Monday, September 29, 2008


Original Post Date: September 21, 2008

For weeks, Adam and I have planned to go spelunking. My sister was unfamiliar with this term and did a quick Google search on the word. The first entry to pop up was from the "urban dictionary" indicating that "spelunking" refers to a search through certain body parts for used condoms which may have inadvertently slipped off. The second entry to pop up defined "spelunking" as "exploring a cavernous cave". While I agreed that the word "cavernous" was unnecessary, I assured her that we planned to engage in definition #2...and to never never mention definition #1 again.

As it turns out, we did not go "spelunking" which, according to our tourguide, carries a negative connotation. It implies that we intended to "raid" a cave with disregard for its fragile ecosystem for amusement rather than education. So we did not go spelunking after all. We went caving.

Adam and I enjoy outdoor activities like climbing, biking, and hiking, and we tend to prefer National Parks over sunny beaches as vacation destinations. The hike in a cave, however, was a bit more extreme than any we had done before. First, the release form. These are fairly standard in the US, and I am sure you're familiar with the basic premise that these serve to inform you that you are engaging in some sort of dangerous behavior at your own risk. But this release form is unlike any I have signed before. Luckily, the full text is available online so I can offer you my favorite excerpt:

13. Injuries are inevitable in caving some have occurred in Laurel Caverns even involving broken bones. Something as simple as a twisted ankle may require a long tortuous removal process involving up to twelve hours of immobilization in a rigid basket, thirty or more rescue personnel, an ambulance ride and hospital stay for X-rays and observation at the participant’s expense, and finally, exposure to unbelievably hyped media attention on your “dramatic cave rescue.” (NOTE: The grammatical errors are theirs, not mine!!)

Seriously. And yet, we still chose to go.

The guide begins her tour by making me sign a second form indicating that I am aware of my "inappropriate footwear" (no ankle support). Then, she explains that we will see bats which could be perched low enough for us to inadvertently knock them down with our heads. If that happens, we are to tell her so that she can put the bat back. Apparently, bats cannot take off unless they are perched, so a bat that falls will just lie on the ground and starve to death. Poor bats. I resolve not to hurt the critters, and we are off.

We ascend through the lighted, concrete topped part of the cave in about 10 minutes, which is the 55 minute tour for all ages. I can only conclude that it must be very boring. Then, we get to a more cavernous part of the cavern, and the guide tells us to turn off our lights, and we are in total darkness. Very cool. The eyes attempt to see, and the brain begins to invent swirling patterns - but site is not possible. The blackness is complete. Imagine being in a dense wood on a dark, cloudy night. This was darker. Close the eyes. Open them. The view is the same. We sat in silence, listening to the trickle of water which formed the cave throughout thousands of years. I breathed deep, inhaling the cool air, and was at peace.

After this, we reach the first "stream crawl". I stupidly ask what that means, and the guide explains that we will have to crawl through a small tunnel with an inch deep stream of cold water running through it. This was just as fun as it sounded. We then reach a narrow hole, where we are instructed to toss our belongings through to the ground on the other side, and then shimmy our bodies through the opening. I am reminded of that episode of Winne the Pooh, where Pooh gets stuck in Rabbit's hole, and he has to stop eating for days until he is skinny enough to pop through. Luckily, we did not have to resort to such measures. After this, we climb up a bunch of rocks, over a ledge, and then "chimney walk" up to a little peak. These parts were the most fun. Then it was time to make a decision: another "stream crawl" or climb over the rocks that form the tunnel. I quickly respond that we will skip the stream crawl. Next, the "moneymaker" which is another narrow hole which is best navigated by sort of diving in head first. This tends to empty the pockets of cavers.

On the way out, we are again charged with the decision to take or avoid a stream crawl. We decide not to be wimps and take the crawl. About 5 feet into the cold cold water, with my camera dragging about 3 inches deep, I see our guide's light 50 feet ahead. This seems very far away, and I think "Why did I do this?" because my jeans, which are technically too large for my reduced size body, are soaking wet. They become heavy and the cuffs begin to slide under the soles of my feet, so I have to roll them up. Wimpy or no, I think I will decline stream crawls on future caving expeditions.

All in all, I enjoyed the caving experience. Total darkness was awesome, there was a lot of old graffiti (mostly 1920's and 30's, but one as early as 1836, carved into the stone), and best of all, we were filthy dirty. Like fingerpainting, for some reason, being messy is part of the appeal of the activity. And yes, we saw bats, but they were all up at least 10 feet.

My flash was not able to overcome the darkness, but I got a few pictures that turned out half decent:

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sad, Part ?

My sister just called.

She said Gromom passed away.

I Mostly, I feel sick, as though the apple cider I had a few hours ago might make a reappearance. Not sad. Certainly not happy. Just....

So maybe I should call someone. Someone who knows her and would be interested to know that...well, to be updated on the events of the evening. That would be productive, I suppose. In fact, I have my second cousin's phone number and address sitting here on the desk right in front of me. The last time we spoke, my cousin told me how my grandmother had been like a second mother to her. But, it is late. I don't even know how she died. Or when.

We were away for the weekend, and this blog entry is supposed to be about tailgating at Penn State. It is supposed to be witty, yet insightful. I was going to mention how I wish I had spent more of my time in college enjoying life, as I do now. But in an amusing way. Now, I wonder why I hadn't even thought about Gromom. She was where she always was, just a phone call away, watching movies for all hours of the day.

For once, I had figured out what to buy her for Christmas because one of the last times we talked she had told me how she enjoyed watching music DVD's, and they were actually cool ones - Eric Clapton, and a George Harrison Tribute one. I planned to add to her collection, and perhaps watch a few with her. I was thinking Neil Young. I think she'd like him. Goodness. My tense is all screwed up. I am confusing past and present. They are melding into one, and I am realizing that it is all past. No more present tense.

She already bought me my Christmas present. She told me about it the last time we talked. It was just two weeks ago, actually. She told me I probably wouldn't like it. But she knew I would. I haven't seen it, but I know that it is pottery, made by Lester Brienninger. She has been buying me this pottery for years. As I sit typing at a desk she gave me, I look up and see a Christmas tree by the potter. It is not too "Christmas-y" and I like to keep it out all year. It is dated 2000. I am pretty sure she has been buying these things for me for longer.

Almost every conversation with Gromom has been about her death. She was not afraid of dying. I would say that this made most people uncomfortable, but not so much with me. Her words were usually negative, and she would often be heard to remark, "I'm so sick of livin'." Most people would tell her not to talk like that, but I never did. If I allowed her to talk a bit longer, she would explain that what she meant was that she had a good life. She had done all she wanted to do.

I am feeling better in the stomach now. I've had a bit of water, to get the taste of apple cider out of my mouth. I am having trouble seeing the screen though. Tears.

I am still not exactly sad. Words are so inadequate.

This entry is getting long. Should I call it "Sad, Part I" and begin anew with "Sad, Part II"? I cannot. I write this blog for myself. I try to make it amusing to others, and I love to hear that people enjoy it. But, of course, that praise is for me. I always wanted to be a writer, but I was afraid to reveal myself, and have people read my work, criticize it. That last sentence? Not really grammatically correct, was it? Guess what? I'm ok with that. There is no right answer in writing. My engineer-brain worries about the right answer, and my writer-brain worries about the right words. Sometimes, words must bend to my liking, for they do not express my grief. Or whatever I am feeling. My angst? Bah. Words.

My earliest memories are of Gromom. My sister and I spent countless hours at her house. We played "Red Light Green Light" which basically meant she walked, and we ran ahead as she yelled out Green Light, then skidded to a halt when Red Light was called. We did Yellow Light too, walking in slow motion like Frankenstein. We colored. Gromom did not hand us coloring books and begin making dinner. She colored too. She always picked the weird colors for Holly Hobby's dress, like avocado green and brown. Very drab in our opinions, but she was very good at staying in the lines. We played her favorite game, Sorry. It is a pretty fun game - I played it with her almost every time I went to visit, and she still never let me win. She is a ruthless Sorry player - she sends you back to start with a keen eye for position, as she sings the "Sorry Song." Words on the screen do not do it justice, but my siblings and cousins will surely hear her singing it: "Sorry, sorry, sorry-sorry-sorry." (She wasn't sorry.) I told her I remembered how my brother would cry when we played this game. "You kids all cried," she said, "But I never let you win." We also made Christmas balls, went to the movies, went shopping, went out to eat. And lately, we play a game of Sorry and watch a movie on TV instead of leaving the house. These may be considered mundane pastimes, I suppose. But somehow, they were always fun.

I hope she can read my blog now. I made her a button on her computer, and showed her how to click it. But she said she was too stupid to learn the computer. Yet she was a whiz at Solitaire. She learned what she wanted to learn. But she wouldn't admit it. And for all her grumbling (and she grumbled a lot) I truly believe she's been at peace for a long time, just enjoying passing through life.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I need a Shower!

Many people think of famous architectural wonders when I tell them I am a structural engineer - things like the Sears Tower, Falling Water, even the Superdome. They tend to forget that architects and engineers are needed to design convenience stores and supermarkets as well. So, yes, I get to work on the occasional high profile project, but I also get to crawl around in people's attics, looking for splits in the wood on their trusses. I also look at a lot of cracks.
Today, I visited my second historic house, which a county in Delaware has decided to make our client preserve. At least my first experience with this type of assignment left me prepared to ask the right questions. I visited it about two years ago. It was "believed to be part of the underground railroad" by the county, and I thought it would be a fun excursion to preserve history. Instead, I found a very scary house that was nearly destroyed. The roof was caved in, the windows were boarded up, and the floor was rotting. It was filled to the brim with old furniture and who knows what else, some of it obviously from the second floor bedroom which had collapsed. I am pretty sure someone took one strategically placed swing of a sledgehammer and the whole thing crumbled to a pile of rubble.
Fast forward to today. I found out that a report had been written about House #2, and the client forwarded it without comment. The report discusses rotting structure and asbestos shingles, and concludes with a section indicating that it "reeks of urine", "is littered with feces", "exhibits signs of severe mold spore infestation", "is a bio hazard due to the presence of used drug needles", and (my personal favorite) causes anyone entering the premises "to be a magnet for fleas and ticks." OK, so I can handle wearing a mask to enter the building. I can step around feces and used drug needles. I can even ignore the scent of urine (having lived in a college apartment requiring use of an elevator on weekends). But they lost me at fleas and ticks. I thinketh not.
I wrote emails of protest to the client, but apparently, despite this assessment by a third party, the county is still requiring them to save it.
Actually, "save" is not even the right term. The house is right where they want to build their convenience store, so the county is making them move it to another location, where it will continue to stand, vacant and collapsing. Sometimes, I do not understand the government. But there was nothing I could do.
So, with a bit of trepidation, I drove to the site. Luckily, I was able to observe a lot from the outside. As I descended stairs that looked relatively in tact, I was bitten by a critter. It was a bug of some kind, though I did not spend much time studying it. I looked down to see a biggish spiderlike thing, and whacked at it. I was his last meal. (I am not certain how to define "biggish" because every time I replay the event, it gets bigger and bigger in my mind, until it is nearly dime-sized. It was probably more like the diameter of a pen cap...well, maybe less. I don't know. But it did bite me, and I raced up the stairs. I cannot get the feeling that I have fleas in my hair out of my head, and I am constantly running my fingers through to my scalp.
I went briefly into the rest of the house. Though I saw no feces, I was very creeped out by the darkness and the emptiness.
The sad part is, the house will probably not survive being moved - and that might be a good thing. It would be nice to see these dilapidated old buildings maintained, repaired, and restored. But I do not see the point of allowing them to remain vacant cesspools of disease and decay. That's just my two cents.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

It's BA-ACK!

Fall has caught me a bit by surprise since Labor Day. Just the day before the holiday, I had embarked on my weekly grocery trip with my list consisting of late summer produce - peaches and some corn on the cob and the like. At first, I was a bit bemused to find a bin full of pumpkins and the pre-made bags of apples associated with my most favorite of all the seasons. Where had the summer gone? Did the grocery store workers put in overtime to hit us customers with this obvious autumnal display? With a somewhat careless shrug, I realized that apple cider was likely awaiting in the depths of the store, and I happily maneuvered my cart between Halloween candy displays and Ravens cakes.

But this weekend, summer counterattacked defiantly. I awoke yesterday morning to go the gym, and considered a light jacket because I opted for the sleeveless shirt with the shelf bra rather than rummaging through the clean clothes in the laundry basket which had been awaiting folding for nearly a week. Then, the cat requested politely to go outside. (Think MROW! with insistent gestures for the doorway.) I opened the door, and we both hestiated as extremely humid heat quite literally smacked us in the face. Apparently, summer was back with a vengeance.

After the two weeks of wonderfully crisp, non-humid weather (except for the occasional hurricane rain), Adam and I found ourselves completely intolerant of this rash of sunshine. We briefly considered leaving the house, but just can't seem to find the motivation to walk through the parking lot.

Summer, I love ya, but your time has past. See you next year!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Finally, A Sport for the Ladies...

...Tennis! Just to be clear, I definitely do not mean playing tennis. This looks as though it requires effort. I am fairly certain that even if my first experience attempting this sport hadn't resulted in my best friend's bloody nose as I crushed a ball directly into her face, I would lose interest in chasing the little ball around and smacking at it in approximately 10.5 seconds. No, no, I mean watching tennis - specifically the Men's U.S. Open. After 5 seconds of watching, it becomes quite apparent that those with the attention span and stamina to chase the ball for a full game tend to have rather impressive physiques:

I rest my case.

I missed my class at the gym today, and opted to use the dreaded machines. I hate the treadmill, and the elliptical, and the stationary bike. They are so booooring. But today, this guy (his name is Roger, but do we really care?) and his opponent (also impressive looking, but unfortunatey chose the "sun visor" as head gear and lost my loyalties) kept me from looking at my treadmill timer for 7 minutes and 13 seconds. Up to this point, I had never passed more than 45 seconds without sneaking a peek.
While other sports invlove well-built men, I find them inferior because the men are often obscured from view by lots of equipment, or the camera angle is, like, way above them as if the viewer might be interested in seeing the whole field. Not so with tennis - we get nice, close up shots of the players after each play, which thankfully lasts only a few seconds. The perfect sport for the ADD patient within.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Eating This, Not That

I bought a new book: "Eat This - Not That". You've probably heard of it. (It was all over the book store.) It addresses my most formidable adversary in the weight loss battle: unplanned meals. This includes meals eaten out at a restaurant, holiday meals, and party meals.
When left to my own devices, I do OK. Luckily, I already enjoy preparing home-cooked meals from fresh foods, so I have few issues with packaged goods. It's a whole new ballgame when I have reached the food table at a potluck supper, which includes everyone's specialty item. The longer I avoid the temptation by chewing gum or simply sitting at an inconvenient table, the more likely I am to crack under pressure and begin devouring brownies Tasmanian Devil style. I am just a blur with crumbs flying out in all directions to the average bystander.
The purchase of this book was prompted by my friend (who also bought it) and a recent trip to "Romano's Macaroni Grill" (incidentally given an "F" grade in the book). I perused the menu, and found only 2 items listed as "Smart Choices". One was a salmon fillet with broccoli on the side, the other was "Skinny Balsamic Chicken" listed right next to the obviously more delicious "Basalmic Chicken". The skinny recipe was unappealing due to its proximity to its regular counterpart, and the salmon lacked flair. I have salmon in my freezer at all times, and if I am paying $14.95 a meal, it better be for something I can't/won't make myself. This left all the pasta dishes. I reasoned that I could limit myself to half an entree and still be ok, but which to choose?
On the bright side, Macaroni Grill does list its nutrition information online, a feature I find extremely useful as a calorie-counter. On the dark side, I ended up choosing the pasta dish with the most calories of any other dish!! This, while I was attempting to make the right choice. That is where the book comes in. The basic premise is that simple substitutions can go a long way in reducing overall calorie intake. For instance, the chicken burrito bowl without rice at Chipolte has 489 calories, while the chicken burrito has 1092. It also reveals some truths which even the health conscious may not be aware - like fish tacos may sound like fewer calories than steak fajitas, but they are really not.
I think I can live without some frills like cheese or mayo, and I can begin training myself to eat half the meal by getting a box right off the bat. It is either that, or skip these wonderful meals altogether, and to me, that's just not living.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Brain and Stomach Battle the Munchies

If my stomach had a personality, I imagine it would be a bratty toddler who needs a nap. My brain, the exacerbated parent, responds:

Stomach: I'm huuungry!
Brain: You just had lunch 45 minutes ago. You can't be hungry.

S: Yes, yes I am. Can we go over to architecture and see if they still have the cookies from yesterday?
B: No! You can have some water. You're probably just thirsty.

S: But, Braaaain, I don't want water! I'm hungry. I want a cookie!
B: Look, do you want to ruin it for everyone else? What about butt?! She's down there, working hard for this body, and all you want to do is make her lumpy and undesirable!

S: Hmmmph. (Silence for approximately 19 seconds.) BRAIN!! I just want one cookie! Then I'll be quiet, I promise!
B: Oh my God. OK, if you PROMISE to stop with the hungry talk, I'll take you over to see if there's cookies. But if there's not, you still have to shut up, got it? No talk of vending machines, or Dunkin Donuts runs, none of that. Got it?

S: OK! Let's go!

Brain and Stomach walk across the office, and find that the cookies are gone. They have been replaced by a box of Munchkins.

B: Those are not cookies.
S: But they look OK. Let's eat a few! I'm hungry!!

B: Don't start again.
S: Munchkins are practically cookies! Come on!
B: Fine. But just one.

Hand reaches in and finds one glazed chocolate munchkin....and one with sprinkles...and another one with powdered sugar. Stomach awaits anxiously as Mouth chews while Brain, noting that the Munchkins are a little stale, begins calculating the devestation.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Ode to Oats

I have reverted back to weight loss research for this blog entry. In this case by "research" I mean that I read part of a page in an article in my recipe magazine. It is a start.

Anyway, the article was about "power foods": foods that are good for you due to the nutritional content. They give more bang for the buck. I was amazed to learn that I actually enjoy all of the foods on the list, though I was disheartened to find that "German style pilsner" and "semi sweet chocolate chips" did not make the list.

So, here is the list: spinach, black beans, broccoli, salmon, blueberries, soy, oats, walnuts, tomatoes, and olive oil. Not only do I like these things, but I actually love tomatoes and black beans, which are in my favorite food (chili), and I like salmon and walnuts quite a bit.

One of my most successful breakfasts has been "oatmeal and a piece of fruit." When I originally began eating healthy, I purchased the "no sugar added" version of Quaker oats flavor packets. Then one week, Adam helped with the shopping, and he chose a variety pack that I typically avoid - it includes an "original flavor" packet. Original flavor is actually code for "no flavor" and I am fairly certain that a few of these detested packets remain in my parent's kitchen cupboard for they were the most hated of all packets when I was a child. As an adult, I have dutifully avoided the conflict of the original flavor packet and refrained from purchasing the variety packs that include it. You know what? Original flavor is not that bad. In fact, the too-sweet "maple brown sugar" packet was probably my least favorite in that variety pack. I guess I have grown up...

This discovery was also beneficial because my sister thought it would be funny to give me a HUGE canister of oatmeal for Christmas after I made a comment about how I use oatmeal all the time. Well, I ate oatmeal about 3 times a week for 15 weeks, and not only did I use it up, I purchased an even bigger package at BJ's. I have found that this meal sticks with me longer, so I don't start craving lunch until almost lunchtime. Yay oatmeal! My power food du jour!

Monday, September 1, 2008

What Was I Thinking?

The topic of a semi-recent post was the way many of my clothes fit better after I had begun to shed a few pounds. This is likely because of a stoic refusal on my part to accept that I should have been buying clothes in the next largest size. My pants were tight, and I often had poor, umm, well let's just say I had digestive issues. Also, there were a few pairs of pants which I did not wear because I thought they were too short. A few months ago, the little stupid tab on a pair of dress pants came off (still haven't fixed this - can't cut the duct tape small enough) and I was forced to wear the "too short" pair of pants. Surprisingly, they were no longer too short. Neglecting the theory that I have, in fact, shrunk (my third grade self would be so happy!), I decided that prior to my weight loss, the pants were not low enough on the waist to provide optimal ankle coverage. In other words, my pants were not too short. I was just too fat. This has proven true with several other pairs of pants, and a few pairs of shorts.
But not all. On Friday, a rainy day which Adam and I had planned to spend outside, I reached daringly for a pair of jeans that had not fit properly last fall. They still don't fit - the legs are tight, the butt is tight, and my underwear is visible when I bend. Today, I put on a pair of shorts which I never really had much problem with before, expecting them to fit satisfyingly baggier. Not so. In fact, they are borderline tight.
I guess my standards have changed? Did they shrink in the dryer? I am just wondering what I could have possibly been thinking wearing these clothes in public pre-weight loss. And how many other long-forgotten fashion faux-pas are lurking in the depths of my closet?