Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sometimes I Don't

My last post gave the impression that I loved working out and went cheerfully and willingly every time. I don't. Sometimes I have to absolutely force myself to go, to keep on driving past the exit to my house and head to the gym after work. I tell myself, just go. You don't have to like it, but just go. Go inside. See if you can handle that. Then see if you can handle changing your clothes. Then see if you can get on a machine. Go for ten minutes. See if you can do ten minutes more. And by then I'm pretty much in my routine and just do the best I can.

It took me a long time to learn the lesson that I don't always have to like doing something to just do it. I guess I was such a stubborn, willful child that my parents just kind of let me off easy. They rarely pushed me to do anything once I'd said I didn't want to do it - so I had short spells of piano lessons, dance, Brownies... and promptly quit when they conflicted with things like my "Growing Pains" watching. I quit high school physics after one week, and later learned I'd scored the highest grade in the class on our first test. I quit French class after one semester in college because I tested out of the requirement and didn't like the teacher.

The biggest regret of my life is not going to study abroad when I had the opportunity in college. I was simply scared. I'd never been out of the country before and just didn't think I could handle being on my own so far away from the familiar. I think, no, I know, that if I'd gone I'd have emerged a stronger, more confident young woman. I don't dwell too much on the what-ifs, though. Who knows how my going would have affected my subsequent decisions - would I have moved back home after school? Would I be a librarian? Most importantly, would I have met and married the person I call my soul mate, my dear husband?

You can't change the past, you can only learn from it and try not to make the same mistake twice. I know I'm maturing in part because I push myself harder now. A late bloomer, that's what I call myself. So I file away these life experiences under the label When-I-Have-Kids. I want to be sure to tell them these things: most of the time life isn't easy, and you don't always get what you want, and it won't kill you to be uncomfortable or scared. It's just a feeling, and it will go away. Sometimes the things you're most frightened of will end up being the experiences of which you'll be most proud.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What I Tell Myself When I Work Out

I've been gaining and losing the same four pounds for about 6 months now, which is pretty frustrating. But until I manage to stop myself from eating Nutella straight from the jar, and icing off of stale red velvet cake, and any other sweet thing I can find at night, I guess I'll continue to get the same results.

The positive thing is, I'm cardiovascularly fitter than I've ever been before. If my Turbo Kick class was offered at times that better suited my work schedule, I'd take it more than once a week. I am in love with that class. It's fun, challenging, empowering. Every time I work my ass off, literally dripping with sweat, I swear that I'll quit sabotaging myself with food.

My food issues are something I am still working out, obviously. In the meantime, I remind myself that I go to the gym for reasons other than weight. I go because it's time for me. I go because it's time to decompress. I go because it's better than therapy, or drugs, or alcohol. I go because I feel lighter, sexier, stronger, saner.

I talk to myself on the machines. Doesn't everyone? Not aloud, of course. I don't want to be that woman. But while I glide and run and pedal and lift, I tell myself things. Here's a list:

You can DO this.
You're strong.
You're stronger than you think you are.
You're pure energy.
Just one more hill.
Just five more minutes.
You're awesome.
You rock.
Drop your shoulders.
Tighten your core.
Good posture.
You can DO this. (I repeat this one because I say it a lot.)

I wish I talked to myself with such positive affirmations all the time! I've come a long way, though, through the years. I am mostly happy with myself, something I would have felt hard to believe if you'd told me when I was 17, or 21, or 25. I've been hearing a phrase a lot lately, from different sources: You gotta do the work. I believe it, sister! I'm doing it. I'm gonna keep on doing it until I get there.

Monday, August 16, 2010

EAT popcorn, PRAY the movie's good, end up crying all day because you LOVED it.

I saw "Eat, Pray, Love" yesterday. It met all of my lofty expectations. I adored the book, and was so thrilled that Julia Roberts was involved. She really threw herself into this movie, with joy and gusto. She really "got" it. I left the theater teary-eyed and raw, in a dewy haze of love for the world. I was spiritually moved and wanted pasta - STAT.

The character of Ketut, the sweetest old toothless medicine man you'll ever see on screen, says to Liz (Julia Roberts) near the end of the film, "Sometimes you need to lose your balance in love to find your balance in life." Something like that. It hits Liz hard and she runs to the lovely, sweet man she nearly pushed away out of fear. It struck me similarly, like a gong going off in my brain - DING! - TRUTH! Sometimes I feel like parts of myself are so intertwined with my husband that I don't know where he ends and I begin. It's not terribly liberated to admit something like that. But that's precisely what brings my joy and balance in life. What I lose of myself, I gain back from his wellspring, and together we are both whole. Love is both changeable and constant, chaotic yet serene. I give of myself and open myself to vulnerability, and in return I am strengthened and supported.

I don't see many movies at the theater - too expensive. The ones I do see are special treats. They are an escape and a visceral experience. I like the anticipation, the immersion, the darkness. I came away from this one with a silly smile on my face, like I knew a secret. It reminded me that really, I do know what life's all about - love. I'm given to grand statements of hyperbole, but as I told Eric yesterday, everything else is pretty much bullshit.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Why I (Try to) Meditate

When I finish meditating, I stop hesitating. I just go about doing things, not thinking about them but doing them. I practice with the help of a few CDs, guided meditations, which sometimes feels like cheating. But it works. It quiets my runaway mind, enables me to clear the slate. I so often am paralyzed by indecision. I so often defer to my husband or my friends - "What do you want to do?" I so often agonize over the smallest choices - do I work out first or go to Walmart? Logically I know it doesn't matter which option I pick, but my fearful, anxious brain is convinced otherwise. So I sit and stew and feel floopy.

Floopy is a word I picked up from Phoebe on "Friends." She waved her hands around her head when she said it, and so do I. It means my brain is all topsy-turvy and I'm overwhelmed by options. I truly do think it's a manifestation of my A.D.D. When I tell my husband that I feel floopy he says, "Okay, let's take a deep breath. You're okay." He knows I need reassurance and I need to hit pause.

I manage to meditate once a week, twice on a good week. I'd meditate every day if I could get myself out of bed 20 minutes earlier. But I love sleep; I never really feel like I've gotten enough. It remains a goal, though - maybe I can meditate 20 minutes a night instead of watching TV?

It's really hard to make yourself sit still. I know plenty of people who say they "can't" meditate. I say if I can do it, anyone can! It just takes a little bit of time, maybe a guided CD to help settle down, and a quiet space. For me, meditation refreshes, soothes, and propels me into action. It's one of the best things I do for myself.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The trouble with blogging...

How much is too much to share?

I've not been writing lately. I've been in a pissy mood lately. I think the two are related. I was doing dishes the other night, an excellent vehicle for thinking. I was struck by a realization - I'm angry. Not enraged, just a slow-simmering frustration. The act of acknowledging this emotion was temporarily freeing. I wrote a short bit in my journal and felt better the rest of the evening. Relief was fleeting, though. This morning I was my short-tempered, frazzled self again.

I don't want to write (here) about the source of my frustration - and that's the problem I have with blogging. I read blogs in which people share so much personal information that I can't help but wonder how their family members, co-workers, and friends stand it. This blog was begun in an attempt to get myself unstuck and to get my pen moving across the page again. I can say it worked on both fronts - until now. I don't really know who all reads my blog, who gives a damn at all about what I say, but something just doesn't feel right about putting details of my life out there for public consumption.

Seems like more and more people want to put everything out there these days. I'm on Facebook, but I'm trying to wean myself off of it. I guess I'm getting paranoid in my old age, but I just can't help but wonder what all this over-sharing is doing to our society, to our kids. I thank GOD that we didn't have Facebook and smart phones when I was growing up! (It's bad enough that high school classmates of mine put old pictures of us on Facebook - why?!?) I know I sound like a curmudgeon, and sometimes I feel like one. But I'd rather be a curmudgeon than addicted to gadgets. That's just me.

So why am I blogging, you ask? Good question. If I can't write about what's bugging me, then maybe I shouldn't write publicly at all. Well, I'll have to contemplate that one. There is room out there for a mostly positive blog, right? They don't all have to be navel-gazing downers or avenues of expressing frustration. So maybe I'll stick to the light stuff in the future. I'm pondering.

In any case, this mood I've been in has to stop. My new motto is: SCREW IT. I'd say something more emphatic but I'm trying to keep it PG-13. Scared of flying to Oregon in a month? Screw it, you can't live your life in fear. Worried about cutbacks at the library? Can't do a damn thing about it, so screw it. Don't feel like going to the gym? Screw it, go anyway, you'll feel better! I think it's gonna work. Bad mood or no, life rolls on. I am so lucky compared to so many. I have my health, my husband has his health, I have wonderful friends, I have a good job, I am blessed to be married to my true love. Goodness abounds! All that stuff that weighs me down, makes me frustrated and tired and bleak - Screw. It.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


God, I haven't written anything in ages! How do I feel about that? Slightly guilty, a bit anxious, but otherwise... okay. I guess I've been following the dictates of my blog's title: I've been doing things. Maybe I haven't been carving out time for writing, but that doesn't mean I've been ignoring my spirit, or things that make my spirit soar. Since I wrote last I've had my "staycation," in which I spent 11 happy days gardening, reading, watching "Glee", organizing our office, going to the gym, enjoying time with my husband, and seeing friends. It was restful and good, and I felt like I made wise use of my time. I read something by Anne Lamott a couple of days ago about how we use our time. And I read something a while back by my beloved Sylvia Boorstein in which she quoted her mother, saying, "You won't get to do this day over." This idea rang in my head and still reverberates. Being awake to your life is the key to happiness, I'm convinced. Awake enough to make deliberate choices about how you want to spend your time. It's so fragile, this life, so fleeting and bittersweet. My daily endeavors are to remember to be present. Remember to celebrate goodness. Remember to be kind. Remember that I am a creative person, whether or not I'm writing. It is still there, this flow of words that runs through me cold and clear like a spring. It is good to take time to dip my hands in the water every now and then.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Dirty Job

Why does it feel so good to clean? Last weekend I dripped with sweat, pink-faced from my vigorous battle with the kitchen floor tiles. But I felt fantastic. I was momentarily renewed, peaceful, and felt like I'd really accomplished something. It's exceedingly fleeting, this feeling, especially with two vomiting, shedding cats and a husband who insists on wearing shoes in the house. But that five minutes when the floors glow are worth the effort. I think.

Making order out of chaos is always thrilling for me - I'm not a neat freak, not by anyone's standards. But a clean(ish) house is one thing I can control in a world where I sometimes feel powerless (Gulf oil spill, animal hoarders, my insane family, etc. etc.) My A.D.D. doesn't allow for sharp attention to detail, but I do enjoy a good cleaning session - a mopped floor, a huge bag of clothes sent to the thrift store. It's best done on Sundays, and best done when I'm alone.

I can still fall into the trap of comparing myself to others in the homemaking department. Sometimes I think, a real adult has a cleaner, more organized house than mine. But lately I'm trying to maintain a more Zen attitude towards it. There will always be cat hair, mud, garlic clove skins, peppercorns, all manner of everyday detritus spilled and tracked in on shoes. Laundry keeps on getting worn, junk mail keeps arriving, recycle bins keep filling. We just do our best, right? Life keeps happening, the good and the bad, whether or not we're ready for it. We don't have to compare ourselves to anyone else in this world, not in terms of the cleanest house or the biggest bank account or the smallest dress size. We adapt, we manage. Managing is really pretty good when you stop to think about it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Local Woman Attempts to Banish Food Guilt

The July issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, is FAN. TAS. TIC. Not only is it the Summer Reading issue (yay!), it's got a great section on people's different relationships to food - why they eat what they eat. It's a collection of short essays emphasising what is great about food - the pleasure in tasting and the way it makes you feel.

There's a vegan chef, a woman who goes on crazy crash diets like Greek Salad and Tootsie Rolls, and my favorite: The Omnivore. I want to be her. She actually seems to enjoy her food. She eats everything, from pulled pork tacos to poached goat, caramelized Brussel sprouts to a deep-fried candy bar. She acknowledges her "ample butt, boobs, and stomach." But, she says, "I'd rather have curves than agonize over whether I deserve dessert."

BING! I think my brain sort of exploded. I am so sick of my push/pull, love/hate relationship with food. I am sick of feeling bad about my body and making food the enemy. I LIKE FOOD. I like to eat. Sometimes I like to eat junk food. Sometimes I crave a fresh, crunchy salad or a baked sweet potato or grilled corn on the cob - with butter. My life has been one long calorie calculation after another, one more sneaky spoonful when no one else was looking. Every couple of months I have a meltdown (usually after skipping some workouts,) crying, "I'm sick of having to work out so much! I'm sick of having to think about my weight all the time!" It's damn exhausting. It sucks all the joy out of eating and out of life. I want a healthy relationship to what I eat. I want a life of energy and activity and good health. I also want a life without self-flagellation if I eat a doughnut (or two.) There's got to be room for all of that.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Old Friends

Sarah, an old friend, is visiting this weekend. It's been such a good visit. We met in the fall of 1995, when fate placed us in the same dorm at our small Midwestern college. She lived on the first floor, an all-women's floor, called "The Nunnery" by the students. I lived on the third floor, with boys right across the hall. (No air conditioning! Carrying boxes of crap up three floors in the early September heat!) Sarah was one of those girls you just couldn't help but notice. Actually, she's still that girl. We pretty much instantly became friends. She used to work the front desk in our dorm's lobby and I'd go downstairs and bug her all the time. She introduced me to Shawn Colvin's music, for which I will always be grateful. We were DJs together on the campus radio station on Saturday mornings. We were sleepy, goofy, and played awesome women's music like Joni Mitchell and Ani Difranco. Sarah was (and is) hilarious, generous, fun.

The relationship with an old friend is comparable to a marriage. You know each other really, really well. You love one another, even though on occasion you get on each other's nerves. You learn that the other person doesn't need to think exactly like you do about everything, and it's still okay, the bond is still intact. Too much distance can fray a bond, but regular communication does wonders to strengthen one in spite of the miles. It's comforting beyond measure to know that even though people can't help but change and grow in different directions, the core of who you are remains enough to maintain that connection.

Fifteen years. That's a long time to know someone, longer than many marriages! Not having any siblings, I've always taken refuge in my friendships. They are my security blanket and my joy. Life gets in the way too often, and there are gaps I'm feeling right now with some of my friends. It's funny how I live in the same town with someone and don't talk to them for months, yet I can talk every week with a friend who lives three states away. My hope for this summer is to reconnect with dear friends far and near, and to be awake enough to appreciate all the wonderful people who bless me with their love.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


(Note: This post contains spoilers of the LOST finale. If you have intentions of ever watching the show and haven't yet, you might want to skip this one.)

Much has been written, and will be written, about the series finale of LOST. I've resisted writing about it since Monday, but I can't hold back any longer. I am a true fan, unapologetically and completely in love with the show from the beginning. I feel like a geeky fan-club kid attempting to write about my feelings with any kind of intelligence, but I've got to give it a shot. This show matters to me. And I know I'm not the only person who feels this strongly.

The finale wasn't perfect. I still have questions about certain characters. What happened to Walt and Michael - will they get to head towards the light? Why wasn't Sayid reunited with Nadia instead of Shannon? Why didn't we get more Desmond and Penny love - and where was their son? However, at heart I am satisfied with the finale. It gave me what I desperately needed after caring for these characters for six long seasons - a feeling of peace.

When I regained my breath, after sobbing as the dog Vincent lay down beside a dying Jack, I felt deeply moved and inspired. My husband said, half-jokingly, the next day, "You felt the touch of God." And I did. Never before have I watched a more spiritual scripted television show. It made me want to be a better person. It reminded me to appreciate my life for all it is worth, while it's here. It didn't espouse a certain religious path - although there were echoes of Christianity and Buddhism that were obvious to me - but it left me certain that the show's producers were men and women of faith. They led these characters on a winding, arduous journey towards redemption and possibly rebirth.

Everything that happened on the island - and a lot of it was bad - mattered. Some of it was horrible - watching Jin's and Sun's deaths come to mind - but bad things just happen. They happen to everyone whether or not you've crashed on a mystical island that no one can find! But the horrible things these characters went through changed them - made them stronger, more compassionate, braver, self-aware. I'm not saying that they couldn't have grown without Jacob plucking them from their pre-island lives. I'm not saying it was fair that he did that to them. But my father's most famous words to me as a child were, "Whoever said life was fair?" And the older I get, the more I see his point.

Sawyer, Desmond, Jack, Hurley, Locke - they were GREAT characters. They were vibrant, complicated, intelligent, courageous. I cared about them as if I knew them. I'll miss them as if I knew them. A woman I see regularly at the library talked about the show with me and said it felt like a death, that she was grieving the show. It's hyperbolic, but I see what she means.

I wanted to know that these people had some measure of peace. Whether it was in this life, or in the next, they did. Even Jack experienced peace as he watched his friends fly away from the island as he died. I don't know how I'd feel about the show if I didn't believe in God or an afterlife. All along the show dealt with faith versus reason, and as the show progressed you could feel which way it was going. I'm not sure what my afterlife looks like yet, and I'm still wrestling with my picture of God. But I feel God, if I don't intimately or intellectually know God. And I'm operating on feeling here, with my assessment of the finale. My intellect isn't completely sated, but my heart is, and that's enough. To borrow a tweet from one of the producers, I will remember, and as much as I don't want to, I will (eventually) let go.

Monday, May 17, 2010


I haven't written in quite a while. I try and I keep getting interrupted, or I don't even try at all. But I'm not discouraged! Far from it, actually. Writing this blog has helped me bust out of the fog I was in last year. I am able to see more clearly now the kind of life I want to live. Being with my mother and grandmother over the weekend - yes, I did end up going after all - crystallized for me the kind of life i don't want for myself. Their poor choices are a cautionary tale for me - for anyone. I sound unkind, and I feel a bit unkind as I write this. I, without reservation, love my mother, and despite the distance, emotional and physical, I do love my grandmother. But they live lives filled with fear and uncertainty, regrets and instability. Life is uncertain for us all - we do not know what is up on the road ahead - but there are choices in life and ways of thinking about the world that lend themselves to more positive outcomes.

I feel so blessed to have married my best friend, to have dug myself out of debt, to have the physical good health to have run a 5K. Choices I made - and continue to make - propelled me to those good things. Never have I been so keenly aware of consequences as this past weekend, trying to remain sane amongst family squabbles and the destruction of my grandmother's house in the Nashville area floods.

I have some choices ahead of me soon. The whole baby thing figures most prominently on the list. I decided, as I talked to myself on the elliptical trainer last night ("You can do this, Laila!") that I want to embark upon the Healthy Mama/Healthy Baby Project. That's what I'm calling it. A two month "program" in anticipation of trying to conceive. Exercise, healthy food, water, rest, meditation, writing. The essentials in life! I rebel against "experts" telling me what I need to do with my body and soul, so I'm just operating on instincts here. Right now what I most crave is a sense of peace. I need quiet time. I feel like the world is pressing on me too much - I think it presses on all of us too much, whether or not we're conscious of it. Too much noise, chatter, gossip, news, opinions, vulgarity, flash, marketing, spiritual disconnect. We're indoors too much, plugged in too much, staring at screens too much.

To that end, Eric and I agreed to try two new experiences. First, we're going to have a "quiet weekend" sometime this summer. No TV all weekend, try not to answer the phone. He's going to work on his music, I'll do some writing and pondering and reading, and we'll see if we can take it for two whole days! Who knows, it might drive us crazy. But it might be invigorating.

Second, we're going to make "summer reading lists" for ourselves and read classics! I don't think I have it in me to read only classics all summer long, but I'm going to read as many as I can. I want to have to focus on a book, savor it, and hope that the pace of a different time seeps into my consciousness. I know I romanticize earlier times - I gloss over polio and smallpox and women not being able to vote or wear pants, stuff like that. But part of me wants to have a Caddie Woodlawn-like experience of living on the prairie, hearing only the wind and the birds, depending on the seasons and daylight and darkness for my body's natural rhythms and the food I ate. There's got to be a way to blend the saving graces of modernity with a way of being closer to nature and solitude. A simpler life. I think we can find it. It may be a lifetime's work, but it beckons appealingly.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Odds and Ends

So, we've already established that I'm a horrible, selfish granddaughter. Let's move on to me being a horrible, selfish daughter. I had to flex my tough love muscle - which I didn't even know I had - and not drive my mother to middle Tennessee this weekend. I forced her to go on her own - or so I thought. She has not left yet. But if and when she does, it will be her choice. She is capable. She doesn't happen to think so, but I do. I have anxieties aplenty. Boy, do I! But the best way to beat down your anxieties is to stare them in the face and just do it anyway. (My old therapist would be so proud.)

It's really, really hard to say no to someone you love.

On a brighter note: My husband said something clever this morning that I felt like sharing. Tonight Betty White is hosting "Saturday Night Live." The morning news was all aflutter about that. As I'm getting ready for work he said, "Betty White is the bacon of the entertainment industry. She's been there a long time, she's really good, and a bunch of stupid hipsters are just now finding out about her."

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

This Is My Life

Usually this time of year is an exciting one for me. My birthday is May 10. I'm turning 33. My birthday usually feels like a big deal, probably because such a big deal was made of it for so long - I'm the only child, the only grandchild, the only niece. I was a spoiled little princess when I was a girl - heck, basically until after I graduated from college and got a lick of sense in me.

I love this time of year also because of Spring. It's my favorite season, the renewal after all the time spent inside in the darkness and chill of winter. Honeysuckle always blossoms around my birthday, and it's one of my favorite smells in the world. I feel blessed to have a birthday in a time of year when friends and family can gather outside, and have had many parties outdoors over the years. I like that my birthday falls on Mother's Day some years - it's nice to be able to celebrate two happy things in one!

This year, my birthday week feels strange. I am caught by that most useless of emotions, guilt. (I'm also sad, but sad feels purposeful somehow.) My grandma lives in middle Tennessee, and her house was badly flooded on Sunday when Drake's Creek, a tributary of Old Hickory Lake, overran it's boundaries. I haven't had a chance to talk to her, or to my uncle, who lives with her. I'm getting information from my mom, when she can get in touch with them. Would you believe in this day and age, they don't have cell phones? As much of a technophobe as I am, I am profoundly thankful for cell phones, and this situation makes it clear how useful they are.

My uncle said that the water came up to the doorknobs in the house, which means that all the furniture, appliances, bookcases, floors, walls, everything waist-down is ruined. Their outdoor cat was swept away. They escaped with just whatever they could grab, the water came up that fast. The creek has never flooded that badly in the 40 years she's lived there.

I have some good memories from my childhood visits there, especially when my grandfather was still alive. He was a sweetheart of a man, gentle and funny and loving. I was 7 when he died, so I didn't have an adult sense of awareness to be able to really know him. But I loved him with my whole heart, and the rest of my family did too. When he died the family really fractured. It had been coming a long time, and that's a REALLY long story, of which I still don't know all the details. But after he died, all the joy started going out of visiting Hendersonville.

I've never felt close to my grandmother, not really. I don't even know why. She can be mean to other people, but she's never been mean to me. My aunt, who I sort of idolize, has a horrible relationship with her, and I'm sure that's influenced my feelings. The physical distance between us, although just 3 and a half hours drive, didn't help either. Mamaw's sort of a cold person. She can be funny, and generous at times, but distant. Now she's sick - she has Alzheimer's disease. She's in the middle stages of it, and we've all hung back, not knowing how to make her see that she needs to make some tough choices about her future.

My uncle's a sweet person, but weak. He has had one bad relationship after another, he's been addicted to drugs and alcohol, he's been in jail. I do not think he's a bad person. I just think he never felt strong enough in himself to make good choices.

There is much sadness in that house. There has been for a very long time. Maybe something good will come out of this flood. It forced the issue that was hanging over everyone's head: what to do about the house now that Mamaw's Alzheimer's is getting worse. It's ironic that all the stuff my Mamaw has hoarded over the years, the stuff we couldn't get her to throw away or go through, is now waterlogged. I am sad that the house where my family used to be able to come together is basically gone. But it's really been gone for a long time anyway - at least in my heart.

I feel guilty for not being there to help, guilty for not really wanting to go over there at all, guilty that I don't have a better relationship with Mamaw. I am prone to guilt, even though I know it's an emotion that doesn't do anyone any good. I am trying to get out of this head-space. I am trying to pray, to grieve, to meditate, and to think of constructive ways I can be of help.

I read something in Julia Cameron's book The Right to Write today that struck me - about owning one's life, and writing as a way to do that. I thought, this is my life. My family's screwed up, relationships are strained or broken, people that I care about are pretty much crazy. But it's the only life I've got. I've managed to make it this far with these crazy people around me! And for all their faults, I've never doubted for one second that they love me.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Reading Rules

What is good about books about writing is that they keep a writer company. For that purpose, they're very useful. -Martha Grimes

I'm reading a Martha Grimes mystery at the moment. It's the 14th in the Detective Richard Jury series, called The Case Has Altered. I've always been a mystery fan, ever since I was 7 or 8 and got my hands on my aunt's old, yellow-spined Nancy Drew books that my grandmother had kept. Must be something I inherited from Aunt Tonia, since she also introduced me a few years later to Agatha Christie's Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. There are a gazillion mysteries out there, and frankly most of them seem pretty silly - the cat ones, the food ones, the scrapbook ones, things of that ilk. I don't want funny mysteries, really, and I don't want supernatural ones either. I want solid, intelligent, well-written, realistic, but not overly graphic mysteries. And if they're set in the UK then that's a huge plus too. I admit, I've become quite the Anglophile over the years. (Must have been all that listening to The Smiths, The Cure, and U2 in high school!)

Sometimes when I'm in the middle of one of these Jury novels I wonder, why in the heck am I still reading them? When there are SO MANY good books out there I've yet to read, why continue marching my way, slowly, through this series, or the other British mystery writer I enjoy, Ruth Rendell's, works? I suppose it's the same reason I continue to watch every episode of "Bones," even when the writing is uneven and frustrating. It's the characters! I've invested so much emotionally in the characters of Grimes's books - charming, sad Detective Jury, his good friend, amateur detective/man of means Melrose Plant, all the quirky characters in the town of Long Piddleton where Plant lives. They're practically old friends, and it's a pleasant respite to visit with them. Jury and Plant are both spectacularly unlucky in love, and there is usually some subplot about one or the other of them trying and failing to sustain relationships. I continue to hope that in the end (if there is an end?) at least one of them will find true love. (Hmmm, sounds sort of like "Bones" again, doesn't it?)

I can't devour a whole series in its entirety like some readers can. I'll read one and not pick up the next one for a couple of months, at least, so I can prolong the experience. (I do that with other authors' works too, not just mystery series.) That's one of my "reading rules." Everybody has them, I think, if they read habitually. My other hard and fast rule is this: Unless the book is a Book Group pick, then I give it 60-70 pages. If it fails to sustain my interest, or the characters are too annoying, then I turn it back in. Life is too short to read crappy books!

I don't know if I'd call this a rule, per se, but it's definitely a tendency of mine. I have a hard time reading books that everyone and their brother raves about. There are certain books that people who don't make a habit of reading somehow hear about and want.* The Twilight books, the Left Behind books, Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, Tuesdays With Morrie, anything by Nicholas Sparks... all of these come to mind in this category. There are also literary fiction offerings that everyone says you "have" to read: for example, The Kite Runner, The Help, Three Cups of Tea, Memoirs of a Geisha. Haven't read any of these. Okay, you're right, I DID read the Da Vinci Code, but only because my then-boyfriend raved about it and I was young and stupid and would have done just about anything he suggested, okay?

When too many people tell me I "should" read something, my internal bull starts snorting and stamping its feet on the ground. Resistance rears its stubborn head. They may be the best damn books in the world and I may be a ninny for refusing to read them, but I just don't care. Refer to Reading Rule Number 1: Life is too short to read crappy books! And crappy, like beauty, is most definitely in the eye of the beholder.

So what are your reading rules? I'm always interested in why people read what they read.

(*And I admit, even though I know better and all I really care about is that people read and use their public library system, that I'm a terrible book snob.)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Blog First, Think Later

Do you, like me, have all these "shoulds" running into one another in your brain? You know, like, "I should really call X with whom I haven't spoken in weeks," or "I should really organize my important papers." I should clean out my closets. I should dust. I should go see a dermatologist. I should wash the car. I think women are especially vulnerable to the "shoulds." I don't know if it's nature or nurture, but I suspect both. I know that my husband is one of the most blithely unhurried people I know. Not that he doesn't care about things, but that he is able to relax when it's time to relax and get jiggy with it when it's time to get jiggy. I'm more likely to fret when I'm trying to relax, thinking about all the things I need to be doing. And then when I'm doing things I need to be doing, I'm thinking about how much I'd love to relax! It's ridiculous. But I'm sure I'm not alone.

I'm not going to let this blog be one of those "shoulds." My temptation is to let writing slide in favor of all those chores, or all the time-suckers that are sort of fun, like watching TV or reading. But I know what happens to me when I go for too long without writing. I get nervous, I start doubting myself, doubting whether or not I have anything worth saying. And I put it off one more day. Meanwhile, I start having even more conversations with myself, start writing blogs in my head without getting them down anywhere, and I get twitchier and twitchier. Argh. No bueno.

Today is a day to write. Tomorrow is a day to write. The day after that is a day to write. The point to just to do it, to think later. Make it automatic, like brushing my teeth or drinking my morning coffee. After all, it's elemental to who I am. Why fight it, why run from it, just because I'm afraid? I didn't run away from the challenge of the 5K race this past weekend. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and felt a rush like I'd never felt before when I crossed that finish line. I ran in 38 minutes, which is great considering it's my first time. Training for that race never felt like a "should." It felt like honoring myself.

I think magazines are especially dangerous to women, in that each issue holds out the promise of a better, shinier you inside. Read it and you'll be a better mom, a better wife, a better cook, skinnier, and with expertly applied makeup. I have been the Magazine Queen in my lifetime. But I'm kind of over them now. It feels good at age almost 33 to say, "This is who I am. I am quirky and kind of round and like to wear jeans all the time and have hair that doesn't do anything I want it to." I wish I could have found this self-acceptance earlier, but I guess it doesn't work that way. I still have my days when I do nothing but beat myself up, but I'm getting better about cutting myself some slack. The "shoulds" won't get this woman down for long. Who's with me?

Thursday, April 15, 2010


We planted our garden last Sunday. It was a week earlier than we'd planted last year, but I couldn't wait any longer! My weekends get so hectic in the springtime as it is, and I work every other Saturday. So I took advantage of sunshine and the time I had, and just hoped that it wouldn't frost. So far, so good on that count!

Last year was our first attempt at a garden. We planted cucumbers, tomatoes, one bell pepper plant, basil, and thyme in a raised bed in our backyard. We really knew next to nothing about what we were doing, besides what we gleaned from gardening sites online. And it turned out gloriously. We had more tomatoes than we knew what to do with, and ended up freezing quite a few for stews and soups. I learned that I don't like tomatoes as much as I previously thought I did! A few slices a day are plenty enough for me! But it is beyond satisfying to be able to taste the sunshine in a warm tomato from your backyard. Those grocery store things that call themselves tomatoes are just, well, they're red, and squishy, and they add another layer to your sandwich, but that's about all you can say for them.

With last year's success, we decided to expand our backyard operation. Eric dug a new bed next to the old one, and we've added summer crookneck squash, zucchini, and a jalapeno pepper plant to the mix, as well as chives, cilantro, and rosemary in containers. We're trying to grow some things from seed this year, and we seeded them directly into the ground, which I'm a bit nervous about. I just don't know how that's going to work, you know? At least with a plant, you have the tangible thing in front of you, already beginning its growth. I guess we'll just have to keep a watch on it and hopefully in a couple of weeks we'll see some little green shoots popping up! (Patience isn't exactly my strongsuit.)

Gardening is a true joy, and also a good metaphor for life. My husband and I really don't know what we're doing at all, we just get out there, get our hands dirty, and just see what happens! There's so much to learn, so many websites and books from which to glean knowledge. I guess it's a good thing it's a relatively inexpensive pastime, right? Growing up, I learned from my aunt and grandfather that working in the yard could become a hobby and a passion, and I envied their green thumbs. I never thought I could be a person who grew things. I thought it took some sort of special magic or gift. Instead, like most things in life, it really only takes a desire and some good, honest work.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A List of Things I Can't Get Enough Of

Sweet grandmothers who help their grand kids with storytime crafts

Moms who help clean up after storytime crafts, without being asked

The way one boy in my storytime always comments after a funny story, "That was a funny story!"

Perusing the beautiful plants at Pope's nursery

Digging in the dirt, planting stuff

"The Soup" on E!

my Turbo Kick class at the gym

trying new recipes from Food Network and Rachael Ray magazines

Polite children


The way my husband smells

Blue skies

Redbuds in bloom

Anthony Bourdain



Thursday, April 8, 2010

A List of Things I'm So Over

Tiger Woods


"rehab" for "sex addiction" (are we sensing a theme?)

kids texting while they walk

kids pushing books all the way back on the bookshelves (librarian's pet peeve #347)

people who say "I have a question," and then pause for a really long time

competition-based reality shows

especially food-based competition shows

Guy Fieri

people who don't use their blinkers

people who don't say "Hi" back when you say "Hi" to them

my twitching eye


worrying about my weight

comparing myself to others

Monday, April 5, 2010

Mo' Money, Mo' Problems?

I've been reading Ariel Gore's newest book, Bluebird: Women and the new Psychology of Happiness. (Never read her before - she's fantastic! Where have I been?) It's about the positive psychology movement, whether or not it's a bunch of junk and how it can be applied to women's lives. What I like most about the book are the personal journal entries and stories from women who Gore interviewed as subjects. They are thought-provoking and illuminating.

There's a short chapter on money - whether women tend to devalue the role money plays in our lives and happiness. A certain story piqued my interest. A friend of Gore's went to college and noticed that "the kids from upper-class backgrounds seemed to have a wholly different attitude toward money from the kids who grew up poor... what might she learn from her new, entitled friends?"

She discovered that "people who grew up with money welcome money into their lives. People who grew up poor tend to have a lot of negative associations with money - they associate money with money problems."

Whoa. Seems like a simple enough concept. But it hit me right in the gut when I read it.

I have a real chip on my shoulder when it comes to money, and I always have. We didn't have much when I was growing up - I never went to bed hungry or anything, but money was always tight. There were fights about money all the time. After the divorce, my mom and I were on food stamps for a short while. She didn't really know how to handle money and I learned some bad spending habits that took me many years to correct. Despite our constant money struggles, my parents chose to send me to private schools for my entire education. I don't really know how that happened and don't really see the practicality of that choice now, but what's done is done.

I went into a middle school and high school resembling "Beverly Hills 90210," or at least the East Tennessee version. I grew to resent the kids who had money to buy whatever their hearts desired. Kids who crashed their luxury cars, only to have their parents buy them new ones. Kids who went on skiing vacations and didn't have t0 shop for their school uniforms at the annual consignment sale. I had an amazing group of high school friends who never, ever made me feel lass than because of my money situation. But I always knew that I was pretty much the poorest kid in the whole freaking school.

So when I read that section from Bluebird I felt in viscerally. I don't know many people who have worse associations with money than I do. Money makes me nervous, anxious, jealous, disgusted, angry. And since the days of my bad spending habits I've done a 180 degree turn and practically hate to spend money now. I haven't bought a new winter coat in nine years because spending more than $50.00 on one item makes me feel almost ill. Yeah, I've got issues.

In Bluebird, Ariel Gore's friend tried to consciously change her relationship with money by saying all these mantras like, "I am a money magnet. Money flows naturally and easily into my life." She started teaching all of their starving artist friends her theory of "money magnetism." I told Eric about this and he said it sounded like "all that Secret bullshit." I responded, "Well, I buy into that stuff to a certain extent." And I do. It doesn't explain away all of the iniquities and hardship in the world. Sometimes bad stuff just happens. But - there IS some truth to how your view of the world determines your life path. If you play the victim your whole life, things feel out of your control, unlucky things get you down even more, and you can get stuck in a loop of hopelessness and negative emotions. I've seen it happen enough in my own family to believe it.

If I apply this money theory to my life, how does that affect me? I've hated and desired money equally. It's been a temptress, an annoyance, a hassle. But if I look at it objectively, it's also been an ally, a savior, a friend. Me digging myself out of debt has led to a good credit score, which led to a home loan, which led to me and my husband living in our cute little house in the neighborhood we adore. A surprise family inheritance allowed my mother to make some much needed repairs to her home and get herself mostly out of debt. No one in my family, or my husband's, is rich, but we all basically have what we need, which is a blessing.

Maybe I need to start coming up with some money mantras of my own. It couldn't hurt, right? It just might lead to some healing, some letting go of weighty, illogical feelings that could be holding me back. And come next winter, it might also lead to a brand-new coat!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Like Prego...

I'm feeling antsy about writing. I was in a groove for about a month or so, and now I feel... empty. I lack words. I sit down with my notebook and I scratch out symbols that become words, but they don't go anywhere, they don't mean anything. I feel empty, and it's frustrating.

My life, however, feels very full. Since I've begun this blog, I've baked a pie from scratch, tried a kickboxing class (actually two!), jogged in my neighborhood, started training for a 5K. I think I'm going to try knitting next. And I forsee a river kayak trip in my future! The world has opened up for me - and why not? I'm healthy, thank God. I have a supportive spouse and supportive friends. The glass is definitely half full.

But. With me, there's always a but. I am a creature of moods. Last night I complained to the hubby that I wasn't writing anything and was starting to feel panicked. He said to me, "You've got to know that's it's still in there." I am trying to remember and feel his words. The spark is still in me. Sometimes it might hide. I have to just keep on writing. Just do it, don't think, just write. Writing has opened up my life! I can't quit now.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Words don't come unless you
invite them in,
make a soft, inviting place
for them to rest.
Open the shades all the way and
let in the light. Let it
warm all the dark, secret places
that have grown cold with neglect.
All this hiding, scurrying like a squirrel
has made you small, pale, peevish.
Words float back in through
cracks in windows, under the door.
You can't keep renewal out forever.
Spring shoots its way up through
cold ground and blossoms at your feet.
Know enough to hold on, to notice
the sky above you and the birds
swirling over your head.
Hear them. Don't think.
Be present.
The light and noise and warmth of rebirth
will wrap around you and make you new again,
make you write again.
Even in the dead of winter you can
smell the words
unfurling beneath your feet.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


I apparently have a new theme song. It's called "Run" by one of my favorite musicians, Kathleen Edwards. I can't stop listening to it. It makes me want to throw on my sneakers, throw open the door, and just go. It's about a woman who's running in the night, after she's put her kids to bed.

I would run down the lane And into the night/Run so fast I swear my feet would fly/Run from my babies asleep in their beds/Run from my lover and my best friend/And back again

I understand this song in my bones, even though I am currently childless. This woman is carving out a space for herself to just be who she is, time to not be a mother or wife in that moment. And because she loves her children and her partner, she comes back. When I run (or get on that elliptical trainer, or walk, or lift weights) I am just me. I'm not Ms. Laila, the storytime lady, and I'm not Laila, the wife, or Laila the daughter. I love being all of these things, but at some level I also want to be me - the woman who is in the midst of what feels like a profound life changing time. I am running not away from my family or friends, but towards the woman I want to become.

I can see her in my mind. She's strong, sexy, confident, powerful. She is alive, a fighter. She knows all the crazy horrible things in this world that can break her heart wide open, and she says, So be it. I can still love life, create art, have fun, love myself and love my loved ones in the face of all that's broken with this world.

But the smell of the world came into my lungs/The sound of the gravel when my legs went numb/And my heart nearly burst right out of my chest/And it felt so good to know I wasn't dead/

When I run, I don't fly like a slight, skinny bird. I tend to plod, and sweat, and gasp. I am a woman of some substance, you might say. But there are moments when my heart's pounding that I come close to feeling a sort of flight, a certain sweet distance from everyday experience. The more I run the more I realize that my body does what it wants to; some days I can run, and some days I just walk, and that's okay. Either way I feel more alive, like every moment is a chance to be made new.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


"Fearfulness is a mind habit." - Sylvia Boorstein

I took turkey bacon slices out of the cast-iron skillet, set them on the paper towel to drain, and said, "I want to have a kid." Husband asked, "What brought that on?" I replied, "I just think we'd be good parents. I think it would be fun."

And by fun I don't mean a party all the time. I mean challenging, rewarding, scary, hard, exhilarating. I mean pushing myself to see what I'm made of and really getting to know myself and my partner and all that messy life stuff.

Natalie Goldberg says that when something scary comes up in your writing, go for it. "Otherwise you'll spend all your time writing around whatever makes you nervous." So when I get down to what really matters, the stuff that freaks me out, pretty high on the list is mothering. Me becoming a mother. I've been wrestling with when to try and have a kid for at least a year now, and I keep putting it off. There are surface excuses - I want to lose weight, I want to gain self-confidence, I want to have more money - but it really all boils down to fear. What am I afraid of? Let's see:

Sleeplessness. Selflessness. A changed relationship with Husband. What if we have no money? What if I lose my job? What if I'm no good at mothering? What if she cries all the time and I resent her? What if I get fat? What if I have no time for me? So many questions, so many ways my mind can spin in loops.

But. I inch forward. I want, in my heart, to have a child. Someone who is part me and part my husband and something totally new all at once. Some sweet spark of God/divinity in her. I want to sing to her, read to her, teach her how to bake cookies and plant tulips and recognize the birds and the trees. Push her to try new things. Advise her that it's okay if you're not always comfortable or happy. At 32 I am finally figuring out that we won't die if we're afraid or uncomfortable! It's how we grow and get to know ourselves.

I think it's okay to acknowledge ambivalence about mothering. It's okay to be scared. These days I'm trying to operate under the premise that if it's something that would be good for me, for someone I know, or for the world in general, and I feel mostly capable, then just be scared and do it anyway. I'm totally freaked out about taking the leap. But excited too. So we inch closer, towards the biggest mystery/challenge/excitement we may ever be privileged enough to experience.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Feel My Muscles

"Ms. Laila, feel my muscle," four-year-old Ashley* said after story time today. She flexed her left arm and I poked at her bicep. "Oh my goodness, that is a big muscle! You're very strong!" I enthused. With twinkling eyes she smiled and said, "That's because I have a watch in there." I asked, "A watch?" "Yes, a Belle watch." (Belle, from Beauty and the Beast, which her mother told me she's never seen because it's in the Disney vault!)

Ashley reminded me of myself at her age, flexing with pride over my big muscles. There are numerous pictures of me at ages 3 and 4 with one or both arms poised to show off my "guns." Most of the time I'm scowling as if to say, "Don't mess with me, pal." This was my Lynda Carter Wonder Woman phase. Oh, how I loved her, wanted to be her, fight crime with thigh-high boots and gold bracelets!

Truth be told, I'm still apt to flex in front of the mirror after I get home from the gym. I make my husband periodically feel my muscles, and he gamely plays along. I love feeling fit and strong and I want to get fitter and stronger. Tomorrow, in another instance of Stuff I'm Actually Doing, I'm taking my first kickboxing class. I'm nervous. The ever-present fear of making a fool of myself rears its ugly head. But I've got to at least try. It's something I've always wanted to do! I'm going to try and channel my fearless inner four year old.

(*names changed for privacy)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

secret genius

I love it when my husband plays his guitar. He picks it up at random and just starts playing these gorgeous original songs. If poems poured from my pen like songs flow from his fingertips, I'd be freakin' Poet Laureate by now. I am so proud of him. I don't think he really knows just how much.

When he puts his guitar down after a session, I always make sure to tell him, "I love to hear you play." He doesn't usually acknowledge what I say with more than a nod, and I don't care. I just want him to know. I'll be standing at the sink washing pots and pans, or sitting in bed reading, and he starts playing, and it's the best damn thing since strong, hot coffee on a cold morning. He's mine! Domestic bliss!

How many of us are married to amazing, creative, artistic people - and no one knows it but us? All the secret genius out there must be legion.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


For pretty much all of my life, I've held ideas about myself - about what I could and couldn't do, about who I was and who I wasn't. All they've done is hold me back. As I was running at the gym yesterday, I thought, 'It's only taken me thirty-two and a half years to start finding out who I really am! How lucky for me!'

I ran and walked in intervals for 3.1 miles - a treadmill 5K. I was slow. I didn't care. I felt absolutely alive - sweaty, gasping, shuffling along. Ever since middle school gym, when the mile run portion of the Presidential Fitness Test scarred me for life, I've resisted running. It's so intense, this experience of a racing heart, burning lungs, and jostled joints. I am confronted by my fears and by the way I limit myself, compare myself to everyone else. The list of reasons why I'm not a "real runner" is long. I can't be a real runner because:

I'm too slow. I'm too fat. Too old. I wear glasses. I don't have the right shoes, clothes, mp3 player. I don't know the right way to breathe. I don't like being cold. Or wet. Or hot. I don't like wearing shorts. I don't wear a watch, or a heart rate monitor. I don't drink sport drinks. I don't shop at Runner's Market.

I could go on.

Running scares me partly because I'm afraid of getting hurt, and writing scares me pretty much for the same reason. But the more I write, the more I want to do other things that frighten me. I am somehow pushing up against myself, meeting my mind's resistance and punching holes in it, slowly.

In the spirit of "Why Not?", I am running a 5K race in six weeks. I have creaky knees, tight hamstrings, a twitchy back, a big butt. I still don't think of myself as a runner. I wonder if that will change when I cross the finish line. Sometimes I tell myself, just put one foot in front of the other. Just get down one word, one sentence, one paragraph. Moving forward, as slowly as I need to go, I figure I'll meet myself on down the road.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


I've been reading a memoir by Dani Shapiro called Devotion. (Here I am again, reading, always reading...) It's a tricky book to describe, but in it she chronicles her feeling of spiritual disconnect and search for meaning. Despite a lovely family and comfortable lifestyle, she is anxious, doubt-ridden, scared. A skilled and eloquent writer, she delves into the depths of a troubled relationship with her mother, baring insecurities fearlessly. I recognize the feelings she describes - the free-floating anxiety, the need to place her faith in something. Where's the time and space for ritual and a spiritual connection in today's rush-rush, technology-driven world? It's exciting to find another soul asking the same questions, praying, sometimes out loud, to a God she's not certain is listening.

I didn't grow up in an Orthodox Jewish household, as Shapiro did. In fact, I grew up nothing at all - no religion. My father emigrated from Iran in 1969, abandoning his Muslim upbringing and embracing the American freedom to practice no faith at all. My mom was baptized in the Baptist church as a child but her family didn't attend church regularly, and from what I can gather, didn't discuss God much at all. Mom and Dad later told me they didn't want to raise me in a certain religious tradition in order to let me choose my own way.

I appreciate that freedom in some ways, but I could have used more conversation about God. I could have used some instruction about the teachings of different religious traditions. I don't remember talking about God much at all as a child, occasionally going to a Methodist church with my mother in brief spurts. I felt like all the other kids in Sunday School knew what the heck was going on, and I was totally clueless. Needless to say, I didn't enjoy it very much.

To create a space for the acknowledgement of the sacred is one of my main goals in life and certainly something I want to introduce to my own future children. Living life without a connection to something bigger than your to-do list is no way to live. It's an endless loop of work, eat, watch TV, sleep, and do it all over again. Room for ritual, for miracles, for gratitude, for love - this is what makes life rich.

I think quiet time is a huge part of connection to God. I know I crave silence. I didn't used to be that way. Silence can be hard - you're faced with the tape in your mind, all your insecurities, fears, worries. But as Shapiro describes in Devotion, sitting in quiet meditation stirred up "something pure and deep." When you acknowledge the small voice inside that longs for God, yearns to know God intimately, you make yourself vulnerable, open. In an almost childlike way, you're asking for help. Blocking out the need for God-space with all of the modern distractions in the world just isn't working for me anymore.

This book came along at just the right time for me. It's hard to talk to other people about God. Some people want to convert you to their brand of God. Some people think you're nuts to believe in God at all. I get weirdly touchy about God-talk - anyone who is too certain of their opinion turns me off. And yet I can't stop wondering, seeking, searching. I don't necessarily expect answers. I just want to be comfortable living with the questions.

Maybe I don't need to be talking to anyone else about God right now. Maybe I just need to sit quietly and let God talk to me.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


I am profoundly blessed. Let me change that - I feel profoundly blessed. I'm sitting in a rocking chair on my front porch. The sun warms me despite the brisk late February breeze. My neighborhood is relatively quiet. There's a dog barking close by. An airplane hums in the distance. Traffic from the highway is not far off but not loud enough to pierce my concentration or good mood. I feel safe. I am lucky to live in a neighborhood where I feel safe on my front porch, puttering in the backyard, or walking the five minutes down to the park. So many people in this world don't enjoy this luxury. They don't get to sun themselves in relative peace and quiet. They don't feel the gratification of slicing and eating a juicy, warm tomato grown in their backyard. These seem like simple things, but I am aware that they are luxuries for most of the people in this world.

Why me?

I know there is some element of karma at play - choices I made led me here to some extent. But let's not forget about luck. Plain old luck. And the part of me that worries and frets daily feels like throwing salt over my shoulder or crossing myself, because luck can turn on a dime. I know this.

But today, I choose happy.

Like so many others in the country right now, my brilliant, creative husband is underemployed. We get frustrated, down, worried, and that's to be expected. I keep coming back to my faith in the goodness of life. Life is what you make of it. Like Oprah, this is what I know for sure. It sounds corny, but I think that how you view the world creates your reality. I choose to shutter worry and float in gratitude.

Gratitude is the best daily practice I know to keep sadness and worry at bay. Like someone sitting in meditation practice returns to the breath, I must return to gratitude. Breathe in, breathe out. Thank you, thank you, thank you. My relationship to God is something I am still forming all the time, but I offer my thanks to whoever or whatever is out there listening.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Second Thoughts from the Sugar Queen

Wow. I just had something of a personal breakthrough. I was taking a break, eating an orange. It was juicy, sweet, just a little bit tart. It was perfect. I had also brought 3 Thin Mint cookies with me. So I ate one. "Hmm," I thought, "the orange was better." I ate another one just to be sure. "Yep, this is pretty good, but the orange was better." So I ate the third, if only to cement in my head that I preferred the orange. You know, get the desire for Thin Mints out of my system. A skinnier, more perfect version of myself would have stopped at the first one, but I'm not skinny or perfect.

I've been on a sugar binge lately, and I feel like I'm ready to cut back - way back.

I'm pretty sure when I get home tonight I'm going to throw away my Thin Mints. I thought I liked them more than I actually do!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Stuff I'm Actually Doing

Obviously, the reason I am writing this blog is to DO something, take action, stop watching life from the sidelines. In that spirit, I am going to chronicle new experiences that I push myself into doing. For most of my life I have been highly averse to change, and this includes anything new that I am unsure of. Being in new situations freaks me out. I know some people thrive on the new. I'm not one of them. I like knowing the plan, knowing what's going to happen. It's just my nature, not something I particularly love about myself.

Some of the things that I post on my "done" list might not seem like the most terrifying experiences to some. They might not even be terrifying to me. But they're things I've been putting off doing for a long time, simply because of my fear of failure or making a fool of myself.

So here goes.

#1: I baked an apple pie from scratch!

I've made cupcakes galore, muffins aplenty, even some pretty darn good cakes. I love to bake. It's soothing in the doing and in the eating. But I've put off baking a pie because I thought it seemed too complicated. I can't believe I thought I wouldn't be able to do it! The pastry turned out so delicious and flaky, just the right texture and taste. I cringe normally at the thought of using shortening, but you really do have to use it if you want a flaky crust. Brushing the egg glaze (egg yolk mixed with a bit of water) on the crust as I unfolded it into the pie pan, I felt hopeful, excited, and a bit embarrassed. If all of my fears are anything like my experience of pie-baking, I've been holding myself back for far, far too long. Now what do I tackle next?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Vessel

I've been reading Natalie Goldberg's book Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. With my A.D.D. these days I like the short sections that I can read for a few minutes, put down, and ponder. A lot of what she writes really resonates with me, but I can't get one paragraph out of my mind. It gives me cause for hope and terrifies me simultaneously. She writes:

"Don't identify too strongly with your work. Stay fluid behind those black and white words. They are not you. They were a great moment going through you. A moment you were awake enough to write down and capture."

I love the idea that you are the vehicle for juicy ideas and well-crafted sentences. It means that if you are open, present, and practicing, good things can emerge from your pen at any moment. I read published writers say again and again that one of the most important things about writing is the actual sitting down to do it. From my own experience, it makes me crazy to have words floating around in my head instead of written on the page. And even when I don't feel particularly inspired, occasionally something comes out when I make myself sit down and give it a shot.
I wrote for a very long time, years and years of my life. I identified myself as a writer. And then I stopped. I didn't feel like I had anything to say that was worth reading. I'm sad for those wasted years. Who knows what "great moments going through" me I missed because I wasn't open enough, or brave enough, to try?

Goldberg's words send a little jolt of fear through me, though... who am I? I can't be those poems that I wrote all those years ago. I can't be the little girl sitting on a red slide at recess, writing a poem about my grandfather. Those moments came, and they were good, and they left. And they're not me now. I'm 32 years old, almost 33. I have to make the time and space for new great moments to come through.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Dear Scale

I don't think I have any "frenemies" - at least, not flesh and blood ones. (I hate that word, by the way - it's one of those fake, annoying media language constructs I like to gripe about.) However, I've realized recently that the scale - specifically, the scale at my gym - is definitely in frenemy territory.

I don't keep one in the house - oh, no, too tempting. But I can't resist the one at the gym. It calls to me. Like a good friend it makes me feel wonderful when I read a good (low) number on its face. It's almost as pleasurable as a nice compliment from a real friend. When it gives me a bad (higher) number, it deflates me and sets the wheels turning in my mind. All my energy spent, mental and physical, seems for naught. Getting on the scale pretty much makes me crazy.

This relationship is toxic. I've got to give it up.

I've made good strides in my quest for better health, especially since the New Year began. I feel better, fitter. My clothes are fitting better. I'm keeping a food journal faithfully. There is genuine cause for hope!

More than anything, working out keeps me sane. All those endorphins get going and my naturally anxious mind starts to unwind. On the flip side, I've realized that eating is another thing that calms me down - temporarily. Food says, "Everything will be okay. You're fine. You're provided for." It's only after the last bite that the wheels start spinning again.

This weight thing is a struggle. It's constant, omnipresent, maddening. I'm not going to quit, though. I feel too good to give up. So, in that spirit, goodbye, scale. I'm going to take a break from you. Let's say, one month, at least. Maybe by then I'll feel so good I won't even feel the need to let you back in to my life.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The answer is Vonnegut

When I complained to a library patron about my poor focus and book choices recently, she said, "Vonnegut. When you can't find anything to read, get some Vonnegut." She was right! I'm reading God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. It's typically wise, darkly funny, compassionate Vonnegut. I am so glad I've only read a few of his works and have many more to look forward to, since he's no longer with us. I'm confident that my attention span will return eventually, but in the meantime it's lovely to spend some time with this author.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

This Reading Life

I find television to be very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go in the other room and read a book. ~Groucho Marx

Since 2001 I've kept a book journal, a record of all the books I've read. Sometimes I only note the title and author; other times I'll write a one or two word review, nothing in depth. If it's particularly spectacular I'll draw a little star by the notation. If anyone recommended it to me I'll usually write that as well.

It's fun to thumb through it and see how my reading tastes have changed. I used to be a big fan of a genre some call Chick Lit. I found comfort and hope in tales of twenty-something urban women trying to find love and get ahead in a career. Red Dress Ink novels, in particular, were my favorites.

I can pinpoint the time when the genre began to sour for me - in the summer of 2004 I tried to read a book by Jane Green, a British author I'd enjoyed immensely before. I wrote in my journal, "Can I be tiring of Chick Lit?" Yes, in fact. I was 26 then, about the right age to give it up.

I made notes in the margins when I began dating someone new and, inevitably, when we broke up. All of my ex-boyfriends inspired some reading choices - I still shake my head over the fact that I read James Carville's and Paul Begala's book Buck Up, Suck Up or Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code - both books that my exes swore I had to read. Blecch. One ex did recommend Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Woolf's Orlando, both great reads. (Coincidence that he was my "best" ex-boyfriend?)

Since I began the journal I've read anywhere from 49 to 82 books a year. I wonder what all this reading has done for me. I've had people tell me that they don't read much because they'd rather be out living life. There's definitely a segment of the population who feel that reading is done at the expense of direct life experience. I think there's some truth in that.

I know that I've been a voracious, almost obsessive reader for at least that past few years now. I know that I've indulged in books instead of facing the challenge of a blank page and actually writing. I've know deep down that I was using reading as a crutch, keeping my fears about writing at arm's length.

Since I've started this blog I've had trouble concentrating on reading and making good selections. I take this as a sign I'm heading in a good direction.

I will always be a reader. I'll have to blog sometime soon about my love for books - I feel like this post is giving them a bad rap! Reading is part of my identity, just like wearing glasses or my infamous sweet tooth. But I'm more aware now of my tendency to put off doing things that scare me by losing myself in a novel. I don't think reading is any less legitimate a hobby or passion than any other. One can get lost in playing cards, snowshoeing, or baking just as easily as reading, right? Surely there is room for both books and a live fully lived?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Feeling Scrappy

I kept a scrapbook, my first attempt at doing so, during 2008. I'd lay out my pictures, paper, and supplies on the living room floor in front of the TV. I sat cross legged (a position that feels more and more uncomfortable the older I get!) and documented our first full calendar year of marriage. After I created a page I felt a sense of peace and accomplishment.

I fully intended to begin another book for 2009. I bought a pretty red album and some new embellishments. They're still sitting on my closet floor with an accordion file of notes and ticket stubs I collected last year.

The feeling I couldn't shake each time I thought about starting the book was, "We haven't done anything."

This isn't logically true at all. We did do things. We hung out with friends, went to the mountains, painted our front porch, tried new recipes every week, traveled to my ten-year college reunion in Indiana. It's not like we spent a whole year staring at each other on the couch.

I just felt like I didn't do anything that mattered.

I have a horrible habit of comparing myself to others - friends, acquaintances, people on TV. Add a gnawing insecurity to that and you have a great recipe for inaction. It's easier to do nothing, to watch TV, to lose yourself in a novel, to clean the house. That feels easier than beginning something you don't feel capable enough, or smart enough, or interesting enough to do.

So I didn't scrapbook. I didn't write. I didn't go to parties or shows. What did I have to say that anyone would care at all about hearing?

Life is so easy to sleepwalk through. It's not hard to convince yourself that you don't matter enough to merit a big, eclectic, vivid life. How many of you feel this way? Why do we let ourselves shrink and wither?

I don't know what flipped the switch for me. I could point to January optimism, a vitamin D supplement, increased gym time... probably all of these factors and others I'm not aware of. The point is this: I finally believe I matter. I got sick of hiding my light and saying "no" to life. It's scary and it's messy and it's hard to put your neck out there. But ask yourself, is it time?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Forever, stamps.

When I was in college and went home for summers or winter breaks, my friends and I wrote each other letters. Letters on actual paper, in actual envelopes. I went to a small Midwestern liberal arts college in a small town about six hours from my hometown. My friends also came from different parts of the country and scattered accordingly on breaks. We wrote each other about trying to adjust back to parent's rules and high school friendships. We pined for crushes back on campus. We were bored; we missed one another and the cozy nest of our small campus.

It seems terribly quaint and old-fashioned now looking back on our chosen form of communication. Email was pretty much in its infancy for much of my college years, and texting had yet to be invented, I think. No one I knew even had a cell phone during college. This wasn't during the dark ages, this was a mere 10-15 years ago.

I miss letters. I'm the one at my house who gets excited when the mail comes. It's mostly bills and solicitations from charities. I have more address labels with my name on them than I'll ever use.

Yesterday I got a little thrill over a small note card-sized envelope addressed to me. I didn't recognize the handwriting, but couldn't help wonder which of my friends had been thoughtful enough to write me an actual note.

It was a card from my hairdresser, telling me she'd switched salons.

Surely I'm not the only one who longs for real mail? I confess: I don't send texts. I'm a Luddite compared to most of my friends. My cell phone is basically for emergencies and I don't even have Internet at home. This level of technological backwardness in someone my age is a little embarrassing.

Once in a while I send a letter to a friend, a snapshot of my state of mind and what's been happening in my life lately. Usually I never hear anything back. I do hear from far-flung friends - on Facebook. Sometimes I think, did I really mail that note card? Is it lost in the mail?

I can't get angry or hold grudges about the lack of paper flowing my way. People get busy. Partners (and babies) need attention. People have stressful, time-consuming jobs (I don't, but others do.) I understand.

There's a letter I've been meaning to write for months now. A friend moved, we don't talk, I didn't come to see her on her brief last visit to town. It's an old familiar story, I'm sure. I feel badly about dropping my end of the thread of our friendship.

Maybe this wish of mine to return to the age of letter-writing is more about wanting to return to deeper, richer connections with friends. It really does get harder and harder to stay current in one another's lives.

This weekend, with the forecast threatening snow, I'm going to sit with pen in hand, get out my pretty little notecards, and try again.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Day One

For a few weeks now I've had trouble concentrating. I can't seem to find anything I really want to read, which is highly unusual for a voracious reader like myself. I pick up a book, get about 30 pages into it, and get bored. I can't stomach reading memoirs right now especially. I turned the latest book back into the library and pondered what my weird mood means. I came up with this: I'm bored by other people's stories. I'm sick of reading about other people accomplishing things, or trying to accomplish things. I want to be the one creating and doing and accomplishing. I can't stand being a spectator anymore. It's taken me a long time to get up the courage to do this, to try and type something into a little box and send it out there into the world. Doesn't seem like much. But really, it means that I finally may have realized that I have something worth saying, something that someone else out there might want to read. If nothing else, I'll feel better about myself for having given it a shot.

So what is this? Who knows what it will be. I have so many things I want to do with my life: write, create, connect to God, run, dance, travel, savor the blessings in my life, be of use to others, have fun, play, have a baby, celebrate my wonderful husband, save money, bake pies, make time for friends... the list is endless. I hope that by putting down all the stuff in my brain that runs in an endless loop (I should be doing THIS, why aren't I doing THAT, what's WRONG with me?, etc etc.) I can finally put to rest my fears and act boldly. Live my life! Not too much to ask, is it?