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

Monday, July 26, 2010

Fig #4

This week's fig is a big one: Take my kids camping.

This is big for me for several reasons. First, my husband is gone, so taking my kids camping will be a single-mom thing to do, and single-mom stuff has always scared me. I don't know why it is, but the thought of wrangling both my kids in the middle of the wilderness sounds exhausting and wrought with potential pitfalls, such as my child falling in a lake and floating off because I was concentrating on trying to somehow secure shelter.

I have been camping twice in my life. Well, there was Outdoor School in elementary school, but we stayed in cabins and it wasn't by choice, so I'm not going to count it. Incidentally, I only remember being really cold (it was in Oregon) and hating that experience, which may be why I've never had a love-affair with the whole camping idea to begin with.

So, my first real camping experience was in China. I took a horse-trekking excursion through northern Sichuan, from a charming little town up in the mountains called Songpan. When I say it was charming I'm not being facetious. It was one of those cities displayed in glossy photos in travel magazines. It was at one-time a walled-city, and the crumbling remnants of that wall still remain today. When you arrive in Songpan, you invariably arrive in the early evening, after a 10 hour bus ride from Chengdu, when the sky is hovering just between blue and gray and the air is crisp. I was there in October, when I had a break from school to celebrate Chinese National Day (think July 4th for us Americans). The Chinese take an entire week off for this event, and it was sort of the perfect time to travel: not too hot - not too cold.

Songpan is a little bit like stepping back in time. I say a little bit because the Communists have gotten their hands on the place, so there are the ubiquitous white-tiled buildings and other dodgy, gray, Communist structures. Usually, foreigners are forced to stay in hotels pre-approved by the Party itself (I'm sure there are some kick-backs involved in this process), but because my travel buddy and I spoke Chinese and a twinge of local dialect, we were allowed to stay at a cheaper guest house rather than the concrete, white-tiled slab the other tourists were directed toward. We stayed one night in the guest house before departing early the next morning on our trek. I recall only one thing about this guest house, and that was the bathroom. It was a squat toilet, of course, but it was porcelain and was flushable, so it wasn't altogether bad. Well, it wasn't bad until the next morning. Apparently, the water is turned off during the night, so all the offerings build up over night and greet you when you first go in for a morning wash. It was really awful.

The trek lasted a few days and nights, and our group consisted of myself, another PCV (Erin) and a few Japanese tourists. We were a motley crew, to be sure. Erin and I were all geared up in North Face fleeces, zip-off pants and hiking boots. The Japanese were decked out in brightly colored designer jeans, shoes and shirts, and it felt good to finally be an American tourist somewhere and not be the utterly ridiculous ones.

We rode our horses several hours each day. It was a slow pace. The horses were in no hurry, likely because they were old, worn and had little incentive to trudge along carrying loads of gear and a 130 pound foreigner. Still, we rode along, often at the very edge of steep drop-offs, and I feared more than once that my horse would simply dump me off the side of the mountain. He never did. At one point, while I was kneeling on the edge of an incline to take a photo, my horse did nudge me with his nose, and I sort of toppled down the incline and landed a few feet below, having grabbed hold of a small, frail tree trunk. Erin thought that was very funny.

Each afternoon we arrived at a pre-designated camp site and our guides made camp. When I say pre-designated I only mean that they meant to stop there. I don't mean there were any amenities. None, actually. There were no toilets. No running water. No trash cans. There was only a patch of clearing for our tents and supplies. And when I say tents, what I mean to say are long white pieces of cloth held up with sticks. There were no zippers. There was nothing on the ground other than the bare dirt and a few dirty blankets that had spent the day underneath our saddles. Oh, and our saddles? Those were our pillows. Right, so you got inside your tent, and there was a hairy, dirty blanket on the ground, and at the head of that was your horse saddle. Homey.

It was so cold that Erin and I couldn't sleep and huddled together for warmth - and this was with our polar North Face fleece jackets and special Smart Wool socks.

When we had to go potty in the middle of the night, we had to call out to our guide, who would come shuffling over from his neck of the woods. Incidentally, we had a very charming and good looking guide who was Muslim and one of China's many minority. I had a mild crush on him that was based, I'm sure, on some primal part of me that found a man in Communist-Army issued green tennis shoes and high-water pants attractive. He was so sweet about those midnight potty breaks. Well, we'd call him over, and he'd come and take us off into the woods. Erin had one of those REI headlamp things, and he got a big kick out of that. He thought it was the best thing ever..........and when we left Songpan, Erin gave it to him. I mean, he must have been the shit among the trekking guides after that.

So, the trip was a success because I did it and enjoyed it and didn't complain about lack of sanitation. At the end of the trip, our guide took us home with him that last night, and we ate a meal with his family. They lived in a fabulous home made of wood (again, everything in China is white tile, so wood was very bohemian), and they lived off this dirt road just as you made your way into town.

There were clumps of corn hanging to dry upside-down off the rafters of the second story, and the sky was so big behind that house, dark as it was in the night and filled with stars. We rarely saw stars in China, what with the pollution, so it really struck me there, just after nightfall, as our guide led us through the streets to his home. I should also mention that during our camping trip I'd gotten my only pair of pants thoroughly soaked at a hot springs, and though I left them dangling from the side of my horse for the remainder of the trip, they never dried. So, as I made my way to this Muslim family's home, I wore my fleece, my huge hiking boots and a pair of skin-tight silk underwear that I'd unfortunately bought one size too small.

As I said, he was Muslim, and his mother wore the headscarf, and they didn't eat meat. We ate dofu noodles, which were heavily spiced with Sichuan red peppers, and it was wonderful. We sat in their home, on a sofa, a TV blaring in the background, children running in and out, peeking at us from behind their mother's legs. We talked as much as we could, our Chinese being fairly limited at the time. There is a lot that can be said with a few words, a big bowl of steaming noodles and some smiles. I'm not sure how it happened, but I ended up wearing the Muslim hijab, and I have a grainy black-and-white photograph of me with it on, a weary smile on my face. I remember that picture being taken and not wanting to smile too big for fear I'd offend this woman and she'd think I was mocking her religion.

Anyway, that was my first camping experience. I went to Songpan again, with my Chinese boyfriend, and it was much less exciting because the Chinese don't get such a big kick out of nature and camping and trudging around a quaint little city with a crumbling old wall and some charming wooden houses.

I camped once in the States, just after I'd gotten home from China, with my mother's new husband. We went white-water rafting down an Oregon river, with a huge group of other rafters, and the difference between Oregon camping and Songpan camping is like the difference between a backpackers hostel in South East Asia and the Paris Ritz. My mom's husband was all about the fancy camping, with swank tents, a 2 burner stove, plenty of wine and excellent food. In fact, everyone on this trip camped this way, so the evenings were spent drinking wine around a camp fire, eating grilled shrimp and chatting with cute boys whose parents had dragged them along as well. I loved it, but I'm well aware that I loved it because I didn't have to lift a tiny finger other than to hoist myself on and off the raft each day and, of course, my wine glass at night. And yes, we used wine glasses.

So, I've camped. It's just that the thought of doing it with my kids has somehow always overwhelmed me so much that I've talked about it and thought about it and yet never done it. It always just seems like so much work.

This week, however, friends invited us to camp with them near our home. It's only a 45 minute drive for us, so it's not a long haul. When my friend suggested it, my first instinct was an internal groan. I was suddenly very tired. But then I said to myself: hey, this is life. this is having kids. get on with it.

We are meeting them at a campground and they have a pop-up trailer, and they have an 18-month old daughter. So, we'll be all crazy parents and kids together, and I'm thinking it may wear me out but it may well be fabulous and at least my kids will know the joys of dirt and food cooked over a fire instead of gelato at the mall.

Wish us luck...........


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Quote 4 of 52

I think most of us have heard this week's quote many times over. It's quite famous. But what I love about the quote most is what comes toward the end of the quote - the bit about retreat and advance. It's funny because so often, that part isn't actually quoted. And yet, I feel that it's the meat of what Roosevelt is trying to say - that fear causes retreat when we should advance. Obviously, this can be taken in a military context, but I love to apply it to my own life. I feel, as I stand up and pluck these figs from my imaginary tree, that I'm advancing rather than retreating or, perhaps worse, sitting still.

The quote is from Franklin D. Roosevelt's First Inaugural Address - March 4, 1933:

So let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Thoughts on a Spray Tan

I've had the spray tan now for a few days, and it's much, much better. In fact, it's nice. It is even-colored and not at all blotchy. It gives me a faint glow, nothing particularly noticeable. I'd say that it sort of just takes the edge off the starkness of my white skin. The shower and loofah obviously helped, and by the next morning, the green color was gone and I no longer looked like a part-time, volunteer fire-fighter.

So, I looked at myself and my first thought was this: I don't look better.


I didn't look any worse. But even with that soft glow, I don't think I looked better. And I'd been waiting basically my whole life to look better.

I think what struck me most is that my skin didn't look like my skin. It looked like a tan person's skin, except that I'm not a tan person so my own personal coloring wasn't such a big hit with the spray tan. I think if my skin naturally tanned, things might be different. But since my skin doesn't naturally tan, it sort of just looked odd to me. Again, not bad but not good either. Just different.

I noticed that my eyes didn't stand out as much against the tanned skin as they do against my white skin, and I realized that I like my blue eyes in part because of how they play off my skin.

My lips also seem pale to me, not quite as pink. My lipstick and make-up look slightly off with this warmer skin. It all just doesn't seem to suit me as much.

I had a friend write me an e-mail after reading my first post on this blog, when I was floating in the pool contemplating my life. She said something that I don't think anyone has ever said to me before: she said that my skin is part of what makes me beautiful.

I have been thinking about that ever since she wrote it. It's the first time someone other than my mother has said I have nice skin - and even then my mother encourages me often to get tanning lotions. Isn't it nice when our parents give us those blessed mixed messages???

Anyway, my friend's comment made me realize that I've always thought of myself in terms of being on the cusp of being beautiful. If I only had tan skin, I'd be pretty. If I only lost 10 lbs, I'd be thin enough. But now that I've actually gone and gotten the spray tan, I realize that it doesn't make me any prettier; in fact, my skin looks best in its natural state, and I guess I have to give mad props to God for creating me right the first time, sans golden skin and all.

I think that if I have a beauty-based goal, it's got to be to love myself as I am, today, right now. I think that if I could teach my daughter one thing about herself it would be that - to love herself as she is, to appreciate what she's been given and to focus less on the outside and more on the inside. Because as I age, I do realize that it's the soul of who we are that gets us through the rough patches and enables us to celebrate the joy - it's never the size of our thighs or the color of our skin.

I know some people don't understand how a woman could be so consumed with a spray tan. But I think we all have our thing, and for whatever reason, it's our thing. It's that proverbial monkey on our back that tags along with us, sometimes in the forefront of our thinking and other times lingering behind but still somehow attached.

I sit here tonight, the remnants of my spray tan starting to fade, and I can't express how happy I am to have had this experience and to put it behind me. I look forward to my skin returning to its glaring white, and I hope that this feeling lingers, that it knocks that monkey officially off my back, allowing me to shift all of that mental energy to the experiences that will enrich my life.

Isn't it funny that in life, so often when we get what we think we wanted, it turns out we were wrong all along?


*Photograph/Painting: John Singer Sargent - Madame X

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Spray Tan

As I walked in for my much-anticipated spray tan, I thought about a lunch date I had about 12 years ago, when I was a fresh little thing just out of college. I was meeting a friend, a good friend, a male friend. I'd met this guy in college, when he was my waiter at Chili's. He was adorable. He was very nice, and we became fast friends and I was aware that he had a crush on me. This went on for several years; though he never came right out and admitted the crush. But, it was obvious not only to me but to others. I only mention this because it relates to our lunch date, which I'll get to in a minute.

This friend, I'll call him "R," was very sweet and good to me. We were friends all throughout college and kept in touch after graduating. I even visited him once, for a weekend, and we had that kind of friendship that is easy and fun and honest.

That honesty is a stickler, though.

So, fast-forward to our lunch date. I hadn't seen R in well over a year, and I was excited. We were meeting at a swank restaurant in Dallas, and I'd gotten all dressed up (like a good Texan girl) and was waiting at the table when he arrived. He walked toward me, all smiles and he hugged me in one of those big bear hugs that lasts a minute or two longer than it probably should, especially at a restaurant full of other people. We sat down. I put my napkin in my lap, and he looked at me and said, "God, you'd be gorgeous if you just had a tan."

I know.

Here's the thing: he was fairly pale, freckled, with strawberry-blond hair and a good extra 20 to 30 pounds. I mean, this guy was no American Gladiator.

I can only think that in his mind, he was giving me a compliment.

I thought about R as I arrived at the salon for my famed spray-on color. I had to take my kids. That's part of this whole year, actually - doing these 52 figs even when it's inconvenient or a hassle. It's hard for me to take my kids to things like a spray tan. I'm not one of those easy-going women who can somehow handle a brood of small children in a public place without alternating between a horrid sing-song voice of false enthusiasm and the clenched-teeth whisper of a mother at her wit's end. But this year I'm not going to say to myself: oh, I can't do that because I can't take the kids. I can't find a sitter. Blah, blah, blah.

So, I took the kids. I plied them with sugary treats from Peet's Coffee, which I held ransom until the very last minute before I headed back into the depths of the salon where the spray tans are doled out.

The receptionist promised to keep an eye on the kids, and the spray-tanner (I'm sure this woman has an official title I'm unaware of) also did the same. I left my kids with a carton of yogurt, a lemon-iced scone and two boxes of chocolate milk. Dear God, I thought. What will this waiting area look like when I return?

I followed the woman back, and I was somewhat calmed by the fact that she too had pale skin. She assured me I was going to love this, that it was going to be fabulous and that I'd be back again and again.

"Don't worry," she said. "You'll be a little blotchy and dark for a day, but when you shower later, it will wash off and you'll just have a nice glow."

"I won't be all streaked and orange?" I asked, still skeptical. I mean, I know other people get spray tans, but other people have natural pigments in their skin that lend themselves to color. I don't.

"Don't worry," she smiled, handing me a bottle of lotion and telling me to apply it to the bottoms of my feet, the palms of my hands and my knees and elbows. "You'll be great."

So, here's how it works - the spray tan. First, you are taken to a small room that has a tent in it. It's like a camping tent, except that it's very tall and just big enough to stand in. On the floor is a little pad of what looks like aluminum foil. You stand on that. You can chose to wear underwear or you can chose to go naked. I chose to go naked.

I asked the woman, "That doesn't bother you? To spray tan naked people all day long?"

She laughed and said, "Oh no. Just last week I had to hold a woman's boobs up for her to get underneath."

I sort of loved her right there and then.

Okay, so I stripped down, applied to the lotion to my hands and feet (I guess to keep from the spray tan collecting there) and then sort of just waited, half covering my naked breasts with one hand, my legs kind of crossed over one another. It was awkward. She finally came back.

"Ready?" she called to me. I assured her I was ready. She opened the door.

"Your kids are fine, just waiting for you and eating."

I loved her even more for checking on them for me.

So, we commenced. She took hold of a small tool with a long wand on the end of it, and she began to spray me down much like you might spray-paint a car. It was odd. I stood still, buck-naked, and watched her evenly apply a light mist to my body.

"Okay, turn," she said. I turned to the side and lifted my arm. I turned around. I turned to the other side. I closed my eyes for a light misting over my face.

It was all done in about 5 minutes. After that, she left me with the said machine, that had been converted into a dryer, and I stood there for another 5 minutes drying myself off. Then, I got dressed and walked out into the salon.

I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror and my first thought was this: Holy Shit I Look Like George Hamilton.

As the day progressed, things only got worse. First, my bra wiped off the tanning solution around my boobs, and since my boobs are so small I have to wear a padded bra with chicken-cutlets, the area with the chicken-cutlets had apparently sweat so much that the solution had entirely worn off. So, my boobs alternated between deep orange, slight orange and stark white.

The woman had also failed to catch that area underneath my butt, that nice little spot where one's ass overhangs one's thighs. So, if I bent over, there were some really nice white creases there.

Also, after about two hours, my skin took on a strangely green pallor. It's hard to describe, so I'll just let a photo speak for itself.

All of this, however, is nothing compared with my face. My face. My face. My lips seemed to be gone from my face, because now instead of being white with pink lips, my lips are just the same color as the rest of my face, which is a very strange look. My face, after a few hours, was very dark. I looked like I'd just rescued a box of kittens from a smokey basement in Boca Raton, Florida.

I called my sister on Skype, and when she saw me she had to turn away. Finally, she just gave in and laughed openly. When she could talk she said, "Um, don't take this the wrong way, but you look like you're 80."

I hope this whole thing eases up with a good shower and some exfoliant!


Monday, July 19, 2010

Fig #3

This week's fig is going to be a spray tan. As you may recall, I have very white skin. My sister says it's more like translucent than actually just white, and you don't have to look awfully hard to see the veins running up and down the backs of my legs.

I think I have come to terms with my skin. I mean, I think there will always be a part of me that wishes I wasn't quite so glaringly white, but I have outgrown the phase of allowing it to stop me or hold me back. And in the past years, especially since living in Asia, I've grown to see it as a positive aspect of my appearance rather than something I should cover up and hide.

I know it seems like a lot of angst, the color of my skin. So lest you think I'm hung up on it for no good reason, allow me to regale you with a few stories of my romantic past.

In college, my freshman year, I dated a football player. Well, he was a little bit more than a football player. I lived in Texas, and I attended a Texas state school, so he was more of a football hero - as are all Texas football players (in the very least in their own minds). Not only did my boyfriend play football for our college, but he played baseball as well. He was quite the athlete. He was also very big. I use that word because there isn't another word to describe him. He had a medical condition (acromegaly - a hormone imbalance) that made him big. He was 6'3 inches tall and 275 of muscle. He was so big that my entire hand fit into the palm of his hand. His calf muscle was bigger than my thigh muscle (we measured them). He was blond and blue-eyed and tan. Everywhere we went, women sort of looked at him and smiled at him and threw themselves at him, all of which he laughed off with an affable shrug. So, right there you can kind of see that a girl might be a little insecure as his girlfriend, and then he was 24 and I was 19, and he was a senior, and I was a freshmen. Well, I could go on.

I remember several times waiting for him to pick me up in my dorm room only to find that he'd never gotten past the elevators, what with the small crowd of girls hovering around with their questions, and hair-twirling and infectious laughter.

Lest you think he wasn't a good boyfriend, I can assure you he was. He was very sweet, cooking for me and shuffling me all over town and spending hours sitting with me while I studied (he never did study, that I can recall, and yet he seemed to sail through his classes with ease - I guess that happens when one is a sports science major). Anyway, he was lovely. I was sick once and feeling pathetic and miserable, and I was all self-pitying and mopey and he said to me, "What do you want?" And I sort of threw myself on the floor and said, "I want cake."

I'm well aware, at the age of 34, how pitiful this story sounds.

Anyway, he got up and went out in a snow storm and got me two different kinds of cake and fed them to me from a palate on the floor, in front of a fire.

So, he was sort of great. The only thing I ever recall him being not-so-great about was my skin. He was, as I said, very tan. And he always hinted that he'd love it if I tanned. Finally, one day he just came out and said, "Will you go to a tanning booth if I pay for it?"

I didn't know what to say, and so I shrugged and agreed. I knew, of course, that I wouldn't actually tan. I mean, it wasn't as if I hadn't tried. But people never believed me. It's as if they thought I should just be trying harder or something.

I went to the tanning bed the next week. His excitement was palpable as I walked in and winked at him over my shoulder. Really, he could hardly contain himself.

In his defense, when I walked out 15 minutes later, red as a boiled lobster and sort of walking with my arms and legs splayed out to keep them from rubbing against each other, he was mortified and shocked and felt very badly. Very badly.

He never mentioned tanning again. But I knew how he felt about my skin, then, and it was always hard for me to wear shorts around him. And we lived in Texas, so the option of wearing jeans throughout the summer was slightly worse than my alabaster legs.

This week, since I've given the old tanning bed the college try (literally), I'm going to get a spray tan. I've used tanning lotions over the years and given up. Looking streaked and smelling as if I peed myself isn't worth it. But I've always wondered if a spray tan would look good. And I've talked about it for years.

I don't know what worries me more about it - that it will look (and smell) like crap or that it will be fabulous and I'll spend my family into deep debt from a tanning habit that stems from an insecurity about myself that is so superficial I am embarrassed to write about it.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Quote 3 of 52

And now a quote from my favorite author, Hemingway. I love this quote because, like Hemingway's writing, it's simple and to the point and yet says everything there is to say:

Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I went to Nordstrom today to pick up my Creme de la Mer body lotion. You can imagine my delight when they told me that since I purchased the lotion, I was also going to be given a special anniversary gift. Now, let me just say that Creme de la Mer isn't known for gifts. They're not like Lancome or Clinique, who seem to have a constant rotation of "gifts-with-purchase." I've never before even seen a gift-with-purchase at la Mer.

Well, in addition to my bottle of lotion, I received a .24 oz. jar of actual Creme de la Mer face cream (which I use everyday), a small bottle of the tonic and a little jar of the eye concentrate. As if that wasn't enough, she threw in a small tube of the body creme, which is thicker than the lotion, and which I'm especially pleased with as my hands are beyond dry at the moment.

In addition to all of this, I tried the sunscreen. Now, let me say that sunscreen is very important to me - as you might imagine - given the whiteness of my skin (which my sister says is better described as "translucent"). I have tried every facial sunscreen on the market. I like Clinique City Block in 40 SPF and Cetephil's new facial moisturizer with SPF 50. Both are quite nice, but both do feel like sunscreen. They go on and leave just a hint of that white, sunscreen film, catching the tiny hairs across my face in a faint glow.

I didn't expect much from Creme de la Mer's sunscreen, because how can you really improve upon facial sunscreen? Well.........let me tell you, however they do it, they've done it. The sunscreen is incredibly light and soft. It feels like putting silk across your face. There is no white residue. None. It actually feels like a sheer coating of primer, which makes putting make-up on even nicer. I felt my skin was smoother after applying the sunscreen. It is lovely. It is an SPF 30 and has 4% zinc oxcide. And really, it doesn't take a heaping gob. The stuff really does smooth over the skin so that it only requires a small amount.

I bought it. It's $65 for a small tube, which should last me several months. I think it's totally worth the money.

I am excited about my body lotion. I will apply it today, when I get home from the pool, after I shower. It will be especially nice and luxurious after spending hours under the sun, slathered in drying sunscreen (I have to use an SPF factor of 50 to 70).

My sister read my post from the other day, and she called me and said, "I think your post makes you sound more frugal than you really are." She has a point. I'm not all Mrs. Frugal, coupon-shopper, never buy anything nice. When I spend money, I can really spend money. But the point is that I agonize over it, wring my hands, put it off, and then I end up returning much of what I purchase. The point of this experience is to buy a luxury item and to use it all with abandon, no hand-wringing, no dabbing it on once tiny minuscule amount at a time, no returning it. When I got home today, I tore off the packaging, put the lotion in my bathroom and threw the box away. It feels great.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Fig #2

For this week's experience, I've chosen #51 out of 52 figs to pursue: Buy a frivolous luxury item and use it all, with abandon.

I'm fully aware this might seem strange to add to a list of experiences one may have put off in her life, but I can assure you that for me, the idea of doing this is a little overwhelming. Let me explain.........

I have a friend. We were Peace Corps site mates in China for two years together. I remember when she would get a care package. It was always very exciting to get care packages, because they usually included food items that we couldn't get in China. Erin's parents always sent stuff like Cheetos, too, which was fabulous (you have no idea how much you miss junk food until it's gone........). Anyway, I remember when she'd get her packages. We'd have to go downtown to the post office, which we would usually do by taxi instead of bus, that's how excited we were. We'd haggle through the process of trying to explain, in Chinese, that we had a package from America. Most times, we'd be at the wrong post office, so we'd flag down another taxi and go careening through the madness of a Chinese city street, our hearts pumping with the prospect of processed cheese, in a can.

Erin would get her package, and we'd flag down another taxi, and then she'd open the box - right there, in the taxi. It always amazed me. She didn't wait. She didn't gingerly finger the box, gazing at the packaging tape or run her hand across the letters of her name. No, she simply tore into it and start pulling stuff out, shrieking with delight. And she'd open a bag of Doritos right then and there, offering some to me, and that's how we'd make it back to our campus, our fingers encrusted in Doritos-orange goo.

I visited my friend once at her home in Colorado, and she amazed me again. She got new pants, and when we got home, she stripped off her old pants, grabbed the new ones, tore off the tag, tossed it aside and slid right into those babies. She didn't put them in her closet, to look at them later. She didn't wait until she'd taken a shower. She didn't wait for a special event. No, she put them on and then went into the kitchen and made a cup of tea. I mean, those pants could have gotten dirty, for God's sake.

As you might have guessed, I am the antithesis of my friend. Before I buy an item, I agonize over it. I research it. I think about it. I discuss it ad nauseum with everyone I know. Then, I go and look it over. I might even put it into my cart. I stroll through the store and I think about it some more. Then, I look at it again. I put it back on the shelf, telling myself I don't need it. I go back to it. I do this over and over again, until I either put it back for good or finally buy it. Then, I get it home and put it away, safely in the back of my closet, still in the store bag, tags secure. About 70% of the time, I return it.

I bought Jimmy Choo shoes this summer, and I returned them. I return many of the clothing items I buy. I'm not sure why exactly I do this. I think it likely hearkens back to my childhood, when we had some lean years and money was tight and my parents told us all about it. Of course, when your mom is boiling water for baths on the stove, I guess that really does say it all.

I remember once, when I was about 10 or so, we got new shoes. They were white, and they were for church. We got them at Payless, but I didn't know at the time that Payless was cheap or discount. I only knew that I LOVED those white shoes. My mother told us to put them away until Sunday, which my sister and I did. We would take the boxes out from underneath our beds, after we'd been put down for the night, and look at our new shoes. I was afraid to wear them, afraid to spoil the newness of them, afraid that they'd become commonplace if I wore them.

I think I'm always afraid for the proverbial other-shoe to drop. I'll buy a luxury item, and if I use it then I can't return it, and we might go over our credit limit and then we'll lose our house and cars and be shuffling around from homeless shelter to homeless shelter in search of food. It's similar to the reason I never smoked pot: for fear that I'd end up in a gutter somewhere, hopelessly addicted to crack-cocaine, my teeth having rotted out.

As you can see, I take things to the extreme. I mean, we don't even carry credit card balances and invest heavily in our retirements (a point I push so hard on my husband has to remind me that we're living now, too).

There is an upside to this fear of mine, and that is that my husband never worries that I'll go out and spend us into oblivion. He always says that I'm "self regulating," and that gaining weight or spending money always bothers me much more than it bothers him, so he never has to say anything to me at all. I might come home with $500 worth of clothes, but he knows that likely $350 of those are going back to the store. And if I gain 5 lbs? He knows I'll eat salads and soups for a week to get it off.

I am, obviously, afraid that one tiny step will snowball into an avalanche of misfortune.

I am also afraid that if I use up all the good stuff in life, I'll be stuck with the leftovers - mediocrity. What happens when my fancy purse becomes commonplace? When it's not fancy anymore? What happens when I can afford to buy Jimmy Choos and there isn't the thrill of doing so? What happens when a stay at the Ritz is just a stay at the Ritz?

I'll be honest: I secretly feel sorry for rich people, because if anything could take the thrill out of life, it would be copious amounts of money. But I also kind of feel sorry for me, because the agony of all of this really takes the joy out of treating oneself, even if it's only once in a blue moon (as, really, it should be).

So, I am going to buy a luxury item, an item I've been wanting for over a year now. And I'm going to take it out of the bag, rip the tags off and use it. I'm not going to ration it out. I'm not going to take it one tiny smidgen at a time. I'm going to use it - not waste it, mind you - until it's gone. I'm going to enjoy it. I'm not going to worry about it. I'm going to see if it's worth it.

The item I'm going to buy is Creme de la Mer body lotion. I've wanted it for ages. I actually use (sparingly and with agony) their face cream. I love it. Well, I was given a sample of the body lotion a year ago, and I loved it too. I remember it being silky and smelling very good and feeling like I'd done something lovely to myself. But, I would never allow myself to spend the money.

The body lotion is about $200 for 10 oz.

I am going to Nordstrom this week to purchase it. I'll report back...........


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Quote 2 of 52

This week's quote is from my second-favorite author (it's hard to write that because I love him so) - W. Somerset Maugham. My actual favorite author is Hemingway.....sigh. But, Maugham is a true love of mine, and he is the author of my favorite book - The Razor's Edge. That book led me to join the Peace Corps. It led my sister to head off to Europe and attend cooking school. And when my brother read it, he quit his job and beat-feet for Jackson Hole. My youngest sister refuses to read it. I can see her point.

Anyway, this quote is appropriate for this week's Fig, about which I will write more tomorrow.

For now........the quote:

It's a funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it.

W. Somerset Maugham

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Challah That Keeps on Giving

Last night, I decided to make baked French toast using our leftover challah, which was starting to dry out. I used a recipe from the Smitten Kitchen(http://smittenkitchen.com/2006/12/new-years-day-2001/ ). I've been wanting to try a recipe of hers for a long time. It was very easy, only taking about 10 minutes to put together. I baked it this morning, and the kids are still down there wiping their plates. It was easy, simple and good.

I can say, after this week, that challah is definitely worth the effort!


Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Thought.........

I was toasting challah this morning for the kids, and I had a thought: I bet now that I've made challah, I can make homemade cinnamon rolls.

I've never made them because the idea of filling and rolling and cutting something has just seemed so complicated. But, then, a challah braid made me cry and I lived through it, so homemade cinnamon rolls might just doable as well.

I think that this is the point - that doing something makes us feel like we can do the next thing......and I think it's a cycle that keeps on going.

Anyone have a good cinnamon roll recipe?


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Holla for Challah

It's done. Fig #1 is in the bag...........

My Fears Realized

Well, at Whole Foods I asked a baker if it is a problem that my yeast didn't bubble up. She assured me it is a problem, telling me that it means the yeast is "dead." Great.

She suggested I try again, and I told her I tried two different packets of yeast, but she could only smile and shrug. She did tell me how challenging challah is, because of all the eggs and butter. She helped me understand whole process of challah, and by the end of our conversation I wanted to hug her because she'd been so kind. She really was very calm and helpful, and I thought - well, if I hadn't had the "dead" yeast, I wouldn't have met this wonderful baker who makes me feel that the kneading of bread is a spiritual practice in and of itself.

When I got home, I swore my dough had doubled in size. I mean, it was huge or anything, but it was bigger than before, so I decided to go with it and see where it takes me.

I took the dough out and cut it into four pieces and began rolling. I don't know why I think everything should be easy and happen quickly, but I became slightly frustrated with the dough because it wasn't forming into long rolls as quickly as I had anticipated. It actually took a lot of rolling. And then there was the issue of size, since some of my strands were thicker at one end that at the other, an issue I could never seem to resolve.

Well, my daughter was with me, working alongside me, rolling away. Hers was even wonkier than mine, and I realize that it's small and petty of me to compare my bread rolling skills to that of a 5 year old, but it did make me feel a little better that we were both struggling a bit.

Finally, I had four strands of equal size. I tried to braid it. I tried to braid it six times. I read the instructions and looked at the photos on Williams-Sonoma. I finally watched a cooking video off youtube, twice. I kept running upstairs to read/watch another time. I cried at one point - not big, sweeping tears but small little tear-pellets of frustration. I mean, is that homemade or what? Here, enjoy some of my homemade challah moistened with my own tears.

It didn't help that my daughter kept saying, "That's not right. Nope....that's all wrong. Doesn't look good."

I had to take a short break to offer her a lesson in tact and diplomacy that I fear went right over her small head. I suggested she go and watch TV.

I finally got it. It was thrilling. I'm not kidding. To see the braid come together was thrilling. It worked. I didn't have any missing strands. The braid was even and not at all wonky.

Here is a photo:

It might have been a nice braid, but when I laid it out next to the baking sheet, I realized it was far too long (likely because I'd braided it so many times, thus stretching the dough):

So, I took a knife and cut the braid into two.........voila.

I then covered the braids and let them rest for 60 minutes to rise again. I just went and checked on them, and they don't seem to have doubled in size again. Ouch. Oh well. I'm going to bake them anyway and I'll let you know how they turn out. I may be making challah again tomorrow...........sweet Lord.


Making Challah - Part 1

I started the challah this morning. I put on my favorite apron, an old apron given to me by my sister from her days at Le Cordon Bleu. It is white and very stained, and it makes me feel all professional and competent.

I started by combining two packets of yeast with one cup of warm water. After five minutes, nothing was happening. I was expecting some bubbling, but there was nothing. So, I called my sister. She suggested I add sugar. I did that. Nothing. She suggested I try another packet of yeast, and I did that. Nothing.

Now, by this point, I was starting to go down what my other sister refers to as the "Debbie Downer" road - thinking my bread was a bust, my yeast was bad and the whole thing was going to be a flop.

In addition to all of this, I was discussing with my sister my husband's response to my 52 Figs idea, and I was all can you believe he wanted me to wait for him to start my list? and my sister laughed and said, "Listen to what you're saying."

I said, "What do you mean?"

She said, "Well, you complain all the time that your husband ignores you and doesn't want to do stuff with you. Now he's excited to do something with you and you want to do it all yourself."

I said, "But, he's not even going to be home for seven months. Am I supposed to just wait for him? I mean, is this list about him?"

She said, "No, but you could talk to him about all the stuff on the list he wants to do with you, and during the next six months, you could do the other stuff."

I said, "Well, that's not really the point, at least for me."

We stopped talking then, so I could focus on my flat yeast. I decided to just try the yeast as it was, rather than running to the store to find more - I mean, in that time I could at least see if the dough will rise, right?

I got off the phone so I could make the dough, and my daughter joined me. It was a little stressful, making the dough with her, because I had to answer questions and discuss the bread while trying to read the recipe and measure ingredients, but I think she enjoyed it and so I'm happy we did that together. She ended up scraping the leftover dough bits from the bowl while I kneaded the bread.

At this point, the dough was very sticky and I thought: this is never going to come together.

I know - can you believe how quickly I shift into Debbie-Downer?

Well, I kept at it, all the while thinking about what my sister had to say and about how funny it is that two people (sisters even) can have such different views on the same subject. For me, setting aside my list to wait for my husband would only further exacerbate my feelings of waiting on everyone else before I can live my life (feelings that may or may not be accurate but that I have nonetheless). Also, asking him which figs he wants to do with me and setting those figs aside for his return just seems crazy to me. I mean, it seems like I'd be missing the whole point - which is to experience life now, to do what I've been too afraid or (frankly) lazy to do. I want to see how I might be changed by completing this year, and I don't want this to be about another person.

I think that my sister feels I'm selfish and that maybe I'm missing the point.

As I thought about this, my hands worked the dough back and forth, kneading one side and turning the dough over, kneading the other side. I watched the sticky, unkempt mess turn into a smooth, round ball. It was amazing. I loved it. I think bread machines are for the birds. The kneading is the absolute best part - aside from the eating.

I thought, too, about how it must have been in the past, before industrial bread - when mothers woke early, fathers already in the fields, and began their chores. I have a little Laura Ingalls Wilder picture book that I read to my daughter often, and in that book Wilder writes about the weekly chores and how each day was set aside for a specific chore: washing, baking, churning butter, etc. It seems like life in that manner would have a nice rhythm to it.

Here is a photo of my beautiful dough..........I'm off to Whole Foods for groceries. When I return, I guess we'll see how the yeast has done. Will it rise? Only the gods know........


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

My Husband's Response

I told my husband, who is overseas for the next 7 months in Afghanistan, about my whole 52 figs blog/concept. Much to my surprise, he was excited, noticeably so. I say this was surprising because my husband is a man who often tunes out when it comes to me and my "ideas." I put that word in quotes, because I have been a woman with a lot of ideas. I talk about what I'm going to do, what I want to do, what I'll do when x happens or when y happens. But, to be truthful, I actually DO very little in terms of real action, and what action I do take usually falls by the wayside within a few weeks or months.

I wasn't always this way, but that's a blog for another day.

Back to my husband. He has, over the years, learned to tune me out. I don't think his reaction to me is disrespect or even a lack of love (though it does sometimes feel that way). I think it's just a sort of desensitization after years of hearing me drone on and on about one thing or another. In fact, a few months ago, after an argument between the two of us over his apparent lack of listening skills, my husband finally said to me, "You know, I'll admit it. Sometimes I just stop listening to you."

I asked him, "Why?"

He said, "Because you talk a lot and sometimes I think you just want to talk. I don't think you really want me to answer."

I have to say that even if there is a bit of truth to his statement, it was a hurtful realization that my husband has begun to tune me out. It's like he took a No. 2 pencil and slowly began erasing me from the paper of our lives.

So, when I told him about 52 figs, and his excitement was palpable (even over a poor phone connection involving a disabled iPhone and a Magic Jack), I was surprised, pleasantly so.

My husband was most excited about my desire to drive a sports car with a stick shift, and he told me that it ABSOLUTELY is better than driving a "regular" car and that the stick shift is a MUST. I think that my desire to drive a sports car reminded him of his young-man days when he had a black Corvette. I mean, he still sometimes talks about that car, and in my mind I start to hear Springsteen's lyrics to 'Glory Days.'

He is also excited about my desire to rappel, to sail, to ride horseback and to ride in a motorcycle sidecar.

My husband said, "Have you ever skied?"

I said, "No. For some reason it's just not a big thing for me."

My husband said, "Oh, it's great. It's really great. You're out there in the mountains and just going so fast. I think you should put it on your list."

I said, "Well, the list is already made. So, we can do it for sure, but I don't want to change the list."

Then, when I spoke with my husband today he asked me what I was doing. I told him I was looking up the opera schedule for this year, thinking of going to the opera in October.

He said, "You're not going to wait for me?"

I said, "Well, you won't get home in time, and I only have a year. So, I'll have to go alone."

He said, "Well, can't you just start your year when I get home?"

I paused. I was surprised (again) by the question, by his interest and by his seeming desire to participate in something that I see as uniquely my own. They are my 52 figs.

I said, "Well, this is really kind of my list. I want to do it now. It's stuff I've wanted to do for along time."

He was quiet. I felt badly about it, and I started to try to think of ways I could mend the conversation and turn it around.

I said, "I can wait for you to rent the sports car. And do you know a place I can rappel?"

He said, "Oh, no. This is your list."

So, then I felt guilty and sorry but also a little angry and annoyed. I have spent the last five years at home with our kids, moving around the country to support my husband and putting my dreams on hold so that I can be the still part in the middle of all these moving parts. I won't say I haven't resented it at times, but I've done it because I truly believe it's in the best interst of our family and because, frankly, I said I'd do it when I told my husband I wanted to have a baby. This, too, is a post for another day.

But now, when I finally slap myself and say: Girl, it's your time. Get on with it now and don't wait for anyone else to make you happy or fill your bucket - now, my husband wants in and wants me to wait and feels left out.

Since being married, I've wondered a lot about the institution of marriage and if we, as a society, have outgrown it. Are we past the point of needing another person on a day-to-day basis? And if we aren't, what does that perpetual needing do not only to us as a couple but to as individual people? Can we be independent and dependent at the same time? And if we can, where is the line between them, which grows so blurry at times I'm afraid it's gone for good.

I'm not going to wait for my husband. I'm not going to give myself yet another reason to put off doing today what I could have done yesterday. I'm not going to keep looking to the future for my happiness when I can take small steps today, right now, toward a richer life - even if that life is baking challah or reading a novel or getting a spray tan (which I don't actually think will make me happier, but it's on the list nonetheless).

I will risk my husband's unhappiness because, frankly, I'd rather risk that than risk my own.


Monday, July 5, 2010

Fig #1

Each week, on Monday morning, I will post my choice for the week. As I said, some experiences will span many weeks (learning to play an instrument, reading The Brothers Karamazov), but each week I will focus my energies (both mental and physical) on one experience only.

This week I have chosen to bake challah. Simple enough, so it would seem. And yet....for years....I haven't done it. I first became interested in challah watching an old Sex in the City episode. I know. That's not very spiritual or domestic of me. But I remember watching Charlotte braid the challah, and from that point forward I seemed to see it everywhere and hear it raved about time and again. Challah this and challah that. My little sister even made her own, and she sent me a photograph of it and it was lovely. Really. It looked bakery-quality.

For those of you unfamiliar of challah, this is what it looks like:

Isn't it beautiful? Okay, so I will also admit that I've never even tasted challah. I know. And let me tell you why I've never tasted challah, because I've been tempted many times. But each time I am at a bakery or at Whole Foods and see a lovely, buttered loaf of the braided bread, I think to myself: No, I'll not buy it. I'll go home and make it instead.

So, I don't buy it, and when I get home all of my good intentions fall by the wayside because I am afraid. Afraid? Afraid of what? Well, here it is: I'm afraid to braid the dough. I know. It seems so simple, but there it is. I'm afraid of dough. I'm not having nightmares about it or anything. I don't wake up and slap my husband screaming: THE DOUGH, THE DOUGH!!!

But I'm afraid the dough won't rise. I'm afraid it will be too sticky. I'm afraid that I won't braid it properly and my wonky results will be a mockery of religious bread. What if it's terrible and I spend all day working on it and then I have to trash it because it's a flop?

Even as I'm typing this, it's hard to make the connection between my brain and my emotions, because clearly being afraid of dough is an emotional response. I mean, I bake and cook every day. I have even made homemade bread. And it was good. So, where does this fear of challah come from?

So, I have to do with the challah what I will have to do with all my fears..........face it and conquer it instead of turning tail and refusing to try anything at all at which there is the slightest inkling I might fail.

Because, after all, what's the worst that could happen? The dough won't rise. Okay. I won't braid it properly. Fine. It will burn. Oh well.

Oh well.

And if any of those things happens, I will resist the urge I've always had when I fail - to run away from the offensive experience and say to myself: fine. I don't bake challah. It's not for me.

I will resist this, and I will start again, with more yeast and more time and more braiding. And I will do it until I do it right. I will be Julia Child with her pounds of onions, and then I'll sit down with a cup of tea and break bread and think about what's on the list for next week.

Wish me luck and please......if there are any challah experts out there......give a girl some tips?


Sunday, July 4, 2010

The List

As you can see, I have compiled my list of 52 figs, 52 experiences I plan to have over the course of the next year - a sort of right-now, in-the-moment bucket list. The list is made up of things I've wanted to do (and likely talked about doing) for several years, at least. For one reason or another, I haven't done them, and I decided that NOW is the time. Today.

The list isn't grandious. I've seen other bucket lists (perhaps that's not a completely accurate description of what I'm doing here), and these other bucket lists have things like go to the moon, climb Mt. Everest, meet Robin Williams (really, that was on a list, and I'm NOT knocking it). My point is, this list is simply a list of those things that I've shoved to one side, swept under the rug and shelved because I convinced myself they weren't a priority.

It's funny, because I sit in my house every day, and I go through the chores and rythms of a stay-at-home mom. I make toast and eggs. I vacuum. I get the kids ready for school and drive them there and pick them up. I grocery shop and pump gas and cook dinner. And in between all of those daily chores, I sit sometimes and feel that life is passing me by. It sometimes feels like groundhog's day, with the driving and the toast and eggs and another load of laundry. So one day, when I thought of all the things I could be doing and am not doing, I thought, I can do it. I swear I can.

Thus, the list.

I think that if you want to change any aspect of your life - a relationship, a job, one's financial status.......anything - you just have to do something. That's it. Doing something, anything, it will change things. But so much of the time, we don't do anything. We just do what we've been doing, but we don't do anything new, and it's the doing of something new that shifts everything. Even the smallest newness can give dimension to what before was flat, and I think that experience adds color.

So, there it is - my list and how I came about making it. More or less..........


Quote 1 of 52

I plan to begin each week with a quote that inspires me. These quotes sometimes inspire me in an encouraging way, they sometimes inspire in me contemplation, and they sometimes inspire me to think: what the hell? Really?

But they always inspire something.......and I think that's the point.

My second favorite quote (behind Plath's fig quotation, obviously) is this quote from Rainer Maria Rilke (Letters to a Young Poet, 1903):

...I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

I love the idea of living into the answer instead of so desperately searching for it. And of course, I need a constant reminder of having patience with onself.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Introduction to a Year

I was floating in a pool yesterday, just a normal, average, everyday pool. It was at the gym, actually, and it was mid-morning. It was noteworthy not because the day was especially beautiful or because I was floating in the sea off the Italian coast. But my floating was noteworthy because as I lay there, under the big, hot California sun, I couldn't recall the last time I'd done any of those things: floated in water, been at a pool or worn a bathing suit.

If I dug deep into my mind, I seem to recall wearing a bathing suit last summer, for a brief period of time, because we'd been invited to a neighbor's pool party and because my kids couldn't have gone swimming without me. I remember feeling shy and embarrassed then, and I got straight into the pool (the water rigidly cold) and only stayed as long as it took to pacify my kids' desire to have a quick swim. I was happy when that desire abated and they ran off for hot dogs and juice boxes. Whew, I thought. I can get back to my black-and-white Ann Taylor cover up and hide these legs.

I have, since I can remember, hated wearing a bathing suit. Like many women, I am insecure about my body, but my insecurities are perhaps different from most women's insecurities. I am insecure, of course, about the size of my thighs, cellulite and the fact that my stomach pooches out a bit. But more so, I am insecure about the color of my skin, which is a glaring, in-your-face, smack-you-upside-the-head white. WHITE. Not pale. Not alabaster. Not ivory. There is no peaches-and-cream going on over these arms and legs. I am just a pasty, run-of-the-mill, glow-in-the-daylight white.

And since I can remember, I have been teased about this. Well, I shouldn't say teased. That's not the right word. The proper word would be closer to taunted and/or ridiculed.

As a child, I remember being called Casper. I remember lying in bed at night (really, I'm not exaggerating), and I would pray to God (I was raised Mormon so I thought this really would work) to make me tan by morning. I would fall off to sleep that way, and when I woke, I'd open my eyes and shut them again, remembering my prayer. My heart beat twice as fast, and I would think: maybe today.

Of course, I always opened my eyes to utter disappointment, throwing my chalky legs over the side of the bed and padding off down the hall to the bathroom, fighting tears, my head slumped in sullen resignation. And that was while I was young, growing up in Oregon. OREGON. I mean, come on. OREGON. It rains all the time in Oregon, and the people are pasty and ghastly and look as though they spent most of the year underneath a moss-covered rock. So, to be so teased and called-out for my white skin in a place full of people in my same predicament? Well, that should clue you in to the exact extent of what I'm talking about.

When I moved to Texas it was worse. Worse because Texas is an utter celebration of blond hair, blue eyes and tanned skin. It's like the human equivalent of the state flower (yellow rose) or that ubiquitous Lone Star. Texans like short shorts on a pair of long legs, and those legs are all the longer with glowing, golden skin and a pair of flip-flops at the end. I think Texas is even worse than California, because at least in California there is a little bit of diversity, some pale-skinned foreigners, the open-mindedness of places like LA and San Francisco, where you might have the faintest hope of at least being deemed interesting and unique.

In Texas, however, diversity comes in the form of the huge Hispanic population, which isn't exactly a bastion of paleness either.

The only time I ever felt good about my skin was when I lived in Asia, where white skin is ALL THE RAGE. I mean, it was crazy. People thought I was rich because my skin was so pale. I recall being at a department store once, and the ladies behind me whispering to each other about the beauty of my legs. I turned around to make sure they were talking about me, and one of the women smiled a big, wide, toothless smile and gave me a thumbs-up! Wow. For my skin.

Asian women often go about during summer months under the protective cover of an umbrella to save their skin from turning brown. They buy pots and tubes of crazy-expensive skin-whitening creams. They think a freckle is akin to a big, oozing, boiling zit.

But, alas, I live in America. I live in California.

So, I was floating, under that big sun, and as my feet bobbed and my arms drifted beyond my shoulders, I realized how lovey it was. The warmth of the sun beat against my face, and I felt my eyelids tingle against the brightness of it. I marveled in the juxtaposition of being on one side so cool against the water and on the other side so warm against the sun. It was quiet there, my ears submerged, and I thought: why have I not been doing this all summer long?

It hit me, immediately, that I've not been to the pool because of those long-standing fears that someone would stare at me, point at me, laugh at me or simply say (as has been said SO MANY times before): you'd be so pretty if you only had a tan.

I almost laughed out loud, to think that I'd been missing out on a summer spent floating on my back because I was afraid. Afraid.

I started to think about all of the things I haven't done because I have been afraid. It's not always a direct fear - like being afraid of someone laughing at me. Sometimes I'm afraid to spend the money. Sometimes I'm afraid to learn a new skill. Sometimes I'm afraid I won't have the time or the energy or the resources necessary to complete a task. I'm afraid of what people will say and (perhaps more often) of what they won't say. I am afraid of the future and of the past. I have let, I realized, fear dictate where I go and how I go about my daily life.

I realized that if I was missing out on something as simple as floating in a swimming pool on a Friday morning, I was likely missing out on much, much more. I got home, sat down and wrote out a list of things I've put off (for one reason or another), and I said to myself: Mama P - now is your time.

So, in the vein of Sylvia Plath's quotation above, I am going to stand up from the crotch of this fig tree and I'm going to pluck off as many figs this year as I possibly can. I expect some of them will be disappointing. Some of them may well be too ripe and others not ripe enough, but I am committed to the experience itself rather than finding the perfect moment, the perfect place, the perfect time so that everything will come out just right. Because I realized in that pool, that the only thing I know for certain is that life is NOW. I can live it or I can watch it wither and die.

Much of my bucket list (if you will) is comprised of small tasks or experiences, and as I wrote them all down I nearly laughed with the simplicity of most of them. They are easy. They are cheap. They often take only time, and not much of it. They sometimes take money, but they are all DO-ABLE. They are all within my reach, even if I might have to stretch a bit. When I thought about why I've not done them until now, I was torn between laughing or crying, such was the recognition that I've allowed myself to become stagnate and fearful for no good reason at all. The only thing holding me back is ME.

So, for the next year, for the next 52 weeks, I'll be checking off one experience off my list and writing about why it was I didn't do it to begin with, what it was like to do it and my impression after having completed it. Some tasks or goals will take longer than one week, and I suppose there will be weeks where I double-up on plucking these figs from my tree. But, I will blog each week about a different experience, and at the end of my year, I think (I'm almost certain) I will be changed by having completed all of it. There are times to sit still and to be quiet and to let the world come to you. And then there are times to go out and grab it.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...