Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Move

I feel sorry for all my friends who have recently picked up and moved to different cities. I just moved across town, and it was pretty exhausting. Since it is just across town, I was able to start moving last weekend and bring boxes over during the week so that the load was not as much this weekend. Yesterday, I had a couple people help me move all the big items. It only took 2.5 hours, so it wasn't so bad, but today I was cleaning and boxing up everything else . . . and now I'm absolutely exhausted . . . and I still have a few items to get over here plus arrange all my new things. It's nothing compared to what others have been doing, so if I'm this tired, I know you guys must have been at the end of your rope.

The move wasn't all bad, though. If nothing else, Bo and I got to pull off our greatest moment of furniture-moving zen. For those who have seen my couch, you know it's basically like a pregnant brown cow. Really, it's not terribly heavy, but damnit if it's not the puffiest thing you've ever encountered. We got to the condo, and the back door is too narrow to squeeze it through, so we had to bring it through the front door, which has about three or four feet of space before you reach the stairs, and due to a low-hanging light at the entrance, we could not stand the couch up on end. Furthermore, there is a banister going up the stairs which eventually runs into the ceiling of the living room. The situation looked so dire, that my other mover felt compelled to go grab his tools so that he could remove the banister. He had no idea what Bo and I were capable of accomplishing. While he ran for the tools, we faced up to the daunting task. Bo composed a plan which he dubbed the tumble and twist (catchy, I know). Because the banisters quickly intersect with the ceiling of the living room, we couldn't just roll the entire couch over the banister--it would get caught on the ceiling. But Bo saw fit to do a partial roll, at which point, I (at the bottom of the stairs) would start to walk directly to my left. Meanwhile, with the couch hanging precariously over the banister, Bo descended the stairs, twisting the couch as he did so. We pulled it off flawlessly and, immensely pleased with our efforts, gave each other an enthusiastic high five.

Look out Savory, there's a new sheriff and deputy in town.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Movin on Up (movin on up) to the South Side

OK, if anyone is even paying attention to my sorry excuse for a blog, I'm on the move. My cousin Bo, from Rockford, is moving to the area, and we finally agreed to rent a two-bedroom, 1.5 bath condo in Savoy, IL, or as I keep typing into my computer, Savory. I don't know why that "r" keeps slipping in there, but something is amiss in my mind when I try to type Savory (honestly, I just typed in the "r" again by accident, so I thought I'd leave it as is to illustrate what a terrible disconnect is occurring between my mind and my fingers). Single ladies, I assure you, that my fingers are generally quite magical (or shall I say, savory). OK, sorry for that, but everyone who knows me is LTAO right now. (And Jess, if you're there, don't dare forget what a badass indexer I am.)

OK, I'm obviously in quite a randy mood right now, especially because I have never used that word (randy) in my entire life, and words are begotten of reality. I apologize for that break from your regularly scheduled Benjamin.

So anyway, I'm moving, and while I won't provide the address here for fear that some random young lady will fall prey to my promise of magical fingers and show up at my door unannounced, if you would like to know my address for any reason, I'll be glad to provide it after a thorough six-step screening process.

I'm excited about the new place though. It's a townhouse setup. It's got a dishwasher, washer and dryer, garage, fireplace, and it's right on a bus line that runs near to my workplace. Furthermore, I will have space to entertain. No more six-person limits on my parties. Clear out the furniture, and we could have a full-on game of Red Rover or Steal the Bacon. Too bad 95% of the people who read this blog don't live here, because you'd all be invited to my housewarming party.

Well, I guess that's the news. For those who took an interest in my Polar Plunge event, it happened yesterday. After my ever-so-emotional appeal for my friends and family to keep me out of the water, you responded, raising $303 in my name, allowing me to eek out a non-wet position for the Polar Plunge event. However, peer pressure ensued as 8 of the 9 other people involved were jumping into the water. So despite your valiant efforts to keep me dry, I went in anyway. Considering there was still ice on the lake and they had to chop out a place for us to go in, it wasn't so bad. It would have been worse had we been required to stay in for any amount of time. It definitely took your breath away, but when you run in and out real quick, it doesn't lower your body temperature. I showed up with a towel, a blanket, and a coat to the Plunge, because I was shaking uncontrollably for an hour after getting out of the Irish Sea, but when I went in the sea, I stayed in there for like 30 minutes. So this was pretty tame in comparison, even though the water was colder.

Take care all. Hopefully you haven't totally given up on reading this blog. I'll really have to come up with a few gems to make up for my blog hiatus.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Mike Rowe Rocks

Well, today is Martin Luther King Day, and I have the day off from work. Being that there is no good television on weekdays, and due to the limitation of channels in my cable package, there was really only about one choice for me if I wanted to watch any television during my lunch: Discovery Channel. And as luck would have it, Mike Rowe was on the air with his show Dirty Jobs. I've had profound respect for the man already in his quest to experience first-hand the dirty jobs of this world that make civilization possible. With his spirit of adventure, quick wit and sarcasm, manly-man attitude, and his ability to make all people seem interesting, I can't help but get caught up in this irregular style of reality television.

Today Mike Rowe exceeded his already sterling reputation in my eyes as he replayed some of the interactions he's had with creepy crawlies. I was so engaged by his show today, that he's earned a post on my blog. Not that my blog has gained legendary status yet (and I emphasize "yet") ;), but still, it's got to provide some level of honor.

(For those of my friends who are sensitive to disgusting things (i.e. Sharon), you may not want to read any further)

He replayed an episode that he spent with a bat biologist. He was to enter a cave with this biologist where some 40 million bats lived so that the biologist could check for parasites on bats and to make sure there aren't any other threats to their well-being. But before they entered the cave, the biologist explained the health hazards of going into this cave. They are, as listed below:

1. High temperatures that can quickly lead to dehydration
2. High contents of carbon dioxide (which require that they wear gas masks)
3. High contents of ammonia (if their eyes were exposed, they would burn unbearably. If they breathed in the air, they would struggle for air, causing them to pass out).
4. Furthermore, the source of the high ammonia levels is the waste of these flesh-eating beetles that feed off of the enormous levels of bat guano. If they were to pass out, they would quickly be covered by these flesh-eating beetles that would consume them to the bone.

So the bat biologist meets Mike before going into the cave wearing a rubber suit, rubber boots, rubber gloves, and a gas mask to protect him from the elements. For Mike, he brings a gas mask and rubber boots. Mike wittingly quips, "I failed to receive the memo on the proper attire." I started laughing as I saw the biologist and Mike descending into the cave, one man in rubber suit, the other in pants, t-shirt, oversized rubber boots and a gas mask. As they approach the bat living area, they are stepping in a fine, sand-like substance more than ankle deep, which Mike soon discovers is dried bat guano. I never imagined that animal waste could pile so high, and as you'll see, it gets worse. As they walk beneath the swarming bats, Mike comments that it feels like he's getting rained on. As you probably guessed, it's not rain. It's millions of bats flying overhead, pissing and pooping at such a pace that it feels like a steady, light rain. Once again, to make it all the more hilarious and disgusting, Mike has a t-shirt on.

The reason why bats have so much waste is because they fly so much that they basically need to eat their own body weight in insects every night to maintain their active lifestyle. That's 40 million bats eating their body weight in insects every night and then returning to the cave to drop most of it. If they were ever to be too weak to fly, and happened to land on the guano-covered cave floor, they would quickly be consumed by those flesh-eating beetles, which Mike made sure to have the cameraman zoom in on (with a bat skeleton in the midst of the beetles).

So as they are leaving the cave, Mike gets stuck knee deep in bat guano, which the biologist compares to quicksand. Truly, that's about what it was. As Mike lifts one foot out, the other foot sinks deeper in, and before long, both his legs are knee deep in bat guano and he couldn't do a thing about it. Eventually, in order to take the weight off of his legs, Mike has to lay back on top of the bat guano, which is teeming with flesh-eating beetles, and have the biologist help drag his feet out of the guano, at which time he loses one of his boots completely. I really think Mike was starting to panic a bit when he was knee deep, and as he laid back he said half-seriously "This is no way to die!" I laughed of course, but at the same time, earned a whole new level of respect for Mike Rowe's willingness to get his hands (and feet) dirty with the men and women who have the truly challenging jobs of this world.

So if you're ever looking for something unique, informative, and humorous to watch, I give my full recommendation to Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe. Come with an open mind and a strong stomach.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Saturday Night Live and Performance Anxiety

Last night, probably for the first time in my life, I watched Saturday Night Live from start to finish. I think the show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip piqued my interest in sketch comedy (despite the fact that I lost interest in the television show after about 5 episodes). The show helped me realize, though, how much SNL drives public perception (or does it reflect public perception?) regarding politicians and political issues, as well as makes some interesting statements about social problems. Because comedy's merit is judged primarily by whether it makes us laugh or not, it is often seen as whimsical. Perhaps, though, that is why comedy can have such power. It can disarm its audience more into accepting its message, whereas outright accusations put people on the defensive, immediately causing them to defend their prior point of view. Realizing that comedy is a watchdog of sorts makes it more interesting. Instead of basing my entire judgment of the value of a skit on whether it makes me laugh uproariously or not, I can also look for what statement it is making about our society. Above, I questioned whether SNL might drive public perception or simply reflect it. I guess after thinking about it more, it doesn't really matter. Even if it reflects perception, the comedy still solidifies the idea, creating an alliance of like minds.

In any case, that was not the observation I wanted to make about watching SNL. I guess I just wanted to explain why out of the blue, I suddenly watched an entire program of SNL. And I must say, I enjoyed it. I was disappointed when I realized that the show was going to end with a performance by Christina Aguilera and Tony Bennett. They had absolutely no chemistry together on stage, despite the fact that they actually sounded pretty good. This is neither here nor there, though!

The observation I really wanted to make was about Alec Baldwin, who I think was hosting SNL for the 13th time (at least that's what he claimed). Baldwin is good, and he keeps getting invited back, because, besides the talent, he's very loose on stage. Perhaps that just comes with confidence in his abilities, but I think it also comes from not fearing that he's going to screw up. And I've noticed that about other people also. The good performers and speakers really don't seem to worry excessively about saying something stupid or embarrassing. But me, when I'm in front of people, have a tendency to be conscious of the fact that I could say something stupid at any given moment. Oftentimes, once I get up in front of people, I can kind of push it back out of mind, but later, I will review everything I said and wonder, "Did I communicate that clearly enough? Did I offend someone when I said that? Did I come across as incompetent?" The reason I was thinking about this last night is because I was absolutely wiped out from having been in front of people earlier in the day. We had orientation for our part-time MBA students, and the day really went well, and they really seemed to enjoy doing the team-building activity that I facilitated. And yet, as I sat at home by myself, all those questions started filtering into my mind, and I started worrying about some of the things I forgot to say, or how some things didn't come out smoothly. And I also soon realized that the primary reason I took a two-hour nap after getting back home is because being in front of people had sapped me emotionally. And every other time I'm in front of people, I get sapped emotionally. And it's no wonder I struggled to find strength at the end of a day of teaching to put together a plan for the next day quickly. I'd end up crashing as soon as I sat down for dinner, and then it was hard for me to get back to work right away knowing I was going to have to face a classroom of students again the next day. So then I'd have to sacrifice sleep, usually by going to bed early and getting up at some ungodly hour, like 3:00. The fear of not having a plan in front of a classroom, fortunately, would help me find the strength to work so many hours. But I never felt like I could get ahead. I felt like I was fighting a losing battle.

Somehow, some way, I've got to figure out how to be like Alec Baldwin, or anyone else who is a good performer. I know I'm not as talented as those people, but many of my friends find me engaging and entertaining, and yet, when I'm in front of a large group, I lose much of my engaging nature, because of that worry in the back of my mind that I'm going to screw up. In order to survive up there right now, I have to turn off my emotions, which, along with them, goes a level of my sense of humor and my ability to connect with my audience. I continue to volunteer to speak in front of groups, because I want to get comfortable doing it, but I've got to get rid of my coping mechanism. I need to learn how to be loose in front of an audience. I really believe if I can lose that self-consciousness, that I would be a fairly engaging public speaker, that maybe I could actually enjoy it.

So if anyone had similar fears, and has learned how to loosen up, let me know. I could use the advice.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Dreams and Reality

Question: Do dreams separate us from reality, or do they make reality?

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Scottish Drinking Song at the Iron Post

Tonight I went to the Iron Post for a Champaign-Urbana Storytelling Guild fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity. Some of the storytellers were quite entertaining, but if they left me bored at all, they lost me, because the Illinois game was playing quietly on the televisions and my eyes would wander over against my will.

The last guy who told a story also brought up a guitar, and he sang for everyone a Scottish drinking song. Well I'm a sucker for folkish drinking songs where everyone joins in, so I thought I'd share the chorus with you all:

So be at ease
When you're drinking with me
I'm a man you don't meet everyday

I don't know what was so unique about the man in the song, but he did say that he would buy everyone's drinks for the entire evening, so I guess that's pretty unique. Writing it out, there's nothing too special about the chorus, but it just got me thinking about enjoying some drinks with friends. If anyone is up for a night of beer and laughter, let me know, because I'm overdue. So be at ease, cause the first round's on me.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Blumenshine Bowl

It has become a tradition that each Thanksgiving our family (my mom's side, hence, the Blumenshine Bowl) engages in a sporting event that has taken on epic proportions. Uncles, cousins (both guys and girls), and boyfriends/girlfriends of cousins all engage for a winner-takes-all game of two-hand touch football. This year, we set an all-time record by fielding two complete teams. That's right, 22 people divided into teams of 11 took the field, each individual anticipating making the play that would go down in Blumenshine family lore. I myself had a dream of heroically disrupting one of the great constants of this tradition. Really, there are three great constants in this game, two of which will last as long as the game does, but one which I hope one day may come to an end.

Constant #1: My cousin Bo, who played as a lineman for a year at North Park College, will underestimate his own strength and send someone sailing headlong to the ground.
Constant #2: Someone's feelings will get hurt and their Thanksgiving experience will be partially ruined (yet, for some reason, everyone comes out again the next year).
Constant #3: The team captained by my Uncle Ron will win.

You have probably already guessed that defeating my Uncle Ron's team will be my crowning glory for decades to come. I will tell and retell the story to my children and grandchildren of how the stalwart, resolute Uncle Ron was thrust from the mountain of glory by the golden arm of yours truly. Perhaps I overexaggerate slightly my desire to defeat the most competitive person I know, but there would be something quite rewarding of seeing him, just for once, make the half-mile walk back to the waiting pie and ice cream with his head hanging low.

There are several reasons why my Uncle Ron's team wins every year. I guess it all starts because of how competitive he is. He generally picks the teams to begin with, and his team always has a slight skill advantage. Two, he utilizes more fully his talent. He will involve the girls in offensive plays only after being chided for being a jerk, whereas the other team generally tries to get everyone involved on each possession. Three, he draws up plays, while the other team generally says, "Get open, and I'll hit ya."

This year, I had hope, because for once, the teams seemed completely even, or perhaps even tilted in our favor. Due to the number of players, though, I played the first few possessions as a blocker so that everyone could get involved. It would also give me the opportunity to sit back and observe what the other team was doing defensively.

Eventually, I played receiver, but it was hard to get receptions because we had so many people going out for passes. Finally, with our team down 3 TDs to 1 later on in the game, I took over at the QB spot, and on our first possession lead my team down to the goalline by spreading the ball around to four or five different receivers. When I ran it in for the TD to make it 3 to 2 (because the only way we can score is touchdowns, we just play 1 point at a time), I was starting to think that maybe we could take down Uncle Ron's team.

We truly seemed to have turned the tide when my Uncle Ron was chased deep into backfield by my cousin Bo and, to make sure constant #1 was upheld, Bo sent Uncle Ron sprawling into a somersault, apparently angering and flustering him for not getting the pass off in time, and for being hit so violently in a "touch" football game. On one of the next passes, my cousin Andrea picked it off and gave us good field position. I quickly went back to work, hitting one wide open receiver about 10 yards from the endzone. Then seeing my 6'3" cousin matched up against someone shorter than him, I thought I had the perfect opportunity to loft the ball into the endzone and let Bo go after it. I let the high-arcing pass go, and everything seemed right, but without referees, just about anything goes. The shorter defender pushed Bo as he jumped for the ball, so it soared past him and into the arms of an opposing player.

Apparently that play took the wind out of our sails, and Uncle Ron hit his favorite target deep for another touchdown and put them up 4-2 with daylight fading. On the next possession, we determined that if we were unable to score on this possession, that the game would be over, and we'd go back and enjoy our pie. But I knew that the pie would taste much better if we could at least pull into a tie with them. I wanted and needed to score a touchdown bad, but on a third-down play, I heard Bo yell my name as if he was wide open. I turned and let one fly, with Rex Grossman-like foolishness, only to see my cousin Alex playing safety and the ball heading directly for him. Still, I saw that Bo should be able to catch up to the deep pass and at least tip it away. However, the ball sailed just over Bo's hand and into Alex's hands, promptly ending the game, and thus securing at least for one more year, that my Uncle Ron's team would come away with the W.

Nevertheless, the apple pie was delicious, and I got to celebrate my favorite holiday with a better-than-average family turnout. And though I lost at football, ping pong, and three games of Settlers of Catan, my friends were up for a fourth game of Settlers, and I managed to end the day a winner. And in regard to the family football game, like Cubbies fans always say, "Maybe next year!"

A boy can always dream.