Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tennis lesson #4

Last night's lesson was the first time I felt like I might be able to take all of the things I've learned and actually play a round of tennis. The entire hour was spent playing with different classmates. It was nerve wracking at first because we're all at different levels, but as the class went on I could really see why rotating play with everyone was so important to the learning process. It was just really good practice.

I boldly proclaimed to two opponents that we were learning, so therefore there would be no “I'm sorrys” shouted out when we missed shots. It's so liberating to be unapologetic and to offer that to other people. In both cases, the women (I didn't hear any of my male opponents offer apologies, by the way) laughed and said, “Okay.”

We played for awhile and then we were gathered around a court to watch two of our teachers play each other. They make it look so easy. I laughed and commented to a woman standing nearby that our teacher was doing all of that AND talking to us the entire time. He talked to us about what they were observing in our play that could be improved on. It was really helpful.

The refining takeaways from this class were:

1. the Bermuda Triangle – the spot in front of the base line that many people stand in that makes it easy for them to get the short shots but almost impossible to get to the longer shots.
2. Stay in ready position – both hands on the racquet so you are ready for every shot - forehand or backhand.
3. Let the ball come to you rather than chasing and hacking away in the air with the racquet.

I commented to one of my teachers just how much there is to think about when playing. I told him I just thought it was hitting the ball over the net. I also said it would be fun to watch tennis on television now because I'd know what I was looking at and be better able to appreciate just how talented and skilled those players are.

One more class to go. I will absolutely sign up for more classes, but I still have a lot to accomplish on the 4040 list. Once I clear off a few more of the physical components – skating lessons, ziplining, rock climbing, and the 5k – I'll be ready to hit the court again. More than ready.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Tennis lesson #3 - Recap

I DID NOT expect to enjoy tennis lessons so much. It was a sport that had intrigued me in the last few years, and I wanted to try it, but I figured I'd take the lessons and that would be it. Another check off my list.

After this week's lesson, I actually lamented "Only two lessons to go." I like that the game challenges me and that I have to work at it. I like that it is also giving me an opportunity to practice being gentle with myself as I am exposed to new aspects of the mechanics of the game that aren't exactly coming naturally.

We did this fun drill running from one court to the next working on different skills. I couldn't believe how much I really enjoyed it. I could feel how all the things I am learning are starting to gel, and then...

We were introduced to The Serve. One of the teachers walked us through breaking down the move. I keep thinking of tennis as a new piece of choreography to learn, and the moves get easier.

He explained that we should think of the serve in terms of the face of a clock. The racquet starts in front of you at three o'clock position then moves down to the floor at six o'clock then back behind to nine o'clock. The racquet pauses at the back of the neck (creating a halo near the head) before moving up to twelve o'clock at which point the ball is tossed and the racquet (hopefully) hits the ball over the net.

(It's taken me a few days to write about this lesson because in the process of practicing The Serve, I tweaked my back. It was hard for me to move my neck side to side until Thursday. I didn't want my discomfort to unfairly color my recap.)

I felt the tweak occur as it happened and knew I was going to be in pain. I can only imagine the awkward moves my body made to put myself in prime “tweak one's back” mode. Gentle, Julie, Gentle. I commend my teachers for keeping a straight face through that. It must have been hilarious.

The Serve is such a new thing to me that I didn't have the muscle memory to recognize what I was doing quite right. I received some really helpful feedback. I also noticed that I my back leg kept lifting after I finished serving. I asked my teachers why I was doing it since I know it isn't part of The Serve. After one joked that I was adding style to the move, he helped me understand that I am likely counterbalancing the racquet's swing forward. I'm going to work on toning down my style and keeping my foot on the ground...at least for awhile.

I look forward to Monday's class and seeing how my serve improves. Two lessons left and then #15 gets crossed off the 4040 list. And my friends who play tennis (all out-of-towners) need to move here...or at least come for a visit!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

John Tyler President #10 - Recap

I continue to be grateful for stumbling on the American Presidents Series. They are well-written, interesting, and concentrate on brevity. This series may be the only way I get through this Presidential reading project before I turn fifty. Just nine years and 9 months to go. Whoa.

The John Tyler biography was written by Gary May.

President Harry Truman's family long believed that they were related to President John Tyler. He was relieved to later learn that it was another John Tyler and not the President that they were related to. Truman said this of President Tyler: "No one can charge John Tyler with a lack of courage. He resigned from the Senate because he did not agree with Andrew Jackson, but I can never forgive him for leaving his party to join the Whigs, or for leaving the Union in 1861." He also thought that Tyler "didn't amount to a great deal."

John Tyler's presidency held several firsts in American history:

1. First Vice President to assume the presidency upon the death of a president. Vice Presidents before Tyler had been considered not particularly important and would often stay home and conduct their own business away from Washington.

2. First President to become widowed during office. His beloved wife, Letitia, died within his first year of office.

3. First sitting President to marry during office. He remarried a woman thirty years his junior, Julia Gardiner.

4. First time impeachment was suggested. Rascally Henry Clay was behind these motivations.

John Quincy Adams had no use for John Tyler. Tyler's biographer included journal entries from John Quincy Adams's vast collection of journals. It turns out he was kind of cranky and whiny. Who isn't when he or she is writing in their own journal? But it was interesting to read Quincy Adams's views. He certainly had a unique vantage point having served as president.

After Harrison died, John QA considered Tyler "Acting President" only.

"But Tyler, within hours of his arrival in Washington, showed the Whig cabinet he was stronger than they had expected."

I was impressed with the speech Tyler gave to Harrison's, and now his, cabinet: "I am very glad to have in my cabinet such able statesmen as you have proved yourselves to be. And I shall avail myself of your counsel and advice. But I can never consent to being dictated to. I am the President and I shall be responsible for my administration."


"Tyler must have been pleased with his first day as president. He established a precedent that would affect the future of the presidency long after he left office and he had managed to keep Harrison's government intact, which provided stability at a critical time."

John Tyler was the last Virginia president and had personal encounters with the Virginia Dynasty men. He looked up to these men. He was also a slave owner, and not a lukewarm one, like Washington (who understood that the practice was not right and not sustainable). He was southern through and through and believed in the institution as part of the fabric of the South.


I should be saying something about his role in the annexation of Texas. It was very important to him, but I got lost in the details. I hope that reading James Polk's biography will help me see it from a different perspective and have a better handle on it.

Here are two last quotes that encapsulate John Tyler's presidency:

"Tyler found himself on the wrong side of history, left the Union, died a traitor, his good deeds forever tainted by his final years."

"For good and ill, Tyler preserved and defended the office from those who wished to fundamentally change it. By boldly assuming the full powers and prerogatives of the presidency upon Harrison's death, he established what came to be known as the Tyler "Precedent," not only ensuring the orderly transfer of power in his time but by making the office "independent of death," guaranteeing that future accidental presidents could govern with authority.

P.S. According to this article, John Tyler still has living GRANDSONS. Tyler fathered children with his younger wife into his seventies and then one of his sons had children late in life as well. That is mind boggling!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Love Letter to My People

It really is not fair that I, Julie, should have THE MOST AMAZING GROUP OF FRIENDS EVER ASSEMBLED ON PLANET EARTH all for myself. But alas, it’s the truth. I have the best friends ever.

They are with me arm-and-arm through the ups and downs of life, and I am so grateful. A few live nearby, but most of them live out-of-state or at least a few hours away. The long-distance ones are just a text or Facebook message away, and are always at the ready to offer whatever I seem to need at the moment. They love me as I am. They know my strengths, shortcomings, sensitivities, passions. They love me toward the direction of the best version of myself. These people are a diverse group of people: women and men, my age and thirty years my senior, different life perspectives and varying professions. All of this variety creates a deep well of wisdom from which to draw.

Their companionship is particularly amazing as I give birth to myself as a writer.

They, more than me, believe this writer-thing is real and that my life will change because of it. They even believe others’ lives will change because of it. (Cue tears now.) They are dreaming big, believing big, and taking me along for the ride.

My friend, TW, has self-identified as my book tour groupie. She calls me “the personality” and daydreams about “bringing me tea.” It makes me smile every time I think of it, and makes me want to write more and better words. Because of her, I’ve begun mentally assembling the book tour wardrobe I will pack and adding places I want to go to the book tour line-up.

Today I read this post by one of our mutually favorite writers, Glennon Doyle Melton, the author of Carry On, Warrior. It made me GOL (giggle out loud). I texted TW to alert her to the fact that it was must-read material.

TW soon texted me this reply, “I solemnly swear I will NEVER EVER let you use those chicken cutlet fake boobies.” Given my recent posts about being skinny and accepting it, I love TW’s assertion that she will help me stay true to myself. Another hallmark of true friendship.

Since there is no way for me to express to these people the depth of my gratitude, I’m using 300 rejections as my megaphone to broadcast how much I love them and how grateful I am for their love, laughter, honesty, and desire for me to be the best Julie I can be. I so want to make them proud.



Monday, March 23, 2015

Bikini Post Script

I kept thinking about the things I wrote about body image and wearing a bikini at forty and realized there were some important things that were left unwritten in the first post. I’ve corrected my omission below.

As I watched the recent Oscars broadcast with friends, a comment was made about one actress’s bones prominently protruding at her shoulders. The comment struck me. It was harmless enough, but to my sensitive ears, there was just a hint of disdain. I saw myself standing on that red carpet. The bones at the top of my shoulders protrude like hers. And news flash: there’s nothing I can do to make them stop doing that. Perhaps this actress could buck the Hollywood trend and eat more (if that in fact is the issue), but for me eating more won’t change my bony frame. I’ve tried.

Disapproving comments seem rude only when aimed at women who struggle with their weight. (And that, as we all have heard, doesn’t stop the comments from coming.) But I can personally attest to the fact that when someone suggests that perhaps I am anorexic she is not paying me a compliment. She's being rude.

Being inherently skinny in a weight-obsessed culture is a tricky place to dwell because of two assumptions that are readily made. These assumptions lump me in with groups of women with whom I do not self-identify: women who work hard at staying thin and women who struggle with eating disorders.

I have simply inherited slimness from an unlikely source—my maternal grandfather. I also have a diminished sense of smell, which impacts my enjoyment of eating because most food tastes bland. On top of that, I am a stress non-eater, so when life presses down especially hard, my appetite evaporates. I can go a long time without feeling hunger. The combination of these three things contributes to my slim build.

I find myself in an unpopulated category. Enviably slim, but underweight with little hope of gaining weight. Who in America has THAT problem? Two different doctors have reminded me that I’m “a tall drink of water” and that this thinness of mine is not an affliction. They have encouraged me to enjoy being thin with the underestanding that I might gain weight as I age.

Making my way through all of this, I realize that for a long time I have worried about what people who do not know me might think about my skinny frame and the assumptions they might make. And as I type this, I realize part of owning that pink and charcoal bikini this summer means not caring one damn bit. I know the skinny on my being skinny and that's all that matters.

For years I loathed clothes shopping. It was rarely fun. It took trying on forty pairs of jeans to find two that fit. Not two that I liked, but two that simply fit. Those days are behind me. I am far more comfortable in my skin at 40. I know what looks good on tall and lean and I gravitate to those things. I wear skirts and boots because I have great legs. I even wear skinny jeans.

Most importantly, I am mothering a daughter. Though our body types are different, I want her to watch me be kind and compassionate toward myself and my body. One way I can demonstrate that is when I confidently wear my new bikini with my chin lifted, my shoulders back, and a smile on my face. No more hiding. No more worrying.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

It's almost swimsuit season

I am eating a package of Oreos as I write this post. That fact cracks me up given the topic at hand.

I read this beautiful post by Sarah Bessey last fall after I'd filled in the 40 blanks that became the 4040 list. I recognized myself in her essay, but not for mainstream reasons.

I've abhorred the word skinny for years. It sounded derogatory to my ears. I preferred lithe, svelte, willowy. But the truth is: I am skinny. Accepting that is huge: I AM SKINNY.

I haven't worn a bikini since before my daughter was born almost eight years ago, and certainly never wore one with any great confidence. My shoulders slumped to camouflage my flat chest. I kept my chin lowered and hid underneath towels. People not built like me may find this hard to understand. For women who struggle with their weight, I imagine their struggle is about feeling like they have or are too much. When a woman is underweight, the message she hears is she is NOT ENOUGH. For years, despite having the measurements of a runway model, I heard society's message tell me I wasn't enough because I had no cleavage, no curves, and have a flat ass. When I had to have a c-section, people later said that the c-section confirmed what they had thought all along: that I was too small to deliver her on my own. A c-section confirmed that my baby wasn't in a good position for a safe and natural delivery. That is all it confirmed.

For readers who struggle with losing weight, my perspective must seem aggravating to read. "You can eat whatever you want." "You can wear whatever you want." Neither of these statements are true. I have a family history of high cholesterol. There is such a thing as skinny fat, and I'm not interested in falling into that category. I watch what I eat to ensure that my food choices do not contribute to heart disease or high cholesterol. I wear a button down top with darts and they cave in. I can't hold up a strapless dress.

So back to the bikini. Like every woman who has given birth, I am marked by my pregnancy eight years ago. My belly, though blessedly flat, has a definite wibble. And why wouldn't it? I carried an extra 60 pounds and had three times the amniotic fluid of normal pregnancies. I previously believed that for that reason the wibbly belly should remain covered forevermore. And then I read Sarah's post and decided to reconsider my position on this particular woman in a bikini. I'm done listening to the messages that only a certain woman's shape is desirable or acceptable.

Yoga, running, and tennis have reintroduced me to my body. As it turns out, I am strong. My arms and core keep me afloat above my mat in chataranga during my daily Sun Saluations. (This took more than three years to achieve.) My long legs propel me forward as I train for my race. My back shows the muscled definition of thousands of downward dogs and other yoga poses.

And so.

This summer as my daughter drags me to the pool because she she still loves her body and how it feels to splash, dive, and swim in the pool, I will be wearing this.

I will be owning it. Pool side. Sunglasses shading my eyes. Book in my lap. A 40-year-old woman in a bikini.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Rambling thoughts about being inspired by my daughter

I really cannot wait to see what my daughter chooses to do with her life.

As I type, she's watching PBS kids, finishing her cereal, and cutting strips of decorative duct tape to make bookmarks. The plan is to sell them with her friend, G, this summer out in our neighborhood.

She's an encourager. There's no doubt about that. She encouraged me to get started on my page a day this morning. The luxury of time (this is her last day of spring break, so I took the day off) is hurting my ability to focus and come up with something to write. She's watched me fold laundry as a time filler.

She just asked me, "Is your page done?" When I admitted that no, it isn't done, I haven't started and don't have one clue what to write, this is what she said: "Well, where is Astrid now?" She's a second grade expert on personal narrative. Next week they'll begin a unit on historical fiction. She knows a few things about writing herself. She continued, "Astrid and her best friend could have a girls' night out. They could go get their nails done. Do things to get her mind off being sad about her husband."

Readers, my daughter will be eight in a few weeks. She takes my breath away. She is so earnest in her attempts to help me.

Then she asked me if writing this book is on my 4040 list. I told her no. "Then you don't HAVE to do it." I smiled. "Oh, yes, I must. I've set a goal, and must achieve it."

I am grateful for her buy-in to this project, which in a short few months has fed my soul deeply. There are so many lessons we can learn together in this process: perseverance, goal-setting, how to face setbacks, disappointments, and rejection, having vision, dreaming BIG, to name a few.

Now that I've warmed up my fingers at the keyboard, it's time to dig in and get that page written.

PS: I LOVE that she wants my character to get her nails done. My daughter is a "get her nails done" kind of girl. Art imitating life, right there.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Ten Thoughts about Tennis Lesson #2

1. I still like tennis.

2. My warm up at the wall was much more controlled this week. Chris remarked that I was judging where the ball was going much better. PROGRESS.

3. I keep being surprised and overwhelmed by all the little things there are to remember: keep a little bend in my wrist, keep my racquet straight, move my feet more to get a good shot rather than reaching with my racquet.

4. I actually broke out into a glisten during the lesson. (I rarely sweat. It's an achievement if I do.)

5. The takeaway from lesson two: Bump and Finish. This means hit the ball lightly up over the net and then finish the swing with the racket at my left shoulder.

6. This lesson added new choreography as we practiced moving around the court. Forehand, shuffle back to middle of the baseline, backhand, shuffle back to the middle of the baseline, repeat. I like these choreographed drills. The dancer in me "gets" it.

7. I've heard this twice this week: Tennis is a forever sport.

8. Investing in a tennis skirt may be right around the corner.

9. I clarified that if holding the racquet flush to the bottom of the handle hurts my hand, I should, in fact, STOP doing that. Whew. I'm glad I asked.

10. It would be fantastic if tennis became a thing for me in my next 40 years merely by adding it to my 4040 list. Remarkable, really.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Travelogue: March 17, 2013 Last Day in Brugge

Cadence and I woke up before the H's, so we dressed and packed early. I knew we'd have breakfast dishes to wash and that M & S would have their hands full packing up and getting E ready, so I wanted all our packing done.

We enjoyed our last few hours in the hotel-of-a-lifetime and made it out the door right at 10:30-check out time.

We walked our luggage down the streets of Brugge to the car park just as M & S had done on Friday. As we approached the car park, we heard a drum line and saw a group of people dressed in bright orange and yellow and other colors.

We remembered it was St. Patrick's Day. We unloaded everything at the car and then walked to Historium, an AMAZING museum about the history of Brugge in medieval times. (I couldn't find the link to the English-speaking website...the photos are worth looking through.) It presented a story through the narration of a young man who worked for a famous Belgian artist. (This link IS IN English!) The story was told through the use of video displayed in windows, up a flight of stairs and on a table. The music was captivating and mysterious. We bought two pens (nearly all my pens I packed have run out of ink), postcards and gummy bears.

We moved on to lunch at the Italian restaurant we ate at the day before. Then it was time to leave Brugge. I took in the flags blowing grey, white and red in the town square trying to memorize the sights into my mind for remembering later. I was sad to go, but also feeling ready to return to Maidstone and then the U.S.

I tried to stay awake in the backseat through Belgium as long as I could. I slept through France and woke up when M asked for our passports.

We had an uneventful trip back to England on the Chunnel. We came home in the late afternoon and relaxed for the rest of the evening. I started organizing our stuff and wrapping my brain around how to get our souvenirs home.

Cadence started "sending" me love notes under the door while M unpacked and bathed E. I sent her notes back. It was spontaneous and endearing.

I can tell it's time for us to leave...Cadence's listening is happening in shorter lengths of time and my patience tank is running on low...

We ate leftover pizza from lunch and then decided to put on our pajamas, unfold the couch in the living room and watch My Life in Ruins. M shared chocolates from Brugge, and the four of us laughed through the movie. It was a great way to end the day and it was such a sweet, hilarious movie.

Cadence and I had a little cry when we went to our bedroom for the night. We're really going to miss England and the H's.

I read Cadence to sleep with Katie in London, the book I bought her in the Queen's Shop in London.

Monday, March 16, 2015

15. Take Tennis Lessons - An Update

Tonight I take my second tennis lesson. I am really excited.

I was ill-prepared for how nervous, self-conscious, and anxious I would be during my first lesson. I was having an out-of-body experience. There was me watching my teacher explain what we were going to do and practicing to emulate his techniques and then there was this other part of me with a running commentary about what I would write on my blog, noting the level of nervousness I was experiencing, and how my generally dormant-perfectionism was rearing its ugly head. There was a lot going on!

Chris, my teacher was warm, encouraging, and in no way invoked these reactions. I asked a lot of questions like, "Why are you able to hit the ball repeatedly standing in one place while I'm running all over?" With each question, the next set of instructions came with kindness and encouragement.

I spent one-on-one time with my teacher and then joined the larger class for drills. It was during the drills that I had an epiphany completely unrelated to tennis.

Once I got the hang of the drills, I really began to enjoy myself no matter how much ball chasing I did. At the end of class I managed a great backhand, and Chris saw it and congratulated me. It was a great way to end my first lesson. As I walked out of the Steel Shop Tennis Club, I couldn't help but wonder what I will learn and how much more confident I will feel by the end of five classes. That kind of uncertainty is exciting. I'm so excited I added this random thing to my list.

My takeaways from class #1:

*Tennis is hard. Really hard. There are so many things to take in all at once.

*It's mostly foot work. Figuring out where your feet should be before you ever think about swinging at a ball.

*I'm grateful for my dance background. It will help with the foot work.

Looking forward to what new takeaways I glean from tonight's class!

Travelogue: March 16, 2013 Brugge, Belgium Day 2

Cadence and I were awakened in the middle of the night. We heard voices, racing cars, and general middle-of-the-night merriment. We turned on the light, worked a hidden picture puzzle, and I read an article of Cadence's choice before going back to bed. This was some time after 2:30 a.m.

We got up about 8 o'clock, had breakfast at our dining table. E pushed herself backwards while strapped into her travel seat. Heart attack for her mama and flashbacks for me of Cadence's forehead kiss on the pool concrete the year before.

The rest of the day from 10:30-5:15 was spent sight-seeing:
1. Museum of Chocolate (across from our hotel)
2. Climbing 300+ steps of the Belfry in the Town Square - Cadence did so great
3. Pizza and soup at the Italian restaurant in the square
4. Back to hotel for nappy change (diaper)
5. Tour of Canals by boat (we got to see a great view of the city this way)
6. Shopping - found Brugge postcards, tapestry for Mom, sweatshirt and felt clog slippers for Cadence, tea towel for me and chocolates to take home.

We'd been on our feet all day, so we picked up Belgian waffles and returned home. We spent the next three hours watching Discovery Channel with Dutch or Flemish subtitles while Cadence slept.

S stayed in all day fighting a cold, but came out with us after dark. We took our same path and saw the beauty of the buildings lit up. There was a light rain and still the wind.

S took some photos and we continued to window shop. We picked up fast food for late dinner. Cadence got another happy meal with a prize that promptly broke.

E went straight to bed and we ate quietly at our table. Then we played UNO and went to bed. We slept soundly. M & S had a turn at the noisy revelers outside.

Other notables:

*Watching Good Luck Charlie and other shows in Dutch.
*Watched a show on Discovery Channel about London's River Thames and how it has changed over the centuries and how it's being modified today.

From the margin of my journal:
Cadence enjoyed the Find and Seek activity at the chocolate museum...a chocolate sucker was the prize! E gobbled hers; Cadence savored hers.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Travelogue: March 15, 2013 Brugge, Belgium

Groceries for Brugge: 25.88EU

"A train what's under the ocean like Dinosaur Train? Will we see sharks?" These were Cadence's comments as I explained that we will be taking the chunnel to Belgium. (What's was her version of that's at the time.)

Before we left Maidstone, Cadence and I walked postcards to friends to the red postbox up the street from 4 Postmill Drive.

The Hs and Mahoneys loaded up and drove to Dover where we would catch the Eurotunnel to France. We were there early, so we ate the sandwiches I made at the house and waited for our time to drive onto the train.

We settled in, unbuckled the kids, ate more of the food we packed and waited for the train to start moving. It was disorienting to be in the car and still, but look out the window and see that the train was slowly moving.

The girls and M and S got up and walked around. In 35 minutes we were in France. They checked our passports before we got on the train, so we pulled off and were on our way.

The part of France we drove through was described by M as industrial and nothing to look at. I told her, "It's still France!" I saw some steeples scattered about, but otherwise, she was right.

We weren't in France long before we entered Belgium. The first thing I noticed was how different the words on the signs looked: lots of vowels mixed in.

Sooner than expected we found ourselves in Brugge and it seemed like we'd entered a different world. The streets are cobbled and very narrow. S was using the GPS TomTom to find our parking garage. We pulled into a space and S said, "We're in a car elevator!" That was a new experience for all of us. We pulled the car into an open space and walked several blocks to our hotel - Hotel of the Seasons. After first walking past it, we found the hotel and entered with our passcode. It turns out this property is operated "behind the scenes," so we didn't see any staff until we asked for directions to our room, Monsoon.

We met Raymonde the Manager who was lovely - very friendly and spoke very good English.

We walked into our apartment and we all audibly gasped. It was a huge space with amazing bedrooms on each end. Cadence was giddy and kept saying, "This is the best! I wish we lived here!"

I promptly took photos before we messed it up with our suitcases. Once the shock of the utter awesomeness began to wane, M and S walked back to the car to bring the luggage while I stayed with the girls.

We unpacked, bundled up and headed out for a walk around the town center. The two town centres of Europe I have seen: Prague and Brugge remind me of each other. Same but different. The buildings are so quaint and old. It was cold and windy. Not too many people out in the square. We did a short walk around to see the sights. Saw the canals - lots of people on bicycles and window shopping. We stopped for a lovely dinner in one of the restaurants on the square.

Our waiter asked us where we were from and told us that he was recently in Tunbridge Wells (where M and S used to live) to buy a golf cart from Ebay. What a random and lovely story. Everyone was kind to Cadence, and she commented on it.

We finished dinner and walked a little more. It was cold and windy, so I welcomed going home to our posh quarters. We picked up groceries at a corner market for breakfasts.

We hung out for awhile and then proceeded to the shower. We couldn't get any hot water, so after M gave it a try, she called in S, who saw us in our towels. Cadence was giggly. I just wanted warm water! It finally warmed up and we had a good relaxing shower. Cadence and I got our jammies on, crawled in bed and enjoyed some Hidden Pictures (Finally! I don't want to carry them all home...our backpacks were heavy!)

Our bedding is amazing. Two square pillows, a fitted sheet and a heavy duvet cover. So easy to make in the morning. At some point, Cadence said, "I love this bed."

Note in the margin of my journal: "Would you like some warm fluffy?" - Cadence while playing restaurant in the House of Seasons apartment.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Travelogue: March 14, 2013 ~ LONDON

The Three Musketeers headed to London by train at 9:55 a.m. We arrived at Victoria Station, made a pit stop at the W.C. (I forgot we have to pay 50 p to use public toilets) and headed off for Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square's Lions. We approached the Palace from the side, which was a new vantage point. We took some photos at the Palace's front gate, answered Cadence's initial questions and then walked back to the Queen's shop.

We found lots of neat souvenirs to choose from. I decided on two books (children's) and postcards. Cadence selected a chocolate bar wrapped in a British flag and postcards too. The chocolate she bought to share with Titi when we get home.

We walked back to the front of the Palace then took photos at the Statue of Queen Victoria. I realized it was my first time being on it in all my visits. The Mall was open to traffic, so we walked through St. James Park. There were daffodils in bloom, but not in the quantity as in 2005 (my second trip to London.)

S walked us to Trafalgar Square and helped us form our route and plan for the next few hours while he had a meeting with a prospective employer.

We ate sandwiches with fruit cup and honey at Pret a Manger. It was nice to get out of the cold for a little bit. We then walked to Trafalgar Square to take pictures at the Lion. Somewhere Cadence learned about the Lion and asked specifically to see it.

After three visits to London, Trafalgar Square, the Mall, St. James Park, and Embankment is still my favorite area.

We walked to the park at Embankment and across the footbridge over the Thames to the London Eye.

We made our way through crowds and street performers and past a new park made in honor of the Queen's Jubilee.

We bought tickets, waited in line and got on the Eye much sooner than I expected. I enjoyed the experience a lot. It really is a great way to see the city and the 360-degree map makes a great souvenir. I was glad it was a 30 minute ride; Cadence got a little warm and bored, but overall, I think she liked it too.

After our ride, we purchased a few souvenirs at the shop. As we were walking down the ramp, one of the employees playfully stuck out his tongue at Cadence. I smiled and he smiled too.

We had a few minutes to spare before meeting S, so I took Cadence to a playground within the Jubilee Park. Cadence had a chance to play, run, and crawl on ropes and wooden structures. I didn't wear a watch on the trip and can't use my phone, so I realized it might be tricky to meet S on time. As we crossed the bridge, I spotted a building with a clock. Problem solved! When we were on the Eye, I could also read the time on Big Ben, so I was set.

Later I read in the This is London book I bought that the hands on Big Ben are 14 feet long! Whoa.

We had no trouble finding S even though the area was super croweded. I was grateful. We decided to cross the river at Westminster Abbey, see Big Ben up close and head for home early.

The key to this trip has been stopping while we're ahead - something Raising Your Spirited Child taught me and was reinforced over and over on this trip.

The other theme of this trip has been our excellent timing: Going to Leeds Castle when we did ahead of the snow; Staying in out of the snow the next morning; our timing of seeing London - It was sunny and clear all day.

We walked back to Victoria Station and there wa a train back to Maidstone within minutes. We were stuck in traffic in Maidstone picking up E from nursery. I had Adele's Skyfall stuck in my head, so S played it in the car.

M taught me step-by-step how to make breaded chicken for Cadence. She couldn't stop eating it.

Our evening was quiet. We ate leftovers in preparation for our weekend trip to Belgium. Cadence and I went to bed early. London wore us out!

Purchases: Lunch 13,14UK; London Eye Tickets 31,50UK Souvenirs 4,50UK; Royal Souvenirs 17,98UK

Julie's campaign: Make the Brits smile.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Travelogue: March 13, 2013 Brighton, England

Two years ago I took my almost-six-year-old daughter on her first trip abroad. We flew to London, England, to spend two weeks with my college roommate M, her husband S, and their toddler, E. S was our completely amazing tour director and driver whilst Titi M started a new job. We missed her every day, but loved the chance to get better acquainted with Uncle S.

The following are excerpts from the travel journal I kept during that trip.

Car park = parking lot

On the road to the seashore, Cadence spotted our first pasture of sheep of the trip. (Sheep, especially in the English countryside, are my favorite.)

Seeing the English Channel for the first time was breathtaking.

What a day!! Took the scenic route to and from Brighton on the coast.

Stopped first in Bexhill-on-Sea, the retirement capital of Britain per S, for a walk on the seashore. Cadence picked up seashells, and had a good time. We got back on the road and then stopped for McDonald's--English style. The tables and chairs were so unique. I took a lot of pictures of the dining area. S was glad to hear they were serving apple pie. We proceeded to Brighton. Parked near the water and began our walk toward Brighton Pier. We found four postcards for a pound, a tea towel with the Queen on a 50 pound note, and S bought a Big Bang Theory poster that is completely awesome. On the walk towards this totally cool shopping area called the Lanes, Cadence started chasing S's shadow and vice versa.

I loved the Lanes so much, and found this amazing boutique. I walked in just to look around. It was teeny tiny, but had such cool clothing. I tried on a dress--I could feel my heart start beating faster--and splurged on it. 79 pounds. I thought of L (a fashion-forward friend at home) the whole time. The clerk had this amazing outfit on, so I asked permission to take a photo and she obliged.

We took refreshments at a totally amazing restaurant called Bohemia (in honor of M). We split a dessert platter and hot drinks. Cadence ordered a hot chocolate and it was an experience. A warm glass of milk was served with a stick of square chocolate to stir in. It was really neat and tasted great...

We took a completely scenic, English drive that avoided all the motorway traffic. S was so pleased and I loved looking at all the houses, street signs, and asking questions.

Cadence bought a postcard for her third-grade buddy, Johna. She wrote: I love you because you are my buddy. I like you because you are nice.

There was a beautiful, big-flaked snowfall on our drive home. It was so beautiful to see with English cottages all around.

I keep thinking, "I can't believe we're here," and then tell myself, "Yes, I can--it seems the most natural thing ever."

Other notables:

I have renewed interest in trying Jane Austen. I may try Mansfield Park since that is the one featured on the stamps I bought yesterday.

We all picked our favorite parts of the day:

C: picking seashells and getting dessert.

S: the drive home and seeing how happy I was when I found my dress.

This really has been a 5-star day!

Cadence wrote quite a lot in her journal tonight. I was really proud, AND she said she loved doing it. :)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Saying More with Less

It started with “I think.” Mantra friend encouraged me to eliminate this phrase from my writing and my speaking. The rationale is that “thinking” something is non-committal. It's passive. Not declarative. Thinking something shies away from taking a stand on what you know or believe.

I'll use the following sentences as an example:

I think Sherlock is the best show on television.


Sherlock is the best show on television.

The “I think” casts doubt about whether I really believe it or not...maybe there's another show I like better. Starting the sentence off with “I think” could mean I just haven't made up my mind yet.

The second sentence is an assertion. Since I am the one saying it, the fact that I think it is implied. I don't need to say it. Sherlock is the best show on television.

Removing this word from my lexicon has changed the way I interact with the world. Is it really possible that one little word can make a difference? Yes, it is.

Mantra friend has been relentless about keeping the “I thinks” from escaping my lips or being typed. Once I texted “I think...” Mantra friend texted back “Wanna try that again?”And so I would rephrase my sentence with stronger, more declarative words. I'll admit, at first it was annoying, but then I noticed that I felt better expressing myself in this new way.

Now it's a word game. We call it WWT for short. It's a war against passive, wishy-washy speech and writing. Mantra Friend has had more practice at it, so I especially like catching when he slips up. His occurrences are infrequent. I am vigilent about keeping it out of my sentences both written and spoken. I back space the word and rephrase in texts. I've even caught my characters saying it and rephrase the words they say!

Shortly after I replaced “I think” with stronger declarations like “I know” and “I believe,” we expanded the banned word list to include “I'm sorry.” (Now we call the game WWTS) To be clear, this does not mean that removing “I'm sorry” means that I do not offer sincere expressions of sympathy or no longer correct my mistakes. The “I'm sorrys” that we've removed are the ones that are especially prominent in the speech patterns of women. These sorrys weaken speech by making us apologetic about things for which we are not at blame. The use of these “I'm sorrys” erode confidence and a sense of empowerment.

I explained to Mantra Friend recently that I listen for violations of WWTS with other people. Some times I mention it, but most of the time I let it go. He asserted that I should correct everyone. I generally have a subtler approach until the other evening.

At my first tennis practice I decided to take a stand against the flagrant use of “sorry.” I was doing a drill with another student and I noticed that every time one of us missed a shot and had to chase a ball, we would say “Sorry.” I stopped and said, “Here's the deal. We're both beginners. Of course we're going to miss shots, and go chasing balls. No more saying I'm sorry. Okay? There's no need to say it. We're learning. It's part of the process.” Christine laughed. “Oh, gosh, we were saying that. I can't promise I won't slip up and say it, but you're right. We shouldn't be saying it.” And so our tennis practice continued without apology. It was glorious, freeing. We had nothing for which to apologize.

The game continues to expand. WWTS has grown to WWTSTG. We've also removed “I'm trying” and “I guess.” These phrases are also passive, non-committal. They do not promote bold, active living.

The “Try” word is a tricky one for me the recovering perfectionist. I have become aware recently of just what large portion of my life has been spent not doing any number of things for fear of doing them wrong or not quite right. My aversion to cooking is one such example. It's agonizing to contemplate, so I'm simply not rehashing it. Instead, I'm writing a novel. I've ordered the rear hatch struts for my Pathfinder and will be replacing them myself this weekend. I am sampling new recipes. I'm going to help paint the nursery at church. I'm training to run a 5k. In all of these endeavors, I am not trying. I am doing. And should something not work just right, I plan to ask for help (especially with the struts.) But removal of this word alone is changing my life. I am challenging myself to do things I previously believed I was incapable of or allowed others to convince me that I was ill-prepared for. No more! This doesn't change the fact that life is still scary and uncertain, but it does enhance that life is also absolutely blissful and intoxicating.

Seeking perfection is a losing battle and a boring one at that. The good stuff happens in the mistakes and the creative ways of correcting them or turning something not-so-right into something beautiful. The mistakes sharpen us, make us pay closer attention, and fine tune us if we let them.

After all, bold, active, unapologetic living is where the best of life is found. It's where raspberry bread pudding gets baked. It's where an afternoon is spent with my best friends – laughing, crying, and making new friends. It's where I prove to myself that I AM a runner. It's where I prove that I indeed have something to say that others want to read. It's where I'm learning that the forties are indeed fabulous.

“Do or do not. There is no try.”
- Yoda

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Goal Keeping

After creating the 4040 list, I have added other goals that require regular progress reports to help keep me motivated and on track. I've shared my 2012 Audrey Hepburn calendar marking my daily yoga practice.

Last week my sister sent me a miniature Yoga Kittens calendar as a joke. She knows I ABHOR cats, but since they are demonstrating yoga poses, it makes it okay. I decided this would be the calendar I use to mark my novel-in-progress word count. On Wednesday, March 4 I hit 20,055 words! This is 25 per cent toward my 80,000 word goal. It felt momentous. So some little kitties (the only form of domestic felines I can tolerate) are helping me mark my progress.

For Christmas, my dear Marcela from college, sent me a miniature calendar of splendid Australian scenery. This calendar will mark my blog readership progress toward my goal of 40,000. On January 3, I was at 1,864 pageviews. Today the tally is 3,759.

From day to day I really am not sure how I'm keeping all of these balls in the air. My primary answer is that it is feeding my soul and my intellect, so it's worth all of the effort.

It crosses my mind regularly just exactly how am I going to spend 2016 when this 4040 list is complete and my page-a-days have become a manuscript. When this thought comes to mind, I take a deep breath and remember that that question will be answered in 2016, and for now I have plenty to keep track of. These awesome calendars are helping.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Training - An Update

I had some extra light and extra time after work yesterday, so I decided to make use of both and cross off another training run from my Couch 2 5k training app.

Silly me, I didn't take into account that the path on the Katy Trail wouldn't EXACTLY be runner/cyclist ready after our five inches of snow three days ago.

Undeterred, I decided to do my run/walk rotation on the wet pavement that was clear. I figured this short back-and-forth circuit on the bridge parallel to the traffic wasn't really any different from the monotony of a high school track, so I launched out.

It was great! I had Sia's 1000 Forms of Fear album in my ear. The evening rush hour buzzed above me, and I had a great view of the Missouri River.

Not long into my run, I got a call from my daughter. She was calling to tell me that she "clipped up" and landed on OUTSTANDING in school. The excitement and pride in her voice was palpable. This is a coveted level of good behavior, so I congratulated her while I walked/ran. We said goodbye, and I kept going.

I ran Week 2 Day 2, which included a rotation of 90 seconds of jogging, 2 minutes of walking. Perhaps I was distracted by the altered state of the path, the traffic, and the river, but I managed the run/walk without a single moment of "Oh man, this is getting hard. How much longer do I have to go?" Granted, I have not yet worked up to the distance I'll need for the race, but I still think this is good.

What's happening is I'm enjoying the practice and looking forward to the next one. I DID NOT EXPECT THIS DEVELOPMENT when I put "Run a 5k" on my list. I am so determined to run the entire time and make my B-I-L proud of me that these things urge me on.

I do not care about my race time on May 2. What I care about is running the entire race. If I must walk a short time, I will grant myself that luxury, but I am determined to RUN the entire time. My B-I-L's encouragement runs laps in my mind as I run. It really is such a help, and I am so grateful.

I was delighted to find these locks on the fence overlooking the river. A little slice of Paris right here on the Katy Trail.

This photo is grainy because I was losing light, but I like capturing myself smiling after working out. It's such a new vision of myself.

PS: This is the first time I remembered my mittens, and OH MY what a difference they made! My three layers on my head and two pairs of leggings didn't hurt either.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Two Months' Worth of Sun Salutations

The third of the month marks a particular milestone in pursuit of completing 4040 list. As of today I have done sun salutations for two months. My total thus far is 258 sun salutations.

The metaphors for life that yoga presents are endless. The past few days I've been contemplating how different every single sun salutation is from the rest. The first one is usually especially tight and the last one is generally the loosest. But in the middle, if I concentrate on my heels coming closer to the mat, that rotation will be different from the one where I think about making sure my shoulders are firmly pulled and squeezed together on my back.

Understanding and accepting that my practice will always present different challenges and different joys reminds me that off my mat I will find the same. A day at work, moments with my daughter, interactions with my friends and family, sitting in front of my laptop writing my novel - none of these regular moments will remain constant. New variables will enter that will shift how that interaction or moment looks. And just as I'm okay with that on my mat, I'm growing evermore okay with it off my mat.

My favorite yoga class has been discontinued. It was held on Sunday afternoons when childcare was not an issue. It was the way I marked and honored my sabbath. Things change. Schedules change. Nothing stays the same. My 258 sun salutations are moving me closer to cracking open my Yoga Journal magazine and trying out one of the prescribed home practices outlined monthly. Before the 4040 list, tackling a home practice seemed daunting and unrealistic. I so love the energy in the room practicing yoga at the studio. I couldn't imagine practicing at home. Alone.

And yet. For two months I have done that very thing. I have done a wee little yoga practice on my own. And it's been wonderful. It has nourished me. My body is getting stronger. My mind and spirit are stronger for the practice, and I am happy.

My daughter offered unsolicited one day last week, "Mom, your bottom is half straight. I don't mean to look at your bottom, but I bet your teachers look at your bottom in class. It's probably the best you've ever done, Mom."

I'm not exactly sure what she was trying to articulate with the "bottom half straight" comment. I suspect she's noticing that my legs are straighter than they've been in the past, and I was facing away from her, so bottom was the first thing that came to mind. But what I love most is the fact that she's paying attention and paid me a sincere, encouraging compliment.

This practice is all good. All. Good.

Monday, March 2, 2015

#38 Take a Home Depot Workshop - COMPLETE

Saturday my friend Erin and I met for breakfast at Denny's. We ate our grand slams quickly, thanked our server who'd helped us get our order in and turned around pronto, and headed to Home Depot for our Basic Electrical Skills workshop.

We chose the class because Erin had real life questions to answer about how to do some basic electrical jobs in her house, and I wanted to face down my fear of electrocution.

Both objectives were met and then some.

Home Depot wasn't prepared for us, but their staff were very attentive and made it happen. We were introduced to Jim, a retired electrician. He was full of information, and we helped quell his frustration about his lack of preparation by peppering him with our questions.

We were also joined by Steve from India, a dad with two boys who regularly attends the Saturday kids workshops. Steve and I talked while Jim and Erin addressed her questions about installing ceiling fans.

Steve is handy and adventurous about trying to do the work himself, but he too has a fear of electrocution, so he came for some tips.

We have an out-of-reach and expired smoke detector that is going to require my help in updating. So I promised that I would help after I gained some confidence in this class. When I asked what exactly this smoke detector was going to require of me, Caroline, Jim's assistant, walked away and came back with a smoke detector. She took it out of the box and Jim, Caroline, and Steve talked me through the process.

It was fun to make a new friend and to watch my friend Erin get her questions answered. I was proud of her interest and willingness to learn.

I learned how to replace an outlet and its basics:
*what the ground wire looks like
*black wire on brass
*white wire on silver
*how to strip the wire, wind it around the screw, and tighten the screw
*a 100 watt bulb uses 1.1 amps of power

I learned there is a youtube video for just about anything. I also learned just exactly how much I do not know about electrical things, but also basic things about safely handling electrical projects. I'm not so intimidated, and will now feel less apprehensive if something comes up or burns out. The Knowledge is Power aspect of this Saturday's class is the greatest takeaway.

Check out Home Depot's website for upcoming classes. The classes are offered nation wide. I am signing up for the How to Install Tile class on March 21 because we have a tile problem in our laundry room that has long been ignored, and I'd like to know how to fix it. These classes are also helping me peel away my fear of not trying something simply because I don't know how to do all of it or might make a mistake. I've let a lot of opportunities pass me by because of that ridiculous fear. I'm done with that. I'm not wasting any more time with that nonsense.

I'm excited to cross off another item from the 4040 list. Since the attendance varies, it means you may often receive one-on-one instruction—a perfect learning environment.

Happy New Month

Happy First Monday of March, Dear Readers!

I am grateful for all my friends, family, and friends-I-haven't-met who are reading this blog.

My blog stats have recorded that there are folks in the following far-flung places who are also reading: Canada, China, France, Ukraine, Poland, Australia, India, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Germany, United Kingdom, and Spain. I love to travel and want to see more of the world. The thought of you in all these wonderful places reading about this one American life takes my breath away. Thank you!

Knowing that you read and comment on what I post is a source of great motivation and encouragement as I work through and write about my goals, write my novel, and create new opportunities for this new decade.

Thanks for joining me!
Have a fantastic start to the week.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Impromptu Book Reading

I happened to be in Barnes & Noble this afternoon when a local author read a selection from her new book. I was browsing the shelves for books by Thich Nhat Hanh on mindfulness and being present in the moment. I overheard the author, Liz, introduce her editor, her family, and her book. She began reading from chapter two. So in the spirit of living in the moment I joined the small gathering. I wanted this fellow writer to have a few unfamiliar faces in the crowd. I also thought it would help me visualize my own future book reading. The only open seats were in the front row, so I slipped in. And listened. And got really into what she was reading. (She's a history teacher in a nearby school district and wrote an historical fiction book called Soul Mates.)

Liz read for a few minutes. Her pace was quick. She had a smile on her face. You could tell she was very excited for this moment. I was excited for her and the group who came to support her. I thought about the people who will one day be in my crowd.

Later, after making my purchase, I walked up to her and introduced myself. I told her that I was writing my first novel and that I was really happy for her and attended the book reading to offer my support. We chatted for a few minutes. She gave me her card and invited me to contact her and mentioned getting together for coffee.

We parted and I was just so happy. Happy that I'd sat down and listened instead of continued shopping. Happy that I'm writing my own book. Happy that I am practicing living fearlessly and didn't let my shy side overtake a moment to meet someone who is a little further down the author path than me.

This whole daily writing thing is really opening up a lot of conversation for Cadence and me too. As we walked through the mall and out to our car, I told her about meeting Liz while Cadence was at the birthday party. Cadence's face lit up. “Wow, Mom, is she famous? I bet she can help you get famous.”

Fame has been a topic of conversation lately. My book writing has presented me with the opportunity to talk about how being creative it feeds my soul, makes me feel good, and helps me express my gifts and talents. I reminded Cadence today, “Remember, we're not writing books to be famous.”

We walked a few steps further and Cadence said, “You can go for coffee with her and I bet she can spice up your book.” I laughed out loud. (I have absolutely no idea how this phrase came to her.) “Do you think my book needs spicing up?”

Cadence smiled and said, “No, but I bet she could if you needed her to.”

PS: During another recent conversation, she asked me if my book was sad. I told her that there are sad parts in it. She then asked if I've cried while writing it. At the time I hadn't yet, but have since indeed cried in the middle of writing one of my page-a-days. She looked at me and without missing a beat proceeded to tell me, "That's good. People like sad books." She then told me about a sad book her teacher was reading to them in second grade and how they liked the story a lot. Whoa. Just whoa. Where in the world do these conversations come from?