Yoga Revisited

IMG_0699Several years ago, in an attempt to become more physically fit, I signed up for a series of yoga classes at a newly-opened yoga studio.  A friend had recommend the “hot yoga” class, on the grounds that heat makes your body more limber.  I figured I could use all the help I could get, so I started with that class.

The first thing I noticed was that it was called “hot yoga” and not “warm yoga” or “sort of hot yoga” for a reason:  at over 100 degrees, that studio was indeed hot.  But I soon got used to the temperature and did my best to attempt all the poses as the class progressed.  I thought I did pretty well for a newbie, until I got home and suddenly felt as if I had been hit by a freight train.  I’m not ashamed to say that after I showered, I crawled right back into bed and stayed there for two hours, after which I walked funny for the rest of the day.  Eventually, my body adapted to the movements and I began to enjoy the class.

The problems began when lots of other people also began to enjoy the class, and more and more people crowded into the room with each session.  Personally, I don’t sweat much anymore, but I soon discovered that lots of other people do, especially when doing an hour and a half yoga class in a hundred-degree room. And when the sweating person is just inches away from you, there is a very real possibility that you are going to put your hand down in a puddle of someone else’s sweat the next time you do a floor pose.  So that was the end of my time in the hot yoga class.

I tried another, shorter, class in a room with normal temperatures, but the teacher moved us through the poses too quickly for me, and I kept hurting my lower back as I tried to keep up.  Finally, I just quit going altogether and looked for other ways to keep fit and try to reduce the size of my chubby thighs.

Still, I missed yoga.  During the time I practiced it, I did notice that my core muscles were stronger and my balance was better than it had been in a long time, and I really missed the time at the end of the class when we just stretched out on our mats in a darkened room and relaxed.  Like most people, I spend very little time “just being” and I need that.  So I was very happy when I discovered that another friend had become a certified yoga teacher and was going to teach a beginner’s class at the local YMCA at a time that worked for my schedule.

I’ve only gone twice so far, but I already love it.  The room isn’t hot (if anything, it’s too cool, but I can live with that), and my friend takes us slowly and gently through basic yoga moves. I am a little sore, here and there, after the classes, but it’s the good kind of sore that lets me know I am using muscles in ways I don’t usually use them.  I only wish that I hadn’t waited so long to find a yoga class that fits my body (old and a bit flabby) and my physical abilities (flexible, but klutzy).  The the important thing is that I have found my way back to yoga, and this time, I’m staying.

No One Told Me

IMG_5462I am not, and have never been, what you would a call an optimistic person.  I tend to not only expect the worst, but to prepare for it as well.  So I’m still trying to figure out how I managed to be be so completely clueless about what exactly was waiting for me when I reached middle age.  Because honestly, I had no idea….

I thought that being middle aged meant I wouldn’t worry about my children any more, because they would be grown up and out of my house.  I also thought I would have much more money and time at my disposal, because, well, my children would be grown up and out of the house.  And while it’s true my grocery bills have gone down significantly since I stopped having to feed my son’s insatiable appetite, I’m still waiting for all that extra time and money to arrive, and my level of worry about my kids hasn’t gone down one little bit.

I knew that I would eventually hit menopause and that some women experienced “unpleasant” symptoms, but I was still shocked when I had my first hot flash. I didn’t realize that having a hot flash meant feeling as if someone had stuck me in a microwave and turned it on high, and that I would have those feelings at least ten times a day and three to four times every night, for years.  And that constant, bitter, complaining didn’t help at all (as my husband regularly and patiently reminded me).

I didn’t know that that one morning I would wake up, decide to make pancakes for breakfast, but be completely unable to read the directions on the box of Bisquick.  I mean, how could that be?  Literally, one day I could read small print, and the next day I could not.  That mystery is right up there with why the hair from my eyebrows (where I wanted it) suddenly decided to migrate to my upper lip (where I most certainly did not want it).

Logically, I knew that as I aged, my parents and other relatives would also be aging, but sometimes I am still surprised when my mother walks into the room and I realize that she has turned into a bonafide, cute, little-old-lady.  Because when I’m not with her, I tend to picture her as she was twenty-five years ago, which, of course, is pretty much the age I am now.  I try not to think about that too much.

I now realize that middle age has its own set of problems and its own gifts, just like every other stage of our lives.  And I don’t want to sound as if I don’t appreciate the positive aspects, because I do.  I know I have a stronger sense of self now, and I appreciate the good people in my life so much more, and I don’t waste nearly so much time “sweating the small stuff” or worrying what other people think of me.

Still, I wish that I hadn’t been caught quite so off guard by my middle years, and that I had more of a chance to prepare, if only mentally, for all the changes I was going to be facing.  And then I realize that I also don’t have any real idea of what is waiting for me when, in the not too distant future, I become an actual senior citizen.  Maybe it’s time I had a long talk with my mother…..IMG_4369

Let It Go

IMG_0348A few days ago, I was walking a shelter dog when a car did a “rolling stop” (think brief pause) at the stop sign before proceeding through the intersection I was crossing at the time, forcing me to stop in the middle of the street and wait until it passed.  The car was going slowly enough that I had plenty of time to see it and stay out of its way, so there was no real danger that I was going to be hit.  Still, I was a pedestrian (two pedestrians if you count the dog), crossing legally, and the car should have waited at the stop sign until I was safely across the street.  And there was no doubt that the woman who was driving the car saw me, because she turned and stared at me as she drove by.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit ticked off.  I glared at her, although my sunglasses probably meant she couldn’t see my angry expression.  And when I saw her pull into the shelter parking lot and get out of her car, I made a special note of what she looked like.  Then I mentally rehearsed exactly what I would say to this woman if our paths crossed, and none of it was particularly nice.  I was going to point out that stop signs mean “stop” and not simply “slow down a little,” especially when someone is in the crosswalk.  And I was going to ask how she was so certain that I would actually see her in time to stop and not get hit by her car?  I was right and she was wrong, and I wanted to make sure she knew it.

But she stopped at the front desk, and didn’t come near the area where I was returning my dog to its run and leashing up the next dog to take for a walk, so I lost track of the woman until about twenty minutes later, when I saw her leaving the building just as I was coming back in.  I don’t know if she remembered me or not, but she smiled pleasantly at the dog I was walking, and rather than pointing out the error of her ways, I found myself smiling at her and saying hello.  She responded by beaming back at me and adding, “What a cute little dog you’ve got there!”  I agreed that he was, and went on my way.

Now you might think that I was ashamed of myself for wimping out, or that I was nice to the woman simply because I was am shelter volunteer and she was a potential client, and I am always nice to the clients.  But neither would be true.  I was actually just happy to discover that this woman, who had aroused such fury in my heart just a little while before, was actually very nice, even if her driving skills left a lot to be desired.  I actually felt more lighthearted in that moment than I had all day. Yes, she had “done me wrong,” but I let go of the need to point that out to her, and I’m glad I did.

We share our world with millions of other human beings, most of whom are going to do things we don’t like from time to time, sometimes intentionally but more often not. Maybe this woman really didn’t see me when she pulled away from the stop sign and only saw me when she was passing me, and that was the reason she turned and stared. Or maybe she was just in a hurry and made a very bad judgement call.  I’ll never know.

What I do know is that all of us make mistakes, all of us occasionally misjudge people and situations, and all of us sometimes get a bit careless when we are in a hurry.  I also know that when we see someone else making those mistakes or bad judgments, its only natural to want to point it out and correct them.  But I don’t think its necessary or helpful to do so, as no one likes to have their faults pointed out to them.  Usually pointing out someone’s mistakes just makes that person defensive and angry, not remorseful and determined to do better next time.

Obviously, we do have a moral obligation to speak up when someone (human or animal) is being neglected or abused, and I will always do that.  But I’m not talking about anything that serious.  I’m talking about all the little times in the day when we feel wronged by someone else, or notice that someone is not doing things exactly the way he or she should, and want to let them know about it.  I honestly believe that in those cases, its much better just to “let it go,” and that when we do, everybody benefits.

It’s All About Attitude

IMG_0055Last Friday night, my husband and I took some very good friends to the local “Balloon Glow,” which is an event held the night before the Great Forest Park Balloon Race. Everyone gathers in the park to watch the giant hot-air balloons being blown up, and after it gets dark, the balloons light up randomly, a few seconds at a time.  Every so often, a loud whistle blows as a signal that all the balloons are going to be lit up at the same time.  It’s an incredibly beautiful sight.

My husband and I have been to this event several times, but this was the first year that this couple joined us, and they were very excited to see the balloons all lit up.  They brought their camera, and we came early to beat the crowds and make sure we didn’t miss anything.  We even paid extra to attend a special fund-raising event at the Balloon Glow that meant we would have a place to sit and enjoy drinks and dinner while we enjoyed the sights.  Unfortunately, it was so windy that night that they were unable to even blow up the balloons, much less light them.  So we had come all that way, and paid all that money, just to see a bunch of deflated balloons lying on the ground.

IMG_0057Now it could have been a horrible evening, with our disappointment leading to non-stop grumbling and complaining, and even anger at the decision not to proceed with the Balloon Glow, since frankly, it didn’t seem all that windy to us. We kept hoping that they would blow the balloons up and light them for just a few minutes, or maybe even just a few of the balloons, and were definitely disappointed for our friends when that didn’t happen. But our friends were very gracious about it and pointed out that they were spending a nice Fall evening out in a beautiful city park, enjoying dinner and drinks with good friends.  And we followed their lead, making the conscious decision to simply relax and enjoy ourselves rather than fret over what “should have been.”

Later, it occurred to me that the whole evening was a great example of how little control we often have in what happens to us, but how much control we have in how we choose to react to what happens to us.  I couldn’t make the wind die down, and (although I had the good sense not to try), I’m quite sure I couldn’t have convinced any of the event’s leaders to proceed with the Balloon Glow despite the wind.  But what I could do was acknowledge our disappointment, and then let go of it, and simply get on with having a nice night out with dear friends.  And I can honestly say that we had a wonderful time together, even without the hot-air balloons.

There will always be bad stuff in our lives, from the minor disappointments of deflated balloons, to the major stuff of serious illnesses, natural disasters, financial hardships and the like, and there will be times when we just have to let ourselves feel the anger, fear and hurt that comes with them.  But even in the worst of times, we can choose to look for and embrace the good that is always there if we just allow ourselves to see it and respond to it.  Good stuff and bad stuff are always with us, but we get to choose which one we dwell on, and I believe that life is so much better we when try our very best to focus on the good.  It’s not always easy, but it is always worth it.

Wedding Memories

IMG_0615When my daughter’s fiancé first told us he was going to propose, I was very happy and excited for her, right up to the moment I realized I was going to have to help plan and host the wedding, at which point the panic set in.  I just couldn’t imagine that we would be able to pull together all the little details of such a huge event (whatever happened to the days when a wedding meant a quick ceremony in the sanctuary, followed by cake and punch in the church basement?) even knowing that my daughter is a very organized person who would be doing most of the work herself.  Multi-tasking has never been my strong point, and in weddings, the devil is definitely in the details.  There were many times in the past year when I thought herding fifty cats would have been much easier.

But we did it.  My daughter got married last Saturday, and all the important things went according to plan.  The weather was perfect, everyone was where they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be there, the ceremony was beautiful, and the reception was fun.  I had been told that, after all that planning and work, the day would just fly by, and that was so true.  I really don’t have a strong, clear memory of it that I can share when people ask, “How did the wedding go?”

IMG_0666What I do have are a series of mental pictures of the highlights of the day.  First, I remember how beautiful my daughter looked when she first put on her dress in the chapel of the church, and how proud I was when she walked down the aisle with her father.  After the ceremony, I remember watching everyone gather in the front of the church for family pictures, and I remember thinking how lucky the bride and groom were to have such a large, loving family to support them in their marriage.

I remember the slight panic I felt during the cocktail hour, as I stood on the edge of the crowded room and realized that I needed to circulate and greet the guests.  I much prefer to stay “behind the scenes” at large social gatherings, working quietly to make sure everything is going well, and I am never comfortable in large crowds.

Later, when we were seated in the ballroom and they introduced the wedding party as they came in, I remember the precious sight of my son (a groomsman) walking in with a bridesmaid on his left arm while holding the hand of the little Junior Bridesmaid on his right.  And then my daughter and her new husband came in, and I realized that all the planning, work and money had been worth it, just for that moment alone.

There are lots of other special memories:  the toasts, the first dance, seeing my eight-five year old mother dancing to some modern song with my nephew (as one of my friends told me later, “your mother still has the moves!”), and finally, everyone out on the dance floor for the final song, dancing and singing along to Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places.”  (I knew my daughter would work a country song in there somewhere.)

I firmly believe that every bride is beautiful on her wedding day, just as every groom is handsome.  I also firmly believe that true beauty comes from within, and what made my daughter and her new husband so pleasing to look at had nothing to do with their physical appearance, and everything to do with the way they kept looking at each other throughout the day.  The happiness and the love for each other I saw on their faces made them a very beautiful couple, and that’s a beauty that will, hopefully, stay with them for the rest of their lives ….

Wedding Hopes

I usually write a blog post on Sunday, but since this Sunday happens to be the day after my daughter’s wedding, I decided I’d better write it now, and simply publish it on Sunday. And since I have no idea how my daughter’s wedding will actually go, I decided that I’d write about how I hoped it went instead.

We had a few glitches this past week, but I’m hoping that the wedding ceremony went ahead as planned and that it was both beautiful and meaningful.  I’m also hoping I didn’t do anything to embarrass my daughter, like tripping down the aisle, knocking over the unity candle, or crying during the ceremony.  (All very real possibilities, trust me.) The ceremony is the heart and soul of any wedding, and I hope it was everything my daughter and her finance wanted it to be.

IMG_0612I hope that the wedding party was able to get some nice outdoor photos during the time between the ceremony and the reception, as my daughter absolutely loves photos, and her finance has learned to be very patient about posing for pictures.  (They are already getting started on the give-and-take of married life.)   And I hope that after riding around on the party bus that was taking them from one photo op to another for three hours, that the newlyweds made it to the cocktail hour in time to thank their guests for coming.  We have been both surprised and touched by how many people are planning to come to the wedding, even when it means traveling across the country.  That kind of support is priceless.

I hope that the reception was nice:  the food was good, my husband made it through his welcome speech without having a panic attack, that people enjoyed dancing, etc.  I hope that my daughter and her finance realized how blessed they are to share their wedding day with so many of their friends and family, all together in one big room. It isn’t often in life that you get to have all of the people you love in the same place and at the same time, and that is a big part of what makes weddings so special.

I hope we remembered to thank everyone who helped us pull the wedding together, as there is no way we could have done this without them.  We had friends and family help with the centerpieces and decorations, provide transportation, take photos, provide food, and most importantly, give their advice and support when it was so desperately needed.  We’ll never be able to thank them enough.

I hope that my daughter and her new husband enjoyed their special day, and that it was all they imagined it would be.   Despite all the planning, money and work that goes into the actual wedding day, it is over so very quickly.  But mostly, I hope that my daughter and my new son-in-law have a long and happy life together, and they grow to love and appreciate each other even more than they already do as they journey through life together.  And if they should happen to decide to provide my husband and I with a grandchild or two, that would be a nice touch as well…..

Planning Ahead?

IMG_0291As anyone who has ever met me knows, I am really, really, good at worrying. For me, worrying is almost as natural as breathing, and for the most part, if I’m breathing, I’m also worrying about something.  So I knew that when my daughter got engaged, I was going to have to make an honest effort to just go along with her decisions, to simply dig in and do the work that is required to pull off a wedding these days and try my very best to trust that things would all work out.

I’ve been making a very conscious effort not to think about all the things that could possibly go wrong, which is my usual approach to just about everything.  I know that sounds awfully negative, but it’s really not.  My theory is that if I have anticipated a possible problem and already figured out a solution, or at least an acceptable reaction to the problem, then I don’t have to think about it anymore.  Because if the problem happens, I already know what I’m going to do about it.  Still, I knew my habit of obsessing over potential problems was going to drive my daughter, her fiancé and my husband all crazy so I tried very hard not to do it, and mostly succeeded.

IMG_0297So that might explain why I wasn’t as prepared for this, the week before the big wedding, as I would normally have been.  When a representative from the church called yesterday to say that our minister had been called out of town for a family emergency and wouldn’t be able to do the wedding, I didn’t have another minister already in mind who could do the service.  (Luckily, they did.)  And when my husband called early this morning to say that when he called the limo service to verify where they are taking the bridal party for their after-wedding photos and got a recording saying that the phone number was no longer in service, I had no back up plan handy.  And when my daughter texted me a little later to let me know that the dentist just told her she needs to have a root canal tomorrow and asked what I thought she should do, I had to fight the urge to tell her to call her father and do whatever he advised.

Now I know that the odds are very high that everything will all work out just fine.  The problem with the limo service was simply with the phone system, and they didn’t really go out of business three days before the wedding and two days after we made the final payment.  My daughter is going to a very good dental specialist and I’m sure the procedure will actually make her feel much better, as who wants to get married with a sore tooth?   And the church’s Wedding Coordinator has been in close touch, assuring me that he will make sure everything goes well during the ceremony.

I still think that I would have handled the problems that have arisen in the last forty-eight hours a little bit better if I had followed my usual routine of thinking of all the things that could possibly go wrong with the wedding and had already identified some solutions.  My system of planning for potential problems (also known as worrying) may not be everyone’s cup of tea.  But I have reached the point in my life where I realize that it’s what works for me.

Missed Connections

Heather and II have to admit that I have a love/hate relationship with social media.  On the one hand, I have reconnected with many old friends since I joined Facebook several years ago, and I love seeing what people I haven’t talked to in decades are doing these days.  It’s great to get to catch up with old friends, to share memories, and to see photos of their families.  I no longer have to worry about forgetting most people’s birthdays, because Facebook is always there to remind me.  I have friends who brag about not being on Facebook, and while I understand why they choose not to participate, I sometimes wonder if they really know what they are missing.

On the other hand, I am still an introvert who needs a certain level of privacy to feel comfortable, and I’m not exactly a master of new technology.  I have a Facebook page, but I don’t have a Twitter account, and I’m not even sure what Instagram is.  In the huge pool of social media, I am definitely staying in the shallow water.

But the real problem I have with social media is with its limitations, and I worry about whether we always remember that a Facebook friend is not the same thing as a real friend, and that a “tweet” will never be a substitute for a real conversation.  On social media, we post about what we are doing, where we are, who we are with, and (oddly enough) even what we are eating.  We share photos of our family and friends, our vacations, or a project that we’ve completed, and that’s all just fine.  But the one thing that I have never seen posted (and I would bet that it’s rarely, if ever, tweeted) is the simple question, “How are you doing?”

And that, to my mind, is the difference between friendship and communication in social media, and friendship and communication in real life.  Social media is all about   showcasing ourselves, and usually in the best possible light.  Real-life friendships require true connections, with the chance to tell each other the hard stuff…our self-doubts, our struggles, our not-so-broadcastable moments.  Real communication involves listening as well as talking, with an honest and open exchange of ideas, and the chance to learn from each other.  Most of the back and forth exchanges I see on Facebook involve hateful arguments about politics and religion, and I never see any evidence that the people writing those comments are actually listening to each other, much less caring about each other.

I think that social media is, by its very nature, usually a bit superficial, and that’s okay.  There’s nothing wrong with the casual connections we form there, the chance to catch up with faraway friends, and the chance to quickly and easily keep track of each other.  And sometimes social media is used to tell bad news and to request the prayers and support that help so much during these dark times.   But it will never be a substitute for one-on-one communication, or the real friendships and the deeper, more personal relationships that we all need, and I think it’s important that we remember that.

In the real world, the quality of the friendship matters so much more than the numbers of friends we have, and real communication is never like a Facebook post that is judged by how many “likes” it gets.  Social media definitely has its place, but in my opinion, it also needs to be kept in its place.  And that place should never be center stage.

A Firm Foundation

DSC01527When I first started this blog, I had no real idea what blogging was all about.  I just knew that I wanted the chance to write about coping with the stage of life that we call middle age, and I wanted to do it in a format that allowed me the freedom to write exactly what I wanted to write, when I wanted to write it.  I was tired of the assigned subjects and deadlines that came with freelance writing, and I was especially tired of having so many of my fiction manuscripts returned to me with a rejection letter attached.  Blogging seemed to be a perfect way to write without having to deal with other people’s expectations, and I thought I had found a perfect creative outlet.

I told myself at the beginning that I wasn’t going to care if my blog was particularly successful or not, because I wasn’t planning to try to make money from it, and I thought that making money was only real reason to try to attract huge numbers of readers.  Honestly, I knew there was a very real chance that I would have exactly six readers:  my husband, my two kids, my mother, and the two good friends who encouraged me to start this blog in the first place.  (Thank you, Jacque and Jeanie!)

But then I started publishing my posts, and I soon learned that it was actually very nice to see the number of “visitors” and “views” on my blog stats page grow beyond the six person mark.  I was thrilled when perfect strangers took the time to write a nice comment after a post, and touched when old friends reached out to tell me how much they identified with what I wrote.  I was surprised at how easy it was to make friends with other bloggers.  It wasn’t long before I found that I was beginning to care very much about how many people were reading my blog, and I began to pay attention to all those guides out there on “how to increase your blog’s audience.”

And that’s where the whole thing began to get complicated.  Wordpress is designed to make it easy for me to keep track of which of my blog posts are the most popular, and even when I ought to post them.  (I have the highest numbers on Sunday, at 5:00.)  Not surprisingly, my posts that had the broadest appeal also had the highest number of readers, and I found that including some photos also helped.  But the problem was, the more I became focused on raising my number of readers, the less I enjoyed actually writing the blog.

Self-awareness comes slowly to me, so it took me quite a while to figure out that the problem was I had wandered too far from my original purpose in writing this blog.  I had started out wanting to share my experiences of coping with middle age mostly with friends and family, and anyone else who happened to relate to what I had to say.  I had wanted to write without worrying about other people’s expectations, but instead, I had begun to focus on how “successful” a particular post would be.  When I got an idea for a blog post, I would immediately wonder whether that idea would be popular.  Then, if a post did very well, I just worried that my next post would not be as good.  And if a post didn’t do well, I felt as if I had, in some important but obscure way, failed.   Worrying about my numbers was sucking the joy right out of blogging.

So, it’s time for me to get back to the basics.  I want to enjoy writing this blog, and I want to write it for the people who actually enjoy reading it.  And while there may be times when I’d like to be able to say that number is in the thousands, the truth is that I have only 144 followers.  Like all writers, I do want people to read what I am writing.  But I also want my writing to be meaningful, honest, and always the best that I can produce.  Because that is my own, personal, definition of success.