Sunday, August 31, 2008

Pet Peeves: Parental Myopia

Parenting is a tricky business. No one gets it right all the time; we're all human. And far be it for me to judge the parenting skills of others when I'm not even a parent myself. BUT . . . I feel it's my duty to speak out when I encounter such gross parental myopia (or "my child can do no wrong" syndrome).

Case in point: It was difficult to give a certain mom and dad duo the benefit of the doubt at the airport the other day because I was given so much evidence of their warped parental judgment in such a short period of time. There were several examples, but I'll share this particular one with you because it illustrates my point best and I have a photo from my phone to support my rant.

Let's set the scene. Perhaps you heard about the plane delays caused by the FAA's computer problems last Tuesday? Guess who was flying that day? Let's just say I'd had lots of luck that week and was due for something craptastic to befall my day. So, there I was in a very crowded gate seating area, unhappy . . . with a rather large bunch of other unhappy people. Now, usually I feel pretty badly for people traveling with children. As much as we might be annoyed by the seat kicking, ear-splitting screaming, projectile sneezing, etc. of some children, quite often they are accompanied by mortified, well-meaning, exhausted parents who are at their wits end and quite sensitive to the fact that other people around them might not consider their child to be the second coming of Christ. Entertaining, soothing, changing the diapers of , and feeding young children is difficult enough on a regular day in the comfort of your own home. Doing it while traveling should qualify as an Olympic event. (What? It's not any more ridiculous a notion than this, if you ask me.) The parents I'm talking about, however, were not medal contenders . . . not by a long shot.

These parents were not just willfully ignorant but actively enabling their children to behave poorly. The children ranged in age from about 7 to 12 (i.e., in the "should know better" age bracket). I'm forgetting exactly how many of them there were because they were such a collective whirling dervish of activity. These were the kind of kids who thought the gate area was theirs (because they were there, and anywhere they were was theirs), the kind of kids who don't watch where they're going and knock into and step on everyone and everything in their path - with maybe the cursory "oh-ah-sorry" tossed over their shoulder (they've learned to say it but not to mean it, and, sometimes, they actually mean "Why'd you have your stupid foot there in the first place?").

Anyway, at some point, a couple of women across the aisle from me and several seats down were talking and came to realize that the backpack in between them under their feet was neither of theirs, nor was it the couple's across from them or ours. One of the women alerted an airline attendant, who alerted the TSA, who alerted a state police officer (pictured here to the left with the bag in question). What with the women asking around and the state police officer showing up, there was a bit of a hubbub - but apparently not enough so to draw the attention of any of the aforementioned family . . . to whom, of course, the bag belonged. As I mentioned, they were acting like the whole gate area was theirs, so none of them noticed when their belongings were a good aisle or two away from where they had presently decided to plant themselves and test the patience of other fellow travelers.

The conclusion of this story: The bag was removed and the eldest child whose bag it was didn't realize it was missing until the flight attendants finally announced it was time to board the plane. The parents reaction?They were livid that the bag had been removed. The child's reaction? He complained to the mother about how stupid the airport authorities were, acted annoyed, and groused about not having whatever possessions were in the missing bag. The mother's reaction to the child? She kissed him on the forehead and said, "I know dear, I know." WHAAAT? I mean . . . Seriously?? Is it just me? Anyone else have parents who would have drawn and quartered them for such behavior?

The clincher? I'll give you one guess where this family was seated for the 6-hour flight home to California. As I mentioned, my luck had clearly run out that week.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Fitness File: Back on the Horse

There's nothing like a vacation to thwart efforts to get back in shape. There was a gym in one of the hotels in which we stayed, and I even packed work-out clothes, . . . but, somehow, I never ended up taking advantage of this convenience and forethought. This isn't to say there wasn't any exercise happening on our trip. We did a fair amount of walking around and went on a few short hikes. Just nothing that could be considered aerobic.

When we returned, I knew it was going to be difficult to start up again. I had been making slow progress for about a month and I knew that two weeks off had likely set me back to square one. (Of course, it doesn't help when you also spend those two weeks doing things like polishing off bottles of wine, taking a Ben and Jerry's factory tour, stuffing your face with Italian pastries, and eating your weight in fried seafood and homemade eggplant parmesan.) But, when you fall off the horse, there's really no other option but to just get back on again, so, with reluctance, I laced up my sneakers, did my requisite stretches, and threw myself out there.

The key factor in making that first post-vacation run a success was to set the bar low [said in a baritone voice for effect]. I decided my goal would be to either 1) run as far as I had before but not care how long it took me to do so, or 2) run for the same amount of time as I had before but not care how far I went. As expected, I felt like crap. Let's make that royal crap (side stitches, muscle fatigue, trouble setting a consistent pace, problems syncing my breathing with my running). But I'm happy to report that I accomplished goal version #1. And, you know what? After all the low bar-setting, my time wasn't that far off from my pre-vacation pace! Not bad.

I could pat myself on the back for picking up where I left off, but I know that's not the end of the challenges that lie ahead. I haven't yet hit the stage where I'm getting a "runner's high," which has worked nicely in the past as a motivator. Right now, my motivation is simply 'the sooner I go for a run, the sooner it will be over' (i.e., "The good thing about hitting yourself in the head with a hammer is that it feels so good when you stop.").

I'd like to think my knowledge of operant conditioning will fair me well in this pursuit of behavior modification, but, honestly? Despite learning and motivation, it almost always comes down to willpower - and I have to expect that will fluctuate. So, for now, I've decided to adopt the Alcoholics Anonymous strategy of taking it "one day at a time." Not to make light of alcoholism; I realize it's a serious addiction/habit - a terrible disease. My point is just that, if this strategy can work to help stop such a bad habit, it should certainly be effective to help start a good one.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Post-Vacation Procrastination

Returning to work after vacation is always painful. Of course, working from home softens the blow (it's difficult to complain about "returning to the salt mines" when I can do it in my PJs), but it also tends to prolong the transition (like gingerly tugging at a large Band-Aid instead of just ripping it off) because it provides the perfect environment for post-vacation procrastination activities. You know, like blogging . . .

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Cheap Date: LACMA

Many people know that my husband I met at a flea market because that's a pretty odd way to meet and most people remember that funny factoid. Few people know that our first date was to the L.A. County Museum (LACMA) though. Matt had learned that I liked art, and photography in particular, so when he found out that LACMA was having a special Ansel Adams exhibit, he wasted no time in inviting me to join him to go check it out. We laugh now because he says, at the time, he thought I wasn't into him at all because I kind of took to the museum as if I had arrived by myself. I didn't walk with him from piece to piece examining each one and sharing my thoughts with him or asking for his. I just kind of wandered here and there, absorbing things and being drawn in different directions, . . . just not always necessarily in whatever direction he happened to be going. Yup, that's me. I can get kind of wrapped up when I'm looking at art.

It's five years later and I still like to get lost in museums by myself, . . . even when I'm technically with other people. Yes, not much has changed. Well, except that Matt definitely knows I'm into him now - and has the marriage license to prove it. We've prolonged our wedding celebrating and newlywed-ing by spacing out our after-party receptions, traveling, and little romantic outings throughout the year. Just last weekend, we belatedly celebrated the one-year anniversary of our engagement (which was actually July 23rd) by . . . why, going back to LACMA, of course!

The difference between experiencing LACMA as a first date and experiencing LACMA as a married couple? When we went as a first date, Matt, ever chivalrous, took every opportunity to offer to pay, and I, ever feminist, took every opportunity to insist on paying for myself. Now, the money pool is his/mine/ours and Matt's very thankful he met the kind of girl who likes to troll flea markets and not the kind of girl who likes to gaze with ardor at shiny things in the shopfront window of Tiffany's. Not that the two activities need to be mutually exclusive; I just genuinely enjoy being thrifty. It's not uncommon for me to be heard saying proudly and excitedly, "This? T.J. Maxx, $10!" after being complimented on an outfit, just as thrilled with what a bargain it was as with how flattering it is.

On this visit to LACMA, we were visiting on Bank of America's dime. If you haven't heard, you can get free admission all year long to over 70 museums nationwide the first weekend of every month with your Bank of America Card. Go ahead, embrace your inner cheap date.

More on what we saw at LACMA on this recent visit to come . . .

Monday, August 11, 2008

Fitness File: Flat Foot Floogie

I fancy myself a rather logical, practical gal, so it is with deep shame that I must admit that I have often purchased running shoes in the past . . . based on their appearance - "Mmm, I love the orange accents on these Nike Reax!" (That's them there to the left, my last pair of sneakers.) I mean, I would try them on, jog around in them a bit, and make sure they fit, but their appearance would still play an integral role in my decision-making process. The funny thing is that, despite this decidedly "girlie" tendency, I've actually found the majority of women's running shoes hideous - the pinks, lilacs, and teals looking like something straight out of Barbie's closet. Those orange Nikes were actually out of the men's department! But, still. In sports, choosing fashion over function? Foolish.

With my recent foray back into running, I decided to finally do the right thing and get a proper assessement of my feet and the way I run. I'd heard they do that at Road Runner Sports, so I headed over to the one in Newbury Park Saturday afternoon. They had me walk across a sensor pad to record where I was exerting the most pressure on the soles of my feet and then videotaped me running on a treadmill to analyze my gait (see image to the left - not me, but what it actually looks like). (Note: seeing my calves in slow-motion from behind afterwards? Kind of cruel.) They told me something I already knew - I'm pretty flat-footed - but I also found out that I pronate pretty badly too (see image to right here, not my actual feet - I'll spare you that).

They also measured my feet properly, which I haven't had done since I was a kid. Shoe stores have become so self-serve these days that there are hardly any that do this anymore! I've always had big feet, so I came to terms a long time ago with the fact that I would always have trouble finding shoes in my size, nevermind shoes in my size that were cute ("cute" and "size 10" just sort of never go together), but I was still a little bummed to hear the clerk say I should really wear a 10 1/2 when I'm running (because you need room for expansion when your feet get hot and swell). I thought about asking if paddles and life vests came free with the purchase of these canoes, but, again, this trip was about growing up and doing the right thing by my feet, so I saved the self-deprecating humor for another time.

The clerk showed me three shoes they had that were best-suited for overpronators, in the "stability plus" category, (by New Balance, Asics, and a running shoe brand I'd never heard of before - Brooks) and introduced me to Superfeet inserts with a modest level of arch support (a different brand of inserts I'd used in the past were brutally painful). I jogged around a little in each pair, with the inserts in place, and, in the end, I chose the pair that felt the most supportive and comfortable - a pair of women's Gel-Kayano 14s by Asics. Correction - a pair of TURQUOISE Gel-Kayano 14s. (*sigh* The things I'll do in the name or practicality.) Asics served me well when I ran track in high school, so that gave me added assurance that I was making a good choice.

The clerk warned me to take it easy the first few times I run in the new shoes because my muscles and tendons will have to adjust to being aligned properly, and I have to say it does feel a little weird. Because overpronating feels normal to me, when I run properly aligned, I feel pigeon-toed! But I think I can get over that quickly enough if I can get some relief from the chronic shin splints to which I'm prone (a problem resulting from the flat feet and overpronating). Here's hoping!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Poetry: Protocopy

Recently, I was rummaging around in old boxes looking for a particular picture. Those sorts of activities always take longer than I anticipate because I inevitably stumble upon some other old memento that gets me waxing nostalgic, and I end up spending way too much time re-reading and reminiscing. This time was no different. Among the things I unearthed were this photo that my cousin took of me and this poem that I wrote when I was in college. For some background - I wrote the poem not too long after Dolly was born and was so very proud of myself for getting it published with two others in my college's annual literary journal focusing on women, Siren. I was struck by the similar narcissistic themes of the poem and photo and thought I'd share them in juxtaposition:

Protocopy*

Instead of working to make it
safe to have sex
again, scientists have spent endless funds
and time to learn how
to clone. Boom, baby!
Bang, the reproductive
end of sex
taken care of just like that.
Then, of course, we have virtual reality
for fuck-free fantasy fulfillment.
But what about the physical
pleasure? Well,
(and the traditionalists will like this
one) we still have
good old-
fashioned masturbation. And for the self-
obsessed - love will still exist with spitting
images of ourselves everywhere
we look, a bunch of egotistical
asexual cattle - evolution with a
catalyst.


*I was very (very) tempted to rewrite this poem when I read it again for the 1st time in 11 years, but it, just like the photo, captures a certain moment in time, and I think it would be no more appropriate for me to "doctor" the poem than it would for me to photoshop the picture. So, please enjoy (or withstand) it, warts and all.

Ah, your early 20s - the perfect time for navel gazing ( . . . not to be confused with omphaloskepsis).

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Pet Peeves: The Mission Field

Just down the block from me are two churches right across the street from one another. It's a pity I'm an atheist - that would be damn convenient . . .

On a walk recently, I saw a sign at the end of one of the church's driveways (pictured to the left here) and walked closer to get a better view of what it said - "You Are Now Entering The Mission Field." Now, if, through this statement, they mean to encourage their parishioners to practice things like brotherly love, fine. However, if they're referring to mission work in the more common sense of the phrase - "converting the godless" - we've got a problem.

This. This . . . is precisely the kind of thing that raises my hackles when it comes to religion. I don't begrudge anyone of their beliefs or right to practice them. Likewise, I'd like others to refrain from self-righteously thinking I need to be "saved."

I realize plenty of people who do mission work believe they are sharing something wonderful with the world, something that can transform people's lives in a positive way. And I'm not saying that some of the people they've "recruited" aren't happier now as a result of their indoctrination, and thankful for it. I'm just opposed to the intrusive, assuming behavior that can accompany some of this. Atheism does not equate ignorance, immorality, or evil. I've come to hold my beliefs about religion the same way I've come to hold beliefs about many other things - through becoming well-informed on the subject. To presume otherwise is insulting and disrespectful. Don't come insisting I accept god into my heart, and I won't insist you cure yourself of your pesky god delusion. "Live and let live," people.

related post

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

I Love Words: l'esprit de l'escalier

Word Phrase: l'esprit de l'escalier

Pronunciation: \e-SPREE des-kal-i-YE\

Function:
noun

Etymology:
literally, staircase wit in French; in German, the same concept is called treppenwitz.

Date:
credited to the French author and encyclopedist Denis Diderot in his Paradoxe sur le Com├ędien, written between 1773 and 1778 but not published until 1830

Definition:
the predicament of thinking of the right comeback too late

I am a big fan of the clever comeback, . . . but, like most, I usually struggle to come up with something witty quickly enough to be effective. Typically, I either suffer from l'esprit de l'escalier . . . or else come up with something less Shakespeare and more Monty Python (e.g., "Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries."). So frustrating, but at least universal.




Monday, August 4, 2008

A Night Out in Glendale

One night last month, we headed to Glendale to enjoy some activities and cuisine that fall outside of the realm of what we tend to do/have on a typical weekend night. That involved a wine tasting far from the beaten path of "wine country," Peruvian food, and an old movie on the big screen.

We started our night at the Rosso Wine Shop (pictured just below here) - a little place the owner calls "a neighborhood wine shop for the disenchanted Trader Joe wine-buyer, social nomad and local wine enthusiast." We loved the inviting, intimate atmosphere, the old-fashioned Dutch door at the storefront (which reminded me of the one in my childhood home), the maps depicting different wine regions of each country above the appropriate wine sections (you can kind of make them out in the picture), and the great pictures of the owner and his wife in different countries hanging up behind the bar. Also behind the bar that night was the owner himself, Jeff Zimmitti. He was extremely friendly and provided just the right level and amount of helpful information about the three excellent wines they were showcasing that night. Matt and I aren't wine connoisseurs (by any stretch of the imagination), but we've really enjoyed getting to know what we like over the past several years, and it's been experiences like this - tastings with knowledgeable and unpretentious vintners and sommeliers who were willing to share their knowledge and expert selections - that have encouraged us to do more. We liked the Godello and the Super Tuscan so much that we took a bottle of each with us to enjoy at home.

After wine tasting, we headed to Lola's Peruvian Restaurant for some dinner. Matt was happy with his dish and his beer, but he didn't care for the busboy (who Matt claims kept looking at me lasciviously) and I didn't like my dish or my wine, so I don't know that we'll be rushing back. When I was a sales rep for McGraw-Hill Higher Education, Glendale Community College was part of my territory. One of the professors there told me that Glendale had the largest Armenian population outside of Armenia, so I'm hoping next time we get back that way we'll have the chance to check out an Armenian restaurant and maybe some authentic Cuban breads and pastries from Porto's Bakery. I've heard good things.

After dinner, it was on to the Alex Theatre, which is run by their own non-profit community arts organization dedicated to film preservation through exhibition. Built in 1925, the theater has been lovingly maintained and is still quite beautiful. The movie experience they had to offer that night was pretty unique because they were showing the road show version of an amazing classic - complete with overtures, an intermission, and audience clapping. It was David Lean's Academy Award-winning, epic film Lawrence of Arabia, starring Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, and Claude Rains. The first time I saw this movie was on an itty-bitty 13" tv . . . with bunny ears and a turn-dial station changer (!). Not exactly the ideal viewing medium for those gorgeous panoramic shots of the dessert. What a treat to see it on the big screen! At 227 minutes, it's a long movie to sit through, but it was so worth it. The Alex doesn't have anything else coming up in the fall that I'm interested in, but I definitely want to get back there in February when they'll be showing Philadelphia Story.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Seafaring & More Nautical Nostalgia

I hadn't been out on a boat in ages and had never been on a sailboat, so I was really looking forward to going sailing with Matt and some of his friends from work a few Saturdays back. (Lord knows how I love the water!) The wind wasn't all that cooperative, but the weather was perfect and we had a fun trip. Well, most of us had a fun trip. Matt, for some reason, opted not to take Dramamine like many of us did and, um, regretted that decision later on the return leg of our outing. (Let's just say, if it had been the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, he would have been disqualified for a "reversal of fortune.") But he did at least enjoy himself up until that point.

While waiting around for our "ship's captain," Matt's co-worker, to arrive, I took a look around at all the boats moored in the marina and noticed that one thing certainly hasn't changed since I was last out on a boat - people's penchant for giving their boats god-awful names. Wish I could remember some of them, but it would seem that some sanity-preserving defense mechanism in my brain has suppressed that memory. Suffice it to say that they were of the "Sea-fari" or "Sea-duction" genre. (If you need to be reminded of how much I hate people's tendencies to give things twee names, please see the postscript to my December post.) The sailboat we took out was called "Vested Interest." Not bad as far as boat names go, but certainly not as cool as my brother's boat's name when I was a kid (on the right here - yes, yet another thing with which I've had to share my name.)

Once out to sea, I learned some of the particulars about sailing that I'd only understood superficially before - for example, when and why to let out the jib and to tack (see an illustration of tacking to the right here). And I also learned some seafaring lingo. For example, there aren't any "ropes" onboard, only "lines."

We also saw dolphins leaping and seals playing and hanging out on a marker. I didn't bring my camera, so I don't have my own picture to share, but it looked similar to what you see here at the left, only the seals were completely covering the lower level and the upper level of the marker, blocking the bell which is supposed to sound when the water is rough.

I hope to get out on the water in a boat again before the summer is out. With Matt's less-than-pleasant experience too much in the forefront of his mind right now, though, I'll settle for dragging him as far as the water's edge tomorrow. It's off to the beach! Yay! Happy weekend to all!