Friday, September 28, 2007

SPIN CLASS - MBA or M Div required

One of the things I've always wanted to do was take a spin class. Hunched over their machines, dripping in sweat and looking like they might keel over at any moment, these cycle warriors seem to be the ultimate fitness fanatics and I wanted to be one of them; at least once anyway. After weeks of observing the dedication required, I decided to take the plunge. I was sure all that great indie rock blasting from the cycle room was just what I needed to keep me motivated.

Imagine my surprise when my instructor, who shares the name with a despised ex-colleague and who also, if you play the name game, rhymes with muck or better, a curse word which truly described the old office mate's personality, announced this particular class was his 3rd Annual Christian Ride. Gulp. It was like Sunday school all over again. "Children, God is everywhere. In the trees, in the birds, in the spin class..." Kumba ya just wasn't going to do it for me and I silently debated fleeing.

Luckily, his choice of Christian music wasn't half bad and if I ignored the lyrics and concentrated on the guitar, I was OK. How bizarre to have an entire genre of music be completely foreign. Then again, I don't know much about Scandinavian Death Metal either. Regardless, my instructor got me and my machine sized up and in-sync and off we went. Tunes blaring, pedals in motion, I was excited and nervous all at the same time.

Spin classes work like this; ride for a given span of time, at a certain level and gear and at a specified frequency. How naive of me to think you just pedal. I decided my instructor must be in banking. Either that or he's devised a clever system that keeps his class moving (despite wanting to stop every moment) with non-stop number crunching. Yep, we were constantly calculating our base number, adding percentages, time intervals, degrees, and gear changes. I was so busy trying to figure out my base number and how many rotations of the knee it was and then how many more rotations it would be if I gave it 10% more and how many it would total for the 30 second challenge, that I was oblivious to the obvious issue at hand...pain!!

Just when I thought I couldn't take it any longer, my instructor would instruct us to take it down a few degrees and shift gears by 10%. I'd be doing the math and next thing I knew, it was time to do something else. It was amazing that an hour of my life could whiz by so quickly. At points during the ride my head and body seemed to have separated and focused on their own specific tasks.

It wasn't until I got off the machine that I realized how hard my body had worked. I was wobbly-legged for a good five minutes. After that came the pain. I ached for the rest of the night and into the next morning. But all the indoctrination and math didn't dissuade me from trying again.

The meek are supposed to inherent the earth; but only if they skip Spin Class.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Calm, doggie, calm!

Dog training, dog walking, dog grooming and just plain dog owning has changed. Gone are the days of carefree canines wandering the woods, exploring the smells and sounds of their surroundings. Today's number one domesticated animal is a mammal with a mission, with serious business to do. And be had for that matter. Dogs are big business and today's over-achieving, over-earning middle class are more than happy to dole out the dough for their Jakes and Marleys.

Somehow it seems our need for perfection and status and stature has transferred over to our pets. We are obsessed. Just take a look at how many recent novels on the New York Times bestseller list are tales of living with dogs. Dog boutiques, dog spas, dog retreats...I can think of entire subcontinental nations that aren't fed and cared for as well.

Sadly, for example, it's no longer acceptable to leave a dog outside for no specific purpose other than to perform bodily functions, exercise or guard the homestead. Dogs must be entertained, socialized and trained. It's not enough to turn out well adjusted children. Our pets also speak volumes about what kind of a person we are.

What does Alfie say about us? Probably that we are loose, unstructured and bohemian creative types. Some of that may be true. Then again, we have one of the sweetest dogs, one who thrives on the love and affection he is given. That part speaks to the warmth and closeness in our home.

Much to some of our neighbor's chagrin, Alfie is free to wander our fence-less property and saunter next door to visit with the tamest Bull Terrier ever bred. On more than one occasion we've heard a knock at the door and opened it to discover a kind-hearted neighbor holding Alfie by the collar with a "he was wandering out front" explanation for their impromptu citizen's arrest; I mean, kind concern. We now let him wander out back only and make sure someone is out front with him, or that he is tied to the light post. It's not that we don't trust Alfie; we don't want to worry anyone else.

However, sometimes doggie encounters happen and our "he's a dog" attitude clashes with the "he is a well-adjusted, thriving member of our family"attitude of other dog owners and mayhem ensues. A couple of days into the move I decided to take Alfie for a walk and give him a chance to let the other dogs in the hood know he had arrived. Not only did I put the leash on, I even made him sit while I put it on. I was ready to make a good impression with the neighbors and show them how obedient and well turned out our pooch was.

A few feet from our driveway Alfie let out a long and loud bow wow. I admit it was startling; mostly because I didn't hear or see anyone else approaching on the street. Unfortunately it did more than startle the taut and tuned Vizela-esque dog and his equally taut and tuned owner exercising (OK, walking) across the road. Alfie's "hey, I'm Alfie from Canada and I'm new here" introduction sent both poor creatures into absolute trauma mode.

Immediately the owner stopped, turned to the dog and commanded it to remain calm. While firmly holding the dog with one hand, she directed the dog to look into her eyes by bringing her two fingers from her eyes, to the dog's eyes and back to hers. Again she commanded it to remain calm. There was no "hey, who cares" or "hey, welcome to the hood" or "hey, I'm Franz" from this canine. Not a wimper nor a wag was allowed.

I was mortified. I didn't know if it was the horror we had created or the horrible reaction to a seemingly average dog encounter I witnessed that made me want to scuttle back into the house. I could just hear the recounting at the next therapy appointment..."and then, this explosion out of no where! I still shake when I think about it". Sniff, sniff. Pass the kleenex please.

I probably should have felt shame for upsetting the apple cart so. But some carts are simply driving down the road in the wrong direction and need some shaking up. Just to be sure I haven't totally lost my mind, I'm going to rent Lassie or Old Yeller and reminisce about the good old doggie days. Do you think dogs ever think that too?

Monday, September 17, 2007

A Welcome from the Mayor's Office

I bet I'm one of the lucky people arriving in Charlotte to have gotten a personal and warm welcome from the Mayor's office. Of course how it came to that point is a story in itself and would not have been possible without the assistance of my dear neighbor, Ms Southern Hospitality.

One of the key things to learn when arriving in a new town is how garbage disposal and pick up works. Every city does recycling differently, on different days, with different materials and bins etc. Let me first off, pay the city of Charlotte a big compliment for its efficiency; when they say something will happen, it does. When people complain about government services, they listen.

During the first week here, we did a lot of unpacking in a short period of time and it seemed as if we were never going to unpack the sky-high pile of boxes sprawled across our house. As the stack of empties got higher and higher, my anxiety about the amount of work we were creating for the garbage men rose higher and higher too. Back in Canada we had made friends with the garbage guys, offering them sodas on the road, tips at Christmas, help in loading up the truck...I swear by the time we left we could have put a dead body out on the curb and they would have thrown it on the truck without batting an eye...

Here in Charlotte it doesn't quite work that way. First of all, any boxes that don't fit in the bin are considered bulk and require special order pick up. Secondly, all boxes must be piled in single form, measuring a precise 3x3 foot area. Of course we weren't aware of the new policy and quite frankly were arrogant enough to figure we'd just butter up the new crew like we'd done before and all would be well. Garbage duty has generally been up to my husband, with the occasional pinch hit by myself on the rare occasions he's on the road. Not surprising, our first week here he had to dash out of town, leaving me to deal with the box debacle.

The first time the garbage truck passed by without picking up the boxes was puzzling until Ms Southern Hospitality clued me in to the 3x3 requirement. So I spent over two hours that night out front, cutting, breaking, bending, and re-stacking those high end, heavy duty boxes we bought from the reputable moving company in Canada. These weren't your scraggly leftovers from the liquor store. I saw all those colorful Canadian dollars go up in flame with every tear in every box...

After much huffing and puffing I got the job, a small sense of smug pride on my face as I thanked my neighbor for her direction. She was kind enough to find me an old phone book and stack all the packing paper in her and other neighbors' bins who had the extra room too. Her willingness to offer directions, tips on where to shop for the best produce and where to get a good haircut at a decent price went above and beyond the call of neighborly duty and I felt immediately welcomed. Just to ensure that this new pile would make its way into the truck however, I left a couple of sodas and a thank you note on top of the 3x3-ish stack. They just had to take them now!

The next morning I awoke to find my stack still there; my heart sank. What the heck was I going to do? Get a measuring tape and a paper shredder? I decided I'd wait for my husband to get home and we'd discuss our options which so far included midnight runs to the dump and paying the guy with the red truck on the next street over to come and rescue/dispose of them himself. That night over dinner we decided we would slowly take a smaller pile to school with the kids each day and throw them in the "cardboard waste" bin there. Sneaky sure, but problem solved.

Indeed. Seems Ms Southern Hospitality is hooked up with some city officials and got on the horn on behalf of her clueless neighbors. She "gave them what-for" as she put it and explained that we were foreigners who were unaware of garbage policy in Charlotte and how she personally witnessed hours of back-breaking labor on my part, trying to make it right and what kinda welcome was this?

That very next day the pile disappeared. No word, no note (no sodas either). I saw Ms Southern Hospitality out front that evening and she told me the Mayor sent her an email, apologizing to us and offering a personal welcome to the queen city. Talk about neighborly love!

Well, most of the neighbors anyhow. Our landlord (and neighbor) showed up later that week with a citation from another disgruntled neighbor who had taken a picture of our boxes and sent them to the city along with a nuisance complaint. We of course explained how the matter had already been taken up with the city and how the Mayor had sent us a personal welcome. I wonder where he lives?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Y - Paging all fun people

We decided once we got to Charlotte, that we would find a gym that would offer something for the whole family. Fortunately, this city has amazing YMCAs, with several locations to choose from. As a former Y member, I found myself imagining how great a shape I would get in, how my husband might finally commit to exercise and relax more and how my kids would have somewhere to do some physical activity, along with meeting new friends. Y's are extremely social places and having friends to work out with makes the experience so much more palatable.

The Y we joined, like the first church we visited, is also in the same upscale neighborhood. We chose it mostly because it offers a ton of extra courses for kids, which some other locations do not. Though it's not totally inconvenient, it's definitely not the closest to our house either. Nevertheless, it is a massive, gorgeous facility with tons of classes and equipment to chose from, not to mention immaculate. I feel great about working out there, something not easily accomplished. Exercise to me is equal to taking cod liver oil...good for me but not exactly fun.

However, I think there's some sort of weird, fungal, mutant disease going around Charlotte that has not been properly identified, and which might have sprung from the floors of my Y. I encountered not one, but two YMs (Y Members or Yummy Mummies, as my husband calls them) who had complete meltdowns this week over their kids sitting on or touching the floors of the Y with their bare skin. The first YM scolded her daughter at the pool for walking on the tiles without shoes...unfortunately you aren't allowed to wear shoes in the pool, or I'm sure this kid would have had hers strapped on permanently like flippers on a duck...

I realize my kids were born in the free-spirited mess that is New Orleans and I therefore do not get freaked out about dirt, but honest to gawd, you would have thought this kid was squishing her toes in a cesspool, the way her mama was carrying on. I was stuck on the bench directly in front of her so I could neither move, nor distract myself with a book (I didn't' have one) and was forced to witness the horror that was. To emphasize her point, the YM gave me a "duh" eye roll/head shake, as if her poor kid was the only one there not getting how disgusting those floors really were. I shudder to think about that family shuffling through the French Quarter during carnival, trying to avoid stepping on revelers, throws, take out containers and half eaten lunch...

Episode number two happened in the change room. This time, some poor kid had the audacity to park her butt on the carpeted floor...I mean really, think of how disgusting it gets between daily vacuums! It wasn't as if there weren't an alternative to the floor either...each change room comes equipped with a bench, which was specifically designed to create distance between gym members and those nasty floors. YM number two emphasized this point to her daughter several times in a row, like the kid had some sort of hearing or learning disability. Once again I had managed to position myself directly in the line of fire and could neither bolt nor blatantly ignore her. Suddenly the change room curtain fabric became fascinating, as if I had missed it the first time we changed and now just discovered its pink and green, 1980s, chevron-patterned beauty.

Both experiences made me reflect on my complete disregard of the dangers of public floors. After giving it a couple of minutes of thought I concluded both YMs were probably just nuts and had some deep rooted control issues and I could therefore relax about my own laid back attitude... I am firm believer in what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger and that most definitely includes cooties.

Though the Y incidents might seem trivial, there was something about them that ran much deeper and left me feeling disturbed . I finally figured it out on the drive home though. I need to be surrounded by fun people. Call me judgemental, but folks who are germ-a-phobes just don't seem the type who, generally speaking, wanna kick it up a notch.

So next time I go the Y, I'm going rush the front desk and page all fun people and invite them to come work out with bare feet, of course.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Are there any Queens here?

No, I'm not talking about royalty. I mean the other queens, the ones who worship Barbra and Liza and Pottery Barn.

I can't imagine how difficult it would be to gay or lesbian in this town, a town which worships Jesus and by default, does not approve of homosexuality. The closets here are full and it ain't because there's a sale on at Marshalls...

Don't get me wrong, there are gays and lesbians in Charlotte. I have some friends who fit this category and they are some of the most interesting and joyful people I know. But so many other people I've met are church goers and there aren't many churches that are accepting of this lifestyle. It makes me wonder how difficult (or not - feel free to post your responses on this one) it is to be a queen in the Queen city.

Speaking of church goers, the quest for a "home" church continues...apparently it is required of a successful Charlotteer (mousekateer???). In fact, one of my husband's colleagues hipped us to the three most important questions we will be asked which include "what church do you belong to", "which Y do you work out at" and, I've blocked out the third. Do other cities have a success checklist too? If so, send me a list and lets compare notes and failures.

On the quest to be saved, we've managed to check out two extremes of the worship spectrum in our first week alone. Our first Sunday found us outside the doors of a modern structure with a soaring sanctuary tower, in a tony established's NOT where we live. Some new friends recommended we check it out, as it has a contemporary service for young families, of which we fit the description. Shocking news...we prefer a more traditional service with old school hymns, comforting scripture readings and sermons we can relate to but which don't include any references to sports teams. Too much to ask?

Without going into all the juicy details, let's just say the sermon on investments and portfolios (how are you investing in Jesus) fit this banking congregation to a tee, but made me feel like both a financial and now a spiritual loser. Great. One of the local public school principals made an appearance as well, to appeal to the congregation to come out and support her poor, underprivileged student body. The colorful anecdote on why their presence was needed included a quaint recalling of one student trying to use dismayed in a sentence and coming up with "my mama dis made me a sandwich to eat", all of which got uproarious laughter. I didn't dare look at the one and only African American family to see their would have been too much.

Later that week we attended a gospel service at a well known African American church. The music and the message were fantastic and literally brought me to tears. It made me realize how happy and spirit-filled these folks were and at that moment, I wanted to be one of them. Unfortunately I cannot sing like Mahala and rarely feel that expressive, particularly in public. The soul food dinner served beforehand filled us in the literal sense and added to the "I'm not in Kansas anymore" experience. The spoiler to an otherwise amazing experience was one church member exclaiming "there as many white people here as blacks!", an unnecessary reminder I am indeed in the south.

Tune in again this week for further stories including "The Y - paging fun people" and "The Dog Walk - calm, lady, calm!".

The Queen City

As a fresh transplant to Charlotte, I'm surrounded by new people, experiences and scenery; much of it is wonderful, some of it strange. My blog is an attempt to sort it all out (cheaper than therapy) and amuse myself and hopefully others, with my observations. If you're like me (70% of population is from some place else) you'll understand how confusing it is to arrive at the corner of Sharon and Sharon and not know which way is up! Enjoy!