Constructive Criticism

Dear Brad,

I think it’s important to begin by pointing out how much I adore you.  I have been following your personal life as closely as possible for many years now.  I love reading about you and Angelina and your multi-ethnic brood (and let me just say I would never judge you for following your heart).  When I come across a photo of you in a magazine, I stop whatever I am doing and gaze at you for minutes on end.  Sometimes I go so far as to rip the page out and place it lovingly on my bedside table.  Clearly you are attractive – extraordinarily so.   You are also civic minded and seem to have strong moral fiber.  I’m impressed with the work you have taken on helping to re-build (greenly!) in New Orleans. 

In regards to your film career, you have many strengths.  For one thing, you are uber-cool.  In Fight Club, you dominate with your sweaty, muscular performance as Ed Norton’s alter ego.  In Burn After Reading, your portrayal of a dimwitted personal trainer with a heart of gold is a total scene-stealer.

Obviously, I am a fan, so it pains me to say anything negative, but it is important for the future of our relationship, that I be honest with you.  Brad, there’s no other way to say this.  You are not a good actor.  Watching you try to pull off a dramatic role, such as your recent performance as Benjamin Button is like watching a ticking clock.  You seem to think that by speaking very slowly, you are achieving nuance and depth.  I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you, but it takes more than that.  

It may be easy to discount my opinion in the light of your Oscar nomination.  Indeed, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is the sort of sprawling cinematic beast that always seems to be so irresistible to the Academy.  The movie itself is neither great nor terrible.  David Fincher does a graceful job telling the epic tale, a story of a baby who is born elderly and ages backward throughout his life.  The actual plotline is based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I have to say, I’m pretty curious to read it and see how they took a short story and turned it into a three hour movie.  Button is like a lot of elaborate, overly ambitious films.  There are parts that work and parts that don’t.  You, Brad, are one of the weaker aspects of the movie and since you’re the star… well, it just kind of deflates the whole thing.

It isn’t all bad news.   Many of your scenes were handily salvaged by your amazing supporting actresses, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton and Taraji Henson.  Obviously, you have the ability to draw a stellar cast.  This is surely a testament to your alluring magnetism.  Hopefully you can take some comfort in that.

I’m sure this criticism stings right now.  I don’t expect you to get over it right away.  I just hope that eventually you will come to see that I’m right and return to the kinds of uncomplicated macho/comedic roles that you do best.  Remember Thelma and Louise?  Return to your beefcake roots.  It’s where you shine.

Affectionately yours,

Ashly 

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Prison Ball

I am enjoying soccer a lot.  It has become one of my favorite activities.  I look forward to it all week.  I think it lets me express my latent aggression. 

Last week’s game was a bit too much though.  We were playing a team with a very hard edge.  Rather than seeming like moms, they came off as a group of barely rehabilitated cons.  There are several large women on the team who also happen to be fairly young.  They use their heft to physically move competitors out of their way in battles for the ball.  I have seen them knock some of the smaller women on my team to the floor.  They are strong and quick and very aggressive.  I would hazard a guess that they are a good ten years younger than 35 – the supposed minimum age for our league. 

Early in our game, I found myself up against one of them.  As we went after the ball, she would try to muscle me out of the way and I worked on giving as good as I got.  The ball spun away from us and as we headed after it, she gave me a hard shove with her elbow.  Because the ball was pretty far away from us at this point, no one was looking our way and this obvious foul went unobserved. 

I reacted immediately, yelling, “Hey, that’s not okay!”
 
She responded angrily back at me, “Hey, don’t dish it out if you can’t take it.  If you’re gonna pop me, I’m gonna pop you back!”
 
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.  I didn’t do that to you,”  I shouted.
 
“What did I do?”  She was really posturing now, pawing the ground, head wagging.
 
“You shoved your elbow into my side.”  I made a gesture showing what she’d done which involved balling up my fist, cocking my elbow and swinging it.
 
“Are you putting your fist in my face?” she said menacingly.
 
Feeling both chastened and manipulated, I yelled, “Noooo!  I’m just trying to show you what you did.”
 
At this point, the ref jumped in and threw us both out of the game for several minutes.  I sat on the bench, trying to calm down.  I felt angry and sad that the game I loved so much had been taken over with this negativity.  During our “time out” it seemed our teams had been infected by this fractious energy.  All the players seemed defensive and on-edge. 
 
We came back into the game and for the rest of the time, I worked on playing as clean as I could.  I was tough when I needed to be, but I was careful not to overstep. 

They beat us 3-0.  It’s not that we mind losing.  We do it all the time and we still have fun.  But this game wasn’t fun.  It was unpleasant.  I was glad to see it end.  We shook hands with our competitors, but none of us were smiling.  I moved in the direction of my big, angry girlfriend, wishing for resolution.  As she turned toward me, I could see that she shared my hope. 

I said, “Look, I just want to be clear.  I was never going to punch you.” 
 
She already knew this, of course.  “Well, you know, on the team where I usually play, no one would say anything about it.  If you pop me, I’m going to pop you back,” she said again.
 
“Well, I don’t think I ‘popped’ you, but I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree,” I said.
 
“Anyway,” she said, “I just want to tell you that I think you’re an awesome defender.”  Whether she meant it or not, it felt good to hear.
 
“Oh, thanks,” I said, “You’re really good too.”

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My Amazing Offspring

It’s been a few months since I’ve posted.  I won’t make a lot of excuses, but let me just say it’s been busy. 

To catch you up,  Hannah, now 12, started middle school and she is rocking it.  She is one of a few sixth graders in the choir and the jazz chorus.  Eli started fourth grade, turned 10, made new friends and practiced testing boundaries. I started a new writing class and I am enjoying that.  Isaac also had a birthday.  He has been working hard, doing yoga and building a deck. 

It’s been a beautiful autumn in Seattle;  a flurry of bright amber, auburn and russet, offset by stormy skies offering a dramatic mixture of bright and dark.

Each day, Isaac and I struggle to teach our children responsibility.  Put away your backpack!  Do your homework!  Throw away your wrapper.  At times, it feels hopeless, but tonight I am triumphant! 

Hannah and Eli clean the kitchen after dinner.  Not every night, but apparently enough that they feel a sense of responsiblity about it.  We just finished dinner and as we got up, I decided to go ahead and help with the kitchen.  I cleared a few dishes and started to wash them.  Eli came up and said, “Mom, that’s my job.”

Surprised, I said, “Oh.  Okay.  Great! Go for it.”

I went over and started to put the leftover food away in the fridge.  Hannah walked into the kitchen and said, “Mom, that’s my job.”

“Okay.  That’s great!  Thanks.”  I stepped away and stood watching my kids getting to work.  With a positive attitude and some skill.  It was pretty awesome.

As I sit writing this, I hear destructive-sounding crashes and petty squabbling as they finish their jobs.  I am biting my tongue to keep from yelling.  No doubt I will soon decide to raise my voice in response to some sort of flare-up.  None of us are perfect.  But I am seeing progress.  And it’s good.

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Angst Overflow

This morning, Isaac and I found out that we have some holes in our sewer line that will cost about $5,000 to fix.  Later in the day, as I was working myself into a frenzy of nagging over the fact that the kids don’t brush their teeth unless I tell them to do it, I received a mailing from Hannah’s new school.  She starts middle school this year and I have iceberg-sized fears about this new transition.  The packet contained information about the under-aged drinking problem in Seattle.  Apparently North Seattle teens report higher levels of alcohol use than both the County and the State.   

The accumulation of worries buzzed around my consciousness like fat, black flies.  The steep costs involved in maintaining our nearly 60 year old home … The deplorable grooming habits that my kids stubbornly cling to … and now, there’s under-aged drinking to worry about, not to mention under-aged sex, and drugs, and eating disorders, and the brutality of middle school culture, too.  I felt so panicked and overwhelmed at the thought of it all, I could feel my throat closing up.

I’d like to say that I sat Hannah right down and we had an honest and interactive discussion about this issue.  That she shared her nervousness about middle school and I made wise and sensitive observations that gently guided the discussion to an emotionally satisfying conclusion.  That we both cried and hugged and vowed to always be honest with each other.

But you and I both know that didn’t happen.  I did ask Hannah to sit down with me and we talked (well mostly I talked) about the underage drinking thing.  I told her that I knew I’d been acting a bit critical and I reiterated the importance of good grooming habits (couldn’t stop myself), but I acknowledged that the most important message I wanted her to hear from me was that I was proud of her.  I said that I was feeling pretty nervous about her going to middle school and being confronted with choices about things like alcohol, sex and drugs.  I got a little weepy as I told her that I trusted her and that I hoped she would always feel comfortable talking to me about the things that happen in her life.  Hannah nodded her head, put on her “I’m taking you seriously face” and told me that she would.  And then she went off to practice piano. 

I know that we haven’t got an airtight deal here.  I’m pretty sure that Hannah will make a few mistakes along the way … will not always be honest with her parents … and probably will try drinking before she is of age.  But she is a pretty awesome kid … and I am really lucky to have her.  I guess my biggest goal right now has got to be to try to give her that message as often as I can.

But I’m not giving up on the tooth-brushing.    

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The Hardest Job You’ll Ever Love?

My job as a parent these days seems to be acting as the official naysayer in my children’s lives about 98% of the time. 

No you can’t play computer games today because you already watched three hours of television.  No, we are not getting ice cream because you’ve already had loads of crap today. And no, you cannot buy it with your own money either.  No, you can’t count the last five minutes that you’ve spent arguing with your brother as part of your piano practicing.

Often my job is to end an activity that has already begun.  Stop running through the sprinkler in your new school clothes.  Stop wiping your hands on the the tablecloth.  Your napkin is right there.  Stop saying the punch line over and over again.  It doesn’t make the joke any funnier. 

On a daily, really hourly, basis, I’m just trying to reinforce messages that I’ve been working on for many years.  Brush your teeth!  Pick up your things!  Please, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, flush the damn toilet already, will you!?

I’ve heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  That is also the definition of parenting as far as I can tell.  I am sure that the experts would be able to suggest some effective techniques for teaching my children, but the mental exhaustion I suffer as I navigate endless negotiations, reminders and lectures makes it hard to even think about that kind of innovation.  I’m just not that clever.  I just have to hope that repetition and example will eventually do the trick.

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2008 Triathlon Season: The Finale!

2008 Whidbey Island “Race the Rock” Triathlon

Total Time: 2 hours 13 minutes and 58 seconds

Division Place: 1st out of 9 women in the “Orca” category (150 lbs and over), 5th out of 16 for women ages 35-39.

Yesterday, I participated in the Whidbey Island Triathlon with my friends, Mary, Kate and Sandra.  The first time the four of us went on a training ride together, Sandra noted that she was in company with Mary, Kate, and Ashly. 

This was my second time doing this triathlon.  I really enjoyed the experience last year, but in the days leading up to the event, I felt a cold coming on and I doubted my ability to compete well in the race.  On the night before, Friday, the four of us stayed on the Island at a cabin owned by Mary’s aunt.  We were very well behaved and only drank one beer a piece, despite the feeling that we were on vacation and could therefore do whatever we wanted.  I took huge amounts of vitamin C all day, hoping to stave off illness.  Before bed, on impulse, I took a Benadryl, hoping it would help me sleep better, as well as clear any congestion I was feeling.

I woke up at 5:30 feeling quite well and cooked eggs and bacon for everyone.  After eating, we got dressed and left in two cars to check-in and set up our transition areas.  This race is unusual in that it has two different transition areas so you have to think clearly about what you need for each area.  The air was heavy and cold as we set up our bike/run transition area.  I was worried it might rain and tried to cover up my running shoes as much as possible, then off to Goss lake to set up our swim/run transition area and begin the race.

There is limited parking at Goss lake, so first, we had to find the designated parking area, which turned out to be a bit stressful.  Mary and I found ourselves arguing about which way to go, so we decided to let Sandra and Kate lead the way.  We found a nice parking area about a mile from Goss lake and rode our bikes to the start.  We set up our bikes and transition areas and got our body marking done.  Then we stood, shivering in the chilly morning air, waiting for the race to start.  There were four waves in this little triathlon.  1 and 2 were males, 3 and 4, females.  I liked this setup because men tend to be faster and more aggressive than women (biological fact!) so there wasn’t too much testosterone on the course at the same time as me.

The Swim - For this swim, the starting line is in a spot where you can’t touch the bottom.  I like that because, treading water gives you a chance to get warm before the race begins.  As we swam out, I felt some of my nerves drifting away.  This swim felt great.  For the first time, I was able to sustain the crawl for the entire swim.  I felt strong and steady throughout.  I figured this would be my best time ever and as you’ll see it wasn’t any better than last year and it was slower than other half mile swim times that I’ve gotten.  I can’t explain this, other than to think that these distances vary and that this must have been a longer half mile than usual.  20:41

Transition 1 - I came out of the water feeling strong, but the transition here was rough.  I had a headache from the swimming.  I ran up the steep bank to find my transition bag, which were placed in order in rows.  I got my biking gear out of the bag and started putting it on.  It’s much easier to remember all the pieces of a transition when it’s laid out in front of you.  Having it jumbled up in a bag felt confusing so I think I did a lot of shuffling around as I tried to think things through.  Finally I was done and I handed my bag to a volunteer and ran to where the bikes were racked. 4:51

Bike - This is a 19.5 mile course which includes one and a half times around a hilly loop before a short and fairly flat ride to Transition 2.  My ride was pretty uneventful.  I drank a lot of my energy drink early in the ride, hoping to alleviate my headache.  It worked, but then I felt pretty thirsty as I finished the bikeride.  I kept passing the same women and then they passed me back and so forth.  This was a tough ride, what with all the hills, and my thighs and butt were feeling sore even as I rode, but my lungs felt fine.  My time this year was a bit slower than last.  I’m starting to think I didn’t train hard enough on bike.  This makes sense though because last year I was working out with a triathlon group where I had a variety of challenging rides planned for me, where as this year, I trained mainly on the flat Burke-Gilman trail.   73:11

Transition 2 - I sat down and drank a lot of water and changed my shoes.  I also stretched a bit because I had gotten so sore on the bikeride.  As in the first Transition I felt a bit discombobulated and I’m sure I could have moved a little faster.  Oh well.  It’s something to work on. 3:22

Run - This 3.8 mile course starts along a lovely, wooded path that is also a steep uphill.  By the time you get up to the flat, grassy playing fields at the top of the hill, you’re feeling pretty darn irritated, but I knew that the rest of the course was pretty level.  I managed to run the entire way up that first leg which allowed me to pass a lot of the women I’d been riding with.  I stopped for a drink of water at the top and then headed out to the next section of the run, heading downhill, along a peaceful, tree-lined road. 

I went as fast as I could, knowing I could always slow down during the final stretch which was a long and gentle uphill.  I passed a lot of women and one or two men during the run and exchanged encouraging words with many of them as I passed by.  I felt very strong at this point knowing that I was so nearly finished.  At one point during the last uphill section, I was sorely tempted to stop running, but just by slowing down a bit, I made it to the top.  As I came into the park, there was no one in front of me.  I crossed the finish line feeling like a winner. 31:50

Summary - I felt great during this triathlon, in contrast to Seafair a few weeks ago.  I love how small and friendly the event feels.  It would be a great choice for people who are doing a first tri or nervous about crowds.  It makes me want to stick with smaller venues from now on.  I was shocked to discover that I actually won my division.  For one thing I didn’t remember that I had registered as an “Orca” and while I felt like this was a personal best for me in many ways, I wouldn’t have expected to place first in any category.  But I’m awfully proud of myself.  I don’t think I’ve ever won a sporting event before.   

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Poor Little Bunny

     

Photo taken by Hannah

Our Sally has had an injury in her shoulder, which became infected and required some very expensive veterinary care. For the next few days she will be wearing this silly “party hat.” She has finally stopped trying to back out of it, but continues make violent attempts to shake and claw it off. Most pathetic, though, is when she tries to clean herself. Over and over again, she raises her paw delicately toward her head and licks away at the plastic shield in front of her face. This has got to be frustrating!  She is not allowed to go outside, but stands, staring intently at the door like this many times a day, as if willing it to open. It is getting harder and harder to keep her in so hopefully after she gets the drain out of her shoulder tomorrow, we will be able to let her out again.

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2008 Triathlon Season: The Opener

2008 BRI Triathlon at Seafair

Total Time: 1 hour 33 minutes and 34 seconds 

Division Place: 47 out of 117 women ages 35-39

Yesterday, I participated in the Seafair Triathlon for the first time.  This was my fifth triathlon and my first of 2008.  It felt a little rough.  Maybe I am not as prepared as I have been other events.  In any case, I was proud of myself for finishing and pleasantly surprised by my results, which took over 24 hours to post.  Unacceptable!  Here is my race report:

It was cool and overcast as Isaac dropped me off at Seward Park.  After finding my area and racking my bike, I made my first of several trips to the port-a-potty.  Adrenaline tends to make me very productive.  I set up my area and made the rounds, acquainting myself with the layout of the transition area.  I ate some Shot Blocks and drank a lot of water.  As I set things up, I listened to the folks around me making small talk about recent triathlon experiences. 

At this race, they move everyone out of the transition area and into the staging area before starting anyone.  The announcer explained the various courses and rules as people got into the water and took little warm-up swims.  I got in for a few minutes myself, just to, ummm, warm up the water a little.  Then everyone got out and the race began.  First the Elite category started.  My wave was fifth, starting approximately 15 minutes later.  The first couple of waves were already finishing by then. 

The Swim – I positioned myself over to the left of the pack, neither in the front or the back of the group.  Seeing as how this was a counter-clockwise route, this was a popular position to be in and I found myself crowded once the swimming started.  I felt very slow and heavy and kept colliding with other swimmers.  There were three turns in this route and by the third one, the following wave started to pass me.  This felt discouraging, but I kept on going.  What choice did I have?  As I struggled to swim amidst the tangle of flailing limbs, I found myself thinking, “This is crazy!  What the hell am I doing here?”  I don’t think this is the first time I’ve had this thought during the swimming portion.  In any case, I did finish and managed a slow jog out of the cold water and over the finish line.  18:41 

Transition 1 - As I ran for my rack, I reached to take off my cap and it sort of flew off my head and landed on the ground behind me.  My mind told me to leave it, but my body tried to stop anyway and as my back leg planted to pivot around, my front foot slipped on the grass and I impressively did the splits.  Anyone who saw this maneuver must have thought I was pretty amazing!  Thank goodness I didn’t hurt myself.  I retrieved my cap and ran back to my spot where I quickly changed shoes and downed more water and another Shot Block. 3:21  

Bike - I was excited to get on my sparkly, new bike.  I felt that I pushed hard and did well during this portion of the race.  It was pretty uneventful.  At the end of the race as we were rounding the final curve into the park, a clearly hormonal man yelled at me to get out of his way.  I yelled back at him which was probably a waste of energy.  42:18 

Transition 2- When I got back to my transition spot, I found that someone had placed his bike directly on top of my transition area.  This complication really threw me.  I spent several minutes trying to figure out a solution to the fairly simple problem of where to put my bike since all the areas near me were full.  Finally I managed to set it somewhere and changed my shoes to start the run.  2:54  

Run - The sun had come out by now, but it was still nice and cool; a beautiful day!  The run felt heavy and difficult – not at all like last year’s Danskin where I felt I was flying along.  I was trying to keep up with the 38-year-old woman just in front of me and did pretty well until we came to the big uphill at mile 2.  I actually stopped to walk on this portion and I so wish I hadn’t.  I don’t think I needed to do it.  I  had just psyched myself out about this hill and in my mind I had already planned to walk it.  As it evened out at the top, I started running again and felt myself somewhat recovered.  At the bottom of the hill, I figured it wasn’t much further and I could definitely make it.  I kept coming around those curves and hoping to see the finish line and finally it was in sight.  As I neared the end, a woman was gaining on me and pushed me to pick up my pace.  She still passed me though.  Damn! 26:16  

Summary -  I am surprised that my swim and run times turned out okay and a little disappointed that my bike time wasn’t better.  I was actually slower in that area than previous races.  But considering how I was feeling, I think this is a respectable outcome.  I am doing the Whidbey Island Triathlon again in two weeks so that should be fun.  The distances on that one are different so it will be a little hard to compare.  Maybe I should consider another Sprint triathlon later in August. 

As always, I appreciated having my family there to cheer me on.  Thanks family!!  After I finished we walked to the car and went for our traditional post-triathlon brunch at the Blue Onion Bistro.  We almost didn’t get to eat there because they were short-staffed and closing early, but the owner came out to explain and I guess we seemed so disappointed, that he decided to let us be the last customers of the morning.  Lucky!!      

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Channeling Her Inner Drill Sergeant

Hannah has been earning extra money this summer as a mother’s helper.  It turns out that she’s really good at being the boss of other kids.  I guess that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise seeing as how she’s been practicing for so many years on her brother.  

Now when she sees babies, Hannah emits soothing noises and reaches out to pick them up.  She’s so talented that she can do this while simultaneously barking orders at nearby toddlers. Today my friend Mary gave her the advice to insert ”pleases” and “thank-yous” when she issues her commands.  I’m sure hoping that takes. 

My hairdresser and friend, Camille is delighted with her work.  Hannah will be helping Camille two days a week throughout the summer.  Camille’s three active children seem satisfied as well, if a little put out that they don’t always get their way like they did with last year’s babysitter.  

When Hannah reported for duty on her first day, she came prepared with her terms.  “I have one rule,” she told Camille firmly.  ”I want the kids to stay inside for the morning and then after lunch we can go outside.”

“Hmmm,” said Camille thoughtfully, “I don’t think that’s going to work for us.  I want my kids to be able to play outside whenever they feel like it.”

Hannah considered this.  “Okay,” she conceded, “That’s fine.”   

Hannah came home from that first day and took a nap!  Later, sharing her experiences from the day, she said with a tired smile, “those kids really wore me out.  They are so active.” 

Ummm, yeah.  I can totally relate, sister.   

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An Infusion of Sweetness

H and E

Originally uploaded by Ashly and Isaac


This picture was taken on our first tidepool walk of 2008. It’s a very good illustration of the effect Kalaloch has on us.

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