Thursday, January 29, 2015

A few words about my running

When I was in eighth grade, I got this hair-brained idea to join the track team. I was currently a dancer—ballet, tap, and jazz—but not an athlete in the traditional sense. This notion was coming out of nowhere.

I remember I was in Suzette's basement slumber partying it, when I made my announcement and the room about imploded. I was skinny then like I am now, and my friends were convinced that this would kill me. It makes me smile to think about it now, but at the time it ticked me off and it cemented my resolve.

What I didn't know at the time was that those months on the team were going to be my first brush with divine intervention.

I do not remember how it was decided that I would be a long distance runner. Our first meet was at the high school track in town. My parents were there cheering me on into last place.

We got home and standing in the kitchen my mom announced that she'd been to the doctor that day and they'd found a lump...

On her lung.

It wasn't cancer, but it needed to be removed and surgery would be in a few days. The room nearly imploded again.

Here's the divine intervention: Track practice, my friends on the team, the bus rides to other schools kept my mind busy through my mom's unbelievable diagnosis, tortuous surgery, and painstaking recovery.

I cry thinking about Katie's mom. I'd hear her voice yelling my name. She cheered me on as a proxy for my mom who was recuperating at home.

The season came to a close. I never placed. I came in last or second to last. Every. Single. Time.

But I showed up. I was at every practice. I listened to the coaches. I did the work. That's the gist of the speech the coaches made to the entire team when our season was over. All these years later, I feel good about showing up, persevering, and not doing it just for the win. I am also grateful that it helped me moderate my worries over having a sick parent.

It was with some trepidation that I put the 5k race on the 4040 list. There would be RUNNING. A LONG DISTANCE. Why was I agreeing to do this again when the first time hadn't been particularly successful?

Well, I like a challenge. I know hard things are good for me. And I loved the idea of my beloved, funny, endearing brother-in-law (B-I-L) agreeing to run it with me. I cried when he confirmed he would run or walk the entire race by my side instead of meeting me at the finish line.

I've completed a week's worth of the Couch 2 5k training runs.

My first run was at an unfamiliar park near the home I was house/teen/dog sitting.

I have three words for that first run: Hills, Wind, Mud. I uttered other words that day, but I'll let your imagination fill those in.

My second run was at a local high school track. It seemed easy compared to the boot camp nature of the first run. The sunshine seduced me into believing it was warmer than it was, so my fingers froze, but otherwise it was a great run. I hit a point when it got hard, and instantly I heard my B-I-L's words encouraging me. I smiled and kept going. I also thought a lot about my 8th grade track career. My middle school self is a good role model for me today. Show up. Do the work.

The third run took place on the black top and front sidewalks of my daughter's elementary school. I need to squeeze in some more running in between the weekend runs if I'm going to be in shape for the May 2 race. I'm also trying to stay ahead of any inclement weather that comes our way.

Lighting is the issue after we get home from work and school. The track wasn't accessible. The parks close at sundown. But there's reasonable lighting at school. My daughter ran and walked and exercised her role as Brownie when a community band member needed help with the door. The band practices in her cafeteria and he was trying to push a timpani through the door.

I did laps. I wore mittens.

I love this list. I love the challenges I've set for myself. I cannot wait for May 2.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

# 26 Go to Meramec Caverns. Check.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, my office was closed and Cadence, L, and T (our teen friends we were staying with) were out of school. I'd already completed my first 5k training run, done my daily sun salutations, read some more of Andrew Jackson's biography (which gets me closer to 2015's prez reading), and crossed of my bread pudding from the list. It seemed the day off was an excellent time to knock off another item.

Cadence was the only one of the quartet who had been to Meramec Caverns. On our drive down Hwy. 44, she repeatedly recounted the bumpy ride to the caverns that took place on the school bus during her summer camp trip. Everyone, including the teachers, were miserable on this bumpy, bumpy ride. Did I mention it was uncomfortable and bumpy? She also warned me that I needed to wear appropriate shoes because the caves were “buttery.” She meant slippery, but I like the butter reference best.

We had about 20 minutes to wait for the next tour, so the four of us scoped out the gift shop. I was thrilled to discover that they had travel pins (which I collect) so already this trip was off to a good start.

I really didn't have any expectations. I hadn't seen any photos of the caverns until I was looking at the postcards in advance of our tour. The photos do not do the vast open spaces justice.

The tour lasted just over an hour and we walked a mile and a quarter.

I was impressed with the tour guide's information and presentation. Here are a few fun facts:

Missouri is known as the Cave State, home to more than 6,000 surveyed caves.
The cave system was introduced to the public as a tourist attraction in 1933 by Lester B. Dill, who invented the bumper sticker as a means of promoting the caves.
During the Civil War the Confederates owned the caves, but Union soldiers used the space. When the Confederates learned this, they hired 13-year-old Jesse James to kill the Union soldiers.
It takes 75 years for stalagtites and stalagmites to grow one cubic inch.
Mnemonic device for which is stalagtite and stalagmite: 'tites hang tightly from the top; 'mites hurt mighty bad if you sit on one.

Having a 13 year-old-boy made history come alive for all of us as we discussed Jesse James and his young age when he carried out the Confederates' job of killing Union soldiers. We couldn't wrap our minds around his youth as well as how in the world he and his gang navigated the enormous spaces in the pitch blackness.

It was an even better excursion than I could have imagined and am so glad I put it on the list.

37 items to go.

Introducing my Helper-Fans

Warning: What you are about to read is essentially like reading my journal.

There won't be much organization. I will jump from thought to thought. Come to think of it, it will likely feel like you are actually sitting TALKING with me.

I digress.

I am grateful to my "helper-fans" (we'll start calling them HFs) who are encouraging this new writing life I have taken up. I got a message from one of my devoted HFs who said, "Um, need some more blog entries, please."

My blog has been quiet for a few days because I am getting up at 5:55 every morning (generally not on weekends) and writing a page a day of a fiction idea I got a few weeks ago. It's kind of like a bet I've made with myself and a few other HFs who BELIEVE I can do this.

Well, damn, it appears I can. For years I told myself that I didn't have a story to tell. Whatever I came up with wouldn't be believable. blah blah blah. Boring downer stuff.

I'm over that and am writing a book. It will be my first AND NOT MY LAST.

I texted a friend the other and said, "I am doing what I am supposed to be doing when I write."

He wrote back, "Truth."

It seemed like such a simple sentence, but four days later, it may be the most important thing I've ever written.

Every morning I put on my writing uniform: GAP sweater I bought on sale two weeks ago, black and silver ring on my right hand, and earbuds in my ears. These thing signal to my brain that words must issue forth and flow out of my finger tips. It is working.

What is NOT working is listening to iTunes Weekly Top 50 radio as I write. It took me an hour to fill my page. I downloaded 9 songs. I became manic.

This morning I returned to listening to Ingrid Michaelson again and things proceeded more calmly.

I am looking at the clock and must wrap this up since I am not a full-time writer of my own stuff, yet.

Let me leave you with this:

Set some goals.

Dream Bigger than it seems reasonable to dream.

Find people who will cheer you on from the sidelines.

There is a new energy coursing through me because of my daily practices of writing, yoga, and believing new things about myself.

I'll write again soon. I've got some breathing and sun saluting to do before I head to work.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Shift - Reflections on #7 on the 40/40 list

About three weeks before my 40/40 list was scheduled to start, I was talking to one of my beloved yoga teachers, Sarah, about #7 on the list: Four Sun Salutations a Day. She was very encouraging when I expressed some reluctance about four a day for 365 days. My hesitation came from the fact that until that appointed time, I had not been doing ANY regular yoga at home.

She talked to me about how four was a really good, doable number with which to start. And she talked about The Shift. Sarah told me that there would come a point when a shift happened and things would just fall into place. I could feel the excitement of such a nebulous wonderful future event. I really wanted some things to fall into place in various areas of my life.

I have been doing four sun salutations for 18 days. During yesterday morning's practice as Cadence whined about being tired and not wanting to do them (even though she continued) I kept breathing and moving during her fuss. Depending on when we wake up, some mornings' practices are a bit rushed, but yesterday I didn't want to stop at four. If time had allowed I could feel my body, heart, and mind craving more.

Over the weekend with our schedule disrupted, we did our salutations in the evening twice. And there was something delicious about stretching and reaching right before bed. When we returned home to our regular routine, I considered switching our salutations to the evening. I heard myself say, “But I'd miss it in the morning then.”

Last night after the rest of the household was settled in for the night, I went back to my mat and did three more sun salutations. My legs felt sore, but they were straighter than they've been lately. My chatarangas are strong (I couldn't have imagined that possibility two years ago), and my breathing was calming.

I love how quickly this daily practice has become something that I not only look forward to but actually crave. I love that my mat will be my constant companion wherever I go in all of 2015. Chances are good that this practice will evolve into a life-long one.

I couldn't imagine when Sarah talked about The Shift what that would look and feel like for me, but in just three weeks time, I know it's taking effect.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

#2 Make Bread Pudding. Check.

I added baking bread pudding to my 40/40 list because it's a recipe I remember my paternal grandmother making when I was a child. She left out the raisins from the recipe because she knew I abhorred the nasty dried fruit. I've meant to make it over the years, but never have. Whatever is put on the list is guaranteed to be achieved, and thus the bread pudding was added early on.

I found a “fancy” raspberry bread pudding recipe online. I chose this past weekend to bake it because I was teen/dog/house sitting for some dear friends and their fifteen-year-old daughter, T, is an exceptional baker in her own right. I thought it would be a fun activity to do together, and I also knew she'd know what to do if I needed help. Cadence helpfully added, “T's a better cooker than you, isn't she, mama?” Um, yes, this is a fact. T IS a better cooker.

T is also likely a better shopper.

The plan was that I would leave my yoga class, and dash into Aldi's on the way back to my temporary home for the weekend. The dash quickly turned into this ridiculous scenario. I didn't have a quarter for Aldi's shopping cart. I thought that there'd be no problem. Just a handful of ingredients and I'd be on my way...

I reached the dairy coolers and got stumped. Is Heavy Whipping Cream the same as the Heavy Cream my recipe called for? I texted Nicole. Then I asked a lovely shopper with a southern drawl. She was perplexed like me, but thought yes, it is the same. I texted my mom who confirmed she thought they were the same.

The next text to my mother was to make the “how many pints are in a quart?” conversion. While I awaited her response I queried another set of shoppers. It took four of us plus one long-distance mom to determine that OMG this recipe was going to give us a heart attack or instant high cholesterol. I needed SIX PINTS of heavy whipping cream! Now my arms are holding two loaves of Italian Bread, a container of apple juice, and there is no lady-like way that my arms can carry these six cartons! People are waiting for me to sort this out, and finally one of the conversion helpers runs to my aid. We grab a box in the cooler since I need so many cartons and she helps me load it all in so that the chaos can stop, and so the rest of Aldi's shoppers can resume their previously scheduled shopping.

The next few minutes are spent with me walking around and around the store looking for another freezer that must be hiding the frozen raspberries. When I find no additional cooler, I return to the berry section and read the signs slowly. Mixed berries AND raspberries should be found here. I set down the box of imbalanced groceries on the floor, get down on my hands and knees and rummage through the fruit boxes. With some scrounging, I find two bags of raspberries. Whew!

The first lady who helped me with the heavy cream vs. heavy whipping cream question passes me whilst I'm still on the floor raspberry picking and asks if she can help me. I was struggling with yoga-weakened legs to get up off the floor in a jean skirt and pick up this crazy box of ingredients. I smiled and said no thank you.

I make it to the check out, swipe my debit card, and that damn thing gets declined. Like after each of four attempts. The kind young checker says she'll suspend my sale while I run to the ATM. This whole time I'm thinking, “This would make for hilarious television, following me around like a fool.” I also remember what my yoga teacher had told us just minutes before: Yin yoga teaches us how to not lose our cool when we find ourselves in difficult circumstances. Thank goodness for that nugget in today's class because I am calm, laughing at the situation, and staying composed.

I drive to the ATM in the shopping complex only to realize that my debit card was declined BECAUSE I DIDN'T GIVE HER MY DEBIT CARD. I handed her a different card, but didn't think to check it whilst I was at the register. I withdrew money anyway and returned to the store. I stood in line chatting with one of the friendly helpers of the great pint inquiry and then paid for my ingredients. Twenty-three dollars later, I was ready to make this pudding.


Cadence and T and I could not get over how much cream and sugar were required. T and Cadence read the recipe aloud to me and we leisurely made our way through the process. There was great discussion about how much bread to actually add to the creamy mixture. We decided to stick with the recipe. I chose Italian Bread because I thought it would be more absorbent than other kinds given that I didn't have time to “age” the bread.

While we were waiting the thirty minutes for the bread to soak up the ocean of cream, we played UNO.
The recipe was easy to follow and didn't take long. I spooned in the cream-absorbed bread and added the raspberry and sugar layer the spooned the remaining bread over the raspberries. There was A LOT of cream remaining. After some pro-ing and con-ing, T and I decided we'd pour some of the cream over the layers in the 9 x 13 pan.

While the yummy recipe baked in the oven, we prepared the completely unnecessary vanilla sauce. The recipe called for three sticks of butter, flour, and vanilla and asked me to heat the butter and flour together until we achieved a “nutty aroma.” Readers, THIS is one of the many reasons I have not previously been comfortable in the kitchen. I do not have a reliable sense of smell. What the heck is a nutty aroma and how will I know when I've achieved it? Thank goodness, T was with us.

We happily pulled the pudding out of the oven. My favorite quote of the night is when T said, “We're gonna be eatin' on this for days!” The pan WAS so full of this sweet berry concoction. T and Cadence had never had bread pudding and were pleasantly surprised by the final product.

I'm especially glad to have chosen a fancier version of the old stand by, and am certain that I can recreate the recipe with less cream and sugar and net the same delicious results.

#2 on the list is complete and our taste buds absolutely approve!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Revising the stories we tell ourselves

I had an early morning skype session with Tammy. We were friends in high school, and technology reconnected us in adulthood. Our friendship feeds me in ways that are hard for me to express. Our mutual affection for each other has reinforced the idea that sameness is not an essential element in relationship. We are better friends because of our differences. Our differences are fiercely and mutually protected by the other, and I love it. We laugh and cry. We commiserate about our spirited daughters and her wise-beyond-years son. We message each other with prayer requests. We are full-service friends. The only downside is that a ten-hour drive separates us.

This morning's conversation focused on a paper she's writing for her master's. We were talking modern vs. post-modern, the Fall, original sin, Jesus, you know, light fare. We were both teacher and student to the other. The conversation moved on and we began talking about how my 4040 list is filling me and how my new daily writing habit is changing me. She said, “I'm going to be that friend that says: I TOLD YOU SO!”

And then...

“I'm having so much fun watching this happen to you. I've always known you were a writer—even in high school. It's so fun watching you figure it out.” Stop, wait, what?!?

I asked her to reflect on that a bit more and a beautiful story poured forth. She reminded me of Mrs. Deeg's composition class we'd had together. She talked about how seriously I'd taken our assignments and how even then, she knew I was a writer. She described my work as polished even in rough draft form. She reminded me that we had to trade essays and read each other's work. She told me that my writing ability had been slightly intimidating. She told me that she tells people about her friend Julie, The Writer.

And then I started to cry. The friends who “knew us when” have such a gift to offer our older selves.

I cried because the truth of her words resonated. I HAVE been a writer all this time. I just needed time to settle into what that meant for me. I cried because this friend is BRILLIANT. She and our other friends were the SMART ones. The National Honor Society kids. I cried because I was the dumb one in the group.

And then she said, “No, Julie, you weren't the dumb one. You were the writer in the group.” And my heart healed a little. I can accept that revision to the story I always told myself. I was different than our other friends. My love of words set me apart, but did not cast me out. I just marched to a different beat, and those friends loved me.

It is a gift to get to see yourself as others who love you see you. It's a greater gift when you begin to believe the story they are telling.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Word Nerd Word of the Day

One day in middle school, I stood at the locker with my best friend. I said something to her and she said, “Could you please speak English? I have no idea what that word you just used means.” This was the first of many times when my vocabulary became a topic of conversation. While I was mildly embarrassed, I was more confused. I had no idea where these words came from. I knew I used the word correctly. I loved reading, and collected words like others collected trinkets. I still love reading and writing words—a characteristic that slipped into my DNA courtesy of my paternal grandmother.

Thesaurus became a bit of a moniker (nickname) over the years. I loved it actually. I was proud of my vocabulary and the connection it made for me with my grandmother. Please be assured that I never used big words to show off or to sound uppity. That might have been a result, but it was never my intent. Words just intrigued me, entertained me, and helped me make sense of the world around me.

Today's word of the day, however, has got me thinking differently about word choice.


Its definition is a disastrous fire or conflict. The following sentence is the context in which I found the word in my presidential biography reading (page 196 of Jon Meacham's American Lion.) “Mrs. Eaton's affair, at the beginning, was but a spark, but what a conflagration it did cause,” she said.” The word nerd in me loves the sentence that follows for the word play Jon Meacham achieved. “Mrs. Smith had personal reasons to look forward to a bonfire.” See what he did? If you know what conflagration means as you read it the first time, then you can appreciate his reference to a bonfire.

It seems that these presidential biographers have humongous vocabularies and regularly employ them. As a writer, I'm aware of the importance of writing clearly for the reader's understanding. So here's where the conflagration (conflict) comes in for me. The sentence above would have been clearer if Mr. Meacham had simply written “what a conflict it did cause.” Then I wouldn't have needed to pull the dictionary off the shelf and hence slowed the progress of my reading. But on the flip side, I love using my dictionary and thesaurus.

Writer pauses to think of next thought, and this is what occurs to her:

Readers! It just dawned on me: HE didn't choose the word! His source did! See the “she said.” Whoever SHE was made the choice to use conflagration, not Mr. Meacham. But he had the genius to use bonfire in the next sentence!

Whew! He's off the hook for word choice—this time. And I'm going to keep loving and looking up and using big words. But I have a new appreciation for how my friend felt while we stood at our lockers. Moving forward, I'll give more consideration to my word choices.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Rambling Post about Andy and Anne

The Presidential reading is moving slowly. In an insomniac's two hours, I was recently able to read more than two chapters. It didn't put me to sleep as quickly as I had anticipated, which in terms of getting my reading done is good. But my sleep and restfulness suffered. By 8:30 last night, I was spent.

I have put a lot of reading on my bucket list. Andrew Jackson's bio doesn't count as my four bios because it was my plan to have it finished before the end of the year. Anne of Green Gables will be quicker reading except for the fact that I introduced it to Cadence in a desperate attempt to get her week's quota of reading complete on Sunday night. I began reading it aloud to her, and to my astonishment, it kept her interest (it also put her to sleep, which this mama says is NOT a bad thing!) She asked for a second helping the next night.

The first night it took me awhile to get into the rhythm of reading it aloud, but once I did, Marilla and Mrs. Rachel began emerging from the page. At one point my rendition was authentic enough to make my child laugh! She looked at me and said, “Is it going to be hilarious like this the rest of the time?” I smiled and told her yes. It will be funny and sad throughout.

I was introduced to Anne of Green Gables in sixth grade. Our reading teacher, Mrs. Young, told us that we were going to do something fun when the gifted kids left for their “fun.” I'm so glad I got to stay and watch the movie. This character and her story became imprinted on my mind and heart, and I have loved her ever since.

I like the idea of me introducing Cadence to beloved Anne. She wasn't like all the other girls or kids of her time, and she found a way to forge a path for herself. That is one of the themes of her story that comforted me as an awkward, self-conscious tween all those years, and endures today as I at 40 am still forging my own way. Cadence isn't like other girls in her own ways. I wonder how Anne will resonate for her.

I hope the story can keep Cadence captivated for all 309 pages, and that I don't get impatient and resist the temptation to read ahead. Anne gets into a lot of crazy antics in this first volume. It would make for great conversation with my own little spitfire. I want this story to spark Cadence's “scope for imagination” as Anne says repeatedly and to know she can do anything and everything she sets her mind to. That would be a great by-product of this 40/40 list.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Yoga Chatter - An Update

I have done a week's worth of sun salutations toward my goal of four a day for an entire year. The trepidation about being able to add this to my daily routine and sustain it has evaporated. It has quickly become a beautiful way to start my day.

I have an old 2012 Audrey Hepburn calendar that I am using to jot brief notes about each day's practice. I'm keeping track of the progress toward straight legs in my forward bends, the level of pain I feel in said forward bends, as well as the state of my chatarangas (the pose lowering my body in plank to the floor.) So far I haven't had to do the modified chataranga using bent legs, which means my upper body strength is building.

The surprise of this practice is that on day 5 my daughter joined me on my spare mat, and has done the four sun salutations with me daily ever since. It's a humbling, joyful experience having her join me. She takes it seriously and does her best to do the poses properly. A few days in, she asked for me to follow HER lead, and bless her heart, she did it.

One of the added features of her joining me is her chatter. Here's a sampling of the things that she's talked about as I breathe and salute the sun:

* She cried when she learned that one morning I'd done my practice without her. I agreed to do two suns with her (bringing MY total to six for that day) and afterward she said, “Wake me up tomorrow.”
* When I asked her why she liked doing yoga with me she said: “It's relaxing and I like the moves...Typically, everything about yoga is cool.” (Editorial: I LOVE when she uses the word typically.)
* “Is Santa real?”
* “Do they grade you in class?”
* “Do they call your butt in class butt or bottom?” When I told her they call it your seat, she exclaimed, “Your seat??? Why your seat???”

There's a quote (source unknown) that beautifully encapsulates this part of my practice with my daughter: “Peace – it does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.” My practice is enhanced each time I can keep breathing, answer her questions quietly, remain calm, and continue without flashes of frustration.

It is really wonderful to share these quiet moments with her every morning. I have no idea what seeds are being planted as we move and breathe side-by-side. This girl has bottomless sources of energy, which often drain me. I like thinking that these sun salutations might become a lifetime source of peace and calm for her too.

I continue to repeat my word-of-the-year GENTLE to myself as my forward folds are still painful and not what I want them to be. As I say the word to myself, I really can tell that my legs are getting straighter. The accomplishment wouldn't be so sweet if it came so quickly, so I am relishing the day-by-day nature of this practice.

I have 51 weeks to go before I can cross #7 off my bucket list. I am enjoying every minute of it. Namaste.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Word Nerd Word of the Day – Double Header plus an announcement

Andy Jackson and I spent some time together at lunch. I was making slow progress through the lead-up to the campaign for his second term. Gosh, that is some dense reading! Anyway, I wasn't sure that I'd find a word for today's installment. And then I found two.

I've seen both of these words before, but I usually pass them by not quite sure what they mean, but able to get the context enough to move on. However, today I liked the common -animity suffix and thought it was time I got a better handle on their definitions. I'm glad I did. They are great words.

Equanimity: (ee-kwa-nim-uh-tee)** 1. Evenness of mind especially under stress 2. right disposition: balance.

Magnanimity: (mag-nuh-nim-uh-tee)** 1. loftiness of spirit enabling one to bear trouble calmly, to disdain meanness and revenge, and to make sacrifices for worthy ends.

Aren't these awesome words and definitions to which to aspire? After today's stress, feelings of overwhelm, and an unclear path for accomplishing everything that was on my to-do list, I can assure you that I did not possess nor exhibit equanimity or magnanimity. But bearing trouble calmly and striking a balance are qualities I aim for most days, which is an excellent segue to the announcement of my word for 2015.


I have had some help from caring friends who have raised my awareness about just how hard I am on myself. High standards and expectations of oneself are good in moderation, but I exhibit these to their extremes, so I am endeavoring in 2015 to be “free from harshness, sternness, or violence” toward myself. I have a great deal of room for improvement when it comes to being gentle with myself when I make a mistake, when I don't meet my own expectations, or don't accomplish what I think I should. It's kind of miserable and counterproductive. Gentle feels like the right word to meditate on as I celebrate and move through my fortieth year.

For example, my legs currently won't straighten during the forward bend portion of my daily sun salutations. I am constantly reminded how inflexible my hips and hamstrings are. I feel pain which a. hurts and b. frustrates me. Being gentle will help with this. Breathe in Gentle. Breathe out Gentle. Repeat. In time those long legs WILL straighten and my practice will improve. Gentle, Julie, Gentle.

What word resonates for you as 2015 unfolds?

**Please note these are my phonetic pronunciations. I haven't the energy to figure out how to make all the correct pronunciation marks. I'll get around to that another day.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Word Nerd's Word of the Day

I am a word nerd. There is no getting around it. I read my thesaurus FOR FUN.

So today I was reading a long passage, trying to make sense of a bunch of political stuff in American Lion, Jon Meacham's biography of Andrew Jackson, and came across the word solecism. It's kind of a great word meaning: 1. a mistake of grammar or idiom; a blunder in speaking or writing.

I've decided that since there are so many good, rich words that these presidential biographers use that us common folk are generally unfamiliar with, I'm going to start sharing the words I have to look up with my 300 rejection readers.

Please comment if/when you know the word of the day...or when you happen to be able to use the word of the day in regular conversation. This is what word nerds do for fun. Join in!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

I Salute the Sun - #7

I promise I will not blog daily about this particular item, but I wanted to give it some attention. Number 7 on the 40/40 list is to do four sun salutations daily for the entire year.

Four is a small, doable number, but in light of the fact that I do not have a home yoga practice currently, this item feels like something big. At the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious, every day for a year is a lot of days.

For the yoga unfamiliar, a sun salutation is a set of movements that includes the entire body. There is folding forward at the hips to touch the ground, reaching up to the ceiling with arms outstretched, downward dog, and plank that eventually moves into a lowering of the body to the mat. Each change in position is initiated by breath. It's not hard per se, but it's not easy either.

Yesterday I asked my teacher if there would be any sun salutations in her class because I needed to do my four for the day. She smiled and told me to go ahead and do them before class. So there I stood on my mat wearing the too-big black birthday tutu loose at my hips and started my routine. I'll admit I was slightly self-conscious. The room was packed and I didn't know most of the people seated on their mats.

My hips and hamstrings are in a permanent state of tightness, so downward dog feels funky at first as do the forward bends. In my stage fright, I had trouble remembering how many suns I had done, and at the end of the routine I realized that I'd forgotten one part the entire time. It's in these moments that make me love yoga so much. Yoga teaches us that it is a practice. No matter at what level a yogi is practicing, she will always have room for improvement. Perfection is not a goal in yoga-thank goodness. So after this brief inner dialogue reminding myself of this crucial truth, I sat down on my mat, rearranged my tutu, and sat peacefully for class to start.

Today I feel the effects of yesterday's practice. My shoulders and the muscles in the middle of my back are achy. They make their presence known as I move through the day. It's a kind of pain I relish because it reminds me I am doing something good, nourishing, and healthy for my body. I plan to do today's four again at class. Tomorrow I'll begin doing them when I wake up before I start getting ready for work.

I am hopeful for a few things to transpire in my year of sun salutations: I'd like for my heels to move closer to the floor during downward dog; I aspire to being able to do chataranga (lowering to the floor in plank) with legs straight most of the time; and I'd be thrilled for my legs to stay straight when I do forward bends (this is also part of #4 Improve forward bend.)

These are really doable goals, and what excites me is all the other things that will fall in place in my yoga practice that I cannot even imagine today. Hopefully, by the end of the year, I will feel ready to take on the challenge of yoga teacher training. For now, I'm going to keep breathing, moving, and loving being 40.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

1. Inaugural Bucket List Check Off

I spent my birthday exactly as I wanted: I took my daughter to the Home Depot's monthly kids workshop where she made a miniature sled (and drove those nails in like a BOSS); I wore the black birthday tutu at yoga class; I enjoyed lunch with some of my favorite women; and I watched the Kennedy Center Honors (among the honorees: Sting!!!) on the DVR [nearly] uninterrupted.

I checked #37 off my 40/40 list. The first item on the first day of my year-long celebration – Eat at The Boat House in Forest Park.

I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate my birthday than a low-key lunch surrounded by some of my dearest girlfriends. I'm usually hesitant to bring together friends from different circles of life because of the possibility that they won't have anything in common or they won't hit it off. There was no need to worry today.

Laurie, Christa, Tracy, and Nicole toasted me, the year to come, and my new decade. My fancy lemonade was delicious! Then our conversation took off. We talked for nearly four hours - nonstop. I laughed and cried as we caught up on each other's lives. These women listened to my stories. They let me ask questions and gave gentle, firm, reassuring answers. Encouragement and love flowed from them and landed in my open hands and open heart.

Right in the middle of the nearly empty boat house, these women listened as I read a rough draft of an essay I've been working on. They gave this writer fantastic feedback, suggestions on what to add, and Christa made the outlandish suggestion that it should be the basis of a novel! I am nourished by the safe space they create for me each time I am in their presence. Their love frees me to be myself and to explore whatever topic seems to be pressing at the time. They are individually, and today were collectively, an invaluable, generous sounding board. I am deeply grateful.

To be honest, I was underwhelmed by the restaurant. I think I'd like the ambience more if I sat on the deck during a summer evening overlooking the water and Forest Park. But I was overwhelmed by the way these precious friends gifted me with an afternoon in the midst of busy, full lives so soon after the holidays. Their interest in each other as important parts of my life touched me. The best part was as the afternoon came to an end they hugged each other and declared that they wanted to get together again. What a gift! I am one very blessed forty-year-old woman.

Friday, January 2, 2015

New Year Ritual

When I moved into my first apartment after college, I had a hand-me-down coffee table with a shallow drawer. It soon turned into a temporary time capsule. It held my year's paper minutia – movie stubs, wedding invitations, concert programs –things I wanted to keep but didn't have a particular place to store it. That first New Years I pulled out all of the stuff and conducted a year in review. As I looked through the drawer's contents, I reflected on the ups and downs of my year and then packed it away, labeled it “Memorabilia 1997” and started with an empty drawer for 1998.

This ritual has continued for the past 18 years with a few tweaks. The coffee table moved on to my sister's home and the warped top was repaired. Since then my annual artifacts have resided in an orangy-caramel colored Samsonite train case.

Last December, I decided that it was time to go through two rubbermaid tubs worth of Memorabilia-labeled manilla envelopes. It was cathartic, cleansing, and actually a lot of fun. I pared down my collections sometimes consolidating several year's worth of paper into one or two envelopes rather than the original three or four.

I also decided to return some of the things to the people who had been connected to the items. Baby's first Christmas photo went back to the family. I liked the idea of them opening an envelope and finding a little blast from their own past attached to my reflections on what it meant to me to be included.

To keep some sort of control on the amount of stuff I save, I've now implemented a new tweak: I'll look at the envelope dated ten years past as I put the newly labeled envelope in the bin. Today I reviewed “Memorabilia 2005.”

Some of the things I was reminded of:
Emails from beloved college and work friends
Programs for Rent and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at The Fabulous Fox Theatre (I completely forgot that I had seen them there.)
The Playbill for Wicked also at the Fox. I DO remember that one!
Ticket stubs for Monticello from our Thanksgiving visit with family in Virginia
The program from my first and only piano recital. I played Silver Inches by Enya and Nicky Ryan.
Ticket stubs for the movies Hitch, The Longest Yard, and Producers
A tentative itinerary for my trip to England and Czech Republic in March
A rejection letter from Real Simple magazine when I pitched a story idea
My invitation to a new book club – our first selection was The Kite Runner

This ritual nourishes me. It provides me with perspective and helps me to be grateful for the goodness in my life. I was still two years from becoming a parent in 2005. This past year's memorabilia has a much different feel:
Lots of homemade love notes from my first/second grader
A note from a fellow writer-friend encouraging my writing pursuits
Handwritten letters from two of my favorite pen pals, Laurie and Tammy
Handwritten apologies from my daughter – working our way through the tense moments of being a spirited parent and a spirited kiddo
My expired driver's license – issued in 2008
Meeting Codetalker, Chester Nez, one week before he died
A postcard from Florence, Italy
Attending THE MOST beautiful wedding in August
Our first week at family camp with dear friends
The support and friendships that occur through social media
Another camping first: Labor Day weekend at Camp Tuckaho with Girl Scout friends
Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host – a “moms gone wild” evening out
Watching The Voice and loving Pharrell and Gwen
A letter response from my high school English teacher

These envelopes don't tell any one year's complete story, but they are great reminders of the highs and lows as time marches on. I'm particularly excited to go through my train case this time next year after I've experienced my 40/40 bucket list. I am determined to make 2015 one fantastic year.