Monday, November 29, 2010

Ma'am, REALLY??

Since when did I become a ma'am? This whole concept is so foreign to me that I had to look up "ma'am" in the dictionary just to make sure I was spelling it correctly. Each and every time someone calls me ma'am, I have to look over my shoulder to see who this person is addressing because it certainly couldn't be me! Then as I realize it is me that they are talking to, that unfortunate person is greeted by my cold, hard "you have just insulted me" stare.

When I think of a "ma'am," I visual someone much older than I am or someone dressed like an older woman. I don't think I dress matronly. If I do, will someone please tell me! I hope I don't look ancient as I've managed to avoid all of the Botox, nip and tuck nonsense that many "ma'am's" over 40 find as an indulgence. Or is 35 that magical cut off age between miss and ma'am because then I guess I would qualify. Perhaps those of the younger generation are just clueless and call any woman over their youthful age "ma'am." I guess I no longer fall into the "miss" category unless I'm being carded while buying a bottle of wine. Maybe I'm in that grey zone between miss and ma'am. 

Personally, I think it's best to err on the side of being impolite and not calling a woman "ma'am" unless she's over 90. Since I'm nowhere near 90 and probably clad in shoes that no matron would ever consider wearing, please just call me "miss" or, better yet, nothing at all. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cold Turkey

I'll take mine warm with gravy and mashed potatoes. The countdown has started to my favorite of all holidays—Thanksgiving! I love Thanksgiving because it is all about food, family, and friends. It's that one day of the year when you can eat delicious food throughout the entire day, visit with the relatives, and watch football, guilt-free.

I remember so many Thanksgiving celebrations at my Grandmother's house in Spencer, Wisconsin. She had a tiny house with an even tinier kitchen, but she could produce quite the feast! Dinner at 1 pm, dessert at 4 pm, and pulling out the leftovers from 9 pm until midnight. Friends and relatives who weren't at dinner would stop in for coffee or dessert. The house was teeming. My sister and I would escape to the outdoors and take long walks to burn off all of that food.

My Grandmother is no longer of this earth but her traditions live on. She taught me how to bake and today I will bake my heart out using her rolling pin. I wish you lots of cold turkey leftovers on Friday and  hope that you and yours have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Social Media Overkill?

As I sit alone at my Mac on this bleak and icy November morning in a very quiet house, I never feel truly alone. I have my Facebook friends on chat and my LinkedIn and Twitter accounts to keep me company. Not to mention my e-mail accounts and my Droid phone resting on top of my printer with text messages coming in. In today's plugged-in world, one can never feel truly alone unless you decide to venture off into your day without your cell phone. Then you may feel quite naked and unsure of how to even face your day. I don't have this problem as I'm notorious for forgetting my phone at home or leaving it turned off. Having lived my first 30-some years without a cell phone, I'm quite comfortable without it. At times, it feels like a relief. A brief break from technology when no one can reach me.

We all know the person who is constantly on their iPhone or Blackberry texting away, checking their messages, and occasionally make a phone call. I've been bumped into by these folks and, unfortunately, others have had much worse experiences with drivers texting while driving their cars. That's taking the convenience of technology a bit too far. Use some common sense please . . . stop texting and driving before you kill someone!

Most of us have our Facebook friends, and what an amazing social media tool! (Even my mother has her own Facebook page.) I've noticed that my Facebook friends really break down into 3 groups:

  • Facebook Junkies. These heavy users seem to post every intimate detail of their life on their Facebook pages, consistently chime in to like or dislike something, and include lots of pictures (usually unedited) and links to favorite songs, videos, and obscure websites. They are truly Facebook Junkies who seem to have their Facebook on all of the time. Am I worried what this group thinks of my opinions on their Facebook habit? Not at all. They are too busy posting on Facebook right now to read this blog.
  • The Anti-Facebookers. This group has a Facebook account to keep tabs on their kid's Facebook pages or were under peer pressure to set up a Facebook page. They don't really quite get what all of the fuss is about, and one rarely hears from this anti-Facebook tangent.
  • The "I Have a Life Outside of My Facebook Page, Thank You" users. Most people seem to fall into this category, myself included. The average Facebook user logs on when they can, posts a thought or comment every now and then, wishes a Facebook friend a Happy Birthday, or downloads their vacation pictures into an edited album. They take healthy attitude toward Facebook. Life it just too busy for constantly posting comments on Facebook.

But who am I to criticize modern technology as I post my "adventures in suburbia" on this blog. Don't get me wrong, I love the convenience of technology and reaching out to all of you via this blog. I love that I've reconnected with old friends and keep in touch with them through Facebook. My cell phone with the Internet is very handy. But perhaps sometimes it's healthy to take a break from technology. 

Maybe someone will come up with a "technology-free" day. Should I go ahead and post that idea on my Facebook page?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Target Infatuation

Target ad in Times Square
I'll admit it, I  am such a "Target" girl. What's not to love about Target? It's one-stop shopping for me . . . groceries (even organic fruits and veggies as well as grass-fed beef), winter gloves for the boys, air filter for the furnace, cozy flannel sheets for the guest room, ink for my printer, a little black dress on the clearance rack, contact lenses for my daughter, school supplies, an abundance of Christmas decorations, that odd halogen lightbulb for my spirally light fixture over the kitchen table, kitchen tables and chairs with fun napkins and plates, and a latte for me from the in-store Starbucks on my way out of the door.

The Target "Team" members are abundant and always ready to help you out. It's clean, efficient, and well organized. They even have team members on walkie talkies at the check-out to call for extra cashiers when the lines get slightly too long. I'm not talking 10 people in line ahead of you, but two or three. I love that! But it was especially handy when I had a screaming child with me. (Perhaps they were just trying to get us out of the store by opening up that extra a lane just for us!)

I'm one of those people who wouldn't be caught dead in a Walmart (although I must admit their Halloween junk is much more extensive than Target). I don't even remember the last time I was in a Walmart. I think my disdain for Walmart extends back to my years living in suburban Washington, DC before Target moved in. My local Walmart was in a dicey neighborhood, and you always had to go during the day because it was safer. Or at least I felt safer. On your way into the store, you would be greeted by a blue haze generated by a group of employees out smoking in front of the building while on break. Nice. That Walmart in Alexandria, Virginia was always a bit dirty, crowded with boxes scattered all over, and you could plan on spending at least 10 minutes waiting in line to check out.

But now I live in the land of Target. Minnesota, where Target was born. I've even been in the original (now totally remodeled) Target store in Roseville. This is probably really sad, but I remember the first time I actually went into a Target. I was a Senior in college in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and a spank'n brand, new Target had just opened. It was heavenly after years of frequenting Shopko and Walgreens.

Target for me is the epitome of functional style, convenience for busy parents, and quality products with a touch of satisfaction thrown in.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Man vs. Bear

Now wouldn't it be a little bit disconcerting to you if a black bear was out wandering around your neighborhood? This my reality. My Twin Cities metro suburb has a new neighbor—a rather large black bear. He's been spotted out and about for the last few months. Lingering in backyards, taking a swim in a scummy pond, popping out at unsuspecting joggers. Like a neighborhood watch, my neighbors have an efficient "bear watch" network set up, warning others when the bear makes an appearance.

Now, unlike some of my neighbors, I have never actually laid eyes on this bear. But I have seen his muddy paw prints on the bike path and a rather large wet spot on the pavement where he shook himself off after a swim the pond near my house—a trail of wet bear tracks leading off into the woods. A bit scary when all you have is a terrier on a leash and your cell phone to defend yourself.

I'm told that black bears are somewhat common in Central Minnesota and that we humans are infringing on black bear territory by building subdivisions like mine near their woods and wetlands. Yes, humans have moved into bear territory, which is sad for the bears, but we humans are not leaving anytime soon. However, nothing is really being done to encourage this bear to move on or to somehow move him out of the neighborhood. The local police are aware of the bear and supposedly someone has been given the authority to "take out the bear". This is fine but as far as I know, the bear is still here. Perhaps Mother Nature will motivate him to move back up North or to dig his den and hibernate for the winter.

If he does hibernate, what will happen in the Spring after he wakes up from his winter nap? I would hate to think what could happen when some kids riding their bikes on the bike/bear path come face-to-face with this bear in the Spring. The last thing I want is a hungry, ornery, post-hiberation bear gallivanting around in March. Cannot the bear be humanely moved out of the neighborhood soon? It's bear vs. suburbans Moms.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What Really Is "Proper" Gym Attire?

Aren't they call "running"
shoes for a reason?

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you step off of your treadmill at the gym and two rows behind you spot some guy going at it full throttle on the elliptical machine wearing a black leather jacket zipped up to the neck!! What the hell?! Now I’ve never seen anyone having a workout in leather except for Bono in concert who is always sweating up a storm in his leather jacket and pants. But he’s a rock star! Maybe this guy is a Bono-wanna-be but come on, who wears a leather jacket to work out on an elliptical machine?
When I walked back to my treadmill to wipe it down after my workout, I noticed that the woman next to me was walking barefoot on the treadmill with her shoes neatly lined up next to the machine. Again, what is going on today?! I can see not wearing shoes if you are swimming or in a yoga class, but no shoes on a treadmill is rather odd. And yes, I have read the accounts of the new craze of running barefoot outside which supposedly helps prevent foot injuries. Ouch! I’ll stick to my sneakers both indoors and out thank you. But what is worse? Going barefoot on a nasty treadmill or wearing Crocs or flip flops while lifting weights? I’ve witnessed both at my gym. Hopefully flip-flop wearers have a good grip and don’t drop anything on a naked toe.
Since I’m being so judgmental today about what constitutes proper gym attire, I’ll just continue on with some of the odd workout wear choices I’ve noticed recently. As always, there are the gals in full make-up, dosed with perfume in their expensive coordinated workout outfits. At least they are wearing shoes, albeit costly ones. At the pool a couple of times a year some poor man who is not training for a triathlon will don a Speedo. Cringe! Then there are those folks (men and women alike) who should just not be wearing lycra.
I always love the old men who wear their running shorts mid-thigh with their white tube socks pulled up to their knees. Occasionally (usually during a college break) you’ll get some young and incredibly shapely girl clad only in her sports bra and lycra running shorts. She’s usually paired with her beefy college boyfriend who keeps the gawkers at bay. Sometimes you can spot “youth” wearing their knit black skull caps and very loosely fitting shorts with their music cranked up louder than the already cranked up music blaring on the gym loudspeakers. 
One of my all-time favorites is an impressively well-endowed woman in her 30s who runs sans sports bra on the treadmill. She rolls up her tank top, tucks it up under her breasts so everyone is in full view of not only her flopping chest but her roll of stomach spilling out over the top of her shorts. Not a pretty sight, but I see her dressed like that every time so she must be quite comfortable with herself. Maybe that’s what it comes down to. What is your comfort level? Everyone’s is different but some people certainly are more out there than others. But I guess it doesn’t matter what you wear, as long as you are working up a sweat.
Now most members of my fitness club do adhere to the unwritten proper dress code, including myself. But I do have to admit that I’m one of those skinny girls clad in a running top and shorts who is frantically lifting weights to add some muscle weight to my slight frame. Yes, I’ve set myself up for this one so fire away . . . 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Climbing Mt. Fuji

My sister and I at the 6th Station, 2 hours into our 8+ hour climb

There is an old Japanese saying that goes something like this: “You are wise to climb Mt. Fuji once, but only fools climb it twice.” I thought I would be a fool to even attempt to climb a mountain as I didn’t think I had that gene in my body. But last year my sister Linda, who lives in Japan, threw out the crazy notion that we climb Mt. Fuji in August of 2010. I’m proud to say that my sister and I did successfully climb Mt. Fuji all in one day without major injuries. This can turn into a long and drawn-out tale as my family well knows. I’ll share with you the essence of the experience as you will have to climb Mt. Fuji yourself to see why a fool climbs twice. 
There are four trails up Mt. Fuji. We chose the Subashiri route up as it was supposedly the most scenic, least travelled, closest to our hotel, and has the quickest descent. We discovered the day after our climb that the Subashiri trail is the second most difficult trail up the mountain. (Probably good we didn’t know that during the climb!)
To acclimate to the altitude, we spent a sleepless night at a hotel near the trailhead. We rose early on August 3rd and my sister’s very gracious Japanese friend dropped us off at the 5th Station trailhead further up the mountain as a rainbow broke through the morning clouds. She wished us well and told us we were crazy to attempt this. She was sensibly going back to bed then spending the day shopping at an outlet mall at the foot of Mt. Fuji.
We spent 30 minutes getting used to the higher altitude (2000 m) before hitting the trail at 6 am. The air was already hot and heavy with humidity. Our packs were loaded down with 9 liters of water, food, rain gear, and warm clothes. We noticed right off that this was not like hiking in Colorado where the trails have switchbacks. This trail was straight up with virtually no switchbacks, and we were climbing on a pebbly/sandy and almost slippery surface. An hour into the climb we were very hot. So hot that we stopped to shed our pants and continued the climb in our shorts and a tank tops. All the other Japanese climbers were covered head to toe in long pants, fleeces, sun hats and gloves. Not us!
As we broke out of the tree line two hours into our climb, we reached the 6th Station and took a 30 minute rest to eat breakfast and hydrate. Each trail going up Mt. Fuji has rest “Stations” along the way for climbers. They all sell food and water at highly inflated prices. They have toilets (you also have to pay for these), but as we found out they aren’t always working at each station. You can buy a walking stick and at each station along the trail get a brand burned onto your stick which we did. Some of the stations have sleeping huts and hotels as many climbers like to spend the night, rise well before dawn, and make the summit of Fuji in time for the sunrise. We opted not to do this and am glad that we stayed at a hotel instead of on the mountain. The sleeping huts offered you a small mat, a tiny space wedged next to a stranger, and a ratty old blanket that probably hadn’t been washed in weeks and was used nightly by other hikers. No thanks!
Our map estimated that we could reach the summit in 4-6 hours. We cruised up the mountain to the next station in only 30 minutes, arriving by 9 am. By now we could see the remaining stations stacked up as well as the summit and were optimistic that we could reach the top by noon. 
The trail got even steeper as we started our climb to the 7th station. Along the trail we passed a few little trailside alters which serve as a grim reminder that people do die along this trail. The weather can deteriorate very quick but so far we are blessed with a sunny day with a few clouds flitting over us as we ascend. Just before we reach the 7th station, altitude sickness hit me. Dizziness, vertigo, a massive headache. We stop to rest along the trail and slow down our breakneck pace. We are now at 3090 meters. 
My sister and I leave the 7th Station at 10:50 am for the most difficult climb up to the top. The air is very thin, the trail is over a 30° angle straight up with no vegetation, only lava rock, and we are literally taking baby steps up the trail. But it’s not just us creeping up the mountain, everyone is. Mt. Fuji is the great equalizer for all of the climbers—the little old Japanese ladies, the Marines from Camp Fuji, the American Navy couple in their 20s, a 10-year old boy and his parents, and two young-at-heart Wisconsinites. The only person we found unfazed by the altitude was a college student from Austria who was bounding up Fuji like a mountain goat.
The surreal landscape nearing the top of Mt. Fuji
We drank at least half of our water supply before we reached the top which was good except that the toilets at all of the stations past the 7th were broken. By the time we reached yet another broken toilet at the 8.5 Station (at 3500m) I was about dying. With my sister standing guard, I found an already damp spot along a rocky ledge and left my mark upon Mt. Fuji. Thank goodness I didn’t wait for the 9th Station as it was crushed when we arrived around 2 pm. Completely buried under piles of volcanic boulders. We stopped for a very brief rest and forced ourselves to eat and drink water. 
This was the most difficult part of the climb for me as it was very hot in the direct sun, difficult to breathe, and my legs felt SO very heavy and shaky. Our slow pace limited us to climbing up at a rate of only 100 meters in 30 minutes. What kept me going was seeing the Tori gate marking the top of the mountain and my sister urging me onward.
Finally, we reached the top of Mt. Fuji at 2:48 pm!!! We grasped each other hands and shouted some Japanese phrase of “WE DID  IT!” as our feet touched the top stone step. We were exhausted but elated at reaching the summit in 8.5 hours of climbing. And what did we find at the top of Mt. Fuji? A noodle shop, a shrine, lots of trinket shops (I bought a little flag for my walking stick and Lin bought some bells for hers), a post office, a super smelly and expensive toilet, and the most amazing views I’ve ever seen. 
At this point, Linda had to call her friend who was picking us up at the bottom of the trail to tell her we were running a few hours late. Amazingly her phone worked! We stopped to eat and rest, use the disgusting toilet, and take a glance into the crater on top of Fuji. Only a little rope separated us from a very long fall into the center of the volcano. Either safety standards are a bit lax in Japan or the Japanese assume that people aren’t stupid enough to venture dangerously close to the edge.
We took a few moments to savor the deafening silence and beauty of being at the top of Japan. It was so beautiful in a desolate and barren way. Very few people were on top of the mountain. Initially we planned to walk a trail that goes around the crater (about an hour hike) but at this point it was 3:45 pm, and we had no idea how long it would take us to get back down. The map said 2-3 hours, but this was the same map that said 4-6 hours to climb up, not over 8 hours. All we knew was that the sun would set around 6:30 pm, and we didn’t have any flashlights with us. Time to get off the mountain!
We cut ahead of a large group of older Japanese hikers, wondering how these people in their 60s and 70s even made it up Fuji. A sign showed our Subashiri trail taking 1 hour and 45 minutes to descend as opposed to 4 hours and 10 minutes on the Yoshida trail. Hmmm, why was our trail so much faster? 
It was a spectacular slide down to the 8th Station where the trail split and our Subashiri trail cut straight down a very steep grade. At 4:45 pm we started our ski/scoot down a  Fuji lava flow that dropped us 3000 feet in just over an hour. We were cruising down Mt. Fuji, using our boots as skis and the sandy, rocky volcanic surface as snow. We had to watch out for embedded boulders, and at one point Linda was doing moguls and even caught air! At some points, it was so steep and I got going so fast I couldn’t stop even if I wanted to. I’m surprised our descent off of Mt. Fuji was legal as it was so dangerous. Maybe our accelerated rate of speed made it even more dangerous! 
One crazy Japanese kid was literally running down the mountain while others were slowly picking their way down and holding onto a thin rope for balance. Not the American girls from Wisconsin, we passed everyone and even caught up with groups far below us. I think our speed was mainly due to being overly anxious to get off of Mt. Fuji before sunset. And it didn’t help when Linda mentioned that this would be the worst possible place to be if even a minor earthquake hit!
All of this was very fun for say the first 45 minutes. Then we realized that we had to keep doing this for even longer once we could see the parking lot way off in the distance. Our toes were starting to hurt. Knees were popping and hips were sore from this strange and rapid descent. Our trail did not intersect with any of the rest stations on the way up and there were no markers showing how far we had come or how far it was to the 5th Station trailhead. 
Our hopes were dashed around 5:45 pm when we finally reached the bottom of the lava slide and the 5th Station, not the 5th Station TRAILHEAD where we had started. It was now starting to get dark and our bodies were feeling the efforts of climbing up and down Fuji. The last 40 minutes of the trail was a boulder descent through the woods with lots of massive tree roots to navigate. 
Finally we saw the Shinto shrine at the base of the trail, and we knew that we were very close to the end. We hugged each other as we passed thru the gates to the 5th Station trailhead. It was now 6:20 pm. Our legs felt like rubber bands, and a lady at the end of the trail handed us cups of very smelly and salty tea (we think it was to prevent seizures). We headed back to the car, down the mountain, and into a Japanese Denny’s Restaurant for our post-Fuji feast! What an unforgettable day and an incredible experience that I was lucky enough to share with my sister. Would I climb it again?  Probably not but my sister and I will be talking about our Mt. Fuji climb when we are well into our 90s!
My workout watch gave us a few stats about our climb:
^    8 hours, 46 minutes and 16 seconds to reach the top. We started at 2000 meters and climbed up to 3776 meters.
^    6311 calories burned on the ascent. A total of 9113 calories burned the entire day.
^    230 beats/minute. My highest heart rate on the ascent.
^    Descended Mt. Fuji in 2 hours and 29 minutes. We slid/skied down about 3000 ft. in 1 hour at a rate of 1.5 feet/second!
^    Total time on the mountain, including rests and time at the summit, 12 hours, 20 minutes, and 25 seconds.
The author at the summit of Mt. Fuji

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Thoughts From My Window Seat

Up and Away

Why is it that I always feel so calm and at peace with myself and the world when I’m strapped into my seat on an airplane speeding down the runway at take-off? Maybe it is because I’m temporarily not in charge of getting from Point A to Point B. I’m along for the ride.
Now some of my friends and family could not ever really relate to this feeling of elation upon becoming airborne given an innate fear of flying. Any fear I might have is quickly replaced by freedom. Freedom, definitely. That freedom feeling is much strong when flying solo, like tonight. I checked my bag and headed to the security line, feeling a bit naked without three kids and their stuff in tow. I felt like I’ve left something behind. I did. Responsibility for anyone but myself. As a mother of three, this was a rare moment. As much as I love my children and spending time with them, there is nothing quite like going on a pleasure trip with the children in good hands at home.
For some reason, my plane is flying incredibly low tonight. At first, I was half expecting to turn around given our proximity to the earth. But here we remain. Low. I know that we are low because all of the little planes are coming down in altitude from the heavens above my plane to land at the airports below. I can make out street lights, traffic, and the occasional McDonalds golden arches. On this perfectly clear night, never before have the lights of Cedar Rapids, St. Louis, and all of the places in between looked so beautiful. All of the cities and little towns lie glittering below my feet. The bright stars in the sky replace the extinguished city lights as we fly out over the pitch black darkness of the Gulf of Mexico.  Until Tampa Bay and Sanibel Island shimmer in the distance below, spread out like jewels in the inky dark of a March night.
Perhaps flying solo lends a certain calmness to the crazy life of a mother. Maybe The Killers blasting on my iPod helps as well. There is no one but a stranger beside me, and she certainly won’t demand my iPod to watch Toy Story. Regardless, as I gaze out of my window over the wing, I’ve found a reassuring, if temporary, peace.

Challenges of Suburbia

How dull may be your first response. On the contrary! I’ve found that there is nothing more physically and emotionally challenging than being a stay-at-home mother of three kids ages 13, 12, and 7. I’m sure that some can attest to that or decide to refute my argument. I believe that my 12 years in the trenches (read exclusively staying at home with 3 kids) has given me an abundance of learning experiences that continue each day. I hope to share some of the drama, confusion, tragedy, and sheer joy of growing older as my kids grow up.

Oh, and did I mention that I am transitioning back into working “outside of the home” as well. That will add an extra element of surprise into this blog of mine. 
Why did I choose Minnesota? Well it chose me and that’s why I’m writing from and about life as a suburban Mom in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. For those of you who are not from Minnesota, suburban St. Paul does offer an abundance of interesting people and experiences of which to write.

I've been blogging for nearly two years on a different blog site and am transitioning over to this new blog. I'll be posting some of my older (and more controversial) blog posts on this new site.
But don’t despair. . . this blog is not solely about Minnesota. It’s about life in the burbs. Hope you enjoy it!