Monday, October 8, 2012

On Training and Discipline

Image courtesy of Dirty Girl Facebook
In 19 days I will join the exhausted, muddied ranks of women participating in the Dirty Girl mud run.  It's a 5k obstacle course, involving mud pits and climbing walls and any number of unexpected booby traps, and it's also not the kind of event that my 15 yr old self would ever have imagined that I would willingly sign up to complete.

Five years ago (!) I entered my first ever "sporty event".  Having been a dedicated non-athlete for my entire life, I, being of sound mind and body, actually chose to sign up for a sprint triathlon (500 yard swim, 6 mile bike, and 2 mile run).  After my initial panic attack, I settled into the daily workout routine created for me by my personal trainer-slash-awesome husband.  I won't bore you with the details, but ultimately I learned how to train in timed intervals, increasing the amount of time on my feet while simultaneously gaining in speed on days with a shorter run.  It was methodical and soothing, and difficult enough to keep me at my edge.  It was also unlike any form of discipline I had ever known.

Having spent my entire adolescence holed up in various dark corners in pursuit of becoming an author, I am hardwired for working at a frenetic and haphazard pace.  Days of down time followed by all-night writing binges, hours filled with plot structure and verse and character development that end abruptly, until ready to strike again, are a natural part of my DNA.  I spent all of my college, and the majority of my post-graduate, years pushing up against deadlines, working until the wee hours to get a project completed on time.  It was always a bit of an adrenaline rush piled onto a creative high.  Like drinking red bulls and vodka (am I dating myself here?) on top of multiple double macchiatos.

Apparently, you can't work that way when it comes to performing amazing feats of physical prowess.  I'm not teaching you anything new when I tell you that the body needs to build muscle slowly, one tiny fiber at a time.  Gaining strength, like staying healthy, is all about the process and not so much the product. 

For three and a half months I slugged through my training schedule, unaccustomed to the prolonged accumulation of endurance and control.  (Mostly I listened to Haruki Murakami's "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running" on my iPod.  No joke.  Best running book, ever.)  Although I understood that I was accomplishing something, I didn't really understand the magnitude of this type of training until the week of my event.  Two days before the triathlon, I was ordered to go to yoga.  The day before, I was to do nothing (nothing!) and be off of my feet by 4 p.m.  Looking at the schedule in advance, I certainly had no complaints.

Except, I was a wreck.  Edgy and restless, I kept asking what else I needed to do to prepare.  I knew I couldn't just sit there and let all that perfectly good time go to waste.  I had to cram! 

Nothing could take away the uneasy feeling of not being ready.  (Although, being forced to lay on the couch with a magazine while my sweetie cooked me an unnecessarily carb-heavy meal was a great start.)  And nothing could prepare me for how it felt the next morning when I dove into the freezing Pacific Ocean at 7 a.m.  My body was completely ready.  I was completely ready.

It's a lesson that I vowed to take with me into the future.  I promised myself from that point on, I would approach my writing, my creative projects, and my life as an endurance sport.  No more last minute cram sessions, or acceptable bouts of non-activity.  I was going to learn the basic act of daily maintenance.

Of course, one loses a bit of that bright-eyed veneer after five years.  The edge has gone, along with the majority of my "free" time.  After recognizing that my power drive seems to have settled into a bit of a cruise, I've decided another event is in order to restore that urge. 

This time, when I run, I think about a comment spoken to me by one of the senior writing teachers in my graduate program.  We were meeting during office hours, and she was critiquing my work.  Almost as an aside, clearly without much intent, she gave me the best piece of advice I learned from the entire two years of study:

"It's clear that you have an innate sense of language.  You never seem like you have to try very hard to make it work.  Which is a large part of the problem.  You don't have any discipline in your writing."

True, but I'm in training.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

To Mine and Ours

Follow Your Heart by scampi08 on Flickr.
Photo from Graff World
One of the personality traits that I find myself most drawn to, that which many of my good friends and my husband all possess in spades and which I personally own very little, is a strong sense of navigation.  I mean this both literally and figuratively.  The loved ones in my life always seem to know exactly where they are going.  In some cases, I know this to be absolute fact.  In others, it's quite possible that I'm dealing with some seriously savvy game-facers.

In truth, I've always felt a strong sense of where I need to be in the moment; I've understood clearly when a position, relationship, house, or way of life was provisional, and yet, still recognized the value of being present under those very temporal circumstances.  Inevitably, the winds always begin to shift, and I can sense that it is time to shake things up.  It's how I applied to graduate school at the very edge of every application deadline: on an instinct that had been settling me over throughout the course of many months.  It's how I eventually quit a job that had been eating at my insides for years.  After months of convincing myself that I needed an alternate plan, I just allowed myself to walk away.  It's like a line written by Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises: "How did you go bankrupt?"  "Two ways.  Gradually, then suddenly."

I suppose it has inadvertently become a mantra: "gradually, then suddenly."  I think in many ways it suits me fine, as long as I'm able to recognize the gradual shifts before they snowball into major life decisions without warning.  But tonight I'm stargazing a bit.  I'm watching the loved ones in my life pursue their desired course with dedication and sweat and whole-hearted zeal.  And I'm knee-deep in my admiration of each and every one of them.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Daylight Come

I saw these amazing banana cases at Tokyu Hands, (which just happens to be the world's greatest department store, ever) and promptly channeled my inner hoarder by buying them out of stock.  Just kidding.  I only dreamed about buying them out of stock, but then I would have had to explain an entire bag of multi-colored banana holders at customs and believe me, they'd already had their fill of me and my 'stuff'.
However, the banana case has come to represent all the qualities of the perfect gift:  completely unexpected, useful, peculiar, and well-made.  A good gift need not be expensive, or difficult to find.  It shouldn't be stuffy, or take itself too seriously.  But it does need to have style, and a strong sense of self.  A good gift should be stumbled upon, and, once discovered, it should consume the purchaser to the point of distraction.  Missing out on the opportunity to give this item to a particular person would be such a dramatic misstep that the giver has no choice but to buy it.  Immediately.  And a good gift demands to be enjoyed right away, regardless of whether or not there is an occasion for giving.

A side note: These rules can also be applied to perfect dates, friendships, and meals.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

You like chili, don't you?  When I left home for college, I pretty much lived inside of my neighborhood taqueria.  Huevos rancheros for breakfast, tacos for lunch, and for dinner, I ate whatever would absorb a handful of tequila shots the quickest.  It took me a few years before I used any kitchen appliance outside of a toaster oven and a tea kettle.  That being said, the first recipe I ever mastered was this vegetarian chili from the Silver Palate cookbook.  This recipe quickly became my go-to party meal, and the process of creating this dish has pretty much defined my entire approach to hostessing.

When it comes to making chili, especially a dish with a zillion spices and chopped veggies such as this one, one has to embrace the community of food prep.  Inviting your dinner guests to chop, sample, spice, and sip, immediately creates intimacy.  I can't think of any better way to get people to open up and settle in than putting them to work creating something sumptuous.  Unless, of course, you throw a little healthy competition into the mix.

Three years ago my husband and I hosted our first annual chili cook-off, and amidst the bribery, insults, and sabotage, we found ourselves one joyously happy little fete.  The first prize chili was contested so heavily, we didn't have a choice but to provide another opportunity for the losing chefs to earn back some credibility.  And so, the birth of a tradition...

Here's my mood board for this year's contest.  It won't happen until October, but it's never too early to plan a party! 

Clockwise from top left:

Lime sorbet margaritas from Real Simple- What could possibly be better than lime sorbet and tequila?  Nothing, unless it's a 90s dance video featuring an as-yet-undiscovered Ryan Gosling busting a move in his color-block silk shirt.  Then it's a close call.

Taste Test Recipe Book from Anthropologie- In my dreamworld, I'll have it together enough on the 5th anniversary of this contest to bind a "winners circle" recipe book for all of our entrants.  I love the simple cover of this book, very inspiring!

Slate Cheese Board from the MoMA Store- Let's class it up a bit, shall we?

Mason Jar Cocktails from Betty Crocker-  This is such a great idea, and so easily converted to "kid-friendly" libations.

Eat Seasonably Calendar- I love the layout and design of this calendar, and am thinking of how to incorporate these design elements in our next invitation.  Maybe add a little flair to the judging cards, as well?

This table setting from At Home with Kim Vallee might have been created for an outdoor movie night, but I love the whole mood created in this vignette.

So, what's your trick to hosting a great party?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Word #1: Parsimonious

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a link to my day zero page.  I'm slowly building my way towards a longer list, but while I'm at it, I figured I might as well start chipping away at some of these goals.  Goal #17:  Learn 50 new words. So here it is, the inaugural word of the week:


I've seen this word around.  Parsimonious and I run in different circles, but we see each other at intervals.  I've always assumed it meant something sensual or luxurious.  The word rolls off the tongue with such grace that it just exudes a natural pleasure.  I was a bit surprised to learn its true meaning: 

Of a person: characterized by or using parsimony; tight-fisted, mean. In early use also in positive sense: thrifty, frugal; (of a person's expenditure) economical, sparing.

In extended use, of a person or thing: sparing in the giving or using of something abstract, as emotion, good fortune, words, etc.

Of a thing: poor, meagre, scanty; spec. (of land) unproductive, barren.

Of a scientific hypothesis or explanation (esp. a phylogenetic tree): assuming the simplest state, process, evolutionary pathway, etc., that is consistent with the facts or observations; in accordance with the law or principle of parsimony.

Of the functioning of an organism or natural system: exhibiting economy of action, effort, or process
(definitions courtesy of Oxford English Dictionary, online version)

Tight-fisted, sparing, unproductive, barren.  Blech.  What a mood this sets, eh?  And yet, I find it liberating to inadvertently pick this word at the beginning of a project.  You have to fight your worst habits in order to build new, healthy ones, so why not begin a task by learning about its antithesis? 

Hello to you, Parsimonious.  Hope I don't run across you too often! 



Thursday, July 19, 2012

Lessons Learned

I've been sitting around over-thinking things, unable to actually post because my brain is too full of thoughts for any real action to settle in.  Last night I worked myself up into a bit of a creative straightjacket, and was *thisclose* to just giving up on writing entirely.  I went to bed feeling completely fed up and stymied.  And then I woke up to this text:

For all my creative friends:  "Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion.  You must first set yourself on fire" -Fred Shero

Sometimes the world just needs to smack you upside the head in order to get you thinking straight.

I'm so grateful to know people who can simply intuit when a life lesson is needed.  I'm so ready to set myself aflame.

Saturday, July 7, 2012


I spent most of this morning flat on my stomach on the living room carpet with Obj. #4, piles of brightly colored foam shapes surrounding us, exploring the wonder of patterns ("Look, red square, blue circle, red square, blue circle, what should we put next?") and listening to her squeal excitedly whenever she figured out a new sequence.  It's always fun to watch a 3-year-old problem solve, and the rush of discovery that flashes spontaneously across her face make my big old heart swell.  I also started thinking a lot about patterns: how they come into being, what purposes they serve, how I have a tendency to equate "pattern" with "boredom", and how big a role they play in my life as a parent.  I still fight the tide when it comes to recognizing that my days are set into a familiar rhythm, and I still try to shake things up (sometimes completely without reason) to the dismay of my habitual daughter.

That being said, I do want to incorporate new and better habits into my routine.  I'm forever trying to sort out how I can adapt a behavior and make it stick.  I don't know if it's my motivation level, boredom, or that I haven't yet found the right system, but most of these patterns tend to get lost in the shuffle.  So, I've been looking around for fun ways to accomplish this that help keep me on task while still letting me play around aimlessly on my iPhone:

The Habit Factor- is an iPhone app that lets you set up goals, upload photos, write an explanation for each goal, and then chart your habits on a calendar.  The app keeps track of your running streaks, provides motivational quotes, and helps you prioritize different entries.  It's also got a clean and fairly attractive interface, as far as these apps go.

Way of Life-  Although I'm not a big fan of the color scheme (don't know if this is customizable?  Maybe it can be altered), I can totally nerd out on the pie charts and bar graphs.  Fun way to analyze your habits, although this might facilitate more procrastination.

TeuxDuex- This is more of a list-making tool than a habit former, but I love the classic design and simple formatting of this app.  Available on your website browser, as well as your iPhone, this is a stylish way to keep track of your days.

StickK- Some people work better under pressure, and we've all watched enough Ultimate Poker Challenge to know that nothing puts the pressure on quite like a wager.  With this website, you state your goal and how much you're willing to gamble on achieving results.  Clearly this works, there are over $10 million dollars at stake on the site.

Do It (tomorrow)- If I had an Android, I would be smitten.  This is a beautiful list-making, day-tracking app, and if you don't love having the option to put something off for later, then I'm not so sure we can be friends.

Day Zero-  Again, this website isn't about habit forming, but it is insanely fascinating and can cause you to lose many hours that you won't ever get back.  This site is a "life list" (a term I prefer infinitely more to the infamous "bucket list") with a deadline.  Choose 100 goals that you would like to achieve in 1001 days.  You can choose to make yours public, or keep it to yourself.  See what others are doing, and discover new goals with the "Idea Finder".  I just opened mine, you can help keep me accountable here.  Let me know if you start one, I'd love to see your own lists!!