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A Pluot Principle

“…And then I heard this guy say, ‘I feel like I’ve missed pluot season’…”

It was a surreal Seattle moment: at a friend’s house for the Sunday before Labor Day, eating fresh, organically home-grown grafted tomatoes from a tomato plant nestled next to kale and squash, with three young urban professionals (not including yours truly and the Editor), one of which we will call John.  (The others we will call K and Margles). John had been on Bremerton for the day, rode the ferry (and heard the above quote), cycled to K and Margles’ house for dinner, and shared the quote.  (Note: my garden failed this season due to rabbits, deer, opossums, raccoons, and possibly a plague of locusts. I’m not bitter.)

There is nothing not Seattle about all of that. From the cycling* and the ferrying and the home-grown tomato-ing and the quoting and the pluot piece, that was all so clearly Seattle it made me ache (appreciatively). It also made me vaguely jealous: somewhere, out there, is someone for whom that is a thing. Someone out there has TIME to worry about whether or not they’ve missed a season of a fruit that is only a recent addition to the fruit sphere.  They’ve worried enough about it that they were talking to someone else about it, like there is some sort of Pluot Appreciation Week or Festival that was missed. (NB: you can get a 12 pack of pluots at Costco. I’m not sure how artisanal they are anymore).

*Not just John who is the cyclist – K and Margles once spent a season doing nearly every long-range ride (including at least two double centuries) the Cascade Bicycle Club arranges. They called this “fun”.

What I am getting at (albeit laboriously) is it seems to me, more often as of late, that there are a wide variety of things out there to learn/do/participate in/obsess on and a diminished resource of time, and that some of the prioritization I have had to make of late (work… obsessive housecleaning…) combat with this time scarcity issue.  I’m not entirely sure if this realization is driven from a burgeoning sense of mortality or if this is something that’s been floating around in my head for a while and now it’s just beginning to gel. I find myself increasingly weighing the experiential benefits of a reorganized library or an extra couple of hours’ sleep on the weekend against a bike ride or sailing or woodworking or such. In effect, the culmination of years of only marginally completed “to-do lists” seems to be weighing in more heavily as I head to 40. This is compounded by the fact that I am the product of four hyper-driven parents, each with hobbies that involve activity and analysis (cataloging, if you will).

I haven’t been entirely a bump on a log this time, and have done a little cycling here and there, for example. But I think it’s time to start a new list and drive a little harder on it.

Item one: experience pluots. Before they go out of season.

Plus One To Self Worth

In Dungeons and Dragons (yes, I used to play D&D, get over it) the very first thing you do, once your DM has declared the arena in which you are playing (or RIFTS — we did that too), is you wrote up your Character Sheet. Inevitably a piece of Xeroxed paper, it had check boxes and blank spaces for you to detail your character’s physical appearance, social abilities, physical, mental, and emotional abilities/proclivities, as well as a back story. It was not uncommon for everyone’s character to be a fantastically good-looking crack-shot nuclear physicist and ace-pro lover, ala Buckaroo Banzai, but there would be the “fatal flaw” they’d introduce in their character: you know, to remain interesting.

Life doesn’t hand you a character sheet. You are given the looks you inherit genetically, you are alloted the IQ points that amass themselves in your grey matter. Your character, however, is something you can develop and change. (Yes, you can “train your brain”. Yes, you can use surgery to enhance your physical appearance. But really, your character is something both easier and harder to manipulate, and it’s what we’re discussing here, so let’s ignore the caveats and nota benes, shall we?)

One of the best speeches in recent movie history was in The American President, where Michael Douglas’ president makes the statement that a the upcoming presidential race would be *entirely* about character. Any race: presidential, rat, or otherwise, is about character.

I’ve spent some time evaluating the things about myself I don’t like: I send emails too quickly, I take things to heart too easily, I spend too much time worrying about others opinions, I continue to not have the discipline to have the physique I’d like. Some of these are correctable via self-direction, some of these I will have to run into a brick wall or two in order to acquire the necessary mental note. Others seem doomed to compromise: my weight being one of them. 

I’ve known a few people who have taken stock of their life completely, and turned it around in a fashion amazing to those who knew them well and those who knew them casually. One good friend lost nearly a hundred pounds,  got divorced, acquired all sorts of new hobbies (including running, triathlons, and barhopping); another lost a significant amount of weight (she is not telling, nor should she), stayed married, took control over her education and career and is literally living the dream in Hawaii. Some friends have made changes not so sweeping: leaving an unsatisfying job, taking on new hobbies, reinvesting in their health; I think part of the human condition is to self-evaluate and, for some of us, to target improvements.

I have no idea how much of this is driven by the checklist mentality or the presumptive dopamine rush that comes from living this way. I do know that I have a few things I’d like to change, and maybe if I’m open and outward about them, and write them down, and profess them, if not in a character sheet with 8 or 12 friends and a 20-sided dice but in a blog with 8 or 12 readers and a 20-sided life, maybe then, I can upgrade my character.

Event Driven

In keeping with my usual way of doing things (e.g., the dopamine rush that one gets from chocolate, online Scrabble, and checking things off of one’s list) I have signed on for a whole bunch of stuff this year. Some I will discuss, and some I will not. There will likely be an announcement of the Not Currently Discussed Items around June or July. But this isn’t about that. Think of it as one of those teaser trailers before the show.

The Events of 2011, at least sporting wise, are:

  • A 5-k run. Yep, I have to get back into running. I’ll be starting a team of at least 10 here at Expedia for the American Lung Association’s annual 5k, and so I shall go forth to the Running Shoe Store where they will provide me with shiny new shoes. Be prepared for posts about sore knees, the amazing physics of excess flab as you run, and whether or not this was really a good idea. Also, I have to raise money.
  • A 2-day double-century bike ride, known as the STP. The Seattle To Portland, more specifically, and training for that has already begun. The fact that as part of training we will be riding 80 miles one day and 80 miles the next which is what I did for The Whole Ride last year is a bit of an eye-catcher.
  • An October stair climb event for the ALA (place to be determined). Again with the raising money.
  • And then, depending on how things went with the 5 k– the Seattle Half Marathon in November. Again.

Folding into this training schedule is that thing I call my job, which I love but which has gone up to 11 as of last November and *stayed there*. When your boss looks at you earnestly and asks you when you’re going to take any time off, and at least three coworkers suggest you need a drink, you may need to take some time off. But when you’re committed to having everything come off PERFECT or at least NOT MESSED UP then you have a hard time putting down the iPhone and the Email. The Job is having me travel a bit this year, including to Geneva (let’s hope my luggage doesn’t get lost) and then there’s personal travel too (hello, Phoenix! Hello, Hawaii!).  Oh, and then there’s boy schedule and its companions of sports and karate and boy scouts and camp and PTSA in there too. Mustn’t forget that.

This year is the first year I’m operating completely without a paper calendar. Usually, I am the recipient of a calendar from a friend who likes dogs, from a family member who defaults to Calendars, and some sort of work gift thing. And this year, I got none of it. My wall at work is empty, my dedicated calendar space at home is devoid of said calendarage. I’m operating completely on my Google and Outlook (syncd!) calendars. It will be an experiment in e-venting, I’m sure.

What I’m discovering thus far is that I need to stick to plans if I’m going to make them. When you put in your calendar that you are going to go to spin class, it’s because you realized two weeks ago when you put that there that you had a 7am call the next day and so you wouldn’t make it to *that* spin class and if you were going to get your required weekly time in the saddle then yes you really did need to do spin class on Thursday. Or when I lay out the menu for the week then I really do need to stick with it because if I wing it and use the potatoes with the pork tenderloin instead of the pasta then that means the chicken has to now go with the rice and you have to put peas with potatoes which takes it away from the cacciatore that was supposed to go with the pasta. Oh, and you end up with really weird menu combinations, which sounds fine for Iron Chef but not for Random Sammamish Hurried Dinner Wednesday.

I have — and love — my iPhone. I may need to expand its applications to help me keep the dopamine rush at a steady state.  Meanwhile, you are to fully expect more e-Venting.

PS — Starbucks is releasing a 31 ounce coffee drink. ‘Nuff said.

Wheels

I don’t know how to drive a stick shift. Yet.

Learning to drive one is/was part of my “quest for awesomeness”, e.g., my ongoing list of things I should do before I become a useless, shriveled old maid. The fact that I hadn’t learned in my younger days — mind you, at sixteen I could change the oil, transmission fluid, coolant, and tires on a 1981 Volvo — is sad and crippling; my instructor (Mr. W, who is an Aussie and happily accepts payment in gastronomie and vin!) is patient and thorough. I have completed lesson two.

Lesson two involved repracticing start/stop, and that sorta-glidey-thingie you do with the clutch in and the brake off and you’re rounding a corner and going into a parking space. Or something. I also learned to shift up and down, which I need to practice.

Two hours later I was on the bike for the first time in five months. We did but 13 miles courtesy of a blown tire (mine) and only one spare (Duncan’s); it felt *good*. And tomorrow? Tomorrow we enroll for the STP, the Seattle To Portland, 200 miles in 2 days, with a stop (thank whatever God(s) you select) at my mother’s house at the halfway point.

And so January turns! (PS — this week? I lost two of those three awful pounds, and went to the gym 5/7 days). Go me!

Getting it in Gear

I have this list of things I think I really ought to learn to do, or should change in my habits. For example, some of the latter include an average of one “me” night per week, or healthier eating habits. The former include things like “learn to ski” and “learn to drive a stick shift”.

Today was my first driving lesson: stick shift. It was in a Subaru which was fancier than any other Subaru I’d been in, and the car itself had been driven to the arctic circle. It had a good deal more computers and junk in it one would expect of a Subaru.

It also had a stick. On the stick was a little diagram, like the three-man Henkel’s diagram, except this one had little numbers (1-5) and an R. We didn’t mess much with that. Instead, there is this other thing it had: a clutch. I can understand the physics of a clutch just fine.

Practical application, however, found me lacking. Safely nestled in the semi-empty parking area in the back of Bellevue Square, my instructor (hm, let’s call him G, to protect the innocent) had me, before starting the car, have my left foot fully extended to fully depress the clutch. Then, my right foot fully extended to depress the brake. Then, and only then, could I start the car. The image you should get here is of someone trying desperately to force their feet through the floorboards, white knuckling the wheel.

At this point, I should note, I hadn’t moved or done anything, except for starting the car.

With the car started, there was oration on how I would carefully lift my foot off of the brake, carefully put said foot (the right foot – Dexter) on the gas so as to get to 1,500 RPM, and then carefully remove my foot (left foot – Sinister) from the clutch, and roll forward.

This I did, but in no way shape or form was it elegant. It was a bit lurchy, although I didn’t stall the car there. I stalled it on the next go, and then at the turn I had to do, and then a third time. The total of stalls were about 3, the total of start/stop practices were roughly 12 (4 laps, 3 each) plus some extra little ones at the end. I learned many things, including:

  • Wearing high-heeled boots is not an intelligent driving choice when dealing with a stick.
  • That little wiggly thing people do with the stick actually has purpose.
  • You can tell if you are revving the car up too much because it sounds different.
  • You can tell if you are at the point where you will not stall because it sounds different.
  • Mall security will wait patiently behind you while you practice driving until your instructor waves them by, whereupon they will rev past you at 40 mph, to illustrate their point.
  • Thirty minutes go fast when you are clenching every muscle below your waist and at the end of your arms.