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Category: Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who’s Determined to Kill Me

SLIM TO NONE is available now!!

Hey all! I haven’t even put this up on my website yet, I’ve been so crazy busy, but I HAVE ANOTHER BOOK OUT!!! The title is SLIM TO NONE and details follow, as well as a sneak peek of chapter one.

This one I’ve put out in a different sort of way–it’s exclusive on Kindle (though you can also get it through the Kindle app for iPad and iPhone as well as for download to your PC) till July, then will be available unlimited for all e-readers and as a POD (publish on demand) through Ingram’s, one of the major book distributors. My literary agency launched a digital imprint and I decided to put this book up with the debut of the line. I LOVE this book and know that you will too!! And oh, did I mention there are fabulous recipes in the book too?

Here’s the premise:

In SLIM TO NONE, Abbie Jennings is Manhattan’s top food critic until her expanding waistline makes staying incognito at restaurants impossible. Her cover blown on Page Six of the New York Post, her editor has no choice but to bench her—and suggest she use the time off to bench-press her way back to anonymity. Abbie’s life has been built around her career, and therefore around celebrating food. Forced to drop the pounds if she wants her primo gig back, Abbie must peel back the layers of her past and confront the fears that have led to her current life.

I loved the idea of taking this character who has to eat for a living and then make her not be able to eat in order to continue being able to eat for a living. You got that? The book is funny, sweet and poignant and I really hope my readers will be able to get hold of an e-reader to check this out!!
Here are some author blurbs on it:

With a strong yet delightfully vulnerable voice, food critic Abbie Jennings embarks on a soulful journey where her love for banana cream pie and disdain for ill-fitting Spanx clash in hilarious and heartbreaking ways. As her body balloons and her personal life crumbles, Abbie must face the pain and secret fears she’s held inside for far too long. I cheered for her the entire way.

—Beth Hoffman, bestselling author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

Satisfying as a Thanksgiving dinner at Mom’s. … Jenny Gardiner’s  heroine gives us a sarcastic but provocative look at our love-hate relationship with food. You’ll eat this up in one sitting.

Ad Hudler, bestselling author of Househusband and Man of the House

Jenny Gardiner has done it again – this fun, fast-paced book is a great summer read.

Sarah Pekkanen, author of The Opposite of Me

And here’s an excerpt:

I am not a glutton. I am an explorer of food.

~Erma Bombeck

Chapter 1

A Teaspoon of Sugar

I miss my Spanx. I outgrew them about fifty pounds ago. Somewhere between the decadent foie gras at La Grenouille and the joyfully simple pigs-in-a-blanket at Payard Patisserie. It was like a seasonal transition: it happened so gradually I didn’t even notice it, until one day my control-top-pantyline-avoiding-God-Bless-America-for-inventing-these-things Spanx refused to oblige me by fitting comfortably.

No longer gently hugging my curves, respectfully holding all of me in, they’d become a boa constrictor and I their victim. Evidently Spanx are made for far thinner women than me. And so I graduated up to Flexees. But now, as I ready myself for yet another meal out by attempting to contain my expanding girth in my latest girdle of choice, it’s become abundantly clear that I’ve fallen into Flexee disfavor as well. I heave a sigh of resignation. What’s a girl to do when her life revolves around having to eat for a living?

#

“Jesus, this is a mess,” my best friend Jess says as she trails small heaps of greasy lupini beans across her plate with a fork, forming them into a smiley face with what appears to be tears streaming down its cheeks but is probably just excess oil. Jessie mocks the bean face with her own broad smile. Her blond hair, the color of farm-churned butter, softly frames her face in the flickering light of our table’s blazing torch. Jess’ truffle-brown eyes twinkle with mischief: my tasting assistant caught playing with her food.

I nod in agreement. So far what we’ve seen at Puka, the new pan Italian-Hawaiian-Greek restaurant in midtown Manhattan, doesn’t look too promising. I’d held out hope, what with the luau décor, tiki lamps aglow, and the bouzouki player plinking out a half-decent version of That’s Amore. How often can you get a taste of Hawaii, Greece and Italy in one sitting? I dip my pita bread into the complementary poi served in a dugout coconut bowl in the center of the table, hoping for a miracle. Instead, I choke on the soupy gray paste and reach for my water glass, which is still empty.

“Jess, gimme a swig of that!” I point to her glass of water, my hand around my throat for emphasis. I can’t wait for a reply and instead grab the water and throw it back, like Zorba tossing down a flaming shot glass of ouzo.

“Appetizers suck, they can’t even keep our water glasses filled, the signature tiki drinks haven’t materialized despite waiting over half an hour, and the freebie poi appears to be the key ingredient in the fixative that holds up the wallpaper,” I mumble as I jot down notes surreptitiously in my iPhone, mindful to be sure that no one is paying attention to my musings.

“Sure, it’s not exactly Le Bernadin, but seriously, Abbie, it’s all relative,” Jess says. “At least it’s better than the donor kebab I’d have been eating had you not called me at the last minute to come along tonight. But for you, yeah, I’d imagine this pretty much bites the big one.”

“At this place, I’m afraid to bite anything here, big or small. But seriously, I’m just looking at the silver lining in this stormy cloud. Without the bad restaurants, imagine how much fatter I’d be. At least here I have no desire to eat even the smallest of portions. So it’s a little diet in disguise.”

Jess laughs but just barely, and instead squirms in her seat, clearly hating my fat reference. She’s lodge pine-thin and could probably go on a week-long eating bender and still lose weight. That is if food really even mattered to her that much, which it doesn’t. I, on the other hand, seem to have assumed the uncanny silhouette of a beluga whale, while cursed with the sluggish metabolism of a three-toed sloth and blessed with the culinary palate of a Michelin reviewer. Not always a good combination if you savor your size-tens. Oh, wait, I’m in Manhattan. Make that size-twos. And I, Abbie Jennings, am most definitely not a size two. Maybe size twenty-two, perhaps, but I’ve lost count, so who knows?

“You can’t help it, Abs,” she says. “It’s not like you go around stuffing your face with donuts.”

“Yeah. Instead I ingest a steady diet of the world’s richest food.” I shrug. “Ah, well, occupational hazard, I suppose. As are restaurants like this. People are expecting me to rate this place, so I’ll review it. Sure, I always hope for good things from a restaurant, but I’m totally prepared to call them on it if it’s lousy.”

Our waiter arrives, his vision evidently obscured by the pile of leis stacked along his neck, and sloshes two martini glasses filled with something resembling transmission fluid before us. They’re on fire. How adventuresome. Jessie dips her napkin in what’s left of her water and blots the splash of alcoholic neon that has landed uninvited across the front of her white silk shirt. It looks like someone smashed a firefly on her boob. Lei-Boy returns moments later with our entrees: cold, congealed grouper for me and seared mahi-mahi for Jess that looks as if the chef used a blow-torch on it. A hardened heap of Minute Rice accompanies the entrees, with beans that in an ideal world would be green, but are instead a sickly shade of cadaverous ash.

“Bon appetit, I suppose,” I say, not at all looking forward to that first bite. I hate to be disingenuous, but at thirty bucks a plate, the kitchen could’ve at least tried.

Jess scoops a bite of fish with her fork and pops it in her mouth, just as Lei-Boy rushes over and wordlessly grabs her plate away. Fast on his heels is an angry-looking bald man in clogs, checkered pants, and a chef’s toque, hurling what must be obscenities in Greek, maybe Italian, but definitely nothing gently Polynesian sounding. He smacks Lei-Boy up the back of his head, dislodging a few leis onto my grouper.

An A+ for presentation, I jot down in my phone.

“What is up with them?” Jessie asks.

“Hell if I know.” I reach for my transmission fluid to quell the drought in my mouth. As it reluctantly washes down my throat I can’t help but elicit a hairball noise.

A swarm of hula dancers closes in on our table as the bouzouki music gives way to a pulsing luau thunk. If I am seeing properly beyond the blur of grass skirts–my God, how do they do that?–there appears to be an extra from South Pacific pounding a drum back there.

“Aloha, wahini,” the Greek chef intones through a volcanic crater-sized smile. His accent is deceptively French-sounding. “E komo mai. Welcome. Buona sera. Good evening.”

I expect him to throw in a Phi Beta Kappa just to incorporate all of the restaurant’s themes. “Ladies, zere has been a slight mistake in zee kitchen.” No thanks to Lei-boy, I’m thinking. “Pleeze, allow me to present you vees more better food.” Our Greek chef sounds like he must’ve apprenticed for a hell of a long time in Paris.

With this, our drinks are rounded up, and in their stead are placed two smoldering cocktails that appear to contain dry ice. I peer into the void of my thermally-reinforced cup (artfully disguised as a small volcano) and see through the rising steam something somewhat thick and orange-ish red. I look at the chef–the spitting image of Telly Savalas without the lollypop–for the go-ahead from him, wondering if one can actually ingest dry ice. I always thought it was toxic.

He motions with his hands to drink up. “Ladeees, ees gud. Ees a Lava Flow. Really, really good. You drink, no?” He rolls his “r” with such authority I feel this is an order, and I comply, placing the drink to my lips with apprehension and taking a tiny no-thank you sip, trying not to make a face, in case it’s disgusting.

I taste a slight dribble, licking my lips to catch the overflow. Not bad, actually. Sort of cool and warm at the same time, like Ben Gay on the rocks. I’ll give them credit: it’s certainly different.

Telly is on to the next order of business already, seeing that our new entrees are properly plated. Lei-boy and his assistant, Hula-girl bring out two heaping dishes of food, much of it unidentifiable but at least it’s piping hot. Telly Savalas leans forward, so close to me I can smell the garlic on his breath, and wipes a smudge of sauce from the edge of my dish with his towel. He adjusts the plate a quarter-turn and bows while wishing us buon appetito (why he didn’t say this in Greek is Greek to me).

“Whoa!” Jess stares at me as if she’d just witnessed the shocking conclusion to a weird movie. She takes a bite of something in front of her. “I don’t know what that was all about, but bring it on, baby. If we’ve gotta go through that to get some of this, I’ll volunteer to be the sacrificial lamb.”

I don’t know where to begin on my plate. Everything looks so unfamiliar, yet appetizing. I decide to aim for the starch first, and settle my fork into a generous portion of what turns out to be risotto with bite-sized pieces of suckling pig. I’ll take creamy risotto over that vile poi any day. The pork, so tender and juicy, has me humming Mele Kalikimaka, cause it feels like a Hawaiian Merry Christmas gift.

I next try the entrée, a tender, flaky and surprisingly un-oily mackerel sprinkled with feta cheese and olives and cloaked in taro leaves. I have to give Telly some credit, I didn’t know how this place could pull off merging three such divergent flavors, but somehow it works despite itself.

“I can’t believe how fantastic this food is,” Jess mumbles through a bite of her pineapple-balsamic glazed wild boar spare ribs with tzatziki sauce. “Who’d have thought you could actually assemble a menu with Italian, Hawaiian and Greek food? I honestly thought it was a joke.”

“Joke’s on us, cause this stuff is amazing.”

After dinner ends, Telly returns with a selection of desserts (including a baklava made with mascarpone cheese, coconut and pine nuts), a tray with sample shots of grappa, ouzo and okolehao, and a somewhat excessive appreciation for his customers.

“You like, no?” Telly asks me as he hands me a leftovers bag with more in it than we had on our plates, I’m sure, then straightens out my napkin in my lap. I really don’t like people fondling my linens in restaurants.

“It was wonderful,” I tell him, shooing his hands from my lap (after all, I don’t need old Telly to get an up-close look at my too-tight Flexee-induced bulges.) Despite the culinary false start. I might even have to give the place three stars.

“Meesees Jennings, on behalf of zee entire staff of Puka, I sank you for dining vees us zees evening,” Telly says as he bows repeatedly while backing away from me and disappearing into the kitchen. “Zee meal is on zee house, vees my undying gratitude.”

I look at Jessie and blanch. Meessees Jennings, he called me. Missus fucking Jennings. How stupid could I have been? I should’ve known! There was no mistake. The only mistake is that my look has become unmistakable. For the third time this month, I’ve been recognized in a restaurant.

“Son of a bitch,” I groan under my breath. “Mortie’s gonna kill me. He’s going to absolutely kill me.”

#

Shaken by the revelation that my food critic cover has been effectively blown, I leave Jessie to pay the bill and slip out a side door to hail a cab, handing my bag of leftovers to a homeless man on a nearby grate. Well, slip might be a gross understatement, considering at my size, I’m probably beyond the point of slipping out of anyplace with much facility.

I tip the cab driver too much, just grateful to be away from there and able to go home to ponder this most unfortunate turn of events. I plod up the flight of steps up to our brownstone and unlock the door, flicking on the hall light as I regain my breath from that exertion. Tartare, my beefy tomcat, weaves a few figure eights around my ankles before meowing as he always does to go outside, even though I don’t dare let him out on the mean streets.

“William?” I call out for my husband, who I’m sure was planning to be home tonight. I’d invited him along to Puka but he declined, saying he was going to catch up on some things. I’m beginning to suspect that being married to the food critic of the New York Sentinel holds very little charm to William at this point. It was never something he’d wanted for us, but he was willing to put up with it, if it made me happy.

If it was up to William, we’d leave Manhattan in a New York minute (excuse the pun). He cashed out years ago after the teeny little start-up company he worked for hit it big during the tech boom, and now only dabbles at his day job for fun, waiting for me to pull the plug on living in the city. He’d like nothing more than to escape the traffic, the noise, the excessive demands on his wife’s time. Maybe start a family. Oh, jeeze, the thought of me getting pregnant at this weight is one I simply can’t contemplate. Not without a fat finger of bourbon to help tamp down the hysterics that accompany such thoughts.

My Harvey Nichols pumps–optimistically purchased when I could lay claim to that size-ten physique–click with groaning desperation across my polished hardwoods. I think if they could talk they would beg for mercy. Please, give us a freaking break and don’t wedge your bloated feet into us, they’d say. We weren’t meant to haul so much weight; we’re not tractor-trailers, you know!

No, they’re not, but I feel like I am. A tractor-trailer loaded with cargo but out of gas on a desolate highway. I switch on the living room lights, peel off my unforgiving shoes and sink into the butterscotch leather sofa, which gasps like a dying man beneath my girth.

“What to do, what to do,” I ask Tartare, who is clearly unconcerned with my dilemma as he strains to escape my grip. I stroke him with one fingernail in his sweet spot at the curve of his chin and he relents, frozen with feline desire. I wish my problems could be solved by a little chin scratching.

I lay my head back and take in the living room. William and I argued for weeks on the color we’d paint this room. He wanted cranberry. I finally won the argument and chose a distinct chestnut shade. I actually brought a wedge of my favorite chocolate–from this amazing French chocolatier in the East Village–to the paint store because the color was precisely what I was looking for. I knew I could readily relax in a room that reminded me of Guillaume’s to-die for ganache.

“William?” I call again but get no response, so I hoist myself up and pad to the kitchen. The varnished concrete floor is cold on my feet, so I slide them into my banana split slippers, which I always keep nearby. Comfortable shoes are so important for cooking. I’m feeling very agitated by what happened at the restaurant, and decide that the only thing to take my mind off it will be to whip up something tasty. As I reach for the cabinet that houses my cookbooks I notice a note on the counter.

Abbie,

The house was kind of quiet so Cognac and I decided to get away. We hopped on the bike and headed down to the Jersey shore for a couple of days. Call if you need me. Or better yet, come join us. Maybe we can prowl the backstreets in search of a new restaurant. We’d sure love the company.

Love,

William

p.s. Don’t worry, Cognac is secured into the sidecar with his doggie seatbelt.

William keeps insisting Jersey is retro, thinking that will lure me down there with him. I had enough of Jersey growing up, thanks. I’m not ready to revisit my past, even under the guise of campy fun. I ball up the note and toss it in the trash, then send him a quick text message. I think I’ll keep mum for now about what happened this evening. No need to bother him with details, especially when I’m sure I can clear this all right up in the morning.

“Hi sweetie. Sorry u weren’t home when I got back. Have fun with poochie @ the beach. I’m off 2 bed soon so don’t worry about calling. Luv, me

I rifle through the cabinet and pull out grandma Gigi’s recipe box. For me, job stress–or any kind of stress, really–means concocting an old favorite from her collection. I leaf through the worn pages of Gigi’s recipes until I find precisely what I’m looking for. I pull out the card gingerly, as the corners are dog-eared and yellow with age. Albumen stains speckle it, as well as grease marks from her lard-smeared fingers. Grandma’s impeccable cursive sweeps across the card, even and angled, precise. Like baking: methodical and exact.

I pull out the flour, salt, butter, and shortening and begin to blend together the ingredients, putting a little muscle into it as I mix, adding ice water to consistency. Five simple ingredients that combine to sooth my nerves and please my palate.

Next I mix the pudding, then slice bananas. Crack eggs, separating yolk from white. Pull out the Kitchen-Aid mixer, whip the whites on high with a pinch of salt. Adding the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, a splash of vanilla for good measure.

I dust the granite countertop with flour and roll out two crusts: I think a pie might be just the thing to turn around Mortie’s mood when I break the news to him. Who can’t get happy over a banana cream pie? It’s the mother of all comfort foods, the comfort food of all mothers. At least for my grandmother it was.

As I slide the pies into the oven, I glance at the clock and realize it’s past midnight. I’ve been cooking for almost three hours. Just about long enough to forget that tomorrow I have to face my boss.

BANANA CREAM PIE

*this is a single recipe, but you might as well double it if you’re going to go to all the effort.

FOR THE PIE CRUST

Preheat oven to 375.

With pastry blender mix 2-1/2 c. Wondra Flour (it’s the only flour for this pastry) with one stick softened butter (8 tbl.) and 1/2 tsp. Salt

Then add 6 rounded tbls. Crisco shortening (do not under any circumstances use the butter flavored, and by all means don’t even consider using any other brand of shortening). You can use the Crisco shortening sticks, just cutting at the appropriate line.

Blend till mealy.

Add 5-6 tbl. Ice water, mix with pastry mixer until dough pulls together but is not gluey. If needed, add a little bit more water. If too damp, a small bit more flour.

Gently pound into a ball, and roll out on floured countertop or pastry sheet until 1/8” thick.

Roll gently onto pastry roller and ease into pie pan. Snugly roll crust up. Poke holes along bottom of pie crust with fork to allow crust to breath.

Place baking parchment on top of crust, pour rice or pie weights on top of parchment, to weigh crust down as it bakes.

Bake for ten minutes, then paint inside of crust with a mixture of one egg white and 1 tsp. Water. Replace the parchment pie weights and bake for another 5 minutes. Remove parchment with pie weights and bake another 5 minutes. Allow to cool completely.

FOR THE FILLING

Use two packages of Jell-O brand banana cream pudding mix (not the instant). Hard to find but worth the effort. You may have to track it down on the Internet. Cook as directed on package, using slightly less milk. As the pudding thickens, separate out three egg whites and yolks. Just before pudding comes to a boil, add about 1/2 cup of the pudding into the egg yolks, stir well, then pour in to the pudding that is just coming to a boil. Remove from stove and let cool. (by the way, don’t even bother making homemade banana pudding. It’s not nearly as good).

FOR THE MERINGUE (a vital ingredient to this pie’s success)

Using the 3 egg whites, whip with mixer on high with a pinch of salt. Add, one at a time, 9 tbl. of sugar (take that! South Beach!), then 1 tsp. vanilla.

TO FINISH PIE

Preheat oven to 350. Once crust and pie filling are cooled, line bottom of pie crust with banana slices. Add filling. Spread meringue on top. Bake for 15 minutes, till meringue is a light golden brown on top.

Welcome to author April Henry!

Fellow Girlfriends Cyber Circuit member April Henry’s got another book out and here are the deets!

Tell me a little about your book.

It got its start when our publisher said it would be fun to kill off a character like Bill O’Reilly.  Lis was the more liberal foil to Bill for nine years on the radio.  We ended up dropping in a lot of hints to other radio personalities as well. The book begins when outspoken radio talk show host Jim Fate is murdered when poisonous gas fills his studio. In the ensuing panic, police evacuate downtown Portland. The triple threat of  FBI Special Agent Nicole Hedges, crime reporter Cassidy Shaw and Federal Prosecutor Allison Pierce is on the case – but far too many people would have liked to have seen Jim dead.

What got you writing in the genre in which you write.

In a way, it was accidental.  I had written three books that didn’t sell. My fourth book was about a woman who tries to figure out if a painting she inherited is a real Vermeer. I didn’t think of it as a mystery, but my agent did.  It sold in three days, in a two-book deal, and I’ve been writing mysteries and thrillers ever since.

Favorite thing about being a writer?

When a twist pops into my head, or a character does something unexpected.  When it’s easy and fun.  There aren’t a lot of days like that, sadly, but most days there’s a feeling of rightness.

Least favorite thing about being a writer?

Deadlines.  Waiting for reviews and sales – two things I don’t have any control of.

What is the most interesting thing that’s happened to you since becoming a published author?

Seeing my books published in other languages, and getting fan mail in slightly scrambled English.

What’s your favorite type of pie?

Lemon meringue.  Yum!

Ski? Me? Are You Nuts?

**In honor of the Olympics I unearthed this piece I wrote several years ago–the last time I went skiing. Now I know to just watch other people kill themselves going down a mountain, rather than joining in the folly…

This is SO not me on the slopes (or in the air)
This is SO not me on the slopes (or in the air for that matter)

A few months ago when my husband suggested a ski vacation for our family of five, I willingly agreed, with instant visions of being all dolled up in ski togs, sipping hot chocolate fireside, schussing down the mountainside, and gazing admiringly at the wintry wonderland outside, all swirling in my head.

Reality clocked me over the head with a big, fat snowboard as our plane approached the small mountain airport a few hundred miles north of Denver, in the early evening hours.

“Folks, I’ve got some news for you,” the captain reported from the cockpit. “Uh, seems we need a mile and a half visibility to land this thing, and right now we only have a mile. If things don’t change in the next few minutes, we’re gonna have to turn back.”

That would be back to Denver, where we would have to huddle to stay warm in some dreary airport lounge, eating gummy bears for sustenance until clearer weather prevailed in a day or so, while our luggage ended up in Stockholm and our minimal vacation time whittled away.

Not five minutes later, a hurried captain announced, “Uh, folks, seems we have a mile and three quarters so we’re gonna land this puppy, fast.”

With a gulp, I made sure all of our seatbelts were fastened, and braced for the smooth landing I’d hoped for.

Mercifully this was not our plane
Mercifully this was not our plane

As the plane was battered about the sky, I noticed our flight attendant, a large young man, wedged into his flight attendant perch, eyes squinched closed, hands clasped in what appeared to be the universal prayer position. My confidence in the pilot diminished at that point, realizing as I did that even the strapping young flight attendant was sweating bullets.

Fifteen minutes and some seriously gnashed teeth later, we landed mercifully, the jostling of the plane at some point merging with the blare of the engines on the small craft to create a death Zen that assured me that the fiery crash would be painless.

Alas, luck was on our side and we landed into a blizzard–a good sign that we landed despite the lack of visibility, and, as my ski instructor would intone incessantly the next day, whoo-hoo! Snow! was greeting us, in spades.

I’d spent the previous month visiting a physical therapist thrice weekly to diminish the pain from a pinched nerve in my lower back, something that threatened my success on this ski trip. And so it was with some trepidation that I donned my skiwear the next morning to head out into the new foot of snow that had fallen.

But just getting into the outerwear and attempting to put on the ski boots was challenging. At some point I assigned tasks to my kids: one, help get my socks up, please; another, you hook up my boots, mommy can’t bend forward, etc.

Finally, decked out and ready to go, we haul our load of gear down the unwieldy flight of steps and out the back door of our ski-in-ski-out condo, and attach the skis, heading off into the vast winter wonderland.

It’s amazing, the untoward effects of aging on a person’s skiing potential. As I wobbled, propelled unnaturally forward down a narrow isthmus of snow, buffered on either side of me by rocks, brambles and cliffs, feeling as steady as a newborn colt, I wondered why my legs seemed as if they were being warped unnaturally inward by the positioning of the boot to ski.

I also wondered why my butt wanted to jam itself in the sitting position–no doubt a survival instinct honed by millions of years of skiers before me. And then I wondered why, in this day and with my advancing age, I wouldn’t have opted for a sunny Caribbean vacation, where one could so easily slip into a bathing suit–although, truth be known, that, too, is a psychologically damning action for the less-than-svelte me–and just lounge poolside with a good book.

We all signed up for ski school–I knew without that peer pressure, I would have hightailed it back to the condo to hide under the blankets for the rest of the day–and were separated within minutes by skill level.

Now, I don’t take personally a professional’s assessment of my skiing ability–or lack thereof. But the snickering that went on was a little bit unnerving, I will admit.

We were grouped with like-abled skiers, and directed to the first ski lift. As I sat on the icy, slippery lift seat, with no reassuring bar to pull down to keep me from plunging to an untimely death in a crevasse in the mountain, I realized that a skiing vacation is not ideally suited for one with severe fear of heights.

It was bad enough for me back home at our nearby sleepy little ski resort, with the short lifts that don’t lunge skyward at rapid acceleration rates.

so peaceful, tranquil, deadly (this is not my lift, which was twice as high off the ground)
so peaceful, tranquil, deadly (this is not my lift, which was twice as high off the ground)

But here in Steamboat Springs, the lifts thrust us upward and fast, easily two hundred feet off the ground, and with the dreadfully slow ratcheting along those mammoth support poles that are the only thing between me and death, I gain a true sense of how very far it is to the ground, judging by the height of those towering poles. In my head I think happy thoughts: bunnies, kitties, puppies; but then my thoughts are transformed into a more macabre scene: bunnies, kitties, puppies, splattered along the boulders below, victims of the slippery seats of the ski lift.

Eventually, despite my fears, we arrive at the top of a mountain, only to learn that we must take another lift to get to the top of the mountain. As if one top wasn’t high enough. This day promises to be a real challenge to my psychological stamina.

Fifteen minutes later, we are at the summit. I feel like Sir Edmund Hilary reaching Everest. Well, not exactly. But still, as we arrive at the top, we all notice that the sunlight has disappeared. As has the sky. As have any people beyond five feet of me. We are lodged in a soup of fog so thick that I can be certain my plane would not be able to land, even with our ambitious pilot.

“Whoo-hoo!” Our instructor enthuses, in only a way that someone with an unnatural proclivity for an untimely death can. “Well, everybody, looks like it’s gonna be a foggy day.”

I look up and see that chunks of snow are beginning to drop from the sky, not little baby flakes, but tufts of snow the size of clumps of hair being pulled from an unwilling head.

“Whoo-hoo!” Our instructor trills. “Snow!”

She then announces that these are, without doubt, the worst and most dangerous conditions in which to ski for intermediate skiers of our level. It seems that beginners are smart enough to not get themselves into such hot water (or rather, bitterly cold blizzard), and advanced skiers take it as a healthy challenge to their demonstrable skills, and boldly tackle the elements.

With that little boost of confidence, we’re off. Flailing effortlessly down the mountain, with no more control than a pubescent boy with his hormones atwitter, my body jerks side-to-side, my butt, with a mind of it’s own, thrusts back, no doubt preparing to be landed upon, and I slam into snow pile after snow pile, fully confident that I have no idea how to get to the bottom of the mountain, and scared to death for that reason.

My thighs burn like the forest fires I imagine alight in these very same mountains during the summer months. I think how warming those fires might be right about now, as my fingers are so cold I can’t feel them.

We encounter a wet, barefooted snowboarder, who’d proudly jumped a cliff into a creek. Would he do it again? We ask. “Dude! You bet!” he beams.

tried to find image of barefoot snowboarder, to no avail
tried to find image of barefoot snowboarder, to no avail

After several hours of professional training, after which time I feel no more confident in my skiing ability, I call it quits and head to my scheduled massage, something my physical therapist insisted I have.

I sit down in the waiting room of the spa, relaxing to the dulcet tones of nature, as recorded and studio-mixed by someone who thinks that nature should sound like this. The plink-plink-plink of the mandolin between bird tweets and waterfalls makes me feel almost relaxed.

The masseuse beckons me into the room, and as I stand up, I realize that I can’t stand up. My muscles are frozen in position. She must recognize this condition, as she laughs and comes over to help hoist me from the couch. How embarrassing.

To me it is no small feat to return at the end of the skiing day intact and injury free. I feel the blood of relief pump through me when I can successfully count each of my brood back from their treacherous journey.

Apres ski involves my family jammed into a hot tub with at least twenty five other people from around the world, carting along with them every bacteria, virus, and parasite that can be transmitted by hot, bubbling unclean water. The relieving Petri dish does wonders for my aching bones, but I close my eyes after I see one too many unidentified floating objects tumble past me beneath the water’s surface. I hope that we all don’t end up with some horrible communicable disease, or at least that impossible-to-cure without liver-toxic medicines toenail fungus they show us on t.v. when we don’t want to be grossed out.

It’s been more than a decade since I last skied out West. Back then I was admittedly more fit and vital than I am today. And so I was ill-prepared me for the level of fatigue that was to befall us all by day’s end.

An exhaustion blankets us all as if we’d just wandered through a field of poppies in Oz. Yet mine is to remain an unrequited exhaustion, as sleep eludes me. For that matter, sleep eludes us all, for my daughter has sprung a dry relentless cough that refuses to be tamed by even a codeine-based cough suppressant. Throughout the night–and day, for that matter–she hacks away, each sound causing a reflexive flinch for the rest of us as the poor child tries desperately to breath unimpinged.

I awaken about fifty times due to the uber dry Rocky Mountain air and the altitudinal adjustments that my body doesn’t seem to want to make. I feel like I’m suffering from the worst hangover of my life, every drop of moisture having been sucked from me by atmospheric conditions beyond my control. It’s as if I’m some vacuum-sealed version of myself, freeze-dried for eventual defrosting come spring. I’m pounding water at the rate of a gallon an hour, and the only thing this makes me do is have to pee continually.

By morning, I am so poorly rested I feel a sense of despair. Trying to rise out of bed requires a crane, or at least the optimistic manipulations of a chiropractor. Alas, I don’t have one of those with me. As I creak from room to room, retrieving the myriad articles of ski gear I need to start this torturous routine all over again, I wince from pain in places I didn’t even know existed on my body. My back, well that goes without saying. But my glutes, my knees, my shins, my feet, my thighs, my hips, wrists. I think even my teeth hurt. About the only thing not hurting right now is my left armpit.

But it’s my duty to go out and ski again today, and so obligingly, I do so. Plus, I don’t want my family to see me as the weenie I’ve truly become. Today is even harder than yesterday, because not only do I not have much of an improvement of skill level, but also I have the muscular failure of yesterday taunting me.

The sky is the cerulean color of a bluebird, my favorite bird. I take this as a good sign. The fir trees atop the slopes are adorned in gowns of glimmering snow. Were it not for the fact that my stated goal is to mount and then ski down slope after slope and that I am freezing my ass off, I would almost enjoy myself, based on the natural beauty of the place alone.

I run into my ski instructor on one of the slopes, and she enthuses to me, “Whoo-hoo! Today’s what we call and ‘ego ski’ day! You get to show off your stuff in prime ski conditions.”

I can’t help but wonder whose ego is to benefit from these conditions, because I know it’s not going to be mine. Rain or shine, blizzard or not, I look like one of those ballerina hippos from Fantasia on the slopes. Graceful, I am not.

Today the fir trees atop the slopes are adorned in gowns of shimmering snow, contrasted starkly against a cerulean bluebird sky. Distant stands of trees cast a five o’clock shadow on the mountain face: some a youthful brown, others an aged ice-grizzled. It’s exquisite.

From the lift I can see vistas I had no idea existed yesterday. Whereas then I could see just as far as my instructor’s face, today I can see far enough to realize we are so bloody damned high up from sea level that my nose should be bleeding. Strewn below are the littered remains of naively ambitious skiers and overly confident snowboarders committing gravity-defying acts of insanity, and I shake my head in dumbfounded wonder. Do these people know something I have not been privy to? Unlikely, I reassure myself.

No doubt they are charter members of the convocation of the Let’s Get Together and Die Young Club, soaring down the mountain on boards not much wider than my thighs (alas), seeking huge mounds of snow and steep precipices from which to launch themselves into the nebulous space before them.

Meanwhile, my kids are drunk on youthful invincibility, unconcerned with risking life, limb and orthodontia in pursuit of the perfect run.

Yet I’m poisoned with a toxic dose of maternal paranoia, knowing that it’s hard to retrieve missing white teeth from equally white snow.

As they negotiate the mountain, I say a little prayer. Who, I wonder, is the patron saint of alpine mountain sports? Saint Bernard?

Now I know why those dogs carry rum casks on their collars: so that people like me will return to ski another day.

A family photo at the summit delivers the final blow to my fantasy: Dashed is mental image of Jen as snow bunny; in its stead is Jen as Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Where’s that St. Bernard when you need him?

By trip’s end, we remain mercifully injury-free– except, perhaps my bruised ego.

Would I do it again, you ask? Dude! You bet!