Saturday, January 31, 2009


For several days now I've been itching to add a few sentences to my last post about the recent sale of my business, and now finally have a few minutes to sit down and do so.

Although I maintain a sense that I was pushed out the door with not quite so much as a "thanks and goodbye," it must be emphasized that I am the one who willingly opened that door and stepped out of it.

I am not yet entirely disposed of my connection with this club, as I continued to provide assistance throughout January. While I am still dealing with some aftershocks of the transaction, I have already begun to experience the impending liberation: a tremendous relief which shimmers around the edges with elation.

I am disappointed that I won't have a pleasant memory of parting with my first Curves club to treasure. But along the way I have collected those meaningful memories and expressions of gratitude. I won't forget this journey, one whose story is distinctly beginning, middle, and end.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

And then there was one

Since 2002, I have owned a total of five different Curves locations with my husband, parents, and sister. The most we ever operated at the same time was four clubs. The first two locations we opened have been with us the longest: over six years. In 2004, we opened another club near the first two, and sold it a year later. At about the same time, one of our most outstanding employees was forced to move to Eastern Washington because her danged husband's job was transferred. We told her he wasn't worth leaving us, but she insisted on following. When she returned for a visit complaining about the wretched state of her local Curves, my dad suggested she inquire as to whether any of them were for sale. Two of them were, so we secured them both and re-hired our exceptionally talented friend to manage them for us 250 miles away. Last year we sold one of those two clubs, and we are currently making arrangements with our manager/friend to help her purchase the other location from us.

Less than 30 days has passed since new owners officially took possession of our flagship Curves location; the very first club we opened. Unfortunately, the sale of my "baby" Curves was depressingly anti-climactic. This club, and its employees and members, was a very important fixture in my life for what feels to me like a significant period. At certain times my life seemed to literally revolve around the needs of this club; her challenges were both demanding and edifying.

Unfortunately, the sale process was needlessly drawn out due to various errors and mundane details, leaving us all eager to simply see it finished. This anxiety overshadowed my once prominent emotional perspective on having to let go of the establishment I nurtured to success. Then our intentions to solemnly share and celebrate the news with our team members in person were dashed by Jack Frost's unruly December snowstorm.

Assumed friendships suddenly evaporated into the bleak reality of mere acquaintanceship, and I feel as though something was missing from the conclusion of my tenure. I don't mean to sound like I expected a lavish farewell event or parting gifts. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what I expected, but the experience leaves me with a sense of disorder. It rings with a lack of finality.

I have never fooled myself into believing I am the perfect business owner or boss--the life lessons I have endured at Curves are innumerable. I've been through rough times where I wasn't able to give what I once did to Curves--precisely the reason we sought excited new minds to expand upon its potential with their fresh perspectives. But I feel like I made a difference for a lot of women. And perhaps my knowledge of that should be enough.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Flashback Friday: Stranger in the dark

For a good portion of my teenage years, my father was the Bishop of our Mormon ward, or church congregation. This is just a little fact you need to know for the punchline of this story, which takes place on a dark (but not necessarily stormy) night during my awkward Junior High School years.

My entire family was watching a movie in the family room at the back of our house, adjacent to the kitchen. All of the lights were off, and the seven of us were splayed across the L-shaped couch arrangement and scattered over the floor with heavy blankets, fixated on the glowing TV screen positioned in the corner of the room.

We rented a lot of movies in my youth. Let's face it: theatre tickets for a family of seven would never support my dad's successful quest to be The Millionaire Next Door. My family has always enjoyed the liberty afforded by small-screen viewing by taking full advantage of the freedom to move around or get up and fix a snack.

This inability to stay focused on a movie from start to finish is a trait that has remained with most of my family members, and also one that drives my husband crazy. He prefers not to watch movies at my parents' house because they seem to lack the capability to watch attentively, and it is distracting. My mom often does projects or irons during movies (she trained me to be a multi-tasker too, what can I say?), my dad usually drifts in and out of the room, and since there are usually children in the house, interruption for a snack request or bedtime infraction are inevitable. Sometimes my dad gets a hankering to make a mid-movie treat, and we push pause while the blender whiiiirs up a delicious milkshake. This disruption I don't usually mind.

The forgettable movie ended, and the lights flicked on. It only took a few moments for our eyes to adjust and discover that there were now eight people in our small family room. The bright lights revealed that the cream and brown striped glider at the exposed end of the couch was now occupied, but not by a restless member of our family. He was a young man, attractive, but a complete stranger to everyone in the room.

Someone cautiously greeted the stranger, probably my ever-friendly mother. One of my ultimate fears involves someone breaking into our house, but the idea that this man represented such a danger never crossed my mind. After all, he politely watched the movie with us (How much of it? I can't help but wonder), and he looked about as confused as we must have.

I listened curiously as the puzzle was slowly pieced together. The man said he was looking for the Bishop's house. My parents exchanged a comprehending glance.

"I'm the Bishop," my father said tentatively. He may have been, as I was, wondering how this strange young man had found his home, and what help he could need so desperately that he would seek it from him at such a late hour.

The man only looked more confused at my dad's response. It turns out, he wasn't looking for the Bishop's house. He was looking for the Bishops' house. The careful placement of an apostrophe can make a giant difference, however verbally incommunicable.

I learned that night that our next door neighbors' last name was Bishop. The young man wasn't very familiar with their home, and accidentally wandered into ours by mistake. He quietly slipped into an available seat, then graciously remained unobtrusive until the credits were rolling. Our customary shifting around explains why nobody noticed the new arrival during the movie, but it is still a bit unnerving that a stranger wandered through our unlocked door and joined our company utterly undetected. Perhaps the movie's plot was outrageously compelling.

The coincedence of their name makes the experience that much more entertaining, but I doubt if our accidental visitor really got that part of the joke. I just hope that the Bishops weren't worried about their friend for too long before he made his tardy entrance...with quite a story to tell.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

As seen on TV

I'm really not a sucker for infomercials. But every now and again a product--and its accompanying dazzling endorsement--comes along that piques my curiosity enough to lead me to purchase it. Usually the ones that are this good eventually end up being sold in stores, which makes me feel less weird about buying them. There is something oddly unnerving about calling an 800-number from the television screen to order. It goes against my belief that I hold against most door-to-door salespeople and telemarketers: if I needed what you are trying to sell, I would have been seeking it out myself.

But those commercials play with your sense of value until you feel it would be wrong not to call in and buy a dozen Sham-WOW's. Or whatever.

An ab-shaper of this quality costs over $149 in stores. {blinking red X flashes over that ridiculous price} Our Sculpt 'n Burn can be yours for only $29.95! But that's not all! Call now and we'll also include our exclusive Belly Firming Cream and Fat Blasting Drink Mix, a $19.99 value, ABSOLUTELY FREE! But wait, that's not all. Mention this ad when you call and we'll send you TWO of everything! That's TWO Sculpt 'n Burns, TWO bottles of Belly Firming Cream, and TWO Cartons of Fat Blasting Drink Mix, all for the low, low price of $29.95. You can't afford to miss out on this incredible offer. Supplies won't last, so CALL NOW!

See, even I can write a commercial that would send a person toward an aneurysm by the third unbelievably insane offer.

As in my facetious (and entirely made-up) example (so stop Googling the Sculpt 'n Burn!), the best TV products are the ones which boast multiple purposes. This is most efficiently communicated by using the letter 'n' with an apostrophe between the two functions as a title. I actually did purchase the Grip n' Flip directly from a TV ad a long time ago. The commercial sucked me in with so many amazing features and bonus offers that an attempt to resist dialing would have been futile. Check out what we received with this glorious package (and TWO of everything, I might add!):
  • The Grip 'n Flip, which both grips and flips. I thought it would be great for flipping grilled sandwiches and quesadillas, only it isn't quite sturdy enough to support the weight of my hefty, stuffed-full-of-deliciousness entrees.
  • The Scoop 'n Strain, which--you got it--both scoops and strains. This one is a great concept too: scoop soup and control the amount of broth vs. chunks you want. But the handle of the holey ladle is ridiculously flimsy, so you'd better hope you want mostly broth.
  • And don't forget the 6 in 1 Utensil. This one um, stirs, and picks things up (if they aren't too heavy, it could probably handle a few leaves of lettuce)...and the other 4 uses I have yet to figure out. Dang, I wish I had paid better attention to the commercial.
So sometimes these amazing products hawked on late night television aren't as stupendous as they might seem. A shocking revelation, I'm sure. Yet, I am still mesmerized every now and again by one that seems too good to be true, and I just can't bring myself to accept that as the most likely reality.

I have been curious about the Ped Egg for a while. Now, let's get real here: if I ever tried to audition my feet for a "before" photo, my face would be thoroughly laughed in. My feet wouldn't initiate a gag reflex or anything, they just get a little dry, which makes my heels itch. The skin isn't as soft as a baby's you-know-what, either. My favorite part of any pedicure is the fleeting seconds when they scrub my feet with a file. That never lasts long enough for my preference.
I just didn't get the Ped Egg. It looks kind of like a cheese grater for your feet--which doesn't bother me because I could sense the satisfaction it would wreak on an itchy heel. But then they assert with emphasis that the Ped Egg is "so gentle, it won't burst this balloon." Well, that kind of blows it for me! If their special "micro-blades" can't burst a fragile balloon, then how in the heckarooney is it going to shave any tough, dead skin off of my callouses?

I guess my curiosity got the best of me one day, because I found myself perusing customer reviews of the one and only Ped Egg online. To my surprise, nearly every one of them gushed in utter disbelief that the product actually performed the job it claimed to do, and with better-than-expected results. The biggest complaint I read was that it didn't always catch all of the skin powder in the little egg portion.

Okay, so this contraption is now sold in every grocery and drugstore for less than 10 bucks. What's to lose? I made polite at the cash register while I tried not to look embarrassed that I was buying an infomercial merchandise, then stuffed it into the opaque bag to hurry home and give it a whirl.

By gum, it really does work. My not-very-nasty feet each produce about a bottlecap-full of nasty white powder each time I use it (and if you maintain it in the correct position, none of the powder leaks out). It feels really good too.

So if you have been secretly wondering about the Ped Egg as I was (maybe I'm the only nerd), go ahead and wager your Hamilton. But don't let anyone fool you into thinking it replaces a good, old-fashioned pedicure. I ain't getting a hot soak, aromatherapy, massage, and toenail polish with this doodad. But at least I can make my favorite part last as long as I want!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

How to potty train your child in (about) three days

In some ways I wish I had some hilarious escapade to report from our weekend of potty training. A fierce battle of wills, disastrous or comical accidents, emotional breakdowns...these stories would make for far better entertainment than my simple report that it worked.

Last Saturday, when she donned her first pair of tiny turquoise underwear covered in pink kitties and purple doggies, Madelyn was exactly 2 years, 3 weeks, and 6 days old. She was aware of the potty, and had even sat on it a few times in the past, but other than that we intentionally did not make any effort to encourage her to use it until our potty training blitz began last weekend.

I hope you will read (or even re-read) my deliberations on the impending matter of potty training that I wrote in November. Of course I wasn't contemplating whether or not to potty train Madelyn, just how soon to begin, and whether life without diapers would be superior to our comfortable routine with them. While those questions remained, I was pleased to have stumbled upon a potty training method which I discovered was principally in line with my instinctual beliefs on the matter. Some of my opinions which were supported in this program, and which remain intact afterward are:
  • You can't force a child to go to the bathroom
  • The child must have accidents in order to learn
  • The accidents won't be effective in a diaper, pull-up, or padded training underwear
  • "Gradual" potty training is confusing and sends mixed signals to the child
  • Allowing the child to wear a diaper at night sends mixed signals too
  • It is important to transfer the responsibility of going to the bathroom to the child
  • Setting the child on the toilet at regular intervals won't help her learn when she's about to go or how to hold it when she's not near the bathroom
  • Asking if she needs to go potty might trigger obstinance from a stubborn child
  • Positive reinforcement is always better than anger or punishment
  • Bribery may be effective, but isn't the best way to learn for the long-term

While I had some gut feelings about what I did not want to do, I wasn't about to go through trial and error to figure out the right way. As I stated previously, I wanted the proverbial instruction manual to guide me step by step to success. Lora Jensen's 3 Day Potty Training provided exactly the manual I sought.

I'll interject here that while the reasoning we followed was successful, I don't intend to be smug. Every child will learn how to use the bathroom one way or another. There just aren't many eight-year-olds walking around in diapers, because sooner or later they figure it out, in spite of what the parents did or did not do along the way. There are plenty of potty training methods, books, videos, magazine articles, and testimonials from friends that have proven effective. What I found in this method were guidelines that were compatible with my personal philosophies on potty training, the instructions to accomplish it in a focused period of time, and the confidence that Madelyn could be successful. I admit I have to resist the urge to get on my soapbox when I listen to other parents share tales of potty training misery, though.

I scheduled the three days on my calendar in advance so that there would be no interruptions. I purchased the necessary supplies (about 25 pairs of underwear, lots of appealing beverages, some little rewards, etc.), and read over the e-book again, making my own summary of the main points for easy reference. I am lucky enough to have a husband who was not only available, but also interested in participating in the potty training process. We were on the same page before we began, and tag-teamed the effort.

At the end of Day One, Madelyn went to bed in her 17th pair of underwear. This didn't bother me, because the first half of the day Madelyn was getting into the rhythm of new expectations and new sensations, and we were learning her communication signals. By the afternoon, we were already making progress having gained valuable knowledge from the morning's experience.

On Day Two, Madelyn went to bed in her third pair of underwear. This equates to having had only two accidents, and one was during her nap. I can confidently say that Madelyn understood how to go to the bathroom in the toilet during the day within 24 hours of beginning potty training. Madelyn's favorite reward was unrestricted access to a Valentine's Day rubber stamp, which I allowed her to "boop boop" on her arms and bare legs after a successful run to the potty with dry underwear.

I am happy to report that we didn't have a single "poopy" accident. Madelyn just didn't have a bowel movement on the first day, and by the second day she understood the concept well enough that she just did it in the potty without any trouble. I understand some children have a fear of going poop in the toilet, or for other reasons parents have a harder time getting their kids to learn that part. But for some reason, Madelyn didn't seem to differentiate between number one and number two when it came time to go. I am thrilled that we didn't have to deal with any traumatic experiences OR messy clean-ups!

Nights and naps have been a bit more of a challenge, yet I still do not regret our decision to get rid of the diapers cold turkey, day and night. Yes, we have had to groggily change the sheets several times this week. But following the suggestions Ms. Jensen outlines in her e-book, we are steadily making progress and have already had four completely dry nights out of the eight since we started. I believe the worst thing we could do at this point is to put a diaper back on in an effort to reclaim a few minutes of shut-eye. Moving forward with consistency and encouragement is helping Madelyn understand and improve.

During the last few days our confidence in Madelyn's new skill has grown, and we aren't by her side every moment of the day, as we were last weekend. A couple of times today I discovered her in the bathroom by herself, taking care of business without having even called for us. She does still need assistance once the business is done, so we're never very far.

If I am making this all sound too good to be true, let me correct that assumption. This method takes dedication, focus, and patience. We had accidents. We got frustrated. We wondered if we were right to potty train so soon. We have to wake up in the middle of the night to take her to the bathroom, and sometimes change the sheets. It is not easy, but it does work. I feel that a few days of dedication to the cause is far more bearable than months of on-and-off training or struggling against a child's stubborn resolve.

I have been contemplating our decision to potty train Madelyn at just barely 25 months of age. On that first difficult day, my husband and I quietly wondered if it was the right thing to do. After observing her triumphantly conquer this challenge however, I feel as though I have given my daughter a gift. By allowing her the opportunity to master an important skill, of which she was obviously capable, I believe we have nurtured her confidence and self-awareness. Why delay realization of potential? Plus, we are excited for Madelyn to start Montessori school next fall, and now the potty training is done. Finished! We won't have to worry about it again!

Until another baby comes along, and then it will just be a matter of picking the three days. We'll already have the courage to do it.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The anti-Flashback Friday

Here we are. Tomorrow is Flashback Friday, but I haven't added any fresh insights to my blog since the last one. My fear in initiating FF was that I would at times neglect or be unable to post Saturday through Thursday, and as a result turn my blog into one flashback story after another without the more intellectual musings holding them together. After successfully conquering NaBloPoMo, Flashback Friday remained the motivating force encouraging me to write 3-4 posts per week so I wouldn't have a loser blog. Up until this point, it has worked, but I have also realized that I often write to fulfill my obligation to maintain this self-imposed "schedule." I find myself trying to think of something to say so I can write, rather than writing because I have something to say. Big difference.

Then, I read Bridget's list of 65 books she read in 2008. By my calculation, that's one and one-third books per week! One reader mentioned in a comment that she read 97 books in 2007. That statistic, for me, is more frightening than impressive. For a long time I just haven't had much interest in reading. Running multiple locations of my own business took so much of my time, and now having a toddler leaves me cramming an 8-hour workday to-do list into a 2-hour nap [Note: it does not work, and I constantly feel a day or two behind].

Recently the urge to read has reappeared. I suddenly recall novels that gripped me years ago and long for that melancholy stupor that lingers after the last page of a really good book. When I learn of literature that intrigues me of late (often reviewed by Bridget as well), I find myself yearning for time to investigate them. When asked by another reader how she manages to read so much, Bridget responded that she has always been a fast (while still thorough) reader, and she chooses to spend her "discretionary" time reading, as others might choose to knit, watch TV, scrapbook, etc.

I am not a fast reader. I never have been. The wiring in my brain requires me to read each word as if I were reading it out loud. Imagine how much longer it would take you to read a novel aloud to someone else than reading it to yourself, and that's about how long it would probably take me. If I try to read faster, I end up having to go back and re-read a whole paragraph either because I actually missed a word and get confused, or because my obsessive-compulsive concern that I might have missed a word demands it.

We all choose how to spend our discretionary time, and some of us have more of it available than others. I feel like I have very little, and wondered why that is. And so I did what any self-respecting nerd would do: put it to research. For five consecutive days, I analyzed how I spent my time. I basically punched a proverbial clock each time my activity shifted, recording what I was doing and labeling each segment under broader categories. I tried hard to avoid reactivity, genuinely going about my day as I normally would. This was a very interesting exercise, and I learned some weird things. For example, I spent an average of 2 hours per day just preparing and eating meals, and an additional, equal amount of time "getting ready" (for the day, to go somewhere...).

Pertaining to discretionary time, I realized that when I am not specifically engaged in a necessary task such as getting my daughter dressed or making dinner, I am constantly trying to work. I try to sneak work in whenever I can. When Madelyn is distracted, I'll make a few phone calls. I'll let her watch TV so I can work on my computer. And as soon as she is asleep or under my husband's care, I am immediately drawn to check my to-do list and accomplish work-related tasks before anything else.

What this discovery revealed about my priorities was unsettling. But as I mentioned above, it is very difficult to fit a full-time job into a few hours a day, and this is the way I have grown accustomed to managing my predicament.

When I do feel satisfied enough with my productivity to put my work aside, I am enticed by blogging (as well as reading several others). At the risk of humiliating myself, I will disclose that a coherent post takes me about 2 hours to write and edit. On one of the days in my "study," all of my discretionary time was spent updating my two blogs. But Bridget blogs more than I do, and she has two kids, not one and finds plenty of discretionary time on top of it all. I'm not trying to compete with her, or anyone else, I am just trying to understand why I don't have time to read five books a year, let alone 65. My day-to-day analysis did not reveal any obvious "here's where you're wasting your time" activities, and believe me, I was looking for them so they could be eliminated.

So this leads me to the reason for this Non-Flashback post. I want to read. I want to blog, but only when there is a matter I feel compelled to write about. And therefore I am demoting Flashback Friday to a bi-weekly feature. Most likely no one would have noticed or cared, but I wanted to talk through my process of justifying less frequent posts. I'm sure there will be spurts of creativity when I'll be writing more. But when presented with the little bit of "me" time that I am afforded, I don't want to decline an interest I would rather be pursuing because I am pressuring myself to write a certain number of posts each week.

Right now, for example, New Moon (second in the Stephenie Meyer Twilight series) is propped up behind my laptop screen, begging fiercely for me to crack it open and start. I read Twilight last week instead of writing 3 blog posts, and I can't say I regret it. Now I'm off to continue the saga, feeling better that I have at least touched base with my devoted fans.

Ahem. That's you.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Flashback Friday: You really can be too nice in this business

When I was 15 or 16, I got a job at a restaurant a few miles away from my high school. It is one of the nicest restaurants in the area, although still a few notches down from being true "fine dining." I was a hostess: seating and clearing tables, and quickly worked my way up to being a lead hostess. As lead hostess, I basically ran the entire restaurant. Okay, so I wasn't in fact managing employees or cooking the food, but the choices I made as lead host affected every area of the crew and made an impact on the success of the entire shift. Don't underestimate that girl (or guy) at the front of the house with the clipboard, because a great deal of control rests in her hands. An incompetent lead host will activate a domino effect resulting in poor service, slow ticket times, and dissatisfied customers. But I was a damned good lead host. And my General Manager not only knew it, she kindly told me so on multiple occasions. I left the restaurant when the time came to start my (short-lived) college education.

During summer vacation, I was thrilled to finally be old enough to step into the enviable role of a foodserver. At this particular restaurant, the requirements for servers are pretty strict. We had to memorize every ingredient in every item on the menu. We were required to ask specific questions when greeting a table, and set each plate at a specific visual rotation in front of the guest. There were no notepads allowed--we memorized all orders for tables with fewer than 6 guests. I took the job seriously, and worked to become highly proficient at the many skills required to excel in such a fast-paced environment. I am an excellent multitasker, and to this day that aspect remains my favorite memory of foodservice. During a busy shift, I might be simultaneously inputting the four-top order I memorized from table 21 since their salads just arrived, printing a guest check for table 11, calling for a side of thousand from the cold side of the kitchen, filling water glasses for the new guests at 20 on my way to pick up Long Islands at the bar for table 10 after I grab the side of thousand from Jose, back to my section to drop off the check, waters, drinks, and dressing, then take 20's order, grab a few app plates for them, head back to the kitchen where I run food to table 109 and pick up the credit card from 11 before returning to put in the app order for 20 and run 11's card. I grab dessert menus for 30 on my way out with food for table 52, and drop off the menus before returning the credit card slips and bidding goodnight to the guests at 11. And it goes on and on like this. Usually with more weird requests and unexpected problems than you'd probably ever guess.

Since I did not return to school in the fall, I continued my "education" in the restaurant. And truly, I did learn a LOT--about people, about on-the-job politics, and about life. I am still learning from this job, as experiences become currently relevant to a lesson I am ready to learn.

I worked in this restaurant for a total of 5 years, most of the time enduring a love-hate relationship with the place. I enjoyed the social interaction with my co-workers. I made more money than I needed on a very flexible schedule. I felt like I did a good job and my customers liked me. On the other hand, I dealt with some despicable human beings, had to pick up the cloth napkin I saw an old man repeatedly blow his nose into, and the manager who had once showered me with praise for my skills as a hostess did not apparently feel that my server persona deserved the same appreciation. Despite my compliance, sales results, and complimentary comment cards, I felt as thought I was constantly fighting for "The General's" approval. My every move was under intense scrutiny, and I would be called on innocent mistakes and little discretions that I had watched numerous servers get away with right in front of her.

I was eventually asked to resign from my position as a foodserver in this restaurant. Just before my shift one day, I was invited into the manager's office, where she explained to me that my service had generated the final customer complaint necessary for her to terminate my employment. What follows is the story of my reprehensible customer service.

It was a beautiful, sunny day. We had the outdoor seating open and the empty tables beckoned anyone who would enjoy a good meal near a sparkling fountain under the warm sun. My shift had barely started at mid-afternoon, so I was ready and full of energy. My first table to arrive was a large group: at least 10 or 12 people, adult men and women, looked as though it might be a family but I couldn't be sure. After the host pulled together a few of the round, umbrella-clad patio tables (always an awkward proposition, but worth it to sit outside on a gorgeous day like today), I bounded outside to greet them. I said hello and asked everyone how they were doing. Those who did not reply with silence did so with little more than a grunt. I thought that was strange, and didn't intend to have these bummers bring me down with them. I made a cheery comment about the delightful weather, and then continued with my usual (required) spiel about the menu, specials, soups and so on.

We continued in this manner throughout their meal. Me: friendly and perky. Them: gloomy and callous. Finally they paid their bill and went on their way. Only I caught sight of one of the gentlemen from the group speaking with a manager in the bar. He approached me and shared that these customers had not been satisfied with my service. I was immediately defensive, explaining how every aspect was impeccable, and that I was totally nice to them in spite of their crotchety moods. This is when he informed me that the group had just come from a funeral. They did not apparently appreciate me being so friendly and happy. They also did not apparently think that I was just doing my job, and that normally servers are expected to be friendly and happy. They did, however, apparently think that they bore some sort of tell-tale sign that I should have recognized as the reason for their less-than-sunny dispositions. I swear, there were no black veils or funeral programs in view; I don't even think they were all wearing black or I might have put two and two together.

At any rate, I had no clue about the circumstances that brought them together at our restaurant that afternoon. But I do believe that even a person in mourning can appreciate a lovely, sunny day, and that I shouldn't be penalized for being friendly and vivacious. But that is precisely what got me fired.

Sitting in the manager's office, staring at a form I was being asked to sign indicating my resignation, I was dumbfounded. I thought about all of the truly terrible things I could have done to bring me to this moment instead of being too nice, things I may have even considered at various times. I thought about my co-worker who had recently stormed out in the middle of his shift, but was back at work the next week. I wondered to myself if this same "complaint" had been received by one of Leslie or Catherine's tables, would the managers have even bothered to write it in their files?

I couldn't help but be offended when The General asked me to consider whether foodservice was "the right job" for me. I had worked my butt off for this company, and for each of the negative remarks in that little manila file, there are dozens of positive comment cards and countless clients who left my section with a smile on their face and a big fat tip on the line. So instead of signing her paper meant to protect the company, I let her fire me.

Of course foodservice isn't the right job for me! There are few people in the world who can make a career surviving in that environment. And I'd venture to say they all know how to suck up to the boss better than me. The truth is, when I was fired, only three months remained until the Grand Opening of our first Curves club. So it was really inconvenient to have to find a new job, and get hired under the false pretense that I would be able to stick around long-term. But with 5 years at that restaurant on my resume, I got the job I wanted in an instant. And since the standards there were relatively lax compared with my previous job, I was able to proudly demonstrate some of the best service they had ever witnessed, and left them wishing I could stay. I don't believe they would have ever considered "too friendly" a complaint worth even writing in my file.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Massage mediocrity

Just call me a massage snob. During the ultimate paradigm of relaxation, I have to make a concerted effort to cease critiquing every aspect of the experience. In addition to the more common particularity toward stroke pressure and technique, I also find myself judging the volume of the massage therapist's footsteps around the table, the ease with which she maneuvers the sheets around my body, and the degree to which her necessary "re-lubing" interrupts the flow of the massage.

I don't know why I am so difficult to please, but I am continually awaiting that perfect massage that would bring me back to a therapist again and again. The irony, which creates a paramount dilemma in this process, is the fact that I am terrible about speaking up during a massage. I hate to break the serenity with my grating voice, and have a chronic fear that my words will catch in my throat or I'll start to say something at just the wrong moment. So I suffer in silence--as much as it can be considered "suffering" during a professional massage.

While most of my complaints are fairly inconsequential, and certainly a matter of my own scrupulous preference, three experiences come to mind which I believe deserve a notation in The Book of Worst Massages, if one exists. And since one probably does not, I will list them for you here.

#3--> Does Jugular Compression Cost Extra?

At first, there were just two factors that bothered me about this particular massage, and they were both simple ambience choices. The lighting was not dim enough, and the music was not relaxing. Music to massage by should be hardly noticeable. Background sounds consisting primarily of waterfalls and a didgeridoo. This therapist's choice of music was straight from some kind of tribal fire dance, with lots of native drums banging and allegro spiritual chanting. I do find authentic tribal music interesting and entertaining, when my objective does not involve relaxation. The intense beat nearly ruined the massage.

But then it got worse. After turning onto my back, the masseuse started rubbing the back of my neck and my face. Good. Then she started massaging the front of my neck. Not good. If you reach up and feel right underneath your chin, you might notice that beneath the rather slight muscles of your neck lie your trachea, aorta, and jugular vein. These bodily organs should be treated with extreme care, as they are vital to the sustainment of life. Heavy pressure directly on my aorta was understandably uncomfortable. As previously mentioned, I find it difficult to speak up during a massage, and I positively could not muster the courage to do so lying on my back with the therapist leaning directly over my face. What if I spit on her? What if I started to speak just as she leaned into my trachea and the words came out all weird? So perhaps this one is my own fault, but I kept believing it was about to stop. Instead, her persistence made me wonder two things: 1) why did she ask me where I wanted her to focus the massage, only to spend significantly more time crushing the artery leading to my brain? and 2) could I be the victim of a nearly-fulfilled contract for my life?

#2--> Would you please to be shutting up now?

One of the first few employees I ever hired to work in my business was simultaneously attending massage school at the time. She needed to log a certain number of practice hours, and insisted that I allow her to give me a full-body massage for free. Being the charitable examplar of self-sacrifice that I am, I agreed to help her out. Sacrifice, indeed.

The woman brought her table and supplies into our gym facility after hours, and got to work. But she never. stopped. talking. This girl was like a fountain of useless stories and questions that I would have felt less like answering only if I was dangling by one finger from the edge of a rocky cliff. Perhaps it was best, as the incessant chatter distracted me from her substandard strokes, which reminded me of a kid frivolously rolling his Matchbox cars up and down my body rather than the work of a thoughtful and skilled masseuse. To top it all off, I was treated to a periodic Squiiiiirsh of lotion from her noisy dispenser, which she completely stopped massaging me to reapply every couple of minutes. A good massage therapist can reapply lotion or oil with such grace that the client doesn't realize that he/she has done so. This gal didn't happen to make it through our probationary hire period due to incompetency--on the job, not the massage table, I swear.

#1--> Um, hello?

I can't recall the masseuse's face. I have no idea if the music was at the right volume or if she used a heating pad on the table. I don't know if she preferred oil or lotion. But the absurdity of this incident earns it the title of worst massage I've yet to receive, in spite of any possible redeeming qualities.

The therapist worked her way around my body, going through the motions of a technically proficient massage. While massaging my hands, her small strokes began to change in tempo rather abruptly. She would be moving at a normal pace, then get slower and slower, then speed up rapidly, then return to normal pace. It seemed a bit odd, but of course I didn't say anything. For all I knew, it could be part of some energy-healing voodoo magic that I'd be better for not interrupting.

She moved on to my feet, and continued with the same erratic rhythm, only now when the strokes would slow, they would also come to a complete stop. She would hold a place on my foot for a few seconds before starting up again with the rapid strokes. Some massage therapists like to hold specific pressure points, or are trained in Reiki techniques involving gentle, motionless pressure. I personally hate those techniques, but again, have a hard time making my vocal chords produce the words I am thinking in my head during a silent massage.

Imagine this: rub, rub, r u b, rruuuub r r u u u u b hoooooooooooooooooold rub! rub! rub! rub! rub, rub, rruuuub, and repeat. After a couple of cycles through this pattern, I put my finger on it. The sequence was all too familiar, as I had experienced it myself during first period AP Anatomy & Physiology class with Dr. Ivie. She was dozing off. Yes. Falling asleep while she was supposedly performing therapeutic massage on a professional client.

Each time the strokes slowed to a halt, I would inhale deeply and noisily, or stretch my leg so my foot moved under her hands. Would a normal person sit up and say in an irritated tone, "Um, should I come back later?" She finally got her second wind and finished the massage, but it was a disaster in my book.

A few pieces of my formula for the perfect massage:

1) Take the time to discuss specific problem areas before I get undressed. Then pay attention to what I say and focus on these areas.

2) The room should be dark. Only as much light as is absolutely required for you to do your job well.

3) Music: nature sounds and a didgeridoo (or two). Volume: low. A little waterfall fountain with pebbles won't hurt my feelings, either.

4) Heating pad covering the entire massage table? Definitely yes. And drape it with a sheepskin blanket for pure bliss.

5) Quietly ask me how I like the pressure, just once or twice.

6) None of the sissy laying hands on my back and taking deep breaths for two minutes crap. Get in there and work out my knots!

7) If my leg tenses up, it means you are tickling my foot or calf. Try another move until I can relax.

8) Most of the time I shouldn't notice you breaking away to re-apply lotion or oil.

9) The best massage therapists really work with and listen to the body. That one is hard to explain, but I know whether it's happening or not. Mediocre massages consist of a predetermined sequence of strokes learned by rote in a classroom and repeated on every client.

10) Scalp and facial massage should never be neglected.

11) Work most on the area I specified needs help, then return to it at the end so the massage finishes with the most valuable effect.

12) Have a drink of water waiting outside the door for me afterward.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Criminals at Twilight

For a special New Year's Day date, my husband and I ventured out to the movie theatre. Such an excursion is very rare for us. In all of 2008, I'm not sure I saw more than two movies on the big screen. Truthfully, I prefer watching movies at home. I can wear my jammies and slippers, cuddle up in a big blanket, and make my own delectable treats to enjoy. Paying eight times the price to see a movie in a crowded theatre in exchange for relinquishing those comforts of home is not very appealing. Having said that, sometimes it's nice to just do something--anything--which could be construed as a real live "date" with my Honey. Plus, we got a new Entertainment Book for Christmas, so decided to go all crazy and use the discounted movie coupons.

Since we never see movie trailers on television (bless you, TiVo), we selected one based on two criteria: 1) appealing online description, and 2) starts within a convenient window of time. The one that fit the bill was Yes Man. The movie was fun, with some great laugh-out-loud scenes. The comedic tone was quite similar to that of Jim Carrey's Liar Liar, with the notable plot exception being that in Yes Man, Jim Carrey's character makes a choice to improve his life by saying "yes," rather than fighting a spell requiring him to tell the truth, as in Liar Liar. Gary and I both thoroughly enjoyed this escape into unabashed mirth and frivolity. So much so, in fact, that when I mentioned that the other movie we had wanted to see started in four minutes, Gary actually called his mother to see if she wouldn't mind keeping our daughter a little longer.

Since I have quite possibly the most generous mother-in-law west of the Mississippi, we bounded out of those springy seats, then sauntered down the hall to the theatre showing a little movie called Twilight, which you might have heard of.

Although my husband has read the entire Twilight series, I of course have not. But I was actually very excited to see this movie. I feel pretty left out being one of the few remaining humans having yet to read the books. Fully realizing that watching the movie would pale in comparison to the experience of delving into the world of Twilight through Stephenie Meyer's writing, I still wanted to know the story. Then I could at least have a basic understanding when anyone or her grandma started talking about Edward's eyes or "the prom scene."

So we nonchalantly meandered down the hall to find the right theatre. Isn't one paid movie ticket like an "all-access pass" to the theatre as a whole? Gary left me at the door to go use the men's room. I walked up the ramp and found the surprisingly small theatre jammed full. I walked up and down the steps, scanning each row, and found only a few single seats. Our best option (well, besides just accepting the fact that all of the people who had purchased tickets for this movie had filled it) was a couple of seats in the front two rows, one diagonally behind the other. When Gary returned, I showed him, and he shrugged his approval. We were both too excited to see the movie to care that we wouldn't be able to hold hands. Oh wait, and we're not in eighth grade, either. I climbed over the back to get to my seat in the middle of the second row just as the lights went out and previews started to roll.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that folks laden with buckets of popcorn and over-sized Cokes kept trickling in the door, scrutinizing the theatre as I did in search of a seat. I tried not to stare, but couldn't help but do the math. I realized that one group came in, left baffled, and returned with an usher. My eyes focused on the screen, with visions of a junior-high assembly creeping to mind. One where a student shouts the F-word when the teachers' backs are turned, and we all have to stay in the gym until the culprit comes forward.

Would they do that? My conscience got the best of me for a minute, and I imagined the trailers on pause and the house lights brightening up. The teenaged usher, in all his pimply glory, stands in front of the crowd and authoritatively states that only as many tickets as there are plush seats in this room have been sold. "Who among you dares steal from a Hollywood Blockbuster? Mwa-ha-ha-ha!!!"

Just as I was putting the finishing touches on my plan for explaining why I didn't have my ticket stub in my pocket, I peeked over at the usher. He seemed to be motioning one of them to a seat on the far side of the theatre, and I believe I deciphered his gestures to the other guest as an offer to set chairs in the wheelchair spaces.

My heart rate returned to normal just in time for Bella to start talking about death.

My assessment of the movie was very different from Gary's. While he insisted on critiquing many of the casting selections and director's choices (as one is wont to do when viewing the scenes in his imagination wrongly interpreted by another), I just kicked back and loved it. I can see how the story itself drew in readers with such force, and oddly, watching the movie piqued my interested in reading the books. Watching other big screen novel adaptations has not had the same effect on me. For example, after seeing the Harry Potter movies, I just feel pleased that I got to experience in a mere two hours what all you book-loving suckers spent several days absorbing. The same goes for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Of course, I didn't really have any interest in reading those series' before watching the movie, but I would have expected any previously held interest in reading Twilight to likewise be satiated after watching the movie. Not so.

Twilight was not by any stretch of the imagination an Academy-Award winning film. It should not earn a place on a list of best movies of 2008, let alone of all time. I think it's interesting that I found myself forgiving some of the movie's faults based on the knowledge that it was adapted from a book. In places where I would have been frustrated with the lack of character development or critical of the choppy editing, I actually thought, "I'm sure that was explained much better in the book," or "I bet they had to cut out a lot of the important details here," and excused the filmmakers for it. I didn't feel the need to pardon Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings in such ways, but perhaps those glaring omissions added to my desire to get the full story from the book. I am usually not so quick to absolve a movie for such offenses, so perhaps I was just in the mood to be entertained. I'm glad I was, and am delighted to report that I plan to find a way to make time to read this year.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Flashback Friday: Tent Indignities, Part III: In chipmunk memoriam

It is time at last for the riveting conclusion of our three-part Tent Indignities series: Three experiences, all occuring within the same tent, which I find hilarious because they happened to my cousins, and not to me. I invite you to read Part I and Part II if you missed them.

Return with me, if you will, to Prineville Oregon, summertime during the early 1990's. Hot Sun, wild boat rides, lazy card games in the shade, s'mores around the campfire at night. Oh, and more scrounging little chipmunks than you can shake your fist at.

The central Oregon desert is infested with these adorable chipmunks. At Prineville, they will eat right out of your hand given a good enough incentive. Arrive armed with plenty of peanuts, preferably in-shell, and you'll be welcomed. These critters are constantly darting between trees and underground lairs and picnic tables. Sit still and you can't help feeling like a fixture in an erractically operating pinball machine, with brown fuzzy pinballs ricocheting in every direction. Don't blink, because the little suckers run fast.

During the sweltering day, the olive-colored surplus tent appointed as bedroom for the tween/teen age group lay primarily empty. We'd enter the canvas sauna occasionally for a quick change of clothes or retrieval of personal item(s). But generally, at Prineville you snap on your swimsuit when you wake up, and alternate it being soaked in the reservoir and dried in the sun over and over until bedtime. While the two previous Tent Indignities episodes took place after dark, this final incident occurred during one of these fleeting daytime tent infiltrations.

Because my uncle hooked us up with prime campsites overlooking the trail down to moorage (also the only ones with lush, green grass), it was easy for us kids to constantly run back and forth between the water and the picnic table all day long. Just as a few of us girls were making our way toward the trailhead in hopes of catching the next uncle's boat that might arrive back at the dock, one of my cousins--let's call her Juanita--realized she needed some important item which she had left inside our giant tent. Of course we promised to wait in the shade while she ran back to grab what she needed. I have no recollection of what it was, or maybe I never knew. After the following events transpired, I doubt if even Juanita remembers for what she originally returned.

I remained under some trees with the others while Juanita ran back to the tent. Suddenly the calm, desert air--normally disturbed only by the distant drone of speedboat engines--was pierced with the shrill shrieks of a tormented teenage girl.

We immediately ran to the tent, where we found Juanita in front of the flapping zippered door, shaking her hands in disgust and prancing around with knees bouncing as high as her chest. She continued whimpering and saying "ew ew ew" while we stood baffled and tried asking her what was wrong. By now several worried parents had assembled to see what all the ruckus was about. It would be logical to assume that a chipmunk had found a way into our tent, and upon entering, Juanita saw it and got grossed out. Nope. Maybe she opened her duffel bag and came face-to-face with a furry little critter eating her underpants. Not quite.

Have you ever had to squish an ant under a tissue? I hate killing bugs in general, but those big, black ants are one of the worst because you can hear--and feel--their little bodies snap, crackle, and pop under your lethal fingers. Well, imagine that ant is the size of a chipmunk. And has bones like a chipmunk, fur like a chipmunk, and for all intents and purposes IS a chipmunk.

Juanita had scampered back to our tent in a hurry shortly after a very unlucky chipmunk had scampered its way underneath the very same tent. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And you know, when purposefully running, your weight comes down with much greater force on impact than when gingerly making your way over sleeping bags and uneven tent flooring. So Mr. (or Ms?) Chipmunk never stood a chance. I wouldn't need Juanita's description to imagine the horrifying, repulsive feeling of tiny little bones crushing and squishy little organs bursting underfoot.

My family gave the chipmunk a name, which for the life of me I can't remember. But I recall it was somewhat toungue-in-cheek considering his destiny. We put the deceased rodent in a little box and buried it in the hillside, complete with a mini memorial service. Poor Juanita was mortified about the whole ordeal, but I think she has since realized that any one of us could have been the ill-fated killer had the "chips" only fallen differently.

This concludes Flashback Friday's Tent Indignities series. I hope you enjoyed it! I also hope that my cousins aren't plotting vicious revenge. I love you guys!


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