deal. It’s not like I have another long scar on my spine or have added any titanium to my internal collection. I didn’t even get sent home with a walker or a custom-made brace. Surgery shmurgery.

Well, the joke’s on me. Because it turns out that the real challenge with this hysterectomy deal is the dancing hormones. That wasn’t part of my back surgeries so naturally it shouldn’t be a part of this one, right? Nobody really prepared me for this little emotion-packed adventure. But honestly, I wasn’t asking either. With the plan to keep both ovaries, it never occurred to me that my body might need some time to hormonally figure out a new normal.

I have since learned that even with both ovaries left in place, the body’s hormone system can go all haywire for several…months?!?…after a hysterectomy. Awesome! Lucky me! Lucky Rob!

So this is why I haven’t felt like writing much lately. I wasn’t sure what would come out of the keyboard, plus I have been so much in my head it’s been hard to see a way out. However, I am cheered that I now seem to be having more good days than weird ones. And I am definitely getting better at just riding the waves of ridiculousness instead of fixating on them. Victory (and rejoicing) at Woodhaven!

God and estrogen willing, I will be a bit more chatty in the coming weeks. I have missed writing. Or, more honestly, the desire to write. But I am encouraged that I wanted to write today and that no tears or adrenaline rushes were involved. Thank God!

My new uterus enjoying a beautiful spring day
(pillow courtesy of Rob and his mad Googling skillz)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

With apologies to the east coast

I’m gonna be honest. I feel a little guilty writing about this.

It’s February 17. This time last year, we were digging out from a bountiful (by our standards; maybe 6 inches) snow storm, with a homemade sock monkey to show for my day spent on the couch while the world turned white outside.

A year later, here I am on our patio sipping a banana-pineapple-strawberry smoothie and debating whether or not I really need to be wearing my In-n-Out hoodie (I’d wear one from Burgerville but, oh right, they misguidedly don’t do swag). Meanwhile, Rob is out golfing for the first time since last summer.

I drove around town today with my sunroof open and my car’s automatic climate control spewing cooled air through the vents. I saw lots of cars with their windows down and a few convertibles going topless far earlier than should be legal.

Our crocus flowers are always the first sign of imminent spring, usually popping up in mid March. This year, they are already long popped and munched by the deer. Our daffodils are already up and the plum trees on our driveway are adding daily blossoms by the dozens. This is all at least one month ahead of schedule. I have already purchased my annual pair of garden gloves and I am eyeing our BBQ in hopes of convincing Rob to grill me dinner tonight. I usually don’t get such notions until well into April.

I should still be wearing my fleece-lined shirts and my heavy coat. My walks should still involve earmuffs. Instead, we are all partying here like it’s May 19…and none of us is breathing a word of it. Because this:

I have several very good friends in the Boston area. The pictures they have been posting on Facebook are ridiculous. They are getting pounded by snow storm after snow storm while we are breaking records for heat and number of days without rain. It’s so bad (good?), I actually shaved my legs the other day in anticipation of maybe wearing… shorts!?

Normally, I would own the unseasonably nice weather and share photos of it with friends around the country. But this year, well, that just seems like unsportsmanlike conduct. Instead, I am quietly letting the weather sharing go one direction and yowza, the things I am learning!

For instance, my Boston friends have introduced me to the profession called “Roof Shoveler.” This is a person you hire to shovel snow off your roof. You do this because you fear a phenomenon called an “ice dam.” This is what happens when snow freezes in your gutters and builds a little dam that prevents any melted snow from leaving your roof. If you aren’t careful, the water eventually makes a break for it via your living room ceiling.

A roof freshly shoveled.  Thanks for the pic, Marsha!

This is just silly.

When they aren’t trying to save their houses, these snow-weary friends are busy moving snow out of the way to make room for more. They speak of spending hours and hours digging out parking spaces for their cars. This confuses me. They are DRIVING in the insanity of feet and yards and practically miles of snow?!? Two inches of flakes here and we all take the day off, hunker down, break out the emergency supplies, and wonder how we will ever survive.

But no, these New England snow veterans are hearty people. And probably much like rain here, they know if they waited until it stopped snowing to go anywhere, they would be housebound until July 5th. So they must drive. And therefore they must provide parking. And protect it.

Yes, another thing I have recently learned is that once you spend 4 hours creating a little asphalt haven for your car, there exists the possibility of some lazybutt shmoe coming along and stealing it. So, naturally, you stake your claim. Using chairs. Naturally. Why chairs, I have no idea. But apparently lawn chairs, folding chairs, rocking chairs, dining room chairs, even recliners are all suitably universal signs of “DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT, BUDDY.”

And so as the sun warmly sets on my shmancy zero-gravity lawn chair on my little cement haven on our tulip-budded patio, I am blissfully ignoring the long-range weather models that are calling for cold air to arrive towards the beginning of March. They speak of an idea of “False Spring” defined as “a period in February around here when we think winter is done and spring is here. Often it’s followed by a return to cold and rainy weather soon after.” So yet another reason to keep our current spring paradise a secret. Shhhh.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

12th Man Faithful

I have never been a very sportsy person. I never played a sport in school, I loathed PE, and I was actually pleased in 5th grade when I broke my wrist because my cast meant I got to do my homework during recess. Score!

The closest I ever got to being on a team was when my 7th grade boyfriend let me wear his Little League hat as a sign of coupledom. Then later in high school, my best friend and I were the "chain gang" for the football team. We worked the sidelines and moved the 10 yard markers around. We only did it for the community service credits required for the honor society. The fact we were surrounded by hunky football guys was an unexpected and delightful...if not slightly stinky...bonus.

Despite my lack of interest in playing sports, I did learn to appreciate watching them. My dad did a great job trying to explain rules of football and basketball and baseball. We lived in the San Francisco area and I have many happy memories of eating hot dogs and chocolate malteds while my dad explained why Willie McCovey was doing this or Vida Blue was doing that.

During the 1980s, the San Francisco 49ers became a family favorite. My mom developed something of a crush on Joe Montana and I owned a red jersey or two. We all enjoyed watching the team dominate year after year. Later, when I got a job at a Very Large Oil Company, I was thrilled to be able to have a perfect view of the Super Bowl victory parades (yes, plural) from an office down the hall.

1994.  The 49ers fifth -- FIFTH -- Super Bowl win.  As it should be.

So we were a 49er Family and I was proudly among the Faithful.

But things slowly changed.

I married a sports nut of sorts, but as he became more interested in fantasy football than the real stuff, my dedication to watching games trailed off. And then we moved to the Pacific Northwest, where the 49ers were shockingly rarely in Portland's news and none of my new friends seemed interested in them. I was, however, surrounded by crazy Seattle Seahawks people. Crazy, passionate, and exceptionally welcoming. Yes, I believe I was being groomed. And it worked.

Just a few days before the 49ers played the Seahawks for the division championship in 2013, I decided to make a break for it. I had done some research and I found I was really impressed by the Seahawks quarterback and what he stood for both on and off the field. I didn't get those same warm fuzzies about the 49er QB.

I also saw the 49ers and their fans so adeptly reflecting the cosmopolitan, high-tech, somewhat affluent culture of my past life in California...while the Seahawks and their fans felt more scrappy and authentic and communal like I have found my new life at Woodhaven to be.

Much like when we decided to leave California, I realized that I didn't belong with the 49ers anymore. They were no longer my people. Rooting for them felt like I was clinging to the past. I decided it was time to fully embrace my new life in the soggy mossiness of Washington. So I switched loyalties, trading the red and gold for the blue and green. And for the record, I look much better in blue and green. See?

My mom is on Facebook. She has two friends -- me and Rob. She never comments or likes anything; she is just there to lurk behind the scenes to keep up with us. In fact, only once in the six years she has been on Facebook has Mom posted a status:

"No No No!! Tell me it ain't so!!! (posted by your mom -- a forever 49er fan)."

Subsequent emails lamented along the lines of "Where did I go wrong in raising you?!?" and "You were the perfect child...until this." So, yeah, it's been a bit of rocky 16 months of representin' the 12th Man as my mom waves her red and gold arms all around in exasperation and disappointment.

Rocky and very odd, actually.

When I started rooting for the Seahawks, I was not surprised at all that they ended up going to the Super Bowl...and winning it. Because that's what I grew up with. My team was always in the playoffs, often in the Super Bowl, and frequently came home with that silver football trophy. That's just how it worked.

When the victory parade was being announced in Seattle after the Super Bowl win, I was sort of surprised by all the hysteria even 150 miles away. People were going nuts! I had friends who drove 3 hours to stand smushed up against fellow fans to yell and scream congratulations. It was as if the Seahawks had never had a Super Bowl parade before! Oh, wait. Right. They hadn't. My bad.

I had a passing thought of going up to the parade, too, but actually said out loud, "That's OK -- I can go next year." Because that's how rooting for a NFL team is -- you root for them and they win Super Bowls back-to-back. Right?

My certainty in Seattle's continued dominance amused Rob. "You have no idea how spoiled you were being a 49ers fan back then." True enough.

So it was with some incredulity that I watched My Team struggle the first half of this past season. I dutifully had their game schedule in my calendar and wore team colors to church on game days. I slowly accumulated all sorts of Seahawks paraphernalia including shirts, sweatshirts, drinking glasses, sneakers, nail polish, jerseys, hats, and gnomes. I was shocked when they traded Percy Harvin, and I enthusiastically started following Richard Sherman on Facebook. I mean, I was ON IT. I was fully supporting my team so they should be winning. Duh. Why did they not understand this?

My Seahawks support was predestined.  Nevermind that this
photo was taken 8 years before the team even existed.

And then, in the true Second-Half Team fashion that is becoming their legacy, the Seahawks turned it around in the second half of the season and earned a revisit to the Super Bowl in The Most Exciting Football Game I have ever watched. YAY! The comeback against the Packers was breathtaking. I actually high-fived Rob as we went to overtime. I have never high-fived anyone in my life for anything sportsy. THAT'S what sort of fan I am now.

I lost count how many times I watched a highlights video of that championship game. At the end of each viewing, I always felt a little bad for the Packers fans. I mean, they all but had the game won and then it just slipped away without any warning. Their dreams dashed. I could only imagine how they might have felt. Poor Cheeseheads. Only imagine, mind you, because my Seahawks had dominated and were going to the Super Bowl AGAIN and were going to win AGAIN. Because that's how it works when you support a football team, right?

It's been nearly two weeks now and I still don't really want to talk about it. I know explanations have been offered why they decided to throw a pass on that last play instead of running it with Mr. Skittles. But I really can't bear to relive it.

I honestly wanted to cry as that Patriot swooped in for an interception. And I remained in a dejected funk for several days afterwards. I didn't want to see, read, or hear anything having to do with That Play.

But I continued to sport my blue and green manicure and my array of Seahawks t-shirts. Partly because I really couldn't believe my team had lost, but mostly because I realized I was charting new territory with my fandom. I needed to prove to myself that I really am not just a fair-weather fan despite always having sunny skies any time I've cheered for a professional football team.

And so now I have a little better idea what it truly means to be a fan. It's not just about the tchotchkes and team gear...although those ARE critical. And it's not about always winning, because that's apparently sort of unusual. Being a true fan is about still clapping when things go sideways. It's about staying at the game until the end. It's about cheering your losing team when they get off the plane because you still respect who they are and how they play. It's about having every hope that they'll win another Super Bowl without feeling personally affronted if they don't.

See how much that one play in that one game has taught me? I'm a much wiser, more mature fan now, right? I'm just grateful I didn't decide to become a Detroit Lions fan. Although their blue and silver team colors are quite lovely, I don't think I could bear to learn all that being their fan would teach me. Oy.