Thursday, January 9, 2014

Schweddy Balls: Surviving Hot Yoga

In my office at work, I have what I refer to as the “Wall of Shame.”  The wall of shame is an ugly oversize bulletin board, where for a long time I displayed my favorite emails/paperwork from employees that illustrated their stupidity and ineptness, or that showcased their tempers-gone-wild.  However, nowadays the board serves a purpose larger than just highlighting morons.  This corkboard now additionally houses tokens of my Seattle Seahawks love, a sea of inappropriate Someecards, and pictures of my Riley Roo and loved ones.  Also, somewhere in the mix of my twisted humor, a few scattered inspirational quotes and bible verses are to be found.

Yesterday morning, the colorful Lululemon printout on my Wall of Shame happened to catch my eye.  Side note: I’m aware that it might be in poor taste these days to display Lululemon propaganda with all the “our overpriced yoga pants are only non see-through for skinny people” scandal, but the quote is still good, and quite frankly I don’t care if you can see my ass crack through my yoga pants anyway.  But I digress.  The quote reads, “Do something today that your future self will thank you for.”  Smugly, I mentally patted myself on the back as that very morning I had set my alarm for 4:45am and attended a 90-minute hot yoga class.  I would be kicking ass and taking names that day, and my future self was giving me a satisfied nod of approval (and looking extremely fit I might add).  Never mind the fact that this was the only activity I’ve really had over the past couple months, surely that didn’t matter.  Yep yep yep, New Years resolutions be damned, this was just me being awesome.

Hot yoga is always an interesting experience for me.  Mostly because I am not the slightest bit flexible, and let's be honest, I have about as much ability to focus as an ADD kid hyped up on crack- but it is also because hot yoga is 90 minutes of bending like a pretzel in 105 degrees.  In my perfect Rachelle world, 90 minutes in 105 degrees would only happen while tanning beachside, with a piña colada in hand, a cabana boy on standby, and not much else.

However, in the spirit of doing a solid for my future self, there I was, dripping with sweat from head to toe in shorts way too tight for my chubby thighs at an ungodly hour of the morning.  I’ve never been a fan of tight little booty shorts, on me, or on the majority of the population.  This is because spandex, her two besties, lycra and nylon aren’t forgiving, and leave little to the imagination (bitches).  Unfortunately though for my ego, and for the eyes of the person behind me, being as close to naked as physically possible is really the wisest strategy when doing Bikram yoga.  Loose clothing prove to be a downright nuisance, so tight/barely existing ends up as the best wardrobe option available.

It is truly amazing how much you sweat in these classes, and by amazing I mean disgusting.  If the “valley” a.k.a. wannabe cleavage between my two boobs has a sweat river running through it, I don’t even want to think about the other crevices.  Although I must say, girls have it easier than their male counterparts.  Sweaty boobs are far more palatable and redeemable than sweaty balls.  And there were more than a few sets of balls in class that morning.

So there I was, finishing my shoddy rendition of the Dandayamana-Janushirasana pose (basically standing with your head on your knee), and moving into Dandayamana-Dhanurasana, when the instructor reminded us of the importance of looking forward and up, with the admonishment, “where your eyes go, there go you.”  As I concentrated on holding my leg and leaning forward in the perfect bow, I lifted my gaze upward and forward. To my amazement the only thing starring back at me were the balls of an overly zealous classmate.  Oh let me tell you, tight shorts may leave little to the imagination, but loose shorts sans undies leave nothing to the imagination.  Yes, this guy's balls were literally hanging out of his shorts, and I'm pretty sure that his man-dangles were dripping sweat at a faster rate than his face.

Maybe if I were a real grown-up or slightly less juvenile I would have been able to just maintain my concentration, but alas, my yoga brain was being flooded with flashbacks to the beloved Saturday Night Live episode with our dear friend, Pete Schweddy, and his Schweddy balls.  It was rapid fire for my brain: 

“Would you like to see my balls now?”  “I like the way your balls smell.”  “My balls are here for your pleasure.”   “There’s no beating my balls.”   “No one can resist my Schweddy balls.”  “There’s nothing like Schweddy balls.”   Oh Mr. Baldwin, if only you, Margaret Jo McCullen and Teri Rialto were here now.

The realization that we were just a little more than a quarter of the way through class caused my SNL highlight reel to quickly jam and fall out of my mind’s projector.  Luckily I could barely do that pose anyway, so when this daunting thought jarred me and I nearly lost my balance, no one thought twice.
Some time went by and I was mostly recovered when the next pose came along that required Mr. Schweddy’s goods to be out and making appearances.  The locust pose was a little bit trickier, as I only had two options for where to place my face.  If I put my face down on the mat, this wasn't pleasant as it really squished the painful zit I had incubating under my skin, and it likewise painfully pressed my swollen PMS boobs.  However, option two was looking forward, and I was terrified that Schweddy balls would suck me in like a Star Trek style tractor beam… “where your eyes go, there go you.”  I was not about to allow for the possibility of a collision with Schweddy or his testicular water faucets!  So... I intently pressed my face and ta-tas into the mat until the pose was over. My future self may not care that my zit was disturbed or that my boobs were squished.  But she definitely will be grateful that I didn’t hit snooze on the alarm, that I didn’t focus on the wrong thing, and that I did something positive for myself.  And if it wouldn’t get me fired, I would have a picture of Mr. Schweddy’s balls as the pinnacle of shame on my office wall.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Mental Hygiene

I've loved the fall for as long as I can remember.  Growing up in the Pacific Northwest I was unknowingly spoiled.  The spectacular colors, the clear blue sky, the crisp air, the gentle kisses from the warm sun...and of course, football!  There is something whimsical and magical about this season for me, a dynamism that evokes vitality, and an emotional response similar to that of a spiritual experience.  I find my outlook on life renewed, my troubles small and manageable, and I feel like a child- giddy and care free.  You can feel the energy shift around town as neighborhoods come alive, and the tender autumn days awaken the sleepy streets recovering after the summer’s toil.

My work schedule rarely affords me the opportunity to be outside during the day.  However last week, I had a couple appointments that had me running around town mid-day.  It was near lunchtime and I decided to stop by home and let my dog out for a few minutes.  And since my precious puppy, Prince Riley, completely resents the fact that I have the audacity to leave him for 10 hours a day, any opportunity to make it up to him, I try to redeem.

I love my neighborhood in any season, but I have more affection than ever for my map dot now that autumn is here.  Directly across the street from my front door is a park lined with large mature trees, and on the backside of the park there is an off-leash dog area.  Next to the dog area is a playground, and adjacent to the playground is an old picturesque brick school building.  While this is most definitely an urban neighborhood, there are still many families with small children and plenty of dogs, enough to balance out the homeless people and crack-heads at least.

As Riley and I entered the park, the vivacity of the day was palpable.  We walked up the gentle hill, passing a group of several teenagers who were sprawled out on the park’s (rather ugly) sculpture.  But instead of smoking, screwing, or doing God knows what, these teens were singing acapella (just imagine a scene from Pitch Perfect).  In fact, they sounded so good that Riley and I felt compelled to stop and listen for a few moments.  Once I reached the off-leash area of the park, I set Riley free, and watched as he bounced like a bunny, completely forgetting his age and sore hips.  He ran around playing with the others dogs, springing in and out of the piles of dry leaves.  The sound of children laughing and playing at the nearby playground was prodigious and completely drowned out the noise of the street.  A sense of nostalgia took me over and brought me back to my own years of playing outside.   It was heavenly.

On days like these, a sense of gratitude literally overwhelms me, and I want to simply be carried away by the season.  But because I am slightly crazy, I feel a sadness start to creep up inside me, and I am not able to lose myself in the moment as I desire.  This happens because I know that before I am ready, the autumn will slip through my fingers, and it will be winter.  Every year, as I am caught-up in the height of my love affair with these Indian summers, I simultaneously start to mourn its imminent departure.  Why is this?  Why can’t I just sit in the beauty of the moment without fearing the melancholy that will set in upon its passing?  I pondered this question as I sat on the dry grass and watched my dog attack piles of leaves and clothesline unsuspecting people with the stick he had hanging out of his mouth.  Why can’t I turn my mind off, take my thoughts captive, and just “be” in the present?  Eventually, it was time to go, and I whistled to Riley.  He dropped his head, and slowly started to walk my way, emphasizing his sulk and his displeasure in knowing his time at the park had come to an end.
I feel like my mind can at times behave like an exhausted toddler in the midst of the ‘terrible-two’s”.  It throws tantrums, it pouts when it doesn’t get its way, it plays games, it can be mean, jealous, selfish, and it often lacks the ability to intelligently articulate the source of its frustration when it has reached the point of fatigue.  Luckily I know my mind; I know its ability to betray me, and its innate need for regular “timeouts.”

If I let my mind run wild, it will isolate me from the world around me- from people, from my experiences, and it most definitely will hold the present moment hostage.  An unbridled mind can steal the little blessings, as well as disguise the important purposes.  I feel that learning to control and clean-up our thought process is a form of hygiene, mental hygiene.

I showed horses growing up, and anyone with an equestrian background understands the unique way in which dirt sticks to your body when riding horses.  It really is a mystery how dirt can take up residency in every crevice.  And then, after you shower, there is somehow the unforgettable ring of dirt you have to scrub off the shower walls.  Playing soccer is uniquely similar, somehow the nasty-factor is exponentially higher than if you were just running or working out.  It’s weird.  I can’t in good conscious come home from horseback riding and flop down on the couch and relax, or come home from a soccer game and crawl into bed- that would be disgusting, not to mention downright poor hygiene!

So here is my question… Why do we treat our minds any different?  They too need to be cleansed.  They constantly get caked with crud and develop a residue of rubbish from their activities and responsibilities.

Clearing our minds of clutter is no less necessary (and maybe even more so) than cleaning our bodies, and should have the same value and priority as our physical cleanliness.  We need to shake off the shackles the can imprison our minds, so we can be free to tap into our gifts and talents, realign our priorities, and have unveiled eyes in order to see others and the world accurately and with compassion.  I believe our awareness is directly related to the condition and health of our minds.  “The quality of our life depends on the quality of our mind.”

For me, mediation is an effective way to cleanse the mind.  This is not to say that fighting the mental battle and learning to be still is easy.  Disciplining my mind has been a struggle for me throughout my life.  Hell, disciplining any aspect of my existence has been a struggle throughout my life (you would know this to be true if you have ever seen me eat).  The art of sitting still is not something that comes naturally to me, I’ve often wondered if I should get an Adderall prescription to help aid the cause.  Despite the challenge this presents, I do recognize the importance of working on this area of my life and learning how to control my thoughts.

To be honest, progress has not come overnight.  In fact, my initial attempts at meditation resulted in many successful naps, and not much else.  The only benefit I gained, beyond getting in a little rest, was learning that I am not one who can meditate lying down. (Side note: this is equally true for me in yoga – I have had an embarrassing moment or two of dozing off at the end of class).  I’ve also learned that I am easily distracted - please feel free to reference an earlier blog post  Recently, I was sick and discovered that even the sound of breathing through my stuffy nose proved enough to cause me to lose focus.  Often even a simple smudge on the window can put me into a tailspin of commotion and cleaning.  It seems that the very second I start to quiet my mind, the floodgates of “to-dos” opens and begins to pour over me.  I’ve learned that this is the moment I must patiently wait through, so that my mind can catch its breath and re-center.

The thing about mediation is that regardless of one’s spiritual views or religious affiliation, most of us would agree that there is significant value in unhooking from the noise of the day-to-day, stilling our minds and spending time in silence.  Maybe you pray, maybe you chant, or maybe you simply reflect.  Perhaps this is a time to disconnect, or reconnect, or both.  

In what seems like forever ago, I read a book titled The Practice of the Presence of God. The book is a compilation of sayings from the 17th century French monk, Brother Lawrence. One of the book’s consistent themes is learning to be in constant awareness of God’s presence, and training our minds to see no separation between the divine and the natural. Brother Lawrence writes, “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”  This resounds with me, and I long for this ability.  To be able to not as much “set aside time for the spiritual,” but rather to incorporate my spirituality into my entire existence.

The Buddhists have given us many teachings on different meditation styles that train us how to detach from the external, and transform our minds.  By learning to develop concentration and clarity, you can master the patterns of your mind, and focus on cultivating a new way of understanding and processing life.  There is a reason people say “just breathe” when someone is freaking the f@#! out.  Focusing on breathing can bring us back to the present.  Modern medicine and science also show us the value of meditation even on a cellular level.  Right now we are even seeing the value of mental cleansing being recognized in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks (go Hawks).  Pete Carroll is attempting to change the way players are cared for as individuals.  Commenting on the team’s new meditation time, Russell Wilson, the Seahawks star quarterback said, “We talk about being in the moment and increasing chaos throughout practice, so when I go into the game, everything is relaxed.” .

While I have no aspirations to strap on a helmet, don an orange robe, or move into a convent, I believe that my attempts at practicing proper mental hygiene are improving my quality of life.  As I continue to hone these skills, I am hopeful that soon I’ll be able to hold my ground, even when wave after wave of distractions crash through my mind.  And who knows, perhaps before the leaves finish falling, I will be able to just sit outside and get lost in the season.  Instead of allowing my thoughts to say, “This is so wonderful, it will be over soon, and I will long for this moment for months,” I will just be able to say, “This is so wonderful, thank you,” and enjoy the moment for what it is- a precious gift.


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Things No One Warns You About

Most of us realize that some of the amazing perks of our early years fade as we enter adulthood.  One such benefit that comes to mind (other than naps) is being able to eat copious amount of unhealthy food without any impact to your waistline.  Unfortunately, as the responsibilities of full-time employment, college, and other grown-up activities find us, there is potential to pack on some serious poundage.  Most likely, if you don’t modify food intake or step-up activity levels, you may be saying goodbye to that tight little teenage body you didn’t realize you should have appreciated so much more all those years.

That possibility was looming over my head like an ACME anvil, when I first moved to San Diego in the summer of 2001, and I was very mindful that it was feasible I would need to revamp my approach to exercise as I started this next chapter of my life (um hello, food is never negotiable.  It has to be the exercise piece for me).

I can see myself as being a very impulsive person.  If left unchecked, I have the propensity to jump head-first into things that I have very limited information about.  This was never more apparent to me then during my first summer in San Diego.  I was in full-on broke college student mode (you know, when your shopping cart has nothing in it other than Cup-O-Noodles, Mac & Cheese, and damaged discounted canned goods).  I hadn’t found (or looked) for a job, and really hadn’t made any friends yet, so logically I was spending my afternoons feverishly working on my tan.  I had heard the best job-hunting time was between 8:00-11:00am and/or 4:00 – 7:00pm anyway, so it was a no brainer.  My daily routine was quickly established as rotating between the apartment pool and the nearby beach.  When the sun would get too hot for my native NW skin (you can’t rush these things…slow cooking leaves the meat far more succulent), I would retreat to my tiny 600 sq. ft. apartment for a Cup-O-Noodle and to watch either an episode of Gilmore Girls, Friends, or 7th Heaven.  This was a glorious 6-week season in my life… unemployed, tanner than a pint of Guinness, and watching mediocre reruns midday.  My biggest stress was finding enough change to buy tanning oil and patches for my Dollar Store pool floatie that would constantly spring a leak.

One afternoon during my daytime TV sun break, I watched an infomercial for a product called the Abtronic.  You can read about the Abtronic online if you want, but let me summarize for you: It is a belt you strap around your waist that basically electrocutes your Abs. The idea is that the electric current contracts your abdominal muscles and is equivalent to doing sit-ups.  The big selling point was you could wear it under your clothes at work, in class, or even as you did house work, and it would be like you were doing sit-ups all day long. BRILLIANT! Thoughts of my future Sports Illustrated worthy bronze abs were already dancing through my Mac & Cheese brain!  This is just what I needed to combat the results of the processed food, schoolwork, and job I would soon have.  I don’t know if it was the sun, or my ridiculously high IQ being dumbed-down by the sheer proximity to SoCal girls, or perhaps it is what happens when loneliness and boredom are allowed to go unchecked for too many weeks in a row.   Regardless, my broke ass decided that I must immediately order this overpriced item.  After all, once I found a job I’d be back to eating 5 hearty meals per day and could totally pay my “emergencies only” credit card back for this purchase.   

When my beloved Abtronic arrived, I knew it was a piece of crap instantly.  Not wanting to admit too quickly that I was a complete fool, I used it anyway.   Multiple 2nd degree burns to my abdomen later, and one what-I-swear-to-this-day was “the cheapest abortion since the coat hanger” (and the most unintentional), I realized my impulsive nature needed to be addressed right then and there.  Side note: Please ponder the physical symptoms I experienced that would have caused me to think I had a WalMart style abortion.

Over 12 years have come and gone since the infamous Abtronic catastrophe of 2001, and I feel confident that my endeavors for rock hard abs are far more respectable.  Not that I have actually arrived at “respectable” or “rock hard abs” but I am definitely to a point of proactively participating in my fitness rather than just relying on AA batteries and an infomercial gimmick.

So here I am today, having crossed the sacred threshold into my 30s with the dream of a perfect teenage body & metabolism as distant memory, and I am forced to actually find real tools to help me avoid becoming a blimp.  Recently, I was duped into joining CrossFit.  As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I struggle at CrossFit.  Not just because I’m physically weak, which I am, but because I am painfully uncoordinated.

CrossFit is different in the sense that you can’t be half-assed about it, and unfortunately for me, half-assed just so happens to be my modus operandi for all things exercise.  The entire structure of the class forces you to be accountable and perform at a level beyond your capacity.  I can’t decide if I think it’s complete bull-shit or completely brilliant.  Now, a couple months into my CrossFit experience, and still retaining my status as the “weakest link” in all of CrossFit history, I am actually starting to move beyond half-assed.

Signing up in the first place may have been a relapse of impulsive Rachelle from the Abtronic era, but it is proving to require far more commitment.   Sure at the average 6:00am class I still show up with wine stains on my lips from the night before, and once I even had my pants on inside out because I woke up late and ran out the door in a hurry.   But that’s hardly relevant. I am showing up more consistently and I am getting through the workouts without contemplating pulling the fire alarm.  This might be because I haven’t located the fire alarm trigger, but I’d like to think it is because I’m improving and that I really do want to stay the course and push myself beyond my ability.

Perhaps impulsiveness was my saving grace in this instance, because had I known some of things I would go through due to CrossFit, I probably would have never shown up on day one.  I’m not even talking about the fact that I have swallowed my own puke three times now, or that my hands could easily pass for belonging to a lumberjack or gymnast because of the calluses- that stuff is superficial child’s play.  I can deal with barf and man-hands.   But I’m referring to the things that no one warns you about, the things that weed out an impulsive Abtronic-style participant from the committed-to-the-cause participant.

Example: One morning last week, as part of the daily workout (I refuse to use the acronym WOD) we had to do 100 burpees and 100 kettlebell swings with a time cap.  Now keep in mind, I am usually tired by the time we finish the warm up. Needless to say, that night I was hurting. My shoulders were burning, and my arms and upper body were sore and tight.

When your muscles are sore you find yourself compensating or modifying your regular movements for even the most basic life functions.   Now let me pause here.  I have pondered if I should even share this moment of my life with the general public and/or the two people who actually read my blog (Hi mom! Hi Grandma!) because even typing it out makes me shudder.  But let’s be real, there are just certain things we ALL do, and being raised with three brothers I am not one to shy away from potty talk when the story is good enough.  Having said that, I will tone it down a bit and spare you the graphic detail a lucky few received (you’re welcome).

Being as sore as I was, I decided to treat my aching body to a nice soak in the bathtub.   I poured myself a glass of wine as the water was running, made sure my docking station was in the bathroom so I could listen to some tunes, and was looking forward to winding down after a long day.  I kicked my clothes off and decided I should probably make a quick flyby the “loo” before submerging into my lavender water oasis.  Here enters a little CrossFit repercussion no one bothered to mention to me.  The basic act of going to the bathroom turns into a challenge.   I mean just sitting down on the toilet and standing back up is no picnic when you’re sore, but having to follow-up with the whole toilet paper portion when your arms and shoulders are throbbing is ridiculously painful (guys you’re lucky you get to the dodge the bullet on this one most of the time).   I was not about to let a little toilet trouble keep me from my steaming hot bath, I needed to suck it up or I would be soaking in tepid water – not acceptable. So I did what any resourceful woman or athlete would do, I “modified” the “exercise.”  Done & done.  With a measure of pride, after successfully completing the full toilet experience, I quickly stood up.  As I popped up, I shook my head to get my hair out of my face. Pre-bath or not, I’m not about to touch my hair or face before washing my hands- Gross!  As my hair whipped around, I felt something wet touch both my back and my boob simultaneously. Hmmmm.  Now that’s interesting I thought to myself.  Where did this liquid come from?  I looked down and in horror realized that the bottom two inches of my hair were actually quite wet. Apparently in my creative way of practicing impeccable hygiene while being CrossFit sore, I had bent to a point where my hair was actually touching… yes, the toilet water.  “How is this even possible?”  “I don’t think my hair is even that long.”  “I don’t think I’m that flexible”  “Holy hell I think I’m going to vomit.”  These thoughts, among others, were all racing through my mind. As I struggled under the weight of the moment, I remember wondering if I did puke, would this count as #4 on my CrossFit vomit chart?
Words of wisdom from a true friend

Of course there was no way I could possibly enjoy my bath now.   That would be like taking a few extra laps around a toilet water pool.  I unplugged the drain, and turned on the shower and proceeded to wash my hair until I ran out of shampoo – 4x in case anyone was wondering.

While I think it would have been a courteous gesture for the staff at CrossFit to warn me that their workouts could lead to my vulnerable and naked body being doused with “used” toilet water, It’s probably best they didn’t… as I may have passed on the CrossFit experience all together.

Perhaps the combination of no warning labels and impulsiveness are the only way to get things done sometimes. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Sleeping Arrangements

No one likes having their sleep disturbed, count me in this group.  Granted, a few super humans are somehow able to function with erratic sleep patterns or very little sleep; I however am not one of them.   My personality tends to be rather cantankerous and mischievous in ideal circumstances, throwing the delicate balance off with sleep deprivation is never a good thing.   

So here I am, wide awake, staring at a clock that reads 3:08am, but slightly hesitant to allow myself to fall back asleep.   This is because about 15 minutes ago I woke up after having a vividly dark nightmare about someone trying to kill me.   Yes, I’m sure Jung, Freud, and a handful of others could dissect the graphic details of this dream and explain in no uncertain terms why I am slightly crazy.   But I already know this about myself, so I don’t see how that will be helpful in the current moment.   I’m mostly worried about returning to a place of peace, so I can return to restful sleep. 
When the uncommon nightmare predicament presents itself, I typically have three trusty go-to strategies that I can faithfully rely on.
1) Praying or talking it out with myself or with Riley.   Who by the way is also upset that his sleep has been interrupted (oh I can just imagine how disheveled his fur will look come sun-up).  Something about my racing heart and sweat drenched body (fear sweats are the worst) has made Riley slightly resentful of my requirement for him to cuddle with me right now.  Annoyed puppy aside, I have found that identifying the thoughts and addressing them by name can aid in putting things back into perspective.  
2) Watch a comedy.   Countless nights have I shaken off haunting thoughts with How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Friends reruns, How I Met Your Mother, or various other lighthearted entertainment. 
3) Lullabies.   No, I don’t call my mom and ask her to sing to me.  Although I’m quite confident that she would come over with her guitar and bust out Peter, Paul, and Mary in a heartbeat if the situation required.  Hhhmm…this has me thinking, would I request “Blowin’ in the Wind” or “Puff, The Magic Dragon?”  However, I am actually referring to a playlist, entitled “Lullabies” that I created containing songs that at one time or another I deemed as comforting or soothing.  So at this unholy hour, I grab my phone, select Lullabies from the list, and hit “shuffle.”  The song that plays first is an old one, but does the trick… “In open fields of wild flowers, she breathes the air and flies away…”  Thank you Jars of Clay.

As I sit here, I think of how over the past two weeks my sleep has been interfered with time and again.  I begin to wonder how things went awry, and if unknowingly I have somehow been set on a course of increasingly sleepless nights.

It all started two weeks ago, at the very beginning of a flight from the West Coast to London when the woman in the seat next to me dropped an entire cup of coffee in my lap as she was taking it from the flight attendant.   This would have been

unpleasant in any circumstance, but it was made especially awful because I still had almost 10 hours of flight time before I had hopes of reuniting with my checked back and a change of clothes.   Normally, sleeping on a plane is no trouble for me.  In fact, I have actually slept from takeoff to touchdown on those long flights before.   However, being forced to sit there with a hot wet crotch (no, that is not supposed to be sexual- get your mind out of the gutter! sheesh!) would prove to make sleep hard to come by on this particular flight.

I eventually arrived in London, and quickly made my way to the Piccadilly Line and headed to Cambridge where I would be meeting up with my brother.   Being the all-star procrastinator and poor planner that I am, I had not booked a hotel room for the first night.   My brother was speaking at a conference, and had been provided lodging in the dorms on campus.   But this wasn’t an option for me, so I was supposed to find a place for my first night.   Apparently Cambridge is a popular weekend destination (who da thunk?), and there were no hotels, no hostels, and no guesthouses available.   Now I know the Brits have a slew of anti-homelessness measures, including a recent No Second Night Out pilot program created in 2011 by one of their many ministries.   To be honest, I was just worried about my first night being “out.”  Although, by this point, quite frankly, I would have been fine to sleep in a stairwell or under a bridge.  That’s how exhausted I was after my travels.   After my brother and I evaluated our options (or lack thereof), we decided that I really didn’t have any other choice but for me to crash in his dorm room (flashback to UW circa the late 90s).  I was convinced I would have no problem sleeping across a table/desk in the room, but sheepishly this brilliant idea lasted all of 30 seconds.   My brother then graciously threw some blankets and pillows on the floor and laid down on the cold tile so his little sister could sleep in the bed.   Feeling guilty about a conference speaker having to sleep on the tile floor, I suggested we try to share the bed.   So there we were back-to-back with a pillow separating us, on a twin bed, both vowing we’d never speak of the incident (oops). 

The next night, as luck would have it, quality sleep proved to be elusive as well.   We had a full day and traveled for several hours, and were staying in a dorm style hostel.  I woke up around 3:30am to the most obnoxious snoring I have ever heard in my life.   I kid you not, the snoring sounded like a cross between a garbage disposal and nasally pig with its head in a trough amplified for a stadium crowd.  After lying awake enduring this fate for hours on end, I was teetering on the verge of violence.   I actually had my shoe in my hand and was seriously considering huffing it at his face while seething with anger.   My only consolation, and that fat bastard’s only saving grace was the fact that the sounds coming from him were not those of a healthy man, and compassionately I reasoned that chances are his insalubrious lifestyle would catch up with him, and he wouldn’t continue to afflict the masses with sleeplessness for much longer.   I had to refer back to my nightmare tool kit here as well…
1) Prayer – Dear God please don’t let me do anything to this sweaty slug that could get me thrown in prison. 
2) Comedy – getting my iPhone out and taking his picture and recording the sound of his snores. 
3) Lullabies – putting my headphones in and cranking up my music in a futile attempt to drown out the awful noises.  

Fortunately as the week went on, my accommodations improved and sans a few random incidents involving spiders and a naked stranger sleeping in our room by mistake (while touching himself awkwardly), my sleep quota began to return to normal.   (Stay tune for a future blog post- the tale of a naked vagabond defiling Mike’s bed)

Apparently, I can add blogging as option #4 to my nightmare recovery plan, as it is now 3:47am, and I seem ready to go back to sleep.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Nakedness, CrossFit, and Kip Moore

I would have never thought that before 7:30am on a random Monday, that I would have shown my wet naked body to my mom’s neighbors, that I could be the reason for a 911 call, or that I’d have the potential opportunity to stare down the barrel of my overzealous mother’s handgun.  How did I find myself in such a predicament? Here’s the back-story… 

Every now and again, I wake up in the morning and just decide to be awesome.  I mean really, everyone needs to deviate from the status quo from time-to-time, right?  I was having one of those days a few weeks ago when my friend, Hilaree, and I decided to try the ever-so-popular CrossFit.  Like most people, I had been hearing about CrossFit for a while. But I never really had any interest because I equated it to merely a trend- similar to a run-of-mill fad diet, a LiveStrong yellow bracelet, or P90X.  In our Western world, we are constantly inundated with the next big “thing”, and I was not about to jump on the bandwagon to be just another aficionada or fan of the latest craze.   C’mon, I’ve never been popular or trendy, why start now?  But over the past several months I've had friends, whose opinions I value, get involved with CrossFit and tell me their stories (Ryan & John you are to blame).  I’d also read about how down-to-earth and nice everybody was. With all this talk of no pretension and body transformation, I thought to myself, “Hhhhmmm, sounds doable.”

So there I was, Rachelle’s first day of CrossFit 101.

Being the stellar overachieving athlete that I am (cough, cough, throat clearing sound), I prepared for my first workout throughout the day by eating Taco Bell for lunch, and downing a margarita in the afternoon.   I had anxiety all day thinking about my first class, but I decided to put my big girl panties on, and show up anyway.  Brad, our coach, was awesome. He was super nice, extremely encouraging, very helpful, and beyond patient.  I was relieved that Brad would be our coach throughout the next two weeks. 

Class two was a bit more difficult. This could have been because I was stressed about being late, traffic was horrible, I still had my dog with me, or it could possibly have been because I had two lemon drops prior to working out.   Whatever it was, pulling my flabby body up over a bar, endless burpees, and too many squats to count, just about killed me that day.  CrossFit – 2, Rachelle – 0.

Class three I skipped (winning).  I blame the incompetent employee in our Utah office whose epic blunder required that I stay at work until after 8:00pm.   She also caused me to miss the first day of the Nordstrom sale, so she is definitely on my crap list.  I swear the only good thing about Utah is my friend, Jessica, and lets be honest, she’s from the NW originally.   But I digress. Actually, I heard class three was a doozie, with lots of box jumps and kettle bell swings.  Perhaps I dodged a bullet by missing this class. Okay Utah, you’re off the hook for now.

During the fourth class, I felt like a developmentally challenged kindergartener who was held back for eating paste and not being able to tie her shoes.  Everything seemed so difficult for my brain to process.    Take for example those double unders, I mean really??  How hard is it to make that damn rope make two passes per jump instead of one??  Well, let me tell you, my bleeding shins and the one-on-one “coaching” I required, says it apparently takes more coordination than I possess.  I had a momentary flashback to my elementary school playground and wondered if busting out in song would help my skills, “Miss Suzy had a tugboat, the tugboat had a bell, Miss Suzy went to heaven, Rachelle was in HELL!”  I also had a hard time with the push jerks and power snatches. Sadly, I did not get to hear anyone tell me, “Nice snatch!” After fighting through a slow start, I did feel as if I was beginning to get the hang of things and show some improvement. Maybe I’ll pass summer school and move up to first grade with the rest of my class after all. 

The fifth day was my favorite (for fatty lazy reasons). Brad showed us proper techniques for some of the more difficult lifts. I may have blocked out the awful, but the class seemed more about instruction than destruction, and I quite liked it. At one point I did have to chuckle though, Brad referenced Gym Jones. Sure, he was referring to Gym Jones the training philosophy of some mountain climber.  But when I heard Jim Jones, I immediately thought about that whack-job cult leader infamous for the 1978 mass murder/ suicide.  Perhaps these CrossFit/Paleo types ARE slightly reminiscent of religious fanatics of some kind.   It made me wonder if I should be concerned about the water from the drinking fountain being laced with cyanide.  Thank goodness I had brought my own bottle from home.

Our sixth class was the final. It was great! We ran through the baseline again and were able to see our improvement since the first class (thank God my time actually did go down). For me, the highlight of this class was doing the handstands. I found it to be a fun way to mix things up, and it was something my uncoordinated ass could actually do.  I’ll skip over the fact that my lifting form is still subpar and I had to be babysat yet again!!

Which brings me to today…

Hilaree and I took our first official CrossFit class after completing the 101 series (no training wheels for us this morning).    I was again ridiculously nervous, not because I care about appearing weak or crapping myself in a state of utter fatigue, but just because most of the exercises are so foreign to me, and for some reason my brain struggles to simply “see and do.” If you think I’m exaggerating, ask anyone who has seen me dance sober or trained with me (there is a reason I run instead). The class ended up going well. I’m so glad I went, even if I had to be corrected a zillion times for using my arms in the power clean. When we were done, I grabbed my bag and headed for a quick shower. Unfortunately, I realized that I had forgotten my soap and face wash.  This probably adds to the case of packing my bag before I consumed my evening wine. 

Thinking quickly on my feet, this was no problem, my mom lived just a few miles away and I could just run over there to shower, and then head to work.   I shot her a warning text saying I was stopping by for a quick shower, and then I got in my car and headed off.   When I arrived, I unlocked the door, then relocked it behind me and headed upstairs to use her shower (and her expensive products).  Her dog greeted me and trotted down the hallway wagging her tail the whole way.   My mom was still asleep, so I shut the bathroom door and took my shower.   I wasn’t especially quiet; I dropped a few things, and even rocked out to Kip Moore a bit. And I must day, I feel I delivered a strong performance... “Something about a truck in a field and a girl in a red sundress with an ice cold beer to her lips, begging for another kiss… Something about you and me and the birds and the bees and Lord have mercy it's a beautiful thing, ain't nothing about it luck, something about a truck!”  Yes! Definitely Grammy worthy.  When I got out of the shower, I called out to my mom because I was looking for lotion, but no response.  So I stuck my head out and realized she wasn’t in her bed.   Assuming she had gone downstairs to take her dog out, I walked my naked wet ass out into the hallway and called to her again…  I heard her very nearby voice say “Sissy, is that you?” Much to my surprise, there was a welcoming committee waiting at the top of the stairs, and all eyes were on me.

Apparently, my mom never saw the text, and woke up to someone in the house, and naturally thought that clearly it MUST be an intruder. Yeah, because most intruders lock the door behind them after entering, leave their purse in the hallway, find the shower furthest from the exit, and bathe.   Either way, she alerted the neighbors, and they all agreed that calling 911 was a reasonable solution. Luckily I surprised them before they had decided whether or not to beat me to death with my grandfather’s antique golf clubs or to shoot me…but I assure you both were ready and viable options for this crowd.   The comedy of the situation rapidly relieved the panic my impromptu shower visit had caused, although not quickly enough- we did stand around laughing and talking a bit longer than you would think… especially considering I was still naked.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Man Sitting in 8C

I’ve experienced no shortage of social “low points” in my life.   In fact, probably more than my fair share and definitely more than a single blog post can contain.   The majority of these experiences come only at the expense of my superficiality, and wound nothing more than my ego.  However, every now and then, I have a social failure powerful enough to undermine the confidence I have in the type of person I am.  Usually though, my blunders are of the sort that become self-deprecating comedy, as soon as the pain of the moment has passed.

For instance, a recent low point involved a mishap with my dog’s stool sample.  The vet had asked that I bring one in a couple weeks ago, and being the responsible pet owner that I am, I happily obliged.  I gathered the goods into the vial they provided, then put the vial into a plastic bag.  Because I was already juggling my work bag and laptop, I placed the plastic bag on the top of my purse.  Before heading to the vet, I made a necessary stop at my neighborhood Starbucks.  This is where it all went wrong.  During their ever-busy morning rush, while attempting to pay, the vial somehow managed to roll out onto the counter, horrifying employees and customers alike.   There was no disguising what was within this clear plastic tube!   Heh… whoops.

Another low point that comes to mind was a couple months ago, when I tripped over a sleeping homeless man while walking down the sidewalk because I was texting and not paying attention.   Had my foot not literally been snagged on the 10 or so inches of sleeping bag that were hanging out of the entry way to the school, I would not have even known there was a person there.    Talk about no social awareness.  Not only did my scraped hands and chipped phone feel the folly of that pathetic moment, but I’m pretty sure the sleeping man felt it as well.

One of my favorite charting topping “holy hell I’m a train wreck” stories was several years ago when I was volunteering in Sri Lanka after the Indian Ocean Tsunami.  The accommodations were primitive, so when I had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, I grabbed a flashlight and navigated a maze of sleeping bodies and cots. Once inside the makeshift bathroom, I assumed a gold medal worthy gymnast stance and strategically held the flashlight in my armpit while I hovered over the hole in the ground.  At some point, apparently I shifted slightly, because the light illuminating from the flashlight moved from directly in front of my face to the corner of the wooden stall.   Within half a second I went from proudly holding my impeccable yet awkward pee pose, to instant terror. Less than 18 inches from my vulnerable body was a giant Sri Lankan spider (I dare you to Google “Spiders in Sri Lanka” I DARE YOU).  The light reflecting on this heinous creature’s no-doubt-steroid-ridden body was enough to cause my heart to explode through my chest, mouth, and ass all at once. The size and proximity of this bloodthirsty monster terrified me to my core. I swear to this day I aged 10 years in those 10 seconds.   In a panic, I jostled sideways towards the door.  Unfortunately I was still mid “relief” and ended up peeing all over my legs and feet while fleeing for my life.    Emotionally defeated by a lifelong foe, and now covered in my own urine I went back to bed.  This was a low point.  I must add it was probably a low point for unknowing Brecke, my dear friend, who has no idea she was sharing a cot with my freshly sprinkled legs.

Incidents like these require little recovery time. However, I also have committed blunders of a different sort. These mishaps cause me to shudder deep within and experience a shame that is hard to shake… 

Like when I boarded my Virgin America flight at LAX this week.    I was off to a bad start, already evidencing a lapse in judgment by booking this flight in the first place. 99% of the time, I fly partner airlines within my mileage plan. I do so not only because I’m a mileage whore, but also because it is addicting to receive complimentary first class upgrades, and the ensuing priority treatment and the bottomless booze that comes with MVP Gold status.  So, nothing against Virgin America (they are probably one of the more classy acts in town), but once coach and the travel woes of the common man have become a part of your distant past, it is really hard to go back.  Despite the protesting of my ambitions to be treated like a wannabe rock-star, I couldn’t pass up the insanely cheap flight Virgin was offering.  

So there I am… walking my half-awake body down the aisle of the Airbus A320. In full early-morning exhaustion, I reluctantly plod into the “economy experience” and reach my row.   My seat assignment would park me in seat 8A, which is a window (a bad omen already… my claustrophobic need to flee, strongly prefers the aisle).   The guy occupying the coveted aisle seat was busy playing a video game.  I politely smiled and said, “Excuse me.” He briefly looked up and went back to his game, saying, “Hang on- can’t pause my game now.”  Huh?? Well that is interesting, I thought to myself. As the passengers boarding behind me were starting to pile up, I studied his face while he continued play, obviously oblivious. I deduced that there might be too much crazy under the surface of this socially inept gamer for me to tangle with pre-coffee.    Once he got around to pausing his game and put his tray table up, he scooted his legs to the side and said, “Just climb over me”.   I snickered to myself, confident that I had accurately assessed him in my two minute snap judgment, and decided that maybe I did want to have a “Come-to-Jesus” meeting with this 30-something year old.   However, since there were children present and I was feeling poised and diplomatic, I replied with a syrupy sweet, “I would prefer to not climb over you in my dress, sir.”  Without even looking up he pressed his body into the chair to allow the most room possible.  Seemingly pleased with his own problem solving skills, he said, “You’re small, you can fit.” Normally I’m not one to cave. Obstinacy usually only provokes me, but since I was blocking the aisle and holding up all the other passengers, I decided to acquiesce and squeezed/tumbled into my seat.  The audacity of his behavior was only heightened when he immediately started playing his video game again.

In due time the flight proceeds, after landing I ensured all my belongings were ready, so I could get off the plane as quickly as possible because I had a work meeting to make.   What should have only taken moments considering I was in row 8, was taking way longer than necessary because Mr. 8C decided he would just sit there and let every row behind us deplane first while he played his game!!  This was ridiculous!   After several rows behind had passed, I kindly asked if I could get by.  As he exhaled a disapproving sigh, he slowly scooted out of his seat and crossed over into the seat across the aisle.  Instantly my heart sank, there was definitely something wrong with this man’s legs.   He grabbed his legs one by one and pulled them in front of himself and resumed playing his video game.  I thanked him and slowly walked off the plane.   Once inside the jet way, I could see a wheelchair that I assumed was awaiting Mr. 8C.    

While I’m thankful I had remained gracious and polite during my interaction with this man, I couldn’t help but feel grossly ashamed for my thoughts and internal attitudes about my dealings with this less-than-friendly individual.    It was a good reminder that yes, sometimes people are difficult because they are just douchebags, but also that other people are difficult because they are dealing with something very valid.

This was definitely a social “near miss” for me. I am confident that I would rather be the girl who grosses out the customers at Starbucks with my dog’s feces, falls on my face, or gets pee all over myself and a friend, than to be someone who does not show social grace to the average weirdo on a plane.   We need to be kind, because we have no idea what obstacles people have battled before they reach the moment when their path crosses ours.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Bored in the USA

When you’re dining alone, you can’t help but eavesdrop on the conversations going on around you.  Well, maybe you can, but I can’t seem to help myself.   But then again, why would I want to?  At times I encounter totally unscripted Oscar worthy social interactions.  Once I even ordered an additional drink and dessert at a taverna in Crete because I was listening to a very “middle school” style breakup between two 40-year-old Brits.   Oh how I love moments like this, when free entertainment presents itself, offering us a glimpse into a world that is not our own.  Truth be told, sometimes you will stumble across a dud, and the conversation is anything but interesting… and you just want to punch the morons in the throat for invading your eardrums with their intellectually-stunted verbal waste.  But usually it is comedic relief and you get to hear who is mad at whom, why someone’s boss/job sucks, what is being blown out of proportion, and who is completely uninteresting. Though I have to say my favorite find is when you hear someone justifying their bad behavior… the road of excuses usually leads somewhere amusing.   Overall, you get a pulse for the mentality of people who are for all intents and purposes complete strangers.  I call this third-hand gossip and equate it to television.  Sometimes I’ll pretend I am plugging away at an Excel spreadsheet or something else seemingly important, when really I am digesting every last word of these conversations and plotting ways to exploit the findings of my voyeurism. Once I even felt compelled to type out a particularly over-the-top conversation like a court reporter- that’s how ridiculous it was. (Hmm… I may have to share this in a future blog someday. Food for thought.)

Recently, while practicing the art of eavesdropping in a Washington D.C. sushi restaurant, my attention was diverted from my tempura roll and lychee martini.  I found myself listening in on a conversation that was a different kind of curiosity piquing.   The two gentlemen sitting at the bar next to me were going through a large stack of index cards.   On this occasion, I was shamelessly watching them, not even pretending to fiddle with my phone or bothering to use some other cover. This clearly being the case, they indulged me and put my inquisitiveness to rest.  They explained that one of them was studying for his citizenship test.  There would only be 10 questions asked, but they could come from any of the 100 questions referenced on these index cards. As I happened to be in earshot, I followed along to see how many of the questions I was able to answer.   I’m slightly embarrassed to say I would fall into the 83rd percentile (not very impressive for someone born and raised in the good ole US of A).   I said a quick thank you prayer that my citizenship was established long before my birth by my grandparents in the 60’s, and that the responsibility wasn’t on me in the year 2013.     If I was saddled with this duty, apparently there is a 17% chance my ass would be deported back to the motherland.    This would complicate things for Riley and I for sure.  

A few days later, I thought it would be entertaining to revisit the questions when I hadn’t just flown across the country and consumed multiple martinis.   My score improved this time, but not significantly.    I would skate by with an A-, the odds would be in my favor, but no guarantees. 

I am comforted by the fact that I have been assured that whether or not I receive a passing grade as a US citizen, my ultimate citizenship is in heaven (For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ  - Philippians 3:20).  But lets be honest… I’m probably not an ideal citizen in either realm. 

Here are the tests questions, let’s see how well you do (keep in mind, I didn't have the answers in front of me)!! 


A: Principles of American Democracy

1.     What is the supreme law of the land? 

the Constitution
2.     What does the Constitution do? 

sets up the government
 defines the government
 protects basic rights of Americans
3.     The idea of self-government is in the first three words of the Constitution. What are these words?
We the People
4.     What is an amendment? 

a change (to the Constitution) an addition (to the Constitution)
5.     What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution?
the Bill of Rights
6.     What is one right or freedom from the First Amendment? 

petition the government
7.     How many amendments does the Constitution have? 

twenty-seven (27)
8.     What did the Declaration of Independence do? 

announced our independence (from Great Britain) declared our independence (from Great Britain)
said that the United States is free (from Great Britain)
9.     What are two rights in the Declaration of Independence? 

pursuit of happiness
10.  What is freedom of religion? 

you can practice any religion, or not practice a religion.
11.  What is the economic system in the United States? 

capitalist economy market economy
12.  What is the “rule of law”? 

Everyone must follow the law. Leaders must obey the law.
Government must obey the law. No one is above the law.

B: System of Government

13.  Name one branch or part of the government. 

Congress legislative President executive the courts judicial
14.  What stops one branch of government from becoming too powerful?
checks and balances separation of powers
15.  Who is in charge of the executive branch? 

the President
16.  Who makes federal laws? 

Senate and House (of Representatives) (U.S. or national) legislature
17.  What are the two parts of the U.S. Congress?
the Senate and House (of Representatives)
18.  How many U.S. Senators are there? 

one hundred (100)
19.  We elect a U.S. Senator for how many years? 

six (6)
20.  Who is one of your state’s U.S. Senators now? 

Answers will vary. [District of Columbia residents and residents of U.S. territories should answer that D.C. (or the territory where the applicant lives) has no U.S. Senators.]
21.  The House of Representatives has how many voting members? 

four hundred thirty-five (435)
22.  We elect a U.S. Representative for how many years? 

two (2)
23.  Name your U.S. Representative. 

Answers will vary. [Residents of territories with nonvoting Delegates or Resident Commissioners may provide the name of that Delegate or Commissioner. Also acceptable is any statement that the territory has no (voting) Representatives in Congress.]
24.  Who does a U.S. Senator represent? 

all people of the state
25.  Why do some states have more Representatives than other states? 

(because of) the state’s population
(because) they have more people

(because) some states have more people
26.  We elect a President for how many years? 

four (4)
27.  In what month do we vote for President? 

28.  What is the name of the President of the United States now? 

Barack Obama Obama
29.  What is the name of the Vice President of the United States now?
Joseph R. Biden, Jr. Joe Biden
30.  If the President can no longer serve, who becomes President? 

the Vice President
31.  If both the President and the Vice President can no longer serve, who becomes President? 

the Speaker of the House
32.  Who is the Commander in Chief of the military? 

the President
33.  Who signs bills to become laws? 

the President
34.  Who vetoes bills?
the President
35.  What does the President’s Cabinet do? 

advises the President
36.  What are two Cabinet-level positions? 

Secretary of Agriculture Secretary of Commerce Secretary of Defense
Secretary of Education Secretary of Energy Secretary of Health and Human Services
Secretary of Homeland Security
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Secretary of the Interior
Secretary of Labor
Secretary of State
Secretary of Transportation
Secretary of the Treasury
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Attorney General
Vice President
37.  What does the judicial branch do? 

reviews laws
explains laws
resolves disputes (disagreements)
decides if a law goes against the Constitution
38.  What is the highest court in the United States? 

the Supreme Court
39.  How many justices are on the Supreme Court? 

nine (9)
40.  Who is the Chief Justice of the United States now? 

John Roberts (John G. Roberts, Jr.)
41.  Under our Constitution, some powers belong to the federal government. What is one power of the federal government?
to print money
to declare war
to create an army to make treaties
42.  Under our Constitution, some powers belong to the states. What is one power of the states?
provide schooling and education provide protection (police)
provide safety (fire departments) give a driver’s license approve zoning and land use
43.  Who is the Governor of your state now? 

Answers will vary. [District of Columbia residents should answer that D.C. does not have a Governor.]
44.  What is the capital of your state?
Answers will vary. [District of Columbia residents should answer that D.C. is not a state and does not have a capital. Residents of U.S. territories should name the capital of the territory.]
45.  What are the two major political parties in the United States?
Democratic and Republican
46.  What is the political party of the President now? 

Democratic (Party)
47.  What is the name of the Speaker of the House of Representatives now? 

(John) Boehner

C: Rights and Responsibilities

48.  There are four amendments to the Constitution about who can vote. Describe one of them.
Citizens eighteen (18) and older (can vote).
You don’t have to pay (a poll tax) to vote.
Any citizen can vote. (Women and men can vote.) A male citizen of any race (can vote).
49.  What is one responsibility that is only for United States citizens?
serve on a jury
vote in a federal election
50.  Name one right only for United States citizens. 

vote in a federal election run for federal office
51.  What are two rights of everyone living in the United States? 

freedom of expression
freedom of speech
freedom of assembly
freedom to petition the government freedom of worship the right to bear arms
52.  What do we show loyalty to when we say the Pledge of Allegiance? 

the United States the flag
53.  What is one promise you make when you become a United States citizen? 

give up loyalty to other countries
defend the Constitution and laws of the United States obey the laws of the United States
serve in the U.S. military (if needed)
serve (do important work for) the nation (if needed) be loyal to the United States
54.  How old do citizens have to be to vote for President? 

eighteen (18) and older
55.  What are two ways that Americans can participate in their democracy?
join a political party
help with a campaign
join a civic group
join a community group
give an elected official your opinion on an issue call Senators and Representatives
publicly support or oppose an issue or policy
run for office
write to a newspaper
56.  When is the last day you can send in federal income tax forms? 

April 15
57.  When must all men register for the Selective Service? 

at age eighteen (18)
between eighteen (18) and twenty-six (26)


A: Colonial Period and Independence

58.  What is one reason colonists came to America? 

political liberty
religious freedom
economic opportunity practice their religion escape persecution
59.  Who lived in America before the Europeans arrived? 

American Indians Native Americans
60.  What group of people was taken to America and sold as slaves? 

people from Africa
61.  Why did the colonists fight the British? 

because of high taxes (taxation without representation)
because the British army stayed in their houses (boarding, quartering) because they didn’t have self-government
62.  Who wrote the Declaration of Independence? 

(Thomas) Jefferson
63.  When was the Declaration of Independence adopted? 

July 4, 1776
64.  There were 13 original states. Name three. 

New Hampshire Massachusetts Rhode Island
Connecticut New York
New Jersey
North Carolina South Carolina Georgia
65.  What happened at the Constitutional Convention? 

The Constitution was written.
The Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution.
66.  When was the Constitution written? 

67.  The Federalist Papers supported the passage of the U.S. Constitution. Name one of the writers. 

(James) Madison
(Alexander) Hamilton (John) Jay
68.  What is one thing Benjamin Franklin is famous for? 

U.S. diplomat
oldest member of the Constitutional Convention first Postmaster General of the United States
writer of “Poor Richard’s Almanac”
started the first free libraries
69.  Who is the “Father of Our Country”?
(George) Washington
70.  Who was the first President? 

(George) Washington

B: 1800s

71.  What territory did the United States buy from France in 1803?
the Louisiana Territory Louisiana
72.  Name one war fought by the United States in the 1800s. 

War of 1812
Mexican-American War Civil War
Spanish-American War
73.  Name the U.S. war between the North and the South. 

the Civil War
the War between the States
74.  Name one problem that led to the Civil War. 

economic reasons states’rights
75.  What was one important thing that Abraham Lincoln did? 

freed the slaves (Emancipation Proclamation) saved (or preserved) the Union
led the United States during the Civil War
76.  What did the Emancipation Proclamation do?
freed the slaves
freed slaves in the Confederacy
freed slaves in the Confederate states freed slaves in most Southern states
77.  What did Susan B. Anthony do? 

fought for women’s rights fought for civil rights

C: Recent American History and Other Important Historical Information

78.  Name one war fought by the United States in the 1900s.
World War I
World War II
Korean War
Vietnam War
(Persian) Gulf War
79.  Who was President during World War I? 

(Woodrow) Wilson
80.  Who was President during the Great Depression and World War II? 

(Franklin) Roosevelt
81.  Who did the United States fight in World War II? 

Japan, Germany, and Italy
82.  Before he was President, Eisenhower was a general. What war was he in? 

World War II
83.  During the Cold War, what was the main concern of the United States? 

84.  What movement tried to end racial discrimination? 

civil rights (movement)
85.  What did Martin Luther King, Jr. do?
fought for civil rights
worked for equality for all Americans
86.  What major event happened on September 11, 2001, in the United States? 

Terrorists attacked the United States.
87.  Name one American Indian tribe in the United States. 

[USCIS Officers will be supplied with a list of federally recognized American Indian tribes.] Cherokee
Sioux Chippewa Choctaw Pueblo

Apache Iroquois Creek
Blackfeet Seminole Cheyenne Arawak Shawnee Mohegan Huron
Oneida Lakota Crow Teton HopiInuit


A: Geography

88.  Name one of the two longest rivers in the United States. 

Missouri (River)
Mississippi (River)
89.  What ocean is on the West Coast of the United States? 

Pacific (Ocean)
90.  What ocean is on the East Coast of the United States? 

Atlantic (Ocean)
91.  Name one U.S. territory. 

Puerto Rico
U.S. Virgin Islands
American Samoa
Northern Mariana Islands Guam
92.  Name one state that borders Canada.
New Hampshire Vermont
New York
North Dakota
93.  Name one state that borders Mexico. 

New Mexico Texas
94.  What is the capital of the United States? 

Washington, D.C.
95.  Where is the Statue of Liberty? 

New York (Harbor)
Liberty Island
[Also acceptable are New Jersey, near New York City, and on the Hudson (River).]

B: Symbols

96.  Why does the flag have 13 stripes? 

because there were 13 original colonies
because the stripes represent the original colonies
97.  Why does the flag have 50 stars? 

because there is one star for each state because each star represents a state
because there are 50 states
98.  What is the name of the national anthem?
The Star-Spangled Banner C: Holidays
99.  When do we celebrate Independence Day? 

July 4   
100.  Name two national U.S. holidays. 

New Year’s Day
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Presidents’Day
Memorial Day
Independence Day
Labor Day
Columbus Day
Veterans Day