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the Zumba post

Since I started this blog, I’ve written about most of the stuff that’s important to me. But some things are so important that it is difficult to write about them. And that’s why it’s taken me all this time to write about Zumba.

Zumba is an aerobic workout that has been cursed with the stupidest name in fitness since the Abdomenizer. It is really hard for me to talk about Zumba with a civilian because as soon as I say the word “Zumba” the other person will dissolve in a really annoying fit of the giggles. This happens once a week with my best friend, who has taken to Zumba-bashing with a passion she usually reserves only for episodes of The Sing-Off. I’d just like to say that it seems highly unfair that someone who is obsessed with a show hosted by Nick Lachey should be able to mock anything, including Zumba.

So what is Zumba? It’s a craze that is sweeping the nation. You may recall Billy Blanks, and the phenomenon known as Tae Bo. Zumba fever is like that, without the bike shorts. Zumba is essentially a dance-based workout that incorporates Latin and hip hop moves, and I believe it is billed as the craziest party you could hope to have in an exercise studio. Here’s a good conversation starter for your next cocktail party: which came first, Zumba or Pitbull? Put it out there, sit back, and watch the sparks fly. That’s right. Pitbull, currently infecting a radio near you, is essentially Zumba’s house band. You’re smelling what I’m cooking, right? You’re getting a whiff of Zumba.

me, in the throes of what tom refers to as “zumb-ecstasy.” photo by julie grandfield

If you’ve tried Zumba and you find it lame, I would suspect that you either 1) haven’t done it for long enough, or 2) have the wrong instructor. It took me two months to learn the moves enough to do them effectively, and about twice that long to get over caring that I looked totally ridiculous. It seems to be a Zumba truth that the less you care how you look in Zumba, the more you will embody the spirit of Zumba. My friend Teal, who took the pic at top, has not an inhibited bone in her body, and I’d basically pay to watch her do Zumba. Besides, there are always one or two guys in the class who look like they’re there because they lost bets to their wives—I’m never going to look less coordinated than them, and that helps. But make no mistake—Zumba is an effective workout. If you gyrate your hips for an hour, you will tighten your core and probably lose some weight. And once Zumba gets its hooks into you, that hour doesn’t feel like an hour. It feels like 17 minutes. When’s the last time you went on an hour-long run that felt like it was 17 minutes? Never, you say? Me neither.

You can lose weight doing a lot of things, including impaling yourself on a bike seat in a spinning class. Not to digress, but the one time I took a spinning class, it felt like I had entered a wrinkle in the space-time continuum where all the clocks had stopped and there was nothing to do but ponder how it could be possible to be bored while feeling that much pain in my crotch. Anyway, you can get fit doing something else, but here’s what I’ve never been able to get from a workout until Zumba: an ass. I’m not saying it’s a great ass, or even a good one, but it’s an ass. After 35 years of having the classic Asian pancake butt, it’s nice to look back there and see something vaguely three-dimensional for a change.

As for the instructor, there is no doubt that my Zumba instructor could melt your instructor’s face off in a dance contest. Not that Zumba would ever be a contest, because, as I said, it’s a party. Andrea dances and choreographs like a FIEND, and has a shock of curly hair that looks totally cool when she dances and gets progressively cooler the sweatier she gets. How does she do that? When I get sweaty the only thing that happens is that the people around me start moving away. Andrea can also do Zumba while wearing a hat. In my mind, that means she’s ascended to the highest plane of Zumba-dom.

So try it. You might like it. And if you don’t, you’ll have a legitimate reason to make fun of it. You can’t lose.

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just eat the GD vegetable

I’ve struggled with my kids’ eating habits since they were old enough to say no to the food they are offered. In fact, I’ve struggled enough that I’m ashamed to say that I find it difficult to be happy for parents whose kids eat vegetables. I’ve been in situations where I’m commiserating with another mom about our kids’ eating, and then the other mom will ruin it by saying something like, “Jack won’t eat brussels sprouts…unless I cook them with bacon!” I mean, come on. I could coat brussels sprouts in a thick chocolate shell and sprinkle them with Legos and my kids still wouldn’t touch them with a 12 foot pole.  I also enjoy it when other moms say stuff like “Have you tried putting ranch dressing on the vegetables? My kids love that!” No, it never occurred to me to put ranch, or butter, or maple syrup, or balsamic, or cheese on the vegetables. Bitch, please.  I’m no amateur.  I’m sure Finn would love cheese-covered vegetables, if he ate cheese.

Recently, when I watched my friend Kathryn offer her daughter Charlotte (below) some beautiful unpeeled carrots with the green fronds still attached to them, I felt a stab of envy, and then, self-loathing. If those carrots had been offered to my boys, they would likely have looked at them with confusion before asking what they were. Where did I go wrong? Why was I such a bad mom?

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carrots apparently produce beautiful children like charlotte. i wouldn’t know

Most of my low points as a mom have been spent wrestling with my kids over food. My very lowest moment, which I am very ashamed to write about here, happened when I was struggling to identify new protein sources for Finn, when he was 4. Because he ate beef, I stupidly convinced myself that I could make him like pork tenderloin. I carefully roasted it in the oven covered in a delicious apricot glaze, and cut him five small pieces. I asked him to eat them. He refused. I asked again. He refused again. The sun began to set, and the food got cold. But I was determined. So we sat there. For an hour. Finally, angered and scared at the prospect that my kid would refuse food for the rest of his life, I lost my mind. I turned off the lights in the dining room and left him in the dark, hissing that he should “have fun with the monsters.” Hysteria ensued. He ate three pieces of pork while sobbing and gagging. He ate the pork, but the price was too high.

Now that Finn is almost six, I’m working overtime to figure out ways to get him to eat vegetables. Finn will willingly eat peas and corn, but I can’t even feel good about that, because apparently peas and corn barely qualify as vegetables given their high sugar content. That’s right, peas and corn are the new Count Chocula. This past winter, we discovered that Finn likes the napa cabbage we cook in shabu shabu. I doubt cabbage has much nutritional content either, but I’ve nonetheless eaten a lot of expensive shabu shabu in the last six months, just so I could get him to eat the cabbage. I once also got him to eat a piece of zucchini that was in a miso soup. Once. Anyway. You know you’re in trouble when you can recall every instance of your child eating a vegetable in his entire life.

Last weekend, my friend Mollyanne listened to me agonize over my kids’ food issues, and took me firmly in hand.  At our house for dinner, she disappeared for 20 minutes and then came downstairs with the chart below, which she put together with Finn. He chose all the options, and for the last two days, he has been excited to look at his chart and make his lunches with me. Yesterday, his vegetable came back untouched. Today, he ate his veggies, although they were peas. Tomorrow, we try cukes.

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I am grateful to my friend, who sensed my genuine distress and guided me by taking action. I’m also hopeful. And hope is a lovely emotion to feel after so many months of despair.

downers: bike commuters

To get your eastside Portland bona fides, you need a bike for you and every member of your family. Per the usual, I put the cart before the horse a few years ago and got a bike rack for my car–a super burly one that, once fitted onto the vehicle, suggested that my weekends are spent at the mountain, when in reality they are spent at Trader Joe’s eating samples. Turns out I wanted the bike rack more than the bikes. I planned to buy the bikes shortly thereafter, but only got as far as my older kid’s bike. So it was that we drove off for a summer vacation in Bend with a single toddler bike teetering precariously off the end of that burly four-bike bike rack.

Every time I want to buy bikes, something else comes up that requires my money. Like bills. And it’s ok, because in the time that has passed, I have built up a loathing for bike commuters and everything they stand for. I realize I risk offending 80% of my readership with this post but what it comes down to is this: if I have to follow traffic rules in my car, so do you on your bike. I don’t care how cool your bicycle saddlebags are or how neat your jeans look all rolled up on one side with the ironic sock underneath–if I have to stop at a stop sign, so do you. Especially since the City of Portland is actively taking steps to remove all car lanes and replace them with those annoying green bicycle boxes, and refusing to let you turn right on red lights for fear that you might hit a bicyclist sitting in your blindspot. Hello! if you know you’re sitting in my blindspot, get the hell out of it.

Cars have rights too, ok? Especially new cars, like mine. They need room to move and go places, and they can’t do that when you’re leisurely peddling your bike in the middle of the lane at 5 MPH. And it doesn’t make it better if you get a friend to join you so that there’s two of you riding at 5 MPH, side by side. 5 MPH + 5 MPH does not equal 10 MPH, and even if it did, you’d still be 15 MPH under the speed limit in a 25 MPH zone. Newsflash: you look ridiculous, and you are impeding the flow of traffic. I mean, a driver can get a ticket for driving too slow–I looked it up during a debate with Tom about the arguable legality of his driving–so why can’t a bicyclist?

Even worse than the middle-of-the-laners are the bike commuters who make a big show of shifting over to one side and waving at you to pass them, all with a put-out expression. Hey, since you’re such a giver, how about moving over enough to actually let me pass without hitting oncoming traffic? I like to follow these people really slowly, for blocks on end. Eventually they will get exasperated and pull over altogether. Great success! When they do that, it means I’ve won the road.

Let’s hear it. I’m a dying breed. My new car is a monstrosity. I’m just jealous I can’t fit my head into a regulation size bike helmet. What have you got? Because here’s what I’ve got: bike commuters who don’t follow the rules–you get me down.

G.O.A.T.

For a month, Tom has been planning a backpacking trip with Finn. And when I say “planning,” I’m talking about planning as it can only be done by a boy scout raised in the Midwest. As Tom astutely noted, he loves backpacking because it combines his two great loves: the outdoors, and organization. He chose the June date, when it was likely to be warm, but not too warm. He chose the location for its lack of elevation gain and proximity to water (for throwing stones). He outfitted Finn with a mini backpack, and half-filled it with the lightest items while loading up his own humongous pack. It was all planned perfectly. Here they are, leaving yesterday morning. Hope beams from their eyes.

Five hours later, I got a patchy call at work. It was Tom, calling from an undisclosed location on the Deschutes.

Tom: “(CRACKLING FROM BAD RECEPTION) Yoona? We might (CRACKLE) be coming home soon (CRACKLE).”

Finn, in background, moaning: “Mommy it’s so windyyyyyyyyyy…”

Tom: “You there? We hiked four miles in and the tent’s up. But he’s not (CRACKLE) doing so well. We saw S-N-A-K-E-S and he flipped out. Plus…it’s really windy.”

And then, silence, as we lost the connection. I spent the next four hours in aggravated suspense, until I got a text that they were eating pizza at Double Mountain in Hood River. In the end, Tom said it was the freeze-dried yakisoba noodles that did Finn in. And the rattlesnake, heard before it was seen. Twelve hours from start to finish, a defunct backpacking trip. Tom said it was one of the best days of his life.

A good dad goes to all that trouble. A great dad knows when to call it a day for his kid’s sake, and for the sake of happier backpacking trips to come. Tom might not be the greatest dad of all time. But today, I have to believe he’s in the running.

Happy Father’s Day!

some thoughts on nagging

Aside from my sad yet undeniable weakness for the songs of Nickelback, nothing interferes more with my self-image than being accused of nagging. Once Tom figured that out, he started categorizing a lot of what I have to say as nagging, just to avoid having to hear it. It worked for a while. I got nervous that I was turning into a harpy shrew and started going through verbal contortions to counteract my natural propensity to nag. Here’s my best tip: try turning all your naggy questions into observations. Like, “Hey, I noticed that the laundry never made it to the dryer,” or “Hmm, I guess this garbage isn’t going to empty itself.” You can even act like you are talking to yourself: “Boy, looks like Tate peed in his underpants about an hour ago, because he left urine footprints all the way up to his room! Ha ha.” Indeed, I find that nagging works best if you can play off your nagging as the external manifestation of an internal monologue.

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your staircase: the perfect spot for a glass jar of water

But hold up. What, exactly, is so wrong with nagging in the first place? I mean, things have to get done. And in my house, a lot of those things don’t get done correctly unless I am advising. I’m not saying that Tom doesn’t do his share of the housework, because Tom does about 75% of the non-cooking chores in our house (which, as an aside, only works out to like 7% of the total chores). But big freaking deal. Before you start feeling sorry for Tom, I ask you this: who cares if he does chores, if he does them wrong and I have to redo them? Once, in the crucial last moments before a dinner party, I asked Tom to run to the store for exactly two items: 1) parsley, and 2) parmesan. He returned with 1) cilantro and 2) mozzarella. For you baseball fans, that’s batting .000. Help like that can kill a person.

Last week, as I was pulling a muscle trying to figure out how to say “you bought expired milk” in a less accusatory tone, it hit me that Tom has put one over on me. Because a lot of what Tom calls “nagging” is not really nagging. Like, it’s not nagging when your partner tells you that your pants don’t go with your top. It’s not nagging when she observes that you’ll get kidney stones (again) if you don’t drink any water, especially if that’s what the doctor in the ER (twice) also told you. It’s not nagging when your wife suggests that your five-year old might not be ready for a 10-mile backpacking trip, or that you might stay within cell phone range and pack in some emergency flares. Nor is it nagging when your partner wonders aloud if the shrubs out front may have died because you pruned them with a chainsaw. Most of these things are bare facts, and the recitation of facts does not constitute nagging.

So the next time you think you might be nagging, stop and ask yourself: is this really nagging, or just a necessary suggestion on how the other person might improve themselves or their situation? If it’s the latter, it would really be a disservice not to say something, wouldn’t it?

eating with my iPhone

I have a 2.5 year old.  The thing they don’t tell you in parenting books is that eating out with a kid when they are between 2 and 3 is seriously thankless business, on a level with making your own yogurt (learn from me: it’s $.80 cents a cup in the stores, and you don’t have to grow your own bacteria).  If your kid is an eater, maybe it works better.  But Tate is not an eater.

I appreciate when kindly waiters ask if I’d prefer that they bring the kids’ meals out first.  They’re trying to get food to the kid as quickly as possible, and that’s cute.  But the only way I have a prayer of getting to eat my own food is if Tate’s meal comes out at precisely the same time as mine.  From the moment our food hits the table, I have three minutes to finish my meal before Tate loses interest in his.  I tend to exaggerate a lot, but I’m not exaggerating with that sentence.  Three minutes might actually be overstating the correct length of time.

Anyway, that fourth minute is where my iPhone comes in.  I’ve gotten lots of dirty looks from people whenever I pull out the iPhone at a restaurant with Tate.  Here’s what I have to say to those pitiless souls: stare away, you judgmental freaks.  And how about giving me your home address, so I can come over and shake my head disapprovingly at you the next time you are going through some difficult moment in your life.

Years ago, I heard a story on “This American Life” about a guy who resisted using wheeled luggage for years because he thought only a wuss would wheel his stuff behind him–until he realized that it was just WHEELS, and they made travel a lot easier.  And that’s how I feel about the iPhone in restaurants.  I think Luddites are great and they make some really nice furniture and pickles, but for me, I’m going to use the technology when it’s appropriate.  If my iPhone can buy me the five minutes I need to inhale my plate of pasta and gulp down some pinot after wrestling six pieces of food into Tate’s mouth, it’s happening.  Besides, it’s not like I’d be having a real conversation with Tate but for the iPhone.  I mean, he can talk, but it’s not the most riveting stuff, assuming I can even understand what he is saying.  And I have to come up with all the topics for conversation, which can get tiresome.

I never feel the need to pull out my phone in order to eat with my 5-year old, so I know this moment will run its course.  Until then, this mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do.

stuff i like: amazon prime

I’ve made peace with the knowledge that Amazon will eventually take over the world, and you should too, because it will make the takeover a lot smoother for Jeff Bezos.  I do a lot of my shopping online, and 9 times out of 10, I can find what I’m looking for on Amazon.  I’ve bought flour on Amazon.  My dryer sheets are from Amazon.  My shoes are often from Amazon, because I guarantee that the shoes you want on Zappos are cheaper on Amazon.  If I’m gifting you, I likely bought your gift on Amazon, unless I am re-gifting.  I’d like to spread my money around, but Amazon just makes it so damn easy.  They pack your stuff in “frustration-free packaging,” vacuum-wrap your books, and deliver everything on time and in one piece.

But the real beauty of Amazon is Amazon Prime.  I think it costs like $80 a year, but what you get is this: free two-day shipping on many (but not all) of the items you’ll be shopping for, including heavy items like this, my new toilet.  Don’t ask me why one toilet is packaged in two boxes.  That is a mystery for my contractor to figure out.  Here’s all I need to know: this sucker cost 40% less than MSRP, nothing to ship, and arrived on my stoop in two days.  Assuming there’s actually a toilet in there when my contractor opens the box(es), that will be approximately my 340th successful shopping experience on Amazon.  How’s that for a track record?

What Amazon knows is that when you have free two-day shipping, you’ll find excuses to do all kinds of stupid shopping on Amazon.  So it is that I once ordered a clip-on webcam for my laptop for $2.40.  It looked like a cheap toy you might pull out of a vending machine with a claw, and worse, did not work, but I don’t hold that against Amazon.  I hold it against the manufacturer, and me, for believing that a webcam that costs less than a Slurpee would be capable of transmitting my image to my brother in Seoul.  Before you start yowling about the environmental impact of shipping such an item, consider that if I hadn’t ordered it from Amazon, I would have driven around to five stores looking for a webcam, so there’s that.  Also, it came in a really tiny box.

But forget all that, because now, there’s Downton Abbey.  I recently started watching the show, two years after everyone else, and discovered that if you have Amazon Prime, you can watch HD episodes of DA through Amazon Prime for free, with no ads.  What?  Yeah, that’s right, Amazon sells streaming video, and if you have Amazon Prime, you can get a lot of it for nothing.  So you can return that DVD of “Just Go With It” that you’ve had molding in your house for the past 8 months–you know, the rental that’s costing you, at $13.99 per month, something like $112.00–and cancel your Netflix subscription.

Hey Amazon!  Take me to your leader.