Monday, April 28, 2014

The Law of Dunkin' Donuts in New England

This past weekend, Arizona's lifelong BFF came for a visit. Now, I was a little nervous about this, as the one other time I had met BFF in person, Arizona and I were still very new to each other and only saw each other on weekends, and I was used to us hoarding that time together. So let's just say that I didn't share my toys as well as I could have. Fortunately, it's three years later, water under the bridge, and let's face it--women are far more prone to agonizing over things that didn't go quite right in the past. Guys are more like 'hey, what do you want to do for dinner?' So it's been a very fun visit, I get why these guys have been buds for a Very Long Time, and I've been enjoying their "remember when"s. 

Over the course of our putzing around our local environs, showing BFF the sights, eating way too much, and then burning off the eats with a bike ride, some cultural differences have come to light in comparing our little corner of Connecticut to points west (like, yanno, Arizona). To whit: the law of Dunkin' Donuts, which reads as follows:

In southern New England, one will never be more than ten minutes from a Dunkin' Donuts.

Now, this rule was very important to me during my horse showing days, because it meant that when we were on the road at some ungodly hour, headed somewhere based on directions that involved things like "turn at the big rock" and "the show grounds are just past where the landfill used to be," and caffeine and donuts were desperately required, we only needed to keep driving, and we would come to a Dunkin' Donuts. 

Granted, I would have to add my own creamer and sweetener, because I never had my "medium tea, milk and one sugar" come out the same twice, and most often it would have a layer of crunchy sugar sludge at the bottom (ew!). And there's a serious naming disconnect, in that what I think of as a chocolate donut is labeled "glazed chocolate" while the plain donut with chocolate icing is called a "chocolate frosted", yet when you go through the drive-thru there's a 50/50 chance of getting the wrong one regardless of which name you use. So after a while, you just say "chocolate donut" and cross your fingers.

But I digress. 

The thing is, it turns out that Arizona (the state) doesn't have the same rule. In fact, out there, the Dunkin' Donuts are few and far between. Mind you, Arizona (the guy) has mentioned this in the past, but I think part of me had attributed this to the decade he spent in NYC, away from the wild west. (Whoops, just wrote that as 'wild wet', which totally wasn't where I was going.) So it's interesting to hear that it's a real, current thing. Really? No DDs? No ten-minute rule? This is going to take some time to process. You mean there are states out there that aren't peppered with Stop 'n' Shops, Jiffy Lubes, and Eastern Mountain Sports? Dude...

So how about you? What comes under the ten-minute rule where you live? Now I'm curious!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Caption That Photo!

You know when you ask your hubby to come with you to one of your favorite places (say, the horse rescue where you volunteer), to take a couple of pictures for a magazine interview that's due today? And then when you look at the pictures afterward, and you're like ?????

Yeah. It was like that.

Caption it? My first thought is one of those things you reeeealllly don't want to say when you're around horses. To whit: Here, hold my beer.

Anyone else?

Monday, April 14, 2014

What are friends for? Pushing the comfort zone!

Tommy Lee Jones tells us in the movie Men In Black (a guilty pleasure of mine) that “[a] person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals …” I would also argue that people—especially friends—can harangue us into doing stuff we might not have done otherwise. Get a tattoo, maybe, or sing The Lion Sleeps Tonight at an open mic night. (For the record, I did the karaoke thing but don’t have a tattoo, even though I’ve been talking about getting one for years … anyone up for a dumb crowd moment at the next conference?)

I’m kidding. Sort of. But my point is that while the crowd mentality can lead to some questionable choices, it can also push us out of our comfort zones in a good way. Sometimes, the trick is telling the good push from the bad idea. Take the other day for example. Although Arizona and I are a pair of introverts who happen to do very well being alone together, one or the other of us will sometimes get a wild hair and suggest it’s time for a group outing—whether a party, a double date, a group bike ride, or whatnot.

Last week, we decided to be joiners and meet up with a mountain bike ride that was listed on the group’s website as “moderate pace, novice-intermediate.” What we got, though, was three very good bikers who had stayed fit over the winter and were looking to burn off some calories on the trails. And, as we shot off from the meeting area, zooming along a narrow trail at about twice the speed of Arizona’s and my usual leisurely warmup, I thought, “Uh-oh! I could be in trouble here!”

But you know what? I stuck it out for a hard, fast hour before I turned back so the others could do their thing without keeping an eye out for me. I burned calories. I jumped off rocks. I went fast. And, honestly, I tackled a few obstacles that I normally avoid when it’s just hubby and me, because I didn’t want the others to see me wuss out.

I find the same thing with writing sometimes. While it’s by and large a solitary sport, getting a group of people together, whether at someone’s house, a coffee shop, or even online can help push me out of my comfortable little zones and into a too-fast, on-the-edge-of-disaster pace. I don’t pause to sight-see or answer email, don’t let myself look down or back, and just keep going, racing to see what’s around the next story corner or at the top of the next plot hill. And when it’s over, I come away thinking, “Hey, that was fun!”

So how about you? What kind of trouble have your friends gotten you into recently? And what works better with friends than alone?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Mud, rocks, and split infinitives

With spring finally finding its way to our corner of New England, Arizona and I have emerged from hibernation, blinking up at the sun and taking stock of a few post-winter chores that need doing. First on that list? Hauling the mountain bikes down off their racks, giving them a quick tune-up and hitting the trails. 

This, of course, involves a fine titration of clothing--I get grumpy when I'm too cold, especially from windchill, but warm up quickly and need to start shedding. Ergo, I wear lots of layers, which is a fine New England tradition. Arizona, being a guy, wears shorts and a shirt, shivers for the first twenty minutes and is comfortable for the rest of the ride ... and teases me about being an Onion.

Despite the recent heavy rains, the trails we frequent have been in good shape, and we've been careful to hike our bikes through the soft areas to preserve the surface for later in the season. And although I, having been diligent on the treadmill and elliptical over the winter, had the brief fun of out-riding Arizona at first, that lasted maybe three rides before he--ridiculously athletic and a lifelong biker--started leaving me in his proverbial (and literal) dust. That's okay, though, because he is a star about waiting for me to catch up, and always greeting me with a "Good climb!" or "Nice downhill!" 

Which brings us to yesterday, when we decided to explore a set of new-to-us trails about a half hour away. The loop we picked was touted as 'intermediate level' by a couple of websites, but I have to wonder if this was in comparison to the guys who do the Red Bull Tour, because from where I was riding, it was all pretty gnarly. Me? At this point in my mountain biking career, I can do one or two hard things at once--hop up onto a rock while going uphill, or jump a log and then make a hairpin turn. This place, though, kept asking me to do those things on a foot-wide trail with a sheer drop on one side. Eep!

Having rearranged my teeth last fall on similar terrain, and being under orders from my beloved not to hurt myself, I sensibly creepy-crawled verrrry slowly through many of the tricky sections, quite often getting my front wheel trapped by a rock or root because I was going at a snail's pace. Which then meant I got to hop off and hike my bike to the next easy-ish section, giving me time to think about biking as a metaphor for the way I write. To whit:

MOMENTUM IS GOOD. Or, as a very famous horse trainer says in a very famous quote: Make every mistake going forward. If you go too slowly and second guess every written word, pointy rock, or galloping stride, then you're more likely to trap yourself and stall out. So it's generally better to carry the sort of speed that makes the little bumps less noticeable. That way you can focus on the big obstacles. In writing, I have to fight not to overanalyze my first draft, trying to get each word exactly right, even though I know they'll probably change during revisions.

BUT DON'T GO TOO FAST. Just like going too slow can lead to a crash, so can going too fast and outrunning your ability to make good decisions. And, newsflash, it usually hurts worse to crash at higher speeds! (My once-dislocated, still sort of crooked two years later elbow can attest to this.) From a writing perspective, this is where I can get myself in BIG trouble--when I'm writing along quickly, have this *brilliant* idea that's sooo much cooler than what I have in my outline, and follow the new direction. Mind you, sometimes it works, and I get the adrenaline rush of having bombed down a rocky hillside right on the edge of disaster, and making it through safely. More often, though, at some point it goes BOOM! And then I'm left to pick up the pieces and find my way back to the main trail.

And so ... as I settle in for a morning of writing, I'm reminding myself, like Goldilocks and her bears, not to go too big or too little, but aim for just the right amount of effort. Will I manage it? Probably not. More likely, I'll have some sections where I go too slowly and stare at the pointy rock I'm trying not to hit (which ensures that I will hit it), and others where I outrun common sense and go flying off the trail into some prickly bushes. Overall, though, I'm hoping it'll average out to just about right, and I'll hit my word goal for the day, the week, the month ... In the meantime, I'm wishing you, my friends, readers and fellow writers, a very good week, with dry trails, good lines, and a loved one waiting for you up ahead to say, "Great climb!"