Monday, July 22, 2013

Four Thoughts on Camping (Actually, Two Thoughts on Camping and Two Thoughts on S'Mores)

Even though we just went camping two weeks ago, we went camping again, because apparently once you have kids, you are legally required to take them camping twice a year. Don't believe me? Read the fine print on the birth certificate. Right this moment, Prince William and Kate Middleton are probably taking breaks from cuddling their newborn princelet to shop for a 3,000 square foot tent and jewel-encrusted marshmallow roasting sticks.

A few thoughts about camping:

1. Seriously, I must really love these kids to take them camping, because a large part of the appeal of camping eludes me. Basically, camping involves taking all the technological improvements made over the last 200 years and chucking them out the window with two hands: No dishwasher, no flush toilets, no soft beds, no heat or air conditioning -- all the things that make life better now, we leave behind when we go camping. Basically, we become Amish for a few days. And you know how much fun the the Amish have.

2. If you are spatially challenged, be sure to get your sister to put up your tent. That's just common sense.

Sticking your sister with tent duty is especially smart if it starts
raining while she is putting up the tent.

3. You can tell your children that marshmallows taste good even if they catch on fire, but they are not going to believe you.

This is the face of a child who is learning a hard life lesson about burnt marshmallows.

4. Camping is mostly about s'mores. This chart shows what my kids think about while on camping trips:

And speaking of s'mores, they are even better when you slightly melt the chocolate. This is easy to do when you are using a camp stove (hey, something invented in the last 200 years!) rather than a camp fire. Just lay the chocolate bits on the graham cracker and set the whole package near the flame so the chocolate has a chance to get nice and soft while you are roasting the marshmallow, like this:
Best practices is s'more preparation

The melty chocolate and gooey marshmallows really optimize the s'more experience. Plus, the melted chocolate gives the kids a chance to get not just really dirty and sticky, but really quite stupendously dirty and sticky. Thank goodness for wet wipes on camping trips, is all I can say, and don't tell me that people from 200 years ago didn't have wet wipes. Of course they had wet wipes. What do you think they used to clean their hands after they plucked the chickens and milked the cows? Wet wipes are essential for any camping trip, and everybody knows that. I hope Will and Kate know it too.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Run, Fall Down, Run, Fall Down: A Trail Half-Marathon

I ran a half marathon for the first time in a million years and lived to tell the story. And I'm dying to tell you about it, since David for some reason seemed less than fascinated with hearing a mile-by-mile account of the whole event. ("And then at mile 8, the aid station had vanilla Gu instead of berry Gu, which really threw me for a loop...My shoelace came untied at mile 7...")

Running the half  marathon was somewhat of a last minute decision. I had originally signed up to do a 10K as part of this trail race series, but at the last minute I decided to do the half-marathon instead. A half-marathon represents a pretty ambitious distance for me at this point, so I was a bit apprehensive. It's not that I was unprepared, exactly, it's just I didn't have the kind of mileage base that I would have liked to have in order to run a solid half marathon. In other words, I was. . . what's the word I'm looking for? . . . oh, right: unprepared.

I rode up to the event with two runner friends. We talked about the things that runners talk about, and spent the entire 45 minutes in the car discussing race strategy. If you're not a runner, you might not realize it's possible to spend that long talking about the details of an upcoming race, but it is. Heck, we spent a good 15 minutes just talking about the pros and cons of wearing a hat during a race. And it was a fascinating discussion, I will have you know. I'm going to try to turn the whole hat vs. no-hat discussion into a TED talk.

Running the actual half-marathon was fun, in a 13-mile kind of way. The event was all on trails, there were loads of hills, and all the rocks and roots made for challenging footing. The complex footing meant I fell down during the race. In fact, I fell down FOUR times during the race. Fortunately, despite doing four total and complete face plants, I somehow managed to avoid actually injuring myself, and just sustained a few scratches. My guardian angel must have been watching over me, once she managed to stop laughing so hard at me for constantly falling down in the first place.

My legs at the end, muddied from falling down so damn often.

Showing off some scrapes I got from a bush that was alongside the trail
One unpleasant surprise occurred when I got stung by a yellow jacket halfway through the race. I found out that several other runners also got stung by yellow jackets. Is it me, or are yellow jackets really very angry insects? It wasn't like we were bothering them! We were just running by on the path! Listen up, yellow jackets, to a message I am sending you on behalf of all humanity: You just need to CHILL THE FUCK OUT already. It's for your own good. All that aggression can't be good for your buggy blood pressure.

There was some really beautiful scenery during the half marathon. It looked something like this photo:
Not a picture I took during the event
Or maybe the race scenery looked something like this:
Also not a picture I took. But you knew that.
Actually, I have no idea what the race scenery looked like. I was too busy watching my feet to make sure I didn't fall down a fifth time to take a gander at the pretty views. For all I know we ran to the North Pole.

I was really enjoying myself until about mile 9 of the race. When I passed mile 9, I really started looking forward to the finish, but couldn't figure out how far I had left to run. When I run, all the oxygen gets sucked out of my brain, and I can't even do the most basic arithmetic. This is called Running Math Syndrome, and it kicked in big time for me near the end of the race. "Let's see...the full distance is 13 miles and I've run 9 miles, so the distance remaining is...72 miles? Pi? A hypotenuse? Gosh, I guess I'll never know how far I have left to go." That's the pain of RMS.

But I did make it to the end, muddy knees and all. Thanks to narrow age groups and prizes that ran five deep, I even managed to snag an age-group award. Most importantly, I had a good time, and I'm already thinking about signing up for another trail half marathon, maybe in the fall. I would like an event that has been certified as yellow jacket-free.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

All the Animals that Didn't Eat Us

We went camping and didn't get eaten by bears! Mission accomplished!

Granted, we were camping in a park in an urban area with no bears within a hundred miles, but I'll take credit for even dubious achievements. We didn't get eaten by possums, either, and I bet there some were some of THOSE things hanging around.

We camped in a small pocket park about half an hour from home, still in the Madison metropolitan area. The park was right in the middle of a residential neighborhood, so the whole experience wasn't exactly Into the Wild. (Still, the possums, if there were any, were probably vicious.) I chose a location not far from home because it seemed to me that if we wanted to get eaten alive by mosquitoes and have a sleepless night from trying to get rest inside a boiling hot tent, we may as well do that half an hour from home instead of 3 hours from home, since the kids don't know the difference. That's just smart parenting.

Mosquito fodder

Just me and the kids went on this trip, and David stayed home. We almost never have family vacations with David, mostly because David has been on this weird schedule his whole life where he sleeps until noon. That is a hard schedule to accommodate while on vacation, so David usually just stays home. The kids always ask where Daddy is, and I'm not sure what to tell them -- that few things are more important to David than being able to sleep in? -- and so I just tell them that Daddy is a vampire. Then everybody is happy.

The kids had a blast, mostly centered around (a) being in the tent, and (b) eating s'mores. I had forgotten the matches, so we couldn't light the campstove or build a fire, but that didn't matter because the kids were just as happy to eat the s'mores uncooked. Stella demonstrated a technique (below) for making marshmallow "taffy" that I swear to god she said she learned in science class. I'm glad schools are finally getting back to the basics of science education. Now maybe we'll finally catch up to China.

Kids in China learn to make marshmallow taffy insi
I did a few scientific experiments of my own, trying to develop alternatives to s'mores (see pictures below). Since I am a slave to the scientific method, I had to gather many data points to determine that the marshmallow/pretzel sandwich had a small but statistically significant taste advantage compared to the chocolate/pretzel sandwich. The results of my experiment will be published in The Journal of Camping Cuisine, after peer review is completed.

Alternative A
Alternative B. The winner.
We got a bunch of mosquito bites, naturally. The mosquitoes think of my kids as my kids think of s'mores: Rare delicacies that should be taken full advantage of whenever offered.

The nice thing is that even though the weather has been very rainy, the mosquitoes weren't awful. We have had a lot of rain, and I thought that all the standing water would mean lots of places for the mosquitoes to breed. But I read in the paper that the abundance of rain has flooded out the places where the mosquitoes like to breed, keeping populations down. So let's see...rain leads to mosquitoes, but LOTS of rain leads to fewer mosquitoes? This sounds a little suspicious to me, sort of like the argument that the best way to combat gun violence is to make sure more people have guns.

Anyway, now we're back, and it's amazing how just one night, spent less than an hour away, can still leave you tuckered out, dirty, with a bunch of bug bites. The kids had a blast, and I'm pretty proud that I managed to pull off the trip by myself and get everybody back home happy and safe, and that we didn't get eaten by chipmunks. Those things can be nasty.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Keeping the Rats Out

We have a teeny tiny problem with RATS at our house, if there is such a thing as a teeny tiny problem where rats are involved.

Before I delve into our rat issue, first I want to show you some pictures. Here are two things that are NOT helping with the rat problem:

Non-rat eater #1

Non-rat eater #2
To be entirely fair, these cats are strictly indoor cats, and the rats are an outdoor problem. But even if the rats were coming inside, the cats would be of no help. The cats understand perfectly that they themselves are merely ornamental additions to the household and do not have to serve any useful purpose whatsoever other than covering the wood floors with a protective layer of cat barf. (Actually, that's not true. The cats did help me pick my bracket for March Madness. And then they barfed on the floor.)

The real reason we have rats hanging around outside is because we have a lovely, rat-friendly compost pile. I know a lot of people who are really into their compost piles. (Not literally into their compost piles. You know what I mean.) Some people lovingly deposit alternating layers of yard waste and food waste onto their compost pile, turn it, water it, sing it lullabies if it is having problems sleeping, and make sure the pile takes an ACT prep course so it can get into a good college. We take the opposite approach, and just basically throw our banana peels in a pile behind the garage and call it a compost pile. The rats LOVE our approach.

Our compost pile: basically an open-face rat sandwich
For years we had no problem with this approach. But the last few years, rats have moved in. I think we started having problems right around the time Scott Walker was elected governor of Wisconsin. I'm sure that's just a coincidence.

Once the rats moved in, we formulated a three-step plan of attack:

Step #1: Ignore the rats and do nothing. That is pretty much our approach for many of our problems. And it worked just as well in this case as it did in all the other cases, which is to say not at all.

Step #2: Get a rat trap. This is like a classic snap-the-neck mouse trap, but three times as large. Every day, David painstakingly baited the trap with chicken skin smeared with peanut butter. And every day the trap was sprung and the bait eaten, with no rat in the trap. The rats all but left little thank you notes for the food. ("Everything was so delicious...sorry we couldn't stay longer.") 

We never caught a rat in the rat trap, but one day I checked the trap and found a dead cardinal in there. That was the end of the rat trap.

Step #3: All right, we're done fucking around. We decided to completely rat-proof the compost pile. We got some metal trash cans and drilled a bunch of holes in the bottom of the can, and in the sides of the bottom half of the can. I would like the record to show that yes, I managed to operate power tools in this one instance and did not injure myself. Much.

This picture just looks like trouble waiting to happen, doesn't it?
And yet everything turned out just fine. Weird.

And then we partially buried the cans.This is our new compost pile! The holes in the sides of the cans let bugs and worms and bacteria in and water out, but rats cannot get in. Look how beautiful this is!

Shield your eyes from the glory of our new compost pile
Seriously, this project turned out so well, and is so visually appealing, that I feel like I should post it on Pinterest. Does Pinterest have a special section for rat-proofing crafts? Because if it doesn't, it should. 

The only thing that is missing is some sort of decoration for the compost cans. Maybe the kids and I could paint some pictures on the can lids or something like that. I might like to paint a cardinal.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Picking Mutant Alien Strawberries

Our family has a tradition of going strawberry picking every summer. Well, except for last summer because it was so hot and dry that there were virtually no strawberries to be picked. And except for the summer before that because I didn't get around to it in time. But we have definitely picked strawberries before -- maybe in the summer of 2010? -- and so I am calling it a tradition, BY GOLLY.

When they are all grown up, the kids will say to each other, "Remember how we had a tradition of going strawberry picking every year, and occasionally we even went strawberry picking?" Like maybe one year out of four?" And they will sigh happily, remembering an idyllic summer tradition that we rarely followed through on. Fortunately for them, you don't have to actually do something to have a tradition of doing it.

This year, the universe conspired against us by sending a bad spring for strawberries, but we managed to find a place to go and pick them anyway:

Stella is wearing pants even though it looks like she isn't.
I always have a sneaking suspicion that the owners of U-Pick farms are secretly laughing at us for being chumps for paying inflated prices to pick produce. Do you think they jack up the price to the effect that we are paying the owners for the privilege of picking strawberries?  And what kind of message am I sending to my kids about how much fun it is to work in the farm fields? Lots of love to our migrant farm workers -- god knows we couldn't put food on the table without them -- but I don't want my kids growing up to be one of them, you know?

Baby W earns $7 a day, working in the fields

Even better than picking strawberries was feeding the pig. Here is Stella feeding the pig some slightly damaged strawberries we found. The pig was a little reluctant to eat the berries, which amazed me, because c'mon, pig! These are fresh-picked strawberries here! This is the best offer you are going to get for a long time, possibly your whole life! What, are you first waiting for us to put out the white tablecloth and the good napkins?

The actual strawberries themselves were a weirdly shaped. They looked a little mutant, actually. It was like multiple strawberries had fused themselves together into one giant strawberry. The berries reminded me of those frogs that live in polluted water and then grow extra legs.

The strawberries tasted a lot better than deformed frogs, though. At least I think they did based on my best guess of what deformed frogs taste like.

So another year of strawberry picking has come and gone! We are munching strawberries like crazy, and I'm already looking to the next time we go berry picking. Since this is an every-year tradition, I'm figuring we'll next go in about 2017.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

I Got Your Life Hack Right Here

I just discovered life hacks and I'm so sad that they are almost completely bullshit.

I read the life hack articles that are all over the internet, hoping to be enlightened and gain the tools I need to live a meaningful, organized life. Instead I found out that a hair straightener can be also used to iron the collar on a shirt. [I'm not even kidding about that! Look here!] That information might come in handy if I observed some sort of minimum standards of grooming, but usually I'm more focused on weightier issues that are more important to our family and our community, such as wondering if I accidentally put my keys in with the compost again.

But! I have developed some of my own life hacks, which come in way handier than the ones on the lists. Here are some life hacks that I have developed that I find useful:

1) How to have something sweet when you purposefully don't have any dessert in the house.
Let's say that you know you have a tendency to sit down and eat a whole bunch of sweet food in one sitting, so you deliberately don't keep any of that stuff in the house. No ice cream, no cookies, no nuthin'. But do you have pita bread? And some brown sugar? Then you can make yourself a sugar sandwich for some late night snacking!

You will notice this is a whole wheat pita filled with sugar.
I use whole wheat because healthy eating is important to me.
Bonus points if your husband comes into the kitchen unannounced and says "Honey? Are you eating a. . . what are you eating?"

Actually, that's it. I just have one life hack. But you have to admit it is very valuable, especially if you also have some cream cheese you can put in the pita along with the sugar.

I do have two problems that need a life hack, though, or maybe just an app.
1) Can I insert a tiny microchip under my child's skin, or maybe use the microchip that Obamacare will require us all to get, and then use my phone to track my child's whereabouts?

This ability to track a kid could come in handy in a variety of situations. Let's say you're at a crowded park, and there are a bunch of kids running around, and you see someone you know, and you chat with her for, oh, say 1.5 seconds because as a parent you learn to compress your conversations into that span of time, and then you look back to keep an eye on your kid and they're GONE. A version of this happened to me recently, and we had to call 911, and it turned out that the little angel had walked into a neighboring cornfield and then got disoriented. I'd easily pay $0.99 for an app that would help me avoid that unpleasantness.

2) Also, I need a weather-dependent alarm clock app. I set the alarm to get up early to run, but I'd rather skip my workout if it's going to be rainy and cold. But I don't know until after the alarm clock wakes me up whether it's rainy or not. Doesn't that sound a little inefficient? Don't you think we can improve on that, with an app that sounds only if the weather is nice?

If you are interested in creating an app, then by all means take my idea about a weather-dependent alarm and run with it. I won't have time anyway to develop the idea. I need to go iron my collar.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Gimme an L! Gimme an I! Gimme a C...!

Guess what I've been doing! Here, I'll give you a hint. It involves lots of this. Lots and lots of this:

Here I am combing Walter's hair to get all the lice out. That's right; we had lice.

A couple thoughts about de-lousing our house, in no particular order.

1. We had a near family-wide case of lice, except that David escaped the plague. Do you know why got lice and David didn't? Because I am the parent that lies down next to the kids at bedtime, and I am the parent that sleeps right next to Walter, sharing a pillow with him, if Walter wakes up during the night. I am the night time parent, and as a result I haven't had a solid 8 hours of sleep in seven years. My reward for this selfless behavior? Lice.

Universe, you might want to check your karma, because that is seriously messed up.

2. Lice are tiny. I was expecting something the size of a grain of rice, but the ones I saw were much smaller than that -- maybe about the size of the period at the end of a sentence. How are you supposed to get 100% of something that small out of your hair?

And the nits! Those are lice eggs, which are stuck to the hair shaft with special louse-glue. Nits are even tinier! You have to comb (or more likely, pull out with your fingernails) every single nit from the hair. I have spent hours going through Stella's hair looking for nits, trying to get every single one. The next time somebody tells me I am being "nitpicky," I will say THAT'S RIGHT and THANK YOU and YOU BETCHA. And then I will offer to check that person's hair for nits.

3. I was all prepared to make lots of jokes that whatever I found in the kids' hair I could eat, sort of like how monkeys grooming their young eat the bugs they find in the kids' fur. But lice are so tiny they wouldn't have made much of a satisfying snack. THANKS A LOT FOR RUINING MY JOKE, LICE.

4. If you are not feeling well, don't say that you are feeling "lousy." That's lice-ist.

5. I spent hours combing the kids' hair with a special lice comb, and to keep them entertained while I did that, I let them play with the iPad. They were ecstatic because usually they only get to play with the iPad while we are on an airplane. The kids love the iPad so much that they BEGGED me to comb their hair with the lice comb. "Mama, Mama! Check me!" "No, check ME!" "No, I said it first!"

Since the only other time my kids get to play with the iPad is on the airplane, my kids will forever associate air travel with having lice. If I were forced to choose between having lice and air travel, it would be kind of a toss-up --  in many ways, the two experiences are equally unpleasant.  In fact, isn't there an airline called LiceAir? Wait, no, I'm thinking of United.

6. Some cuteness did happen. Here is Stella, combing my hair. She loved to comb it. I told her that whatever she found in my hair she could eat, even if it only added up to a snack.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

New Zealand Springs and Other Beautiful Scents

I have been to New Zealand seven times, because my father lives there. My seven year old daughter has been to New Zealand five times. My two year old son  has been to New Zealand three times. I know New Zealand, is what I am saying. So when I saw this at the store, I just had to get it:

Apologies for subjecting you to an extra-large version Mr. Clean's face, so early in the morning.
Can you read the description of this particular variety of Mr. Clean? The bottle says "New Zealand springs scent." The label even has a picture of an idyllic stream, tumbling down mossy stones. Color me intrigued! I whipped out my wallet and bought it. If anybody would be able to judge whether the Mr. Clean truly smells like a New Zealand spring, it would be me. 

Once I got the Mr. Clean home, I opened the lid and took a sniff. And what do you know, it really DID smell like a New Zealand spring! It smelled exactly like a New Zealand spring, if a New Zealand spring contained Febreze. I think they have entire springs in New Zealand that contain nothing but Febreze. In fact, the Maori name for New Zealand is Aotearoa, or Land of the Household Odor Eliminator Manufactured by Procter & Gamble. And just like Mr. Clean, New Zealand springs can be eye irritants, so you should always keep both things out of the reach of children.

I was surprised and delighted that a bottle of Mr. Clean could so accurately evoke the scent of a New Zealand spring, so I went looking for other delightful and unexpected scents in my household products. Here's what I found:

1. Clorox brand automatic toilet cleaner. This scent of this product reminded me of the aroma of freshly baked pain au chocolat, bought in a charming little French bakery, and then eaten on the streets of Paris as you stroll arm in arm with your lover -- with a slight bleach undertone.

What's French for "flush"?

2. Behold brand furniture polish. This product had an aroma that reminded me of apple blossoms at dusk, as children gleefully run between the trees giggling with joy and trying to catch fireflies in a jar. Then the kids wind up accidentally squishing a firefly or two when the put the lid on the jar, and phosphorescent firefly guts get smeared all over everything. That is exactly what this furniture polish smells like.

"Behold" as a product name strikes me as just a little too biblical, you know?

3. Comet disinfectant cleanser, with bleach. This cleaner has the heartwarming smell of your first baby's head, before the baby grows up and figures out that "wiener" is a hilarious word and should be said as often as possible.

Hey, first baby: As long as you smell like Comet, could you clean my toilet?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

I Love My Treadmill Desk

I made a treadmill desk for my office and I love it! Those of you I interact with in real life are already aware of this, probably because I have been grabbing most of the people I interact with by their lapels, bringing their faces up close to mine, and making them stare deep into my eyes while I enunciate "I. LOVE. MY. TREADMILL. DESK."

Up until recently, I spent most of my work day slumped my a chair, starting at my computer. I like my job, but I didn't like spending hours in the same position, sitting on my butt. I swear I could feel my butt flattening the longer I sat in that chair. I would often find myself standing up so I could pound on my butt with my fists, trying to get some feeling back into the flesh. I think if I had spent another month or two just sitting, my butt would have flattened to the point where it was shaped like two pancakes. (Please, no syrup references.)

A year or so ago I read an article about a fancy treadmill desk that you could buy and I loved the idea -- but the desk cost $5,000 or so. (In other words, the equivalent of nearly a year of my Nutella purchases.) But then a friend mentioned that he had cobbled a treadmill desk together at a much lower cost, and I was inspired to follow his example.

Here is my beautiful baby:

My treadmill desk!
I stand and walk on the treadmill very slowly (VERY SLOWLY) while while working at my computer. If you're wondering what's under the hippie throw cloth, I stacked up some of the boxes that printer paper comes in, so that I could raise my monitor to the appropriate height. I also stuck a 2005-06 volume of Wisconsin statutes under the monitor to raise it just a little bit further. As you can see, I spared no expense in making the desk ergonomically correct.

I have set the treadmill at its lowest speed, which is 0.6 miles per hour. I work 75% time, and most days I'm at work for 6.5 hours. So I usually walk a maximum of about 3 miles, given that I spend part of the day sitting in meetings and at lunch. Sometimes I throw three sheets to the wind and bump the speed up to 0.7 mph, just to feel the adrenalin rush and the wind in my hair.

[In the summer, I like to do track workouts with some of my co-workers, and the joke is that since I am spending all this time moving at 0.6 mph, I'll be perfectly conditioned to do 25-minute 400 m repeats. JUST A LITTLE RUNNING HUMOR FOR YOU.]

Now that I am walking on a treadmill, I have to change my work habits a little bit. For example, I am less likely to eat in front of the computer while I am working, because I just don't have the coordination necessary to eat, walk, and work at the same time. The one time I did try to eat on the treadmill, I dropped a peanut onto the belt of the treadmill, and it traveled the whole length of the treadmill and then fell off the back. I know there is a five-second rule for food dropped on the floor, but is there a five-feet rule too?

I wish I had an easy way to keep track of how far I walk over a week, over a month, or over a year. But my el cheapo treadmill automatically shuts off every half hour, making it tough to track total mileage. From the treadmill manual, it's clear the manufacturers consider the half-hour a limit a feature, not a bug.

I have wracked my brain to think of why, WHY would a treadmill manufacturer design a treadmill to shut off every half hour, and I can't think of any good reason. Perhaps the engineers put their heads together and thought that there was no possible way on God's green earth that any sane person would want to exercise for longer than 30 minutes. And if someone DID have their heart set on exercising more than half an hour, then by golly it was the responsibility of the treadmill company to put a stop to such a crazy plan. At any rate, since the machine re-sets itself every half hour, there is no easy way to track mileage over  the course of a day without making a very detailed spreadsheet. And since the rest of my work day is largely spent looking at very detailed spreadsheets, I'm okay with not knowing how far I walk in a day.

If you are thinking of making a treadmill desk of your own, you should visit this fantastic site: Treadmill Desk Diary. The author has very useful and detailed instructions on how he made his treadmill desk, with great photos too. I was even able to follow his instructions for how to destroy the tiny speaker on my treadmill's control panel, to avoid annoying my co-workers when the treadmill beeped as it started up.

I would love it if you made a treadmill desk, because then we could get together and geek out about how far we had walked that day. (Me: "2.9 miles." You: "3.4 miles!" Me: "Whoa.") And hopefully you would love your treadmill desk as much as I love mine, and then we could recruit two other people and do this:

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Picking My March Madness Bracket Even Though I Don't Give a Crap

For purposes of work camaraderie, I wanted to fill out a March Madness bracket even though I don't actually (a) know anything, right? Is that the one with the puck? and (b) care who wins. I don't care at all. I have my hands full juggling work, raising a family, volunteering, staying in shape, and engaging in creative and very smutty daydreams about what would happen if I ever met Jon Stewart. I don't have any left over time to care what a communications major in a city far away can or can't do to a ball. 

Despite all this, I STILL thought it would be fun to fill out a bracket. I mean, Barack Obama does it, right? It's hip.

But how? What criteria should I use to fill out  my bracket, given that I didn't have any inkling about which team would actually win? I solicited advice from my Facebook friends, and they had several suggestions including:
  • use a dartboard
  • pick the school located in a city I'd rather visit
  • pick the school with the fiercer mascot
  • "best hair" (?)
  • go with the school with the uniform color I like best
  • have my kids choose
All good suggestions, but in the end I decided to have my cats choose. Step one: I put cat treats on each matchup, one at a time, as shown below.
Step 1

Step 2: Whichever treat the cat ate first, that was the school I picked to win that matchup.

Crunch, crunch. Kitty is a Kansas fan.

Step 3: Repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat. It takes a lot of cat treats to fill out the entire bracket, but fortunately Kitty #2 stepped in at some point to help.

"You picked Duke to lose? I can't believe it!"

And you know what? The cats picked Wisconsin to win it all! I'm serious! This is the first time in their entire life that those cats have shown even an inking of intelligence. The rest of their final four was Oregon, Florida, and Temple.

I submitted the cat treat bracket at work. When our bracket predictions are scored, I will probably come in last among my coworkers. But -- but -- what if I don't? What if I beat somebody using the cat treat bracket?   That would be so awesome! I could rent my cats out as prognosticators. They would be like the next Nate Silver, only the kind of Nate Silver that uses a litter box.

Those of you who have cats probably know what happened after the cats ate all those cat treats. To keep from grossing out those of you with sensitive stomachs, I've posted the picture way down at the bottom of the post. You probably shouldn't scroll down.

Don't worry kitties, this is how I feel about  March Madness too.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Lavatory Conoisseur

I flew from Albuquerque to Madison last week, and of course I took pictures of the airport bathrooms on the way. I have long had an interest in airport lavatories, originating with the toilets at O'Hare, which have tiny digital displays telling you when the toilet is flushing. I find it fascinating that the airport could be so concerned with letting people know the status of the toilet, and yet apparently not give a shit (get it? we're talking about toilets?) about when the actual airplanes take off and land. I guess O'Hare officials think to themselves, "Yes, passengers are stranded in our airport for hours or possibly days given our blatant mismanagement of the facilities in our care, but at least the digital toilets will be a great comfort to them."

For better or worse, the toilets in the Albuquerque, Minneapolis, and Madison airports were not digitally equipped. Here's a run down of the pluses and minuses of each airports' bathrooms:

Look at this bathroom. Just look at it! It's HUGE. Enormous! This bathroom has a giant wide open space that evokes the wide open spaces of the American west. This is a frontier of a bathroom. I think you could ranch at least a couple hundred cattle in here, to stick with the western theme. The airport probably rents this bathroom out for family reunions and weddings. Both the bride and groom must wear cowboy boots.

Albuquerque ladies' room, almost as big as my entire house

Can you read the sticker on the soap dispenser in the Albuquerque bathroom, pictured below? I wanted to show it to you, because the sticker says "ABQ Sunport." In other words, in Albuquerque they don't actually have an airport, they have a sunport. Isn't that just precious? A SUNPORT. Is that where the sunplanes land? Do people in Albuquerque turn on the sun conditioning when it gets hot? It was raining the day I left; did they quick change all the stickers to read "ABQ Rainport"? If other cities start following this trend, do you think Madison should go with "Cowport" or "Cheeseport"? ("Hippieport" might also work.)

ABQ "Sunport"

In Minneapolis the bathroom was BEAUTIFUL. It was a work of art. I'm not even joking. First, check out this wonderful mural that was on the wall as you enter the bathroom:

Minneapolis airport bathroom mural
I love how the mural depicts the natural beauty of Minnesota from the air. You might not be able to tell his from the picture, but the round mural pieces in the clouds are dinner plates, which makes the whole thing even more adorable.

And the inside of the bathroom is just as great. It looks like this:

Minneapolis airport bathroom stall

My maryjanes on beautiful sparkly bathroom floor in Minneapolis
Remember Larry Craig? He was the virurently anti-gay Senator from Idaho who was arrested for lewd conduct back in 2007, in an airport bathroom in Minneapolis. He publicly declared his innocence (remember the phrase "wide stance?") but plead guilty anyway. I am thinking that there might be an alternate explanation for his behavior. Perhaps he was just so overcome with the beauty of the bathrooms in the Minneapolis airport that he felt the need to share that joy with the other inhabitants of the men's bathroom, in any way he could. Well, it's just a theory.

The rest of the Minneapolis airport, though, is complete crap. Here's a picture from my gate:

MSP airport, gate F 13
The rest of the airport was completely packed, with no place to sit, and people crammed into uncomfortable places. The bathroom was the nicest place in the whole airport. I thought about taking my book back to the lavatory to get some reading in, maybe swing by Starbucks and pick up a latte to sip while I was in there, but then it was time to board.

Goodbye, Minneapolis airport bathroom, my love!

Here is the bathroom in the Madison airport.

Madison airport bathroom

The lavatory in the Madison airport is nothing fancy. It's nice enough in a utilitarian way, but it's not gigantic like the Albuquerque airport (oh excuse me, "sunport") bathroom, and it's not splashy like the Minneapolis airport bathroom. But it works. It's functional. One might even say it's comfortable. In other words, it's home sweet home.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Ghost Census

Why is it that they always have conferences in interesting cities and then make you sit INSIDE all day? I am in Albuquerque, and I can tell you that this whole "learning" b.s. that apparently is supposed to accompany a conference is significantly cutting into my sightseeing time. I WANT TO GO SEE MOUNTAINS, DAMMIT.

I also want to see petroglyphs, and there is a state park on the edge of Albuquerque that has hundreds of them. Native Americans made the petroglyphs by picking away the outer, darker layer of rocks, revealing the lighter colored rock underneath. The petroglyphs depict human and animal forms. Basically, petroglyphs were like memes for early Native peoples. I wouldn't be surprised at all if there was a Grumpy Cat petroglyph.

The problem is that my hotel is ten miles from the petroglyphs, and I don't have a car. And also, I was supposed to spend much of today learning about things like the undercount of children age four and under in the 2010 Census. (If you have a free hour or five, I can give you the complete rundown on the undercount. It's actually pretty interesting.) So I didn't actually have a lot of spare time.

But I was determined to see the petroglyphs. So I made a plan. I was going to take a city bus to the side of town that was closest to the petroglyphs, run to the park with the petroglyphs, run back to the bus stop, take the bus back to the hotel, grab a quick shower, and go learn about Census undercounts. Ambitious, yes. But with neon running clothes and a good hat, one can achieve the impossible.

My selfie in a hotel mirror. At least I am not striking a sexy pose.

The bus ride went fine. But when I got off the bus and started running to the petroglyphs, I had to backtrack several times because the roads didn't quite go like the map showed. I blame President Bush. Not sure why, but at this point there aren't going to be too many new opportunities to chalk new evils up to his administration, so I better take advantage while I can.

Most of the way, I found myself running on a sidewalk next to a six lane highway, which was kind of a drag. But I did see hot air balloons, and I took a picture of them, only they didn't show up in the picture, so I guess there were ghosts riding in those balloons.

Finally! I found the trail head. It looked this:

Thank god,the trailhead.

At this point, I looked at my GPS and saw that I had run 6 miles just getting to the petroglyphs. (Cue the ominous music.)

The petroglyphs were great. You'll just have to take my word on that. I only have two pictures of them because I had to turn off my phone to save the battery, in case I needed that last bit of juice to call a cab after I got bit by a snake. ("Hello, Yellow Cab? Can you pick me up at the entrance to Petroglyph State Park? Oh, and bring a tourniquet.")

I don't know what that tall shadow is on the right in the photo above. My guess would be that it is another ghost. Ghosts were also undercounted in the 2010 Census, in case you were wondering.

Somewhat to my surprise, I made it back to the hotel just fine. I had a great run and saw an amazing piece of natural history. The only downside is that I ran a lot further than I had been intending to. Oh well. I'll just say my miles got undercounted in the Census too.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

I Got A Plan

These days I am spending a great deal of time complaining about snow. I know, I know, I live in Wisconsin, what should I expect? But these days the thought of moving to the Deep South, which normally I would never consider, sounds positively alluring. I'm practicing denouncing Barack Obama as a secret Muslim, so that if I actually DO move down there, I'll fit right in.

Because of all this snow, we do a lot of shoveling, which is surprisingly hard work. And that is where my plan comes in. It goes like this: Shoveling is hard work, physically. Americans love exercise videos. So how about an exercise video based on shoveling! A truly popular exercise video usually has some sort of numbers in the title, like PDX 90, so I would call my program WINTER 6210 (where six to ten is the number of inches of snow you should shovel to get the best results).

Here's the outline of my new exercise program.

First, put on a heavy coat. And if you can, turn down the heat in your exercise room to about 18 degrees. This will help simulate the shoveling experience of somehow being roasting when you are wearing your coat yet freezing when you take your coat off.
Coat on, socks mismatched, demon cat glaring behind me.

Now, take your shovel. The special WINTER 6210 shovel is an optional add-on to the exercise video, and sells for $52. Considering I will be getting the shovels from Fleet Farm for $12, they will be big profit drivers for me.

Here's the shovel. Get ready to sweat! Cat status: still demonic.

Squat slightly and thrust the shovel away from your body. Does this action feel awkward? Does it feel like something that could seriously damage your back if you performed it repeatedly? Then you're doing it right.

The awkward squat. That's how you do it.

Now raise the shovel over your left shoulder, assuming you are right handed. If you're left handed, you should probably just forget the whole thing and go back inside and have a beer.
The over-your-shoulder fling.

Now, let's pretend that you live in Florida and are giving the WINTER 6210 workout a try. Right now you are saying, "Yes, this is a great workout, but what if I want to make it HARDER? What if I want to simulate the physical effect of slinging wet, heavy snow that sticks to the shovel and won't budge unless you really heave it?"

I'm so glad you asked. To replicate the effect of shoveling that dense snow that weighs about a pound per square inch, I suggest adding weights to your WINTER 6210 shovel. These weights are available for $7.99 each from the WINTER 6210 website, and they look like this:

Reduced-sodium weights

Duct tape them to the shovel, and you are set to exercise!
A weighted shovel.

Shovel away! Do the WINTER 6210 workout and you will be fabulous shape in no time. And if you need it, I have the contact information for a great chiropractor.