Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday Links: School's Back IN Edition

My heart horse, Sadie.

I am always annoyed this time of year with all of the commercials and posts about how happy adults are that kids are going back to school. I don't actually want The Teenager to go back; I enjoy her company and want to drag her to all sorts of more interesting places than school. Plus, school gets in the way of pretty much everything. I can think of a million better ways to spend 36 hours a week.

Alas, she has chosen public high school and is enjoying it. So back to school it is.

That being said, here are a few links I have found solace in this week.

An explanation of barrel-strength whiskey: I periodically get junk mail from a place called Caskers that features a variety of cask-strength bourbon. For some reasons, the onslaught of these bourbons increased this week. Maybe school has something to do with it. #AllOfTheBourbon

A lunch-packing tutorial: The Teenager takes her lunch to school, and yes, I pack it every morning. She is a very picky eater in that she doesn't like soup, cold pasta salad, most sandwiches, and hummus. This makes packing lunch tricky, as I also refuse to load it down with prepackaged bullshit like Goldfish and "fruit" snacks. The best thing I have been able to come up with is lots of little snacks like snap peas, nuts, and berries, and bento boxes are perfect for that sort of thing. She still comes home starving (because she eats lunch at 10:20 and doesn't get home until four), but this gives me tons of little compartments to tuck stuff into.

A little eye candy: Let's objectify some dudes here, shall we? I don't know which rock I have been under, but apparently, #DILF is a thing, as is manbuns. This Instagram account focuses on the latter and has tons of the former. Yowza.

A little story about a picky show horse: Finally this week, the end of the summer, as with most transitions for these past two years, has been bittersweet. This story is about a high-level show horse who goes into the ring without a bridle (she is ridden in a halter), and it reminded me of my beloved former pony, Sadie, who I found out this past week is really not doing well. She has a "neurological condition" and had to have an eye removed. Now she spends most of her days stuck in a stall and gumming soaked alfalfa cubes to keep her weight up. I realize that she is old, but for a horse who loved to run and felt best and healthiest when she was out roaming the pasture with a good buddy, this ain't living. I wish I had not found this out, and I regret leaving her behind. She would not have gone out like that with me; better to have a shorter, fuller life than to decay slowly in a stall. And shorter is relative; she turns 31 this January.

And come to think of it, that's a damn fine first lesson of the school year. Get out there and live some life, people. Don't sit around and decay in a stall.

This weekend is the first annual (and probably last overall) Dane Kolbeck Memorial Wiffle Ball tournament at Redwing Farm in Sinks Grove, WV. Planning on sharing some drinks with old friends and making lots of noise late into the evening in honor of Dane.

How was your last week of summer?

Monday, August 24, 2015

Lessons In Anxiety

(I'm the one in the back in the pink top on the right. Trying not to fall off. Seriously.)

About 90 minutes before this photo was taken, I wasn't quite sure I would make it to this lesson.

Saturday was my first SUP yoga class, and I had been looking forward to it for six months. Halfway through my 200-hour yoga teacher training, I decided that I wanted to become certified in teaching stand-up paddleboard yoga, even though I had never done it before. Without getting all astrological (it's a science, y'all), as a Pisces I am at my most peaceful and relaxed on, near, or in water. Yoga challenges me mentally, and the two seem like a slam-dunk of yoga teaching and learning for me. Plus, it looked hella fun, let's be honest.

So why would I consider cancelling just an hour before class was scheduled to start?


Stupid, relentless, ridiculous, inconvenient anxiety.

Anxiety that, at times, requires medication (and I am looking into medical marijuana because why the hell not?).

Anxiety that has left me passed out on the side of the road in the dark, with a six-year-old daughter waiting patiently in the car while I woke up, finished puking, then got back into the car.

Anxiety that laid me out on the floor of the bathroom in the Georgia Aquarium on that same kid's birthday for three hours, unable to stand up, feet sticking out of the stall, her little teeny voice saying as I woke up from fainting, "Mommy? Did you know your hand is in the toilet?" (side note: not one single person asked if they could help or if we were okay in THREE HOURS that I was on the floor. NOT ONE.)

Anxiety on an otherwise amazing day that involved canning, farmer's market shopping, and dog walking. A beautiful, 84-degree miracle of a fall day in the summer.

Then WHAM. Hit in the face.

The more I talk about my anxiety (which is infrequently and not even remotely this publicly because it's no one else's business really and who the hell really wants to hear it anyway?), the more people I meet who experience the same thing. I have resigned myself to taking a pill when I need it (which makes me giggle even as I am taking it because it's like taking a "chill pill," which brings me back to the 80s), but I am still hopeful that some day it will disappear on its own or I will have amassed enough tools to get through it without drugs.

Saturday I popped a pill and breathed while I waited for the anxiety to pass, then drove down to a flat calm inlet and SUPed like a crazy person. At the end of the lesson, lying on my back on the board in savasana, arms trailing in the water, sun shining down on my face, I realized how lucky I am and felt an immense wave of gratitude wash over me. Anxiety is not so welcome  that I wouldn't immediately hand it over if given the chance, but it offers me the opportunity to be so much more grateful for the experiences I have because of what I have to go through to have them. At the end of the class my heart was full, and I felt lit up by the revelation of yoga on the water. Had I not nearly been incapable of that experience, it may not have felt so sweet.

Do you have any gifts disguised as a curse?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Friday Links: ADHD Edition

A map of Chicago on a building in Chicago. Very Inception-y.

It's Friday!

Funny how even though I work at home and every day is basically the same (so much so that I often lose track in the summer of the day and date) that "Friday" still has a magical ring. Mostly it means we stay away from the grocery store for two days until everyone else goes back to work.

But I digress.

This week was gone in a flash, with one new writing client firing up and the HVAC in our new house winding down. Balance in all things, right?

I have felt pulled in many different directions, scattered, this week. I feel like there are things I need to get completely finished with (like processing the end of my yoga teacher training and organizing a scrapbook of sorts of our three-week roadtrip), but I cannot gather myself together enough to focus on those things. This results in some epic time-wasting on the computer.

Here are just a few of the things I found interesting in my travels around the interwebs this week. I figure if I put them here maybe A) I will remember they exist, and B) someone else might get something out of it. 

A handstand tutorial: Okay, it's not very yogic to strive for a particular asana, but I cannot help myself. In Georgia I had a bit of a handstand practice and have lost it since moving to Maryland. It is perspective-shifting to be upside down, and it makes me feel strong and centered. I have been revisiting this practice periodically and found this tutorial to work with. Good stuff.

A video on writing: Ta-Nehisi Coates is a Baltimore native who wrote and spoke so eloquently during the Baltimore riots/unrest/whatever last spring. Here he talks about his process of becoming a writer. As a writer, I find these sorts of interviews/chats tremendously helpful, especially from people I admire. I appreciate hearing about the struggle.

A better way to watch the Republican debate: Bad Lip Reading strikes again with this video of the Republican debate. I am looking forward to many of these as we slog through the next 15 months of political idiocy.

A tomato sauce recipe with no peeling of tomatoes: Grating with a box grater is the shortcut. I am not sure about this recipe for canning (and don't really love this cook), but I need to find something soon, as it is TIME TO CAN.

UPDATE: Used the box grater Saturday morning to remove tomato skins without blanching and fuss, and it worked amazingly well. Put up nine jars of tomatoes for some sunshine in the winter.

This weekend for us features standup paddleboard yoga, an Orioles game, and some housecleaning before guests arrive. What's on tap for you?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tempus Fugit: On Taking A Break

So it's August 18th, and the last post here was July 11th.

A three-week cross-country road trip with The Teenager is my excuse.

I have found it difficult to start up again, not because I have nothing to say or note or write down.

This happened:

The Corn Palace, home of the best corn-shaped caramel corn EVAR.

And this:

Feeding prairie dogs outside the entrance to the Badlands. Yes, we touched them. Yes, it was AWESOME.

And this:

Me and ALL OF THE BOURBON at Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, KY.

And in between, many numbers of things, some of which are documented in photography, and some of which floated past with car windows the only frame.

In the week since we have been back, I have earned my RYT-200 (yoga teacher) designation, and we have done school shopping. I got another lovely writing assignment and have coerced two people into testing my gluten-free pizza crust recipe.

In other words, life has intervened. I suppose I should be writing things down, but sometimes a break from recording every moment in words (and pictures) is necessary and good.

My brain is making space to process all of the things that are happening right now (or have happened in the past few weeks), and that is occurring as we settle back into a routine and focus on practical things, like guests coming to town, back to school, and finding patio furniture.

The cup is full, the time is flying. A break from the electronic tether was necessary and good, but I think I am back. I think. There never seems to be enough time, yet we all have exactly the same 24 hours as Einstein and da Vinci. #NotAGoodExcuse

How was your summer? Did you take a break?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

7 Things You Need To Know Before You Start Yoga

Yoga is a mystical, life-changing practice that is thousands of years old. It is also decidedly non-Western, which means that many of the common practices in a typical yoga class can be confusing. Keeping up with the Sanskrit, sutras, and chanting can be challenging enough. Here are 7 things you need to know before you start yoga.

1. Yoga pants are notoriously see-through.

If you choose to wear yoga pants, bend way over in the dressing room and take a good, long look. That unflattering dressing room light will highlight any light shining through where the sun don't shine. Better in the dressing room than on the mat in front of the rest of the class. Yoga pants are not a requirement, though. Generally, pants that allow you to move are good for yoga, with bonus point if they are slightly fitted so the teacher can see your knees to help you with alignment.

2. The only way around VPL is a thong.

I have been doing yoga off and on for at least 15 years but seriously for the last two. Just last week, I finally asked a yoga teacher how she got around VPL (visible panty line): no undies? Thong? Thong it is, especially if you are not 100% sure that your yoga pants aren't see through (hello!). In addition to eliminating the VPL issue, the butt floss action of the thong can really highlight the separate actions of each side of the pelvis in, say, Warrior I.

3. Gentlemen, peekaboo is no good.

When the weather gets warm, dudes in yoga class feel the need for a little free ballin'. Resist this urge or risk giving your yoga teacher (and the rest of the class) a sneaky flash of your down below. As the thong-answering yoga teacher above said, "That cannot be unseen." Throw those balls into a jockstrap or running shorts that will properly contain them. No one but your significant other needs a view of THAT.

4. Not everyone cleans their mat.

Many studios offer mats for your use during class. This is great because if you are just starting out you don't need to buy your own mat. However, not everyone who uses the mat uses the mat cleaner that is usually strategically placed by the mat storage. This can not only be amazingly smelly, but these mats can also harbor foot fungus, sweaty balls, and other things you wouldn't want on your face. Do yourself a favor and go to class early so you can clean your borrowed mat and give it time to dry before class begins.

5. Come to class early to shift gears.

Nothing is worse than rushing around and trying to squeeze yourself into the front row because you are late to class. Give yourself enough time so you have at least five minutes to settle into the class. For popular classes, you may need to allow more time if you don't want to be in the front row or sandwiched in a hastily-created third row. Plus, when you are late to class, you interrupt the teacher's flow, and it's rude as hell to make others move for you. Don't be rude as hell.

6. Yoga people can be assholes.

Yes, it's true. For some reason, people expect all of those who do yoga to be peaceful and nice. Not very yogic, but as with anything, there are assholes in yoga, like the jerks that eyeball your clothes or don't acknowledge your presence when you sit down next to them. Popular classes can seem clique-y, but don't sweat it. In some cases, the yoga people aren't actually being assholes; they may just be trying to center themselves before class, or they may be having a bad day. You will be able to recognize the jerks with the fancy clothes soon enough. They are the ones who wear Lululemon everywhere even when they only go to class just once a week and don't practice at home. They are on their own path, and you don't need to be near it. Namaste, bitches.

7. Seriously, child's pose or taking a break is 100% okay.

I have hurt myself muscling through a class that was too challenging for me. I have become dizzy and nearly fainted, refusing to stop in an ashtanga class that completed the entire primary series in 90 minutes. This is not only dumb, but it is also dangerous. Taking a break in child's pose is probably the purest form of yoga you can do: you are actually listening to your body and doing what works for you. You are allowing yourself to be your best teacher. This is yoga, more than the handstand and the fancy backbend.

Bonus #8. Yoga is a practice, not a perfect.

Even though Instagram would have you believe otherwise, not every day in yoga class is a flexible, strong wonderland of beauty. Sometimes your mind yells at you the entire time you are on the mat about how stiff you are and why can't you bend like the lady next to you and who do you think you are to even start this practice? Everyone, and I mean everyone, has days like this. It is part of the path of yoga. On these days, don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to a friend who was struggling in the same way. The most beautiful part of yoga can also be the hardest thing to keep in mind: everyone is a beginner.

If you've done yoga before, what would you add to the list?

Friday, July 3, 2015

8 Reasons Why Naps Are Good For You

I took a nap today. Not the kind where you accidentally fall asleep on the couch and wake up 45 minutes later, stiff in the neck and crusty in the temperament, unrested and more tired than you were when you started.

I planned this nap.

I took off my bra. It was pantsless. I went to bed. There may have been drooling, and there was absolutely dreaming. This nap was no accident, and it was glorious.

I recognize that even writing this may perpetuate the notion of the lazy freelance writer, but exactly the opposite. I had been up since six, meeting deadlines, working on my food blog, researching gluten-free bread, and editing seven blogs for submission. Then I walked the dogs, cleaned out the 'fridge, and did the dishes by hand. Right around one I went to bed with a book and let nature take its course.

I earned my nap. And even if I hadn't, guess what? Turns out, naps are actually good for you. Here are 8 reasons why.

1. Naps can counteract a bad night's sleep. Researchers found that even a 30-minute nap can mediate the stress hormones activated by a poor night of sleep.

2. Naps make you smarter. A brief nap after a lesson can help students retain the information they have just learned. Thousands of adolescents can definitely get behind this research.

3. Naps make you more alert. NASA studies prove this to be true, and who wants a sleepy astronaut?

4. Naps make you less of an asshole. Let's face it: when you're tired, you're cranky. A short nap can refresh you just enough to keep it together until cocktail hour, when you can allow alcohol to work its magic. There's no research for this. It's just true.

5. Naps are our biological imperative. Eight-five percent of mammals are polyphasic sleepers. This means that it is downright unnatural to sleep all at once. Nap like our other hairy animal friends (or Spaniards, who typically rise early, have a huge lunch, nap or rest for several hours in the afternoon, then stay up late).

6. Naps make you more creative. This may explain why so many of the artists in the American Visionary Art Museum's current exhibit are fond of naps, and also why Einstein favored an afternoon snooze. As a writer, I am merely recharging my creative batteries.

7. Naps increase productivity. Seriously. If they are good enough for Google, who invests in napping rooms and strange-looking pods that can be closed so you can ostensibly nap in the middle of a crowded room, then it's good enough for me.

8. Naps release stress. Even if you don't actually sleep, the simple act of escaping to rest relieves stress. Ask parents of toddlers; if you can get them into the bed, even without sleeping, that's a huge relief!

So maybe my nap was a little excessive today, but all you really need is 20-30 minutes. Drinking a cup of coffee before you nap can actually boost the positive effects of napping; called a "coffee nap," this is to the second decade of the 21st century what the power nap was to the 1980s. Sometimes a guided meditation or session of yoga nidra can help you to relax, even if you cannot actually sleep.

What say you? When is the last time you gave in to your baser urges and napped gloriously?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Write Like A Motherfucker And Other Writing Advice

(the tyranny of the keyboard)

I love my "job." It's in quotes not because I don't get paid for it (I do) and not because it isn't work (it is) but because for as long as I can remember I thought I would be a writer.

And technically, mostly by accident and circumstance, and also because I get paid to do it, I am a writer, and it is actually how I make my living, so it qualifies as a job. There are two things I do as a writer:

1. Mercenary writing work: This is usually referred to as freelance writing, but in my head I see myself as a mercenary sailing the seas of the internet, loyal to no one country but getting the job done for all. In a less glamorous view, this is where people pay me to write blog posts, articles, and snippets of content, or they give me ducats to read their work and polish it. Sometimes I get credit, sometimes I don't (but I still post some of it to my Pinterest writing page). This is how the lights stay on and the bills get paid.

2. My own writing: This is the writing that I put off and generally procrastinate about but which gives me tremendous joy (when done well) and inconsolable heartache (when the words don't come).

It is to this heartache that I address this blog. The heartache of the lazy, the lost-for-words, the plain old what-the-hell-should-I-say days. There are, fortunately, thousands who have come before me, much more famous and skilled than I will ever be (let's be honest with ourselves), who can address the very issue of how to work when the work won't come.

I get a tremendous amount of solace from the knowledge that every writer in history has struggled to write. From just planting their hind end in the chair to actually putting words on paper or computer screen to people thinking that you don't have a real job because all you do is "dink around online," everything about writing is challenging. It is a beautiful thing that in this land of struggle there are kindred spirits, brilliant writers and artists, many of whom even in the midst of a crisis of writer's block proportions come to the same conclusion.

Write like a motherfucker.

While I am actually not a huge fan of Cheryl Strayed's, how can one argue with this?

“Writing is hard for every last one of us… Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig.”

Another person I turn to frequently when the rock echoes at the bottom of the well is Chuck Close. He is an artist whose work has stayed with me, in large part because of the workman-like manner in which he constructs his pieces. He takes photographs of faces, and then, in an art-school-type way, enlarges them to huge proportions using a grid drawn on an enormous canvas (think 10'x10' portraits). The grid lines remain on the work; he doesn't erase them or attempt to cover them. This workman's dedication to The Job rings through one of the most profound pieces of advice on creativity that I have ever heard (or followed):

"Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work."

Show up, get to work: that is how the creation happens.

Write the crappy piece of writing. Take the horrible picture.

Feel bad about your awful work? Good. Filled with self-doubt? Even better.

"But the problem is that bad writers tend to have the self-confidence, while the good ones tend to have self-doubt." 

Charles Bukowski knows a thing about self-doubt (and a good bit of self-loathing, I'll warrant). If you can somehow manage to show up anyway, to go to work, to dig the mine, then the work is its own reward. And if the vein goes away or the levy runs dry?

Back to Chuck Close:

"...the most interesting thing is to back yourself into your own corner where no one else’s answers will fit. You will somehow have to come up with your own personal solutions to this problem that you have set for yourself because no one else’s answers are applicable."

Back yourself into a corner and figure that shit out. Be honest in your writing in a way that is true to your own voice and where you come from and things will happen. If it feels fake, it is. If it feels true, it is (for you).

But above all, sit down, every day, and write.

Write like a motherfucker.

I share this advice when I most need to hear it, when my work is taking a turn for the better or the worse, when it is time for rubber and road to become acquainted and the mind is willing but the flesh is weak.

I share it because writing is lonely work that millions of people do (to the tune of a white-noisy two million blog posts a day) but no one really talks much about in person (kind of like masturbating, only way more than two million of us doing it at once).

I share it in hopes that you will add your own advice to the comments: what is your writing routine, and what do you do when the words don't come?