Sunday, February 23, 2014

Curling Class

“I love watching the Winter Olympics,” I said sitting on the sofa sipping a blueberry smoothie.
“Is that guy a referee?” Mr. Wonderful said indicating a man on TV wearing crazy-patterned pants. 
“He’s an athlete.”
“For what sport?”
“That’s not a sport.”

The Winter Olympics is an exciting time: there are tense hockey games, intense figure skating competitions and countless relaxed discussions over beer of how curling is not a sport. The dissenters’ proof: the pants. They contend that no sport on earth condones wearing such colorful pants. But come now: if the Olympic Committee decided that sliding a 42-pound granite rock across ice is a sport, then it’s a sport… Kind of.

As far as curling goes, I was one of the supporters of the sport and Mr. Wonderful, well, he was one of the dissenters. To settle our “is it a sport or isn’t it” discussion I signed us up for a curling how-to class. Mr. Wonderful was nonplussed.

“Why?” he said 
“Because it will be fun.”
Whose idea of fun?”

We brought a friend to be an impartial third party representative and off we went to the ice. I live in Southern California and last year we had 736 days of sun; in short, this area of the world hasn’t seen ice since the Pleistocene Epoch. Unless of course you count my smoothie, homemade lemonade or gin and tonic on the rocks. Nevertheless this great City of the Angels has pebble ice, a rink and several curling leagues.

Our curling instructor greeted us—and for the record she was not wearing a pair of crazy-patterned pants—instead she wore a crazy-patterned skirt. After lots of talk about what constitutes a team (four people); what to call the team captain ("The Skip"); and how to push a broom (it’s called “sweeping”), we were allowed to get into position and push the curling stone around on the ice. FYI: 42 pounds of granite slides pretty well on ice. But the trick is not to slide the stone in a straight line from A to B but to make it curl around and around and around and still go in a straight line so that it lands in a bullseye circle at the other end of the rink.

Let me tell you, it’s harder than it looks.

Another thing about curling, the curler slides over the ice and the force of the human body in motion propels the curling stone forward. But you can’t just slide with two legs over the ice. Oh, no! you have to crouch into a starting block, push off with your foot and slide across the ice with one knee bent and the other leg dragging on the ice in a scene reminiscent of Bambi swirling out of control on the frozen lake.

So, curling’s harder than it looks.

Finally once you have the curling and the slide down, you have to carry a broom that you will never use. Yes, as you’re sliding across the ice dragging half your body behind you and pushing a rock 1/3 your body weight, you have to hold a broom in your other hand like a drum majorette in the college marching band during the halftime show at the Rose Bowl. Can you say multitasking?

This sport is way harder than it looks!

Our friend threw a curling stone and Mr. Wonderful and I swept a warm, flat path for the stone to make it to the circle area to score a point. Then while Mr. Wonderful and our friend swept, I threw a stone. The curling coach raved about my form, how I slid across the ice dragging a leg and balancing a broom with the greatest of ease. People stopped, stared and applauded the beauty of my form. Already I loved this sport! 

There was just one little, itty-bitty problem: my stone didn’t make it to the bullseye to score a point. In fact it didn’t even make it to the general vicinity of scoring a point. Actually when I threw my stone, it flew backwards and out the rink’s front door. Which meant that after I threw the stone it was farther way from the scoring target than before I’d touched it. What idiot said this was a sport?! 

Then it was Mr. Wonderful’s turn. He folded himself awkwardly into the minuscule starting block, he pushed off with a wobble looking like he would topple over any moment like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and his face was marked with a grimace that revealed how much pain his knees were in. I could hear him now berating the sport of curli—

Then something incredible happened: he let go of his curling stone and it slid forward toward the scoring target all the while it was curling around and around and around. He was doing it! His stone approached the wide scoring circle then slowed to a stop right in the middle of the bullseye! He scored! I leaped up and gave him high five. He nodded, a slight lift affecting his lips not a full fledged smile, mind you, but a tiny, partial one. 

Then our threesome played the other team and—incredibly!—Mr. Wonderful did the same thing all over! He scored. Again and again! I also threw some more stones and did the same thing of exhibiting beautiful form and making lousy—okay, zero!—scored points. Through it all we laughed and marveled at Mr. Wonderful’s ungraceful way of getting the stone from his grip to the target’s bullseye. In the end he scored all of our team’s points and single handedly crushed the competition. In short, he was wonderful! After the game we caught our breath on the ice.

“You were right,” Mr. Wonderful said. “This is athletic and challenging—curling is a sport.” Our friend nodded in agreement. 
“Thank you,” I said smiling at them having finally seen things my way.
“You know, I really liked this,” Mr Wonderful said jutting his chin toward the ice and the curling stones.
“We won thanks to you,” I said giving him a fist bump.
“I mean, let’s do this again tomorrow,” Mr. Wonderful said grinning.
“Why?” I said 
“Because it was so fun.”
“Uh, whose idea of fun?”

In sports, like life, it's not what you look like, it's who scores the most points. Clearly scoring and winning had made a curling fan of Mr. Wonderful. Now he liked it because he excelled at it. Hmmm… Maybe I should lobby the Olympic Committee for the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro to make Pétanque an Olympic sport…! 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

New Olympic Sports

Ted Ligety’s gold medal in alpine skiing.
Dave Wise’s gold medal in freestyle skiing.
Jamie Anderson’s gold medal in slopestyle. 

What’s slopestyle?! All I know is it’s a new event in this year’s Winter Olympics! And since Jamie Anderson won the women’s event and Sage Kotsenburg won the gold in the men’s slopetyle it’s something worth cheering about. U-S-A! Hooray!

While millions of couch potatoes watch the world’s finest athletes perform incredible feats in Sochi, my neighbors have proven that they too have been bitten by Sochi’s Olympic bug. Here are the sports my suburban California neighbors have been performing—and excelling at:

Every day of these Olympics Harold has been raising the US flag on his flagpole in less than 10 seconds. His personal best is 8.0 seconds flat.
In the past 10 days Norma has cooked on the grill 14 different cuts of beef—burgers, steaks and ribs—and all of them smelled delicious.
Gary has sprayed his 101 roses, hitting every single bush right on target. His aim is outstanding.
After getting home from work, Charles has chatted to everyone on the block in less than two hours.
Stephen has pruned their citrus trees into Dr. Seus-like specimens. That citrus triathlon event is tricky because trimming a lemon tree is uniquely different from trimming an orange tree or a grapefruit. Grapefruits are notoriously challenging!  
Mr. Wonderful has spent 47 hours trolling the home improvement store for supplies for his next DIY project.
Jackson the cat has slept for 1,096 hours straight. In fact he fell asleep during the opening ceremonies and hasn’t awakened since. Every day I lean down and check his heartbeat. Ladies and Gentlemen, Jackson is going for the gold!

And me? Well I’ve been perfecting two events: 1) Trimming the front and back gardens and 2) Watching—like a couch potato—all the events of the Olympics and my neighbors. And I’ve made a decision: for the next Winter Games in South Korea, perhaps the Olympic Committee will consider adding my neighbors’ events.  

Imagine: Harold winning the gold for raising the flag! Hey, I’d watch that! U-S-A! Hooray!

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Love Day

She was sad she was single today.
She was blue she didn't have plans this evening.
She was depressed she was not getting lucky tonight.
Why? Because it's Valentine's Day!

Valentine's Day: the day rational people put totally irrational pressure on themselves to have the perfect love, lover and lovely dinner with flour-less chocolate cake and French vanilla ice cream with zero calories. My normally rational friend was having a serious melt-down about being single and very free on Valentine's night. For some reason she thought that I, a married woman, was going to have the most romantic day--and night!--ever because my husband was going to give me a bouquet of roses, a box of chocolates and six heart-shaped balloons that said "U R gr8t 4 me".

Beth got some things right: I am married, I am a woman and I have a husband. She also had several things wrong, namely if my spouse wanted to tell me how he feels, he should use big person words--not emoticons and text talk.

"I told my husband I didn't want a bouquet, chocolates or balloons," I said pumping my arms on a pre-breakfast walk around Lake Hollywood.
"You're crazy!" she said panting beside me. "Are you giving him anything?"
"I making him strawberries and cream for breakfast."
"That's so romantic!" 
"And instead of cut flowers we're going to buy some plants for the garden." 
"That's so lovely! You're making Valentine's Day about spending time together not about the stuff." I nodded.
"You can do the same thing, " I said.
"No one wants to be with me today. No one loves me." I stopped walking while the bluebirds kept swooping past us along the path, the azure water kept rippling from the soft breeze, which whispered through the pines under the warm rays of the sun.
"Am I no one?"
"What?" Beth said a wrinkle stamping her forehead.
"I'm here with you. I'm walking with you. I love you."
"I--," she laughed. "I mean, no guy loves me, no guy's going to give me roses or chocolates or balloon--"
"Valentine's Day isn't about the stuff," I said. "It's about spending time with someone you love." 

Beth's eyes grew large with realization as if she finally grasped what I was saying and what we were doing together here at Lake Hollywod at the crack of dawn.
"I love you, friend," she said flinging her arms around my neck.

Valentine's Day: the day rational people learn it's a day about celebrating love in all its guises: love for friends, family, dates, spouses and oneself. 

Here's wishing you a Happy Valentine's Day with all the people you love in your life!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Why Here?

"I'm finished," I said pushing dead branches into the green bin.
"It looks great," Mr. Wonderful said nodding his approval.
"Everything is trimmed, pruned and blooming."
"Very nice."
"Now when we look out the front door all we'll see are our beautiful plants--" 
Just then a stranger parked his car in front of our house.

It's not a crime. There's no way to control it but I'm putting out an APB: Hey Parkers, I didn't spend months killing my grass to replant it with native plants and succulents so random strangers could park their car--for days!--in from of my house thereby obstructing my gorgeous front garden view with your cars.

It was official. It had happened. I had become a grump... about cars. 

Don't get me wrong. I loved cars and living in Southern California where our roads are free of snow, ice, and salt & pepper the cars you can see are gorgeous specimens of the automobile species. Some are 25, 30, even 60 years old and outright classics.

There are Camaros in tip-top condition that make your head spin, pico bello Thunderbirds that make your heart soar and Mercedes SL 500s that make you weep with joy, appreciation and a pinch of envy. I love these cars and their thoughtful owners because they take care of their vehicles and everything around them.

But these are not the cars that park in front of my house. Oh, no! Instead I get a lot of modern BMWs whose owners smoke a pack of cigarettes and dump their butts on the street. I get Honda Accords operated by people who shouldn't operate a steering wheel because they're parked crooked and on my property. And I get the beaten up Toyotas with peeling paint and hanging mufflers that are parked in front of The House for days and days and daaaaays. 

I was a real grump... about cars.

Being passable at math I tallied the numbers and calculated that if every person in my neighborhood had one car they could park it in their driveways not the street. But oh no! This is America! Every person needs two or three cars. That's a 1:3 ratio! No wonder there were so many cars parked in front of my house!

I was a total grump... about cars!

After careful study worthy of a bi-partisan government commission's report, I noticed that the parking situation was especially bad on the weekends. Clearly the people in my neighborhood must go out an get lucky--a lot--because early on Saturday and Sundays mornings, the cars have multiplied and they are parked bumper to bumper in front of The House!

I was an absolute grump about cars!

"I don't see what the big deal is," my 86 year old neighbor said squinting in the sunshine. 
"Because Harold, I want to look at my garden, not their cars," I said brushing the windswept hair away from my face.
"I'd like people to park in front of my house but they rarely do."
"Because they're all parked in front my house!"
"You're lucky."

Lucky?! That isn't the word I'd use. But after reflection I guessed Harold wouldn't mind an extra car or two parked in front of his house because it would give him something to look at and contemplate in his retirement. After all, he was a member of the Neighborhood Watch, which meant he needed something in the neighborhood to watch. With nothing in front of his house, he was forced to watch the cars parked in front of The House that Mr. Wonderful and I shared. 

"Maybe Harold's right," Mr Wonderful said. "Maybe we should take it as a compliment that people want to park in front of our house."

Just then another stranger parked a car in front of our house. I rolled my eyes. 
"Here's we go again," I said. 

The woman locked her car, checked her parking job then turned to look at Harold, Mr. Wonderful and me in our driveway.
"What a pretty garden you have. I love it," she said smiling. "You don't mind if I park here?"
"Go ahead," I smiled back.

I was a total softie... about my garden.  

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Sochi 2014!

I live in sunny California.
We've been experiencing a winter drought.

But I love curling!

I also love downhill skiing, cross country skiing and ice skiing. Nevertheless I won't be in Sochi this month to watch the 2014 Winter Olympics. In fact the closest I'll get to Russia in the present, near future or distant past is through the Russian readers of my blog. After the U.S.A, the country with the most numerous readers of my New House Girl blog is Russia. Who knew?

So I'd like to say привет (privet/"hello") and спасибо (spasibo/ "thank you")! Also, I send you kudos for a beautiful Sochi Opening Ceremony last night! I look forward to learning about your country in the coming weeks.  

Let the Games begin! Happy curling! Vodka!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Winter Garden: BEFORE and AFTER

Planting a summer garden is an exercise in patience. You plunk the little guys in the ground in the spring when all other plants dwarf the new vegetable plants. Then you have to wait until the Fourth of July or the fourth of August for one little tomato. 

However, planting a winter garden is a pleasant surprise because you put the itty bitty broccoli and rinky dinky kale in the ground in November when everything else is dormant, dead or a cactus. 


Then POOFF! One day in January you notice how the broccoli plants are huge and are topped with gorgeous broccoli florets worthy of a dish made by locavore Alice Waters! Vegetables grown in my own backyard? "Eating local" doesn't get any more local that that!


I just wonder if I can wait a few more days to harvest the broccoli for a special heart-healthy dinner for Valentine's Day...

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Slippery Slope

"Look at that tree," I said as our car drove along California Route 46.
"Nice," Mr. Wonderful said at the steering wheel.
"Its foliage is beautiful."
"Wouldn't it look good in our garden?"

One of the best things about traveling is souvenirs and how they give you new ideas for your own life. Sometimes what you see sparks an idea for: 1) A gift for friend; 2) A gift for yourself; or 3) A regift for your boss who made you work overtime without overtime pay.

While vacationing in the California Sierras, Mr. Wonderful was hesitant about my affinity for the tree because: 1) It was large; 2) It had a mass of leaves; and 3) It dropped every last one of them on the ground in the seven seconds that we were looking at it. If my spouse had to choose between raking leaves and going to the home improvement store 106 times in one day, he would take the latter, hands--and drills--down.

But the tree was just one of the good ideas I'd gotten while we were vacationing in California's mountain country. I also liked the indoor stone fireplaces, the outdoor fire pits and the random boulders decorating the grounds. My spouse informed me that we already had an indoor brick fireplace, an outdoor fire pit and although we didn't have any boulders, we had some nice pebbles near the front door, which were sort of like boulders.

Sort of, like. Not. But wouldn't another another fireplace, another fire pit be better? More was always better.

Determined to find some idea I could import to our house I saw one at the hotel.
"Aren't the little bears on that statue cute?" I said laughing at the carved wooden bears clustered around the hotel's welcome sign.
"It's a slippery slope," Mr. Wonderful said pointing to a second larger statue of three bears foraging. Together the statues would have created a fine grotto that Smokey the Bear fans would have loved.

"Look there, and there, and there," Mr. Wonderful said pointing out three more bear statues, which were composed of increasingly more bears. It was a regular Bear Jamboree!

I grabbed my camera to document the situation since I hadn't seen so many bears out of hibernation since my last family reunion.

Bears, bears everywhere! I even took a picture of a bear statue which had its own cameras! I thought it was hilarious!  

Mr. Wonderful was not amused. He likes simple things and usually I do, too, but there was something comical and appealing about the bears. When I stopped looking through my camera viewfinder, I noticed there were even more bear statues. Whoever did the landscaping for this hotel and its grounds was "barely" thinking because when I scanned the property I noticed two dozen works of "bear art" aka "Be'art".

Then it ht me. This was indeed a slippery slope for more was not always better. One well placed bear statue would have said it all about the nature of the hotel. Yes, the landscaper would have been wiser to have used just the original statue I'd seen of the two little bears. Or if they wanted to express their humor, the bear with the cameras. Or if they wanted to express their "more is better" motto, a bear falling over a slippery slope. A slippery slope indeed.

"Do you want any souvenirs before we leave the Sierras?" Mr. Wonderful asked as he loaded our luggage into the souvenir-free car.
"I've got everything I need," I said linking my arm through his.