Monthly Archives: March 2012

An Accomplishment

I started Crossfit back in 2009, almost exactly two months before I married Husband. This was thanks to my friend Cindy, one of my bridesmaids, whom I blame (in a positive way) for getting me started on this whole Crossfit journey. We were flying back to California from Arizona post my bachelorette weekend, and we were talking about how we had each heard of Crossfit from other people in our lives. She wanted to change up her fitness regimen, I wanted to feel strong mentally and physically heading into the wedding … and two days later, she called me to tell me that there were three possible Crossfit boxes in our area and which one would be my first choice location-wise. That was the beginning.

Now here we are, about two and a half years later, and we have since gone to a Crossfit Level 1 certification together; I have been coaching a Crossfit class up here in AK three mornings a week  since October; and she and her fiancee (an amazing guy she met through Crossfit, of course) are heading to San Diego this weekend for a Crossfit Kids certification. Did I mention that they opened their own Crossfit box last October, too?

In my own Crossfit experience, I have — thankfully — experienced a whole myriad of highs, from setting personal records in different weightlifting movements to becoming more flexible and functional in life in general and learning, period. Like making my brain understand my body better, and then getting the two of them (brain and body, that is) to do things in a coordinated way. And thinking more about how to perform movements efficiently and safely, and then trying to get so good at said movements that it looks and feels easy. Any of my Crossfit friends and colleagues (including Husband) can explain that I actually like to watch Crossfit-related videos because I like to be armed with useful information and then try to apply it and share it.

These past few months of Crossfit have probably been the most challenging for me, for a variety of reasons. A changed environment, for one. The ridiculous winter here, for another. And while I am tremendously happy to be coaching and helping other folks move forward in their respective Crossfit  journeys, it has been very difficult to still prioritize my own training, especially while working a “regular “job, too. But I would say the biggest obstacle has been my own ego. I have been guilty of being overly concerned with other people’s numbers. I have not wanted to not beat my own scores. I have been hesitant to try going heavier even though I know I need to. I have been… afraid? A little unmotivated? Both?

This morning I did the workout of the day after class was over and I was by myself in the box. That’s starting to become more usual for me, and while it can be hard to push myself, I have started to appreciate the solitude. The workout felt solid,and I felt good about my performance overall. And then I thought, I really should see if I can do those chest-to-bar pull-ups. Pull-ups are tough, one of those bodyweight gymnastics movements that may have seemed easy when you were a 40-pound child going wild at the playground monkey bars, but I can do them. Mind you, however, I haven’t attempted a chest-to-bar pull-up since a year ago, and then only because it was part of the Crossfit Games workouts. Back then I was hoping to accomplish 1 in the allotted time, and I think I managed 10 total, with a lot of crazy effort and encouragement from my coach.

All of that memory was playing out in my head, and I remember then feeling proud of myself for even being able to complete those single reps. After finishing the workout today, I figured I would test it. Just find out. Stop being afraid, tell myself yes, and try — because literally no one was watching anyway. So I tried a few practice reps standing on  a tall box to get the feel of it, kicked the box out of the way after that mini warm-up, and tried. I did one on the first attempt easily… which turned into 5 in a row. Dropped off the bar, smiled to myself, and did three more. Dropped, smiled, three more. And then I kind of smiled to myself the whole drive home.

That's not me, but that's what the bottom (hanging) and the top (chest-to-bar) of this pull-up looks like.

I needed that reminder today to show me that even when I was coming up with all these excuses for why my training hasn’t been where I thought it could be or should be, I was still growing and improving anyway. The chest-to-bar pull-ups litmus test proved that in a tangible way. Why had I waited so long to re-discover this truth?

And if that is true, then I am also reminded that even when life can present all of its challenges — from the mundane  ones to the incredibly agonizing ones — I’m still growing and building up my mental strength & flexibility anyway. Move in a new career direction? Sure. Move to AK and start a new life with Husband? Sounds do-able. Live out of boxes and in temporary spaces for a year-plus? No problem.  For me that has been the greatest gift of Crossfit, far beyond the physical benefits (which are awesome, most definitely) — I have had so much more clarity in my thinking and self-confidence in my abilities during these past two years than I ever have before, even while facing some of the harder transitions of my life and relationships.

And now I’m that much more excited to think about what my next accomplishment — be it in Crossfit or in life — may be.

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It’s Not Just a Mocha

Last week, I had a shocking moment: I didn’t like or even enjoy my white mocha breve drink. Now I am not a true coffee drinker in the sense that I am not functional without coffee. And if you asked me what kind of beans or flavor or roast I care about, I wouldn’t have a good answer. But I DO like froo-froo coffee drinks (read: mochas of almost any kind) and white mochas in particular.

Upon drinking said white mocha breve that morning and not deriving the usual pleasure from doing so, the logical next question followed: Do I need and/or want it, or is it a habit? Usually the answer is a little bit of both (leaning toward the “want” side), yet I was slightly annoyed with myself when I realized the answer was habit. Not completely an addiction kind of habit, but more along the lines of “morning ritual” habit.

The thing is, I am selfish. In particular because I work at a school, I try to dedicate every single second of my morning to me prior to walking into the school building and being “on” during my interactions with colleagues and students alike. Thus I like planning out what I’m going to wear the night before so I’m not frantic in the morning. I like thinking or singing in the shower before getting ready. And yes, getting a coffee before work is one last all-about-me activity.

I also really love “coffee talk” or “coffee walk and talk” when that’s possible. Many a dire problem or situation has been calmed or resolved, and many a brilliant idea has been born during coffee talk with colleagues.

But for whatever reason, on that particular day last week, I was drinking my mocha and thinking, “Right now I don’t appreciate this” and “How much money would I be saving if I didn’t drink these each week?” It was an automatic pilot decision to make the coffee stop. Thoughtless.

Upon this reflection, I had another Logical Next Thought: What else in my life is like this? What other things do I do — or say — without thought or intention? Because I either need to get thoughtful about those things quickly or consider dropping them altogether. It’s spring now, which is a natural time for cleaning, and obviously I need to do a little bit more than re-organize and purge the clothes in my closet and dresser. In the land of white mochas, most days they are delicious… but they’re not good on the waistline or the wallet.

On the flip side, what are the things I’m doing that I really, truly love and care about and enjoy? Because I should probably try to do more of those things and thereby increase my overall energy and happiness levels.

I confess that I have not yet fleshed out either of those lists — on paper or in my head — but that is my next action item.

And the moral of the story is not that I will never again drink another white mocha.  For me the whole incident was more of a wake-up call to be conscious about my choices each day. For those choices, as much as is possible, to reflect on my truest self and move me in a positive direction.


The Hunger Games and Me

Because I am going to see the movie this Sunday and because I am trying my best to ignore all of the reviews (both professional and personal) from folks who have already seen the movie, I thought I would write a brief history of my relationship to Suzanne Collin’s now world-famous trilogy.

I first heard of The Hunger Games back in the summer of 2009. I was at a summer training led by an incredibly gifted and experienced 5th grade teacher who is a master of Reading Workshop. I cannot even begin to tell you how impressive her students’ reading and writing skills are — high school students could learn a thing or two from them, seriously. Anyway, she was showcasing some of her latest and greatest favorites in YA (Young Adult) fiction so we could be more in the know for our middle school students. She picked up The Hunger Games from one of her piles, sighed, and couldn’t even find words to describe it. All she could say was that it was “such a beautiful book” as she showed us the cover. I knew then that it was a must-read when I saw that kind of reaction from another teacher.

I bought it at some point that fall, in time to bring it with me on our honeymoon in November 2009. It was one of three books I brought with me, actually, and I remember patiently explaining to Husband that I hoped he had some kind of solo activity to do, be it crossword puzzles or playing cards or something; I would otherwise be preoccupied with reading out in the sun. We agreed that instead we would try me reading the book aloud to him, and if he didn’t like it he would just let me know. I actually fell asleep reading chapters — much to his chagrin — while he was still wide awake and caught up in the story. He even requested that we read chapters first thing in the morning before breakfast buffet because we both were clamoring to know what was going to happen next. Needless to say, over time we finished the entire trilogy. Yes, we read all three aloud together.

That following spring 2010, there was still a critical mass of my 6th graders who hadn’t yet experienced the awesome-ness of The Hunger Games, so we made it our read-aloud book. There were a few afternoons when I literally read to them for an hour. They didn’t want to go to lunch; they didn’t want to read their own individual books. They just wanted us to keep going with Katniss and Peeta and Rue. Much like Husband, they were hooked from Chapter 1, page 1. We didn’t have enough time at the end of the year to start the second book, Catching Fire, and they were sorely disappointed.

Now it’s 2012, and everyone and his/her respective mother has read The Hunger Games trilogy, and good for them. I still think that the first book is by far the best book of the  entire series (because let’s face it – J.K. Rowling’s ability to wrap up Harry Potter in the 7th book in a satisfying way is unrivaled, in my opinion). But the selfish part of me is quite pleased that I had a chance to read it a little bit before the entire universe thought it was amazing and before Hollywood decided it could be built into a movie franchise.

I get that art influences and inspires other art. But maybe a book can just be an incredible book, and I (and other readers) can imagine it any way I want to. Maybe I don’t actually want someone else to interpret and popularize a singular vision of it in movie form. Or reprint the book cover with a scene from the film instead of the original cover art. So that one day, my own kids won’t say, “Isn’t The Hunger Games a movie?” because they’ll know that Suzanne Collins is an author and wrote an outstanding book first.

All that being said, I’m still going to see the movie. In my heart, I already know that the book will be superior, but I plan on enjoying myself anyway.


Fireside Chats

Husband and I escaped to Skiland for the weekend once again on Saturday, as he had planned to go snow machining with his uncle and a work colleague/friend. I thought it would be worthwhile to go up to the house with him anyway and spend the day doing some work on the computer while they were out. But alas, upon unpacking our overnight things, he realized that his computer bag was still sitting on a chair back in town.

Typical.

I could have been annoyed, but then figured that there’s a reason why I travel armed with an iPod and a Kindle and a notebook at all times. But when his friend showed up with his girlfriend (who is an avid snow machining woman herself), she had decided that she was up for vegetating as well.

While the boys were out riding, we talked. For hours. About lots of things. Occasionally I would stoke the fire, throw on another log, and then return to listening and chatting. Where did the time go? She also had her electronic weapons and didn’t even come close to touching them — except to show me a picture of something on her iPad — the whole time.

After dinner that evening, Husband and I debated: watch a movie in the basement or fall asleep by the fire instead? Another easy decision. We read and talked ourselves to sleep instead of listening to the white noise of a familiar movie.

Obviously, in the winter-trying-to-be-spring here, a fire provides much-needed warmth and light. But I think FDR’s press people had it right when they came up with the phrase “fireside chats” for his radio addresses to the nation, because fires seem to invite a unique kind of intimacy, a sort of return to our primal roots, when we sit around or near them. There is a coziness and comfort there that sound coming from a screen — of any kind — cannot provide.

So just in case our next living space doesn’t have a fireplace, I’m wondering how to re-create that kind of close feeling on a regular basis. Is it as simple as turning off the television and the devices and being willing to sometimes sit in silence with another person? Or is it more a matter of being in a mutual, fully present, fully listening mindset? Probably a combination of both, in order to allow ourselves to have the quiet space that can give us room to be less guarded and more vulnerable.

FDR delivered 30 fireside chats between 1933 and 1944. He meant to encourage the nation during a difficult time in American history; he wanted to reassure the people and remind them to be hopeful in spite of the Great Depression and WWII. While I don’t think my future fireside chats will weigh as heavily on this country’s morale, I do think they will likely be moments of hope and connection with people I care about.


Why I Write, Part 2

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.  ~William Wordsworth

Today marks my two-month anniversary of embarking on this blogging journey. I had thought about it long before moving to Alaska, and my original idea was to write about Alaska in general as a way of keeping my geographically distant family up-to-date on life. But last summer that didn’t happen because there was too much emotion and too much adjusting for me to handle. Oh, and the fact that we waited for about a month for the rest of our belongings to catch up to us from California, so I was sans Mac for too many days on top of it all.

And then time passed and I let the idea go because… that’s what happens to ideas sometimes.

Then I read part of The Happiness Project and thought about it again.

Finally, January came and my sister said, “Just do it — it’s not as hard as you think.” So I did it (a liberating experience, pointed out my sister), pushed myself to write for 30 days straight so I’d make space for daily writing in my life, and that brings me to today.

Now I have to thank Wordsworth at this point for his words above, because he has captured so eloquently why I need to write: because I need to capture, in real time, “the breathings of [my] heart.” If I don’t, then who will? And if I don’t give my heart room to breathe, then I can’t feel like myself, and I value me too much to do that.

I have always known that I wanted to write, even when I was very small and before I started going to school. The very moment I could adequately print my name, I remember my mom taking me to the library so I could have my own card (they were paper then) and start borrowing books. And as soon as I could read stories, I wanted to write stories. Years later, I took fiction writing twice in college, plus a non-fiction writing course.

What I have discovered through this experience so far is not that I want to write fiction — there are already many many gifted people in the world who do that, and I am so grateful they exist and share their art with the world. For me this writing is allowing me to get to know my authentic self better, to keep me grounded even while everything around me continues to change and go forward. I, too, am changing and moving forward, of course, but this allows me to check my own intangible vital signs, if you will. Listen to the breathings of my heart.

With or without all of my belongings unpacked, with or without a permanent place to live (yet), with or without a job or some position label attached… I am still myself, all in one piece. Here in this space I claim that and know it’s true.

Thanks again, Wordsworth.

 


Behold the ’80s

Sweet Jams shorts - not the ones we had in our family, but a fine example

Growing up in the ’80s was great, as I recall: the 49ers and Joe Montana were dominant; my pop music cassette collection ruled; and I was not at all embarrassed by the thought of wearing Jams shorts. (Admit it — you owned more than a pair or two yourself). I remembered the phone numbers of my parents and friends easily, too, and the only place I answered a phone was inside my house. Ah, memories.

Now that I live in the 21st century, though, I am still re-living the ’80s. Every single movie or show that is currently popular was once popular in the ’80s (though yes, I liked The Transformers trilogy, as over-the-top as they were)… they even had to revisit Tron with Tron: Legacy and remake Dallas for TV to boot. Seriously? As for fashion, there are parts of the updated ’80s styles that I can handle, and then there is the rebirth of odd crop tops and the whole jeggings trend, and I just can’t get behind either of those things. Because shirts cover stomachs in my world and I think one should have to choose to wear either jeans (skinny is fine) OR leggings instead of both at the same time. Call me old-fashioned that way.

So I don’t know what to make of this. On the one hand I get that fashion and what is popular goes through its natural cycles. I have noted the steadily rising popularity of true bell-bottom jeans (far beyond bootcut) and some serious platform, verging-on-disco-worthy sandals — welcome back, ’70s! On the other hand I worry about a dearth of new ideas and innovation in general. Does every single book that people like have to become a movie? Does every ’80s Saturday-morning cartoon have to become a movie? Or better yet — a movie trilogy? I guess one can argue that recycling these kinds of things makes them relevant for a new generation, and perhaps there is value in that. But there’s this selfish part of me that thinks, “Those things were part of my childhood. Get your own distinctive cultural material to remember.” No one person can own art and culture, I know, and probably the folks who are producing this material for the popular audience are my age+ and feeling nostalgic.

Maybe what I’m actually concerned about is what the implications may be for my own future children and the kids of my peers. Are they just going to remember being over-stimulated, over-digitized, and over-exposed? And in thirty years will we have retreated back to landlines and more thoughtful privacy rules because we finally tired of loving Big Brother? I adore my 2-year-old goddaughter — my brother’s youngest child — and she definitely said to me over Christmas, “You have an iPod.” One of my colleagues told me that her daughters — who are approximately 7 and 5, respectively — will take a picture and say, “Mommy, are you going to post this on Facebook?” Frightening, but a result of what we have created collectively.

I even read an NPR article yesterday that said our manners are declining! People statistically are growing less and less inclined to say “please,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome.” Wildness.

Again, this is all just further proof that I am turning into my parents and pining for “the good old days.” Or it just begs the question that we used to examine in 10th-grade Humanities Core when I was teaching high school English: To what extent does modernization create progress in a society? While our teaching team made sure to offer them a variety of texts, we also read — appropriately so — Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.

[Side note: Did I also mention that I hate how Oprah Book Club books — even for classics — get brand new paperback covers emblazoned with her Oprah Book Club seal? As a lover of books and an English major, this bothers me to no end.]

Looking forward to re-reading this post when I’m 60-something.


What’s Next?

One of Husband’s all-time favorite shows is The West Wing, but I never watched this show when it was on the air. He introduced me to it because he had the first five seasons on DVD and swore up and down that if I watched a few episodes, I’d be hooked. I went along with it and found myself pleasantly surprised and suddenly more curious about who exactly are the President’s closest advisors and how DC politics function on a day-to-day basis. Plus Aaron Sorkin — head writer for the first four seasons — has an ear for dialogue that is unmatched by anything else I have ever seen on screen, television and movies alike. The conversations between characters so closely reflect how real people talk to each other, and I appreciate that both as a viewer and as an avid reader.

The character of the President, played by Martin Sheen, is obviously one of the key roles in the show. His day is overwhelming from the second he wakes up in the morning, and his go-to phrase after every single major event — whether it’s a boon or a crisis — is “What’s next?” And somehow, through all of the seasons that I eventually watched, that line never seemed to get stale. Not like the drone of “Next” when you’re stuck waiting in a long line at a clothing store or at the movies, not like “What’s next?” as if you’re expecting the answer to be that Chicken Little was right and the sky is going to fall down. “What’s next?” with a little bit of energy and anticipation, with an undertone of “let’s go, let’s move, we’re burning daylight” (the last being one of Husband’s dad’s favorite phrases).

I like this because it implies that it’s more important to look ahead than to dwell. I say that being a “dweller” myself, who likes to analyze why whatever happened has happened, consider its significance (or lack thereof), and sometimes wanting to re-hash it multiple times until it has been fully processed. And while I cannot discount how important that process of internalization is for my own peace of mind, I have also been trying to practice thinking in such a way: “What’s next?” What is the next step? The next possibility? The next idea? The next goal? The next action item? The next to-do item on my list? I can’t always sustain that for an entire day, but I am certainly more productive within the hours that I can. I am also more excited and more willing, as if I’m bouncing on the balls of my feet instead of dying a slow death in a chair or in front of the TV or computer. It helps get me faster to “onward and upward” mode, even when the people around me may want to or need to linger longer in recovery mode. By the same token, it doesn’t allow me to rest on my laurels, either, because there is always something else to do to grow and improve.

Yesterday my sister called to tell me that she didn’t get the job for which she had recently been interviewed. I know she’s disappointed — understandably so — and at the same time I hope she is energized by the fact that she made a bold stroke in stepping actively toward a job she desired. Not a job she thought she might have to take for survival purposes, but one that got her excited by just reading the description. So… what’s next? I imagine Next will be another step toward something even better and potentially more fulfilling, if she continues down this path. If everything happens for a reason, then maybe what seems like a setback is not that at all in the big picture.

So for my sister and shared from my friend, a parable on maintaining perspective:

…an old Chinese farmer lost his best stallion one day and his neighbor came around to express his regrets, but the farmer just said, “Who knows what is good and what is bad.” The next day the stallion returned bringing with him 3 wild mares. The neighbor rushed back to celebrate with the farmer, but the old farmer simply said, “Who knows what is good and what is bad.” The following day, the farmer’s son fell from one of the wild mares while trying to break her in and broke his arm and injured his leg. The neighbor came by to check on the son and give his condolences, but the old farmer just said, “Who knows what is good and what is bad.” The next day the army came to the farm to conscript the farmer’s son for the war, but found him invalid and left him with his father. The neighbor thought to himself, “Who knows what is good and what is bad.”

And for each of us… What’s Next? We’re burning daylight, after all.