Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Happy birthday, Dad!

This past Sunday was a special day for me and my family - it was my dad's birthday.  And he would have been 69.

As most of you know by now, my dad died seven years ago just before his 62nd birthday.  He had been diagnosed with cancer in December of 2005 and then passed away just seven short months later at the end of July 2006.  Getting the news that he had cancer was horrible and surreal on its own - something that happened to other people's dads.  Not mine.  But having to sit around a hospital room as he slipped away, knowing we couldn't do anything to stop it . . . well, it still feels like a nightmare that I hope and pray I'll wake up from.  That my alarm will go off any minute and I'll wake up to a world where my dad is still on the other end of the phone, calling me "Atticus" and asking if I have enough gas in my car.  But I know that's not my world anymore.  And it never really stops hurting.

I remember back in 2007, as his birthday approached, I began dreading it with every ounce of my being.  I mean, he had only been gone a little more than a month and the pain was still very raw.  The last thing I wanted to do was handle this reality.  How on EARTH would we face this first birthday without him?  How would we find joy?  How would we find something to celebrate?

How do I find some Paxil?  Good LORD, I'm depressing myself here . . .

ANYWAY, as that first September 1st rolled around, my mom had a brilliant idea: we'd all go to the mall armed with $10 bills and give them away to people who did something nice or thoughtful or chivalrous - something that reminded us of our dad.  It was an amazing and uplifting idea.  And, since my mom is particularly talented at finding something depressing in every situation (she can turn any conversation into a discussion about death or diabetes in 12 seconds flat.  I've timed her.) we were even more impressed with her idea than you might think.

And so a tradition began.  Now we meet at my mom's house on September 1st and write a card to our prospective recipients.  This year we wrote the same thing we wrote last year: "I lost my Dad (father-in-law/husband/grandpa) seven years ago. He always inspired us to be thoughtful, kind and concerned with the needs of others. So every September 1st we celebrate his birthday by looking for people who possess the same qualities that made him so special to all who knew him. You did something today that reminded me of him and I wanted you to have this little treat so you would know I think you're special, too! Thanks for being a part of my Dad's birthday celebration."  We've also started writing my blog address on the back of the card so folks can go read about this tradition that they are now a part of.  Then we put a $20 bill in the envelope as their reward and head up to the mall or some other public place to look for people who do nice things: opening the door for someone, picking up a piece of trash, letting someone go first on an escalator. Not earth-shattering things by any stretch, just every day kindnesses that seem to get lost in the shuffle.

So this year we met at my mom's, wrote out our cards, and loaded them up with our $20 bills.  Then we headed up to the mall.  Once we got there, we all divided up so that we could go on the hunt for our card recipients.  The kids all decided to go with me because, well . . . everyone say it with me . . . I'M AWESOME.  Actually, truth be told, there WAS some discussion as to whether Emma and Savannah would go with me this year.  It seems that they thought it might be too "chaotic" for all of us to be together this year.  I think they get "chaotic" and "ridiculously awesome" confused sometimes so I chose to not be offended.  Well, who am I kidding?  I was a LITTLE broken-hearted over the whole thing.  But, luckily, I was able to drown my sorrows in a chocolate double doozie from the cookie stand and all was well.

But I digress . . .

The four kids and I walked and looked.  Looked and walked.  Then sat and looked.  Then stood and looked.  Then walked to the pet store to "look for nice people."  Then walked and looked some more.  But we had no luck.  Not one person holding a door.  No one stepping aside to let an elderly person pass by.  No mind-blowing escalator etiquette.  Nothing.  Eventually, we ran into Erin and found out that she was having the same luck we were having so that made us feel a bit better.  Then Emma and Savannah decided to go with Erin despite my overwhelming awesomeness.  So Ben and Avery and I drowned our sorrows in some Dippin' Dots.

Don't you judge me.

As 6:00 approached, we knew we were in trouble.  The crowds would soon be clearing out of the mall and we all still had our cards to give away.  We planted ourselves in front of the doors going out of the mall, hoping to find someone who would open the door for another person.  But everyone was using the automatic door.  So much so that a line of about 15 people waiting for the automatic door began to form.  And the non-automatic doors?  Well, it was appalling - I've never seen so many people letting the door shut in another person's face.  It was ridiculous.  So there the three of us stood, still holding our dang cards.  That's when we decided that these desperate times called for desperate measures - it was time to stage something.  We talked about dropping something to see if anyone would pick it up but we decided that was too predictable.  Then we came up with the idea that Ben would walk ahead and trip and fall to see if anyone did anything.  Since Ben is the closest thing to a stunt man that I know, he was the perfect candidate for our desperate ploy.  He looked up at me, gave me a slightly dramatic head-nod, and quickened his pace to get ahead of me.  Avery and I watched him with great anticipation.  And he did not disappoint.  He spotted a lady coming toward him so he went into action.  He performed a move that I like to call "boy stubs his toe on large, invisible boulder and flies through the air."  It was beautifully executed, perfectly timed.  Avery and I had to fight the urge to do a slow clap in admiration of his skills.  And what did our passing lady do?  She looked down at Ben, adjusted her direction, and walked around him.


Ben, not one to be deterred, decided to try it again.  As we approached Banana Republic, he noticed a sale sign standing outside the doors to the store and said "Catchy, I'm gonna go run into that Banana Republic sign."  So, again, he got ahead of us, pretended like he was looking at something on the other side of the mall, and ran into the sign.  Upon impact, he threw up his arms dramatically, kicked his feet up behind him, and sailed forward and to the ground.  Just then, a Banana Republic employee came out, looked at Ben, checked his sign for damage, pulled the sign inside the doors, and locked up the store.  Ben got up on one knee, threw his hands in the air, and said "SERIOUSLY??"

It was NOT a good night for finding small kindnesses!!

As the crowds started thinning out, we decided to plant ourselves outside the mall to see if we saw anything out there.  And, finally we had some luck!!  First, Avery saw a girl she deemed worthy of her card.  But I'll let Avery tell you herself . . .

From Avery (8 years old):
After about an hour, we walked outside because we weren't getting any action.  So we walked out there to see if we could see anyone opening doors.  So then, Ben, Catchy and I were just looking really hard and we still couldn't find anybody.  So then we walked inside.  We walked back upstairs and we looked in Dillard's and Macy's.  Then, we went back downstairs and we looked in Forever 21. Then we didn't have any luck at all, so were just kinda sitting in places looking everywhere and then on our way going back outside Ben was acting like he tripped.  And then Ben tripped the first time and then he did it again and he did it right in front of the store.  A worker came out and just moved the sign and didn't help Ben at all.  Then we walked outside and we kinda just were like looking around everywhere.  I saw this little girl about 7 or 8 and she opened the door for her mom and her mom had a stroller.  Then her mom walked off and her mom said, "come on!"  And then she said, "hold on."  Because she wanted to help somebody else with a stroller that she didn't know.  And I thought that was really nice of her to do that, so they were really fast and walking the opposite way. So, we had to run, run, run!  We caught up to her and told her what happened to my grandpa and gave her the envelope.  We asked her what her name was and it was Maggie.   We asked her to take a picture with me and she said, "sure!"  And so then Catchy took the picture.  And then we walked off and so did they and we saw them open the card and they had a surprised look on their faces because there was $20 inside!  And that is how we celebrated Grandpa's birthday.  The end.

After Avery gave her card away, we decided to stay in the same spot to see if we saw anyone else doing something nice.  As we were standing there, I saw my friend Ashley and her mom so I chatted with them for a second.  Naturally, based our luck thus far, I figured I had lots of time to chat with my friends.  But after just a minute or two, Ben spotted someone and we were off on our chase to give a card away . . .
From Ben (9 years old):
Avery just finished giving her envelope and I bet this is a big surprise to you, but Catchy saw a friend!! [can you HEAR the sarcasm, folks??] And so she was talking to her friend and I saw this guy that held open the door for a LOT of people!  And so we went up to him and he had 2 grown adult girls with him.  We told him the story and he looked pleased and then he walked off.  Oh!  His name was Rob!  We were waiting to see if Catchy would get anybody, because she hadn't found anybody to give her card to.  So while we were watching to see if Catchy found anybody who was doing anything nice, we saw Rob stop and read the card.  And one of the girls with him finished reading and turned around and put both hands on her heart and then opened her arms to us.  And then she waved and then the other girl and Rob waved, too.  Then they turned back around and then turned and waved again.  Then one more time after that.

So after Ben and Avery gave their cards away, it was time to meet up with everyone so that we could go to dinner and hear about everyone else's stories about the good things they had spotted at the mall.  I was a little bummed about not having been able to give my card away - that was a first for me.  I had almost given my card to a man who let me get off the elevator before him even though I was standing behind him.  But I had hesitated and then he was gone.  I was REALLY bummed at that point because I thought I had missed my opportunity.  But then, as we walked into our chosen restaurant for dinner, a man wearing an LSU shirt held open the door for my entire family.  Holding the door is in itself a nice thing.  And definitely something that reminds me of my dad because he was a gentleman through and through.  But when you hold the door for a huge family and risk them getting ahead of you on the waiting list at a restaurant, that's an even bigger thing.  Again, I hesitated for some reason.  But then he sat down on a bench with his wife on one side and my niece Avery on the other and he started joking with Avery.  That's when I decided to give him my card.  My dad loved all kids but ESPECIALLY his little pack of grandkids.  So when this man demonstrated two of my favorite qualities about my dad, I just KNEW I had to give him my card.  Even if he WAS an LSU fan . . .

Turns out his name is Chris and he was visiting from Louisiana.  So I was a little more forgiving of his attire.  He and his family were seated just behind us at the restaurant.  As they were getting ready to leave, Chris came over to talk to us again.  But you'll have to wait to hear about that . . .

Once we had placed our order for dinner, our favorite part of the evening began - the telling of all the stories.  I love how excited everyone gets for this part of the night, adults and kids alike.  So we went around the table and everyone got to tell about their chosen recipient.  There were imitations, dramatic reenactments, and even a gasp or two.  And I could recap everyone's stories in my own words for you but don't you think it would be more fun for them to tell you themselves?  That's what I thought, too.  

But first . . .

Brian, Brian, Brian.  AGAIN he forgot to send me his story.  Well, I take that back.  He sent me a text that said, "4-year-old Rachel opened the door for her mommy to push the stroller through."  But I know from hearing him tell us about his choice this year that she was the most precious little girl, that her mother said that she never meets a stranger, and that she showed that door who was boss - keeping it open so that her entire family could get through.  Here she is with her family:

Okay - now it's time to hear from the rest of the family . . .

From Tammy:
Really right away I zeroed in on a family out school shopping.  They had a set of grandparents with them and the Grandpa was handicapped by bowed legs & bad knees.....hobbling cheerfully with his cane.  I stalked them for almost the entire 2 hours!!  I just knew that old guy would gladly give up his seat on a bench, but the opportunity never really presented itself. Soooo I had TOTES wasted my time and now the mall was CLOSED!!  I made my way down near Dillard's where we were to meet up. Emma, Erin and I were debating whether we should "plant" an opportunity.  So that is exactly what I did! We saw two guys leaving FootLocker, so I loosely rested my phone in my pocket and turned my back to them.  I started walking towards and talking to Emma and Erin and let my phone fall out of my pocket.  Erin was facing them and she said right away they saw that I had dropped my phone and then one of them - Chris - called out "ma'am!" and picked up my phone.  He walked it over and handed it to me with a great smile.  I explained that we have been doing this every year since my dad died in 2006.  They were both very sweet.....Chris had a great Southern Gentility about him.  Thanks, Chris, for being a true Southern gentleman!!

From my mom:
My job is to roam the food court in search of a man who has taken off his hat while he eats. The reward that I carry in my envelope is higher than everyone else’s because men who don’t take off their hats while eating or upon entering someone’s home was one of Charlie’s pet peeves. Now, it wouldn’t be his BIGGEST pet peeve, mind you. That honor would go to me borrowing his razor.

But I digress . . .

I’ve been doing this for about 7 years now so I know how hard it will be to find and accost my hatless hero. I started out this year watching the lines of people in front of each eatery. When I spotted someone wearing a hat, I stalked ‘em until they started eating. I got so excited a couple of times because a guy would take off his hat but then just kind of run his fingers through his hair and back would go the hat. At some point I thought mall security was going to come and question me about why I kept walking around and around looking like I was checking out what people were eating. I get it. I do. Every time I would pass a table where guys were sitting I would kind of duck my head the tiniest bit so I could see if one of them had stowed a hat on his lap. Of course, when I saw there was no hat there, I would frown at their laps. I can’t be held responsible for how they interpreted that, right?

Just when I was about to give up I spotted this young man sitting with a cute little girl and a man. And there was the hat. I didn’t even have to duck my head. I was so happy. I sat down with them and promptly started to explain to the older man, thinking he might be the young man’s dad, why I was interrupting their little snack. After explaining everything I turned to the young man who told me that the older man - his uncle - didn’t speak English. I should have guessed that when he looked at me like I was a little crazy. But since I find that I get that reaction a lot it doesn’t always mean someone doesn’t understand English, just that they don’t understand Nora! The young man’s name is Anthony and he is 17. When I asked my usual question about why he wasn’t wearing his hat he said that his mother taught him to take it off but, anyway, he just likes it better off. Close enough! It made me happy and I just looked up and thought “well, Charlie, some moms are still teaching it. But I think it is going the way of calling cards, curtsies and the whole idea of women and children first. Love ya.”

From Savannah (10 years old):
So I was sitting down with Dearsie and we were looking one way, but I just decided I would turn my head the other way and see if anything was possibly going on.  And what do you know, I saw a wheelchair! So, I told Dearsie, "Dearsie, let's go follow that wheelchair and see if anyone does anything nice for them."  And so, we were walking, they stopped a few times and so Dearsie and I had to pretend we were looking at the booth closest to us. They finally started walking.  So, we walked for a little bit and then we noticed they were going to an elevator.  So, Dearsie and I decided that we were going to go in the elevator also.   The wheelchair wasn't really going into the elevator and we did not know what they were doing, so we were stuck and didn't know what to do.  We decided, well it would be awkward and obvious that we were following them if we just stood there with them, so we just decided that we would just get in.  We thought they were just going to find out.  And then we figured out that the person in the wheelchair had a wife and some kids and a few other adults with him.  So, there was this lady who held open the door of the elevator for Dearsie and me and then she just kept her arm there to see if that wheelchair was going to come in not knowing that they had family behind them.  And so, all of a sudden, she heard the guy in the wheelchair and the guy pushing the wheelchair say, "come on guys, run, run!"  Because they wanted to catch that elevator so they didn't have to wait.  The lady who was holding the door held the door open the whole entire time.  Most people wouldn't have the patience to do that and would just let the door close.  So, once everyone was in the elevator safe and sound, I whispered in Dearsie's ear, "when I get out of this elevator, I'm gonna give it to that lady."  So we got out of the elevator, and she was walking very quickly.  And so I had to kind of run and catch up to her. Then I told her about my Grandpa.  She said, "God bless you" and we walked away.  At first she said, "no, I won't take your money!"  But, then we said it was a tradition and so she has to take it even if she just passed it onto someone else. And that was who I gave my card to.

I'd like to say here that Savannah told us at dinner that she had forgotten to ask the lady's name but that she believed that the lady looked like a "Sue."  Ben disagreed and stated authoritatively that she looked like a "Pam."  But Avery insisted she looked like a "Barbara."  These are the kinds of vigorous debates we have in the Palmore family, friends.

Now, let's continue . . .

From Matt:
I saw a mother and her daughter get aggressively stopped by a kiosk employee so he could demonstrate his curling irons to them. The mom didn't seem too interested in stopping but the daughter really wanted to so the mom obliged. When the man was finished curling the little girls hair she was super excited.  She was begging her mom to buy the magical curling iron. I thought to myself that there was no chance this mom was going to dish out over $100 for the curling iron. I should have never doubted this woman, as she broke out her credit card and made her daughter's day. It reminded of me of Charlie because I have heard countless stories of how he would have done anything to make his girls happy.  I approached the woman and explained to her our tradition and gave her the card. She was very appreciative and very leary of me at the same time so I wasn't able to get a picture with her. By the way, if one of my daughters would have looked at me the way the girl looked at her mom, I would have bought them whatever they asked for...

Can't wait for September 1, 2014!

From Erin:
Sooooo, this was a tough year for me.  At the end of two hours at the mall, I had nuttin'.  Not even one that I wished I had used mine on.  I was getting really desperate because I didn't want to come up empty-handed and, more importantly, lose my turn telling my story at dinner.   So, we start walking out of the mall and I'm frantically looking for someone, ANYONE to do something nice or even just kinda nice.  I saw this couple walking in as we were heading out and they looked super cute.  They were a little older and the man just seemed to have this sweet little smile on his face and they seemed so happy and in love and I thought, HERE IT IS.  I watched and waited and sure enough, he grabbed the door for his wife and was starting to walk in, but then he saw some young girls coming up, so he stopped and backed up and let them go through too.  I swear I heard angels singing!  I was so excited! I walked right up to them and said, "excuse me sir, can I talk to you for a minute?"  He looked at me, looked at his wife and said...wait for it....wait for it...., "NO" and then he kept walking (insert record scratching noise over my angels singing here).  I was so taken aback, I had to look back at Catherine with a quick, "no he di-ent" face and she gave me an "oh yes he did face"!  I didn't even know what to do!  Just as I was about to yell, "ABORT! ABORT!!", I hear my guy say, "okay, go ahead".  I think it was just a case of mistaken identity?  Maybe he thought I was wanting to sell him and his wife one of the curling iron wands from Matt's kiosk?  Anyway, I start telling my story, but I was stumbling all over myself because I was a nervous wreck at this point and I'm pretty sure I had not one drop of spit left in my mouth.  Catherine, bless her,  jumped into help and as we told the story, they seemed to be taking it all in and appreciating what we were out there doing.  My warm and fuzzies were back in full effect and I was ready for my photo op (cue my angels again).  We asked them if they would mind taking a pictur-" NO.  NOT THAT.  We won't do that. Nope. "  I think I actually had to take a knee at that point, but it was all a bit of a blur, so I can't be sure.  Soooooo,  not my best outing, BUT I hope after they read the note, they realized that I wasn't some crazy lady trying to accost them or possibly blow their witness protection cover (What?  It's possible...Mickey Featherstone, was that you??  Donnie Brasco?  eh??  eh??).  Nope, I'm just a girl celebrating her daddy. 

And from Emma (12 years old):
Zip! Nada! Zilch! Goose Egg!  At the end of the night, despite her best efforts, Emma did not find anyone to give her card to.  [Side note: the next day (Labor Day), Emma saved a little three-year-old girl named Lily who had jumped in my mom's pool without her floaties on.  We were all sitting around the pool when Tammy saw Lily jump in.  Before any of the adults even had time to jump into action, Emma was flying into the pool.  She had seen the whole scene unfolding, as well, and was in the water about a half second after Lily.  So I think Emma should give HERSELF her card.  Can I get an Amen??]

As we were finishing up dinner, Chris (my card-recipient/LSU fan) came over to our table.  He had read his card, and even better, had pulled up my blog and read a little bit about our tradition and about my dad.  He had noticed in my "About Me" section that I am a lawyer and a Christian and he joked with me about THAT oxymoron.  He visited with us for a minute about our tradition and then went back to his table.  As his family was about to leave, he stopped by our table again and said "I'm so sorry to interrupt but I want to tell you that I'm a Christian, too.  I'm also a state trooper and a Baptist preacher.  And as I've been sitting over here, I've had a verse on my heart for you all and I just can't leave without sharing it with you.  It's 3 John 1:4: 'I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.'"

I honestly can't think of a better way to have wrapped up our special celebration.  What a gift to have had our paths crossed with his that night.  I'm so glad I didn't waste my card on the elevator guy . . . :)

So that's it.  That's our 2013 Charlie Palmore celebration.  It was tough to find people this year so my mom thinks that maybe we should mix it up and go out of town to do our birthday celebration next year.  She suggested "Satchmo" which, after a few minutes of some really talented deductions, my sister Erin figured out meant "Schlitterbahn," a water park in Galveston.  So, perhaps we'll have more luck next year in Satchmo or wherever we may find ourselves.  But, you know - even though we had a harder time finding folks this year, we still found some great ones.  And, as usual, we had our hearts touched in the process.

But, most importantly, we had an evening filled with memories and reminders of a wonderful man who was taken from us far too soon.  A man we miss every day and whose love for us somehow continues to surround us even seven years after he went Home.  A man worthy of celebration.

Happy birthday, Dad.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The art of . . . art.

A few months ago, an artist friend of mine invited me to an art show in which one of her pieces was going to be on display.  It was really a big deal because the show was showcasing pieces from the rising artists in Texas.  So, understandably, she was SUPER excited that her piece had been chosen.  And I was honored to be invited.  I asked if my mom and sisters wanted to go but my mom was the only one who was able to.  So I got dressed in my best I'm-going-to-an-art-show-and-I-don't-really-know-how-to-dress-for-it" attire, picked up my mom, and headed downtown for the art show.

You know, I never go to art shows.  They're just not on my list of activities that I enjoy.  I think the main reason is that I'm just not deep enough.  I mean, people who enjoy art shows can stand around and stare at a painting for hours, analyzing and re-analyzing, discussing minute details, and hypothesizing about the artist's intent and relationship with his mother.  I walk up to the painting, say "Oh! Cute dog!" and then walk on to the next.

Art show people would roll their eyes at me.

As I walked into my friend's art show, I took a deep breath and hoped that I would "get it."  That I would see a painting and be able to say something like "Isn't it amazing how the artist captures the essence of truth here?"  You know - so that I would fit in.

Instead, I walked in and saw this:

I thought for a second that someone had hung a couple of over-sized paint chips up on the wall to help them determine if the room should be painted pink or blue. Perhaps the gallery was going to be turned into a nursery.  I thought it an odd time for a remodel, what with the art show going on and all.  But then I noticed three people standing in front of these paintings, tilting their heads to the right and then to the left, and discussing the paintings in detail.  I got behind them and tilted my head to the right, thinking that maybe the painting would make sense to me if all the blood rushed to one side of my head.  No such luck.  So I just nodded along with what the others were saying and mumbled something art-showesque like "I've never seen breath captured on canvas quite so exquisitely."  Then I moved on to the next one, hoping I'd have better luck.

Excuse me.  Are those t-shirt and jeans tags turned inside out and glued onto black construction paper?  That's what I thought.  That.  Is what.  I. Thought.  I don't . . . can someone . . . is it just me or . . . I'll just move on.  Show me something deep, people.  Show me something deep.

Bathroom keys?  Okaaaaaaaaay.  I can do this.  I can do this.  [pop fingers, roll neck, get game face on] Okay.  [Ahem]  This is clearly a manifestation of the artist's desire to . . . ummmm . . . portray the gender roles . . . ummmm . . . in an ironic yet . . . ummmm . . . egalitarian manner and it is . . . ummmm . . . a statement on the current political . . . ummmm . . . I suddenly have to pee. 

Some paintings are kind of cool to look at but I don't really get the names of them.  For instance, this really cool-looking one was called something like "Richard Nixon Abroad."

I get the "Richard Nixon" part but not the "abroad" part.  Just kidding - I don't get either part.  I just didn't want the art show people to roll their eyes at me.

Then there was this one.

 I really liked the colors and the patterns created by the strokes.  But it was called something like "Travels through China" and I didn't get it.  I studied it closely to try to figure out why the artist called it that.  But I just got a headache.  And a hankering for Kung Pao Chicken.


Despite my confusion over some of the pieces, there was some really cool art in that gallery.  I discovered that I like "mixed media" pieces - paintings that combine different art media like ink, paint, and collage.  My friend's painting was a mixed media painting and it was really interesting - interesting in a good way.  And I discovered that night in that gallery that I enjoy an art show - it's a fun way to spend an evening.

On our way out, I saw a collection of trash that people had left on a block.

And I thought for a moment that I should stand by it and say that it was my entry into the art show.  And tell everyone that it's called "Frisbee in the Park."

I'll get this art thing yet . . .

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Rolling with the punches

I remember a time in my life when I thought that I wasn't athletic.  This belief was no doubt fueled by my complete inability to climb the tree in our front yard.  It had a low limb and all the other kids could jump up and grab it, wrap their legs around it, and then swing themselves up onto the limb.  Me?  I brought a kitchen chair out and cheated.  I'm just not much of a climber, you see.

Then there was the Presidential Fitness Test in elementary school.  This annual week of P.E. hell was the source of many a nightmare for me.  You could just SAY the words "chin-up" to me and I would break out into a cold sweat.  I daresay that the bar exam was a lesser cause of consternation for me.  I wanted so badly to ace that dang fitness test and make President Reagan proud but, alas, the chin-up always got me.  They would tell me to do as many as I could and I would just hang there, grunting awkwardly and kicking my feet as if they could somehow propel me upward.  Then they would give me a lift to see if I could do it if I had a little help getting started.  Not so much.  Finally, they would give me a chair, let me get into "chin-up" position and see if I could just hold it.  It was remedial Presidential Fitness and I still couldn't do it.  As soon as they took the chair away, my arms would shake and then straighten and I'd be hanging there again, bringing shame upon the President.  I'm just not much of a chin-upper, I guess.

But then I started playing sports.  I found softball and discovered that, when a sport didn't involve climbing or chin-upping, I was pretty good at it.  I mean, I don't want to brag but I WAS the MVP for the Green Goddesses in 6th grade and still have the trophy to prove it.  So when I say "pretty good" I, of course mean, amazing.  Softball led to volleyball and then basketball and I was decent at those - I was an average player on the 7th grade B teams so, you know, I was sort of a big deal as you can imagine.  ANYWAY, I finally discovered tennis and that was my real love.  I loved being out on the court and I was actually good at it.  I played on the JV and Varsity teams in high school and finally realized that the chin-up bar and that dang tree limb had psyched me out - I actually WAS athletic. And I've gone on thinking of myself as an athlete ever since then.

Theeeeeeeen I joined a boxing club.

Stop laughing.

See, my sister Tammy and my friend Jo Ann each independently decided to buy a groupon for a boxing club in our town.  Jo Ann asked me to buy the groupon and do it with her so I did.  We went to a few classes and I liked it so I decided to sign up and join the club.  Partly because I liked it and partly because I'm apparently a gutless follower who does whatever Tammy and Jo Ann do.  

So let me explain how this class works.  You have your hands wrapped and then you take your gloves to a bag in a room full of hanging boxing bags that looks like this:

Then, before you put your gloves on, there is a 15 minute warm-up that you have to do.  This usually consists of things like squats, running, jumping jacks, high knees, and other exercises that leave me panting like a 400-pound man.  I frequently have to take a break or two during the warm-up and I try to do it discretely so as not to bring shame upon the President or anybody else.  Unfortunately, my 9-year-old nephew Ben has a drill sergeant living inside him that comes out when I take breaks.  I'll do a few jumping jacks and lean down to get a drink of water and I'll hear "Caaaaaaaaaaatchyyyyyyyyy!  You're already stoppiiiiiiiiing???"  And that continues throughout the class.  After we put on our gloves and start doing punch and kick combinations, my nephew keeps a close eye on me.  If I decide to take a breather during one of the combinations, I'll hear "Caaaaaaatchyyyyyy!  He didn't say stop yet."  There's no hiding from him.

There's also no looking "put together" and that's a problem for me.  You see, tennis is a sport where you can play a great, hard-won game and look graceful the whole time.  That's impossible for me with boxing - I just cannot box and look good at the same time.  My hair inevitably gets in my face while I'm punching and, because I'm sweating, it sticks to my forehead and hangs in front of my eyes.  So I find myself pawing at my face with my boxing glove, trying to get it out of my eyes and tucked back behind my ear.  But I can never get the hair to cooperate so I just keep pawing, looking like a cat cleaning itself.  It's super cute.  And when it's all said and done, I still have strings of sweaty hair stuck to my face.  Plus, I'm throwing punches and every ounce of fat on me is jiggling - and I mean EVERY ounce.  It takes a good 30 seconds to stop shaking when I stop punching.  It's awesome - a real confidence-booster.  I look around hoping that there aren't any potential suitors in there.  And, if there are, I try to keep my distance, lest they be knocked out cold from a post-right-hook backlash of my upper-arm flab.  

My proudest moment to date, though, came during a class I attended with Jo Ann.  I was really in a groove on my punching and had worked up a good sweat.  I was out of breath so I decided to take a quick breather.  Since Ben wasn't around, I figured I'd be able to do it discretely.  As I caught my breath, I took a few steps back from the bag to admire my handiwork - did I actually see a dent in the bag from my mad boxing skillz?  As I was about to pat myself on the back, my heel caught the bottom of the bag behind me as I was stepping back and I fell.  Not a cute little graceful fall - this was an arms-flying-up, hair-flying-up kind of fall.  I jumped up as quickly as one can when one temporarily has clubs for hands and hoped no one noticed.  Aaaaaaand then I began trying to paw the hair out of my face.

But, despite my utter and complete lack of talent or grace when it comes to boxing, I am enjoying the classes and am getting a great workout.  So I will keep going, will keep getting called out by my nephew, and will keep pawing the hair out of my face in vain. I may leave there feeling like I'm all thumbs but at least I leave there feeling like I got a good workout.

And I always have my 6th grade MVP trophy to comfort me when I get home.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Catherine Goes Skiing - Part II

So the last time we talked, I told you about Day 1 of my harrowing skiing adventure.  If you haven't had a chance to read it, go ahead and click here to read it first.  Don't worry we'll wait for you . . .

Oh good - you're back!  Let's continue!

My last post left off with me swearing that I would never ski again but then Hannah convincing me to try it again.  She was just POSITIVE that she could teach me to love skiing.

Silly Hannah.

So, against my better judgment, we headed out to the slopes for Day 2 of my skiing adventure.  Hannah decided to take me up in the gondola to the top of a green slope that she thought would be manageable for me.  On the way up, I marveled at the beauty of the mountains around me.  And how high we were going.  And how we weren't stopping.  And how there is no way that a green slope could be up this high without being a sheer drop.  AndhowohmygoshholycowI'mnotreadyforthisandhowdareHannahbetraymebytakingmeupthishigh!!


I looked at Hannah and smiled, putting on my sunglasses so she wouldn't see the terror in my eyes.  And I did what I always do - I threw out a joke to ease my nerves: "Will you let me take crying breaks on the green slope."  We laughed and laughed and laughed.

Fast forward 15 minutes and I'm crying at the top of a green slope.

Actually.  Crying.

Poor Hannah did her best to hide the terror in HER eyes.  She tried to teach me how to stop so that I could stop when I wanted to.  But I wasn't great at it.  She wanted me to ski toward her so that I could practice it.  But I was afraid of careening out of control, flying off the side of the mountain, and plummeting to my bloody death.  She wanted me to have confidence in myself.  But I was a 37-year-old woman crying at the top of a dang green slope.

I was a hopeless case.

Eventually, I was able to "ski" toward her.  And by "ski" I mean, move 3 feet and then fall down.  Now you need to understand that it is absolutely impossible for me to stand up in skis.  Some people can do it.  I can't.  I try to contort my body around so that I can get my feet underneath me.  But the skis invariably get tangled up or stuck in the snow.  When people see that I can't do it on my own, they offer me a hand.  "Here, grab my hand.  I'll help you up," they say.  But I can't do this, either.  Because I still can't get my feet under me.  And, on the odd chance that I do, my skis start trying to ski away and suddenly I'm on my back again wondering why the HECK people enjoy this stupid sport.  So when I fall, I just take my skis off and stand up.  Like a pro.  So when I skied toward Hannah and fell, she helped me get my skis off and stand up.  Then I got my skis on again and Hannah tried to encourage me to ski toward her again.  This time, there was an older man who was a few feet behind Hannah waiting on someone.  He watched the pitiful scene in front of him and, I guess, took an interest because he started coaching me, too.  So I skied toward Hannah and my new coach.  And fell.

This time when I fell, I fell with my knees up so that I was laying on my skis.  This is the WORST position because you can't sit up or stand up to get off your skis and you can't get your skis out from under you to take them off.  Normally in this situation, I would depend on other people helping me to roll over like a slug so that they could help me get my skis off.  But, unfortunately, in some strange turn of events, I had ended up on top of Hannah's skis and my new coach's skis.  So they tried to wiggle their skis out from under me while I laid their helplessly, praying for an avalanche to end my misery.

Eventually, they both got their skis freed, got mine out from under me, and helped me get my skis off so that I could stand up.  Then my new coach bailed, wishing me luck.

But poor Hannah was stuck.

But something had happened in that last fall.  Perhaps it had knocked some confidence into me.  I don't know how but somehow I finally understood the snow plow/wedge/pizza wedge that my ski instructor had been trying to teach me.  You know - where you put your skis into a wedge shape to control your speed as you learn.  I hadn't mastered it yet but, suddenly, at the top of that green slope, it clicked.  So I skied a few feet in the wedge and DIDN'T FALL!  It was so exciting!!  I asked Hannah if I could just do that for a while until I got comfortable with it.  So that's what I did.

And sweet, patient Hannah skied right along side me.  While I did the snow plow.


Luckily, Hannah was there with her video camera to capture some of this action-packed, fast-paced afternoon.  Notice how the trees just fly by . . .

Look - laugh all you want.  This was my own personal X-games. 

But eventually, my knees had had enough and the bottom of the green slope was just far enough away that I began to fear that my knee caps and my ACL would give me the finger and jump ship.  So I made the decision to throw in the towel, take my skis off, and walk to the bottom of the slope.  Hannah was really sweet about it but I knew it must have been a disappointment to her - she really wanted me to like skiing and thought she could help me accomplish that.  But I was done.

So I took my skis off and began walking.  For about 2 minutes.  That's when a Steamboat Ambassador skied up next to me and we had this conversation:

Ambassador: Hey!  You're doing it wrong!  You're supposed to put those on your feet and slide!
Me: [courtesy laugh] Oh is THAT how you do it?  [pause for laugh]
Ambassador: [smile, no laugh]
Me: [okay - tough crowd!] Well, I'm terrible at this and my knee is hurting me so I figured I'd just walk the rest of the way.
Ambassador: Oh!  [confused look] So are you INJURED?
Me: [is he being sarcastic?] No - not injured.  It's just hurting and I'm uncomfortable so I'm gonna walk.
Ambassador: Because if you're injured, I could get you a ride . . .
Me: [No!  I'm not injured, okay?  I'm just a quitter!  A BLOODY BLOODY QUITTER!!] Oh no - that's okay.  I think I can walk.
[Ski rescue guy skis up, pulling a stretcher-like apparatus behind him]
Ski rescue guy: Need a ride to the bottom?
Me: No - it's -
Ambassador: Yeah.  She's injured.  Knee.
Ski rescue guy: Okay!  Well, let's get you down the slope and to the lift!
Ambassador: Yeah.  He's gonna take you down to the lift and then when you get to the top of the lift, we'll have a snow mobile waiting for you.  [to Hannah] You can just meet her at the lift.

So I climbed onto the little stretcher-thingy and the guy belted me in.  I bid adieu to Hannah and what was left of my pride and I took off with my new ski rescue boyfriend:

And HO.  LY.  COW.  That was the most terrifying part of my entire skiing experience.  That guy skied FAST and if he had an option between a steep slope and a gradual slope, he picked the steep slope every time.  I prepared for death and thought it was only fitting that my ski trip should end with me flying off the side of a mountain strapped onto a stretcher. 

But, fortunately, we did NOT die.  Instead, I got to the lift and met Hannah there.  We got in line and then got on the lift and began our journey back to the top of the mountain.  But the lift posed a problem.  You see - to get OFF the lift, you actually have to SKI.  So, as we approached the top, Hannah tried to coach me through it: "When your skis hit the snow, just stand up and ski forward.  It's super easy.  You can do it!"

Silly Hannah.

As soon as I stood up, my arms began flailing, I grunted inexplicably, my skis went up in the air, and the rest of me went backward.  My head hit the ice so hard that I was sure I had lost some brain matter.  Or, at the very least, had a concussion.  I heard the lift stop - a sound I had become all too familiar with.  And then I heard the lift operator come up behind me and say "I'm going to lift you up."  Yet another person who didn't understand my inability to pull myself up with skis on.  I began my usual protestations, trying to explain to him that I wasn't talented enough to stand up in my skis, but before I could explain anything, he lifted me completely up off the snow and onto my skis.  Like a stinkin' rag doll.  All I was able to get out from the moment he said he was going to lift me was: "No, that's okay.  I can't - Oh my GOSH you're strong!  You are STRONG!  No, seriously - you are STROOOOOOONG."  He smiled and said "It's the called the Marines, ma'am."  And then he went back to start the lift up.  Meanwhile, I stood staring at him, mouthing "Call me" and wondering what the protocol is for proposing to a lift operator while in a concussed state. 

Then the snow mobile driver interrupted my wedding fantasy (which, of course, involved my Marine lifting me gratuitously) and introduced herself:

Andy: Hi!  I'm Andy!
Me: Hi!  Thank you so much for -
Andy: Are you injured?
Me: [Oh, for the LOVE OF -] No - my knee is hurting me so I'm walking and sooooooo . . .
Andy: [confused] So you're NOT injured.
Me: Nope. [awkward smile]
Andy: [shrugging shoulders] Okay!  Well, climb on!

I ignored the judgment in her voice and waved goodbye to my Marine fiancee, blowing him a kiss.  At least I think I blew him a kiss.  But, again, I'm pretty sure I had a concussion so I may have just drooled and grunted in his general direction.

Finally, after a terrifying snow mobile ride to the gondola, my ski experience came to an end.  Hannah and I relaxed, grabbed something warm for lunch, and, for some reason, she began quizzing me on what year it was and who the President was.

Silly Hannah.

Everyone knows Ronald W. Obama is President . . .

Friday, January 25, 2013

Sucker Punch Parking

Well, I haven't had time to sit down and write about the second part of my skiing trip - describing my incredible skiing skills takes time, people.  It takes some reeeeeeeal time.  (If you haven't read Part 1, you can read it here!)

So, in the meantime, I thought I'd show you this picture that my mom took the other day.  She and our friend Vicki went to get lunch at a Mexican restaurant called La Palma.   After they parked and started walking inside, they noticed this puzzling sign . . .

So . . . wait . . . what?

I'm so confused . . .

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Catherine Goes Skiing - Part I

At the beginning of this month, I went to Colorado with some friends of mine.  We went to Steamboat Springs for the Music Fest and some skiing.  I have only skied once in my life and I was horrible at it so I wasn't really sure about partaking of the skiing on this trip - I really would have been happy to be the girl in the lodge, drinking hot chocolate and reading a book.  But my friends are all good skiers and I didn't want to be the only one not doing it.

Peer pressure STINKS.

So, our first full day there, I decided to go skiing with them.  When I woke up that morning, instead of getting psyched up for all the fun skiing that lay ahead, like my friends were doing, I was mulling over more important issues.  Like shaving my legs - I wanted to make sure that, in the event I broke one or both of my legs, I would be able to focus on the excruciating pain and not the fact that someone was holding my unshaven leg.  So I went ahead and shaved my legs and then began the long process of getting the ski gear on.  I put on my long underwear, my wool socks, my SUPER flattering ski pants, my undershirt, my shirt, my overshirt, my ski jacket, my scarf, my ear and neck warmer, and my hat.  And then we headed out the door to the mountain for our big day of skiing.

That first day, I decided to sign up for ski school.  The only other time I had skied, I did not take the class first and it was a disaster.  So I decided to NOT make the same mistake again - I signed myself up for the all-day clinic for first-timers.  My big plan was to be in ski school while my friend Hannah was off skiing the slopes.  I would finish just in time to meet up with her for a run down a green slope.  She would be so impressed with my skiing skills, she would declare me her best ski friend and then everyone would ask me for tips on how to negotiate a green slope with such perfection.

I believe in dreaming big.

As I was heading off to my ski school and Hannah was off to meet her husband to ski some blue and black slopes, I was feeling pretty good!  I had my lift ticket, my skis, my poles, my ski boots . . . I TOTALLY looked the part.  And if I looked the part, I was bound to be a good skier, right?  

My confidence was high.  I had chosen my super cute black and white hat and my black and white scarf for the occasion.  And such cute accessories are the key to success.  As long as I looked cute, there was nothing that little ol' mountain could do to stop me!  Cute Catherine was on her way to ski school!

Aaaaaaaaaand then I started walking in those ski boots.  With the skis.  And my poles.  Uphill.  And the cute got sucked out of me along with every ounce of breath I had.  Suddenly, I was panting like a 400 pound man trying run a marathon.  And, on top of that, I had to stop at least 28 times to pick up a ski or a pole that had slipped out of my grip.  So my ridiculously long trek to ski school ended up going like this: step, step, gasp, wheeze, adjust skis, step, step, gasp, wheeze, adjust poles, step, step, pass cute guy and pretend I'm not out of breath, look back to make sure cute guy is gone, gasp, gasp, gasp, adjust skis.  It was awesome.

I met my instructor (who shall forever be known to me as Sweet Josh because he was so sweet and patient) and he took us to what appeared to be a bump in the snow.  He had us put our skis on and practice side-stepping up the little bump and then skiing down it to get used to being on our skis.  I was a natural.  Sweet Josh said turn to the right - I'd turn to the right.  He said turn to the left - I turned to the left.  He said do a triple sow cow - I . . . no, that's figure skating, isn't it?  Whatever.  You get my point - I was skiing and I liked it!!  So Sweet Josh decided to take us over to an actual hill.  Not an official "slope," but a steeper practice hill.  With a lift that looked like a conveyor belt.

Now, let me explain this lift.  It's called the "magic carpet" and it really does look like a conveyor belt that runs up this hill.  The idea behind it is that you step on the "magic carpet" and it carts you up the hill so that you can practice skiing down it over and over and over without having to walk up the hill or take a chair lift.  Super easy, right?

Enter Catherine Palmore.

Now you have to understand that walking with skis on is very difficult.  At least for me.  I thought I'd be good at it since I've been a size 10 shoe since I was like 3 years old.  But it turns out that I am actually NOT good at walking in skis.  So as I tried to step onto the magic carpet bad things happened.  The conveyor started trying to take one of my legs up the hill without the the rest of me.  In a panic, I tried to quickly swing my other foot forward to get it on the conveyor belt.  But, instead of moving forward like my brain told it to, my foot swung wide with the unwieldy ski and got caught on the fence next to the conveyor belt.  So then I had one foot moving up the hill, the other foot caught in a stationary fence, and I'm being forced into the most awkward split ever done.  My inner thigh muscles were being stretched in ways they were not meant to be stretched.  I actually heard them shouting curse words at me and mocking me by saying things like "Knock it off, Mary Lou Retton!"  In that moment, I wanted so badly to maintain my composure.  To look up with a laugh and say something clever like "Well, I'm gonna need that leg!" or "Seems like a bad place for a fence!"  But, instead, I began shouting "Oooooooooohhhhhhhhhhh Nononononononononononono!!!" Luckily, the attractive guy operating the lift saw the problem and stopped it so that I could extract my leg from the fence, get myself situated, and perhaps rub some Bengay on my inner thighs.  And then he started the lift again with me safely on board.  Sans fence.

When I got to the top, the attractive lift operator held my hand to help me off.  He managed to only have a small smirk on his face and I appreciated his restraint.  Adding to my attractiveness and coolness, I slowly side stepped over to a spot at the top of the hill for my first trip downhill and/or my quick and terrifying death.  My instructor told me to ski toward him and then turn right.  I said "Sure!"

And then stood there.

He told me again to ski toward him and turn right to stop.  "Sure, Josh! Be right there!"


My knees started shaking and my fear paralyzed me.  I couldn't move a muscle for fear that I would begin careening downhill, take out a few small children, and end up on youtube.  I would have curled up into the fetal position and began sucking my thumb if I could have figured out how to do it without my skis sliding forward.  But somewhere inside me, Motivational Speaker Catherine emerged.  She grabbed me by the shirt and said "Snap out of it!  You know how to do this!  So just do it!"  And Motivational Speaker Catherine was right - I DID know how to do it!  I just needed to have confidence.  I had left most of it at the foot of the magic carpet lift but I had JUST enough left to give this a shot.  So I looked at Sweet Josh, gritted my teeth, and skied toward him just like he asked.  Then I turned right . . . and actually stopped!  I was so proud of myself!!  And Sweet Josh was proud of me, too.  So he gave me my next task: ski toward him and turn left to stop.  So I did that.  Then he wanted me to ski down a bit more and turn right to stop.  So I did.  I was on a roll.  I was on top of the world.  I was ready for a black slope - moguls even!

Then Sweet Josh told me to ski down to the bottom and turn left to stop.  No problem, Josh.  Watch and learn, my friend.  So I took off and skied to the bottom, gaining quite a bit of momentum along the way.  And when I say "quite a bit," I mean "HO. LY. CRAP."  But I stayed calm because I knew how to stop.  I had done this.  I just had to turn left to turn and stop like Sweet Josh told me.  So, as I got toward the bottom, I tried to do just that.  I turned left.  But couldn't stop.  I remained calm and tried to turn right to stop.  So I turned right.  But couldn't stop.  Suddenly, I found myself careening out of control, turning left and right, arms flailing, yelling super-cool things like "I'M GONNA HIT SOMEBODY!!" and "IT'SNOTWORKINGIT'SNOTWORKINGIT'SNOTWORKIIIIIIIIIIING!!"  Mercifully, I fell and that stopped me.  Before I killed anyone.

Sweet Josh came running over to me to make sure I was okay.  He got me back on my feet and let me recover for a few minutes before making my next trip up the magic carpet lift.  When I was ready, he coached me on how to properly get on the magic carpet.  He said you line your skis up in front of the lift and you inch forward bit by bit until the conveyor belt just naturally takes your skis forward and then you just go along for the ride.  Seems like this would have been helpful information to have the first time around but I'm no ski school teacher so what do I know?  So I followed his advice: I lined up my skis, I inched forward, ignoring the long line of people behind me, and waited for the lift to pull my skis forward.  And it did!  When enough of my skis were on the lift, it pulled me forward and I was on my way.  For about 1.3 seconds.  And that's when the lift pulling my skis forward caused me to lose my balance and fall backward.  And that caused the attractive lift operator to stop the lift for me.  Again.

This is when I began to truly loathe skiing.

So Sweet Josh and another instructor helped me up and took me to the bottom of the lift again.  This time the attractive lift operator just stopped the lift altogether to let me get on fully and just enjoy the ride.  When I arrived at the top of the hill, I gave him my best "sorry I'm a bad skier but call me!" smile.  But before he could smile back, I lost my balance on the snow and lurched backwards.  Happily I caught my balance and didn't fall but the damage was done.  I was never going to make eye contact with him again.

That's when I vowed to not make eye contact with any person while wearing skis.

I tried going down the hill again but this time I was too scared.  I would ski a few feet and fall.  I would ski a little more and my skis would cross.  And I'd fall.  I'd tell myself I was going to make it all the way down.  And then I'd fall.  It was miserable.  I had completely lost my confidence.  Motivational Speaker Catherine turned in her resignation.  And poor Josh was at a loss.  He wanted to take me up on a chair lift to teach me how to negotiate that whole thing but I was too scared.  He tried to tell me that I was doing really well and that I was totally ready for the chair lift but I didn't believe him.  So I lamely stood and watched the others in my class go up on the chair lift and ski down the bunny slope with ease.  Sweet Josh came back to me a few more times to see if I wanted to try it but I said no and apologized for my fears over and over again.  I felt so LAME.  And then the class was over and my ordeal had finally come to an end.


I was embarrassed to report my experience to Hannah and the rest of the gang.  They're such good skiers/snow boarders and they just simply don't let silly fears like plummeting to your bloody and untimely death stop them.  So I knew that they probably wouldn't really understand my fear.  Or my loathing of skiing.  Or my decision to never put a ski on again.

Never ever ever ever.

Uuuuuuuuuntil Hannah convinced me to try going down a green slope with her the next day.

But THAT, my friends, is another story for another day . . .