Category Archives: My Friend V

My Olympic Experience

It’s not something I speak of often, but I was in the Olympics once.

At Lithuanian camp.

The Olympiad was held every year on the last two days of camp. It was two days of schlepping from one event to another with a herd of teammates thrown together based on our varying degrees of athletic prowess. It was swatting away bugs on the soccer field and running in the opposite direction whenever the ball approached. It was scurrying from corner to corner of the dodge ball court trying to avoid a full frontal hit and puking in the bushes after running the camp marathon in 90 degree heat.

Yet there was one event I always looked forward to, something I could compete in without fear of getting trampled or striking out. Something for which my short legs and feet in their size two Keds sneakers were uniquely suited, a sport which requested nothing of me but to run forward in a straight line as fast as I possibly could.

I excelled in the 50 and 100 yard dash. And despite running against girls who were at least a full head taller than me, I regularly won first place. To this day I don’t understand why I was so fast. Something to do with survival of the fittest, perhaps, and wildebeests.

These days, I only run if I’m being chased. I tried to become fit again a couple years ago, but was forced to quit when my personal trainer ticked me off. I thought I was done with forced competition for good until last month at Lithuanian family camp, when My Friend V (who was a camp organizer), reinstated the Olympiad.

“Are you kidding me?” I asked her. “I thought we had put the past behind us.”

As a child, My Friend V was disqualified from the backstroke competition for veering so far off course that she swam ashore. Also, if I was going to have to play dodge ball again, what was the point in having become an adult? But V assured me that ours would be Gentle Games. We were going to do family oriented activities and take frequent popsicle breaks.

And if not for the final event, she would have been right.

The Lithuanian Camp Tough Mudder(ish) Challenge was for adults only. We had to do some pretty strenuous things, like jumping off the diving board and fetching a greased watermelon, crawling across floating rafts, pushing wheelbarrows with people in them, carrying jugs of water, and hauling truck tires up hills and around trees.

We had to crawl underneath picnic tables on the beach wearing wet bathing suits while gleeful children wielding buckets dumped water and silt on our heads.

The Tough Mudder Picnic Table Challenge

I did it for my country. And while the P-Dawg and I did not place in the Tough Mudder Challenge, I still took home gold in the 50 yard dash.

Watching the Olympic Torch Bearer Make His Way Across the Water

The Arrival of the Torch

The Lighting of the Olympic Flame

My Friend V. Look at those biceps!

Greased Watermelon Competition

*Photos courtesy of Ingrida Skarzauskaite-Knueppel

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Was it the Toe Twigs?

I’ve always been one of those mothers you see running after her kid brandishing a wet wipe. But last week, at Lithuanian camp, I perfected the art of embarrassing my children.

You see, every year at camp (also sometimes during the Saturday school Christmas pageant and at the occasional cocktail party) my friend V and I do a little schtick. The schtick changes depending on the venue, but it’s always built around our stock characters – her John Cleese to my Hugh Laurie.

This year, one of our evening programs at camp was a full-out Lithuanian folk dance-off and my friend V and I were the emcees. She played a militant Lithuanian folk dancer, hell-bent on discipline and perfection, and I was her tree hugging, interpretive dancing, ancient pagan goddess worshiping comic foil. V was all business in full folk regalia, while I wore a flowing white dress and a wreath the size of a car tire. I had a butterfly on my bosom and some oak leaves tucked into my flip-flops.

Whenever I do a summer camp skit, I think deeply about my character. What are her interests? What is her history? What is it that makes her tick? Playing a spaced out hippie required that I sing off-key, walk around in a stupor, and intermittently flap my imaginary butterfly wings.

At one point during the act, my character heard the ancient Lithuanian earth goddess, Žemyna, calling to her. I stretched out on the asphalt, which was serving as our stage, to receive her message. And just as I was putting my ear to the ground, I caught a glimpse of my daughter sitting three feet away from me, surrounded by a little posse of her camp friends.

She was not amused.

But it was going to take more than the cold shoulder of a third-grader to get me out of character. I forged onward with the skit, doing a little interpretive dancing here, a little flapping of my imaginary wings there.

Then I looked over and saw my son.

He wouldn’t even look at me.

I knew then, that neither of my children would be talking to me for a couple of days, at least.

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Happiness is Running a Vacuum Cleaner

I’m always a little caught off guard by Christmas when it comes, but not this year. This year I have it marked on my calender and there are a lot of context clues to help me out. Like, for example, on Saturday the P-Dawg and I hosted a legitimate Christmas party where a lot of people came all dressed up.  It was very exciting because I had a good excuse to go to town decorating the house and spend the week prior cleaning, and the P-Dawg had a good excuse to set out his bottle of Absinthe.

I like to clean things and put them away. One of my favorite sounds in the world is the sound of crumbs and small plastic toy parts getting sucked up into my vacuum cleaner.  In fact, one of the hardest things for me about hosting a party is resisting the compulsion to follow my guests around with my Dyson, which never loses suction. So I’ll admit that some people’s appetizers might have been cleared a little prematurely last Saturday night, but that’s the price you pay when you put your plate down for five seconds chez Rama. All in all, though, I think everyone had a good time.

Another major clue is the fast approaching Lithuanian Saturday school Christmas pageant, during which my friend V and I will be reprising our roles as the emcees, elf Dzingu-Lingu and elf Žvang-Žvang. Our act was such a hit last year that we are Lithuanian Saturday school Christmas pageant legends. Probably everybody wants our autographs, but is too shy to ask and don’t even get me started on why CNN Europe or Lithuanian Dawn has offerred to interview us yet.

V and I are feeling enormous self-imposed pressure to make this year’s pageant even better than the last. And since me descending from the ceiling suspended on an invisible cable in a pair of red tights and elf tunic is out of the question, we struggled a bit at first to come up with something equally creative. I’m dying to tell you our brilliant plan, but it will have to wait because I don’t want to spoil it for the Lithuanians who read my blog. (Special note to Lithuanians: Please don’t get too excited.) So just keep your fingers crossed that we come up with a script by Saturday morning and don’t choke on our lines.

Between decorating and vacuuming and practicing my elf moves and a side of sitting around in my pajamas putting random things in my Amazon shopping cart only to abandon them three hours later, I haven’t been able to focus on writing Posts with a Purpose.. But I miss blogging with regularity even though I’m not sure anyone is even reading this thing anymore. Is anyone reading this thing anymore?

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When Animals Attack

It’s easy, when you live in the suburbs and drive around town in the relative safety of your mid-size SUV, to forget your smallness in relation to the Earth at-large.  You start to feel confident that a seat belt, a prescription, and the good sense to steer clear of gangs, is insurance enough against harm. Sometimes it takes almost getting gored by a ferocious buck on a hilltop in Michigan to put everything back in perspective.

Despite swearing I’d never go back after the heat/humidity/mosquito/lice debacle of 2010, I spent the weekend at camp. This time the weather was perfect and there were no vermin. We arrived on Friday night and spent the evening chatting with friends by the fireplace, drinking spiced beverages, and playing Lithuanian Trivial Pursuit as people on a fall weekend in the woods are wont to do.

The next day was gorgeous – sunny and mild – and we spent most of it outdoors. The V-meister ran gleefully hither and yon, collecting all manner of things living and dead inside her backpack while I took an uncharacteristic reprieve from breathing down her neck.  The P-Dawg did manly chores like gathering firewood and moving a keg from the car to the freezer, and I forced Jonas to go on a hike with me around the lake.

Later, when the children were otherwise occupied, my friend V (yup, she was there too) and I decided to take a short walk to the top of a nearby hilltop, where we sat down on a bench to chat. We were generally minding our own business and remarking on the pleasant time we were having, when V halted mid-sentence and said in an urgent tone, “J, (that’s my nickname) What should we do?

I looked up just in time to lock eyes with my own mortality in the form of a gigantic and very fearsome buck wearing antlers long enough to catch a radio signal with. He was standing about fifty feet away from us across the clearing.

“Shhhhhhhh! Don’t move!” I hissed at my friend V. “Don’t. Move.”

No sooner had I spoken than the earth began to rumble and shake as the buck started to charge in our direction. My friend V and I sat paralyzed on our little bench while visions of our short, yet not entirely unproductive lives played before our eyes. For a brief, terrifying moment, the flimsy veil of continuity – so easily forgotten in everyday life – was lifted, and we were reminded of our humble places in the celestial pecking order, the fleeting, arbitrary nature of our time and place on Earth.

We were about to be eaten for lunch.

As it happened, the buck was not particularly interested in a couple of grain fed thirty-something moms wearing North Face jackets. It had its eye on something in the woods directly behind us and missed us by six or seven feet. Once we realized we were out of danger, my friend V began to laugh maniacally as is her tendency in life and death situations, while I took off running for the bottom of the hill, leaving her to contemplate the harrowing encounter in her own way.

Later, we told our friends the buck was ten feet tall and foaming at the mouth.  And I said that if it had actually tried to attack me, I would have simply grabbed it by the horns and ridden it rodeo style until help arrived.

But I’m really glad it didn’t come to that. It’s probably healthy to catch a glimpse of your own mortality every now and again, but I would actually prefer to keep that curtain closed for a long, long time to come.


My Friend V

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