My Michael Phelps Moment: Why I’m a Yoga Convert

March 31, 2009

I got a compliment the other day that still has my head spinning. It wasn’t about my appearance or my kids or my blog. It was about my yoga.

All my instructor said was: “Your practice is looking so much better. Your feet, your legs…it’s a big jump up from where you were.”

Not exactly: “Wow! You’re the yoga equivalent of Michael Phelps! We’d like to feature you in London 2012!”

But boy was I in seventh heaven.

Let’s start with the fact that I have a crush on my yoga instructor. (Because, really, what’s the point of taking an exercise class if you don’t develop a crush on your instructor?) She’s warm and encouraging and has this lovely, mellifluous English accent. It’s like taking a class from a giant bottle of jojoba bath oil.

She’s also great at giving you step by step instructions. She’s positively obsessed with making sure that your three middle toes are lifted during all postures, something which turns out to be surprisingly difficult.

I was a reluctant convert to yoga, even though my husband and several close friends had been doing it for years.

Part of it was that the whole yoga gestalt seemed too groovy for the likes of me. You know – the chanting, the incense, the earnestness of it all. I felt like Lucille Ball every time I showed up for class.

I also had a hard time wrapping myself around the idea of slowing down, the idea that you would go somewhere just to stretch when you could be, I don’t know…running, jumping, or scaling high buildings in a single bound. It didn’t really resonate with me at first. It took me awhile to catch on that slowing down was the whole point.

It wasn’t until my life coach – yes, I have one – suggested that I do yoga that I finally gave it a whirl.

And now, like all converts, I’m a shameless proselytizer. Because yoga has been a life-altering experience for me.

It really does chill you out. I go only once a week – first thing in the morning every Thursday – but it clears my head, and body, for the rest of the day. And let’s face it: As we grow older, who needs to be more stressed out?

Yoga also helps with all of those niggling, aching, here-to-fore unnamed muscles that begin to plague us as we age (piriformis, anyone?) If you do yoga regularly, it helps you to avoid – or at least minimize – the costlier, more time-consuming path of physical therapy.

Finally, I love the feeling of trying something new – particularly something I’ve been skeptical about – only to discover that I really enjoy it.

So I guess the moral of the story is to stretch yourself (so to speak). And chill.

Oh yes, and get a life coach.

*****

In keeping with yesterday’s post about nostalgia for my first job, I recently rented The Wackness, a cinematic paean to the early 1990s and to high school romance more generally. It’s not a great film. And it was criticized in the press for over-doing its re-enactment of that particular era. But as someone who likes to take the odd trip down memory lane, I must say that I enjoyed it.

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Image: Girl Relax by Federico Stevanin via FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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Serve them the $%!* Decaf: Life Lessons from My Summer as a Waitress

March 30, 2009

I had another Barry Manilow moment the other day – i.e. one of those times when a snippet of music or cultural reference or, in this case, specific location instantly transports you back to some signature moment in your journey towards adulthood.

An article I was reading about an art show in the United States referenced an up-scale art gallery on Eastern Long Island where I once worked as a waitress during high school. And all of a sudden I was hit by a wave of nostalgia.

I worked at this place for only three or four weeks one summer with my older sister. We worked Thursday-Sunday nights serving desserts to the clientele of the gallery. But while short lived, that job proved to be one of those searing professional experiences that stayed with me for years. Why?

Part of it was the gallery owner himself:  a high strung Manhattan transplant who tried to mask his OCD-like tendencies behind flashy shirts and purple trousers. I think he thought that running a shabby-chic, beach-side gallery would render him a mellower soul. It didn’t. Learning how to manage a mercurial boss proved to be a life-long skill I started cultivating that summer.

It was also the first time that my sister and I – separated by four years in age – became friends instead of just sisters. Having a common enemy in the form of Mr. Purple Pants really united us. I can still remember her emerging from the kitchen with a blob of whipped cream on her face, the remnants of which had been pilfered from a passing profiterole. That didn’t go down very well with our boss, but I erupted in peals of laughter. That sort of fraternal camaraderie between co-workers has been absolutely crucial to every job I’ve held since.

And, then, finally, there was waitressing itself. Someone once told me that everyone should be required to do three things in life:  wait tables, answer telephones, and I can’t remember the third – it might be working construction. There’s something about learning how to navigate the combination of a persnickety boss, demanding customers, and time sensitivity all at the same time – with, in this case, a  prima donna pastry chef thrown in for good measure – that really serves you well in whatever you go on to do next.

Turns out, my sister and I were pretty bad at waitressing. We were always getting the orders mixed up, or naively revealing to the customers that, sadly, we’d run out of regular coffee. (“Serve them the %$!* decaf!” our boss hissed while smiling unctuously at the clients). And I think we both decided that the world would be a better place without us waiting tables in it.

And yet, twenty five years later, just the mention of that gallery brought all of this flooding back to me. Which has to be a good thing, right? If nothing else, I’ve never looked at a cup of decaf quite the same way since.

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There Are Some Second Acts

March 27, 2009

A friend of mine sent me this article in the London Times from last week about second novels. It’s a story about the pressure on novelists who strike it big with their first novel – like Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Travelers Wife – to repeat this success the second time around.

The article goes on to list famous books that were spectacular second novels but which followed on barely noticed first novels – Pride and Prejudice, Ulysses, Midnight’s Children – to name a few. It also lists cursed second novels that followed on huge successes – Something Happened by Joseph Heller after Catch 22, for example, or Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier after Cold Mountain –  as well as one hit wonders that were never followed by anything at all. To Kill a Mockingbird and Gone With the Wind both fall in the last category.

As a veteran of two career changes and an aspiring novelist, I was heartened to see the list of great second novels. The length of the list and the star quality of its titles really drove home that age-old adage: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!” Most of us won’t become wildly famous in the process, but if we really apply ourselves to something, we will likely improve. (As Bob Fosse expalined to an aspiring dancer in one of my all-time favorite movies, All That Jazz, “I can’t make you a great dancer. But I can make you a better dancer.”)

I keep that quotation in my head a lot. And it doesn’t apply just to writing or the creative life. With a little elbow grease, we can all get better at what we do (though if I’d written To Kill A Mockingbird I might have put down my pen and called it a day too).

Any other great second novels on your list?

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AIG Resignation Letter: A Grown Up Response

March 26, 2009

I subscribe to the International Herald Tribune, which means that when I open up the paper every morning, I’m usually reading yesterday’s New York Times (geared for Europe).

So it was only today that I happened upon the following op-ed, a resignation letter written by a former member of the AIG Financial Products team – Jake DeSantis – to his now (ex) boss, Edward M. Liddy.

In the letter, Mr. De Santis basically says neither he nor almost anyone in his group had anything to do with the whole AIG debacle. He therefore resents being blamed for it and (by implication) having a hard-earned bonus withdrawn for someone else’s mistakes. He also faults Mr. Liddy for not standing by other honest workers at AIG like him and for falling prey to political pressures rather than privileging institutional loyalty.

I know there’s been a lot of fall out from this letter on the internet (the world socialist website decries it as one more piece of evidence that the New York Times is in cahoots with the so-called “financial aristocracy”). But I have to say that my first reaction when I read this article was “My! How grown up!”

The author doesn’t sound particularly bitter. He does say he feels betrayed, but he is careful to tell the reader exactly why he feels betrayed and what happened behind close doors to make him disillusioned with the company’s leadership. And while acknowledging that he’s made a heckuva lot of money while working for AIG, he commits to giving all of this year’s paycheck to charity.

I don’t mean to hold this man up as a noble knight in shining armor. Nor do I think that really rich people who give money to charity ought to be given a gold star just for that reason. But in an era where many figures in the public and private sectors alike – Bernard Madoff, Rod Blagojevich – are in full-on melt down mode, it was nice to hear from someone in the midst of this mess who sounded, for lack of a better word, mature.

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Tips for Adulthood: 5 Household Items You Can Do Without

March 25, 2009

Courtesy of Flickr

Ok, so today’s post launches a new series I’m going to start on Wednesdays entitled: Tips for Adulthood.

Today’s list lies close to my heart as it draws from my very own home. In fact, everything I’m going to list is sitting within about 10 feet of me as I write this (except the foot warmer – see #5 below – which mercifully needs a U.S. electrical outlet to operate).

I’ve posted before about how my husband is a gadget freak. He loves coming home with all manner of things that ostensibly serve to make life easier. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. But the other day he had a real doozy. Having visited the local hardware store, he came home with a device – wait for it – extracting pickles from a pickle jar. (Cue: “Who Stole the Pickle from the Pickle Jar?”)

No, really, he did. It looks like a narrow plastic syringe for giving kids medicine, except that when you push it, four tiny metal pincer claws emerge to grab that elusive pickle. Nuff’ said.

Inspired by this dubious purchase (to be fair, it set us back only about one pound thirty), I herewith give you 5 Household Items You (really) Can Do Without:

1. A Pickle Picker (my term of art): See above. FYI: I just tried to find an image of said item and could only come up with “pickle wax remover” which sounds way more frightening…

2. An Avocado Slicer: In much the same vein, last summer he came back from a trip to the States with this bizarre item that slices avocados into slivers.  It’s basically a handle with a round hole on one end to remove the avocado pit and a set of blades on the other end for slicing. Here’s a picture of something similar. Sounds great, no? Try it. By the time you’ve cut your avocado in half, removed the pit and begun to slice away, you will have mushy green avocado everywhere. Promise.

3. A Tiny Blade for Cutting Newspaper Clippings. Because scissors are just so…large?

4. A Small Newspaper Holder: This one is harder to explain but more intuitively plausible as a helpful household device. It’s a lightweight metal stand designed to prop up your newspaper while you read so that you don’t have to hold the whole thing open. Instead, you just fold the part of the paper you’re reading and rest it comfortably on the stand. Which is great until…your story continues on page A14 and then you just need to pick the newspaper up again.

And, finally, the piece de resistance on today’s list:

5. A Footwarmer: My husband thinks he has poor circulation and so complains endlessly about his cold extremities. Years ago, he decided to remedy this problem by purchasing this small, noisy, incredibly un-green device that you fill with warm water and then soak your feet in (it kind of looked like this, but had water in it). I think it may have also had a massage function but my mind is fuzzy because I think we used it all of once before deciding (a). it was bulky (b). it used up too much energy and (c). why not just put your feet in a bath?

That’s all folks!

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Hooray for Sugar! Hershey, Here I Come!

March 24, 2009

I was delighted to hear that candy is back in fashion. No one’s sure exactly why. It could be the recession (candy is cheap), it could be the purported links between corn syrup and obesity, or it could just be nostalgia for the days of yore when things were hunky dorey. Whatever the cause, I don’t think I’ve been this excited since butter made a comeback.

I love candy. I don’t actually eat all that much of it because…well, because you’re not supposed to. But I think what I liked about these two articles is that the kinds of candy that are rising in popularity aren’t super fancy, high-end candies or…heaven forbid…dark chocolates. My husband – a self-proclaimed health nut – loves dark chocolate. Especially this brand. And while I, too, have a certain fondness for dark chocolate, it just doesn’t provide the same sort of all-encompassing happiness that biting into a Hershey’s bar does. Is anyone with me?

In another life I would return as an 11 year-old boy:  I also love pop tarts and frozen pizzas and ring dings. I do.

But one of the fun things that you get to do as an adult is to break all the rules that you learned as a kid. Like: Eating candy is bad for you. (You also learn to care a whole lot about what other people think. So when, like, The New York Times tells you it’s OK to eat candy, you just feel really happy that you’ve finally been validated.)

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Sibling Rivalry: Is Cross-Dressing the Answer?

March 23, 2009

I’ve been thinking a lot about sibling rivalry lately. It started with this post in the arch on-line parenting magazine, Babble, which I must confess I found deeply reassuring.

My kids fight all the time. It began when my daughter was born and my son, then not quite three, confessed that he’d “like to throw her in the garbage.” It pretty much went down hill from there. And although as she grows older, they play together more and more, I still spend easily 75% of my time with them breaking up fights (lately, he’s been teaching her how to swear, and I think it says a lot about our household that my husband and I consider that to be progress).

Then I got a hilarious email from a friend with whom I’d shared the above link, who confessed that her kids fight all the time and that she’s not sure what to do about it. Like the author of this article, she lives in a place – she calls it “Stepfordville” – where, as she so eloquently puts it, you hear the “my kids are best friends” bulls#*t all the time (along with, “That b*tch used my recipe and didn’t give me credit,” and “Did you notice Michelle’s boob job?”). Ah, the joys of American suburbia.

I’ve always been a big believer in birth order (here’s a quick primer) and the way in which sibling relationships (or lack thereof) have an enormous impact on who we are as people (Remember that book, Born to Rebel, that came out like 10 years ago claiming that sibling relationships have driven all great historical change?)

I always recommend the book Siblings Without Rivalry to anyone struggling with sibling issues. It provides some great, hands-on advice for how to deal with sibling conflicts (though, as with all parenting books, I seem to forget the “5 Easy Steps” as soon as I put it down…)

I think one of the hardest parts about parenting – and growing up in general –  is learning not to foist your own sibling issues on your kids. In my case, for example, because I was the youngest of four, I find myself naturally siding with my daughter whenever my kids fight, simple because she’s the youngest. I have to fight really hard not to assume that my son is bullying her unfairly.  But when I can stop myself from siding with her automatically, I find that it really helps him not to be as defensive and angry about whatever provoked the conflict (even if he did something wrong).

In the meantime, perhaps I should also take heart in the fact that my daughter seems to want to be a boy. One of her favorite activities these days is to come home from school and put my son’s clothes on. Most days, I simply don’t know what to make of this and chalk it up to a phase of some sort. But perhaps I should take it as a sign that rather than compete with him, she just wants to be him? Hmmmmm…..

******

And speaking of which…On the way to school today, my 5 year old daughter asked my husband if he knew the difference between boys and girls. His initial thought was “uh-oh” (we’re a bit behind on the whole birds and bees discussion, even with our 8 year old son). But just as my husband was about to start sputtering something politically – and anatomically – correct,  she interrupted him and said proudly, as if letting him in on a big secret, that girls have…wait for it…longer hair.

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