To the jenth power ...

I read the books. I watched the show. I unflinchingly wore a sunbonnet to second grade. What started as a childhood obsession has developed into .. well, an adult obsession. I'm going to visit some of the sites depicted in the Little House series of books. Go west, (not-so-) young woman, indeed.

Monday, February 26, 2007

I'm Lily-livered. And Not A Water Lily, Either.

See Jen swim. Swim, Jen, swim!

Like many people, I'm the proud owner of a long-neglected gym membership. For the first two years or so, I went faithfully, treadmilling and swimming three or four times a week. I rather enjoyed it. Then I got a part-time evening job. I told myself that once I adjusted to the additional sixteen hours of work, I'd find time to get my ever-increasing ass to the gym. But I didn't. After six months passed, I was embarrassed to go. I'd picture swarms of YMCA employees stopping me and I tried to enter the building, frisking and then interrogating me with a steely demeanor that would put the Gestapo to shame.

Because, you know, the success of the entire YMCA organization hinges on whether or not I show up for a session on the Elliptical machine.

Anyway, I was motivated to show my face this Saturday because a friend of mine also joined. I met her for a 9:00 am Shallow Water Fitness class.

This is the same friend who, during dire financial straits, pined over the Y-affiliated hikes that she couldn't attend. She's much more of a hiker than I am, and, at the time, was a new Mom. It sounded like a fun reason to get out of the house, and I'll admit that many of the hikes sounded pretty interesting. I offered to pay the required fee as an early birthday present, but my friend, in addition to her other sterling qualities, is proud. Me? Not at all. I'll grovel, beg, whip up tears, whatever. Her sense of personal dignity dictated that she'd come up with the spare cash on her own or she wouldn't go.

"But it's a five dollar fee for non-members, and free for me. Maybe we could say that you're me and then I'll pay the fee, and we can both go?"

No dice. They do, apparently, check membership cards before setting out. Or at least we were sure they'd bust us somehow. And shame us for attempted hike theft.

"How about this: we decide which hike we want to attend, find out where they start, then sort of follow them. We could walk about thirty feet behind the legitimate hikers. If they seem to notice us, we'll back off a bit and pretend that we're checking out foliage of something. Or we could act like we don't speak English. I mean, what can they do, really? Run away from us so we can't follow? You can't get twenty people to run away in unison like that. We could wear camouflage!"

I thought it was a marvelous plan. She didn't agree. So we never did try it.

We did, however, get to prance about in the "warm pool" (there are two pools) with a number of experienced shallow-water-fitness folk. I really thought, as a former runner and person in generally decent shape, that I'd kick all kinds of ass. I was wrong. But it was fun, and something I'm going to do every Saturday morning.

I really do love to swim, but a pool with occupied lanes sometimes put the stoppers on me. I guess that we're supposed to share lanes in such a scenario, but I was mortified by the notion. I mean, what do you do? Just barge in on somebody's lane? Do you ask permission? How would you decide which swimmer would be your victim? I'd either meekly retreat to the locker room and sadly remove my suit, or (if I was feeling brave) I'd quietly sit around waiting for somebody to finish. I'm such a wuss.

And I am. I'm wussiness personified. I'm afraid of everything. I'm afraid to drive in snow. I'm afraid to join a book club. I'm afraid to fly. I'm afraid of disappointing people or hurting their feelings. I'm ballsy as hell if I've got accompaniment, but alone? I'm always sure that I'm strange, that I'm out of line, that I won't be able to handle things as well as everyone else does. People who know me are surprised that I feel this way because I usually hide it well, but the fact remains: I am a coward. And it's the thing about myself that I hate the most.

In light of this, I've been trying really hard to do things that are scary to me. I refused to let last week's blizzard change my plans, and I drove to a friend's house. I slid a bit, but I was fine. I opted to book some hotel rooms by phone, eschewing the safe anonymity of internet reservations. I found friendly people who were curious about the nature of my trip. I went out for dinner by myself at a fancy place, and nobody pointed and laughed. In fact, I enjoyed myself.

I know I've written before about solitude. And it's still an issue with me. But the biggest shame of all would be to go on this trip, my dream, and be too afraid to enjoy it. I see this as the ultimate test: Can I do this all alone, and comfortably? Confidently? Survey says ..... if I can handle the indignity of being the awkwardest galoot at Shallow Water Fitness, I can handle anything.

Days until trip: 135
Money saved: $350. 00

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Need Help? Me? Nah - Just Browsing

I stopped at the grocery store last night to pick up plastic gloves, bleach and razor blades (more about that in another post), and the girl at the register had no eyebrows. I mean, she had eyebrows, but they were carefully drawn-on shapes that, indeed, were not quite in the spot where eyebrows should be. Nor were they the shape that eyebrows tend to take. To be honest, they reminded me of tadpoles (or, more insidiously, sperm). Although she was friendly, speedy, and seemed very competent, it was all I could do to not stare. Rude, I know. I don't think her ersatz brows were because of the effects of chemotherapy or such, since she had a full head of hair, but who knows?

She wasn't the first penciled-in Picasso that I've run across, either - just the most recent. Such an odd phenomenon. I mean, I could understand the brow-pencil action if the wearer, indeed, had no brows for whatever reason. But to voluntarily remove them and reposition them? That .. I just don't get. Then again, I probably shouldn't talk. If all the tweezers of the world went on strike tomorrow, I'd be mistaken for Ernie's Bert with alarming frequency. But I tame. I do my best not to eliminate.

Anyway, it made me remember the Itty Bitty Baby incident.

My mom, before she passed away, became a collector of the American Girls series of dolls. Since she'd order things from time to time, the company sent an ever-expanding parade of catalogs. As the series grew in national popularity, they'd add to the collection of dolls. So far, so good. However, they went too far when they added the collection of infant dolls called Itty Bitty Baby dolls.

Aside from the cloying, vomitrocious name, these dolls, to me, were disconcerting. They creeped me out. Big time. With each successive catalog, I'd examine the dolls and say to myself, "What is it? What is it about these plastic newborns that makes them look like pod people?" It took months, but I finally realized the problem: they had no eyebrows. None. Not even a hint of a brow on the realistically-crafted ridge of bone where a brow should be. This resulted in a strikingly dead-eyed look; a jarring lack of expression.

Fool that I was, I shared my apprehension with my mom. Thus began an avalanche of torn-out catalogue pages with be-browed Itty Bitty Babies. There were angry Itty Bitty Babies. Worried Itty Bitty Babies. Surprised Itty Bitty Babies. One memorable Itty Bitty Baby had a jauntily cocked left brow, another had angular brows to rival Sesame Street's Count.

When I shared this experience some time ago with a friend, she wasn't the least bit dismayed. She'd had a similar notion, thinking it would be great if she shaved off her eyebrows, then drew on expressions appropriate to the occasion. "Just think!" she said, "If I have to go out and kick ass for some reason, I'd paint on angry brows. If I have to go to a funeral, I'd do sad ones. It'd be fabulous! I'd never have to move my face at all!" I briefly considered the fact that this would, likely, stave off the appearance of wrinkles well into our dotage. It even appealed to my inherent laziness! Then I nixed the idea. I was afraid of becoming an Itty Bitty Baby.

It's strange how one checkout girl at the supermarket can bring on this existential brow crisis. But there you have it. Speaking of, it's high time I de-Berted.

Days until trip: 154
Money saved: $350.00 (Still. I suck.)


Friday, February 02, 2007

Getting My Phil

Ah. Groundhog Day. One of my favorite holidays, second only to Arbor Day.

I don't have to buy gifts. I don't have to decorate.The best part of all? No forced cheeriness. I can be as surly as I like, since that sort of behavior is par for the course in the dead of winter. What a wonderful, relaxing, comfortable holiday it is, indeed.

I especially like the fact that the date is 2/2. I have a peculiar fondness for prime numbers, and 2 is the only prime that is also an even number. Even numbers generally annoy me, but for this reason alone, 2 gets a pass (even though it could be argued that 2 is the ultimate even number).

So it's a good day all around.

This year, Punxsutawney Phil didn't see his shadow, thus predicting that spring is just around the corner. This "see his shadow" thing has confused me since I was a child. When I was small, I thought it meant that if Phil emerged from his hole facing the wrong direction and his shadow was behind him, it was the harbinger of early spring, since he wouldn't actually "see" it. What if Phil didn't open his eyes? Or went blind? What if he was distracted by something else and didn't look at the ground? Could he just pretend not to see it (sort of like my habit of pretending not to see piles of laundry) and force the hand of the seasons?

This confusion could have been averted if we'd replaced "sees his shadow" with "has a shadow", of course. It's interesting that we give Phil all the power here. Then again, if it were just "has a shadow" any marker would suffice. We might have "Stick Day", and that would never do. So this whole process requires a sentient being, I guess. Ah well. With great power comes great responsibility.

Days until trip: 159
Money saved: $350.00