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

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy, Happy Christmas

This morning, my son came downstairs and said to his grandpa: Happy Christmas Grandpa!

In the spirit of Christmas this year, and in keeping with the theme of poetry, a friend sent me this poem, which is partially quoted in the original movie: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Music and Moonlight (1874)

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers,
Of the world for ever, it seems.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 20, 2010

A 'Good' Poem

So far, this is my favorite poem of Keillor's compilation. It is a poem by Anne Sexton. I've since looked into Sexton's work, and her life, and I suppose it's no surprise I love her. She was a contemporary of Plath, and I believe they actually studied together at university. Much of Sexton's work is on the darker side, at least from my perspective, but this poem is so lovely and full of hope I have read it over and over again, and each time I read it, I like it more. It was after reading this poem, in fact, that I began drawing hearts on the palms of my kids' hands each night before putting them to bed, kissing those palms and sending them off with my love for the night. Now, they do the same for me.

Welcome Morning (Anne Sexton)

There is joy
in all:
in the hair I brush each morning,
in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
that I rub my body with each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook
each morning
in the outcry from the kettle
that heats my coffee
each morning,
in the spoon and the chair
that cry "hello there, Anne"
each morning,
in the godhead of the table
that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
each morning.

All this is God,
right here in my pea-green house
each morning
and I mean,
though I often forget,
to give thanks,
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing
as the holy birds at the kitchen window
peck into their marriage of seeds.

So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.

The Joy that isn't share, I've heard,
dies young.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Quote 17 of 52

This week's quote is appropriate for the week as I'm still working my way (lovingly) through Good Poems. It's a wonderful book, and I'll be posting my favorite poems (thus far) this week.

Today's quote is by Henry David Thoreau:

Colour, which is the poet's wealth, is so expensive that most take to mere outline sketches and become men of science.

This quote makes me wonder which aspects of my life lack color......


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Quote 16 of 52

With Christmas coming on in a few weeks now, I have been thinking of ways to simplify my life and to "take it down a notch" this year - so that it's not a mad chaos of wrapping paper and toys. I admit that I love presents and just stuff in general, but the following quote makes me think about why I love all this stuff and what it adds (or how it detracts) from my life.

The quote is by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Many wealthy people are little more than janitors of their possessions.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Fig for my Kids.........

Last week my son asked if he could climb the rock wall at the gym. He's finally heavy enough - 35 lbs. So, we got him in the harness and hooked him up so that he could climb and rappel. Then, he sort of froze and looked at the guy and said, "I don't want to do it. I'm scared." Then, the gym worker told my son, "Oh, don't worry. Look, your mom will do it first and show you."

And I'm all.......what?????

To rappel is on my list of 52 figs, sure. But it's one of those distant, hazy figs that I know one day I'll do because I started this list and will lose face if I can't finish it. It was never something I thought I'd do just because, even though the gym rock wall stares me in the face every week and even though there are harnesses and lines for rappelling just waiting to be used. No, I thought I'd wait for my husband to get home, to pump me full of Army-issued courage and bravery. He could yell things to me like, "Don't worry, dear. Pain is just fear leaving your body!"

But there I was, with my son's enormous blue eyes looking up at me. My kids know I'm afraid of heights, so I looked down at him and said, "Oh, son, I would but I'm afraid of heights."

Then, of course, I realized my moment to show my kids that even if you're afraid of something, you can still try. It was one of those after-school Hallmark moments, and I took it. I put on the harness and thought: I'll just climb a bit, not look down and be done with it.

I got about a quarter of the way up the wall and froze. My hands were shaking, and I had somehow (in less than three minutes) broken out into a crazy flop sweat. I couldn't go up and I couldn't go down. The gym guy was yelling, "It's okay, just let go." But I couldn't. Even though I was in a harness and linked to a wire, I was sure that if I let go I flop to the ground in a massive heap and probably break every bone in my body. I literally hung there in a slippery death-grip, and I'm not kidding when I tell you that I was only about five feet off the ground.

I slowly climbed back down. Forget rappelling. It was all I could do manage my feet on those slippery little rocks, one wobbly step at a time.

It took me three tries before I would let go and use the rope to rappel down. My kids were so excited, you can't believe it. I made it a third of the way up the wall that day, and even though I landed straight on my ass every time I got down, my kids were really just pumped.

We went to the rock wall three more times before I got it. Every time I do it, my hands shake and sweat. I can't look down. I just have to keep going. But yesterday, I got to the top and rappelled down, three times no less.
Fig.....checked. I have officially rappelled.

It feels great. I don't think I'll go climbing any mountains or anything crazy, but it feels good to know that I can face heights and get over it and do something I'm afraid of. I mean, this AND being able to braid challah. Is there anything I can't do?


Monday, November 29, 2010

A Whole Book of Poetry

November is coming to a close, and I haven't finished an entire book of poetry. I have one I have been reading, and it's lovely and wonderful and I enjoy it more than any other poetry I've ever read. It's an anthology entitled Good Poems and it's edited by Garrison Keillor (who doesn't love GK?). But it's long, and I'm only a third of the way through it.

So, the other day I thought: geez, I'll never finish in time. So, I got a slim little Lucille Clifton volume out and started reading that instead, which is wonderful too but isn't what I really want to be reading. I was just doing it because it's feasible and I could finish in a few days.

And then I thought: really, Amy? Really? You're competing with yourself and stressing out over reading a book of poetry, something that you should be enjoying and loving and doing in those few moments you have to settle down, sit with a cup of tea and relax?

So, the book of poetry will take some time. And I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that those of you who read this blog (are there four now?) aren't going to gasp in horror that it didn't get done "in time."


Sunday, November 28, 2010


I'll admit I've lost track of which fig I'm supposed to be tackling in terms of numbers. It's all a blur now. But I have done yoga now, for three months straight, at least once a week. Whew. It took some determination, because there were certainly times I didn't want to do it. What is it about us that makes us dread doing stuff we actually love doing, once we get going? Anyway, I did it. Insert Fist Pump.

Here's the thing. I believe yoga could "change my life." I do. It's a beautiful expression of the harmony between one's mind and one's body. I think yoga is a form of meditation, because if you're really doing the poses and pushing yourself to go further, you can't be thinking about the grocery list or the kids or whatever it is we think about when we go for a jog. In fact, I never understood what people meant when they said running helps clear their head. For me, it only gets me further inside my head. And being further inside my head isn't always a place I need to go.

Yoga is different. You certainly use your body, push it to its limits, stretch it. And since there are different forms of yoga, you can be very active about it all, flowing through sun salutations so quickly and fluidly that you build up quite the sweat - especially in a heated room. So, I think yoga is a great "workout" if you're trying to workout. Of course, like anything, it matters the level and the amount of effort you put into it. You can slog through it and see any real benefit, and I don't even think you would get much mental benefit in slogging through it. I think that for yoga to truly be beneficial, you have to be stretching yourself. Otherwise, it's just going through the motions.

The thing I love about yoga, above all else, is that the focus isn't on being thin. It's not about whittling down this or that "problem" area (or at least it's not meant to be about that - we Americans have certainly bastardized it to that level in some areas). Yoga is about flow and balance, and while I practiced it in a room full of other students, everyone seemed so graceful and present. I saw people of all shapes and sizes. I remember one day, a woman in front of me was much larger than me. Normally, when it comes to sports/athletics, size matters. The slim girl is "better" than the heavier girl. Not so in yoga. This woman was so lovely, holding her poses with such grace and stability. I remember how nice her face looked as she held a pose, very calm and quiet. And there I was, the slim girl, all wobbly and half-tipping over. I used to look around the room and watch all the bodies, and yoga gives you such an appreciation for the body itself and for the strength and beauty of the body. I think this is something that makes yoga worth it if for no other reason. It reminded me of the purpose of a body and of how strong we can be when we're not focusing on bat-wing flab.

Having said all of this, I don't think I was supposed to be looking around the room at all the bodies. I mean, I think I was pretty much missing the point as I tipped over in triangle and arched my neck to see if the guy in front of me had his hand on his shin or on the floor. Really, why did I care? I'm not sure, but I did. I found studying yoga in a classroom setting to be HIGHLY distracting. But that's me. I'm fascinated by people. I'm fascinated by what they wear, how they talk, which hand gestures they use, how they talk to their children and spouses. The other day I saw a woman get into a car with a leopard-print steering-wheel cover. I have thought about that for weeks. Weeks. Leopard-print. Fascinating.

Thus, I found, in my three months, that studying yoga at home works best for me. I don't think it's any easier, if you push yourself from inside rather than from competing with others or having teacher Ping tell you, "You have more to give, Amy." I found a few yoga DVDs I like. I can put them into the player while the kids are sleeping and get a full 60 to 90 minutes at home. Then, I can shut it off and do the dishes.

And that brings me to my biggest issues with yoga. First, it takes a lot of time. It's at least 2 hrs. I have to drive to the studio. I have to get a spot and lay out my mat and wait. Then, we do the 75 or 90 minute class. Then, we get up and put our things away and get into our cars. Then I go home. It's at least 2 hrs. And I don't have 2 hrs. away from the house, without my kids for that. The precious time I have while the kids are at school is filled with errands, house keeping issues, appointments, etc. So, for me, right now, I can't fit yoga into my schedule more than once or twice a week. Well, I can but I won't. Because doing it would mean I would spend the rest of my day scurrying around to get everything else done, and that would stress me out. I do think I'll practice yoga regularly at some point. But it will have to be when I have more time.

Second, and here is my real issue, as wonderful as yoga is, it's not as good for keeping trim and fit as Tracy Anderson. I have yet to find anything that is. Anything. And Tracy Anderson is a commitment. Her videos are hard and time consuming. Even doing only one a day, it's an hour of working out. And I frankly can't work out more than an hour a day nor do I want to. I have struggled with this issue. On the one hand, Tracy is very effective, but her focus is very much on slimming, targeting "problem" areas and whittling one's thighs down. On the other hand, it works. Yoga is a beautiful practice and one that, coupled with a great diet, could definitely keep you slim and toned. But I'm going to say it. It just doesn't work as well as Tracy.

Third, and finally, I don't think yoga is beneficial (truly) unless you commit to it and do it at least five times a week. Doing it once or twice, even three times a week, was okay but I didn't notice any change in my mental state or in my body. I didn't feel even more flexible. I enjoyed the yoga. I liked how it made me feel. And I think true practice would be amazing, but once a week for three months was, if I'm honest, not at all amazing.

I'm learning in life that it's time to make choices. I can't be all things or do all things. I have to focus. I don't have the time or energy to pursue every goal I have ever made or seen or thought of in my life. Just like cleaning out one's closet, I think we have clean out our goals so that we make priorities and then see them through. This year has been especially helpful in doing this for me. As I work my way through this list, I'm able to see what really matters to me, what I am passionate about and how I want to spend my time.

For now, as much as I loved yoga, I'm shelving it. And moving on.


Quote 15 of 52

This week's quote is from a woman I read in college: George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans of Middlemarch fame). I love this quote, and I think it's true.

It is never too late to be what you might have been.

And so, in that vein, I plan to spend the week contemplating where I am, where I thought I'd be and what I want to be.


Monday, November 15, 2010


I have not been meditating. I know. I'm cringing.

I skipped one night, and then I skipped another night and then I thought to hell with it, I'd have to start over anyway. And there it is. I've not been meditating.

The thing about it is that it's really hard. I'm not sure why. It's only 10 minutes a day, and I do it when the kids are asleep and the house is quiet. But it's hard. I sit there and try to quiet my mind, and that's exhausting. It's not relaxing. I thought it would be relaxing, and I'd be all Zen about it, my knees crossed, my fingers held out just-so. But it's hard on my back, and focusing on my breathing isn't at all fun, and then my mind goes wandering down roads that have been left for so long they're now unpaved - for good reason. I hate those roads.

But I will start again. Tonight. I will start again because it's hard and when things are hard (especially mental things) that's usually when we need to commit to them the most. I'm not so good about doing the hard stuff, which is why there are still those unpaved roads.


Quote 14 of 52

I am late this week. But I am here nonetheless.....

This week's quote is from The Old Man and the Sea, which I should finish tonight. But I will blog about that later. For now, here is the quote:

But his left hand had always been a traitor and would not do what he called on it to do and he did not trust it.

I love this line, and I've re-read it several times and think about it throughout my day. The idea that a hand can be a traitor. Hemingway was brilliant. Just brilliant. It's only 26 words, and yet it tells the reader so much about the old man.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Thoughts on Siddhartha

There are books in one's life that are, well, life-changing. They resonate and stay with us, and we think about them years and decades later, and we sometimes return to them. I wondered, recently, if the book that has had the greatest and most profound impact on me (which I read at the age of 20) would today have as strong an impact on me if I read it again. I did read it again, and I have to say that the impact was not so surprising (I was anticipating it after all), but it was no less profound, 15 years later. I read the book three months ago, and I still think of it every day. It is Maugham's The Razor's Edge.

So it is with Siddhartha. Again, my experience with Siddhartha is not so surprising as my reaction to other books, simply because I was prepared for it. It's stronger when you find a book and have no idea it will impact you in any deep way. But when you purposely choose a book that has impacted so many others, your own reaction to it is tinged in a way, shaped to some extent by your expectation of it.

It doesn't, however, make the impact any less strong.

I think I was supposed to read Siddhartha at this exact moment in my life, because the ultimate message I take from this book is particularly comforting to me at this time. That message, if I have to filter it down to one, is that life is a journey, that it's never done, that we are never there, and if there is one goal, it is perhaps to end our lives at peace with ourselves. Making peace with any and everyone else are only steps toward that end-goal.

Reading this book makes me less afraid - of people, of experiences, of pain. Even in the end, when Siddhartha had gained and lost, was so disgusted with himself he wanted to throw his life away, even in the end, when he had quieted his spirit and was at peace with so little, his road lay out ahead of him, bumps and all. And perhaps his greatest bump, his hardest moment, came in the end of his life instead of the beginning or the middle. It came when he least expected it and he found himself suffering again.

I read once that Buddha said something to the effect of: All life is suffering, and all suffering is life.

I find this quote comforting and have always repeated it to myself in times of hardship, because I think we all need to believe that hardship has purpose. I was raised a Christian, so I was taught that suffering is punishment and that if one wants suffering to end, one has to only be good enough.

I think this is kind of a crock of shit.

Maybe suffering is just living, it's just part of what it means to be human, and we can't be good enough to escape it, because without it we wouldn't be living any more than if we never experienced joy.

In the end, I think Siddhartha's suffering taught him the ultimate lesson - to have empathy for others. I think that when we have compassion and empathy for others, we have somehow found a way to have empathy and compassion for ourselves.

I would recommend this book to others, but somehow, I feel that after reading it, recommending a book to others would kind of be missing the point.

I have thought, however, of the books that have most greatly impacted me and my life. I have come up with a list of 5, a monumental task of narrowing and cutting-down. Here are my top five books:

1. The Razor's Edge
2. Atlas Shrugged
3. The Bell Jar
4. Man's Search for Meaning
5. Their Eyes Were Watching God

I'm curious to hear yours.......please.


Quote 13 of 52

This week's quote is yet another from Siddhartha. I have been thinking about the book all week, and I have thought of this quote more than once, promising myself I will try to absorb it into my daily life:

I want to learn from myself, want to be my student, want to get to know myself, the secret of Siddhartha.

Friday, November 5, 2010

On Meditation

I have been meditating each night. I meditate until I feel compelled to open my eyes, which has been 7 to 8 minutes. It's hard. It's harder than I could have imagined. I usually do it lying down, before I sleep, which is arguably not the "right" way to meditate. And it's still hard.

What's so hard? Well, it's hard to try to clear one's mind, to focus on breathing instead of the grocery list, whether or not the children have been properly raised and if my husband is safe and sound. My mind wants to run through that night's episode of Without a Trace, and then while it's reviewing the slides of that particular program, my mind wants to tell me that I shouldn't be watching that stuff anyway.

Then, I have to bring my mind back on track, which means focusing on the breath going in and out of my nose, hesitating at the top and the bottom of each breath before beginning again.

It goes like this for 7 minutes, and then I open my eyes. My mind has only been quiet a few seconds of that time, maybe. I have to continually bring my mind back to my breathing, where it sits for a second or two before moving on.....again.

I am reading a book entitled Mindfulness in Plain English (Gunaratana, 1996). It is a simple examination of meditation and explanation of how to apply and practice it in one's life.

I am hopeful meditation will be useful for me. There is a lot of mind that needs quieting up there.

Does anyone have any experience with meditation?


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

1 Month, 4 Weeks, 30 Days: 4 Figs

Instead of thinking in terms of a fig-a-week this month, I am thinking big, broad strokes. This month, I will take 4 figs and work them simultaneously. In fact, I've already started several.

1. Meditate Everyday For 1 Month

2. Submit a Romance Novel

3. Practice Yoga Regularly (at least once a week) for 3 months

4. Read an Entire Book of Poetry

So, by the end of November, I should have each of these figs under my belt. This week, I will write about why each fig made it onto the list and why I haven't yet done any of them.

The list is filling in.......


PS - thoughts today on Siddhartha. I've been thinking..........

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Report: Processed Food

I didn't eat processed food for one week. Well, I admit to having a bite here and there of the kids' ham and cheese melts (and by bite, I truly mean tiny sliver). But, I ate no store-bought bread, no cereals, no treats, no candy, no cookies, etc.

I ate scrambled eggs, fruit, veggies, home-made turkey chili, home-made pumpkin bread, butter, milk, yogurt, peanut butter and drank a lot of coffee.

Here is what I found:

1. On the two days that I ate only fruits, veggies, peanut butter and oatmeal, I felt great. I lost 5 lbs. in two days. I didn't have big dips in my blood sugar levels. When I was hungry, I felt hungry but I didn't feel shaky/weak/confused/agitated. I simply felt hungry. I didn't feel cravings for foods, because when your only option is another hard-boiled egg, well you just don't want it that badly. When your option is Oreos, there is a much stronger pull.

2. On the days I introduced more carbs (albeit non-processed carbs) like rice, potatoes and home-made baked goods, I gained back the weight I'd lost and felt much more bloated. Much more.

3. When I ate too much, even if the food was unprocessed, I felt bloated and overly full.

4. When I was eating so well, on days one and two, I didn't find I needed to drink so much water. In fact, I only drank about 40 oz. on those days and still lost the weight and felt less bloated and lighter.

Overall, the experience taught me several things. One, I was eating a lot of processed food that I wasn't even thinking about: lunch meat, crackers, bread, a treat at Starbucks, etc. In addition to eating a ton of processed food, that left little room for fruits and veggies. I ate nearly twice as much fruits and veggies this week than in previous weeks. Second, food is food. If you eat too much of it, no matter what it is, you will feel unwell. Third, just because something is homemade and "unprocessed" doesn't make it healthy. Perhaps if I stuck to a much more rigid definition of "processed" it might make a difference (like not using wheat, dairy, etc.), but for my purposes, I simply meant no added ingredients I couldn't pronounce and stuff found in a box or can. I made lemon posset, for example. It has sugar, cream and lemon juice. That's it. And I ate it. And it's just simple junk food. It's not "healthy" because I can name all the ingredients.

In the end, I went from 138.6 pounds to 135.6 pounds. That's fine. It doesn't feel drastically different, though. Maybe because I've been eating lemon posset and home-made pumpkin bread slathered in real butter........

Still, the experience was extremely helpful in allowing me to see that it IS possible to live without processed food, that I WILL feel better with a diet richer in fruits and vegetables and that my blood sugar is directly linked to crap.

And now...........we're going to trick-or-treat and I'm going to wolf down some dodgy mini-Snickers bars.


Quote 12 of 52

This week's quote is from an author I admire but whom I've never been able to read with much gusto: TS Eliot. I have several of his plays and poetry collections sitting on my bookshelf , but I've never been able to sit down and gut it out. I do, however, love this quote:

One starts an action simply because one must do something.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Tooth Fairy Bag - Another Fig Plucked

Today, I had six hours alone. Six. I hardly knew what to do with myself, and as I sat drinking Starbucks, listening to the quiet of the house, I thought it might be a great time to sew my little tooth fairy bag. I considered doing this as a project with Maggie, but I have recently come to accept myself and my limitations, and I know that a sewing project is hard enough for me as-is. I didn't want to subject poor Maggs-face to an episode that might include tears and/or the phrase, "For Christ's sake."

Okay, so I got out all my supplies (having to unearth them from the storage closet), and I threw them all on the table in typical Amy-fashion, all half-hazard and slightly askew. I had the computer and directions sitting next to me, and I began threading needles, cutting squares of fabric and sewing wonky stitches up and down pieces of purple felt, Van Morrison playing in the background, rocking my gypsy soul.

It was very easy, which means that if I'm saying that a kindergartner could easily have accomplished this task. The directions were cake. The bag came together just as described. It took me all of 50 minutes, and that includes time spent digging out my supplies, adding cream to my coffee and turning up Van more than once.

Here is the finished product:

It wasn't until later, driving around town feeling all domestic and crafty, that I realized I sewed the tooth all the way onto the bag, forgetting to leave the top open to hold the child's actual tooth.

For some reason, I thought this was hysterically funny, and I couldn't stop laughing about it for at least a full minute, nearly crying.

Incidentally, I went to Barnes & Noble and looked at other simple sewing books, particularly projects for kids (my level anyway). The thing about it is this: most handmade stuff just doesn't appeal to me. If I want a good tote bag, I'll get an LL Bean Boat & Tote. I can't imagine making my own clothes. I have no inclination to make clothes for my daughter's dolls. So......I'm glad I did it. I think hand-sewing is HIGHLY preferable to using a matching. And one day, I will sit in a rocking chair next to a fire, and I will quietly sew a quilt by hand.

Until then, everyone is getting tooth fairy bags.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

More on the diet........

By "diet" I simply mean the diet of unprocessed food (as opposed to calorie reduction, etc.). Anyway, here's the thing: it's very hard to eat well if you eat out, at all. Yesterday, after a field trip to the pumpkin patch, Maggie and I went out to eat. I chose sushi, because I think of sushi as fairly healthy, fresh and unprocessed. I had a roll (crab, avocado, salmon on top) and I ate some of Maggie's chicken teriyaki and miso soup.

And then....I felt awful. I was very full. I felt sluggish all afternoon. And come on: I saw the people making the food right in front of me. What gives?

Then, I thought about the salt. The salt! I got on the scale this morning and am back to 135. That's fine, but I think the point is that when I lost those 5 lbs. and now that I've gained 2 back, I really think so much of it is the SALT. There is so much salt in processed food and in restaurant food. So much.....

When I cook at home, I use much less salt (and I'm pretty liberal with my salt), and when I'm focusing on eating fruits and veggies, well there's just not so much salt.

I ate some more of the leftover chicken teriyaki for lunch today, with steamed rice and peas. It's sitting a little heavy, but I'm okay with that.

So far, the days when I've felt the best (less bloated, more energy) are the days when I ate homemade, unprocessed, healthy food. I mean, of course it goes without saying. But saying something and experiencing something are two different things entirely.

Also, I got Jamie Oliver's e-mail this morning. If you all haven't seen his show, look it up online. I cried every week. He's really inspiring. In today's e-mail was a list of the top 10 worst processed foods. Here they are:

1. Chicken McNuggest (24%)
2. Hot Dogs (19%)
3. Fake Cheese (14%)
4. Lunchables (13%)
5. Spam (9%)
6. Twinkies (5%)
7. Soda (5%)
8. Artificial Sweeteners (4%)
9. Diet Versions (4%)
10. French Fries (3%)

Quite the list, huh?

Here's the link to Jamie's website:


He's fabulous. His site has tons of recipes, too, and they're all very simple and unprocessed. They're not necessarily "healthy," but at least they're real.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I Just Have to Say.........

I was going to wait until next week to weigh myself after eating no processed food for a week. I will certainly weigh myself at that time, but I just wanted to write in today and give an update.

In two days, eating nothing processed but eating full meals and still eating within my calorie range (drinking wine, eating salmon & avocado and eggs), I have lost..........

5.4 lbs.

So, I started on Sunday weighing 138.6. Monday morning I weighed 135.8. Today, I weigh 133.2.

I have worked out for 3 weeks, hard. And I've not been able to break 135. Now, I stop eating junk, and I drop 5 lbs.

Okay....I'm off for the day.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Wow....just a carrot

I went to have my afternoon snack: a carrot and hummus. Then, I thought: does this hummus constitute a "processed" item? I mean, it does come in a tub, from the grocery store (Trader Joe's nonetheless). So, I looked at the label. Wow. There was some stuff I couldn't pronounce. In hummus!

I'm eating a raw carrot. And it stinks.

So far today, I've eaten:

Scottish oats, raspberries, 1 tsbs. pure maple syrup, 1 tbsp. half-n-half
Coffee w/half-n-half
1.5 hard boiled eggs
1 Banana
1 Apple w/2 tbsp. peanut butter (peanuts/salt only)
1 Carrot (large)
Handful of Strawberries (thank you California)


Figs 10 & 11

This week I'm attempting two figs. First, I am not eating processed food for one week. I feel this is the perfect time to do this because since coming home from Paris, I've eaten nothing but junk. Well, that's not exactly true. I've eaten some good food, but I've complimented it with handfuls of dodgy stuff like bunny crackers, Honey-Nut Cheerios, Dairy Queen Blizzards, and peanut butter filled pretzels. It's been a binge. I have gained about 6 lbs. I am bloated and feel sluggish.

So.....I am going to attempt a week w/out processed food. This means no store-bought bread. No crackers or cookies (unless I make them myself). No candy. Nothing out of a box, unless for some reason I chose to make pasta. Then, I think I'll go with the dried stuff. But, the point is to stop eating all this stuff filled with junk and chemicals.

I'm not sure if I'll lose weight. I hope I'll feel better. I hope I'll sleep better. I've already done it for over 24 hrs. and I have to say, it's not exactly hard, but it does require some thinking and planning.

For example, I usually eat toast in the morning. I eat healthy bread (Milton's), but it's processed and, thus, is out. So, for the past two mornings, I've eaten oatmeal with pure maple syrup and berries.

For snacks, instead of eating handfuls of crackers, a bowl of Grape Nuts or a bite at Starbucks, I've eaten hard-boiled eggs and fruit.

For lunch, I've been eating home-made turkey chili with salad - home-made salad dressing (which is so much better anyway).

Last night, I ate salmon with mango-salsa and a glass of wine.

Now, I'm not out in the back planting wheat and corn and hoping to harvest it by Friday so I can eat some toast. I do realize that packaged/processed food can have a place in a healthy diet. But I also think an occasional detox from all of it does a body good, and I've always wanted to see if I can do it, if it will be difficult, and if it will be worth it.

So far, I've nearly eaten and had to clearly avoid the following: Honey-Nut Cherrios that my kids had spilled on the floor (yes, I was considering eating handfuls of them while I was helping the kids to clean them up), chocolates from See's candies (why do they give you samples?), a Smarties roll that my son got at gymnastics today, Goldfish crackers and leftover pasta my kids didn't eat (it was a Lean Cuisine, which they love and which my daughter always finishes by saying: You cook so good, Mommy).
I weighed in yesterday at 138.6 (for those of you following my other blog, you'll know what that means). I'll weigh in again this coming Sunday. I'm not trying to diet. I'm just getting rid of the processed junk. Home-made junk is totally acceptable.

Whew.....it's going to be a long but hopefully good week.

The second fig I want to tackle is sewing something by hand. I've thought about this for a long time, because I have this idea that sewing stuff makes you a better mom and person as a whole. I'm not sure why that is. I just have images in my mind of loving mothers in cozy houses whipping up adorable children's confections and quilts on their sewing machines, the foot pedal humming softly against the sound of children frolicking outdoors.

I know. Really, I have no idea where I get these ideas. I certainly wasn't raised with them.

Well, I have a sewing machine, which I bought so that I could make my sister's daughter a quilt. That quilt turned into a total fiasco. I was pregnant at the time, and the machine kept jamming, and I kept crying and my husband kept coming over to me and asking me (begging me) to give it up, buy a quilt and be done with it. But I was dead-set on that quilt, and when I finally finished it (you can't imagine the angst), it was not even usable because the damn thing was about to fall apart simply as I handed it over to my sister.

So, I put the machine away and swore it off. Then, I thought that maybe I could be a partial domestic goddess and go all 1872 on everyone and hand sew.

So, it's on my list. I would love to hand sew a quilt, but I also know my limitations, and so I'm going to start small..........very small.

Here is what I plan on making:


Wish me luck. I am glad my husband is gone, because I suspect that something will go wrong here: I won't be able to properly cut the felt, my needle will break, etc., etc. Sigh. Then again, it could be a blast and then everyone I know will be getting tooth fairy bags for Christmas, and it will be my signature gift: tooth fairy bags and a bottle of booze.

Wish me luck...........


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Quote 11 of 52

This week's quote comes from Siddhartha, which I have officially finished as of this morning.

I dog-eared the page with this quote, and when I finished the book and went back to read this particular passage, I loved it still.

Here it is:

Most people, Kamala, are like a falling leaf, which is blown and is turning around through the air, and wavers and tumbles to the ground. But others, a few, are like stars, they go on a fixed course, no wind reaches them, in themselves they have their law and their course.

When I first read this passage and underlined it, I thought that a person had to be one or the other. Now, as I think about Siddhartha's journey as a whole, I think a person most likely has to be both - a leaf at times, a star (hopefully) in others.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fit #7......again.......

This week I am going to finish reading Siddhartha. Finally. I have to say that now that I'm half-way into the book, I'm enjoying it much more than I thought I would. It is compelling, and even if I can only muster a few pages a day, those pages leave me feeling quite full and satisfied. It is a thought-provoking book. I'm not sure I'd describe it as a novel. It reads sort of like a textbook at times, or one of those English poems that I could hardy get through during undergrad....you know, Chaucer and the like. Anyway, this is not exactly Outlander (yes, I loved that book), but I do find myself thinking about the book when I'm not reading it, and I also find myself examining my own life and its meaning more often. When I do this, I often think about Siddhartha's journey, which seems similar to my own at the moment, even if our circumstances are so drastically different. Maybe that's it though......circumstances are the small stuff.

Well, that's it for this week. I should post my impressions toward the end of the week. I am excited. It's nice to read a book of such substance, that I suspect will have a deep and lasting impact on my view of the world and my own life.


Monday, October 18, 2010

The Visit

I took Maggie last Wednesday for her visit to an art museum. As I posted earlier, there is a Wayne Thiebaud exhibit currently on display at a local museum, and I thought it would be perfect for a five-year old because Maggie does love cakes and pies and all things pink and purple.

We arrived at the museum, and Maggie was thrilled with just that. I'm not kidding, she was all beside herself to be going somewhere alone with me, somewhere she'd never before been, somewhere full of promise. I love seeing the world through her eyes because it reminds me that life is still exciting and wondrous, and seeing her so pump
ed to go to our little museum made me feel badly for thinking I had to put this visit off until I could take her to a "real" museum in New York, San Francisco or even DC.

Well, we arrived and got our tickets and each wore a little blue square sticker indicating we had paid our dues.

Right off the bat, Maggie was full of questions. There was a large wooden sculpture in the entrance of the museum made into the shape of an animal - antelope, deer, etc. - and she was very curious about this. When I told her it was made of wood and that art can be made of many different materials, well she was all obsessed with this idea for the rest of our visit. We walked past the wooden sculpture. Then, she ran over to an African mask and some clay vases. She was running up and down the halls, before we could even determine where the Theibaud paintings were housed, asking me, "What's this made out of? How about this one Mom?"

We finally did get to the exhibit. We looked at a few paintings on display outside the main room, and Maggie was fine with that but it was hard for her to stand still for very long, which meant that I only got a cursory glance at each piece. We did stop and look at one painting, a man in a tree, in a park, at night. Maggie was curious about this painting, because she couldn't figure out why a man was in a tree, in a suit, in the middle of the night. But then, just when I thought we'd have some sort of existential conversation about the meaning of life, Maggie was gone, running up and down the exhibit and saying, "Mommy, you have to see this painting. It's totally amazing."

That was her phrase for the day: totally amazing.

She liked Thiebaud's art and especially liked his work done in pastel-colored paint. She kept thinking the paintings were still wet, because the paint was very thick and still glossy looking. I tried to explain the concept of oil paint, but really I think I was just talking out of my ass because I have no idea why the paint still looked wet, if his thick brush strokes mean anything and how his paintings come out looking like something when, if you look up-close, it's all just a smattering of this and that, all half-hazard.

Then, Maggie came to a drawing, and it was hung next to a painting.

Maggie: "What is this one made out of?"

MamaP: "Pastels. They're like crayons. What do you think of it?"

Maggie: "I like it."

MamaP: "Does it look different to you, different from this other one?" And I pointed to the painting.

Maggie: "Yes, it's different."

MamaP: "How is the crayon drawing different from the painting?"

Maggie: "Well, the crayons stick to the paper and stay there. The paint just kind of drips down."

I wanted to kneel down to the floor and bow my head in thanks: she's brilliant. It's true.

We breezed through the exhibit, and I was at times a little frustrated that I couldn't linger, read about the work, decide how I felt about all of it. But Maggie was running amok and some other patrons (there was a van drop off from a local assisted-living facility) were giving me dirty looks.

We wandered around the rest of the museum, and for some reason Maggie was totally enthralled with the elevator. Now, the elevator was quite large and seemed somehow really modern and cool, but really, she's been in a thousand elevators. Still, this was really "great" and "cool."

There were, as I said, a lot of "totally amazing" pieces of art, and each room we entered I had Maggie point out which painting drew her attention first. They were usually paintings of flowers, and I don't really like flower paintings, but whatever. It was very cute.

I have to say that a lot of California art looks a lot like paint-by-numbers landscapes. But hey...who am I to say?

Then, just when our visit was coming to a close, Maggie entered the modern art section of the museum, and she fell in love and was utterly taken and mesmerized by a sculpture of a cowboy riding a flying horse that was attached to another flying horse, and the horses' eyes were made out of red light-bulbs.

This was truly, truly "totally amazing." This was stop-and-stand, mouth open in amazement amazing. Maggie walked around the entire thing, oohhing and ahhhing and asking me if I was actually seeing this thing.

I was. It was horrid. Wretched. God-awful.

But hey, who am I to say?

Then, when I thought it couldn't get worse (there was a ceramic sculpture done in that blue-and-white Dutch tile kind of ceramic - and the sculpture was a semi-automatic rifle and a grenade), Maggie fell in double-triple-love with a sculpture that was depicting a death-row inmate being put to death, and there were a bunch of protesters with signs depicting each side of the debate. And to top it all off, there was a foot pedal on the floor, and if you pushed the pedal the whole thing started flashing lights.

Dear God, Maggie pushed that pedal a thousand times.

When we left the exhibits, we headed downstairs to the cafe where Maggie chose a cupcake and chocolate milk. We split the cupcake and she sucked down the milk.

I asked her later what her favorite part of the day was, and she said the paintings and the cool elevator.

I have to say, my favorite part of the trip was seeing her so excited about the modern art stuff. I call it stuff. I should call it art, but I can't bring myself to type that out. Sigh....

Anyway, I loved it because she loved it without any preconception, without any idea of what she was loving or if it was the right thing to love or what other people (me, for instance) might say about it. She just loved it, red lights for eyes, foot pedal, everything aglow. It made me look at all of the art differently, because I realized how much we like or dislike what we experience based not on our own taste but on what society says is "right," and (to be honest) how we like to think of ourselves.

All-in-all, it was a lovely day. Maggie bought a Thiebaud post card in the gift shop and drew a heart-breaking picture of herself and her father, holding hands underneath a rainbow to send to him in Afghanistan. I nearly cried when I saw it.

And then I thought: now that is art.


Quote 10 of 52

This week's quote seems appropriate to me because I've been thinking lately of all the trips I want to take, all the countries I want to live in and the things I want to do when I finally get to these places - like development projects, rambling through the Cambodian jungle with my kids and horse-trekking in Iceland.

So, in light of these dreams, when I came across this quote, it reminded me that it's not just the destination that matters - something I know, of course, but a concept that is often difficult for me to apply to my daily life.

The quote is by Robert Louis Stevenson:

To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.

PS - the painting is of Stevenson and was done by John Singer Sargent, 1887. Wouldn't it be fabulous to have a painting of oneself by someone like Sargent???

Hope everyone is having a happy Monday. I'll be posting today about last week's fig - taking M. to the art museum for the Thiebaud exhibit. Good times!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Best

Last night, as I was putting Maggie to bed, I told her we are going to the art museum this week to see an artist who paints cakes and pies.

Maggie, "We're going together, just you and me?"

MamaP, "Yes, just you and me. To the art musuem."

Maggie, "Is it close?"

MamaP, "Yes, only twenty minutes."

Maggie, "What will we do there?"

MamaP, "We'll look at the paintings and talk about them and tell each other what we think."

She thought about this for a few seconds, and then she reached up, put her hands on my cheeks and said, "You're the best."

Monday, October 11, 2010

Fig #9 - The Art Museum

This week, I'm doing something I've wanted to do for a while now: I'm taking my daughter to an art museum.

My desire to do this began about two years ago, when I was sitting at the computer one day looking at art.com. Maggie came up to me, and I put her on my lap and we started looking at the art. I asked her which pieces she liked and which she didn't like, and even though she was 3 at the time, she had clear preferences and opinions. On top of just her likes and dislikes, I began to ask her about the art itself, about the paintings, and she started to tell me what she thought of them, why she liked them and what she thought about the subject matters. It was fascinating and enlightening and thrilling. We do it still; though I admit to being lazy about it recently. We do have a few Renoir books downstairs, and we sometimes flip through those, and Maggie tells me which ones she likes and why she likes them and what she thinks about them. It's all so wonderful because it makes me look at the paintings in a new light and I realize how powerful and compelling art is for all of us.

Maggie's favorite painting (thus far, obviously) is by Hopper. Her two favorite artists so far are Edward Hopper and Degas. She loves Degas because she loves ballet. But Hopper is her true love, and there hasn't been a painting of his that we've seen so far that she doesn't like. Well, but her favorite is entitled "Hotel Room."

I asked Maggie what she thought of this painting, and she said that the women in the painting looks sad to her. I think that's such an interesting observation and comment, and every time we come back to this painting, she says the same thing: that the woman is sad.

Interestingly, I was in Madrid a few months ago, and a friend suggested I go to see the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, a fabulous collection of art that is really staggering in that it was collected by one family. Anyway, I went, not knowing a thing about it, and low and behold, I walked up face-to-face with Hopper's piece, "Hotel Room."

I thought of Maggie and vowed to take her there one day, to show her the original piece of art and to see if she felt the same way about the painting in person.

So, this week I am taking Maggie to her first art museum. It's a small museum here in town, and I wouldn't have thought to take her here except for something that happened last week. I was getting the mail and I received a large envelope from a relative I rarely hear from. In fact, I'd not spoken to her in years. Inside was a small note and a newspaper clipping from the New York Times about a new exhibit at our local gallery from a famed local artist. I myself had never before heard of him, but when I read the article I was intrigued, and I vowed to take Maggie with me.

The artist is Wayne Thiebaud, and below I'll post a few of his pieces. Maggie and I are excited, and I think that while I'm there I'll sign her up for art classes. I can't wait to hear what she has to say about our visit, which I'm planning for Tuesday or Wednesday.

I think one of the best things about having kids is that you get to view the world through a whole new lens......

I'll post later about our big adventure...........


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Quote 9 of 52

This week's quote is a classic. It's Emerson, and it reminds me that I have some Emerson and some Thoreau sitting next to my bed, given to me by a friend years ago I would have least expected to give me such a book. Well, there I go....adding to my reading list. I'm looking at Siddhartha right now.......Sigh.

The quote:

What lies between us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Fig #8 - The Purge

I have finally purged my closet. It took some time. In addition to being busy with other things (two dead car batteries, a faulty transmission and my in-laws visiting), I think it's just emotionally hard for me to part with old clothes. Well, it's hard to part with old anything: clothes, furniture, books, relationships. I think we do a lot of what we do in life because of habit, because what is comfortable is comfortable, even if it doesn't work. At least we know the bad, which is better than gambling on the different.

For me, clothes have been a challenge. I keep my clothes from my old self because, after having two kids, I think that getting back into my old clothes is a sort of badge-of-honor I need to earn and then wear on my sleeve. See, I didn't go to hell in a hand-basket just because I created, housed, birthed and fed two small beings.

I know. It's silly. I get it.

The China clothes were the hardest, because that was my thinnest self, and I always like to hold out that I'll get back to that girl. The word girl is about right, too, because I was 25 when I left China, which means I was 23 and/or 24 when I wore those clothes, and why the hell am I competing with a 23 year old anyway? And of course, I feel that if I get rid of those clothes, I'm somehow closing a door on that chapter of my life. I suppose it would be okay to close that door. I returned home 10 years ago, a decade. So, I suppose it's time to move on........

Well, as you may recall from those many moons ago, I wrote about the idea of turning all those China clothes into a quilt. Normally, I would toss this idea around my head for a while and then give up on it altogether for whatever reason: too expensive, can't quilt, etc.

But, with all these 52 figs hanging around in my head, I decided to get right on it, which I did. I finally admitted to myself that I hate sewing (I tried to deny that for a long time and had some really bad experiences with my sewing machine because of it). In light of this acceptance of myself, I looked on Craigslist and found a woman who happens to love sewing and specifically quilting. I met her a week later, carrying in all my loads of silk and cotton qi paos and Dynasty-style jackets.

Three weeks later, I met her again, and she had transformed my clothes into a beautiful, queen-sized quilt.

I have to tell you, honestly, hand to my heart, this quilt makes me happier than any object has made me in a long time. Happy-happy. I sit on it. I sit under it. I finger it. And I think about all the days I wore this particular dress to teach in, or that particular dress out for dinners or that silk jacket out with the Madames, a pair of motley Chinese women with a penchant for liquor and married men.

Emily, the quilter, included all the buttons and details from the dresses, so I can see the top of one or the bottom of another. I look at one patch of the quilt and see the slit of one cotton dress that hit me just above my knee, where a red satin frog-button sat. I see the ruffled collar of a cotton sun dress I wore my last summer in China. I look at the sleeve of a black silk jacket covered in butterflies that I had made my first weeks in Chengdu, that I wore at my swearing-in ceremony.

Wearing those clothes again couldn't have made me any happier than having this quilt. So, even if I set out to purge myself of all these extra clothes, I ended up acquiring a piece of my own history that is full of memory, that I can sit on top of or crawl underneath, forever.

Okay.....here are the pics:

The blue outline below is the Chinese double-happiness character. I had a tin coffee mug with this emblem painted onto the side, and I used that coffee mug every morning while I taught class. I drank instant Nescafe coffee out of it, and I swear that one day I will find a packet of that stuff and make it again, for old-times sake. Until then, the remnants of that old electric-blue Dynasty style jacket now detail double-happiness for me on my new quilt.

That's it. I sleep with it on me every night, grateful that fall has arrived in Nor Cal and I have use for my new quilt.

I love that I set out to do one thing - purge my closet - and ended up with something else in the process.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Back: Quote 9 of 52

I have been gone from 52 Figs for a month now, and in that time I've considered giving up on my little blog entirely. Here's the thing: when you blog, people comment on your blog. And sometimes those comments aren't very nice. Sometimes, those comments are sort of personal and wretched. So, I told myself that I would simply stop blogging. I was sort of going with the whole theory that I don't want to give someone the rope the hang me with.


In life, what would happen if we stopped doing what we love (and I love 52 figs) just because someone else didn't like it, had some awful comments about it or felt compelled to run it down?

So, I'm here and starting again with a fabulous quote from Robert Frost:

There is nothing I'm afraid of like scared people.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Catch-Up Week

This week, I'm still working on several figs. I am still reading Siddhartha. I am still purging my closet - and getting close and feeling great - and I'm doing my weekly yoga. This will be my second week of yoga (I don't count that breezy gym class among them), and tomorrow will be another limb-shaking session.

I will move on next week with a new fig, hopefully having completed the closet and the book by Sunday.

Whew. These figs are all getting very ripe.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Today's quote isn't literary or high-brow at all. But, it's true. And this week, as I struggle to complete two figs: reading Siddhartha and purging my closet, it seems like just the quote to push me into another week.

On to the quote:

The naked truth is always better than the best-dressed lie.

Ann Landers

Along this vein, I have to say that I feel a bit as if I'm being pelted to death with figs. I mean, there has to be a happy balance between not being able to chose anything and feeling overwhelmed by the weekly schedule I've set for myself.

Sigh. Am I just being lazy?

With regard to Siddhartha: I love it. I'm on to the second part, and this is where I feel we're digging deep and getting into the meat of the story. BUT, this is not a late-night, before-bed, on-the-verge of sleep book. This is a book that requires attention. This is a book for sitting up, pen in hand, underlining compelling sentences, paragraphs, thoughts. This is a book you have to set down after only a few pages, because you have to digest it and think about it and read it again, and again, so that you feel you've built up the necessary layers to move forward.

It's either that, or I think you miss the point. And I have an inkling that Hesse does indeed have a point.

With regard to my closet: I am having this slight hang-up. I have purged a good portion of the closet. Today in fact I went through for a third visit, and I got rid of two black skirts I haven't worn in years but that fit me and look fine and blah, blah, blah. I mean, there's a reason I haven't worn them, right? Right. One makes me look like a giant black bell (think A-line), and the other is made of dodgy synthetic fabric that looks cheap no matter how cute it is.

Alas, I already feel better having tossed them.

Okay, here's the hang up - the Chinese section of my wardrobe. The part of my closet that represents my time in China, my Peace Corps years. For some reason, I feel that if I throw out all the dresses (many of which I had made while I was in China), I will somehow be tossing out the experience itself. I'm not sure why I feel this way, because intellectually I know it's silly. But emotionally, it feels like saying goodbye - forever, to an old friend.

Alas, I have an idea. I will cut them up and commission a quilt. Yes, a patchwork quilt, made up of all those dresses and shirts and skirts and jackets. I'll cut up the purses I had made, which I never use because they look silly. I'll cut up the gold and blue Mandarin style jacket that was a gift from Madame Zhou that makes me look like I just stepped out of a Chinese episode of Dynasty. I'll have to post a pic of that gem later, when the official purge is done.

Oh, I love it. I love it. Why do I need to write about it to figure it out? Why do the ideas come from my hands, at the keyboard, instead of through my heart and up to my mind?

Okay, well that's a little bit dramatic. Just a smidge.

I now need to research quilt making. I wonder how much this will cost.............


Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Two Yogas

One of my figs is to practice yoga regularly, at least once a week, for three months. I see this as a tall order, because regularity/consistency is one of my major issues in life, and because I've started and stopped yoga several times through the years.

I always feel better when I practice yoga. Always. I love doing it. I love the way I feel after I do it. I love the way it makes me feel about my body, because the focus is on strength and appreciation of one's body rather than on the size of my thighs or the lifting of my ass. So, I think that if a woman is going to exercise, yoga is just about as good as it gets.

The reasons I've stopped doing yoga include: it's hard, it requires consistency and I usually like to listen to music while I exercise, and by music I mean tragic pop music like Katy Perry and John Cougar Mellencamp.

Well, last week, I took the yoga class at our gym. It was lovely. It was gentle, and the music was soft, and I felt so competent in all of the poses. It was a stretch without being a stretch, meaning I could do everything without any trouble at all. If anything, I felt a little disappointed that it wasn't more difficult. I have yoga DVDs at home that are much harder than gym yoga. But, it was a nice break and a gentle reminder of my body.

Well, based on my expertise and ease with yoga after that official gym class, I decided to take a class today at a yoga studio. I almost didn't make it, because I had to get the kids to school, so I was rushed. I also tried to talk myself out of it based on not having the right clothes. And then I almost forgot my mat.

Well, I gave myself a little talking-to in the car about doing vs. talking about doing, and I pulled up to the yoga studio with minutes to spare. The teacher was Chinese. I was thrilled. I still speak a little Chinese, and we chatted for a few minutes before class. Then, I walked into the heated room (hot yoga), and I saw the seriousness of the other students and I started to feel a little bit of fear in my heart. This wasn't the gym crowd. There was no chatting. These were all beautiful, lithe bodies stretched out on mats, composed and prepared for study.

Ping, the teacher from Taiwan, came into the room and we began. We got right down to it. There was no chatter, no sitting cross-legged for ten minutes. There was just movement. Today's yoga class was yin/yang yoga, and we started with yin. I'd tell you how we started, but I can't remember. I simply can't. It was only two hours ago, and I honestly can't remember what I did. I do remember that from the get-go, this wasn't my mother's yoga class. This was no simple gym class. This was YOGA. Sweet mama..........

I have never, ever, worked that hard at anything in my life other than childbirth. Ever. Tracy Anderson...........please. I mean, here's the thing. When you do at-home videos, there is nobody there to correct you, to tell you that you have more to give, to tell you to push harder, that you can do it, to throw your hips wider, to put your leg out further. There is only Tracy, with her perfectly coiffed hair and make-up, saying, "I know it's hard, but you really must do it."

Well, enter Ping. She is small and fit and at least 50. She won't let you get away with half-assing it. She will call you out: Amy, you can offer more. You must push harder. You are compensating.

And come on - it was only my first time, and she knew it!

I was shaking. I was obviously sweating, and by sweating I don't mean perspiring. No, that's what gentle southern women do. I was drenched in sweat. It was pouring down the sides of my arms and face. Just when I thought I couldn't stand a pose a second longer, she would tell us to go deeper, to stretch further. There was no sitting it out. There was no sense that if it was too hard you could simply go back to child's pose. And Ping was watching, all the time moving around the room. She must have re-positioned me at least 12 times. At least.

There were moments when I thought I'd collapse and give up and call out, in Chinese so the other students wouldn't understand: I can't do it. It's too hard.

But then I thought that maybe that's my problem in general. Whenever things get hard, I quit and tell myself it wasn't for me.

I kept going, even though I was shaking and I thought I'd die. I sort of actually longed to be in labor, because at least contractions only last a minute or so and then you have a breather. We held some of these positions for 3 minutes, and what seems feasible in the first thirty seconds becomes unbearable after a minute.

In the end, during our very last pose, before cool down, I was able to somehow contort my body into a bird-of-paradise pose, which I'd never before done and which only two other students were able to do. I did it. I stood up, and Ping saw me and she said, "Good Amy, keep going. Stretch your leg out. Kick it out straight."

I did. I kicked it out straight, and I somehow didn't collapse, and Ping said, "See everyone. She's doing it, and it's only her first day."

The woman next to me leaned over, when I had two feet back on the ground, and said, "That's amazing."

As we cooled-down, Ping talked about someone in our lives who might be suffering and how we could send them our healing energy. I thought of my daughter, Maggie, who is missing her father so much now and who is struggling with her anger and her emotions. I wanted to send her my healing energy because so much of the time I'm focused on dishes, or blogs or laundry or bopping around town, and I don't always know how to help Maggie deal with her emotions about her father's absence. So, I lay on the floor, my palms facing the sky, and I sent my daughter all of the healing thoughts I had, letting them flow out of that experience and into her soft little heart.

I think I'll give up the gym membership. It's time to get real. Three months. I can't wait to see what I can do.


Top 5

A reader asked, in the comments section of this week's quote, which 5 figs I would focus on if I had only a month or year to live. It's a compelling question, and while it might be an obvious question now that I think about it, I hadn't yet thought about it.

Top 5 figs?

Here they are, in no particular order.

1. Write a letter to Aunt Marie
2. Visit Grandpa Bob
3. Write poems to my children
4. Ride in a motorcycle sidecar
5. Ride a horse fast, at a solid gallop

I realize that when I make lists, I start to work the list instead of living each experience. I find myself each week thinking about which fig to start, and my thinking is shifting from what I really want to do or experience to what I have time for or feel I can feasibly accomplish in a few days.

It's not at all the point.

So, thank you Chad, for the thoughtful reminder.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Fig #8

This weeks' fig is something I've wanted to do for a long time but never have gotten around to it: purge my closet.

Just the words make me both excited and make me cringe. But, I'm determined to do it for several reasons. Those I will get to later in the week.

I have to admit that there is something nice about reading Siddhartha and purging my closet simultaneously. In fact, perhaps it's the reading of Siddhartha this weekend (though I still have half-way to go) that has inspired this desire to finally get cleaning.

More on my fascinating closet this week.........


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Quote 8 of 52

This week's quote is from Sylvia Plath, and I chose it because I love it, I understand it and it seems applicable for this week - since I'll be finishing one fig (Siddhartha - page 18 as of this morning) and continuing on with another fig (still undetermined). So, I'll be simultaneously figging.

On to the quote.

If neurotic is wanting two mutually exclusive things at one and the same time, then I am neurotic as hell. I'll be flying back and forth between one mutually exclusive thing and another for the rest of my days.

I have heard there are people who don't feel this way, and I guess I have to accept this is true. I mean, if someone tells it to you, then you have to believe it (I spent a lot of my youth not believing what people told me, and it was really exhausting). So, if someone tells me that he (let's face it - it's usually a he) doesn't want two mutually exclusive things at one time, that he doesn't think of life that way, that he isn't plagued by this sort of competing desire, well then I must believe it's true. It's just that there is a little place in the back of my mind that is screaming: liar. Okay, that's not very nice of me, and the fact is that it's not even accurate, because I think that it's likely true. I think there are people who want what life has to offer, who can take what comes and live in the moment and not want so much more that it makes them restless. I'm not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, I am jealous of these people because it is torture to want so many mutually exclusive things at one time. It's exhausting and overwhelming, because my wanting of them is just as strong for one as it is for the other, so there really is no relief in choosing one - the wanting doesn't go away. I am jealous of people (really, I am) who don't have this internal battle, who want one thing or another thing but none of those things really compete with each other, and the wanting of things isn't so strong as to make a person miserable.

But then I can't imagine being any other way, being without the wanting and the desire. I think it would be the death of me, even if it's already the death of me, and I think life would be boring and tedious without it. It's so normal for me that I think I would feel naked if I didn't experience these conflicting/competing desires on a regular basis.

I'm learning, however, that it doesn't really matter what another person is or if our own person makes us neurotic as hell. We are who we are; we can't change it. I really don't believe we can change the core of what we're made of, so the only option we're left with is to embrace it, try our best to temper whatever makes us (or others) miserable and make the most of it.
But the beautiful thing about writing is that we don't feel quite so alone when someone else expresses the same sentiment.

Friday, August 20, 2010

100 Pages Is Much Harder.......

I would have never thought 100 pages of anything could be so difficult that at the end of a full week, I would have gotten to only page 10. Well, it's true. I've managed only one chapter of Siddhartha (which means I'm being generous about getting to page 10). So far, it's your basic eastern-philosophy man's/search/meaning/odyssey/quest type of thing. I need to push through, however, because the cover assures me it's an all-time bestseller.

I'm off to take a hot bath, read about selfless suffering and attempt to complete my fig for the week, which I think speaks more to my self-competitive streak than anything else.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Fig #7

I have poured over my list several times these past few days, and I can come up with a good reason (or two) for not doing any of the items listed. I am still suffering from this cold, and while the symptoms are gradually going away - the coughing, stuffy head, sore throat - I am absolutely fatigued. Exhausted. And I have two kids to chase around the house all day, which means the house is a mess, the kids are filthy and they've escaped the side gate more than once. I think the neighbors might be wondering if I've taken to straight gin.

Anyway, the only fig I can imagine mustering in my current state is reading Siddhartha. I figure it's short, and I also figure that in my post-European-vacation let-down/depression, I need something to give me perspective and to really compel me to think of anything other Berthillon ice cream and Hemingway. Thus, I'm not reading The Old Man and the Sea.

Siddhartha is a whisper of a book at only 105 pages. Of course, it's usually these books that pack the most punch, so I am hopeful. I can't even tell you why I've always wanted to read it. I have no idea what it's about. I know that my mother and brother both loved it, though, and since we all tend to appreciate the same literature in our family, I have the sense I'll love it too.

My great aunt once sent me her old copy, the one she used as an English teacher. I have tried to read it several times but always failed because I found all of her notes and scribblings in the margins to be a huge distraction. So, I ordered my own copy from Amazon before I left for Paris, and it sits here waiting for me to begin.

I will begin today. I figure it comes on the heels of having just re-read Maugham's The Razor's Edge, and if any of you have read it, you'll know that Larry's journey must in some way mirror Hesse's story - at least I have an inkling in that direction. So, maybe it's the perfect time for my mind to absorb it.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Fig #6: The Unexpected Fig

As you know, I went to Europe to attend the wedding of a friend, a fellow Peace Corps volunteer. The wedding was in northern Spain, so after a few days in Paris (and one paltry sunrise), I took a 10-hour train ride from Paris to Spain and landed in a hotel with a few other Peace Corps gals, loads of coffee and heaps of bread (we had room service).

The wedding was the following day, and it was one of those weddings that makes you cry for the simplicity and sincerity of it. As I looked around the church, it was clear that every person there cared about the couple. There was none of that big-wedding-invite-everyone feeling. Nearly everyone in our row and in the rows above and behind us was all teary-eyed as the bride came down the aisle. It was touching because of the quiet emotion that sort of permeated this little Spanish cathedral perched on top of a hill overlooking the quaintest town I've seen in a long time.

Well, after the throwing of rose petals and pelting the couple with handfuls of rice, we all made our way to the reception, which ended up being a multi-course sit-down meal in a beautiful, sun-filled banquet hall that somehow makes American banquet halls seem all dingy and dark and missing a strobe light and disco ball.

Okay, I digress. Back to the food. I have to say that the dinner came on the heels of tapas, and I thought more than once of the ubiquitous Chinese expression: man, man chi. Slow, slow eat. They would always say it at dinners and banquets - eat slowly, enjoy yourself, have another glass of beer.........eat slowly.

So, the first course of our dinner was a fois gras and apple pate/terrine and slices of bread and toasts. It was lovely, and I had to stop myself half-way through eating it, reminding myself to slow, slow eat and wait for more to come.

Okay...........the second course was.........................SCALLOPS.

I know. Fig #28 on my list just happens to be EAT SCALLOPS.

I have to tell you why I've never eaten scallops. It all started back when I was a child, and my parents were divorced. My mother, sisters, brother and I all lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Oregon, and my mother was dating the man who would later become my step-father (for 7 years). I should also mention that I was raised Mormon, but my mother had sort of fallen off the wagon after her divorce (likely during my parents' marriage), and as much as we still went to church, there were these little paths taken that were definitely not sanctioned by the Joseph Smith.

For example, I found my mother in the back yard of the apartment complex one evening, on a lawn chair, in a bikini. I know. Well, as if being half-naked wasn't enough, my step-dad was there, and they were drinking wine. I think it might have been wine spritzers - those horrid Bartles and James things that were popular in the 80's - but whatever it was, the whole thing was very sordid and dangerous to my 8-year-old mind.

They were eating scallops. My step-dad offered one to me, and I declined. He insisted. I think I might have cried, and I think I was forced to take a bite, and of course I hated it and thought it was disgusting and have refused to even consider eating them again for the rest of my life.

So, there I am, at this lovely wedding reception, and along come a plate of scallops. I look across the table at a fellow Peace Corps volunteer and smile, because she follows me here at 52 Figs and she could appreciate the poignancy of this moment.

The scallops were actually not in full scallop form. They were mixed together with all sorts of cheese and cream, and they were served in big shells, all hot and bubbly, so it was sort of like eating scallops-light. I dug in, and I loved them of course. It's nice when it works out that way.

Luckily, my Peace Corps friend happens to be a fabulous photographer, and she took a photo of me with my surprise scallops. So, for those of you who don't know me, here I am - a plate of steaming, creamy scallops in my hands:

So, there it is. Me, eating scallops, at a gorgeous wedding of a great friend in a charming Spanish town. Does life get better?


Quote 7 of 52

I am still undecided as to which fig I'll attempt to pluck this week, so I can't find a necessarily applicable quote. Instead, I'll go with another favorite, and I've chosen one that is forceful and strong. Coming off the heels of my big European adventure and subsequent illness(s), I feel I need a good shove into this new week.

This week's quote comes from George Bernard Shaw:

You don't learn to hold your own in the world by standing on guard, but by attacking and getting well-hammered yourself.

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