Note: The "Trooper" in question is not actually in the military. It's a metaphor, people.

July 24, 2008

Chickenheads In The House

I have shocking news. At least it is to me anyway. Many months ago, I announced that I was going to start a hobby that involved patience and learned skill (and wasn't a sport). I'm happy to say that I actually followed through with it. So here I am to announce that, for a better or for worse, I am a knitter.

But before you get too impressed thinking that I am some dedicated, self-taught knitting prodigy, it is important to understand that my continued perseverance with this extremely frustrating hobby - one that I still pretty much suck at - is due entirely to the amazingly diverse group of women who stumbled into what has now become a Tuesday night tradition, only to be missed with an extremely good excuse.

On the surface, it's a tremendous group because of our varying skill levels that lends to everyone helping each other out. First there's Big Sis, whose idea this all was in the first place. Big Sis and I used to be neighbors and quickly became like family. She is just about to turn 50 and is an amazing single mom with two teenage kids. She started knitting only a few weeks before me so, for the most part, we were equally clueless and could struggle together.

A recent addition to the group is Big Sis' good friend Spunky (she is, but I know a better name will come to me soon - it will have to do for now), also just about 50 and married with two teenage sons. Spunky came into the group as a new knitter, but quickly remembered the knitting skills her grandmother had apparently taught her in her youth. No fair.

Then there's Big Sis' niece Miss Sunshine, a more experienced knitter who has the ultra cheerful demeanor of a kindergarten teacher rooting her slowest student on as she learns to tie her shoe. "Great job! You did it! You are such an expert knitter!" Uh, it was a slipknot, but OK. I'll take the compliment.

About the same skill level as Miss Sunshine is her coworker Rugby, a sporty and beautiful newlywed in her mid-30s who quietly turns out baby blanket after baby blanket as gifts for her clearly overly fertile friends. Rugby is far less talkative then the rest of us, but she makes her presence known with her occasional deadpan one-liners that elicit raucous laughter from the rest of us.

And last but not least, my personal heroine, Crafty, a superior knitter who has saved me from every knitting disaster I've managed to get myself into (of which there are many). Crafty is a high school friend of Miss Sunshine's who strolls into knitting group each week displaying another project just started or half-done (I've quickly learned that truly obsessed knitters rarely finish their work. The thrill is all in starting something new). Sweaters, shrugs, gloves, even Croc-like sandals that she trimmed with crochet designs. She never ceases to amaze.

At first I wondered why the hell Crafty even wanted to come to knitting night since she basically gets interrupted every five seconds with a whiny voice (usually me) saying "! I messed up again!" She grabs the bungled mess out of your hands and five minutes later gives it back, perfect and ready to go. Problem solved. But after a few months I began to realize that Crafty knits every single day of her life; she comes to knitting night to escape her projects, socialize and take pride in our learning curve.

So between the six of us, we've got just about every skill level covered and we are constantly tapping each other for ideas, assistance, patterns and, most often, reassurance. The other night I was almost apoplectic over a pair of socks I had been peer pressured into starting (FYI, just buy them. It will save you years off your life). I had no other projects in the hopper so my choice was just to continue struggling with socks that were clearly only going to fit me when I was 80 and weighted down with arthritic cankles, or sit and watch everyone else work while I fumed.

Sensing my frustration (perhaps it was my repeated exclamations of "Fuck" and "I suck"), the group quickly got into rescue mode, insisting that I just needed to put that project on hold and start another until I was ready to try again. In mid pout, I was not in a very proactive mood. So the next thing I knew, the group had helped me pick out a pattern, rummage through my yarn to find something that would work, and sort through their needle collections to find me the right size so I could begin something right then and there. Within the hour I was knitting and purling away, inspired by the thought of the hat I would soon have, but likely never wear here in Southern California.

Beyond the skill levels and emotional support (not to mention the wine and always delicious desserts), the group also provides an amazing spectrum of generational differences. Here is a scene from a recent Tuesday:

20-something who came of age in the early 90s: "I've had sex with five different guys" [clearly implying this is a lot]
50-something: "Girl, that was one weekend for me in the 70s!"

Or how about this?
50-something (obviously not the one from before): "I didn't have sex with a lot of guys when I was younger. I guess I had low self esteem."
30-something: "That's exactly why you should have sex!"

Or let's try this one.
Imagine a group of women knitting, chatting and sipping chilled white wine while a cool ocean breeze wafts in from the wide-open screen door. Suddenly, a glistening 50-something sitting closest to the door leans back and begins fanning herself with one of her photocopied knitting patterns. "Oh man. Hot flash." The two 50-somethings exchange knowing glances. The rest of us just shrug, knowing that someday we'll understand.

But forget generational differences. Let's talk gender. Most nights we hold knitting group at Big Sis' house, where her teenage daughter will occasionally join us when she's not feeling too moody. But a few weeks ago we changed venues to give my new place a try. I warned Wine Guy and he was prepared to spend most of the evening downstairs in the office in self-imposed exile (after saying hello and grabbing some food of course). At one point I ventured down to check on him. He looked just a bit confused. "Are you OK?" I asked. He replied, "Yes but, I don't understand how you can all talk at the same time?"

That got quite a few laughs when I went back upstairs.

Chickenheads. I've heard Wine Guy use the term before to refer to groups of women when they get together and start talking, talking, talking. Bock, bock, bock, bock!

Even if he is right (he is, sometimes on my way home from knitting night my head hurts form the nonstop chatter), I don't care. We Chickenheads find our Tuesday night ritual to be the highlight of our week. So there.

And if you are at all interested, here are two of the projects I've completed with the support of my knitting Chickenheads (a hat and felted purse - did you know felt is just wool that got wet?? I didn't!). I have yet to use either of them for anything beyond whipping out of my knitting bag to show people and say, "Can you believe I made this? Me neither!" When was the last time you were that proud of something you did?


July 20, 2008

It Ain't Pretty But It Feels Good....

As much as I hate to admit it, I have become one of them. One of those girls who dives in to her boyfriend's hobby headfirst. So now instead of sleeping in on Saturday mornings and debating where to get breakfast, Wine Guy and I are decked out in spandex padded shorts, bright jerseys and dorky helmets, ready to cycle til we drop.

I will say that I went in to this willingly, even though I spent much of the last 10 years making fun of the annoying "pack" road bikers who take up way too much of the road along Pacific Coast Highway, nearly blinding me with their neon, fake-sponsored jerseys.

Why the change of heart? Absolute necessity.

If you recall, I had pretty major orthopedic surgery last January and, believe it or not, am only really able to start exercising now. I used to be a pretty athletic person and played several vigorous tennis matches a week. This helped me to fight off the mid-30s weight gain, something I am more than entitled too based upon my terrible eating habits. But take out that exercise and add on even more eating due to boredom and you have, well, a bit of a weight issue.

Since I'm still not fully recovered, high-impact sports aren't really an option just yet. I started swimming laps, but I find that to be quite possibly the most boring activity on the planet. If I can't have a game I'm trying to win, at least give me something interesting to look at to keep my mind busy. Which leads me to why I hate the gym. Closed-captioned CNN (or God forbid Fox News) is not my idea of something interesting to look at, and with the beautiful weather here in San Diego, it seems ludicrous to be cooped up in a gym pedalling away on a fake bike.

Last year Wine Guy suggested that we ride bikes together. He was already pretty into it and had all the gear for himself, but he found it hard to get motivated to go for rides on his own. But I was not prepared to fork out $1000+ for all the equipment the sport requires. And besides, I was fully in love with tennis.

But six months of ass-spreading changed all that. All of a sudden, a ride on a bike sounded like the best thing in the world.

So we hit the bike shop and the next thing I knew Wine Guy and the hot Swedish salesman Jonas picked out everything I needed, speaking a language I barely understood. At some point I had to ask, "Is someone going to show me how to use the gears at least?" I was in over my head. But I walked out of there with a perfect bike, plus all the paraphernalia that makes biking such an appealing sport to men (who love anything that requires a lot of accessories and fine-tuning).

We went for our first ride together that same afternoon and within an hour we had explored an area neither of us had been before and managed to thoroughly exhaust our muscles in a way that felt terrific. I met up with some friends later that night and, even though I had showered and changed, one of them said that I looked terrific, almost glowing. He could tell that something was different with me. Amazingly, that difference was vigorous exercise.

said ,"Look at me, I must be good because my clothes are authentic." I settled on a two-tone green jersey from The following week, Wine Guy came with me back to the bike shop to get my custom fitting (which makes all the difference in how the bike feels, I highly recommend it). We knew we were going for a ride the next morning and, since my ass was still sore from our first ride earlier in the week, we decided to stop at REI and get some padded bike shorts. Have you ever tried those on before? Oh my God. I felt like I was wearing a badly shaped diaper. A very strange sensation. But not as strange as the biking jersey Wine Guy forced me to try on.

I was purely opposed to any jersey that screamed, "poser biker girl" - so any phony "sponsor" logos or fluorescent colors were out of the question. But I managed to find a two-tone green one that wasn't terribly ugly but was bright enough to hopefully keep San Diego's terrible drivers from knocking me off the road.

So there we were yesterday morning, decked out in spandex -not matching in pattern or color but certainly in spirit - lugging our bikes down the front steps. Of course our new neighbor picks that moment to come home, smiling politely as he squeezes past us. I couldn't help but comment to WG as he passed, "Oh, I feel a kind of silly in these clothes." It couldn't have been more obvious that the comment was really directed at the neighbor.

But the ride was amazing and, again, it felt wonderful to move my body and build up my strength. Plus, I don't often drop $1000+ and I am determined to love this sport... even if I hate it.

So if you happen to pass that semi-matching bike riding couple on the side of the road, try to resist the urge to mock them. I'd really appreciate it.


July 9, 2008

Trade Show Trollop

I want an engagement ring. And not for the reason you're probably thinking. Well, that reason too, but that's not why I am in desperate need of one at this very moment.

I am in Washington DC for a conference/tradeshow and am being subjected to many hours of sitting in an overly air-conditioned ballroom at my booth (I'm a vendor) chatting up potential clients. Or to put it more bluntly, I'm a sitting duck.

Some of you may recall my post from this very same conference one year ago in yet another humid big city. I wrote about conference flirtations also, but unfortunately had to take the post down because it apparently offended the person I wrote about (for reasons I still don't udnerstand-and never will since she now doesn't speak to me. Sigh.) Anyway, the point of that entry was about how you can use harmless flirting to feel good about yourself and get heavy things lifted when you need it - as is often the case when putting up a booth.

This post is a little different. Probably because I came alone this year. It's one thing to chat up herds of men when you have a colleague with you. It can even be fun if that colleague is female and lighthearted about the whole thing.

But when you are on your own...well, it feels kind of pathetic. Pathetic that they think they might get anywhere with you. Pathetic that you have to smile and talk to them anyway.

Actually, it's pathetic that I am assuming that they are hitting on me at all. Maybe they are just being friendly with no strings attached? Maybe they really care about what I'm selling?

But if that's the case, why are no women stopping to talk? Granted, this is a technology-related conference so there are more men here than women, but still.

And to make sure you don't think I'm some tradeshow honey rolling around on a shiny car (you were thinking that about me, right?), I try just as hard to charm the ladies as I do the men. But apparently they don't find me as charming. They don't laugh at my jokes, take my sarcastic cues, or respond to my questions about where they're from.

I have to assume that not every man that stops to chat is actually trying to get in my pants. But he is lingering for a reason. There's one thing I know about myself (and the reason why my secret fantasy is to be a bartender) - I'm really good at shooting the shit. Witty banter, sarcastic observations, harmless insults to virtual strangers. These are my skills and perhaps they are skills more appreciated by men. The women just kind of look at me quizzically, take a free pen and move on. But the men generally stick around and, if they're any good, dish right back.

Would you call that flirting? I don't know. But I do know that at the end of tonight's event, none of them asked me to join them for a drink. And there were plenty of opportunities. Part of me was relieved. I didn't have to worry about any awkward situations. But most of me was kind of sad since that meant all I had to look forward to was a lonely stroll around the neighborhood and some Baskin-Robbins before bed.

At one point during the day, after a particularly long booth chat with a guy from Arkansas, I texted Wine Guy: I don't want you to get the wrong idea but I really wish I had an engagement ring on right about now.

There are quite a few ways he could take that. I'll let him decide.