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?