Raise Your Glass! (aka: Beat the Year)

Guess what, everybody? According the Under Armour, the company who makes my favorite running app, Map My Run, I beat the year! Hooray, me! *Cheers, sets off fireworks*

What does that mean, beat the year? Well, I’m not exactly sure. Last April, I signed up for a fitness challenge to see how many kilometers I could run during 2018. My grand total was 1,019 Kilometers. I’m not sure how far that is, exactly, since we Americans generally don’t speak metric without the help of Google or Alexa. But it sounds pretty good to me!

Now, this whole “Beat the Year” thing might be even more impressive if my opponent had, say, a set amount of kilometers I was actually competing to beat. I’m pretty sure the year was just lying on the couch, watching the rest of us run like rabbits and laughing her head off.

“Look at you!” the Year says to the slowpoke who ran like, two whole kilometers throughout the whole year. “You beat me! How about that?”

Still, despite my cynicism, I feel like a winner. Why? Because I did stuff. I made an effort. I challenged myself to grow. And in my interpretation, that is what it means to “Beat the Year.”

Each new year in our lives is like a big ol’ champagne glass, minus the bubbly stuff. Our goal is to fill that glass with as much bubbly stuff as possible before it’s time for the final toast at the end of the year. (Champagne, soda, sparkling water, take your pick).

champagne bubbly New Year

Everything you do, for yourself or for others, earns you a splash of bubbly in your glass. For every choice you make to the detriment of yourself or others, you pour a splash down the drain. Help a family member move to a new town? Increased your workout routine? Ate a lot more green, healthy stuff? Fill your glass just a little bit more. Wasted money on stupid stuff? Ate a lot of fast food? Spread negative gossip about your coworkers? Dump your hard-earned bubbly into the sink.

In 2018, I:

  • Maintained my almost-daily workout schedule.
  • Ran so much, that I rewarded myself with my first-ever 20-miler race (How many kilos is that, Alexa?).
  • Volunteered a few times in our community, side-by-side with my teens.
  • Drove to SoCal with a couple of the kiddos and one of their friends, and had an AMAZING time together at Disneyland and our favorite beach.
  • Landed a role as the technical lead on a very important, prestigious statewide project at work.
  • Read a lot of books.
  • Learned to step outside of my comfy cubicle and initiate conversations and walks to the coffee shop with coworkers.
  • Stood right next to the stage at an Imagine Dragons rock concert and sang my heart out.

I mean, what an AWESOME year! True, I still walk a pretty lonesome path with only my teens to keep me company. And somewhere out there, somebody else accomplished way more, or had way more fun, or learned way more great things along the way. But so what? My glass is so full right now, on this last day of the year, that it is overflowing with bubbly stuff.

The final countdown for 2018 has begun, dear readers. It’s already next year in Australia. Wherever you are in the world, whatever your stage of this life’s journey, and whoever you walk beside (even if it’s only you), I hope that your glass is full. I raise mine to you. May we beat the pants off 2019.

Cheers!

Archery in the rain (yes, I’m a curly girl 🙂 )
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The Golden Hour (a Spooky Poem)

I love the tradition of Halloween. The creative costumes of young and young-at-heart. The zany and macabre decorations. The celebration of the shadow side of human nature, done in a spirit of good fun and camaraderie. Enjoy your parties and sugar-fests as we each perform a role tonight in the great play we call Halloween. Be safe out there!

jacko

The Golden Hour

At last the golden hour is here

The night we shadow-box our fear

And march into the inky night

Armed with jack-o-lantern light

So come you fierce and wicked things

Painted grins and fairy wings

Hear the magic doorbell rings

Come!

Heed the creepy creature’s stare

Perched upon her rocking chair

Grab a candy, if you dare

Beware!

Hear the whistling windy tune

Ghosts and witches flying soon

Silhouette on silver moon

Boooooo!

Tempt the spirits, play your part

Chilling bones and racing heart

Let the hurly-burly start

Happy Hallowe’en

Bastet Bast Egyptian goddess

Me, as Bastet, Egyptian Goddess of warfare and cats, protector of the pharaoh, of women, and of children.

 

The Ah-Mazing Life of Danielle (and Annoying Audrey)

Well, Jupiter Girl is still hanging out in her cave, waiting for inspiration to strike her in the head like a rock or something. So I decided to step in and take charge of things for a while. And believe me, I am really good at taking charge. Plan your party? Manage a work project? Write your blog? I’m your girl!

Danielle and iPhone Downtown

My name is Danielle. I live and work downtown in a major metropolitan area, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I adore everything about life downtown. The fast pace. The restaurants. The nightlife. Just yesterday, I hopped on a Jump bike during my lunch break and rode over to my favorite independent coffee shop, where they make an ah-mazing pumpkin spice latte. Seriously, I don’t know how people can stand it out in the suburbs, where you have to get in your car and drive like, twenty minutes to the nearest Starbucks.

Danielle and Audrey besties

Now everybody say hi to Audrey. Audrey is my bestie. My partner-in-crime. My sistah from another mistah. I don’t know what I’d do without her. But between you and me, Audrey can also be pretty annoying. When I started going to the gym to get in shape a couple of years ago, Audrey started copying me. I lost a few pounds and felt pretty good about that. But next thing you know, she’s lost a ton of weight, gotten super strong, and now she’s a fitness instructor. Seriously, Audrey?

Danielle and Audrey gym rats

It’s like it’s her life goal to show me up. I bought a sleek little downtown condo last year and adopted a cat. So what does Audrey do? She buys a ginormous house out in the ‘burbs, and adopts a cat plus two cocker spaniels. So extra. And then this summer, I text her some photos of me relaxing by the pool. So of course she has to show me up by traveling all the way to the beach.

Audrey at the beach

Ok fine, to be fair, she did invite me to go with her to the beach. But I couldn’t get away from work. You see, I have a very busy job. When I was a girl, somehow the idea became engrained in me that I could do anything. I could become a pilot, or a veterinarian, or a lawyer. But I had more exciting ambitions than that. So I studied computer software engineering, and went to work for the U.S. government on a top-secret assignment. I get to work with ah-mazing technology and even travel the world.

Danielle working outdoors on her computer

But don’t tell Audrey. She thinks I’m just an accountant.

More Honest Names for College Classes 101 (aka: That Time I Let my Teens Write the Blog)

Because I’m apparently suffering from Blogger’s Block, I decided to let my 14 year-old son and my 17 year-old daughter write this blog post. They were sitting around sharing goofy titles they came up with to replace the boring titles of typical college courses. I’m sure that their imaginary university would be pretty interesting to attend!

  • How to Take Over the World (Political Science 101)
  • Destroy Anyone in an Argument by Insulting their Innate Human Tendencies (Psychology 101)
  • How to Design Buildings that Won’t Fall Down in the First 5 Minutes (Architecture 101)
  • Math, Except All the Numbers Are Replaced with Letters and Weird Symbols (Calculus)
  • How to Go to the Party Without Really Being There (Quantum Mechanics 101)
  • Mindfulness and Meditation (Mortuary Science 101)
  • How to Talk to People Because You Didn’t in High School so Now You’re Making Up for It (Communications 101)
  • How to Get One Step Closer to Ending the World (Robotics)
  • How to Be Totally Fake But Make Everyone Like You (Drama)
  • How to Have a Slim Chance of Striking it Rich but Probably go Bankrupt (Business 101)
  • How to Get Away With Blowing Up Entire Buildings (Chemistry 101)
  • How to Beat Someone in a Fight Without Violence (Dance 101)
  • Turn Your Parents’ Money into Art a 4 year-old Could Make (Art 101)
  • How to Make Everyone Mad at You (Gender Studies 101)
  • How to Relearn Your Own Language Because You Spent So Much Time Texting (English 101)

Meanwhile, Somewhere in California… (aka: Bay to Breakers)

Last Sunday, my 16yo daughter and I went to a huge party. Well, actually, it was a party disguised as one of the world’s largest footraces. Bay to Breakers is held every spring in my favorite city, San Francisco. With tens of thousands of participants dressed in zany costumes and ready for fun, it is a race like no other. The goal? To run 8 miles, from San Francisco Bay, through the heart of the city, all the way to Ocean Beach.

My daughter and me Bay to Breakers

My daughter and I joined the throngs in our corral, as we have done in other races. Only this time, we were all decked out as the Sun and the Moon (or Night and Day, I still haven’t decided).  To have time for our costumes and makeup, then to commute to the city by car and by BART train, we had to wake up at 4:00am, and then do a little shivering until the real sun showed up to warm things up a little.

It was crazy how many people there were in the streets! We were surrounded by bananas, flamingos, superheroes of every kind, cowboys, pirates, and then some. We found Waldo again and again. We spotted a school of Salmon running upstream. There were too many furries to count. And, in true San Francisco fashion, there were also way too many naked runners to count. That made us giggle at the start of the race, but after a mile or two, we were like, “Eh. Just another costume.”

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Before the race began, we joined in the time-honored tradition of throwing tortillas in the air. Why? I have no idea! But it was super fun (except for that one my daughter accidentally threw at the back of someone’s head. Whoops). We also threw beach balls around the crowd, and cheered until our voices were hoarse. And then, it was Go time.

Bay to Breakers salmon swimming upstream

I was a little nervous at the start, because this was my first time ever running beside another person. I’m pretty used to running alone, with music in my ears, and didn’t think I could make it very far without that. I also didn’t think I could keep up with my daughter, who runs cross-country and has far better stamina. But she slowed down, or I sped up, and we managed to carry on conversations and laugh our heads off the whole way. We weaved in and out of a group of people dressed like In ‘N’ Out Burger staff. We chased a dozen giant doughnuts. We orbited around an Earth, ducked under a limbo stick, and sang along to music playing from my iPhone and the numerous speakers blasting around the city. And yes, that was us doing gran jetés and piqué turns through Golden Gate Park. We couldn’t help it. Blame the gymnast / dancer in both of us.

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What was just as much fun as running in Bay to Breakers dressed as the sun? Giving sunshine to the other runners. I was having so much fun, that I couldn’t help but reflect it back to those around me.

“Eh-oh!” I called out as I passed a Teletubby.

“Vive la France!” I called out to a runner wearing a beret and waving a French flag.

“The emperor has no clothes!” I called out to a naked guy wearing only a crown and short cape.

“Imposters!” I accused an entire running group dressed like suns.

We were having such a blast, that both my daughter and I were surprised when we reached the finish line at the beach. So soon? That felt more like a five or six mile run than eight miles. But lucky for us, that meant we still had energy to enjoy the huge finish line area extension of the party, with a live band, free swag, and all kinds of great free food. We even took home an entire case of vanilla flax milk (so yum).

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I am not much of a party person, but I would run Bay to Breakers again in a heartbeat. Next year, I may dress as a superhero. Or a flamenco dancer. Or a soccer mom. But no matter what I choose to wear, I will always bring the sunshine.

The Outers (a Short Story)

The Outers

Futuristic Dome City

I felt a pair of soft hands slide over my eyes and knew it was Glen before he even spoke. “I hope you haven’t made plans for this Freitag night,” he said, showing off his knowledge of ancient languages. “I’d like to take you out.”

I smile and gaze into his round, bistre eyes. “Where to?”

He gives his eyebrows a mysterious waggle. “Somewhere special.”

“Hasta viernes,” I said, showing off my own command of languages that had once been widely spoken, but had long since disappeared from the earth. Glen leaned down and kissed me on the cheek, then sauntered off to do his own studying.

After that, it was hard to concentrate on my studies. Glen and I had both been so busy lately, preparing for our detail examinations, that we hadn’t had time to go anywhere together, unless you counted quick lunches on the Green, surrounded by our other sixth term friends. And I did not count those at all. But studying was our lives right now. Our scores would determine our detail placements, and those would determine the paths for the rest of our lives.

Glen didn’t seem to take the exams as seriously as I did. Of course, he had a lot less to lose. His parents were both placed in Detail 1, the most important, influential positions in Oberon. His family had money, status, and connections that my Detail 4 family only dreamed of having. I was so flattered when he’d begun to show an interest in me during our second term of academy, since high-detail jacks like him don’t usually notice low-detail girls. But he claimed to be in love with my mind, and pursued me until I agreed to be his pair.

Right away, I was swept. Glen turned out to be intelligent, witty, and charming — a lethal combination. I didn’t have any choice but to be swept. Lately, however, something inside me had begun to hesitate when he told me he loved me. Now that I knew him so well, I could also see the cracks in his smooth, polished surface.
Glen owned an heirloom guitar — a real guitar, made from actual wood. He’d impressed the other students, and even some academy officials with his ability to pluck the strings and produce beautiful music. But one day, I’d discovered that he wasn’t playing it at all. His hands made clever strumming motions in rhythm to a high quality recording, which played from a device hidden in his pocket, the music streaming out from a speaker built into his shoe. It was just one of many small tricks he played to sharpen his image of he ideal jack, worthy of maintaining his place in Detail 1. I tried not to think about it, to instead focus on his better qualities, like his ability to think up creative algorithms to solve complex issues, or the way his mouth curved when he observed something aesthetically pleasing, like the gentle lines of the new resident building in South C, or the plump, purplish tomatoes hanging from the plants on the academy’s rooftop garden. But though I went through the motions of being his pair, something inside me had frozen, keeping me from giving my all, expressions of love painted on my face like the antique porcelain dolls at the Museum of Human History.

Though my mind raced with curiosity, I forced myself to focus on my studies until the evening chimes floated across the academy campus. Then I ran to my quarters to change clothes and tame my short, wispy curls into a manageable twist. I had no idea where Glen planned to take me, so I played it safe with a comfortable elegant slacks and a top edged with colorful embroidered flowers.

“You’re joking!” I said when he told me the address of our mysterious date. “We’re taking the express?”

“All the way to Titania,” he confirmed. We parked our solar scooters next to the station, then rode the air lift up to the express platform. My heart thudded against my chest as we boarded the sleek machine, which could be powered to travel almost as fast as a rocket, but was often slowed down so that passengers could enjoy the scenic vistas outside the windows. I had only ever ridden the express twice, due to its cost, and only at night. So I’d never seen what lay beyond the windows.

The express glided out of the station, and Oberon faded behind us as we flew toward Titania. Glen relaxed as though he’d made this trip dozens of times. But I pressed my face against the glass, eager to see a world that was unknown to me, except for brief mentions in digibooks.

“What is that?” I frowned at the cluster of squat, square buildings in the distance. They were the same hazy brown color as the foreign sky outside — nothing like the slender towers and clean, blue sky inside of Oberon. The whole cluster had a shabby, thoughtless air, like whoever built them had no concept of aesthetics.

Glen looked over my shoulder. “Those are the Outers,” he said, his voice grim. I said nothing. We did not often mention the Outers, as their very existence was somewhat taboo. A society of miscreants, criminals, people who were unable to thrive within the bounds of a civilized community. Every once in a great while, we’d hear of someone who had committed an act so heinous, that they were deemed beyond the help of the usual redirection and counseling, so they were banished to the Outers.
I shivered and pulled my gaze away from the window, not daring to look again until the train came to a stop inside the walls of our sister city, Titania.

Glen’s surprise exceeded my expectations. He took me to an air skating rink, which very preme among the academy students. You strapped on a pair of wheel-less skates and hovered around a smooth, glowing rink on a cushion of air. I had never been, due to the high cost of traveling to Titania, but I had good balance and physical skills, so I was gliding around in no time, even keeping up with Glen.

Afterward, we went out for dinner at an authentic Old Western restaurants, which served foods like chili and fried chicken and hamburgers, some made with real meat! I looked at Glen, shocked, as he took a bite of something that was cooked with the flesh of an actual fowl. But he just grinned and offered me a bite. I made a face. I wasn’t that adventurous.

After we’d eaten, Glen did something else unexpected, and so old-fashioned, that it fit right in with the themed restaurant. He handed me a small box, then crouched down on one knee on the floor.

“Glen!” I looked around, blushing. “What are you doing?”

His eyes gleamed. “Open the box.” I did. Inside sat a slender silver ring, set with a tiny, round stone that caught the light and sparkled with every color. “It’s called a diamond,” he said, and slipped it onto my finger. “Very, very rare.”

As I held up the ring, staring in awe, he took my other hand in his. “Sochi, will you share with me?” He asked. I redirected my shocked gaze from the diamond to his hopeful face. Share my life with him? Be his permanent pair and bear children with him? My stomach rose and fell like an air lift. A part of me was tempted to say no, to return the expensive ring. But sharing with him would mean a rise in status. A better chance at Detail 1. Better living arrangements and influence for my aging parents. And besides, there were parts of him that I had grown to love. Maybe, like plants choking out weeds, those parts could overtake the parts I didn’t care for.

“Yes, of course.” I throw my arms around him. When I did, I noticed something strange over his shoulder. A small group of young people wearing dull gray uniforms, cleaning and repair supplies in hand. Detail 4 crew, I thought. But then, one of the jacks looked my way. His jaw was set in a disapproving way, his unusually pale eyes squinted and hard, filled with a coldness like metal. His hands clenched and unclenched, and even from where I sat, I could see how red and chapped they were, from hard labor. I sucked in my breath.

Outers. I had seen them before, in Oberon. Such crews were shipped in, and heavily guarded as they performed their work. Then they disappeared, like puddles evaporating from asphalt. I wondered what this young jack had done, what his parents must have done, to lead him to such a hopeless fate, to live in a place still choked with pollution and illness, where survival was more important than aesthetics, and life barely spanned eight decades.

Gale and I planned our sharing ceremony for six months after exams, to give us both time to gain new jobs after placement. We spent time studying together when we could, though it was easier for me to work alone. At last the week of examinations came and went. On shaky legs, I took my place on stage as my peers looked on, then breathed a tremendous sigh of relief as the officials announced my placement. “Detail 1.”

“I knew you could do it,” said Glen, who had also received Detail 1. Within the next two weeks, we were both granted jobs as junior environmental engineers at Tyros Agency. There was no time to even think about planning our ceremony, as the following weeks were filled with orientations, training, and learning how to be taken seriously as professionals, and not just empty-headed neos.

“This is the environmental control room,” said a bored-sounding employee during our initial tour of the agency. “This is where we monitor levels of gasses in the air. Here is where we track natural plant growth, as trees and plants shift the amounts of gasses and reduce polluting toxins in the environment. And here is where we store data.” I peered through the locked glass case at the rows of tiny compartments. Each compartment held a single round, sparkling stone, not unlike the one on my ring.

“Are those diamonds?” I asked.

The employee’s snorting laugh made me cringe. “Real diamonds are more rare than cats,” he said, referring to the once-cherished human pet that had been abolished from society years before I was born. “These are synthetic storage chips, each able to store enormous amounts of data, which can be read by even the simplest computer systems.”

After that, I clammed up, afraid to ask any more brainless questions that might lower my status in the eyes of my fellow engineers. I quietly listened and learned about ways to keep Oberon’s air and water clean and healthy. My mind flickered to the jack from the restaurant, and the unhealthy conditions of the Outers, and I wondered why, with our advanced technology, they still chose to live that way.
Though Glen and I now lived together in our own luxurious quarters, we hardly saw one another. Our work kept us both so busy, we only had time for a few brief kisses before leaving in the morning, and quick, shared evening meals before collapsing in bed, exhausted. It was hard to believe that we would soon be a permanent pair, since at the moment, we were more like distant roommates.

Three weeks before our sharing ceremony, the world came crashing down. “Sochi, someone is here to speak to you,” said the desk assistant over the phone. “Please report to the front lobby right away.” I blinked in surprise and locked my computer. Who could be here at work to visit me? Was it one of my parents? Had someone been injured? I twisted my ring around my finger nervously as I approached the front lobby.

It was not my parents. A team of security officers stood waiting, their faces stern. Palo Vyer, the head of the agency, stood nearby, and Glen was beside him, his expression filled with worry and doubt. My pulse raced with sudden fear. What was going on? Was Glen in trouble?

“Sochi Desai?” said Palo. I nodded. “You are being charged with theft. A very large amount of data was recently downloaded from agency servers, and the download was traced to you.”

“What?” I stared, openmouthed. “There’s no way! I would never do that.”
“As you know, our agency contains very sensitive data that could be dangerous in the wrong hands,” he continued. But I was so stunned by the accusations that I barely heard what he was saying.

“I swear, I had nothing to do with this!” I tried to twist away as the security officers restrained me, locking my hands behind my back. “Glen, tell them I wouldn’t steal.”
But Glen refused to meet my gaze, his eyes cast downward at his own folded hands.
“It was Glen who told us the truth,” said Palo. “Glen chose to come clean when he realized that his pair,” he spat the word as though it were filthy, “is a spy and a criminal.”

Hot tears filled my eyes. “Glen, no…” But the truth was sharper than a razor. Glen, my charming, clever pair, had conned me, like he conned everyone else. He was never going to become my permanent partner. He had set me up for this fall.

I was silent as the security officers took me away. Silent as they strapped me into an express train headed toward an unknown location. Silent as they handed me a rough, dingy gray uniform to wear. I changed into the strange new clothes, and as I did, I slipped my sharing ring into one of my pockets. The security officers had not noticed the ring on my finger. The slender, silver ring set with a small, round stone, which caught the light and sparkled, and contained the secrets that had the power to transform even the most hopeless of worlds.

Cheers! (aka: A Beer-y Tasty Project)

Twitter is good at reminding me of things I may have missed out on, like rocket launches, or Trump’s latest blunders, or finales to TV shows I’ve never watched and don’t care about. It is especially good at reminding me about little-known holidays, most of which are probably made up by companies trying to sell their ice cream, or pancakes, or greeting cards.

Well apparently, a couple of days ago, I missed out on a big one. National Beer Day. Right? I mean, you’d have to be from Jupiter, or perhaps living in a cave to miss out on such an important occasion. Yesterday, I made up for it, though, by enjoying a nice cold bottle of Mexican beer from Trader José. Olé!

Brewski

Now here’s a confession. The very first time I tried beer was around 3-4 years ago. It’s true. I spent most of the first two decades of my adult life surrounded by very conservative, teetotalist Christian friends. When we used to get together, the strongest thing we ever drank was double shot espresso. Somehow I managed to start tasting and enjoying wine over the years, but not beer. A glass of pinot noir or chardonnay is a great companion for solitary moments with a good book and indie rock music. But there’s something about beer that screams of social outings, soccer matches, and fun. So I kept putting off that first drink until I was in an appropriate social situation for trying it out.

Toast beer diversity

My first beer was a Budweiser, and I liked it right away. Since then, I’ve begun keeping a spreadsheet of my beer explorations, and rating their flavors (Hey, I’m an INTJ, okay? This is what we do). I’ve learned that I really dislike IPAs and bitter beers. Bleah! But I really enjoy light beers and beers with a fruity twist. My absolute favorite type of beer? Pilsner. Yummm….I am tempted to end the experiment right here and only drink pilsner-style beers from now on. The very best pilsner I’ve had so far turned out to be the original pilsner beer — an import from Czech Republic called Pilsner Urquell.

Pilsner Urquell

Of course, there’s still a lot I don’t know about beers. I could probably do some Beer 101 reading to learn more about the different types, how they’re made, and what the heck is even in beer. I could probably also try visiting some of the many local breweries where I live. But that sounds a little intimidating to do alone, so maybe I’ll just stay home and sip another cold, frosty bottle of pilsner while watching a tennis match on TV. After all, beer doesn’t really require a Twitterized special occasion for us to celebrate it.

One last note — a few days ago, while I was at Trader Joe’s buying my single bottle of Trader José beer, the clerk studied my face, then asked to see my ID. When she saw that I am 42 years old, she laughed. “Seriously? Oh, come on!” So I guess that’s another good excuse to keep going with the beer tasting project. Getting carded by people around my own age makes me feel young. I’ll drink to that.

Cheers!