Could we change our attitude, we should not only see life differently, but life itself would come to be different. ~ Katherine Mansfield

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The New Friend Test

Not many things in life rival the butterfly feeling of falling in love, but making a new girlfriend comes close. Whether it's that first time your swings synch up at recess, or when you get invited to spend the night, or later, when you catch someone rolling her eyes at the exact same time in a company meeting. This is all followed by an involuntary smile, a roller coaster flip-flop in your stomach, and the question with endless possibilities, "Could she be the one? My new best friend?" And unlike spouses, with best friends it's okay to go ahead and have more than one at the same time. Bonus!

There's the best friend from childhood (Nikki), high school (Ann), and the college best friend who becomes more like the sister you never had (Rachel). There's the best friend from work (Amy), from your days waiting tables (Doris and Jenn), the girls who have known you so long that if you didn't see them for six years you could pick up tomorrow without missing a beat (Jen and Elizabeth), and the best friends who get together once every month or two and eat all of the foods while laying their souls bare (Lane and Kristin). 

I have found though that as I age, I am less likely to enter into these Beaches-esque friendships that came so naturally in my youth. Partly because priorities shift -- there isn't as much time to contemplate the inner workings of the universe and your latest crush with a new friend when you're married with a full-time job and a few kids -- but that's not the only reason. It's also a lot of work, getting to know someone. When you're young, there isn't so much backstory to get caught up on before you hit BFF status; there aren't so many potential pitfalls in terms of likes, beliefs, and common ground. I miss the days of "You're in 4th grade? I'm in 4th grade! You like stickers?? Whoa...I also like stickers!!! Let's swap stickers and be best friends." 

So, in a nerd effort to cut to the chase, I've come up with a questionnaire. Much like an online dating service, I've mapped out some key questions whose answers would let me know if that new butterfly-feeling friendship is worth cultivating, or if we should just let it remain a passing smile when we pick up our kids at the same time and then go home to our separate lives. 

The questions themselves reveal a lot about me, the questioner, I'm sure. We aren't going to bond over what church you go to, or your favorite sports team, but if you have a line on a secret dish at a restaurant, or a new author I'm about to fall for, then we're in it for the long haul. 

Without further ado, I present: 

"The New Adult Friendship Compatibility Questionnaire" 
aka "The New Friend Test" 
aka "What's your major? For The Over 30 Set" 

To keep it brief, we're using Twitter rules for answers, 140 characters or less. And...go!

  • Married or single? Married eight years.
  • Kids? 2 boys, three and six.
  • Pets? 2 dogs, 2 cats, 6 goats. Bunch of chickens and bees, but they aren't really pets.
  • Job? Executive producer by day, hobby farmer by night. Or mixed in the day.
  • Age? 37 (I thought I was turning 38 last year, but I was wrong. Bonus year!)
  • Sign? Sagittarius, but I don't put much stock in that. I didn't even spell it right without autocorrect.
  • Favorite restaurant? Rioja. Or Mercantile. Oh! Or Comida for tacos or Bones for noodles. Unless it's a crap chain, I pretty much like them all.
  • What do you order? Anything seasonal or involving risotto. For brunch I always order the Eggs Benedict, scrambled not poached. 
  • What's the best thing you can cook? I sear a mean scallop. And there isn't a pasta/sauce combo I can't handle.
  • Last wish meal? Mussels and frites at Bistro Vendome, big fat bottle of red, Gabe telling me stupid jokes about the uptight group of businessmen at the neighboring table. Perfection. 
  • Favorite drink? (Quick, over-140 character aside: My friend Kristin recently went to a "get to know your coworkers" fiasco, and during small group breakout her group had to share their favorite drink. Kristin went first and gave what I am sure was a lovely, evocative answer involving the dominant characteristics that come into play when she selects the perfect wine to match her mood and meal. The group response was stone faced. The remaining 9 answers ranged from coffee to strawberry lemonade to -- no kidding -- water. Kristin's coworkers will never be invited to our supper club.) Gin and lemonade in the summer, vanilla vodka and ginger ale in the winter. Wine when it's in my hand.
  • Favorite all time? The Grapes of Wrath. I've read it 4 times.
  • Recent favorite(s)? Kitchens of the Great Midwest: A Novel, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves: A Novel, The Engagements.
  • Current read? American Ghost: A Family's Haunted Past in the Desert Southwest. It's kind of boring so far, so I think I'll not finish it (a very new habit of mine that I love), and move on to The Song of Achilles. 
  • What book or author do you hate? Nicholas Sparks. Ugh. The worst. 
  • What's your guilty pleasure read? YA novels by John Green, and anything by Blake Crouch.
  • Car radio presets? 90.1 CPR/NPR, 97.3 KBCO ("world class rock," same playlist as when I was in college!), 93.3 KTCL (slightly more hip modern rock), 98.5 KYGO (for a country fix). 
  • What was the last concert you went to? Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night sweats. At Red Rocks! I love him so much. So so much.
  • Favorite song ever? Angel From Montgomery. Bonnie Raitt's is the standard, but Delta Spirit just covered it at a concert this summer with Julie Davis from The Wheel and KILLED IT. Amazing. 
  • Favorite song now? Girl Crush. Which I only ever listened to because I saw an article that country radio was boycotting it because they thought it was a devil lesbian song, so of course I checked it out. #dummies
  • Guilty pleasure song? Taylor Swift's "Mean" sung by the cast of Glee. Yep. Shut up. Why you gotta be so mean?
  • What band sums up your youth? Tie between Indigo Girls and Counting Crows.
  • What 5 songs would you put on a mix tape right now? You Should've Seen The Other Guy (Nathaniel Rateliff), American Idiot (Green Day), Hold On (Alabama Shakes), Girl From the North Country (Bob Dylan), Murder in the City (Brandi Carlile). 
  • Who'd you vote for in the last presidential election? Obama!! 
  • What's the most pressing political issue we are facing? Syrian refugees abroad; universal access to basic healthcare and safe, nutritious food at home. 
  • Where do you frequent and/or boycott with your dollars? Boycott Walmart, Chick-fil-A, most all fast food. Frequent local restaurants, Vitamin Cottage, Ela Family Farms Organic CSA...and Amazon, if we're being totally honest. I love me some Amazon Prime. 
  • You have 4 hours alone, what do you do? I'm going to assume that all the animals are cared for, the boys are with Gabe, and the house is clean. The to do list is all checked off. Then I pour a giant glass of wine, grab my Kindle, and lock myself in my room for 4 solid hours and read a book without interruption or falling asleep.
  • What hobby do you wish you'd made time for? Painting. I miss it. But apparently not enough to pick up a brush.
  • Itinerary for your ideal weekend? Saturday I make biscuits and gravy after sleeping in (thanks Gabe!), we do some farm chores with the boys in the day, and let the animals graze while we all play outside. For dinner we make pizza together and then watch a "classic" movie from my youth all piled on the couch under one blanket. On Sunday we can go for a hike, then the boys have dinner with their granny and grandpa while Gabe and I catch a movie and have dinner out. Asleep by 9 pm. Bliss. 
  • What was your latest binge watch? Justified on Amazon Prime. I'm just starting season 5, which I hear is the worst season. 
  • Heels or flats? Flats.
  • Makeup or bare? Bare.
  • Appetizers or dessert? Both. 
  • Skim or whole? Whole. 
  • Was it blue and black, or white and gold? Blue and black.
  • Movie or play? Movie. (I almost lied and said play on my own test.)
  • Go for a run or mix a drink? Drink.
  • Flowers or tomatoes? Tomatoes. 
  • Camping or glamping? Camping. 
  • Dirty or clean? Dirty. 
  • Coffee or tea? Tea. 
  • Large party or small get together? Small get together. 
Done! I showed you mine. Now, I dare you to show me yours. Because come on, no matter how old you get, truth or dare is the foundation of any true friendship.

(Question...Is it going to be weird when I start handing these out at PTO meetings and neighborhood barbecues? Or awesome? Yeah, that's what I thought. Awesome.)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Face of Planned Parenthood

With the unprecedented social media blitz raining down on Planned Parenthood as we enter the latest way-too-long election cycle, I figured it was time to pipe up. It comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me that the hashtag #istandwithplannedparenthood would be one that I support. But for anyone who found their way to this blog via our Pare Down Facebook page, or a recipe on Pinterest, and who now wants nothing to do with Pare Down, I invite you to give this a read.

First, a little about me. I am a mother of two wonderful boys who were planned (kind of, they showed up more on their schedule than mine, but you get the gist) and wanted. My husband and I welcomed them into a home that was well stocked with clothes, diapers, a grip of baby gear, and hugs and kisses to spare. I loved setting up the nursery, and then adapting it to welcome a second son, almost as much as I loved the babies themselves. Almost. But come on, this was cute!

How lucky were we? Our boys were healthy. We had the means to support them. We had the emotional maturity to take care of them (insert booger joke here). I am grateful that I never had to face the choice of what to do in the case of an unwanted or unsafe pregnancy. But if I had, I would again feel grateful to live in a country where this very painful, very personal decision would have been both safe and legal. Because let's be straight on this one topic, when abortions were illegal they still happened. Rich women traveled to obtain them safely, and poor women resorted to more dangerous measures, but abortions were still being performed. There is a great short documentary from 1992 called When Abortion Was Illegal that is currently streaming on YouTube. Let those women tell you themselves how illegal abortion affected their lives, because unlike me they lived through it.

Again, I support safe and legal abortions. You don't have to. I don't have the ability (or desire) to change an anti-abortionist's stance on the issue any more than they could change mine. But that's a moot point, because abortion is legal. Signed, stamped, out-of-the-alleys-since-1973 legal. People can protest all they want, it's their American right, but like it or leave it abortion is here to stay.

What we do stand to lose is universal access to Planned Parenthood, that often vilified baby-hating abortion factory. This is where I take issue.

While I have never had an abortion, I have certainly taken advantage of Planned Parenthood. When you wonder what kind of woman would go there, the answer is me. I used to go there. A lot. For five years, while I was fresh out of college and struggling with an acting career, Planned Parenthood was my main source of health care.

When I lived in Chicago, Planned Parenthood provided yearly pap exams and discounted birth control. (Not that I was having sex. Are you kidding? My parents read this blog.) Even better, when I was living in Los Angeles and among that city's throng of nearly homeless acting hopefuls, my healthcare at Planned Parenthood was free. Yes, you read that correctly. At a time when I couldn't afford a latte, I could still see a doctor for any number of lady problems, and good ol' generic people problems, without having to cough up a dime. Granted I had to get buzzed in through a bullet-proof glass entryway to get there, but once inside it was just your average doctors office with crappy old magazines and daytime TV in the lobby.

It's odd that no one is talking about the other services that Planned Parenthood provides. Sure, a standard pelvic exam won't rile voters the same way that an inflammatory video does, but it's just as big a part of the story. Statistically, it accounts for the majority of the story. My own husband grew up being taught that the only service PP provided was that of abortion. This is untrue. Let it be known: For many of the nation's poor, and for those not-so-poor who may not have great reproductive coverage through their standard insurance, Planned Parenthood is a gateway to receiving quality, affordable healthcare. That's it. By threatening to steal their funding and forcing a number of their doors to close, we are denying many of this nation's men and women their right to receive basic exams, prescriptions, and yearly checkups.

So thank you, Planned Parenthood, for all that you provided me in the years when I would have had to go without ever seeing a doctor. Thank you for enabling me to take control of my body and make well-informed reproductive choices. I am so grateful for the care, and happy to report that my planned journey to parenthood has been a success.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Restaurant Style Tacos

I love a good Taco Tuesday. When Gabe and I lived in Los Angeles we had the best taco joint in our adjoining strip mall, and the Tacos de los Gringos had us pegged. Crunchy shell, perfectly spiced and dripping ground beef, cheddar cheese. Mmmmmm. Honky tacos are heaven.

That being said, homemade tacos, even with my beloved America's Test Kitchen recipe, just didn't cut it. That McCormick-style seasoning mix and some browned ground beef never tasted like the real thing.

Enter Google. Why had I never looked up "Mexican restaurant style taco meat" before?! I tried a few recipes, then did what any self-respecting cook does and morphed them all to make my own.

The results are ridiculous. I no longer have to leave my kitchen for a $2 Taco Night special to get my fix. Add in some homemade refried beans (try these) and easy-as-pie homemade corn tortillas (whoops, not this time), and your tacos will blow your mind. They key is boiling the meat. Sounds a little yuck, but try it once and you'll never go back.

Drink pairing: Gabe will go classic with a Negro Modelo, while I tend to hit up a nice farm Saison. Or a Mike's if I'm feeling down home.

Music pairing: New Jason Isbell, "Something More Than Free." I may be going out on a limb, but I think that kid has talent.

Restaurant-style Ground Beef Tacos

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 90 minutes

2 lbs. organic grass fed and finished hamburger
1 yellow onion, diced 
2 rounded tsp minced garlic
1 TB chile in adobo (puree the whole can and then freeze the rest in 1 TB portions)
1 rounded tsp pepper
1 rounded tsp Mexican Oregano
1 TB salt 
1/2  rounded tsp Cumin
1/2  rounded tsp dried cilantro
4 C water

Place ground beef, onions, and garlic in a large sauce pan or stock pot. Cover with water. Add spices and then mash the mixture with a wooden spoon until the beef is broken up and the spices are mixed in. 

Cover the pan and let mixture boil at a medium heat for 25 minutes. 

Once the beef is cooked through, remove the lid and cook for another hour or so until the liquid has cooked down. Spoon off excess fat. 

Serve. Eat too much. Proceed to eat some more.

Friday, March 20, 2015

10 Reasons Not To Get Chickens

This is not going to be a popular post. I know that. But I'm writing it anyway.

First off, I love my full-grown chickens. They are fun to watch, they give us an ample supply of ridiculously delicious eggs, and their daily banter adds a nice level of legitimacy to what we are trying to do here. And I don't mind cleaning out their coop...that much...but maybe that's because we're coming off of a winter of deep bedding and "cleaning" consists of a quick turn with the rake and a new layer of straw.

But on the whole, chickens are bit gross. They are like small, feathered toddlers with no care for where they poop, or if they eat said poop, or the fact that no matter what someone else has to clean up all of the poop. They don't play nicely and are known to draw blood. Sometimes they yell just for the fun of it. "Egg song" is a euphemism for a sound akin to a goat learning to yodel. And when you have to go somewhere and are running late, one of them is always hiding somewhere on the property refusing to join her sisters in the safety of the fenced run.

Again, I like chickens. I HAVE chickens. We have 12 in the coop and 6 in a brood box in the basement. But for all of the "OMG! Baby chicks in hats!!!" posts on Facebook, and the adorable fluffy butts posing in teacups on my Instagram feed, someone has to tell the whole truth about chickens, and it's not all lavender coop spray and gourmet omelets.

Top 10 Reasons NOT To Get Backyard Chickens

1. Baby chicks are only cute for 3 days. Then they lose their feathers and hit that awkward teenage phase that does not discriminate between species. We call them "punk rock chickens" at this stage, but my mom cut to the chase when she asked when they stop being ugly.

2. It takes between 6 and 12 weeks, on average, for a chicken to fully feather and be able to live in an outdoor coop. Our coop is insulated but not heated, and we got the babies early this year, so we have a minimum of 8 weeks with 6 chicks in the laundry room. Despite daily doses of fresh bedding and a full clean-out every 3 days, our laundry room reeks. Chicken shit smells terrible. I wish this article was scratch-n-sniff. 

3. When raising chicks indoors, prepare for a layer of yellow dust to cover everything in the immediate vicinity. If air can touch it, so too can this nuclear fallout of sawdust and (of course) poop particles. Our laundry room doubles as a storage room, and everything has to be cleaned and disinfected when the girls move out.

4. Baby chicks poop in their food. And their water. And your hand. Food (wasted) and water (now brown sludge) need to be changed multiple times a day. When you see a cute picture of a baby chick on someone's living room floor, or their kitchen table, you need to know that right after the picture was taken there was a person desperately googling "how to get chicken poop stains out of carpet." Dummies. 

5. Chickens aren't really pets. If you name your chickens and turn them into pets, take a few minutes to think about what becomes of them when they stop laying eggs. A chicken typically peaks in egg production at two years and then drops off. Backyard chickens who get a break in the winter (read: no artificial light in the coop to prolong laying) can lay strongly into their 5th year, but can live 8 years. So then what? Will you keep an ever-growing flock of geriatric chickens who don't produce? Will you harvest and eat the chickens? Will you really be able to sit down to the table and serve a bowl of chicken noodle soup starring the meat formerly known as Goldie?

6. Once chickens are outside, you still have to clean up their poop. Chicken poop is "hot" and needs to be aged before you add it to your garden. We built a $6 PALLET COMPOST BIN to house all of our poop and used pine/straw bedding before we mix it into the garden in the spring. Quick note -- the girls love digging through this mess of yuck when they are let out to wander, so the current bin is not even close to being as clean as it was in the "look what we built!" post. Thank goodness we hid this mess in the trees.

7. Chickens can only be left on their own for a few days, and that is if you have adequate, predator-proof space, a coop that doesn't require you to open and close the door, and a way to disperse clean food and water while you're gone. Or neighbors who don't mind helping out in exchange for eggs. It's not a deal-breaker, but it does add another level of planning to the family vacations.

8. Chickens will ruin your yard, if you have one. They will peck the ground bare. We have a 200 square foot run, and the prairie grass was gone, never to return, within a week. The 5-acre property holds up much better to the voracious attacks of a dozen hungry hens, but I will say that they have eaten more than their fair share of decorative plants and flowers and I'm pretty sure they gobbled up $100 in wildflower seed that I scattered in the fall. Bitches. 

9. Some chickens are cleaner layers than others. Again, the multi-colored pictures of glossy eggs that people love to post on social media have been rinsed of mud, straw, small feathers, and our ever-present pal, poop. A chicken only has one exit hole, and sometimes she'll multitask. 

10. If you are able to free-range your chickens, which I fully recommend, you may lose a bird to a hawk, or a loose dog, or a fox. So far we've been lucky and we only let the girls out for a few hours a day when it's full light, but I know it's a risk. Less risky, but more probable, is the appearance of chicken poop, that ever-present through line of raising poultry, all along your driveway, in the yard, and (inevitably) on the bottom of your shoe and tracked throughout your home. Good thing I've already googled how to get chicken poop out of carpet.


Still want chickens? Then congratulations! You made it through the shit list (ha) and are ready for the reality of backyard chickens. If you're now questioning the endeavor and want to go back to a time of ignorance, skip the real baby chicks and bliss out HERE.

Either way, happy chickening. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Our first baby goats

Nothing prepared me for this hobby farm adventure as well as becoming a mother. Long before I was spreading goat poop in my garden, shoveling chicken poop into the compost heap, or tracking the heat cycles of a doe (yeah, dwell on that one for a minute), I was wiping secondary boogers out of my hair, cleaning vomit from my bra, and changing pee sheets in the middle of the night. The days of reading a book in a park and getting my nails done were long gone before I found myself breaking an amniotic sac and freeing a baby goat.

Which I did. 99.9% of the nation was watching the Seahawks lose the Super Bowl and I was given a reprieve by the arrival of the two tiniest, most perfect baby bucklings I've ever seen.

I'm getting ahead of the narrative a bit. Per the previous prep post, Ella was in the garage pen and we were ready. The night before her due date I spent a few dawn hours with her in what I can only equate to the caprine version of Braxton Hicks. Faker. Going into Sunday morning, February 1st, the birthing accoutrement was prepped, I had a nice pile of animal husbandring clothes ready, and we had a set schedule of checking Ella every hour on the hour. And then the stupid game started and family arrived four doors down for the party.

Who can guess where this is going?

1 pm - Ella obviously stretching but not otherwise uncomfortable.
2 pm - Ella still stretching, tail erect, visible tightening but nothing too intense.
3 pm - Checking on my own kids, making sure they are fed and fine, visiting with family and friends; Gabe is on his way home from errands and promises to stop by the house to call in an update.
3:20 pm - A call comes in to my parents' house. My dad answers. All we hear is Gabe yelling "Baby goat! Baby goat!"

I race home and there in the hay is our little Finn, being cleaned up by his mama.

All this prep and I'd missed it! But joy -- another one is headed out! Appropriate clothing be damned, it's me in yoga pants and a sweater, body-deep in bloody hay, breaking open an intact amniotic sac and wiping fluid from our little Archie's nose and mouth before placing him in front of his mama. Ella was a champ, delivering quickly and efficiently on her due date.

Then, it was time to teach them how to nurse. A quick aside for humans and goats -- this is not a process that every animal just naturally knows how to do and takes it up with aplomb on the first try. I may be anthropomorphizing, but Ella's expression was an easily readable "WTF?!" as I made her stand and subject herself to the head-butting and weak attempts at suckling exhibited by her babies. Gotta say, after two rough starts of my own, I was pretty patient during this potentially frustrating process. Babies and new moms are so dumb!

We took some extra time with Finn because he was so much smaller (1 lb, 10.1 oz to Archie's 3 lb, 1.9 oz), but even he eventually made his way from Ella's collar to her udder and got the hang of it.

We finally gave Ella some molasses water and grain, put iodine on the babies' umbilical cords, and then left the new family to get to know each other without the presence of our paparazzi. Superbowl schmuperbowl, it's Pare Down for the win.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Getting ready for the KIDS!

We are in the crazy final days of prep before our first kidding. I haven't been this beside myself since I cranked out my own kids! I've dreamt goat births for the last three nights, with last night being the best - a perfectly beautiful Nubian doe (weird that I am dreaming the wrong breed) stepped out of her mother and into my lap, ready to play. If only.

In an effort to offset my fears, I've decided to do what I do best - rely on my inner nerd and do some research. A lot of reading, and asking questions, and then more reading.

The best resources I've found:
  • My goat breeder and vet. I'm so lucky to have gotten these goats from Lil Bleats, and a breeder who is so willing to share her knowledge. I'm equally lucky that our vet doesn't mind working a goat lesson into every visit. 
  • The Fias Co Farm website. This is the absolute best source of information on the web, and I encourage you to donate to the site if you find it as useful as I have. 
  • Real books. From the store. Books you can read, mark up, and then have on hand during the kidding, even if all you can do is hug them to your chest and feel more capable by way of osmosis. "Raising Goats Naturally" by Deborah Niemann is my favorite text, along with "Storey's Guide to Raising Diary Goats." Brad Kessler's "Goat Song" is a moving memoir about embarking on a life with goats - such beautiful, candid writing; it made me love my own goats even more.
Speaking of my own goats, let's get to the nitty gritty here at Pare Down.

This is our pretty Ella before she lost that girlish figure. She's still a little wild, but has reached the point of tolerating us and will love us soon enough. She was bred on 9/2 and 9/9, so with a standard 145-day gestation for miniature goats, she is due 1/25 or 2/1. I'm pretty sure that this will be our first and last winter kidding - everything is harder in the snow.

(Side note: After sliding around our icy, hilly property for a few weeks I just discovered YakTrax for my muck boots. How did I not know about these? Google them if you don't already own a pair!)

Next, I needed to assemble my own Goat Kidding Kit for the big day.

We have the following on hand:
  • Surgical soap wash for hands and instruments, if needed
  • Iodine replacement spray for sterilizing (haven't decided yet if we are dipping the navels)
  • Old bulb syringe from my babies, in case we need to clear noses of birth gunk (it's a technical term)
  • Surgical scissors (please, dear sweet baby universe, don't make me have to use these for anything)
  • Emergency tubing and colostrum replacer (ibid)
  • Old feed bags and pee pads to catch the goo (things are getting real now!)
  • Clean towels, paper towels and tiny hairdryer (to help mama clean and dry these babies in the bitter cold) 
  • Kid coats made of second-hand sweatshirt sleeves
I'll have warm water with molasses and grain on hand for the Ella when she's done, and a shot of something stronger for Gabe and myself.

Now, where to kid? 

Our goat shed is small, with most of the space being taken up by hay bales for winter insulation, so Ella will be kidding in the milking barn (formerly known as "the garage"). We've set up a pen using a dog exercise kennel and fresh hay. 

This is the cleanest it will ever look. We've also tricked it out with a small space heater for super cold nights. No need for a baby monitor - we'll be able to hear Ella AOK, as our bed is directly above the garage...which is equipped with excellent acoustics.

Scout and Rascal are looking forward to having a visitor to keep them company at night - Ella is their favorite goat since she's the least likely to head butt them when they want to hang out.
So...Ella will start sleeping here this weekend to make sure that she's used to it. It's tricky, having 3 goats. If she can't stand being by herself, we may bring little Tess up as a sleeping companion and leave Lucy alone in the shed.

Nothing to do now but wait. This will get easier each time. Um, right?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Internet, aka That Great Tamer of Expectation

Every once in a while I am thunderstruck -- gobsmacked if you will -- by the overall change that the internet has wrought on our lives. It affects us on a grand scale of course, with real time world events, online banking, and a constant stream of ADHD via Twitter et al. But sometimes I am still awed by the effect it has on the little things, such as the unchecked arc of expectation that used to make up our daily lives.

Take, for instance, this story from my youth. It came up last night and I was hit with the realization that it never would have happened today.

Our story takes place in 1983. I am six. My family of five is embarking on a 2-day, 18-hour car trip starting in the fire ant infested bowels of Dallas, TX and ending with Jello Pudding Pops at our grandparents' house in Salt Lake City, UT. I am sure our car sucked, as these were the lean years. Personal Blu-Ray players hadn't been invented even if we could afford them. There was no infinite distraction of Game Boys or YouTube or streaming Netflix. All I could count on were 2 annoying little brothers guaranteed to make anyone crazy, and a motion-induced puke about three hours in. Awesome.

But wonder of wonders -- this trip had a new adventure built in! If we were good, and promised not to fight or breathe or ask to go to the bathroom for the whole trip, then we would make a detour at...Four Corners National Monument! (Quick aside: Maybe my poor parents didn't realize how crappy this stop would actually be. They grew up in a time that charts even lower on the thrill scale than my own childhood. My mom saw The Wizard of Oz for the first time on something like a 12-inch black and white TV. It's all about context.)

Cue my wild expectations. With no concept of Four Corners other than the unfathomable idea of being in four states at one time (just imagine!), I transformed this sad roadside attraction into a live-action version of the "It's a Small World" ride. I would tap this stop for all it was worth; wandering from state to state, eating a giant caramel apple, chatting with the abundant local children of one state before I moved on to make new friends in another. And I was fairly sure these kids would ply me with gifts indicative of their local culture. I held my breath, and my urine, and aimed my hopes at unattainable heights.

So we loaded into the car. And we drove. And...finally...we arrived!

Imagine my enchantment.

"FourcornersMonument". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -
I know, right? Even the picture radiates heat, boredom, and the deafening silence of wind. And this picture was taken post-1992 renovation, so it was even more rundown when I was there.

My sad six-year-old self took one look at what Four Corners actually entailed, burst into tears, and refused to get out of the car. The rest is family history.

I will say, with absolute certainty, that this never would have happened to my kids. Not that I am a better parent - I'd probably use the same "attraction" on said drive if for no other reason than to extract myself from the car, escape the constant chatter of two competing video players, and snap an appropriately ironic picture for Facebook. No, this wouldn't happen now because my 5-year-old would be able to see Four Corners via a simple Google Image search (like the one I did to find the picture above), realize how bogus the stop would be, and choose to focus on his Transformers instead. Tears averted.

But my story isn't unique. I'm not the only one who suffered from ideas born in a time when ignorance fueled imagination. Take this tale from 1996. I'm 18 years old, the world is still a few years shy of widespread internet use, and my family takes their first real vacation to the Bahamas. (Which beats the pants off of Four Corners, by the way, and was unlike anywhere I'd ever seen.)

While on said vacation, my mom and I met a local woman who was enchanted to learn that we were from Denver. (Who wouldn't be, right?) It turned out that her church group would be traveling on a ministry trip to Denver at the end of that year. "The Mile High City!" she marveled, "Aren't you ever scared that you're going to fall off?"

Wait. What?

Living at sea level, on a flat little island in the ocean, the poor woman had absolutely no concept of elevation. We tried to explain, but words don't do justice when what you picture in your head probably looks a little like this:

and reality looks a lot more like this:

Cue the crushing disappointment.

I don't have any big wrap up here, just a weird nostalgia for ignorance that might have been. And also this warning: If you visit Denver any time soon and happen to lose your footing, try to fall wheat-side.