Sunday, July 20, 2014

Not Even An Isthmus

In one of his most famous poems, John Donne claimed that "no man is an island" and he was right. No matter how independent you may think yourself to be - and independence is a good quality - we are social creatures and we need other people. I've had some time to reflect on this over the last few days and I am even more convinced now that this is so.

Earlier this week I had some minor surgery done. Doctors aren't entirely sure why I have scar tissue in my windpipe (probably some sort of reflux, but tests weren't conclusive), but there it is. Scar tissue can be cut away, but it always grows back and as it grows, my airway narrows and my breathing is affected. I also start to cough a lot to clear away junk that most of us don't think twice about - a healthy windpipe has teensy hair-like structures to help propel phlegm and crud up and out whereas scar tissue is smooth and those structures are absent. Exercise exertion seems to both help and serve as a canary in this coal mine, so we keep an eye on things through an uncomfortable scope procedure that I'm very grateful for, and every few years (it had been three this time; six weeks since the most recent scoping), I have to get my trachea "root-rootered." It's not fun, but it's pretty routine and low-key. Still - general anesthesia is not a joke, although I try to yuk it up as they get me ready. I was first diagnosed at Baptist Hospital (now called Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, but it's still "Baptist" to most North Carolinians) and I continue to go there for treatment. Yeah, it's a little out of the way from where I live now, but it's a top-notch teaching hospital and I make my living talking and teaching other people how to talk, so I'll keep going there thankyouverymuch.

Recovery from this procedure isn't too bad - everything is done with lasers, not scalpels, so there's very little blood or discharge - but I'm tired, sore, and achy for a few days and can't really do too much for myself for the first day and a half. (Interesting facts to support this point - anesthesia can make you super-cold and shivery for the first several hours post-discharge, the compression thingies they put on your legs to prevent clots can make your calves sore to the point of making walking uncomfortable for the first two days and your innards are likely to be strangely out of whack for two to three days.) While you're not covered up in bandages and bruises and stitches, your body's gone through some trauma and you're not exactly Little Miss Marathon.

Enter other people. Oh, let me explain just how much NOT an island I've been that last few days, for there is nothing (emphasize that - nothing) like being sick to make you appreciate other people. I can't list all the kindnesses I've received over the last five days or so, but let me try to capture the flavor of compassion.

  1. My surgeon cuts on Thursdays, so I had to miss a day or my turbo-speed summer school class. Far from celebrating "woo-hoo, teacher's gone!" my summer class made me a "get well" card on the sly to give me before I left for surgery last week. Totally spontaneous and heartfelt and I made sure it was propped on the dresser top so I could see it from the bed. 
  2. My parents went full-out Florence Nightingale for me. Every food that I even thought might be tasty they had in full supply. I go whole-hog Southern for my comfort food, so I've been consuming pimento cheese by the tubful and sweet tea by the half-gallon.
  3. My parents live in a century-old farmhouse, obviously built before air conditioning. The rooms are gracious, airy, and peaceful. I loved sitting on the breakfast porch and just watching the antics at the bird feeder. Plus, one night a doe came up out of the woods to graze in the pasture. Best kind of reality TV.
  4. Ensley tore up the road between our home and my childhood home, tending to our sick kitty (she's on antibiotics and won't come out for just anybody) then coming up to make sure I wasn't pushing things too hard the first few days.
  5. Having a little in my iTunes account to treat myself to gemstones in "Midnight Castle," a found-object game I spent a lot of time playing over the last couple of days. (Anybody playing that - friend me!)
  6. My minister - who's brand-new herself in town - kept up with me through social media and made sure to relay support and kind words.
  7. Friends.  Oh, friends. Neighbors who offered to look after the critters, Facebook friends from close by and across borders and oceans - I had dozens and dozens of people checking in on me, wanting to know if I was okay, if there was anything I needed. It feels good to know that I'm connected like this, not just drifting on the air currents like a discarded grocery bag.
  8. Being well enough to drive home, but still not have to do anything. Yes, there will be work tomorrow and errands and all the things that come with modern First World life and I'll be better suited to face them following three solid days of rest.

It's true - I'm not an island. I'm not even an peninsula or an isthmus. And what a wonderful thing that is. Think of it this way - you know who's truly independent? The poor schmo you see leaving the hospital in a cab. He can't drive himself and there's no one to pick him up, take him home, and get him settled, much less check in on him to make sure he's comfortable post-surgery. That's not independent; that's just sad.

Thanks to all who made sure I knew I wasn't an island.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Checking In - June!

First off, let's review - at the start of this year, I set five goals for myself, with the intention of making 2014 a true "makeover year." What were those again?
  1. I wanted to keep a neater house, feeling that cleanliness was next to impossible. I reasoned that my life would be calmer if I wasn't frantically searching for "stuff" in the morning.  And I hated spending the weekend cleaning the house or feeling guilty for not cleaning the house.
  2. Money's tight, but I wanted to stop using credit cards and live frugally, with the idea of whittling away at the household debt.
  3. I decided to watch 24 "good movies" that I really should have already seen.
  4. I wanted to read six "good books" that had slipped by me.
  5. I wanted to feel stronger, so I decided to train to participate in a 5K race this year. Thus, the "Dancing Sloth" was born.
Well, it's good to have goals and I have no shortage of them. But a funny thing happened this month. I got way off my goals and I discovered something that might just border on the profound.  See what you think.

The goals are going okay, I suppose. My summer classes begin next week, which means that my days become far more structured than June has been - a month during which I didn't work a single full week - so in a strange way, it's a good time to re-evaluate and re-commit. This past month, Ensley and I took a brief "staycation" and there was the gorgeous Slayage conference out in California (read about that here), among other life-affirming jaunts.  I wouldn't trade this past month for a gold monkey, but it's time to get back on the horse, so to speak. So where am I?
  1. I still have my basic routines for taking care of the house and I want to work the "zone" idea back into my routines, which I've let slide.
  2. Budgeting is on the list of "things to do" for next week. We've been living free and easy, which has played a bit of havoc with the budget goal, although we've been very good about keeping our hands off credit cards. (Not perfect - Slayage, don't you know - but very good.)
  3. I'm doing well on the movie challenge.  This month, I marked off three - Hitchcock's Psycho, Ford's Stagecoach, and Kurosawa's Red Beard. (You can read my thoughts about those here.) Another musical, Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George, is waiting for me. I seemed to have turned a corner there - there had been a couple that I just didn't like and it soured me for a while.
  4. The "good books" challenge, on the other hand, has slipped into a crevasse. I read four books in June (and one, Fannie Flagg's Fried Green Tomatoes should count, even if it's not on my list), but the heavy literature had to be put on hold while I dealt with a small brush fire of burnout. (Strangely enough, a really by-the-numbers romance novel helped a bit with that. Yeah, yeah - don't judge.)
  5. The 5K challenge - while the Dancing Sloth took some time off due to throat issues (being addressed mid-July) and burnout, she's back now! And a friend has me toying with a major challenge in that area. She's suggested we participate in next summer's Ramblin' Rose Triathlon. Now, it's not a hard-core Ironman sort of thing, but it is swimming, biking, and running - all on the same day. I don't own a bike and I haven't swum laps in years.  Still . . . and the fact I'm even thinking about this is amazing to me.
Now to the breakthrough. I'm not sure if this was the result of a long-simmering process the blossomed into a revelation or was more of a "burning bush" epiphany, but either way - it's a breakthrough.  Ready?  Here it is -

I'm not a sex kitten.

Sure, other people might have known that already, but it's new to me - and what a relief! Maybe it was that clothes-buying spree I wrote about in the last post, maybe it was hearing from so many people at Slayage that they enjoy reading my running posts, but all I know is that I have turned some sort of corner in my soul. Let me tell you, keeping up with the demands of the beauty industry is hard work at the best of times and our society never wants you to admit that you're not a coltish 22-year-old. I'm not, but that being fantastic is news to me. It's like this. I want to do these things - get strong by running and read good books and watch good movies and act like a grown-up with money and taking care of my house - for me. Not for my parents, not for my conference buddies or Facebook friends, not even for my incredibly loving husband, and certainly not for society at large, a sizable segment of which measures me simply on my "hotness" factor and has found me sorely lacking since I'm not that coltish 22-year-old (heck, I'm not even two 22-year-olds!). I wasn't even aware of how much I had been fighting that battle until this year but it's a relief to decide to stop. No, I have no intention of "letting myself go" and eating Nutella from the gallon jug for dinner. (Actually, that doesn't sound so bad . . .) But I'm not as beholden to the slick Photoshopped magazine covers and Internet clickbait that promise me I can lose those final 8 pounds by Tuesday (implying that I need to) and that they'll tell me what he really wants in bed (rather personal and how do you know my husband anyway?). I can't believe how much time I've wasted fretting over the size of my waist and my hips and how much power I've given a stupid number on a scale.

So, although this wasn't one of my original goals, I think it's important enough to report. I've got a new title now. I don't know what the IRS might think of seeing it on my taxes, but I'm a . . .

Sex Kitten - Retired.

I plan on having a great deal more fun on a regular basis, now that I have that knowledge. See, once you're living for you instead of what others think you ought to be, things get mighty interesting. I might put the fuchsia back into my hair. I might get henna tattoos. I might serve on the board of a nonprofit I'm interested in (already agreed to that, actually). I might demand crayons at my next faculty meeting. I don't entirely know how things might manifest, but I'm sure of this - Tasha Tudor was right.  Life is meant to be enjoyed; not saddled with. Eat well because you want to. Get a good night's sleep because you want to. Push yourself to jog to that next mailbox before you galumph back to a huffy, puffy walk because it feels good to push your body to do what it couldn't do two months ago. Insist on treating yourself well because you deserve it. And, for the love of all that's holy - make the world better because you deserve to make a difference. The size of your heart matters far more that the size of your hips.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Checking In - May!

Yes, this post is a little bit late and I'll let my previous post (centering on my college reunion) serve as both my explanation and my apology. But here I am, ready to check in and report on my progress through the merry month of May.

Let's recap - the ambitious goals I set to work on throughout the year were:
  • Keeping a tidier, less cluttered house. I just can't stand the chaos of "where that thing?" as I'm trying to dash out of the house. But I work full-time, on top of several other large scale projects this year, so this goal involved finding a happy medium of “clean and tidy” versus “doable.”
  • Money is a sore point with me – as it would be with anyone who has spent years clutching the trifecta ticket of frozen salaries, disrespect, and rising prices – so we decided (this decision had to be a “we” decision, so FryDaddy is in this one as well) to keep a realistic budget to lower our household debt.
  • To strengthen my body, I decided to train to participate in a 5K race sometime this year.
  • To improve my mind, I decided to read six "good books" that had slipped past me.
  • Also to improve my mind, I decided to watch 24 "good movies" that had slipped past me.
      To be honest, May wasn't a very good month, goal-wise. Between FryDaddy's graduation (no, I'm not calling him "master," in spite of the fact that he's got the funny sleeves), exam week, some required travel, and a host of other activities, it was a full-out crazy month. Lots of fun stuff going on there, but it seemed that everything took precedence over the goal-keeping. So what's that mean?
     Well, after a bit of a breakdown - I have a nasty tendency to see things as "keeping score" instead of "this is going to make things easier, but there will be setbacks" - I think I can report some success, although it's been more in this most recent week rather than in May. Therefore, I'm not going to talk about my set goals as much as I'm interested in talking about setbacks and how to approach them. After all, this is something I know a fair amount about.  (Read as - I know A LOT about setbacks!)
      Read this until you believe it:  the bad days and weeks and months are going to come. They just will. Unexpected expenses will crop up and play merry hell with your delicate budget and you'll think you're a failure because - golly gee, you could've saved money by recycling dryer lint into creative Halloween costumes but no, you had to go off and buy something. Food that's not especially good for you is cheaper and requires less prep work and it's tempting when the busy times strike. There's no time to clean and you can't settle down enough to concentrate on a "good read" and you just want to be entertained instead of watching a movie from your list. Nothing is working, you've gained ten pounds and you wonder what happened.

      At the risk of sounding like I have things held together with peace and calm instead of duct tape and the use of Anglo-Saxon words as adjectives (look, it's been a few weeks of me yelling at the cats, okay?), when nothing you're doing is working, do nothing. Just stop. Look around. Reassess your goals (seriously - I've had three different people advise me to skip Thoreau's Walden which was my scheduled book. So I decided to read Beloved instead and still haven't started it, although I've read six other things in this period of indecision) and make course corrections as needed. Growth is not constant - that's why we have winter. It's a time in the natural year to recover from expending all the energy it takes to grow, blossom, and harvest to hunker down and consider the Next Step. If it works for carrots and bears, why shouldn't it work for people? (That made more sense before I typed it. I'm still going with it.)

      For example, I went on a shopping trip with my mother this weekend. I mean a SHOPPING TRIP, the kind where you wind up with new everything. Here's the kicker - I asked my mom when the last time was that we did a trip like that. She carefully considered the timeline and said, "Right after you finished law school and took that job in South Carolina." 

      That was in 1998.

      So the deal was that I had to go through my closet and ruthlessly get rid of clothes that no longer worked. I just did that and it was hard - I want to think I'll be that size again and/or that I'll be able to wear that style again and it's hard to be realistic about that sort of thing. (And there were a few things that are getting thrown away rather than being given away - I'd crossed the line from "frugal" into "cheap." Shame on me.)  But I'd rather wear clothes that actually fit me instead of clothes that fit me in 1998 (and yes, I had still had some of those). I'll drop them off at Goodwill in just a little bit - the clothes will work for someone else and I believe in karmic concepts enough to think that giving away creates room in my own life for more good stuff to roll in. I'll get back to drinking water instead of diet soda and my other good habits. Sometimes life demands to be noticed more than the dust bunnies.

      It's okay. Really, it is.

Monday, June 2, 2014

On Women Coming Home

Yes, I owe you an end of month check-in post, but indulge me.  It's been a tough few weeks to be a woman.  Kitty Pryde's story was stripped away from her and given to Wolverine in Days of Future Past, which had me angry and bewildered, then Isla Vista happened and I was violently reminded that it's dangerous for women, even in a developed society such as the United States.  (Other countries, other dangers, but home isn't necessarily safe, either.  #YesAllWomen.)

I am the product of four years of all-female undergraduate education and, this past weekend, Hollins called me home.  It was reunion, an annual event during which amazing women head to a leafy campus near Roanoke, Virginia to laugh and reminisce and reflect and so on.  This was a big one for me - I suppose all reunions are big, but some birthdays are bigger than others.  My class was forged in flood during our first semester as freshmen when the Roanoke Valley was inundated by floodwaters, leaving us quite literally stranded on campus (this was in pre-cellphone days).  Power lines were down in standing water, we were fed cold sandwiches via canoe, and our parents were panicked.  It was an adventure and, like all adventures, it had large chunks of awful scattered throughout.  We had no electricity or water while stranded, classes were cancelled for three-plus weeks while the campus was made livable and during the final three weeks of that semester, we did six weeks of work, with classes running from 8 am to 11 pm. (Remember, this was pre-online classes.  By the way, it took ten years for the library to recover from the losses.  People frantically flung rare books into canoes, but not everything - not by a long shot - could be saved from the water and subsequent mold.)  I remember trying to read de Tocqueville's Democracy in America in my hometown library for my history survey class while being distracted as all get-out.  It was my first time living away from home and I was struggling to find where I fit in at college and now I'd been sent home.  So many other girls at college seemed confident and self-assured and I was this skinny, unsure country mouse scurrying around all these brash butterflies who seemed to soar effortlessly.

How little we know.  Everyone's struggling.  Absolutely.  Everyone.  You just sometimes can't see it.

Since it was a "big reunion," our senior pictures had been printed on our name tags.  When I picked mine up, I gazed at the picture of that girl for a long moment.  I remember that picture - I hated it back then. My hair looked terrible that day and my face was round as a peasant's, and I could go on and on.  But when I looked at that picture on my name badge, what struck me was how gorgeous I was.  I look confident and happy and - seriously - gorgeous.  And it wasn't just me - I noticed that time and again looking at the name tags of friends who were also at reunion.  We're so hard on ourselves.  We focus on the pimple that sprung up on our nose, or the hair that won't curl the way we want it to, and we're sure that it's all anyone will see and we forget that's not us; it's just what we look like when the shutter clicked.

Hollins is the reason I look that way in that picture.  No, Hollins didn't make me who I am; I had a large part to play in that, as did some good friends, some good experiences, and (to be strictly honest) some bad ones.  In that picture, I'm not who I am now, but I'm starting to be her.  And let's be clear - I like her.

What did Hollins do for me?  Hmm - so much I could write to answer that, but let me tell just one story.  When I was at Hollins, I was a theatre major.  Coming from a high school that didn't have so much as a drama club, that still amazes me.  Since I graduated, the theatre has undergone major renovations, as has the program as a whole.  During some unstructured time over the weekend, I wandered into the building I spent the most time in during my years at college just wanting to once again be in the place that helped form me.  (Theatre people are notorious for skulking around places.  We're like mongooses - we "run and find out.")  As I slipped in, I was greeted by a man who turned out to be a theatre faculty member.  We chatted for a minute and he asked if I was on campus for reunion.  I replied that I was and that I had been a theatre major, so I was curious to see the building, if he didn't mind me nosing about.  He smiled broadly and said words that brought a sudden sting of tears to my eyes:

"Welcome home."

And this, Fair Readers, is what a college should do.  This man, who didn't know me from Adam's housecat and who had work of his own to do, dropped everything to give me a tour of my old stomping grounds, proudly showing off how the renovations had added to - probably doubled - that available space.  See, it's all well and good to talk about how a college is a community and is a family and is whatever other emblem and metaphor you want to use.  But the proof is in the action.

You want a world with strong, confident women who will work like rented mules to make the world a better, fairer place?  Hollins.  Seek it out.  Visit.  And yes, support it.  You could easily do worse - you're unlikely to do better.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Shh! The Secret Plan Hollywood Doesn't Want You to Know About!

 Like many women, I have occasionally fallen prey to splashy headlines that promise maximum results for minimum effort.  The chirpy vow of "Lose 2 Sizes in 5 Days!" has caused my hand to stretch out almost without conscious effort more than once.  Not just dieting headlines, either - "Organize Instantly!" and "Just Exercise 5 Minutes a Day!" also draw my attention.

Well, it's a bad habit.  A nasty, ugly, bad habit and it stops today.

There are a lot of things I want to change and in the past, I've tried to change them all at once, without bothering to figure out why I do some of the wacky things I do in the first place.  See, I tend to overdo, which (in my case, anyway) leads to an inevitable crash and burn cycle.  Give me strict dietary rules and I'll follow 'em like a lab rat - until I get desperately tired of hot water with lemon before I've washed my face.  So I skip the green tea one morning and go straight for the dollar store candy.  Or I feel a vague sense of "am I kidding me?" at sneaking baby carrots into the movie theater and go for the blue raspberry slushie.  (Seriously - "blue raspberry"?  What is that, exactly?)  Or I miss a "run day" and feel like a slightly more stylish version of Jabba the Hutt.  Or I fail to pick up the kitchen counter one evening and feel like the whole house is due to be condemned by the Board of Health.  And I feel large, unwieldy, unworthy, and sad.

In the last few weeks, I've slowed down enough to take a good look around.  Here's a sampling of the things I found out.

  • I stress eat.  And not salads.  I can do something about that.
  • I'm not very good at this running stuff. I can do something about that.
  • A house is messy when someone moves back into it.  I can do something about that.
  • Working too hard for too long will lead to Bad Things and yes, I can do something about that.
  • Good relationships don't keep score about who folded the laundry and I can definitely do something about that.

What to me is an epiphany is often to other people a moment of, "Well, yeah."  By demanding that I simultaneously excel in all aspects of my life, I've set myself up to fail at just about all of them. Blasted perfectionism - I thought you and I had had a talk about that, but no.  I bought in to the glossy magazine pictures, forgetting that Photoshop has a lot to do with those pictures and stylists have a lot to do with the rest.  In short, it seems that I've been as crazy as a rat in a coffee can.

So here's my headline - I'm calling this my WILD NEW SUMMER PLAN to Energize Your Life, Love Yourself, Look Great (and Have your House Look Great, Too!)

Really, the whole thing can all be summed up as ENJOY MORE! but in keeping with the whole glossy magazine, self-help thingie, here's my simple 10-step plan to get there:

  • Drink more plain ol' water, but remember that a Diet Coke twice a week or so isn't criminal.
  • Eat more foods that haven't been processed to the point of being unrecognizable, but it's okay to have that mini-bagel as part of breakfast.  In other words, don't throw out edible food just due to the presence of white flour, but buy better next time.
  • Cut out the crap candy and enjoy - just a little! - really good dark chocolate.
  • Run anyway.  Sure, my goal of a 40 minute 5K is a small one, but that doesn't mean it's not worth reaching.
  • Mark something off the "take care of the house" list five days a week even if it's just flicking the feather duster around while boogie-ing to Earth, Wind & Fire.  Yes, it'll make the cats run and hide, but that's really their problem, isn't it?
  • No one's calling Hoarders about the dust bunnies.
  • I'm a full-growed woman, which means I have curves and yes, sags.  Ignore the scale and remember that the only "hotness" reading that ought to matter to me comes from FryDaddy, who thinks I'm pretty gosh-darned keen. Just as well - I'd probably break a 20-year-old, anyway.  So fragile.
  • Speaking of FryDaddy - he's moved home, so why not enjoy having him there? Checking work e-mails with my morning coffee isn't a good way to start the day, so stop it.
  • When I'm berating myself for not measuring up to whatever wackadoodle standard I'm trying to use, stop and ask myself, "Would I let some stranger talk to my best friend that way?" If the answer is "no," then I need to stop talking to myself like that.
  • Spend some time every morning and every evening just being still.  I've got more than the average amount of gifts in my life to be grateful for, and it's polite to pay attention.
Will this plan make me a Zen lama in a kickin' bikini?  Nope.  (Funny mental image, though.)  But I'm starting to really believe that being Real might just be better.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Checking In - April!

Back at the start of the year, I decided that 2014 was the Year to Get Calm (not as trendy as the “Year of the Horse,” but what can a girl do?) and, while that was/is a truly worthy goal, I had to figure out just what that meant.  How could I increase calm and joy in my life, which is often a madcap whirl through the backstage of the circus sideshow?  After some heavy pondering, (and you can read the reasoning behind it, along with the books and movies on my list, here), I decided on five long-term goals for the year, which are:
  • Until May, I have a commuter marriage as FryDaddy finishes graduate school.  That means a lot of travelling while teaching college full time, so the house gets short shrift.  I needed to find a happy medium of “clean and tidy” versus “doable,” so I decided to work "zone cleaning" into my housekeeping.
  • Money is a sore point with me – don’t get me started on frozen salaries – so I decided (this decision had to be a “we” decision, so FryDaddy is in this one as well) to keep a realistic budget to lower our household debt.
  • To strengthen my body, I decided to train to participate in a 5K race sometime this year.
  • To improve my mind, I decided to read six "good books" that had slipped past me.
  • Also to improve my mind, I decided to watch 24 "good movies" that had slipped past me.

It’s an interesting report this month. There’s been huge success, but I’m learning that you can’t maintain everything at "Level Ultra" all the time. Here’s the valuable part of that lesson – IT’S OKAY TO SLIP! As the sportscasters say, let’s go to the tape.

The 5K goal has been reached!  (Yay, cheer, crowd goes wild!) About two weeks ago, I “jobbled” my first 5K and had a blast – please read the previous post for details. I plan to keep running, but this was also my first lesson in “Level Ultra.” Truly, there’s only so much time in the day and, while I’m MUCH better about carving out a sliver or two to take better care of myself, some days you just can’t fit in a run. That is especially true as the end of the semester nears. Also, while reaching this goal has given me the kick I needed to make some changes to my diet as well – again, you can’t always live at Level Ultra.  I hate that a number on a scale has so much power over me, so I finally (with FryDaddy’s loving assistance) got up the courage to try saying, “Take a hike!” to the scale. This will probably be an ongoing issue with me, as it feels almost weird to not be freaking out over scales and numbers and lists, but I’m really trying to focus on eating real food, drinking plenty of fresh water, and exercising regularly, while remembering that food is more than mere fuel.
Also a lesson in “Level Ultra” – just after the 5K challenge wrapped up, FryDaddy and I were thrust into book launch madness.  (Oh, you didn’t know we wrote a book?  Allow me to enlighten you – click here, buy the book, then tell all your friends who enjoyed Breaking Bad that they need the book, too!  And tweet about it!  And write a nice review!) Remember, while all of this is going on, we’re both still swamped in our everyday responsibilities.  Yeah, April’s been nutso.  

So with all that going on - how did the housekeeping challenge come out?  Well . . . really good, in a way.  Because I’d been working at this for the better part of a year, routines were (mostly) in place, so when I had days where I had to skip things, the house didn’t fall apart.  Mind you, it needs a solid clean and I’ll do that in my usual FlyLady 15 minutes a day, five days a week, once things calm down next week. No, it’s not perfect, but I’m not flipping out over it, which I view as a triumphant success.

The budget. It’s funny how trudging along can suddenly lead to a “wow” moment.  For me, that came with the windfall of a tax refund. FryDaddy and I waited a few days, then sat down with our debt list and allocated money in several categories. Some bills were comfortably paid and another debt has a big, honking red Sharpie line drawn through it as we eradicated it from our list of burdens.  Wow, indeed! (I still want to be a brat and go dance in the rain with wads of cash, so please – buy a book or three! Available for purchase at Amazon, Books-A-Million, Barnes & Noble and any place quality books are sold!)

Good books – Finally finished Dumas' The Three Musketeers, which was a flowery romp.  His language is so florid and extreme that I skimmed a bit and sometimes had to put it down to pick up something else, but I enjoyed it.  The next book is going to be Thoreau’s Walden and I’ll start that soon.  Again – must get to the end of the semester first.

Good movies – This month I went in some interesting directions.  In addition to movies from my list (the Astaire/Rogers confection Top Hat and Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal), I also started going to a local performance space that features classic movies on Thursdays for the princely sum of two dollars.  I took in the original Tarzan and my very first Shirley Temple picture (The Little Princess).  Quite a month for movies!  Let’s see – Tarzan made me cheer for the crocodiles (seriously – that movie’s depiction of non-Europeans is just awful.  I know, I know – the time it was made, yaddayaddayah.  It’s still awful), Little Princess made me appreciate Technicolor, Top Hat has a tissue paper-thin plot, but you forgive that for its sheer loveliness, and Dark Crystal I’m just too old to see for the first time. 

A good month.  Quite possibly made better by having to acknowledge that I can’t live at “Level Ultra” and have all areas of my life run purring-smooth at all times.

On to May!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Race Day!

As regular readers of this blog know, I set some rather large goals for 2014 - "large" in terms of changing some ingrained habits.  I've been checking in here with progress reports every couple of weeks, both as a way to stay accountable, even when I get off track (instead of doing the much easier thing, which is to slink off into the shadows), and also as a way to hopefully encourage other people to take the plunge.  To paraphrase Buffy Summers, the problem with change is that after you do it, everything is changed.  We often don't really want to do that. Change is hard and it can be uncomfortable, so sometimes, even if our habits aren't especially good ones - well, we know what to expect.

One of my goals was to increase my exercise level this year and I knew this was going to be a tough one.  I've long been a walker and a day-hiker, and I've tried my hand at everything from swimming to spinning, but nothing's ever really stuck.  But I have friends who regularly post about their exercise journeys - deadlifting, running, triathlons (!), roller derby - the list goes on and on. Also - let's face it - I'm getting older and it's harder to stay in shape.  At 20, a couple of nights of dancing and I'd drop four pounds.  Now, I have a much more sedentary lifestyle - I love writing and teaching, but you don't exactly burn calories while you do it and pounds are much more stubborn than they were once-upon-a-time.

So back on Christmas Eve, I committed to my goal of "participating in a 5K race."  My rules were simple - I didn't have to actually run the whole thing, but I had to finish and the race had to be held sometime in 2014.  That was it.  I found a "Couch to 5K" app and podcast and began what I called "training" and some would probably call "seriously?" Due to a subglottic stenosis (a fancy way of saying I have scar tissue in my trachea), getting enough wind for a sustained run was (and continues to be) an issue.  And I'm not sure I'd recommend beginning to train in the dead of winter.  But I did it.  Three times a week, I'd bundle up, plug in, and lumber my way through my (extremely hilly) neighborhood or around a track.  Let me be clear - I didn't always like it.  I had days I wanted to skip.  I had nights I was sore and achy.  I was slow.  It took me longer than the 8 weeks laid out in the podcast, as I had weeks I needed to repeat to feel confident that I was ready to move up to the next level. But I kept going.  Even if I grumbled about it, I kept going.  I began packing my running shoes when I was away from home and slowly, I saw improvement.  At the start of January, two minutes of slow jogging was hard; in mid-March, I could do more than 20 at a go and eventually, that was up to a half hour.  (I felt like a rockstar when that happened, by the way.  I also nearly cried, which rockstars probably don't do.  This was a big goal and I think every week I did at least one training session convinced that I couldn't do this.)

When I reached the next-to-last week of the podcast training, I signed up for my first 5K and my friends backed me up ferociously.  I had "atta girls" and signs of support galore.  Friends made me a race t-shirt and helped me knot a tutu.  My beloved husband never said a word that wasn't supportive and encouraging.  The only dissenting voice in this whole thing was - well, it was mine.  Luckily, I had enough support to tell that voice to shut up and take a hike.

For my first (but not my last!) 5K, I picked a "color run," which is an untimed race on a flat course, with "color stations" set up at different points.  As you pass through the color stations, volunteers spray/toss brightly colored cornstarch on you and at the end of the race, there's a dance party in front of the main stage where you fling your own pack of color into the air.  It's messy, silly, and joyously fun.  I saw little girls in pink tutus.  I saw grown women in sequined tutus.  I saw large men in small tutus.  I saw kids being pushed in strollers and one woman in a wheelchair.  I saw runners and walkers and joggers and limpers. And everyone was welcome.  Everyone.  A little kid complimented me on my homemade tutu and an off-duty cop keeping order on the route slapped my hand in respect of me running my first 5K.  I was covered in purple cornstarch - I even had it on my teeth.  And yeah, I had to walk a little of it here and there - but I finished.

Me. I. Finished. A. Five. Kilometer. Race.

What was my time?  Not a clue.  Somewhere between 35 and 50 minutes, I think.  There will be other races where I worry about the time. And yes - I'm going to keep running.  I'd like to improve my time and my form and - oh, everything.  I've found running (jogging, wobbling, whatever) to be very contemplative.  It really is just you, your head, and the road.

Consider giving it a try.