Sunday, January 28, 2007

Knit One, Slip Two

There's something about being around someone knitting or crocheting that makes me wish I had yarn nearby. It's the perfect pursuit when watching TV or talking with friends.

This has happened the last two Friday nights: someone surrounded with the goodness of yarn and my hands mourning the absence of my needles. So midweek I was curled up in our family room with an unfinished blanket on my lap, crocheting as Eric read philosophy.

With all the snow we received in the last twenty-four hours, this weekend possessed the ideal environment to again settle down on the sofa and finish a project I started over Christmas. Meet Sheldon, a brainchild from the website Knitty.

Sheldon taught me many new things, but the steps were clear. It was daunting but gave me just enough of a challenge to stretch myself without being so out of my league as to make me give up. Sheldon will reside in the toy chest for the enjoyment of our nieces and nephews until our own children come along.

For inquiring minds, this turtle's shell does indeed come off.

But he's a little bashful in his nudity, so he will likely remain shelled for much of his life, aside from a spin cycle or two.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Temptations in College

In college, I knew this guy named Eric. He was trying to stay on my good side my junior year, for after ten months of dating, he was getting ready to propose. In a move to make sure I would be receptive to his query, he offered to bring me lunch once or twice a week (until he started working and then I experienced a 'full stop').

The reason for the offer was that I had two classes back to back, from late morning through lunch. The professor of the noon session recognized we would be hungry and extended the invitation for us to eat in class. Unless I brought a suitable lunch with me in the morning, I had no time between classes to grab a bite.

Eric, however, had more of a break and found himself near the Memorial Union minutes before my second class. He would periodically bring me a delectable cheeseburger with fries. When compared with a sandwich turned room temperature, McDonald's wins with no contest. After rousing morning discussions and a couple brisk walks, I delighted in this shady hallway exchange with my beau. A certain paper bag would change hands. The smell wafting up tantalized me with that ever-recognizable smell, and my love for Eric was reinforced.

Then I would withdraw into the classroom and savor the grease as we delved into the history of the English language. Maybe you've had these greasy rendezvous as well. Some cheap burgers and fries cross your path and you salivate all over and growl at anyone coming between you and satiating your gluttony.

Only when my feeding frenzy had devoured every last salt crystal would I gather up my food wrappers and commence learning.

In this class, our seats were arranged in a U-shape. One day, a student I'll call 'Bindu' spoke to me before class, confessing, "You made me eat a burger."

I barely knew Bindu, but as you can tell from the good Indian name I gave her, she was a Hindu. She had successfully lasted about twenty years without beef, nary a complaint, and then she crossed paths with me.

According to her, I savored my burgers to such an extent that she had to see what they were all about and what she'd been missing all these years.

Not just anyone can say they have shaken the tenets of another's faith without even saying a single word. I must admit, there's some pride creeping up even now.

So as Mark Twain says, "Sacred cows make the best hamburger." I hope she properly enjoyed it.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Challenge

Yesterday I received an email from Chris Baty, the founder of National Novel Writing Month. He wrote participants from this past NaNoWriMo with a challenge. It is entitled TYWWBTBFSTT, or The Year We Will Be Trying Big, Fun, Scary Things Together.

His thinking? Each November, we decide on a lofty goal: write 50,000 words. And with the help of caffeine, forgiving loved ones, and finger foods, many succeed. Then we sluggishly return to our routines, just to have a dusty manuscript on our shelves. We pine away for the next November.

So why stop then? If the willpower of thousands is there in November, can't we capitalize on that during the other months of the year? He has challenged us to tackle other 'big, fun, scary things' in the next year.

This intersected with a choice I made in the last couple weeks. Since I am no longer teaching, I am faced with oodles of time in the evenings and weekends. I enjoy having the opportunity to do whatever I want, but I also know I will manage my time better if I have more activities in it. Therefore, I looked into some volunteer opportunities in the Michiana area (for those non-erudite people, Michiana is what you get when you combine Michigan and Indiana. Never fear, for I too was one of the ignorant masses just months previous).

While I may add other volunteer activities, I'm starting with the Literacy Council of St. Joseph County. In it, volunteers tutor adults how to read. To prepare the tutors, fifteen hours of training are provided. Certainly that makes for a busy January for me: starting today, the remaining Tuesday and Thursday evenings of this month are occupied.

Another way I am stepping out of my comfort zone is starting yoga, believe it or not. In order to strengthen my back and neck muscles, which are still fighting complete rehabilitation from my October 2005 car accident, I was encouraged to join a class. I am a neophyte with yoga, so to pay money to do something where I'll make a fool of myself in the beginning is not my normal reasoning. But as long as I make it to the sign-up at 7:30 AM Thursday, I will be enrolled in a class beginning next week. And once I've laid down money, hurricane winds and tornadic activity would have to do their best to pry me away from spending two days a week on a yoga mat. And 'tornadic' is totally a word, because I just looked it up; I saw that double-take and wrinkled brow, but now you know to quit your doubting of my vocabulary because you have been schooled.

So join me. Pick something you'd really like to do, quit putting it off, and commit to accomplishing it this year.

You can learn about what others have committed to on the Adventure Log, 2007!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Stocking Stuffers

Yes, I'm slowly adjusting to post-holiday routine, trying to catch up on Christmas stories. You know what they say--better late than never having anything new to read on this page.

At work, the secretaries have a tradition of hanging stockings in the main office. Each one has a name on the felt, carefully written in glitter glue. As the stocking held by my post was becoming disheveled with the tearing off and reapplying of names as people came and went, the two other secretaries in my main office took it upon themselves to replace the worn stocking with another, one new and without any bad karma.

They decided this while running errands for our department party. They wanted it to be as similar to the others as possible, for it would be unforgivable to grant me one with, say, faux fur, which does not receive glitter glue kindly. Many factors had to be weighed, many options considered. And then they settled on one.

Proud of their acquisition, they wasted little time before revealing it to me upon their return. Here it is, in comparison to one of the others.

They claim this was the best they could do. Cynical as I am, I choose to believe that there were hundreds in the former style at the store, identical to the six earmarked for other office and support staff. Once they set eyes on the stocking that was similar but for the fact that it hung nearly down to the floor, however, they preferred to give the department a challenge. After all, no one can look in the face of this supposed greed and pass up the opportunity to fill it with any number of questionable finds. I comforted myself--perhaps I would end up with some good fodder for next year's white-elephant exchange.

Many, upon entering the office, were aghast as mine stood in comparison to the others. Initially one of the instigators would take the high road and explain how this came about, but then they preferred watching me have to defend myself against such a large stocking. They especially enjoyed playing dumb in the face of my explanations, as if they had nothing to do with the arrival of a four-foot stocking.

Early in December I noticed two awkwardly wrapped gifts already residing in the big toe. Cautioned by my superior, I was not allowed to investigate too closely until my last day before break.

Items began appearing mysteriously, some deposited while I was away at lunch, others when I departed for the night. A pom-pom was given and resided at the top to hide prying eyes.

When the reveal came, others were equally curious, as mine had filled up faster and more substantially than the others. I was ready with a trash can nearby, as every once in a while someone would slyly drop in an item that was questionable.

Inside was found six pairs of rubber gloves (in green and white), a Christmas tree pin, a yo-yo, a snowman beanie, a small glass dish from the 'free' pile in the hallway, a leftover stash of yarn (always welcome whatever the state of usage), a profusion of candies, and $1.28.

I also received a small Precious Moments-esque nativity scene, an opened box of mint green tea, paper clips in a beaker, yellow play dough, Sweet'N Low, soy sauce, plastic utensils with napkins, barbecue and onion ring dipping sauces from Burger King, a spider ring, and silly putty. Truly the sacred and the profane were met in my stocking.

And the two wrapped gifts? A pair of Christmas socks from the woman I competed with for dominance in holiday stockings. The second was a set of coffee filters, suspiciously similar to those numerous packages that reside near our coffeemaker.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

My Sisters May Disown Me Over This One

I have a confession. It's hard for me to admit, as I'm not sure how this revelation will change impressions of me held by my loved ones. But I can't let this fact continue to be suppressed any longer, as its eating away at me, bit by bit. So here goes.

I have become a fan of Notre Dame football. So sneakily it happened, so unexpectedly. I'm still trying to work with this new knowledge of myself and how it will impact the rest of my life from here forward.

In theory, if I was ever to be interested in this game, it would have emerged sooner. Peripherally, it has been around me my whole life.

I remember holiday visits to see my maternal grandparents, and my grandfather would at some point be watching a game, and I likely was listening to his jokes during commercials and reading otherwise.

In high school, I attended home games, but in marching band, we had duties to perform, and I saw the game as little more than an outdoor backdrop to my conversations. I'd be reveling in the company of my friends, laughing with delight, when suddenly our communion would be broken as the male counterparts broke off their words to madly cheer for the play on the field.

In college, I only knew when games were because I showed up at the home football games sometime after the half, in order to clean the stadium with the others as soon as people dispersed.

In my life, I have sporadically watched football games in their entirety, but only when others had control of the television.

Sure, I put myself in the path of temptation. I allowed season tickets to be purchased. And I need to see things through to their proper end, so when the team was away, we faithfully settled in front of our television and watched the performance.

Sometimes I would be confused when something new to my eyes occurred, so Eric would dutifully explain the nuance. But it didn't take long before I knew penalties and offensive positions: a holding would be called, or I saw the offsides and false starts. Don't even get me started on pass interferences and face masks. And 12 men on the field makes me laugh hysterically (only if it's not my team at fault). I'm still shaky on the defensive positions; cornerbacks and safeties and all the rest meld in my mind, as I'm too busy watching the offense (sorry guys--I'll appreciate you in due time).

The Air Force game had me contemplating a daytime pass on the computer, as it wasn't going to be regularly televised, only available on a certain cable provider instead of network television. However, I chose to follow the game's progress on the radio by my computer screen, so that I could see a visual from ESPN's gametracker.

There I was, huddled in my room, ear craned to the radio, eyes on my monitor, shushing Eric if he tried to speak while a play was being relayed. How did I come to this sad state?!

One down side to this evolution is that my emotions so quickly run the gamut during a game.

But I have great memories. I watched the Michigan State game in its entirety, unwilling to turn off the television when our fate seemed to be determined, only to watch us pull off an amazing victory in the last minutes, We came from behind to put 21 unanswered points on the board in the last quarter of the game. (Okay, I can't remember if Michigan State scored in the 4th quarter, but it sure sounds impressive when I say our points went unanswered, right?)

And who can forget the upset of this year's UCLA game? We were putting forward a lackluster performance, appropriately losing what should have been a dominating game for us. UCLA was draining the clock at the end of the game, so Charlie Weis was forced to take all three timeouts in quick succession to give us a chance to turn things around. We got the ball and marched decisively down that field with under two minutes remaining. That crowd (myself included) went ballistic as Brady Quinn threw to Jeff Samardzija, who ran for the winning touchdown with seconds remaining. How we celebrated in the stands!

Sometimes Eric is surprised by me. When Eric was willing to give up on the Michigan State game, I insisted that he could do so, but I would be firmly planted for the duration, for we too had to experience the losses with the wins. And I still remind him of that glorious end, that fourth quarter he would have missed out on experiencing but for his stubborn wife. And the UCLA game? We almost didn't go since Eric was feeling great yet fighting a cough and didn't want to hack through the game. In the end, after we almost passed out from the intense screaming, he was glad he'd come at my urging (and his cough was absent from the game, those of you who want to accuse me of letting my marriage suffer because of this addiction).

I can hold my own with my colleagues, recalling key plays and commiserating about disheartening losses. I could claim detailed knowledge of Notre Dame football is sort of in my job description and thus warranted, but then I'd obviously be revealing my denial at how dangerous this has gotten. Here I am, trying to make excuses for the concessions I make to watch or attend: "I could quit anytime. I could go a beautfiul fall Saturday without walking the mile to the stadium and eating savory dogs and popcorn. Honestly. I don't really need the hot chocolate when the weather is brisk and the chill is heavy in the air and Touchdown Jesus makes the perfect backdrop. I could give it up if I really wanted to...I just haven't yet."

Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija, Tom Zbikowski, Darius Walker, John Carlson, David Grimes, Rhema McKnight, Chinedum Ndukwe. All of their names are familiar to me now, and not just because many are fun to say.

My addiction suffered a withdrawal after the embarrassment of the USC game, and remained suppressed until last night when those familiar faces were again on my television. I cheered with the best of them. And I admit, I played my sad version of a drinking game with my leftover New Year's sparkling apple cider at my side (all juice, no alcohol for my concerned friends and family). Each time Notre Dame dropped a pass or LSU made a first down, I took a swig from my bottle. I was disgusted with them by the time fourth quarter rolled around and I was constantly lifting that brew.

With the end of the season, I'm not sure what will happen next. Will we continue to hold season tickets? Will I grow bored with the sport? Will I get help so my family won't have to hold an intervention in response to this cry for help? We'll see. Until then, if you need to hear details about last night's Sugar Bowl, I'm a respectable source for starters.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Exhanging Gifts

Before Christmas, our small group decided to hold a white-elephant gift exchange. For greater love has no man than this: that he scavenge through his house and lay his discarded finds before his friends.

One couple was beaming about a selection of theirs, which was enough to make most of us wary of choosing it. With some cajoling, though, Eric acquiesced and chose the proffered "green bag."

Inside was a note, revealing the theme: "The complete dating-to-death relationship book packet!"

Each book offered a written phrase to acknowledge why it belonged in the pack, which I will provide for you, along with the titles.
Read before 1st date - The Paranoid's Pocket Guide

When you decide to be "just friends" - God's Little Instruction Book on Friendship

When the romance is lacking - The Act of Marriage: The Beauty of Sexual Love

When the romance hasn't been lacking - What to Expect When You're Expecting
[one aside: the couple mentioned they discovered they had somehow acquired a second copy of this book, unbeknownst to them. In an obscure reference no one but Eric is likely to get, we believe that in Pratchett fashion, only one copy is needed to asexually reproduce on the shelves; to check our theory, analyze any garage sale or bookstore and you'll realize there's never just one of these on hand. Sure, there are over 12 million copies sold, but I'll bet there are at least triple that in private book collections if you wait long enough for them to morph a nearby book into a pregnancy guide. Truly an epidemic. As you try to sleep tonight with that in mind, I'll continue with the gift set.]
When you want to convert your kids - The Two Kings: Jesus and Elvis

For the "golden years" - Easy Crosswords

For funerals - Selections from the Book of Psalms
So decide for yourselves whether this gift was worthy of the knowing giggles this couple exchanged in anticipation of the unveiling. In a spirit of unity, we will grudgingly concede that it was clever.