Class (And Glass) Warfare

Growing up in Wisconsin, my mother’s most prolific advice, which was usually offered up at least once a day during what felt like the presence of nine months’ worth of winter per year, was this: Don’t forget to dress in layers.

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If memory serves, these words were likely uttered as much a reminder to herself, during the span of one full decade, where the poor woman tried to live with a biologically unbalanced hormonal heating and cooling unit housed within her own body, as to the rest of us, pointing to the fact that we lived on the perimeter of the frozen tundra. You were usually either outside, where one could occasionally entertain yourself by spitting icicles waiting for the morning school bus, or inside, where woodstoves were cranking out such an impressive amount of heat, most people’s homes could easily double as a sweat lodge.

But for my mom, I do believe the idea of recalibrating her settings to some sort of acceptable functional state was as elusive a finding as locating the Holy Grail—it’s mythological, tons of movies have been written about it, and some of the fight scenes still have us doubling over with laughter when recalling them.

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Back to the idea of layers.

It really had me thinking lately about how complex we, as human beings, truly are. Depending upon the situation, it’s not unlikely that we rarely show—or know—who we claim to be. And uncovering that which is camouflaged can either be as mouth-wateringly exciting as digging into that triple decker hot fudge banoffee pie parfait, or as painful as peeling back an onion, where the whole endeavor, although necessary to accomplish that life-sustaining ritual we call dinner, will have you weeping and bitter over the caustic exercise.

To illustrate, as per my usual methods, I will use examples from all that’s within arm’s (and eye’s and ear’s) reach around me.

I’m a writer.

I live in (or rather get my rations from) a town where you cannot swing a dead cat without bumping into another resident’s published book.

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You cannot order a cup of coffee at the counter without hearing someone behind you utter the phrase, “Well, with my first novel …” And the introductory expression, “My therapist says,” has long been replaced with its shinier version, “My critique group pointed out …”

I think you get my point.

We are a community of book-bosomed logophiles whose end-of-year financial ledgers reveal we’ve contributed the same number of pennies to the local coffeehouse for liquid sustenance as we have to the library for our overdue book fines.

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But there are writers and then there are writers.

I have heard my town’s writerly residents humorously described as usually belonging to one of two strata of the classic French pastry, the Napoleon, or the mille-feuille. You’re either like the puff pastry—where you’re flaky and half-cracked, and people make a wide berth of you because you’re temperamental and difficult to work with, or you’re the pastry cream custard—where you’re likely too rich for your own good, you find yourself spread out too thinly, and everyone wants a lick of you.

Together, we are the elements that make one kickass memorable mouthful, alone, we are broken down into the ingredients that most physicians warn you to stay clear of in order to maintain optimum health.

My town loves to separate itself into these definitive, identifying tiers. Do you do yoga or yoga?

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Translation: Do you attend a class where the Native American flute music is often jarringly interrupted by the high-pitched feedback loop of a plethora of hyper-sensitive hearing aids and everyone breathes a sigh of relief no one threw a hip during the hour? Or do you attend a class where the temperature on the room’s thermostat is a topic for debate for the Intergovernmental Panel as to whether it may be a contributing factor to climate change and people leave the studio utterly amazed at just how much anger they’ve been storing in their thighs?

Here’s another one. Do you eat health food or do you eat health food? Translation: Do you shop at Whole Foods, or do you buy half your food from the myriad closet-sized natural food stores in town and forage the rest of your meals from within the cracks of concrete parking lots and roadside ditches—and of course only harvest the edible, invasive species that likely deplete the earth from its over-reaped holistic nutrients because we have to feed the earth as well as ourselves?

It can be tough to be “authentic” in this community.

Of course, there’s also the level of success one has achieved that stridently separates the massive cluster of word-slingers in my village, and that was made indisputably evident the last time I hauled my empties down to the local recycling center a few days ago. It can be a sobering and illuminating realization of where exactly you stand in the accomplishment stratification when elbow to elbow with someone whose prosperous wordsmithing has them dumping out a couple of wooden crates full of bottles previously filled with Dom Perignon and Louis Roederer Cristal whilst I am unloading a cardboard box full of empty Two Buck Chuck.

It probably wouldn’t sting so badly if my neighbor’s raised eyebrow of acknowledgment didn’t also silently smirk and say, “How’s the book comin’, kid?”

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Makes me think I should probably take my mom’s sage advice and keep a few extra sweaters on hand. They may be useful to pass out along with the myriad icy stares I give in return to that unspoken question.

~Shelley

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A Peek at What’s Coming Down the Pike

And here we are, folks. A peek into DEAR OPL–a project of mine that began probably around the same time ancient Babylonian astronomers were first discovering some of our solar system’s inner planets.

You’ll see the synopsis, the first chapter, and the first press reviews by Kirkus.

I hope you’ll enjoy.

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SYNOPSIS

There is a sinkhole deep inside thirteen-year-old Opl Oppenheimer, and for two years she’s plugged the leak with a wad of junk food. But a hole from heartbreak is tricky. And anyone who’s experienced eighth-grade science frog dissection knows a heart can’t be repaired by a bubblegum band-aid. Worse still, overweight Opl now faces diabetes and must swallow the bitter news that sugar is the problem and not the solution to filling the empty space her dad’s presence used to occupy. Even the school’s galling version of celebrity chef Alfie Adam’s Meal Madness is turning Opl’s self-prescribed soothing syrups into miserable medicine. Mock meat and healthy colon slogans plague the lunchroom walls, encouraging change. But Opl can’t see the value of changing her whole life to save her future since it’s the past she wants to retrieve.

Opl identifies a scapegoat for her growing burdens and rallies an internet attack on Alfie Adam. The plan backfires, threatening the success of her mom’s bookstore, the loss of her best friendship and an international lawsuit. To win back her friend, Opl is forced to pledge allegiance to her arch enemy–the health-crazed chef, but in doing so realizes that, just like kimchi, festering problems, if handled correctly, can produce something a whole community can savor.

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DEAR OPL

by Shelley Sackier

Chapter One

The dark enveloped me, squishing my lungs. Like the engulfing bear hug you get from an uncle who’s built like a lumberjack. But this black was so tarry and thick, it made me feel as if I were breathing syrup and forced my heart to thud in my chest. I blinked again and again, and squinted hard, hoping something—anything— would come into focus. I wanted to sprint for my bed, to hide beneath my quilt, where nothing but fuzzy warmth and an old licorice stick are allowed. But I needed this. I couldn’t leave because I had to get rid of the awful ache that poked at my sleep. If I fed it, like a lion at the zoo, it would circle and grow quiet. Sometimes.

Even though I wasn’t supposed to.

My hands fluttered in front of me, like a couple of blind butterflies. They bumped against a pointed edge. I jerked back, thinking I’d been bit, but I took a breath and crept forward until I touched it once more. I traced my skittish fingers along its form until I felt certain the thing wouldn’t strike at me with sharpened fangs and light up with red demonic eyes. It was a box of cereal. And it had to be Froot Loops because the pantry was a bundle of lip-smacking scents like tangy lemon, zingy orange, electric lime, and mouth-watering cherry. This meant Ollie had left the bag open and steam would shoot out of Mom’s ears because it’ll have gone stale by morning. I sighed with relief because as far as I knew, no one has ever been seriously injured by sugary, ring-shaped cereal. Then, again, maybe my younger brother would be the first.

I pushed the box aside and moved my hands higher up. I knocked another smaller carton to the floor, where it bounced off my sock-covered foot. I squatted, sweeping my hands across the floorboards until I found it. Bringing the package to my nose, I sniffed its edges. It smelled like Thanksgiving—well, not the last one, but the twelve others before that. It smelled of cinnamon and apples. It smelled of happiness.

I opened the box and felt inside, my fingers searching for more of the memory. They picked up a tiny pouch. A tea bag. It made the sound of Mom’s old flower seed envelopes, the ones she held up each spring and shook like tiny maracas. “April showers bring May flowers! Let’s go plant some future sunshine.”

That didn’t happen this spring. Or the one before it.

I fumbled about until I found an empty spot I could push the tea bags into and then let my fingers wander farther across the shelf. They collided into something crinkly. Bingo!

I pressed my hands around the package. It had the right sound—like crunching plastic—when I squeezed it. I pulled it to my nose. Yes, definitely the right smell. And not one I could attach to any other thing. It was powdery sweet. Buttery. Not quite chocolate but deep, like cocoa. It mixed with scents of sugared vanilla—a cream so luscious, it ran slickly against your tongue. This was not just a food; it was a feeling. I wanted those Oreos so badly my mouth started watering like a mini sprinkler.

I felt around for the opening, the plastic pullback tab that granted you access right to the very heart of the package and the cure-all cookies. Tonight’s remedy. But something was wrong. The pull tab was missing. I groped the front and back, skimming its sides, trying to catch the sticky edge like you do when your Scotch tape has come off the metal ridge and sealed itself back onto the roll. It wasn’t there. I couldn’t find it.

Something brushed against my cheek and I reeled back in fright, bumping into the rickety pantry steps behind me. My fingers slapped at my face, but found only my hair falling out of its messy ponytail. With a racing heartbeat, I ventured a hand along the wall, searching for the light switch. Then I pulled back. I’d better not turn on the pantry bulb, because the glow would creep down the hall and shine like a headlight through Mom’s open bedroom door. She was a super light sleeper. She could leap out of bed at the sound of a cricket passing gas on the back porch.

But I needed those cookies.

A flashlight! That’s the answer. I bent down to hunt the lower shelf beneath the microwave. In my mind I could see four of them on the ledge, lined up like eager soldiers: sentries of the dark. But I bumped into one and they tumbled like dominos. I held my breath, trying to absorb the clunking sounds. I made that lungful stay put and listened, wishing I had a third ear. At the relief of no footsteps rushing into the kitchen, I grasped one of the tipsy warriors against the dark, flipped its switch, and looked at the package in my other hand. I held the Oreos all right, but they’d been double packaged, slipped inside a Ziploc bag along with a folded piece of stationery.

I sat down on the old wine crate Mom used as a step, forgetting about how badly it creaked, and unzipped the plastic bag. I pulled out the note and tilted the beam toward the words. It said:
Dear Opal,
Please don’t eat these. Remember your diet.
I love you,
Mom

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To Pre-order DEAR OPL (Published August 4, 2015)

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In the two years since her father’s death from cancer, Opal’s life has gone awry.

Grief and her family’s altered dynamics have contributed to Opal’s struggles with food and weight. She is increasingly at odds with her mother, who is overwhelmed and distracted. When her mother encourages Opal to start a blog as a way to document her food intake, Opal decides to use it to express her thoughts instead. Soon, Opal’s sharp, humorous observations as “Opl” garner interest as people respond to her commentary. Sackier captures Opal’s emotional turmoil as she grieves for her father and resists her mother’s campaign to persuade her to diet. When a savage blog entry directed at a popular chef earns Opal criticism from her best friend, remorse—along with an alarming health diagnosis from Opal’s doctor—compels Opal to reconsider the chef’s healthful-food philosophy. Sackier conveys a message about healthy habits without lecturing. Opal’s adventures in cooking and yoga—with occasionally comical results—alter her perspective, and her changing attitudes reflect her personal and emotional transformation. As Opal endeavors to better understand who she is, she gains a greater awareness of others’ life circumstances as well. When a chance encounter leads to Opal’s acquaintance with Rudy, a regular visitor to the local soup kitchen, Opal devises a kindhearted plan to help him.

By the story’s conclusion, readers will be happy they traveled with Opal on her journey to self-acceptance. (Fiction. 10-14)

*ROBIN GOTT’S NEW POST* (click)

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

I Knew It! It’s Only a Matter of Time.

All you have is the NOW.”

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This is a quote from my yoga teacher. She reminds me twice a week that there is the past, and the potential, but most important is the present.

This moment.

And once it goes, it’s gone.

I wrestled with that quote for an entire hour last week during class, trying to unravel it. Those six little monosyllabic words. It was harder to pay attention to than I thought it would be. My thoughts have a habit of being way ahead of my body—or way behind it. The idea of syncing the two together is about as easy as the concept of bowling in space or playing tennis underwater. Not a lot of success, and hugely effortful.

I understand the need for a point of convergence mostly because I’ve benefitted when I’ve arrived at exactly that spot. But these are tiny chunks of time—slivers really. Twenty minutes of meditation where maybe out of those twenty minutes I was fully present for about four of them. The other sixteen were thinking about my grocery list, what books were due at the library, or how to encourage my plumber to put whisky, red wine, and chocolate sauce on tap in my kitchen.

I know. I get distracted. But it’s nearly impossible for me shut down that thought factory.

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The idea of remaining mentally engaged is a no-brainer for me—although that’s clearly a poor choice of words. As a writer, I need access to my stores of creativity and a method of churning up its source to keep the vault filled to capacity. Damned is the day I open that door, reach in and pull out nothing but a fistful of mothball scented air. I also need cerebral acuity in order to keep up with my kids. Once I discover they’re slowing their speech and purposefully choosing words that would be dismissed as too difficult for a fourth-grade spelling bee I am toast.

I’m grateful to my yoga and meditation teachers who all seem to carry the parade-sized banner that states: Found yourself distracted by other thoughts? No worries! Start again. It’s rather an amazing club to belong to where you thankfully realize that J.K. Simmons is not your mentor and you will never get slapped upside the head for losing the count.

But the measurement of time—or time perspective—is often where I get caught in a circular loop. I once heard psychologist Philip Zimbardo lecture about how time—as our current culture defines it—can be broken into six segments.

You can have a Past time perspective, where you focus on the positive or negative, a Present time perspective, where you focus on hedonism or fatalism, or a Future time perspective, where you focus on life goals or the transcendental.

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I may pen Dr. Zimbardo a note to suggest a quick conversation with my hero Neil deGrasse Tyson who believes we could possibly add a seventh segment to time perspective that I’ll call Sideways. Neil says, realistically, if there’s a forward and backward and a ‘stay where you are’ on the measurement of time, there’s likely a left and a right built in there too, but we’re just not seeing it yet.

Yep. Mushroom-shaped, mind-blowing thought, eh? See why I can’t stay focused?

But I think I’ve discovered what would help me on all fronts of time measurement and it’s a ridiculously simple solution, and yet an impossible one.

HIT PAUSE.

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Stopping time altogether seems like an answer that would affect the past, the future and the present—and likely those wonky side bits Neil says are invisibly hanging about. How?

If for twenty-four hours I could stop time entirely I could work at fevered pitch, press play and then realize that the next day I’d wake up and be a paltry nineteen days behind schedule rather than the overwhelming twenty I’ve currently tallied. That might make a dent in the past and I’d feel a more ‘positive past time perspective.’

Or I could use the time to make a massive deposit in my depleted sleep bank and snooze through the two dozen hours. This would surely display my tendencies toward ‘hedonistic present time perspective.’

Or lastly, I could finally fill out that Last Will & Testament, write sappy farewell love letters to my children, build myself a sturdy pine box and locate the tree I’d like to be buried beneath as a clear illustration of my ‘transcendental future time perspective’ because the alternative of devoting those windfall hours to ‘life goals’ would do nothing but demonstrate that God had somehow managed to insert an eighth day to the week, as it would be the same as the seven before it.

No. It must be unique.

Twenty-four blissful bonus hours of time not moving even one tiny inch forward. I could catch up, I could sleep or I could focus entirely on my impending death.

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Umm … it may not be as tough a choice as I once thought.

Yep. Those extra hours sure would be appreciated. In fact, maybe the best idea would be to devote the day to increasing my success with that whole mind/body being in the moment goal.

So, for now I’ll put the past behind me and I’ll set aside the future. Because as all the great Zen masters say, there’s no time like the present.

Except for the ones Neil says we can’t see.

~Shelley

*BONUS ROBIN GOTT CARTOON!* (click)

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

 

 

Speak Softly and Carry a Big Acronym

I have gotten many gifts from my dad; some of them were of the tangible sort: the occasional candy bar from winning a bet, a high school graduation gift of an entire dollar that he made me swear not to tell my siblings about, and a United States Marine Corps sweatshirt to help advertise his pride of service to that particular branch of the armed forces.

And there have been the non-tangible gifts as well: the deep seated knowledge that everyone deserves kindness, the fact that it is better to listen than to hold court, and that one’s curiosity should be insatiable.

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I have cherished each of these gifts and put them all to good use. So thanks, Dad. Much appreciated.

Yesterday, I had an appointment for a car service—routine maintenance, nothing fancy shmancy, just keeping everything up to date and on a regular schedule. I’m a little neurotic that way. Schedules are chiseled in stone for me, and chisels do not come with an eraser.

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I’m good about planning, and a little freaky when it comes to timeliness. I plan for traffic and throw in an extra minute or two for the unexpected, because the unexpected almost always occurs, and the unexpected usually likes to bring friends.

When I made the appointment, I was told that the shop had a shuttle, and they’d be happy to drop me off at my yoga class two and a half miles away. It takes me thirty minutes to get to the shop. I booked forty-five and put half an hour in between appointment time and class time. Loads of time.

It’s as if time were an innertube and I walked with it looped around my waist, buffered and cushioned with all it’s superfluous bits.

I backtracked around the first accident, sat patiently through an unusually high level of traffic, and gave myself a high five for still managing to show up one minute early for the car service. But instead of a shuttle, I was greeted with a Sorry, ma’am, the shuttle juuust left to drop someone else off, but they’ll be back lickity split. Ten minutes tops.

Uh huh.

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I sat in the lounge stewing as the clock rushed through my spare time. And every five minutes stood up to glare into the mirrored window of what I assumed was the manager’s office and inner sanctum.

Four minutes before my five-minutes-down-the-road class, the Lickity Split Shuttle puttered into the parking lot with a young man behind the wheel who had either yet to realize he was out of bed, and not still sucking plaster off the walls, or had been told that this shuttle drive was literally his last chance at keeping this premium job, and if he didn’t follow the rules of the road to a T, he’d be back to emptying Port-O-Potties at the local Rent-A-Center. So he was careful. And painfully slow.

Or perhaps just driving under the influence of unconsciousness.

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We inched our way down the road, where I finally told him to pull over, as right about then I felt like a good ole fashion sprint would do my lungs a world of good. Shouting, “GET THE LED OUT, BUDDY!” would have made them even happier, but by the looks of the kid, I figured he had had a lifetime of shouting shoved into about three teenage years, so I kept it all in check.

After my class, I chose to walk back to the garage. This is where the mechanic came out and handed me my keys with an apology.

“Uh, yeah, we did all we could do.”

“I beg your pardon?”

The mechanic scratched the back of his head and then slumped over the counter. “Yeah, for some weird reason, we can’t get the brake pad light to turn off.”

I narrowed my eyes at the grease-stained man. “Did you by chance check the brake pads?”

“Uh huh.”

“I vote you check them again.”

The man snorted and shrugged. And then left the lounge.

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I quickly called my dad. I explained the problem. He asked me a series of questions. I responded with, “You do realize you’re using words I have never heard before. You’ve gone into auto verbiage. I’ve yet to learn that language.”

Well, he gave me a few pointers—questions to ask, but more importantly the confidence to speak up and get the service I paid for.

The manager came out of his mirrored office and stood next to the mechanic. “Sorry to say, but your best bet is to take it to the dealer and have them run a series of diagnostics. There’s nothing we can do. We’ve run all our tests, taken the sensor in and out, rebooted the computers and gave it a test drive. Something is faulty. Just take it to the dealer.” He then gave me a look that suggested I might want to get back home to that stew in the crockpot and the cake in the oven. Maybe change a diaper and throw in a load of laundry.

“Have you tried calling the dealer to speak with one of their mechanics?”

“Oh, no, they won’t talk to us,” he chuckled, shaking his head.

It was clear he thought speaking to me was a waste of his time. My instinct was to say, “Well, okay, I guess I’ll have to do as you say,” because … because I trust people are telling me the truth. But my dad’s voice was still fresh in my head. I took a big breath.

“Doesn’t seem right that I bring a car to you that has no issues only to be given it back with an issue now does it?” I zipped up my sweatshirt. “I think you guys have got a problem to solve.”

The manager looked down at my chest and then back up to my eyes. “You know what? Have a seat. Let me just have a quick looksee.”

I did, and sat for two minutes wondering how the hell my little show of bravado suddenly changed this fellow’s mind.

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The manager came back out with a big smile on his face. “I think it’s a small matter of a bad sensor on our part. I can have a new one here tomorrow by fourteen hundred hours.”

I gave him a long look and then took my cars keys that he offered in his outstretched hand. “Okay,” I said, nodding. “I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon.”

“Have a good one now,” he said as I turned to leave. “Semper Fi.”

I was about to turn back and say, What?? when I caught my reflection in his office mirrored window. Proudly sprawled across my chest were the letters that commanded attention, and apparently good service: USMC.

Thanks, Dad.

~Shelley

(And thank you to all people who have served time in the armed forces for their country. Your dedication and service is truly invaluable.)

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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I’ve Learned My Lesson

The other day I mentally took inventory of the most important people in my life. Strangely enough, Ben & Jerry did not quite make the short list. They were close, but had to be cut in order to make room for all the Glens and Bens in my whisky cabinet.

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Some of these folks would be surprised to know that they’re on my list—like Leonard, the weary technician who repeatedly shows up at the door to fix my defunct internet service.

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Or Jimmy, the eighty eight-year old Baptist preacher who sits on a bench outside my tiny, local gas station, intent upon connecting with his flock or passing strays with nothing more than a broad, toothless grin and an embracing hello. And then there’s the sourpuss-faced librarian who I greet two or three times a week. I am determined to see her smile at least once before I die, and I’m guessing the only way that will happen is if I purchase her a pair of shoes that are two sizes larger than the ones she’s currently wearing.

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The interesting thing I discovered while thumbing through the short list was that nearly everyone on it was a teacher.

The teachers I have had could be divided even further into subcategories: the good, the bad, and the under investigation. It has been said that kids cannot learn from teachers they don’t like—that one would realize a far better outcome for a student if they highlighted the three correctly answered quiz questions out of twenty rather than stapling a fast food restaurant application to the top page.

If I were to take a hard, calculating look around and behind me, from the present moment back to my first flash of sentient thought, I bet I could easily say that I have spent most of my life swimming in a pool of teachers. In fact, I believe we could all say that, because we have lessons to learn from every person we interact with—if you look deeply enough.

The lessons are constant and subtle, or intermittently gargantuan, but they are present whether we recognize them or not, and ride in on the coattails of folks we might never have considered to be those in charge of our lives’ direction.

For instance:

My yoga teacher, whose classes I’ve attended twice a week for the last decade, has become my personal Jiminy Cricket—her voice, a constant presence of gentle encouragement and sage advice. Because of her, I listen to the obvious: what my body can and cannot do, what my body should and should not do, and also the blatant reminder that yoga is not a competitive sport.

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One Hollywood music producer brought into sharp focus two things I would never forget: 1) I am quite agile at dashing around furniture in order to stay away from groping hands, and 2) a well-placed kick can do wonders for sending the message Back off, Buddy, but sucks for career advancement.

The small bewhiskered feline I have been placed in charge of enlightens me daily with the knowledge that sitting still does not necessarily equate with being still, and that the magic of sensory perception will blossom if you practice distilling life down to the minute and overlooked. She has also illuminated the fact that my reflexes suck, and that unless I am approaching her with food, I had best do a one eighty and rethink the value of ungrazed flesh.

I have had music instructors who have encouraged me, following a performance, with their assessment that I played all of the notes and some even in the right places, and others who have sat back laughing, and then after wiping away the tears in their eyes said, “Okay, play it for real now.”

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I have had teachers who unintentionally cut me to the quick with nothing more than their desire to help. Like the time I received a graded English assignment, still wet with its shellacking of red ink, and a note at the top that said, SEE ME, which I interpreted to be a disapproving nod toward my undeserved confidence with the previous day’s lesson. Consequently, I slunk into the background and never really internalized the rule of It’s I before E except after C

I have even learned some of life’s greatest lessons from the string attached to my tea bags, where dangling from the end is a tiny truism worth remembering:

Experience is a comb which nature gives us when we are bald.

You cannot get to the top by sitting on your bottom. 

And lastly,

The problem with the gene pool is there’s no lifeguard.

We’re all in need of instruction. And finding a good coach to guide you through life is a gift we may not recognize we possessed until after we’ve had our ‘aha’ moment.

Our teachers are there to build up our skills, to broaden our mindset, and to prepare us for the future as it unfolds before us. On the flipside, the old definition is also true: a teacher is simply a person who helps you solve problems you’d never have without them.

But for now, I shall leave you with my favorite life lesson from my pilot instructor of long ago. He quoted Douglas Adams, and said the words applied to nearly everything: Flying is learning how to throw yourself to the ground—and miss.

Now edge on out there to the end of the branch, safe with a parachute holding all your life’s lessons, and leap.

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~Shelley

 

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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Muscle memory; body magic

From the moment I crack an eyelid open at dawn, I am aware of my muscles. Some much more so than others. There are a couple I wish I’d never hear from again, but I’m guessing if you remove one, it’s a bit like pulling on a thread from an intricately woven blanket.

Part of the awareness has come from pain. Okay, initially much of it has come from pain. But thereafter, I found a subtle shift in regards to my cognizance—which turned into quite a seismic shift, and is now part of my every day, my every hour, and occasionally, my every minute mindfulness campaign.

Not having the money, I could not employ a parade full of PR people to follow me around and point out the miracles of muscles 24/7, so I had to go it alone and blow my own horn section.

250514horn (587x800)

The effortless shift of muscle over bone, the smooth and fluid motion of movement is an occurrence I wish for, aim for, and relish. And although there are hundreds of muscles in the human body, all expertly doing their thang with little coaching from me, it’s an easy trap to fall into–barking at the one or two that are acting crankily without recognizing and praising the other bazillion that are following nature’s blueprints.

But it’s not just my muscles that I’m keenly aware of first thing in the morning, but those of my animals as well. Even before setting a toe onto the floor, I pull knees to chest and attempt to test the temperature of whatever waters my back muscles will be floating in today. As I do this, the cat joins in beside me and demonstrates what it would be like to live with a member of Cirque du Soleil. I stick out my tongue, roll out of bed and attempt to erase her morning routine from my mind. Instead I lower myself to the floor next to my hound and give his belly a good morning greeting. In sleepy response, his body elongates to three times its original form and I am in awe, again, as to somebody else’s muscular structure and granted request.

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Faces are washed—we each do our own—and a quick assessment is made in the mirror to measure soap and water’s ability to snap facial muscles back into shape. Everyone agrees it’s a bonus to have fur around your eyes and mouth. There is absolutely no need for wrinkle cream.

I’m the only one who chooses to brush the teeth I own, but while I do so, I start my morning yoga. Adding an extra mental challenge to the task, I fling a sock-covered foot onto the rim of the super-slippery porcelain tub. I attempt a few warrior poses and high lunges to open up my tightly bound hip-flexors in preparation for the day’s demanding task of sitting at my desk, or in my car.

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As I work on my canines, my feline uses the same thin, slick edge to pirouette upon, prance above, and vault from in yet another attempt to flaunt the wide gap between our talents.

She is such a braggart.

I move to an area where I feel my talents surpass hers: the keyboard.

It is here I am reminded of just how fascinating fingers can be. It goes like this:

I think.

Synapses snap.

Fingers fly.

Words are written.

I pause and look at my hands. I wiggle my fingers above the waiting jumble of plastic keys. I mentally applaud the collection of muscles in charge, as I don’t want them to have to generate the effort to praise themselves for the efforts they make.

This repeated pattern that I practice thousands of times a day is nothing compared with the bewildering curiosity that occurs when I take a brain break and slide onto the piano’s bench for a minute or two of ebony and ivory exercise. But it’s not really exercise. It’s more like a pit stop at my personal Ripley’s Believe it or not exhibition. I call it my Magical Manifestation of Muscle Memory. It is a stunt meant only to amuse me, but reminds me just how little I know about the complex world of physiology.

I crack open a dusty volume of Chopin’s Waltzes. I look at the delicate lines of nimble quick notes. I try to read, process and move my hands across the rows of keys. I stumble. I plunk. I make sour mistakes.

I close the book.

I close my eyes.

I disengage brain and let go of the handle bars.

Fingers fly. They know where to go—they need no help from me. Whether it’s a Rachmaninoff piece that requires an extra two fingers to manage a blackened page full of orchestral chords, or the slim, sylph-like melodies of delicate Debussy, if I learned it way back then, I know it still today.

It doesn’t matter if it’s walking, running, skipping, jumping, turning a page, or signing my name, stirring a pot, or stroking the dog, embracing my child or brushing my hair, all those bits that flex and extend amaze and astound me.

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The magic of muscles.

I prize them and praise them.

~Shelley

**Gotta Have a Gott**

In January, Rob and I announced that his sketches will be available toward the end of the year in the form of a 2015 calendar! And our readers would get to be the judges and voters for which doodles they’d like to see selected for each month. We’ll reveal the winners one by one, and come November, If you’ve Gotta have a GOTT, you can place your order. Click here to see the cartoons in competition and to cast your vote.

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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Eau de malodor; the perfume of pain.

Camphor (800x779)I smell like Bengay.

It’s the beginning of spring. I’m surrounded by sprouting blades of dewy, green grass, by fragrant hyacinth bulbs pulsating with their heady, honeyed perfume, by the woody, pulpy scent of sharp, cedar mulch, and by sweet petrichor—the scent of rain on dry earth. And what is it that fills my nose?

Muscle rub.

I am a mass of layer upon layer of analgesic heat ointment. Even after a shower, when I have loofahed and sandblasted down to the last stratum of penetrable dermis, I still emit the stench of crushed wintergreen. I am a walking tube of methyl salicylate, menthol and camphor. I tried to switch to “odorless,” but I’m convinced it has no effect. Therefore, I am stuck. I am odorfull.

Yes, I realize that’s not an actual word, but it is the exact description of my current cologne.

Even all of my food is beginning to taste like sports cream. The aroma molecules are circling around my body, and realizing that there isn’t enough room to hold all of them on my person, free falling and landing on anything that comes in close proximity. Like a banana I try to eat for breakfast, or the halibut I have for dinner. Believe me, I doubt you’ll ever find Fish sautéed in a pungent pool of peppermint oil, drizzled with a camphoric glaze and finished with a dusting of crushed and cooling antacids on any restaurant menu. Yum? No thanks.Halibut (800x559)

My flavor profiles have slimmed to nearly nothing and my sense of smell has given up the ghost, realizing that what lies ahead is simply a further assault on the delicate workings of the olfactory system.

If I could just get my muscles to cooperate, life could get back to normal.

–        I could smell spring

–        I could taste food

–        I could sleep comfortably

Currently, I’m giving up the first two in hopes that the third will return.

There was a time when I used to be able to sleep twisted like a badly made pretzel on the hard, rumbling floor of a bus for seventeen hours straight, or be thrown in the air by two pairs of hands and carelessly caught on the way back down by one and an elbow to break my fall, or get pitched off a spirited horse onto parched, cracked and unforgiving dirt, and then get up, dust off and move on without a glance backward.Horse (800x510)

Now, I merely see another human bump into a coffee table, hear a person trip up a staircase, or remember a former injury and I’m lining up the salves, the gels, the liniments and balms.

Why is it that merely sleeping crookedly for a small segment of six and one half hours should cause me two weeks of bodily indignation?

Strobist CTO exercise 2

Strobist CTO exercise 2 (Photo credit: Sami Taipale)

I practice yoga, I endure Pilates. I never slouch, and I’ve even stopped bouncing on the trampoline. Don’t I get points for that from the great Muscle gods? Does it count that I no longer bend from the waist? How about the fact that instead of loading up six bags of groceries on two arms and one slung around my neck, I now make three trips back and forth from the car?

I’m just getting used to the routine of seeing my general practitioner once a year, and after watching her wheel in a trolly holding my chart, hearing her say, “We’ve really got to get these things into digital format.” That’s her favorite phrase to make sure I get the picture of how much ink I use up in her office. The second would be, “I’ll add it to the list,” after I announce discomfort, strain or ache in a new area of my body. There’s no, “We’ll now … Let’s see what we can do about that.” There’s simply an understanding that they’re saving all the new magical therapy for a body that is significantly younger, stronger and will respond favorably statistic-wise in the trial.

I get handed a generic version of Icy Hot.

And when do I start qualifying for super discounts on the jumbo-sized bottles of acetaminophen and ibuprofen I purchase at the drug store?Stairs (800x550)Shouldn’t there be a sales receipt that pops out for the cashier identifying me as a serious, long-term customer who should be rewarded with loyalty points? Instead, I get a once over from the pharmacist behind the counter who mentions I’m beginning to look a little pale lately and maybe I should go in for a stool sample to make sure I’m not bleeding internally from growing too Motrin happy.

Sigh.

I would give my left lung for just one day when I could reach for my teacup or itch my nose and not come out of the movement with a slight sprain. Is it too much to ask for? It makes me sad with the realization that for quite some time, whenever I find myself blowing out candles, throwing a coin in a fountain, or wishing on a shooting star, the request is all the same: Let tomorrow be the day that I hear an anchorman broadcast that science has discovered a new plant that, when taken in pill form once a day, will make us all feel like we’re living inside the body of a healthy eighteen-year old. Oh, and how about the fact that it tastes like chocolate?

Take the blue pill...

Take the blue pill… (Photo credit: Smallbrainfield)

That would be a total day maker.

Until then, I have to stop wrestling with the dog in order to keep healthy whatever muscle groups are still functioning, sleep with no pillow to encourage spine, neck and head alignment, and increase my daily intake of single malt scotch, which I assure you is for medicinal purposes only.

Last on my list is to either develop a long-lasting fetish for all things related to the mint family, or find some industrial strength perfume. Either way, it’s the dawn of a new era. Or odor.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott’s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.