Quote of Inspiration

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Atilla and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2015: Retreat

Confederate Retreat at Gettysburg

I thought about starting a new blog.  I think that every year.  I have 'themes' I attach to years, and my theme this year isn't about figs or lists or things to do as much as it is about what not to do.

My theme this year is retreat.

My husband thinks that sounds weak, but that is how a man would feel who has spend the last 20 years of his life in the military.

I think of retreat in the sense of quietly, calmly and intentionally pulling back.  I think of retreat as assessing.

I am coming up on 40 this year.  It feels like something is happening.

I want this year to be intentional.  I feel the years starting to pass very quickly, and in an attempt to have all things and be all things I've gotten a little lost in the madness of it all.  What would happen if, instead of adding more, I took some of it away?  What if I retreat, step back, look and listen?

I know.  This is so cheesy it could be a Facebook update.

I want to continue working on this list, because I've been amazed at what has come from intentionally pursuing 'things,' even when I didn't want to do it and even after I thought the 'thing' had become passé.  But I want to continue in a less half-hazard way.  I suppose I want to begin doing less with more intention.  Focusing.  Having a priority.

To that end, I have a list of 21 resolutions/goals for this year.

I know.

What is simple or intentional about that?  Is that retreat?  Or is that just madness and noise all over again?

I guess I'll see.

I'll post about each resolution, and I hope to make significant, sustainable changes this year.  I've learned, through pursing this list, that some of what I think will be very meaningful and life-changing isn't.  And the smallest, most random thing can mean more than I imagined.

To that end, I begin 2015, quietly, thoughtfully, taking a step back and trying to see the bigger picture.

Happy 2015.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Expensive Fig: Pilates

Joseph Pilates

I paid my money yesterday, all $450 of it, to begin a session of 10 private Pilates lessons.

I know.

That's a lot of JCrew clothes.  :)

But...like many of my other ideas, I have this lingering idea (perhaps fantasy) that if I take private Pilates lessons, I'll get into the best shape of my life.

I also have a secret desire to teach Pilates, which makes no sense, as I've never actually taken classes.  My experience with Pilates is based on a few DVDs I own and, frankly, celebrities who rave about how Pilates transformed their bodies (and, by proxy, their lives).  Oh, and my horse trainer in NC began taking private lessons after her back gave out and we had to dead-lift her across the bed and finally cart her off the ER via ambulance.  She raves, as well, and says that Pilates has helped her riding immensely.

I also like the Pilates look.  I don't like a muscular-looking frame on a woman.  I know....it's simply a matter of personal preference.  To be honest, I don't like that muscular look on a man either, unless he's some kind of badass Special Forces operator who might actually use that muscular frame to do his badass military work, but those are few and far between.  Mostly, I just don't like the look of people who seem to spend a lot of time in the gym.  Tan.  Buff.  Stocky.

They don't look graceful or fluid, and I like graceful and fluid.

For several years now, I have managed to keep a healthy weight and pretty toned body doing online workouts and walking/riding horses.  The online workouts are a combination of Pilates, yoga and ballet (Barre 3), and they're just the loveliest exercises I've ever done.  I would keep going with them, as they've yielded good results and only cost me $15/month, but I put the Pilates lessons on the list, and I'm committed to the list.

Plus, I want to see what personal training will really do.  Will it erase my stubborn saddle-bags?  Will my core be a bastion of strength and tightness?  Will I walk taller and have better posture?  Will I simply glide through life?

Yes, I'm aware that I put a lot of hope and expectation into these things.  That is one of the reasons I've committed to this list:  to see if all that hope and expectation pans out.  So far, it has in some cases, and it hasn't in others.  That, in and of itself, has been worth engaging in this whole list at all.  I've been shocked to discover disappointment in some experiences and unexpected excitement and passion in others.

I have no idea where I'll land with Pilates.

How is it going so far?  Well, I've had two lessons.  My first was a try-it-out, starter lesson, which was free.  I met Mark, the Pilates instructor, in his studio in the back of a confusing gym set-up.  Few people.  A few machines.  A random employee or two.  I have no idea what's going on there.  Mark is in a corner in the back, with a set-up including all sorts of machines and a set of free weights.

I'm not going to lie:  I expected white-washed wood floors, minimalist art and maybe some scented candles burning while Enya or Dar Williams played in the background.  Isn't that what Gwyneth Paltrow would workout in?

But, Mark's set-up is kind of surfer-dude decides to settle down in his hometown and make a go of it teaching women how to tighten their core.

Either way, Mark is the only option in my town, and I liked him right away, so I figured I wouldn't push it with expectations of Parisian candles.

The first lesson was good.  It wasn't difficult.  I wasn't huffing and puffing.  I didn't feel pushed to the max.  But I also don't feel that with Barre 3, and I've seen consistent results, so I'm beginning to discover that exercise need not be torture to be useful.  I left the session with a slight glow and the feeling that I could definitely do 10 lessons, no problem.

My second session was yesterday.  I suppose because I was actually paying for it, and because he had seen what I was capable of doing, he got down to brass tacks.  We started with the 100, and when he counted up to 99 I thought to myself:  if he goes any further, I'm out.

It was hard.  He took me through exercise after exercise for the next hour, amping up the intensity when he saw what was easy for me.  He asked, toward the end:  is there any part of your body you feel we haven't work?

I said:  my butt.

He looked surprised.  But truthfully, my butt felt like it had been sitting out the entire time.  My quads were on fire.  My core was engaged.  My knees were kind of achy.  I worked my lats and shoulders. But my butt seemed like it was simply benched.  If I'd like to 'work on' one area of my body, it's the butt, which is getting closer to my knees than my belly button.  I'd like to reverse that action and also, while we're at it, whittle down those outer thighs.  So far, in all my exercise experience, nothing has done this.  So, I have pretty big hopes for Pilates.

We did a few more workouts, to target my butt, and I said I felt it was working, but it wasn't.  I never felt my butt engage like I do when I do the Barre 3 videos.  Ever.

And, this morning, I'm not sore.  At all.  Now, I don't think being sore is the end-all-be-all of exercise.  In fact, I don't believe in over-training.  But to not be sore after a hardcore hour workout with a private instructor?  That is a red flag to me.  Particularly when I am often sore after doing Barre 3 workouts, and they're typically only 30 minutes long.

What gives?

I have no idea.  Maybe Pilates isn't a sore kind of workout?  Maybe I'll be sore tomorrow?  Maybe I just need to stick with it, and it will click one day?

I will be very interested to see if having a private instructor will yield significantly better results than my own workouts.  If it does, I may stick with it.  I'm not riding horses this year, so I can afford to fill that space (my husband would argue otherwise).  If it isn't significantly better, I'll go back to daily Barre 3 workouts and accept the fact that a few inches on my thighs is small potatoes in the grand scheme of things.

I'll report back after 10 sessions.  To keep this interesting, I'm going to measure my waist and thighs.  I don't care about my calves and biceps or my neck.  I can't get that detailed.

I'm also going to eat clean, because eating has been dodgy (at best) since we moved.  I felt healthier and had more energy in NC, eating well and riding horses.

That is my long-winded SITREP.

I'll report back.  Also, I have other plans.  I'm starting a new life-series.  I know.  What is a life-series?  Oh...just you wait.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Kindness Gone Awry

I am back.  I have been wanting to write again for a long time, but I always feel as if I should have something profound to say, so I put it off for a day when profundity hits.

Alas....I'm still waiting.

Truth is...I dropped off the kindness bandwagon i-don't-know-when.  I can't even remember stopping the week of kindness.  Was it a week?  I think we began our move, and that began a few months of total upheaval and any intentions I had other than waking up, surviving the day and managing to help my children survive theirs was lost in the shuffle.

We have now moved.  We have settled in.  Most boxes have been unpacked.  We have found grocery stores, restaurants, friends and schools.  And by schools I do mean schools in the plural, as we are all now attending some sort of formal program to educate ourselves.  Ray is attending War College.  The kids are attending the 2nd and 4th grades at a public school just down the tree-lined streets of the most charming neighborhood we've lived in, and I am auditing a Chinese language class at the local college, which is full of wealthy kids who, when referencing life pre-college life, talk about where they attended boarding school.

I have given up horse-back riding for the moment, because the weather up here will turn bitter in a few months, and because I thought it would be nice to have more time and money for other things.  I then...of course....have to get busy with the other things.  I feel an itch to do something new, and in the back of my mind my little blog kept calling out to me:  your list is still waiting for some attention.

There is so much to do.  First, I have to update the blog and write about the figs I've finished.  There are several.  I have pictures.  I know.  It's exciting.

Then there are the figs left waiting.  As I begin to close in on the list, it's interesting to me to see which ones I've put off.

Jump off a high dive
Knit a sweater
Host a dinner party
Buy a fabulous bathing suit
Attend the opera
Host a dinner party
Write a letter in Chinese
Read the Quran
Have my eyebrows threaded
Learn to play an instrument
Cook a standing rib roast
Write a letter to Aunt Marie
Drive a sports car (stick shift)
Take a beach vacation
Meditate everyday for 1 month
Take private Pilates lessons
Plant an herb garden
Bake a multi-layered cake from scratch
Buy a fabulous underwear set
Read:  Brothers Karamazov and Grapes of Wrath
Perform one random act of kindness a day for one week

I mean....that's still a long list.  I thought I had a 'few' things to do here, and now that I've looked at the list I realize I've been a bit complacent?  The past few years have seen about a fig-a-year.  I guess that's fine, but I also feel that this year in PA might just be my year to hit it hard again.

Perhaps I should add a fig:  stop trying to hit it hard in life.

I will begin this week.  I will look at why I haven't done these particular figs so far and consider where I'd like to start.  Life is funny.  For some of it, you must plan and take direct action.  And then there are the times all you have to do is be open to what the world has to offer.

It's sometimes difficult to know when to push and when to let it be.

For now....it's just nice to be back.

Friday, June 20, 2014


I have been actively working on my kindness for 7 days plan.

It is hard.  I can't explain why it's hard.  I guess it's hard because it takes focus, in-the-moment focus.  I am not so good with in-the-moment focus.  I am always thinking ahead, planning, dreaming, wondering.  This means that I miss a lot of right now.  Frankly, I'm okay with that.  I know.  I'm not supposed to be okay with that, but I love my dreaming and thinking and planning.

The focus on kindness, however, brings me to the here-and-now.  Because I am now thinking about what I can do today, in this moment, to be kinder and gentler to the people I love.

Some of the things I've done:

Turned off the radio in the car and let my kids ask me all of their questions….which normally overwhelms me.  As an introvert/highly sensitive person, a lot of information coming at me at once time overwhelms me.  I literally have to think about driving.  Maybe some people don't, but I do.  So, when I get ten questions thrown at me in a 5-minute span, I get anxious.  But yesterday, as I drove my son to school, I turned off the radio and just kept the window open for questions, comments, etc.  It was lovely.  I learned that if the radio isn't full blast, the questions aren't so overwhelming after all.  It helped that I only had one child with me, too.  I learned about a new friend at camp my son likes.  I learned about his idea of how the day might go.  I learned about a certain snack I've been packing in his lunch that is not very much appreciated.  I hope he felt heard.  I hope it was a better way to start his morning.

* I have been setting the coffee each night instead of waiting for my husband to do it.  This is his last week of work before we move, so I know he's stressed and has a lot on his mind.  This is just that last thing he does at night, and when the clock hits 9:30, and we're getting ready for bed, it's been nice to say:  oh….I set the coffee already.

* My husband was late for dinner last night.  He let me know ahead of time.  Instead of holding dinner, I fed the kids and myself at our normal time, cleaned the kitchen up nicely and ordered his favorite Thai food.  When he got home, he had a hot meal, a clean house and kids in a good mood because they weren't waiting for dinner.

* I have taken my daughter to the library several times this week.  I was tempted to say no because we'd already been, but I thought:  I have the time.  Let her go explore.  She has read about 10 books this week so far, which thrills me.  Instead of trying to watch TV or get on the iPad, she has been reading. A book.  In her hands.  Turning pages.

* Saying yes.  I've been trying to do this more.  I don't mean that I'm permissive and letting it all hang out, but when my kids ask me for things, my usual response is NO.  It's just become a habit, really.  These past few days, in a gesture of kindness and thoughtfulness, I've stopped, considered the question and often said yes.  I said yes to ice cream yesterday afternoon.  Then, when they wanted to walk to the train station to eat it, and while I was already comfortably enthroned on a bench, I said yes and we walked to the train station.  These aren't big things.  It's not a grand gesture.  But those little 'yes' moments give kids a feeling that the world, in that moment, is sort of going their way.  The yes moments also help balance out the no moments.

* I have a friend going through a hard time, and I read a book that I think will really help her.  I suggested the book, but I know how hard it is when you're feeling down to do something like remember a book, go online, order it and all that jazz.  So, I ordered the book today, off Amazon, and it should be here in a few days and I'll drop it by her house.  Even if she doesn't read it, I'm hoping the gesture will let her know I'm thinking of her and sending kindness her way.

I have already learned a lot through this process.  It is harder in some ways than I thought it would be, and in some ways it's easier.  Some of the hardness is just thinking of ways to be nice that aren't contrived or unnecessary.  But all the thinking has been the best part of all.

Happy Friday.  The weekend is nearly upon us.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


I have to begin again with 7 days of kindness.  Can you believe that?  If you know me, you can.

It started out well enough, but then I got lazy.  I began to end the day looking for ways I'd been kind, so that I could count them.  Instead of being intentional and thoughtful, I just kind of hoped I'd done something nice for someone, so I could continue on to the next day.

There were days I didn't think of it at all.

And some of my 'kindness' was a little stretched…not yelling at my kids?  That's kindness?

So, I'm back at Day 1.  I had no idea this would be so difficult.  But it reminds me that living thoughtfully and with intention is important.  I think it's more important, perhaps, than anything else.

I saw this video the other day.  If you can get past the somewhat dodgy rhyming poetry, I think the whole point of it is relevant.  I am so one of those people…on my phone, on my computer, keyed into the virtual world while my real life passes by.  This is especially sad when I think of what I'm missing with my kids.

So, I'm sure some of my intention and kindness will focus on lack of media and toning down my virtual life, especially while my family is with me.

Here is the video:

With that….Day 1 begins again.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Kindness Day 2

Yesterday, my son woke up begging me to look at something called a Beyblade.

He'd asked for at least 24 solid hours, and we'd fobbed him off time and again, busy with other stuff.  I promised that if he got dressed for camp early, he'd have time to look for his Beyblade.

So, we looked.  Then we tried to come up with a way for him to 'earn' the money to buy one.

We finally settled on using his old year's school backpack for another 1/2 year rather than getting a new one.  In his defense, the zipper is wonky on that backpack.  But…it's still totally usable.

I thought of this as kindness on my part, because I am very settled on a few things as a parent.  They are:

1.  Our kids have too much stuff.
2.  Our kids are spoiled.
3.  We, as parents, have done this.
4.  Society's consumer slant and mass marketing campaigns have helped us.
5.  My kids (and we as adults) are happier with less.
6.  Toys these days are junk.
7.  Our perspective (as Americans) is horribly distorted when it comes to the reality of daily life for most people in the world, and I am afraid to reinforce this idea (and teach it) to my kids, who will then go out into it and one day be responsible for it.

But….and here is where the kindness comes in…..I remember being a kid.

My kids have so much less than their friends/peers.  I can't believe what people will buy for their kids these days.  A child in Maggie's class did a few chores around the house for a new Kindle Fire/HD.  That, to me, is a gift you get at Christmas, having forgone any other gifts, it being a super-special year and all.

So, my kids have much less.  I grew up this way, falling squarely into the much less category, and while I'm thankful for many of the lessons we were taught, I remember the utter embarrassment I felt when my jeans were too short, my clothes shabby, our house 'boring' and so on.  I think our cars were the greatest source of shame, and I always hoped my mother would be late in picking us up.

I know my feelings as a child were selfish and small, but that is how my world was, and I don't think that we, as adults with much wider perspectives and the maturity to see things differently, can necessarily share this perspective with our kids.  Not in the meaningful way we have experienced it.  Because, after all, we experienced it.

So I am trying really hard to strike a balance.  We don't get stuff just to get stuff.  We think about it.  We decide if we can afford it.  We decide if it's worth giving up something else for it (a new backpack).  We think it over.

Maybe I'm fooling myself.  Maybe my kids will only learn value if I take them off into the woods and make them forage for their own food.  I don't know.  But I am hoping that little decisions will add up, that little lessons on thankfulness and gratitude and not getting what you want will come together in some sort of amalgam experience, so that when they go out into the world they don't do so thinking it will be easy, that the world is their oyster, that life is without hardship, suffering, sacrifice or goodness.

I read the Beyblade reviews and I'm pretty sure that thing will break in a few days.  I was tempted to say something to my son about it, but I didn't.  Let it break.  Let him feel the disappointment when it breaks and then, when school shopping comes around, let him remember that he traded a new backpack for the new toy.  He may realize it was a bad trade. Or….he may think to himself:  that thing was totally worth it.

My kindness wasn't in buying the toy for my son.  I think of the kindness more as stopping, slowing down, looking at it with him and helping him think it through.  How could we afford it?  Was it worth it?  Did it matter?

As a parent, I think about 95% of the time I get it wrong.  But I am comforted in the fact that I'm trying.  Really hard.

We even went to Walmart before camp to see if they carried this fancy new toy.  While there I thought I'd throw in a couple cartons of donut holes for the office staff, who are so sweet with my kids.  They each picked a box and were excited to get to school.  Once there, the school's fix-it man took one look at the donuts and said he didn't need those in his belly and told the kids to go on and take them to their classrooms.

This was not the intended end-result of my random act of kindness!  I wanted the adults to have the donuts, not the kids!  I wanted them to see that we were thankful, that we were making a gesture.

But I just smiled and said we appreciate all of his help.

Maybe the biggest lesson of all is this:  You can't micromanage kindness.  :)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Kindness: Day 1

Yesterday was Day 1 of 7 in my attempt to perform Random Acts of Kindness.

It was harder than I thought.  It felt a little forced.  It didn't really feel random at all.  But then I thought about my experiences with meditation (which I still have not done for 30 days straight), and I remembered that the hardest part of meditation is that it, too, feels forced at first.  We fight against it, resist, have numerous expectations, feel uncomfortable and so on.

It is part of the process.  For a long time I thought that it was getting in the way of the process, that mediation would begin once all of that other stuff settled down and took up residence in someone else's life.  I was wrong, of course.  Meditation is the whole enchilada.  All of it.

I am learning this to be true for all of life.

So, rather than obsess, I just looked for open windows throughout the day to be kind to the people around me.

I did all of the family laundry, and instead of stacking it on the dryer and having everyone put their laundry away, I put it away for them.

This was a big deal for me because I am often very worried about teaching my kids responsibility and teaching them that I am not the maid and teaching them to appreciate me.

I am not sure I can so directly teach those things.  I am not sure a 9 and 7 year old are going to 'get' those lessons by putting away laundry or making their beds or clearing the table. And if they do learn through these experiences (and I think they do), it is a long time coming, a very slow process, which likely never includes a lightbulb moment at which they stop, look at me and say:  wow…you do so much for me.  I'm so lucky and appreciative of you.

I thought, yesterday, I'll just put their things away, neatly, in their drawers.  They will have freshly folded shirts and underwear, which they will take for granted.  But tomorrow, when they have to go get ready for school and they are deciding which of their shirts is the coolest, they will have all of them tucked neatly away.  They won't think of me while they sift through them, but I will have put them there, and the process by which I did it will have been a kind one.

Does that make sense?  Is there a difference between slapping some clothes on a kids' bed out of duty and expectation and setting them down lovingly, with intention?

Maybe.  Maybe not.  Maybe I'm just looking for easy outs.  But I will say that as I put their things away and made their beds, I looked around their rooms in the quiet of mid-day, without their little bodies and big voices trailing in and out, asking for snacks and if they can ride their bikes without a helmet, just this once.  Their rooms were quiet and peaceful.  I saw all of their beloved objects strewn about, and what seemed half-hazard and cluttered and messy at first glance suddenly made more sense to me.  Dolls weren't tossed on the floor; they were lovingly put in tiny little doll beds made of stuffed socks and sewing scraps.  A map wasn't left on the floor; it was put there, with little pieces of paper detailing vacation trips for said dolls.  Books were stacked not randomly but according to fiction and non-fiction.  There was a tiny bit of rhyme and reason to all of the madness.  In my son's room, air planes were lined neatly on an imaginary runway.  Football uniforms were heaped in a pile, ready for action.  Shoes were tossed at opposite ends of the room, victims of his rush somewhere else.

Perhaps my act of kindness wasn't putting away laundry but slowing down a little bit.  Getting out of myself and seeing my kids.

For my husband, my act of kindness was two-fold.  First, I made sure to thank him, sincerely, for helping me out yesterday when I didn't feel well.  I didn't offer it in passing but looked at him directly and said, "Thanks for helping me out this morning.  I really appreciate you taking the kids to school."

It's sad how often those little sentences get held up between intention and every day life

The second opportunity I had was after dinner.  I still didn't feel fabulous but I got up and did the dishes.  My husband and I have an on-going debate about dishes.  I think he feels I should cook dinner and clean it up, since I'm a housewife.  I feel that if I cook (and shop and plan and prepare the table), he should clean it up.  It's a classic domestic squabble.  But last night, instead of waiting for him to do the work and then being silently (and sometimes not so silently) disappointed in what he leaves undone (wiping down counters, cleaning pots, putting food away in actual containers instead of leaving hunks of cheese to dry in the fridge), I got up and quickly did the dishes myself.  He came in and thanked me.

I thought it was such a small gesture on my part, but it likely made his evening a little bit better.

I get so caught up in what is fair and equal.  I did my part, which was a level 7.  You need to do your part, and it needs to be a level 7 or higher.  It needs to be equal.  Fair.

But equal and fair and very subjective terms.  And the ebb and flow of life is never quite so clear.

The winner in all of this, of course, is me.  I enjoyed doing these little small things for my family.  It didn't rock our world, but I felt calmer inside.  And I feel excited to see what can be done today.

I am a believer in cycles.  Good and bad.  Either one is easy to begin.  Cycles of good lead to growth of good.  And cycles of bad lead to growth of bad.  I've been in both in my marriage and with my kids.  Perhaps ending it is as easy as making the choice.


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