Monthly Archives: October 2005

Night Elves and Taurens and Gnomes, Oh My!

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Hello. My name is Katrina, and I’m…a WoW addict.

It’s been five months since my last raid on an orc village, but last night I fell off the wagon. I hooked up with some of my old friends from Azeroth, one thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was riding my giant tiger across the sands of Silithus in search of the Duke of Fathoms and his treasured Darkstone Claymore.

It was exhilarating.

For the uninitiated, WoW is “World of Warcraft”, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (or MMORPG, to cHixOrs* like me.) The story of my love affair with WoW is a tempestuous and unexpected one, but I believe I’m ready to share it. Think of it as a cautionary tale…

***

I first met WoW in the strangest of ways–as an assignment of sorts from a marriage enrichment book. I don’t remember the title, but it had a lot of stuff about needs in it. And according to the book, one of a husband’s deepest needs is for “recreational companionship.” To put it simply, he wants his wife to enjoy doing some of the same things that he enjoys doing, so they can do them together. Apparently, many of a man’s most emotionally fulfilling moments occur when he’s having fun (a useful bit of knowledge and perhaps a little foreign to women, whose most emotionally fulfilling moments occur when they are watching their husbands do the dishes without being asked.) The author went on to challenge me, as a wife, to choose one of my husband’s favorite leisure activities and try it out.

I think I may have mentioned that I’m married to a computer geek. So it didn’t take a huge intellectual leap to figure out where to start. I steeled my determination, set my jaw, and walked up behind Paul at the computer to peer over his shoulder as he deftly maneuvered the mouse and tapped away at the keyboard. “So,” I asked, gesturing at the screen, “how does this game work?”

His fingers on the keyboard stilled, and he swiveled his head slowly around in wide-eyed wonder, oblivious to the woes of the suddenly abandoned character on the monitor behind him. “What did you say?”

“This game–this…whatchamacallit? Warcraft? Tell me about it. I’m interested in what you like, honey.” And with the air of someone who is giving a great gift, I pulled up a chair next to him and prepared to be bored out of my mind.

“Well, it’s kind of hard to explain it–let me just show you,” he said, and pulled me eagerly down into The Captain’s Chair. Pretty soon he was helping me to create my very own character, “just for fun” of course, and as I brought her to life, carefully choosing her race (night elf), her class (druid), her hair color (white), and even the distinct pattern of her facial tattoos, I had a grand moment of realization: I was having fun, and, even better, so was Paul. I named my elf Sundancer, and as she set foot on the mythical world of Azeroth, I felt the first faint stirrings of excitement and new adventure spring to life inside me.

Two minutes after my character’s birth, I killed her by accidentally running her off the edge of a very tall tree. Stupid controls. Paul thought it was funny, at least. I played for ten more minutes, trying to master the simultaneous use of the keyboard and the mouse while Sundancer careened all over the game’s verdant green landscape like a drunken kangaroo. Thoroughly intimidated, I finally logged off, content at least in the knowledge that I had racked up some major marital brownie points for even making the attempt.

The next day, I did four loads of laundry, emptied and filled the dishwasher, made the beds, and mopped the floor (I can’t remember why–I usually reserve that kind of housecleaning for special occasions, like papal visits and inaugural balls.) About halfway through the dusting, I felt it: a nudge, an itch, an urge. Whatever it was, it pulled me across the living room and over to the computer. Turning it on, I double-clicked the World of Warcraft icon, closed my eyes for a moment, and opened them to find myself under a leafy emerald canopy, surrounded by the lush elven forest of Teldrassil.

***

World of Warcraft is a total immersion adventure game. At its simplest level, it is the story of an ongoing battle between the Horde (Boo! Hiss!) and the Alliance forces in the fictional world of Azeroth. Players choose their sides, create their characters, and start out in the game at level 1. Each race has its own “newbie” area, where players learn the mechanics of the game as they fight and kill beasts and complete quests. Every kill and every quest rewards the player in XP, or experience points. As points go up, so does your level. As your level increases, you move beyond the newbie area and out into the whole wonderful wide world, full of dramatic landscapes and strange creatures.

And here’s the thing: you’re playing with real people. Human beings from all across the world (the real one), transformed through digital magic into dwarves and gnomes and elves and trolls, are all caught up in the same story, working together on the same quests, forming marauding bands and honorable societies in pursuit of glorious adventures.

From the moment I first teamed up with a fellow player to rescue the Sacred Relics of Wakening from the Ban’ethil Barrow Den, I was hooked. Hooked! It was like being inside of a fantastic novel, only I had control over the plot. I could be a hero, or a villain. I could uphold the noble ideals of loyalty, selflessness, and sacrifice–or I could swoop down to ninja loot** the epic sword and teleport back to Moonglade, leaving my erstwhile teammates snarling and cursing in the middle of a failed raid into enemy territory. It was intoxicating.

Soon I was using Caleb’s naptime, the time I used to spend on housework, to vanquish the fierce naga tribes of the Zoram Strand. I was building block towers with the kids while secretly daydreaming about epic armor pieces and PvP*** battles. My online friends and my real life friends were getting equal time.

When I finally confessed my secret WoW addiction to Paul, his initial delight quickly turned to dismay as we started to haggle over whose turn it was to use the computer, a heretofore unheard-of problem in our household.

I should have known things had gotten out of hand when it was me–yes, me–who brought up the idea of buying a second computer and an additional WoW account so that we could play together. I’m sure that Paul’s geek buddies fell over backwards with envy when they heard about it. As for me, I was afraid to tell any of my girlfriends that I had become a computer gamer, knowing only too well the merciless teasing and puzzled head-shaking that would ensue.

And yet, I played on.

A few months after that first dizzy fall from the giant tree, I reached the pinnacle: Level 60. The highest you can go. I shudder to think of the gaming hours I spent in pursuit of that lofty goal, and yet my chest still swells with pride as I remember the moment I finally crossed over from geek accessory to gaming elite.

***

Summer came, and with it, the deep, wild longing for outdoor romps and sun-soaked days. As the time we spent in Azeroth waned, Paul and I talked idly about quitting WoW to focus on doing other things. One day, we did.

And I felt…free. I played, I walked, I wrote long, meandering prose and mediocre poetry in my journal. I had Idaho adventures. I didn’t miss WoW, because life was pretty wow. It was a beautiful summer, an invigorating autumn.

But now winter is here again, and the light has fled. There will still be lively hours of rolling in the snow and hiking in the crisp, cold air, but most days will be spent in delicious retreat from the biting wind, wrapped in sweaters with hot cocoa in hand. Living the life of the modern caveman, we’ll safely tuck ourselves away indoors.

It was no surprise, then, last night, when I heard once more the siren song of Azeroth, calling me to fresh adventures. It was not so coincidentally timed with Paul’s showing me the preview for Blizzard’s soon-to-be-released World of Warcraft expansion pack. Ten new levels, two new races, and a vast range of never-before-seen lands to explore. I am aquiver with anticipation.

Besides, I can quit whenever I want.

***

MMORPG Lexicon

*girl geeks
**to take an item off of a slain enemy that, by in-game rules, should go to someone else; to steal
***Player vs. Player

For those who are interested in the fascinating and frightening psychology of MMORPGs, here’s an interesting site.

The Big Stink

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There’s a dark side to parenting, one that doesn’t appear on the cover of Child Magazine or in your rosy pre-baby fantasies of spending quiet evenings at home, cradling your pink, sweet-smelling newborn as you recline in Raphaelite beauty on your very expensive Babies ‘R’ Us glider rocker. And it can be summed up in one word.

Fluids.

As in body fluids.

As in partially-digested, curdled breastmilk that Perfect Baby will spew all over your very expensive Babies ‘R’ Us glider rocker approximately 22 minutes after you get him home from the hospital, causing said rocker, despite multiple cleanings, to smell faintly of sour milk for the rest of its useful existence.

As in the sudden, shocking stream of pee that spouts unexpectedly from your sleeping infant as you change his diaper in the middle of the night, necessitating a clean set of pajamas for each of you.

As in the radioactive orange effluvium stealthily creeping out of your toddler’s pants and up his back, soaking through all layers of the adorable yellow teddy bear outfit that Aunt Thelma bought him (which will be unceremoniously stripped off and cast into the dumpster as a less repulsive alternative to washing it out.)

As in the blood gushing from your six year-old’s mouth and head as she hurtles through the door from outside, screaming about falling off of her new bike and holding two teeth in her hand, temporarily sending you into cardiac arrest.

Forget the formula coupons and Beatrix Potter blankets–they should send you home from the maternity ward with a mop.

***

Potty training.

He brought it up last week. My husband, the guy who spends most of the daylight hours safely esconced in a nice, tidy office where everyone has assumed control over their own bowel and bladder functions.

“Maybe we should start thinking about potty training Caleb,” he said. By “we”, I knew, he meant “you”. I heard someone whimpering and only realized after the conversation was over that it was me. Like a PTSD victim, I started flashing back through memories of the year and a half we spent in the campaign to potty train Katie. Some of them were not pretty. Most of them, actually.

On Katie’s second birthday, we bought her a cute little training potty. Full of the starry-eyed optimism that only first-time parents can muster, we led her ceremoniously into the bathroom and introduced her to her new throne.

First, Katie’s dolly sat on the potty. Then Katie sat on the potty with her diaper on. Then Katie sat on the potty with her diaper off. For forty-five minutes. While her Dad and I read to her from a stack of books with names like Everyone Poops and Once Upon a Potty.

Nothing. Not a drop.

This scenario was repeated countless times in the weeks and months that followed, with the same results, as Paul and I grew more and more discouraged. Over time, Katie started devising other uses for what had become a sad little fixture of our home decor. She filled it with blocks and toys; she stood on it to reach my forbidden lipstick; she set up pretend tea parties on the lid; she hid food in it that she didn’t want to eat. Occasionally, she even sat on it, but only to visit with me whilst I was busy with my own sundry bathroom activities.

At last, one day, she went pee-pee in the potty. Trumpets blew! Shouts of jubilation resounded! And she freaked out. When we were finally able to calm her down enough to piece together the reason for the tears, we realized that the, uh, “backsplash” caused by the miniscule potty had gotten on her, an unbearable torment. The cute little commode, erstwhile home to so many colorful Legos and tiny teacups, was abruptly disposed of, and we bought a potty seat that fit over the top of the big-people toilet.

I won’t bore you with details of the on-again-off-again, hit-and-miss (mostly miss) attempts over the next few months to get Katie to start using the potty with regularity. Her third birthday came and went without success and we were running out of diaper sizes, starting to eyeball the Depends, when I realized that whoever came up with that comforting saying about how “no kid ever started kindergarten still in diapers” had never met our Katie. It was time for drastic measures.

In the summer of 2002, we threw away our last dozen diapers like a nicotine addict tossing his last pack of cigs. We took Katie to Wal-mart and let her pick out her very own brand-new, big girl underpants. They were pink and white with sweet little flowers on them. They didn’t know what they were in for.

Once we went cold turkey on the diapers, it only took a week. I would tell you all about it, but my memory of the ordeal is, mercifully, a little patchy. Psychologists say that when our minds are overwhelmed by something horrific, they often compensate by blocking out the worst details. I do remember vague snapshots: following Katie around the apartment with a wet washcloth and a bottle of Shout; standing a crying, poop-covered toddler in the bathtub while peeling off her sodden clothes and rinsing them out a layer at a time; putting stickers on a chart for each successful trip to the toilet (one star for number one, and two stars for, well, number two.)

Somehow we made it through, and I enjoyed six blissful months of diaper-free parenting before, in late winter, The Prince arrived on the scene.

Is it really potty time already?

***

You know, all the parenting books say to take your cues from your kids, watching them for signs that will tell you it’s time to begin potty training. Every boy or girl is different, and it’s important to wait until your child is truly ready.

I think it’s only right that moms be given the same consideration.

Dear Kathy…

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There’s got to be an easier way for you to get mentioned in my blog than to sneak around my apartment, covertly affixing California Raisins stickers to everything.

The ones I found covering the numbers on the microwave and stuck to my Diet Coke bottle and pasted on the bathroom mirror were all amusing. “What a kidder, that Kathy!” I chuckled.

You’re going to pay for the one you put in the shower, though.

I thought it was a spider and tripped over the bath mat trying to get away.

No Soldier, I

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“Where did he go?” I mumbled as I crouched a little lower behind the graffiti-covered wall. My heart beat a staccato rhythm inside my chest and sweat trickled in tiny rivulets down my back. I’d been hit from behind as I rounded a corner, but the enemy had evaded my return fire and now was nowhere to be seen. Pushing my hair back from my eyes, I squinted into the thick smoke. I knew that he was on the move, probably flanking me. I was too exposed here, had too many unguarded sides. And then there was the everpresent risk from above.

Suddenly, my partner, Terri, appeared through the haze, giving me the “all clear” signal. I burst from my hiding place, determined to put distance between myself and the menacing Viking. We moved stealthily through several corridors without meeting any resistance, then made directly for the base above. Just as we topped a ramp, certain that we were safe at last, he emerged from the shadows like a fierce Norse warrior of old, took careful aim, and fired.

My chest emitted a series of high-pitched tones and started vibrating. I had been tagged by the Viking. Again.

“Aww, maaaan! Mark! Can’t you shoot someone else?” Ten minutes later, as our whole laughing, sweating church group tumbled out of the LaserQuest staging area, I discovered that he had shot someone else. Lots of someones. He earned a record-setting 1040 points for that game–aided, no doubt, by the ten hits he scored on me. How humiliating. And since he also happens to be our family physician, I’ll probably have to put up with the gloating well into the flu season.

Not that he was the only one who found me in his laser sights last night. My own husband apparently had no second thoughts about targeting the mother of his children with his rather deadly accuracy. Even my sister tagged me a few times. She ended up faking an injury in the fourth round when the onslaught of my vengeance threatened to overwhelm her. So whatever she might say about me repeatedly firing at her while she was standing still and nursing her bleeding knuckles is a pack of scurrilous lies.

My favorite incident of the night occurred during the third game, when the thirty-and-over crowd teamed up against the younger, presumably faster set. We creamed them–wrinkles, gray hair and all. At one point, Paul and I were teamed up and two of the girls in our college group were crouched in an alley on the level below us. Leaning out above them, we tagged both of them several times before they realized why their packs kept going off. Heather finally looked at her readout to see my player name lit up on the screen. “It’s Katrina!” I heard her hiss to Cassie as she looked around. “Where is she?” Five feet over their heads, Paul and I giggled soundlessly. It was a supremely satisfying moment.

If you’ve never played laser tag, I highly recommend it. Set in a chaotic world of strobe lights and fake smoke, it is a heart-pumping, laughter-invoking, adrenaline rush of a workout, well worth the few dollars it costs to play.

Just be sure to go with friends (the type that will still be friends when it’s over!)

Sorry I Could Not Travel Both

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A few weeks ago I was cleaning out an old email account of ours, one that we haven’t used in years, except as a spam-tastic decoy for all those online registration forms. I was wielding my Delete key with ferocity, annihilating legions of piled-up Viagra ads and invitations to help foreign princes transfer their untold riches into American bank accounts. Suddenly, swimming in the sea of junk, a name popped out at me. Jill.

Jill! My Dunkin’ Donuts, A.P. English, Room With A View, Jay Baik fan club, definitive Hermia, Steak-n-Shake, amazing writer, New York transplant, high school friend Jill. I felt a pleasant tingle of surprise (not unlike the very tail end of that pins-and-needles sensation you get when your arm falls asleep, actually.)

The already months-old email announced the debut of Jill’s blog. Of course, I clicked. I giggled. I wept. I marveled at the rich writing talent I used to know that has only grown more vivid and profound with the intervening years. Most of all, I peered through a window into my friend’s life and saw a kaleidoscope of colors entirely new, vignettes I had never before beheld. For a long moment, I was able to look down the Road Not Taken.

***

I remember being seventeen and breathless, exhilarated by the knowledge that the world lay open and glorious at my feet, a vast treasure trove of possibilities and future adventures, like glittering gemstones waiting to be picked up on my travels. Uncharted lands spread out before me, ready for my footprints. I could do anything.

What I didn’t truly understand, then, was that I couldn’t do everything.

Endless possibilities aren’t really endless. As the years pass (and they have a way of doing that), decisions are made, paths are chosen, and even exciting crossroads are bittersweet with the knowledge that each choice we make opens some doors…and closes others. No one person could live the many lifetimes I’ve envisioned for myself: the tireless missionary working to spread the Gospel in Uganda, the mysterious American girl waiting tables in a Venetian cafe, the Colorado cattle rancher’s wife roping and riding in faded Levi’s, the reclusive but celebrated novelist quietly breathing and writing in a hidden lakeside cabin in New England. Artist, cowgirl, debutante, wanderer, author–I’ve wanted it all at one point or another, sometimes all at once.

But no matter what they say, no one can have it all. I chose, like we all do, the way that seemed best, the way that embraced my heart’s deepest longings. I married the guy with the quick wit and the impressive unibrow who held me in his arms like he was holding something precious. I poured my desire to leave a mark upon the world into a decision to teach children to read, to think, to care. And then I had children of my own–an affectionate girl, a spirited boy. I can think of nothing more important than loving them and passing on to them the torch of my own ever-deepening faith in the God of the universe.

I have made many choices, and I look back on most of them without regret. I love the rugged landscape of my past, even those treacherous mountain passes I never meant to tread, where I learned heartache, despair, and then hope. I look around me now and thank every step that brought me to this place.

And yet…

Sometimes I’d like to peek behind those closed doors.

Maybe that, at its heart, is what blogging is about.

Sitting at my computer in the dark, reading Jill’s incisive mix of prose and poetry (how does she do that thing where she puts her finger right on the thing she means to say without saying “thing” all the time?), I become her for just a moment: the adventurous single girl living in the city, an urban explorer surrounded by marvelous and bewildering people, making wild forays into a world of yoga classes and dating disasters and fascinating encounters with strangers in the park. Somewhere inside, I’ve always wanted to experience that life. Now, in a small way, I have.

So thank you, Jill, for your keen pen and your open window. I will be dropping in frequently.

Savage Consumers

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It’s time, I think, to start using power of the written word and the dynamic platform of my beloved blog to mobilize my vast readership (I’ve added all eleven of you to my Christmas card list, by the way) in a fight to right the wrongs that are clearly afflicting the very foundation of our society.

To that end, I’d like to address one of the most grim and terrifying pop culture trends of our age, one that has poisoned the noble ideals of the advertising industry since time immemorial–or at least the mid-eighties. I think you know of what I speak.

Talking food.

It all started with those seemingly innocuous California Raisins. What could be cuter, after all, than jazz-singing, saxophone-playing raisins in sunglasses? We gleefully watched them on TV; we talked about them with our friends; we bought little posable raisin action figures for our desks; we put them on T-shirts; we hummed “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” on elevators full of strangers. The Raisins were adorable, and harmless, and they boosted raisin sales across the country. Advertisers sat up and took notice.

Other humanized edibles quickly emerged in an effort to capitalize on America’s apparent desire to buy food with personality.

But then, in 1996, the talking food gimmick took a macabre turn with the introduction of the now famous M&Ms Brand Characters. They were cute. They were funny. They were charming. And people were actively trying to eat them! What followed was a series of disturbing commercials in which the red and yellow M&Ms were tricked, hounded, pursued, and trapped by a variety of voracious humans, who, despite the obvious intelligence and self-awareness displayed by the would-be snacks, were simply driven mad by their insane lust for the creamy, delectable, milk chocolatey centers of the unfortunate celebrity candies.

And it worked. We bought M&Ms by the billions. We ate them with mad abandon and brutal relish. And the M&Ms talking candy campaign propagated. (In fact, the commercial introduction of the Green M&M a year later opened yet another dark door into crevasses of the human psyche best left unexplored.)

I know there’s not much that one person can do against such wanton exploitation of foodstuffs, but I can’t leave this subject without touching on the commercial that horrifies me the most, the one that really embodies everything I hate about this particularly repugnant style of product promotion: The Chips Ahoy birthday party commercial…

We open on a cheery scene–a child’s birthday party, with all the attendant streamers and balloons that frivolity demands on such an occasion. A close up reveals the birthday girl sitting next to a giant Chips Ahoy cookie character, both of them in party hats. He is smiling, delighted, I presume, at having been invited to his friend’s Very Special Event. He probably even brought one of the many presents that have already been unwrapped and tumbled into a corner in anticipation of the moment everyone’s been waiting for–the presentation of the birthday cake. “So…” he asks, looking around, “where’s the cake?”

At this, the formerly benign-looking birthday girl turns her suddenly wolfish grin on the unsuspecting cookie and purrs, “Oh, we’re not having cake.”

The cookie blinks, his smile frozen for a moment on his face before hideous understanding slowly seeps in. The smile dissolves into a grimace of horror, and, as the camera pans out to take in the coldly rapacious leers of the other party-goers gathered around the table, he utters a tiny “uh-oh” before the shot mercifully closes, leaving us to imagine the carnage that follows.

That’s right. In case you missed the implication, we’re talking about a mob of children at a birthday party savagely ripping apart one of the party guests for the purpose of devouring him.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGH!

Is that gruesome, or what?

I just can’t take it anymore. Please help! Write your congressman! Write the FCC! Write Amnesty International! Someone, somewhere must care about this assault on the sensibilities of feeling Americans!

I would stop watching TV altogether, but, well, you know.

“Lost” is a really good show.

Skroinch

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Is there any feeling quite as yucky as finding out that someone is mad at you?

Maybe you’re one of those lucky people who really don’t care what others think of them. If you are, I envy you and your fancy schmancy emotional health. As for me, I only tell myself that I don’t care what others think of me when I’m pretty sure that the others in question actually think I’m okey-dokey.

When someone is mad at me, it wrecks my whole day. My stomach skroinches* up in a tense little knot, my head starts to hurt, and I begin mentally rehearsing the conversation I’m going to have with the offended party to clear things up (I play both parts, of course, which means that we always reach a happy solution in less time than it takes a sit-com family to work out who broke the kitchen window with Dad’s autographed Mark Maguire baseball.) This might be helpful if I always followed through with my intention to shine a light on the problem and discuss it as respectful, responsible adults, but, chickenheart that I am, I much prefer hiding under a rock until things blow over.

I usually end up pushing the matter to the furthest, darkest corner of my “to do” list, where it will continue to spring to the forefront of my conscious mind at regular intervals and mess with my serenity:

Ooh, I’m so happy that new apple walnut salad recipe came out just perfect, not too tart and not too sweet, but that doesn’t really matter because somebody is mad at me.

Katie is going to her friend Anna Rose’s birthday party tomorrow and I’m really looking forward to finally meeting her mom, but how could she possibly like me when I’m such a bad person that somebody is mad at me?

Ah, the house is clean and the laundry is all folded and put away so I can sit down at last with my new library book, but I can’t get past the first sentence of the first paragraph on the first page because all I can think about is how somebody is still mad at me!

And so it goes.

As you can probably tell, somebody really is mad at me. And I suppose there’s nothing for it but to do the emotionally healthy thing and call her so we can drag it all out in the open, where we can work through it like mature, psychologically sound human beings.

Maybe in a mud pit. With a referee.

*So what if it isn’t a word? You knew exactly what it meant when you read it, didn’t you?

Moms in Paradise

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Chick Trip ’05 has been put in the books, and what a trip it was.

This year’s destination: Missoula, Montana.

“What’s in Missoula?” a few people have asked. The answer? Simple pleasures. A hotel with five hot tubs, continental breakfast, and people who are paid to make your bed and pick up your wet towels. Restaurants with ambience and candlelight and steak that comes just exactly the way you ordered it, juicy and perfectly seasoned and slightly pink in the middle. Shops full of Montana sweatshirts and funny farting pens, just right for that saintly guy who’s back at home guarding the fort. Girlfriends and good conversation, on topics ranging from the silly and obscure to the deeply personal and profound utterings of the heart.

A better question might be, “What’s not in Missoula?” No husbands. No kids. No laundry or dishes or dusting. No mailbox full of bills. No phone calls asking for help with the PTA fundraiser. No Dora the Explorer. No rushing anywhere. No calorie-counting. None of the usual streaming chaos of our treasured but turbulent lives.

Chick Trip is, at its heart, an oasis of quiet delight from which we can take a deep breath, look around, and count our blessings.

Well, that and…we laugh. We laugh a lot.

Allow me to pass on some snippets of the weekend’s shared wisdom:

“Nothing gets out the smell of buffalo pee.” –Marci

“Everyone’s husband is greener on the other side.” –Jen

“You never know what to expect when you get a rubber chicken in a hot tub.” –Kathy

“My purse isn’t made to hold melted butter.” –Kim

And I learned a few things myself this weekend. For example, a 35 year old woman can still hurl a hotel pillow with deadly force and accuracy, even in the dark. I found that one out on my way to the bathroom one morning. Kathy’s lucky I didn’t wet my pants.

Also, I learned that any business at all can apparently be improved by pairing it with a casino. As in: Sunshine Payday Loans and Casino (“Why wait till the weekend?”), Jerry’s Car Wash and Casino (“We launder your money while you play!”), Carruthers Family Mortuary and Casino (“Make your inheritance work for you!”) As for us, we didn’t gamble, unless you count eating leftovers that have been in the car all afternoon.

Another pleasant surprise was how many diversions the Missoula area does have to offer, if one is blessed with time to spend and willing friends.

We drove north a bit to the National Bison Range, where we rode around the grassy hills with our van doors open, safari-style, the better to encounter wild animals in their natural habitats. Not only did a buffalo apparently mark our van tire as his territory, but a charging bull elk nearly gored* Jennifer, who, along with Kathy and Marci, was blatantly disregarding signs warning visitors to stay with their vehicles. All in an effort to capture that perfect wildlife photo. We call that Extreme Scrapbooking.

We rode the famous Missoula Carousel, a beautiful hand-carved and painted affair billed as North America’s fastest carousel. I can well believe it; I had a bit of trouble staying on my horse. But you have to reach for the brass ring, right?

We also spent a breezy, sunlit afternoon at the Fort Missoula Historical Museum, immersing ourselves for a while in the swirling pool of American history. There were several striking photo galleries, including a series of pictures taken during the Great Depression and an exhibit in one of the last standing barracks from the internment camps of WWII, where Japanese, Italian, and German Americans were imprisoned. We walked back and forth through the years as easily as we meandered across the quiet, lovely grounds. A wedding was starting in the gazebo there just as we were leaving. It was a perfect day.

Three sun-drenched, carb-loaded, laughter-filled days after piling into Kathy’s van with our matched red cosmetic bags, we are back. Rested, relaxed, renewed–and ready to be better wives and mothers because of this time we took for ourselves and our friendships.

I just have one thing to add:

Conversations in the hot tub stay in the hot tub.

*By “nearly gored”, I mean “came within eighty yards of goring”, which isn’t that alarming, really—although Jen claims that you had to be looking at him and see the murderous rage in his eyes to understand why she bolted back to the van like her pants were on fire.

Retribution

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Ugggh.

Help. Me.

I think the aliens have figured out that I was the one who blew the whistle on their plan for geopolitical global conquest. In retaliation, they have apparently infected me with some kind of interplanetary death flu.

Urrggghlggrrg.

It feels like my insides are trying to get outside. They’re not too picky about which exit they use, either. It appears to be a full-scale emergency evacuation.

Not sure when I’ll post again.

Or if.

Glurrrgggh.

Ewww.

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There is something truly repulsive growing next to the sidewalk outside my apartment.

I’m posting a picture of it that I took this morning, so I know I don’t really need to describe it for you. But I’m going to, anyway, because the image of it is stuck in my mind the way a popcorn kernel gets stuck between your teeth and works its way down into your soft gum tissue, and I’m pretty sure that the only way to rid myself of it is to turn and look full-on at its hideousness.


I think it’s a fungus of some type. Either that or a sentient alien life form that landed in the middle of the night last Monday and began to reproduce in hopes of colonizing the world, starting with Idaho.

It first appeared as a bulbous, mushroom-y, domed lump nestled in the gravel. Then, a few days later, without fanfare, it split open and The Abomination emerged.

Obviously phallic in shape (c’mon, people–there’s no sidestepping that observation), it stretches its pale white stalk towards the sky in search of…something. Possibly signals from the mother ship. Its head is covered in a dark green slime of dubious composition, which becomes, if possible, more disgusting every time I see it. The strange opening at its tip seems to sniff the air in a malevolent fashion (or maybe that’s just my overactive, X-Files-inflated imagination at work.) It’s hollow inside, and it feels kind of spongy. I know because…I touched it.

Not the slimy part, of course.

And I washed my hands afterwards.

Twice.

For pity’s sake, will someone please tell me what this is? Because all my ideas are starting to frighten me.