Sunday, September 30, 2012

Yee-Haw! The Sheriff Done Arrested My Ma!

I long suspected that my mother was an outlaw. She goes by Josie sometimes; "Jo" to others. It shoulda been no surprise that even when we walked into the Cross-eyed Gun Fight at the Old West Festival, the sheriff sought her out with a warrant for her arrest in his hand. The charge? Wearing one earring instead'a two. Her son-in-law got thanks for turning her in. And despite her pleas and excuses, they threw her in the county jail.

Okay, so we paid $5 to have her arrested. But She didn't see it coming and we had a lot of fun. We followed up those antics with a medicine show and a covered wagon ride (which was a Little House on the Prairie dream-come-true for me).

Then we had some root beers and vanilla cream sodas to wash down our rattlesnake chili before we headed into the Long Branch Saloon to see Rider Kiesner in action.

Story has is that Kiesner got a Will Rogers trick-rope kit for Christmas when he was 9-years-old. He practiced and practiced and began performing at age eleven. Now 20, he's a three-time WWPAS (Wild West Performing Arts Society) World Champion trick roper. He got up on the saloon stage and twirled ropes and cracked whips and started spinning guns like nobody's business. He even cajoled a few audience members into getting on stage with him. He cracked two bullwhips around a nervous young teen-aged girl while he was blindfolded. She was visibly shaken when she got off stage, but it didn't stop Kiesner from slicing the head off a flower sticking out of a saloon girl's mouth moments later.

It was a wonderful show. We couldn't get over Kiesner's talent. Eventually we caught up with him outside and he even roped our daughter into a picture.

After that, we got outta Dodge before my mother could commit any more crimes. 'Cause I'm pretty sure that even if the sheriff couldn't catch her, Kiesner's lasso could.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cincinnati Chili Taste Test

If you've ever been to Cincinnati, someone has probably insisted that you try Cincinnati chili. It's what we're known for, like barbecue in the south or lobsters in Maine.

Cincinnati chili is unlike any other. It's nothing like Tex-Mex, or any other thick bean stew you're used to. Cincinnati chili is a no-bean chili made with boiled ground beef, cinnamon, cloves and unsweetened chocolate in a beef and tomato base. It's runny and served over spaghetti with a huge mound of finely grated cheddar cheese on top. Or we pour it over a hot dog and mound a pile of cheese on top of that to make our signature coneys. Either way, it's delicious. And it's so popular that there are two big competing Cincinnati chili chains in town: Skyline and Gold Star.

Now, if you ask a local Cincinnatian, he or she will tell you which one they prefer. We're brand loyal, though the two restaurants have identical menus and serve the same things. There are other independent restaurants that serve Cincinnati chili, too: Camp Washington Chili, Blue Ash Chili, Empress Chili, etc.. And guess what? They all have the same menu items as Skyline and Gold Star. Like I said, we love our Cincinnati chili.
But I wondered: did they really all taste the same, or could we tell the difference? And did those of us who claimed to like Skyline better really know if we did? There was only one way to tell: we had to do a blind taste test.

We got regular coneys from Skyline and Gold Star. My husband told Skyline what we were doing, so they took extra care in making sure that our coneys looked good. I didn't tell Gold Star our plans; I just brought home five coneys. In a side-by-side comparison, Skyline won hands down. Theirs looked much better.
I think you can guess that Skyline is on the right.
But this was all about taste. And since they looked different, we really did do it blind and blindfolded each other one at a time so that we were judging by taste and taste alone.

Before we started, I took a poll. I was a Gold Star fan. My husband claimed to like Skyline better. So did my mom. My son said he preferred Gold Star's chili for its thickness, but liked Skyline's cheese better. We all seemed to be quite the aficionados. Then we put our coneys in our mouths. One by one we sampled each. I thought for sure there would be some indecision; I thought they would probably taste so much alike that some of us wouldn't be able to choose. But that wasn't the case. We all chose. Fairly quickly, too, and based on the spicier richness of the sauce.

It was unanimous: we all picked Gold Star.
Gold Star -- fix your sign!
We were all a bit surprised. Both coneys were delicious, but there was something about Gold Star's that we just liked better. We hadn't expected such a difference in flavor, but side-by-side, there was. Let me be clear: we like Cincinnati chili and there's never a bad place to get it. But I guess we learned we liked Gold Star a little better than the others. Who knew?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Making a List and Checking it Twice

I probably should have been pulling the weeds growing in the cracks of my driveway,
but I chose to indulge in pleasure and rode my fancy-schmancy new bike instead.

I'm not a list maker. I don't write down my daily to-do's at home, nor at work. I have yet to move my Bucket List beyond two dreams that I'll probably cross off in the next couple of years. I'm just not a thinker; I'm more of a do-er. Or so I thought, until I had the day off.

This summer has been crazy-hectic. It's been wonderful, but left me with little time to do the simpler things in life that just give me a perk. So today I had the day off work, and by 8:30, I was already starting to feel defeated. I started remembering all those things I wanted to do today. Not the things I should do -- the things I wanted to do. Like ride my new bike, play my flute, clean out my son's closet, exercise, and go to the library for Pattie Mallette's new book.

Instead, I found that I was spending my morning watching the same stupid talk shows I always watch when I'm home, and thinking of the things that I need to do (clean), but have put off. So I started to pick up all the shoes on the floor and then I thought --no. They're not mine and I'm not going to. This is my day off and I'm going to ride my bike!

So, I went for a bike ride. (I won't describe the pain that immediately followed.) As I caught my breath, I thought, what next? Not my flute. That will have to be later today, when I can breathe again. I tried to remember all the things I thought I wanted to do today but I couldn't remember what they were. Then it hit me: I need to write them down. I need to make a list of all the things I want to do and give myself time to do them. But I'm not going to cross them off. I want to keep doing them.

If it takes a list to remind me to do the things I enjoy doing, then so be it. I'm making my list and checking it twice. And now, I'm off to the library to read about Justin Bieber's mom. Because later, I have to play my flute.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Today We Saw the President!

President Obama
Seasongood Pavilion, Eden Park, Cincinnati, Ohio
September 17, 2012

When my husband was younger, he saw Reagan. My son's marching band performed at a George W. Bush rally. But today it was my turn to see a president. My daughter and I suddenly found ourselves with tickets and headed down to Cincinnati to see President Barack Obama. It was fantastic!

Somehow, in the course of 45 minutes in which I stood in the same spot, I snapped 27 pictures. I just couldn't believe I was there. The crowd was wonderful. There was a spirit of community that I've found again and again in Cincinnati. Everyone was considerate of each other, making sure that no one was blocking anyone else's view. We were all there for the same thing: to see the President and cheer him on toward "Four More Years." I can still hear that vibrant chant in my ears.

Obama talked about all the expected issues: taxes, education, bringing our troops home, Obamacare, jobs, etc.. It was all very moving, but I don't need to tell you about that here. You can read that in the papers. I'd rather share what it was like to be there with my 12-year-old daughter, who may not have realized the enormity of getting to see a President today. I think that will come later, in hindsight. She did remark that he was very funny. He did crack quite a few jokes. I was glad she was paying attention.

What may have made even more of an impression in the immediacy of the day was the good deed a woman did on our way there.

In order to get to the Seasongood Pavilion in Eden Park where the President was scheduled to speak, we had to park up a steep hill, walk down the hill past the pavilion and approach from an even steeper angle. We didn't mind. We certainly understood the need for security and closed-off streets. What surprised us was a woman who came down the hill and waved us over to her SUV. She offered us and four other women a ride up the hill. We gratefully accepted and jumped in her car. Another van pulled over and picked up some other event-goers.

"Are you part of his campaign group?" I asked her as I thanked her for the ride.

"No. I'm actually a Republican," she said, "but it's a really steep hill, even if you're used to it."

And that, my friends, made my day. The coming together of differing parties to unite in an historical event in Cincinnati. No matter your party affiliation, we should all honor the office of the President. This woman kindly gave us a ride, then drove away and picked up more people at the bottom of the hill. This is not the first time I've been impressed with Cincinnatians and their graciousness and I know it won't be the last.

I will remember her kindness as the second greatest thing that happened to me today. But nothing can to seeing President Obama in person. My son and husband got to see their presidents. Now my daughter and I have seen ours, and I think we saw the best.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Scoop and the Poop on Running a Marathon

Yesterday I attended a third Air Force Marathon at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio. It was magnificent as always. A Stealth bomber flew overhead to mark the start of the race. Thousands and thousands of runners began their 26.2-mile journey and I waited on the sidelines, cheering on my husband this year, rather than my son.

Mike is a little more forthcoming about what it's like to run a marathon than my son ever was. Non-runners like me want the inside scoop without having to run. Mike shared the little details that I've wondered about.

For one thing, when the runners start and they're clustered around their pace leaders, it gets a little dangerous. I always thought I'd hate that part: running in a mob of people. One man tripped and fell hard this year. Right past the start gate. He's lucky he wasn't trampled. As it was, I'm not sure whether he was able to continue the race or not. A year of training for naught.

There were food stations and water stations nearly every mile. For some reason, they handed out bottled water instead of cups. (I was wrong, as noted in comments below. They handed out cups of water and Gatorade. The bottles on the ground were the ones they brought with them.) The ground was littered with them. It was hard for my husband to just throw his bottles down on the ground; we're huge recyclers and we don't litter. But he had to. There were bands playing at stops along the way, too. He really liked that.

This year, they had buses taking family supporters out to the 10-mile mark. We'd wanted to do that last year when my son ran, but they didn't have buses. I hope they continue this. It was wonderful to go out to a midway point in the route and cheer my husband on as he passed and he said it made a big difference to him that we were there.
He enjoyed the scenery of running through parts of Dayton we've never explored before. There was one stretch on the Air Force base that he described as boring.

We'd had a lot of discussion about a factoid he'd read in his runner's magazine. It said that 1/3 of all marathon runners have to stop for a bowel movement during the run. We thought this was an odd thing, but my son thinks he knows why. He says it's the body's response to fight or flight. Running a marathon is hard on your body and when it gets physically taxed, it goes into fight-or-flight mode and voids itself of excess waste just as it would when panicked. It makes sense to me. We're going with that idea.

A few people were taken off the course by medics. The sag wagons and ambulances were always nearby along the race. We saw one woman escorted across the finish line by medics. Others were cheered on by the announcer who shared that many of them, like the heart transplant patients and cancer survivors, were advised by their doctors not to run it, but there they were, crossing the finish line after running 26 miles. Again, I'm not a runner, so I don't get risking your health for this, despite it being a great accomplishment.

My husband says the last half-mile was one of the hardest. We scanned the runners off in the distance, hoping to spot him before he was actually right in front of us. There were a few runners we thought might be him, dressed all in black and about his size. But it wasn't until I actually spotted him and realized how well I know his gait, even from half a mile away, that I got excited. He'd just run a marathon. He'd trained for a year, conditioned himself to do this, and there he was: running toward the finish line with a gigantic smile of achievement on his face. And almost immediately, he talked about doing it again.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Different 9/11 Story

The greatest security filing cabinets in the world.

I'm going to tell you a story about 9/11 that you haven't heard. It's not about lives lost, or anything emotional unless you count pride as an emotion. It's a story about my dad, and the design he created that survived the attack on the Pentagon.

My dad in an engineer who designs locks, safes, vaults, and government security furniture. So picture this:

It's September 11, 2001 and a plane has just crashed into the Pentagon building. Smoke and fire ensue. Panic erupts. And a cascade of papers confetti the grounds as classified documents scatter from desks, offices, and file cabinets; papers that were never meant to be seen by people outside the Pentagon's walls.

A group quickly began gathering the scraps of debris littering the grounds. They sorted information and catalogued documents as they collected the papers spilled from security drawers.

But not all the cabinets were split open in the attack. The security filing cabinets my dad designed and built withstood a plane crashing into the building. They sustained damage; there were dings and dents galore. But the locks and frame held. The top secret papers inside were still secured. The filing cabinet held together so well, in fact, that they finally had to use the jaws of life to open them.

There are so many smaller stories surrounding the tragic events of that day. I like to think of this one because it provides a sense of pride in my dad's creations rather than the overwhelming sadness that is inevitable when we remember September 11th. It's just one more story.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Background Music

My daughter just began playing the trumpet. She knows five notes, though they rarely sound the same when she plays them. I listened to her practice last night, over and over, getting frustrated that she wasn’t playing them right and that her C sounded the same as her G. She is already willing to give up. I can tell that Band will not play a prominent role in her future.

Regardless, the struggled notes that flatulated from her trumpet took me back. Her brother sounded just the same when he began learning the trumpet. Every new musician does. But what I like about trumpet is that the beginning blurts of sound do not pierce my ear with shrillness. I don’t mind listening to wavering notes and loud blasts of air. In fact, I rather enjoy it. I love music and remember learning to play my flute. It was just as awkward for me as it is/was for my children. My daughter hasn’t learned patience yet, nor has she realized that all musicians start out this way.

To keep her from quitting, I went upstairs and got my old flute. I brought it downstairs and played those first five notes with her, making the lesson a duet. It took me back, back, back, to my days of lessons and recitals.

I was an excellent flutist. I practiced more than any child needed to practice. I loved the sounds I could create, and loved mastering the technical difficulty of advanced classical pieces. The only thing I didn’t love was performing. Terribly shy, I froze in front of people. As long as I could play unwatched, I was fine. But playing before an audience was torture.

My daughter and I finished up a few sets of scales and she was ready to call it a night. I was ready for her to, too, because by that point, I’d dragged out my old music and couldn’t wait to see if I could still play it. I could! I was thrilled by my trills and played song after song. And then I wondered – did my mother ever miss hearing me play? I’d never thought about it before, but my flute must have been the background music of her life for quite a while. I wondered whether she’d recognize the songs if I played them for her again? Would she be able to anticipate the melodies?

I played until my fingers ached and then put my flute away, determined to pull it out and practice more often. As I did so, my daughter said that she wants to switch to chorus next year, and I knew that my days of listening to rudimentary trumpet were already numbered. As silly as it sounds, I’ll miss it.

But then, she asked if we wanted to hear her singing. Of course we said yes, and she opened her mouth and made the most beautiful sounds I never expected to hear from her small, little mouth. She was nearly pitch-perfect, and sang with vibrato. I was amazed as I listened to her sing, performing song after song as long as we would listen. And so now I know, the trumpet will not be the background music of my life. It will be her beautiful little voice, and I will treasure every note.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Things Are Different Now

Time to create something new.

It's been two years. Two years of daily posts that captured my musings, daily experiences, fictional stories, travel, and thoughts. 730 posts. I can barely believe that even as I write it.

I started this blog to keep me connected to the writing world. I was inspired by the talks of Jonathan Harris, Story Musgrave, and other speakers that I heard at a conference I attended. They encouraged me to create something and share it with the world whether it was perfect or not. They urged me to "put it out there" and I did. And I've loved it. And it did, indeed, keep me tethered to the writing world when the rest of life was pulling me away.

That isn't true anymore. In the past few months, writing has played a more central role in my life. I have projects and assignments and works in progress that want to take over my life, if I'll let them. Daily Snapshot has become neglected. I feel like I've been limping along, hoping to make it to the end of the two-year mark, and I think it showed.

So now it's time for a change.

I don't want to end Daily Snapshot altogether. Instead, I want to make it a more purposeful expression of my writing. I want to write when I have something to say, rather than dutifully posting something each day. This is the metamorphosis; no longer Daily Snapshots. Now just Snapshots. When they happen. When they make me want to sit down and write something about them.

I've given the blog a fresh face. I'm starting clean. A new year. Year Three.

Here we go...