Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Week Fifty-One

Event:  Went tubing on a mountain of fake snow

Nothing says Happy Holidays like riding a 50 pound donut down a 700 foot long hill on manufactured snow.  Helloooooooooo Winter!

As a Christmas gift to my little sis, I decided to take her to Snow Creek for an afternoon of tubing.  It was going to be a first for both of us and we couldn't wait.  I sent her a text early in the day to make sure she had warm clothes to wear and to remind her that we were: A) Tubing, B) Going to be outside for hours, and C) It was 30 degrees out.  Since she's 16 years old, I figured a few little reminders couldn't hurt.  As I prepared to get ready, I convinced myself that I needed to wear 4 layers, a stocking cap and gloves that would keep a mountain climber on Mount Everest warm.  Clearly, I was going to win an award for the best representation of "Fuction over Fashion."  As I went to pick up my sis, I met her at the mall where her mom had dropped her off and when she hopped into my car I took one look and lost it.  She was wearing a cute pair of skinny jeans with HOLES in them, fashionable knee-high black boots, a thin sweater and a jacket.  No hat.  No gloves.  And no 4 layers.  She looked like a snow bunny and I looked like...the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

When we arrived at fake-it-till-you-make-it-mountain, I was completely dumfounded by the snow.  We parked on a bone dry gravel road, but 25 feet away we were trekking through inches and inches of snow.  For the most part, the park looked something right out of Colorado.  Ski lifts, snow boarders, a rental shop and a lodge but one thing was a little off.  The snow had a creamy tint to it making it look like you were walking through vanilla icing.  On one hand, I wanted to dive face first into what looked like an enormous cupcake, but on the other hand, you had to wonder what gave the snow its yellowish tint.  I've only heard one thing about yellow snow and you don't have to tell me twice to stay away.  Regardless, yellow or not, it was impressive.

As we grabbed our tubes we took a ride on a 450 foot long carpeted conveyor belt that took us to the top of the "mountain".  I of course wasn't paying attention (still marveling at the vanilla icing) and lost my balance only to lose my footing on the conveyor belt before we reached the top.  It's fine.  A 6-year-old passed me, but whatever.  Finally at the top, we looked down the 700 foot drop and I tinkled a little.  Good thing I had on four layers.  I sat in my donut, looked over at my little, we gave each other a thumbs up and we were off.  As I launched off the mountain I was convinced I was going as fast as Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation.  At one point I was screaming, laughing and crying for my mommy all at the same time.  The second time down the mountain I was dared to get a running start and go down on my stomach.  This marshmallow wasn't going to be shown up by 5th graders so I went for it.  First, my running start was anything but spectacular (it's hard to be fast when you're wearing 4 layers) and I ended up over shooting my donut, thus smashing my boobs on the front end of the tube.  To add insult to injury, the majority of my body was way too far in front of the tube so my legs were flailing in the air as I had to work to keep my balance and my chin from acting as an emergency break.  I came within inches of needing a nose job as I spun uncontrollably, almost hitting the sides of my tubing lane face first.  This time I screamed like a school girl as I feared for my life and the safety of others.

My third run was even less impressive.  As my sis and I rode the conveyor belt back up to the top, a sweet little kid told us we should ask one of the guys that works there to spin us.  Thinking there was no harm in that, I did.  On about the 28th full 365 degree spin, I decided there was a fairly decent chance I would be vomiting in my donut.  Instead, I just yelled out every 4-letter word in the book.  When my spinning nightmare came to a stop, I stood up like a drunken sailor, found my sea legs and discovered every parent was holding their mittens over their children's ears.  Sorry about that but mother $!@&%#! that sucked.

While my 16 year old show off was bee-bopping around the mountain turning heads for a different reason, I was at the bottom of the mountain with my head between my knees.  It was at that moment I decided it was time to head into the lodge for hot chocolate.

Here's to yellow snow.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Week Fifty

Event:  Worked as a Salvation Army Bell Ringer

Coldest day of the year - Check.
30 mile per hour wind - Check.
Snow flurries - Check.
Frostbite - Check.
Frozen toes - Check.
Can't feel my cheeks - Check.
All in the name of charity - Check.

For most of my adult life I've always had mixed feelings about the Salvation Army Bell Ringers.  My emotions range from feeling guilty (I can't put money in every kettle - they're on every corner!) to being annoyed (ugh, they're everywhere!) to feeling bad that I don't do more to help.  So, this year I decided I could spare two hours and donate my time (and money) to a great cause.  I got online, did some research and signed up to work at my neighborhood grocery store.  All I needed to do was to bundle up and show up.  The rest would be there waiting for me.

As I prepped to get ready, I checked the weather to confirm the high was going to be 22 degrees.  And the 30 mph winds were going to come out of the northeast and attempt to knock me and my little red kettle over.  The weather outside is literally going to be frightful.  So bundle I must.  Long johns, sweat pants and a third layer of fleece pants covered my bottom half.  Thick cotton socks and boots covered my tootsies and on top I had 4 layers.  I walked out into my backyard and stood for a minute to check my layering strategy, which was perfect.  It was then (after I was sweating to death, of course) that I realized I needed to pee.  In that moment, I was both a 4 year old and the mom scolding the 4 year old.  Seriously.   

17 layers back on, as I reached for my keys, I suddenly felt like the little brother on "A Christmas Story".  I can't move my arms!  I was the freaking marshmallow man, and to add insult to injury, I decided that in order to increase the probability of a donation, I needed to look the part, so I wore a Santa hat.  I will not be surprised if I make the cover of Stacy London's "What Not to Wear" 2010 issue.  I digress.  As I arrived at my bell ringing destination, I relieved a sweet woman who thanked me for coming and said she'd be in the grocery store deli if I needed anything.  Confused, I blew it off and focused on getting ready for my bell ringing debut.

I tied on the official red apron (which read, "Doing the most good.  I am a bell ringer"), grabbed the bell and before I assumed my bell ringing position, I added my own twist.  I found an outlet behind the Christmas trees next to where I was standing.  I plugged in the extension cord that I brought and fired up my old school boom box.  I pushed play and let 'er rip.  Soon the cold, crisp air was filled with Christmas music ranging from Bing Crosby and Aretha Franklin to Burl Ives and Mannheim Steamroller.  Quickly I discovered that if I rang my bell in sync with the music, I got more donations.  But if I danced and rang the bell in sync with the music, the shoppers couldn't resist it.  So there I was, standing in front of the grocery store dancing and ringing my bell to "Joy to the World" and "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and people were lining up to take a look at (and donate to) the Christmas train wreck. 

As each shopper walked by, I would yell, "Merry Christmas!" but as time passed and my cheeks and lips began to freeze, my salutation turned into, "Mmmmmmerrrrrry Cccccchristmassss!"  That was until a complete stranger came up to me with a donation, a cookie and a hot chocolate.  She told me that earlier in the week she and her kids were bell ringers and she wished someone had brought her hot chocolate, so she told herself she would treat the bell ringer the next time she was at the store.  I could not believe how thoughtful it was so I immediately thanked her and took a big swig of the hot chocolate.  Jesus Mary and Joseph that was a 274 degree mistake.  Mother !$@*(%&(@$! I burned the crap out of my tongue.  Unable to find a cold metal pole to stick it to, I just stuck it out in the cold air which helped a little.  As the 3rd degree burn started to take shape, my once cheery salutation turned into my tongue-is-half-hanging-out-of-my-mouth, "Mayoweee Kwithmuth." 

A few more strangers, friends and family members came by and donated and it was refreshing to see the good in people, like the older woman who put a dollar in the kettle and a dollar in my hand with strict instructions to go inside, warm up and get a snack.  Or the dad who walked by and told me I was a Saint for doing this.

More Abominable Snowman than Saint, as my shift came to an end, I looked up and saw the same woman who I relieved two hours earlier.  Frozen solid and happy to see her, I asked her why she was back again.  She told me that she works for the Salvation Army and she had to take the shifts nobody else signed up for.  When I asked her how long her shift was, she replied, "6 more hours."  Horrified, I asked if she had eaten anything and when she said no, I went into the store, bought her a chicken dinner and hot chocolate and told her I'd cover her shift until she could sit down and eat.

Twenty minutes later, as I drove away, I looked back as she rang her bell and that's when I decided that she was an angel disguised as a bell ringer.  Because you know, every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.  And in 6 hours, she will have rung that bell enough to get angel status. 

Have yourself a Merry little Christmas.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Week Forty-Nine

Event:  Bought a real Christmas tree

Ever since college I have steadily upgraded from one fake Christmas tree to another.  It started out as a 12" tree, then I graduated to a 2' tree, then a 3' tree, then a couple of years ago I bought a fake-but-it-looks-so-real-you-almost-can't-tell 8' tree.  I keep it in the basement completely put together with ribbon and lights, covered with a red, life size plastic bag and a few cob webs.  Each year I clumsily carry it up the stairs into my living room, inevitably knocking over a lamp, a picture frame or the dog.  I've been getting along just fine with my fake it 'til you make it 8 footer, but this year was the year to do something different.  I was craving the ultimate Christmas tree experience.  I want to go to a farm out in the country, I want to walk through a forest of trees, I want to pick my tree, I want to cut it down myself, tie it to my car, bring it home, water it and decorate it while it fills the room with the aroma of pine making me feel like I am starring in Christmas in Connecticut.  (For the record, I've never seen that movie but the title in and of itself just sounds delicious).

As I pondered where I would go to buy my tree, it hit me.  A couple of years ago I dated a guy who owned a Christmas tree farm.  That's right.  I was dating Santa.  But unfortunately, I couldn't see myself playing the role of Mrs. Claus, so we went our separate ways.  As I made the decision to get a real tree, I figured I couldn't go anywhere else.

I talked my sister into coming with me and we grabbed a rope, bundled up and headed out.  It was only after we were halfway there that I realized I didn't have a saw, proper gloves, or mascara.  This was simply going to be a disaster.  As we turned onto the gravel road, I was relieved to see 5 or 6 guys standing around waiting to welcome customers.  This was actually a good news, bad news situation.  The good news - with a handful of people there to help, my chances were greater that someone other than my ex would help us.  The bad news - if I do see him, he'll probably tell all of the other guys what a jerk I was when I broke up with him.  It was at this very moment I questioned why I voluntarily drove out to this location.  Anyway, we parked the car, I put on my sunglasses, (didn't really need them, but again - no mascara), pinched my cheeks to give them some color and we were off.  I had hoped to quietly approach the entrance and in an undercover like manner, scope out where he might be without making our presence known.  That's when I accidentally hit the panic button on my car keys.  Horns blaring, I had to run back to the car, open the door and start the car, only to walk back to a round of applause from the boys.  Oh for the love of Figgy pudding.

As we approached the group, my ex was standing in the middle, so I lowered my sunglasses, pushed my stocking cap up a bit, and said hello.  He recognized me right off the bat, gave out a good laugh, and the small talk began.  Moments later he was assigning a high school kid to help me get my tree.  Whew.  Short and sweet.  Now we're back on track.  I explained to the kid I wanted something in the Fir family because I was told the needles don't shed as much (better for my dog) and the branches are stronger (better for my heavy ornaments).  He suggested a Fraser Fir (funny, I would've spelled it Frasier Fur) and he pointed off into the distance.  They looked beautiful and perfect and only a few feet into the forest, I found 'the one.'  I turned to him and said I was ready to cut it down and that's when he dropped the bomb.  The Fraser Firs...were...already...CUT DOWN!  Devastated, I then saw a sign out of the corner of my eye that read, "Fir Trees from Michigan."  WHAT?  It was all a hoax!  He then explained that some of the fir trees are brought in and placed on stakes in the ground to make them look like they grew there.  I felt like I just got sucker punched.  The Scotch Pines were growing out of the ground, but those trees looked like Charlie Brown's Christmas tree compared to the firs.  At this point, I was too invested to put up a fight, and as I looked at my sister with sad eyes she said, "Give it up.  Just saw a branch off and call it good."  My dreams of cutting down my own tree now crushed, I stooped even lower when I agreed to take a fir that was already removed from the stake, just lying down on the side of the path, like road kill.  Still, I got my way (sort of) when I made the little helper elf go to back to the barn to get an old school saw so I could cut an inch off the trunk.  So there.

As I approached the cashier to pay (clearly not getting a discount from the 'ole ex), I ran the quick numbers in my head.  My tree was 7' tall at $7 a foot, so $49.  Perfect.  When the sweet little old lady behind the cash register said my total was $79 I about fell over.  Oh great.  I misread the damn sign.  The Scotch Pines that are actually growing out of the ground that I could've cut down are $7 a foot, but the road-kill-already-been-cut-down-and-shipped-in-from-another-state-Fraser-Firs are $10 a foot.  This has been neither a joyful nor triumphant experience.

As I drove through town I had visions of the tree flying off into the intersection because I was sure my ex told the boys not to tie it down very well, but lucky for all of us, we made it home safe and sound.  That's when karma reared its ugly head.  As my sister and I attempted to get the tree into the tree stand, the trunk was about an inch too short.  Karma!  Oh of course I just had to cut off an inch to prove a point.  A few f-bombs later, we had to take the tree back outside and cut off branches at the bottom to lengthen the trunk.  Using a little saw that had as much punch as a fingernail file, we managed to remove some of the lower branches to allow for a perfectly snug fit in the tree stand. 

Covered in sap, we admired the slightly leaning to the right $79 investment.  So far the tree hasn't fallen over (I'm knocking on wood as I write this) and I've managed to keep the dog from drinking the tree water by wrapping the tree stand with his own lampshade/cone - brilliant!  Aside from that we've only had one small casualty.  At 3 O'clock in the morning a heavy ornament fell off of one of the branches, crashing onto the floor. 

Glad I got the tree with the stronger branches. 

"Oh tannenbaum, oh tannenbaum..."

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Week Forty-Eight

Event:  Took a horse riding lesson

"Rollin' Rollin' Rollin', keep them doggies rollin', boy my ass is swollen, rawhide!"

In my mind, a horse riding lesson would be like this:  I would show up at a barn (wearing my cowboy boots to look the part of course), I would meet an instructor (preferably a hot, single cowboy) who would walk me up a half staircase where I would daintily hop on a medium size Seabiscuit and the horse would be tied to a leash and we'd walk in a circle for 20 minutes, I wouldn't fall off, feel like the queen of the world and call it a day. 

That is the exact opposite of my first ever horse riding experience.

I drove about 30 miles out of town to a barn I found online.  Taking a little bit of a chance, I put my hopes, dreams and safety in the hands of a complete stranger. And that's the horse I'm talking about.  But when I arrived, I was relieved to see a couple of teenagers riding, with their moms looking on, telling me this was the place to take horse riding lessons.  While I sat and admired one of the teens' equine ability to make the horse jump over horizontal poles, I thought to myself "I'll be lucky to do that sometime this century".  So I asked the mom how long her daughter had been taking lessons.  When she told me this was her daughter's third lesson I knew I was in for a big surprise. 

Moments later I found myself filling out a 4 page release form saying I won't sue the barn if I get bit, kicked, pooped on, bucked off, smashed against the railing, thrown off, spat on, bruised, lose a digit, lose a limb, lose a buttocks, or simply lose my pride.  I reluctantly signed my life away while thinking how much it would suck if any of these actually happened - and how hard it would be to explain to my family.  But then the moment passed and I giddily put on an extremely stylish riding helmet so large that it would have saved me from running head on into an oncoming train.  Let's ride.

As the trainer and I walked into the indoor arena, I got to meet Gidget, a big-ass, tan and white, fifteen-year-old mare (lady horse).  Ironically, Gidget and I had a lot in common.  First, we both like apples.  Second, we both like carrots.  Third, we both poop standing up...just kidding.  But seriously, we are both almost the same age (in people years Gidget is in her thirties) and when I looked up the significance of her name, I learned that Gidget was the name of a fictional character in a novel written in the 1950's called "Gidget, the Little Girl with Big Ideas."  The novel was turned into a movie and Gidget was played by Sandra Dee, then it turned into a TV series and Gidget was played by Sally Field.  The show was described as, "A cutesy girl finds herself in a sad dilemma because the boys on the beach don't pay her any attention as her body doesn't measure up to the curves of her peers, but then a star surfer begins to have a little attraction for her."  Well I don't know about the surfer part, but I can definitely relate to the rest of the story.  That was until I found the second meaning of Gidget.  "The name Gidget is a portmanteau of "girl and midget".  Well for shit's sake.

I let Gidget smell my hands, I pet her head and slipped her a twenty so she wouldn't buck me off.  And although I tried to convince my trainer to allow me to do a running start into a leap-frog type mount (over the horse's rump into the saddle) she wouldn't allow it, so I had to climb up a few stairs and do it the 'ole fashioned way.  Before I knew it I had both cowboy boots in the stirrups and not only did I not find myself being bucked off, I was actually riding.  After a few successful laps around the arena, my trainer told me she thought I was ready to learn how to "post the trot."  Sounds terrifying.  Let's do it.

Apparently when people ride horses and you see them bouncing up and down off the saddle, that's by design.  I never knew that.  If you maintain the correct posture, hold the reins loosely while keeping your hands in a fist on the horse's maine, keep pressure on the balls of your feet in the center of the stirrups, occasionally give the horse a little kick, pull the reins in the direction you want to go, keep your head up, avoid the poop, and yell "whoa" only when you want to stop, not as if to say "whoa this is cool", you're "posting the trot!"  Holy leg cramps that was a lot harder than it looked.
Seventy minutes into doing squats on a galloping horse, my legs were officially jell-o and I looked at the trainer and told her I didn't have any trotting gas left in my tank.  She then realized that this first timer had been riding for well over an hour and that it was time to quit.  Gidget and I came to a slow crawl and I was told how to properly dismount the horse.  Take your right foot out of the stirrup and kick your leg around.  While laying both arms over the horse, you hold yourself up while kicking your left foot out of the stirrup.  You then slowly slide down the side of the horse onto the dirt.  Or, if you're me, you do this entire motion awkwardly only to land in a pile of dirt because your legs literally do not work any more. 
After I finally found my sea legs again, I got to help take Gidget's bridle off and clean it, I got to watch the trainer lift up each hoof to clean the dirt out, and I got to brush her, put a blanket on her, and walk her outside to her barn. 
Now, if only someone would put a blanket on me and take me to my barn because I can't move my legs and my butt hurts so bad I'm contemplating buying a bag of ice to sit on.  Whoa nelly.