Monday, July 27, 2015

The Miracle of the Reader's Digest Behind the Toilet



On the shelf behind my toilet sits the November 2013 issue of the Reader's Digest. It's magic.

I used to be a Reader's Digest subscriber. Every month the newest issue would arrive, spend a day or two downstairs, then go upstairs to the shelf behind the toilet. The Reader's Digest, with its one or two line "Quoteable Quotes," the mid-length quiz, "It Pays to Increase Your Word Power," and the longer "Drama In Real Life," makes the ideal bathroom reading material. There is just the right amount of content for every situation, if you know what I mean.

Back in 2013 I stopped my subscription to The Reader's Digest. While I enjoyed every part of it, I just didn't have time to consume it all before the next issue came. I found myself tossing them into recycling only partially read and feeling quite wasteful about it.

But we still needed bathroom reading material, so the November 2013 issue stayed put on the shelf behind the toilet. And it's a good thing I kept it, because as I've already mentioned, it's magic. After nearly two years, no matter what page I turn to in that 180 page magazine, I find something I've never seen before.

See? Magic!

"Did you read this article by Billy Crystal?" I ask Robert from my echo chamber one evening.

"There's an article by Billy Crystal in there?" He garbles over the hum of his Sonicare, mouth full of toothpaste. At least I think that's what he says.

"I know! How have I not seen it before now? It's hilarious." I glance at the cover again to make sure the Reader's Digest Fairy hasn't gifted us with a different issue. Nope, still November 2013.

A few days later, I find an interview with Malcolm Gladwell. Of course! I think to myself. This was when his last book came out. I seem to remember reading it before and I scan the questions and answers. They are fresh and interesting, as if I'm seeing them for the first time. Huh, I think.

The next week I take the "It Pays to Enrich Your Word Power" quiz and score 13 out of 15. I wonder how many times I've taken the quiz and scored the same. Will I ever learn the definition of venal or bumptious? Is this something I should be concerned about?

Concerned? I think. That I have a magic Reader's Digest filled with endless reading material? 

I put the November 2013 Reader's Digest back on the shelf behind the toilet and try to recall that word I didn't know the definition for.

Until next time, magic Reader's Digest!







Sunday, May 24, 2015

Things You Should Never Say To a Person Who Is Trying to Be Nice (And Things You Should)

When I was pregnant with my first child, I was diagnosed with hyperemisis gravidarum. In other words, I threw up day and night for months, unable to keep anything down for more than a few seconds. Eventually I got a picc line and was put on a 23 hour IV nutrition solution called TPN. Even though I wasn't eating, I still threw up around the clock.

Everything made me vomit but especially the seeing food, the fridge being opened, the smell when something was being microwaved, and dreams about food.

During this time, many people tried to help. Some of them tried to help by suggesting anti-nausea remedies (Seabands, ginger tea, smelling a lemon, hypnosis). Some suggested reasons HG may be happening to me (it was all in my head, it was Robert's fault, I'd let it get out of control, our new house had too much new carpet which was probably releasing chemicals into the air and making me sick). And one doctor subtly, but clearly suggested a solution (abortion).

Despite my explanations about food exacerbating the problem, people still brought me food. One person brought in houseplants so they could clean the air. Someone else kept me supplied with lemons to smell. And, when I was finally well enough to sit through church, one guy asked me, "Are you able to keep food down now?" every single week, even several months after my baby had been born.

It never would have occurred to me reprimand these people for making an effort to be kind. In fact, when I felt well enough, I wrote every single one a thank-you note. Did some of their attempts miss the mark? Sure. But it wasn't their failures I was paying attention to. That was secondary to their effort to do something. From my own experience, I know that doing something is not always easy.

So why do we have the myriad lists floating around the internet with titles like "stupidest things to say to someone with cancer," "things never to say to a person with anxiety," or "things you should never say to a pregnant woman," or a black coworker, or a daughter, or someone who hates her birthday, or a creative person or even (and I promise I'm not making this up) "things never to say to someone?"

Sure, these lists tell me what not to do if I want to be sensitive in a particular situation, but they also provide painful reminders of how many times I've said the wrong thing, even with my heart in the right place. Beyond that, they focus only on the negative behaviors and seem to mock the very people who are trying. They make me want to never say anything or get involved with a struggling friend again.

It takes so little effort to become offended. It's much more difficult to consistently see the good in others. More challenging still to do so when someone has said something unintentionally unkind.

How do you know if people are trying to be nice or are really trying to hurt you? Remember, people are usually dumb before they are malicious. Just assume that you are dealing with a good person who is temporarily afflicted with a little Dumb, and be kind. Instead of focusing on how they're offending you, why not give them the benefit of the doubt. Why not show a little grace.

Yes. Let's bring back grace.

Imagine a world where every time we said something dumb, or felt stupid, and wanted to hide under a rock and never come out, someone was there to see recognize our good intentions? What if worked to build and love each other? What if we weren't mocked when our efforts to reach out to others fell short, but were lovingly cared for and enlightened?

If find yourself struggling with what to say to someone who has just been insensitive towards you, but who is a little clueless, try some of these phrases:

1. Thank you.
2. You are so nice to think of me.
3. I appreciate you taking time for me.
4. You are so thoughtful.
5. Thanks for sticking by me.

No more silent seething and passive aggressive list-making when people aren't being nice to you. They are being nice . . . just not very well. Don't punish them for it.


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Why Writing Takes So Long

I needed a name for a personal assistant to a company CFO. I thought, "Lois," or "Sue," but that sounded so typical.

I should make him a guy, I thought. That's original. 

I remembered that Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock had a male assistant. What was his name?

I Googled: Jonathan! But wait, when I started to Google "Who is Jack Donaghy . . . " before I typed that apostrophe s and finished the sentence with "assistant," I'd noticed that one of Google's guesses was, "Who is Jack Donaghy based on."

I had to know! So I went back and clicked on that. As it turns out, Jack Donaghy was based on a composite of several TV network CEO's but a big part of Jack's character is Lorne Michaels.

Huh. Who knew? (Okay, I know. Probably everyone except me.)

But there were several other articles covering the topic of Jack Donaghy and 30 Rock and one of them was an interview with Tina Fey!

Obviously I had to read that.

Tina Fey is delightful. And I've just wasted maybe fifteen minutes on a question I'd answered 14 minutes and 55 seconds ago.

So, what next?

I could tweet about how I just wasted so much time, but I don't think I could get this down into however many characters Twitter allows. I could Facebook status it, but I'm staying off of Facebook until I've got five more pages written, so I guess it has to be a blog post.

And that is why writing takes so long.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Jarring Dinner Party

There are consequences for going public with your opinions. Oh yes, there are.

Sometimes the consequence is acquiring a cortege of back-patting sycophants whose adoration you can never quite trust. Other times, its discovering a mob of vocal opposers happy to tell you where to go.

However, there is one consequence that falls in the sweet spot between love and hate: The Practical Joke.

I suppose I opened myself wide with my firm declaration that canning jars are tragically inappropriate vessels for salad (and hillbilly substitutes for all other eating and drinking purposes). Certain friends could understandably not resist the opportunity for a little ribbing.

The set-up was innocent enough: A pot-luck dinner party.

The covert legwork of the conspirators included a private Pinterest board full of food-in-jar recipes and nonchalantly pigeon-holing me into the one of two menu item assignments that could not be made in a jar.

I arrived on the pre-appointed evening with my piping hot rolls. The table had been set, but the food was not yet out. Mason jars with straws and lemon wedges stood watch over each empty plate.

Okay. We're drinking out of Mason jars. It's cute. I can be a hillbilly for the evening. At least straws had been provided. I said nothing.

And then the main dish came out of the oven: a tray full of chicken cordon bleu-filled half pints. Something was up.

Quickly, four quart jars of SALAD were removed from the fridge. What the . . . !

"Surprise! We're having dinner in jars!" my friends exclaimed with the unadulterated joy that comes from weeks of planning and a secret Pinterest board.

Dessert, too, was in a jar.



There was a brief moment of confusion. A, "wait, so everyone was in on this?" realization that I'd been pranked in the most delicious way.

Dinner was divine.

Eating the moist, delicious chicken cordon bleu out of a jar was awkward, but doable. However, those who were not dab hands at using a knife and fork in tight spaces were happy to find the whole meaty-cheesy serving slid out of the jar and onto the plate in an upscale column that would have been right at home in a Michelin-starred establishment.

The sangria was delightfully refreshing and I started to wonder if the Hillbillies might be onto something. Drinking out of a jar has a way of making one feel decadently lazy.

The potatoes (not in a jar, but still important) were downright addictive. (Thank you Ranch Dressing Mix!)

The "dirt" parfait added a touch of chocolate whimsy to top off the meal. However my fingers did sustain slight collateral chocolating when my hand made contact with the rim of the regular-mouth jar while maneuvering the spoon to reach the last few bites. However the rare chance for grown-ups to eat gummy worms without our children hogging them all made up for any compulsory finger licking.

And the salad . . .


The salad was beautiful, but impractical and forthwith was dumped into a gorgeous salad bowl, with gently sloping sides and matching serving fork and spoon, where it was tossed with dressing—because salad should never be served in canning jars. Once in the appropriate bowl, the salad proved to be a revelation of fruit and feta, bacon and crunchy romaine. I would have eaten more if it had been physically possible. 

(Salad in jar for photo only—no salad was consumed in a jar for the making of this dinner party.)

So, dear reader, I ask: Is it worth it to be opinionated about the hot trends that cross our collective path? To state boldly your views on the meaningless novelties that are more photo-op than life hack?

Oh yes. Yes it is.

By the way, have I mentioned how overrated villas on Lake Como, Italy are? So. Overrated.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Hiking The Whole Wildwood in One Day

Monday, after a few months of conditioning and prepping with my good friend and co-hiker, I-Shuan, we hiked the whole Wildwood Trail in one day. In retrospect, if I hadn't had I-Shuan there, I would have probably given up. It was pretty tough, and I have a feeling we both kept each other going.

Here's how it went down.

7am - We arrive at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington Park, just past the zoo. Ethan drops us off, we pose for a photo in front of the "Start of the Wildwood Trail" sign, but it's too dark to get a good picture and we don't have time to fuss with the camera. We've got some serious miles to cover today. So after this grainy photo that won't convince anyone of our exact location (and that I decide to post to Facebook anyway), we set off.


7:30am - It becomes obvious that we have taken a wrong turn on the mess of trails in the Washington Park area, and while the magnolia trees were fragrant and spectacular on the Magnolia Trail, it appears we have looped around and are headed BACK to the Vietnam Memorial instead of away from it. At this moment I was ready to quit. The most we'd ever hiked was 20 miles and that was physcially a stretch. I knew 30.2—the entire length of the Wildwood Trail—was going to be our limit. Now, we had just unwittingly added one mile to that final number. It was almost more than I could take. I felt like Tonya Harding at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics when, seconds into her free-skate routine, she discovered her shoelace was torn and asked to start over.



Like Tonya, I desperately wanted to start over. On another day. I could not hike 31.2 miles in one day. I couldn't! But we persisted, in large part because I'd already posted on Facebook that we were indeed doing this hike today. What could we do?

8:42am - Pittock Mansion and a comfortable looking picnic table come into view. I can't wait to sit down. Before we started, we had decided to rest every five miles during the hike as a way to pace ourselves. Pittock Mansion is actually four miles into the Wildwood Trail, but since we went a mile out of our way . . .




I snap a couple photos, update my Facebook page and get out my hiking poles to help with the steep down hill portion that is coming up. One of the things that I'd struggled with most while conditioning for this hike was pain in my knees. This time I had a knee brace and hiking poles to try and keep some of the discomfort at bay.

10:30am - We arrive at NW 53rd Drive and find a log to sit on while we fuel up on water, Cliff bars, and thanks to I-Shuan, Korean beef jerky and dark chocolate M&M's. I pull out my phone to pause my MapMyHike app and check Facebook. There are lots of encouraging messages from friends on the pictures I've posted. I read them aloud and I-Shuan and I are pumped. We are a third done with our hike. Next stop: the half way point for lunch.

12:30pm - Thank goodness one of us has to answer the call of nature, so we can stop for a few minutes right before a steepish climb. Before I started hiking on the Wildwood Trail, I would have told you that it was pretty flat. But now, about 14 miles in, I can tell you it is definitely not flat. I am becoming aware of every slight rise or fall in elevation. Painfully aware.



1:15pm - We finally cross Saltzman Road and reach the stone wall at mile 16 and break for lunch. I call Robert. He says he is proud of me and we estimate we should be done around 6pm. I have my peanut butter sandwich, three Advil for my knee, and am too tired to check Facebook. Also, my phone battery is waning, so I hook up my back up battery.

As we get started after lunch. I'm thrilled that my knee seems to hurt less than before. We power ahead.

I don't care what time it is anymore - We reach mile 20. I have come to rely on the blue diamonds painted onto trees every quarter mile as a way to maintain my sanity. We are making progress. Each blue diamond means I'm a quarter mile closer to the end. We sit on the ground and I suck down water from my camel pack. I brought two liters, so I should have plenty. It tastes so good. Too soon, however, it is time to get up and walk some more. The Advil is starting to wear off.


About mile 22 we pass some runners from the University of Portland. They are young, fit and all running in a neat, quick line, as if their knees aren't shooting spikes of pain into their leg with every step. It's so annoying. We move off the trail to let them pass and I-Shuan cheers them on and shouts something encouraging. I want someone to cheer for me. 

I think I hear cars. We must be getting close to Germantown Road. I'm certain it's just around the next corner. We are not close. It is only an illusion.

4:30 pm - Finally, we reach Germantown Road. Mile 25. I make my way down the steep hill into the parking area. I'm taking the hill like a 99 year old grandma who has lost her walker and a young man with a spring in his step passes me going up the hill. "I've been doing this since 7 this morning," I told him. "I'm on mile 25. That's why I'm walking this way."

I just needed someone else to know.

He is either impressed or humoring me when he says, "Wow, that's great! I'm only doing two miles."  It was enough to satisfy me.

We cross the street and sit on a log for our break. I-Shuan calls Ryan to give him our ETA while I suck down more of my delicious Portland water. To say it's refreshing is an understatement. Every gulp fills me with resolve. It is renewing and, if my knees didn't hurt, would be all I needed to spur me on to the finish line.

And then I run out of water.

How could this be? I'd had two liters. On all the hikes I'd ever been on, I'd never run out of water before. I-Shuan offers me salty pistachios but I just want delicious water. (I take a handful of pistachios anyway.)

My only consolation is that we are so close to our goal. And Ryan is coming to get us. Also helpful: I-Shuan gives me half a bottle of water. I decide to save it for when it is time to take more Advil.

Mile 25.5 - I question the accuracy of the blue diamond tree mileage markers. Surely they are lying. They taunt me.

Mile 25.75 - I-Shuan and I run out of things to talk about.

Mile 27.25 - I want my mommy.

Mile 27.5 - I wonder if I'm old enough for knee replacement surgery.

Mile 28 - Why didn't I take Advil back at mile 25?

Mile 28.25 - My phone battery dies and MapMyHike stops mapping my hike.

Mile 28.75 - We would be almost done now if we hadn't hiked that extra mile this morning.

Mile 29.25 - Ryan appears like a mirage in front of us. He's arrived to pick us up. As much as I'd like him to, he can't literally pick us up and carry us back to the car. We have to keep walking. Did I mention that we'd be done by now if we hadn't taken that wrong turn at 7am?

Mile 29.30 through 29.75 - "Isn't that the mile 30 tree right around the corner?" (No, it's not)

Mile 30 - It's as good as over. Just .2 miles to go. We've done it. Wait . . . I don't remember .2 miles being this long before.

6:45 - As we limp towards the van, Ryan has us stop in front of the trail sign for a picture. The smile is fake. The sign keeps me from falling over. Then, I get into the most beautiful minivan I've ever seen and immediately take two Advil.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Woman, A Trail, A Probable Knee Replacement: Wildwood

The Wildwood Trail is the backbone of Portland, Oregon's Forest Park. It zig zags through the Tualatin Mountains for 30.2 miles from the Vietnam Memorial in Washington Park to the surprisingly unassuming terminus at Newberry Road.

At some point in the last year, I started thinking about hiking the whole Wildwood in a day. Had anyone done it before? Was it even possible?

A quick internet search revealed the answers to those questions as yes and yes.

I had hiked parts of the Wildwood Trail before. It was generally pretty level and I thought, "how hard can it be to walk for nine hours?"

My plan was to hike in the summer, when I could start around 6am and finish before dinnertime. But I never got around to it. Then, in January, my good friend and neighbor, I-Shuan, said she'd like to hike it with me, and why don't we just go for it, and, you know, hike 30 miles next week.

But her husband, an occasional marathoner and someone who likes to ride 60 miles on his bike just for fun, suggested we work up to it.

Fine.

We started slow, with a Newberry to Germantown Road hike on January 26th that logged in at 6.4 miles and took us just under an hour and 40 minutes. It was a great hike that was just the tiniest bit challenging towards the end. It felt great. I could have gone farther, but was happy to stop.

The next week we upped the distance to 12.74 miles by hiking from Germantown to Saltzman Road. This took us just under three hours and resulted in a pain in my right hip and knee along my IT band. The end of the hike required a steep, one-mile trek up a fire lane to the Saltzman Road parking spot. It was most definitely not my favorite way to end a hike. I thought I was going to die.

The next week we planed for a 17-miler, but the weather was nasty and we decided to shorten. It was a good decision because this turned out to be the hardest hike yet. We started at Cornell Road, near the Audubon Society and hiked back towards Saltzman Road. I thought to suggest we start at Saltzman and walk DOWN that nasty fire lane instead of end with the the hike UP. Later, I regretted not saying anything. It rained the entire time and despite my wicking clothes and Columbia jacket, I was soaked by the end. The wind was blowing and at one point, we heard a loud CRACK and a large tree branch came down right behind us. The trail was muddy and the going was tough. The hike turned out to be 12.48 miles and it took us a thoroughly miserable 3 hours and 58 minutes to complete. There were blisters involved and a long, hot shower was required to stop shivering.




Next up was a short hike on President's Day. We started at the Veteran's Memorial and hiked just 5 short, but beautiful miles down to the Cornell Road trailhead near the Audubon Society. The weather could not have been better and the view from Pittock Mansion was gorgeous. After finishing that hike, I-Shuan and I had hiked—in sections—the whole Wildwood trail.


Now it was time to step up our mileage and work towards the elusive 30.2 miles. On February 20th, we started at the Saltzman trailhead and walked down hill (we're finally learning) to the Wildwood Trail and hiked 15 miles to Newberry. That took us a whopping 4 hours and 41 minutes. I got blisters in new places, became acutely aware of my knees and promised myself I would take some pre-emptive Advil before our next hike. 

Unfortunately, by the next week, I'd forgotten all about the pre-emptive Advil. We started at 8am and hiked 20.58 miles in 6 hours, 37 minutes from the trailhead at 53rd all the way to Newberry. The last five miles were difficult. My knees protested with every step down even the slightest of inclines. My feet were burning with new blisters on top of old blisters. And my fingers had swelled up like little sausages making any attempt at manual dexterity laughable. At least I-Shuan and I still felt like laughing. The first thing I'd do when I got home, I told myself, was buy a knee brace.

Now, separated from that hike by a day, a long, hot shower and some Advil, I realize my desire to hike the whole Wildwood in a day was naive at best. Thirty point two miles feels ridiculous and possibly dangerous. But almost more than that, these hikes are knocking out almost a whole day. The question isn't "am I going to do the whole 30.2" but, "can I just get it over with next week?" 

I'm ready to be done with this challenge.

**Update, March 8, 2015**

Tomorrow is the day. 

At 6:30 am, which is still dark, I-Shuan and I will make our way to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington park and embark on our 30.2 mile journey along The Wildwood Trail to Newberry Road. 

I've packed my bag with a peanut butter sandwich, two Cliff bars, six Advil, two hiking poles, two liters of water and one GoGirl. My phone and the back up charger are charging. My new knee brace is laid out and ready to go, along with my clothing. (I still haven't decided between the short or the long pants.)

This is the first Wildwood Trail hike since I started prepping that I am truly dreading. Do I need to hike the whole Wildwood in a day? How, exactly, did I come up with this idea in the first place? Would it be so bad to quit now, with a respectable 20 miles under my belt and call it good enough? Why am I doing this?

**Update, March 12, 2015**
If you'd like to read about the actual hike, click here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

On Gardening and God

Today I hoed furrows into the garden bed so I could plant peas. I turned on the hose and let water run at a trickle down the row so there would be a nice wet place for my peas to germinate. I stood with the hoe, ready to clear out any blockages that kept that stream of water from making it to the end of the row.

I watched the water work it's way down, shearing the walls of the furrow as it went, pooling in places before breaking through obstacles and rushing onward. I watched, god-like, over this micro-erosion event and imagined the power this trickle of water and I wielded.

I wondered if this is what God felt like as the Grand Canyon was being created, as He watched the walls shape and form, and the canyon deepen. Did he marvel at the snaking course the water took through the path of least resistance? Did he get a thrill when the power of the water caused large boulders to break away, changing the face of the landscape in a moment? Did he ever feel the urge to reach down with his hoe and reshape things for the best possible outcome, or did he just let everything take its course?

Watching this process was a bit of a rush.

But instead of lasting millions of years, it only lasted a few minutes. Then, I planted the seeds, covered them with soil and went inside.