Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Moment of Zen

Let me tell you about the good things happening right now.

Like this daffodil:

I love this daffodil. This was one of the first ones out of the ground at my house. I planted it two falls ago on the side of our garage.

Or this one:

Three falls ago. This is on our front walk up to our house.

Or these buds:

They'll start to open before the end of the day. I planted these last fall. My kid helped - as much as a three year old can help. But he tried to dig the holes and handed me the bulbs and was Chief Dirt Stomper once everything was in the ground.

Or this magnolia tree:

This is the view out of my office window. I get to sit here today and watch the tree explode into fireworks of white and pink and loveliness. Spring is here, and it's good to be alive to see it all.

Other things that are going well: My kid decided to clean up his act and we bought him a bike on Saturday. He and I spend afternoons riding up and down the sidewalks, braking at alleys so he can ring his bell (yes, we got him a bell), and looking both ways before we cross. It's not so easy to ride slow enough to keep up with an almost four year old, but it's just about sheer joy to ride with him - at least until he wipes out. Then, not so much.

There is probably nothing wrong with my heart. After some sort of undiagnosed cardiac event Friday morning, and 5 hours in the ER, having everyone and their dog stick electrodes all over my bare chest while I missed my chance to go pester cowboys, the myriad of tests they ran said nothing was wrong. That's a good thing. No matter how much my week sucked, it still beat the hell out of open-heart surgery.

And I have totally awesome family and friends. My mom made it to the ER in 20 minutes, and the Lovely Zen-Master Becca was halfway out to her car in Chicago - keys in hand, no doubt - ready to come down and Zen me out in person. The Lovely Mary, Grammar Goddess, took time from work to drive me to the doctor's office and the ER. I was not alone.

And even though I didn't get to talk to any bull riders, I did get out of the hospital in time to make it to the bull riding, and I did make the acquaintance of the wife of a stock contractor (or bull owner, for those not in the know) who used to ride bulls. Terry was not only friendly, not only a font of useful information, but she got her husband to talk to me too, much more than he might have if I'd been on my own, especially since I had a heart monitor on that made me look like I'd joined the Borg or something.

And it's okay that Gram really didn't enjoy her nice 94th birthday meal because it was too expensive and the portions were too big. What's important is that we got a guided tour of the Historic Garth Woodside Mansion (ranked fourth Bed and Breakfast in the nation) and she's been bragging to all her friends about how thoughtful we were, even though all we heard about was how KFC has this mashed potato bowl for only $2.99 - and that includes a drink! She gets to look important to her friends - that was our birthday present to her. I'm glad she's enjoying it.

And it's okay that I didn't final in the big national contest, because finaling is no guarantee of publication, and lots and lots of people get published without ever cracking the finals ceiling. No big deal.

And that leak in the basement? The one shooting water in at a rate of about a gallon every four minutes? Easily fixed by rerouting a downspout. Didn't cost anything but the hour I spent scrambling to dry out the basement in the middle of a violent thunderstorm. Cheap!

My new glasses are cool. Trendy, but without being obnoxious. Creative without being weird. They look so natural on me that no one even noticed I was wearing them. And I'm confident that on the next attempt, the eyeglass ladies will get them adjusted so that they aren't squeezing my head like a grape. Third time's the charm!

And I'm still gainfully employed, even after a string of bad days and long nights lead me to shoot my mouth off to my boss yesterday and he way, way overreacted. He didn't fire me for insubordination - in fact, he gave me a big new project to do. So that's a good thing. He let me sweat about it for about six hours, but I still have a job. WOOO!

Yes, as you can see, things are on the up and up around here.

This has been my moment of Zen.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ridin' Bulls

What does it take to ride a bull?

First, you need a bull. A big, agile, easily irritated bull. The meaner, the better. Bulls are fast approaching the level of race horses in terms of team ownership, breeding rights, and - this is the important part - selling price. Chicken on a Chain is one of the best around - and Larry the Cable Guy owns part of him! (And yes, the bull has his own MySpace page. I'm being out-marketed by a bovine!) If you don't have a real, live, snot-blowing bull, make or rent your own. Worked for John Travolta!

You need supplies. Chaps aren't required, but have you ever seen a bull rider without the cowboy badge of honor? You need a bull rope, which, as far as I can tell, does come with a built-in handle, and some rosin to go with it. You need a bell (or two) to give weight to the rope, so that it falls off when you do. You need a protective vest. Just about everyone wears one today. A helmet never hurts - unless your pride is extra sensitive and your head is not. In which case, just go with a cowboy hat. They work better for throwing after a ride, anyway.

You need a high pain tolerance, a higher adrenaline tolerance, and an insanely high risk tolerance, because you will - repeat, WILL - get hurt. There's a reason Willy Nelson sings about "Mommas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys," because no Momma wants to see her son get turned into beef burger in the ring.

That's right. I said son. In fact, those who ride bulls fit into a surprisingly narrow range of the population. I'd guess that over 80% of bull riders are white males between the ages of 16 and 35. A marketer's dream come true! Most of the rest of that group is made up of Brazilians. Those dudes are just as insane as we are, and they had to cross the equator to prove it. There are (and always have been, frankly) black cowboys, currently the most notable being Mike Moore (representing the home state of Illinois with pride!). And, believe it or not, there are gay bull riders. In fact, there are so many, they have their own rodeo circuit - the International Gay Rodeo Association (which predates Brokeback Mountain by about thirty years). But when most people think bull riders, they think of red-blooded American white guys.

These aren't the only people who ride bulls. Did you know that women ride bulls? It's true! Turns out that this insanity is not just limited to the male sex!

Frankly, the more I learn about people, the more I realize that there are only two things that separate what men and women can do. 1. Men can, in general, fart on command. It's not that women don't fart (Please!), but to do it on command really does seem to be a guy thing. And 2. (and this is the big one) Women give birth to babies (Arnold Schwarzenegger is the notable exception). It was once thought that women also were the only ones who could raise babies, but if you hung out with my husband and kid for very long, you'd know firsthand this just isn't true.

The rest? All just gender distinctions. Just as many women can lead nations or commit violent crimes as men can enjoy a really good Julia Roberts movie or chocolate (in any form).

Except in bull riding. Maybe it's that whole 'women and children' first mentality - the women must be saved! To hell with the men!

But there are women who do this. And there are enough women that they actually have factions based on philosophical differences. Should women get to use both hands, or just one, like the men do? (If a man's free hand touches either the bull or himself, he is disqualified.) Should women have to hit six seconds, or eight, like the men do? Should women get paid a few hundred bucks if they win, or should they get a few thousand, like the men do? Should they have their own separate competitions (which often take on a sideshow quality), or should they compete with the men? (I'll give them this - I haven't seen a picture of a woman riding yet where she wasn't wearing a helmet.)

Two and a half weeks ago, I didn't know any of this. None. I think I knew about the Gay Rodeo part, but that was from watching a King of the Hill episode.

Two and a half weeks ago, I didn't have 'the next book' to write. I was finishing up the Warrior (comma) Lawyer book and farming it out to readers with no idea what was coming up next. I'm enjoying writing about the Lakota tribe of South Dakota, and thought I should keep doing that, but I didn't have a story. So I told this to my lovely co-worker Mary, aka the Grammar Goddess who's suffered through - er, I mean read - everything I've written.

And about five minutes later, she says, "You know, I'd kind of like to know what happens to June."

June. A minor - and I mean MINOR - character who appeared in both the previous Lakota books as a young girl. We only ever see her around horses and cowboys.

So, what would June, a young Lakota Indian woman who spent all her free time (that we saw) with cows, cowboys, and horses be like when she grew up?

In less than ten minutes, I knew. June would ride bulls. And she would do it well.

The problem was, I know next to nothing about riding bulls. I've only been to one rodeo, about 10 years ago in Cody, Wyoming, memorable for my sister Leah making a suggestive comment that nearly incited a riot in the Mennonite women sitting in front of us and my mother (God love her) noticing that some cowboys were changing in broad daylight right next to the stand - and then video taping it for us.

So I've undertaken a study of bull riding, and women bull riders. The PCB circuit is actually coming to town today, so I'm going to spend my afternoon trying to crash the set up and glean as much as I can from real, live cowboys (I do love YouTube, but you can only get so much from 3 minutes of grainy footage with heavy metal blaring in the background!) I have also found some enthusiastic young women (I get to say that because I'm going to be 33 in 2 months, and most of these women aren't of legal drinking age yet) who are all about riding bulls - professionally. The Women's Roughstock Foundation is out there, lives on the line, to do something I wouldn't do in a million, billion years.

And you know what? More power to them. I hope June and I can do them proud. Because, frankly, I don't think I want to piss these women off. I'm pretty sure they can beat me up!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Legally Blind

Next week, I'm going to get into bull-riding, I promise. But I need to get a little more figured out before then, so this week, we're going to revisit the Land of the Legally Blind.

You know. The land I live in with my hubby.

As you may recall from this blog, my husband is legally blind.

I really don't mind living in the Land of the Legally Blind. I happen to love the guy unconditionally, so it matters not to me that he's not quite normal. (After all, I'm so far from normal . . .)

In the beginning, I did wonder. He could read (even Japanese!) he could watch movies, he could look at me. His eyes moved weird, a jerky side-to-side movement, but the only other sign was that he didn't drive. That was it.

Everyone wanted to know how blind he was, but seriously, it only took a few dates for me to stop caring. That's right. I didn't care.

But I was the only person. Even after several months of dating, I was still getting The Questions: How blind is he? What's wrong with him?

So I finally broke down and asked him one day. "I don't care, but everyone wants to know how blind you are."

He laughed at me and explained that his eyes are fine, but the muscles that are supposed to hold the eyeballs still don't work. He can't focus on things. That's it. He was born that way, and that's all he's ever known. It's got a fancy name I can't pronounce. Nystagmus.

"Okay," I said. I think I smooched him after that.

Well, this ended the conversation for most people. I was happy; and if I was happy with a kind of blind guy, then that was good enough for just about everyone.

Everyone but my Gram. God love the woman, she decided she did not like him because of the chances that our children would be genetically defective were so much higher. It was funny, in that irritating as all get out kind of way. So he made sure to send her a lovely Christmas card, a Valentine's card, and I think even wrote her another letter, trying to make nice.

Can you see why I married him?

It did work. By the time they finally met after five months of dating, he'd won her over. She's one of his biggest fans these days.

So this blindness has impacted our lives in a variety of ways, some of them quite good, some of them less so. There are some major areas where being married to the blind impacts my daily life.

We have one car. One driver on the insurance. One tank to fill with gas. No doubt this will change in about 13 years when the kid hits 16, but right now, we save a ton of money on automobiles. This does occasionally provide moments of frustrating humor, like when we went to buy our Prius two years ago. My hubby used to sell appliances at Sears for a time, and he loves a good battle, er - I mean, negotiation. He knows all the tricks, all the mind games, and really enjoys beating salespeople at their own game. We are a good team in this respect, because he plays all sympathetic to the sales people's plights of managerial woe or whatever, and I make an excellent bad cop. The salespeople usually ignore me because I'm a woman, brushing off the statements of fact Jason makes, such as, "This is her car," until we get all vicious on them. I mean, we bought a Prius with gas at $2.97 - we weren't in the best negotiating position to begin with, and we still got a ton of free accessories (valued at about $500, actual production price, $45.97) and some free oil changes. We made the finance guy so mad he actually slammed the door as he stomped out of the room. We giggled and got our rate anyway. And no matter how many times he says, "It's her car," they still get all confused when he WON'T take it for a test drive, and even more confused when he WON'T list himself as a driver. It's fun!

So it's cheaper to be married to a blind guy. But the downside is, it's my car. And I am always the driver. I am solely responsible for getting our kid to and from daycare, and about 93% of the time getting Jason to and from work. Now, I do not mind this most of the time. We live in a small enough town that I never spend more than about 45 minutes total in the car, even though daycare and his work are on complete opposite parts of town. The commute is gentle and easy. Minimal horn honking, almost non-existent road rage. Nice.

But there are a few situations where I really, really wish I wasn't the responsible driver.

A nice dinner out with my hubby. I would love to be able to have a glass of wine with a good meal and not have to worry about driving drunk. But I can't. One glass makes me plenty tipsy, so I drink water with my steak.

Road trips. After about an hour and a half, I get bored driving. Sometimes this is good, because I think up novels. But sometimes, my butt falls asleep and I'm tired and I just want to take a nap, like the guy snoring in the seat next to me. Not going to happen.

When I get sick. Lawsy, it sucks enough to have a violent flu, but to have a violent flu and STILL have to go get the kid from daycare sucks more than you might think. Luckily, Jason gets along with his coworkers enough that he has been able to get rides home, but still. Getting to daycare has nearly killed me on more than one occasion.

And finally, job interviews. I have interviewed for jobs where the office stays open until six. Daycare closes at 5:30. I have had to pass on well-paying jobs that I might have liked because I am the driver. I am always the driver.

This spills over into other parts. People who don't know us well are always a little suspicious of why I HAVE to go pick him up. After we got the Prius, we had one guy we talk to maybe once a year say, "Well, what's he gonna drive? He won't like being behind the wheel of a car like that. How about a Mustang? Now THAT'S a manly car!"

So we have to suffer the fools a little more than others might.

When I was pregnant, the medical establishment did worry about our baby being genetically defective. We got specialized test and expensive ultrasounds. My baby had more flashlights shined into his eyes than I could count in my sleep-deprived state. We kept a close eye (HAR!) on him as he grew. He's had his eyes checked more than most three year olds. And you know what? He's fine.

When it comes to entertainment, let me tell you, if you are married to a legally blind guy, you will never get to pick where you sit in the movie theater. You will almost always be eight rows off the front, right in the center. I've gotten stiff necks that way, but it's okay. He rubs them for me.

He also uses this blind thing as a justification for purchasing Large Electronics. As in, Big-Ass TVs. And our living room is organized around making sure he has the best view, about five feet from the screen. So I sit off to the side, watching at a kind of sharp angle. That's okay, though. I'm usually writing or playing Freecell anyway.

But that's about it. He wears glasses because he's nearsighted, just like I am. I can't remember the last time I noticed his eyes moving funny. It's a non-event to me.

I'm actually glad he's blind. Before we met, he hadn't exactly been successful in the dating department, and I'm sure that his eyes put off a lot of women, just like they did my Gram. By all rights, a guy as handsome, nice, funny, and successful as he is should have been snapped up before he hit 24, but because of the blind thing, all the other women he ever knew passed.

Their loss.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Busy Time

Ah, March.

It's only the fifth, but it's full-on spring around here. Sure, it helps that it's already 54 degrees at 9:20 in the morning. But to me, spring is more than just temperature.

It's suddenly not needing to turn on lights to leave the house at seven or come home later than 4:30.

It's sunlight streaking into my office again, glistening off the magnolia branches that are hoping it's okay to bud out right now.

It's the hundreds of bulbs just beginning to push their way up through the layers of still frozen and squishy mud and muck.

It's the all-of-a-sudden jam-packed schedule of going places and seeing people after a long two months of hermitage. For example, last weekend, the kid and I packed our butts onto the train for a whirlwind trip to Chicago. We crashed at the Lovely Zen-master Becca's house and spent all day Saturday at the Chicago Children's Museum before we took the train home early Sunday. Lawsy, it's going to be hard to top that much fun, but we are going to try.

This weekend, we are headed down to my folks' house. My sister's spring play is going on, and frankly, it's never too early to expose a young boy to musical theater. Balances out the Batman/Spiderman/Superman wars in this house. We don't brave the fall play, because the fall play has no singing and no dancing. My sister is super de duper excited that my kid will sit for singing and dancing. Plus, it will be a zoo. My mom's cats, my sister's cat and dog, my other sister's two dogs, and of course Jake the Three Legged Wonder Wiener. This is the sort of insanity that the kid thrives on. And he's hoping to practice casting a fishing line with his Pawpaw in preparation for a summer spent on a lake.

After that, well, another weird-but-fun weekend. Bull riding is coming to town, and the next night, my Gram will turn 94. My sisters and I are taking her out for a fancy-pants formal dinner.

That's right. Museums, musical theater, bull riding, and formal dining. Maybe my kid will grow up to be the world's first championship bull rider/Broadway star/chef. (I'd put my money on chef at the moment, frankly.) Keeping our options open, that's us.

Throw in some swimming lessons, our first organized child activity, and suddenly, winter is gone. I know it's going to get cold again - it always does - but on a day like today, I can almost pretend that winter is over.

Which means it's time to write another novel. Bull riding, anyone?