The Great Outdoors

If anyone’s seen the movie, the Great Outdoors, with John Candy and Dan Aykroyd, they’ll know that sometimes things can be quite unexpected…and it is in homage to this, that I name this post.

The Great Outdoors (film)

The Great Outdoors (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Vacation is upon me…finally.  And this time, we are filling our time off with a short trip to the cottage which I’m spiritually allergic to:  I mean, no AC, no cable TV, no WiFi, and essentially, not much of a boundary between Mother Nature and me…  I’m allergic to anything in the “great outdoors.”  Call me urbanite – the closest I get to the great outdoors is the park around the corner where my kids sometimes play.

For example, take day 3 of our 6 day getaway to the family cottage – I swore I’d never stay at beyond a night (two if absolutely necessary).  My legs are swollen and itchy from the bites of creatures or scrapes of plants unknown, my hair is at least 4 inches shorter as it has curled up and bunched up into anti-nature dreadlocks, and my face is covered with ugly brown spots and freckles.  Despite all these little discomforts, I sat in awe of the most incredible thunderstorm I’ve witnessed in a long, long time.

The cottage has a very large picture window overlooking the lake, which, just moments ago, was being punctured by millions of the largest, hardest drops of rain while the “north shore” across the way gets ravaged by bolt after bolt of lightning.  And I’m watching the steam rise up from between the rows upon rows of trees in response to the cold rain.  It’s so ominous…

The storm has passed – I learned once that the longer the time between seeing lightning and hearing thunder, the further the storm had traveled and hence, the closer to ending.  I’ve just imparted a little wisdom here and since I’m on vacation, if what I’ve said is fiction, well, I chalk it up to days of totally being out of my element and being completely discombobulated.  But do look it up and Google it – let me know if I was wrong!  But now, with coffee in hand and a nice piece of toast, I’m literally floored by how majestic things seem up here.

When we first arrived at the cottage, while Mr. Niceguy and the boys were full of anticipation and bubbling with excitement, all I could think of was how I would stop myself from inevitably going absolutely stir crazy?  How would I fill the time without cable TV?  How would I entertain my highly active kids and keep them from driving each other (and me) crazy?  But with the sun’s heat radiating down on me, I began to give in to my surroundings as I began my usual eternal debate between lusting for relaxation and a deep, bronzed tan juxtaposed with premature aging and skin cancer.  Secondary to this consideration was which bikini to start this so-called vacation in:  sporty (very efficient for all water activities) or sexy (no tan lines but likely to end up around my ankles with every jump).

Truth be told, these are all moot points given that I still have to lose about 5 to 7 pounds for either to really look good…though who am I kidding? 

One glance in the mirror will confirm that I am not Jennifer Aniston’s doppelgänger, so once again, a moot point. 

I went with a mix: sporty top, sexy bottom…and after about 2 hours of the same cycle:  sunning, getting too hot, jumping in the freezing cold lake to my children’s squeals and utter delight, coming back out and starting all over again, I needed something more to do…so I toilet trained the 3 year old.  That’s right.  Toilet trained.  We are just about 100% there.  And I have to pause here because it was his 3 year old friend’s mom that actually gave me the idea.  Thank you.  She made the comment that her son would come over and take all of my extremely selfish, possessive and territorial 3 year old’s underwear (Cars, Curious George, the whole lot) since he wasn’t using them… I exploited this…and it worked!

I’ve always known my kids were lovers of the great outdoors, and this potty training unleashed one more aspect that can only be described as “pure boy”:  not only does my little guy use his simple potty seat, but along with his brother, he likes to go in the lake, on the rocks, along the path and pretty much anywhere can mark his territory.  Well I say, well done!  This achievement is HUGE for both of us!  Thank you possessive human nature and thank you great outdoors!

OK…so what next?  How else to pass the time?  By day 4, we started on fake accents.  Having grown up in Saudi Arabia, to parents who speak at least 5 different languages, my ears have forever been full of so many different sounds.  In fact, my sister and I learned to speak English while watching Sesame Street and Electric Company (American accent) and at a British private school combined with our Armenian mother tongue and our exposure to Arabic.  So for as long as I can remember, I can turn on most accents in a flash, particularly a London accent, but to pass the time, I’ve decided to work on all of the UK:  Scottish, southern England, Sheffield, Manchester, and so on.  And after a couple of beers, and the kids installed nicely in front of a movie, Mr. Niceguy and I have gone from the Beatles, to Trainspotting, to Snatch and Mr. Bean.  “I say, me finks we’re ‘avin a jolly good time!  Rather!”  How droll.

There’s been some real excitement at the cottage too…for instance, we went canoeing, something I hadn’t done in years…decades, really!  And I actually skipped rocks!  And following the 7 year old’s lead, I spent a great deal of my time swimming.  The 3 year old swam too, that is, until the incident with Jenny, a 3 year old, chocolate lab (I don’t know my dogs very well so this is an assumption).  In any case, Jenny was very excited to see us one afternoon.  So much so that without any warning, she jumped in the water and started to try and climb up on top of the 3 year old and his swim ring.  The only thing between this enormous dog and my 3 year old was my arm which got quite bruised in the process of trying to keep myself and the 3 year old from drowning under the weight of this dog!  But Mr. Niceguy (all toned up from his training) dove in and saved the day…my hero!

But adventures aside, the great outdoors has been good to us…and ok, I admit it, unexpectedly good to me.  Letting go of the urban noises and stresses was a very welcome change – as was all the time spent lounging, swimming and staring up at the sky.  If my inlaws will allow it, I daresay, I’d be up for a repeat same time next year…but only once…and only next year!  Oh, and now I hear the sweet call of the city…my phone is beeping and I have to go!

Great outdoors

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Pride and Prejudice…the spincycle version

One of my all-time favourite movies is Pride and Prejudice – the BBC version.  I’ve seen it more times than I can remember and at first, I thought the title should’ve been, “The Charming Mr. Darcy” (swoon).  But after watching it many, many more times, I came to appreciate its meaning…how both Elizabeth Bennett (the heroine) and Mr. Darcy both prejudged each other given their circumstances and ingrained thinking.  In the end, they realize that their prejudices were ill-found…

It’s just past 7:30 and I’ve decided to skip the 3 year old’s soccer game this morning  and instead decide to lounge around…beep-beep-beep-beep…

Hmmm…it’s Saturday.  Who could be texting??  I can’t really be bothered…I mean, it’s the weekend…everyone should just chill and relax, like me.  I can be the Queen of Relaxation – when I want to or more like, when I allow myself – I can be so good at it.  Mr. Niceguy has taken care of everything and the 7 year old is downstairs playing video games (sue me, it’s summer vacation).  Beep-beep-beep-beep…

Why does it keep beeping?!  It’s breaking my focus.  My concentration.  My zen.  Oooommmmm….

Beep-beep-beep-beep…

Ooooooommmmmmmm…..

Beep-beep-beep-beep…

OOOOOMMMMM!!!!!!!!!…..

BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP…

OK!  OK!  I’ll just check it…OH NO!  Texts from my mommy friends…Oh.  My.  God!!!  The playdate is TODAY and I forgot that I was supposed to get up early and prepare!  Quick scan fridge…nothing.  Pantry….nothing.  Basement pantry….boxes of mac & cheese and our emergency if-the-world-comes-to-an-end cans of chili and space age/military grade, vac sealed meal replacement kits that Mr. Niceguy bought from some kind of disaster readiness website.  How could I let this happen?!  Incidentally, I’m more ready for the end of the world than I am a playdate!

Not a problem.  I can put it into full gear – besides, I’ve had a few hours minutes seconds to relax.  I am recharged, refreshed and raring to go!

T-minus 1hr 45mins:  In car, 7 year old in tow, pull up to grocery store.  Veggies, fruit, cheese, bag of chips (again, summer, sue me), juice, and a diet coke for me.

T-minus 1hr 30mins:  Need more caffeine!  Hit up a Starbucks…can’t do the day without my latte fix!

T-minus 1hr 24mins:  I wonder…if I add up all the time I wait for the baristas to prepare my lattes how long would that be…and why can’t they ever get my name right?? What if I started pulling some Bart Simpson name pranks…

T-minus 1hr 23mins 30secs:  REALLY?!  I don’t have time for this!!!  NEED MY LATTE!!

T-minus 25mins:  At home.  Fruit chopped, veggies chopped, cheese cut, house tidied up, beds made, teeth brushed (I had no time!), hair straightened (this could be a blog topic all on its own) we’re ready.

T-minus…THEY’RE HERE.  Kids all run into the basement and chaos ensues!  And moms can all relax, put their feet up, and dish!

I’ll digress now and say that I have chronic foot-in-mouth-itis.  I frequently say things that I shouldn’t say…and consequently, do things that I shouldn’t do.  For example, when kicked under the table to keep quiet or go along with something, I have often blurted out, “hey!  Whatchya kick me for?”  And after each occasion, I remember that perhaps I should’ve tried to be a little more incognito – and perhaps I should remember that my actions (and lack of discretion) result in the “outing” or inconvenience of someone else.

Sometimes I’m like a toddler with no filter.  I chalk it up to honesty and being an open book, but one mustn’t forget about tact…

So at this playdate, a few weeks ago, I said something I really shouldn’t have said.  Something that I didn’t even realize was in me.  And I remember the moment, the instant the words were out of my mouth:  I felt hot, I felt a flush rising from my chest to my face and head – I felt so uncomfortable that I just wanted to black out (like that may have been an easier out and I could’ve blamed my momentary lapse in judgment on something medical).  What I really wanted to do was to rewind, go back in time, and never utter those words which were made so carelessly and without any cognition. Thankfully when I apologized, she accepted my apology.

This was all the result of an ill-conceived bias…like group think and blindly following along with a majority’s views.  Like being under compulsion (Vampire Diaries reference here…and yes, I’m still addicted).  It can make an appearance at the most unexpected times – and when it’s someone like me, with no filter, it really can pop out of nowhere.

For example, when walking into someone’s house for the first time and there’s underwear in the middle of the floor.  Look, this really has happened to me and it made me feel totally uncomfortable.  It made me question what I thought about that person. Like who leaves their underwear on the floor knowing that they’re expecting company?  Who??  Feels a little intimate…no?

And now I was the one that had dished out the uncomfortable.  I was the one that had put someone else in a very awkward position.  I was the one who had “left underwear on the floor.”  And for a penance, have been feeling absolutely horrible – despite remedying the situation.  I’ve totally beaten myself up and cringe every time I replay that careless, awkward moment.  (You know that face…the “oooh” smush face and shrugging of shoulders made when thinking about it.)

But I think it’s time to move on and time to take it a little easier.  We all make mistakes and hopefully, we learn.  After all, that’s what I would tell my boys.  That, and I am fortunate that my mommy friend could look beyond this one instance.  She has taught me the lesson of being more gracious – and she was tolerant of my toddler-like ways.  Just like Elizabeth Bennett changed her views when she ran into Darcy after he had taken a swim in his “underthings”, the next time I see underwear on the floor, I swear to be more discrete, shrug it off and not jump to any conclusions…oh, and save everyone’s pride, including my own.

PRIDE-AND-PREJUDICE-1995_400

Trust me…famous last words

“Trust me”…whenever I hear these words I feel like doing the opposite.  Similar to “relax”, “everything’s going to be ok”, “it’ll only take a minute”, and “it’s nothing serious”.

Seems to me (and my suspicious mind) that these statements, these combinations of words, have all somehow come to be used in instances to disguise situations where their meaning is not quite the same as their intent.

I have trusted to my own detriment.  Trusted that my contributions were being valued.  Trusted that what I was saying was being heard.  Trusted that someone else would have my best interests at heart.  I have also tried to “relax”, believed that “everything’s going to be ok”, that “it will only take a minute” and that perhaps “it’s nothing serious”…and I have come to terms with the fact no good can come from hearing these words.

Where is all this coming from?  Why am I feeling so suspicious now?  Why am I on heightened on alert?

Years ago I attended a corporate retreat – the kind with all sorts of team building exercises and presentations, too much drink, tons of new people, staggers to breakfast completely hung over with a bunch of strangers with whom you have to network and remember, etc.  For a global company like the one at which I work, these kinds of “retreats” can really be quite extravagant and this particular event was so overbooked that attendees were asked if they would be willing to share a room.  I volunteered as soon as I heard that for my sacrifice, I would get “special recognition”.  Who doesn’t like recognition???  Well, aside from not having any space of my own, my “special recognition” wound up being a gift basket – a SINGLE gift basket to SHARENOT the kind full of spa goodies, fantastic condiments or gourmet cookies.  No.  This one had weird cheese product, pate and cheap wine – and all I got was regret and a bag of peanuts.

In any case, it was at this particular retreat, after a Myers-Briggs assessment, where I learned I was an extrovert…

…the act, state or habit of being predominantly concerned with and obtaining gratification from what is outside the self…extroverts tend to enjoy human interactions and to be enthusiastic, talkative, assertive and gregarious…energized when around other people…prone to boredom when they are by themselves

So what happens when an extrovert, such as me, is immersed in hours upon hours of one thing?

Theorizing for a moment…at its most basic, Carl Jung’s theory of extroversion and introversion may suggest that sticking an extrovert in a room full of say, happy-go-lucky people, would probably put the extrovert in a similar (if not the same) state.  To continue theorizing, what happens when you expose an extrovert to hours upon hours of the Vampire Diaries?

For the past 4 years, I had been under a complete rock…after discovering the Vampire Diaries, I can’t stop.  I have finished over 20 hours of viewing in the past 3 days – which makes it two entire seasons over the past week.  And when have I found the time?  Between the hours of “they’re finally asleep” and the “crack of dawn”.

All this TV viewing has been in an attempt to forget about the stress:  2 summer colds (one for me and the other for the 3 year old down who’s throat I had to shove horse pill sized antibiotics 3 times a day for 10 days – it’s 2013!  Is there NOT a one-pill solution???!), lots going on at work, and all the usual stuff that comes with being a career woman and homemaker!  I have been feeling completely run down.

So, to survive I found the most unexpected salvation:  pretending to be like a vampire.  WAIT!  Not the sucking blood and killing people part.  The detached, heightened awareness, super strength part.  Like, when I get really mad and upset – say because I’ve been told to trust someone who clearly does not deserve it, or relax in a situation where surely one cannot relax, I remember to keep my powers in check.  I remember to be magnanimous, to have a grand presence and above all, spare those who seek to cause me distress.

But all of this has also manifested itself in the physical:  I walk taller, sneak about, I’ve been making these odd facial expressions like I can read more into a situation and see through people, and just the other day, while enjoying a sandwich over lunch, I snapped my head to the right, took a sniff and knew someone was eating ketchup 7 feet away from me… I have to fess up a little secret here – this is not all attributable to the vampire thingy:  I have a nose like a bloodhound and an absolute LOVE of ketchup, which in fact, was the only thing that helped keep my meals down during two pregnancies.  It is the perfect condiment – why didn’t they include a bottle of 57 in the gift basket??!!  

Last night I watched a marathon of 8 episodes – at about 45 minutes an episode, that’s about 6 hours’ worth – from 10 pm to 4 am.  And when I was finally falling asleep I saw flashes of light, and heard whooshing noises and footsteps.  Completely freaked, I forgot all my vampire strengths and woke up Mr. Niceguy:

Me:  Wake up.  PLEASE wake up!!  Shhhh…I think there’s someone in the house.  I saw flashing lights and heard footsteps.

Mr. Niceguy:  Ok, take the phone, if I yell, dial 911.  Don’t hesitate. [Seeing the terror in my eyes]  Just relax.  Trust me.  Everything’s going to be ok.

Me:  What?  No!!!  Where are you going?  Please…

Mr. Niceguy:  I’m sure it’s nothing serious.  I’m going to look around…it will only take a minute.

Me:  <GULP> [Oh. My. God.]

I stood completely rooted to the spot, between both boys’ bedrooms in the dark hallway.  I couldn’t hear him anymore.  And I couldn’t see him.  Did I really hear those things?  Did I really see those flashes of light?  And more than that, should I have let him go?  Can I really trust this situation?  Where is he?  I know I have to keep cool, I know I have to keep my wits about me…what’s taking so long??!!

And before I know it, he’s back.  And he’s checked everywhere.  And there’s no sign of anything or anyone.  And everything’s ok.  And the rules don’t apply here.  I can exhale.  I feel trust, I can relax, everything is ok and it only took a minute to realize that it’s nothing serious…or is it???

Vampire-Diaries-Comic-Con