Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Chasing Joy

Hello from the past, y'all! I'm writing this in the early days of January 2013, full of the whimsy and hope of a new year - the kind that makes you feel like anything is possible, and that you're DEFINITELY going to succeed at achieving all your goals, and you are FOR SURE not going to fail. I felt this year needed a shove in the right direction, so I made a list of things (big and small) that I hope to do/accomplish/experience in 2013. Many are part of my commitment to The Year of Why Not? and, as I write today in January, there are things on this list that seem impossible. But here we go. I've added a few things throughout the year, but nothing has been deleted. Shtuff just got real, y'all. I'm publishing my successes and failures for all the Interwebs to see.

Please don't judge me.

In 2013...

1. Find a church home and group of people to live life with - and then get up in each other's bidness (in a good, making-me-better kind of way) - This came later in the year than I wanted, but I'm really thankful for the people I can call friends today. You are all making me better.
2. Watch less than 2 hours of TV per weekday - Ahem. No, this did not consistently happen. I love my shows, y'all. Please forgive me. I'll try again next year.
3. Read 1 book/month for pleasure - So, TECHNICALLY, no, I didn't accomplish this. But I came really close and read more this year than I have in a long time, which has been amazing. Check out my reading list below!
4. Travel! - I'm SO EXCITED about this one. This year, we visited a lot of places these eyes had never seen before - NYC, Knoxville, Nicaragua, Hong Kong. I LOVE exploring new places. Love. It. Next up (hopefully!) is London and Amsterdam in the Spring! What what!!


5. Take dance lessons - Donesky. Intro to ballroom + Intro to Latin Ballroom. Ask me how to Foxtrot. I can totally do it.
6. Start doing Pilates - I don't even get how I failed so miserably here. I love Pilates. And having abs.
7. Hike at least 2x/month - :( Could we make hiking up the stairs to my apartment count...?
8. Write for pleasure at least 2x/month - Blech. Maybe next year. But I'm getting closer.
9. Cook together (with more than 3 ingredients) - I guess I didn't specify how often this should be happening, so I can say I did it, even if it was just a handful of times, right? Right?!
10. Find the joy in today - This has been one of the biggest reasons 2013 has been one of the greatest years of my life. Enjoying today has given me hope and positivity I didn't have before. Check out these posts: Dear Life, Dear Life (Part 2)
11. Keep saying Yes! to life - Um, yeah. If I may, I'd like to use this point as an excuse for not accomplishing some of the others on this list. Extending The Year of Why Not? to 2013 has kept me really busy, guys...


12. Start planning The Trip - Yup. More to come...
13. Go to NYC for the first time - Been there. Done that. Wrote the blog.
14. Watch a Broadway show - See above. Check! Newsies was amazing!
15. Stay in a hostel - Yep! Hop Inn. $40/night for a dorm room in Tsim Sha Tsui neighborhood of Hong Kong.
16. Go camping - We did a 3-day backpacking trek with the North Texas Outdoor Pursuit Center to the Ouichita National Forest in Arkansas. Yes and amen.


17. Be open to new friendships - This has been one of the hardest to do this year. But I am surrounded by amazing people who have made my life brighter and happier. My introversion and fear of rejection never stood a chance against the beauty of friendship.
18. Ride the Megabus - Not yet...
19. Be more positive than negative - Try it. It will change your life.
20. Laugh more than you cry - Unless you count the crying from laughing at this video, I think I accomplished this. I have my friends and family (and www.wimp.com) to thank for that.
21. Cut school debt AT LEAST in half - Well, we didn't cut it in half, but it's down by at least a third, and that ain't bad! 2014 will be a debt-slaying year!
22. Do something that terrifies you - Yes, times five, at least. For examples, click here and here.


23. Get healthy - I'm working on this one, but I'm not there yet. With the help of a personal trainer friend and a list of goals like this, my health and heart condition are even more important to get a handle on. I've been weight training, but still have a ways to go before I can say I'm healthy. Get ready, 2014. I'm coming for you.
24. Write your first travel blogs - Check out my posts about NYCArkansas and Nicaragua. Next up, Hong Kong! Much more to come!
25. Move downtown - My husband has called this one the best decision we've made in our whole marriage, and he was NOT sold on the idea when I pitched it. He's loving urban life like I knew he would! So miracles have happened this year. We're pretty pumped to be out of the 'burbs and enjoying Dallas' energy.


This year has challenged me in ways I've never been challenged. But it also changed me - like, the deep, deep parts of me. Or rather, brought out the me that is really ME. Free and optimistic and eager. It started as a list of goals, but turned into a way of living that made me forget about the goals and just chase after my joy. I didn't accomplish everything I set out to do, but I experienced a few things I didn't even know I could have put on my list, like dancing barefoot in the streets of Hong Kong at 5am with people from all over the world who I'd met less than a week earlier. This why not? philosophy wasn't who I was at the beginning. It was a choice - and often one I didn't want to make. There were many times I initially said no to a new opportunity and, seeing my hesitation and fear, my husband and friends challenged and pushed me out of my comfort zone, and then watched me twirl around in the freedom of it all. It wasn't all roses and backpacks and glee. It was also hard and stressful and exhausting at times. But still better than living safely.

Looking back, I'm just thankful. And looking forward, I feel like there's only adventure up ahead. Who knows what I'll add to the list in 2014!

Looking back on 2013, what was your biggest surprise and/or accomplishment? What are 3 things you hope to accomplish or experience next year?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Travels : Church and Waffles

We walked through the streets of the little town we weren't familiar with, passing families on bicycles, children playing in the road, and old women sweeping their porches. Sometimes, a stray dog would follow us for a stretch, but I think even they began to realize we didn't actually know where we were going. Getting around Granada on foot was... difficult. We quickly discovered that street addresses aren't considered necessary, and most homes and buildings don't have numbers on them. There are street names, but when they sometimes stretch on for a mile or two, you really need to already know where you're going if you want to get there on the first try. Directions are given by landmarks. If you want to get to the grocery store, it's about 4 blocks toward the lake next to the pharmacy. If you're looking for a salon, you need to walk 3 blocks that way, and it's across from the Bolivar family's home.

That's lovely if you know the Bolivars. We, however, do not.

It was Wednesday, and we were headed (we hoped) to a church called El Puente. The owner of Bicimaximo, Baker, told me about El Puente when we Skyped just before our trip. He had come to Granada several years ago for a short-term mission with the organization and is now a part of the church that has sprung out of it. The way Baker described El Puente and what they were doing in Granada convinced me that I had to see it for myself. So Wednesday morning, we woke up early, took another look at the "directions" to the church building, and set out. We walked half a block in the wrong direction, then turned around and set out again.

We found ourselves in a residential area, a side of Granada we hadn't explored yet and one with a 0% population of tourists. The homes were simple, with small yards, concrete walls, and tan faces looking at us like we were clearly not in the right place.

We were walking for what felt like way too long before deciding to stop and ask directions. I dreaded that, simply because my Spanish was usually only good enough to get me and the person I was speaking to thoroughly confused. I felt a little like Troop Beverly Hills tromping through their streets in my bright purple running shoes and Patagonia backpack, but the Nicas were kind and helpful and overcame my Spanglish and American-ness.

Note to self: All your super cool gear makes you look like a privileged fool in the real world.

Monday, December 16, 2013

1,000 Words : Doors of Granada

Bar none, my favorite thing about Nicaragua, and Granada specifically, was the vibrant colors I saw everywhere in the city. Sorry America, but we just don't do color the way they do.

As we walked through Granada, I couldn't stop staring at the doors. What we often consider a functional afterthought in the States, Nicaragua makes the centerpiece of the home. They are tall, sometimes ornate, sometimes simple, but almost always in a hue I didn't know existed. Here are some of my favorite doorways I saw walking through the streets of Granada.




Thursday, November 21, 2013

Travels: Bikes and Beaches

Hey strangers! I never finished telling you about Nicaragua - and there's so much to tell! But I also have stories from my trip to Hong Kong spilling out of my ears! To avoid geographical whiplash, I'm staying in Nicaragua for now. I have a few more stories to tell you before we head east to work groups and hostels and new friendships in China.

So come back with me to Granada.


Have you ever been somewhere altogether foreign, but also incredibly familiar? As we biked our way back to Granada from Laguna de Apoyo (about 16km) with Bicimaximo, we saw farm land and dirt roads blocked by stubborn cows. The smells, the flat green fields, the shouts in Spanish, and the cattle standing behind fences a small gust of wind could destroy gave me a flashback to home - where I grew up in small-town California. It was a strange moment. I was nearly 4,800km from that little border town in the armpit of the West Coast, but straddling my bike on a dirt road in another small town in Nicaragua, it felt the same. It was the tropical version of what I think of when I hear the word "home." It was comforting. And a little bit smelly.


Not so comforting were the bruises on my hind quarters after the long bike ride into town...

But let me back up. Bicimaximo was recommended to us by our host at the Garden Cafe. We stayed in their back room, and it was absolutely lovely.


The owners are a young gentleman from California and his Nicaraguan wife. They run an amazing restaurant and store, and they know basically every expat in the city. There were a surprising amount of restaurant and business owners who were not Nicas, but found the beauty in the country and decided to stay. Or maybe they also found a little piece of home. Damien gave us a list of things to do in the city, and taking a bike tour with Bicimaximo was on the list.

Clicking on the link in his e-mail changed our trip.


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Travels : Miscommunicating in Nicaragua

This was not like vacations we've taken in the past. It wasn't white sandy beaches and posh restaurants and boutiques. It wasn't room service and English and towel animals on the bed with a mint.

It was slow lines through customs at 1 a.m. with a heavy backpack. It was finding our name on a handwritten poster, then walking through the doors into rain and people shouting "taxi! taxi! taxi!" inches from your face, while the humidity curled your hair. It was sweaty and colorful and sometimes hard to look the kids in the eye. It was green and lush and kind. It was electric and beautiful in its rawness.

This was very unlike our past vacations, but it was so much more of an adventure.


When we stepped off the plane, English stopped being my primary language. We failed (FAILED.) to do much/any studying of our Spanish before we left, so what I could recall from my 3 years of high school classes were what we relied on. That, and the kindness of strangers and a sign language we made up on the spot. It was hard.

It made me think about all of the people around me every day in Dallas who don't speak the language well. We sometimes tend to look down on them and get frustrated when they can't communicate with us. "This is America! Speak English!" we say. But wow, it's hard to be on the other side. Harder than I would have thought. And isolating.

Can we please all agree to be kinder to people who are struggling to communicate?

No one said to me, "This is Nicaragua! Speak better Spanish!" I was met by kind smiles at best and confused ones at worst. They asked if they could practice their English. They helped me use the little bit of Spanish I know correctly, so I didn't sound like a dang fool. They were patient and wanted to understand.

It occurred to me while I struggled to string basic sentences together that it is nearly impossible to convey your personality, your intelligence, and your heart when the language isn't your own. You become sort of generic, and very gringo-esce. It feels like you've lost your identity a bit. That you have to boil yourself down to the phrases you know, and speak the rest with your body and your smile.

My husband (a talker to the core) struggled even more because, when we arrived in the country, the extent of his Spanish vocabulary was "yes," "no," and "beer." That resulted in our taxi driver stopping at a convenience store on the way to our guestroom (at 1 a.m.) to get him a beer to drink in the car on the way to the room. My sweet husband had, in fact, told him he wanted a cervesa, but didn't know enough words to clarify that he didn't need one right at that moment. By the end of the week and with a lot of tutoring - a little from me, but mostly from waiters and tour guides - he didn't feel quite so mute. I rely on him for a lot of things, but he was forced to rely on me that week to negotiate taxi fares, order food and translate costs. Hard for both of us, but it probably wasn't a bad thing in the end. Although it was terrifying to think that my poor Spanish skills were being relied upon so heavily!

In all, I felt that Granada was a city of contrasts. Contrasting colors in the doors and walls and streets, contrasting lives of the rich and poor, and the contrasting purity of nature and grime of the markets. (Check out the short video below to see the bright and shiny part of the market.)


As we walked down a road, nicknamed Gringo Alley, a couple of blocks from our room, we almost felt like we were back in the states. We saw white faces and blonde hair; we heard English in varying accents. It was really comforting for a while. There were restaurants and boutiques and storefronts hawking tours. But looking around and talking to locals, we discovered that there weren't any local Nicaraguan restaurants because Nicaraguans don't eat at restaurants. They can't afford it. The whole street scene had been set up for the gringos. The locals tried to sell us wooden birds and bracelets while we ate the food they couldn't buy.

It was a place full of strange contradictions. At first glance it was overwhelming and dirty, but everywhere we went, we found smiles and were greeted with a wave and a "buenas!" Nicaragua stole my heart and reminded me that comfort is overrated and that adventure will almost always take you out of your comfort zone.


I have more stories to tell, y'all, but I'm still processing everything and getting ready for a trip to Hong Kong next week. (Gah!!!) There will be more to come on our adventures in Nicaragua, like biking back to Granada from Laguna de Apoyo with Bicimaximo, and zip lining over the trees and hiking the Puma Trail on Volcano Mambacho with Nahual Tours. Stay tuned! We had a blast!

Monday, September 23, 2013

1,000 words: Granada, Nicaragua

We're back!! Exhausted and happy. My favorite way to come home from an adventure.

Nicaragua was not what I expected. It was amazing and exciting and little scary, but not really in the ways I thought it would be. Nicaragua didn't go easy on us and didn't change herself to make us comfortable. She was raw and real and beautiful. The poverty in Nicaragua broke my heart. And the people stole it. But more on that later.

My mind is still reeling from the trip and the traveling, so until I can process it all, I wanted to share some of my favorite photos from the trip. There will be many stories to come!

The city we stayed in, Granada, was a photographer's dream. The bright walls and doors with intricate details were commonplace to Nicas, but stunning to me. A short, rattling ride outside town took us places even more stunning. The wild volcanoes that smelled of sulfur made my eyes go wide and sting. The lakes more clear than any I've seen mirrored the sky and made my mind wander away. And the overwhelming markets made my eyes go wide and sting for different reasons and carried me to a world I didn't know what to do with.

Granada from above.
The Cathedral in El Parque Central

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Travels: Nicaragua!

Three days from now, my husband and I will be in Nicaragua, a place neither of us has been before. My favorite. (Burglars, calm down. We have house sitters.) Hopefully, our days will be full of tromping through the mud, riding bikes through the old city streets, and hiking to the tops of volcanoes. We haven't planned much of our trip, because we tend to make ourselves so busy we collapse. So this time, we're going to go where the wind blows and see what Nicaragua has for us.

I really hope it has cervesas for us. And lots of dulces. And naps.

Leon, Nicaragua. Photo from here.

Before we booked our tickets, I knew pretty much nothing about Nicaragua except that it is in Central America, is Spanish-speaking, and that we could fly there on Spirit points. Ding, ding, ding! Sign me up. Why not?! But as I've been doing some research on the area, I'm learning that Nicaragua is a beautiful country - one about the size of New York state - but also one that's been wracked by civil wars and political strife since its beginnings in the early 16th century. Those wars, plus natural disasters inevitable with its location and presence of volcanoes and earthquakes, have left Nicaragua in a perpetual state of recovery and rehabilitation. Cities have been rebuilt over and over, and communities have returned again and again to survive on land that doesn't seem to welcome them.

Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in Latin American, and is second only to Haiti in the Western Hemisphere. Income distribution is very uneven, leaving the rich and the poor in entirely different worlds. Here are a few facts according to the Nicaragua Initiative for Community Advancement:
  • Just 29% of children complete primary-level education
  • Adolescent pregnancies account for 1 in 4 births nationally
  • 33% of children have some degree of chronic malnutrition, and 9% suffer from severe malnutrition
  • 45% of all income goes to the richest 10% of the country's population, while only 14% goes to the poorest
This picture of Nicaragua breaks my heart, but it's not the whole story. While it has definitely fought and struggled, the country is also known to be the safest in Central America, having some of the best coffee around, and (obviously) being beautiful beyond belief. But really, the people are its gem. For all the bad press it gets, I'm so ready to find the good and the hope in Nicaragua.

Our host sent us recommendations for things to do while we're visiting, and in the process, I learned about several organizations working hard to provide jobs and rehabilitation to the community. A search for a tour company has now led to the opportunity to write several stories while I'm there, and I could not.be.more.excited. Could not. Writing is a job, but it's also what pumps fire into my veins, so if I was excited to go on vacation before, I'm now so far beyond that. I can't even handle it right now. Are we there yet?!

In my research, I also discovered we will be arriving on the country's Independence Day. Don't worry, Nicaragua, I'll help you celebrate.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks. I'm sure we'll have lots of stories to share about our adventures when we get back!

In the meantime, I will be sequestered in my home trying to figure out how to pack stuff for two people and seven days in one backpack. Challenge accepted.

¡Hasta luego mis amigos! Mucho amor para cada uno de ustedes.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Dear Life (part 2)

Dallas, Texas, USA
August 26, 2013
7:37 p.m.

Dear Life,

Thank you for anticipation and the waiting with bated breath. It means adventure is coming.

Thank you for unexpected gifts that shock me with the generosity of others. Thank you for the ability to receive with gratitude from people who love me and mine.

Thank you for the sounds of the Dallas street that waft up to my window and seep into the cracks of the old frame. It's a reminder that we are alive and the world is vibrating with energy and motorcycle engines.


Thank you for the comfort and intimacy of old friendships and the excitement and surprise of new ones.

Thank you even for the stab of a needle from the travel clinic, because it means we're getting closer to our next adventures.

Thank you for dreams and creativity and wonder. They make my life colorful and exciting and the possibilities endless. There is such freedom in it. I love that my creator made my heart a dreamer.

Thank you for the joy of watching some of my best friends become parents, and dozing on their couch at 2 a.m. while their baby boy slept in my arms. I don't have kids of my own, but I am surrounded by children to spend all my love on today. Thank you for the innocence of their little hands and feet and for the reminder that, at some point in my life, I trusted that I was safe and secure in someone else's arms. I didn't worry or fret. Things change as we get older, but I pray I don't lose all my innocence.

Thank you for putting a smile on my face every day. You're not always perfect, but you're always what I need.

Love always,

Michelle

____________________________________________________
This is my second Dear Life post, part of a series on one of my favorite blogs, So Many Places. Click the link to read many other Dear Life entries from Kim's readers all over the world in which we thank life for its many blessings. To read my first post, click here.

What are you thankful for today?

Monday, July 15, 2013

fear, you are dismissed.

We just got back from a rainy and cool five days in Tennessee visiting our recently transplanted family for the 4th of July. We sat on the back deck looking out at the valley nestled below the Smoky Mountains and watched the rain while four generations played games ranging from Go Fish to 42 and chatted about anything and everything. The pyromaniacs of the family shot off fireworks and became real-life examples to the children of why fireworks are dangerous and often result in the singeing of fingers.



On Friday night, however, I squeezed my nieces and nephews a little tighter, because I was pretty sure the next day would be my last.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

diy od

Welcome to my new 'hood! I decided to spruce things up a bit. I hope you like it.

In the spirit of homepage improvement, and because my brain is still in a particularly mushy place, here's another mostly-picture post to save me from a creative meltdown.


In the last several months, I got the itch again. You know the one. It happens to me often, most recently a couple of years ago in March when I was stricken with Restless Life Syndrome. Again. This time, I think I desperately needed a creative outlet that wasn't this blog or the fluffy writing assignments I get on occasion. So I went to town on my house and changed just about every room, and I kinda like how it turned out. I found out that I rather enjoy building and creating things with my own two hands, which was equally fun and dangerous. There were several injuries as a direct result of having a staple gun in my general vicinity and several minor foot injuries as a result of the staples that went AWOL while being shot into the ceiling, wall, and various other objects.

But we're fine. Please don't worry about us.

Click below for the reveal!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Dear Life


Dallas, Texas
June 12, 2013
6:12pm

Dear Life,

Thank you for being unexpected and wild; exhausting and exhilarating.

Thank you for hot days and tank tops and burgers on the grill and cold drinks on the patio.

Thank you for the rain that falls and filters the air, making the whole world crisp and blue and green.

Thank you for a gentle breeze, the blowing leaves, and for soft grass under my feet.

Thank you for the little faces, the tiny toes, and small hands I get to hold.

Thank you for the smiles, the laughter, the loud voices I hear all around me. Thank you for the joy.

Thank you for the disappointments followed by the better thing I didn't know was there waiting.

Thank you for the slowing down, the intentional choice, the purposeful yes.

Dear life, thank you for the adventure.

Love always,
Michelle





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One of my favorite blogs, So Many Places, chronicles the journey of a gal who quit her day job to pursue a dream. Go check it out and read Kim's story. She recently wrote a post called Dear Life in which she thanks life for its many blessings. My post today is joining in on her pursuit of gratitude. I hope it becomes a habit! Will you join in too?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

red shoe stories

Life has been so wild lately, you guys. I have so many stories to tell, but for some reason, my mind is a mushy, dull blob lacking any creative juices whatsoever, and words are eluding me like an ex-boyfriend in the grocery store. Being a writer who can't write a dang thing is kind of a sad story, so I've decided to show you what I can't seem to say at the moment.

After years of pining away for the bright lights and energy of New York, a few weeks ago, I hopped off a plane at Laguardia with a backpack and my most comfortable pair of shoes. I came to visit one of my favorite people, a grad student and Columbia. (Although, by the time I post this, she will have her Master's degree! What what!) When I travel to exciting places like New York, I really like to live in luxury, so I requested an air mattress on the floor of her 12-square-foot dorm room. #TreatYoSelf! No, but seriously, I think my first NYC experience was probably a lot closer to the experiences of my fellow twentysomethings in the city. Authenticity is way better than luxury. I'm pretty sure about that.


Monday, April 29, 2013

The Year of What Now?

Hey there, sportsfans! Long time, no talk, right? I've been itching to get back here, but have been buried under work and writing (for pay! what what!) and doing some really fun stuff. I can't complain, and I won't. I'm tired, but I love writing here and hearing your stories. Please keep sharing them!

Many of you are now familiar with our 2013 motto: The Year of Why Not? We're four months in, and are experiencing all kinds of new and exciting/terrifying things. I tag some of my Facebook and Twitter posts with #TheYearofWhyNot?, and I've started getting some questions about what it means.

For those who haven't yet, you can read more about the birth of The Year of Why Not? here. The short version is, at the start of 2012, I decided fear, discomfort, self-consciousness and/or self-doubt are terrible excuses to avoid trying something new. I resolved to start asking myself why not? when presented with an opportunity for a new experience, instead of going with my instinct toward isolation and comfort. Surprisingly (only to me, probably), I had a great year, and by the end of 2012, I decided to extend my why not? attitude into 2013. I wanted to live my life as if I were doing it on purpose. For entirely too long, I reacted to life and hid from the things that would make me feel weak. The Year of Why Not? is showing me how to run head-on toward the things I'm afraid of or at which I don't think I would excel. In general, my life has been really safe. I wanted some challenge. I wanted to pump some adrenaline back into my veins.

It started more than a year ago, and it's led me and my husband to a really crazy place. All bets are off for us. We definitely don't say yes to everything. That would be unwise and incredibly exhausting. Sometimes, the answer to why not? is because we feel drained and tired and need to spend a weekend watching movies and holding hands. And that's OK and absolutely necessary at times. Most of the time, though, the answers we come up with are pretty lame and aren't nearly good enough to pass up an opportunity to try something new, so we give it a shot. We haven't loved everything, but I can't think of one thing we regret trying. Click here to see some of the stories from our year so far.

Life feels like an adventure again. My marriage is better. The depression that plagued me for years has felt so much smaller. I am dreaming and planning and believing we could do anything if we really wanted to. We're not trapped or living a life we have to live. None of us are. We're choosing it, and there's so much freedom in that. Saying yes is good for my soul. Giving myself freedom to find out what makes my heart soar and blood pump quick and hot has been even better.

Side note: I've also had a lot of friends and family join in with us and make 2013 their Year of Why Not? That has been the coolest, and a completely unexpected result. I've loved hearing your stories and hope you'll share more in the comments to encourage others to do the same! Your year doesn't have to look like mine, and vice versa. There are so many ways to live fully alive. For some, it may be taking off on that trip you always wanted to take but felt guilty to miss so much work; or finally retiring and becoming a volunteer for your favorite organization, instead of fretting about saving that ever-elusive and mounting number that's "enough." For others, it might be saying yes to the whimsy of your children and letting them explore and create without fear. For me, it's been about changing the way I see the present, and looking for ways to enjoy where we are today, rather than pining for the future. Life is here and now. Some of our Why Not? moments are big, like our backpacking trip in Arkansas, hiking part of the Kalalau Trail in Kauai, or dance lessons. But most of the things we say yes to are small, everyday things like getting to know new friends (not easy for me), getting out of the house to enjoy the cool air, learning new games instead of vegging in front of the television, finding good books to read, and investing in things that really matter. The point is to live purposefully, and that happens one little choice at a time.

Aside from the major benefits I listed above, as if those weren't enough, the greatest affect this year has had on me personally (so far) is a more confident belief in myself. I've done things in the last several months that, frankly, I didn't think I could do. Coming out on the other side having done what I thought was impossible is life-changing. I don't use that phrase lightly. The box I put myself in suddenly isn't crushingly small. It's roomy and fresh, and I can see the world outside.

This weekend, we had another Why Not? event. I signed us up for a 5k mudrun: 5 kilometers of running, stopping, climbing over and through and under military-style obstacles requiring upper- AND lower-body strength (what the what?!), being covered to our necks in mud, army-crawling through mud, wading through muddy water, and then more and more running and more and more mud. Two weeks ago, I almost backed out. I was afraid my heart condition would make it completely miserable, if not impossible. I was worried I would finish last; that I would get stuck at the top of the rope wall too tired to go on; or that I would have to quit early and not finish at all because it was too painful and strenuous for my heart to take. I was afraid I would look and feel weak.

But then I remembered all the times this year and last that I did something I didn't think I could do. They had seemed every bit as impossible, but I came out on the other side alive and well and stronger. So I said yes and finished the race. I did get stuck at the top of a rope wall, but it was actually my fear of heights, not my heart, that was the issue. I'm working on that, too. I eventually made it down and went on to run at least half of the 5 kilometers - WAY more than I thought I could. We walked the rest, but I didn't care. We didn't finish last, but I don't think I would have cared if we had. The places I succeeded meant so much more. As I was jogging longer than I have in YEARS, in pain but doing it, I even looked at Rob and said, "I think we're witnessing a miracle right now!"

(It actually was more like, "I think *wheeze* we're *huuugh* witnessing *heehhh* a miracle *gasp* right now! *cough*" ... but still!)

I think I must have said that a dozen times this year so far.

So, up next is a white-water rafting trip in Tennessee in July. I'm terrified. I hate being in water that's moving faster than a slow trickle. It makes me sweaty and scared, and I start thinking too much about what it would be like to drown. But, for me, that fear isn't a good enough reason not to get in the raft. If this year is any indication, I'll likely end up loving it. But if I don't, that's OK too. At least I'll be able to say I tried.

What have you said Why Not? to this year? In what areas of your life do you want to say yes? (If there's something holding you back from doing it, is your reason good enough for you?)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

adventures in arkansas

So, as part of The Year of Why Not?, we went on a three-day backpacking trip to the Ouachita National Forest with the North Texas Outdoor Pursuit Center last weekend. You already knew that though. I've been talking about it constantly.

This was me:


I felt completely unprepared for it, physically and mentally, but we thought it would be more than worth the challenge, and at the very least, would give us some interesting memories.

(Spoiler Alert: It was, and it did.)

A few weeks out, we picked up our gear and started training for the miles we would be hiking on the trip. As a side note, if you know you're going to be hiking several miles a day with a 30-pound pack on, you should NOT wait until 3 weeks out to start preparing. The longest stretch we hiked before we left for the trip was 2 miles on mostly flat terrain. On our longest day of the trip, we hiked 9 miles on wildly varying terrain.

...Amateurs.

I'm going to be really honest (I can't help it.) and let you know that at the end of day 1, I was seriously regretting signing up for this adventure. It was freezing, with highs in the low 40s and lows in the 20s and 30s. I have thoroughly Southern Californian blood and poor circulation, so I was a solid lump of cold for most of the day. We got a late start, so we ended up only having a few hours to make it to our first camp site before dark. And by camp site, I mean a relatively flat, relatively dry spot of land.

I knew I would be cold, so setting that aside, the real problem came when I understood what our guides meant by "river crossings." We were told we would be making several crossings on this trip, but I pictured streams. More specifically, small streams that allow you to skip lightly from rock to rock until you land on the other side safe and dry. No ma'am. There was a rather large, deep and frigid river standing between us and our camp site for the night. We got to the edge of the water, our eyeballs wide and shifty. Without missing a beat, Chris and Jeff (the guides) told us to take off our shoes and socks, roll up our pants and unbuckle the waist strap on our packs. The latter was done in case we fell into the river. The hope would be that at least the backpacks probably wouldn't drown us that way. Never mind that the water was so cold I couldn't feel my toes within 6 seconds of them being submerged, so if I were to fall in, I would probably have a heart attack immediately anyway. Yay, adventures!

Another note: The following are not pictures of that first river crossing. We didn't take pictures there. And we weren't smiling. And the river below is much smaller than the one we crossed that night. Use your imagination.

 

I was about 1/4 of the way across the river - still in the shallow part - when the regret began to seep in with the ice water. Along with a string of four-letter words I won't repeat here, I kept thinking this had been a terrible mistake. About the time I got to the middle of the river, all I could think about was my Snuggie. I'm not kidding. Thoughts of my pajama pants briefly entered my mind, but they were quickly overpowered by those four-letter words again when I stepped in a hole and the water went to my thighs and soaked my pants.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

leaders and followers

So, remember when I announced that we're signing up for dance classes, even though the thought of it made me sweaty and nervous?

Well, we did it!

We're now in week 3 of a 4-week Intro to Ballroom class. And you know what? We're seriously thinking about doing the Intermediate class being offered next month. And maybe even the Intro to Latin Ballroom the month after that. Why not?!

We've started looking forward to Thursday nights because we get to dance in a room with strangers. I think I just saw a pig fly past my window.


We've learned how to do a box-step waltz, a foxtrot, a bit of swing and a tango. It's not always pretty (actually it's rarely pretty at this point), but we're getting there. Aside from some fun and awkward moves, I'm learning one other very important thing.

I'm a terrible follower.

There. I said it.

And it's not just about dancing. I am a terrible follower in life. I love to be in the driver seat and have for most of my adult life. Only now, I have a small, bossy woman in heels and a twirly dress lecturing me about it. Maybe I need her to be around more often.

So, in addition to The Year of Why Not? this will also have to be The Year of Letting Go of the Vice Grip I Have on The Plan. I'll keep working on that name. I'm going to be working on trusting my husband to lead me sometimes, even when I think my plan is better or I'm pretty sure he's about to waltz us into a brick wall. More importantly, I'm going to work on trusting that God's lead is far better than mine.

Last spring, I got a new tattoo that still makes me think and challenges me every time I look at it. It's two tiny words, but they're packed with meaning for me. It says 'Be still.' and is a reminder to me that I'm not in control. It's based on a verse I'm sure you've all heard a million times: Psalm 46:10 "Be still, and know that I am God." It's so simple and direct. I love it when the Bible is simple and direct. To me, it is a reassurance that I don't have to twirl around in chaos trying to make my life make sense or be something it's not. I can just rest, be still, and know that God is not surprised by the things I don't see coming.


When you're dancing with a man (the one generally assigned the leader role), two things can happen: One, you allow your body to move when and where he leads you, and a beautiful thing happens - you dance; or Two, you try to take the lead, leave the frame of said man's arms, and the dance gets completely out of sync. It's not beautiful. Many of my dances both on Thursday nights and in my life in general end up this way. If I'd only be still and allow myself to be moved by the leader, it would be beautiful. Instead, I let fear, anxiety and lack of trust get into my hands and feet. I start moving on my own and out of the solid arms of the frame. When this happens, I think to myself, "Slow down, stop thinking so much and go back to his arms." I've been finding this advice quite useful, even outside the studio.

I'm learning to go back and back and back again to the arms of the leader. Because I want my dance to be beautiful.