Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Braying No More

Well, I’m mostly certain hell has frozen over. How do I know? Because I actually give a flying fig if the Denver Broncos win their football game tonight. I haven’t been a fan of the Broncos since my family moved here from Buffalo, New York, back in 1977. Orange Crush fever was alive as Denver fought for its first Super Bowl title. I was 9 years old. I had the Orange Crush t-shirt on and drank Orange Crush soda as we watched the game at our friends’ home. It could have been the beginning of something beautiful. Instead, the only crushing thing on January 15th, 1978 was our 27-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XII. And so, my brief fling with the Denver Broncos football franchise ended long before it truly began. Picking up the pieces of my shattered heart, I did what any fickle, young woman scorned would do: I started calling my ex names and reveling in the bad things that happened to them. And, I ceased all interest in the National Football League, save for Super Bowl Sunday each year when I was at least guaranteed an abnormal amount of unhealthy food and a few memorable commercials for my time and attention.

My visceral distaste for the NFL continued for most of my life until last year when a friend asked me if I wanted to join a fantasy football league. I must confess that in the years directly preceding this invitation I wholeheartedly made fun of my husband (and anyone else) who thought fantasy football was a worthwhile endeavor. I can hear myself clearly now:

“So, wait...you pick real players, put them on an imaginary team, and then play other make believe teams? What is this? Never Never Land? Seriously? Do you not HAVE a life?”

Still, since my husband was participating in a couple fantasy leagues and seeming genuinely excited about the prospect of Sunday football for the first time in years (and dragging me through the whole experience whether I liked it or not), I decided to join my friend’s no-money-wagered, all-female fantasy football league for the 2008 season. I knew nothing about football other than the basics. I could tell you how most of the scoring worked, what the object of the game was, and that the phrase “a flag was thrown on the play” meant “hold on...something’s up.” I didn’t understand what a “safety” was or what role a tight end played, but I figured that since I was going to play with seven other women in this league it was a safe bet that some of them didn’t know those things either. And, all I really wanted was to be able to share in the excitement on game days with my husband since the television was going to be tuned to football anyway.

So, my friend Kris set us up with Yahoo’s fantasy football online. She emailed me a date and time for the draft. Thirty minutes before the draft, I printed out a couple online cheat sheets with names of players I might want to draft, poured a glass of red wine, and logged into the site. I chose a name (the Colorado Cougars -- why not? I’d just turned 40) and watched the seconds tick down. I stumbled my way through my first fantasy draft. In the first round, I got to choose fourth. I immediately swiped up Tom Brady who, in addition to holding a top-five spot on my “Sports Stars I’d Love to Hook Up With” list, had been the winning quarterback in the previous SuperBowl. By the time the draft was over, I felt I had assembled a fairly competent team. As I compared notes with a friend’s husband and my own, I registered that they seemed suitably impressed with my choices. As a coach, I was feeling tentatively optimistic. This was going to be a good season.

But, no sooner had my about-to-be-stellar, first-ever fantasy football season begun then tragedy struck my fledgling Cougars. During the first game of the season in Foxborough, I watched my Super Bowl MVP quarterback Tom Brady go out with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

My first reaction was an audible “Are you kidding me? Having sex with Tom is going to be a lot more difficult if I have to worry about his stupid cast!” which was then followed by “ACK! I can’t believe my number one draft pick is going out for the entire season!”

I was out of it before I even got started. I struggled to pick another quarterback since the good ones had been swiped up during the draft, but settled upon Aaron Rogers, Brett Favre’s replacement in Green Bay. I just hoped I could hold my own. I ended my season in 6th place. It was not the awesome season I had planned on with Tom, but the experience provided what I had hoped it would...a reason to become invested in the NFL again. And, even if my 6th-place finish put a permanent rift in my relationship with Tom Brady (well...okay, it was a combination of his thoughtlessness in becoming injured and effectively trashing my first season as head coach and his oh-too-public relationship with that flawless and omnipresent Supermodel Who Must Not Be Named), I learned a lot and enjoyed the competition.

When the opportunity arose to play again this season with the same gals from last year, I signed up. I changed my team name from the Colorado Cougars to the Carefree Cougars (because I’m 41 now and I’ve grown less competitive and more zen through last year’s losses -- yeah, right). I ended up with third round choice in this year’s draft and prepared for a new season of football. I actually looked forward to the start of football season this year for the first time in my life. My new team, led by Peyton Manning, has some incredible talent at running back and wide receiver. And, as we’re now 6-0 going into next week’s tough match up against the number two team, the Denver Doll, I am fully reinvested in the NFL. Hubby and I are having fun commiserating, celebrating, and consternating each week over the games and our teams.

So, as the Denver Broncos battled the San Diego Chargers tonight, I found myself both watching the game and following it on ESPN Live with a born-again interest in my home team. I feel as if I’ve come full circle. I will admit that I resurrected that fickle, young woman scorned briefly last week when the Broncos beat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, and I smiled and cheered at their defeat (that will teach you to go out on me, Tom). Thirty-one years ago when I was just a kid, the Denver Broncos broke my heart. This year they are attempting to renew my faith in them. I feel a kinship with Denver coach Josh McDaniels. I’m just starting out with my team too, and no one really expected much out of us either. But, now we’re both 6-0 and we get to celebrate a bit tonight. And, although I’m not quite ready to reclaim my status as a Broncos fan (I refuse to be one of those pathetic bandwagon hoppers), I henceforth promise to stop referring to the Broncos as “the Donkeys” and let go of my long-held grudge. Wishing you continued luck, Josh, but when Kyle Orton plays my team (via Ali’s Gators in our fantasy league) I vow to crush you both like an empty can of orange soda. Game on!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Panic -- The New National Pastime

I am not much of a worrier. Quite honestly, worrying requires the type of commitment of which I am not capable. Maybe I’m just glass-is-half-full or maybe I’m just comfortably numbed to the idea that we all have to die of something. Either way, I don’t spend a lot of time pondering things over which I have little or no control. I work hard enough to maintain the modicum of control I truly have in my life; I don’t need to increase to my to-do list by considering dangers outside my jurisdiction.

Last spring, our post 9/11, perpetually nervous country found another reason to fret as a new flu emerged from Mexico. The drama-seeking media got busy counting victims, tracing its origins, and calculating possible death tolls. “Swine flu,” as it was then dubbed pursuant to its original existence in populations of pigs, became the next great anxiety. Comparisons were made to the Spanish flu pandemic that is estimated to have claimed 50 to 100 million lives between 1918 and 1920. Following the swine flu became something of a new national pastime. Surgical masks and antibacterial gel were being cleared off store shelves as the Woody Allen-type worriers stocked up...just in case. Everywhere I went, someone was talking about it. Airlines stopped handing out pillows and blankets on flights, claiming the measure (while also conveniently cost-effective) was meant to reduce the spread of the swine flu. Entire schools were being closed down for fear of the disease spreading. The paranoia was omnipresent.

Then, just as quickly as it appeared, the panic subsided as summer arrived. With the end of the school year, the number of cases being reported to the public daily seemed to decrease. Everyone, except the CDC, seemed ready to put swine flu back in its pen. As a nation, we seem to relax a bit during the summer. I guess we figure we only have three months to enjoy life. So, in June we began enjoying barbecues, boating, baseball games, beer, and fireworks. We started taking deep breaths again (even ones not covered by surgical masks). We went back to focusing on living rather than dying.

Much to my chagrin, however, with the arrival of fall returned the fervor for the fever. The kids went back to school, and Americans went back to their panicking and stressing over this virus. But, now, we were no longer calling it “swine flu.” Suddenly, it was H1N1. A friend of mine quipped that at first she thought H1N1 must be somehow related to R2D2 from Star Wars. My first and admittedly sardonic reaction to the new name was that someone in DC was busy doing some heavy lobbying, convincing Washington insiders that the nickname “swine flu” was detrimental to the sale of bacon, ham, pork chops, and baby back ribs. Either that or some piggish attorney had filed suit in superior court claiming defamation of porcine character. No matter what the reason, now H1N1 was the new fearmonger.

At one point, I heard that upwards of 50% of us would contract this particular strain of flu this season. I had many friends tell me they were going to get two flu shots this winter to protect themselves and their family from different strains. Again, this seems like overkill to me. In my house in the past two years we’ve gotten “the” flu shot, and for two years in a row people in this house have gotten “the” flu all the same. It’s gotten to the point where it seems like a crap shoot to me either way. Don’t get the shot, maybe get the flu. Get the shot, maybe still get the flu. What difference does it make? The World Health Organization is now saying that if you have symptoms that appear to be related to H1N1 assume it it is H1N1 and don’t even bother getting tested for it. The virus is already showing some resistance to the Tamiflu that is prescribed to combat it. The likelihood that you or someone you love is going to get this flu is pretty high. It seems like an awful waste of precious energy to worry about it.

Maybe I’m alone in my complacency towards this virus, but then I’ve always been a realist. A 50% chance of contracting H1N1 is as good as a done deal to my jaded mind. Wouldn’t it just be best to try to stay healthy in the first place? Take a proactive approach rather than trust that some hit-or-miss vaccine will keep you well? Doesn’t it make sense for those of us who are not infant, elderly, or already infirm to wash our hands judiciously, eat well, exercise, take extra vitamins, get some fresh air, and make sure we are getting adequate rest? And if, heaven forbid, we actually come down with H1N1, would it really kill us to take a week off work, stay home, rest, and try to keep from infecting others? I guess that is too logical. Perhaps we should merely continue with our current modus operandi, do what we do best. Speculate. Wait. Discuss. Panic. And, then, point fingers, assess blame, and wait for the next thing we need to panic about to rear its frightening head.

H1N1 is a risk but so is every other thing on this planet. Every day that you wake up is a day that you might end up dead. About a week ago, I learned about the quite unexpected loss of a thirty-something friend. It got me to thinking about how little control we have. I think what we should really panic about is what we’re not doing with the time we have here on this planet. If you really need something to fear, fear that you’re not spending enough time with your children. Fear that you’re not realizing your true potential because you’re lazily watching 5 hours of reality-based television each night. Fear that people you love may never know how much you care for them because you’re too busy with your job to tell them. Fear that while you’re worrying about things you can’t control you’re missing what you could actually change for the better. H1N1 is not what we need to be immunized against. We need to be immunized against fear-based distractions that remove us from what life is all about. Let’s kick panic to the curb and replace it with our old national pastime, baseball. Baseball gives us something to look forward to, something to cheer for, something to get behind...a means for feeling alive. And, if that’s not enough, at least baseball offers snacks, souvenirs, and a seventh-inning stretch. What has panic offered you lately?

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Other Woman

There is another woman in my husband’s life. And, no. I am not referring to his mother, although for years I would have been. This is someone else, and I have known about their relationship for a while. Honestly, I have known this other woman for longer than he has. I must somewhat reluctantly admit that I actually introduced them. Their relationship has been going on for over a year now. I’ve quietly stood by, complicit in the arrangement, peacefully ignoring it. There’s been no need to worry about it at all...until now.

You see, the other day my husband sauntered into the kitchen and casually announced that she’s coming to town. (Okay. He actually bounded into the room and said, “She’s coming to Denver! She’s coming to Denver!”) Up until now, their relationship has been solely online. But, now she’s coming here, and he has an opportunity to see her in person. This is where things become complicated for me. I’m not entirely sure how to feel about this latest development, but because I introduced them this technically is my fault.

For most of the past year, the other woman has actually been something of a relief for me. At the end of a tedious day at work, hubby usually comes home and wants pleasurable companionship, which I am sure is what many men expect at the end of a day at the office. As it turns out, however, my office is incredibly noisy and at the end of a long day my introverted self craves nothing more than to be alone to wind down from all the chaos. For most of our marriage, this difference has spawned something of a struggle in the evenings. But, after 14 years, hubby and I have worked out an arrangement that has alleviated our mutual frustration with each other every weekday evening: hubby heads off to his office for companionship with the other woman while I retreat to do whatever I want peacefully (or as peacefully as I can in a house rife with the sounds of The Clone Wars and its Jedi masters).

I am passionate about a great many things, but I do not happen to be passionate about my husband’s two favorite things on earth: photography and food. This is where the other woman comes in. She IS passionate about these things. In fact, she has a web site devoted to them. Her name is Ree Drummond, and she is known online through her hugely successful web site, “The Pioneer Woman.” I found her site over a year ago through mutual friends who were raving about a few of her recipes. The minute I saw the site, I thought of my husband who lives and breathes food and photography. It was a no brainer. I selfishly hooked him up with her to help him pursue his hobbies without my having to feign interest in shutter speeds, the quality or quantity of adequate and appropriate light, or the many virtues of the cast iron skillet.

Recently, though, I am loathe to admit that there is a small portion of me that is jealous of The Pioneer Woman. For starters, she clearly possesses the patience of Mother Theresa because she home schools her four children; some days I imagine shoving my kids out of my still-rolling SUV in the driveway of their school so I can make it to Starbucks for my requisite latte more quickly. Then, there’s the fact that she is talented, clever, and savvy enough to have created her own online empire, complete with legions of devoted fans. She has a gorgeous family and her strongly forearmed, deeply blue-eyed husband is a genuine (you have to say that “gin-u-wine”) cowboy in the truly honorable sense of the word. Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the woman creates pure culinary joy in the kitchen and wields a camera the way Michelangelo wielded a paintbrush. I hesitate to even mention this next item because it’s so trifling, but it also annoyingly happens that The Pioneer Woman is an insightful, witty, and perfectly entertaining writer. And, now, she is a published author, something I have long fantasized about becoming. Okay. Okay. So, I’m a teensy bit more than a small portion jealous of her. But, why shouldn’t I be? She’s unbelievably accomplished and my husband admires and respects her, seeks her advice, and looks forward to checking in with her. It’s a smidgen disconcerting.

To make light of the situation and mask my insecurity about it, I continually tease him about his need to visit her because most of the people I know who visit her site daily are women. But, you know, he has learned a lot from her about Photoshop and photography. He’s made her Pasta alla Vodka, and I’ve willingly devoured its awesomeness. He may someday even win something from one of her giveaway drawings. I shudder to think, though, that he may have commented on her blog. I can tell you in all honesty that he’s not once commented on MY blog, and that level of commitment to her from him could really be a blow to our marriage.

I guess I can’t blame him if he considered leaving me for her...or at least wishing perhaps that I was more like her. After all, at this point, she’s his muse. She lives and breathes his passions. To me, photography is an art that I enjoy vicariously but will never want to understand in detail, and food is just a necessity to keep my blood sugar from getting so low that I become more obnoxious than I normally am when fed. I force myself to believe that The Pioneer Woman is so wholeheartedly in love with her handsome cowboy that she would never be tempted to abandon her Marlboro Man for my husband who, incidentally, some say resembles Richard Gere (although I don’t see it).

So, when The Pioneer Woman comes to town next month to sign copies of her newly published cookbook at The Tattered Cover Bookstore, I will probably go with him to get a copy. It never hurts to size up the competition. Besides, I would like to meet her in person too. She’s a whirlwind force to be reckoned with; I might learn something from her or, better yet, I might realize she and I share a lot more than just my husband.