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Pickle– WHAT?

21 May
Photo by Joan Azeka on Unsplash

Since moving to Richmond last summer I’ve been excited to get into pickleball. Alan and I were first exposed to it a few years ago when we visited my former boss in Tennessee and she and her husband took us to a court. If you’re not familiar, it’s played on a court that looks a lot like a tennis court but is quite a bit smaller; it uses paddles similar to table tennis but a bit larger/heavier; and the ball is approximately the size of a tennis ball but made out of open plastic like a wiffle ball. Think of it as the Frankenstein of racquet sports.

But here’s the thing: it’s fun, easy, and social, which is why I thought it would be a great way to meet people and stay active. The challenge is that the scoring is complicated and the rules are not at all like tennis, so it’s kind of confusing for a newbie.

All of which is to explain why I was standing on a court with eight strangers in oddly hot (90 degree) temperatures the first week of April. Richmond hasn’t provided the overall cost savings you might think – housing is much less expensive here than DC, but most other things are about the same – but the one place where I’ve found a deal: the Parks & Recreation offerings. I signed up for beginner tennis lessons: $25 – for SIX lessons, which is insane by DC standards; and pickleball lessons – FREE for what was originally supposed to be six hours of instruction but actually ended up being eight! I’m something of a bargain hunter, so don’t be surprised if I join a soccer league or some equally random shit in an attempt to make my tax dollars work for me here.

The best part about pickleball lessons? The instructor, Diana, who told us on the first night that she’s 75 years old. Good thing she disclosed her age, because I would’ve guessed her to be much younger. She’s spry, sassy, and delivers a mean serve. She reminds me of my mom: short white hair and a bit of a tough-love/smart-ass vibe to her coaching that has big “gym teacher energy” to it.

On the first night, she asked each of us to share what previous racquet sport experience we had. Some people had none, others had played tennis or pingpong in years past. I was last to go. “I just started taking tennis lessons two weeks ago,” I shared, thinking this might accidentally brand me as an over-achiever.

“Oh Lord,” she responded. “Good luck.”

As it turns out, while both tennis and pickleball use a ball and racquet/paddle, the strategies are very different, the scoring is very different, and the rules are very different. Among other things, I was cautioned that I’d probably miss the ball a lot because the racquet is much smaller. Good news? Not a problem on that front. Turns out, I’m still pretty coordinated. Bad news? The rules and scoring are as tricky as advertised – at least to a new person who has just learned about deuces and add-in/add-out.

Of course, I claim I’m coordinated and a semi-decent athlete, but it’s now been a month since my lessons ended and I might need to walk that back a bit. I’ve been playing regularly with two women from my class and if nothing else, my ego is certainly getting a workout: the last two times I’ve played, my *70 year old* opponent has absolutely mopped the floor with me.

I actually just signed up for the beginner’s tennis league, not because I’m itching to play more tennis (it’s exhausting!), but mainly so I’ll have a viable excuse in case I continue to get trounced on the pickleball court. As I tell my clients: it’s all about controlling the narrative. I mean, maybe the real miss here is that I haven’t yet found a ping pong class to join.

And with that, let me go consult the Parks & Rec catalog…

Sorry – I ate your gift.

21 Mar

Last Friday I received a package* that wasn’t intended for me. (*Given the subject of my last post, I feel I need to clarify: this is NOT a euphemism for “penis.” I’m talking about a box from FedEx.)

I assumed it was something I had ordered for my house, so I didn’t even check the label before tearing into it. Once it was open, I found myself looking at a very pretty”Happy Birthday” box, which clearly wasn’t for me. I looked at the label and realized that while the address was correct, the name was not. I thought it was the name of the previous owner, whose contact information the listing agent went to great lengths to conceal. (Serves them right for wanting to be un-contactable, I thought, perhaps a bit spitefully.)

But then I felt guilty and decided I should at least TRY to find her. After all, it was a nice gift box with two deluxe caramel apples, fancy toffee and a bag of caramels from her boss. (Oh yeah – once I opened that box and realized my mistake, I committed to it, figuring, “In for a buck, in for a quarter! Might as well see what it is and who it’s from!”)

I searched NextDoor to see if someone with her name had an account here in the area: No luck.

I did a WhitePages search and again, couldn’t find a listing for this name.

I then went on LinkedIn and searched for her name + her company + Richmond – and I found her! Yay? (I really wanted to eat those apples, but I also wanted to do the right thing.) I attempted a connection request with a note explaining who I was, that I had her package, and that I didn’t know how else to reach her. When I clicked send, I got an error message that I’ve never seen on LinkedIn before: ERROR: This request cannot be processed at this time. Reason unknown.

Well, well, well. It seems the Universe was rooting for me to eat those apples! And not just the Universe, but also the Twitterverse – in tandem with searching for her, I ran a poll asking people on Twitter what I should do with these treats and the response was overwhelming: EAT THEM.

Alas, still semi-plagued with guilt (or lacking deniability), I decided that the responsible thing to do was refrigerate the apples (per the instructions in the box) so they wouldn’t spoil, and at least give it the weekend to see if I heard from the woman. (Maybe her employer would tell her they shipped a box to this address? I didn’t know!)

All weekend, those apples taunted me. Did I touch them? NO.

Until Monday, when I decided the appropriate waiting period had passed and it was like claiming something from a Lost & Found box. I ate that apple and it was delicious. I rearranged the box, thinking, “If she randomly reaches out, I can always put the remaining apple back in here and she’ll be none the wiser.”

But when Wednesday rolled around and I still hadn’t heard from her, I decided to hell with it and ate the second apple, which was also delicious. I was starting to decide when I might allow myself to open the bag of fancy toffee when all of a sudden I received a text. “Alison? It’s X. I used to live in your house. Any chance you’ve received a package for me?”

SHIT. How do I respond? Wish her a happy birthday and tell her I ate her gift? Pretend I have no idea what package she’s talking about? I was on the phone with Alan when the text came through so we brainstormed together. “Tell her you opened it and there were maggots all over the apples!” he riffed. “Or – tell her I ate them and got really sick so I probably did her a favor!”

If I’ve learned anything in my almost-50 years of life, it’s that honesty is the best policy, so I texted her back right away: “So glad to hear from you! I wasn’t sure how to reach you! We DO have your package and I accidentally opened it. 1) Bad news: There were two caramel apples in there. I put them in the fridge because they were perishable, and my partner – not realizing they were part of a gift – ate them. 2) Good news: the rest of the gift – toffee + caramels – is still intact and unopened. 3) You also received a card today – happy birthday!”

Yes, Dear Reader, I did that. I completely threw Alan under the bus, and I lied. I guess if I ever have to take a polygraph and they ask if I’ve stolen something and lied about it, I’m going to have to say YES now. But how could I cop to eating her birthday present? Seriously.

Fortunately, she was gracious. She quickly responded, “GOOD! I’m so glad someone enjoyed them! The last thing I need is more sweets!”

Whew. But also? That provoked two simultaneous responses. 1) Her use of “someone” suggested that she saw right through my ruse and knew that it was, in fact, I who had eaten her apples. 2) Was this permission to go ahead and tear into the toffee? Or –

“Can I come by tonight to pick it up?” Well, that answered the second question. Dammit.

So yeah. I met the woman whose birthday present I ate and lied about. Did I feel good about myself? No. But I also didn’t feel terrible – because those apples were actually pretty delicious.

UPDATE: When I told Alan how I’d handled it, he laughed. “It’s not like I’m ever going to meet her, so that sounds like the perfect explanation.”

“Well,” I said, hesitantly, “You MIGHT meet her.”

“Why’s that?” he asked.

“Because we kind of hit it off and I invited her and her husband over for a barbecue.”

“But you didn’t tell her YOU ate her apples?” He was incredulous.

“No – if we end up becoming friends, I figure I’ll confess in a year and it will become our friendship origin story.”

I’m not sure Alan’s on board with this turn of events based on his heavy sigh.

City Mouse/Country Mouse

13 Mar

I’ll spare you the details of how we made the decision, but the move to Richmond was something Alan and I landed on together. And in keeping with the deal we brokered 13+ years ago, the vision wasn’t for us to buy a place and live together down here. We had very different ideas of what would make us happy…

For me: a place “in the city” that was walkable/bike-able for my daily errands, where I could leave my car for a weeks at a time without needing it, and where I could get to know my neighbors.

For Alan: a place in the country with enough land to hunt, grow fruit and vegetables, and stick a bee hive. And where his closest neighbors would be far enough away that he could walk around naked if he chose.

And so now we’re here – me in a row house in The Fan and Alan in a TinyHouse™ on some acres about 45 minutes outside the city. We explain it to people by referencing Country Mouse/City Mouse, which is a Disney book from my childhood.

Alan might be rethinking this reference after the last week, when he texted me with some alarm:

“I had a packet of emergency rations in my emergency kit in the truck. Went out there for batteries this afternoon, and something has gnawed it open and eaten about a quarter of the pack. Could I have a f*cking mouse in my truck?”

Reader, the answer – as you likely suspected – was apparently yes, based on the text I received from Alan the next morning:

My response? “Aww. Poor little guy, just wanted some peanut butter…” Which I could say with full sympathy for the mouse because he was NOT EATING MY FOOD AND POOPING IN MY CAR.

It seems Alan was NOT sympathetic to the mouse, because he responded, “…and probably some seat cushion and electrical wiring and a perfectly good pack of survival rations…”

“He was an Adventure Mouse,” I texted. “Chasing the dream of a Ranger.”


The lesson here: It is ok to BE the Country Mouse, but not ok to HAVE a Country Mouse. Which makes me wonder if maybe we need to rename our situation after something that isn’t inspired by rodents?

Just a thought.

PS: I was going to propose Green Acres, but then I watched the show opener and – I did NOT remember the possessive yank and declaration of “my wife” that ripped Eva Gabor out of her happy habitat and into the muck of farm-living. I am glad to be living in the year 2023 and not treated as some man’s chattel in 1965.

BOOM! Nailed it?!

7 Mar

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I moved into my new place in December. I’ve been so focused on getting the inside in order that I’ve straight-up ignored the small backyard, which was a big draw for living in The Fan – the row houses have yards, but they are generally small enough that there’s no lawn to mow – just enough space to work or eat outside on a nice day.

We’ve had an unseasonable streak of warm weather over the last month, which means I’ve been logging a LOT of hours on my front porch swing. I’m loving it, but I’m also worried that my next door neighbors (whose porch is connected to mine) think I’ve deputized myself as part of Neighborhood Watch because they can’t come or go without being seen by me. I sometimes even have a pair of binoculars so I can check out the crows or errant hawk on the street, and I’m sure that’s doing little to dispel any rumors that are forming about me.

All of which is to say: this last week I decided to start getting my back patio in order so I can spend time there (more privately) and give my neighbors some breathing room. First step was to order a dining table and chairs (pictured above, without seat cushions or umbrella). Second step was to install a grill (also pictured above), which Alan graciously gave me as a housewarming gift.

Alan knows me well, so rather than surprise me (always a terrible move for this control freak) we had some discussions about what requirements I’d have for a grill. My list was fairly specific: small so it doesn’t take up a ton of space (I’m never going to be cranking out dozens of burgers for a block party); propane so I can cook on it without a lot of fuss if I ever lose power; and at least one shelf and a warming rack. I would’ve been fine with a NoName grill, but Alan was insistent that it be a Weber. So this last weekend he showed up with a charming two-burner Weber grill – disassembled in a box.

Hold up. I did not realize grills required assembly. “Part of my gift is assembling it for you,” Alan said. (He’s owned grills before, so this was not a surprise to him.)

“Nah,” I told him, “I’ll do that. You know I like building things.” (Which is true – I view Ikea furniture as an adult Lego kit.) Alan knows that arguing with me is generally futile when I’ve made up my mind, so he offered to do it next weekend if I didn’t get around to it – a graceful compromise that allowed me take a stab at it or shelf it for him, depending on how I felt.

When Alan left for his property Sunday morning, the weather was great for an outdoor project, so I decided to tackle the job. I opened the box and started pulling parts and parts and parts out. It felt like a set of infinite Russian nesting dolls, where every time I thought I’d pulled the last possible item out of the box, I’d find that there was a box in a box that contained even more parts.

Once I had everything unpacked and spread out, I realized this was not at all the job I thought I’d signed up for. I had assumed the “assembly” would basically entail building a stand, and then plunking the already put-together grill on top of it. I started to get super concerned when I saw random wires dangling. Oh shit – do I need an electrician?

But then I did what I usually do when facing a new challenge:

  • Estimate what % of the population probably wouldn’t be able to complete it at all: 20%?
  • Come up with a reasonable target completion timeline: 4 hrs?
  • Start the task with a goal of beating both these statistics

Have I mentioned that I’m competitive?

Two hours and 20 minutes later, I dropped my screwdriver with the finality of a cooking show contestant raising their hands to show that they had completed the dish right under the wire. I imagined my competitors, only half-way done. I stepped back and beheld my sweet grill, all shiny and ready to go. It was like my childhood erector set, except instead of a little go-cart that steered itself in endless circles, I was now in possession of of an actual, functional fire-starter.

Well, functional is perhaps over-stating it a bit. The grill LOOKS great, but I haven’t lit it yet. I still need to pick up a tank of propane so I can perform the final test. But I’m not worried. The instructions – all 48 steps – were easy to follow. Pressing the starter button this weekend is just going to be a formality.

Though perhaps in this instance, I’ll hold off on my usual mic-drop declaration for a finished job. No sense tempting fate.

FOOTNOTE: When I shared this triumph via text with my mom, she wrote, “I’m very impressed with your technical abilities. Dad taught you girls well.” And he did! They both did! I am so fortunate to have grown up in a house where gender roles didn’t rule supreme, where my dad always invited us to spend time at his workbench, where my mom would start tasks without needing to solve beyond the next step, and where I was taught that anything could be done with enough patience, research, muscle or ingenuity. Is it any surprise that when a huge box showed up in my kitchen, my first response was to set a timer and get to work?

Four reasons I dislike Finter*

15 Dec

I like fall. And I like winter. I do NOT like the unnamed season between the two, which is where we are right now. I’m choosing to call it Finter. Here are my chief complaints:

  1. It feels like it’s always cold and rainy. Not cold enough for snow, but somehow cold enough to ensure your feet turn into ice cubes that require a long soak in the tub to thaw.
  2. The leaves that fell and haven’t been picked up by the city are disintegrating into massive piles of pulp. In addition to being ugly, they’re super slippery – I’ve almost wiped out WEARING SNEAKERS a half dozen times in the last week. And regardless of how well you wipe your feet, you WILL track this leaf confetti into your home.
  3. The other issue with the leaves: they’re blocking storm drains, so whenever it rains (see bullet #1: always), water backs up until it’s about 3-4 feet away from the curb, ensuring that whenever you leave the sidewalk, you WILL step into at least an inch of standing water.
  4. It’s dark out at 4pm. Tonight I was sitting here reading my Kindle in the dark and I thought, “Well, I guess I’ll brush my teeth and call it a night…” then I looked at the clock and realized it was only 5pm. It felt like midnight.

SIDE NOTE: I just went to find an image for this post and I googled “pile of leaves.” This was on the first page of image results, and honestly, Google, I think you’re kind of an asshole:

Screen Shot 2019-12-15 at 6.57.47 PM

Please, help me: what is redeeming about this non-season? Anything?