Friday, October 26, 2012

The wind beneath your wings shouldn't hiss

I have this chair at work that is an exercise ball balance chair. It’s one of those Pilates balls that sits in a base with wheels, and it’s supposed to be more ergonomically friendly than your standard Mad-Men-era office chairs. (Between you and me, until this thing starts making my coffee when I get to work first thing in the morning, the jury’s still out on how much friendlier it is.)

I inherited the chair from my predecessor in the office, a yoga instructor who swore by the healing properties of the exercise balance ball. Seeing that my existing chair was torturing my sciatica on a daily basis, I thought I’d give it a whirl.

The problem is that the chair has a tendency to whirl when you least expect it to, making the promised “balance” seem like a wished-for dream. One time I bent down to tie my shoelace and almost ended up in the office next door. Through the drywall, that is.

Plus, my reaction time is slower since I have to take into account the physics of the chair. Let’s just say jumping out of my chair isn’t really an option.

Which is where I was three months ago when a loud, hissing noise was coming from the hallway outside my office. It sounded like a very large snake was warning someone that he had gone too far … not a comforting sound on your average day at the office. It startled me so much that I jumped out of my chair, propelling myself off balance from the balance chair (oh, the irony!) and nearly stumbled into the hallway to figure out what was wrong.

Other employees were out in the hallway as well, trying to discover the source of the hissing. Turns out it was a loose valve of the AC unit in the conduit hoochamajig. (This is why I majored in English and not engineering.) Bottom line, the hissing stopped.

But wouldn’t you know it, it happened again a few weeks ago. As the loud hissing started anew, I sat still this time, learning my lesson from before.

But the strangest thing happened. No one else started to congregate outside my office in the hallway. The hissing was as loud as ever, but no one seemed to mind except me.

Then I noticed something odd.

As I was looking out toward the hallway over my computer screen, the screen kept getting higher and higher as the view of the hallway disappeared. Was my desk rising? Was I melting?

Finally, I looked down and realized that this was no AC valve gone awry. No, my exercise ball had sprung a leak and my hopes of balance were rapidly deflating before my very eyes.

I took the ball home, sad and deflated of any balance it ever offered, and pumped it back up, all the while laughing over how long it took me to figure out what was going on.

I’m back on my perch, so to speak, but I realized that the exercise balance ball is a metaphor for life.

I’ll be sure to let you know what it is the moment I figure it out.

Eileen Burmeister is a freelance writer who lives in Winchester, Ore. You can email her at or you can follow her on Twitter at EBurmeister.

No exercise balance balls were harmed in the writing of this article.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Chevy Chevette ... it'll (not) drive you happy!

Our 16-year-old son recently bought a car from a trusted family friend. Sure, the car has over 250,000 miles on it, but this 1996 Honda Civic runs surprisingly well. Granted you might point out the dent in the hood from the past owner’s run-in with a deer, or the faded paint on the roof, or the crack in the window. But as far as first cars go, this one is a winner.

At least my husband and I can see that it is a winner, especially compared to the sorry jalopies we’d owned over the years (kids, ask your parents what a “jalopy” is). Of course our son, Nathaniel, wasn’t around when we owned these cars. Ever since he’s been old enough to remember we’ve had sensible and reliable family cars, and we’ve been blessed to be able to afford to get them fixed when they need it. 

He wasn’t around when we were newlyweds, poor as dirt, living in a 600-square-foot apartment and happily accepting day-old bread off of the Safeway truck. We were graduate students in love, and living from paycheck to paycheck. Macaroni and cheese made a complete meal, and date nights consisted of the $1.50 cheap theaters in Denver.

Before our marriage, I had a penchant for truly horrible car decisions. While I was paying my way through college, I grew tired of the beater cars that kept breaking down. As a commuter student, I needed a reliable car to get me to and from the university, so I decided to bite the bullet and buy a brand new 1986 Chevy Chevette. But wait! Why buy one when you can lease one for $10 a month cheaper and save yourself a full $120 a year? (At least that’s how the sales guy put it). Being young, thrifty and foolish I signed on the dotted line and leased myself a Chevette. For five years. With no option to own. Ah, youth!

The car, although brand new, went through three alternators in those five years. At one point, the driver’s-side door stopped opening, forcing me to climb over the console and exit out the passenger door. Then right about the time I was finishing up college, the passenger-side door stopped opening as well, forcing me to crawl through the hatch and hoist myself over the two seats. This was neatly timed with my student teaching at an area high school, making for an interesting entrance and exit each day.

After the “Chevette Lease Debacle,” I got smart and bought a used but reliable Nissan Maxima which I loved. I then started dating my soon-to-be husband. I heard through the grapevine that his last car was a VW van with carpeted ceilings and fuzzy dice. It was a match made in heaven.

Since then, we’ve made some wiser choices, learning from our many mistakes, but we realize that we’re only one step away from a really bad car choice. In fact, I recently passed a Chevy Sprint that had the back hack-sawed off like an El Camino wannabe, and I muttered, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

So now it’s time for our son to learn the hard way how first cars have the power to make your spirits soar and break your heart, all in the same afternoon.

Full disclosure: The Chevette was my SECOND car. My first car was even worse – a ’74 rusted out Dodge Dart. But that’s another story…

Eileen Burmeister is a freelance writer and reliable car owner, despite the dent in the back panel. She claims a deer ran into the car. You can email her at or follow her on Twitter at EBurmeister.

Mama Bear

Over the years, my kids have teased me when I’ve thrown my arm across their chest anytime I brake hard in the car. You know what I’m talking...