Tuesday, July 27, 2010

An Investigation into Ripon’s lack of an Independence Day Celebration

The 4th of July comes but once a year, and if you are American and like sparkly things, you get excited about it. Ripon, which toots its own horn as the “Jewel of the Valley,” has always had spectacular fireworks for such a little town. I would even dare to say, the best in the central valley. Even before Danny and I attempted to assimilate into this sleepy Dutch town, we would come here for the fireworks. If you are reading this and thinking, “Dangit, I should have gone to Ripon this year for fireworks,” no need to worry, Ripon decided to cancel Christmas….err I mean the 4th of July.

Ripon is considered one of the more affluent towns in the central valley and has not been hit quite as bad by our little economic slump. However, as of late I have questioned this idea of Ripon being a genuine jewel and considered proposing to the city council that jewel should have the word faux in front of it. If Manteca can afford fireworks, Ripon should be able to muster up some of that secretive Dutch gold and sing happy birthday to the good old USA.

There are a few possible reasons for Ripon’s dismissal of a great American tradition. The following is a presentation of these various reasons.

1. Big Ben. But wait, you are asking…Isn’t Big Ben English? What could the English possibly have to do with the Dutch? The answer is everything.

One possibility for the lack of fireworks is that in a greedy manor Ripon has mismanaged its Dutch fortune. Ripon’s Dutch nest egg has fallen from the almond tree so to speak. Ripon is merely a reflection of the kind of thinking that many Americans have. It thinks that if you appear wealthy you will become wealthy. We see how well this worked out for essentially all of America when they bought massive houses, with massive mortgages, and a couple of fancy SUVs on the side. If Ripon’s thinking were correct, I would go out and buy an Infiniti G35, some Christian Louboutin shoes, and retire at the ripe age of 20 something.

So Ripon has decided to go this route by putting in some unnecessarily expensive landscaping and a clock tower. I will refer to the clock tower as, "Little Big Ben." That’s right Ripon has decided to spend $45, 031 on a clock instead of fulfilling every Riponian child's dream. I am not just pulling this number out of my you know where, I am a good investigator and have a spy within the Ripon City Council. It is also a matter of public record.

Now let’s look at the Little Big Ben situation from another side: The side of the Dutch. Perhaps the once wealthy Dutch were thinking that by expanding its inner circle to more than well... the Van so and sos, it could make a little money. By putting Little Big Ben in, they are assuming that British travelers from near and far will come spend the Euro.

I must disagree with Ripon’s thinking. We all know that the English think their Big Ben is the bee’s knees and nothing will ever compare. They should have come up with something more glamorous, like the World’s Largest Ball of Yarn. I would totally pay to see that.

So while the clock tower does look pretty. It is not 45,000 dollars pretty. I also have a watch, a car radio, and a phone. Between the three of them, I always get to where I am going on time. Next time Ripon wants to beautify something lets go with a tree.

2. The next possible reason why Ripon cannot afford fireworks is similar to the Little Big Ben problem: Roundabouts. Yes, Ripon is at it again with its European emulation. Ripon has been putting in roundabouts at a record pace. Although roundabouts are supposed to help with traffic flow and make things smooth sailing for drivers, this has not been the case.

For one Ripon, is a town of 14,000 ish people. There are no traffic problems here. The only traffic slows are caused by old Dutch men who drive 15 mph down Main Street.

Another problem with the roundabouts is that Americans don’t know how to use them. Do you yield? Do you stop? Do you drive around twice or even three times? Do you blink? Who knows? If you go to Ripon's official city website there is a link on how to drive in a roundabout. I'm serious. Clearly the European invention is way too sophisticated for us country folk.

Some of these roundabouts are not up to code. There is a certain roundabout on 2nd Street that is too narrow for the town’s fire trucks. Granted maybe Ripon’s Fire Department has unusually large trucks, but you think the city planners would consider these things before they tear out a perfectly good four way stop. The city spent a bunch of money on this roundabout and now has to rip it out in order to be within the fire code. Once again, this is a bunch of ill spent money that could have been used on fireworks.

Did I mention that Little Big Ben is in the center of a roundabout? It is. Just another fact that supports my idea that Ripon is trying to pull a fast one on the Brits.

3. My third idea is probably more accurate than the former ones. Like all of California, Ripon is hurting, hurting for money. Even an affluent town like Ripon is not immune to economic turmoil. The housing market is in the pooper, the state is broken, the unemployment rate is ridiculous, and people are shopping at Winco instead of the local Savemart. As sad as it is, there is no money for fireworks.

Luckily Ripon does allow its lovely residents to set off their own fireworks. Danny and I were able to enjoy some slightly less impressive fireworks with great friends this year. I believe our friends' neighbors may have set off some more impressive illegal fireworks…but I’m no firework expert.

To be honest this past 4th of July may have been my favorite thus far. The lack of money in everyone’s pocket makes people more grateful for the little things... like some good BBQ and a sparkler. Sparklers happen to be my favorite firework, despite my hissy fit. I do hope that Ripon brings back its great firework show. I hope for this economy to turn around. I hope that the British are fooled into thinking Ripon is the new London. I also hope that Riponians learn how to drive in the roundabouts. But I mostly hope that the 4th of July, whether there are fireworks or not, continues to have a special place in my heart.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Housewives and Deadlifts

As promised I have been working on my bucket list. One of my goals is to be able to deadlift 200 lbs. I don’t know exactly why I want to do this, besides being able to say, “I can deadlift 200 lbs,” but I desperately want to.

My deadlifting desire may have something to do with my childhood. I was a fan of Hulk Hogan and was always trying to wrestle my dad (with moderate success, although I think he was going easy on me). My impatience might have something to do with it too. I often find myself tired of waiting for Danny to help me rearrange something or move a heavy object, so I just find my inner muscle woman and do it myself. A few months ago I helped my weakling friend Melisa rearrange her ridiculously heavy furniture in her bedroom. Melisa kept saying we had to wait for her male roommate to help us, but I knew I could move it. Melisa now likes to say that I have freakish man strength. I have also discovered that I can give Danny, a 195 lb man, a piggy back ride. Knowing that I have some inner/outer strength makes me want to make gains in both areas.

I think more than anything, I am currently submersed in a culture of fitness. Danny owns a gym. Danny is always working out (not the glamour kind either, where a guy is doing curls and looking in a mirror, I mean Danny is strong, healthy, and has endurance. He is much more than bulging biceps and a six pack). Danny doesn’t tell me I need to work out or diet, but if I say I want to he encourages me. He has definitely been a positive influence on the way I take care of myself. Anyway, I don’t want to get left behind. I know I will never be an Olympic weight lifter and I won’t run marathons. However, I can find the time to exercise three times a week with weights followed by circuit training and fill the other days with walks, bike rides, and the occasional hike.

So what is a deadlift besides something a line backer does? Here is a link on the totally reliable Wikipedia to explain it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deadlift. At first glance the deadlift may look like it involves upper body strength, but it actually uses mostly leg and lower back strength. Danny tells me that as you push your hips in to bring the barbell up, the arms are more like ropes hanging from the body. Whatever you do, do not bend your arms; this is how people tear biceps. Danny is big on form. This is good; bad form is how people get hurt. Another big factor involved with deadlifting is to keep a good lumbar curve. If you don’t deadlift with a good lumbar curve, you get hurt. No need to worry about me, Danny is always coaching me up and yelling “Lumbar curve!” or “Big hips!” etc, when I’m using the big heavy weights, as he is not only a good trainer, but a good husband and doesn’t want me to get hurt.

So how does Danny plan to increase my deadlift weight? We started off by finding my current maximum deadlift. My current max is 155lbs. Although I didn’t ask for him to find my shoulder press and back squat, he decided to do this too hence the 3 times a week weight lifting. Because my deadlift numbers are more impressive, I am discussing those numbers. Danny set me up on a program called the Wendler Method. Basically every week I do a smaller percentage of my max deadlift (and shoulder press and back squat) with a prescribed number of repetitions. The program assumes that by the end of the month I increased my max deadlift by 10lbs and then recalculates my numbers with the 10 lb increase. When I get to my assumed 200lbs we will re test and see if I can do it. Danny tried this method and he was able to deadlift 455lbs. I attempted to put my Wendler Method chart on here, but I'm not that computer savvy. So you will just have to believe me.

We just got back from the Crossfit Games in Carson, CA, where Danny’s friend/co gym owner/ guinea pig tied for 4th place in the Master’s Division. “CrossFit is a fitness program based on functional movements, constantly varied, executed at high intensity. It is a highly effective method of burning fat and building muscle” (http://www.crossfitexcel.com/). If you want to learn more go here: http://www.crossfit.com/. The Master's Division is for men and women 50 years and better. Here is a link to Terry’s story which was on the Crossfit Games website: http://games2010.crossfit.com/blog/2010/07/my-story,639/. In one of the heats Terry had to find his max deadlift within 7 minutes. He got second place in the heat with a max deadlift of 485 lbs. The man who won that heat, deadlifted 490 lbs.

In the women’s Master’s Division a 50 something year old woman deadlifted 275 pounds. No, she did not look like a man. Danny tells me that a woman won’t look manly from weight lifting unless she takes steroids. The Crossfit Games does random tests for steroids, so far everyone has come up negative. So if I start to look manly from all my deadlifts, feel free to call Danny a liar. Coming back from my tangent, I have to say that seeing these 50 somethings women deadlift more than I can was totally inspirational. Maybe once I get to 200 lbs, I will reset my goal. Danny believes with the Windler Method I will be able to reach my goal in about 5 months.

So here I am slightly sore from yesterday’s workout, but feeling good about myself and my goals. I’m looking forward to checking off one more item on my bucket list. I may be a nurse who lifts babies that sometimes weigh 600 grams and I may be a housewife who lifts a feather light dirt devil vacuum to clean my floors, but I am so much more than these things. More than just checking off an item on my list and lifting something heavy, I am excited about living a happy, healthy, life whether that involves Danny cheering me on as I pick up something really heavy or me cheering on a 52 year old man lifting 485 lbs.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Silly Stuff

Butch is also a fan of polka dots.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Pinecrest: Not even half of the Hike to Half Dome

No need to worry, I have not forgotten my bucket list. In fact, I am often thinking about all the things I need to accomplish, along with what to make for dinner. So while my naturally raised leg of lamb is roasting in the oven, I shall write about one of my many preparative Half Dome hikes.

God didn’t make the world in a day and I can’t expect myself to suddenly be able to hike Half Dome in that time. I need to prepare myself by training and hiking and because I am not God, it is going to take me more than 6 days with a day of rest to do so. So besides working out, I plan on going on many hiking adventures before the big trek.

Although it is definitely not my first time hiking, Pinecrest 2010 was my first time hiking with bigger things in mind. I borrowed my friend Lindsey (I like to call her Lindsey #2 as I have two Lindsey friends and it gets very confusing) who enjoys hiking as well as my amazing company and off we went. We decided to take our two little dogs with us. The hike around Pinecrest Lake is a novice hike, that even my out of shape Pugapoo, Tayler, should be able to handle. Lindsey’s little dog, Coco, is in much better hiking condition than Tayler.

Pinecrest reminds me of my childhood. It is close to the central valley in the Sierras. My parents would rent various cabins up there in the summer time and take my brother and I along with a few friends. Even though every time I go to Pinecrest as an adult, it seems to get more and more crowded, I still enjoy the small lake, the lack of water skiers, and the fresh air.

Lindsey and I actually hiked Pinecrest Lake with our friends last year  during a camping excursion so it was nice to have that for fitness comparison purposes. The hike around the lake is only 3.9 miles with minimal climbs in elevation. However, Tayler would probably disagree with the elevation statement. Despite this fact, both Lindsey and I remembered being a little winded towards the end: A sign of my former lack of cardiovascular endurance.

The hike never veers far from the lake. Lindsey, Tayler, Coco, and I started off on the easier side. We passed multiple dogs and fishermen, and to my surprise Tayler was so excited about his first hike, he didn’t even care about the other dogs.

I must have got distracted by one of the many picturesque views of the lake, because suddenly I found myself flat on the ground, hands forward, like I was trying to swim in the dirt or pretending to be Superman. I did not yell or scream…as I just don’t have a very loud voice, but I did say ouch. Lindsey turned around, bewildered, and asked if I was okay. I got up and dusted myself off, not wanting to appear like a pansy and said yes. Both of my palms and my knee were bleeding quite a bit. I decided to clean off my wounds with dirty lake water…. I then remembered that I had borrowed Danny’s backpack and he had some Band-Aids and Neosporin in it. Perfect. I gobbed the Neosporin on my wounds and quickly deemed the Band-Aids useless as they were too small.

The hike had barely begun and my bucket list was waiting, so we continued on. My knee was pretty tore up and the wound decided to start dripping blood down my leg. I decided it made me look either tough or creepy. As I saw it, both are an advantage for two young lady hikers with dogs the size of infants.

We hiked past the half way mark where the bridge crosses the rushing water that pours into the lake. We ventured some more then took a rest to eat a snack and give the dogs some water. While we were munching on apples and salami and the dogs were fighting over treats, we realized we were sitting in about one million ants. They were the gross big kind, so we decided snack time was over and ventured on.

The second half of Pinecrest is the more difficult side, comparatively. There are lots of steps. During our hike last year, we had to stop a few times to catch our breaths. This time was a different story. Although Tayler was starting to drag his head, my head was up. Lindsey and I agreed that we felt great. We made it past the worst part with minor increases in our heart rates and headed toward the dam.

The dam is a special place for Lindsey. Years ago, Lindsey’s brother in law’s dog, Goose, had a fatal accident at the dam. He fell down the steep side of the dam. Lindsey’s brother in law could not rescue the dog because the water was flowing too rapidly from all the snow melt. Once the snow melt had died off, they went back to search for the dog and found that Goose had gone to doggy heaven. Whenever Lindsey goes on the hike she always throws a dog treat down to the spot where they had found Goose. Lindsey threw a treat on our hike, as Coco, Tayler, and I watched in silence.

We crossed another bridge from the dam to the last part of the hike. I had to carry Tayler across the bridge, because it was made of a see through grid-like metal, and he was determined not to set foot on it. I didn’t mind carrying him, as I often pretend he is my little baby. There is a short distance left after the dam with more ups and downs. We finished up the hike feeling good despite my bloody wounds.

Lindsey brought gourmet dog treats for the dogs, and as a reward for our hard work we purchased soft serve cones at the popular snack shack. It was a great day and a great hike.

For my next hike, I am going to ask Danny to pick one that is a bit more challenging. I feel like I am ready for some heavy breathing and sore muscles. However, Tayler is not ready, and he will not be coming on my next hike. Sorry Tayler. I can’t wait to breathe in some fresh mountain air and go on my next Half Dome preparation hike.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Chicago Part 2: Day 5: People, Places, Food, Home

Day five marked our return to sunny California. Our flight did not leave until the afternoon, so we still had time to explore Chicago. However like most non billionaires, we couldn’t do anything too expensive because we had spent all of our designated vacation money on things like ferris wheels and skyscrapers.

We started our day with another walk to breakfast. We went to the West Egg, which is located more east of Chicago than would warrant “West” in the name. Danny ordered a skillet with a side of pancakes. He enjoyed it, but believes the Bongo Room has better hash browns. I tried a bite of his pancakes, and thought they were heavenly. I ordered the “Blue Bayou” which is a skillet dish with bacon and blue cheese atop of eggs and tomatoes. It was pretty tasty. It’s very difficult for the words “yuck and bacon” to come out of my mouth at the same time.

A mural of breakfast related items was on the back wall. I enjoyed looking at it. The mural had a sort of cubist feel, echoing our earlier Matisse experience.

After breakfast we checked out of the hotel then walked around the city some more.

We had been walking quite a bit, and decided to get some coffee at Whispers Café. Whispers café is actually more of a cart than a café. All of the seating is outside in a park. The park had a wonderful water fountain and there were plenty of little birdies for me to watch. The buildings surrounding the park had a very French feel which made me even happier. Although the Blackhawk banners hanging over the balconies, kind of took away from my moment.

We then did more and more and more walking. We walked by an old church that had been foreclosed on. I suggested that we purchase it as a second home. There was a nice park across the street from the church. The park was filled with puppies, squirrels, and apparently pigeons. There were multiple signs warning us to not feed the pigeons. I kind of wish I fed them just to see what would have happened.

More and more walking occurred. We were basically wasting time until our last Chicago food opportunity.

We decided that we should probably try the original (or those who claim to be the original) makers of the deep dish Chicago style pizza. We headed to Pizzeria Uno and grabbed a prime seat outside. We split a small pizza that was filled with bell peppers, sausage, and onions. The pizza was delicious however; Danny and I both liked the crust at Giordano’s better. Please do not misunderstand me, the crust at Uno's was good, but it had a little more of a cornbread taste than I like for a crust. Also, I think Giordano’s used an extra stick of butter, which is always amazing.

Even though we had some more time, we wanted to hurry up and wait at the airport. We got a taxi and headed off to O’Hare. I usually hate taxi rides. I am a car safety aficionado. I hate the way taxi drivers cut in and out of lanes and in between cars. I hate the speeding. I hate how taxi cabs get so close to the cars in front of them that when they brake, I just know we are going to hit the car in front of us. I usually have my imaginary brake pedal out the whole time during taxi rides. This ride was different.

The taxi cab driver started up a conversation with Danny, as most people do, without knowing what they are getting into. I sat in the back prepared to take out my emergency brake pedal and listened. The taxi cab driver was from Transylvania. I quickly deducted that he was not a vampire, because he was still alive even though Danny and I were breathing our garlicky pizza breath in his taxi. He also was not sparkling in the sunlight nor was he melting. He drove pleasantly even though there was a lot of traffic.

He told us that with the downfall of the economy driving a taxi is horrible. Most people can’t afford to take a taxi. He works part time which in taxi world is 6 days a week with 14 hour shifts. Danny and I were very impressed with Chicago’s public transportation, but he said it was nothing compared to Europe. We passed by his neighborhood in Chicago. He pointed out where he lived and said it was a historic neighborhood. Many of the houses there were used during the slave trade. Some of them still have the hooks in the basement walls where slaves were chained to. He said people aren’t allowed to remove the hooks because they are considered historic. We discussed how compared to most places in Transylvania his Chicago neighborhood is not old at all. He told us his archaeologist friend helps him indentify ancient artifacts that he finds digging in his Transylvanian backyard. He told us how he missed his homeland. He also doesn’t like Chicago winters.

He came to America for the American dream but after ten years of living here, it is still that, just a dream. I wanted to offer some encouraging words, but couldn’t find the right thing to say. He definitely had a different perspective of Chicago than we saw. I guess there is always another side to a story. Mine might be filled with ferris wheels and baseball games, but for many this is not the case. The taxi cab driver shook Danny’s hand extra long and said that he enjoyed giving us a ride and having a conversation worth remembering. I hope that telling his story to someone who actually wanted to hear it helped him out. I hope that one day he finds his American or Transylvanian dream.

We were ridiculously early at the airport so I made sure to utilize the ladies room before we left. I was again excited about the automatic toilet seat covers. I must warn you that if you fly in through O’Hare and use the toilets with the automatic seat covers, it is only setting you up for disappointment. Out of all the restrooms I used in Chicago, O’Hare was the only place that even had seat covers. I found this odd. Maybe it’s a Chicagoan thing and O’Hare just has them because airports are more neutral territory anyways.

We enjoyed Chicago immensely. Although there were many things that we did not get to see or do, we tried to pack everything in that we could. Chicago is like any big city, full of life and excitement, it also has its share of problems. It is infamous for its corrupt politicians and gangsters, but also famous for people like Michael Jordan and Oprah. It has history. It has beauty. Chicago has amazing people, places, and food. I would recommend visiting it in a heartbeat.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Pretty Silly

My side yard:
 Overgrown hydrangeas that need to be attacked by a hedger.
The lack of pruning does make for a pretty picture.