1. Honestly, I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to discover Girls. It has all the ingredients of a big, delicious Courtney cookie: Super awkward moments, brutally honest and uncomfortable conversations and tons of self-deprecating humor. When Hannah’s coworkers filled in her eyebrows, I pushed all my chips into the pot. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m a sucker for a series about girlfriends. Maybe it’s that Lena Dunham’s character reminds me of my college roommate Sarah, who has a special place in my heart. Whatever the case, I blew threw the first season on AmazonPrime like a cop with a dozen donuts. Of course, that’s just the shot of narcotics they inject to get you hooked and then you have to buy the rest of the seasons. I’m stalled at the third episode of season 2 waiting for my dealer to get it together. 2. I’m in the final stretch of my third Whole30 and at a time like this one is likely to start grasping at straws when the sugar demons start to taunt. My safety net arrived in a bright gold package of dried nanners from Costco. These things are so good, you guys, and I ate so many of them that I damaged my dental work. Literally. I had a tooth ache for 24 hours, which was my mouth telling my hand to drop the freaking bag and step away from the bananas. It took my husband finally calling me out for me to admit that I was replacing my sugar-sugar fixation with a dried fruit one. But I love them. I am a minion. 3. I’m not going to post monthly pictures of my new tops or stretchy pants –no one needs to see that – but I will say I’m surprised how fast I fell for Stitch Fix. I went in as a skeptic. I have wide hips, bigger thighs, leftover mother pudge, but I got swept away in the mob mentality. Admittedly, there have been some major misses. But there have been more hits, and who doesn’t like a surprise box of clothes every so many weeks? It’s such a treat. My one gripe would be the prices. I sent one shirt back (price tag $115) with the comment, “You don’t know me, but I laughed when I saw the cost of this top. Nothing is that cute.” I got a new stylist on my next box. But sticker shock aside, I’m digging my new duds. It’s worth it to give it a try just once and I’ve found that when I ask for “a little bit funky but functional with lots of pattern” that’s when the party really begins. 4. Speaking of clothes, I am one of those stereotypical Midwestern suburban women who puts a much higher value on the perfect pair of sweats than I do skirts or stilettos. After 3 decades of options that were too tight, too itchy, too big or too short, I have found the one. The pair. The only sweatpants any person who takes their bra off and put their pjs on the moment they get home from work needs. Victoria Secret’s Boyfriend Pant is where it’s at, ladies, and you can take that to the bank because I know my casual clothing. Honestly it’s like having two fleece-bellied monkeys clinging to each of your legs. Plus, there are so many colors you can have a different pair for every day of the week. 5. As I’ve aged, I’ve learned the importance of investing in better quality cosmetics. And since the day I started to embrace that realization I’ve had the Urban Decay eyeshadow palette pinned to Pinterest board. Could I justify spending $50 on lid paint? No. But then Christmas came around. Could I justify having someone else spend it? Maybe. The UD Gwen Stefani Eyeshadow Palette is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever laid eyes on and ever put on my eyes. I love the hues and I only dip my brush in it’s sensational circles on super-special occasions. 6. On my last edition of What I’m getting myself into, I declared my love for Parks and Rec. And a big part of that was Tom Haverford. So when I saw Aziz Ansari had his own show on Netflix I was optimistic but careful not to be too optimistic. It’s like when I watched Meet the Morgans after a Sex and the City marathon. It just changed things between me and SJP. But that definitely didn’t happen here. I adore him more, and differently. This is a side of Aziz that feels more organic to his true personality with Tom Haverford playing peek-a-poo in the rare scene. I knew it was true love when, after concluding the available episodes, I felt that same emptiness I felt after I finished Friday Night Lights or got all caught up on House of Cards. Here’s hoping Master of None comes back for Season 2.
I stood paralyzed; spinach in one hand, almond milk in the other, a steam engine stalled at a bend in the track. The cups for my Ninja blender, the device I use every single morning to whip up a little smoothie action, were all suds-deep in the still-running dishwasher. A problem that should be a dot on the radar of my day was, in that moment, a hurricane coming ashore. Everyone kept moving with the momentum of the morning, while I stood still, unable to unravel the riddle of my shattered routine.
Have you heard of the OODA loop? The phrase refers to the decision cycle of observe, orient, decide, and act, developed by military strategist USAF Colonel John Boyd. Basically, it’s our reaction time, or the time that elapses between the onset of a stimulus and the onset of a response to that stimulus. We go through the process thousands of times a day. And I think my OODA loop is broken … or at least, on autopilot.
A routine is a necessary evil, isn’t it? Each one of my weekdays is, give or take a tantrum, basically a revolving door of tasks, routes and actions. I can guess, within a few minutes, what I’ll be doing on any given hour Monday-Friday. I worked hard to make it that way. It was an intentional process. It feels vital to my sanity. But the predictability is so engrained in my nature, so damaging to the health of my OODA loop, that one obstacle sends me into a complete downward spiral, with smoke and flames and a sticky parachute. I mean, I can always rally. I can pull myself out of my assembly line mentality long enough to put out the fire in front of me, but then it’s right back to putting all the parts in place before the next task comes along.
Our security officer at work encouraged us to change our routine to throw off anyone dangerous who might be watching. A researcher presenting at a seminar on brain health recently told us you should vary your route to work, hobbies and schedule to strengthen the neural pathways in your brain. It seems everywhere I go, someone is saying, “Snap out of it, sister! Mix it up!” But the truth is, when I go rogue and burn the agenda defiantly, the whole day goes to pot. The wheels fall off the wagon. Shit gets crazy. I get crazy.
But the simple fact that on that particular morning with the cups I didn’t just stay in stride, grab my big blender and continue concocting my green juice, got me thinking about my sad, humdrum OODA loop. Most days, the only challenge might be the addition of a class at the gym, or an appointment after work. And in those cases the exorbitant amount of energy I put into reframing my cookie cutter schedule is so absurd my OODA loop turns frenzied and exhausts itself. There is no healthy happy-medium. No delight in the detours. And what kind of way is that to live life?
My world is full of well-worn trails and thin-soled shoes. And while I’ve come to rely on and relish the rhythm of my days, I know it isn’t always healthy. I know a last-minute request shouldn’t be cause for complete emotional upheaval, but I don’t know how to break free from my deep-rooted habits and be carefree about the curveballs. Did you know that the neural pathways in our brains that are tied to the habits we repeat over and over – the ones you can do without ever really arousing your OODA loop – are the widest of all the neural pathways? It’s like a path through the woods. The more people walk down it, the wider and more prominent it becomes, making it the natural place for our feet to follow as we trek along. The road that the signals for stimulus and response travel in our minds are the same. The more we light them up, the bigger they get. So every time I pick out my clothes the night before work, the wider that neural pathway gets. Each morning I drive to work, always the exact same route, that pathway expands and strengthens. And the widest neural pathways are the ones we start to take involuntarily. You can start new ones. And you can change the ones you have. There’s nothing but opportunity there.
I went to a presenter today who spoke about mindfulness, and he talked a lot about being on autopilot. “I’d be in the shower and I’d start thinking about something else, and there are times I’m sure I got out of that shower with wet hair, but I never washed it,” he said. “I think you’ve done that, too.” He encouraged us to crack the window, breathe into our bodies and shut off the autopilot whenever possible.
So, I’m waging war against myself in the name of my bored, predictable, even lackadaisical OODA loop. I’m fighting to snap out of my snap reactions and judgements. To do things differently every now and then for the sake of feeling awake. To widen new pathways in my mind and to keep growing, learning and taking pauses drenched in wonder.
How’s your OODA loop?
When it comes to various forms of exercise – Turbo Kick, spinning, Piloxing, rowing, running, weight-lifting – I would call myself a dabbler of many and a master of none. I love trying new things. I love mixing it up and feeling lost and figuring things out. I enjoy making my muscles guess and seeing how certain activities show up in varying, albeit always mediocre, degrees of tone.
Of all the pastimes I play at, one of my favorites has to be yoga. I can’t morph into a scorpion pose or stand on my hands for 5 minutes straight, but I can hang with the best of them in pigeon or chill for days in child’s pose. After so many days of sitting at a desk, jogging a bit and lifting the ole 8 pounders, my body will typically start asking me for a little TLC time on the mat. And I have no problems saying yes.
I tried the beginner stretch class at our gym and I just couldn’t dial in my zen. I hated the circular setup and the fact that I grazed my neighbor’s knuckles every time I dove for my toes. Just so distracting and uncomfortable. It felt like entertaining a crowd during a super intimate moment, like trying on bras with your neighbor or something. No, no … I much prefer a side-by-side sesh with my main man and the chicks.
We have our favorites. Of course our little turkeys have a soft spot for Jaime and her magical jammies on Cosmic Kids. (Full disclosure: I, too, get pretty wrapped up in her wild adventures.) And we regularly spend YouTube time feeling the Yoga with Adriene flow. She’s just the right dose of hippy dippy and has an impressive library of videos. Plus, as a marketing gal, I love her branding.
But our ultimate go-to is Tara. We love Tara Stiles. There’s something so endearing about the way she comforts and says, “It’s just yoga, guys. It should be fun,” in her lackadaisical vocal cadence, leading you from pose to pose. Or at the conclusion when she almost childishly says, “Thank you for coming!” It’s like her signature punctuation mark. All of her flows are familiar, with most of the same moves, but every once in a while she slides in a challenge to keep you coming back for more.
This set is great. It’s a perfect place to start or a tremendous complement to your yoga studio habit.
It feels indulgent to stretch and decompress and contort your overly tight figure into something a bit more malleable. Certain poses scream at me to change my daily routine or posture, or visit it more often. There are times when I’m upside down and feel like my cheeks are going to explode right off my face, but overall, yoga is a free drug for what ails ya. One of these days maybe I’ll fully commit to the practice and finally hold that handstand. But for now child’s pose is definitely what the doctor ordered. Go get you some.
I’ve always loved her. But now … oh now it goes much deeper.
Admittedly, I was not a huge fan of the book “Eat. Pray. Love.” I actually, and this never happens with me, preferred the movie to the book. [gasp!] I also didn’t make it all the way through the paperback, so that might have had something to do with it. But her latest work, “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear,” really resonated with me.
True, I’m very lucky. My job, and jobs to this point, have allowed me to use that wacky, wonderful creative sphere of my brain in a capacity that brings both a general sense of satisfaction and suitable income. But the majority of folks have to find a way to interject creative beats into their work. I have a friend who’s a dental hygienist, for example. I don’t imagine that, on a routine day, plague and floss do much to lube up the creative wheels in the cranium. I could be wrong. My folks sell insurance. I don’t see those creative sectors of their message center lighting up on the regular. But again, I could be wrong.
But what Liz is saying with her book is that you don’t have to make a living from whatever medium you like to play at. You don’t have to torture your hobby to manipulate it into what defines you. But you do have to entertain it. You do have to create. paint. draw. write. act. sing. garden. cook. sew. knit. bake. sculpt. storytell. Something that lights up that part of your soul often enough that it doesn’t extinguish entirely.
I have this friend who’s an actress out in L.A. She comes home almost every December to spend some time with friends and family over the holidays and, it never fails, someone always asks her about her backup plan. “What will you do if you don’t make it?” they ask. “The thing people don’t get,” she explained over whiskey and ginger beer on New Year’s Eve, “is that I’m doing what I love. I have made it. I’m making a living acting and creating art and work that I’m proud of and that’s all I ever wanted. You may not see me on TV, but that’s not what it’s about for me.” The sentiment aligns so beautifully with this line from Big Magic: “You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.”
Liz doesn’t demand that you quit your desk job and pursue your long-hidden aspiration of painting a scene from the top of Mt. Everest or anything (unless you want to), but she does plant the seed and water it a little.
“Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred. What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all. We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits. We are terrified, and we are brave. Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege. Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us. Make space for all these paradoxes to be equally true inside your soul, and I promise—you can make anything. So please calm down now and get back to work, okay? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.”
She also offers a bit of caution. Ideas are fleeting and can often be fickle. If we don’t nurture that grand invention or storyline or project that whispers in our ear, it might just pack up and move onto a soul that will listen.
“ideas are alive, that ideas do seek the most available human collaborator, that ideas do have a conscious will, that ideas do move from soul to soul, that ideas will always try to seek the swiftest and most efficient conduit to the earth (just as lightning does).”
It’s a quick read and I’d encourage you check it out so you can at least entertain the notion that a a little creativity can bring a great deal to your days. You don’t have to write a book, but start a journal. You don’t have to open a bakery, but maybe try decorating a birthday cake yourself. Plot out a killer garden. Put together a play with the kids. Just play.
“Creative entitlement simply means believing that you are allowed to be here, and that—merely by being here—you are allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own.”
“So whenever that brittle voice of dissatisfaction emerges within me, I can say ‘Ah, my ego! There you are, old friend!’ It’s the same thing when I’m being criticized and I notice myself reaching with outrage, heartache, or defensiveness. It’s just my ego, flaring up and testing its power. In such circumstances, I have learned to watch my heated emotions carefully, but I try not to take them too seriously, because I know that it’s merely my ego that has been wounded–never my soul It is merely my ego that wants revenge, or to win the biggest prize. It is merely my ego that wants to start a Twitter war against a hater, or to sulk at an insult or to quit in righteous indignation because I didn’t get the outcome I wanted. At such times, I can always steady my life one more by returning to my soul. I ask it, ‘And what is it that you want, dear one?’ The answer is always the same: ‘More wonder, please.’ As long as I’m still moving in that direction–toward wonder–then I know I will always be fine in my soul, which is where it counts. And since creativity is still the most effective way for me to access wonder, I choose it.”
“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.”
“But to yell at your creativity, saying, ‘You must earn money for me!’ is sort of like yelling at a cat; it has no idea what you’re talking about, and all you’re doing is scaring it away, because you’re making really loud noises and your face looks weird when you do that.”
“Because the truth is, I believe that creativity is a force of enchantment—not entirely human in its origins.”
“Recognizing that people’s reactions don’t belong to you is the only sane way to create. If people enjoy what you’ve created, terrific. If people ignore what you’ve created, too bad. If people misunderstand what you’ve created, don’t sweat it. And what if people absolutely hate what you’ve created? What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your good name through the mud? Just smile sweetly and suggest – as politely as you possibly can – that they go make their own fucking art. Then stubbornly continue making yours.”
“I have a friend, an aspiring musician, whose sister said to her one day, quite reasonably, ‘What happens if you never get anything out of this? What happens if you pursue your passion forever, but success never comes? How will you feel then, having wasted your entire life for nothing?’ My friend, with equal reason, replied, ‘If you can’t see what I’m already getting out of this, then I’ll never be able to explain it to you.’ When it’s for love, you will always do it anyhow.”
“Pure creativity is magnificent expressly because it is the opposite of everything else in life that’s essential or inescapable (food, shelter, medicine, rule of law, social order, community and familial responsibility, sickness, loss, death, taxes, etc.). Pure creativity is something better than a necessity; it’s a gift. It’s the frosting. Our creativity is a wild and unexpected bonus from the universe.”
“A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner—continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you—is a fine art, in and of itself.”
It’s been a hectic and emotionally exhausting week. I’m 7 days deep into a Whole30, which tends to make me antisocial for a spell and overly reactive, and I spent like 48 solid hours filling out my Bachelor bracket. But trumping that, there’ve been some brutal life lessons in our household as of late. It would appear that 2016 has come in like lion … one with sharp-ass fangs and Freddy Krueger freaking claws.
The good world up above gained a precious soul last week when Hank’s Grandma Monie walked through the pearly gates. She deteriorated quickly after a fall about a month ago. For as long as I’ve been in Hank’s life, Monie struggled with her hearing, mobility to some extent, and memory. She put a lot of weight in being social, volunteering and teaching, and she always kept a sense of humor about her age, but I know she often felt smaller and unimportant because of her handicaps. I pray, and believe, she entered into heaven through a most-electric sunset, with a bounce in her step and a smirk on her face. That her husband and great grandson were there to greet her, and she danced with all the friends who went before her.
As much as I’ve struggled with death myself, talking to the girls about this kind of loss strangled me with anxiety. There is no handbook, no guidelines, on how to walk your child through this life truth. Admittedly, I don’t know how to get through it as a 33-year-old woman. They had just gone to visit their great grandma, so when we told them she had passed away and gone to heaven, it was a bit of a shock, bring about some mixed reactions. JoJo started sobbing. At 6, I think the finality of it registered with her little heart. “It’s OK,” Spikey answered. “Because she went to heaven and then she gets to start her life all over. It’s sad that she died, but it’s OK she went to heaven.” Eventually JoJo put her energy toward drawing pictures for Grandma Monie to take to Jesus and things calmed down a bit. I was a mess.
The biggest dilemma, as I’m sure anyone who’s been through this can understand, was the funeral. Do we take them to the viewing, or just to the funeral but not the burial, or to all of it, or to none of it. Given my fear of death and tendency to avoid anything uncomfortable or emotionally wrenching, my gut call was to have them stay with mom and not be exposed to the harsh reality of true loss just yet. An attempt to preserve their innocence just a little bit longer. But in Hank’s family, death was treated as a natural part of life. Just as people will enter this world, they will leave it. It is sad but not scary. It is reality and they are looking to us to see how to process that reality. We have to set the example.
We decided to take them to the viewing so they could say goodbye. Spike was so brave and timid and wonderfully naive. Her confusion was in why Grandma was still here when we told her she’d gone to heaven. The concept of a soul at the age of 4 is as tangible as it is elusive. JoJo wasn’t sure she wanted to go up once we got there. “That’s OK,” I said. But eventually she followed, standing behind me, peeking only for a moment with confusion and fear. It was a face I’m confident I would have made at her age in this situation.
Talking through the loss of a family member, and turning my face toward it out of my concern for the girls actually made accepting the loss of a woman I loved a little easier. Now, as we work through the grieving process, I don’t know for sure how our little ladies feel about death, but I know we handled it the best we could. We talked about Grandma and why we loved her. And we will speak of her often to remember her. That is how we will honor Grandma Monie and the footprint she left on our hearts.
Every other week we have Big Breakfast – a fitting name for the gathering though I can’t for the life of me remember who officially came up with it – at my folks. My entire family shows up in pajamas to shove Dad’s famous dippy eggs, pancakes and cinnamon rolls down our pieholes. Eventually the 10 grandkids disperse to torture each other and make messes upstairs, out of the adults’ sight, while the grownups sip coffee and retell stories we’ve heard 8 trillion times.
Things got a little exciting this week. “Mom!” Spike exclaimed. “JoJo just called 9-1-1!” “She what?!” As soon as I stood up to go hunt my eldest daughter down, the phone rang at Mom and Dad’s. That was the dispatcher. I yelled her name upstairs. I yelled her name downstairs. I yelled her name upstairs again. i yelled her name downstairs again. “I’m …. right … here …” a little mousy voice whispered from under my parents’ bed. “Get out here.” I said, in that slow, spiccato tone that sends hot pee down even my own leg. About that time, I heard, “It’s the cops!”
A sheriff was in the driveway and Mom’s dogs were circling his authoritative feet, playing into the excitement. It would seem that my two little girls called the emergency line a combined total of five times. Five. Times. “I want you to come in and talk to the kids,” Mom said. “Ma’am, I have to come inside.” the sheriff replied.
He brought his broad shoulders and chocolate brown uniform through the front door and – thank the Lawd – cast his kind eyes down on a scared shitless crew of little ones. Here stood two mothers, a Grammy and 10 grandchildren, the majority of us still in our pajamas at noon. I felt JoJo quivering behind my back and heard her regretful sniffles. “Honey, don’t be scared. You aren’t in trouble,” he offered. I was not feeling as generous. “You need to apologize and you need to understand why this was so wrong.” I said as directly as I could in front of an officer. “Now you know that if you call that number, a police officer will show up. And that is only OK if you are hurt, we are hurt, or you are lost. Do. you. under. stand?” “Yeeeeee[sniffle]eeeeesssss.” she answered.
The kind sheriff left CrazyTown behind to go bust bigger bad guys and Spike and JoJo learned a very important lesson. When you dial 9-1-1, the fuzz is gonna come for ya.
Do you ever see a magnificent sunset and think, “That must be the exact spot where souls enter into heaven.”?
Tune in today to see if she can … prep for a dietary turnaround.
It’s the night before my third round (fourth attempt) of Whole30 and I gotta say, I love this time in a cleanse. When the food is prepped and the week of recipes is planned and I don’t quite want to rip the heads off of everyone around me yet. It’s a beautiful time of optimism and lofty aspirations and dreams of white t-shirts and stretchy skinny jeans. But, with the impending denial that any incredibly restrictive scenario brings, comes a bit of lashing out. For me, that lashing out comes with an impressive caloric tally and a healthy dose of remorse and humiliation.
Here, in no particular order, are my confessions on my Whole30 Eve:
- I ate a ginormous bowl of Lucky Charms in a shameless attempt to polish off my non-compliant cashew milk. “Don’t look at me,” I told my husband, as I sorted through sugary horseshoes in an embarrassing sea of purple milk.
- While cleaning out the pantry, I found a box of chocolate graham crackers that expired in July 2012. Where do these things live for all those years? Like, I look in there … typically daily. And I haven’t noticed them hanging out, just, expiring. Where were those chocolate graham crackers hiding?
- In the psychological battle between eating the holiday candy and throwing it in the garbage where it belongs, I opted for eating, on average, 5 haystacks and 7 peanut clusters every day for the last 5 days. Kind of gross, right? Also hid the rest for a post-Whole30 treat. (This is what they call “setting yourself up for future failure.”)
- I came down with an insane cold-type thing on New Year’s Eve. I lost my voice, which stopped coming from the general area of my glands which were so sore and swollen I thought you could visibly see their abnormal heft. I had the spins and just a severe case of the “blechs”. None of these afflictions could stop me from cramming in a buffet of bad choices (mostly dairy) as the ball dropped, Arby’s and a sausage roll on Saturday and ruebens today. These were accompanied, of course, by the aforementioned haystacks and clusters, a fact that could be attributed to my slow recovery.
- I watched in awe as my lovely husband, who is going to accompany me about 90% percent of the time on this particular Whole30 journey, cleared an entire bag of jalepeno kettle chips in 48 hours LIKE A BOSS.
OK, I think we’re all good here. You good? I’m good. Let’s do this Whole30 thing!
Until next time …