Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Singing the Hokey Pokey while all Hell breaks loose

My two littlest kids go to a wonderful little preschool that is housed in a church on the campus of The University of Texas. The very same campus that yesterday had a gunman walk into a library and kill himself after walking several blocks and firing his AK-47 randomly.

Yesterday morning was one for the books.

I was scheduled to be the “helping parent” in Campbell’s class, which meant we had to be at school by 8:15. As I was turning across Guadalupe into the parking lot, police cars came flying down the street, lights and sirens going. It looked like something out of a movie. When we got inside, one of the school moms was standing in the entry talking about a gunman on campus.

All the parents there, myself included, immediately reached for their phones to find information online, only to be disappointed. One of the teachers turned on a radio in her class, and the morning DJs were talking about a hot sauce festival. We had no idea what was going on.

Slowly the news filtered in that there was indeed a gunman and that the campus was on “In Shelter” mode, which meant that everyone was to stay put and lock the doors. Our little school went into lockdown mode – all the doors and windows were closed and locked, the kids weren’t allowed on the playground, and two dads were stationed by the entrance to let people in and keep them in.

This meant that all the parents who were at the school to drop their kids off had to stay there. They all wandered the halls, cell phones in hand, calling and texting work and family and whomever. I sent texts to B and to some friends and took a call from my dad, who was in South Carolina listening to our local NPR station and had heard the news. He had more information on what was happening than any of us in the school did.

Our school director, who has only been on the job for a month, did an incredible job handling a stressful situation. She kept the teachers and parents informed of the latest developments and worked to make sure the kids had no idea what was going on. I could tell some of the kids in the school were picking up on their parents’ stress, but everyone in our classroom was just fine.

Things did get slightly surreal at times. Like when we were singing the “Hokey Pokey” with the kids as the campus air raid sirens were sounding. The sirens went off every half our, each time followed by a booming announcement telling people to stay indoors. At one point I was upstairs in the church kitchen washing up the snack dishes and looked out the window to see helicopters hovering at roof-top height. It was all very unnerving, to say the least.

I was amazed, though, to see a parade of students walking and biking in to campus. Apparently they hadn’t gotten the word about the University’s being shut down, although given the number of e-mails, tweets, and Facebook updates that were flying through the interwebs, I’m not sure how that’s possible. And when I watched news coverage later in the day, I was stunned at the number of gawkers hanging out on the other side of the police tape watching the action. Did they think that being on the far side of the tape made them safe somehow?

A little after noon the All Clear was sounded, and everyone at the school breathed a huge sigh of relief. The director made the decision to shut the school down for the rest of day because UT was also closed.

As stressful as it was to be at the school, too close for comfort to the action, I am grateful I was there instead of at home and not able to get to my kids. The few parents who had dropped their kids off before the lockdown must have been just frantic. I’m not sure what I would have done had I been in their position – I think I might have disobeyed the lockdown and driven to school just to be there with them. But I’ll never know.

I spent the rest of the day pretty rattled, pondering the might-have-beens of the situation and feeling profoundly grateful that everyone except the gunman was safe and sound.

And I hope to never have to go through such a situation ever again.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

And then the wheels came off

After last Saturday’s great 14 mile run, I was looking forward to an easy 10 this morning. I started off really well, too. I headed out at 5:30 to run the Windsor Loop, which is probably my favorite route. The moon was still up, providing plenty of light, and while it was humid, it wasn’t hot. I felt really strong through the whole run, even on the hills. Life was good.

But then I got back to the Trail, and things went downhill. I grabbed a drink from the car and this gooey energy gel – it’s time for me to start experimenting with eating on my longer runs – and waited for running friends to show up. My plan was to hop in with the group for part of whatever their run was. But no one showed up.

So I trudged off by myself, muttering about how tired I am of running by myself in the dark on the Trail, choosing not to remember that it’s my own damn fault I’m by myself because I opted not to join any of the training groups in town. I had decided to do at least three more miles before calling it a day.

But after half a mile, the wheels just came off, and I fell apart, physically and mentally. My stomach cramped up enough that I was doubled over on the side of the Trail. That’s when I decided to turn around and head for the car.

It really shouldn’t surprise me that the run was a disaster. I had a terrible migraine last night, one that involved wicked visual distortions and throwing up, which meant I didn’t eat any dinner to speak of. I also slept terribly. I had actually turned off my alarm, but I woke up at 5:00 anyway, so I headed out for the run.

I know I could have slogged along and finished out the distance, but it just didn’t seem worth it this morning. Some days, knowing when to stop is a victory. I’m just glad this didn’t happen with one of my “long” runs. Next Saturday I’m scheduled to do 16 miles, and I have to get the wheels back on by then.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Happy Birthday Knittergran, Part III

This is the silly version. The kids laughed as much watching it as they did making it. And they are begging to watch it over and over again.

Happy Birthday Knittergran, Part II

When Campbell realized that I was recording a video with Elizabeth, he wanted in on the action. So here's another goofy message for knittergran. And this time you can actually see me a little bit.

Happy Birthday Knitttergran

Today is knittergran's birthday. Since we can't be there to celebrate, I figured I'd film the kids now that I have this fluffy computer with a built-in video camera. So far, Elizabeth is the only one to cooperate. Please excuse my chin and focus instead on the cute little girl.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Nothing to see here

Move along, please.

I’m suffering from severe blogger’s block. In fact, I’m suffering from social media block all the way around. I don’t have anything to say on Facebook, other than trying to sell my toddler, and I don’t really care about Twitter these days. It seems to mostly be weird conversations between people, and when I read them I feel like I’m eavesdropping on the cool kids. I’d unfollow a bunch of people, but after finding out that you can actually see who unfollows you, I’m terrified to do it for fear of pissing off any of the cool kids.

So I think I’m going to lie low for a while. See you when I get over my funk or whatever it is.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Noticeably Stronger

Despite last week's cheerful post about my changed goals and expectations for the NYC Marathon, I have been a bit concerned about being able to even complete the distance. Two weeks ago, I did 12 miles and was pretty much reduced to a shuffle during the last mile; there was no way I could have run any further. Since then, I've worried that maybe the miles I logged on the treadmill all summer hadn't counted in some strange way.

I headed out at 5:30 this morning with the goal of running 14 miles, nervous about what would happen when I hit mile 12 - would I fall apart like two weeks ago?

I did hit the wall at mile 12, but I pushed through and was able to finish strong. I wasn't setting any land-speed records, but I wasn't shuffling either. I ran the last half mile with a friend and was able to chat with her as we went. Unlike two weeks ago, I could have run another mile without too much of a problem. But I stuck to my plan and stopped when I was supposed to.

It was the first time I've really noticed an increase in my fitness level. I have proof that my training is working. Yay!

Friday, September 17, 2010

1, 2, 3, FOUR

September 17, 2006

September 17, 2007

September 17, 2008

September 17, 2009

September 17, 2010

Happy Birthday, Dude.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cleaning Out

Yesterday morning I watched two episodes of "Hoarders" and promptly went on a cleaning spree in my kids' rooms. I cleaned out and organized both closets, which are now things of beauty. Unfortunately, the closets won't look neat for long. But I'm enjoying it while I can.

Among the assorted Legos, Lincoln Logs, and Little People toys I found:

My copy of Brideshead Revisited
13 socks
Two shoes, not from the same pair
6 empty cereal boxes pilfered from the recycling bin for future "art" projects
Four American Girl Doll outfits
5 pairs of underpants
One torn Twister mat
Pieces to three different puzzles
One pair of LL Bean Moose slippers that Campbell now refuses to take off
One Percy
One Rhenaus
One Thomas


FIVE bags of trash.

Seriously - I took five bags of trash out of two closets and one toy box. I was ruthless in what I threw out - puzzles with missing pieces, games with missing boxes, Ella's collection of poker chips, precious artwork, wrapping paper, homework from last year, and lots and lots of wadded up paper.

It was such a cathartic exercise. I actually enjoyed sitting on the floor and sorting all the blocks, Legos, train tracks, Little People, and GeoTrax into their proper bins and then storing everything neatly on the shelves.

I even cleaned out enough stuff that I was able to move the basket of Elizabeth's toys from the living room to the toy box. B did a happy dance when he saw that the toy corner had been cleaned out.

When the big girls got home, I showed them the improved closets and pleaded with them to keep everything neat for at least a few days. Ella rolled her eyes and immediately began checking for her treasures. Lily shrieked with delight at all the "missing" dress-up clothes that I had located and returned to the dress-up basket.

Next I'll tackle the mess that is their desk. But I need to wait until after trash collection day - our garbage can and recycling bin are filled to the brim.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


I just do not know what I am going to do with this girl. If she gets much flightier, she's likely to forget her own name.

I've joked for a while now that Lily lives in her own little world, and I often ask her what color the sky is where she is. She usually just laughs and continues with her twirling.

But her spacey-ness has reached new heights, or lows, as the case may be.

The other day I sent her out to the car with very specific instructions: "Lily, in the red car, in the front passenger seat, on the floor, is a box of Sprite. Please go get it. Remember - red car, front seat, floor, Sprite." Easy peasy.

Except she came in five minutes later with a big smile and an empty box of baby wipes and said, "This is what you wanted, right?" When I reminded her that I wanted Sprites, she giggled and said that wipes and Sprites kind of sounded alike.

I sent her back out, again saying, "Red car, front seat, floor, Sprite." When she hadn't returned after five minutes, I poked my head out and found her sitting in the front seat, pretending to drive, carrying on a conversation with imaginary passengers. I called her name, and she jumped a foot in the air out of surprise.

This kind of thing happens with her ALL the time. I'll send her back to take a shower, and she'll forget to wash her hair and body, which means she has to take a second shower. I'll hand her something to put away and find the object abandoned in the hallway. She'll tell me she can't find a crucial item, like her backpack, and I'll look up to see her standing right next to it, oblivious to its presence. She'll trip over her own shoes and claim she doesn't know where they are.

It's a good thing she's such a happy, twirly girl. Otherwise she might drive me insane.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

It's not about the race

I guess I should say it's not just about the race. Back in April, when I got my NYC Marathon race number, this whole crazy scheme was mostly about running a marathon. But as the months have passed, my goals and plans and expectations have changed dramatically, and for the better.

My goal for the marathon isn't to run it fast, because I know that it's just not possible. The summer heat and my limited training hours make it highly unlikely that I'm going to run anything resembling a pr. But instead of beating myself up about it or being worried about my time, I'm focused on enjoying the experience. This may be my only chance to run NYC, so I'm going to make sure I soak in the whole thing - from fireworks in Central Park the night before the race to the massive staging area on Staten Island to the post-race party by the Tavern on the Green. My goal is to run the marathon with a smile on my face the whole way.

The side benefits from my training have been tremendous. While I'm not in great marathoning shape, I am in pretty good running shape. I knocked out 8 miles this morning despite terrible humidity and a stomach bug on Thursday morning that wiped me out.

For the first time in more than four years, I feel like I can legitimately refer to myself as a runner, and that is a huge confidence boost for me. Running has been a major part of my life for 15 years, and I'm thrilled that I'm back to running on a regular basis and putting in some serious miles on the weekends.

I'm also in better shape than I've been in since before I was pregnant with Campbell. I finally have my body back after a decade of pregnancy and nursing, and it's a good feeling. Instead of not admitting my age, I've been proudly telling people I'm 40. I think I look and feel pretty darn good for my age.

During our run this morning, one my friends asked if I was glad I'd taken on this quest, and my answer was an immediate and unequivocal YES. Despite my occasional bouts of self-doubt, training for NYC is the best possible gift I could have given myself for my birthday.

Plus, the trip to New York is going to be awesome. I'm going with two of my best friends, and we're staying at the corner of 80th and Columbus, right across the street from the Hayden Planetarium at the Museum of Natural History, so I'll be spending my free time stalking Neil deGrasse Tyson, my favorite astro-physicist. I'm going to make my required pilgrimages to the Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park, my two favorite places in the city. I'm going to see fireworks in Central Park the night before the race, and I'm going to see PeeWee's Playhouse on Broadway. Plus I'm working on plans to meet up with a couple of cool bloggers while I'm there.

It's going to be an amazing trip, even if it does involve an insane amount of running. And no matter what happens during the race, the journey has been great so far.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

My two cents' worth

As everyone is no doubt aware, a "pastor" in Gainesville, FL (where I spent many fun years) is planning to burn a pile of Korans on September 11. This pastor, who in no way represents the teachings of Christ in my humble opinion, has preached a hatred of Islam for years. This stunt is just his latest bit of hatred. His "church" has a mere 50 members, so his influence wasn't exactly widespread.

Except . . .

The world media is now beating down his door for interviews, every politician in the country is being asked to take a stand (and John Boehner took the coward's way out this morning on GMA), and members of the armed forces are pleading with this man not to hold his burning out of fear that it will incite further violence against our troops.

This man, whose name I refuse to write, now has more attention than he knows what to do with, and his message of hatred and intolerance is being spread far and wide. He even has a fan page on Facebook.

But here's a thought - what if we all just ignored him? What if the press closed up shop and went home? What if the protesters with their signs and shirts and megaphones went and did volunteer work elsewhere? What if we didn't pay any attention to him? Then what?

He'd walk outside of his "church" on September 11 to find his band of 50 followers and no one else except for a few lonely crickets chirping away. His perverted view of Christianity would go no further and all the fun of setting a pile of books on fire for an audience would be gone.

And if this small experiment works, we could take it up a level. We could ignore the former governor of Alaska next. The media could stop reporting her inane and inaccurate tweets and Facebook posts as news. We could stop buying magazines that publish unverified and non-sourced profiles of her (no matter how fun and gossipy they are). And then maybe she'd just go back to Alaska and shut the hell up already.

There's an old Simpsons "Tree House of Horror" episode where the advertising logos - the cigarette guy, the giant donut guy, etc. - come to life and stomp all over Springfield, wreaking havoc on the town. Lisa goes to the agency that created the ads and asks how to stop them, and the answer is to ignore them. She convinces the whole town to turn their backs on the advertisements, and sure enough, they go back to being inanimate objects.

So that's my proposal: let's all turn our backs on these people - the racist pastor, the former governor, the overly tanned politicians, anyone who uses the phrase "Ground Zero Mosque" - and once they stop getting all the attention from the media, good and bad, they'll just go away.

It's so crazy it just might work. Who's with me?

Monday, September 06, 2010

And then I set my hair on fire

Or - why I shouldn't be allowed near a barbecue grill.

We spent yesterday up at our place on Lake LBJ, which was a lot of fun, as usual.

At about 3:00, the kids started getting punchy and hungry, so I decided to get lunch/dinner on its way. B and his dad were busy mucking about with the boat and the boat lift, so I took it upon myself to light the grill.

Growing up, I became a master of starting the grill at my parents' house one of those great chimney devices. And now we have a propane grill at the house, which lights with a push of a button and a big whoosh.

But my only experience with using lighter fluid and charcoal comes from watching my grandfather, may he rest in peace, who used charcoal and gasoline. When we heard the rumble of charcoal hitting the grill and saw my grandfather head for the garage with that glint in his eyes, my grandmother would herd all the kids in the house. Once the whoosh and the fireball had died down, she'd sound the all-clear, and we'd be allowed back outside.

Of course, at some point my grandfather would decide that the flames weren't high enough, and he'd head for the gas can again. We'd get shooed back inside while he risked his life by throwing gasoline on a live fire. It was always great fun to watch from the relative safety of the house.

My parents even gave my grandfather one of the chimney contraptions, but he used with with gasoline. Instead of a fireball, he'd have this glorious column of flames.

But yesterday I figured I could handle lighting a simple fire in the grill. I neatly stacked the charcoal and coated it with lighter fluid. I twisted a taper and stuck it in the coals, and lit it with one of those long lighter thingies.


Except 10 minutes later the fire had gone out. So I sprayed on more lighter fluid and reached for the lighter. I poked it through the grill rack and turned it on.


a huge fireball exploded out of the grill and into my face. I turned away almost immediately, but I still caught a lot of the flame in my face. The fireball died down right away, and I patted out my hair, which drifted away in singed tufts.

I stomped off and sat down on a blanket to pull myself together. I was furious at myself for having been so stupid, embarrassed at having done such a dumb thing in front of our kids and our friends, and scared about what might have happened. B came over to make sure I was OK and to reassure me that everything was all right. He then told me that fireballs like that don't do a lot of damage, and that nothing terrible would have happened. I told him that my hair could have caught on fire, and he said that it wouldn't have happened. When I said, "It happened to Michael Jackson!" B realized that it was too soon to talk me down.

My neighbor offered me a beer to calm me down, and when I refused she offered a Xanax, which I also refused. I spent the rest of the day feeling a little shaky but otherwise OK.

As a result of the fireball, I'm missing a spot of hair in the front, but not enough that you'd notice. My right eyebrow is a bit singed, and all the hair on my right hand is gone. I also think I burned out all the hairs inside my nose, which still feels tingly and strange today. But no severe burns and no major damage.

I've definitely learned my lesson - I can't be trusted around fire.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Ugly in the middle

This morning my goal was to run 12 miles. The weather people had been talking all week about how a "cold front" was going to hit late Friday night and the temperatures Saturday morning would be in the mid-sixties. Bliss! So I decided to run down at the Trail instead of suffering for hours on the treadmill.

My plan was to run three laps of the four-mile loop down at the Trail. I started my first loop at 5:40 so that I'd be back at the start to meet the running chicks at 6:30. Halfway through the first loop, I knew I was in trouble. The cold front still hadn't hit, and the temps were in the mid-seventies and it was still fairly humid. The best way I can describe it is clammy. As I struggled along, all the voices of doubt cranked up, tell me I'd never make the distance.

I finished my first loop and headed out with the chicks for my middle one. And after half a mile of running with them, I came to a dead stop in the middle of the Trail with a side stitch. I stood there muttering, watching my friends disappear in the distance.

After a few seconds, I turned around and headed for my car, disgusted enough with myself and running that I was ready to throw my shoes in the lake and never run again. But after about 10 feet, I turned back around, determined to at least run the three-mile loop and do seven instead of 12. But then I turned around again with the idea of going to the gym and running eight miles on the treadmill. And then I turned around again, gave myself a little lecture about nutting up and just getting on with it, and started running.

Anyone watching would have thought I was insane - this sweaty, grubby, wheezing woman walking in circles and muttering under her breath.

I caught back up with one friend, who had stopped to wait for me, and staggered to the halfway point of the loop. As we were headed back on the second half, other friends, who had gone a bit longer, caught up with us. I managed to run with them for about a mile before the side stitch hit again, and I had to walk.

After I staggered to the end of the second loop, I went to my car and took a few swigs of Gatorade and headed back to the Trail. I said my farewells to my friends and trudged on my way.

Turns out the third loop was the best of the bunch. The front had come through and the humidity had dropped, if not the temperatures, and I felt a lot better. Plus I knew I had to finish, so all the doubts and worries that I had going through my head during my first two laps had disappeared.

The last mile was hard, but it was hard in an "I've just run 12 miles" way, not an "I hate running, I'm never doing this again" way.

I finished feeling much better about running and life and this whole crazy scheme of mine. I managed to keep going and finish the distance despite weather and despite the chorus of voices in my head telling me to stop because it was too hard, which counts as a huge victory in my book.

And the best part of the morning was when I got home to find that my husband had cooked up a mess of bacon, eggs and home fries. It was just what I needed after all those miles.

And now for a long, long nap.

Friday, September 03, 2010

It's so FLUFFY

As those of you who are my friend on Facebook or who follow me on Twitter (@hokgardner) know, I got a new computer this week. And I am beyond thrilled.

For the past two years, I've had all of my work, contacts, photos, data, and whatever stored on two different machines - a desktop back in our room and an ancient laptop. The desktop is the better computer, but it's hard for me to use and keep an eye on the kids, especially after B installed the door that closed off the back of the house. All of my important stuff like financial info, pictures and blog archives is on that computer, but I don't use it very often. It's performance also took a sharp dive after the great spring virus attack.

Most of the time I float around the house with my ancient laptop, working during nap times and quiet times. All my work is stored on the laptop, which is beyond risky because it could die at any moment and everything on it would be lost forever. I spend a lot of time e-mailing things between the two machines because neither connects to the network well enough for me to transfer data wirelessly.

I have wasted more time than I care to think about on computer issues.

On Wednesday B left the house, saying he was going to buy a new printer for the office and came back with a beautiful, fluffy new laptop for me. I was stunned.

He decided to get me the laptop after using the old one for work one night and finding out just how slow and decrepit the thing is.

Most days, I set up the laptop on the kitchen counter, turn it on, and then make coffee, clean up the kitchen, and pack lunches while it boots up. If I'm lucky, I won't have to restart it to get the thing to connect to the Interwebs. Having two programs open at the same time was about as much as the laptop could handle. It was really, really pitiful.

B has spent the past two days getting everything set up on the new machine, transferring all my files and wrestling with iTunes, which makes it insanely hard to move your music library from one computer to another. It's been torture having my beautiful new laptop sitting there with backup drives hooked up to it and not being able to use it.

But now! Now I have a laptop the starts immediately and doesn't take ages to switch between windows. And all of my information and work is on one computer - no more having to sprint to the back to frantically get work done on the big computer while the kids are otherwise occupied. No more e-mailing files back and forth. No more worrying that I'm going to lose all of my work when the computer hiccups.

Plus, the new laptop is all shiny and fluffy.